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Bannerman's Ghosts
by John R. Maxim
William Morrow, 2003


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1

From the site he had chosen, the rebel commander could see sixty miles of coastline. The place was Angola on West Africa's coast. Its capital, Luanda, lay below him. Beyond was the shimmer of the South Atlantic Ocean, set ablaze as the sun neared the horizon.

The rebel commander was called Alameo. He was a tall man, somewhat gaunt, with an intelligent face whose normal expression was the hint of a smile, but many days had passed since he'd last smiled. He was dressed in green-and-brown mottled fatigues that bore no insignia of rank. His only distinguishing badge was his cap. It was a French-style kepi, flat on top, blue in color, with fabric that draped to his shoulders. He was known throughout Angola by that cap.

He had chosen this site, near the great waterfall, because it was easily defended. Only two winding roads snaked their way up the bluffs that marked the beginning of the inland plateau. Each road had a number of hairpin turns, all of which were within easy range of his mortars. An attacking force on the ground would be slaughtered. Nor did he fear an attack from the air. A canopy of forest protected his encampment from visual sightings by attack helicopters. And they would be within range of his missiles. 

But his mind on this day was not on defense. When darkness fell he would descend the bluffs with only his captain and a few handpicked men. The Israelis, his advisers, had begged him not to risk it. Their leader, named Yoni, said, "You're not thinking straight. We can't afford to lose you over this."

Alameo answered, "He tortured her, Yoni."

The Israeli grimaced. "We know what he did."

"He cut Sara to pieces. He dismembered her, Yoni. And he kept her alive until the last cut. What she suffered was still on her face."

This last was not true, thought the man known as Yoni. He had seen her face himself. It was swollen, but vacant. She had indeed suffered greatly, but her face gave little sign of it. All they knew was that Savran Bobik had Sara for what must have been three terrible days. He then sent Alameo what was left of her.

The Israeli reached his hands to the taller man's shoulders.

"Alameo . . . my friend . . . you must listen to me. I know that Sara was special to you. But she was one of us long before she met you. I trained her myself. And I loved her myself. Your claim is not greater than ours."

"Bobik sent her to me. Not to you."

The Israeli said, "Yes, but we sent her to him. Do you think I don't wish we never asked her to do it? I would give both my eyes to have her back."

"I want Bobik's."

The Israeli gestured toward the city of Luanda. Its lights had begun to blink on. He said, "Let us do this for you. We can move about freely. We're Mossad, but most of us have embassy status. The worst they can do if we're caught is expel us. You, they will shoot or much worse." 

"You can have Savran Bobik when I'm finished with him. I intend to have him for three days."

The Israeli gestured toward a nearer set of lights. They came from a large biochemical complex surrounded by razor-wire fencing. It covered at least four kilometers square. Even so, only part of the facility could be seen. It was said to go four, perhaps five stories down. The main building bore the name VaalChem.

Yoni asked, "Is he there? That place is guarded like a fort. How can you hope to get out alive?"

Alameo shook his head. "He won't be at VaalChem. Not tonight."

"Then where?"

"At a warehouse that he uses. He'll be there in two hours. He's preparing another of his shipments of death. It will be his last. That, I promise."

"You are reliably informed?"

He nodded. "I am."

"By whom, Alameo? Who down there can you trust? Has it crossed your mind that this might be a trap? That he's waiting for you? That he's ready?"

"It has. He thinks he is. I'm not a stupid man, Yoni."

"If you take him," asked Yoni, "what then?"

"I told you. Three days. He will answer for Sara. And Bobik has much to tell us both about VaalChem."

"Well, do me one favor. Hold on to that thought. Savran Bobik is a sadist and an all-around pig, but VaalChem may have killed many hundreds to his one and they've died just as horribly as Sara."

"Not the same," said Alameo. "They all thought they were sick. They weren't strapped down while someone tore at their flesh."

A sigh. "Okay, agreed. Promise me I'll get to question him."

"You can have him on the third day."

2

Artemus Bourne had been expecting the shipment, but not for another few days at the least. The three red-and-white containers, resembling picnic coolers, bore the logo of one of the companies he owned, a biotech firm in West Africa. He would have Winfield's hide for this stupidity.

His instructions were explicit. They had all been ignored. The containers were to have been shipped most discreetly to another of his firms in Virginia. In plain language, they were to be smuggled. They were to have taken a circuitous route from Angola, to Lisbon, to Grand Cayman, to Virginia. They were then to be driven to Briarwood, his estate. Unopened, uninspected, and untraceable.

And yet here they were, expressed directly to his home, not only with those logos announcing their source, but with his name, in bold letters, emblazoned on the label and written in Winfield's own hand. The writing seemed a bit shaky, but definitely Winfield's. The damned fool must have fallen off the wagon.

Excerpted from Bannerman's Ghosts by John R. Maxim. Copyright © 2003 by John R. Maxim. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.











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