CHAPTER ONE

The depth of the dark sea threatened to consume him. Bubbles twinkled like so many diamonds as they passed by his dive helmet’s lamp. While the mixed gas breather functioned, Ian Gregory wondered if his lungs could handle the external pressure. While he knew where the wreck was, its condition, and depth remained the big unknowns. Hence the concern. The water was cold, but manageable, as he wore only a dark dive skin on his torso. His bare white legs, in comparison, seemed to glow in this stygian realm. Easily disoriented, the only thing that told him where the surface was, were his ever-rising bubbles.

He studied his dive gauge and confirmed that his air supply was good. He knew his goal was near, the ship wreck within reach. Then, out of the gloom his head lamp confirmed the emergence of shadowy details. Ruined structures began to appear several more meters ahead.

But his instincts stopped him dead in the water. His hair turned to absolute wire as he hovered like a jelly fish over the wreck.

Not today, Greg.

Something is terribly wrong here.

Besides, that Nazi gold is not going anywhere.

Live to fight another day.

Just back off.

Maybe take a daylight dive.

Trusting his sixth sense without question, he began his ascent as he pumped air into the buoyancy compensator, then let some out to maintain a consistent rise up, while slowly blowing out air from his lungs.

This is no place for oxygen narcosis.

It seemed like forever before he broke the surface. When he did, night had fallen on that dark sea. Only a sliver of moon brightened the surface’s imperfections. Then he felt it. The crunching concussion of a massive explosion directly below him as he fractionally rose from its concussion.

Right again, old boy!

Now sprint your ass away like a porpoise!

Kick like a son-of-a-bitch!

Of late, like during the last ten years or so, underwater mines included nasty chemical surprises that sterilized the blast zone with powerful and caustic acids. The result was that any diver and their gear caught nearby were seriously affected, not to mention all the sea life. That was the reason for his quick swim to get as far away as possible from the rising bubbles of that explosion. Gregory had far too many exposed areas to chance some nasty acid burns and blisters.

Clear of the explosion’s nasty plumb of bubbles and its wafting chorine reek, the diver’s return swim to his inflatable went uneventfully. Stripping off his gear, he quickly stowed it, and slipped into a dry one-piece assault suit. Exiting the area as quickly as his electric motor could propel him, and the hydroplanes could make the inflatable skim above the water. The seasoned mercenary didn’t need his sixth sense to tell him that he had been set up. This entire contract had been fishy from the start. No pun intended. And now this.

Frickin’ bastards!

He found his general landing area by the stars, shoreline, and grudgingly, with the global positioning device on his wrist. This rocky peninsula of the Greek Peloponnesus was exceptionally cruel, and throughout the ages, had claimed countless hulls. Its wave-action and fickle currents didn’t help either.

Drawing up between some large boulders, Gregory got out, and dragged the surface craft ashore. There in the rough and gravely sand, he quickly deflated it, folded, rolled it up, and stuffed it into its carbon fiber bag. He then collapsed the motor, just do, in its compartment. Carrying both this on his broad and well-muscled shoulders freed his hands. His suppressed automatic weapon held at the ready, the merc fully expected the worse at this point.

The path up from his make-shift landing, likely a goat path in these parts, was as winding and narrow as it was treacherous in the dark. Fortunately, its limestone surface had been worn by the passage of many hooves and as a consequence showed nicely against the surrounding black rock. Again, Gregory’s instincts stopped him just before topping the shoreline’s grass-covered ridge. Silently taking off his burden, he placed it aside among the rocks. The merc then crawled forward like a skink to sneak a peek over the edge. It was good that he had.

Not one hundred meters, both to his right and left, stood dark and armed threats. From his low vantage point, they silhouetted nicely against the starry sky. By the look of them and their postures, he could tell they were wearing night goggles. Tiny antennae whips extending from them hinted at a shared tactical communication network. And just as clearly, they were scanning down into the waves, for something, or someone.

Not today, assholes.

After carefully sighting in with his night scope, Gregory began pulling the trigger. Two coughing double-taps quietly flew from his automatic rifle and both sentries fell into the coastal rocks.

Time to vanish and fight another day.

But boy, am I pissed!

Came all this way for nothing.

My mission boss back at base is going to get a piece of my mind!

BUY