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By:Jeff Abbott

Adam shook his head. Put both hands on the pistol’s grip to fix his aim.

“Adam, this is why you’re in trouble. You had to break a number of laws to find me and all my aliases: banking laws, privacy laws, federal statutes protecting classified material. All that data you used to find me scattered among databases where you have no clearance or access. Someone gave you that access. Tell me who and I promise you’ll be safe and protected.”

“Sit on the floor, put your hands on your head,” Adam said. “I’ve already called a friend of mine in Homeland Security. They’re on their way here, so if you hurt me . . .”

“Hurt you?” The big man frowned. “Doubtful. You have the gun.” He took a step forward. “Brilliant computer programmers don’t just suddenly start finding people who never want to be found. Who do you work for?”

“I’ll shoot. Please. Stop.” Adam didn’t sound convincing, even to himself. “Please.”

The big man risked another step toward Adam. “You’re way too nice a guy to shoot me and I’m not going to hurt you. So give me the gun, genius, and let’s talk.”

Nicky watched through the crosshairs. The big guy was moving forward, slowly, and the geek was suffering the tortures of the weak, not wanting to shoot a fellow human being. Hell. Then a thought occurred to Nicky: What if the geek did shoot the big guy? Will I get paid if I don’t shoot them and one kills the other?

The thought panicked him. He glued his eye to the scope. Take the shot, leave no wiggle room for the client to argue the fee or debate whether or not services were rendered. He needed the money.

The big guy came forward, moving toward the geek, calm. The geek lowered the gun a fraction of an inch.

Both men in the same window now. The big man reaching for the wobbling gun. Don’t wait.

In two seconds, Nicky Lynch calculated the ramifications of the choppy wind gusting hard from the bend of Lady Bird Lake that hugged Austin’s downtown, did the math for the deflection of the glass, touched his tongue to the roof of his mouth, and fired.

The big guy dropped. Nicky pivoted the barrel a fraction, fired, saw the geek jerk and fall. Stillness in the room, twin holes in the window. He watched for ten seconds, then pulled back from the lip of the office building’s roof. Below him people hurried on their late afternoon errands, unaware of death in their midst: suited men and women walking toward the Texas state capitol, most with cell phones grafted to their ears; a street musician braying a Bob Dylan song, strumming a guitar in front of a case dotted with spare change; a huddle of workers awaiting a bus. No one looked up at the muffled sounds of the shots.

It had gone all right, for two such difficult shots. He ducked behind the air-conditioning unit, wiped his hands on the maintenance uniform he wore. He dismantled the rifle with practiced grace. He tucked the rifle’s parts into a duffel bag and headed for the roof stairs. “You’re clear,” he said into the mouthpiece to Jackie.

“Heading in,” Jackie said. “Going silent.”

“Silent.” Nicky signed off. Jackie tended to chatter and Nicky didn’t want him distracted.

A boom of thunder crackled, the waiting storm starting to rise, the breeze electric with the sudden shift.

Bizarre requirements, Nicky thought, but the client specifically wanted the job done this way: Murder the targets from a safe distance and then leave a manila envelope on the geek’s desk. The money was caviar-and-champagne good, enough to keep him in liquor and books for a stretch of several months in St. Bart’s. He needed a vacation. Jackie would use his share of the money for hunting down rare Johnny Cash vinyl recordings and spend time scribbling more bad songs. Jackie and his music. Waste of time. Maybe Nicky’d talk his brother out of frittering away his cash, get him to come drink in the Caribbean sun. You wanted warmth after you killed, Nicky thought as he reached the street.

In his earpiece, Jackie got the all-clear from Nicky and summoned the elevator. A crowd of pinstriped lawyers walked in from the street, pooling around him, chatting, waiting for the elevator doors to open.

Damn, he thought. He didn’t want to be remembered so he let the lawyers crowd the first elevator that came. He thumbed the up button again, and waited an extra ninety seconds for an empty elevator. He rose to the top floor alone. The hallway was empty. No one had heard the silenced shots—no one, at least, had emerged from the neighboring offices in panic to crowd the hallways. Good—no one would remember his face as he completed his errand. This assignment, although a rush job, was big; the targets were important. Do it right, he thought, and you’ll shut up Nicky’s carping.