Authors: Andrew Peterson
Tags: #Snipers - United States, #Mystery & Detective, #Intelligence Officers - United States, #Intelligence Officers, #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Undercover Operations - United States, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Undercover Operations, #General, #Espionage, #Snipers
Nathan leaned forward and locked eyes. “We’re authorized to torture them, Bruce. Do you have a problem with that?”
Henning stared for a few seconds. “There’s no evidence they had anything to do with Freedom’s Echo. They’re just a couple of hayseeds.”
“Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.”
“Look,” Holly said, “the bureau’s in debt to you for firing that warning shot at the compound. You saved a dozen lives, but you need to understand we’re uncomfortable with this kind of thing. The FBI doesn’t condone it. It’s a serious breach of ethics for us.”
“That was you?” Henning asked. “You were the sniper at Freedom’s Echo?”
were,” Nathan said, nodding toward Harv.
Harvey jumped in. “We’re retired. We don’t do this anymore. It’s a personal favor for an old friend.”
“Frank Ortega,” Holly Simpson said.
She issued Henning a glance. “Let’s get going.”
“Nice helicopter,” Henning said. “Yours?”
Nathan ignored the question and tucked himself into the back of the sedan.
Henning muttered something and opened the sedan’s trunk with a key. Harv placed their bags inside and let Henning close the lid before getting in next to Nathan.
“Can we stop somewhere for a head call and coffee?” Nathan asked.
From the driver’s seat, Henning looked at Holly Simpson as if the request was a royal pain in the ass.
We just spent four hours in a helicopter, you dumb ass
. Nathan was sorely tempted to smack the guy in the back of the head.
“We passed a Denny’s about a mile from here,” she said.
Henning drove through the automatic gate of the airport’s transient aircraft parking area and waited for the gate to close before pulling away. Holly Simpson began briefing them on the Bridgestones’ cousins’ background and the layout of their farmhouse. Basically, these guys were your garden-variety, petty-criminal losers. Most of their adult lives had been spent in jail on a variety of offensives against society. Drunk driving. Drug possession. Larceny. Vagrancy. Poaching. Spitting on the sidewalk. You name it. Both of them were currently on parole and probably would be for the rest of their lives.
A matched set
, Nathan thought.
Give ’em a six-pack
and a TV and they’re happy as clams in mud
. They lived together on the outskirts of Sacramento and took odd jobs when they could, mostly as auto mechanics for mom-and-pop garages. Their father, Ben Bridgestone, was currently serving a life sentence in Pelican Bay for his third strike.
Henning pulled into the Denny’s parking lot and killed the engine. No one spoke. Nathan exchanged a glance with Harv.
“Do you guys want anything?” Harv asked.
“No, thank you,” she said.
Henning stared straight ahead.
They got out and walked the short distance to the Denny’s entrance.
“Henning’s an asshole,” Nathan said.
“Don’t bust his balls, okay?”
“Keep him out of my hair.”
“I don’t think he’ll be a major problem. He just doesn’t like outsiders being involved in bureau business. If the situation were reversed, we’d feel the same way.”
Nathan grunted. One of the fluorescent tubes over the entry was flickering with an annoying electronic buzz, a result of absent management. He caught the nasty smell of a Dumpster nearby. Once inside, Nathan used the head while Harv ordered two black coffees to go. Then Harv used the head while Nathan paid for the coffee with a twenty-dollar bill. He told the server to keep the change. Graveyard shifts could be lean and he, like Harv, had a generous nature, even when in a foul mood.
Four minutes after stopping they were on the road again, heading east on Highway 50. The drive took just over thirty minutes, the last ten in silence. The geography gradually transformed into dark country roads lined with barbed-wire fencing. The foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains were mostly horse and cattle country. To the west, Nathan could see barns and small houses backlit by the orange glow of Sacramento. As the sedan slowed, Henning flashed his high beams twice, pulled behind a plain gray van parked on the shoulder of the road, and killed the engine.
“Please wait here,” Holly said. She climbed out and approached the surveillance van. The rear doors opened, and she disappeared inside. Nathan had a brief look at the wall-to-wall black boxes and video monitors.
“The bureau doesn’t condone this sort of operation,” Henning said.
“Actually, it just did.” Nathan yawned. “And we aren’t with the bureau.” He stared out the window, bored with the conversation. “You’re following orders. Can’t we just leave it at that?”
“So that makes it okay? Just following orders? Sounds like Nuremberg to me.”
Nathan ignored the comment.
“Who are you, McBride, some kind of has-been CIA interrogator? Some burned-out spook for hire?”
“You’re in the FBI, check me out for yourself.”
“Your service record is classified top-secret by the Department of Defense.”
“And I don’t like not knowing who you are.”
He leaned forward and whispered, “We’re legitimate businessmen with a successful security services firm. We can provide you with customer references if you feel you really need them.”
“That’s cute, McBride.”
He nudged Harv’s leg.
“What exactly do you want to know about us?” Harv asked. “And what would that information mean to you? Suppose we gave you our colorful background, then what? How are you better off by knowing it?”
“For one, I’d like to know who I’m getting in bed with. I need to know I can trust you if the shit hits the fan out here.”
“Did it occur to you we might be wondering the same thing about you?” Harvey asked. “We’re on the same side here.”
“The hell we are.”
Nathan sighed. The man lived in a fishbowl. If you weren’t FBI, you weren’t jack. In Nathan’s limited experience with the bureau, he hadn’t found that a common attitude. Every FBI agent he’d ever met—granted, there hadn’t been that many—had been reserved and professional. He supposed every law enforcement agency had its share of gung-ho types. But deep down, he respected the FBI and what it stood for or he wouldn’t be here, debt or no debt to the Ortega family.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Nathan asked.
“And that would be?” Henning asked.
“Four hundred pounds of missing Semtex. Don’t you want to recover it?”
Holly Simpson emerged from the back of the van and walked over to Nathan’s window.
He rolled it down.
“You’re on,” she said. “We haven’t heard anything but snoring for the last two hours. We have bugs in every room. They’re both crashed out in the living room just inside the front door.”
As Nathan and Harv climbed out, Henning opened the trunk and stepped back. Harv grabbed their duffel bag, set it on the asphalt, and unzipped it. He removed two pistol belts and handed one to Nathan. Harv strapped on a small black waist pack containing their LED flashlights and two rolls of duct tape.
“Dogs?” Nathan asked.
“None,” Holly answered. “I doubt they could handle the responsibility.”
“I only have one condition,” Nathan said. He retrieved two sets of night-vision visors from the duffel bag.
“It’s a little late for conditions,” she said.
“None of it gets recorded. I don’t care if you listen in, but the black boxes aren’t running. Deal?” He strapped his Predator knife to his ankle.
Harv did the same.
Nathan placed his NV visor on his head. “I mean it. We’ll have… unresolved issues otherwise.”
“Are you threatening us?” Henning asked.
He ignored Henning and stared at Holly, his eyes unwavering. “Do we have a deal?”
Henning took a step forward. “Nobody threatens us.”
Without taking his eyes from Holly, Nathan pointed at Henning’s face.
“Get your finger out of my face.”
“Holly? Do we have a deal?”
She looked at Henning, then back to Nathan. “Yes.”
He turned toward Harv. “Let’s go.”
After they left, Holly faced Henning. “You’re out of line, mister. I’m in charge of this operation. Are we crystal clear on that?”
“You just nothing. Don’t ever test me again.”
As Nathan and Harv walked toward the farmhouse, they lowered their night-vision scopes and turned them on. Their EX PVS14-D devices were state-of-the-art, third-generation design, the same model used by the U.S. military. Their compact size allowed them to be mounted on a visor-type headgear that gave the user the option to pivot the monocular down to his eye, or up out of the way. Once activated, the device literally transformed night into day in the form of a tiny television screen. Internal lenses brought the miniature green image into focus. Both of them preferred to use their right eye for night vision while leaving their left eye uncovered. The world around them materialized. Although it was nearly pitch-black, they could plainly see the road’s dividing stripes against the dark asphalt. On both sides of the shoulder, five strands of barbed wire paralleled their path, defining the sixty-foot-wide easement. Cattle were lying down in the field off to their left, watching them. High in the stratosphere, wispy-thin clouds reflected the glow of the city, which was all the light the devices needed.
“We go in fast,” Nathan said. “Shock attack. I’ll cover the left side of the room, you take the right.”
“How rough do we get?”
“We’ll have to see. My best guess is light to moderate. Like Henning said, they’re just a couple of hayseeds who’ve drifted through life doing the minimum to survive. I’m not expecting anything different tonight. If they hold out, there’ll be a damned good reason. We’ll just have to wring it out of them.”
Twenty yards ahead, Nathan saw the entrance to the property on the right side of the road, a makeshift gate with empty beer cans littering the landscape—probably tossed every time the Bridgestone cousins left. Two tire-worn impressions across the weedy ground pointed directly at the farmhouse. Nathan nodded to Harv, and they drew their pistols. Invisible against the black backdrop behind them, both men transitioned into stealth mode and entered the property. From Holly Simpson’s description he knew the house was located in the middle of the four-acre parcel with unused ranchland surrounding it. A detached one-car garage was situated thirty yards to the north, its door facing the house. When they got closer, two old pickup trucks took shape. Both had numerous rust spots, dents and dings, broken taillights, and bald tires. Neither had current registration tags. Several hundred yards distant at the far corner of the property, some sort of big pipe extended a few feet above the ground. An old windmill sat atop its cylindrical form and Nathan could see the outlines of a well pump and pressure tank. Its paint peeling, the house was on the small side, maybe seven hundred square feet. The grimy front door was flanked by two windows with bed sheets for curtains. Several wooden steps led up to a covered porch.
Nathan stopped and held his left hand up in a closed fist.
A string was stretched across the planks of the top step, its left side tied to the handrail’s post. The other end wrapped around the opposite post and turned the corner toward the front door. The string terminated at a platoon of empty beer bottles, their Miller labels clearly readable through his NV scope. If the trip wire had been triggered, it would’ve pulled the rear bottle through the others, knocking them all down, making a boatload of noise. It was a dirt-cheap and yet fairly reliable security mechanism, but it only worked against an unknowing intruder.
Nathan turned toward Harv, simulated pulling a string between his fingers, and pointed to the top step. Harv acknowledged with a nod. Nathan pulled his knife from its ankle sheath, carefully cut the string, and tossed the loose line over the side of the steps. He tested the first step with a few pounds of pressure under his boot. No creaking. He slowly transferred his weight until he was completely standing on the first step. Nothing. No sound at all. So far, so good. While Harv watched the windows, he repeated the same procedure for the next two steps. No creaking. Once atop the landing, he flattened himself against the wall between the left window and front door. The stack of bottles was on the opposite side of the door. He nodded to Harv, who navigated the steps with equal stealth.
Nathan pivoted and faced the front door. “Infrared on,” he whispered.
They reached up and turned knobs on their scopes. Small red dots could now be seen in the lower corners of their images, indicating the infrared spots were activated. The front door instantly brightened and Nathan’s device automatically lowered the image’s intensity to compensate.
Harv tucked in close behind him.
A smile touched his lips. Here he was again, Nathan McBride in his environment.
He reared up with his right foot and stomped.
The door burst open in a crash of splintered wood and dust.
In the green images of their night vision, they could see everything.
Two men were present, caught in mid-snore. The first lay back in an easy chair, the second in a fetal position on the couch. Simultaneously, both pairs of eyes snapped open. Nathan stepped forward to the easy chair and clubbed its occupant with the butt of his gun. It wasn’t hard enough to knock him unconscious, but it
hard enough to render him dazed and groggy.
Harv jammed the muzzle of his gun against the couch potato’s forehead and said, “Don’t move.”
The guy tried to sit up. “What the fu—”
Harv clocked him. With a grunt of pain, he slumped back into the stained fabric. With his free hand, Harv unzipped his waist pack and grabbed a roll of duct tape.
Nathan yanked his mark to the floor and rolled him onto his stomach. He grabbed the tape from Harv, set his gun down, and secured the guy’s hands behind his back with several loops of tape. He covered the man’s mouth with a six-inch strip and tossed the roll to Harv, who did the same to his man.
Within eight seconds of bursting through the door, both targets had been overwhelmed and immobilized.
Just like old times
, Nathan thought. “Check the rest of the house,” he whispered.