Liberty Station – Chapter Three

The rented boat dropped Harry and his team off at what he might charitably call a dock just after dawn. It only extended into the river far enough to allow a shallow-drafted craft to use it. That was just barely enough, but it beat swimming.

He showed the owner of the boat a small wad of American dollars. His Spanish was good enough to get his message across. “You come back when I call you and this is yours.”

The skinny man shook his head. “Yes.”

Harry gave him a steady look. “If you don’t come when I call, I’ll take back what I paid you up front, even if you’ve already spent it. Understand?”

The man swallowed hard. “I understand. I will do as you say.”

“That will make me very happy. And when I’m happy, everyone else is happy, too.”

The team hefted their packs and stepped onto the dock one at a time.

His sniper, Sandra Dean, watched the boat head back the way they’d come. “Did you really need to go all hardass on him, Harry? We look like mercenaries in an action movie. He’s not crazy enough to double-cross us.”

He grinned. “I’m living up to the image. If we need to get out of here in a hurry, we don’t want him stopping for a beer.” He eyed the trail and shouldered his pack. “Time to hit the road. I’d prefer to be long gone by the time my unlamented brother arrives.”

* * * * *

Jessica stepped out of her tent and stared groggily at the cheerful people preparing breakfast. Actually, a glance at her watch showed they were getting ready for lunch. It was almost ten in the morning. She’d slept far longer than she’d intended.

Of course, she’d been up late studying all the pictures she’d taken yesterday. Not just of the amazing art deep in the pyramid, but of everything else inside the ancient building that they’d seen on the more sedate trip back out.

As far she could tell, only the one work was unusual. None of the other carvings, inlays, or paintings Abel had showed her after the big reveal held even a hint at the great secret buried deep inside the base of the ancient structure.

Abel said that the false well leading down to the secret level was unusual. The only reason he’d discovered it was that he’d tried to get a water sample and found stone instead. He’d taken some water from the real well in the secret room, but he was already certain it would be identical to the water in the well in the courtyard. He believed an underground river fed them both.

One of the graduate students waved. “Good morning! Would you like some lunch? The stew is almost ready.”

Jess stretched her back and walked over to the young man. The day was already getting hot. “That sounds good. I hadn’t intended to sleep so long. Where’s Doctor Valdez?”

The young man gestured toward the pyramid. “Where else? Deep inside the secret chamber.”

He laughed at the surprised expression on her face. “What? You thought no one knew about it? We snuck in the same night he told us not to go inside the pyramid. Well, it took us several nights to find the fake well. That was pretty clever. What do you think the wall means?”

“I think it means Doctor Valdez needs less inquisitive graduate students,” she said sternly. “You need to keep this quiet.”

The young man waved away her concern. “We’ve been with the doctor for years. His secret is safe with us.”

“That’s not really the point. If you talk about it, someone will overhear you.” She gestured at the local workers all around the camp. “Do you think none of them understand English? You’re almost certainly wrong. Some of them understand it well enough, even if they don’t speak it.

“Others might be in the employ of Doctor Valdez’s competitors. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn’t be a major problem, but the wall changes everything. It might bring a horde of people determined to strip this find of everything of value to sell on the black market.”

The graduate student stared at her with an expression that indicated he was waiting for her to deliver the punch line.

Jess shook her head. “You really don’t get it, do you? People will kill for something like this. Forget you saw that thing and tell your friends to zip their mouths if they care about Doctor Valdez. And, yes, lunch sounds wonderful.”

The bemused young man led her to the tent they’d set up for dining. She accepted a bowl and some water. The scent of the stew had her mouth watering before she took her first bite.

Whoever the cook was, they knew their business. It had enough spice to make it interesting without burning her mouth. She wolfed down her meal and went looking for seconds. She’d need to watch her diet or she’d get back to the spaceport with a few pounds to shed.

She washed her bowl and eating utensils, then went back to her tent to retrieve her camera and carry bag. After reading the graduate student the riot act, she probably shouldn’t leave her sensitive notes laying around.

With her bag in hand, she headed into the pyramid.

* * * * *

Nathan chose an observation post near the summit of what looked like a hill, but was probably a Mayan ruin, watching the camp. There were more workers than he’d accounted for in his planning, but that wouldn’t be a problem. Seven men armed with automatic weapons could intimidate an amazing number of people. Particularly if they made examples of a few loudmouths.

A flash of pale hair drew his eyes toward a woman walking across the central square. He focused his binoculars on her and quickly confirmed that she was the target. He’d chosen his hide with care so that the sun wouldn’t reflect off the glass.

She was a real looker. Short, stacked, and curvy. Getting to know her was going to be a pleasure he’d savor for as long as he could.

He watched her head into one of the pyramids before he spoke softly into his headset. “Target confirmed. She just entered the pyramid on the north side of the square. It looks like they’re getting ready for lunch, so we can catch them all at the table. Solidify a count of the people and stand fast for now. Note any other stragglers.”

The team acknowledged one by one.

Nathan considered the tactical situation as he waited for them to serve the mid-day meal. The trip through the jungle had gone faster than he’d thought possible. In the daylight, they’d found game trails leading them in the general direction they needed to go. Now all he had to do was get the woman into custody.

He smiled at the thought of how she’d probably fight. Some women only resisted in the beginning, but he hoped this one might put up a prolonged struggle. Women with spirit were always more fun to break.

The workers finally came streaming to the dining tent. He watched the pyramid the woman had entered, waiting for her to join them. After half an hour, he decided that she wasn’t coming. He’d have to go in after her. Which could be fun, too.

“She’s not coming out,” he said over the radio. “Move in on the workers and get them under control. No shooting unless they have guns. I don’t want to warn the target that we’re coming. Zip tie and gag everyone.”

He backed away from the hide and climbed down the building where the workers couldn’t see him. By the time he’d circled the rise, his people had everyone under the gun. His men wore balaclavas and their camouflage was of an old pattern still heavily used by every stripe of mercenary and guerrilla fighter in the area.

One of the men he’d chosen for this mission spoke the language like a native. He was doing all the talking. With only moderate luck, the Guatemalan National Civilian Police would lose his trail hunting for the wrong people.

Nathan tugged his mask over his face and strode out of the jungle. Four of his men split off to search the area looking for stragglers. There was always someone.

The roving teams found half a dozen workers at two sites and brought them back. There was still no sign of the woman emerging from the pyramid.

He motioned for two of his men to come with him and headed after her. The explorers had thoughtfully strung lights. That would make the job of finding them that much easier.

* * * * *

Harry slowed his team as they started seeing signs of ruins. He didn’t want to appear threatening, but he was cautious by nature. “Rex, scout the area.”

“Roger.” The scout slipped into the thick jungle and was invisible within seconds. They held their position waiting for word that they could proceed.

Rex ghosted out of the foliage three minutes later. “Hostiles have the camp locked down. I counted four with automatic weapons. They look like locals, but that might be to throw off the police.”

Harry cursed under his breath. “Nathan beat us here. Dammit. Rex, go around to the right. Sandra, take the left. Get as close as you can. If they make the wrong move, take them down.”

Sandra nodded. “Can do. Going tactical.”

Everyone opened their packs and pulled out their weapons. Encrypted radios only from this point forward.

His people melted into the jungle while Harry made his way cautiously into the ruins. He’d opted to carry a heavy pack with an extra weapon. In this case, the tranquilizer rifle. With the right timing, he might be able to take out the hostiles. Or at least some of them.

He didn’t feel any qualms about using lethal force on his brother’s men. They were literally the scum of the earth. However, if his brother weren’t out in the open, he’d prefer to keep him in the dark about their arrival.

Once he found a good place to observe, he slowly scanned the prisoners looking for Jessica Cook. He didn’t see any women with blonde hair. The client was still in play. And that’s how he thought of her. Screw his father. She was the one that mattered.

He focused his attention on the four men. Two of them watched the jungle while two intimidated the prisoners. The high-tech tranquilizer he used could drop a man in seconds, but with everyone so close together, someone would react. And when a man with an automatic weapon felt threatened, people died.

Well, he’d just have to distract them. He keyed his encrypted radio. “I need to get them looking in the wrong direction for a few seconds. Rex, make a noise. Something subtle, so they don’t start shooting.”

“Yeah, I’d like to avoid that,” his friend said dryly. “If I can startle some birds, that’ll probably be good enough. I’ll give you a heads up before I do it.”

“If I can take them quiet, we go that way,” Harry said. “Sandra, if one looks like he’s going to shoot a hostage, take him out.”

“Copy. Call the targets as you engage.”

“The one closest to me is home base. I’ll start at first and make my way in for a home run.”


A minute later, Rex called in. “I’m set.”

Harry settled his sights on first base. “Go.”

He didn’t hear the noise, but he saw the birds take flight. First base, one of the mercenaries watching the jungle perked up. He turned his head and said something to his companions. Second base headed for Rex’s location at a jog. Home base turned his attention in that direction, too. Third was looking Harry’s way.

“Change in plan. Third, home, first and then second.”

He lowered his aim to the man facing him and put a dart in his chest. The man staggered back a step and collapsed.

Harry was already moving his aim to home plate. The target must’ve heard something, because he pivoted toward the fallen man. He continued the turn all the way to the ground when Harry shot him.

First base called out a warning and ducked for cover. Unfortunately, for him, he didn’t know where Harry was and his ass was exposed. Harry put a dart in it.

Second base sprinted for the jungle. Harry fired at him, but missed.

“Runner down,” Rex said after a moment. “He was grabbing for a radio, but I don’t think he got off a call.”

“Tie him up and bring him back to the camp,” Harry said. “Everyone, move in and keep a lookout for more hostiles.”

Harry rose from the bushes and jogged into the large open area, scanning the buildings. He pulled out zip ties and secured the prisoners. He left searching them for weapons and other goodies to his team.

He chose a young woman who looked like she might be an archaeological student and cut her loose with his combat knife. He held a finger to his lips when she started to say something.

“Keep your voice down,” he said softly. “How many others are there and where did they go?”

She pointed to one of the pyramids. “Three men went in there after Doctor Valdez and his guest. They’re in the secret room at the bottom of a fake well, but those men will spot the ladder if they look hard enough.”

Harry gestured toward the workers. “I want you to head down the path toward the dock. I’ll send some of my people with you. Grab food and water, nothing else. Keep quiet or those men will come out and start shooting. You give the orders to the locals as I cut them loose.”

He made his way from person to person, slicing their bonds as the woman whispered instructions to them.

That didn’t keep him from sending orders to his people. “Rex, you and Leann secure the prisoners. Have some of the workmen carry them off with you. I don’t want Nathan grabbing them on the way out. Move the civilians a mile off. We’ll call when it’s safe to come back.”


“Allen and Paul, you’re with me. Sandra and Mark, you keep watch from out here. If they come out with the client, use lethal force to stop them from taking her. Discourage them from going down the trail, too.”

“Copy,” his sniper said.

She’d do it without qualm, too. When she got in the zone, it became nothing more than a numbers game to her. Distance, wind speed, and elevation. If Nathan tried to escape with Jessica Cook, she’d stop him. Permanently.

He caught up with the woman coordinating the workers. “Do you have a map? How can I get down to the well fast?”

“Go to the center of the pyramid and down as far as you can. The well is at the bottom. It comes out into a chamber with four tunnels leading off. The one that looks almost collapsed is the one that leads to the secret room. The others meander around a while and go nowhere. Can you save them?”

She was putting on a brave face, but the woman was terrified. And for good reason.

“We’ll do our best. Now get out of here.”

He and his people kept watch on the pyramid until Rex and Leann herded the crowd of workers down the trail. Harry waited until he couldn’t hear them anymore before heading into the pyramid.

It was time to save the woman of the hour.

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