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By:Jeff Abbott

“You advise government contractors,” Kidwell said.

Ben nodded and tried a cautious smile. “Is one of my clients in trouble?”

“No. You are.” Kidwell tucked his chin into the V of his hand, between thumb and forefinger.


Vochek leaned against the wall. “Do you have a client named Adam Reynolds?”


“Do you know him?” Vochek asked.

Her insistence on the word know made him more cautious. “If I’ve met Mr. Reynolds, I don’t recall it.”

“He designs software for the government. A one-man shop, but highly effective,” Vochek said. “He’s a very smart guy.”

“Then I’m sorry I don’t know him.” Sweat broke out along Ben’s legs, on his back, in the cups of his palms. He tried another awkward smile. “Listen, I sincerely want to help you, but unless you tell me why I’m in trouble, I’m phoning my lawyer.”

Kidwell pulled a photo from his jacket pocket and slid it across the table to Ben. “Do you recognize this man, Mr. Forsberg?”

Ben guessed the photo had been taken at a distance and then computer-enhanced, colors sharpened, details made clear. It showed a man, short and stocky, glancing over his shoulder as he walked down a busy street. He wore a hat pulled low on his head, its brim dripping rain. He was adjusting his collar against the wet and the wind, and his fingers were surprisingly delicate and long.

Ben pulled the picture close again, inspected the man’s face, racked his memories. “I don’t recognize him, I’m sorry.”

Kidwell said, “Nicky Lynch.”

“I don’t know him.”

Kidwell scratched his lip. “He looks meek. He’s not. His father was a torturer and gunman for the IRA before he died, and Nicky took over the business. When Northern Ireland got boring after the disarmament, Nicky went for hire. He’s one of the most feared freelance assassins in the world. We believe he’s done all sorts of nasty work for hire: training al-Qaeda snipers in Syria, eliminating political resistance leaders in Tajikistan and Pakistan, killing judges and witnesses in Mexico and Colombia for drug cartels.”

“Now I definitely don’t know him,” Ben said.

“Are you sure?” Vochek asked, with a doubtful tone.

“Jesus, yes, I’m sure. What the hell is this?”

“This afternoon we believe Nicky Lynch killed Adam Reynolds, here in Austin. Mr. Reynolds had called me in Houston at noon, asked me to come immediately to Austin, on a matter of national security,” Kidwell said.

Ben looked up from the unassuming face of the killer in the photo and shook his head. “What does this asshole have to do with me—”

“You tell us, Mr. Forsberg,” Vochek interrupted. Now she leaned forward, put her hands on the table, her face close to his. “Because Nicky Lynch was shot to death and your business card was in his pocket.”


Your business card was in his pocket. The sudden hush in the room took on a weight.

“Explain why Nicky Lynch had your business card, Mr. Forsberg.” Kidwell said.

Ben found his voice. His lungs felt filled with lead. “It has to be a mistake . . .”

“I can think of two possibilities. One, you are associated with Lynch. Two, you are being targeted by him.” Vochek shrugged. “Which is it?”

“This is a sick joke, right? Please, because it is seriously not funny.”

“Not a joke,” Kidwell said. “We believe Lynch shot Reynolds through his office window with a high-powered sniper rifle from across Colorado Street.”

Through a window. Sniper rifle. Emily lying on a floor. The words, the memory, made the world swim before his eyes. He squinched his eyes shut, took a deep breath. “No . . . this has nothing to do with me . . .”

“We found a proposal with your letterhead on the floor of Reynolds’s office,” Vochek said. “Help yourself, Ben. Cooperate with us.”

“But I didn’t know him.” Ben sank back to the chair.

“Give me your phone,” Kidwell said. Ben slid the smartphone to him and Kidwell handed it to Vochek. “Find out his recent calls.” She started clicking through the menus.

Ben rubbed at his forehead with his fingertips. A slow burn of anger lit in his chest, piercing the haze of shock. “If I don’t know him, then your second option . . . is someone wants me dead. There’s just no reason.” He suddenly wanted Kidwell to nod, to agree, but the poker face stayed in place.

“Do you have any enemies?” Kidwell asked.

“Enemies? No.” It was the kind of grab-your-guts question the police asked him after Emily died, and when he looked up at their faces he saw the familiar stain: suspicion. The same poisonous frowns the police in Maui and later Dallas had worn while talking to him after Emily’s murder. Suspicion had already doused his life once with acid. Not again. Not again. “Who killed Lynch?”