Art Adkins
Author & Leadership Instructor
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Mindwalkers- Chapter 36

Chapter 36

The escape route had emptied them out over seven hundred yards from the main compound.  During their walk through the tunnel they had to trudge through water and the lighting was non-existent in portions, forcing them to feel their way.  But in the end they had emerged next to a small river. The jungle was dense, the vegetation closing around them.  Visibility was limited to within a few yards and the strong smell of rotting leaves was prominent.

In the distance Slade could hear the sound of gunshots and men yelling.  The battle for the complex was almost over.  The security force was no match for the horde of mercenaries Gunter had hired.  He knew everyone would be killed.

Cody had slumped down onto the ground and was trying to peel the shirt away from his upper body.  Blood had caked the upper portion of his shirt.  Slade crouched down in front of him and tore the remaining pieces of his shirt away.  A fragment of metal was sticking out of his upper chest near his left shoulder.

“A piece of the grenade?” asked Cody, wincing as Slade gently tugged on it.

“No.  Just a random piece of metal probably caught in the blast.  It needs to come out.  Do you need something to bite down on when I pull it free?”

“No.  Just make it quick.”

“I can’t do that.  If I snatch it out without knowing how far imbedded it is, I could do more damage.  I’m going to have to pull it free gently.”

“Don’t enjoy it too much,” said Cody, attempting to add some humor to the situation.

“I’ll try my best,” replied Slade.

Grabbing a small piece of cloth, Slade got a firm grip on the metal and started to work it loose.  The end was bent and hanging onto Cody’s chest muscle.  Angling the metal down Slade was able to wrench it free.  He immediately pressed the cloth onto the open wound and placed Cody’s hand over it.  He had to admit he was impressed with the pain tolerance of the FBI agent; not once did he cry out and Slade knew it had been painful.  

“How bad am I?” asked Cody.

“I’m not worried about the blood loss, because we can probably control that – no major veins or arteries were lacerated.  But I am concerned about infection.  This environment has more bacteria than a lab and I’m afraid if I don’t get you medical help soon, any type of infection could set in.  We don’t have clean bandages and the longer we wait to get you on medication, the greater the chance for your condition to worsen.”

“Why don’t you leave me and go for help?  I’ll stay here until you return.”  Cody straightened up by bracing his back against a small sapling.

“Cody, I’m not sure where we are.  I studied a map in Juan’s office because I was curious.  If I’m correct this tributary leads to the Amazon, but I don’t how far it is, if it’s navigable or what.  And how do we get there?”

“Not a very pleasant picture.”

“And there is considerable jungle life to consider with more animals than a zoo and most of them would like to have us for a snack.  This will not be an easy endeavor.”

“Any alternatives?”

“Just one.  We wait till morning and move back to the compound.  Hopefully they will have left and we can find some way of contacting the outside.”

“If Gunter is as smart as we believe, I’m betting on patrols left for just that contingency.”

“You could be right, but the other alternative is miles of jungle with no provisions in a hostile environment.  Besides the animals, we don’t know if there are indigenous people here that view our encroachment as an aggressive act.  We could be walking across sacred ground and not know it.”

“You win.”

“We need to get ready for a long night.” 

“Agreed.”

Slade smiled at Cody and tried to make him comfortable.  There was no way they could build a fire.  The smoke would be spotted immediately if patrols had been left by Gunter.  They had no food or water so they would have to wait until morning to hopefully gather some supplies from the compound, if it was not occupied.    

During the night, neither got any sleep, spending every available minute swatting mosquitoes.  The longer the night, the larger they became or so it seemed. 

The insects were not the only distraction.  The jungle was alive with animals and they could hear them moving through the brush.  Several times a large cat called out and both of them reached for their weapons.  An animal resembling a large rat on steroids ran between them and they could barely discern it in the limited moonlight.  It did make them sit with their backs to the same tree.  A bird landed in the tree above them and engaged in calling to his mate for several hours before deciding to leave.  Morning found them exhausted with bites all over their face and hands.

“I can’t do another night like that.  I would rather face a whole team of Gunter’s men than that pesky insect horde again.  Not to mention the animals roaming around out here.”

“You and me both,” said Slade.  “I’ll conduct a surveillance of the compound and if it’s clear, I’ll come back and get you.  Stay put.”

“Okay.”

Slade disappeared into the brush.  He did not dare use the tunnel to access the facility.  If Gunter had left men behind to guard the facility they had undoubtedly discovered the escape route and had either caved it in or mined it with explosives.  It was too risky.

Slade did a better job than he imagined finding the compound with no compass.  Crawling on his hands and knees he was able to get within a hundred feet of the structure.  Lying in the grass he waited for movement.  Sweat beaded on his forehead and trickled down the neck of his shirt.  As the sun started to climb into the sky, the heat increased and soon he was soaked.

Slade had almost given up and was about to make the final move to enter the compound when he saw a solitary mercenary walk from one room to another.  The man did so carefully, being careful to avoid silhouetting himself in any opening, but the contrast between shadows and his figure gave him away.  Having located the target, Slade watched as he made contact with two other men.  The lone mercenary left them and picked his way back the way he had come.

For another thirty minutes Slade watched the compound.  By focusing on the man he had seen first, he watched as the mercenary made contact with three other groups of men before he lost sight of him.  That meant there must be at least ten to fifteen men guarding the building.  All trained, all killers armed with automatic weapons.  The odds were not good for him and he knew it.

Backing away from the building, Slade kept a low profile and stayed as close to the ground as he could.  He knew they would shoot if they got an opportunity.  There was one other possibility for supplies.

Staying hidden within the vegetation, Slade crawled along the perimeter of the buildings.  By staying within the dense growth of jungle, he knew he would be hard to spot.  By staying close to the ground it would be impossible for the men inside to see him. 

The open area surrounding the destroyed lab had been cleared to within two hundred feet of the buildings.  The jungle had fought hard to reclaim the lost territory and the underbrush was exceptionally thick and, at times, almost impenetrable.  It was the perfect concealment and Slade was thankful it hid him.

It took him over an hour to crawl to the spot where Cody, Lance, Sheila and him had put up a fight to stop the assault of the mercenaries.  He knew several of them had been hit near the perimeter and he was hoping they were still there.  Slowing his movements, he crept forward, every sense alert.

It was the buzzing of insects that alerted him to the bodies.  Just inside the dense growth of vegetation he found the first dead mercenary.  The man was laying on his back, several gunshot wounds to his chest.  Slade saw the insects buzzing around him.  The man still clutched his rifle.  Crawling up next to him, Slade started to rifle through his pockets.  Rigor mortis had already set in and the man was stiff to the touch.  Swatting at the flies nearest him, Slade continued to search the dead man.

Slade removed a utility belt from the man, along with a canteen and large knife.  The extra ammunition was a must and he took that.  Leaving the mercenary, Slade continued to crawl along the transition area.  A thick growth of brush blocked his way and he elbowed his way through.  When he cleared the last part of the bushes his heart almost stopped and he had to fight his instinct to jump.  Staring at him and within two feet of his face was another dead man.  The man had died from a shot to the head and was laying facing Slade with his eyes open.  A second mercenary was near him and was face down.

After the initial shock, Slade started to go through the man’s pockets.  He added another knife to his collection and additional ammunition.  The real prize was the back pack.  Releasing the straps, Slade rolled the man over and pulled the pack free.  Opening it, he found some military rations, enough for several days and a primitive first aid kit.  An extra shirt, pants and a pair of socks were also inside.  The man’s canteen was full.

The second mercenary did not have a backpack, but did have a full canteen.  After removing anything he could use, Slade turned and started back toward Cody.  The added weight was hampering him, but he knew the items he had retrieved were essential for their survival.

It took him almost two hours to get back to Cody.  Calling out, he alerted Cody to his presence and moments later sat down next to the injured man.

“Patrols?”

“Yeah.  At least ten to fifteen.  I was able to find some of the dead mercenaries and relieve them of some of their supplies.  They won’t need them any longer.”

“Find a cell phone by chance?” asked Cody, accepting a canteen Slade offered him.  He drank from it sparingly.

“No.  But I did find a small first aid kit.  Maybe there is something we can use for your shoulder.”

Slade dug the medical kit out of the back pack and rummaged through it.  He found a small tube of salve used to fight infection from minor cuts.  There were some small bandages and he opened one of the boxes.

“This is all that’s in here to fight infection, so it will have to do.  At least this bandage is clean.”

Slade pulled the piece of Cody’s shirt away and applied as much of the salve as he dared.  It would have to last.  Using the clean bandage he covered the wound as best he could.

“Can you walk okay?”

“Yeah.  The shoulder is real stiff, but I still have use of the arm.  I just don’t want it to start bleeding again.”

“Here, put that on.”  Slade tossed Cody a utility belt he had taken off of one of the dead men.  There was room for the extra ammunition, canteen and knife.  “We’ve lost a lot of time today and we need to move.  I believe they’ll start a search later today or tomorrow.  When they find their buddies are missing some supplies, they’ll come looking for us.  Better for us not to be here.”

“Do you think they’re locals or outsiders?”

“I hope they’re outsiders.  If they’re locals, that means they know this jungle better than we could ever hope to and it’ll make their job of tracking us that much easier.”

“We better get started.”

Cody rose to his feet and gingerly slipped the utility belt around his waist and snapped it tight.  Slade shouldered the backpack, adjusted the straps and consulted the compass.

“We need to follow this waterway.  It should lead us to the Amazon and hopefully a way out of here.”

“How far do we have to go?”

“I don’t know.”

Both men looked at each other, determination to survive in their eyes.  Without another word, Slade turned and started walking forward, the assault rifle cradled in his arm.  The pistol he had gotten from the armory at the compound he had stuck in his utility belt.  Cody fell in behind him, holding his rifle with his right arm. 

The river they had spent the night next to was not as big as it had sounded.  It was more of a swollen creek.  The foliage next to the banks was not as thick as the vegetation about thirty feet from it, so they elected to stay as close to the water as they could.  The walking was difficult as they had to squeeze pass vines, be alert for snakes and other predators and remain vigilant for pursuers.  Noon found them several miles from the compound, but no closer to rescue. 

Stopping for a break, Cody dropped to a seated position and looked over at Slade.

“You ever thought about being a jungle guide?”

“Ask me that when I get us out of here.”

Slade removed his canteen and took a sip.  Snapping the water bottle back into place, he started to rise to his feet when a shot rang out and a branch near his face exploded.  Both men hit the ground.

“Where did it come from?” asked Cody.

“I don’t know, but we have to move.  We can’t stay here.”

Both men started to crawl backwards toward the water.  Sliding into the water, Slade pulled Cody down next to him and whispered into his ear.

“We’ll use river to escape.  Come on.”

Slade let the current carry him and noticed Cody did the same thing.  The water tried to pull them out into the center of the river, but they fought it, remaining close to shore.  They had gone about half a mile when Slade grabbed a branch hanging over the water and pulled free, crawling up the bank.  He was covered in mud.  Cody joined him and was just as dirty.

“Well, at least we know we’re being followed,” said Cody.

“Yup.  Let’s move.”

Slade rose and started down the river bank, not knowing what was ahead.  He knew death lurked behind him and they could not go back.  Their only hope was to keep moving.

They had become fixtures in front of the White House.  After breakfast, Ralph and Rachel would catch a cab to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and take up residency on the bench facing the White House.  Ralph would sit all day long, stopping his vigilance to eat lunch.  At the end of the day, Ralph would rise and tell Rachel he was hungry and they would start the process all over again the next day.

“How long do you think we need to be here?” Rachel had put some sunscreen on Ralph’s face to keep him from getting sunburned.  He had not been very talkative, but his fixation with the White House and the Presidency was remarkable. She had never seen him so focused.  Rachel had called her husband each night to tell him about the day’s events.  They had both agreed to let Ralph proceed with this a little longer.  Ralph’s therapist, Jack, had supported their decision, insisting it might be a break-through for him.  

“Longer…must….remain….Mind…Walker needed…here.”  Ralph had glanced at Rachel when he spoke, but now turned his attention back to the White House, focusing his concentration on the building.

“Is the President there?” asked Rachel.  This was the fourth day they had taken up ‘surveillance’ as she called it.  After the second day she had learned to come prepared.  A small ice cooler contained drinks and an assortment of magazines were stacked near her.

“Yes….came little…little while ago….safe…Ralph watch….Ralph be ready….”  Ralph lapsed back into silence and Rachel left him alone.  She reached out and rubbed his shoulders, then smoothed the hair on the back of his head.

Sighing to herself, Rachel picked up a magazine and started to read about the latest Hollywood scandal.  It was going to be another long day.

Deep inside the White House in a security room, a Secret Service agent turned to his boss.

“They’re back.  I’ve run their photos through the computers, but nothing.  They live in Fairbanks, Alaska.  The husband is a contractor and is currently working on a job in Anchorage.  The son suffers from autism.  The mother stays at home and cares for him.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  No ties to any organization we are concerned about.  Maybe they just have a fascination with the White House.”

“Have you monitored their conversation?” asked the team leader.  Every square inch of the White House grounds and the neighboring streets were wired for sound.  If anyone was intent on harming the President and mentioned it, they would hear it.  Most of the time they only recorded the chatter of tourists fascinated with the location where the most powerful man in the world held office.

“Nothing but idle talk between them.  The young man speaks in fragments and the third person.  He did say something interesting this morning.   The mother asked him if the President was there and he said the President had arrived a ‘little while ago.’  I checked the log and, even though ‘a little while’ is not a specific time, the President did arrive when he said.”  The agent monitoring the listening posts looked at his superior.

“Did he see the President arrive?”

“He couldn’t have seen him.  The President came in through the back entrance.”

“Better yet, how did he know the President was gone?  Only a handful of aids knew he was at Camp David on a political matter.”  The Team Leader stared at the monitor.  The two were sitting on the bench like they had the previous three days.  “Did he say anything else of interest?”

“He has made reference to a ‘Mind Walker’ several times.  I have no idea what that is.”

“Mind Walker?”

“Yes, sir.  I verified it myself.  This morning he told his mother that the Mind Walker was needed here, but didn’t say why.”

The Team Leader walked back and forth several times.  Stopping behind the first technician, he said, “Run the term ‘Mind Walker’ through our data bases and tell me what you find.  I’ll contact the Director and let him know about this.  It is probably nothing.  They don’t appear to be a threat and they have no ties to anything, but I believe caution is prudent.  I want both of you to prepare a report and have it ready today.”

The Team Leader turned to walk away, but was stopped.

“Sir, might I recommend we have them watched at the hotel.  We know what they’re doing here, but if we are preparing reports we might as well monitor their activity when they are not here.  It might reveal additional information.”

“Good idea.  Let’s get a team on that.  Let me know immediately if there is any change.  It’s probably nothing, but let’s be safe.  Carry on.”

The two technicians turned to stare at the monitor.  The woman and young man were still on the bench staring at the White House.  Why?

Read Chapter 37