Todd Moss Minute Zero

ISBN 13: 9780399183577

Minute Zero

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9780399183577: Minute Zero
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An extraordinary international thriller by the former deputy assistant secretary of state and author of the national bestseller "The Golden Hour."
"In the life of every country, at a moment of extreme national disruption, there is a brief period of breakdown, when everything is uncertain, events can turn on a dime. That is the moment to act, to shape events how you want them to go. That is" Minute Zero.
Fresh off the harrowing events of "The Golden Hour," State Department crisis manager Judd Ryker is suddenly thrown into a quickly developing emergency in Zimbabwe, where a longtime strongman is being challenged for the presidency. Rumors are flying furiously: armed gangs, military crackdowns, shady outside money pouring in, and, most disturbing for the United States, reports of highly enriched uranium leaking into the market.
And that s all before Ryker even lands in the country. It gets much worse after that. If he can t get control, shape his "Minute Zero," a lot of people are going to die not least of all himself."

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About the Author:

Todd Moss is COO and senior fellow at the Washington think tank the Center for Global Development, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. In 2007 2008, he served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of African Affairs, where he was responsible for diplomatic relations with sixteen West African countries. He is also the author of "The Golden Hour." Moss lives in Maryland."

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PROLOGUE
 
1.
 
 
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Wednesday, 5.52pm Central African Time (CAT)
 
Before he saw the smoke, he heard the thunder. His ears hummed with white noise, the infinite, deafening rumble of the Zambezi River.  It would also be the very last sound he heard.
The man, in his late twenties, was obviously American. His thick designer glasses, white socks, and neon-yellow running shoes gave him away to the German and Chinese tourists. He was also easily spotted by others watching him across the hotel lobby.

The American felt a twinge of adrenaline as he departed the colonial-era hotel to meet his contact. He had just gotten off the phone with his girlfriend back in Michigan, who had playfully peppered him with too many questions about his latest trip to Africa.

 “Isn’t it dangerous?” she had asked with a giggle. The American exposed nothing classified, of course. But he told her just enough to hint that what he was doing was secret. And critical to national security.

Satisfied that he had projected a residue of intrigue without compromising the mission, his face flushed as he imagined his triumphant return to Detroit and another passionate reunion. After his last overseas trip, his girlfriend had greeted him wearing only a raincoat and a mischievous grin.

“Hello, Mister Bond,” she had purred.

A loud “Good evening, saah!” snapped his mind back to Zimbabwe. The doorman was wearing a
nineteenth-century British military uniform, an oversized ostrich feather on his hat. Both men averted their eyes, the Zimbabwean out of deferential habit, the American out of awkward embarrassment.

The American hurriedly descended the grand steps, dodged a pack of aggressive taxi drivers, and veered through a garden of Jacaranda trees and a finely clipped lawn. As he crossed the line at the end of the hotel’s private property, the ground turned abruptly from lush green to parched brown. Among the unkempt scrub grass, he noticed burn marks where someone must have been setting fires.

The man’s stride quickened and his heartbeat accelerated as his body prepared itself for the encounter. The rumbling of the falls grew louder, and eventually, the noise blocked out all other sounds. A light mist cooled his skin, reminding him of his summers spent at the lake. He suddenly found himself amidst an oasis, a tiny rainforest living off the permanent cloud of the great roaring waterfall.

The American regained his bearings as he arrived at a stone patio marking the scenic overlook. A plaque shared key details of what stood before him. Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, was a sheet of water over a mile wide and 354 feet high formed by the Zambezi River plunging over an escarpment. The vapor rose more than a thousand feet in the air. The locals called it mosi-oa-tunya in the Tonga language or the smoke that thunders, and in 1855 Dr. David Livingstone had named it in honor of his queen.

No time for ancient history
, he thought. The American placed both hands on the railing along the cliff’s edge and peered into the haze. His glasses immediately fogged. Just then, sharply on time, an older dark-skinned man with a grey beard and a black business suit gripped the railing beside him. Without making eye contact, the African spoke.

“My brother, all this smoke. I need to quit smoking.”
“What is your brand of cigarette?” asked the American.
“Marlboro.”
The American nodded. “Where’s my dossier?”
“First, the gift.”
The American glanced over both shoulders, then eyed his contact. After a hesitation, he reached into his jacket and withdrew an envelope. It quickly disappeared into the old man’s pocket. “We walk.”
“That’s not the deal,” said the American, grabbing other man’s forearm. “Give me the dossier or I am leaving. With my money.”
“No. Too many eyes here,” he said. “Not safe.” He pulled away from the American’s grip and dialed a number on a cheap flip phone. In short bursts, he whispered, “The Marlboro man is here. We are on our way.” He snapped the phone closed, and grabbed the American’s hand. “This way, my brother.”

Silently the two men walked down another path toward the bridge spanning the 650-foot gorge between Zimbabwe and neighboring Zambia. The bridge had been built to signal friendship between the two allies, but instead, it provided a constant reminder of the stark trajectories of the two countries.

Two nations, two anchors of the British Empire in Africa. Zambia had been granted independence in 1964 and Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, was supposed to have been next, but white settlers pre-empted London and declared Rhodesia independent. As Zimbabwe descended into a long and nasty civil war, Zambia basked in the confidence of a new nation, even allowing guerillas to use its territory to fight the Rhodesians and the South African apartheid juggernaut. In 1980, the Rhodesian war ended and Zimbabwe gained its own independence, but by this time, Zambia had slumped into a morass of corruption and debt. Zimbabwe was the new hope.

Two decades later, the tide had turned again. Zambia was back on the rise, while Zimbabwe was rotting. As the young American stepped onto the Victoria Falls Bridge, Zimbabwe was poisoning itself with a toxic cocktail of greed, dictatorship, and fear.

At that moment, however, the American wasn’t thinking about that.  After a few steps, he stopped. “I...I...I don’t like this. I’m going back.” He peered over the railing, scanning for crocodiles 400 feet below.
“My brother, it is up to you.” The African hid his impatience. “You have come all this way. The choice is yours.”

Shit
, the old man was right. The American had spent most of the past eight months working toward this moment. All the hours spent digging into files, all the late nights tracking bank records, the long hot days taking testimony in a sweaty thatched hut. He was now so close. Success depended on the final piece, the dossier. Success and a big promotion.
“Let’s do it,” he said, pointing at his contact’s chest. “But if you fuck me, you and your boss are dead.”

The old man laughed, not the reaction the American had expected. “There is no need for that, my brother.”
“Dead meat,” the American muttered under his breath.

The two strode across the bridge, passing a Swedish couple holding hands and a young Zimbabwean family. Most of the other tourists had retreated to their hotels for a sundowner—gin-and-tonics were still popular among certain crowds in this part of the world—and an early dinner of plate-sized steaks.

Two middle-aged African men, also in suits, approached from the opposite side of the bridge. One was holding a legal-sized manila envelope. The four men met at the very center, the border, the highest point.

The American accepted the envelope in silence, turning his back to the others to open it and claim his prize. The cover page was a fuzzy black-and-white photocopy of an Ethiopian passport. So far so good. The next page was blank, and the next, and the next. He scrunched his forehead as anger rose within him.

“What the fuck...” He twisted his body to turn back, but strong hands grabbed his arms and his ankles and lifted him high up over the railing. “No, no, nooooo....”

As he fell, his mind raced with thoughts of his mother, his little brown dachshund Alfredo, his messy loft apartment, his girlfriend’s laugh, his unfinished, incomplete life.
The white noise of Victoria Falls filled his ears, and 5.2 seconds later, was replaced by total silence and a bright white light as the American’s skull cracked on the rocks of the mighty Zambezi River.

The old man peered over the bridge railing and watched the body hit.

“Dead meat, my brother.”
 

Four hundred miles to the east, in a highbrow suburb of Zimbabwe’s capital city, Solomon Zagwe sat alone in the garden courtyard of his villa. A light breeze was keeping him cool and the light of the setting sun turned the Jacaranda trees a bright purple. But Ethiopia’s former President and Supreme General, didn’t notice any of his surroundings.

“Now. I need the money now,” he said, squeezing the phone tightly and clenching his jaw. Zagwe was concentrating on controlling his temper. He knew that he had to convey the necessity of an accelerated timetable without revealing any vulnerability. If the man on the other end of the line knew his true predicament, it would cost him more money. “Let us agree today, Max,” he said.

The line went dead.

“Ah, dedabe,” he swore to himself in Amharic, slamming down the cell phone. A few seconds later, his phone buzzed and he quickly answered. “My apologies. No names. I won’t use names on the phone again.”

A servant boy in an all-white uniform entered the garden, carrying a polished silver tray holding a pot of coffee, a plate of small triangular sandwiches, and a single orchid in a glass vase. Zagwe scowled and shooed him away with a dismissive wave of the hand.

“I understand time is short,” Zagwe whispered, once the boy was gone. “If it was up to me, I would say very well. But my partners, they are difficult. They need the shipment now. This is not like it used to be with our Saudi friends.  These people are impatient. It has to be now, even if it is a smaller package than usual...good... good.”

Zagwe’s shoulders relaxed. “No, there are no troubles,” he said. “Victoria Falls went well.” He laughed.  “The mosquito buzzing in our ears has been taken care of it. No more buzz. It has been crushed.” 
 
 
PART ONE
 
THURSDAY
 
 
2.
 
 
Georgetown, Washington DC
Thursday, 5.54am Eastern Standard Time (EST)
 
Judd Ryker, half asleep with his eyes still closed, could hear the gentle tap, tap, tap of the laptop. One eye opened.

“Uh, Jess?” he groaned.

Sitting up in bed next to him, Jessica smiled. “Hi sweets. Good, you’re awake.”
“Not yet. What are you doing?”
“I’m up early for my video call with Papa. I told you already.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Well, that’s what I’m doing. I didn’t think I’d wake you. But now that you’re up, be a sweetie and get me some coffee.”

Jessica gave him that puppy-dog look she knew always worked. With one eye still closed and his face creased from sleep, Judd swung his legs heavily off the bed and stumbled out of the bedroom, scratching his stomach. He checked his BlackBerry, no urgent messages, and slipped the phone into the pocket of his robe as he walked toward the kitchen.

The smell of the brewing coffee helped him clear the cobwebs in his head. Had Jessica mentioned she was having an early morning call with Papa Toure? Things at work had been so crazy lately, he couldn’t keep anything straight.

Judd Ryker’s experimental office at the State Department, the Crisis Reaction Unit, was struggling. His baby was in trouble. Three months earlier, a crisis in the West African nation of Mali had gone well, more or less. Judd had saved an important American ally from a coup d’état and rescued the daughter of a powerful Senator who had been kidnapped by a previously unknown terrorist cell. But rather than celebrate his triumph, the corridors of the State Department had seen Judd and his S/CRU as an irritant—or a direct threat.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Alfred Rogerson was the U.S. Government’s top diplomat for relations with the 49 countries south of the Sahara Desert—and now he was viewed by his peers as uncharacteristically weak. Rogerson had taken a beating over the Mali affair from the other senior officials. He had allowed an interloper, a rookie outsider, a college professor no less, to tread on his turf.

“Never would’ve allowed that sort of thing in NEA,” the Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs had declared openly at a senior staff meeting.

Rogerson was determined not to let it happen again. The other offices around State were similarly immunizing themselves from Judd Ryker and his ivory tower ideas.  Not only had Judd been excluded from meetings since—hurricane response in Haiti, riots in Ankara, and a bombing in Rome—but he’d been increasingly shunned. The State Department treated him like a virus no one else wanted to catch.

This was why his first meeting today was so crucial. And why he needed to be thinking clearly this morning. 
 
Judd reached the kitchen and filled two mugs, each displaying the White House seal, souvenirs from a recent meeting with the National Security Council staff.  He topped off his mug with a splash of milk, but his wife always preferred her coffee strong and black.

Jessica was his rock. Through all the struggles at work, she had been his support. She’d told him to ignore the passive-aggressive backbiting and just do his job. Beat them by being better than anyone else. Let success be his revenge. That was her philosophy. That, and what she actually said after one particularly frustrating day:  “Fuck those guys.”

Yeah, fuck ‘em
, he thought. Jessica always knew what to do, always knew the right next move. And how to play it.

Judd pushed open the bedroom door with his foot, carefully delivering the two coffees. His wife, her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, looking fresh and clean despite wearing sweatpants and his faded Amherst College t-shirt, was talking into a headset and nodding into her laptop.

Jessica had been an agronomist, one of America’s leading experts in drought-resistant crops, before she took time off to stay home with their two young children. She was an authority on growing plants where there was no water, a specialist at finding ways of making something from nothing. Jessica had encouraged Judd’s choice to leave his professorship at Amherst to try his hand at real-world problem solving. She’d gracefully agreed to move from the comforts of central Massachusetts to Washington DC. She’d accepted the financial risk to their family, the impact on her own career. But now Jessica was dipping her toe back in the water, working part-time, and Judd wanted to be supportive.

Judd set down the coffee on the nightstand.

“Say hi to Papa!” she said, beckoning him onto the bed.

Judd leaned in and saw on screen the face of his old friend from Mali, Papa Toure. Papa had been on the Haverford Foundation water research team which Professor BJ van Hollen had assembled in northern Mali twelve years earlier. That was when Judd had first met Jessica. When BJ van Hollen had put them all together.

“Bonjour, Papa. How is everyone?” Judd asked, straining to show some early morning enthusiasm.
“Ahh, Judd!  Good to see you. So strange to see you on the computer!”
“Not as strange as seeing you talk to Jessica while she’s still in bed.”
“Oh, Judd,” Papa laughed. “You are a lucky man, yes?”
“How are things in Mali, Papa?”
“Everything is calm now. Inshallah. I am hopeful we are bac...

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

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Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2015
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