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They dragged Sauerbrum into an alley beside the Church.

She wasn’t hurt; just slippery from the blood bath when her henchmen’s bodies exploded. Jake shoved her down between some stinking dumpsters and glared.

“I’ll have you arrested the moment I get back to Base. Your court-martial will ensure no more Americans are allowed to join my Army,” Sauerbrum blustered.

“And you,” she said to Nava. “Consorting with this known subversive. Your career is finished.”

“Let me educate this moron. Her room temperature IQ is annoying.”

“Don’t do anything for the moment,” Jake said. “Your methods aren’t designed for subtlety. I want her to answer questions.”

“Can’t I just scare her a little? She’s acting way too confident.”

“Well . . .”

A rat the size of a Chihuahua hopped into Sauerbrum’s lap and began sniffing her blood-soaked clothing. She screamed and batted it away. Another good sized rat put its cold wet nose against her wrist. Sauerbrum tried to get up and run away.

Jake pushed her down. The rats scurried away, but twittering sounds from behind the dumpsters indicated more rats were nearby.

“Appears all I have to do is knock you out,” Jake said. “The rats will eat most of you. It will take DNA testing to identify your body once it’s found. By that time, Nava and I will be back in Israel.”

Sauerbrum tried to sneer, but her eyes kept darting about, searching for more rats.

“She won’t break,” Nava said. “Israeli officers go through special training to strengthen their ability to ignore psychological torture. I know about it because I began taking the course weeks ago.”

“Who said anything about psychological?” Jake asked. “I think it’s time to introduce you to a new kind of torture. He’s called Smith.”

“Don’t try to make me human by attempting to hurt my feelings. I don’t do feelings. They are a weakness I refuse to suffer.”

“Stop mouthing and introduce yourself,” Jake said as he grabbed Nava’s hand.

Nava hadn’t been expecting him to touch her. She started to pull away and hesitated when a voice spoke in her head.

“Hello Nava. My name is Smith.”

Nava recoiled. Jake expected her reaction and held onto her hand with all his strength. He only let go when she pointed her gun at his face.

“Smith, I told you not to scare her. Look what you’ve done.”

Nava fired and the bullet pocked the brick wall behind Jake’s head.

Jake ducked and shouted, “Nava, stop shooting. Are you crazy?”

Blue police lights winked on in the street, and Jake heard car doors slam. Nava started down the alley toward the revolving lights, looking over her shoulder to make sure Jake wasn’t following.

A voice yelled, “Drop your weapon and get on your knees.”

Sauerbrum yelled, “Help. They’re trying to kill me. Help!”

Jake froze. He never expected New York City cops. His expectations were based on movies where bad guys have gun battles in the middle of the city, and cops never show up.

Sauerbrum kept calling for help. Nava dropped her gun, sank to her knees and put her hands behind her head. The silhouettes of two cops with guns drawn approached. If they took control, Jake realized there was a kidnapping charge in his future, and Sauerbrum would become a victim.

“Ready for me to clean up this mess?”

“Don’t kill anyone.”

“You’re no fun, but I will do as you say.”

Jake heard words whispered in a strange language. They reminded him of the assault on the warehouse at the Army base. He caught the tang of sulfur as a hot, invisible body moved by him. One of the dumpsters rose off the pavement and flew toward the cops. It landed and bounced, clanging as it tumbled. Putrid garbage spilled everywhere, and the cops backed into the street. Another dumpster flew through the air, landing beyond the first one. It bounced and slid into the street. Garbage spewed in every direction. The heavy steel corners of the bin gouged deep grooves in the asphalt.

A hideous growling scream echoed from the alley. The buildings funneled the awful noise, and the air seemed to vibrate with the sound. There was a metallic bash, and the side of the first dumpster collapsed. The cops ran to their car and backed away, tires screaming in protest. The first dumpster with its side bashed in floated ten feet off the pavement and flew toward the cop car. The car screamed away down 35th Avenue as the dumpster landed and slid to a stop.

Nava stood and looked back and forth from Jake to the dumpsters. She started to run toward the street but never made it. Something grabbed her and lifted. She floated back to Jake, all the while batting at an invisible force around her waist. Sauerbrum tried to run away, but something held her down.

Nava floated up to Jake. She was still beating her fists against whatever was around her waist.

“I can only communicate with Nava if you touch her. I don’t think that is likely, but you should try. I’m afraid her fear response may grow into a permanent psychological condition if you don’t calm her down.”

Trying to think of something she might believe, Jake said, “Nava, I’m a secret agent.”

Nava stopped struggling and stared. Jake decided to let her imagination run wild and keep his mouth shut.

Nava started laughing. “That is the most stupid thing I have ever heard in my life. I might believe Mystic, Guru or Superhero, but not secret agent.”

“I thought secret agent was a great description. What’s wrong with it?”

“Secret agents don’t have gadgets that throw steel dumpsters 30 feet or use invisible forces to hold people three feet off the ground against their will. NOW LET ME DOWN!”

“Smith, let her go.”

“Who is Smith? Where is he?” Nava asked as her feet hit the pavement. “I heard a voice when you grabbed me earlier, but I didn’t see anyone.”

“I know this sounds crazy, but he is invisible. The only way you can hear him is to let me touch you.”

Nava frowned. “What about Sauerbrum? She’s itching to escape.”

“No worries.”

“Smith, would you please take charge of the witch?”

“It will be my pleasure.”

Sauerbrum snarled, “There will be more police coming. The minute I hear them I’ll start screaming. Your days are . . .”

Whatever else she was going to say died in her throat. Something unseen grabbed her and turned her upside down. She rose into the air several feet and hung with her back against the brick building. A nasty wad of stained brown paper crammed itself into her mouth, muffling her shouts. It must have tasted as awful as it looked because she gagged.

Nava shook her head in disbelief.

“Let me hold your hand. The only way Smith can talk to you is if you are in contact with me. I promise you won’t be hurt.”

Nava’s curiosity got the better of her. She allowed Jake to hold her hand.

“Don’t be frightened, Nava. By the way, I thought his secret agent claim was ridiculous.”

Despite her fear, Nava snickered. “Who are you?”

“I am the interface connecting Jake with the powers of the ring he wears. Three thousand years ago I was the protector of King Solomon. Jake found me and is now the Chosen. He shall rule . . .”

“Cut the blather, Smith. She needs the short version without the advertising spiel.”

“What spiel? I speak only the truth. As your future queen, Nava needs to know . . .”

Nava threw Jake’s hand away and her eyes blazed with fury. “Queen is it? So that’s what all this is about. QUEEN?”

Her slap stung and was strong enough to push Jake’s head sideways.

“Forget her. There are plenty of women who will beg to be your queen.”

“Would you stop with the queen talk? And I don’t want to hear about concubines.”

“If you prefer men, I can arrange it.”

“Don’t arrange anything. Your attempts at matchmaking are based on embarrassing 3,000 year old ideas.”

“Very well, but your best child-bearing years are fading fast.”

Nava found her gun. Although she pointed it at Sauerbrum, she kept her eyes on Jake. Her handprint on his cheek was bright red.

“Nava, I’m sorry about Smith. His ideas about society and male-female relationships haven’t caught up with the 21st Century.”

“Tell that throwback to the caveman era the next time he objectifies me, I’ll melt him to slag.”

“Yes Ma’am. Smith, release the witch.”

Jake heard whispered commands, and Sauerbrum fell in a heap. She dug the paper out of her mouth and heaved, pushing nasty lumps from her mouth with her tongue. Abject horror glazed her eyes.

“Who are you working with?” Nava demanded.

Sauerbrum gagged again and grimaced. “You don’t scare me. Do your worst.”

“Colonel, from what I’ve seen tonight, you haven’t begun to imagine the worst.”

“She’s good.”

Sauerbrum’s cell phone had fallen off its belt clip when she’d been turned upside down. Nava forced the woman’s thumb against the Home Button to unlock it and studied the phone call history list.

Three of the most recent calls were from the same number. Nava pushed to recall and put it on speakerphone.

“I’ll do the talking. Whoever answers will be expecting a female voice.”

The phone rang twice, and a muffled voice answered, “Report status.”

“The team is dead, all dead,” Nava said trying her best to sound like Sauerbrum. “The American is harder to kill than I imagined.”

“Did you get the ring?”

“Not yet. I’ll need more time. Where can we meet?”

“You know the rules. A meeting is not possible until we’re back overseas.”

There was a long pause. At last the voice said, “Who is this? Sauerbrum knows the rules so you can stop pretending to be her. She is either dead or compromised. Either way, termination sequence initiated. Enjoy your last moments.”

Sauerbrum’s necklace began to glow. She noticed the heat immediately and began saying, “No. No. NOOO!”

Nava tried to break the necklace, but it became too hot to touch. The skin on Sauerbrum’s neck scorched and burned. Foul smelling smoke drifted around her head. A humming noise got louder and louder.

Jake yelled, “Nava, leave her. There’s nothing you can do. Come on.”

Jake grabbed Nava’s hand, and they ran for the street. Just as they ducked behind the closest dumpster, an explosion ripped down the alley.

“No need to check. Sauerbrum’s head is gone with most of her upper torso. We need to leave.”

Jake slammed his fist against the dumpster. “I can’t believe our only lead is gone.”

Nava was still holding Jake’s hand. She’d heard Smith and made no attempt to go back into the alley.

“Maybe not,” she said holding up the cell phone.

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