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Authors: Jerry Ahern

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BOOK: Assassin's Express
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“They had one woman who was the bearded lady, the fat lady, and the snake charmer?”

“It was a small show on a tight budget,” Frost responded. “But anyway, when I had some off moments Elmo Farquarhdt would take me aside. He began to teach me all he knew about lions and lion-taming and about circus biz—it was fascinating. Well, eventually, he started teaching me how to train the lions, to do what he did. There was this one lion—Claude—”

“I always figured they were declawed.”

“No—I said Claude.”

'Yeah—ohh—the lion had gotten clawed?”

“No—the lion
was
Claude.”

“That's just what I said,” Jessica insisted.

“Well—the lion was Claude—Claude. You know. Like Farquarhdt was Elmo, the lion was Claude.”

“Ohh—the lion was Claude?”

“No—he was never clawed—lions don't claw other lions. He was Claude.”

“Ohh.”

“Anyway, Claude was the lion Elmo Farquarhdt used to do his most death-defying part of the act with.”

“Claude?”

“Right,” Frost said. “Elmo Farquarhdt would stick his head inside Claude's mouth—always got a standing ovation. We were in this one town, I remember—Dinky.”

“It was a dinky town?”

“No, Dinky wasn't dinky at all—Dinky, Idaho, good-sized place.”

“Ohh—”

“Well, I'd been practicing with Claude and Elmo Farquarhdt before we got to Dinky and it was decided I could try Elmo's trick with Claude in Dinky.”

“You mean Elmo's trick
in
Claude in Dinky?”

“Right,” Frost answered. “But—unbeknownst to me, Claude was having an attack of indigestion—belching a lot. Elmo was used to Claude having indigestion, but never like in Dinky. He didn't want me to go on, but I insisted. Came the time for the highlight of the act. There I was, resplendent in my borrowed knee-length tights—”

“Knee-length tights?” She laughed.

“Elmo Farquarhdt was five feet one.”

“Ohh.”

“Well—Claude was really troubled, belching a lot. As I started to put my head in Claude's mouth, Elmo Farquarhdt was shouting, “Alto—alto!”

“There was another lion named Aldo?”

“No—Farquarhdt was Spanish, I think. Elmo Farquarhdt was just a stage name. But I did it anyway, stuck my head in Claude's mouth—and then it happened.”

“What?”

“This giant belch and his tongue shot up to the roof of his mouth, those huge teeth, my eye going up toward them—” Frost turned away and tugged at his eyepatch.

“You poked your eye out on a lion's tooth?”

“No,” Frost smiled. “I pulled my head out of Claude's mouth just in time and rolled across the sawdust-covered floor. Well, Elmo was wearing his old tights and no shoes—and there was a hole in the big toe.”

“What?”

“Never cut his toenails, Elmo—walked over to my still-moving body—stubbed his toe right into my—”

“Ohh, shut up.” She laughed and reached across the table and hugged him.

They talked late into the night, the girl telling Frost about herself finally. She had been in graduate school when she had suddenly been approached by something she thought at the time was the CIA, but had turned out to be Calvin Plummer's group—an organization far more secretive. She discovered that they had learned more about her than she remembered about herself, that they wanted to have her undergo some specific training, and if she passed it, they would tell her why they were so terribly interested in her. There had been training in the Russian language. She had listened to mysterious piecemeal tapes of a Russian woman, tried to learn to imitate her voice. She had had weapons training, with both Soviet and American firearms... martial-arts training, courses in the history of Communism, courses in Soviet daily life. She had undergone a period where she had lived for one year with Americans who only spoke Russian, read only Russian books and newspapers, ate Russian food, wore Russian-made clothes. And then they had told her—about the Russian woman she was supposed to replace. They had surgically broken her leg so she would match the Russian woman physically. They had told her the surgical technique they planned to use on her fingertips and palms was radical, new—perhaps would be unsuccessful. After four operations, she had been shown her fingerprints and those of the Russian woman—she had not been able to tell them apart. She had been told later that by some quirk of fate, the prints had been very close to begin with—perhaps she and the Russian woman were distant relatives, perhaps something else. No one had conjectured why—at least openly. Then there had been the switch and ever since she had been living the life of a loyal KGB agent—waiting for the big intelligence break to come along. The list of double agents in the CIA and FBI was that break; she'd memorized the list, then planned her escape. Once she made it to the President, revealed the names on the list, and was free of what she knew, she would dye her hair, get contact lenses to give her a different eye color, then go off and live in some small town under a new identity. “I have it all planned. They promised before I began that they'd help me when I came back, help me to start over again.”

“You think it'll be that simple?” Frost asked, pulling on his coat.

“Where are you going?”

“Start the car once more—then hook up the battery and let the car run and the engine charge us up. The heat's going to kick off. That light I tried wasn't burned out—the power was gone.”

“What do you mean, do I think it'll be that easy?”

“Well—do you?”

“No,” she said, a curious smile crossing her face like a shadow. “I don't.”

Frost shrugged the rest of the way into his jacket and started out through the door.

 

Heavy trucks were moving in convoy by morning—and the propane had run out as well. The last truck in the convoy stopped. Frost and the girl got their things together and hitched aboard into the next town—to have attempted to tow the car out of a giant snowdrift, in which there was a hole by the driver's side front door, would have been impossible without ripping off the front bumper. The truck driver had given Frost a red bandanna to tie to the antenna of the car as a warning flag that it was there, in front of the trailer. Perhaps that would prevent a snowplow from further destroying it.

The snow had stopped before sunrise, and by noon, when Frost and the girl climbed down from the cab of the eighteen-wheeler, the snow was melting. The street was a sea of slush and muddy water. “Thanks—anytime you need someone's arm broken, call me,” Frost told the driver, shaking the man's hand warmly.

“Yeah—thanks, fella. Good luck to you and the lady, huh?”

When the truck had started slowly away from the slushy curb, Frost and Jessica had stepped back to avoid the splash. Frost looked at the girl, telling her, “That guy thought I was kidding about breaking somebody's arm for him—ha!”

She looked at Frost, then laughed. There was a two-story, squarish-looking building at the far end of the street in the middle of a slushy-looking parking lot. A sign hung over the door, proclaiming it a restaurant; and Frost, taking the girl's elbow, started toward it. He was hungry after the drive and for once in his life craved a lot of people around him; there was enough cars in the restaurant lot that it had to be packed.

Frost slung the girl up in his arms and carried her halfway across the parking lot—she wore track shoes and the muddy water was washing over the top of his combat boots.

They had taken little from the the camper—the girl a huge purse with some clothes and her gun in it, Frost a backpack loaded with clothes and weapons. He set her down on the comparatively dry cement apron in front of the restaurant door and shifted his pack into his left hand. “Come on—I'll buy you some lunch, huh?”

“Mister—I'll buy you lunch.” She smiled.

Frost shrugged. “I'm not proud.” He felt relaxed, that even if the KGB people were moving they wouldn't be moving yet, would still be back behind the ponderously slow-moving trucks traveling in convoy down the highway. Frost spotted two seats at the counter—together—and said, “Over there—come on. I'll order something expensive.”

The waitress told Frost where he could find a towing service and while the food was being readied, Frost left the diner and found the garage, leaving them keys to the car and getting a promise it would be towed out within the next forty-eight hours. Deciding this was the best he could do for the moment, Frost started back toward the diner, feeling uncomfortably warm with the jacket over the heavy sweater but unable to ditch the jacket because of the gun he carried in the shoulder holster underneath it. He'd had to pay the tow-truck driver in advance—he wondered if that had been wise as he pushed through the restaurant door. Jessica was still sitting where he'd left her—he'd half-expected her to take off. She was that kind of a girl, he'd thought. She saw him, waved for him to hurry, and he started across toward her. The people in the restaurant had thinned out some and as he sat beside her, he realized they were the only two people at the counter.

“A lot of brave people leaving here,” Frost cracked.

“Well—it's melting still, isn't it?”

“Yeah—unless we can rent a car, we'll be stuck here for two days until the car and trailer get towed out. Where's my food?”

“The girl was keeping it hot,” she told him, signaling the waitress.

Frost wolfed down the first quarter-pound-sized cheeseburger and worked on the French fries—it was called a Texas something and he'd ordered two. As the waitress came back and took the first plate and refilled his coffee cup, Frost turned around, hearing someone coming in through the door. Five men—dressed casually with sour faces—walked in. A sour face after the previous night was something Frost could well understand.

“It's Chevasnik and Gorn.”

“Is that bad?” Frost cracked.

“KGB—dummy,” the girl rasped under her breath. “Five of them.”

Frost's right hand was already under his coat, the hamburger in his left hand—he was still hungry and he saw no sense in a shoot-out on an empty stomach.

“Chevasnik and Gorn, huh? I got one of their albums at home—a little on the heavy-metal side, maybe but—”

“This isn't any time for jokes,” the girl whispered, her lips sipping at the coffee held between her hands.

“It isn't any time to keep both your hands occupied either,” Frost told her flatly. He liked everything about the girl really—except her mouth.

The door opened again; Frost turned on the stool, staring at the face there in the doorway. It brought back memories of Bess. Frost's eye met the eyes at the door; then the face moved out of his line of sight. “You look like you just saw a ghost,” Frost heard Jessica Pace whispering.

“No—just somebody who reminded me of one.” Frost turned back and faced the counter—the person who'd reminded him of Bess was sitting at the far end of the counter, the five KGB people at a table. The face that had reminded Frost of Bess had been someone they'd both known—FBI Special Agent Michael J. O'Hara.

Chapter Ten

“Who is he?”

Frost looked at Jessica across the French fry in his left hand. 'Michael J. O'Hara—met him on a job awhile back up in Canada. He's with the FBI.”

“Great. We've got five KGB men and a fed—all of 'em out to—”

“Wait up a minute,” Frost rasped. “O'Hara's not in on this.”

“Then why's he here?”

“I don't know—he's straight, though, like you wouldn't believe straight.”

“Bullshit!”

Frost glanced down to the end of the counter—the waitress was bringing O'Hara a cup of coffee and O'Hara was looking straight ahead.

“No one moves!”

Frost wheeled in the stool, starting to push Jessica Pace away; five guns aimed at him and the girl, one of the guns a small, Czech Skorpion machine pistol.

Frost kept his right hand under his coat, the Browning half-out of the leather, but not out of the coat.

The girl's hands were near her handbag—he didn't think she'd be able to draw fast enough.

Frost slowly moved his head; the KGB men started toward him. O'Hara wasn't moving—yet.

Frost started to move his right hand, slowly. “No one moves!” the same voice shouted.

Then there was another voice. “FBI—freeze, you Commie bastards!”

Snaking the Browning out in his right hand, Frost pushed Jessica down to the slushy floor, then his ears rang from a booming sound—O'Hara's Smith & Wesson Model-29 .44 Magnun. Before Frost could fire, the Skorpion was spraying the counter. Frost, on the floor now, was pulling a table down for a shield; the big .44 was firing again as Frost pumped his first two shots out of the Browning High Power.

There was a coughing sound beside him—it had to be Jessica with the silenced Walther. Frost glanced toward her as he wheeled toward one of the KGB gunmen—he wondered if it was Chevasnik or Gorn. Her purse was still closed, but the front of her sweater was pulled up over her jeans and her blouse was half-pulled-out as well—she'd had it in her waistband, he decided. He pumped the trigger of the High Power twice, then twice more, nailing the man with the Czech Skorpion machine pistol—twice in the chest and once in the head. The pistol fired wildly into the ceiling; fluorescent lights exploded and showered the floor with shards of white glass. Frost pushed the table ahead of him—toward two of the KGB men; the table slammed into one of the gunmen, kicking a Walther P-38 out of his hand. Frost fired point-blank into the second man, two rounds into the neck; the standard blued High Power fell from the gunman's limp finger as he crumbled toward the muddy wet floor. There was a booming sound again and Frost wheeled left—the man who'd dropped the P-38 was on his feet almost as if running backward, the gun in his right hand, a grapefruit-sized hole in his back between the shoulder blades.

There was one man still shooting, his left arm a bloody pulp at his side as he knelt on the floor beside a second man, already dead. O'Hara was bringing the .44 Magnun down out of recoil, swinging the muzzle on line; Frost punched the High Power straight ahead of him, his finger twitching the trigger. The gun in the KGB man's hands—it looked like a Commander-sized Colt—was firing. The man wheeled left, spinning almost like a ballet dancer, then sprawled back across the table behind him, sliding off the table onto his face on the floor.

Frost, the Browning still in his right fist, glanced behind him. Jessica Pace had the silenced PPK/S in both her fists, the slide in battery, but the hammer at full stand. “You got him?”

“Yeah,” she grunted, starting to walk forward. She stopped to kick one of the dead men—from the way she did it Frost couldn't determine why she was doing it—to check if the man was actually dead or just because it felt good.

“How ya' doin, Ace?”

“Wonderful, O'Hara—now that you're here, just wonderful.” Frost smiled.

“What d'ya say we get out o' here and talk a little, huh—you and the lady?”

Frost looked over his shoulder for Jessica—she had the Walther leveled at O'Hara. As he turned back to look at O'Hara he saw the white face of the waitress—tears were streaming down her cheeks.

O'Hara was staring with his icy eyes at Jessica Pace. “Frost—tell the little lady to put away the peashooter or I'll nail her—and this thing nails 'em good.” He moved the muzzle of the 29, but not so much as to get it off line with Jessica.

“Hey—let's talk—good idea,” Frost said brightly.

He looked at Jessica. She shrugged, then slipped the Walther back under her sweater.

Frost dropped the hammer on the Browning and stuffed it into his belt. “You got wheels, O'Hara?”

“Have I got wheels? Of course, I've got wheels. It's the United States Government I work for—not some el cheapo government.” Then O'Hara turned to the woman behind the counter, smiling broadly at her as he slipped the 29 under his coat, but still held it. “They were all bad guys anyway, ma'am—you know, Commies. Don't cry. Contact your nearest FBI office and you can file a claim for damages—ask for a form—”

“Cut it out, will ya?” Frost almost shouted. “Let's get out of here, O'Hara!”

“Right.” O'Hara started for the door, wheeling around once and scanning over the bodies. Jessica was running toward the door, the purse over her shoulder. Frost stood in the middle of the room a moment—bodies were everywhere; broken glass and table settings littered the already muddy floor. He shrugged and snatched up his pack.

 

The for-official-use-only Interagency Motorpool, gray two-door sedan O'Hara drove definitely had wheels, Frost decided as they stopped on the far side of the small town, but it didn't have a radio, didn't even have a dashboard light—somebody had apparently stolen that.

The ground was dryer here and Frost guessed the snow had not fallen nearly so heavily on the eastern side of the town. “How the heck did you get here?”

“Followin' them—the KGB fellas, Chevasnik and Gorn and the rest of those turkeys.”

“Which one,” Frost asked, “was Chevasnik?”

“The guy with the P-38—the one I creamed.”

“How about Gorn—?”

“Won't you guys cut it out?” Jessica Pace interrupted, leaning over from the back seat and pushing between them.

“Gorn was the one—” O'Hara began.

“The one with the machine pistol,” Jessica Pace said, sounding bored.

“Right—you knew them too, huh?” O'Hara cracked. “Which leads me to why I wanted to talk to you guys—let's get out and chat, huh?”

O'Hara was already sliding out from behind the wheel, the big Model 29 in his right hand. “I got two rounds in here yet—just enough for you guys if I need 'em—now out!”

“I told you,” Jessica Pace snapped.

Frost just shook his head, then as he slid out O'Hara rasped, “Hands where I can see 'em, boys and girls.”

“You arresting us?”

“That's the general idea—never would have figured you'd be into somethin' like this. Can't understand that deal with Chevasnik and Gorn, though.”

“What are you talkin' about?” Frost asked him.

“Assassination—that's what I'm talking about. Now maybe she suckered you with some other story, Frost—make a clean breast of it and—”

Frost looked down at his sweater; it was caked with mud and he could feel it had soaked through to the skin. “I couldn't make a clean breast of anything.”

“Very funny—ha-ha! See how you laugh in the Federal University System for the rest of your life, Frost—now let's have the gun!”

“Nope.” Frost smiled.

“What do you mean, nope? I could—”

“You won't—at least not until you're sure. Right?'

O'Hara ran the fingers of his left hand through his graying hair, his jaw muscles flexing. “You talkin' truce?”

“Just while we talk—we can take it from there.”

O'Hara nodded, then swung open the cylinder on his gun, starting to pick out the empties. Frost's left hand flashed out, catching Jessica Pace's right hand as she started the PPK/S out of her trouser band.

O'Hara's eyes were locked on Jessica Pace, then flickered toward Frost; Frost nodded. O'Hara continued picking the empties out of his gun, then loading single rounds into the emptied charge holes of the cylinder.

Jessica Pace looked at Frost, her eyes cold, the muscles around them tight. “Why the hell didn't you—”

“He's on our side—relax. He's a good guy.”

“You'd better believe it, sweetheart,” O'Hara muttered, then closed the cylinder on his Metalifed Model 29 and slid the gun into the Lawman leather holster under his coat, covering the gun and the shoulder rig again.

“So—tell me the story, the big picture so to speak—then I'll arrest you.”

“I'm gonna load my gun while we talk—O.K.?” Frost smiled.

O'Hara shrugged. “Whatever burns your shorts—loaded or empty, I'm takin' you in, Frost.”

“Super—now,” and Frost began the story. Knowing no better place, he decided to start with Andy Deacon's urgent request for him, Frost, to fly to the West Coast, ready for work—meaning armed. O'Hara had heard about the fight at the hospital; that had confirmed to O'Hara that Frost had gone bad. Only a bad guy, O'Hara had interjected, would mistreat an FBI agent. Then Frost got to the part about Jessica Pace and the list she'd memorized, the list of highly placed officials in the CIA and FBI who were double agents for the Communists.

“I can't buy that crap—so just hold it right there. I mean, yeah—every once in a while the Reds slip us a bad apple, but we get 'em. There's no big list of baddies who work for the Reds, got the FBI and the CIA after her hide. She ever tell ya the one about her being a Red herself, an assassin sent here to get the commander in chief?”

“The what?” Frost mumbled.

“The President—the President, dummy. You know—used to pay your salary too, years back before you turned mercenary. I guess you guys'll work for anybody if the price is right—never thought you'd go bad—”

Frost pushed himself away from the fender of the FOUO car, his face inches from O'Hara's face. “You dork—why do you think they put out that assassination story? Just to make honest guys like you hunt her down, too Can't you see it?”

“Hey—I know where my head's at—I wish I could say the same thing about you, Ace.” O'Hara grimaced, turned around, walked a few feet away, and stopped.

“O'Hara—she is working for Calvin Plummer, dummy!”

“Calvin Plummer—the superspook?”

Frost breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes—call him on your radio, maybe.”

“You can't just call Calvin Plummer on your car radio—where the hell have you been? He's so super-secret he has to open a safe each morning just to find his socks, and I'm supposed to call him on the radio?”

Frost sighed heavily, lighting a cigarette. “Can you go to a gas station and call him on the telephone?”

“Yeah—maybe I can get his number from directory assistance—wait—”

“What?” It was Jessica Pace.

“I got this buddy—maybe. But then what do I do with you two clowns?”

Frost shook his head, inhaling hard on the cigarette. “You leave us here—we can stay over in those trees.” Frost pointed to the far end of the roadside clearing. “I can use the shut-eye. Come back, we got it all straightened out—maybe you can help me get Jessica to the President—not to assassinate him, but to recite the list.”

O'Hara said nothing—seemingly lost in thought. “How do I know you guys—?”

“Won't go, run out?”

“Yeah—won't run out.”

“I'll give you my word,” Frost said, not able to keep himself from laughing.

“Yeah—I know. That's just terrific—and then when I let you two escape and you get her to Washington to knock off the President, when someone complains, I can just say you gave me your word and you fibbed—right?”

“Would I lie to you?” Frost asked, laughing.

“Yes—as a matter of fact I'm sure you would. But I guess not this time.” O'Hara stuck out his right hand. “Got your hand on it?”

“Yeah—got my hand on it,” Frost told the tall Irishman.

“O.K.—I'll be back in a flash—”

As O'Hara started for the car, Frost shouted after him, “Hey—tell 'em I want extra pickles on mine.”

O'Hara froze in his tracks, started to turn, then started walking again, climbed into the car, gunned the engine—too fast, Frost thought—and rolled down his window. He looked out at Frost and the girl, then sneered, “I'll get ya extra pickles!”

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