Mission Critical Excerpt

The flight attendant standing at the top of the jet stairs slipped a hand be­hind her back and threaded her fingers around the grip of the pistol tucked under her jacket. Thumbing the safety down, she eyed the figure approach­ing confidently from the darkness beyond the lights illuminating the tar­mac and wondered if she should go ahead and pull her weapon.

There was just one unknown subject in sight, so she’d settled on the handgun, but she had other defensive options available to her here in the Gulfstream IV executive jet. If there had been more threats she could have grabbed the loaded Colt M4 hanging by its sling in the coat closet next to her, and if things looked really dicey, she also had an M320 single-shot, 40-millimeter grenade launcher within reach.

The approaching man wore a black ball cap and a gray T-shirt under a dark brown jacket. He walked with purpose, but there was no obvious menace to his movements. Still, the copilot leaned out of the cockpit, a look of concern on his face.

“Is this our guy, Sharon?”

The flight attendant kept her eyes on the man as she replied. “If it is, he has trouble following directions. Our passenger was instructed to ap­proach from the terminal, but this joker is coming out of the dark near the fence line.”

“You want us to move the aircraft?” The engines were spinning; the Gulfstream had been ordered to land here in Zurich and wait at idle on the tarmac for a single passenger to board.

Sharon said, “Negative. If this guy starts any trouble, I’ll handle him. Just strap in and be ready.”

“Say the word and we’re outta here.” The copilot returned to his con­trols.

The man emerging from the darkness kept coming; Sharon could see a backpack swinging off his right shoulder, but his hands were down by his sides, his palms turned towards her to show he was unarmed. He stopped twenty yards from the stairs and looked up at the woman.

With the turbines whirling there was no way they could talk at this distance. After a moment looking him over, she waved him up the steps with her left hand, while her right clamped down even harder on the grip of the SIG P320 9-millimeter. She pulled it out a fraction of an inch until she felt the click of her retention holster releasing the weapon, but she did not draw it completely free.

The man climbed the jet stairs. When he was within speaking distance he said, “Think you’re my ride.”

“How ’bout we confirm that, just to make it official?”

The man said, “X-ray, X-ray, eighty-eight, Whiskey, Uniform.”

The woman thumbed the safety back up and pressed down on the grip, snapping the SIG back into its holster. She removed her hand from behind her back. “Confirmed. Juliet, Uniform, thirteen, Papa, Echo.”

The man in the ball cap nodded.

“You had me worried, sir. You approached from the wrong direction.”

A shrug. “I’m a bit of a rebel.”

He was a smartass, Sharon saw immediately, but he gave a tired, friendly smile after he said it, so she let it go. She stepped up against the cockpit door to allow the man to pass into the cabin.

“Welcome on board,” she said. “You must be something special; we were heading to Luxembourg on a priority movement when we were di­verted here to pick you up.”

The man shrugged. “Not special. Somebody at Langley wants a word, so I’ve been summoned.”

The woman raised her eyebrows at this. “Well, good luck with that. Can I get a drink for the condemned?”

“No thanks. I’ll be no trouble.” With that he moved to the back of the plush Gulfstream, tossed his pack into a chair, and sank into the port-side window seat next to it.

The aircraft had seating for fourteen in the form of leather cabin chairs and an overstuffed leather sofa. A TV monitor inlaid in a rosewood front bulkhead showed their position here in Zurich, and bottled water rested in every cup holder in the cabin.

Sharon closed the hatch and leaned into the cockpit to speak with the pilot, and soon the aircraft began rolling. She moved back to her single passenger and sat down in a chair across from him. “We’re to deliver you to D.C., but I’m afraid we have two stops to make en route. We’ll land in Luxembourg, pick up our passengers there, and deliver them to an airfield in the UK. We’ll refuel and get back in the air for the hop over the Atlantic. ETA at D.C. is around eleven a.m. local.”

“Works for me.”

“You really are no trouble, are you?” She stood, turned, and headed up to the cockpit.

The man looked out the window at the darkness.

The plane lifted into the night sky moments later, and Courtland Gentry, CIA code name Violator, drifted off to sleep soon after.

• • •

He only awoke as they touched down at Luxembourg City. Court knew the Agency preferred using smaller or even private airfields when possible, but the big international airport here in the suburb of Findel was the only paved runway in the tiny nation.

Just as in Zurich, the aircraft taxied and then stopped on the ramp, wide of any activity on the property.
Court looked idly out the port-side window for a moment with a yawn.

He saw headlights approaching on the ramp, and soon a pair of com­mercial vans pulled to a stop at the bottom of the jet stairs. The doors opened and a group of men began climbing out. Court glanced idly to the front of the cabin and saw the flight attendant standing in the open pas­senger doorway, holding an M4 rifle slightly behind her back, muzzle down but ready to whip it up at the first sign of danger.

She looked like she knew how to handle the weapon, which came as no  shock to the CIA asset watching her. The Agency trained their transporta­tion staff for anything.

Court himself was packing a Glock 19 9-millimeter, a .38 revolver, and a .22 caliber suppressed pistol. One on his hip, one on his ankle, the other in his pack, and he was ready to go for them if he sensed any danger. But the flight attendant seemed to have it all under control. She spoke with someone just outside the cabin on the stairs, then hung the M4 back in the coat closet and beckoned the man in.

Court closed his eyes and pulled his cap down; he was ready to get back to sleep.

• • •

Forty-six-year-old CIA officer Doug Spano boarded the aircraft while his men waited on the ramp behind him for his all clear.

Once inside he spoke to the attractive woman at the door, and then he turned to look over the darkened cabin. Immediately he saw a man seated in the back, a ball cap pulled down over his face. Spano cleared his jacket out of the way of his sidearm and gripped it, and then without taking his eyes off the man, he addressed the flight attendant. “Who the fuck is that?”

“Agency personnel, sir. He’s cleared.”

“Not by me, he’s not. This is a priority movement.”

“So is he, sir. We were told to deliver your group to Ternhill and then to fly him on to Washington.”

Spano grimaced in anger. Somebody had fucked up, and it was getting in the way of his op. He moved quickly down the cabin and leaned over the passenger in the dark. At first he thought him to be asleep, but the man lifted his cap, opened his eyes, and said, “Evening.”

“Don’t take it personally, sport, but I can’t have you on this aircraft. Get Transpo to arrange another flight for you. I’ve got a priority mission you’re encroaching on here.”

The man seemed bored. He closed his eyes again. “Call Langley, exten­sion fifty-eight twelve. She tells me to get off, I get off.”

“You don’t listen, do you?” When no response came he said, “Who are you with?”


If this man was, in fact, on a code-word operation, then Spano wouldn’t be learning anything further from him about what he was doing on board.
But he didn’t give a shit. “My op is coded, too, tough guy.” He then changed tactics, opting for direct intimidation. “Not telling you again. De­plane. Now.

“Fifty-eight twelve,” the man replied in a bored voice. He was positively unintimidated, and he rolled his head towards the window.

Doug Spano pulled his sat phone out of his jacket and stormed back up the cabin.

• • •

Five minutes later the CIA officer held the phone to his ear, and Court could tell from his body language that he was pissed. He came storming in his direction, and he handed the phone over.

Court took it and answered. “Hello?”

“Making friends as always, I see.” It was his handler, Suzanne Brewer. She sounded annoyed, but Court couldn’t remember ever hearing her sound different.

“Just being a good worker bee. You told me you wanted me on this plane.”

“Well, yes, I need you here in Washington, stat. You’re on that flight, but you need to relinquish any weapons.”

Court paused. Said, “I’m not really the ‘relinquishing weapons’ type.”

“Do it.”


In an even more irritated voice Brewer said, “Because I asked you to, Violator.”

Court sighed. “Okie doke.” He passed the phone back to the CIA offi­cer, who disconnected the call.

The man stood over him, obviously displeased by this intrusion on his operation. “Aren’t you a Billy Badass? Gettin’ to ride shotgun on a code-word op. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that shit.”

“I’ll stay out of your hair, boss.”

A finger came up, not quite in Court’s face, but close enough to annoy. “Damn right, you will. You’ll park your ass right here; we’ll take the front. You need to go to the lav, you will hit your call light and I’ll send a man to escort you. Now . . . let’s have those weapons. You’ll get them back at Ternhill.”

Court pulled his Glock, backwards and with his fingertips, so as not to be threatening, and he handed it over. The man took it, dropped the magazine, and cleared the round from the chamber, letting the bullet fall to the floor. He reseated the magazine and stuck the gun in the waistband of his jeans.
And then he looked back to the seated man.

Court gazed up at him. No expression, no movement.


Court slowly lifted his right leg, ripped off an ankle holster Velcroed around his calf, and passed it over along with the .38 revolver tucked in­side it.

He then looked back to the man standing over him.

As he expected, the CIA officer said, “Let’s take a peek inside that backpack.”

Court sighed, remained still.

“Don’t make me send my four guys back here to pound it away from you.”

Asshole, Court thought but did not say. He reached into his pack and removed the integrally suppressed Ruger .22 pistol stowed there. Again holding the base of the grip by his fingertips, he handed it to the man standing over him.

The CIA officer took the gun with a confused expression, then held it up to examine it carefully.
Court knew what this jackass must have been thinking right now. The Ruger Amphibian wasn’t a pistol fielded by CIA case officers, security staff, or normally even paramilitaries. No . . . it was a weapon with only one obvious purpose.

It was an assassin’s tool.

The CIA officer’s eyes were wider now as he looked back to the man in the ball cap sitting in the dark. After clearing his throat nervously, he said, “Is . . . is that all?”

Court replied, “You’re not getting my nail file.”

The standing man recovered slowly, still holding the silenced pistol up for inspection. “I don’t like this shit one bit.”

Court yawned. “Dude, I don’t know what your problem is, but it sure as hell isn’t me.”

The CIA officer turned away and headed up to the front. Court watched him place the .22 in the closet by the cabin door and then leave the aircraft

• • •

A minute later Court looked on while the other men boarded. Two burly bearded guys, both with HK short-barreled rifles on their chests. Next came another large CIA man, and he held on to a smaller individual who shuffled into the aircraft with a black bag over his head, his wrists and ankles shackled. Behind them came the man who had disarmed Court along with one more bearded CIA officer.

The prisoner was led into a seat by the front and bracketed by two of the fit bearded officers.

In the back of the cabin, Court Gentry watched it all, and he recog­nized what was going on. They were taking this dude to the UK. Probably to MI6, British foreign intelligence. This was a rendition, a detainee hand­off to another nation.

Before sitting down in the front half of the cabin most of the Ameri­cans gave Court “eat shit” looks. Court gazed back at them impassively, then rolled his eyes a little before closing them yet again.

The plane took off from Findel into a starry night.

Excerpted from MISSION CRITICAL by Mark Greaney, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Mark Greaney