S L Dwyer

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Chapter One

Casey Garrett crashed through the sweltering jungle, the sound of gunshots and voices followed close behind him. The briefcase full of cash slammed against his leg, painfully reminding him why he was here in this godforsaken place. Thick black, blood-matted hair fell across his blue eyes, blinding him. His long legs pumped like pistons, his free arm blocking low-slung vines, while he dodged branches thick with razor- sharp leaves. His lungs fought the thick, humid air. Every tortured breath burned as if someone had stuffed a wet rag down his throat.

With no time to cover his tracks, all he could hope for was a break in the overgrown tangle of vegetation, a place where he could change direction, double back and reach his escape route.

The six men assigned to accompany him were waiting for his signal. They had timed the meeting down to the last minute—fifteen minutes to the rendezvous point, twenty minutes max for the deal to go down, fifteen minutes back —but his signal to prepare the plane was one they weren’t going to get. Their instructions were to scramble at the first sign of trouble. The gunfire should have alerted them to pack it in and beat it the hell out of there. Casey wasted a precious split-second to wonder if they had followed their orders and headed back to report to the colonel that the mission had hit a snafu. If word leaked out that the covert Contra operation included selling drugs to help finance their dirty little war, they’d all get hung in the press.

This was Casey’s third deal with Marty Martinella. The man personally came south to make his purchases. He had protection all the way up the line to the mountains outside Denver, Colorado. Casey should have known the sleaze would try something. He hoped Marty’s men had stayed on his trail and not gone back to the hidden airstrip, surprising his group. It took time to get that C-45 turned around and off the ground.

Casey Garrett wiped bloody sweat from his burning eyes. If he'd had enough breath left, he’d have cursed the razor-like jungle foliage. His escape had led him uphill, toward one of the many mountain peaks towering above the jungle. Through blurry eyes, he barely made out the hidden entrance to the cave not more than a hundred feet ahead of him.

He staggered through the vine-choked opening into the dark cave’s interior. His heaving chest rose and fell, slowing with each deep breath. Using his dad’s old Zippo lighter, he checked his watch. He probably had no more than a ten-minute lead on the men pursuing him. Muscles burning, he lowered himself and the briefcase to the musty dirt floor and waited in the coolness of the dark cave.

Raised voices outside brought him to his feet. He shielded his feeble light and took a quick recon of the cave. He doused the light to see if even a sliver of sunlight showed through the pitch black of the cave’s interior, indicating another way out. Finding none, he pressed flat against the wall, adjusted his eyes once again to the dark, and prepared for the men who would be coming through the entrance at any moment. He might not be able to fight his way out of the situation, but he knew he could at least take a couple of Marty’s men with him.

The vines rustled. Casey waited in the dark as a figure cautiously stepped inside. His fist shot out, slamming the man’s throat. The crunch of broken cartilage hung in the air. He caught the limp body and lowered it to the ground.

One down.

“Sandavol, you find him in there?”

Casey picked up the dead man’s pistol and checked the ammunition. Three shots left. A quick search of the body yielded a knife. “This is more like it.” Casey knew he could inflict a lot of damage with the weapon he held in his hand. Along with seven inches of razor-sharp high carbon steel, it had a thick rubber handle and a wide finger-guard to prevent slippage when wet; the knife became a legend during World War II. This one was designed for the survivalist: the spine of the blade, rather than blunt and smooth, had saw-teeth, used to cut shallow, squared grooves into wood and bone. The hollow handle held a compass, snake anti-venom, and string, along with a half-smoked joint.

Casey quickly removed the sheath from the body and attached it to his own belt. He held the gun in his right hand and the knife in his left.

The voices outside became heated when Sandavol failed to answer. Careful footsteps approached the entrance of the cave.

“Sandavol, you son-of-a-bitch, answer me!” Marty demanded. “Someone get over here and bring a light.” The squat, balding man stood to the side of the entrance, out of Casey’s line of sight.

Marty’s grand plan to take the drug shipment and keep his money was turning into a fiasco. He had no idea Casey would react so fast, grab the money case back, and take off. Who would have thought—with all the muscle and firepower Marty had brought, only an idiot would try to go against him.

Casey eased toward the entrance. Any indication that they were ready to rush him evaporated when he heard Marty’s voice again. “I know you’re in there, Casey. You probably killed Sandavol. No big loss; I won’t hold it against you. But I have an offer.”

“That’s generous of you,” Casey answered, as his breathing returned to normal. He knelt on one knee, arm extended out in front, bracing the gun across his left wrist that held the knife. He steadied himself, crouching low to present less of a target, ready to attack with as much accuracy as possible. Considering he had a near empty pistol, every shot counted. He knew his survival depended more on his hand-to-hand expertise than his firepower.

“I thought so, since you’re in there, trapped with the money. And me...well, I’m out here with twenty men who never hesitate to obey an order. And my next order will be to kill you.”

“And that’s supposed to be a news flash?” Casey asked. “What else do you have in mind?”

“You throw out the case with the money, and I let you live.”

Casey laughed. “Have I done something to make you think I’m that stupid? The minute you get your hands on the money, I’m dead.”

“You’re dead anyway. You just haven’t hit the ground yet.”

Marty pushed himself up off the rock he had sat down on. “I’m not gonna fuck around anymore. Throw the goddamn money out or we come in after it. At least you might have a small chance that I could let you live.”

Casey’s thoughts focused on the mission. If he had a chance to get out alive—even a slim one—he had to try for it. The money was secondary. After all, the Contras had plenty of drugs. There would be more even after this one went south.

He set the knife on the ground and heaved the case toward the vine-shrouded entrance. “Take the money. Obviously your business is down and you need it. Don’t bother hanging around to thank me. I’ll consider it my donation to the needy.”

“You think this is funny, hot shot? Try laughing about this.” The vines rustled behind the body that stumbled into the cave, landing with a thud on the hard dirt.

Casey swung his pistol, beading in on the intruder. Holding back on wasting a bullet, he relaxed his trigger finger. A sliver of light from the entrance showed the man crumpled on the ground. The intruder shook his head vigorously, trying to send a message to Casey.

Casey stayed low to the ground and against the wall.

He waited.

Muffled sounds struggled behind the gag stuffed in his mouth. His hands were bound behind him. Casey could see that he hadn’t moved since he fell. What the hell was Marty doing?

“Thought you might want some company,” Marty said and laughed.  “Seeing that you’re going to be in there for a long time. I was right, you know. You really are stupid.”

“Enjoy your fantasies while you can, Marty. ‘Cause I’m coming after you.”

Casey leaned back against the wall. He knew his chances of getting out alive were getting slimmer. It wasn’t the thought of dying that bothered him. The fact that he lost control of the situation and let himself be cornered really pissed him off. A cave wasn’t the best place to hole up, just the worst place to consider dying.

“Excuse me if I’m not shaking with fear. But good luck... cause unless you can walk through walls, you’re not getting out of there.” Marty’s laugh was cut off suddenly when the explosives detonated.

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