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New York Times Bestseller David Stone

The Echelon Vendetta

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David Stone's

The Skorpion Directive

“In Vienna for a top-secret meeting with ex-Mossad agent Issadore Galan, Micah Dalton senses that something is very wrong on the streets of the Ring District. He’s being watched – a professional surveillance team – and he needs to know why; his aggressive response to the unknown surveillance unit pulls him into a complex plot designed to shatter America’s most strategic alliances around the world.

Assisted by foreign operative Veronika Miklas and his CIA colleague, Mandy Pownall, Dalton starts to piece the plot together and is shocked to learn that the plot is far more dangerous – and far more personal – than he could have imagined.

Planned by a major foreign power and executed by a hideously-burned Serbian soldier with a ferocious personal hatred for Dalton, the conspiracy throw Dalton into a brutal conflict with an ultra-secret US agency known as the BDS as well as a cadre of Serbian fighters hardened by the terrible conflicts in Kosovo. In a blistering arc that carries him from Vienna to Venice to Sebastopol, Istanbul, Athens to beyond The Rock of Gibraltar, Dalton pushes himself – and his lover Mandy Pownall – the edge of sanity in a desperate attempt to save his country’s honor and his own life.”

Read the Story Behind the Story

An excerpt from The Skorpion Directive:

Vienna …
The Schottentor Ring,
University District,
1908 hours local time …


Micah Dalton, riding a crowded escalator up into the cold blue light of the Schottentor Trolley Station, was instantly spotted by a member of the Überwachung Deinst, in this case a twenty-eight year old cut-crystal blonde named Lasha Sëigel. Sëigel had been assigned the trigger position, the trigger being the most likely member of the Overwatch Service to have First Contact with the target. Humint obtained by The Cousins – they would not reveal the source - indicated that Dalton was likely to surface at the Schottentor subway stop at some point in the early evening of this day. Sëigel had therefore taken up her trigger post at daybreak, in a vacant office on the fifth floor of the Volksbank, on the far side of Währinger Strasse, and had remained there ever since, fixed, alone, without relief, mainly because her boss, Rolf Jagermeir, was a Pfennigfuchser Arschloch , a blunt Teutonic curse which, when sounded out, needs no translation. The rest of the “box” team would commence der aufzug – the lift – the active mobile surveillance operation - as soon as Sëigel established first contact. Which, to her credit, she managed to do three seconds after Dalton cleared the escalator exit. In another two seconds she had a digital camera with a thousand millimeter lens zeroed in on Dalton’s face. And as soon as she had it focused, down in his lizard brain, Micah Dalton sensed … something. Nothing as specific as a surveillance lens, or the adrenalized young woman behind it. Just a sudden and skin-crawling sense of unease. In his current state, this was not surprising.

He had not slept for two days, and his weary mind was far away in London, recalling the murder of an Uzbek courier on an escalator very much like this one. He became aware that his pulse rate was also climbing, but thinking about the Uzbek's murder could be the cause of that as well, since Dalton had been the murderer.

The Agency had gone to no end of trouble to recruit this Uzbek, whose family was supposed to have a direct connection with the largest Al Qaeda unit in Tashkent, and they were not at all pleased to learn that he had had already been doubled by the Albanians, or at least that’s what Dalton had been told, by Tony Crane, the head of the CIA’s London Station. Dalton, whose time in the Fifth Special Forces had given him some intimate and bloody contact with the Albanians, didn’t think they had enough trade-craft to double a decaf mocha latte.

No matter. According to Tony Crane, the Inconvenient Uzbek needed his ticket punched. Crane was a languid blond-haired Back Bay princeling with a perma-tan, a history degree from Oxford, and a Harvard Yard drawl. His only first-hand experience of incoming fire was facing a forehand smash on a clay court. Nevertheless, Crane labored, with some success, at least among the young and gullible on the staff, to create the impression that he and sudden death had been room-mates at Choate. Crane wanted “the hit” done in a memorable way, “so those fucking Albanians would get the fucking point”.

Crane’s XO, Stennis Corso, known as Pinky behind his back, a round seal-like little man with tiny pink ears and bright pink cheeks and soft pink hands that were always raw from too much scrubbing – no one at London Station cared to know why – had a hopelessly mad crush on Dalton at the time, so Dalton got the assignment as a kind of burnt offering from Pinky, whose private passion for Dalton had tented Pinky’s hand-sewn Quaker bedspread for over two years.

Dalton resented the assignment bitterly: he didn’t mind a necessary combat killing, but he deeply despised murder. Nevertheless, he had stayed on the Uzbek for a couple of weeks, realizing pretty early on that, for a double-agent supposedly steeped in guile, the fragile old man had the situational awareness of a mollusk.

On the day marked for what Crane liked to call “the hit” – the Friday of the Victoria Day Weekend – a three-day holiday in London - Dalton had stalked him for hours, checking for counter-surveillance, waiting for his moment, which, as these moments often do, presented itself on an escalator, in this case the one inside the Marylebone tube station. He could still see the old man’s tweed coat, draped over his narrow bony shoulders like a shawl, his yellow-gray hair, damp with sweat, his left hand shoved deep into his coat pocket, a few inches of his spine showing above a grimy white shirt collar as he rode the escalator up into the rush-hour clamor of a London afternoon, his right hand, claw-like, gripping the worn rubber rail: the Uzbek was deep inside himself, curled up inside his thoughts like a cat in a closet. In the final seconds of his life the old man, perhaps sensing Dalton closing in, turned sharply, his blue lips tight, his cheekbones jutting out, his milky brown eyes widening – Dalton showed his teeth in what he – quite mistakenly - imagined to be a disarming smile and put four sub-sonic twenty-two’s into the old man’s lungs, the man’s shocked breath a short sharp puff of peppermint and whisky straight into Dalton’s face. The chuffing crackle of the Ruger, the silenced muzzle pressed hard up against the man’s woolen vest, was no louder than a dry cough, barely heard above the shuffling din of the crowds, the roar of the subway and the rattle-clank-rattle of the ancient cast-iron escalator. Four in the lungs looks a lot like a fainting spell to anyone passing by, and everyone did just that.

The Uzbek’s clothes reeked of Turkish tobacco. His teeth were too large and un-naturally white, like little slabs of plastic, the gums a lurid pink. Baltic work, very likely: Dalton had seen enough of that sort of Stalinist dentistry in the blackened mouths of bloated corpses all over Kosovo.

He caught the man’s body as it fell, holding the Uzbek up, pasting a worried look on his sharp-planed cold-eyed face for the benefit of the other people on the escalator, all of whom glanced quickly away, avoiding involvement of any kind, flowing easily around the two of them like water over stones.

Dalton dead-walked him to a nearby bench, kneeling down in front of him as if he were offering roadside assistance, keeping his pale blue eyes fixed on the man’s face. Dalton was ashamed of feeling not much of anything as he watched him struggle for one more breath, watched his cheeks blooming pink, and then fading slowly to gray.

The Uzbek, his coal-black magpie eyes fixed on Dalton’s, had said something with his final breath, a prayer, a curse, a question, but Dalton spoke no Uzbek and the man did not try to say it again in English, so although they were quite close together, locked in this obscene intimacy, the old courier died alone.

When the Marylebone crowds thinned out Dalton set the Uzbek gently back on the bench, put a copy of The Times on his lap, and arranged him into a plausible counterfeit of sleep. Then he stood up, tucking the Ruger into a copy of Hello magazine with the skull-face of Victoria Beckham scowling from the cover, and walked out of the tube station and into the crowds on Harewood Row, under a hazy twilight sky filled with blue and gold light, an evening, as it happened, very much like this evening in Vienna, five years later.

Lasha Sëigel, in the office on the fifth floor of the Volksbank, tightened the focus of her lens and clicked another digital shot of Dalton pausing at the top of the escalator, time-marked it, and hit send. This time Dalton felt a second and much stronger ripple of unease. Something about this evening in Old Vienna was … not right. He paused for a moment, looking to his left to glance at a poster advertising a Senegalese rapper-poet named Goebe.

Galan’s mark – the tell – a slash of blue marker on the lower left-hand corner - was there, as required by the protocols. Its presence stated that, in Galan’s professional view, it was safe to go forward to the contact point. Of course, Dalton had been told that kind of thing many times before, and sometimes it had even been true.

The fact that his meeting was with Issadore Galan, an ex-Mossad agent now running the agenzia spionaggi for the Carabinieri in Venice, made it important to push his luck: Galan disliked face-to-face meetings and avoided them unless he had something to say that could not be safely said in any other way.

Dalton pulled in a breath, let it out slowly. If Galan had made a tradecraft error here in Vienna - as unlikely as that was - there was only one way to confirm it.

He paused for a moment, gathering himself, taking in the city.

Vienna, like most aging harlots, was at her best in the twilight: Baroque facades lined the Ring district, richly-detailed five and six storey wedding cakes in pink and cream stone, coffer-roofed, every available inch of wall surface covered in gilded nymphs, onyx satyrs, alabaster cherubs, copper putti, bronze valkyries, winged stallions with nostrils flaring – all of this Dream-of-Ossian imagery overlooking a maze of streets packed with earnest little Austrian eco-cars bustling up and down the avenues under a glittering web of trolley wires, like fat white rabbits, late too late for a very important date.

It had rained hard most of the day, clearing around seven, turning the Viennese sky into a luminous California sunset. The Ring smelled of wet stone, early spring mosses, diesel fumes, and, floating on the misty air from a student café across the Strasse, the biting tang of fresh dark coffee.

In this threshold moment, Lasha Sëigel took one last chance to pull in tight on the target, filling her lens with the glowing image of a taut muscular man, narrow hipped but broad at the shoulders, a little over six feet, with longish blond hair, a slightly cruel face made of angles and edges, deep-set pale eyes hooded by the down-light. He was too well-dressed to be a student or a tourist, in a long blue overcoat over navy slacks, a blue vee-neck sweater, a scarf of pale gold silk, expensive black wing-tips.

Her heart rate rose perceptibly as she studied Dalton’s uncompromising face in the lens; back at The Office, during their final Tactical Briefing, trying to drive home just how dangerous this target was, the unit chief, Nenia Faschi, had told them that the Serbian Mafia, who had tangled with the target several times last year, were calling him the krokodil . Sëigel had to admit he had that … look. The voice of Rolf Jagermeir, in his Mobile Two unit in front of the Regina Hotel, came up in her ear-piece. Jagermeir had seen the transmitted image from her digital camera, checked it with a file photo in his laptop:

Ja. Das ist Dalton. Gehen Sie auf die Strasse, mit das aufzug.

That’s Dalton.

Get down on the street with the Lift Team

Double-clicking her throat-mike to let Jagermeir know she had heard and would comply, Sëigel noticed that the Viennese, a wary people, were giving this krokodil a certain space. She packed up her gear, stopping at the door to see that she had left no traces, and slipped out into the deserted hallway, heading for the stairs, thinking as she came hurriedly down the darkened hall he can’t lose us in the Ring – too many buildings, too much street light.

Across the Strasse, Dalton was thinking exactly the same thing: this was bad ground for a covert meeting. Too brightly-lit, too many rooflines, too many long walled-in blocks, and no room at all to maneuver. A cattle chute to the slaughter-house, Dalton’s CQB instructor at Fort Campbell would have said; exposed, lines of fire from every angle, fully in enfilade, no chance to get to cover. It must have been hellish to fight in the streets of Vienna during the war, although the Panzers and the Stukas would have been a great help.

There was a broad open space to his right – Sigmund Freud Park, looking threadbare and tired after a hard Austrian winter – and, on the far side of the park, he could see the flood-lit yellow hulk of the Hotel Regina. To the left of The Regina, the twin spires of the Votivkirche glittered like silver spikes against the fading glow of the evening sky. A red and cream trolley rumbled past on steel tracks, heavy as a Tiger Tank, shaking the ground under his feet. A young blonde woman in faded jeans and a mud-brown ski-vest popped out of a door in the Volksbank Building across the street, clearly in a hurry. She glanced in his direction, seemed to flinch away, and then she jerked her head around sharply, turning north on Währinger Strasse, lugging her camo-colored back-pack, melting quickly into the street crowds. That jumpy glance, and her body language as she headed away from him, that was all it took.

His vague ripples of unease hardened into a near certainty. He made the professional decision to assume he was under surveillance. It was the only safe thing to do. But surveillance by whom? Possibly the KGB.

He had, just a few weeks ago, exposed a KGB mole buried deep inside the US Army, in the process decimating a KGB network in Istanbul and Kerch, so the KGB had no reason to love Dalton. And these days the KGB – who had changed their official name to the FSB in 1991 but who were still thought of as the KGB by every opposing agency - were thick on the ground in Vienna, now that over two hundred thousand Chechen refugees had made their way here.

Or it could be the Serbs and Croats, who had declared a vendetta against him ever since he had run a small but extremely brutal private war against the Serbian Mafia in Venice. Another contender would be the Singaporean SID, whom Dalton had managed to piss off quite spectacularly only a few months ago.

Whoever it was, the Austrians were old hands at the spy game and neither the KGB nor any other foreign security service would be allowed to run a surveillance operation without the permission – and perhaps the assistance – of the OSE, the Österreichischen Spionageabwehr Einheit. Austria had an official policy of neutrality – had ever since 1955 – but that didn’t mean that allowances could not be made when it served the state.

Dalton had met – and respected – Austrian special forces soldiers doing UN work in Bosnia and Kosovo, and Galan had once told him the Austrians had a detachment in permanent position on The Golan Heights. The Austrians had a more muscular definition of “neutrality” than the Swiss, and lately they had been taking “advice” from the KGB about their Chechen refugee problem.

It wasn’t out of the question that they had also been taking “advice” from the KGB about a troublesome CIA officer named Micah Dalton. Well, there was only one reliable way to find the answers to all these questions, and that was to draw these unknown watchers out.

To do that, he had to move.

So he moved.