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Authors: Jerry Ahern

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BOOK: Assassin's Express
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Chapter Six

“Pull over at the rest area—I can use the john in the trailer,” Jessica Pace said. Frost was not watching her, his fists were wrapped so tightly around the Ford's steering wheel that his knuckles were white. He'd decided that in another day or so of driving he might get the hang of hauling a trailer—at least not feel so terribly nervous about it.

“What did you say?” Frost asked her, having only half-registered her comment.

“I said I wanna go to the bathroom, Hank. Pull over into the rest area up there before we miss it, so I can use the—”

“Ohh,” Frost began. “Right—yeah,” and he craned his neck far to the right trying to get a better look in the right-hand west-coast mirror—just in case anything was coming up along the shoulder, he told himself.

“Maybe it's because you only got one eye, Hank,” Jessica told him.

“What is?”

“The problems you're having with the trailer.”

“What's one eye got to do with it?”

“Cuts down your field of vision—right?”

“So?” Frost snapped, by now tired of the conversation.

“So—you feel less secure with the trailer behind you because you subconsciously think you're missing something you should be able to see but can't see.”

“Nuts,” he told her, putting on the directional signal and starting to edge slightly into the right-hand lane; the exit for the rest area was coming up.

“No—we're subject to a great many subconscious stresses. I didn't know if you knew that or not.”

“You into horoscopes, too?”

“I'm serious,” she insisted.

Frost shot a glance toward her, almost losing the trailer, he thought, then riveted his stare ahead of the car again. “I know you're serious—that's the problem. Why don't you look at the map or something?”

“No—I told you, I gotta go to the bathroom.”

“You can't read when you gotta—?”

“No. I know where we are—you're just trying to tell me to shut up.”

“You got it, kid.” Frost smiled. He almost lost the trailer again, he felt, cutting the wheel ever so slightly right and aiming the car and the trailer up into the exit.

“We're in New Mexico—and if we could go a little faster than that lousy fifty-five you've been doin', we'd get into El Paso before the owls go to sleep, too.”

“Well—if you don't like the way I'm drivin', then I can fix that really easy,” Frost told her.

“No—you just drive away and meander along—I'll go to sleep.”

“Like hell you will,” Frost answered.

Frost eyed the sign telling cars pulling trailers to pull right in the rest-area parking lot. He was pleased to find the lot relatively empty with a clear path to a drive-through space. He started cutting the wheel—on time for once—and eased the big LTD through the space.

There was a loud sigh from Jessica Pace on the seat beside him. “ 'Bout time—the old kidneys were about to scream, baby.” She laughed.

She started to get out of the car, but Frost reached across and grabbed her left arm. “I don't know how to tell you this,” he began, “but there's kidding and then there's kidding. I like a girl with a sense of humor—I really do. But I don't like grossness in a man, let alone a woman—why don't you stop trying to be a bad caricature of one of the boys, huh?”

Her eyes bored into his but Frost's right eye never wavered. His voice low, he said, “We've got a long way to go yet. I know that what you've got under all that red hair is really important, that you're under a lot of pressure—the whole nine yards. But a couple thousand miles more of the way it is now and I promise you, after you spill what you know to the President, I'm gonna clip ya right in the teeth.” She didn't say anything, just shook his hand off her left forearm and started out through the passenger door.

Frost cut the ignition and dropped the keys into his pocket. He got a Camel from a half-crushed packet in his jeans jacket, and lit it with his battered Zippo. Then he stared at the half-transparent reflection of his face in the tinted glass of the windshield. He decided he missed Bess even more than he'd realized, talking the way he had to Jessica Pace. If she wanted to be the way she was, she had every right to be. He wondered then, for the billionth time, he decided, if Bess had died just because violence seemed to be attracted to him and she had gotten caught up in it? He'd heard or seen the phrase in countless movies and books, but somehow, despite its triteness, it seemed to capture the essence of the thing—wallowing in self-pity. He'd been doing that. Jessica Pace would never have cold-cocked him that day back at Deacon's aunt's house; he would have handled the thing at the hospital less sloppily.... He promised himself something. There had been no leads, no way to trace out the killers, the terrorists, the bombers—whatever you called them. But as soon as the thing with Jessica Pace was over, he would go back to Europe and spend the rest of his life—and every dime he had if need be—to find the person most directly responsible for Bess being killed. He felt the Camel burning the flesh of his fingers, looked at it a moment, then snapped it out the open car window. To find that person was the only way he'd ever exorcise what was in him. The feelings for Bess, the grief that she was gone from him—all of that would never leave, he knew. But at least if he got her—


Frost turned and stared across the front seat. Jessica Pace, standing by the open passenger door, looked back at him.

“What—what do you want?” he asked her, his voice sounding lifeless to him.

“You see those guys—that car over there?”

“What—?” Frost followed her stare, past him and out the open window at his side.

It was a green sedan that seemed identical to the one that had followed him from the airport in Los Angeles, the one he'd forced the FBI man/cabdriver to lose. There were two men, one inside it and the other walking from it, but from the distance Frost couldn't see faces. He realized, too, that there was no reason to suppose he would have recognized the faces anyway. “Jessica,” he snapped, “reach over into the rear seat—that small black case. Take the Bushnells out of it and try to see if you recognize any faces.”

“They'll see!” she blurted out. “They'll know we're watching them.”

“You let me worry about that. If they're straight, they'll just think we're rude. If they're after our tails, they'll at least know we're onto them. Just do as I say, huh?” Frost lit another cigarette. He snatched the map from the glove compartment, checking the road ahead as well as the standard gas-station map allowed. The way the road wound, there were either mountains or canyons, he assumed.

“It's Boronovitch—he's a KGB man,” Jessica half-gasped.

Frost glanced at the girl, then back through the window, tossing the map onto the back seat. “Boronovitch, huh? With a name like that I'd have sworn he was Irish. Get all the way in and get that door closed,” he snapped.

“What are you going to—?”

“The one guy's out over at that phone now, right? Trying to call—shaking the coin return? Probably out of order. If he's using a phone, means he doesn't have a radio, so let's ditch them before he finds a phone that works.”

“What are you—?” She interrupted herself, slamming the door closed.

“Lock it,” Frost commanded, starting to fumble his seat belt into position. “And buckle up, kid!”

“You aren't—”


“The way you drive? And with this trailer? Let me—”

“Keep that .380 peashooter handy, huh?” Frost glanced behind him—then swore at himself. All he could see was the trailer. He peered into the side-view mirrors, turned the key, and checked the gas gauge—almost full. A thought flashed across his mind—why hadn't Jessica Pace used the bathroom at the service station twenty miles back up the road? Or why hadn't she just walked back into the camper trailer then while he'd been filling up? Why the rest area—? He could have stopped anywhere on the road shoulder and she could have gotten out and used the bathroom in the trailer. Frost looked out the open driver's window, spitting his Camel onto the pavement as he glanced toward the green car and started the engine of his own car. He shouted out the window, “Hey—you guys in the green car—”

The one coming back from the phone kiosk turned, looking across the parking lot at him. Frost assumed it was the one she'd called Boronovitch—didn' t look Russian, though, Frost thought. “Hey!”

The man looked squarely back at Frost and Frost shouted, “Wanna play bumper tag, asshole!” Frost didn't wait for an answer, but hauled the stick into drive and stomped down on the gas pedal. The car lurched as it dragged the trailer behind it, then roared forward along the level parking area surface. Frost cut across the unoccupied, neatly painted parking spots, aiming the hood ornament of the LTD toward the rest-area exit ramp. He shot a glance into the left-hand side-view mirror. The green car was already moving slowly, and the man he'd shouted to was jumping into it and swinging the door closed. There was a screech of tires and Frost could see the green car shoot forward. He felt the comers of his mouth raising into a smile. He was feeling alive again. He wondered, half to himself, if he were crazy—did he like this stuff?

He cut the wheel too hard right and veered onto the exit ramp, the trailer fishtailing behind him. His left hand reached down to work manually the electric trailer brake and his right foot hammered down the gas pedal to drag the trailer straight. He released the trailer brake; as he flicked the directional signal on with his left hand and glanced into the side-view, the car suddenly seemed to lurch ahead. There was a truck, a massive eighteen-wheeler moving van, roaring up on his left; its screeching air horns were deafening.

Frost hammered down harder on the gas pedal. The truck pulled left into the passing lane, while Frost hugged the trailer onto the right shoulder. As the truck shot past, the slipstream of the massive moving van sucked at the camper Frost pulled behind the LTD. In the mirror behind him Frost could now see the green car as well, and an object—long and thin—protruding from the passenger-side front window—a gun?

Frost worked the trailer brake, trying to stop the sway behind him, as he cut the Ford's steering wheel hard left and off the shoulder, back onto the pavement. The green car was coming up beside them. There was a shot, then a second and a third—a handgun Frost guessed. He cut the wheel hard right. The trailer camper's rear end swayed left, and the green car accelerated away onto the opposite shoulder. Frost cut the wheel back left; the trailer swayed behind them as Jessica Pace sucked in her breath so hard it sounded like a scream. Frost edged the trailer left, intentionally swaying the trailer behind the Ford, keeping the green car blocked behind them. There was another shot, and Frost heard the sound of glass shattering. He glanced to his right and there was a bullet hole spider-webbed across the west-coast mirror on the LTD's right front fender.

“Frost! There's—”

There was another shot and Frost lost the rest of her words, feeling a bumping and lurching—the green car was right behind the trailer bumper, he realized. He craned his neck toward the center of the front seat to get a better angle out of the left-side west-coast mirror. He closed his eye, blinking it, then stared. There was a man moving on the hood of the green car. Frost tried to accelerate, the Ford and the trailer lurching ahead too little—they were entering a grade. Frost glanced to his right—the world was dropping off there, a steep drop then a void growing there beyond the road. He felt the impact again against the back of the trailer, the steering wheel of the big Ford wrenching under his hands.

“Frost—one of them's climbing onto the trailer!”

“If he shoots and gets me, we'll go over the edge—but so will he. . . . Is it that important? To die for it?”

Chapter Seven

He glanced to his right, his eye catching the girl's eyes. Her voice sounded strangely sober to him. “Yes—yes, Hank, it is.”

Frost glanced to his left—he could barely see part of the KGB man's body in the mirror now; then it vanished. The man was climbing up the ladder at the back of the camper, then would climb up onto the luggage rack on the camper roof, then cross to the front of the camper. He could crouch there, lie down there-whatever, Frost thought—and potshot Frost behind the wheel.

“Here—I'm getting out—slide over here and catch the wheel—”

“Getting out!”

“I gotta stop that son of a—” The trailer lurched again, the green car apparently crowding it. Frost's right foot was flat against the floorboards now, the trailer and car doing fifty if the speedometer read right. “Damn,” he rasped. Jessica Pace undid her seatbelt, starting across the seat toward him. Frost edged up, already pushing the driver's side door open with his left hand, getting his rear end up from the seat, but keeping his right foot on the gas—like a mechanic starting a car without activating the seatbelt buzzer. His right hand was clamped like a vise on the left side of the steering wheel, the Ford and the trailer it pulled swaying toward the soft gravel shoulder to their right, toward the drop-off beyond it. “Hurry—damn it,” he shouted, barely able to hear his own voice over the wind's slipstream.

Jessica Pace was in position behind the wheel now—he heard her shouting, “You'll be killed, Frost—killed!”

Frost hated people who showed their brains by stating the obvious. He felt the pressure of her hands on the wheel—he could no longer see it, his head above the level of the LTD's roofline; his neck twisted, craning back, looking for some sign the KGB gunman had made it to the top of the trailer.

Frost let go of the wheel, pushing himself up with his hands, his feet—hearing Jessica Pace shouting at him. He guessed he'd kicked her. Frost stretched out his hands, spread-eagling the upper half of his body on the blue vinyl roof, then hauling his legs after him. He glanced up to the trailer roof, thinking he'd seen the silhouette of a hand there. “Dummy,” he rasped. He could have crawled out the back door, straight onto the trunk lid instead of crossing the roof. “Damn it,” he shouted into the wind around him, inching back across the roof of the big Ford, the wind blowing his hair down into his eye. He pushed his right hand back to get the hair from his forehead, then inched along. His hands were on the chrome molding strip where the roofline met the rear window. He edged his body around, getting onto his back, dropping his legs, feeling with his feet for the trunk lid somewhere beneath them. There was something solid and he let himself slide forward, his rear end skidding down along the rear-window glass. His feet were slipping off the trunk lid—he glanced down. The pavement below was a blur, and to his right was the drop-off into some canyon—he didn't want to die in someplace he didn't know the name of. His hands spread-eagled on his sides, the fingers splayed—and the slipping of his feet stopped. He pulled his feet toward him, tucking them under him, already eying the propane gas canisters and the trailer tongue just forward of them. He'd have to jump, he realized.

Frost edged his feet down onto the rear bumper of the LTD, forcing himself into a standing position, his hands balanced behind him on the trunk lid. “Why am I doing this!” he screamed into the wind that shoved at him, that seemed to be trying to make him lose his balance.

Snapping his hands and arms ahead of him like a broad jumper, he dived toward the trailer tongue, his hands reaching out, grabbing at the plastic awning covering the trailer's front window. His left foot slipped between the trailer tongue and the gas canisters. His fingers now started to slip, the nails of his left hand scratching along the plastic awning. He brought his left knee up and pushed against the gas canisters, then fought his way to his feet, glancing above him—the KGB gunman would be there. Frost felt it. There was no way to the top of the trailer from where he stood; the door of the trailer was on the right-hand side, his left, and there were louvered windows there—handholds, perhaps. He edged both feet onto the right side of the trailer tongue, reaching around the trailer body with his left hand, finding the empty awning rail there; his fingers gouged against it as he shifted his weight. There was a small fender—plastic-looking—that was more of a rock guard, over the right front wheel of the trailer. Frost edged his left foot onto it. As his foot slipped, the fingers of his left hand locked onto the awning track. He felt himself screaming from the pain in his hand, but in the wind his voice was lost to his hearing. He moved his left foot up again, against the meager purchase of the fender, tested his weight against it, and swung his right foot off the trailer tongue and onto the fender. Both hands now grasped the tiny awning rail above him. Frost reached out with his left hand grabbing for the aluminum window frame, his fingers pushing against it, searching blindly for a hold there. Frost looked down—the handle for the trailer door was at his belt line, not really a handle at all, but a cavity into which you reached your hand to pull open the door handle recessed into it. Would the toe of his left shoe fit there?

Frost edged his left foot off the fender, up to waist level, ahead of him, and out, cramming the toe of his left shoe into the cavity beside the door handle. The fingers of his right hand still clutched the awning rail; his left hand was on the window frame. He shifted his weight onto the left foot, then pushed up with his left hand. The nails of his right hand felt as though they were being pulled from his fingertips as he clung to the awning rail. He let go, thrusting his right hand up toward the luggage rack on top of the trailer. His fist locked onto it; then he released his left hand. His left fist locked beside the right on the luggage rack. He started to push himself up with his left foot, looking up. The one-eyed man snapped his head back as a foot flew toward his face. Both his feet swayed in empty air space below him; his wrists and fingers burned with the sudden pressure of his full weight.

It was the KGB gunman whose foot flashed out toward his hands now. Frost felt the impact, his right hand suddenly going numb, his fingers slipping, his full weight hanging from the side of the trailer—the abyss to his right and below him. His left fist locked on the luggage rack. Frost swung himself around, forward, his chest slamming against the side of the trailer. His right hand flashed up, though he didn't know if his fingers there still worked enough to grab hold. He could see the foot coming again; his right eye involuntarily closed. Frost felt the kick, felt the fingers of his right hand loosening from the luggage rack above him. The trailer swayed suddenly, toward the drop; gravel sprayed up toward Frost's face, pelting his skin and the skin of the trailer alike. Frost swung his body right, getting his left foot up onto the narrow ledge of the aluminum window frame, then throwing himself up toward the roof. He could see the KGB man now, sprawled back on the far-rear left corner of the trailer—the sudden swaying having thrown him back, Frost guessed.

The one-eyed man was on his knees, pushing himself to his feet, watching as the KGB man raised his silenced automatic. Frost threw himself across the expanse of trailer roof, his right shoulder impacting hard against the luggage rack; his left hand grasped for the KGB man's gun hand, but missed, sliding down instead onto the movielike sausage-shaped silencer at the muzzle of the pistol.

There was a shot—Frost could feel the gun shudder under his hand. Frost, on his knees now, hammered up and forward with his right fist, his knuckles missing the nose, but catching the KGB man's half-turned-away face on the left cheekbone. Frost's already injured hand seemed to scream at him with pain.

The KGB man slipped back and Frost dived onto him, his left hand still on the silencer. Almost mechanically, at the back of his mind, Frost realized the man had to have a second handgun—the shots he'd heard before weren't silenced. His left hand still locked on the silencer, Frost wrenched the gun hand up, then smashed it back, impacting the KGB man's right wrist against the luggage rack. The gun fired again, then sailed into air space. Frost laced his right fist across the KGB man's face, before he felt the cold, numbing pain in his crotch. His breath almost vomited out of him, his body doubled over, the KGB man's fists pounded against his face.

Frost rolled off the man, onto his back. The KGB man was up, his right foot flashing forward. Frost—still winded—rolled away from it but the foot caught him on the side of the head. Frost rolled again, feeling the luggage rack against his back, feeling himself starting to roll over it. Frost caught himself, then threw his weight left, as the KGB man started to kick again. Frost's body rolled into the left foot that supported the man, the KGB man's right foot catching Frost's left shoulder; but Frost's weight knocked the left leg off balance, and the KGB man toppled back. Frost, his groin twisted with pain, pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, and stared back behind the trailer; the driver of the green sedan was reaching out the window with his left hand, a pistol in his fist. Frost's brain commanded his body to move, but another part of his brain told him it wouldn't be fast enough. He half-dropped onto his face, his right hand flashing up under his jeans jacket, snatching at the Pachmayr-gripped butt of the Metalifed High Power. His fingers—almost screaming at him with their pain—clenched around the gun and ripped it from the leather. Frost's body rolled right, a full turn, his right shoulder impacting hard against the luggage rack as he heard the first shot, heard the pinging sound as it struck some kind of metal object. Frost punched the High Power out straight ahead of him, its muzzle canted down, his right thumb jacking back the hammer. The finger of his right hand twitched once, then once again, then twice more. The windshield of the green sedan shattered; the face behind it seemed to shatter, too. Despite the spider-webbing of broken glass, with a roaring sound of its engine, the green car lurched ahead.

Frost skidded on his chest across the roof of the trailer, trying to roll onto his back, seeing the KGB man from the corner of his eye, up on his feet again. He held the silenced automatic in his right fist, his face a mass of blood at the mouth and nose. Frost tried swinging his gun hand on line—his hand froze, so did his stare. Ahead of them was the big eighteen-wheeler moving truck; if it were doing thirty on the steepening grade it was a miracle. And the LTD and the trailer were driving right into it. Frost heard the coughing sound as the KGB man's pistol fired once, then again. Frost started to shout, as the trailer lurched under him.

There was a second pistol in the KGB man's other hand now—a big-bore revolver from the look of it at the muzzle end. Frost swung the High Power on line. The trailer lurched again, and Frost's body skidded across the roofline, as the KGB man fell forward, both his guns going off into the air. To his right now, behind the trailer, Frost could see the green sedan with the dead driver. It was breaking off; the bumpers of the car and trailer apparently had been locked and now were released. The green car rocketed toward the edge of the road, over onto the narrow gravel shoulder, then off into space, disappearing over the edge of the abyss. As Frost turned to fire again, he heard the explosion behind him, saw out of the corner of his right eye the orange and black fireball as the car blew. His right hand moved now, the muzzle of the High Power searching out the target of the KGB man.

And the gunman was there, standing, both pistols leveled as the trailer pulled alongside the massive moving truck.

The KGB man was shouting something. Frost couldn't hear. Frost fired the High Power, pumping the trigger and pumping it again and again. The KGB man took the hits, somehow unmoving. Then the gunman's head snapped back; his body seemed to blow backward off the roof of the trailer. It slapped against the moving van beside them, bounced off it, then disappeared between the trailer and the van. The trailer lurched up, as if running hard over a bump in the road and Frost thought he heard a scream on the wind—“Jesus!” The word fell from his lips, and at the back of his mind the one-eyed man wondered when had been the last time he'd used it with such unconscious sincerity.

He rammed the empty pistol into his trouser band and splayed his body across the top of the trailer—he wasn't moving until Jessica Pace stopped the thing. And then it would be his turn to go to the bathroom.

BOOK: Assassin's Express
11.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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