POHANG, SOUTH KOREA
“ALIVE, NOT DEAD.”
That was the order. Jack got it. Rijk van Delden—if that was his real name—was the only link between the Iron Syndicate and the nameless merc outfit the syndicate hired for their dirtiest hits. The merc outfit was their real target. Find van Delden, find the outfit.
Simple as that.
But van Delden had been hard as hell to find. Impossible, actually. Until a lead, finally, that led them here tonight. Their one and maybe only chance to grab him.
“Alive, not dead” meant keeping the big Dutchman alive so they could find and eliminate his murderous organization.
The only problem with that was van Delden was one of his outfit’s heavy hitters. The six-foot-six killer possessed serious combative and tactical skills. The giant Dutchman had put more men in the ground than a gravedigger’s shovel.
“Don’t even think about taking this monkey on by yourself. Get eyes on him, call for backup, sit tight till the rest of us show up. Savvy?” Clark said in their brief before The Campus team split up. All hands were on deck for this op: John Clark, Ding Chavez, Dom Caruso, Adara Sherman, Midas Jankowski, and Jack Junior.
They all headed in different directions across the steel mill’s huge complex of buildings. Too much ground to cover for them to buddy up. They had to go it alone to find the guy. And fast.
Van Delden was in one of a dozen possible places on two hundred acres of property, and scheduled to leave within the hour, according to their source. They couldn’t risk missing him here tonight. If he shook loose, he’d be back in the wind the minute he left and they’d lose the only shot they’d ever had at rolling up his crew.
Alive, not dead, was tonight’s mission but it seemed like a pretty good idea for him and the rest of the team, too, Jack thought, as he made his way through the cavernous shell of the integrated steel mill. The cold night fog looming over the port outside stopped at the doorway, the air inside tinged with the acrid smells of rust, ozone, and burnt coal.
Jack Ryan, Jr., was a big, blue-eyed white guy striding confidently through the dark, hangar-size structure. He didn’t look that out of place beneath his stolen white safety helmet, clipboard, and paper mask. He moved fast like he had something to do, which he did. The steelworkers were too busy flying several hundred tons of molten slag in giant ladles lumbering overhead to pay attention to him.
Jack sweated beneath his shirt. It was an industrial volcano inside the sweltering building. At least the team had Sonitus Molar Mics. Without bone conduction for reception, he wouldn’t be able to hear the others calling out their sitreps on his comms. The infernal din of pounding hydraulic hammers, roaring diesel motors, grinding steel, and blaring alarms was a near sensory overload.
“I’m thirty seconds from target,” Dom whispered on his way to the plant manager’s office.
“Copy that,” Clark said.
Jack took two steps at a time up the yellow steel staircase to the “pulpit”—the automated control room for the hot-steel processing facility, high off the floor. The grated treads led to the landing just outside the control-room door. With his back against the corrugated steel wall, he did a quick check around him. Helmeted workers below were focused on the job, not him.
From the landing, a steel- grating walkway ran parallel along the windowless steel wall of the pulpit where Jack stood. On either end of the east–west walkway was a catwalk. Both catwalks ran north, parallel with the tracks of the huge ladles moving slowly along beneath them. Each ladle brimmed with nearly two hundred tons of molten steel heading toward the vacuum degassers on the far side of the building.
In the middle of the steel control-room door stood a small, face-size observation window.
“I’m in position,” Jack whispered.
“Copy,” Clark said as a siren wailed overhead.
Jack stepped over to the door’s observation window.
He scanned the room. In front of the big picture windows overlooking the mill floor, five young South Korean technicians sat at their monitors chatting excitedly, pointing at virtual gauges on their screens.
Scanning right, Jack saw Park, the oldest Korean in the room, standing in the corner, round and silver-haired beneath his safety helmet. Jack recognized Park from his file photo. He was the steel firm’s CEO and biggest shareholder, and a man in serious trouble with Japan’s largest yakuza syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi. Their source inside the syndicate said Park was reaching out to van Delden for protection tonight.
Jack leaned over to see who Park was talking with.
And there he was.
The giant Dutchman towered over the diminutive Korean, his long, granite face focused on Park in earnest discussion.
The Dutchman’s gaze shifted briefly toward the window. His eyes locked with Jack’s.
In the blink of an eye, van Delden’s big Glock 17 was in his hand. Jack ducked as the barrel sparked. The door glass shattered just above his head.
“Found him,” Jack barked in his comms as he crouched low and pressed hard against the heavy steel door. He felt more rounds thud against the metal, like someone was pounding the door with their fists.
“Sit tight,” Clark said. “We’re on our way. Five mikes, max.”
“Copy that.” More bullets crashed into the door near Jack’s ear.
“Don’t hurt him, Jack.”
The big man slammed into the door. The steel cracked against Jack’s skull and knocked him back a little. But Jack was wedged hard against it. The door only budged open an inch. He slammed it back shut with his shoulder.
Jack heard the last shards of the shattered window glass breaking above him. He glanced up just in time to see the black steel slide of the big Glock wedge through it, then angle down, thick fingers wrapped around the hilt. The Glock fired three earsplitting shots that chinged the grated steel floor near Jack’s feet before Jack could react. Jack turned and grabbed the hot slide with his left hand and twisted it upward just as van Delden fired another shot into the steel rafters overhead.
The hot barrel burned Jack’s hand as he squeezed but he caused the last shot to fail because the slide couldn’t fully eject the brass.
With his left hand still gripped around the Glock, Jack pulled his SIG P229 Legion Compact SAO with his right hand and smashed the steel butt against the Dutchman’s thick wrist, breaking it with a sickening crack.
The massive paw dropped the Glock and yanked back through the shattered glass. Jack kicked the Dutchman’s gun over the edge.
“Status?” Clark asked. “Still got eyes on?”
“He ain’t going nowhere—”
Van Delden crashed against the door again before Jack could brace himself. The steel door blew open, tossing Jack backward, dropping him to the grated landing.
Jack raised his weapon to put a bullet in the Dutchman’s knee but the man’s giant steel-toed boot kicked the gun out of Jack’s hand, and sent the SIG sailing over the edge, clattering onto the cement floor far below.
Jack’s hand exploded in pain, as if it had been smashed with a sledgehammer. His momentary focus on his aching hand cost him dearly as the same big boot raised high and smashed down into Jack’s gut, knocking the wind out of him. Jack gasped for air and clutched at his belly as the boot raised up a third time, aimed squarely at his skull. Jack rolled away at the last second, the sole of the massive boot clanging against the steel near his ear.
Jack rolled again just as the Dutchman launched a kick at his skull and missed. Van Delden lunged forward for a final, fatal steel-toed shot to Jack’s temple, not seeing Jack’s three-inch Kershaw spring-assisted blade until it plunged into his inner thigh.
Van Delden screamed and grabbed his leg to stanch the blood. He stumbled away past Jack before The Campus operative could strike him again, limping west along the walkway as Jack struggled to stand.
“Jack, we’re close. Stay put,” Clark ordered. Jack shook the pain out of his hand as he grabbed a couple of deep breaths, his stomach aching like he’d been gut shot.
“Jack? You copy?”
Jack glanced up just in time to see van Delden turn the corner north, heading away from the pulpit.
“Copy,” was all Jack said.
He sure as hell wasn’t staying put.
He had his orders. “Alive, not dead.”
But Jack knew there was a long, nasty road of hurt between the two, and he was happy to take the big man along for the ride.
Jack thundered along the steel grate, racing after the giant operator. Even wounded, the big man was fast as a feral cat.
Jack turned the corner, running past the giant ladle of molten steel crawling along on its track ten feet below him. Even from here, the searing heat made his skin tingle, like standing too close to a campfire on a cold night.
“Van Delden! Halt!” Jack shouted over the noise of the giant ladle motors grinding overhead.
Van Delden limped farther along, leaning heavily on the rail, one bloody, massive hand gripping his thigh. He finally stopped as Jack charged up behind him.
“Turn around, asshole,” Jack said, finally able to pull his backup gun, a striker-fired SIG P365 SAS micro-compact nine-millimeter.
The thick shoulders turned. On the dimly lit platform, the Dutchman’s rugged features glowed in the seething light of the lava-like steel approaching them. The backs of Jack’s legs itched with the heat through his trousers.
Jack pointed his pistol at the big man’s chest.
The Dutchman grinned.
“Afraid to pull the trigger, little man?”
“Oh, hell no. But I’ve got my orders.”
“Tough guy, huh?” The grin disappeared as he winced in pain, his trouser leg soaked in blood. He raised himself up to his full height—five inches taller than Jack. His broad chest was like an oak barrel, and his tree-trunk arms bulged beneath his shirtsleeves.
Jack’s finger tightened on the trigger. “I won’t kill you, but if you make a move, you’re gonna be pissing through a straw for the rest of your life.”
The Dutchman’s eyes searched Jack up and down, calculating speed and distance to target.
“Clark, you copy?”
“I copy. You have the tango in sight?”
“I’m sitting on him. Hurry the hell up.”
“Almost there. You good?”
The air roared with the noise of the automated crane hauling the giant ladle just below them. Jack caught the glow of the white-hot steel in the corner of his eye.
“I’m good. But van Asshat is in a world of hurt.”
“Who sent you?” van Delden asked.
“Nobody you’d know.”
“What do you want with me?”
“You’re the link to an outfit we’re interested in.”
“Interested how? You are police?”
“Do you know who I work for?”
“Your outfit contracted for the Iron Syndicate.”
“The syndicate is dead.”
“I know. We’re the ones that rolled them up. It’s your organization we’re going to take apart next, thanks to you.”
“Ha! You really don’t know anything about us, do you?”
“No. But I promise you, within the hour you’ll tell me.”
Van Delden gritted his teeth, grimacing with a strange fuck-you smile at Jack.
“Something strike you as funny?” Jack asked.
The big Dutchman suddenly frowned, confused. He punched himself in the jaw. One, two, three times. Jack heard his teeth crack even above the noise.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
Van Delden’s desperate eyes darted around—searching for some kind of a weapon or another way out. The Dutchman’s bloodied fingers tightened around the steel railing.
Jack suddenly realized that the much larger man could use the railing as leverage to throw his bulk at him, even on that bad leg. If one of those meaty fists clocked his jaw, he’d be lights out.
Jack stepped back. “Don’t move.”
Van Delden inched closer.
“Afraid, little man?”
Jack shook his head. “No one’s pointing a gun at my nutsack.”
The Dutchman smiled again, a sliver of sunlight in a storm cloud. But then it faded.
“What are you willing to die for, little man?”
“What kind of a stupid—”
In a single, vaulting leap, van Delden threw himself over the railing.
Jack lunged at the man to grab him, but he was too late.
The big Dutchman plunged feet first into the glowing ladle ten feet below. His massive frame barely rippled the blistering surface, the white-hot liquid swallowing his last, sharp cry.
Jack stood at the railing staring at the bucket of molten steel inching relentlessly forward as Clark, Dom, and Adara came racing up behind him.
“Where the hell’s van Delden?” Clark asked, leaning over the railing. “I told you we needed him alive.”
“I know,” Jack said, holstering his pistol. “But he had different plans.”