"Pilgrim" is a former CIA agent who is weary from the long years of living in the shadows.
When Ben's business card turns up in the pocket of a dead hit man, Ben and Pilgrim, two complete strangers, realize that they've been framed in an elaborate setup. Unsure who to trust--and pursued by a brutal and vengeful killer--the unlikely partners have no choice but to work together to discover who's targeted them for elimination--and why. But with everything at stake, Ben has no idea that Pilgrim is harboring some shocking secrets of his own--secrets that will soon force Ben to confront the blurred line between best friends and bitter enemies.
|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
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By Jeff Abbott
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 Jeff Abbott
All rights reserved.
Nicky Lynch lay low on the building's roof, steadying the sniper's rifle, watching the two targets arguing out the last moments of their lives. He stared through the crosshairs, waiting for the shot when he could take both the geek and the big guy in rapid fire. Rush jobs made him nervous; he hadn't had enough time to prepare. His body was still on Belfast time, six hours ahead of Austin, Texas. He blinked. Stay focused, he told himself.
"You going to shoot today?" Jackie's voice whispered into his earpiece. His brother waited in the lobby of the office building across the street, anxious for Nicky to work his double-shot magic so Jackie could go inside Adam Reynolds's office and finish the job.
"Radio silence," Nicky said into his mouthpiece.
"Any day now." Jackie's impatient sigh made an electronic crackle in Nicky's ear.
"Silence," Nicky repeated into his microphone, keeping his annoyance in check. Killing took only a second, but precautions, so that the job went cleanly, took time. Jackie was too restless; he had the impatience of a fever.
Nicky put his mind back to the kills. The angle into the office where the two men argued wasn't ideal, but the client had been quite specific in how he wanted the job done. The big guy, standing near the window, wasn't quite close enough ... and Nicky had to complete the hit with the first shot. Jackie would be in the office less than a minute after the two men were dead, and he did not want either man breathing when his brother stepped inside to plant the goods. Especially the big guy. Nicky didn't want Jackie within ten meters of that man.
If the two would just stop moving. The honking, stop-and-start traffic of downtown Austin jerked on the street nine stories below him. A distant rumble touched the sky; a spring storm deciding whether to grant a cooling rain. He tuned out the noise, because the prime chance for the kill shot might come at any second. The office was large, its narrow windows divided by white limestone. He was at the same height as the targets, but he had to hide close to a roof air-conditioning unit and the angle was awkward.
He frowned. Best if the two stood in the same slender window frame, close together, but the pair stood off from each other like wary lions. The geek wore a scared frown, as though he were shoving aside all the numbers and facts in his oversized brain and searching for unused courage. The geek should be scared, Nicky thought. He had read the notes about the big guy with a mix of admiration and shock. It wasn't every day you got to kill such an interesting man. Nicky had killed thirty-six people but none so ... accomplished. He almost wished he could have bought the big guy a pint, chatted with him, learned from him, soaked in his exploits. But the very best ones, he thought, always kept their secrets.
Now the big guy laughed—Nicky wondered what was so funny—and he moved halfway into one window's frame. But not far enough for a certain shot.
And then the geek pulled a gun from his desk and aimed it at the big guy. Nicky held his breath. Maybe they'd do his job for him, kill each other, and he could just watch.
"Stay back," Adam Reynolds said. The gun made for an unfamiliar weight in his hand—he had purchased it only three days before, a necessary precaution. He had spent five hours on the Internet researching the right pistol. But he hadn't spent nearly enough time practicing how to shoot. Adam's lungs tightened with fear, his back prickled with heat, his tongue seemed coated with sand.
This was what happened when you went hunting for dangerous people. Sometimes they found you instead. Just keep him at bay, Adam thought. Help was on its way.
The gun did not seem to make the big man standing near the window nervous. "Give me that before you shoot off a toe or finger or something even more valuable, Adam."
"No," Adam said. He flicked the man's business card off his desk and tossed a bound proposal at the man's feet. "Take back your stage props. You're nothing but a con man."
The big man shrugged. "So I lied to you. You're a liar, too. Let's stop lying."
"You first. What's your real name?"
The big man laughed. "I'm nobody."
"No, the problem is you're too many different people, mister." Adam straightened the gun, steadied his grip. "You've got more names than a cat's got fleas. I found them all. Every alias you've used in the past few months. I want to know who you really are."
The big man's gaze narrowed. He took a step away from the window, a step toward Adam. He kept his hands at his side. "Deal, Adam. I'll tell you who I really am and who I work for, if you tell me who hired you to hunt me down."
"I have the gun, so I will ask the questions and you will answer them."
"Yes, Adam, you do indeed have the gun," the big man said, as though that fact didn't really matter to him.
Adam swallowed. "What's your real name?"
"My name's unimportant. What matters is why you're searching for me, who paid you to look for me. That's the only reason I arrived on your doorstep, Adam, because you were looking for me." He crossed his arms. "Did it occur to you that maybe I'm one of the good guys?"
"I ... I know what you are." Adam's voice broke. "You're a terrorist. Or you're connected to a terror group."
"You could not be more mistaken," the big man said. He laughed. "You're kind of book smart and street dumb all at once, aren't you?"
Adam shook his head. Put both hands on the pistol's grip to fix his aim.
"Adam, this is why you're in trouble. You had to break a number of laws to find me and all my aliases: banking laws, privacy laws, federal statutes protecting classified material. All that data you used to find me scattered among databases where you have no clearance or access. Someone gave you that access. Tell me who, and I promise you'll be safe and protected."
"Sit on the floor, put your hands on your head," Adam said. "I've already called a friend of mine in Homeland Security. They're on their way here, so if you hurt me—"
"Hurt you?" The big man frowned. "Doubtful. You have the gun." He took a step forward. "Brilliant computer programmers don't just suddenly start finding people who never want to be found. Who do you work for?"
"I'll shoot. Please. Stop." Adam didn't sound convincing, even to himself. "Please."
The big man risked another step toward Adam. "You're way too nice a guy to shoot me, and I'm not going to hurt you. So give me the gun, genius, and let's talk."
Nicky watched through the crosshairs. The big guy was moving forward, slowly, and the geek was suffering the tortures of the weak, not wanting to shoot a fellow human being. Then a thought occurred to Nicky: What if the geek did shoot the big guy? Will I get paid if I don't shoot them and one kills the other?
The thought panicked him. He glued his eye to the scope. Take the shot, leave no wiggle room for the client to argue the fee or debate whether or not services were rendered. He needed the money.
The big guy came forward, moving toward the geek, calm. The geek lowered the gun a fraction of an inch.
Both men in the same window now. The big man reaching for the wobbling gun. Don't wait.
In two seconds, Nicky Lynch calculated the ramifications of the choppy wind gusting hard from the bend of Lady Bird Lake that hugged Austin's downtown, did the math for the deflection of the glass, touched his tongue to the roof of his mouth, and fired.
The big guy dropped. Nicky pivoted the barrel a fraction, fired, saw the geek jerk and fall. Stillness in the room, twin holes in the window. He watched for ten seconds, then pulled back from the lip of the office building's roof. Below him people hurried on their late afternoon errands, unaware of death in their midst: suited men and women walking toward the Texas state capitol, most with cell phones grafted to their ears; a street musician braying a Bob Dylan song, strumming a guitar in front of a case dotted with spare change; a huddle of workers awaiting a bus. No one looked up at the muffled sounds of the shots.
It had gone all right, for two such difficult shots. He ducked behind the air- conditioning unit, wiped his hands on the maintenance uniform he wore. He dismantled the rifle with practiced grace. He tucked the rifle's parts into a duffel bag and headed for the roof stairs. "You're clear," he said into the mouthpiece to Jackie.
"Heading in," Jackie said. "Going silent."
"Silent." Nicky signed off. Jackie tended to chatter, and Nicky didn't want him distracted.
A boom of thunder crackled, the waiting storm starting to rise, the breeze electric with the sudden shift.
Bizarre requirements, Nicky thought, but the client specifically wanted the job done this way: murder the targets from a safe distance and then leave a manila envelope on the geek's desk. The money was caviar-and-champagne good, enough to keep him in liquor and books for a stretch of several months in St. Bart's. He needed a vacation. Jackie would use his share of the money for hunting down rare Johnny Cash vinyl recordings and spend time scribbling more bad songs. Jackie and his music. Waste of time. Maybe Nicky'd talk his brother out of frittering away his cash, get him to come drink in the Caribbean sun. You wanted warmth after you killed, Nicky thought as he reached the street.
In his earpiece, Jackie got the all-clear from Nicky and summoned the elevator. A crowd of pinstriped lawyers walked in from the street, pooling around him, chatting, waiting for the elevator doors to open.
He didn't want to be remembered, so he let the lawyers crowd the first elevator that came. He thumbed the Up button again and waited an extra ninety seconds for an empty elevator. He rose to the top floor alone. The hallway was empty. No one had heard the silenced shots—no one, at least, had emerged from the neighboring offices in panic to crowd the hallways. Good—no one would remember his face as he completed his errand. This assignment, although a rush job, was big; the targets were important. Do it right, he thought, and you'll shut up Nicky's carping.
Jackie approached the suite; the sign read Reynolds Data Consulting. The office door was locked, and he opened it with a lockpick in under ten seconds. He pulled his steel blade free from his coat, just in case either man was spasming out the last of his life. But he wasn't going to stab unless necessary. Not even for fun. A knife wound would confuse the police.
He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. The office was silent. Jackie put the large envelope under his arm. The geek lay in sprawled surprise beside the desk, blood spreading from his head, mouth slack, eyes finally vacant of brainstorms.
Orders were to leave the sealed envelope on the desk. But first Jackie stepped around the desk to take a peek at the big guy.
Across the street, Nicky Lynch shouldered past a crowd of techies spilling out from the parking garage ramp, heading for early drinks in the Warehouse District. He walked up the ramp and took a left. He pressed the remote for his Mercedes, beeped open the trunk. He put the rifle case inside and slammed the trunk closed. As he slid behind the wheel and started the engine his earpiece crackled, Jackie yelling, not making sense. "He's gone!"
Nicky glanced into the rearview just in time to see the big guy running up behind the car, drawing a gun from underneath a jacket. For a half second, shock seized him. Then he ducked for the loaded Glock he kept under the seat and closed his fingers around it. The driver's window exploded; agony lanced his shoulder.
This was not happening. Impossible. The shot had been true ...
"Who sent you?" the big guy asked.
Nicky's mouth worked; his arm didn't. He fumbled for the gun with his good hand.
"Last chance. Answer me," the big guy said.
Nicky lifted the gun with an angry grunt. The answering barrage sprayed his life's blood across the dashboard and the front windshield.
Jackie, run, Nicky thought, staring at the red mist, then died.
The big guy stood at the shattered window and fired four neat, tidy shots for insurance into Nicky Lynch's chest and head. Adam Reynolds's gun went warm in his hand.
"Always make sure, mister," the big guy said. He swallowed the bile in his throat. Today had gone all wrong. Time to walk away from the whole mess. Wrap up the package for the cops.
Let the police chase a nobody. He took a business card from his pocket and tucked it into Nicky Lynch's bloodied jacket. He wouldn't need it anymore. He hurried away from the car, hiding his gun under his light jacket, taking the staircase. Someone would spot the bullet-riddled car within minutes.
He walked out onto the sidewalk as a light, gentle rain began to drop from the marble-gray sky.
One street over, Jackie ran in a panicked pell-mell from the building, sprinted hard toward the garage, dodging traffic and old-lady shoppers and coffee- swilling lobbyists. Cars slammed on brakes, honks jeered him as he sprinted into the street. He slipped his knife into his jacket pocket, his hand closing hard around the Glock under his windbreaker, scanning the faces behind him, scared. He kept the folder of photographs clutched under his arm. He heard a woman shriek as he hurried up the ramp. He braked on his heels and peered around the concrete pillar. A woman and two men huddled around the Mercedes, a smear of red on the windshield. One of the men was on his cell phone, calling 911. The woman had her hand clamped over her mouth as though repressing a scream.
Jackie stepped close enough to see there was nothing he could do.
Nicky was dead.
Jackie's throat closed on itself. He remembered to breathe. He turned away, stumbled down the ramp. The police would be here within moments. He fought every urge to go to his brother and fold him into his arms, swallowed the need to drop to his knees and cry.
The big guy wasn't dead.
But, Jackie thought with a hot rage in his heart and tears crowding his eyes, he soon would be.CHAPTER 2
We're in deep trouble," Sam Hector said. "Ten-million-dollar contract choked this morning."
"I'm sorry, Sam," Ben Forsberg said into his cell phone.
"It's a deal with the UK government to provide additional security for their embassies in four east African countries," Hector said. "I can't lose another big contract, Ben. I've sent you the details and I want you to go through the information tonight. All vacations must end."
"Sure." Ben was close to home, the top up on his BMW, because as he approached Austin the spring sky clouded with rain. He wished that Sam hadn't called it a vacation. Ben no longer took vacations; he had alone time, away time. He'd been away for only six days. "I'm ready to go back to work."
"Good, because the deals are drying up," Hector said. "I wish you would come back to work for me full-time. I need you."
"How's the negotiation with the State Department coming?" Ben wasn't interested in rehashing that conversation; he liked working freelance now and living in Austin. The Dallas office reminded him too much of Emily.
"Another precarious situation. We're in disagreement on five or six points. Undersecretary Smith is being intractable on the level of training that our security personnel have to have for the next Congo assignment, while not wanting to pay a commensurate price. Which is ridiculous. Congo is amazingly dangerous right now. They need us and she's being obstinate, thinking she can handle it with regular government personnel."
"I'll talk to her." Ben didn't expect the negotiations to be prolonged; the security situation in Congo was deteriorating, terrorism on the rise; the State Department personnel stationed there needed a greater level of protection, and a contract with the professional soldiers of Hector Global was the cheap and fast answer. Hector Global did several million dollars' worth of business with the State Department each year, providing armed security for its employees; a new rising conflict in Congo was a tragedy, but an opportunity as well. Someone had to protect the diplomats, and no one could do a better job than Hector Global. "If the situation there deteriorates, it might help us close the deal—she'll get scared."
Excerpted from Collision by Jeff Abbott. Copyright © 2013 Jeff Abbott. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
Collision is a powerhouse tale of good bad guys, bad good guys, and every shade in between. Jeff Abbott delivers a frenzy of action in this race-against-the-clock thriller about an ordinary guy arrested for murder whose only hope lies in trusting the very man who framed him.
Collision is the best evidence yet that Jeff Abbott is one of the finest thriller writers working today. Electric with action and lightning-paced, I literally could not put it down. Don't miss it.