The Survivor by Cristin Harber

CHAPTER ONE



BEIRUT, LEBANON





“Ain’t love grand.” Hagan Carter crawled through the dank, dark crawl space beneath their target location, a wealthy family estate. “Or is that money?” The expected cobwebs and varmint droppings could’ve been in any subterranean passageway, but Hagan had hoped for a little less rat shit in the underbelly of this protected, affluent enclave.

His teammate, Chance, one of those happy-go-lucky newlyweds, snickered into his mic as he led the team. “I think that depends.”

“That’s what they all say,” Parker added from their Abu Dhabi headquarters. “Relationships are cyclical. In love one day, negotiating divorce settlements the next.”

“Wow, bro.” Liam brought up the rear of their underground assault. “You’re a little young to be so cynical, boy genius.”

“Maybe it’s a numbers game,” Hagan volunteered. “My mom wore a t-shirt once that said marriage was like a walk in Jurassic Park.”

“Man, that’s dark,” Liam snorted as laughter filtered from headquarters.

“The more I know about you, the more I see what went wrong,” Chance joked.

Hagan snickered, then added, “Once she wore a shirt for my dad that said, ‘I love you with all my boobs because they’re bigger than my heart.’” He shook his head. “Traumatized me for years.” The guys laughed again. “She’s big into t-shirts.” He made a mental note to send his mom a new shirt. Something snarky that his sister would get a kick out of as well.

“Gotta collect something,” Liam said.

“Like data,” Parker said. “The numbers never lie.” He shifted back to business. “You’ve reached the second marker. Check your position and confirm.”

Chance paused their team to take a measurement, and Hagan dropped onto his stomach. A red laser beam flicked on and burned green through his night-vision goggles. Chance radioed back and forth with headquarters. Hagan rolled to his side and pressed his back against the concrete crawlspace wall as a bead of sweat trickled down his back.

“Confirmed,” Chance finally relayed.

There had been concerns that their path might end at a cinder block dead end. Parts of Beirut lacked architectural records because buildings had been built on top of other buildings. Their target location was rumored to have been built during the Crusades, re-purposed during the Ottoman empire, and re-imagined into the estate that it was today when 1940s French architecture influenced the city.

Jared “Boss Man” Westin had summarized Parker’s architectural history lesson as an infinite possibility of problems. Hagan had already thought that of this job. Obstacles sprouted like weeds any time an international custody dispute resulted in an abduction. He knew Lebanon like the back of his hand, but this assignment made him feel like he was navigating a minefield.

“After the next piling,” Parker said, “the access point will be on the right.”

“Let’s move,” Liam muttered.

Their caravan continued at the pace of a hungover snail. The tight space narrowed like a concrete coffin grabbing for their weapons and gear. Dust and gravel rained on their backs. Their mics magnified every breath and grunt.

Finally, they passed the support pillar and made the turn. The passageway opened and gave them room to spread out. Sweat pooled on Hagan’s spine as he waited for Chance to confirm their coordinates.

After Chance gave Hagan a thumbs up, he removed the cutting tool from his vest. They waited for the go-ahead from headquarters. Hagan’s index finger tapped against the tool’s on/off toggle, ready to put the blade and lasers to work. It could melt through drywall and plaster and grind through structural reinforcements like rebar.

Hagan’s earpiece crackled with the communication from headquarters. “Aces, you’re a go.”

He powered the cutter and pressed the blade into the wall. Sparks jumped. Lasers smoked. Night vision goggles protected his eyes. He moved quickly and didn’t cross a stray line of rebar. After making a final pass, Hagan flicked off the power tool. The silence thundered as loud as the cutter had until Liam moved the pneumatic ram into position.

“Go,” Chance said.

Liam engaged the ram. With one strike, the outer wall shattered. A second strike exploded through the interior, where they hoped to find a basement laundry or utility room. But anything would be okay so long as it didn’t shoot or bite when they breached the building.