From TV broadcaster Lou Dobbs and award-winning author James O. Born comes Putin's Gambit, an international financial thriller about a KGB plot to use a series of terrorist attacks as cover for a Russian military incursion into Estonia (available June 20, 2017).
Adjusting to civilian life has not been easy for former Marine Derek Walsh. As he navigates a brutal job on Wall Street and a challenging romance, he wonders if he could be doing more with his life. When an inexplicable $200 million dollar money transfer is made on his computer, he is thrust into the world of international terror, and the global economy is knocked off its hinges.
On the other side of the Atlantic, a dangerous alliance has formed. Radical Islamists and Russian extremists have set the wheels in motion for Russia to assert its power in Europe. The US President has proven to be weak on foreign policy, the military is stretched too thin, and Vladimir Putin judges this to be the time for Russia to regain its Soviet Empire. Troops mass on the Estonian border, waiting for the order to move.
The FBI believes Walsh was involved in the money transfer, and a group of Russians are intent on killing him. As New Yorkers are outraged upon learning of the illegal money transfer, and the world economy crashes after a series of terrorist attacks, Walsh and his Marine buddies are the only ones that can keep the world from spinning off its axis.
Major Ronald Jackson had spent months on deployment in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a brief peacekeeping stint in Kuwait after an invasion of Islamic State fighters. It was that time in combat and the fact that he was one of the few officers from his original unit still in the Marine Corps that made him feel like he had earned his right to a cushy embassy detail here in Germany. In point of fact, which was the only thing the marines dealt in, he was responsible for several diplomatic buildings, from the missions in Frankfurt and Bonn to the U.S. embassy here in Berlin.
He’d dropped in on the new lieutenant in charge of the security and the twenty-six marines at 0 dark thirty. At thirty-one, Major Jackson no longer partied all night and found rising before the sun and driving from the base outside Stuttgart a simple task. He smiled as he recalled how much he hated a CO who did shit like that to him when he was new to a post. Security for the embassy building off Pariser Platz looked pretty sharp, and the marines were alert.
He took his time walking alone after he’d gotten the lieutenant out from under foot. It was a brilliant, sunny day with the temperature in the midfifties. He liked wearing his overcoat because it hid the shrapnel scar on his right arm he’d received his last tour in Afghanistan. A lucky grenade pitch by a dark-haired youth had left him in the hospital for three weeks. Now he noticed the cooler weather in his elbow. He’d always thought that kind of thing was just bullshit the old vets talked about. Old war wounds really did change with the weather.
Major Jackson wondered what his best friends from the unit were doing now. One of them, Derek Walsh, worked on Wall Street but didn’t seem all that happy when they talked. Another, Mike Rosenberg, was settling into his new job with the CIA. He’d been the G-2 in their unit and done an exceptional job. The fourth member of their clique was still, like Jackson, in the Corps. Bill Shepherd was in a combat brigade at the same base as Jackson in Böblingen near Stuttgart.
Their relationship was like being in a family with four brothers who were all competitive. They each made the others better. He liked it. They were the four horsemen, and each had skills that complemented the others’.
A young corporal snapped to attention near the front gate. Jackson returned a salute as he glanced over his shoulder to ensure there was a rifleman on the roof as required when the threat alert was raised like this. Someone had picked up some extra chatter, and the goddamned Islamic State was beheading people all over the place now. YouTube had videos from as far away as Perth and Chicago showing the masked executioners at work. The videos had all gone viral, with the media replaying them endlessly.
Major Jackson wished the cowards would face real military men head-on. No marine worth his salt would consider terrorists anything but cowards. It didn’t matter what loudmouth TV hosts said about their abilities. No one could stand against a well-trained marine unit. He wished the marines would be unleashed on them one day soon. That would end this shit quickly. Those limp dicks in Washington never acted, they only reacted, and the assholes from the so-called Islamic State had them reacting all over the place. It felt like the United States had stripped NATO of soldiers in an effort to refocus on the Middle East.
The rapid deployment force they’d been setting up to respond if the Baltics or other NATO members were attacked by Russia was a year behind schedule. Jackson wondered if the current administration was just pushing it off until a new administration took office. That would be the easiest thing to do, but maybe not the smartest. He had hoped the Russian annexation of Crimea would’ve woken people up to the real threats in the world.
He stood and took in the activity on the street in front of him. Typical tourist and light vehicle traffic moved casually down the street, reminding him of his hometown of Sacramento. The Germans had proven to be a friendly people who seemed to appreciate the U.S. military presence, at least where Major Jackson had been.
He noticed a Mercedes step van ease toward the main gate, the driver obviously listening to someone sitting behind him. The major wasn’t one for profiling—he’d seen it by the California Highway Patrol back home and been a victim of it—but the young man with dark hair driving the van caught his attention. He turned and stepped toward the gate, calling out to the corporal on duty and the PFC sitting inside the monitoring booth directly behind the gate.
Then it happened. Just like he’d seen in training. He’d even witnessed it live once in Afghanistan. The driver popped out of the van with an AK-47 in his hand. Major Jackson did not hesitate. He sprang forward as the corporal brought up his M-4 carbine. The major was reaching under his coat to grip his M-9 pistol.
The passenger door opened, and men started pouring out as if they were a SWAT team.
Major Jackson screamed at the corporal, “Fire that weapon, marine,” as he brought his pistol’s sights on target. He noted that the first man had a small machine pistol that looked like a TEC-9, and another carried a German assault rifle. They also moved like men who knew their objective and had trained for it.
Major Jackson heard a shot and saw the corporal stumble back and collapse onto the ground, his neck spurting bright red blood. He squeezed off two quick shots and dropped the man who had fired the assault rifle. He acquired the next target and fired twice more. The man flopped onto the wide sidewalk.
Now the four remaining men rushed the gate. Gunfire came from the booth as the PFC joined the fight.
A huge flash came from the rear of the van, and the major immediately recognized it as a rocket-propelled grenade. He’d seen enough of them in the mountains of Afghanistan. He dove away from the security booth and rolled toward a heavy potted plant designed to keep a vehicle from coming through the gate toward the building.
He felt the bone-rattling explosion an instant before the rubble of the booth filled the air around him. Shards of glass struck his exposed leg. He ignored the pain and popped up over the metal reinforced planter and fired at the man closest to the gate. The short man had slapped a plastic explosive on the lock. The explosive detonated early, causing the man to disintegrate into a red mist as the gate was blown off its tracks, allowing the last three terrorists inside the compound.
Major Jackson rolled and took aim, killing another attacker and then scanning the area to see if the PFC from the booth was dead. The bloody uniform twenty feet away indicated that he was.
The rifleman on the roof was now firing, but without much effect.
Another group of three men piled out of the back of the van and charged the gate. It was lost, but Major Jackson knew it was his job to hold as long as possible. He reloaded with his extra magazine of 9 mm because he had lost count of his shots.
He raised the pistol from a prone position and managed to hit the two men inside the gate, then turned his attention to the next group.
The rooftop rifleman dropped one man. The second man stumbled, and the major put three rounds into him on the ground. The last man standing, a big guy in his forties with thick hair and a graying beard, rushed the major, firing his own pistol.
They ended up on the ground together, the man so close the major could smell sardines on his breath. The rifleman kept up fire, and dirt spouted near Major Jackson’s head.
The large, smelly man was badly wounded and had dropped his pistol. Major Jackson wanted him alive so someone could figure out what this was all about and who was responsible.
The man reached into his pocket and in a heartbeat retrieved some kind of remote detonator.
Major Jackson froze and looked the man in the eye.
The man spoke in accented English. “You put up good fight. It won’t matter. This is just the start.” He mashed the button.
Major Ronald Jackson, graduate of the University of California, nine-year veteran of the marines, son to a city planner and a speech pathologist, felt the heat as he heard the blast and knew that the entire step van held some kind of high explosive and was their plan B.
After the initial flash, everything went dark.
* * *
Vladimir Putin was just finishing his breakfast in his office inside the palace at Novo-Ogaryovo. The fresh produce he ate most mornings came from the personal farmland estate of the patriarch.
He didn’t like to rush his breakfast, but he knew people were waiting to meet with him. He conducted most of his business at the palace about twenty-four kilometers west of Moscow. It was quiet and comfortable here, and Putin felt this was where he belonged. It was quite different from his childhood apartment he had shared with two other families and rats in St. Petersburg, which was known at the time as Leningrad. This was the kind of living that he had grown accustomed to and why he had made sure that no matter what happened, he would be one of the wealthiest men in the world.
He was already a little on edge for having missed his usual morning swim. His judo practice was still scheduled for the afternoon, but this meeting was important, more important than anything they had planned in quite some time. After finishing his second quail egg, a delicacy he had come to enjoy, he stood from the table and checked himself in a mirror. Even in simple slacks and shirt with no tie, he liked what he saw.
Putin stepped through the door into his private office, then used an intercom to have the secretary send in his guests. An older, obese man with virtually no hair on his head waddled in, followed by a man whose build was very similar to Putin’s own. He greeted them warmly. They were old friends—two of a handful of men he trusted implicitly.
He motioned the large man, Andre Maysak, who was in his midseventies, to a wide, comfortable chair, which Putin himself usually occupied. “Sit here, Andre. We have much to talk about.”
The older man, who was a member of the Politburo and a dominating force in the Foreign Ministry, straightened his tailored Joseph Abboud suit and plopped down with great effort.
Putin would need Andre if the General Assembly rebelled, and, if necessary, to suppress any dissent. Among other things, Andre knew where all the bodies were buried.
The man about Putin’s age, Yuri Simplov, was a deputy director of the SVR, the foreign intelligence service for the Russian Federation and successor agency to the KGB. Because of his background in intelligence, Putin had come to rely on the SVR to handle a number of problems whether it had legal authority or not. If Andre knew where all the bodies were buried, Simplov knew how to blame Putin’s enemies for those brutal crimes.
Simplov always dressed in simple, off-the-rack suits, mostly so no one would suspect that he had amassed a fortune through his association with Putin and his sensitive position in the government service. They had worked together since their days in the KGB and had always had a private rivalry to see who was tougher. If one man ate nails, the other ate nails with rust on them. In this case, it was just who could sit more awkwardly in a hard chair.
Andre looked between the two men and said, “Somehow I don’t think I’m about to hear good news.”
Putin gave him a rare smile and said, “On the contrary, my friend, this is nothing but good news. It’s also something I hope you know nothing about. Operational security has been extraordinarily strict, and I thought we would start to brief key members of the Politburo.”
“I’m fascinated and worried at the same time,” Andre said.
Putin said, “First, I have to give credit to Yuri for finding ways to accomplish the impossible without having a financial trail that leads back to Russia in any way.”
Andre folded his arms, looking at the arrogant younger man who rarely bothered to greet others when they met in the halls of power. He said, “And what are the impossible feats our SVR friend has managed to accomplish?”
Putin said, “It’s really two things that are connected. First, he has a way to steal two hundred million dollars from a U.S. bank without anyone suspecting us. And we will use that money to fund a new ally that will help distract the U.S. while we plan our first major military operation in decades.”
“And who is this new ally?”
“A group of jihadists associated with ISIS.”
That got Andre’s attention. He leaned forward and said, “How do we become allies with someone we are constantly at war with? They hate us.”
“But they hate the West more,” Putin said. “We do not rub our affluence in their face. We do not produce movies that ridicule them. We didn’t invade Iraq, and we do not bankroll Israel.”
“But how did you even approach them?” Andre asked.
“They approached us,” Putin said. “They wanted us to teach them how to hack into a computer system of the world’s biggest banks.”
Andre cut his eyes from one man to the other and finally said, “And what would be the target of this new military operation?”
Putin couldn’t hide his smile, and he finally said, “Estonia.”
Copyright © 2017 Lou Dobbs & James O. Born.
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Lou Dobbs, the host of Fox Business News' Lou Dobbs Tonight, is a legendary broadcaster, bestselling author, and one of the most respected and insightful voices on politics, economics, society, and business.
James O. Born is an award-winning author who has published articles on history and Florida. He is a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Agent and is currently a Special Agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.