In his explosive new novel, Greg Rucka reveals that the plot against America is far from over. Jad Bell saving the day in Alpha? A minor setback. Read the first chapter of Bravo below and watch the wheels set back in motion.
“You look tired,” she says, moving out of the doorway to let him inside. “Do you want to talk about it?”
The soldier enters, moves his cover to his hands, holding the hat in a way that makes him feel half her age, though he’s most of the way through fifty and she’s not seen the edges of thirty yet. He doesn’t speak, doesn’t move as she shuts and locks the door behind him, comes back to put a gentle touch on his elbow. She looks at him curiously, concerned, then shakes her head in such a way that her hair shifts and gently sways, exposes bare neck from collar to jawline. He sees her skin, feels an almost magnetic tug, an immediate urge to wrap his arms around her and inhale her scent. He’s too old to believe that doing so will make it all better, but it’s what he feels. He thinks about the fact that he should’ve waited before coming here, before talking to her. He thinks that he doesn’t have a choice.
“Jamieson’s dead,” the soldier says.
She nods slightly, a touch of sympathy in her expression, in the movement, and he thinks it’s for his sake, and not for the dead man she has never met, hardly even knew.
“I’ll make you a drink,” she says. “I’ve got some of that rye you like.”
He nods, moves into the large front room. Floor-to-ceiling windows that would show the gleam of the capital at night, but the curtains are drawn, the way they always are when he arrives. He’s never seen them open, never seen the view out of her condo here in the West End. This town, he knows, keeps a secret like a four-year-old at a birthday party. When he visits, he visits at night, drives straight into the underground lot, takes the spot that’s always open. Normally, he changes out of uniform before coming here.
Tonight is not normal.
The soldier takes a seat, sets his hat beside him, loosens his tie and his collar. When she comes back with the drink, he takes it from her hand, sets it aside. She raises an eyebrow.
“You don’t want a drink you should’ve said so.”
The soldier pulls her to him, meets her mouth with his own. She kisses him back with full hunger, uncaged; it’s what she’s been waiting for.
When they reach her bedroom, he keeps much of his uniform on, at least for a while.
Afterward, embracing every cliché, she lights a cigarette and shares it with him, resting on her elbow, the ashtray balanced on his sternum. He stares at the ceiling. It’s the lost hours, between three and five in the morning, and the only sounds are the hum of the air-conditioning and, just beyond, the muted tick of the clock on the bedside table. He can feel her gaze, studying him. Her patience is unnerving, and he cannot stop his mind from spinning into questions. He knows what she’s waiting for.
“He can name his price.”
She sucks on the cigarette, exhales toward the ceiling, places the filter back between his lips. He swears he can taste her on it.
“I’ll tell him that,” she says.
“I want to talk to him this time. No middleman, not like it was with Jamieson. I want to deal with him directly.”
She shakes her head slightly. He knew she would.
“We bought a service,” the soldier says, recalling her own phrasing. “It didn’t execute.”
“You knew there was an element of risk. You embraced that when you told me what Jamieson and the others wanted to buy.”
“It didn’t execute.” He puts the cigarette out in the ashtray, feels the sharp point of heat of the cinder dying on the glass against his skin. He moves the ashtray to the nightstand, and when he rolls back, she is exactly as she was before. “We’re no better off than when we started.”
“I’ve seen the news, baby. We both know that’s not true.”
“It’s not enough. It’s not what we wanted.”
She shrugs, and it’s as elegant as every other movement she makes. He wonders, not for the first time, what she was before she was this. He used to think she was as American as he, but over time he has revised that theory. There’s an Eastern European touch to her beauty, to the dark hair and dark eyes and almost too-fair skin. When he’s tried to look into who she really is—carefully, very, very carefully—all the answers come back entirely plausible, the banal lies of espionage that he has come to recognize from thirty years of service. When he’s asked her, her response has always been the same.
“I am what you need me to be.”
She’s been a lot of things for him. She’s been an ardent and eager and skilled lover. She’s been a woman who has made him feel adored and strong and potent. She’s been a comfort, laughing at the right time at the right jokes, asking the right questions when he needed to talk about himself. She’s been a confessor, listening to secrets he has no right to tell anyone else. She’s been the gateway. When the soldier and Jamieson and the others concluded what they needed to do to save their country, she heard the edge of conspiracy in his voice, and she offered the way to the means. It was she who told the soldier she knew a man who knew a man who could provide the terror they wanted. It was she who put Jamieson and the Uzbek in the same place at the same time.
She’s been all these things, but right now, he needs her to be something else. Right now, he needs her to be a rope, he needs her to keep him from drowning. Right now, the soldier needs her to tell him that what he’s done, what they’ve done, cannot come back to harm them, and that there is still a way forward.
She moves against him, lays her head against his chest. One hand finds his, laces fingers.
“Tell me what you want,” she says. “Tell me what you’re offering. I’ll speak to him, and I’ll tell you what he says.”
A sudden, sharp anger bursts in him. He resents her patience, resents what feels like condescension from this woman so much
younger than he, who makes him hard despite himself, who has secrets he cannot uncover. He grips her wrists and rolls atop her, pins her arms over her head, and the way she yields only makes him that much more frustrated and aroused. She’s looking up at him unafraid, that same expression, as if anything he might do to her now is what she wants him to do, or, worse, what she expects from him, that he is entirely predictable to her. She pushes against his grip, but only just. She opens her legs.
“We want what we paid for,” the soldier says.
She arches, receiving him, makes a sound that thrills him.
“Yes,” she says.
“You tell him that. You tell him that.”
“You tell him…oh…goddamn it…”
“…damn you, goddamn you, woman…”
“…we want the war we paid for!”
After a time, his hands leave her wrists, and she wraps her arms around him, and the silence returns, the air conditioner, the ticking of the clock, the racing of his pulse. Her lips brush his ear.
“He’ll want something in return.”