The low hill, shadowed by banana and mango trees in the twilight of the late afternoon sun above the Venezuelan jungle, overlooked the heavily guarded camp a half-mile away. But that wasn’t his immediate problem.
Right now, it took everything Duane Jenkins could do to ignore the stinging sweat dripping into his eyes. Any unwarranted motion or sound might attract his target’s attention before he was in position.
From two meters away, he whispered harshly.
“Who the hell are you, sister? And how did you get here?”
He couldn’t help but smile. What kind of woman said crap when unexpectedly facing a sniper rifle at point blank range?
“Not your sister,” she gained points for a quick recovery. “Now get that rifle out of my face, Jarhead.”
Ouch! That was low. He wasn’t some damned, swamp-tromping Marine. Not even ex-Marine. He was ex-75th Rangers of the US Army, now two years in Delta Force. And as an operator for The Unit—as Delta called themselves—that made him far superior to any other soldier no matter what the dudes in SEAL Team 6 thought about it. That also didn’t explain who he’d just found here in the perfect sniper position overlooking General Raul Estevan Aguado’s encampment.
It had taken him over fifteen hours to scout out this one perfect gap between the too-damn-tall trees that made up this sweaty place and, with just twenty meters to go, he’d spotted her heavily camouflaged form lying among the leaves. It had taken him another half hour to cover that distance without drawing her attention.
Where was a cold can of Coke when a guy needed one? This place was worse than Atlanta in the summer. The red earth had been driven so deep into his pores from crawling over the ground that he wondered if his skin color was permanently changed to rust red.
Why did evil bastards like Aguado have to come from such places?
More immediate problem, dude. Stay focused.
The woman’s American English was accentless, sounding flat to his Southern ear. Probably from the Pacific Northwest or some other strange part of the country. But there was a thin overlay that matched her Latinate features—full-lipped with dark eyebrows and darker eyes, which was about all he could tell through her camo paint. The slight Spanish lilt shifted her to intriguingly exotic.
But she wasn’t supposed to be here. No one was.
“Keeping you in my sights until I get some answers, ma’am,” Duane kept his HK MSG90 A2 rifle aimed right at the bridge of her nose—a straight-through spine cutter if he had to take her down. It would be serious overkill, as the weapon was rated to lethal past eight hundred meters and they were whispering at each other from less than two meters apart. With the silencer, his weapon would be even quieter than their whispers, but he hadn’t spent the last sixteen hours crawling into position to have her death cry give him away. If she so much as squawked as she went down, every goddamn bird in the jungle would light off, giving away his presence.
She sighed and nodded toward her own rifle that rested on the ground in front of her.
He shifted his focus—though not his aim—then let out a very low whistle of appreciation. A G28. Even his team hadn’t gotten their hands on the latest entry into the US Army’s sniper arsenal yet. Not quite the same accuracy as his own weapon but six inches shorter, several pounds lighter, and far more flexible to configure. A whole generational leap forward. Richie, his team’s tech, would be geeking out right about now. The fact that he wasn’t here to see it almost made Duane smile.
“A Heckler & Koch G28. What’s your point, sister?” He drawled it out for Richie’s sake, who’d be listening in on Duane’s radio. Then the implications sunk in. If his Delta Force team couldn’t get these yet, then who could? Whatever else this woman was, she would be tied to one of the three US Special Mission Units: Delta, SEAL Team 6, or the combat controllers of the Air Force’s 24th STS.
Or The Activity.
The Intelligence Support Activity served the other three Special Mission Units. If she was with The Activity…that was seriously hot. It meant she was both one of the top intel specialists anywhere and a lethal fighter. And that meant that she’d been the one to put out the call that had brought him here. That at least answered why she was in his spot. It also said a lot that she hadn’t taken any of several easier-to-reach locations that were almost as good.
“It is about time you caught a clue. Welcome to the conversation.” She picked up her rifle as if his wasn’t still aimed at her. Very chill. “You are being a little dense there, soldier.” At least she got the branch of the military right this time.
“Hey, they don’t call me ‘The Rock’ for nothing, darlin’,” Duane lowered his barrel until it was pointed into the dirt. “They actually call me that becau—”
The moment his weapon was down, he suddenly was staring down the dark hole of the G28’s silencer.
“The Rock certainly isn’t because you are a towering black movie star. It must be for your thick head.”
Duane swallowed carefully, unable to shift his focus away from the barrel of her weapon to see if the safety was on or not.
“He spells his name differently. He’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ with a w and a y. I’m more normal, D-u-a-n-e T-h-e R-o-c-k.” He made it sing-song just like the theme song from The All-New Mickey Mouse Club that he’d been hooked on as a little kid.
“M-o-u-s-e,” she gave the appropriate response.
He couldn’t help laughing, quietly, despite their positions—him still staring down the barrel of her weapon—because discovering Mickey Mouse in common in the heart of the Venezuelan jungle was just too funny.
“Normal is not what I need here,” the woman sighed and there was the distinct click of her reengaging the safety on her rifle.
“Only thing normal about me is my name, ma’am.” Always good to “ma’am” a woman with a sniper rifle pointed at your face.
“Prove it,” she turned her weapon once more toward the camp half a kilometer away through the trees. Her motions were appropriately slow to not draw attention. However, it was too even a motion. A sniper learned to never break the pulses of nature’s rhythm. She might be some hotshot intel agent—because The Activity absolutely rocked almost everything they did—but she still wasn’t Delta, who rocked it all.
Duane breathed out slowly and spent the next couple minutes easing the last two meters toward her. Having the camp in view meant that one of their spotters could see them as well, if the bad guys were damned lucky. He and the woman both wore ghillie suits—that’s why he’d gotten so close before he spotted her. The suits were made of open-weave cloth liberally decorated with leaves and twigs so that the two of them looked like little more than a patch of the jungle floor. He’d dragged his on backcountry jungle roads for twenty miles to make sure he smelled like the jungle as well. Having a jaguar trounce his ass wouldn’t exactly brighten up his day.
Even their rifles were well camouflaged except for either end of the spotting scopes and the very tips of the barrels. If he hadn’t recently been lusting over the new specs, he wouldn’t have recognized her HK G28 at all in its disguise.
Getting into position as a sniper took a patience that only the most highly trained could achieve. A female sniper? That was a rare find indeed. The two women on his Delta team were damned fine shooters, but he and Chad were the snipers of the crew. A female sniper from The Activity? This just kept getting better and better. He’d pay a fair wage to know what she really looked like beneath the ghillie and all that face paint.
“Maybe you and I should go to the party as a couple.” At long last he lay beside her, close enough that he would have felt her body heat if not for the smothering sauna of his ghillie suit.
“What party? And we’re never going to be a couple.”
“Halloween. It’s only a couple weeks off. We could sneak in and nobody would see us in our ghillies. People would wonder why the punch bowls were mysteriously draining.”
“And why the apples were bobbing on their own,” she sounded disgusted. “What I want is—”
“Let’s see what y’all are up to down there,” he cut her off, just for the fun of it, and focused his rifle scope on the camp below. He was a little disappointed when there was no immediate comeback, though there was a low muttering in Spanish that he couldn’t quite catch but cheered his soul.
The general’s camp was a simple affair in several ways. The enclosure was a few hundred meters across. An old-school fence of wooden stakes driven into the ground, each a small tree trunk three meters high with sharpened points upward. Not that the points mattered, because there razor wire was looped along the top. Guard shacks every hundred meters—four total. The towers straddled the fence. Not a good idea. The structure should have been entirely behind the wall to protect it from attack. Unless…
“You got a name, darling?” Lying beside her, Duane could tell that she was shorter than he was. Her hands were fine, but her body was hidden by the ghillie so he couldn’t read anything more about her looks.
“Yes, I have a name.”
“That’s nice. Always good to have yourself one of those,”