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Callan opened the door to the garage and shoved her through, hitting the light switch as he did so. The girl almost tripped over the body of Jason Bobkoski lying face down on the gray concrete floor, a hole drilled through his heart from behind by a silenced weapon at point blank range. Streams of bright-red blood branched out from the body like so many fingers and disappeared under Kira’s white Lexus sedan.

Kira glared at Callan with contempt, but said nothing. Most women would have shrieked in horror had they been surprised by a bloody corpse, but apparently not this one. After her bold attack just moments before, he shouldn’t have been surprised. His instincts had been dead on: this bright, attractive girl was far more than she seemed.

They were on the road minutes later. Kira was at the wheel and Callan sat in the passenger seat with his gun trained on her. The sun had set a few hours earlier, but despite the darkness the roads were still fairly active. A crescent moon hung in the still night sky, and the typical Southern California assortment of tropical flowers and palms made steady appearances outside the windshield, a living testament to a growing season and a summer that never seemed to end.

“Where are we going?” asked Kira finally, breaking a long silence.

“You’ll know when we get there,” said Callan.

“How did you learn my true identity?”

“This isn’t twenty questions.”

“Look, I paid you well and you’re obviously selling me out in return. The least you could do is answer a few question. What’s the big deal?”

Callan considered for several seconds and then shrugged. “Okay,” he said. “Why not. I never bought your bullshit story from the start. Your driver’s license and credit cards are flawless, but I dug a little and became certain you were using a false identity. This intrigued me. Not many people have fake documents and superficial histories as good as yours.” He paused. “Then I got lucky. I found a crumpled United Airlines luggage tag inside the outer pocket of your suitcase, with the name Kira Miller scribbled on it in pencil.” He pointed ahead to the next intersection. “Turn left here,” he said.

Kira did as instructed. “So how did you go from finding a luggage tag to abducting me at gunpoint?”

“I made some public inquiries into Kira Miller’s background,” he explained, “and let it be known I had stumbled onto information that might lead me to you. It was a fishing expedition. I baited my hook with your name and waited for an interested party to bite. I had no idea I’d be catching Moby fucking Dick,” he said in amazement, shaking his head as if still unable to believe his good fortune. “The government contacted me almost immediately. They told me you were a fugitive and warned me you were highly dangerous.” Callan glanced down at his bloody shirt and decided he should have taken their warning more seriously. “They wouldn’t tell me anything more, but they offered me a massive finder’s fee if I could bring you to ground.” The corners of his mouth turned up into a broad, self-satisfied smile. “After a little negotiation, we settled on two million dollars.”

Kira shook her head in disgust. “You’re an idiot, Bill. Did you consider they were lying about being with the government?”

He smiled. “Of course. But I don’t really give a shit who they are and why they’re after you. So long as I get paid.”

“What if they’re lying about the money also?” pressed Kira.

“After I convinced them I could find you, they wired half a million into my numbered account as a gesture of good faith. A half million bucks buys a lot of credibility.”

“So this is just about money?” she said in contempt. “Betraying a client. Killing Jason in cold blood. With absolutely no idea of what’s really going on or what’s at stake.”

“What the fuck did you expect!” he snapped. “That’s the very definition of the word mercenary for Christ’s sake: someone who’s just in it for the money.”

“I thought you guys had some sort of code.”

Callan laughed. “Not for two million dollars we don’t.” He shook his head irritably. “And spare me your preaching. You’re not innocent. Innocent people don’t have flawlessly forged identities. And innocent people who feel threatened hire bodyguards. Guilty people hire mercenaries.”

“Keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better,” said Kira bitterly. “But you’re wrong. You’re in way over your head, Bill. You’re playing with fire. The people who contacted you aren’t from the government. And you’re never going to see the rest of that money. In fact, no matter what else happens, you’re a dead man walking right now, Bill. You’re on borrowed time, and you’re too clueless to know it.”

She said it with such chilling conviction that she gave Callan pause. But this was her intention, he realized. She was bluffing. Trying to get him to second-guess himself.

“So you’re taking me to them now?” said Kira.

He nodded. “That’s right. At a location I specified,” he said.

“They insisted I had to be delivered alive and well or the deal was off, didn’t they? They told you that if you screwed up and I ended up dead, your own funeral wouldn’t be far behind. Didn’t they, Bill?”

“So what?” he said dismissively, trying not to show how much she was beginning to unnerve him.

“Any idea why they were so adamant?” she pressed. She shot him a look of disgust, as if unable to believe the depth of his stupidity. “Of course you don’t,” she continued, not waiting for an answer. “Because you have absolutely no clue as to what you’ve gotten yourself into. If you want any hope of living through the night, you’ll let me go now and disappear.”

Callan’s eyes narrowed. She was probably bluffing, but could he afford to take that chance? Maybe he was in over his head. As eager as he was to get his hands on the rest of the money, with stakes this high, perhaps it did pay to interrogate her properly and gain a clear picture of what he had gotten himself into. He could always reschedule the handoff. They wouldn’t be happy, but they’d go along with a short delay. He’d bet they’d do almost anything to get her.

“Turn the car around,” he said finally. “We’re going back to your house. Since you’re so eager to tell me what’s really going on, I’m going to give you that chance.”

She raised her eyebrows. “What’s the matter, Bill?” she taunted. “I thought you didn’t give a shit who I was or why they’re really after me.”

“Turn around!” he barked angrily.

They drove for several minutes, maintaining a tense silence. They were in the far left lane, slowing for a red light that shined like a beacon against the night sky, a hundred yards distant, when Kira pressed the button near her waist, retracting her seatbelt.

“Put it back on,” ordered Callan.

“You bruised my shoulder and the belt is aggravating it,” she said.

“I said, put it back on!”

“Okay, okay,” she said as they neared to within fifteen yards of the intersection, reaching for her belt.

But she never touched it.

She threw the door open instead, and without a moment’s hesitation launched herself from the car onto the grassy median that paralleled the road. She tried for a gymnastics roll, but hit hard on her right shoulder and half rolled, half skidded into the trunk of a small palm tree planted in the median.

Callan was stunned by her audacity. He could have shot her as she dived from the car but he couldn’t risk killing her; something she must have counted on. He frantically released his own belt and hurled himself toward the driver’s seat to take control of the runaway car, when he realized with a sinking feeling that he was too late. Kira’s rudderless Lexus shot through the red light, and Callan heard the wail of a horn and the screeching of tires coming from his right. The driver of the oncoming car, a small Honda, managed to reduce his speed considerably, but couldn’t stop from slamming into the passenger door of the Lexus, creating a violent and unmistakable explosion of sound that could only arise from the collision of two steel-and-glass missiles, each weighing thousands of pounds.