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Diamond Plot

By Frisco Sullivan All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Action

Chapter 1

“Mr. President, with all due respect to your position. Your inexperience in police work and no military experience has a great deal with you not comprehending what was at stake here. The Crimson Brigade was not eliminated as once thought, the tragic deaths of the submarine crew and the unfortunate accident of the NCIS agent had proven diplomacy fails. The attack on the Dallas Police Department forced our agent into taking the mission. I believe the rebels, the Seal, and the citizens of Indonesia saved the world from the Crimson Brigade. The Omega Squad has men and women trained to fight against threats like the ones recently encountered.” Squid sat back in his leather upholstered seat behind the varnished wood table in front of a fact finding commission. The board of inquiry was being held at the request of the newly elected president. The president demanded an accounting of the Omega Squads involvement in the coup of Indonesian government. The Indonesian government had been taken over quietly by the brigade seeking to covertly add to their numbers and once again try to take over the world. The newly elected president had nominated himself head of the board, using it as a platform for reformation and reorganizing. One of his so called goals was to use diplomacy on terrorists or as he was so often quoted to saying “extremists”.

The board consisted of hand picked Senators, Squid knew most of them. The farce of this proceeding was just a front to bring popularity polls up and prove just how interested the new government was in being more global friendly.

“Mr. Thomas, These extremists only want to be recognized in the grand scheme of things. They only use extreme tactics when they want to be heard. The Crimson Brigade was only defending themselves from those who sought to infringe on their freedoms.”

Squid placed his chin on a hand, “So, if I hear you right. You support these terrorists and want to hang the people in my charge because they fought back? My people only fired because they got ambushed, attacked with heavy artillery, tortured and saved countless civilians. The Brigade claim to feel threatened by a few rebels and fired first at a woman who was leaving the city using a shell from a tank. How big and brave to shoot at an unarmed woman. The terrorists attack innocent civilians and complain when they get people mad at them? How dare the rebels attack them when they are against 5-1 odds, shame on them.” Squid’s smart ass remark appeared to be lost on the board.

“Mr. Thomas, this is only a fact finding inquiry, no charges will be filed until all the facts are in and all angles considered. Your group is to cease all current and pending missions until further notice. They are to stand down effective immediately.” Squid had expected this. “My agency does not fall under your purview or jurisdiction. My authority is derived from the United Nations. But if you wish to try assume control then feel free. But your lack of experience will bring the worst kind of human to your door.”

The president didn’t seem too impressed, “Your group of vigilantes is hereby ordered to stand down. If you refuse to comply, I personally will file an injunction against you. I will not tolerate extremists operating in my country.” Squid smirked, “Mr. President, you can kiss my..................” The sound of a gavel striking drowned out his last word signaling the close of this session. As the board exited Squid had one last parting comment, “This is why I voted Republican.”

The president stopped for a few seconds then continued out the door. Now all it was time to do was sit and wait.

Jack was at home recovering from his recent mission. The lost memories added on to the loss of several close Omega Squad friends were difficult to accept but he was coping. He held the NCIS shield he’d taken from Agent Latimer, the memory of her death still fresh and open. “Jack?” Dad is expecting us at the country club, did you forget?” Mira asked then realized she thought she said something wrong. “No, I didn’t. It’s been a month and it seems like a different life. Squid is at a board of inquiry hearing, Mason is under deep cover, we lost several agents in the final battle in Indonesia, and thousands of civilians were killed en masse. I’m supposed to have a police trainee in one week. It’s hard to fathom at times, you know”

Mira knelt down in front of him, “Yes Hun, I know. But those people believed like you. They fought for the same ideals you believe in. We are glad your home, dad is so proud of you. Your daughter doesn’t want you go away anymore. But you and I know you will, and I’m going to stay with you, that’s just who you are.” Jack smiled up at his lovely wife; he never imagined finding that one person who completed him so well.

“I’m considering rejoining the Omega Squad Mira. Seems like I’m always getting called to do something for them. I know the missions would require me to be away quite a bit but the down time would let me be home for days on end. I’m not completely decided in favor of it but it is an option.” 

Mira ran her hand down Jacks cheek, “I know honey, and we can talk more about it later okay?” Mira smiled and handed Jack the keys. “Your turn to drive. I’ll get Elizabeth ready.”

Jack stood up from the chair, he stood almost six foot tall, in his mid thirties. A lot of close calls with death hadn’t deterred him from doing what was right. He stretched and helped Mira get their daughter ready for an evening out as a family.

Mason was sitting in a hot box sweating. It was just after sunrise and already the heat was starting to become intolerable. ‘So much for asking for a raise’ Mason joked even though no one was around to share the joke. He heard the lock rattle, then the door opened. An arctic rush of air made him shiver, he covered his eyes to protect them from the blinding glare of the African day.

He heard rifle bolts being racked and knew the time wasn’t right for a move. Mason staggered out into the light, he was escorted over to the boss’s tent. As he entered he was shoved into a canvas chair, hands cuffed behind him and his feet tied to the legs.

“So McDaniel, you continue to dawdle and toy around instead of fulfilling your quota. Time and time again you have left your post to do whatever. I grow tired of your insolence. So I tell you for the last time, you will not stray or you will be shot. My superiors expect a certain amount of material. When my workers don’t fill their quota I am forced to resort to measures to get mine filled, Do you understand?” The man who was speaking was the crew boss, he stood over six and a half feet tall, muscular, dark skinned and bald.

He was ill tempered from having worked his way up in the ranks, not wanting his position to be compromised by lazy workers he expected everyone to pull their share and more of the workload. Mason stood up, even his above average height only allowed him to look at the mans’ chest. The bodyguard escorted Mason to his tent to get cleaned up and ready for his shift in the mines. After getting freshened up, Mason was taken by wagon to the mine entrance. There he was issued a pick axe, helmet with light and gas detector before being allowed inside. A mine car took him several hundred feet below to a freshly dug tunnel. An armed guard waited for him at the location of newly discovered cache of diamonds. “Get started, we got three carts to fill before shift ends. We’re behind as it is and times a wasting” the guard said.

Mason knew his chances of contacting the Omega Squad were slim to none at the moment so he chose to do what he was told for the time being. He hoped Janelle was using what she had learned by hiding till it was more than past due for his check in. He knew he would be closely watched and shot if caught causing waves. Janelle should contact HQ in the next few days if she hasn’t heard from him but hopefully that won’t come about. Worse case scenario would be the Omega Squad sends in an extraction team to get him but only in life or death situations.

Janelle was hiding under a lean to on a mountain side facing the diamond mine several hundred feet up, well out of sight of anyone who would just look up. She was making notes about shipments, who was working where, supplies coming in and going out. She saw what happened to Mason when he was put in the box and when he was let out. When he was put back in the mine she sighed, grateful he wasn’t found out. The lean to was shallow, high enough to allow her to sleep under but low enough not to be spotted. She had dug a trench to be able to lower the canvas covered with branches and leaves to look like a bush when flat. The equipment was also covered to avoid detection by blending into the terrain. Janelle only had been trained with basic survival skills in the air force but since being asked to join the Omega Squad her training had mostly consisted of field work and survival training. Fortunately patrols had passed her hideout undetected, of course they were probably just going through the motions. She was scheduled to start the classroom part of her training in a few weeks that would consist of international laws, firearms, self defense and electronic surveillance. Unless Mason and her completed this mission her training would be delayed and status as a trainee would be reviewed. Her only reprieve was that something would break soon.

The pick seemed to gain in weight at each swing, a horn sounded telling the end of shift. “Everyone take a seat, all except you McDaniel. You got to stand on the footboard.” The crew boss said with a malevolent grin. 

Masons back was throbbing and his legs felt like rubber as he stood on the footboard of the mine car. The trip to the surface seemed to take hours before the transition to daylight. He felt like he was being reborn. The mine car dropped weary workers off then loaded up the next shift; the car would keep this up till all workers were in their places then haul up dirt and rocks for processing. The walk to the tents was long and tedious but Mason looked forward to resting on his cot and eating dinner. The sun was just beginning to set as he collapsed onto his cot. He was almost asleep when the dinner gong sounded the call to eat. He shakily stood hoping his legs had the strength to carry him to the mess tent. There was a long line already formed of hungry workers waiting to eat. He got a tray filled with a hot gruel, hard bread, Gatorade and an unknown vegetable.

Mason took his time eating, savoring the flavor and feeling some of his strength return. After eating he placed his tray on the rack with the others. He walked out into the coming coolness of night feeling somewhat energized. Trustees were setting up a huge canvas screen in preparation of the bi-weekly movie the company treated its employees to.

Mason took a seat near the rear of the seating area. “Finally out of the box eh?” a rich baritone voice said. Mason looked up and observed a large broad shouldered man smiling down at him. “Yeah, they said the quota wasn’t being met so they let me go to try and raise it. Nice to be wanted for something besides my looks” Mason said trying to be funny and not pulling it off.

“I was conscripted with the promise of only being here a few years with a generous severance package once my contract was met. It’s been six years and the only thing I’ve seen extra is the movies we see every other week. And they even charge for those.”

The man was called Achim; He’d been lured to the mines with promises yet to be fulfilled. Achim had a family living in Rwanda, but no word from the past year due to warlords taking over and leaders changing hands from one week to the next. The African military was powerless to stop them without causing their own families to be murdered as well. The over extended supply lines and lack of manpower forced the military to turn a blind eye to most of all but the most serious crimes. The diamond mine was run by a dummy front company; it was run by a man named Melvin McBride. McBride was the CEO of Diamond Inc., one of the largest diamond retailers in the civilized world. Mason found out before infiltrating the mine group the company had been investing heavily into diamond stocks and almost succeeding in cornering the market. Mason invited him to sit, asking him about his views on why the company was so intent on having control of the diamond market. Before he could answer the movie was starting. Even though the movie was out last year and he’d seen it, it was still enjoyable.

Jack and Mira were having dinner at the country club as guests of her father. “Jack my boy, I’m glad your home safe and sound. You had us all worried sick. Now I hope you’ll stay home and let us be a real family” Mr. O’Donnell said hugging Jack. Jack looked at him, “Just have to wait and see where life takes us. You know the saying: Make plans for the future and see them change tomorrow” 

All sat down and looked at menus, since Jack had some money he offered to pay for the meal. Mr. O’Donnell smiled and said, “Jack, son. I know you can afford it here, but I invited you to be my guest. Please sit back and order anything you want.”  Jack knew better than to argue so he just looked over the menu.

“Daddy? Can I get a mudslide?” Elizabeth asked. Jack smiled warmly at her. We’ll see ok? You have to eat a good majority of your meal first.”

Jack loved his daughter more than almost anything; he remembered when he jumped off that cliff in Indonesia. As he fell he knew his wife and daughter would mourn his death but fortune favored the bold. His jacket had a hidden parachute that saved his life. The next few weeks were filled with deadly life and death situations: firefights, explosions, terrorists, memory loss. He remembered what he had been like during that time, filled with anger and hate.

The worst part was not remembering Mira, only his ex wife and how she had treated him, lying, cheating, abuse and turning it all back on him. Jack had become a time bomb until that mission on Iraq rescuing U.N. inspectors after Hussein had sealed off the city. All official exits were closed off for visiting officials so the only way out was unofficially. They had to commandeer (stolen) a jeep and break through the so called Red Elite forces. The old gun ships were gaining on them and Jack knew it was only a matter of time before the cannons or a lucky hellfire missile found its target. As the jeep sailed over a dune he hit the brakes. A tank was waiting at bottom of the hill. As the turret cranked in the direction of the escapees, one of the inspectors patted Jack on the shoulder. As he looked back he saw a gunship bearing down on them. “Hold on boys, this could get rough.” Jack said as he shifted gears. He drove a ways down the hill and turned around, the tank tracking them the whole time. The closer to the top of the hill they got, the louder the gunship sounded. The tank fired just as the gunship topped the hill. The copter exploded in a ball of flame and shrapnel. Jack turned around again but the tires got bogged down in the sand. ”Get out! Run! The pick up point is four clicks to the west” Jack said to the inspectors. They clambered out of the jeep and headed off in that direction. As he was following the others the tank fired, the jeep exploded. A piece of shrapnel hit him in the head knocking him senseless. When his head cleared, he saw soldiers standing over him. He didn’t remember where he was or who he was. Two of them reached down and lifted him up. Blood mixed with sand caked his head, “You infidel, you will pay for the murder of the children of Allah” one said.

Jack tried to clear his head once again, he was forced to his knees and his head forced up, opening his neck. “You will die” one of the others sneered and withdrew a wicked looking curved bladed knife. As it as placed on his throat for beheading, the man opened his mouth to give praise but before he could say a word everything up from his lower jaw disappeared in a red flash.

Before it registered that their companion was dead the others looked at their chests, there were holes instead of sternums. Jack collapsed but was soon picked up by US soldiers and placed on a waiting chopper. You’ll be fine my boy, just fine. A medic said as he looked at Jacks head and prepared to give him an IV. Jack closed his eyes as the sedative took effect.

“Sweetheart, you okay? What’s wrong?” Mira asked with a concerned look on her face. Jack blinked a couple of times, “Nothing, I’m fine. Just a memory I’d forgotten about. A previous mission.” He smiled, “So, what do you say we go see a movie?” Everyone agreed and finished the meal then left.

Squid was sitting at his condo going over the updates of agents in the field when he noticed two hadn’t reported in for some time. Mason and Janelle should have reported in if not finished their mission. Rubbing his eyes he decided to watch the television for a while. The news was in the stock market report. The diamond stock was falling for the fifth week in a row. “Hhhhmmmmm, if this keeps up almost everyone could afford to have several diamonds and not worry about putting the house in hock.” He thought. Then something nagged at the back of his mind, Mason and Janelle were investigating the diamond mine in Sierra Leone because of a supposed new and richer strike than previously discovered. Typing his password in he looked up the owner of the mine, Melvin McBride, 52, single, 603, 175, brown eyes and dark brown hair. Also travels with a special bodyguard unit due to his unique way of business. The unit is made up of ex-military soldiers from a variety of nations. Each individual was trained in a specialty, and master of some martial arts discipline ranging from knives to almost every type of firearm made. When answers were required he was the man to get them. One name stood out, McBride’s number one man; Ichyro Tanaka was a mystery, no dossier telling where he was from or any information at all. This meant he was highly regarded and able to gain new identities and staying off the radar. His last known location had been Warsaw then he suddenly appeared in Sierra Leone Africa. Squid debated long and hard before deciding only one person could find them and make sure they made it back alive. This person had worked alongside them before and would know what to do.

He dialed a number, “Jack, I think Mason and Janelle are in big trouble.”

Jack was sitting next to Mira in the theatre watching a comedy. Elizabeth was leaning on Mira’s right arm trying to stay awake. As he slid his arm around Mira his cell buzzed letting him know he had a message. Mira gave him a look of “Don’t you answer that till the movies over”

Before he could put his earpiece in, Mira grabbed it and put it down the front of her shirt and smirked. He sighed and gave an okay you win shrug.   

Sometime later as they were walking to the car Mira gave him the phone back, she kissed him.

Jack listened to the message, Mira saw the change of demeanor on Jack as she put their daughter in the car then asked what was wrong. He opened the door, as they drove off he told her, “Mason and Janelle are missing, Squid thinks they are going to be in a world of hurt if they aren’t found. He’s sending me what he has in an encrypted email. I have to do this.

Jack looked into Mira’s eyes and saw the opposite of what he expected, instead of the usual why do you have to go look he saw the “I understand why you have to look”. Mira understood how important these two friends were to him, they all had fought in the brigade war together. “I know and I totally understand. It’s what you are and I am so proud and happy to be yours. Now let’s go and get your gear ready for your trip.”

Mr. O’Donnell was listening to the whole conversation, as it ended he got a sad look on his face. “Son, I know you have to go, I’m not going to talk you out of it, but I will ask you to be careful. I don’t know what you do, I just know I couldn’t ask for a better son-in-law than you.” Then he hugged Jack and Mira and left to go home.

Mira and Jack drove home and put Elizabeth to bed then sat down in the living room. He turned on his laptop, checked his messages and found the email. After decrypting the message and reading the material he decided to leave the next day. He put the information onto a chip that could be read with a palm reader. If anyone tried to read it without using the decryption code it would wipe the chip clean. The information gave Jack what he needed about the main players, locations, what product was being shipped and where. “Looks like its mountains, and savannah terrain. Khakis, pith helmets and salt tablets it is.” Jack said trying to make light of the situation. Mira hugged him from behind, “When you’re ready. I’ll give you an unforgettable going away present. If you get my meaning?” She said as she sauntered off towards the bedroom.

Squid was in his car on the way to his office the next morning when his cell phone beeped at him. Hitting the speaker button, “Thompson, go ahead.”

The person on the other end was using a voice changer making their voice sound metallic. “Don’t try to trace this call. You can’t anyway so listen closely. You tell your people to back off now. They don’t, and dead agents and families will be commonplace. We know you were involved in a secret mission in Albania. Expect a delivery, more information to follow.” The call ended. Squid immediately called the Omega Squad and asked for a trace, he was told it wasn’t possible because of a feedback loop. Squid wondered what mission they were referring to, no missions had been done in Albania since he took over.

He arrived at his office and as he walked in saw an envelope on his desk. In block letters this was written

ALBANIAN SWITCH ASSIGNMENT: INCOMPLETE

Squid commed a decon team and asked them to drop by his office ASAP. Five minutes later men in full PPE arrived and performed a full chemical, biological, electronic and several he wasn’t familiar with. As an agent grabbed the envelope he carefully opened it. As the flap was lifted, the contents started to flash and smolder completely incinerating the contents. “Sorry Sir, it must have had a chemical reaction that remained inert till exposed to air.” One of the techs said. Squid had watched the process over CCTV. He told the techs to take the remains to the lab to see if anything was salvageable then went to his desk. “Who would send me something then destroy it. There has to be more to this. I’ll find out.” He thought as he pondered over the cryptic message he had received and the letter that went up in flames. Reviewing security tapes, they showed was the night cleaning staff doing their jobs, one looked around suspiciously then placed an envelope on the desk. Squid accessed the roster of the cleaning crew, only twenty had clocked in at the entrance. But the electronic log noted twenty one had logged out. Squid would leave no stone unturned to find out.

Jack was at Love field loading his bags onto the Learjet sent courtesy of the Omega Squad. Mira and Elizabeth were watching and waiting till he finished. “Now, I know it seems I get picked for these missions all the time. But if this was anyone who hadn’t reported in, another agent would go. Mason and Janelle are most likely in trouble, since Mason and I have worked together before, I need to go. I’ll get back as soon as I can, I promise. This one should be fairly simple compared to past ones. William doesn’t start the academy for another month, I’ll call and see if he will do a check every so often to make sure things are ok.” Jack said as he held Mira close. He outwardly looked and sounded confident but she could see through the façade. “Jack, we know you’re worried, you almost died, you have memories you’re trying to absorb and your injuries still haven’t completely healed. I wish you could stay home but I also know you have to go. We’ll be fine.” She kissed him for luck. “Daddy, will you bring me home a toy? I want something to take to school when I start. Please?” Elizabeth said, her bluish green eyes shining like precious stones.

Jack picked her up, “Tell you what doll, I’ll bring you back something that no other kid your age has, I promise.” She smiled and nodded vigorously, her head bobbing up and down. “I love you daddy” she said and hugged him tight. The pilot leaned out the door, “Sir, we have been requested to wait. The tower says you have a 10-12 enroute, what does that mean?”

Jack smirked, “It means we have a visitor arriving. Please wait and I’ll be done soon.” The pilot nodded and returned inside. A police car arrived, William got out of the passenger side, Chief Larry Hensley got out of the drivers side, “Think you could just fly off without so much as a good bye Brown? What the hell?” Larry says accusingly. “Sir, this mission is supposed to be kept quiet. I have special conditions in my contract stating when the Omega Squad requires my need I am allowed to leave without due notice.”

Jack stood his ground but there really was no need to worry. “Ease up son, we didn’t tell anyone we’re here. Just came by to wish you luck and let you know if there’s anything within our capabilities to assist, just let us know.” Larry said as he offered his hand. Jack took it and pumped it several times. William without warning took his left leg and placed it in Jacks right hand. “What the………………? Ha ha funny funny” Jack said and he let go, but failed to stop the laughter that snuck out. After the moment passed, Jack just asked that his family be watched while he was away. Larry assured him they would be. Jack made a last round of good byes then boarded the jet. The door closed, he sat in a seat so he could see his family and friends as he left. He waved till they were out of sight.

Mira smiled, once again he was off to do something few others would know or care about. But she loved him and would be there for him.

William put his right leg in Larry’s hand, suddenly there was a crack and sizzle sound. William collapsed to the pavement panting. “Always be prepared and never joke a jokester” Larry said as he put the wire box back on his Taser. Mira had to wait to leave because she was laughing too hard to safely drive. Jack leaned back in his seat as the jet lifted off and headed east. The phone on the wall rang, he picked it up.

“Hello Jack. Hope this wasn’t too short of notice for you”

Squid’s voice said. “Not at all, I keep my bag packed, weapons loaded and passport in my pocket.” Jack said trying to make light of the situation. Squid turned serious, “I wouldn’t have called but since you worked with Mason and can predict how he works I need you. Your cover will be a diamond broker looking for some diamonds for a front business. In the attaché case under your seat is a file with the data you will need to authenticate your credentials. You will land in the Canary Islands to refuel. During your layover go to the Stanton Jeweler and pick up a loupe and chart. That will help you, we will make sure you have adequate back-up. Some ex Navy Seal commandoes will provide cover if needed. They will monitor and extract you should the need arise. On the laptop in the overhead compartment you will find the necessary files to assist you in passing as an entrepreneur in the diamond market. Once you land, contact will be by radio at standard mission intervals. If contact is to be missed, explain with next transmission. In event contact is too dangerous there is a new option in field equipment, the sub-cutaneous transponder. One press and the transponder sends a signal only detectable by properly calibrated equipment will be sent for twenty-four hours. It can be turned on and off for high risk situations. Your main objective is to find Mason and Janelle, when you find them do your best to assist them in completing the mission. Any questions for insertion that you have just comm me.” Jack said he would if any arose and would call when he landed. Jack then hung up the phone, he stood up and opened the overhead luggage compartment, and inside it was a laptop. He took it down, opened the lid and started it. The Omega Squad logo appeared on the screen. An attendant appeared at his elbow, “Sir, if you need anything to drink or eat, I’d be honored to serve you. Please let me know if you require anything.” The attendant was an attractive brunette with striking hazel eyes. Jack saw her name was Marie King, he nodded and she left to take care of her duties. Several minutes later however Marie arrived with a cold drink, she set it down and went back to work. Jack loaded up the file pertaining to the mission, he clicked on the diamond icon and several folders appeared. He picked the personnel icon, before he could read about the people involved an instant message popped up on the screen. “Jack, I am Dark Wolf. I will be your backup on this mission. Will be in contact soon.” The messenger display said the user was now offline so Jack saved the message and went back to the file. “Guess I’ll talk to you later then.” He said. He looked out of the window at the ocean then started researching the files on the laptop.

Mira sat on the couch with Elizabeth watching a cartoon movie. She was enjoying it too in spite of herself. The phone rang and she picked it up. “Yes, this is Mira Brown. Lily is wanting to come back here?

I see, but her memory will still be having flashbacks. Oh, you’re the one who will treat her in regular therapy sessions. Well let me speak to my father and see if he can arrange for her to move into his place so she can be taken care of. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Mira hung up the phone. Elizabeth was put to sleep in her bed then Mira called her father and updated him. He was grateful and said he would gladly take her in while giving her all the care she needed. Mira decided to watch a movie before going to bed, her only hope was that Jack made it through this mission in better shape than the last two.

The movie ended in the camp, Mason made his way back to his tent byway of the scenic route. As he sat on his so called bed he wondered if the Omega Squad knew he was here. If they did would they send help? The canvas rippled and popped as a projectile hit the ground between his feet. He looked at it for a few seconds then picked it up. It was a crossbow bolt, the shaft was extremely light considering the way typical shafts were made. He rubbed his thumb along the shaft and felt an edge, he pressed it and a seam appeared revealing a hollow tube with a slip of paper in it. He unfolded it seeing a coded message. Without his code key it would be difficult to translate. But the closer he examined it he saw it was in Bulgarian, the only other person he knew who spoke Bulgarian was Janelle. He was somewhat rusty but what he got out of the message was that the Omega Squad vipers were in the area waiting to extract them if the situation got too dangerous. Unless requested, they would conceal themselves and avoid getting involved with any conflicts. The vipers were the newest group developed for high risk missions. Mason felt better but needed a fellow operative to infiltrate the group who was the main guy in charge, not the one buying them. ‘Jack, wish you were here. Sure could use your help in getting things stirred up now.’ Mason thought despairingly. He was so tired he decided to try and get some sleep.

Melvin McBride sat behind his desk, it was one of a kind, carved out of a solid block of obsidian and polished to a mirror finish.

The cost was absurd but that was nothing compared to having the finest and one of a kind item. If you wanted the best, you had to pay for the best.

“So, the Dutch want to buy the pink ones? They state they are more popular than the N rated ones. Tell them we can accommodate them, the next shipment will arrive in a week. We expect full payment upon delivery at that time.” McBride hung up the phone. “Sir, may I suggest that you look over the labor costs on Nigeria ? The overseers have gained several dozen more workers in the past month alone. The costs for feeding and tools are straining their budget. I suggest we get better equipment and eliminate some labor, if you understand my meaning sir.” Tanaka said.

McBride did indeed understand, but rather than have some incompetent shift boss get rid of a good worker and leave the sloppy ones, he would fly down and personally handpick the ones fortunate enough to help the plan of the richest man on earth.

“Ichyro, ready my personal jet. I will see to this matter personally.” McBride decided.

Ichyro bowed slightly at the waist then turned and walked quietly out the door of the office. Ichyro was a former hit man for the Mob, ruthless and cunning. Too many hits that were unauthorized and drew undue attention forced him to seek other options, after several unsuccessful attempts at gainful employment McBride offered him a job with very few limits. He called the airport and ordered the crew to fuel and prep the plane for immediate takeoff. After that was accomplished he packed McBride’s travel bags with clothes and his laptop complete with the files on all the operations on the diamond mines.

One last glance at his PhD in Gemology from Princeton , he also minored in chemistry. McBride discovered he had a knack for putting together formulas that changed the molecular cohesion valences. After causing a few of the professors to rethink their theories, he used what he learned to form his first diamond that sold on the black market for several million dollars. The diamond started to dissolve after a few months but the buyer asked for more at a cost that made him an overnight success. Hiring staff, locating a base, buying the materials wasn’t too hard because there were scientists who loved pushing the boundaries of chemistry. Finding the mine was a stroke of luck, while looking for a place to use for the lab he discovered the deed to a played out mine. The engineers told him it had been abandoned for years but recent seismic activity had unearthed several rich deposits. Not being one to pass on a good thing he built a home, office and prepared to “hire” workers to work the mine.

The mine was a front to cover the real purpose of his business, flooding the market with fake diamonds and hoarding the real ones till the fake ones demolecularized then he would have a lock on the market. McBride smiled as he loaded up his attaché case, soon the world would be at his leisure.

Squid was going over mission briefings to make sure no international laws were violated when his presidential phone rang, “Sir, the board of inquiry has reached a verdict. They would like to speak with you as soon as you can arrive to the capitol. You are also required to bring along all names both real, code names and all locations where Omega Squad operatives are located and what missions they are working on. Failure to do so will result in summary judgment against you.”

Squid knew better than to turn over any names of agents, if it became known who the agents were and where, lives of them and whoever they were dealing with would be forfeit. The names of all agents and informants were privileged information and only under order of the head of the United Nations and even then it was only under extreme circumstances that any information would be handed out. After the ride to the capitol, Squid carried an attaché case with folders inside. Soon enough he would show this so called committee what they asked for. Walking side by side with his aide he said loud enough so others could hear, “For supposedly carrying about this country, the pres isn’t using too much common sense as far as security is concerned.”

Entering the room he sat down at the table, he saw the committee had already been in place.

“Well Mr. Thompson. Have you agreed to comply with our request?” Squid didn’t reply immediately, instead opened the latches on his case. “I have a list of names here. I made copies for each of you.”

One senator from Kansas said, “Please hand over the documents now.”

He did as requested; the folders had the Omega Squad emblem on them. As each committee member received a folder and looked, they didn’t appear pleased. “What the hell is this? We asked you for a list of names of your operatives and you only give us code names?”

Squid refused to be bullied, “You asked for names, I gave you their code names. If their real names ever came out in the open it would put not only their lives but their families’ lives at unnecessary risk. You know it, I know it. So, are we going to discuss this or are you going to tell me what the verdict is?”

He sat back, interlaced his fingers and waited for the usual Bullcrap that went along with these proceedings.

“The vote was not unanimous by any means. This committee did agree however to find the Omega Squad guilty of the murder of an NCIS agent. An Omega Squad operative, knowing full well that the agent was placed in reasonable harm, refused to do all he could to prevent their death. The verdict is as follows, by order of the president, the Omega Squad is to hereby report quarterly on all activities. Any and all agents are to be held accountable for all damages and/or deaths incurred on any mission. Should such either occur, the operative involved will face charges and personally be held responsible. This fact finding inquiry will present its findings to the President in a timely manner. Now Mr. Thompson, have you any last remarks before we have to appear back in session?”

Squid sat back, lowered his arms, crossed one leg over the other. He made his point abundantly clear. “Mr. Thompson. A verbal response would have sufficed, that gesture was truly uncalled for.”

Mason was trying to keep his back from locking up as he worked a jackhammer trying to widen a tunnel to facilitate installing rails. The jackhammer sputtered, whined at a high pitch and died. Tossing the useless machine to the side he went looking for his supervisor to requisition a new one. The guard assigned to his section asked where he thought he was going, when told he needed a new jackhammer the guard told him to hurry up because of the quotas still had to be met. Mason said it wouldn’t be too long and left. Mason followed the dim lights in the tunnel to the entrance, stepping out into the light caused him to cover his eyes till they adjusted. The area he was in didn’t look familiar, must be another entrance, there were rails, ties, pipes, and all sorts of equipment he didn’t recognize. Off in the distance he heard several voices talking. Making his way around several racks he peeked around a corner and saw several men surrounding someone who looked like a worker.

“You stole from me. What did you do with my diamonds? You were seen giving them to a courier; if you tell me where they are I will find it in my heart to put you in a quieter area. But if you lie to me I will make you suffer more pain than you could imagine. Do we have an understanding?”

The frightened worker nodded slowly, “I wanted to get money to buy my freedom, and my family no doubt misses me. I thought if I sold some diamonds my family could pay off my debt to you. Then I’d be allowed to go home” The worker fell to his knees and looked up at a tall man, “Please sir. I was only trying to go home.”

McBride smiled, “Now, was that so hard? You will have to be punished or course, I cannot allow someone to steal from me and not have some discipline made. Without discipline the workplace doesn’t run smoothly and we have chaos.” Melvin nodded to the escorts; the man was assisted up and taken over to a chipper machine. The man relaxed thinking that this would be his new job. As he bent over to pick up some branches, both thugs shoved him into the open part where the branches were placed. If the unfortunate man screamed it was lost in the sound of the machine pulverizing his body. Bloody spray covered the other branches, small chunks of tissues hit workers who were too close. Melvin smiled, one less burden to the group. Looking at his watch he realized he needed to prepare for that meeting with that representative from a diamond company. He motioned to Ichyro, both men walked to a more secluded location. “I want you go pick up that representative in Moyamba. Make sure you keep him in your sight at all times, if he even acts like he is a cop question him in the way you do best. Provided he is legitimate, bring him to the house. Blindfold him, make sure he has no tracking devices of any kind. I will keep him out of his room, search his things, find out just who he is. I will not have my empire ruined by stupid mistakes.”

Ichyro nodded then went off to make the arrangements.

Jack landed at the airport on Tenerife, he was escorted from the plane to a waiting car and driven to the jewelers for his briefing. Once there he met Dr. Otto, leading authority on conflict diamonds. He would be briefed on how to tell fake diamonds from genuine. He was given a loupe and chart to assist him in his guise as a broker. “No actual diamond representative would go anywhere without a loupe to look closely at diamonds. That would be like a photographer at a scene of a wildfire then not having a camera to take pictures. The briefing lasted four hours then he had to get back to the jet in order to make his rendezvous in Freetown Sierra Leone. Jack thanked Otto for the training and loupe then was driven back to the airport. Once in the air Jack put the items in his backpack for safekeeping. The trip to Sierra Leone was quick and he landed at the airfield. He carried his bags to the terminal, went through customs without a hitch. After taking a taxi to a hotel, he would spend the night till his meeting was set up. Squid was making the meeting arrangements where he would travel to Moyamba and meet with McBride’s valet and be escorted to where the mine was located.

He fell asleep and didn’t wake up till the next morning. He showered and called the front desk to ask what transportation he could use to get to Moyamba, he was told a passenger boat would be leaving in an hour. Jack readied his bags and took a taxi to the dock by the river. He bought a ticket and waited, a short time later he was allowed on board. The ride was smooth and without incident. He saw a blond woman sitting near the back reading a book, he wondered if she was American so he approached her.

“Hello, I’m Dan Feldman. Are you American?” He asked smiling.

She looked at him annoyed, “I’m not looking to hook up for a quickie, I am traveling to get away from macho guys like you who think just cause a woman is alone she is available. You might as well go back to your seat and think of ways to enjoy this trip alone because I am not interested.” She said sounding angry.

Jack shrugged, “Try to be friendly and I get told off, nice, what do I get if I ask what time it is, a knife to the gut?”

He returned to his seat, he wasn’t trying to pick her up, just to converse with during the trip.

Paula Crews AKA Blue Eyes was no ordinary female. She was a for hire person who would do almost anything for the right price, including killing an innocent to infiltrate a group. She recognized Jack Brown, Omega Operative extraordinaire. She didn’t want to tip her hand so she brushed him off. She was wanted in several countries for murder and terrorists activities. She wasn’t ready to be made, yet.

The passengers were enjoying the scenery looking at the exotic animals on the banks of the river. Suddenly a siren sounded as a military patrol boat rounded the bend, it pulled up alongside the boat forcing it to stop. A man in captain’s bars used a bullhorn to talk, “We are the Peoples Liberation Army of Sierra Leone, we are here to protect you from thugs. In order to assist us in this endeavor, we require a donation of currency. Please hand over your money to the men with rifles. If we suspect you are withholding we will shoot. Your cooperation is your guarantee of living.”

Jack carried some cash with him for emergencies but this wasn’t one. He would cooperate though, these military men were just as crooked as the crooks but this wasn’t a time to debate ethics. He took out his wallet and emptied it of a couple hundred dollars showing the armed man that’s all he had. The blond woman put her book down, handed an amount of folded money over then went back to reading acting she had just donated to a good cause. The Captain looked at the amount “donated”.

“Thank you for your effort to assist us, we leave you as we came, somewhat poorer but in peace. Make sure you watch out for those who would take advantage of you.”

He ended with a laugh that was so annoying Jack wanted to rip his voice box out.

The pilot of the boat was shaking but managed to return to navigating. A couple hours later they arrived at Moyamba, the passengers took a vote once they had stopped shaking from being robbed to agree on reporting to the local police. Jack didn’t think it would do any good; they were probably just as crooked as the military but he would go along looking like he was part of the group. They arrived and began to complain to the local chief. He just took their names and a brief description of the incident promising he would look into it. The passengers didn’t look too satisfied but were in no position to complain further. Jack noticed a bag left by a passenger but figured they would go back to get it. He left to look for a hotel to rest, the mines owner would probably be in contact to reassure him of the meeting. A block away Jack heard and felt an explosion behind him, he was knocked to the ground by the shockwave and covered in dust. He shook his head to clear it, he looked back to see the police station in flames. Parts of bodies were strewn about. He wanted to help but it was a local problem and if he did, questions would be asked he couldn’t answer so he gathered his belongings and went to the nearest hotel.

Jack sat and waited in his room, he made use of the time to familiarize himself with the terrain and go over last minute details of diamonds. His messenger popped up, “Jack, the vipers tell me that Mason is alive, Janelle is hiding. Until we get your word we wait” then the box said the sender was offline. Jack shook his head, hopefully they will react when needed. He picked up the phone to order some food, once that was done he stood on the veranda looking out at the city. He remembered being a cop in Kansas City, his ex wife, the arguments as clear now as back those many years ago. He didn’t understand why someone who took vows to be faithful to the one they married would find another to mess around with. The straw that broke the camels back was when she brought the guy home to meet him. Jack looked at him and said deadpan, “I have to sleep with her, but you?”  Faye threw a fit, yelling, screaming, demanding he fight for her. Jack knew that the battle would be lost. Once she crossed that line the temptation would always be there. After the divorce he quit the force, got a job doing construction. Without realizing it, he set events into motion that jump kicked his life into motion and ended up here. There was a knock on the door, grabbing his weapon he looked through the peephole; it was the steward with his food. Opening the door he stepped back, the cart was wheeled in. Carefully he put his weapon away, lifted the lid to sniff the food. Steak, potatoes, green beans not only looked good but was freshly made. After tipping the steward he placed the plates on the small table. As he got ready to sit down, he grabbed the sat phone. The phone buzzed, “Yes Squid? How did I know it was you? I was getting ready to eat and I heard fate laugh.” Squid laughed then got serious, “We have a major problem, the POTUS has demanded I turn over all names both code and real of all my operatives. I refuse to, too quickly they forget about the brigade war and how if it wasn’t for the Omega Squad, the world would still be fighting. And what you did in Indonesia proved that the world still isn’t safe. You’d think these Yale; Harvard graduates would have learned something besides getting drunk and playing rich snob. We learned values, integrity, and morals at Emporia State . I won’t give my people up Jack. I do that and what’s to stop the bad guys from taking over, not just talking about the terrorists. Our own people aren’t even obeying the constitution; they twist it to suit their own purposes. Until I die, I will make sure our country stays safe. I sent out newest graduates of extractors to help you. All they will do is cover your escape, use your transponder to signal them. Good luck my friend, Godspeed.” With that Squid ended the call, Jack was concerned now. If the government wants the Omega Squad to give up its agents then what would the men and women who made it up do? They couldn’t do the job they were recruited for without endangering them and their families. ‘Have to look into that when I get done here’ he thought.

Jack ate dinner, looked over his notes to keep the information fresh in his mind. He powered up the laptop, hit the scramble button then emailed Mira. He told her he missed her and Elizabeth and would do his best to finish early and be safe while doing it. He said he would try to bring souvenirs back. He closed with love your’s then shut the laptop down.

He lay down on the bed to gather his thoughts, something about that woman on the boat, she was too calm for being in enemy territory, and anyone else would have been looking all over in case of attack. When the so called protectors rousted the passengers, that woman was handling it like it was an everyday occurrence. And she wasn’t filing a complaint either like the others were, it was like she went along with the crowd. The explosion in the station wasn’t just a random bomb, someone targeted that station.

Jack drifted off to sleep hoping the darkness would give him insight on the upcoming mission.

Mira got off work, picked up Elizabeth and Lily then headed home. Both girls were talking about what to play when they got home. At the house they went into the bedroom and started playing while Mira changed out of work clothes, checked phone messages and looked for what to cook for dinner. Not really feeling like cooking since Jack was away she went and asked the girls if they wanted to go out and of so where. Both girls jumped at the chance to go out to eat. They wanted to go to Chuck E Cheeses so they could see the mouse. Mira smiled, “Well get dressed and clean up the room then we can go ok?”  The girls nodded and hurriedly changed then picked up toys. “Mommy? When is daddy coming home? And will he bring us something cool?” Mira told her that she wasn’t sure when daddy would be home but hoped it would be soon. The phone rang, Mira answered it, Mira? This is Will. Any chance of getting in touch with Jack? I need to talk to him about the academy. I have to have a letter from my sponsor in order to attend class. Without it I can’t go.” Mira told him when Jack was on missions he was out of touch unless he made contact. Only one person stood a remote chance of getting hold of him but it was rare. Then she remembered an envelope Jack had placed in the letter box, she grabbed it. “Wait Will, he left it here for you. Drop by tomorrow and pick it up okay?” Will said he would and hung up. Mira went to check on the girls to make sure they were doing as they had been told. She rounded the corner, looked in the room and saw Elizabeth standing up with her eyes wide open. Lily had a piece of glass in her right hand threatening Elizabeth with a look that belied the little girl. “Lily? Put the glass down please. What’s wrong? Talk to me.” Lily turned slowly towards Mira, she took a couple of steps then the look of rage was gone and she dropped the glass. Lily started crying; Elizabeth walked over to Lily and hugged her. “It’ll be ok Lily. We love you.” Mira fought back a tear; Elizabeth had her fathers’ courage and compassion. Debating whether or not to call Lily’s case manager she decided to wait till morning. “Let’s go out to eat ok? We can deal with this tomorrow.”

Elizabeth took Lily’s hand and walked with her out to the car. Mira was worried; she would have to talk to someone soon.

Morning came and the wake up call Jack wanted woke him up, he had tossed and turned all night. After breakfast was served, he heard a knock on the door. He looked out the peephole and saw a tall Asian looking individual standing there. “Can I help you?” Jack asked through the door. “I am Mr. McBride’s valet, assistant and representative. I am here to escort you to his mine for your meeting.”

Jack was suspicious but he had to find out as much as possible. “Just a minute, need to get a shirt on.” Jack put a shirt on and opened the door. “Sorry, not used to the time change. Takes a while to get used to the time lag. Dan Feldman, representative of Diamonds unlimited inc. I’m here to see about buying diamonds to supplement my companies supply. Does your employer have an adequate supply? I’d like to discuss it with him as soon as possible. I assume you’re here to make sure I arrive in a timely manner? Could you retrieve my bags and be as so kind to carry them?” Jack asked trying to sound all high and uppity. It must have succeeded because Ichyro seethed underneath at the thought of being reduced to a pack mule. Jack chuckled a little as he saw the man struggle to lift his 3 heavy bags and walk out the door. The walk outside was quiet, Jack was hard pressed to keep from laughing, but he know he must pull off the act of being a high class representative and the only way to do it was act like he was above everyone else. He’d had plenty of practice dealing with snooty rich people with their high brow, nose in the air parties.

The vehicle being loaded was a six wheeled truck with a gun mount. An M-60 machine gun was manned by a soldier who looked really comfortable with it. Another vehicle in front was idling, a black Lincoln Towne car. The driver was standing at the back with the left rear door open waiting. “Oh how nice, the four star treatment. I would have expected nothing less. I always expect royal treatment when I go places. Thank you.” Jack said as he got in the car. The door closed and Ichyro got in the front passengers side. Jack asked where the meeting was to take place and how long the trip would be. He was told it would be several hours because the roads weren’t reliable and the possibility of rebels attacking. Jack took out his notes, PDA, stone wheel to refresh his memory. Diamonds came in raw form from up to 25 miles below the surface. Only the heat and pressure from deep in the earth can make natural diamonds, In certain laboratories scientists have made diamonds that are virtually indistinguishable from real diamonds. Doing more refreshing made the time go faster, till there was a jarring stop and his notes flew to the floor. “Damn, the roads blocked. Looks like a miniature landslide. Mr. Feldman, how do you feel about manual labor?” Ichyro asked. The look on his face made it known it irked him to have to ask a snooty visitor for help. Jack picked up the papers and put them in his satchel. He got out, surveyed the situation and looked at the landslide. Looking up the hill he saw ruts dug into the side of the hill just above the spot where the debris had slid. Looking around he kept his ears tuned, eyes peeled in case the engineers of the plan decided to make use of the trap. The driver, Ichyro and Jack worked on using hands, tree bark as shovels to clear the road. There was a large tree blocking the road as well, they used the truck to move it to the side. After that was done, the men wearily got back into the car and resumed the trip. “That’s three hours of my life I’ll never get back” Jack said under his breath. Neither men in the front said anything. The trip was made without further incident. The Rokel River came into view through the trees, dark and slowly moving it reminded Jack of the river he traveled on in Colombia . “You worked well back there, almost like you were used to hard work. You sure you haven’t worked a labor job?” Jack said, “I worked for a youth facility during college and lot of times part of it was having to show the youth how to dig a hold or till a garden. I hated it. Those little brats would do the bare minimum and then complain when nothing turned out right. I learned how to do ‘manual’ labor. After college I was picked to be part of a Peace Corps mission to Somalia , there I had to help rebuild homes destroyed by war. I am not afraid of work but sweating means you’re putting forth effort.”

Ichyro looked long and hard for a few seconds then a small smirk curled one side of his mouth, he went back to looking out towards the front. Jack inwardly sighed, what he said was a twist on the truth. After college he became a police officer but was recruited by the Omega Squad. He was sent to Somalia to rescue Peace Corps members who got caught behind the wrong lines. As a distraction he “borrowed” a bazooka from a Ciidanka Qaranka soldier. Taking the missile out of the tube he took out the explosive and put the empty casing back on. He fired it at a holdout and was gratified to see them run out of the building making them easier targets. The gunships gave them enough cover to make it to the rendezvous and get out of the country with several casualties but no fatalities.

“We are coming up on Makeni, the mine is about twenty or so miles from there. It will be well after dark when we arrive but the delay was beyond our control. Once we get there I’ll explain the circumstances and change the meeting till late afternoon. Mr. McBride will understand since he is aware of rebel activity. We will stop and eat in Mekani, no choice.”  As short time later they came upon a local restaurant and walked in. As they were seated Jack sat down and looked at the crude menu. Not being fluent in Mende he had a hard time reading the words. Ichyro and the driver looked like they knew what they were reading. “What’s good to eat in this area? I don’t suppose they would have a filet mignon with a sherry?”  He asked reverting back to his high brow act. Both the driver and Ichyro rolled their eyes, “There is a local dish the people love, it’s good and I think you will like it,”

Jack smiled and nodded but inside was wary, doubtful that anything he ordered would kill him he just didn’t want to get a plateful of raw organs. Drinks were ginger beer which was quite flavorful. Dinner arrived; it was a chicken stew that had local herbs and spices. The waiter brought the check and Ichyro handed him a credit card. The waiter saw the name and started to shake visibly, barely able to do his job. Ichyro looked at him with a cold look, the waiter went to charge the card. When he returned he quickly handed the card and receipt back then left. The men returned to the car and headed towards the mine, before they got in the car, Ichyro said Jack needed to be blindfolded. Just a security reasons he said. Jack had to agree or he would be made out to be a fraud. About two hours later they finally arrived at the gate, Ichyro took off Jacks blindfold after the guard saw who was in the vehicle, he nodded to the other one who lifted the arm. Jack made note of the weapons, Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, 30 rd magazines, bandoliers with additional magazines. Several grenades were hanging on both of their belts. No sense in alarming them, Jack pulled out a camera and rolled down his window, “Excuse me soldier person, may I take a picture of you for my portfolio? I try to get pictures of people at the places I travel to.” The soldier looked at Ichyro, after Ichyro nodded the soldier smiled broadly as the other one joined him. Jack took the picture and saved it. The car proceeded through to a fairly impressive looking Victorian style house complete with pruned hedges. The darkness didn’t allow him to see a lot even when they pulled up to the front of the house. All kinds of servants seemingly appeared out of nowhere. “I will make arrangements for you to sleep in the guest house. I will also make apologies to Mr. McBride and explain our delay. I will have your things sent to your room. Follow Benabo.” A young black man dressed in Bermuda shorts, flower shirt and sandals. Jack was looking forward to a hot shower and restful sleep. The walk to the guest house was pleasant, trees rustling, birds making noises, monkeys chattering. “Make sure you secure all belongings, the monkeys love to take things and hide them. Use the air conditioning instead of opening windows. Breakfast is served at 0700; you will meet with Mr. McBride sometime after that. A valet will arrive to escort you to breakfast at 0645.” The young man said with a heavily accented voice.

Jack thanked him, and then went to the window to look out. Servants were unloading the car and carrying the bags to the guest house. He opened one window, a warm breeze hit his face, the glow of lamps gave the jungle an eerie glow. A knock at the door brought him out of his observing the layout. He opened the door to let them servants inside. They placed the luggage on racks and without a word walked out. Jack took out his camera, not only did it take pictures it also had a GPS system that marked locations. Omega Squad satellites would transmit it to whoever had the proper code. He hid his weapon in a hidden compartment; unless you literally tore the case up not even x-ray would reveal the pouch it was in. Other places hid knives, Taser, knockout pills, and emergency food rations. He knew his luggage would be thoroughly searched and his credentials rechecked, but that was part of the game. Another knock at the door, he opened it, a female servant offered towels, clothes, and a small bag with toiletries. He smiled generously, thanked her and closed the door. ‘Well, better shower; get some sleep before my meeting tomorrow.’ Jack thought.

“Why were you late getting here? I wanted him back before nightfall so I could talk to him while you searched his room and luggage. There is no excuse that I can see for a 4 hour delay.” McBride was fuming, he expected things to be done like clockwork and delays were inexcusable. “Sir, there was a landslide outside Freetown ; we had no tools so we had to use what was available. At Menkani we did eat. As it got darker we were more careful of ambushes and other obstacles. I did blindfold him as instructed; there is no reason to believe he knows where he is” Ichyro said trying not to back down. “Anything else you would like to add?” McBride said. Ichyro nodded, “He asked if he could take a picture of the gate guards, I Okayed it. I have no reason at this time to suspect he is anything but who he says he is.”  McBride wouldn’t take his word for it, too many competitors and governments have tried to destroy him but he prevailed. He would not let himself let his guard down. His multi-billion dollar empire was built on proving who was the best, not letting anyone stand in his way. After a few moments thought he said “Your reason is plausible, rebel activity is higher than normal. Next time we will have tools available for such circumstances. Maybe also add a blade to use to remove large debris. At breakfast, search his belongings thoroughly, check that camera. We have rooted out spies before and I don’t want one to slip by cause we got lazy. Go get cleaned up, we can talk tomorrow.” Ichyro nodded, turned smartly on one heel the walked out the door closing it after he was out. McBride paced around the office, so many setbacks, and workers pushing their luck, rebels attacking supply lines, now a representative from a diamond supplier wanting to get diamonds. If he gives any trouble he will just disappear like so many Americans so when they visit. “Sir? Will you be needing anything more?” A polish servant asked as she bowed her head. Melvin looked up a little startled because he didn’t hear her open the door. “No Danuta. Go enjoy the rest of the evening. Take tomorrow off, the next day I have a special assignment for you.” Melvin said with a smile that gave Danuta the chills.

Jack checked his luggage, made sure that his equipment was secure then laid down to rest. He wondered where Mason was and if he was still alive, Janelle was probably beside herself with worry.

Janelle was covered up on a rocky ledge watching the mine working it its full capacity. Workers were loading sealed boxes of semi-precious stones onto truck beds. Even though she as almost a half mile away she could hear the equipment running clearly. A bright flash and a few seconds later a loud roar hit her. A propane tank exploded with enough force to cause the mine entrance to collapse trapping an unknown number of workers. Off duty workers rushed to aid those trapped. The night foreman was trapped under some debris, he spit out dirt yelling for some help. No one heard him over the loud alarms going off. Suddenly someone had placed a pry bar under the beam that was on him and was trying to lift it off. He tried to see but with the smoke and the flashes of light he couldn’t make out who it was. People grabbed his arms and pulled him out to safety. “You’ll be okay dude, just wait till we get the more severely injured to safety then we will fix ya up.” He heard a voice say, as he turned his head he saw Mason kneeling down beside him. “Why?” was all the foreman asked, Mason patted his shoulder, “Just cause you’re my boss and treat me like crap don’t mean you have to die needlessly. Besides, might need some muscle to help dig out our people.” Mason stood up and rushed to help others. The foreman just sat there pondering.

The phone in McBride’s bedroom rang, he answered it, “This better be life or death because if it’s not, heads will literally roll.”  His face paled and he hung up without a word. “What is it?” the female in bed asked. “Nothing you need to concern yourself with. Stay here, I’ll be back later.”  He got up and dressed then headed downstairs. Ichyro was waiting, “Sir, estimates stand at over a 100 workers injured, killed or trapped.” Both men walked to the jeep that was waiting, if McBride had to wait for any ride, the driver would be dead before his next meal. The trip to the mine was short but what he saw when he arrived made him cold to the core, damage to the mine was extensive, bodies were everywhere, fires raging out of control, just utter chaos. McBride started issuing orders and soon there was water hoses putting out fires, heavy equipment trying to clear out the mine entrance, and men using shovels to dig and shoring every few feet. Mason was one of the first ones trying to get through the debris in the mouth of the tunnel. Suddenly he remembered something he should have. “Hey guys? What about the side entrance? That might not have collapsed and we might be able to get in that way.”  The foreman he had saved earlier nodded and got several men to follow him. McBride was ordering men around when he saw several break off and head in a different direction. McBride motioned to some guards who went after them. McBride put on a hard hat and followed wanting to know why they suddenly decided to escape. The foreman and crew had just passed the pipes when gunfire erupted, “Stop or we will kill you. Do not run!” a voice from the darkness said. The foreman stopped and turned around, a shovel was in his hand. “We are going to try another entrance, there is a chance we can save them.” He shouted. One of the guards raised his rifle, the foreman kept walking in the direction of the other entrance. Mason walked quickly in order to keep up, he felt something and hit the dirt. Gunfire erupted over his head. The foreman’s back exploded in sprays of blood, he dropped to the ground. Mason crawled over to where he was and rolled him over, there were several through and through holes in his chest. The wounds were sucking air, his lungs were punctured. Unless he got to a hospital immediately he wouldn’t survive. The guards arrived and placed the other workers on their knees. McBride arrived shortly thereafter. “So you thought you could escape during the commotion? You wouldn’t survive in the jungle with no supplies, no weapons and no maps. So why did you run?” Mason looked at him with fire in his eyes, “We are trying to save your workers. There is a side entrance that might not be collapsed. We might have time if we hurry.” The foreman said in a pained voice, “This man saved my life earlier, he knows what he is talking about. Listen to him.” And died. McBride looked at the guards, “You didn’t give him a chance to explain before you shot him? He was one of my best foremen. We will discuss this later.”

McBride motioned for them group to continue to the entrance. A few minutes later they arrived, the opening was clear but that didn’t mean that it would be farther in the mine. The spotlights illuminated the dark, it was murky, dusty, they could only see a few feet ahead of them. Debris was strewn all over making it hazardous to move too quickly. The lights concentrated on a wall of dirt, “Well I guess it caved in here too, let’s start digging anyway. Maybe we can get lucky and it not be so deep.” Mason said. McBride looked at Mason, “You seem to know a lot about mines for just being a tourist, I think you’re a spy.”

Mason stopped, put his rope, shoring poles, and shovel down and looked at McBride. “If I was a spy, don’t you think I’d be trying to escape during this? Or maybe trying to sabotage your mine? I am trying to help those men, now, either kill me or let me do what I can to rescue these men.”

The rest grabbed what they could and started digging into the wall of dirt and rocks. “I got an idea, let’s get a pipe, cap an end, drive it through and see if anyone is alive. Maybe even give them some air.” Mason suggested. McBride nodded and several men brought two inch pipes, placed a metal cap on the end, placed it in the dirt. A worker used a sledge hammer to knock it through, when they got close to it going through they added a piece. Soon they had managed to punch through. A smaller pipe was inserted in to knock the cap off. Someone yelled into the pipe and listened, no sound so they dug farther hoping the trapped workers would hear them and manage to get some air.

Deeper in the mine, twenty three workers were struggling to breathe in the dust as they used what scarce first aid kits they could find. “They will come for us, they need us. This is the only mine that produces the most diamonds in the country.” One said as he walked around. “The baas don’t need us man. He will just kidnap more from villages around. His men will just wait till we are dead then dig our bodies out. No one will know we are dead.” An older man said. Several gathered to discuss what they should do, lot of the topic revolved around digging a way out while some proposed blasting into an adjoining tunnel and escaping. One youth walked down one of the main tunnels, he stopped, heard a noise. He walked towards it, fresh air was coming from somewhere, he got curious and went off to explore.

Jack had been trying to relax when he saw a bright light then a loud boom. He put on his boots and ran outside, about a mile off he saw dust glowing in a mushroom cloud. “I got a bad feeling about this” he said. Jack saw a jeep with McBride and Ichyro drive off at a rapid pace. He jogged down the road hoping he could help. He arrived a while later at the scene, it was total chaos. His emergency training kicked in. He went and showed the men where the water was needed most, where to put the most injured and assisted in first aid to those he could. He looked around to see if Mason was around but with hundreds of workers fighting fires and trying to dig out the entrance to a tunnel he was amazed that no one just escaped but then again a loss of one was a loss to all in this situation. A worker tapped him on the shoulder, “Mon, we need another hand at da mine entrance. What say you give us a hand?” With the possibility of Mason trapped he nodded and stood. Gloves were shoved into his hands, then a shovel. Jack jumped right in relieving some workers who were tiring. Time passed and soon he was getting tired and a worker relieved him. Someone handed him water and he gratefully drank it. After a few minutes he stood up from his makeshift bench ready to head back into it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a barrel of chemicals used to mix in the dirt to make sludge for road repairs. An inspiration worthy of a Nobel prize hit him. “Get a spare fire hose, a funnel, duct tape and pipes, we might cut down on a lot of this digging.”  Some others looked at him like he was insane, but he kept insisting so a few went off to the retrieve the supplies.

When they arrived Jack put his plan into motion, he dragged a fire hose over to the entrance and used his Swiss army knife and carved the funnel to fit the hose then duct taped it to the nozzle. He put the funnel in the pipe and duct taped it tight. He yelled at the men in the new entrance to move, when they were clear he stuck the pipe in the dirt. Once he braced himself he motioned for the water to be turned on, he wasn’t prepared for the kick the pressure gave. Thankfully some men braced him, the water pressure seemed to be working. The dirt turned to mud and every so often they shored up. The idea worked, even though the mud needed to be scooped up but men happily kept it out.

Men took turns with the hose and they made progress and maybe stood a chance of saving some if not all their lives.

At the other side Mason’s group was dealing with lights dying, no masks to help breathe and no reliefs. Even the guards dug to help. McBride left to check on the progress of the other entrance, he was walking towards it and saw most of the fires were finally out, it was getting light as the sun was starting to rise. He finally started to get an idea how much damage was done. A guesstimate he figured roughly in the millions. Workers could be found close by, but equipment, supplies would be harder but not impossible. He approached the entrance, who he saw digging out mud surprised him. “Mr. Feldman, it is a total shock seeing you here. I thought you’d be cowering under your bed reading a book. After all, this is a whole different venue for a man of your position.” McBride said not attempting to hide the sarcasm in his voice. Jack handed off the device, “I did some work in Somalia rebuilding homes after the war. I am not afraid to work but sweat means you’re putting forth effort. I avoid it when I can but when I heard about workers being trapped I decided to help out.” McBride was still suspicious but had no reason not to believe him. Ichyro joined them a few minutes later, “Sir, there might be a chance the men are still alive, we found a survivor.”

The survivor found a narrow fissure in the side of the mountain and squeezed through and climbed down. McBride barraged him with questions about what he saw, where he was, who was alive, what damage there was, etc.

“The place where I escaped is small, many tight places. Took many hours to get out, men were alive when I left. Many hurt, air was thin.”  He said when he caught his breath and drank some water. “I have a man who might have bought them some time, he come up with an idea to pound a pipe through giving them some air if they were close enough to breathe it. And we have someone yelling in it to try and get a response.” Jack wondered if Mason was in the cave or somewhere else, or even dead. “Let’s get more men over there with the same setup as here. It seems to be working so let’s get this operation over and back to business.” McBride yelled. Men rushed to grab generators, hose, funnel, duct tape, shovels, shoring materials. They arrived a few minutes later. The process went smooth, in short order they had cleared several metric tons on debris.

The trapped workers were sitting on crates and barrels waiting, “We are probably going to die, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and die without trying to get out. Who’s with me? We are going to try and get out. I refuse to go down without a fight.” Several men got up and grabbed shovels then walked to the nearest entrance. They used hand held spotlights, hat lights and kerosene lamps. As they got closer they saw a one inch pipe poking through the dirt blocking the exit. “They are looking for us, they sent a pipe through to help with air. Someone hand over a hammer.”  Obediah said. He took the hammer and knelt down, using the hammer and hit the pipe hard. The ringing echoed in the close confines of the cave, as it died down Obediah listened a few seconds for a response. When there was none he repeated it. He listened in hopes they hadn’t put it there and waited then left.

The rescue team was working hard to try and get the debris cleared, having to stop on occasion to remove crossbeams or huge rocks they were trying to keep up hope that the workers were still alive. As they were getting ready to start the generator, Mason heard something, he held up his hand, all got quiet. There was a ping from the pipe, a few seconds later there was another. Mason grabbed a rock and hit the pipe twice rapidly. There were two more from inside, “Sounds like they are still alive, let’s get this crap out of here and get them out. We might not have much time left.” The men on break jumped in to help digging to get through the dirt. Several hours went by, there still pinging on the pipe so they knew someone was still alive.

Jack was doing his best to help those wounded in the explosion; a good number had limbs blown off, 3rd degree burns, shrapnel damage. Jack wished he could just call in professionals because these injuries were beyond basic first responder training. Jacks memory flashed back to Indonesia , that experience was still very fresh in his mind. The men he fought alongside with being shot, caught with RPG’s, body parts flying all over. That NCIS agent stepping on that pressure mine and giving them time to escape with her life. Suddenly lights appeared in front of him, he looked up and saw rescue vehicles arrive. “Look for the most severely injured and get them loaded up quickly. Those we can treat here and get them back to helping do so.” Said the man who appeared to be in charge. “Hey, all these injured need to get to a hospital and be treated. They can’t just be treated and released, they need expert care.” Jack yelled over the noise. The man looked at him, “You will be quiet, and you are obviously a visitor. Mind your business.” Jack shook his head and go up to see if he could help more. The progress on this entrance had slowed, the collapse had weakened the wall of the tunnel so they had to resort to plywood and thicker beams to secure the roof and walls. Jack decided to find the other team to advise them of what was going on here and maybe help them if things looked promising. A few minutes he saw the pole lights and entrance. Men were lugging out wheel barrow loads of mud and dumping them then heading back in. ’Well at least it looks like they aren’t running into any major problems here.” He thought. McBride was outside looking at what appeared to be blueprints of the mine. He looked up at Jacks approach. “Mr. Feldman, you continue to surprise me, showing up at a dangerous place, helping out and attending to my workers. But what my check on you came back with made it appear that you were fussy about your appearance and refused to help anyone unless you got something in return.” McBride said. Jack caught his breath, “I can’t sit by and not do anything, I prefer to not get my hands dirty. But seeing innocent men and women suffer for an accident they were not at fault in doesn’t sit well with me.” Jack said.

“Well since you’re here, go in and relieve one of the workers. He’s been working for several hours straight and needs a break. He is the one leading the others in this effort.” Jack grabbed a hard hat and went in the mine. He passed workers trying to secure the shoring done earlier. He saw a man using an improvised water drill. He tapped the guy on the shoulder, as he turned around his mouth dropped open, “Mason, you’re alive!” Jack was relieved. Mason was equally shocked, “What are you doing here? We need to talk, but not here and not now!”  Mason had a sense of urgency in his voice. With lots of workers close by they would have to wait till a quieter place to talk. Jack took over the drill so Mason could rest. Jack drilled and after several minutes a worker tapped his shoulder and he stopped. “Check on men, hit pipe with hammer” he said. The worker tapped the pipe, a few seconds later there was a ping, the worker hit it three more times and three pings responded. “Sound is louder, we are close. We will keep going.” Jack restarted the drill and resumed

Mason walked out of the mine entrance, he went over to the water jug and chugged down cool and invigorating water. As he tossed a cupful on his face, he felt it cool his skin that was bordering on heatstroke. The breeze felt good on him. ‘What if there were air passages in the side of the mountain? Those could be used to supply air till the rescuers arrived, there was hope they would live.’ He walked back in the mine, the workers were still going strong. It had been close to six hours since the explosion and cave in, the more time that passed the odds of getting them out decreased. Suddenly a shout from deep inside, “We have broken through, they are alive!” A worker yelled. Mason ran to the entrance, as he looked through the gloom he saw a hole about two feet wide in the wall, lights were shining into the darkness. A shadowy figure was seen using a handle as a staff to assist him walking. “We need help, many injured and unconscious. Please help he said as loud as he could. The men dug with renewed energy to widen and shore up the tunnel. Once they had freed the entrance what they saw lifted a huge weight off their shoulders. Men were tending to each other and making sure the roof was stable. McBride walked in and assessed the damage, a guesstimate was in the millions in property damage, lost time, injured workers. Who knew how many diamonds were now in the hands of workers or lost in the debris. He pulled Ichyro aside, “Go check out that Feldman’s luggage while he is here. Something don’t sit right with him supposedly being a well to do representative of a distributor and him getting right into the thick of things like this. Don’t leave any trails but do what you can.”

Ichyro nodded once and left, McBride looked at Mason, “You did well, I’m impressed about that idea of the water drill. Where did you come up with that idea?” Mason took his hard hat off, wiped his forehead leaving a dark smudge, “I grew up on a farm in Bulgaria , generators were hard to come by and fancified tools from the west were hard to expensive to buy. We had a pump and hoses, we had to learn to improvise. After cutting down trees it was easier to expose the roots and chop them than try to use horses to pull them out. Shovels are good but water pressure gets more done than muscles.”  McBride nodded, he didn’t get impressed too often but when lives of his people were saved that was no small feat. “Mason, you did excellent work here tonight. I’ll think of a way to compensate you. Go shower, change clothes and rest. Come by the house in the morning for brunch. I’ll let you know what I decided.” The smile he had made Mason wonder if he should trust a shark with his fish. Mason nodded then left, as he walked by Jack he said, “Gazebo in 30” loudly enough for Jack to hear but no one else. Jack subtlety nodded then left to go back outside. McBride was standing close to a now quiet generator talking to several men, “Mr. McBride, now that excitement is over I would like to take my leave and go back to my guest room and freshen up and rest. I will still make breakfast on time.” Jack nodded and after receiving a similar one he left. McBride motioned to Ichyro, “During breakfast, check his room thoroughly. The way he acted tonight makes me suspicious, no typical representative knows triage first aid and works like he has done physical labor all his life. Do some more checking on him, I want to know all about him.” Ichyro’s eyes shone in the dim light and dust, he had his suspicions too and he would find something.

Jack made it back to his room and collapsed on the bed, he knew he had put his personae at risk by helping but he couldn’t just let those men die. He sat up feeling his muscles protest, too bad he just couldn’t find a Jacuzzi and soak for a couple of hours. He closed his eyes, breathed in his nose and exhaled slowly out his mouth, after a couple of minutes doing that he body relaxed, his muscles unclenched and he was more focused. After bringing out fresh clothes he took a hot shower trying to get the mine dirt off him. Just the short time he was there made him realize that even though the world had defeated the brigade there was a lot of work to be done before everyone had the lives they deserved. He knew he wouldn’t see it happen in his lifetime but he would keep trying. He dried off, picked his clothes up to put them away. As he took his papers, wallet, change, and belt from his pants he saw what looked like a shard of glass. As he picked it up to look, he noticed it wasn’t glass, somehow a diamond had fallen into his cuff. Smiling a little he put it in a secret pouch on his duffle bag. ‘Mira ought to like that, she has only seen diamonds already cut, this will be a nice gift.’

He laid out clothes and pulled out his laptop, time to update Squid and let him know he’d made contact with Mason and find out what’s going on. He looked at his watch, time to go meet him. There were people walking around in a daze as if still trying to fathom what happened at the mine. He made it to the gazebo right on time, as he leaned against a pole he heard a voice from nearby foliage. “Your timing is exact as always. I bet you even showered didn’t you?

Masons voice said just above a whisper. Jack smirked, “How’d you guess? I have to keep up appearances. What’s the update? You’ve been out of contact for months. You almost were considered a lost agent.” Mason chuckled, he caught Jack up on all he could find out up till the explosion occurred. Jack asked where Janelle was and was told she had a place up on a mountain where she probably had moved to keep safe. A prearranged signal would be given to let her know if she had to leave but with all that had gone on no one would blame her if she tried to leave. Someone was walking up the path so Jack motioned Mason to quiet down. “So, you have found a relaxing place to think? I come here quite a bit myself, the view is magnificent wouldn’t you agree?” McBride said as he lit a cigar. Jack looked around to see an overview of the grounds. “I am impressed, my condolences on the mine. Hope you are back to capacity soon.” Jack said. McBride nodded slowly, “I have made arrangements with locals to replace those injured or killed. The only time consuming thing will be to repair the tunnels and replace the equipment. Other than that operations will continue. I will retire for a few hours, its 2 am local time. Please rest, after breakfast we will discuss your offer and talk about possibly starting a business arrangement. Pleasant dreams Mr. Feldman.” McBride tilted his head slightly then walked off towards the main house.

“He is very suspicious, tread carefully. His valet is also a hit man and won’t think twice about killing you as many times as he can manage. The people working in the mines aren’t here willingly. They are forced here, taken from villages nearby. To “encourage” cooperation some volunteers are placed in the open and limbs are chopped off. I’ve even heard of children being torn limb from limb. And if one doesn’t keep up with production they are tortured and killed in the worst way possible. Be careful, these guys don’t play.” Jack said not to worry, he wasn’t the only one on this mission and left it at that. Mason said he had to go and try rest, his shift would start soon. With the faintest of noises he was gone. Jack decided to wait on an update to give. He had plans to make and studying to do.

Mira woke to the sound of sobbing, she put her robe on, slippers and walked down the hall. As she got to the girls room she heard Lily sobbing for her mommy. “Lily? Come here, talk to me ok?” Lily nodded and waked with Mira to the living room. Both sat down on the couch, “What’s wrong doll? Why are you crying?” Lily wiped away tears, “I miss my mommy, I dream about her getting hurt. I want to help her but she won’t talk to me” Miras heart went out to her, for someone to kill innocent people to bend others to their will just was inconceivable. This little girl would grow up full of anger and hatred, she wouldn’t know why or where it came from. “I know you miss your mommy, but I also know she would want you to be happy and she would be relieved knowing your alive. I will never replace your mommy, I don’t want to. I want you to be safe and have the life you should have had before all this happened. Jack would do anything for you that is within his ability. He pulled a lot of strings to let you live with us. And he knows you will hurt and cry, but if he was here I’m sure he would make sure to talk to you.” Lily looked up at Mira, “I don’t know why I hurt Ewizabef. She likes to play, she is fun. She makes me laugh. I want my mommy” Lily burst out into tears. Mira just held her.

Janelle was peeking out from her hiding place, she’d seen the explosion, felt the shockwave even from this distance. Her first thought was Mason had been killed. Looking through the binoculars she saw him helping dig so she was relieved. The second shock was, as she scanned the chaos she saw Jack helping injured and directing others. After several hours when things calmed down, she ate and wrapped up on a thermal blanket. The blanket was insulated in a way that she would be toasty warm inside but no infrared signature would be detected from any distance. As she used heat tabs to warm an MRE, as the package was opened a voice behind her said, “Don’t make a sound, a patrol is 100 yards to the north.” Janelle maintained control, she heard booted feet climbing rocks and stepping on branches. After several minutes the sounds faded, she turned around to see a squad of men dressed in black with webbing draped over their bodies. “We are Omega Squad Vipers, we’ve been here for weeks observing ye, the mine and waiting. The explosion forced us to relocate, we decided to let ye know we were here to assist ye. We cannae get directly involved except to provide extraction. 

Other than that we are only here to watch.” Janelle pursed her lips, “So, if I got myself captured, and was fighting to escape, you would just me get taken to their office?”

Dark Wolf solemnly nodded, “We would help ye if ye made it far enough away so we would not be seen rescuing ye.”

Janelle shook her head, kind of like having a parachute if you think your superman. She reached down to get her meal, when she looked back up all the men were gone. No sound, no trace that they had ever been there.

Mason used a trough to clean up and an old shirt to wash his arms, chest and face. “Might as well find clean clothes, no sense in getting three hours sleep when there’s work to do.” He remembered he needed to show up for breakfast the house, that should prove interesting to say the least.

McBride showered, dressed, and sat down at his desk. The computer simulations made long and short term projections for the mine operations. The small scale projections looked like the mine was doomed but long term showed they could be back to exporting within a month. Ichyro knocked on the door, he was also clean and freshly clothed. “Sir, I sent some men to a nearby village to “recruit” more volunteers to replace the ones lost in the explosion. We also will encourage the villagers to cooperate with us or they will see how futile it is to resist. A few graphic demonstrations should suffice.” He smiled as if pleased with himself.

“I need to know as soon as possible about this Feldman character. His actions at the mine hint at he isn’t what he appears, his actions suggested he has done that work before. But until we find out different I will treat him with the courtesy of an honored guest, which goes for all my staff, is that understood?” There was an undertone of malice indicating that if any guest was mistreated there would be hell to pay.

Squid was in his office doing paperwork asking his law team what could be done to stop the government from obtaining the name of every agent and their cover names. After all the Omega Squad did to help other countries fight terrorists and save the

United States from its own short sightedness. Now after helping rebuild and train others to fight terrorists the US government wants to pull the plug on the Omega Squad because the newly elected president thought their usefulness had been fulfilled. The president believes that diplomacy is the new road to peace. Diplomacy has gotten more people killed because they had the belief that the other side thought along the same lines and were honest. Tell that to the diplomats’ family after he/she wanted a meeting with a terrorist who believes he will gain glory by killing infidels in a suicide bombing. That terrorist leader would have killed himself and any innocents that were nearby just to prove his way was better. “I think I found something, the only way the government can force you to disclose those names is if there is a dire threat and need for a criminal investigation. So far the only proof they have is from a report. Since the incident occurred on foreign soil there is really no basis for the hearing. It could be a ploy to boost his plummeting ratings since he is also under fire for various issues.”

A cheery faced female intern said. Squid would refuse to hand over his men and women because unlike the high brows in the seats, they actually made a difference in the world. From escorting dignitaries to undercover work preventing acts of aggressions on US soil.  The next round of hearings weren’t for another week so they had plenty of time to prepare. The phone rang, another intern answered it, he asked if Squid was taking calls from a congressman from Tennessee . Squid nodded and took the receiver, “Yes congressman? You don’t say, yes, no. I will and thank you.”  Everyone at the table looked, “We have to make sure we can fight these guys with everything correct because they are bringing in Crimson Brigade soldiers that were captured. These guys will testify that they were unarmed and were surrendering at the time while our men were just shooting people at random. Let’s bring some of our men in who were also captured by the Brigade and tortured. One will be difficult because he is on a mission but I know of one member who can without a doubt prove these terrorists were not nice guys.” Squids chest itched as the memory returned.

Jack was just finishing his brief on the assignment so far when there was a knock on the door, “I am here to accompany you to the masters house” a voice said outside the door. Jack replied, “One moment please”. He saved the report, encrypted it so if anyone without the proper password tried to open it the entire hard drive would be wiped clean by the safeguards.

He opened the door and observed a young man in a light colored shirt, khaki shorts and sandals. His left forearm was amputated from the elbow down. “I was in a village that was being overrun the RUF, I tried to escape to draw them away from my family. I was caught, brought to the village center, my arm was placed on a log and cut off. My mother and sister were attacked then killed in front of me. Master McBride took me into his home. I serve him in gratitude for rescuing me” The boy looked content as he explained his loss of limb. They both walked, Jack was careful not to ask too many questions that would arouse suspicion; instead he relied on what he observed on the walk. The walk to the house was intriguing, the daylight showed how expansive the grounds were. He could barely hear the heavy machinery at the mine. Workers in the small fields were busy picking crops, cultivating the soil and making sure everything went smooth. There were a small group of children under a huge branch in the shade looking like a classroom. As they passed he heard a female explaining the differences between an adjective and pronoun. Just before they were out of earshot he heard a child say to another, “He is a spy, he can’t be here for anything else.”

The escort said, “Every visitor is a spy, some from diamond companies and some from the Red Cross. It’s the way of life here. Wars, famine, hunger, all that makes people paranoid of outsiders. We are arriving at the masters house. I will take you to the breakfast table.” The guide gave Jack some information he was wondering about, the fear of spies coming here proves something is going on that the main actors didn’t want anyone to know. Probably have had a few real spies show up and be killed graphically to show what would happen if anyone wanted to cross them. The mansion was huge, oak doors, brass handles, inside was a crystal chandelier, solid wood banisters, exotic rugs of various animals. On the walls were heads of various game, paintings probably from local villages. The boy led him down a hall to an extravagant room with a table large enough to seat a dozen guests comfortably. A waiter motioned to a chair for him. McBride walked in the opposite door, he nodded and smiled at Jack. Jack returned the gesture as he stood out of respect. “Please sit, no formalities here. We are all friends and colleagues. We will tend to business after we’ve eaten, no sense getting worked up while you eat, agreed?”

Jack said, “Agreed, this is a time of enjoying a meal, after all, if two gentlemen cannot eat a civilized meal then the world would be in sad shape”  McBride raised his wine glass in agreement. Jack raised his glass as well but it contained orange juice. Breakfast was a choice between several types of eggs, toast, sausage, bacon, gravy, fruit. Another door opened and Mason walked in the room, both he and Jack just nodded to each other as Mason sat down.

Jack ate a filling meal but not enough to slow him down if he had to act. The dishes were cleared by servants, Mason was still eating his third plate. He got done and his plate was also cleared as McBride stood and gestured to another room. This one was down the hall further and much more extravagant than the breakfast one. All three sat in comfortable chairs, McBride opened the dialogue. “Mason, you showed leadership during the incident, I want you to lead a group in the mines. You will also be a liaison to the ones rebuilding the mine, any requests or equipment will be done through me by you. Now Mr. Feldman, you represent an incorporation that wants to buy my diamonds, correct? I need to know you level of expertise when it comes to diamonds. After all, how do you know I’m not just mining for something other than diamonds and use this as a front?”

Jack smiled patiently, this would either sink him or prove he was legitimate. “I have some knowledge in the gemology area but am far from an expert. That is left to the bankers who part with the money,”

McBride rung a small bell and two women dressed local clothing walked in holding two trays. They placed the trays on the coffee table and stepped back to a corner. “These Mr. Feldman are stones from my mine, and on one tray are stones created by some scientists I have recruited to work on molecular bonds and other things. Please look and see if you can tell any difference.” 

Jack pulled out a loupe, a magnifying lens used to gain better detail of precious stones. He took one from a tray containing only clear stones and put the loupe to his eye. The stone he had was clear, almost very good compared to some he’d seen. He tried another, this one contained several flaws commonly seen in real diamonds. Carbon particles were black and dotted the diamond, these were called inclusions. Another he picked up was similar to the first one, perfect. There were only about a dozen or so on each tray, the other tray had some that were yellowish, Jack guessed somewhere in the VS1 scale. The average diamond size on the trays was about a .70 carat. These weren’t ready to be mounted but had been prepared for inspection. Jack said, “You mixed some created ones with real ones in the trays. Only way to tell if a diamond is real is a laser engraving done before they are shipped to ensure the distributor follows the Kimberly process law.”

McBride smiled, “Very good, very good indeed. You are who you say, I did mix them up as you stated. It would have been too easy to separate them and have you guess. This way you proved yourself by examining every diamond like a true professional.”

Mason hid a shocked look, he’d known Jack to play a part but to actually fool an expert was something he didn’t expect. “One last thing, you might try to add inclusions to make them more realistic, lack of inclusions will give them away. Less than 1% of diamonds found are near perfect or perfect. Too many perfect diamonds will arouse suspicion.” Jack added hoping to put a seed in McBride’s head that will cause him to think and distract his paranoia away from Jack.

McBride steepled his fingers, “I will consider that bit of information, thank you.”

Mason said he needed to get to the mine and see how repairs were going, with McBride’s blessing he left.

“Now onto something else Mr. Feldman, about the incident last night. You treated my workers, assisted in rescuing my men. Now you act like an expert with diamonds, care to explain?”

Jack figured this was coming, “I worked with an agency that helps rebuild war torn countries. After the Brigade war I helped rebuild several villages in Somalia that had been destroyed by the war. I grew up rich, but that life wasn’t exciting so I joined the Peace Corps hoping to get some excitement. Just a few months ago I returned to my home and decided I wanted the quiet life again. My father had owned several jewelry stores so I knew about stones from my youth. I got hired on to Diamonds unlimited as a consultant but requested I travel abroad to meet perspective clients and obtain new merchandise.” As he finished he heard the door behind him open, he didn’t get the chance to see but whoever it was wanted McBride’s attention. “Excuse me please, a servant requires my attention for a moment.” Jack nodded and waited.

“I searched his room, all he has travel clothes, camera, notes about local cuisine, a laptop. I would have tried to look in his files but chances are they are encrypted and have fail safes. I got a message from one of my sources about him, he is on the payroll but it’s a fresh account. He has no debts, no police record; nothing I find can contradict what he says. Either he is a spy or he is who he says he is.” Ichyro said shrugging his shoulders. McBride nodded thoughtfully, “A real representative will have a loupe that they carry with them. It would be like a business man always having a case full of his cards. Feldman had a loupe, and he knew I’d had the stones mixed. A spy wouldn’t know as much as he does. For the time being we will grant him every courtesy due of an honored guest. Keep an eye on him, do not let him out of your sight.” McBride said. Ichyro nodded and left. McBride walked back in the room and sat down. “My apologies, my time will be consumed with overseeing finances and labor after last night. I hope you will stay and enjoy our hospitality until our business is done?

Jack nodded assent, “From what I’ve seen the country is beautiful. Perhaps you could arrange a tour of the area? I’d like to meet some of the villages and purchase souvenirs for friends back home. I realize your time will be limited but my business end will only require a few days and it would be a waste to spend it in one place.”

McBride said he would see what could be arranged, he rung the small bell and a male servant arrived, “Arrange a tour of the grounds while I tend to business.” The servant nodded and waited at the door till Jack walked through it. The women who brought the trays in were waiting, “Take the trays back to the lab, I have to talk to several scientists.” The women bowed then took the trays and left. McBride poured a drink from his liquor cabinet, he wondered why he had not thought of adding inclusions before, Feldman was right, if every diamond is perfect questions would start to be asked. Finishing off the drink he put the glass down and headed towards the lab.

Mason walked out of the house, he was glad to have more freedom but worried because he would be watched even more closely. Jack would take care of himself, of that there was no doubt. Janelle was probably worried sick especially because of the explosion last night. He arrived back at the mine, clean up was going well. Heavy equipment was clearing the burnt wood, rocks and other things that were so damaged they had to be replaced. A pay loader driver was moving a pile of burnt shoring beams when a little kid ran out in front of the vehicle, Mason ran over and grabbed the kid. As he put him down safely the kid kicked him in the shin and ran off. Rubbing the spot where he got kicked he muttered, ‘yeah, your moms a goat you little brat’

Mason limped away to meet up with some engineers to plan how to start production up and get a list of equipment that needed to be replaced.

Ichyro was irritated, he wanted to be at the mines looking for workers who were lazy or trying to steal. Now he was assigned to representative as a guide, planning a tour of the country and surrounding villages. He recruited four armed guards, two drivers and one person to take charge of the luggage. “Your tour is ready Mr. Feldman. I have arranged a scenic tour of the country, we have armed guards because of remnants of the RUF still operate here. Chances are they won’t bother us but we will still take precautions.” He said as he opened the town cars rear passenger door. Jack smiled and thanked him as he got in. Ichyro took the front passengers seat next to the driver. Jack wasn’t blindfolded this time so he could enjoy the view. The caravan pulled out of the gate into the jungle, wildlife was seen through the trees. Several miles down the road the driver slowed down, in the road was a warthog standing in the middle of the road. The driver honked the horn, the warthog stood there defiantly. “They have poor eyesight but a keen sense of smell.” Ichyro explained. He grabbed a walkie talkie and said something Jack didn’t understand. Gunfire erupted, the warthog took off into the brush. “Just wanted to frighten it, no sense killing it when it just was being stubborn. A few workers were attacked by some but no fatalities.” Jack nodded then went back to looking excited about traveling in a jungle. Three hours passed till the jungle started thinning and they came out into a clearing. The village there was unlike anything Jack had seen before. Huts made out of straw, some out of wood. The villagers saw the heavily armed truck and started screaming and running around. Ichyro grabbed the public address microphone and announced they were here in peace. This was just a tour to see about rendering aid to the local population. After several minutes when the villagers realized that no troops or gunfire was happening. When Ichyro thought it was safe he got out of the car followed by Jack. Villagers carefully made their way to the group. “I am here to see if aid is needed here. Please get your elders and allow us to talk to them. We wish no harm, the weaponry you see is to protect us from the RUF if encountered. Please do not rush any of my group, that could be seen as aggressive.” The people backed a respectful distance but still seemed terribly frightened. Jack looked around, what he saw sickened him, children with bloated bellies. Sores all over their bodies, women who were pregnant and no medical care available. Men who looked older than their years working unyielding ground without the proper tools. Several men approached, the robes they wore looked to be made of a better quality material than the villagers. A couple of the men had left arms severed below the elbow. “We are the Elders of Kenema village. How may we assist you the friends of us and enemies of the RUF?”

Ichyro bowed at the waist, “We seek to help your people with their needs. This man is taking a tour of the area and will make a list of materials your village as the most need of.”

Jack tried not to appear shocked but kept up appearances. He grabbed a small notebook and pen. Ichyro whispered that he needed an accurate account of how many able bodied villagers there were, also go ahead and make a list of what they needed. Jack hated lying and deceitful people but to keep from getting made he did as he was told. The list was long but he got it done. He also made a lost of names saying it was needed to ensure the proper materials got to the right people. Once that was done they left the village to continue the “tour”. “So, that list won’t actually be delivered?” Jack asked. Ichyro sat back in the seat, “It will, but the real reason we are going around is to look for more volunteers for the mine since the count is still coming in for those injured or dead. I don’t know why you are here. But if it’s for reasons other than looking for diamonds to buy I can guarantee that I will personally make you suffer like no one ever has before.” Jack looked at him, he knew Ichyro stood well over six feet, probable in the 250lb range and muscular. A background in martial arts was a given, training with firearms also one, no sense in provoking him until the time was right. But that time wasn’t now, would be later when all the players were in place.

It was close to lunch time when they stopped at a stream to rest. They all got out, even the armored car personnel to stretch their legs. The lunch was seasoned roast beef sandwiches, cooler of flavored water, and local potato chips. “We should be to our exporters soon, he has a private airfield we use to ship diamonds to the ports where they go to labs who authenticate them. Those that pass the Kimberly process are then shipped to distributors who buy them then send us the money. The money is then put back into the business. Simple, effective, costs are down.”

Jack had to admit it appeared like a well run mine company, but the fear the people exhibited when they arrived showed him more than others realized. He grabbed the list to look it over, a folded piece of paper fell out onto the ground. No one saw it so he out his second sandwich down on it. Ichyro looked over at him, “Full already? We do have plenty you know.” Jack grabbed a bottle, “Just need to wash it down. This roast beef is amazing. I’ve traveled all over the world and that was the most flavorful beef I’ve eaten.”

Ichyro said with a touch sarcasm, “We must get you the recipe then, but a rich guy like you probably could just hire someone to fix your meals. I know about American aristocrats and their holier than you attitude. I was ordered to give you this tour, I have better things to do than give a rich guy a special tour. And I told you once, you better be on the level. I can make you die a thousand deaths, begging all the time.” Jack wasn’t too impressed by the veiled threat. “My ex wife told me the same thing over and over, the closest she got to making me suffer was trying new recipes that were out of her league. Or she would want to rub it in my face about her getting a better husband who made more money, I found out he was cheating on her with his secretary. Remember about threats, those who make them are doomed to have them reversed.”

Ichyro glared at Jack but refuse to take the bait. Ichyro remembered about how McBride’s guests were to be treated and killing one would be a surefire way to end his own life quickly.

The group cleaned up the area of the mess, got back into their respective vehicles and continued the tour/recruiting trip.

Mira was resting on the couch reading a book about the hearings over the Omega Squad. ‘So much for a covert agency, thanks to the overzealousness of the president. Well I hope Squid doesn’t turn over those names or this country will be overrun by people who just want to destroy us.’ Mira thought reflectively. She still remembered when the Crimson Brigade tried to take over the world, the body count, destruction, recovering, too many problems are still arising from it. She had a small part in finding out about the bomb in Detroit , the water container held what they thought at first was dirty bomb but ended up being a biological weapon. The Omega Squad saved the country and the world but the new president didn’t like the fact someone was doing a better job at taking care of the bad guys than he was. The phone rang, she hoped it was Jack but someone else answered almost as good.

“Hello Mira, how are you?” Squid said. Mira was happy he called, to have the head of the Omega Squad personally call her made her smile. Squid caught her up on what was going on and told her that if he gave up his agents, her and Jacks lives would never be the same again. She knew the risks when she married him but she hated the fact that some non police/military experienced elected official tries to think he knows better than the ones actually protecting the country. Squid said he would keep her updated on things, plus make sure that if she ever needed something don’t hesitate to call. She promised she would if she needed something, after promising to let him know if Jack called they both hung up.

Mira relaxed knowing that no matter what happened Jack would make sure his family was protected. “Mommy? Who was that? Was it daddy?” Elizabeth asked. She was standing at the doorway in her Tinkerbells evil twin nightgown. “No sweetie, it was Uncle Squid, he called to let me know that things are going to be okay. Can’t you sleep doll?” Mira asked motioning her to sit next to her.

“I had a bad dream mommy, I saw you and daddy looking for me. Some bad men had taken me from you. I fought them but they took me anyway.”

Mira held her daughter close, “I promise with my last breath that no one will take you. Your father and I would die before we let that happen. Okay sweetie?”

Elizabeth sniffled and laid her head on Miras lap and soon fell asleep.

Mason was seeing over his crew as they reinforced one of the tunnels from the explosion. The supplies needed were on the way but until then they had to at least get some production going. The diamonds were the main source in the mine but Mason had seen other valuables there that could be exploited if the main man was interesting in increasing his revenue. Mason had worked as a surveyor when was with the NRA. His job was to survey desolate areas for possible reclamation and future projects. He had discovered several deposits of valuable metals that were used to assist the region in purchasing the land and gave back to the government.

He hand picked several workers, most of them were those that helped rescue the trapped men the previous night. The work was going well considering they were having to bypass a lot of safety procedures to get the equipment running till replacements arrived. The shoring of the tunnel was reinforced with concrete to keep from falling in where it was weakest. “Mason, some of the men are concerned with the mine cars not being able to carry the boulders that are still blocking some parts of tunnels.” A worker said as he wiped sweat off his brow. Mason took a moment to gather his thoughts. “We could blast them apart but that would cause another cave in, we don’t need that. The granite boulders are too hard to hand chisel down to a moveable size too. Bring the band saw into the tunnel, I have an idea.”

Several minutes later the saw was set up in the tunnel, realizing that one wasn’t enough he had another brought in. together they rigged them up to be able to attempt to saw the boulders into smaller pieces using a diamond tipped carbide saw blade. The saw was started up, blade set, then lowered onto the rock. Thankfully everyone was wearing eye protection because the chips that few off were small and sharp. The blade was having a hard time cutting the rock but it was slowly doing it. Mason motioned for a foreman to take charge, he had to check on where the replacement equipment was. He walked back into the heat and humidity. His original mission was to find out who was supplying some of the poorest countries with diamonds to arm their armies but found out that the diamonds getting into the market weren’t genuine ones but manufactured. Before he could do some investigating he got caught up in a sweep of the village he was staying in as a base. Before he knew it he was digging in a dark hold in the ground or panning for diamonds in a muddy pond. Janelle had probable left to make it back home. Not that he blamed her, now that he was in charge of repairs he would be watched even more closely. He just hoped Jack had a plan that would get them back home safe and sound.

Squid was sitting at his desk in his home going over the latest assistance efforts his people were doing to help the newest allies from the Brigade war. He had an email from Bouhnma Chanthalangsy the NCIS agent who Jack rescued saying he had been approached by several men wanting him to testify against the Omega Squad or he would be brought up on murder charges of a Federal agent. Bouhnma stated he would not turn his back on the Omega Squad because he was there and knew that there was no way to save his partner. Squid sent him a message back asking him to meet him at his office at noon for lunch, there was a few questions he wanted to ask about Indonesia. After it was sent he looked over to one report and noticed something he had missed earlier. Several senators had proposed disbanding the Squad after the Brigade had bombed several football stadiums, even going as far as saying the Omega Squad had set the whole thing up as a ruse to take over all spy operations. Squid shook his head, he started the Squad as a way of making sure the people of home were protected abroad and on home soil. Little did he know the agency would soon encompass thousands of highly trained agents from military, law enforcement, teachers, even fast food workers. Those who were lucky enough to get selected went through a thorough background check, medical exam, psychological exams, physical agility tests and written exams. The last phase was a sort of mental evaluation where the candidates got put into a real life scenario to tests their will to live. Some were dropped off in a desert, others in a jungle, some were placed in a dark room and had to stay within a certain area for the duration while all kinds of tempting distractions were made. Those who managed to pass the tests were then sent to the federal law enforcement training center for twenty-six grueling weeks of training ranging from self defense to legal aspects of international law to weapons training. After graduation they were asked to pick an area of expertise to train another month in. Jack Brown had been a natural, he passed it all without wavering. His area expertise was undercover work, able to pass for all kinds of people from drug dealers to rich social millionaires. Sure there were other operatives who could do some of the things he asked Jack to do but for some odd reason Jack not only got the desired result he made sure those he did a number on remembered it. He wished Jack would return to the Squad, it wasn’t the same without him.

Mira was laying in bed missing Jack, but she knew he was good at what he did. The only thing she worried about was why his memories were buried deep in his mind. Sure he had an accident when he was in a car chase but the ones he yells out in his sleep bode of something horrible that happened when he was much younger, she hopes that they don’t blow his cover if he has another episode.

Ichyro motioned for the caravan to stop, it was getting dark and with no street lights it wasn’t safe to drive at night. Jack helped set up the tents while the rest got the food, weapons and established a perimeter. After everything was done a fire was made. “Reminds me of camping out in Wyoming when I was a cub scout” Jack said as he roasted a hotdog. “Ichyro scowled. Jack decided on keeping quiet, he didn’t want to irritate the lion unless he had to. He heard the men patrolling just out of reach of the firelight. After a while Jack excused himself by saying he wanted to get some rest. He grabbed his bag he had placed beside him and sauntered off to his tent. He set up his cot, lit the lamp and emptied his bag. He saw the diamond that got stuck in his cuff; it was rough, approximately an inch in length, milky colored. Amazing how something so unappealing can cause so much pain and suffering. He put it in a safe spot and pulled out his notes to study up on what he might need to know for later purposes. Diamonds are made of carbon and is one of the hardest natural substances known to man. They are formed under high pressure and supernally high temperatures. They are made of tetrahedrally bonded carbon atoms into a crystal. The rest was formulas he would look at later. Footsteps approached so he put the book away and pulled out notebook to make notes. He was writing when Ichyro peeked his head inside, “We may have trouble, one of the guards heard someone moving in the jungle. Do you know about guns?” Jack tried to look perplexed, “I know they are used sometimes unnecessarily when a little talk would suffice” he said sounding a little holier than thou. “Well, these rebels won’t think twice about killing you if you tell them you don’t like guns. They actually might enjoy killing you more. Here is a handgun just in case something happens.”  Ichyro tossed a semi automatic pistol onto the chair and left. Jack picked it up to examine it, it was a Beretta 92, Italian made, 16 rd magazine, wide ejection port, 9mm parabellum bullets. Good for self defense but bad for jungle warfare. He ejected the slide to make sure the clip was fully loaded, it was. He placed the handgun under the cot, not under his pillow, no sense accidentally pulling the trigger in his sleep and blowing his head off. He would want the bad guys to try. He laid down, his thoughts drifted to Mira. He knew life seemed like one big adventure with him getting pulled away from what had just gotten back to a normal life. Maybe he could change that, since Squid seemed to want him back he would give that some serious thought once this mission was done. His police job wasn’t anything that he couldn’t do without. He had money so it’s not like he would have to struggle with bills, the Omega Squad seemed to be calling him back.

McBride was at his obsidian desk going over the cost projections to see if there was a recovery possible in the short term. The equipment was damaged but with parts to fix them they would be back in business. The damage was at least contained to the open area surrounding the mine and didn’t reach the housing for the workers. They needed new workers too, that’s the underlying reason he sent Ichyro to scout the villages for potential laborers, with that meddlesome stuck up rich kid out of the way he should be able get more work done without being bothered. What was nagging him most was how he was able to tell the fake diamonds from the real ones so easily. The few representatives that had visited before never could tell the difference easily so it had been simple to send off crates of diamonds to buyers. But this one would be trouble, how could he know that diamonds do have microscopic bits of carbon in them unless he was sent here to spy? The manufactured ones didn’t have the inclusions, only a trained scientist would see that, he would ask his men about putting some in from now on. Too many people could ask questions if that Feldman made it back with his findings. Maybe an accident would eliminate that problem. He would see what “accidents” could be attributed to being in a foreign land.

Jack was in combat sleep mode, asleep but also conscious of the surrounding environment. He had read about the natives who still looked at white men as invaders and had no issues killing them when given the chance. He heard the rounds of the patrols, he timed them. They were exact, if anyone was watching them they would be able to plan something based on the pattern of the patrol. He heard a rustling outside his tent, someone whispered in a foreign language something and his tent flap was slowly unzipped. He felt someone inside, before that person could move Jack pulled a straight bladed knife from his belt and put it at the Adams apple of the intruder. Then he turned up the lamp to see who paid him a visit. It was a young boy approximately 14 yrs old carrying an AK-47 rifle that was as big as he was. “Who are you? Why are you here in my tent?” Jack said quietly as not to arouse any unwanted attention. “I am Kafa, we saw your camp, we need food for our people.” The boy said just barely above a whisper.

Jack kept the knife as the boys throat, “You need to leave here, don’t come in again. These men will kill you, they have guns and are very comfortable with them. Got it?”

The boy nodded, Jack took the rifle from the boy’s hands, then pulled the knife away. The boy turned around and left as quietly as he arrived. Jack took apart the rifle and put it in his bag, maybe it would come in handy later. If not, he would scatter the parts throughout the jungle so no one could use it. Since he was already awake he decided to send in a report to Squid. He got his sat-phone out, scrambled the frequency and texted a small but detail filled report. He doubted anyone in this part of the world would be able to decrypt his message. He then sat on his cot in the dark, suddenly his head exploded in pain, memories came rushing back. He was chasing a suspect in his vehicle and lost control, next was the explosion in Indonesia , his first wife bringing home a dishwasher to meet him. He finds his ex girlfriend’s blogs detailing how she was cheating on him, his training at the police academy. All this happened in a short time and left him with a wave of nausea before finally setting down. The doctor he had went to said told him with as much brain damage he had suffered in his life it might take months to recoup all the memories or they might not ever all come back, time would tell. He sat there fighting the anguish he was reliving and soon he saw the sun coming up so he decided to go out and take a look. What he saw surprised him, there was wildlife so close he was afraid to breathe, flocks of pink flamingos were drinking out of a nearby pond making the water a beautiful pinkish blue mix. “Some sight huh? Even I take time to admire the beauty Africa has to offer, not all is war and poverty.” Ichyro said as he picked up his already rolled up tent. Deciding to do his part he took down his tent and rolled it up then put it in the rear compartment of the track truck. The guards kept a close eye on the jungle, maybe those intruders got away. “Did you hear any noises last night?” Ichyro asked. Jack shook his head, “Why?” Ichyro motioned for Jack to follow him. On a narrow path into the jungle he saw three bodies tied

to a tree in various parts of dismemberment. “These pieces of flesh sneaked into our camp and tried to steal food. One of the guards caught them, we tied them to these trees in order to keep them for questioning. As you can tell, they didn’t survive. We aren’t sure what did this but it was painless. They didn’t scream, but we assume that who or what did this got to their vocal cords first. But we need to get moving, the landing strip is just a few miles away and our exporter is on his way.” They made it back to the clearing and finished loading the gear then started again. There was one more stop before they got to the landing strip, a village was to be evaluated as the one before. They stopped, no one ran away this time. The villagers actually greeted the men as if they were common visitors. The chief met them with a complex gesture that Jack tried to imitate. “My apologies chief, it appears my dexterity is lacking, I mean no offense. Jack said. The chief smiled, “Your attempt at respecting our customs is appreciated and welcomed. No offense was taken nor implied. Please sit in our council hut so we may discuss your visit to our village.”

The men were led to a hut where they waited till the chief sat in a reed chair, he gestured for them to sit in pillows. “Now, tell me why you are here” The chief interlaced his fingers across his midsection. “Esteemed chief, we are visiting surrounding villages in search of workers to help bring economic stability to our country. We offer jobs in a mine with housing, food, clothing, pay and other services. We ask for volunteers to help mine the shiny stones that come from the bowels of mother earth” Ichyro said as he bowed his head. The Chief clapped his hands, servants arrived with plates of food and goblets of drink. “We will eat first. Please enjoy”

Then drink was a mix of fruit and milk, very tasty while the meat appeared to be from a goat or other domesticated animal. Jack ate with patience, he was hungry but did not want to appear famished. A short while later everyone had finished their meals and the dishes were taken. “If I understand you correctly, you want indentured servants to work in your mine to dig for diamonds to make you wealthy?”  The chief said to Jack and Ichyros surprise. Jack took up the slack, “Your leadership, I have visited the mine myself. The workers are treated with fairness and given sufficient housing and food. I have yet to see anyone being enslaved or kept against their will. There was an incident a short time ago and the leader of the mine made sure all injured were taken care of with the best there was. I have no desire to deceive you, I can only tell you with what I have seen.”

The Chief leaned back, “I see by your eyes you are an honest man. I sense you tell the truth regardless of how you fear it may insult someone. But this man I do not see so much honesty in. I have to talk with the Elders, if we accept your proposal we will send a messenger to the large hut and deliver the message personally about our decision. Now if you will leave us to consider what you said.”

The discussion was over so both Jack and Ichyro stood to leave, one last word was said to the Chief by Ichyro. “My boss usually gets what he wants, he will have his way.” Then both men walked outside. “We are just a few miles away from the strip, let’s head there. We are done here.” Ichyro said as he got into the passengers side of the car.

The airstrip was just a long cleared path that had ruts and rocks in it. As Jack got out of the car he hoped this wasn’t a set up then quickly put that thought out of his head. Ichyro got a portable radio from the car and talked into it. “He is just a few miles out” was all he said. Soon the drone of a plane was heard and Jack saw a twin engine Cessna 340 make a turn in attempt to align with what could only jokingly be called a landing strip. The plane landed roughly but didn’t crash. The pilot taxied over to the vehicles and shut the engines down, the side door opened and a gray haired man lowered the steps. Ichyro stepped forward and shook the mans hand, introductions were made then the extra workers in the half track began to load the planes cargo compartment with sealed boxes Jack assumed were diamonds. Several minutes later the pilot handed Ichyro a manila envelope which he promptly put in the inside of his sports jacket pocket. Jack watched the pilot return inside, close the door and sit back in the cockpit. Jack had waited by the car, he knew he had just seen a smuggling deal but that wasn’t part of his mandate to stop it. Ichyro came back to the car and watched as the plane started up, taxied to the runway and took off. “McBride fronts the money for the delivery, when the diamonds are sold the pilot brings the profit back when he picks up another shipment. Minus a little off the top for him for expenses. In two more weeks we will deliver another shipment and the same process will be done. We have people at the delivery site who have the proper papers ready, they go through the process of being sold on the market. So far the deliveries have gone without any problems. There is always the possibility of being attacked by rebels who would use the diamonds to fund their war. The danger of being attacked is far worse than it used to be, the brigade war drained a lot of countries to the point of them joining because they could no longer fight. We need to head back to the compound; we made the trade in broad daylight and in an open place. No telling who saw us.” Ichyro said as he looked towards the hills off in the distance.

A soldier in mixed military uniform attire put down the binoculars as he saw the caravan prepare to pull out and head back to whatever destination they had come from. He slid down the hill to where his unit was. The men had come from all different military backgrounds, RUF, South African National Defense Force, South African Military Army. The men were battle hardened and mean, the wars had toughened them to the extent they lived, breathed, and slept war. Spoiling for a fight they traveled the area fighting anyone who crossed their path. “We have a target leaving the airfield, call Unit 3 and tell them to shoot that plane down and salvage the cargo. No survivors are expected. We will follow the ground units till we can strike with success; they are armed but not as well as we are. SUCCESS!!!!!!” Colonel Magumba said to his troops. The men packed up with the precision of men accustomed to leaving an area on short notice.

Magumba fondled his Kpinga dangling from his belt, the multi-bladed weapon was used as a striking weapon or throwing weapon, the blades and weight was devastating if they struck an unarmored body. He had only used it a handful of times but each was met with success. The last unlucky individual to feel the blades was a journalist who made his last mistake by journeying into the wrong camp looking for a story. The journalist had realized he was in trouble and tried to run, as he did the Kpinga impaled him in the back pinning him to a tree. Magumba retrieved the weapon and let the man fall. He then drew a long bladed knife and proceeded to behead the helpless man.

His bloodlust was rising again and this small group of armed men might satisfy it. McBride was sitting in his study listening to Chopin as he looked over the repair logs. His phone on the lamp stand rang, after he answered he felt a wave of despair, the Cessna had been shot down by a bazooka as it flew through a canyon, the pilot was killed instantly and the crates of diamonds were missing. Time to up the ante, he hung up and made a phone call. The person on the other end stated that the request he had made would be done as soon as possible and at a reduced cost. McBride hung up and put his emergency plan into action.

Obediah was loading a pipe onto a trailer when the block under the wheel shifted, “Need a hand here, someone help!!!!” he yelled buckling under the bulk of the 8 inch wide, 10 foot long section of pipe. Workers rushed over to help; Mason saw what was happening and also rushed to help. The pipe slipped from hands damp with sweat and fell, Obadiah’s knees gave way and he collapsed under the weight. The pipe wasn’t even slowed by the mass of his body. Blood sprayed from his nose and mouth, ribs snapped like twigs, his lungs were flattened instantly. Mason slowed down to a stop; he saw the pipe flat on the ground with Obediah under it. “Damn, this isn’t good, what happened?” He asked the bystanders, when they said Obediah was putting the pipe on the trailer when the wheel slipped out and by the time he was helped it was too late. A dozen men offered to lift the pipe, after that was done the body was placed on a small cart for transport to the morgue. Mason hung his head and headed to the office trailer to make the phone call to McBride.

“A dead body? What happened?” McBride said the listened to the account. “Well, that was avoidable but it’s too late to fix it. Take the body to the morgue and continue working to get that mine up to production capability.” He hung the phone up fighting the urge to go out and kill random workers. McBride was mentally tallying up the dead in the past week, several dozen and maybe more if they didn’t get the replacement parts because the damaged equipment was falling apart. Taking matters into his own hands he called his supplier and demanded to know when the equipment was due to arrive. The man on the other end said it should arrive within a few hours. McBride said, “If it’s not here by tomorrow I suggest you make a will out. Got the visual?”

The man gulped loudly, “Yes sir, I will check on the location and ETA immediately and call you back.”

McBride smiled in spite of the circumstances.

The phone rang and McBride answered expecting to hear about the equipment arriving, instead the voice said, “Your man will be there tomorrow to start training your men as requested. We understand that you have had some trouble with the mine, hope the amount of men he will be training won’t put a strain on you?”

McBride was in no mood for snide remarks, “I have replacements for the workers on the way, and all I need is him to train my men to guard the mine and my shipments. You are being paid a generous amount to keep this quiet, I suggest you do so.”

The voice snickered, “Really Mr. McBride, do you think a small time thug like yourself can threaten a structured organization like ours? Make sure you do not allude to threats, it would be a grave mistake.” The voice put a heavy emphasis on the word grave. McBride noticed a slight Russian accent as he hung up.

Ichyro counted the money in the envelope to make sure it was all there, convinced that it was he placed it in a hidden compartment in the floorboard and secured it. “Well, provided we don’t stop for anything unnecessary we should be back to the compound early tomorrow morning.” Ichyro said sounding like he was eager to get back there.

“So, you think your boss will set up a deal for my employer to receive diamonds? I promised them I’d try to get a business arrangement if at all possible. He would be benefiting a great deal form it.” Jack said hoping to get a clue or rise out of Ichyro. “You’ll have to ask him, all I see is a whiny rich kid who thinks he knows it all. You aren’t all you say but I bet if placed in a dangerous situation you’d be calling for your mommy.” He said with a smirk.

Jack quirked one end of his mouth, “Beats hollering for yours”

Ichyro stiffened up at the insult but refused to act on it, anything that was said had to be brushed off, the safety and respect of the guests must be upheld, a few insults wasn’t enough to endure the wrath of McBride.

The rebel group was following at a safe distance but still able to keep track of the caravan. Magumba was patient, he would wait till the time was right to strike. Unit 3 reported the plane down and it’s cargo secured, they would be able to sell the diamonds on the black market to rearm, resupply and recruit more men to the cause.

As night neared the group was forced to make camp, the headlights didn’t provide enough illumination to travel the jungle roads good enough to be safe. Jack grabbed his bag and it felt heavier. Sudden realization caused him to think fast, he had broken down that AK-47 and put it in his bag to hide it. “Something wrong Feldman? Aren’t you used to camping out? Guess you were never a boy scout were you?” Ichyro said from his side of the car.

“I was more inclined to study books to make something of myself, I didn’t want to end up being someone’s gofer later in life.” Jack said with as much innocence as he could manage. Ichyro’s face reddened in the dusk but he didn’t retort back. Jack grinned because he knew that he had just found a weakness he could use later.

Magumbas men stopped some distance away in the jungle.  No fire, no warm food but that was the norm for them, the men quietly made camp and talked quietly among themselves about when to ambush the others. Sentries kept a watch out on the other camp. Jack put his tent up like he did the night before, the others took turns watching and setting up for the night. Supper was cooked over the fire, consisting of smoked ham, Currie, and perrie-perrie chicken. Drink was wine that wasn’t 100% fermented so it had a good flavor. Once the meal was finished Jack walked around the inner area of the camp trying to avoid being taken as an intruder. Ichyro pulled a portable short-wave radio from the halftrack and signaled the compound advising them of a new ETA. The night was filled with jungle sounds, totally different from the sounds of a city where constant traffic, sirens, gunshots in certain areas. Jack became thoughtful, did he really want to raise his daughter in a city where everywhere you went there was the threat of being involved in a crime? Maybe a new city would be better, someplace where people still believed in respecting others.

“Not used to living in open spaces? Your body unused to sleeping without the comforts of home?” Ichyro said from the edge of the light at the campfires edge.

“I have done some sleeping under the stars, depending where you are you can see the wonders nature has to offer us. Some of us like to look at the beauty of nature instead of destroying it. After all, unless you get out in the world who knows how important you are in grand scheme of things” Jack said as he looked up and saw a shooting star streak across the star dotted black sky.

Ichyro looked up for a moment, “it is nice to look out into space, but how can you find your place looking at something that doesn’t even know you are here?”

Jack smiled but didn’t answer, instead shook his head and walked back towards the fire. Some people just really never think of the bigger picture.

Janelle was huddled under a blanket watching out over the bluff overlooking the mine operation as they worked to get production back up and running. She sensed someone behind her, she looked back to see Dark Wolf standing there with his rifle cradled in his arms. “I see you like to make a good entrance, do I need to guess or are you going to tell me what news you have?”

Dark Wolf squatted down, he said with a slight Irish accent “There is a Russian Spetznaz soldier on his way to the mine to train men as elite soldiers for security. We may have to extract Mason and Jack before things get out of control and we all die. If those men get trained that means this whole operation will be compromised. We will make contact once we find out more. Be prepared to move on a moments notice, knowing Jack as well as ye do, ye can probably guess as when would be a good time to leave. The mine is almost back to full capacity, look, the new equipment is arriving” he said and Janelle looked. “What do you mean by…...” Janelle began to ask as she turned back around to see he had gone. “I hate when he does that” she said to no one in particular.

Mason was relieved to see the trucks arrive with the much needed replacement equipment. He set about to organizing the unloading and set up. Little did he know he would end up being a lead foreman under someone he was sent to investigate. Well it was all part of being undercover, when you take on a mission you become whoever you need to in order to complete it. But with Jack around now the mission will get done, albeit a bit messy and violent but will be done.

The sun was coming up, Jack stirred awake. Something didn’t feel right. He got up, shook out his boots and put them on. He looked out at the camp, a fire was still going at least but there was no sign of the sentries, no animals were heard. Grabbing that small bag he opened it up and started to assemble the AK-47 he had kept from the previous night.

He went out the back of his tent and crept through the jungle to a hiding spot. As he settled he heard something get closer. Jack pulled a stiletto from his ankle sheath, the sound grew louder. The smell from the direction was like someone who hadn’t bathed in weeks. A soldier wearing ragtag clothing poked his head up from behind a log no more than 5ft from his location. The soldier got up to a kneeling position and aimed his M16A2 at the camp. Jack placed his rifle down carefully and quietly, he then waited till the soldier had just barely moved past him. The element of surprise was on his side as he quickly did a one handed smother over the soldiers mouth and jabbed the knife into the right side of his body between the seventh and eighth ribs deflating his lung. Next was a cut across the throat effectively severing both arteries and vocal cords. He lay the body down quietly. The air erupted with gun fire, the men in the camp were prepared but were surprised by the numbers they were facing. Jack used the sound to cover his way through the jungle, he came upon another soldier only this time he wasn’t as lucky to surprise him. The soldier smiled, his pupils were enlarged showing that he was under the influence of some kind of drug. Throwing the rifle away the soldier pulled a wicked looking knife out and charged. Jack got in a defensive stance with his blade at waist level, as the soldier approached he reversed the blade so it was facing away from his palm. The soldier lunged at him and Jack ducked under the thrust. The soldier turned around and the cocky smile melted away, blood was spreading out from his side where a huge gash was seen through his shirt. This enraged the soldier enough to make him lunge again, he used a straight thrust catching the sleeve of Jacks shirt tearing it. Jack reversed the blade again and stabbed the soldier in the inside of his left leg at the femoral artery. The soldier got this dumbfounded look but still fought. Slashing at Jack was not the best idea because he was sliced every time he opened himself up. Jack blocked a kick and stabbed the soldier through the boot, the soldier hobbled off to regroup as blood seeped from several gaping wounds. The soldier yelled something and lunged again, Jack stood his ground. At the last possible second he stepped off to his left and stuck the knife straight into the soldier’s heart killing him instantly. The fighting was still going on so Jack grabbed the two rifles and found a spot overlooking the campsite. One of the men in the halftrack was bent over the edge of the wall on top of it, blood was running down the side. Ichyro was fighting with a man and not doing too bad at it. Bullets zinged close by, Jack decided it was time to even the odds a bit. He took the AK-47 and rested it on a limb, he saw a rebel soldier taking aim at Ichyro. ‘As much as it pains me to do this’ Jack thought he fired and saw the head of the soldier explode like a watermelon.

Magumba was sitting just out of sight watching the firefight. He decided that it was time to join in so he grabbed his Kpinga and made his way to the back of the caravan. He saw a man reloading a Browning automatic rifle. Before he would take aim Magumba threw his Kpinga and the result was upholding to the legend of the weapon. The weapon struck the man dead center of his back, the rifle dropped from useless hands as he slid down the side of the car to the ground. Magumba walked over to the body and retrieved the Kpinga. One man from the halftrack was aiming at Magumba but before he could pull the trigger he was shot in the side and fell off top to the ground. Magumba walked over to him, as he stood over him he put a foot on the mans hand as he reached for the rifle he had been aiming, “So, you think you can outfight my soldiers? These men are RUF, we live to fight, we kill those who fight us.” Magumba drew a pistol and aimed it at the helpless mans head and fired one shot killing him instantly. Jack saw what happened and it made him angry at the brutality of the killing, even though he isn’t innocent himself. He only killed when all other options failed. Magumba looked around and saw Ichyro fighting with several of his soldiers and aimed his pistol at the back of Ichyros head. Before he could fire the pistol was shot out of his hand, pain surged up his arm. “Who dare shoot at me? You shoot at me from the comfort of a jungle? Show yourself like a man!” He yelled to the jungle. Jack didn’t hear him but he could imagine that he was pretty perturbed. He heard a sound behind him, he rolled to the side just as a machete hit the log where he had been laying. The machete was stuck long enough for him to grab his rifle and aim. The soldier used his weapon to knock the rifle to the side, then he backhanded a slash barely missing Jacks throat. “You wanna play it hard and bloody? I’ll oblige you” Jack said. The soldier had the same look in his eyes as the other so Jack knew there would be no negotiating this one. Another slash and slice, Jack knew his stiletto was no match so he improvised; he took the rifle butt and used it to block the attacks. Using a two handed overhead strike the soldier jumped up in the air. Before he landed Jack dove to one side, the soldier landed with the machete dug into the ground. Expecting the man to move again Jack aimed at the mans head, when he didn’t move Jack expected it was a ruse. A dark stain appeared in the center of the mans back, he had impaled himself on a broken limb from a fallen tree. Jack didn’t have time to waste, without someone to help, Ichyro would die, even though he wasn’t fond of him it wouldn’t look good to show up alone and try to explain what happened. Ichyro was lying on the ground bruised and bleeding, he had tried to fight six soldiers but was out numbered. He knew he would die but he would die without begging for his life.

“So, you refuse to beg for your life? If you had we would make you suffer, but since you fought well we will kill you quickly. We need to know where those diamonds were headed, tell me and I will kill you quickly.” Magumba said as he nursed his sore right hand.

“Go pound sand you sorry excuse for a mercenary. You are just a loser who has to get men to kill for you to make your ego grow. Go kiss a water buffalo” Ichyro said and spit blood on Magumbas boots.

Suddenly shots ran out, two of the RUF soldiers dropped dead in their tracks. The rest knelt down looking in all directions from where the shots were coming from, Magumba ducked as a bullet zinged by dangerously close, he thought he had accounted for all the men but was it possible he had missed some? “We will meet again, you win this round, but next time I will make sure you die. Tell your boss that his shipments are mine and until he gives in this is not over.” Magumba said, then he kicked Ichyro in the jaw knocking him senseless. The soldiers retreated but not before three others had been shot in non-vital areas. Once it quieted down Jack walked out of the jungle carrying an M-16A2. He looked around at the carnage; it brought back memories about the Indonesia . Ichyro was slowly sitting up, Jack went over to help him up. As he stood up he shook his head to clear the cobwebs that hadn’t been there before. “Where were you at? Hiding I bet, I knew it.” Ichyro said.

Jack smiled, “Well you’re alive because I got lucky and guessed how to shoot this contraption. Never shot a gun like this before. The most I did was paintball competitions my company had on occasion.”

Ichyro shook his head, ‘rich kids, they think its all fun and games’ he thought. But he had to admit without his shooting the RUF all would be dead. “Well, as much as I hate to say it, thank you.”

Ichyro was in no mood to reply.

“You got ambushed by RUF you say? How far out are you? Okay, stay put and I’ll send men out to help. Now we really need to step up operations. I’ll tell you when you get back.” McBride hung up the phone. Seems like a lot of setbacks in a short time but with this new plan he had those will be a thing of the past. There was a knock at the door, “Come in” he said. Both doors opened, a huge brute of a man entered. He was almost 7ft tall, muscular, crew cut, square jawed, piercing grey eyes. “I am Taras Kuzetsov

,   I will train your men as you wish. I am ex Spetznaz, trained in hand to hand, explosives, rifle expert. What do you wish of me?”

McBride was pleased, he hadn’t expected such a well trained person to be sent. This man would help train his and the he could send them of deliveries and not worry.

“Please sit, we have much to discuss.” McBride smiled.

Jack was tending to some scrapes and bruises he had received during the battle. Ichyro was squatting by the stream dipping a rag in the water and cleaning the blood off his face.

“Next time before we head out remind me to bring some aspirin. My head is killing me.” Ichyro said to Jack. “At least you have a head to ache.” Jack said as he bandaged a cut he had gotten during one of the fights. “How did you shoot the gun out of his hand? That’s only for expert snipers to manage.” Ichyro asked getting really curious.

Jack shrugged apologetically, “Honestly? I was aiming for his head. He moved and I hit his gun instead.”

Ichyro was aching too much to argue. He was alive, and able to report what happened. Suddenly he remembered something important, he stood up and walked to the car. He opened a back door and found the hidden compartment, the cash was still safe. He sighed with relief, at least the trip wasn’t a total loss. His guards were all dead, the halftrack was still operable, the car had bullet holes but no flat tires.

He hoped help arrived soon, they needed help carrying the dead back. He heard a rumble coming from the direction of the compound, tossing Jack a rifle he grabbed one too and both hid behind the halftrack waiting to see who was arriving. Around the bend came a M548A1 tracked cargo carrier with a dozen men in back. They deployed somewhat, more like they have had the basics in training.  

Ichyro lowered his rifle, Jack did the same and both were greatly relieved to see the men from the compound. They loaded up the bodies and climbed aboard the truck.

Sometime later they arrived back at the compound shaken by the bumpy ride but whole nonetheless. McBride was waiting for them on the porch expectantly, he was relieved that they had survived but had serious questions to ask.

Ichyro walked slowly to him, “The money is safe, we lost all the men though. The halftrack is damaged, the car has bullet holes in it but it’s salvageable. The men who attacked us were RUF, and one carried an unusual weapon. Feldman actually saved us, I don’t know if he is who he says he is but he saved my life.” Ichyro said.

McBride said he wanted a debriefing as soon as they both got cleaned up and their injuries tended to.

Ichyro went inside and Jack nodded in way of acknowledgement and went to his room.

Jack arrived and sat on the bed, he knew his cover might be blown but if he hadn’t both of them would be dead for sure. After showering and putting on fresh clothes he went to the dining area to see if he could get a bite to eat. As luck would have it he met Mason there who was also eating. After exchanging pleasantries Jack grabbed a tray and sat across from Mason. Since both were more or less isolated they wasn’t too worried about eavesdroppers. “The mine is almost ready to go back online, but I’ve noticed men disappearing all day. Its like they are off somewhere else, it’s strange.” Mason said around the food he was eating.

Jack caught him up on the adventure he had and mentioned that his cover might be compromised but Mason said he doubted it, his reasoning was the fact that Ichyro didn’t know yet that the plane was shot down, the money was safe and he was alive.

Jack stopped eating, “The plane was shot down? When?” he asked.

Mason told him it was more or less right after they left the meeting. He had heard some of the workers talking about just how peeved McBride was at hearing it. Jack may have just gotten dealt a lucky hand, with all that was going on they might not put two and two together. Jack asked Mason to keep him updated and was promised that would happen. He got up to leave and saw something off in the distance, several armed guards were rounding up people and placing them in an open

area. Mason turned to look at what Jack was looking at. When he saw what was going on he immediately got up and walked over.

“What in the blazes is going on here? Why are you singling out these workers?” Mason asked one of the guards.

He was met with a shove backwards. “They are being reassigned to special duty, on McBride’s’ authority. If you have problems with it take it up with him. I have the authority to take whatever able bodied men I see fit.”

Masons face turned redder than it had been before, “I will take it up with him. We lost enough men as it was when the accident happened. And I will not stand for anymore being taken when the mine will reopen soon.” He turned around and quickly walked to the house. Jack shrugged and followed, he had a report to deliver about the ambush anyway.

Ichyro had just gotten to the part where Jack had shot the hand gun out of the leaders hand when Mason and Jack arrived.

“Just the man I need to see, we were just about to the part where you prove who you are.” McBride said with a cold look in his eyes. Jack remained calm and sat down, “What are you talking about? Oh yes the ambush right? Well in extreme moments men show just what they are capable of, I guess I had the courage to save your mans life. Sorry if it seems like its more but all I did was fire a gun and luckily it hit the bad guy instead of Ichyro.” Jack said leaving out certain details.

McBride pondered over this, he looked at Ichyro the back to Jack.

“Well, I still think you are more than you say. I don’t totally believe you but from what Ichyro said if you hadn’t acted both of you would be dead and my money would be in their hands. Did you hear of the plane being shot down? My sources tell me it was the RUF, they used a stinger missile.”

The mention of a stinger missile made Jacks insides twist. In Indonesia he went to investigate the theft of stinger missiles and found out a cell of the Crimson Brigade had managed to stay hidden and were trying to regroup. Without Bando having the missiles and using them to shoot down the air support the Brigade had, they would have lost that battle and the brigade would have gotten a foothold on that part of the world.

“I didn’t know about the plane, sorry about your friend”

Jack said.

Mason spoke up, “Mr. McBride, why are my men being taken away from the mine? We are close to having the repairs and starting up again. Those thugs said they had your express permission.”

McBride sat back in his reclining chair, “Yes I am reassigning men. They are going to be, I guess you could call it retrained for the benefit of the mine. Replacement workers will be arriving in the next couple of days. Make do with who you have for the moment. After all, you have proven yourself able to improvise very well” he said with a smile that made both Jack and Mason’s skin crawl.

Taras was looking at the group of men before him. Never had he had so little to work with. He had to draw a line in the dirt so the men would be even in lines. The basic drill he put them through to test their training was laughable, unable to follow even the simplest drill like marching in rhythm. He would make soldiers out of them even if it killed them. The twenty men were just a start, he already had them run five miles with their weapons fully loaded. The training facility was several miles from the mine so the chances of anyone accidentally stumbling onto it was rare. He would have them set up targets for practice at a later date. The huts would also need to be built, that could wait, the men needed to harden their bodies and train their minds to endure more than they could imagine. He might need to request some of his old unit arrive to assist when he got more conscripts. He walked up and down the men standing at attention with their weapons over their heads. One mans arms started shaking with exhaustion then collapsed. Taras saw what happened and took three huge steps to where the man was. “You dare drop it unless ordered? You will make up for this. Run around the perimeter till I say stop, when you reach the starting point, stop, place your weapon down, kiss it every time you do a push up. Twenty push ups at lap. GO!”

The man looked like he wanted to say something but kept silent and took off to do as instructed.

The rest of the men made a determined effort to maintain their weapons above their heads.

Janelle observed the men training form her new vantage point. She made a decision to move when she saw heavy equipment clear a large area of jungle several miles away from the mine. She knew that Mason would find her since Jack was now there as well. She hadn’t heard from the vipers in a while but they were close, they had a mission to complete. She momentarily wondered if the Omega Squad managed to send six vipers how many were there? Or was it just because this as an unusually dangerous mission? Until they all met up and got to safety she would never know.

Mason stormed back to the mine, he was fuming. He knew that men just weren’t reassigned for random reasons without their supervisors being told. Something was fishy here and he would find out.

Jack was sitting in a loveseat waiting, McBride and Ichyro were discussing about new security measures for the transport of diamond shipments and getting the mine ready, plus new workers.

“So you only fired paintball guns at your company get togethers? Well how did you know to shoot a semi-automatic rifle with such accuracy? Trained men do as well as you, some explaining is required or we will resort more inquisitive measures” McBride said as he drank a hot liquid that smelled somewhat like Earl Grey tea.

Jack leaned forward, “My company has paintball teams, we usually compete against other companies in sanctioned war games. After a while you learn to shoot with some accuracy. As far as knowing how to shoot that big gun I watched a lot of TV. In stressful situations one learns quickly. I wasn’t trying to shoot the gun out of his hand, I was aiming for his head. It was just a lucky shot. That was all.” Jack said sounding sincere.

Ichyro sat back with an ice compress on the back of his head trying to keep the swelling down.

“You say that you learned to shoot by playing paint ball in your companies parties? How did you learn to shoot a semi-automatic rifle and shoot a mans pistol out of his hand at fifty yards? Explain this to me, if you lie we will extract the truth in ways more unbearable than you could imagine” McBride said with a glare in his eyes.

Ichyro spoke up, “It is possible he could have just did it? Men in stressful situations do funny things. If he wasn’t who he says he is why isn’t he off trying to find out stuff about your other businesses”. A look of panic came over Ichyros face.

McBride glared at him, “You better shut your mouth about what you think you know before you get in over your head. Understand?”  He said with the last word dripping with menace.

Jack leaned forward, “Sir, I am only here to broker a deal for diamonds from your company. I have no interest in whatever side deals you do. I have been authorized to offer a front payment of thirty million dollars upon delivery of a quantity of diamonds. When said diamonds have been received by the company they will courier the payment in however you see fit. I have a voucher with me to give you in the sum of 10 million dollars as a good faith gesture. All we ask is that when you receive our ‘payment’ you send it through an off shore account for safety purposes. You understand.”  Jack said being the consummate professional.

McBride hesitated then spoke, “You are willing to pay up front for the mine diamonds or my special ones?”

Jack explained that there were several jewelers whose businesses were failing because diamonds were demolecularizing and making it look bad for business. With a fresh supply in stock they could refurbish their reputation and name.

McBride leaned back and nodded thoughtfully, “I understand your situation, I will consult with my people and get back to you. I have heard of this problem with the diamonds, if it will help foster good will with our business relationship I will have my scientists look at some of those diamonds to try and figure out what is happening. We can help each other.”

Jack leaned back and smiled, McBride gestured to a servant girl who brought a tray with three glasses on it. McBride gestured for Jack to take the first glass. He knew this old trick, it was a guessing game, if he refused to drink it would show he was there to investigate, if he drank there was a chance a drink was spiked. But he had to drink something, he remembered his watch had a pill it designed to neutralize any drugs he might encounter. He took a glass and nodded to the server who shyly smiled back.

McBride and Ichyro took a glass each, as they looked at each other, Jack pretended to look at the time but instead pressed the button and surreptiously dropped the pill quietly into the drink. To give it time to work he proposed a toast, “To the hopeful start if a business relationship that benefits both parties and works for the betterment of our bank accounts.”  Jack said as he raised his glass and the other two did the same then all drank.

After the drink McBride excused himself under the guise of making phone calls to prepare for the deal. Ichyro stood up, “If you are a spy I will take great pleasure in killing you. But for the moment, thank you for saving my life.” Then he walked out the door leaving Jack to reflect, ‘Was it possible he could really mean that?’  he shrugged it off and went back to his room to make arrangements for that fictional voucher in case he needed it.

“How much? You have GOT to be kidding me? When I sent you to investigate this and look for Mason I didn’t expect to have to dip into the Squads assets for that much. Fine, I’ll see what I can do, but with this fact finding crap going on this will be hard to pull off but I’ll take care of it. Call me later.”  Squid was shaking his head. This was the most amount he had to think of requisitioning since he started this group. Between travel expenses, costs of equipment, clothing, pay, rebuilding any civilian property that got inadvertently destroyed and other expenses he was in overseeing close to several billion dollars but even though thirty million wouldn’t put much of a dent in it, that much still had to be accounted for. He would have to go to the appropriations committee in the morning and ask. All he could do was hope for the best.

Mira was sitting at home waiting for dinner to arrive, the girls had begged to have pizza for dinner so Mira gave in. the news was on a segment about the Omega Squad, the newscaster was reporting the latest findings. “The fact finding committee looking into the atrocities of the Omega Squad is close to requesting a Federal court order demanding the release of the operative’s names. The head of the Omega Squad is blatantly refusing to hand over the list quoting the safety of the operatives and their families would be put at great risk of harm. The President is not letting this go unchallenged, he states that the Omega Squad operatives involved in the Indonesia coup allowed a NCIS Federal agent to be killed and didn’t raise a finger to assist her.” The president was shown speaking, “The senseless death of that agent goes to show how far this so called agency has fallen. This quasi-police agency has brought nothing but trouble to this fine country. When a head of state is killed the evidence points back to the Omega Squad, these men and women are amoral with no conscience and no law to govern them. I will put them in place and make certain they have rules and regulations they have to follow. This head of that agency will be given one month to comply, that is plenty of time to get his ducks in a row before we resort to more government pressure. Thank you.”

Mira was shocked, after what the Squad had done spreading themselves out to help former enemy countries defend themselves and then rush home to try and save their own country. Ungrateful ingrates, they need to be put in the face of danger one time to see how it is.

The doorbell rang, the two little girls heard it and came running and squealing to meet the pizza guy. Mira slowed them down before they crashed into the door. She opened the door up and was relieved to smell the food that was to be dinner. The kid gave her the total and after he got the money handed her the pizza, he looked at the bill, “Uh Ma’am? You gave me a fifty for a twenty something dollar pizza.”

“Yes I know. You work for little and don’t get a lot of money so I hope this helps.” Mira said with a smile. The kid smiled from ear to ear and thanked her profusely as he left.

The girls followed Mira into the kitchen to get plates. As they went back into the living room with plates full of pizza, the girls talked amongst themselves in whispers. Mira smiled, she was glad to see Lily being like a little girl. Even though the road ahead would be rough while she went to her therapy session’s things would be ok. Mira called her father and asked if would be ok for her to take a few days off so she could take the girls on a sort of mini vacation to see zoos, amusement parks, museums etc. He said that would be fine, she needed some time away to spend with her daughter. As she hung up the phone a news announcement came over the television, “A small plane carrying a cargo of diamonds was shot down yesterday, the rebel group calling themselves the RUF claimed responsibility and appropriated the diamonds as compensation for back war crime payments. A convoy carrying diamond representatives was also attacked by the same group, the details are not known at this time. The Sierra Leone government is assisting with the investigation.”

Mira was starting to worry, she knew Jack had to leave and he’d mentioned something about Africa but that was a big country. If something had happened to him Squid would call and let her know. She decided to stop worrying and concentrate on enjoying the rest of the evening, but that lingering doubt remained.

Jack was in his room looking over notes and refreshing his studies on diamonds via satellite internet. ‘If McBride floods the market with fake diamonds that later start demolecularizing and have to be replaced then he would have a lock on the market. He would be virtually untouchable because of the amount of money he would have. Need to find a weakness to exploit, maybe an alternative to this. But how do you give someone something that they already can buy or steal?’ He pondered this.

There was a knock at the door, it was Mason. Jack invited him in. “Well, to quote one part of a famous duo, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into. McBride has something planned, he is taking men off somewhere and no one knows where. With the mine coming back online tomorrow maybe we can go look for them to see what’s up?”  Mason said waggling his eyebrows.

Jack sat in a chair, “First I need to see if what I did compromised our mission.” He caught Mason up to date on the trip.

Mason sat on the bed and shook his head, “Well you had two choices, fight or be killed. Your primary mission is to rescue me, I’m fine. Now, we need to find out what underlying plans McBride is undertaking and shut this mine down. These people aren’t here voluntarily; they have been kidnapped from surrounding villages. Not just men, buy whole families, my lead man was here to keep his family safe, and he’s dead now. More people are on their way and I can guarantee they won’t like it here once they arrive. The guards are armed, and I don’t know how many there are. All we can do is gather information and keep it for future use. Unless you got any ideas?” Mason said as he leaned forward a little bit.

Jack interlaced his fingers and put them on the back if his head, “I just might have an idea or two to get things a bit more exciting around here.”

Mason smirked; he knew something fun was going to be coming soon with Jack having a plan.

McBride made an inspection tour to see how the replacement parts were working, what he saw pleased him beyond words. The machinery was being put thru the final phases of testing; soon the mine would be back to full capacity. Ichyro was walking beside him making notes of what equipment that could be sold for scrap or used for spare parts. When they looked for Mason he wasn’t to be found, some worker had stated they thought they saw him inside the main entrance so they went to look for him there.

Mason was looking at a map of the known parts of the mine, someone had said when they mine disaster collapsed there was a new vein of what appeared to be chromium discovered. If that was the case then the revenues will shoot up even higher giving more value to the area, McBride might have to hire people to watch for thieves and hostile companies who might try and take over. Mason was pondering a way to mention it to McBride, but as he did he wondered why he was trying to do so well. His only reasoning was he was keeping a low profile sabotaging the operation would be easier when the time came. He had a job to do and he was going to do it. He walked over to one of the metallurgists who had arrived to test the metal the explosion had uncovered. “What’s the good word if any?” Mason asked.

The man ran a few calculations through his portable laptop, “Preliminary tests show there’s a good chance that it is indeed chromium. If the sample I sent off by courier test positive then this could be a rich find. I’ll request to stick around for a few days to make sure. I need to tell McBride about this, he asked to be updated on all events after the ordeal. If you’ll excuse me” he said then walked off.

Mason nodded, ’Well, if it is a new metal, I’ll ask Squid if he can arrange for a legitimate company to take over once we close this place down, be a shame to let something that could benefit all the locals to be taken over by unscrupulous people. He walked over to the supply hut to make sure the explosives were still there, satisfied they were he secured the door with the keypad code. Unless someone knew the code the insides were pretty safe.

He looked up at the bluffs nearby; he hoped Janelle was still safe and sound. He wanted to get a message to her but unless he knew exactly where she was and how to disappear for a day without being noticed there was no chance of it. “Wool gathering again?” A voice said off to his right. Jack had managed to come up behind him without him hearing.

“Just hoping Janelle is safe, she’s been up on one of those bluffs for a month alone. Her supplies are low, doubt she knows what happened. If she is still there we need to get a message to her and let he decide whether she wants to head back or stick it out. Maybe you can find her? Make some excuse about wanting to look around to get a full view of the mine. Something to get a message to her, I am responsible for her.”

Jack laid a hand on his shoulder, “Not all missions go as planned. If she decides to head back then it won’t count on her record. Since the Brigade war the Squad is shorthanded and training isn’t by the book. You didn’t know things would happen like getting caught or the explosion. Most of my missions I went on I had to improvise. Don’t beat yourself up, if anyone’s responsible it’s me. I suggested she get invited to join. She is fine, you’re a good operative, and she was trained in survival from the military. It will be fine. Trust me” Jack said hoping get Mason refocused. “You’re right, I need to trust her, you and the Squad. I’ve noticed something in the past couple of days; those men who disappeared were former military. It’s like they were selected to be taken away or something. I don’t know, but maybe you could sniff around?”

Jack said he would see what he could do, Mason said he needed to get back to work and left. Jack looked around at the operation, it was a totally different mission than he was used to. The act of being an expert was something he did on rare occasions, usually he found out who the bad people were and did what he could to capture them. He felt someone watching him; he turned around and saw a little boy standing behind a tire looking at him. “What’s up kiddo?” he asked with a smile. The boy ducked farther behind the tire but still looked at him. Jack wondered why a little boy would be here in a dangerous place. “Your mom and dad here? Where are they?” He asked as he knelt down so he wouldn’t appear so intimidating. The boy came out from behind the tire, he was skittish, Jack reached in his pocket and pulled out a small container of Pez candy. He offered some to the boy who cautiously took it. As he turned to go back to the tire Jack saw long gashes on the boys back like he had been whipped. Jack groaned, ‘Why treat another human like that? There simply was no reason for it.’

His curiosity got the better of him, he decided to look around and see what could dig up. He looked around and saw a narrow path in the jungle to the south kind of off from the other mine entrance. He looked around to see if anyone saw him, then he crept off to see where it led. He found a clearing with extra pipes, generators, scaffolding holding shoring beams and pits. He walked over to a pit and saw crocodiles several feet down. He shuddered and imagined the horror of being eaten alive. He saw a winch close by, he looked closer in the pit and saw tatters of clothing floating on the water. “So they feed these creatures people. What could someone possibly do to deserve that?” he muttered out loud.  He heard footsteps coming down the path with indistinct voices. He looked around wondering where to go, he looked at the scaffolding and climbed up on top. He lay flat, he was a good twelve feet above the ground and that should keep him out if sight. He heard the steps get closer, voices became clear now.

“Please don’t! No one told me that area was restricted, I wasn’t spying. I swear I wasn’t spying, ppplllleeaaasseee believe me!” A man begged. Jack looked through the wood poles trying to keep hidden and quiet at the same time. He saw four guards half walking half dragging a man who had tattered clothes, and his face was swollen from probably being beaten on the way here. “No one accused you of spying. Just being in the wrong area when you were caught.” A familiar voice said. Ichyro walked out of the mine entrance carrying an expandable baton. He looked pleased as he walked to the group. “You were caught several miles from your tent, looking over a fence that has no trespassing signs posted in four languages on it. Plus the trail has do not proceed without escort signs on it. So if you aren’t a spy then explain why you ignored the signs.” Ichyro expanded the baton and tapped it on his right leg.

The man was stuttering and stammering trying to say he wasn’t a spy and it was an accident he found the training ground. “I HATE LIARS!!!!” Ichyro yelled and struck the man in the ribs with the baton. Jack heard the metal crack some ribs and air rush out of his lungs. Gasping for air, the man tried to speak but Ichyro continued to strike the nerve centers incapacitating the man. After giving a thorough beating to the midsection and legs he struck both arms breaking both radial and ulna bones. The man was begging for mercy but Ichyro started striking the head and collarbones. Jack remembered his training, the head was a red zone, killing strikes that were not allowed unless there was no choice. The mans head split open allowed blood to flow. The man collapsed to his knees, blood pooled below him darkening the ground. Ichyro raised the baton and struck the man in the back of his head causing him to drop like a rock. Ichyro kept hitting the man on his head till his skull split open exposing his brain.

“Leave him, after the predators take what they want we will dispose of the body in the grinder. And spread the word that this is what happens to spies.” Ichyro said.

The whole time that was going on Jack wanted to leap off and fight to save the man but he couldn’t because of the firepower and the mission was of highest priority. Unless he stopped the mine and McBride there was no telling what damage the plan would cause in the future. The men left but not after one had kicked the helpless man once more. Waiting till he was sure it was clear Jack climbed down and made his way to the man. Hearing the labored breathing he was glad to see he was alive but as he got closer there would be no saving him. Compound fractures were in his arms, collarbones were shattered, his skull was crushed and his brain was leaking out slowly.

“Let me get some help for you. Okay?” Jack said as he knelt down beside the man.

The man looked up at him, “No mon, it’s too late for me. Find a way to stop them, they are making an army in a secret camp three miles away. I was sent here to find my brother who was doing some surveying in the mountains. He is a good mon, find him.” The man said wheezing with a Jamaican accent. His eyes fluttered and he rasped his last breath. Jack saw a shadow over him, he turned around to see who it was. “Oh hi there, I don’t suppose you’d believe I was just out walking my pet monkey.”

Janelle decided it was time to take action, her supplies were running low, she was getting restless and the battery in her emergency radio was drained, she had left it on one night by accident. She hid her supplies under a log and covered them with leaves, sticks and moss. She also hid her ID and badge, if she did get caught the last thing she wanted was to put Jack and Mason in danger. She did grab her camera and several rolls of film. If she was going to be an agent she needed to rely on her skills and instincts. She stood up and turned around and there stood Dark Wolf, “An just where do ye think ye are goin lass?”  She composed herself, “I am going to take some sort of action since ye are unwilling to do anything. Look, you got me talking like you, stop it.” Dark Wolf chuckled, “Ye hang around us Irish long enough and ye pick up on some good habits. Ye might learn a thing or two. All I canna say is good luck, ye will need it.” She placed both hands on her hips, “So you won’t rescue a damsel in distress? She asked flippantly. Dark Wolf walked off but stopped and turned for one last parting remark. “If I knew a damsel in distress yes, but in ye I don’t see it”.

He disappeared into the jungle, even though she watched she didn’t see where he left and the jungle swallowed him up. She sighed, “Well, it’s now or never” she said as she found a trail leading down off the bluff to the mine.

Mason looked for Jack and wondered if he was in his room, he went the south side of the mine to check on things. As he exited to look for more shoring poles he saw a fight ensuing. Jack was fighting with a guard near the croc pit. Jack kicked the guard in the groin resulting in the man doubling over. The guard recovered in time to block a punch being thrown at his head. Jack barely managed to avoid a knife strike as he disengaged. “You are a spy, I will earn great reward when boss find out I kill you. You will be my chance to move up.” The guard said as he smiled.

Jack stood up straighter, “I don’t think you see the gravity of the situation you are in, you need to reevaluate your place.” With that said Jack did a jumping turn kick and kicked the guard in the midsection knocking him over the edge of the croc pit. Somehow the guard managed to grab onto the rope dangling from the arm of the winch.

He dropped the knife and held onto the rope for dear life.

“Please help me. I don’t want to die. I won’t tell what I saw. I promise”

Jack looked at the winch, Mason had walked over to watch.

“Well, do you believe him or not? I wouldn’t but that’s me.” Mason smirked.

Jack looked down into the pit, he saw crocs waking up with the sense food was about to be delivered. He looked at the guard beginning to tire. “Well, you tried to kill me, you said I was a spy. Your right about one thing, I am a spy but you won’t be alive to tell anyone. You see, I don’t care about saving those who tried to kill me. And you serving under someone who murders entire villages and illegally steals from honest people makes my blood boil. So you can pray to whoever you want while you’re falling.”

Jack hit the release on the winch, slowly it lowered into the pit. The man begged them to let him live and vowed to help them. But Jack and Mason stoically watched as he was eaten alive.

“You know, Jack. You could have asked him where the camp was before you served him as a main course.”

Jack raised the rope to prevent any escape and to make it look like nothing had been touched.

“I got a general idea, the man that was killed told me. He had been one of the guards who stood by and watched as Ichyro did the beating. He is just as guilty as the others.”  Jack said without a trace of emotion.

“Remember Jack, we aren’t judge and jury on these people. I tried that route during the war remember? Mason said trying to let Jack know there were higher priorities.

“I know, but justice needs to be dispensed when there is no one to protect the innocent. I don’t kill to kill, I kill to protect. And if I let him go he would have jeopardized the mission, that’s a lesson that is hard to learn but necessary.”

Mason had no comment for that, “We need to get out of here. Come with me in the mine, if anyone asks you are here to observe raw diamonds being mined. Nothing more, I can cover you for that story. As far as we know no guards are missing. Got it?” He said.

Jack blinked a couple of times and nodded trying to refocus on the mission at hand. Just as they entered the mine the guards fallen radio crackled, “1134 where are you? You are needed at the mess hall.”

Squid was working late at his office when one of his trainees asked to speak with him. “Come in, I always make time to talk to new recruits” he said jovially.

“Sir, I heard on the news that our own government is trying to control us. But they ask us for assistance when they have issues they don’t want to get involved in. Am I correct?”

Squid leaned back, “Yes that’s true, and for some reason this president sees fit to think he knows what’s best for this country without ever having served either in military or law enforcement. Those kinds of people in power have no idea just what threats this country faces on a regular basis. Unless you’ve faced death numerous times and survived you have no idea how dangerous the world is. All we know about him is he was raised is a “safe” environment and given all the privileges of wealth, without any idea what just a struggle to live is about.” Squid said remorsefully.

The female pursed her lips for a moment, “So we take it upon ourselves to protect those who wouldn’t protect us because it interferes in their dream world of how smart they think they are when they haven’t even tried to do something to protect those who elected them?”

Squid smiled in spite of himself, “That my dear is EXACTLY the point, if we don’t do something by the time these Ivy League morons decided to do something it would be too late. So I created this group to protect innocents, not interfere in law enforcement or politics. I can see why it’s confusing but as long as you believe in the higher morality of protecting the freedom of people and love to fight for what you believe you will do fine.”

The recruit smiled, “Thank you sir, I will do my best to uphold my vow to my superiors.”  With that she nodded then left. Squids hackles stood up on end, something didn’t feel right but he couldn’t place his finger on it.

Once out of earshot of the offices the recruit pulled out a cell phone and hit a number on speed dial. “Phase one complete, will await orders on phase two.” Then she closed the phone and walked out of the building towards her car, knowing her job in the senate was guaranteed once this mission was complete. The voice on the phone had said only two words, “Just hold” and hung up. She hated lying and deceiving but the prestige and promises of money was too tempting to deny.

Jack was looking over plans of the new vein mining operation, “You sure he said Chromium? It’s rare to find a rich vein anywhere. But if it is that means McBride is sitting on a veritable fortune and he doesn’t know it yet. If it is what it appears the money alone will be enough to build an army and take over the diamond market. We need to start bring him down soon before this gets out of hand. We have help but they won’t get involved till it’s necessary. And we need to have a look at this training camp to see what we can do there. When do you get off work?” Jack said. Mason looked at him like, ‘Are you kidding? When would be a good time?’

Plans were made to meet after the next shift started under the guise of going over new shaft digging. As Jack headed towards the main entrance he saw Ichyro talking to a guard and poking a finger in the mans’ chest talking loudly. “You were with him a while ago, now he isn’t answering his radio? Where is he? If you don’t find him in the next fifteen minutes you will be made an example of, got it?” 

The man nodded and ran off to look, Ichyro absent mindedly rubbed his wrist as if it was sore. Jack walked up to him, “What’s going on? Someone lose a dog?” He quipped.

“Personnel problems is all, where were you a half hour ago by the way? He asked narrowing his eyes.

“I was looking over the mining area to see how quickly it was up and running, my compliments to your men. Then Mason and I were looking over maps of where to possibly dig for a new vein of metal that was uncovered during the explosion. Been there for about an hour I would estimate. You can ask him, he’s at the other entrance office.” Jack said daring Ichyro to make an accusation. Once he did he could us that as a wedge to divert attention away from the mission. “It seems funny to me that all of a sudden weird things happen since you got here and it’s convenient that you always were somewhere else. Any idea why?”

Jack tried to keep a smile from forming, “Maybe you need to get checked for paranoia, it does come on sometimes late in life. You have seen too many movies, relax. I’m just here to broker a deal for diamonds, my bosses don’t care how they get them as long as they are legitimate and are supplied when needed. I have witnessed other representatives literally pull blackmail folders on business men to pressure them into doing business for them. As long as I get my cut I turn a blind eye to certain practices. Keep that in mind and we will get along just fine.”

Jack winked at Ichyro and walked off leaving him to mull over what was just said. Part of what Jack said was true, but he had blackmailed people into working for the Omega Squad to get information on a high profile criminal. He would need to get some uncomfortable information on Ichyro to hold over his head as a backup. Sure it wasn’t moral, but when lives depend on information sometimes the best way to fight a criminal was with their own tactics.

Mason was poring over the schematics for a new type of drill for using laser technology to drill through hard bedrock to get to the ore underneath but the power usage was high. The only way that would work is having a way to generate a lot of power without having any waste material to get rid of. Since the technology was still in experimental stages trying to find a working model was impossible unless they found an alterative along the similar lines. He remembered reading about a drill that used lasers to be focused through fiber-optic cables to the rock surface making the rotary drill almost obsolete. He wondered if McBride would front for the money to order one. After all if the Chromium vein was as big as the preliminary tests showed he would make that cost back up with the first shipment. He would run it by him at lunch. He was jotting down notes for the meeting when he felt someone behind him, he turned to see Ichyro towering over him.

“Oh it’s only you. Listen, I have an idea on how to increase our output with increase in profits. Is the boss man busy? This might pique his interest.” Mason said.

Ichyro glared at him, “Was Feldman here with you for almost an hour? Tell me the truth or you will experience the box again.”

Mason looked at him, “If I lied to you I’d spend time there, if you suspected I lied I’d spend time there. I have no reason to lie but if you don’t believe me I’ll still spend time there, but yes, he was here looking over specs for the new vein that got uncovered. He seems genuinely interested in the process, why do you ask?”

Ichyro still glared, “One of my guards hasn’t answered his call, and we can’t find him anywhere. I think he is either deserting or dead. I suspect that Feldman but no proof.”

Mason clicked his tongue, “He was here with me for a while, and he just left. Hey Antonio? Wasn’t Feldman here with me for a long time?” Mason asked a nearby laborer who was using a small hammer to break up some rock that showed promise of diamonds. “Yes Mon, the Bwana was here. He was talking about maps. That’s all I know mon.”

Ichyro huffed but didn’t say anything as he walked off.

Mason chuckled; once more they had bypassed fate. How much longer could they do it? Only time would tell. Now to go see if he could pull off a miracle.

Jack walked out into the bright African sun, he put a hand over his eyes to shade them from the glare. He saw an old bus drive up to the clearing with armed guards present. The bus stopped and air brakes hissed. The guards immediately became alert, the doors opened and people emerged from the bus looking disoriented and frightened. He leaned against a stack of barrels to watch. The people were sluggish as if they were in shock, Jack recognized the symptoms of fear, and obviously something had happened to make these people comply. A guard nudged him in the back with the muzzle of his rifle, “Move along!” was all he said. Jack decided that discretion was the better part of valor and smiled. He walked towards the guest rooms, he needed to check his laptop in case he had any updates. He saw something that caught his eye, one of the new arrivals wore a familiar robe. It looked like the robe style from the first village they visited. So that’s how they maintain the quota of workers, kidnapping and slavery. Once he closed down the mine he would see about having someone come and get them set back home.

He arrived at his room, so far nothing was disturbed. He pulled out his laptop, plugged it in and waited for it to warm up. He entered his password and set the encryption lock on it. Now he could send and receive messages without anyone reading what was said. He had three messages, all from Squid. He had been granted the voucher if necessary but if anything happened to the money there would be hell to pay. The next two were updating him on the hearing, he had less than a month to make the Omega Squad look good or the government was taking over and he knew how well that went. He sent a brief catching Squid up to date on what’s happened and asked for information on one Ichyro Tanaka in relation to past employers, criminal history, past relationships, etc. he needed something to use when the time came. The reply came back as WILL ADVISE WHEN INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE.

‘Well that helps, NOT!’ he muttered. He powered down and put it away. He pulled out the rough diamond to give it a look over. It was like a lumpy piece of glass, misshapen, rough. He wondered if he could get it back to Mira and have a pendant made for her. Knowing it might be hard to do he decided on attempting to get several others to give as gifts to the girls. His thoughts were interrupted by a knocking on the door, “Mr. Feldman? Mr. McBride is requesting your presence for afternoon drinks. He would like you to arrive in thirty minutes.” A voice on the other side of the door said. “Tell Mr. McBride I would be honored to.” He said. He put the raw diamond back in the safe place in his bag and changed clothes and washed his face and hands. He took a leisurely stroll by the gazebo, the smells of the garden were crisp and clear. Roses, tulips, lilies all fresh and growing with care. He would hate to see them destroyed, beauty was something he enjoyed.

He walked by a metal shed, he saw the door was open and looked inside to see a hydroponics lab. He had heard of them but never seen one in real life. He would ask for a tour of the grounds later. He walked to the house and a servant opened the door for him. He was led by another servant to the tea room. McBride, Ichyro and a scientist he didn’t know. “Mr. Feldman, I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Jake Jerjerrod, gemologist and metallurgist. He is here to confirm or deny the discovery of Chromium. Since you two have something in common please chat, I have a few items to attend to before we have drinks.” He

and Ichyro left out a side door. Jack looked at his watch; it flashed a small red light. The room was monitored she conversations had to be professional. “I am told you represent Diamond Inc.? That’s a very well renowned company, how did you manage to slide into that position?”  Jake asked raising his eyebrows inquisitively.

Jack poured a drink, “My father is a businessman, he knew a few people and called in a few favors after I got back from Somalia . I had joined the Peace Corps. I struggled at first but enjoy traveling, gives me something to look forward to. What’s your story?” He said quickly changing the topic to avoid mistaking something. The man started off by announcing the many degrees he had. Jack pretended to listen and picked up important parts of the conversation.

“So, you think he is a spy? He knows how to shoot, knows about diamonds, about survival. He is good whoever he is. Go check with your old bosses and send picture of him as well. Maybe one of them has run across him before. If we are going to do business I want my dealings to go smooth, not be sabotaged by industrial espionage or police trying to put me behind bars.” McBride said as he watched and heard the exchange on closed circuit television. Ichyro left the room to fulfill his boss’s orders.

McBride returned to the tea room, “My assistant had to tend to other matters so he joining us for drinks. Now, Dr. Jerjerrod, you mentioned something about this could be one of the richest Chromium strikes in African history? If it is how much revenue are we estimating?” McBride said as he poured himself a drink and sat down in a winged chair. Jerjerrod put an arm across his chest and braced his chin with the other. “Preliminary tests show a thick vein running concurrent with your projected path. If test results favor the content then my suggestion would be to cease diamond mining in that tunnel. The possible revenue could be estimated in the billions if there is as much there as I conjecture. You would need to upgrade all your existing equipment to meet the demands of constant mining but with the money rolling in I don’t see any problems there. The main issue would be that once word gets out there will be other companies wanting to collaborate with you. That would be up to you but if you want to make it big I’d suggest you work the mine yourself. I would be glad to stay on as the main metallurgist overseeing the extraction of the ore.

Jack shook his head, how anyone would say all that without stopping to breathe was beyond him. Unless the man was used to giving long boring lectures he had to not realize he could be someone to sleep.

McBride looked over at Jack, “Well Mr. Feldman? Do you agree that someone would have to oversee the main extraction? And in your opinion does he seem qualified to do so?”

Jack smiled, “I believe he is qualified to make sure what is extracted is what he believes is there. He needs a team to over see the smaller operations that he could miss.”

McBride raised his glass in agreement, before anymore discussion could start McBride’s pager beeped. “Please excuse me; it seems a new problem has come to my attention. Please drink as you see fit.”

Before McBride left Jack asked, “Sir? I noticed a hydroponics lab on the grounds. I was wondering if a tour could be arranged.”

McBride said he would arrange it on the way out and left.

Jerjerrod said, “Hydroponics eh? I would like to join you, it sounds fascinating.” Jack rolled his eyes and suppressed a groan.

Janelle was sitting in the back of a flatbed truck dangling her feet over the tailgate that was down. Armed guards surrounded her, all the while she smiled and toyed with her camera adjusting the telephoto lens.

McBride walked over to her, “You better have a good explanation why you’re here young lady.” He asked.

Janelle hopped off the tailgate and the guards started. She extended her right hand, “I’m Janelle Kraft, wildlife photographer for the weekly gazette of Tribune, Ks. I am here to catch photos of wild life for the grade schoolers.

I got separated from my guide and wandered around till some of your cute guards found me. They are so sweet to help me find a place to make a phone call so I can get back to Freeport and go home.”

McBride was incredulous, how can someone who appears so naïve survive alone and not have any idea how dangerous it is.

“Well, until we find you a way out it wouldn’t be chivalrous. No reason a beautiful young lady like yourself should have to travel alone.” McBride said with his most charming smile as he offered her his arm. She took it gratefully. “Why thank you sir. It’s always nice to see a gentleman respect a lady”

McBride motioned for the men to lower their guns and he escorted her to the main house where he would have a room prepared for her.

Jack and Jerjerrod were being escorted as well, but they weren’t under guard. The escort worked in the hydroponics lab, he explained the process of how seeds were placed in a vitamin solution and nurtured and grown under artificial light till mature enough to be replanted in the gardens. As they walked past a garden Jack glanced over to see a familiar face holding onto McBride’s arm like a lover showing off their prize. ‘Sure hope she knows what she’s doing. At least she is safe and sound, have to let Mason know when I can. The tour of the lab proved interesting, he had always wanted to see a real hydroponics lab. He might talk his father in law into investing in the idea, would help a lot of people and save on money. The tour ended and Jack and Jerjerrod were taken back to the house where McBride was charming Janelle with a tour of his art room. Even Jack was impressed with the different artists’ paintings hanging on the walls or on display stands.

Both Jerjerrod and Jack stood at the door, “AHH Mr. Feldman and Dr. Jerjerrod, please come in. I was just showing Ms. Kraft one of my many art collections I have acquired over the years. From Monet to a Chagall, all original and some almost priceless. Obtained over many years of searching.”

Jack was truly impressed, he didn’t know a lot about renaissance paintings but he would have to see about getting one just to say he owned one.

Jerjerrod was looking at one on a stand gingerly touching the canvas with a finger.

“Doctor, please refrain from touching the canvas please. The oils from your body will ruin the integrity of the paint, after all its over three hundred years old.”

Jerjerrod jerked his finger back as if touching a hot pipe.

McBride suggested they all retire to the den where snacks would be served and all could be getting to know each other. Jack went along hoping to pump Janelle for information about if she saw anything to help the mission.

Mason made his way to the house with his notes, he hoped that the main man would agree to the purchases. He was allowed inside and escorted to the den. When the door opened the first thing he saw was Janelle drinking out of a snifter. She was laughing and smiling at something a tall this bespectacled man had said. She turned towards him and nodded somehow managing to pull off the greatest trick all operatives had a hard time mastering. How to not get excited and make a mistake. She raised her glass to him

then returned to her conversation. Jack was there looking over a notepad, McBride was talking to Ichyro. Mason walked over to McBride and waited to be recognized, when he was he presented his handwritten proposal.

I’d like you to look over this proposal I made for new equipment to make drilling easier and safer. I know the cost would be quite expensive at first but if the vein is as much as they say it is the payback would make up for it”

McBride glanced over the paper then folded it and put it in his pocket. “We can discuss business later, right now we have a guest. Allow me to introduce you to her.”

Both men walked over where Janelle was politely laughing at a lame attempt at flattery by Jerjerrod.

“Miss Kraft, please say hello to Mason, he is my main foreman at the mine. Without his expertise and devotion we wouldn’t be back to working as soon as we are.”

Janelle smiled sincerely, “It’s a pleasure to meet you sir. I am a nature photographer here visiting here in Sierra Leone. I must say you are a handsome man, you must have all the women after you back home wherever that is?”

Mason took her hand gently, he raised it to his lips and kissed it, “The pleasure is indeed all mine, I was raised in Bulgaria . I have a female interest already, and may I say she is nothing compared to the beauty I see before me.”

Mason said as charming as he could. Janelle lowered her eyes shyly, “Why thank you sir, it’s always a pleasure to meet someone who still knows how to sweet talk a lady.”

Jack was listening and just rolled his eyes, those two were two of a kind that beat a full house. No wonder they made a good team, both could fake their way through a polygraph machine with the evidence in their hands.

McBride suggested they take a few moments to freshen up, dinner would be served in an hour.

Mason ever so slightly jerked his chin to Jack indicating a meeting. Jack nodded and excused himself with McBride’s blessing. Both men met at the Gazebo, “Well, at least we know she is safe. Now what? All the players are here so we can push ahead with getting out of here and closing this place down. After dinner McBride might be solely occupied with romancing Janelle that he would allow us to so called have free time to explore. I can get flashlights, and water. I wouldn’t bring weapons, if we get caught that might me hard to explain.” Mason said.

Jack agreed, “We will try to hurry but depending on the darkness and terrain we might be gone several hours. Let’s just wing it. We better get ready for dinner. We can meet later, pick a spot, and I’ll be there.”

Mason nodded then went off to clean up as well as Jack.

Janelle was loaned clothes McBride kept on hand for visitors.  She wore a knee length skirt, tube top on which she wore a waist length shirt she buttoned at the bottom. He shoes were tennis shoes of her exact size. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail, she had showered, scrubbed the past several weeks’ worth of dirt off her. Dabbing in a small stream wasn’t her idea of hygiene. She opened the door just in time to see a female servant standing there. “I am here to escort you to the dining hall miss. Please follow me.”

Janelle did and observed the immensity of the house. Paintings, vases, sculptures were in every hall and seemed like every room. The dining room was set up like a guest of honor would be present. Mason arrived dressed in clean work clothes. He smiled at Janelle and the gesture was returned. Jack arrived a few minutes later dressed in a grey pair of khakis, white polo shirt and hiking boots. He hoped his hosts wouldn’t mind if he had avoided alcohol for the meal and drank juice. He needed to keep a clear head for later.

McBride arrived followed by Ichyro close behind. The guests took their respective places and waited till their host had sat before joining him. “I am honored to have so many guests in my home at one time, this is indeed a rare occasion worthy of having a special meal prepared. Please indulge yourselves, we can talk of unrelated work things.”

McBride sad with a disarming smile.

The other nodded graciously and felt the stomachs grumble as the food was brought in on carts. A cover was lifted on one cart, it was a roasted pig complete with vegetables, another was a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, other dishes were of local foodstuffs. Jack hoped he would have enough room to try them all.

Dinner conversation centered on Janelle’s photography, she knew a lot about the types of animals in Africa and said she had dozens of photographs to use in her guide. The pig was excellent, whoever cooked it had done an exquisite job in doing so, the potatoes were fresh, possibly some grown by hydroponics? The other dishes he didn’t recognize but were very flavorful. By the time dessert was brought in Jack politely declined. Mason however accepted as did Janelle.

Ichyro finished up and asked to be excused stating he was expecting some information. McBride nodded then continued to eat. After everyone had finished and the plates were cleared they went to a room where they could sit and talk. “The meal was excellent Mr. McBride, my compliments to your cooking staff.” Janelle said as she sat down on a padded bench. “Thank you Ms. Kraft, I have hired some of the top chefs from all over the world to cook for me. Nothing but the best for me as you see. When so far away from civilization one must see to their comforts. I would imagine some people would see that as arrogance, but is it really when you can afford the finer things? It’s not showing off if one had the means to make what they want happen.”

Jack resisted the urge to drop kick McBride in the jewels of the type you don’t mine. He came into wealth by working hard and making sure he only had the basics, sure several million was willed to him by a friend but he made sure he donated to several programs to help those less fortunate.

Mason rolled his eyes at McBride’s blowhard bragging. He also had a large amount of money he earned. Unlike some he saved it for retirement.

Janelle smiled and coquettishly patted McBride on the arm. “I have always wanted to find a man to keep me in a lifestyle I could grow accustomed to” She said and laughed softly.

McBride smiled, “Well my dear, there are advantages to living here, servants to tend to you, food fixed to your desires, no crime, no governments to restrict you. A woman of your stature and beauty could almost rule as Queen.”

Mason looked up in shock, did McBride see himself as a ruler intent on building an Empire on the backs of slaves?

Jack though the same thing, if that new vein of metal was as rich as it appeared to be then McBride would have the means to practically rule this part of the world. Another despot with delusions of grandeur. Time to up the ante and undermine his world.

Jack asked to be excused, McBride just waved a hand in dismissal, Mason decided he would go too. Janelle would handle herself, she knew how important this mission was.

Both men walked outside and made sure no one was within earshot. Jack shook his head, “Did you hear that? He has an ego worse a lot of singers who think they are the worlds best but don’t sell any songs. We need to act fast to slow him down, if that new vein is as rich as that geek thinks you know what would happen.”

Mason nodded, he remembered the war all too well. One man convincing others that one way was the only road to enlightenment and if you didn’t fall in you were killed. So much for tolerance. “Know what Jack, I don’t know about you but I am getting really tired of people trying to tell us how much better their way is and to hell with the rest.”

Jack suggested they find a way to get some explosives to start a little sabotage to slow things down. They needed to find tools to rig the equipment so it wouldn’t run to peak efficiency. They would go over those plans after returning from their excursion in search of the secret camp.

Ichyro was sitting in the security office poring over the messages, he was just about to throw one into the shredder when a familiar face stood out. He grabbed it and left the office in search of McBride, this was too important to not interrupt him.

Janelle was asking questions about mining when Ichyro burst in.

McBride looked over at him with his eyes flashing, “This had better be important because if it isn’t you won’t be around to see what’s for breakfast.”

Ichyro ignored the threat, “You need to see this, it will change your life.”

McBride grabbed the paper with the picture on it, when he saw who was on it his face changed. “We need to find him as soon as possible.”

Jack and Mason were quietly making their way towards the camp. “You sure we are headed in the right direction?” Mason asked for the umpteenth time. Jack turned around, he showed Mason a glow in the dark compass with a built in GPS. “Oh, never mind then. Last thing I’d want is to get lost out here, especially when I have to be up early.”

Jack stopped, “You are acting like someone who wants to be there, you get paid little, sleep on a cot, eat whatever they kill first. You like it?”

Mason chuckled, “Not in the least, I’m doing a job. But with as much at stake I need to make it look like I am doing my job.”

Jack laughed, “Well once we close him down you can take over the mine operation.”

He turned back around to renew this trek, Mason said, “You’d like that huh? That way you could have all the glory and adventures, I don’t think I’ll let you have the satisfaction.”

Jack was laughing so hard he walked into a tree and scraped his cheek. “Maybe you need to watch where you’re going? Mason said.

Jack rubbed his face, “Guess which finger I’m holding out”

Both laughed and headed back on track.

Janelle was patiently while McBride and Ichyro walked out of the room to discuss the situation at hand. She looked at the various books, paintings, and vases wondering how much each was worth. Raised in a middle class family she wasn’t exposed to such luxuries so there was no need to indulge in learning. But as an Omega Squad operative she would have to learn some things in case the situation called for it, her thoughts went back to Dark Wolf, why did he suddenly pop up? She wondered why he was on her mind all of a sudden, she was involved with Mason and wouldn’t trade him for the world, another mystery for another time.

Ichyro handed the photo to McBride, “Told you that was her. She is the one responsible, who else could it be? We need to get rid if her.”

McBride tossed the photo back, “In time, you still haven’t learned that it takes timing to get the things you want or need. I’ll deal with her when it’s time.  You just go back to monitoring and I will let you know what you need to”

Ichyro looked at him, “I’m more than a hired hand, I keep the mine running, make sure you have men, keep order.”

McBride smirked, “You think you are indispensable? You are a hired gun to keep me safe. When I found you, you were begging for work. You keep your attitude up and you will be out of work again. Got the picture? You are paid to do as I say, nothing more, nothing less. If I say you shovel the animal pen you will do it. But thanks to you I have to keep replacing men because you kill them. If you have to torture someone for information fine, but you won’t kill them. When the times right you can have free reign, got it?”

Ichyro was smoldering inside, he hated to be talked down to no matter by who it was. He sucked it up, “Yeah, sure. But there is something here that doesn’t add up. Look at all the sudden visitors arriving? Suddenly Mason is willing to work hard and be productive, a representative from a diamond company who can shoot a weapon, a girl who just shows up out of nowhere saying she’s lost? Something isn’t right here.”

McBride knew he had a point, “That’s why you’re here, to protect my assets and life. If you can’t do that then I will find someone who can. Now get back to your station, and unless its life or death do NOT interrupt me.” With that said McBride walked out the door back to the den. Ichyro looked at the picture, the girl had blond hair, blue eyes and was in this part of the world. Since the police station got bombed he suspected she would make her way here, since she was a hired assassin who did jobs for anyone anywhere as long as the price was right.

The Freetown police station was paid by McBride to keep the reporters and spies away. Their database held files of almost all known spies and agencies they worked for. He hadn’t found anything on Mason or Dan Feldman but those names could be aliases. He would run Feldman’s picture through all databases to see if any matches came up.

He turned on the camera in the den, he saw McBride return and offer a seat to that girl. It made him irritated that his boss treated him like that, after all he’s done for him.

McBride would get his karma card, because he knew a lot of workers who wanted a change in management.

Jack and Mason made it to the camp, they hid in the shadows to observe.

“Took a little while longer to get here but there is a camp. I wonder what’s going on here.” Mason said quietly to keep his voice from traveling.

Jack shook his head, he didn’t know either but he would find out. “Stay here, I’m going to look around. If you see someone patrolling do some sound that’s normal. We can’t afford to get caught but we need to see what McBride’s got going on here. Be back in a few minutes. I hope”

Mason handed Jack a knife for protection in case. Jack crept out from his spot and went from tree to tree till reached the clearing. Once there he saw boxes stacked, logs piled, men walking around carrying sacks of something.

He took a deep breath to calm himself then casually walked over to the boxes and ducked down in between them.

He had a good view of an area that had poles standing up in a line with sacks on them and sticks sticking out of them like arms. Men were striking them with staffs in cadence with a huge man yelling. “That has got to be the biggest russkie I’ve ever seen” He said quietly.

In another area there were others practicing knife attack techniques, others were practicing hand to hand elsewhere.

“A training camp, McBride must be developing a private army. This isn’t good. Looks like we need to ramp up activities and close him down. But if they are using a Russian to train them how do we counter it?”

He needed to tell Mason what he saw so they could plan accordingly. He looked around to see if anyone was close, since it looked clear he duck walked out from his spot and right into a guard patrolling. ‘Here we go again’ Jack said.

The guard was smoking a hand rolled cigarette and drinking from a canteen so his hands were full. Jack elbowed the man in the solar plexus effectively doubling him over. The man lashed out with a fist just brushing Jacks groin area. The moment he hesitated gave the man enough time to draw a nasty looking machete, the edge gleamed in the dim light. “A spy, I will get rewarded for killing you. You will be killed quickly, stand still. He said.

Jack smirked, “You assume a lot for a jungle thug. You are overeager, overconfident and not too bright” Jack said.

The man lunged and used a double over handed chop only to miss when Jack stepped to the side and kicked him in the inner thigh causing him to drop to one knee. That didn’t stop him from attacking again, he swung horizontally and Jacks legs missing them.

Pulling out the knife loaned to him by Mason he held it in his right hand with the blade by his palm. It looked petty against a machete but the man obviously wasn’t used to a real fight. The man stood and smiled, he swung the machete in circles trying to intimidate Jack. Jack wasn’t having any of it, he lunged in a feint causing the other to move. Suddenly Jack lunged forward and swung his fist at his opponent. Mason saw the fight but was helpless to do anything except watch, when he saw Jack miss with that punch he just knew he screwed up.

Jack turned around and saw the man holding the machete with one hand, his other over his throat trying to staunch the flow of blood that ran out of his severed arteries.

The man looked at Jack with hate that shone so bright it made his eyes glow in the dark.

Jack nodded and ran off into the dark blending in. the guards last act was to hit the panic button on his belt activating the general alarm. Jack had just about made it back to the hiding spot when floodlights turned on and a siren sounded. “Damn, this isn’t good” He said and took off full speed to the jungle.

Taras was training a group to use the staff when the general intruder alarm sounded. “Grab your weapons, time for more live training. This time it will be how to deal with intruders” he said. The men dropped their staffs and grabbed their rifles, got into ragged formation and followed Taras in the direction where the ruckus seemed to be.

They arrived to see a guard who’s throat was cut wide open and he’d bled to death. Footprints led to the jungle, “Follow the tracks, find whoever they belong to and bring them to me for questioning.”

The men ran after who had left the tracks, hopefully they will find the person.

Jack reached Mason panting, “Looks like a training camp for a private army. But we need to leave now, seems like I made a boo boo.”

Mason shrugged as if it was no big deal and led the way back in the direction they had come. They had a head start but with it being almost totally dark except for the moon above giving them some light. They couldn’t risk flashlights because that would give them away. About twenty minutes later they stopped to catch their breath. “Think we lost them?” Jack asked breathing heavily and sweating in the humid air.

Mason was bent over, he stood up and put his hands on his head to give his ribcage more room to expand, “Doubt it, probably aren’t close but having a hard time gaining because of the thick jungle, we are close to the mine so we better get back. I will go inside to make myself an alibi, but you better pretend you were in your room. This is going to be close.”

Before Jack could answer a shot rang out and a bullet hit a tree causing bark to fly into their faces.

“Not close huh? Thick jungle huh?” Jack said as they took off. All Mason could do run and hope he didn’t catch a bullet in the back.

McBride was about to put the moves on Janelle when his beeper went off. Obviously annoyed he politely excused himself.

He went into his office, he dialed the number on the screen. “This had better be really important because I am not in the mood for interruptions”

A rough voice on the other end said, “We had an intruder at the camp tonight. He killed one of my men. I have others in the jungle looking for them, last indications showed they were headed back to your mine. Instructions?”

Taras waited. McBride was speechless, someone knows about the camp? How could that be? He only told Taras about it. Someone is spying here and he would find out.

“Follow them as best as you can, if you lose them fine. I will find out who was there. Keep training them, I need them as soon as I can. I might be needing a replacement valet soon. Keep me informed.” He hung up, now his amorous mood now gone he would get Ichyro and two guards and go look for two men who he has wondered about for a while.

He went back to the den, “My apologies my dear but it seems a situation has come up that requires my immediate attention. Please forgive me? Perhaps we can meet for lunch tomorrow? Please make use of the guest house and eat breakfast here in the morning.”

Janelle’s first thought was ‘Now what did Mason and Jack get into now?’

She said sweetly, “Of course, and thank you again for your kind hospitality and manners. I am a bit drained and think I should retire for the night.”

McBride smiled, “I will have someone escort you the guest house.”

She smiled thankfully. A female servant arrived and escorted her out and led her to the far side of the guest house where she sat down on the bed. “A few more minutes and I might have to had to use fighting to keep his hands off me” she said to no one in particular.

Jack and Mason finally got to the mine area, both worn out, wet and needed a break. “I will tell everyone I was here checking on things, won’t be too hard to make it seem realistic. But you need to take a shower and come up with something to cover your end.”

Jack said, “I got a few ideas, trust me. ” and headed off to the guest house.

McBride picked four men to go with him in case there was trouble. First they went to check on Feldman, if he wasn’t there then he would be found and interrogated immediately. They arrived at the door and knocked loudly, there was no answer. One guard pounded on the door even louder, still no answer. McBride nodded to a guard who kicked in the door slamming it into the wall. Clothes were laid out, computer was showing mining ideas, the overnight bags were open.

“He isn’t here, how shocking.” McBride said then stopped. The shower was running, probably to give the illusion of someone there. Before he could tell his men to comb the grounds for his “guest” the shower turned off. A few seconds later Feldman walked out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist and drying his hair with another. He looked up, “Oh, Mr. McBride, I wasn’t expecting visitors this late. May I offer you something? I don’t have much but I’ll share.”

McBride wasn’t in the mood to socialize, “Where were you tonight? Within the past two hours mostly?”

Jack rubbed his hair again, “Here working on draft of the proposal for the business arrangement. My company requires I draft an arrangement to facilitate the process. Plus I was trying to come up with alternative drilling methods for you if the metal comes back as what you hope it is” McBride was so mad he could hardly think.

“How convenient, and I don’t suppose anyone can vouch for you? No matter, I can’t prove otherwise. Enjoy your night, and prepare that proposal and mining idea for me by tomorrow.”  With that said he gathered hid men and left. The door still worked albeit a little warped.

Jack sighed, he had barely managed to get the comp running, pull up a back up file and throw some clothes on the bed and get in the shower before they showed up. Nothing like a close call to require a nice hot shower. Since his last one wasn’t done he decided to do it right this time.

Mason had managed to get his people at the mine to give him an alibi, now he just hoped that no one was wanting to make sure he had been there. But that wasn’t meant to be, he heard men coming down the shaft yelling at people demanding to know where he was. He was at a makeshift table looking over the latest developments of the vein. The estimates were staggering but he didn’t get a chance to go farther, “Where were you for the past three hours?” McBride said with venom dripping in his words.

“Well here mostly, I couldn’t sleep so I decided to come here to check on the newly installed equipment and the status of the new vein. Didn’t realize it would take so long though. Why, what’s going on?” Mason asked looking curiously.

“Someone was seen in an unauthorized area and a death was involved. That’s all I will say about the topic.”

Mason said okay then went back to the schematics.

McBride and men left, once they were gone Mason decided to go find Jack and see where they would go from this point on.

Mira was sleeping soundly, she had put the girls to be early and decided to try and get some much needed sleep. She woke up with a start, something felt wrong. She grabbed a loaded pistol she kept in her nightstand when Jack was away for safety. She checked on the girls, they both were asleep. Something just didn’t feel right still. She checked the doors, windows and alarm. The alarm was off, she remembered turning it on when she went to bed. Suddenly she heard a window slide open on the patio. She knelt down behind a chair. The backyard light caused a shadow of someone walking inside the house. The figure quietly walked across the linoleum floor towards front room where she was hiding. She looked from where she was hiding, the intruder had black clothes on, a dark hoodie with a design she couldn’t make out. He stopped at the doorway to listen, Mira made her move.

She stood up and aimed the weapon at his upper torso like Jack had taught her. “Freeze you moron, move and I’ll make some judge happy”

The figure turned towards her, she saw his face now. It was a young white kid with piercings in his lower lip. “Bitch, you couldn’t shoot your mouth off to me let alone a gun”

He said and laughed. Mira flicked the safety off, “One more remark and I will fire.”

The kid reached into a pocket and pulled out a knife, without hesitating she fired and the bullet hit the youth in the center of his chest piercing his heart. He dropped to the floor with a shocked look on his face. The girls came running after hearing the shot. Elizabeth saw what happened and cried that in return caused lily to start.

Mira held the weapon on the kid in case he wasn’t dead.

“ Elizabeth honey? Mommy needs you to call 911, tell them your mommy needs help. Tell them she shot someone ok?”

Elizabeth sniffed, she nodded then went to the phone and called. A short time later several officers arrived realizing it was one of their own wives in trouble. The Captain who arrived took charge, he sat down across from Mira.

“Tell me what happened and don’t spare the details”

Mira took a deep breath, she told him everything that happened. He nodded, “You did the right thing, since he had a knife there was no telling what he would have done to you or the girls. Since it was self-defense of a burglary I’ll talk to the DA and see to it there are no charges filed. Since Jack is a hero I doubt seriously the case will go anywhere. I’m glad you’re safe Mira, wouldn’t be good for Jack to come back and find out something happened would it?”

She shook her head, even though she protected her and the girls lives it didn’t feel good to take one. She understood Jack more, he only killed when he had to. That explained the haunted look he carried with him. The body had been photographed and the crime scene was being processed. A Lt. suggested they go to a hotel for the night, Mira agreed so they packed overnight bags and headed downtown to a hotel. ‘Just the thing needed to put adventure back in my life. As if Jack and my girls aren’t enough’ she thought but wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Squid was sitting at home working on his research for the government, he tried to point out that his agencies authority was derived from the United Nations. It seems this president was more worried about being “nice” to the world and be more tolerable when it came to their gripes about how the US did things. Well when it came to the safety of his country he would go to great lengths to ensure the people he took an oath to protect were safe, granted there were common criminals but that was for law enforcement. He would secure the trust of the American people and do his best to see to their security so another 9-11 was deterred.

His read Jacks mission update, the mention of a Spetznaz soldier training a group worried him. If McBride got a private army that was trained it would be next to impossible to shit him down. He sent a message back telling him to do what was necessary in order to stop those diamonds from reaching the market. He would contact the ambassador and make arrangements to have loyal honest troops take over the operation when the time was right. He was relieved to know Mason and Janelle safe, they had a good future with the Squad if they made it back. Squid drank from his glass, the scotch burned but warmed him, he thought back to when he first met Jack. Squid had just started as the head of the Omega Squad and was looking for new recruits. Jack had already been a cop and was working on being well known for his abilities. They had attended Emporia State University together and kept in close contact with each other after graduation. Jack had married a woman who wasn’t good for him, she just wanted someone to take care of her. After Jack had been recruited by the Squad and been on several missions she demanded he give it up as proof of him loving her. He debated about it then decided to try and salvage what little was left of his marriage. The final straw came when she brought home a boyfriend she had been seeing while he was on missions. Jack about lost it, he took off for several weeks and got a job in construction trying to bury himself in work. He was offered a mission to rescue Mira and took it. Squid had hoped they would make a go of it and when they did he held out a glimmer of hope that Jack would rejoin the team. Squid would ask him again when he returned from Africa , hoping that he would say yes. The Squad just wasn’t the same without him. Granted there were now close to 600 members abroad, the numbers growing after losing so many during the brigade war and a few in Indonesia who had been on the submarine crew who perished when the EMP had crippled it and it settled on the bottom of the ocean. By the time rescue teams got there the submarine integrity had failed and it had buckled under the pressure killing those aboard. Those left aboard hadn’t made it to the life pods.

Squid wondered if he was getting too sentimental in his old age, he saved his work, got dressed and decided he needed a night on the town; after all, he was just like everyone else.

Jack finished his shower and got dressed, he rechecked his messages and saw the one Squid had sent. He needed to get word to Mason and Janelle so they could formulate a plan. He pulled out a small box from his duffle bag, it contained subcutaneous transponders. There was an applicator to insert them just under the skin; pressure in the right spot would activate them. He put one on the inside of his right wrist, he saw the make up he was using to cover the Crimson Brigade tattoo was wearing off. Suddenly a surge of memory, he was in a chair tied up, flashes of images blurred. A voice was telling him to kill those who were non believers over and over. He felt the needle of the tattoo gun sting his skin putting the hated symbol on him forever. He felt the urge to go kill but fought it with all his will. As it passed he realized it was a post hypnotic suggestion implanted in him hoping to use him to kill the brigades enemy.

Shaking his head to refocus he put the transponders and applicator in a pocket. Now to look for Janelle and give her one and ask her to do one thing to help Mason and him to look for a way to sabotage this operation and find a away to escape.

Mason was in his private hut washing the dirt off and looking for clean clothes. It was late into the night but he wasn’t tired so he decided to look for Janelle to talk to her and see how she was doing.

He walked outside, “You! We need to talk” a voice said from the clearing used for meetings and movies. A tall dark skinned man approached him.

“You were there when my brother died, yes?” he asked imploringly.

Mason thought for a second, “Yes, he was beaten to death by Ichyro. I didn’t think anyone knew I was there. He asked me to look for you but I didn’t know who you were. I am sorry I couldn’t help him. His injuries were too severe, even with a full operating room it might not have been enough. Is there anything I can do to help?” Mason asked. The man slumped as if all his energy was drained, “I came here to work and earn enough to move us from Haiti to America . I didn’t know I would be a slave to a monster. He came looking for me, now I am here and his family is without a man. You can help me by making those responsible pay for his loss.”

Mason agreed something needed to be done, “I have friends here who will help us. Once I get to them and tell them we have an ally we will see what we can do.”

The man stood up straighter. “Many man is ready to fight, we need weapons, you help us we will help you.”

Mason nodded and left to go look for Jack, things just got more complex or simpler. Depending on your point of view.

Janelle was sitting in her room trying to find something to watch on the television but not having much luck.

A knock on the window startled her but she recovered. She walked over and looked out, when she saw it Jack she opened it. He climbed inside, “I need to give you a transponder. Things are about to start cooking soon, got new orders now. We are to do what we can to shut this place down ASAP. Squid is going to make arrangements to have the government take over once we do what we can to halt production.”

Jack inserted the transponder under her right wrist as well.

She rubbed it absently, “What about Mason? We need to tell him too.”

Before Jack could answer he saw a shadow outside the open window. Without hesitating he dove headfirst out and tackled the figure.

“Hey! I just put these clean clothes on and showered, what’s the deal?” Mason said from the ground pinned down by Jacks weight.

Jack got up and offered a hand, “Sorry, but can’t take chances. We got new orders”

Mason brushed himself off as he stood up. “We also got a problem or ally, let’s go someplace away from people to talk.”

All three walked around till they found a place that looked like it would do. Jack told Mason about the orders and planted a transponder on him. Mason told Jack about what he was told. Between the difficulties and orders neither of them had a plan.

“What about the airfield McBride has?” Janelle said

Jack and Mason looked at each other then her.

 “What airfield?” they asked at the same time. She rolled her eyes, “The same one I’d been watching him fly off from during the past few weeks. He has a Lear Jet he owns because it has his logo on it.”

Jack wondered why the diamonds had been taken so far away for transport. Unless it was a plan to stake out villages for workers. Mason spoke up, “He never mentioned a plane, looks like we need to fly out if here when its time eh?”

Jack didn’t know how to fly, he asked Mason who shrugged his shoulders. Janelle had a smirk that answered the question so he didn’t need to ask.

McBride was drinking brandy when he got somewhat aroused and decided to pay Janelle a visit. Something about her manner caught his fancy. He called in Ichyro, “I am planning on a little recreation. Make sure I am not disturbed.”

Ichyro was irritated, he wanted a night where he could relax and watch a movie with a servant he had become attracted to. He nodded saying he would like to take a moment to get ready. McBride said, “You are supposed to be ready when I call. Now you want a moment to get ready? Some valet you are, you take your time doing things, you argue with me, you let strangers in my domain. What else you got planned?

Ichyro took a deep breath, “Listen monkey face! I have had it with you demeaning me and treating me like I’m stupid. You are arrogant, cocky, and just a piece of……………….”

He didn’t get the chance to finish the sentence because McBride threw a bottle at him hitting him in the face breaking his nose.

“Don’t you EVER talk to me like that again. Do you hear me? You get out of my sight, you will now work in the mine. You just got fired!”

Ichyro was relieved, no more orders from him but he now had to live with the men he had terrorized. He needed help and he didn’t know anyone who would.

Dr. Jerjerrod was walking outside enjoying the night, he heard people talking so he peeked around the corner. He saw Mason, Jack and Janelle talking quietly. He overheard something about sabotage so he acted. “Stop right there you three. I heard you talking about sabotaging the mine. I will report you as spies.”

“You sure he won’t be missed? After all, he is supposed to let McBride know about the quality of the metal that was discovered.” Mason asked.

Jack replied. “No, your job, till its time is to act, will be to tell anyone who asks that he is out surveying the land to see if any new tunnels need to be considered. That should keep suspicions down long enough.”

Both the others agreed. The scientist was suspended upside down in an empty aluminum tube in the storeroom all gagged and tied up. He could moan all he wanted but with the sounds of machinery drowning out his muffled cries he wouldn’t be heard.

Ichyro packed a bag and headed off towards the mine, he was feeling a dread he never felt before. He reported to the shift boss and was given a tent and work clothes. Word spread fast about his arrival, many workers lost friends to him and wanted payback. McBride had his special guards escort him to the guesthouse, they waited outside while he knocked on the door. When there was no answer he unlocked the door, the light was off so he assumed she was in bed. He turned on the light and was shocked to see her and Mason in bed together appearing like they were asleep.

Rage overcame him, “WHAT IS THIS?” he yelled.

Mason stirred awake, “What? Who? Oh it’s you Mr. McBride. Didn’t expect you to be here.”

McBride restrained himself from choking the life from him.

“You didn’t expect me? What gives you the right to sleep with a guest of mine? You are supposed to be in your hut, you are not allowed to mingle with guests unless authorized. You are now working double shifts until further notice. Get the hell out!” Mason put his clothes on and walked out the door. Janelle smiled at him as he did and blew him a kiss.

The door closed, “So, you fraternize with my workers? You are playing a dangerous game my dear. Fortunately for you I am too angry to romance you. From now on you will be escorted everywhere you go. Your ride will leave in two days, you have overstayed your welcome.”

He left and slammed the door, after he did she got up and put a sweatshirt on and looked out the window.

“Did you hear that? He seemed a little disappointed in me for not falling to his charms. Think Mason will forgive me?” she asked sweetly.

Jack chuckled, “I think it was Masons dream to have you alone in an exotic locale even though he got interrupted”

Janelle climbed out the window, a short time later they met Mason and had a good laugh. “Well I doubt I could ask him for a reference on a job.”

Jack asked for ideas to close the mine down, but before anyone could come up with anything there was the sound of gunfire, cannons and shouting. “Well this don’t sound good” Janelle said. All three took off running towards the sounds.

Magumba was ordering artillery on the mine hoping to close it off till he could take it over. Men were rushing around not knowing what they were doing. The RUF soldiers were now triple the size as before. Magumba had recruited more men and ordnance with the promise of being rich one they took over the mine. Jack saw who was attacking and knew this wouldn’t be easy. He saw a RUF soldier aiming his weapon as a helpless child and took action. He threw a saw blade and caught the soldier in the chest, “Thank god for black and decker” Mason said.

Janelle popped him on the shoulder as if to say now wasn’t the time for smart comments.

All three grabbed weapons, they took deep breaths and charged into the melee.

Taras heard on the radio about assistance was needed at the mine, he put his black shirt on, he was wearing black khaki pants, webbed belt with knives and grenades adorned on it. He put a flack vest on over his shirt. One last item, he put his maroon beret on with the symbol of his unit. He sounded the alarm alerting his trainees to report to the yard.

The forty men arrived, they stood at attention ready for orders. “We are now on mission. Mine is under attack. You will use what you learned. Go bring honor to your leader. Dismissed.”   Taras said. The men snapped their heels together in unison, turned as one and went to the supply hut to get weapons. Once they had returned, they were loaded up onto two troop transports and driven to the outskirts of the mine.

McBride was hiding behind a generator with a six shooter. Now he wished Ichyro was close, he regretted firing him. A RUF soldier ran towards him and he fired a .357 bullet into the mans chest dropping him. He reloaded in time to drop another one. Before he could react he was struck across the face by an iron pipe, blessed darkness overwhelmed him and the sounds of battle faded.

Ichyro was fighting hand to hand and doing all right. He was taking his anger out on these soldiers. Suddenly he was alone in a huge circle, surrounded by hundreds of mine workers holding torches and digging tools.

They closed in on him, he realized they were intent on killing him. He mentally prepared himself to go down fighting. One man stepped forward, “You have killed or maimed many people, you must answer for these atrocities. We will take your life in payment. You beat my brother to death. You had no right, he was innocent. Kneel down and stretch your arms out.” The man said as he raised a club with huge nails sticking out from the end. “Never will I kneel. You must fight me like a man.” Ichyro said defiantly. A steel bar was thrown from behind him striking him in the back of the knees causing him to fall. Dozens of workers swarmed him and when they departed Ichyro was tied at the wrists and ankles, the ropes were tied to poles normally used to hang the screen for the movies. He was stripped down to his underwear and the blood from the cuts he got while struggling flowed over him.

He knew his life was about to end but he refused to go quietly. “You knew what you were getting into when we asked you to come. Its your fault for your kinsmen dying, if you had worked like we told you they would still be alive.” The crowd just stood silent, then they parted, a lone figure appeared. She was dressed in blue jeans, blue shirt, blond hair, and bright blue eyes. “Hello Ichyro, you are here to answer for the crimes you have committed against innocents. Thought you would want to know who arranged your death.” She smiled and walked off, the crowd filled he hole. “She is behind this? WHO ARE YOU????” he shouted but was ignored. The miners closed in, he was beaten, stabbed, clubbed by hundreds of workers. Before he passed out they stopped.

He realized he had imagined seeing her because the man who’s brother he had beaten said, “No woman here mon, just us who will take vengeance on you for your crimes. You will die and our vow will be fulfilled.”

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