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True Believer / (by Jack Carr, 2019) -

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True Believer /   (by Jack Carr, 2019) -

True Believer / (by Jack Carr, 2019) -

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The Terminal List /
True Believer /
Savage Son /
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: 324
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True Believer / (by Jack Carr, 2019) -
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2019
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Jack Carr
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Ray Porter
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upper-intermediate
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15:44:18
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

True Believer / :

.doc (Word) carr_jack_-_true_believer.doc [1.3 Mb] (c: 9) .
.pdf carr_jack_-_true_believer.pdf [2.28 Mb] (c: 28) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: True Believer

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For Faith Carr and Emily Wood, for putting up with this crazy adventure, and for those who continue to do the deed at the tip of the spear Somewhere a True Believer is training to kill you. He is training with minimum food or water, in austere conditions, day and night. The only thing clean on him is his weapon, and he made his web gear. He doesnt worry about what workout to dohis ruck weighs what it weighs, his runs end when the enemy stops chasing him. The True Believer doesnt care how hard it is; he only knows that he wins or he dies. He doesnt go home at 1700; he is home. He knows only the cause. ATTRIBUTED TO AN UNIDENTIFIED U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES INSTRUCTOR, FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA, DATE UNKNOWN PREFACE THIS IS A NOVEL of redemption. True Believer explores the psyche of a man who has killed for his country and broken societys most sacred bond in a quest for vengeance. Can this man, who transformed into the very insurgent hed been fighting, find peace and purpose, and learn to live again? These are not unlike the questions facing veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as they prepare to leave military service. Can they find purpose in their lives? Can they identify their next mission, and can it be productive, positive, and inspiring to those around them? The issues surrounding transitioning veterans are numerous and complex: constant deployments since 9/11, vampire hours overseasoperating at night, grabbing a few precious hours of sleep during daylightsurvivors guilt born of dead friends and teammates, life-altering physical wounds, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress. These factors combine with sleep-aid dependency, excessive alcohol use, and marital problems to form a caustic cocktail from which it is difficult to recover. For those who have lived their lives in a constant state of hypervigilance, as our DNA dictates is necessary to survive and prevail at the tip of the spear, identifying a new mission in a postmilitary life can be a daunting task; the team is family, the team is purpose, the team is home. Returning to spouses, children, diapers, soccer practices, and leaky roofs can sometimes pale in comparison to the adrenaline and focus of planning and executing an operation to capture or kill a high-value individual downrange. Youve topped off magazines; replaced batteries in NODs, weapons mounted lights, and lasers; gassed up vehicles; studied the targets pattern of life, the target area, and the routes to and from the objective. Youve gone over every contingency you can think of. Air assets will be overhead as elements of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force observe via a video downlink from a Predator UAV or AC-130 gunship. A Quick Reaction Force is standing by to provide reinforcements if necessary. Your mind is focused. Your team is ready, just waiting for the trigger to execute. You are part of the most experienced, effective, and efficient special operations man-hunting machine ever assembled. Replicating that life in the private sector is an exercise in futility. The operators search for the sensations of the battlefield on the home front can manifest in unproductive and unhealthy endeavors. A new mission with a constructive purpose is necessary, one that fulfills the quest to be a part of something greater than oneself. The old life will always be a part of us, but we need to move forward. Although it certainly informs my writing, I am not a frogman anymore. Instead, I explore the feelings associated with my time in combat on the pages of my political thrillers. It is my hope that those real-world experiences add depth, perspective, and authenticity to the story. Serving my country as a Navy SEAL was something I did. Past tense. Ive turned in my M4 and sniper rifle for a laptop and a library as I fulfill my lifelong dream of writing novels. In the pages of True Believer, I examine a similar transition for my protagonist, James Reece. Feeling responsible for the deaths of his family and teammates, betrayed by the country to which he pledged his allegiance and sacred honor, what could possibly give him purpose? What mission could make him want to live again? These issues are the same ones confronting those who have fought in the mountains of the Hindu Kush and along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates in the cradle of civilization, and, though explored through the medium of a fictional narrative, are no less valid. We are the accumulation of our past experiences. How we channel those experiences and knowledge into wisdom as we move forward is critical. Whats past is prologue. Written by William Shakespeare in The Tempest, it is also inscribed on a monument outside of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. How true that is. Jack Carr Park City, Utah December 18, 2018 Though this is a work of fiction, my past profession and its associated security clearances require that True Believer go through a government approval process with the Department of Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review. Their redactions are included as amended and remain blacked out in the novel. A Glossary of Terms is included for reference. PROLOGUE London, England November AHMED TURNED UP HIS collar and cursed the snow. Hed never liked the cold, despite his hometown of Aleppo being a far less temperate destination than most Westerners envisioned. Hed found Italys Mediterranean coast in the summertime to be a paradise and would have gladly made it his home. His current bosses, however, wanted him in London. Frigid, dreary, snowy London. It was temporary, he was told; six months work with his head down and his mouth shut and he could live wherever he wanted. His plan was to travel back south, find an honest job, and then send for his family. Tonight, his job was to drive the van. His destination was the medieval market village of Kingston upon Thames, in southwest London. Ahmed didnt know the nature of his cargo and didnt much care so long as it was unloaded quickly. Whatever he was carrying was heavy. He felt the brakes struggle to handle the load whenever he stopped at the many traffic signals along his route. He turned the white Ford Transit delivery vans heat to its maximum setting and lit a cigarette. Traffic was terrible, even for a Friday evening. Ahmed pulled the cell phone from his pocket: 7:46 p.m. Hed allowed himself plenty of leeway to get to the marketplace on time, but the weather was slowing things down, not to mention the throngs of drivers and pedestrians heading toward what must have been some sort of festival. Children, bundled up for the cold, holding hands with parents and siblings, were everywhere. The sight made him think of his own family, crowded into a refugee camp somewhere in Turkey. At least they were no longer in Syria. The van moved at a pedestrian pace as he tapped the horn to part the crowd. He jammed on the brakes and inhaled sharply as a little girl in a pink puffy jacket scurried across the road in his headlights. He turned left and entered the marketplace, stopping the van in front of the address that hed been given at the garage and turning on the emergency flashers. His eyes strained as he looked through the frosted windows to confirm he was in the right spot, his bosses having been so adamant regarding the precise location of his unloading point. From a birds-eye view, the marketplace was the shape of a large triangle, wide at one end and narrow at the other. Ahmeds van sat idling at the base end of that triangle, unnoticed by the happy crowds attending the German Christmas market. The shopping district was busy on a normal evening but with the holiday event in full swing, it was packed. A recent online article had highlighted the quaint festival, and families from all over London and the surrounding suburbs had come to experience its wonders firsthand. Shoppers filled the storefronts, ate in the cafes and pubs, and strolled the booths selling everything from hats and scarves to hot spiced wine, warm pretzels, nutcrackers, candle arches, and traditional wooden ornaments. The already charming town market looked like an alpine village with snow-covered A-frame booths, strung with lights, punctuated by an enormous Christmas tree towering above it all. Ahmed looked around and saw no sign of the men who were to unload the cargo. All this congestion must have slowed them down, he thought as he dialed a number on his phone per his instructions and waited impatiently for an answer. Allo. Ana hunak. Aintazar. The line went dead. Ahmed looked at the LCD screen to see whether the call had dropped or if the other caller had simply hung up. He shrugged. The explosion was deafening. The markets snowy cobblestone streets held thousands of shoppers and those closest to the van were simply vaporized by the detonation. They were the lucky ones. The steel shrapnel that had been embedded directionally into the explosive device raked into the crowd like a thousand claymore mineskilling, maiming, shredding, and amputating everything in its path, taking future generations before they even existed. A joyful Christmas gathering was now a twisted war zone. Scattered among the wreckage of charred wooden shopping booths, broken glass, tangles of hanging lights, and broken tables were scores of the dead and dying. Those who could move and who werent totally dazed from the shock wave surged toward the apex of the triangular market, rushing to escape the carnage. That end narrowed significantly and was now strewn with the remains of the festival, forced there by the power of the high-explosive charge. The debris-choked street was constricted even further by cars parked illegally at the mouth of the triangle. The human wave jammed to a stop in the narrow bottleneck of buildings, cars, and rubble, the panicked mob pushing, shoving, and heaving like stampeding cattle. The young were trampled underneath the old, the weak forsaken by the powerful. The confusing scene was such that, at first, few even noticed the gunfire. Two men wielding Soviet-made PKM belt-fed machine guns opened up on the crowd from the flat third-story rooftops above, one on either side of the bottleneck. Several 7.62x54mmR rounds tore through the mass of humanity, shredding bodies in their path. Those below, many already wounded from the vans deadly blast, had no chance for escape. The crowd was packed together so tightly that even the dead did not fall to the ground, but rather were held up like sticks in a bundle by the unrelenting human wave. The shooters had each linked multiple belts of ammunition together to prevent having to reload and the steel rain fell until each mans belt ran dry. The firing lasted over a minute. The men dropped the empty weapons, barrels glowing white-hot from their sustained fire, and made their way down into the chaos below. The markets gutters ran red with blood as they stepped onto what had moments before been a street filled with the joy of the season. Surveillance footage would later show the two men move to opposite ends of the outdoor market and find positions on the street that would be the most likely routes that first responders would take to treat the wounded. Blending in with the dead, they waited more than an hour to detonate the suicide vests strapped to their bodies, murdering police officers, firefighters, medical personnel, and journalists, and creating a new level of terror for twenty-first-century Europe. Four hundred and forty miles to the southeast, Vasili Andrenov looked at the bank of four giant flat-screen monitors in front of him and admired the turmoil. It was being reported that this was the deadliest terror attack in Englands history. Not since the height of the Blitz in 1940 had this many Londoners been killed in a single event. That casualty figures were cresting three hundred and expected to climb did not appear to bother him. That half of those killed were children and that there were not enough trauma centers in all of London to deal with the number of wounded bothered him even less. The room was completely silent. Andrenov preferred it that way. He read the news tickers across the bottom of each screen and sipped his vodka. The media was on the scene before many of the wounded could even be evacuated; their satellite trucks added to the traffic gridlock and slowed the progress of the steady stream of ambulances dispatched from all over London under the citys emergency response plan. While viewers from around the world watched in shock and horror at what the media quickly termed Britains 9/11, the Russians expression never changed, nor did his breathing rate increase or his blood pressure rise. His eyes simply moved from screen to screen, processing information in much the same way the powerful computer on the desk before him processed data. This would not have been overly remarkable except for the fact that Vasili Andrenov was responsible for the carnage in the streets of London that December evening. Shifting his gaze from the spectacle of violence radiating from the wall of his own personal command center down to his computer, Andrenov checked to ensure the correct stocks were set to automatically begin trading as markets opened across the globe on Monday morning. Satisfied that everything was in order, he took one last long look at the new London he had created, before turning in for an early nights sleep. Come Monday, Vasili Andrenov would be an extremely rich man. PART ONE ESCAPE CHAPTER 1 Aboard the Bitter Harvest Atlantic Ocean November THERES A REASON THAT recreational sailors dont cross the Atlantic as winter advances from the north: its a rough ride. Lieutenant Commander James Reece found some amusement in the fact that as a naval officer he had minimal experience actually sailing a boat on the open water. The bad news was that the rough seas made the crossing both dangerous and physically exhausting. The good news was that the strong winds cut considerable time off the trip and lessened his chances of discovery. Within a few days of leaving Fishers Island, off the coast of Connecticut, Reece was getting the hang of sailing the forty-eight-foot Beneteau Oceanis, christened Bitter Harvest by the family from whom he had liberated it, and the tasks of managing the yacht had become more or less routine. The boats AIS Transponder had been turned off by its owners to make him harder to find, if in fact anyone was looking for him in the mid-Atlantic, and he still had his Garmin 401 GPS that had been attached to the stock of his M4. He used it sparingly to conserve battery power, and in conjunction with the onboard charts and compass he was able to track his progress. It wasnt perfect, but it gave him a good idea of his location and was better than trying to use the stars, because of the frequent cloud cover. The yacht had a small nautical library aboard along with a modern sextant, and Reece spent his downtime teaching himself a new skill. He didnt have a precise destination in mind, nor did he think he needed one: the terminal brain tumor he had recently been diagnosed with was sure to deliver him to the afterlife before long. Just a few months ago, Reece had been a troop commander leading an element from SEAL Team Seven on a mission in Afghanistan that ended in disaster. Reece and his Team were deliberately sent into an ambush set by corrupt officials within his own chain of command. His men, and later his pregnant wife and daughter, were murdered to cover up the side effects of an experimental drug with a financial forecast that created a widespread conspiracy leading to the highest echelons of the Washington, D.C., power establishment. Those side effects were brain tumors, just like the one growing inside Reece. In revenge, he had embarked on a one-man mission of retribution that left a swath of bodies from coast to coast. Reece now found himself on the open ocean, a world away from the death and destruction hed wrought on U.S. soil. The interior of the Bitter Harvest was intended for far more hands than Reeces solo crew, which left him plenty of room belowdecks. The boat was provisioned with massive stocks of food, which filled much of the galley and nearly the entire second stateroom. The scene reminded him of the few times hed been on fast-attack submarines during training missions. Those boats could make their own clean air and water; their only limitation was food. The submariners literally walked on top of their food stocks as they ate their way through the supplies. His fifty-three-gallon fuel capacity was supplemented by plastic fuel containers strapped to the deck railing. Even so, Reece was careful to keep his consumption to a minimum. The wind howled topside and Reece bundled in his warmest layers as he steered the vessel day and night. Even after studying the instructions, Reece had a hard time trusting the NKE Marine Electronics autopilot. It still required him to be on deck every twenty minutes, its manual reminding sailors that in fair conditions at five knots one had twenty minutes to the horizon. What lay just beyond that was unknown. He wasnt sure how long hed live but he preferred not to die in the cold, so he took a southerly course toward Bermuda. The headaches came and went at random intervals: but for the lack of a good nights sleep, he still felt better than he had in some time. Alone at sea, he couldnt help but reflect upon the past few months, the violent path that had led him to this relatively peaceful location in the Atlantic. The blanket of stars at night reminded him of his daughter Lucy and the endless sea reminded him of Lauren. Lucy was fascinated with the night sky during the times theyd escaped the light pollution of Southern California, and Lauren had always loved the water. He tried to focus on the good times with the two people he loved most in this world, but with the joy of his memories came moments of unbearable pain. He was haunted by visions of their untimely and bloody deaths at the muzzle of an AK meant for him, set up by a financial and political machine that Reece had then dismantled piece by piece. With a tinge of guilt, he thought of Katie. Fate, or a divine force, had brought investigative journalist Katie Buranek into his life at precisely the right time to help him unravel the conspiracy that had led to the deaths of his Team and family. They had endured a lot during their brief friendship, but it was how he had left her that tore at him, his last actions and words. He wondered if she understood, or if she saw him as a monster, hell-bent on revenge with no regard for those left in his bloody wake. Brotherhood was an often-used term in the Teams, a concept that had been tested to its limits as Reeces life had come apart in the preceding months. He had lost his brothers in arms when his troop was ambushed on a dark Afghan mountain, and hed been betrayed by one of his closest friends on the home front. With his troop and family dead, and with death whispering in his ear, Reece had become the insurgent hed been fighting for the past sixteen years; he had become his own enemy. Like any insurgent, he needed a safe haven in which to regroup, reequip, and plan his next move. He needed to go back to his roots. His closest friend had recently come through when Reece needed him most, aiding Reeces escape from New York and inserting him on his over-the-beach mission onto Fishers Island to kill the last conspirators on his list. Raife Hastings hadnt hesitated when Reece requested assistance, risking everything for his former teammate without asking for anything in return. Theyd met on the rugby pitch at the University of Montana in the fall of 1995, Reece playing outside center and Raife as the number eight, by far the most skilled competitor on the team. Rugby was an obscure sport to most Americans in the early 1990s, so the community and the culture it fostered was a tight one. The running joke was that they were a drinking team with a rugby problem. A year ahead of Reece in school, Raife had the serious demeanor of someone twice their age. The hint of an accent that Reece couldnt quite place suggested a history beyond the borders of North America. As Reece quickly tired of the traditional party scene associated with college life, he noted that Raife spent his free time either studying wildlife management in the library or taking off alone in his Jeep Scrambler to explore the Montana backcountry. When Reece figured he had reached the point where his prowess on the pitch had earned him some time with the team captain, he decided to pry. At one of the famed rugby team parties at Raifes off-campus house, Reece made his approach. Beer? Reece asked over the music, holding out a red Solo cup recently topped off from the keg outside. Naw, Im good, mate, Raife responded, holding up a glass with what Reece assumed was whiskey. Nice muley, Reece commented, nodding at a shoulder mount of a mule deer measuring what Reece figured to be over two hundred inches. Ah, that was a great hunt. Back the Breaks. A wise old deer, that one. Is that where youre from? Yeah, Winifred would be the closest town. Incredible country up there, but its not really known for its rugby. Where were you from before that? Raife hesitated, took a sip of his drink, and replied, Rhodesia. Rhodesia? You mean Zimbabwe? Raife shook his head. I cant bring myself to call her that. Whys that? The Marxist government is stealing the farms that have been in families for generations. Its the reason we came to the U.S., but that was when I was just a kid. Oh, man, we dont hear much about that over here. My dad spent some time in Africa before I was born. He doesnt talk about it, but he had a book on the Selous Scouts on the shelf in his study that I read in high school. Those guys were hard-core. You know about the Scouts? Raife looked up, surprised. Yeah, my dad was in the military, a frogman in Vietnam. Ive read about every military book on special operations I could get my hands on. My dad was in the Scouts, back when I was young, Raife offered. We barely ever saw him until the war was over. Really? Wow! My dad was gone a lot, too. He went to work at the State Department after the Navy. Raife looked at his younger teammate suspiciously. You mentioned the muley. You a hunter? Id go out with my dad every chance we got. Well, we might as well do this right, then. Finish that beer, he said, pulling out a bottle of whiskey with a label Reece was unfamiliar with and pouring them both a couple of fingers. What should we drink to? Reece asked. My dad would always say To the lads, which was something from his time in the Scouts. Well, thats certainly good enough for me. To the lads, then. To the lads. Raife nodded. What is this? Reece asked, surprised by how smoothly it had gone down. Its something my dad gave me before I drove down. Three Ships, its called. From South Africa. I dont think you can get it here. Encouraged by what seemed to be the start of a new friendship and by the lubrication of the whiskey, the normally stoic Raife began talking about his upbringing in Africa, their farm in what was then Rhodesia, their move to South Africa after the war, and their eventual immigration into the United States. Im headed out to Block Four tomorrow morning, early. I have an elk tag. You want to go? Im in, Reece responded without hesitation. The two were on the road at 0430 the next morning. It became obvious to Reece that his rugby team captain was a serious hunter who pursued mule deer and elk with the same dedication that he applied in the classroom and on the pitch. Reece had never met anyone with Raifes instincts for the natural world; it was as if he were part of it. As fall turned to winter, they would set out following class Thursday afternoons and hunt dawn to dusk, carrying their compound bows and minimalist camping gear on their backs. Raife was always pushing farther from the trailhead, deeper into the timber, higher up the mountain. They would barely speak, so as not to disturb the heightened senses of their quarry, and were soon able to read each others thoughts by body language, hand signals, and subtle changes in facial expression. During one of their trips that fall, Reece shot a massive bull elk at the bottom of a canyon at last light. It was Sunday evening, and they both had classes the next morning that could not be missed. They worked quickly to butcher the bull by headlamp and carried him out on their backs, their packs laden with nearly one hundred pounds of meat per trip. It took them three hours to hike out of the bottom and back to the trailhead, where they hung the meat and headed back for more. They worked all night to recover the bull and hadnt had a seconds sleep when they stumbled into class, their clothing caked with dried sweat and elk blood. Even in Montana, this drew strange looks from their professors and classmates. Their appearance that morning earned them the nickname the Blood Brothers, and the moniker stuck with them through the remainder of their college years. To store the massive amount of meat theyd packed out of the wilderness during the season, Raife added an additional chest freezer to his garage. During colder days of winter, they honed the art of preparing wild game. Their beast feasts became potluck events, with fellow students bringing their own side items and desserts to accompany the elk tenderloin, deer roast, or duck breast that the Blood Brothers had painstakingly prepared. Reports of homemade liquor being served were never fully substantiated. Reece visited Raifes family ranch outside Winifred that next spring and was amazed at the sprawling property. It wasnt over-the-top, by any means, but it was obvious that the Hastingses had done well. It explained Raifes Jeep and off-campus house. Mr. Hastings conveyed to Reece that hed brought with him to Montana the techniques hed learned ranching in Rhodesia. Back in Africa they didnt always have the option to bid on expensive, well-bred cows at auction and often found themselves nursing weak or even sick cattle back to health. While others in the Montana ranching community continued to pay high prices for registered cows at auction, only to be caught off guard when the market shifted, the Hastingses bought the less desirable cattle and built them up, in essence buying low and selling high. When other ranchers had to sell parts of their property, the Hastingses were on solid financial ground and could purchase additional property at rock-bottom prices, not so much to run more cattle, but to diversify their assets. That newly acquired land allowed them to add hunting leases and operations to their portfolio while those same lands appreciated in value. They built a solid reputation as a family that knew the business and knew the land. For the next three years, the Blood Brothers were inseparable, hunting in the fall, backcountry skiing in the winter, rock climbing and kayaking in the spring. It was during a visit with the Reece family in California that Raife made the decision to join the Navy. His own father had instilled in him a deep sense of appreciation for their adopted country, and his familys military service in the Rhodesian Bush War made it seem like a mandatory family obligation. When Mr. Reece told him that SEAL training was some of the toughest ever devised by a modern military, Raife made his decision to test himself in the crucible known as BUD/S. The Blood Brothers only separation was during the summers, when Raife would travel to work on the family farm in Zimbabwe. His father wanted him to maintain the connection with his roots working for his uncles hunting outfit back in the old country. Raife felt most at home alongside the trackers, whose skill and instinct for reading animal signs bordered on supernatural. With them Raife was able to hone his skills in the African wilderness and perfect his command of the local Shona language. Reece traveled to Zimbabwe during one college summer and spent a month working in the bush alongside his friend. They were the junior men in camp, and so their work wasnt very glamorous: changing tires, maintaining the safari trucks, helping in the skinning shed. Just before the final week of Reeces visit, Raifes uncle approached them after a particularly hard day in the field. He handed them a piece of yellow legal paper. It was their leftover quota, animals that they were required to harvest by the biologists who managed the game in their conservancy but that hadnt been hunted successfully by clients during the season. It was time for the boys from Montana to hunt and deliver the meat to the walk-in coolers that supplied food to the hundreds of workers employed by the Hastingses tobacco farming, cattle ranching, and safari operations. Take a Cruiser and a tracker. You have the run of the place. Just dont bugger it up, eh? Reeces reminiscing was broken by a cold breeze blowing across his face. He looked up to the sight of a front on the skyline, moving rapidly in his direction. Was it a red sky this morning? Something about the look of this storm unnerved him. It might even be more powerful than the one hed sailed through when his journey began. He put on his raingear and made sure that everything on the deck was secure. Hed made a habit of wearing a safety line when topside and he checked to ensure that it was connected at both ends. When it hit, he would lower the sails to ride out the storm, but for now he took a tack to take full advantage of the wind, then headed below to make coffee; this would be a long night. When the front hit, it did so with a vengeance. The cabin top kept the bulk of the rain out of the cockpit, but it was impossible to stay dry. Reece had lowered and stowed the sails to protect them from the ravaging winds, so the boat now moved under diesel power. An experienced sailor would be able to harness the power of the storm, but Reece didnt feel the risk was worth the potential speed reward. He wasnt worried so much about navigation at this point; his goal was to make it through the storm without sustaining any significant damage to the boat. He would figure out where he was if he survived. The sky had darkened and the seas churned ferociously; not being able to anticipate the next big wave was the most unnerving part. Reece couldnt help but remember his last time in rough seas years earlier, speeding toward a class 3 tanker in the northern Arabian Gulf. It had been dark then, too, just after midnight as the combatant craft-assault driven by the experienced boat drivers of Special Boat Team 12 pursued their quarry while it made a beeline for Iranian waters. That was a few years back and Reece had been surrounded by a team, by the best in the business. Now he was all alone. Though his family lineage dated back to the Vikings of ancient Denmark, Reece decided if there had ever been a genetic aptitude for seafaring pursuits, it had certainly been diluted since the ninth century. Water washed steadily over the starboard bow, but the bilge pumps did their duty and the Bitter Harvest stayed dry belowdecks. The boat bobbed like a toy in the maelstrom of wind and water, Reeces life totally at the mercy of the elements and the skill of the boats builders. Even with a modern craft, the conditions were terrifying. Reece pictured his Nordic ancestors making such crossings in open wooden boats and decided that they were far more skilled than he. With his longish hair and beard soaked in rain and seawater, though, he didnt think hed look too out of place on one of their longboats. He wondered what offering they would make at this moment to stay in the good graces of Aegir, the Norse sea deity fond of dragging men and their ships into the depths. Just when Reece was sure that the seas couldnt get any rougher, the storm dialed up its intensity. The craft surged upward as a flash of lightning illuminated the ocean, and for a split second Reece was sure it wasnt the tumor that was going to kill him; he was riding directly toward the crest of a wave that towered above the boats mast. Like a roller coaster, the vessel paused at the peak of the wave before surging downward toward the black sea below. Reece felt weightless as he gripped the stainless-steel wheel with both hands and braced for impact, screaming an animal roar at the top of his lungs. All thirty thousand pounds of the Bitter Harvest careened into the trough in a deafening crash, Reeces body slamming into the wheel with the force of a driver in a head-on collision, knocking him into darkness. A cold wave washing over the gunwale shocked Reece into consciousness. He found himself lying on the deck between the steering stations, his face throbbing from its meeting with the boats wheel. His hand instinctively went to his face and came away wet with blood that washed translucent almost instantly in the downpour. His head was gashed open and his nose felt broken, but he was alive; the boats keel had held. Using the wheel to pull himself to his feet, he reclaimed his place at the helm. Blood ran into his eyes, not that he could see much anyway. He focused on keeping the compass oriented south so he would pass through the storm as quickly as possible. Things didnt improve much, but they didnt seem to get worse. He hoped that the massive wave hed ridden was the climax of the storm. Perhaps he was just adapting, but it seemed as though the weather was easing a bit. Over the next few hours Reece would wipe the blood from his eyes, check the heading, adjust the rigging, and wipe the blood away again. His nose throbbed and the open wound on his forehead stung in the salty spray of the unforgiving Atlantic winds. CHAPTER 2 Save Valley Zimbabwe, Africa August 1998 REECE HAD SHOT A very impressive kudu bull that morning, a spiral-horned antelope known by many as the gray ghost due to its elusiveness. He, Raife, and the trackers had pursued the animal since dawn, and the old bull finally made the mistake of stopping to take a peek at whatever was tracking him. Loading the nearly six-hundred-pound animal into the bed of the small pickup had been a challenge, but between the ingenuity of the trackers and the Cruisers winch, they had made it happen. They wore the carefree smiles of youth as they approached the ranch house. Raife drove with Gona, the junior tracker, riding shotgun, while Reece and the senior tracker rode in the high seat welded to the bed of the truck, sipping beers and enjoying the beautiful countryside. As they turned the corner where the house came into view, Raife could tell instantly that something wasnt right. Three battered pickup trucks were parked haphazardly on the manicured lawn of the main house and a group of about a dozen men were scattered around the yard, most of them visibly armed. Raife drove straight toward the trucks and stopped just short of the crowd. Feeling very exposed in the back of the truck, Reece eyed the group, whose demeanor was clearly hostile, and wondered what was going on. He counted the men, taking note of how many were displaying weapons, and glanced down at the .375 H

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