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The rule of the people, p.40
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       The Rule Of The People, p.40

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  Anderson had watched Thorn’s arrival with a mix of concern and hope, certain that Flores would eventually try to phone. He hadn’t heard the familiar ringtone but McDowell could have easily turned the phone off. Flores would be suspicious if it were ignored or went straight to answerphone – either way, McDowell could have a problem.

  Yet a good five minutes had passed and there had been nothing. McDowell was obviously aware that Flores was hovering nearby, overconfidence one of his many annoying traits, and Anderson was still struggling to understand how Lavergne and Preston could possibly succeed.

  Distracting McDowell seemed as good as ploy as any, Anderson still hopeful Flores was creeping ever closer. “Martin Lavergne might be good,” he said, heavy on the sarcasm, “but unless he’s grown wings, he’s got no shot to take out Thorn.”

  McDowell frowned, his concentration wavering between Thorn and Anderson, left hand pressed to his earpiece. “Who said it was down to Martin; he’s just the diversion. And all Lee’s got to do is turn the clock back – shouldn’t be that hard.”

  Anderson was fast losing faith in Flores and he needed to keep McDowell talking. His right hand edged across the front of his body, the sacrifice of a good and faithful friend perhaps his one chance to save himself.

  “Turn the clock back,” Anderson repeated softly, finally understanding something of what McDowell meant. “It’s still a suicide mission; one shot’s all he’ll get.”

  Anderson kept his gaze focussed on the police standing close to the motorcade, needing McDowell to think they were his only concern. Any of the six officers could be Lee Preston, his uniform and badge no doubt compliments of Sean Kovak, and his past profession as a cop would make it easy enough for him to fit in. All six were well bundled up against the snow, their attention mainly directed at the crowd surrounding Thorn.

  “Whatever you say, Mike,” said McDowell. “We all know…”

  It was now or never. With the camera strap held right-handed, Anderson swept his beloved Pentax round, it arcing upwards towards McDowell’s head. McDowell sensed rather than saw what was happening, firing and trying to twist aside at the same instant.

  Anderson felt the bullet slice across his chest, the pain razor sharp, then his whole body seemed to shudder as the camera glanced off McDowell’s shoulder to smash into the side of his face. McDowell stumbled backwards, arms flung wide to try and keep his balance. Anderson’s chest felt as if it was on fire but he was on adrenalin overload and he launched himself at the bigger man, his prime aim to somehow wrest the gun free.

  McDowell was slow to react, still stunned, blood pouring from his face and forehead, barely able to see. The sensible money was still on McDowell, his size and weight advantage bolstered by his training and level of fitness. He tried to fend Anderson off and the two men crashed to the ground, the gun knocked from McDowell’s hand as his elbow hit.

  Anderson still had his camera, close to two kilograms of metal, plastic and glass. Desperate now to end the fight, he struggled to his knees, grabbing the camera and swinging it down hard. McDowell’s arms came up to protect his face and the camera lens smashed down onto his right forearm, an agonised cry dragged from his lips. Anderson swung again but doubled over as the pain lanced through his chest, desperately rolling left to scrabble for the gun.

  A vicious kick slammed into his thigh, McDowell’s left arm stretching out to make a grab for the back of Anderson’s jacket, anything to stop him from reaching the gun. Despite the gut-wrenching pain and part of his mind screaming for him to give up, Anderson ignored it all to twist around, the gun pulled left-handed from under his body. He fired twice, not even sure where the gun was aimed, just hoping for a lucky hit.

  McDowell had levered himself to his knees and he looked wide-eyed in shock at Anderson, a deep shuddering sigh dragged from his lips. He tried to get to his feet then his body simply gave way, toppling sideways to crash back down onto the ground.

  Anderson’s every gasping breath was like a knife slicing deeper but he didn’t dare release the gun, not yet certain that he was safe. He stared down at McDowell, simply watching and waiting for any sign that he was still alive, fully prepared to empty the clip into McDowell’s chest.

  Abruptly, he heard movement behind him and he half-turned to see Flores approaching at a run, gun held one-handed, it pointing down at McDowell’s lifeless body.

  One look was enough for Flores to know there was no longer any danger from McDowell and he moved quickly across to check on Anderson.

  “Sorry, Mike,” he said breathlessly, “I should have realised earlier…” The rest of the sentence was lost as the chatter of gunfire erupted from away to their right; six or more shots.

  Flores instantly turned back towards the vigil, the routine sounds of the crowd changing to shrieks of panic as chaos took control, at least one person lying motionless.

  Anderson grabbed Flores’ arm and gestured weakly in the direction of the motorcade while struggling to speak, every syllable a red-hot needle of anguish. “Diversion… Get Preston… 3rd Street cop…”

  Flores nodded as if in understanding, gun thrust back into his pocket as he reached for his phone. Moments later, he was racing towards the motorcade, ID card and badge held out in front of him as though it were some sort of shield. There were no more shots, Lavergne’s job already complete, escape his new priority.

  Anderson pulled himself to his feet and leant against the tree, his breathing gradually slowing. The sharp pain seemed to suggest at least one broken rib but he wasn’t spitting up blood just yet and he looked out at the turmoil overtaking the Mall. Hundreds lay cowering on the ground, apparently unhurt; the rest were desperate to find safety and a river of people streamed north while trying to keep well clear of the motorcade, Thorn clearly the gunman’s target.

  Thorn’s protection detail had closed ranks, the Secretary escorted by two agents as they ran in a half-crouch back towards the safety of his armoured limousine. The attention of the other agents was directed to the south-east, the police also moving to protect against the same threat, one at least shouting something at Flores.

  A single officer stood close to Thorn’s limousine on its western side, gun held ready – it had to be Preston. Flores was still a good forty yards away, arms waving, shouting out a warning, the cries of others drowning him out. Preston was already starting to back away from the motorcade, his gaze seemingly more focused on Thorn’s car than what was happening elsewhere, no hint that he had even noticed Ray Flores.

  Thorn’s bodyguards were clustered around the car, guns drawn, the priority to get him safely away from the Mall. As the rear door to the limousine was pulled open, Preston abruptly turned and started to run; an instant later there was a bright flash, the rear of the limousine leaping a foot into the air, smoke and flame bursting outward to engulf Thorn and his security detail.

  The deep-throated boom of the explosion rolled across the Mall and Anderson stared appalled at the carnage surrounding Thorn’s limousine, eight or more bodies lying alongside, several people still trying to crawl to safety. He searched but couldn’t see Flores, the black smoke moving south across the Mall an ever-expanding sign as to Lee Preston’s handiwork.

  The blast wave would have likely rattled the windows of the Oval Office, Anderson left wondering whether Deangelo even realised it was down to McDowell. Would the President experience a twinge of regret at the lives lost or would he consider them a fair exchange for removing the headache that was Dick Thorn?

  It might seem illogical but Anderson was angry at himself for having let it happen, and even if the sacrifice of ten or twenty helped save ten times that number in the South China Sea, it was an immoral justification for murder, Bob Deangelo no better than Pat McDowell.
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