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datatime: 2022-12-03 23:32:41 Author:ApxoSlLG

"We know why we are here. Three of our number were given tasks to further our noble cause, and they have failed us." The voice paused. "The punishment for failure is death."

33 RAUL GONZALEZ SHIVERED IN THE darkness and waited for the bullet to smash into his spine, wishing it would happen before he froze to death in the cool night air. Again he cursed that American woman. By thwarting his Moroccan assignment, she was responsible for him being in this place. His angry ruminations were cut short. A spotlight blinked on, and Gonzalez saw before him a fantastic creature, part human, part beast.

A second circle of light revealed another muscular figure with a different mask, the snarling mouth and blood-red tongue of a jaguar.

33 RAUL GONZALEZ SHIVERED IN THE darkness and waited for the bullet to smash into his spine, wishing it would happen before he froze to death in the cool night air. Again he cursed that American woman. By thwarting his Moroccan assignment, she was responsible for him being in this place. His angry ruminations were cut short. A spotlight blinked on, and Gonzalez saw before him a fantastic creature, part human, part beast.

The voice again. "You will be given a chance to win your lives. The ball game will determine whether you live or die."

Zavala pushed the rental car just to stay in sight of the limo, which flew along well above the speed limit once they were beyond the more heavily congested neighborhoods. They traveled for about an hour, leaving the main highway around dusk to follow a sparsely populated two-lane road. Zavala stayed far back. Before long he saw the flash of brake lights, and the limo disappeared. Zavala slowed until his headlights caught a small plastic reflector nailed to a tree, marking an unpaved road. He kept going to create the illusion he was bound elsewhere, then after a few hundred yards he did a quick U-turn and came back to the reflector.

On one stop he saw a light ahead. Cautiously he walked toward the glow until he could see that it was a lone spotlight on the gate of a high wiremesh fence. He pulled the car off the road and made his way toward the fence under the cover of the woods, stopping at the edge of a swath cleared from the perimeter. The fence was about twice the height of a man and topped by coils of razor wire. A white sign with black lettering was attached to the gate warning trespassers to Keep Out. Guard Dogs Trained to Attack. His instincts had served him, well. Above the sign was a small box which could serve no other purpose than as a security camera.

The voice again. "You will be given a chance to win your lives. The ball game will determine whether you live or die."

In the fleeting second he had framed the white-haired man in the viewfinder Zavala had frozen his likeness on his retinas. He leaned against the cold concrete, still not believing the evidence of his eyes. He had just seen the same' man in Arizona. He was sure of it, despite the clean.shaven face and the tailored suit. Only then the man with Halcon was wearing work clothes and had long hair and a thick white beard. He had a wife, since deceased. And he went by the name of George Wingate.

He switched the car's headlights off as a test and found that he was able to follow the dirt road as long as he kept speed down to a fast walk. He wondered what a big shot like Halcon was doing in the sticks. Maybe he had a hunting lodge. The thick woods quickly enveloped him. Where the trees opened up he could see low craggy hills on either side. He saw no lights ahead, but this didn't surprise him because the road twisted and turned. Not wanting to run into an unpleasant surprise, Zavala stopped every few minutes, got out of the car, and walked ahead, like the point on an infantry patrol; to watch and listen.

A simple job, said the caller from Madrid. Unarmed, unsuspecting scientists. Infiltrate the expedition. Set up the ambush. Roust the victims from their beds, slaughter them like sheep, and quickly bury the bodies without a trace. If it hadn't been for that bitch with the Russian name! Jesus Mary, he'd had sweet plans for her. He would study that slim body hungrily watching as she sat in front of her tent combing hair the color of golden wheat in the afternoon sun. When they talked she was politely rude. Brushing hits off as if he were an ant crawling up one of those slender legs. He was going to enjoy making her beg for her life with the only thing she could offer, that gorgeous body.

A second circle of light revealed another muscular figure with a different mask, the snarling mouth and blood-red tongue of a jaguar.

"Silencio," Gonzalez growled at the hydrofoil captain.

Gonzalez again swore under his breath. Standing in the cold while some idiot puts on a costume pageant! It wasn't fair. All because he'd botched a few jobs. Business had been going to younger killers when the Brotherhood's emissary approached him. He didn't know the group even existed, but they knew everything about him. They wanted him for special assignments, and the aging hit man signed on eagerly. The money was good. The work wasn't difficult. Just like his street days. Wait for a call. Infiltrate and kill. Easy assignments. Like the one in Morocco.

Blink A third figure stood in relief. He wore the death's head with its staring empty eyes and dead grin.

He switched the car's headlights off as a test and found that he was able to follow the dirt road as long as he kept speed down to a fast walk. He wondered what a big shot like Halcon was doing in the sticks. Maybe he had a hunting lodge. The thick woods quickly enveloped him. Where the trees opened up he could see low craggy hills on either side. He saw no lights ahead, but this didn't surprise him because the road twisted and turned. Not wanting to run into an unpleasant surprise, Zavala stopped every few minutes, got out of the car, and walked ahead, like the point on an infantry patrol; to watch and listen.

33 RAUL GONZALEZ SHIVERED IN THE darkness and waited for the bullet to smash into his spine, wishing it would happen before he froze to death in the cool night air. Again he cursed that American woman. By thwarting his Moroccan assignment, she was responsible for him being in this place. His angry ruminations were cut short. A spotlight blinked on, and Gonzalez saw before him a fantastic creature, part human, part beast.

Zavala pushed the rental car just to stay in sight of the limo, which flew along well above the speed limit once they were beyond the more heavily congested neighborhoods. They traveled for about an hour, leaving the main highway around dusk to follow a sparsely populated two-lane road. Zavala stayed far back. Before long he saw the flash of brake lights, and the limo disappeared. Zavala slowed until his headlights caught a small plastic reflector nailed to a tree, marking an unpaved road. He kept going to create the illusion he was bound elsewhere, then after a few hundred yards he did a quick U-turn and came back to the reflector.

The fence was too high to climb, and he had no protection against the wire, or the dogs, but his guess was that the barricade was attached to an alarm. Remembering a low hill a short distance back, he returned to his car and headed away from the fence in reverse so the backup lights wouldn't be seen, then pulled off the road into the bushes. He made his way toward the hill then up its side, no easy task because he had nothing to light his way. He tripped and had to back out of briars a few times but made it to the copse at the hilltop without mishap. He selected a clean-!imbed tree and climbed to the highest branch that would support his weight.

"We know why we are here. Three of our number were given tasks to further our noble cause, and they have failed us." The voice paused. "The punishment for failure is death."

Zavala brought his Nikon to his eye and focused on the tall dark man who exited the elevator and walked with an easy grace to the waiting vehicle. Halcon. He snapped off several shots before Halcon got into the limo, then focused on the driver who was holding the door open for him. The man was wearing a dark suit, and, his white hair was cut military short. He was tall and broad-shouldered, his physique muscularly athletic even though he could have been in his sixties at least. Zavala got off a single shot before the white-haired man swept the garage with his eyes as if he had heard the quiet whirr of the motor drive. Zavala melted into the shadows and didn't dare breathe until the car door slammed and the limo moved off.

They'd been ordered to remain silent or be shot. Gonzalez wasn't about to be killed because a sniveling coward couldn't keep his mouth shut. The man standing quietly on his right was more to his liking. Lean and snake-like in his movements, an assassin like himself. At another time Gonzalez would have talked shop with the man about the murderous skills he learned as a skinny sore-plagued orphan in the squalid alleys of Buenos Aires, where he'd dodged death squads hired by local businessmen. The businessmen considered the street boys as vermin. Gonzalez was barely a teenager when he approached the shopkeepers and offered to infiltrate the packs he knew so well and quietly dispatch his sleeping peers with knife or garrote. As he grew older he obtained bigger jobs. Competitors. Politicians. Unfaithful spouses. All sent to an early grave. Gun. Knife. Torture. Gonzalez earned a reputation for delivering exactly what his employer wanted.

The voice again. "You will be given a chance to win your lives. The ball game will determine whether you live or die."

"Madre mia." The pitiful whimper came from off to Gonzalez's left.

A voice came out of the night, amplified by loudspeakers. "Greetings, my brothers," it said in aristocratic Castilian Spanish.

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