Smokescreen - Iris Johansen Page 0,1

felt like…straw. Most of the conversation was in a Maldara dialect.”

She had to stop a minute before she could go on. “They…wanted to hurt me and…they did. The one who was fair-haired kept driving the others to hurt me more and more. He beat me himself, then he told the others what they had to do and how to do it. He said they’d been sent here to do a job, so do it.” Say it. She had to tell him. She swallowed. “I have a little blood—down there, and I’ll need a rape kit.”

Silence. “They raped you?”

“Three of them did. The one with fair hair only seemed to want to beat me. He seemed…angry.”

“Son of a bitch.” Then Novak began to swear softly and viciously. “We’ll get you to the local hospital in Jokan,” he said. “Another fifteen minutes.”

“No hospital. Not here,” Jill said jerkily. “You’re CIA, and I’ve seen you pull strings. You can get me anything—I need—without throwing me into the system. Do it, Novak.”

“The system isn’t all that bad when you’ve been savaged the way you’ve been, Jill. You’re one of the best journalists I’ve ever come across, but not even a Pulitzer is worth this.” He added harshly, “You should have done what I told you and stayed out of it. Would it have been too much to leave it up to me? You knew I’d follow up.”

“Yes, I knew you would,” Jill said wearily. “Because you’re as obsessed as I am. But it was my story—you might have been—too late.” She was getting weaker, she realized. That temporary adrenaline rush when she’d felt so safe with Novak was fading. And there was something she had to do, she remembered vaguely. “Do you have a first-aid kit in this jeep?”

“You don’t have to do it yourself. I’ll get you help right away, Jill.”

“It’s not for me. I need some medical gloves. I couldn’t describe those men, but I—fought them. When they surprised me, they took away my gun, but they’ll have scratches.” She looked numbly down at her hands. “And I might have some DNA beneath my nails if it survived my trip—through—all that mud.”

He muttered another curse, reached into the backseat for the first-aid kit, and handed it to her. The gloves were on top of the bandages, and she quickly pulled them on to protect her nails. She set the first-aid kit on the floor at her feet. Better. One more thing done to rid herself of that terrible feeling of helplessness. “You were driving slow. You were looking for me, weren’t you? How did you know I was here?”

“My informant at the embassy intercepted an anonymous call to the secretary shouting about how U.S. journalists were to blame for the ruin of his country and claiming that he’d taken care of one tonight. Their directions were pretty damn accurate. They wanted you to be found. I was lucky to reach you before the soldiers from the embassy.”

“No, I’m the lucky one.” Though luck was a bittersweet concept tonight. But she could imagine how she would have felt if anyone but Novak had found her. “Now take me somewhere you can get those gloves off to a lab so I can get clean again. Then I’ll try to figure out how to find out how they knew it was me Hadfeld had contacted.”

He was silent. “It might be my fault.”

Her gaze flew to his face. “You’ve got a lead?”

“Better. I think I might be able to get my hands on the skull. So go home and let me work on it,” he said roughly. “You’ve gone through too much as it is.”

“Yes, I have.” Her hands clenched into fists. “And I’m not the only one. Do you actually believe I’d ever let those bastards get what they wanted? Can’t you see? They knew the first thing that the embassy would do if they found out about this would be to notify my publisher. And then they’d send me back to the U.S. to some discreet hospital to go through debriefing and therapy. That’s why that bastard told those other men that they had a job to do. That’s why they kept beating me. That’s why it was rape.” Her eyes were suddenly blazing at him. “After all that’s gone down here in Maldara, the last thing those diplomats would want would be to have a journalist injured and raped at this stage of the game. Six hundred thousand people were murdered here. Genocide.