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Authors: Terry Irving

Courier

BOOK: Courier
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Terry Irving
COURIER
 
To Ann, for everything
 
CHAPTER 1
 
Tuesday, December 19, 1972
It felt like the motorcycle had become a part of his body – a part that made him whole. The back tire of the BMW R50/2 had started to lose traction on the crusted ice – ice that had hung around for months in the shadowed parts of the alley, where the sun never reached. The wheel was spinning now and drifting left, the back end approaching a ninety-degree angle to the front, but Rick Putnam realized, with a bit of surprise, that he wasn't concerned.
He saw the patch of dry concrete coming up and blipped the throttle just a bit as he crossed it. Dropping his weight back on the bench seat made the rear wheel grab on the concrete and pop back into alignment. It was all reflex action – as automatic as walking.
At the end of the alley he flicked his eyes to the right, saw an opening in the traffic, downshifted, and slammed across the sidewalk. Entering 19th Street, he locked the rear wheel, threw his body to break the big bike to the right, and skidded smoothly into the moving line of cars. He heard the screech of brakes, and an angry horn went off behind him, but the bike was already picking up speed, flicking past the two- and three-story brick-row houses.
He liked Washington. It was as if the city had exploded during World War Two and then stopped, exhausted from the effort. The town houses were modest and usually a bit crooked, the brick painted every color imaginable, and the stores, restaurants, and bars on the ground floor varied and eccentric.
The relatively few large office buildings stood out like Stalinist mistakes – square and featureless, built to the exact millimeter of the height limitations. Alleys cut through the center of most blocks, often just cobblestones or an uneven mixture of asphalt and concrete patches.
A century ago, these alleys had held a separate city of poor whites and freed slaves. Rick had learned that from the same rider who'd showed him how they were the secret to the city – a way to evade traffic lights and bypass commuters. The alleys may not have held another city these days, but they were still more than just urban driveways. Hidden from view were bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and little food stores – a Washington that tourists would never see.
He took the right onto K Street and all thoughts of the city­ – and everything else – were lost in the crystalline concentration of the dance.
 
Fifteen miles ahead of the courier, a specialist in the restoration of silence began his latest assignment.
In a quiet Virginia suburb, his black Chevy Impala was parked against the curb on Fairfield Street some fifty feet from where Fairfield met Fairmount in a T intersection. Taking off his hat to lower his profile, he sat perfectly still and watched the single-story brick Colonial straight ahead of him – the perfectly white shutters and clipped shrubbery indicating a precise, even obsessive, owner. A white AMC Jeep Wagoneer with a strip of simulated wood running down the side sat at the curb, partially blocking his view of the lawn but still revealing a carefully placed wooden Santa and a pair of wicker reindeers.
Looking through the Wagoneer's windows, he could see large, heavy-looking equipment cases that had obviously been pulled from the Jeep's cargo area. One case was open, revealing shiny metal rods and bits of colored cellophane. He assumed it was lighting gear for the television crew now inside the house. They were probably filming their interview and almost certainly did not know they were being observed.
He scanned the street in front of him, then, without moving his head, methodically checked behind him in the rearview mirror. Catching a glimpse of himself – something unusual since he never sought out mirrors – his startling blue eyes under deep brows stared back. Women might find them mesmerizing, but he regretted how they made him so easy to remember. Usually he wore dark sunglasses, but in today's gray afternoon light, sunglasses might result in one of those curious second looks that sometimes proved so inconvenient.
He had spent many years making sure he was neither noticed nor remembered. His name – which a long time ago had been Ed Jarvis – had faded under a succession of false identities, leaving him defined by his occupation: an operative, an agent, a useful tool to get things done, a restorer of silence. Stroking his mustache down, making it just a bit less noticeable, he resumed his watch.
Fairfield Street was tree-lined, quiet. No one was walking a dog or scraping the last bits of ice off their driveways. It had begun to warm in the past few days, and there wasn't much ice left, anyway. That was good; he'd seen enough ice for a lifetime. When he thought about it, which was far too often, he could feel the searing cold of a Korean winter still sleeping deep inside him.
His careful scrutiny went on for a full fifteen minutes. Nothing set off his internal alarms. He got out of the car, took a beige parka from the backseat, and put it on over his gray suit. Then he began to walk down Fairfield Street, away from the T intersection. There were no sidewalks, so he walked in the road – just far enough away from the curb to stay out of the puddles of snowmelt. Keeping a steady pace gave him the appearance of a man out for a little exercise to break up an afternoon cooped up at home.
He made three left turns, circling the block, and approached the Colonial from the opposite direction, his deliberate pace giving him time to verify that no one was in any of the backyards. Without changing his pace, he walked past the left side of the Wagoneer, reaching down slightly and placing a small box into the top of both wheel wells. He could hear the faint
chunks
as their magnets pulled them tight against the metal.
He continued back to his car, feeling confident that – even if anyone were watching – no one would have noticed such a minor change in his stride. Back in his car, he sat for a long moment to be certain that no one had appeared on the street or come to look out of any nearby windows. Then he put the car in drive.
Moving at a smooth, unhurried speed, he turned to the left on Fairmount, away from the house, and made three right turns to circle around the block behind the house. Now he was certain that there were no other surveillance teams watching the Colonial. He didn't think any other team – even from the FBI or CIA – would be a problem, but it was always satisfying to know that he could work free of distractions.
He came slowly down Fairmount from the same direction he had just approached on foot and stopped as soon as he had a good view of the Wagoneer. He was safely hidden behind a Dodge station wagon, and after looking up, he reversed a couple of feet into the deep shade of an oak tree. He knew the shadows would only deepen as the short December day waned.
Then he sat and waited.
Waited to do his work.
To stop the voices.
To restore silence.
To kill.
 
The left lane was clear, and Rick came up through the gears, hearing the solid
ka-chunk
each time the transmission engaged. The BMW might not be slick, but it was steady, dependable, and fast enough if you gave the engine the time and torque to reach full power. It didn't have a tachometer, so he listened to the exhaust sound and shifted a couple of seconds after the engine's normal throaty putter rose to a shout.
By the time he hit the elevated freeway that cut past Georgetown, he was in top gear and running fast. The wide handlebars felt solid and secure under his thick gloves. Even the winter wind, which was numbing his face and slicing through the zipper of his leather jacket, felt good – a sharp, cold bite after the steam of the overheated news bureau.
That would change in just a few miles, the zipper stream becoming a shard of ice impaling his heart, his face stiffening, hands cramping into claws, only his eyes behind the heavy glasses safe from the wind's sharp whip.
There were cars lined up at M Street, but hell, why ride a motorcycle if you couldn't dance? He kicked down to second, slid between cars on the centerline, cut in front of a Dodge waiting patiently for the light to turn, and swung up onto Key Bridge.
Halfway across the Potomac River, he was back in top gear, and he cut the corner hard when he reached the Virginia side – almost grinding the big side-mounted cylinder on the asphalt – and let the bike fly down the entrance ramp to the George Washington Parkway.
Traffic clotted the parkway – commuters and, undoubtedly, police cars up ahead. None of that mattered. He was dancing now, carving graceful curves right down the centerline in top gear with the throttle nailed. Cars flashed by as he wove between them.
He couldn't look at the speedometer, couldn't take his eyes off the road, couldn't spare a second of concentration from the delicate ballet of shifting weight, tire grip, and wide-open throttle, rejoicing in each deep dip into a turn and the swooping acceleration coming out.
He jolted back to reality when the exit to Chain Bridge Road came up on the right. Unable to bleed off enough speed before the exit, he took the curve way too fast, jamming the bike down on its side, twisting the handgrips against the turn – fighting to keep his wheels from drifting into the treacherous gravel on the outside. He knew that if he touched the brakes, the tires would lose all adhesion and fly out from under him.
He kept his gaze straight ahead – searching for the end of the turn – and the BMW held like it was locked on rails as it carved a perfect line through the curve. The rear end had just begun to drift slightly when he spotted the stop sign and straightened up. Now he could use the brakes, and he quickly wrestled the bike under control.
As he stopped, he felt the strange upward lift that the old-fashioned Earles front suspension always gave when he put on the front brake. Any other bike would plunge the front down into the telescoping front forks; the triangular links of the BMW floated the stress up and forwards.
For just a second, he kept the clean clarity of the dance in his mind, and then it was gone. Memories came flooding back. Blood, and stench, and screaming, the terrible beauty as napalm set the tall grass on fire and flowers of light burst from snipers in the trees. Only the dance could fill up his mind – speed and real danger frightening him enough to keep the phantom terrors away, if only for a few precious moments.
Rick sighed, then kicked the gearshift down into first and turned right – heading for his next film pickup.
CHAPTER 2
 
Rick spotted the Wagoneer as he came up Fairmount, and swung the bike in a semicircle right in front of it. Then he stopped, released the brakes, and let it slide backward until it bumped against the curb just in front of the Jeep. He pushed forward just a bit and then yanked the heavy machine up onto the center stand. He took off the scratched helmet with the tattered ABN News stickers and set it on the adjustment knob that sat in the center post of the handlebars.
It was about fifty degrees but dropping fast into the forties. Rick felt a bit of the loopy fog in his head that meant his core temperature had dropped, but it wasn't too bad – certainly not severe enough to slow him down on the way back. He took off the heavy riding gloves and bent down to cup his hands over the twin opposed cylinders – the "jugs" that gave a BMW its perversely old-fashioned look. He took care not to touch the hot metal but got his hands close enough to absorb some of the intense radiant heat.
He could feel sensation trickle back into his fingers, numbed even through the gloves' triple layers of leather. As he waited, he looked at the scarred and twisted palms of the gloves and remembered the time in the snow when he was so cold that he'd put his hands right on the red-hot exhaust pipes. At least the heat had permanently seared the gloves into the right shape for holding handlebar grips – if for nothing else. He didn't even want to think of what his bare palms would have looked like.
BOOK: Courier
12.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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