|Black Ops 03 - Deadly Games|
|Zebra Books (2011)|
ZEBRA BOOKS are published by
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Copyright © 2011 by Kathleen Holzapfel
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Wrenching the door handle back, Gena threw herself out of the truck. The man grabbed for her, catching her shirt, but couldn’t hold on.
The ground walloped her, stealing her breath with a wicked punch. She tried to tuck and roll, but control was beyond her. She heard gunfire and waited for the bullet to tear into her body.
Car tires squealed as she slammed to a stop against a tree.
Get up! Got to get up! Gotta move!
Her hands, scraped raw by the pavement, stung as she pushed to her feet. Dizzy, she fell back to the ground.
She heard Rocco’s voice and tried again to get up.
“I’ve got you, sweetheart.” His arms closed around her, lifting her and holding her close.
Baddest Bad Boys
Alice Katherine “Kate” Duffy
January 28, 1953–September 27, 2009
Ad occursum futurum, requiescat in pace
“Simply brilliant!” isn’t adequate.
“The best!” isn’t sufficient.
“Thank you!” isn’t enough.
“Come back! I miss you!” says it all.
To the ones who kept the faith when I didn’t think I’d make it:
Karen Kearney, always there
Jenn Stark, always ready
Lori Harris, always steady
Nolen Holzapfel, always mine
To fellow writers Stephanie Newton and Milinda Jay Stephenson, for making me feel right at home in Panama City.
To the real pros: Editorial Director Alicia Condon, Kensington Publishing; and Agent Robin Rue, Writers House.
And a very special thanks to my fans. Without readers, what would an author do?
As always, I own any errors, mistakes, and boo-boos. I frequently mangle the rules to fit the story.
October 3, 11:50 P.M.
Rocco Taylor eyed the tiny digital clock on the video player, the only source of light in the town house’s shadowy living room. Ten more minutes?
He checked his watch.
. His Tag Heuer was never wrong.
Damn Sam. It felt like it had been
ten more minutes
an hour ago. The couch springs groaned as he rocked forward and raked fingers through his hair.
God, he hated waiting, doing nothing. Let him belly crawl across a minefield into an enemy stronghold. Or give him an MP5 and a load of clips and let him shoot his way in. Hell, hand-to-hand combat was better.
was better than this: playing along while being fucked with.
Oh, like you’re really suffering.
Compared to what Maddy was enduring right now—
Jesus. Maddy. The gravity of her situation mingled with the molten guilt in his stomach.
After three days of nada in the search for missing CIA analyst Madison Kohlmeyer, the Agency had scored deuces today, even if they only knew half of it.
Earlier that afternoon, while busting his ass to get to Dulles airport, he’d gotten word that Maddy’s BMW convertible had been pulled from the backwaters of Chesapeake Bay, a two-by-four still jammed against the gas pedal.
Hearing this from a friend who’d picked the story up off a newswire had infuriated Rocco. After being shut out of the Agency’s official investigation into Maddy’s disappearance on grounds of “emotional involvement,” Rocco had been promised that every stone would be turned, every angle examined, and that he would be notified personally of any big breaks. That he wasn’t should have been clue one.
An illegal U-turn on the interstate had Rocco racing back to the CIA complex that housed his office, dreading the word that would come once they pried open the BMW’s trunk. The relief he’d felt upon learning that the vehicle was empty eroded as the truth of how little else had been done to locate Maddy surfaced.
The Agency genius heading up the investigation had decided to let the police complete their missing-person investigation first. Except the locals had back-burnered the case as a low-priority after an interview with Maddy’s roommate revealed that Maddy had seemed preoccupied.
Rocco would have jumped all over that. Preoccupied could mean scared, nervous. Upset. Had she been bullied? Threatened?
But to the jaded Virginia police detective, who claimed he’d worked “dozens of cases just like this,” Maddy’s failure to show for an all-girl weekend at Virginia Beach three days ago meant she had something better planned.
To the detective, “preoccupied” was code for “she’d met someone.” “I figured she’d turn up for work on Monday, embarrassed to find people worried,” the detective had told Rocco by phone. “Happens all the time.”
Yeah, well, as Rocco’s grandfather used to say, the road to hell was paved with bad assumptions.
In the end, Rocco had stormed out of his office in disgust after picking a fight with one of the supervisors. The official excuse offered, that Armageddon had broken loose at the Agency, was a crock. When was it normal these days, given the ever-expanding war on terror? The war on drugs? The war on wars?
“Hard choices call for tough sacrifices,” the supervisor had parroted.
“You’re saying Maddy was sacrificed?” Rocco had been livid. Did they really think that sounded better than the truth? That Maddy’s case had slipped between the cracks as everyone assumed someone else was handling it?
And even though recovering Maddy’s drowned car had escalated her case to “foul play suspected,” it made little difference in light of the e-mail Rocco had opened just two hours ago. A game-changing e-mail that had languished in his spam folder—for an entire bleeping day—before he’d found it.
The message included a high-res photograph of Maddy, bound hand and foot, wearing nothing but bra and panties. She was curled in a fetal position in
a nest of soiled straw at the bottom of what appeared to be a nondescript wooden shipping crate.
Foul play confirmed.
In the photographs, Maddy’s eyes were closed tightly, as if she was wincing. Her upper arms bore bruises from a cruel grip. Someone would pay for hurting her, Rocco had vowed as he’d noted the slender, bloody cut that creased Maddy’s rib cage. While a knife blade had likely scored her skin when her clothes were cut away, the inferred subtext of the wound was clear. Future snapshots would be more horrific.
But it was the tears on Maddy’s cheeks, visible in the enlarged photograph, that haunted Rocco. The good news was corpses didn’t cry. She’d been alive when the picture was taken.
Unfortunately, bad news was also visible. Blowing up the photograph exposed a symbol branded into the plank of wood just above her head. The telltale revealed the sender’s identity more succinctly than any signature line. A triple-headed dragon. The symbol of Southeast Asia’s most notorious drug lord and Rocco’s archenemy, Minh Tran.