Today's Reading

Why not? Evan thought.

He'd arrived at a point in his life where he was finally capable of indulging small pleasures. To say the least, his childhood had been rough-and-tumble. Pinballed through a series of foster homes, he'd been ripped out of any semblance of ordinary life at the age of twelve to be trained covertly as an assassin. The fully deniable government program was designed to turn him into an expendable weapon who could execute missions illegal under international law. Orphans were trained alone for solo operations—no peers, no support, no backup. Were it not for Jack Johns, Evan's handler and father figure, the Program would likely have been successful in extinguishing his humanity. The hard part wasn't turning him into a killer, Jack had taught him from the gate. The hard part was keeping him human. Integrating those two opposing drives had been the great challenge of Evan's life.

After a decade and change spent committing unsanctioned hits around the globe, Evan had gone AWOL from the Program and lost Jack all at once. Since then he'd committed himself to staying off the radar while using his skills to help others who were just as powerless as he'd been as a young boy—pro bono missions he conducted as the Nowhere Man.

Right now he was enjoying a break between missions. The closest thing he had to family or an associate, a sixteen-year-old hacker named Joey Morales, had taken an open-ended leave to explore her independence, whatever the hell that meant. Against every last one of his engrained habits, he'd become personally if erratically involved with a district attorney named Mia Hall, enough so that he'd been at her side two months ago as she was wheeled into a life-threatening surgery that had left her in a coma without a clear prognosis. Her ten-year-old son, Peter, another of the select few Evan felt a human attachment to, was now in the capable hands of Mia's brother and sister-in-law. In the collective absence of Joey and Mia, Los Angeles had felt quiet enough for Evan to rediscover the fierce loneliness in freedom.

To his left, the Icelandic cop kept on. "—skydiving and port security, that sort of thing. Drugs and explosives."

"Explosives," one of the Australians cooed. "Cool."

"Think of me as a real-world James Bond," the cop continued. "But tougher." 

"Tougher than Bond?"

On Evan's other side, the footballers shouted "Skál!" and slammed their shot glasses together, licking puddled ice and vodka from their palms. An older man escorted his wife past the rowdy crew, drawing jeers. The biggest of the foursome, red-faced and sloppy, smacked the husband on the shoulder, sending him tumbling toward the door.

That drew even more of Evan's attention.

The big man wore suspenders, ideal for grappling leverage. Another sported a convenient wrist cast; Evan always liked when a loudmouth came packaged with his own bludgeon. The man who'd stolen Evan's shot had a flat metal lip stud the size of a quarter, with a rune stamped on it; Evan hadn't brushed up on his Icelandic runes in a few decades, but he believed that it was the symbol for protection in battle. And the fourth man sported glasses with solid titanium frames, ideal for denting the delicate flesh around the eye sockets.

Smashed between the two groups, Evan hunkered further into himself and took another sip. He loved drinking. 

But not drinkers.

"What was the funniest thing you ever saw on the job?" The Australians gathered closer around the cop now, indulging him.

"When my partner, Rafn, accidentally shot himself in the foot while he was taking a leak. Right through the top of his boot!"

Laughter. The next round of drinks arrived for the ladies—a vomitous concoction sugared up with pink grapefruit, elderflower cordial, soda, and topped with a cherry tomato. It looked like a salad in a glass.

The banter continued. "And what was the scariest thing you saw?"

The venerable cop ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. "Well, I could tell you. But then..."

As the Australians laughed and pleaded with him, Evan closed his eyes and sampled the specialty Reyka once more. It was unreasonably smooth, the finish short, leaving a lingering hint of spicy cedar.

He admired vodka. Base elements put through a rigorous process, distilled and filtered until the result was transformed into its purest essence.

As a scrawny boy, Evan had undergone a similar process himself. Hand-to-hand, network intrusion, escrima knife fighting, psy-ops, SERE tactics—he'd endured painstaking training to become something more than his humble origins would have suggested he could be.

As Jack used to tell him, A diamond's just a lump of coal that knows how to deal with pressure.

This excerpt ends on page 13 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book Night Flight to Paris by Cara Black. 

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