Twelve Days (A John Wells Novel)

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9780399159749: Twelve Days (A John Wells Novel)

John Wells has only twelve days to stop the United States from being tricked into invading Iran in the new cutting-edge novel of modern suspense from the #1 New York Times–bestselling author.
Twelve days.

Wells, with his former CIA bosses Ellis Shafer and Vinnie Duto, has uncovered a staggering plot, a false-flag operation to convince the President to attack Iran. But they have no hard evidence, and no one at Langley or the White House will listen.

Now the President has set a deadline for Iran to give up its nuclear program, and the mullahs in Tehran—furious and frightened—have responded with a deadly terrorist attack. Wells, Shafer, and Duto know they have only twelve days to find the proof they need. They fan out, from Switzerland to Saudi Arabia, Israel to Russia, desperately trying to tease out the clues in their possession. Meanwhile, the United States is moving soldiers and Marines to Iran’s border. And Iran has mobilized its own squad of suicide bombers.

And as the days tick by and the obstacles mount, they realize that everything they do may not be enough...

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About the Author:

As a reporter for The New York Times, Alex Berenson covered topics ranging from the occupation of Iraq to the crimes of Bernie Madoff. His eight previous John Wells novels include Edgar Award–winner The Faithful Spy, and most recently The Night Ranger and The Counterfeit Agent. He lives with his family in Garrison, New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


For as long as he could remember, Vikosh Jain had wanted to see
India. His family’s homeland for a hundred generations. The world’s
largest democracy. The birthplace of his religion.

While his friends moved out after college, he lived at home, paying
off his loans and saving money for what he knew would be an epic adventure.
The trip became an obsession. He mapped every train ride
across the subcontinent, Mumbai to Delhi, Kashmir to Madras. Finally,
when he’d saved the twelve thousand dollars he’d budgeted for a ten-
week trip, he bought his ticket.

What a fool he’d been.

After a month, he couldn’t wait to get home. He was sick of India.
Sick with India, too. He’d stayed away from street food and drank only
bottled water. Even so, he found himself glued to a toilet a week after he
arrived. The cheekier travel websites called what had happened to him
“the Delhi diet.” It sounded like a joke, but by the time the doxycycline
kicked in, he’d lost ten pounds. He could hardly walk a flight of stairs.
His skin let him pass for local, but his gut was suburban New Jersey
through and through.

Not just his gut. Coming here had taught him how American he really
was. Every time he stepped into the streets, he was overwhelmed. By
the dust coating his mouth. The shouting, honking, hawking crowds.
The pushing and shoving and relentless begging. The way the men
pawed women on buses and streetcars. He felt disconnected from all of
them, even the ones who had money. Especially the ones who had
money. He’d planned to spend a week with his father’s family in Delhi,
but he left after two days. He couldn’t stand the way his aunt screeched
at her maids and gardeners, like they weren’t people at all.

Before the trip, his parents had warned him his expectations were unrealistic.
When he emailed home to complain, long paragraphs of frustration,
his father had answered in one sentence: You need to accept it for
what it is. And after another long screed: Don’t you see? This is why we left.

Even as Vik read those words, his stomach pulled a 720-degree spin,
like a reckless snowboarder had taken up residence in his gut. He wondered
what he’d eaten this time. He wasn’t scheduled to fly home for
another six weeks. But enough. Enough was enough. He clicked over to and found that for only two hundred dollars he could change
his flight. He could leave this very night. He tried to convince himself to
stay, that he would be quitting, betraying his heritage. But India wasn’t
his country. Never had been. Never would be.

He reached for his credit card.

Now, after an endless taxi ride to Chhatrapati Shivaji International
Airport, an hour-long wait to enter the terminal, three bag searches, two
X-rays, and a barking immigration officer, Vik was almost free. He had
maybe the worst seat on the plane, 45A, a window in the cabin’s last row.
So be it. He’d be close to the toilets.

Nick Cuse had captained nonstops to Mumbai and Delhi for two years.
After twenty-eight years at Continental—and he would always think of
CAL as his employer, never mind the merger or the name on the side
of the jet—he could choose his runs. Most captains with his seniority
preferred Hong Kong or Tokyo, well-run airports that weren’t surrounded
by slums like the one in Mumbai. But Cuse had started as a
Navy pilot, landing F-14s on carrier decks. He was keenly aware that
every year commercial aircraft became more automated. Every year, pilots
had less to do. He wanted to end his career as something other than
a glorified bus driver. Mumbai was a lot of things, but it was rarely boring.
Twice he’d had to abort landings for slum kids running across the
runway, airport cops chasing them like a scene from a bad movie.

His co-pilot, Henry Franklin, was also ex-Navy, just young enough to
have flown sorties in the first Gulf War. They’d shared the cockpit three
days earlier, and Cuse was happy to have Franklin with him for the ride
back. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a civilian with a week of training
could have done what they were about to do. But the hundredth time
defined the job. A good pilot felt a crisis coming before his instruments
did, and defused it before it became serious enough to be a threat. Cuse
had that sixth sense, and he saw it in Franklin. Though the guy was a bit
sharp to the crew.

Now they sat side by side in the cockpit making final preflight checks,
their relief crew sitting at the back of the cockpit. A flight this long required
another captain and first officer. Their Boeing 777 was just about
full, making weight and balance calculations easy. Two hundred sixty-
one passengers, seventeen crew members. Two-seven-eight human souls
traveling eight thousand miles, over the Hindu Kush, the Alps, the Atlantic.
They would fly in darkness from takeoff to landing, the sun chasing
them west, never catching them.

Every time you leave the earth, it’s a miracle, Cuse’s first instructor at
Pensacola had told him. You come back down, that’s another. A miracle of
human invention, human ingenuity, human cunning. Never forget that, no matter
how routine it may seem. Always respect it.

“Captain,” Franklin said. “We’re topped up.” An eight-thousand-mile
flight into the jet stream required the 777 to leave Mumbai with full tanks,
forty-five thousand gallons of aviation-grade kerosene. The fuel itself
weighed three hundred thousand pounds, accounting for almost half the
jet’s takeoff weight. They were carrying fuel to carry fuel, an inherent
problem with long-range flights.

Cuse glanced at his watch, a platinum Rolex, his wife’s present to him
on the day they signed their divorce papers. Nine years later, he still
didn’t know why she’d given it to him. Or why he’d kept it. 11:36 p.m.
Four minutes before scheduled departure. They’d leave on time. By
Mumbai standards they had a good night to fly, seventy degrees, a breeze
coming off the Indian Ocean to push away smog from trash fires and
diesel-spewing minibuses. He looked over his displays one more time.

Cuse liked to keep the cockpit door open as long as possible, a throwback
to the days when pilots didn’t regard every passenger as a potential
terrorist. Now the purser poked his head inside. “Cabin ready for push-
back, sir.”

“Thank you, Carl. You can close the door.”

“Yes, sir.” The purser switched on the cockpit lock and pulled shut
the door.

“Cockpit locked, Captain,” Franklin said. In aviation lingo, he was the
“pilot monitoring,” with the job of talking to the tower and watching
the instruments. Cuse was the “pilot flying,” responsible for handling the

“Thank you, Henry.”

“Greetings, United Flight 49. I’m Carl Fisher, your purser. We’ve closed
the cabin door and are making final preparations for our flight to Newark.
At this point, United requires you to put your cell phone on airplane
mode. To make the flight more relaxing for you and everyone around
you, we don’t allow in-flight calls. But you are free to use approved electronic
devices once we’ve taken off. The captain has informed me that
he’s expecting our flight time to be sixteen hours. We do recommend
that you keep your seat belt fastened for the duration of the flight in case
we run into any rough air, as is common over the Himalayas . . .”

Vik thumbed in one last text to his mother—On the plane, see you
tomorrow—and then turned off his phone. Even if his stomach settled
down, he doubted he’d sleep. He was caught between the cabin wall and
a chubby twenty-something woman wearing a Smith College sweatshirt
and hemp pants. She smelled of onion chutney and positive thinking.

She caught him looking at her and extended a hand, exposing a dirty
Livestrong bracelet. “We’re going to be neighbors for sixteen hours, we
should know each other’s names. Jessica.”

Vik awkwardly twisted his arm across the seat to shake. “Vik. Let me
guess. Yoga retreat?”

“That obvious? How about you?”

“I came to visit family.”

“That’s so wonderful. Getting to see the place where you’re from.”

“Sure is.” Despite himself, Vik liked this woman. He wished he could
have seen the country through her eyes instead of his own.

It was 11:50 p.m. by Cuse’s Rolex when he swung the jet onto 09/27. For
years, the airport here had tried to operate a second, intersecting runway,
a prescription for disaster. Complaints from pilots and its own controllers
finally forced it to stop. Now 09/27 was the airport’s sole runway. At this
moment, it was empty, two miles of concrete that ran west toward the
Indian Ocean.

“United Airlines four-nine heavy, you are cleared for takeoff on runway
nine. Wind one-two-zero, ten knots.” The air-traffic controllers here
had call-center English, clear and precise.

“United forty-nine heavy, cleared for takeoff on nine.” Franklin
clicked off.

Like all new-generation jets, the 777-200 was fly-by-wire. Computers
controlled its engines, wings, and flaps. But Boeing had designed the
cockpit to preserve the comforting illusion that pilots physically handled
the plane. Instead of dialing a knob or pushing a joystick, Cuse pushed
the twin white throttle handles about halfway forward. The response
was immediate. The General Electric engines on the wings spooled up,
sending a shiver through the airframe.

Cuse lifted his hand. “N1.” For routine takeoffs, the 777 had an
auto-throttle system for routine takeoffs, though he could override it at
any time.

“N1.” Franklin tapped instructions into a touch screen beside the
throttle handles. “Done.”

Cuse dropped the brakes and the three-hundred-fifty-ton jet rolled
forward, at first slowly, then with an accelerating surge. They reached
eighty knots and Franklin made the usual announcement: “Eighty knots.
Throttle hold. Thrust normal. V1 is one-five-five.”

At one hundred fifty-five knots, the 777 would reach what pilots
called V1, the point at which safety rules dictated going ahead with takeoff
even with a blown engine. Franklin spoke the figure as a formality.
Both men knew it as well as their names.

“One-five-five,” Cuse repeated, a secular Amen.

Cuse’s gut and the instruments agreed: V1 would be no problem.
The engines were running perfectly. Cuse felt as though he were wearing
blinkers. The city, the terminal, even the traffic-control tower no
longer existed. Only the runway before him and the metal skin that surrounded

The markers clipped by. They passed one hundred thirty knots, one
forty, one fifty, nearly race-car speed, though the jet was so big and stable
that Cuse wouldn’t have known without the gauges to tell him—

“V1,” Franklin said. And only a second later: “Rotate.” Now the
Triple-7 had reached one hundred sixty-five knots, about one hundred
ninety miles an hour. As soon as Cuse pulled up its nose, the lift under its
wings would send it soaring. Cuse felt himself tense and relax simultaneously,
as he always did at this moment. Boeing’s engineers and United’s
mechanics and everyone else had done all they could. The responsibility
was his. He pulled back the yoke. The jet’s nose rose and it leapt into the
sky. A miracle of human invention.

“Positive rate,” Franklin said.

“Gear up.” Cuse pushed a button to retract the landing gear. They
were gaining altitude smartly now, almost forty feet a second. In less
than a minute, they would be higher than the world’s tallest building. In
five, they would be able to clear a good-size mountain range.

“United four-nine heavy, you are clear. Continue heading two-sevenzero—”

“Continue two-seven-zero,” Franklin said.

“Good-bye,” Cuse said. That last word was not strictly necessary, but
he liked to include it as long as takeoff was copasetic, a single touch of
humanity in the middle of the engineering, good-bye, au revoir, adios amigos,
but no worries, I’ll be back.

They topped four hundred feet and the city bloomed around them.

“Flaps,” Franklin said.

“Flaps up. Climb power.”

Vik pressed his nose against the window, looking down at the terminal’s
bright lights. He felt an unexpected regret. Maybe he should have stayed
longer, given the place another chance. He might see it again. Once he
married, had children, a trip like this one would be impossible. Unless
he married a wannabe yogi like Jessica and got stuck taking trips to India
for all eternity.

“I miss it already,” she said, as if reading his mind.
“What’s not to love?” He wondered if she knew he was being sarcastic.
Second by second, the jumbled neighborhoods around the airport
came into view. At ground level, Mumbai hid its massive slums behind
concrete walls and elevated highways. But from above, they were obvious,
dark blotches in the electrical grid, the city’s missing teeth. Some of
the largest surrounded the airport. Vik had read a book about them. He
imagined rows of rat-infested mud-brick huts, children and adults jumbled
together on straw mattresses, trying to sleep, plotting their next dollar,
their next meal. So much desperation, so much bad luck and trouble.
They pushed on. But then, what else could they do?

Then, from the edge of the slum nearest the airport, Vik saw
something he didn’t expect.

Twin red streaks cutting through the night. Fireworks. Maybe someone
down there had something to celebrate, for a change. But they didn’t
peter out like normal fireworks. They kept coming, arcing upward—

Not fireworks. Missiles.

Following a failed al-Qaeda effort to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet
in Kenya in 2002, the Federal Aviation Administration had considered
making American airlines retrofit their fleets with antimissile equipment.
But installing thousands of jets with chaff and flare dispensers,
along with radar systems to warn pilots of incoming missiles, would have
been hugely expensive. Estimates ranged from five to fifty billion dollars.
Worse, the engineers who designed the countermeasures couldn’t say if
they would allow a passenger jet to escape. Passenger planes were far less
maneuverable than fighter jets. Their engines gave off big, obvious heat
signatures. And major airports were so congested that the systems might
have caused jets to fire flares in each other’s paths.

The seriousness of the threat was also unclear. Despite their reputation
for being easy to use, surface-to-air missiles required substantial
training. After a few months of memos, the FAA shelved the idea of a
retrofit. And so American jets remained unprotected from surface-to-air

From the cockpit, Cuse felt the missiles before he saw them. Something
far below that didn’t belong. He looked down, saw the streaks. They had
just cleared the airport’s western boundary. Unlike Vik Jain, he knew immediately
what they were.

“Max power.” He shoved the throttle forward and the turbines whined
in response. “Nose down—” He dropped the yoke.


Cuse ignored him, toggled Mumbai air-traffic control. “Mumbai
tower, United four-nine heavy emergency. Two missiles—”

“Repeat, United—”

“SAMs.” The tower couldn’t help him now. He flicked off, snuck
another look out the window. In the five seconds since he’d first spot...

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