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Authors: Richard Steinberg

Tags: #Thriller

The 4 Phase Man

BOOK: The 4 Phase Man
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RAVES FOR RICHARD STEINBERG

NOBODY’S SAFE

“A compulsively readable story that crackles with narrative energy.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Picaro is a terrific character; whenever he comes near a safe or a sensor, the tension holds brilliantly.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“A wild and enjoyable ride.”

—Houston Chronicle

“Steinberg creates lively, diverse characters, then embroils them in a complex plot that keeps the reader guessing. His skilled writing and cutting-edge subject matter have produced what may become the year’s most talked-about thriller.”

—Colorado Tribune

GEMINI MAN

“Consistently gripping.”

—Kirkus

“An unusual and elegant first novel with Darwinian overtones—The well-written and disturbing book combines high excitement and thought-provoking concepts.”

—Toronto Sar

“Starting out in Hannibal Lector territory,
The Gemini Man
thankfully takes a right turn at midpoint and finds some ground of its own—Steinberg sets a nice pace.
The Gemini Man
reads like a movie-in-waiting.”

—Detroit News

ALSO BY RICHARD STEINBERG
The Gemini Man
Nobody’s Safe

To Shawn Coyne,
editor and guide,
Who fights for what he believes and, luckily,
believes in me

A one phase man’s a keeper;
Two phase man’s no sleeper.
A three phase man’s a man of old;
But a four phase man’s worth his weight in gold!

—CIA verse

In another world, at another time, they would’ve been hailed as angels or damned as demons. Songs would’ve been written, stories handed down, their likenesses reproduced into the finest art of their period.

Considered good or calculated evil, they would
most certainly
have been noticed.

But not today.

Today they are hoarded like gold and food in a poor and starving land. Hidden from the light, denied existence—simply and completely
not there.

But they
are
there.

Men of cold intellects, colder viewpoints, and an implacable relentlessness beyond conception.

The
Four Phase Men
of whispered legend and mythic shadows.

Since the creation of modern intelligence agencies there have been only seven of this special breed. Men who could, by themselves, carry out all four pestilential skills most prized in the unacknowledged black wars of our times.

Gather intelligence.

Carry out counterintelligence.

Implement the highest technological forms of warfare. Kill…dispassionately, cleverly, cleanly, and without trace.

The four phases of modern intelligence field operations. Seven…
Four Phase Men.

Seven men who had risen to the heights (or depths) of the black ops world. Whose very presence made the world’s governments nervous, their masters confident, and all who knew about them very much afraid.

Seven men in sixty-three years.

And in the early days of a century that threatened to make the twentieth seem to be a time of rampant peace and tranquillity, only two left. No longer under anyone’s command and control; no longer tethered safely to flag, God, and country. Now outside, looking in.

At us.

One

There was no place left to go.

But the sun was going down, the weather turning, and the soldiers had lately begun to enforce the curfew. So
Aegri Somnia
(The Sick Man’s Nightmares), the only place in the district that a stranger could go without questions being asked, it would have to be.

The hostess just inside the taverna’s door never looked up from her paper.
“Ti alismonitos ehos.”

“Mu fanatay tsutayros.”
The man dropped some gold coins on her table. “That a good enough sound for you?”

At the American-accented English words, the woman looked up. Tourists almost never came to this part of the island. “Who you?” she asked cautiously, her cigarette dangling from her upper lip.

“Xenos Filotimo.”

The old woman laughed; using the moment to study the flat expression, the callused hands, the knife in the climbing boot. No emotion or feeling came off the big man. Just a blank, somehow foreboding wall.

But with the curfew, rich Americans or English (and they all were rich, she thought) were few and far between. The soldiers and the mercenaries, well, they had their own places. And the local toughs were too busy running from the soldiers—when they weren’t robbing
unwary European and American college students—to bother with a place where they had to pay.

So this man who spoke Greek like a Greek, but reeked of America and closeted disaster, was unusual.

She made up her mind.

“To look, ten thousand and more,” she said as she assessed his nonreaction. “To rent, fifteen thousand and more. To stay night is … more.”

“Thay prape na mirasto to domatio mu me aluis skorpeues?”
The man tossed thirty thousand drachmas (about $100 U.S.) on her table. “I hate scorpions.”

“No scorpions here, sir.” The woman quickly counted the bills before sliding them off the desk into a drawer. Next to a loaded and cocked Tokarev. She left the drawer open as she smiled up at the man.

“Filoxenia, Xenos Filotimo. Parea,”
she said in broad welcoming tones, then stood and unlocked the door behind her. She held up three arthritic fingers to the bartender inside. “Only scorpions are those you bring with.”

She relocked the door as soon as the man had gone through. She instantly picked up the phone to call the taverna’s owner.

A man like that, he would want to know about.

It took a long moment for the man’s eyes to adjust to the dinge of the place. Lanterns and lamps on the walls gave off a mixed red and green tone. A few candles flickered on fewer tables, occupied by maybe six or seven people in the near dark. The sound of a bouzouki strumming softly somewhere floated over the place, neatly mixing with the odors of Greek tobacco, burned lamb, and sex.

“Milk.”

The bartender nodded, then poured a glass of the thick, barely chilled goat’s milk. He hesitated as he handed the glass across the bar. He’d seen the type before: men who could go from docile to violent in moments. Men past caring, the
aeiramenê doupêsen
they were called in the islands.

Walking corpses
, devoid of human emotions, compassion, or clemency of any kind.

Xenos slowly swirled a sip of the sweet liquid in his mouth before swallowing. He briefly closed his eyes as his scarred neck pulsed with the effort. A smile played across his lips, then was instantly exiled as he opened his eyes.

“You want now, mister?” the bartender asked carefully.

“Amesos.”
He took another sip of the milk. “Not a child,
parakolutheô
? A woman.” His voice was hard, stone, inhuman.

“Understand.” The bartender swallowed hard, picturing what lay ahead for the woman he selected. What lay in store for
him
if he chose wrong. He waved to the back of the room and three women came forward.

They wore the long slit skirts and tight button-front sweaters that were the virtual uniforms of the whores of the islands. Maybe in their thirties, maybe older, they all looked at least fifty, and an old fifty at that. Their practiced smiles, pale olive skin stretched tight, their eyes all begging
“pick me, I need to feed my family.”

He selected the cleanest of the group. The one who preened the least, arched her back the least, seemed to
care
the least.

“Bring the milk.”

Carrying a pitcher of the milk in a bowl filled with ice, she led the way to the back.
“Emai Eleni.
I make you real happy,” she said tonelessly, in a rehearsed fashion, as they climbed the stairs to the second floor. She let them into a small room with a bed, chair, dresser with a radio, a crucifix, and a tiny mirror.

As Xenos walked to the heavily curtained window to look out at the street below, the woman knelt in front of her crucifix, mumbling a nearly silent prayer for strength and forgiveness. Then she stood and looked over the stranger. “What do you want me call you?”

Xenos allowed the curtain to fall back as he turned to her. “That’s not important.” He dropped his pack on the floor to the side of the bed.

He reached out to her, gently stroking her cheek with the back of his hand, surprised by the real softness there. She turned her head into his hand, professionally but effectively; like a kitten arching into its owner’s caress.

He inhaled her hair, her fragrance, felt her warmth. Slowly slid his hand down her neck, finding she had already unbuttoned the old, worn sweater—she probably always did, to keep it from being torn. His fingers found her firm smallish breasts, slid over her warm nipples, felt the regular, completely detached beating of her heart.

“Jerry?”

“Yeah, boss!”

“See you a moment?”

The boy—barely a man—jogged over to the older man. “What d’you need, Herb?”

The older man gestured at a nearby couch in the half-empty rec room. “Got something to show you.”

Jerry looked pained. “God, it’s Sunday, man. Can’t we put off more training videos until…”

“Now, son.” Herb’s voice was the perfect mix of professional discipline and paternal disapproval.

Jerry sighed, then sat down.

“I thought you’d be interested in this,” Herb said simply as he started the video. “Thought you might learn something.”

The picture on the projection television resolved itself into a small bedroom. A woman in her forties lay naked on the bed, holding out her arms to someone off camera.

Then a nude, erect Jerry walked in front of the camera.

“Hey!” someone from the back of the room called out. “Dirty movies!”

“Herb,” Jerry said in a pained whisper, “turn it off. Please,” he begged.

But Herb just pointed at the screen as a crowd gathered round.

On the screen Jerry first sat on the bed, then gingerly lifted himself over the woman. He fumbled around, trying
but failing to enter cleanly, requiring the woman to reach down and guide him in.

“Hey, Goldman,” someone in the crowd called out. “I never knew you was Jewish.”

“Need some help there, did you, Jerry?” from another.

The boy/man shrunk in his seat as his image continued to awkwardly be helped by the woman. “God, Herb, please!”

The image froze, then was shut off.

“Gentlemen,” Herb said, looking at the blank screen, “may we have this room?”

A minute later they were alone.

The older man took a deep breath. “She’s one of ours. One of our little, I don’t know, tests?” He shook his head.

“One you failed.”

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