Crash and Burn - Chapter 36: Puni

A muffled grunt came from somewhere in the surrounding forest, a sound of a body hitting the floor, then a barrage of shots. Reena could feel the panic rise in Fryer. The hand holding her tightened around her upper arm, the muscles tensed. He lifted his arm and looped it around her neck, pressed his gun to her temple, pulling her around and around, his eyes undoubtedly scanning the forest around them, looking for enemies, searching for allies.

More shots echoed as Wo Fat’s men opened fire at the yet-unseen opponent. Reena grinned. The opponent would remain unseen. The men her brother had probably enlisted wouldn’t be seen unless they wanted to.

The forest went silent. But for that little slip at the beginning, the cavalry was still in full stealth mode, the predators stalking their prey. God love Force Recon Marines.

She opened her mouth to taunt her captor, when Fryer backed against the side of the shed they’ve come out from, pressed the gun more firmly against her temple, and yelled into the stillness of the forest, “I’ll kill her, I swear I’ll kill her!”

A pair of eyes watching from the shrubbery narrowed as Reena gritted her teeth when Fryer ground the gun barrel against her skull. The man had played them all, had probably been the one to kidnap her, and now he was hurting her. He was going down.

“Do it,” the watcher whispered and the sniper on top of the ridge, keeping Fryer’s head in the crosshairs of his rifle, gently pulled the trigger.

Reena felt something wet spray the side of her head, felt Fryer’s grip go slack, then she heard the muffled pop of a single shot. She shuddered a little at the thought of having her face covered with a mixture of Fryer’s blood and brain matter, then priorities kicked in.

She dropped to the ground, brought her bound hands under her rump, under her legs and feet, rummaged in the man’s pocket for his sheers, and cut the plastic cuff. She regained her feet, listening intently for any telltale sounds from the forest. Nothing stirred, not a bird, not a bee. The battle wasn’t over yet.

She wiped the side of her face with her sleeve and, for the first time in her life, ignored the fight, ignored the gun in Fryer’s slackened palm, rounded the corner of the shed, and walked away from the battle. She didn’t want to shoot someone she wasn’t supposed to shoot, she didn’t trust her weakened arms to hold the gun steady or her weakened legs not to fold underneath her. And she most certainly didn’t want to be used for leverage once more. Let the boys have some fun on this one.

She’d gain the ridge—somehow—and huddle in with the sniper. Whoever he was.

Her freedom and her resolve was short lived, though. An arm sneaked from inside the shed and Reena saw stars as the fist connected with her cheek. She’d look like a raccoon tomorrow.

“You didn’t think I forgot about you, did you?”

She shuddered as Wo Fat’s calm voice penetrated the dazed haze in her brain. He pulled her back inside the shed, toward the hole in the ground, the entrance to the basement. He pushed her down the ladder, tied her hands behind her back again, lit a huge flashlight, and pulled the trapdoor above them closed. He secured it with a padlock and rejoined her at the bottom of the ladder.

“Come on,” he said, taking her upper arm and pulled her toward the end of the basement. “We’re going to take a walk. I don’t like the situation up there.”

She blinked as the basement slowly narrowed into a tunnel.

“I wonder how they found you so fast,” Wo Fat mused aloud. “I told Fryer to get rid of your phone, but the idiot never listens. And he got a bullet through the brain for it.”

Reena’s survival instinct was starting to kick in, the fight-or-flight response riding her hard. Her eyes were darting around the tunnel, following the beam of the flashlight, searching for something to use as weapon, when his next words, froze every single thought in her brain.

“Your brother is one hell of a fighter, I’ll give you that.” He looked down at her, grinned. “Surprise! And you thought your secret was safe. I know Marcus Hawthorne is your brother.”

Reena swallowed past the lump in her throat.

“I wonder why you didn’t tell your beloved SEAL that.” A chuckle. “He thinks you’re all hot and heavy with the new governor. Oh, the poor man, with his heart all broken, yet he can’t stay away, can he?” He pulled her roughly forward. “Move, Sabrina. We have a helicopter to catch. And a trap to spring. I thought I could lure your SEAL here, alone, so you could watch as I killed him, but I’ll just have to change my plans.”




“Steve,” Joe’s voice came through the earpiece loud and clear. “He pulled her back into the shed. I couldn’t get a bead.”

Steve cursed, listened to the others’ reports of the ‘all clear’, then dashed out of the bushes, met Hawthorne in front of the shed.

“Joe saw Wo Fat take her back into the shed.”

Hawthorne’s curse mirrored his. “Joe, did you see if there were more men?”

“No,” Joe replied from the ridge. “I only saw him for a second.”

Steve met Hawthorne’s eyes. The other man lifted his gun, nodded. With a grim smile Steve kicked the door in, and entered in a crouch, leading with his gun.

The small shed was empty. There was no other door, but for the trapdoor in the middle of the floor.

“He took her into the basement,” Steve conveyed through his mike, tried the trapdoor, but it didn’t budge.

Marc gave a helping hand, but the metallic door wouldn’t open. “It’s locked.” He frowned. “Why? He’ll need to come out eventually.”

Steve holstered his gun, shook his head. “This part of the range is still mostly military land. World War II antennas and bunkers.” He looked at Hawthorne. “Can you check Sabrina’s coordinates?”

Marc felt his muscles tense at the implication. “Give me a sec.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket, accessed the app with the implant’s feed, cursed. “She’s moving. Northeast.”

Steve grabbed the map from Hawthorne’s hand, unfolded it. “There’s supposed to be an old airstrip northeast from here. Joe, do you have a clear view to the north-east?”

“What am I looking for?”

“A small airstrip.”

“No airstrip, just a clearing. There’s a part of a concrete structure poking out of the forest.”

Steve shook his head. “A clearing isn’t enough to land a plane. Even a small one.”

“True, but there’s enough room for a chopper,” Joe supplied.

“Chopper?”

“Sitting nice and pretty in the middle of the jungle.”

Steve met Hawthorne’s eyes. And both men turned and ran out of the shed, and disappeared into the forest, heading toward the northeast, with Danny, Chin and the four Marines in pursuit.

Above them Joe was also on the move. The ridge extended in a curved arc toward the clearing where the chopper waited, so he’d be able to serve as additional eyes to the small team currently tearing through the forest.

The old SEAL grinned as he loped along the ridge, his rifle slung comfortably over his shoulder. He couldn’t wait to see this go down. Marc was a dangerous opponent in any situation, but this time it was his sister who was in danger. Wo Fat had no idea who he was up against.

But it was Steve that was the wild card in this final game of chess. Joe has never seen his former protégé so riled in his life. He did a good job in hiding it, but it was there, brewing just underneath the surface, one only had to look for the signs.

And it was only a matter of time before all that pent-up aggression exploded. When the boy went berserk...Oh, man. It would be best to sit back and enjoy the fireworks from a safe distance.

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