Nepal/Hilton Head Island, 1979...
This night would seal Brady Thomas’s fate, bruise the corners of his life for years to come.
The men of Shadow Company hunkered down at the base of the concrete wall surrounding the Mezzhandi compound, the clouds thick and ribbed with lightning, the wind portending an approaching storm.
These soldiers had little in common with ordinary military personnel. They comprised an autonomous unit whose missions were those that normal military units neither could not nor would not undertake. Only the President, his most trusted advisors, and COMMEX commander,Colonel Tyrone Prescott were aware of the unit’s existence, its actions, and the macabre details surrounding its clandestine assignments.
Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Brady Thomas spoke quietly with the team responsible for executing the latest presidential decree.
"Give me ten minutes to get inside, five more to get up to the Druid's suite."
“Martin.” His ice-blue eyes flashed feral. "Once the fireworks start, you, Jacobs, and Williams go in fast and hard. And forget prisoners, the only thing the old man’s interested in is body count. I’ll take care of the Druid."
Jerrod Martin nodded, pearl-white teeth shining out of his chocolate-brown face.
Brady nodded at Flannery. “All set?”
"We're dancin." Flannery punched the red button on a transmitter, activating timers the team had attached to charges and planted in the compound the previous night. "Fifteen minutes from now, this place lights up like the fucking Fourth of July."
Minutes later, Brady crouched in the shadows at the north end of the fourth floor hallway, a dozen paces from the Druid's suite, and peered around the corner. Two thick-muscled guards listened attentively to a small, emaciated oriental whose darting, yellow eyes caromed the length of the corridor.
Liang Soo, 'The Iceman', the Druid's personal confidant, his eyes and ears, his shadow. He glanced toward Brady.3
"Shit, he muttered, jerking back into the shadows. Yellow-eyes could probably see in the dark, too.
Five seconds later, the building seemed to sway on its foundation, half-stepping south as the timers zeroed out and the charges detonated.
The triad outside the suite reacted out of pure instinct, Soo diving through the door screaming Mandarin rhetoric, the bodyguards bringing Uzis to bear and glancing left and right along the hallway.
Brady slipped around the corner and launched an eight-pointed Shuriken with fatal accuracy, catching the first guard below the left ear and buzz-sawing through the carotid artery, nearly severing his head from his shoulders.
The second guard turned, and Brady dove, rolled against the wall and came up on his knee, the nine-millimeter Colt coughing twice. The first round formed a neat, elliptical hole between the man's nose and upper lip. The second entered between his eyes, exited the back of his skull, and embedded itself in the wall.
Automatic rifle fire, the shriek of LAWS rockets, and the pungent odor of Cordite filled the compound as Brady closed on the Druid's suite.
He breathed rhythmically, centered his Chi, then kicked open and dove through the double doors into a dark-paneled room.
Nothing. No Druid, no Iceman. Stone-dead silence.
He stood and inched his way toward the French doors that led out onto the veranda.
"You've come for me, Kenjisan?" The voice was low and raspy.
Brady studied the shadows. Three times within the past year, the Druid had been within his reach and each time he’d escaped unharmed. "It ends here," Brady said, his voice calm, confident. He dropped to the floor, crawled across a plush oriental carpet, rolled behind and sat up against an ornate mahogany desk and scanned the room.
He recalled Otaka’s admonition: ‘Ba-Mahk’, feel the pulse. Attune yourself to the energy of the environment. Through Ba-Mahk you discover that which remains hidden from your bodily senses.
He shut his eyes, his mind soaring beyond the limits of corporeal sensation, and watched the play unfold; the lone spectator to the penultimate scene.
The Druid slipped out from behind a bookcase abutting the fireplace and brought the muzzle of a fully loaded Uzi to bear. "Goodbye, Kenjisan,” he said. With a bone-chilling grin, he squeezed the trigger and the desk exploded, dancing across the floor.
But, Otakasan trained his students well. Brady, having already rolled away from the desk, stepped out from behind the black curtains marking the exit to the veranda. His blue-eyes fixed the man. “Time to die, you sonovabitch.”
The leader of the Mezzhandi whirled, as the first bullet caught him in the neck, below the chin, the second above the left eye, and the third ripped through his breastbone, puncturing his black heart. He dropped to the floor, his cold, dead eyes gazing into the void.
Brady stared down at a man who personified evil in its purest form. The miserable bastard deserved more than he’d given him. He deserved a long, slow death filled with pain and agony.
The ‘Druid’, had been the leader of the Mezzhandi, a splinter cell of the terrorist group Hezbollah, headquartered in the Siwalik Hills region of Nepal in the central Himalayas. They had claimed responsibility for fifteen assassinations, a dozen firebombings, and a four plane crashes, one a mid-air explosion over a densely populated region of western Europe. Too, they had kidnapped, tortured, and summarily executed company officials across the globe. Accordingly, the order had come down to Colonel Prescott directly from the office of the Chief Executive: regardless of the cost, in time, in money, and in personnel, Mezzhandi activities were to be terminated.
Brady’s thoughts turned to Flannery, Martin, Jacobs, and Williams, and to the battle on the floors below him.
Movement, quick and cold as a gust of north wind, smacked him as the Iceman dashed out from behind the flagstone fireplace, through the French doors and up and over the veranda railing, dropping thirty feet to the ground.
Brady watched the man limp off across the compound, through the trellised garden gate, and up into the dark, thick forest.
"You can't run forever," he muttered.
Behind him, a singular, tear-filled eye peered through an inconspicuous hole in the far-left corner of a bookcase. A young man choked back salty tears. “You will pay,” he whispered. "The day will come when I will take threefold from you what you’ve taken from me."
Brady turned and left the room, the brown eye studying him, etching the visage into memory.
Five weeks later, Brady strolled the glistening beaches of Hilton Head Island, an exquisite jewel nestled off the coast of South Carolina, forty minutes north of Savannah, Georgia.
Jim Flannery had been killed during the assault on the compound. Greg Jacobs and Timothy Williams, though hospitalized, were expected to recover and return to the field within six months. Only Jerrod Martin and Brady had escaped unharmed. Martin had requested a three-week spring ski trip to Vale, Colorado, while Brady had opted for a bit of paradise and a well-earned R&R.
He stopped, feet awash in the incoming tide, and relished the serenity brought on by another spectacular southern sunset, the sky painted a hundred shades of pink and yellow, dappled with bright, crimson reds and exploding purples.
He gazed out over the expanse of blue-green Atlantic. He loved the sea in springtime. It was a time of new beginnings, a time to rest and to think, to regain power from the solitude and the silence. There would be no death here today, only rebirth, renourishment.
Behind him, in the gazebo juxtaposed to the International Hotel, a six-piece chamber orchestra struck up a familiar Vivaldi sonata.A half-hour of highbrow and a double Glenlivet would do nicely before heading back to his penthouse suite at the Shoreline Towers.
He sat down at a table to the left of the gazebo, ordered Scotch, then cozied back into the armchair and shut his eyes, allowing the music to launch him into a much-needed reverie.
Her melodic voice hitched a ride on a balmy ocean breeze.
"Elizabeth?" He sat ramrod-straight, eyes sweeping the crowd, then leaned back into the chair. Sweet Jesus, he thought. A biblical sunset, a touch of Vivaldi and a glass of Glenlivet and off yougo getting sentimental. The grin that touched the corners of his mouth didn’t reach his eyes.
"Gentlemen, please," she said, her smile brightening the terrace. "We’ll pick it up tomorrow." She led a clot of men onto the massive deck surrounding the gazebo. "All I want right now is a glass of wine, a touch of music, and then a soft, warm bed."
Brady sat bolt upright, his head on a swivel, and examined the crowd--caught up with her as she sat at a table on the far side of the gazebo.
She smiled at a waiter, ordered a drink and then turned toward the orchestra, her concentration fixed on the music.
"Elizabeth," he murmured, feeling a familiar ache he’d spent twelve years trying to assuage.
She shook her head, cleared the long, blond hair out of her eyes and turned, as if she’d somehow heard her name roll from his lips.
Their eyes locked, and the deck seemed to clear and the music stop, the two of them alone now, no longer separated by a dozen years and a couple of million miles but by meters. Then, they were up, dashing across the deck, stumbling over chairs and patrons alike and into each others arms.
They had come from different worlds: Liz, the progeny of a high level corporate executivedetermined that she follow family tradition, and Brady, an orphan of unknown origin, around whom there had existed an aura of mystery and a degree of alienation.
They had met in 1963, at a small, public school in western New York, Freshmen Elizabeth
Creighton and friends attending Jericho Falls’s Homecoming basketball game, Brady sitting alone in the gymnasium's nosebleed seats.
He not been close to his classmates, most of them having formed friendships and cliques long before he’d transferred from a cross-town rival school in the fall of ‘62. He was the newcomer who lived in the orphanage at the end of Mill Street. There seemed about him an unexplainable quality, something that didn’t invite raw, untested relationships. An introvert by nature, he exhibited an emotionless side, a profound intensity that distanced him from his peers. He was by no means disliked. Young girls whispered about his ice-blue eyes, his longish, black wavy hair, and what they’d do to him given the opportunity. His male classmates, though none would have admitted it, respected him, envied his rugged individuality.
Fate had intervened that night and they'd singled each other out, Brady finding her a striking, provocative young woman, Elizabeth finding him different, exciting and alarmingly attractive. Within a week, they were dating, their relationship moving forward, slowly at first, then full-throttle. By the time Brady graduated in June of '65, they had their future meticulously planned.
Now, here they were again, years later, neither knowing what to say or how to say it.
He held her at arm length and looked into her liquid, green eyes, his voice catching, "Sweet Jesus, Liz, it really is you."
"My God, Brady." A tear tracked down her face. "What are you doing here?"
“Gee, I'm happy to see you, too.” He cast her a familiar lopsided grin.
"It's...it's been a long time. Then, just when I thought I'd gotten over you, here you are again, my fondest hopes and worst nightmares come to life.”
They sat down, the orchestra kicking off a medley of violin concertos, and spent three hours recounting the past twelve years. Brady related his contempt for her parents--an opinionated, twisted mother who drank too much and an emasculated father who, out of a sense of self-preservation, was inclined to tolerate his wife’s drunken tantrums--and how he still held them responsible for what had transpired.
"They wouldn’t stop taking things away from us, building their damnable walls. When you left for school, I secretly wondered how long it would take you to forget about me.” He smiled, continued. “We’d spoken of marriage, sure, of a future together, but the differences in our backgrounds? Frankly, when I left the States I didn’t know if I was protecting you from a life to which you were unaccustomed or protecting myself from the day you’d decide you couldn’t take it anymore and leave.”
He then spoke of his training under Sensei Otaka in Okinawa and of his eight-year association with COMMEX, circumventing the grizzly details of his function within the organization. This trip was his first vacation in years and he was determined to spend it lazing in the sun, the sand, and the foam.
Elizabeth told him that after completing undergraduate work at Syracuse University, she’d transferred to Harvard, earned an MFA and then freelanced in the New England before landing a full-time position as creative director at a New York ad agency. She had leapfrogged to the forefront of the advertising world as the creative genius behind a bold, successful campaign for Gloria Vanderbilt's line of upscale sportswear. Overnight, she’d become one of the most sought after creative directors in the country and regularly received invitations to lecture at national meetings and regional fundraisers.
This week, she was guest lecturer and senior judge at the Southeast Advertising Association's Annual Conference, as well as chairperson of the awards committee.
As they spoke, the intervening years melted away. He made her laugh again and cry again, and she made him feel warm and safe in a world grown altogether cold and dangerous.
The morning after the awards selection meeting, Elizabeth packed her belongings and moved into Brady's suite. They then spent the afternoon strolling the solitary beaches at the south end of the island, discussing the children they’d been and the adults they had become.
That evening, as Liz showered, preparing for dinner at the Island Club, Brady waited on the veranda, smoking one of the six cigarettes he allowed himself each day.
Why not, he thought, eyes focused in the middle distance? He’d been paid outrageous money over the past eight years, most of it invested in dividend growth stocks and high-yield bonds. God knows he’d never had anything or anyone to spend it on. It was time. Time to bid adios to Prescott and to COMMEX and whisk Liz off to Arizona, begin the life they’d meticulously planned years earlier.3
"Liz." He moved through the living room toward the bath. "Get out here."
"Yes, sir." She stepped through the bathroom door wearing a towel, wrapped suggestively around her smooth, tanned body, and a coy, sexy smile. A smile Brady wanted desperately to wrap his arms around and pull close to his heart, to his spirit.
"Damn, you look good." She stirred feelings in him left long dormant.
"How good?" she whispered, dropping the towel to the floor.
He pulled her close, cupped her breasts in his hands and massaged the stiff nipples between his thumb and forefinger.
"Jesus, Elizabeth." He kissed her mouth, felt her hot breath mix with his, then picked her up and dropped her onto the bed. He moved up on her and she spread wide.
“Yes, my love.” She guided him, a soft cry escaping her lips as he slid into her.
Their lovemaking was frenzied, filled with an urgency and intensity reminiscent of their youth, carnal lust and animal instinct. They gained the crest, her legs wrapped tightly around his back, pulling him further into her depths, bucking beneath his pounding hips.
He rested atop of the covers, spent and contented, staring at the ceiling. Liz lie at his side, her head nestled into his shoulder, designing circles on his chest with her finger. "Now, what was it you wanted to see me about before we got sidetracked?"
He cast her a warm smile. "How would you feel about moving to Arizona? Somewhere near Sedona? We could start anew, make up for the years lost to us." He looked into her eyes. "Start that family we talked about way back when."
Her heart pounded against her ribcage and she leaned up on her left elbow, her head resting in her hand. "This is a bit quick, don’t you think? We have jobs and homes to consider. Besides, there's something I haven't told you, something that up until now...well, it didn't seem important anymore."
His brow twisted.
"Damn, I don't know where to start." She sat up cross-legged, arms on her knees.
"Start at the beginning, and take your time." He stroked her chin, sensing that what she had to say was important.
She thought for a moment, then said, “I can't have any more children, Brady.”
He sat up, stared. “More? What are you saying? That you've already had a child?”
“Actually, it’s a bit more precise than that. We had a child, back in ‘68. Remember the lake?"
He nodded, eyes riveted to hers, recalling their last summer together. As the days had begun to shorten and the air cool, the chemistry between them had blossomed, culminating on a late August night in the warm sands at the edge of the lakes.
He couldn’t hide the startled look on his face, or suppress the questions forming in his mind.
"Please,” she said. “Sit and listen until I’m finished, okay?"
He turned his back and sat on the edge of the bed, feet planted on the floor, elbows on his knees, head cupped in his hands, and listened, his heart filled at once with love and terror.
Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes as she began. "We had a daughter, but there were complications. She was stillborn and I was hemorrhaging, so Doc Weatherby, the campus OBGYN, performed a hysterectomy.” She bit her lower lip, sniffed back tears. “I named her Deirdre. We always said that if and when we had a daughter we’d call her Deirdre, remember?”
She spoke for forty-five minutes, explaining how she’d not known she was pregnant until her second semester at Syracuse. How she spent six months prior to the baby's birth and another half a year after the baby's death, trying to locate him. "It was as if you’d disappeared from the face of the earth. Nobody knew where you were. I even had Dad’s buddy, Senator Rumson, contact the Department of the Army, for all the good it did."
When she was done she touched his shoulder. “I'm sorry you had to find out this way.”
"There's nothing to be sorry about."
“Then, please talk to me. I've borne the burden alone for years. I need to share it, now.”
He turned and pulled her into his arms, his tears mixing with hers. "I love you, Elizabeth."
They talked, they laughed, and they wept, ruminated on the past and reveled in the joy of the present. Then, they made love, slowly and passionately this time, feelings and desires transferred by touch, hopes and dreams mirrored in their eyes.
"Brady?" she said sometime later, glancing at the clock hanging above a settee. "It's almost eleven and we never did get out to dinner. I'm not complaining, mind you." She grinned, pecked him on the cheek. "The appetizer was scrumptious, as was the main course, but if I don't get some nourishment, I may not get to dessert.” She reached beneath the covers and gave him a squeeze. “You are going to want dessert, aren’t you big fella?”
"Jesus, are you trying to kill me?"
She winked. "What a way to go, huh?"
“Tell you what.” He jumped off the bed and pulled on shorts and a sweatshirt. “There's a Chinese place down the road. How about I run over and get us lemon chicken, shrimp fried rice, and couple of greasy eggrolls?"
"Umm, just what the doctor ordered. I'll jump into the shower while you're gone."
She sat on the edge of the bed while he ran a comb through his thick, black hair. He grabbedhis wallet and keys, then kissed her. "Be right back."
He opened the door, turned back. “I love you Liz. I’ve always loved you. I've never said that to another woman. It's important to me that you know it.”
Her eyes glistened. "I love you, too.”
He walked out into the hallway and turned to close the door.
“When you get back, we'll talk about Arizona, okay?" She smiled and tossed her head to the side, clearing the silky blond hair out of her eyes.
It was an image he’d recall all the days of his life.
They watched him exit the hotel.
"Go," the man said, as Brady wheeled out of the parking lot. They scampered across the lawn, the larger of the two men toting a grappling hook attached to a length of nylon cord.
They stopped at the edge of the hotel, the small oriental glancing left and right.
"Now," he said, and the grappling hook soared upward, latching onto the railing sixty feet overhead.
They clambered up the rope and dropped onto the balcony.
Working in unison, they attached a plastique charge to the metal frame of the sliding glass door and inserted a detonator. Then, they mounted a microswitch and a miniature battery to the door jam and connected it to the charge with two lengths of thin copper wire. The slightest movement of the door would actuate the microswitch and send an electrical impulse to the detonator. The explosion would be instantaneous.
"Now," the oriental muttered. "What was it that Aeschylus once wrote? 'For a deadly blow let him pay with a deadly blow: it is for him who has done a deed to suffer'. Oh, that we could make you suffer for eternity, Kenjisan."
Brady motored west along Highway 278, the island's main artery, a bag of Chinese food in the front seat. “One more stop,” he muttered, pulling into the lot of Island Wine, renowned for stocking the most diverse mix of fine French and California wines in all the Low Country.
Ten minutes later, he was back on the road, a bottle of Chateau Beychevelle '66 added to the night's menu. He smiled, feeling better than he had in years. Liz had a calming influence on him, could still read his moods, ease his worries, draw him from the depths of dark introspection and fill his life with the promise of a brighter tomorrow. He’d found himself, all over again, the moment he’d looked into her eyes. It is said that the enthusiasms and joys of youth can be recalled but never regained. Well, they would do their best to disprove that old saw.
He parked in a spot reserved for those occupying the penthouse suites, then walked toward the front door, searching his pockets for the room key. He looked up, saw two men rappel noiselessly down the side of the hotel and drop to the ground. They scanned the parking lot and the grassy knoll adjacent to it, then scurried off toward the rear of the hotel, toward the wooden steps that led down onto the beach. One man moved swiftly, the other more slowly, a decided limp to his left leg.
"Iceman?" Brady glanced up, eyes traveling the length of rope from the ground to the fifth floor penthouse.
Elizabeth, fresh from the shower, her lithe, tanned body wrapped in a large white towel, stood at the glass door, peering out toward the ocean. She turned and spotted Brady staring up at her. Their eyes locked, and she smiled and reached out to slide open the door.
It hit home like a lightning strike.
“Sweet Jesus.” The bag of food and the bottle of wine slipped from his hands and dropped to the spongy ground. “Elizabeth…” He sprinted toward the hotel, a spray of icy tentacles wrapped around his heart. “No.”
He was thirty yards from the door when the explosion rent the still night air, the concussion driving him to his knees, the sky above him filled with a thousand fiery projectiles, bits of furniture, glass, and ragged drapery that had, moments before, been integral parts of his suite.