Now Mecho’s face darkened. He had been a fool. She had drawn him in, without seeming to do so.

He looked around. He expected to see Lampert’s security team closing in. He looked at her, trying to discern the communication wire under her blouse or her shorts.

As though reading his mind she said, “No, Mecho, it’s not that way.”

“So you say.” He turned to leave.

“Will you stand down?”

He said nothing, but he also didn’t move. “Will you stand down?” she said again.

“Will you?” he asked.

“I guess I have my answer.”

“I guess you do.”

“It’s been a long time for us, Mecho. A long time. And much pain.”

“And you think you’re alone in that?”

“No. But I have obligations. The end result will be to your liking.”

“I have obligations too.”

He walked swiftly away from her. Away from the secret garden that held no more secrets.

Everything needed to be sped up now. The schedule, so carefully crafted, was now blown to shit.

But there was something else.

Ultimatums given were usually carried out. Prices had to be paid.

His rear flank had just been exposed. He was now fighting on two sides when only one had been anticipated.

He looked back at her.

Murdoch stood there, book in hand, staring at him.

He saw many things on her features.

Sadness.

Resignation.

But most of all, resolve.

He turned back and kept walking.

He didn’t feel sadness, or resignation.

But he did feel resolve.

The war had truly now begun.

CHAPTER 72

Peter Lampert put down his binoculars but continued to watch the big man stride across the lawn and put his rake back in the landscaping truck.

Lampert gauged the man’s height.

Six-six, perhaps a bit more.

Weight near three hundred pounds, perhaps, but he wasn’t bulky. He was lean but with massive shoulders and legs that revealed corded muscles through the fabric of his too-small pants.

An interesting fellow.

Lampert had seen him talking to the maid, Beatriz, on several occasions. He had seen Christine Murdoch paying him attention as well. He was not a bad-looking man.

Rugged, the ladies would undoubtedly call him.

And his great size, the women appreciated such things, he knew.

The old adage that big feet meant large appendages everywhere was still popular.

Large feet, thought Lampert.

Perhaps size sixteen.

Perhaps the same feet that had been in the flowerbed outside the window of the guesthouse. He wondered what the man’s handwriting was like. Would it match the message left on the wall of his guesthouse?

And Lampert’s men had told him of the big man, the giant they called him, who had escaped from the oil platform by diving off into the water. He was presumed dead. What else could they presume after a dive off the platform into a dark ocean? No one could have swum all the way to land from there.

Yet perhaps this man had what it took to do so. Or perhaps he had help.

Lampert was a risk-taker, always had been. It would be nothing to him to risk eliminating the man even if it turned out he posed no threat at all. Collateral damage was something that did not bother him.

He did not know quite what to make of Chrissy Murdoch’s talking with him. He knew Winthrop didn’t come close to satisfying her sexually. Thus the occasional rendezvous in the guesthouse.

Perhaps she liked her men giant in all respects. Perhaps it was as simple as that.

Again, the question of risk.

He had Stiven Rojas looking over his shoulder. No, breathing down his neck, he corrected.

Such a man did not tolerate mistakes. Lampert had every incentive not to become one of those errors.

He continued to watch the big man as he toiled away under a hot sun.

Lampert had somewhere to go today. It was risky, but he felt he had to. During the journey he would decide what to do about size sixteen.

Lampert did not know that as he was watching the man, someone was watching him.

Chrissy Murdoch stood behind a tree and was peering between the branches with a small pair of binoculars she had kept in her bag. She had seen the optics signature off Lampert’s device as he watched Mecho.

In her mind she swiftly analyzed the situation. This actually could be good for her. Allowing Lampert to wipe out her competition. For that was what she now considered Mecho: her rival.

She had come too far, sacrificed too much, risked everything to be in the position she was now. She had lost no one close to her to slavery in the twenty-first century. But it seemed that Mecho had.

But part of her wondered if that was truly the right thing to do. Allow Mecho to die. For that was what she was certain Lampert was planning. She had noticed Mecho outside the window of the guesthouse that day. If she had, Lampert could have as well.

And the night the Bentley exploded?

Had that been Mecho as well, employing some type of tactical device to either anger or frighten Lampert? If so, the tactic had failed miserably. It had done nothing save put Lampert on higher alert. And that was saying something, because the man’s alertness was always high.

Maybe that blunder alone should decide it. Mecho should perish. That would leave the way open for her.

But the decision was not that easy. Something in Mecho’s eyes had stayed with her from the very first time she had seen him.

He was a man who had suffered a great wound, an unseen wound, because all the pain was inside of him.

Murdoch could understand such a thing happening in connection with a man like Peter Lampert.

Lampert was perfect for what he did. He had no conscience. He cared about no one other than himself. There was no one he would not sacrifice to get his way, not his wife, not his only child. It was simply how he was wired.

But you could get to a man like Lampert, hit him where it hurt. These spots were few and well hidden, but they existed.

Murdoch intended to smash them all.

She withdrew from the cover of the tree and walked back to the secret garden.

She sat back down on the bench and opened her book.

Her decision was not made yet because she couldn’t make up her mind.

Live or die, Mecho?

Live or die?

But there was something in his eyes.

And Murdoch felt her own eyes tear up as she thought about this.

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