Smokescreen - Iris Johansen



Jill Cassidy’s fingers stabbed into the mud as she saw the light spearing the darkness on the road ahead. The vehicle was going slowly, but they’d never see her on this side path. She had to get to the main road. But she had no shoes, and every muscle was aching, throbbing. She’d tried to get to her feet and walk as soon as she’d heard those bastards leave, but she was too weak. She had only managed to crawl slowly, painfully, through the jungle.

She could do this, she told herself desperately as she forced herself to propel her body through the mud on the path. The pain wasn’t as bad as it had been when they’d first left her. Ignore it, think about the story. Always think about the story. It wasn’t the pain, it was the shock that was causing her to shake and feel so weak.

The shock and this gentle, warm tropical rain that had started to fall just as she’d finally managed to pull herself together and force herself to move. Strange that warm rain could make her feel this cold. So gentle, she thought dazedly. Why on earth had that word occurred to her when there seemed to be no gentleness left in her world?

The headlights drew closer.

She had to get to the road before the car passed her.

She tried to move faster.

It was a jeep, she realized. The motor was so loud…Would they hear her if she called out? She had to catch their attention. She made a last effort and rolled out onto the road.

“Jill!” The jeep screeched to a halt. “Dammit to hell!”

Novak, Jill realized. It was Jed Novak, and he was angry…That was okay, let him be angry. All that mattered was that he had come, and nothing else could happen to her as long as he was here.

He jumped out of the jeep. “Jill.” He was striding toward her. “I almost ran over you.”

“You…wouldn’t do…that. Spoil your…image. CIA to the…rescue.”

“Shut up.” Then he was kneeling beside her, the rain beading off the brim of his hat as he looked down at her. “Just look at you, Jill,” he said hoarsely as he wrapped his jacket around her. “I told you to be careful. What happened? Why wasn’t someone with you?” In spite of the roughness of his tone, his hands were gentle as he picked her up and set her inside the jeep. “How badly are you hurt?”

“I don’t know. It…feels bad. But I made it through that jungle…so I guess it’s not—” Jill struggled to keep her voice steady. It was over. Those bastards were gone. Don’t let them do this to her. “I thought they—were going to—kill me. But it turned out they—only wanted to teach me a lesson and get me sent home.”

“You have some nasty bruises.” He stiffened as the dashboard lights fell on her torn blouse and upper body. “Blood. Shit. I shouldn’t have moved you.”

“Not—my blood. Hadfeld. They—wanted to show me—his head. They threw it at me…He’s dead, Novak.”

“You’re not in good shape yourself. Those bruises are really bad, and they’re all over you.” He was carefully feeling her arms and body. “Here, too. Your head? Concussion?”

“I don’t think so. I never totally blacked out.” She’d wanted to black out, but she’d been afraid that if she stopped fighting, she’d never wake up. She started to shake again. Don’t think about it. She’d made it this far, and she’d be fine. Just don’t think about it.

But she couldn’t stop shaking.

“Hey, it’s okay. You’re safe.” Novak had pulled her into his arms and was holding her tight. “Breathe deep. Just take it easy. We’ll talk about it later.”

Safe. She lay there against him, letting his heat warm her, shut out the chill. He was so strong, and she felt as if his strength were pouring into her and shutting out that horrible weakness. Yet more than five minutes passed before she could stop shaking.

She finally sat up and pushed him away. “I’m sorry,” she said unsteadily. “I fell apart. You asked me why—there wasn’t someone—with me. I got the phone call from Hadfeld. But it was a trap. They were waiting for me.”

“How many were there?”


“Can you describe them?”

Describe the pain? Describe the smell of them? Describe the helplessness she’d felt? But she had to focus and try. She shook her head. “Scarves over the lower…half of their faces. One black man, three white. Two of the white men had dark hair, one was fair-haired. It