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Unrestricted Access, Page 2

James Rollins

  “Safety release is here.” She pointed the weapon at a nearby bush and squeezed the trigger. There was only a tiny whirring cough. A projectile flashed out the barrel and buzzed through the bush, severing leaves and branches. “One-inch razor-disks. You can set the weapon for single shot or automatic strafe.” She demonstrated. “Two hundred shots per magazine.”

  He whistled again and accepted the weapon. “Maybe you should keep this weed-whacker. With your bum leg, you’re going to drag ass at a snail’s pace.” He nodded to the jungle “And the damn apes are still out there.”

  “They’re baboons . . . and I still have my handheld shrieker. Now get going.” She checked her watch. She had given Kowalski a second timepiece, calibrated to match. “Nineteen minutes.”

  He nodded. “I’ll see you soon.” He moved off the trail, vanishing almost instantly into the dense foliage.

  “Where are you going?” she called after him. “The trail—”

  “Screw the trail,” he responded through the radio. “I’ll take my chances in the raw jungle. Less traps. Plus I’ve got this baby to carve a straight path to the mad doctor’s house.”

  Shay hoped he was right. There would be no time for backtracking or second chances. She quickly dosed herself with a morphine injector and used a broken tree branch for a crutch. As she set off for the beach, she heard the ravenous hunting calls of the baboons.

  She hoped Kowalski could outsmart them.

  The thought drew a groan that had nothing to do with her broken leg.

  Luckily Kowalski had a knife now.

  He hung upside down . . . for the second time that day. He bent at the waist, grabbed his trapped ankle, and sawed through the snare’s rope. It snapped with a pop. He fell, clenched in a ball, and crashed to the jungle floor with a loud oof.

  “What was that?” Dr. Rosauro asked over the radio.

  He straightened his limbs and lay on his back for a breath. “Nothing,” he growled. “Just tripped on a rock.” He scowled at the swinging rope overhead. He was not about to tell the beautiful woman doctor that he had been strung up again. He did have some pride left.

  “Goddamn snare,” he mumbled under his breath.


  “Nothing.” He had forgotten about the sensitivity of the subvocal transmitter.

  “Snare? You snared yourself again, didn’t you?”

  He kept silent. His momma once said, It was better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

  “You need to watch where you’re going,” the woman scolded.

  Kowalski bit back a retort. He heard the pain in her voice . . . and her fear. So instead he hauled back to his feet and retrieved his gun.

  “Seventeen minutes,” Dr. Rosauro reminded him.

  “I’m just reaching the compound now.”

  The sun-bleached hacienda appeared like a calm oasis of civilization in a sea of Nature’s raw exuberance. It was straight lines and sterile order versus wild overgrowth and tangled fecundity. Three buildings sat on five manicured acres, separated by breezeways, and nestled around a small garden courtyard. A three-tiered Spanish fountain stood in the center, ornate with blue and red glass tiles. No water splashed through its basins.

  Kowalski studied the compound, stretching a kink out of his back. The only movement across the cultivated grounds was the swaying fronds of some coconut palms. The winds were already rising with the approaching storm. Clouds stacked on the southern horizon.

  “The office is on the main floor, near the back,” Rosauro said in his ear. “Careful of the electric perimeter fence. The power may still be on.”

  He studied the chain-link fencing, almost eight feet tall, topped by a spiral of concertina wire and separated from the jungle by a burned swath about ten yards wide. No-man’s-land.

  Or rather no-ape’s-land.

  He picked up a broken branch and approached the fence. Wincing, he stretched one end toward the chain links. He was mindful of his bare feet. Shouldn’t I be grounded for this? He had no idea.

  As the tip of his club struck the fence, a strident wail erupted. He jumped back, then realized the noise was not coming from the fence. It wailed off to his left, toward the water.

  Dr. Rosauro’s shrieker.

  “Are you all right?” Kowalski called into his transmitter.

  A long stretch of silence had him holding his breath—then whispered words reached him. “The baboons must sense my injury. They’re converging on my location. Just get going.”

  Kowalski poked his stick at the fence a few more times, like a child with a dead rat, making sure it was truly dead. Once satisfied, he snapped the concertina wire with clippers supplied by Dr. Rosauro and scurried over the fence, certain the power was just waiting to surge back with electric-blue death.

  He dropped with a relieved sigh onto the mowed lawn, as bright and perfect as any golf course.

  “You don’t have much time,” the doctor stressed needlessly. “If you’re successful, the rear gardens lead all the way to the beach. The northern headlands stretch out from there.”

  Kowalski set out, aiming for the main building. A shift in wind brought the damp waft of rain . . . along with the stench of death, the ripeness of meat left out in the sun. He spotted the body on the far side of the fountain.

  He circled the man’s form. The guy’s face had been gnawed to the bone, clothes shredded, belly slashed open, bloated intestines strung across the ground like festive streamers. It seemed the apes had been having their own party since the good doctor took off.

  As he circled, he noted the black pistol clutched in the corpse’s hand. The slide had popped open. No more bullets. Not enough firepower to hold off a whole pack of the furry carnivores. Kowalski raised his own weapon to his shoulder. He searched the shadowed corners for any hidden apes. There were not even any bodies. The shooter must either be a poor marksman, or the ruby-assed monkeys had hauled off their brethren’s bodies, perhaps to eat later, like so much baboon takeout.

  Kowalski made one complete circle. Nothing.

  He crossed toward the main building. Something nagged at the edge of his awareness. He scratched his skull in an attempt to dislodge it—but failed.

  He climbed atop the full-length wooden porch and tried the door handle. Latched but unlocked. He shoved the door open with one foot, weapon raised, ready for a full-frontal ape assault.

  The door swung wide, rebounded, and bounced back closed in his face.

  Snorting in irritation, he grabbed the handle again. It wouldn’t budge. He tugged harder.


  “You’ve got to be kidding.”

  The collision must have jiggled some bolt into place.

  “Are you inside yet?” Rosauro asked.

  “Just about,” he grumbled.

  “What’s the hold-up?”

  “Well . . . what happened was . . .” He tried sheepishness, but it fit him as well as fleece on a rhino. “I guess someone locked it.”

  “Try a window.”

  Kowalski glanced to the large windows that framed either side of the barred doorway. He stepped to the right and peered through. Inside was a rustic kitchen with oak tables, a farmer’s sink, and old enamel appliances. Good enough. Maybe they even had a bottle of beer in the fridge. A man could dream. But first there was work to do.

  He stepped back, pointed his weapon, and fired a single round. The silver razor-disk shattered through the pane as easily as any bullet. Fractures spattered out from the hole.

  He grinned. Happy again.

  He retreated another step, careful of the porch edge. He thumbed the switch to automatic fire and strafed out the remaining panes.

  He poked his head through the hole. “Anyone home?”

  That’s when he saw the exposed wire snapping and spitting around a silver disk imbedded in the wall plaster. It had nicked through the electric cord. More disks were impaled across the far wall . . . including one that had p
unctured the gas line to the stove.

  He didn’t bother cursing.

  He twisted and leaped as the explosion blasted behind him. A wall of superheated air shoved him out of the way, blowing his poncho over his head. He hit the ground rolling as a fireball swirled across of the courtyard overhead. Tangled in his poncho, he tumbled—right into the eviscerated corpse. Limbs fought, heat burned, and scrambling fingers found only a gelid belly wound and things that squished.

  Gagging, Kowalski fought his way free and shoved the poncho off his body. He stood, shaking like a wet dog, swiping gore from his arms in disgust. He stared toward the main building.

  Flames danced behind the kitchen window. Smoke choked out the shattered pane.

  “What happened?” the doctor gasped in his ear.

  He only shook his head. Flames spread, flowing out the broken window and lapping at the porch.


  “Booby trap. I’m fine.”

  He collected his weapon from his discarded poncho. Resting it on his shoulder, he intended to circle around to the back. According to Dr. Rosauro, the main office was in the rear.

  If he worked quickly—

  He checked his watch.


  It was hero time.

  He stepped toward the north side of the hacienda. His bare heel slipped on a loop of intestine, slick as any banana peel. His leg twisted out from under him. He tumbled face-first, striking hard, the weapon slamming to the packed dirt, his finger jamming the trigger.

  Silver disks flashed out and struck the figure lumbering into the courtyard, one arm on fire. It howled—not in agony, but in feral rage. The figure wore the tatters of a white butler’s attire. His eyes were fever-bright but mucked with pasty matter. Froth speckled and drooled from lips rippled in a snarl. Blood stained the lower half of his face and drenched the front of his once-starched white shirt.

  In a flash of insight—a rarity—Kowalski realized what had been nagging him before. The lack of monkey corpses here. He’d assumed they’d been cannibalized—if so, then why leave a perfectly good chunk of meat out here?

  The answer: no apes had attacked here.

  It seemed the beasts were not the only ones infected on the island.

  Nor the only cannibals.

  The butler, still on fire, lunged toward Kowalski. The first impacts of the silver disks had struck shoulder and neck. Blood sprayed. Not enough to stop the determined maniac.

  Kowalski squeezed the trigger, aiming now.

  An arc of razored death sliced across the space at knee height.

  Tendons snapped, bones shattered. The butler collapsed and fell toward Kowalski, landing almost nose to nose with him. A clawed hand grabbed his throat, nails digging into his flesh. Kowalski raised the muzzle of his VK rifle.

  “Sorry, buddy.”

  Kowalski aimed for the open mouth and pulled the trigger, closing his eyes at the last second.

  A gargling yowl erupted—then went immediately silent. His throat was released.

  Kowalski opened his eyes to see the butler collapse face-first.


  Kowalski rolled to the side and gained his legs. He searched around for any other attackers, then ran toward the back of the hacienda. He glanced in each window as he passed: a locker room, a lab with steel animal cages, a billiard room.

  Fire roared on the structure’s far side, fanned by the growing winds. Smoke churned up into the darkening skies.

  Through the next window, Kowalski spotted a room with a massive wooden desk and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

  It had to be the professor’s study.

  “Dr. Rosauro,” Kowalski whispered.

  No answer.

  “Dr. Rosauro . . .” he tried a little louder.

  He grabbed his throat. His transmitter was gone, ripped away in his scuffle with the butler. He glanced back toward the courtyard. Flames lapped the sky.

  He was on his own.

  He turned back to the study. A rear door opened into the room. It stood ajar.

  Why did that not sit well with him?

  With time strangling, Kowalski edged cautiously forward, gun raised. He used the tip of his weapon to nudge the door wider.

  He was ready for anything.

  Rabid baboons, raving butlers.

  But not for the young woman in a skintight charcoal wet suit.

  She was crouched before an open floor safe and rose smoothly with the creak of the door, a pack slung over one shoulder. Her hair, loose and damp, flowed as dark as a raven’s wing, her skin burnt honey. Eyes, the smoky hue of dark caramel, met his.

  Over a silver 9 mm SIG Sauer held in one fist.

  Kowalski ducked to the side of the doorway, keeping his weapon pointed inside. “Who the hell are you?”

  “My name, señor, is Condeza Gabriella Salazar. You are trespassing on my husband’s property.”

  Kowalski scowled. The professor’s wife. Why did all the pretty ones go for the smart guys?

  “What are you doing here?” he called out.

  “You are American, si? Sigma Force, no doubt.” This last was said with a sneer. “I’ve come to collect my husband’s cure. I will use it to barter for my marido’s freedom. You will not stop me.”

  A blast of her gun chewed a hole through the door. Splinters chased him back.

  Something about the easy way she had handled her pistol suggested more than competence. Plus if she married a professor, she probably had a few IQ points on him.

  Brains and a body like that.

  Life was not fair.

  Kowalski backed away, covering the side door. Maybe they’d have to chalk this one up to the bad guys.

  A window shattered by his ear. A bullet seared past the back of his neck. He dropped and pressed against the adobe wall.

  The bitch had moved out of the office and was stalking him from inside the house.

  Body, brains, and she knew the lay of the land.

  No wonder she’d been able to avoid the monsters here.

  Distantly a noise intruded. The whump-whump of an approaching helicopter. It was their evac chopper. He glanced to his watch. Of course their ride was early.

  “You should run for your friends,” the woman called from inside. “While you still have time!”

  Kowalski stared at the manicured lawn that spread all the way to the beach. There was no cover. The bitch would surely drop him within a few steps.

  It came down to do or die.

  He bunched his legs under him, took a deep breath, then sprang up. He crashed back-first through the bullet-weakened window. He kept his rifle tucked to his belly. He landed hard and shoulder-rolled, ignoring the shards of glass cutting him.

  He gained a crouched position, rifle up, swiveling.

  The room was empty.

  Gone again.

  So it was to be a cat-and-mouse hunt through the house.

  He moved to the doorway that led deeper into the structure. Smoke flowed in rivers across the ceiling. The temperature inside was furnace-hot. He pictured the pack over the woman’s shoulder. She had already emptied the safe. She would make for one of the exits. The same constraints on time would be squeezing her.

  He edged to the next room.

  A sunroom. A wall of windows overlooked the expanse of gardens and lawn. Rattan furniture and floor screens offered a handful of hiding places. He would have to lure her out somehow. Outthink her.

  Yeah, right . . .

  He edged into the room, keeping close to the back wall.

  He crossed the room. There was no attack.

  He reached the far archway. It led to a back foyer.

  And an open door.

  He cursed inwardly. As he made his entrance, she must have made her exit. She was probably halfway to Honduras by now. He rushed the door and out to the back porch. He searched the grounds.


  So much for outthinking her.

  The press of the hot barrel against the back
of his skull punctuated how thick that skull actually was. Like he had concluded earlier, she must have realized a sprint across open ground was too risky. So she had waited to ambush him.

  She didn’t even hesitate for any witty repartee . . . not that he’d be a good sparring partner anyway. Only a single word of consolation was offered. “Adios.”

  The blast of the gun was drowned by a sudden siren’s wail.

  Both of them jumped at the shrieking burst.

  Luckily, he jumped to the left, she to the right.

  The round tore through Kowalski’s right ear with a lance of fire.

  He spun, pulling the trigger on his weapon. He didn’t aim, just clenched the trigger and strafed at waist level. He lost his balance at the edge of the porch, tumbling back.

  Another bullet ripped through the air past the tip of his nose.

  He hit the cobbled path, and his skull struck with a distinct ring. The rifle was knocked from his fingers.

  He searched up and saw the woman step to the edge of the porch.

  She pointed her SIG Sauer at him.

  Her other arm clutched her stomach. It failed to act as a dam. Abdominal contents spilled from her split belly, pouring out in a flow of dark blood. She lifted her gun, arm trembling—her eyes met his, oddly surprised. Then the gun slipped from her fingers, and she toppled toward him.

  Kowalski rolled out of the way in time.

  She landed with a wet slap on the stone path.

  The bell-beat of the helicopter wafted louder as the winds changed direction. The storm was rolling in fast. He saw the chopper circle the beach once, like a dog settling for a place to sleep, then lower toward the flat rocky expanse.

  Kowalski returned to Gabriella Salazar’s body and hauled off her pack. He began to sprint for the beach. Then stopped, went back, and retrieved his VK rifle. He wasn’t leaving it behind.

  As he ran, he realized two things.

  One. The siren blast from the neighboring jungle had gone silent. And two. He had heard not a single word from Dr. Rosauro. He checked the taped receiver behind his ear. Still in place.

  Why had she gone silent?

  The helicopter—a Sikorsky S-76—touched down ahead of him. Sand swirled in the rotorwash. A gunman in military fatigues pointed a rifle at him and bellowed over the roar of the blades.