American boys were dying because of French duplicity. It made his blood boil. And he wasn’t the only one in Washington who was hot and bothered.

General Moon laughed again. “That cowboy in the White House is capable of many things, Mr. Brock. But nuking Paris is not one of them.”

He had a point. Wolf Blitzer broadcasting CNN images of the Eiffel Tower leaning at a severe angle would not be well received back home.

Brock said, “Don’t be so sure about that, General. The prez is kind of pissed off at your little French pals right now. That whole ‘oil for food’ scandal, you know. Bugs some people in Washington. How many billions did it cost Saddam to buy French votes at the UN?”

“Enough, Brock.”

“I’ll say enough. The ‘City of Light’ could take on a whole new meaning, Mon General.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, General Moon, that if you and your little French pals don’t watch your step, that town could light up like the Fourth of July.”

Harry saw the thermonuclear light bulb go off in Moon’s mind. “You’re not serious.”

“I’m not? Just try us, General. Keep pushing.”

Moon never saw the knife. Never saw a human being move as fast as the American spy. All the general felt was the searing pain in his thigh as the blade sliced down to the bone. Then Brock had his gun and he fired at Hu Xu, who was a blur moving sideways away from Moon and toward the door, trying to get a shot at the American without endangering the life of the second-most-powerful man in China. The little cretin fell back against the bulkhead, gouts of blood erupting from the side of his neck.

Brock smashed him to the floor going out the door. A second later Moon heard a splash. He ran out to the rail and looked down at the surface of the water. He fired Hu Xu’s pistol into Brock’s rippling point of entry until it was empty.

Moon smiled, pressing his knotted handkerchief against the wound in his thigh. He went back to Hu Xu and tightly wound the blood-soaked cloth around his neck wound. He would live. This American was good fun. Te-Wu reported that he was working alone. He was on the run. He would be caught again before he could escape China, and he would be killed before he could tell anyone what he knew. Even now there was an impenetrable ring around the city of Tianjin. He whipped out his cell phone and speed-dialed the port security commanding officer. The noose started to tighten even while Harry Brock was swimming through two miles of floating garbage.

But Harry was a resourceful guy. He had slipped through the general’s noose. And he had slipped through another one at the Mongolian border crossing into Kazakhstan when a guard ran out of the guardhouse with a faxed picture of his handsome mug. The AK-47s opened up and Harry dove into the back of a covered truck they’d just opened the gate for. The guy behind the wheel apparently decided the Red Guards were shooting at him, zigzagged, and floored it. So that worked out pretty good. They’d entered Kazakhstan on two wheels.

After a little adventure on the stormy Caspian Sea, and a few other high and low points, Harry had finally made it to Morocco. And there he was, daydreaming of home under a date palm tree, when a waiter in a wine-red fez bent over to pour him a cup of tea and instead slammed a hypo into his neck. Boom, like that, Harry Brock had found himself back on a slow boat to China.

Chapter One

Le Cote d’Azur

AN ILL WIND LAY SIEGE TO THE PORT. HARD OFF THE SEA IT blew, steady and relentless. For days the strange weather had spooked the ancient harbor town of Cannes, driving everyone indoors. You could hear the icy wind whistling up the narrow cobbled streets and round the old houses and shops that clung to the hills overlooking the bay; you could feel it stealing down chimneypots, seeping under window sashes, rattling doors and the inhabitants sealed behind them.

All along this southern coast, dust devils and dried leaves, desiccated by the unseasonably cold wind, swirled around the grande dames standing shoulder to shoulder as they faced the sea. Le Majestic, Le Martinez, and the legendary Hotel Carlton. The nor’westerly worried, rattled, and shook acres of expensive hotel glass, the seaward windows of perhaps the most glamorous stretch of real estate in the world, the Cote d’Azur.

Le mistral, the locals called this foul sea wind, wrinkling their noses in a Gallic gesture of disgust. There was no stench, not really, but still it seemed a frigid plague upon the land, and the man in the street, if you could find one about, kept his collar up and his head down. This wind carried the kind of relentless chill that worked its way deep into the marrow.

Some seventy kilometers to the west of this meteorological malaise, however, the warm Mediterranean sun was smiling down upon a singularly happy Englishman.

The cheerful fellow behind the wheel of the old green roadster was Alexander Hawke. Lord Hawke, to be completely accurate, though you’d best not be caught using that title. Only Pelham, an ancient family retainer, was allowed use of “m’lord” in Hawke’s presence. And that was only because once, long ago, he’d threatened to resign over the matter.

Hawke was a good-looking enough sort, something over six feet, trim and extraordinarily fit. He was still fairly young, in his early thirties, with a square, slightly cleft jaw, unruly black hair, and rather startling arctic-blue eyes. His overall appearance was one of determination and resolution. It was his smile that belied the tough exterior. It could be cruel when he was crossed or took offense, but it could also betray a casual amusement at what life threw his way, both the good and the bad.

Women seemed attracted to, rather than put off by, Alex Hawke’s rather bemused and detached views on romance, the war between the sexes, and life in general. Because he was quite wealthy, his liaisons with the fair sex were varied and well documented in the British tabloids. He had ventured down the matrimonial aisle just once. That had ended in horror and sorrow when his wife was murdered at the very outset of the marriage.

A goodly number of men seemed to find him reasonably companionable as well. He was athletic enough to compete seriously when he cared to, and he enjoyed strong drink and a good story. However, most of the truly interesting Hawke stories were known only to a few. He never spoke of his childhood. Unspeakable tragedy had struck the boy at age seven. It didn’t kill, or even cripple him. It made him strong.

All in all, the sorrows of his past notwithstanding, Alexander Hawke remained an improbably cheery fellow.

If you were to ask Hawke to describe what he did for a living, he’d be hard-pressed for an honest answer. He was the titular head of a large family business—a sizable conglomeration of banking and industrial entities—but that job required only a light hand on the tiller. He had carefully chosen able commanders to helm his various enterprises and he wisely let them command.

As for himself, Hawke did the occasional deeply private favor for HM Government. When his particular skill set was required, he also did odd jobs for the United States government. Among his fellow Royal Navy aviators, it was said of him that he was good at war.

There was never anything on paper. No buccaneer’s letter of marque. He was simply called in whenever they needed someone who didn’t mind getting his hands dirty. And someone who could keep his mouth shut afterward. He was, in fact, rather like one of those seafaring eighteenth-century scoundrels from whom he was directly descended, adventurers who plundered ship and shore in the name of the king. Hawke was, in short, nothing more nor less than a twenty-first-century privateer.

Gunning his Jaguar eastward along the French coast toward the old city of Cannes, Hawke felt like a schoolboy sprung for Christmas. It was, after all, just another unexceptionally beautiful spring day on the Cote d’Azur. The wide-open road that hugged the shoreline, curving high above the blue Mediterranean, beckoned, and Hawke hungrily ate it up, one hundred miles of it every hour or so. Gibraltar had long since receded in his rearview mirror. And good riddance, too, he thought, to that monkey-infested rock.

And, while he was at it, good riddance to the stuffed-shirt navy as well.

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