Authors: Jerry Ahern
The Survivalist Series
#1: Total War
#2: The Nightmare Begins
#3: The Quest
#4: The Doomsayer
#5: The Web
#6: The Savage Horde
#7: The Prophet
The Defender Series
#1: The Battle Begins
#2: The Killing Wedge
#3: Out of Control
#4: Decision Time
They Call Me the Mercenary Series
#1: The Killer Genesis
#2: The Slaughter Run
#3: Fourth Reich Death Squad
#4: The Opium Hunter
#5: Canadian Killing Ground
#6: Vengeance Army
#7: Slave of the Warmonger
#8: Assassin's Express
#9: The Terror Contract
#10: Bush Warfare
#11: Death Lust!
#13: Naked Blade, Naked Gun
#14: The Siberian Alternative
#15: The Afghanistan Penetration
#16: China Bloodhunt
#17: Buckingham Blowout
SPEAKING VOLUMES, LLC
THEY CALL ME THE MERCENARY
ASSASSIN'S EXPRESS #8
1982 by Jerry Ahern
Originally published under the name Axel Kilgore
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
Any resemblance to persons, governments,
businesses or governmental entities living,
dead, or operating or having operated.
is purely coincidental.
“Go aheadâbuy it. That's all you talk aboutâor used to. âWhen I get some money, maybe I'll buy a Rolex.' So buy it, You can afford to marry meâso buy yourself the wrist watchâgo on!”
Frost turned and looked at Bess, her green eyes, the blond hair that fell past her shoulders now. “Trying to civilize me?”
“Noânever, Frost.” She smiled, the soft alto of her voice something that Frost felt he'd never tire of.
“All right,” Frost said, turning back to the woman behind the jewelry counter. “I'll take it.”
“The Rolex Seadweller, sir?” The girl had blue eyes, reddish hair, and the classic English ruddy-cheeked lookâshe was about twenty-five.
“Yeah,” he told the woman. “That and the ringâwill you take a traveler's check?”
“Of course sirâI'll need some identification though.”
Frost nodded as the woman busied herself behind the counter. He turned back toward Bess, but couldn't see her; then he spotted her on the far side of the store. Telling the clerk he'd be back in a moment, Frost worked his way through the maze of counters and department-store shoppers, finally getting up beside Bess. “You talk about me being dull.” He laughed; Bess turned, startled, then smiled. “What are you doingâlooking at luggage!”
“I've lived in London a long timeâa lot to pack,” she said absently.
She looked at him, the comers of her mouth slightly crinkled in a smile. “What do you think? I mean, I really didn't think you'd do it, Frost. You're not the marrying kind.”
“Yeah, well ...” Frost shrugged.
“I've gotta tell youâI just can'tâ”
“Can't what?” Frost asked her.
“Well, my folksâthey wanted to get a wedding cake for us. My mother and I talked. She knew you had one eye. Soâwell, you know the little people they put on top of the wedding cake? Well, she had this friend of hersâhe's an artist. Well, they fixed the little man on the wedding cake to have an eye patch. You don't mind?”
“You've gotta be kiddin' me.”
“Noâyou mind, don't you. I meanâ”
Frost took her in his arms.
“The people in the storeâ”
“The hell with 'em,” Frost said with an air of finality, kissing her not too lightly on the mouth.
Gently, she pushed away from him, then leaned up quickly and kissed his cheek. “Are you going to be like this after we're married twenty-five years, Frost?”
“Uh-huh,” he said, gently running his hand across her shoulders, holding her.
“I was afraid of that.” She laughed.
Frost and Bess started back across the store, toward the jewelry counter. Frost decided then it was impossible for a woman to take more than three uninterrupted steps in a department store. She stopped to look at almost everything they passed. A shiver ran up his spine as she looked at some peculiar clothing, because after a moment, he realized it was for children. Frost tried to imagine somebody calling him Daddy and shook his head in disbelief at the thought, but then smiled. Maybe it wouldn't be so badânot with Bess, he decided. They reached the jewelry counter again, the woman having had the Rolex's band adjusted. Frost tried it on. “Looks good, Frostâgoes with the sixty-five-dollar shoes,” Bess told him.
“Terrific.” Frost wrote the traveler's checks, commenting to Bess and the clerk he'd have to get more of them. He pocketed his old watch, along with the sales slip for the new one. Then the girl brought the ring. Frost opened the box, letting Bess see the engagement ring for the first time. “You like it?”
“Where'd you find a setting like this?” She took the ring from the small velvet box and turned it over in her hands. The diamond was set in a heavy yellow-gold ring, the band itself having the appearance of chains wrapped tightly around one another, almost braided. Around the stone itself was the head of a roaring, open-mouthed tiger, as though the diamond were set in the jaws.
“You don't like it,” Frost said, taking it from her and looking at it a moment.
“WellâI've never seen anything like it. I do like itâit's beautiful” she told him. “Where did you findâ”
Frost looked at her eyes, then said, “Years back, in Vietnam. There was this old man, caught under some building rubble after a V.C. mortar attack. Nobody wanted to bother getting him outâthey said he was dying anyway. Wellâyou knowâ”
“I know you,” she said, her voice strangely soft, warm-sounding to him.
“Well, I dug him outâyou know. He spoke a little English, I spoke a little Vietnamese. We talked. He was dying, but at least in the sunlight. He gave me the ring. He'd sold the stone to get food for his grandchildren once, but he'd kept the ringâbeen in his family, his grandmother had told him, for a long time. Well, his grandchildren had diedâno one left. He wanted to give it to me. I told him I could bury it with him, but he said he'd rather I kept it. I told him I wouldâand I have. I had it sized down to fit you,” Frost concluded, slipping the ring on the third finger of her left hand. “You happy with it?”
“Ohh, Frost.” She leaned up, hugging her arms around his neck, then kissed him quickly on the mouth. “YesâI love you,” she whispered.
This time Frost turned around, noticing some old women staring at them. He wanted to thumb his nose at them, but didn't. He looked back at Bess and there were tears in her eyes. “What's the matter?”
“Nothingânothing. Frost. You finish hereâI'm going to the ladies' room a minute.” She leaned up, kissed his cheek, and turning on her high heels, started into the crowd.
“If you don't mind my saying so,” the young woman clerk began, “congratulations.”
Frost smiled at her. “Thank you.” He nodded, taking the empty ring box and the receipt. He looked at his wrist, staring at the watch. “A Rolex,” he muttered, smiling. He decided to stay near the jewelry counter while he waited for Bess. As a little boy, once he'd gotten lost in a department storeâonly for five minutesâbut ever since, the places had given him the creeps.
There was a counter with electronic games not far away. Frost mentally and physically shrugged, walking toward it.
There was a loud roaring noise and something seemed to slap at him from behind. The one-eyed man fell forward into the glass case, shoving his hands up to protect his face; then darkness washed over him....
Frost opened his eye, muttering something, then looked at the man sitting next to him. “Sorryâfelt asleep,” he rasped, then turned and stared out the window, yawning. It was a clear day; fields checker-boarded under the aircraft were visible in alternating patches of light and shadow, once the shadow of the aircraft itself had cleared the ground below.
Frost lit a cigarette. “Bess,” he whispered, still staring out.
The explosion in the London department store had almost vaporized the section of the first floor where Bess had beenâthe grave in the cemetery in northwest suburban Chicago near where her parents lived was empty; no remains were to be found. In all, including Bess, eleven people had been killed in the terrorist bombing. Frost himself had been knocked unconscious by the shock wave and had suffered minor cuts and bruises. Sixty-seven other people had been injured, to varying degrees.
Released from the hospital emergency room later that same day, Frost had gone back to the department-store site, the area cordoned off by police. He had simply stood there. Finally, around one in the morning, a police sergeant had walked up to him, and asked him why he stood there. Then Frost had started to talk. Death carried with it one curious human characteristic, Frost reflected, stubbing out his Camel and staring at the fringe of cloud cover starting beneath the aircraft. You started to talk, even to a perfect stranger; and because you had to talkâmaybe to keep your sanityâyou told the stranger things you wouldn't usually admit even to yourself. The sergeant was on a break and Frost and the man had gone into a still-open pub, the officer having coffee because he was technically on duty, Frost just having a beerâFrost knew himself well enough from the old days to realize that if he had begun to drink hard liquor he wouldn't have stopped. Frost had told the sergeant what kind of a girl Bess had been, about their marriage plans, about how they'd metâeven about the thing Bess had told him concerning the couple on top of the wedding cake, having the eye patch painted in there.
Frost had still been wrestling with the idea of switching from beer to the hard stuff when the sergeant, tired-sounding, had begun to talk. Frost closed his eye, listening to the drone of the aircraft engines, remembering what the sergeant had said then. “I seen a lot of these bombings, I have. When I was just a bloke, I remember the Gerries bombing us, the way I'd âear some voice crying out of the rubble. I'd ask my mum why the Gerries dropped their bombs and made people suffer that way. My mumâGod rest 'er soulâshe told me, â 'arryâif you ever start t' understand why, look out fer yerself,' she said. I didn't understand 'er then, but I do now. There ain't no way to understand the likes of them terrorist bombersâbecause they ain't human. You understand 'em, you gotta be like 'em. I can read it in that one eye of yours, I can. You don't understand why them terrorists'd bomb a department store, kill innocentsâand it's to your credit that you don't.”
Frost wondered if
understoodâthe terrorists? He had dutifully called Bess's parents, faintly thought they somehow blamed him. Frost had started wondering if violence were just naturallyl attracted to him.
Frost had spent the next three weeks haunting New Scotland Yard, making the rounds of the pubs the I.R.A. people were rumored to frequent. And the whole thing had made him feel impotentânothing had come of it. The London Police weren't even able to pinpoint which cell of the I.R.A. might have been responsible, if indeed it were the I.R.A. at all. Frost had thought of going to Irelandânorthern or southern. Just to find somebody in the I.R.A. and kill for retributionâbut he'd remembered the police sergeant then as he did now. Just finding some man who belonged to the I.R.A. and gratuitously killing was the sort of thing a terrorist would do.
Frost had feelers out with everyone he knew who kept tabs on the terrorist movementâthe Egyptian agent, Sharif Abdusalem; his old contacts in the Israeli Mossad; his friend, Nifkawitz, from the CIA. All he wanted was a lead, just one. Then Frost smiled, the cloud cover through his window complete; he would find out just who it was he had to kill, who had planted the bomb in the department storeâwho had killed Bess. Frost closed his eye and tried to control his breathingâit was either that or cry. . . .
Frost stood in the aircraft washroom, splashing cold water on his face; then stared at himself in the mirror, his eye patch removed. The scar was uglyâit always had been. It had never bothered Bess, though. Frost splashed more water on his face, lamenting the fact then that men weren't supposed to scream. After putting more water on his face, then drying it with brown paper towels, he put the eye patch back into position.
The one-eyed man stared at himself in the mirror. Was the hatred he had for the unknown bomber because of what the terrorist had done to Bess, or because of what Bess's death had done to him? Frost looked at the Rolex watch on his wristâat least Bess had died wearing the ring he'd given her. He thought about the dying old man who had given him the ring in Vietnamâwas it bad luck?
Frost looked angrily toward the doorâsomeone was knocking on it. He shook his head, opened the door, and looked into the eyes of a stewardess. “Are you all right, sir?”
“What? Oh, yeahâjust a little airsick.”
“I can give youâ”
“No,” Frost said, smiling at her. “I'm fine now,” he lied, then walked past her and down the aisle toward his seat. He crawled over the man on the aisle and sat down, staring at the clouds again. He'd returned to the United States from London almost a week earlier, dropped down in Florida and visited his old friend Lou Wilson, then bummed around Miami for a while. He'd had the early model Interdynamics KG-9 retrofitted with the sling swivels now standard on these guns, had found a range, and had eaten up several boxes of 9-mm 115-grain JHPs in both the Metalifed Browning and the KG-9. He hadn't fired a gun in more than a month and his first few targets had reflected that.
Finally, Frost had gotten up the nerve to fly back to Chicago and return to his apartment in South Bendâhe'd told Bess about the place, promising he wouldn't make her live there. Going to the barren rooms with the 1969-vintage black-and-white television, the few chairs, the picture of Bess on the dresserâhe'd gone out to get a drink. There had been whiskey in the cupboard, but he'd gone out anyway. If you paid for the stuff by the glassful, somehow you drank it more slowlyâat least that had always worked for him.
At the bar, he had bumped into Claudia Minish, Andrew Deacon's secretary at Diablo Protective Services. Claudia had never been fond of him, Frost had thought, but seeing him she had run up to him, thrown her arms around his neck, hugged him, and acted generally as if he were her long-lost brother. She'd dragged him over to a booth, sat down, then almost breathlessly asked, “Where the hell have you been?”