CODE NAME: COWBOY
Code name: Garrison “Cowboy” Cassidy
Target: Winslow Greer
Mission: Thaw the ski champion’s icy exterior
As an Air Force fighter pilot, I’m the best in the business. No fear. No hesitation. Attacking when you least expect it. That’s why I can’t sit by when the woman I crave, the woman who challenges me, wants to go undercover against a serial killer. No chance.
It’s the only option, the only plan that’ll work. Infiltrate the enemy and take them down once and for all. I’m an RAF fighter pilot and M16 agent, sitting still is not who I am. But WASP has other plans. Plans to protect me, keep me safe. When I do what I want, it’s WASP who feels the sting.
It had been a week since the K19 Shadow Operations team rescued one of our own from the clutches of a madman—a serial killer—or, as we were coming to believe, one of God knew how many terrorizing the Adirondack State Park.
One week since Wasp, while being held captive, overheard the man he believed was about to kill him ask if he could “have” the other victim, a woman. One we believed to be Winslow Greer, an Olympic skier.
In that time, I’d done everything I could think of—everything the other people on this investigation recommended—and I still couldn’t find the missing woman.
While I used the term “missing,” it was more likely she was dead, based on the serial killer’s other victims. It was a reality I wasn’t ready to accept, though.
I studied the photo of Winslow Greer as I lay in bed, knowing I wouldn’t sleep any better tonight than I had the last few. Few? It felt more like months of not sleeping.
The blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl with the captivating smile seemed to stare back at me every time I studied her image.
“Please find me,” I imagined her begging. “Save me.”
God knew I’d give just about anything to be able to. Even after everyone else had given up on the Doppler drones finding anything near the camp where Wasp had been rescued, I sent them up again and again, looking for any sign of life in the woods. Any life. Human or otherwise. It seemed everyone—everything—had deserted the north shore.
I’d insisted on personally visiting every camp on Canada Lake, making a note of those that appeared vacant, so I could send the drone up once we finished for the day, just on the chance Winslow was being held captive inside one. Nothing came of that either.
Too soon, the ice on the lake would thaw and dive teams could enter the water where we believed we’d find even more victims, based on what Wasp also overheard the man who’d held him captive say.
I dreaded that day. If we found Winslow’s body in the frigid lake, it would mean I’d failed her. I couldn’t explain why this one mattered so much. This woman, who I had so little in common with besides the fact that we both breathed in oxygen and converted it to carbon dioxide, had somehow gotten under my skin. And while I couldn’t admit it to anyone, this rescue had become personal.
“I’m going to find you,” I said out loud, stroking her photo with my fingertip. “I swear it on my own life.”
This afternoon there would be a second hot wash for Wasp’s rescue. Doing two was something we usually avoided at all costs. But this was “at all costs.”
While he’d only been in the hospital overnight, Wasp and his now wife, Swan, insisted that the after-action meeting take place without them, or that it be delayed until they returned.
Faced with almost losing the man she loved, Swan had insisted she and Wasp marry immediately. Wasp, who had proposed a couple of weeks prior, was all for it.
They’d traveled five hours by car to a small town outside Buffalo where his family lived and had a small simple ceremony. None of the K19 Shadow Ops team were with them given the ongoing investigation and search for Winslow Greer, there wasn’t a single one of us who wasn’t happy for the couple.
It was clear from the first time I met them that Wasp and Swan were meant to be together. Love was a feeling I’d never experienced and wondered if I ever would.
My mama and daddy were happy enough, but I couldn’t say they were “madly in love.” From my perspective they tolerated each other and had learned how to live in the same house while having their own lives and interests outside of it. My daddy was an operations manager for a local plant but my mama hadn’t worked outside of the house a day in her life. With four boys to raise, the youngest of which was me, she had her hands full.
I picked up the photo of Winslow that I’d set on the nightstand. Her parents were still together too, something that seemed more of a rarity these days. They’d obviously supported their daughter’s goals and aspirations given becoming an Olympic athlete was no inexpensive undertaking. Not that the Greer family was strapped for cash. Their multi-million dollar Lake Placid home was one of four. They had a chalet in Zermatt, Switzerland, an apartment in New York City in the same building John Lennon had resided in, as well as their own private island in the Bahamas.
While many might assume Winslow was a spoiled little rich girl, interviews we’d conducted after she’d gone missing, indicated otherwise.
Most described her as having “a heart of gold.” Others commented that she worked tirelessly in the off season to raise money for athletes who otherwise wouldn’t have been to afford the type of training their sport required—not just other skiers but in all sports. She was also a big supporter of the Special Olympics.
I shook my head and stroked her photo with the tip of my finger like I found myself doing so often. The world would be a darker place without Winslow Greer in it. Something I couldn’t allow to happen.
I turned the photo over when I heard a knock on the door of my bedroom.
“Come in,” I said.
“I saw your light was still on,” said my current “roommate” Keaton “Buster” Franks. He and I shared a cabin, or camp as they were called in the Adirondacks.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I hear ya, pardner.”
“Heard from Onyx that a new guy is joining the team. He asked about him bunking with us.”
“We’ve got the room. I don’t mind if you don’t.”
“Nah, I don’t mind.”
“Who is he? Do you know?” I asked.
“Corbin Vaughn, code name is Spyder.”
“Doesn’t sound familiar.”
“Prior FBI but more importantly to the investigation, a former world champion skier.”
“How’s that going to help? Winslow Greer is the first kidnapping victim tied to the sport.”
“He’s going undercover, but yeah, that isn’t the only reason he’s being brought in. He worked with the bureau’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. Evidently he was instrumental in catching that guy who confessed to over ninety murders.”
I remembered the case well. It was actually a Texas Ranger who’d gotten the most prolific killer in US history to start his stream of confessions. His killing spree had gone on for thirty-five years and most of his victims’ deaths were originally ruled overdoses or attributed to accidental or undetermined causes.
From what I could also recall, a hotshot young profiler had been assigned to the case and while she’d contributed to the killer’s arrest, something had gone wrong on her side of the case and she abruptly quit the bureau and retired—at the ripe old age of twenty-six. Her age was the only reason I even remembered her. That, and she hailed from Texas like I did.
I hadn’t heard of this Vaughn guy being on the case, but that wasn’t unusual. Tracking a killer like that would involve any number of agents, just like the one we were working did. It wasn’t just K19 tracking this sonuvabitch, the FBI and CIA had several agents and operatives assigned to it.
However, while the latter was responsible for many of the assignments the private security and intelligence firm I worked for was given, this one hadn’t come from the agency. The first three victims’ families hired K19 Shadow Ops to aid in the investigation.
“Anything else?” I asked when I realized Buster was still standing in my doorway.
“Nah, I guess that’s it.”
I had a feeling it wasn’t but since it was after midnight, I didn’t press him on it. Buster wasn’t a bad guy to bunk with. As a former Marine Raider—the special forces arm of the USMC—he was about as badass as they came. He was also quiet and respectful of my space. I’d certainly had far worse roommates. I hoped this Spyder guy didn’t prove to be more like them than Buster.
Unfortunately, when he arrived the next day, I hated Corbin Vaughn on sight and there was no good reason for it.