The deafening kuchugga-chug-chug-chug-chug of Otis's shotgun shook the hotel, a buckshot blizzard, shredding wallpaper and plaster, shattering light fixtures. The weapon sang, a Wagnerian shotgun opera, the sound track to hell.

The two guards, sharp-eyed Japanese in bright Armani suits, had gone for their guns upon seeing the elevator doors open. Otis sprayed them with buckshot, blood flying and landing on the walls in Rorschach splats. Doors opened, men flooding the halls without regard for their own lives like all good minions. Four men, no, six.

Otis emptied the barrel magazine, the weapon ejecting the shells, which collected in a smoking pile at his feet. He shredded skull and bone, the hallway transforming into a crucible of blood, until finally he was still pointing the shotgun but nothing was coming out. He'd spent the ammo, and four more men spilled out of rooms, firing automatics.

The bullets felt like hard-thrown stones against Otis's Kevlar vests. A chunk of lead caught him in the fleshy part of the thigh, a burning knot of flesh and blood and pain. Otis grunted, dropped the shotgun.

He took a half dozen more shots in the Kevlar, another bullet whizzing too close past his ear. He drew the twin Glocks, opened fire. They sounded like pissed-off firecrackers compared to the shotgun. Otis fired six shots, missed everything, realized he wasn't using the scattergun anymore and actually had to aim.

Another bullet grazed his shoulder. It stung.

Otis aimed, squeezed the trigger three times, killed one of the men, and swung the pistols in a deliberate arc, dropped two more. The last man saw he was alone, turned and ran. Otis filled his back with lead.

The hallway was suddenly silent except for the faint moan of the wounded. Smoke hung in the air, the smell of sweat and death.

Otis slapped two new magazines into the Glocks, stepped over the bodies crisscrossing the hall. His every step sank into the pile carpeting, squished with blood.

Itchi watched Toshi disappear around the corner and exhaled relief. He knew he was supposed to be brave, but running toward gunfire was very low on his list of things to do.

The shots down the hall were louder now, a rapid series of little bombs, a small war. The roar of gunfire was so loud, it was no surprise Itchi didn't hear the ding of the elevator behind him, the doors sliding open. Did not, in fact, realize anything was amiss until he felt the cold barrel of the gun pressed to the back of his head.


"Drop your guns," said the man behind him.

Itchi had only one. He dropped it.

"Kick it down the hall."

Itchi kicked his gun. It slid out of reach.

"Now step away and turn around."

Itchi did it, looked at the man. Samson. The man looked haggard, determined, and nervous all at the same time. He licked his lips, shook the gun at Itchi.

"I don't want to kill anybody."

Itchi nodded. By fortunate coincidence, he didn't want to get killed.

"Get on the elevator," Samson said. "Get the hell out of here."

He edged past Samson, hopped aboard the elevator. The doors began to close. He saw Samson turn and head away down the hall. His thoughts raced in the two seconds it took the elevator door to shut. Guilt and honor and duty, the feelings Itchi had thought safely suppressed. Itchi's only job was to protect Kurisaka, and he'd botched it. Inattention. Stupidity. The bungling gaijin had come upon him from behind. Itchi had put up no resistance. He was a coward.

Itchi slapped the DOOR OPEN button, drew the short dagger on his belt with the other hand. The doors slid open, Samson still visible only a little farther down the hall, the gunfire racket still erupting beyond. Itchi sprinted down the hall, his feet barely touching the ground, dagger up and ready to strike.

When Itchi was six feet from Samson's back, he leapt. Just as Samson turned, brought his pistol around. Samson's face was a mask of terror and surprise.

Itchi wondered how he looked to Samson.


If not for the narcotic boost, Joellen Becker would have been winded by the third floor. Instead, she sprinted two steps at a time, up through the hotel's stairway, her hard boots echoing off the cement walls.

Her plan was simple. The behemoth Otis, using Satan's own shotgun, would simply cut a path through Kurisaka's men. Most likely, Otis would be killed in the process. No matter. Otis's rampage might draw any guards away from the service elevator, giving Samson a clear path. Or perhaps not. Samson's survival was of little concern to Becker. He could even keep the DiMaggio card should he actually win through. To Joellen Becker, the most important thing was that the two men cause as much of a diversion and draw as much fire as possible.

She didn't consider she'd duped them, not completely. Otis had his chance at revenge. Samson could chase a baseball card for which there was no longer a buyer. It was what they wanted. Go for it, guys. Have fun.

Joellen Becker had bigger plans. While searching the mercenary Web sites and checking with her old NSA contacts, the name Ahira Kurisaka had sent up a red flag. She'd dug a little deeper and found there was a big fat price on his head. Five hundred million yen. (That's 4.8 million American!) Kurisaka had enemies, and they were willing to pay big to make him go bye-bye forever. She'd withheld that tidbit of information from Samson.

She was two floors from the top when she heard a mob of footfalls rumbling down the stairs toward her. Fuck. Somehow, they knew she was coming. It didn't matter how. She'd have to fight her way up. She'd hoped to avoid as much combat as possible, ideally popping a quick slug into the back of Kurisaka's head and beating feet down the stairs again before anyone tried to kill her.

But when Becker saw the three Japanese men running toward her, she realized what was happening. These men were not coming for her. They were running away. Panicked. Otis must've given them hell.

When the three saw her, it took a moment for them to recognize a threat. They lifted their pistols, one even managed to get off a shot, the bullet kicking up tiny chunks of cement a foot over Becker's head.

Becker drew the six-shooters, the nickel flashing in the stairwell's fluorescent light. She squeezed each trigger three times, the cylinders turning in B-movie slow motion as she charged up the last flight of stairs.

Two of the men took the bullets in the chest, fell forward, lifeless bodies rolling down the stairs. Becker leapt over them, pressed forward, firing twice more at the final man. He took a slug in each leg, went down hard.

Becker reached the landing, stood over the man with the ruined legs, pointed one of the six-shooters at his forehead. The man trembled, turned pale. Either from the loss of blood or from the flat, emotionless expression on Becker's face. Probably both.

"How many more men up there?" Becker asked.

The man shook his head.

"Where's Kurisaka?"

He shook his head again. "No... speak." He groped for words. "No... English."

"I almost specialized in Asian languages," Becker told him. "I took French and Italian instead. Unlucky for you."

She pulled the trigger.


Conner Samson screamed, flinched away from the guy jumping him. Conner threw up his arm-sheer reflex-and the guy sliced him from wrist to elbow. The wound burned, blood-sticky and hot. His own blood. Fear and adrenaline. Conner pushed the Glock at his attacker, jerked the trigger five times fast.

Impossibly, from only three feet away, every shot missed.

The guy bowled into Conner and they both went over. Conner landed hard on his back, the wind knocked out of him. He gulped for air. The guy was on top of him, dagger raised. The Glock was right in the guy's gut. Even Conner couldn't miss. He pulled the trigger twice.

His attacker convulsed, eyes going wide. He froze a moment, then very slowly tilted sideways. Conner pushed him off, scooted away. He looked into the dead man's eyes. I did that. He was alive. Then I fired the gun, and now he's dead. Conner felt dizzy, shook it off. He looked at his gun. Blood on the barrel. He wiped it on the dead man's pants and returned it to its holster.

Conner picked himself up, ran down the hall, looking at the room numbers until he found Kurisaka's suite. The DiMaggio card, in theory, lay within. Had Otis's diversion worked? Here we go.

He took the specially shaped charge from his utility belt, a black disk the size of a silver dollar, a small switch right in the middle. He peeled off the paper, adhesive underneath, and slapped the charge onto the door right next to the knob like Becker had shown him. He flipped the switch, backed away five feet. His instinct was to run all the way back up the hall, but he needed to be ready to rush inside.

The charge went off after five seconds, a loud bang, which made Conner jump even though he'd been expecting it. He ran into the suite, bracing himself for a possible hail of gunfire or a knife in the gut. But as Becker had predicted, none of Kurisaka's henchmen waited within.

He reached for the light switch, flipped it off. Closed the door behind him. He already had another, smaller disk in his hand, tossed it into the darkened room. He turned his head, shut his eyes tight, but still saw and felt the hot flash through his eyelids. He looked back, put on the special night-vision goggles.

The world turned green. Conner turned to see a quivering green blob lumbering toward him. It took him a second to realize it was a man, a giant fat man who filled his vision. The blob's eyes were specter black. Conner stepped aside, and the blob rumbled past him, fell over a chair, and cursed in Japanese.

He knows I'm here, but he can't see me. Conner knew Kurisaka would be here, but he hadn't expected a charging elephant.

Conner drew his Glocks, searched the room quickly. He wanted to find the DiMaggio card fast and get the fuck out of there. He saw a metal attach¨¦ case on the table, set down the Glocks, and flipped it open. The DiMaggio card sat in its hard plastic shell in the center of the padded case. Bingo. He closed the case, grabbed it by the handle.

White-hot light stabbed Conner's eyes. He flinched, clawed the night-vision goggles off his face. Someone must've switched the room light back on, overloaded the goggles. Conner blinked, spots in front of his eyes. He flailed, bumped into furniture. He blinked again, his eyes clearing just in time to see the giant fist coming at his face.

The big man hit him right between the eyes. Conner flipped backwards over the table, landed in a tangle on the other side. It felt like he'd been hit by a pickup truck. Somehow he hung on to the case. Shouting in Japanese. Bells ringing in his ears.

Conner stood, half-falling, half-backing away from the monster moving around the table to get at him again. He saw a door, ran for it, went through, and shut it behind him. A bathroom. He flipped the lock. Pounding on the door, almost shaking the thing out of its frame. If that guy put his full weight into it, the door wouldn't last long. He checked his shoulder holsters. Empty. He'd set the pistols on the table when he'd checked the attach¨¦ case. He looked down at the case in his hand. All things considered, he'd rather have had the pistols. He thought about the little automatic he was supposed to strap to his ankle.


The door shook with impact. That guy wanted through. Now.

Think, dumb-ass.

He checked his utility belt, various items of dubious value. Two more of the shaped charges he'd used to blow the door lock. A miniature first-aid kit he'd use on himself later if he survived. A little camera. Forty feet of tough nylon line with a miniature grappling hook. A granola energy bar. Who designed these fucking things? What did they think the wearer would encounter? No time. Focus on the problem.

Conner thumbed the microphone at his throat. "Becker. Dammit, Becker, where are you? I need some help here, and I mean right fucking now!"

The pounding on the bathroom door increased, the hinges groaning. The door wouldn't last another minute.

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