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By:Jeff Abbott

“Silence,” Nicky repeated into his microphone, keeping his annoyance in check. Killing took only a second, but precautions, so that the job went cleanly, took time. Jackie was too restless; he had the impatience of a fever.

Nicky put his mind back to the kills. The angle into the office where the two men argued wasn’t ideal, but the client had been quite specific in how he wanted the job done. The big guy, standing near the window, wasn’t quite close enough . . . and Nicky had to complete the hit with the first shot. Jackie would be in the office less than a minute after the two men were dead, and he did not want either man breathing when his brother stepped inside to plant the goods. Especially the big guy. Nicky didn’t want Jackie within ten meters of that man.

If the two would just stop moving. The honking, stop-and-start traffic of downtown Austin jerked on the street nine stories below him. A distant rumble touched the sky, a spring storm deciding whether to grant a cooling rain. He tuned out the noise, because the prime chance for the kill shot might come at any second. The office was large, its narrow windows divided by white limestone. He was at the same height as the targets, but he had to hide close to a roof air-conditioning unit and the angle was awkward.

He frowned. Best if the two stood in the same slender window frame, close together, but the pair stood off from each other like wary lions. The geek wore a scared frown, as though he were shoving aside all the numbers and facts in his oversized brain and searching for unused courage. The geek damn well should be scared, Nicky thought. Nicky had read the notes about the big guy with a mix of admiration and shock. It wasn’t every day you got to kill such an interesting man. Nicky had killed thirty-six people but none so . . . accomplished. He almost wished he could have bought the big guy a pint, chatted with him, learned from him, soaked in his exploits. But the very best ones, he thought, always kept their secrets.

Now the big guy laughed—Nicky wondered what the hell was funny— and the big guy moved halfway into one window’s frame. But not far enough for a certain shot.

And then the geek pulled a gun from his desk and aimed it at the big guy. Nicky held his breath. Maybe they’d do his job for him, kill each other, and he could just watch.

“Stay back,” Adam Reynolds said. The gun made for an unfamiliar weight in his hand—he had purchased it only three days before, a necessary precaution. He had spent five hours on the Internet researching the right pistol. But he hadn’t spent nearly enough time practicing how to shoot. Adam’s lungs tightened with fear, his back prickled with heat, his tongue seemed coated with sand.

This was what happened when you went hunting for dangerous people. Sometimes they found you instead. Just keep him at bay, Adam thought. Help was on its way.

The gun did not seem to make the big man standing near the window nervous. “Give me that before you shoot off a toe or finger or something even more valuable, Adam.”

“No,” Adam said. He flicked the man’s business card off his desk and tossed a bound proposal at the man’s feet. “Take back your stage props, asshole. You’re nothing but a con man.”

The big man shrugged. “So I lied to you. You’re a liar, too. Let’s stop lying.”

“You first. What’s your real name?”

The big man laughed. “I’m nobody.”

“No, the problem is you’re too many different people, mister.” Adam straightened the gun, steadied his grip. “You’re got more names than a cat’s got fleas. I found them all. Every alias you’ve used in the past few months. I want to know who you really are.”

The big man’s gaze narrowed. He took a step away from the window, a step toward Adam. He kept his hands at his side. “Deal, Adam. I’ll tell you who I really am and who I work for if you tell me who hired you to hunt me down.”

“I have the gun so I will ask the questions and you will answer them.”

“Yes, Adam, you do indeed have the gun,” the big man said, as though that fact didn’t really matter to him.

Adam swallowed. “What’s your real name?”

“My name’s unimportant. What matters is why you’re searching for me, who paid you to look for me. That’s the only reason I arrived on your doorstep, Adam, is because you were looking for me.” He crossed his arms. “Did it occur to you that maybe I’m one of the good guys?”

“I . . . I know what you are.” Adam’s voice broke. “You’re a terrorist. Or you’re connected to a terror group.”

“Oh, God, you could not be more mistaken,” the big man said. He laughed. “You’re kind of book smart and street dumb all at once, aren’t you?”