Cecelia Clark is on a personal mission to settle the score with anyone and everyone who was involved in the attempts on both her life and the lives of the Armor Team—an elite unit of ex-commandos sworn to protect her.
New team leader, Gordon Hale, works to keep the men on task as they assist Cecelia with her vengeful endeavor. However, when a vicious, North African, terrorist organization called al-Mawt manages to carry out the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, the CIA covertly dispatches the Armor Team to the depths of the Sahara Desert, leaving Cecelia to go after the final name on her kill list alone.
Her hunt takes her into the heart of the Mediterranean Sea on the small Italian island of Procida. And it is there while she is forced to fend for herself, that she realizes she may have bitten off more than she can chew.
REAGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT
IT WAS A few minutes before seven o’clock Friday evening when the high-pitched Bostonian accent of CIA Support Technician, Hannah Cumberpatch scraped across his ears.
“Target just got off the escalator. She’s heading towards the second exit from your right.”
“Copy that,” he replied, grateful that the squeaker was just filling in for his regular support technician.
John Blunt adjusted his tactical earpiece and slipped a strip of minty, green gum into his mouth, just as he did for every operation. The steady mastication kept the butterflies in his stomach at rest so that his concentration would go undisturbed. It was a habit he’d picked up from his brief stint in little league baseball as a boy. And it later carried over onto the soccer field where he had become a High School All-American. It was also one of few coping mechanisms that he’d used during his time in the Navy. Apart from his borderline obsessive oral fixation, he was quite unpredictable—a quality that served him rather well in his current occupation.
Sitting behind the wheel of a minivan-style taxicab, Blunt focused on the row of sliding doors at the exit of the baggage claim when his target came into view. A young woman dressed in a black hoodie, dark jeans, and high top sneakers, carrying a black canvas rucksack passed through the first set of glass doors and then the second. She walked hastily towards the taxicab that was two cars in front of him.
“Mick and Brad, you’re up,” ordered Blunt through the mic attached to his collar.
Just as the young woman was about to reach for the taxicab door Mick Parks rudely cut in front of her. Blunt briefly made eye contact with Parks, giving him a knowing look as he stepped into the taxicab, and then he shifted his eyes up to his target. She was not given any time to dwell on Parks’s impertinence before Brad Davis, dressed as a uniformed taxicab dispatcher, offered her a second option. Blunt glanced at the side mirror on the right and saw Davis standing curbside at the rear passenger door.
“Miss!” Davis called out to the young woman.
When she spun around towards him, Blunt could not help but notice the guardedness in her stance.
“She’s spooked,” he whispered to himself, as the image of a grazing antelope popping her head up at the slightest detection of danger ran across his mind.
“You say something, JB?” was the inquiry from the fourth man in his unit, Rhody Heller, sitting in the third row in the back of the minivan taxicab.
“I said she’s spooked,” repeated Blunt. “Stay alert, boys,” he advised into his mic, like a coach on the sidelines preparing his players for the unexpected. Then he looked at Heller through the rearview mirror and said, “Don’t hesitate. Just stick her as soon as she steps in.”
Blunt’s bright green eyes moved through the windshield towards the target and then through the passenger side window at the right mirror.
Davis smiled and gestured to Blunt’s minivan taxi. “This one will take you anywhere in the DC, Maryland or Virginia area.”
Blunt relaxed his shoulders and sat back into the seat, attempting to appear calm despite the fact that the butterflies in his belly were starting to take flight. She looked at him appraisingly as she approached and the butterflies began to flutter about. But he managed to give a relaxed appearance while concentrating all of his nervous energy into the gum as his molars began to grind it into a paste. Blunt could see the yellow tint in her irises, which had not been captured in the black and white photographs that were sent to his smartphone a few hours ago. His boss had given him very little information on his target apart from a physical description, despite his inquiries.
His mission was merely to take the young woman into custody covertly and drop her off at the safe house in Hybla Valley. It was the sort of thing that his team considered to be a walk in the park. But Blunt never made assumptions, not about his orders and definitely not about people. No matter how predictable people seemed to be, they were always capable of those unusual moments of deviation. And Blunt endeavored to be prepared for those sort of surprises.
In spite of the lack of severity his men had placed in the operation, he made sure that each of them was carrying their weapons fully loaded and that they were all wearing body armor under their jackets. Twenty-six-year-old Cecelia Anne Clark seemed unassuming enough with her athletic five-foot-eight physique. And it had been confidently determined by the survey team that she was alone. However, Blunt had been taught one too many times in his business to trust the given information, but also to anticipate the unforeseen.
“You ready?” Blunt asked as he looked at his buddy’s reflection in the rearview mirror.
“Ay-ay, Chief,” replied Heller, referring to Blunt’s former Navy rank.
The door slid open and Heller ducked down as far as he could.
“Thank you,” was the soft, raspy response Cecelia gave as she started to step into the minivan taxicab.
Blunt watched her golden eyes dart around the interior. Then suddenly they rested on the third row and narrowed curiously. She turned her head slightly towards Blunt and he could see the muscles in her face tense. Cecelia took a step back onto the curb.
“Mick, get over here,” he whispered into his mic. “She’s backing out.”
“I’m here,” replied Mick Parks as the other rear door slid open.
Cecelia looked at Parks and took one more step backwards. Blunt expected some sort of animated or confused reaction from his civilian target, but she seemed to understand exactly what was going on. And just like Blunt and his unit she also seemed like she didn’t want to draw any attention. She calmly turned and started towards the next taxicab when she was stopped by Davis’s big smile and even bigger frame.
“Is there a problem, Miss?”
“No problem,” she said attempting to go around him.
He sidestepped and blocked her escape.
“Please,” he requested as he put his hand on her shoulder and forcefully turned her back towards the minivan taxicab, “take this one.”
“I’d rather take the next one.”
He met her resistance with more force and shoved her lightly in the direction of the taxicab.
Blunt could see the strain of impatience in Davis’s fake smile and he predicted his next move.
“Ease up, Brad,” he coached.
Davis had only been in Blunt’s unit for a couple of weeks. And within the first few days of training at Quantico, the man’s reputation of being a self-serving coward appeared to be well earned. After a little digging, Blunt discovered that Davis had been responsible for the deaths of two members of SEAL Team Three during a surveillance and reconnaissance mission in Yemen. He was a decent operator. But when it came down to him or his teammates, Blunt suspected that he would likely choose himself.
Next he saw Davis pull out his nine-millimeter pistol from beneath his jacket. The action was too slight for anyone else to notice. But Cecelia did. She didn’t even have to wait for him to poke the tip of the barrel against her ribs before she complied. They were only about five feet from the taxicab, but it felt like they were a mile away as the following set of events rolled out in slow motion.
Cecelia stood on the curb in front of the open sliding door. Her eyes shifted from Heller to Parks and then landed on Blunt’s curious countenance.
“Get in, Ms. Clark,” Blunt demanded as Davis nudged her in the kidney with his pistol.
To their surprise, she stood her ground. There was no fear in her eyes. Only contemplation and anger. And it wasn’t the wild, perplexed anger that one might look for in a captive. It was controlled. Centered.
Cecelia turned towards Davis and looked down at the gun. Blunt followed her eyes and noticed that Davis’s forefinger was extended straight and resting flat on the side of the trigger guard. He assumed that Davis had not engaged the safety. He wanted to scare Cecelia into getting into the car without making a scene, but Blunt suspected that the seemingly innocuous target was not so easily frightened.
SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT BIRD OF PREY