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Freeboot closed the door behind him and trotted to the patrol car, pulling the guard’s cap onto his head. Driving deliberately, he headed for the entry station to pick up Taxman. It was 2:25 A.M. Phase One had gone down without a hitch.

The home of Mr. and Mrs. David C. Bodewell was a long, low hacienda-style complex that took up most of an acre. An intruder could waste precious time trying to find his way around inside, but Freeboot and Taxman had memorized the layout. The blueprints had been easy to get.

The place bristled with silent perimeter and trap alarms, and there was one more major wrinkle in this operation: a live-in bodyguard with an attack-trained Rottweiler. The dog was not much of a worry. The bodyguard would require more care. A quiet annunciator in his attached ground-floor apartment would alert him as soon as an alarm was triggered. Like the other guards, he would first think it was caused by an animal, but very quickly, he would know this was a break-in. If he was loyal, he would move to protect his employers. Or he might hide, try to ambush the attackers, or get outside and go for help.

Taking on a personally guarded house added considerable risk. Which was precisely why they’d chosen it.

He swiveled to the gaunt figure of Taxman, crouched beside him on the street. Freeboot nodded. Taxman nodded back.

They sprinted toward the house.

Taxman circled it, placing four high-powered quad-band cell phone jammers at strategic corners. Freeboot ran straight to the rear, where the underground phone and power lines rose up through conduits into metal service boxes. These were locked with padlocks. He blasted the phone-box lock with freon from a spray can, freezing it instantly and turning the metal as brittle as glass. It snapped with a blow from a hammer. He yanked the box open and ripped through the low-voltage phone line with his knife.

No one was going to be calling out now.

The power was next-another quickly snapped lock, the master breaker pushed to OFF, and the few dim lights that showed through the windows went out.

Freeboot ran on around the house’s corner to the bodyguard’s apartment. Taxman had already lined the door with det cord, stuffed tightly against the stops, then sprayed with sound-deadening foam insulation. Both men stepped to the sides and pulled on their gas masks and night goggles. Taxman pressed the detonator.

The door blew into the house with a barely heard whump, and hung sagging from the top hinge.

Freeboot lobbed in a grenade of CS gas, throwing it as hard as he could. It exploded with a searing burst that should blind the bodyguard at least for a few seconds.

They went in one at a time, low and fast, leaping to opposite sides. Nearby, a large dog was barking in deep, ferocious challenge. Freeboot scanned the room swiftly. Furniture and objects showed luminescent green through the goggles.

But there was no human figure.

Then he saw something move, a flicker of light on the other side of the room’s interior door. Just as he recognized it as a man’s arm extending toward him, a gunshot smashed into the wall behind his head.

He dropped prone to the floor. More shots blasted past him. Blinded or not, the bodyguard was aiming damned close.

Freeboot fired a burst in return, but there was no time to tell if he had hit-now the dog was charging, a thick snarling shape that appeared in the goggles to be burning with ghostly fire. Taxman met it with a swooshing spray of hydrocyanic acid. The dog yelped, a high-pitched sound that turned to a near scream as the acid burned its eyes and throat. It pitched forward, paws flailing at its face, sliding and thrashing on the hardwood floor.

The bodyguard was gone.

“You fucker,” Freeboot hissed. The man was better than they had figured. Now he was loose in the house, and there was the risk that neighbors had heard his unsilenced gunshots.

Freeboot clamped his hand on the HK’s squeeze-activated Tac-light, flooding the far side of the room with an instant of brilliant light.

There was blood spattered on the wall where the bodyguard had crouched.

“I’ll get him,” Freeboot told Taxman in a harsh whisper. “You take care of business.”

They shoved through the interior door and separated, Taxman running to the master bedroom suite. Freeboot followed the blood trail, stalking cautiously, weapon ready. The splashes were almost continuous. The bodyguard was badly hit, but a desperate man was all the more dangerous. Freeboot moved through a large laundry room, then into a shotgun hallway. The door at the end was closed. Blood was pooled on the floor in front of it.

From deep inside the house he heard a muted puh-puh, puh-puh, puh-puh-Taxman firing businesslike two-round bursts.

He had found Mr. and Mrs. Bodewell.

Freeboot charged down the hall, dropping to the ground at the last second like a baseball player sliding into home, and driving both boots into the door below the knob. It burst open. He just had time to see the bodyguard’s flaming-green outline as more gunshots smashed into the wall above him.

Lying on his back, aiming between his own spread feet, Freeboot fired a long burst in return.

He heard a shriek of rage and pain that could have come from an animal.

The man lay still. Freeboot stayed flattened for ten more seconds, then got to his knees.

A bullet slammed into his armored gut like a cannonball, spinning him back against the hallway wall. His hands flew loose from his weapon, but it was still on its sling, and the barrel swung around to slap him hard across the face.

He growled with fury and clawed for control of his gun. His finger found the trigger. This time, he took an extra second to sight at his target.

The bodyguard was holding his pistol in both hands. It was wavering, like it was too heavy to hold. He fired one more round past Freeboot’s head, before Freeboot emptied his clip.

The pistol dropped from the bodyguard’s hands.

Freeboot stood slowly, shaking. He snapped a fresh clip into the HK, then stepped to the guard and delivered the insurance round to his head. His gut ached from the bullet that had almost taken him out. He welcomed the pain, letting it fuel the anger that he turned now on himself. That had been a mistake, his mistake, and a bad one. It could have fucked up everything. From now on, he was going to take men like this more seriously.

He strode back to the door where they had come in, past the Rottweiler lying on its side with tongue hanging out and fore-limbs stretched, as if it was running in its death dream. Too bad about that. It was a good dog, dying while doing its job. It couldn’t have known what kind of people it was protecting.

Taxman was waiting at the outside door, with a long, thin duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Inside it were the trophies that were going to put the cap on this mission: a set of golf clubs.

It was 2:34 A.M. Phase Two had taken just over three minutes. Now came the third and final phase-getting out.

They loped around the house once more, collecting the phone jammers, then drove the security car to the entry kiosk. Several hundred yards outside it, two Yamaha Y2F dirt bikes-quiet, light, and fast-were hidden in the woods. These would carry them three miles to a road that didn’t lead directly to the Sapphire Mountain Estates entrance, where their getaway car was waiting-a luxury Mercedes sedan driven by their third partner, Shrinkwrap, dressed as a wealthy middle-aged woman. If police did happen to be in the area, they wouldn’t dream that there was any connection with the attack.

Freeboot and Taxman would ride in the trunk to a rented storage unit in Atlanta. There they would switch vehicles and clothes, and head separately for home-clean-cut, respectable business people, invisible among millions of others like them. The stolen Mercedes would be picked up and chopped for parts. Their bikes, guns, and gear would be safely hidden or destroyed. Any video cameras that had taped the assault would show only two men dressed in black from scalp to toe.