Thursday, February 25, 2016

Existential Threats by R. Lawson



Title: Existential Threats (Book 4 of The CIA International Thriller Series)
Author: R. Lawson
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 345
Genre:  Thriller/Espionage

The CIA's incoming Director of Counter Terrorism, Biff Roberts, is inheriting a multitude of challenges. For starters, there is the existential threat of a nuclear Iran. Added to that, the Middle East has become enmeshed in a surge of radical religious extremism ranging from fanatical Muslims of the Islamic State to the Taliban, groups who commit unspeakable atrocities using violence to pursue their atavistic goals. Syria’s civil war could result in Assad's weapons of mass destruction getting into the hands of the splintered groups of Islamic Jihadists fighting there. This radical ideology has now spilled over into Africa with furious intensity.

And as if these international problems were not enough imminent threats to confront, Iranian mullahs have issued an Islamic death warrant fatwa on Biff, and those hoping to see it through are chasing him to the ends of the Earth.

Things move closer to home when CIA intelligence discovers that Iran has dispatched Mahmoud Abu Javari, the notorious IED bomb maker to the U.S.  Biff now faces a Homeland threat of 9/11 proportions and has to thwart a bomb plot in San Francisco without knowing the target or timing for the planned act of terror.

For More Information

  • Existential Threats is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Book Excerpt:
CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, ITALY
New Year’s Day

The assassins hid behind a huge boulder above the timberline, giving
them an excellent view of the ski slopes below.

“In the red parka at the top of the Tofana piste,” the handler, Rashid,
said, spotting the target first. He spoke in Arabic with a distinctive French
inflection, his calm voice belying his excitement. “Look to the right side of
the slope. He’s just inside the tree line, leaning on his ski poles and talking
with the woman and her children. See him?”

Beside Rashid, Mustapha frowned as he peered through the scope of his
rifle. “Your binoculars have a wider field of view,” he complained. His accent
was foreign to Rashid, an African version of Arabic that fell heavily on
Rashid’s ears. In addition to disliking his accent, Rashid found Mustapha’s
facial tattoos—tribal markings apparently—distasteful. But Mustapha had
a reputation as a skilled shooter and he seemed dedicated to their mission.

“Big guy, blond hair,” Rashid said as he laid his Bushnell binoculars
on the hood of their snowmobile and pointed. “About six hundred meters
down to the right. Use my binoculars if you can’t spot him.”

“Okay, now I have him,” Mustapha said, grinning. “He’s much bigger
than I imagined, good target. But there’s a tree branch in the way
now. I’ll wait until he skis out to the first mogul, then I’ll have him in my crosshairs.”

* * *
Biff Roberts stopped at the top of the Tofana run, enjoying the rest and
the magnificent early morning view of Cortina below. The gondola had
dropped them off at over ten thousand feet, and after traversing over
to the piste, they were even higher. It was easy to get winded at this
altitude.

“Let the youngsters go first, Patricia,” Biff said. “I doubt we can match
their pace.”

“Okay, Biff,” Patricia said, smiling warmly. Patricia DeBartola was
in her fifties, but Biff thought she looked better than most women thirty
years younger. Like him, she kept herself in great shape, another reason
they were a great match.

Biff was enjoying a rare break from work before the next big step in his
career. After four decades in the CIA, he was about to take on his most challenging
role yet—as the head of Langley’s clandestine Counterterrorism
Division. He was looking forward to getting started, but first he wanted to
spend time with Patricia and get to know her kids better.

“Watch out for ice on the downside of moguls at this hour,” Patricia
told him. “It’s so easy to catch an edge when you check and turn downhill.
And although it’s a black diamond run, it’s really not too difficult if you
control your speed. That’s essential. Rest if you start to tire.”

Patricia could see from Biff’s smile that he didn’t mind her advice. But
she realized she might be overdoing it.

“Don’t do anything crazy trying to impress me, okay?” She smiled to
try and hide her concern. “I know how you are sometimes.”

Maybe I do worry too much, she thought. But she was an expert skier
and this was a challenging slope. Biff was strong and athletic, and he’d
told her he could ski, but could he handle this steep hill? She didn’t want
to jeopardize their holiday vacation with an injury. In retrospect, maybe
she shouldn’t have brought him up here, but the Tofana chute was her
children’s favorite run, and the view was absolutely spectacular. She would
just have to watch him closely.

“You got it, lady,” Biff said. “I promise to take it nice and easy.” Biff
didn’t want her worrying about him today. Biff’s work meant he was
often in danger, but this was time to relax and get to know her family
better.

Patricia glanced at her daughter. “Alessandra, I suggest you go first, in
case you fall. Your brothers will follow to pick you up.”

Her daughter remained silent, not taking the bait.

“Right, Enzo and Donatello?” Patricia added. “You’ll look out for your
baby sister? She might be a bit rusty.” Alessandra had given birth last year
and missed the ski season. “Be sure to keep a close eye on her, okay?”

“No problem, Mom,” Enzo replied without hesitation, smiling widely.

Unlike his sister, Enzo appreciated his mother’s sense of humor, which
was often half in jest, half in earnest.

“Same old predictable Mom, looking out for her brood,” Donatello
said quietly beside Enzo. Donatello leaned on his ski poles, raring to go.
They had both heard that refrain for years, to look out for their baby
sister.

“Yeah, right, Mom,” Donatello said loudly. “No problem.” He replied
like a good son should, no matter his age. Their dad had disciplined
them well.

“Doubt we’ll keep up with her, though. She’s definitely the
best downhiller in the family, maybe the town,” Donatello reminded
her, as if she wasn’t cognizant of that well-established fact after all these
years.

‘Baby sister’ had been a top notch ski instructor on this mountain
and the winner of many alpine competitions before she married ten years
ago and started her family. Now the mother of three, Alessandra still
had a cult-like following of aspirant young female skiers in Cortina who
stopped her on the streets for her advice on training exercises and hints
on succeeding in timed trials.

At Donatello’s remark, Alessandra just politely smiled, shunning the
time-honored family banter, and pushed off. She checked adroitly on the
first mogul and swiftly weaved her way gracefully down the fall line, starting
the five-thousand-foot vertical descent to the Dolomite village in the
valley below.

Biff watched her glide effortlessly down the steep slope, darting
through the moguls like a rabbit, changing direction unpredictably but
smoothly.

“The whole scene is definitely like an edited Warren Miller ski clip,”
Biff observed. “Good show.”

“She’s a talented skier,” Patricia replied. She was clearly proud of her
family, especially her daughter, and rightfully so.

“She doesn’t look a bit rusty to me,” Biff complimented.

“She’s still got it at thirty, hasn’t lost a move.” She nodded to her sons.
“OK, boys. Go catch her, if you can.” Patricia laughed delightedly, realizing
she hadn’t been this happy in years. She had been nervous about
having the kids meet Biff, but everything was going wonderfully.

The brothers immediately set off after their sister, laughing. They were
strong, athletic skiers but lacked their sister’s grace as she short turned in
the fall line, taunting them to catch her.

“A classic display of sibling rivalry?” Biff suggested. “You raised some
great kids, Patricia. Look at them go, having a ball.”

“Thank you. This is always a big part of our family New Year’s tradition.
They’re trying to make an impression. They intend to test you out as
a prospective stepfather, so heads up.”

“Natural thing to do, I suppose.” Biff smiled down at Patricia. “You
sure scored impressively with my family last week.” Patricia had gone to
Arizona with him for Christmas festivities. “You turned Caroline’s life
around, thank God.”

Patricia smiled, pleased. “She just needed some motherly TLC. I
understand what she’s going through.”

“You gave her helpful insight, dear,” Biff said. “It’s been a whirlwind
experience introducing our kids, judging if they’ll accept our relationship.
Like you said, so far, so good.”

Less than a year ago, Biff’s wife and childhood sweetheart, Mary Beth,
had been gunned down by an assassin, in place of Biff. Many years ago,
Patricia’s husband, the Italian ambassador to Israel, had been assassinated
by Hamas while visiting Gaza on a peacekeeping mission. It was that
shared experience of traumatic grief that had brought Biff and Patricia
together so quickly and so intensely. His children, rather than angered at
his finding love again so soon, seemed to understand all the more that life
was short and precious, and should be lived to the fullest. Patricia’s kids
seemed to want the same happiness for their mother.

“We better catch up with them,” Patricia said. “I see them waiting
downhill for us, joking around. Look, they’re waving to us to come on.
Let’s go. Try and keep up.”

“Keep up with them?” He grinned. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Well, let’s try and not let them out of sight. You’re next, I’ll follow.”
She smiled, thrilled at the positive start to their vacation and family
introductions. After her family tragedy, she’d doubted if she’d ever be
deeply happy again. Yet in Biff, she’d found someone to spend the rest
of her life with, someone who had experienced a similar misfortune.
Empathy drew them together, and the whole was greater than the parts
that bonded them.

“Be patient,” Biff said. “It’s been a while since I last skied at Tahoe.
And I’m not in your kids’ class, believe me. But it’s just like riding a bike,”
he added, smiling. He took off, bouncing off the first mogul, trying to
imitate her kids’ skillful execution of a check turn and hot-dogging it.

Despite Patricia’s warning, he immediately caught an edge on the
mogul’s icy downhill side. Biff lost his balance and began to fall.

His fall was a fortunate event as it turned out. Just as he began to slip, a
.223 caliber bullet ripped through his left shoulder, sending red fragments
of his insulated parka flying. Groaning in pain, he crashed head over heels
downhill between the steep moguls.

Patricia noted the muffled sound of a gunshot fired through a suppressor
from uphill an instant before Biff fell. Despite the silencer, the rifle’s
resonance followed instantly through the clear mountain atmosphere. She
had heard that unforgettable “bap” sound before, and her years of association
with Mossad conditioned her response. She glanced furtively uphill
at the ridge. She saw no one, but suspected more incoming fire.
Had the shot caused Biff’s awkward spill? It all happened too quickly
for her to tell.

“Biff!” she called as she immediately skied to his assistance, not fearing
exposing herself to danger. He could be shot, and she had to help him.


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