there, and we think that's how he gets his drops.'

'Drops?'

'Drops-drug shipments. They bring the raw stuff in by plane from Lebanon and Turkey, then-'

'I've got it,' I said. That explained the grain on the suit of the man who'd been following me.

'Now listen, Mongo,' Garth continued evenly. 'You haven't killed anyone, except maybe yourself if you keep running around loose. I have contacts there, and I know the department will put me on the first plane out of here. When the Italian authorities find out you've been messing with Pernod they'll more than likely give you a medal. I don't want them to give it to you posthumously, which means you turn yourself in now. Do I make sense?'

He made sense. I told him so and hung up. I was dialing the local police when I happened to glance in the direction of the clerk. I hung up and stepped out of the booth.

'Excuse me,' I said, pointing to the calendar on the wall, 'what's today's date?'

The clerk glanced up at the calendar, then ripped off the previous day's sheet.

'August twenty-third, signor. I forgot to change it.'

I mumbled my thanks and headed out the door. The clerk yelled after me, asking something about my arm. I ignored him. August 23rd: 8-23. Now I knew why they'd wanted the notebook back. 823drop10. Pernod was expecting a drop this day, either at ten in the morning or ten in the evening.

I planned to do some dropping myself.

I found a DKW I could drive, crossed the wires, and was off, heading for the open country southeast of Rome. It would take some fast driving over rough terrain, but I figured I could make it if I didn't slow down for the towns.

I was well beyond any limitations imposed by pain, hunger or exhaustion. My mind and senses were very clear, and I was running on the most efficient fuel of all: high-octane, one-hundred-proof hate. That hate made it a personal thing, a demand that I be the one to put Pernod away. Pernod had used me to kill another human being, and that act required a special kind of payment that only I could collect.

Garth's unintentional directions were right on the money. It was 8:30 when I finally spotted Pernod's ranch from a bend in the road at the top of a hill, about twenty minutes outside Cinecitta. It was a spread of about one hundred acres or so, and the air strip ran right up to the rear of the wood and brick farmhouse. The fields of grain glowed golden in the morning sun. It would have made an idyllic scene were it not for the electrified wire surrounding the whole, and an armed guard at the only gate.

I drove the rest of the way down the hill, past the gate. I waved to the stony-faced guard, who stared right through me. I drove around another bend, pulled the car off to the side of the road and sat down in the grass to think.

If there was a drop coming in, I was sure Pernod would be in the house waiting for it. The problem was getting to him without getting myself killed. The fence was about seven feet high, with an additional foot of barbed wire crowning the top. With two good arms I might have tried to fashion a pole and vault it. In my present condition there was no way. I would have to meet the guard head on.

The area in back of me was wooded. Using my belt, I strapped my useless left arm in close to my body, then stepped back into the trees and made my way back toward the guard. I stopped when I was about twenty yards away, picked up a stone and hurled it at the fence. The wire greeted the stone with a shower of electric sparks and a high-pitched, deadly whine. The guard came running down the road.

He was carrying a sub-machine gun, Russian made, which meant it had probably come from somewhere in the Middle East along with a shipment of drugs. It also meant to me that I was right about the drop that morning. Nothing else would justify the risk of arming a roadside guard with such a weapon; a man standing by a gate with a sub-machine gun would be sure to arouse suspicion, and could blow whatever cover Pernod maintained. No, something-something very big-was coming in, and I suspected it could be Pernod's retirement nest egg.

I had to get close to the man, and the gun in his hand meant I had very little margin of error. I doubted that another ruse would work; any sound from me and he'd simply spray the trees with machine gun fire. I would have to go to him.

I waited until he was about fifteen yards beyond me, then took a deep breath and exploded from the line of trees. Suddenly, the scene seemed to shift to slow motion inside my brain. I was running low, my right arm pumping wildly, my eyes fixed on the spot at the base of the man's skull I knew I must hit if I was to get him before he got me. But he'd heard me, and his finger was already pressed against the trigger of his weapon as he began to make his turn.

The muzzle of the gun described an arc, bucking, firing a shower of bullets that kicked into the trees, the circle of death coming closer and closer. The muzzle finally zeroed in on me and I left my feet, arching my back and thrusting up my arm in a desperate effort for height. An angry swarm of steel whirred by beneath me, and then I was at his head. There was no time to do anything but aim for the kill.

I twisted my body to the side, tucked in my left leg, then lashed out, catching the point of his jaw with my heel. The man's head kicked to one side and I could hear a dull click. He fell as I fell.'

I landed on my left side and was almost swallowed up by a white hot flash of pain that must have ascended all the way from hell. Somehow I managed to get to my feet, crouched and ready to move in case I had missed. I hadn't.

The hot barrel of the gun had fallen across the man's arm and was scorching his skin, but he didn't move. The click I had heard had been the sound of the man's neck breaking.

I turned and glanced in the direction of the farmhouse. Two figures were running toward the road. Both carried machine guns. I grabbed the dead man's weapon and sprinted back to the shelter of the trees.

They wasted no time examining the body of their dead comrade. The moment they saw him they dropped to the ground on their bellies, their guns pointed into the woods. My mind told me they couldn't possibly hear me breathing; my fear insisted I take no chances. I held my breath. It was like Old Home Week; one man was the one who'd been tailing me in Rome, the other the one who'd slugged me in Venice.

They were patient. It was ten minutes before the older man finally signaled the younger to move out. Both rose to a crouch and began moving off in opposite directions, still keeping their guns trained into the woods on the left and right of me. I crawled forward on my belly up to a large oak at the very edge of the road, then straightened up and flattened myself against the trunk.

I was not at all sure I could even fire the gun with one arm, at least not with the accuracy I would need. Add to that the fact that any move I made would require exquisite timing and you come up with a situation that was not exactly favorable. Still, my adrenaline was running low and I had no desire to simply pass out at their feet. Besides, I hadn't come this far to fight a defensive action.

Now the men were about twenty-five yards apart, on opposite sides of the tree, and still moving. In going for an attacking position, I had crawled into a cul-de-sac; sooner or later the angle would be reduced to the point where one of the men would spot me. It was time to make my move.

I knew if I swung on one man the tree would protect me from the other, at least for a few seconds. I decided to go after the older, more experienced man first. He was the most dangerous. I braced the gun on my hip and swung to my right.

'Freeze! Both of you! Freeze, or this man dies!'

Of course, they were going to hear none of it. Bullets beat an obscene tattoo on the trunk behind me while the man in front of me tried to drop to one side.

I had anticipated it. I cut loose with a quick burst and the older man's body danced in the air like a bloody rag doll.

Immediately I pressed back against the tree, counted to three, and rolled around the back to the opposite side. The other man had done exactly what I had expected, running down the road to the other side of the tree. I stepped out on my side and pressed the trigger, catching him in the belly, blowing him backwards.

He was dead before he hit the fence but that didn't soothe my sensibilities. I shielded my eyes from the twitching figure stuck with electric glue to the deadly wire mesh.

It occurred to me that I had killed my first man-plus two others for good measure-in the space of the last ten minutes. Oddly enough, I felt strangely unaffected by the blood and death around me; I kept thinking of a young man struggling for life while a man plunged a needleful of eternity into his veins.

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