Surprised, Hawker continued forward. To turn around would be suicide. His eyes went from one soldier to the next and then to the tools they’d used to dig the ditch.

As he approached the edge, Hawker held up the radio, shaking it, hoping to reinforce the thought that it was broken and to draw their eyes away from his face. He tossed it to the closer of the two soldiers and then jumped into the bunker, landing beside a large shovel. He grabbed it with both hands, spinning around and swinging hard. The edged smashed into the bridge of the first man’s nose, killing him instantly.

The other soldier jumped back, finding himself in the awkward position of offering a new radio to a man who was trying to kill him. He dropped the radio and tried to bring his rifle to bear, but before he could get off a shot, Hawker landed a blow with the shovel, knocking him down. A strike to the side of the head finished him off.

Hawker dropped down into the bunker and slumped against the crude dirt wall. Seconds later, the flare above burned out and the clearing went dark once again.


Back at the tree Verhoven watched intently. He’d seen part of the struggle in the light of the flare and then nothing, no signal, no shooting, no sign of Hawker.

Beside him, McCarter had begun to escape the trance that he’d fallen into. Danielle fidgeted, trying to see. “What happened?” she asked.

“Don’t know,” Verhoven said.

“What do you see?”

“Nothing, he’s out of sight.”

Verhoven kept watching and the longer Hawker stayed down, the more Verhoven feared he might have been killed or badly injured. If that was the case, Verhoven would try to reach him and bring him back, a suicide mission if Kaufman’s men spotted him. But Hawker had come back for them and Verhoven wouldn’t let him die out there alone.

Finally, a pinprick of light hit his eyes, flashing on and off, tapping out a message in Morse code. Move your ass! It had to come from Hawker.

Without the flare, the darkness was complete, but their enemies had night scopes and he’d still make an easy target if he was spotted crossing the field.

Verhoven looked across to the center of camp. He could see the flashing of the defense console but nothing else. He guessed that each foxhole had a zone to cover, a distinct section of forest to watch. Under such conditions, a soldier’s eyes were unlikely to stray. He ran, hoping this zone was the responsibility of the foxhole Hawker had taken.

As he jumped into the ditch, Verhoven took a quick look around. “Do they have the keys?”

“No keys,” Hawker said. “But plenty of our stuff.” Hawker held out a familiar set of night-vision goggles, NRI equipment.

“They ransacked everything when they took over,” Verhoven said.

“Looking for something?”

“Seemed that way.”

Hawker put the goggles up to his eyes and surveyed the camp. The foxholes were indeed set up in a circular pattern, just as Verhoven had described. He could see most of the soldiers in the other holes, scanning the perimeter and clutching their rifles. Each of them focused on a different zone.

“They don’t know we’re here,” he guessed.

Beside them, the radio came to life, and in the same instant gunfire rang out from several rifles. The two men dove for cover.

“You sure about that?” Verhoven asked, looking up from the floor of the bunker.

The gunfire continued, but the sound wasn’t right. The German guns were firing away from them. Verhoven poked his head above the edge of the pit cautiously. “Maybe they’re trying to flush you out. I’m guessing that you set those flares, right?”

“I thought it would be helpful if they were looking for a target in the wrong direction.”

“How’d you get past the sensors?” Verhoven asked.

“I still have my transponder,” Hawker said. “Once I realized they were using our system. I just walked right through.”

“Smart,” Verhoven said. “And lucky.”

Hawker nodded. “We could use a little bit of both right now.”

Another order to fire came over the radio and the rifles lit up a section to the north. Hawker and Verhoven took cover again, but less severely this time.

“What the hell are they shooting at now?” Verhoven said.

“I have no idea,” Hawker admitted. “But we better do something. Before they kill us by accident.”

“We need to go forward,” Verhoven said. “Take the command center. From there we can see all of them, and we’ll be at their backs.”

Hawker looked toward the center of the camp. “That’s a long way.”

Verhoven glanced at his hand and then across the open space. It was about seventy yards to the command center; he knew he wouldn’t be able to fire an accurate shot across such a distance, not with a pistol, not in the dark. “Looks like this is my run.”

Hawker nodded.

“When they open fire again,” Verhoven said.

Hawker braced the rifle for a shot. “Stay to the right of my line.”

Verhoven got in position to run, and the two men waited in silence for the mercenaries to fire again. A full minute ticked by and then another, but the radio and the German guns remained idle.

“Come on,” Hawker whispered.

“Maybe they’re done,” Verhoven said.

That was a possibility Hawker didn’t want to consider. He tightened his grip on the rifle, and squinted through the scope. The figures at the defense console were close to the screen, leaning into it, examining it carefully. He could hit them with ease, but in the silence of the night that would have given them away.

The silence lingered and Verhoven shook his head. “We’re going to need a new plan.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know but this isn’t—”

Beside them the radio squawked and Verhoven pushed off, just as the guns began shredding a new section of rainforest.

Hawker braced the rifle, exhaled calmly and squeezed the trigger.

The first bullet hit one target square in the chest, eight inches below his Adam’s apple. The man collapsed backward without a sound, just as Hawker fired again.

Running hard, Verhoven heard the second bullet whistle past. He saw the target fall and an instant later he was on them. He recognized Devers rolling on the ground clutching at a shoulder wound and the man who’d called himself Kaufman leaning over the body of one of his mercenaries, desperately trying to pull a rifle out from underneath the dead man.

At Verhoven’s approach, Kaufman turned, only to be pistol-whipped across the side of the head. He fell awkwardly, stunned and moaning, only semiconscious.

Beside him, recognition hit Devers like an electric shock. Bullet wound and all, he lunged for the defense console where his own weapon lay, but Verhoven blocked him and shoved him back to the ground. He aimed the .45 at the linguist’s head. “That’s right, boy,” he said. “This is going to be a bad night for you.”

The firing in the distance stopped, perhaps saving Devers’ life, and Verhoven heard Hawker come running up. He pointed to Kaufman. “You missed one.”

“Looks like we both need to work on our counting,” Hawker replied.

Verhoven turned to survey the field. From where they stood, a direct line could be drawn to each of Kaufman’s foxholes, like spokes emanating from the center of a wheel. Leaving out the bunker they had just come from, there were five manned foxholes, with two mercenaries in four of the five and a solitary soldier in the fifth. The battle was far from over, but he and Hawker now held the advantages of surprise, position and control. Only the numbers were still against them, and that was about to change.

“They’re still watching the trees,” Verhoven said. “Waiting for the natives to come screaming through the forest like the bloody Zulus.”

Verhoven’s hand floated over the defense console as he waited for Hawker to get ready. “Too bad for them,” Hawker said, steadying his rifle.

With the barrel of the .45, Verhoven casually flicked a switch and the world around them turned to daylight. In the same instant, Hawker drew a line and began to fire.

Kaufman’s mercenaries were suddenly exposed, caught against the far walls of their foxholes and looking into the distance, their backs to Hawker and Verhoven. They heard firing but no orders, and they were confused by the sudden use of the floodlights.

They scrambled around, some of them reaching for their radios, others firing in various directions—out into the trees and across the clearing, almost everywhere but toward the center. Those who did turn around saw only the blinding glare of the spotlight. And in the swirling confusion they fell in rapid succession.

Hawker aimed and fired and retrained his rifle, turning rapidly from bunker to bunker. In ten quick seconds, four of the bunkers had gone silent. But before he could draw on the fifth, a spread of shells ripped through the equipment lockers beside him. He and Verhoven scrambled for cover.

“North side,” Verhoven shouted. “That’s all that’s left.”

Hawker ducked, turned and fired back.

The men in the bunker popped up and fired again, the bullets kicking up dirt and splintering part of a wooden crate. A stone hit Verhoven, stinging his neck. He put his hand to the spot to make sure he hadn’t been hit, then fired back angrily as Hawker changed his position.

“Two at least,” Verhoven shouted.

Amid the carnage, Kaufman began to move. “No,” he growled, semicoherent and trying to stand. “No. You don’t realize what you’re doing.”

Verhoven kicked him back to the ground as more bullets whipped past, blasting out one of the floodlights in a shower of embers. Hawker’s return fire was more accurate and the mercenary who’d taken the shot fell, dead. The other soldier ducked back into the bunker.

“Listen to me,” Kaufman begged. “We can stop this.”

“Shut up!” Verhoven shouted.

It was too late. The last of Kaufman’s men took a chance that he shouldn’t have, stepping up for a shot.

Hawker pulled the trigger. The soldier stiffened at the bullet’s impact, his rifle tilting skyward and firing straight up into the darkness. A second shot knocked him backward and he fell out of sight. The massacre was over.

Black Rain