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Authors: Jerry Ahern

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BOOK: Assassin's Express
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“Come on—get out!” The blond boy's voice was cracking. “Please!”

Somehow—perhaps because the word was so little used among them, Frost surmised—the word “please” seemed to have some sort of magical effect. Some of the bikers started drifting back, still trying to save their egos, Frost thought, backing away as if still ready to go into action.

Frost could see the sweep second hand on the Rolex in the playground light as the bikers left, the Rolex was close to Frost's face as it was on the wrist of the hand he had clamped in the boy's greasy blond hair.

The last bike ripped out and into the darkness, only one machine remaining. Frost whispered into the blond boy's right ear. “Now, I know what's troubling you—revenge. Right now, your heart is hardening toward me—I've made you lose face. Well, I can sympathize with those primitive feelings. I really can. But . . .” And Frost paused for a long minute, listening to the fast breathing, smelling the sweat on the boy, the fear there. “If you guys come back tonight, or try following us out of here in the morning, who do you think the first person is that I'm going to kill? One of the other guys, or you? I make my living fighting people, sometimes killing people—I'm good at it. I'll kill you if I ever see your face again. It can be here tonight, it can be on the road tomorrow, it can be in a pizza parlor five years from now. But if I ever see your face you are stone cold dead. No more bike riding, no more girls, no more beer, no more joints—nothin' but dead and six feet under if somebody takes the time to plant you. Now, I want a one-word answer to this—nothin' else. Am I ever going to see you or your friends again?”

The kid sounded as though he were going to throw up when he said it, “No—you ain't—”

Frost pressed the muzzle of the pistol against the kid's nose. “I said one word—no speech. Now—walk over to your bike. I could make you spit on the seat then sit on it; I could make you ride out of here stark naked and backwards. I won't. I'll just kill you if I ever see you again.” Frost shoved the boy away from him, leveling the gun out straight toward the boy's face. “Now—ride!”

The blond-haired gang member half-ran, half-stumbled to his motorcycle, jumped it, and started out of the campground. Frost lowered the Browning, stood there a moment until the engine sounds died off, then lowered the hammer on the pistol before shoving it up under his coat into the holster, snapping the trigger-guard shut, then closing his coat. He turned and started walking up the gravel path back toward the yellow light of the trailer.

Afterward, inside, Jessica Pace cleaned his hand, damaged from the fight earlier that day with the KGB man. She rubbed his back for him to relax the muscles in his neck, and told him that she thought he was “O.K.—sort of.” Frost took her into his arms, then his hands pressed against the nipples of her breasts. Feeling her hands on him, on his chest, on his crotch, he rolled her over onto her back, slipped between her warm thighs, and told himself some things were better than sleep.

Chapter Nine

Frost snapped off the radio and turned the fan up one notch in speed to make the defrosters work better. It had been almost idiotically cold in the morning when he'd unhooked and they'd gotten ready to leave the campground. And the temperature had been dropping all day.

“Don't get mad at the radio,” Jessica told him.

“I gotta get mad at something,” Frost countered.

“It's still not cold enough to snow—the guy's gotta be wrong,” she reassured him.

“The guy was reading a weather bulletin—an emergency weather bulletin. A freak storm coming down out of the panhandle—dumped twelve inches of wet snow north of here last night. I don't think he was just trying to scare us.”

“This is West Texas—it isn't going to snow out here—no—”

Frost glared angrily at the windshield, then flicked on the windshield wipers. “You're right—at least so far. It isn't snowing. It's raining and the temperature is thirty-six degrees. I like freezing rain when I'm driving through the middle of nowhere even better than I like snow. Shut up, huh!”

Frost lit a cigarette, already feeling his steering starting to get mushier—he wondered if it was his imagination. He had never been in a desert during a storm that involved precipitation—and the thought of it scared him. The gas gauge was down a quarter, the map didn't show a town for some God-awful distance yet, and the radio had warned of a blizzard and given traveler's advisories. “Wonderful,” he sighed. “Just wonderful. I really like this.”

“Are you talking to yourself?”

“I gotta talk to somebody with common sense,” he snapped. “Yeah—I'm talking to myself, but now I'm talking to you. Wonderful—snow. God—”

Frost hit the windshield-wiper switch to high speed—the rain, heavy and lemonade-looking, was coming faster now and making it hard to see.

“What are you going to do?” Jessica asked him after a moment.

“Panic!”

Frost said nothing else for a long time and neither did Jessica Pace. Frost watched the rain turn to sleet, then could have almost sworn that he spotted the first snowflake as it fell—seemingly all by itself—and then was followed by more and more. He cut his speed below thirty miles per hour; his back was aching from constantly leaning down to manually brake the trailer to give himself drag and keep the car from skidding. He turned on the radio again—there was nothing but music. “Can't that guy give a weather report?” Frost snapped.

“Before, you were sore because the announcer told you the weather—now you're sore because he doesn't?”

“Just shut up, will ya?”

“Men,” Jessica snorted.

Frost would have looked at her—glared at her he thought—but he didn't want to take his eye off the road. “Snow—all I needed. Why snow?”

“You talkin' to me?”

“No—I was talkin' to the snowflakes. Of course I was talkin' to you. Snow!”

Already, the highway was white and in the surviving west-coast mirror Frost could see the marks left by the car and trailer tires behind him—but there was no other traffic and what he could see of the sky through the swirling snow was dark gray—almost black in spots.

“Snow!”

He lit another cigarette, straightened up against his chair back a moment, then went back to riding the electric trailer-brake lever with his thumb. He thought how wonderful it would be if he crashed into something leaning forward as he was—he'd not only get killed, but break his face first.

Another hour passed—according to the radio— and now the severe weather bulletins were coming every few minutes, between every song. Fourteen inches of snow were predicted with subfreezing temperatures, hazardous driving conditions, and high winds with blowing and drifting snow. Frost's knuckles were white against the blue steering wheel; his hands shifted the wheel right and left, right and left, searching for traction. The rain that had fallen had frozen under the snow and then started to melt, he presumed, the snow serving to insulate it against the cold. Now, the just-freezing-temperature rain under the snow had converted the highway to polished glass. The wind where it had blown snow off the highway revealed shining patches of slick ice. The car was skidding slightly and Frost worked the trailer brake again, getting the skid under control. There was still no other traffic on the highway and the snow was falling so fast and so heavily that when he looked in the one clear patch on the west-coast mirror, all he could see was a faint outline where his tracks should have been.

“Do you want to pull over?”

“Yeah—I think I'm going to have—” Frost cut the steering wheel hard right, into the direction of the skid, uncertain if, with the trailer, that was the right thing—should he have pulled it left? He worked the trailer brake, but the car wasn't slowing. He could see the shoulder coming up to him, laterally, the interior of the car. The world around him seemed to have suddenly switched into slow motion. “Get down in front of the seat!” He cut the wheel into the skid and now the car was jackknifing against the trailer. In the rear-view mirror where the defogger had melted away the snow, Frost could see the trailer swinging wildly. He cut the wheel right, then left, then hard left. The car skidded almost backward down the highway. He lost track of the trailer; his elbows locked, his hands braced against the wheel. There was a snow-covered median strip, and the car was skidding backward into it. Where was the trailer? he thought. He searched for the electric brake, couldn't find it as he fought the wheel again. The steering was mushy and useless, the car out of control completely. His fists locked on the wheel anyway, his elbows locked, and his shoulders braced. “Holy God!”

The car stopped, so suddenly Frost forgot to breathe, was uncertain if he could. Then the car shuddered and there was a groaning sound, the groaning of metal against metal, and the car shifted suddenly forward, then stopped—dead.

Frost raised his head, looked at Jessica Pace, then murmured, “You O.K., kid?”

Her hair was in her eyes, her face was white, her eyes wide and glassy. “Yeah—I think—you O.K.?”

“My neck hurts a little,” Frost said, trying to turn around, trying to see if there was anything left of the rear end of the car or the trailer.

“What happened?”

“All of a sudden, I just lost it—whew!”

“I thought we were going to—”

“Wouldn't that be insane?” Frost laughed, his hands shaking as he started to light a cigarette then thought better of it—what if they'd ruptured the gas tank? “The KGB and everybody else under the sun out to get us and we croak in an auto accident in a blizzard!”

“Yeah—I guess it would,” she answered, her voice trembling.

“Stay here—I'm gonna—”

“Not on your life—I'm getting out too!”

“Great—try your door,” he told her, suddenly tired, feeling hyperventilated, feeling the adrenaline subsiding in him.

Frost stepped out, his sixty-five-dollar shoes instantly filling with wet snow. He held on to the roofline of the car as he started back, then stopped. The trailer had crashed down on the left rear fender, then bounced away from it. He didn't know if the car was drivable or not. He walked closer to the trailer. The tongue was bent in a sharp right angle and the rear end of the car was half-buried in a rut where the trailer had impacted it into the snow and the sand below it.

“We're stuck, huh?”

Frost looked at Jessica Pace and started to laugh. “I'm sorry I lost my temper with you before.” He gestured with his hands. “Before this happened... I was—”

“I know,” the girl answered.

“And to answer your question—we can't haul the trailer, the rear end of the car is stuck so deep we can't unhitch and try pushing it out. So, yeah—we're stuck all right. And if we don't get into the trailer and get the heat going quick, we're gonna freeze to death. Unless maybe a truck comes along later and hits that same patch of ice, then crashes into us and kills us before we freeze to death—just hope those propane tanks are full.”

Frost knew what to do if you were trying to survive a blizzard in a stuck automobile. Run the heat only as necessary, keep the tail pipe clear at all times, keep a downwind window cracked at all times—there was a standard and well-thought-out list. But common sense dictated saying in the trailer—and so did the volume of snow. If the propane tanks went out, he could try to crank the car and use the fuel in the gas tank to heat them. He bent down and unplugged the electrical connection between the car and the trailer. There was always the option of running the car with the trailer battery if need be, or using the car battery for electricity in the trailer. But if they ran out of propane, all the trailer heating system would do is blow cold air, the thermostat constantly calling for heat that wasn't there. He made a mental note to get out several times during the time they were stuck and crank the engine of the LTD to keep the battery alive and the radiator from freezing if the temperature dropped that low.

“We're lucky we're alive,” the girl was staying as she started toward the trailer.

Frost clambered over the bent trailer tongue and stood beside her. “You can say all you want,” he began, almost affectionately touching the undamaged right rear fender of the '78 Ford, “but there's nothing like a big, full-sized car. If we'd been driving something much smaller that trailer would have pulled us, or maybe turned this car into an accordion.”

“I'll get the heat going—and fix us some lunch?”

“Yeah,” Frost murmured. He looked up at the sky; he couldn't see it for the falling snow.

Frost shuddered. He wasn't running the radio to conserve the battery; or the heat either, to conserve gasoline. With the wind howling across the snow-covered wastes, the car—the windows frosted over—was like he imagined a tomb would be in the middle of an Alaskan winter. But the engine was responding and running smoothly. Frost kept it running long enough to evaporate any moisture rather than come back the next time and find the engine had seized. His body was shaking, despite the heavy gray turtleneck sweater he wore under the jeans jacket. And his feet were cold. He'd left his sixty-five-dollar shoes to dry out in the trailer and had switched to his combat boots and boot socks—but his feet still felt as though they were freezing. He decided it was psychological. A blizzard in such an ordinarily hot place, in a place where such a bizarre weather situation was even more bizarre.

He turned off the key switch and got out of the car, locking it. He would have almost welcomed a thief. He smiled, his mustache starting to freeze. There had been no one on the highway since the accident—not even a road crew or a police officer.

Frost fought his way back through the drifts, toward the trailer door, clambering over the bent tongue and walking along the trailer body. The snow, drifted around the trailer, was nearly waist-high now. He hammered his fist on the door; when it opened he half-stumbled inside. It was warm, the propane supply holding up—he wondered how long. One light burned in the trailer ceiling; either that bulb would go out or the electricity would go because of the drain on the battery. He could always start the car and let the battery from the car charge the trailer battery, but that would burn up the gasoline. He was saving doing that until he needed to.

“Why don't you shut off the light, Jessica?” he stammered.

“The electricity?”

“Yeah—maybe,” Frost said, skinning out of the jacket. He stripped away the last sleeve, wiped off his boots with a towel, and stood up, going over to the thermostat. If they lowered the desired temperature, the thermostat would stop calling for heat and the fan would be used less—less electricity to drain the battery.

“We're doin' O.K., aren't we?” he heard her ask.

He turned around, looking at her. “Yeah—I don't think we'll become anonymous victims of the great blizzard or something if that's what you mean. At least the KGB and everybody are just as stuck as we are now.”

“You want some coffee?”

“Only if you give me a whiskey chaser.” Frost smiled.

“You got it—hey, tell me about yourself. Like the eye patch—I mean if you don't feel uncomfortable talking about it.”

“Not much to tell, really,” Frost began, a smile crossing his lips. He walked past her where she stood by the stove, then sat by the table at the front of the trailer, looking through the one bare patch on the window where snow hadn't stuck or drifted, looking at her in the bright reflected light from the snow, the trailer otherwise dark except for a candle she'd lit on the table. “See—I'd always wanted to join the circus, be like my boyhood hero the Great Farquarhdt—he was a lion tamer.”

“You're kidding,” she said, handing him the coffee and setting a tumbler of Seagram's on the table beside him, then sitting down opposite him, huddling in a sweater.

“No—I'm in deadly earnest,” Frost told her. “Well—the circus came to town and I ran off from home, joined the circus—the boyhoood dream only partially fulfilled. After some weeks I got to know the Great Farquarhdt—even let me call him by his right name eventually. Elmo Farquarhdt. Well, he knew I was interested in being a lion tamer just as he was, so in my off hours when I wasn't taking tickets for the bearded-fat-lady snake charmer—”

BOOK: Assassin's Express
6.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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