Having been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Ridley is recruited by the Club through a renowned cancer treatment center in Virginia. It is there that he is told his cancer is untreatable. The pitch is: do something worthwhile with the short time you have left — do something meaningful for your country. After giving up all he owns and severing all ties, including those with a woman he’d planned to marry, Ridley joins the group whose members are sent on high-risk, often one-way missions to take out selected targets in the United States’ global war on terror.
In the meantime, the Lions of the Jihad, a sophisticated Islamic terrorist organization with a sleeper cell in New York City, moves forward with a plan to detonate a powerful and highly radioactive dirty bomb near the Hell Gate section of the East River. This pending disaster looms large when Ridley discovers the Cancer Club carries its own malignancy, one that makes all other CIA-run black operations look like child’s play.
The Osprey began dropping like an out-of-control elevator as Ridley staggered toward the opening at the back of the airplane. He felt light on his feet and grabbed a stabilizing arm of the ramp with his left hand. Reaching down, he gripped the M-4 and pressed its selector switch to semi-auto with his thumb. The aircraft bottomed out causing Ridley’s knees to buckle slightly and once again they were just above the surface of the water, the grey stream jetting out behind and below as if he were standing on the stern of a speedboat. The rotors of the Osprey were roiling the blowing snow up on either side of the aircraft and it snaked behind them like corkscrews.
“Lower,” Qualls said.
“If I get any lower the blades are going to be in the water,” Mario answered, his voice stretched wire-tight.
Ridley felt numb, out of it, and he forced himself to focus. For a moment he thought he was going to puke up the pills he had dry swallowed minutes earlier. His stomach had even started the violent process, but he tightened the muscles in his throat and forced the emesis to check down. The taste of his own bile spread in his mouth and he spit, or at least tried to. Nothing came from between his pursed lips. Strach must have sensed or seen that he was having problems because his voice came through the earpiece. “Come on Bill, cut your head in.” Ridley could feel sweat pouring down the front of his face in rivulets.
“We’re coming up on them, Terry,” Qualls said. “Hold on and get ready.”
Ridley felt himself pulled toward the front of the airplane as Mario suddenly reversed the pitch of the propellers and tilted the engines upward, transforming the propellers’ configuration once again into rotors. It felt like the pilot was standing on the brakes with both feet as the Osprey decelerated, wallowing in the air like a fish in mud. Hydraulics whined and servos screamed as the pitch was again changed, allowing the machine to hover. Another round of banging broke out inside the aircraft and Ridley was conscious of metal bits and pieces of airplane ricocheting behind him.
“You ready, Bill?”
Strach’s voice was coming at him from a million miles away and Ridley heard himself say, “Don’t worry about me.”