Jack Higgins: The wolf at the door

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Jack Higgins The wolf at the door
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    The wolf at the door
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Jack Higgins

The wolf at the door

The Wolf at the door is your greatest Danger and not only in Winter.



At fifty-eight, his black hair flecked with gray, Blake Johnson still had a kind of rugged charm, the air of a man capable of looking after himself. He certainly didn't look old enough to have served in the Marines in Vietnam, though he had, with considerable honor and the medals to prove it. Johnson was personal security adviser to the President, and had been so for more years than he cared to remember. Presidents came and Presidents went, but he went on forever, or so it seemed, Blake thought ruefully, as he stood in the wheelhouse of a sport fisherman named Lively Jane, on the late afternoon it all began. He peered through the window at Long Island, a light rain blowing against the glass. It was almost six. He'd have to hurry.

He had a beach house in Quogue, supposedly for holidays, which hardly ever came, and this time looked to be no different. Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, was speaking at the United Nations in New York, and the President wanted him to attend and report in, not only on the speech but on the general attitude of the Russian delegation.

The British Prime Minister wasn't coming either, but, interestingly, he'd sent his personal troubleshooter, Harry Miller, to the speech, presumably to do the same thing Blake was doing. With him was Sean Dillon, once a feared enforcer with the Provisional IRA, now a security adviser himself, and a friend to Blake in good times and bad.

Dillon amp; Miller. Blake smiled. Dillon would have said it sounded like a cabaret act. He throttled back and coasted in between the boats, so that the Lively Jane nudged against the pier.

A man was on the pier in a yellow oilskin coat, the hood pulled up against the rain, which was driving down now. Blake emerged from the wheelhouse and picked up the line to throw it.

"Can you give me a hand? Catch the line and tie her up, and I'll switch off."

"I don't think so. I'll be needing that engine to drop you into the Sound," the man in the hood said.

His hand came out of his right pocket holding a Beretta, and Blake, his senses sharpened by years of hard living, was already hurling himself over the rail, aware of the muffled sound of the silenced weapon fired twice and a burning sensation in his right shoulder, and then he was diving down into twenty feet of murky water.

He swam under the boat, his back scraping the keel, and surfaced on the other side, as she drifted, the engine still throbbing. He saw the man at the stern, leaning over the rail and emptying the Beretta into the water, then ejecting the magazine and taking another from his pocket.

Blake heaved himself over and scrambled into the wheelhouse. There was a flap under the instrument panel and it opened at his touch. Held by two clips inside was a short-barreled Smith amp; Wesson.38, and he was holding it as he turned.

The man in the hood was frantically shoving the magazine up the butt of the Beretta. Blake said, "Don't be stupid. It's over."

Not that it did any good. "Fug you!" the man said, and his hand came up, and Blake shot him between the eyes, knocking him back into the water.

It was very quiet, out of season, nobody around. Even the little cafe on the pier was closed, so he did the only thing he could, he switched off the engine, went along the deck, and managed to loop a line to one of the pier rings, then went below.

His shoulder was hurting now, hurting bad. He sat down in the kitchen area and scrambled out his special mobile and called in. The familiar voice answered, the President's favorite Secret Service man.

"Clancy Smith."

"It's Blake, Clancy. I just came in to the pier on the Lively Jane, and a guy was waiting with a Beretta."

"For God's sake, Blake, what happened?"

"I've taken a bullet in the shoulder, but I put him over the rail." He was light-headed now. "Hell, Clancy, there's nobody here. Closed down for the season."

"Just hang in there, I'll have the police there in no time. Hold on, Blake, hold on. I'll call you back."

Blake reached into a cupboard, pulled the cork on a bottle of very old brandy, and swallowed deeply. "Hold on," he muttered. "That's what the man said." He took another gulp from the bottle, fainted, and slid to the floor.

At the same time in London, it was an hour before midnight at the Garrick Club, where a dinner for twenty ministers from various Commonwealth countries was drawing to a close. General Charles Ferguson, for his sins, had been asked to deliver a speech on the economic consequences of terrorism in the modern age, and he couldn't wait to leave.

The affair had been expected to finish at ten, but it was now eleven, thanks to a certain amount of squabbling during the question-and-answer sessions, and naturally, and to his great annoyance, Ferguson had been involved. He'd had to call his driver on three separate occasions until, at last, the whole sorry business came to an end. He made his escape as fast as possible, found a string of limousines waiting and his not among them. His beloved Daimler had suffered damage and was being refurbished, and the Cabinet Office had provided an Amara and a driver named Pool, who now came forward anxiously.

"And what's this?" Ferguson demanded ominously.

"We kept getting moved on by security. I'm two streets away, in Venable Row." He had a cockney accent, but with a slight whine to it that Ferguson didn't like.

"For God's sake, man, just lead the way. I want to get home to bed."

Pool scuttled away. Ferguson sighed. Poor sod. It wasn't his fault when you thought of it, but what a bloody evening. As Pool reached the end of the street, a limousine came around the corner and ran through a large puddle, splashing the driver severely. It kept on going, and he shouted after it.

"Holy Mother of God, you've soaked me, you bastards." His voice was quite different, more Irish than anything else, and he turned to Ferguson and called hurriedly, "Sorry, sir," and disappeared around the corner.

"What in the hell is going on?" Ferguson asked softly, and turned into Venable Row. There was some construction going on there, a cleared area and a fence around it with an opening for an entrance, along with a couple of diggers and a work truck. It was dark in there, just a little light in the glare of a streetlight. The silver Amara was parked some yards inside, and Pool was standing beside it.

"Here we are, sir."

Ferguson moved closer, and, as he approached, Pool turned and started to run away, and the Amara blew up, the explosion echoing between the buildings on either side and setting off their fire alarms.

Ferguson was hurled backwards by the blast, lay there for a moment, then stood up, aware that he was in one piece but that the Amara was burning furiously. The explosion had come from the trunk, and Pool had been closer to the rear of the car. Ferguson lurched towards him, dropped to his knees, and turned Pool over. There was a great deal of blood, and his face was gashed.

Pool's eyes opened. Ferguson said, "Steady, old son, you'll be fine. Help coming."

Pool's voice was very weak. "I messed up. All my fault."

"Nonsense," Ferguson said. "The only person to blame is the bastard who put that bomb in my car."

Not that Pool heard him, for he'd already stopped breathing, and Ferguson knelt there, a feeling of total desolation passing through him, aware of the sirens of the police and the emergency services approaching, holding a hand already turning cold.

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