The blond woman with the Festiner's bag folded up her tiny cellular phone and placed it in a pocket of her azure Chanel suit, her pale glossy lips compressed in a small moue of annoyance. At first everything had gone like--well, like clockwork. It had taken her a few seconds to decide that the man standing in front of St. Gotthard was a probable match. He was clearly in his mid-thirties, with an angular face and strong jaw, curly brown hair flecked with gray, and hazel-green eyes. A pleasant looking fellow, she supposed, handsome, even; but not so distinctive that she had been able to ensure a definite identification from this distance. That was of no consequence. The shooter they'd chosen could make the identification; they'd made sure of that.
Now, however, matters seemed less than perfectly controlled. The target was an amateur; there was little chance he would survive an encounter with a professional. Still, amateurs made her uneasy. They made mistakes, but erratic, unpredictable ones, their very naivete defying rational prediction, as the subject's evasive actions had demonstrated. His wild, protracted escape attempt would merely postpone the inevitable. And yet it was all going to take time--the one thing that was in short supply. Sigma One would not be pleased. She glanced at her small, bejeweled wristwatch, retrieved the phone, and made one more call.
Winded, his starved muscles screaming for oxygen, Ben Hartman paused at the escalators to the arcade, knowing he had to make a split-second decision. 1. UNTERGESCHOSS SHOPVILLE read the blue overhead sign. The down escalator was crowded with shoppers laden with bags and strollers; he'd have to use the up escalator, which had relatively few riders. Ben charged down it, elbowing aside a young couple who were holding hands and blocking his path. He saw the startled looks his actions had provoked, looks that mingled dismay and derision.
Now he raced through the underground arcade's central atrium, his feet scudding along the black rubberized floor, and he allowed himself a glimmer of hope before he realized the error he'd made. From all around him arose screams, frenzied shouting. Cavanaugh had followed him here, into this enclosed, contained space. In the mirrored facade of a jewelry store, he caught a glimpse of muzzle fire, a burst of yellow-white. Instantly, a bullet tore through the burnished mahogany panels of a travel bookstore, exposing the cheap fiberboard beneath. Everywhere was pandemonium. An old man in a baggy suit a few feet away clutched his throat and toppled like a bowling pin, blood drenching his shirtfront.
Ben dove behind the information station, an oblong concrete-and glass structure perhaps five feet wide, on which was mounted a list of stores, elegant white lettering on black, a shoppers' guide in three languages. A hollow explosion of glass told him that the information box had been hit. Half a second later, there was a sharp crack, and a piece of concrete fell heavily from the structure, landing near his feet.
Another man, tall and stout in a camel-hair topcoat and a jaunty gray cap, staggered a few feet past him before collapsing to the floor, dead. He'd been shot in the chest.
Amid the chaos, Ben found it impossible to distinguish Cavanaugh's footsteps, but, gauging his position from the reflected muzzle flash, he knew no more than a minute remained before he would be overtaken. Remaining in position behind the concrete island, he stood, to his full six feet, and peered around wildly, looking for new refuge.
Meanwhile, the screams crescendoed. Ahead, the arcade was crowded with people, shrieking, crying out hysterically, crouching and cowering, many of them trying to hide their heads beneath folded arms.
Twenty feet away there were escalators marked 2. UNTERGESCHOSS. If he could close the distance without being shot, he could get to the level below. His luck might change there. It couldn't get any worse, he thought--then he changed his mind as he saw a widening pool of blood flowing from the man in the camel-hair coat a few feet away. Dammit, he had to think! There was no way he could close the distance in time. Unless . . .
Excerpted from The SIGMA Protocol, (c) 2002 Robert Ludlum. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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