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Mack Bolan, also known as the Executioner, passed the three-mile marker and noted that he had finally broken a sweat. He carried a five-pound dumbbell in each hand. The trees and bushes on either side of the macadamized track that led through the heavily wooden area surrounding Stony Man Farm had just started to sprout their seasonal leaves. Bright sunshine filtered through the swirls of green buds, dappling the trail ahead with splashes of brilliance. Running this five-mile course was a great way to unwind after returning from a mission. Up ahead, two deer walked across the path, stopped, saw Bolan and scampered into the forest.
Suddenly, a distant but distinct buzzing began to intrude on the peaceful scene. The birds became silent as the buzzing grew louder. Bolan had already identified it: a motorcyclea trail bike most likelyand it was heading his way. Although the soldier normally felt totally comfortable and safe within the confines of Stony Man Farm, his survival instinct never allowed him to completely drop his guard. The trail curved to the left and he quickened his pace, sprinting around the turn, at once out of view from the approaching motorcyclist. He slowed and waded into the heavy foliage. Stopping next to an oak tree, he dropped the dumbbells and pulled his SIG Sauer P938 Nightmare from the pocket of his sweatpants. Then he waited.
When Bolan heard the motorcycle slowing to make the turn, he brought the SIG up and braced his arm against the heavy trunk. The motorcycle rider accelerated and zoomed past Bolan's position, only to slow down and screech to a halt about eight seconds later.
The rider removed his helmet, but Bolan had already identified him.
It was Jack Grimaldi. Bolan lowered the pistol, grabbing the weights with his left hand and stepping out of the trees.
Grimaldi swiveled in the seat. "Are you slipping or something?" he asked. "You made more noise than a troop of Boy Scouts."
"I'll give back my merit badge."
Grimaldi's eyebrows rose as he looked at the pistol. "Where's your Beretta? It's not like you to be without your baby."
"Sometimes less is more when it comes to concealment," Bolan said. He pocketed the SIG, took a dumbbell in each hand and began running again.
Grimaldi twisted the accelerator and pulled up beside Bolan. "Hal sent me to get you."
"Well, you got me."
The pilot smiled. "Come on, he wants to see you right away."
Bolan kept running.
"Did you hear me?" Grimaldi asked. "He said 'right away.'"
"I heard. Tell him I'll be there shortly."
"Hop on and I'll give you a ride."
"Nope," Bolan said. "I've been promising myself this run ever since I got back. I'll be there in twenty minutes."
"Twenty minutes? You slowed down that much?"
"I can make it quicker if I skip my shower," Bolan said drily.
Grimaldi grinned. "We wouldn't want that. See you later." He stopped, replaced the helmet on his head, and asked, "Want to race?"
Bolan didn't answer, and seconds later Grimaldi zoomed past him with a spray of gravel.
Bolan walked into the War Room freshly showered and changed. Hal Brognola glanced up from his big desk. "Have a nice run?"
"Pretty good until you and Jack ruined it. What's up?"
"We may have something brewing in the Caribbean."
"Missing yacht, for one thing," Brognola said. "A bunch of rich folks out of Miami. Big campaign contributors to a lot of politicians on the Hill. They took off for the islands and haven't been heard from in two days."
"Sounds like a job for the Coast Guard."
"Normally, it would be," Brognola said. "But there may be more to it. The FBI's also nosing around down there on one of the islands. Something about a missing DOD employee."
Bolan felt his interest spike slightly at that news. In the old days, a missing Department of Defense employee often meant a defection. Now, it could mean terrorism. "What type of employee?"
Brognola picked up a manila file and passed it across his desk. "The guy's worked there as a crypto code breaker for just about forever. Never had any problems. His name's Herman Monk."
Bolan paged through the file. A color photo of Monk was paper-clipped to the inside of the folder. It showed a middle-aged man with thinning hair and thick, horn rim glasses. Other than that, his face was unremarkable. Under the personal information section he was listed as fifty-eight years old and widowed with one child, a nineteen-year-old daughter named Grace. A picture of her was on a subsequent page.
"As I said," Brognola continued, "Monk's worked at the DOD for a long time, since the Cold War. He's an expert crypto analyst. Speaks five languages. He's supposed to be a wizard at breaking codes, but he hasn't had a lot to do since the Soviet Union dissolved. He used to track the Soviets around the globe, and more recently the activities of Al Qaeda and friends."
"The Feds got any theories?"
"He disappeared from work four days ago. Left for a lunch date and never returned. He called in sick for the rest of that day and the next. It was later discovered that he was in the possession of his government laptop." Brognola got up, went to the coffeemaker on the file cabinet and poured himself a cup. "When Monk didn't show up for work the following day, they tried calling him, but kept getting his answering machine saying he was still sick. Then they traced the laptop through the built-in GPS transmitter and went to his residence. The laptop was there, but its hard drive wasn't. And neither was Monk."
"What type of information was on it?" Bolan asked.
"Unknown," Brognola said. "Most of Monk's work these days was translating intercepted texts from Arabic. Like I said, he speaks five languages in addition to English. Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Korean and several Chinese dialects."
"He should apply for a job at the United Nations."
Brognola took a sip of his coffee and returned to his desk. "They traced him to a flight three days ago to Puerto Rico."
"Maybe he wants to be there for the vice president's visit."
"That's not for a few more days," Brognola said. "Anyway, from there it's believed he hopped another flight to one of the Caribbean islands."
"This one, we think. St. Francis." Brognola handed Bolan a brightly colored brochure depicting beautiful hotels rising out of white sand, and photos of equally beautiful people drinking and playing volleyball in bikinis and Speedos. "At least that's what the Feds think. The FBI is down there now trying to find him and his daughter."
"His daughter?" Bolan flipped the file open again and looked at the girl's picture.
"Yeah, she was down there a week ago. Apparently, she won some kind of free, all-inclusive vacation. Checked into her hotel and hasn't been seen since."
"So you're thinking the girl might have been kidnapped?"
"Again, unknown, but if Monk has been traced to the same island, it could be a bit more than coincidence. There seem to be a lot of Americans going missing down that way. It's the same general vicinity where the yacht disappeared." He handed Bolan another file, which contained pictures of two couples, a young Hispanic man and a luxury yacht with A Slice of Heaven emblazoned on the front.
"So why not let the Feds handle it?" Bolan asked. "Why do we need to get involved?"
"You know how the President feels about checks and balances. He's not totally comfortable letting the FBI be the only player in the game down there. They can tend to get kind of uptight and formal, especially when they're investigating something in a foreign country. Sticklers about following the rules. So who better than us to be an impartial observer?"
"Oh, and I should mention," Brognola said. "They're making some kind of blockbuster movie down there, financed by none other than Willard Forsythe Everett III. He's also hosting the Mr. Galaxy contest on the island this weekend."
"Does this mean he's not going to run for president again?"
Brognola chuckled. "He's got enough money to, but apparently he's got a new agenda. The island belongs to the French and Dutch, but Everett built an enormous hotel resort there called the Omni. That's where you'd be staying. Word is, he's planning on turning the entire island into an adult playground."
"And do you think he has anything to do with the Monk situation?"
"Hard to say," Brognola answered. "But I'd like you to keep an eye on things at the Omni, as well. We'll be sending along someone to accompany you as part of your cover."
"Jack." Brognola grinned. "So, you interested?"
"I'm game," Bolan replied.
Grimes watched Willard Forsythe Everett Ill finish going through the digital images on the camera. Everett was sitting on a sumptuous sofa in the massive penthouse suite atop the Omni hotel. Everett wasn't a big man by normal standards, but he always carried himself as if he were six feet four. In reality, he was more like five-eight or -nine, depending on the size of the lifts in his shoes. But there was no denying that he was in incredible shape. He wore a short-sleeved polo shirt and the muscles in his arms rippled with each movement. He regularly worked out with full-contact karate fighters and boxers. His latest kick was the Mixed Martial Arts stuff, but Grimes figured that was because he could keep hitting people after he had them down. Of course, those sparring with Everett knew better than to try too hard to win. The boss didn't like to lose. He had a bit of what was traditionally referred to as a "Napoleon complex."
Everett turned off the camera and stood, tossing it next to the pile of papers on his large desk. He walked over to the open patio doors overlooking the beach, and clasped his hands behind his back.
"Those broads were kind of good-looking," he said. "Too bad you had to eliminate them."
Grimes waited for Everett's further comment on the tactical neutralization of the people on the yacht, but the billionaire didn't seem that concerned. Collateral damage had been an accurate assessment on Grimes's part, after all. Everett looked tired, though. Grimes knew the rich bastard had just returned from receiving his biannual regimen of steroid and hormone treatments that allowed him to maintain his youthful constitution as he crested middle age. Hair transplants, cosmetic tucks, hormone shots, cheek implants . Maybe Everett was contemplating another run for the White House.
"What's the status of the recovery?" he asked.
"I've had the men working twenty-four/seven," Grimes said. "We've cut through the second hull, but we have to constantly monitor the radiation levels."
"Understandable," Everett allowed, "but the clock's ticking. Remember I'm juggling the timing of the takeover of the Xerxes, too. It was just getting to Cuba when I left for my treatments."
"It's on its way back now," Grimes said. "Near the Isla de Margarita. We're tracking it by satellite, waiting till it gets past Tobago before we make our move."
"Went to Jamaica yesterday to tag up with the Russians. They're tracking the Xerxes and will intercept with the helicopter from there, once it gets into the Caribbean."
Everett's face twisted into a frown. "Is Zelenkov sure he can handle it?"
"He's ex-Spetsnaz and was fully trained in ship assaults. The Iranians will never know what hit them."
Everett nodded, but blew out a long breath. "Everything has to coincide exactly, without creating too many waves." He paused and smiled at his own pun. "And imagine me playing on the same team as the Ruskies. Who would have thought?" He laughed.
Grimes forced a laugh, too. This seemed to please the boss. Good. The last thing he wanted to do was piss the guy off. His temper was legendary.
"What about those FBI agents?" Everett asked.
"Most of them are in Ponce helping check things out for the vice president's visit."
Everett smiled. "They won't know what hit 'em. What about the agent they sent here?"
"Just a big, dumb Iowa farm boy. He's being led around by one of Le Pierre's goons on a snipe hunt."
"We can't assume that'll last forever." Everett glanced at his watch. "Okay, line up a couple sparring partners for me. I want to work out before we go out on the rig." He strode back to the desk and picked up the camera.
"Want me to delete those pics?" Grimes asked.
Everett rotated his head, as if loosening up his neck muscles. "Not till I tell you. Keep me posted on the salvage progress, and keep your eyes open for any new arrivals. Especially Americans."