“How long can you draw them out?” one asked.
“How much money can you get?” another added.
“Hassan, Habib, trust me.” Amur smiled, lifting his arms. “There is more going on than they tell me. For that, I can make them dance on a string at my whim.”
“So you say,” the third said doubtfully.
As proof of his word, Amur removed a wad of bills and stripped out several for each. “But first,” he said, “I must give these Americans something to chew on, to keep them hanging on my words, yes?”
The others ignored him, counting their bills and stuffing them away.
“What have you heard about this American woman?” Amur asked, drawing back their attention.
“Only rumors, Amur.” These words earned nods among the three.
Another voice spoke in Tucker’s other ear: “At this point, I’ll take rumors.”
That assessment came from Commander Pierce. It seemed the team leader was listening into the feed with as much interest as he was.
“Then what is the word?” Amur pressed.
“A friend of my brother’s uncle, up near Eil, he says a white woman came through his village. He says they were moving her into the mountains.”
“The Cal Madow mountains?”
A shrug answered him.
“That is much territory to cover,” Amur said, but he didn’t seem disappointed. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “If she is among those mountains, she will never be found. I can easily give that information to the Americans without truly telling them anything. And with Allah shining upon us, I should be able to tease out our relationship for several profitable days.”
“And after that?”
“Then I will no longer have a use for the three Americans. It would be unfortunate if something happened to them—unfortunate but not unusual in these treacherous lands, yes?”
Grins followed, shared all around.
“So it seems Amur is not the hospitable host he pretends to be,” Gray said in his ear. “I think we’ll have to—”
The commander’s words were cut off by a low growl.
The view on the small screen shifted as his partner retreated, clearly sensing something.
“What’s your dog doing?” Gray asked, also noting the sudden movement.
“Hold on. Something’s spooked him.”
The grainy image leaped and joggled as the shepherd bounded and circled around a steep pile of concrete debris. It looked like the dog was trying to outflank Amur and his group.
Then the view settled again.
Farther out in the construction zone, a team of six men descended toward Amur’s group. They were outfitted in black body armor and wore helmets equipped with night-vision goggles. At their shoulders, they carried assault rifles. These newcomers were no rough pirates; they clearly had military training. Their intent seemed anything but friendly.
Amur’s inquiries must have reached the wrong ears.
Not good. Not now.
Tucker watched as hand signals from the squad’s leader split the group. They spread out to either side, a pincer move intended to trap Amur’s group between them.
Unfortunately, the former pirate was not the only one caught in the trap. Tucker’s heart thudded in his throat.
July 1, 9:15 P.M. East Africa Time
“Stay put!” Gray ordered.
Seichan stood at his shoulder; Kowalski at the other. They had stopped at the mouth of an alleyway, a few blocks from their hotel, observing the feed from the shepherd’s camera. The armored commando team had swept wide, circling Amur’s group, clearly intending to let no one escape.
“Can’t do that, commander,” Captain Wayne responded. “Not until Kane’s out of harm’s way.”
Gray knew there was nothing he could say to stop Tucker. He had no authority over him, and if the man was spotted—or worse, caught—he’d jeopardize the entire mission.
“Then at least wait until I get there,” Gray pressed. “We’ll do this together.”
A long pause followed, long enough for him to worry that the man had already gone.
Then an answer came. “I’ll wait,” Tucker said. “For the moment. But no promises.”
That was as much concession as Gray would get from him.
“I’m on my way,” Gray radioed—then faced the others and pointed down the street. “You two, head to the hotel. Keep the tail chasing after you. Convince them we’ve retired for the night.”
Seichan stepped closer. “You shouldn’t be going alone. You barely know the city.”
He tapped up a street-view map of Boosaaso on his phone. “I’ll manage. Besides, we have no choice. Amur surely has other friends in the city. We need an alibi if he comes to a bad end in that construction yard. We don’t want his murder pinned on us.”
“What’re you going to do?” Seichan asked.
From the corner of an eye, he caught sight of the three-man team sent to tail them. The trio had gathered near a cloth stand, feigning interest in the stacked fabric rolls.
“At the next corner ahead, when we’re momentarily out of sight, I’ll head down a side street. You two rush to the front of the hotel. Let them see you going inside, cause some commotion. Hopefully they’ll believe I’ve already entered.”
From the furrow between Seichan’s eyebrows, she had little confidence in his plan.
He reached for her hand and gave her fingers a quick squeeze. It was a reflex move, more intimate than he intended. “I’ll be fine,” he mumbled.
If nothing else, the brief and surprising contact left her speechless.
“Let’s go,” Gray said before any further discussion could start.
They headed together down the street, sauntering at a leisurely pace. Once Gray passed around the next corner, he hurried to the mouth of another alleyway ahead. If the map was correct, he should be able to circle back and join up with Captain Wayne.
As he turned away, Seichan’s last glance remained unreadable.
Kowalski was more blunt. “Watch your ass out there.”
He planned on doing just that. Behind him, Seichan and Kowalski rushed headlong, aiming for the broad steps to Hotel Jubba at the end of the block.
At least they knew how to take orders. He prayed Tucker Wayne would do the same. But with each step, Gray hurried faster, knowing that was not likely. Tucker was as much a creature of instinct as his furry partner. The man would react before thinking.
Especially if his dog was in danger.