In a few moments, Ben heard approaching footsteps. Jimmy Cavanaugh entered stealthily, tentatively, glancing from side to side. His shirt collar was grimy and torn and bloodied from a gash on the right side of his neck. His trench coat was soiled. His flushed face was set in a determined grimace, his eyes wild.
Could this really be his friend? What had Cavanaugh become in the decade and a half since Ben had last seen him? What had turned him into a killer?
Why was this happening?
In his right hand Cavanaugh gripped his blue-black pistol, the ten-inch-long tube of a sound suppressor threaded to its barrel. Ben, flashing back on target-practice memories from twenty years ago, saw that it was a Walther PPK, a .32.
Ben held his breath, terrified that his gasping would give him away. He drew back into the alcove, clutching the iron light fixture he had just torn from the wall, flattening himself out of sight as Cavanaugh made a sweep of the restaurant. With a sudden but sure movement of his arm Ben flung the iron lantern fixture, smashing it into Cavanaugh's skull with an audible thud.
Jimmy Cavanaugh screamed in pain, his cry high-pitched like an animal's. His knees buckled, and he squeezed the trigger.
Ben could feel a flare of heat, a fraction of an inch away from his ear. But now, instead of drawing back farther, or attempting to run, Ben lunged forward, slamming himself into his enemy's body, pummeling him to the ground, Cavanaugh's skull cracking against the stone floor.
Even badly wounded, the man was a powerhouse. A rancid miasma of sweat arose from him as he reared up and vised a massive arm around Ben's neck, compressing his femoral artery. Desperately, Ben reached for the gun, trying to grab it but succeeding only in wrenching the long silencer up and back toward Cavanaugh. With a sudden ear-shattering explosion the gun went off. Ben's ears rang with a sustained squeal; his face stung from the blowback.
The grip on Ben's throat loosened. He twisted his body around, free of the chokehold. Cavanaugh was slumped on the ground. With a jolt Ben saw the dark red hole just above his old friend's eyebrows, a horrific third eye. He was suffused with a mixture of relief and revulsion, and the sense that nothing would ever be the same.
Excerpted from The SIGMA Protocol, (c) 2002 Robert Ludlum. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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