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The Brazilian Amazon
Falcão checked the man’s cage every hour, on the hour.
He knew little about the man imprisoned inside, except that he was a very dangerous man that the people in charge wanted to break. He didn’t know why. He was only a guard, recruited by a Brazilian firm with a polysyllabic acronym for a name. He had been hired on a one-year contract to do security work at an off-the-books compound hidden somewhere deep within the Amazon rainforest.
He was not permitted to talk to the prisoner, except to give him basic orders—stand back from the door, stick your arms through the opening in the door, that sort of thing—the kind of commands that required no verbal response. Only obedience. Immediate and absolute obedience.
Even though it was rumored that the Americans were the real owners of the compound, he had never actually seen an American onsite during his six months there. At least not that he knew of, that is. Everyone he encountered at the camp spoke Portuguese and a few even spoke the native dialect of one of the various indigenous tribes that, until recently, were lost to the modern world, hidden deep within the thick, impenetrable jungle.
He assumed they were all Brazilians, but he really had no way of knowing short of asking, and idle questions were frowned upon. Seriously frowned upon.
The man in the cage looked like a wild animal. They had not allowed him, not even once, to shave or cut his hair during the entire time he had been held there. Eight months. The jailer couldn’t even tell the man’s age. He might have been in his thirties or he might have been in his fifties. He had no idea. The cramped cell made it difficult for the man to do much of anything except sit, stand, or lie down in a fetal position.
Even though he had seen the man at least ten times a day, every day, for the past six months, Falcão—pronounced fall-COW—probably would not be able to pick him out of a two-person police lineup if the man ever cut his hair or shaved. He suspected that was the whole point, that no one should ever know who the man was.
Still, Falcão could not help but wonder.
The prisoner’s hair was a light, mocha brown color, while his eyes were dark as coal. That matched him with about seventy-five percent of the population in the world. He did not get down on his knees to pray five times a day, so he probably wasn’t a Muslim. That at least eliminated a couple billion people from the mystery surrounding his identity…at least, he thought it did.
His long, filthy beard made it impossible to distinguish his facial features. He could be Asian, but Falcão didn’t really think so. No, the man was almost certainly a Westerner, whatever the heck that meant these days. Culture and ethnicity were not necessarily the same.
He had once walked in on one of the man’s interrogations, which was being conducted in Spanish, so he assumed the prisoner was either a Spaniard or a South American. Maybe even a Mexican or a Central American. He didn’t know for sure, though. He could even have been an American. He had heard that lots of people in the United States speak Spanish.
The only real distinguishable characteristic of the man in the cage was that he was tall, very tall, at least a foot taller than Falcão.
The man was sleeping, or at least pretending to sleep. He was curled up in a fetal position because the cramped bed of lice-infected straw was at least a foot too short to accommodate his lanky frame. His body faced away from the door, toward the cinderblock wall, his only movement coming from his steady, rhythmic breathing.
He glanced down at the luminescent dial on his cheap Chinese wristwatch. It was just past three in the morning and everyone else in the camp, perhaps even the other guards, was sound asleep. Everyone, apparently, except Falcão.
Who was this man? he wondered, and why is he being singled out for such harsh treatment?
There were only four prisoners currently in the compound, which had the space and staff to handle at least thirty people. One of the prisoners had died a few days earlier. Falcão and two of the other guards had buried the man’s body in a shallow grave about a hundred yards outside the compound fence.
Each of the other prisoners was permitted two hours a day of exercise time outdoors in the inner courtyard, one in the early morning and one in the late afternoon. They were given decent food to eat—basically, it was the same food the guards and the rest of the staff ate—and were permitted to bathe and shave once a week.
Not the tall man, though. He smelled worse than the wild animals Falcão encountered during his periodic hunting forays into the jungle in search of meat to eat. His body was almost certainly wracked with open sores underneath the filthy rags he wore.
Falcão angrily slapped his bare leg, killing an ant that had just inflicted an exceedingly painful bite. He hated all the bugs in this Godforsaken hell hole, but especially the ants.
During his first three or four months at the compound, he had not felt sorry for the mysterious prisoner. Only indifference. Gradually, that indifference turned to grudging admiration. Anyone who could so stoically endure the abuse and privation the tall man received must be a man of tremendous inner strength, he often thought to himself.
He began treating the man with kindness, or at least as much as he could get away with. Perhaps the absence of cruelty was a better description. Something in his gut told him that it might one day save his life.
After all, kindness begets kindness.
* * * * *
Treachery is the great equalizer and human beings, by their very nature, are treacherous animals. Nearly every great fortress that ever fell in battle throughout history had suffered betrayal from within.
The secret compound hidden deep within the Amazon was to be only the latest example.
It all started when the master control for the perimeter lights suddenly cut off. The thick tree canopy above prevented any light from the moon from penetrating, leaving the compound in total darkness. Pitch black. Three seconds later, a rocket-propelled grenade took out one of the guard towers, sending it up in a ball of flame that filled the compound in bright light. A moment later, a second RPG took out the second tower.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
Marco, one of the contracted security guards, silently opened the door to the staff dormitory—an open bay Quonset hut that contained ten bunkbeds—and tossed in a flash-bang grenade before quickly closing the door. Two seconds later, on the heels of the explosion, he burst through the door. His weapon on full-automatic, he sprayed the room with bullets, pausing only to nonchalantly switch out magazines.
Using the spotlight on his weapon, he quickly checked each of the seven bodies, firing a round into the head of each, just to make sure they were dead.
While that was going on, an unmarked UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter landed in an open clearing about fifty meters from the compound, kicking up debris and anything not tied down in the process. Eight men, each dressed in black, sprinted from the copter to the building where the prisoner was now sitting up on the bed inside his cage, his back pressed against the wall.
For the first time in six months, Falcão heard him speak, as the armed men burst through the door.
“Soy Fósforo,” he called out to them in Spanish. He pronounced it FOS-four-oh.
He looked down at the whimpering Falcão, who was now curled in a ball on the dirt floor, making sounds like a frightened animal.
“Pathetic, cowardly dog,” said the prisoner with disdain, spitting in the cowering guard’s direction before putting to rest the notion that kindness begets kindness. “Put him out of his misery…then get me the hell out of here.”
* * * * *
In a daring nighttime raid, a notorious Venezuelan terrorist is broken out of a remote prison compound deep in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. In the months following his escape, strange things begin to happen in Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana.
Selected as Finalist for 2021 Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion Award!
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