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Don't kick. Don't move.
Sara Stark dug her fingers into the dirt edge of the chasm. Her flashlight lay shattered somewhere far below her dangling legs. Utter blackness amplified each rasp of breath. Drake should be here, not back in Houston sitting behind a desk. No way would he sweet-talk himself out of this one.
The packet had been waiting for her at the airport. A simple mission: penetrate an abandoned mine and find a stolen medallion. Drake said no guards, said it was an in-and-out operation, an easy job.
Easy my ass.
With a grunt, she pressed one heel against the side of the opposite boot. A blade clicked open from the boot's toe and she buried it in the dirt wall, giving her the leverage needed to boost herself onto solid ground. Grey light filtered forward from the depths of the catacomb passages, carrying with it the echoing shouts of Mexican guards. They shouldn't have had any interest in stopping her, yet they'd almost killed her.
Resting against the wall, her breath still harsh, she evaluated her options. She was too tired to outrun them and without a flashlight, they'd catch her before she fumbled her way to the exit. The Tazer on her belt might help, if they didn't take her down before she could zap them all. She needed an edge, an element of surprise.
Bare earthen walls emerged from the ink around her as the guards closed in. Support beams rose up each side of the passage and abutted a thicker one above. The big beam offered some hope. The shaft was narrow enough, if she worked fast and ignored her weariness, she'd have the edge she needed.
Sara sucked in the dank odor of molderinglumber and leaned forward. Palms pressed against the wall in front of her, legs braced on the wall behind her, she worked her way up spider-style until her back brushed the ceiling. Hidden behind the beam, knees locked, arms burning from the pressure, she waited and tried not to sweat.
They called her awful names in Spanish. With luck, they'd fall into the hole for that alone. But flashlights, jostling in the hands of running men, lit every surface, including the grubby edges of the hole.
Great, if they see me, I'll be nothing but a glorified piñata.
Luck was not on her side. They slowed, their lights illuminating the broken blackness in the floor. Five to one, each armed with made-in-America M2 Brownings.
Not terrible odds, but it could have been better. A tremor ran through her arms and she silently cursed Drake again. Where the hell was the Intel on this job? Someone better have some damn good answers. This wasn't in her job description.
The guards leaned over the chasm, searching for her. From her vantage point, the pieces of her flashlight were small on the bottom of the wide cavern beneath. Better the light than her, she supposed, and better to act now before her limbs gave out. She released herself.
The rush of air from her descent was their only warning. Twisting in midair, she planted the sole of each boot into the backs of two guards. The pair plunged headfirst into the crater with matching cries of surprised fear. She landed, rolled, and flipped to her feet.
The remaining three whirled on her and Sara drove her fist into the center guard's nose. He windmilled on the precipice for a scant second, then dropped in to join his pals. The shorter, stocky hombre on her left reacted faster than the stringbean on her right.
A roundhouse kick to the side of Stocky's head kept him from raising the muzzle of his weapon. Stringbean didn't lift his M2. His thin, incredibly strong arms grabbed her in a bear hug. They plunged against the wall in a cloud of hair oil, gun oil, and rank cologne.
Air exploded from her lungs with a woof. Dirt sifted over them. She went limp, pretending more than her sense of smell had been injured. He grinned, proving the ploy worked.
Just give me an opening.
Playing the frightened female, she slumped further down the wall. He taunted her with a lurid comment and a slimy smile.
She brought her knee up in a hard, quick thrust. His mouth curled into a small 'o' of surprised pain. A gurgling, high-pitched whine whistled from his throat. He fell to his knees, clutching the crotch of his khaki pants.
Satisfied, she yanked the Tazer from the back of her belt and delivered a jolt that would keep him immobile for fifteen minutes. He collapsed, face down.
Stocky howled with blind rage behind her. She turned, sidestepped him easily, and touched the Tazer to his back. His momentum propelled him headfirst into the wall. He landed on the outstretched arm of his partner.
She exhaled a relieved breath. Smiling, she said, "You two make such a cute couple."
Unable to move, they only stared at her with anguished eyes. The Tazer nestled back in her belt, she patted the drawstring bag tied over one hip. The medallion hadn't appeared to be worth much-neither for the effort it had taken to steal and hide it here, nor the expense of hiring her to find it.
Despite the perplexing interference of the guards, she'd succeeded and the client would be pleased. On the other hand, Drake would not be happy to see her. Boss's son or not, he had a lot to answer for.
From the bottom of the cavern, the three guards yelled for help. She plucked a flashlight from the floor and shined the beam into the hole. In Spanish she explained their compadres would recover soon and rescue them. She wriggled her fingers in a cheerful wave. They raised their M2's and uselessly fired as she moved out of range.
In the following quiet, she chuckled and called, "It's been a slice, gentlemen."
Sara left the mine with the treasure and a grin.