Humans carried guns. And killed with malice, the only species that did.

He had approached from the ocean side, slithering up a dune and then across a stretch of high grass to the fence. The fence did not have electronic monitors or surveillance cameras like the front gate did. It was also not electrified. But there were motion sensors tethered to bright lights. Trip one and you revealed your position. However, Mecho had scoped out where all of them were when he was here working. The lights would not trip him up, but he still had to be careful.

The defensive philosophy here was a simple but effective one. Put up reasonable outer- perimeter measures, like fences and gates. If one got through them, the real defenses, clustered in an inner hardened circle around the target, would kick in and stop you.

At least that was the theory.

He clambered over the fence and dropped silently to the ground. He looked to the east and then to the west. The guards staggered their rounds. He had seen it from prior observation. He had also gained this intelligence from some well-placed questions to other members of the hired help he had encountered while working here. They obviously had no love for their employer.

Perhaps they thought Mecho was simply a burglar looking to steal from the rich.

What did they care about that? Someone who had everything losing a little piece of it?

More power to him, they probably thought.

But he thought there was another reason for their helpfulness. And it was the most disquieting one of all. It made the anger boil in his chest. It made him want to lash out and crush someone.

But those feelings would keep. He would not crush anyone tonight.

Not unless he had to.

He zigzagged across the lawn, avoiding the motion sensors in the trees. He waited by a clump of bushes as one of the perimeter guards made his rounds. When the man was just past him, Mecho struck.

The guard crumpled to the ground unconscious, blood running from the head wound. It was not fatal, Mecho knew that. He had calibrated his blow to wound, not kill. And he was a man who knew exactly how to do this.

He also had the man’s weapons. A Smith and Wesson .44 semiautomatic and an MP5. Overkill, perhaps, for a security patrol around a residence, however rich the occupants might be. And you had to multiply that by six, for the other guards were similarly equipped. Florida had very liberal gun ownership laws.

As Mecho looked down at the fallen man, he had to smile. The fellow apparently was pulling double duty, because it was the same man who had yelled at Mecho during the day for speaking to Chrissy Murdoch.

Well, he would have a nice long sleep tonight.

Mecho moved on, drawing closer to the house.

There was a vintage Bentley convertible parked in the courtyard. A noise from another building drew his attention.

The guesthouse again.

He looked at his watch.

Could it be?

He crept closer. A small light illuminated the front of the building.

Mecho could see another guard posted by the front door of the guesthouse. His .44 was hol- stered, and the MP5 hung loosely by its strap across his chest. He looked bored. He was smoking a cigarette.

By this Mecho knew he was not a true professional. People who knew what they were doing never smoked on duty. Smelling your opponent before he could attack was sometimes the difference between life and death. As was the split second it would take you to drop the cigarette and close your hand around your weapon.

By then you were dead.

Killed by someone more professional than you.

Three seconds later the man lay prostrate on the brick walk in front of the guesthouse. Mecho stripped out the ammo clips from both weapons and pocketed them. Then he slid the man behind a bush and crept to the door.

The sounds coming from inside were the same ones he’d heard that morning.

He opened the door and slipped in. This was not part of the plan tonight, but he took shortcuts when they presented themselves.

The house was dark and he felt his way along. The bedroom was at the end of the hall on the right. He reached it about five seconds later. The door was partially open. With the guard outside they no doubt did not expect to be interrupted.

He peered in. With the moonlight pouring in through the window, the room was illuminated well enough for him to see what was happening.

Peter J. Lampert was on bottom this time.

But it was not Chrissy Murdoch with him.

It was Beatriz, the young maid whom Mecho had spoken with that morning.

She no longer wore her crisp uniform.

She no longer wore anything.

If Mecho had been curious as to whether her body was as beautiful as the rest of her, he had his answer. She was exquisitely lovely.

She straddled her employer. His hands were around her waist and he was smashing her down on him with what Mecho could see was far too much force. Peter J. Lampert seemed to get a kick out of being overly physical with women.

Beatriz was not moaning as Chrissy Murdoch had been. At least not moaning in pleasure. She was moaning in pain. Her small breasts bounced up and down and Mecho could see her butt cheeks wrinkling with each hard collision against Lampert’s thighs.

Mecho tensed, every instinct he had telling him to attack.

But instead he pulled back, moved swiftly down the hall, and reached the living room. He looked around and decided this was as good a place as any.

He did what he had come to do and then left.

Outside he gave the guard behind the bush a kick in the head, pretending he was Peter J. Lampert.

It felt good.

He did one more thing before he left. The package was placed twenty meters away from the house and next to the Bentley convertible that had a license plate reading “The Man.”

As he crawled over the fence he counted the seconds off in his head.

He reached the beach and kept counting.

Fifty seconds later, when he was back on firm ground, the explosion occurred, lifting the pristine old Bentley five feet up in the air. When it came back down it hardly looked vintage anymore.

The blast lit up the night over Paradise.

Mecho didn’t look up to watch it as he started his scooter.

But he did smile.

Good night, Peter J. Lampert.

The Man.

CHAPTER 49

Puller drove to the Gull Coast and checked in. The front-desk person was young and sleepy, or maybe just bored.

He put his gear away in his room and debated what to do next. He called Landry and told her he was on his way. He hopped into the Tahoe and twenty minutes later pulled into the garage in Destin.

It was a humid night with little breeze.

Landry met him at the garage elevator. She had changed into shorts and a tank top with sandals. She held up two bottles of beer and then eyed Sadie.

“You have a dog?”

“By default.” He explained about Sadie being Cookie’s pet.

“I can’t take her, if that’s what you’re thinking. My building is no pets.”

“No problem. I just didn’t want to leave her alone tonight.”

“Let’s do the beach walk. It’s cooler down by the water and you can fill me in on the latest.” She glanced at Sadie. “And you can walk your new dog.”

They trudged across the sand, the breakers rolling over with a growing intensity.

“Surf always this rough at night?” he asked. “Don’t you watch the news?”

“Not lately, no.”

“Tropical storm Danielle formed in the Atlantic and entered the Gulf. Don’t think it’ll strengthen much, but it’s roiling up the waters. It’ll make landfall around here at some point. They’re not exactly sure when.”

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