The whole truth, p.12
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       The Whole Truth, p.12

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  ever worked with in the field can touch him. He can walk into a room full of terrorists loaded for bear, con the turbans off them, take ’em down, and walk out alive. Pretty much one-of-a-kind stuff. And for that we make exceptions.” He tapped the dent in his head. “Even if the exception almost killed me.”

  “So he works for you. He told me he worked for a law enforcement agency.”

  “He did, huh? And that he runs around the world never knowing if he’s going to come out alive?” He studied her closely.

  Anna nervously twisted her fingers. “He said… he said he worked behind a desk now.”

  “A desk?” Frank grinned. “And he said he was retiring too.” He leaned so close she could smell his tobacco breath. “Let me tell you something. People like Shaw don’t retire. He goes until he either dies or we don’t need him anymore. He tries to leave before that, his ass goes right to the scummiest prison I can find.” He leaned back.

  “Why did you come here to tell me this?

  “Because I thought you needed to know the whole truth.”

  “The man you have described to me is not the man I know. He saved my life in Germany. He is the most kind, most wonderful man I have ever met.”

  “He kills people, Ms. Fischer. They’re bad people, for sure, but he still kills them. I do too. Or did. See, I actually have the desk job. Your fiancé is a brave man, I’ll give him that. Nerves like I’ve never seen before. But I’ve also seen him gut a man, here to here.” He drew his finger from his navel to his neck. “Guy deserved it, but Shaw doesn’t bake cookies. When the man’s on the hunt he’s an alpha with a capital freaking A! You know what I mean?”

  He stopped and studied her again, a smile edging across his face. “You know, I have to tell you, I’m impressed. I figured you’d have started crying five minutes ago.”

  “Have you ever loved anyone, Mr. Wells?” Anna said suddenly.

  Frank’s eyes narrowed and his jocular manner faded. “What?”

  “You seem to think all of this is funny somehow. Do you so enjoy the pain of others? Is that what your agency looks for in its employees? No soul? No compassion?”

  “Look, I came here to tell you the truth.”

  Anna went to the door and opened it.

  Frank stood stock-still for a moment and then shrugged. “Okay, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.”

  As he passed her Anna said, “Why do you hate him so much?”

  “He shot me in the head, lady!”

  “I don’t think that’s the real reason.”

  “What are you doing, playing shrink?”

  “You’ve never had anyone in your life, have you? That you really cared about? Or that cared about you.”

  “This isn’t about me!”

  “I guess you’re the only one who can really answer that truthfully. Good night, Mr. Wells.”

  As she closed the door behind him, Anna clutched at her face, stifling a sob.

  Her phone rang. She almost didn’t answer it.

  The voice said, “Anna Fischer, please.”

  “Speaking,” Anna said a little hesitantly. “Who is this?”

  “Do you know someone named Shaw?”

  Anna stiffened. “Why do you ask?”

  “He’s a big man, dark hair, blue eyes?”

  A lump formed in Anna’s throat. Please, God, don’t let it be… This is all too much. “Yes, I know him,” she managed to say.

  “Then I think we need to meet.”

  “Is he all right?” Anna gasped.

  “He was when I left him. But that’s not to say he’ll stay all right.”

  “What do you mean? Who are you?”

  “My name is Katie James. And I believe Shaw is in serious trouble.”

  CHAPTER 32

  THE TWO WOMEN SAT opposite each other at a café on Victoria Street. It was a cold, dank afternoon of intermittent rain; the kind of day that Londoners knew all too well.

  Katie James swirled her spoon in her coffee while Anna Fischer stared out the window where a flock of umbrellas paraded past. A single tear slid down her face. Katie pretended not to notice.

  “You told me what happened in Edinburgh with Shaw, but you never really explained how you found me,” Anna said.

  “Several years ago you delivered a paper at The Hague about the balance of preserving civil liberties with the fight against terrorism. I covered it for my newspaper. I was doing a stint in the Middle East at the time and the subject matter was certainly relevant to that part of the world. Then I found a sales receipt that Shaw had. He’d purchased a copy of your book. I recalled that you discussed it at your lecture. It was a brilliant discussion.”

  “Yes, well, too bad no one was listening.”

  “I’m sure many people were, Ms. Fischer.”

  Anna looked up from the remains of a barely eaten lunch. “Please, it’s Anna. We should be on first-name basis considering what you’ve just told me about the man I’m engaged to,” she added in a resigned tone.

  “And you had no idea?”

  “Of course I had some idea. And I had my suspicions.”

  “But you never pushed him on it?”

  “I did. After he asked me to marry him,” she added, her voice choking. When she started to snuffle, several other patrons looked around to stare at her.

  “Would you like to go to someplace more private?” Katie suggested in a low voice.

  Anna wiped her eyes and rose. “My office. It’s close by.”

  A few minutes later the women sat in Anna’s book-lined office at The Phoenix Group. A secretary brought them in hot tea and then retreated. Katie gazed around the room with interest.

  “So what is it that you do here?” she asked, obviously trying to break the ice a bit.

  “Here, we think,” Anna replied. “We think about vitally important global issues that most people have neither the time, expertise, nor desire to dwell on. Then we write our white papers, publish our books in hundred-copy runs, and make our speeches to half-filled rooms and the rest of the world goes merrily along ignoring us completely.”

  “Is it really that bad?”

  “Yes.” Anna took a sip of tea. “You said Shaw had been wounded?” Her face twitched even as she tried to appear casual.

  “He didn’t seem to even care. Bullet didn’t go in, he said, or something close to that. But they were shooting at him. His own people, the good guys.”

  “Or so he told you they were the good guys,” Anna said sharply.

  Katie was taken aback for a moment. “Well, I guess I only had his word for it. It wasn’t like I had the opportunity to ask everyone for official IDs.”

  Anna rose and paced the room, making precise ninety-degree turns as she did so. “It could very well be that Shaw is not who I thought he was.”

  “He saved my life, Anna. And he let me go.”

  As though she’d just used up all her energy, Anna slumped down in her chair, put a hand to her face, and quietly sobbed.

  Katie rose and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Is there something else?”

  Anna took a deep breath and wiped her face with a tissue. “Shaw went to see my parents, in Germany. He did so at my request. To ask for my hand in marriage from my father.” She glanced up at Katie. “I know, it’s silly. But I just wanted…”

  “To see if he’d do it?” Anna nodded. “And what happened?”

  “My father happily gave his consent.”

  “So what’s the problem?”

  “After Shaw left another man came. He told them things about Shaw. Very disturbing things. Then the night you called me, a man came to see me. He was with an international agency I’ve never heard of. He said Shaw worked for them.”

  “So he is a good guy!” Katie exclaimed.

  But Anna shook her head. “He said that Shaw was forced to work for them.”

  “Forced to? How?”

  “To avoid going to prison for serious crimes. This man told me Shaw shot him in the head
. Almost killed him.”

  “If he did that why wouldn’t they just put him in prison? Why cut him a deal like that?”

  “I asked that same question. And this man – he said his name was Frank Wells – he said that Shaw was very good at doing what they needed done. He was brave with strong nerves. That he could walk into dangerous situations and come out alive like no one else.”

  “From what I saw I can believe that. So he is working for the good guys.”

  “Wells said that Shaw kills people.”

  “When they’re trying to kill him.”

  “Why are you defending him so?” Anna asked in a sudden fierce tone. “You do not know him. You met him, by your own admission, one time.”

  “That’s true, but it was a helluva one time. You learn a lot about someone in a situation like that. There’s no opportunity to put on a false front. He saved my life and he let me go, Anna. So, I feel like I owe him. But it doesn’t matter what I think. What counts is what you believe.”

  “I thought I knew Shaw.” She paused. “My father has revoked his consent.”

  “You’re a big girl, you don’t need your father’s permission to marry.”

  “Would you marry a man under such conditions?”

  “I’d talk to him about it before I made any decisions.”

  “I’m… I’m afraid,” she admitted.

  “Anna, if he were going to hurt you, he would’ve done it by now.”

  “I’m not afraid of him hurting me physically. But what if he did commit these crimes the man spoke of? What if he tells me so? I cannot live with that. I don’t want to know.”

  “But then he doesn’t get to tell you his side of things. That’s not fair to him.”

  “And he told me he had a desk job. According to you that’s not true. So he lied to me. And he said he was retiring. According to this Frank Wells that is not an option. If he quits he goes to prison.”

  “Anna, I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a suggestion. Talk with Shaw. He needs you right now. His own people tried to kill him. Maybe he’s trying his best to get out and they gave him a pretty deadly warning. But you have to talk to him.”

  Anna composed herself. “I want to thank you for coming here and telling me all this.”

  “You’re welcome,” Katie said a bit resentfully. “But you’re not going to talk to him, are you?”

  “Please, that is not your concern.”

  The door opened and a man came in. “Anna, Bill wants to speak to you for a moment.”

  She turned to Katie. “I’ll be back.”

  “There’s not much else left to say, is there?”

  Anna hurried out while Katie slipped on her raincoat. Her gaze caught on some papers on Anna’s desk. Ever the curious soul, she drew closer.

  “The Red Menace,” she read from the top of a printout. Anna’s desk was littered with research related to the world’s number one story along with her handwritten notes. She ran her gaze over the desk, taking in as much as she could. Names, dates, places, Web sites. She had a wonderful short-term memory. When she got outside she would write these things down. She didn’t know why. Well, she did – it was just who she was.

  Then her eye caught on something else. She picked up the photo from the desk. Shaw and Anna looked very deeply in love as they stood there, arms around each other. In the background the Arc de Triomphe watched over them.

  “Well, if you can’t fall in love in Paris, you’re not meant to be together,” she said quietly to herself.

  She glanced up as Anna hurried back into the room.

  “So you’re ‘analyzing’ the Red Menace?” Katie said, pointing to her desk.

  “Just curious, like everyone else.”

  The next moment Anna saw what Katie was holding. “Please put that down.”

  As Katie passed Anna she pressed the picture into her hands and said, “Don’t expect that kind of love to come around again. Most people don’t even get it once in their lives. And I speak from experience.” She handed Anna a business card with an address written on the back. “Here’s where I’m staying in London, if you want to talk some more.”

  Katie left Anna clutching the photo as she headed down the stairs.

  CHAPTER 33

  SHAW WAS WAITING in the British Airways lounge at Frankfurt Airport. He, along with the other passengers, was watching the news on several TVs sprinkled around the room. On one screen indignant senators from the United States were on the floor of that august chamber taking turns lobbing potshots at the Russians and their downward spiral into an autocratic state that rivaled the ruthless machine Papa Joe Stalin had cobbled together.

  On another screen the BBC was showing the British Parliament giving the same treatment to the former Soviet Union. On yet another screen the German chancellor was putting her two cents in. While she was asking for calm and urging others not to rush to judgment, the chancellor still made it quite clear that the Russians should be deeply ashamed of themselves. This was the same tack the French president was taking, although he was erring more on the side of caution than his fellow leaders.

  Shaw was not focused on the great international political question of the day. He’d made up his mind. He was flying to London and would tell Anna the truth about what he did for a living. If she still wanted to marry him, which he doubted she would, then he would figure out some way to do it. He was actually surprised that he hadn’t heard from her after his meeting with her parents. He’d called and left her a message telling her he was coming to London. She hadn’t called him back, which was also unusual. He was thinking about this when the men approached him. They didn’t have to flash their creds; he recognized them.

  Frank’s goons.

  A few minutes later, deep in the bowels of the airport Shaw entered a small room where Frank sat at one end of a table and a man Shaw didn’t recognize at the other. There were four other men here, all fit and, Shaw assumed, amply armed.

  “I did Heidelberg.”

  Frank nodded. “I know. Nice easy job, just like Scotland. How was the side trip to Wisbach by the way? Work out okay for you?”

  This didn’t surprise Shaw. He knew that Frank tracked his every movement. “As a matter of fact it did.”

  Frank glanced at the men standing against the wall and nodded. They each crept forward a bit, putting a wall of flesh and guns between Frank and Shaw.

  “The Fischers are nice people, aren’t they?” Frank said. “My guy really enjoyed his chat with them. And I really enjoyed getting to know Anna when I visited her in London. Though I was really surprised at how clueless she was about you. But now, just so you know, she’s all filled in.”

  About a minute of absolute silence followed as Shaw stared at Frank and Frank smiled at Shaw.

  Shaw instantly sized up the situation. They would kill him long before he could reach Frank. But if the last six years had taught him anything, it was patience.

  He turned to the short, thick-necked, curly-headed man about Shaw’s age seated at the table. “Who’s this, Frank? Your boss or another flunky?”

  If Frank was disappointed that Shaw had not tried to attack him he didn’t show it. Hs just continued to smile and motioned with his hand at the other man.

  The man said, “I’m actually neither. The name’s Edward Royce, MI5.” He handed Shaw his card.

  “And what’s so important that you had to pull me away from a comfortable chair and a bottle of Guinness, Mr. MI5?”

  Royce glanced at Frank, his eyebrows slightly upraised. “Sorry to inconvenience you.”

  “No you’re not and hurry up. I have a plane to catch.” Shaw stared directly at Frank as he said this.

  That comment got another eyebrow hike from Royce. “Well, frankly, if it were up to me, Mr. Shaw, I wouldn’t even be here. MI5 is working with
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