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BOOK ONE1PARISPARIS WAS A MAGICAL city. As Lieutenant Colonel Brad Allworth got out of his taxi in front of the Gare de l'Est and paid his fare, one part of him was sad to be leaving, while another part was looking forward to what was coming.Hefting his B4 bag, he crossed the broad sidewalk and entered the train station's busy main concourse. He was a tall man, handsome in a rugged out-of-doors way, his stride straight and purposeful. He was a career Air Force officer and at thirty-five he figured he had a shot at full bird colonel within the year, and afterward ... War College and his first star by forty.The concierge at his hotel had arranged for his tickets to Kaiserslautern in Germany's Rheinland-Pfalz, so he went directly down to trackside. It was a few minutes past eleven-thirty. His train was due to leave at midnight, getting into the German city by morning.He stopped at the security gate and placed his bag on the moving belt that took it through the scanning device. Something new in the last six months. He placed his wallet and a few francs in loose change on a plastic dish, handed it to one of the gendarmes, and stepped through the arch."Your tickets, monsieur," the guard asked.Colonel Allworth handed over his ticket as well as his passport. The gendarme quickly flipped through them, looked from the photograph to his face.Technically he could travel all over Europe using only his military ID. But because of the terrorist attacks in recent years, American officers traveling via civilian transportation were required to travel in civilian clothes and use their passports for identification. It had been dubbed Project Low Profile. Allworth didn't mind.The gendarme handed back his passport and ticket, waved an arm vaguely in the direction of the gates, and as Allworth was collecting his money and B4 bag, the cop was checking the papers of the next man in line.Allworth crossed to his gate, and a porter directed him to his first-class car. He boarded, found his compartment, switched on the light, tossed his bag on the couch, and closed the window shades on the corridor and outer windows.JoAnne had flown out from Omaha with him, while their two children stayed with her sister in Minneapolis. They'd had a lovely thirty days in Paris and the surrounding countryside; canal barge trips, ballooning through the Bordeaux wine country, a weekend on the Riviera, and they had relaxed with each other for the first time in what seemed like years. Too many years. But everything was all right between them now.He had seen her off from Orly this afternoon. She would be closing down their house, collecting the kids, and would joinhim at Ramstein Air Force Base within the month. It was, he decided, going to be a busy though lonely month.Someone knocked at his compartment door.Allworth turned. "Yes?""Porter, monsieur."Allworth opened the door. An older man in a crisp white jacket smiled up at him. "May I turn down your bed for you, monsieur?""Not just yet," Allworth said. He pulled out a two-hundred-franc bill. "Can I get a bottle of cognac and a glass?""Naturellement, monsieur." The porter smiled, accepting the money. "It will be just a few minutes.""No rush," Allworth said. Technically he was still on leave. He meant to enjoy his last day before he had to get back to work.Loosening his tie he took off his jacket, slipped off his shoes, and opened the bi-fold door to his tiny bathroom with its pull-down sink. He splashed some cool water on his face, and drying off he smiled at himself in the mirror. SAC Headquarters at Omaha had been a career necessity. It's what brought him a step closer to the bird, and as a direct result got him his new job as missile control officer, even if he hadn't liked SAC. He was making progress, and that's all that counted.He switched off the light in the bathroom, opened the outer window shade, and sat down on the couch. Lighting a cigarette he looked down at the rapidly clearing platform. The train would be pulling out momentarily, and for just a brief instant he felt a twinge of uncertainty."Comes with the territory," his father the general had told him once. "You can't move every few years without feeling dislocated. Make the service your home, then find a good woman and keep her. You'll do just fine."Someone knocked at his door. "Porter."Allworth opened the door and took the cognac and glass from the man, received his change, and handed him back two ten-franc coins."Merci.""I don't think you'll need to turn down my bed tonight.""No?""No," Allworth said with a grin."If you need anything else, just ring, monsieur. I will be happy to serve you.""What time will we get into Kaiserslautern?""At seven, monsieur.""Good, thanks.""Oui."Allworth opened the bottle and poured himself a stiff measure, then sat down again by the window as the train lurched and pulled out of the station, slowly at first, but gathering speed as they came up into the city. He laid his head back and sighed deeply, the cognac spreading its warmth throughout his body, filling him with a sense of well-being.It had been a long haul, he thought. This was the last step before the big move. The Pentagon, Washington, a city both he and JoAnne loved. Not that they were people filled with pretensions, but they did enjoy the social whirl, being close to power. It was heady stuff for both of them.
Someone knocked at his door again, and Allworth assumed it was the porter. He went to the door.For a brief instant he simply could not believe what he was seeing. A tall man stood in the corridor facing him, a leather bag over his shoulder. He was handsome in a rugged, athletic way. In fact Allworth thought he was looking at his own double, or a man near enough to his own twin to be startling."What ..." Allworth started to say when the man raised a silenced pistol and shot him in the middle of the forehead, a huge thunderclap exploding in his head.
Inside the tiny first-class compartment Arkady Aleksandrovich Kurshin locked the door and closed the outer window shade. Working quickly, he opened his shoulder bag and withdrew a large, thin plastic sheet and spread it out on the floor. Careful to get no blood on himself or the carpeted floor he rolled Colonel Allworth's body onto the sheet. Actually the wound had bled very little, nor had the low-grain, soft-nosed bulletexited the back of the American's head. But it had killed him instantly.Kurshin was methodical. But then he was a professional and it was to be expected.It would be several hours before they neared the German border; nevertheless he did not waste any time. There was much to be done before he could rest.First, he stripped Allworth's body of everything including the man's underwear, his watch, his dog tags, and his gold wedding band, carefully inspecting each item in minute detail so that not only could he make sure nothing had been stained by blood or any other body fluids released at Allworth's death, but to familiarize himself with the dead man's possessions, which for the coming forty-eight hours would be his.Next, he removed all of his clothing, including a very expensive diamond-studded gold Rolex watch, a heavy gold neck chain, and a diamond pinky ring.He had just a moment of revulsion as he pulled on Allworth's underwear, but he ignored his single, oddly out of place, sign of squeamishness and finished dressing in the dead man's clothing, including his watch, dog tags, and wedding ring.He put all of his clothing on Allworth's body."Another, greedier, man might think to keep some of the considerable money, or perhaps some of the jewelry you will be carrying, Arkady," Baranov had told him. "After all, what use can a dead man have with such things? Besides, the first man to find his body might very well himself be a thief."Kurshin had sat with Baranov in a café on East Berlin's Unter den Linden. He looked across his drink at the general. A rare, difficult man, he'd thought. But brilliant, and totally without conscience."It is part of his identification," Kurshin said."Exactly. We do understand each other."Kurshin smiled. "When I steal from you, Comrade General, it will be much more than a few thousand francs and a pretty watch.""Oh, dear," Baranov had laughed, throwing his head back. "That is rich, that is rich indeed."Everything fit perfectly except for the shoes. His were too small for Allworth's feet. Kurshin was vexed for just a moment, but then he shrugged it aside. Allworth's shoes would be too big for him, but that didn't matter. Had it been the other way around, it would have made things difficult. So far it was the only thing they hadn't counted on.Kurshin set the shoes aside, on the plastic sheet, and from his leather shoulder bag removed a pair of latex surgical gloves, a very sharp switchblade knife, and a small pair of pruning shears which he laid beside Allworth's body.Kneeling next to the body, he pulled the edge of the plastic sheet up over his legs and began his work.Kurshin had boarded the train on a French passport under the name of Edmon Railliarde, an import/export broker from Marseille. In actuality, Railliarde was a member of the French Mafia. He'd been snatched two days ago from his magnificent villa outside of Marseille and his body by now had been ground to small pieces and distributed to the fishes at sea.Railliarde had many enemies.Using the handles of the shears Kurshin spent fifteen minutes knocking out Allworth's teeth, destroying every bit of dental evidence that might prove he was not the French criminal, Railliarde.Next, he clipped off the tips of Allworth's fingers, each one separating from the bloodless stump with a sickening snap. These he put in a small vial of acid he'd carried with him. This he would toss before they crossed the border.Finally, using the razor-sharp switchblade, Kurshin removed Allworth's face, just as an animal might be skinned. This tissue, which rolled into a surprisingly small ball, went into another small container of acid to be disposed of with the dead man's fingertips.When he was done he sat back, his stomach rumbling a little. It had been nearly twelve hours since he'd eaten last. Though there was no blood, it had been gruesome work. But necessary. Very necessary if his fiction was to hold up for any length of time.At the window Kurshin opened the shade and looked out at the passing countryside. There wasn't much to be seen. A fewlights off in the distance. They were passing through the farm country east of Paris, not too far from Châlons-sur-Marne. Perfect, he thought.He lowered the window, the noise and rushing air filling the cabin. Tossing his shoulder bag on Allworth's chest, he wrapped the body in the plastic sheet, manhandled it up to the window, and levered it through the opening. It was gone in a sharp fluttering of plastic, and Kurshin closed and locked the window and closed the shade.For the next twenty minutes he inspected every square inch of the cabin, the floors, the walls, and even the ceiling for any trace that a murder and mutilation had occurred here.Satisfied at length that the room was clean, he sat down on the couch, poured himself a stiff measure of cognac, lit a cigarette, and started going through Allworth's suitcase, item by item, mentally cataloguing every single thing so that he would know it as well as his own possessions.
The city of Kaiserslautern in Germany's mid-section had once been a crossroads and meeting place of kings. In more recent times it had been a major resupply and staging depot for Hitler's armies. Since the war the area had come to contain the largest concentration of American Army and Air Force personnel anywhere in the world.Arkady Kurshin stepped off the train, hefted his single B4 bag, and walked out into the bright morning's sun where he hailed a taxi, ordering the driver to take him out to Ramstein Air Force Base a few miles to the south.There had been absolutely no trouble on the train last night. But Kurshin had known that he would pass from the instant he'd seen the look on Allworth's face when he'd opened the door.The only real difficulty would come at the base if he ran into someone who knew Allworth. It was possible. But the U.S. Air Force was a very large organization. And he only had to hold out for another thirty-six hours or so.Close, he thought with an inward smile. So very close.The cabbie was a garrulous old woman who tried all the way out to the base to engage him in conversation, but Kurshin sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. He had gotten no sleep onthe train last night, and he forced himself to rest his mind for a little while. He was going to need his wits about him. But then he'd had the training. He had the intelligence. And he had Baranov's backing.Nothing would go wrong.Ramstein Air Force Base was a huge installation covering thousands of acres of German countryside. Much of it was underground in the old Nazi labyrinth of tunnels and storage caverns. It was the largest depot for U.S. and NATO nuclear weapons anywhere outside of the continental United States. Yet security on the base was very lax, these days.At the main gate he cranked down his window and showed the AP on duty his ID card, and the taxi was passed through to the Bachelor Officers Quarters across base.He paid the driver and went inside, where he signed in with the Charge of Quarters, handing over a copy of his orders."Welcome to Germany, sir," the young sergeant said. "Did you have a good trip?""Tiring," Kurshin said. "What I need is a shower, a stiff drink, and a decent steak, in that order."The sergeant, whose name tag read LEVENSON, grinned. "Can do, Colonel, at least on the shower. You can get the drink and a good steak at the officers club just up the block.""Sounds good.""Have you signed in yet, sir?""No, I just got in.""If you'll give me four sets of your orders, I'll have a runner take them over to base HQ for you. The commander is off the base until Monday."Kurshin dug out the extra sets of orders and handed them over. "How about transportation?""I can get you a car and driver as well, soon as we get you signed in."Kurshin grinned. The security was incredibly lax. The sergeant mistook the meaning of his smile."No sweat, Colonel, we aim to please around here.""So far so good," Kurshin said, his grin broadening. And he meant it.COUNTDOWN. Copyright © 1990 by David Hagberg. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, NewYork, N.Y. 10010.