The Fourth Horseman: New Excerpt

The Fourth Horseman by David Hagberg is the 20th installment of the New York Times bestselling Kirk McGarvey series featuring a rogue CIA agent claiming leadership of Pakistan that Kirk McGarvey must track down and kill (Available February 23, 2016).

Pakistan is torn apart by riots in the streets. The CIA sends Pakistan expert David Haaris to meet with leaders of the military intelligence apparatus which all but controls the country, to try to head off what appears to be the disintegration of the government.

But Haaris has other ideas. After disguising himself, he beheads the president in front of a mob of ten thousand people and declares himself the new Messiah. He says he will bring peace and stability to the country by allying with the Taliban.

At that moment, miles to the south on the border with Afghanistan, one of four stolen nuclear weapons is detonated.

Pakistan has become the most dangerous nation in the world. Legendary former director of the CIA Kirk McGarvey is given a mission—assassinate the Messiah, code name: The Fourth Horseman.


The Messiah


At midnight a private Gulfstream biz jet that had just arrived from Paris touched down at the newly opened Gandhara International Airport near Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad. David Haaris, the only passenger, made a telephone call.

He was a slightly built thirty-eight-year-old man wearing khaki trousers, an open-necked white shirt and a dark blue blazer. He had the long, delicate fingers of a concert pianist and a round, pleasant face, slightly dark, as if he’d been spending his weekends in the sun. His eyes were wide and jet black, and held intelligence and power that were immediately obvious to anyone meeting him for the first time. His voice was soft, cultured, with a hint of an upper-class British accent, and his vocabulary and grammar were almost always perfect. At the Pakistan Desk in the CIA his was the last word on proper usage.

His call was answered on the first ring by a man speaking Punjabi, Haaris’s first language. “Yes.”

“I’ve arrived.”

“I’ll expect you in my office the moment you’re clear. Good luck.”

“Are you looking for trouble?”

“These are difficult times, my friend, as you well know. The Aiwan-e-Sadr came under attack just three hours ago. There is no telling what will happen next. So it is good that you are here, but take care.” The Aiwan was the residence and office of Pakistan’s president. It served the same purpose as the White House in Washington.

“Have you sent a car?”

“Yes. But keep a very low profile. Short of sending a military escort—which would just make matters worse—you will be on your own until you reach me.”

“Perhaps I could order a screen of drones.”

“Anything but.”

“As you wish,” Haaris said, and he broke the connection, a slight smile playing at the corners of his mouth. His cell phone conversation with Lieutenant General Hasan Rajput, who was the director of the Covert Action Division for Pakistan’s intelligence agency, was primarily for the benefit of the U.S. National Security Agency and the Technical Services Section in the CIA directorate where he worked. They were listening in.

The pretty flight attendant, who’d been aboard since Andrews, came aft as he took the SIM card out of his phone and put it in his pocket. Her name was Gwen, and like Haaris she worked for the CIA.

“The captain would like to know how long you expect to be on the ground, sir,” she said.

“Probably no more than a few hours, luv. You might have him refuel in case we have to make a hasty retreat.”

The young woman didn’t smile. “Should we be expecting trouble?”

“Not out here at the airport. At least not for the short term.”

Haaris glanced out the window as they taxied to a hangar used by the government for unofficial flights. The night was quiet, and he could almost smell the place even over the faint stink of jet fuel. A host of memories passed behind his eyes at the speed of light. Good times, some of them when he was a child in Lahore, but then horrible times after his parents died and his uncle brought him first to London to study in public school, then on to Eton and finally Sandhurst. He was a “rag head,” an “Islamic whore,” and in prep school the older boys used him in just that way.

And so his hate had begun to build, centimeter by centimeter, like a slowly developing volcano rising out of the sea.

He unbuckled and got up as the aircraft came to a complete halt, and he gave the attendant a smile. “I’m here to do a little back-burner diplomacy, see if I can’t point the right way for them to extract themselves from the mess they’re in.”

Gwen nodded. She was a field officer and had been under fire in the hills of Afghanistan. “Good luck, then, sir.”

Pakistan was a powder keg ready to explode at any moment. Nearly every embassy in Islamabad had been stripped to skeleton staffs, the ambassadors recalled. Attacks by the insurgents had been happening throughout the country for the past week. Haaris’s recommendation to the president’s security council three days earlier was to have its nuclear readiness teams put on high alert. It had been accomplished within twenty-four hours.

Gwen went forward, opened the door and lowered the stairs as a black Mercedes S500 pulled up and parked ten meters away, just forward of the port wingtip. She said something to Ed Lamont, the pilot, then stepped aside as Haaris came up the aisle.

“I thought they’d send an armed escort,” Lamont said. He was a craggy ex–air force fighter pilot who’d flown missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. A steady man.

“We didn’t want to attract any attention,” Haaris said. “But I want you to refuel and stand by in case we have to get out in a hurry.”

“What if the Pakis deny our flight plan?”

“They won’t,” Haaris said, careful not to bridle at the derogatory term for a Pakistani.

He stepped down onto the apron, the summer evening warm, the sky overcast, the air close. This far out from Islamabad the country could have been at peace, but the KH-14 satellite real-time images he he’d seen yesterday in the Dome at Langley showed a starkly different picture. Pakistan was on the verge of an all-out war, and the conflict promised to be much worse than any that had ever happened here. It’s why he’d been sent: to try to make the ISI, Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency, come to its senses and to work with the fundamentalists so that civil war could be avoided.

But it was not the real reason he’d come.

An old man wearing the traditional Pakistani long loose shirt over baggy trousers held open the Mercedes’ rear door.

“Allah’s blessing be upon you, sir,” he said in Punjabi.

Haaris answered in kind, and as soon he got in the car, the driver closed the door and went around to the front.

They headed past several large maintenance hangars, the service doors closed. This side of the airport seemed to be deserted.

“What’s the situation?” Haaris asked.

“The highway has been closed, no one is allowed to pass.”

“Does the government hold it?”

“No, sir. It’s the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and they are murdering people trying to get out.”

The group, once funded by the ISI, was allied with the Taliban. Their main purpose was to get their hands on at least one working nuke. The CIA considered them the main threat to Pakistan’s arsenal, which was for the most part spread around the country at air force and navy bases. So far security at the nuclear sites was holding. But it had long been rumored that some of the weapons had been moved to other locations, most often in unmarked vans or panel trucks, without armed escorts. And it was these weapons that had the Pentagon most worried.

At this hour the KH-14 was twenty degrees below overhead to the east and so could not pick up images, even in the infrared from straight down. As well, no surveillance drones were scheduled for flybys out here until later the next morning, and then only if the trouble from inside the city spread to the airport.

The driver made a leisurely turn to the right, along the west side of one of the hangars, and pulled up next to a battered old Fiat, its blue paint mostly faded or rusted away. Two men stood beside it, one of them about the same general build as Haaris and similarly dressed in khakis, a white open-necked shirt and a dark blue blazer. The other man was dressed much like the Mercedes’ driver. He held a pistol.

Haaris got out, and the man with the pistol prodded the other man to get in the front seat next to the driver.

“With God’s blessing,” Haaris said.

“Fuck you,” the man in the blazer said. His voice was slurred.

As soon as the door was closed the Mercedes took off toward the main highway into the city.

“I’m Lieutenant Jura,” the man said, putting away the gun. “Welcome to the Taliban. Your clothes and beard are in the backseat.”


ISI Lieutenant Usman Hafiz Khel presented his credentials to the senior enlisted man at Quetta Air Force Base Post One—the main gate—shortly after midnight. The base was midway between Islamabad to the northeast and Karachi to the southwest. At twenty-three he was young, but he knew how to follow orders. The directorate had been his home since he’d been recruited at the age of fourteen to attend a special technical school in Islamabad, followed by university and finally his commission.

“May I ask the lieutenant the purpose of his visit at this hour?” the acne-scarred corporal technician demanded. It was the same rank as a master sergeant in the West. He’d joined the air force when Usman was nine.

“I have orders to meet with Group Captain Paracha.” The GP was the commander of the top-secret nuclear storage depot here on base.

“Not at this hour.”

Usman was driving a Toyota SUV with civilian plates and no markings that had been waiting for him at the international airport. The windows were so darkly tinted that the interior of the car was all but invisible to anyone looking in. He’d been stopped at the barrier, and the sergeant along with an armed guard who stood to one side had come out to see who’d shown up. Security across the country was tight because of the troubles.

“Call him.”


“He needs to know that I am here.”

Another of the guards came to the door of the gatehouse. “A call for you, CT,” he said.

“In a minute.”

“Sir, it’s Paracha.”

“Shoot the lieutenant if he moves,” the CT told the armed guard, and he turned on his heel and went into the guardhouse.

Usman understood the physical facts of his orders, if not the reason for them, though if he had to guess he figured this move tonight was only one of many similar operations across the country in response to the terrorist attacks. But this was desperate. Like leaping off a tall cliff into the raging ocean because a tiger was at your back. And he felt naked because he wasn’t wearing a uniform—only big-city blue jeans and a T-shirt.

The CT returned almost immediately. “You’re late. The group captain is at headquarters waiting for you. Do you know the way, or will you require an escort, sir?”

“I can find it,” Usman said.

The CT stepped back and motioned for the barrier to be raised. He looked green in the harsh lights.

*   *   *

Group Captain Kabir Paracha, at forty-seven, was an unlikely military officer. His desert camos were a mess, he’d forgotten his hat, and his sleeves were rolled up to just below the elbows, the straps that were meant to hold them higher poking out. But he was the correct man for the job because his primary training had been as a nuclear engineer at the Dr. A. Q. Khan Research Laboratory. He understood the nature of the devices he was meant to guard. Especially the consequences if they ever had to be used.

He was waiting next to his Hummer, a driver behind the wheel.

“You’re late,” he said as Usman got out of his SUV. “And in civilian clothes.”

“Pardon me, sir, but there were only three lightly armed men at Post One. This place should be crawling with patrols.”

“We are told that the problems are confined to the north. I was ordered to maintain a low profile. And your trip makes no sense. It’s insanity.”

“Do you mean to disobey orders?” Usman demanded.

The GC’s face fell and he looked away for just a moment. “No. But I will send two of my people with you. For the weapons—the mated weapons. Do you completely understand the sheer folly?”

Usman could guess. Almost all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were stored in the unmated configuration: the trigger circuitry was stored in one spot, while the Pit—the physics packages that contained either highly enriched uranium or plutonium fissile cores plus the tritium accelerators that greatly increased a nuclear weapon’s explosive power—were stored elsewhere. The procedure was for safety’s sake, and it was something that the leadership assured the Americans was standard.

“I agree with you, sir. But I too must follow orders. These are difficult times.”

“Indeed,” Paracha said. “Follow me.”

Usman followed the group captain across the base to a series of low concrete bunkers inside a triple barrier of tall, razor-wire-topped electric fences. Guard towers were located at fifty-meter intervals, and from the moment they approached the main gate, they were illuminated by several strong searchlights.

All of it was wrong. Anyone watching the bunkers and the high-security perimeter had to know what was here. And now the lights and the two vehicles were nothing short of an invitation. Insanity. Paracha was right: what was happening here and across the country was sheer folly.

Once they were passed through the triple fences, a thick steel door leading inside one of the bunkers rumbled open with a loud screech of metal on metal that had to be audible for miles.

Four heavily armed soldiers, one of them a flight lieutenant, motioned for Usman to drive inside what appeared to be a loading area about thirty or forty meters on a side. At the rear was a large freight elevator, its steel mesh gates open.

A small tug towing a cart on which were strapped four small nuclear weapons shaped like missile nose cones emerged from the elevator and the driver came around to the rear of Usman’s SUV.

Paracha spoke to the four armed guards, then came over to where Usman had gotten out of his vehicle and opened the tailgate with shaking hands.

“Do you recognize what these are?” he asked.

“Nuclear weapons meant to be carried by rockets.”

“Plutonium bombs for the Haft IX missiles. And do you know the significance of that fact? The exact meaning of the thing?”

Usman only had his orders to pick up four weapons, drive them to the airport at Delbandin, a small town three hundred kilometers to the south, and deliver them to a Flight Lieutenant Gopang, who would load them aboard a small transport aircraft and fly away. Once the delivery was made he was to return to Islamabad.

“No, sir,” Usman said, his voice quiet. He was suddenly in the presence of something so overwhelmingly powerful that all of his certainty had evaporated.

“These missiles have a range of less than one hundred kilometers. Does this mean something to you?”

Usman shook his head.

“These weapons were not meant to be launched against India or against anywhere else outside of Pakistan. They have been designed to kill any force threatening us from inside. They are meant to be used against our own people.”

“The Taliban. Enemies of the state.”

“Save me the propaganda, Lieutenant. These people were once our allies.”

“And now they are our enemies,” Usman said. And the fault rested entirely with the ISI. Just as the CIA was at least partly to blame for bin Laden. The Americans had funded the fundamentalists in Afghanistan, who drove the Russians away, and when the war was over the same Stinger missiles had been turned against Americans, which in turn had finally led to the attacks on New York and Washington. The events of the last two weeks were Pakistan’s 9/11, and nothing short of a miracle would stop Islamabad from falling.

“I won’t push the button, I only helped design the things and now I’m in charge of guarding them,” Paracha said. “You won’t push the button either, you’ll merely deliver them somewhere.”

Usman had nothing to say.

Paracha stepped closer. “Are our hands clean, Lieutenant?” he asked. He shook his head. “We’ll never be clean.”


Copyright © 2016 David Hagberg.

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David Hagberg is a former Air Force cryptographer who has traveled extensively in Europe, the Arctic, and the Caribbean, and has spoken at CIA functions. He has published more than seventy novels of suspense, including Blood Pact, Retribution, and the bestselling Allah's Scorpion, Dance with the Dragon, and The Expediter. He makes his home in Sarasota, Florida.


  1. chumpyCE

    sounds really exciting

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