Authors: Judith Price
Copyright © 2011 Judith Price
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Published by Judith Price
e-book formatting by
To my children Eric, Jacie and Erin
and most of all to my husband Glen ...
thank you for believing in me.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
I could not have written this story without some inspiration from really unique, fun and great people. I am truly thankful for this.
HOOKEDFabulously intriguing tale that had me hooked from the first page. Nicely blended fiction with fact from the mysterious world of Middle East tradition to the western world's black ops. Judith does a terrific job of enabling the reader to 'see' what's going on... to put one's self in the story.
HARD TO PUT DOWNFast paced and exciting! Would have finished it the first day if I didn't have to go to work! Judy gives you an insight to the middle east that makes you feel like you are there! Sure hope she is writing more books right now as I have found a new favorite author!
00:33 Zulu Time—Somewhere in the desert outside of DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
“Finish, khalas,” he heard a man say in Arabic. “It’s after 4 a.m. and it will be light soon.”
There it was again—talking. In Arabic.
His left eye was swollen shut. He tried to focus his right eye as he lay in the warm sand. He couldn’t see past the glare of the lantern which hung on a pole stuck in the sand beside him. His right eye winced shut when the hard boot cracked another of his ribs. Grains of sand burned his skin like a lit cigarette as they hit his open wounds. Only the release of a breath numbed the pain. A bead of sweat dripped onto his dry tongue, stinging his split, purpled lips on the way down. He licked them anyway.
He could hear no sounds from the brightly lit city of Dubai here in the dark desert. No honking horns or colorfully lit buildings typical of the steel and concrete metropolis. There was no refuge here, no friends in the desert. He could only see silhouettes of men reflecting off the sand, and their boots. Even falling in and out of consciousness, he could recognize military-issued special ops boots anywhere. He tried to focus. The talking grew louder, shouting now; he had to think.
Just move, he ordered himself. Now.
He moved his hands ever so slightly. Nothing. They were stuck together at the wrists, bound tight. He couldn’t feel his legs—or could he? He shifted, as if to shiver. The sharp crystals of sand felt like razors against his raw skin. He was naked. His groin ached, but he couldn’t recall why. Then a moment of hope: His legs were not bound.
He searched for cognition.
Move. Survive …
But it was too late. Strong hands gripped his ankles, pulling his body fast; the sharp sand granules ripped his skin. His teeth jarred together each time his chin hit a rock. The large man hauling him across the desert's merciless landscape stopped, and before he could figure out what was happening, he was flipped onto his back. His hands dug hard into the sand underneath him. Thick fingers smelling of gasoline pried open his mouth. He choked as a mitt-full of sand was shoved into his mouth and down his throat.
“We must end this,” another man said in Arabic.
He understood Arabic and recognized this man’s voice.
He needed to survive. He coughed and spat, trying to breathe, gagging. A bright light swiveled closer and glared into his one open eye, blinding him. For a second, he thought he heard a whisper.
Whoosh! The smell of gasoline sizzled his nostrils. Then the pain began to soften as the light faded into blackness.
11:12 Zulu Time—CATALINA MOUNTAINS, TUCSON, ARIZONA. One week earlier.
Every successful covert operation has four vital elements. Or so the saying goes in most military organizations.
Shoot. Move. Communicate. Survive.
Jill Oliver sighed. Survive. She could do the other three easily. The last one? Well, that was the game, wasn't it?
The soft rumble of the hemi in the Dodge Charger kept Jill company as she raced along the highway. The clock on the dashboard read 04:12. Blackness stretched across the early morning sky, speckled with stars. Pretty soon, dawn would flow over the east mountains like bright lava. Early mornings were part of her job. Not something she cherished about her duties as a US Marshall—but there it was.
Shoot. Move. Communicate.
As a terrorist profiler for the Special Operations Group, a division of the US Marshall Service, Jill normally exuded self-confidence. Her long, jet-black hair hung in a tight ponytail, barely touching her lean, muscular shoulders as she swerved the car down the mountain road. But even with the hot, black coffee in her stomach working to awaken her fully, she wasn't feeling particularly confident. Something felt wrong.
Something about her latest case gnawed at her. It was a critical case. The welfare of what was known as the world’s strongest superpower, the U.S., was at stake—even more so than what had been reported to the public. She knew the truth.
She had been working on the case for some time now. Today, there finally seemed to be a breakthrough. And Jill didn’t mind being summoned to Virginia in the middle of the dark night, because lately her mind would not let her rest. She had seen proof that Matta Al Jazerra, Al Qaeda’s new number one, had purchased uranium at a bargain basement price of $12 million. She’d seen the recent intel report sighting Matta in Brazil. It was all too close to home for her liking, given what else she knew.
It wasn’t yet in the news that a former Soviet official, now leader of the Chechen clan on Manhattan Island, had been arrested after a small stockpile of tactical nuclear devices were found buried in a New York state junkyard he owned. This proved what the Chief of Military Research and Development had stated in a high-security brief—that nuclear devices had been smuggled into the U.S. and buried at several locations on U.S. soil. The fact that Al Qaeda and a group of Chechens were working together was even more worrisome.
The pile of folders stacked on the front seat seethed with papers pushing past its limits. Jill was dressed in her usual blue windbreaker with US MARSHALL branded in large, bright yellow letters on the back. Black fatigues hugged her lean quads as her foot pushed ever so slightly, vibrating the 450 horsepower through her body. Jill loved playing with the fierce power of the bright red car.
Her mobile phone vibrated, then chirped, on the black console. “Oliver here,” she snapped into the phone, navigating toward the streetlights in the distance.
“How far away are you?” Tom Walker, her colleague, commanded, as if he were her boss.
“’Bout twenty minutes,” Jill replied.
“The suspects have been apprehended—two from Yemen and one from Algeria. They fit the profile you wrote and are now headed to Guantanamo Bay. They need you in Virginia to be part of the satellite link. You need to watch the interrogation and determine if these are the men you wrote about in your profile.”
Tom knew that Jill knew all of this, but clearly he was posturing to appear important to someone who must be listening in. The politics Jill thought she had left behind at the FBI in Virginia were starting to seep into her current agency … and it was beginning to piss her off.
Tom wanted her job and expected to get her job. He thought that Jill being the only successful female applicant in the missile escort program for SOG was simply a political move. Even after she proved herself during the extensive specialized training in physical tactics, hand-to-hand combat, and weaponry, he still anticipated being the lead profiler for the unit. He strutted around like a stunted rooster during training, doubting that she would meet the rigorous standards of physical and mental ability. But she had proved him wrong—and he had been nipping at her heels like an angry little Chihuahua ever since.
Jill ended the conversation. The phone clunked as she dropped it onto the black console, and she allowed herself the luxury of enjoying the beauty of Tucson as she drove.
David loves Tucson.
An uneasy feeling pricked Jill's gut. David Brown, a freelance war correspondent for Time Magazine, and more important, to her at least, her new husband. He was often away for long periods of time. But she had not heard from him in more than five days.
Jill’s mind struggled to choose between thinking about David or about national security, both battled for her attention. David’s lack of communication had begun to fuel an unsettling feeling that something was not quite right. She dismissed her intuition and blamed her crime-oriented work for invading her home life. Still, her intuition had always been exceptional—something her Navajo grandmother said was natural.
Jill had learned to harness the gift early in her career. She called it “being in the tunnels.” It was proven in her first years at the FBI, when the CIA had assisted in setting up an RV—remote viewing—department. Jill was one of the first, and most talented viewers in the program and was a natural. During the Iran hostage crisis, Jill was able to describe the exact location where hostages were being held without ever being physically there.
The new FBI department, originally set up under the CIA as a clandestine department, was to assist the FBI with defense intelligence. Now, since 9/11 and with more homegrown terrorists on the rise, the FBI wanted to tap into this type of intelligence research and engage it as a powerful national defense tool. Testing had begun with top-secret, distant targets, often involving life-or-death situations, which is how the good folks at the CIA proved the sometimes-controversial techniques worked. Nevertheless, it was a hard sell to get the department up and running in the FBI. Most of the gray suits at the FBI looked at this intelligence technique as psychobabble, but viewers had produced accurate information that saved lives. There was no crystal ball. It was indisputable: hard, proven science, akin to a modern-day Google using the unconscious resources of the brain’s functionality. It has been said that every human has natural psychic ability, but only a very few know how to use it. Jill was one of those few.
“Listen to your instincts,” Grams would often say. Grams was right. Relying on her instincts had helped Jill solve countless cases. She was confident and secure about her work. But when it came to David, she was unsure. Maybe it was because she was not used to being in love.
Jill had lost her mother to a drunk driver at a young age, and had never known her father. Her grandparents had taken her in and taught her about her native heritage. She spent many nights in the desert maturing into who she was today. They raised her off the reservation, teaching her life skills that could be learned only if you were blessed with the genes of a Navajo Indian.
“Some things are better left alone,” Grams would remind her.
The Navajo reservation, the largest in North America, had many problems—some of which were why her grandparents left. They chose instead to live in a small three-room trailer just outside of Page, Arizona. Surrounded by rock and desert, they would sit in back of their cozy home around a fire in the cool evenings. Jill loved to listen to Grandpapa tell her stories of his youth. To Jill, he was a warrior. With his strong hands and worn face, he was a man of honor, an elder.
They taught Jill the Sacred Sundance, which white authorities for decades had made illegal – it was witchcraft they said. It had still been practiced secretly on the reserve at a place called Anna Mae until recently, when the tribal police destroyed the structure in an attempt to stop the ritual. But it was Grams who was ever-present after her death, even today. She was a healer, a sand painter, a modern-day medicine woman.
After losing Grams, Jill simply wanted to be loved—to be held, cherished, and given all the little things love brings you. Only since she had met David just over a year ago was she able to feel anything … really. Ever since Matthew McGregor and the fateful day she remote viewed and stumbled across him and his location. The events that followed were the main reasons she’d left the FBI. It was that day that changed who she was, as well as who she would become.
Traffic was light as she navigated towards the Tucson military air base. As she drove, Jill knew she would see a mix of cultures, depending on which part of town she was in. There were more poor people than one would have hoped to see. Tucson had a large military base for a city its size. It was normal to see F-16s on maneuvers, blaring over the outskirts of the city. Their low-altitude, high-speed flights were at once fascinating and magical, and the jets’ passage would be followed within milliseconds, by the rumble of their afterburners.
Jill pulled up to the guardhouse at the gate of the Air Force base, flashed her USMS badge, and waited for the normal queue to move forward. She sat under the large sign that read DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE until the gate lifted and the faceless guard waved her through with a no-nonsense gesture. Oh, how she missed the pleasant smiles of the pre-9/11 era.
As Jill's car rumbled toward the hangar, her phone vibrated. She answered before the chirp finished, anticipating David’s voice on the other end. They could often predict a call from each other, as if they had a magical, private mental communication highway. She pulled the phone to her ear and uttered a sweet “hello.” A familiar voice greeted her. But it wasn’t David’s.
“Jill, it’s Jeff McLain, David’s editor.” Jill felt a slight twinge in her gut. David’s work often put him into harms way, something she had never truly gotten used to. But somehow David always had the ability, with his charming charisma and calm demeanor, to comfort her.
“Have you heard from David lately?” Jeff asked. The impact of his question reached the bottom of her stomach and tugged at the morning’s coffee, pulling it upward toward her throat.
“Ummm … not since Wednesday when he left, ’bout five days ago,” she replied. Jill’s voice was off-key. “Why?”
“He missed his deadline, and I haven’t heard from him either.” Jeff’s delivery felt a bit too fast to be matter-of-fact.
David worked most deadlines to the very last minute, sometimes madly editing before midnight. Knowing this, the words still lingered in her ears, then resonated to her stomach, pushing the coffee up even further; she swallowed—her only reprieve. A picture of David in front of his computer suddenly entered Jill’s mind, then left as fast as it had appeared.
“He went to Doha, right?” Jill expected confirmation. She had not been alarmed when David first told her about his assignment. Jill knew he had been to Doha, Qatar, at least twice before. She knew from what he had told her that it was one of the Middle East’s safest and most modern cities.
“Yes, and I, well, I’m not too worried, Jill. Just thought I’d double-check with you. There has been some fighting recently in Iraq, but nothing is even close to Doha. It’s protected. If anything happened that had affected him, we would have heard something. I’ve tried to contact our PRO there but haven’t heard back from him yet either.”
“PRO?” she queried.
“Public Relations Officer; we use them in ah ... more complicated countries. They help our correspondents from time to time. Jill, I am not sure of anything yet. I’ve put out feelers, so please, don’t worry. Get in touch with me if you hear anything, okay?” Jeff gave her his private mobile number and hung up.
Jill looked at the closed phone and thought of David, but before she could spend time in the tunnels, her gifted intuitive tunnels, she was summoned back to the breaking daylight. She saw Tom, a scrawny shrimp of a man, standing outside the hangar as she parked. She grabbed the stack of folders beside her, tucked them under her arm, slid out of the car, and briskly walked towards him.
Tom was dressed in the same casuals as Jill, with one difference. He chose to always wear his badge on a beaded silver lanyard complete with the silver circle star, announcing his importance at a glance.
His slight, commanding wave annoyed her. Tom attempted to shout past the sound of the engines. “The FBI, CIA, and NSA are involved in apprehending the suspects—and you know how important those folks think they are.”
“Almost as important as you think you are,” Jill ruminated without voicing her thoughts.
Much to Jill’s relief, the engines drowned out Tom’s squeaky voice as they approached the awaiting Lear-jet. Every breath he took emitted a slight whistling sound, which pricked like a pin under her fingernails.
Walking toward the plane, Jill stopped abruptly. She turned to her right, then around, as if someone had tapped her on the shoulder. The air smelled of jet fuel, and a lone strand of her black hair wisped past her view in the slight breeze. She couldn’t see anything suspicious. But she felt it. Something sinister that she couldn’t put her finger on. Jill often had these feelings when something was wrong, or something didn’t fit, as she raced through the intuition tunnels of her mind. But today, now, she wasn’t in her tunnels; she wasn’t trying to do anything but end this case. So why the unsettled feeling? Was it David? Had his non-communication put her off-kilter, or was it Jeff’s call? Or was it … no, it couldn’t be Matthew McGregor. Jill didn’t know and she didn’t have time right now to be jumpy or relive her paranoia about McGregor. It couldn’t be him – he was tucked away in a cell in the worst prison in California...
Torture was against both international and U.S. law, but McGregor didn’t care about that. After all, he had planned to kill her anyway. He had had particularly enjoyed bludgeoning his other victims to death with an ice pick to the face – thus earning him the media moniker The Ice Man. If only she had waited for her backup when confirming the location after the viewing. If only that accident had not happened—the one that blocked the road. But as any FBI agent knew, there was no negotiating with Father Time.