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Wade Thorne looked over the rail of the weather-beaten freighter as it steamed southward at fourteen knots through the placid Mediterranean Sea. He couldn't see the lights of Lebanon to the east, but he knew they were there. Wade leaned his six-foot two-inch and 195-pound frame against the rail. He squinted from light green eyes into the pale darkness and soon saw a forty-foot fishing boat angling toward them, materializing out of the wispy fog, birthed by the uncertain moonlight.
Right on time. He liked that.
The ex-CIA agent checked his gear. He had only a light backpack and two weapons slung over his shoulders. Beside him a woman stirred.
"Is that our pickup boat?" Kat Killinger asked. She was five feet eight, slender, and dressed as the man was in black pants and shirt; blotches of dark makeup camouflaged her pretty face. She also had a black backpack and an H & K MP-5 9mm submachine gun slung over her shoulder. Her long dark hair had been braided, coiled, pinned, and concealed under a black floppy hat.
"Yes, this should be our friends," Wade said. The fishing boat powered along thirty yards off the side of the freighter. Three quick flashes of light stabbed toward the Specialists.
Wade sent two flashes back from a penlight, and both the figures at the rail relaxed a little.
"It could still be a trap," Kat said. "They would be delighted to grab a couple of U.S. spies on their turf."
"That's why we lock and load," Wade said. He pivoted down the weapons one at a time, chambered a round, pushed on the safety, and swung it back. He heard Katdo the same, and then they watched the boat come alongside.
"I finally got used to the freighter's sickening diesel exhaust smell combined with the dampness," Kat said. "What is this little boat going to smell like?"
"Fish," Wade said with a grin. "Live, dead, and rotting fish. Fish scales, fish guts, fish fillets, and lots of fish bait. Don't worry, we won't be on board long."
They had a simple assignment. Wade reviewed it as they waited for the boats to latch together. They had firm information that one of the terrorists involved in the Marine Corps headquarters bombing in Beirut in 1983 had surfaced in the southern Lebanese city of Sur, and was continuing to plan terrorist activities. They had a contact in Sur who would meet the Specialists and direct them to the terrorist's house.
The code name of the terrorist was the Hammer. Six different countries wanted him for murder, arson, bombing, and mayhem. Mr. Marshall had instructed the Specialists to go in and bring out the Hammer for trial in England.
The Specialists were a group of counterterrorists, privately funded, and made up of the best men and women in the world at putting down terror and crime. They were assembled two years ago by J. August Marshall, a highly motivated industrial multibillionaire who also had been the U.S. CIA director for ten years. He had his headquarters in England, offices in twenty capitals around the world, and divided his time between running his dozens of conglomerates and tracking terrorists. He was seventy-two years old, had a full head of white hair, and always wore a suit with a red carnation in his coat buttonhole.
His lead man in the group was Wade Thorne, ex-CIA agent and horse rancher from Idaho, who was tops in the field of detection and enforcement in the antiterrorists arena. After eight years doing fieldwork for the CIA he was an expert on the international crime scene. Wade's partner on this mission was Kat Killinger, ex-FBI agent and a lawyer who ran the triathlon in her native Hawaii. She was the team's logic guru and evaluator, and could carry her weight with any of a dozen hand and shoulder weapons.
The fishing craft bumped against the side of the freighter and gunned its engine to match the speed of the larger ship. A crewman dropped down a line fastened to a cleat on the freighter. It was caught below and tied to a fitting at the bow. The big ship continued its forward speed. Two heavy bumpers along the side of the fishing boat cushioned the steel-against-steel contact. Another crewman lowered a rope ladder.
"Let's choggie out of here," Wade said. The two moved to the freighter's rail. Wade went down first. The ropes swayed and slammed against the side of the freighter with the movement of the big ship. It reminded him of the times he had gone down a rope landing net from a fifty-foot training tower. He hit the bottom of the ladder, stepped onto the fishing boat rail, and jumped to the sloping deck. He skidded on a fillet fish carcass, then steadied. He swung his MP-5 up, clicked off the safety, and covered the three men who stood on the other side of the boat.
Wade snapped off two phrases in Arabic.
The correct answers came back at once in the same tongue. Wade gave the ladder two jerks. Kat crawled over the rail, and climbed down as if she did this sort of exercise every day. Twice the rope and her body swung away from the big ship, then slammed back into the side of the freighter. She remembered to let go of the rope at the instant of contact, then grabbed it again quickly. She soon stepped over the rail and onto the fishing boat.
One of the three Lebanese held his hat over his chest and nodded. Wade could smell the results of the day's work of catching, cleaning, and icing down the fish. The Lebanese man's face showed plainly in the weak lights on the craft and Wade saw that the wind and water-reflected sun had turned the fisherman's skin into the shade of old leather. Wade figured the man at about forty. He had small brown eyes peering from under heavy brows and a bushy, black mustache.
"Welcome. We are on time, no?" the captain asked in English.
"You are on time. Good. How long to the dock?" Wade asked.
"My English is good, yes? We are about an hour to the dock or another place if you want."
"We need a safe landing, where no one will see us," Kat said.
The captain turned to her, his eyes flashing. "Oh, a woman. A most brave and courageous woman. I congratulate you. In my country women are not as . . . as free, can't dress . . ." He stopped. "Now, we must leave."
One of the men untied the line from the fishing boat's bow and threw off the rope ladder. At once the big ship surged away from the smaller one. The second man had moved to the cabin and the fishing boat turned and slanted toward the east at full cruising speed. Wade watched the glowing green phosphorescence of the wake. By the action of the water he figured they were making about ten knots. Good.
The captain with the wind-burned face and probing eyes rubbed one hand through his thick, dark hair. "We wish you well. We come to same dock at dusk each day for three days. Yes?"
"Yes," Wade said. "Half the pay when we land, the other half when we get back to the freighter."
"Yes, yes. We can do it. We fish only a little. My family thanks you. We wish to help."
"You have children?" Kat asked.
The captain beamed. "Oh, yes, six. Three of each. All so bright and happy. It takes much money these days just to feed so many."
Kat took a pair of small but powerful binoculars from her pack and watched to the east. They sat on a hold cover and Kat kept telling herself to forget the smell of fish. It was everywhere. So far she had beaten down two surges of bile. She would not throw up. She would not. It was enough she would smell like fish for a week.
A half hour later, they saw the coastline. The town where they would land was Sur, the ancient Phoenician port of Tyre, that was a bustling trade center as early as 3000 B.C. Wade wondered if there would be anything left from those early days nearly five thousand years ago? Some stone wharves? A stone dock?
"More lights than I expected," Kat said. "This is not a huge town."
Wade motioned for the captain to come over.
"How big is the town of Sur?"
"About fifty thousand. Many fishing boats."
"Can we get in without being seen?"
The Lebanese frowned, preened his mustache, and then rubbed his face with his right hand. "We go to a small wharf away from big docks, no?"
"Yes," Kat said.
The captain looked up quickly, then smiled. "I am not used to . . ." He stopped. "I have a friend repairs boats. He has dock away from big ships. We go there in dark. No one see. Yes. It is good."
As the boat approached the harbor, the two Specialists went into the cabin so they wouldn't be seen. Both sat on the floor and put on their G-16s, their improved, short- distance, person-to-person radios. The belt unit was the size of a beeper, and had wires that went under the wearer's clothes to the back of the neck where a wire went into the ear with a small earpiece. Another wire wrapped around the neck with a throat mike. The throat mike was not as sensitive as a lip mike, but much easier to wear and not as prone to being knocked off. They checked the radios by tapping the mikes, then left them on and waited. Wade could see lights now and the sides of tall ships beside them as they worked into the port. He knelt and looked out the forward window.
Dozens of ships of all sizes seemed jammed into the port. Then a waterway opened to the left and they veered that direction away from the rest of the ships. Ahead he saw only blackness.
Three or four minutes later Wade felt the ship nudge against a dock and come to a stop. The captain stepped into the wheelhouse and smiled in the soft light.
"We are here. The dock is empty. Go in safety."
Wade handed him an envelope with highly prized U.S. bank notes and repeated the instructions.
"Here at dusk. Next three days."
"As you say, so it shall be," the captain said.
They crept out of the wheelhouse to the deck and then to the rail. The fishing boat was tied to a stone wharf. Wade saw that this dock was moss-covered and did seem to be five thousand years old. Kat looked over the rail and scanned the narrow dock that fronted an equally narrow street. A hill climbed into the darkness just off the road.
She quartered off the area and checked each grid. After two minutes she lowered her binoculars and nodded.
"Nobody out there unless they are top-notch professionals."
"Let's go," Wade said and they stepped over the rail onto the ancient stones and hurried toward the road.
Both moved quickly along the street that wound around a small hill, then slanted down into a half-commercial, half-residential section. They saw only three streetlights ahead over several blocks. The buildings were a wild mixture of modern concrete block structures beside stone and mortar houses and buildings that looked a thousand years old. The street here was dirt with no sidewalks. Wade could see no telephone poles or light poles. Only an occasional building had any lights on inside.
Both of them had memorized the maps and instructions. But looking at a map and seeing the real town was a lot different. The town of Sur was larger than they expected. A quarter of a mile down the road they found a landmark in their instructions. There were few street signs. They found a three-story building made of stone with a sign on top.
Most of the town here was still dark with a streetlight only every four blocks. The time was a little after 1:00 A.M.
A pair of headlights bathed the street ahead of them and they darted into the doorway of a building and let the rig roll past. It was a police van with two men in it.
They turned down the street by the tall building. The map said to go two hundred yards until they came to a large rock house with a dry fountain in front of it. The man they were to meet lived three houses farther and on the same side of the street. House numbers would have made it easier.
They worked ahead slowly until they found the large rock house with the dry fountain. It was across the street from them. They had seen only three men on the street. There were few cars or trucks. They looked at the target house. It seemed quiet, no lights. The place was small, maybe four rooms, Wade figured. Built of stone on the outside, probably brick or stone walls inside. There were two windows on the front and the side.
This was the home of their contact who would lead them to the terrorist. The two watched the place for five minutes, and saw no activity. No one went up or down the street. They heard one vehicle far off.
Both Specialists walked across the dirt street and up to the house, then turned in sharply and hurried to the back door they had been told to use. Kat tried the door. It was unlocked. She looked at Wade, then she jerked open the door and rushed inside with Wade right behind her. There was no reaction. Both used penlights and cleared the first room, a kitchen. They moved to a door leading into another room.
Quickly Wade and Kat cleared two more rooms, and found no one there. Wade wondered where their contact was. Kat opened the door into the front room. Her nose quivered.
"Blood," she whispered. "Lots of blood." They used their penlights and stepped cautiously into the room. The small lights revealed a nightmare of red: splatters and drops, stains across a wall, smears along the floor. On the dining-room table they found what was left of a man. The fingers on his right hand had been cut off, his left arm chopped off with a bloody ax on the floor. A hundred slices and cuts crisscrossed his body. His throat had been slashed.
Kat found his left arm on the floor. She picked it up and put it on the table, and shone her flash on the wrist. The numbers 1289 were tattooed into the flesh.
"Our contact," Wade said.
A moment later, windows in the room exploded in a shower of glass as bullets jolted through them. Wade and Kat dropped to the floor. Before they could react, they heard slugs hitting the wooden front door. Then more bullets slammed through the broken windows and dug small grooves in the stone and plastered inside walls.
Someone kicked in the front door and a deadly spray of hot lead spewed from an automatic weapon, ripping into the table.
Kat had her MP-5 up and fired a six-round burst into the spot a foot above the muzzle flashes of the weapon at the door. They heard a grunt, then a scream. Kat and Wade crawled to the front wall to avoid the new angle of fire. So far no one had pushed a weapon in the broken-out windows.
At once more rounds poured through the door and front windows. Kat moved to the corner.
She tapped her throat mike twice for the "okay here" signal. She heard two taps in response, then a whisper in her earpiece.
"Flash-bang, on three." There was a pause. Then her radio spoke again. "One, two, three."
Kat closed her eyes and put her face to the wall, then held her hands over her ears. The nonlethal weapon bounced once outside the front door, then went off with a series of six skull-splitting explosive sounds that drilled through the brain and rendered anyone nearby deaf for two to three minutes, followed by six intensely brilliant strobes of light that penetrated eyelids and blinded the terrorists around the front of the house.
Kat felt the thundering pulsations of sound and "saw" the strobes of light through her hands. Wade charged out the front door as soon as the last strobe died and gunned down two men he found writhing on the ground. Another man rushed toward the front of the house and Wade sent a six-round burst at him.
Two weapons at the rear of the house continued to fire. Wade stepped back into the front room, then slid toward the door into the middle room, crawled through to the kitchen where he could see out the back door. One muzzle flash appeared twenty yards away in the backyard near a trash pile. He sent a dozen 9mm rounds at the area and saw the weapon lift up and the man fire off three rounds in a death spasm before he fell.
Wade listened to the silence, and heard a man running down the street.
He went back to the second room where Kat was looking through the things that hadn't been trashed.
"Should be an address or a hint where the terr lives around here somewhere," Kat said.
Wade used his pencil flash and joined in the search.
"If this guy was any kind of a professional, he wouldn't have written down the address," Wade said. They continued to look for any clue but couldn't stay much longer. Either the police or terrorist reinforcements would be there soon. Then Kat had an idea.
She went back to the body and looked at the man's face. It was unmarked. She used both hands and pried his teeth apart. But there was nothing inside his mouth. He must have screamed a lot while they tortured him.
They looked in the last room. It had only a table with a pallet, oils, and brushes on it. A small unfinished painting stood on an easel.
Wade looked at it, then grinned. "Our contact was an artist. He told us he would leave a painting of the terr's house in case something went wrong. This must be it. See the large tower with a light on top? Four houses down a shaft of sunlight shines on one house. That has to be where the terr lives. Let's go find that tower."
They eased cautiously out the back door. In the distance they heard sirens. Wade replaced his MP-5 magazine with a full one from his backpack. His second weapon, a Colt Commando carbine, the Army's M-4A1, was tied over his back with a rubber cord. Kat put in a new magazine.
"That tower must be a landmark of some kind," Kat said. "I hope the light stays on all night."
They looked around just outside the house.
"We need a small hill so we can see more of the town," Wade said.
"Maybe we can see a hill from the street."
They walked to the front of the house and began to look around when suddenly bullets began screaming over their heads as an automatic weapon opened up on them from the killing range of less than thirty yards.