“Okay. I’ll learn golf.”

She made a face that told me she didn’t take my promise seriously. But she said, “Thank you. Remember, tonight we have dinner with the Carstairs and the Johnsons.”

I smiled. They were her friends, not mine, but they were all nice people, and I knew our regular dinners out in London would become much rarer once the baby arrived. And maybe they knew a golf instructor. “Okay, I’ll be home by five, then.”

“We’re meeting them at six at the tapas bar in Shoreditch. Do you have a big morning?”

“A PowerPoint-heavy one,” I said. “Briefings all day with Brandon and the suits from back home.” I looked at her as she stood to stretch, her hands on the swell of her belly. “But I could cancel. Go to the doctor’s with you.”


“Save me from the PowerPoint. Let me go with you and The Bundle.” We kept skirting the discussion of names, so I’d given our imminent child a pseudonym.

“The Bundle.” She patted the top of her swell.

“Actually, I may have to meet you at the restaurant. I might have to go drink a quick pint with the suits after the meetings.”

She laughed and smiled and said, “Oh, such a tough job you have.”

I thought, thank God I don’t have my parents’ marriage. Lucy and I didn’t fight, didn’t glare, didn’t inflict long, painful silences.

“Go and bar-hop without your pregnant wife.” She smiled and closed her laptop. “But not quite yet.”

She came to me and slid her hands up my back. Pregnant women are full of surprises; it’s like living with a breeze that can’t settle on its direction. I loved it. She kissed me with a surprising hunger, almost a ferocity, her belly big between us.

“I’m hot and sweaty and gross,” I said. “I’m a yucky husband.”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, you are, monkey. And I’m enormous.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, you are.” And I kissed her.

When we were done, the sweetest start to that final day, I made us a breakfast of toast, coffee, and juice, then showered, dressed, and went to our office. Before I walked out, I looked back at her, at the breakfast table, and I said, “I love you,” and she said, “I love you.”

Famous last words.


London’s skies that day shone blue as a bright eye; a rare sunny day for November after two weeks of gray, looming clouds. I had been in London for nearly a year. That final morning, in my somber suit, taking the tube to Holborn, I might have looked like one of the young lawyers heading for a firm or for court. Except my briefcase carried a Glock 9 mm, a laptop full of financial information on suspected criminal networks, and a ham-and-cheese sandwich. Lucy is sentimental; she liked to make my lunch for me because I made breakfast for her. She would be in the office later, when her doctor’s appointment was done. We’d worked together for nearly three years, first back in Virginia where we’d met and married, and then here. I liked London, liked my work, liked the idea of The Bundle being born here and spending his early years settled in one of the world’s great cities, not jumping latitudes like I had. Some kids start each year in a different school; I’d often started in a different hemisphere.

Holborn is a mix of new and old. Our office building was close to where the street goes from being High Holborn to plain Holborn. It was a contemporary glass-and-chrome creation that I don’t doubt irritated architectural purists; next to it was a building undergoing a major refurbishment; scaffolding studded its facade. In front, a walkway funneled pedestrians into two lines, and I avoided it when I could. The space opened up in front of our building and I worked my way through the spilling crowd.

The office building was mostly occupied by small firms-solicitors and marketing consultants and a temp agency-except for the top floor. The sign on the elevator read CVX Consulting. The initials had been picked by the throws of a dart at a newspaper stuck to a dartboard one night. I joked with Lucy and my boss, Brandon, that CVX stood for Can’t Vanish eXactly.

I stepped into a bare room where a guard named John, a thick-necked Brooklyn expatriate, sat at a desk with enough firepower in his drawer to blow several holes in me. John was reading a book on cricket and frowning. Me, I’d long given up on deciphering that game. I walked to the door facing me, scanned my ID card; the door unlocked and I walked inside. The CVX offices were deceptively spare. The walls and windows were reinforced steel and bulletproof glass; the computer networks were moated with the strongest firewalls available. Offices and a few cubicles, a staff of eight people total. It smelled like all offices: a bit like ink, burned coffee, and Dry-Erase.

And the meeting I thought started at ten was apparently already under way. Brandon was sitting in the conference room with three other suits from Langley, frowning at a PowerPoint display that was three days out of date.

Oh, hell.

I stepped inside. “Not at ten?”

“Eight. You’re twenty minutes late.” Brandon gave me a forced smile.

“My apologies.”

Two of the suits were older than me and already looked doubtful. The other was younger than me, and he had a page filled with scribbled notes. An eager type.

“If Lucy’s in labor, you’re forgiven,” Brandon said. He was originally from South Carolina and he’d kept the slow cadence of his speech during all his years abroad.

“I have no baby and no coffee,” I said. “But I have a more up-to-date presentation. Give me five minutes?”

The suits nodded and all stood and introduced themselves, shook my hand, and went out to refill their cups with bad American-government-approved coffee, and I set up the laptop.

“I don’t like late, Sam,” Brandon said, but not with anger.

“I don’t either, sir. I’m sorry.”

“I hope you have good news for us. These guys are from the budget office. They think we might be wasting time. Convince them we’re not.”

Nothing so concentrates the mind as the possibility of the job being scrubbed.

When the suits returned with their bad coffee, I had jumped past the insomnia-inducing series of bulleted slides and stopped on a blurry photo that filled the presentation screen. The man’s face was florid, a bit heavy, with small ears. His hair was dark and curling, as though it had just been ruffled.

“Gentlemen. We are hunters. Our game is international crime rings, operating with impunity across borders because they have managed to get their fingers deep into governments around the world.” I pointed at the photo. “Think of us as lions, chasing antelope. This man is the weakest one in the herd. We’re closing in on him. He might be the CIA’s most important target.”

“Who is he?” one of the suits asked.

“He’s what we call a ‘clear skin’-no name, no confirmed nationality, although I believe he is Russian, due to other evidence we’ve received. We believe he moves and handles large amounts of cleaned cash to these global criminal networks. I call him the Money Czar.”

Brandon said, “Tell us about the networks, Sam.”

“Sure. The Mafia is an old-school criminal network-a distinct leader, a bureaucracy of muscle and money cleaners that support him. New-school networks are highly specialized. Each part-whether muscle to enforce security or to intimidate or kill, or financial to clean money, or logistics to smuggle goods-is autonomous. Each is brought in only for specific jobs, and each time it may be a different set of people to do the work. It’s therefore much harder to break the network down, to get any detailed information on how it works as a whole.”

“I know we’ve been paying particular attention to certain networks that might have government ties,” the youngest suit said. “There’s a Croatian gunrunner network we might infiltrate, the Ling smuggling family in Holland, the Barnhill network in Edinburgh…”

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