Flash of Emerald [MultiFormat]
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by J. M. Taylor
Category: Suspense/Thriller EPIC eBook Award Winner
Description: J.M. Taylor's new thriller, Flash of Emerald, brings Harry Stoner back to the Suncoast long after an abortive operation in Cuba gave him his fill of Tampa and Ybor City. Corporal Harry Stoner began his special operations career with a night jump from the belly of a Strategic Air Command B-47 over Cuba for the CIA. Now retired from the Army and just a glorified clerk in the DIA, Stoner thought he was out of the killing. Summoned from his Washington DIA office, Stoner revisits the seamy side of Tampa's Ybor City and the continuing fight for Cuban freedom. Drawn into a web of international arms dealers, Stoner finds himself in the middle of a drugs-for-arms transaction. The stakes this time are his family--and a nuclear weapon stolen by fanatical terrorists. [Cover art Mary Z. Wolf]
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2004
EPIC eBookstore Release Date: April 2004
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [MultiFormat - What's this?]: eReader (PDB) [321 KB], ePub (EPUB) [336 KB], Rocket/REB1100 (RB) [300 KB], Portable Document Format (PDF) [807 KB], Palm Doc (PDB) [339 KB], Microsoft Reader (LIT) [287 KB], Franklin eBookMan (FUB) [331 KB], hiebook (KML) [741 KB], Sony Reader (LRF) [362 KB], iSilo (PDB) [281 KB], Mobipocket (PRC) [347 KB], Kindle Compatible (MOBI) [365 KB], OEBFF Format (IMP) [454 KB]
Reading time: 294-412 min.
Microsoft Reader (LIT) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud ENABLED
Portable Document Format (PDF) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud DISABLED
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
"Flash Of Emerald is a hard-hitting, exciting spy game story with lots of subplots, intense and charismatic characters, and enough action to glue the reader to the book. Harry Stoner is a larger-than-life character who singlehandedly takes on a Florida drug ring and a terrorist group at the same time. Taylor lends his considerable expertise to the story to give the reader insight into just what the military does to keep the bad guys out and to police their own. A great read!"--Shelley Glodowski, Midwest Book Reviews
"Though not a soldier of fortune, Corporal Harry Stoner's story has many of the same qualities, adventure, beautiful women, intrigue, battles and a life of danger. For any reader of thrillers or tales of intrigue."--Anne K. Edwards, eBook Reviews Weekly
"J.M. Taylor's A Flash of Emerald is a gripping action/adventure novel of Harry Stoner, a military man who has come home to a personal battle in the dark underside of Tampa's Ybor City and the Florida Keys. International arms dealers and murderous terrorists jockey for possession of a stolen nuclear weapon in this suspense-filled story that simply cannot be put down from first page to last. Attention Hollywood, A Flash of Emerald is the stuff of which great action/adventure movies are made!"--The Fiction Shelf, Midwest Book Revew
Manatanzas, Cuba: April 17, 1961
THE RIFLE BULLET cracked overhead and a roof tile clattered down onto the cobblestones behind Corporal Harry Stoner. He stumbled.
"Get a hold on," he muttered, steadying his stride. Beside him, Lieutenant Gilbert slowed only long enough to glance at the street markers guiding them into El Centro, then continued to lead Stoner into the darker shadows of a narrow alley.
Gilbert suddenly pulled up, motioning toward the street ahead with the barrel of his gun.
Stoner slid to a stop. He stared into the darkness. The glow from a distant streetlight was just enough to distinguish the epaulets and rifles of two men lounging behind barriers piled across the road. Probably Cuban militia. Hands slick with sweat, Stoner struggled to untangle his submachine gun from under the borrowed shirt, finally ripping the barrel free from the threadbare cloth.
The Cuban soldiers turned at the sound, looking in their direction.
Stoner froze, even before Gilbert whispered, "Don't move."
A shaft of light swept across them. One of the men shouted, his words unrecognizable.
Stoner pulled the trigger an instant after Gilbert fired, their silenced submachine guns spitting flames. The two soldiers sprawled onto the street, dull thumps and a clatter of rifles on the cobblestones. One last burst from Gilbert and the streetlight shattered, leaving Gilbert and Stoner in darkness again.
Gilbert tugged Stoner's sleeve. "Come on, kid." They sprinted across the intersection and down the next alley, putting space between them and the soldiers. At the next street corner Gilbert slowed the pace, then stopped. They both stood for a moment hidden in the shadows, catching their breath.
"Where the hell are we? Where's that damn church?" Gilbert peered up into the pre-dawn mists. "This ain't the way it was supposed to be, Harry. We were supposed to tiptoe in, get the jump on the commies, not the other way around. You doing okay?"
Stoner had to clear his throat, but finally croaked out a "Just fine, sir." It had happened too fast to be real. Months of training, shooting at paper targets, then when the men went down, Stoner had wondered if this was only a dream. All too quiet, spooky. He was determined not to show it, but he was damn scared. Operation Zapata had begun in earnest. The smell of burned gunpowder in the air told him so.
Their mission had looked simple back at the new Special Forces Operations Center at Fort Bragg. Operation Zapata, as briefed by the CIA planners from Washington, called for an invasion in force by Cuban volunteers in a little bay on the south side of Cuba.
The briefers insisted that once the Cuban people got word of the invasion, a massive anti-Castro uprising was sure to erupt across the island. Their two-man team's specific orders were to lead a group of counter-revolutionaries in the sleepy fishing village of Manatanzas to a boatload of arms, help the inspired Cubans establish communications with the invasion force, then sit back and watch Castro fall.
But if it was all a secret, why the roadblock, why the random shooting? The magnificent anti-Castro swell was yet to be seen, at least in the countryside where Stoner and Gilbert had hidden and dodged around ever since the two men had jumped from the sky.
"Aquí!" A high-pitched call came from a shadowy gap in a massive stone wall.
Stoner skidded to a stop on the damp cobblestones.
"Teniente, Aldo," the voice beckoned from a small gateway set back in the wall.
Stoner smiled. His first name was Harold -- and he had gone by Harry as long as he could remember -- but only Isabella abbreviated his name to Aldo. It was better than being called corporal, or kid. Truth be told, she could call him anything she wanted in her lyrical Cuban lilt.
Following Gilbert's lead through a narrow opening into an abandoned churchyard, Stoner felt a rush when he confirmed Isabella's voice with the soft touch of her hand. Her lips brushed the down on his cheek before she quickly shoved him after Gilbert into the dark chapel.
All through high school he had worked on his dad's shrimp boat, up and down the Gulf Stream off Tybee Island. Sweltering nights at sea working the nets he had listened to the fading music from Havana bouncing off the stratosphere, dreaming that someday he could go to Cuba. Drawn by the recruiting posters, he tried to join the Navy Reserves on his seventeenth birthday, but flunked the physical. Heart murmur, of all things.
But the Army thought he was just fine, even let him volunteer for jump school and the extra fifty-five dollars a month jump pay. Who needed a good heart to jump out of an airplane? When the Army discovered he had studied Spanish at Savannah High, Stoner suddenly found himself in the newly organized Special Forces, a corporal by virtue of his reserve time, not from any vast amount of experience. He never had a chance to tell the Special Forces recruiter he really didn't speak Spanish worth a shit. And now he was in Cuba, proving it every day.
He listened to the quick words between Gilbert and Luis, the number two man in the local counter-revolutionary group. Stoner understood about half the rapid-fire Spanish as he tried to catch his breath.
But he was learning, lots, fast. Some from Gilbert, but more from Isabella. He didn't need to look at her to know every curve. He recognized her smell, her taste, the sultry heat of her body pressed against his. Stoner pulled Isabella to his side and moved closer to Gilbert so he could keep up with the discussion.
Gilbert was the old man, knew the communists, and had ten times more jumps than Stoner's own six. Plus, long before Stoner was even old enough to join the Army, Gilbert had been in real combat in Korea in '54.
Stoner still didn't count their encounter with the militia as combat -- too one-sided, no blood, no screaming, no explosions, just shots in the dark. He wondered if shooting people in the night before they could shoot back counted as real war. This wasn't how he thought it would happen.
The look in Gilbert's eyes turned bad as Stoner watched and listened. Stoner's stomach growled, hungry and nervous, loud in the abandoned church, rebelling against the damp aroma of a smoldering cigar. In Cuba, a Communist country where religion and casinos were illegal, Castro, tobacco and sugar cane were the new gods.
"Dónde los otros son?" Gilbert asked.
Stoner understood that phrase. He wanted to know where the others were, too. Only three Cubans stood in the church, and the count included Isabella. Luis had told them at least twenty men, fighters, would answer the coded call over Radio Havana.
Luis shrugged. "Los otros, the others, all knew to be here by midnight. But no one else came."
Gilbert shook his head and turned to the leader of the local counter-revolutionaries, a quiet, skinny man standing beneath a statue of the Virgin with a glowing cigar waving from the corner of his mouth. "This is trouble, Joaquín. The whole thing is going to hell. Where's Carlos? Nothing was supposed to happen until the arms were distributed."
Stoner silently agreed. If Joaquín's key lieutenant in the countryside didn't show, Stoner figured they really were in trouble. Carlos had lost an arm to Castro's bandits and hated the revolution, the Russians, and anything Communist.
Joaquín rolled his eyes up to the rafters of the abandoned church, as if begging forgiveness, then shrugged his shoulders. "We must move even more quickly." Joaquín took a long draw from his cigar. "Perhaps it is only the militia. They sometimes patrol the streets if the Russians make them. Perhaps they have apprehended Carlos." He turned to Luis, and Isabella. "Usted está listo? Ready?"
They both nodded an eager response, and Luis spoke. "Si. We go, now, just us. Too late to wait for Carlos, the others. We are enough to begin. Soon many will join the counter-revolution for the glory of Cuba."
Luis dropped a pair of shells into an old shotgun as Joaquín nodded in agreement, the cigar bobbing in his thin face as he picked up a rifle leaning against the altar. The metallic clack of a round being chambered echoed around the sanctuary. Stoner shivered when he heard the quieter "snick" as Gilbert cocked the bolt on his submachine gun and checked his magazine.
Stoner slid his gun from under his ragged shirt and followed Gilbert's lead, easing the bolt back until it locked open and replacing the magazine with a full one. He took a deep breath, trying to hide the slight trembles that kept sliding down to his fingers. Other than hiding from the passing patrols, tonight was the first real chance of danger since he had followed Gilbert's tumble from the B-47's bomb bay over the edge of the Caribbean, and here he was getting all shaky and sweaty. Crap, should have joined the Air Force, safe polishing the big silver bombers back at Hunter Air Base outside Savannah.
Joaquín led the group back to the street and into the darkness. Two streetlights later, the smell of rotting fish reminded Stoner of the Thunderbolt docks where he had hauled shrimp nets and gained bigger biceps, but not much else.
Isabella's hand gripped his shoulder as they followed Joaquín through the rising mist, toward the clank and groaning of anchored boats and the soft wash of the Caribbean Sea. Stoner slowed, holding Isabella back in the shadows.
Joaquín stepped into a pool of light and walked slowly toward the jumble of rickety wooden docks extending out into the dark water. No one challenged him, and the others followed. Isabella pulled Stoner on toward the docks, too impatient, too intent, trembling, but with excitement, no sign of fear.
Gilbert gathered them all together at the outer edge of the light. "Isabella, you stay here. Watch while we unload." He pointed at the wall by the end of the dock. "Shoot that pistol of yours if the militia or the damned Russians show up. You don't need to kill anybody. Just make sure we know they're here."
"Si, entiendo." She nodded. She glanced over and smiled into Stoner's eyes, smiled with more determination than Stoner felt, then drew an old revolver from her waist and stepped behind the low wall.
What the hell was she doing? She was a damn woman, hardly more than a girl. She wasn't supposed to be in the fight. He had already seen people die tonight, killed one himself, for crying out loud.
Gilbert reached out to stop Stoner when he tried to follow Isabella. "Come on, boy! Christ almighty, get your mind off the girl and onto our business before you screw this one up and get us all killed! You did good back at the roadblock; don't go soft on me now. Get, troop! Go find the damn boat."
Gilbert's footsteps were light behind him while Stoner trotted down the narrow dock, slowing to read out the names on the Yankee pleasure boats mixed in with the fishing trawlers, white paint glistening with the fog, droplets sparkling from the faint streetlight.
A glitter caught Stoner's eye and he stopped at the broad stern of a cabin cruiser where oversized gilt script letters spelled out "Olé" across a polished mahogany transom. Last night he had run the boat, a big Owens with a powerful Chevy marine conversion V8, out to a waiting Navy torpedo boat. Bobbing in the Caribbean, a crew of Dominicans and Mexicans, all volunteers for freedom and dollars, had met them with a load of arms.
Gilbert pointed toward a tarp-covered pile on the deck. "Start handing out the crates."
Stoner threw the heavy canvas into a corner of the deck, exposing two stacks of wooden boxes. He picked up a box with "Carbine, Caliber .30 M2, Manufactured by IBM" stenciled across the top. He quickly handed several of the heavy boxes over the side to Joaquín and turned to the second stack. Shorter but wider, these were labeled "Gun, Submachine, CAL. .45, M3A1." Identical to the gun slung over his back, except his barrel was longer with the addition of a silencer and fired the 9mm Parabellum round, a unique issue for fledgling U.S. Army Special Forces. The night before, Gilbert had laughed when he opened one to check and found the guns still in their original Cosmoline and brown paper wrapping. The guns were originally World War II stocks.
The old dock rocked as the two Cubans ran the heavy boxes down to the quay, then returned for another load.
As Stoner was handing over the last box to Joaquín, a yell rang through the night. Isabella's voice? Joaquín dropped the box and snatched his rifle from where he had left it propped against a piling.
A single gunshot cracked through the fog and Stoner leaped from the boat. A scream pierced the still night, followed by the distant rattle of a small-caliber gun. Suddenly flying splinters and a crackling stream of bullets from an automatic weapon whistled around his ears.
He sprinted down the dock toward Isabella. He pulled his submachine gun to his side, finger trembling over the trigger. He squinted into the fog trying to spot Isabella, hesitant to fire into the mist, not knowing who was where.
A sudden sweep of flame from a muzzle revealed one of the automatic rifles. An invisible swarm of bullets buzzed by his face, one plucking at his loose sleeve.
He triggered a short burst in response and a shadowy form fell with a scream. "Dear God," Stoner muttered, wondering if he had killed an enemy -- or a friend -- in the salt-laden fog. His silenced gun clacked, the lethargic slapping back and forth of the heavy bolt making more noise than the muzzle blasts as he ran toward the street, firing in short bursts toward the shops lining the quay.
The rapid fire of heavy automatic rifles ripped through the night sky, sawing the fog around him into shreds.
He stumbled to a stop, heart leaping when he spotted Isabella crouched behind a box, waving him down. They both flinched as a shotgun blast illuminated a storefront facing the quay.
In front of them someone shouted from behind a military truck, words unintelligible in the rattle of gunfire.
Gilbert slammed into a piling on the other side of the dock. "Listen to 'em, Harry. Sounds like Russians. That's who those jokers were back on the street, not militia," he shouted over to them. A burst of rifle fire dug into the piling, showering splinters into the water. "And those are their damned AKs." Gilbert sprayed a long burst toward the truck. "Get your ass back on the boat, Harry. We gotta' go. This is bad shit!"
Stoner looked at Isabella's eyes. She squinted into the mist, intent on the enemy, whoever they were, not on him. This wasn't right, but what the hell could he do about it? "What about the others?" Stoner shouted back to Gilbert.
"Just you go! Now, damn it. We all got our jobs here. Part of ours is we don't get caught, especially by no damn Russians."
Isabella flashed a smiled at him, that same smile he had seen so many times this past week. But in the dim light her face didn't seem real. "Go, Aldo! I will watch for you." She shoved him toward the boat and yelled over the noise. "Leave, mi amor. Leave before you are trapped."
Stoner just stood there, frozen between the unseen bullets buzzing all around, unwilling to leave. Gilbert grabbed him by the collar and shoved him toward the boat. "I'll come back for you," he yelled at Isabella's back. "I promise."
When they reached the boat Gilbert leaped over the rail and scrambled for the controls. "Untie the bow line," he shouted.
Stoner fumbled with the heavy bow line until the free end dropped into the water. The Chevy turned over slowly, sputtered, and died.
Gilbert screamed an intelligible curse and it caught, exhaust grumbling from the twin underwater pipes.
Stoner ran to the stern line and felt his way to the knot, hidden in the smoke of the exhaust mingled with the heavy mist rising up from the water, a sign dawn was near. He dug at the heavy twisted hemp, breaking his fingernails to the quick trying to pull the tangled lines clear, trying to ignore the noise and flashes at the end of the dock where he had left Isabella.
"Cut the damn rope," Gilbert shouted. "Daylight soon. We'll be trapped here."
A light stabbed into the night sky. A rifle cracked, extinguishing the light. Stoner could hear the pitiful snap of Isabella's pistol and the boom of Luis' old shotgun, insignificant against the throaty roar of heavy automatic weapons. The dock flexed under Stoner, resonating with the pounding of feet. He sawed at the hawser with his knife while over his head Gilbert fired into the darkness, the lieutenant's submachine gun getting louder and louder as the silencer baffles blew out.
Stoner again turned toward the quay, ignoring the gunfire to peer into the mists, searching for Isabella.
Gilbert's voice climbed in pitch as the bullets slammed into the polished teak. "Get on board! Castro or Khrushchev's boys will have your balls."
In the flash of an explosion Stoner could see someone dragging a body away from the foot of the dock. "Isabella," he screamed. He took one step toward the quay when a bullet slammed into his thigh. The force of the blow twisted him in his tracks. The pain brought him to his knees. Hands on the rough dock, Stoner shook his head, flashes racing around inside his eyeballs.
Joaquín's face appeared out of the mist. "Vamos,chico."
Stoner felt hands under his arms and the blur of being thrown over the rail and into the boat. He struggled to his knees and pulled himself up to the rail. A blinding flash silhouetted a jumble of people and crates at the end of the dock. He blinked, trying to focus, when a ripple of bullets tore across the boat, sending a spray of splinters into his hair.
Gilbert slumped to the deck beside him, clutching at his side. "Get us out of here, kid, or we're dead," he gasped.
"Vamos, vamos," Joaquín yelled, and chopped the remaining mooring line with a machete. Joaquín staggered for a moment, then disappeared over the far side of the dock and into the water.
Stoner pulled his way forward to the controls and shoved the throttle full forward. The powerful Chevy thundered and ground the boat against the dock. Stoner wrestled the wheel, turning the big boat away from the dock, hanging on as the single screw bit into the water and torqued the bow toward the black sky.
He squinted through the shattered windshield and searched for the channel markers. Too dark! All he saw was black water ahead. He smashed his way along the line of pleasure boats, fighting the wheel and his disorientation. When the cruiser cleared the dock and settled down to a plane, he looked back.
The quay was a mass of fire, but he couldn't make out any details as the distance opened. Between the slamming of the boat onto the crests of the light chop and the pain from his leg, he had all he could do to hang onto the wheel and point the bow toward what he hoped was open water, and America.
Copyright © 2004 by J.M. Taylor