The Long Wait

Although a sniper, patience didn't come naturally for Clay. He was never one to sit still for long. Hell, when he grew up with his grandparents in Liberia, they often referred to him as the perpetual motion machine. He would rather do something, anything, than be idle … even clean the mission when he wasn't allowed to go outside.

The worst punishment his grandmother applied to him was standing him in a corner. He tended to mind his Ps and Qs, so he didn't end up in that dreaded corner staring at the chipped concrete, especially when there were so many things he itched to do. But right about now, Clay would dearly love to be in that corner … if only because he would be released after a short period of time.

Trapped where he was, at least fifteen feet underground, wedged so tight that if he ate coal, he'd crap diamonds, he wouldn't be going anywhere again. The depressing thought caused him to glance at his tactical watch again. He pushed the button to illuminate the numbers and groaned when he discovered he'd been stuck down here for well over an hour.

Also, not one to simply accept his lot in life, always striving to better himself and improve—if only to validate his existence was worthwhile, not that his father ever gave a crap about him—Clay set his mind once again to the task of how to self-rescue himself.

That's when the rain started … at first a few drops, but soon it came down on him in a steady stream. He grinned despite the cold and miserable conditions, tilting his head to capture a little liquid to quench his thirst. Hope sprung anew as Clay wondered if the soaked earth might loosen its hold on him and allow him to somehow climb out of this hole.

Thoroughly soaked, his boots squishing in the mud, and cold to the bone, Sonny groused, "I hate playing hide and seek in the rain. Reminds me of when I played as a kid … pissed me off. I was it and had one kid left to find … Billy Balls … yeah, his real name. Couldn't believe he hid so well, and I spent hours searching for him. The others got bored waiting when I refused to give up, and they went home. Hours later, when the storm got real bad with lightning and shit, I had to go home.

"On the way, I stopped at Billy's to let his ma know he was still somewhere out there, but I'll be damned if I didn't find Billy, all snug and dry watching TV and eating popcorn. The little bastard had gone out of bounds to hide in his living room … last time I ever played hide and seek with him."

Despite the challenge they faced in finding Clay, Brock smirked at Sonny's story. He'd done something similar as a kid, but he wasn't about to tell Sonny, or he'd earn the nickname Billy Balls. Cerb halting and sniffing at the ground near a stream created by the deluge brought his attention fully back to their goal. "Cerb, what you got?"

"He find a scent?" Jason asked.

"Not sure." Brock knelt when Cerberus pawed at the dead foliage at the water's edge. The damned rain came down in sheets about thirty minutes ago, destroying any possible footprints, thus impeding their ability to locate the rookie. Since the light beam disappeared shortly after they dropped from the helo, they could only work a grid in the general area. And if the rain wasn't enough, things looked different within the forest than they did flying above it. The kid could be ten feet away from them or a mile. They had no idea why the light ceased. Clay might've been captured, killed, on the run, or any number of other possibilities.

Brock rose when he found nothing of note, no footprint, no cloth, no broken twig, nothing visual with which to track. He wished, not for the first time that he could speak dog. Cerb wouldn't alert on something unless there was a reason … a scent, which as a human, he couldn't smell, is the only thing Brock could determine that attracted the hair missile to this particular spot.

"So, what you got?" Ray asked as he shivered with cold. He hated operating in freezing rain as much as the next guy, but tonight was necessary. He was determined to make what could potentially be his last mission stand for something … they would bring a lost brother home.

"Nothing I can see." Brock wiped the water from his NODs, and turned in a circle, praying for divine intervention to give him a direction … the right direction. Funny thing was, he didn't believe in God, like Ray, but at this point, he was willing to grasp at anything that might help. He needed to find the kid … or he'd be enduring a lifetime of guilt for failing a brother.

Frustrated by the past hour, Jason clenched his jaw. When he found the damned rookie, if the blond pain in the ass was still alive, he would be running the hills until the end of days to make up for them having to defy orders to save his ass. And if they all got booted from the Navy, he would still make Spencer run … because not finding the kid was not an option … failure was not an option … they would bring him home one way or another and face the consequences of their actions.

Since they appeared to be taking a short break while Brock figured out what Cerb was telling them, Trent took a seat on a large rock and pulled out a bottle of water. His mind wasn't idle though as he drank. It ran the gambit of injuries Clay might've suffered and through the minimal supplies he carried.

Normally that wouldn't be a problem … this mission was supposed to be a quick snatch and grab with a fast flight back to base, and he packed his med-kit accordingly. So if any of them got shot, he was prepared to triage them and then hand them off to medics and doctors once they landed. But Clay's unknown whereabouts, the reason he didn't make it to the helo, and the lack of a quick ride out of here, left him uneasy and unsure he would be able to treat Clay once they located him.

Oh, Trent was damned sure they would find the rookie. They wouldn't stop until they did. And they had Cerb. The dog took a liking to the kid the moment he stepped into Bravo's equipment cages. Trent had never seen their furry teammate take so fast to anyone—almost like Clay was Cerb's long-lost puppy. He noticed the instant rapport even shocked Brock … though of course Brock didn't say anything … he rarely did.

As the group waited while Brock conferred with Jason, Sonny decided now would be a good time to relieve himself. He stepped about ten feet away, following the new little rivulet to the point where the water descended into a hole … a ready-made toilet of sorts. Sonny released his hold on his weapon and began to undo his pants.

The deluge of water didn't improve Clay's plight … it only worsened it. He remained stuck, but the hole began to fill with water and had reached mid-chest. If nothing changed in another ten or so minutes, his head would be underwater, and he would drown … leaving this world without a sound.

Fury at his situation filled him, and he refused to go out on a whimper. Instead, gathering every ounce of breath, Clay released a roar of rage that rivaled that of a lion … twenty-five times louder than a gas-powered lawnmower.

Cock in hand, ready to release, Sonny jumped back as a lion's roar rent the air from below. He gaped at the hole as he quickly stuffed himself back into his pants and gripped his weapon, ready to kill the damned wild cat if it tried to claw its way up.

Caught off-guard by the sound, Trent's feet slipped in the mud, and he fell off the rock, dousing himself with water, but it made no difference since he was already soaking wet.

Cerberus raced to the opening and barked. Found him! Found our boy. He glanced up at Sonny and growled. You better not pee on my boy.

"That's no animal," Brock said before he hurried forward.

Jason and Ray also converged at the hole as Trent picked himself off the ground to join them.

Brock knelt and shouted, "Bravo Six, is that you?"


Sorry for the long wait ... life got busier than I expected. Oh, and for those wondering (and patiently waiting) ... WOUNDED HONOR, the 3rd book in the Strike Force Zulu series is now available on Amazon as an ebook, paperback, and hardcover.