By: David Baldacci
THE SOMBER GROUP OF MEN SAT IN A LARGE ROOM that rested far below ground accessed by only asingle, high-speed elevator. The chamber had been secretly built during the early 1960s underthe guise of renovating the private building that squatted over it. The original plan, ofcourse, was to use this "super-bunker" as a refuge during a nuclear attack. This facility wasnot for the top leaders of American government; it was for those whose level of relative unimportance dictated that they probably wouldn't be able to get out in time but who still ratedprotection afforded no ordinary citizen. Politically, even in the context of totaldestruction, there must be order.
The bunker was built at a time when people believed it possible to survive a direct nuclear hitby burrowing into the earth inside a steel cocoon. After the holocaust that would annihilatethe rest of the country, leaders would emerge from the rubble with absolutely nothing left tolead, unless you counted vapor.
The original, aboveground building had been leveled long ago, but the subterranean roomremained under what was now a small strip mall that had been vacant for years. Forgotten byvirtually all, the chamber was now used as a meeting place for certain people in the country'sprimary intelligence-gathering agency. There was some risk involved, since the meetings werenot related to the men's official duties. The matters discussed at these gatherings wereillegal, and tonight even murderous.
Thus additional precautions had been necessary.
The super-thick steel walls had been supplemented by a copper coating.
That measure, along with tons of dirt overhead, protected against prying electronic earslurking in space and elsewhere. These men didn't particularly like coming to this undergroundroom. It was inconvenient, and ironically, it seemed far too James Bondish even for theiradmittedly cloak-and-dagger tastes. However, the truth was the earth was now encircled with somuch advanced surveillance technology that virtually no conversation taking place on itssurface was safe from interception. One had to dig into the dirt to escape his enemies.
And if there was a place where people could meet with reasonable confidence that theirconversations would not be overheard even in their world of ultra sophisticated peekaboo, thiswas it.
The gray-headed people present at the meeting were all white males, and most were nearing theiragency's mandatory retirement age of sixty.
Dressed quietly and professionally, they could have been doctors, lawyers or investmentbankers. One would probably not remember any of the group a day after seeing them. Thisanonymity was their stock-in-trade. These sorts of people lived and died, sometimes violently,over such details.
Collectively, this cabal possessed thousands of secrets that could never be known by thegeneral public because the public would certainly condemn the actions giving rise to thesesecrets. However, America often demanded results-economic, political, social and otherwise-that could be obtained only by smashing certain parts of the world to a bloody pulp. It wasthe job of these men to figure out how to do so in a clandestine manner that would not reflectpoorly on the United States, yet would still keep the country safe from the pesky internationalterrorists and other foreigners unhappy with the stretch of America's muscle.
The purpose of tonight's gathering was to plot the killing of Faith Lockhart. Technically, theCIA was prohibited by presidential executive order from engaging in assassination. However,these men, though employed by the Agency, were not representing the CIA tonight.
This was their private agenda, and there was little disagreement that the woman had to die, andsoon; it was critical for the well-being of the country. These men knew this, even if Americanpresidents did not.
However, because of another life that was involved, the meeting had become acrimonious, thegroup resembling a cadre of posturing members fighting on Capitol Hill over billion-dollarslices of pork.
"What you're saying, then," one of the white-haired men said as he poked the smoke-filled airwith a slender finger, "is that along with Lockhart we have to kill a federal agent." The manshook his head incredulously. "Why kill one of our own? It can only lead to disaster."
The gentleman at the head of the table nodded thoughtfully. Robert Thornhill was the CIA'smost distinguished Cold War soldier, a man whose status at the Agency was unique. Hisreputation was unassailable, his compilation of professional victories unmatched. As associatedeputy director of Operations, he was the Agency's ultimate free safety. The DDO, or deputydirector of operations, was responsible for running the field operations that undertook thesecret collection of foreign intelligence. The operations directorate of the CIA was alsounofficially known as the "spy shop," and the deputy director was still not even publicly
identified. It was the perfect place to get meaningful work done.
Thornhill had organized this select group, who were as upset as he about the state of affairsat the CIA. It was he who had remembered that this bloated underground time capsule existed.And it was Thornhill who had found the money to secretly bring the chamber back to workingcondition and upgrade its facilities. There were thousands of little taxpayer-funded toys likethat sprinkled around the country, many of them gone to complete waste. Thornhill suppressed asmile.
Well if governments didn't waste their citizens' hard-earned money, then what would be left forgovernments to do?
Even now, as he ran his hand over the stainless steel console with its quaint built-inashtrays, sniffed the filtered air and felt the protective coolness of the earth all around,Thornhill's mind wandered back for a moment to the Cold War period. At least there was ameasure of certainty with the hammer and sickle. In truth, Thornhill would take the lumberingRussian bull over the agile sand snake that you never knew was out there until it flung itsvenom into you. There were many who wanted nothing more in life than to topple the UnitedStates.
It was his job to ensure that never happened.
Gazing around the table, Thornhill gauged each man's devotion to his country and was satisfiedit matched his own. He had wanted to serve America for as long as he could remember. Hisfather had been with the OSS, the World War II-era predecessor to the CIA. He had known littleof what his father did at the time, but the man had instilled in his son the philosophy thatthere was no greater thing to do with one's life than to serve one's country. Thornhill hadjoined the Agency right out of Yale. Right up until the day he died, his father had been proudof his son. But no prouder than the son had been of the old man.
Thornhill's hair was a shining silver, which lent him a distinguished air. His eyes were grayand active, the angle of his chin blunt. His voice was deep, cultured; technical jargon andthe poetry of Longfellow flowed from his mouth with equal ease. The man still wore three-piecesuits and favored pipe smoking over cigarettes. The fifty-eight-year-old Thornhill could havequietly finished out his time at the CIA and led the pleasant life of a former public servant,well traveled, erudite. He had no thought of going out quietly, and the reason was very clear.
For the last ten years, the CIA's responsibilities and budgets had been decimated. It was adisastrous development, for the firestorms that were popping up across the world now ofteninvolved fanatical minds accountable to no political body and possessing the capability toobtain weapons of mass destruction. And while just about everyone thought high-tech was theanswer for all the ills of the world, the best satellites in the world couldn't stroll downalleys in Baghdad, Seoul or Belgrade and take the emotional temperature of the people there.Computers in space could never capture what people were thinking, what devilish urges werelurking in their hearts. Thornhill would always choose a smart field operative willing to riskhis or her life over the best hardware money could buy.
Thornhill had just such a small group of skilled operatives within the CIA, completely loyal tohim and his private agenda. They had all worked hard to regain for the Agency its formerprominence. Now Thornhill finally had the vehicle to do that. He would very soon have underhis thumb powerful congressmen, senators, even the vice president himself, and enough high-ranking bureaucrats to choke an independent counsel. Thornhill would see his budgets revive,his manpower skyrocket, his agency's scope of responsibility in the world return to itsrightful place.
The Strategy had worked for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. It was no coincidence, Thornhillbelieved, that the Bureau's budget and influence had flourished under the late director and hisallegedly "secret" files on powerful politicians. If there was one organization in the worldthat Robert Thornhill hated with all his soul, it was the FBI. But he would use whatever
tactics he could to bring his agency back to the forefront, even if it meant stealing a pagefrom his most bitter foe.
Well, watch me do you one better, Ed.
Thornhill focused again on the men clustered around him. "Not having to kill one of our ownwould, of course, be ideal," he said. "However, the fact is, the FBI have her under 'round-the-clock stealth security.
The only time she's truly vulnerable is when she goes to the cottage.
They may place her in Witness Protection without warning, so we have to hit them at thecottage."
Another man spoke up. "Okay, we kill Lockhart, but let the FBI agent live, for God's sake,Bob."
Thornhill shook his head. "The risk is too great. I know that killing a fellow agent isdeplorable. But to shirk our duty now would be a catastrophic mistake. You know what we'veinvested in this operation.
We cannot fail."
"Dammit, Bob," the first man to protest said, "do you know what will happen if the FBI learnswe took out one of their people?"
"If we can't keep a secret like that, we have no business doing what we do," Thornhill snapped."This is not the first time lives have been sacrificed."
Another member of the group leaned forward in his chair. He was the youngest of them. He had,however, earned the respect of the group with his intelligence and his ability to exerciseextreme, focused ruthlessness.
"We've only really looked at the scenario of killing Lockhart to forestall the FBI'sinvestigation into Buchanan. Why not appeal to the FBI director and have him order his team togive up the investigation?
Then no one has to die."
Thornhill gave his younger colleague a disappointed look. "And how would you propose goingabout explaining to the FBI director why we wish him to do so?"
"How about some semblance of the truth?" the younger man said. "Even in the intelligencebusiness there's sometimes room for that, isn't there?"
Thornhill smiled warmly. "So I should say to the FBI director-who, by the way, would love tosee us all permanently interred in a museumthat we wish him to call off his potentiallyblockbuster investigation so that the CIA can use illegal means to trump his agency.Brilliant.
Why didn't I think of that? And where would you like to serve your prison term?"
"For chrissakes, Bob, we work with the FBI now. This isn't 1960 anymore. Don't forget aboutCTC."
CTC stood for the Counter Terrorism Center, a cooperative effort between the CIA and the FBI tofight terrorism by sharing intelligence and resources. It had been generally deemed a successby those involved. To Thornhill, it was simply another way for the FBI to stick its greedyfingers into his business.
"I happen to be involved in CTC in a modest way," Thornhill said. "I find it an ideal perch onwhich to keep tabs on the Bureau and what they're up to, which is usually no good, as far aswere concerned."
"Come on, were all on the same team, Bob."
Thornhill's eyes focused on the younger man in such a way that everyone in the room froze. "Irequest that you never say those words in my presence again," Thornhill said.
The man paled and sat back in his chair.
Thornhill clenched his pipe between his teeth. "Would you like me to give you concreteexamples of the FBI taking the credit, the glory for work done by our agency? For the bloodspilled by our field agents?
For the countless times we've saved the world from annihilation? How they manipulateinvestigations in order to crush everyone else, to beef up their already bloated budget? Wouldyou like me to give you instances in my thirty-six-year career where the FBI did all it couldto discredit our mission, our people? Would you?" The man slowly shook his head asThornhill's gaze bored into him. "I don't give a damn if the FBI director himself came downhere and kissed my shoes and swore his undying allegiance to me-I will not be swayed. Ever!Have I made my position clear?"
"I understand." As he said this, the younger man managed not to shake his head inbewilderment. Everyone in this room other than Robert Thornhill knew that the FBI and CIAactually got along well. Though they could be ham-handed at times in joint investigationsbecause they had more resources than anyone else, the FBI was not on a witch hunt to bring downthe Agency. But the men in this room also understood quite clearly that Robert Thornhillbelieved the FBI was their worst enemy.
And they also knew that Thornhill had, decades ago, orchestrated a number of Agency-authorizedassassinations with cunning and zeal. Why cross such a man?
Another colleague said, "But if we kill the agent, don't you think the FBI will go on a crusadeto find out the truth? They have the resources to scorch the earth. No matter how good weare, we can't match their strength. Then where are we?"
Some grumbling rose from the others. Thornhill looked around warily.
The collection of men here represented an uneasy alliance. They were paranoid, inscrutablefellows long used to keeping their own counsel.
It had truly been a miracle to forge them together in the first place.
"The FBI will do everything they can to solve the murder of one of their agents and the chiefwitness to one of their most ambitious investigations ever. So what I would propose doing isto give them the solution we desire them to have." They looked curiously at him.
Thornhill sipped water from his glass and then took a minute to prime his pipe.
"After years of helping Buchanan run his operation, Faith Lockhart's conscience or good senseor paranoia got the better of her. She went to the FBI and has now begun telling themeverything she knows. Through a little foresight on my part, we were able to discover thisdevelopment. Buchanan, however, is completely unaware that his partner has turned against him.He also doesn't know that we intend to kill her. Only we know." Thornhill inwardlycongratulated himself for this last remark. It felt good, omniscience; it was the business hewas in, after all.
"The FBI, however, may suspect that he does know about her betrayal or may find out at somepoint. Thus, to the outside observer, no one in the world has greater motivation to kill FaithLockhart than Danny Buchanan."
"And your point?" the questioner persisted.
"My point," said Thornhill tersely, "is quite simple. Instead of allowing Buchanan todisappear, we tip off the FBI that he and his clients discovered Lockhart's duplicity and hadher and the agent murdered."
"But once they get hold of Buchanan, he'll tell them everything," the man quickly responded.
Thornhill looked at him as a disappointed teacher to pupil. Over the last year, Buchanan hadgiven them everything they needed; he was now officially expendable.
The truth slowly dawned on the group. "So we tip the FBI about Buchanan posthumously. Threedeaths. Correction, three murders," another man said.
Thornhill looked around the room, silently gauging the reaction of the others to this exchange,to his plan. Despite their protestations about killing an FBI agent, he knew that three deathsmeant nothing to these men. They were from the old school, which quite clearly understood thatsacrifices of that nature were sometimes necessary.
Certainly what they did for a living sometimes cost people their lives; however, theiroperations had also avoided open war. Kill three to save three million, who could possiblyargue with that? Even if the victims were relatively innocent. Every soldier who ever died inbattle was innocent too. Covert action, quaintly referred to as the
"third option" in intelligence circles, the one between diplomacy and open war, was where theCIA could really prove its worth, Thornhill believed. Although it was also at the heart ofsome of the Agency's worst disasters. Well, without risk there was never the possibility forglory. That epitaph could be put on his tombstone.
No formal vote was taken by Thornhill; none was needed.
"Thank you, gentlemen," Thornhill said. "I'll take care of everything." He adjourned themeeting.
CHAPTER 2 \
THE SMALL, WOOD-SHINGLED COTTAGE STOOD ALONE at the end of a short, hard-packed gravel road,its dirt shoulders laced with the tangled sprawl of dandelion, curly dock and chickweed. Theramshackle structure rested on an acre of cleared flat land, but was surrounded on three sidesby woods where each tree struggled to find sunlight at the expense of its neighbor. Because ofwetlands and other development problems, the eighty-year-old home had never had any neighbors.The nearest community was about three miles away by car, but less than half that distance ifone had the backbone to challenge the dense woods.
For much of the last twenty years the rustic cottage had been used for impromptu teen parties,and on occasion by the wandering homeless looking for the comfort and relative safety of fourwalls and a roof, however porous. The cottage's discouraged current owner, who had recentlyinherited the beast, had finally opted to rent it out. He had found a willing tenant who hadpaid the full year's rent in advance, in cash.
Tonight the calf-high grass in the front yard was pushed low and then straightened in the faceof a strengthening wind. Behind the house a line of thick oaks seemed to mimic the movementsof the grass as they swayed back and forth. It hardly seemed possible, yet except for thewind, there were no other sounds.
In the woods, several hundred yards directly behind the house, a pair of feet splashed througha shallow creek bed. The man's dirty trousers and soaked boots attested to the difficulty withwhich he had navigated the congested terrain in the dark, even with the aid of a three-quarters-full moon. He paused to scrape his muddy boots against the trunk of a fallen tree.
Lee Adams was both sweaty and chilled after the punishing trek. At forty-one years of age, hissix-foot-two body was exceptionally strong.
He worked out regularly, and his biceps and delts showed it. Keeping in reasonably good shapewas a necessity in his line of work. While he was often required to sit in a car for days onend, or in a library or courthouse reviewing microfiche records, he also, on occasion, had to
climb trees, subdue men even larger than he was or, like now, slog through gully-filled woodsin the dead of night. A little extra muscle never hurt. However, he wasn't twenty anymoreeither, and his body was letting him know it.
Lee had thick, wavy brown hair that seemed perpetually in his face, a quick, infectious smile,pronounced cheekbones and an engaging set of blue eyes that had caused female heartsspontaneously to flutter from fifth grade onward. He had suffered enough broken bones duringhis career, though, and other assorted injuries, that his body felt far older than it looked.And that's what hit him every morning when he rose. The creaks, the little pains. Canceroustumor or merely arthritis? he sometimes wondered. What the hell did it really matter?
When God punched your ticket, He did so with authority. A good diet and messing around withweights or pitter-pattering on the treadmill wasn't going to change the Man's decision to pullyour string.
Lee looked up ahead. He couldn't see the cottage just yet; the forest clutter was too thick.He fussed with the controls of the camera he had pulled from his knapsack while he took aseries of replenishing breaths. Lee had made this same trek several times before but had nevergone inside the cottage. He had seen things, though-peculiar things. That's why he was back.It was time to learn the secret of this place.
His wind having returned, Lee trudged on, his only companions the scurrying wildlife. Deer,rabbit, squirrel and even beaver were plentiful in this still-rural part of northern Virginia.As he walked along, Lee listened to the flit of flying creatures. All he could envision wererabid, foaming bats blindly cleaving the air around his head. And it seemed that every fewsteps he would run straight into a twister of mosquitoes. Though he had been paid a largeamount of cash up front, he was seriously considering increasing his daily fee on this one.
When he approached the edge of the woods, Lee stopped. He had a great deal of experiencespying on the haunts of people and their activities.
Slow and methodical was the best way, like a pilot's checklist. You just had to hope nothinghappened to make you improvise.
Lee's bent nose was a permanent badge of honor from his time as an amateur boxer in the Navy,where he had taken out his youthful aggression in a square of roped canvas against an opponentof like weight and ability. A pair of stout gloves, quick hands and nimble feet, a cagey mindand a strong heart had constituted his arsenal of weapons. The majority of the time, they hadbeen enough for victory.
After his military stint, things had worked out mostly okay for him.
Never rich, never actually poor despite being mostly self-employed over the years; never quitealone, though he had been divorced for almost fifteen years. The only good thing from thatmarriage had just turned twenty. His daughter was tall, blond and brainy, as well as the proudbearer of a full academic scholarship to the University of Virginia and a star on the women'slacrosse team. And for the last ten years, Renee Adams had had no interest whatsoever inhaving anything to do with her old man. A decision that had her mother's full blessing, if nother insistence, Lee well knew. And his ex had seemed so kind on those first few dates, soinfatuated with his Navy uniform, so enthusiastic in tearing up his bed.
His ex-wife, a former stripper named Trish Bardoe, had married on the rebound a fellow by thename of Eddie Stipowicz, an unemployed engineer with a drinking problem. Lee thought she washeading for disaster and had tried to get custody of Renee on the grounds that her mom andstepfather could not provide for her. Well, about that time, Eddie, a sneaky runt Leedespised, invented, mostly by accident, some microchip piece of crap that had made him agazillionaire. Lee's custody battle had lost its juice after that. To add insult to injury,there had been stories on Eddie in the Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek and a number ofother publications. He was famous. Their house had even been featured in ArchitecturalDigest.
Lee had gotten that issue of the Digest. Trish's new home was grossly huge, mostly crimson redor eggplant so dark it made Lee think of the inside of a coffin. The windows were cathedral-size, the furniture large enough to become lost in and there were enough wood moldings,paneling and staircases to heat a typical midwestern town for an entire year. There were alsostone fountains sculpted with naked people.
What a kicker! A photo of the happy couple was included in the spread.
In Lee's opinion they might as well have captioned it "The Nerd and the Bombshell strike itrich in poor taste."
One photo had captured Lee's complete attention, however. Renee had been poised on the mostmagnificent stallion Lee had ever seen, on a field of grass that was so green and perfectlytrimmed that it looked like a pond of sea glass. Lee had carefully cut that photo out and putit away in a safe spot-his family album of sorts. The article, of course, made no mention ofhim; no reason that it should. The one thing that had ticked him off, though, was thereference to Renee as Ed's daughter.
"Stepdaughter," Lee had said out loud when he read that line.
"Stepdaughter. That one you can't take away, Trish." Most of the time he felt no envy for thewealth his ex-wife now had, for it meant that his daughter would never want. But sometimes itstill hurt.
When you had something for all those years, something you had made with a part of yourself, andloved more than it was probably good to love anything, and then lost it-well, Lee tried neverto dwell for long on that loss. Big tough guy that he was, when he did let himself think aboutthe massive hole dead center in his chest, he ended up blubbering like a baby.
Life was so funny sometimes. Funny like when you get a clean bill of health one day and dropdead the next.
Lee looked down at his muddy pants and worked a painful cramp out of his weary leg at the sametime he swatted a mosquito out of his eye.
Hotel-size house. Servants. Fountains. Big horses. Sleek private jet..
Probably all a real pain in the ass.
Lee hugged the camera to his chest. It was loaded with 400-speed film that Lee was turbocharging by setting the camera's ISO speed to 1600.
Fast film required less light, and with the shutter opening for shorter periods of time, therewas far less likelihood that camera wobble or vibration would distort any photos. He slippedon a 600mm telephoto lens and flipped down the lens' attached tripod.
Peering between the branches of a wild dogwood, Lee focused on the rear of the cottage.Scattered clouds drifted past the moon and deepened the darkness around him. He took a seriesof shots and then put the camera away.
As he stared at the house, the problem was he couldn't tell from here if the place was occupiedor not. It was true he couldn't see a light on, but the place might have an interior room notvisible from here.
Added to that, he couldn't see the front of the house, and there might be a car parked there,for all he knew. He had observed the traffic and foot patterns on his other trips here. Therehadn't been much to see. Few cars came down this road, and no walkers or joggers did. All thecars he had seen had turned around, obviously having made a wrong turn. All, that is, exceptone.
He glanced up at the sky. The wind had died down. Lee roughly calculated that the cloudswould obscure the moonlight for a few minutes more. He slung the pack across his back, tensedfor a moment, as though marshaling all of his energy, and then slid out of the woods.
Lee glided noiselessly until he reached a spot where he could squat behind a copse of overgrownbushes and still observe the front and back of the house. While he watched the house, theshades of darkness grew lighter as the moon reappeared. It seemed to be lazily watching him,curious as to what he was doing here.
Though isolated, the cottage was only a forty-minute drive from downtown D.C. That made it veryconvenient for any number of things.
Lee had made inquiries about the owner and found him to be legitimate.
The renter, however, had been a little tougher to pin down.
Lee pulled out a device that looked like a cassette recorder but was actually a battery-poweredlock-pick gun, along with a zippered case, which he opened. He felt the different lock picksinside, then selected the one he wanted. Using an Allen wrench, he secured the pick into themachine. Lee's fingers moved quickly, confidently, even as another bank of clouds passed over,deepening the darkness once more.
Lee had done this so many times that he could have closed his eyes and his fingers would carryon, manipulating his tools of felony with enviable precision.
Lee had already checked out the locks on the cottage with his spotting scope during daylight.That had also disturbed him. Deadbolt locks on all the exterior doors. Sash locks on both thefirst- and second-story windows. All the hardware looked new too. On a falling-down rental inthe middle of nowhere.
Despite the cool weather, a head of nervous sweat surfaced on Lee's forehead as he thoughtabout this. He touched the 9mm in his belt clip holster; the metal was comforting. He took amoment to put the singleaction pistol in a cocked-and-locked position-a round in the firingchamber, the hammer cocked and the safety set.
The cottage also had a security system. That had been a real stunner.
If he was smart, Lee would pack his tools of criminality and go home, reporting failure to hisemployer. However, he took pride in his work.
He would see it through at least until something happened to make him change his mind. And Leecould run very fast when he needed to.
Getting into the house wouldn't be all that difficult, particularly since Lee had the pass-code. He'd managed to get it the third time he'd been here, when the two people had come tothe cottage. He had already confirmed the place was wired, so he had come prepared. He hadbeat the couple here and waited while they did whatever they were doing inside. When they hadcome out, the woman had entered the pass-code to arm the system. Lee, hiding in the same copsehe was in now, just happened to have a bit of electronic wizardry that snatched that code rightOut of the air like a fly ball neatly falling into a glove. All electrical current produces amagnetic field, like a little transmitter. When the tall woman had punched in the numbers, thesecurity system had thrown off a discrete signal for each digit, right into Lee's electronicmitt.
Lee checked the cloud cover once more, slapped on a pair of latex gloves with reinforcedfingertip and palm pads, readied his flashlight and took another deep breath. A minute laterhe moved out from the cover of the bushes and made it quietly to the back door. He slipped offhis muddy boots and set them next to the door. He didn't want to leave traces of his visit.Good private investigators were invisible.
Lee held the light under his arm while he inserted the pick in the door lock and activated thedevice.
He used the pick gun partly for speed and partly because he didn't crack enough locks to bethat proficient at it. A pick and tension tool required constant use to allow the fingers thelevel of sensitivity required to detect the proximity of the shear line, the subtle descent of
the tension tool as the lock's tumblers began to do their little jig. Using a pick and tensiontool, an experienced locksmith could pick the lock faster than Lee could with his pick gun.
It was a true art and Lee knew his limitations. Soon, he felt the dead bolt sliding back.
When he eased open the door, the silence was broken by the low beeping sound of the securitysystem. He quickly found the control pad, punched in six numbers and the beeping soundimmediately stopped. As Lee closed the door softly behind him, he knew he was now a felon.
The man lowered his rifle and the red dot emanating from the weapon's laser scope disappearedfrom the wide back of an unsuspecting Lee Adams. The man holding the rifle was Leonid Serov, aformer KGB officer specializing in assassination. Serov had found himself without gainfulemployment after the breakup of the Soviet Union. However, his ability to efficiently killhuman beings was much in demand in the
"civilized" world. Fairly well pampered as a communist for many years, with his own apartmentand car, Serov had grown wealthy literally overnight as a capitalist. If he had only known.
Serov didn't know Lee Adams and had no idea why he was here. He had not noticed him until Leehad made his break for the bushes near the house, because Lee had come through the woods on theside farthest from the Russian. The sounds of his presence, Serov correctly surmised, had beencovered by the wind.
Serov checked his watch. They would be coming soon. He inspected the elongated suppressorattached to the rifle and then rubbed its long snout gently, like a favorite pet, as thoughbestowing the notion of infallibility onto the polished metal. The rifle's stock was a specialcomposite of Kevlar, fiberglass and graphite that provided remarkable stability. And theweapon's bore was not rifled in the conventional way. Instead it had a rounded rectangularprofile, known as polygon al boring, with a right- hand twist. This type of rifling wassupposed to increase muzzle velocity by upward of eight percent, and, more important, aballistics match on a bullet fired from this gun was virtually impossible because there were nolands or grooves in the barrel that would make distinctive markings on the bullet as itexploded from the weapon. Success really was all in the details. Serov had built his entirecareer on that one philosophy.
The place was so isolated that Serov had mulled over perhaps removing the suppressor andrelying on his skill as a marksman, his high-tech scope and his well-conceived exit plan. Hisconfidence was justified, he believed. Just like the tree falling, when you kill someone inthe middle of nowhere, who can hear him die? And he had known some suppressors to greatlydistort the flight path of a bullet, with the unacceptable result that no one had died, exceptfor the would-be assassin once his client had learned of the failure. Still, Serov hadpersonally supervised this device's construction and was confident it would perform asdesigned.
The Russian shifted quietly, working out a cramp in his shoulder. He had been here sincenightfall but was used to lengthy vigils. He never tired during these assignments. He tooklife seriously enough that preparing to extinguish another's kept his adrenaline high. Withrisk always came invigoration, it seemed. Whether you were mountain climbing or contemplatingmurder, it ironically made you feel more alive to have the possibility of death so close.
His escape route through the woods would take him to a quiet road where a car would be waitingto whisk him to nearby Dulles Airport. He would go on to other assignments, other placesprobably far more exotic than this. However, for his particular purpose, this setting had itsvirtues.
Killing someone in the city was the most difficult. Setting up where you would shoot, pullingthe trigger and then escaping, all were vastly complicated by the fact that witnesses and thepolice were only a few anxious steps away in any direction. Give him the country, theisolation of the rural life, the cover of trees, the separation of homes, and like a tiger in a