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All the queens men, p.9

All the Queen's Men, page 9

 

All the Queen's Men
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  He indicated the first weapon. “This is a Colt .45. It’s a heavy-duty cannon, with a lot of stopping power. The next one is a Smith & Wesson .357 revolver. Again, it’s pretty heavy. But they’re both as reliable as the sun, so you might want to practice with them. I wouldn’t recommend them for regular use, though, because of the weight. You need something lighter.”

  He indicated the other weapons. “The next one is a SIG Sauer P226, 9mm. It’s my personal favorite. The other automatic is an H&K P9S. It’s half a pound lighter than the Colt, and H&K makes a fine weapon. You can’t go wrong with either one.”

  Niema studied the handguns, then picked each one up in turn. The two revolvers were so heavy she could barely aim them. The H&K was more manageable, but for sheer ease of handling the SIG suited her much better.

  “Looks like the SIG is going to be my favorite, too.” She wasn’t an expert with firearms, but neither was she a rank beginner. Dallas had been constitutionally unable to bear a wife who didn’t know how to fire a weapon, so he had taught her the basics and insisted she practice. But that was five years ago, and she hadn’t been on a firing range since.

  “The SIG doesn’t have a thumb safety,” he said. “That lever on the left side of the frame is the decocking lever. Never, ever lower the hammer except with the decocking lever. Some SIGs are double-action and won’t have the lever, but you need to get used to using it.”

  “It’s awkward,” she said after a minute spent familiarizing herself with the lever. “I can’t work it without shifting my grip.”

  “Try using your left thumb. I learned to shoot it left-handed because I ran into the same problem.”

  She slid a glance at him. “Accurately?”

  “Of course,” he said coolly. “Or I wouldn’t do it.”

  “Pardon me for insulting your manhood.”

  “My manhood isn’t connected to my weapon, honey.”

  She bit the inside of her lip to hold back any rejoinders. That particular subject could rapidly get into dangerous waters.

  A surprising amount of expertise returned as soon as she handled the weapon. She put a clip in the SIG, and Medina set the first man-shaped target at ten yards.

  “Is that all?” she asked, wondering whether or not she should be insulted.

  “Most situations where you would use a handgun are fairly close quarters, and things happen fast, in five seconds or less. Work on your accuracy before you start worrying about distance. Anything much over thirty yards and you’d be better off with a rifle or shotgun, anyway.”

  “How do we get our weapons on board the plane?”

  “We don’t. I could, but it would attract too much attention. I’ll get them once we’re in France. By the way, we won’t be traveling together.”

  She nodded, put on her headset, and raised the pistol. Dallas had taught her the point-and-shoot method; studies had found that people were very accurate in pointing at something, but when they tried to aim a weapon the mechanics of doing so somehow interfered with that natural ability. The idea was not to aim, but simply to point.

  Medina’s arms came around her from behind, his hands closing over hers and making minute adjustments in her grip. “Gently squeeze the trigger,” he murmured, his voice coming through the headset.

  She took a deep breath and slowly let it out, the way Dallas had taught her. When she had exhaled about half, she stopped and squeezed the trigger. The weapon jumped in her hands as if it was alive, the barrel recoiling upward from the released energy. With the headset protecting her ears, the shot was a flattened crack, like a board popping. Smoke and cordite burned her nostrils. Without a word she steadied the weapon, took a breath, and shot again.

  This time Medina braced her wrists with his own hands, but this time she was more prepared for the recoil. She didn’t fight it, but let her forearms absorb the shock.

  “Good,” Medina said, and let his arms drop from around her.

  Taking her time, not rushing her shots, she emptied the clip at the target. When the clip was empty, per Medina’s previous instructions, she removed the empty clip and slapped a new one in. While she was doing that he called up a new target and set this one at twenty yards. She shot all the bullets in that clip, too.

  Afterward he pulled the targets up for examination. On the first target, out of a fifteen-shot clip, she had scored two rounds in the head, one in the neck, and five in the chest. “Only eight,” she said in disgust. “Barely over fifty percent.”

  “This isn’t a marksmanship competition, so don’t try to be Annie Oakley. And look at it this way: With the other seven bullets, you probably scared the hell out of whoever was standing beside the target.”

  She had to laugh, even if it was ruefully. “Thanks a lot.”

  “You’re welcome. Take a look at the second target.”

  The second target made her feel better. With both targets she had tried to divide her shots equally between the head and chest. It hadn’t worked very well with the first target, and in one way she didn’t approve much: only three shots went into the head. But eight shots were clustered in the chest area, meaning she had made all of those shots.

  She told John what she’d been trying to do. “Forget the head,” he advised. “In a tense situation, the chest is a much bigger target. You don’t have to kill someone, just stop him. Now let’s switch to another weapon.”

  “Why?”

  “Because you never know what will be available. You need to be able to use whatever is at hand.”

  He made it sound like she was going to make a career of this, she thought grumpily. But she moved to the H&K as instructed and went through the same exercise. She ran into trouble with both the Colt and Smith & Wesson, though. The pistols were so heavy it took all her strength, using both hands, to hold her wrists steady. The first shot with the .357 jarred her teeth.

  Medina stepped behind her then, wrapping his hands around her wrists and adding his strength to hers. “Unless you’re with me, I’m not going to be much good with these,” she said between gritted teeth.

  “You’re doing okay. Just take your time between shots.”

  She not only had to take her time, she had to work up her nerve. Now she knew why the big pistols were called hand cannons. She didn’t make all her shots with them, either, but the ones that hit tore impressive holes in the cardboard targets. Afterward she had to massage her forearms to relax the muscles.

  “That’s enough for today,” he said, taking note of her action. “Your arms will be sore if you keep on.”

  “Stopping suits me fine,” she muttered. “I guess I’m not Rambo, either.”

  “Who is?” he asked dryly.

  She laughed as she worked the kinks out of her shoulders. “What’s next?”

  “A workout, if you’re up to it.”

  She gave him a wary look. “What kind of workout?”

  “The kind where I teach you how to take care of yourself.”

  “I’ll have you know I already take vitamins and moisturize my skin.”

  “Smart ass.” He chuckled as he looped a companionable arm around her shoulders. “We’re going to make a great team.”

  “A great temporary team,” she corrected, ignoring the sudden thumping of her heart. No way was she going back into this full-time, or even part-time. This was a one-shot deal.

  He let her have the last word, but she saw the self-satisfied quirk to his mouth, quickly smoothed out, that told her he planned otherwise. And that was almost as worrying as the job itself.

  * * *

  To her relief, he took it easy on her during the workout. The gym he took her to wasn’t a gym at all, but an abandoned barn thirty miles south of D.C. Nevertheless, it was equipped with both weight machines and free weights, punching bags, what looked like gymnastic equipment, and a big, blue, three-inch thick foam mat.

  “That isn’t thick enough,” she pronounced.

  “It’s thick enough. I’m not going to be dropping you on your head.
He kicked off his shoes.

  “It’s my butt I’m worried about.” Following his example, she took off her own shoes.

  “I promise I’ll take good care of your butt.”

  He was as good as his word. The workout didn’t involve getting tossed around or twisted into a pretzel. “Rule one: Don’t try to take anyone down,” he said. “You aren’t good enough. The best you can hope to do is get away, so that’s what we’ll concentrate on. You have the advantage of surprise on your side, because you’re small—”

  “I am not.”

  He cast his eyes toward the cavernous ceiling. “You’re smaller than most men,” he amended. “But I’m wiry.”

  He laughed then. “Okay, you’re wiry. Where, I don’t know, but I’ll take your word for it. But you look—”

  This time she was the one who rolled her eyes. “I know, like an angel.”

  “You don’t like that, huh? Then let’s say you look like a lady. You look as if you’ve never been dirty, never sweated, never swore.”

  “Strike three, you’re out,” she muttered.

  “And you don’t look nearly as contrary as you are.”

  “I’m not contrary, I’m accurate.”

  “As I was saying . . .” He grinned down at her. “You look like a cream puff. An angelic, ladylike cream puff. So any guy who grabs you isn’t going to be expecting you to do anything except maybe cry.”

  Deciding she’d bedeviled him enough for now, she shrugged her shoulders back and forth, loosening them. “Okay, so teach me how to make him cry.”

  “I’ll be satisfied with just teaching you how to get away.”

  Courtesy of the rape-prevention class she’d taken, she already knew some of the basic stuff. John refreshed her on many of the moves: how to break the hold of someone who grabbed you from the front—you brought your arms up hard and fast inside your assailant’s. A quick, stiff-arm jab of the palm up and into someone’s nose might not kill him, though it could if done hard enough, but it would certainly cause him pain. So would slapping your cupped palms over his ears, a move designed to rupture the ear drums. A jab of stiffened fingers into the eyes or throat was disabling.

  He showed her the most vulnerable place on the throat for crushing the trachea. Without immediate help, someone with a crushed trachea would die. Even if she couldn’t manage crushing power, the blow, done properly, would disable.

  They moved around on the mat, into different positions and scenarios. By necessity, the drill was close contact. Niema forced herself to ignore the sensations generated by having John’s tall, hard-muscled body against hers, his arms wrapped around her in various holds as he patiently instructed her on how to break those holds.

  They both worked up a sweat, and he kept at it until she was panting for breath.

  “Would it help if I cried uncle?” she finally asked.

  “We can stop any time you want,” he said, surprised.

  “Great. Now you tell me.”

  “I don’t want to make you sore. We need to train every day, to build up your strength and stamina, and we can’t if your muscles are too sore to work.”

  He actually looked worried, so Niema said, “No, I don’t think I’ll be sore, but I’m still ready for a break.”

  “There’s some water in the fridge over there. I’m going to work with the weights while you rest.”

  She fetched a bottle of cold water from the rusty refrigerator standing in the corner and settled down on the mat to watch. He stripped off his T-shirt and tossed it aside. Quickly she looked away and drank more water. Seeing a man without his shirt was nothing out of the ordinary, but still . . . this was John Medina, and he wasn’t ordinary.

  She stretched out on the mat and closed her eyes, so she wouldn’t give in to the temptation to stare at him. There couldn’t be anything between them except the job. He was black ops, she was nine-to-five, two totally opposite lifestyles. Still, for a dizzying moment she thought of indulging in a brief affair with him.

  What would it be like? She had enjoyed being with him today, even when he annoyed her. He challenged her, just by being himself. She was tired, but she could feel life coursing through her veins in a way it hadn’t done in a long, long time. Had he done that, or was it the prospect of being back in action? Or was he irrevocably bound up in that action, so that she couldn’t separate the two?

  Her entire body felt sensitized after that workout with him. His forearms had brushed her nipples several times. His hands had been on her legs, her hips. His body had slid against hers, and several times, while they grappled, one of his legs had been between hers.

  She rolled over onto her stomach and cradled her head on her arms. John Medina had “Danger Zone” written all over him, and for her own sake she should pay attention to the sign. She was already risking more than she could afford to lose.

  “Time to get back to work, cream puff,” he called from where he was doing bench presses.

  “Cream puff, my ass,” she snapped, and rolled to her feet.

  CHAPTER

  NINE

  Villa de Ronsard, the South of France

  Louis Ronsard trusted in nothing he couldn’t see, and very little that he could. Trust, in his experience, was a commodity with too high a price.

  Even when he trusted, there were degrees: He trusted his sister, Mariette, to never deliberately do anything to hurt him, but she could sometimes be as foolish as she was lovely, so he trusted her with nothing that concerned his business. By necessity, he trusted a select few of his employees with some details cf the business, but he made frequent checks on their financial and personal lives to detect any weakness that might pose a danger to him. His employees were forbidden to use drugs, for example, but Ronsard was under no delusion that just because he said it, it was so. So . . . drug tests for all the employees, from the lowest to the highest.

  He was aware that he walked a knife edge of danger. The people with whom he dealt on a daily basis were not upstanding citizens. In his opinion, they were either fanatic or psychotic, or both. He had yet to be able to tell which was the most unstable.

  There was only one way one could deal with such people: very cautiously.

  He would not accept commissions from just anyone. The maniac who wanted to explode a bomb in a school as a protest for world peace was not going to purchase that bomb or the materials through him. Even in the world of terrorists there must be standards, no? Ronsard required an established organization, which would need his services again and so was not likely to turn on him.

  For his part, he was absolutely scrupulous in delivering what he had promised. He took nothing for himself except the agreed payment. His own value, he knew, depended on his reliability. To that end, he went to extraordinary lengths to make certain nothing went wrong with any shipment, no matter how small. His business had flourished as a result, and his bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands were . . . healthy.

  Because he was so careful, anything out of the ordinary made him wary. Such was the phone call he received that morning on his private line, the number only a very few people knew.

  “So,” he murmured to himself as he leaned back in his chair and rolled a fragrant cigar, taken from an inlaid sandalwood box on his desk, in his fingers.

  “So?” Cara Smith, his secretary and aide—his first aide, as she liked to call herself—looked up from the computer she was using to track his various investments. He had been surprised, when he had her investigated, to discover her name really was Smith, and that she was from the unlikely named Waterloo, Kansas, which had given her the opportunity over the years to make some dreadful puns at his expense.

  “We have a request from an . . . unexpected party.”

  Cara, of all people, knew how much he disliked the unexpected. But she also knew him, better than was sometimes comfortable, and immediately saw his interest. Something intrigued him, or he would have immediately refused the commission.

  She swiveled her chair tow
ard him and crossed her long legs. Since Cara was six feet tall, they were very long legs indeed. “And the name is . . . ?”

  “Temple.”

  Her cornflower blue eyes widened. “Wow.”

  She was so American, he thought, so adept in the inelegant phrase. “Wow, indeed.”

  Temple, known only by the one name, was a shadow in the already murky world of terrorists. His name had been whispered in connection with some assassinations, with certain bombings. He did not choose his targets at random, for the sake of creating terror. He might bring down an airplane, but one person on that flight was his specific target It was unknown whether he belonged to some even more shadowy organization or if he worked for himself. If for himself, no one knew what his agenda was. Temple was an enigma.

  Ronsard didn’t like enigmas. He liked to know exactly with whom, and what, he was dealing.

  “What does he want?”

  “The RDX-a.”

  To his relief, she didn’t say “wow” again. Nor did she ask the obvious: How did Temple even know about RDX-a? It had been tested only a week before, and though the compound had performed as it was supposed to, its existence was still known to only a few. There were a few problems in production that were currently being eliminated, such as the tendency of some batches to decompose at an accelerated rate, with unpleasant results for the handler. It was a delicate balancing act, to stabilize an unstable compound just enough to be able to predict its rate of decomposition, without rendering it too stable to perform.

  “Find every available bit of information on Temple,” he said. “I want to know what he looks like, where he was born—everything.”

  “Are you going to accept the commission?”

  “It depends.” Ronsard lit the cigar, dedicating himself, for a few pleasurable seconds, to the ritual. When the end was glowing to his satisfaction he savored the subtle vanilla taste on his tongue. He would have to change his clothing before seeing Laure; she loved the smell of his cigars, but the smoke wasn’t good for her.

 
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