Excerpt - Chapter One
Kensington Publishing Corporation
Kalawana, Sri Lanka
He looked like Genghis Kahn in a Corona tee shirt and khaki
Dark hair tied back and a stringy gray Manchu beard, Tashfin
Rohki was as ugly as he was lethal.
But then, you couldn't tell the black hats from the white, anyway.
The fact that Sam Wyatt held a stolen Israeli Galil, and smoked
a thin Cuban cigar was just for openers. In the small clearing near
the river basin about twenty yards ahead of him, Riley and Max were
the ones in the hot seat, working a deal to retrieve rough cut conflict
diamonds that had found their way into the hands of the Tigers.
The feline kind would have been easier to deal with, Sam thought,
but the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had been waging a terrorist
campaign in Sri Lanka. The bastards wanted to create a separate
Damn selfish of them.
And down river, Sri Lankan Army troops waited for some payback.
But not till Dragon One commandeered the stones.
From under his cowboy hat, Sam squinted through the soft curl of
smoke as Riley bartered like a vender in the Souk. He had to hand
it to the man, his Irish blarney was in full throttle tonight. The
moonlit prehistoric look of the jungle and a half dozen grungy men
surrounded by torches was a stark contrast to Riley and Max, the
well-dressed diamond smugglers.
Sam swatted at a mosquito buzzing at his head. The motion drew
the attention of the men circling the group. Weapons lifted a little
higher, eyes narrowed. Sam smirked and gave his back the fuck
off stare. Paranoid pigs. Anyone who'd kill innocent farmers
to make a point no one got wasn't worth spit to him. A bullet, sure.
He had a full clip. Hot and ready.
He didn't mind being the hired muscle tonight, well aware of his
short fuse, mostly galvanized by stupid people. Ground level made
Sam nervous. It took away control. In a jet, a chopper, he steered,
attacked. Laid down cover fire. The enemy was a blip on a radar,
a target to take out.
Now the targets surrounded his buddies dealing diamonds in the
He listened, tried to translate, but his Hindi sucked and the distance
distorted the rapid chatter. All Sam got out of the bits and pieces
were there was a better price to be had somewhere else. Someone
always had deeper pockets than the last guy, and the Tigers intentions
were simple. Sell the stones, get cash, buy some nasty ass weapons,
and hurt their own people.
Riley poured the stones back into the leather pouch and doubled
his offer. Client isn't going to like that. Their assignment was
two fold: get back the stones before they were faceted cut and flooded
the diamond market, and second, find out what those rough diamonds
were going to buy and stop it. Considering the company they were
keeping, weapons were a definite. The proceeds could buy anything
from explosives to shoulder mounted rocket launchers.
It'd taken weeks to track this cache of stones from the Congo.
They'd changed hands so many times it was hard to keep up with this
new crop of black hats. Sam's idea of shoot first, ask later was
nixed by the team, but then, they still hadn't gotten a lead on
the weapons and who had them to sell.
Insects hummed beneath the brim of his hat, annoying him. I must
need a shower, he thought, sick of the jungle. All he'd done in
the past weeks was inhale the little critters with every breath.
He adjusted the shoulder strap of the assault rifle, less for comfort
and more for checking his aim.
The conversation grew suddenly animated, and Sam could tell Riley
was pissed. He and the Rohki were in each other's face. Not good.
Yet Sam kept a watch on the men behind their leader. Specifically,
when a short fellow with an old AK-47 took a step back. His expression
didn't change, that's what alerted Sam. When you went backwards,
you looked where you were going. This guy didn't.
Sam eased back, then rolled around the tree to his right, intent
on canvassing the area and coming up behind the guy. Something was
up. He cleared his throat, the sound he knew, vibrating in Max's
earpiece. Max touched his shirt collar, indicating he'd heard. Riley
caught the gesture and mimicked.
No one paid attention to him, all focus on Riley, the rebel leader,
and how much money they'd get for the rocks. Sam didn't give a crap.
It wasn't his cash, but letting this whole thing go belly up because
of one chicken shit wasn't in the cards.
"Outlaw," came through his earpiece. "What the hell
are you doing?" Logan.
Sam touched the throat mike under the bandana. "Hunting."
Logan was downwind near the river with a Sri Lankan army commander
who was no more than twenty-two. The Tigers kept killing the more
experienced officers, hoping to create havoc in the ranks for a
coup. Bad move. Loyal and righteous, it just made them all more
Sam continued through the Sinharaja rainforest, the air so heavy
it soddened his shirt, produced rivulets of sweat down his spine.
His boots sunk into the decaying underbrush, the musty odor rising
up like fog. It was an island, for crissake, where was the breeze?
He paused, and through the trees and vines, barely made out the
little man. He wouldn't be so interested if this wasn't the guy
they'd used to set up this meeting. Where are you going, little
traitor, he thought, taking several more steps, his gaze flicking
to keep a bead on his buddies, then to catch movement, progression.
The little guy was almost out of sight.
The diamond discussion grew heated and Sam turned sharply, taking
aim. It faltered when beneath his feet, the ground vibrated, a humming
that climbed through his body and shook his teeth. Earthquake? The
ground wasn't rolling, but the vibration grew with intensity, like
a pot about to boil over. His gaze jerked to the little guy, then
back to his team. They felt it too. The runt was moving faster.
Sam made a decision and followed.
He'd taken three steps when the explosion ripped through the darkness.
Men shouted accusations, scattered. Muzzle flash lit up the darkness
with weapons fire. Sam turned back to his teammates, offering cover
fire and heading to the chopper, their only escape.
"Cutter? What the hell is going on?"
"Bug out! We gotta bug out! Holy shit. Get this thing in the
Sam flung his weapon over his shoulder, batting away the underbrush
as he ran full out. A fifty yards ahead, his newly souped chopper
sat on a stone slab near the river like a bird perched on the edge
of a cliff. "What's the deal? Turn the engine over." Logan
was a field surgeon and an Ex-Navy Seal. He had skills aplenty,
but flying wasn't one of them.
Sam burst out into the open, and froze, his eyes going wide. A
wall of water thirty feet high rolled toward him, toward the chopper.
Sam bolted, trying to outdistance the rush.
The Kukule Ganga dam. Shitty timing.
Logan was tossing in gear, and trying to raise a warning to Riley
and Max. Sam threw himself into the seat, flipped switches, and
turned over the engine. The rotor blades were slow to move.
The water wasn't.
"Come on, sweet heart, wake up, wake up." He gave it
some juice, risking stalling the engines. The blades gained speed.
Out of the corner of his vision, the water swiped the land, taking
resort homes, docks, and Jesus, people. Soldiers not caught in the
dam break ran to the hills. Water rushed over the riverbanks, covering
the chopper's landing gear and sliding in over Sam's boots.
"Christ Sam, get it up!"
"She female, she needs foreplay."
"She's gonna get us killed! Riley, Max!" Logan shouted
into his mike.
Then the blades hit the sweet spot and Sam glanced to his left
in time to see the brunt of the water coming right at him. He pulled
the stick, lifting the chopper off the stone in a sharp vertical
climb. "Maybe you should hold on."
The water rushed beneath them, splashing the windscreen, and he
banked left, speeding toward Riley and Max's last location.
Sam worked on his helmet with one hand, looking at the ground.
The water was moving fast, nothing to stop it.
"That was too close," Logan said and Sam glanced down.
The spot where they'd stood was engulfed in water, trees torn out
of the earth and shooting like rockets down river toward the basin.
"You see them?"
Flood lights on, Sam went lower, skimming the water, reducing speed,
but the wind sheers in the valley rocked and bumped the chopper.
But the cockpit was his comfort zone and he wore the chopper like
his favorite shirt. He glanced at small GPS screen marking Max and
Riley with a yellow dot. "Should be coming up on Max any second."
"Riley, Max, come in! Answer me, God dammit!" Logan pressed
the headphones tighter, then shook his head.
Then the GPS area came into view. Rapids of fast moving water,
wood, even concrete from the shattered dam.
Logan rushed to put on a harness, hook up. "Where the hell
"Got Max, nine o'clock." Sam steered toward the area.
"I see him." Logan already had the yoke snapped to the
"Wait till I get over him. Can't chance debris hooking that
yoke and taking us for a ride."
"Hurry, man, he's hanging onto the top of a tree and it's
not going to be there much longer."
Sam couldn't look. He had to use the GPS marker as a judging point.
Sam's gaze searched the green grid. "His marker's gone."
Oh man. He swooped low and daring, over the waves of water breaking
down the valley like strip mining. Land broke away, trees tumbled
into the current, twisting up, spinning, nearly colliding the underbelly
of the chopper. Sam jerked the stick and the chopper rose short
and fast like a bucking bronco.
Logan let off a string of curse, gripped the straps, then poised
at the door of the chopper, his feet braced wide. "Thirty yards,
there he is. He looks okay."
Sam flipped the switch and the cable whined, lowering the yoke
toward the water.
"Negative, the trees are spiking! They'll take us out."
He heard the rush of the water all around him as it battered anything
stationary. Keeping his attention on the terrain, Sam couldn't see
anything in the dark except the glare of his searchlights.
Logan directed him. Below, Max cling to what was left of a tree,
the charge of water rushing past in a hard flow of jungle debris,
old farm equipment, and corpses. Sam couldn't save them all, but
he wasn't letting his buddies die.
Max hooked his knee over a broken tree limbs, his body twisted
to reach out to the yoke. The chopper jolted and Sam cursed, the
hot wind sheer driving it upward. He struggled to get back in position
and could hear Logan's voice inside his helmet.
"God damn wind. Okay, okay, right there. Shit, that's it for
Sam had to get lower. The water splashed in thick foaming waves.
One clip by debris and they were toast.
"Good, good. That's it. Come on Sam."
"This thing isn't amphibious, dammit."
Below, Max strained to reach, but the yoke swung like a pendulum,
weighted and heavy.
"Shit, missed him, too far to the right."
"I'm coming in again, get ready." Sam made another pass
and dipped the chopper as low as he could, hovering. "Logan,
get him the fuck up, it's coming!" He could see it, another
roll of water and matchstick trees.
"We got him. Up, up! Go! Go!"
Sam hit the cable switch, then pulled the stick back, lifting the
chopper out of the water's path. A huge wave crested, sped past
as the cable whined at the swinging strain, rolling in and bringing
Max to the edge of the chopper.
Feet braced on the door ledge, Logan grabbed what was left of Max's
shirt and yanked hard, pulling him inside. "He's in, he's in."
Sam glanced back. Max's face was shredded with cuts on one side,
and his finger looked dislocated. "Where's Riley?"
"Down river," Max gasped. "We got separated at the
first blast of water." The dismal look on his face said he
didn't think he'd survived.
Sam was having none of that shit. He hit the thruster and the redesigned
chopper shot over the water like a first-strike launch.
Logan unhooked the harness, shoved a cloth at Max, then took the
night vision binoculars to search for Riley.
Sam swooped low and slow, hovering, leaning for a visual, passing
the search lamp back and forth. Looks like bubbling stew.
All they saw was what the moon reflected. He couldn't be this far
out, he thought. Debris slid weightlessly, roofs, tractors, entire
walls off buildings bobbed on the surface. Then he saw him. "There,
Riley rolled with the flow of mud and water. His dark clothing
and the mud hid him, only the flesh of his face and hands visible
and popped through the surface. Like a leaf, nothing stopped him,
nothing held him above water.
Logan directed Sam into position over Riley, Max on his knees at
the door of the helicopter. "He stopped!"
Sam shined the spot light. Riley was like a rag caught on a roof
top, his body flung back, water rushing over him. Hold on buddy,
posse's coming. Sam dipped the chopper nose down, the wind making
it rock. Logan put on the helmet and clipped the harness. At a thumbs
up, Sam hit the cable switch. Logan lowered over the side.
"Christ," Max said. "He doesn't look good."
A chill tightened his skin.
"Hold it steady."
But the control stick jumped in his grip, the wind trying to push
them out of the sky. Sam knew if he didn't get some altitude under
them, they'd go down.
"Lower, Sam, lower."
Max gripped the edge, gave him a play by play. "He needs to
get some footing to strap him in."
Jesus, they weren't going to make it, Sam thought, ears tuned to
the engines, the beat of the blades like it was a part of his body.
He lowered another foot, his gaze flicking to the surface he could
see through the clear nose windows, the mirrors showing the flow
behind them. The water just kept coming.
"Logan's down, keep it steady."
Sam's muscles strained on the stick, the chopper like a living
being wanting to rest. He made to land on the water, gear up, knowing
that was his only choice to get close enough.
"He's got him! They're locked. Man, he's bleeding!"
Sam's stomached clenched. He couldn't think of Riley dead. He refused
to let it sink into his brain. He smacked the button and the cable
rolled in. Instantly he lifted higher, fighting the hot air meeting
cold water beneath the chopper in the valley. The weight of the
two men made the small craft unstable. The wench groaned under the
Max reached for Riley, pulling him in before Logan. The pair fell
on the floor of the chopper and Sam went turbo, speeding toward
"Is he breathing?" Sam said.
They said nothing
"Is he breathing!"
"I don't know!" Logan yanked off the helmet and grabbed
his medical gear strapped to the hull. Max rolled Riley over and
water spurted out his mouth. But he didn't choke, didn't stir.
Sam radioed Sebastian at Dragon Six. "Coonass, all aboard.
We need an ambulance. We have wounded."
Logan pressed a stethoscope to his chest. "He's alive, barely."
Then he put a mask over Riley's face, turned on the small oxygen
tank, moving it into his lungs and brain as Max ripped open his
shirt. "He's been shot, those bastards!"
Sam almost looked, yet kept his attention on getting them beyond
the broken dam and land. The force of water from the country's major
water sources was still ripping trees out by the roots and tossing
them like kindling.
Logan slapped a pad over the wound, and Max held pressure while
Logan fought to keep Riley alive. The chopper shot over the land
like a bullet in the sky, sleek and black. She was state of the
art and all new, since some piece of shit a year ago loaded his
last chopper down with C-4 and blew his baby to hell. He hadn't
worked the kinks out yet. Now was the time.
"Hold on, we're coming in hot and fast." Sam banked hard
to the left, and quickly set the helicopter on the flight deck near
Dragon Six. The giant black cargo plane was the only craft out this
Sebastian was waiting with a body board, and rushed forward. Behind
him, an ambulance barreled down the narrow landing strip toward
the jet. Sam unhooked his helmet mics and rolled from the cockpit
to the rear, helping them lift Riley onto the board.
"He looks bad," Sam said.
"He's unconscious," Logan said. "Dislocated shoulder,
cracked ribs, a bullet hole, but I think he's slipped into a coma."
For a second, they all went still. Logan checked his vitals as
the ambulance halted just beyond the rotors. Sam worked off his
helmet, spitting mad and helpless as they put Riley and Max in the
ambulance and with Logan, then sped off.
The blades were still moving as he dropped onto the edge at the
open door and cradled his head. My fault, he thought.
Thirteen hours later
Rohki breathed slowly, the pain jolting up his chest as he
limped along the walkway outside the airport. People jolted him
and he clenched his teeth and smothered the urge to retaliate. Attention
was not what he wanted. He felt the strong fingers circle his arm
an instant before the gun at his back. The jerk of his body drove
a surge of pain up his spine again as he looked up, staring into
strange black eyes surrounded by swarthy skin. Zidane. Around them,
Taxi's took on fares, airport guards chatted instead of watching
their posts, tourist loaded with baggage rushed to catch flights
out of the flood torn area. No one paid them any attention as the
tall man ushered him away from the crowd.
He jerked his arm free, then regretted the move.
Zidane only gestured to the small jet on the runway, guarded, engines
Together they descended the short ramp and walked toward the plane.
Heat rose in waves, blistering his scalp. As he mounted the first
step, he felt underdressed for such a luxurious jet. Then he was
grabbed back, a curved knife suddenly near his eye.
"Of course, but they aren't cut."
That didn't seem to concern Zidane and he warned, "You have
already tried to sell them once."
Rohki paled. How had he known?
"There's no turning back. Betray him and I will see your eyes
in a jar." He released him, pushed him up the steps.
Rohki gave up on fighting his bruised body. A short man with Slavic
features stood at the top of the gangway.
"Search him, thoroughly," Zidane said.
The Slav inclined his head and he stepped inside. He wasn't underdressed.
While the outside of the craft was pristine, the inside was a dark
hole, only a few seats. A heavy curtain separated the rear section.
He started to sit when two more men approached him, and without
speaking, yanked him off his feet and tore off his clothes. He stood
naked inside the jet, humiliated with the body search. He stared
straight ahead. After what he went through last night, this was
One man wore an amused smile as he grabbed his dick, lifted, and
cut the leather sack laced under his balls, nicking him.
"So that's your preference, eh?"
The man sneered, spilled the contents into his palm, rolling the
large stones. The other threw his clothes at him. Rohki dressed
as the man spoke to Zidane in an unfamiliar dialect. Congolese?
Zidane's dark gaze flicked up, pinning him. They couldn't know
one was missing, Rohki thought, staring back. He held his hand out
for the sack and stones. The guard eyed him, refilled the pouch
and returned it. Rohki tucked them into his pocket, wondering when
he could conceal them again before the final stop, and if the buyer
was powerful enough to skirt customs there too.
The doors closed, the engines whined louder as he lowered gingerly
into a seat and exhaled. The aircraft moved, shaking everything
inside. He glanced around, pausing on the shifting curtain. Shock
jumped through him when he saw shackles and chains anchored to the
And they were occupied.
Sam stood outside the ICU unit in Colombo, staring through the
Logan had set Riley's shoulder, removed the bullet, and stabilized
him as best he could. Then Sebastian ordered Riley on the jet and
with several locals who needed intensive care in Colombo. The Teams
cargo plane, Dragon Six lifted off as a hospital jet. Surgery had
taken hours and Logan assisted the government surgeons. Riley hadn't
A coma. Logan tried to convinced him it was the body's way of healing
itself, but seeing him hooked up to tubes, with a machine pushing
air into his weak perforated lung, looked doubtful.
Sam wanted him to just wake the hell up.
The vigil felt weakened without the missing members. Dragon One's
leader Killian Moore was off with on his honeymoon, and typical
of his former CIA wife, they didn't tell anyone where they were.
Sam didn't blame them, if this was the news waiting for them.
He didn't see Max nudge Sebastian, motion to him. The man stepped
out and closed the door. Sam continued to stare through the glass.
"He survived Belfast, he'll be fine."
"Sure, he's just itchin' to rip off those wires and go dancing."
Sebastian Fontenot was silent for a moment. "It's not your
Sam tensed, Sebastian voicing his feelings. "I went after
the runt, if I'd stuck closer--"
"--the dam would have broken anyway."
"I was his back up. I left it unguarded."
"He didn't get shot in the back, either. That hit was at point
blank range. Intentional. And if the dam hadn't caved, you and Max
Sam's lips tightened and he fingered his hat, then suddenly turned
"Where are you going?"
Sam didn't break stride. "To find a bar, or the bastard that
shot him. Which ever comes first."
"He's miles away or probably dead."
"He better hope so."
Sebastian muttered a curse. "Wait, take this."
Sam stopped, half turned, eyeing Sebastian's approach. He held
out a palm sized grayish white rock. "Riley's fingers were
locked around this so tightly it cut into his hand."
Sam plucked it, holding it up. Prisms of light shot through it.
A conflict diamond. Uncut, blood stained.
And from the look of it, the biggest puppy the market had seen
in a while.
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