Chapter 25

October 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm (The Job)

“Define ‘Hell’,” Parker asked.

In answer, Donovan pulled the lid off a crate and motioned for her to take a look. The crate was filled to the rim with guns, ammo, grenades and even a shoulder-mounted RPG. No handguns to be seen, Donovan had brought only rifles.

“Oh,” Parker whispered, taking in the impressive arsenal, “that type of Hell.” Looking up, a question in her eyes, she stared at Simon.

He shook his head. “This part is news to me, too.”

“The island house sits on a cliff at the northern tip,” Donovan began. “The rest of the island is a jungle with a shallow beach ringing it from cliff edge to cliff edge. There’s a small helipad on the northern edge, below the cliffs. An elevator shaft built into the rock transports people from the helipad to the house. The helipad and elevator shaft are surrounded by twenty foot high electrified fencing. We will have to trek around the fencing and then find a way to destroy it.”

“And the weapons?” Parker asked.

“The island is home to many of Wagner Pharmaceutical’s first attempts at drug testing. The idea that gorillas are similar to humans, genetically speaking, encouraged Wagner’s scientists to capture and breed packs of gorillas on the island and then use them in their trials.”

“What sort of tests?” Simon asked.

“They had various different tests. They wanted to increase muscle strength without increasing its size. Increase a body’s imperviousness to diseases, but also to cuts and bone breaks. They wanted to see if the tests they did on the adults would translate, genetically, to future offspring.”

“How many gorillas are on that island,” Simon demanded.

“We have no way of knowing that, beforehand.” Donovan looked over at parker who had been suspiciously silent.

When she felt their eyes on her, she raised hers. They were full of emotion, not the least of which was a healthy dose of fear. “I fucking hate gorillas,” she muttered.

“Why?” Simon asked.

“You weren’t tailing me when I went to Wagner Pharmaceuticals in London?”

“No, I caught up with you the day you did Wagner. I’d been in London a few days by then, but I’d only been doing some basic legwork. I didn’t get my go until the 15th.”

“Wagner had gorillas at the lab.” Parker gave them a brief rundown of her experience with the beasts. She told them of the venom darts that had stunned but ultimately not killed the alpha male. She pulled the dart pen and cartridges from her pack and passed them around. “Some are antivenin, but most are the venom.”

“Will there be spiders on the island, too?” Simon asked Donovan.

“I don’t know. I’ve only been to the island once and was told about the gorillas. Mostly the board doesn’t talk about it. They simply say to avoid venturing into any other part of the island.”

Parker took the dart pen from Donovan, loaded it with an antivenin cartridge and handed it to Simon. “There are enough for each of us and a few spares. I suggest we’re better safe than sorry.”

Simon took the pen and injected it into his arm. Donovan and Parker followed suit. The antivenin would spare them any nasty effects from a spider bite, but it would do nothing against the gorillas. Parker took another look inside the crate.

“I only hope it’s enough,” she whispered.

The captain called out that they were nearing their destination. Since they’d only been at sea for a few minutes, Parker was confused. Looking over the side of the boat, she saw they were pulling up next to a float plane that had her engines idling and her anchor dropped.

Donovan explained before she could ask. “We have to be on that island and through its defenses by tomorrow at 1pm.” Donovan consulted his watched and realized it was close to 2am. “Today at 1pm,” he amended. “The island is approximately 900 kilometers from here. We’d be lucky to make it that far by boat, never mind getting up to the house on time?”

“What about Ingram?” Simon asked.

“He’ll have a team patrolling the beach, waiting for us. There’s no way we can make a quiet approach by plane and I don’t want to waste time with a lengthy swim. We’ll just have to hit the ground running.”

Parker gave Donovan the once over and figured he could handle himself. She didn’t know his background. In truth, she’d known nothing about him until Wagner had asked her if Donovan was her target. God, had that only been a week ago? Petrillo had mentioned his previous employment with the CIA, but hadn’t really outlined what the head of the agency had done for The Company.

Thoughts of Petrillo reminded her that she’d had no luck contacting him over the past couple of days. She’d had few opportunities, given her escapades in Paris and the exhausting trek to Rarotonga. She’d expected to have a dozen messages from him by now. The silence made her think of her mentor, Jacob. She was more certain than ever that Jacob was dead. He’d never have taken this long to get back to her.

“What’s wrong?” Simon asked.

“I haven’t heard from Petrillo in too long. I’m worried about him.”

Simon rested his arm across her shoulder and pulled her close. “Can you do anything about that right now?”

Parker ignored the question. It was a very military thing to say. If the answer was no, then you simply had to put it out of your head until the time came when you could do something about it. It was about sectioning everything off into compartments. The Army had taught her to deal with the most pressing compartment of facts first and go from there. Downtime was hell on a soldier. All of those other little compartments started to weigh down on you until you feared being crushed beneath them.

Simon dropped a light kiss on her forehead to get her focused on him again. “We’ll find him,” he said. He didn’t offer her more than that. He wouldn’t lie to her and she wouldn’t believe him if he’d tried.

Parker nodded. “What part of the island will we infiltrate?” she asked Donovan.

Donovan had been watching them discreetly. He’d known Simon long before either man had ever joined the agency. Donovan had been the one to recruit Simon out of the CIA. Simon had been jaded and harsh back then. He’d not mellowed with age. He, like Donovan, had never married. The job had taken too much from them mentally, as well as emotionally. There’d never been enough left over to foster a workable relationship with a woman. Watching too many of his friends go through divorce, often more than once, had tipped his hand in favour of remaining single for life. Still, if the right woman had ever come along, he’d have given it a shot.

He’d never met that woman, but he wondered now if Simon hadn’t. Or, perhaps Parker was a kindred spirit.

“We’ll come in around the western shore and hit the beach nearest the cliff edge. We should be able to bypass the bulk of the jungle that way.” He only hoped that was true.

Their flight time was a little more than three hours. Donovan had given each of them a drysack for the weapons. They divided everything into three piles and filled their sacks. Each sack weighed close to forty pounds, which would make their swim tougher. Parker tossed her pack into the drysack; Simon did likewise.

This was a one-way journey. The plane would not be waiting for them to return. If their mission was successful, Donovan would hire a helicopter to land on the cliff top to pick them up. He fully expected to destroy the electric fence guarding the helipad from the jungle inhabitants. With Wagner dead, he would put forth the idea that a team should be sent into the jungle to eradicate the gorillas.

If their mission wasn’t successful then the damn gorillas were someone else’s problem.

***

Graff heard the approach of the airplane. His group had begun their trek from the southwestern edge of the island, heading east. Caputo’s team had left them a half hour ago, to head into the jungle in search of Hinckley. The rest of the men were continuing their search of the perimeter until Graff’s group got close and then they’d abandon their post to head in.

Graff tracked the plane with his eyes, turning to look over his shoulder as it came in for a landing. The float plane hit the surface and slowed to a stop near the cliff. The waves were crashing in, pushing the plane closer to the beach. The pilot dropped the anchor to halt their drift. Almost out of sight around the edge of the island, Graff could just barely make out three figures as they jumped from the plane into the water.

He wasn’t expecting Donovan to have company. That put a bit of a crimp in his plan, as did the evacuation. Graff flicked his mike twice to signal the men who were loyal to Ingram. Changing his radio over to a secondary channel, Graff gave his crew a few seconds to make the switch.

“Donovan has arrived by plane. He’s making for the island on the west side, near the cliffs. We’re too far away to get to him. Those of you on Caputo’s team will have to see the job done.”

“Roger that, sir,” Billis replied. He’d kept to the rear of the pack, watching the other team members. He knew who was on his side and who had no idea there was a secondary mission. He signaled his teammates and started to drop back a little.

Caputo put his hand up to stop. “We’re nearing the ambush site. Be ready,” he whispered. Edging around a tree, he stepped into the clearing.

“What the fuck, man?” Kern demanded. “Where are the dead gorillas?”

The clearing where they had been ambushed earlier looked as though it had been combed with a rake. None of the disturbances in the sand were present. No blood could be seen anywhere. Caputo thought maybe they had the wrong spot until he found a small pile of bullet casings tucked under some brush. They’d been swept up and left behind.

“Do gorillas collect their dead?” Billis asked.

No one had an answer for him. It was eerie to think they had such human responses to their dead. The lack of bodies also indicated that there were more gorillas on the island.

“I knew that was an advance team,” Kern whispered. “They were just testing us, to see where our weaknesses are. They’re going to come after us harder next time.”

“We’ll hit them harder next time, too,” Caputo promised. They knew what they were hunting this time. There would be no surprises. No one would underestimate their opponent. “Beyond this point is new territory. We haven’t spotted any booby traps aside from the one that got Hapstedt, but we will not assume it was a one-off. Remain alert!” Caputo stomped on the pile of bullet casings as he carried on into the jungle.

***

Donovan’s pilot was able to drop everyone off within two hundred meters of the island, making their swim short and shallow. The water was still warm, but the night breeze cooled their skin. On the beach, they unzipped their drysacks and removed all of their weapons. With more guns than they had holsters, Parker removed a roll of Velcro tape from her pack and started strapping pieces to her legs and arms. Handing the tape around, the others did likewise. Nothing would be left behind.

Donovan led the way into the jungle, with Parker behind him and Simon bringing up the rear. Equipped with subvocal mikes so that the softest utterance could be heard, Donovan still opted for hand signals to convey his messages. The stealthier they could remain, the less likely they’d have to engage the gorillas. Parker had embraced that plan wholeheartedly.

The sun had already started its rise into the sky. The heat was building, even under the cover of the jungle. Time check upon first entering the jungle had put them at 09:35 local time. Donovan had decreed it plenty of time to get to the elevator shaft safely and up to the house.

Now, the thickness of the roots and vines in the jungle was making it damn near impossible to make any headway. After thirty minutes, they’d only managed to gain a quarter of a mile. Donovan had at least thought to bring along a machete, but it made little difference. He stopped, letting Parker and Simon close the distance. Gesturing to his right, he pointed out a path in the trees that had been cleared of all brush. It begged the question, where did the path lead to?

Nodding his head, Simon motioned for Donovan to take the lead again. Parker was hesitant to take the path, but had little choice in the matter. Her job was to see Donovan safely to his meeting. The clearing made their journey far quicker than hacking through the jungle had been. After ten minutes, the path started to veer toward the centre of the island. When Donovan didn’t hesitate, Parker continued behind him.

Another half mile had the path curving back toward the north. Up ahead, Parker could see that the clearing was slightly grown over. Low lying brush covered up all evidence of the trail. It would be easy to step over the brush. Easier than heading back into the trees.

The closer Donovan got to the brush, the more nervous Parker became. She couldn’t put her finger on what was bothering her. Going with her instinct, she tapped her mike to get his attention then motioned for him to stop. As they huddled together, staring at her, Parker started to feel a little silly.

“Something doesn’t feel right here,” she whispered. “About that,” she pointed to the brush. She shrugged, not knowing how to express her hesitation.

Simon walked to the edge of the brush and poked the barrel of his gun at it. The fronds move easier than he’d thought they would. They were floating on the surface of a lake. Turning back to them, he had only taken a few steps away from the edge when something burst from the water and thumped its weight onto the path behind him.

Whipping around, he barely had enough time to register what the hell it was before it was on him. Using the barrel of his rifle to block the gaping jaws, Simon gasped as the weight of the beast landed on his chest. The breath knocked out of him, he started to see black spots as his body starved for oxygen. The crocodile snapped at his rifle and whipped its head back and forth to break Simon’s grip.

Parker leaped forward, grabbing the machete from Donovan’s hand. As the crocodile opened wide again, she swept the blade inside, slicing through the skin at the sides of its mouth. Changing the angle of the blade, she stabbed its left eye until it was nothing but a bleeding socket. Donovan attempted to pull Simon out from under the croc, but the weight of the beast made it impossible. The crocs claws were digging into its prey.

Parker slammed the machete into the top of the croc’s head with as much force as she could manage. The blade sliced through the tough armour and into its brain. Pulling the blade free, she handed it to Simon and then she and Donovan rolled the dead croc off him. Checking his wounds, Parker realized they were all superficial, but still took the time to cleanse and bandage them.

When Simon was standing and ready to carry on, Parker looked to Donovan. Their path forward was not an option. They now knew that in addition to gorillas, they had crocodiles to contend with. The ripples on the water hadn’t stilled, giving them a fair idea of how large the lake was. They didn’t have much choice. In order to get around the lake, they’d have to head further to the south, away from the cliffs.

Taking the machete from Simon, Donovan once again began hacking his way through the brush. Parker and Simon were forced to keep as much attention on the ground looking for crocodiles as they did on the trees looking for gorillas.

“I fucking hate crocodiles,” Simon muttered.

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