by Angela Greenman
Despite the angry scars she carries from her childhood training, Zoe Lorel has reached a good place in her life. She has her dream job as an elite operative in an international spy agency and she’s found her one true love. Her world is mostly perfect—until she is sent to abduct a nine-year-old girl.
The girl is the only one who knows the riddle that holds the code to unleash the most lethal weapon on earth—the first ever “invisibility” nanoweapon, a cloaking spider bot. But Zoe’s agency isn’t the only one after the child. And when enemies reveal the invisibility weapon’s existence to underground arms dealers, every government and terrorist organization in the world want to find that little girl.
Zoe races to save not only the child she has grown to care about, but also herself. The agency prescribed pills—the ones that transform her into the icy killer she must become to survive—are beginning to threaten her engagement to the one person who brings her happiness. Can she protect the young girl and still protect the one thing she cares more about than anything else?
FROM THE AUTHOR
"My fantasy, ever since my teens, was to be a female James Bond—a strong woman, kicking ass and traveling the world. I finally got to live my fantasy through Zoe in The Child Riddler.
We met while I was on vacation in in Vienna, Austria. Zoe was a life-sized photograph staring at me from a store window. She gazed over her shoulder with a confident, badass expression that said “I see you, but you can’t touch me.” From that moment on she was real to me.
I wanted to live Zoe’s life. Maybe I also wanted to delve into her psyche, as there’s some of me in her—a scarred woman who is driven and thinks she must be all for everyone.
My hope is you’ll have a sensory and atmospheric globe-trotting adventure with Zoe. I also hope you can share Zoe’s emotional journey, her desire to heal herself so she can give to those she loves. That’s what strong women do."
...a truly mesmerizing character...high-concept plot...keeps readers gripped and guessing until the very end.
Anne M. - The Child Riddler is a good, solid debut by Ms Greenman and I will read the follow up if one appears. The plotting is complex and has an ambiguous morality that I like. It’s hard to tell who are the ‘good guys’ when they use such ‘bad’ practices. It is different from much available lesfic and for that I applaud the author.
Prague, Czech Republic
Soot-covered gargoyles peered down from their granite perches as Zoe Lorel crossed the dark courtyard. The hazy glow from the illuminated Prague Castle, high above on its hilltop throne, rose behind the stone creatures, giving them an eerie aura. Her contact lenses switched to night vision and the castle’s luminosity became a green supernatural fog ready to envelop the open-mouthed statues.
Her ankle boots crushed discarded foam food containers, and light sockets dangled from the courtyard’s dirt-streaked stone walls, bulbs ripped from their housing by vandals. Red heat images smoldered behind broken glass windows of the supposedly abandoned building where she’d parked her motorcycle and changed into her disguise. Squatters.
Zoe’s hand snaked down to the daggers in her bodysuit’s thigh pockets, and she smiled at the reassuring steel firmness against her legs.
Hell, she’d take the night-vision’s green surreality and red thermal ghosts anytime over darkness.
Real nightmares lived in the blackness.
She flexed her left shoulder as she slipped into the back seat of the idling navy blue Skoda parked out front. While she hated humidity, she had to admit it helped keep her shoulder from stiffening up. The left one had been permanently damaged from the brutal beatings at Woodbury, the preparatory boarding school for youth assassins she’d attended.
The Skoda merged into the heavy Thursday evening traffic, and out the front window the massive Prague Castle loomed, spotlights spraying the towering fortress’s stone walls amber and white. From a small, plain silver case in her purse, she took out one oval-shaped pink pill and swallowed. Her spy agency, Global Threat Assessment, supplied her and other field agents with drugs to take when they needed an infusion of ruthlessness for an operation.
A cold wave gushed through her veins as the pill kicked in. A shock—but a good one—for now she was an icy bitch, her emotions in a deep freeze.
A high-octane adrenaline jolt punched her lungs. Intense bursts exploded within her.
Her fingers curled. Whoa. Shane Samson, the deputy GTA director, must have jacked up the drug’s strength a hundredfold. While it irritated her Shane hadn’t informed her about the prescription change, she loved its speedier and more powerful effect.
Perspiration trickled from under her blond wig as she broke out in a hot flash. Zoe wiped her sweaty palms on the gold knee-length chiffon dress she wore over her black antiballistic bodysuit. She hoped this would be it for side effects. A little sweat she could handle.
Beep. From her right earpiece, a headquarters operator said, “Wildcat, be advised. The sale just concluded. Target is in the castle Picture Gallery.”
Her target, Greek billionaire Timeus Mitropoulos, had sold the world’s first “invisibility weapon”—a prototype of a cloaking spider nanobot—to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Over the last year, the IRGC had become aggressive—attacking oil tankers, infiltrating Syria, shooting down drones, and orchestrating bombings. It was a horrifying thought what this wealthy terrorist organization—which commanded almost a million personnel in ground, naval, air, paramilitary, and cyber forces—could do with invisible killer robots.
This lethal technology would change warfare on a global scale.
“Copy that, Falcon,” she said. GTA Operations Center, with its high-tech equipment that homed in on its targets within seconds, had been code-named after the world’s fastest bird of prey—the peregrine falcon—which could dive at two hundred forty miles per hour.
Falcon also kept its operatives within its sweeping gaze. In addition to communication capability, her right earpiece had GPS, so headquarters could track her every movement—live.
The Skoda came to a halt in Hradcany Square, the main entrance to the Prague Castle. The red digital numbers of her watch beamed up at her: 8:00 p.m.
She had two hours to assassinate Mitropoulos before his driver picked him up.
Zoe slipped her purse’s shoulder strap across her chest and stepped from the car. Two hours or two minutes, it didn’t matter. She’d get him. No way would she let another innocent person be maimed or killed by her bastard terrorist prey. The pain-filled and lifeless faces she’d stared at in videos, year after year in agency briefings on extremist attacks, continued to haunt her.
Especially the ones of wide-eyed children.
Three blue-uniformed Prague Castle Guards carrying Scorpion submachine guns marched toward her. Zoe held out her invitation with a smile. She was armed also. The cape overlay of her dress hid her pistol bulge.
The center guard strode forward and checked the engraved parchment invitation. Handing it back to her, he said in Czech, “Madam, the reception began three hours ago. Many guests have already left.”
She sighed and said in Czech, “Yes, I know. I’m late, as usual, and I’m supposed to meet a gentleman here.” Linguistics had been a core course at Woodbury Boarding School. She was fluent in six languages and had a decent ability to communicate in several others as well.
Zoe pouted. “I’m sure he’s waiting for me.” She ran the tip of her tongue along her lips. “I’m hungry and thirsty. It was such a long trip here in this humid weather and horrible traffic.”
The guard waved her in. “It’s my pleasure to welcome you. And may you have good luck in finding your gentleman.”
“Thank you.” Zoe walked past the three guards into the First Courtyard. To reach Mitropoulos in the Picture Gallery, she had to pass through the castle’s two main courtyards.
She glanced around impressed by the festive scene in the baroque square. Multicolored canopies soared over drink bars and appetizer tables. Musicians, in tuxedos and formal gowns, performed a creative mix of Czech folk music and famous movie scores.
Tonight’s reception celebrated the tenth anniversary of the country’s world-renowned ice hockey stadium which showcased sports and entertainment. The stadium’s developer and reception host, Milo Moravec, was a rich businessman and former Czech Republic Minister of Industry. His more than one hundred invited guests included international celebrities along with the “who’s who” of European finance and government.
Zoe strolled through the dwindling crowd, counting five castle guards. Passing under the monumental stone arch, Matthias Gate, she arrived at the Second Courtyard, which had a more elegant atmosphere with classical music and a black-and-white decor.
Perspiration beads broke out on her forehead and her hands trembled. Damn the new prescription’s side effects.
She clasped her hands together and kept moving. After a minute, the shakes ended.
Beep. “Wildcat, target has left the Picture Gallery. He is now in the Royal Garden. He’s heading to the Golden Lane to meet the host, Moravec.”
“Copy that.” Good news. Located on the castle complex’s northeast corner, the Golden Lane—a street of restored medieval homes where the castle goldsmiths used to live—was a small area. Mitropoulos would be an open target there.
She examined the castle schematics in her mind. The quickest route to the Golden Lane would be the Stag Moat’s pedestrian tunnel. The moat entry was about halfway into the Royal Garden. She’d be able to follow Mitropoulos’s path since the garden was right outside the Picture Gallery. Also, she might have a chance at him before he reached the Golden Lane.
“Falcon,” she said. “I need supplies left at Black Tower and Daliborka.” Those two towers bordered the Golden Lane. Their strategic locations made them a good scouting and equipment exchange point, and because of this GTA had hidden storage lockers installed in them.
Grand and tranquil were her first impressions as she walked into the Picture Gallery. With its billowing ivory vaulted ceiling, terracotta-colored walls, teal benches, and herringbone wood floor, the gallery was the perfect venue for Emperor Rudolph II’s collection of masterpiece paintings.
Only two couples were in the gallery. Engrossed in a conversation in front of the Italian painter Titian’s Woman With a Mirror, they paid no attention to her as she passed them. This was why she liked coming late to a party. Everybody had already formed their cliques.
Leaving the gallery, she went down a wide bridge into the Royal Garden and paused at the mass of bodies crammed onto the garden’s winding path and manicured sections. There had to be a hundred people here. No wonder the gallery had been empty.
Under tall white lamps, violinists serenaded the guests as they sipped champagne and loaded their plates with potato pancakes, ham rolls, garlic spread, and dumplings. Moravec, the host, had certainly gone all out tonight to celebrate the stadium’s success.
As she surveyed the crowd, Zoe reviewed her target’s videos and pictures with her photographic memory: forty-seven years old; six foot tall; thin, one hundred fifty-five pounds; gray-flecked brown hair with angled V bangs; and custom-tailored thousand-dollar suits.
Mitropoulos also had two consistent identifiers: he waved his left arm when engaged in conversation, and on his right hand he sported a large gold ring with a Greek Key motif and a diamond-studded “H” for Hercules.
No sign of either him or the host, Moravec—a short, chubby man with salt-and-pepper hair.
Moving toward the Stag Moat, she skirted around the groups congregated at the appetizer tables. Several men said hello or eyed her with interest. Without stopping, she gave them a pleasant nod.
Beep. “Wildcat, target on the move. Now at east end of the complex, not far from the Golden Lane.”
“Copy that.” She veered off the path to the shadowy, woody shrubs twenty feet away, which marked the moat entrance. Its steep wooden staircase was unlit, and her contacts again switched to night vision. Once the king’s private hunting ground, the moat now served as a park, but it was closed in the evenings because of its areas of rugged terrain.
The staircase led to a narrow concrete sidewalk bordered on both sides by a three-foot rock wall. As Zoe jogged the mile-long walkway, green slopes and leafy trees rose up behind the wall, the lushness intensified by the night-vision’s green aura.
Kudos to GTA engineers for the automatic night-vision contact lenses, she thought. No more glasses to fumble with when every second mattered. The genius of the agency’s staff kept her alive.
She reached a hill and climbed the stone path to the top. Below her, bright lights shone on the underground pedestrian tunnel. She started down the tree-lined path and then stopped.
Cigarette smoke up ahead.
Beep. “Be advised, Wildcat. You have company.”
“Copy that.” She hopped off the path and hid behind a large pine. She cocked her head to the left. In that ear was an advanced hearing aid that magnified distant sounds, making them three times louder.
A heavy tread from inside the tunnel, and a tall, bulked-up, black-haired man in combat fatigues materialized at the opening. A cigarette hung between his lips.
He stood, smoking.
Zoe studied him. A soldier, not a castle guard. A Russian assault rifle was slung over his shoulder, and a pistol bulged under his jacket. His black leather boots shone. He had rough features and a crooked nose, as if it had once been broken.
A mercenary for hire.
Kill or be killed!
The mercenary was forcing her to kill him. She had no choice. He’d slaughter her without a second thought.
Reaching under her overlay cape, she lowered her dress’s front zipper and slipped her 9mm Nano Beretta out of her right bodysuit holster. GTA had modified it for her with a rounded no-snag design, making it even more micro-compact. She removed its silencer from the left holster and fastened it on. Like the gun, the suppressor had been shortened.
Crouching, she dashed from tree trunk to tree trunk toward the soldier. As she neared him, the tree line moved back. Now thirty yards of a wide grassy embankment stood between them. She’d have to come out in the open for a kill shot. She needed a distraction.
Zoe fired at the stone wall on the other side of the soldier, and he swung toward the granite shards flying at him. She ran out and aimed for the back of his head. He fell onto his knees and went down hard.
With her Beretta gripped in both hands, she made her way toward him. He lay still, his hair caked with blood. She shoved his hip with her foot. No response. Keeping her boots out of the fast-growing red puddle, she flipped him over and stared into his lifeless eyes.
Terrorists had made her who she was. What demons had made him a killer?
She looked inside the tunnel. It appeared vacant, but it curved so she couldn’t see the whole passage. “Falcon, all clear?”
With the silencer still attached, Zoe jammed her gun into her purse. “Falcon, location of target.”
“Ten minutes from Golden Lane.”
“Copy that.” Good move taking this shortcut. She should reach the Golden Lane by then. She stepped over the dead soldier. Given the remoteness of the moat, she didn’t need to waste time dragging him from view.
In the tunnel, ground spotlights, spaced several feet apart, created bright circular streaks on the sloped brick walls, making her feel like she was in a gigantic rib cage.
Zoe increased her pace to a sprint. She had nightmares about being trapped in an underground passage.
The walls glowed green for a few seconds, then the red brick returned.
Her contacts were flickering on and off. The dim lighting between the spotlights confused the night vision. She blinked and squinted, but it didn’t help.
As she came up to the tunnel opening, she slammed into what felt like an enormous muscle wall.
Another mercenary soldier. Distracted by her contacts malfunction, she hadn’t seen him enter.
Her night vision switched off as it should under the doorway lights. Like the other soldier, he wore fatigues and had a shoulder rifle.
He grasped her upper arms before she could step back.
Zoe gazed at him with big eyes. She figured he didn’t know his partner was down. “I’m so sorry,” she said in Czech. “I was being chased by a drunk from the castle party.”
His expression softened, and as he looked over her shoulder, she kneed him in the groin.
Groaning, he reached for his rifle with one hand.
Flinging her right arm up, she punched her thumb into his Adam’s apple.
As he gagged, Zoe seized the sling and wrapped it around his neck. Yanking his head down, she kneed him in the face, and again in the groin.
He fell to his knees.
She jumped back and snatched her Beretta from her purse, shooting him in the forehead. The projectile ripped through his skull and blood gushed from his brow’s charred circular hole. His torso lurched and he collapsed forward, gone before he hit the ground.
Beep. “Wildcat, what’s your status? Comms were out for a minute. We saw a second assailant. Acknowledge.”
“Present and accounted for.” Zoe dropped her gun back into her purse. Technology was great—when it worked. She could only rely on herself. That’s why she continued to train in hand-to-hand combat skills.
A small grove separated the tunnel from the castle, and she headed toward it. Dodging behind a tree, she peeled off her wig and brushed her caked sweaty bangs away from her forehead. She couldn’t wear the wig anymore. It felt like a fur turban.
She tugged at a tab in the seam of the cap base. Pulling it activated a dormant chemical in the material and her wig would disintegrate into nothingness, preventing her DNA from being recovered. Another of the many GTA inventions that awed her.
Zoe ponytailed her long black hair, pulled the weapon from her purse, uncoupled the pistol and silencer, and secured them into their respective holsters. She loved her bodysuit. It was a sleek body armor but didn’t sacrifice utility or functionality. Its lightweight material, similar to spandex, was made with the same tiny stronger-than-steel carbon nanotubes worn by US troops.
Like the US military, her agency used nanotechnology—the science and engineering on the scale of atoms—for designing their gear, but the similarities ended there. GTA refined the antiballistic material, taking it to the next generation. The millions of nanotubes comprising carbon nanofibers were woven into almost a gel, and several layers of super-strong webbing now protected her. The nanotubes hardened, preventing a knife or bullet from penetrating. But, in her suit, the nanofibers did more: they flexed, absorbing energy so she wouldn’t be so winded from the impact.
She threw a pine branch over the wig and followed a dirt path running next to the castle wall. It would lead her to the tower, Daliborka. From there, she’d be able to locate Mitropoulos.
Sweat dripped down her neck and her hands shook. Just what she needed—another round of drug side effects.
She made fists to try to still her shaking hands and swung her arms faster.
Only icy bitches survive as warriors.
The tower rose before her.
And I’m an icy bitch.
Her shaking calmed as she reached Daliborka. Zoe took a magnetic pick from her boot sole, unlocking the iron-studded thick wooden door. Musty, cool air blew into her face, and she was greeted by a skeleton who was chained to the wall in an iron body clamp. Chills crawled over her. The night-vision’s green tint gave the chained skeleton a living aura.
The tower had once been a prison and now was a torture museum. Human cages, body clamps, spiked racks, and various-sized pointed spears filled the room.
Zoe rushed to the far wall where the prearranged GTA locker was hidden. She couldn’t get out of this claustrophobic torture tower fast enough. She pressed on a cracked wall brick, sixth from the bottom, and it swung open. Removing the leather briefcase stashed in the metal locker, she shut the faux cracked-brick panel.
She skirted an iron floor grate on the way to the staircase. It covered a deep hole into which prisoners were lowered by pulley and left to starve to death. She could swear she heard screams coming from it.
On the first stairway landing she stopped at a slender, angled window with metal crossbars and peeked out at the Golden Lane. Brightly painted canary yellow, cobalt blue, and rose red, sixteenth-century cottages framed the narrow street. Lanterns hung on the homes, just bright enough to reveal three men in suits out on the muggy night.
Two men stood thirty yards from her, conversing in the middle of the lane, one tall and slender, the other short and chubby.
About five feet away from them, the third man—a stocky guy—was leaning up against a house, texting.
Taking a small rangefinder from the briefcase, Zoe scrutinized the two men talking. The taller one gestured with his left arm, like her target, Mitropoulos, did. She zoomed in. Yep, a gold ring on his right hand.
She moved to his face and grinned. Hello, scumbag. Before tonight, Mitropoulos had solely worked with ISIS, bankrolling and distributing weapons for their European cells using his Athens-based export company as a front. But Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was wealthier than ISIS. Greed trumped loyalty, it appeared.
The short man next to Mitropoulos was Moravec, the reception host.
Language didn’t appear to be a communication barrier between the Greek and Czech as their discussion appeared animated. Their conversation paused, and Mitropoulos ruffled through his pants pockets and inside his jacket as if searching for something.
Mitropoulos held up his hands, frustrated. It seemed he couldn’t find what he was looking for. He started to walk away, but Moravec grabbed his arm and turned him around, guiding him in the opposite direction.
Hmmm…something was off about Mitropoulos. Was he drunk? No, he didn’t stagger. Zoe turned her attention to the third man, texting. The pockmarked face…Ah, Cyril, one of Mitropoulos’s regular bodyguards.
She scooted from the window and retrieved a tiny steel box and a palm-sized computer tablet from the case. In the box was the nanobot mosquito Seeker.
Zoe tensed as she powered up the tablet. No headquarters’ “eyes” tonight to guide Seeker as a drone. She was on her own, and she’d only used the nanobot once before by herself. Headquarters wanted Seeker to be operated solely by her local signal to avoid detection by satellites and other surveillance equipment.
Who knew what other powerful enemies, besides the IRGC, may have found out about the invisible killer bot for sale?
Stay focused, keep moving.
After a finger scan, the tablet let her in and she typed: Greek Connection. Mitropoulos’s picture displayed on the screen.
Zoe switched to the locator map. No pulsating red dot. She punched her thigh, frustrated. Really? Not one of the five local operatives at the reception had been able to put a GPS tracker on Mitropoulos? Unbelievable. Now she had only the facial recognition program to work with—meaning a higher failure probability since it was less than a hundred percent accurate.
Touching Seeker’s icon on the tablet, she accessed the nanobot’s program and dragged Mitropoulos’s photo into it, typing: Commence Greek Connection. Target location: 30 feet west. Complete mission and return home.
After another finger scan to unlock Seeker’s box, she shook the mechanical mosquito loose from its foam cushion. The tiny robot, half the size of her fingertip, fell into her palm. If all went well, Seeker would sting Mitropoulos with a drop of the fast-acting poison stored in its tube mouth.
Zoe activated the radio signal from the tablet and crouched under the window. She held Seeker up to the ledge.
The nanobot’s spindly legs went rigid and its silver weblike wings made a buzzing sound as they flapped.
“Get the bastard,” she said.
Seeker rose into the air, hovered, and made a sharp dive, disappearing from her view.
Taking the rangefinder, she knelt at the window. She smiled as Mitropoulos and Moravec waved their hands in the air at the buzzing nanobot.
Seeker would never “sting” Moravec by accident. The bot was circling them while its facial recognition program confirmed its target’s identity.
Visibly irritated, the men started walking. Cyril, the bodyguard, pocketed his phone and followed them, staying a few steps behind.
Zoe gripped the rangefinder tighter. Would Seeker keep tracking them? She didn’t know if the bot had the artificial intelligence capability to keep pursuing its target once identified. The last time she’d used Seeker she had the GPS program available, so it had coordinates to follow.
Mitropoulos swatted at the air around his head.
Zoe grinned. The nanobot could trail like a goddamn hound dog.
Making choking sounds, Mitropoulos gripped his throat and fell to his knees.
Zoe leapt away and leaned against the wall, adrenaline pumping through her veins.
Going back to the window, she tracked Seeker’s flight toward her, its swirling wings lifting it upward closer and closer.
The bot landed on the ledge and she deactivated the program, returning it to its box. She stored Seeker and the tablet back into the briefcase, and raised her rangefinder again. Moravec and Cyril were squatting next to the kneeling target.
Still clutching his throat, a spasming Mitropoulos flipped to lie on his back.
He went still.
Seeker had gotten him.
Elated, Zoe fist pumped. Stepping to the side, she glanced at her watch. She’d beaten the deadline by over thirty minutes. “Falcon, the Greek Connection had a taste of Seeker,” she said.
“Excellent, Wildcat.” The deep baritone voice of her uncle Easton Hughes boomed in her ear. “Pickup location provided soon.”
“Copy that.” She punched the air, gleeful. Her uncle answering meant he was pleased with her and mission success. Given Operation Greek Connection’s importance, Easton, as GTA’s director, and Shane—who held dual roles as deputy and director of field operations—had traveled to Prague to participate. Easton and Shane were to take care of the IRGC weapon buyer and confiscate the nanobot prototype.
A pickup meant they had the cloaking prototype. Zoe’s right knee bounced in nervous excitement. Her dream of partnering with her uncle had finally come true after ten years at the agency.
All the anticipation she felt as a child, when he’d regaled her at bedtime with his black ops adventures, came flooding back. From the moment her uncle adopted her at age nine, she’d wanted to be like him—the elite agent, the hero who took out enemies and saved innocents.
She heard shouting and went back to the window. Cyril had sat his limp boss upright, and Moravec was yelling into his phone as they both stared at something on Mitropoulos’s neck.
Zoe zoomed in on Mitropoulos’s throat. A two-inch swollen red welt. The poison shouldn’t have left a trace. Unreal. She would have to get a target who was in the one percent group allergic to the poison.
She tilted her left ear closer to the window to hear what Moravec was saying, but caught only fragments in Czech: “…an assassin is on the premises…security…search buildings…shut down exits!”
The external wound revealed Mitropoulos’s death chokes had not been from a health issue, but instead from a murderer’s hands.
Cyril circled with his gun raised. As he turned toward the tower, he paused, staring in her direction.
Shit. Zoe ducked to the side. Had he seen her?
She wasn’t going to wait to find out. Security would be coming from the north and west. At best, she’d have fifteen minutes to get to the back gate—the closest exit.
Pitching her rangefinder into the briefcase, she raced downstairs to the locker. She flung the case in and slammed it shut.
“Falcon, eyes needed,” she said.
“Falcon. I repeat, am I clear?”
No response. She needed a window. The tower’s stone walls blocked her signal.
She ran to the door opposite from where she’d come in so she could escape onto the castle’s outside ring.
With a big heave she opened the thick door and knuckles smashed into her face.
She reeled backward in a red, pain-filled haze. The asshole had broken her nose.
Gripping her shoulders, Cyril threw her up against the wall. The bricks’ jagged edges speared the back of her head.
“Who are you?” he demanded in Greek.
Dizzy, she gazed at his swirling, pockmarked cheeks. Warm wetness rolled onto her lips, and she licked her blood.
He pressed her back harder against the rough stones. “I asked, who are you, woman?”
Zoe slid her hand down her right thigh and whipped her dagger up, ramming it between his ribs.
He grimaced in pain. “Bitch,” he shouted and lunged back. He grabbed the dagger and as he pulled it out, blood squirted from the wound.
“That’s right. That’s who I am,” she said and yanked down her dress zipper, seizing her Beretta.
She blasted his chest three times.
He jerked with every gun pop, red drenching his white shirt. Her dagger dropped from his limp hand and clanked onto the stone floor. He landed next to it. Zoe wiped the dagger on his pants and sheathed it.
She cracked the door. No sound.
Slipping the pistol’s silencer on, she stepped outside, keeping in the tower’s shadow. Headquarters should hear her now.
“Falcon, am I clear?”
“All clear, Wildcat.”
She proceeded to the staff parking lot near the back gate. As she slunk along the castle wall, she kept her gun at her side and glanced behind her every so often. Cyril had found her. Others could too.
The parking lot, with only ten cars, was half full. She crouched behind a maroon Hyundai.
Beep. “Wildcat, be advised. Soldiers coming your way.”
Zoe dropped to her knees behind the car’s front passenger tire. Running footsteps in the distance grew louder.
She inched her face around the worn tread and, in the dim lighting, counted six soldiers. With submachine guns held up at the ready, their alert gazes scanned the surrounding area. They made a sharp left into the Black Tower gate in front of her.
But she couldn’t relax yet. She had to cross a wide promenade before she’d be free.
Keeping still, she listened. No footsteps, no voices. “Falcon. Need eyes.”
“All clear, Wildcat.”
Standing, Zoe wiped the sticky blood off her upper lip, flinching as her fingers bumped against her throbbing nose.
A few people were crossing the promenade, heading her way to return to their vehicles. She tucked her gun in her purse, grabbed a cigarette, and lit it. Strolling past them, she acted like she was taking a smoke break.
At the back gate, she did a quick three-sixty visual check. No one in sight. She unlocked it with the magnetic pick and faced one hundred and twenty-one steep stone steps down.
The soft amber of lantern lights guided her long descent until she passed under an enormous pillared arch welcoming her to Lesser Town, a picturesque area at the foothills of Prague Castle. A GTA safe house—a pottery shop—was five minutes away.
She’d rid the earth of another bad seed.
She’d been part of an op which secured the most dangerous weapon on Earth.
She’d saved lives.
Turning onto a narrow cobblestone street, she disappeared into the crowd.