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Everyday, Average Jones
By Suzanne Brockmann
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2001 Suzanne Brockmann
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was extremely likely that she was going to die.
And with every hour that passed, her chance of making it out of this godforsaken country any way other than inside a body bag was slipping from slim to none.
Melody Evans sat quietly in the corner of the little windowless office that had become her prison, writing what she hoped would not be her final words in a letter to her sister.
Dear Brittany, I'm scared to death of dying....
She was terrified of the finality of a single bullet to the head. But she was even more afraid of the other sort of death that possibly awaited her. She'd heard of the kinds of torture that were far too prevalent in this part of the world. Torture, and other archaic, monstrous practices. God help her if they found out she was a woman....
Melody felt her pulse kick into overdrive, and she took slow, deep breaths, trying to calm herself.
Remember the time you took me sledding up at the apple orchards? Remember how you got on the sled behind me, and told me in that supertheatrical voice you sometimes used that we were either going to steer a straight course down the hill through the rows of trees - or die trying?
Her older sister had always been the adventurous one. Yet it was Brittany who was still at home in Appleton, living in the same four-story Godzilla of a Victorian house that they'd grown up in. And it was Melody who, in a moment of sheer insanity, had accepted the job of administrative assistant to the American ambassador and had moved overseas to a country she hadn't even known existed until six months ago.
I remember thinking as we plunged down the hill - God, I couldn't have been more than six years old, but I remember thinking - at least we'll die together.
I wish to God I didn't feel so alone ....
"You don't really think they're going to let you send that, do you?" Kurt Matthews's acerbic voice dripped scorn.
"No, I don't." Melody answered him without even looking up. She knew she was writing this letter not for Brittany, but for herself. Memories. She was writing down some childhood memories, trying to give herself a sense of that peace and happiness she'd known once upon a time. She was writing about the way she'd always tried so desperately to keep up with a sister nearly nine years older than she was. She skipped over the sibling infighting and petty arguments, choosing to remember only Britt's patience and kindness.
Britt always made such a big deal over Melody's birthday. This year, even though Mel was thousands of miles from the New England charm of their hometown in Massachusetts, Britt had sent a huge box of birthday surprises. She'd taken care to send it far enough in advance, and Melody had received it four days ago - more than a week before her twenty-fifth birthday.
She was glad now that she hadn't followed Britt's written orders and instead had opened the pile of presents in advance of the so-called special day. Britt had sent five new pairs of warm socks, a thick woolen sweater and some new athletic shoes. Those were the practical gifts. The fun gifts included the newest Garth Brooks CD, Tami Hoag's latest romantic thriller, a jar of real peanut butter and two videotapes on which Brittany had recorded the past three months' episodes of ER. It was America-in-a-box, and Melody had both laughed and cried at her older sister's thoughtfulness. It was the best birthday present she'd ever received.
Except now it looked as if she wouldn't live to see those episodes of ER. Or her twenty-fifth birthday.
Kurt Matthews was ignoring her again. He'd gone back to his asinine discussion with Chris Sterling. They were trying to figure out just how much CNN would pay them for the exclusive rights to their story after the deal between the terrorists and the U.S. government was made and they were released.
Matthews, the fool, actually had the gall to say that he hoped the talks weren't going too smoothly. He seemed to think that the monetary value of their story would increase with the length of their ordeal. And so far, they'd only been held for two days.
He - or Sterling, either, for that matter - didn't have a clue as to the seriousness of this situation.
Melody, on the other hand, had done research on this particular terrorist group who had overthrown the entire government in an unexpected coup early Wednesday morning. They'd taken the American embassy by storm shortly after that. They were terrorists, and the U.S. didn't negotiate with terrorists. Right now they were only talking. But if the talking didn't end, and end soon, this group of zealots was not likely to continue to show their three civilian hostages the same amount of respect and creature comforts they had to date. Provided, of course, that one could call being locked in a tiny, nearly airless office with two idiots, irregular deliveries of food and water and a washroom facility that no longer worked "comfortable."
Matthews and Sterling both seemed to think they were being held under rather dire conditions.
But Melody knew better.
She closed her eyes, trying to force away the image of the cold dankness of an underground cell. When she'd left Appleton to take this job at the embassy, she'd had no idea that the desert could be so cold during the winter months. It was March now - early spring - and it could still be chilly at night.
She focused instead on her feet. They were warm, clad in a pair of the socks and the cross trainers Brittany had sent.
They'd be taken from her - both shoes and socks - before she was thrown into that dark cell.
Lord, she had to stop thinking like that. It wasn't going to do her a bit of good.
Still, the image of the prison cell was better than the other picture her overactive imagination cooked up: three American infidels, dead at the hands of their captors.
Cowboy watched the back of the American embassy through high-powered binoculars. The place was jumping with tangos, arriving and leaving at apparently unscheduled times.
"Cat," he said almost silently into his lip microphone.
Captain Joe Catalanotto, commander of SEAL Team Ten's Alpha Squad, was positioned on the other side of the building. He was cooling his heels with the five other members of the team, having set up temporary camp in an abandoned apartment. The owner of the unit was no doubt some smart son of a bitch who had grabbed his TV and run, realizing the obvious negatives in owning real estate so close to a building that could go up in flames at any moment.
For Alpha Squad's purposes, the apartment was perfect. The master-bedroom window had a nifty view of the front of the embassy. With one of the other SEALs seated in an easy chair in front of that window, and with Cowboy positioned somewhat less comfortably on a rooftop overlooking the back, they could track the tangos' - SEAL slang for terrorists - every move.
"Yeah, Jones." Cat's flat New York accent came in loud and clear over the headphones Ensign Harlan Jones, otherwise known as Cowboy, was wearing.
Cowboy said only one word. "Chaos." He had made himself invisible on the roof, but he was well aware that the windows were opened on the floor directly below him, so when he spoke, he was as concise and as quiet as possible. He kept his binoculars trained on the building, moving from one broken window to the next. He could see movement inside, shadowy figures. The place was huge - one of those old mothers of a building, built during the middle of the previous century. He didn't doubt for a moment that the hostages were secured in one of the inner chambers.
"Copy that," Catalanotto said, a trace of amusement in his voice. "We see it from this side, too. Whoever these clowns are, they're amateurs. We'll go in tonight. At oh-dark-hundred."
Cowboy had to risk a full sentence. "I recommend we move now." He could hear Cat's surprise in the silence that grew longer and longer.
"Jones, the sun'll be going down in less than three hours," the CO finally said. The SEALs worked best at night. They could move almost invisibly under the cover of darkness.
Cowboy switched the powerful lenses to the infrared setting and took another quick scan of the building. "We should go now."
"What do you see that I don't see, kid?" Joe Cat's question was made without even a trace of sarcasm. Yeah, Cat had a wagonload of experience that Cowboy couldn't begin to compete with. And yeah, Cat had recently gotten a pay raise to O-6 - captain - while Cowboy was a measly O-1, an ensign. But Captain Joe Catalanotto was the kind of leader who took note of his team's individual strengths and used each man to his full ability. And sometimes even beyond.
Every man on the team could see through walls, provided they had the right equipment. But no one could take the information that equipment provided and interpret it the way Cowboy could. And Cat knew that.
"At least fifty T's inside."
"Yeah, that's what Bobby tells me, too." Cat paused.
"What's the big deal?"
"The pattern of movement."
Cowboy heard Cat take over Bobby's place at the bedroom window. There was silence, and then Cat swore. "They're making room for something." He swore again. "Or someone."
Cowboy clicked once into his lip mike - an affirmative. That's what he thought, too.
Excerpted from Everyday, Average Jones by Suzanne Brockmann Copyright © 2001 by Suzanne Brockmann.
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