“So what, then?”

“You learn a lot about a person when she saves your life.”

Puller nodded. “I agree with you.” He glanced back through the gap in the shutter and then looked at Mecho.

“We can fire from up here. I count twenty guards. We have eight weapons among us, including an MP5.”

“We’ll miss some of them.”

“I just want to cut down on their numbers as quick as we can.”

Puller looked back through the gap and saw something he hadn’t picked up on before. Diego and Mateo sat in a comer of one of the crowded cages. A guard stood directly in front of them.

Puller told himself that that guard would be the first one he killed.

“So, fire through the gap or do we try to get in?” he asked.

Mecho shrugged. “If we had more than one gap, with multiple fire lines, then I would say yes to the gap, but we don’t.”

“So how about we shoot from the gap and we also break in and attack from down there?”

Mecho nodded approvingly. “I like that plan better.”

Puller said, “I say you, me, and Landry form the penetration team. Diaz and Carson provide cover from up

here. We’ll do the ingress through that doorway over there.” Puller pointed to his left. “Once we breach as stealthily as we can, we form a triangle attack. I’m point, you’re left, Landry right. We clear each section and keep moving. Any guards shooting into the cages get priority fire.”

Mecho nodded at this plan. “I like it. I think it will work. And after we have killed all the guards?”

“Not all. We need a couple to testify.”

“They will know nothing about Rojas or Lampert.”

“Still, on the off chance they do.”

“And the prisoners?”

“We’ll get them out as previously discussed.” Mecho checked his weapon. Puller handed him his M11.

“Fires straight and true,” he said.

“I will count on that,” said Mecho.

Puller hefted the MP5 and put it on two-shot bursts. He wasn’t going to do full auto. He had to manage his ammo carefully. And taking the time to switch out clips was problematic in the middle of what would undoubtedly turn into chaos. For luck, and a combat ritual of his, he tapped the Ranger Ka-Bar knife in its leather holster three times. It felt both odd and exhilarating to do it.

He saw that Mecho also had a knife stuck in his waistband. He assumed the man knew how to use it with maximum lethalness.

Puller called the women over and explained the plan to them.

“I’d prefer to go in the penetration team with you,” said Carson.

“You have the sniper rifle, General. I’m counting on you making good use of it.”

Puller looked at Diaz. She still looked nervous. “You going to be okay?”

She nodded but her features were not in agreement. “Still seasick,” she replied in a hollow tone.

Mecho put a big hand on her shoulder and looked directly at her. “No time for sick. Time to fight.”

She nodded.

Carson said, “Good luck.”

Puller glanced back at her. It might be the last time they saw each other; he didn’t know.

She said, “I know, it won’t be about luck.” “Actually, this time it’ll be a lot about luck.” He looked at Landry. “Round chambered?” “Always.”

He glanced at Mecho. “Good to go.”

He nodded.

The three headed down the metal stairs to the breach point.

CHAPTER 89

The opening assault went according to plan. The breach door was not locked.

Carson and Diaz had been instructed to lay down fire as soon as the door opened.

It did open, and they opened fire a millisecond later.

The guards were stunned by the attack, jumping to their feet, dropping cigarettes and beer cans and snatching up weapons.

By then of course it was too late.

Carson and Diaz took out five of them with the opening salvo.

Then Mecho and Puller hit them like an Abrams tank at full throttle.

They used their guns, their knives, their fists, and their legs.

Guard after guard dropped under their overwhelming attack.

They were an army of two.

Puller killed and moved on to the next target, a seamless flow of compartmentalized savagery.

Next to him Mecho was doing exactly the same thing, perhaps with a bit more savagery.

Precise gunfire rained down from above as Carson aimed and shot, aimed and shot, dropping guard after guard.

From below Mecho and Puller hammered the enemy relentlessly, shooting, stabbing, killing to such an extent that the superior force of guards was quickly turned into an inferior force through sheer terror.

That’s when things started to go wrong.

A round fired by a guard hit a vapor-filled fifty-gallon fuel tank and it ignited into a flame ball. Oxygen-fed, it flared to twenty feet high. Thick, toxic smoke engulfed the room.

The remaining guards, giving up all hope of defeating the invaders, started pumping rounds into the cages, dropping prisoner after prisoner.

Puller and Mecho did their best to shoot them down, but the smoke was making it difficult to find the right targets. The last thing Puller wanted to do was kill any of the prisoners.

Diaz and Carson’s vantage point from above was quickly turned to a disadvantage because of the smoke. They could no longer fire because they couldn’t see what they were firing at.

Mecho and Puller kept low and moved through the smoke and haze.

They killed what they could.

Puller reached the first cage, shot the lock off, and the prisoners started streaming out after Puller motioned to them to keep low.

Mecho did the same with another cage.

Puller next reached the cage where Diego and Mateo were.

Diego saw him and shouted, “Behind you!”

Without looking Puller whirled with his Ka- Bar in hand.

The guard fell forward with his throat cut, jugular to carotid.

Mateo saw this and started screaming.

Diego grabbed him and pulled him through the opening.

Puller snagged Diego by the arm. “Nice work on leaving your ring behind.”

“It was the only thing I could think to do.”

“You both okay?”

“Yes.”

“Go out the door we came through. Take the steps up. There are people up there who’ll help you.”

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