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Zavlin removed his sunglasses, wincing from the harsh sunlight. His one brown eye and his one blue eye squinted immediately. He shaded them with one hand while using the other to unsnap the leather case around his neck and bring the binoculars up to his sensitive eyes.

Yes! There they were. His three KGB assistants were in perfect position. They crouched in the thick dogwood and pink azaleas, waiting for the van, their high-powered rifles clutched in experienced hands.

They were very good. Zavlin permitted himself a tiny premature smile of victory. He carried the folding beach chair that he'd bought at the discount drugstore on the way here to just the right spot under a shady tree and sat down with a contented sigh. Might as well relax. What would happen next was as inevitable as snow in Moscow.

He peered through the binoculars again, adjusting the central focusing drive. His men were dressed in casual clothing: golf shirts, Bermuda shorts, dark socks, loafers. Just what a tourist might be wearing who got lost in the area.

Once they'd disposed of the guns, the only thing that might betray them were the identical calluses on the inside crooks of their trigger fingers. Thick pads from pulling triggers of hundreds of guns.

Built up from years of irritating the skin, like oysters creating pearls from the nuisance of a single grain of sand. To each of those men, that callus was as valuable as a pearl.

He reached inside his shirt to fondle the goldplated ornament hanging from the gold chain around his neck. The object puzzled the few who had seen it, guessing that perhaps it was some sort of shark's tooth, or the claw from a giant leopard.

It was a finger. The skeletal fragment of a finger.

Supposedly the finger bone of the legendary American, Jim Bowie. Not just any finger, but his trigger finger, sliced off at the Alamo by one of Santa Anna's men. Not out of hate, but in tribute to his heroism. The bony digit had been passed down through generations of this same Mexican military family until hard times had forced them to sell it to a private broker. Zavlin ran his fingertips along the gold plating he'd added. There was no way to authenticate this as Jim Bowie's, it could be any finger. He didn't care. He wanted it to be Bowie's, so it was. Certainly he'd paid enough money to the broker, who would know the dire consequences of cheating Zavlin, for it to be real.

Zavlin watched from the shade of his tree, able to see everything, observe his men take aim when the prison van came within range, and fire and keep firing until Dodge Reed was dead. As well as everyone else in the van.

And, should anything go wrong, he would be safely up here. He swung his binoculars down the dirt road. A puff of dust rose and grew like the tail of a frightened cat. He couldn't make out what the vehicle was yet, but it had to be going to the new prison. That was the only place the road led to.

Not a prison yet. It hadn't been completed.

But the walls were up and where they weren't, barbed wire had been strung. The dormitories hadn't been finished yet either, but the plumbing was working and they'd constructed rows of tents for the convicts to sleep in.

Nothing unusual in that.

Zavlin had read of many prisons fighting overcrowding with small tent cities. And recent troubles at Fulton had convinced authorities to use the new prison a little early while they investigated the prison murders, defusing what they feared might be a race war.

A helpful, well-paid secretary, had managed to include Dodge Reed's name among those scheduled to be transferred. The amount of her bribe had been staggering, but it was money well spent, Zavlin thought. The whole KGB operation could be jeopardized if Dodge Reed told anyone what he knew. And that operation was too important to risk. Not when they were so close to striking what surely would be a crippling blow to the entire American society.

The vehicle wobbled closer, still engulfed in the cloud of dust, defying identification. Zavlin glanced down at his men. They scrambled to their positions and readied their rifles. — Zavlin could feel the familiar excitement as he pressed the binoculars back to his eyes, zeroing in on the approaching dust cloud. Public outcry had forced the location of this prison to be changed from the more populated areas to more rustic locales. Getting here had been the biggest challenge so far. But it was for the best. There would be no one to stop what was about to happen.

The plume of dust hugged the winding road, clinging to the bouncing vehicle like a coat of buzzing flies.

Another half mile and it would be on the short straight road that Zavlin had determined was the best location for the ambush.

If only that stupid record-store manager had told his boss about Dodge Reed first. But no, the manager, all of twenty-five and filled with selfimportance over his recent promotion, had not only fired Reed, but had him arrested! It had all happened so quickly that by the time the boss had found out and informed his own KGB contacts, it was too late to drop the charges without arousing suspicion. Both the manager and the boss would be dealt with later. After Dodge Reed had been eliminated.

The dust swirl swept around the final curve and hit the straight section of road. Zavlin adjusted his binoculars and smiled brightly. The van.

And there, leaning against the window, was the morose young face of Dodge Reed.

The KGB assassin shifted his glasses to take in the whole van. The rush of dust would complicate an already difficult shot. His marksmen would have to stop the van first.

Just as the thought entered his mind, the sharp crack of a rifle shot echoed up to him and he saw the front left tire of the van explode. The rear of the van swung out, skidding across the dirt road as the driver wrestled with the steering wheel. Then the glass on the driver's side shattered and the driver's head collapsed into red mush. He was flung out of his seat and the van, uncontrolled, spun to a halt. The six prisoners, each handcuffed to his seat, yelled and hollered as they ducked down under the windows, only their cuffed wrists showing. The remaining guard had his gun drawn and was hunched down, peering out the shattered window for a target.

Only a tiny sliver of his head was visible. But that was enough. One of the KGB assassins tightened his callous finger around his trigger and the top of the guard's head flew off like a soggy red toupee. The prisoners hollered even louder. They were trapped, without weapons, bound to their seats.

Now all Zavlin's men had to do was walk in and mop up. A bullet in the head of each man, three in Dodge Reed's head. Just to make sure.

He watched them stalking toward the disabled van, their guns ready. Very good, Zavlin thought, lowering the binoculars. A volley of shots startled him and he raised his binoculars. The van was still sitting there, unmoving, the prisoners yelling for help. He aimed the binoculars at his men just as another fusillade boomed through the valley. One of his KGB hit men spun, fired a shot into the brush. A shotgun blast ruffled dogwood leaves as the pellets brushed aside everything in their path, then punched through the KGB agent's chest like an iron fist. The agent was jerked off his feet as he flew backward into the azaleas.

Zavlin was on his feet, the binoculars screwed to his eyes.

* * * | Savannah Swingsaw | * * *