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Authors: Katherine Garbera

The Mercenary

BOOK: The Mercenary
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The
MERCENARY
The
MERCENARY

THE SAVAGE SEVEN

KATHERINE GARBERA

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

www.kensingtonbooks.com

Chapter One

A
UGUST
1, S
ANDTON
, J
OHANNESBURG
, S
OUTH
A
FRICA

T
he phone rang as Olivia Pontuf was in the middle of stripping down for a shower. It had already been a long day and it was only 10:30
A.M.

“It’s Olivia,” she said, answering her cell phone. Her BlackBerry was her lifeline to her old life. She relied on it. Last week she’d thought she’d lost it and had brought the entire household to a standstill until it was found. Ray had been amused, but Olivia hadn’t been. Everything she had was in that phone.

“Darling, I need you to bring me a file from my office,” Ray Lambert said.

She reached into the shower and turned off the water. “Okay, give me a second to go downstairs and you can tell me which one you need.”

“I don’t have a minute to waste while you do whatever it is you do to fill your day,” Ray said.

“I was getting in the shower, Ray, I trust you don’t want me to walk naked through our home,” Olivia said. Their home was a large estate house in an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. She really had no problem with nudity, but the three security guards who lived with them creeped her out a bit.

“Okay, but hurry.”

She bit her lip to keep from reminding him that she had just said she’d hurry. She pulled on her thick terry bathrobe and walked out of her bedroom suite and downstairs to Ray’s home office.

He said nothing while she made her way downstairs and she told herself that one of the things she’d always liked about Ray was that he didn’t waste time with small talk.

The room was darkly appointed and smelled faintly of the Cuban cigars that Ray liked to smoke after dinner. “I’m here.”

“About time,” he muttered. “Go to my desk and open the middle drawer.”

“Middle, middle? Or left middle?” she asked.

“Middle,” he said. Ray seemed tense, which wasn’t like him. He was usually relaxed and charming when he dealt with her. She’d seen him get short tempered with help or with service people who didn’t meet his standards, but never with her.

“It’s locked,” she said.

“Dammit. There is a key on the credenza behind you in the bottom of the Zen rock garden,” he said.

She turned around and saw the garden; she used the little rake to move the sand around until she exposed the key. She pulled it out and wiped it off on her robe before fitting into the lock.

“Okay, I’ve got the drawer opened.”

“The folder I need is in a black envelope. Do you see it?”

She rooted around in the drawer, uncovering the envelope in the back. It was padded and thick. She resisted the urge to linger in the drawer and see what else was important enough for Ray to lock away.

“I have it.”

“Great. Have Burati drive you to the mines. I need that file as quickly as you can get here.”

“I guess a shower is out,” she said.

“Yes, Olivia, some things are more important than appearance.”

Feeling like she’d been slapped, she was silent. “I’m well aware of that, Ray.”

“I’m sorry, darling. I just need that file. Please bring it as quickly as you can.”

“Of course, I’ll be there as soon as possible,” she said.

“Excellent. Bye.”

He hung up and Olivia knew she had to face the truth about this new life of hers.

She knew she had a life many would envy. She had grown up among the crème de la crème of European society, and moving from London to Johannesburg (or Jo’burg, as the locals called it) had seemed very exciting.

The reality of life here in Jo’burg was so different from what she’d imagined. The beauty of South Africa was marred for her by the constant threat of violence and crime. She couldn’t jog in the early hours as she’d always done at home but instead had to wait until mid-morning when it was safer.

She wasn’t a health nut but had found her habits made her life here seem more normal. And she relied on them to keep her sane.

Sure, she had a lot of social events to keep her busy and, as always, she was working on one of her fiction books about Krissie Carmichel, girl-spy. But there were also lots of bodyguards and trained attack dogs that were always nearby to keep her safe. Ten-foot-high fences surrounded the lush, leafy green residential neighborhood they lived in.

And she’d said yes to Ray’s offer of marriage because he was wealthy, good looking, and moved in the same circles she did. Now she was having second thoughts.

Ray worked almost every day from before sunrise, leaving their home with his bodyguards Nels and Mumba and not returning until well after the cocktail hour. She was doing her best to fit in here, but the shopping malls closed at three, which limited her outings, and her charity work was also limited to only daylight hours.

Her work seemed stymied lately. She attributed it to the move. Moving always threw her off her writing groove.

While the people she’d met were nice, the constant threat of crime and having to always stay vigilant was wearing her down. That was why today she’d had enough.

She took a brief shower and dressed quickly in a Chanel pantsuit. Despite the fact that she knew time was of the essence, she took ten minutes to put on some makeup; she felt naked if she went out of the house without eyeliner and lipstick on.

“Going somewhere, ma’am?” Burati asked.

“Just running this folder up to Mr. Lambert at the mines,” she said.

“I will have the car brought around,” Burati said. His accent was lyrical and she liked to listen to him talk.

“I’d like to try driving on my own this time, Burati,” she said. She needed to be alone for a little while. Her car was equipped with bulletproof glass and very safe.

“I will call Mr. Lambert and verify that.”

“No, Burati, you will not. I am perfectly capable of getting myself safely to Cullinan and back.” She disliked that the bodyguard treated her like a dummy. She felt his constant disdain every time she asked him to do something. If it wasn’t for her writing, this world would be strangling her right now. She was a grown woman and had already figured out that she needed to make this situation work.

Burati nodded and left. She found her keys and hurried out of the house, guessing that the bodyguard would go behind her back, call Ray anyway, and probably end up trailing her all the way to Cullinan.

 

Leon Burati didn’t exactly enjoy his job protecting Ms. Pontuf, but Phillip Michaels had been clear that protecting her came before collecting evidence on Ray Lambert. So the Soweto native had done it. Burati had taken the job for Lambert almost three years ago. His kid brother Thomas was working on the inside of Lambert’s illegal operation. Both of the brothers were working to shut down the man—Ray Lambert—who had been responsible for the deaths of their father and older brothers.

No one knew that Thomas and Burati were related. They’d been very careful to keep that connection hidden, and for the most part that had worked in their favor. And Phillip—one of the executives from the diamond consortium—wanted to catch Lambert and his cohorts in the act. Phillip was gathering information from both sides of Lambert’s operations and from his home life.

The diamond consortium was very aware that the output at Onyx Diamond Group was kept at the bare minimum and yet there were mining shafts that were constantly being closed or abandoned, which shouldn’t have happened that frequently.

Now that he knew where Lambert hid the key to his locked drawer, Burati could go through the desk while Ms. Pontuf was gone. Being a bodyguard to the fiancée of a man whose illegal actions had put the Soweto people in danger wasn’t exactly rewarding, but Burati was a patient man and would do whatever he had to until there was enough evidence to put Lambert away for life.

He let himself into the den and found the key where Olivia had left it in the Zen rock garden. The little garden had a place of honor on the corner of Lambert’s credenza.

Burati opened the desk drawer and took photos of everything in there with his BlackBerry. He’d send them all to Phillip as soon as he was done.

His mobile rang before he could send the photos.

“It’s Thomas. I’m at the mine and I’ve got the photos and the rocks that he’s been selling. But something is going down. Mr. Ray seems very tense.”

“Careful, brother. You shouldn’t call from the mine. His people are very loyal.”

“You worry too much. I can handle Mr. Ray. I’m leaving now. I will meet you in Pretoria.”

“I will be there in two hours. Take your time and don’t do anything to raise his suspicions.”

“I won’t,” Thomas said. “Be cool, brother. Everything we’ve worked for is about to bear fruit.”

Thomas disconnected the call. Burati offered a quick prayer to Allah that his brother wouldn’t do anything stupid and would make it to Pretoria alive. Burati had arranged for Thomas to work on the inside of Lambert’s illegal operation because he needed more information about how the actual illegal mining was done.

The many deaths at the Onyx mine were another red flag that had brought the mining operation to the diamond consortium’s attention. The other mines in Africa didn’t have the mortality rate that Onyx did.

Burati finished up in Lambert’s den and put everything back as it had been. Then he locked the drawer and hid the key.

He walked into the hallway and sent the photos to Phillip’s e-mail account. Phillip acknowledged the e-mail and mentioned he would contact Burati soon. Burati hoped now they would have enough evidence to arrest Lambert. Phillip had promised Burati a job at the Onyx Mining Group’s main offices running labor relations.

Labor relations was something that Burati was very interested in. He was always looking for ways to improve his fellow villagers’ quality of life. And he knew in a position of power he could make a real difference in the Soweto ghetto.

Burati had grown up in the worst ghetto near Jo’burg, Soweto. Though parts of the area had been revitalized, the section where his family lived was still a maze of cardboard boxes and dying HIV babies. He had gotten himself and his brother out as soon as he could. But Burati vowed he would save his entire village.

Chapter Two

A
UGUST
1, C
ULLINAN
, S
OUTH
A
FRICA

O
livia had called her mother last night, when her parents were in port on their cruise. Olivia needed some advice about marriage and her fears, but her mother simply said that Ray was a good catch. Audrey Pontuf thought her daughter needed time to adjust to living in South Africa. “Give your new life a chance before you run back home,” her mom had said.

Olivia was determined to do just that.

One of Olivia’s school friends, Anna Sterling, had just gotten married. Anna was someone who always adjusted well to any situation. Without thinking twice about it, Olivia picked up her mobile phone and dialed Anna’s number.

“Sterling here.”

“Anna, hello. It’s Olivia.”

“Hi, Ola. What’s up? Do you have another spy-girl question for me?” Anna asked.

“Um, not exactly. You helped me immensely with that plot glitch I had for Krissie. Do you have a few minutes to talk about something personal?” The problem with her plot had been fixed, but she was still stuck in chapter four.

Olivia could hear the sounds of loud music blaring in the background. Anna must be working on her computer.

“Sure thing,” Anna said. “What’s on your mind?”

“Marriage.”

“I’m hardly an expert.”

“Well, you’re the only one I can talk to about this. I tried speaking to my mother, but that was a lost cause.”

“I am only just married. Jack and I aren’t exactly a conventional couple.”

Anna was married to a mercenary—a gun for hire. While Olivia knew she’d never be comfortable with that kind of man, he was perfect for her friend. Olivia needed a certain level of sophistication and refinement from her men, which Ray delivered nicely. Anna worked in the shadowy world of spies and agents and having Jack for a husband made a lot of sense.

“You know more about marriage than I do.”

“Okay, what do you want to know?”

“Um…I’m not sure if it’s simply living here in Jo’burg or if Ray has changed.”

“Do you like South Africa?” Anna asked.

Sometimes she liked it. Despite the poverty and unrest left by the end of apartheid, Olivia was safe enough in her insular world. She knew that. It was simply that she was tired of always having someone by her side. She knew that she had to have guards, because many of her acquaintances here did, but enough was enough.

“It is one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever lived, but it’s hard to balance the constant threat of violence with the beauty. I’m not sure if I like it.”

“You might think about joining one of those meet-up groups. There are plenty of expats there.”

“I have thought about it, but Ray likes me to stay close to home or take a bodyguard with me.”

Anna said nothing.

“I sound like I’ve lost my backbone, don’t I?”

“Yes, you do.”

Olivia had relied on Ray for much of her support during the last month. Their engagement wasn’t really a love match, but they were fond of each other. Her mother had always said that was enough to make a good marriage last.

“I guess I’ve answered my own question.”

“What was the question? You sound lost, Ola, and that’s not like you.”

“I’m thirty, Anna. You know what that means?”

“That you aren’t young and impulsive anymore,” Anna said.

“Exactly. I’m ready for my life to begin.”

“Don’t discount the years you’ve already had. Your life has been pretty exciting.”

“I’m not, but I want a husband who cherishes me and a family of my own,” Olivia said. The drive to the mines outside of Cullinan made her feel a bit more normal. Getting away from the guards in Sandton, the suburb where she lived, was what she needed. She liked her new life, she thought.

Really, she did.

“I never felt that way,” Anna said quietly.

Anna had been kidnapped as a child, something that Olivia realized had shaped her friend into the woman she was today—a woman who didn’t really trust in the future. It made sense that Anna wouldn’t have been thinking about kids before her marriage.

“Even now?” Olivia asked.

“It’s worse now. The work I’m doing with Jack’s group…it makes me realize how very vulnerable we all are.”

“You know, that’s part of what I’m feeling here in South Africa. There is a definite feeling that I’m never really safe.”

“Can you live with that? You’ve always had your father and brothers. You seemed very secure in your life.”

Olivia laughed. “Not really secure. I guess I picked up my mother’s acting skills.”

Anna laughed too. “Probably.”

She felt a hundred percent better having talked to her friend. “Thank you.”

“I don’t think I did anything, but you’re welcome.”

“You distracted me on my drive to the mines.”

“Why are you going to the mines?”

“Ray needed a file he’d left at home,” Olivia said.

“Do you do that often?”

“Not really, in fact he’s never invited me out before. I’ve been begging for a tour,” she said.

She’d thought that the diamond mine would make an excellent setting for one of her spy-girl books. But so far Ray didn’t want to discuss his job and he had been pretty adamant that the diamond cartel would have to approve any idea she had. Her cousin was married to an executive with the diamond consortium, so Olivia figured she could use that inside track to get her book idea approved. Besides, things always worked out for her.

“I’m almost there…hang on a sec.” Olivia couldn’t be certain, but she thought she saw Ray’s Mercedes off to the side of the road. She slowed her car as she saw his car on the other side of the road. There was a barrier in the middle of the road, so she pulled off on her own side.

“Sure—is anything wrong?”

“I’m not certain. Ray’s Mercedes is on the side of the road,” she said, straining to see over to the other side. “Well, I think his car is. Let me call you back.”

“Okay. Be careful, Olivia.”

“I will be. There’s no one out here.”

“But if his car is on the side of the road, then someone may have forced him to stop. Don’t hang up. Stay on the phone with me.”

“What can you do from D.C.?”

“I’m in London.”

“Still hours away,” Olivia said.

“Jack has men closer. If you need help, I will send someone.”

“Thanks, Anna. I’m getting out of the car now.”

Olivia checked to make sure there was no other traffic and there wasn’t. Since the two-lane highway only led to the mine entrance, there wasn’t a lot of traffic on it. She opened her door and walked across the single lane to the barrier in the middle.

“Is it Ray’s car?” Anna asked.

“Definitely,” she said. She recognized his signature key ring dangling in the ignition. “I’m going to climb over the barrier and see if I can find him.”

“Be careful.”

“You already said that,” Olivia said. She was worried. Maybe leaving Burati at home hadn’t been her smartest decision. So much for having to prove she was independent. She held her phone loosely in her left hand and carefully sat down on the barrier and then swung her legs over to get to the other side.

She approached Ray’s car and noticed that the engine was still idling. That didn’t seem like a good sign. Where was Ray?

“He left the car running,” she said into the phone.

“That’s odd. Is there anyone else around?” Anna asked.

Olivia looked out in the distance to the mountains and thought she saw the figures of two people, though at this distance she couldn’t be sure.

“I don’t know.”

A shot rang out and one of the figures fell to the ground.

“Was that a gunshot?” Anna asked.

“Yes. Someone was shot. What should I do?” Olivia asked.

“Get out of there. Get back in your car,” Anna said.

Olivia ran back across the street and climbed the barrier with little care for her pantsuit this time. She got behind the wheel of her vehicle and locked the doors. She just sat there shaking. What if Ray had been shot? Oh my God. What was she going to do?

“Olivia?”

“Sorry, yes?”

“Are you okay?”

“No. I’m worried about Ray…I don’t know what to do.”

“You need to get out of there and call the Cullinan authorities.”

“Okay, I’ll call you back.”

“No, don’t do that. I will call the authorities. You just stay on the other line.”

Olivia put the car in drive and continued up the road to the turnabout and then sat there watching from a distance. The shooter was moving.

“I think the shooter is coming back toward Ray’s car. Should I get closer and try to identify him?”

“Yes,” Anna said. “Jack is on the line with the authorities. Are you on the property of Onyx Diamonds?”

“Yes,” Olivia said.

“She is,” Anna said to Jack. “Try and get closer to the shooter. Does your cell phone have a camera in it?”

“Yes, of course. Should I take a photo of him?”

“Definitely, and then send it to me. We have an extensive network and I will be able to tell you who it is.”

“Thanks, Anna.”

“No problem. Be careful.”

“I’m in my car. What could happen?” Olivia said.

“He has a gun. Is your car bulletproof?”

“Yes, of course. Most cars here are because of the violence. Oh my God, can you believe I live in a place like this?”

“It’s okay, you are safe. Just take the photo and then get out of there.”

She drove slowly toward Ray’s car. She was fairly certain the shooter had seen her. It would be impossible for him not to, with the lack of traffic out here. But she was determined to get a photo of the man. This man might have killed Ray.

She saw the man get to the car and sped up. She slowed as she approached. The man raised his gun and she raised her phone, not really thinking about anything except pushing the shutter button so that she’d have a picture of the man.

Her foot slid off the gas as she realized she was looking into the eyes of a cold-blooded killer. And then her heart stopped as she recognized her fiancé as the man holding the gun.

“Oh my God!”

She heard Anna’s voice coming loudly over the phone, which she had dropped, but she couldn’t pick up the phone. All she could do was stare at Ray until he lifted the gun toward her and she snapped out of her fog. She found the gas and stomped on the pedal, speeding away.

Oh. My. God.

Ray Lambert, her darling fiancé and the man everyone said was a total catch, was a murderer and he was going to kill her, she thought.

She’d seen it in his eyes. She couldn’t think of anything but getting as far away from him as possible, but then panic set in and she started to worry.

What was she going to do?

Where would she go?

She had given up her life in London and her parents were currently on a world cruise. Finding them and getting back her old life would be nearly impossible.

She felt shattered and lost. She was shaking so hard she couldn’t keep on driving, so she pulled off the road once she reached the busy highway that would lead her back to her home.

She sat there for a minute, breathing deeply and trying to figure out what she could do next.

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