The real Jack the Ripper is loose, and this time he's brought friends to the darkness of the deep desert in the newest adrenaline rush from David Golemon, The New York Times bestselling author of Legacy.
In the tradition of works by James Rollins, Preston and Child and Matthew Reilly, Ripper is the latest in an action-packed series about the nation's most secret agency--The Event Group. In 1887, the British Empire contracted brilliant American professor Lawrence Ambrose to create a mutant gene to turn an ordinary person into an aggressive fighting machine. But all too quickly, Ambrose was found to be behind a streak of vicious murders, and in a cover-up of massive proportions, Queen Victoria ordered the project, and Ambrose, terminated. Thus the legend of Jack the Ripper was born.
The killings stopped as suddenly as they had begun--but not because Ambrose was caught. Instead, he escaped and returned home to America where he and his formula faded into history. But in 2012, a raid against a Mexican drug lord uncovers a small cache of antiquated notebooks containing long-buried instructions to create blind killers out of normal men. Enter the Event Group and Col. Jack Collins, who are desperate to stop one of their most feared enemies. When the formula is loosed in the underground halls and vaults of the Event Group complex itself, brother will battle brother, and for the first time in many men's brave lives they will understand the true meaning of fear.
The next heart-stopping chapter in the New York Times bestselling Event Group series, Ripper takes readers to new levels of suspense, where death could be hiding around any corner on this non-stop thrill ride.
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Thomas Dunne Books
July 17, 2012
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Excerpt from Ripper by David Lynn Golemon
STATE OF TAMAULIPAS, MEXICO,
THIRTY-FIVE MILES SOUTH OF NUEVO LAREDO
Geologist Sarah McIntire studied the cave's lower passages but could see little in the klieg lighting that had been placed by the students from Baylor University. She was accompanied by three undergraduate kids that knew nothing of Sarah's real employer, and that was the way it would be kept. Not even the professor, or even the doctor from the University of Mexico and his twenty students, had any idea just who Sarah really was and who she was employed by.
The Event Group had placed Sarah on the field expedition not long after the joint venture was announced by the two universities to explore and document one of the many excavated caves that had been used as small armories and hideouts at the turn of the century by none other than Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary. The stash of weapons, food, and horses were placed inside the natural cave formations by the bandit before raiding into the Texas border towns across the Rio Grande River. Sarah and her two-man security team were there to document not the bandit's secret hideaways, but the ancient cave paintings that everyone outside of the higher fields of learning seemed to ignore. If she found them to be authentic, and she could tell this by the geological makeup that the paintings were depicted upon, she would then authorize further study by the Event Group and their anthropological division.
The small man stepped up to Sarah and whispered as he squeezed past her in the narrow cave passage.
"Not exactly Carlsbad Caverns is it?"
Sarah smiled at Jason Ryan who was part of her two-man security team. She half turned and shined the small flashlight into his face.
"We can't have everything, Mr. Excitement. And as a matter of fact I'm beginning to think this could be quite a find for the Southwest. I think these were made by Southern Cheyenne Indians, and not the Apache people like the good professors believe. We do need to get a team down here from the Group; it looks like some of the theories that have been floating around by the Anthropology Department may be true about the Southern Cheyenne having led raids against the Apache this far south. This may be the proof they need."
Jason kept his face expressionless and then yawned as wide as he could.
"Asshole," she said as her light went from him to a space that was void of pictograms. The spot was hollowed out, as if a piece of the granite had been sliced out by a power tool.
"Yeah, well this asshole could have been playing football today, but Director Compton thinks you need a babysitter on this gig. Why am I--"
"This is wrong; some idiot has cut into this wall and taken...," she stopped speaking and shined the flashlight farther down the cave wall. "Damn it! Someone's stealing this stuff." She moved the light back to Jason who had his own light out and was looking at the ground.
"Yeah, well whoever they were wore U.S. Army-issue combat boots, and one," he pointed to a smaller set next to the larger, "ladies, or midget male, designer Timberland work boots," he said as his light picked up several more footprints in the loose soil of the cave floor. "You know, for the past two days, starting across the border in Laredo, I've had the feeling we were being followed. I wrote it off as just being paranoid about everything lately."
"This is criminal. Hell, no one's supposed to know about this place. You think someone knew we were coming here and followed us?"
"I don't know, but Sarah, Mexico is a convenience store for antiquity theft, you know that. Hell, I bet when we head back through the border you can pick up a piece of this wall at the flea market in Nuevo Laredo."
"It's sickening. Come on, let's get these kids back to the cave opening," she said as she shined the light on her wristwatch. "I promised to meet Jack and his mother for dinner in Laredo at seven."
"And I better get you there on time for the big meeting--scared?" Jason asked with a smirk.
Sarah didn't answer as she moved the light over at least six areas where the cave paintings had been removed by modern power tools.
"I asked if you're scared meeting the colonel's mom."
Sarah finally looked over at her friend. "Absolutely terrified, now shut the hell up about it."
Jason smiled and started to follow Sarah out of the lower passages of the natural cave system, shouting at the students in English and Spanish for them to head back to the surface.
"I wouldn't worry too much about his mother. I mean the colonel's a nice guy isn't he? Someone had to have taught him right. I'm sure they are just like one another. Hell, you may even find out that he cried when he was a kid when he saw Bambi's mother got killed."
"That isn't helping Ryan!"
* * *
In the bright sunlight Sarah placed her sunglasses on as the first of the two buses of students pulled out, heading north to the border. The second bus filled with university students from Mexico City would head south to a cheap hotel that was rented for them. Sarah waved at the bus as it passed by. She then glanced over at her security escort of two men. Ryan was bent at the knees and was examining something in the dirt. Jason straightened and moved to follow the academic team toward where Sarah was standing.
"I would like to thank you for your excellent evaluation of the geological deposits surrounding the pictographs, Miss McIntire. I must send a letter of appreciation to your employer."
Professor Salvador Espinoza, dean of anthropological studies at the University of Mexico, was smiling and holding out his hand. Next to him were three professors from that department, and bringing up the rear was the lone professor from Baylor University, Dr. Barbara Stansfield. Jason Ryan brought up the rear, and that was when Sarah noticed Jason raise his sunglasses and then point to the ground next to the American professor's boots. He then lowered the sunglasses when he saw Sarah had indeed noticed her footwear.
"Yes, I agree," the American professor added, "excellent job. Where should we send that letter Miss McIntire, was it the National Geographic Society?"
Sarah slowly released Professor Espinoza's hand after shaking it and then looked the American woman in her sunglass-covered eyes. She held out her hand and the two shook as Sarah sized the woman up, even though young Sarah was far shorter than her counterpart.
"No, I was sent by the Texaco Corporation. They've had dealings here before and they knew I was an expert on the formations that make up the surface area of most of Tamaulipas, and the vice president of the company is a graduate of Baylor," she said as she removed her gloved hand from Stansfield's own. Sarah had stuck to her cover story, with her bosses at the Event Group supplying the information about her fictitious employment history, so she knew the part about the Texaco VP was true.
"My mistake, Texaco it is," Stansfield said as she removed her sunglasses and looked closely into Sarah's. McIntire then removed her own sunglasses so the professor could get a better look. "I was just wondering because I overheard your two men over there call you lieutenant."
Sarah smiled as she looked at Ryan and Marine Lance Corporal Kyle Udall. It was Ryan who rolled his eyes and looked away first.
"Yes, well I used to be in the army, that's where I received my degree, and my military title stuck after it became known throughout my department at Texaco."
"I see," Stansfield said and was going to ask another question when three vehicles came into view over the crest of the small hill that fronted the cave system.
Ryan and Udall moved to separate. Udall moved toward the cars that were waiting for the academic teams, while Ryan moved toward one of the lean-tos where he had a large backpack.
Sarah saw their movement and immediately became alert to danger herself. She spied the three vehicles. One was a new Cadillac Escalade; the other two were fairly new Range Rovers. They looked to be full of men.
"Who is this?" Stansfield asked as she raised a hand to shield her eyes.
"Professor Espinoza, were you aware that more than just a few of the pictographs were removed from the cave system prior to our arrival here?"
"No, I was not," the Mexican professor said as his eyes went from the three SUVs to those of Sarah McIntire. "What do you mean removed?"
"Cut straight from the stone by mechanical means. Several hundred thousand dollars worth if I know the black market well enough." Sarah chanced a glance down once more to the boots worn by Professor Stansfield. She confirmed they were women's Timberlands, approximately size five. "Maybe these late arrivals can explain what happened. They seem to be driving fast enough toward us and they do look like men with a purpose." Sarah looked at the American anthropologist. "Doctor Stansfield, you claimed that you had never been in the lower galleries of the cave system before, so can you explain why your boot prints were there?" Sarah said as she smiled, not looking at the American professor but keeping her eyes on the three cars as they came to a sliding halt, creating a dust cloud that covered Jason Ryan as he removed a nine-millimeter Berretta from his backpack.
"I assure you this is the first day that I have had an opportunity to study the system, I--"
Sarah turned from watching the three cars dislodge their passengers of fifteen salty-looking characters.
"There may be one or two pairs of designer Timberlands in the whole of Mexico Doctor, and you seem to be wearing a pair, and the footprints we found in the lower galleries were Timberland size five, and I'm only guessing here, but you seem to fit the shoe."
Sarah saw that the men were armed. Some held handguns and others had very lethal-looking mini AK-47s. She also noticed they were pointed at them.
Professor Espinoza, with wide eyes, moved his two assistants to his rear as the men approached.
"May we help you?" Espinoza asked in Spanish.
The man leading the fourteen others never hesitated--he raised his automatic weapon and shot Espinoza in the forehead.
Sarah couldn't believe what she had just witnessed. The man had been talking to her just a second before.
"This wasn't in the deal, what are you doing?" Stansfield cried as she took two involuntary steps back.
The same man who had just murdered Professor Espinoza aimed and quickly fired a round into one of the male anthropology assistants. The young man crumpled and fell dead into the dust. The murderous man then walked over to Stansfield and looked the forty-six-year-old over. He suddenly raised the automatic and brought it down onto the top of her head, sending the blonde professor crashing to the ground. He then waved his companions forward. Three men came toward Sarah, but five steps were as close as they got. Two bullets apiece slammed into their head and chests.
Sarah dove for cover as Jason Ryan came forward in an assault squat as he took in more of the men. He aimed at the man who had killed Professor Espinoza and fired once, but one of the assassin's men who had come forward stepped in his line of fire and took the round to his chest.
Suddenly an automatic weapon opened up and Sarah ducked her head down as two of the fifty bullets fired from the other ruthless men in the group hit Ryan and he fell backward. He lay there unmoving. Sarah started to stand, but the leader of the group kicked her in the stomach and sent her rolling on the ground. Then she heard the female anthropology assistant that had been pushed aside by Espinoza scream before being silenced. Sarah, as she held her stomach in pain and shame, heard another AK-47 open fire. She remained on the ground and never saw Lance Corporal Udall die as he came out of one of the vehicles where he had been rummaging for his weapon.
The leader of the group of men sneered as he used his boot to roll Sarah over onto her back. He pointed at her and then at the younger woman he had just silenced with a punch to the face, and then he used the barrel of the automatic to point one last time at the bleeding and unconscious blonde professor from Baylor. He smiled and wiped the sweat from his dripping face and beard.
"Jefe will be pleased with his new guests--two gringo women and one young seniorita from Mexico City." He reached down and pulled Sarah up by the hair and looked her in the eyes. "Pleased indeed."
Sarah was let go and she fell back into the dust. She immediately rolled over and tried to look at the spot where Jason had fallen, but she couldn't see him. She managed to look up, and that was when she saw the sprawled body of Corporal Udall. He was lying face down in the dirt. Sarah shook her head, but she remained silent as the leader of the group pulled Professor Stansfield up, also by the hair. He shook her hard.
"Our arrangement is at an end. You were supposed to delay these fools from examining the cave until we had all of the artifacts out, you stupid gringo bitch," he shouted at the woman who was just coming around. "Se�or Guzman will be very angry, so you better hope he will be happy with two new women for his stable, or you may learn why he has earned his nickname."
Sarah saw the American woman shake her head, still unable to find her voice after the blow to the top of her head. Sarah slowly started to rise and then stopped suddenly as she heard the nickname of the man they were to be brought to. Her heart froze as she recognized the name of one of the most ruthless men in the world.
They were to be taken to Nuevo Laredo and Sarah knew they would come face to face with the most ruthless drug lord in all of Mexico--Juan Guzman--the Anaconda.
* * *
The man with the binoculars lowered them and ducked behind the small rise as the women from the colleges were ruthlessly pushed and shoved and beaten until they were all inside the three vehicles. The man rolled onto his back and felt to make sure he still had his small .38 caliber handgun in his waistband. He then pulled a cell phone from his pants pocket and with shaking hands raised it to his face. He opened the cover, still shaking from witnessing the ruthless murder of four men in front of the caves, and then to his disappointment he saw that the cell phone's signal strength was only at two bars. That had to be enough.
"Good God," he mumbled as he pushed a selected number from his address book and hit it. He had to do it twice as he lay with his face to the sun. He couldn't stop the shakes from making the simplest of tasks so daunting. Finally the call went through and a phone on the other end was answered.
"Yes?" answered a firm voice.
"Se�or, I did as our contract asked for and tailed the subject from her hotel in Laredo. She crossed the border just as you said she would."
"And the main target?"
"He was not among the two men that accompanied her."
"That is not very good news," came the reply.
"Se�or, they are all dead," said the man as he removed the small gun from his pants, fumbled it, and then finally caught it and held it to his chest.
"Explain that. The woman you followed is dead?" asked the voice, this time without some of its confident manner.
"Se�or, the three women are alive, but all of the men are dead. They were killed by other men who arrived in cars."
"Who are these men?"
"There is only one man in all of Mexico that kills with such abandon, se�or. It had to be the work of Juan Guzman; no one else would dare such an attack in his territory."
"I know this name, yes I know it well. I have done business with this rather unstable gentleman in the past. He has some silly nickname down there if I remember right."
"Se�or, the man you wanted me to find was not among the dead, but the woman I was asked to follow hoping she would lead me to him has been taken by the most brutal man in all of Mexico. What am I to do now?"
There was silence on the other end of the phone. It lasted for a full thirty seconds until the shaking man thought he had finally lost the signal. He tried to press the gun into his chest to assist in stopping the shakes.
"You still have my business card?" the voice finally asked.
"Si," the man answered as he rose partially to his knees and looked around to make sure he wasn't to be the next target of the murdering men from below.
"Good, I now want you to wait for two hours and then go to see this Guzman and tell him an old acquaintance would like to discuss some business. Relay to him that I am most particularly interested in hearing about his Anasazi Indian collection. Tell him my opening offer is twenty-five million dollars, which should at least get you in the door. Once there explain that I am on my way to meet with him. Is that clear?"
"Are you insane se�or, I will be killed!"
"Do this and I will wire transfer one million dollars into your San Antonio bank account. Now do this or do not come back to the States, or you will discover that the truly ruthless men do not only reside in Mexico." The phone connection ended.
"Madre di dios," the man said as the cell phone fell to his chest where he allowed it to lay. He looked at the business card he had pulled from his pocket.
The man moaned at the thought of traveling thirty miles north to Nuevo Laredo and presenting himself to Juan Guzman, the Anaconda, just like a lamb to slaughter. First he was contracted out of his agency's offices in San Antonio to follow this small American woman. He was then told that this McIntire woman would eventually lead him to the man that his employer sought--a Colonel Jack Collins. Now he was to be sacrificed to Juan Guzman for a reason he knew nothing of.
The man slammed the business card to his chest and cursed the one-million-dollar bribe the man had offered. He sniveled and then looked at the card once more. It was one of the expensively printed business cards you can only pick up at the best stationery stores--Mr. Hanover Jones, Antiquities Acquisition and Auction House, New York City--London--Paris.
The man placed the card back into his pocket and knew he would follow orders as he sat up and took a deep breath. After all, a million dollars could buy a very nice funeral.
Two thousand miles away Colonel Henri Farbeaux, the man known as Hanover Jones to the legitimate world, calmly hung up the rented office phone and then slowly stood and furiously tipped the desk he was sitting behind upside down. Not only was he not to kill Jack Collins, he now learned that the only woman he admired outside of his dead wife was being held by a murderous scum.
Farbeaux stood and looked at the phone on the floor with the broken desk tipped beside it. He took a deep breath and then forced calmness into his body. Nothing could infuriate him more than the thought of Collins, the man responsible for his beloved wife's death, still breathing, but nothing could ever match that feeling more than the thought of little Sarah being hurt. He reached into his expensive coat and brought out his cell phone. While he hit the number he wanted, he kicked absentmindedly at the broken phone upon the floor. His eyes were blazing in anger.
"Have my plane ready with a flight plan to Laredo, Texas."
EVENT GROUP COMPLEX
NELLIS AFB, NEVADA
The director of Department 5656, Niles Compton, sat on the small set of bleachers and watched the flag football game that was being played between the nuclear sciences division and the security department. The second in command of security, who was quarterbacking the muscular and far more physical team of security personnel, Captain Carl Everett, was starting to look frustrated as the larger men and women could not seem to shake the much smaller but far more agile scientists of Assistant Director Virginia Pollock's nuclear sciences department. The former SEAL kept looking at the clock and was seeing that time was running out on their three-point lead.
The underground complex was built to house the greatest historical treasures, objects that had a defining moment in either the history of the United States or, more importantly, the world. Department 5656, known to a select few in the federal government as the Event Group, was tasked to find parallels in world history with the events unfolding in modern times to avoid the same pitfalls of our shared past. The artifacts stored in the Event Group's ten thousand steel vaults represented spectacular finds in archeological history. Most would eventually find their way into the public domain after study, while others would be forever kept secret from the people of the world, due to either political, religious, or military sensitivities. The judge as to what constituted a top secret find is the president of the United States.
The massive complex was an underground labyrinth of naturally formed caves far beneath Nellis Air Force Base. The complex was built by President Roosevelt during World War II after the original site had been moved from Arlington, Virginia. Department 5656 is the darkest department of the American federal system and is solely answerable to the president of the Unites States. It had been that way since its inception in 1863 through to its official charter in 1917 by Woodrow Wilson, who brought the Event Group into legitimate being.
Director Niles Compton smiled as he was nudged by the computer sciences director, Pete Golding, who nodded at the clock as it continued to run down. The intramural games played by the sixteen separate departments were a needed relief used by the six hundred personnel inside the massive complex that ran eighty-nine levels beneath the desert sands of Nevada.
"Looks like the security force dominance may be finally coming to an end if Virginia's people can get the ball back," Pete said as he watched Everett and the rest of his offense take their time lining up for the snap in an attempt to take as many seconds off the clock as possible.
"Can you imagine the look on Jack's face when he hears his department's unblemished record could possibly be in jeopardy? God, I wish he were here," Niles said as he watched Everett pointing to his favorite wide receiver, Lieutenant Will Mendenhall, who had thus far caught everything thrown his way.
"Well it's really hurt security not having Jack at running back today," Pete countered.
"Thank God he's visiting his mom in Texas, and thank goodness he's meeting Sarah there when she's finished with the dig in Tamaulipas. Still, I think I'll call him if security loses; I can't pass that chance up." Niles Compton eyed the clock and then frowned.
Everett called out the signals and the ball was snapped. Instead of running the ball, and thus running the clock out, the captain had decided to go for the nuclear science department's jugular and win by ten. Mendenhall shot off the line and then sprinted past the science department's defender. Everett heaved the ball as far as he could. The female defender, a nuclear regulatory specialist on detached service from Los Alamos, tripped as Will flew by her. In the bleachers those rooting for the sciences moaned as they saw the end coming right before their eyes. Niles frowned as he felt his wallet getting lighter due to the bet he had placed with Colonel Collins before he left on leave to see his mother.
Will smiled broadly as he saw the ball fall from the sky. His feet firmly planted on the athletic turf of the underground recreation arena, and only a foot from the out-of-bounds line, the ball was only inches from being laid into his hands. He was merely twenty yards from the goal line for a chance to keep the security department's winning streak alive at ten in a row.
Unbeknownst to Everett, Mendenhall, and the rest of the security department team, they had been outthought. Virginia Pollock, the least likely of suspects, had placed herself at the goal line knowing that the captain would not be satisfied with a mere three-point victory. The tall lithe woman with the dark-brown hair sprinted in her sweatpants and shirt to the spot where Will Mendenhall thought he was alone, and just before the ball touched his fingertips she stepped in front of him and intercepted the pass. Her body nudged him just enough that Will lost his balance and went crashing onto the fake grass of the field, shocked because he had had no idea Virginia was in the area.
The security team, the people running laps on the track, and even the weightlifters working out on the side of the field were all stunned as Virginia sprinted down the field in the opposite direction. Carl went from jumping up and down as the vision of a fifty-yard pass play went flying from his thoughts to attempting to gain momentum to head Virginia off at the pass. He saw the MIT grad and former nuclear engineer from General Dynamics Corporation running free. Everett started his pursuit.
The spectators watching were on their feet as the older woman saw Everett approaching at an angle. She decided that, flag football or not, she could not allow Everett to catch her. She switched the ball to the protected right side of her body, and as Carl came into reach for her flag dangling behind her, she shot out her left hand and arm, catching him squarely in the jaw and face. It was a straight-arm the pros would have been proud of. Everett grunted and then fell face first onto the turf as Virginia sprinted by. As she crossed the goal line with the rest of the security department chasing her, Virginia raised the ball into the air and then spiked it to the cheers of all watching.
"I'll be damned," Everett said as he looked up from his prone position. He swiped at the blood that had come from the split lip he now had thanks to the assistant director.
Mendenhall came up out of breath and helped his boss to his feet, and as they both looked around they saw Pete Golding and Director Compton jumping up and down in the bleachers, high-fiving each other, enjoying the celebration as Virginia's nuclear sciences division hoisted her on their shoulders. The 0-9 sciences had just pulled off the upset of the intramural season. Both men suspected the word would spread throughout the complex as fast as a lightning strike.
"The colonel is going to be pissed," Mendenhall said as he tried to catch his breath.
Everett again swiped at the blood that was now not only coursing from his split lip but also the rug burn on his chin.
"And I'm going to tell him over the phone," Everett said. "I'll wait until he gets back from his leave; by then the humiliation may have calmed down a little."
"Good idea," Mendenhall said as he saw the victors winding their way toward the vanquished. "Oh, this is going to suck!"
As Virginia was placed on the ground she smiled in a purely female way and batted her eyes at Carl.
"That split lip looks bad. Did I do that?" she said as she placed her hand over her mouth in an "oh God, what have I done" falsity.
"I didn't think you had it in you, madam A.D.," Everett said as he straightened and then took Virginia in his arms and hugged her. "I have to admit, you got us."
She smiled and pulled away and then someone handed her a cell phone and she punched in her security code for the supercomputer Europa so she could get an outside line.
"And just who are you calling?" Everett asked near panic.
"Why, Jack of course. I want to be the one to tell him."
"Ah, Virginia, can we talk about this?" Everett said as he started following her as she tried to make the connection.
Across the field Niles Compton was still smiling as he watched the two teams meet. He smiled even wider when he saw Everett and Mendenhall running after Virginia Pollock. He was about to go down onto the field and take some fun time for a change when he was approached by a blue-clad marine PFC.
"Excuse me, Dr. Compton, you have an emergency call from the security duty officer. He says he has our contact at the FBI in Washington on the line. It seems we've had trouble in Mexico--" the marine looked from Niles to Pete and then leaned in toward the director--"sir, we have people down."
Niles immediately lost his smile. "Pete, run and catch Captain Everett and Virginia and get them to my office, ASAP. Tell him we may have gone Code One in Mexico."
Pete immediately started running to head off Everett. He knew what a Code One was, as did all Event Group personnel--people in the field had come into harm's way and may be down, or even lost.
Niles turned and left the athletic complex wondering how a university-sponsored field team in Mexico could have an emergency when Sarah was there only to validate the geological formation in which some old pictographs had been painted on a cave wall.
With Ryan and another security man with her, that was three Event Group staff that may be hurt, or even killed. Director Niles Compton knew at the very least there was big trouble in Mexico.
FOUR HOURS LATER
The man sat at the table at the Alamosa Chop and Steak House in downtown Laredo. He was well dressed in civilian attire, a charcoal gray suit highlighted by a bright red tie. His hair was cut short, but not as short as it had been throughout his eighteen years in the Unites States Army. His smile came easier to him since he had been reassigned after testifying against the army and the White House back in 2006 about interference of command in Afghanistan. At the time, Major Jack Collins had thought his career was finished as he was sent to the high desert of Nevada and literally buried underneath Nellis Air Force Base. That was where his tour of detached service had begun for Department 5656, the Event Group, as its head of security operations. Tonight Jack Collins was on leave. He was to meet the woman he had fallen in love with when she returned from across the border where she was involved in an archeological find in northern Mexico.
Jack smiled as he eased the cover of his cell phone closed and then looked across the table at his mother, Cally, who returned the smile as she placed her drink on the table before her. The woman would never be placed in the age category she claimed. She was young looking to be Jack's mother. Her face and body belonged to that of a woman of thirty-four years and not the fifty-four years of age her birth certificate said she was. The brown-haired Cally looked from Jack to her youngest child, Lynn, who had come back into Jack's life after many years of being estranged. Their careers had kept them far removed from the normal brother-sister relationships that most families share, Lynn's with the CIA, Jack's with the army.
"Well, Sarah's not answering her cell phone, as usual," Jack said as he reached for his glass of beer.
"She may be having a hard time getting through that damn border crossing. You know how rough it is since the border's been exploding with the drug war over in Nuevo Laredo--she'll be fine, you said she was quite a distance away from the trouble zone," Lynn said. "From our reports at the agency, and also from the FBI and Texas Rangers, the drug thing seems to have sorted itself out. The border alert level has been downgraded significantly."
Jack's little sister watched him as he sipped at his beer. She had noticed a large change in Jack since he had become involved with Sarah. He smiled far more than she could ever remember her serious-faced brother ever smiling. His gait had a spring to it, and when she had seen him with Sarah the few times they had been together she could see Jack's face light up. For the first time in straight-as-an-arrow Jack Collins's life he was actually slowing down to smell the roses, and it was all because of the woman he called "small stuff," Sarah McIntire. Lynn could see Jack was dying inside in his nervousness at Sarah meeting their mother for the first time.
"Yeah, you're probably right," he said and tried to push all thought of Sarah being late aside for the time being.
Cally Collins watched her son closely. She was happy for Jack. He had become a new man since his time on detached service, wherever that was. Her son had always been quiet about things in his personal as well as his professional life. After losing so many men in the field during his time in special operations, he had become detached, even secretive of his emotions and personal feelings. Now came along this woman she was here to meet. Sarah, that's all Jack could talk about in his e-mails and his phone calls home.
She smiled as Jack talked with his little sister. He reminded her so much of his father, John, lost when Jack was only eleven in some far-off place that was never really described to her by the U.S. Army. He had been a colonel at the time, the very same rank and age of his son now. Cally suspected that in his position and rank he may have found out many more details about his father's fate--far more than Cally herself knew, but if he had, her oldest child had never shared that information with her.
Cally realized many years before that she didn't need to know anything other than what she had been told. If her husband's death had been by any other means or circumstance than what the army had said, Jack would find a way to tell her. And she also knew her son well enough that if anything about his father's death was darker than the army had told her, Jack would also fix it. It was enough to know that he was just like his father, honest to the point of pain, and that was good enough to tell Cally that their son turned out the way his father would have liked.
"Jack, with everything you've told me about her I feel like I already know Sarah. And if I'm right in my assessment of her she's probably as scared as I am in anticipation of meeting each other. Believe me, anyone who won over your stubborn heart scares me with her womanly powers," Cally said, smiling wide as she raised her martini glass.
Jack shook his head as his face turned red. He never thought of himself as a guy that was stubborn at all, but if his mom and Sarah, along with Lynn, Everett, Mendenhall, Ryan, and the director, say it's so, it must be true. Jack raised his glass of beer and toasted his mother. Lynn laughed and joined her glass with theirs.
Cally excused herself from the table and Lynn waited until she had disappeared into the semidarkness of the restaurant before she smiled at her brother.
"So, what's happening in spooksville these days little sister?"
"And why should I tell you? I still don't know what you are doing and who you're doing it with."
"I am not doing anything and especially not doing anything with anyone of importance. You haven't been prying have you? I would hate to have to sic Mr. Ryan on you--you know he had a thing for you."
"Jason Ryan has a thing for anything that wears a skirt."
"There you have it. How good an outfit can I be running if Ryan is a supervisor in my unit?"
"Touch�," Lynn said as she sipped her drink. She smiled as she lowered it and then her face became serious. "Since you asked, and since it's no big secret at the agency, I have been handed something at the North American desk that's strange to say the least. It seems we have a rumor of a rogue element inside the U.S. government, possibly inside either the FBI or at Langley."
"Should you be telling me this?"
"Well, the information handed down to me from my boss in intelligence thinks this group was busted up by the FBI several years ago..." Lynn actually chuckled. "Believe it or not one of this group's monikers was the Men in Black. Can you believe that?"
"Sis, why are you telling me this?" Jack said as he picked up his beer after spying his mother returning from the restroom.
"My report says that this group is comprised of ex-military. Since you seem to know any and all Special Forces operatives inside and out of our armed services, you may have heard something that could help me."
Jack paused before drinking his beer. He knew every detail of what it was she was talking about. He knew the Men in Black--the Black teams of the Centaurs Corporation, broken up by the Event Group after the incident in the Arizona desert six years before.
"I never heard of the Men in Black outside of the usual running jokes about them. And despite the rumors about me, I don't know every mission specialist in the world," he smiled, "just the Western world."
"Ass!" Lynn whispered as their mother returned. Jack stood and pulled her chair out for her.
Collins looked at his little sister, wondering if she was heading into trouble. Because if the Men in Black, or the corporate Black teams, were being reformed, that meant that they just may have a rogue element inside either the Bureau or the Agency. He made a mental note to bring the subject up with Director Compton.
Jack sat back down and then sipped his beer while looking at his wristwatch. Sarah was now over an hour late, and unlike what he had told his sister and his mom, Sarah was never, ever late for anything. She had an inner clock and she prepared for everything ahead of time. And a meeting of this magnitude was not something she would have taken lightly as she had been asking to meet his mother for the past two years. Finally Lynn reached out and placed a hand over his watch.
Jack sat his beer back onto the white tablecloth. "I know she'll be here, I just--"
"Jack," Lynn said as she held his wrist while her eyes were on something beyond her brother's vision, "Carl and Will are here."
Jack's heart froze when Lynn mentioned the two names. He turned around in his chair, and for the first time in his life after seeing the countenance of both of his men, his legs felt as if they were made of jelly. He swallowed and stood, absentmindedly allowing the napkin in his lap to fall to the floor as Everett hurried through the crowded restaurant toward their table.
"Well, what are you two doing here?" Jack said with a confidence and false levity he wasn't feeling at that moment.
Everett was dressed in Levis and a white Polo shirt and Will basically the same. Everett nodded a greeting to Cally and Lynn. They all noticed the split lip and the Band-Aid on his chin.
"Mrs. Collins, Lynn, sorry to intrude," was all Everett said as he pulled Jack away from the table by the elbow.
"Things have gone to hell across the border, Jack," he whispered. "A Mexican professor, his male assistant, and Lance Corporal Udall are dead." He looked around and Jack could see the anger in his face. "And Ryan is hurt real bad and is now at a hospital in Nuevo Laredo."
Jack clenched his jaw and was staring at Everett, waiting for the rest.
"Whoever did it took Sarah, another girl, and the professor from Baylor that was on the dig list Sarah sent us from the site a day ago."