Chapter 3


When all the dishes had been washed, I dried my hands on my jeans and went back to the fire. Only Boone, Art, and Yuri were left sitting on the stools. Maria was headed for the shower, and Corinne and Jean were talking by their tent. Thunder rumbled above us, the wind shifting direction. The air had a chill to it, and I hiked up the neck of my sweater.

I took my seat and tuned back into the conversation. Art was explaining the process of building a school, from its foundation to stocking it with supplies. He told us that if everything went according to schedule, we would have a finished school by the end of our stay. Boone and I acted enthusiastic, but we both knew we were going to be here eight days, tops.

"The sense of completion you feel really makes it all worth it—" Art said before cutting himself off.

The distant sound of an engine made us all look toward the parking area. The trees blocked our view, but someone had definitely arrived at the camp.

"Ah, that'll be Sibo," Art said, standing up.

Yuri got up, too, stretching. "Well," he said, ruffling his hair. "I'm gonna hit the sack. 'Night."

"'Night," Art said. "See you bright and early."

Smiling and giving us a wave, Yuri walked toward his tent.

I was taken aback at his sudden departure, but I was quickly distracted. The engine shut off and a door slammed shut, and within a couple of seconds, a man entered the campsite. After a few words to the guards, he approached us. I stood up, but didn't make eye contact until he came to stand in front of us.

Art shook his hand, and then turned to us. "Sibo, meet our newest additions to the team," he said with a grin. "This is Dominic and Kate Francis. Dominic and Kate, this is Sibo Bulani, the man in charge of it all."

Bulani wasn't as tall as I had imagined him. Only a couple inches taller than me, he had a sturdy build and I could see the muscles tensed underneath his long-sleeved shirt. He was in his late thirties – I knew that from reading his file – but he looked older than that. His dark brown skin was weathered and pockmarked, and even though his head and beard were shaved, the stubble on his jaw glinted silver in the firelight.

On first impression, he didn't seem like a big-time arms dealer. He had a friendly smile on his face and a casual, nonthreatening stance. But that impression disappeared the moment I looked into his eyes.

I felt a small shock of fear. They were dark, hard, penetrating in a way I had never seen before. The contrast between his pleasant demeanor and the cold, calculating look in his eyes was one of the most unsettling things I had ever seen.

"Hi," I said, forcing a polite smile and reaching forward to shake his hand. His grip was nearly crushing.

"Hi," he responded. His attention was on me for less than five seconds before he glanced away. I took that as a good indication that he didn't find me too interesting.

"Nice to meet you," Boone said.

Bulani's eyes flicked from Boone's feet to his face, not bothering to hide the fact that he was sizing him up. I saw a wave of masculine competition pass through them as they shook hands, their hands staying clasped for a moment too long. So much for being inconspicuous.

"You as well," Bulani replied. His English had a distinctive South African lilt. "Welcome to Mozambique. First time?"

"Yes," I said.

He made a vaguely interested sound, looking from Boone to me. "Honeymoon, I hear?"

Boone nodded, and then rested a hand lightly on my back. "Yeah."

"Congratulations."

"Thanks," I replied.

"You're welcome."

He watched us, unblinking, and I got the uncomfortable feeling we were being judged. I leaned a shoulder into Boone, gently pressing the side of my body against him in what I hoped was an unaffected pose. Boone's fingers curved around my hip.

Bulani blinked, smoothly shifting his weight. "Well, I just want to personally thank you for volunteering your time with MozCare," he said, speaking with a slow, almost bored cadence. "What we do here wouldn't be possible without people like you. There aren't many newlyweds who decide to spend their honeymoon building a school. It's commendable."

"Oh," I said, smiling humbly. "Well, we're just thrilled to be a part of it all."

"Good, good," he said. "I forget; you're here for three weeks?"

"Yes," I confirmed, "three weeks."

"Hmm," he said, nodding. "Well, I'll be coming and going this month. I apologize. But I'm trying to set up a new MozCare site down south, so…"

I resisted the urge to raise my eyebrows. Instead, I donned an understanding expression. "Oh, that's fine. We know you must be incredibly busy."

"Art here is more than capable of handling things," he said, gesturing to Art, who seemed pleased at his words. "If you need anything, I'm sure he'll be able to help you out."

I smiled at Art, and then looked back at Bulani. "Okay."

"Thanks," Boone said.

"Have you volunteered before?" Bulani asked him unexpectedly.

It sounded like a pop quiz question. He made direct eye contact with Boone. A tense moment passed between them, and I could sense Boone's unease, even if it didn't show.

"Only once long-term," Boone answered.

"Where?"

"Chile, outside of Santiago," he said. Luckily, there was documentation for a Dominic Francis spending time as an aid worker there. "I mean, it wasn't anything like this. I mostly did accounting work at a desk, you know? But I've done some Habitat for Humanity projects, participated in a lot of local programs where we live in—"

"Ottawa," Bulani finished for him.

"Well, Embrun, actually," Boone corrected. "About half an hour away from Ottawa."

"Fascinating," Bulani murmured, slipping a hand into his pocket.

"Well, like I said earlier, we're happy to have you here," Art told us, unfazed.

"Yes." Bulani glanced around at the camp. "Well, I don't want to keep you. I know you have an early day tomorrow."

I got the sense we were being dismissed. I didn't hesitate to raise my hand, and say, "Good night. It was great to meet you."

"'Night," Boone said.

"'Night, guys," Art said. "Remember, breakfast is at six. I feed latecomers' breakfasts to Ralph. Ralph's our resident monkey." He shot me a grin. "He's actually really cute."

I managed to return his smile. "Ralph," I repeated. "Got it. See you tomorrow."

"Good night," Bulani said. His eyes flicked to Art. "Art, I need to speak to you."

I was suddenly afraid we had somehow been made. I wasn't sure if his serious tone was just the way he talked or if it meant something. My heart thumped in my chest, but I kept the smile plastered on my face.

Boone urged me to move with firm pressure on my back. We began walking toward our tent. Thunder rolled as it started to rain, heavy drops hitting the dirt every couple of seconds. I glanced up at Boone, giving him an urgent look. I wanted to talk about what was going on.

"In a minute," he mouthed.

We got ready for bed at a normal pace, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves. I changed into black yoga pants behind the shower, and then brushed my teeth with water from the well, watching Bulani and Art out of the corner of my eye. They were still talking by the fire.

The rain was beginning to pour down in sheets when I came back to the tent, lightning flashing overhead. Boone was already inside, laying down on his back with his hands folded behind his head. I climbed in and zipped the door shut, inevitably bumping into him in the small space. I tucked my toothbrush into my backpack, which was shoved into the corner on my side.

I laid down on top of my sleeping bag. We were shoulder-to-shoulder. Honeymoon-sized, just like Art had said.

The rain pattered loudly on the tent. Corinne and Jean were having a conversation in French in the tent beside us, their voices a low hum. If we were going to talk, we needed to be careful, quiet.

I turned on my side to face Boone. "So, what do you think?" I whispered.

He shifted onto his side, too, his face inches from mine. The outside lights came through the canvas of the tent, casting a bluish glow over his features. "Something's off with Bulani," he whispered back.

"You did a real good job with the minimal eye contact," I said dryly.

Giving me an exasperated look, he replied, "He was testing me, rook."

"I know," I agreed, serious now. "I wasn't expecting him to be like that."

"His file didn't say anything about him being—"

"Psychopathic?"

"Well, I don't know if I would go that far," he said.

I tucked a hand underneath my head. "Did you see his eyes?" I breathed.

"Yeah."

"He's good at acting normal, but there was just – just something about his eyes that makes you realize it's all just a façade," I said. "Like he wouldn't hesitate to kill you."

"I don't like it." A gust of wind shook the edges of the tent. He glanced at the door, and then back at me. "I don't like cunning, manipulative people. It's hard to predict what they're going to do."

"Me either." I shook my head, and then asked anxiously, "What do you think that whole 'Art, I need to speak to you' thing was about? Do you think he's onto us? I mean, I don't know how he could possibly –"

"No, I think he's just paranoid," he replied.

"Yeah?"

"I got the impression he likes testing people. Maybe for fun, maybe because he's suspicious, I'm not sure." He ran a hand over his jaw. "Christ, we're going to have to be careful around this guy."

I rolled onto my back, pressing a hand to my forehead. "Did you see the way Yuri disappeared as fast as he could when Bulani came over?"

"Yeah," he said. "Like he was scared of him."

"That was the impression I got, too," I whispered. "I mean, Bulani had Tiago's wife raped just because Tiago stole some money." I swallowed. "That couldn't have been the first occurrence of violence. I bet that's how Bulani keeps his people in line."

"And the volunteers would pick up on the fear of the guards, if they've been around long enough," he said.

"Exactly," I replied. "So, maybe that's why Yuri avoided seeing him."

"But what about Art?" Boone questioned.

"What about him?"

"He seems to think Bulani is the shit."

I bit my lip, thinking about it. "You don't think he's in on…Bulani's extracurricular business activities, do you?"

"Probably not," he said. "Unless he's a good liar."

"But his file was clean," I countered. "You saw it; not a single red flag."

"That's true."

Gazing up at the ceiling of the tent, I watched raindrops slide down the canvas. "Plus, I can't picture him covering for Bulani. He seems like a good guy."

Boone was quiet for a moment. "Yeah," he said, but his tone belied his casual response.

"'Yeah' what?"

He exhaled sharply. "We shouldn't trust any of these people, no matter how 'good' they seem or what their file says," he told me.

"I know that," I replied. "I was just making an observation."

"Don't get complacent just because he's friendly and seems like this great do-gooder and smiles at you—"

I turned my head. "What?"

"And I don't know, maybe he reminds you a bit of another architect –"

"What?" I said again, mouth dropping open in disbelief. I couldn't believe he had just said that. I was pretty sure he was referring to Ben, my recent ex-boyfriend.

"Look, it's normal to trust people who are similar to people you already trust—" he started to explain.

Propping myself up on an elbow, I looked down at him, and whispered, "We are not doing this."

He frowned, and raised himself onto an elbow, too. "Doing what?" I could barely hear him over a long rumble of thunder, but I heard the heat in his voice.

I didn't like his proximity. I was sure he could see my cheeks flush. "Bringing personal stuff into work. We're not doing that. We decided to separate them, so let's keep it that way, all right?"

Opening his mouth to say something, he stopped himself and just looked at me. Then, his Adam's apple bobbed, he focused on a spot near my shoulder, and said, "I just want to make sure you don't dismiss anyone as a threat."

"I won't."

"Even if they feed breakfast to monkeys."

I tilted my head, narrowing my eyes slightly. "Are you trying to be funny or condescending?"

"Neither," he replied. "I'm trying to make a point."

"I get it," I assured him bluntly. "Don't trust anyone, right?"

"Right," he said.

"Okay," I said shortly. "Done."

Laying back down on my side, I felt the vibrations of thunder underneath me. I balled my hands in my sleeves to keep my fingers warm.

Boone remained propped up on his elbow, running a hand over his face before murmuring uncomfortably, "But, you know…obviously, you can trust me."

I glanced up at him, ready to reply curtly to whatever he said, but his comment surprised me. Sometimes, he did that; he turned a conversation around and made me forget what I was going to say or why I was angry with him in the first place. I met his eyes, and I wanted to tell him that he didn't need to worry. He was already at the top of a very short list of people I trusted.

"I—" I began, but quickly stopped because everything suddenly went dark.

They must have shut off the floodlights. It had to be around 9:30pm. There was something chilling about being in the dark before your eyes adjusted. I held my breath, hearing my heart thump loudly in my chest.

The sound of an engine started up, and Boone and I remained still as we listened to the sound fade away. That meant Bulani had left the campsite.

"So, what's the plan?" I whispered, actually grateful for the interruption in our conversation.

I saw the outline of his shoulders, but the rest of him was submerged in darkness. "We need to do some preliminary recon," he answered. "Find out what we're dealing with."

"The guards are going to be outside all night. Maybe we should text Tiago?" I suggested. "Ask him if he can distract them so we can slip out?"

The glowing light from a cell phone turned on, illuminating Boone's face. He typed with some difficulty on the small keypad, and then pressed Send. "We'll see what he says."

"Okay," I said.

We were quiet for a couple of minutes, the air between us uneasy. I debated making small talk, but doubted that would help the situation. The light from the phone died, and we both just listened to the rain in silence. Thankfully, Tiago responded to the text quickly.

"We're clear for 2:00am," Boone said, squinting at the phone.

"All right," I said. That meant we could actually get some sleep, thank God.

"I'll set the phone to vibrate at 1:50am," he told me.

"Sounds good," I whispered back.

"Good," he said. "Okay."

"Okay."

He tucked the phone underneath his pillow and laid down. My eyes had adjusted enough that I could see his profile; the familiar curve of his features, the strong jaw, the slightly uneven line of his nose. We were close enough that I could feel the heat radiating from his body. Maybe under different circumstances, this would have been nice, cozy, like a real camping experience. We'd get in our sleeping bags, get warm, and drift off to sleep to the sounds of the storm outside—

His chest rose as he took a deep breath, and I saw his head turn toward me, sensing that I was watching him. I quickly turned onto my other side, putting my back to him.

I squeezed my eyes shut. I hated this, all this awkwardness and tension between us. It didn't feel right.

I was enough of a realist to recognize that I had serious feelings for him. The absolute devastation I had felt when I heard he had been captured by Volkov's men had clued me in a few weeks ago. The fact that I was willing to do anything, anything, to get him back made me realize that I thought of him more than a coworker, more than a friend. Yes, there was sexual attraction, but it was more than that. Sexual attraction didn't wrench at my heartstrings like this.

It took a while, but Boone's breathing eventually slowed into the slow rhythm of sleep, and I fell asleep soon after.


I was woken by a gentle shake. I experienced one of those moments of disorientation, when your mind is foggy and you're not sure what bed you're in. For a second, I thought I was in my room in DC. But that wasn't right. It was dark, the ground was hard, and it smelled like woods and leaves.

Quickly coming to, I sat up, brushing my hair out of my face. Boone's hazy outline dropped my sneakers on my lap. Obviously, it was time to go.

Shoes tied and hair shoved into a ponytail, I followed Boone out of the tent. The storm had passed through, probably a couple hours ago. I zipped the door closed as quietly as possible, aware than the smallest sound could be heard. The sound of hushed conversation came from inside one of the large tents. Tiago had lived up to his word.

With Boone holding a small penlight, we darted through the campsite. There was still a wet chill in the air, giving me goosebumps underneath my sweater. We jogged to the Land Rover, and I stood watch as Boone popped the hood and extracted the Berettas.

He extended one to me. I made sure the safety was on and tucked it into the back of my yoga pants, covering it with my sweater. Closing the hood gently, he put his gun in the waistband of his jeans. He jerked his head toward the narrow road that led to Bulani's quarters, and I gave him a firm nod.

We took off down the road. I didn't stay cold for long, the exertion quickly warming me up. My sneakers sank into the mud, making noises every now and then when I stepped in a particularly deep puddle. Fortunately, the sound of the jungle was loud with cicadas, birdcalls, and a continuous rustling of trees.

A few hundred meters down, an even smaller road forked off to the right. It probably led to some of Bulani's men's houses. We continued on the main road. About a kilometer down, it ended and the trees parted into an opening. Boone slowed to a walk, cutting over to the side of the road. The penlight went dark, and I grabbed his arm so I wouldn't bump into him.

Without speaking, we veered right into the trees. The underbrush was thick, branches and thorns snagging at the material of my pants. Boone went first, and I kept a tight grip on his sweatshirt. We made our way toward the building that was ahead. Being about twenty feet deep in the forest got us close but kept us out of view.

Boone stopped next to a fallen tree trunk, crouching down. I squatted beside him, releasing his arm. The light coming from Bulani's office building gave us some visibility.

"Looks like they're loading something into a truck," Boone told me, peering out from behind the tree trunk.

I leaned forward to see, as well. I could make out two men carrying a crate out of a concrete building and putting it in the bed of a military truck. "Bet you a million bucks it's either weapons or drugs," I murmured.

"I see the main entrance," he said. "But that's where they're loading the crates. It would be impossible to get inside."

"There's got to be another door," I said, sitting back on my heels. "You want to do a loop around?"

"Let's do some recon from here first," he replied.

"You don't want to check it out—"

"Moving around is risky," he interrupted.

"But—"

"It's too—"

"Still, maybe we should take a look around—"

"Hart," he said roughly. He rarely used my last name. When he did, it was when he was getting irritated with me.

"Okay, fine," I whispered back, putting my hands up in surrender.

He looked down at my muddy sneakers. "Plus, you sound like a goddamn T-Rex stomping around in those shoes."

I shot him a look. "Well, I couldn't see the puddles because somebody was hogging the flashlight," I muttered.

He returned the look and didn't reply.

Trying to be diplomatic, I asked, "So, you just want to watch from here?"

"Yes."

"You don't think we should try to get closer, see if we can find out any information about the Chiffer?" I inquired, keeping my voice even.

"I do," he answered. "But we should do some surveillance before making a decision to move in."

He was right, as he usually was. "All right," I agreed.

A man's voice called out near the building, another voice laughing in response.

"We need to stay down," Boone said, shifting onto his knees and then lying flat on the ground.

I positioned myself next to him, feeling the dampness of the ground soak through my clothes. Propping myself up on my elbows, I had a decent view of the building and Bulani's men. Another crate was being loaded onto the truck.

We watched in silence for a good twenty minutes. Boone, a former Navy SEAL and extremely good at his job, didn't move an inch. He was as immobile as the dead tree trunk next to us. I, on the other hand, had to readjust every now and then, especially to swat away the mosquitoes. I was overly aware of the uncomfortable tension between us, but he didn't seem to notice.

An animal howled in the distance. I dropped my head, exhaling a laugh.

"What?" Boone asked.

Keeping my head down, I replied in a hushed voice, "If you had asked me a week ago what I thought I'd be doing on January 5th at 2:30am, I would have never guessed I'd be deep in the jungles of Mozambique on a covert op, getting bit by mosquitoes and watching the illegal operations of a South African arms dealer, with you."

"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied. "This was exactly what I had planned."

I smiled and looked up. His eyes stayed on the compound, though, face blank despite his lighthearted comment. A breeze swept past us, rustling leaves and making stray hairs from my ponytail tickle my neck.

"Gem?" Boone said quietly.

"Hmm?"

He was silent for a moment, and then asked, "Do you want to be here?"

Taken aback, I smoothed my bangs off my forehead and stared up at his profile. "Yeah, of course," I said. "Why?"

A muscle worked in his jaw. "I just feel like I pushed you into CS," he answered.

"You didn't," I told him. It wasn't the complete truth; I did take the job because of him, but that wasn't his fault. "You tried hard to make sure this was a decision I made on my own."

"Yeah, well," he said. "That sort of backfired, didn't it?"

I didn't say anything. He turned his head to look at me. I considered faking it, but knew he'd see through me anyway, so I just met his gaze. He nodded once in acknowledgment that his comment had been accurate. He looked away, face set.

"Boone," I breathed. I lightly nudged his arm with mine. "Look, there's…" I paused, trying to find the right words. "Honestly, there's nowhere I'd rather be." And I meant it. I was serving my country in the most exciting way possible, and as long as we were alive and well, I was fine.

He glanced sideways at me, the lights in the distance reflecting in his eyes. His expression smoothed into something less serious. "Unless you get malaria," he said casually, glancing away again. "Then you won't be saying that."

I had to resist the urge to laugh out loud, which would blow our cover. "Okay, Debbie Downer," I said. "I'm just saying—"

"I know what you're saying," he said.

"Okay," I said. "Good."

There was another lengthy pause, and then he said, "About what happened last week…I think we should clear the air."

My heart plummeted to my stomach. What happened, like sleeping together had been some awkward accident. "Consider the air cleared," I replied, my tone light.

"But I think we should at least talk about—" he started.

"Let's just focus on the op, okay?" I interrupted.

I was an avoider, I knew that. It was one of my biggest flaws, but one I embraced wholeheartedly. I didn't want to talk about that night, not here, not now, not ever, if I could help it. It stirred up too many feelings, feelings I was still trying to decipher.

He took a deep breath, held it, and then let it go. "Sure," he said, almost defeated.

Relieved, I turned my attention back to what was happening ahead of us. One of Bulani's men was tying a tarp over the truck bed, and another man hopped into the driver's seat. When the man was done with the tarp, he thumped the side of the truck twice and yelled something. The truck began reversing, gradually making a wide turn. Then, the man jumped in the passenger's side, and they drove down the narrow road Boone and I had just come from.

The two remaining men went into the building, and it seemed that no one was outside except for us. I scanned the area to make sure, and then asked, "Now do you want to take a look around?"

"Yeah," he replied. He looked to his right. "Let's head around that way, see what's behind the building."

I nodded and hoisted myself up. Boone got up, too. Brushing dirt off my front, I gave him a lead-the-way gesture.

Carefully, we used the cover of the trees to make our way around the compound. The sound of the wind was helpful in masking our movements, since stepping on branches or getting snagged on thorn bushes was inevitable. Boone led us around to the back of the building, creeping up to the edge of the woods. He crouched behind a towering pile of firewood, and beckoned me to crouch down beside him.

I looked out, seeing the building more clearly from this vantage point. The back was nondescript, with miscellaneous boxes, crates, and tools scattered around. It was all concrete, save for a single metal door.

A man carrying a box jabbed at a keypad to the right of the door. I squinted, watching him enter the code: top-middle, middle-left, middle, bottom right. A green light flashed and the door clicked open.

"Ah-ha," I whispered as the man disappeared inside.

"If that 'ah-ha' means what I think it means," Boone stated, "the answer is 'no.'"

I retreated behind the firewood, and bent to unlace my sneakers. "Good thing I wasn't asking," I said.

He muttered something under his breath as I pulled off my shoes. "What are you doing?'

The ground was cold and damp under my socked feet.

"Can't go in there sounding like a T-Rex, can I?" I asked, mimicking his earlier statement.

"'Go in there?'" he repeated.

"Boone, we did it your way," I said reasonably. "Now, we're going to do it my way."

"You don't think two of us roaming around in Bulani's little organized crime headquarters is a bad idea?" he inquired derisively.

"Yes," I agreed, "two of us is a bad idea. But one of us isn't."

"One –" he said, and then he understood what I meant. He ran a hand through his hair. "Christ."

"One person will draw less attention," I said. Before he could say anything, I added, "And I'm smaller and quicker, okay?"

His jaw set, he looked at the door again. "I don't like this."

I moved my sneakers out of the way. "Our timetable moved from twenty-one days to eight," I replied. "I don't like it either, but we've got to get a move on with this Chiffer business."

He grunted in what I took as agreement.

I tightened my ponytail. "So, partner," I said with an expectant grin, "you got my back or what?"

"Yeah, rook, I've always got your back," he answered, maybe a bit reluctantly but without any hesitation.

My grin changed into a small, genuine smile. Our eyes met for a long moment, and I had to look down at the ground in order to be able to concentrate on what I was about to do. "I'm going to do some simple recon," I said. "Just to see what the inside looks like, hopefully get an idea of what the Chiffer is."

He nodded. "If there's trouble coming, I'll create a distraction," he said. "But if you're the one in trouble…"

"We don't have comms, I know," I said. The comms needed a central relay. We didn't have showers out here, much less a central command system.

"If you're not out in thirty minutes," he said, "I'm coming in after you."

I exhaled heavily. I could tell from his expression that he wasn't going to budge on that. "Fine." I looked at my watch to take note of the time.

He flashed me a humorless smile. "Have fun."

I reached down and took the penlight out of his sweatshirt pocket. "Thanks," I said, and tucked it into my bra.

Pulling out the Beretta and clicking off the safety, I held it in front of me and stood up. I peeked out from behind the firewood, making sure the coast was clear. It seemed like Bulani's men had all retreated inside. There were no security cameras; being this remote was a security system in and of itself, I supposed.

My heart beat heavy in my chest, but I also felt a tingle of excitement. Stepping out with one socked foot, I sprinted across the small clearing toward the back door, my footsteps completely silent on the ground. Pressing my back to the door so I wouldn't be completely visible if someone came around the side of the building, I took a quick look around before I jabbed "2459" into the keypad, desperately hoping I had seen the man enter the code correctly.

A green light flashed. I smiled to myself, raised a hand to wave in Boone's general direction, and then slipped inside.


Gun pointed at the ground, I closed the door silently behind me, hastily ducking behind a stack of wooden containers that were piled high on the left. I stayed still for a few moments, just in case anyone might have seen me come in. I glanced up at the ceiling, scanning for cameras, but didn't find any. When I knew I hadn't been seen, I poked my head out and took in my surroundings.

I was in a large, open room that looked like a storage area, packed with crates and boxes. The two men who had helped pack up the truck were sitting in fold-out chairs in the corner, watching a soccer game on a small black-and-white television and drinking 2M beer. Cans were littered on the ground, along with discarded bags of chips.

The building was big, but it was crudely constructed. Everything was grey and concrete. The cinderblock walls were crumbling in some parts, and the lighting consisted of a few poorly-placed bulbs. It was really more of a warehouse than an office building.

There wasn't anywhere to go except down a narrow hallway straight ahead of me. With a sense of dread, I realized I needed to cross behind the two men to get over there.

I waited a few minutes for something interesting to happen in the game, losing the feeling in one of my feet from staying crouched that long. When one of the men booed loudly when the other team scored, I darted past them and pressed my back to the hallway's wall, breathing hard from nerves. Not wanting to be exposed for too long, I immediately turned and edged along the hallway, eyes wide and alert. It felt odd sneaking around in socks, but it was surprisingly easy to be quiet.

Coming up to a room on the left, I hesitated before peering around the doorway into the room. It was dark and empty, so I went in. I took the penlight out of my bra and shined it around. The walls were lined with boxes marked in English lettering. They were labeled as "school supplies." I opened a box, and sure enough, I found old American biology textbooks from what looked like the 1970s. I swiped a finger through a layer of dust on one of the covers, rubbing it between my fingers and wondering how long these boxes had been here.

I turned off the penlight and moved on. I entered three similar rooms, stocked with boxes containing everything from medical supplies to nonperishable food. Just as I was beginning to think Bulani might be legitimate, that he was actually only running a charity, I spotted what was at the end of the hallway.

"Holy shit," I uttered inaudibly.

The end of the hallway opened up into a room on the left. On the ground were twelve surface-to-air missiles in open crates. It seemed they were awaiting transport.

I crept closer, noticing that they were Russian-made with the word "TRIUMPH" written on the side in Cyrillic letters. SAMs were bad news. Operated correctly, they could take down other missiles or aircrafts – military or civilian. Even though these weren't the "Chiffer," they still worried me. This was a bigger deal than transporting small arms across borders; this was sponsoring terrorism. When we got back into contact with the CIA, I needed to report it. I think they needed to pay more attention to Bulani.

I decided to head right, which led me down small hallway until I reached another large, open area. I paused in the hallway before looking out. A young man was leaning over a table, scribbling on a sheet of paper. I could see the stack of crates next to him and the half-open loading door behind him.

A radio squawked. The man picked up a handheld radio and said something short and clipped in Portuguese. He strode toward a closed door, knocked, and waited for a couple moments before the door opened. I saw a figure in the doorway, and then I pulled back so I wouldn't be seen.

I recognized the voice immediately. It was Bulani. The two had a quick conversation. I managed to pull out the word "caminhão," which meant "truck." Someone came on the radio again, and I heard footsteps and a door close. A motor rumbled in the distance. Counting to five, I peered around the corner to see what was going on.

Bulani and the other man were exiting through the loading door, and I could see a truck coming down the road. The truck was similar to the previous, but was a slightly different shade of green. I wondered if this truck was dropping off or picking up a load. Whatever was going on, this was my window to get into Bulani's office.

I sprinted diagonally across the room, accessing the office door in a single second. There was a keyhole but no other visible security system, so I pressed down on the handle. It gave, and I opened the door, entering as fast as I could and shutting the door again.

The office was a decent size, filled with everything from piles of papers to auto parts. There was a desk with a computer, a chair, and a desk lamp, with absolutely no personal touches. The faint smell of smoke hung in the air, and my eyes fell on an ashtray with the remains of a cigar in it. For some reason, I found it fitting. I could just see Bulani sitting in his chair, smoking a cigar – Cuban, of course – his shark eyes watching the smoke furl upwards, feeling good about being bad.

I couldn't help but smile at the clichéd mental picture as I clicked the safety on the Beretta.

I tucked the gun into my yoga pants for easier snooping, very aware that Boone would kill me for doing this. Since I didn't have much time, I went for the desk. I figured that would be a good place to start.

The papers on the desk were well organized. There were separate piles for MozCare paperwork, coded orders for guns and drugs, shipment contracts, and leases for buildings in Kenya, South Africa, CAR, Malawi, Sudan, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Going around the desk, I glanced over payment slips, looking for any ties to Volkov.

Scraping sounds came from outside the door, and I guessed the men were moving crates onto the truck. Pushing my bangs back, I felt nerves clawing at my chest. I needed to find something soon.

I jiggled the mouse of Bulani's computer to wake it up from the screensaver. A screen appeared, prompting me for a password.

Squatting in front of the computer, I debated guessing the password or trying to find it written down somewhere, but I knew Bulani was too careful for that. I stared at the screen. I wasn't a computer whiz by any means, but our training at the Farm had taught us the basic necessities for computer hacking in the field. Desperately trying to remember the class about PCs, I hit a few buttons on the keyboard. One of them made an error sound and I winced.

It took me a minute to recall the code to bring up a command screen without needing the password, but I eventually got it to pop up in the bottom left corner. I typed in a code to search for keywords like "Chiffer", "Russia", "$20 million", "Volkov", and several of Volkov's aliases on the hard drive.

The computer was an older model and quite slow. I tapped the mouse in agitation. Twenty-seven results popped up, and I hurriedly clicked through them. Many of them had to do with past shipments of AK-47s from old weapons stockpiles from the Cold War that were coming in from Russia. Volkov's aliases came up a couple times, but those documents were from before Volkov's network had collapsed.

There were no files on the Chiffer, but there was one flagged for "20." Voices were talking on the other side of the door, but I clicked on it anyway. It was a deleted email from eleven days ago. It was written in cryptic English: "20 final price. Access to TS SCI or no deal. Will test on site in JHB."

Cryptic or not, I had a feeling I knew what it meant.

The door clicked open. My stomach dropped, and I instinctively hid underneath the desk. There was a small opening underneath the desk about six inches wide, and I bent my head to see a pair of muddy shoes stroll to the right side of the room and stop. The sound of shuffling papers came along with some irritated mumbling.

I panicked. The deleted email was still up on the computer screen. I swallowed, staring at the pair of feet. They were soon joined by a pair of sneakers. Both shoes were directed away from me, so I took the chance and crawled out, reached a hand up to press the 'Escape' key several times to get back to the lock screen. Glancing to the side, I saw Bulani and the man flipping through a thick stack of paper, obviously looking for something in particular. They exchanged a few words in Portuguese.

Retreating back under the desk and grabbing my gun, I curled up into a ball in the corner. The concrete was cold through my pants, and a cobweb brushed against my face. My fingers holding onto the gun tightly, I concentrated on breathing silently and evenly.

I was stuck, and if I didn't get out soon, Boone was going to come looking for me. I looked at my watch. I had eleven minutes.

Footsteps came, and the first pair of shoes appeared behind the desk. Bulani, I was guessing, sat down and rolled the chair closer to the desk. His feet almost touched me and I froze. Every single one of my muscles tightened as I tried to remain completely still. I squeezed my eyes closed when he leaned forward and his jean-clad knees nearly touched my shoulder.

The rustling of papers lasted for seven minutes, sometimes punctuated by the aggressive scratching of a pen. I kept my eyes on my watch, feeling each second tick by.

There was a knock, and a male voice asked a question. Even though I couldn't understand it, it sounded like a new employee asking their boss to explain something to them. Bulani shifted, replied in a cool, condescending tone, and then stood up. He stepped away from the desk and I felt like I could breathe again.

They both left the office, Bulani talking in a low voice, sounding impatient. I crept out from underneath the desk and went to the wall next to the doorframe. The door was open, and I could see Bulani leading a tall man over to some crates, gesturing at them. They were turned sideways, so I didn't have a clear go, but I had four minutes to get out of this building and even less before Bulani returned to his office.

I bent down and ran across the room, praying there was nobody in the hallway. Thankfully, there wasn't. My back hit the hallway wall hard, making a small thump sound. I waited a beat before slinking along the corridor toward the back exit. I passed the SAMs with a grimace, and then sprinted down to the large room at the end of the hallway where the two men had been watching TV. They had disappeared, probably helping to load the truck out front. I went for the door, punched in the code, and the panel blinked green. I opened the door carefully. When I was certain no one was standing outside, I stepped through it.

Scanning the back area, I took off toward the trees, clambering through the underbrush toward the firewood pile. I was relieved to see Boone exactly where I had left him. When he saw me, he closed his eyes and shook his head.

"One minute to spare," he informed me.

"So, I'm early, then," I replied.

His eyes opened. "Funny."

I sat on my butt and put the gun on the ground. "I thought so," I said, reaching for my sneakers.

"I was picturing the worst in there," he said. I saw him subtly glance over me, probably making sure I was all right, and I had to quickly suppress the feelings that rose up in my chest.

I tugged my shoes back on even though my socks were wet and dirty. "It was fine. A little drafty, a little cobwebby, but fine," I said, nonchalant to put his mind at ease. I wasn't going to tell him about the close call with Bulani. "So, good news and bad news."

"Yeah?" he said expectantly.

Knotting my shoelaces, I said, "Good news: I think I know what the Chiffer is."

"And the bad news?"

I pressed my lips together and looked up at him. "I think I know what the Chiffer is."

He steeled himself for the news. "What did you find?" he asked, apprehensive.

I told him about the computer search and the deleted email.

"TS SCI?" he repeated like he hadn't heard me correctly.

I inhaled deeply, wrapping my arms around my knees. We were both incredibly familiar with that abbreviation, since they were two of the CIA's most used acronyms. "Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmentalized Information," I said quietly.

TS SCI consisted of the U.S.'s highest classified information. CIA operatives and analysts were only given clearances for the SCI related to their job, otherwise called Need to Know. Boone and I had an SCI clearance for information about Volkov, but not for information that didn't directly pertain to our mission. It was a way of keeping intelligence from spreading too far and getting into the wrong hands.

"The Chiffer is a program that decrypts U.S. classified information," Boone said slowly. He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to process his own statement. "Fuck."

"Yeah, that's what I came up with, too," I told him. "And I'm guessing JHB stands for 'Johannesburg,' where Bulani and Volkov are going to meet up in eight days."

"Makes sense," he said. "You didn't see the Chiffer?"

I shook my head. "No, but I'm guessing it's a microchip or a flash drive. Something small. Bulani probably keeps it on him because I didn't see a safe or anything."

"That makes things a little difficult," he said, and then sighed heavily, covering his eyes with a hand and pressing his fingers into his temples.

"I know," I said. "And Boone?"

"Hmm?"

"They've got a dozen SAMs."

He dropped his hand, eyes flashing. "Are you fucking kidding me?" he rumbled.

I gave him a gentle look to let him know I wasn't.

He looked at the ground, thinking for a few moments before saying, "We've got a check-in tomorrow at noon. I'll let Nixon know everything, get our orders on how to proceed."

"Okay." I was quiet for a second, absently fiddling with my shoelace, and then I said, "I don't think Nixon knew what he was sending us into." We had no backup, limited resources, and no emergency exit strategy. Add in a threat to national security and a few SAMs and we had ourselves a real mess.

"I don't either," he replied. "But we'll figure it out."

I nodded.

He shifted, glancing at his watch. "We should get back to camp."

He stood up and extended a hand. I took it, his big hand enveloping mine as he pulled me up. We traced our way back, staying hidden in the trees until we were out of sight of the building. We merged back onto the unpaved road, jogging back toward the camp. We dropped the Berettas off at the Land Rover, and then snuck into the campsite. Tiago and the other guards were still conversing in low voices inside the large tent.

Boone unzipped our tent and we both climbed in. We pulled off our shoes, slipped into our sleeping bags, and stared up at the tent's ceiling, breathing heavily. The campsite was quiet, no one the wiser that Dominic and Kate Francis had just had a late-night escapade in the jungle.

Boone's arm was pressed against mine, the tent too small for the both of us. Surprising me, he covered my hand with his. He gave it gentle squeeze before letting go and turning over. I stared at his dark outline, surprisingly myself when I realized how much I wanted more. It would be so easy to reach over, run my fingers over the soft material of his sweatshirt, feeling the curve of his shoulders, the muscles underneath, and drift up to feel the rough stubble of his jaw, the thickness of his hair, the warmth of his skin, of him. I was tempted, really tempted, but then I remembered how complicated things were. So, instead, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and willed myself to get some sleep.


A/N: I wanted to get this chapter out sooner, but between life, my bad habit of procrastinating editing, and Gilmore Girls coming out on Netflix, it's a little late. I'm sorry! Thank you so much for your patience, and I hope you like the chapter in all of its tension-y glory!

Thank you to everyone who reviewed - I'm so grateful, really, truly. Thanks to these anonymous reviewers: Leprechaun (thanks for always leaving such encouraging reviews!), MM, Liz, GiGi, Amelie, Guest (you definitely weren't reading too much into it - I think that line said a lot about their relationship, too!), Guest, Guest, Angela D (there will be some M stuff throughout the story, I promise!), Guest, toffeema, Maisie Lynn (I'm so glad you like the dialogue!), Emzz, mylittleprincess, reader, Anon-y-Maus, KB, Guest, and Guest (your review came in just as I was writing this A/N, good timing :) hope you liked the update!).

Please let me know your thoughts! Until next time :)