CODE: TEAM ZEBRA is about a small Top Secret organization funded by Congress under a fictitious research title Project 7. Only one senator is aware of Its existence and purpose: To subvert and destroy international drug cartels and their American judicial allies degrading American lives. The story focuses on the assassinations of an informant, his Zebra contact, the senator's son, and witnesses.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Dale Greenwell served six years with the US Army Security Agency, and after a stint in Japan, had special assignments with US embassies in Iran and Vietnam. He has a BS in anthropology and history, and a MS in anthropology. Dale was involved in legal and insurance investigations until his retirement. He has been a journalist, and newspaper columnist, and authored Twelve Flags Triumphs and Tragedies, Third Mississippi Regiment: CSA, and The Greatest American.
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CODE: TEAM ZEBRA
By DALE GREENWELL
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 Dale Greenwell
All rights reserved.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, January 23, 2000. Near the edge of night, a bone-chilling wind howled through the mountain peaks, sweeping down and through firs and aspens, down to and across the frozen lake, recasting snowdrifts scattered over the ice and land. The storm seemed nearer than forecasters predicted.
Martin Houseman lit a Marlboro and closed the car door with his elbow, then walked to the edge of the windswept bluff and surveyed the shadowy world below. Why here, this time of year? Damned it. Suddenly, between drags on the smoke, two specks in motion to the south caught his attention. He watched curiously, calculating their route: Eastbound, in the direction of the old miner's cabin—the vacant shack in the firs just off lake's east shore. Who the hell? Hunters.
His memory ran backwards. He had not seen evidence of man or vehicle on the way in. Over a cup of coffee in town he had heard a ranger report the lake road was closed and the "only place on the lake, Old Milligan's Cabin, hadn't been used since he passed away."
With a gloveless hand he fished inside the fur-lined jacket for his Bushnell's. Through the lens he studied the two figures trudging through furrows. Rifles. Packs. Damned fools are lost.
Before the cigarette was spent, the two men were off the snow and out of sight. Martin flipped the butt and returned to the Land Rover.
Miles behind Martin, two hunters gobbled cold baked beans from cans, chasing them with slush from winterized Pepsis. Jim sat on his sleeping bag, legs folded in front, thick wool socks itching his calves. Pete, his legs already stuffed inside his bag, head propped on an elbow, spooned beans into his mouth. He lowered the can and frowned at the studs in the north wall, in the direction of a peculiar sound.
Jim paused with an ear cocked, then pointed curiously with his spoon, eyes wide. Pete decided, "That's that damn missing hinge and loose tin. It's bent on keeping us awake all frigging night."
"I don't mean that." Jim stretched his neck backwards, listening intently. "No, this was somewhere down slope, like out on the lake."
"Probably a grizz," Pete chuckled over another mouthful. Still, he glanced at the 30.06 Remington parked against the wall, within arm's length of his bedroll.
Pete licked the spoon, stuck it into the can and which he set atop the cold, rusted pot-bellied stove. "Grizz my ass. Elk, maybe. Sound more like a man's cough." Yawning, he wiggled deeper into the bag, folded his jacket beneath the knitted cap covering his head. "You stand guard. I'm dead. See you in the a.m."
A short gust rattled a cracked window pane; the door squeaked; the loose tin on the roof rapped out a tattoo. A wolf wailed somewhere in the night.
In the seven miles down the east side of the lake to the fork in the road, the only tracks picked up in the lights were his own. At the fork, in a westerly direction, off-road tire tracks were under old snow. He turned east for Moran Junction. The first flake bounced off the windshield.
Over the road noise his mind waded through the risks ahead, not unlike any mission prep. Things would work out. They always have—well, for the most part. Before each assignment there is always the hours of sweating, always will be. But tonight is not an assignment, only an agreement to help a team member. It'll work out. He lit another cigarette and sucked on a Tums. Blackness filled the rearview and far ahead a pair of taillights appeared and disappeared. Frequent gusts battered the vehicle.
Jackson and hot coffee were less than a half hour away. He gnawed a lip. Wrong night. Wrong place. Crazy. Still, it isn't his call. Wipers brushed flakes from the windshield. The invisible country and dark night seemed to lead nowhere. He cracked the window and tossed the butt. Atop the next high ground the horizon looked ghastly pale: Jackson. Clouds of powder rifled through the high beam ahead.
Specks of lights appeared in the rearview, a half-mile behind and gaining. A few miles later the black Explorer roared by, kicking up swirling white crystals. The two hunters? Then he was again alone on the highway to Jackson.
The "Jackson Airport" sign passed on Martin's right, minutes later the north edge of town reflected on the underside of a sky filled with weather. Several miles farther, the "Wagon Wheel Restaurant" sign came into view. Martin slowed and turned into the parking area. His lights did not pick up the black Explorer parked behind a stack of firewood at the south side of the building. He killed the motor and hurried through the slush onto the porch, then entered, brushing his jacket, casually surveying those present, on his way to a booth at a front window, under a neon "Open" sign.
Settled, he signaled for a cup. A slightly curved gal wearing an apron and a nice smile smacked her gum his way and dropped off a mug of smoking coffee. She chatted a second before leaving with his thermos.
Martin's face thawed slowly. He took a shot of the sugarless java, then folded his arms on the table and looked out at the miserable night. A half-minute later, a north bound truck passed, scattering flakes and laying down fresh tracks. He glanced at the wall behind the man at the cash register. The clock was a minute short of his watch. He hoped Ben Halter would make it before the storm.
Over the mug's rim, he took in the western art, exaggerated ads, and the few customers at the counter and corner table. A thin woman, in an imitation-fur coat, sharing fries and tea with another beside her. The bored cashier seemed to be less than interested in her endless monologue.
In the far corner, a newspaper moved, suggesting someone behind it. Long legs inside creased jeans over silver-tipped Justin boots stretched beneath his table. Martin turned to the window and the reflection of the man and the paper. Hollywood cowboy, he guessed. He waited for the face to show. It didn't.
On the other side of the window, an 18-wheeler heading for downtown sliced through the highway, throwing more gray slush on his Rover. He allowed his thoughts to drift forward, to a midnight rendezvous. Why Jackson Hole—in January?
Ben had only mentioned it involved an informant afraid to meet anywhere but on this wilderness lake in the middle of the night. The informant had to be one helluva scared person. The tip-off concerned an imminent take-down: A carefully planned assassination. Parties and sources were about to be revealed. And for some ungodly reason, Ben asked Martin to back him.
He took another swallow and fished the Motorola from inside his jacket and pushed CID. No missed calls. Too late now—Ben wouldn't risk a phone.
He took another drag and blew slowly at the plate glass, concerns elsewhere. Kirk, he guessed, would blow a gasket if he knew the two were in Jackson Hole. Was Kirk involved? Of course, but, did he know Ben had persuaded him, Martin, to cover the back door? In Arlington it was late evening. Kirk would be in a cozy bed with a book and Bourbon on the rocks—and perhaps more.
His thoughts drifted to the love of his life. One day he would not have to lie to her. Then all but the night's problem vanished. The coffee had cooled. Then—who is this Iceman? What did he have that Arlington wanted enough to send a Zebra into the mountains this time of year? Ben had mentioned that the contact had identified himself as the Iceman. And the Iceman called the shots, refusing any compromise. He demanded the lake meeting—out of fear of being tailed. Ben finally agreed—Middle of the night, regardless of weather.
Martin had never known that sort of fear and had a problem understanding it.
After all of this, the Iceman probably won't show—unless he lives out there. Hmmm! He lifted his cuff and studied the dial, then wrapped his hands around the mug and closed his eyes, recent events racing across his lids. It all began as a "short mission" out of Fort Bragg, three years ago. After that, it never stopped. Do a job right and they'll never let you rest. And somewhere another gets a raise.
After this night Zebra will be another memory. Ruminations ended as the gum-smacking blond returned with a hot pot. "Warm up?" He nodded.
Headlights splashed across her face and the wall behind the counter. "Thanks honey." He watched the Pathfinder fill a space next to his Rover. Ben bailed out and hustled to the door, brushing his thinning hair back as he entered. Their eyes met for a half-second. Ben unzipped his heavy jacket and took a stool at the counter near the register, then ordered coffee and apple pie as if he were a regular.
Martin waited a few moments before carrying the thermos and bill to the counter. He dropped a ten. "Nice evening for geese," he said to the waitress, for Ben's benefit. She smiled back. Ben acted preoccupied. His broad shoulders and facial scars had obviously caught her attention. She smacked and lifted an eyebrow. "Yeah, to be home in a cozy bed ... with a good book ... or ..." She winked.
They laughed together. Ben slid out of his jacket. "I believe bears are smarter than humans. You won't find them out in this mess. They're snug in the rugs ..."
She puckered. "Ummm! Like bundled together." She topped Ben's mug and pinched his cheek. "This'll warm ya, honey."
The man behind the newspaper turned a page.
Martin scooped up the change, nodded her way. "Nine is always bedtime for some." He paused outside the door, adjusted his collar and surveyed the shadows and lights farther up the street—toward downtown. He flipped the weed out into the ice and snow and opened the Rover's door. Behind the wheel, he adjusted the heater vents, backed out onto the highway and turned for downtown.
The man in the silver tips walked out onto the porch, lit a cigarette between high collars, pulled the Stetson low on his face, and watched for the signal a block away. Parking lights flashed once.
In Washington DC, the airport clock was two hours ahead of Jackson Hole. A Cadillac pulled out of "Arrivals" with two new faces on board. The driver confirmed their identities and produced his own—all aliases. Only the assignment mattered. Before dawn, the two would fly out of another airport to unknown destinations—unless they failed.
Georgetown, near midnight: After the café closed, the young freshman declined his friend's offer, preferring to walk. "It's Invigorating. I need it," he assured his roommate. The game ended poorly. His first political science exam was nine hours away. He hunched his shoulders and pushed his gloved fists into his jacket before turning the corner into the dark and icy wind. The last reflections of campus disappeared. The nearest street light was two blocks ahead.
A vehicle turned the same corner twenty seconds later, slowed as its lights flashed on the eagle decorating the back of Tim's jacket, then crossed lanes and dimmed lights, passing and pulling up to the curb. Two doors opened. Two figures in overcoats and hats emerged. The shorter of the two stepped in his way. "Excuse me. You are Tim Stranton?"
Tim felt threatened. "Who wants to know?"
A needle pierced his collar and neck. He didn't feel the one stab his arm.
A mile from the campus, Pearl stood inside a window overlooking an unlit alley, a dead-end alley locals called "Tom's" because of an aged feline resident. Tonight, she wasn't interested in Tom. Rent was overdue and her up-coming performance would have to be impressive. Still, she knew Tom was perched as usual on his favorite garbage can, two stories below, despite the freeze.
The light of her apartment filtered through the shade. Broadcasting her silhouette on the dark wall across the alley. Then the shade lifted and the curtains parted. Seconds later Pearl killed the lamplight and her silhouette. At the window she regarded the outside stillness, waiting. Except for flurries racing through the faint reflection at the end of the alley—a reflection from a corner streetlight—she noticed nothing. The curtain brushed her cheek. A breath of Virginia Slim frosted the window pane. She rubbed it away and drew another, again frosting the glass. Impatiently, she groaned at the window, sucked more smoke from the Slim, and rolled it between her manicured fingernails.
Her man for the night, one she didn't really care for, had not called to explain. Concerned, she drifted to the dresser and fussed at the reflection in the mirror while tracing an eyebrow with a fingertip. In this sort of weather, he should have closed the club earlier. With a sense of betrayal, she crushed the cigarette in a tray and faced the mirror again while removing zircons from her earlobes. She placed them in a box atop the dresser and poured an ounce of Beefeater into a rock glass, gulped it down, then again regarded her unhappy image. Pain returned. It was not the person she remembered from twenty years ago. Mascara and rouge no longer wiped away wrinkles. Years were passing and her nightly income was shrinking. She squeezed her thickening waist and felt like crying.
Choked with despair, she dug a small stack of yellowing photos from the dresser and waded through them. "Sam, you silly man," she addressed the one of her on the senator's knees, her arm around his neck, one of his hands where it should be. "You were the best—and no one was ever the wiser." She wiped a wet eye and returned to the dark window just as lights from an approaching vehicle brightened on the street.
Suddenly a dark car appeared through flurries, backed up a bit, then the doors on the passenger side opened. Two figures in top coats and fedoras pulled low over their faces bailed out, and in one motion they dislodged what appeared to be a smaller man from the back seat. Her man wasn't among them.
The car left as the three figures disappeared into the alley below. Had they seen her? Her heart pounded inside her breast. Gusts rattled the loose panes in the window. Below, metal fell against metal. Then the alley quieted. Parking lights returned. In the swirling snow the two coats reappeared and hurried into the dark car. It accelerated out of sight.
Pearl draped a knee-length coat around her shoulders and wrapped a scarf about her sculptured hairdo, then eased the door shut behind her as she went to the rail and looked down into the unlit hallway below. The sliver of light beneath the manager's door and the gun battle on TV indicated he was still awake.
She hurried down the creaking stairs and knocked. "Mister Acuff!"
Slippers shuffled toward the door. "Yes, Pearl," he answered as he opened it. There she stood in a coat over her black negligee. He lifted his hairy chest and scratched his potbelly. She wasn't impressed. "It's Pearl," he responded to a question somewhere behind him.
"Mister Acuff," she reported, relieved that a hit on her was just prevented. "You better check ... th ... alley." She pointed a polished nail at the side door. "There's a man out there. I ... I believe—well, you best take a look!"
Acuff's face cringed. He exhaled into hers; she coughed. "Okay, let me find the flashlight. The alley light is out, again." He returned and led her to the darkest end of the hall. Wind pulled the door from his grip and showered them with ice crystals. They hunched over, tightened their garments and braved the stoop beyond the door, Pearl at his heels.
His light searched the irregularities in the alley, all blanketed in white. Suddenly, the beam fell upon Tom's domain. He stood atop a can, his green eyes moving from them to a space between overturned cans. The two moved to the second and third steps. "Down there," she whispered. "It's Tom." Then, haltingly, garbled into his ear, "That's ... a school jacket!.
See the eagle on it. A school ... boy?"
"Shhh. Lower your voice," he whispered, "They might hear us."
"Who, Mister Acuff?"
Arlington, Virginia, after midnight: Senator Sam Stranton saw the rifle before it fired. The windshield shattered and something slammed into his chest. He reached for the handle and tried to open the door while a crowd of reporters and cameras watched his blood flow. He reached for help, but faces only gawked at him. Then a hand touched his.
"Sam, wake up!" a familiar voice pleaded. "Sam, wake up!"
He tried, but failed. In his state of mind he jumped to his feet.
Excerpted from CODE: TEAM ZEBRA by DALE GREENWELL. Copyright © 2013 Dale Greenwell. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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