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August 9, 21:11
A good spy had many tools at his disposal. One of them was the instinctual knowledge of when to run. Parker McCall was running for his life, toward the Tuileries on Rue de Rivoli that stretched parallel to the River Seine.
When he'd been on jungle missions, running for the river was a good idea most of the time, and often the only way out. But right now he was on a street dense with tourists. Jumping into the Seine would do nothing but draw attention to himself and bring the authorities.
He hated Paris. It was the city that had taken Kate away from him.
"Excusez-moi." He slipped between two businessmen deep in discussion, blocking the sidewalk.
The chase scenes they showed in action movies, where seasoned professionals madly scrambled from their pursuers, knocking over vendor stands and causing all kinds of commotion, were nonsense. When you were hunted, you went to ground. You went quietly, did everything you could to blend in and become invisible, part of the usual tapestry of local life. You ran in such a way that nobody looking at you could tell you were running.
He glanced at his watch again, deepened the annoyed scowl on his face and smoothed down his tie as he moved briskly through the crowd. He was a businessman late for a dinner. And the throng of people who'd seen hundreds of late businessmen rushing through identified him as such and parted in front of him, paying him scant attention. He was swimming through people and he had to be careful not to cause any ripples. Ripples would be noticed.
And his enemies were watching.
He figured at least four men were after him. He had caught glimpses, but mostly he operated byinstinct.
They, too, were professionals. Professional killers who moved through the city the way the lions of Africa moved forward in the cover of the tall grass, in a well-coordinated hunt, invisible until they were but a jump away from their prey.
"Excusez-moi." He stepped around a twin stroller and glanced up at the large M sign a few yards aheadLe Métro, Paris's famed subway system. He could try to disappear there or go for the Tuileries and see if he could deal with the men in the garden.
The subway would be packed. This was one of the busiest stations, the one closest to the Musée du Louvre. He could get away without confrontation.
But he wanted more. Information was the name of the game. And right now, the information he needed was the identity of the man who had sicced his henchmen on Parker. He had too many enemies to take a blind guess.
Like New York, Paris never slept. Especially not on hot summer evenings. Tourists and locals filled the streets.
He moved forward and could see the garden at last. He crossed the Avenue du Général Lemonnier and hurried to the nearest entrance. The sixty-three acres of mostly open landscaping that lay before him was enough to make anyone stop in wonder, but he didn't have the time to enjoy the sight. He planned and calculated.
The lions that hunted him were hidden in the tall grass. At least he didn't have to worry about the approaching darkness and not being able to see. They didn't call Paris the city of lightin addition to lovefor nothing. It was lit up like Methuselah's birthday cake.
Head for higher ground. Get a good vantage point. But there weren't many of those in the garden, so he strode toward the Ferris wheel.
A blur of movement caught his attention by the pedestal of a large statue. They'd gotten in front of him. Or at least one of them had. But hunters as good as these four didn't reveal themselves by accident. Parker had a feeling that he'd been supposed to see that. They wanted him to run in the opposite direction. They were trying to herd him someplace out of sight where they could take him out.
He strode to the statues instead, feinted in one direction and went around the other. He didn't take the time to look or evaluate. His fist connected with a man's face in the next second. He caught the guy as he staggered back, then looped the man's arm around his shoulder, holding his gun against his side, and dragged him off into the stand of trees nearby, away from the curious gazes of passersby. Nobody would be walking off the paved paths today. The ground was muddy from this morning's rain.
"Who are you?" He was disarming the man as he spoke, confiscating first his gun, then the near-microscopic communications device attached to the guy's ear. "Who sent you here?"
The manin his mid-thirties, around six feet, cropped hairhad a swarthy skin tone and that wide Slavic facial type that marked him from somewhere around the Black Sea. He pressed his thin lips together and went for the knife that had been hidden up his sleeve. Parker turned the blade and drove it home. No time for a tussle, to subdue him then get him to talk, although he could have made him talk, given some time. But the others could be here any second.
He lowered the body to the ground and searched the man's clothes, found no identification. He hadn't expected any.
One down, three to go. He headed out of the woods.
He'd come to Paris on the trail of Piotr Morovich, a slippery Russian mercenary who'd been discovered to have connections to a Middle Eastern terrorist group his team had been watching. But he'd run into something bigger than he had anticipated. Good thing that handling the unexpected was his specialty.
He moved through the strolling tourists and children playing and reached the Ferris wheel. His tie was off now, his jacket swung over his shoulder, his body language the same as all the other casual sightseers'.
"One ticket, s'il vous plaît." He scanned the tourists already on the ride. "Merci," he said, then boarded the Ferris wheel.
The giant wheel turned slowly, taking him higher and higher. But while the others oohed and aahed over the sights, he was watching the people below.
There. One of the men he was looking for was coming down the central walkway. Parker looked even more carefully and spotted another by the fountain. Where was the third? Where would he be in the same situation? Every hunt had a pattern; he just had to find it.
He watched the two men as they looked for him and for their lost teammate who wasn't checking in over the radio. The four would have formed a U originally, trying to get him in the middle. He looked in the direction of the river. And he found the third man.
He was impatient now for his cart to reach the ground again, keeping his eyes on the men. He would get them one by one, would get some answers.
His phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and glanced at the display, intending to return the call later. Then he saw the coded ID flashing on the small screenthe Colonel.
"This evening at 21:03 hours, Tarkmez rebel forces overtook the Russian Embassy on Rue de Prony," the head of the SDDU, Secret Designation Defense Unit, one of the U.S.'s most effective covert weapons against terrorism, said.
The hundred-plus-member unit did everything from reconnaissance to demolition, personnel extraction, spying, kidnapping and assassinations. Parker himself had done it all. He glanced at his watch21:25.
"The Russians haven't made it public yet. They haven't even notified the French authorities," the Colonel went on.
He didn't have to ask how the CIA, from whom the Colonel had no doubt gotten his information, would know this fast. They'd had the Russian embassy bugged for decades. Well, on and off. The Russians were as efficient at sweeping out the bugs as the agency was creative at placing them.
"The U.S. consul was at an unscheduled, informal dinner with the Russian ambassador and his wife. She is in the building, but we don't have an exact location on her."
While ambassadors represented the head of their country and there was only one of them, consuls handled visa applications and all the various problems of U.S. citizens abroad, representing their country in general, the position more administrative than political. The U.S. had about a dozen consuls in France.
But Parker had a bad premonition, cold dread settling into his stomach. "Kate?"
The single word slammed into his chest with the force of a .22 bullet.
"Is she okay?" Tightly locked away emotions broke free, one after the other, tripping his heartbeat.
"We don't know. The Russians are not good at asking for help. It's possible that they'll keep the situation secret for several hours, unless the rebels themselves make contact with the media."
His cart was approaching the ground. Ten feet, nine, eight, close enough. There were times for blending in, then there were times to break all the rules, even if it did draw attention. He lifted the safety bar and stood, eliciting a warning cry from the operator and loud comments and gasps from bystanders. He jumped and landed in a crouch, staying down so the next seat wouldn't knock him over the head, then sprinted into the crowd.
"What do the rebels want?" he asked, scanning the park for the men. His business with them would have to wait.
"Don't know yet. Probably autonomy. We can't offer help to the Russians until they tell us about the problem. Saying anything now would be tantamount to admitting that we have their embassy bugged. Considering the current political climate, the last thing we need is to cause an international incident," the Colonel said. "Be careful. This has all the makings of a disaster."
Pictures of news reports flashed through Parker's mind: the infamous Dubrovka theater siege and the Ossetia school-hostage crises. The Russian elite Alpha counterterrorism troops and their Vymple special forces, like their U.S. counterparts, were known for not negotiating with terrorists. Unfortunately, they were also known for getting their enemies at any price, even at the cost of innocent lives. In the theater siege, 115 hostages were killed, in the school standoff, over 300, many of them children.
Parker popped his earpiece into place, tucked away his phone and broke into a flat run. The men who hunted him would have to wait. The embassy had been taken only minutes ago. There was a small chance that the entire behemoth of a building hadn't been secured yet by the rebels. The sooner he got there, the better his chances were for getting in.
"Of the few men we have in the area, you're the closest," the Colonel said. "And you know the most about the Tarkmezi situation."
And Parker suspected that the Colonel had also taken his private connection into consideration, knew he would want to be involved. Not that the Colonel would ever admit to personal favors.
"I appreciate it, sir," he told the man anyway.
Rain began to fall again.
"Do try to remember that this is a minimum-impact, covert mission," the Colonel said in a meaningful tone.
Which meant that he was to make as little contact as possible, remain close to invisible as he searched for Kate and got her out. He was to change nothing, interact with no other aspects of the situation but those strictly required for the extraction.
"And the other hostages?"
"As soon as their country asks for our help we'll give it. Our hands are tied until then."
That idea didn't sit too well with him. He hated when politics interfered with a mission of his, which happened about every damned time.
"Parker?" The Colonel's tone changed to warning.
"Don't make me regret that I tagged you for this job."
"Just get Kate Hamilton out."
That he would. Yeah, he was still mad at Kate for leaving him. Mad as hell, but he wasn't going to let any harm come to her. Any Tarkmez rebel bastard who laid a hand on the woman he'd once meant to marry was going to answer to him.