Jeff Abbott

Men die because they cannot join the beginning to the end.

— Alcmaeon

Two Years Ago

“End of the honeymoon,” Emily said. “You tired of me yet?”

“Absolutely.” Ben Forsberg watched her standing at the sink at the rental house’s kitchen, smiled as the light from the Maui sun played across her face. “I’ve already called several divorce lawyers. Probably be best if we didn’t sit together on the flight home.”

“And I thought it was just me.” She gave him a glance over her shoulder, bit at her lip, fought down the grin. “This marriage was a huge mistake.”

“I’m consumed with regret.”

She flicked water at him and came to the kitchen table where he sat. She slid into his lap and he took her in his arms. He gave her a long, slow, unhurried kiss. She kissed him back, ran her foot along his calf, and then stood.

“I was kidding,” he said.

“I know, Einstein. Go shower. You smell like golf.”

“What does golf smell like?”

“Sweat, grass, sunshine, and frustration. Usually in that order.”

“What’s the smell of frustration?” he asked, starting to laugh.

“You’ll soon know,” Emily said, “if you don’t go shower. You’ll be one highly frustrated new husband.” She gave him a small, chaste kiss and a light pat on his rump as he stood.

“I love it when you threaten me,” Ben said, kissing her again.

“Not a threat, sweetie, go get cleaned up. It’s my turn to fix us lunch. Then we’ll have dessert before we have to go to the airport.” She touched his lips with her finger and smiled.

“I don’t want to go home,” he said. “I’m not ready for you to turn back into the Queen of Spreadsheets.”

“Or you to be the King of Contracts,” she said. “We could just stay here and never go back to work.”

“Be poor and homeless in Maui. Brilliant idea.” He leaned back from her. “Work is overrated.”

“Except for bringing us together. Speaking of which, I need to call Sam before we leave for the airport.”

“Remember? No work calls. I’ve kept my side of the deal.”

“Yes, well, I’ll keep my marriage vows to you but everything else is negotiable. Go shower.” She kissed his finger with its new band of gold. “I like you in nothing but your wedding ring.”

He headed for the shower, glancing back at her as she finished washing her hands. His wife. He smiled big but he turned his head so she wouldn’t see his grin. She’d think he was being silly.

He showered fast, trying not to think of the real world that awaited back in Dallas. He toweled off, hearing her wrap up a conversation with their boss, laughter in her tone. He heard her hang up, then water jet into the kitchen sink. He slipped on his simple gold wedding ring, its slight weight welcome on his finger, and pulled the towel around his waist. She’d mentioned dessert with a twinkle in her eye. Maybe they’d have a treat before lunch, make love in the kitchen, the sort of crazy out-of-bounds thing two normally proper workaholics did in their honeymoon’s last hours.

He smoothed his hair flat in the mirror. He heard the glass shatter, a loud tinkle. “Babe?” He remembered her toes tickling his calf when they kissed. If she’d dropped a glass, she’d be risking those bare feet. “Babe? You drop something?” He slid his feet into his sandals.

Ben hurried into the kitchen. Emily lay sprawled on the tiles, as though a hand had slammed through the window and shoved her to the floor, leaving a wet, red, huge fingerprint on her forehead.

“Emily.” Ben knelt by her, his voice soft as prayer. Calm, not screaming, because this couldn’t be. They had to make love, eat lunch, get to the airport. “Emily. Please. Wake up-”


Nicky Lynch lay low on the building’s roof, steadying the sniper’s rifle, watching the two targets arguing out the last moments of their lives. He stared through the crosshairs, waiting for the shot when he could take both the geek and the big guy in rapid fire. Rush jobs made him nervous; he hadn’t had enough time to prepare. His body was still on Belfast time, six hours ahead of Austin, Texas. He blinked. Stay focused, he told himself.

“You going to shoot today?” Jackie’s voice whispered into his earpiece. His brother waited in the lobby of the office building across the street, anxious for Nicky to work his double-shot magic so Jackie could go inside Adam Reynolds’s office and finish the job.

“Radio silence,” Nicky said into his mouthpiece.

“Any day now.” Jackie’s impatient sigh made an electronic crackle in Nicky’s ear.

“Silence,” Nicky repeated into his microphone, keeping his annoyance in check. Killing took only a second, but precautions, so that the job went cleanly, took time. Jackie was too restless; he had the impatience of a fever.

Nicky put his mind back to the kills. The angle into the office where the two men argued wasn’t ideal, but the client had been quite specific in how he wanted the job done. The big guy, standing near the window, wasn’t quite close enough… and Nicky had to complete the hit with the first shot. Jackie would be in the office less than a minute after the two men were dead, and he did not want either man breathing when his brother stepped inside to plant the goods. Especially the big guy. Nicky didn’t want Jackie within ten meters of that man.

If the two would just stop moving. The honking, stop-and-start traffic of downtown Austin jerked on the street nine stories below him. A distant rumble touched the sky, a spring storm deciding whether to grant a cooling rain. He tuned out the noise, because the prime chance for the kill shot might come at any second. The office was large, its narrow windows divided by white limestone. He was at the same height as the targets, but he had to hide close to a roof air-conditioning unit and the angle was awkward.

He frowned. Best if the two stood in the same slender window frame, close together, but the pair stood off from each other like wary lions. The geek wore a scared frown, as though he were shoving aside all the numbers and facts in his oversized brain and searching for unused courage. The geek damn well should be scared, Nicky thought. Nicky had read the notes about the big guy with a mix of admiration and shock. It wasn’t every day you got to kill such an interesting man. Nicky had killed thirty-six people but none so… accomplished. He almost wished he could have bought the big guy a pint, chatted with him, learned from him, soaked in his exploits. But the very best ones, he thought, always kept their secrets.

Now the big guy laughed-Nicky wondered what the hell was funny- and the big guy moved halfway into one window’s frame. But not far enough for a certain shot.

And then the geek pulled a gun from his desk and aimed it at the big guy. Nicky held his breath. Maybe they’d do his job for him, kill each other, and he could just watch.

“Stay back,” Adam Reynolds said. The gun made for an unfamiliar weight in his hand-he had purchased it only three days before, a necessary precaution. He had spent five hours on the Internet researching the right pistol. But he hadn’t spent nearly enough time practicing how to shoot. Adam’s lungs tightened with fear, his back prickled

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