Crawl through, search for the target’s scent.

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Tucker knew this was a task Kane could handle. Humans had 6 million olfactory receptors in their nose; hunting dogs had 300 million, which heightened their sense of smell a thousandfold, allowing them to scent a target from two football fields away.

At the end of the instructions, Tucker lowered his palm facedown, signaling Kane to stay hidden if the target was found.

Finished, Tucker slipped a hand to the shepherd’s flank, running his fingers over the black jacket that blended perfectly with his fur. It was a K9 Storm tactical vest, waterproof and Kevlar-reinforced. He checked Kane’s earpiece, which allowed them to communicate in the field—then flipped up an eraser-size lens of a night-vision video camera secured near the collar and positioned it between the dog’s pricked ears.

The team needed eyes and ears in there.

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Tucker pulled out a cell phone, tapped in a code, and a grainy, dog’s-eye view of himself appeared on the small screen. He leaned down and gave his partner’s nape a fast ruffle. He also shook the vest to make sure nothing rattled to betray Kane’s position in the field.

Satisfied, he knelt and cradled the dog’s head in his palms. A muscular tremble betrayed Kane’s excitement. His tongue lolled as he silently panted. Dark eyes met Tucker’s. It was one of the unique features of domesticated dogs—they studied us as much as we studied them.

“Who’s a good boy?” he whispered to his friend, a ritual of theirs.

Kane’s nose shoved forward, touching his, acknowledging their bond.

Tucker finally stood and flicked his wrist toward the gap in the fence.

Go.

Kane swung and lunged smoothly through the hole, his tail vanishing away in seconds. Tucker checked his phone. A juggling view of parked bulldozers and piles of rebar-ribbed broken slabs of concrete appeared on the small screen. The image bobbled and swung like some badly directed horror movie.

Tucker touched his throat mike. “Video’s up, commander. In case you want to watch the show.”

As he waited for a response, Tucker slipped a Bluetooth earbud into his free ear. Through it, he heard the soft whisper of Kane’s panting breath.

In his other ear, Gray responded, “Got it. Let’s see what our friend Amur is up to.”

Tucker kept to the shadows of the Dumpster and watched his partner’s progress. Fear prickled over his skin.

Be careful out there, buddy.

Kane races low to the ground, senses stretching outward, hunting for his prey. Around him, night brightens into shades of gray, frosted by muted hues. Piles of stone grow high on either side, offering sheltered pathways forward. The stir of a breeze shifts a crumpled paper cup, the movement twitching for attention but ultimately ignored.

When sight fails him, scent fills in, layer upon layer, marking time backward and forward, building a framework of old trails around him.

Bitter musk of spoor …

Acrid sting of a urine marker …

Burned oil from silent machines …

He moves through the maze, taking in more smells, drawing them upon his moist tongue, deep into the back of his throat and sinuses. His ears swivel at every hushed whisper of sand: from breezes, from the pad of his paws.

On … always onward …

He holds his nose high at a turn, tracking.

Then … familiar sweat, spicy and pungent, drifts to him, basking outward in the wake of the prey.

His legs slow.

He lowers his body, keeping to the shadowed trails.

He forces his panting to grow quiet.

Ahead, the prey approaches others. They are out of sight, but their musk betrays them. They are hidden behind a pile of metal, smelling of rust and burrowed through with the scent of scurrying things. The odor of man wafts past it all, impossible to ignore, stinking and strong.

His prey walks forward, trailed by another with a gun.

Kane knows guns—by scent, sight, and sound, he knows guns.

The hidden others show themselves at last, stepping into the open. The prey falls back, the scent of his fear spiking sharper—then it quickly fades, snuffing out again.

Among the four, lips are pulled back, showing teeth, but not in threat. They speak, making noise.

Kane creeps closer, finding a spot to watch unseen. He lies still, on his belly, but his haunches remain tense, ready to flee or charge.

For now, he stays.

Staring, obedient.

Because he asked.

Kane continues to draw in the night, ever vigilant, painting the world around him in scents and sounds. He smells his own trail, going back, buried among so many others. But through it all, one trail shines like the sun in the night around him, connecting him to another, both bound together forever by blood and trust.

He knows that name, too.

By scent, by sound, by sight.

He knows that name.

9:12 P.M.

Tucker spied on the meeting between Amur and his trio of compatriots, fellow pirates judging by their tribal scars and harsh manners. They gathered near a rusted stack of old iron H-beams and broken cement bricks. In his ear, he heard their harsh laughter and words spoken in a local Somali dialect. A translation program converted the conversation into a tinny computerized version.

“How long can you draw them out?” one asked.

“How much money can you get?” another added.

“Hassan, Habib, trust me.” Amur smiled, lifting his arms. “There is more going on than they tell me. For that, I can make them dance on a string at my whim.”

“So you say,” the third said doubtfully.

As proof of his word, Amur removed a wad of bills and stripped out several for each. “But first,” he said, “I must give these Americans something to chew on, to keep them hanging on my words, yes?”

The others ignored him, counting their bills and stuffing them away.

“What have you heard about this American woman?” Amur asked, drawing back their attention.

“Only rumors, Amur.” These words earned nods among the three.

Another voice spoke in Tucker’s other ear: “At this point, I’ll take rumors.”

That assessment came from Commander Pierce. It seemed the team leader was listening into the feed with as much interest as he was.

“Then what is the word?” Amur pressed.

“A friend of my brother’s uncle, up near Eil, he says a white woman came through his village. He says they were moving her into the mountains.”

“The Cal Madow mountains?”

A shrug answered him.

“That is much territory to cover,” Amur said, but he didn’t seem disappointed. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “If she is among those mountains, she will never be found. I can easily give that information to the Americans without truly telling them anything. And with Allah shining upon us, I should be able to tease out our relationship for several profitable days.”

“And after that?”

“Then I will no longer have a use for the three Americans. It would be unfortunate if something happened to them—unfortunate but not unusual in these treacherous lands, yes?”

Grins followed, shared all around.

“So it seems Amur is not the hospitable host he pretends to be,” Gray said in his ear. “I think we’ll have to—”

The commander’s words were cut off by a low growl.

The view on the small screen shifted as his partner retreated, clearly sensing something.

“What’s your dog doing?” Gray asked, also noting the sudden movement.

“Hold on. Something’s spooked him.”

The grainy image leaped and joggled as the shepherd bounded and circled around a steep pile of concrete debris. It looked like the dog was trying to outflank Amur and his group.

Then the view settled again.

Farther out in the construction zone, a team of six men descended toward Amur’s group. They were outfitted in black body armor and wore helmets equipped with night-vision goggles. At their shoulders, they carried assault rifles. These newcomers were no rough pirates; they clearly had military training. Their intent seemed anything but friendly.

Amur’s inquiries must have reached the wrong ears.

Not good. Not now.

Tucker watched as hand signals from the squad’s leader split the group. They spread out to either side, a pincer move intended to trap Amur’s group between them.

Unfortunately, the former pirate was not the only one caught in the trap. Tucker’s heart thudded in his throat.

6

July 1, 9:15 P.M. East Africa Time

Boosaaso, Somalia

“Stay put!” Gray ordered.

Seichan stood at his shoulder; Kowalski at the other. They had stopped at the mouth of an alleyway, a few blocks from their hotel, observing the feed from the shepherd’s camera. The armored commando team had swept wide, circling Amur’s group, clearly intending to let no one escape.

“Can’t do that, commander,” Captain Wayne responded. “Not until Kane’s out of harm’s way.”

Gray knew there was nothing he could say to stop Tucker. He had no authority over him, and if the man was spotted—or worse, caught—he’d jeopardize the entire mission.

“Then at least wait until I get there,” Gray pressed. “We’ll do this together.”

A long pause followed, long enough for him to worry that the man had already gone.

Then an answer came. “I’ll wait,” Tucker said. “For the moment. But no promises.”

That was as much concession as Gray would get from him.

“I’m on my way,” Gray radioed—then faced the others and pointed down the street. “You two, head to the hotel. Keep the tail chasing after you. Convince them we’ve retired for the night.”

Seichan stepped closer. “You shouldn’t be going alone. You barely know the city.”

He tapped up a street-view map of Boosaaso on his phone. “I’ll manage. Besides, we have no choice. Amur surely has other friends in the city. We need an alibi if he comes to a bad end in that construction yard. We don’t want his murder pinned on us.”

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