Congressman John Waters stroked his hand up the silken thigh of his companion until he reached the top of her stocking where his fingers traced bare skin. He leaned toward her and whispered in her ear so he could be heard above the blasting music. "Would you like one more drink before we leave?"
Brenda Bennett sent him a practiced smile and turned her face so she could nip his earlobe with her teeth before whispering back. "Make it a Red Bull and vodka. I want to spend a long time tonight with you. I have so many delicious things I've been thinking of doing with you and I don't want to chance falling asleep." She paused, her breath warm against his ear. "Either one of us." Her tongue teased his earlobe.
"Sounds like a good plan to me," Waters said with what he thought was a sexy leer.
Brenda touched his leg with the stiletto heel of her sexy red open-toe shoes playfully. "I'll visit the ladies room and make certain I'm looking my best for you."
"You always look your best," the congressman assured his favorite companion. He patted her thigh and stood up to make his way through the crowd to the bar.
Brenda glanced to her left, her eyes meeting the woman seated at the table adjacent to hers, giving the briefest of nods. Both got up and made their way through the crowd to the bathrooms. The Dungeon was the hottest club in town, where only the elite came together for two purposes-making deals and playing bondage games to get laid. Brenda made very certain her clients went away happy and returned often with very large pocketbooks. She was always especially happy to see the Congressman, because she was always paid double.
Brenda smiled at the woman who followed her inside, but prudently remained silent while they both checked the stalls to ensure they were alone before they spoke.
"I got your call, Sheila. Getting Waters here tonight wasn't easy on such short notice. He had some big thing going on with his wife. You have to tell Whitney to give me more of a head's up when something is this important to him."
Sheila shrugged. They both knew it didn't matter in the long run how difficult the task was. Their boss made obedience well worth it. "Whitney wants you to make absolutely certain our good Congressman goes through with his vote to approve the research on his new weapon." Sheila Benet handed Brenda the thick envelope, retaining possession when Brenda eagerly closed her fingers around it. "Don't fail, Brenda," she warned. "He doesn't accept failure."
"Have I ever failed him?" Brenda asked, her dark eyes glittering with anger. "I have never failed him. You remind him that every name he's ever given me, I've found a way to seduce or blackmail them into doing what he wants. I can read weakness and, although he hates working with women because we're so damned inferior, he won't find too many men who can do what I do. You just tell him that, Sheila."
Sheila raised her eyebrow, still retaining possession of the envelope. "Do you really want me to tell him all that?"
Brenda pressed her lips together tightly, but caution damped down some of her anger. "I work hard for him. The one time I told him not to press Senator Markus, he insisted, and even then, when I knew what was going to happen, I still found his weakness. Rather than be blackmailed, he killed himself, just like I said he would. Whitney needs to place a little more value on me as a resource, that's all I'm saying."
Sheila gave her a brief, cold smile as she allowed her fingers to slide away from the envelope, leaving it in Brenda's hand. "That's probably the very reason why he padded your pay, Brenda. Perhaps you might consider that he's a brilliant man who rewards those useful to him. He had no choice but to call you when Waters seemed to be wavering on his vote. Make certain the good Congressman doesn't even consider letting him down."
Brenda pushed the thick envelope into her purse and gave Sheila a smirk. "No worries. I've recorded every single session with the honorable, upstanding John Waters and I don't think he would ever want the things he's done to come to light, not with his uptight wife and righteous church-loving family so vocal about all things sinful. He'll do whatever Dr. Whitney needs him to do."
"You have a pretty good thing going here, Brenda," Sheila said. "You get paid by Whitney and by the mark." Her eyes went glacier-cold. "Don't blow it." Abruptly she turned and went into the nearest stall, slamming the lock to signal she was done. She'd given her warning and if Brenda chose to bitch again-well-that was between her and Whitney-but people who crossed him generally had a way of disappearing fast.
Brenda hummed to herself, a slight smile on her face. She adjusted her silk blouse so that it was just open enough to reveal the enticing rounded curves. The material lay nicely over her nipples, pushed up by the camisole she wore beneath the silk. She glanced down to get her bright red lipstick from her purse. The water in the sink suddenly turned on. Her gaze jumped to the steady stream of water. She shrugged and looked up, uninterested in why the automatic faucet would have been triggered. In the mirror, just behind her, she was startled to see the face of a woman standing very close to her. There was no sound at all. She had time to register a waterfall of platinum blonde hair and Asian features. A hard blow to the back of her skull sent her head forward, slamming her into the edge of the sink. She felt nothing at all as blackness descended.
Brenda's body slipped to the tiled floor from the edge of the basin. The woman, with gloved fingers threw a handful of water onto the floor around Brenda's feet and the soles of her shoes, crouched to snap one stiletto heel, and jerked the envelope from her purse, all in one, smooth, silent move. As she stood, she removed a tiny camera placed just over the mirror and seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye.
"Brenda?" Sheila called out tentatively.
The water continued to run in the sink. Sheila frowned and glanced under the door of the stall. Brenda was lying on the floor. "Brenda?" she said again, her voice low and tentative. There was no answer, only the sound of the water running.
Sheila continued to stare under the door, frozen in place. She couldn't see any other feet, but Brenda's shoe was off her foot, the heel broken. A thin stream of red ran along the cracks, moving in an ever widening puddle. She gasped and jumped up. Behind her the toilet automatically flushed and she nearly screamed. Very slowly, with the tips of her fingers, she pushed open the door and peered out. Brenda lay on the floor, the front of her skull smashed from where she had slipped on the water. Her clothes, instead of looking sexy and tempting, revealed her for what she was-a highly paid prostitute, her body obscenely displayed there on the bathroom floor.
Swearing under her breath, Sheila quickly took toilet paper and opened Brenda's purse to retrieve the envelope of cash. It was gone. Her heart jumped. Whitney would never believe her. The money had to be on the body somewhere and she had to find it or he'd think she stole it. That would be just like him. She crouched down beside Brenda and looked her over. There didn't seem to be a place she could have concealed the envelope.
Voices just outside the door had her up and backing away, back toward the stall door. She let out a scream and stood, covering her mouth, her gaze frantically searching the body as the bathroom door burst open and three women came to an abrupt halt and added their voices to hers. At once chaos reigned.
Harry Barnes, aide to Senator Lupan, scowled as he pushed his BMW to the limit on the curved mountain road. Why in the hell had Sheila Benet picked such a ridiculous place for a meeting? There was plenty of safe places downtown where civilization reigned. He was allergic to grass. To bugs. To stupid cows. He finally was about to score with the woman he'd been chasing for three straight months and he wasn't about to blow his chance because Sheila had suddenly gotten paranoid. They could meet under the nose of the Senator and the old man wouldn't notice.
He punched a button and music flooded the car. He set his teeth as he glanced at his GPS. Another three miles. Stupid, stupid woman. Maybe he could call and his date would understand he'd be an hour late. Sheila had said not to make any calls, that if someone was on to them, they'd pick up his cell phone call. Damn. He slammed his flat palm against the steering wheel in pure frustration. No one was on to them. Why should they be? How could they be? And no one would dare to monitor his cell phone.
"Friggin Sheila," he snapped and ordered his phone to call the sexy Miss Catherine. She looked very good in her prim little pencil skirts and red silk blouses as she sat behind a desk, her long hair wrapped in that uptight little bun. He had images of unwrapping her like a Christmas gift stuck in his head and until he made it happen, he couldn't move on. He talked for the next couple of minutes, persuading her to wait for him, that he'd make it worth her while. He hung up feeling smug, tossing the phone onto the passenger seat. Using the Senator as an excuse was genius. What woman wouldn't be impressed that he was so indispensible to a Senator that he couldn't get away until the Senator was ready to call it quits and go home?
Smirking, he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, pleased with himself. "That's how it's done," he told himself aloud and grinned at himself in the rear view mirror. For a few moments there, he'd forgotten how good he was at playing the game. Now that he knew for certain his evening's fun wasn't lost, his mood swung back to cheerful, after all, Whitney was going to pay him handsomely for keeping the old Senator in line. Not hard to do at all these days. It only took a little work on his knees and the man was putty in his hands.
Sheila Benet's car was parked to one side exactly at the mile marker she'd told him, leaving enough room for him to pull over. He slipped out of the car and stretched. It was a beautiful night, the stars overheard and a half moon shining brightly down on them.
"Hey, Sheila, how's it going?" He greeted as he sauntered over to her car. "Nice night for all this cloak and dagger drama."
Sheila stuck her head out the window. Her car was still running. "No one followed you?"
"I don't think there's a cow alive on this road tonight. I haven't seen headlights in the last fifteen minutes." He resisted rolling his eyes as he held out his hand for the fat envelope. "Senator Lupan will do exactly as I ask him. Tell Whitney he has no worries on that score. The old man can barely breathe without his oxygen. I keep him isolated and happy. He has no family, there's only me and no one realizes just how bad that last stroke really was. He relies very heavily on me now."
"He can't step down until this is done, Harry," Sheila reiterated as she placed the envelope in the aide's outstretched palm.
"No worries. He'll hang in there, if for no other reason than for something to do. He's sick, but his mind is active and he needs the interaction and the adulation his position provides. I stroke his ego and a few other things for him and he falls right into line." Harry flashed her his most charming smile. "It's all good, Sheila. He'll vote the way we want him too. I guarantee it."
"Would you bet your life on it?" Sheila asked with a snide curl of her lip.
Harry's smile faded as he turned away from her in disgust. Sheila Benet was a cold-hearted bitch. He'd never once failed Dr. Whitney. It didn't matter how distasteful the task was, he got it done. Just because Sheila had the mad doctor's ear, didn't make her so damn high and mighty. As many years as he'd been working from Whitney and taking the payoffs from Sheila, one would think she would have tried to be a little friendly.
"Harry," Sheila had followed him to his car. "It doesn't pay in this business to get overconfident. Anyone can be bought. We got to you, didn't we?"
Harry gave her a black scowl and tossed the thick envelope of bills in his glove box in disgust, not bothering to count the money. It was always right. He started his car almost before he'd slammed the door closed, flipped Sheila off and took off fast, leaving her standing there.
"Stupid, uptight woman, probably haven't gotten laid in ten years," he snapped and glanced in his rear view mirror to see that she'd just gotten in her car.
When he looked back, there was a woman sitting beside him, small, Asian features, hair covered by a tight skull cap. She grabbed the wheel with gloved hands and jerked hard, sending the BMW straight over the cliff, plunging into the deep gorge below. Tree limbs hit the window, smashing the glass, the car hit another tree top on the way down and began to roll. He shouted, his hoarse voice steadily cursing, although he had no idea what he was saying. When he managed to look again, he was alone in the car-the woman a figment of his imagination.
Sheila saw Harry's car turn abruptly straight for the cliff and drive right off of it as she pulled off the shoulder to the road. She slammed on her brakes, her heart pounding. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God," she chanted.
Her mouth went dry. With shaking hands she drove to the edge of the road where the car had gone over and climbed out. It was a long way down. Whitney hadn't been happy about losing Brenda, a key member of his pipeline to Washington and he really would be upset if Harry was dead. No one else had ever managed Lupan. The Senator believed his aide was the only constant in his life who cared about him. He'd be lost without Harry. She couldn't imagine him doing anything but staying in bed if Harry really died.
She really had no choice but to try to make her way down there and see if he was still alive. Cursing both Whitney and Harry under her breath, she changed her shoes from heels to her running shoes, put her hazard lights on and made her way carefully to the edge. The terrain was very steep in some places but with a little work, she could make her way down. She slipped several times and cursed the two men over and over when she had to half sit to get over one spot.
Glass was everywhere, scattered around the wreckage of the car. Thankfully, she heard moaning. Harry was alive. Breathing a sigh of relief, she clawed her way to the overturned car. Harry hung upside down, blood dripping from his head. His eyelashes fluttered and he stared at her with pleading eyes. Without touching him, she considered her next move. Harry was dying. Blood pumped from a gash on his leg and one side of his head appeared to be caved in.
"Sorry, Harry," she said, surprised she actually meant it.
She stumbled her way around the car and, tearing a strip of cloth from her shirt, she pushed what remained of the passenger door open wider so she could lean in without allowing her body to touch anything. It wouldn't be good to be found at another accident scene. Ignoring Harry's moans she opened the glove compartment. There was no envelope. The money was gone.
Anger surged through her, followed by an adrenaline rush of sheer terror. She had to find that money. If she went back to Whitney a second time, reported an accident had killed another in his pipeline to Washington, and that the first installment of the payoff was once again missing, she was dead. He would kill her. She knew him. Whitney didn't allow mistakes.
She swore out loud. "Where is it, Harry? The money. You're bleeding to death. If you want my help, tell me where the money is."
Harry's gaze shifted to the empty glove compartment. He looked shocked. There was no doubt in Sheila's mind he thought it would be there. She shifted out of the car as he gurgled, a little repulsed as blood trickled from his mouth. She didn't like blood. She'd ordered kills many times, on Whitney's behalf, but she didn't actually get her hands dirty. She could hear his breathing, a death rattle now and bile rose.
The money was gone. Where, she had no idea, but it was gone. She couldn't search that wreckage of a car, but, like in the bathroom a couple of weeks earlier, the money had disappeared. No officer had reported finding an envelope of money when Brenda's body had been taken to the coroner. She backed away from the crumpled car and the smell of death. All she wanted to do was run, but with her heart pounding so hard she stood frozen.
Wind rustled leaves in the trees and moved brush so that limbs swayed and creaked. A chill went down her spine. She looked around her, suddenly afraid. The night had eyes and she couldn't be seen. She tried to run, a small sob escaping. She slipped and began to claw her way up the steep incline, more afraid than she'd ever been in her life-and for the first time it wasn't Whitney she was afraid of.
********************** ******************* ************
Major Art Patterson whistled softly as he ran down the steps of the pentagon building. The sky had turned dove gray, not quite dark yet not still light. He loved the time of day when the sun and moon came together. He glanced upward. A few stray clouds drifted lazily by, but so thin the stars already out had no trouble shining. He grinned up at the moon and stars as he hurried to his car.
Life was good. He enjoyed working for his boss. General Ranier was a three star general, tough as nails but fair. The program the General was responsible for was one Patterson believed in. The GhostWalkers were men and women trained in every type of warfare possible, in every terrain, water and air, in every type of weather. They were the elite of the elite. He thought of them as 'his' team. He should have been a GhostWalker. He would have made a great leader and working for Ranier allowed him to play a very large part. He knew he was a great asset to the GhostWalker program.
He drove a showy little silver Jaguar, racing through the streets toward his meeting with Sheila Benet. She seemed so cool, but she flashed fire when they came together. She liked the uniform and the power he wielded and he liked melting all that cold ice. He stroked the black leather seats almost lovingly. Yeah, he had the good life. Just because he didn't show psychic ability, didn't mean he wasn't a true GhostWalker. Whitney had recognized his abilities and just how useful he was to the program.
Ranier had turned on Whitney, believing he'd gone too far, when his experiments on young orphaned girls came to light, but the General hadn't looked with an open mind. Patterson had tried hard to convince him of the truth-those girls were throw-a-ways. No one wanted them in any of the countries Whitney had found them. Had he not taken them, they would have ended up on the streets as prostitutes. At least they served a greater purpose. Whitney gave the girls clean beds and food. Most were grown now and Patterson had seen the facilities once where they were housed and the conditions were very nice.
The women were all educated and spoke multiple languages, had all been trained as soldiers and shaped into useful members of society. The General loved his GhostWalker program and fought for it with every breath in his body, but he blamed Whitney for tainting the reputation. No one wanted the experiments to come to light but they'd been necessary and Patterson believed in what Whitney was doing one hundred percent.
The Major parked in the second story parking garage at the mall. He rarely went to malls, but Sheila had insisted they be out in the open, in a very public place. She seemed far more nervous than usual, which was unlike her. He whistled as he made his way to the escalator to take it down to the first floor where he was meeting her in the little French coffee shop. At least the coffee was good.
She was already sitting at a small table in a corner which afforded them a little privacy. She was dressed in a her usual style, that pencil thin skirt that showed off her hips and long legs, so elegant in stockings and high heels. There was nothing cheap about Sheila Benet. She was class all the way. He liked sitting across from her in any public situation. She was a woman who turned heads with her hair in the upswept twist and her prim and proper short suit jacket that hugged the full curves of her breasts and small waist. She had a shapely figure, reminding him of the pin-up girls for the forties with her red lipstick and figure.
He bent to brush a kiss along her temple in greeting. He was always careful when he touched her, never to take it too far that she could object. He wanted her always wanting that little bit more from him. She was the type of woman who could never fully be in the seat of power or her man would lose her. He wasn't a permanent kind of man, but the affair was fun and insured his favor with Whitney. He often wondered idly if Whitney slept with her, but she was very closed-mouth on the subject.
"You usually prefer to meet in dark places," he greeted. "What's up, Sheila? You said it was urgent and you wanted to come someplace very public. Is there some problem?"
"I don't know," she replied in a low voice. Behind her sunglasses her eyes moved restlessly surveying the crowded shop. "Maybe, I don't know. There have been unexplained accidents lately and I don't want to take a chance that you might be one of them."
He had never seen Sheila shaken or he wouldn't have taken the threat seriously. "I can take care of myself, honey, but thanks for the head's up. I'll be careful."
She looked up at as the waitress approached the Major. He asked for coffee. Sheila waited until he'd been served before she leaned toward him again. "This is huge, Art, really huge. Orders are going to come down soon to send a team back into Congo. The president has been asked to help get rid of his rebel problems."
Patterson sat up straight, a frown on his face. "How would Whitney know that? No one should know about that. Not even him."
"He's got ears everywhere, Art. He's a very trusted man in many circles and for them, his security clearance is still at the highest level. Until we prove his soldiers are the answer we've all been looking for, there will be skeptics and jealous enemies looking to bring him down. You know that. Look at your boss. He runs a GhostWalker team and yet he despises the man who created them."
Art shrugged, in no way concerned. As long as Rainer didn't approve of Whitney and his ongoing experiments with the women and soldiers, it meant a hefty paycheck for him at the end of the day. The Major wanted Whitney beholden to him. Whitney still carried a lot of political clout in some circles and he could help further his career. The women had always and would always be expendable. They had no families, Whitney made certain of that. As long as they were fed and clothed, who cared? Hell, no one even knew-or cared-that they existed. The sacrifices they made definitely enlightened scientists, allowing great strides in the medical and military fields. Their lives had purpose, when, if not for Whitney, they would be useless to society, little leeches living off men.
Art took a slow sip of his coffee, savoring the taste, waiting for Sheila to make her bid. It was going to be good, whatever it was, he could tell. She was overly nervous and uncertain of how to present to him what Whitney required of him, which meant much more money than usual. He stayed quiet, allowing her to squirm, drawing out the silence between them.
Sheila cleared her throat. "One mine in the world produces a certain type of diamond and only once in a great while is one found. Whitney needs that diamond for a new weapon he's working on for defending our troops. It's an amazing weapon not yet finished. Without that diamond, he can't complete the project." She leaned close, her blue eyes steady on his, very earnest. "He tried buying it, offered millions, but Ezekial Ekabela has the diamond. He took over that region some time ago after his brother was killed."
Art steepled his fingers and looked at her over them. "His brother was General Eudes Ekabela, the man who had both Jack and Ken Norton tortured. He was killed by a member of the first GhostWalker team. And I believe General Armine took over, not Ezekial."
"That's right," Sheila said, but she squirmed and Patterson knew she was hoping he didn't have that exact information in his head. "General Armine took over the rebel army before Ezekial could get into power, but he has a small group still loyal to him and he still holds that mine. He's trying to cement his position as the leader of the army. Under Armine's leadership, they've been pushed back. Ekabela wants his army back and he wants the territory they lost back. He's gotten his hands on a diamond that Dr. Whitney needs."
"I don't understand what you need from me."
"The president of the country has asked our president for help." She held up her hand. "Don't ask me how I know. The order will be to go in and destroy the munitions, vehicles and to assassinate Armine and Ekabela."
Patterson shook his head. He was always astounded on how much information Whitney managed to intercept.
"Whitney has been supplying arms and money to Ekabela, not a lot, but enough to keep him hungry and enable him to defend the mine against both Armine and the president. If the president gets that land back with the mines, we'll never finish this weapon." She leaned toward Patterson. "This one is important, Art. Really important. Ekabela is willing to trade the diamond to be put back in power. Along with that, he wants a GhostWalker. He wants revenge. He preferred one of the Norton brothers from GhostWalker Team Two, mainly I suspect, because he couldn't identify the one who killed his brother and Jack Norton wreaked havoc on his army, but Dr. Whitney persuaded him that was impossible."
"I don't understand," Patterson said with a small frown. "What difference does it make to Whitney which GhostWalker he gives up if he's giving one to Ekabela?"
"The Nortons are no longer expendable, especially Jack. He has children-twin boys. His brother is certain to follow his example soon. They need to train their children in survival and Whitney is absolutely sure that they will. The Nortons are premium, elite soldiers, and have proven their worth to the program over and over."
"No doubt," Patterson agreed, trying to look very sincere.
"We need a hero in the program and Dr. Whitney has selected Sam 'Knight' Johnson. It's a terrible sacrifice he doesn't want to make and of course, it deeply saddens him, but in order to keep the program moving forward, sacrifices do have to be made. Of all the GhostWalkers, Sam is the most expendable. He can't provide us with a child and the children are more important than the soldiers."
"I still don't understand."
"Johnson is paired with a woman of no use to the program. Unless Whitney can get him back, which is highly improbable, he will not accept another mate so he'll never produce a much needed child." She shrugged. "In any case, it was easy to persuade Ekabela that Sam Johnson was the man who killed his brother."
Patterson stretched his legs out and took a casual look around the coffee shop. As usual, this popular cafĂ© was packed. His hungry gaze automatically noted the women surrounding him. A harassed mother who looked as if she needed a man to make her feel beautiful, a little mouse of a Japanese woman sipped tea and studiously read a book on Zen as she listened to music with an earpiece in her ear, and tapped her foot to the beat, two middle-aged animated friends having fun, laughing togetherâ€¦so many types. He loved that about women-that there were so many to choose from and right here in this room there was a good cross-section. He turned his head to smile at Sheila. The conversation as going along very nicely.
Did he really care that Sam Johnson was paired with a useless woman? Not really, but what was important, of course, was the fact that the renowned infallible Dr. Whitney had made a mistake or it wouldn't have happened. And that was an important nugget of information Sheila had inadvertently given him.
"So you're saying, Johnson goes on the mission and doesn't come back. The team takes out the terrorist cell and along the way, Whitney's men are in place to make certain Ekabela gets a GhostWalker to torture endlessly in return for the diamond."
"Not exactly," Sheila hedged. "Ekabela's men will be there to take the GhostWalker, but we'll have a sniper in place to kill Johnson once the diamond is in our hands and the rest of the team is out safely. He won't suffer."
Art was very skilled at portraying emotion he didn't feel. He blew out his breath, shook his head and took another drink of coffee. "That's bullshit, Sheila, and you know it. That puts the entire team at risk. What's to say Ekabela doesn't go after more than one GhostWalker and keep the diamond anyway?"
"The money, of course. He needs the money for his war chest and he needs an ally like Whitney." She looked around her, lowered her voice more and beckoned him close. "Did you get the intel on the recent jailbreak in Lubumbashi? Nine hundred and sixty-seven prisoners escaped. It appeared that eight armed men attacked the prison guards, allowing the prisoners to flee, trying to free a militant who had been condemned to death. Unbeknownst to the minister, they had three members of Ekabela's family, another brother, a son and nephew. It was only a matter of time before someone gave up their true identities. Whitney arranged to help Ekabela recover them as part of the good faith deal. Ekabela needs Whitney, although his is a lost cause. He'll never find enough followers to keep those mines for long."
"He massacres entire villages and the children, forcing them to join with him or die. This man is no saint. He's reputation is terrifying in that region. He's not a man Whitney wants to be in bed with."
"Of course not," Sheila soothed. "Of course Whitney doesn't want to deal with such a man, but he needs that diamond for the defense of our country and he can't chance that local military gets enough guts to take back those mineral-rich lands, nor can he take the chance that whoever has the mines next will do business with him. The moment the diamond is in his hands, you know that he'll destroy Ekabela. He'll move heaven and earth to make certain the man dies and with it, all of his terrible atrocities. The price for this powerful weapon that could end wars, for the defense of everything we hold dear, is one man. One, Art. You and I both know it's a small price."
The Major frowned and scratched the back of his head. "These soldiers are elite, every one of them. They've trained extensively. Even without their psychic abilities, just the training alone is worth so much to our government. Do you have any idea how many operations these men have run, just this team alone? To give one up to the enemy, that just doesn't sit right."
"Of course no one wants it that way, Art," Sheila said, leaning forward to touch his hand with her fingertips. "Dr. Whitney agonized over this decision. The mission has to take place. If we don't sacrifice a knight, then many good men will die." She took a small package from her purse and with one finger, pushed it across the table at him. "Dr. Whitney really needs your help on this. Make certain Johnson is on that team when the orders come through."
The Major loved this part. Negotiation-his forte. He frowned. Drew a hand over his face and shook his head. "Ekabela will torture that GhostWalker the way they did Jack and Ken Norton. Ken is covered in scars," Patterson said. "Sam Johnson has served this country time and time again, going above the call of duty."
Sheila withdrew another packet and placed it carefully on top of the other one.
Patterson studied her face. Should he push? Sheila bit her lip when he remained silent. Laughter bubbled up. He had her. He sank back in his chair and shook his head. "Not this time. I've read what Ekabela does to people he doesn't like. If you told him Johnson killed his brother, he'll fuck him up so bad the man will beg for death and I doubt if Ekabela will give it to him-not for a very long time."
She took out a third packet and placed it beside the other two. Her lips compressed tight. Patterson swept up the money. "You'd better have a sniper in place, Sheila," he warned, knowing full well Whitney wouldn't risk blowing the deal by killing Ekabela's prize. "I'll see what I can do, but Whitney blew it when he had me talk to the General. I don't hold a trusted position anymore. He plays his cards close to his chest. He and that aide of his go way back."
"Never-the-less, see to it that the orders change before they get to the General."
Patterson stood up, sliding the packs of money into the inside of his coat, the pocket specially tailored for just such lucrative transactions, satisfaction welling up.
Sheila hastily plugged in her earpiece. "He's on the move. Watch him closely. If anything happens to him, we're all in trouble." She had a team in place this time-Whitney's own men-his private army of GhostWalkers on his payroll, men not quite as perfect as the elite soldiers on the teams, but enhanced none-the-less. She'd noticed those men-mercenaries-rarely lasted long. The effects of the enhancements seemed to take a toll on them, making them belligerent and always ready to fight.
Several people in the cafĂ© had gotten up to pay, cutting across Patterson's path, slowing him down. A tall, slender man in a business suit picked up his briefcase and stood, nearly running into the Major. He stepped back with an apology to allow the soldier to continue his line of travel. A small, Asian woman turned from the cash register with a small cough, her fist going to her mouth to politely cover the soft sound.
The Major turned back and grinned at Sheila. "See you, later." He turned back and faltered in his stride, both hands going to his throat. He made a sound, much like a death rattle. He staggered, and took three more steps.
The tall man passed him, heading for the counter, his bill in his hand. Two of Sheila's team paced alongside Patterson but from either side of the room. The Major once again turned toward Sheila. She could see his face was nearly purple, his lips blue.
"Move in. Move in," she practically shouted.
Patterson went down on his knees, grabbing at the Asian woman, nearly toppling her as well. She looked frightened and backed away, toward Sheila, bumping her and bouncing off. Sheila tried to get to the Major, but several customers blocked her path for a minute, rushing toward the fallen man who appeared to be choking. She was bumped and pushed in the melee, delaying her. Sheila's team reached Patterson first, surrounding him as he fell flat on his face, gasping for breath.
"Call 911," one of her men ordered her.
They rolled the Major over. His eyes were wide open, sightless, bulging. His mouth was opened as well, giving her the impression of a fish gasping its last breath. He was definitely dying if he wasn't already dead. Whitney could not possibly blame her for this. She pushed her way through the small crowd to Patterson's side and knelt over him as her men worked on him. Her fingers found the inside pocket. She nearly screamed aloud. The money was gone. Gone. Right in front of her. In front of the team. It was impossible.
She took a careful look around her at the crowd. She'd scoped out this very cafĂ© numerous times and most of them were the same people who came in after work for coffee and a chat with coworkers or to relax before they went home. She recognized the little Asian girl who had been reading her book. She and the three Asian men who sat at a table chatting together worked, along with the tall gentlemen with the briefcase, at Samurai Telecommunications across the street. The two women laughing together were secretaries at the law offices of Tweed and Tweed.
She could practically name everyone in the room and where they worked. She'd done backgrounds on everyone including the workers here. What was she going to say to Whitney? Thank God, she had been smart enough to place a tracking device in the third packet of money. She knew Patterson, knew his greed. He always managed to sound very concerned for the soldiers, but in the end he'd always been more concerned for his bank account. She read him like a book and she'd known exactly when his breaking point would be.
She looked down at the Major. Two of the team members worked on him, trying to bring him back, but he was gone that fast. Disgusted, she stood up and dusted off her hands, walking with great dignity back to her table. The small tracker was there in her purse. She reached inside and turned it on. The green light blinked rapidly telling her she was very, very close to the source.
Suspiciously she looked around her. Two cafĂ© employees stood close and one of the two secretaries. An Asian man was on the other side of her. Clearly it could be on any of the four. She moved her hand slightly. The tracker went wild, glowing bright, indicating she was directly over the bug. No one was that close to her. Frowning she looked at the floor. Nothing.
Her heart jumped and then began to pound. She put her hand on the pocket of her jacket. The tracker was in her pocket. She sank into a chair, nowhere to go, terrified of what Whitney would do now that she'd failed him again.