The Patriot Threat

Cotton Malone Series Book 10

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The 16th Amendment to the Constitution is why Americans pay income taxes. But what if there were problems associated with that amendment? Secrets that call into question decades of tax collecting? In fact, there is a surprising truth to this hidden possibility.

Cotton Malone, once a member of an elite intelligence division within the Justice Department known as the Magellan Billet, is now retired and owns an old bookshop in Denmark. But when his former-boss, Stephanie Nelle, asks him to track a rogue North Korean who may have acquired some top secret Treasury Department files—the kind that could bring the United States to its knees—Malone is vaulted into a harrowing twenty-four hour chase that begins on the canals in Venice and ends in the remote highlands of Croatia.

With appearances by Franklin Roosevelt, Andrew Mellon, a curious painting that still hangs in the National Gallery of Art, and some eye-opening revelations from the $1 bill, this riveting, non-stop adventure is trademark Steve Berry—90% historical fact, 10% exciting speculation—a provocative thriller posing a dangerous question. What if the Federal income tax is illegal?



"The story line is compressed into a tight time frame, taking place in less than a day in real time. And Berry cleverly mixes the history of the federal income tax law with the creation of the National Gallery of Art. Speculation and gunplay make The Patriot Threat one of Berry's best books to date.”
— The New York Times


“Highly unusual premise. Timely what-if scenario. Fans of political conspiracy fiction will find plenty to like.”
— Publisher’s Weekly


"Another page-turning thriller blending history, speculation and fast-paced action."
— Kirkus


"No doubt about it, this is yet another extremely invigorating, exciting book by an excellent writer."
— Suspense Magazine


"Berry's fans will not be disappointed as he delivers his usual fast-paced and complex story line, highlighted by his hero's superhuman ability to overcome any obstacle and chase the bad guys to the ends of the earth."
— Library Journal


"The 10th installment in Mr. Berry’s Cotton Malone series, The Patriot Threat is a fast-paced and entertaining traditional thriller along the lines of The Da Vinci Code. It’s loaded with action, character sketches, fascinating history and Mr. Berry’s liberal use of poetic license.”
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


"As he has done with his many previous novels, Berry blends meticulously researched historical data with taut, suspenseful action to deliver an imaginative—and perhaps plausible—argument that the tenets of the 16th Amendment are illegal.”
— Free Lance-Star


“Cotton Malone is once again thrown into the midst of fast-paced international threats. The history in this novel is intriguing, even to non-history buffs. The addition of the North Korean characters adds a sense of relevance.”
— Romantic Times Magazine (4 Star Review)


"Steve Berry’s sizzling, scintillating and aptly titled The Patriot Threat opens with a gunfight and the pace only gets faster from there. . . Berry’s seasoned grasp provides an extraordinarily well researched, prescient and beautifully structured tale that whisks us off across the globe and through history in search of an elusive truth dating to FDR. He remains a master of form and function, a stylist as well as a storyteller. The Patriot Threat is blistering reading entertainment at its level best, a literary gut-smack that will leave you trying to find the breath it stole.”
— Providence Journal


"Berry, a master of the action/adventure genre, knows how to keep things rolling, both plot wise and geographically. Faster than a keystoke, he transports readers from Atlanta to Venice to Croatia and points in between. For action lovers, there’s plenty going on right from the git-go—bullets fly, helicopters soar and Cotton Malone is never out of danger.”
— St. Augustine Record


“Fast-paced, entertaining and exciting. And ol' Cotton is always a fun guy to spend a few hours with.”
— Winnipeg Free Press


"Full of action, thrills and adventure, Steve Berry has turned the boring subject of income tax into an interesting narrative with the help of Chinese spies, North Korean dictators, and daredevil US agents. Like other Malone books, this too is racy and keeps you on the edge of your seat . . . The Patriot Threat is a non-stop adventure with both historical facts and speculative suppositions that turn out to be as exciting as other Malone books.”
— The New Indian Express


"This is a book on taxes! Only a lawyer would write a novel on taxes, and only Steve Berry could turn a book on taxes into a page-turning thriller. In telling the story Berry delves into historical tidbits from the time of the Founding Fathers, the signing of the 16th amendment in 1913, and FDR, while all the action takes place in current time. A must-read for anyone who hates taxes, or just wants a good read."
—Historical Novel Society


"What Steve Berry has accomplished, once again, is nothing short of spectacular. In each successive novel, he manages to mine the annals of history and global government to create fictionalized reimaginings that provide much food for thought --- as well as impetus for a few nightmares. The Patriot Threat is a thrilling and thought-provoking read, and the proposed illegality of the 16th Amendment may be the greatest weapon of mass destruction ever thought up.”


"Cotton Malone has tangled with problems before, but perhaps none as historically knotted as the ones he confronts in this fast-paced thriller. . . . Blending FDR era history and tax-resister rumors with intense international intrigue, The Patriot Threat manages to keep readers interested and throttling forward to the final paragraph."
— Barnes & Noble Reviews




"Steve Berry is a master at weaving together historical details with fiction to create a spellbinding thriller. In The Patriot Threat Berry uses facts about Franklin Roosevelt and Andrew Mellon to create a story that is so believable you won’t be able to tell where fact ends and fiction begins. The Patriot Threat is suspenseful, entertaining and thought provoking. As usual, Berry’s writing is smooth, the plot well thought out, and the characters realistic. Another winner from Steve Berry."


"Steve Berry is a master at weaving together historical details with fiction to create a spellbinding thriller. In The Patriot Threat Berry uses facts about Franklin Roosevelt and Andrew Mellon to create a story that is so believable you won’t be able to tell where fact ends and fiction begins. The Patriot Threat is suspenseful, entertaining and thought provoking. As usual, Berry’s writing is smooth, the plot well thought out, and the characters realistic. Another winner from Steve Berry.”
— Mysteries With Character,


"If you’ve never read a Cotton Malone book before, now is a good time to start. There full of action, adventure and historical information you may not have known before. Steve researches his facts. He even devotes a chapter at the end of each book explaining what is real and what is not."


"If you like non-stop action thrillers with interwoven political conspiracies of all kinds, then you’re going to devour The Patriot Threat."


“Like Berry's previous books, he knows how to mix the right amount of actual historical fact with fiction to create the perfect storyline. Shedding insight into both U.S. history and the current state of North Korea, he offers up (painlessly) some valuable learning along with his entertainment. This thoroughly enjoyable thriller is up to the best of what Berry has to offer. It's action-packed, provocative, and will keep readers engaged throughout the length of the novel.”


"Berry is a master of the mini-cliffhanger and his blend of historical suspense and international intrigue will appeal to fans of Dan Brown, Joel Rosenberg, and Brad Meltzer. Written in short narrative sections that zing back and forth across continents and among multiple points of view, The Patriot Threat is a classic edge-of-your-seat thriller.”


"Cotton Malone is back and Steve Berry has another spellbinding tale! If you aren't acquainted with Steve Berry's work or his main character Cotton Malone, your life isn't complete (in my opinion). I'm never disappointed in a Steve Berry book and again, feel that Cotton Malone has to be one of the best literary characters of all time. Our book club selected this book and I'm looking forward to discussing it with our members. Highly recommend this book!"





10:40 P.M.


COTTON MALONE DOVE TO THE FLOOR AS BULLETS PEPPERED THE glass wall. Thankfully the transparent panel, which separated one space from another floor-to-ceiling, did not shatter. He risked a look into the expansive secretarial area and spotted flashes of light through the semi-darkness, each burst emitted from the end of a short-barreled weapon. The glass between him and the assailant was obviously extra-resistant, and he silently thanked someone’s foresight.

His options were limited.

He knew little about the geography of the building’s eighth floor—after all, this was his first visit. He’d come expecting to covertly observe a massive financial transaction—$20 million U.S. being stuffed into two large sacks destined for North Korea. Instead the exchange had turned into a bloodbath, four men dead in an office not far away, their killer—an Asian man with short, dark hair and dressed as a security guard—now homing in on him.

He needed to take cover.

At least he was armed, toting his Magellan Billet-issued Beretta and two spare magazines. The ability to travel with a gun was one advantage that came with again carrying a badge for the United States Justice Department. He’d agreed to the temporary assignment as a way to take his mind off things in Copenhagen, and to earn some money since nowadays spy work paid well. Think.

He was outgunned, but not outsmarted.

Control what’s around you and you control the outcome.

He darted left down the corridor, across gritty terrazzo, just as another volley finally obliterated the glass wall. He passed a nook with a restroom door on either side and kept going. Farther on a maid’s cart sat unattended. He caught sight of a propped-open door to a nearby office and spied a uniformed woman cowering in the dark interior.

He whispered in Italian, “Crawl under the desk and stay quiet.”

She did as he commanded.

This civilian could be a problem. Collateral damage was the term used for them in Magellan Billet reports. He hated the description. More accurately they were somebody’s father, mother, brother, sister. Innocents, caught in the crossfire.

It would be only a few moments before the Asian appeared.

He noticed another office door and rushed inside the dark space. The usual furniture lay scattered. A second doorway led to an adjacent room, light spilling in through its half-open door. A quick glance inside that other space confirmed that the second room opened back to the hall.

That would work.

His nostrils detected the odor of cleaning solution, an open metal canister holding several gallons resting at few feet away. He also spotted a pack of cigarettes and a lighter on the maid’s cart.

Control what’s around you.

He grabbed both, then tipped over the metal container.

Clear fluid gurgled onto the hall floor, spreading across the tile in a river that flowed in the direction from which the Asian would come.

He waited.

Five seconds later his attacker, leading with the automatic rifle, peered around a corner, surely wondering where his prey might be.

Malone lingered another few seconds so as to be seen.

The rifle appeared.

He darted into the office. Bullets peppered the maid’s cart in deafening bursts. He flicked the lighter and ignited the cigarette pack. Paper, cellophane, and tobacco began to burn. One. Two. He tossed the burning bundle out the door and into the clear film that sheathed the hall floor.

A swoosh and the cleaning liquid caught fire.

Movement in the second room confirmed what he’d thought would happen. The Asian had taken refuge there from the burning floor. Before his enemy could fully appreciate his dilemma Malone plunged through the doorway, tackling the man to the ground.

The rifle clattered away.

His right hand clamped onto the man’s throat.

But his opponent was strong.

And nimble.

They rolled, twice, colliding with a desk.

He told himself to keep his grip. But the Asian pivoted off the floor and catapulted him feet first into the air. His body hinged across his opponent’s head. He was thrust aside and the Asian sprang to his feet. He readied himself for a fight, but the “guard” fled the room.

He found his gun and approached the door, heart pounding, lungs heaving. Remnants of the liquid still smoldered on the floor. The hall was clear and wet footprints led away. He followed them. At a corner, he stopped and glanced around, seeing no one. He advanced toward the elevators and studied the transom, noticing that the position-indicator displays for both cars were lit on 8—this floor. He pressed the UP button and jumped back ready to fire.

The doors opened.

The right car was empty. The left held a bloodied corpse, dressed only in his underwear. The real guard, he assumed. He stared at the contorted face, obscured by two gaping wounds. Surely part of the plan was not only to eliminate all of the participants, but to leave no witnesses behind. He glanced inside the car and spotted a destroyed control panel. He checked the other car and found that it had also been disabled. The only way out now was the stairs.

He entered the stairwell and listened. Someone was climbing the risers toward the roof. He vaulted up as fast as caution advised, keeping an eye ahead for trouble.

A door opened, then closed.

At the top he found an exit and heard the distinct churn of a helicopter turbine starting from the other side.

He cracked open the door.

A chopper faced away, tail boom and fin close, its cabin pointing out to the night. The rotors began to wind fast and the Asian quickly loaded on the two large sacks of cash, then jumped inside.

Blades spun faster and the skids lifted from the roof.

He pushed open the door.

A chilly wind buffeted him.

Should he fire? No. Let it go? He’d been sent only to observe, but things had gone wrong, so now he needed to earn his keep. He stuffed the pistol into his back pocket, buttoned it shut, and ran. One leap and he grabbed hold of the rising skid.

The chopper powered out into the dark sky.

What a strange sensation, flying unprotected through the night. He clung tightly to the metal skid with both hands, the chopper’s airspeed making it increasingly difficult to hang on.

He stared down.

They were headed east, away from the mainland, toward the water and the islands. The location where the murders had occurred was on the Italian shore, a few hundred yards inland, a nondescript office building near Marco Polo International Airport. The lagoon itself was enclosed by thin strips of lighted coast joined in a wide arc to the mainland, Venice lying at the center.

The chopper banked right and increased speed.

He wrapped his right arm around the skid for a better hold.

Ahead he spied Venice, its towers and spires lit to the night. Beyond on all sides was blackness, signaling open water. Farther east was Lido, which fronted the Adriatic. His mind ticked off what lay below. To the north, ground lights betrayed the presence of Murano, then Burano and, farther on, Torcello. The islands lay embedded in the lagoon like sparkling trinkets. He curled himself around the skid and for the first time stared up into the cabin.

The “guard” eyed him.

The chopper veered left, apparently to see if the unwanted passenger could be dislodged. His body flew out, then whipped back, but he held tight and stared up once more into icy eyes. He saw the Asian slide open the hatch with his left hand, the rifle in his right. In the instant before rounds rained down at the skids, he swung across the undercarriage toward the other skid and jerked himself over.

Bullets smacked the left skid, disappearing down through the dark. He was now safe on the right side, but his hands ached from gravity’s pull. The chopper again rocked back and forth, tapping his last bits of strength. He hooked his left leg onto the skid, hugging the metal. The brisk air dried his throat, making breathing difficult. He worked hard to build up saliva and relieve the parching.

He needed to do something and fast.

He studied the whirling rotors, blades beating the air, the staccato of the turbine deafening. On the roof he’d hesitated, but now there appeared to be no choice. He held on tight with his legs and left arm, then reached back and unbuttoned his pant pocket. He stuffed in his right hand and removed the Beretta.

Only one way left to force the chopper down.

He fired three shots into the screaming turbine just below the rotor’s hub.

The engine sputtered.

Flames poured out of the air intake and exhaust pipe. Airspeed diminished. The nose went up in an effort to stay airborne.

He glanced down.

They were still a thousand feet up but rapidly losing altitude in something of a controlled descent.
He could see an island ahead of them. Scattered glows defined its rectangular shape just north of Venice. He knew the place. Isola di San Michele. Nothing there but a couple of churches and a huge cemetery where the dead had been buried since the time of Napoleon.

More sputtering.

A sudden backfire.

Thick smoke billowed from the exhaust, the scent of sulfur and burning oil sickening. The pilot was apparently trying to stabilize the descent, the craft jerking up and down, its control planes working hard.
They overtook the island flying close to the dome of its main church. At twenty feet off the ground success seemed at hand. The chopper leveled, then hovered. Its turbine smoothed. Below was a dark spot, but he wondered how many stone markers might be waiting. Hard to see anything in the darkness. The chopper’s occupants surely knew they still had company. So why land? Just head back up and ditch their passenger from the air.

He should have shot the turbine a few times more.

Now he had no choice.

So he let go of the skid.

He seemed to fall for the longest time, though if memory served him right a free-falling object fell at the rate of thirty-two feet per second, per second. Twenty feet equaled less than one second. He hoped that the ground was soft and that he avoided stone.

He pounded legs-first, his knees collapsing to absorb the shock, then rebounding, sending him rolling. His left thigh instantly ached. Somehow he managed to hold on to the gun. He came to a stop and looked back up. The pilot seemed to have regained full control. The helicopter pitched up and maneuvered closer. A swing to the right and his attacker now had a clear view below. He could probably limp off, but he saw no good ground cover. He was in the open, amid the graves. The Asian seemed to sense his predicament, hovering less than a hundred feet away, the downwash from the blades stirring up loose topsoil. The helicopter’s hatch slid open and his attacker one-handedly took aim with the automatic rifle.

Malone propped himself up and aimed the pistol using both hands. There couldn’t be more than four rounds left in the magazine.

Make ’em count.

So he aimed at the engine.

The Asian gestured to the pilot for a retreat.

But not before Malone fired. One, two, three, four shots.

Hard to tell which bullet actually did the trick, but the turbine exploded, a brilliant fireball lighting the sky, flaming chunks cascading to the ground in a searing shower fifty yards away. In the sudden light he spotted hundreds of grave markers in tightly packed rows. He hugged the earth and shielded his head as the explosions continued, a heaping mass of twisted metal, flesh, and burning fuel erupting before him.
He stared at the carnage.

A crackle of flames consumed the helicopter, its occupants, and $20 million, U.S. in cash.

Somebody was going to be pissed.


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