Zach Taylor Series, Vol. 2
by Spencer Dane
Zach is back! In Volume 2 of the Zach Taylor Adventure series, a legendary cache of Nazi white gold buried in a treasure ship, deep beneath the waters of the Caribbean, holds the key to a secret alliance between crime families in New York and Europe. When the daughter of Miami crime lord Don Carlos Santiago is kidnapped from her honeymoon retreat and held for one billion dollars ransom, there's only one man tough enough and brave enough to find the gold and rescue her—Zach Taylor.
ISBN 1-59431-721-6 Adventure / Suspense
First Electronic Edition, July 2008. Print edition scheduled for 2009.
Cover art © 2008 Vincent Scuro
Also available in RTF and HTML formats.
One year after the case of the Blue Diamonds
Along a secluded waterway about 125 miles northeast of Caracas, Venezuela, in the calm but forbidden waters surrounding Isla la Orchila, a moonless April night provided cover of darkness for a young man bent on catching fish. Seventeen year-old Fernando Martine enjoyed fishing after midnight on moonless nights. He didn't know why, but the fish just seemed to bite better late at night when the moon wasn't out and they always tasted better when he caught them in some forbidden place, like the waters surrounding Isla la Orchila.
Under the protection of the Venezuelan government and off limits to all but high-ranking military officers and the Venezuelan president, Isla la Orchila is the least known island of the southern Caribbean. This anonymity makes it ideal as a refuge for special guests who don't want to be found as well as those who are willing and able to pay significant compensation for the use of the presidential mansion. In return, they receive privacy the island's remote location provides as well as security, courtesy of the Government troops garrisoned there and the Armada patrol ships that keep tourists, curiosity seekers, and all but the most daring young fishermen away.
On this particular moonless night, the Armada patrol ship assigned to ensure security and privacy to the only special guests residing on Isla la Orchila--a newlywed couple from the United States on their honeymoon--mysteriously developed engine trouble and never left port.
Nevertheless, after a few hours of tossing his line in and slowly pulling it out, Fernando Martine heard the low rumble of what sounded like an Armada patrol ship in the distance.
Better to go home hungry than to stay here and end up in prison, he thought. He yanked his line out of the water one last time, grabbed the oars, turned his old wooden fishing boat around 180 degrees, and began rowing.
The sound grew closer.
He rowed faster.
The sound of the ship changed pitch. It grew louder and louder, as if it was searching for him.
Suddenly, there was dead silence, followed by a loud, horrifying, grinding roar as the ship's steel hull knifed through Fernando's boat, crushing it to bits.
Rico Slavik, forty, a tall, dark, lean and wiry Slovenian mercenary and known terrorist, stood on the deck of that ship, which was not an Armada patrol ship but a Cyclone-class vessel decommissioned by the US Navy in 1999, given to Argentina, and then sold four years later to Pennington Imports, the legitimate front for the illegitimate operations of the New York City-based Baldacci crime family. Re-christened Ignacio, after Don Ignacio Baldacci, head of the family, the ship had been refitted with the latest high-tech surveillance gear, weaponry, and countermeasures.
Removing the leather cap he wore more for style than out of necessity, Slavik ran his fingers through his thick black hair, which seemed even thicker due to the southern Caribbean's nighttime humidity. He placed the cap snugly back on his head, turning to Paul Petroni, thirty, who stood beside him.
"No witnesses," he said, spitting tobacco over the railing. His Slovenian accent was as thick as his biceps.
Petroni, a well-fed, stocky American from Jersey City, New Jersey, scanned the waters back and forth with the night vision scope of his silencer-equipped assault rifle. "I don't see anybody," he said. "And I don't think I'm going to." Although Slavik had been hired to run the mission, Petroni was a lieutenant in the Baldacci family organization and didn't like taking orders from a mercenary.
Pertroni took out a handkerchief and blew his nose. "I'm wasting my time out here and the humidity is killing my sinuses."
Slavik stepped away from the railing, turning to open a watertight door leading to the crew's quarters. Petroni's sinuses were none of his concern. "I said no witnesses," he repeated. "Keep looking among the pieces of boat." He ducked inside the ship, closing the door behind him.
Petroni shook his head in disgust, muttering to himself in a very bad impression of Slavik's accent. "Pieces of boat…all I see are pieces of boat…lots of pieces of boat."
In her cabin, professional assassin Antonia "Toni" Manzano, twenty-four, sat on a bed that had a very thin mattress and an even thinner blanket. She was cleaning, assembling, and checking the ammunition of her high-powered rifle, adjusting the sensitivity of its night vision scope to compensate for the lack of lunar illumination. As she heard footsteps from the hallway coming closer, she removed a .38 special from under her pillow, cocked the hammer, and aimed it in the direction of the sound.
There was a knock on the door.
"We go in five minutes."
She recognized the voice as Rico Slavik's, but didn't acknowledge. Having worked for the Baldacci's many, many times in the past, Toni didn't care who was in charge of a mission. She had her assignment and was being paid well. That's all that mattered to her. She put the pistol back under her pillow and returned to preparing her rifle.
A few hundred yards from the beach on Isla la Orchila, inside the master bedroom suite of the presidential mansion, newlywed Matthew Harrison Crawford, twenty-four, was sound asleep next to his bride, Valeria, the twenty-one year old daughter of Don Carlos Santiago, head of the Santiago crime family of Miami, Florida.
Valeria propped her head up with two plush satin pillows, having fallen asleep briefly but unable to stay asleep, her mind and spirit still reeling from recent events in her life. Indeed, it had been a tough twelve months, beginning with her decision to break away from her father's controlling influence, followed by the death of her trusted bodyguard and lifelong confidante, Olivia Porcelli, her father's apparent assassination, and finally her narrow escape from the murderous and ambitious Raul Carlona.
While news of Raul's death from an assassin's bullet on Isla Soana gave her a sense of satisfaction and relief, the revelation that her father's murder had been faked sent a wave of mixed emotions through her. Although she loved her father very much, the reason she left Miami was that she didn't want him to control her life any more.
However, her father was a very powerful and influential man with allies everywhere. Her greatest fear was that someday, without warning, Don Carlos would force her to return to Miami to the life she had so come to hate.
Naturally, her fears were offset by her love for Matt Crawford, a man she fell for deeply the day they met at her father's casino in Las Vegas. The fact that he was a fugitive on the run for a murder he didn't commit didn't matter to her. After he was caught, she used her influence on the district attorney in New York City to drop the case. As her love for him grew stronger every day, she knew in her heart that they were destined for a lifetime together--if only she could free herself from her father's grip.
She watched Matt turn slightly in his sleep. She could only wonder what it would be like to be totally free once and for all. It never occurred to her that, moments earlier, the presidential mansion's high-tech security system had been disabled, and that none of the security guards garrisoned there were even aware of it.
"Everything is ready," said Eric Gregory Mason, forty, the Ignacio's captain, verifying that the mansion's computer had accepted the coded signal rendering the security system virtually useless. "You could be standing right outside the door of the command center right now and they'd never know you were there."
Dressed entirely in black, Rico Slavik sipped plain hot tea from a glass, nodding his head in approval. Other than their encounter with the fishing boat, everything about this mission was, so far, proceeding according to plan.
With the engines stopped and the crew still lowering the anchor, the Ignacio bobbed heavily from side to side. Slavik was thankful he had taken his seasickness medicine. Noticing that the mercenary was shifting his feet back and forth as if trying to stay balanced, Captain Mason asked, "Are you alright?"
Slavik removed a leather pouch from his pocket, opened it, pinched a small wad of tobacco, and then placed it between his cheek and gum. "I will be fine."
Captain Mason nodded in acknowledgment. "The bobbing will stop as soon as all of the anchors are down." Almost immediately, a green light lit up on the Captain's control panel, and the ship's bobbing stopped. "They're ready for you on the dive deck."
Toni Manzano and Paul Petroni waited down in the crew lounge, the equipment they needed for their mission already on the dive deck. Slavik ducked his head through the doorway of the lounge, motioning for them to follow him.
Dressed in black wet suits, fins, and scuba tanks, they entered the water beside the Ignacio, emerging on the beach with all of their equipment intact a few short moments later. Immediately, they shed their wet suits, storing them together with their tanks and fins in the watertight containers that held their weapons. Now in black jump suits, ski masks, and night vision goggles, they quickly and silently negotiated the beach leading to the presidential mansion undetected.
At a palm tree approximately four hundred yards away, Toni donned black rubber gloves. Then, she lined up the guards positioned one in each tower at the corners of the compound in her high-powered rifle's scope, mentally calculating the order and timing of the shots she would need to neutralize them. In the process, she carefully adjusted the angle of her weapon to allow for wind and distance.
Slavik called up the floor plan of the presidential mansion he had memorized and mentally mapped out their path to the master bedroom. He motioned to Petroni to follow him. Arriving unnoticed at the mansion's back entrance, he pressed a button on his watch. Instantly, Toni received a go-ahead signal in her earpiece. She aimed and fired four shots at four targets in rapid succession, hitting her mark each time. The guards fell at their stations, dead. Instantly, she dropped her high-powered rifle into a hole she had dug in the sand, removing her rubber gloves and swiftly burying them together with the weapon.
Now it was Slavik's turn to receive a go-ahead signal in his earpiece from Toni. Immediately, he motioned for Petroni to open the door of the mansion's back entrance. It was breached with very little effort, the electronic lock having been disabled along with the security system.
Once inside the mansion, Slavik and Petroni quickly killed two more guards with silenced shots from their pistols. They made their way still undetected to the master bedroom suite, Slavik leading the way with Petroni covering their rear flank, panning their weapons back and forth looking for additional threats. They waited momentarily for Toni, who had covered the quarter-mile distance from the beach to their position in under ninety seconds and wasn't the least bit out of breath. She drew her handgun of choice--a .38 special--from her shoulder holster, attached a silencer, and signaled that she was ready. Slavik motioned for her to remain in the hallway, covering their rear. Toni nodded.
Behind the bedroom's closed door, Valeria continued to toss and turn, finally resigning herself to the fact that this would be another night with very little sleep.
"What's wrong?" asked Matt, awake now from his wife's tossing and turning. He rolled over in the bed and faced her.
"I can't sleep," replied Valeria, moving in closely and whispering softly in her husband's ear.
As she spoke, she couldn't resist running her tongue across his ear lobe.
"Now, I can't sleep," said Matt, wrapping his leg around her thigh, pulling her body closer to his. He could feel her heart pounding and she could feel his. They kissed each other gently with the tenderness of two people deeply in love. Matt felt the tension ooze out of her body.
Valeria purred, "Your kisses always are so soothing. I feel like I could nod off right now."
Matt chuckled to himself. "Oh, great," he said, his voice filled with mock indignation. "So, now my kisses put you to sleep?"
Before Valeria could reply, the bedroom door burst open. Slavik and Petroni, both aiming pistols, entered the room.