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Gut Instinct: A Taskforce Story


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She felt a tremble return to her arms, but not from fear. From anticipation of what she was about to do. From joy. Chase sneered and charged again, this time in control. Jennifer popped him twice and he wrapped her up, trapping her arms. He flung her bodily into the desk, hammering her head. He then rocked the other way, slamming her into the wall. She felt her head swim, fearing she was about to lose, the potential outcome causing shame to surface. He began to fling her back onto the desk, and she frantically stabbed her hands between her legs, searching for something vulnerable. And finding it.

She ground her hands and pulled, hearing him shriek. He threw her across the room, cursing and cupping his genitals. He screamed again, and she saw him charge. She tucked, and Pike tripped him with his cane, sending him sprawling short of her.

On her knees, she shouted, “No!”

She stood and wiped a ribbon of blood from her nose, her eyes on Chase. “No help. He’s mine, win or lose.”

Pike backed off and nodded but remained ready. She knew he wouldn’t listen if it came down to it. She said, “Get up, you shit.”

Chase looked at the door, breathing hard, a thin stream of sweat rolling down his cheek. Pike pointed at his watch. Chase said, “Fuck you.” He turned to her, clenched his fists, and charged again, repeating his earlier move, intent on knocking her out — or worse. This time she was ready and ducked under him, letting him pass. She circled an arm around his waist and threw her hip out, using his own momentum against him, flinging him up and over her body and slamming him into the hardwood floor.

She fell on top of him and crooked his arm, dragging his hand up as if she was painting the floor with it and torquing his shoulder. He let out a high-pitched wail and she said, “You ready to run yet? You want the door?”

He said something unintelligible, spittle flying out of his mouth, and she cranked up no more than a half inch, causing him to slap his other arm against the floor, then to beg. “Yes, yes, yes…”

She paused for a moment, torn. Wanting to permanently harm him but not having the heart to do so when he was helpless. She exhaled and let go. He made a show of slowly getting up, then swung a hard right cross and hammered her in the mouth. She rolled right and he was on her, sitting on her waist with his full weight. He grabbed her hair with both hands and began banging her head against the floor. She snaked her arms out, hitting the crooks of his elbows and trapping his forearms against her chest. She bucked hard, throwing him forward off balance and forcing him to let go in an attempt to break his fall. She kept the pressure on his arms, trapping them, and then rolled, hammering his head into the floor and ending up on top again. Before he could recover, she had him back in the same shoulder lock.

She paused, savoring the triumph. She saw fear in his eyes and said, “You should have taken the out.”

She cranked his arm up, against the way it was designed to bend, feeling something tear, then pop, causing him to scream and buck on the ground. She leaned into his ear and whispered, “That’s for our daughter. In case you ever think about swinging this fist at a woman again.”

She rolled off him and stood, waiting. He cradled his destroyed arm, then limped to the door. Pike said, “Looks like you missed that two-minute mark.”

Chase said nothing, exiting the door and beginning to trot, then run. Pike followed him with his eyes across the lot until he got into his car, then turned to Jennifer.

“You okay?”

She sat down in a chair, moved her chin back and forth, and said, “Yeah, I’m fine. Physically.”

“And mentally?”

She shook her head. “That felt way too good. I don’t like it. I think I saw a little of you inside me.”

Pike smiled and rubbed her shoulder with his one good arm. “Nothing wrong with that. I thought for a minute I was going to have to step in when he was drumming you into the desk. How’d you break free?”

She smiled ruefully. “He always used to brag about ‘going commando.’ I guess he found out what that means.”

Chapter 2

Six weeks later

I dropped from the chin-up bar after ten reps, limiting each set so as not to push my injury. My shoulder and clavicle had healed up nicely, and I’d finally been given the go-ahead to start working out on my own. Which made me happy because I was sick of going to physical therapy, where I rolled a medicine ball up and down a wall or played with large rubber bands. The only thing I regretted was the move back to my boat. I told myself that Jennifer’s apartment was much more comfortable, but I knew it was more than that. Not that I would admit it to her or to myself.

I had taken her to dinner after her little altercation with Chase, and we’d had a pretty good night. It was the first occasion in a long while where we both weren’t worried about trying to kill someone or getting our own asses killed. She’d joked about the people in the restaurant living their lives blindly and having no idea of what she had been doing just five days before. For the first time Jennifer was experiencing what I’d felt coming home from training or deployment almost my entire military career. It was a weird connection, something I’d had only with male teammates, but there nonetheless.

After dinner, and after a few drinks, she’d demanded that I move in with her because of my injuries. I fought back, but she did have a point. It would be damn hard to get up and down the small galley of my boat with my arm in a sling and using a cane. Not to mention working the bathroom. After she’d made it plain that there were two bedrooms and both would be used, I’d relented, fairly sure it wasn’t the rum talking. I’d eventually moved in, but after a week, I was also fairly sure she’d regretted ever offering. Suffice to say we didn’t see eye to eye on the definition of “messy.”

Now I could definitely be defined as “back on my feet,” the worst injury being the bullet wound in my thigh. It was still stiff, but I no longer needed a cane. I might not be fully mission capable for Taskforce work, but I could certainly get up and down my boat. The thought brought a little melancholy.

I started my wussy little box squats, wincing at the pain, when I heard a distinctive ringtone that brought a small jolt of adrenaline. It was my Taskforce cell, playing the Mission: Impossible theme song — because I’m a smart-ass — and when it came to life it usually meant some high adventure was coming my way.

Our way.

I followed the sound, racing into my bedroom, not remembering where I’d put the damn thing. I heard Jennifer come home as I was jerking drawers open and kicking shoes. She appeared in my doorway as I found it, just before it went to voice mail. I answered and was a little surprised at the conversation.

I hung up and said, “That was Kurt. He’s got a mission on a tight timeline.”

She frowned and said, “You’re nowhere near capable of doing operational stuff. He knows that. Did he say there was nobody else in the Taskforce who could do it?”

“Well, actually, he did. He didn’t ask for me. He wants you. He’s flying down here from DC right now.”

* * *

We met him on the outdoor deck of Red’s Ice House on Shem Creek, a stone’s throw from our “Grolier Recovery Services” office in Mount Pleasant, the town across the river from Charleston. He was already at a table near the water, a Corona in front of him, looking a little out of place in his khakis and oxford shirt. The only other patrons were at the bar wearing flip-flops and T-shirts, but Kurt’s day-old beard and tousled hair belied his businessman attire, giving off a vibe that he’d rather be wearing a T-shirt as well.

The men at the bar ignored me when we walked in, focusing on Jennifer, something that always sent a spike of aggravation through me. I’m sure they wished she’d just come off a boat sporting a bikini, but she was wearing a sensible sundress, her dirty-blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. True to form, she didn’t even notice.

We took a seat across from him, resting our arms on the plain wood table. He said, “If someone wanted to track you, all they’d have to do to find a pattern is stake out every pub within a mile of your office.”

I smiled and said, “That’s a risk I’m willing to take. You can’t watch the dolphins swim in a parking garage.”

Kurt chuckled. As the commander of a counterterrorist unit so off the books it didn’t even have a name, he managed a plethora of companies like ours, all designed to camouflage the ongoing shadow war, allowing us to penetrate and execute operations where the traditional defense and intelligence communities couldn’t. Or wouldn’t because of restrictions inherent in United States Code. The question in my mind was why our company was needed for this mission.

He said, “Remember that JI guy you followed to Cairo?”

Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, as we called it, was an Indonesian terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda. We’d tracked a guy tied to them from Indonesia to Egypt, where he’d been blown apart by another terrorist group.

“Noordin Sungkar? Yeah. But he’s dead.”

“That’s true, but the computer penetration you did to locate him also led to other interesting intelligence. His shipping company made multiple deliveries to Manila, and we’ve found the man who received them. He’s a manual laborer at Aquino International Airport, but more importantly, he’s a facilitator for MILF. He’s a small-time player, but we’ve got chatter about something going on. He’s the only thread we have and we want to walk up the chain.”

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