Excerpt of Change of Heart by Jack Allen
(Page 1 of 4)
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"Bring us up close," Josh said. He stepped over the equipment in the bottom of the Zodiac and moved to the bow. Jurgen maneuvered alongside the sailboat. Josh grabbed the wooden rail on the gunwale and lifted himself aboard. He stumbled over the cushions on the seat and fell to the deck. The guy in the Zodiac held a flashlight over the gunwale, shining it down into the sailboat.
Josh was looking at a pair of deck shoes. He looked up. In the flickering light he saw Ron Finn's prone form laying back in the seat. His left hand still held the rudder wheel, but his blank eyes stared up at the dark sky. In the center of his chest was a big, red hole. Josh shivered. That Russian warship might be more trouble than they thought.
Josh tore his eyes away and took the flashlight from the guy in the Zodiac. "I'm gonna see what I can find. Don't go too far," he said.
"We'll be right here," Jurgen said.
Josh opened the hatch to the cabin and shined the light in. The floor was covered with several inches of water and various things like cushions and charts and plastic cups floated in it. Josh went down.
His heart was pounding. At any moment he expected a monster to jump out at him. He reached under his windbreaker for his Smith & Wesson. His heart sunk when he remembered it wasn't there. He felt naked without it. Ahead was a low doorway into the bow. He opened it. The bottom of the door swirled the water around his shoes. He shined the flashlight inside and there she was, laying in the bunks in the triangular bow, not moving.
"Hello?" Josh said, and stepped toward her. The light shined on her legs. She wore an old pair of jeans. As Josh got closer he saw they were much too big for her and he guessed they belonged to Ron. She also wore one of his t-shirts, a paint stained University of Virginia shirt Josh recognized. He had a similar Navy shirt, spotted with the paint they used to fix up Ron's beachfront house. The jeans were well down on her hips and the bottom of the shirt was up, exposing her belly button. He shined the light on her face and was startled.
This woman was a child. She had the angelic face of a girl no more than nineteen, Josh guessed. How could a girl this young be so important to a mission like this? How could she possibly be the evil KGB whore he came so far to interrogate? Ron must have made a mistake. Knowing him, he probably fell in love with this girl and tried to sneak away with her instead.
Valeria Konstantinova. Josh remembered the way Mironov spoke her name with such venom. He caught himself staring. She was beautiful. This vision before him shared nothing with the image of a tired, older woman he had created in his mind. He pressed his fingers to her neck just below her jaw. She had a pulse. Whoever she was, she was alive and he was going to rescue her.
Josh pulled her up the steps onto the open deck. She did not stir or make a sound.
"Did you find her?" Jurgen asked.
"Yeah. Hand me that life jacket." Josh reached over the gunwale and noticed lights back the way they had come. Jurgen looked back as well. A huge spotlight shined on the Monticello. Even from that distance, Josh could make out the steel hull of the Russian attack ship from the small amount of light that reflected off the water. There was about half a mile between the two ships.
"They just got there. We saw them getting close," Jurgen said.
"They'll come looking for us," Josh said.
"Then we have to get back soon."
Josh put the life vest on the girl. He held her up with one hand and slipped her arms through with the other. He thought about being back on that warm, dry ship and getting the hell out of this place. The thing he dreaded was the awful task of interrogating this girl when they got back. Something about it did not feel right.
A loud boom startled him. The guy in the Zodiac who had not spoken a word since they started the trip shouted a curse. Josh looked in the direction of the Russian attack ship. A second later, the rear of the Monticello exploded in a ball of flames. The concussion of the blast rolled out over the water.
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