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datatime: 2022-12-08 01:44:24 Author:sOwaKODm

A second circle of light revealed another muscular figure with a different mask, the snarling mouth and blood-red tongue of a jaguar.

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

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.

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.

"We know why we are here. Three of our number were given tasks to further our noble cause, and they have failed us." The voice paused. "The punishment for failure is death."

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.

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.

Blink A third figure stood in relief. He wore the death's head with its staring empty eyes and dead grin.

They'd been ordered to remain silent or be shot. Gonzalez wasn't about to be killed because a sniveling coward couldn't keep his mouth shut. The man standing quietly on his right was more to his liking. Lean and snake-like in his movements, an assassin like himself. At another time Gonzalez would have talked shop with the man about the murderous skills he learned as a skinny sore-plagued orphan in the squalid alleys of Buenos Aires, where he'd dodged death squads hired by local businessmen. The businessmen considered the street boys as vermin. Gonzalez was barely a teenager when he approached the shopkeepers and offered to infiltrate the packs he knew so well and quietly dispatch his sleeping peers with knife or garrote. As he grew older he obtained bigger jobs. Competitors. Politicians. Unfaithful spouses. All sent to an early grave. Gun. Knife. Torture. Gonzalez earned a reputation for delivering exactly what his employer wanted.

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.

A voice came out of the night, amplified by loudspeakers. "Greetings, my brothers," it said in aristocratic Castilian Spanish.

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."

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.

A simple job, said the caller from Madrid. Unarmed, unsuspecting scientists. Infiltrate the expedition. Set up the ambush. Roust the victims from their beds, slaughter them like sheep, and quickly bury the bodies without a trace. If it hadn't been for that bitch with the Russian name! Jesus Mary, he'd had sweet plans for her. He would study that slim body hungrily watching as she sat in front of her tent combing hair the color of golden wheat in the afternoon sun. When they talked she was politely rude. Brushing hits off as if he were an ant crawling up one of those slender legs. He was going to enjoy making her beg for her life with the only thing she could offer, that gorgeous body.

"Madre mia." The pitiful whimper came from off to Gonzalez's left.

Quickly regaining his composure, Zavala dashed for his rental car. He followed the limo onto the street, keeping one or two cars between him and his objective. They headed out of the city on the expressway in a northwest direction. In time the suburbs and shopping malls thinned out. The flat terrain gave way to rolling hills and more forested areas.

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.

"Silencio," Gonzalez growled at the hydrofoil captain.

Zavala brought his Nikon to his eye and focused on the tall dark man who exited the elevator and walked with an easy grace to the waiting vehicle. Halcon. He snapped off several shots before Halcon got into the limo, then focused on the driver who was holding the door open for him. The man was wearing a dark suit, and, his white hair was cut military short. He was tall and broad-shouldered, his physique muscularly athletic even though he could have been in his sixties at least. Zavala got off a single shot before the white-haired man swept the garage with his eyes as if he had heard the quiet whirr of the motor drive. Zavala melted into the shadows and didn't dare breathe until the car door slammed and the limo moved off.

They'd been ordered to remain silent or be shot. Gonzalez wasn't about to be killed because a sniveling coward couldn't keep his mouth shut. The man standing quietly on his right was more to his liking. Lean and snake-like in his movements, an assassin like himself. At another time Gonzalez would have talked shop with the man about the murderous skills he learned as a skinny sore-plagued orphan in the squalid alleys of Buenos Aires, where he'd dodged death squads hired by local businessmen. The businessmen considered the street boys as vermin. Gonzalez was barely a teenager when he approached the shopkeepers and offered to infiltrate the packs he knew so well and quietly dispatch his sleeping peers with knife or garrote. As he grew older he obtained bigger jobs. Competitors. Politicians. Unfaithful spouses. All sent to an early grave. Gun. Knife. Torture. Gonzalez earned a reputation for delivering exactly what his employer wanted.

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.

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

A voice came out of the night, amplified by loudspeakers. "Greetings, my brothers," it said in aristocratic Castilian Spanish.

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.

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