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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Lowell Elizabeth
 

«Innocent as Sin», Elizabeth Lowell

For Margaret and Roy

Yeah, sure, you betcha!

 

1

Africa

Late March

Wearing dirty camouflage gear, boots, and insect repellent, Rand McCree crouched behind the tattered grass blind. His camera’s extreme-long-distance lens filled the hole cut in the loosely woven grass. Even though the sun was barely above the eastern horizon, Rand was sweating. He didn’t notice it. In the Democratic Republic of Camgeria, whether it was tropical coastland or scrubby interior, men sweated. It was how they knew they were alive.

Through the camera lens Rand watched the rebels-or freedom fighters, depending on your politics-wait next to heavy trucks parked just off the south end of the miserable, barely scraped dirt strip that passed for a runway in this part of Africa.

Next to him, his twin jerked, kicking the AK-47 lying between the two men.

“Settle down,” Rand said softly. “The plane will be along eventually.”

“Something bit me,” Reed muttered.

“Are your shots current?”

“Yeah.”

“Then what are you bitching about?”

“I feel like a bush blood bank.”

Rand smiled. “You are.”

“How did I let you talk me into this?”

“Me? You were the one going on about a lifetime opportunity to get a picture of the most dangerous, mysterious arms trader since-”

“Yeah, yeah,” Reed interrupted. “Don’t remind me.”

“Not more than twice a day.”

“More than that. At least twice since-”

“Quiet.”

Reed shut up and heard the whining growl of turboprops. He raised his powerful binoculars and began searching the dusty sky in the direction of the sound.

“Got him,” he said to his twin. “Coming in at three o’clock, flying low. And I mean low.” He whistled softly through his teeth. “That’s a ballsy pilot. Or a drunk. His gear is raking leaves.”

“Just one of the problems of flying without filing a flight plan.” Rand concentrated on getting the unmarked, unlighted Ilyushin Il-4 in focus as it approached the dirt strip. “Keep an eye on the countryside. We don’t want to explain what we’re doing here.”

“Nobody would ask,” Reed said. “They’d just shoot us.”

“Like I said-”

“He’s going straight in,” Reed interrupted, excitement in his voice. “You got him?”

“Yeah. Watch that you don’t flash sunlight off your binocular lenses.”

“Kiss mine. We’re going to nail the Siberian’s baby-killing ass.”

Rand grinned. The thing about having an identical twin was that he was…identical. You talked to each other because you could. But it wasn’t necessary. He’d do what you’d do in his place.

No thought required.

The plane leaped into focus. No insignia. No numbers. No identifying marks at all.

Surprise, surprise.

Silently Rand went to work.

2

Camgeria

Early morning

The man known only as the Siberian sat behind the copilot and watched the scrubland flash by at eye level on both sides of the plane. At the last possible instant, the Ukrainian pilot lifted the Ilyushin’s nose and slammed the metal bird onto the rough dirt runway with the sound of someone whacking a tin coffin with a baseball bat.

The turboprops reversed hard and spooled up, screaming like the undead. The plane bucked and humped on the rough dirt surface. Red dust swirled up from the wheels and the prop wash, sticking to the smears of hydraulic fluid that covered both wings of the aircraft. The first direct rays of the sun turned the smears into blood.

Cargo trucks waited. So did heavily armed men. They hadn’t flinched when the plane passed barely five feet above their heads.

Sweating, cursing in two languages, the pilot and copilot wrestled with the controls. Between them, they kept the plane rubber side down in the middle of the narrow strip. Sweat darkened the men’s blue coveralls. The aircraft was overloaded and undermaintained, a flying death sentence waiting to be executed.

Any sweat on the Siberian came from the heat slamming into the cockpit from the outside. Compared to what waited behind them on the runway, the shuddering, straining landing of the plane was caviar and toast points.


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