The Freedom Broker
by KJ Howe
KIDNAP & RANSOM
IN-DEPTH RESEARCH FOR CANADIAN AUTHOR’S DEBUT INTERNATIONAL THRILLER
There are twenty-five elite kidnap negotiators in the world. Only one is a
woman. And she’s the best in the business. Meet Thea Paris in THE
With over 40,000 reported kidnappings every year—which
translates to five people every hour—the
world of kidnap and ransom is taking on a newsworthy role across the
globe. Displaced military and police in third world countries have no
way to put food on the table, but they do have security skills, so
they have turned to kidnapping as a way of making a living. Also,
terrorists are using kidnapping as a fundraising enterprise, filling
their coffers with over 125 million dollars since 2009. Kidnappers
used to only abduct high net-worth individuals and executives of
multi-national organizations. Not anymore. Journalists, aid workers,
and family members of executives have now become high value targets.
Kidnapping is a growing international crisis. What tools do we have to fight
against this increasing threat? There are twenty-five elite kidnap
negotiators who travel to the globe’s hotspots to bring hostages
home, through negotiation or recovery, and they are called response
consultants or freedom
brokers. Local to Toronto, author K.J. Howe has immersed herself in the world
of kidnapping for the last three years, interviewing kidnap
negotiators, former hostages, kidnap and ransom insurance executives,
hostage reintegration experts, psychiatrists specializing in the
captive’s mindset, and the Special Forces soldiers who deliver
ransoms and execute rescues.
Howe’s research culminates into her debut thriller, THE FREEDOM BROKER,
published by the Hachette Book Group under the Quercus imprint in the
US, Canada, U.K. and many foreign territories. The book has reached
attention North America wide, and has led to reviewers such as #1
NYT Bestseller James Patterson calling
it “fact and fiction at its best.”
K.J. Howe’s novel has received positive and international acclaim from some of North
America’s most influential mediums and authors including:
TIME Magazine called the book a “Dark Delight.”
#1 NYT Bestseller Lee Child endorses
the book: “Razor sharp and full of you-are-there authenticity—a
NYT Bestseller Linwood Barclay shares, “Breathless
action, great characters, and convincing details make Howe’s debut
a surefire rocket to the top of the lists.”
In The Providence Journal,
USA Today Bestselling author Jon Land reviews, “The
Freedom Broker is a blisteringly original, superbly crafted thriller
that promises to be one of the major debuts of 2017. K.J. Howe’s
gut-wrenching foray into the world of hostage negotiation turned
upside down propels her straight into the league of Linda Fairstein,
Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Scottoline, and Karin Slaughter, thanks to a
tale framed by an emotional complexity and structural elegance both
rare for the genre. As riveting as it is bracing, this is reading
entertainment at its absolute best.”
Footsteps sounded nearby. She froze. Definitely a human cadence. The soft glow of a cigarette caught her eye. A rebel headed straight for her.
Time for cocktail hour. She eased her hand into her pack and pulled out the tranquilizer gun, her fingers brushing the ballistic syringe loaded with an immobilizing drug.
The rebel cleared his throat and continued his patrol, oblivious. She waited, keeping her breath even, her body motionless. He stepped into range. In one motion, she twisted her body, lifted the tranquilizer gun, and fired. The rebel grunted and slapped at his neck, as if swatting an insect. Seconds later, he slumped to the ground.
She scrambled over to him and poked him with the toe of her boot. No response. She crushed his cigarette into the wet earth and secured his hands and feet with plastic cuffs, slapping duct tape on his mouth. They should be long gone before he woke.
Thea’s skin was slick as the rain continued to batter the earth. She glanced at her stopwatch—another four and a half minutes had passed since Team A had entered the camp. Glancing to the southwest, she waited for Rif and his team to return with the hostage, anxious to hear the code “gusher,” meaning the hostage had been found.
Minutes ticked by, and nothing. Her nerves were tighter than the strings on a Stradivarius.
Her radio buzzed. Rif’s measured voice came through. “Dry well. The Eagle isn’t in Tango.”
She sucked in air. Intel from two hours ago had confirmed Sampson’s location in that outbuilding. He must’ve been moved.
“Abort.” It killed her to do this, but she couldn’t endanger her team members’ lives by ordering an exploration of the camp. There wasn’t enough time. They’d tried—and failed. The intel was bad. End of story. End of mission.
Silence greeted her. Dammit. Rif was a pro; he knew to respond to her command.
“Abort mission. Confirm.” She scanned the camp. A few more rebels joined the group around the fire.
Rif’s voice filled the silence. “Give me three minutes, over.”
No way. Three minutes was a lifetime. They needed to leave immediately to meet the choppers.
“I repeat, abort mission, over.”
Her earpiece finally crackled. “Wait, out.” Operator speak for bugger off, I’m busy. Rif had spent years in Delta Force, but this wasn’t the U.S. Army. She was in charge of this mission, and he was defying orders.
Before she could respond, shots fired below at the base camp. No more hiding in the shadows. Time to bring it.
“Go active,” she commanded her team.
The men from the campfire scrambled for their weapons while Brown and Johansson blasted their M4s from their positions on the ridge. Figures dropped to the muddy earth. Bullets ripped through the night, and the scent of gunpowder flooded her nostrils.
“Brown, take your shot.” He was responsible for disabling the rebels’ ammo hut with the grenade launcher.
“Eyes shut,” Brown warned, protecting the team’s vision from the bright lights of the explosion since they all wore night vision goggles. Seconds later, the building erupted in a burst of crimson flames.
The sound of metal hitting rock sharpened her focus. Bullets showered the area around her. She pressed her chin into the mud, flattened her body, and returned fire.
A group of rebels stormed toward the cliffside, but the team’s NVGs made the figures easy targets. Blasts reverberated across the valley as muzzle flashes flared.
“Return to home base, over.” Her voice remained calm, but four-letter words ricocheted through her brain.
Where was Rif?
She spotted rebels at the base of the hill, the men cutting off Team A’s egress route. Dammit to hell. Well, “all in” was obviously the theme of the day.
“Cover me, Brown.” She jumped up from her hide and ran down the slippery hillside, her footing uncertain in the muck. Before the rebels could react to her presence, she pressed the trigger on her M4, rattling off round after round. She slammed in a fresh magazine and kept firing. Several men fell, others ran for cover. She continued the barrage. The egress route was clear. At least now Rif and the others had a chance of getting out.
Her radio buzzed. “Bravo four, hit.” Johansson’s voice was reedy. He’d been shot.
The northeast wasn’t covered, and Rif was AWOL. It was up to her to help Jo.
She pressed the talk button. “Coming, Jo. Brown, watch my back.”
Sprinting back up the hill, she traversed the ridge toward Johansson, mud sucking at her combat boots.
Fifty feet. She pushed harder.
Bullets peppered the air around her. She dove behind the tree.
Her forearms bore the brunt of her landing, the pain rumbling up to her shoulders. She scrambled forward on her belly and checked Johansson. Blood seeped from his shoulder. His face was ashen, his eyes unfocused. She grabbed a quick clot from the first aid kit in Jo’s backpack and placed it on his wound. “I’m too scared to face your hormonal wife alone, so keep your shit together.”
He gave her a weak smile.
She secured the morphine syringe from his front pocket and injected him. He’d be lost in the hazy world of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon soon enough.
A group of rebels climbed the embankment. Brown maintained his disciplined fire, but couldn’t keep up. She aimed at the oncoming attackers and pressed the trigger. Several men fell. She shoved a fresh magazine into her M4.
Figures appeared in the mist, the heat of their bodies a hazy green through the night vision goggles. She counted them. Four. The tallest one, Rif, had a body slung over his right shoulder. Sampson. They’d found him, but she couldn’t tell if the hostage was dead or alive.
“Jo, Team A’s back. Can you walk?” Her breath was rapid and shallow.
Not sure she believed him, given he was on morphine. She was strong for a buck thirty lightweight, but couldn’t run while carrying over two hundred pounds. They’d be an easy mark for the rebels.
Rif’s team had reached the ridge.
“Stand up, Soldier.”
Johansson groaned. “My wife’s going to kill me.”
“No time for marriage counselling.” She helped him to his feet. He stumbled, unsteady in the mud. She wrapped his arm around her shoulder, supporting his weight. “Let’s get you home, Papa-To-Be.”
The faint sound of incoming rotorwash spurred her. They only had a few minutes to reach the clearing.
A burst of nearby gunfire startled her. She looked up, prepared to shoot, but she recognized Rif’s lanky frame running across the ridge. He joined them behind a massive tree. Rain had smeared the black camo paint, giving his face a sinister look. “Team A’s headed back to the clearing with Sampson.” He slung his rifle across his back and hoisted Johansson over his shoulder. “Cover me.”
She stormed after them, heart and rifle on full auto. The rebels dove for shelter as she and Brown laid down suppressing fire. She shouted at Brown. “Chopper!” All of her teammates needed to be on the Hughes before she would jump in.
The three of them sprinted for the clearing as another onslaught of bullets barraged the surrounding trees. She used a large mangrove for cover and returned fire, giving Rif time to help Johansson to safety.
She zigzagged across the open field. Her chopper rested in a valley a hundred meters away. The other Hughes holding Team A and Sampson lifted off into the rain. Bullets whipped by. A sharp sting flared in her arm as she plowed through the thick underbrush. She ignored the pain and ran faster.
She scrambled down the gorge and dove inside the chopper. Johansson, Brown, and Rif were already on board. She ripped off her night vision goggles and grabbed her headset.
“Go!” she yelled at the pilot.
The winds gusted from the east, which meant they had to power up while heading straight into the barrels of the rebels’ AK-47s. The rotorblades strained as a group of armed men ran toward the Hughes. Come on, come on. Her fingernails dug into her palms. They plunged straight into live fire like a flying piñata.
She kept her gaze straight ahead, willing the chopper to reach 60 knots so they could turn. Seconds felt like hours as they finally accelerated and swerved away from the camp. She glanced into the cockpit. The pilot’s shirt was soaked.
Rif glanced at the blood on her sleeve. “You hit?”
“Just a graze.” She stared at the holes in the fuselage, realizing just how close a call it’d been—and how Rif changing the plan mid-mission could have cost her teammates their lives.
“Is Sampson okay?” After all this, she prayed the hostage was alive.
“He’s dehydrated and a bit roughed up, but he’ll make it.”
“Amen for that.” Saint Barbara had done her job again. Thea slumped against the fuselage, grateful the rebels didn’t have an RPG. She checked her phone. As expected, the intense stress had skyrocketed her blood sugar levels. But the insulin would counteract that soon enough.
She inhaled a deep breath. Another hostage safely returned by Quantum International Security. Looks like she’d make Papa’s party, after all.
Born in Toronto, Canada, K.J. enjoyed a nomadic lifestyle during her early
years, living in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Caribbean,
which gave her an insider’s view into many different cultures.
While abroad, she read every book she could find, which triggered in
her a desire to create her own stories.
She attended Salzburg International Preparatory School, Neuchâtel Junior
College, and Albert College before earning a Specialists Degree in
Business from the University of Toronto. K.J. found success in the
corporate world, but her passion for travel, adventure, and stories
drew her back to school where she earned a Masters in Writing Popular
Fiction from Seton Hill University. She also won several writing
awards, including three Daphne du Maurier Awards for Excellence in
Mystery and Suspense.
While honing her fiction skills, K.J. worked as a medical, health, and
fitness writer. She then became involved with the International
Thriller Writers as the executive director of ThrillerFest, the
organization’s annual conference held every July in New York City.
In preparation for writing THE FREEDOM BROKER series, which focuses on
elite kidnap negotiator Thea Paris, K.J. spent extensive time
researching the dark world of kidnapping. She has interviewed former
hostages, negotiators, hostage reintegration experts, Special Forces
operatives, and K&R insurance executives.
K.J. is an avid tennis player, cyclist, and swimmer. Travel and adventure
still rank high on her priority list. She has had the pleasure of
riding racing camels in Jordan, surfing in Hawaii, zip lining in the
Costa Rican jungle, diving alongside Great White Sharks in South
Africa, studying modern combat in the Arizona desert, and
working with elephants in Botswana. Home is in Toronto, Canada, but
she is often missing in action.
K.J. Howe is available for interviews and appearances along with
presentations about kidnapping and travel safety. For media
appearances, interviews, speaking engagements, and/or book review
requests please contact email@example.com by email or by
phone at 403.464.6925.
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