The 9th Man

A Luke Daniels Adventure

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Luke Daniels is in London, between assignments with the Magellan Billet, when he receives a frantic call from an old friend. Jillian Stein is in trouble. She made a mistake and now her life may be in danger. She needs Luke’s help. Immediately. Racing to Belgium Luke quickly finds that she was right. A shadow team of highly-trained operatives are there on the hunt. Intervening, he finds himself embroiled in a war between two determined sides — one seeking the truth, the other trying to escape the past — a war that has already claimed one life and is about to claim more.

Thomas Rowland is a Washington insider, a kingmaker, problem-solver, but also a man with a past. For him everything turns with what happened on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. What history has recorded is wrong. There is more to the story, much more, and Thomas Rowland is at the center of that terrible reality. But forces are working against him, and Rowland will do anything to keep the world from learning what actually happened on that fateful day, including killing Luke, Jillian and anyone else who might be a threat.

In a race from Belgium, to Luxembourg, to the bayous of Louisiana and the Wyoming wilderness, to a final confrontation in the Bahamas, Luke Daniels confronts a series of shocking truths which not only rewrite history but will forever change his own life — as he comes face to face with the ninth man.



"Berry and Blackwood keep the pot boiling vigorously until their final surprise. . . My country, ’tis of thee, land of conspiracy.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“A crackling adventure thriller that deftly entertains readers.”

"Both for its suspenseful crafting, and for weaving in one of the oddest and most tragic “conspiracy theories” from the [JFK] assassination, this is one of Steve Berry’s best."
— KTSA (Texas)

"This marks the first time that Berry and Blackwood have collaborated, creating a suspenseful, believable novel [with] non-stop action and many twists."

“One of the best thrill rides you will read this year . . . In each of his books Berry connects fact with fiction, often to amazing lengths. What he reveals here adds credibility to an already breathtaking novel, catapulting it to a next-level experience.”

“A slam-bang adventure-mystery with so many twists and turns, you may miss a lot of sleep reading it!”
— WTBF (Alabama)

“A suspenseful and believable novel . . . This story has non-stop action with many twists. As with all of Berry’s novels there is a mixture of history within an action-adventure plot.”
— Mystery & Suspense Magazine

"An action thrill-ride right from the start . . . Fans of Cotton Malone will love this book . . . All action, with twists and turns. There’s two more Luke Daniels books in the near future, so bring them on.”
— Red Carpet Crash

"Fans of Steve Berry will enjoy seeing Luke Daniels take the lead, and he proves to be just as fun as Cotton Malone . . . a great starting place for those who have never read [Berry’s] conspiracy/history thrillers. What will Luke Daniels uncover next?”
— criminal




“What a wild ride! I've loved Luke Daniels since he was introduced in Berry's long-running Cotton Malone series as a side character, and I'm really happy he got his own novel (and according to the authors, two more upcoming sequels!). It was a lot of fun and I definitely can't wait to pick up the next one.”

"Blackwood and Berry show an adventure through Luke Daniels’ eyes, in an intense thriller that looks at one of America’s greatest 20th century mysteries. In a well-paced piece, the authors provide an intense thriller that is sure to keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. The story flows well and delves into possibilities that will create questions where none might have existed. If this is a new series in the making, I am curious to see how things progress and will be sure to keep an eye out to see what’s to come in the next few years.”





Genappe, Belgium

Tuesday -- March 24 -- 6:12 A.M.

Luke Daniels had only allowed one man to ever get the best of him. Harold Earl “Cotton” Malone. With an uppercut out of nowhere that had dropped him to the deck of a boat. At their first meeting. On the choppy waters of the Øresund, which separated the northern Danish island of Zealand from the southern Swedish province of Scania. Ordinarily, he would have responded with a swing of his own. But not that day.

“Seems you got yourself a partner,” Malone said to him. “Me.”

“Do you have a pad and pen I could borrow so I can take notes on what I learn?”

“You always such a smart ass?”

“You always so warm and friendly?”

“Somebody’s got to see to it that Frat Boys, like you, don’t get hurt,” Malone said.

“You don’t have to worry about me, Pappy. I can take care of myself.”

“Thought I told you not to call me that.”

“Yeah. I heard you. And I gave you one free punch. There won’t be any more freebies.”

Malone’s green eyes threw him a challenge that said it all.

Go for it.

But he’d let it go.

As introductions went, he’d had worse. Yet none had more profoundly affected his life than that one.

But enough musing.

Time to move.

He started to climb out of the rented Peugeot but stopped as Malone’s quiet, prudent voice, laced with a hint of a southern accent, whispered in his head. Slow down. You don’t know the area. Sit for a bit, get a feel for things.

Haste makes for a wasted agent.

Good thing he’d taken those mental notes.

So he sat in the seat and scanned the darkened suburban street that stretched before him. Patience went against his grain. Army Rangers weren’t sit-on-your-hands types. More direct action, and Luke had never rid himself of that bold audacity. He’d wanted to be in the military since he’d first noticed hair on his chin, and he accomplished that goal, skipping college, enlisting, then graduating from Ranger school. He served ten years with three tours in combat. Once out, he’d needed a job and the CIA had been his first choice. Having an uncle as the then-president of the United States should have been an asset. But he’d never once asked Danny Daniels for help.

Whatever he got, he wanted to earn.

And he found out that being recruited into the CIA’s clandestine service was a smidge trickier than filling out an application. He’d made it past the initial interview but had been washed out after the next round. Then a call came from something called the Magellan Billet. Uncle Danny had put in a good word with Stephanie Nelle, who both created and headed the Justice Department’s unsung special operations branch. But she’d been crystal clear. No special treatment. No excuses. He had to earn his spot. Every step of the way.

And he had.

Handling assignments, as ordered.

The Billet now felt like home.

But this trip to Belgium wasn’t official business.

No, this little foray was all personal.

Rue Emile Hecq stretched about a half mile on the outskirts of Genappe. The homes along its edges less suburban and more rustic, mostly two-story, white stucco and brick A-frames, topped by traditional mansard roofs. The street was narrow, bordered by cobblestone sidewalks and small, tidy front yards, each property separated by dense waist-high hedges. A lone street light, glowing amber in the night’s mist, stood about a hundred feet away. Aside from his rental car there were no other parked vehicles.

He’d checked before arriving and learned online that Genappe was a town of about 15,000 whose only claim to fame was the possible birthplace of a dude called Godfrey of Bouillon, the leader of the First Crusade. It also was only a ten-minute drive from the site of the Battle of Waterloo. That’d be something to see, as he loved military history. Read every book he could on the subject. Would there be time for a visit? That would depend on what he found inside the house two doors down on the opposite side of the road.

Six hours ago he’d received a text from a former acquaintance, Jillian Greenfield Stein. Of the Pennsylvania Greenfields, she liked to say with a smile, not the Virginia ones. They’re way too snobby. Of course, she was not from money. Just a solid, middle-class upbringing in southern Pennsylvania. What she wasn’t was emotional. All business in fact. Cool calm nerves flowing through a taut, fit body. Their exchange had been electronic and brief.








That last comment compelled him to call her mobile number. But all he heard was a voicemail prompt. Two more calls achieved the same result. One thing seemed clear. She needed help. She’d done something, made a mistake, and was now worried they were coming for her.

He’d been cautious with his exchanges with her for two reasons. One, he had no way to know if Jillian was on the other end. Could be a trap. And, two, no active intelligence officer ever gave away their current position haphazardly. Stay in the wind, Malone liked to say. Good advice. Thankfully, though, he’d been enjoying a little down time in London after an assignment, before heading back to D.C. So he’d managed to catch the first flight of the day from Heathrow to Brussels, where he’d rented a VW Golf for the fifteen-mile drive south to Genappe and the address Jillian had provided. Which he’d been watching for the past twenty minutes.

The porch light burned bright, but the front windows loomed dark.

God, what have I done, Luke?

“I’ve waited long enough, Pappy,” he muttered.

And he reached for the door handle.

Suddenly, a vehicle turned onto the street behind him, its headlights cutting a bright swath through the darkness. Instinctively, he aborted his exit and slid low in the seat, watching as a white Transit van motored to the curb fifty feet away and stopped.

At this hour?

That could not be good.

The rear doors swung open.

Nothing was visible in the van’s darkened interior. Which made him wonder. Why no dome light? A figure emerged, swung the door partially closed, then crossed to the opposite sidewalk.

The man let out a soft whistle.

Not the casual, whistle-while-you-stroll type, more attention-getting.

After a few more paces the guy did it again.

Luke knew what was happening. He’d used the same tactic himself. Whistler was trolling for barks. A yapping dog could ruin even the best-planned operation. So draw them out beforehand. He wriggled further down and listened to the click of footsteps off the cobbles. Every few seconds came another whistle.

No dogs barked.

The footsteps halted.

The man had come to a stop at one of the tall hedgerows. A hand was lifted to the mouth. A faint burst of static disturbed the silence, then the words, “All clear.”

Another figure emerged from the back of the van, this one in a red ball cap and a matching t-shirt. Two more figures, each dressed in dark coveralls, emerged and trotted across the street in near-perfect synchronization.

Like friggin’ ninjas.

They slipped through the hedges and sprinted toward Jillian’s address, where the pair merged with the shadows along the side wall. Jillian’s frantic texts had smacked of paranoia. But she’d been spot on. Someone was coming for her.

And here they were.

He counted four on the street. Add a driver in the van and that made five. Clearly, they were trained and surely armed. The odds were stacked. But the hard way was like candy to a Ranger.

Whistler motioned.

At the van, Red Cap started toward the house.

Luke reached up and disabled his car’s dome light.

Whistler was walking faster now, hands moving. Luke saw the outline of a pistol with a sound-suppressor, a big one too, roughly the size of a soda can. A rig like that was as close to silent as one could get. He kept his eyes fixed on Whistler and eased open the car door, slipping out without making a sound. He hunched over and backed up, creeping past the rear of the rental, swinging right and maneuvering behind his target. Whether the van’s driver would see him and raise the alarm was hard to say. Didn’t matter. He needed Whistler’s gun to even up the odds. He’d not brought his own weapon. Too many questions and lost time to deal with Customs.

He hastened his pace, trotting on flat feet, closing the gap.


Almost there.


Whistler never saw Luke’s roundhouse hook, which landed squarely on the man’s temple, knocking him unconscious. The form toppled into the hedge and settled with only his legs visible, which Luke quickly stuffed into the foliage. Then he retrieved the gun, checked the magazine and, after a bit of groping in the dark, found the man’s portable radio and earpiece, which he donned.

A voice was saying, calm and measured, “Preparing for entry.”

Luke took this to mean he hadn’t been spotted.


But that was about to change.

He eased forward along the hedge line, stopping at a waist-high brick wall, and peeked around the edge in time to see Red Cap unscrewing the front door’s light bulb, plunging the porch into darkness. The guy then knelt before the door and began working the lock. Luke saw the other two men, the ninjas, rounding the corner of the house. Stacking up for entry. Each carried a weapon.

This party was about to get serious.

He heard a soft snick, then the front door swung open. Red Cap gave his partners a hand signal and they slid along the wall toward the entrance.

Jillian needed an alert.

He raised the sound-suppressed pistol and fired two shots through the upstairs window. As expected, the report was nearly silent, but in the relative silence of the street the shattering of glass was jarring.

The Ninjas looked up and aimed their weapons.

A light popped on in another window.

Then immediately the panes went dark.

Atta girl.

Jillian was a former marine, a night fighter, skilled in combat. Turning on the light had been impulse, but dousing it came from training. The Ninjas mounted the steps to the front door. Luke raised his gun, hopped the wall, and charged. The first man vanished through the door, but the second saw Luke and turned to face him, raising his gun.

Luke shot him twice in the chest.

The body dropped backwards.

He adjusted his aim to cover the door, then darted for the dead ninja, snatching up the man’s weapon and entering the house. Behind him, the van’s door opened. Luke spun. The driver was coming around the hood with a weapon ready.

Luke fired.

Twenty yards, in the dark.

And missed.

The man, though, stumbled backward for cover and disappeared behind the van. From inside the house came a trio of muffled shots, followed by the loud crack of an unsuppressed weapon, a second shot, then a woman’s voice.

“Don’t move. Drop it.”


Footsteps pounded on stairs.

More gunfire, the suppressed and non-suppressed overlapping one another.

This was turning into a full-on firefight.

He didn’t give himself a chance to consider what awaited him past the front door, and burst through, the two guns up and tracking. A short hallway stretched before him, one doorway on the left, two on the right, a staircase at the end. A shadow figure appeared on the stairs. A muzzle flashed orange. The door jamb beside Luke’s head shattered with splinters. He ducked, rushed forward, and slipped through the first doorway as a second bullet punched the wall behind him.

Upstairs, the gunfire ceased.

“No, stay there. Behind my cover.”

Jillian’s voice again.

A lone, muffled shot pierced the darkness.

“Oh, God,” Jillian screamed. “No. No.”

He heard anguish in her voice.

What happened?

He peeked around the corner.

The hallway and stairs were empty.

He sprinted forward, paused at the second doorway to clear it, then bounded up the stairs to the landing where the steps swung right and up to the next floor. Above, a sound-suppressed pistol opened fire with steady and paced shots. Suppression fire? Designed to keep the enemy’s head down. In this case? The enemy was Jillian.

Above, he saw a balustrade and what looked like an open, loft-style space. Sprawled motionless beside the upper railing was Ball Cap.

That left only one of the ninjas.

Luke stuck the guns around the corner and fired twice with some suppression fire of his own. Then he charged up the stairs. Silhouetted by pale light leaking in from what looked like French doors hunched the ninja, half-kneeling, obviously wounded.

The guy saw him and fired twice.

Luke dropped flat on the stairs, rolled right against the wall, then rose to his knees. As soon as his muzzle cleared the stair treads, he opened fire. The ninja dragged one leg behind him and shuffled toward the glass doors, which he opened. One of Luke’s rounds caught the man in the back and he stumbled out onto a balcony where he pitched face-first over the railing. Luke was there a few seconds later and looked down. The ninja was crawling across the grass, dragging his grotesquely twisted legs behind him

“Stop,” Luke called out.

The ninja kept going.

He fired a shot just ahead of the man, who halted at the warning, tilting his head back and gazing up.

Two suppressed shots popped.

The ninja’s body jerked, then collapsed to the grass motionless. A lone figure—the driver, he guessed—stood near the van, pistol aimed, after taking out his own. The man slipped into the van, powered the engine, and drove off. It took two precious seconds for Luke to register what he’d seen and get his mind back in the game. Problem solved. Still—

He stepped back through the open glass door and called, “Jillian.”

No answer.

“It’s Luke. Talk to me. They’re all dead. It’s just you and me.”

In the distance he caught the warble of police sirens.

He checked to make sure Ball Cap was in fact dead then fled the loft, which was divided by a half-wall into a reading nook beside the balcony door and a bedroom. Near the foot of the bed he found a large bloodstain and drag marks that led him to a closed door.

One more time. “Jillian, it’s Luke. You in there?”

He placed himself to the left of the jamb, turned the knob and shoved open the door. “Don’t shoot, I’m coming in.”

Through the door he found himself in a small bathroom.

On the tile floor lay an elderly man, dressed in pajamas, with a bullet hole through his head. Behind the body, white lace curtains billowed in an open window.

Jillian was gone.


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