Undercover. Under fire. Under arrest . . .
. . . It's hard to save a special agent's life with your hands cuffed behind your back.
Anna walks into the house and is met with flashbang. The FBI have her cuffed and belted into the back of their car. Two FBI agents are escorting her over the mountains of West Virginia heading to Washington DC for interrogation . . .
. . . She was never meant to get there alive.
Flying off the side of the icy road, a car crash is Anna's chance to escape and survive. It would be so much easier without her special forces code—no man left behind.
With injured FBI Special Agent Steve Finley in tow, it's a cross-country cat and mouse game while maintaining her undercover status.
Release date: December 31, 2020
Print pages: 237
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When the flash bang blasted in the hallway, Anna dropped to her knees. Her cheek crushed into the dirty carpet where she sipped at a pocket of air not yet filled with acrid smoke. Her head seemed to swell and expand with the high-pitched whistle that followed the explosive’s concussion.
The FBI SWAT team swarmed simultaneously through the front and back doors. Dressed head to foot in black protective gear, these guys weren’t playing games. While the ringing in Anna’s ears muffled their directives, Anna knew if she did anything other than lay very still, they’d shoot her without a single question asked.
So, there she lay with her legs wide, fingers laced behind her head. She lay there and waited for her body to regain equilibrium, for the hard hands of the SWAT force to find her through the grey cloud of smoke.
The FBI was here doing their duty, cleaning up the riffraff, scrubbing the world of conspirators, and home-grown terrorists, then they’d head back to the banality of their homes, a dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes in front of the TV. They’re just everyday guys doing their job, she told herself, trying to shift her brain toward rational thought, and away from her survival instincts.
A boot stomped down in front of Anna’s face. A knee pressed into her back. The weight of the rather sizable man pinned her, pressing the breath out of her body, leaving her oxygen deprived.
He has to do it this way. He doesn’t know I won’t fight.
Anna was spending a considerable amount of energy on not fighting.
The man clapped his handcuffs around her left wrist before he swung her arm to bring it down to the small of Anna’s back. He twisted her right thumb and brought that hand down to match them. Click-zip went the metal encircling Anna’s wrist. It was cold against her heated system. She had to work to make her body compliant when everything in her screamed that she should fight for her life.
Anna had known all along that she could be caught up in a law enforcement raid.
She just didn’t expect it to be today.
But here it was.
The SWAT guy ran thorough hands over her body, searching for weapons. He pulled her phone from the cargo pocket on her pants and confiscated it. He snatched her knife from her waistband. Anna was hefted to her feet and walked out to the street in front of the horrified neighbors. When they reached a non-descript SUV, he turned her around and compared her face to the photo he pulled from under his chest plate. “Zelda Fitzgerald?” the guy asked, using Anna’s undercover name.
He read her her Miranda rights as he leaned down to clamp shackles around her ankles, then left her propped beside the open door.
Her guard probably held her there in case she needed to vomit, a frequent side effect of being in a room with flash bang and having your limbic system lit up like the grand finale on the Fourth of July.
Anna watched as they wrestled Johnathan out of the house. It looked like he’d been in the shower. Suds still clung to his hair and beard. A towel draped over his shoulders. His gym shorts rode low on his hips as he stumbled forward, wearing two different colored flip flops.
It was twenty degrees out here.
Things could be worse.
She could be Johnathan.
As a SWAT guy moved Johnathan toward the car, her view was blocked by a man wearing tactical pants and boots. His midnight-blue jacket was emblazoned with FBI in bold yellow letters. A set of car keys in his hand, Anna bet this was her driver. He stared hard at her face. A hair shorter than six feet with broad shoulders and a slender waist, this man was fit. Strong. And had a battle hardness to him.
Anna had been instructed by her militia commander at the Southern Iron Cross that if this day came, she was to escape and evade. Her real-world commander at the United States’ Asymmetric Warfare Group had signed off on that. She needed to stay in the game if she was to gather the intel the Pentagon needed – the odd connection of Slovakians to a West Virginia militia.
Looking at this special agent from the FBI, though, Anna couldn’t see herself being successful at escaping without incapacitating him.
Nope. She couldn’t imagine that going well for either of them.
Anna wished the FBI had sent someone else. In imagining this scenario, she had expected someone older – less sharp edged. A guy with too many doughnuts around his middle, too many scotches belted back after long days and longer years of service. Someone who was tired. How the heck had she pulled the short straw and gotten this guy?
One of us is going to end up dead before this is over. That thought burrowed into her mind before she could grab it and throw it off to the side. Now, it was in there, scratching and scrambling around as it nested into her subconscious.
“Are you Special Agent Steve Finley?” a suit called over. Finley broke eye contact and moved to talk to the man.
Steve Finley. That name niggled at the back of her mind, something from last year, a story that somehow connected to her investigation. Something she’d learned from the CIA back in Slovakia.
Hearing that name, again, seemed like an odd coincidence.
A second SWAT guy moved to the other side of the car where he tied a white blanket from off the dog’s bed around Johnathan’s neck. It had a static coating of black Marmaduke hair.
Well, at least it’s warm, Anna thought.
Johnathan stood there, sobbing like a little kid in a make-believe superman cape.
Anna bet Johnathan had never considered that he would be arrested. Laws simply didn’t apply to people of his ilk. Raised by a set of ladder-climbing parents who pushed their baby boy into financial and social circles where he couldn’t compete, Johnathan became stupid-hungry for power – political, financial, anything he could get really.
The desire for influence and respect drove Johnathan from his Connecticut country-club lifestyle over to Slovakia to see if he couldn’t hook his future to a Russian star. He had connections. He could schmooze with the best of them – maybe even better, since he’d had to fine-tune that skillset to stay relevant in his youth. The Zoric family recognized him for what he was, a sycophant, though not in an oily way. And they’d sent him here to West Virginia to do something. And Anna had been sent by the Zoric family to monitor him.
Anna did as she was told.
Anna scrutinized Johnathan in this new light of captured criminal and decided that Johnathan’s rather effeminate face and mannerisms meant that once he got to the pokey, he was going to have a rough ride, indeed.
Shoot. Anna huffed out a puff of air. She realized that when she escaped from the FBI, she was going to have to save Johnathan, too. The Zoric family would expect her to get Johnathan free or make sure he was silenced. No man could be left to tell tales about the family. After all, they’d sent her to handle him.
That upped the stakes.
Anna sent Johnathan an anger-filled glare. He couldn’t run fast on a normal day but in flipflops and a blanket cape?
This scenario was ridiculous.
Johnathan’s guard popped the backdoor open, folded Johnathan into the seat, then belted him in place. As the guy slammed the door shut, Johnathan’s sniveling escalated.
Anna’s lip curled with derision.
She felt no compassion for him. He was just a pawn, easily pushed around the playing board, part of a strategy, but cheap and disposable. She wondered what Cal would think if he could see this scene playing out.
That was a problem.
The leader of Southern Iron Cross here in West Virginia was Cal Tucker. Cal did his manipulating from behind the scenes. He kept his fingers clean.
He’d probably slip through a keyhole and keep on keeping on.
Keep the movement growing.
Follow the directives of the person in real power – Yes, someone was handing strategies to Cal. They had to be.
Cal was raised with backwoods smarts.
He was prepared for doomsday.
His gut was packed tight with the kind of anger at life that seethed and leeched out, poisoning his system. Anxiety powered his every thought. It salted his actions. But despite all the bile that Cal consumed and spewed, his ideas had been small. His impact had been localized.
That was true until Johnathan and his international reach was introduced into the fold.
And that reach was necessary for the Southern Iron Cross to grow and prosper.
It was an odd marriage of minds, Johnathan and Cal.
An arranged marriage.
A marriage of convenience. That was a thought that had looped through Anna’s brain since she’d followed Johnathan from the fine dining and night life of Bratislava Slovakia to Middle of Nowhere, West Virginia: How did these two men, with diametrically different world views, end up joining hands?
Anna listened as Johnathan’s crying hit a crescendo.
Why the hell was she suddenly under arrest with Johnathan?
Something had happened.
Cal? Anna wondered. Had he fed them to the FBI?
No. Johnathan knew too much about the organization. And Johnathan knew why the family sent him from Slovakia to West Virginia.
Johnathan was the wallet.
Their gravy train.
The SIC meal ticket.
You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
But, and this was the great big but, Cal was smart; he’d know that if and when Johnathan was caught, Johnathan would flip on everyone. And there lay the danger. If Johnathan’s testimony and information was deemed worthy, Johnathan could walk away as a free man, and Cal, with all his careful detachment, could be the one facing prison. Knowing that, Anna also knew that Cal would find some way to stop Johnathan from cooperating and probably stop her, too. After all, they’d come into the organization as a matched set of outsiders.
An animal control truck pulled up on the other side of the FBI perimeter. Anna watched the guy pop open one of his cages – no way in this world could Johnathan’s Great Dane, Marmaduke, fold himself into that space. He’d probably end up on the front seat, riding shotgun back to the pound.
Anna turned her head, absorbing as much information as she could, trying to get a better grasp on everything going on.
Behind their car, the journos were showing up. Anna shook her head until her hair covered her face. The last thing she needed was to be publicly recognizable; that could be career ending.
From behind her long blond strands, Anna shot a look of disgust at Johnathan who had gathered himself, as much as he could, given his restraints, into the fetal position, nigh on hysterical. It was hard to believe that Johnathan could hold Cal’s feet to the fire when no one else could. Even Anna couldn’t do that, though she’d tried to get the information. She was missing a critical piece to the puzzle.
But now it looked like it was too late for her to learn what was really important – the how and why of the Slovakian Zoric family, with their connections to the Russian spy agency FSB, getting involved with a militia group conceived in the forests of West Virginia.
From around the back of the house pranced Marmaduke on a leash held by a SWAT guy. Marmaduke was the sweetest, most gentle dog Anna had ever met. He was a hundred-and-fifty-pound baby who liked to sit on her lap and give her long, rough tongue baths. The big old dog looked excited for a new adventure. Marmaduke must have been out back when the FBI burst in the door, or he would have been shot by the SWAT team as he tried to race up to hug and lick them. “Good for you, Marmaduke. It was nice knowing you, buddy. Have a great life,” Anna whispered under her breath.
The cold sting of icy wind burned across her face.
The storm was coming in. The sooner they got under way, the sooner they’d get to their destination. She wondered if the FBI realized how dangerous it was going to be to move from Point A to Point B what with the weather moving in and Cal and the Sons of the Iron Cross out there.
She’d have to get herself freed up as soon as she could. She pictured the cuff key she’d taped to the inside of her belt.
As if reading her mind, the SWAT guard reached down, unbuckled her leather belt, and pulled it from the loops. “Looky here,” he said, seeing the duct tape. He pulled it free to show the handcuff key. “Expecting us, huh?” He pushed her into the car, so she was sitting next to Johnathan on the faux-leather seat. The guard reached down to unlace her boots then yanked them off. “Got a shiv hidden in these?”
He spun her into her seat, strapped on her safety belt, and said, “enjoy the next six hours,” before he slammed the door shut.
Six hours? She glanced at the windshield and saw the Washington DC tags. Well this is going to be miserable, Anna thought as she focused over on Finley.
Washington? Something felt off.
Something didn’t add up.
If only the ringing in her head from the flash bang would stop, then she could hear herself think.
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