CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

woman, but she has nothing outside her family. You have a career, and

you’re damned good at what you do. I would never ask you to give that

up, you know that. Yet you expect me to be willing to give up my career

for you!”

His voice was rising as he spoke, and growing more and more angry. Maybe

she wasn’t the only one who’d been bottling things up.

She shook her head, the worst of her own anger already drained. “I’m

beyond that, Matt. I know you won’t give up the Navy. It’s a part of

you, and you wouldn’t be who you are, wouldn’t be the. .. be the man I

love, if you were the kind of guy who could give it up easily. But it’s

one of the things that just makes us completely incompatible.”

He looked up sharply, a glimmer of hope in his eyes. “You still love me?

Then. ..”

Pamela took his hand and held it for a brief moment. “Sometimes. ..

sometimes love just isn’t enough, Matt.”

She released his hand and sat back. “Matt, I’m sure we’ll be seeing each

other while you’re here in Yalta, but I really think it best if we not

see each other. .. that way again. It’s. .. it really has been wonderful

knowing you, and I’m sorry it has to end this way. But it does have to

end. Now.”

The rest of the dinner was completed in an uncomfortable near-silence

and was cut short before dessert or the obligatory after-dinner tea.

All the way back to the hotel, she could feel the tension winding up

inside of him.

2315 hours (Zulu +3)

Yalta Hotel, Crimea Tombstone was still digesting what had passed

between him and Pamela that evening. He didn’t know what to say, was

afraid to say anything for fear that either he or she would explode.

He’d known she was hurt by his frequent absences, knew she didn’t like

them, knew she’d rather he left the Navy. .. but he’d never imagined it

coming to this.

“Good night, Pamela,” he told her in the hotel lobby. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, sailor,” she said with something approaching her

old twinkle. “It has been fun. At least until recently.”


She turned and walked away toward the elevator.

Tombstone turned and started for the stairwell, less because he still

mistrusted Russian elevators than because the thought of riding up

several floors in close proximity to Pamela was suddenly unendurable.

The prostitutes were gone, at least, he was relieved to see.

As he started up the first flight, however, he was aware of a sudden

movement at his back.

“Stoy! Nee sheeveleetes!”

Tombstone turned, looking down at a young man–he probably wasn’t out of

his teens–with long, wildly disheveled hair and a knife held

threateningly in his right hand.

“Rukee wayrh!” His right hand held the knife, weaving it back and forth

at Tombstone’s throat. The left was extended, palm up. “Ya hachu


“I don’t speak Russian,” Tombstone told the youth, keeping his voice

cold and level. “Understand? La plaha, uh, ya plaha gavaryu!”

“Money!” the boy repeated, and he rubbed the fingers of his left hand

together in a universal sign. “Money! Dollar! You give!”

It was almost ridiculously easy, given that he was already on the first

step of the stairway, and the kid was waving the knife carelessly less

than a foot away, well inside Tombstone’s reach. Had it been a pistol

the kid was waving, Tombstone would not have considered doing what he

did next. He was neither a brawler nor a practitioner of martial arts,

but he outweighed the kid by at least thirty pounds, and his reflexes

were those of an aviator.

Besides, he was in no mood to be pushed around.

“Da,” he said, nodding and reaching up with his left hand to open the

front of his jacket. “Da. I give.”

The kid’s eyes gleamed and he stepped closer as if to grab the expected

wallet from the inside jacket pocket himself. Instead, Tombstone lashed

up and across with his left forearm, blocking the knife hand and

smashing it aside; he pivoted left with the movement, shooting his right

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