Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Exile Hunter" by Preston Fleming

Exile Hunter
(The Kamas Trilogy Book 3)
by Preston Fleming

Exile Hunter is the third book in The Kamas Trilogy. It was recently awarded a Gold Medal in the Fiction - Suspense category of the 2014 Reader's Favorite Book Awards

Also available: Forty Days at Kamas (read my blog post) and Star Chamber Brotherhood.

For another book by Preston Fleming, see my blog post on Dynamite Fishermen, the first book in The Beirut Trilogy.

Exile Hunter, the third book in the Kamas Trilogy, begins in 2023, one year before the Kamas revolt, in a dystopian America ruled by a tyrannical President-for-Life who turns America’s military and intelligence assets against his domestic enemies. The protagonist, an undercover officer specializing in targeting exiled political opponents, becomes the scapegoat for a failed operation and is sent to die in a corrective labor camp near the Arctic Circle. But, defying all odds, he survives, escapes and devotes his remaining energies to finding and aiding a woman whose family he has ruined.
Beirut, 2023: When undercover intelligence officer Warren Linder agrees to lure an exiled opponent of the President-for-Life back to impoverished, low-tech, post-Civil War II America, Linder is unaware that the target is his childhood sweetheart’s father. On learning this, he ignores his better instincts and plunges ahead. But a surprise encounter with the woman who rejected him years before triggers a change in Linder that derails the operation. His bosses, suspecting treachery, capture Linder along with the target and his daughter and spirit them back to the U.S. aboard a secret rendition flight. Linder’s ensuing journey takes him from Beirut to a Virginia interrogation center and on to an Arctic labor camp; then, after a nearly impossible winter escape, on a 2000-mile trek to the Utah Security Zone, where his onetime love was last held. Though he finds her, their respective ordeals have changed them. The story reaches a climax in the couple’s home town of Cleveland, where Linder aims to recover his former target’s last cache of rebel funds and use it to take his loved ones beyond the regime’s reach. Exile Hunter is a tragic yet life-affirming saga of a man who risks everything to set right past wrongs, regain lost love and resist the tyranny he once served.
In Exile Hunter, author Preston Fleming offers his most richly imagined vision yet of the future American dystopia introduced in Forty Days at Kamas, while endowing the story’s characters with complexity and a remarkable capacity for growth. Warren Linder's epic journey crackles with excitement at every step and leads to a deeply satisfying conclusion. Devoted Fleming readers will likely consider Exile Hunter the author's best work by far.

Who can protest and does not, is an accomplice in the act. ~ The Talmud
September, Thursday, West Beirut
Warren Linder stepped from the taxi onto the cobbled side street, felt the glaring heat of the midday sun, and nearly fell on the ice. Not sheet ice, for this was September in Beirut, but a layer of discarded ice cubes that some restaurant sous-chef had poured onto the curb. Seizing the taxi door with both hands, Linder regained his balance quickly, but for all his hardheaded worldliness, he had developed a superstitious streak of late and, rather than curse at the proximate cause of his near fall, pondered whether it might have a deeper meaning. And in that moment he wished he had never left his flat in the Cypriot resort town of Limassol, a mere hour’s flight away, where he had spent the previous night after a week on the road.
While he imagined himself back on his fourth floor balcony overlooking Akrotiri Bay, the taxi driver fetched his bags from the trunk, deposited them on the sidewalk, and awaited payment. Linder refocused in time to pull a wad of Lebanese banknotes from his jacket breast pocket and pay the jovial driver, adding a generous tip and a few words of appreciation.
Only then did he notice his reflection in the polished car window. The sight unnerved him: he looked every bit as dissipated as he felt. The dark circles under his bloodshot, puffy eyes, the gray streaks infiltrating his hair and whisker stubble, the furrows in his forehead and cheeks: these were all products of the past two years.
Though he exercised most days, ate reasonably well when he could, and made an effort to catch enough sleep and cut back on the booze, Linder knew his 38-year-old body had logged more than its share of mileage and stress during his dozen years of government service. He was nearing the end of his rope: the proof of it was in the mirror, and in the nightmares, and in the need for more and more alcohol to stave off his dread.
All at once he felt a powerful urge to pitch it all and board the next ferry to Larnaca and, from there, another boat to Turkey and then a bus or taxi to some obscure seaside or mountain village in Greece or the Balkans where he could buy time and figure out how to give his life a radical makeover.
He turned and called out to the driver.
“Is there still a daily ferry from Beirut to Cyprus these days?”
“Not daily, not weekly, siidi. To go by sea, you must hire a boat and a captain. Best to find them at Jounieh or Kaslik. Shall I take you?”
Linder hesitated.
“And to Syria? The same?”
“There are ships for carrying goods to Latakia, but none for the people.”
“Too bad. Maybe another time, then,” Linder replied, noticing the middle-aged doorman who had come to fetch his luggage. With a parting nod to the driver, Warren Linder followed the doorman and his bags into the lobby of the Hotel Cavalier.
The desk clerk was an unctuous twenty-something Lebanese with a receding hairline and ample paunch, likely the product of some European hotel-management school or apprenticeship, one of the generation of prematurely aged young fogeys who were rebuilding the new commercial city-state of Beirut from the ashes of its most recent conflagration. Linder greeted the clerk in French and handed him the alias passport that he occasionally used for the kind of undercover work that had brought him to Beirut. The clerk gave him a professional once-over, then proceeded to check him in.
As Linder pulled out his wallet, full of credit cards and IDs under his current alias, the urge to flee gripped him once more, and he wondered whether he had enough cash and credit in his two hands, right now, today, to vanish from sight. No, came the answer; it was impossible. Even if he took cash advances from all the credit cards before leaving Beirut, he would not get very far. Without having planned further ahead, he would likely be caught within days.
This sudden feeling of dread and unease puzzled him. Usually, he loved being on the road and arriving in a new city. Though he sometimes dreamed fondly of having a real home, of putting down roots somewhere with a wife and family, each time he returned to his flat in Limassol, or Basel, or London before that, or even Cleveland to visit his parents and sister, within days of arriving he would daydream of being on the road again.
The problem with being a self-starter and overachiever was that he could never quite bring himself to slow down. He felt rather like a shark that needed to constantly move to survive. The analogy was apt, not only because of the work he did, but also because it was true in a physical sense. His muscular, heavy-boned physique was so lean that he could literally lie flat on the bottom of a swimming pool without rising. From adolescence on, he had come to hate swimming because if he failed to swim fast, he sank.
After completing the check-in procedure, Linder took the self-service elevator to the hotel’s top floor and found his mini-suite at the end of the hall. It was as spacious and well appointed as the operations assistant at Beirut Base had described by email, with a view of the shimmering Mediterranean across a vast array of red-tiled roofs. Linder placed his suitcase on the folding luggage rack, opened it to retrieve his toiletries kit, and retired to the bathroom to freshen up after his travels. When he returned to the sitting room, he opened a tall bottle of sparkling mineral water, poured himself a glass, and downed it in a single draft. Next, he pulled out a tourist map of Beirut and had barely spread it across the coffee table when he heard a sharp rap at the door.
Quickly Linder refolded the map and closed his suitcase before walking quietly to the door. Through the peephole, he saw a familiar face, and, without hesitation, opened the door to let in Neil Denniston. Both men waited for the door to close before speaking.
Denniston, a gangling, narrow-shouldered figure dressed in dark tropical wool dress trousers and a tailored striped shirt unbuttoned to the breast bone, wore a confident grin as he offered his hand to Linder. His lush crop of flaxen hair had thinned on top since Linder had last seen him three summers before, and his deep-set eyes and thin-lipped mouth were surrounded by a few new wrinkles, but otherwise, Denniston looked much the same as he did a decade ago when the two men had worked together on a CIA-led counterterrorist team, also in Beirut.
Five years later, both left the Agency to join the newly formed Department of State Security at a time when nearly all American troops and intelligence operatives were being brought home for good. As with Vietnam-era counterinsurgency experts two generations earlier, Arabic-speaking counterterrorist officers now glutted the market as they filed through the crowded halls of the Pentagon and CIA Headquarters, searching in vain for onward assignments.
Then, as now, Denniston was always on the alert for career-advancing opportunities, always the first to pursue the next big thing, always hustling close friends and associates to team up with him on his next gig. And Denniston was nothing if not persuasive. He had a deceptively languid manner, speaking slowly and softly in a Kentucky Gentleman drawl that charmed many into underestimating his shrewdness and force of will. Similarly, by maintaining eye contact and lavishing praise, he made others feel as if there was no one else in the world he would rather talk to. Women, particularly the more vacuous ones, tended to find Denniston irresistible. In an earlier era, Linder could easily picture his friend as a Mississippi riverboat gambler or a Florida land swindler or a New Orleans pimp.
Denniston’s personal qualities, Linder was certain, perfectly matched CIA’s recruiting profile for new clandestine operations officers, a profile that dated back to the World War II Office of Strategic Services and was refined continuously by way of sophisticated psychological testing techniques. The same recruiting profile, Linder believed, described the constellation of character traits commonly found among loan sharks, Wall Street bond salesmen, drug pushers, Ponzi schemers, plaintiff lawyers, used car salesmen, and other borderline sociopaths.
Such charm, craftiness, and determination were largely the reason why Denniston was now Branch Chief for North Africa and the Near East in the DSS’s Émigré Division. Of course, his Unionist Party membership had also played a role, but joining the Party before the President-for-Life’s final election was just one more example of his friend’s unusual foresight and tactical genius. When he and Denniston were fraternity brothers at Kenyon and Linder coached him through one exam after another, Linder would never have imagined that one day Denniston’s career would outshine his.
Linder took Denniston’s outstretched hand and gave it a hearty shake before pouring his guest a tumbler of sparkling water.
“Sorry, I don’t have anything stronger,” Linder said as he handed over the glass. “No ice, either.”
“You can send up for something if you want. They have an excellent bar here,” Denniston offered.
“Yes, I remember.”
“Of course,” Denniston responded. “You were stationed here, too, in those days. I keep forgetting. It seems like another lifetime.”
Linder poured himself another glass of water and took a seat across the coffee table from Denniston. This time he would not let Denniston suck him into another drinking bout. If Denniston wanted to booze it up, he could visit the bar alone.
“At the risk of being abrupt, Neil, I’d like to ask you a question I didn’t want to put in official email traffic. What exactly do you and Bednarski want from me in this operation? My understanding is that your target is one of the rebel leaders who looted the downtown banks during the Battle of Cleveland, and that your objective is to render him back to the States. But don’t you already have an inside man to set this up? Why do you need me?”
“Actually, the only inside man right now is you,” Denniston replied with his usual self-assurance. “Our plan is to introduce you as an insurgent leader from one of the western restricted zones. Your funding request will be of a scale that requires our target’s approval, since he decides on all major funding requests to his particular war chest.”
“So you want me to go to him as Mormon Joe Tanner?” Linder asked. “Has your man met Tanner before?”
“Not yet, but we’ve had a couple of our European-based assets vouch for you. And there’s one other step involved. You see, before you can get to our primary target, you’ll have to make your pitch to his go-between.”
Linder shook his head in distaste. “Does Headquarters know about this? Frankly, Neil, this is starting to sound like something you cooked up on your way over here.”
“Oh, they know all right—in broad terms, of course,” Denniston responded, full of his usual bravado. “The thing is, the old man is cagey and easily spooked. That’s why we wanted somebody with demonstrated abilities in dealing with insurgent types, so we can reach our man on the first try. In short, we wanted the best undercover operator around, and that’s you.”
Linder had heard the pitch before: Denniston was in over his head and needed someone to bail him out.
“If you’re resorting to flattery, there must be a catch. What is it? Whose signoff are you missing?”
Denniston shifted uneasily in his seat and looked away before answering.
“No, really, we’re good to go. Bednarski has an oral okay from the Division Chief.”
“Oral? I’d prefer something in writing,” Linder pressed. “I know we’re under time pressure and all that, but…”
“Sure, just ask Bob,” Denniston nodded. “Since he’s Base Chief, officially it’s his op. You can talk to him when we get together this evening.”
“Yeah, right. A lot of good that’s likely to do me, considering how well he and I get along.” Linder complained. Linder realized his complaint was useless. There was no way out; he was here, and so he would have to perform. Denniston had outmaneuvered him again. “So, tell me, how many days are we going to need for this? And how far do you expect it to go? Are we reeling in the fish in one go or just setting the hook?”
“That depends on whether you can get a face-to-face meeting with the target,” Denniston explained, leaning back in his chair, getting comfortable. “Once you do, and you establish your bona fides, we’ll decide how far and how fast to push. You may have to come back once or twice to seal the deal.”
Linder offered his colleague a resigned smile.
“No problem there,” he answered. “I’ve been working this town for over ten years and have become rather attached to it. Now, do you mind telling me who the target is?”
Denniston paused for effect.
“Roger Kendall is the go-between,” he teased.
“Then the target is…” Linder felt a sudden tightening in his gut.
“You guessed it. Philip Eaton.”
Linder gritted his teeth. “You’re certain of that?”
“No doubt about it,” Denniston shot back.
“I heard that Eaton might have travelled this way, but what is Kendall doing here?” Linder challenged. “He never leaves London any more.”
“Don’t forget, Eaton is his new father-in-law,” Denniston pointed out. “And Kendall seems to think that the meeting with Tanner is very important. So it appears his visit is mixing business with pleasure.”
Linder rose from his chair and strode to the open window. He gazed out over the Mediterranean and spotted a fishing boat heading out to sea. He wondered how long the trip to Limassol might take, if he chartered a yacht from Jounieh. And how much would it cost? He just might be able to put together enough cash for that with advances from the alias credit cards. There was plenty more in his safe deposit box in Limassol. He just had to get in and out before anyone knew he was missing.
Linder’s mind raced on. He imagined himself disappearing on foot into the back alleys of the Lebanese capital, catching a taxi and making his way through the hills to the east, across the Bekaa Valley into Syria, then up the coast to Turkey and across Bulgaria to some seaside resort in Croatia or Montenegro or Albania. The urge had been nagging at him for the better part of a year, but now it was more powerful than ever: if he did not break free and start a new life now, leaving everything he knew behind, something dreadful was certain to happen. But if he fled and was caught, his end would likely be just as dreadful: arrest and conviction on national security charges, a sentence to hard labor in some godforsaken prison camp in Alaska or the Yukon, and death from overwork or exposure.
Linder managed to regain control of his wayward thoughts, turned away from the window, and met Denniston’s gaze.
“Did Kendall bring his family?”
“You mean Eaton’s daughter and granddaughter?” Denniston inquired.
Linder nodded.
“Not to our knowledge,” Denniston answered. “Kendall’s registered at the Sofitel in Achrafiyé. He seems to be alone.”
Linder scowled as he strode back to the couch.
“I don’t get it. Kendall is a mere dabbler in rebel politics. And the latest word on Eaton is that he’s run out of dough. Frankly, Neil, this whole thing is looking like a fool’s errand.”
“Bob and I disagree,” Denniston demurred. “And so does the Division Chief. So here’s what we’re going to do. You’re set to meet Kendall tomorrow for coffee at one o’clock on the East Side. Right now, I suggest you get some rest, shower up, and meet me downstairs at seven. We’ll go to Bob’s for drinks and then step out for dinner and work everything out among the three of us.”
“Out to dinner? Together? When we’re prepping for an op? Have you gone nuts?”
Denniston shrugged and flashed his most disarming smile.
“Don’t fret. Eaton and Kendall never come to the Muslim side of town after dark. Besides, Bob wants to go out; and when Bob gets his mind set on something, there’s no point arguing with him.”
Without waiting for a response, Denniston finished his mineral water and rose to leave.
“Come to think of it, let’s not meet downstairs at seven. Why don’t I pick you up on Rue Clemenceau instead? I’ll look for you at seven sharp walking along the fence side of the street by the American University. I’ll be driving a silver Renault station wagon. It’ll be fun. You’ll see.”

Featured Review
I thoroughly enjoyed this spy adventure/thriller set in the world of the dystopian Forty Days at Kamas of a post American Civil War II. Follow Warren Linder, a former CIA agent now working for the DSS (Department of State Security), in a gripping spy adventure of betrayal, love, and the desire to make reparation. Follow Linder into the icy Yukon Prison camps and travel a near- impossible 2000 miles towards a hoped-for freedom and to fulfil a promise and find a lost love. The book is well written and very descriptive. Even though I read this book during an African heat wave I could feel the gripping cold of frostbite of Alaskan snow storms. My only objection is that the first couple of chapters were a little slow in development, but the remainder of the book more than made up with faced past and gripping action right through to the very end. I was quite sorry that the book came to an end as I was ready for more and here's hoping that the author can find a few more stories to tell that are set in this not too distant and maybe likely world. While Exile Hunter is the third instalment in a series starting with Forty Days at Kamas it doesn’t need to be read in sequence standing as an independent story. I won’t hesitate to recommend and read any of Preston Fleming's books.

About the Author
Preston Fleming was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He left home at age fourteen to accept a scholarship at a New England boarding school and went on to a liberal arts college in the Midwest. After earning an MBA, he managed a non-profit organization in New York before joining the U.S. Foreign Service and serving in U.S. Embassies around the Middle East for nearly a decade. Later he studied at an Ivy League law school and since then pursued a career in law and business. He has written five novels.