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Authors: Dana Marton

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Spy Hard (8 page)

BOOK: Spy Hard
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She moved up closer behind Mochi, who walked between her and Jase. The kid barely reached her nonexistent waist. She couldn’t possibly hit him as long as she aimed well over his head.

Deep breath. Her finger hesitated on the trigger. Not because of that kiss they’d shared, she told herself. But if she shot Jase now, the sound of gunfire might draw some of Don Pedro’s men to them.

She’d have plenty of opportunity to shoot the guy later. First, she might as well let him lead them a safe distance from the camp. But then she was taking control.

She drew a long breath and lowered the weapon.

“I was about to recommend that,” Jase said without turning around, his tone mild. “That old thing has about the same chance of hitting me as blowing up in your hands.”

Chapter Five

Jase scanned the forest in front of them. Not that he could see worth a damn. Couldn’t hear too much, either; the usual jungle noises drowned out pretty much everything. Moisture dripped from leaves, a startled bird cried here and there. The bugs just plain never shut up. As far as they were concerned, the jungle was theirs.

He also paid attention to what was going on behind him. Melanie had backed down with the whole gun thing. Good. He wasn’t sure exactly how he would have tackled a pregnant woman.

He’d been pretty sure she wouldn’t shoot him. He was a fair judge of character. But even if she did pull the trigger, chances were she would have missed in the dark. In any case, his most important organs were protected by the back wall of the backpack that he’d lined with Kevlar before he’d headed off to find Don Pedro almost a year ago.

That she’d considered taking a shot gave him hope. It meant she had enough courage and grit, which boded well for her chances of making it to the research station.

Jase picked up the pace, calling over his shoulder, “Let me know when you need a break.”

“How long, do you think, before they realize that we’re gone?”

“They’ll figure out in about ten minutes that the enemy isn’t here yet and the explosion had nothing to do with Cristobal. Then they’ll search the camp for an explanation. They’ll be slowed by the darkness. A couple of hours might pass before they find Jorge’s body and the hole in the fence. Then they’ll have to figure out who is missing. I think they’ll wait until morning to track us, but by then the enemy will be here, so they’ll have bigger problems.”

“We shouldn’t stop anyway, for a while. Just in case,” she said. “I’d rather be a safe distance from camp.”

“Nothing’s safe about cutting through the jungle at night.” The trek was downright suicidal, in fact, yet still better than remaining at camp and awaiting battle.

He almost missed the faint animal trail in the dark. He slowed and looked again, then pulled his trusty, worn compass from his pocket and flicked on his flashlight. They’d exited the camp on the west side, but he turned north now, following the trail that seemed to lead that way.

Cristobal and his men would come from the east. Better avoid that bunch, if possible.

They plodded forward in silence for a while, his flashlight illuminating a narrow path in front of them. They were far enough from camp now that the light should be safe. It did draw a host of insects, however, that seemed to be eating them alive. Still, a little blood loss was nothing compared to stepping on a pit viper.

He glanced back after a while. “You two okay?”

“Fine.” A light scarf protected Melanie’s face and neck. She swatted at the bugs.

The insects didn’t seem to bother the boy. He was used to running through the jungle in nothing but a loincloth. He had more covering now than he’d ever seen in his life. He proudly wore the linen shirt and shorts Consuela had made him, going to great pains to keep them clean. Not an easy task in the jungle.

The dog bite on his arm would have to be checked in the morning, when there was more light, Jake thought. He kept the pace manageable, holding back for the sake of the other two. On his own he could have made the trek to the research station in a day. But as things stood…Mochi was used to the jungle terrain, but his legs were too short to walk too fast. And Melanie would need regular periods of rest.

With the rough terrain they would be lucky to cover ten miles a day, which meant three days there. He’d drop them off, then come back to camp. The fight could very well still be going. The compound had been strategically built; the Don’s men could easily dig themselves in and hold off a larger force for a good long time. Jase could pretend that he’d been captured by the enemy at the beginning and had just broken free, returning to rejoin the melee. He’d deny having seen Mochi and Melanie or that he had anything to do with their disappearance.

Or, if the fight was over and Cristobal had won, Jase could slink into camp and ask the new boss to take him in, swear allegiance to the new guy. Then he could continue with his intelligence gathering. However it played out, he planned on finishing his mission and accomplishing what he’d come here to do.

He pushed forward as briskly as he could safely do so, and the bugs dropped back after a while. Thank God for small mercies.

He looked back periodically as he walked to make sure nobody fell behind. He needn’t have worried. Both Melanie and Mochi kept up. They knew what was at stake.

He kept listening for noises indicating they were being followed. But neither his senses nor his instincts signaled danger, so after a while he relaxed. Then tensed again when he considered that as little ground as they’d covered so far, it might already be too much for Melanie.

“How far along are you?” He found the question uncomfortable, but asked it anyway.

“Eight months.”

He winced. She didn’t look that far along. But what did he know about pregnant women, anyway? Absolutely nothing. And he would have been damned happy to keep things that way.

Okay. All right. Not a problem.
Three days, four at the most, and he would deliver her to the research station where she could be flown out in the next chopper that brought supplies. She would be fine. He’d leave Mochi there, too, and would come back for the kid later, after the battle was over and his position at camp was secure once again. Then he’d find the boy a suitable village.

He ordered the first rest stop after forty minutes or so, way too early.

“I can go longer,” she insisted, but she had both hands at her lower back, supporting the extra weight she carried.

“How about I take that gun?” he offered, his motives not entirely altruistic.

She hesitated a lot longer than he would have liked, but did hand the weapon over in the end, probably aware that he could have taken it away from her if he wanted to, anyway.

“Even seasoned soldiers sit out the dark.” He put away the old pistol and pulled their canteens from his backpack, then handed them out. “Drink.”

They wouldn’t eat at this stop. That could wait until morning.

He checked their three days’ worth of food, enough to last them to their destination, to make sure no bugs had gotten into it. He planned on scavenging on his way back, to cut down on the weight he had to carry.

When he checked everything to his satisfaction and found no problems, he picked up his own canteen and panned his flashlight around as he drank, scanning the immediate area. Glowing eyes reflected back the light here and there.

Melanie pulled closer to him on the log they all shared, and he caught a whiff of her shampoo, something citrusy. “What are those?”

“Mostly monkeys. You can tell a jaguar apart by the shape of his cat eyes.”

“But big cats are fewer and fewer in the world’s jungles, right?”

“Sure.” No need to share the story of him coming face-to-face with a tiger in the jungles of Sumatra on a night very much like this. He’d been saving a journalist the guerillas had taken hostage. No connection to his mission at the time whatsoever. Took a bullet in the leg for her, too. They still kept in touch. Audrey and her family—husband and kids—sent him a Christmas card every year.

The need to protect the weak, to stand up for women and kids, ran deep in his Texas blood. He couldn’t help it.

“How far have we come?” Melanie asked.

Not nearly far enough. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll cover more ground once the sun comes up.”

“Do you think Mochi can handle the walk? How did his arm get hurt?” She was looking at the bandage that was partially concealed by the boy’s shirt, as if she’d just noticed it. The way Jase had set the flashlight down partially illuminated the boy.

“A dog bit him.” Better not elaborate on that story either. She had way too much stress to deal with already, not a good thing for a woman in her condition. “He walked everywhere his whole life so far. They have no cars or even bicycles in the jungle villages. I promise you, he can take whatever you can take.” Probably more, actually, under the circumstances.

She kept her gaze on the boy, who was playing with the puppy.

Jase kept his gaze on her. That she worried more about Mochi than herself said something about her.

He stopped that train of thought right there. Helping her was one thing; starting to like her was a complication he didn’t need.

He put away his water and stood to gather some firewood. Of course, with the high humidity and on-and-off rain, everything dripped with moisture.

He shaved some deadwood with his knife and used the dry core to help him light a couple of thin branches. That provided enough heat to set a larger chunk of wood on fire. “This should help with the wild animals.”

She looked around at the dark forest as she wrapped her arms around her torso. “About those jaguars…”

“They could be around.” No sense in giving her false security. Better if they were all prepared for everything. “But not common. It all depends on whether or not we’ll be crossing one’s territory.”

They fell silent for a while. Mochi shared his drink with the puppy, pulled the dog on his lap, then pulled his legs up and wrapped his arms around his knees, lay his head down and fell asleep. The crackling of the fire and the night sounds of the jungle filled the air.

A howler monkey cried out in the distance.

Maybe it had met up with a snake. Jase kept his eyes on their surroundings to make sure they avoided that fate.

The puppy wiggled away from Mochi. The boy snatched it back.

Nobody was going to get any sleep that way. Jase took off his belt and cut off a narrow strip of leather, bored a hole with his pocket knife and made a makeshift dog collar. Then he hunted for a slim but strong green vine that would be flexible enough to make a good leash. He tied the dog to a sapling when he was done.

“So what’s the story with the puppy?” Melanie asked, watching him.

“Damn nuisance.” He had no idea why he’d agreed to take the dog along. Temporary insanity.

He was in the middle of a crucial op. And he had managed to collect a jungle kid, a pregnant woman and a three-legged puppy.

She smiled at him for the first time since he’d busted into her room.

He refused to let that smile affect him on any level. He looked away.

“Have you been working for Pedro long?”

“Almost a year.”

She’d been at the camp for only a few months. He’d heard about the woman up at the hacienda, but had never seen her before he’d caught her crying on the balcony. He’d spent most of his time in the jungle running errands with one group or another. Since he’d been on probation, working to gain the Don’s trust, he hadn’t been allowed up at the house before that. And even if he had been, from what she’d said, the Don liked to keep her under lock and key.

“What did you do before coming here?” she asked next.

“This and that. I even piloted a riverboat on the Amazon once.” He couldn’t help a grin. Those were good memories—an undercover op that had lasted six months and made a considerable dent in the drug trade.

“And you…” she hesitated, her smile fading “…like this work?”

He extended his hands toward the fire. “It’s pretty much the only thing I’m good at.”

Something flashed across her gaze. He couldn’t tell by the low light of the flames whether it was regret or disappointment. For a second he wished he could tell her the truth about himself.
Too risky.
She’d be out of his hair in a few days, anyway. They’d likely never see each other again. What she thought of his moral turpitude didn’t matter.

He was pretty sure he could hand her off without having to break his cover. That was the plan, anyway.

He would trek right by the research station, announcing to her that they had to go around it carefully. Then let her slip away from him and take Mochi with her, as she would no doubt try the first chance she got. She would escape to safety, and he could turn around and go back to camp to finish his work.

Minutes ticked on. Their clothes were slowly drying, the night a little more comfortable as they warmed up.

He gave the boy another ten minutes to sleep, then touched the kid’s shoulder to wake him. He was prepared to carry Mochi if he had to. But the boy’s eyes snapped open and he immediately went for the dog. Then he began marching down the trail, carrying the puppy in his arms, despite the leash. He knew the forest well enough to know that snakes were a danger to a little puppy who would just love to stray off the trail if given too much slack.

“Let me know if you see or hear anything out there,” he told the boy in Spanish.

Mochi gave a smile. He seemed to be doing well. And he trusted Jase.

Melanie didn’t trust him, though. Jase noticed that she kept a close, wary eye on him.

They kept going on the narrow trail and were soon soaked to the skin again, even though it wasn’t raining. They brushed up against wet leaves constantly, and moisture dripped from above, too. Along with all kinds of bugs. He had his jungle hat, Melanie had her scarf. Mochi’s head was shaved, so whatever fell on it slid right off. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the bugs anyway. He was a pretty easygoing, happy little kid.

He’d seen the boy sad from time to time in the past day or so, probably thinking about his family, but his spirits were up for the most part. Mochi had accepted the loss and lived very much in the present, probably used to staggering losses, living as he did in a very dangerous corner of the jungle.

BOOK: Spy Hard
2.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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