[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

The China Gambit
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2012


Calgary, Canada

Leaving suite 2100 in the Hyatt Regency and clutching her reporter's steno pad, Francesca Page was excited, more excited than she'd ever been.

Only ten months ago she graduated from Northwestern Journalism School. Now she had the most incredible story. Disclosing what she learned could avoid disaster for the United States.

She practically flew down the corridor to the elevator, her long strides propelling her five eight frame. Impatiently, she pressed the down button, then brushed back a few strands of long brown hair.

Nothing he said in the interview confirmed what she'd learned in Iran. But her father had taught her how to interrogate people. "Watch their facial expressions, particularly the eyes. Voice inflection is critical. What they don't tell you is more important than what they do." All those screamed at her: You're right. That is what they're planning.

The empty elevator arrived. Gripping the brown leather case that held her laptop and cell phone, she charged in. After pressing the lobby button, she was planning her next moves: drive back to the Fairmont; write up the story on the laptop; email it to Elizabeth; then call. Elizabeth will be in her office at the Trib. Still plenty of time to make tomorrow morning's paper. In her mind Francesca was composing the front page headline: "Chinese General Develops Plot Against The United States."

She barreled through the lobby, narrowly missing a heavyset man swaying from too much to drink. Once she exited the revolving door, the biting cold of the mid-March evening smacked her in the face. Snow was beginning to fall. "Cab Miss?" the portly doorman asked.

"No thanks. I have a car in the garage across the street." She zipped up the brown leather jacket and put on her gloves.

She waited for the light to turn green, all the while drafting in her mind. Suddenly, two men were closing in on her, bookends. One short with a pockmarked red face. The other tall and swarthy with a thin mustache.

The short man flashed an ID in a wallet. "Alberta Police. Come with us, Miss Page." At the curb, she saw a black Mercedes sedan, no markings on the side, engine running, rear door open. The car had an Alberta license plate, AP221.

Growing up, she'd heard plenty of stories from her father about the operations of clandestine services. I'm not being paranoid. Mutt and Jeff aren't real police. I have to seize the initiative and surprise them.

"I can't see your I.D. You'll have to bring it closer."

The short man brought his wallet a foot from her face. As he did, Francesca swung her arm containing the bag with her laptop, fast and hard, hitting him in the face, breaking his nose. Snow had made the sidewalk slick. Caught off guard, bleeding, he slipped and fell. The tall man yanked Francesca's bag away, pulled a gun, and glared at her.

The snow was picking up. Her hair was wet, water dripping down her cheeks. Traffic was moving slowly. She burst into the street threading her way between cars, making a beeline for the garage. Glancing over her shoulder, she expected the tall man to chase her. But he wasn't moving. He had whipped out his cell phone and was making a call.

I have to get to the airport. If I hurry, I'll make the last plane out to Chicago. Then I'll get a plane to New York in the morning. But what if they're not flying? I can't even think that.

Besides, Calgary's used to snow.

She roared around curves in the garage. At the exit, she paid the fee. Out on the street, she wanted to floor it, but the surface was slippery, cars skidding. She glanced in the rearview mirror.

The black Mercedes had pulled out and was following, two cars behind.

She turned onto Highway 2, heading north toward the airport. The Mercedes followed her. The snow was coming down harder. The Rocky Mountains on the left were buried in heavy cloud cover.

Through fast moving windshield wipers, she barely discerned a disabled car in the road. At the last possible instant, she swerved around it. She was terrified, clutching the wheel, her palms moist, the defroster and heater running full blast, her legs shaking. Perspiration dripped from her forehead into her eyes and soaked the underarms of her blouse.

The exit for McKnight Boulevard was coming up. She cut sharply on to the ramp, taking it too fast and sliding around, nearly hitting a wall. On the road, she hunched over the wheel, glancing back again. No one was in sight. She breathed a sigh of relief.

Straining to see, she was driving as fast as possible.

Up ahead, she saw a roadblock. She threw on the high beams. A wooden barricade was stretched across the road, blocking traffic in her direction. A man dressed in a police uniform was checking each car, then waving the cars through on the apron. Traffic was light.

She glanced to the side of the road. A car with flashing red and blue lights on the roof was parked on the grass. Next to it, she saw a black Mercedes. License AP221.

One car was between her and the roadblock. The policeman, or whatever the hell he was, let the car pass.

She kept her lights on high and pressed down on the accelerator, driving right at him. He narrowly jumped out of the way. She slammed through the barrier, smashing the wood to shreds.

On the right, she saw a sign: "Airport Five miles." Under it was an arrow pointing left.

She made the turn on to the Barlow Trail, the last leg, two lanes to the airport.

She checked the rearview mirror. A car was right behind her and moving up fast, so close that she saw the Mercedes insignia on the hood. In the snow her Toyota was no match for the Mercedes, which was closing the gap. She felt a jolt as the Mercedes bumped her car. She kept going.

She heard a gunshot. It blew out the rear window. The bullet and glass narrowly missed her. She refused to stop.

While worrying about the Mercedes, she had to watch the road ahead.

Blinding lights were coming at her from the front. A huge truck. She moved to the shoulder of the road. The Mercedes shifted with her, then pulled off.

"Move over you jerk," she shouted at the trucker.

But the truck didn't move. It slammed into her car. And her whole world went black.