After the problematic extraction of “the key” – actually a preteen girl named Avis, as well as her friend/handler Neal – Devlin O’Brien and the rest of his team soon discover that their exploits in the London countryside have garnered the attention of the London Metropolitan Police and, in a spectacularly unfortunate turn of events, Adlai Neetipal, Devlin’s own personal nemesis. With his name and face publically displayed on the news and the noose slowly tightening around his neck, Devlin and Sarah decide that they must first tackle the problem of the police before turning their attention fully towards whatever challenge lies around the next corner.
First, he must find a way to steal an authorized identification card, from someone with the clearance necessary to enter Scotland Yard and retrieve or destroy any incriminating evidence. Sarah works her networking magic to ensure that Adlai’s superior, Inspector Lane, will be at a specific location at a very specific time and, as Devlin’s face is the one on display, Mila and Michel take point on the initial leg of the operation.
The plan is deliberately uncomplicated. Michel is to pour shots down Lane’s throat, until such time as Mila is capable of lifting and copying the man’s identification card.
Immediately, the framework of that plan falls to ruin, when Mila and Michel discover that Adlai himself has joined Lane at the bar. Instead of calling things off, however, Michel musters the resolve to follow through with the approach. With Devlin in his ear to guide the conversation, Michel deftly navigates past any conversational traps planted by the Indian agent. Even Mila’s unplanned detour – leaving her ward momentarily for a hasty discussion with the Japanese twins that Devlin calls The Things – doesn’t cause too many ripples. At least, until Adlai discovers the miniature camera on Michel’s lapel.
Some fast thinking, faster fingers, and a touch of a silver tongue manage to derail Adlai’s suspicions. Michel manages to convince both the agent and his Superintendent that he is a police officer, planted undercover in Hill’s organization. A quick call from Lane luckily provides confirmation that at least one officer is, in fact, working to derail the operation from the inside. Using that serendipitous knowledge as a basis for his new cover identity, Michel is able to distract Lane long enough for Mila to do her work, and then beat a hasty escape before any questions can be asked that might compromise his true goal.
Before the night is out, though, Devlin receives a terse phone call from associates he had not expected and was not prepared for: Stanislav Novikof, the Russian Mafioso, and his two lieutenants. Stani requires Devlin’s presence in the slums of London, for some task that might potentially provide illumination to the mystery of the Magi, the ephemeral crime lords that seem to be providing Asher with both support and considerable firepower.
Mila cannot be contacted, for some reason, and Michel is incapacitated by one too many celebratory shots. Sarah’s physical presence is completely out of the question, so Devlin goes to meet the Russians alone. The meeting is supposed to take place within a local black market, an impoverished pocket of commerce and activity within the world of the downtrodden and destitute. Devlin meets the Russians and, after a short conversation, discovers that Stani now suspects that he is involved with the Magi and might actually be working on their behalf. The unexpected arrival of Mila, walking the black market for her own mysterious reasons, doesn’t help matters.
Devlin temporarily diffuses the situation long enough for the group – consisting now of Devlin, Mila, Stani, Leonid, and Iosif – to head towards their true destination: a building constructed of black stone, standing tall and unbowed within the poverty of the black market. Inside, they meet a man with ties to Hill, the Russian mafia, and to the people who seek shelter in his Halfway House, who introduces himself simply as Billy.
Billy makes a request of Devlin’s team that might help all parties involved. A processing plant in the area is run by Hill and serves as a cover for his drug smuggling. Inside, a special type of plastic can be transmuted back into pure cocaine. Billy wants to sabotage the plant entirely, by replacing the treated plastic with a special version. This version, when subjected to extreme heat, will produce extreme quantities of toxic smoke, forcing a shutdown of the processing plant and hobbling Hill’s efforts.
In exchange for leading this raid, Billy offers to answer any question that Devlin has about the man. The opportunity to deal another blow to Hill – and, by extension, Asher – is too much for Devlin and Sarah to turn down. With the addition of James and Chester, two of Billy’s men, they set off for the factory with a hastily constructed plan and no real idea of how badly things could go wrong.
The approach goes perfectly. The infiltration, with Sarah’s crucial long-distance assistance, goes perfectly. In fact, everything goes wonderfully until Devlin and Mila reach the center of the operation, where the chemical process is supposed to take place. Then, and only then, do they discover that the product contained in the loading area is common baking soda, not cocaine. And the center of the plant does not harbor the mechanism for transmuting plastic into cocaine. For some reason, nothing is the way it should be.
Instead of a successful raid, Devlin and Mila discover that they have walked themselves directly into a trap.
With law enforcement on the way, summoned by a deliberately triggered alarm, and Aiden’s group of cutthroat mercenaries even closer, Devlin makes the call to finish with the plan. Instead of relying on a scheduled chemical process to activate Billy’s fake plastic, he uses two of the chemicals located within the plant to forcibly create a fire that will provide cover for his escape. The fact that the factory is not up to safety standards, and the localized reaction results in a massive conflagration instead of a controlled burn, comes as a surprise to everyone in the building.
Chaos rains from the sky around them, as Devlin and Mila, as well as Stani and his lieutenants, search for a way out of the burning factory. A path out, via the loading bay, is provided by Sarah, but the presence of Aiden’s man Carlos complicates matters. In complete defiance of Devlin’s wishes and fervent requests, Mila takes it upon herself to do her job: protecting Devlin from harm, no matter the cost. She stays behind, firing blindly into the fire to distract Carlos until Devlin and the Russians can make it to the relative safety of Billy’s Halfway House. Devlin watches, transfixed, as the building tears itself apart and Mila is lost to the blaze before the toxic fumes he has inhaled drag him away from the world of the conscious.
When he wakes again, Devlin is surprised to see that Sarah has left her command post at the Brooklands. She informs him of his injuries and informs him that Mila survived the explosion at the processing plant and is now held at Scotland Yard, awaiting further questioning. Devlin rallies and marshals his wits for an impassioned speech, only to learn that Sarah and Michel have already decided on the only appropriate course of action. Mila is one of theirs. Where the previous twenty-four hours had been bent wholly to the task of removing Devlin from beneath the watchful eye of the police, now they must go directly into the dragon’s lair to retrieve their teammate before things can find a more disastrous path to follow.
Billy, and a few more men in his employ, join them for the initial approach on Scotland Yard. Billy engages with several workers and a foreman, working on the reconstruction of the building, and provides Sarah with access to a working set of blueprints. Michel uses the stolen identity card, as well as a falsified uniform, to gain access to their internetwork. With all that done, Sarah readies herself to do something she has not done since joining forces with Devlin, so many years ago: she must go into the field, to provide a distraction for Adlai that he cannot ignore, so that Michel is able to steal, destroy, or corrupt anything that might provide the police with any solid basis for further investigations into Devlin or his allies.
But Adlai is not interested in Sarah’s stories and he shows no weakness to the Ford name. With time running out, and fearing that Sarah might be compromised, Devlin takes it upon himself to sever the complicated knot. He presents himself to the agents, prepared to match wits with the man who has hunted him for nearly a decade.
The conversation between Adlai and Devlin is civil, yet charged with a terrifying energy. Their ideals clash in violent exchanges. Just when Devlin is convinced that he will be forced to spend even more time in jail – only thirty-six hours, instead of the two and a half years inflicted on him by Asher – he is rescued by the intervention of a mysterious figure. Within seconds, he discovers the identity of that savior: David, the giant who stood like a sentinel over the shoulder of the Lady in the Black Dress. She greets him as he exits the police station, gives him a thick file of information pilfered from the clutches of Scotland Yard during his operation, and leaves him with a few cryptic words: “Your friends will be the death of you.”
It is not until some time later, safely ensconced within the protective walls of the Brooklands, that Devlin remembers the ignored calls and missed text messages from his old friend Alex in Berlin. While he listens to those messages, an email arrives from an anonymous source, whose identity is quickly made clear: Asher, reaching out to taunt his former partner just a little more.
Instead of attempting to run down Devlin, Asher has also elected to cut the knot and take the shortest path to his goal. Why search for his former partner when the kidnapping of Allie, Alex’ only daughter, will accomplish the same goal?
Now, Devlin finds himself faced with an even more impossible task than any he has faced thus far. How can he steal Allie away from Asher’s clutches, without exposing his team to even greater risk? Is there a way to turn events away from their inevitably disastrous conclusion and to pull success from the clutches of almost certain defeat? If one man can go from most wanted to exonerated in a single night, might it also be possible to go from defense to offense?
He does not know. What he does know is that he will have to find new reserves of intelligence and cunning, lest his alleged crimes against Asher finally come calling for a price too expensive for anyone to pay.