To Linda Cashdan of The Word Process, for her editorial guidance early in “the process.” Thanks again for your input. To Erika Lease, M.D., for her invaluable contribution on the medical side of things. To Carol Fitzgerald and everyone at, for designing and maintaining my Web site. To Connie Asero and everyone who participated in the Crystal Coast Book Festival. It was an extraordinary event. Thanks for letting me be part of it.

Thanks to everyone at Kensington, especially Steven Zacharius, Robin E. Cook, Laurie Parkin, Maureen Cuddy, Michaela Hamilton, and Doug Mendini, a true fixture on the trade show circuit. To Meryl Earl, who has somehow managed to get my books published in a multitude of languages, none of which I understand. To Rosemary Silva, for her outstanding work with the copyediting. Also thanks to Alex Clarke and the entire team at Penguin Books for their continued support in Australia and the U.K.

To my editor, Audrey LaFehr, for her enthusiasm, encouragement, and exceptional patience. Thanks for everything. To my agent, Nancy Coffey, for many, many things. If I had to name them all, the acknowledgments would be longer than the book itself. So thanks for all that you do. Let’s hope this is just the third of many. And to Dezzy Murphy and the other Irish climbers who conquered Concordia, thanks for inspiring the prologue.An “invisible” is CIA-speak for the ultimate intelligence nightmare: a terrorist who is an ethnic native of the target country and who can cross its borders unchecked, move around the country unques- tioned, and go completely unnoticed while setting up the foundation for monstrous harm.



In Rebeka C?esnik’s opinion, the view, even when seen through the cracked window of the ancient bus winding its way down from Kashgar to Islamabad, was simply magnificent. Perfect. Stunning in every conceivable way. These were the words she had used to describe every trip she’d ever taken, and her effusive comments always made her friends and relatives smile, though it had taken her quite a while—the better part of her life, in fact—to understand just why that was.

Her mother had been the one to finally let her in on the joke. That had been a few years earlier, shortly after Rebeka joined Frommer’s as a travel photographer. At the time, the observation had struck her as not only true, but slightly humorous. Even now the memory made her smile, but she couldn’t dispute her mother’s words.

It’s a good thing you took up photography instead of writing, she had said,because no matter where you go, your descriptions are al- ways the same. Every place you visit is just as perfect as the last. It was a true enough statement, Rebeka supposed, though she’d never really dwelled on her lack of verbal creativity. All she cared about was her traveling and her art, and to her great satisfaction, she’d been able to make a successful living with both. She’d always had the ability to pick out a unique, compelling scene, but that wasn’t enough for her. Nor was it enough to satisfy her extremely demanding employers. Instead, her goal was to pull the readers into the photograph, to draw them away from the article itself. It was a lot to aspire to, as the magazines she worked for employed some of the best writers in the business. Moreover, it was nearly impossible to capture the grandeur of the things she saw on a regular basis. Still, judging by the awards and accolades she had racked up over her short career—

including the prestigious Hasselblad Award in 2006—she had managed to make her mark in an industry brimming with talent, and that was no small feat.

Rebeka had embarked on her current career after winning a regional photography contest at seventeen years of age. She’d started shooting on an amateur basis in 2002 with a secondhand Minolta Dynax 8000i. The camera had been a gift from a spoiled cousin who’d since moved on to more expensive hobbies, and she’d fallen in love with it instantly. Her love of travel, however, dated back to her childhood, and she sometimes wondered why it had taken her so long to work her two favorite hobbies into what had become a spectacular career. She had grown up on the Soc?a River in the Julian Alps, not far from the famed Predjama Castle, and she credited the gorgeous scenery of her childhood with sparking not only her interest in nature, but her desire to see as much of it as possible. Since leaving Frommer’s the previous year, she had embarked on freelance assignments forTime, Newsweek, Le Monde, National Geographic, and Nas?a z?ena in her native Slovenia, just to name a few. Those assignments had given her the opportunity to visit fourteen countries over the course of two short years, in addition to the twelve she’d already seen, and she had thoroughly documented her journeys—not only with her camera, but also in her journal, by far her most treasured possession. Every assignment carried with it the promise of a new adventure, but as she stared out the window, ignoring the unpleasant sway of the bus on the steep mountain road, she couldn’t help but think that the snowcapped peaks surrounding the Hunza Valley had surpassed her wildest expectations. A brief shower earlier in the day had given way to a spectacularly clear blue sky, and the afternoon sun made the snow-topped spires in the distance glisten in ways she could never hope to capture on film. It didn’t happen often, but there were times when she knew she could never do justice to the scenery, and while those moments were among the most thrilling of her personal life, they were hard to accept professionally. Still, she wouldn’t have traded the sight for anything. After a while the bus rocked slightly to the right as it swept around the mountain, and the splendid sight of Tirich Mir—the highest peak in the Hindu Kush range—faded from view as the bus began the long descent into Khunjerab National Park. Disappointed with the change in scenery, Rebeka turned in her seat and let her gaze drift over her fellow passengers. The vehicle was filled to capacity, which wasn’t surprising, given the time of year. Many were climbers destined for the world’s most challenging peaks, and they were assured of permits only during the summer months. She had traveled with these people for weeks on end, and she’d come to know most of them fairly well.

Sitting directly across from her was Beni Abruzzi, the rakish, handsome, long-limbed climber from Brescia. He was talking—with animated gestures, as always—to Umberto Verga, his stocky Sicilian cousin. Umberto rarely spoke, and when he did, it sounded more like a series of grunts than actual speech, but Beni was only too happy to pick up his cousin’s slack. He’d served as a caporal maggiore, an infantry corporal, in the Italian army. He’d also spent some time in Iraq, a fact he’d mentioned more times than Rebeka cared to remember. Abruzzi had spent hours bragging about his military exploits, and while Rebeka believed most of his stories, she wasn’t impressed in the least. Unsurprisingly, the Italian’s gaze was presently fixed on the trio of pretty Norwegian nurses who had joined them in Tashkurgan. That had been two hours earlier, and forty minutes before the bus crossed from China into Pakistan via the Khunjerab Pass, the highest point on the Karakoram Highway.

There was also the downtrodden group of Danish climbers who’d arrived at K2 four days earlier with the goal of summiting, only to turn back at base camp in Concordia, and a small knot of aging Canadian trekkers. There was even a renowned American geologist by the name of Timothy Welch. The professor emeritus from the University of Colorado seemed to spend a great deal of time staring at his hands and muttering under his breath, which C?esnik found both amusing and a little unnerving.

Beni managed to catch her eye, but she turned away before he could fix her with his usual lascivious stare. To cover her reaction, she hastily pulled her journal out of her Berghaus pack, undid the clasp, and started to scribble a few notes, catching up on the events of the past few days. It was hard to concentrate under the lean climber’s intense gaze. She’d done her best to make her disinterest clear, but her efforts had clearly been wasted. Although she was just twenty-three—the same age as Abruzzi—Rebeka had accomplished a great deal in her young life. For this reason, she tended to look down on many people her own age. She knew it was snobbish, but she couldn’t help it; she was a driven woman, and that meant things like men, sex, and partying didn’t figure high on her list of priorities. At the same time, she knew her looks had given her a considerable boost in her current career—that they would have helped her in any career. She took this in stride, though, and it didn’t change the way she viewed her success. After all, she’d seen the recent U.S. edition of Outside magazine, and her picture on the page of contributing journalists had not been any larger than that of the editor in chief, a decidedly unattractive Swede in his midsixties. This discovery had only confirmed what she already knew: that it was her talent—

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