Liberty Station – Chapter Four

Nathan was ready to pull his hair out. The damned place was a maze. The lights were no help at all. They went everywhere.

They’d stopped several times to listen and heard nothing. Or worse, they’d heard something and went looking only to come out somewhere else no closer to finding the woman.

Where the hell had she gone?

“Maybe you should’ve asked someone for a map,” Jake said.

It took every ounce of Nathan’s willpower to stop himself from shooting the smug bastard in the face.

“We must’ve missed something,” he snarled. “There’s some hidden passage somewhere.”

He led them back down to the ornate well room deep in the center of the pyramid. The room had a string of lights going around the ceiling, but nowhere else. He glanced inside the well and saw a ladder a few feet down.

“Goddammit,” he muttered. “They’re down there. What could they possibly be looking for at the bottom of a well?”

He aimed his light down the hole and saw a stone floor. No water.

“Shit. These Mayans suck.” He pointed to the second man. “Keep watch here. I don’t want them stealing the ladder if they aren’t down there. Jake, you’re with me.”

He slung his rifle and climbed cautiously down the ladder. Once he reached the floor, he looked around. Four tunnels. He noted scuffs in the dirt that indicated people had used all of them.

Once Jake was beside him with his weapon ready, Nathan turned off his light. None of the tunnels gave even a glimmer. He turned his light back on and listened closely, but there weren’t any unusual sounds. They’d have to do this the hard way.

None of the tunnels looked exceptionally safe, but one looked markedly worse. He leaned close to Jake and spoke softly. He didn’t whisper, because that carried further. “We go a little way down each of these. Come back after five minutes. Mark the path.”

Jake took the tunnel directly across from the shaky one. Nathan wasn’t surprised. It wouldn’t be his first choice either. He selected the one to Jake’s right and went in. This hunt was almost over.

* * * * *

Harry followed the woman’s instructions slowly. He didn’t want to give Nathan any warning. He slung his rifle and went with his pistol. It would be a lot more useful in these tight spaces.

He reached what looked like the final bit of corridor leading to the central well chamber and motioned for his men to slow down even more. One was backing him up while the other kept watch behind them. If they ran into any of Nathan’s people, Harry wanted to take them out quietly, if he could.

That plan almost went out the window when he entered the chamber and someone knocked his pistol out of his hand. It clattered loudly across the floor, but Harry didn’t go after it. He swung in close to his opponent instead, even though his hand hurt like hell. The bastard had used his rifle butt.

Harry grabbed the rifle with one hand and clamped down on the man’s free wrist with the other. He yanked the two apart, which left him open for another attack, but prevented the mercenary from firing his weapon.

The bastard staggered to his left, directly toward the well. Harry tried to alter their course, but the man seemed determined to fall in.

Harry released him at the last moment, but the man grasped desperately at his equipment webbing as he tumbled over the low rim.

The fight had taken place in relative silence up to this point, with only grunts and growls between the two of them. That changed when they smashed the wooden ladder in the well to splinters.

Harry landed on top of the man when they slammed into the stone floor far below. Momentum sent him rolling into the far wall. He saw stars, but staggered to his feet. The light from above only cast a dim glow down here, but he didn’t see any movement.

That wouldn’t matter. Someone would come looking for the source of all that racket.

The man he’d fought with lay twisted in a way that could only mean he was dead. The ladder was in splintered chunks. He wouldn’t be going up without assistance from above.

“You okay, boss?”

He glanced up long enough to see Allen looking down at him. “Better than the other guy. You have a rope?”

“Of course.”

“Rig something to get me back out of here. And toss my pistol down.”

A sound from the tunnel behind him made Harry turn. There was light coming toward him.

His pistol bounced off the dead man and clattered on the stone beside him. Harry grabbed it and moved to the side of the chamber, aiming toward the potential hostiles.

Two figurers came out from the tunnel. Though their bright flashlights obscured them, Harry could tell they didn’t have camouflage on. And one of them was a woman. He could tell when she let out a scream at the sight of the body.

Definitely not Nathan’s people.

He opened his mouth to make some awkward introductions, but footsteps from the other direction warned him of an oncoming threat.

“Back into the tunnel,” he snapped. “Unless you want to end up as dead as he is.”

“Who the hell are you and what’s going on?” a male voice demanded.

He didn’t have time for this. “Move!” He advanced on them, causing them to retreat in the direction he wanted them to go. Harry made it to the tunnel entrance just as a man with an automatic weapon came into the chamber behind him.

The hostile opened fire as Harry shoved the woman back around the bend in the tunnel. She sprawled on her face, hopefully safe from the incoming rounds.

Harry returned fire to force the other man back. He doubted he hit the bastard, but the action bought him time to hunker down.

The other man emptied a full magazine into the tunnel. The shooter yelled into the ringing silence afterward. “Give us the woman and we might let you live.”

“Pass,” Harry said. “Give up now and you won’t end up like your friend.”

The other man laughed nastily. “Him? He was an asshole. No loss. I bet you think you got me where you want me. You probably have friends upstairs. So what? I got something for them.”

Harry saw him dodge across the room and fired. Too late, as it turned out. The man threw something up the well and made it to the far side of the room safely.

A loud blast upstairs told Harry it had been a grenade.

Dirt and falling pebbles pelted him from the roof of the tunnel. He spun on his heel and tripped over something. A man lay on the floor, his eyes open and staring. The woman was giving him CPR, but from the amount of blood, Harry knew it wouldn’t do him any good.

He scrambled to his feet, grabbed the woman’s arm, and yanked her along in his wake. “He’s gone! Run!”

She still had her flashlight in her hand, which allowed him to see ahead. There was a room around the next bend. They barely made it before the tunnel collapsed. A huge cloud of dirt and debris whooshed into the air, making him cough and shield his eyes.

A flash of light from the side gave him just enough warning to dodge and throw up his arm. The woman’s flashlight hurt like hell, but better than if she’d caught him on the head like she’d intended.

“Whoa! I’m on your side!”

She took another swing at him, catching him in the shoulder. The light from her makeshift weapon made the room twist wildly. Her hair fell crazily across her face as she snarled at him. “You killed Abel!”

He caught her third swing and twisted the light out of her hands. He managed to turn his torso and catch her knee on his thigh.

“No! The people trying to kidnap you did. Your boss sent me to rescue you.”

“I’ll bet.”

“He said to tell you that you’re too important to Project Liberty to let them take you. The security passcode is kiwi.”

She didn’t look completely convinced, but she stopped trying to maim him. She wiped tears from her eyes and coughed. The dirt in the air was like being in a sandstorm. “Who the hell are you?” she demanded. “And why would anyone want me so badly that they’d kill a kind, gentle man like Abel?”

“That’s a long story.”

She gestured toward the collapsed tunnel. “We’re not going anywhere soon.”

“Hang on.” He activated his radio. “Paul? Allen? Are you all right?”

“Harry?” Allen asked. The reception was poor, but comprehensible. “We’re good. Are you okay? Part of the well room collapsed.”

“Yeah, I’m seeing that up close and personal. I’m fine and I have Miss Cook with me. There’s no way you’re getting to us and the pyramid might be unstable. Get out now and organize a rescue.”

The other man’s tone sounded dubious. “Copy. We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

Harry turned to the woman now that he knew his people were safe. This was the first real look he’d gotten of her. The picture his father had given him didn’t do her justice. She was beautiful. Even covered in dust, with her large eyes streaming tears. His greater height and weight didn’t intimidate her at all.

“Miss Cook, my name is Harry Rogers. Your CEO hired me and my team to come after you when he found out his ex-wife had taken an interest in you.”

She stared at him. “I’ve heard of you. The estranged son. Your feud with your father is legendary. Why would you ever work for him?”

He used her flashlight to examine the walls and ceiling for cracks. “That’s an even longer story. The short version is because he’s paying well and you’re not one of his usual corporate douchebags.”

“Thanks, I suppose. I’m just an engineer. Why in the world would his ex-wife be after me?”

“Because she’s a vindictive bitch and a psychopath. If she can hurt my father, she will, even if it makes more sense to do something else. Were these cracks here before?”

He had his light focused on the wall. Large cracks ran down from the ceiling and the facing had fallen off. Glimmering bits of gemstones and gold twinkled in the debris.

“Oh, no!” Jess ran over to the wall, horrified. “It’s gone! The artwork is gone.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, but on the scale of our troubles, I think that ranks pretty low.”

“That painting was the most important archaeological find in the last century,” she almost snarled. “It was the crowning achievement of my friend’s work. His life’s work.”

Harry held his hand out, palm forward. “Then I’m truly sorry.” He reached past her and poked the cracked stone. It shifted easily and he could see darkness behind it. “This looks hollow. Maybe there’s a passage behind it. We need to look without bringing the ceiling down on our heads.”

Together, the two of them began gingerly pulling the stones out, revealing an open area beyond the wall. Perhaps their fate wasn’t quite as sealed as he’d feared.

* * * * *

Nathan came back into the central chamber ready to shoot, but things were quiet. They weren’t promising, though. The guard from above lay sprawled dead on the floor and the tunnel that had looked ready to collapse had done so.

Jake was working with his rope and a shard of the ladder. He was making a jury rigged grappling hook.

He grinned at Nathan. “Well, things could’ve gone worse. We’re done here.”

Nathan gave him a cold stare. “Tell me exactly what happened.”

“Your asshole brother showed up. He killed that poor bastard, whatever his name was. We exchanged shots and he retreated down the tunnel. His people upstairs were a threat, so I tossed a grenade. Took them out.”

He finished tying off the rope. “Looks like I took care of your brother, too. No need for thanks. I’ll take cash.”

Nathan’s gut burned cold. “You absolute imbecile. What in the world made you think I wanted you to kill my brother?”

He shot Jake in the head.

“That’s my job,” he informed the newly created corpse.

The tunnel was well and truly gone. He hoped his brother could find another way out. It would gall Nathan for the rest of his life if he hadn’t been the one to eliminate that self-righteous prick. The woman’s death was a shame. A lost opportunity.

Fortunately, Mother had paid him up front. The loss of the success bonus would sting, but he could live without it. And he didn’t have to pay Jake or that other dumb bastard.

At least he had another way out. The tunnel he’d explored had led him out beyond the massive building and toward the surface. It ended at a mostly concealed stone door that the Mayans had cleverly balanced. He’d opened it enough to see the jungle. He’d get out of here, gather the rest of his team, if they were still alive, and get to the extraction point. This mission was over.

He salvaged the weapons and radios from the dead men. They might prove useful.

Now it was time to get rid of any evidence. He opened his pack and pulled out several sticks of plastic explosive. He planted them around the chamber and into the three remaining tunnels. He rigged the wireless timer to blow them in twenty minutes.

Now he might be able to convince himself that he’d killed his stupid brother after all.

“See you on the other side, brother mine. After I send our father to join you in hell.” He ran down the tunnel with a laugh.

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