Authors: T. C. Archer
Photos: Hot Damn Designs
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmark mentioned in this work of fiction
Thanks to Kimberly Comeau, editor extraordinaire.
And thanks to Rikki Crosswood of Crosswood Designs for a spectacular cover.
A gunshot silenced jungle-chatter for a heart-stopping instant. The bullet ripped nearby foliage as Jesse vaulted over the decaying trunk of a fallen corozo palm. She landed on the soft, sloping Colombian jungle floor and bolted to the right, plunging deeper into the foliage—and away from the trap where her informant Martinez had been gunned down. She choked back anguish. He shouldn’t have run when mercenaries burst upon their meeting place. His young wife and child now had to go into hiding. Jesse shuddered to think about how the Colombian drug lords would torture and kill them in payment for Martinez having aided an American spy.
She scrambled down the slope into a patch of dense undergrowth, pushed through vines and spider webs, and finally emerged on the bank of a slow moving stream. Sunlight streamed through a wide break in the canopy. Blue sky arched overhead in backdrop to dark green foliage. A satellite signal might be possible through the gap in the trees.
Jesse slowed and concentrated past the red howler monkey screeches and parrot caws for footfalls or leaves rustling, indications that Martinez’s killers slinked through the foliage in search of her. Nothing.
She dropped to her knees, yanked open a pocket of her camouflage fatigues, and pulled out the secure satellite phone. She flipped it open, punched out home base’s ten-digit number, then pressed the receiver to her ear and held her breath until the first elongated ring began. By the third ring, her heart pounded so hard, the thud echoed in her ears.
“Come on. Pick up.” She tried to ignore the dribble of sweat trickling down the valley between her breasts as the fourth ring began.
What was wrong? HQ verified the source of incoming calls on the first ring and picked up on the second. She jerked the phone from her ear and squinted at the display. Five black bars along the left indicated a strong signal. She pressed the phone against her ear and shoved aside a lock of hair that had worked free of the brain numbingly tight ponytail. Why weren’t they—
“Designation, please,” came the operator’s voice.
“Control, this is Blue Delta Four.”
“Zebra, four, eight, two, seven, golf,” Jesse replied in a low voice.
“Confirmed, Delta Four. What is your status?”
“I am not at target. Must speak with Blue Leader.”
“Blue Leader is out of communication range.”
“Code blue,” Jesse hissed. “Get me Blue Leader Five.”
A click sounded on the line, a quick ring, then a male voice answered, “Delta Four, this is Green Leader. What’s happened?”
Jesse froze. Green Leader? Why had Robert Lanton intercepted her call to Henry Neilson? “Where is Blue Leader?” she demanded.
“Out of communication range. What’s happened?”
“What is your status?” he asked.
She silently cursed, but gave in. “We have a leak. The Colombians knew about the meeting.”
Silence, then, “That’s impossible.”
“Negative, Green Leader. Repeat, they were waiting. Abort
“What is your source?” he asked.
Her heart thumped harder with memory of Martinez lunging for the trees when the mercenaries rushed them. “M-2,” she replied with effort.
“How did M-2 obtain his information?”
She wondered the same thing. “I don’t know. Before he could reveal his source, the Colombians open fired. But he was scared, really scared. The leak has to be high up.” Anger, hot and hard, shot through her. Martinez’s life had been forfeit—and for nothing. “If that little girl dies because someone at HQ leaked the mission, I’ll kill—”
“Verify your designation code,” Green Leader cut in.
What? She’d never been asked to verify her identity a second time. The control operator had already verified her code. “Zebra, four, eight, two, seven, golf,” Jesse counted off.
An almost imperceptible pause followed, then, “That code is outdated, Delta Four. Give me your current verification.”
Outdated? Her mind whirled. “What the hell is this?”
“Current verification, Delta Four.”
“Get Blue Leader on the line right now, and put me through voice recognition,” Jesse ordered.
“Negative,” he replied. “Not without current verification.”
“Get the director on the line—now! Don’t send in Green Team until you’ve verified with him. The Colombians were waiting for us—they knew about our meeting.
The Colombians have intel on Operation Hangman.
Our men will be slaughtered.”
The line went dead.
Jesse yanked the phone from her ear and looked at the screen. Five bars of signal strength held strong. She punched the direct emergency number to Blue Leader. A fast busy signal resonated through the connection. She pressed the phone’s display button. The display blinked
. The network—satellites, ground stations, handsets—had never, ever been unavailable. It was designed and built by the best to be always available. HQ had scrambled the access code.
Her heart went stone cold. Green Team was headed straight into the arms of the Colombian mercenaries.
Two hours ago, she gave the go ahead to move in and rescue Maria Hamilton, Senator Hamilton’s daughter. Jesse hadn’t spotted any guerrillas hidden among the villagers, but she now knew they were there, just as they’d been there when she met with Martinez.
A slight breeze wafted past, cooling the sweat soaked shirt that clung to her back and sending a chill down her spine. She was Blue Team—recon—working solo. She should have smelled the trap. Yet she’d sent her team in to be murdered—unless…
Jesse drew a deep breath to slow her heart rate while visualizing the map of coastal Colombia. The village sat three kilometers to the south over a small but treacherous jungle pass. Forty farmers lived in the village—or so she’d thought. How many were mercenaries employed by Amadeo Perez, the most powerful drug lord in Colombia, and the man responsible for kidnapping Senator Hamilton's daughter?
Probably every last one of them
Forty minutes later, the nearby staccato rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire sounded in rapid succession.
Jesse pumped her legs faster, thrashing and clawing through thick foliage. Another volley echoed.
“Come on, Green Team,” she urged. “Kick some drug runners’ ass.”
Muscles burned with the final effort to reach the summit overlooking the village. Branches whipped and tore her face as she flew through the foliage and burst into the open above the village. She fell to her knees, fumbled the compact binoculars from a thigh pocket, and forced her shaky hands steady enough to scan the village as she dropped to her belly. Armed mercenaries danced in drunken celebration in the village center. Relief tightened her chest at sight of two men wearing U.S. fatigues, hands tied behind their backs, kneeling within the circle of mercenaries.
But Green Team was comprised of six men. Where were the other four? Her heart surged. They had to be hidden in the jungle, preparing to rescue their teammates. If she could find them—Several mercenaries near the two men swung their rifles heavenward and fired bursts.
, Jesse mentally urged the two Americans.
She scanned the village perimeter. No eyes, glint of metal, or shadow out of place. Dammit. Until Green Team wanted to be seen, she wouldn’t detect so much as a leaf flutter. She swung the binoculars back to the village center and counted forty-two armed men crowding the small square. Between herself and the four remaining Green Team members, they could—One of the men who had fired his rifle into the air swung the weapon downward. Jesse realized his intent and pushed to her knees as she yanked the 9mm Beretta from her thigh holster. The rifle barrel halted an inch from the nearest Green Team member’s temple. He lunged for the mercenary. The second Green Team member shoved to his feet.
Jesse fired in unison with the boom of the mercenary’s rifle. Blood gushed from the first Green Team member’s head. Jesse’s stomach lurched as he dropped to the ground. She fired again. Pandemonium broke out. The second Green Team member staggered backward under the onslaught of AK47 bullets. Jesse aimed at the shooter and fired three shots. Then she froze.
A gap had opened between the mercenaries. On the ground lay four ops-clad bodies piled atop one another. The hand holding the binoculars shook so badly the bodies appear to bounce in the throes of an earthquake. She couldn’t tear her eyes from the blood stained fatigues. Green Team dead? It wasn’t possible.
Her pulse jumped. Senator Hamilton’s daughter.
Tears streamed down Jesse’s face. She yanked open a vest pocket and pulled out the sat-phone. Blood roared in her ears. She redialed Blue Leader Headquarters at Langley. This time, there was no tone, no click of a connection. Nothing but static. She pushed the display button on the sat phone.
blinked, as it had earlier. She'd been locked out…and the mercenaries had murdered Green Team.
Someone inside the Office of Internal Affairs had sold out the U.S.
The same person who had locked her out.
Green Leader, Robert Lanton.