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The Expediter



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About The Author

David HagbergDavid Hagberg

David Hagberg has published numerous novels of suspense, including his bestselling thrillers featuring former CIA director Kirk McGarvey, which include Abyss, The Cabal, and Allah’s Scorpion. He has earned a nomination for the American Book Award, three nominations for the... More

photo: Jere Pechstein

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EXCERPT

Chapter One

At precisely midnight Huk Kim pulled back the covers, got out of bed, and checked to make certain that the sleep agent she'd given her Japanese roommate hadn't worn off yet. But the girl was totally out of it, and in the morning she would remember very little of what had happened after their dinner in the hotel's dining room two, and absolutely nothing after her head had hit the pillow.

Kim was a thirty- one- year- old, short, slightly built South Korean woman, and her movements were quick, almost birdlike as she tied a folded plastic trash bag around her waist with shaking hands, then dressed in dark slacks, a lightweight dark pullover, and sneakers.

She was frightened to the core, as she had been on the previous kills, but she had no way out, short of leaving her husband, something she couldn't even conceive of doing.

Checking a second time to make certain her roommate was deep asleep, Kim slipped out of her twelfth- floor room and made her way to the end of the deserted corridor, then downstairs to a ser vice area at the rear of the hotel where deliveries were made each morning between four and seven. From there she was able to get outside without being seen, something that would have been impossible from the lobby.

The evening was pleasantly warm, and almost totally dark and silent. Other than the few lights around the hotel, and a few on the bridge across the river, North Korea's capital Pyongyang lay sleeping in darkness, only a pinprick of light here and there to hint that a city of more than two million people existed less than two hundred meters away.

She shivered. She loved her husband and the fabulous money they were making together, but she hated the work, doing it only for him. Assassinations were usually carried out at night so that the shooters could get away. After five hits in three years, Kim had learned to depend on the dark but she hated it.

Keeping to the deeper shadows, she moved across the driveway that led up to the single road circling the small island of Yanggak, then held up in the bushes and hedges to wait for her husband, and to watch for the policemen who traveled on foot in pairs.

Yanggakdo International Hotel was the city's only accommodation for unapproved foreigners, such as South Koreans or Japanese, and for everyone who came into North Korea in a tour group. No one was allowed out of the hotel or off the island after dark, and the road and two bridges leading across the river to the mainland were patrolled 24/7 by special police armed with short stock versions of the AK- 47 assault rifle.

A dark figure darted up from the ser vice driveway, and Kim eased farther into the hedges until she was certain it was her husband Soon, then she showed herself and he came across to her.

"Any signs of the cops?" he asked, keeping his voice low.

"Not yet," she said.

They pulled on black balaclavas.

Soon was slender, but well- muscled with a square face and dark almond eyes that Kim had always found devastatingly attractive. They'd met six years ago when she'd been assigned as a brand- new second lieutenant to his South Korean Special Forces Sniper Unit outside Seoul. She always smiled when she thought about the exact moment she'd first laid eyes on him, handsome in his captain's uniform, self-assured, even cocky. She'd fallen instantly in love with him, and had told him so on the spot.

They began sleeping together that weekend, but regulations would not permit them to be married or to even have an affair. Two years later they resigned their commissions, got married in Chinhae, the small town on the south coast where she was born, and started to look for work, finding it almost immediately as assassins for hire by South Korea's Mafia.

She had been trained for urban warfare assassinations, but killing enemies of South Korea was a completely different thing than killing rival businessmen or gang leaders, or lately, important politicians. She hated every minute of it, but loved her husband more.

Soon pointed two fingers at his eyes and then through the hedges at a pair of figures slowly approaching along the path on the other side of the road, and Kim's stomach did a slow roll.

There had been no possible way for them to bring weapons here, so before Soon had agreed to take the hit he and Kim had spent the better part of a week cooped up in their apartment doing research online, finally coming up with a plan that could work if they ran into no snags. She'd tried to talk him out of it, arguing that if anything went wrong, if they made even one mistake, they would pay with their lives.

"I don't want to lose you," she'd pleaded, but he'd laughed and took her in his arms.

"Not a chance," he'd whispered in her ear.

When the police reached a spot directly across the road, they suddenly stopped. Kim and Soon remained absolutely motionless. One of the cops lit a cigarette, the odor of cheap tobacco wafting on the slight breeze, then they continued down the path.

Kim and Soon crawled through the hedges, careful to make no noise. Keeping low, they raced across the road and onto the path directly behind the cops.

She'd been trained in the Army for this part too, though in practice she'd never had to use her skills for real. This time was different and she thought that she might be sick to her stomach at any moment.

One of the cops, sensing something, started to turn when Soon reached him, jammed a knee in the man's back, and reached for his head.

Kim hit her target a split instant later, jumping up, slamming her knee into his back, and yanking his head back, breaking his spine and his neck. He collapsed without a sound.

Soon was dragging his target into the brush between the path and the river, as Kim rolled off her target and looked at his face. He was just a kid, probably a teenager, and he was still alive, but paralyzed from the neck down, making it impossible for him to breathe. She reared back, turned away, and threw up, a buzzing inside her head, the path and the road spinning out of control.

When she looked back, the kid's eyes were still open but he was dead, and she was able to get a grip on herself.

Soon came back to her. "What are you doing?" he demanded.

"He wasn't dead."

Soon glanced at the boy's face. "He is now." He grabbed the cop's arms and dragged his slight body into the brush where it could not be spotted from the path or the road, or even from one of the windows in the top story of the hotel. No boats were on the river at this time of the night so it was unlikely that the bodies would be spotted from that direction.

Soon started getting undressed, and Kim pulled the balaclava off her head then took off her sneakers, her slacks, and dark pullover. She untied the plastic bag from around her waist, opened it and stuffed her clothing inside. Soon was already stripping the cop he'd killed of everything but the man's underwear. The uniform, belts, cap, shoes, and the AK- 47 all went into the bag. He gathered the edges and blew air into the bag, inflating it like a balloon and sealed it with one of his shoelaces.

When he was finished he helped Kim with hers.

It was just past 12:30 A.M. when they slipped into the river and started swimming toward the city, the current weak, but the water cold.

Excerpted from THE EXPEDITER by DAVID HAGBERG

Copyright © 2009 by David Hagberg

Published in March 2009 by Torn Doherty Associates, LLC

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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