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Authors: Alan Jacobson

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BOOK: No Way Out
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Four Months Earlier

Langley, Virginia

ector DeSantos sat in CIA Director Earl Tasset’s office beside the man’s FBI counterpart, Director Douglas Knox, and DeSantos’s own boss, Secretary of Defense Richard McNamara.

All that authority in one room had DeSantos feeling uncomfortable and overmatched—a new experience for him. DeSantos had gone up against far more intimidating men during his career as a black operative. And if there was one skill he had mastered, it was disguising his weaknesses by projecting the opposite.

McNamara had seen the rigors of the battlefield—and had the physical scars to prove it. But his outwardly casual demeanor belied an inner strength that some, including those who knew him well, feared.

DeSantos did not know McNamara well; in fact, he did his best to steer clear of the man. The Secretary of Defense—SecDef in military parlance—knew of DeSantos and the Operational Support Intelligence Group’s exploits: “A useful tool if there ever was one,” he called it when taking his new post. But useful or not, OPSIG was a device he preferred to keep locked away in the basement—the subterranean bowels of the Pentagon. That was fine by DeSantos, since he already had two bosses, Deputy Secretary Wesley Choate, the man DeSantos reported to officially, and Douglas Knox, the man DeSantos reported to unofficially.

Perhaps the friction between McNamara and Knox had to do with Knox’s disproportionate, and unprecedented, amount of say over the men in OPSIG. Knox, its founder and chief architect, and currently the FBI director, possessed a résumé like that of a summa cum laude intelligence master. In essence, he was a puppeteer whose positions of power enabled him to build a moat of impenetrability, a force field that could repel adversity, a man who pulled strings behind the scenes to make things happen. More than that, though, Knox enjoyed the loyalty of allies and elicited fear from adversaries; and in the process, he had developed a cache of dirt on the Washington elite.

Perhaps related and perhaps not, discord existed between McNamara and Knox going back two decades. DeSantos never asked Knox about it because it was something he did not need to know—and those would be Knox’s precise words should DeSantos venture onto the topic.

Tasset, with his wavy, uncharacteristic collar-length hair and professorial metal-rimmed glasses, pressed a button and a small green LED lit up on the conference room table. “We can talk securely.” He turned to Knox and sat back in his seat. “You said this involved Anthony Scarponi.”

“Hector would like some time with him,” Knox said. As Tasset raised a hand to object, Knox continued: “Secretary McNamara and I have briefed Hector on the dangers and we’ve consulted the doctors. They all feel Scarponi is past the point of relapse.”

Tasset frowned and leaned forward, placing his forearms on the tabletop. “You’ve already spoken with the doctors? Why am I only hearing this now?”

“We didn’t see any harm,” McNamara said.

Tasset ground his jaw. “After all we’ve been through with Scarponi, after all the damage he’s caused and all the money we’ve dumped into his rehab, I can’t imagine this is important enough to jeopardize—”

“The doctors cleared it,” DeSantos said. “Sir.”

Tasset’s gaze shifted to DeSantos. His long stare was meant to antagonize, unnerve. Though Tasset was an outwardly passive man, DeSantos knew he had an explosive temper and defended his territory ferociously. Like a guard dog.

But when it came to Anthony Scarponi, it took a lot more than a Washington power broker to deter Hector DeSantos.

Scarponi had been a key CIA operative working covertly in the Pacific Rim when his cover was compromised in the Ames spy scandal, which made headlines around the world. The fallout included Scarponi’s capture by the Chinese, who proceeded to run unsanctioned medical experiments on him. But not Mengele-type atrocities; these dealt with mind control. China had pioneered the field of
xi nao
, or “washing the brain,” in the 1950s, though the concept of exerting influence over another individual’s actions extended back to the thirteenth century.

The Chinese succeeded in turning Scarponi into a skilled assassin who operated around the world—and conveniently bore the fingerprint of the United States. The US government, unaware that their former operative had been turned, received its first indication of a problem after Scarponi’s initial hit—a Taiwanese official negotiating an arms deal with America.

After Scarponi’s only assignment on domestic soil—the murder of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster, officially ruled a suicide—the FBI apprehended him and the US Attorney delivered a conviction. But new evidence emerged after Scarponi had served several years in prison, and he was released pending a new trial. His attempt to exact revenge against the prosecution’s key witness resulted in an intensive effort to recapture him. But during the op, DeSantos’s partner, Brian Archer, was killed by Scarponi and his accomplices.

Rather than being returned to his jail cell, however, Scarponi landed in a secure facility at a Department of Defense medical facility overseen by doctors, researchers, and scientists working covertly with the CIA. There, while being studied to determine what techniques and psychoactive drugs had been used on him, and how they could be reverse engineered, he received specialized rehabilitative deprogramming therapy.

Tasset rose from his chair and leaned both hands on the table. He looked down for a moment, then said, “My better judgment tells me we should wait. If there’s no rush—”

“But there is.” DeSantos inched forward in his seat. “I have reason to believe that one of Scarponi’s former accomplices is planning a hit on a target of interest to us.”

“Who? And what?”

DeSantos and Knox shared a look.

“That’s unimportant,” Knox said.

“Bullshit. You want my permission on this but you won’t provide full disclosure? That’s not how this—”

“We don’t need your permission,” Knox said. He glanced at McNamara, whose impassive facial expression provided Knox all the support he needed—which was not much. “I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear. This is a domestic issue. And that’s my purview. So this is—” Knox shrugged a shoulder—“a courtesy visit.”

Tasset’s skin tone flushed crimson.

Knox held up a hand in contrition. “Earl. Let’s be frank, okay?” Tasset took his seat and motioned him to proceed. “This is important and we wouldn’t be here if I thought it was unreasonable. I would’ve just gone ahead and let Hector meet with Scarponi and informed you after the fact.”

“You son of—”

“But you know that I believe inclusion and openness is preferable. Because that’s what I’d expect in return if the situation were reversed.”

Tasset worked his jaw muscles, but finally, through clenched teeth, said, “Fair enough.”

“We didn’t go about this recklessly. And you have my word that we’ll handle the meeting with the utmost care to prevent a setback in Scarponi’s retraining.”

“I think we owe this to Mr. DeSantos,” McNamara said, drawing attention away from Knox.

Tasset swung his head toward DeSantos. “I don’t care who your father is, Hector. This is an ill-advised—”

“This has nothing to do with my father, and you know it.”

“Dick,” Tasset said pointedly, “you’ve been very quiet. But I know you. You’ve got an opinion on this. And it’s rarely in sync with Douglas’s view of the world.”

McNamara narrowed his left eye. “This will be an important test to see if Scarponi is truly as far along in his recovery as the doctors have led us to believe. If he can’t handle this, he has no business going back into the field. All issues aside, that’s reason enough to support us in this.”

Tasset chewed on that a long moment, then threw up his hands. “As you said, you people don’t need my permission. Do what you want. But no, I’m not sanctioning it. Something goes wrong, you two are going to answer for it. Not me. Are we clear?”

Knox and McNamara rose. DeSantos followed.

“Thanks for your time, Earl.” Knox forced a smile. “Always a pleasure.”

Rather than offering his hand in peace, Knox turned to leave—with McNamara at his side and DeSantos following close behind.


United States Department of Defense

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

CARD: Covert Arms Research Division

Memogen Study Facility

Undisclosed location

ector DeSantos, accompanied by Douglas Knox and Richard McNamara, cleared security procedures that rivaled those of the NSA. After stowing their weapons in a locker in the Sally Port, they were escorted to the basement by four Military Police officers and Dr. Saakaar Poola, CARD’s assistant director of research.

Stainless steel lined the walls, with closed-circuit cameras mounted every fifty feet, blanketing all corners and angles.

“Mr. Scarponi has been a model patient,” Poola said as they walked. “He’s extremely motivated and has done everything we’ve asked. His retraining and rehabilitation programs are progressing precisely as expected and he’s hitting the milestones I and my staff have set for him. In short, we expect a full recovery.”

DeSantos fought the urge to snort disapproval.

They turned a corner and entered a room that featured a large window inset in the Navajo white cinder block wall. Inside sat Anthony Scarponi, sitting at a table and staring at a Kindle eReader.

DeSantos felt bile rise into his throat. His abdominal muscles contracted. And his mind was seized by a single thought:
I want to kill the bastard
. Instead, he stayed within himself and asked, “Are you implying, Doctor, that you feel Scarponi can go back out into the field?” DeSantos made no attempt to hide his doubt.

“Not for me to say, Mr. DeSantos. My job is to make recommendations based on the patient’s clinical progress, analysis of his applied test results, and studies of his rigorous psychological testing.”

“You sound like the Mikhail Baryshnikov of the research community, Doc.”

Poola tilted his head in confusion.

DeSantos turned away and looked through the glass. “You danced around that question with remarkable skill.”

Knox cleared his throat. “Hector. Please.”

DeSantos held up a hand, as if to center himself. Now was not the time to antagonize. “My apologies. Sorry for putting you on the spot.”

McNamara, remaining in the background and observing—some might say looking for weakness and waiting to pounce—spoke up. “You sure you’re up for this, Hector? I’d rather do this another time if you’re going to have a problem with—”

“No problem, Mr. Secretary. I’m good.” He was incensed and filled with murderous rage, but he was good.

McNamara motioned to Poola. “Doctor, a word, please.”

Poola and McNamara moved into the corridor.

DeSantos felt Knox’s glare on his neck. “What. Sir.”

“You know what. I don’t want any drama. I made this sit-down possible. It can’t come back on me.”

DeSantos did not look at Knox. “I hear you, sir.”

“Do you? In all the years I’ve known you, I’ve seen you like this only once before, and you ended up doing something really stupid.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” He waited a beat, realizing he needed to lighten the moment before he lost his lone supporter. He said with a slight smile, “And thanks for the reminder.”

“What I really want you to remember is why you’re here. Make the most of your visit because you won’t get another one. And if Scarponi is released, and if he does return to the field, you’re going to have to stay a mile away from him. McNamara is not going to be understanding. And I don’t want to have to step in to clean up your mess. Not on something like this.”


“Keep your head, get your answers, get out of there.”

McNamara and Poola reentered the room.

DeSantos stepped over to the adjacent door. “I’m ready.”

“You’ve got ten minutes,” McNamara said.

DeSantos put his hand on the knob and paused for a second as he slipped a tiny sliver of metal into the lock. He took a deep breath, cleared his mind to get into operations mode—and wiped all emotion from his face. Focused on mission success.

He pushed through the door and grinned. “Anthony, I’m Hector. Department of Defense.”

Scarponi rose from the chair and set his Kindle on the table. He shook DeSantos’s hand with confidence. “Good to meet you.”

We came close to meeting once before, asshole. On a street in Fredericksburg. When you and your buddies killed my partner.

DeSantos motioned him to return to his seat. “How’s your… therapy going?

“Far as I can tell, real well. The doctors are very happy.”

DeSantos pursed his lips and nodded. “I’d like to talk to you about your time in China.”

Scarponi leaned back in his chair. “I’d like to help you out, Hector, but I’ve been through this with the doctors. I’m like a blank sheet of paper. I don’t remember anything from those years. It’s like it’s been erased.”

“Erased,” DeSantos repeated.

“Best way I can describe it. I can’t remember a thing.”

DeSantos leaned two hands on the back of the metal chair in front of him. “When does your memory begin? What’s the farthest back you can go?”

Scarponi looked up at the ceiling. “I really don’t remember much before my first few days here. At some point I was in the hospital and doctors and nurses kept coming and going from the room. It seems like a dream, but apparently that’s what happened. As for childhood memories—or anything else, really, before those first days in the hospital—I’ve got nothing. They even had to tell me my name.”

His better sense told him that Scarponi was bullshitting him—but he had no proof and the man’s body language was flawless; he gave nothing away. In this setting, DeSantos was powerless to force answers from him.

He wished he had Scarponi hooked up to a polygraph. Then again, a man like this—an international assassin, one of the most efficient and revered surgically accurate killers the world has known—would reveal nothing of use in a “psychophysiological detection of deception” examination. Despite all the sensors recording blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity, Scarponi would have long ago mastered incontrovertible control over his body’s physiological responses.

“So if I asked you about the guys you used to work with—”

“I wouldn’t know who you’re talking about.”

DeSantos had considered the possibility that Scarponi would refuse to provide the names of his former colleagues, let alone their tendencies, and where they had an inclination to pitch their tents. But he had not figured on Scarponi taking a passive-aggressive approach. It was a brilliant strategy because DeSantos could do nothing with it. That’s assuming, of course, he truly did not retain his prior memories.

DeSantos was willing to bet that it was an act. But was he willing to stake his career on it?

He took a seat opposite Scarponi and locked his gaze on the man. He had been evaluating his body language, the movement of his eyes, the visible—as yet nonexistent—moisture content of his skin. So far, unsurprisingly, his adversary had given away nothing.

“I read the reports of your escape from federal custody,” DeSantos said. “When you cut out the tracking transmitter. That was real good, by the way—very cool. There aren’t a lot of guys with the balls to do that. Not sure I could’ve done it.”

Scarponi shrugged. “A tracking transmitter?” He lifted his brow in genuine amazement. “Don’t remember. But that does sound pretty impressive.”

DeSantos smiled out of one side of his mouth. “It was. Still,” he said, leaning forward, “the thing that really caught my attention was when you had Lauren Chambers in that cabin. I mean, you had her tied up. How’d she get out?”

“Like I said. Can’t help you. But I’m surprised it’s not in the report.”

“Oh,” DeSantos said with a hearty laugh, “it is. I just wanted to hear it from you. Because I don’t believe what’s written there.” He stared at Scarponi, watching for facial tics. And waited.

Finally, Scarponi spread his hands in innocence. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Well, I mean, you’re a big, strong, tough guy. You killed people for a living. A lot of people. Some you shot—not so hard, really—others you poisoned. But then there are the harder ones, the up-close-and-personal hits: you stuck a knife in their stomach, twisted it, and sliced open their insides. That’s impressive.”

DeSantos stopped, observed. No reaction.

“And then there were the ones you strangled with your bare hands. Truly exceptional. It’s what made you so good at what you did.”

Scarponi shrugged. “I’m told that the drugs the Chinese used on me were very powerful. The training they gave me, the psychological techniques they taught me, perfected through decades of research and experimentation.”

“Yeah—I don’t doubt that for a minute. But here’s the thing.” DeSantos leaned in to Scarponi’s face and said, “This woman, only about five-four, a hundred ten pounds, she gets the upper hand and beats you silly. Pounds your face to a pulp.” He stopped and watched. And got what he wanted. A narrowing of the right eye, a tightening of his jaw muscle.
The face is a wonderful thing—unless you’re being interrogated—in which case it’s like a junkie who needs a fix.

“Big, tough man beat up by a woman. See, that’s what the report says about how she got away. She beat you and left you in that cabin.”

“No, that’s not—” Scarponi stopped, blinked. “I doubt that’s the way it went down.” He chuckled. “I mean, really. Look at me. Do you think that’s even possible?”

“I think a lot of things are possible, Hung Jin,” DeSantos said, using the name Scarponi had adopted when he was working for the Chinese.

“Who is—who’s Hung Jin?”

DeSantos grinned, broadly. “That’s good.” He rose, paced a bit, passed in front of the door, leaned against it—and locked it discreetly. “
good. But I’ve had enough of your bullshit. You’re going to tell me what I want to know—the names of your accomplices, the ones you worked with on US soil.”

Scarponi looked over at the observation window and spread his hands. “I don’t know what this man is talking about,” he said to the glass.

DeSantos stepped forward and jabbed Scarponi so fast and hard in the face that the man’s chair tipped backward and he went sprawling onto the floor.

DeSantos was on him immediately.

He grabbed Scarponi by the collar and slugged him again, his skull slamming against the concrete. Scarponi’s eyes rotated back into his head, then settled back in their center, jittering slightly as they fought to focus on DeSantos.

“Names. I want names! Now, or I swear to God, I’m going to kill you.” He grabbed Scarponi’s neck and dug both thumbs into his trachea.

Scarponi lifted his chest off the ground, throwing DeSantos off balance—and then rolled and spun out from under his weight. Scarponi scrabbled to his feet, but DeSantos was a half second faster, and he landed a vicious kick to Scarponi’s chin, snapping his neck back.

He lowered his head and slammed his shoulder into Scarponi’s chest, driving him back against the wall. He struck it forcefully, and the impact emptied the air from the man’s lungs.

DeSantos pulled flexcuffs from his back pocket and tightened them around Scarponi’s wrists. He fed another around the metal leg of the table, which was bolted to the floor. Pulled it tight.

DeSantos threw his forearm against Scarponi’s neck and put his weight behind it. “Names!”

Scarponi struggled, trying to swing his head side to side to dislodge DeSantos’s grip.

Somewhere off behind them:

Banging against the door.

Blaring alarms.

Flashing red lights

DeSantos knew he didn’t have much time before the MPs stormed the room. With his other hand, he grabbed Scarponi’s testicles and squeezed as hard as he could. Scarponi stiffened in pain. DeSantos pushed his forearm harder into his windpipe.

Tears streamed from his eyes, but Scarponi refused to talk.

“They’ve treated you like royalty, anything and everything you wanted. Coddled you, nurtured you like some poor little sick puppy. Well, see, here’s the thing,
. I’m like you, a killer. And I’m here for information. If you don’t give me what I want, I’m gonna do what you and your thugs did to my partner. So you can keep your mouth shut, let me take my revenge and settle the score. Or you can give me the names I want.”

Scarponi’s face shaded deep red, his eyes bulged, and he continued to struggle, moving his neck, attempting to suck air into his chest.

“What’s it going to be?”

Still no indication he intended to talk.



The whine of a drill on metal

“I know what you’re thinking—they’re gonna break in and pull him off me. And they’re definitely trying. But are they gonna get in before I kill you? Ask yourself—are they gonna drill out that lock in the next ten seconds? ’Cause that’s all you’ve got left. You ready to die?”

Scarponi locked gazes with DeSantos, who leaned harder on his neck.

“Give me the names and you’ll live another day. Your choice.”

Scarponi opened his mouth and his lips tried to form words. DeSantos released a bit of pressure on his neck.

“Vince Richter. Mike Hagel.” He coughed. “Can’t breathe—”

DeSantos loosened the pressure—slightly—and said, “Who else?”


“There’s more!” DeSantos squeezed harder. “I want all of ’em!”

Scarponi’s face reddened, his eyes intense pinpoints of anger.

“Hussein Rudenko. Where can I find him?”

Scarponi’s eyes widened—recognition—and he parted his lips, as if to answer. But he spit on DeSantos’s cheek instead. There wasn’t much force behind it, but the message was clear.

DeSantos slammed his forehead into Scarponi’s nose, breaking it and raising a corresponding lump on DeSantos’s brow.

“Rudenko! Goddamn it, where is he?”

Blood running out of both nostrils, struggling to breathe with DeSantos’s forearm pressing into his trachea, Scarponi laughed defiantly, telling DeSantos that his time had run out.

BOOK: No Way Out
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