'I know. But what do you think of the idea?'

Lippitt erased the drawings in the sand, glanced up, and said in the same soft tone: 'It could work. What's your reaction, Malakov?'

The portly Russian slowly nodded his head. 'I too must have authorization, but what Rafferty suggests does… seem to be a viable alternative.'

I hadn't realized I'd been holding my breath until it came out of me in a long sigh. My stomach hurt.

Tal stood up. 'I'm going down there. I'll tell him what the two of you just said, and I'll see what he has to say. In the meantime, you can contact your superiors.'

Lippitt shook his head. 'It's going to take a lot longer than a few minutes to make this kind of decision.'

'How much longer?'

'At least a couple of days. I'll go to Washington myself.'

'Let him come with me in the meantime,' Tal said quickly. 'The important thing is to get him out of that boat house, right?'

'What if our government says it's no deal?' I asked Lippitt.

'I don't know,' Lippitt said evenly. 'No promises.'

'Do not take us for fools,' Malakov said tightly. 'One of my men must accompany Rafferty at all times until a decision is made.'

'Whatever you say, Mr. Ambassador,' Lippitt said coldly. 'One of my men will be along too.'

'Let's see what Rafferty has to say,' Tal said as he stepped out from behind the rowboats, in full view of the boathouse. He cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled: 'Rafferty! It's Tal! Don't shoot! I'm coming down!'

There was no answer, no sound at all from the direction of the water except the steadily increasing roar of the speedboat. The craft was close now, no more than three or four hundred yards offshore, and it was making me nervous.

Malakov grabbed Lippitt's elbow. 'How do you know he's still in there? He may have slipped away from you again!'

'He's surrounded,' Lippitt said, jerking his arm free. 'I've got men with rifles on the roofs of the other boathouses; there's no way Rafferty can get out of there without being shot. Rafferty may be a lot of things, but he's not invisible.'

'Okay,' Tal said softly, 'I'm going down.'

'Hold it!' I yelled as I stood and pointed toward the water. 'What's that boat out there doing?!'

Lippitt tore the binoculars from the neck of the agent squatting next to him and raised them to his eyes. I watched the muscles in his jaw and neck begin to quiver. He threw the binoculars to one side, then turned to the crowd of police and agents behind him. 'Shoot that boat out of the water!' he yelled. 'Goddamn it, blow it away!'

Immediately the air was filled with the din of automatic- weapons fire. Two agents sprinted out onto the sand and began firing down at the water, their guns braced against their hips.

'There's no one in the boat!' Lippitt shouted. I could barely hear him above the clatter of the weapons. 'It's a drone, radio-controlled! Somebody wants to blow Rafferty up!'

The pilotless boat zigzagged as the rain of bullets fell into the water around it; there were dozens of hits, but the boat kept coming. It wasn't going to stop until it hit the boat house.

'He's got to see it coming,' Tal said through clenched teeth. 'Why doesn't he get out of there?' He again cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled. 'Thomas! Rafferty! Get out of there! Run!'

A bearded figure immediately recognizable as Elliot Thomas suddenly appeared in the doorway of the crumbling boathouse. He was carrying an automatic assault rifle. He seemed to be groggy as he staggered out onto the sand, fell back against the side of the house, and began firing up the beach in our direction. Bullets whined in the air, chewed up the sand, thwacked into the wooden barricades.

Lippitt yelled, 'Hold your fire!'

I caught a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. It was Garth sprinting toward the boathouse, his arms pumping. Tal's reflexes were faster than mine. He tackled Garth at the knees and both men went down. Garth took a swing at Tal's head, missed, then tried to struggle to his feet again as Tal hung on to his legs. I tried not to think of the bullets singing around my head as I ran forward, jumped on Garth's back, wrapped my arms around his neck.

'You can't just let that man die down there without making an effort to get him out!' Garth shouted, clawing at my arms.

'It's too late,' Tal said quietly.

The boat hit the rotting wood structure and exploded. It was something a lot more powerful than dynamite, probably plastique. The force of the blast shook the ground around us. The entire boathouse quivered for a moment, lifted off the ground, then disintegrated into bits and pieces of wood and metal. Instantly flames shot up into the temporary vacuum, burning with the white-hot glow of phosphorus or napalm.

Someone had wanted to make certain the job was done right.


There was numb, shocked silence in the aftermath of the explosion. The silence, broken only by the fierce crackle of the flames, lasted almost thirty seconds and seemed an eternity. Then Lippitt suddenly sprang forward and punched Malakov in the mouth. The stunned ambassador sat down hard on the sand and put a trembling hand to his bleeding mouth.

'You fucker!' Lippitt growled. 'You killed him! I should blow you away!'

Malakov struggled to his feet and spat blood. His face was purple. 'We didn't kill him!' he shouted, ignoring the gun aimed at his heart. His voice trembled with outrage. 'It was your people who must have done this thing! You're a fucker!'

They glared at each other across a distance of less than a yard. Then the tension was suddenly broken when two men with rifles came running up the beach from the direction of the remaining boathouses. One man's arm hung limp, and the other appeared to have singed hair. Otherwise they seemed to be all right.

'Excuse me,' Tal said weakly. 'I think I'm going to be sick.' He walked shakily down the beach toward the undamaged boathouse on the right. He was holding his left arm tightly against his side; his shirt on that side was stained with blood, and the dark patch was spreading. No one else seemed to notice.

Garth nudged me. 'All right, brother, let's hear it from the top.'

'Huh?' I wasn't really listening. The apparent chaos suddenly did not seem so confused, not in light of some of the things that had begun to bother me. Had Lippitt ordered the killing? It seemed highly unlikely, considering Lippitt's ambiguous feelings toward Rafferty, and Malakov just hadn't had time, even if he'd had the inclination. Then who had arranged the explosion?


He'd staged an apparently fatal end for himself, just as he'd done five years before. But this time he'd arranged for the entire world to look on.

'I want to hear the whole story, Mongo,' Garth was saying. 'I want to know what happened here.'

'Over steaks and drinks, Garth. Just give me a few minutes.'

Tal had disappeared from sight into the boathouse on the right. I went after him.

The boathouse was dark and smelled of still, dead air. Tal was standing at the opposite end, silhouetted by the late- morning light streaming in a window. He was smoking a cigarette-the first time I'd ever seen him do so. The smoke curled up around his head like a halo, or a mist from hell.

'I'll be damned,' I said, the dank air muffling my voice. 'Here I've been following you around all this time and I haven't found a single hamburger wrapper. You certainly did go through some changes, didn't you?'

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