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Authors: Jerry Ahern

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BOOK: Assassin's Express
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But there was no gunfire.

He looked up—Calvin Plummer, clad in black slacks, a black turtleneck shirt, and sixty-five-dollar shoes, Frost thought. There was a submachine gun in his hands. And beside him was a woman. She wore blue jeans, track shoes, and a faded blue T-shirt. There was a Walther PPK in her hands.

“Jessica.” Frost coughed.

He tried to raise the KG-9. There was a shot. He saw Plummer's eyes widening, saw the red-haired woman wheeling around, heard the gun in her hands firing, felt the hot brass as it spit into his cheek. More pistol shots. Frost closed his eye.

“Holy—”

It was Jessica Pace, and Jessica Pace again. The two of them—identical down to the track shoes—were walking toward each other across the courtyard, their pistols firing, the pistols, too, identical. “Dreaming—nightmare,” Frost rasped, coughing up more blood.

Calvin Plummer was stumbling across the courtyard. Frost twisted on the ground, coughing again, edging the KG-9 through the dust. He twitched his left hand, the trigger responding, the assault pistol firing once, then falling from Frost's hand. Calvin Plummer fell over, dead. Frost knew the man was dead—the shot had hit Plummer square in the back of the neck over the spine.

There were two more shots and Frost turned his head to see.

The two women—the two identical women—were down on the dirt, unmoving. “Killed each—each other.” He coughed. He thought how funny it was—that good and bad sometimes mixed so much you could no longer tell them apart. He felt sorry, too—too bad he was dying and he wouldn't get to write that down. As he closed his eye, he caught sight of the Rolex watch on his left wrist, the second hand sweeping around. He wondered how long it would go on moving like that, after—“Bess.” The one-eyed man coughed as he closed his one eye.

Chapter Nineteen

There was no funeral. Jessica Pace had long ago been declared legally dead anyway, before ever undertaking Plummer's assignment. And the way the two women had fallen, though it was clear one was the real Jessica and one was Irena Pavarova, no one was certain which of the two women had been fighting beside Plummer in the abortive attempt to murder the President of the United States and make it appear to be a plot of the U.S. intelligence community to take over the country. And no one was able to tell which of the two women had been with Frost and O'Hara, had talked about the list. perhaps believed in the validity of the names there enough to die for it. The list had been contrived by Plummer as an excuse to bring Jessica—if it had been Jessica—out of the Soviet Union as the catalyst for his plan to get the President to the mountain hideaway where Plummer planned to murder him.

The latter was clear from Plummer's notes, found in a hidden safe in the house. Beyond that, why Plummer had wanted the President dead, whether he had worked for the Russians or some private group of conspirators, was not certain. Plummer had died and taken the information with him.

Commendations for the gallant sacrifices of Frost and O'Hara had been private and unofficial. Three secret-service men had died—officially labeled a helicopter crash during a training exercise. The attack—nearly successful—on the life of the President had officially never taken place.

Whether the real Jessica Pace had been a tragic, nerves-worn-raw girl obsessed with completing a mission, a brilliant actress, or a prisoner of the Plummer compound was never established.

“Here—I'll buy ya a beer,” O'Hara said.

Frost looked up from the small table in the back of the restaurant, the familiarly abrasive voice interrupting his thoughts. “O'Hara—I heard you were gettin' out.”

Frost noticed the cane. He'd had one, too, until a few days before. The back wound still hurt when he moved too fast. O'Hara started to sit down, stretching out his bad left leg. It was Frost's left leg that had gotten it, too. O'Hara's eyes got glassy hard as he bent into the seat. The belly wound? Frost wondered.

“I got ya a present.”

“What—you? Those turkeys of Plummer's couldn't even knock you off for me—what a bunch of—”

“Yeah—crumb-bums, I know. Well . . . I wasn't too pleased when I heard you were in the same hospital. When I woke up I thought I was rid of ya for good there.”

“Can't win 'em all.” Frost smiled, lighting a Camel in the blue-yellow flame of his Zippo. Eight weeks of his life were gone, more than that when he counted the time since he'd left the hospital, and the time spent in the cross-country ride with Jessica or Irena—whoever it had been. That was the part that most bothered him—who had he made love to, screamed at, cursed, and protected? Why had she shot him?

“Ya don't wanna see your gift?”

O'Hara had been nine weeks in the hospital and Frost had visited him twice. The meeting at the restaurant wasn't an accident. The two men had agreed upon it a week earlier when Frost had visited O'Hara just before O'Hara's discharge.

Frost was tired of Washington. His strength was returning and he was planning to make arrangements to get back to Europe within the week—after one more appointment with the doctors on the back wound.

“So—what's the gift?”

“You still plannin' on trackin' down the guys that blew up that London department store?”

Frost looked down at the second hand of the Rolex on his wrist and nodded, dragging heavily on the cigarette between his lips.

“Figured you were. I got the bureau—unofficially—to put a few screws into some of their ties with European police agencies. Got you somethin'.”

“A lead on who—”

“Maybe it's somethin' that'll drive you crazy, maybe it'll make you kill yourself, maybe it means somethin' good. I hope it means somethin' good for ya—here.”

“What—?”

O'Hara was fishing into his pocket. He set down on the table a worn velvet ring box.

“I lost it, I guess.” Frost smiled, picking it up, turning it over in his hand.

“Open it up, Hank—open it.”

Frost opened it, the cigarette dropping from his lips. The diamond glinted at him in the overhead lighting, the diamond set into the mouth of a golden tiger, in the braided chain band he'd had sized down to fit Bess's finger—the diamond that she'd worn when the terrorist bomb had gone off in the department store in London.

Frost looked up at O'Hara. His throat was tight. He wanted to ask something.

“West German police picked it up on a terrorist named Kolner—but before you ask, the guy had it on a chain around his neck when the cops shot him during a robbery.”

“But if he had the ring and she was—”

“Yeah, I know,” the icy-eyed FBI man said, his teeth clenched tight together. “Maybe Bess is alive out there.”

Frost stared down at the diamond in the mouth of the tiger, turning it over in his hands. After a long minute he couldn't see it too well with his one good eye—he had the same problem sometimes at night when he couldn't sleep. “Bess,” Frost whispered.

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BOOK: Assassin's Express
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