My voice was too loud, too anxious, but Lippitt didn't seem to notice. He nodded in Tal's direction. 'He knows what has to be done.'

Tal wearily shook his head. 'No, that's not possible. I won't work for you. Besides, there are complications.'

'What complications? Everyone thinks Victor Rafferty is dead.'

'Except for Rolfe Thaag and Mongo.'

Rolfe Thaag's voice rose out of the darkness at the far end of the boathouse, behind Lippitt. 'Yes, Mr. Lippitt. That is a problem, isn't it? Will you now have to kill us both?'

Lippitt wheeled and crouched, gun in hand, as the Secretary General stepped out of the shadows. Thaag, like Tal, was dressed all in black. The submachine gun he carried was trained on Lippitt's stomach.

Lippitt was still in a crouch, his gun on Thaag, his eyes darting back and forth between Thaag, Tal, and me. Thaag kept coming, stopped a few yards from Lippitt.

do NOTHING, Mongo watch

'Well, Mr. Lippitt?' There was scorn, mockery in Thaag's voice. He casually tossed the heavy gun off to one side; it landed with a crash and skittered off into the darkness. Lippitt, looking thoroughly puzzled, slowly straightened up.

'Why did you do that?' Lippitt asked in a thick voice. 'You could have killed me.'

'There's been too much death already. You're so unimaginative, Lippitt, such a fool. God, if you only knew how tired I get of dealing with fools.' The Secretary General's voice suddenly rose harshly. 'Answer me! Do you intend to kill us? And after you kill us, how will you force Ronald to do your bidding? Will you kidnap his wife? Will you threaten to torture her?'

'Shut up!' Lippitt shouted. His voice abruptly dropped to a rasping whisper. 'Damn it, Thaag, what choice do I have?' Lippitt suddenly made a gargling sound and stiffened. 'Damn you!' The words were choked, squeezed through jaws that suddenly seemed to be locked tightly together. 'Stop it! You … can't! I won't ..Let you!'

I looked at Tal. His eyes were closed in concentration; his head was thrust slightly forward, and the veins stood out in his neck and forehead. He began to tremble and grabbed at his head as blood spurted from both nostrils, staining the front of his clothing, spotting the boards at his feet. Still he maintained his concentration. Lippitt seemed caught in the grip of some terrible force. He was obviously struggling with all his strength and will, yet the hand holding the gun slowly, inexorably, came down. The fingers, bent into claws, stiffened, and the gun clattered to the floor.

Hearing about telekinesis and seeing it performed were two quite different things. This was the last and most terrifying demonstration I'd seen of Victor Rafferty's powers. Suddenly I understood Lippitt perfectly; I shared his fear. The remote-control assassination of a president could be nothing more than a minor exercise for Victor Rafferty. He could actually move men and objects with his mind: I suspected he would have less difficulty exploding a brain, as he'd already done on a hot August morning five years before.

'You miss the obvious alternative,' Rolfe Thaag said quietly as he stepped forward and kicked Lippitt's gun away.

Tal relaxed his concentration. At the same moment Lippitt jerked spasmodically and just managed to keep himself from falling. He started after the gun.

'Don't!' Tal snapped. 'Next time I'll have to hurt you! I assure you that's easier than what I just did.'

Lippitt froze, then slowly turned back to face Tal.

'Ronald has never considered selling himself to the highest bidder,' Thaag said. 'I am only grateful that I was worthy of his trust five years ago. True, he has been invaluable in diplomatic negotiations… but he's also helped hundreds of people the same way he helped you, Mr. Lippitt, without their ever knowing. So, you see, the alternative is to remain silent. You know where he is, and you'll constantly be watching him. That's enough. Let him continue his work. Say nothing to anyone.'

Lippitt shook his head. 'How do I know-how do you know-he won't change? How can I know how he'll feel tomorrow… or ten years from now? He'll always be a threat.'

'Take a chance, Lippitt,' I heard myself saying. 'For God's sake, take a chance!'

'You'll always know where to find me, Lippitt,' Tal said as he wiped the blood from his face. 'You'll have to trust me… as I'll have to trust you. My life is in the hands of the people in this room.'

We stood for a long time in silence. Rolfe Thaag found Lippitt's gun, picked it up, and handed it to him. Lippitt snatched the gun, wheeled with lightning speed, and aimed it at Tal's heart. Tal stood calmly, a smile playing around the edges of his mouth. Then Lippitt abruptly shoved the gun into his coat pocket, turned, and looked at me with a question in his eyes.

Suddenly, for the first time, I felt the full, electric impact of the deadly secret we were being asked to share. Lippitt was emotionally separated from Tal, Thaag, and me; both Lippitt and I would be physically separated from each other, and from the other two. Yet there would be an invisible but steel-strong thread binding us all together for the rest of our lives, a thread spun at once of life and death, trust and suspicion. I was intrigued. And I was afraid.

'It's a good deal,' I said to Lippitt. 'Take it. I don't plan on saying anything. Not ever.'

Lippitt turned and walked out of the boathouse. He didn't look back.

I glanced at Tal. 'Will he keep it a secret?'

Tal smiled thinly, nodded his head. 'He intends to at the moment.'

'He could change his mind, come after you.'

'Well, yes, he could. But I don't think he will.' His smile broadened. 'Speaking of reading minds: You'd better go get your brother the steak and drinks you offered him before you walked in here. There's a man with questions.'

Tal put his hand on my shoulder and we walked together out into the smoky sunshine, while Rolfe Thaag melted back into the shadows.

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