Kane huddles in the shadows under a protruding slab of broken concrete. Beyond his hiding place, the night around him is a complex weave of scent trails, echoing sounds, and movement. He stares unblinking at it all, allowing the landscape to build before him, as much a map of the present as the past.
The whispery crunch of a stone under boot …
The leathery tap of a rifle strap on cloth …
The heavy pant of excitement of a predator closing in on prey …
His original prey remains clustered with his pack, deaf to the danger approaching. Kane tracks the newcomers as they cut through old scent trails, even his own, creating a new one, stinking of man. It fully circles the others now.
Then draws tighter as they move in on their prey.
Kane stays in his hiding place, unmoving, placing his trust in shadows.
And one other.
Tucker crouched outside the fence, hidden behind a Dumpster, his attention fixed to the feed from Kane’s camera. Still following his original instructions, the dog remained focused on Amur’s group, who continued to discuss where to spend the money in hand, where to eat a late dinner, and how to get more payments out of Commander Pierce.
All the while, a deadly noose tightened around them all.
Tucker dared not risk calling his partner back to him. The movement would draw the commandos’ attention.
As if the dog had heard his silent worry, the view on the screen shifted as Kane glanced backward, over his shoulder. The angle turned enough to reveal a commando in black body armor closing toward Kane’s position. The shepherd remained at his post, as Tucker had ordered.
Kane thinks he’s hidden well enough, Tucker realized.
But the dog was wrong.
Night-vision goggles hid the approaching commando’s eyes. Kane’s shadowy shelter offered no protection from such technology. In a moment, the shepherd would easily be spotted, along with the foreign vest—then all hell would break loose.
Tucker glanced up and down the street. Commander Pierce was nowhere in sight, and he had to do something.
Twisting around, he dove for the fence, to the gap along the bottom where Kane had crawled through. It was too small for him, but coils of razor wire blocked the way over the top. With no other choice, he placed his phone on the ground and dug with both hands into the hard-packed sand.
All the while, he stared at the phone beside him, watching the commando draw closer to Kane. He dug faster, scooping out sand, deepening the hole, bloodying his fingers.
Finally, unable to wait any longer, he squirmed his way through the gap. The loose tunic ripped on the fangs of the fence’s lower end, exposing his Kevlar vest beneath.
He reached back and grabbed his phone.
The view of the video feed stopped his heart.
On the screen, the grainy image of the commando jerked to a stop, plainly startled. And the reason was obvious. The soldier shifted his rifle and pointed it directly toward the camera.
Directly at Kane.
Damn that fool …
Seichan moved briskly, angrily, into the tiled lobby of the Hotel Jubba.
Kowalski followed at her heels. She hated abandoning Gray and hated that it bothered her so much, but in the end, she also recognized the necessity. The pair had succeeded in drawing their tail to the steps of the building, hopefully leaving them unaware of Gray’s disappearance.
Still, she could not relax the tense knot between her shoulder blades. Gray shouldn’t have gone out there alone. If they’d taken an extra few moments to plan, some other ruse could have been calculated to fool the ones tailing them. Instead, his action had been unusually rash, even reckless. And not just here. They’d come close to losing Tucker Wayne and his dog back in Zanzibar. Not a mistake Gray would normally make.
And she could guess the cause. A deep current of fury and frustration still flowed through his core. She recognized it in the storm-gray of his eyes, in the hard set to his jaw, in the clipped edge to his conversations. There was a manic edge to Gray that she’d never seen before, and it made her nervous. Not for herself, but for him.
Maybe it was too soon for him to be out in the field.
But they were committed, and there was no retreating from here.
Kowalski slipped out a cigar and set about lighting it. A thick pall of smoke already filled the lobby, making her eyes sting. A soccer match played on a large-screen television in the hotel restaurant, drawing in a boisterous crowd that spilled into the lobby and obstructed the way toward the stairs.
Her partner nodded back toward the hotel’s entrance. “Looks like our friends are setting up camp out there. Making sure we don’t leave.”
Seichan glanced over at the trio who had followed them. They sat at a coffeehouse that offered a view of the hotel’s front steps. Clearly Amur intended to protect his investment, ensuring no other informant intruded on his territory.
A loud cheer drew her attention back to the restaurant. The match between Brazil and Germany was heating up. A group of German patrons began singing their national anthem.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said, intending to return to their rooms.
Kowalski lingered, puffing on his cigar, adding to the pollution in the lobby. His eyes had drifted to the soccer match on the television. His legs drew him toward the machismo camaraderie of the live sportscast.
At least that should keep him out of trouble for the night.
She was wrong.
Within a few steps, he bumped into a harried waiter holding aloft a huge tray full of teacups and pots of steaming water. The tray went flying, crashing into the mass of men crowded at the entrance to the restaurant. Shouts and curses erupted as scalding water splashed over those closest.
Then a push became a shove, and a fist struck a nose. In a matter of seconds, bedlam broke out. The restaurant emptied into the lobby, escalating into a full brawl.
Kowalski backed Seichan in a corner as a bottle flew past his nose and shattered against the wall.
“What did you do?” Seichan scolded.
Kowalski grinned back at her, keeping the stogie crushed between his teeth as he spoke. “There’s a rear exit through the kitchen. Let me get this party going full swing, and you can duck back into the streets unseen.”
He locked eyes with her. She read the sharp glimmer buried within that dim exterior. So she wasn’t the only one worried about their partner.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
She nodded, which made his grin spread wider, a terrifying sight.
With a roar, he turned and leaped into the raucous fray, a veritable bull let loose among the others. In moments, the fighting rolled like a tide toward the hotel’s front doors and spilled out into the streets, spreading the commotion and chaos.