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Authors: Jerry Ahern

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BOOK: Assassin's Express
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Chapter Seventeen

The doctor having given him a shaky approval for discharge, Frost had cleaned his own Browning High Power and the Interdynamics KG-9 before leaving the hospital that morning. Fresh ammo, supplied with his favorite brand by the “task force” O'Hara had put together, filled the magazines of his guns and all the spares; two boxes more were in his pack. There was a borrowed M-16 as well with a half-dozen thirty-round magazines and a GI-issue bayonet. O'Hara had improvised a little additional armament as well, Frost thought. In addition to the FBI man's habitual arsenal there was a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun of indeterminate make, the butt stock all but gone, and all that remained a much taped-over pistol grip with a lanyard loop on it. This rabbit-eared double hung on a sling under O'Hara's leather jacket by the lanyard loop, hammers down. Frost wondered secretly if it had come from some museum or was improvised for the occasion.

Frost checked the black-faced Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner on his wrist—it was time for another pain pill for the ache in his head. He popped the pill, hoping it would have more effect than the last one, then followed it up with a swig of warm-tasting water from the GI-issue plastic canteen on his pistol belt. Pistol belt, he thought. His pistol was in his shoulder rig, but the name “pistol belt” seemed somehow to fall off the tongue better than any other.

“How's the arm?” Frost shouted over the whirring rotor blades.

“Just perfect—I think I'll keep it bandaged forever like this,” O'Hara snapped.

“How can you take that shoulder rig—with the arm, I mean?” Frost shouted again.

“It's cheaper than buyin' a belt holster—anyway, just my arm, not my shoulder. How's your head?”

Frost felt the bandage taped to his right temple. “Lousy.”

“Good for ya',” the FBI man shouted back. “Seems whenever we work together we get ourselves shot up—glad we don't do it too often.” O'Hara laughed.

“Me too—I couldn't take it.” Frost laughed.

There was little talking after that; Frost gave a final check to the M-16—the selector lever was a little stiff but functional—and O'Hara, to Frost's distraction, checked the action of the sawed-off twelve-gauge. There was no plan, really, but to get out of the helicopter drop zone as fast as possible and get as close to Plummer's sanctuary as they could before they started bumping heads and generally alerting Plummer's elite guard that they were around and interested in interviewing the woman held there.

Frost still wondered what they would ask Irena Pavarova/Jessica Pace to determine her real identity. Frost knew about the operation to fake a broken leg, about the operations on Jessica Pace's fingertips to change her prints, about all of the things in Jessica's and Irena's background—O'Hara had read them to him the previous night because Frost's head ached too much to read the files himself. But nothing in the files gave Frost any indication of how to tell one girl from the other. It was logical to assume that though Jessica would know everything about Irena, Irena would know little or nothing about Jessica. Perhaps they could take the tack of questioning the woman in Plummer's hideaway about the background of Jessica Pace. If she knew too much, it was obviously Jessica—unless Plummer was truly devious and for some reason had fed Irena that information.

Frost's head ached more when he thought about it. He glanced at the Rolex again. Bess. . . .

Twenty minutes remained before the drop zone would come up. Frost decided to try to sleep. Perhaps it would help the pill take effect. . . .

 

He'd opened his eye five minutes before the drop when O'Hara shook him.

As Frost crouched now behind an outcropping of green lichen-covered rock, staring up toward the villalike walled house above him, he decided he'd have been happier if O'Hara had just let him go on sleeping. The pain in his head had started to subside shortly after the drop and now it was starting to come back. The one-eyed man decided it was possibly psychosomatic—the pain in his head was a way of telling himself that if he went up to the walled house held by Calvin Plummer's men he could get killed. Stay back instead, nurse your wounds. He shook his head, making the pain worse. Staying back was something Frost had never been able to do, and he didn't really wish that it had ever been any different.

Frost glanced over to O'Hara; charging along up the rocks and ravines toward the top of the mountains had obviously been hard on the man. Frost had seen some of the best men get themselves so weary fighting a wound that their reaction time had gone bad; they'd gotten careless—there was a whole catalog of things that could cause someone to do something stupid and get killed. Frost knew because he had worked himself through that catalog and come close to death too often. Looking at O'Hara he realized that this loud-mouthed FBI man was one of the few real friends he had—and he had no desire to lose him.

“Mike?” Frost found himself using O'Hara's first name again.

“Yeah!” The weariness was more in O'Hara's voice and in his eyes than in the way he moved or behaved. Frost realized that O'Hara was well aware of the problem his wound was causing him, but trying to hide it. It wasn't working.

“I'm going in by myself.”

“Bullshit—I'm goin' with ya to keep ya out of—”

Frost punched O'Hara lightly on the left arm. The FBI man's eyes went tight with apparent pain, his right hand almost involuntarily moved up to protect the wound. “What happens when somebody slugs you there, or you bump into a rock or a doorknob, O'Hara? What if we get into a good run?”

“What are ya talkin' a—”

“You've got one choice, O'Hara,” Frost rasped, feeling his teeth clench, his lips drawn back over them. “You try to stop me, the only way you can do it is to use a gun. You can't take me in a fight the way you are with that arm. You use a gun and they hear you and the whole deal is blown. You try taggin' after me, and I don't go in—period. Now what's it gonna be?”

“You son of a—”

Frost cut him off again. “Now sometimes even a guy like me gets pissed, O'Hara. I just lost my woman—some damned terrorists killed her, blew her up so bad I didn't even have a body to bury. And I don't give a damn what you think, because I'm not about to lose my best friend—now I'm goin'. Try to stop me if you want to.”

Frost pushed himself to his feet, his head aching again, the M-16 slung under his right arm.

Chapter Eighteen

Frost had memorized the map of the compound, comforted by the fact that there was apparently no electronic security outside it. In an area with a large deer population, stray dogs, perhaps even an occasional bear, an intruder-alert system on the outside of the walls would have been of no benefit since it would have been constantly going off and eventually would have been generally ignored.

And it really wasn't necessary, Frost decided. There were the signs around the area that read U.S. GOVERNMENT INSTALLATION—PRIVATE PROPERTY—TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED—DO NOT ENTER—NO UNAUTHORIZED TRAFFIC BEYOND THIS POINT. Frost had never seen so many signs meaning one thing—keep out. And the signs were backed up, he realized. Though no guns were present, he had already spotted two men on the wall surrounding the house. Frost wondered what some staid Tennessee citizen might have thought—an armed camp, a prison, a spy school really, set like a rusty tin can in the middle of the incredibly beautiful Smoky Mountains.

Frost started to push himself up from where he crouched behind some low rocks, but glanced up, and instead flattened himself against the ground, dragging the M-16 with him as he rolled across the rocky soil into a stand of pines. There was an unmistakable sound in the air, the whirring of rotor blades. Frost looked up, his eye squinted against the sun. A shiver ran down his spine—as the helicopter dipped low over him, going over the wall, he noticed the markings. The shiver came from one peculiar marking in particular. The seal of the President of the United States.

“The meeting,” the one-eyed man rasped to himself. The meeting between Jessica Pace or whoever she was was taking place already—here—now. Frost kept below the concealment of the pine boughs as the chopper sped across his line of sight, disappearing over the wall.

His mind raced. “O'Hara!” Frost pushed to his feet, the attention of the guards on the wall momentarily turned toward its interior perimeter, he noticed, as he broke cover and ran, back down the mountainside. “O'Hara!” the one-eyed man rasped.

Frost ran hard, his lungs already burning with the exertion, the pain in his head throbbed. “Stupid!” he rasped to himself, his breath coming in short gasps. He saw it all. Plummer had been the set-up all along, he realized. The whole thing with Jessica Pace—whoever she was—was to get the President of the United States moved from point A to point B. If there was a list, if Jessica Pace was a good agent with a bad case of battle fatigue or if she was really a Russian—it was all one red herring piled on top of another. The entire purpose of the thing had been to get the President of the United States into Plummer's compound—like the spider inviting the fly into his parlor.

Frost jumped a low pile of rocks, and started to trip, his left ankle buckling, but caught himself. Perhaps he should have stormed the compound by himself, Frost thought, picking himself up, keeping on running. Perhaps a wild shot toward the presidential helicopter would have scared the President off, prevented what Frost knew was about to happen. Was it already happening?

Frost rounded the edge of a stand of cedar trees—beautiful, he thought almost absently—and tripped over O'Hara.

“What the—!”

“O'Hara—that helicopter—you see it?” Frost asked, gasping for breath.

“Yeah—big deal. Probably choppers comin' in and out of there all day. So?”

Frost's hands were on O'Hara's shoulders. He realized it when he saw the pain in O'Hara's eyes. “Mike—that was the presidential chopper—Air Force One with the President aboard. It's the meeting—here, now!”

“Holy shit!”

“Ditto—come on.”

Frost started to his feet, then turned, O'Hara grabbing him by the arm. “Why'd you—”

“Hell—I don't know.” Frost laughed, then started running. Frost slowed after the first hundred yards or so, wheeling, seeing O'Hara trying to keep up. It reminded him of something. Frost risked the shout, “Gonna change your name to Peter?” Then, laughing, Frost rasped, “Come on O'Hara!”

The FBI man, his face lined with pain, his left arm clamped tight against his body in the sling, shouted back, “Very funny—ha! See—I'm—I'm laughing, already!”

Frost swung the M-16 off his right shoulder and into a high port, still running, slowing again, letting O'Hara catch up. There was only one way for it, Frost realized. Storm into the compound, alerting the secret-service men guarding the President. Maybe that way Plummer wouldn't be able to get the job done.

Frost's heart sank—he heard shots from up ahead, from the compound. His lungs ached. As he ran, the one-eyed man screamed, “No—No!”

The wall was a hundred yards ahead and on the wall Frost could see one of the two guards he'd seen earlier, an M-16 in his hands, but turned away toward the inside of the compound, the gun firing. Frost threw himself to the ground, hauled the butt of his own M-16 to his right shoulder, then cursed the iron sights. The selector set to full auto, he squeezed the trigger. He could see the rock of the wall chipping, see the guard with the M-16 starting to turn, the muzzle spouting flame. Frost kept firing, the guard started to wheel in a full circle, his M-16 still firing as the man toppled over the wall. Frost pushed himself to his feet. Firing out the thirty-round magazine as he raced toward the wall, Frost began shouting, screaming, “Surrender Plummer—we' ve got you surrounded!” Frost heard a boom from behind him, half-spun around, to see O'Hara, the big six-inch Model 29 in his right hand. Frost looked back to the wall, then down by the main gate—it was opening, three men raced through it into the open, one of them falling back, hands clasping his chest.

Frost rammed the fresh stick into the M-16, then sprayed the 5.56-mm death pills toward the open gate, cutting down the remaining two men there, then starting to run again. He could hear the whirring of rotor blades, the sound seemed to grow in intensity as he stormed toward the gates. Frost hit the ground, the M-16 snaking out ahead of him, firing, a half-dozen men charging toward him. Frost caught the first man, then the second, then felt something tearing across his back—pain! He rolled, firing, killing a burly man charging at him with an M-16. Frost started to his feet, his back burning. He glanced down at the sandy ground of the compound—it was dark red with blood where he'd lain.

Frost fired a three-round burst, then another and another—there were four more men still coming at him. One went down, then another. Frost's left shoulder felt as if it were being torn away from him; he wheeled on his heels, started to stumble. The sandy ground slammed up toward him. He kept firing, one three-round burst cutting into the two men still running for him, the nearer man's face bursting at the nose in a massive flower of blood, the second man doubling over. Behind them, Frost could see the presidential helicopter, three men on the ground near it, firing toward two men in three-piece business suits holding Uzis. Frost started to his feet, then fell back. The roaring sound seeming to slap him down physically; his body shuddered, the fireball of yellow, orange, and black so bright it almost blinded him as he hit the ground.

He could smell the oil burning, hear the crackling sounds, the smaller secondary explosions. He could see the black bones of the chopper, flames licking from them.

But there was still shooting from the far end of the compound. “He's alive!” Frost felt the words more than heard them as they fell from his lips. He pushed himself up on his hands and knees, changing sticks in the M-16, firing toward Plummer's men at the far side of the compound. He could see Plummer there—he recognized the tall, white-haired man from a photograph shown him that morning. And beside Plummer, crouched behind an automobile, was Jessica Pace—or perhaps Irena Pavarova. Both of them held automatic weapons. Far beyond them, Frost could hear the rattle of light-caliber gunfire, automatic weapons—Uzi submachine guns, the kind carried by the secret service.

There were another half-dozen men storming toward him now. Frost, having forced himself to his feet, the M-16 held low at his right hip in an assault position, could no longer run. He just walked and fired. He shot the nearest man, who tumbled like a bowling pin, spinning first, and rolling to the sandy ground.

Again there was the booming sound of O'Hara's 29. A second man went down. Frost kept firing.

“God!” Frost screamed, doubling over, feeling the slugs hammering into his guts as he toppled forward, his M-16 on full auto chewing into the ground.

He heard the boom of O'Hara's .44 again as he looked up to see another of the men belonging to Plummer hit the ground.

“It's all right, sport!” Frost heard the familiar voice grunting. “Come on—up!”

Frost's left arm moved—he didn't know if he moved it himself or not. He looked to his left, saw O'Hara, then felt his left arm burning and saw the blood on it. “Gotta do it this way—hold on to me. Can't do it with the left hand!”

Frost glanced toward O'Hara. The sling on O'Hara's arm was gone; the sawed-off shotgun was in his left hand, braced against O'Hara's side. Frost had the M-16, the muzzle coming up.

There was gunfire everywhere, deafeningly loud. He couldn't think. “O'Hara—change sticks for me.”

“Gotcha!”

More gunfire—Frost's left leg started to buckle. The M-16 wasn't in his hands anymore. He snatched the Browning High Power from under his jeans jacket; his thumb cocked the hammer, and he pumped the trigger. One round, then another, then another, and another.

The nearest of Plummer's men spun out and went down.

“Here, Frost!”

Frost jammed the High Power into his belt, his right fist—there was blood dripping down his wrist—wrapping around the pistol grip of the M-16. He fired a test burst into the ground a few yards ahead of him, then muttered, “All right!”

There was a booming noise as Frost, supported against O'Hara's right shoulder, started slowly forward. He glanced toward O'Hara—the sawed-off twelve-gauge was coming down and out a whiplash like recoil. Ahead of them, three men were rolling on the ground. One of them started to his feet. Frost pumped a three-round burst into the man with the M-16.

“O.K.!” O'Hara was moving, and Frost, leaning on him again, was moving with him.

The light automatic fire—the Uzis—was rattling on; the heavier, somehow different-sound stacatto of the M-16s almost drowned it out.

Frost's left leg was burning. His back was making him scream. He could hear himself as he stumbled forward beside O'Hara.

Frost could see Plummer and the red-haired woman beside him; see them turning toward himself and O'Hara. Plummer was shouting something. “Get the President now—move in!”

Frost fired the M-16 at the nearest targets of opportunity. There were two dozen men storming across the courtyard, but not toward him and O'Hara.

“Let's fix that, Mike,” Frost snarled.

O'Hara stopped and Frost's left arm snaked off the FBI man's shoulders.

It was the kind of gunfight, Frost thought almost absently, that supposedly never took place. Two men, against ten times that many—both men knowing they were going to die and not caring, maybe because of the electricity of insanity that seemed to flow across the ground in such a way that Frost could almost feel it. Death—he could feel it welling up within him.

The M-16 was in his right hand, the Browning High Power in his left. His left leg didn't work well and it was stiff as he started walking again, his steps short so he wouldn't stumble.

O'Hara was beside him. Their eyes met a moment. The sawed-off shotgun was in O'Hara's left hand, the Model 29 in his right.

O'Hara was walking too. For the first time, Frost noticed a large, wet-looking red spot on O'Hara's right side.

“I'd say it's been nice knowin' ya, but I don't wanna kick off with a lie in my throat.” O'Hara laughed, shouting over the roar of the gunfire.

Frost heard himself laughing as he walked forward, heard—felt—his guns firing into the two dozen men storming toward the President of the United States and his few remaining secret-service guards.

Plummer's men were going down. Frost felt slugs tearing into him, dropped to his knees, then kept going forward, crawling. He lost track of the booming sounds of O'Hara's guns, of the men belonging to Plummer who were dying.

Frost, using the empty M-16 as a crutch, pushed himself back to his feet, the Browning empty, too, now and jammed into his belt, the KG-9 swinging out on its sling from under his left arm, the pistol grip coming into his left hand. His right hand wasn't working well, the fingers not responding to him.

He started firing again, glancing to his left. He knew now why he no longer heard the booming sounds of O'Hara's guns—the icy-eyed FBI man was face down in the dirt, a red stain spreading under him, the big Model 29 still in his right fist.

“Bastards!” Frost was screaming, his throat aching as he lurched forward, the KG-9 spitting death into the wall of Plummer's men, now turned toward him. He could hear the rattling of the Uzis, coming closer—were the secret-service men trying to get the President out? Was the President still—“Aagh!” Frost stumbled forward, his mouth open and suddenly filled with sand. He coughed once, blood speckling the sand. He shoved the KG-9 ahead of him, ready to fire.

BOOK: Assassin's Express
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