The sun began to set on a beautiful spring day, the kind that gave Ricochet energy to do just about anything. If he lived a normal life he probably would have been hauling mulch and spreading it around a meticulously manicured yard. Or perhaps out washing and waxing his jet-black sports car, if he owned one. But he didn’t live a normal life. Instead, his energy was placed elsewhere.
His day started out routinely. He arrived at W&S Incorporated ready to put some newbie recruits Walt Cannon had found through their paces. Twenty minutes into PT he was called away and rushed to Cannon’s office where he met up with the rest of his team. Within the hour they were packed and flying out on a new mission.
Now he sat atop an old, crumbling, cinder block building in the middle of only God knew where. Thick woods consisting of cypress and heavy underbrush surrounded by a field approximately one acre in size. Strategically positioned throughout the field were metal targets cut to resemble people, rusty cars, and trenches for armed men to hide in. Just along the tree line, half in the woods, half out, was the building he picked to hide in.
He knew as soon as his boss Cannon briefed them about the situation that this would be a mission to remember—at least for him anyway. He’d heard of these backwoods militia groups who wanted to overrun the government and inflict their own brand of freedom on the country, but never thought he’d meet face to face with one. Yet here he was. This group was particularly slimy. Their idea of freedom was for a select group of people, him not included.
A wicked grin spread across his lips. Wouldn’t it be a moment to remember when they saw his fine black face behind the scope of his rifle, or when his hands touched them as he jerked the zip tie nice and tight on their wrists? He reached down and tapped the side pocket on his pants making sure his duct tape was still there. It would come in handy if their mouths got out of hand.
Sad that in a world so advanced with technology it would be used against people of different races, he thought to himself. When would people learn that beneath the surface everyone was the same? Oh well, he thought, they were the ones missing out.
So he spent the first beautiful day of spring strategizing with his team on how to bring down this scourge. Only problem was, an outsider had been brought into the mix. From the intel gathered, his team knew there was a woman on the premises, or would be soon, who this particular group had a problem with. Their goal was to make an example of her. It was up to the team to bring her back alive and dismantle the militia so the feds could step in and reap the glory.
“Ricochet, you still with us?” Sam asked.
“Affirmative,” he answered into his mike. “Would I be goin’ anywhere?”
“Just making sure you’re still awake.”
“Oh baby doll, I’m awake and ready to party.” He looked through his scope to see if he could find her. As usual, she was buried deep somewhere on the compound and wouldn’t be found.
She was his favorite black ops operative, Black Smoke, known to the world as Samantha Wells Lowe. She could put herself anywhere she liked and never be found, not to mention take down beefy Russian bodyguards, Taliban members and terrorists, yet be thrown off her groove by a seven year old.
When he first met Sam he knew she was special. That first day on the training field at W&S told him everything he needed to know about her. Trained since she was a child and guided by the unseen, who could ask for more in a teammate? And didn’t she catch the eye of his longtime buddy Mark—Kong—Lowe. Poor sap didn’t know what hit him when she launched herself across the tent and took him down with a few jabs to the gut and face. Ah yeah, it was love from there on. Too bad Kong didn’t know how to love, back then. They almost lost her from that whole mess. It only took her being held captive by terrorists and nearly losing her life for him to realize he loved her.
But things worked out. Two months ago, in a small, private ceremony, Kong and Black Smoke joined their lives officially. She looked like an angel in her simple, straight, white gown with tiny little flowers in her hair. Sam’s uncle Walt gave her away and Ricochet and Boomer stood as best men. The love of Boomer’s life, Hannah, stood as bridesmaid while her daughter Raya did double duty carrying the flowers and the rings.
Ricochet chuckled to himself. Big old Boomer had found himself a family and was happier than he’d ever seen him. The man walked around with a permanent smile on his face. He even carried pictures of Raya in his wallet. It was a rough start for him and Hannah but things smoothed out eventually. There was the whole trust issue for Boomer, otherwise known as Ben Campbell. Women weren’t to be trusted as far as he was concerned. Then he met Hannah and his feelings were confirmed. Letting those two hard heads work it out on their own was the best thing that could have happened. Although Ricochet was sure Sam might have played a small part in it, but she wasn’t telling.
“Talk to me,” he responded to Kong.
“Make sure you don’t go to sleep up there. We have a least another hour before they start showing up.”
“Don’t you worry about me. I’ll be ready.”
Yep, these six people had become his extended family, Sam, Kong, Boomer, Hannah, Raya and Walt. Growing up in the city he never thought he’d be so blessed with so many great people in his life. He was happy for them, happy they all found each other, but not the least bit jealous.
He liked being single, coming and going as he pleased, never having to call and check in with anyone. The single life was for him. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the ladies. In fact, he loved the ladies, short ones, tall ones, skinny ones and voluptuous ones, light, dark, it didn’t matter to him. They were all God’s blessing to man and he intended to get his fill. He just couldn’t understand being with the same one day after day. Not when there was a smorgasbord of tasty treats to be tried.
Of course, his moms didn’t agree with his thinking. She wanted grandchildren and him playing around with a harem wasn’t the way she was going to get them. A fact she reminded him of every two weeks when she called.
“Hey, Rico, not that I don’t have complete faith in you, but watch your ass, okay.” Boomer’s voice rumbled over the radio into his ear.
He knew what his friend was saying. He’d be target number one for these nut cases. “This bein’ in love thing made y’all soft, ya know that? Since when do you worry about ole Ricochet? I know my job.”
“Yeah, ya do,” Boomer replied. “I’m just saying.”
“Ditto, Ricochet. These people have a completely different agenda, they won’t hesitate letting one of us go in exchange for you,” Sam chimed in.
“Pfttt. I got somethin’ they ain’t got.”
“What’s that?” Kong asked.
“I got you guys, not to mention Sam’s otherworldly advice.”
Laughter howled over the radio.
“You just make sure you mind that advice when I give it to you,” Sam said chuckling.
“Always do, baby doll, always do.” He looked through his scope and caught movement across the field. “Heads up. We got a player on the field.”
“Location?” Kong asked in his serious voice.
“That little shack over from the old rusted convertible.”
“Got it,” Sam responded. “You see any others?”
“I’m gonna go take a look. If he’s alone, I’ll disable the target and hide him.”
“You come across any others, Smoke, you back off. They may have decided to gather earlier than thought.”
Ricochet watched closely with his eye pressed against his scope. The target was carrying things into the shed, oblivious to the fact that he was being watched. From what Ricochet could see, large amounts of ammunition were being stockpiled inside the shed. When the target was finished, he walked behind the rickety building and dragged out a cage, four foot by four foot, sliding it across the ground to the middle of the field.
“What’s that all about?” he muttered into his radio.
“My guess is that’s where the hostage is going to be positioned,” Kong replied.
“Bastards,” Boomer rumbled.
“Roger that,” Rico replied. “Not sure I like the way this is goin’.”
“You and me both, buddy. Keep your eye out for Smoke.”
Kong no sooner said the words when the target dropped out of sight. He could see the grass folding and swaying down the field. Once, just once, he saw the target’s feet bounce up in the air.
“She got ’im,” he said into his radio. “He’s down for the count.”
“Where you taking him, Smoke?” Kong asked.
“There’s a nice big tree I found that will swallow him up with its roots. No one will find him,” she huffed into the radio.
“Make it quick, Smoke. The field’s fillin’ up.” Ricochet could see dust clouds from the dirt road rise above the trees. “Party’s startin’ early.”
One by one cars filed into the field. As they parked, the occupants exited and then stood next to their vehicles. Ricochet couldn’t help notice the diversity of members. Some wore suits like they had just come from an office. Others wore ripped blue jeans and T-shirts. All carried a superior look about them.
“What they waitin’ on?” he muttered in the radio.
“Not sure but don’t do anything until we’re sure we have them all here,” Kong ordered. “I don’t want any surprises.”
A big shiny silver SUV emerged from the dirt road and pulled past the other vehicles to the middle of the field. Ricochet pressed his eye closer to the scope for a better look. The passenger door opened and a cheer went up filling the air. Stepping out of the vehicle was a thin, frail, older man dressed in an expensive-looking suit. He stood looking over his followers and then raised his hand in the air to quiet them.
“Must be the big cheese,” Boomer grumbled.
“Looks more like a mouse to me,” Sam sniped.
The man reached inside the SUV and pulled out a bullhorn.
“Nice of him to make sure we can hear what he’s saying,” Kong whispered. “Although feds have the place wired.”
“My fellow Americans,” the man’s voice bellowed in the air.
“Give me a break,” Ricochet snorted.
“Today is the first step of our true freedom,” the man continued. “Today the country will see how serious we are about taking back our country. No more will we stand by and allow our liberties to be cast aside for those who look to live from our hard labor.”
A loud cheer filled the air.
“Hey, Kong, you think you oughta call in some backup on this one? The numbers I’m not worried about, the attitude is volatile. No tellin’ what they’re capable of,” Ricochet said.
“Yeah, it’s looking like we might need some help. Boomer’s gas won’t do any good in the open like this.”
“Not to worry,” Boomer interjected. “I have a new toy. Give me ten and I’ll have it set up.”
“Will it work in the open?” Sam questioned.
“Best place for it. Just hold your ears when I tell you to.”
“Roger that,” Kong responded.
“Only pure Americans deserve this land,” the leader shouted working his people into a frenzy. “Purity is what will keep us the great power we are. Purifying our land that our forefathers fought, bled and died for must begin. No more will we allow those of non-white descent to foul our soil.”
Cheers echoed through the open field and trees. Guns fired into the air and Ricochet’s stomach turned. His finger twitched on the trigger. The crosshairs of his scope were fixed on the back of the man’s head. All it would take is the retraction of his forefinger and nothing would come from this man’s mouth ever again. His racist attitude would cease.
“No, Ricochet,” Sam said into the radio. “It’s not our place.”
He froze, his blood coursing through his veins so fast it roared in his ears. He didn’t need to ask. He knew exactly how she knew. Embarrassment rolled through his system. He’d been so angry at the man’s words he’d almost exacted his own justice on him.
“You okay, Rico?” Kong asked.
“Am now. Thanks, Smoke.”
“You wouldn’t have done it. You just needed your attention back on the task,” she said with confidence.
“Today we start purifying and show the world how serious we are. Are you ready?” the man yelled.
His answer was a resounding yes shouted from the crowd. A large man in jeans and a blue T-shirt with no sleeves exited the back of the SUV. He reached in and yanked a young woman from the back seat. Ricochet scanned her quickly. Her straight, long, black hair was pulled back into a ponytail that hung down the middle of her back. Her light-chocolate-colored arms were bound behind her. The dark green blouse she wore was ripped and tattered.
“She put up a fight,” Ricochet muttered to himself.
“Look alive, team,” Kong ordered.
“This insignificant wart on society,” the man said, pulling her toward him and shoving her to the ground, “will serve as an example. The first to die in our war.”
Another round of cheers floated through the air. The old man reached out, struck her across the face and then turned and walked away. Big hulky guy snagged her arm, struck her himself and dragged her to the cage. Ricochet watched as he stuffed her into it and placed a padlock on the door.
What were they waiting for? he thought. The crowd disbanded, groups of men going off into different directions. They seemed to be ignoring her.
“Smoke, what do you see?” Kong asked.
“Master mouse and his goons are making their way to that ratty tool shed. Heads up, Rico, it looks like you’re gonna have company.”
“Got ’em. Two bogies headed this way.” Ricochet settled his scope on the two approaching. They seemed to be in deep conversation.
“Rico, if you can take them down once they’re inside without anyone noticing, do it.”
“Roger that.” He waited until they got to the door and shimmied down the side of the building on his rope. He could hear them talking about how much fun they were going to have with the female degenerate before ending her worthless life.
His blood boiled with anger. They hated a woman they knew nothing about simply because of the color of her skin. Never mind that she was a helpless female against a group of burly men. He crept in through the door and crouched in a dark corner surveying the situation. If he could get them separated he’d have no trouble taking them down.
“I’ll go get the gasoline, you get the pitch forks and tools,” one said to the other.
Ricochet sat tight until they separated and then he made his move. On light, silent feet he snuck up behind the closest man. His muscles bunched tight and then released, bringing the butt of his rifle down on the back of the man’s head. There was no teetering or wavering, the target simply dropped with a thud to the floor.
He dragged the limp body off to a shadowy corner and made his way through the building to find target number two. As he crept his way toward the man with his back turned he hoisted his rifle in the air. He was just about to bring it down when the target turned and struck him with a heavy can of gas. Ricochet flew backward and landed on his back.
Years of training kicked in. He rolled back, kicked his powerful legs up and out and popped up on his feet. The target swung the heavy can again, Ricochet blocked it, swooping his rifle around and slamming it into the can. The slosh of the fuel inside knocked it off balance and sent it sailing through the air. He took his opportunity and brought the butt of the gun up under the target’s chin.
The crack of his jawbone reverberated through Rico’s arm. He thought that would be it, the man would go down. The jab to his ribs told him differently. Pain shot through his body like a bullet and slowed him for only a second. He countered with another rifle butt to the temple.
The man wobbled back and forth as his eyes rolled back in his head. Ricochet reached out and poked him in the chest with his finger, sending him to the ground.
“That’s what I thought, you sorry…”
Kong’s voice cut its way through the fog of anger in his head. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and took a deep breath. “Targets down. Still need to secure.”
“Let us know when you do. My guess is they’ll be missed shortly.”
“Roger that,” he answered, securing the target’s hands. It took him under five minutes to tie both men and tuck them away safe and sound. Just for extra measure he pulled out his duct tape and slapped a piece across each of their mouths.
“Targets secured,” he reported.
“Don’t bother going back up top. Find a closer place to hunker down. Things are going to break loose fast.”
“Situation?” he asked heading back outside.
“They’re gathering again.”
“Boomer got that secret weapon up yet?”
“Affirmative. Make sure you cover your ears when I tell ya. It’ll disorient you if ya don’t. I’ve got it aimed toward the cage,” Boomer told them.
“Won’t that affect the hostage?”
“It will but she won’t be harmed.”
“Okay, Boomer, what ever you say. My faith’s in you, man.”
“What is this gizmo anyway, Boomer?” Sam asked.
A mixture of pleased and evil chuckles sounded in Rico’s earpiece. Boomer always loved his toys.
The radio was quiet for a few seconds, everyone waiting for a further explanation. When one didn’t come, Ricochet asked. “Come on, man, explain. What about sound waves?”
“A very loud high-pitched sound will shoot their way. Given a few seconds it’ll mess with their heads. Confuse, disorient and eventually send them back away from the source.”
“A dog whistle? You gonna blast ’em with a dog whistle?”
“Something like that.”
“Hey, Boomer, we don’t want them running off. We want to take them into custody,” Kong said.
“Yeah, we can do that. One of us frees the hostage while the other three sneak in and take advantage of the dazed targets. I figure Smoke will be good at that since she can sneak up on God himself. You’ll be surprised how easily most of them will go down.”
“I’ll take the hostage,” Ricochet said. “She may be spooked by a white face at this point. I’ll get her out and head to the extraction point.”
“Don’t go too far, Rico, we may need your support. This isn’t like gas, it won’t reach all of them right away,” Boomer informed him.
“Roger that. I’ll stash the hostage and return.”
“Feds are waiting for word to move in. We get half of the targets down I’ll call them in. Get your plans firmly in your head and be ready to move. We wait for Boomer’s go,” Kong ordered.
Ricochet drew a mental line between him and the cage that held the hostage. He planned out what he would tell her so she wouldn’t panic and how he’d remove the padlock. Depending on what was restraining her hands, he’d remove the restraints and then they’d be on their way. He could stash her behind the cinder block building under some brush and return to help the team.
He checked to make sure his extra firearm was secure and then moved it for easier access into the waistband of his pants. Being preoccupied left him vulnerable to attack.
“We’re on alert, team,” Sam whispered into her mike. “They’re gathering in a circle around the hostage. They’re missing the two targets Rico took down, too.”
Ricochet set his sight on the crowd. Each man held rocks in his hands as they taunted the woman inside the cage with vile words. His anger flared and his mind processed the situation. The bars on the cage weren’t wide enough for the rocks to make it through. That meant their intentions were to terrify her.
Slightly moving his scope to the right brought the hostage into view. He could only see her back but it was board straight and her head was held high. Her hands were fisted behind her back like she was ready to take the people on. A strong front for someone facing their death, he thought to himself. He bet that tough exterior would crumble when he pulled her out of there.
“I’m moving in closer,” Sam whispered.
“Be careful, Smoke. We don’t want any tip-offs,” Kong told her.
Ricochet laughed when he heard a rude noise as her response. Telling Smoke not to let anyone see her was like telling a snake to slither. It just came naturally.
One of the men raised his hand, when he dropped it a barrage of rocks hurled through the air clanging against the metal bars of the cage. Rico clenched his jaw and watched. His finger twitched to pull the trigger of his rifle. He knew he had to wait for Boomer’s go but it was getting harder by the second.
One of the men lifted a long pole from the ground and began poking it through the bars at her. Ricochet’s body tensed, ready to spring into action. Her quick side-to-side movements kept the pole from making contact.
“We gonna move anytime soon?” he snarled into the radio.
“Wait for it,” Boomer said in his deep rumbling voice. “Wait for it.”
He could hear a high-pitched whine over the radio. It started out low and grew in intensity until it screamed. Suddenly it stopped.
“Move,” Boomer growled.
In that same second two men standing directly in front of the cage dropped to the ground. The others looked at each other with confused faces. He could tell when the sound wave rolled over the crowd. They all pressed their hands to their ears while their faces grimaced. Several turned and tried to flee but dropped out of sight before they made it too far.
Ricochet darted across the field toward the cage. He kept himself as low to the ground as he possibly could. No one seemed to notice him approach. He spared a glance at the hostage. She had dropped to the cage floor, her head lowered and her shoulders pulled high to her ears.
The annoying high pitched scream began affecting him. Before proceeding he stopped, fell to the ground, reached inside his pants pocket and pulled out ear plugs. He quickly stuffed them into his ears and then proceeded forward. He wouldn’t do her any good if he too was disabled by the high-pitched sound waves.
He continued weaving around metal targets until he reached the circle of men surrounding the cage. A glance around told him Boomer, Kong and Smoke had their hands full. Boomer was currently fighting hand-to-hand with two staggering men. Kong was busy restraining hands and feet of three more and he really wasn’t sure where Smoke was, but he had an idea when another man slipped into the high grass.
With the hostage still secure in the cage there was no reason he couldn’t take down a few himself. The first two went easily. A quick blow to the back of the head and they were down. The high-pitched sound was beginning to seep past his earplugs but while he jammed them in further it gave another target time to strike at him.
The blow to his back was weak, doing no damage. When he turned the man struck out again and making weak contact with his face. Again no damage was done. Ricochet looked into his eyes and laughed. The way they were rolling around inside his head it was a wonder he’d actually made contact.
“Hey, buddy,” Rico barked in his face. “You can’t do any better than that, don’t bother me.”
The man swung once more teetered and then fell to the ground. Ricochet just looked down at him, shook his head in disgust and then pulled zip ties from his pocket and bound the man’s wrists and ankles. He took another glance at the hostage. She was still sitting in the cage with her head hanging low.
“Ricochet, get her out. We can handle the rest,” Kong ordered.
Wasting no time, he jogged over to the cage. A gunshot rang through the air, the bullet bouncing off one of the bars. He dropped to his knees, pulled his rifle up and searched for the source.
“Where’d that come from?” Boomer yelled into the radio.
“Not sure but it was too damn close,” Rico responded.
Another shot fired hitting the ground in front of him. “Find that shooter,” he growled. “Smoke, a little of your brand of help would be good about now.”
“It’s the old man,” she huffed into her radio. “Give me three seconds and I’ll find him.”
Another bullet whizzed past his face. He could feel the brush of air as it passed. “Don’t have three, Smoke. He’s serious and a damn good shot.” Ricochet turned toward the cage. “Hey, get down flat on the floor. Don’t lift your head,” he shouted at the woman. He wasn’t sure she could hear him or if she could hear, whether she would be able to understand what he was saying.
Without hesitation, she threw herself forward on the floor of the cage.
“Don’t move until I tell ya to,” he yelled.
He aimed his rifle at the padlock and fired. Sparks flew, the hunk of metal jumped and smoke drifted from the entry hole. He took the butt of his rifle and hammered at the lock until it released. Another bullet skimmed by his leg slicing the material of his pants.
“Whoa, he’s getting closer. Smoke, you got a bead on him yet?”
“Working on it.”
He knelt down, inspected the rope used to tie the woman’s hands and then pulled his knife from the holder around his calf. “Hold still, I don’t want to cut you,” he shouted to the woman.
She was so still he worried if one of the stray bullets had found its way to her. As soon as the rope was severed she bolted up shoving Ricochet off to the side. When she turned and looked at him he knew exactly what she was doing. Unfortunately, he didn’t react in time. She reached out, jerked his backup gun from his waistline and pointed it straight at his face.
“That’s some way to thank a person,” he said holding his hands up. So much for the tough exterior crumbling.
She raised the gun a hair and fired.
“What the…” A loud thud sounded behind him, he turned his head and found one of the militia men slumped against the bars, blood trickling from his forehead.
“Damn, woman. Good shot. Now if ya don’t mind, let’s get the hell outta here.”
He picked up his rifle and tried to retrieve his hand gun from her. When she stuck it behind her back and smiled he figured what the hell. If she was that good a shot she might as well keep it. A bullet passed between them, pinging off the metal bars.
“I don’t know about you but I’ve had enough of this shit,” she said, turning and leaving the cage.
Hot on her heels, he exited the small prison and followed her into the fray.
“Hey, I need to get you outta here.”
“I’m not going anywhere until every one of these bastards is down,” she shouted at him. “And what the hell is that sound?”
One of the few standing men ran straight for them. From the corner of his eye he could see her raise her gun and point it at him. He brought his arm down across hers, lowering the gun.
“No. He isn’t armed.”
The man barreled into him. Ricochet gave him a headbutt, a quick jab to the stomach and brought his knee up into his face when he bent forward. He dropped to the ground in a heap.
“No need to shoot an unarmed man,” he said winking at her.
“Yeah, well, that one’s armed.” She used her body to shove him away, took aim and fired.
When he turned and looked, the large man who had dragged her from the SUV was lying on the ground, a rifle lay across his chest.
“Okay, next one just wing.”
As far as he could see there were only a handful of men left standing.
“Hostage secure, Ricochet?” Kong asked over the radio.
He looked her up and down. “Secure as she’s gonna get.”
“Then help us wrap this up.”
“Look I need to finish up here. Go back to that cinder block building and wait.” He told her.
“Like hell I will.”
With that she headed to the closest target. He followed. Without any hesitation she charged the dazed man, popped him in the mouth, then in the stomach and brought her knee up into his groin. The poor sap dropped like a fly. Ricochet knelt down and bound his hands and feet. When he looked up she was on to number two.
“Hey, leave one for me,” he shouted. Then he noticed the high-pitched sound wave was affecting her.
When she swung at the man she missed, stumbling and falling into him. The man slurred a hateful comment and then fell backward with her on top. Ricochet ran toward them, pushed her off and secured him.
“Don’t feel so good,” she said, then flopped on her back.