LAST MAN STANDING - Book No. 7 - "Black Ops Inc. "
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Joe Green was as good as dead. He’d known it the moment he’d started digging for answers to questions no one wanted asked.
What he hadn’t known was the havoc his hunt would create.
What he hadn’t wanted was for the priest to die.
“No, man. Oh no, man. You—”
“Quiet,” Joe snapped when Suah’s whisper echoed through the cavernous nave of the Sacred Heart Cathedral.
The teen-aged boy at his side was frozen in shock. On the cold stone floor, blood pooled beneath the holy man’s head, crept around the base of the chancel rail, then spilled down the step to the altar.
Joe dropped to a knee and pressed his fingers to the cleric’s neck. No pulse. And no life in the eyes that stared blankly at the stained glass windows.
Joe swallowed heavily. “Yeah. He’s dead.”
Regret, self-disgust and defeat pounded through his veins, a reminder that what he had started would come to no good end.
No good end? Jesus. The priest was dead. Ends didn’t come much worse than this.
He glanced up, beyond gold candlesticks on the high altar, above yards of maroon velvet cascading from an alcove that hosted a life-sized statue of a benevolent Christ. Pale candlelight flickered eerily through the church, casting his and Suah’s shadows in tall, wavy relief along the far wall, like ghosts already here to claim the priest’s soul.
He lowered his head into his hand. God help him … what had he done?
The thick wooden doors at the front of the cathedral swung open with a heavy, echoing thud. He whipped his head around to see several uniformed officers storm into the nave. The police – Freetown’s bastion of corrupt law enforcement – had arrived in force and put an end to any hope of a quick search of the cleric’s prostrate body.
“Hide before they spot you,” he whispered urgently when Suah stood there, petrified in fear. “Hurry! Duck under the high altar.”
He shot to his feet and gave the boy a shove as the contingent of gunmen raced down the center aisle between the rows of worn wooden pews. Satisfied that the kid was well hidden beneath the draping cloth, he made certain the men got a glimpse of him then sprinted for the sacristy, leading them away from Suah.
He got as far as the Epistle door and swung it open. The rattle of rifles being shouldered and the 'snick-click' of a dozen safeties switching to off position greeted him. The beams of as many flashlights blinded him.
He was surrounded.
“Hands in the air,” a voice shouted from behind him.
Slowly, he did as he was told. Slower still, he turned around … and stared into the dark, angry faces of the men who had passed the priest’s body to get to him.
Without warning, the butt end of an assault rifle swung around hard and slammed into his temple.
He fell to all fours, fighting both a screaming pain and the hard pull of unconsciousness. Yeah, he thought again, just before the darkness sucked him under. He was as good as dead.