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datatime: 2022-11-29 03:11:32 Author:agjgVemP

The order to come to Texas wasn't a total surprise. Gonzalez assumed he'd get a sharp reprimand; have his pay docked, and be reassigned. Instead men with machine pistols had herded him with the others. After dark they were escorted out into the night and told to stand at attention. Warned they would be shot if they made a move or uttered a peep. So they had waited, listening to the howl of coyotes in the desert night air. Until now.

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

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

Here comes the bullet, Gonzalez thought. Oh, hell, it's been a good life. He braced himself for the hail of lead that must soon come smashing into his body, hoping that it would be quick. His feet hurt from the unaccustomed standing. He was surprised by a round object that flew out of the darkness and hit the ground with a bounce. Gonzalez thought the black-and-white sphere was a soccer ball until it rolled to a stop about midway between the two facing lines of men and he saw that its markings were images of skulls.

The spotlights blinked off. The three figures vanished. But only for a moment. A battery of bright lights came on, and Gonzalez saw that he and the others were standing between two parallel stone walls. The three costumed men had removed. their masks and stood at the far end of. the alley. Halfway down from the top of each wall was a ring carved with the face of what looked like a macaw. In the semidarkness on top of the wall he sensed people moving, hundreds from the sound of their voices.

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

From the neck down the figure was a bronzeskinned man of muscular physique. Around his waist was a loincloth of rich green, yellow, and vermilion. The hard growths on either hip proved to be, on closer look, leather padding. The face was hidden behind a mask created in a madman's nightmare. The jade-colored snout was long and scaly, the eyes hungry-looking, and the grinning mouth full of jagged, razorsharp teeth. Long quetzal plumes streamed from the back of the head. The monster stood as still as a statue, brawny arms folded across a broad hairless chest.

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

Morocco. He wished he'd never heard the name.

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

From the neck down the figure was a bronzeskinned man of muscular physique. Around his waist was a loincloth of rich green, yellow, and vermilion. The hard growths on either hip proved to be, on closer look, leather padding. The face was hidden behind a mask created in a madman's nightmare. The jade-colored snout was long and scaly, the eyes hungry-looking, and the grinning mouth full of jagged, razorsharp teeth. Long quetzal plumes streamed from the back of the head. The monster stood as still as a statue, brawny arms folded across a broad hairless chest.

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

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

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

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

"Greetings, Lord Halcon," echoed the murmured response from unseen voices.

Morocco. He wished he'd never heard the name.

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

The elevation gave him a view over the top of the fence. Except for the lone floodlight on the gate, the area was not illuminated. His eyes had become used to the darkness, and soon several shapes began to materialize. He realized he was looking at a vast complex of buildings, some rectangular, others cylindrical, all dominated by a massive pyramid with a flat top. The structures were built of a whitish stone and seemed to glow in the faint light of the moon.

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

"Silencio," Gonzalez growled at the hydrofoil captain.

Some hunting lodge, he muttered. This was crazy! An ancient city in the wilds of the Texas countryside. He tried to call Austin but his cell phone failed to pick up a signal. After several minutes during which he squinted into the darkness in a vain attempt to make out details, he decided he had seen all he was going to see. He was about to climb down the tree when a light flicked on and he saw a strange sight. He got a new grip on the branch and watched, fascinated, as a remarkable scene began to unfold.

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

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

But she hadn't been sleeping when he burst into her tent, and when he and the others gave chase she ran like the wind. Three times the Brotherhood had her in its grasp only to fail in its attempts to bring her down. The hovercraft failed to drown her. The hit squad sent to finish the job on the NUMA ship was either shot or incinerated, its only survivor the lone commando by his side.

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