Authors: Annabel Wolfe
“Whoever they sent will have seen every trick from landmines to snipers, Major.”
“Not this one.”
Jack lit the lantern, stepping back and shutting the door after he placed it inside the structure. He said with some levity, “It looks occupied. The light should make them think one of us is out here.”
“This is diabolical, Major. I like it.”
“All is fair in love and war, Colonel. Besides, I didn’t come up with the idea. I was just almost a victim. At least we didn’t put nasty spikes at the bottom of the pit.”
the bottom of an old latrine.” Hanes’s features were washed by the thin light. “I think I’d rather fall on spikes.”
“They want us dead by sunrise. I say it serves them right.”
There was a small pond on the adjoining property and the frogs were loud, crying in the night. It smelled like rain, and quite frankly Jack wasn’t positive that even with GPS they could be found. This might not be the greatest idea he ever had. At least the mosquitoes weren’t bad. That was a blessing, especially this time of year.
Crouched at the edge of the cornfield, he said quietly, “Why don’t you get some sleep and let me have first watch. It’s after two.”
“We’re supposed to be dead by tomorrow, remember?”
Silence. Except there was really no silence in the country. Something was always moving, and it seemed more alive at night than during the day. A twig cracked off to their left, and both of them pivoted and raised their weapons, going silent.
Deer. There was the buck first, leaping high, and then a doe, their forms highlighted by the thin illumination. Not quite the time of year for mating, but they did herd now and then, and two smaller forms followed. Jack realized there were also two fawns, which under other circumstances he would have found pretty cute, but at the moment, he just wondered what might have spooked them.
Car? Several cars had passed by on the road but none had stopped or even slowed down.
The enemy was aware
were aware though, and professionals would be stealthy.
An hour passed. He’d done sentry duty in worse places than kneeling in a cornfield, Jack thought philosophically, shifting a little, trying to separate the natural rustles of mother nature from something more ominous. It was almost eerily familiar, reminiscent of childhood in a hundred ways, but this was not a game.
Then, finally, action-time. A hand settled on his shoulder and Hanes pointed. For a moment Jack couldn’t see anything but then he realized there was a dark figure flattened against the side of the church.
Just when he was starting to doubt the informant had passed on their location…
But neither of them moved because there were at least three of the enemy: the two who had arrived on that plane earlier and the one who had picked them up. There could also be more they were unaware of even with sophisticated intelligent services on the ball. Sometimes cells popped up and weren’t discovered until after a disaster.
Too many and they might have to really get resourceful.
He couldn’t help but wince at the sound of breaking glass, since the old windows in the building were original and from the age of the structure, no doubt handmade. That sound seemed to be a signal, because it triggered a barrage of gunfire off to the right from an automatic weapon, probably aimed at the outhouse.
Now they at least had a fair idea where the second man was from the flashes. The onslaught seemed to be coming from the cemetery. Jack nodded that way, and Hanes pointed at the church. They each had a mark now, but…
Were there a third guy…
The light had gone out in the old outhouse, the lantern no doubt shattered by a bullet. Cautiously the man in the graveyard stood and approached the structure, his weapon gleaming in the filmy light.
They were definitely outgunned, Jack realized, so hopefully they’d outthought their opponents. The one searching the church wasn’t using a flashlight—good call on his part—but that meant he was literally fumbling around in the dark. When he crawled back out the window, he’d be an easy mark.
Wait for it, wait for it
The man who’d shot up the outhouse disappeared. Literally. Dropped clean out sight into the hole because of the dicey lighting and his intent interest on finding out if he’d killed whoever was inside. He was cursing and yelling in a foreign language, and Jack grinned. “I recognize those words from all time I spent in his delightful country. He’s not a happy camper. I think I’ll go say howdy.”
“Be careful, he’s still armed. I’ll go after the other one.” Hanes was on the run almost before the words were out of his mouth, sprinting with impressive speed for someone who usually sat at a desk. Mindful the third guy could still be around, Jack did the same thing, except he didn’t run quite like did when he played football in high school thanks to his injured leg.
He stopped about five feet from the hole. It was decently deep, but a man could crawl out of it, and whoever came out was going to be severely pissed off—and, note to self, he’d already wanted to kill Jack in the first place.
So when his “friend” managed to lift his shoulders over the lip of the latrine hole. Jack shot him at close range.
Not with his rifle, but with his father’s twelve-gauge shotgun loaded with rock salt. Another old trick. Takes them out and hurts like hell, and yet it doesn’t kill them.
“Just following orders,” he called out as the guy disappeared again, this time screaming. “The colonel would like you alive so you can be interrogated. He made it pretty clear, and him being my superior officer and all, I need to do what he says.”
Hanes was poised under the broken window, patiently waiting in the shadows, and it was no doubt the sound of Jack’s weapon being fired that brought Hanes’s quarry to the surface, the evidence the protrusion of a gun barrel from the opening.
Jack went flat—he didn’t care to get shot this late in the game—and the colonel, in a pretty ballsy move, stepped three paces away from the building so he could see clearly and got off a couple of shots.
Then nothing but the usual insect sounds Jack could barely hear from the ringing in his ears, because that was part of firing a weapon without protective gear. He highly doubted they’d see more deer in the vicinity this particular evening.
“Target down?” he called out.
“I think so, but not sure enough I’d stick my head in there and look.”
“Mine is alive and still armed, but I think he’s going to be a cooperative mood when someone—not me, by the way—drags him out of that nasty little hole. Medical attention might be just what he needs.”
A very colorful curse told Jack his target understood English, even if he didn’t choose to speak it. He shouted, “Colonel, where’s the third one?”
That was great.
“I’m not hearing movement.”
“Could be playing dead.”
“I guess I’m about to find out.” Hanes jacked himself up on the sill in one lithe movement and peered inside through the broken window. Jack could hear the man exhale even from yards away. “Okay, yeah, got him. Not even twitching.”
“I think we’re alone now except for our friend in the hole, and I’m going to guess he’s just half conscious, if that. He seems to be making some interesting noises down there.”
“Let’s call in the locals and get this cleaned up.”
Jack couldn’t agree more. “You tell the story, and I will back it up, but I think they’ll have no problem with it when they find out who you are.”
His jeans were damp from the dew and his shirt soaked with sweat, and he was fairly sure he’d have his share of chigger bites when he was able to take a much-needed shower, but at least he was alive and not stuck in a stinking pit, and after every successful mission there was a certain level of elation.
One dead. One captured.
But the driver who picked them up unaccounted for. That was the only part he didn’t like about the equation. “We know there’s more.”
“Yeah,” Hanes agreed. “Call your friend.”
He didn’t like it.
Black car, cruising into the parking lot twice, pausing just below.
If Eric hadn’t caught the reflection, he might not have been so uneasy, but there was a hint of a flash of glass and he had the impression that maybe someone had used something surveillance-related.
Aimed at their window.
How the hell was that possible?
If nothing else Colonel Hanes and Jack certainly seemed thorough. His unease grew as the car parked and two men got out, both of them wearing jackets even though it was a hot, muggy night. In retrospect he should have asked Hanes what name the room was registered under.
Neither one of the new arrivals apparently had any luggage either, and just the way they walked purposely toward the building…
Maybe he was being paranoid.
Who could blame him? Eric wasn’t aware of what the threat was exactly, but there certainly seemed to be a real one.
He made it a policy in his professional life—and personal life as well—to listen to that inner voice that told him something wasn’t quite right, and “better safe than sorry” was a saying for a reason.
“Wake up, sweetheart.” He touched Nikki on the shoulder, his voice quiet. “Maybe I’m wrong but I think there could be trouble.”
She sat up, smoothing her hair back from her face. Alarm widened her eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Just wake up Mrs. Hanes, will you?”
He grabbed her small bag and retrieved the gun Jack had given him, which he sure as hell hoped he didn’t have to attempt to use. The swift lesson in how to release the safety and the advice to aim slightly lower than his actual target hardly made him a sharpshooter. With the Glock .45, Jack had told him calmly, he had to be decently close to whomever he wanted to shoot, but if he hit, it would take them down.
Mrs. Hanes, considering her condition, was surprisingly calm. “What’s happening?”
“Just grab your robe. We’re going to the stairwell. Now. Hurry. Leave your stuff. If there is a problem, we don’t have time for that.”
She nodded, her dark hair enhancing the pallor of her face. “Okay.”
He made sure he had his car keys and peered down the hallway, which was thankfully empty, before he ushered the women toward the stairwell. As he opened the door for his two charges, he heard the ding of the bell on the elevator, signaling a stop at their floor.
How did you hurry a woman who was over seven months pregnant down three flights of stairs?
“Take your time,” he said as quietly as possible, “I don’t want a fall, but we want to get out of here as fast as possible. Luckily, the door locked automatically behind us, so it might take them some time to get in and discover we aren’t there.”
“I’m not even going to ask,” Nicole muttered. “This is crazy.”
“I could be wrong.”
“Or you could be right.” Kathy Hanes said it pragmatically, moving surprisingly fast. “If the major works with my husband, there are people out there who want to kill him.”
And us, apparently
How long to break down the door? Or maybe there was some special way to circumvent the keycard slots he didn’t know about but other people did. Eric brought up the rear, the gun in his hand feeling unnatural, but he was sure as hell willing to try to shoot if someone threatened them.
Being trapped in the stairwell would hardly be ideal, but though it felt like an entire lifetime, pretty soon they were walking through the lobby. If the single attendant at the desk thought it was odd for a pregnant woman in her robe and another woman and man to exit in the middle of the night, she didn’t say anything.
Eric sprinted for his car, pressing the button to unlock it, and as he ushered the women inside, he could swear he heard a shout in a language he did not understand.
He whipped into the driver’s seat, glad he had an automatic starter and had used it, and backed out so swiftly he almost hit the SUV parked behind him.
Calm, slow down
Nicole, looking out her window said, “Eric, there’s two men running through the parking lot.”
“Yeah, well, I was kind of afraid of that.” Luckily, at this time of night, the streets weren’t all that busy so he was able to pull out easily enough and gunned the engine. “I actually have no idea where we’re going, ladies, but we are getting the hell away from those two individuals.”
Except that plan didn’t seem to work, he discovered a few minutes later as a black car appeared in his rearview mirror. Considering he’d taken several erratic turns down side streets, he found it hard to believe.
Taking in a deep breath, he informed his passengers, “They’re still following us. I have no idea how they found the hotel in the first place, much less how they can stay on top of us now, but 911 might not be a bad idea. I know we aren’t supposed to use our phones, but it seems to me that ship has already sailed. They know where we are. Just make it clear to the dispatcher that this isn’t an ordinary call and one officer with a sidearm won’t solve the problem.”