Home > All the Queen's Men (CIA Spies #2)(5)

All the Queen's Men (CIA Spies #2)(5)
Author: Linda Howard

Tucker spoke into the headset. "Sayyed. Report."

"I can't budge an inch. The truck is almost loaded."

"Two minutes," Dallas said.

Two minutes. Niema closed her eyes. Cold sweat trickled down her back. Please, she found herself praying. Please. She couldn't form any words other than that.

Two minutes could be a lifetime. Time itself could be strangely elastic, stretching until every second was ponderous, until the second hand on her watch seemed almost motionless.

"I'm in position."

The words almost broke her control. She bit her lip until the taste of blood filled her mouth.

"How does it look?"

"Sayyed's got his ass in a crack, all right. Hey, buddy, how many charges did you get set?"



One wasn't enough. Niema had listened to them, knew how many charges Dallas estimated it would take to completely destroy the facility.


"In position. Can't help you much."

"Start pulling back." Dallas's voice was even. "Sayyed, arm all the charges."

There was another silence, then Sayyed's, "Done."

"Get ready. Throw the pack under the truck, then run tike hell. I'll lay down covering fire. I'm gonna give us Jive seconds to get outta here before I hit the button."

"Damn. Maybe you should make it six," Sayyed said.

"Ready." Dallas was still utterly calm. "Go!"

Chapter Two

The staccato thunder of gunfire blasted from the radio speaker. Niema jerked as if some of the bullets had hit her, her hands pressed hard to her mouth to hold back the scream that clogged her throat. Tucker swung around to face her, as if he didn't trust her to keep silent. He needn't have worried; she was frozen in place. There was an animal-like sound, cut short. "Son of a bitch! Sayyed bought it." "Pull out," Tucker said, but there was a renewed burst of gunfire that drowned out his words.

And from the tinny speaker came a sound that made the hair on Niema's neck stand on end, a kind of hollowed-out grunt, underlaid by gunfire and a thudding sound.

"Ah . . . shit." The words were strained, thin; she could barely recognize Dallas's voice.

"Hadi!" Tucker barked. "Dallas is down. Get him-"

"No." The word came on an exhalation, long and deep.

"Hang on, buddy, I can be there-" Urgency was plain in Hadi's voice.

"Save yourself. . . the trouble. I'm gut shot."

The world went gray around her. Niema fought back the shock, fought back the sensation of her entire body falling apart as the bottom dropped out of her stomach and her lungs seized, unable to pump. Gut shot. Even if he had been in the States, with a trauma unit nearby, the injury was critical. Here in these cold, isolated mountains, with safety and cutting-edge medical help days away, it was a death sentence. She knew this; her mind knew it. But she rejected it anyway, recoiling from the knowledge.

There were more shots, very close. Dallas was still shooting, still holding them off.

"Boss ..." The whisper floated around the hut.

"I'm here." Tucker was still facing Niema, his gaze locked on her.

"Is . . . Can Niema hear?"

Dallas had to be going into shock, or he would never have asked, would have realized she could hear everything. She had wired the switch open.

Tucker's gaze never wavered from her. "No," he said.

More shots. The sound of Dallas's breathing, shallow and quick. "Good. I. . . I've still got the detonator. Can't let them leave with . . . that shit."

"No," Tucker said again. "You can't." His voice was almost gentle.

"Take . . . take care of her."

Tucker's face was a mask, his gaze locked on her face. "I will." He paused, and said, "Do it."

The explosion shook the hut, sending dirt cascading down from the cracks in the ceiling, rattling the door on its frame. The blast wave hadn't passed before Tucker was moving, ripping the headset from his ears and tossing it down. He picked up a hammer and began methodically destroying the radio; even though it was old and obsolete, it was functional, and their plan was to leave nothing that could be used. Reducing the radio to rubble took half a minute.

That done, he pulled Niema away from the packs of provisions and swiftly began repacking them, redistributing what they would carry. She stood numbly in the middle of the hut, unable to move, her brain frozen with shock. She was aware of pain; there was a great, clawing pain in her chest, as if her heart were exploding, and even that was somehow felt as if from a distance.

Tucker thrust a heavy coat at her. Niema stared at it, unable to comprehend what he wanted her to do with it. Silently he bundled her into it, putting her arms into the sleeves as if she were a toddler, zipping it up, tucking her hair under the collar as an extra buffer for her neck. He tugged gloves on her hands, and put a warm fur hat on her head.

He pulled a heavy sweater on over his head, then shrugged into his own coat. As he was pulling on his gloves, a low whistle sounded outside the hut, and he extinguished the light. Hadi slid in the door, and Tucker turned the light on again.

Even in the weakness of the single light, Hadi's face was drawn and white. He looked immediately at Niema. "God-" he began, only to be silenced by a quick motion from Tucker.

"Not now. We have to move." He shoved one of the consolidated packs into Hadi's arms, and slung the other two onto his own shoulders. He picked up a rifle, took Niema's arm, and led her into the night.

Their transportation, an old Renault, had died on them the first night, and all of Tucker's mechanical expertise could not repair a broken axle. Hadi glanced worriedly at Niema. She hadn't faltered during the two days they had been moving; she was like a robot, keeping pace with them no matter how hard Tucker pushed them. She spoke when they asked her a direct question; she ate when Tucker gave her food, drank when he gave her water. What she hadn't done was sleep. She would lie down when he told her to, but she hadn't slept, and her eyes were swollen with fatigue. Both men knew she couldn't go on much longer.

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