The fourth book in the Carroll Monks series, 2005
In memory of my father, Daniel Patrick McMahon,
who spent forty-three Chicago winters working
outside, providing water for the citizens.
Let them eat cake.
The man who called himself Freeboot crouched in the darkness outside the main security station at Sapphire Mountain Estates, a gated community forty miles north of Atlanta, Georgia. It was 2:11 A.M. He had been hiding for almost twelve hours-first in the back of a delivery truck, then after dark, when the groundskeepers and golfers chasing stray balls were gone, sneaking through the shrubbery to here.
Getting into and around a place like this was not hard. Getting back out again was a different thing.
The sky was blue-black and starry, the air frosty. His maquis partner, Taxman, had warned him about the November cold, even in the deep South. Taxman had done a lot of training in the Georgia woods, during jump school at Fort Benning. Travel light, freeze at night, went the riff. But Freeboot hardly felt the cold. In the California mountain hide-away where he spent most of his time, he went barefoot except when it got so bad that frostbite might slow him down. Tonight, he only wore boots to keep from leaving footprints.
At 2:17 A.M., the Estates’ security patrol car returned from a routine cruise through the streets. The car, like the rest of security here, was no Mickey Mouse setup. Freeboot could see the barrel of an assault shotgun above the dashboard.
The driver, a uniformed guard armed with a large caliber semiautomatic pistol, parked under the sodium lights and walked to the station, a concrete building that looked like an above-ground bunker. Like the barrier fence, and anything else that might remind Sapphire Mountain Estates residents that there was a hostile world out there, it was placed out of view of the luxury houses.
The guard was young, Hispanic-looking, and buff, with a tight-fitting tailored uniform. He seemed alert if not wary, on the cocky side. Like a pimp, Freeboot thought. No-more like a whore, peddling his ass to the kind of people who lived in places like this.
Necks, Freeboot called them. They owned it all now, but the heads were going to start rolling-bigtime.
When the guard got to the building’s heavy steel door, he passed his magnetic badge through a scanner, then pressed his palm against a glass plate. A few seconds later, the door’s electronic bolt opened with a solid thunk.
He stepped inside. The door closed behind him.
Getting into that building, for Freeboot, was Phase One of this operation.
Security guards were usually untrained and sloppy-even easy to bribe. But these guards were a cut above. The residents of Sapphire Mountain Estates paid for the best, and they got it. A low-end house here cost 2.5 million dollars. The compound was surrounded by an inertia sensor fence that could pick up, literally, a mouse crawling through. The only entry point was a kiosk manned by another armed guard and backed up by a video camera that scanned each incoming vehicle’s make and license plate, not allowing it to pass unless it agreed with computerized data on an authorized list. A third guard kept watch inside the main station, where individual perimeter and trap alarms from every house were wired in on dedicated phone lines. The system was as secure as anything outside of top-secret military installations. There had never been a whisper of trouble here.
In just five minutes that was going to change.
Freeboot checked his watch, then pressed the beeper on his two-way belt radio-once, for alert, then five times slowly. Immediately, it beeped in return-the signal that Taxman was in place, just outside the entry kiosk.
Freeboot flexed his surgically gloved hands to limber his fingers, and screwed a stainless-steel sound suppressor onto the barrel of his HK MP5/10 submachine gun. It was set to fire a thirty-round clip of 10-mm ammunition on full auto. It was also equipped with a high-intensity Tac light, to illuminate and temporarily blind anyone who stood in its path. Along with the gas mask and PVS-14 night-vision goggles in his pack, the Tac light would come into action during Phase Two.
With three minutes left to go, Freeboot reached into a pocket of his black fatigues and took out a can of Copenhagen. Instead of chew it was filled with a finely ground white powder. He dipped in the tip of his survival knife and raised a good-sized mound to each nostril, inhaling sharply. The harsh wild rush of methamphetamine burned up behind his eyes and swelled through his brain. The stars took on a crystalline glitter, and the chilly breeze cut into his flesh with a delicious edge.
He was ready. He pulled his ski mask down over his face, slipped the HK’s sling over his shoulder, and eased his wiry body into final position-in the building’s shadows, five meters from the door. A backlit man stepping through would be a perfect target, standing in what was known as a vertical coffin.
Two minutes and twenty-four seconds later, his radio beeped twice, fast. He picked up the baseball-sized rock at his feet and sidearmed it into the security fence. It hit with a whispering rattle, the same kind of disturbance as a raccoon or deer brushing against it would make, and that was what the guards would think it was. But they were required to go out and check.
A minute passed, then another. The guards were in no hurry about this kind of thing. False alarms caused by animals happened all the time.
He flexed his fingers again, waiting.
There: the thunk of the iron bolt. The guard appeared a second later, saying something laughingly over his shoulder to his partner inside the room. Freeboot kept waiting, so that the guard would block the door open as he fell.
When he turned and took another step forward, Freeboot opened fire, starting at the knees and sweeping up, left hand flat over the HK’s muzzle to keep it from jumping. The silenced staccato rounds were hardly louder than a kid would make sputtering through his lips. The guard slammed back against the door and slid to the ground, his eyes still open.
Freeboot sprinted past him into the building. The other guard swiveled in his office chair. His face just had time to register terror before a second burst from the HK tore into his chest. He let out a sobbing groan and slumped into a huddle.
Freeboot gripped the back of his chair and heaved it forward, dumping him onto the floor. This man was older, heavy-set, with a clipped brindle mustache. He wore a wedding ring on a thick finger. Freeboot flipped the HK’s selector switch to single shot and fired an insurance round into his ear canal, angling it slightly upward. He stepped to the first guard and dragged him inside, pausing to pull off his cap and unsnap the keyring from his belt. There was no need to fire another round into this one.
For ten more seconds, Freeboot waited, getting control over his breath, listening for beeps on his radio that might signal trouble. None came. Which meant that Taxman had now killed the guard at the Estates’ entry kiosk, and that the local police hadn’t been alerted. If that had happened, the third member of their team, monitoring a police scanner in the getaway car, would have picked up the call and sent them a warning.
From here on, there was no need to try the risky task of disabling any alarm systems. No one was watching the watchers, and no one was left alive to respond to the alarms when they went off.
He beeped his belt radio three times-all clear here, ready to move on.
The answering three beeps came from Taxman. He was ready, too. He had earned his name because he collected what was owed.