“Keep following, but maintain your distance,” Gray warned. “We don’t want him spooked.”
I know how to do my job, Tucker thought sourly as he reached the corner. This is what you hired me for—or, rather, hired us.
Kane had already stopped at the corner and glanced back. Tucker signaled an open palm.
Tucker surveyed the terrain ahead. Tall security fencing, screened by barrier fabric, lined both sides of the road, keeping pedestrians out of the construction zones. At this hour, no one else was in view. He had no choice but to wait.
If I follow, I’ll be immediately spotted, my cover blown.
For now, they had a small advantage. Gray had gone to painstaking ends to keep knowledge of Tucker’s involvement in this mission secret. They’d even traveled from Tanzania to Somalia by different planes. Gray wanted all eyes diverted and focused on his team and away from Tucker, freeing him to move independently.
At the end of the street, Amur stopped at a locked gate in the security fencing. A lounging guard with an AK-47 greeted him. They leaned their heads together, then the guard nodded and unlatched the gate. Amur vanished inside, drawing the guard with him.
What is he up to?
Tucker headed down a few meters until he discovered a gap between the fence and the sandy ground. A tall metal Dumpster helped hide the spot. He drew Kane there, then pointed to the gap, circled a finger, and touched his nose.
Crawl through, search for the target’s scent.
Tucker knew this was a task Kane could handle. Humans had 6 million olfactory receptors in their nose; hunting dogs had 300 million, which heightened their sense of smell a thousandfold, allowing them to scent a target from two football fields away.
At the end of the instructions, Tucker lowered his palm facedown, signaling Kane to stay hidden if the target was found.
Finished, Tucker slipped a hand to the shepherd’s flank, running his fingers over the black jacket that blended perfectly with his fur. It was a K9 Storm tactical vest, waterproof and Kevlar-reinforced. He checked Kane’s earpiece, which allowed them to communicate in the field—then flipped up an eraser-size lens of a night-vision video camera secured near the collar and positioned it between the dog’s pricked ears.
The team needed eyes and ears in there.
Tucker pulled out a cell phone, tapped in a code, and a grainy, dog’s-eye view of himself appeared on the small screen. He leaned down and gave his partner’s nape a fast ruffle. He also shook the vest to make sure nothing rattled to betray Kane’s position in the field.
Satisfied, he knelt and cradled the dog’s head in his palms. A muscular tremble betrayed Kane’s excitement. His tongue lolled as he silently panted. Dark eyes met Tucker’s. It was one of the unique features of domesticated dogs—they studied us as much as we studied them.
“Who’s a good boy?” he whispered to his friend, a ritual of theirs.
Kane’s nose shoved forward, touching his, acknowledging their bond.
Tucker finally stood and flicked his wrist toward the gap in the fence.
Kane swung and lunged smoothly through the hole, his tail vanishing away in seconds. Tucker checked his phone. A juggling view of parked bulldozers and piles of rebar-ribbed broken slabs of concrete appeared on the small screen. The image bobbled and swung like some badly directed horror movie.
Tucker touched his throat mike. “Video’s up, commander. In case you want to watch the show.”
As he waited for a response, Tucker slipped a Bluetooth earbud into his free ear. Through it, he heard the soft whisper of Kane’s panting breath.
In his other ear, Gray responded, “Got it. Let’s see what our friend Amur is up to.”
Tucker kept to the shadows of the Dumpster and watched his partner’s progress. Fear prickled over his skin.
Be careful out there, buddy.
Kane races low to the ground, senses stretching outward, hunting for his prey. Around him, night brightens into shades of gray, frosted by muted hues. Piles of stone grow high on either side, offering sheltered pathways forward. The stir of a breeze shifts a crumpled paper cup, the movement twitching for attention but ultimately ignored.
When sight fails him, scent fills in, layer upon layer, marking time backward and forward, building a framework of old trails around him.
Bitter musk of spoor …
Acrid sting of a urine marker …
Burned oil from silent machines …
He moves through the maze, taking in more smells, drawing them upon his moist tongue, deep into the back of his throat and sinuses. His ears swivel at every hushed whisper of sand: from breezes, from the pad of his paws.
On … always onward …
He holds his nose high at a turn, tracking.
Then … familiar sweat, spicy and pungent, drifts to him, basking outward in the wake of the prey.
His legs slow.
He lowers his body, keeping to the shadowed trails.
He forces his panting to grow quiet.
Ahead, the prey approaches others. They are out of sight, but their musk betrays them. They are hidden behind a pile of metal, smelling of rust and burrowed through with the scent of scurrying things. The odor of man wafts past it all, impossible to ignore, stinking and strong.
His prey walks forward, trailed by another with a gun.
Kane knows guns—by scent, sight, and sound, he knows guns.
The hidden others show themselves at last, stepping into the open. The prey falls back, the scent of his fear spiking sharper—then it quickly fades, snuffing out again.
Among the four, lips are pulled back, showing teeth, but not in threat. They speak, making noise.
Kane creeps closer, finding a spot to watch unseen. He lies still, on his belly, but his haunches remain tense, ready to flee or charge.
For now, he stays.
Because he asked.
Kane continues to draw in the night, ever vigilant, painting the world around him in scents and sounds. He smells his own trail, going back, buried among so many others. But through it all, one trail shines like the sun in the night around him, connecting him to another, both bound together forever by blood and trust.
He knows that name, too.
By scent, by sound, by sight.
He knows that name.
Tucker spied on the meeting between Amur and his trio of compatriots, fellow pirates judging by their tribal scars and harsh manners. They gathered near a rusted stack of old iron H-beams and broken cement bricks. In his ear, he heard their harsh laughter and words spoken in a local Somali dialect. A translation program converted the conversation into a tinny computerized version.