A freelance intelligence agent with a deadly gift goes after a gang of terrorists in New York Times–bestselling author Gerald A. Browne’s stylish, action-packed thriller
The train slips across the horizon, its serial numbers painted over, its cars empty save for the soldiers who guard the cargo. Its mission is classified, but there are four men waiting in the night, keeping a close eye on the mysterious train. They know it carries something far more dangerous than a nuclear bomb, and they will do anything to get their hands on it. Unlocking the train’s secrets requires a daring crime, and victory seems within their reach. But they did not count on Hazard.
A hard-drinking gambler with a taste for beautiful women and no love for authority, freelance intelligent operative Hazard is an unlikely hero. But when a corpse washes up in the Hudson River, he vows revenge. The victim was an idealist whose sense of honor got him killed, and Hazard will destroy the men responsible—even if he has to save the world along the way.
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By Gerald A. Browne
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 Pulse Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Its starting point was ten miles northeast of Denver, a base known as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. From there it headed east.
It was eleven cars. Eight flatbeds followed by two sleepers and a messcar. The rear sleeper was for the officers. A colonel, a captain, a first lieutenant, and two second lieutenants. Only five, so the officers had room to spare. Thirty-eight enlisted men were cramped into the other sleeper, and the mess car was also for them. The officers' meals were carried back to their private compartments.
None of the men or officers wore shoulder flashes or any sort of insignias, making it impossible to know what unit or branch of the army they represented. All such identification had been ordered removed. The train itself was just as anonymous. It was, however, obviously an army train, recently painted the official olive drab right down to its wheels. Even the elongated diesel engine, a General Motors DD–40 with six thousand horsepower, had all its serial numbers painted over.
The enlisted men especially had looked forward to the duty the train involved. The danger of it, according to their way of thinking, was offset by the relieving change it offered; a trip east with the reward of a short leave at destination. But soon after they were underway the men became irritated by the perpetual noise and motion. The close quarters irritated them. They felt trapped and they griped about not getting enough consecutive hours of sleep because they had to do watches of four- on, four-off. Orders were that two men be posted at all times on each of the flatbeds, one man forward and another aft of each section of the cargo. The forward posts were better because the men positioned there had partial protection from the wind and could stand with their backs to it.
This circumstance provided the duty sergeant with something to hold over the men. It wasn't much but over the miles it became significant, and some of the men who weren't already in the sergeant's favor played up to him, hoping to be assigned one of those forward posts. The sergeant wasn't fair about it but no one expected him to be.
Four-on, four-off, day and night the men stood their duty with automatic rifles slung over their shoulders and their heads scrunched down into their windbreakers, thinking as little as possible about the cargo they were guarding and helping deliver. Frequently they cursed it just for being there.
The cargo was concealed completely by heavy black plastic tarpaulins well secured all around. The long humpish shapes of it, identical on every flatbed, offered no meaningful suggestion of content, shape, form. To hold the cargo steady in place, steel cables were looped tightly over the tarpaulins and attached on both sides to the bodies of the flatbeds. Steel uprights prevented the cargo from shifting. It had taken six days to load the train after four months' planning and making the special fittings. There could be no mishap.
Making certain of that, the train was preceded by an advance unit. Another DD–40 engine ran exactly three miles ahead. It was equipped with an electronic device that scanned the tracks for any discrepancy. The advance engine also gauged the curves electronically and by remote control regulated the speed of the main train, keeping it well under the safe limit. If an accident was unavoidable, it would happen only to the advance engine. The main train would stop automatically.
But for no reason other than an emergency would the train stop. It had first priority, absolute right of way. No waiting for switches to be pulled, no slowing to accommodate other rail traffic. The route the train took was not as direct as it could have been. It circumvented cities such as Wichita, Tulsa, Little Rock, Birmingham, Atlanta. At times it was headed north and at other times south as it made its way eastward.
Those people along the route who happened to notice the train paid it some special attention only because it was an army train. No reason, however, to feel any apprehension about it. Actually, many who saw it from small-town station platforms or at crossings or from the rear windows of houses silently appreciated the reassurance it represented. It momentarily reminded them that they were not so abstractly protected. No one thought much more than that about it.
Except a man in Oakley, Kansas.
And a man in Lonake, Arkansas.
Another in Heflin, Alabama.
And another in Blackville, North Carolina.
Each of these four men observed the train passing with the same intense interest. Each, like the train, was apparently just passing through. But it was not coincidence that all four, though hundreds of miles apart, were much alike in appearance. Hair black, complexions swarthy, eyes dark. Each appraised the train coolly, watched it until it was out of sight, then went to the nearest public telephone and placed a long-distance call to the same number. Area code 212, number 249–4131. No hellos and they didn't identify themselves. Each spoke only five words. The same cryptic five.
"Ana fi el tariq"–I am on the way.
An hour after dawn on the third day of its journey the train approached the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina. Again it avoided the city proper. Through a series of complicated switchings from one track to another it was routed around to the United States Naval Depot.
Inside the depot it rolled on to pier 4, where it stopped alongside a navy cargo ship, AKA 35. Immediately a contingent of marines formed a guarding line around the train. They were deployed no more than a dozen feet apart. The army men who had accompanied the train still had to stand their positions on the flatbeds while the specialists began on the cargo.
They worked on one section at a time, unbolting the steel cables, pulling them off, over, and away. They did it methodically, were not at all careless about it. Then the heavy black tarpaulins were removed.
The cargo appeared to be nothing more than rectangular blocks of concrete about twenty feet long by four feet wide. Each block of concrete had a serial number stenciled on it in red. For example: USACO–RMA–3–72–1783–OD–5. Also, each block was bound by a pair of one-inch-thick steel bands. On the top surface beneath each steel band the concrete was recessed. For handling.
A one-hundred-ton crane would do the job. Its special dual cable was lowered to the first of the cargo. Specialists hooked and locked the ends of the cables to the steel bands of a concrete block. The connections were checked and rechecked. Then a powerful green light flashed to the crane operator. There would be no trusting hand or verbal signals.
The crane gradually put tension on its cables. Slowly the concrete block was raised free of the flatbed. It was hoisted up a hundred and fifty feet and swung smoothly over the side of the AKA. Every man's eyes followed it as it was lowered to disappear into the hold of the ship.
The transferring of the entire cargo took two and a half days, working in shifts nonstop. The men bitched a lot to take the edge off and there were the usual volleys of competitive obscenities between the sailors, soldiers, and marines.
The task could have been done in less time, had the cargo been something more predictable and not so dangerous, such as nuclear warheads.CHAPTER 2
Hazard held the shot glass of Stolikvaya vodka four or so inches above his glass of draft beer. He'd already downed a third of the beer so it wouldn't overflow. The vodka was properly ice cold. Hazard dropped it into the beer, shot glass and all. It was a minor ritual that he enjoyed, partly because such an unorthodox combination and this unusual way of mixing it made most people cringe.
"That's my excuse," said Hazard, watching the disturbed beer foam up.
"He worries," said Carl.
"He'll do that anyway," said Hazard. "My going up there won't make any difference."
"You ever call him?"
"Sometimes," lied Hazard.
"Wouldn't hurt you to call."
"That's your opinion."
They were at the bar in the Sign of the Dove. The front windows of the place were propped open because it was April and the start of nice weather. Hazard could see out to Third Avenue, five-thirty traffic and people passing. His view was limited by the window that cut the people off from the neck up and the thighs down, so he was watching only torsos. His imagination invented pretty faces and good legs for the girls when their bodies appeared deserving.
Carl told him: "Disliking that town isn't a viable excuse."
"That's this year's word, isn't it? Viable. Who sets the style for the way you guys talk? Kissinger?"
Carl had to smile and it wasn't easy because he was very tired. "It's not a bad little town," he continued. "Not really."
"It's the ass end of the world."
"I know how much he'd like to see us."
"Not me. You go."
Carl tried to brighten. "How about next weekend? We'll drive up together and surprise him."
"I've got something going next weekend."
"A sure thing," said Hazard. He lifted his beer to the late-afternoon light and examined the smaller glass captured in it. He could see that most of the vodka had remained undiluted, which was the purpose of that way of mixing. A Siberian depth charge is what Hazard called it. He took a gulp and got some of the vodka's one-hundred proof power along with the beer. If he'd been alone he'd have grimaced. When his throat and mouth felt normal again he told Carl, "I thought of going up to see him last Christmas but I was feeling too good and didn't want to waste it."
"You're a sentimental soul," said Carl.
"He started it," said Hazard.
A concurring grunt from Carl. Then a long silence that said the subject was closed unless Hazard wanted to keep on it.
He definitely didn't. He got his mind off it by attributing some imaginary ideal heads and legs to a couple of good bodies that were passing by. Then he brought his attention to Carl via the mirror behind the bar. "You look whipped," he said.
Carl lowered his eyes, then his head, not wanting to realize how tired he was. He'd just flown in from Vienna with a stopover in Washington to deliver personally some dispatches he knew weren't really that urgent or important. The dispatches could have been sent in the regular pouch but he'd been requested to deliver them, wasn't in a position to refuse. Not that he was lower echelon. That was the trouble, actually. He was middle echelon, which in the hierarchy of the State Department is the worst possible classification. The middle is where they put those who might not go any higher but could still be of use. Carl realized that but wouldn't quit because for the time being he liked the assignment he was on.
Carl had originally wanted and especially prepared himself for a foreign service career. He'd started as a junior officer at the embassy in Lisbon. After two years there, he got a jump up to Cairo, where he was second assistant liaison to the chargé d'affaires. Carl's intellectual qualifications were acknowledged. However, according to the periodic reviews submitted confidentially to Washington by his various seniors, Carl's political attitudes weren't exactly on target. What that really meant was that Carl was too idealistic, not flexible enough in his beliefs to make the necessary compromises between what might be right and what was strategically best. Moreover, he often wasn't even diplomatic about how he felt, came right out and said, for example, that he believed some of his own country's power plays were degrees of war.
Thus Cairo was, in State's opinion, much too delicate a spot for Carl. It upped his foreign- service grade a notch and transferred him to Saigon. For duty with a section of the pacification program known as C.O.R.D.S., short for Civil Operation and Revolutionary Development Support. As one of the many Foreign Service junior officers assigned to CORDS, Carl's function was to advise the South Vietnamese civilian and military administration on ways to gain acceptance by the people of that country.
Perhaps at that point State hadn't entirely given up on Carl. Perhaps it hoped such duty might help conform him. However, being in the proximity of a long-term war and witnessing personally its devastation only set him off, activated his convictions.
In the course of his duties in Vietnam various atrocities came to Carl's attention. He investigated them on his own and wrote extensive reports. Over the months he accumulated a thick file, which all together made My Lai seem comparatively mild. When his reports received no official action, Carl pressed the matter. Shortly thereafter he was recalled.
State would have preferred to dismiss him but it decided not to risk focusing attention on him and his incriminating file. Smarter to keep him in, give things time to fade.
Carl was reassigned. For the past year and a half he'd been an assistant representative to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. Not really getting to do any of the talking but at least he was part of an effort that seemed to suit his ideals and he worked hard and hopefully at it.
Now Hazard told him, "There's nothing I'd give that much of myself to."
"What's more important?"
Hazard drank more of his depth charge and thought about what he believed. It came out bitter. "Peace is another of those abstractions that don't really exist."
"There have been peaceful times."
"Just intermissions. Time out to get ready for another go at it."
"If I was susceptible you could depress me."
"Be good for you." Hazard smiled. He realized once again how much he cared for his brother, and how ridiculous it was for them to be discussing such impersonal things considering that they hadn't seen one another in over six months and only briefly three times in the past two years. Better, thought Hazard, they should have stayed on the subject of their faraway, flag-waving father, whose disposition was worse now with the realization that neither of his boys would ever attain the public importance his displaced ambition had aimed them toward.
"What do you hear from Catherine?" Hazard asked for the sake of change.
"She's in town."
"Staying with you?"
"At the Pierre."
That told Hazard enough, but Carl didn't let it go at that. Carl gave his wife the benefit of an excuse, perhaps because he needed it. "She's only in to do some shopping," he said. "Wanted to be close to Bendel's and Bergdorf's."
Just coincidentally Catherine happened to be in the same city, Hazard thought, and was grateful for his own less-complicated, unmarried status. "Think you'll get together, you and Catherine?"
"I'll be seeing her while she's here."
"I mean really back together."
"There's a chance."
"Try kicking her in the ass a couple of times," advised Hazard.
"Is that what you'd do?"
"Maybe. Anyway, that's what she's been asking for."
"She kicks herself," said Carl.
"Not hard enough."
"I think she's serious about a divorce this time." There was regret in the way Carl said it.
"What's different about this time?"
"Just the impression I get."
"Catherine's never been serious about anything," said Hazard and wished immediately that he hadn't because it included Carl. He tried for quick repair. "I mean she's different, a very unusual person."
"You should have been the diplomat."
"I'm a lousy liar."
"You always were."
"At least I always tried," said Hazard, meaning it as a reverse compliment. "Not like you."
That negative phrase seemed to hang in the air between them, as though hyphenating them.
There was only a year's difference in their ages, but Carl at thirty-five appeared considerably older. One would have guessed he was in his mid-forties. His face was lined for that many years. Also, much of his dark hair was already lost and he was about fifteen pounds overweight. What Carl chose to wear only added to the older impression. A dark, square-cut suit, white shirt with a short collar too snug, black regular-width tie knotted small and tight, and the sort of black shoes usually preferred by older businessmen.
Excerpted from Hazard by Gerald A. Browne. Copyright © 1973 Pulse Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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