"May I get you something to drink while you wait?"
The Hotelpage was a compact man who spoke English with only a trace of an accent. His brass nameplate gleamed against his loden-green uniform.
"No, thank you," Ben Hartman said, smiling wanly.
"Are you sure? Perhaps some tea? Coffee? Mineral water?" The bellhop peered up at him with the bright-eyed eagerness of someone who has only a few minutes left to enhance his parting tip. "I'm terribly sorry your car is delayed."
"I'm fine, really."
Ben stood in the lobby of the Hotel St. Gotthard, an elegant nineteenth-century establishment that specialized in catering to the wellheeled international businessman--and, face it, that's me, Ben thought sardonically. Now that he had checked out, he wondered idly whether he could tip the bellhop not to carry his bags, not to follow his every move a few feet behind, like a Bengali bride, not to offer unceasing apologies for the fact that the car that was to take Ben to the airport had not yet arrived. Luxury hotels the world over prided themselves on such coddling, but Ben, who traveled quite a bit, inevitably found it intrusive, deeply irritating. He'd spent so much time trying to break out of the cocoon, hadn't he? But the cocoon--the stale rituals of privilege--had won out in the end. The Hotelpage had his number, all right: just another rich, spoiled American.
Ben Hartman was thirty-six, but today he felt much older. It wasn't just the jet lag, though he had arrived from New York yesterday and still felt that sense of dislocation. It was something about being in Switzerland again: in happier days, he'd spent a lot of time here, skiing too fast, driving too fast, feeling like a wild spirit among its stone-faced, rulebound burghers. He wished he could regain that spirit, but he couldn't. He hadn't been to Switzerland since his brother, Peter--his identical twin, his closest friend in all the world--had been killed here four years ago. Ben had expected the trip to stir up memories, but nothing like this. Now he realized what a mistake he'd made coming back here. From the moment he'd arrived at Kloten Airport, he'd been distracted, swollen with emotion--anger, grief, loneliness.
But he knew better than to let it show. He'd done a little business yesterday afternoon, and this morning had a cordial meeting with Dr. Rolf Grendelmeier of the Union Bank of Switzerland. Pointless, of course, but you had to keep the clients happy; glad-handing was part of the job. If he was honest with himself, it was the job, and Ben sometimes felt a pang at how easily he slipped into the role, that of the legendary Max Hartman's only surviving son, the heir presumptive to the family fortune, and to the CEO's office at Hartman Capital Management, the multibillion-dollar firm founded by his father.
Now Ben possessed the whole trick bag of international finance-the closet full of Brioni and Kiton suits, the easy smile, the firm handshake, and, most of all, the gaze: steady, level, concerned. It was a gaze that conveyed responsibility, dependability, and sagacity, and that, often as not, concealed desperate boredom.
Still, he hadn't really come to Switzerland to do business. At Kloten, a small plane would take him to St. Moritz for a ski vacation with an extremely wealthy, elderly client, the old man's wife, and his allegedly beautiful granddaughter. The client's arm-twisting was jovial but persistent. Ben was being fixed up, and he knew it. This was one of the hazards of being a presentable, well-off, "eligible" single man in Manhattan: his clients were forever trying to set him up with their daughters, their nieces, their cousins. It was hard to say no politely. And once in a while he actually met a woman whose company he enjoyed. You never knew. Anyway, Max wanted grandchildren.
Max Hartman, the philanthropist and holy terror, the founder of Hartman Capital Management. The self-made immigrant who'd arrived in America, a refugee from Nazi Germany, with the proverbial ten bucks in his pocket, had founded an investment company right after the war, and relentlessly built it up into the multibillion-dollar firm it was now. Old Max, in his eighties and living in solitary splendor in Bedford, New York, still ran the company and made sure no one ever forgot it.
It wasn't easy working for your father, but it was even harder when you had precious little interest in investment banking, in "asset allocation" and "risk management," and in all the other mind-numbing buzzwords.
Or when you had just about zero interest in money. Which was, he realized, a luxury enjoyed mainly by those who had too much of it. Like the Hartmans, with their trust funds and private schools and the immense Westchester County estate. Not to mention the twenty-thousandacre spread near the Greenbriar, and all the rest of it.
Until Peter's plane fell out of the sky, Ben had been able to do what he really loved: teaching, especially teaching kids whom most people had given up on. He'd taught fifth grade in a tough school in an area of Brooklyn known as East New York. A lot of the kids were trouble, and yes, there were gangs and sullen ten-year-olds as well armed as Colombian drug lords. But they needed a teacher who actually gave a damn about them. Ben did give a damn, and every once in a while he actually made a difference to somebody's life.
When Peter died, however, Ben had been all but forced to join the family business. He'd told friends it was a deathbed promise exacted by his mother, and he supposed it was. But cancer or no cancer, he could never refuse her anyway. He remembered her drawn face, the skin ashen from another bout of chemotherapy, the reddish smudges beneath her eyes like bruises. She'd been almost twenty years younger than Dad, and he had never imagined that she might be the first to go. Work, for the night cometh, she'd said, smiling bravely. Most of the rest she left unspoken. Max had survived Dachau only to lose a son, and now he was about to lose his wife. How much could any man, however powerful, stand?
"Has he lost you, too?" she had whispered. At the time, Ben was living a few blocks from the school, in a sixth-floor walk-up in a decrepit tenement building where the corridors stank of cat urine and the linoleum curled up from the floors. As a matter of principle, he refused to accept any money from his parents.
"Do you hear what I'm asking you, Ben?"
"My kids," Ben had said, though there was already defeat in his voice. "They need me."
"He needs you," she'd replied, very quietly, and that was the end of the discussion.
So now he took the big private clients out to lunch, made them feel important and well cared for and flattered to be cosseted by the founder's son. A little furtive volunteer work at a center for "troubled kids" who made his fifth-graders look like altar boys. And as much time as he could grab traveling, skiing, parasailing, snowboarding, or rock-climbing, and going out with a series of women while fastidiously avoiding settling down with any of them.
Old Max would have to wait.
Suddenly the St. Gotthard lobby, all rose damask and heavy dark Viennese furniture, felt oppressive. "You know, I think I'd prefer to wait outside," Ben told the Hotelpage. The man in the loden-green uniform simpered, "Of course, sir, whatever you prefer."
Ben stepped blinking into the bright noontime sun, and took in the pedestrian traffic on the Bahnhofstrasse, the stately avenue lined with linden trees, expensive shops, and cafes, and a procession of financial institutions housed in small limestone mansions. The bellhop scurried behind him with his baggage, hovering until Ben disbursed a fifty-franc note and gestured for him to leave.
"Ah, thank you so much, sir," the Hotelpage exclaimed with feigned surprise.
The doormen would let him know when his car appeared in the cobbled drive to the left of the hotel, but Ben was in no hurry. The breeze from Lake Zurich was refreshing, after time spent in stuffy, overheated rooms where the air was always suffused with the smell of coffee and, fainter but unmistakable, cigar smoke.
Ben propped his brand-new skis, Volant Ti Supers, against one of the hotel's Corinthian pillars, near his other bags, and watched the busy street scene, the spectacle of anonymous passersby. An obnoxious young businessman braying into a cell phone. An obese woman in a red parka pushing a baby carriage. A crowd of Japanese tourists chattering excitedly. A tall middle-aged man in a business suit with his graying hair pulled back in a ponytail. A deliveryman with a box of lilies, attired in the distinctive orange and black uniform of Blumchengallerie, the upscale flower chain. And a striking, expensively dressed young blonde, clutching a Festiner's shopping bag, who glanced generally in Ben's direction, and then glanced at him again-quickly, but with a flicker of interest before averting her eyes. Had we but world enough and time, thought Ben. His gaze wandered again. The sounds of traffic were continuous but muted, drifting in from the Lowenstrasse, a few hundred feet away. Somewhere nearby a high-strung dog was yipping. A middle-aged man wearing a blazer with an odd purple hue, a tad too stylish for Zurich. And then he saw a man about his age, walking with a purposeful stride past the Koss Konditerei. He looked vaguely familiar-
Ben did a double-take, peered more closely. Was that--could that really be--his old college buddy Jimmy Cavanaugh? A quizzical smile spread over Ben's face.
Jimmy Cavanaugh, whom he'd known since his sophomore year at Princeton. Jimmy, who'd glamorously lived off-campus, smoked unfiltered cigarettes that would have choked an ordinary mortal, and could drink anybody under the table, even Ben, who had something of a reputation in that regard. Jimmy had come from a small town in western upstate New York called Homer, which supplied him with a storehouse of tales. One night, after he taught Ben the finer points of downing Tequila shots with beer chasers, Jimmy had him gasping for breath with his stories about the town sport of "cow tipping." Jimmy was rangy, sly, and worldly, had an immense repertory of pranks, a quick wit, and the gift of gab. Most of all, he just seemed more alive than most of the kids Ben knew: the clammy-palmed preprofessionals trading tips about the entrance exams for law school or B-school, the pretentious French majors with their clove cigarettes and black scarves, the sullen burn-out cases for whom rebellion was found in a bottle of green hair dye. Jimmy seemed to stand apart from all that, and Ben, envying him his simple ease with himself, was pleased, even flattered by the friendship. As so often happens, they'd lost touch after college; Jimmy had gone off to do something at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, and Ben had stayed in New York. Neither of them was big on college nostalgia, and then distance and time had done their usual job. Still, Ben reflected, Jimmy Cavanaugh was probably one of the few people he actually felt like talking to just now.
Jimmy Cavanaugh--it was definitely Jimmy--was now near enough that Ben could see that he was wearing an expensive-looking suit, under a tan trench coat, and smoking a cigarette. His build had changed: he was broader-shouldered now. But it was Cavanaugh for sure.
"Jesus," Ben said aloud. He started down the Bahnhofstrasse toward Jimmy, then remembered his Volants, which he didn't want to leave unattended, doormen or no doormen. He picked the skis up, hefted them over one shoulder, and walked toward Cavanaugh. The red hair had faded and receded a bit, the once-freckled face was a little lined, he was wearing a two-thousand-dollar Armani suit, and what the hell was he doing in Zurich of all places? Suddenly they made eye contact.
Jimmy broke out in a wide grin, and he strode toward Ben, an arm outstretched, the other in the pocket of his trench coat.
"Hartman, you old dog," Jimmy crowed from a few yards away. "Hey, pal, great to see you!"
"My God, it really is you!" Ben exclaimed. At the same time, Ben was puzzled to see a metal tube protruding from his old friend's trench coat, a silencer, he now realized, the muzzle pointing directly up at him from waist level.
It had to be some bizarre prank, good old Jimmy was always doing that kind of thing. Yet just as Ben jokingly threw his hands up in the air and dodged an imaginary bullet, he saw Jimmy Cavanaugh shift his right hand ever so slightly, the unmistakable motions of someone squeezing a trigger.
What happened next took a fraction of a second, yet time seemed to telescope, slowing almost to a halt. Reflexively, abruptly, Ben swung his skis down from his right shoulder in a sharp arc, trying to scuttle the weapon but in the process slamming his old friend hard in the neck.
An instant later-or was it the same instant?-he heard the explosion, felt a sharp spray on the back of his neck as a very real bullet shattered a glass storefront just a few feet away.
This couldn't be happening!
Caught by surprise, Jimmy lost his balance and bellowed in pain. As he stumbled to the ground, he flung out a hand to grab the skis. One hand. The left. Ben felt as if he'd swallowed ice. The instinct to brace yourself when you stumble is strong: you reach out with both hands, and you drop your suitcase, your pen, your newspaper. There were few things you wouldn't drop-few things you'd still clutch as you fell.
The gun was real.
Ben heard the skis clatter to the sidewalk, saw a thin streak of blood on the side of Jimmy's face, saw Jimmy scrambling to regain his orientation. Then Ben lurched forward and, in a great burst of speed, took off down the street.
The gun was real. And Jimmy had fired it at him.
Ben's path was obstructed by crowds of shoppers and businessmen hurrying to lunch appointments, and as he wove through the crowd he collided with several people, who shouted protests. Still he vaulted ahead, running as he'd never run before, zigzagging, hoping that the irregular pattern would make him an elusive target.
What the hell was going on? This was madness, absolute madness!
He made the mistake of glancing behind him as he ran, inadvertently slowing his pace, his face now a flashing beacon to a once-friend who for some unfathomable reason seemed bent on killing him. Suddenly, barely two feet away, a young woman's forehead exploded in a mist of red.
Ben gasped in terror.
No, it couldn't be happening, this wasn't reality, this was some bizarre nightmare--
He saw a small scattering of stone fragments, as a bullet pitted the marble facade of the narrow office building he was racing past. Cavanaugh was on his feet and running, now just fifty feet or so away from Ben, and though he had to fire in midstride, Cavanaugh's aim was still unnervingly good.
He's trying to kill me, no, he's going to kill me--
Ben feinted suddenly to the right, then jerked to the left, leaping forward as he did. Now he ran flat out. On the Princeton track team, he was an eight-hundred-meter man, and, fifteen years later, he knew his only chance for survival was to find a surge of speed inside him. His sneakers weren't made for running, but they'd have to do. He needed a destination, a clear goal, an endpoint: that was always the key. Think, dammit! Something clicked in his head: he was a block away from the largest underground shopping arcade in Europe, a garish, subterranean temple of consumption known as Shopville, beneath and adjacent to the main train station, the Hauptbahnhof. In his mind's eye, he saw the entrance, the bank of escalators at the Bahnhofplatz; it was always quicker to enter there and walk underneath the square than to fight through the crowds that typically thronged the streets above. He could seek refuge underground in the arcade. Only a madman would dare chase him down there. Ben sprinted now, keeping his knees high, his feet ghosting along with great soft strides, falling back into the discipline of the speed laps he used to devour, conscious only of the breeze at his face. Had he lost Cavanaugh? He didn't hear his footsteps anymore, but he couldn't afford to make any assumptions. Single-mindedly, desperately, he ran.
The blond woman with the Festiner's bag folded up her tiny cellular phone and placed it in a pocket of her azure Chanel suit, her pale glossy lips compressed in a small moue of annoyance. At first everything had gone like--well, like clockwork. It had taken her a few seconds to decide that the man standing in front of St. Gotthard was a probable match. He was clearly in his mid-thirties, with an angular face and strong jaw, curly brown hair flecked with gray, and hazel-green eyes. A pleasantlooking fellow, she supposed, handsome, even; but not so distinctive that she had been able to ensure a definite identification from this distance. That was of no consequence. The shooter they'd chosen could make the identification; they'd made sure of that.
Now, however, matters seemed less than perfectly controlled. The target was an amateur; there was little chance he would survive an encounter with a professional. Still, amateurs made her uneasy. They made mistakes, but erratic, unpredictable ones, their very naivete defying rational prediction, as the subject's evasive actions had demonstrated. His wild, protracted escape attempt would merely postpone the inevitable. And yet it was all going to take time--the one thing that was in short supply. Sigma One would not be pleased. She glanced at her small, bejeweled wristwatch, retrieved the phone, and made one more call.
Winded, his starved muscles screaming for oxygen, Ben Hartman paused at the escalators to the arcade, knowing he had to make a split-second decision. 1. UNTERGESCHOSS SHOPVILLE read the blue overhead sign. The down escalator was crowded with shoppers laden with bags and strollers; he'd have to use the up escalator, which had relatively few riders. Ben charged down it, elbowing aside a young couple who were holding hands and blocking his path. He saw the startled looks his actions had provoked, looks that mingled dismay and derision.
Now he raced through the underground arcade's central atrium, his feet scudding along the black rubberized floor, and he allowed himself a glimmer of hope before he realized the error he'd made. From all around him arose screams, frenzied shouting. Cavanaugh had followed him here, into this enclosed, contained space. In the mirrored facade of a jewelry store, he caught a glimpse of muzzle fire, a burst of yellow-white. Instantly, a bullet tore through the burnished mahogany panels of a travel bookstore, exposing the cheap fiberboard beneath. Everywhere was pandemonium. An old man in a baggy suit a few feet away clutched his throat and toppled like a bowling pin, blood drenching his shirtfront.
Ben dove behind the information station, an oblong concrete-andglass structure perhaps five feet wide, on which was mounted a list of stores, elegant white lettering on black, a shoppers' guide in three languages. A hollow explosion of glass told him that the information box had been hit. Half a second later, there was a sharp crack, and a piece of concrete fell heavily from the structure, landing near his feet.
Another man, tall and stout in a camel-hair topcoat and a jaunty gray cap, staggered a few feet past him before collapsing to the floor, dead. He'd been shot in the chest.
Amid the chaos, Ben found it impossible to distinguish Cavanaugh's footsteps, but, gauging his position from the reflected muzzle flash, he knew no more than a minute remained before he would be overtaken. Remaining in position behind the concrete island, he stood, to his full six feet, and peered around wildly, looking for new refuge.
Meanwhile, the screams crescendoed. Ahead, the arcade was crowded with people, shrieking, crying out hysterically, crouching and cowering, many of them trying to hide their heads beneath folded arms.
Twenty feet away there were escalators marked 2. UNTERGESCHOSS. If he could close the distance without being shot, he could get to the level below. His luck might change there. It couldn't get any worse, he thought-then he changed his mind as he saw a widening pool of blood flowing from the man in the camel-hair coat a few feet away. Dammit, he had to think! There was no way he could close the distance in time. Unless . . .
He reached for the dead man's arm and dragged him over. Seconds remained. He yanked off the dead man's tawny coat and grabbed the gray cap, conscious of baleful eyes upon him from shoppers cowering near the Western Union. This was no time for delicacy. Now he shrugged into the roomy overcoat, pulled the cap down hard on his head. If he was to remain alive, he would have to resist the urge to dart toward the second-level escalators like a jackrabbit: he had gone hunting enough to know that anything that moved too abruptly was likely to be shot by an itchyfingered gunman. Instead, he clambered slowly to his feet, hunched, staggering, weaving like an old man who had lost blood. He was now visible and supremely vulnerable: the ruse had to last just long enough to get him to the escalator. Maybe ten seconds. So long as Cavanaugh thought he was a wounded bystander, he wouldn't waste another bullet on him.
Ben's heart was hammering in his chest, his every instinct screaming at him to break into a sprint. Not yet. Hunched over, shoulders rounded, he staggered on with an unsteady gait, his strides as long as he could make them without exciting suspicion. Five seconds. Four seconds. Three seconds.
At the escalator, which had emptied out, abandoned by the terrified pedestrians, the man in the bloodied camel-hair overcoat seemed to crumple face forward, before the movement of the stairs took him out of view.
Inaction had been as strenuous as exertion, and, every nerve in his body twitching, Ben had broken his fall with his hands. As quietly as he could, he raced down the remaining stairs.
He heard a bellow of frustration from upstairs: Cavanaugh would now be after him. Every second had to count.
Ben put on another burst of speed, but the second below-ground level of the arcade was a virtual maze. There was no straight route of egress to the other side of the Bahnhofplatz, just a succession of byways, the wider walkways punctuated with kiosks of wood and glass that sold cellular phones, cigars, watches, posters. To a dilatory shopper, they were islands of interest-to him, an obstacle course.
li0Still, they reduced the number of sight lines. They lessened the chance of the long-distance kill. And so they bought him time. Perhaps enough time for Ben to secure the one thing he had on his mind: a shield.
He ran past a blur of boutiques: Foto Video Ganz, Restseller Buchhandlung, Presensende Stickler, Microspot. Kinderboutique, with its window crammed with furry stuffed animals, the display framed by green-and-gold-painted wood with an incised ivy pattern. There was the chrome and plastic of a Swisscom outlet . . . All of them festively plying their goods and services, all utterly worthless to him. Then, straight ahead, to his right, next to a Credit Suisse/Volksbank branch office, he spotted a luggage store. He looked through the window, heaped high with soft-sided leather suitcases--no good. The item he was after was inside: a large, brushed-steel briefcase. No doubt the gleaming steel cladding was as much cosmetic as functional, but it would serve. It would have to. As Ben darted in the store, grabbed the article, and ran out, he noticed that the proprietor, pale and sweating, was jabbering hysterically in Schweitzerdeutsch on the telephone. No one bothered to run after Ben; word of the insanity had already spread.
Ben had gained a shield; he had also lost precious time. Even as he sprang out of the luggage store, he saw its display window transformed into an oddly beautiful spiderweb in the instant before it disintegrated into shards. Cavanaugh was close, so close Ben didn't dare look around to try to locate his position. Instead, Ben charged forward into a crowd of shoppers emerging from Franscati, a large department store at one end of the cruciform plaza. Holding up the briefcase, Ben lunged forward, tripping on someone's leg, regaining his footing with difficulty, losing a few precious moments.
An explosion inches from his head: the sound of a lead bullet slamming into the steel briefcase. It jolted in his hands, partly from the impact of the bullet, partly from his own muscular reflex, and Ben noticed a bulge on the steel casing facing him, as if it had been stuck by a small hammer. The bullet had penetrated the first layer, had almost penetrated the second. His shield had saved his life, but only just.
Everything around him had gone blurry, but he knew he was entering the teeming Halle Landesmuseum. He also knew that carnage was still trailing him.
Throngs of people were screaming-huddled, cringing, running-as the horror, the gunfire, the bloodshed came closer.
Ben plunged into the frenzied crowd, was swallowed up by it. For a moment the gunfire seemed to have stopped. He tossed the briefcase to the floor: it had served its purpose, and its gleaming metal would now make him too easy to pick out of the crowd.
Was it over? Was Cavanaugh out of ammunition? Reloading?
Jostled one way, then another, Ben scanned the labyrinthine arcade for an exit, an Ausgang, through which he could disappear unseen. Maybe I've lost him, Ben thought. Yet he didn't dare look back again. No going back. Only forward.
Along the walkway that led to the Franscati department store, he spotted a fake-rustic sign of dark wood and gilt lettering in shrift: KATZKELLER-BIERIIALLE. It hung above an alcove, an entrance to a deserted restaurant. GESCHLOSSEN, a smaller sign read. Closed.
He raced toward it, his movement camouflaged by a frenzied rush of people in that general direction. Through a faux-medieval archway beneath the sign, he ran into a spacious, empty dining room. Cast-iron chains from the ceiling supported enormous wooden chandeliers; medieval halberds and engravings of medieval nobility adorned the walls. The motif continued with the heavy round tables, which were crudely carved in keeping with someone's fantasy of a fifteenth-century arsenal.
On the right side of the room was a long bar, and Ben ducked behind it, gasping loudly for breath, as desperately as he tried to remain silent. His clothes were soaked with sweat. He couldn't believe how fast his heart was thudding, and he actually winced from the chest pain.
He tapped the cabinetry in front of him; it made a hollow sound. Obviously fashioned from veneer and plaster, it was nothing that could be relied upon to stop a bullet. Crouching, he made his way around a corner and to a protected stone alcove, where he could stand and catch his breath. As he leaned back to rest against the pillar, his head cracked into a wrought-iron lantern mounted on the stone. He groaned involuntarily. Then he examined the light fixture that had just lacerated the back of his head, and he saw that the whole thing, the heavy black iron arm attached to the ornamental housing that held the bulb, could be lifted right out of the mounting bracket.
It came out with a rusty screech. He managed to get a firm grip and held it against his chest.
And he waited, trying to slow the beating of his heart. He knew something about waiting. He remembered all those Thanksgivings spent at the Greenbriar; Max Hartman was insistent that his sons learn how to hunt, and Hank McGee, a grizzled local from White Sulfur Springs, was given the job of teaching them. How hard could it be? he remembered thinking: he was an ace at skeet shooting, had reason to be proud of his hand-eye coordination. He let this slip to McGee, whose eyes darkened: You think the hunt's really about shootin'? It's about waitin'. And he fixed him with a glare. McGee was right, of course: the waiting was the hardest part of all, and the part he was temperamentally least suited for.
Hunting with Hank McGee, he had lain in wait for his quarry.
Now he was the quarry.
Unless . . . somehow . . . he could change that.
In a few moments, Ben heard approaching footsteps. Jimmy Cavanaugh entered stealthily, tentatively, glancing from side to side. His shirt collar was grimy and torn and bloodied from a gash on the right side of his neck. His trench coat was soiled. His flushed face was set in a determined grimace, his eyes wild.
Could this really be his friend? What had Cavanaugh become in the decade and a half since Ben had last seen him? What had turned him into a killer?
Why was this happening?
In his right hand Cavanaugh gripped his blue-black pistol, the ten-inch-long tube of a sound suppressor threaded to its barrel. Ben, flashing back on target-practice memories from twenty years ago, saw that it was a Walther PPK, a .32.
Ben held his breath, terrified that his gasping would give him away. He drew back into the alcove, clutching the iron light fixture he had just torn from the wall, flattening himself out of sight as Cavanaugh made a sweep of the restaurant. With a sudden but sure movement of his arm Ben flung the iron lantern fixture, smashing it into Cavanaugh's skull with an audible thud.
Jimmy Cavanaugh screamed in pain, his cry high-pitched like an animal's. His knees buckled, and he squeezed the trigger.
Ben could feel a flare of heat, a fraction of an inch away from his ear. But now, instead of drawing back farther, or attempting to run, Ben lunged forward, slamming himself into his enemy's body, pummeling him to the ground, Cavanaugh's skull cracking against the stone floor.
Even badly wounded, the man was a powerhouse. A rancid miasma of sweat arose from him as he reared up and vised a massive arm around Ben's neck, compressing his carotid artery. Desperately, Ben reached for the gun, trying to grab it but succeeding only in wrenching the long silencer up and back toward Cavanaugh. With a sudden ear-shattering explosion the gun went off. Ben's ears rang with a sustained squeal; his face stung from the blowback.
The grip on Ben's throat loosened. He twisted his body around, free of the chokehold. Cavanaugh was slumped on the ground. With a jolt Ben saw the dark red hole just above his old friend's eyebrows, a horrific third eye. He was suffused with a mixture of relief and revulsion, and the sense that nothing would ever be the same.
Copyright 2001 by Myn Pyn LLC