Hunting Aardvarks - Lesson 1: Keep up or take notes!
Richard Hunt thinks the day before his 16th birthday will be like any other: unfulfilling and lonely.  He’s not even half right.
His best friend (and the girl of his dreams) Heidi Pinkowski is abducted, and Hunt gives chase. With the aid of an insane government operative known only as the Generalissimo, Hunt follows the trail into the woods of northern Pennsylvania, where he finds himself at the mercy of a man who will spend the next few decades making his life a living hell.
Filled with “words” and “punctuation,” Hunting Aardvarks - Lesson 1 is a “Crappy book,” says some dude the author met in the men’s room. “A complete waste of time,” says a Girl Scout who was just trying to sell him cookies.  “The restraining order says two hundred feet, Thurman. Two hundred!” his ex-girlfriend raves.
Hunting Aardvarks - Lesson 1
Here, for the first time, is Chapter 1 of Hunting Aardvarks - Lesson 1: Keep up or take notes!
I’ve been having some problems with my opening chapter. I’ve decided to go back to the original one. Trusting my instincts and all that nonsense. If you disagree, let me know. Otherwise, it stays like this.
Five years ago
August 17, 4:27 pm
George Washington National Forest, Virginia
“We’re lost.”
“No, we’re not!”
“I’m hungry.  Where’s camp?”
“I knew it! We’re lost!”
Ten-year-old Rick Hunt stood off to the side and watched his friends go into meltdown mode.  Their parents had sent them on a three mile loop-hike five hours earlier, and somehow they’d gotten off trail and deeper into the forest.    
“I wanna go home,” Chet said with a sniffle.  Hunt rolled his eyes, the one skill he’d learned from his older sister.  He was tall for his age, but Chet was part gorilla.  That didn’t keep the bigger boy from being a complete baby sometimes.  
Hunt looked over at his best friend, Heidi Pinkowski, as she flipped a sweaty lock of honey blond hair out of her eyes.  They were the newest members of Adventure Team, a hybrid of the Boy and Girl Scouts without the religious affiliation or cookie sales.  Like the others on the trip, they were about to enter the sixth grade at Thomas Jefferson Middle School back in Alexandria.  
Heidi glanced over at him.  He grinned.
“Did you figure out where we are?” she asked.
“We’re lost!” Chet bellowed for the tenth time.
“We’re not lost,” Hunt said to him.
“Yes we are!”
“Well, maybe you are, but I’m not.”
“Neither am I,” Heidi added, but Hunt could tell she didn’t believe her own words.
Hunt suppressed an another eyeroll and settled for a sigh.  Like the Scouts, AT members got patches for their achievements to sew onto the sleeves of their day-glo orange Gore-Tex jackets.  Chet, like the other kids in their group, had nearly two-dozen of the merit badges on his left sleeve.  Including, Hunt noticed, the one for Land Navigation.
Hunt didn’t have a Land Navigation patch, but he’d been going camping with his dad since he could walk.  He pulled a map from one pocket of his shorts and a compass from another.  He remembered that almost all topographic maps were oriented with north at the top, so he positioned the map that way on the ground and used four stones to hold it down.  He took a bearing on a radio tower across the valley, which he knew would be on the tallest point in the region, then put the compass down on the map.
His map actually had the tower marked.  He adjusted the compass so it was lined up at the correct angle with the tower, then he aligned the side of the compass along the trajectory.  As the others gathered round, he pulled a small pencil from his backpack and drew a line from the tower to their relative position.  He knew they were on the opposite side of the valley, about halfway up the hill.
“We’re right about here,” he said, using the pencil to circle a small section on the map.  Everyone looked at the circle.
“I knew it,” Chet said.  “I was just testing you.”
“If we head straight down the hill we’ll come to the road.”  Hunt didn’t need a map or a compass to tell him that, but Chet had been bullying everyone all weekend and he wanted to make a point.  It was a waste of breath.
“You’re not in charge,” Chet said, grabbing the map and the compass.  He didn’t get far with the compass; Hunt had tied its lanyard to the belt loop on his shorts so he wouldn’t lose it.
“Give me the compass!” Chet yelled as he tugged.
“Get your own!” Hunt yelled back.
The ground beneath their feet shook.  Nine sets of scared eyes looked at one another.  A boom reverberated through the valley two seconds later.
“Quiet!” Hunt said, looking over Heidi’s shoulder.  He grabbed the compass out of Chet’s limp hand and motioned for everyone to stay where they were.  They followed him anyway.
The echo lost its momentum as it rolled down the valley, long after the rumble in the ground faded.  A plume of smoke rose above the trees a few hundred yards to the south.  Hunt led the group between the trees, relying on his own internal compass to point the way.  Five minutes after they heard the boom, Hunt found himself on top of a slight ridge overlooking a manmade clearing.  He took a peek below and drew back just as quickly.  He corralled his friends before they got too close.  He held his fingers to his lips and motioned for them to follow.  Thirty yards back behind a rock outcropping he stopped, closed his eyes, and tried to breathe.
“What?” Chet said.
“Shhhh,” Hunt said, his blue eyes narrow and steady.  He waved everyone closer before whispering to them.  “You guys need to get down to the road.”  He undid the lanyard on his shorts and handed the compass to Heidi.  “Due west.  Down the hill.  Then north up the road to camp.  Tell our parents we need a sheriff or the army.”
“What’s going on Rick?” Heidi asked.  Her family members were the only ones who called him Rick.
“The armored truck that was on the news, remember?”  They all nodded, but except for Heidi they had no idea what he was talking about.  “It’s down in the clearing.  That boom we heard was from the explosives they used to open the back door.”  He looked down at his feet.  As scared as his friends were getting, Hunt knew something he couldn’t bring himself to tell them.  Something he’d seen when he poked his head over the ledge.
The body they’d pulled from the truck, limp like a rag doll.  Killed by the explosive concussion used to open the door.
On the other side of the clearing, beyond the men who were in the process of emptying the armored truck, stood a man in a green military dress uniform.  The man tilted his head to the side of the oak tree he hid behind.  He arched one eyebrow as he took in the scene.  Most men in his size twelve combat boots would be concerned that their mirrored sunglasses might reflect the light and give away their position, but the man known only as the Generalissimo wasn’t most men.  He knew the sun was at his back, the wind was moving toward him from the direction of the armored truck at six miles per hour, and that it would take seven seconds to get to the clearing if he ran flat out.  Fifteen if he took his time.  Another thirty-four seconds to incapacitate the opponents from HÖL who’d hijacked the truck and driven it to this secluded location in the back of a lead-lined shipping container.
The Generalissimo leaned his head back and pulled his lips into a smile.  The furry brown caterpillar of a mustache under his nose smirked as well.  He stroked the mustache and evaluated all the angles.  The gold bars in the back of the truck would fund HÖL’s misdeeds for a few years, but that wasn’t what they were really after.  A small titanium lockbox tucked inside a burlap sack under the bench behind the gold held their true prize.
I wonder if one of them packed a lunch.  I’m in the mood for a sandwich.  No!  A falafel!  Nay!  A cheese Danish!  Indeed!  He punched his right fist into the open palm of his left hand, happy to have come to a decision regarding his future nourishment.
The Generalissimo tugged at the bottom hem of his jacket.  The gold braids hanging from his epaulets levitated for a moment.  No sane man would go into battle dressed like a third world dictator.  Camouflage fatigues, a hundred soldiers at their back, and enough weaponry to start a guerrilla conflict in Guatemala, sure.  But not with just a pair of revolvers and a cheesy grin.  Especially when a box of nerve gas was at stake.  
Good thing the Generalissimo wasn’t a sane man.
“How can you be sure it’s the right armored car?” Chet asked.
“It’s got a number painted on top,” Hunt replied.  The other campers looked at him with blank expressions on their faces.  “Three twenty-eight?  D.C. Protective Services?  It’s filled with gold.”
“Gold?”  Chet’s eyes smiled.
“Look, just go.  Get a cop.”  Hunt turned to head back to the ridge.
“Where are you going?” Heidi said, grabbing his sleeve.
“Back there.  If they leave, someone needs to tell the police what to look for.”
“I’m going with you.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Why, because I’m a girl?” Heidi said.  She crossed her arms and pouted, a look she’d recently perfected.
“Because it’s dangerous and your dad would tear my arms off.”
“Oh.”  Heidi’s father, Ivan “the Shovel” Pinkowski, wasn’t someone to piss off.  At six foot six and two hundred and fifty pounds, he was the biggest person any of them knew.  That physique was useful in his line of work.
Hunt turned to go, but Heidi held on.
“Leave your jacket,” she said.
“Good idea.”  He took off the bright orange shell and handed it to her.  “Go.  I’ll be okay.”
He went back to the ridge.  
The Generalissimo rechecked the numbers: twenty-two of them, and one of him.  Perfect.  With odds like that, he might even be able to bring one or two back to ARDVARC headquarters alive.
He looked around the tree one last time.  He knew where all of them were.  What direction they were moving.  Who had a gun within reach.  Who didn’t.  He revised his plan slightly.  He knew he’d feel bad if he didn’t give them at least a small chance to survive.
Hunt saw a train of eleven men lined up behind the open rear door of the armored truck.  One bar at a time they transferred the gold; one hand to the next, until each brick was safely in the back of a gray panel van with a laundry service logo painted on the side.  Hunt didn’t recognize the name, and from his position on the ridge he couldn’t make out the license plate.  He’d already written down the numbers for the other five vehicles, but for the van he was going to have to get closer.
He crept down the ridge out of sight from below.  At the bottom he cut back toward the clearing, ducking and diving from tree to tree for cover.  His feet made little sound as he moved, the wet leaves squishing into the ground as he stepped.
He was twenty yards from the armored truck when all hell broke loose.
Heidi watched Hunt disappear into the trees.  Then she handed Hunt’s jacket to another camper.  She took her own off, stuffed it in her backpack, and then gave the map and compass to Chet.
“Go,” she told them.  They didn’t argue.  Heidi lifted her camera.  It was an expensive digital model with an attached telephoto lens that had “fallen off a truck.”  She cradled it in her hands as she went up the hill a hundred yards away.  Hunt wouldn’t see her; she was sure of it.  And maybe if she got a few pictures she’d be able to help the authorities.  Her father wouldn’t approve, considering his relationship with law enforcement, but she’d do anything to help Rick.    
Heidi missed her friend’s mad dash into the thick of it.  She’d been clicking away with her camera, trying to get shots of every face, every vehicle, and anything else she could see.
Then she saw the Generalissimo stroll out of the trees.  The sight of him stunned her.  The camera dropped away from her face so she could see him with her own eyes.  He began yelling so loud she could hear his every word as if he were standing next to her, even from over a hundred yards away.  
She shook it off.  Then she picked up the camera and got two good shots of him before the real shooting began.
The Generalissimo stepped out from behind his tree, his fists planted firmly on his hips.  He marched to within ten feet of the human conveyor belt and stopped.  So did all activity in the clearing.  All eyes were on the strange man in the uniform.
“I am the Generalissimo!”  He liked to yell.  Even when he didn’t have to.  It was a part of his mystique.  “I would like to give all of you the opportunity to renounce your evil ways!  A chance to shun your allegiance to villainy!  To indicate your acquiescence, please place your hands on your heads!  Failure to comply will result in immediate death or bodily injury!  Possibly both!”
They all stared at him, jaws slack, eyes bugging out of their skulls.  Most of the men were low level lackeys at HÖL, too unimportant to know who the Generalissimo was.  A few might have heard of ARDVARC.  Only the man who’d organized this caper knew who they were up against.
He’d fled the moment he saw the Generalissimo emerge from the trees.
One of the men moving the gold laughed.  Soon others joined him.  Even the Generalissimo leaned back and roared.  He loved to laugh.  It made his barrel shaped body jiggle.
Then one of the lackeys grabbed his gun.  Two others reached for theirs.
The Generalissimo whipped the two stainless steel Colt Anaconda .44 Magnum revolvers from the holsters on his hips.  As the men from HÖL dove for cover, the Generalissimo began picking them off, one at a time.
Hunt hid behind a tree and watched.  He knew it was only a matter of time until a stray round came his way.  He bolted for the only safe place he could think of.  A few of the HÖLs saw him running and thought he might be with the crazy General guy.
Bullets pecked at Hunt’s heels.  He cut around the front of the armored truck, jerked open the driver’s door, and dove inside.  Then he locked the doors.
The Generalissimo grinned as he dove between a pair of vans and reloaded.  It had been almost two weeks since he’d last been in battle.  He had missed it, like a lover away from home misses his partner.  Like a captain on shore leave misses his ship and the smell of salt air.  Like a parked bulldozer misses the sweet taste of fresh earth churning under its blade.  In the blink of an eye his mind recalled past battles, both victorious and not.  In the next blink he reevaluated his tactics.  The plan was unfolding beautifully.  But as much as he enjoyed fighting the pawns, he wanted the bishop who’d organized this party.
He cocked his revolvers and stepped back into the fray.
Hunt looked around the interior of the truck cab.  His dad had an old Dodge Power Wagon, a beast of a truck whose red paint had oxidized into a funky orange color over the years.  This felt bigger.  The controls looked liked those of every other car he’d ever been in, only plainer.  Not a lot of creature comforts to speak of, though the seat was exceptionally soft.
A bullet slammed into the window next to him.  His head snapped around, his eyes wide as he took in the snowflake in the glass that hadn’t been there before.  At the center of the snowflake was a dark center.  Then another snowflake appeared.  Then another.  He looked past the snow and saw a man with a pistol cracking off round after round at the window.
The man put the gun back in its holster.  Then he ran out of view behind the truck.  When he returned he was carrying something: a rectangular block of grayish beige putty.  The man waved it at Hunt.  Hunt read the stenciling on the block.  He didn’t know a lot about explosives, but he’d watched enough television to know what C-4 was.
The man pulled the protective covering from the double-sided tape attached to the block of C-4 and slammed it against the door handle.
Hunt remembered the body they'd taken out earlier, and had no desire to join the man's lifeless form in a shallow grave.  He searched the truck’s cab, desperate for an answer to his problem.
The Generalissimo went through the totals in his head: eleven dead, three injured, one missing, and seven hiding.  Those hiding could wait.  He needed to find the other one.
A rumble behind him changed his mind.
Hunt turned the key.  The big diesel engine coughed to life as the man next to the door dug through his pockets for a detonator.  Hunt didn’t wait.  He grabbed the gear selector, pulled it all the way to the right, reached his right leg out as far as it would go, and stepped on the gas pedal.
The truck lumbered away.  The low gear Hunt selected was too slow for a fast getaway.  He knew he’d made a mistake, but he had no idea what it might have been.  The wheel was heavy in his hands as he turned left to avoid a tree.  This was so much different from the video games he and Heidi played together.  Slower, but the sensation of the moving vehicle made it more intense.  That, and the people who were actively trying to kill him.
He checked his mirror.  The angle was set for someone taller, but he saw enough.  The man with the detonator clenched in his fist was chasing him.  At the rate the truck was moving, Hunt only had a few seconds before he was caught.  He looked at the gear indicator.  He closed his eyes and mentally slapped himself.  He pushed the gear selector two clicks to the left to the “D” position.  The truck changed gears almost instantly.  The man on foot was still gaining.
Hunt looked around.  Another mental slap.  He disengaged the parking brake by pushing a button and lowering the handle next to his chair.  The truck surged forward.  He steered right and scraped the paint off the left side of the truck as he brushed a tree.  The truck cleared the dense foliage and Hunt pointed it down a dirt road that led back to the highway.
Too bad he was driving the wrong way.
The Generalissimo redid the tally.  Only five men were on the loose now.  He tucked and rolled behind a boulder as someone fired at him on full automatic.  The earth behind him spewed like miniature volcanoes in his wake.  He came out of the roll and crouched, ready for action.  From behind the sunglasses he took it all in: the trees, the wet leaves, the pile of bear scat to his right.  It was at least two days old by the looks and smell of the brown defecation.  From the size of it, it must have been a big sucker, too.
He heard the diesel engine make its way down the road.  Someone was trying to flee with the rest of the gold and the burlap sack.  He couldn’t allow that.  The ambush he’d gotten caught up in had slowed him down too much as it was.  He ignored the four men who’d been dogging him and he broke for the clearing.  His massive frame bobbed and weaved as the bullets tried to find their mark.  After a while the shooters gave up.
The Generalissimo was thirty feet out when an SUV drove off with the man he’d been after behind the wheel.  The Generalissimo dove behind the cleaning van as more bullets rained down upon him.  He was exposed, but that wasn’t anything new.  He paused, then sprinted around the side of the van and hopped in.
As automatic fire pummeled the van, the Generalissimo started it up and gave chase.  He couldn’t let them get away.
Hunt was getting the hang of the whole driving thing.  He had one foot on the gas and one on the brake.  With each turn his actions became smoother.  He hadn’t gone above twenty miles an hour, but that was plenty fast on the slick dirt roads.
He came to a slight rise and hammered the gas.  The tires spun until the rubber treads found traction under the mud.  He’d been bugging his dad for years to let him drive.  He knew he’d be good at it; he was good at everything else he did.  This was easy.  If he pulled this off, he was sure they’d give him a license.  Age shouldn’t matter.
He came over the top of the rise and froze.  He snapped out of it long enough to spin the wheel to the left as fast as his arms could move, stepping on the brakes to keep from driving off the cliff that appeared out of nowhere.  He almost made it.  The right rear tires slid off the edge, pulling the back end of the truck around to the precipice.
“Curse you, fate!” the Generalissimo cried.  The cleaning van drove like a drunken hippo.  It was an underpowered beast whose best days were behind it when it wasn’t filled with half a ton of gold bars.  Magnificent a driver though he was, there was only so much he could do with the van going up a hill.  He kept his foot planted on the floor, but the aging engine couldn’t respond.
He puttered up the road, hoping against hope that he wasn’t the only one having problems.
Hunt wasn’t sure how he did it.  One minute the rear end felt like it was going to take the rest of the truck over the edge.  The next, he hit the gas and the left rear wheels dug in and pushed him from the brink.
He hit the brakes and stopped.  He couldn’t hear the thrum of the engine over the pounding of his heartbeat in his ears.  His lungs heaved as he tried to calm down.  He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes.  That had been close.  Too close.  He needed to slow down.  He looked around and didn’t recognize anything.  Heidi had the map and the compass.
Now he was the one who was lost.
His body slammed further back into the seat as another vehicle rammed the truck from behind.  Hunt grabbed at the wheel and pressed down on the gas.  
In the mirror was an SUV.  Behind the wheel was the same man who'd tried to cram a detonator in the explosive charge still attached to his door.  Lost was better than dead.
The Generalissimo willed the van to the top of the hill.  He thought for a moment he’d have to get out and push.  It never came to that.  He nearly stalled out at the crest of the ridge, but someone behind him pushed him over.
He steered left, but then the Good Samaritan crashed into the side of the van.  He looked over.  The four men he hadn’t found earlier stared back at him, their matching grins telling him their intent.
The Generalissimo felt the van slip over the edge of the cliff.  It tipped, then gravity yanked it down toward the chasm below.
He made his move.
The armored truck twisted and slewed as the dirt road morphed into a muddy path.  Every move of the steering wheel resulted in an unintended shift in the rear of the truck.  He remembered one of the video games he liked to play, a racing simulator with rally cars.  The vehicles in it were smaller, lighter, and wore bigger tires more suited to the terrain.  But the principles were the same.
At the next turn Hunt tapped the brakes and steered.  As the rear end drifted the wrong direction, Hunt counter-steered and feathered the gas pedal.  The truck slid sideways through the turn; not very fast, but smoother than before.  He smiled.  
Then another hit from behind jarred him from his moment of bliss.  The tires lost traction.
“Shit!” Hunt screamed to himself.  For some reason he thought about the bar of soap his dad promised to wash his mouth out with if he caught him swearing again.
Hunt tried to steer, but the other driver was pushing him.  He hit the brakes.  It was the wrong thing to do at the worst possible time.  The wheels locked, giving away any control he might have had.  The truck swung sideways.  The tires snagged a fallen tree on the side of the road and the big vehicle flipped.
Hunt fell out of his seat as the world rotated around him.  He hit his head on the roof, and then, nothing.
The Generalissimo laughed.  It had been many months since he’d last been rock climbing.  He’d forgotten what a great joy it was, thumbing one’s nose at gravity, that cruel mistress of attraction.
He hung five feet below the edge of the cliff, his fingers clinging to a rock that wobbled with every gust of wind that blew past.  This was the life.  Tempting fate.  Challenging the unknown.  Fighting the good fight against impossible odds.
“I salute you, destiny!” he shouted, his voice echoing below.  He let go with his right hand so he could salute properly.
Then the rock finally gave and he fell.
Hunt shook his head.  The gray mist in his mind burned off.  His mouth hurt.  He touched his lower lip.  The fingers came away bloody.  He touched it again.  Just below his lower lip he felt something hard.  Something that shouldn’t have been there.  His bottom teeth had come through the skin.
He grabbed his lower lip and pulled up.
“Owwwww!” A tear fell down his cheek, but he felt better anyway.  He exhaled, feeling some of the air escape out the new hole.  He chuckled at the sensation.  His head hurt.  He rubbed the knot on the back of his head.  More blood.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” he moaned.
He heard knocking and looked out the windshield.  The truck had come to rest with the driver’s side on the ground.  A man stood on the other side of the glass.  Hunt tried to take down the man’s features in case he somehow lived long enough to tell the cops.  Not tall, but not short.  No scars.  His hair was medium length and dirty brown.  Everything about the man screamed average, but his eyes were anything but normal.  One was so brown it was almost black, while the other was a pale blue.  Not as blue as Hunt’s, but enough such that the contrast between the two mismatched orbs startled him.
“Open the door,” the man’s muffled voice said.  Hunt was about to get up and unlock the door above him when he remembered something.  He looked around to get his bearings.  The driver’s side door was underneath him.  That meant the C-4 was under his butt.  The man couldn’t get to it.  More tapping.
“Easy way, or hard way?” the man said.  He waved another block of C-4 at Hunt.
Hunt closed his eyes.  He hadn’t been to church in years, but that didn’t stop him from praying.  He made all kinds of promises to God, ranging from being nice to his older sister to eating his vegetables to no longer trying to sneak peeks of Heidi’s mom getting dressed.  The last one was gonna be the hardest one to keep.  Mrs. Pinkowski was the second most beautiful woman on the planet, next to her daughter, of course.  
More tapping at the window.  
He thought about Heidi.  He’d been in love with her since her family showed up next door when he was six, fresh off the boat from Mother Russia.  At this rate, he’d never get to tell her that he liked her.
“Well?” the man said.
Hunt nodded.  He tried to stand, but his left leg exploded in pain as he moved.  He screamed; not some sissy scream meant to buy more time, but a sickening bellow that sounded like something from a B-grade horror flick.  The tears flowed freely.
“I know it hurts, kid, but if you can’t stand up, we’ll have to blow the door.”
Hunt gritted his teeth.
“You don’t need to get in,” Hunt said through the sobs.  “The back door is still open.”
The man didn’t react.  That’s when Hunt felt the vibrations.  Someone was already in the back, clearing out the gold.
“I know who you are,” the man said.  Hunt couldn’t imagine why this man would know him.  He guessed the man was lying.  “My employer wants to meet you.”
Now Hunt knew the guy was full of it, but he seemed sincere.  Someone wanted to meet him?  Why?
“I’m gonna count to three,” the man said, his mismatched eyes locked onto Hunt’s.  “One.”
Hunt looked at his leg.  That just made it hurt more for some reason.  His left thigh wasn’t as straight as it should be.  The muscles spasmed, forcing the sharp edges of the broken femur to dig into the nearby soft tissue.  Each of the miniflexes shot new waves of agony through his body.
Hunt looked at his tormentor.  It didn’t matter if he opened the door or not.  This guy wanted him dead.  No witnesses.  The whole line about his boss wanting to meet him was a lie.
“Three.”  The man shrugged, then exposed the tape on the block of C-4 and pressed it against the glass.
“It’s a thirty second fuse.  Use that time well.”
The man stuffed a blasting cap the same size and shape as a pencil into the brick and twisted the end.  A red light came on at the tip.  He heard gunshots in the distance.  The man waved, then ran.
Hunt gritted his teeth and grabbed the steering wheel with one hand.  Pain or no pain, he had about twenty-six seconds to escape.  With his other hand he reached up and grabbed a seat belt dangling not far above him.  He screamed as he tugged on the belt, using the steering wheel for support.  He sniffled as he breathed, his right leg taking the weight of his body.  As his broken leg hung below his waist like a useless anchor, Hunt reached up and grabbed the handle to the door.
Eighteen seconds.  More gunfire.
He pulled the handle and the latch unlocked, but without enough leverage to push the heavy door up, he was screwed.
The Generalissimo should have been dead, a puddle of shattered bones at the base of the cliff, but that just wasn’t his style.  He’d lashed out as gravity pulled him down, snagging a small tree that had somehow taken root in the side of the cliff.
After pulling himself up, he’d followed the sounds of chaos.  The Generalissimo rejoined the battle already in progress.  He shot two more men dead; they were easy.  The third man gave a strangled shout before a half-inch hole found itself punched in his forehead.
Two left.  He wanted them both alive.  
The armored truck was on its side.  Most of the gold was gone, but he could take care of that later.  He saw one of the men take position behind an SUV.  The Generalissimo thought about it.  The man would expect an attack from the front or the back, but the Generalissimo prided himself on his willingness to do the unexpected.
He leapt off the forest floor, landing on the roof of the SUV.  The big truck didn’t even flinch as his feet touched the paint, so light was his step.  He went to the edge.
“Your days of infamy are at an end!” he cried.  The man made a reflexive move, bringing his weapon around to the threat above him.  The Generalissimo chuckled.  It wasn’t funny, but he didn’t care.  He fired once.  The bullet slammed into the man’s gun, expanding on impact and shattering the weapon.  Half the man’s hand vanished in a burst of red goo.
“It is time for you to capitulate!  Give up your wicked ways!  Or else!”  The man screamed at the bloody mess that, moments before, had a few more fingers attached to it.  “Apply pressure!”  The man wasn’t going anywhere, which was good, because tucked under the man’s good arm was the burlap sack and the cargo the Generalissimo was after.
A clunking noise caught his ear.  He turned.  The passenger door to the overturned armored truck moved.  The final HÖL operative.  The Generalissimo smiled.
“Wait here, my good man!  Evil is knocking at the door of righteousness!  I shall answer! Ha ha!”  He jumped off the SUV and blitzed to the armored truck.  He was on top of it in a flash, yanking open the door with one hand and covering the man inside with a revolver gripped in the other.  
“You have been apprehended!”  He looked at his new prisoner.  Recognition flooded his brain, overpowering everything else.  He lowered the revolver without meaning to.
“Bomb!” Hunt yelled through the tears, pointing at the windshield.
The Generalissimo saw the block of C-4.  He knew what it was.  He also recognized the blasting cap.  Once it started flashing, they’d have ten seconds until kaboom.
It started flashing.
The Generalissimo holstered his revolver, reached into the truck cab, and yanked Hunt out in one fluid motion, as if he’d been practicing for that moment his entire life.
“Come, Richard!” he said.  “Let us continue the adventure!  Elsewhere!”  He picked Hunt up in his arms and jumped off yet another vehicle.  They were thirty yards away when the C-4 detonated.  The bulk of the armored truck shielded all but their eardrums, and the distance took care of that.
The Generalissimo put Hunt on the ground atop a pile of oak leaves.  Hunt yelped when his injured leg shifted.
“You were very brave!  Stealing a truck!  I salute your initiative.”  The Generalissimo saluted with the sort of pomp and flourish seldom seen outside a Martha Stewart holiday special or a gay pride parade.
Hunt looked up at the strange bear of a man who’d pulled him from certain implosion.
“Who are you?  How…do you…know my…name?  What…happ…”  It was all he got out before the pain took over and he lost consciousness.
The Generalissimo looked down at the boy.  Nay, young man, he thought.  A smile erupted from under his mustache.  He tugged down on his jacket to straighten it out.  His uniform looked brand new.  No dirt.  No mud.  Not even a scratch from the fall down the cliff.  
“All in due time, Richard,” he said in a normal tone of voice.  “All in due time.