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Softness is the first thing eaten.
Animals had gotten to the corpse, tearing the flesh off the skeleton and exposing the bone. The man standing over the body, his green-blue gaze the same shade as Caribbean waters if they ever froze, stared into the empty eye sockets of his former employee. Bloody, torn flesh, ribboned by some bird, hung down the dead man's cheeks.
A breeze stirred the pine trees, their needles tapping against each other, whispering in a private conversation. Robert Maxim scanned the ground again, his gaze tracing the fight.
Blood was splattered in the dirt. A lot of it. Phillip had died slowly. He'd tried to pull the knife free, but the black, blood crusted handle still protruded from the dead man's throat. Philip's left forearm appeared particularly ravaged, probably from Sydney Rye's dog, Blue.
The sharpshooter's weapons were gone, unless you counted that knife in his neck.
Next to Philip, a depression in the dirt—the outline of a medium-sized woman punctuated with pools of blood—kept pulling Robert's attention.
Sydney Rye plunged the knife home and then fell over, succumbing to her own wounds. Which, judging by the amount of blood on the ground, were grave.
Robert turned slowly, observing every rock, stick, scuff and depression in the dirt.
Deep scratches marked where Blue leapt, his nails digging into the dirt as his back legs propelled him into the air. There were other dog prints, too. Not as large as Blue's, but far bigger than the common dogs found in this area, the contested territory along the Syrian-Iraqi border.
A tuft of white fur fluttered on a low branch. Bobby approached it slowly, carefully placing his booted feet where no clues lay. The fur was softer than Sydney's mutt's rough, wolf-like coat. Bobby pulled the white fluff off the branch and slipped it into his pocket.
Footsteps approached, soft thuds cushioned by pine needles. "Stay back." The intensity of Robert's emotions roughened his voice into a dangerous growl.
"That's our man there. Gotta pack him up, get him out of here. Animals are already getting to him," Conner said. Another sharpshooter who'd worked with Philip for years, Conner's bald head and scarred face made him look dangerous. And he was. Had Conner known that Philip took money to try to kill Sydney Rye?
"I need more time." Conner disappeared, silent and patient.
Robert crouched down and looked at the dirt. Goats. Goats had come through here after the fight.
Sydney Rye didn't get up and walk away. Someone carried her, and they managed not to leave a trail of blood. The bald tread of a homemade boot wound through the forest, the goat hooves obscuring all but the smallest trace.
Either a small man or tall woman, traveling with a dog and a herd of goats, had carried Sydney Rye away. Why?
Herders passed through here on their way from one village to another. The person must be under Daesh protection…or desperate. Why take a bleeding woman? That injured, she'd be useless, the amount of work to patch her up hardly worth the price. Unless, of course, this herder knew who Sydney Rye was.
And Robert Maxim would pay any price to get her back.
P.S. The dog does not die.
**Beware: If you can’t handle a few f-bombs, you can’t handle this series.**