Chapter 23

October 13, 2011 at 9:53 am (The Job)

Though it was dark and the temperature had dropped a few degrees, the water was still surprisingly warm. Parker could feel the stretch and pull of burnt skin on her back as she struggled to right herself. It didn’t feel as though the burn was very large, for which she was very thankful. Carefully coming closer to the surface, she looked around for hostiles before poking her head out of the water.

Gavin was no longer in sight, but she had a decent idea of where he’d gone. Her gun had taken a dunking, but that didn’t worry her. It was designed to work just as well after a bath as it did before one. Parker studied the area of the dock, trying to determine where the shot had come from. She assumed it was the sniper in the trees. She had a rough idea of where he was, but still couldn’t establish his full range. She could be in it now, she realized, sinking a little lower into the water.

Swimming back toward the blown barrel, she hooked her hand around the strap of her pack and pulled it off the dock. She kept it above water, though the fabric was designed to remain waterproof up to approximately ten meters below the surface. Edging her way along the dock until she had a boat at her back, Parker quickly hauled her ass out of the water and hunkered down below the top line of the boat. Just as she didn’t know his range, Parker also couldn’t determine what angle he could still see to shoot at.

“Simon?”

Two taps in her ear was his response. If he couldn’t talk then he was coming up on someone near him. She wondered how close he was. Duck-walking her way to the stern of the boat, Parker listened for voices in the night. Expecting to hear something from ahead, she instead heard a slight scuffling coming from behind her. Continuing to work her way to the back of the boat, she used it as cover. Her gun steady, she aimed for the far end of the dock and the scuffling sound. A sharp report echoing into the night ended the scuffling. Parker waited to see who had fired.

“Three down,” Simon reported in.

“You see anyone else in the area, besides our sniper?”

“Not a soul. You get to Donovan yet?”

“I’m on my way there now. I don’t know how many men Zaum had with him.”

“Get to Donovan. I’ll keep watch from here. I’ve got their radio, but so far there’s no chatter.”

Parker worked her way down the dock, checking in each boat as she went. As she neared the end, she saw Gavin lean out over the edge and wave her forward. Parker loped along the dock, ducking down as best as she could. When she was a boat length away, Zaum popped up on a side dock much closer to Gavin.

“Get down!” she motioned for Gavin to get back. Increasing her speed, Parker fired several rounds at Zaum to keep him on the defensive. Two shots in quick succession hit the boat directly above her head. With Zaum hitting the deck, she knew where those bullets had come from. The sniper was using Zaum to flush her out.

“Simon, I’ve got Zaum on the dock, trying to get to Donovan and I’ve got that fucking sniper trying to get me! You got a spare hand?”

“I’ve got something better. Hang tight,” he muttered. Simon had killed three of Zaum’s men and gone through their supplies. Their backup plan, if Donovan had gotten to the boat and managed to get away in it, was to lob an RPG at it. Messy, certainly, but definitely effective.

He had a general impression of which tree Seth was hiding in. He would aim for the trunk, to ensure it didn’t overshoot and hit the town. Lining up his shot, Simon pulled the trigger and watched as the rocket shot out of the end of the tube. It only took a few seconds to cross the distance and then the tree burst into flames. He’d aimed midway up the tree and thought that if he didn’t actually hit Seth with the thing he’d at least knock the fucker out of it. That was all they needed, for now.

Parker heard the rocket, but ignored it. Zaum was returning fire, keeping her pinned down five yards from her goal. Did he have more men in the area? If he kept her here, would someone else pick her off from the shore? She didn’t like the feeling that that idea gave her. Risking a new hole in her chest, Parker crept forward. She couldn’t see Gavin and didn’t know if any of Zaum’s shots had gone through the boat.

“Coming up on your six,” Simon whispered.

“You see any other movement in the area?” she asked.

“Nothing. I’ll head down this side dock and approach Zaum at an angle. Keep him distracted.”

“I’ve got half a mag left before I’m dry.”

“Then just let him shoot at you a bit longer.” Simon smiled at the pithy response that suggestion brought. He headed down the dock and used the boats as cover. He expected the dock to connect up with the main section that Zaum was on, but after he rounded the bend he saw that it dead ended at a locked gate. There was no way to get around it without going in the water.

Simon slipped into the water and edged around the gate. Since he was already wet, he swam closer to Zaum’s position. Zaum was hunkered down behind a metal storage box. Simon corrected his aim and took the shot. Zaum’s head exploded, leaving a messy trail down the side of the storage box.

Hauling himself out of the water, Simon checked Zaum for any weapons before heading down the dock to check on Parker.

***

Graff took five men with him and headed into the jungle. Each man had their MP-5 and an extra magazine. They also brought several fragmentation grenades and a few flash bangs. What they didn’t have was night vision goggles. Ten feet into the jungle, the moon didn’t penetrate the dense foliage. Their flashlights gave them barely a three foot arc of light.

No footprints could be found in the sand. Whoever had captured Hinckley hadn’t left a mark. But Hinckley had. The blood from his mouth had steadily dribbled out as he’d been carried away from the beach. Graff followed it as best as he could. Not outfitted with a machete, his men had to fight their way through the thick foliage. The ground cover was nearly five feet high in some places.

After forty minutes, they’d only managed to cover about a quarter of a mile of ground. The trail was leading them into the center of the island. Graff had called Ingram to request an overview of the island and the animals on it, but the call had gone unanswered. He’d heard the sounds of a party up at the house and figured the asshole must have turned his phone off. Graff would bite his tongue for now and then see about lodging a formal complaint when they returned to HQ.

“Sir, over here.”

Graff hadn’t wanted to run his men single file into the jungle. If the trail branched off and they missed it, they would waste precious time that he was starting to believe Hinckley didn’t have. Instead, they’d formed a line, side by side, and entered the jungle.

“What have you got, Hapstedt?”

“It looks like Hinckley’s shirt, sir,” Hapstedt replied. He bent over to pick up the garment. Before Graff could warn him away, Hapstedt grabbed the shirt and raised it up. The movement tightened the thin wire attached to the end of it. A faint whistling sound cut through the silence as a sharpened spear shot out from a bush and impaled Hapstedt through the chest.

His eyes dilated, Hapstedt stared down at the spear. Shock had numbed the pain, but it wouldn’t last. Blood dripped from the wound in his chest onto the sand in an ever widening pool. He couldn’t see that the hole in his back, where the spear had passed right through him, also hemorrhaged. He opened his mouth to scream, not realizing he already was.

Graff cupped his hand over Hapstedt’s mouth, trying to block the sound. Whatever was out there would be alerted to their presence, if they weren’t already. The shirt had been left to trap them. Whoever they were tracking was either very quick, or they’d already booby trapped the entire island. He looked back at Hapstedt and realized the soldier had already died. There was too much trauma to his chest to have saved him.

“Who the fuck did this?” Kern, an ex-Army Ranger, demanded of no one in particular. The shock of Hapstedt’s death was wearing off and now Graff’s men wanted to know what they were up against. Ex-soldiers, they all had the background to fight a war in the jungle. A war with an unknown enemy was another matter. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you couldn’t prepare for the unexpected because everything was unexpected.

“That’s what we’re here to find out,” Graff replied. “Kern, you and Caputo take the eastern path. Burke and Hager, come with me. We’ll take the western path. Keep your radios connected at all times and if you spot anything, call in.”

“Should we get more men?” Hager asked.

“No, we’ll work with what we’ve got. We need the rest watching the perimeter of the island in case that boat shows up.” Ingram couldn’t buy everyone’s loyalty, so Graff had taken some of the men he knew would hesitate before blowing Donovan away. There were still a few on the perimeter watch who would question the orders, but Graff had enough men out there who were loyal to Ingram who could see the job done.

“Let’s rock.”

***

Once Simon had neutralized Zaum, Parker headed for the boat she’d spotted Gavin on. The boat was a fair-sized fishing trawler. Her captain stood at the wheel, waiting for the go-ahead to fire up the engines and make ready to depart. Parker saw Gavin huddled next to Donovan, with the older man using his body to protect the boy.

“Are you hurt?” she asked them.

Donovan shook his head, but she saw the wince when he tried to move. Parker stepped closer and examined the wound. He’d taken a glancing blow from one of the bullets, but she didn’t think it was terribly severe. It would be more annoying than troublesome.

She checked Gavin for wounds, but the boy came away unscathed. As Simon climbed into the boat and moved toward Donovan, Parker stepped away. When he knelt down beside the older man and pulled out bandages and iodine from his pack, Parker moved around until she could keep an eye on both their hands. Then she raised her gun until it was pointed at Simon’s temple.

Simon’s hands stilled. His gun sat on his pack, within easy reach, but she already had her weapon trained on him. His eyes were steady on hers. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”

Parker scowled at him. “How about you tell me what’s going on?” she demanded. “How did Seth get to the island? No one else knew we were coming here and I sure as fuck didn’t tell him.”

“I told him,” Donovan confessed.

Parker jerked her gaze to Donovan, shocked. She watched as Simon went back to fussing with his wound. She sensed more than saw the camaraderie between them. There was no hesitation on Donovan’s part to accept the assistance. He winced as Simon pressed the gauze pad to the gash in his side.

“You knew where he was all along, didn’t you?” Parker asked, gesturing to Donovan. She lowered her weapon and leaned against the side of the boat.

Simon nodded, but didn’t offer her any other explanation.

“Why did you tell Seth I was here?”

“We didn’t know who you were taking your orders from,” Donovan said. “The Wagner job should have been the end of your involvement. When they tried to kill you, it changed things. Including knowing what your ultimate goal was.”

“My ultimate goal was to save my own ass,” Parker admitted. “Once I learned who Wagner was, I figured I had a giant target painted on it.”

“We thought you might be working for Ingram,” Simon said. He was about to go on when he noticed the fierce expression on her face. He raised an eyebrow in question.

“Mike Ingram is a jackass and his days are numbered, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve wanted to pop that fucker since my first day in training.”

“So the rumours are true then?” Simon asked.

Parker nodded. “He used his position to get women into bed. Some were dumb enough to actually think he had any power over them. I was not one of those women.”

“What did you do to him?”

“What makes you think I did anything?”

“I’ve been studying you far longer than this mission is old,” Simon said. “You have never struck me as the water-off-a-duck’s-back type.”

“I made a valiant effort to lodge his testicles in his throat,” she admitted.

Simon smiled. “That’s more like it.”

“You’ve been working for Donovan all this time, haven’t you?”

Simon stared at her for a minute. “That’s not what you want to ask me.”

Parker fidgeted for a minute. It wasn’t what she wanted to ask him. She’d hoped to work her way up to it. “You’d have killed me if you thought I was not on your side.”

It wasn’t a question, but he nodded anyway. “Nothing that came before would have mattered now. If I had to, I’d have killed you.” And he would have regretted it, he admitted. There was something so alive about Parker that was like ambrosia to someone as jaded as he was.

When Simon had finished bandaging Donovan’s side, Donovan gave the captain the signal to ready the boat for departure.

“My debt?” the captain asked Gavin.

“Paid in full,” Gavin assured him.

“What are you, a pint-sized bookie?” Simon asked.

“The captain likes young boys but doesn’t always have the money to pay for them. Sometimes it’s better to be owed a favour.”

Simon scowled at the captain, but the man faced forward, readying for launch.

Parker pulled the kid over by his t-shirt. “You be careful of the man in the trees,” she reminded him. “He could still be out there, even though Simon pretty much disintegrated that tree he was in.”

He nodded and smiled. “He will never see me. He only wanted you.”

Parker gave him a quick hug before letting him climb out of the boat. Digging around in her pack, she pulled out her satellite phone. Running an app to wipe any potentially sensitive data it contained, she then handed the phone to Gavin. “It can’t be traced,” she winked at him.

Gavin clutched it in his hands like a treasured pet. “I will take very good care of it,” he promised. He disappeared in a flash, down the dock and into the night.

Parker turned back to her companions. “Now what?” she asked.

“Now,” Donovan replied, “we walk into Hell.”

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