Authors: John Gilstrap
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Espionage, #American Mystery & Suspense Fiction, #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Adventure fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Crime & Thriller, #General, #Thriller
Branches tore at him and buffeted him as he fell through the canopy, but even as his gut screamed at him with every impact, he reminded himself that they were keeping him alive. Without something to break his momentum, a fall from this height offered little chance of survival, and virtually none of escaping without injury.
When the ground slapped him, he howled with agony. He'd been torn by bullets before, but the mind mercifully takes the edge off memories like that. It felt as if someone had packed his appendix with hot coals. He paused at the base of his tree and tested his legs. Everything seemed to be intact. Somehow, he'd managed to hang on to the Glock all the way to the ground.
He forced himself to his feet, listing to his wounded side, and tried to get his bearings. Out here in the dark, the burning truck might just as well have been lighthouse on a calm sea. He headed that way.
He didn't want Ivan Patrick to burn to death. That would be too easy. He wanted the man to suffer, but he wanted to be its cause.
Fewer than a hundred paces brought him to the edge of the road cut, close enough to the SUV to feel the heat from its fire. The vehicle reminded Jonathan of a dead bug on the floor, on its back with its feet in the air. He squinted against the intensity of the light as he approached the cab. As he got to within a few feet, he forced himself into a low crouch, where he could see through the shattered windows, grunting noisily at the effort. The first thing he noticed was four GVX canisters strewn across the roof, which was now the floor. The second thing was that the vehicle was empty.
He was as much the hunted as the hunter now, and the hairs on his arms and neck rose to attention. A gunshot boomed from behind him and he dove right, blowing a bellows on those coals in his gut and stirring them with an ice pick. He rolled again as a bullet slammed into the spot he'd just left, and then he rolled back to that spot just to be unpredictable and screw up the shooter's aim. A third shot missed.
Jonathan cursed his stupidity. Anger, pain, and blood loss together offered no excuse to create a perfectly backlit target. If he died here, he deserved it. This was a rookie mistake, and it rightfully came with a death penalty.
Scrambling on the ground, he found his feet and scurried for the woods line he'd come from, only to dart left at the 't want to burn!" he yelled. "Jesus God, I don't want to burn!"
"You're going to have one shitty eternity, then," Jonathan laughed. "I'm told that hell is all about fire and a daily ass-fuck with a straight razor." The image amused him.
As the adrenaline drained from his system, though, the white-hot icepick returned. As he dragged his prisoner into the center of the road cut, the load got progressively heavier, every step adding another fifty pounds. A hundred pounds. A thousand. When they reached the center of the road cut, the world pitched sideways, and Jonathan fell.
He caught himself with his free hand, his nose just inches away from Ivan's.
His prey knew an opportunity when he saw it. Ivan snapped like a dog, trying to sink his teeth into Jonathan's face.
Jonathan recoiled. The teeth missed by millimeters, so close that he could feel the man's oniony breath and hear the click of his jaws. He tried to push away with a one-arm push-up from Ivan's chest, but his gut muscles spasmed and the effort aborted halfway through. He fell again. This time, as he came down he remained conscious of Ivan's mouth, and he caught himself with a forearm across the torturer's eyes.
Ivan moved with lightning speed. His head jerked to the side and he snapped again, this time catching the meat of Jonathan's left forearm with his incisors. With his teeth sunk in to the gum line, he started whip his head back and forth, exactly the way JoeDog would tear into the rope pull toys that lay strewn around the firehouse. The pain was exquisite, sharper, more intense even than the bullet wound. With his elbow bent, and his arm immobilized, there was no getting away. The whipping action of Ivan's head pulled him off balance. He pounded at the man's face with the heel of his fist, wide arcing hammer blows, but they had little behind them, and he was unable to do much more than bloody the torturer's nose.
In the dancing yellow light of the burning truck, Jonathan saw the blood--his blood--pouring from the corners of Ivan's mouth. The ugliness of that--the savagery of it--angered him more. Issuing a guttural yell that rallied his remaining inner resources, Jonathan rose up on the damaged arm and leaned on it, as if to stuff it down Ivan's throat. As the jaws closed tighter, he pressed even harder.
"There you go, asshole," Jonathan growled. "Swallow it. Choke on it, you son of a bitch." From this higher angle, he could finally get enough leverage to throw a solid punch to the man's nose. Blood fountained, and now his face was wet with it, slick with it. But the pressure from Ivan's jaws never slackened. If anything, his grip closed tighter.
Through the gleaming red-black mask, Ivan's eyes glared malignantly at Jonathan. He had this one chance at survival, and as long as he was still breathing, he wasn't going to squander it.
The eyes. One mangled and the other evil. Were those eyes the last thing that Angela Caldwell had seen when he'd killed her after he'd made her endure her children's suffering? Had Ellen witnessed the same defiant glare as Ivan raped her and broke her bones?
Jonathan stared at the mangled one as he jammed his thumb into the good one. It was a calculated move--one he'd learned and taught at the Operator Training Course at Fort Bragg. The body instinctively reacts to ting his forearm.
"No!" Ivan yelled. "No! No! No!" Biting wasn't important to him anymore. Fighting wasn't all that important to him either. Hell, he'd have been Jonathan's best friend just to save the sight in one eye.
Jonathan pressed harder. He felt the eyeball deforming under the pressure. Now that he had the use of his left hand, too, he went for the mangled mess that was all the torturer had to help him navigate through hell. He straddled the bucking man's chest and--
The sound of Gail's voice startled him, but he didn't turn. He knew what they'd done. Boxers had somehow found them a vehicle, and they'd come back up the fire road to rescue him.
Only he didn't need rescuing. He had a job to do.
"Jonathan Grave, stop it!" Gail's tone was that of a scolding mother. She'd moved from behind him to in front where he could see her. "Stop it," she said again.
"Fuck off," he replied.
"Let him go, Jonathan," she said. "This isn't what you're about. It's over. We've got him."
"She's right, Dig," Boxers said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You're not an assassin, remember? You're not a murderer. You've said it a thousand times."
Those were the words that got through to him. The words and the big man's beefy hand on his shoulder.
Jonathan pulled his hands away from Ivan's face and rolled to the side onto the ground to let the man clutch at himself.
The reality of his wounds hit him. He felt old and he felt cold. He felt sick. He'd crossed a line with Ivan tonight. As he looked at the blood streaming from his arm, and the color started to fade from his surroundings, he wondered if the legend of the vampire somehow applied to bites from ordinary mortals. As he stared up to the smoke-blackened sky, he knew that he would soon be unconscious, and the thing that he dreaded most was the possibility of waking up with Ivan's blood in his veins, commingled with his own.
A gunshot startled him.
A lady's voice screamed, "What did you do?"
And then Boxers said, "I got no problem bein' an assassin."
Jonathan smiled as he drifted away.
Mount Comfort Cemetery in Alexandria had been the interment place for Tibor Rothman's family for at least three generations. As Dom piloted his Chevy around the circle, he glanced at his passenger, assessing emotional stability, Jonathan supposed.
"Is that your priestly concern or your psychologist's concern?" Jonathan asked, staring straight ahead.
"Let's call it a friend's concern," Dom replied.
Touche. "Then thank you. But relax. I'm fine."
"Sure you are," Dom said. Though his jaw was mostly healed, there was still a certain tightness to his words. "If you don't mind, we'll let your psychologist make that call."
Fair enough, Jonathan thought. After all, the priestHe's the one the news folks were here to pay tribute to."
"Or just to make sure that the son of a bitch was really dead," Jonathan quipped.
"I won't let you get away with that, Dig. For ninety-nine percent of his life, maybe he was a complete ass, but he checked out in service to others. You above all people should--"
"I know, Dom. It's just such a hard notion to wrap my head around."
"You're stalling," Dom said.
Jonathan gave a wry chuckle. When he looked at Dom, he hoped that his eyes were nowhere near as red as they felt. "Would you believe I'm scared?"
"It's tough to say good-bye. I'm not sure there's any harder thing in the world." Dom reached out and rested a hand on Jonathan's forearm. "Want me to come with you?"
Jonathan didn't answerenjoyed the confirmation that his assumptions about those legs were correct. "I've always considered myself to be a good investigator. You know, finding people who don't want to be found."
Jonathan's smirk became a smile. "God knows I'm the last one to argue."
She uncrossed her legs and leaned closer. "Do you know anyone who might be looking for someone with those skills?"
"I just might," he said. "What do you say we discuss it over dinner tonight?"
A stunning smile bloomed. "I've already made the reservations," she said.
My wife, Joy, is the constant in my life. For reasons known only to her, she continues to love me, as I have adored her, for twenty-seven years. No man could be luckier.
Anne Hawkins, my literary agent and dear friend, is a force of nature. I treasure her ongoing counsel. One of her great favors was to introduce me to Michaela Hamilton, my editor at Kensington Publishing. With people like Michaela and Kensington CEO Steve Zacharias in your corner, it's hard to make a mistake.
The Jonathan Grave series would likely never have happened if my good friend and former collaborator Kurt Muse had not put in a good word for me. Through him, I gained access to people and places that lifelong civilians never get to meet. Kurt vouched for me, and I was in. I hope that Jonathan Grave exhibits even one-tenth of the honor and integrity of those who inspired his creation.
Life would be boring, and fictional characters horribly dull, were it not for the likes of Jeffery Deaver, John and Susan Miller, Pat Barney and Sam Shockley, Bob and Bert Garino, Cyndi and Duane Ellis, Charlie and Trisha White, Chuck Carr, David Taylor, Jack and Sharon Kennedy, Sandy and Richard Berthelsen, Dave and Judy Jackson, Anne Marie Horvath, Kent Kiser, Ed Szrom, Cap Grossman, Doug Kramer, Tom Herod, Joe Bateman, and the dozens of friends that I have made through my day job at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
Then there's my son, Chris. When I first started writing acknowledgments in books, he was a little boy. Now he's twenty-three years old and a head taller than his old man. He's smart, he's handsome, he's funny, and he's one of the kindest souls I've ever met. I'm proud to call him my son and even prouder to call him my friend.
Don't miss John Gilstrap's next exciting thriller
featuring Jonathan Grave
Coming from Pinnacle in 2010!
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Copyright (c) 2009 John Gilstrap, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author's imaginre used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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