Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, USA
November 13—1932 Hours GMT–5
Jon Smith walked down the empty hallway, peeking into unused rooms as he talked on his cell phone.
“Have you gotten anything interesting?” Fred Klein asked.
“The interview started a little rocky. The kid’s pretty torn up emotionally.”
He turned the corner and spotted a break room equipped with a refrigerator. “How about you? Have your people been able to dig anything up?”
“Not much. Apparently they found a mention of similar attacks from a Jewish doctor who ran to Africa during World War II.”
“Is he still alive?”
“I doubt it, but we’re trying to get confirmation and track down his last known location in Uganda.”
“Any speculation from him that there was something behind the behavior beyond the obvious? A biological or chemical agent?”
“Not yet, but our people just found this thread. They’ll keep pulling on it. If there’s anything there, they’ll find it.”
Smith slipped into the break room and opened the fridge, reaching for a couple of Cokes before spotting a six-pack of beer at the back.
“Call me when you finish the debriefing,” Klein continued. “Don’t worry about how late it is. I want to be kept in the loop.”
“I’ll catch you on my way back to the airport.”
The line went dead and he exchanged two beers for a ten-dollar bill from his wallet. Just what the doctor ordered.
A bottle opener was a tougher find, but he managed to pry the caps off with the edge of the counter before heading back down the hall. He needed to do better — to get Rivera to focus. The question was how.
Smith was older and supposedly wiser, but he wasn’t sure he’d react any differently if their positions were reversed. He’d watched people die of their wounds while he tried desperately to save them; he’d stood helplessly by as the woman he loved succumbed to a virus created by a madman. And he’d knowingly sent men and women into fights that seemed unwinnable.
You never really learned to deal with it. The best you could do was push it away every night so that you could get a few hours of sleep free of the ghosts.
He opened the door to the conference room, holding the beers up in front of him like the prize they were. “I found—”
He fell silent when Rivera looked up from the sidearm lying on the table in front of him.
Smith let go of the bottles and was already sliding across the table when they shattered on the floor. His reaction was faster than most men half his age could ever hope to match. But Rivera wasn’t most men.
The SEAL snatched up the gun and shoved it beneath his chin, squeezing the trigger just as Smith reached him.
The bullet tore the top of his skull off and they both went crashing to the floor in a spray of blood and brain matter.
Smith’s immediate reaction was to check for a pulse, but there was clearly no point. Instead, he fell back against the wall and began slamming his head repeatedly into it.
He’d completely blown it. He’d been so focused on what he was doing, so mired in his own preconceptions, he’d ignored the signals that seemed so obvious now.
The young man’s blood continued to flow, running along the floor until it began to pool around Smith’s foot. There was always something you remembered from situations like this — something that, no matter how many years went by, you could never shake. This time he knew it would be the smell of that damn beer.