"Josh!"

Painter allowed her to divert the group in his direction. Then Lisa was in her brother's arms, hugging tight. He smelled vaguely of yaks. She had never's me I led anything better.

Gunther grunted behind them. "Pass auf!"

A warning.

Cries arose around them. Attention shifted in a spreading tide. Arms pointed.

Lisa freed herself from her brother.

A pair of attack helicopters hovered at the top of the col, stirring the smoke from the missile impact. They hung in place, predatory, lethal.

Go away, Lisa prayed, willing it with all her strength. Just go away.

"Who are they?" a new voice grated.

Lisa didn't need to turn to recognize Boston Bob, a mistake from her past. His accent and perpetual whining undercurrent identified him plainly enough. Always intrusive, he must have followed Josh. She ignored him.

But Josh must have felt her tense when the helicopters appeared. "Lisa…?"

She shook her head, eyes fixed to the skies. She needed her full concentration to will them away.

But to no avail.

In unison, both helicopters tipped out of their hovers and dove down the slope toward them. Spats of fire lit their noses. Snow and ice blasted up in parallel lines of death, chewing down the slope, aiming straight for Base Camp.

"No…" Lisa moaned.

Boston Bob yelled, backing away, "What the hell did you do?"

The crowd, stunned and frozen for a breath, suddenly erupted in screams and shouts, breaking apart and fleeing in all directions.

Painter grabbed Lisa's other arm. He tugged her away, hauling Josh, too. They retreated, but there was nowhere to hide.

"A radio!" Painter yelled at Josh. "Where's a radio?"

Her brother stared mutely at the sky.

Lisa shook her brother's arm, drawing his eyes down. "Josh, we need to find a radio." She understood Painter's focus. If nothing else, word of what had happened must reach the outside world.

Her brother coughed, collected himself, and pointed. "This way…they set up an emergency communication net after the rebel attack at the monastery." He hurried out toward a large red tent.

Lisa noted Boston Bob kept up with them, checking over his shoulder, sensing the authority radiating from Painter and Gunther. Or maybe it was the assault rifle Gunther carried. The German had slammed another grenade into the weapon's launcher. He was ready to make a last stand, guard them while they attempted to radio out.

But before they could reach the tent, Painter yelled, "Get down!"

He yanked Lisa to the ground. Everyone followed his example, though Josh had to pull Boston Bob off his legs.

A strange new scream suddenly echoed off the mountains.

Painter's gaze searched the skies.

"What—?" Lisa asked.

"Wait," Painter said with a confused frown.

Then over the shoulder of Mount Lhotse, a pair of military jets shot into view, streaking on twin contrails. Fire flared from under their wings.

Missiles.

Oh, no!

But the base wasn't the target. The jets shot overhead, streaking away, booming as they passed and sailing straight up into the ether.

The pair of attack helicopters, already three-quarters of the way down the slope, exploded as the jets' heat-seeking missiles crashed into them. Fiery ruins slammed into the slope, blasting snow and flames. Debris rained, but none of it reached the camp.

Painter gained his feet, then helped Lisa up.

The others followed.

Boston Bob shoved forward, bullying up to Lisa. "What the hell was all that? What shit did you bring down on our heads?"

Lisa turned away. Whatever had possessed her back in Seattle to sleep with him? It was as if that had been a different woman.

"Don't turn your back on me, you bitch!"

Lisa swung around, fingers clenched—but there was no need. Painter was already there. His arm pistoned and smashed into the man's face. Lisa had heard the term "coldcocked" but never had witnessed it. Boston Bob fell back, stiff as a board, and crashed to the ground. He did not get up, splayed out, nose broken, out cold.

Painter shook his hand, wincing.

Josh gaped, then grinned. "Oh, man, I've been wanting to do that for a solid week."

Before more could be said, a sandy-haired man stepped out of the red communication tent. He wore a military uniform. A United States military uniform. He stepped to their group, his eyes settling on Painter.

"Director Crowe?" the man asked in a Georgian drawl, his arm out.

Painter accepted the handshake, grimacing at the pressure on his bruised knuckles.

"Logan Gregory sends his best wishes, sir." The man nodded to the blasted ruins smoking on the slope.

"Better late than never," Painter said.

"We have him on the horn for you. If you'll follow me."

Painter accompanied the Air Force officer, Major Brooks, into the communication tent. Lisa tried to follow with Anna and Gunther. Major Brooks held up an arm, blocking them.

"I'll be right back," Painter assured them. "Hold fast."

Ducking, he entered the tent. Inside stood an array of equipment. A communication officer stepped back from a satellite telecommunication station. Painter took his place, picking up the receiver.

"Logan?"

The voice came through clear. "Director Crowe, it's wonderful to hear you're okay."

"I think I have you to thank for that."

"We got your SOS."

Painter nodded. So his message had gotten out, sent by burst transmission from his jury-rigged amplifier back at the castle. Luckily the GPS signal had broadcast before the overloaded amplifier had exploded. Apparently it had been enough to track.

"It took some fast footwork to get surveillance up and coordinate with the Royal Nepalese military," Logan explained. "Still, it was close, too close."

Logan must have been monitoring the entire situation via satellite, possibly from the time they'd fled the castle. But details could wait. Painter had more important concerns.

"Logan, before I fully debrief, I need you to get started on a search. I'm going to fax you a symbol, a tattoo." Painter mimed writing on a pad to Major Brooks. Supplies were brought to him. He quickly drew the symbol he had seen on the assassin's hand. It was all they had to go on.

"Get started immediately," Painter continued. "See if you can find out if any terrorist organization, political party, drug cartel, even Boy Scout troop, might be associated with this symbol."

"I'll get right on it."

Finishing a rough approximation of the cloverleaf tattoo, Painter passed it to the communication officer, who stepped to a fax machine and fed the sheet into it.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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