Just back from a deep cover assignment and looking forward to a vacation, US Diplomatic Security Service special agent Payton Ladd gets an urgent request to lead a manhunt in Baghdad. Civilian auditor Ben Ater, nephew of a powerful senator, has disappeared, and the Resident Security Officer needs Payton to find him.

The fact that the RSO is Payton’s old flame Catherine McCabe makes it hard for him to say no.

Once in Baghdad, Payton retraces Ben’s steps and talks to everyone who knows or claims to know why the young auditor mysteriously left the Green Zone. But the explanation that Ben was dealing drugs still doesn’t explain why he went missing in the Red Zone, a place he had no business—legal or illegal—being.

As he continues to dig, Payton uncovers more pieces of Ben’s puzzle that don’t fit. He also provokes influential people, like the civilian head of the multinational corporation Titan United and the military head of the contractor program for the US Defense Department in Iraq. When some individuals Payton has interviewed end up dead and North Korean counterfeit “supernotes” appear all over Iraq, he is convinced Ben wasn’t kidnapped over anything as simple as a drug deal.

With the help of embassy guard Marines, a team of special operators, DSS bomb specialists, Bedouin tribesmen, and a homemade drone named Angel, Payton uncovers a web of conspiracy that could topple nations. But can they stop it in time?




“You’re needed back in the embassy, it’s urgent.”

“Wrong guy,” Payton Ladd said. “I’ve a flight to catch.”

“John Thornton called a few minutes ago to make sure you hadn’t been waved through.”

Payton glanced away from the Marine Embassy Security Guard who leaned down to his driver’s open window. Irritated, he took a deep breath. What now?

Another MSG, on the other side of the embassy’s main gate, circled a Citroen Coupe with a leashed Belgian Malinois security dog.

At the moment, Payton’s only interest was his first run in months along the South Carolina shore in front of his Isle of Palms beach bungalow. After eight months undercover in Egypt and the botched operation that cost his team the lives of two good men with Egypt’s State Security Investigations Service, he was through with the Middle East for what he hoped would be a long time. Before he’d left for the airport forty-five minutes ago, he’d stopped by Regional Security Officer John Thornton’s office. John had assured him he’d be on vacation for the next month and to forget about any Diplomatic Security Service, DSS, business. They’d said their goodbyes and he left.


I. James Bertolina, Author



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