The fifteen-minute break with some water, trail mix and kibble for Shadow was over. Now they were back on the trail at an increased pace. With Shadow following the scent of the snipers with ease and the faint moonlight helping him see the trail, the pace he set was as fast as they could move without making much noise. Jack was counting on Shadow’s reaction to tell him they were getting close. Another hour on the trail and Shadow wanted to speed up. Jack stopped him and attached his leash. Their quarry had to be close. Were they stopped or still moving at a slower pace? The trail opened crossing a steep slope and Jack saw a faint moving light maybe 50 yards ahead. When he stopped, he could hear low voices and occasional footsteps.
Jack had no night vision gear and was thinking about shooting now. He was sure he could hit one but didn’t want to give up the element of surprise for one kill. The other sniper would be a hard problem. You wouldn’t find him strolling along a mountain trail using a flashlight. More likely, he would try to set up an ambush. He let the light move ahead and checked his cell phone. Signal strength was low but he had service. It was after 9:00 PM but he called Frank’s office. No surprise! Frank was there and anxious to hear from Jack. He gave his coordinates and asked Frank not to act on them until he explained a problem.
Frank said, “Go ahead.”
“We have a problem. I recovered one of the snipers’ cell phones from the truck. At 7:25, I felt it vibrate. I didn’t answer and the caller, with a foreign accent left a voice mail. I’m in a place now where I can play it for you.” After playing the message, Jack said, “The most likely explanation, given the timing, is you have a spy or an electronic leak in your office.”
Frank said, “I’ve been in this business too long to say no way. You’re right, the timing is very suspicious. I don’t recognize the voice. What other thoughts do you have?”
“My speculation is that someone with access to the results of our helicopter chase called the Professor. I doubt the Professor would pass on that kind of information to a couple of throw-away snipers. He’s a pro and knows he could lose an invaluable source by passing the information over a cell phone and leaving a voice mail. No way he would do that. But, if he told someone else in his group with a purely tactical mindset, that person could have passed it on. Also the foreign accent was easily heard. You told us his American English was flawless.”
“Jack, let’s set a trap. Suppose I tell the same people who knew about the helicopter event that your dog broke a leg and you had to turn back, but we have the coordinates and are deploying teams. We know the snipers on the trail in front of you probably do not have a cell phone or radio. If the information is passed on, it will be to the phone in your pocket. I’ll arrange monitoring of any cell phones from here and tell all my staff that I’ll need everyone to stay for a few hours.”
“I assume Kathy got Lou to a hospital.”
“Yes, Lou is in the ICU Ward in Frederick. He’s lost a lung and has other damage to his shoulder. The chopper was hit in the firefight with the truck people. It ran short of fuel and made a real hard landing near the hospital pad. Kathy and Sam are being held overnight for observation. Both had concussions. They are up and walking around. Kathy called me 30 minutes ago.”
“She’s tough, but I think she should take a break for a while.”
“You know what she will say.”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so. She won’t like my current plan either. If the State Police can figure out where these guys are headed, they could set up a block and maybe ambush any attempt at a pickup along some highway. Just tell them I’m the guy with the black dog. Before we started talking, they were less than 100 yards in front of us and using a flashlight. Maybe Shadow and I will just keep trailing them to a State Police trap. I’ll call if I can find another service window. Gotta go.”
The trail was getting steeper and covered with areas of shale. The snipers were moving more slowly and Jack and Shadow rapidly caught up, maintaining a 100-yard interval. The trail reached its high point and ran northwest paralleling the ridge line. Cover was sparse and even with the cloak of darkness, Jack slowed their pace. He could have sworn Shadow looked back at him in disgust.
Concentrating on the party ahead, the vibration of the captured cell phone startled him. When the vibrating stopped, he checked for a message. Shielding the light from the cell phone and turning down the volume, he heard the same accented voice saying, “The man and dog on your trail have turned back. Several teams are entering the area to search for you. Before the man turned back, he sent your coordinates to the police. Change to destination B.”
Jack switched the phone off and called Frank on his own cell. This high cell service was stronger. When Frank answered, Jack said, “I have a message I received in the last few minutes.” He played the message for Frank.
Frank said, “Case is proven. We have a mole. He or she is very good. I haven’t noticed any calls leaving here and no one has left the area.”
Jack said, “Maybe it wasn’t a cell call from your office. Could have been land line, text message or an email. Even a posting to some website or obscure Facebook identity.”
Frank said, “With your permission, I need to borrow Kathy to help me with this mole. I’ll hire her as a consultant to give her cover.”
“Sure, as long as she agrees. Tell her also that Shadow and I are still safe and not going to do anything heroic, although Shadow sorely wants to attack. Oh, are you going to share the change in destination with the State Police? I know while the fugitives never got the message, it does indicate that they were heading to one destination and now are instructed to go to another. The pickup vehicle, if that’s the plan, will now go to destination B, wherever that is. I see a light moving. Have to go.”
The light was moving but very slowly. Jack settled down to watch. Shadow stretched out and was taking a nap. Jack sniffed the air. He not only smelled cigarette smoke but wood smoke as well. He thought, well, our fugitives are hunkering down. They must feel safe and have decided hurrying over this terrain at night is not a good idea. In daylight they can safely move a lot faster. They believe there is no pursuit. They could have water. It was SOP to carry water on a sniper mission. Almost for sure, they have no food. Maybe a few candy bars. It’s getting cold, and they don’t have a big dog to curl against or a light blanket roll. I’ll bet they won’t even take turns staying awake.
We could easily sneak up and take them prisoner. Then we have to watch them, while traveling for several hours. I don’t like that. Taking prisoners at night is not without risk. I could easily kill them and end this chase. The law would call that murder and these guys maybe are US citizens. While I’m carrying a badge, it won’t cover the shooting of two citizens without giving them a chance to surrender and maybe kill us. There’s a reason people on real world operations don’t like a mission to take prisoners. Always more risk in capturing versus killing.
There is also more risk in following armed men in daylight. So, Shadow, we have to make a decision. I vote for giving them an hour to sleep then rousting them. Maybe we can get them to abandon some of their gear. If they shoot, we can shoot. Okay, in two hours, we move. Jack found a place to wait and rest 30 feet off the trail.
Just after midnight, Jack and Shadow crept up the slope to a point higher than the campfire. The footing was good, wet from a recent melted snow. He could hear the men talking. With his hand on Shadow, Jack stopped to see if he could make out the conversation. They crept closer. Now the words were clear, especially one voice that was louder than his partner’s. The louder voice said, “Tell me again where you think that damn helicopter came from. Man, it was right on us. They had some good shooters in that bird. Thank God, they only had bolt action rifles. I know we hit it and I think it touched down but then it flew off to the East.”
“I think it was watching the bridge and when the shooting started, it searched for us. It ain’t hard to see two guys jumping into a pickup truck near a possible shooting site and figure they should follow the truck. But they had to be sure to open fire. Another half mile and we would’ve been under a canopy. Jake was hit bad. Think he had a chance?”
“Maybe, if the cops got there in time. Hasani will be pissed. He told us never, never leave a live teammate behind. I just couldn’t do it. I’ve known Jake a while. My worry is or was that the copter dumped off a team to run us down. I’m sure we’re free and clear now. Tomorrow by lunch time, our ride will be waiting for us. I wiped the truck down before we left. The cops don’t have a clue who we are. These al Qaeda guys are smart and tough.”
Jack heard enough. He moved up the slope, behind a grouping of waist high boulders. Peeking over the boulders, he could see into the camp a good 60 feet down the slope into the camp. The fire was bigger than they needed for warmth and lighted the whole scene. Shadow relaxed and settled against Jack’s leg. He decided to wait until they went to sleep.