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Excerpt for For The Innocent by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Praise for For the Innocent

“…Lambert effectively propels the story forward… lively fun … hits the ground running … never boring.”
(Kirkus Reviews)

“Absolutely riveting … could not tear myself away…”
A. Lane, New Brunswick, Canada

“…storyline carries the reader through an exciting battle…”
D. Barden, California

“Author keeps you wanting more! Can’t wait for the sequel.”
R. Zuniga, California

“Kept me on the edge…”
S. Bothwell, Texas




FOR THE INNOCENT



by

Bret H. Lambert


Copyright © 2019 Bret H Lambert

All rights reserved.

Distributed by Smashwords

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover design by Joshua D. Lambert

Ebook formatting by www.ebooklaunch.com



CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Epilogue



ONE

LABYRINTH. An entire terrorist organization built into a warren that was more than two thousand years old. A vast network of tunnels, vaults, and galleries, all interconnected. It was a maze beneath the tiny island’s jungle surface, with miles upon miles of tunnels, cool corridors.

Bloody long miles, thought Stuart Savage as he ran. He was exhausted. His breath came in short gasps as he sucked in the eucalyptus-scented air, scented to conceal the diesel odor of the machinery that provided power and recycled air. His lungs cried out in agony, as did every muscle in his compact body. He ached. His body had suffered a terrible beating several days earlier when they had first brought him in for interrogation, after finding him trying to gain access to a restricted area.

They’re a vicious bunch, he thought, massaging his throbbing arms and shoulders. Brutal bastards. Without all those years of intense training with different special combat groups, such as the British Special Air Services and the U.S. Navy SEALS, he would never have survived for as long as he had.

He stopped running and leaned heavily against the smooth rock wall of the corridor. The lighting was soft; the tunnel was quiet. His eyes momentarily rested on the variety of colored lines that had been painted on the floor; it had taken him a few days to learn what each meant, where each went. Without them, everyone would be lost. He glanced quickly about the tunnel. To him, his very breathing was deafening. Then he heard the footsteps, distant but approaching, urgent. He had to get out, get to the top, escape with what information he had assimilated.

He ran.

It had taken him several months to infiltrate the organization, and although he had been moving about the labyrinth freely for just over a week he still managed to get lost occasionally. Such was the case now. He was mentally and physically exhausted, in pain, half of the time on the verge of delirium. Everything looked the same. He was moving on instincts now, survival instincts.

It was his honed prescience for danger that alerted him to the opening of a concealed door ahead of him before he actually saw it. The man who stepped into the tunnel, his back to Savage, was dressed in a brown jumpsuit, a silenced semi-automatic handgun strapped to his right thigh. Security, thought Savage as he approached the man’s unprotected back. Some of them carried fully automatic 9mm weapons, silenced of course. Firing a weapon sans silencer within the ancient caverns could be devastating to one’s hearing, and more than likely it would cause sections of the labyrinth to collapse. He needed that weapon to give himself a better chance of escaping.

The escape had been too easy. This was a game; they were playing with him. The man in the jumpsuit turned just as Savage launched himself. Within a matter of seconds, the man lay dead on the cold stone floor, his neck cleanly broken. A few minutes later Savage was wearing the dead man’s brown jumpsuit; it was large on him, but this was no time to worry about fit.

He kept a hand on the butt of the holstered handgun as he ran on down the corridor. He had traveled less than one hundred feet when, without warning, he ran out of the tunnel and into a small gallery, a gallery with people. Quickly he retreated into the tunnel, pressing himself against the cool wall. He had recognized the gallery, which gave him some idea as to where the hell he was. There was a chance to escape now. With a deep breath, his heart pumping fiercely against his aching ribs, he stepped into the soft lighting of the gallery.

The fifty-odd feet across the gallery were amongst the longest that he had ever walked. He tried to remain calm but knew that he was perspiring freely beneath the light uniform. Slowly, ever so slowly, he drew nearer the exit at the opposite side. I’m going to make it, he told himself. No one paid any attention to him. He had been so certain that someone would notice him in the ill-fitting uniform, but no one had said or done anything. He was just beginning to breathe more easily when he heard a shrill whistle sound from somewhere behind him. The first thought in his head was that the body had already been discovered, but it was too soon. He glanced over his shoulder to see what was going on in the gallery; there was some excitement in the tunnel that he had just left. With a silent curse he quickened his pace to complete the last few yards and disappeared into the tunnel that was open before him.

As soon as he was out of sight of the people within the gallery he broke into a run. The smooth-walled corridor curved and dipped, split and forked numerous times. Still he ran, with the weapon now in his hand. He was running upward; he could feel it in his legs. As he arrived at yet another fork in the corridor, he came upon two men, both armed, waiting at the mouth of each fork. They saw him at the same time and brought their weapons into play. Savage blasted the man on his left in the chest with two rapid shots before diving to the hard surface, rolling, and coming up on one knee to fire twice more into the second man. It was all over in a matter of a few seconds with the two guards lying dead on the cold stone floor in growing pools of blood. Before moving on, Savage stripped the corpses of their ammunition and one of them of a silenced automatic weapon, along with a heavy-bladed hunting knife. The other weapon he quickly disassembled, scattering the parts in every direction. This done, he went on.

His entire chest felt as if it was going to collapse. His legs did not seem to be a part of him any longer; they were working automatically. He finally stumbled and fell to the cold stone floor where he lay for several minutes, catching his breath and trying unsuccessfully to orient himself to his surroundings. “Such as they are,” he mused quietly. This tunnel was just like all the others he had traversed: cool, smooth, softly lit, endless. “Surely, I’m near the bloody surface by now,” he mumbled to himself.

He sensed the presence of others before he heard them, distantly, their booted feet on the stone floor. He struggled to his feet and staggered onward. At last he came out of the tunnel and into the chamber where a pedestrian conveyor belt was available for the ride to the surface. There were only a few people in the chamber, five of them wearing, as was he, the brown jumpsuit of the security branch. He was this close, and there was nowhere for him to hide for very long. With a deep breath he charged into the gallery, the automatic weapon spitting hot lead.

The nearest man died with a scream caught in his throat as two bullets slammed into his body, the first through the neck and the second through one lung and into the heart. Savage swung over a barrier, weapon in hand, like a modern-day swashbuckler. He moved quickly, adrenaline pumping, for catching them off guard was his only chance at succeeding in his escape. Another man wearing a jumpsuit came at him with his weapon blazing, his rounds spraying the walls and several of the bystanders. Savage dropped him with a single shot through the man’s opened mouth, severing the spinal cord from the brain as it exited the base of the skull. Savage turned on the three remaining men. He was all over the chamber, never remaining still for more than the second it took him to kill; he was hurtling over barriers and shooting. Another man fell, his eyes open, a neat hole drilled into his forehead. Blood was everywhere. Savage was quickly dispatching the obviously inexperienced terrorists in their jumpsuits, as well as those who had inadvertently been caught in the firefight, but he himself was not going unscathed. A hot round grazed his left side, making it feel as though it were on fire, and the salt from his perspiration only added to the painful burning sensation.

At last there was only one man left to oppose him. Savage faced him with an empty weapon. He drew out the knife he had acquired earlier. This final opponent was a big man who was surprisingly quick for his size. It was obvious to Savage that this member of Shaitan’s terrorist group was more experienced than those who had expired before him. Savage stared for a moment at the silenced submachine gun the man held in both massive hands, ready to blow him apart but strangely hesitating. Had this man been told to try to take him alive? His mind was working at top speed as he reasoned, A knife against an automatic weapon, but I can’t bloody-well stop my escape now, can I? Not now! With a barbaric scream that startled the big man, the Australian launched himself.

The terrorist recovered himself quickly, caught Savage and sent him sprawling across the blood-smeared floor. An evil grin suffused his face as he looked down at the man who, apparently stunned, lay still beside a steel beam. The big man moved cautiously toward his prey, his weapon ready; there was no reaction. Feeling braver now, he relaxed his guard and stepped a few feet back to survey the chamber. It had been a massacre, but he would be handsomely rewarded for his catch, of this he was convinced.

As he turned back toward the fallen man he saw movement; it was too late for him by then. Savage brought the heavy blade straight up between the man’s legs, burying it deeply into the man’s groin. The big man paled immediately; his knees began to buckle. With a vicious wrench, Savage pulled the blade free from the man’s crotch. He stood up and stepped away, watching as the big man sank slowly to his knees in the pool of blood that flowed down his legs. His face was twisted with pain; it seemed forever before the scream was released from his constricted throat and erupted from between his pasty-white lips. Then the body relaxed on its haunches, the head lolled.

Savage glanced about the slaughterhouse; the moaning of the wounded was all that could be heard. Without any further hesitation, he picked up the big man’s automatic weapon and as many full magazines as he could find on the bodies. He scrambled on to the pedestrian conveyor belt and settled himself onto the rubber mat. His breathing was raspy, quick and short. He was covered with the blood of other men, as well as his own. His side was ablaze; he shook convulsively, uncontrollably. But he was almost there. He was almost out, almost free. Free to get to Singapore with the information he had managed to acquire over the past few months. He would have to steal a boat from somewhere in order to get off of the island.

No one had ever escaped from Shaitan’s stronghold, or so he had been told. The waters surrounding the island were infested with sharks and saltwater crocodiles, and the island itself was populated with very hungry, incredibly large reptiles that lived in the jungle among the ruins of an ancient city. Doing battle with the terrorists in order to get to the surface was only half of the battle; he still had to do battle with the wildlife. He wiped the sweat and drying blood from his face and began to slow his breathing. He was going to make it. He was going to be okay. Everything was going to be all right.

As exhausted as he was, his senses were amazingly acute. His ears strained in the semi-darkness to detect any sound as the conveyor carried him farther into the narrow tunnel. He heard a voice, a low mumble. Someone was staggering along the conveyor belt in front of him, walking the wrong way, moving toward where he was crouched. Savage slipped the automatic weapon across his back and silently drew the heavy-bladed hunting knife from its leather sheath. The sweat on his brow increased, running down his smeared face in rivulets. A dim shadow fell across him. There was surprise on the darkened face of the mumbler, then horror as she saw the knife coming for her unprotected throat. The heavy blade entered effortlessly, tearing away flesh and bone, and with it went her scream. She collapsed to the rubber belt in a bloody heap.

Savage was helpless; there was nowhere to run or hide. The sound of a voice behind him caused him to turn quickly. Had there been sufficient light, Savage’s appearance would have startled the new adversary: unkempt, flecked and stained with blood, holding a bloodied knife in a bloodied fist. There was a sharp intake of breath, and then the expulsion through the gaping windpipe as the knife once again bit deep into warm flesh. Blood. Everywhere.

The runner felt tired, and not just from the running. “God, will it ever stop?” he murmured in the dark to himself as he sank to the rubber belt between the bodies. The surrounding semi-darkness slowly lightened as the conveyor brought him closer to yet another chamber. He looked around quickly; there would be more security personnel. His grip on the automatic weapon tightened as he prepared to fight his way out of the gallery and to the surface. He crouched, waiting, watching, and listening. As he was carried into the chamber he leaped from the conveyor.

Immediately he was engulfed in tear gas. His eyes stinging, tearing, he emptied a thirty-round magazine through the haze of the tearing agent. As he fumbled for a second magazine he was pounced upon by several heavily muscled men. They wrestled him to the floor, violently disarming him in the process. Even without his weapons he fought against his blurry captors: biting, kicking, and punching. But it was all for nothing; there were too many of them. They beat him mercilessly until he finally ceased resisting, exhausted and almost unconscious.

A tall figure stepped into his impaired field of vision. Savage turned his head and squinted through swollen eyes at the figure, a curse escaping from between his bloodied lips. The man was of indeterminate age. His hair was black, neatly combed back from a high, intelligent forehead, with some grey at the temples. His complexion was not dark and was not light. He was, perhaps, of the Mediterranean race. Perhaps he was a Southern European. Or he may have come from Southeast Europe, or Western Asia, or Central Asia, perhaps even from certain parts of South Asia or North Africa. No one knew. More importantly, anyone who might know was very probably dead. His black eyes were piercing, cold, terrifying. The black eyebrows, while thick, were not bushy. He was clean-shaven, and his aquiline nose was straight; and when combined with his high forehead it gave his face a certain characteristic of intelligence. Deadly intelligence.

“Really, Mr. Savage,” said the figure, slowly becoming clearer. The voice was educated, refined, soft and menacing. “You really are a most uncooperative guest.”

“Go to hell!” the Australian mumbled. He knew that voice from somewhere, but where?

“All in due time, I’m sure,” chuckled the figure. “And I am equally certain that you will be there to greet me when, at long last, my time comes.” The voice changed, becoming deep and serious. “You realize, Mr. Savage, that you have cost me many good men and women.”

“If they were any bloody good I wouldn’t have gotten this far, now would I have?” Savage retorted.

“Quite,” chuckled the figure again. “Nevertheless, you have cost me many of my personnel; therefore, I must take all that I can out of you.”

“Won’t be bloody much, I’ll wager,” was the reply. “I don’t imagine your bosses were very happy when they learned that I had infiltrated their precious stronghold.”

“I am the boss, Mr. Savage,” was the calm response, “and had I not permitted your infiltration you would not be here now. You are a rather essential piece of my overall plan.”

“You’ll not get any help from me.”

Au contraire, Mr. Savage. You help me just by being here.”

“You’d best kill me here and now, Shaitan, because if you don’t then I’ll surely kill you.”

“Ah, so you do remember me! Very good. Your demise shall thus be that much sweeter. You really should not make idle threats, you know.”

“I don’t make threats, only promises; you should know that.”

“You Australians amuse me with your senseless bravado in the face of impending death.” Shaitan addressed the men holding Savage, “Take him to his new cell, and this time I strongly advise against allowing him to escape.”


TWO

IT was a wet March morning in Singapore. The city was quiet and virtually deserted at four-thirty in the morning. The northeast trade winds that were blowing were reinforced by the outflows of the surface air coming from Asia and bringing with it heavy rains and strong winds. The windshield wipers of the dark blue Mercedes Benz 280D sedan were going at full speed but proved insignificant in the torrential downpour. The vehicle purred through the city and pulled into an underground garage off Alexandra Road. The man behind the steering wheel guided the automobile into its reserved slot inside the well-lit garage. He sat there for several moments before climbing out of the vehicle and locking the door. Without any further delay he strode to the elevator that would carry him to the sixteenth floor.

He stepped into the brightly lit corridor, fully carpeted with walls painted in a light pastel blue. The white sign in front of him listed the three companies that shared the entire sixteenth floor, and indicated which suites they occupied. His hazel eyes rested momentarily on the name of the company, Harrington Lloyd-Creighton, International Consultants, Unlimited, of which he was the Southeast Asian Regional Director. The sign also indicated the direction in which the suites could be found, not that he needed such a sign. He walked silently down the corridor until he reached Suite 1610, the reception office.

Opening the stained-glass door that bore the company logo, he removed his well-worn fedora as he stepped through into the spacious office. Like the rest of the suite, the room was expensively furnished and yet comfortable. There were plush chairs and low tables available for those who arrived early for, or without, an appointment, and there were racks filled with the latest in a wide variety of financial and business publications. The company’s highly competent receptionist was seated behind the large teak desk which was located directly across the room from the entry door. She was wearing a conservatively cut pantsuit and had her long auburn hair done up in a loose bun. She was attractive in an understated way. She glanced up from her morning tea and newspaper as he closed the door behind him.

“Good morning, Emily!” he declared cheerfully, removing his mackintosh. “And how are we this somewhat damp morn?”

Emily Cavendish glanced out through the rain-spattered window at the blackened sky, lit occasionally by tendrils of lightning. “Just fine, sir, and yourself?”

“Same as ever, thank you.” It had been this way since the first day that she had come to work for Randolph Davenport, almost five years ago. She had applied for a transfer-of-station from the London branch office where she had worked since joining the company. She had been twenty-one then, now almost ten years had passed. As fortune would have it, at that same time Davenport had requested, or rather had demanded, a receptionist who was more capable than the one he had just transferred to the Beirut office. His reason for the transfer had been delicately put; the fact that her filing system made it impossible for him to find anything was not mentioned. Much to their regret, London had sent Emily to Singapore and she had not returned to the British Isles since. “Anything for me this morning, dear?”

“Nothing as yet, sir; the courier’s a bit late again, I’m afraid,” she replied, her voice soft, pleasant. “Could I fix you a cup of tea in the meantime? The water’s hot.”

“Brilliant. Thank you. That would be splendid.” He walked across the room to the door that opened into his office. It was an equally spacious suite, paneled in oiled teak, the shelves filled with books on a wide assortment of subjects and local objects of art. His massive teak desk stood before tinted windows that took up much of the west wall. The desk lamp was lit, and various international newspapers were neatly stacked beneath the soft light. She does spoil me, he thought, hanging up his coat and hat on the rack beside the door. He ran a large hand through his thick head of dark hair, the grey at the temples giving him a distinguished appearance. Lighting a cigarette, he settled his large frame into the leather chair behind the desk and leaned back. Smoke rings drifted up towards the ceiling. He loved this insular city-state. He loved its people and the mixture of cultures that made it a thriving international entrepôt. He loved everything about it.

He could remember what it had been like when he was just a boy, before the Japanese invasion. He had seen it change since then, watching it grow as would a loving father. When he was twenty-one he went into British Military Intelligence and requested stationing in Southeast Asia. That had been in 1951. Twenty years later, having attained the rank of major, he retired and went to work for a man whom he had met while in MI5: Sir Harrington Lloyd-Creighton. He had been with the firm for sixteen years now, ten of them in Singapore. He had returned to England only once in the last decade, five years ago, to bury his estranged wife. His son and daughter had been there at the burial; it was the first time that he had seen either of them since his wife left him, with the children, in 1976. The two photographs on his desk were taken a few days after the funeral. That had been the last time he had seen them. Philip had been twenty then, and Tabitha two years younger. He sighed, and smoke rings drifted upward.

A gentle knock at the door brought him out of his reverie and he sat up as Emily stepped into the office, a steaming cup of tea in her hand. She placed it in front of him and stepped back. Wrinkling her pert nose, she said, “You’re smoking again.”

Looking down at the cigarette in his hand, he admitted, “I certainly am, thanks so much for telling me.”

“It’s not good for you.”

“You are so right. Again. However, old habits are somewhat difficult to discontinue. And besides, it keeps my hands busy.”

A smile touched her full lips as she murmured, “Perhaps it’s just as well, then.”

“Are you still seeing that young Naval Attaché at the American Embassy?”

“Off and on,” she shrugged.

“Ah. More off than on, I suspect,” Davenport told her. Her response was another shrug. “Why is it you have never married, if you don’t mind my asking?”

She looked at him levelly. “Things never worked out. My suitors have all wanted me to be a pregnant-and-barefoot-type housewife; I wanted to continue working.”

“Both points of view have their merit, I suppose. I’m actually rather glad you never married, rather selfish, I know, but this place would be in quite a shamble without you here to keep things straight and running smoothly.”

“Does this mean I get a raise?”

He laughed softly, and then slowly shook his head. “I’m afraid not.” He paused for a moment, the room quiet. “You know, Emily,” he said gently, “I’m really very glad you’re here.”

In the small room next to Davenport’s office the secured teletype machine suddenly came to life. They looked at each other for a moment; the machine was used only for priority messages from one of several smaller branch offices scattered throughout the Southeast Asian area, and on occasion from the head office in London. Emily brought the sheet in to him, presenting it without a word. It was a brief message: Regarding Case 86-B-05: Situation deadlocked. Possibly critical. Request special assistance team.

A frown creased Davenport’s brow as he reread the message. “Now what the bloody devil is that all about?” he muttered, laying the message down on his desk. He rubbed his clean-shaven jaw as he stared at the single sheet of paper, then glanced up at his assistant. “Emily, you had best bring me whatever we have on this because I’m not really certain as to what the devil it is.” He shook his head slightly. “I don’t recognize the case number.”

“Right away, sir,” was the reply, and the door closed quietly behind her.

Davenport lit another cigarette and sat back in his chair, still staring at the message. “What the bloody hell is Case 86-B-05?” he wondered aloud. “There’d better not be an operation going on in my territory without my knowledge or I’ll be damned upset.”

A few minutes later Emily reentered his office with a thin manila folder in hand. “Sir, we have nothing on this case number, so I had to contact London.” She handed the folder over to him. “It is a classified operation approved by Sir Lloyd-Creighton himself. We have no authority on this one, sir; it’s strictly the home office.”

“Lovely!” Davenport exclaimed, tossing the empty folder onto his desk. “That’s just wonderful! And I thought I was getting away from idiots when I left the Army!” Again, he shook his head. “Just goes to show you, Emily, that there is no escape from the idiots of the world.”

“I don’t understand, sir. Sir Lloyd-Creighton would never personally authorize an operation without notifying the regional director unless it was of extreme importance. I think you’re being terribly unfair.”

“Perhaps.” A heavy sigh escaped the Regional Director, Southeast Asian Theatre of Operations. “Perhaps you are right, Emily, and I apologize. It just annoys me when something like this happens. After all, I rather like to know what’s going on in my theatre of operations; I hate surprises like this.” He stubbed out his cigarette, and then slipped the teletype message into the folder. “Well, if you haven’t done so already, you’d best notify London on this. After all, it’s their operation in the first place.” She nodded and left. Davenport took a long drag off a freshly lit cigarette, letting the smoke filter out through his nostrils. “Bloody cock-up!”

• • •

The home office of Harrington Lloyd-Creighton, International Consultants, Unlimited, was located away from the city itself. It was an inconspicuous building, looking very much like all the other buildings on the street. A small brass sign near the front door identified it as an office rather than a residence, as many of the buildings were. The office had been there for more than thirty years, originating in the narrow, four-story building. As the business had grown and spread, the owner had seen no reason to move the home office. He had merely opened branches about the city as needed.

Sir Harrington Lloyd-Creighton was the man behind International Consultants, Unlimited. He had taken over a small consultation firm from his father when he was thirty and had turned it into a successful international business. It had taken him twenty years to achieve his dream. He had offices spread all over the world, a vast network of ears and eyes that kept him posted to any changes in any given geographical area. How he had gotten to be where he was, however, was a closely guarded secret. He had been secure in the belief that his secret would never be exposed. In late 1979, when a man he knew nothing about, had never heard of, approached him, his world had begun to crumble about him.

Lloyd-Creighton eased back in his chair, and as his eyes closed he went back to that foggy, cold October night, to a crowded pub on the River Thames. It had been a cryptic telephone call on his private office line that had summoned him to the public house. The caller claimed to have incriminating information, and though he thought it highly unlikely, Lloyd-Creighton had to be certain. The well-dressed man was very well informed. For a full five minutes the man had recited names, dates, amounts, times and nature of transactions. His swarthy, Romanesque features had revealed no emotions, no pleasure or sense of conquest. The man knew, as did Lloyd-Creighton, that he held all of the cards. The English nobleman had two choices: give in to the demands of the eloquent stranger or face disgrace in the business world, not to mention possible legal battles, incarceration, and the pain it would cause the wonderful woman he had married late in life and their three young children.

At forty-eight, Sir Harrington Lloyd-Creighton surrendered himself, and all of his assets, to this man he did not know. Then, in January 1984, in the West German capital of Bonn, an explosion shattered his fragile world. His wife and children had been there on holiday; he would have been in Bonn with them had his private jet not been grounded due to heavy fog at a private airfield in Kent. He grieved deeply for a week, and then he began his plans for fighting back. He used all of the resources available to him, called in favors that were owed him by politicians and businessmen alike, and by the middle of that February he was ready to implement his plan.

He called eight men who were scattered around the world and had them brought, at his expense, to a quiet hotel in Kent. For a full week the nine of them remained within the walls of the hotel until, at last, they had perfected their plan for retribution. The eight men were added to his payroll under assumed names, complete with histories, as company troubleshooters. They formed a team of assassins, responsible to no country, to no government, to no one but themselves. They had the best equipment available to assist them in their private war. A vast intelligence-gathering network of trusted men and women aided them in locating their targets. For two and a half years they searched out their targets and destroyed them. Some of their targets had been untouchable by the local law enforcement agencies. But no one was safe from these eight men. They were quick and deadly efficient, racking up an impressive body count. Organized crime leaders were killed in broad daylight while surrounded by their bodyguards. Terrorist safe-houses were burned to the ground, often with the occupants still inside. The sole purpose of the team was to destroy the International Organization for Terrorist Aggression, and capture its shadowy leader.

In September 1986, a tip had led the InterOps team to Tripoli, Libya, a tip that turned out to be a trap. They had retreated into the desert where they had planned to rendezvous with their personal warplane. It had been a running firefight and they had taken a serious beating. One of the team had never recovered. Another lost his mind. The team only numbered six now, and they had not worked together as a team in six months.

Sir Harrington Lloyd-Creighton squeezed his eyes shut to erase the images, the memories. He took a deep breath to calm himself; he could not take much more of this charade. On his desk lay their thick folders, two of them marked CLOSED. Everything that was known about them was in the files. He reached out and touched the pile; they were more than just folders of information. And it was happening again.

Set aside from the rest was a ninth file, not so thick as the others, but still filled with information collected over the past three years. This was Alexander Shaitan’s, the man behind the International Organization for Terrorist Aggression. Today the leading terrorist in the world, he had begun his climb in the early sixties. He had extended his talents into the underworld of organized crime and was now controlling much of that as well. Shaitan had been the team’s target in Tripoli; he had turned out to be the bait for the trap that had nearly exterminated the eight men. Now the team would have another chance.

Sir Harrington Lloyd-Creighton reached for the telephone.


THREE

THE black rubber raft came closer to the darkened island’s coastline with each stroke of the oars. The sea was calm, tiny waves lapping at the rubber hull, as the man in the charcoal-grey jumpsuit pulled hard at the oars. There was no moon in the partially overcast sky that night, ideal for what the man had in mind. His black hair and Asian features were hidden beneath a black Ninja-style facemask. His jumpsuit featured numerous pockets for various uses and times, to include spare magazines for his weapons and some plastique explosives. Black gloves and black rubber-soled boots designed specifically for West Germany’s elite and highly secret counter terrorist Grenzschutzgruppe-9, more commonly known to the world as GSG-9, completed his outfit. Held tight in a shoulder holster that hugged his left side was a fifteen-shot Beretta M-92 9mm semi-automatic pistol. Strapped across his back was a Heckler and Koch MP-5SD, a silenced 9mm submachine gun. On the floor of the raft, between his feet and wrapped in a protective case, was a Heckler and Koch G3SG/1, a 7.62mm Scharfschutzen Gewher, a sniper rifle. A Gerber Mk-1 boot knife was snug in his right boot; the Mk-2 sheath knife hung from his black web belt. He was as ready as he would ever be.

The waves carried him the final few yards to the beach. Wasting no time, he dragged the raft across the fifty-odd feet of soft sand to the tree line. Quickly he camouflaged the raft, obliterating the traces in the sand, and then set out through the jungle on a compass bearing that would bring him to a small terrorist camp, sponsored by IOTA. He moved quickly, quietly, through the jungle as if he were a shadow. It took him just under an hour to reach the outer perimeter of the camp. What sentries he located were relaxed, some even asleep, not expecting anything to happen, especially from one man. He moved through the sentries without alerting any of them and moved towards the fence. He stopped at the edge of the twenty-five-foot kill-zone that surrounded the camp. The fence was a standard security fence: seven feet high with eighteen-inch outriggers. No problem. For almost half an hour he watched the patrolling sentry teams of two men each. There was no specific routine to their patrolling, but he estimated that about ten minutes elapsed between the times the patrols would be in the area where he needed to work. It was sufficient. He produced a pair of parkerized heavy-duty wire cutters from a black pouch on his web belt and waited.

As soon as the sentries wandered off, he sprinted across the kill-zone to the fence. In just over a minute he was through the fence and crouched in the shadows of a nearby building. The wire cutters disappeared back into the pouch on his web belt and the MP-5SD filled his hands. He became a part of the shadows, moving through the compound silently. The night was warm, humid.

He had been within the camp less than five minutes when he came upon a lightly dozing sentry in his path. The MP-5SD went across his back and the Gerber Mk-2 slipped silently from its sheath. In a single fluid motion, he covered the man’s nose and mouth, pulled back the head, and tore out the exposed throat. The body was hastily stuffed into the crawl space beneath the building. He moved onward. At last he came upon the barracks filled with sleeping terrorist trainees. He moved rapidly, depositing C-4 explosives at various places beneath the building along with electronic detonators. When he was done there, he made his way toward the armory. On his hands and knees, he was moving beneath an office when he heard the klaxon, startling him. He went prone, freezing where he was. “Well, that’s not good!” the Asian muttered as he watched the chaos.

Above the noise of the klaxon and small-arms fire, he could barely hear the drone of the four turboprop engines. Moments later there were explosions throughout the camp. They were not his charges, he noticed; something was going on here. He quickly triggered his detonator and the barracks, now almost empty, erupted in a blinding flash. The air was a cacophony of sounds: screams, explosions, the heavy sound of Soviet ComBloc 7.62mm rounds, the staccato of the American GAU-2A 7.62mm mini-guns, the deep thumping of the .50 caliber machine guns. He knew now what was happening. He slung the sniper rifle from across his back and, from beneath the office, sniped at the dark shadows running back and forth. In the confusion, the terrorists had no idea where the killing round was coming from.

With the sniper rifle empty, he slung it across his back, grabbed up the MP-5SD lying beside him, chambered a round, and made for his hole in the fence by the most direct route. The sounds of the battle filled his ears: the rockets, the explosions, the automatic weapons fire, the screams of the wounded and dying. The attackers were doing a very serious job of leveling the camp. The fuel depot erupted in a gargantuan fireball, illuminating everything before receding to just a raging inferno. The office building that just moments earlier had been providing him shelter exploded magnificently when struck by a laser-guided air-to-surface missile. The communications building had been one of the first to perish in the attack, along with the armory and motor pool. The mini-guns, firing thousands of bullets in a lethal stream, had shredded the headquarters. Tracers filled the night sky like a thousand shooting stars.

Quite a show, thought the Asian as he ran hard for the fence. He was fast approaching his target when he came face to face with four men milling about, unsure of what to do. Without breaking his stride, he emptied an entire thirty-round magazine into them before they could get off a single shot. The 9mm hollow-point rounds tore through their bodies with devastating force, leaving gaping wounds. He reloaded on the run. As he approached the fence he drew a grenade and pulled the pin, not about to take the time to crawl through the little hole he had cut earlier. But before he could toss the grenade bullets kicked up dirt near him, forcing him to dive behind several crates for cover.

He kept low as the rounds hammered into the wood above his head. The grenade was still in his hand, the spoon clasped tight against the casing. A round tore through the crate just inches from his face. AKM, he thought, identifying the opposing weapon. Keeping low, he peeked around the crate to locate the sniper. The man was perhaps fifteen yards away from him, hiding behind a thin wall that was all that was left of a shed. A glance to his left revealed the fence not ten yards away. His jaw set, the Asian tossed the grenade at the fence and hugged the ground. There was a delay of only a few seconds, and then the fence erupted in a cloud of dirt and smoke. In the moment after the explosion, the Asian rolled to his right and let loose with half a magazine into the thin wall. He saw the sniper fall into view, the AKM loosened from the dead grip.

Scrambling to his feet, he sprinted for the hole in the fence, emptying the remainder of the magazine into a man running towards him. He was through the hole, across the killing-zone and into the jungle in less than a minute. He paused only for a moment to take a compass reading and to ensure that he was not being followed. Leaving the sounds of the battle raging behind him, he ran hard and fast toward the beach. The sentries who had been posted earlier in the evening were not to be found anywhere, not that the Asian was looking very hard. No time was wasted in locating the raft and getting it into the water. He rowed hard, trying to put as much distance between himself and the island as he could.

Still less than one hundred yards from the beach, out of the corner of his eye he saw a dark silhouette approaching low and slow from the south. He ducked down as the aircraft roared above him, perhaps two hundred feet up. As it passed over him he recognized the flat black shape of the modified Shorts Belfast. Quickly he donned a harness and sent up the bright orange weather balloon that was attached to it. The aircraft circled around and came back at him, slowing even more and dipping its wings in salute: then he was snatched from the raft.

It took several minutes of fighting the slipstream to get him inside the Raven. He was given a cup of hot coffee by the Command Center/Weapons System Officer, Maximillian Kriegor, before he was in a chair. Without a word, Kriegor returned to his computer console just behind the cockpit and sent a coded message to London.

The Shorts Belfast was a British-built aircraft and looked innocent enough to those who did not know what to look for, but beneath its metal skin was a war machine of incredible destructive power. In its belly, between the main landing gears, were two hydraulic racks, each holding six air-to-air or air-to-surface missiles. Concealed in front of the nose gear was a 30mm multi-barreled canon, the same as that used by the tank-killing A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. On racks that were lowered by hydraulics built into the sides of the aircraft were two GAU-2/A 7.62mm mini-guns and two heavier .50 caliber machine guns. All the weapons were controlled by the CC/WSO, Max Kriegor, and his sophisticated computer.

Within the aircraft itself, in what had originally been the cargo area, was a comfortable, though slightly cramped, pressurized cabin with all the comforts of home: six wide recliners that doubled as berths; a lavatory with a shower; a small fully stocked bar; a complete kitchenette; and an armory of small weapons that ranged from silenced .22 caliber semi-automatic pistols to the 40mm M-203 grenade launcher attached to the 5.56mm M-16 assault rifle. There was more than enough ammunition on board for each weapon. The aircraft was loaded, and it was at the disposal of the InterOps team.

The crew of five aboard the Raven had been in the employ of Lloyd-Creighton for several years before being offered the job of working with the special anti-terrorist strike force. They had jumped at the opportunity. Three of them were British, one was French and one German, and they worked together smoothly; each knew the other’s task aboard the Raven in case of any emergencies. They trained together constantly when not in service with the anti-terrorist team. They were a fighting force unto themselves.

The pilot, Victor ‘Vic’ Harrison, put the aircraft through a wide banking turn and headed northeast for the island of Grenada to refuel before starting the long flight to Germany.

The CC/WSO turned in his swivel chair, a satisfied grin on his young face. He was the German, an ex-member of the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, where he had worked with computers and weapons systems on the F-16 Fighting Falcon jets. “Also, mein Freund, wie steht es? You know, we were not sure if you would make it out of there. I apologize if any of my weapons came too close.”

Yasou Yamamoto gave the lanky crewman a quiet look and smiled. “You got close a few times, Max. It took me a couple of seconds to figure out what the hell was going on, but I still don’t know why all the fireworks.”

“Ah, well, let me try to explain, then, as best I can,” the German said as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “We were standing by in the area to await your signal, as usual, when we received orders on the priority channel to go in and blow the scheisse out of the camp. We were ordered to extract you as quickly as possible and proceed immediately to Frankfurt International.” He took a long sip of the strong, black coffee, and then glanced at the Asian. “It would seem, as I understand it, that the team is being recalled.”

Yamamoto frowned. “What for?” He paused to swallow more of the hot coffee, letting the warmth flow down his throat. “It must be something big.” Again, he paused. “What about the others?”

Kriegor shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I expect that we shall receive more information en route to Frankfurt.”

Yamamoto sat back in the recliner and stared into space. They had not worked together as a team since Tripoli. Each had gone off in different directions after returning to England to relax and heal. He himself had just recently recovered from being shot through both legs; this had been his first operation in six months. And now they were being recalled, the team was being brought back together. That could mean only one thing to Yamamoto: they were going after Shaitan again.

In his mind he went back to that clear, cold night in the desert outside of the Libyan capital. Both of his legs had been rendered useless by a wild shot, the others were battered and bleeding as well. Bat Grovner was dead, inside the burning hulk of what had once been a French-built troop helicopter. C.W. Wells was a babbling child huddled against the rocks. They would all have perished that night had the Raven not arrived when it did. The turboprops had screamed as the aircraft burst from the darkness of a starless night and laced the desert floor with death, shredding Gaddafi’s troops and tearing through vehicles. Tracers streaked through the night sky like streamers on parade. Then it was over, and they were quickly taken aboard. All of them except Bat. He never made it back that night.

Yamamoto’s head dropped, his eyes closed tightly, as their faces flashed across his mind. The last face was that of his wife, Mariko, killed three years earlier in Bonn by terrorists. He wiped away the single tear, rose, and went to the armory to clean his weapons. His hands shook from the rage that had been rekindled.

• • •

He woke with a start, his face wet with perspiration, his upper chest on fire. He reached for the bloody wound and the pain faded. There was only the scar left from the Soviet 7.62mm bullet that had found him on that dark night. The Scot propped himself up against the headboard of his king-sized bed and wiped his face with a large hand. Glancing down at the figure lying beside him, he watched her buxom chest rise and fall evenly as she breathed. Gently he brushed away a few strands of the soft black hair that lay across her quiet face. The semi-darkness in the room was fading, replaced by the slow-rising sun.

As the light increased, he glanced about his small flat. It was comfortable, nothing fancy. The carpeting was a little worn in places; the paintings that hung on the walls were those of European masters, but were all reproductions. The sofa in front of the tiny fireplace was in relatively good shape, though just a little frayed at the corners. The much-used recliner, on the other hand, was in dire need of new upholstery. Nothing fancy, but it’s home, he thought. Sort of.

He carefully crawled out of the bed, pulled on his threadbare silk smoking jacket, and made his way to the fully stocked kitchen. From the refrigerator he took an unopened liter bottle of milk and proceeded to drink straight from it. In the back of his mind he could hear his mother berating him, and he chuckled at the thought. A glance toward the bed told him that the woman there was still asleep. His full lips momentarily extended in a wide smile as he walked over to the open window.

He stood there, one hand thrust deep into the pocket of the smoking jacket, the other holding the bottle of milk, his grey eyes focused on the golden-red sunrise as he thought about the nightmare which frequently awakened him. He saw their faces, each of the men’s faces; the longest seemed to be of those who had not made it: C.W. and Bat. A tear formed in the corner of his right eye; he let it roll down his cheek and into the red stubble on his jaw.

A sound from behind him made him glance over his shoulder. Still asleep, she had only rolled over onto her flat stomach, revealing her milky-white bare bottom. He looked at her for what seemed a long time, the familiar struggle within him reawakened. He quickly finished the bottle of milk and set it down on a small table near the window. He had to get out. He felt constricted, confined, for too long he had been inactive. A part of him yearned for the quiet life, a greater part of him cried out for adventure, for battle and blood. He was a soldier, had been since 1969, eighteen long years. Shortly after his sister had died at the hands of terrorists in Bonn in January 1984, he had been approached and offered a job that he could not refuse: to be a member of an anti-terrorist strike force. This was what he wanted: to wage a war that had a purpose with which he could identify, without shackling rules which gave the enemy the edge.

He gave up the somewhat turbulent but always restrictive military career that had allowed him to move only slowly through the British ranks because of his views on warfare and his opinion of the Geneva Convention. Three years in the jungles of Vietnam and Laos, with unauthorized excursions into Cambodia and Thailand, had convinced him that there were no rules for war, except the rule of survival. When that war had ended he had felt betrayed, though he had been pulled out in 1972, three years before the formal withdrawal of U.S. forces and the signing of the peace treaty. The Free World forces had fought by the rules, and had lost. He knew there were others who felt as he did, such as his American brother-in-law. They had worked together on numerous operations, seldom by the rules unless it served their purpose. They had been an effective team, never mind that they had not gotten along in the beginning, and they had produced results. But those in command had not been impressed with their methods. He had lost a lot of friends in the jungles during those three long years; most of them had died playing by the rules. Rules, he thought venomously.

“Patrick.” The sleepy voice was quiet and soft.

Macbeth turned to face the woman sitting up in his bed. She was still a beauty in his eyes, though not as young as she once was. I’ve no room to talk, he thought to himself. He felt older than his thirty-five years from time to time, such as now. “Good morning, luv,” he said, walking toward her. He sat down on the edge of the bed; she moved next to him, losing the sheet, and gently kissed his stubbled cheek.

“Those dreams again.” It was more a statement than a question.

“Aye,” he nodded with a sigh. “But they’re more like bloody nightmares.” Again, on his feet, he paced the worn carpeting. He ran a large hand through his thick mass of fiery red curls. “I keep seeing Bat going up in flames. And then there’s C.W., my God! He went through so much bloody hell in Nam, it’s still hard to believe that he’d ever go over the deep end.” He looked down at her with sad grey eyes. “You know that I love you dearly, Elsbeth, but I canna give to you what you’re wanting, not right now, not just yet.”

“I know,” she murmured, watching him. It hurt her to see him like this, even after so many years. “Patrick, how long have we known each other?”

“Biblically speaking?”

“You know what I mean.”

He took a moment to think, and then said, “About five or six years.”

“Close enough. And in all that time, have I ever pushed you into doing something you weren’t sure about?”

“Well, there was the opera some months back …”

“You know what I mean!” she declared, tossing the pillow at him.

A smile touched his lips again as he deftly caught the pillow. “Aye, I know what you mean, luv.” He returned to the bed and sat down, tossing the pillow against the headboard. “You’ve been very patient with me, though why, I’m not sure but I thank you. Five, six years, it’s a long time to wait for a man. Perhaps we should make it official.”

Her eyes brightened, and a smile grew. “Oh, Patrick! I never thought I’d live to see the day …”

She was interrupted by the telephone on the night stand. They both stared at it for several moments. It kept ringing. Elsbeth’s smile faded as her eyes moved from the ringing telephone to him. He set his jaw as he reached across her to lift the receiver. “’Ullo,” he said quietly.

Elsbeth crawled out from beneath him and went to the bathroom. When she emerged several minutes later, Macbeth was again standing at the open window. She knew, deep inside, without having to ask, what had happened, knew who had called. “Patrick.”

He turned slowly to face her, a sad smile on his lips. “I’m so sorry, luv.”

She shook her head, a slight smile on her own lips, her voice still soft. “No, you’re not. It’s what you want. It’s something you need, like a fix. You’re addicted to combat, that’s why you gave up the SAS and went to work for this Lloyd-Creighton character. He could give you what the military could not, and for that I doubt I shall ever forgive him. No. No, don’t say anything. Remember, Patrick, my love, I know you. Like you said: five, six years is a long time.” She walked to him and kissed him, then held him close. “But you’re not getting rid of me quite so easily, boy-o; I’ll be here waiting for you.”

“I wish … that I could say that this is my last operation, but I canna say so just yet.” He kissed her forehead, the scent of her hair filling his nostrils. “Someday I’ll make it up to you, luv.”

“Just come back to me, that’s all I ask.”

“Now, luv, have I ever let you down?”

She gazed into his eyes, frightened by what she did not see. “Not yet,” she whispered.

• • •

One foot in front of the other, he ran along the narrow road that wove its way through the gentle German countryside. He had lost track of the number of miles that now lay behind him, perhaps fifteen or twenty. He was not a tall man, only sixty-eight inches, but he was built like a military recruiting poster. His waist was trim, stomach solid, and his muscles rippled smoothly beneath his tanned skin. His blond hair had grown out since his departure from the German anti-terrorist unit known as GSG-9 three years earlier. His blue eyes were deep, penetrating, clear, missing little. He ran on.

It had been several weeks since his last operation against the International Organization for Terrorist Aggression. With a fellow anti-terrorist, they had sought out a leading member of the German terrorist Red Army Faction group hiding in Prague and had exterminated the man, along with a handful of colleagues. For weeks they had traced his path across Europe, always one step behind, always arriving too late. They saw his handiwork, the innocent people he had maimed and killed. Each pair of weeping or blank eyes spurred them on to complete their mission. He remembered those faces of the men, women and children who had been struck down for some twisted ideal. The innocent, the victims of something they did not understand something they knew nothing about. It was the publicity brought about by these senseless acts of violence that fed the terrorists. Without it, without the media attention, they could not survive.


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