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By AMY J. FETZER
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Amy J. Fetzer
All right reserved.
Chapter One0118 hours Zulu Mediterranean Sea Six fathoms below
Some people were a waste of human tissue.
Sixty feet underwater, Cumbiya speeches and tiptoeing around countries harboring terrorists didn't mean a damn thing. No political sanctions, no gray areas.
Just the way Mike Gannon liked it. And if those in the cheap seats yakked outside the eyes only perimeter, any investigation usually followed a lot of "I have no recollection of that event, Senator" moments. Like now. Stepping onto Libyan soil was a no-no in the international ball game. Not that he gave a damn.
This time, it was personal.
Mike frowned behind the dive mask when his rebreather suddenly tasted like roadkill, and he checked the filtration gauge for toxicity. Traveling for two miles underwater was pushing it. The last thing he wanted was to suffocate on a bad oxygen mix before reaching the shores near Tripoli.
An ironic epitaph for a Marine.
In the black deep, he watched the glowing green lines of the Global Positioning System, estimating time to target less than five minutes. The propulsion torpedo pulled him through the water and he finned for extra speed, maneuvering beneath the surface like a shark after its prey. Time for some payback.
To the left and right of him, in tight formation were Di-Fazio, Valnik, and Krane. When his fin touched ground, he switched off the propulsion and let it float with him to the shore as well as forty-five pounds of equipment could. He anchored it with his dive weights, then drove a leash spike into the sand. He had just enough fuel to get back to the sub. Maybe.
Removing his fins, he didn't surface till his team was in synch with him, then slowly they rose to eye level above the surface. He switched the goggles from underwater illumination to night vision, then checked the area. The ruins of an ancient village spread over the top of a rock embankment, decaying and uninviting in the dark.
Beyond it lay the target, unlit and about thirty feet above sea level.
Eleven men had escaped from a Yemen prison. Convicted al-Qaeda fighters. Spec Ops had already located and eliminated seven. According to intelligence, the last of them were hiding out here on Farawa Island. A low, flat nothing-butpalm-trees piece of land that was closer to Tunisia than Libya so no one could say al-Qadhafi harbored them. There wasn't a part of the Middle East that wasn't unstable, and no country wanted to send in forces to clean up the mess. Except America. This time, there would be no escape.
His orders were to proceed with extreme deadly force. When in doubt, take it out.
The island had few inhabitants, and little tourism since it was under development to be a vacation destination on the other side of the island. Yeah, sure, Mike thought. Come to Libya, dine with suicide bombers. That'll bring them in.
But the discovery of Roman artifacts put the kibosh on any progress as archaeologists dug furiously before construction vehicles lined the narrow causeway from the Tunisia-Libya border. The advantage for the team was-the place was dead except for a little street traffic. The disadvantage was a boat loaded with sympathizers ready to transport the three targets to their next safe house was four miles behind them and closing fast. They had to be quick and thorough.
At Mike's signal, the team rose out of the sea like serpents, the wet sheen quickly dissolving like a shedding skin, turning invisible in the moonless night. Mike's antiballistic material in his dive vest grew instantly lighter as it drained. Moving low and forward, he pulled back the hood, released the rebreather, and concealed it in the hollows of rocks with his fins. On one knee, Krane took up position to guard. Equipment stashed, they stripped down the wet gear to minimal weapons, then advanced quickly. Valnik remained on the shore, guarding their backs.
The three paused at the foot of the rock jetty. The wind and sand had shaved down the crumbling walls above to no taller than six feet. Mike was forward, his MP5 assault rifle equipped with silencer, scope, and laser track still in the wet pack. He wasn't going for long-distance shots. Close combat was essential for concealment. The 9mm Beretta with suppressor would do the job. Or a knife.
They climbed the rock embankment, soft-soled boots muting their approach. Slipping over the wall, they entered the ruins, clearing each section in a grid. It would be messy if they found lovers hiding in here. None spoke. A whispered voice carried; the erratic noises coming from the target were not enough to cover anything more than muffled footsteps. Twenty yards covered, ten yards, twenty feet. Mike stopped at the southwest corner, beyond the suspicion of light and fusing with the fathomless black of the landscape. They didn't have time to plan this assault; intel confirmation was slow while terrorists moved fast. The analysis was, these guys would be bugging out on the boat tonight. His team was here to stop that little trip.
I'm getting damn tired of capturing these guys only to do it again a couple months later.
Krane rushed to disable the vehicles lining the street front, DiFazio watching for stray traffic as Mike slipped around what was left of a wall and kept moving in toward the target, a rectangular building with a glass storefront. The satellite image he'd had only minutes to memorize was accurate: one rear door, and only one side window. From his position, Mike could see the lights of traffic about a quarter mile up the road. He flipped the night-vision visor to thermal and found four heat signatures, all about the same size. Military trained, two of them were the masterminds behind the attack on the USS Cole. Mike was alive only because he'd gone topside for some air ten minutes before. The impact had sent him over the side of the ship.
Mike slid around the edge of the ruin wall, and moved in as the rear door opened. A man appeared, a small flame brightening his features as he lit a smoke. He dragged hard, unaware that Mike stood within five feet of him. Carefully, Mike holstered his sidearm and drew his knife. They couldn't afford gunfire this early. Mike slipped up behind him, his hand closing over the man's mouth as he drove the blade into his kidney. The pain was beyond a scream and he held him silent till his muscles went slack. He lowered the body to the ground and continued, Krane falling in behind him.
DiFazio was near the storefront to ensure no one escaped and ready to cut the electricity.
With Krane on the opposite side of the door, Mike opened it. Soft light spilled onto the sandy ground, wind off the sea swirling violently and kicking up fine grains. From inside someone barked to shut the door.
Gannon touched his throat mike and whispered, "Kill the lights."
The area went instantly black. The inhabitants scrambled, falling over furniture in the dark as Mike and Krane slipped inside, heat signatures showing locations. Four shots and the men were on the floor. Four more to ensure that they didn't get back up.
"Clear." Mike advanced, securing the front of the store. Empty.
He inspected boxes from the front to the back, found a wild assortment of snacks and trinkets, keenly searching for-bingo. He located stolen C-4 and detonators that still had the Moroccan Army insignia on it. One was ready to go and he carefully eased the detonator wires from the pliable explosive, then lifted the box, handing it to Krane for transport. He pocketed the detonators, gathered the weapons, cell phones, a laptop, then scooped up paperwork and anything else strewn over the tables. He stuffed it all in a watertight sack. Let intel sort it out later.
"Bug out," he said, moving around bodies to the exit. Within moments, the team was down the jetty to their dive gear, suiting up. As quietly as they'd arrived, his teammates slid into the cold Mediterranean Sea, releasing the anchored propulsion torpedoes. Mike was last, bringing up the rear, strapping on his rebreather as he moved to the water.
He never saw it coming.
Bullets had a strange sound when they impacted flesh. Like a fistful of mud thrown against a stone wall. The splat was soft, the pain excruciating as it ripped through his deltoid, just past his Kevlar.
Mike stumbled to one knee, refusing to go face first in the sand.
"Tango One is down," Mike heard in his comms.
"The hell I am. Get your asses underwater," he ordered, and spun with his weapons drawn. Another shot came, missing him, the muzzle flash giving a location as at that moment a car passed, headlights spreading a glow over the area-and silhouetted a child.
Dark-haired and wafer thin, a boy of no more than ten aimed a pistol.
Mike didn't hesitate and fired, hitting the kid's weapon. Ignoring the infantile scream, he hurriedly yanked up his hood, put the regulator into his mouth, and fell into the sea. He put on his fins and Krane was there, the propulsion launch already churning. He grabbed Mike's wrist and put the handles in his grip.
Salt water stung his wound. It just pissed him off.
Shot by a goddamn kid, and attracting sharks with his blood trail.
As he finned toward the approaching ship to finish the job, he decided if anyone were going to be shark food, it would be the enemy. Ooh-rah.
Loma Negra Dig North Peru, Same day
Dr. Eduardo Valez pulled off his straw hat and swiped the back of his wrist across his forehead. The effort was a failure against the cloying heat. He'd grown up here; he should be used to it. Years in the city had apparently softened his mettle. He pushed off the tree stump and moved into the excavation, carefully stepping beyond the string grids and farther into the newly unearthed site.
He looked down at the shards of pottery, the explicit sex scenes depicted in the fine painting still clear after centuries. He didn't see the value on the market or to a museum, but the value to his people. His culture. The world. For years, scholars thought the Incas were the first to build a society here. But the Moche tribe had existed long before.
Slipping out his brush, he wisped at the shard, flushing a little at the position of the lovers. Inventive, he thought, smiling.
"Senor Valez, sections four and five have been cataloged."
"Then package for transport, Gil."
He looked up at the young archaeologist. The man had done everything he could to get on this dig. American born and raised, Gilberto had Peruvian blood and his ancestors, the youth believed, lay in these ruins.
"You are well trained." Eduardo smiled. He'd done the training. "Consider it another trial by fire."
The young man stood a bit straighter and nodded. The gift of confidence was such a little thing to offer, Eduardo thought, turning back to the shard as the young man moved beyond the site to the tents and many crates waiting to be filled. Eduardo inched forward like a duck, accustomed to the position as he reached to brush away more of the land and reveal the history.
His breath caught when he realized he'd found an unbroken urn beneath a stone table. The stone slab was at an angle, half buried from a previous cave-in and before he dug farther, his gaze rose upward to the uneven ceiling of rock as he tried to judge its stability. Removing the slab chiseled by hand was impossible without excavation equipment, and that would destroy the site. If he removed the earth below, perhaps the pot would slide free. He worked slowly, and beneath the bowl of the pot he found bone and a tooth. It galvanized him to keep going. Then he realized the stone slab was not long enough for a table but more of a box. He lost his balance, pain shooting up his kneecap before he braced himself and studied the find.
The ground was usually softer here, and backing up, he brushed at the rock and uncovered sharp edges. A door? As he brushed he wished for some water to rinse the grime as an etching appeared. Almost as if it were freshly chiseled. More warrior drawings. He took measurements of the stone opening holding the urn, then the slab. They were nearly precise in dimensions. A chamber for a single pot perhaps. Unusual. He couldn't be certain and reminded himself that creating what wasn't there wasn't his job. He turned his attention back to the urn.
When he finally unearthed it, the morning had passed, and he thought of his wife's complaints about his obsession. But even Magdalena would appreciate this. A half day's worth of painstaking work later, Eduardo felt the fragile pot shift under his hand. He stopped, simply to control his eagerness that might somehow ruin the find.
"Senor Valez. Professor? It's late."
Eduardo looked up, frowning that the generator lights had come on beyond the entrance, and he could smell the aroma of food. He shook his head, his smile ironic. "This is why my wife threatens to divorce me once a week."
Gil chuckled softly and handed him a canteen. "Must be something good to keep you here for hours."
Gil marveled at the stone tablet carvings but was instantly distracted when Eduardo flicked on a penlight to show the object clearly. He didn't dare tug for fear of cracking it or scraping the delicate artwork.
"Oh, man, it's intact." Gil stooped for a better look.
Groups of ten small offering jars, or ofrendas, were found at the foot of the burial site in groups of five, ten, or twenty. Eduardo glanced back at the shallow excavation behind him. Perhaps these were the ofrendas of someone important. "A prize for certain, but look at the drawings. It's not the lovers on it as the other shards. But warriors in combat." He'd seen this picture a couple of times before, but only in fragments from a fallen ceiling.
"But none of the drawings show the Moche waging war for conquest or attacking a fortified settlement. No capturing, killing, or mistreating noncombatants."
"Nor did they work as a single coordinated force like a modern army," Eduardo reminded him.
"I think they were guerrillas."
Romanticizing, Eduardo thought, yet the young man had a valid point. This burial was possibly a warrior of some significance. "This drawing depicts ceremonial combat. One-on-one for the purpose of producing a few vanquished prisoners. These unfortunates were needed to fill a central role in the sacrifice ceremony that followed battle. From the drawings on the walls and past finds, we know the warrior prisoners were first stripped of clothing and battle equipment. Then naked and leashed around the neck with a rope, they were brought to a ceremonial center. There the prisoners' throats were cut, their blood consumed by the ceremony participants, and finally their bodies were dismembered."
"Yes, but why? And who fought them? Why not use them as slaves or integrate them into the tribe? If they had, they might not have died out so fast."
"Purity of race, perhaps." Eduardo shrugged. "They needed sacrifices and wouldn't do that to their own if they could avoid it."
"But outsiders didn't believe it was an honor. Poor souls. Professor Calan of UCLA found the burial tomb of a Moche priest and a child, both with a bone deformity. Yet they weren't ritually killed."
"Which proves they honored their own and sacrificed the outsiders."
Gil look disgusted.
"You're glad it's an ancient culture?"
"Let's just say I wouldn't want to meet up with them in the jungle." The young man pointed to the find. "The lid's intact. Can you open it?"
"I want to X-ray it first. Bring me a box please." The jar had a seal rimmed in flecks of gold and a waxlike substance.
Eduardo took photos and measurements, then tied the string grid lines from the rest of the dig to this spot. Until he studied and deciphered the icons on the urn, he wouldn't open it. It had significant weight, and whatever was inside was preserved-and sealed for a reason.
U.S. Army Medical Facility Virginia
Clancy's heels clicking on the tile floor were like something out of a slasher movie. Distant and unsuspecting. That she was the only one working after hours magnified her seclusion. She stopped outside the primate lab and swiped her ID access through the security. Quick footsteps from somewhere to her left made her skin tighten.
Sergeant Victors appeared, his sidearm drawn. When he saw her, he pointed it to the ceiling and relaxed.
"Damn." She snapped her fingers. "Lost another chance to fire your gun, huh, Daniel?"
"Oh yeah, I'm trigger-happy tonight. Be careful."
"Next time come at me with more firepower than that. I feel insulted."
He grinned like a new groom as she pushed open the door.
"You'll be okay with that creature?" he asked.
Clancy glanced into the lab at the sedated orangutan in the titanium cage. "That wuss? Oh yeah."
"He's a 250-pound wuss, ma'am."
"Yes, but I think our relationship is in the wooing stage. He tried picking fleas off me this morning."
Excerpted from INTIMATE DANGER by AMY J. FETZER Copyright © 2007 by Amy J. Fetzer. Excerpted by permission.
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