Thank you for continuing to read DARK PRINCE. I'm glad you're enjoying it.
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Mercifully, the flight from Ashboro to Atlanta was short. Bob Patterson had sat across the cabin from Trellum and become lost in thought. That had silenced Davis Trellum more than anything. The man who was his father, the man who spent so many of the past forty years begging for forgiveness and then helping him, had simply shut him out. Like he'd already been forgotten. Like he didn't even exist.
Patterson had suggested that he leave the country. He had even suggested Russia. Trellum had thought the preacher was being kind but he had begun to have second thoughts as they began their descent to Brown Field in southwest Atlanta.
He had seen the white man behave once before exactly as he was doing now -- the night his mother had been murdered in her apartment in Brooklyn. Trellum had been seventeen then, enthralled by the white preacher who was his father and paid for Davis' schooling at the Episcopal academy in Manhattan. Once a week he reported to the preacher, going over every detail of his schooling.
He hadn't put the two incidences together until now. He wasn't even sure that they connected as he studied the man ignoring him. His mother's death could just as easily have been a burglary gone wrong -- the way the police had reported it at the time. But Trellum was suspicious now. And he tended to act on his suspicions. It had kept him alive and relatively successful for the twenty years he'd been with the spy agency.
Patterson wanted him to go to Russia; he accepted that now and the suspicions that went with it. He knew the man well enough to read him most of the time. He wouldn't have mentioned it if hadn't been thinking about it.
Trellum picked up his bag and left the aeroplane cabin as soon as the ground crew unclocked the door. He didn't look back. That was something else he'd learnt from Bob Patterson -- never look back.
The cab driver jerked awake when the back door opened and looked surprised to have a fare. The man grinned widely when he found out that Trellum wanted a ride into Atlanta.
"There's a couple of real nice clubs downtown, mister," he offered. "Twenty-four dancing and completely naked. The girls go from white to real dark."
"The Georgian Hotel, at Peachtree and Ponce de Leon," he answered and leant back against the seat. He smiled; Trellum suspected Brown Field was where the driver took his naps. As they crossed the macadam of the small airport, he realised that there had been no car waiting for Patterson. That fact only heightened his suspicions. He gave himself up to exploring them.
Patterson was going for the brass ring and he had kicked Trellum out. He knew as much about the putsch and everything that had gone into it as Patterson did. He should be dead, not sitting in a cab driving into Atlanta. Instead, Patterson had suggested Russia. That just didn't ring true.
Trellum was light-skinned -- a redbone in street parlance -- but he was still a black man. And Russia had only a few thousand blacks. He'd stick out there like a sore thumb. Anywhere in Russia with its light-skinned whites. He'd be a sitting duck.
He glanced over his shoulder and saw the car follow them onto Brownsville Road from the airport. He nodded to himself. A sitting duck. Russia was not an option.
So, where do I go then? he mused, forcing himself to relax as the cab barely made the light onto the I-20 ramp. The car following him ran the red light to stay with the cab.
Where indeed? Definitely not a European country. He'd stand out even in Britain or France where there were large African and Carib populations; he'd be better off going underground in America. Sub-Sahara Africa was definitely out as well. With the exception of South Africa, the black countries were just too primitive for his taste.
I'm putting the cart before the horse, he told himself, looking forward through the windscreen and watching the Atlanta skyline come towards him. I'm being followed and they aren't doing much to hide it. It's a good bet that the preacher knows I maintain a room at The Georgian, so I won't be safe there.
Still, he needed to get into his room at the hotel. He had a nine millimetre Beretta automatic and two passports hidden there. He was going to need those, and they were well enough hidden that Patterson's men would never find them.
He glanced at his bag on the seat beside him and slowly began to smile as a new thought began to unfold. It was so insulting that it almost wasn't funny. Whites were almost blind when it came to blacks. They couldn't tell them apart. And they thought all blacks were lazy. Patterson's people would anyway. It was something he could work with.
He'd go to his room at The Georgian. He'd get the gun and passports, and he'd change his clothes. Whoever was following him was looking for a muscular, middle-aged black man in a five hundred-dollar suit. He'd give them jeans, a tee shirt, and sneakers instead. And he'd take the stairs back downstairs to make his escape. When he was on the street, he'd be just one more black man in a predominantly black city.
Trellum made a production of getting out of the cab and climbing the concrete steps to the hotel's entrance. He wanted to be seen in his suit. He wanted anyone watching him to have only the image of him as a well-dressed black in mind. It would be his best chance to lose his tail.
The car that had followed him from Brown Field turned onto Ponce de Leon at the intersection, the two men in it not even looking his way.
No one on the street had seemed to take notice of him. He reckoned then that there was someone in the lobby to tail him. His stroll through the lobby didn't seem to catch anyone's attention, however. He was beginning to worry when he noticed the desk clerk watching him suspiciously. He smiled and walked up to the desk.
Trellum felt the clerk's gaze on him as he walked to the lifts and guessed the man would report that he'd gone to his room. As he stepped onto the elevator, he saw the clerk pick up his telephone. He hoped that he had ten minutes.
I'm going to take this one step at a time, he told himself as he let himself into the room and locked the door. Tossing his bag onto the bed, he stripped quickly. He was soon dressed in jeans, tee shirt, and sneakers from the bag. He crossed to the desk and, on his hands and knees, found the seam in the carpet beneath the drawers and lifted it. He pried open the floor covering and reached into the cavity.
He smiled at the Beretta and, clicking off the safety, laid it on the desk. Reaching back into the hole he'd made himself, he retrieved the two passports he'd left there. Standing up, he opened the first one and shook his head.
"I don't think so," he muttered softly as he read the name and address. The passport was American and presented him as a successful New York businessman. It kept him too close to who he was. He was trying to go undercover, not draw attention to himself. He put it on the desk and opened the second passport.
This one was Dutch and presented him as Aruban. He nodded and stuffed it into his hip pocket.
"Step two is getting out of this hotel and getting lost," he breathed to himself as he picked up the pistol and screwed on the silencer. He stepped to the door.
Trellum pressed against the wall and eased the door open to peer down the hall towards the steps. He dropped into a crouch and, twisting, threw himself across the opening. He saw nothing that set off his suspicions. Standing up, he stepped into the corridor and pulled the door closed. He suspected anyone coming for him would use one of the lifts and watched them over his shoulder as he walked quickly to the end of the hall and the stairs.
He glanced back once more as he opened the door to the stairs. Trellum wanted to laugh at the quiet click; instead he shoved the door hard even as he started falling to his knees. A man groaned as the door slammed into him. Trellum had his Beretta pointed where a man's chest should be and fired as the door began to close.
All he heard was the splat as his bullet hit the man's chest. For what felt like an eternity, he stared into the shock that instantly grew to cover the man's face.
He slowly began to collapse, his back sliding down the wall as his legs gave under him. Trellum reached down and slipped the revolver from the dead man's hand.
He'd been stupid, walking into a trap like he had. He'd been luckier than he had any right to expect that he was able to walk back out of it. He wasn't out of the woods yet, either.
He needed to get out of the hotel. That was priority one. And he had to assume these guys worked in pairs -- which meant there was probably somebody on the stairs between him and the first floor to make sure he didn't get away. And more riding the lifts, watching for him there.
He watched blood soak across the front of the dead man's shirt for a moment. The man hadn't been anything like the agents he'd seen in the field. He'd let himself get caught by the door. He hadn't even been kneeling to expose less of himself. In short, this guy hadn't been at all professional or even known how to be professional.
He blinked as thoughts began to tumble through his brain. This guy wasn't professional; he hadn't even acted like a competent mob hitman. He'd been some freaked out right-winger from one of Patterson's churches. Were his managers just as incompetent? Were they, at least, as unschooled?
Assuming they were, they'd have still had the same two choices a Brit or Mossad operation would have -- Trellum could take the lifts or he could walk down the stairs. Two different escapes to cover. The professionals would have had two men covering each escape path -- and a means of communicating between themselves. He knelt and quickly went through the dead man's pockets. Shaking his head, he stood back up.
Patterson was running a keystone kops operation. It had also probably been done on the cheap, out of his televangelist donations. He needed a better replacement for Davis Trellum than what he'd found.
There was a good chance there were only two of them then -- this one and one trying to keep tabs on the lifts. He smiled as he continued to analyse the slipshod operation put in place to kill him. Even if there was a third gun, he had to be in the lobby -- it was the only way they could cover all bases.
He was willing to bet the dead man's partner was in the parking garage under the hotel. They had the clerk who would call the dead man's partner on a house phone if Trellum arrived in the lobby and it was easy enough to guess that he'd go for invisibility over walking through the lobby. Downstairs, the clerk could watch the lifts as well as the door to the stairs. It would be an obvious set up for the naïve fools who had planned on taking him.
Now that he knew Patterson had decided to get rid of him, he wasn't going to need any more luck. At least, not to get out of The Georgian Hotel, he wasn't. He just needed to be careful.
He slipped down the concrete steps cautiously and silently. He looked over the railing at each level to make sure he was alone on the stairs. Finally, he was staring at the door into the car park
He'd been right. The dead man had had the stairs alone. That left the one man he hoped was covering the garage between him and the first leg of his escape. If he went out into the car park, he was a dead man. He had to entice the man into the stairwell.
"Play with his curiosity," Trellum told himself. "He's not a professional; so you hope he does something stupid." His lips twitched. "And don't do something stupid yourself," he reminded himself as he dismissed hiding behind the door.
He had two places he could hide. He could lie on the landing at the top of the last fight of stairs. That would give him a clean shot at anyone who came in through the door. But it left him open to taking a bullet too -- either from above him or if the guy at the door came in with something like an uzi. The well beside the flight of stairs looked to be the safest. Pressed against the concrete, he'd be out of the door's line of sight and invisible from above.
Taking a deep breath and holding it, Trellum moved to the wall behind the door. He opened it slowly, pleased at the hydraulic drag. It shut much more rapidly than he had opened it. Quickly, he moved into the well and, squatting slightly, pressed against the concrete of the flight of stairs. Come on, be curious, boy, he thought at the man outside. Show me how stupid you can be.
He waited for what seemed an eternity. Sweat beaded across his forehead and trickled along his temple to run down his cheek. His knees ached. Trellum heard a soft sound beyond the door then, leather on concrete. His breath caught and pressed deeper into the near darkness of the well.
"Roy? That you?" a voice called softly through the door. A moment later, the door pushed open a few centimetres. "Roy?" The man was staying away from the door and its opening. "Damn, boy, what're you doing in here? You already kill that nigger upstairs?"
Fine, Trellum thought at the man, you're committing your white ass. Just a little bit more. Get where I can shoot it off.
"Roy?" The voice held anger as Trellum watched the door open several more centimetres. He could see the man's hand on the handle. "Roy, this is no time for your games. Answer me!" Trellum saw the man's shoulder then as he moved to push in the door. Six more centimetres and he had a perfect heart shot.
The door opened another quarter of a metre and Trellum squeezed off a round. The silencer on his Beretta grunted slightly and he heard a splat from in front of him. Another eternity passed and Trellum was almost ready to fire again.
The door pushed open and a man stood in it. His gun pointed at the floor from his waist as he looked down at his chest. The man's legs buckled then and he pitched forward. His head hit the first metal-tipped concrete step and he lay still.
Trellum moved to him quickly and saw the five-centimetre hole just under his left shoulder blade. Blood already filled it and was spreading across his shirt. He knew he'd hit another bullseye but still checked for a pulse. There was none.
* * *
Ronnie Barber watched the first police motorcycles slow to almost nothing as they turned into the Capitol grounds. He lay on his stomach on the roof of the Greek revival building. Fifty metres below him and to his left, the president was arriving to address both houses of Congress. The sun beat down on him out of a cloudless sky.
"Just a minute more," he whispered to himself, wishing he dared to bring his hand up to wipe his face.
It was the third car. That was the one he had to shoot for. It was a memory reminder that jolted through his mind nearly every minute since he and his men had moved into position. It kept him concentrated. It kept him from remembering that he thought that, if he got himself out of this alive, he was going to be the luckiest man alive.
He had the first shot. He had to aim at the bonnet. The engine was where the heat was in the limo.
All hell would break loose after that -- while he was hopefully getting his arse out of here. Three more stingers would follow his, while six automatic rifles kept the Secret Service pinned down.
It had seemed so damned easy back there in North Carolina when they were training. He knew he'd been wrong then. There had been nothing easy about it. And there was no damned way for his men to get out of this alive. Him especially. Three flights of stairs to the ground and three blocks over to the car park -- and cops swarming all over the place ready to shoot first and ask questions later. Thank God he'd changed the beneficiary on his insurance. His little brother needed the help if he was ever going to amount to anything.
There it was -- the third car. He saw it broadside, almost motionless. Sitting there as the second car slowly made its turn -- not even moving. He couldn't fucking believe it. Now or never. It was a perfect shot. He pushed himself to his feet. He sighted the launch and fired. And was dropping the hand launch as the missile began to speed its way towards the president's car.
He saw the shadow on the grass as he neared the corner and pulled his knife. He saw the uniform then as the man rounded the corner of the building and stopped.
Oh, fuck! He's seen me now. Ronnie Barber started running like he hadn't since the last football game back in high school. He hit the policeman as the man was still drawing his weapon. He brought the knife up from his hip, feeling it penetrate into the man's gut.
An explosion behind him drowned out the cop's cry. Ronnie let go of the knife and grabbed the man's service revolver. As the man slumped to the ground, Ronnie got to the back walk and forced himself to slow to a stroll.
"God! It sounds like a full-fledged war back there," he mumbled. But the barrage of automatic rifle fire was already dying down. He was sweating like a stuck pig! He mopped the sweat off his face with his arm and hoped there was no one to see him. He was gasping like a freight train.
Two blocks more and I'm safe! he told himself, forcing himself to breathe through his nose. He crossed the street and turned left. He could see the car park now. His breathing was almost normal by mid-block. He forced himself to continue strolling towards the lot.
He reached the cashier's booth and presented the car's token. "What happened back there?" the cashier asked, pointing his head in the direction of the Capitol.
Ronnie Barber managed to look surprised. "Something happened? I've been inside." He pointed at the building he'd just passed. "I didn't hear anything."
"Sounded like a bomb went off and then a lot of shots. That's ten dollars for the hour."
Ronnie slipped the policeman's service revolver out of his pocket and shot the cashier. He smiled at the spreading red in the centre of the man's chest. Turning, he walked quickly to the Suburban that was going to get him out of DC.
* * *
I stared at the images as they played across my television set. Emil stood beside me. Tom was not yet home.
The presidential limousine exploded in front of our eyes. I heard Emil gasp behind me. Secret Servicemen fell under a barrage of bullets and the car behind the smoking shell of the president's car exploded. Almost at the same time, the guardhouse beside the motorcade blew apart.
The two lead limousines picked up speed as their drivers overcame their shock and raced towards the Capitol. Armed Capitol policemen ran towards the carnage. Moments later, a police helicopter appeared with a rifleman apparent in the open passenger cabin. I saw the small explosions in the darkness of the cabin as he began firing.
The commentator was useless. It was the same one who'd been filming the president's arrival at a joint meeting of Congress. He screamed and cried incoherently into the camera and looked completely foolish. I rubbed the top of my head, subconsciously feeling the fuzz that was my hair growing back.
"This can't happen now, Karl," Emil whispered. "Not after all you -- we have done to stop them."
The scene on the television changed to a sprawling one-storey house overlooking a lake. A moment later, another television camera had Reed Stephens standing before a podium.
He sipped at a glass of water and gazed beyond the camera. He jerked his head in a nod and looked into the camera. "Ladies and gentleman, the President of the United States of America was assassinated not more than half an hour ago."
I studied the face before me. It was both cherubic and youthful, but I searched for regret or shock -- or even sorrow. There was none.
"There is proof that this horror was the work of the Queer Nation," I heard and immediately President Stephens had my attention. "Several of the dead murderers had medallions that had that organisation's emblem on them."
He went on that he was returning to Washington and convening a meeting of the FBI and CIA at the White House that evening. He guaranteed America that every Federal resource would be used to bring the murderers to trial. He went further and promised that the street brawls that had become part of every American city's life would end.
I understood how he was planning to fulfil his promise. It would be simple with an armed patrol on each street corner of America. And if CMUM acquired an internal security department as the Nazis had done. For the briefest moment, I allowed myself to wonder who would be America's Heinrich Himmler.
I realised then that there were no reports of internet service providers losing their transmitters to bombs. I was obviously watching television; the electrical power grid of the United States had not yet been damaged.
And Emil had killed General Howell who was to carry out President Stephens' order of martial law.
There was still hope that the Fascisti could be stopped. But there was little time left in which to do it.
"Emil, where's Tom?" I asked.
"Now that you're recovering, he's working at George Washington University this week and next." He studied me for a moment. "What are you planning, Liebchen?"
"Do you want to know?"
"Whatever it is, I'm going to be in the middle of it, right beside you."
"Didn't he recently work for The Washington Post?" I asked innocently, even as my mind churned with the possibilities available to us.
"Yes, he did!" Emil's eyes suddenly brightened. "Who was that man in Switzerland who established your identity?"
"Marcus Bönner. Why?" I studied the young vampire before me, wondering if he had reached the same thought that I had.
"These people have everything on computer. This Christian Center? They have to have. The actions they've taken themselves, the arrangements they've made with other groups -- Bönner could break into their computers. There might be proof that the Christian Center is behind all of this. This Bönner could spread it all over the web. You could give it to The Post."
"I'm going to Zürick tomorrow afternoon, Emil -- to meet Herr Bönner and offer him the job of the century."
"We're going to Zürick, Karl. Both of us."