Part One: Raw Edge of Danger
Home of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, the Lightning hockey team, the Buccaneers football team, the Gasparilla Festival, palm trees, oppressive heat, and the fucking lovebugs.
Fucking lovebugs. If anyone ever found a way to eradicate the damn pests, Grey Holden had no doubt they could be president or anything else they wanted. Not the climate a native of Montana would have chosen for his headquarters. But the choice had not been his. Circumstances called the shots on this one.
Of course, if he happened to have a boat, there was the beautiful waterfront. Not to mention the myriad of excellent restaurants with more varieties of food than he'd seen in most other places. And it was easy on the eyes to see women in skimpy outfits rather than jeans and sweatshirts. Not that it mattered, since he wasn't even spending much time looking. He had other things on his mind, things that had brought him to this, a community he'd learned contained the most expensive real estate in Tampa.
But none of these things were on his immediate horizon. Grey had a single focus, a mission for a team of one—himself. Until that was completed, he couldn't let himself be distracted by any of the things the Tampa Bay area had to offer, tempting as they were. He knew how dangerous diversions could be.
His target was Senator Drake Bostic, the man he knew to be responsible for hundreds of thousands of weapons sold to terrorists throughout the world. The weapons used the night his team had been trapped and his best friend killed. Nailing him was what had brought Grey to this city, and his time since his arrival had been spent gathering the equipment he'd need and tracking his prey. By this point, he even knew how many times a day the man took a leak.
Today, he was scoping out Tanglewood, the very upscale community where Bostic had his home, and checking out the security situation. The guards at the gate paid attention, but Grey had known exactly how to get around that. Phony identification was as easy to come by in Tampa as it was anywhere else.
As he drove the streets, he mentally catalogued the number and placement of the opulent houses with their massive Tudor or Spanish or Southern architecture, their precise landscaping, their pristine windows reflecting the sunlight. The only differences between scouting a mission in Afghanistan and one in Tampa, Florida, were the landscaping and the people. The process was still the same, casual and stealthy. Blend in with the scenery if you were out where people could see you. Make mental notes of danger spots and possible traps, places with no escape.
The car he used was a rental, booked with his fake identification. He knew the guard at the gate would take down the license plate, so he had to make sure it didn't lead to anywhere.
Driving slowly, casually like the real estate agent he pretended to be, he scoped out which houses had their own security gates and which ones were less vigilant. His particular target fell into the first classification, but, even though a high brick wall surrounded it similar to what he saw on some of the other homes, Grey wasn't worried. He'd handled tougher situations.
He took photos with his cell phone of the location of cameras on the house he targeted, while at the same time checking out the homes on either side. He also took shots of the street and of the houses from different angles. When he got home, he'd transfer it all to his laptop and begin to plot his attack.
He might have been puzzled at how a man with the senator's high profile managed to keep his illegal activities out of the public eye for so long. Then he realized power and money could take care of anything. People could know what he really did with his life, but no one wanted to be the whistleblower. If he fell, he took way too many people with him, so everyone kept their mouths shut and turned a blind eye to the destruction being wrought.
As he eased along the winding streets, he rolled the windows down and inhaled the fresh morning air. This was the one difference he appreciated. The scent of magnolias and freshly cut lawn tickled his nostrils, a nice change from the dirt and sand of Afghanistan. The breeze was soft, balmy, as opposed to the wicked, cutting wind that blew in off the Hindu Kush Mountains.
For one very brief moment, he wished he were actually taking the day to enjoy this, to unwind in the relaxing atmosphere of this city on the shores of Tampa Bay.
But, as seductive as the Florida climate was, Afghanistan was always with him, along with the treachery that had killed his best friend. He would do well to remember that. He had a mission, one more important than any he'd been on in all his time as a member of a Delta Force or Special Operations Group team. He'd better get to it.
Satisfied at last he had whatever information he needed, he headed out of the community, waving at the guard who opened the gate for him. A few blocks away, he stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and to top off his tank. He sat for a moment, looking at the photos he'd taken and analyzing them. To do what he had in mind, he'd need to acquire some specialized equipment, but he didn't see that as a problem. He'd compromised more sophisticated equipment on his assignments as part of a Special Operations Group than what he expected to find here. Hopefully, with his skills and the equipment he intended to procure, this would be a piece of cake.
He'd scoped out Drake Bostic's local senatorial office in Titan Towers first, getting hired and working as a member of the cleaning crew for a couple of nights and using his skills to get into the suite. But it was evident from the lack of high security there was nothing sensitive kept there. It made sense. The man had to be smart enough not to leave things around where others could access them. No, his home offered the best secrecy and security.
Grey rested his head against the back of the seat, closed his eyes for a moment, and, just like that, he was back in Afghanistan, in the middle of an ambush and a firefight.