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The Invisible



In Rebeka Cesnik’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 From-
mer’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
always the same. Every place you visit is just as perfect as the

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 for Time, 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 ---  not her looks --- that had
made her one of the world’s most sought- after young

She looked up, startled out of her reverie as the bus shuddered,
the driver downshifting suddenly. Craning her neck, Rebeka saw a
number of vehicles parked alongside the road up ahead, men milling
about on the paved surface. As the bus rolled forward, the scene
came into focus, and she saw something that chilled her

Rifles. Every man in sight was heavily armed, and there were plenty
of men. Judging by the low rumble of voices in the surrounding
seats, everyone else was just as confused and concerned as she was.
Passports and visas were frequently checked on the KKH, but this
wasn’t one of the scheduled stops. As far as Rebeka knew,
they still had miles to go before they reached the next Pakistani
checkpoint. Tensions between General Musharraf ’s government
and that of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh had been rising
steadily over the past few months, but this was the first time
she’d seen any tangible evidence of the escalating

She only hoped she was right, that it wasn’t something else
entirely. Bandits had always been a problem on the Karakoram
Highway, though guarding against them was usually just a matter of
taking the proper precautions, such as not traveling alone or after
dark. As it stood, it was midafternoon, still light, and they were
nowhere near the Line of Control --- the heavily guarded border
that separates the disputed territory between Pakistan and India.
In short, these were about the best conditions a traveler on the
KKH could ask for.

The bus ground to a gentle halt, and the doors at the front banged
open. The air in the vehicle seemed unusually thick, and no one was
making a sound. Rebeka realized they were waiting to see what would
happen, just as she was. But then a man appeared at the front, and
the collective tension seemed to drain away. The man standing next
to the driver and surveying the passengers was wearing the uniform
of a Pakistani army captain. Rebeka felt her breath come a little
bit easier, and she wasn’t concerned in the least when the
captain asked them all to disembark and present their passports.
Realizing that the soldiers might poke through their belongings,
she slipped her journal under her coat. She wouldn’t be
surprised to get back on and find some items missing from her pack,
and while most of it was replaceable, the journal was the one thing
she couldn’t bear to lose.

She was sitting near the back of the vehicle, so she had to wait
for the passengers up front to disembark. As they began to line up
on the side of the road, documentation in hand, Rebeka saw a rare
opportunity and decided to take it. The soldiers seemed to be
unusually wrapped up in their task, so she dug out her camera
––– a Canon EOS-1V with an 85mm lens already
affixed ––– and carefully lifted it above the
ledge of the window. She took a few quick shots with the flash
disabled, hoping to capture her fellow passengers’ frustrated
expressions. It wasn’t part of her assignment, but she
happened to know a freelance writer who was doing a story on
corruption in the Pakistani army, and she thought she might be able
to get some mileage out of the photographs.

Once she’d fired off a half-dozen shots, Rebeka quickly
lowered the camera and checked to see if anyone had noticed. It
didn’t look like it, but either way, she had run out of time;
the front of the bus was nearly empty, and a young soldier was
striding toward the open doors.

Rebeka quickly ejected the film, dropped it into a spare tube, and
slipped it into her pack. She had just gotten to her feet when the
soldier reached the back of the bus and gestured toward the camera.
Shouting something she didn’t understand, he grabbed her free
arm with his left hand, then reached for her camera with the other.
She pulled it away instinctively, but he leaned in and managed to
knock it out of her hand. Then, as she watched in disbelief, he
kicked it toward the back of the vehicle.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she shouted in
English, tugging free of the soldier’s grasp. “Do you
have any idea how expensive that was? As soon as we get back to
Islamabad, I’m going to ––– ”

She never got the words out. The soldier slammed a fist into her
stomach, then slapped her hard across the face. Rebeka’s
knees banged against the edge of the seat as her body followed the
blow. She hit the plastic cushion hard, tears springing to her eyes
as she struggled for air. Momentarily stunned, she didn’t
fight as the soldier reached down and wrapped a hand in her hair,
yanking her to her feet. Hunched forward and crying out with pain,
she reached behind her head and frantically tried to pull his fist
apart as he marched her to the front of the vehicle. Once they had
reached the driver’s seat, he released her and shoved her
hard down the stairs.

Rebeka tumbled through the open doors. As she hit the ground
awkwardly, something gave way in her shoulder with an audible pop.
Although her head was swimming with confusion and fear, she
instantly tried to prop herself up using her right elbow. It was
completely instinctive, but it was also a huge mistake; her
shoulder instantly screamed with agony, and she screamed in turn,
collapsing onto her side. Ten seconds later, the young Pakistani
stepped off the bus and walked past her, carrying the broken
remains of her camera.

Her fellow passengers were starting to resist, having realized that
something was wrong. Shifting her weight to her left elbow, Rebeka
managed to sit up and take in the scene, though her vision was
still slightly blurred. She watched as Umberto Verga stepped
forward and spat a few words in halting Punjabi to one of the
guards, who immediately tried to push the hefty climber back into
line. Verga barely moved, but his face turned red with indignation.
Taking another step forward, he slapped aside the barrel of the
Pakistani’s rifle. Rebeka watched in a daze as Verga repeated
his question in English, and although he was standing about 30 feet
away, he was shouting so loud, she could hear every word.

“What the fuck did you hit her for?” the Sicilian
bellowed, spit flying out of his mouth. His heavily bearded face
was just a few inches from that of the soldier. “Who do you
think you are, you little shit? Do you have any idea what
you’re starting here?”

She was vaguely surprised to see Umberto jumping to her defense,
especially since he had never muttered more than a few words in her
direction. But her surprise quickly turned to horrified disbelief
when the Pakistani took two steps back, whipped the AK-47 up to his
shoulder, and squeezed the trigger. A number of rounds punched into
Verga’s barrel chest. The Sicilian took two uncertain steps
back, then spiraled to the ground, shock carved into his weathered

For a moment, there was nothing but stunned silence. Then the
passengers started to scream, everyone running in different
directions. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to go. Nothing but
flat plains in every direction, all of which led up to mountainous
peaks, and the soldiers had clearly planned for this possibility.
They had arranged themselves in a semicircle around the bus, and
they didn’t seem to panic as the passengers scattered.
Instead, they fanned out to a greater degree. Strangely enough,
nobody fired a shot. Above the panicked screams, a sonorous voice
pleaded for calm in cultured English.

Rebeka, still propped up on her left elbow, watched it all unfold
in a dreamlike state. Part of her was hoping she was right, that it
was just a dream, but she couldn’t deny what had
happened to Umberto Verga, and she couldn’t deny what was
happening now.

A sudden noise caught her attention, and she realized the bus was
pulling away, the rear tires kicking up a spray of crushed gravel.
She felt pebbles stinging the right side of her face, then heard a
high-pitched whine as the vehicle shifted into second gear. A
hoarse voice carried over the cacophony, giving a command in
Punjabi. It was the same voice that had called out in English
earlier, but it had taken on a different, harder tone. The next
thing she heard was the sound of gunfire, immediately followed by
splintering glass. There was a loud thump, the sound of a vehicle
crashing into a shallow ditch. Then there was nothing, save for a
few distant sobs and the steady hum of an idling engine.

Looking around, Rebeka saw that the soldiers had taken on a less
threatening posture, their weapons pointed toward the ground, faces
fixed in neutral expressions. The leader seemed to be holding
court, his rifle slung over his chest, hands raised in a calming
gesture. He was speaking in English, but Rebeka couldn’t make
out the specific words, her ears still ringing from the earlier
blow. Whatever he was saying seemed to be working; her fellow
passengers had mostly lapsed into silence and were moving back
toward the soldiers cautiously. As Rebeka watched from a distance,
Beni Abruzzi stumbled forward and dropped to his knees beside his
cousin’s body, his mouth working silently. The other
passengers seemed equally glued to the disturbing sight, but
nevertheless, they kept moving forward. It was as if they
recognized the futility of running, that for the moment, their best
option was to comply, to adhere to their captors’

Captors. The word seemed to lodge in her head for some
reason, even though these men were dressed as soldiers. To the
north, a rapidly approaching truck was kicking up plumes of dust on
the KKH, its windshield sparkling in the pale yellow sun. The armed
Pakistanis didn’t seem to notice the vehicle, which gave
Rebeka a very bad feeling. After what they had just done, they
wouldn’t be looking for extra attention. As her head cleared,
the truth started to dawn, piece by piece, like a jigsaw puzzle
coming together before her eyes. Only this puzzle was forming a
picture she didn’t want to see: the soldiers were expecting
the truck.

They didn’t need the bus, because they had the truck. They
were going to leave the bus all along, because it served as a
message. The bus was proof of what had happened here, and the truck
was taking them somewhere else.

They were being kidnapped.

When the truth hit her, Rebeka was overcome by a wave of
foreboding. She had read accounts of journalists who’d been
caught up in similar situations, but she also knew of the larger
number who had not survived to tell their tale. Still, despite the
fear that clenched her gut, she didn’t visibly react.
Instead, she just stared around, wondering if any of her fellow
travelers had figured it out. Part of her wanted to fight this
injustice, so she staggered to her feet and hunched over at the
waist for a second, trying to stop her head from spinning.

Once she’d pushed down the worst of the nausea, she
straightened and turned to look for the leader, the man who’d
calmed the other travelers with his gentle command of the English
language. Rebeka couldn’t pick him out, but she did see the
cargo truck, which had come to a halt 20 meters away. Her fellow
travelers were now facedown on the ground, their hands being tied
behind their backs. Most were lying passively, but a few were
struggling, and two or three weren’t moving at all. Looking
closer, she realized that the still figures were bleeding profusely
from head wounds. She didn’t think they’d been shot
––– she hadn’t heard any additional gunfire
––– but even from a distance, she could recognize
how serious their injuries were.

A soldier was moving toward her, boots crunching over the coarse
gravel, his rifle slung over his chest. He smiled, produced a
strange-looking length of cord, and gestured for her to turn
around. She did so slowly, struggling to suppress her fear. Her
hands were pulled gently behind her, then bound securely with the
plastic restraints. Feeling a tap on her uninjured shoulder, she
turned once more. This time, however, the soldier was no longer
smiling. Holding his weapon in both hands, he pulled his arms in
tight at shoulder height, then whipped the butt of the rifle
forward, directly into her face.

Rebeka saw a flash of bright light, then felt a sudden, blinding
pain, her head snapping back with the force of the blow.

Her legs gave way, and everything went blessedly, mercifully



The whitewashed hotel at the foot of the Svínafellsjökull
Glacier was simple, comfortable, and nearly empty, even though the
roads were clear and spring had just given way to the short Arctic
summer. In short, it was everything the lone traveler had been
looking for when he’d walked into town two days earlier, legs
aching from a day’s worth of arduous trekking. It had been
nearly three weeks since he’d departed the sprawling capital
of Reykjavík, based 200 miles to the west, and he’d
spent most of that time crossing the bleak Icelandic wilderness on
foot. The Skaftafell Hotel seemed almost luxurious after his
previous accommodations, a cramped, foul-smelling hut on the
Morsárdalur Track. Still, he would have been satisfied with
much less.

Southeastern Iceland was only the latest stop on what had become a
prolonged expedition to some of the world’s most challenging
environments. Ryan Kealey wasn’t exactly starting from
scratch, as he’d spent his teens and early twenties hiking
and climbing in places ranging from Washington’s Mount
Rainier to Ben Nevis in Scotland, but he’d never pushed
himself as hard as he had in recent months. He knew where this
sudden desire to test himself had come from, but while he had tried
to address the source, he’d been unable to come up with any
real answers. In large part, this was because he couldn’t
find the woman who’d caused him so much pain and frustration,
despite his best efforts and high-level connections.

She’d walked out in January, four months after a terrorist
attack in New York City that had nearly claimed her life. Kealey
had waited for two months, putting out feelers, calling in favors,
but it had gotten him nowhere. By the time March rolled around,
he’d finally admitted defeat, accepting that she didn’t
want to be found. He’d pushed it aside for another few weeks,
but then, tired of sitting around with nothing to do but think
about her, he’d decided to strike out on his own. His only
goal at the time was to clear his head, to lose himself in the raw,
primitive beauty of the world’s most isolated regions.

That had been three months earlier. Since then he’d climbed
Denali in Alaska, Kilimanjaro in northeastern Tanzania, and Mount
Cook in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. He’d crossed
Chile’s Atacama Desert at its widest point, scaled
Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, and completed the 60-mile,
six-day Paine Circuit in Patagonia. He had beaten his body to the
point of sheer exhaustion and then had pushed harder, but nothing
had helped. It had taken him half a year to figure it out, but the
truth had been staring him right in the face the whole time. No
matter what he did or where he went, he couldn’t stop
thinking about Naomi Kharmai.

Kealey had been sorting it through in his mind since the day
she’d disappeared, trying to figure out what he could have
said or done to stop her from leaving. It was hard to pick out the
worst part about the whole situation. It was all bad, but some
aspects were worse than others. When he thought about it honestly,
it wasn’t the fact that she had left that troubled him most.
What really bothered him was her inability to face the past. The
terrorist attack that nearly claimed her life the previous
September had left her scarred in more ways than one, and while
Kealey had done his best to help her through it, she had never
fully recovered. At least not on the inside. In fact, the last time
he’d seen her, she was still very much in denial.

It weighed heavily on him, and it was hard not to feel a sense of
personal failure. If she had left because she needed more than what
he had to offer, that would have been one thing. It would have been
hard, but he could have dealt with it. What concerned him was that
she might have gotten worse since walking out –––
that she might have spiraled further into her inner sanctum of
guilt, grief, and depression. He didn’t want to push her, but
he would have given anything to hear her voice, if only to know
that she was still alive.

Shifting the weight of the pack on his shoulders, Kealey crossed
the dark gravel expanse of the parking lot, heading toward the
hotel’s main entrance. Stopping well short of the
building’s lights, he looked up and appraised the clear night
sky. The stars had come out an hour earlier, and they were
shockingly bright, given the dimly lit surrounding countryside.
Svínafellsjökull towered behind the low-slung building,
the glacier itself a dark silhouette against the deep navy
backdrop. Ribbons of green light seemed to ripple and dance in the
crisp, clean mountain air. The aurora borealis
––– better known as the northern lights
––– was something that he’d never seen
before landing in Keflavík, and the sight was at once ethereal
and incredibly eerie.

After admiring the view for a few minutes more, Kealey pulled open
the door and nodded hello to the plump, smiling receptionist. She
returned the gesture and went back to her crossword puzzle as he
climbed the stairs, making his way up to the bar on the second
floor. The worn oak doors were propped open, dim light flickering
into the hall. Stepping into the room, he pulled off his wool knit
watch cap, ran a hand through his lank black hair, and started
toward the bar. The walls were paneled in pale oak, uninspired
prints hanging around the room and above the fireplace, where a
small fire was burning. The dark green couches, shiny with wear,
complemented the worn carpet perfectly, and burgundy velvet drapes
hung behind the bar itself, where a morose young man stood guard
behind the small selection of taps. Kealey had just finished
ordering a beer when he sensed movement over by one of the large
windows. He turned and stared for a few seconds, appraising the
solitary figure. Then he lifted a hand in cautious greeting.
Turning back to the bar, he revised his order, his mind racing.
Less than a minute later, he was walking across the room, a pint
glass in each hand, wondering what might have brought this
particular visitor halfway around the world.

Jonathan Harper was seated with his back to the wall, his right
foot hooked casually over his left knee. He was dressed in dark
jeans, Merrell hiking boots, and a gray V-neck sweater, but despite
his youthful attire, the deputy DCI ––– the
second-highest-ranking official in the Central Intelligence Agency
––– looked far older than his forty-three years.
His neat brown hair was just starting to gray at the temples, but
his face was gaunt, and his skin was shockingly pale. His
mannerisms were even more noticeable. He seemed shaky and slightly
guarded, but also resigned, like an old man who senses the end is
near. All of this was to be expected, though, and Kealey knew it
could have been worse. In truth, the man was extremely lucky to
still be alive.

Kealey placed the beers on the water-stained table, shrugged off
his jacket, and slid into the opposite seat. They appraised each
other for a long moment. Finally, Harper offered a slight smile and
extended a hand, which the younger man took.

“Good to see you, Ryan. It’s been a long

“I suppose so,” Kealey said. He leaned back in his
chair and crossed his arms in a casual way. “About seven
months, I guess. When did you get here?”

“I flew into Keflavík this morning, but the bus only
arrived a few hours ago.”

“Sorry to keep you waiting. How have you been?”

“Not bad, all things considered.” Harper took a short
pull on his lager, coughed sharply, and wiped his mouth with the
back of his hand. “The doctors are happy enough, so I guess
that’s something.”

“And Julie?”

“She’s fine. I think she secretly enjoys having a
patient again, though she’d never admit it.”

“Knowing her, it wouldn’t surprise me at all,”
Kealey replied. He knew that Harper’s wife had worked for
years as a head nurse at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota,
one of the best hospitals in the country. The smile faded from his
face as he debated going forward with his next question. Finally,
he went ahead and asked it.

“What about Jane Doe? Any luck on that front?”

“Not a thing. I’m starting to think we’ll never
find her. Even if we did, it’s not like we could hand her
over to the FBI. There just isn’t enough evidence to charge
her with anything. They never found the gun, you know.”

Kealey nodded slowly. Eight months earlier, the newly appointed
deputy director had narrowly survived an assassination attempt in
Washington, D.C. The attack had taken place on the front step of
his brownstone on General’s Row, just as he was stretching
after his morning run. Harper had been facing away from his armed
assailant when the first shot was fired. The .22-caliber round
penetrated his lower back, then ricocheted off the third rib and up
through the right lung. The second and third rounds had torn into
his upper arm as he turned toward the shooter, and the fourth had
punched a hole in his chest, missing his heart by less than an

The woman had been moving forward as she fired, and by the time the
fourth round left the muzzle of her gun, she was less than 10 feet
from her target. As she approached to fire the fatal shot, a D.C.
Metro police cruiser had squealed to a halt on Q Street, lights
flashing. The police officer’s arrival on the scene had been
pure chance, nothing but luck, but it had saved the deputy
director’s life. The woman fired at the officer as he stepped
out of the vehicle, killing him instantly, but the distraction gave
Julie Harper ––– who had been making coffee when
the first shots were fired ––– the chance to open
the door and pull her husband inside to safety.

Unfortunately, the would-be assassin managed to escape in the
ensuing chaos, even though the Metro Police Department was able to
seal off the surrounding streets with astonishing speed. What
followed was one of the largest manhunts in U.S. history, but
despite the enormous resources it had thrown into the search, the
government had yet to track her down.

The CIA had looked harder and longer than anyone else, of course,
and in time, they’d managed to dig up a few tenuous leads.
“Jane Doe” had been involved with a former Special
Forces soldier named William Vanderveen.

In 1997, while on deployment in Syria, Vanderveen had made the
decision to sell his skills to some of the world’s most
dangerous terrorist organizations. >From that point forward,
he’d earned ––– through countless acts of
cold-blooded murder ––– his status as one of the
most wanted men in the world. The connection between Vanderveen and
the would-be assassin was based off photographs taken in London by
Britain’s Security Service, MI5. The men who took the shots
were assigned to “A” branch, Section 4, the
“Five” unit tasked with domestic surveillance. The
shots showed Vanderveen and the unknown woman walking side by side
in the heart of the city, but despite the excellent image
resolution, the photographs had proved useless. The Agency’s
facial recognition software had failed to find a reliable match in
the database. MI5, the French DGSE, and the Israeli Mossad had also
come up empty, as had a number of other friendly intelligence

In other words, the woman was a black hole, a nonentity. Kealey
knew how much it bothered Harper that she’d never been
caught, but as he’d just said, there had been no progress on
that front. This realization brought Kealey to his next

“John, it’s good to see you again, but what exactly are
you doing here?”

The deputy director didn’t respond right away. Instead, he
picked up his beer and swirled the contents thoughtfully.

“I’m surprised to hear you ask me that first,” he
finally said. “I thought you might be wondering how I found
you.” He looked up and studied the younger man. “You
know, I have a few questions of my own. For instance, I’d
like to know why you haven’t set foot on U.S. soil in two and
a half months. I mean, I spend half that time looking for you, and
when I finally catch up, I find you;t.;t.;t.” He trailed off
and lifted his arms, as if to include the whole country.

There was an unspoken question there, but Kealey wasn’t sure
how to answer it. When he’d set out three months earlier, it
was without a plan. Without a real idea of what he was looking for.
But whatever it was, he’d found it on the alpine tundra and
the vast, seemingly endless ice fields of Iceland. He’d found
it in Alaska, Tanzania, Patagonia, and all the other places
he’d seen in recent months. For lack of a better word, it was
solitude, the kind of terrain where one could walk for days without
hearing a sound other than the wind. It was what he had wanted at
the time ––– what he still wanted, to a certain
degree ––– and he couldn’t explain why.
Naomi’s disappearance had played a role, but that was only
part of it. Something else had instilled in him the desire to get
away from it all, though he had yet to identify the secondary cause
for his restless behavior.

“I’d also like to know where you picked up a French
passport in the name of Joseph Briand,” Harper continued. He
paused expectantly. “I don’t suppose you’d be
willing to volunteer the information.”

Kealey gave a wan smile, and that was answer enough.

“I didn’t think so. It’s funny, seeing how you
don’t even speak French. A Saudi passport would have been far
more ––– ”

“Comment savez-vous que je ne parle pas

“Okay, so you speak a little French.” The
older man couldn’t conceal a small, fleeting smile of his
own. “It’s good to see you’re expanding your

“Just trying to keep my mind active.”

“Sounds like you’re ready to return to the

“Not in this lifetime.” Kealey shook his head and
looked away. “And if that’s why you’re here,
John, you’re wasting your time. I’m not interested.
I’ve done my part.”

“We’ve already played this game, Ryan, on more
occasions than I care to recall. You say the same thing every time,
but when it comes down to the wire, you always
––– ”

“I meant it when I said it before,” the younger man
shot back. “And I mean it now.” His face tightened
suddenly, his dark eyes retreating to some hidden point in the
past. “I just didn’t walk away when I should have. That
was my biggest mistake. There was always something else that had to
be done. Before it was Vanderveen, and at the time, it seemed like
the right thing to do. But you know what it cost me to track him
down, and then last year, with Naomi;t.;t.;t.”

Harper nodded slowly, his face assuming a somber expression.
“I know what it cost you, Ryan, and I know what it cost
Naomi.” He hesitated, then said, “You may not believe
this, but I personally advised the president against bringing you
into this matter. I told him everything you just said to me. I told
him that you’ve done your part. That you wouldn’t be
interested. He didn’t want to hear a word. After what you did
in New York last year, he won’t have it any other way. As far
as David Brenneman is concerned, you’re the first and only
choice, at least when it comes to the current

“And you couldn’t say no to the president,”
Kealey said sarcastically. “Is that it?” He
didn’t bother asking what “the current situation”
was; simply put, he didn’t care to know.

“That’s part of it,” Harper conceded. “But
there’s another reason you need to be involved, and once you
hear me out, I think you’ll feel the same way.”

Kealey studied the older man for a long moment without speaking.
Jonathan Harper was one of the smartest people he knew, but he
could also be extremely manipulative. They had known each other for
nearly a decade, ever since Harper had first
“sheep-dipped” him for an off-the-books assignment in
Syria. “Sheep-dipping” was a term that referred to the
temporary recruitment of active-duty soldiers for
“black,” or deniable, operations. Usually, the CIA had
a hand in the process, and Kealey’s first task was no
exception. At the time he had been a captain in the U.S.
Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group, and that assignment
––– the assassination of a senior Islamic
militant ––– had changed him forever, as well as
putting him on the path to a new career.

Since then, he and Harper had become good friends, but the job
always came first, and Kealey knew the other man wouldn’t
hesitate to impose on their relationship. He had done it before,
and Kealey had always been up to the task. He wanted to refuse this
time and knew he would have been justified in doing so. But while
the older man’s face was as implacable as ever, there was
something in his tone that gave Kealey pause. He could tell there
was more to the current situation than Harper was letting on, and
that made the decision for him.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll hear what you have
to say, but I’m not committing to anything. Let’s get
that straight from the start.” Kealey lifted his glass and
drained the contents. “What’s this about,

Harper pushed a plain manila folder across the table, then rose and
collected their empty glasses. “Read through that, and then
we’ll talk.”

The Invisible
by by Andrew Britton

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington
  • ISBN-10: 0758213352
  • ISBN-13: 9780758213358