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Authors: Gary Ponzo

A Touch of Malice

BOOK: A Touch of Malice
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A Touch of Malice

by Gary Ponzo

Copyright 2013 Gary Ponzo

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written permission of the publisher.

This book is a work of fiction and the creation of author Gary Ponzo.

Chapter 1

The pit viper slithered up the side of the tree and paused to glare at Trent Merrick with sinister eyes. The tree limb creaked as Trent crouched lower, trying to stay balanced while his face dripped with sweat. The humidity in the Amazon was already unbearable, but Trent had worked up a lather attempting to stay still. This particular viper was one of the most lethal creatures in this part of Colombia, especially when the nearest medical facility was a two-hour hike away. The real problem for Trent, however, was his position. He was over thirty feet high and had to avoid jagged tree limbs all the way to the ground.

The snake resumed his upward trek and Trent frantically searched above him to see how much room he had, but it was an ephemeral solution. It would only add seconds to his life. Once again the snake stopped and seemed to assess his prey. The viper’s forked tongue slashed out several times to judge Trent’s proximity. One bite would cause a person to bleed from the eyes and reach a critical condition within twenty minutes.

Trent had an even more serious problem brewing just a hundred feet down the path from his position in the tree. There were a dozen Colombian soldiers with fatigues and assault rifles surrounding a small opening in the rainforest. A glimpse of light peeked through the dense canopy of trees exposing two men who were obviously meeting in this remote part of the world for clandestine purposes. The soldiers were scanning the perimeter searching for prying eyes. The thick foliage offered Trent decent coverage, but the viper was soon going to put an end to his hideout and probably his life.

The snake reared its head back slightly and froze. Trent felt his phone slipping from his sweaty hand and as he clutched it, he glanced at the picture he’d just taken from his vantage point. The two men in the photo were exchanging pleasantries, but one man was clearly in charge and the other a mere servant. The photo showed a very one-sided relationship. The subservient man was older and dressed in a suit and tie. He was on his knees bending forward as the younger man held out his hand for the gentleman to touch and bring to his lips. The well-dressed man on his knees was Colombian President Carlos Santoro. His bald head and famous scar across his cheek was unmistakable. The hand he kissed belonged to the most feared cartel leader in the country. Pablo Moreno.

Trent had snapped several photos of the meeting, the president on his knees kissing Moreno’s hand over and over, while Moreno looked down at the man, prolonging the demeaning act to prove his superiority. If Trent wanted, the photos could go viral and be shown globally within minutes of its posting. He’d paid extra to have a satellite phone, but had no intention of using it for anything but lifesaving means. All he cared about now was surviving long enough to see his pregnant wife again.

The viper, however, didn’t care much for politics or families. It saw Trent as a threat. Nothing more. Just a warm-blooded animal who needed to be eliminated. He slithered higher until reaching the same level as Trent. The snake’s head slowly curled around the trunk of the tree with his tongue rapidly jutting from his mouth.

Trent glimpsed down at his knife on the jungle floor which had slipped from his humidity drenched hands just minutes earlier. That’s when he spotted the soldier using the tip of his assault rifle to brush away the foliage as he headed in Trent’s direction.

The snake was now fully onto the thick limb. He coiled the lower half of his body into a tight circle while his head stretched up and his tongue slashed from his mouth. An attack position.

Trent crept farther out on the limb, buying more time. As the branch groaned from the stress of his movement, the soldier swiveled his head searching for the foreign noise. Sweat dripped from Trent’s chin. He was about to throw his phone at the snake, when a thought occurred to him. He desperately pushed a couple of buttons on his phone. The snake reared its head back, about to strike.

It startled Trent.

His foot slipped.

As he fell from the tree, he saw the one word which he desperately needed to see before slamming to the jungle floor.


* * *

Just west of the Oval Office was a small study used as a personal office for the sitting president of the United States. President John Merrick had used it as a place to relax after a grueling day or a stay of reprieve during a stressful session next door. Just crossing through the doorway from the Oval Office to his private study seemed to lower his blood pressure.

Tonight, he sat at the round oak table in his stocking feet with his tie pulled down. Next to him was his college buddy and Secretary of State, Samuel Fisk. They were playing gin and watching the Washington Nationals game on the wall TV.

Merrick’s schedule rarely allowed him to socialize with old friends, so his weekly card game with Fisk was as close as he got to down time.

“You need to discard,” Fisk said, grabbing a handful of salted peanuts from a glass bowl. He was a large man with a placid demeanor and had little patience for over-thinking an issue. A very good trait for someone who spent his day dealing with foreign dignitaries and their constant gyrations with the truth.

Merrick stared at his collection of misfits. “I don’t even have two cards the same color.”

Fisk chuckled. He dropped his cards face down on the table and got up to stretch. He took his and Merrick’s empty glasses to the counter and filled them with ice from the stainless steel refrigerator door. He mixed their drinks and brought two fresh gin and tonics back to the table.

Merrick swirled his index finger in his cold drink and took a sip. His face instantly puckered up. “Geesh, Sam, we run out of tonic?”

Fisk sat down and grinned. “You needed it. It’s been a long week.”

When Merrick won the election, he’d already recruited Fisk to come to Washington and take his secretary of state position. Fisk was content with his job as a consultant for a global medical distributor, but Merrick insisted. He needed someone he could trust. Someone who could smell bullshit and find the motive. He also wanted someone who was a free thinker and would challenge Merrick with his decisions.

“How’s Emily?” Fisk asked, leaning back in the chair and crossing his legs.

“She’s good. Loves to read. She’s so proud of her ability, she reads the cereal box during breakfast every morning. Drives us crazy.”

“What, the ingredients?”

“No, the propaganda on the back of the box about how much fiber the cereal has and how it helps build your muscles. She’s too young to understand the concept of creative advertising.”

“So then she actually believed your campaign promises?”

Merrick picked up the remote control from the table and smacked Fisk on the arm. Then he turned the volume up to hear the game.

“How about Trent,” Fisk asked while grabbing another handful of peanuts. “I haven’t heard you talk about him lately.”

“He’s down in South America doing a documentary on some native tribe,” Merrick said.

“I liked his last one.”

“Yeah, his problem is he gets too invested in his subjects. He doesn’t know how to stay objective. Eventually he becomes part of the story.”

“Does he still refuse Secret Service?”

Merrick waved the back of his hand. “Shit, he would never allow it. He’s so anti-establishment, anti-government, anti-anything to do with authority. He allows them to watch after his wife while he’s gone, though.” Merrick laughed. “He sent me a text photo a few hours ago. I’m afraid to look at it. The last one he sent was a picture of some dead elephant in Indonesia. Poachers. It was horrible.”

“Yeah?” Fisk scraped the bottom of the peanut bowl and came back with salty fingers. He got up and headed toward the refrigerator. The large man opened the door and stared into the collection of cheese, fruit and yogurt with a disgusted expression. “Don’t you hide pizza in here anymore?”

Merrick absently picked up his phone and tapped on his text message icon. “Not since I got busted for having Ray’s Pizza shipped in from New York. The tabloids have a snitch in every popular eatery in the nation.”

“So now you’re a pizza snob?”

“Guilty,” Merrick said while watching a picture come into focus on his phone.

Fisk returned to the table with a tray of cheese cubes and a box of crackers. He leaned back in the chair and raised the TV volume on the remote.

Merrick yawned while trying to figure out what he was seeing. It looked like a jungle setting, maybe the rainforest. The photo focused on a couple of men in a small clearing. One of the men was on his knees kissing the other’s hand. Why would Trent send him something like this? There were no starving children or endangered species anywhere to be seen. Merrick enlarged the image to get a closer look. At first the picture was fuzzy, but as the image cleared up, he could make out the faces of the two men.

“Oh, shit,” Merrick uttered.

Chapter 2

Merrick stared at the image on his cell phone and tried to put it together. Colombian President Carlos Santoro was on his knees, kissing the hand of Pablo Moreno. The most powerful cartel leader in the world.

“What?” Fisk asked.

Merrick handed Fisk his phone and watched the secretary of state’s eyes grow dim with confusion. “Is this some Photoshop joke?”

“I don’t think so,” Merrick said. “Trent has a better sense of humor than that.”

Fisk simply stared at the image, then handed it back to Merrick. “Trent sent this to you?”

Merrick grabbed the phone from Fisk, pushed the screen a couple of times and put the phone to his ear. “I’m going to find out what’s going on.”

“Hold on a minute,” Fisk said, turning off the TV with the remote.

After three rings, a man’s voice said, “Hola.”

It stopped him. All kinds of bad thoughts entered his mind. His breath quickened and he wanted the answer to one thing. “Where’s my brother?”

There was a muffled conversation in Spanish, as if the man had pressed the phone against his chest and was having a discussion. Merrick jumped to his feet and began pacing, Fisk was next to him now, paying close attention. Eavesdropping on the conversation.

A different man came on the phone and spoke in a thick Spanish accent, “Who is this?”

With a clenched jaw, Merrick said, “Where is Trent?”

Fisk pawed at Merrick’s arm, trying to get his attention.

“It depends on who is asking,” the man said, almost a dare.

Merrick was already calculating how quickly he could get the CIA to find the bastard on the other end of the phone. Fisk waved his hand in Merrick’s face.

“You have no idea how much trouble you’ve just caused yourself,” Merrick said.

Fisk was in front of him now shaking his head, trying to get him to stop him, but Merrick waved him off.

“Is that a threat?”

“Damn right it is.”

Fisk grabbed Merrick’s shoulders and stopped him from moving. “Hang up,” Fisk mouthed quietly.

“You must think you are a very powerful man,” the voice said.

Fisk shook his head vehemently. “Don’t.”

Merrick turned away and in a low guttural growl, said, “I’m the fucking President of the United States, asshole. That’s who I am.”

Merrick turned in time to see Fisk shut his eyes while placing a hand on his forehead.

The man on the phone seemed pleased at the response. “That is wonderful news, Mr. President. You will be hearing from us.”

The line went dead.

Fisk dropped down on the leather couch and leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling. “What did you just do?”

Merrick held up the phone. “I may have saved Trent’s life.”

Fisk didn’t move. “As we speak they’re coming up with a huge ransom demand.”

“So what. He’s alive, that’s all I care about.”

“No,” Fisk said, bolting upright. “There will be more than mere financial terms.”

“Like what?”

Fisk glared at the phone in Merrick’s hand.

Merrick followed his stare. The photo. Trent must’ve had taken the picture of the president of Colombia bowing down to a cartel leader. Now someone had taken him hostage. The Colombian government? The cartel? Both? He looked over at Fisk. “What?”

“We spend millions each year protecting family members of current and past presidents to prevent this exact scenario.”

Merrick looked out the doorway and caught the edge of a framed photograph on the wall of the Oval Office. The picture was of Merrick’s other brother Paul in his lieutenant’s uniform taken just a week before he was killed inside the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.

“I’m not losing another brother, Sam,” Merrick said, clenching his fist while resuming his pace.

Fisk pulled himself to his feet and rubbed the back of his neck. “We have a tiny bit of leverage. But it won’t last.”

BOOK: A Touch of Malice
11.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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