The Traveler: New Excerpt

The Traveler by David Golemon
The Traveler by David Golemon
The Traveler  is the 11th book in David Golemon’s Event Group Thrillers series (Available July 7, 2016).

267,000 BCE. The continent was its own world, untouched by the planet-wide catastrophe that ended the reign of the dinosaurs over sixty-five million years before. A traveler arrives in the jungles of this ancient world who will fight to survive carnivorous creatures in a land never meant for human kind.

In another time and in a land far distant, men and women struggle to recover from the loss of so many of their own in a battle. Inside of this Group, Colonel Jack Collins has summoned the best of the best from the most secretive organization in the United States government, The Event Group, to help him in his quest. The new mission is to recover one of their own: to bring home a lost soldier from a world that existed in the distant past.

To accomplish the impossible, Department 5656, the Event Group, will have to travel to a place and time far removed from their own world – almost 300,000 years in the past. The trail to find the technology to accomplish time travel will be ripe with treachery and murder as the Group fights to bring home their friend, Captain Carl Everett, a man that was lost in a battle to save the world. This will be a fight that if lost, will change the very history of the planet and thus our present.

1

ST. JUDE’S CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

The nondescript Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter eased its large bulk onto the painted heliport atop the hospital normally used to airlift critically ill patients to one of the most prestigious hospitals in the world. Before the wheels set down, one of the men in the passenger compartment felt the eyes on them in the darkness of the heliport. He knew that with those eyes came weapons—weapons that were right now trained on them and their air force flight crew.

Colonel Jack Collins looked over at his boss, Director Niles Compton, who was just placing paperwork back into his briefcase. Jack watched as the director removed the wire-rimmed glasses from his face and then watched as the fifty-one-year-old Compton rubbed the black eye patch that covered his right socket. Compton realized the colonel was watching him and quickly lowered his hand and replaced the glasses.

The two security men Jack had assigned to escort them to Los Angeles were politely not paying attention to the director nor his recent deformity received during the war with the Grays the previous month. The two men, Diaz and Voorhees, both U.S. Marines, were dressed in civilian attire. Collins unsnapped the seat belt and waited on Compton to gather his things just as the sliding door of the Black Hawk was opened from the outside. Before anyone could stand to leave, a rather large man in a navy blue Windbreaker stepped up to the door with four other men attired in the exact same manner. Jack assisted Niles as he maneuvered his cane to support his badly injured right leg. Collins knew Compton would never walk without the support of the cane again.

As Niles Compton straightened in the dying wind of the helicopter’s rotors, Jack thought it beyond curious that Compton was now afflicted with the same war-won deformities that their benefactor, Senator Garrison Lee, had suffered with since his final days in World War II. He didn’t know if the sight was ironic, or just a cruel joke for the man who was the most humanitarian gentleman he had ever known—notwithstanding the fact that he was also the most brilliant man in government service, if not the world. The respect he had for the director had grown leaps and bounds since he had first met Niles back in the summer of 2006.

“Gentlemen, we need to scan you before allowing you inside,” the large black agent said as he held out a small box. “Thumb, please.”

Jack went first by placing his right thumb onto the small glass pad on the top of the box. The Secret Service agent smiled a little when Collins hissed and then removed his thumb and looked at it. The agent looked from Collins to the readout on the black box.

“Sorry, Colonel, new SOP from Homeland Security and the home office, all visitors are now obligated for DNA scan before gaining access to Rough Rider.”

Jack raised a brow as the instant DNA analysis was repeated with Niles, who seemed distant as he placed his thumb on the pad. Collins nodded at his two security men, who would not be allowed inside. The two men followed the six-man security team to the rooftop elevator. With their escort Jack counted no less than sixteen pairs of eyes on them coming from hidden locations on the rooftop. He assumed they all had automatic weapons. The protection for the man they had come to see had quadrupled since the war that had cost the world so much. A war that ended fifty-two days before. The country and the planet had lost too much to lose any more.

The pace was slow as everyone, including the Secret Service detail, knew that Niles Compton was just learning how to handle his infirmities. His walking was slow and awkward and Jack was instantly aware that Niles felt self-deprecating for those new infirmities. That coupled with the Group’s losses from the war were weighing heavily on the director’s mind. Jack knew that as a battlefield commander, Niles had to face certain things all by himself, just as he himself had to learn how to go on living after losing men and women whose lives he had been responsible for.

Collins became curious as they were escorted past the private suite of rooms and the large outside security team guarding it, and instead were guided through the cordon and brought to what looked like a closed hospital kitchen. The large double swinging doors closed behind Niles and Jack and they found themselves in a semidark stainless steel kitchen. The old smells of hospital meals hauntingly teased the air. Collins saw only two Secret Service men. One was standing in a far, very dark corner and the other was sitting by the opposite exit that entered the cafeteria-style seating area beyond. Other than that there was only one other man in the kitchen and he was half a torso deep in the large double-door refrigerator. Niles shook his head when he saw the robed man wiggle his butt as he leaned into the frigid space as he rummaged around, cursing as he did so.

“Not one shred of cheese other than this in the whole damn place!” came the muffled voice from deep inside the refrigerator. The hand dropped a small container of cottage cheese on the table behind him.

“Perhaps if you held strictly to the diet your doctor’s set for you that infection in your leg would finally go away and you can stop hiding out in children’s hospitals.”

The ass in the doorway quit wiggling and the tall man straightened and turned to face the men who had just entered the hospital kitchen.

“Let’s see how you would do eating that”—the president pointed to the container of low-fat cottage cheese—“and see how quickly you recover.” The president looked at his oldest friend in the world and knew Niles had just gone through a very hard rehab just like himself. He became self-conscious looking at the man who had served as his best man a million years before the nightmares of the recent past.

Niles placed his briefcase upon the stainless steel countertop and then opened it. He brought out a large box and gestured for the president to see what was inside as he cut the string holding the box closed.

“The chefs at Group wanted you to have this … well, Alice Hamilton did anyway. I said you probably didn’t deserve it, but I was overruled.”

The president raised his right brow and spun awkwardly on his casted right leg and looked from Niles to Jack, who nodded that the box was indeed real. The president used a crutch and walked-slipped to stand by Niles’s side. He looked from his friend’s face to the contents of the box. The president smiled and suspiciously looked from the largest corned beef sandwich he had ever seen to the two Secret Service agents watching the proceedings. The two quickly looked away. The president nodded and before he reached to get Alice Hamilton’s reward, he looked at Niles and then Jack. He shook his head and gestured for the protection detail to bring over two tall stools, which were placed before Jack and Niles.

“It feels better if I stand,” the president said, tapping his cast as he leaned the crutch against the table as he closely watched his agents while they were close to his sandwich, as if he feared they would steal his precious bundle of cholesterol. When they moved off, Collins and Compton sat. “I’m not going to ask how either of you are, I can see without asking.” The president picked the large sandwich up and smelled the meat and the hot mustard inside. His eyes rolled as he put it back in the box. With another suspicious look at his security detail he closed it. “I’ll eat this later. Right now we have to talk before they knock me out with all of these new antibiotics they plan to feed me.”

Jack watched on, aware of the uncomfortable silence coming from Niles as he waited for the president to continue. Gone was the small talk and playful banter he had always seen between the two men. Now there seemed to be a steeliness between them that wasn’t there the previous years. The president waved over one of the Secret Service men who placed two stacks of papers on the tabletop and then moved off for another pile that was placed beside the first two. Three distinct sets of papers.

The president slapped the smallest pile on Jack’s left. “Death notifications from the Department of the National Archives, specifically, a secret section of said archives, Department 5656. Spanning the years 1918 to the year 2005, there were 317 deaths attributed to personnel lost on assignment.” He looked at both Jack and then Niles. Gone was the friendliness of the man as he looked on. “And those casualties do not include the 1864 raid into Turkey nor the loss of personnel during World War II, which were substantial I may add.” His hand moved to the next largest pile and it sat there. “Casualties from 2005 to present, same department. Four hundred eighty-two Event Group deaths.” His eyes went from the pile to the neutral face of Jack Collins.

“If this is an indictment or a veiled suggestion that there were any gross failures on the part of security to safeguard those lives—” Niles started to say, but the president acted as though Niles had not spoken as his hand went to the third pile of paperwork.

“The number of official Event code submissions to my and my predecessor’s office.” The pile was almost as large as the casualty notifications.

All three men knew that by law Department 5656 had twenty-four hours to inform the President of the United States, to whom they reported directly, that an Event action had been called. At that time full disclosure on the historical Event and why it was called had to be given to the commander-in-chief. At that time the president could either declare the Event a valid one, rather it be historical or military by the department, or to veto the action altogether.

“As it stands, I vetoed thirty-two actions that may have had a direct historical bearing on the war we just suffered through. The evidence that was needed to convince the world of the dangers we faced from outside our solar system could have possibly been overlooked in the actions of this and my predecessor’s office. Every president from Woodrow Wilson to date may have been directly or indirectly responsible for the disaster we just barely survived.”

Jack saw Niles lower his one good eye as if he was feeling relief from some hidden dosage of pain medication. It seemed the two men he was sitting with had discussed whatever this was before, and possibly at angered length if he knew the two old friends well enough.

“How many more historical secrets or outright cover-ups are out there that we cannot simply let lie?” the president said as he halfheartedly pushed the box containing his precious sandwich away. The president nodded once more and one of the Secret Service men removed the piles of papers.

An uncomfortable silence filled the kitchen.

“Colonel, the Event Group was faced with an unprecedented war, and you and your teams performed magnificently. I brought those papers for two reasons, you saved lives. A lot of them. Also for the reasons I have explained. There is far too much time wasted waiting for this busy office to ratify an Event action. That is why I am hereby, with the approval of the general accounting office and certain members of judicial and military establishment, expanding the powers of Department 5656. You now have one hundred hours to report an Event action to the president. This should speed up your response time to any Event.”

The president saw the skepticism in Collins’s face.

“Yes, it is illegal to a certain degree.” He laughed. “Hell, the whole department has been illegal since its inception. Either the Event from Lincoln’s time or the formation of the Group by Mr. Wilson, every action by your Group could be construed as illegal, at least in the eyes of the House and Senate.”

“Perhaps we had better explain to Colonel Collins the reasoning behind this one-hundred-hour window.” Niles looked to his right and half smiled at Jack, who sat and waited.

The president nodded. He made sure his Secret Service detail was looking elsewhere as he leaned in toward Collins like a conspirator. “This window is to allow your department to do things”—he stalled and looked from Jack to Niles and then back—“that may be lacking somewhat in its interpretation of legal action. For instance, the mission that is currently taking place in the Middle East that I know absolutely nothing about.”

“Middle East?” Jack asked, looking from his commander-in-chief to Niles, who looked at him with a wry smile.

“I’ll let you tell him,” the president said as he pulled the small box over and then lifted the hefty sandwich and bit into it.

“At this moment we are chasing down a lead in Israel that may help us with a possible action that the president has ordered to be explored to its fullest. The one hundred hours is meant to make sure that when the CIA comes to the president and says, ‘someone is messing around in our garden,’ he can have total and complete deniability, which may happen in a few hours if our plan fails.”

“What action and what plan?” Collins asked, looking from his boss to a satisfied president as he chewed.

“We have sent Anya Korvesky back home. She, the president, and myself didn’t think you would have allowed her to go, so we kept it from you.”

“What is the reason you sent the woman who Carl Everett loves back to a place where she is considered a danger to their security for choosing to leave them for a love that is now lost?” Jack asked, growing angrier by the minute for the way these men bypassed him and placed his best friend’s woman into harm’s way.

“Told you he would have a stick up his ass about this,” the president said with a mouth full of corned beef.

“Jack, we had to take a chance. If the stories she’s heard over the years are true we have a window of opportunity here.”

“A window for what?”

Niles glanced at the president and then raised his brow over his glasses and eye patch.

“If this works out, we may have a chance at bringing home an old friend.”

The president placed the sandwich down with much regret.

“I personally owe this man, as I owe all of you.” The injured leg kept the movement slow but the president eased himself closer to Jack. “I don’t have much time left in office, Colonel, you know it and I know it. In the time I have remaining before someone else moves into the White House I want my desk cleared, and to accomplish this I will not go out without trying to do everything I can to account for those people I lost in the recent war.… I owe them.”

“What are you two telling me?” Jack asked, looking at Niles.

“We are going after Captain Everett, Jack.”

Collins had to stand after the amazing statement from Compton. The president took that opportunity to retrieve the sandwich and begin his assault once more.

“During Anya’s debrief she mentioned she had begun her Mossad career at the very bottom of their food chain. She was an analyst, though that has little to do with the tale she told me during her debrief after Operation Overlord. It seems she caught wind of a legend, a rumor, a tale that seemed made up to tell children at bedtime. The search for alien power plants to assist in Overlord reminded her of this legend. It was a long shot that she considered too outlandish to help, and it wasn’t until she mentioned it to me during her debrief that we began to see a chance, just a possibility that this may actually be real.”

“What in the hell are you two talking about?” Jack asked, looking at the president. “With all due respect of course.”

The president only nodded as he continued eating. It was Niles who braved the telling to Jack.

“I think we better start with explaining Anya’s role in this first.”

ISRAEL STATE ARCHIVES (ISA)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL

 

The raven-haired woman sat upon the bench outside of the large, extremely ugly concrete and steel building, which looked like an old bank that would have been robbed during the Depression in American gangster films.

The moon just started to rise over the holy city of God. She was dressed in a navy blue suit with wide-legged pants, necessary for the two ankle holsters she wore beneath them. Her eyes watched the front doors of the building as men and women of the archival staff prepared to leave after their evening shift. She watched as the two very-well-armed guards waved at the departing employees and then securely locked the front doors. The two guards looked through the glass and then turned back to their duties. The woman knew that security here wasn’t as tight as at other government facilities, as this operation was more a written and oral history of the State of Israel. So, if you wanted someone’s eyewitness testimony in regard to the Holocaust this was the place to go. Any other secrets were stored in many more highly secured facilities across the country. The dark-haired woman could only hope the files had not been transferred over the years.

She saw the young man with the thick horned-rimmed glasses as he also separated from the rest of the archive staff as they made their way to the parking area beside the building. Through years of training she was able to keep her heart from racing faster as she anticipated what the employee had to say. He was obviously up to no good as she took in the frightened way the boy moved. His head flitted left and then right as he approached her and then sat.

“Look, Sami, relax, this is not a facility that houses nuclear secrets. It’s just a records storage unit, you said so yourself.”

The boy who had just graduated from Tel Aviv Technical Institute frowned as he looked around the park area nervously.

“I said relax.” The woman patted the boy’s leg. “Do you have the file?”

The young man looked around and shuffled his feet as he clutched his backpack closer to his body.

“Sami, you’re not steeling state secrets, it’s only concentration camp testimony.”

“Yeah, then why was this file cross-referenced with another, and that one is flagged as secret? Secret and no longer in this building.”

“Cross-referenced with what?” she asked, becoming concerned.

“A file code-named ‘The Traveler.’”

The boy could see something register in the woman’s eyes, which were the strangest he had ever seen. In the defused moonlight he could swear she had one green and one brown eye. He decided that this dark-haired woman scared him and he wanted to leave. The beautiful woman was holding out her hand as she was deep in thought.

“Uh, are you forgetting something?” he said as he shied away from her elegant hand.

The woman came back to the present, frowned, and then handed the boy a white envelope. He accepted it and placed it in his backpack and in the same motion brought out a file folder and handed it to her.

“That’s only a copy, the original is where it’s supposed to be.”

The woman acted as though she didn’t hear the boy as she opened the file and leaned into the cover of the streetlight to read it. The archivist watched a moment and then moved off into the night. She sat on the vacated park bench as the night became still around her. Her eyes scanned the thin sheets of paper.

She knew she had lost some of her edge when she missed the four men moving in around her. Her eyes continued to read from the weak streetlight above when a hand came from over her shoulder and snatched the file from her fingers. She immediately raised her right leg to retrieve the gun in the ankle holster but a Glock nine-millimeter handgun appeared in her face. As she raised her head, the gun was removed from her grasp, and she saw the young man from the archives being led back to the area. The woman knew just who it was she was facing. She turned and looked at the man who had taken the file from her.

“Uncle,” she said as her double-colored eyes took in the heavily mustachioed man in front of her. The large frame of the heavyset former army general stood over the diminutive woman. “How are you?”

“Niece,” he said as he closed the file and then looked at the heading on the front. His brown eyes went from it to the woman who was being handcuffed in front of him. He whistled and then handed the folder over to a man next to him. The large man in the blue blazer and simple white shirt shook his head sadly and then turned and left. Her eyes followed him until she couldn’t see him anymore.

“You are under arrest for crimes against the State of Israel, in particular, for espionage.”

Former Mossad agent Major Anya Korvesky watched a large Mercedes as it sped off. She was pushed and shoved to another waiting car that would follow the Mercedes to her final destination—the headquarters of the Mossad, Israel’s hardened intelligence apparatus.

There she would face the charge of treason that her uncle, General Shamni, director of the Mossad, would file against his niece in the next hour.

Still, the only thing she could focus on was the file that had been taken from her and was now speeding back to headquarters with her angry uncle. Now she had lost her only lead to uncovering the truth that she and Doctor Compton sought.

The young Queen of the Gypsies raised in Jerusalem and secretly placed into the Israeli Mossad at the age of eighteen was now going to hang before she could help getting back the man she had fallen in love with—Carl Everett.

*   *   *

Three hours had passed and Anya found herself still waiting in the most uncomfortable position she could have ever imagined, although sitting in a dark room with handcuffs was not a memory she could draw from. The two agents who watched her looked noncommittal as if they dealt with treason on a daily basis, and with her uncle that was probably closer to the truth than she knew. She eyed the men but knew that any escape attempt was futile as these agents watching her were not your average Mossad personnel—they were the personal protection of her uncle, General Shamni. They answered only to him.

A man looking more the academia-type, thin and proper, entered from the large office fronting the empty reception area.

“The general will see you now,” the young man said in his perfectly pressed suit, which was a great accomplishment at two in the morning. The man nodded, indicating that the two guards should assist the prisoner to her feet. They did so, far gentler than she could have hoped for. They fell in line behind the first man and soon she found herself in a large and very dark office with no windows. There was a single lamp burning on the large desk of the head of the Mossad—her uncle’s desk. The two men stood on either side as the first man brought the general another folder and then with one last disturbing look at Anya, he left the office.

Her eyes went to the general, who was busy reading a file folder report. He absentmindedly held out the small silver key that would free her hands. The agent on the right loosened and then removed the cuffs. Both men turned and left the office. Anya looked for a chair and when she saw one started to move toward it.

“Remain standing in front of me, please, Agent Korvesky.”

Anya froze and didn’t move as the general kept reading. She watched his large hands as he flipped a page and read some more.

“You have placed me in what the Americans say is ‘between a rock and a hard place,’ young lady, you know that?”

“I hate that I had to do that, Uncle.”

The large rotund man closed the file and finally looked up at her. “Yet here we are. The head of the Mossad and his lovely niece, who was just arrested for espionage.”

“This is the last thing I wanted, was to embarrass you, Uncle.”

“But again, here we are.” He slid the yellow file across his expansive desk and then looked up at his niece as she rubbed her wrists after the uncomfortable cuffs. She watched her uncle’s eyes move to a far, darkened corner of his office. “With the world getting even crazier than before this war in space, this is not the time to be a treasonous agent in a paranoid country. The men in charge have certain knee-jerk reactions to things like that. The order of the day would be that you are taken into the desert and shot.” His dark eyes settled on Anya. “Believe me, many a person has left this office from the very spot you are now standing and were immediately executed—shot on my direct orders.” He slammed his hand down on the desk and the file folder.

“Uncle—”

He held up his beefy hand, stilling her voice.

“Do you think you could keep secrets from me, niece?”

“I—”

“I am the gatekeeper, young lady. I know what is going on in my own home, and the Mossad is my home. Israel is my home.” His eyes again flitted to the far corner. She saw nothing but the blackness of the room. “I keep the secrets.” He shoved the file forward until it was perched on the edge of the desk. “Do you think for one minute your returning to our little family satisfied me enough to lower my guard, even where my niece was concerned?” He shook his head. “Sit, Anya.”

With her heart aching for the pain she was causing her only living relative, Anya sat with lowered head.

“I have read a few of the briefing reports to the American security council. I know why it is you want these files so dearly. I’ll tell you now, not that it matters much, that the information you are seeking is not viable. It’s a dead end as we ourselves found out three years ago in our cooperative search with the rest of the world as we scanned every archive file for technological information. That’s why I can say to you in no uncertain terms that what you seek is just not there.”

Anya felt her hope to find the file fall through her stomach as she realized that this was just another dead end.

General Shamni reached down and brought out another file and placed it on the first.

“This is the file you are looking for.”

The file was bordered in purple and read “Top Secret” in bold red letters in the Hebrew script.

“It’s all there.”

“But I’m under arrest,” Anya said as the general stood from his high-backed chair.

“We believe the person you seek is no longer alive, at least not in Israel. Moira Mendelsohn no longer exists, I’m afraid, and this is the only record recovered from what is secretly known in certain circles as ‘The Traveler’ file. One of the most guarded secrets held by this government, so secret that it failed to turn up in our technology search conducted by the Americans. The file ‘The Traveler’ is only useful in who the Traveler was, not what the project was about. The young woman was never fully compliant when questioned by our people when she was in Israel after World War II. The only reason my predecessor thought the Traveler file was relevant was because of who financed the original project in 1943, and also the man responsible for conducting the experiments.”

“The names?” she asked, pushing her bad luck even further. But if she was going to be shot or hanged for treason she wanted to know all there was on the rumored testimony of the Traveler.

“Heinrich Himmler and engineering professor Lars Thomsen, one of Adolf’s favorite technology philosophers and a correspondent and contemporary of one Albert Einstein.”

“Uncle, if I am to be charged with treason, why are you telling me these things?”

“When I said I was the gatekeeper, evidently I wasn’t as good at finding out secrets as keeping them, my dear niece.”

She felt her heart slip as she realized just how good her uncle’s intelligence service really was.

“Or would you prefer the future Mrs. Carl Everett?”

“No, that adds a certain charm to these proceedings, doesn’t it?” a voice from the darkness said.

Anya, after the initial shock of learning that her secret engagement to Carl was now an open secret, was now trying for damage control that was not going to be there. She had indeed become involved with a foreign national, which was another crime against the state considering her job in intelligence. What was one more charge considering her predicament? She turned and faced the darkness where the familiar voice had come from. The man turned on a table lamp and sat with crossed legs.

“You?” she said as startled as she had ever been.

“I understand you two know each other from Antarctica,” the general said as he stood and stepped up to Anya as she felt her jaw drop even further when the big man stood up.

“You know this man, Uncle?” she said without turning back to face the head of the Mossad.

“Yes, we have worked together from time to time, just as he works for everyone else if the money is right … from time to time of course.”

The blond man smiled, reached down, and took Anya’s right hand and kissed it, barely brushing his lips against her skin.

“Honored to see you again.”

Anya had lost her voice when Colonel Henri Farbeaux spoke and smiled that disarming smile of his. He straightened and then his brows rose three times in rapid succession.

“But alas, I have been reduced to an errand boy by men and women I’m not real sure if I like or not, but they pay and pay well.”

“I must admit you kept your secret concerning our dear Mr. Everett close to the vest. I would say you have a future in the intelligence-gathering business, but we both know that would be pushing it, don’t we?” her uncle said as he handed the two folders to his niece.

“What are you doing, Uncle?”

“Sending you home. You’re an American now, Mrs. Everett, and one that has made her choices.”

Anya looked from the files in her hands to her uncle and then she dropped them and hugged the director of the most brilliant intelligence-gathering apparatus in the world. He allowed it, but only briefly. After a moment the large man forced her hands apart and brought them from his neck. She could see the tears well up in his eyes. The man who had so ruthlessly protected the borders of Israel was near to breaking down.

“I have to turn my back on you now, niece. You can no longer return to these shores. As I said, choices have been made, choices you cannot turn from now.”

Henri Farbeaux retrieved the two files that had fallen to the carpeted floor as Anya stood there stunned. He read the smaller one. “The Traveler, Moira Mendelsohn.” He replaced the first with the second, far thicker file labeled simply “Doorway,” and in red letters below it, “testimony of participants.” He raised his brows and watched the two people in the room. The woman was still captivating in her exotic looks. He thought back to when they first met in the Antarctic three months before. Yes, the Gypsy woman was beautiful, and he could see the allure for Carl Everett to resign from the world in order to stay with her.

“Go, and watch yourself, niece, there are men out there that are not as family-oriented as myself. Colonel, remove her from this office. Your flight to the States leaves in an hour. My men will escort you through customs and security.”

“Uncle,” Anya started to say, but the man just placed a hand on her shoulder and stopped her.

“For the record, I liked your naval captain. Through the prime minister’s office I am now aware of certain details as to his … disappearance. I am giving you over to your new and adoptive country for that simple fact. The world owes the man you married, this is Israel’s penance, the price we will pay for what was owed by the world to this man and his sacrifice.” General Shamni softened. “That and the fact that I love you so very much.”

Anya started to cry for the first time since she learned that Carl was not returning from space. She took a tentative step forward but her uncle turned his back on her and returned to his desk.

“Good luck in what it is you are searching for. Now I have to disavow you as blood, and as an Israeli citizen.” Shamni continued to stare at a small picture of him and a beautiful woman from the past. Anya knew this picture was of the general and his sister, her grandmother, the queen of the Gypsies. The picture was taken long before the general was shipped away as a boy to Israel to gain his education on the people his Gypsies used to be a tribe of. Now Anya realized that the general had no one left. She was the last of his blood and now he felt that blood being spilled.

The former French army colonel, Henri Farbeaux, saw that Anya wasn’t moving so he took her elbow and steered her toward the door. Once out of the office she allowed the Frenchman to place an arm around her as they walked toward the elevator. She stopped and looked at the antiquities thief.

“How and why are you here, Colonel?”

The elevator doors opened and Henri stepped inside and smiled at her. “As your uncle said, to bring you home. It seems you have very high-placed friends, and a Mrs. Alice Hamilton is among them. She is the one who sent me … lucky for you. She oversees most of that strange little man Compton’s activities. She thought you may run into trouble.”

Anya remembered Alice from Romania at the same time she had met Carl. She never thought the frail-looking old woman was so in touch with the people Carl worked for.

Anya was still hesitant to step inside the elevator even with a death sentence held over her head if she didn’t.

“And where is home now?” she asked as Farbeaux’s smile grew as he held the doors open. “I met with Dr. Compton in Washington when he debriefed me, that is why I’m here. So, where is home now?” she persisted.

“Well, that’s a loaded question, especially for one such as myself who is not adequately informed.”

“That doesn’t answer my question, Colonel Farbeaux.”

The doors slid closed after she stepped into the elevator.

“All I can say is I hope you are comfortable in the high desert of America.”

“You mean—”

“That’s right, you, like myself, have been shanghaied so to speak by a real Boy Scout. A man that is now being briefed on this outrageous investigation of yours.”

Anya Korvesky smiled when she saw the concerned look on the face of the Frenchman. The name that caused the man considerable consternation and the only moniker to ever make Henri Farbeaux frown in such a way as he was now.

“Colonel Jack Collins,” she mumbled with a smile starting to cross her red lips.

The elevator started down with a confused Anya Korvesky and a French antiquities thief who had yet to become resigned to his rather disturbing fate.

“Yes, we are going into the barren desert to see Mr. Wonderful himself.”

ST. JUDE’S CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

After the director had explained to Jack Anya’s quest for information inside the Israeli archives system, the task he had been performing for the past months of finding the new specialized manpower for the replacement personnel at Group became crystal clear. As the president finished his sandwich with a pleasurable sigh, he rubbed his hands together and looked at Niles.

“Now that Jack knows we can also fall outside of the accepted rules of engagement, I received a partial list of personnel you wish to offer positions to. All have checked out security-wise with the exception of two.”

Niles opened his briefcase and brought out two file folders. The first he opened and handed to the president.

“This Xavier Morales.” The president raised his eyes and looked at Jack.

“Not my choice,” Jack said.

Niles had to smile as he knew what was coming, and he knew his old friend was going to be skeptical at the least and furious at the most.

“The man listed here is picked to head the most advanced computer center in the world, picked over the thousands of qualified men and women in this country, including thirty-two staff members already on Group roles. And this”—he looked at the photo of the young Mexican American youth paperclipped to the file—“is the man, or boy, that you chose?”

“As I said, Mr. President, I didn’t choose him to run the comp center and Europa.”

The president just raised both brows while he waited.

“Europa herself chose the kid, not me.”

“Okay, you mind letting me in on the damn joke?”

Niles shook his head and then looked at Jack and decided he would bail him out on this one.

“Two years ago, Pete Golding”—Collins and the president saw the hurt come into Niles’s good eye as he spoke the name of the former computer genius who had been murdered the previous month—“suspected that Europa, the most sophisticated computing system ever created, had been hacked. Not hacked for evil purposes, but hacked just to see if it could be done. This kid was the one responsible and Europa herself was the one that tracked him down. She insists this kid is the only qualified candidate out there. It’s like she refuses to accept anyone else. This name always leads her list of qualified candidates. Every time.”

“So you’re saying that Europa is developing programs that the other four Cray operating systems in use do not exhibit?”

“Pete Golding and his constant refinements of Europa. She is learning on her own.”

“Okay, your warped system wants this kid. Tell me about him.”

“Xavier Morales, age twenty-five. Born with osteoporosis and has been confined to a wheelchair since the age of five. He has a mother whom he supports and a brother, deceased. He is a prodigy. Graduated high school at thirteen and MIT with a doctorate at twenty-one. Hell, even I heard of him coming up through MIT’s system. Pete was also aware of him … he was and is a legend. After college he dabbled in software design but it bored him. Then the murder of his older brother by a drug dealer sent our boy into another area of interest—finding and ruining everyone and anyone who had anything to do with his brother’s murder. He tracked down everyone from the man who fired the ill-timed shot that killed his brother, to the dealer’s connections, and then finally all the way to the source—the now-reorganized Nuevo Laredo Cartel in Mexico and its boss of bosses, Richie Gutiérrez.”

“One bad hombre,” the president remarked as his memory recalled the ruthlessness of the man who ended the infighting in northern Mexico simply by killing anything that walked or crawled in the region.

“Yes, a bad man who once had far more money than he has now, because of young Morales.”

“Explain.”

“Our boy deciphered his banking codes, back-doored the security systems of no less than twelve Swiss banks, drained his assets into untraceable accounts in the greater Los Angeles area. Youth organizations, boys and girls clubs in East L.A., and finally the coup was when he transferred one hundred million, five hundred thousand dollars, roughly eleven thousand dollars each into the bank accounts of everyone in his mother’s old neighborhood, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back and got him caught by the cartel.”

The president just looked at Niles, who had answered for Jack. “I don’t give the kid very good odds of a long life if he picks and chooses his enemies in such a manner.”

“Well, sir,” Jack said, “you’re right on that point. Gutiérrez and his goons got to him through his mother.”

“Jesus.”

“He’s being held in the cartel’s own private prison in northern Mexico affectionately called the House Where Hope Goes to Die. Gutiérrez has something special planned for the kid’s demise as soon as he returns from South America after arranging new banking partners. We estimate our boy Morales has about six days left before the bastard has him torn to pieces in one of his prison gladiator shows he likes to put on.”

“For a kid in a wheelchair?” the president asked, angered at the brutality of the cartel and Gutiérrez in particular.

“Yes,” Niles said as he pulled the folder from the president’s hand and closed it. “And we want permission to go get him out, or rather, Europa wants him out.”

“Europa wants you to literally invade a neighboring country and kidnap someone?”

“Yes, an American someone.” Jack sat looking at his boss without flinching. Now knowing what this search for new personnel was for, his enthusiasm had grown by leaps and bounds.

“Who else?” he asked instead of answering Collins’s challenge about Morales being an American.

Niles replaced the first folder with a second. The president scanned the pages inside with his eyes going wide for a split second. He closed the folder.

“Approved, good luck with your recruiting on this one. Getting Morales out may be far easier than dealing with this guy.”

“Oh, we have the perfect persuasion heading to San Diego to speak with our great man. I think she’ll persuade him to come around to joining us.”

“I believe you are referring to your assistant director?”

“The one and only. Virginia Pollock is the only human being in the world that Master Chief Jenks is terrified of. Yes, he will come along just out of fear for his life.” Niles took the second folder and then reluctantly handed the president the third and final recruitment request. The president opened it and again scanned the pages with the corners of his mouth turning downward as he progressed.

“Denied,” he said simply and as matter-of-fact as he could. The president closed the thickest folder of the three and handed it back to Compton. “I appreciate her assistance, but this is asking too damn much, Niles.”

“Look, Anya is risking everything to assist us in getting Carl back. We need her inside the facility,” Niles said as he looked at Jack. “I’ll take full responsibility for her immediate placement on the Group’s active roster. She’s not the type to spill Department 5656 files and histories to the world. If the critical information she kept in Romania is any indication, the woman knows how to keep secrets where they belong.”

“No, damn it.” The president returned to the refrigerator, ignoring the crutch leaning against the table. He removed a jug of milk from it and then thought a second and returned it and again faced the two men watching him. “She’s not only a foreign national, gentlemen, but a goddamned intelligence officer at that. No, request denied. As grateful as I am for her involvement thus far, we cannot be giving her departmental access to the foremost secret government reservation in this country.” The president placed his hands on the steel table and leaned in, looking from face to face. “Not to an Israeli Mossad agent.” He saw the angry line that formed the lips of his best friend. He held up a hand in a “wait” gesture when he knew Niles was going to explode. “Again, I appreciate her directing us to this possible new information concerning this Traveler file, but I have to think of the men before me in this office that kept that facility their own personal secret. No, gentlemen.”

“You know she performed magnificently during the war, you read the reports,” Niles countered.

“I know all about Miss Anya Korvesky and what she did for the war effort.” The president felt a pinch of guilt as he recalled that Carl Everett had been in love with her and she him. Everett had even resigned his navy commission over his relationship with the Israeli intelligence specialist. Miss Korvesky had indeed paid a heavy price for their victory in space.

At that moment the Group’s private satellite phone chimed and Niles answered it with a stern look at his friend. The president looked away.

“Compton,” he said into the small untraceable device. “I see. What have you done?” Jack and the president watched Niles purse his lips as he listened. “I should have known you would have been on top of it. No, Alice, that is exactly the course you should have taken. Are they safely out of there? Okay, I’ll meet everyone in Arizona. Good job and thank you.” Niles closed the phone and placed it in his coat pocket. He looked at the president. “Anya recovered the file in question.”

“Then her part in this rescue attempt is at an end, correct?” the president inquired.

“She was caught by the Mossad.”

“Damn!”

Jack said nothing, but waited.

“Our dear Mrs. Hamilton foresaw this and made a few calls. Her and Garrison Lee’s influence has evidently been felt in some very obscure circles; the Mossad seems to be one of them.”

“What does Mrs. Hamilton have to do with this very bad situation?” the president asked incredulously.

“She made a deal with Anya’s uncle. She’s now our problem. Colonel Henri Farbeaux is already bringing Anya in. It seems, Mr. President, she’s now a part of our team whether you like it or not. We owe her at least that.”

The president was almost as white as a sheet. “What in the hell does Henri Farbeaux have to do with all of this?”

“Oh, I guess I forgot to mention, I recruited Henri as a specialist for the duration of this Event. After all, he’s seen our complex, thus he’s not a security risk. He already knows everything.”

The president took a moment at this time to turn away, crutch in hand, and walk to the cafeteria area of the kitchen. He sat slowly in a chair with his cast and leg sticking out precariously.

“You and Mrs. Hamilton laid a trap for me, legally speaking, and frankly I don’t appreciate it.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Mr. President,” Niles retorted.

“I just gave you executive powers far beyond any agency in the history of the United States by granting you a delayed reporting rule change and you turn around and hit me with a prison escape, a request to allow a foreign intelligence agent into the top-most secret agency in the world, and, oh, by the way, we’re also bringing in a sociopath as your head engineer, and now you’re saying you want the foremost enemy of this department inside my facility!”

Jack looked at Niles, as he was stunned that just Niles and Alice had done all of the planning.

“Premeditated,” the president said. “You knew when you and I planned on sending her back to Israel that the odds were she was going to get caught, thus you had Alice on standby in case the worst happened.”

“Problem on all fronts solved. Now everyone, including the colonel and yourself, are up to date on everything. Anya and Henri are now my responsibility, so let’s get moving and bring a brave man back home, shall we?” He smiled as he looked from Jack to the president. “If not, I can always tell your wife about your dietary habits when she’s not here.”

“You bald bastard, get the hell out of here, and if that Frenchman steals anything, it’s coming out of your ass. Jesus, we’re probably letting the Mossad in on everything we have inside those vaults!”

“You worry too much.” Niles stood and he and Jack left the kitchen.

*   *   *

On the way to the elevator and the rooftop helipad, Niles lost his smile as he knew then that it was a good thing the president gave him the hundred-hour window for reporting. He knew that it was not only to keep deniability to other federal agencies, like the CIA, on when and how the president knew something, it was for other reasons also.

“Okay,” Niles said as he stopped short of entering the idling Black Hawk helicopter for their return flight to Nellis Air Force Base. “The one thing I didn’t tell the president was that Operation Alcatraz has already commenced.” Compton handed one of his security men his briefcase. “It makes me nervous with the operation going in so short-handed. How is Mr. Ryan doing in Mexico?”

“He said he had volunteers, that’s all I was aware of before his team left for Mexico. So, I figure Captain Ryan is deep into his role,” Jack said.

As Niles climbed into the seating area of the Black Hawk, Jack looked to the sky. When he knew Niles could not hear him he said a silent rebuttal.

“Just how deep is anyone’s guess.”

RIO NATCHEZ CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, NORTHERN MEXICO

The Rio Natchez prison was a private concern based on the model perfected in the States. One of the minor investments of Richard Salvador Gutiérrez, the Rio Natchez was basically a death camp for storing the drug dealer’s enemies until he had the leisure time to watch them die. At least fifty percent of the eighty-six inmates were sent there to die after committing some grievous error in judgment against the cartel.

Eyes watched the boy who had struggled to push his wheelchair into the far corner of the large cell for protection. Thus far the young man, who was no more than twenty-five and who had a beard as soft and sparse as a young deer, had to be given the credit he deserved. He had fought and been beaten for the right to hang on to the wheelchair after some toughs had decided they needed it more. The young man wiped the blood from his nose after placing the bed’s broken slat in his lap. The three men who had attempted to purloin the chair were now trying to stem the flow of blood from the noses of two of their number after the young man had released a torrent of blows to their faces. They were stunned for now, but the new prisoner knew they would come again and very soon.

The eyes watched as the out-of-place young man once more brought the old wooden bed slat up and waited for the second assault to begin. The wheelchair-bound man didn’t have to wait long.

The three men turned as one, their burly leader tossing a bloody rag to the floor. They started toward the brave young man in the chair. The largest attacker reached into the waistband of his pants and brought out a small picklike weapon. The toothless smile that crossed his face was one of pure pleasure at what they were about to do. They surrounded the young man, who raised the slat to defend himself.

“That’s not a very wise thing to do, my brothers,” came a voice speaking in Spanish.

The three men turned and saw a small but very stout man dressed in denim pants and a white, affectionately nicknamed “wife beater” undershirt. His close-cropped dark hair was covered by a black bandana. The goatee and crocodile smile were illuminated by the newcomer’s three gold front teeth. But the most outstanding feature of the muscular man was the tattoo that started down from his scalp, crawled over his nose and eyes, and ended at a tanned jawline. The tattoo was in the shape of a claw and was etched in deep blues and reds. The man was smiling, showing his gold-plated dental work.

“Be patient, ese, you can be next, wait your turn,” said the middle-sized man on the left while he placed his arm around the larger one with the toothless grin and the improvised knife. “We have meals-on-wheels to take care of first.”

In the corner the young man raised the wooden slat higher. It was noticeable the young man was barely old enough to shave, but his determined look said that he had faced this sort of abuse before … bad-luck kids like him usually did.

The rest of the fifty-plus men inside the overcrowded cell took a step back when they saw that the small man who had confronted the three refused to move away. He held his ground as he studied the three very much larger adversaries before him.

“You think Senor Gutiérrez will take the killing of his prized prisoner lightly? If you do then I want to be around when you explain it to him.”

The young man in the wheelchair tilted his head as if he were having a hard time following the Spanish being spoken.

The first faltering smile came out of the large one with the shiv and no teeth.

The smallest of the three turned and looked at the wheelchair-bound prisoner. “Later, ese, Gutiérrez may not come soon enough, then you’ll be ours.” Then the man turned to face the tattooed busybody. “But you, ese, what was to be his, is now yours.” The three men spread out and started to surround the newcomer. He made a stance that invited the three to make their attempt.

The whistle stopped the men before they could spring. The five guards were standing at the bars looking in.

“You speak of patience, I advise as much, for your benefactor will be arriving within the hour. For some of you”—the guard smiled as he looked at a few of the frightened eyes that watched him before settling on the wheelchair and its occupant—“your day of days has arrived.” The guards watched the men in the cell for a moment and then turned to leave.

The three brutes had lost all of their enthusiasm for getting even with the young man who had broken two of their noses. They turned away from him with one last dirty look at the man who had interfered, and moved off to sulk, because everyone knew that with the arrival of Gutiérrez some of their fates were already sealed.

The young man in his wheelchair watched the small man with the black beard and bandana as he eyed the departure of the three thugs. He moved his chair forward until he was next to the man with the horrid and fright-inducing tattoo.

“Thank you,” the young prisoner in dirty denim said in English, very slowly as if his unlikely savior wouldn’t be able to follow the boy’s native tongue. The small man turned and looked at him with a frown and concerned dark eyes.

“You’re not very smart for some sort of computer prodigy.” The man slowly looked him and his chair over. “I mean you don’t even speak Spanish, do you?” the man asked, losing all of his own practiced Spanish accent. The boy’s face went slack. “Well, for the next hour or so you better become a hell of a lot smarter if you want to live long enough to eat dinner tonight. You understand?” the man asked, his three gold teeth shining in the diffused light of the old cell.

“Who are you?” the young man asked.

“A dickhead, son, a real dickhead”—the man smiled, exposing the brightness of the gold dental work—“who never understood my boss’s philosophy of not volunteering for anything, so for now just refer to me as Captain Dickhead.”

*   *   *

Richie Gutiérrez sat atop the small platform that fronted the warden’s office and faced into the prison’s small exercise yard. The prisoners had all been brought out with the exception of the three men who were the object of today’s lesson in why you shouldn’t betray or mess with Richie Gutiérrez.

The middle-aged man, who was raised on the mean streets of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and had fought his way upward through murder, kidnapping, and torture to lead the most ruthless cartel since the heady day of the drug war in South America, was sitting in a large and very ornate chair as if he were the Roman emperor Caligula overseeing a gladiatorial death match. His dress was more appropriate for an evening cocktail party. He was drinking tequila with finely chipped ice as the prison’s population was brought into the area surrounding the exercise yard. The chain-link fence separated the privately owned inmates who were there to witness what it was they would one day face themselves.

Gutiérrez accepted a refill of his tequila as he ate grapes and laughed along with his six henchmen as they watched the festivities below. There were two armed men not part of the prison’s staff of mercenaries in each corner of the balcony. It wasn’t that the drug dealer was afraid of outside influences interfering as the prison was completely legal in the eyes of the law, it was his closest associates the guards watched. The dangerous business he had risen to the top in broke no lackadaisical attitudes in the arena of trusting one’s subordinates. No, Gutiérrez was very safe from the law, because here, in this place, he was that law.

The FBI, DEA, and the American Homeland Security had chased the cartel and its leader for nearly seven years and could never find him. The warrant the Americans carried told the world that they intended very bad things for Gutiérrez and his organization. The man knew that was not possible in his world. Even with the major monetary loss caused by the subject of today’s circus had not dampened the cartel’s fortunes as they made the deficit up by increased manufacture. Still, he knew that the execution today would serve its purpose. That fact was proven a moment later when a film crew was brought in. The two men, a cameraman and a sound person, were there to capture the majesty of the moment for the benefit of those who would try to damage him in the future. The black cameraman and the Mexican soundman took up station by the concrete wall near the front of the large balcony.

Gutiérrez lit a large Havana cigar and then nodded at the prison’s warden, who was immaculately dressed in a royal blue uniform complete with scarf. He removed his saucer cap as he stood. His crooked, pencil-thin mustache turned up at the corners as he anticipated a great event ahead. The warden had been specially chosen from the Mexican army for his brutal reputation, and for the fact that he had been on the cartel’s payroll for nearly fifteen years.

“Bring them out!”

The silence of the gathered inmates gave credence to the fact that this was not an excited gladiatorial arena as the only applause came from the elevated balcony of the warden’s office. The prisoners were silent and most crossed themselves as the fifteen prisoners were led forward.

*   *   *

As the chosen inmates had been gathered and hurriedly lined up, the last person to join was the wheelchair-bound prisoner who bravely faced his fate without pleading or comment. The guard who was pushing him smiled when the young man looked back.

“When called, you will advance into the exercise yard in single file,” the guard by the large gate said as the sun filtered in from the outside, obscuring the excited look on the lead guard’s features. The man turned and exited the waiting area for the exercise yard, leaving only the one guard behind the wheelchair.

“I hear they have something very special planned for you, my friend,” the guard said as his hot breath hit the young man in the back of his neck, making him cringe. “I have three thousand pesos that says you end up begging before—”

The young man heard the thud and the hiss of breath as the hands holding the wheelchair handles fell way. The young man turned and saw the tattooed man standing in the place of the guard.

“What are—”

“No time for twenty questions, kid,” the man hissed as his eyes scanned the other prisoners in front of them. Some had turned at the minor commotion, but decided that the guard wasn’t worth their precious and very limited time. “This is about the third damn plan we’ve had to scrap in the last twenty-four hours. This is plan D and there isn’t a plan E, so be quiet and do exactly as I tell you.”

“Who are you?” the young man said as the large double-sided gate started to swing open.

“I’m the asshole who bragged to his bosses this could be done, so I guess they’ll have the last laugh when this thing blows up right in my face.”

The young man turned to face the front just as his heart fell through his belly to his ass. “Oh, my God, what are you going to do?” he asked as his voice broke just as he was pushed forward following the long line of fifteen condemned men.

“Shut up while I figure a new way to get us killed in the next few minutes.”

As they broke into sunlight after the warden’s order to bring them into the yard, the tattooed man quickly scanned the area. The prisoners were of no help as a chain-link fence topped with razor wire held them in check. The three guard towers oversaw the entire area, including the exterior of the prison. One benefit he immediately noticed was that the three armed guards had their attention focused on the activities inside, not out. One break, but he needed more as he again quickly evaluated this new situation that had changed drastically this morning when it was announced that the mysterious and hard-to-corner cartel leader was arriving early. Thus, plan D.

“Shit, man, is that son of a bitch going to film my death?” the young man asked as the men in the balcony applauded the condemned men as they entered.

The gold-toothed inmate looked to the balcony and saw the two men. One was a cameraman and the other a soundman. The camera and telescopic sound boom was extended over the balcony as they filmed the men below. The tattooed man exhaled the breath he had been holding as he took in the scene. He halfheartedly smiled in relief that his message earlier that day had been received.

“Yeah, I guess they are going to film it … news at eleven, huh, kid?”

“Dude, you need to work on your sense of humor, my man.”

“Just wait for the punch line before you judge my comedic talents, son,” the man said as he brought the wheelchair to a stop on the broken asphalt of the exercise area.

As the seventeen prisoners watched on in fear, they saw the horse trailers being backed up to the enclosed yard. Several guards stood by the rear doors of each of the four battered and old trailers.

The blood of each man in hearing distance froze as the roar of a wild cat sounded from the first enclosure.

“Man, this is fucking medieval,” the young man said as his eyes widened at the thought of what they were to face.

The tattooed man said nothing as he realized the truth of what the FBI and DEA had explained in their reports. The man Gutiérrez was as insane as they come.

*   *   *

The man and woman waited just outside the office area of the registration wing of the prison. The white-haired man sat with a large black doctor’s bag between his feet. His round, brown-framed glasses were perched on the end of his nose as he watched the three secretaries at their desks. The woman next to him was attired in green nurse scrubs and sat stoically as she too waited.

The secretary on the phone looked up from her desk and studied the two for a long moment, making both feel uncomfortable, the same feeling they had for the past twenty minutes as they had been forced to wait. The secretary spoke Spanish into the phone and then hung up and stood. She approached the two as her colleagues excitedly stood and hurriedly moved to the window. One of them turned as he moved.

“Hurry, they are bringing them out,” the girl called out to the first.

The first secretary stood before them and looked as if she wanted to hurry. Her Spanish was rapid-fire and the two had a hard time keeping up. They both now knew that the recommendation by the linguistics department had been right on; they should have brushed up a little more with their chosen second language.

“Apologies, but the entire staff is unavailable for at least an hour, Doctor. Warden Ramirez says that you will be called when needed in the yard.” Without waiting and in a hurry to get to the window with her friends, the woman started to turn but stopped and turned back to the white-haired man in the rumpled suit and the small woman sitting beside him. “The warden inquired as to what happened to Dr. Torrez—he was scheduled for rounds this afternoon.”

The white-haired man wanted to face his companion but decided he would act his role out and be brave simply because when this was over he was going to get killed by men other than the maniacs in this prison—men with a lot more talent for killing. He gave the secretary a stern look.

“The good doctor became aware of the scheduled activities this afternoon and decided he was losing his stomach for it, thus I am here in his place as a favor”—he smiled as if he enjoyed the conversation, making even his small female companion suddenly fearful of his demeanor—“as I have no such qualms concerning what’s happening out there.” He nodded toward the window where the other two women stood.

The secretary decided she wanted to hear no more from this strange white-haired doctor and hurriedly joined her excited friends at the window who were examining the inmates as they entered the yard below.

“They’re not going to go outside like we were told they would,” the small woman said out of the corner of her mouth.

“Well, the briefing by our man at the FBI was hurriedly put together, I imagine. I’m sure he wasn’t expecting for us to make an attempt while so shorthanded in the security department.”

“Charlie, if they don’t go outside I have to place them into submission,” the woman said as she felt the fanny pack she wore. She slid it along her belt until it was in the front where she could reach it quickly. “Just how important is this aspect of the plan?” she asked as the three women by the window started making jokes on who would last the longest in the arena.

Professor Charles Hindershot Ellenshaw III watched the three secretaries for the briefest of moments before he frowned and then faced his acting nurse.

“Then what are you waiting for? Drop them. They’re personal assistants to that brutal son of a bitch out there.” He nodded toward the balcony beyond the office wall. “To hell with the gentle approach. Teach these ladies they should have far more compassion for their fellow man.”

First Lieutenant Sarah McIntire of the United States Army was shocked at the coldness of the proposed edict from cryptozoologist Ellenshaw. Most of the Group back at Nellis had seen the change in Charlie ever since the death of Pete Golding at the hands of a murdering ex-CIA operative. The change was enough to have most concerned. That was why she had been surprised that the colonel had allowed the scientist to take part in the operation. But she suspected what Ellenshaw needed was to occupy himself with other duties, and so Jack allowed Charlie this one slot in the rescue attempt to vent some of the pent-up emotion he was feeling. Being a cryptozoologist didn’t prepare you for the shock of sudden death at the hands of your fellow man.

Sarah easily removed the six-barreled electric stun gun from her pouch. With one last look at Ellenshaw, who was waiting with anticipation, she stood and moved toward the window as if she were only curious as to the activity outside.

The woman who had spoken to them a moment before turned with a large smile on her pretty face because she had just chosen the young inmate in the wheelchair as her bet as the first to fall. She saw Sarah approach and her smile slowly faded as she saw the large plastic stun gun in her right hand.

“Compliments of the doctor,” she said as the first electrical barb shot free of the barrel and connected perfectly with the dark-haired woman’s right shoulder. The ten-thousand-volt jolt shook the secretary in almost hilarious spasms until she dropped to the tiled flooring. The next two happy women were taken down without even as much fuss as the first. All three lay at the base of the window. Charlie stood and walked over to Sarah and looked down.

“I guess you were the first one to go down … I win.”

“Do you have the music Jack gave you for the PSYOP portion of this screwed-up plan?”

Charlie felt his pockets in his wrinkled black suit. “Of course, that was my only responsibility.” He felt his pocket again and brought out the encased compact disc. He blinked when he thought he remembered it being in a different colored case—this one looked like one of the CD cases from his own collection. He shrugged his shoulders and then replaced the disc in his pocket as he turned for the warden’s office. “Well, shall we start the dance?” he asked Sarah as he moved.

“Let’s just hope the participants in this little shindig are ready, because all hell is about to break loose.”

Outside, the dabbling of applause from the balcony announced that, indeed, the festivities were about to begin.

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS

The three young boys had every possession they owned in two overstretched garbage bags. They crossed the border early this morning and waited until the U.S. Border Patrol’s change of shift. They had waited in the shadows and now moved easily from small arroyos to deep cuts along the worn trail coming in from Mexico. The three had the promise of ranch work farther north in Alvin.

“This is the safest time to move over empty land, Jime,” the oldest of the three said as they came to the rising end of an arroyo, where they stopped. “There’s no green-suited boogeymen out here. Just two miles and we can reach the main highway and once there we will wait until near dawn and then jump the Northern Pacific all the way into Houston.”

“The emptiness of this place gives me the creeps,” the youngest said as he waited in the shadows for his two friends to move to the next cut of arroyo for cover.

“Yeah, that’s why it’s a good route to take, not many would chance crossing with no water until you reach Brownsville.” The oldest immigrant looked at the young and inexperienced boy and rubbed his head, knocking the green ball cap off. “Besides, the Americanos don’t have the equipment to cover every square inch of desert. There’s nothing out there but us and the open road. Now let’s go.”

The three young men climbed the rise, readying themselves for the sprint over into the next arroyo. When the oldest stopped dead in his tracks at the top of the rise and the other two ran into him their world became instantly surreal. Evidently the Americans had recently allocated far more funds to this area of the border.

“Pinche vato,” the oldest said as his eyes widened at the sight before him.

Between the arroyo they had just left and the second sat three U.S. Army Apache Longbow AH-64 attack choppers. The six men who crewed the gunships were standing in front of the giant attack birds and were looking straight at the three illegal immigrants as they stood atop the rise in shock. The weapons officer of one of the ships raised a gray-colored gloved hand and waved at the three, who simultaneously felt their hearts drop. The oldest boy swallowed hard as his right hand slowly came up in greeting.

“Oh, yeah, there’s nobody out here,” said the youngest.

Suddenly the aircrews below heard the loud beeping coming from their communications gear. The three aircrews ran to their Apaches. The three stunned boys watched as their four-bladed rotors started spooling up. Once more their hearts stopped when all three twenty-millimeter chain guns on the nose of each attack ship started rotating as the weapons officers made sure their main armament was functioning correctly.

Madre de dios,” mumbled the oldest as the first Apache lifted free of the Texas scrub and then the other two birds quickly and noisily followed suit. All three rose, dipped their noses hard forward, and then shot into the air, hugging the ground as the United States Army crossed the border of a friendly nation for their role in Operation Alcatraz. The boys didn’t know that five miles away to the east another group of helicopters was lifting off and heading to the same coordinates. Only these ships were a lot larger.

It was the youngest of the three who spoke. “I think I want to go back home.”

THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE (FOGGY BOTTOM)

The secretary of state waited to deliver his prepared speech to the man who was now being escorted into his large office. The older man smiled, trying to disarm the man before he even sat down. He rose and moved to the front of his desk to greet the visitor.

“Mr. Ambassador, so nice of you to come on such short notice.” He shook the smaller man’s hand and then gestured to the other occupant in the room, a well-dressed younger gentleman in a perfectly pressed black suit. “I don’t believe you have ever met the director of our FBI, Brenton Branch.” The large black man stood and offered his hand, which the stymied ambassador from Mexico slowly took with apprehension. “Please, sir, have a seat. We have much to pass on and very little time to do it.”

The ambassador to the United States from the nation of Mexico was perplexed as he had only met the American secretary of state one time, and that one time was not a pleasant experience. The old man was just plain mean in his estimation.

“Directly to the point, Mr. Ambassador, the FBI has come into some rather disturbing intelligence concerning one of your major headaches. Mr. Richie Gutiérrez.”

The ambassador froze at the mention of his name.

“Yes, we thought that would get your attention right off the bat. I’ll let the director tell you.”

“Sir, we in the United States government understand that you are having one hell of a time containing this Gutiérrez and his rather lucrative business. Now if this is because you are unable, or unwilling”—the secretary of state gave a wry look at the head of the FBI—“does not concern us at this time.” The director held up his hand as the ambassador started to protest the insult hurled at his government. “We have asked your government for three days to act upon this man for the kidnapping of an American citizen, one Xavier Morales, age twenty-five.”

“My government cannot act on information provided by a foreign nation without adequate investigation. I am afraid my hands in this matter are virtually tied, Mr. Secretary.”

“This is not a meeting that was intended to consult you or your government, Mr. Ambassador. We are here to simply inform you of a covert military action intended to free our citizens from illegal internment.”

“Covert military action?”

“Simply stated, you won’t act, so we will, sir.”

The secretary of state was relieved when he saw the wheels start turning in the young diplomat’s head. He had been briefed that many in the Mexican government were in favor of moving against Gutiérrez and his cartel and smash them with an iron fist, but there were too many men in government who owed the cartel’s leader enough to become one of his puppets. But the United States knew that there was a newer, bolder form of Mexican citizen rising from the old—and this man and many others was one of them. The ambassador saw what was happening; the United States was giving his government and the current administration in Mexico City an out. They wouldn’t have to raise a hand to assist, nor to apologize if something went wrong. Enlightenment crossed his features like a window being opened to the world. He caught on and caught on quick.

“Oh, but we must protest this action,” he said without much enthusiasm. “I must report this incursion immediately.” The ambassador stood as did the director of the FBI.

“Before you report to your president, may I offer you some lunch?” he asked as the ambassador buttoned his coat.

“I must report this.” The man looked at his watch.

“But it’s chicken-fried steak day here at Foggy Bottom.”

The Mexican ambassador allowed his lips to form a wry smile. “Well, how can I say no to that.” The ambassador allowed the head of the American FBI to escort him to the cafeteria.

The secretary of state lifted his phone and then waited. It was answered on the first ring.

“It’s done, Mr. President. Maybe you can explain to me later just why this American citizen is important enough to invade a friendly country.”

The President of the United States never answered the secretary. He just said thanks and hung up the phone with the hopes that his friend Niles Compton knew what he was doing.

RIO NATCHEZ CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, NORTHERN MEXICO

Richie Gutiérrez stood with glass in hand. He puffed on his cigar as all eyes were raised to the balcony. He quickly noticed something in the yard below.

“Why are there sixteen inmates when the order was for fifteen?” he asked as his glass lowered and he looked at the warden, who had been caught off guard by the quick observation.

He scanned the exercise yard and saw the man who was not on the list given to him that morning by Gutiérrez. He pointed at the small man standing behind their prized inmate, Morales. The tattoo made the man easy to spot.

“You, who are you?” the warden called down. Every prisoner in the yard looked around, thinking that the warden was talking directly to them.

Commander Jason Ryan, United States Navy, smiled as he released his grip on the wheelchair handles. He smiled his gold-plated smile at those shocked inmates around him. Then Ryan turned his attention to the balcony rising above him and the others. He hoped the inside team was ready because he was about to kick this show off to a great start—a start that if it didn’t work would ensure that he and his rescue element would never leave northern Mexico with breath in their lungs.

“Me?” Ryan asked, looking around as if confused. He took a few steps beyond the chair. He didn’t use Spanish or anything near that language’s accent. “I’m nobody compared to the great Jefe, Señor Gutiérrez,” he said as he half turned to the kid in the chair. “Make sure your parking brake isn’t on, kid.”

“What?” Morales said as he watched the confrontation frightened out of his mind. He had thought he was brave enough to get through this but the continuing roar of the caged animals made him weaken at the prospect of Gutiérrez justice. “Who are you?” he hissed.

Ryan took a few more steps forward.

“My boss told me to pass along to Mr. Gutiérrez a message,” Ryan called up, and then waited for a smiling Gutiérrez, who was curious as to the delay, but not angered—yet. The cartel leader stood with his chipped-ice glass of tequila still in hand.

“And who is your boss? If he is the one responsible for getting you drunk and forcing that tattoo on you, I must say he’s not much of a boss, or has a far better sense of humor than even myself.” He laughed as did everyone in the balcony with the exception of the cameraman and soundman, who were still busy doing their jobs.

“My boss”—here he paused for the best dramatic effect possible as Ryan smiled even wider—“is an even bigger prick than you.” The smile faded. “Only he doesn’t kill his own people and fill the world with your poison product. He sent me here to explain this to you in no uncertain terms.”

This time Gutiérrez lost his confident grin. The game was quickly growing old.

“I don’t want to hear any more, release our friends!” he said, and then smiled down upon the tattooed man.

As the gates that fronted the horse trailers opened, the men inside the yard instinctively moved as far away as they could from what was about to join them. As for Ryan, he also smiled, but for a different reason. He returned to the wheelchair-bound Morales.

“Here we go, kid, welcome to the real world!” Ryan said over the fearful cries of the condemned men crowding around him and Morales.

The sky exploded with sound so loud that everyone froze. The prison’s PA system came to life with a vengeance.

Ryan smiled as if he were the Cheshire cat. Then the smile quickly faded as he realized this was not the PSYOPS portion of the rescue’s chosen music. Instead of frightening, it was beyond confusing. Ryan had decided he would kill Sarah McIntire and Charlie Ellenshaw as they just butchered Jack Collins’s theory on shock and awe.

“Psychological warfare my ass!” Ryan yelled, hoping Ellenshaw could hear him.

Gutiérrez stood again as the music choice by Crazy Charlie Ellenshaw struck his eardrums and assaulted them.

On the overhead speaker system and throughout the prison the song “Sugar, Sugar,” by the bubble-pop band the Archies blared across the yard. That, coupled with the screams of the inmates as the doors to the trailers were finally opened.

“Shoot that man,” Gutiérrez screamed over the blare of the sugarcoated music that was coming near to bursting everyone’s eardrums.

Before anyone could react in the confusion, the soundman in the balcony turned and popped a switch on the telescopic microphone boom and a stream of gas issued from the disguised mic. The blue-tinted gas filled the area and dropped two guards immediately.

Gutiérrez was shocked as one of his men fell forward over the balcony and the other just fell. That was when he saw the cameraman turn toward him with his camera and was shocked to see the man wearing a gas mask. Then a compartment on the side of the mini-cam opened and the next thing the cartel leader saw was a nine-millimeter semiautomatic Glock pistol pointed right at his head. The man behind the mask didn’t waver as the sound engineer continued his gas assault on the balcony.

Ryan screamed for the men to get down as the music was somehow shoved aside by another, even louder sound.

Before anyone could know what was happening, three American Apache helicopters rose over the eastern, northern, and southern walls of the prison. As the Archies continued to sing on, the chain guns mounted on the nose of each attack chopper opened up. They struck the electrical lines leading into the prison and then one of the Apaches rose a hundred feet and sent a stream of twenty-millimeter rounds into the guard housing next to the cell blocks, effectively keeping any reinforcements from the yard. The second started tearing into the main gate of the facility until the chain-link fence and razor wire hung loosely in utter destruction.

The soundman tossed the now-empty boom over the balcony and studied the warden and the rest of the incapacitated guards. None were moving.

Sarah and Charlie ran from the offices and joined the soundman as he checked everyone to make sure none would spring up and surprise them. Still the Archies sang and the men below cowered.

Ten guards sprang from a blockhouse and started toward the yard. The remaining inmates who had been gathered outside the exercise yard to witness their own eventual fate saw what the guards were attempting and immediately swarmed as each man knew instinctively that something extraordinary was happening and they had to take advantage. The ten armed guards didn’t stand a chance against the anger of Gutiérrez’s enemies. The Apache gunships circled, looking for any threat that sprang up.

Gutiérrez was standing wide-eyed as the cameraman lowered the nine millimeter and then removed the black gas mask. The black man smiled at him.

“Richard Gutiérrez, we are here to enforce a warrant ordering your arrest,” United States Army Captain Will Mendenhall said as he looked back at U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jesse Rodriguez as he quickly emptied the harness bag they had brought along. Mendenhall looked at his watch under his gloved hand. “Thirty seconds. Sarah, give the gunny a hand, will you? Charlie, you and I have to talk about what represents PSYOPS operations and its intended distraction media. The Archies is not among the chosen selections to frighten your adversary.”

“I will have you all tracked down and killed in your homes with your entire families!” Gutiérrez said as he watched the strangers unroll a large set of nylon harnesses.

Will Mendenhall, after being interrupted by the cartel leader and his threat, looked at Gutiérrez and then simply raised the gun and hit him in the forehead with the gun, sending him grimacing as he fell back onto his ornate emperor’s throne.

“It’s very rude to interrupt,” he said as his eyes lingered for only a moment on the man. He turned back to Ellenshaw, who was not smiling even though he knew he had screwed up. “We’ll talk later, Doc. Now help get this asshole prepared to fly.”

Charlie did as he was told.

Jason Ryan started frantically pushing Morales and his chair forward through the frightened inmates. He was screaming for the condemned men to make a break for the gates and the prison parking lot beyond. He heard the Apaches open up somewhere to his right and hoped there wasn’t wholesale killing going on. After all it wasn’t Gutiérrez’s henchmen they were after, it was only Morales and the leader of the most brutal drug cartel since the Cali, Colombia, extremes of the eighties. He made sure that the guards tending to the wild animals in their cages were either eliminated or on the run, then he went to the direct center of the yard and waited, feeling very exposed to whatever guards made it past the circling Apaches.

With the blare of noise coming from the Archies and the powerful twin engines of the Apaches, no one heard the deeper bass rumble of something much larger as it approached the prison. Men ran and screamed as the giant Chinook double-rotor transport helicopter broke over the height of the south wall. The rotor wash of the large CH-47 heavy-lift chopper knocked men from their feet as they ran away frightened from the American black ops display confronting them. The harness struck the ground near Ryan and he immediately took hold and started strapping the shocked and frightened computer genius to the harness. The wide-eyed young man made no sound other than to scream when Ryan faced him.

“Now don’t move until you’re told,” he said.

“But who in the hell are you!”

“Bye, kid, nice meeting ya!”

Morales was about to ask again when his world went away. He and his chair were pulled so violently upward that he knew he had left his stomach somewhere rolling on the ground with Ryan. As for Jason he had to smile as the screams of the young selection of computer science department head were heard even over the noise of the music and engine assault. The harness held as the boy and his chair flew skyward toward the hovering Chinook. Ryan made sure the kid was pulled in by the CH-47’s crew and then he made his way toward the double gates that held the prisoners inside. He opened them and started moving inmates free of the yard. As he did he looked at the three horse trailers and that was when Jason Ryan really smiled.

In the balcony above the action, Sarah, Charlie, and Rodriguez had Gutiérrez ready to ascend into the blue skies above Mexico. The man finally opened his eyes against the pain of Mendenhall’s rebuke with the pistol. The dark eyes widened when he saw the black American looking down at him. He was about to scream something over the noise of the Archies when Mendenhall held up his right hand and just simply waved good-bye as Gutiérrez burst into the sky, ripping the makeshift shade cover from the prepared balcony. Will smiled and then attached his own lines as did the other three. He saw Ryan as he stood just below with his own harness attached and waiting.

“Hey, toss down the warden and his men!” Jason screamed at a confused Will. Then he saw his friend’s smile and knew exactly what he had planned. With the help of Ramirez, Sarah, and an angry Ellenshaw, the five men were eased to the asphalt below by rope.

As inmates freed themselves from the prison, Jason Ryan, United States Navy, looked down at his handiwork and with the large tattoo gleaming its glorious colors in the sun he gave the signal. The second CH-47 Chinook lifted him, Sarah, Rodriguez, and Mendenhall free of the ground, and with four personnel hanging from the giant bird, slowly made their way north toward the border. Operation Alcatraz was now complete.

*   *   *

Ten minutes later the prison warden awakened with a fright at about the same time as his guards and Gutiérrez’s henchmen. With wide eyes and loosened bladder they watched the black-coated Yucatán jaguars as they started creeping toward the spot where they had been deposited. Just before the first sleek cat lowered its ears to spring, he saw the scrawled note between his splayed legs. He read it and then looked up just as the five wildcats started forward with hungry intent. As the freed men ran into the surrounding countryside and the remaining prison guards decided they needed to find new work, the small note blew away in the wind and only the warden of Rio Natchez Prison would ever know what it said: “Compliments of the Greater Nevada Historical Society.”

***

Copyright © 2016 David Golemon.

To learn more or order a copy, visit:

Buy at iTunes

Buy at Barnes and NobleBuy at Amazon

 

 


DAVID GOLEMON makes his home in New York. The Traveler is the eleventh novel in his Event Group Series.

 

Comments

  1. Jessica Milligan

    hi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *