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 sooner.
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.
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No Man's Land
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