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23

Engines whined, then the misting rain became blue. Gadgets Schwarz looked up to see a small jet lift away from the mountaintop, the airstrip's blue lights reflecting from the underside of the wings and fuselage. He took the moment of artificial moonlight to check his work.

In order to prevent the cutting of the perimeter fence by intruders, security technicians had woven filaments through the chain link. Electric charges pulsing through the filaments allowed guards to remotely monitor the perimeter.

Working by the digital readout of his own monitor, Gadgets had clipped "jumpers" to each filament. He quickly checked each of three filaments, the first just below the soil, the second about a foot off the ground, the third about two feet up the fence. With plastic ties, he secured the three jump lines in a semicircular arch.

The mountaintop lights went black. Gadgets paused for his eyes to readjust to the darkness. A hundred meters away, security lights created a soft glow in the sky. A searchlight on a mechanical mount swept the cleared ground in automatic cycles. Above the brilliant beam, the shadowy outline of a guard tower stood against the night.

Though the storm had died away to drizzle and intermittent downpours, a slow wind pushed low clouds over the mountain. From time to time, clouds made luminescent by the lights enveloped the hillsides. Other times, darkness returned.

Gadgets waited until the light swept past, then put his wire cutters to the filaments. He watched the digital numbers and snipped the three filaments. The cuts did not interrupt the pulses.

With heavier snips, he cut a shoulder-wide hole through the fence. He snapped his fingers to Lyons and Blancanales.

His partners joined him. In whispers, they compared observations.

"Mines." Lyons pointed to the patterns of depressions in the shaggy grass. The earth over the antipersonnel devices had settled, exposing the location of every mine.

"Those will be no problem," Blancanales commented. He turned to Gadgets. "Are there others?"

"I'll go first with the detector." Gadgets told them. "But if anybody wanders off my path, it's all over."

Blancanales slid back through the brush. He hissed to the Lizco brothers and motioned them forward. The two brothers one on active duty with the government, one fighting the government joined Able Team at the fence.

"There, mines." Blancanales pointed to the depressions in the no-man's-land.

Captain Lizco, the guerrilla officer, laughed softly. "I have seen it before. We have a man who is very good at this. He will lead us through."

"I've got a metal detector," Gadgets told the captain.

"Very good. You lead, my man will mark the path."

The captain crawled back to his men. Gadgets slipped a vinyl case from his backpack. He assembled components and flicked on the power switch of a small, hand-held unit. Passing it near the fence, it clicked.

"Ready to go."

Guerrillas took positions along the chain link fence. Unslinging their autorifles, they prepared to cover the infiltrators. Gadgets whispered to the nearest man.

"No lo toquen ustedes fusiles," he cautioned, pointing to the fence. The guerrilla nodded and passed the warning down the line. No one touched the fence with his rifles.

The men with Galils snapped down the bipods. The men who carried rocket launchers moved close to the hole in the fence. In case of detection and a withdrawal-under-fire by the infiltrators, the rocketmen would put RPG warheads into the guard towers.

A guerrilla scurried to the North Americans. Like Gadgets, the Salvadoran carried a CAR-15. But instead of electronics, the guerrilla carried a spool of string and a bundle of short, sharpened sticks. Gadgets took the string and examined it closely. The string gave off a faint blue glow.

"Oh, wow," he murmured to his partners. "Ain't seen this since Nam. The People's Army used string and wire to guide their squads to assembly points outside the perimeter. Quien techa usted esto? Los Cubanos? Las Sandinistas?"

"Un norteamericano de los Fuerzas Especiales," the guerrilla answered. "Cuando yo fui en el ejercito."

"No wonder these guys are good," Gadgets said. "The U.S. Special Forces trained them. Vamos"

Gadgets led the way, waving the metal detector over the muddy earth. After knotting the string to the chain link, the guerrilla followed close behind the North American's boots. He jabbed a stick into the soil, then looped the string around the stick. The string marked the path through the mines.

The mechanical searchlight swept across the no-man's-land with the predictability of a lighthouse beam.

In the misting rain, Gadgets and the Salvadoran worked for a minute at a time, then went flat in the mud and weeds until the light passed over them. Soon, Lyons and Blancanales felt their hand-radios click.

Blancanales went first, following the glowing line of the string through the darkness. A few meters inside the fence, the path through the mines zigzagged, veering to the right, to the left, then to the right again. He saw the beam of the mechanical searchlight approaching.

He went flat. As the light swept over him, the diffuse glow illuminated the pattern of mines around him. He saw the shallow sinkhole of a mine only inches from his face. When the light passed, he continued, the line of faint light leading him quickly to another chain link fence.

Beyond the fence, they saw aircraft hangars. A concrete guardwalk curved away into the rain. The walkway crossed broken ground and lakes of muddy rainwater to circle the mountaintop. They saw no sentries pacing the areas between the hangars. From the guard tower fifty meters to the side, a radio played Latin dance rhythms.

Slipping out his Beretta, Blancanales covered Gadgets as he neutralized another line of electronic defense. Gadgets then left the guerrilla to cut the chain link while he went to another device.

In the gleam of the sweeping searchlight, Blancanales saw Gadgets snip wires, then jerk something from an upright pipe. Gadgets crept back to him.

"Guess what I got," he whispered, showing the flat object to his partner. "Might come in useful"

Blancanales touched the object's casing. He read the raised letters with his fingertips: FRONT TOWARD ENEMY.

A claymore. Blancanales felt a cut piece of wire trailing from an electrical fuse. Gadgets went to disarm another of the electrically triggered antipersonnel weapons. Designed for the defense of perimeters, a claymore sprayed hundreds of steel pellets to saturate a fifty-meter kill zone.

Gadgets returned with the second claymore. Blancanales saw him slip it in a thigh pocket. He realized his partner carried a claymore in each of his nightsuit pants' thigh pockets.

"Get rid of those!" Blancanales hissed. "They're fused!"

"Throw this good stuff away?" Gadgets laughed softly. "I got plans for these."

Blancanales let Gadgets continue in his work. He scanned the walkway and the darkness, the Beretta ready, while Gadgets and the Salvadoran pulled out a rectangle of chain link.

First signaling Lyons and the others, they went through the inner fence. Blancanales went flat on asphalt and braced his Beretta in both hands. He watched the expanse of roads and runway for sentries. Gadgets faced the opposite direction, watching the walkway and the windows of the guard tower. Nothing moved.

Behind them, exploiting the periods of darkness between the sweeps of the searchlight, the squad negotiated the mine field. They slipped through the chain link and formed a wide half circle.

Lyons came last. Black clad, his gear smeared with mud and grass, the narrow band of his exposed skin darkened with grease, he looked like soil in motion. He pointed to himself and Blancanales, then to the tower.

Blancanales shook his head no. He pointed to the center of the mountaintop military base. Lyons crawled close to his Puerto Rican partner.

"Straight in?" he asked in a whisper.

Blancanales paused. "Except that we can't expect to go out this way," he brooded. "This will probably be another Carl Lyons exit."

"No more crashes tonight for me."

"Are you okay?"

"I hurt. Oh, man, do I hurt."

"Too late to medevac."

"Did I ask for it?" Lyons glanced to the lights of the buildings. "If we can't take Quesada out alive, we snuff him, right?"

"Can't put a dead man on trial," warned Blancanales.

"You actually think Washington would let it go that far?" Lyons sneered. "He'd just get another ticket back to Salvador. The most I hope for is to put some questions to him. Everything else is dreaming..."

Lyons slithered away, his silent auto-Colt in his right hand. He paralleled the walkway, his left shoulder to the concrete. The cast concrete stood a few inches above the mud. He stopped when the mechanical searchlight approached, pressing himself against the edge of the walkway, becoming only a shadow. He gained a hundred meters, the squad following in a line behind him. They left the aircraft area.

Ahead, Lyons saw another chain link fence. Topped with concertina wire, the fence separated the airstrip from the main area of buildings. Lights bathed the fence in daylight bright glare. On high poles, videocameras scanned the area.

Two guards patrolled the fence. At the far side of the asphalt, several hundred meters away from where the infiltrators lay in the mud and shadows, the guards walked the fence with a Doberman. Lyons keyed his hand-radio.

"No quiet way through this."

"A diversion?" Blancanales suggested.

Gadgets broke in. "You guys want a diversion? It means we can't go out through those holes in the fences."

"We decided a silent exit is unlikely," Blancanales whispered through the radio.

"Who decided? No one told me that. I got an electronic backup squad prepositioned back there."

"What do you mean?" Blancanales asked.

"You want a diversion? Yes or no? I'll make that guard tower disappear!"

Lyons watched the sentries pace to the end of the fence. They turned. "Okay. Do it."

"Stand by for a big bang" Gadgets laughed.

The Doberman barked. On the far side of the hangars, another dog barked. In seconds, dogs barked and wailed everywhere in the darkness.

Behind the squad of North Americans and Salvadorans, a second searchlight blazed from the guard tower. A guard swept the searing xenon beam along the outer perimeter.

A flash. The guard tower disintegrated in a spray of glass and wood and flesh. Where there had been lights and a tower, only darkness remained.

Sirens screamed. Headlights appeared on the far side of the airstrip. A Land Cruiser raced across the runway, spotlights on its roof revolving to illuminate the darkness in slow circles.

Other headlights stopped at the interior security fence. A remote-controlled gate rolled aside for an open truck crowded with soldiers. Some wore yellow raincoats, other black slickers. Others wore only gray fatigues. One man stood on the passenger-side cab step. Holding on to the door, he buckled on web-gear as the truck raced to the attack.

Lyons braced his silenced auto-Colt in both hands.

He sighted on the nearest of two videocameras surveilling the gate. As the truck accelerated through the gate, Lyons squeezed off a shot. He heard the slug skip off the camera housing and whine into the night. He adjusted his aim, fired again. The slug smashed the camera. Then he destroyed the second camera.

Sighting on the electric motor controlling gate, Lyons smashed it again and again with slugs. The gate jammed open. He keyed his hand-radio.

"Politico! The lights with your Beretta."

A light went dark. One by one, the nearest lights broke. Lyons heard tires squeal on asphalt. He turned to see the Land Cruiser and troop truck brake to a stop at the hole in the fence. Gray uniformed soldiers crowded from the truck.

Then a flash wiped them away. The battered, windowless hulks of the Land Cruiser and the truck rocked on their springs, surrounded by ruptured, smoldering flesh. Screams rose from the dismembered.

Blancanales sighted his M-16/M-203 and fired a high-explosive 40mm frag. The shell popped in the midst of the wreckage, gasoline flashing. The fireball rose into the darkness.

Lyons shouted out, "The gate!"

Other voices shouted in Spanish. Moving in one rush, the fourteen men sprinted through the flame-lit night.


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