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Excerpt for The Lavender House by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



The Lavender House



The Lavender House

Copyright 2018, Frank Hajek

ISBN 9780463806999

This is a work of fiction. Characters, companies, organizations, and agencies in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously without any intent to describe their actual conduct.

Published by Frank Hajek at Smashwords

Distributed by Smashwords

Smashwords Edition, License Notes



Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.



Other books by Frank Hajek

The Shepherds of Asia

Starlight Serenade

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The Operative's Portrait

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Lightning and Other Thrills

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A Day Waits for No One

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A Memory of Love





Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE - The Man's House

CHAPTER TWO - And Who Might Live Here?

CHAPTER THREE - And Who Might Torment Our Hero?

CHAPTER FOUR - The Way of Flesh And Steel

CHAPTER FIVE - A Quiet Country Life

CHAPTER SIX - Connecting Some Dots

CHAPTER SEVEN - A Jungle Airstrip Party

CHAPTER EIGHT - A Different View of the World

CHAPTER NINE - Thunder in the Jungle

CHAPTER TEN - The Assault on Esmeralda

CHAPTER ELEVEN - Thunder and Ruin

CHAPTER TWELVE - The Elusive Mr. Knox

CHAPTER THIRTEEN - A House in the Mountains

CHAPTER FORTEEN - Details without Meaning

CHAPTER FIFTEEN - Off to the Keys

CHAPTER SIXTEEN - The Boat

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - Airlift and Sea Crossing

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - The Government Angle

CHAPTER NINETEEN - Trekking Upriver

CHAPTER TWENTY - A Past that Takes Shape

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE - Powerful and Unpardonable

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO - A True History of Things

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE - A Story of Loyalty

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR - The Revelation

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE - The More We Know...

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX - Things Assemble in Texas

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN - The Look of Things Now

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT - The Gathering Storm

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE - Tracking My Brother

CHAPTER THIRTY - A Courtroom in Texas

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE - A Courtroom Drama

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO - A Verdict at Last

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE - The Future of a Family

EPILOGUE

THE AUTHOR

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

THANK YOU






CHAPTER ONE

The Man's House



The house lay somewhere near the middle of a twelve thousand acre lavender farm growing happily in the South of France. It's believed to be a few dozen miles from the southern coast. That's as close as I can place it because the exact location is really unknown. I understand that we should be able to locate such a structure easily with all the satellite imagery now available, but it remains a mystery for reasons you will soon comprehend.

Such a house could only be the property of a singular man, of great resources, who was driven by an immense need for privacy. The reasons he might argue were simple and innocent, but for most of his detractors, they believed there had to be something criminal, something evil in such an elaborate castle of isolation. This too you will come to understand when the time is right.

The structure was a marvel of technology. Many of it's features were based in modern construction techniques that would have been impossible fifty years earlier. Even the description presented here is a matter of conjecture, and the details remain a conglomeration of many reports extracted from workers and tradesmen brought in to complete the edifice. Whoever designed and managed the project remains silent. Now, to the structure...

Imagine a disk some seventy feet across shaped like the classic spacecraft and fully thirty feet high at its center. Its outer walls are three feet thick, massively reinforced with a new form of metal seven times stronger than ordinary steel; the uniting concrete being a proprietary formulation having strength and flexibility far beyond anything known to the common mason, or even to the high rise specialists of the trade.

Now, set this structure forty feet above the surrounding landscape supported by a circular column thirty feet in diameter. The pillar, being a one hundred foot tube fabricated from the same steel and concrete used above, seamlessly joins the disk creating a mushroom anchored deep into a well, one hundred twenty feet across and forty feet deep. This well formed a moat-like crater beneath the house discouraging any adventurers from trying to climb to the residence. The column continued another thirty feet into the hard earth anchoring the structure, while an internal pump installed in its core provided a deep water supply. Specially laid electrical connections were brought in from seven miles away completing the necessary services for the dwelling. All this would be spectacular enough but it was only the beginning of the wonders this abode bestowed.

Access to the house was provided by a section of the lower fortification that dropped down, clamshell style, and unfolded a very intricate stairway that reached out to a landing on the rim of the crater. Its chrome steel construction was light, yet strong, and the mechanism complex and elaborate. It was activated by a remote signal using a device unique to the structure that combined both laser and infrared digital communication to signal its control system. Having entered the home the owner could de-activate the entire operating system with a simple circuit breaker. Additionally the clamshell door, when closed, was locked in place with an eight bolt Diebold apparatus that made breaking into the house impossible. There are more wonders to come...

The dwelling's water was brought into the lower portion of the house (for it was divided into two levels) via a conduit piped up from the well below. It was first filtered, then treated and stored in one of the six cast sections within the lower level. The wedge shaped areas were not equal but sized according to need and all constructed of the same steel and concrete method used on the exterior walls. Each section was part of the continuous concrete pour that created the entire structure over a six-day period. When the mortar cured all these lower holding areas were coated in tar and then lined with a half-inch thick polymer barrier making them watertight. Additionally, the electrical, storage and computer systems sections were fitted with air venting networks that eliminated humidity. These were piped through ducts located at the center conduit and vented to the exterior through fortified portals around the outer rim of the structure.

The upper areas of the dwelling were sheathed in solar panels of a unique construction. Flexible, yet tough they were capable of providing all the electrical power required to run the home and its equipment, in the event of a power supply interruption. The water tank held over twelve hundred gallons of fresh, purified water providing a sixty day supply if the well source were shut down; and the waste disposal facility enabled a space station recycling apparatus that could reclaim enough water to extend that period to four months. In short, the house was self sufficient and capable of withstanding a long siege.

Castle defense was another well thought out objective. If for any reason the home were brought under attack, built in defensive measures provided a hefty response. Most of the details are only speculation, but it was thought the building housed a significant number of automated weapons commanded by the principal computer system and controlled using both visual and infrared sensors to delineate whichever targets were deemed threatening. This system could be switched on by the resident, if needed, or might automatically engage when the building was under assault. Again, the details are based on hearsay gathered from those few workers who would speak of it but no conclusive proof had ever been offered and certainly no inspection of the premises ever carried out.

At its very top the home had been fitted with an escape. The vehicle had been created, and perfected by a team of six graduates from MIT, Oxford, Harvard, Cornell and Vassar. All of them graduating Summa Cum Laude. The Lavender Home's owner had given each a $1,000,000 payment, covered all expenses for working space, materials and costs and in exchange required each to remain silent about the project as his vehicle took shape. By agreement, they could not promote, sell or reproduce any other copies of their final design for four years. After that period they would be free to do as they desired, and looked to make a fortune from the design. His pitch had been that they could have a four-year vacation while young and full of energy, work on anything else if they liked and later reap huge rewards for their work. The design was so far beyond anything else in the industry that they knew it would still be a winner in four years. His ironclad rule was secrecy for the agreed period. The result was stunning.

Eight pods circle a two-seat cockpit, each housing two electric motors with 16-inch props at top and bottom rotating in counter directions. This provides motion stability. The bottom and sides of the passenger capsule, while constructed of ultra light carbon fiber and sheathed with a ballistic honeycomb capable of withstanding a .50 caliber round, remained light and strong. The upper canopy is made of the same material used in the Bell AH-1 Cobra, and in fact was produced by the same manufacturer. Its protective specs are similar to those of the passenger shell.

The on board computer system is designed to fly the aircraft pilot free, and in fact the owner had it pre-programmed to automatically commute to a designated location some 130 kilometers north, north-west of the house. Two JATO solid propellant rocket engines, one on each side of the capsule, would fire when the launch button was pressed. A protective dome above the vehicle would blast clear of the launch pad punching a hole in the digital 'cloak', then the rockets would fire much like an ejector seat in a jet aircraft. The rockets would carry the craft up to about 2000 feet, at which point the computer would take over, flying the vehicle off at 200 kilometers per hour or better. Much thinking had gone into the programming of the autopilot, as their patron wanted the craft to be able to get him to safety, even if he was hurt or incapacitated.

So many ways to get to freedom.

The house had a final protection unimaginable just a few years earlier. The same design team used to create the escape vehicle 'aero taxi' suggested it when they began to work with the Israeli semi conductor chips the owner had secured for them through a personal connection. The chips, used for incredibly advanced defense systems protecting Jerusalem, were super conductors of such advanced architecture that they were years beyond anything being produced by Intel. The team marveled at their intricacy but were more stunned with their computational capability. The result was the incredible 'cloak'.

Imagine a cloth made of the thinnest clear monofilament line as light as cheesecloth and transparent. Now place a microscopic petal structure at each junction, where the threads cross. The petal consists of six micro pixel displays with a tiny micro camera at its center much like the stigma in a real flower. The entire array being less than a centimeter in diameter these tiny units are combined to create a blanket, interconnected and coordinated by two massive workstation computers located within the house. This was all made possible by the enormous power of those special Israeli super conductors, while a second pair of workstations acted as a backup forestalling any interruption to the system. The purpose was brilliantly simple.

At any point on the exterior of the house the 'cloak' had a micro camera pointing directly out at whatever was there. Ground, flowers, trees, clouds; whatever was there was being video captured. Now, at a point directly 180º from that camera, essentially the opposite side of the structure, the pixel displays there would exhibit what that camera was seeing, in real time and continuously. Multiply that by over one million camera points and their display counterparts at 180º position and you had... invisibility. When the system was operating you could view the building from any angle and all you might see was the view from the exact opposite side of the structure. Look up and you would see clouds or an aircraft flying by, look west and you would see the tree line windbreak on that side of the home, look down as from an aircraft and you would see the earth below or the lavender flowers growing in the fields there. It was the realization of an age-old dream and it worked, all made possible by immense computational power.

And so, the dream home of a very wealthy recluse stood in a field of lavender, somewhere in France, invisible, nearly impenetrable and unknown. Questions must be asked... why? What could go wrong? And there in resides our story.



CHAPTER TWO

And Who Might Live Here?



He was known as Adrian Knox. He stood at five foot nine and a half inches and would always emphasize that half-inch, probably driven by some Freudian inadequacy buried deep within his foundations. In truth Knox was an average man living out an exceptional life. He was never the brightest in his class, never the fastest, never the toughest and certainly not the largest. No, he was just riding the crest of a wave caught at the proper time followed by uncommon luck on more than one occasion. Adrian had hit the jackpot, again and again and again.

His first great breakthrough came when, through the intervention of a mentor, he acquired a small condo in Hawaii. Purchased at auction, it had been the property of a rather unusual character employed as a deckhand in the merchant marine. Being at sea for months at a time, none of his neighbors paid close attention to his comings and goings. This resulted in a rather long decomposition period when he died unexpectedly from a heart attack in his own living room. After a dozen days the smell began to creep into other connected apartments and finally complaints led to an investigation and the finding of a wholly ripe corpse. The stench had permeated everything within the space and finding another interested buyer became impossible.

When, some months later the bank foreclosed, the unit was left unkempt and unattended. A minor water leak sprung out of the automatic icemaker in the now unpowered refrigerator; leading to a saturated carpet, mold everywhere and an additional blend to the aroma that turned away every would-be buyer the bank could find. Disaster would be the proper word. When this real estate fiasco finally came to auction Knox was able to purchase it with ten percent down on a one hundred and ten thousand dollar bid. Two years later he would sell the property for over four hundred thousand and the aggregation of wealth began like a forest fire in a dry valley.

When Johnson & Johnson suffered the devastating Tylenol poisonings in September of nineteen eighty-two Adrian immediately recognized a bonanza in the market. The company was strong and honorable (in fact they created guidelines for packaging and recall now used throughout industry) and Knox knew their stock's disastrous plunge would soon make a comeback, and perhaps even grow the brand. To his surprise it took over a year to fully recover but his fifty thousand dollar investment at the bottom returned one million one hundred thousand just thirteen months later... the first of his 'savant-like' market investments.

There were others to be sure, but the next killing he made on the market was in tech stocks. Apple, to be specific. He bought into the company at a bit over three dollars a share in late two thousand three. Not needing liquid cash Adrian sat on the purchase for over ten years until he decided to sell in two thousand fifteen at one hundred thirty-eight. His original two hundred and fifty thousand investment yielding over eleven million dollars. Such market moves seemed easy to him, but he was always careful to make purchases and sales in small quantities to avoid being noticed. His judgment was considered good but never great, and he liked it that way. No one asked questions and he never had to fight off interviews about being so right.

The last point of wisdom I will illuminate here was the purchase of over three million shares of Ford stock at its bottom in the spring of two thousand nine. The stock price had fallen to one dollar and nine cents and looked to be another windfall. Ford was following every other stock on Wall Street as the market lost most of its value in a season of slaughter. By late two thousand eleven Adrian cashed in with the shares going for over eighteen dollars per. With this and many other great calls he had made, his fortune now stood at well over four hundred million dollars and his desire to remain an unknown was in jeopardy.

A final point. Adrian Knox was only one of many names used by our hero as he navigated the mysteries of finance and investment. Oh, yes... there is much to learn about the Ghost of Wall Street.



CHAPTER THREE

And Who Might Torment Our Hero?



Louis Stein was a correspondent of particular qualities, none of which anyone other than another malevolent soul might admire. His career had been built on and devoted to the destruction of others, particularly those of wealth and power. It was rumored that he had been offered bribes in his time to spike a story, but none ever stopped his reporting. That sounds noble, but in truth it simply devastated lives and afforded pain to people who may or may not have deserved it. Colleagues noted his maniacal glee when typing an exposé on some petrified banker or movie star, and God help the pastor or priest caught in something other than an honorable situation. If you had money or fame, Louis was on your case. Louis now had one target in particular that truly bothered him. He could find no details on this man's life, good or bad; and yet there were rumors that the man had accumulated a vast sum of money and left Wall Street without the glimmer of a biography. This was something Louis could not tolerate. There would be atonement.

Stein's office resides in the Times Building, eleventh floor, northwest corner, and that in itself speaks volumes about the revenue gathered for the Grand Old Lady by such a merchant of destruction. Office is perhaps two generous a term as the room was barely ten feet square. The condition moreover reflected the creature that occupied it. A tiny desk stood in one corner facing away from filthy windows, atop which were stacked files of brown and gray, loose pages scattered about and all corralling the instrument of ruination, a Royal mechanical typewriter that had to have been manufactured in the late fifties. Research, my dear, everything comes down to research.

Stein himself was no more presentable than his blighted office. A shabby man of medium height and more than medium weight, he often dressed in second hand clothes and worn shoes, perhaps seeking to blend in with the street people he sometimes used as sources. Often needing a shave, and always needing a haircut his greasy appearance had everyone on the eleventh floor looking to steer clear of contact in almost every way. The 'Hollywood Hammer' as he was known in theater circles was feared by many, had few friends, but attracted thousands of readers. Bringing down those at the top seemed to lure everyone's interest, especially if you could do it with some trashy tale of secret sex, or worse. Today, 'The Hammer' was on a new trail and seeking information about some Wall Street guy named Knox.

The newspaper archives Stein was looking over yielded nothing on Adrian Knox and Louis was beginning to feel the blood rise in his veins. Somebody who had a rumored fortune exceeding three hundred million had to have some clips somewhere, no? The more he looked the more he knew he was on to something, if for no other reason than the lack of evidence. Try to make sense out of that reasoning and you just might be another Louis Stein, but the street buzzed with stories of the guy who got away... and took quite a bit with him. This guy had to be dirty and Stein needed to find out all there was to the story.

Shoving the file box back onto its shelf he sat down at the examination desk and stroked his scruffy beard. He began to consider what a few of his street contacts on the financial block might be able to tell him. A foray into the lower pit of Manhattan might be the next move after he had some lunch. Anyway Mel's Deli was having their special corned beef today and the thought of it made his stomach grumble like a sleeping panther. As for this guy Knox, a plan was hatching.

-

Three hours later Louis was trucking a belly full of corned beef under his best 'dirt shirt' as he headed to the Wall Street corner where 'Snowflake' Jones tended his stall.

'Snowflake' was a black man, about medium size and a bit bent from his military service. He had established a one yard square position on the best panhandling street in Manhattan at the corner of Broadway and Morris Street, just above Bowling Green. Brokers, and agents at the market, loaded down with huge salaries and better bonuses were knee deep in white guilt and happy to throw a black beggar some cash. Jones' salt and pepper beard (more salt than pepper) went well with his tattered clothes and worn out shoes to intensify the 'good karma' one might receive for such a token of attribution. His 'uniform' as he called it, was the perfect costume for extracting such donations from the passing Illuminati. Little did they know that he owned a home in Queens and was a well-established middle class family man.

Louis Stein knew, but again, a secret well kept can bring many favors.

Jones winced with his good eye as he noted Louis Stein coming down the street in his direction. He always knew Louis was in the hunt when his hobble became apparent at a distance. What would it be this time?

"Mornin' Lou. Out for some air, are ya?"

"Jones, my man. Haven't seen you in a dog's age. How goes the hustle?"

Snowflake shifted his cup to one side as Stein squatted down to talk in a more guarded manner. It always gave Jones an itch when Louis approached him in such a reticent way.

"What's up Lou? I know you're not lost..."

"Looking for some street Intel on a guy named Knox. Adrian Knox. Ever heard of him?"

"Name seems familiar but I don't recall anything specific. He may have been alluded to some time but he was never mentioned to me. The guys here focus on who's the heavy gifter and like that..."

"Ya, ya, I know all that Snowflake, but maybe you can ask around. I need to find out about this guy and so far he's a ghost."

"OK Govner'. I'll see what I can do."

Having nothing else to say Stein lifted his ample frame with a grunt and shuffled off leaving Snowflake without a salutation and just a wispy scent of corned beef. Jones, always irritated by the intrusion these contacts would necessitate, watched as the dumpy, filthy creature walking away from him limped down the street. Jones pretended to live in filth to make a living; he thought Stein actually enjoyed it. It left him wondering if the 'correspondent' ever had a girl friend. He doubted it.

Stein, for his part was deep in thought about his next move. He had hoped Snowflake would have at least known a few tidbits that could lead to further inquiries, but the fact that there was no real rap on this guy Knox really had Louis in a snit. He would have to pull a heavy punch if he wanted to get the investigation moving. That meant ringing up someone that Louis tried to use as little as possible. Some poisons you save for the worst of infestations and Stein wanted to keep this one deep in the cupboard. But when nature demands...



CHAPTER FOUR

The Way of Flesh and Steel



Jarrett Griswald hunkered down under his 'camo' remaining motionless as the Norte del Valle cartel scout stepped over him brushing the dense foliage with his AK-47. The Bolivian jungle here was thick and damp and full of creatures you never want to come in contact with, but for Griswald it was a walk in the park. His 'camo' was near perfect, the barrel of his .338 Lapua Magnum being completely covered with local foliage. It even harbored a few neighborhood bugs. His back legs and soft cap a study in deep jungle flotsam, included a small mossy stone that covered the back of his neck and interwoven twigs and vines that formed a veritable blanket of jungle over his taut, formidable body. He was five foot ten, one hundred and sixty four pounds and in splendid shape.

Treading through the area, the scout tried to make a clean step using the aforementioned rock as a foothold. Griswald choked back a grunt and remained ridgid enough to take the weight but something didn't quite feel right to the mercenary above him. As he turned for a closer inspection Jarrett was left with one option; he rolled over on his back simultaneously bringing the muzzle up and fired, point blank into his opponent. A man of not more than one hundred and thirty pounds, his now headless body was thrown vertically and back some twenty feet cresting the deep valley drop off behind him. Griswald now knew he was in the shit, and as a second scout sprang into the small glade he fired again. The scout's chest exploded in a pink mist as his lifeless body crumpled down into the foliage.

Teammates concealed about his position heard the shots and sprang into action. They were now some seven miles south of their primary target and fear of revealing their presence did not concern them. Discovery however had to be dealt with in the most decisive way.

The scouting party consisted of twelve hired guns, probably not well trained and now totally confused. Some, having seen the first victim fly into the valley, thought there must be a sniper above them on the ridgeline and huddled behind what cover they found near the drop off. Griswald's team made quick work of the predicament using small arms as they approached from the side, and dispatched all ten of the remaining party. This was an unexpected setback and it was now time to gather and consider the next move.

Their team leader, Major Jim Bradford or JB to the group, stepped forward, map in hand.

"OK gentlemen, has anyone been hit? Any injuries?"

He looked about as heads nodded. All was well.

"We hit some shit here but I think it hasn't blown the mission. Here's where we're at."

As the team gathered around him he laid out the map on a clear spot of ground and pointed to their location.

"We're here. By my reckoning, we're still over seven clicks out from the target airstrip and well outside the security perimeter they might have set up. I don't know what brought this group out so far but we have contained our discovery and I'm sure we're far enough away that none of the noise could have reached them."

Bradford's group consisted of six of the best men he had ever worked with. When he counted himself, they were seven highly trained, experienced insurgents, each with a specialty that complimented the others. To the CIA they were known as 'Counter 7', but to others in the profession they were simply 'The Skunkers'; a nickname they had gotten from the use of foul smells to enhance their camouflage. This would be their seventeenth mission and the men had gotten to know, and count on each other without hesitation.

Jarrett Griswald was their first level sniper, experienced at very long-range targets in very difficult conditions. A Montana native he was comfortable at high elevations and dry conditions that favored his deployment to the Salang Pass in Afghanistan and later Badakh Sham in the Hindu Kush. Rumor had it that he took out a Taliban combatant at seventeen hundred meters with his .338 Lapua Magnum and his custom loaded ordnance. Only the team knew for sure. His five foot ten inch frame carried one hundred and sixty four pounds of nothing but muscle.

Billy Hargrave was a demolition specialist who could make things blow up with everything from plastique to a warm coke and an Alka-Seltzer. At the other extreme his four martial art black belts enabled him to neutralize enemy guards with quiet precision and nothing more than his hands. If it came to it, he was also an expert with edged weapons, and a fair shot with a nine millimeter. Having started at the tender age of fourteen, Billy learned to fly on an old Stearman PT-17 and later a Cessna 150. When he entered Special Ops, he furthered his flying skills to include a Piper Comanche twin engine and in time moved all the way up to a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The second smallest he was five foot nine inches and one hundred and forty seven pounds.

Joey Manetti brought an extreme calculation, and near savant dedication to the assessment of time, distance, speed, weight... for almost anything that needed to be calculated Joey could unfailingly produce accurate figures. The team relied on him with every change in their constantly mutating missions. He was a good shot with a rifle but liked to rely on his twelve gauge, short barrel pump shotgun for most encounters. Joey's main mission was as spotter to Jarrett's 'sniper' position, or sometimes flanker. His flying skills backed up those of Hargrave's when needed, but Billy was still the lead pilot. Joey was the smallest of the group at five foot eight inches and one hundred and thirty eight pounds.

'Brace' Silva was the team translator. Originally from a small barrio in the San Paolo foothills, his family had moved to the canyons of New York City when he was ten. Hector had to wear a brace on his leg when younger, but through several surgeries and extended physical rehabilitation, all paid for by the good citizens of the USA, he was able to shed any hint of disability save for the multiple scars that remained from his ordeal. It was questions about the scars during boot camp that saddled Hector with the nickname 'Brace'. To pay back his adopted country he joined the Marines and later went through Special Ops School. A brilliant linguist he was fluent in six languages and passable in four others, most were South American. When pushed into battle he was an excellent marksman with his nine-millimeter sidearm, and an equal shot with the H&K33 NATO rifle they made him carry. Its 5.56X45mm cartridge provided a deadly cover fire when needed as the weapon was switchable to fully automatic, and ammunition of that NATO caliber abundant in most of the areas the team found itself. Brace was five nine and one hundred and fifty five pounds.

Armand Silverman (nickname 'Silly') had spent a full hitch in the Israeli army assigned to the Mossad before immigrating to the USA. His skills and experience made him a natural for Special Ops and he was recruited soon after his American citizenship was official. The team's second 'sniper' position was his designation but being the oldest at thirty-two, and the most experienced, he quickly became the 'papa' figure everyone went to when the questions were hard or the situation new. Even team leader JB leaned on 'Silly' for advice in every iffy circumstance. His Barrett M82A1A was the 'cannon' of the armament carried by the squad and sported such innovations as the Picatinny rail, rear monopod and a muzzle brake. At almost 31 pounds with its 10 round box magazine loaded, his model was specifically designed to fire the Raufoss MK 211 Mod 0 round, a type of armor-piercing incendiary ammunition. Silly could blow things up from a long distance away. He was six foot one and over one hundred and ninety pounds.

Cody Hansen was another Midwest farm boy and at five foot eleven and one hundred and ninety two pounds he was physically the strongest of the team. Having grown up lifting newborn calves on his back when needed, he could fireman carry even Silly the full length of a full football field without distress. Armed with the same light 5.56X45mm NATO weapon Brace used the two were able to simplify the number of cartridge types they had to carry and supply each other as needed. Cody's prime designation was Jarrett's flanker but his expertise with demolition practices and ballistic explosives also gave the team a second 'shock wave' specialist. In most of the mission encounters, explosives were used to either eliminate drug-processing facilities or to promote chaos enabling the team to evade capture. Cody could do either with ease.

The seventh and best of the group was its leader, Major Jim Bradford. At twenty-nine years old he had training and experience far beyond his years. His six foot two frame, at one hundred and ninety four pounds was honed to perfection and carried a deadly ability in four different martial arts. The tactical expertise and judicious use of force marked JB as one of the best close encounter operatives in America's military, and was just one of the reasons he made major at age twenty seven. Besides command, JB was designated the group's third sniper carrying his M2010 Sniper Rifle sporting a dark earth suppressor. It's .300 Winchester magnum cartridge (the MK 248 MOD 1) was matched to a 190 gr. Sierra MatchKing Hollow Point Boat Tail bullet that afforded lethal performance out to 1200 meters. Jim's ability to hit targets at that distance was legendary. His men trusted his judgment and were sworn to obey his decisions. Few have ever commanded such a lethal force and so tight a team, and JB knew it.

"Best option as I see it, is carry on with the mission."

Bradford looked around at his men, who all nodded.

"We still have six hours of daylight to make positions at the target area and this group of scouts will not be missed before our action plan is realized. Secure the dead under heavy brush and be ready to move out in twenty minutes."

He folded the map and returned it to his patch pocket. Brace came over to talk and, kneeling down motioned for the Major to get closer.

"I overheard two of the scouts talking before the blowout."

"Anything special we need to consider?"

"First thing is they were speaking Portuguese, not Spanish. I think they may have been Brazilian. Second thing is they mentioned something called 'Operation Blast Furnace'. Are you aware of that designation?"

Bradford looked down at his boots in contemplation.

"That's not a good sign, Brace."

"Boss, are we busted?"

"No way to know for sure but 'Blast Furnace' was an operation mounted by the CIA a few years back that didn't work out too well."

"Anything to do with our current mission?"

"Only that the objective is the same. The nomenclature on this action is completely different and has no connection to the other. I think we still have the advantage."

Silva agreed with a nod and began to stand, JB following his action.

"Thanks Brace. Keep your ears open, we may need some Intel they didn't want us to have before this is over."

'Ya got it Boss."

With that he walked off to help conceal the fallen scouts as JB watched the distant ridge calculating their arrival at T-1. Forty minutes would be his best judgment but he would confirm that with Joey and his calculator brain before they departed the area. He guessed an additional two hours would be needed to secure positions at the airstrip and then it was down to waiting for the target to present itself. They had three distinct actions to accomplish and that would take careful planning, and spot-on execution. JB would need to assemble with the team one more time before they reached the airstrip designated T-1.



CHAPTER FIVE

A Quiet Country Life



Adrian Knox looked across the small table to a face as lovely as any he had ever seen. Her attention had been drawn to a couple, perhaps in their late fifties, holding hands a few tables away. She turned back to him with a smile.

"Think we'll ever be that way?"

The question was loaded with possible traps.

"I think we will be what we are meant to be Sophie, and no other comparisons need to be made."

She smirked, behind a tiny smile, and then a giggle.

They were having dinner at a wonderful restaurant located near the town center of Avignon. The city sits near the confluence of the Rhône and Durance rivers and on its left bank the L'Enclos de Saveurs Salines Fruits de mer sur place, was famous for their Saint Jacques Marinées, a favorite of Adrian's. Sophie had ordered the Soupe de favouilles, a delectable soup made with small crabs and wine. It was mid afternoon on a beautiful April day with mild temperatures and a light spring breeze. They sat at a table located next to a wandering stone wall that separated the quiet side street from the river below.

"You look wonderful Sophie. Are you happy?"

It was Adrian's turn to ask the loaded question.

She smiled her knowing smile that no twenty three year old should ever be capable of.

"Of course my love. Every day I'm with you."

"Then I am happy too."

They drank their wine and watched the river below, moving in its constant march to the sea. Here it was slowed by the split that flowed around the city, and shaded by ancient trees that softened the look of its surface. France can be a magical place at times.

"There was a man yesterday at the market," she said, " who seemed to be watching us Andy. Or am I imagining things?"

"He was probably just jealous of an old man like me being with such a beautiful young lady."

She smiled but was not about to let go of the feeling some intuition whispered in her ear.

"Do you think he might have been a news reporter?"

Knox winced as he studied his wine glass, twirling its contents.

"You don't like news reporters, do you Andy?"

She nudged his calf under the table.

"Come on, you know they could make you famous. Is that why you don't like them?"

Adrian bristled at the thought.

"News reporters are like jackals. They need to tear off a piece of flesh from every wounded animal they come across, to stay alive. If they sense blood in the water they become a school of piranha, each seeking a bite of the victim and some small piece of the carcass to call their own. And for what? A news story? Some enlightenment the public desperately needs? It's all an entertainment. Just a distraction from the graft and corruption that surrounds our mundane lives. Tomorrow it matters not at all as they're on to some new 'story' constructed of useless noise. I hate the entire process and the worms that practice it. If I can live a life having never been interviewed by one of those scum I will have lived a life of success, and one eminently more rewarding than anything fame of any sort can bring."

"You seem to be very angry at the news media. Did they hurt you, my love?"



"No, never. I have structured my situation with avoidance in mind and so have never had to deal with that part of society. It has taken a concerted effort but every bit of it has been worthwhile. I intend to continue being invisible for as long as that is possible."

She adjusted her position having noticed a woman approaching them from behind Adrian. Her unusual manner indicated she was about to join them, something Sophie was not expecting. Noticing Sophie's attention was focused on something over his shoulder Adrian turned to see the approaching Ava Phlugler and her beaming smile. He stood to welcome her.

"Ava. You look wonderful."

They embraced as Knox beckoned her to the table.

"Please join us."

Ava Phlugler was a stunning woman of almost five foot nine inches with strong German cheekbones and alpine lake blue eyes. Sophie guessed she was perhaps thirty or thirty-one years old and in excellent shape at no more than one hundred thirty pounds. She didn't want to be paranoid, but this woman could be a definite threat and Sophie felt that discomfort without hesitation. Adrian introduced them.

"Sophie, this is Ava. She was a colleague when I was teaching a class at the Fraunhofer Society in Munich, many years ago."

Ava acknowledged Sophie with an extended hand and a smile of white, straight teeth encased within an equally white facial portrait that only heightened Sophie's anxiety.

"Hi Sophie. It's nice to meet you."

Then to Adrian.

"And we were not colleagues," attention back to Sophie, " I was his student associate. He taught me everything I know about numeric rings and fields."



Adrian smiled.

"And you were a wonderful student."

Adrian hailed for the waiter, asking Ava what she might like to drink. With a laugh Ava answered,

"The usual."

Sophie squinted. They talked for a few moments and then the wine arrived. With smiles and toasts they drank and talked some more until finally Sophie sat back in her chair, looking at them with a quizzical smile.

"Were you two... lovers?

Adrian smiled as Ava wagged her head 'No'.

"As a man, the primal directive is to impregnate every female that gets close enough for me to hold down."

He shifted in the seat.

"But my mother drilled into me from a very early age, that it was best to find a good woman, marry her and be monogamous for the rest of my life. So you see Sophie, like most every civilized man, I am conflicted."

Adrian tipped his glass to Ava.

"No, we were not lovers."

Ava squirmed in her seat.

"Adrian was an excellent teacher and a very attractive man, but I was living with another at that time and we never developed any relationship other than our professional one."

Sophie was, by now, blushing.

"I'm sorry if I offended you Ava. My jealous instinct got the best of me."



Adrian intervened.

"Please ladies. Let me buy you both a wonderful lunch and forget all this talk of past romance. I am an aging goat of no importance and flattered by your ideas, but the reality is there is only one woman in my life right now and her happiness is all I seek."

Sophie smiled at Adrian as Ava raised her glass.

"Happiness to you both. You make a lovely couple."

Glasses clinked and they went on to enjoy an epicurean's delight at that small table in the shade, with a concert performed by the water following beneath them. Later, after lunch and a casual walk through the small ancient town, they would drive back to the house. Sophie was quiet for a time, as she looked out to the passing countryside, and then turned to Adrian.

"She is a very beautiful woman."

"That she is, and always has been, Sophie."

"I'm sorry if I acted silly. I guess I am not as secure with our relationship as I had thought."

Adrian reached over and patted her hand while keeping his eyes on the road ahead.

"Ava has never seen the house, Sophie. That should tell you all you need to know."

She nodded with a smile as they drove on into the gathering twilight.

They reached the house using a back road from the northern perimeter of his property. Road may be a generous description of what more closely resembled an animal trail through the blooming lavender fields. His Road Ranger handled the terrain easily but for someone driving any conventional automobile, they would have to remain at the highway shoulder, unable to go further. It was all part of the design of 'Esmeralda' as he called the property. Sophie looked about trying again to locate the house as they drove ever deeper into the lavender fields, but never could see anything until Adrian pulled up beside the deep crater that lay next to the path. She was about to, once again, enter Adrian's other world.



CHAPTER SIX

Connecting Some Dots



Dixon Fulbright settled on the chair opposite his Chippendale desk and picked up the phone. The secretary had said it was Louis Stein on the line and the call was important. He was not happy to be taking this call, but a weekend dalliance some three years ago had been uncovered by Stein and kept quiet, at a price. He must try to be pleasant.

"Hello, Louis. How are you?"

"Fine, fine, Dixon. Hope I'm not bothering you at this late hour but I could use a bit of help."

"Of course. That is always available."

Fulbright, a most prominent lawyer in the Washington DC arena was noted 'Of Council' to the powerful firm of Nelson, Fuller, Kwan, Bergman & Cohen. He shifted in his chair to get the notepad on the small table next to him.

"How may I be of service?"

"There is an individual I am having trouble finding any history about. Seems he has been very clever about his data and there are literally no records I can uncover. I'm hoping your special sources might be able to reveal a few details for me."

"Is this a criminal matter or just someone you need background on?"

Stein hesitated a moment then cleared his throat.

"Nothing criminal, as far as I can determine, but very cagey about his records which leads me to think he has something to hide."

'Give me what you have Louis and I will see what I can turn up for you."

"Thank you Dixon. As always, you are my best source for the real story about the people I follow."



They exchanged information as Fulbright made notes. After transferring the limited data Stein had, Dixon Fulbright questioned,

"Do you know where this individual is now? Or where he has set up housekeeping? Might make it a bit easier to track down what you need."

"Best guess is somewhere in Europe. But really I have no information as to his whereabouts, present time. I will forward the meager clippings I have been able to scrape together."

"Alright, Louis. Give me a few days."

After hanging up Fulbright sat back and exhaled like a breaching whale. Why had he ever let that bastard coerce him into this arrangement? Dixon new that sooner or later, the things he was doing for Stein would get his tit in the wringer, and he dreaded the day it might come to light. He must be extra careful about whom he might use, and how he would investigate this guy Knox.

-

The entrance portal dropped down with precision and began to unfold its bridge to the landing built into the crater's edge. Sophie always wondered how the house itself could remain so shrouded in the evening fog, almost invisible even as you looked at it. Adrian, having parked the car in a small shed-like garage nestled into a low berm, joined her at the landing as the footbridge reached their position.

"It always astounds me Andy. How you were able to build such a place in these lavender fields... and why?"

"I just like my privacy, Sophie. It's that simple."

He braced her as she stepped onto the walkway and they crossed to the still invisible home. As they reached the platform below the entry, it was now clear that a net covered the structure. Walking up the stairs into the building, Adrian pressed a few buttons closing the entrance and securing the locking mechanism. Another switch activated the security systems. They were home.

-

Dixon Fulbright, having looked up the name in his Rolodex, dialed then examined his fingernails while the connection was made. Overseas calls were always slower to connect.

"Ahh, Dixon. You're calling at a rather early hour. Is everything alright?"

"Just a small matter of tracking down some information. How are you Leonard?"

Leonard Cassmen was a practiced political animal Dixon had known since postgraduate studies at Oxford. They had shared a room and the struggle to grasp early English law, and how it translated into our modern regulations. But Cassmen proved to be a far better contact then Dixon had ever hoped. He had become part of the inner circle that managed Interpol in Britain and had privileges Dixon would never have access to in his fondest dreams. Leonard could, and did on a few occasions, find information Fulbright asked for that most heads of state would be denied.

"They say I'm developing cataracts and will need surgery sometime in the near future. The trials of advancing age are upon me, my friend."

Fulbright shifted the phone to his other ear as he threw his feet up on the desk.

"I'm sorry to hear that Leonard, but I'm sure such a surgery is routine and without much concern, no?

"So I am told, but this is Britain and Her Majesty's health service is known to be less than perfect. Perhaps I will come to visit you and have the procedure done there."

"Yes, Leonard, do that. You are always welcome here and can stay at my estate while you recover. It would make a wonderful visit and a great chance for us to catch up on old times. Please do consider that and give me a chance to fatten you up on American beef."

"Now that, love it as I do Dixon, is something I have to limit these days. The old digestive juices are not what they used to be. But, enough of this, how can I be of assistance?"

Fulbright shuffled with a grunt, as he put his feet back down and reached for his notes.

"It's a blasted mystery person, Leonard. I am trying to track down a rather slippery devil whose background seems to be non-existent. He has been referred to as the 'Ghost of Wall Street' by a colleague, and my initial investigation has come up with precious little."

"Emm, what's his name?"

"Adrian Knox. He made a small fortune trading in the markets here, but his history and connections are unclear and presently his whereabouts are unknown. I was hoping you might be able to turn up something we missed."

"Send me what you have by courier and I will try to find your man."

"Thanks so much, Leonard. I will get this out to you tonight. And please make the plans for your medical procedure here. I will send along the name of a physician I highly recommend whose practice covers the eye."

"Thank you Dixon. I will let you know. As to this Knox fellow I will try to have something for you in a few days."

"That would be fine. Till next we talk Leonard, stay well."

Returning the receiver to its cradle Fulbright examined his nails again. Yes, he would need a trim and his cuticles done in the morning. Can't let such details go unchecked.



CHAPTER SEVEN

A Jungle Airstrip Party



The team had made good time and were gathered in a small clearing just a mile short of their target. Circling Bradford as he pointed to specific locations on their map, JB noted topographical details and assigned team members to precise locations and actions. Each was to have two hours after their arrival at the final muster to establish their positions. Not a lot considering the terrain and number of enemy combatants, but JB trusted his men and expected them to accomplish what most in such circumstances might not be capable of. The mission demanded it. If all went well they would begin their attack at five forty and be outbound into a setting sun by six.

Intel had it that a high level meeting was to take place, along with a drug delivery to the Roberto Suárez Gómez lieutenant coming in at five PM that afternoon. Their mission would be to take down as many "La Corporación" officers as possible, eliminate the Gómez lieutenant and destroy the cocaine laboratory built around the northern end of the airstrip. The lieutenant was to arrive in a Cessna 206, the famous 'Super Skywagon' version of its venerable "sport-utility vehicle of the air", and that was to be their ticket out. With about 1400 pounds of airlift capacity JB knew that getting the team out in that aircraft would mean they could not risk any kind of damage to the plane itself, and additionally would need to shed their packs and armor in order to make weight. Failing that they would never get off the ground and that probably meant death in an extended firefight they could never win.

There were to be four stages to the operation. The first would be a long-range shot taking down the commander of the airstrip at his hacienda if possible, probably while greeting the contact. That would be Griswald's job while Silverman would, at the very same instant, take down the Gómez lieutenant. They each needed to be on the opposite side of the field, at great range and quartered to each other. If a target was missed the second position would probably have a better window for the backup shot. Bradford did not expect anyone to miss, but you always needed to have a cover plan.

The second stage would follow a second or two later as Hargrave's explosives were to take down the out building they knew to be a cocaine factory. Billy would plant both a powerful detonation device and an accompanying incendiary charge guaranteeing complete destruction of the lab but more, a great disorienting storm of fire and flash to cover their other moves. With his stealth, edged weapons and martial arts abilities he was charged with getting in behind the lab, quietly taking out anyone who might interfere and setting the necessary demolition devices. He was then to move to the hacienda itself, place claymore like devices against at least two walls of the building and move right to find cover. All the explosive charges would be set off at the same time by remote control on JB's 'GO' signal. Billy's remaining job would be to cover those who might charge out after the initial blast.

The third element had Cody Hansen, having made the edge of the runway as near to the parked Cessna as possible, jump up and take out the pilot and anyone else nearby, protecting their escape route. Given his size and strength the men would depend on Cody to accomplish that goal without backup. After securing the craft he was to remove every possible bit of excess weight he could lay his hands on.

The final stage, after the anticipated engagement, had Bradford, having established a quartering position to Silly's location, covering any enemy combatants that might pop up while his men gathered at a point near the end of the runway, shed their gear and loaded into the aircraft. JB would first cover Hargrave's sprint to the plane, as he was the designated pilot for their escape. Next, as Billy started the aircraft and began a 'run-up' the team would load and finally JB himself would lunge on board as they began their dash to safety.

Manetti's calculations had them airborne by five fifty five and clear of the field by five fifty seven. Air-load would be critical but he thought they could tear out some of the seating if they needed to and Billy had suggested they might even leave their hardware behind, as they expected no further action once airborne. Joey concurred.

Such actions are the work of brave men who make things happen. But then there is that old saying; 'Men make plans, and God laughs'.

-

Chico Aguilar was having a rough morning. Known as 'La Mula' (the mule) to his men he was wrestling with a few problems of different weight, and all at the same time. Miguel, his first lieutenant had gotten that whore Elania pregnant and now they were at each other's throats. He would have to put an end to that quickly. And he had lost touch with the scout team he'd sent out earlier to sweep the western mountains. There had been word from a local farmer of men moving thru the jungle the night before and while it was probably some cartel mules from the opposing camp, Chico had dispatched a squad of these 'hombres' from San Paolo to take a look. The silence meant they either found nothing, or they found something. It had him on edge.

All that would be bad enough if he wasn't delivering a large shipment this afternoon to Antonio Belgrano. He eyed the guard leaning against a fuel drum at the edge of the runway. One of his better men, but in this heat and with too many whores to keep them happy at night, they were getting lazy, and sloppy. Another situation that needed to be addressed.


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