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By:Jeff Abbott

Jackie approached the suite; the sign read “Reynolds Data Consulting.” The office door was locked and he opened it with a lockpick in under ten seconds. He pulled his steel blade free from his coat, just in case either man was spasming out the last of his life. But he wasn’t going to stab unless necessary. Not even for fun. A knife wound would confuse the police.

He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. The office was silent. Jackie put the large envelope under his arm. The geek lay in sprawled surprise beside the desk, blood spreading from his head, mouth slack, eyes finally vacant of brainstorms.

Orders were to leave the sealed envelope on the desk. But first Jackie stepped behind the desk to take a peek at the big guy.

Across the street, Nicky Lynch shouldered past a crowd of techies spilling out from the parking garage ramp, heading for early drinks in the Warehouse District. He walked up the ramp and took a left. He pressed the remote for his Mercedes, beeped open the trunk. He put the rifle case inside and slammed the trunk closed. As he slid behind the wheel and started the engine, his earpiece crackled, Jackie yelling, not making sense. “He’s gone!”

Nicky glanced into the rearview just in time to see the big guy running up behind the car, drawing a gun from underneath a jacket. For a half second, shock seized him. Then he ducked for the loaded Glock he kept under the seat and closed his fingers around it. The driver’s window exploded; agony lanced his shoulder.

This was not happening. Impossible. The shot had been true . . .

“Who sent you?” the big guy asked.

Nicky’s mouth worked; his arm didn’t. He fumbled for the gun with his good hand.

“Last chance. Answer me,” the big guy said.

Nicky lifted the gun with an angry grunt. The answering barrage sprayed his life’s blood across the dashboard and the front windshield.

Jackie, run, Nicky thought, staring at the red mist, then died.

The big guy stood at the shattered window and fired four neat, tidy shots for insurance into Nicky Lynch’s chest and head. Adam Reynolds’s gun went warm in his hand.

“Always make sure, mister,” the big guy said. He swallowed the bile in his throat. Today had gone all wrong. Time to walk away from the whole mess. Wrap up the package for the cops.

Let the police chase a nobody. He took a business card from his pocket and tucked it into Nicky Lynch’s bloodied jacket. He wouldn’t need it anymore. He hurried away from the car, hiding his gun under his light jacket, taking the staircase. Someone would spot the bullet-riddled car within minutes.

He walked out onto the sidewalk as a light, gentle rain began to drop from the marble-gray sky.

One street over, Jackie ran in a panicked pell-mell from the building, sprinted hard toward the garage, dodging traffic and old-lady shoppers and coffee-swilling lobbyists. Cars slammed on brakes, honks jeered him as he sprinted into the street. He slipped his knife into his jacket pocket, his hand closing hard around the Glock under his windbreaker, scanning the faces behind him, scared. He kept the folder of photographs clutched under his arm. He heard a woman shriek as he hurried up the ramp. He braked on his heels and peered around the concrete pillar. A woman and two men huddled around the Mercedes, a smear of red on the windshield. One of the men was on his cell phone, calling 9-1-1. The woman had her hand clamped over her mouth as though repressing a scream.

Jackie stepped close enough to see there was nothing he could do.

Nicky was dead.

Jackie’s throat closed on itself. He remembered to breathe. He turned away, stumbled down the ramp. The police would be here within moments. He fought every urge to go to his brother and fold him into his arms, swallowed the need to drop to his knees and cry.

The big guy wasn’t dead.

But, Jackie thought with a hot rage in his heart and tears crowding his eyes, he soon would be.


“We’re in deep trouble,” Sam Hector said. “Ten-million-dollar contract choked this morning.”

“I’m sorry, Sam,” Ben Forsberg said into his cell phone.

“It’s a deal with the UK government to provide additional security for their embassies in four east African countries,” Hector said. “I can’t lose another big contract, Ben. I’ve sent you the details and I want you to go through the information tonight. All vacations must end.”

“Sure.” Ben was close to home, the top up on his BMW because as he approached Austin the spring sky clouded with rain. He wished that Sam hadn’t called it a vacation. Ben no longer took vacations; he had alone time, away time. He’d only been away for six days. “I’m ready to go back to work.”

“Thank God, because the deals are drying up,” Hector said. “I wish you would come back to work for me full-time. I need you.”