As Sarah suspected, underneath the "Sky Tours" company was the secret base, probably run in concert with several different government entities. They had quite an impressive store of weapons, equipment, and even freeze-dried food down here. Not nearly as high-tech as Castle, but they had a computer with a large wall monitor. The most welcome sight, however, was a homey little guest room with two double beds and a shower. Miguel swept his hand across the doorway like the host of a resort. "For your comfort, ladies. We will alert you when your chutes arrive."
Now Sarah would definitely thank Morgan for the delay.
Mary claimed the bed nearest the door, dropped her suitcase and backpack on the floor, and collapsed on the mattress. "I'm going to take a nap first and use my shower for wake-up. The shower is all yours."
Sarah had slept enough on the long flight. She decided to take advantage of the shower. After she was clean, she checked the file Chuck had sent earlier. It was some aerial photos of this bunker they were headed for and a blueprint of the floor plan. She memorized it as best she could, just in case she got separated from her phone. She was a little surprised not to see any trees in the photos, so she availed herself of the computer to double-check the area.
Evidently, the photo of Rodchenko had been taken in a different location than the bunker, because there was nothing but pampas where they were headed. That was good and bad. They wouldn't have to worry about landing in trees, but no trees also meant it would be harder to hide. It was just as well they had to wait for parachutes. The cover of night would be an important advantage. It was nearly dusk now. She quickly checked the weather conditions (no rain forecasted, cool night temps) while she was at it.
Miguel introduced her to Juan, who, despite the name, looked very Anglo with pale skin, ginger hair, and blue eyes. His red and yellow Sky Tours uniform had "Capt. Juan" embroidered on the pocket. "I'm the pilot," he explained. "Tourists think pilots should be captains, but I'm actually a lieutenant." He didn't say in which organization or branch of the military.
"Agent Sarah Walker." She extended her hand and they shook.
The guys loaded a dining table with snacks and invited her to join them. It wasn't anything fancy, but it was definitely better than airplane food. She ate until she was full. "I better go check on my partner," she said by way of dismissing herself from the table.
Mary was still napping, so Sarah tiptoed in and quietly unpacked her suitcase to get her clothes and the gear she had brought from Burbank: variable-light goggles, earpieces, video-transmitting glasses, a digital lock cracker, and a few other assorted gadgets. These were not as difficult to get through TSA checkpoints as guns, knives, and explosives, which was why all those items had to be supplied through the field office.
She repacked her mission backpack, and then checked her suitcase to be sure she hadn't missed anything. In a side pocket, she found a photograph of her and Chuck, him standing behind her with his arms wrapped around her and both of them smiling. A wave of warmth coursed her spine. She couldn't say when or where the picture was taken, but she somehow knew that wasn't a cover smile on her face. She had been genuinely happy. Something about that picture made her think "home". Perhaps it had been taken at that house Chuck wanted, the one where she carved her name in the door frame.
It would be dangerous to take something like that with her, not only for her, but for anyone who could be used as leverage if things went south. She left the photo, along with her passport and driver's license, in her suitcase.
Mary stirred and opened one eye. "Is it time yet?" she asked groggily.
"They haven't mentioned the chutes, but they have food if you're hungry."
Mary sat up. "Food sounds good. But I better shower first."
Sarah wasn't sure if Mary meant she stank or if she needed the water to make sure she wouldn't do a faceplant in her food. Maybe a bit of both. "Hot water lasts about six minutes," Sarah warned.
"Thanks. I can manage that."
Sarah changed into her mission clothes, adding all her concealed weapons as she went. Then she sat on her bed, flipping through the info on her phone while she waited.
Mary emerged from the shower in under six minutes. She stopped to stare at Sarah's black turtleneck, pants, and suede jacket. The elder agent hit herself in the forehead with the butt of her palm. "What latitude are we at?"
"About 34 degrees. Same as Los Angeles, only south."
"I always forget that once you cross the equator, it starts getting cooler again. Not everything is tropical."
Sarah shrugged. "You spent a lot of time in Moscow. Almost everything is south of that, and warmer."
"Antarctica. I always forget Antarctica and penguins. Maybe I should get Morgan to pack my clothes," she joked.
"Do you need to borrow something?" Sarah didn't have much to spare, but maybe she could ask Miguel. A sweat shirt was probably not too hard to rustle up.
"No, thanks. I obviously didn't need to bring three tank tops, but I brought some long sleeves too. And of course a jacket for the jump. I tend to overpack."
Who else does that? Someone Sarah knew always packed too much for missions. Was it Zondra?
There was a knock on the door. Miguel's voice sounded from the other side: "Parachutes are here. Wheels up in fifteen."
Sarah looked at Mary, still wrapped in a towel. Mary talked through the closed door: "We'll be ready. Is there still food?"
"Sure thing, Agent Bartowski. We'll leave it out for you."
Mary might have been a bit forgetful of the finer points of geography, but she was dressed and had her backpack ready in five minutes. She left a few items behind in her suitcase, probably the aforementioned tank tops. She grabbed something from the food table and ate on the way back up the stairs and out to the airstrip.
"Captain" Juan was optimistic about the conditions. "Good visibility, no wind. You couldn't ask for a better night."
"Are you our extraction team?"
"Depends on what you find. Helicopter is a no-go until you know their defenses. Last time we landed near one of these whacko paramilitary installations, we lost six men and an Apache. Radio in coordinates where it's safe to land and we'll be there."
"Roger that," Mary said. "You have the frequency for our support team back in the states, right?"
"Cobra and Carmichael. You bet. First time we've ever had a female team of agents backed by all-male support. They're kind of obsessive, like they really have your backs."
"They'd better, or we'd kill them," Mary deadpanned. Sarah knew she wasn't serious but both Juan and Miguel looked like they believed it. The two ladies put in their earpieces and checked in with Chuck and Morgan just before they leapt out into the Argentinian spring air.
Sarah loved the rushing wind on her face as they sped toward the ground in freefall.
"I've got positive lock on both your altimeter readings," Chuck said in her earpiece. "How's your visual?"
"Minimal moonlight, no clouds," Mary reported. She had to practically scream because of the wind, but it didn't transmit like screaming. "Sarah's right beside me, about thirty feet away."
"Copy. You got a visual on the ground yet?"
"Too dark," Mary said.
"Let me try," Sarah said. "Switching to infra-red." She hit the button on her goggles. A tiny orange-red rectangle appeared on the ground, not directly beneath them, but they didn't want to land on top without a good look first. "Affirmative. Target in sight."
"You're looking good, ladies."
"By the way, thanks for the Dentyne, Morgan," Mary said.
"They had it? Oh, good."
"Why didn't I get any gum, Morgan?" Sarah asked, trying to keep her screaming voice even. It was so much fun to make the little man squirm.
"My fault," Chuck broke in. "I told him you wouldn't want any."
"I thought you were busy picking up Ellie," Sarah accused. Chuck wasn't going to take the hit when she was just yanking Morgan's chain.
"It's my fault," Morgan said firmly. "You—well, the other you, from before you forgot everything—you told me you didn't like gum. So take it out of my hide when you get back."
"I'm impressed you remembered. Thanks. Oh, and thanks for getting us good parachutes."
"You're welcome. Did they get you good throwing knives? I told them they better have really great throwing knives for you because you love your throwing knives."
Chuck broke in on Morgan's obsessing. "You're coming up on ripcord altitude, ladies."
"Thanks, Chuck," Mary said. She looked over at Sarah. They nodded and pulled their cords at the same time.
"Both chutes deployed perfectly," Sarah reported, talking more normally now.
She could hear the men doing high fives in the background. "Roger that."
"What's the entry plan?" Mary asked.
"We have the bunker specs," Chuck said, "but we don't know what kind of security they might have added after factory. Satellite photos inconclusive. You'll have to be our eyes when you get there."
They landed in nice, soft pampas, both of them on their feet. They crouched immediately to keep a low profile. The tall grass was perfect for hiding the chutes when they took them off. No alarms sounded and nothing changed at the bunker, which was a good hundred yards away, down a slope. Sarah recorded the coordinates as a possible extraction point later. She switched her goggles from infra-red to night vision and pointed for Mary's benefit.
They moved in concert like panthers in the night, down the slope and toward the bunker.