Authors: Tara Janzen
Anyone familiar with the beautiful city of Denver, Colorado, will notice that I changed a few parts of downtown to suit the story. Most notably, I took Steele Street and turned it into an alley in lower downtown, a restored historic neighborhood in the heart of Denver known as LoDo.
NE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FOUR
fucking inches of rain a year
—and this little corner of the Colombian jungle was getting all of it tonight.
. Kid Chaos Chronopolous shifted his gaze from the deluge outside the cantina’s door to the other patrons in the smoke-filled bar: one old man he could take on his worst day—and today was definitely headed in that direction; two young whores he wouldn’t take on a bet; and half a dozen rats who looked like they could take him without breaking a sweat.
Tightening his arm around his waist, he checked the door again. The river was rising like a sonuvabitch, but according to the bartender, the
was still out there, chugging her way downstream, which meant there was still a chance to catch a ride out of this hellhole tonight.
Thank you, God and C. Smith Rydell.
Even if he had to swim for it, he wasn’t missing that damn boat. No way in hell. Screw the piranhas. If they wanted a piece of him, they were going to have to get in line.
He glanced toward the bar. C. Smith had gone up to talk about hot food and cold beer. It was a long shot this time of night, but Kid’s money was on Smith. The guy didn’t look a day over nineteen with his blond ponytail, scruffy beard, and shit-eating grin, but if there were two plates of rice and a cold beer left in this rat-infested backwater on the banks of the Rio Putumayo, the hippie gringo with the Sig Sauer .45 strapped to his hip and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency ID buried in his pack could be counted on to get them.
Something cold would be great. Anything cold. Sweat was running down his face, down his body, and it was all he could do to keep from fainting dead out on the table.
Taking a steadying breath, he looked down and slowly tilted his hand away from his side.
Okay. He was a little chewed up, but it wasn’t so bad—except for the blood running through his fingers. The bullet was still in there, just under his skin, and might have skittered off one of his ribs, which would explain why he hurt so goddamned bad. That wasn’t so good, but the blood . . . yeah, the blood was a problem. He’d lost too much. Smith had done a quick patch on him when he’d gotten hit, but he’d lost that an hour back, and they hadn’t dared stop long enough to really bind him up, not with eight armed men on their asses. Getting shot was one thing, but actually dying on the job went against every order they’d been given. A baby-faced DEA agent and a black-ops soldier from the Department of Defense showing up dead in the South American jungle was the sort of thing the U.S. government did
want to have to explain to anybody.
On the plus side, he and Smith had successfully located the airfield where Juan Conseco was transporting semirefined coca from the south to be processed in his big labs in northern Colombia. They’d also found opium latex, but the real prize had been a SATCOM phone number tacked to the wall with a flight schedule and a ship’s lading document. Smith had recognized the number, which was bad news for the U.S. government and good news for every junkie in the Western Hemisphere. Fresh off the DEA’s “Operation Containment” force in Kabul, Afghanistan, Smith had been transferred to their Heroin Task Force in Bogotá, Colombia, to follow a lead on Middle Eastern narco-terrorists looking to broaden their market base. Finding an Afghan opium warlord’s phone number tacked to the wall in an illicit airfield shack just north of the Putumayo was about as broadly based as drug trafficking could get. Smith had grinned from ear to ear. The last thing the U.S. needed was for somebody to start running Asian heroin through the Colombian cartel’s cocaine pipeline—but it had felt damn fine to follow a gut instinct halfway around the world and hit pay dirt.
Drugs and thugs, from one side of the globe to the other, with every terrorist group in the world getting a piece of the black-money action. Snort heroin or cocaine in Los Angeles, feed a terrorist in Kabul, Tehran, or Medellín, Colombia—the connection was pretty damn straightforward.
“Chico.” A cold beer came down on the table, the bottle dripping with icy condensation. A plate of food followed as Smith settled into the chair next to his.
Kid reached for the beer. “How long have we got?”
“Five minutes max,” Smith said. “Then the generator goes out like last year’s lightbulb, the rest of the beer gets warm, and this whole town disappears back into the jungle until dawn. Eat.”
Kid took a bite, then shoveled in another.
“Town” was an undeserved compliment for Banco Nuevo. He was sticking with “hellhole” to describe the mud street and two dozen ramshackle buildings doing their damnedest not to slide into the river.
“What about the boat? The
?” The food tasted like sawdust, and his gut was churning, but he’d be damned if he threw up. Food, water, beer—the three essentials. If he couldn’t get it down and keep it down, he wasn’t going to have the strength to do what had to be done. They weren’t home free. Far from it.
Hell, the only reason Smith had dragged him in here was to get him out of the rain long enough to slap another battle dressing on him, and if possible, shove a little hot food in him. They were sitting ducks in the cantina.
“If there’s still a dock in half an hour, the boat will be at the dock.” Smith was pulling first-aid stuff out of his pack with one hand and spooning food into his mouth with the other. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but neither were they after ten days of jungle recon and three hours flat-out on the run. “Can you hold on that long?”
was the only thing that could get them as far as Santa María by morning, and Santa María was the last place left on the river where they could call in a plane to pick them up. They could be heading back to Bogotá tomorrow.
But first they had to get through the night, and considering the number of people they’d pissed off today, that wasn’t going to be easy. The pack of rabid
they’d been outrunning had no sooner stopped for the rain than they had.
No, they wanted their shit back, all the papers and documents he and Smith had stuffed into their packs at the airfield, all the data Uncle Sam and the Colombian government needed to shut them down or blow them off the map. The only question was who was going to get to Banco Nuevo first, the
or the narco-guerillas?
Kid was praying for the
. He knew guys like Conseco, and he knew for a fact that torture would figure pretty heavily in any death they dished out, especially for agents of the U.S. government.
Smith knew it, too.
“Lift your arm,” Smith ordered. “And I can guarantee you this is going to hurt.”
That was Smith. Right to the point. No candy coating.
Then Kid saw the bottle of
rotgut Smith had brought from the bar along with the food and beer.
He put his fork back on the plate and swallowed the rest of the food in his mouth. “I don’t think—”
“Good idea,” Smith said, interrupting him and lifting the bottle. “Don’t think.” Without another word, he poured the alcohol on Kid’s wound.
Fiery, blazing pain flashed across his left side, burning like a friggin’ hot poker from one edge of the bloody torn wound to the other—and it didn’t stop. The pain just sat there on him and burned.
Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck.
His eyes crossed, and he almost went down. The only thing stopping him was Smith grabbing the front of his shirt and forcibly holding him in his chair.
“Come on, Chico,” Smith said, his voice low and hard. “You’re tougher than this.”
No. No, he didn’t think so. Not right now.
Right now, it would be easier to just pass out. To just let his eyes roll up inside his head and let go.
Smith splashed him again—the sonuvabitch—and set the rotgut back on the table. He started pulling Kid’s shirt away from his skin.
Oh, shit, it hurt.
“If I have to carry you out of here, it’s going to get ugly.”
Yeah. Real ugly. He had twenty pounds on C. Smith, and they were each humping fifty-pound packs and thirty pounds of guns and ammo—all of which they needed, every single ounce of it.
“You couldn’t carry me out of here on your best day,” he said, his voice barely a whisper, which did damn little to increase his confidence.
Please, oh, fuck, don’t let me pass out.
“Lucky for you, Chico, this isn’t my best day.” Smith gave him one of those shit-eating grins, and Kid almost grinned back—almost, but not quite, because Smith was opening a Sani-Pak bandage, and the only reason Smith would be opening a Sani-Pak bandage would be to press it onto his wound to help seal out infection.
Great fucking idea, but he didn’t want anybody
anything on him.
Too late. The Sani-Pak went on, and Smith sealed the edges, and Kid felt his own edges get a little blurry and start to turn black. He tried to remember to keep breathing . . . and forgot.
Beer brought him back around in a snap—cold beer being poured on his face.
“D-dammit, Smith,” he spluttered. “You’re wasting the beer.”
“I’ll buy you another one in Santa María.” Smith ripped open a roll of gauze and started winding it around Kid’s waist—real tight.
That hurt, too, but the last thing he wanted was to bleed out in Banco Nuevo—or be captured alive by Juan Conseco. The cocaine baron would have a bounty on them by dawn.
Not that anyone needed the added incentive to take him out. The glory alone was worth the risk.
El asesino fantasma
. He knew what they called him—the ghost killer. He didn’t have a problem with the name. He’d earned it. He’d earned it the hard way, one death at a time, until all the Colombian narco-guerrillas who had butchered his brother had been put in their graves. But the name had started following him like a hungry dog, with every half-cocked gunfighter from Cusco to Cartagena snapping at his heels. If he didn’t cut himself loose and get the hell out of South America, he was going to die here. It was time to leave.
“Are you okay?” Smith asked, tying off the gauze. “Steady?”
“Like a rock.” Yeah. Right. That was him, rock steady. He was going to leave finger dents in the tabletop, he was holding on so freakin’ tight. The sweat was pouring off him now, and if he didn’t keep himself real still, he was going to lose his rice and whatever monkey meat had been in it.
Over behind the bar, the bartender set a lantern next to the glassware and fired up the wick. Time was running out.
“Then keep eating,” Smith said, letting go of him and pulling a battle pack of ammo out of his rucksack.
No way. Not yet. Kid needed to get ahold of himself first.
Smith was moving fast, pulling empty magazines off Kid’s web gear and replacing them with full ones off his own tactical vest. Kid had already eased his M4 off his back and onto his shoulder.
“You’re not planning on us going out of here like Butch and Sundance are you?” A sniper by trade and training, compliments of his hitch with the United States Marine Corps, stealth was always Kid’s preferred modus operandi.
“Nope,” Smith said, reloading Kid’s magazines out of the battle pack, sliding one 5.56mm cartridge in on top of another with quick, efficient precision. “Butch and Sundance were packing six-shot, single-action Colts. You’re going to cover me with half a dozen spare magazines and your M4 on semiauto.”
Kid didn’t like the sound of that.
Cover him while he did what?
“Where are you going?” Kid’s orders were clear: Get the DEA guy into southern Colombia, help him find the frickin’ airfield, and get him back to the Bogotá office in one piece.
“Out in the dark with a knife.”
And that would be Kid’s absolute last choice in the plan department, for Smith to go out alone to take on Conseco’s guys. He’d never actually come out and asked, but more than once, as tough as the guy was, he’d wondered if maybe C. Smith really was only nineteen or twenty, wondered if somehow he’d slipped under the DEA’s age requirement. He looked damn young, and nineteen-to-twenty-year-olds, even tough ones, didn’t have the kind of experience necessary to go out in the dark with a knife—not when there were more than half a dozen badass banditos out there waiting for him.
On the other hand, he sure as hell was in no condition to go hunting himself. It was going to take everything he had to get to the dock—and maybe even everything he had wasn’t going to be enough. He was trying so damn hard not to hyperventilate. Really weird, bad shit happened to you when you’d lost a lot of blood and started hyperventilating.
“Maybe we could set up a diversion, draw them out.” It was a better plan, a safer plan.
Smith just grinned and kept shoving cartridges into the M4’s magazine.
“Don’t worry, Kid. The only person in this town I can’t take with a knife tonight is you.” He pushed the last cartridge in and switched the full magazine with the half-empty one in Kid’s carbine. “Come on. Let’s get you set up.”