Excerpt of The Informationist by Taylor Stevens
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West Central Africa
Four years ago
This is where he would die.
On the ground, palms flat to the earth, fighting against thirst and
the urge to drink from a mud-filled puddle. Blood was in his hair, on
his clothes, and, beneath dirt and grime, it painted his face. It wasn't his
blood. And he could still taste it.
They would find him. Kill him. They would cut him to pieces just
as they had Mel, maybe Emily too. He ached to know that she was still
alive and heard only the quiet noise of the deep forest broken by the
strike of machetes against foliage.
Filtered light escaped the rain forest's canopy, playing tricks with
shadows. The sound of the blades carried long in the stillness, bouncing,
making it difficult to gauge direction.
Even if he did escape his pursuers, he wouldn't survive a night in the
jungle. He needed to move, to run, to continue east until he crossed the
border, though he no longer had a bearing on where that was. He willed
himself to his knees, struggled to his feet, and spun, disoriented and
dizzy, searching for the way out.
The machetes were closer now, followed by shouting not far behind.
He propelled himself forward, his lungs on fire and his eyes burning.
Time had lost meaning long ago. In the dimming light, jungle plants
loomed large and ominous. Was this hallucination?
Another shout, closer still. His legs buckled, and he fell to the ground,
cursing himself for the noise he made. He wrestled out of the backpack;
it wasn't worth his life.
Hope came with the low grumble of dilapidated jeeps vibrating
through the undergrowth. The road was a marker pointing toward
escape, and now he would find it. He crouched, then peered above the
leafy cover, implored providence for no snakes, and ran, following the
sound. Without the pack he moved faster, should have thought of it
A chorus of voices erupted a hundred meters behind. They'd found
the pack. Carry on your body what you cannot afford to lose. Wise
advice from a cousin who had spent time in this godforsaken wilderness.
He had bought time, minutes - maybe his life - by dumping it.
There was a shaft of light twenty meters ahead. Instinctively he
moved toward it. It wasn't the road but a village, small and silent. He
scanned the deserted scene for the one thing he wanted more than all
else and found it in a corroded oil barrel. An assortment of water insects
made their home along the surface, and mosquito larvae skirted about
the bottom like miniature mermaids. He drank greedily, risking what
disease the barrel had to offer; if he was lucky, it would be curable.
A jeep drew nearer, and he retreated to the shadows and lay hidden
within the foliage. Soldiers spilled from the vehicle and spread between
the baked- mud structures, shattering slatted doors and windows before
leaving. He understood now why the village was deserted.
Another fifteen minutes until total darkness. He followed along the
edge of the village track to the road, listening intently. The jeeps were
gone, and for a moment there was no sound of his pursuers. He stepped
from cover onto the main strip and heard Emily yell his name. She was
far down the road, running, stumbling, soldiers close behind. They hit
her, and she crumpled like a rag doll.
He stood in shock, trembling, and in the darkness watched the
machetes fall, glinting in the moonlight. He wanted to scream, he wanted
to kill to protect her. Instead he turned east, toward the checkpoint less
than twenty meters away, and ran.
Vanessa Michael Munroe inhaled, slow and measured, focused entirely
on the curb of the street opposite.
She'd timed the motorcade from Balgat to the edges of Kizilay
Square and stood now, motionless, watching from a shadowed notch
while the target group exited the vehicles and progressed down a wide,
shallow stairwell. Two men. Five women. Four bodyguards. A few more
minutes and the mark would arrive.
Excerpted from The Informationist
by Taylor Stevens. Copyright © 2011 by Taylor Stevens.
Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.