Panama City, 2008
The Huey Venom helicopter cruised low over the city, veering between buildings in a manner that made my stomach churn. I put one hand to my gut and held on for dear life with the other. Outside was Panama City, a place we weren’t supposed to be. I focused on the chrome and steel buildings as we passed through just below radar. The fact anyone looking out the window would see a black unmarked American helicopter didn’t seem to bother the genius who’d come up with this idiotic plan.
I felt a tap on the back of my head and warm breath in my ear. “Remind me why we’re doing this again?”
I glanced at Aria. She was almost my height, with brown hair cut short except for a forelock that stuck out beneath the brow of her helmet. She had a matchstick hanging from her lips and a shit-eating grin I’d grown to love.
“I think mostly it’s the fame and the money,” I replied. She knew my sarcasm well. We don’t even get hazard pay and even the women we bunk with have no idea what we do.
She snickered and leaned out the cargo door to look at traffic moving on the darkened street below. “What the hell is Conway thinking? This is about as covert as dropping a nuke on Nagasaki.”
“No one ever said Conway was bright. Our job is to make his crazy idea work,” Mitch snapped. “You ready, Magik?”
Brandy “Mitch” Mitchell. Our fearless leader, at least on this gig. She’d been promoted out of an actual logistics unit and given to our ragtag little band, because that’s military intelligence. She was a decent leader but could count her combat drops on one hand. I didn’t have time to babysit a rookie, which was why her ass was staying with Kiriel on the Venom. She was short, with Military appropriate brown hair and a face that looked like old leather.
“This is a stupid idea, top, even for us,” I said.
Mitch smiled. “That’s why you’re going in first.”
I sighed and checked my gear. Black uniform with no markings, pants tucked into boots, seventeen inch short swords across my back, Beretta M9 with suppressor on my right thigh and an H&K MP7 with suppressor and laser sight hung from a sling just below my breasts.
“I hate this job.”
“SK, your easiest way into the building is going to be the−” Kiriel began.
“Just take me to the middle of the southern side, Kiri,” I interrupted.
Mitch looked concerned. “That’s not the plan.”
I shrugged and checked the carabiners holding the bungee cord to my harness. It was tight enough to do the job but would detach with a simple tug.
“My ass, my plan,” I said.
The helicopter veered sharply and I leaned out again, swallowing bile. I hate heights and what I was about to do ranked in the top ten stupid things I’d done this year. When we swung around the southern side I kicked the end of the cord out of the helicopter. It began to uncoil and I jumped out after it, letting the cord tighten behind me. When I felt my fall slowing I raised my weapon and squeezed off a burst that shattered the windows on the sixth floor.
“NBC news is going to love this,” Aria said in my radio. I ignored her, I was trying not to throw up.
The helicopter’s momentum carried me and the cord through the shattered glass. I landed and pulled the release, sending the bungee back through the window into the darkness. I was in a hallway lit by emergency lights. The floor was a ghastly grey, red and blue carpet tile, the walls were some kind of wood panel that was cheaper than it looked. There was no sign of the targets.
“Whiskey, moving west,” I muttered.
“Roger,” another voice said in my ear. “Targets are on the floor above, thermo suggests they know you’re there. They’re spreading to the western stairwell.”
That was Devon. Everyone else called her Radar, her voice had guided us through seventeen successful off-book ops and helped us escape after a misunderstanding with French police. We’d never seen her face, we didn’t even know where she was.
“Won’t that be fun,” I said.
At the end of the hall was the door into the stairwell. I opened it with my toe and listened. I could hear the sound of boots on the stairs, trying to be quiet. I rolled a smoke grenade through the gap and wedged my knife, a Marine issue K-Bar, in the latch, holding it open. The smoke began to fill the stairs, I could see it through the small window in the door and I heard the first cries of alarm. As soon as the sounds began to climb, I entered. The smoke burned my eyes but I’d done this enough times I could ignore the tears. I hurried after the retreating feet, letting them camouflage the sound of my own boots ringing on the stairs. At the top I joined a small group of men, just another face in the crowd trying to clear the smoke from my lungs. I feigned choking and took stock of my surroundings. For once intel had been spot on. The kidnappers had taken the entire floor and were using the lobby as a staging area. Desks and tables had been formed into a square providing shelter for a makeshift camp, while the exists were blocked with more furniture. Two guards stood outside an office on the far side, which meant the people I was here to rescue were inside.
Someone nearby said something in Spanish. My Spanish is terrible, but I understood enough to know he was asking who I was. I continued coughing and waved him off. He asked again and I shot him in the face. The explosion of blood and brains caught his comrades by surprise and I killed four more before they even realized what was happening. I kicked a fifth in the groin and shot a sixth in the heart at point blank range, leaving only the two by the door able to fight.
“Drop your weapons, put your hands on your head and say hello to Piedras Gordas prison,” I said.
I’ll give my teammates this, they know how to make an entrance. Four windows exploded inward and Aria, Grace, Bambi and Knick-Knack crashed through, weapons ready. Bambi leveled her FN-FAL at the men and said “Por Favor” in a voice that would make Eartha Kitt jealous.
It was over in a matter of seconds and a hail of bullets. Both men raised their rifles and were turned into two plates of raw hamburger dressed in blood and lead. When they were down, I checked the door and leaned inside. The four hostages sat on the floor, wrists tied behind them. A woman I didn’t recognize looked up and asked, “who are you?”
I couldn’t resist. I lowered my mask and smiled. “I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you.”