A Cloak of Lies Ch. 12bySweetWitch©
"Camille, you should rest."
The words came from a great distance, prying into her thoughts as she stared at the awakening day. She was tired—having slept little in the night—and her body was wracked with pain. Leaning heavily against the window frame, all she could think of was how to get out and what Niko was doing.
She turned her head to see the sleepy-eyed Lorette gazing at her from a few feet away. The woman's face was a study of concern, pale and watchful.
"I think you should take one of these pills," Lorette said, holding the bottle out in front of her.
"No, thank you, Lorette," Camille said with a sigh. "I need to keep my head on straight."
"I'm worried about you. What are you looking at out there?" Lorette asked, taking a step closer.
"The sunrise. I've lost track of how long I've been here."
"Seems like I can't remember being anywhere else," Lorette returned. "I want to see my father."
Camille straightened with a grimace, turning to face the forlorn woman at her side. She laid a comforting hand on Lorette's arm, hoping the small gesture would alleviate some of her sadness.
"I know, honey. I want to see Niko again. I need to tell him how sorry I am. If only I'd listened..." Camille said, letting her voice trail off.
There was a soft knock at the door, interrupting whatever Lorette had been about to say. Olaf entered, carrying a large tray, laden with what was presumably to be their breakfast. Camille frowned, wondering what it was the man was doing there so early.
After setting the tray upon the table in the corner, he held a chair out, meeting Camille's eyes expectantly. His startling gaze compelled her to take the proffered seat, if a bit warily.
Once seated, she kept her eyes on him, wincing slightly at the pain that turning her neck caused. His gaze left her face briefly as he reached in front of her to lift the lid off a plate on the table. He shifted his gaze to her face and then pointedly back to the plate again.
Camille glanced down, expecting to find eggs or some other offensive breakfast food, but found only a few slices of melon, a small handgun and two loaded clips. Her head snapped up, a gasp escaping her lips when the man lowered the lid quietly over the plate once more. He gave her a warning look, one intended to silence any words that might have flown from her mouth.
She studied his face, searching for some sign of possible threat from him, but found only an earnest expression of determination. With a slight nod, she slipped her hand under the cover, removed the gun and hid it under her napkin. She did the same with each of the clips, wrapping the three items in the cloth. She covered the package with the folds of her nightgown while the butler shielded her, presumably from hidden cameras, with his body.
When Lorette looked as if she might question what was happening, Camille sent her a warning glance. Once satisfied with how she had hidden the weapon, Olaf stepped away from Camille, walking to the exit. He left the women alone, locking the door quietly behind him.
"Uh, Pavli..." Brick said, his voice uneasy.
Roused from his doze in the seat next to the goliath, Niko was instantly alert. The bright azure blue of the sky greeted him through the cockpit window. It took a moment for him to see what it was that had Brick on edge.
There was an aircraft off the starboard wing. Craning his neck, he could see another off the port wing.
"Just take it easy, Brick," Niko said. "You didn't expect to just land on the base without a military escort, did you?"
"I don't like it," Brick growled. "We're out-gunned."
"All we have to do is bring it in according to Hansen's directions."
They'd only been in the air for a half hour after leaving Illinois when Niko had radioed Hansen. Without a secure connection, Niko had spoken in code, hoping that the colonel would get the full picture of what he needed.
"I guess that proves the base is actually here," Brick growled, pulling back on the throttle.
Ignoring him, Niko turned to check on the passengers in the back. Bob Phelps glowered at him, his hands still shackled with his own handcuffs. Olan smirked, his fingers clutched around the grip of the gun in his lap.
Turning back to the front, Niko tried to catch a glimpse of the airfield he knew was below. Carved from the Alaskan wilderness, the base was one of the military's best-kept secrets, a place so covert that it didn't have a name.
"How much do you trust this colonel friend of yours," Brick asked for the fourth time since changing course for Alaska.
"With my life," Niko answered absently. "Stick to the flight plan and everything will be all right."
"I should have my head examined for letting you talk me into this shit, Pavli. I could be back on my mountain--"
"Staring at the walls and listening to that mangy wolf growl," Niko said, cutting him off. "Don't worry, Brick. You'll be well-compensated. Now shut up and land this thing."
Brick grunted his disdain, reducing altitude while watching his escort closely. Niko understood his edginess. There was little question that the two F-18's would shoot them down if they altered their course. One mistake and they would be a flaming memory.
The passengers were tossed in their seats as Brick set the Cessna down with his usual grace. Bob yelped when he conked his head on the window. Niko would have found some small satisfaction in the man's pain if not for the anxiety that grew with each passing moment. He only hoped that Hansen would come through for him.
All four passengers were escorted from their craft at gun point, herded into a nearby tin shack and left to await their fate. Armed guards were posted at both entries, leaving little doubt that they were all now in custody.
"Christ, Niko," a voice bellowed when the door flew open minutes later. "You better have a good explanation for your actions. There's a firing squad with your name on it."
"Colonel," Niko said, coming to attention. "Thank you for meeting us."
"Dispense with the formalities, agent," Colonel Hansen barked. "You're in shit up to your neck. The whole fucking country's out looking for you."
"I know," Niko replied, clenching his fists impatiently. "I wish I had time for explanations, but time is the one thing we don't have. We know where Oleander is."
"You better make time. I'm not scrambling an entire squadron on the word of a rogue operative. What's going on?"
"Squadron? Damn it, Hansen, we need more support than that. Oleander has an entire army at his disposal. Get on the horn. We need naval--"
"Niko, I can appreciate your sense of urgency, but I'm not going to authorize a full-scale operation because you got your wife in trouble. I expect a full debriefing."
"Christ," Niko hissed, dragging his hand through his hair. "They came for her, Colonel. They're trying to draw me out."
"Colonel, if I may," Olan said. "What Niko says is true. We know where to find this Oleander."
Having heard enough, Brick stalked toward the man in charge, looking as if he were ready to break someone.
"I'm through," he said. "Let me the fuck out of here. I've had enough."
"You'd be Marion Brickler," Hansen stated. "What's your part in all this?"
"I ain't got nothing to do with it. Pavli strong-armed me into helping, that's all. I'm done. I gotta get back to Rafe."
"Who's Rafe?" Hansen asked, eyeing Brick's size and wondering how anyone could strong-arm him into anything.
"That fucking wolf will handle his own," Niko shouted.
"Gentlemen," Bob Phelps interjected.
"Who the hell are you?" Hansen demanded.
"Enough!" Olan yelled. "Listen, Colonel. Years of agency work, hundreds of lives lost, will be worth nothing unless we move now. Oleander is holed up on an island. If we strike now, he won't be expecting it. Word gets out that we've been in contact with you and all's lost."
"All right, Jeffreys," Hansen said, folding his arms across his chest, "you seem to be the voice of reason here. Suppose you tell me what's going on and just where you and your partner have been the past couple of weeks."
Olan gave Hansen the abridged version of the events that had brought the small group to the base, leaving out more than a few details that he felt were unnecessary. Niko was reduced to pacing nervously while Brick and Bob glowered at him.
Finally, after Olan finished, Hansen took a moment to digest everything. Without uttering a word to the others, he left the shack. Niko grinned at his partner.
"Looks like we're in business," he said.
"What makes you so sure?" Brick demanded. "For all we know, he's gone off to order our last meal."
"Nope," Olan answered. "He left with his game face on. He's ordering the strike."
"Well, Phelps," Niko said, smirking, "looks like you're going to get that chance to prove yourself. Ever been in combat?"
"Do me a favor, Niko. When this is all over, go fuck yourself," Bob said.
The door opened again, admitting two large men in fatigues. They had shouldered their weapons, but looked no less threatening. The men escorted the four captives to another building where they were outfitted before being loaded onto one of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that would take their small force to a waiting vessel at sea. The lengthy flight delivered them to the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, which was well underway to Oleander's island. With the additional personnel aboard the ship and the other vessels in her flotilla, it looked as if they were going to war.
That's exactly what they were doing, Niko reminded himself as the helicopter settled on the deck. Brick looked as if he wanted to jump overboard when he left the aircraft, glancing around with his hand clutching the knife at his hip. Phelps, with his hands now free from the cuffs, was led away by two sailors, leaving Niko and Olan to contend with the increasingly agitated giant.
"What the fuck am I doing here?" Brick muttered to himself.
"Steady, big guy," Olan said. "Just pretend you're back in your military days on maneuvers. With any luck, we'll all get out of this with our balls intact."
"Shut the fuck up," Brick growled over the wind that buffeted them.
"Knock it off, both of you," Niko commanded.
A man in black fatigues approached them, saluting smartly as he snapped to attention. He led them to the captain's quarters where Colonel Hansen was already mapping a battle plan. Air reconnaissance was in route to the island strong hold. They awaited photos and reports of the flight crew's findings.
As they discussed scenarios, Brick paced like a caged tiger. Niko kept one eye on him while listening with growing alarm to what they military was planning. Finally unable to stand anymore, he broke into their discussion.
"You can't just go in there and bomb the hell out of them," he growled. "Camille would be the first to die."
"It's regrettable," Hansen said slowly, "but we have to make sure we stop Oleander, Niko. You know that. There's more at stake than one woman's life."
"She isn't just a woman," Niko said, a low hint of danger in his voice. "She's my wife! I mean to get her out of there."
"Out of the question," another man said, stepping into the room.
Hansen offered a quick salute before introducing the man to Niko, Olan and Brick.
"This is Admiral Jameson, gentlemen," he said. "He's in charge of this operation."
"I don't give a fuck if the President is in charge," Niko yelled. "I want my wife out of there before the first shot is fired."
"That would be counter-productive," Jameson said in a clipped, business-like tone. "Let's just keep our minds on the objective, shall we?"
"The objective," Niko countered, "is to get Camille out alive, goddammit. If not for her, you wouldn't even have this operation. She's a civilian, for Christ's sake."
"I've been well-briefed on how she was put in harm's way, Pavli," Jameson said. "That's what happens when you let your johnson do your thinking for you."
Olan and Brick both got to Niko at the same time, taking his arms before he had a chance to pound the good admiral into oblivion. As big as Brick was, he had a time trying to keep the snarling Niko under control, even with Olan's help.
It was Hansen who stepped up to take control of the situation, admonishing the admiral with a look and silencing Niko.
"Enough," he said, placing a hand on Niko's shoulder. "From what you've told me, Camille is a smart woman. She'll look after herself."
"Just give me two men and a head start," Niko said. "That's all I ask."
Hansen turned to look at Jameson, the latter offering a curt nod in response. Hansen barked orders at a soldier by the door, waiting for him to exit before facing Niko again.
"You'll have one hour once you hit land – no more than that. You understand?"
"Yeah," Niko replied.
"I'm sending a couple of SEALs with you-" Hansen began, only to be cut short by Olan.
"Hey, just a minute, pal," Olan said, stepping in front of Niko. "You're not figuring on leaving me out of this, are you?"
"I didn't want to speak for you, partner. You already took one bullet in this mess."
"And I lived. We started out together. We finish this together."
"Ah, hell," Brick growled from the other side of the room. "I'm in, too. You ain't leavin' me here with a bunch of pantywaist sailors. Besides, I wanna meet this wife of yours. She's gotta be a hell of a woman."
With a grim expression, Niko shook each man's hand in turn, his voice gruff to mask his emotions.
"You know I'll never forget it."
"Sirs," a young army captain said from the doorway. "Air reconnaissance is sending back photos. The satellite's in position now, too."
The men adjourned to the bridge where they finished their battle plans. The entire flotilla became a flurry of activity as the vessels were readied for the mission ahead. It would be at least another ten hours before they reached their objective, so Olan suggested to his partners that they all try to get some sleep. The night ahead would be a long one.
"Did you get any sleep?" Camille asked softly as she carefully pushed herself to her feet.
The two women had lain together on the bed, each trying to get much-needed rest as the late afternoon faded into evening. Camille's body ached in protest of each movement, her limbs stiff and her injured skin drawing tight.
"A little," Lorette whispered. "I'm so tired, Camille. I don't want to do this anymore. They're never going to let us out of here, are they?"
Camille felt a pang of anger at everything the poor woman had been through. If Oleander had not lopped off his family jewels himself, she would be very tempted to remove them with her own hands.
"No," Camille told her. "They have no intention of letting us go. That's why we have to be ready. The first time they slip up, you and I are out of here."
"How?" Lorette whispered, her eyes filling with tears. "How can we possibly escape? Even if we managed to get out of here, there's still an ocean full of sharks to deal with. We're going to die here."
"No, we're not," Camille snarled. "I have no intention of giving them the satisfaction. Just stay close to me, no matter what. When we get our chance, we'll run. If I know that husband of mine, he's probably on his way right now. He can be a nasty son-of-a-bitch. He'll come up with something."
"What if he can't find us?"
"He'll be here," Camille said with more conviction than she felt. "If not, we'll just have to find our own way out."
Glancing out the window, Lorette noticed the sliver of moon, already high in the sky. With a frown, she moved closer.
"I wonder what time it is," she said.
"Probably well past dinner time," Camille said. "I wonder where Olaf is. Seems to me he'd have brought some food by now."
"You hungry? How can you even think of food?"
"Yes, I'm hungry. Besides, we need to keep our strength up."
"I don't see how you have any strength left after what they did to you. You should be resting, not pacing the floor."
Camille stopped in mid-step, turning to give Lorette a pained smile. Reaching her arms up, she stretched her body slowly.
"Gotta loosen my muscles up. I'm stiff as a starched shirt."
"I still say you should be resting..."
Lorette fell silent at the sound of the lock turning in the door. Olaf entered bearing a tray draped in white cloth. He set the tray on the table, lifting the cloth to reveal sandwiches for the women. There was a strange light in his eyes when he lifted his gaze to Camille's face. Then he was gone.
"He gives me the creeps," Lorette whispered.
"Me, too," Camille admitted as she snatched a sandwich from the tray.
The sound of clinking metal caught her attention. There, on the plate where her sandwich had been, lay a single brass key. Before Lorette had a chance to see it, she snatched it up and stuffed it into a pocket. It seemed almost too convenient for the silent man to give her a key to the very door that held them prisoner.
She chewed on a bite of food, thinking about the strange, silent butler. He had given her a gun and now a key. It was almost as if he wanted her to try to escape. Was it a trap? Shaking her head, she stepped to the window, gazing through the glass and bars to the night beyond.
Far below on the ground, she could see men walking, making their rounds as they guarded Oleanders expansive home. Using the key to get out would serve no purpose. If by some miracle the women managed to get outside, they'd still have to contend with the guards, and then there was the matter of the ocean that surrounded the island.
"What are you thinking, Camille?" Lorette asked.
"I'm thinking of getting out. Lorette, you have to believe. We'll get out of here somehow."
There wasn't much light cast by the moon. Three men, their faces set in grim lines, crouched together next to an out-cropping of rock on an expansive, sandy beach. They were armed with a small knowledge of the terrain—thanks to satellite imagery and air reconnaissance—but little else other than the weapons at hand.
"I hope you got a plan, Pavli."
Brick's harsh whisper tore the air like a scream in the night. Olan winced visibly, once more checking the area with his night-vision goggles. Niko, for his part, looked completely unflustered.
"Yeah," Niko said. "I'm going in the front door."
"Have you lost your mind?" Olan asked, incredulous. "You won't even get to the door before they cut you down."
"How much time we got left?" Niko asked.
"Fifty-six minutes and counting."
"It's now or never," Niko said. He checked his weapon once more, then patted the small canvass bag he carried under his arm. "Ready?"
"No," the other two men said in unison.
"I'm going to circle around to the front. You guys run interference and stay back. I don't want them to know you're here."
"This is suicide," Olan muttered.
"We're wasting time," Niko retorted as he dodged to the shadow of the trees up ahead.
Brick growled before following. Olan charged after them, saying a silent prayer to any patron saint that might be listening. He had the feeling this would be the last time he saw his partner alive.
Brick had a nose for traps. He found the trip wires and landmines that littered the sparse path under them. There were cameras, too, but they managed to keep out of sight. Before long, they were hiding in the shadows of a clearing that surrounded a massive building.
"Jesus," Olan whispered. "You could fit half the Pentagon in that thing."
"Looks like a castle," Brick said. "All that's missing is the moat and fire-breathing dragons."
The three shrank farther back when two guards drew near. Not far behind them was another set of guards, following the same path. Olan counted no less than ten men in the towers that surrounded the building and at least eight more on the ground.