The whole truth, p.13
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       The Whole Truth, p.13

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci

  Interpol in investigating this Red Menace phenomenon. I think we’re perfectly capable of handling the situation, but it’s not my call. And my superiors have asked Mr. Wells’s people for assistance. And he, in turn, recommended that I meet with you.”

  “What do you want me to do about it?” Shaw said bluntly.

  “I’ve been told that you have very good contacts in Moscow, speak fluent Russian, and can handle yourself in dangerous situations. That makes you pretty unique.”

  “The time I spent in Russia was against my will. So you might want to find another unique person to carry your bags.”

  “Don’t you want to find out who’s behind the Red Menace?”

  “Why?” Shaw asked pointedly. “Is what they’re saying about Russia not true?”

  “Who the bloody hell knows?” Royce exclaimed. “Well, some of it undoubtedly is. But the truth is quite beside the point. In fact, it’s really the last thing we need. As you probably know, MI5 protects the UK against terrorists, spies, extremists, and the like. Well, the Red Menace business has opened quite the Pandora’s box. The world is in a delicate state right now. Many countries are powder kegs ready to blow.”

  “Really? I must’ve missed the warning signs,” Shaw said.

  This response drew a snort of laughter from Frank.

  Royce hurried on. “Anyway, this campaign is driving the Russians in a direction neither we nor the rest of the EU want them to go. A brooding, hunted Russian Bear is dangerous to everyone, Mr. Shaw. We have to defuse the situation. To do that we have to find out who’s really behind this whole campaign.”

  “Why not team up with the Americans? They can pull the bear’s claws if it comes to that.”

  “The Americans are, as usual, going their own way on this matter. But Wells here has agreed to allow you to work with us. He said you even knew Sergei Petrov, who was just murdered.”

  Shaw shot a glance at Frank, who stared back at him imperturbably.

  “That was very generous of Frank to offer my services. But I respectfully decline.”

  Royce said angrily, “Fine. No bloody skin off my nose.”

  Frank stood. “Look, Shaw, you get this done, then maybe we talk about those other things.”

  “Is that right?” It was all Shaw could do not to leap over the table and rip out the man’s throat.

  Frank hitched up his pants. “That’s right. I’m giving it to you straight, Shaw. I always do.”

  “I’ll have to get back with you.”

  “What? Why?” Frank exclaimed.

  “I’ve got something more important to do right now.”

  Royce said, “More important than the whole bloody world going to hell?”


  “What could that possibly be?” Royce demanded.

  “I need to go see a lady,” Shaw answered, staring at Frank before walking out of the room.

  Royce glanced at Frank. “Not exactly what I was hoping for, Wells,” he barked.

  Frank was solemn-looking, staring after Shaw. “Surprised me too, but for a different reason.”

  “Why? What the hell were you expecting?”

  “For him to try and kill me.”

  “Good God. And the man works for you! You’re both bloody insane.”

  “The man doesn’t really work for anybody, Royce.”

  “But I thought you said…”

  “Yeah, well, Shaw’s a special case.”

  “Do you have anyone else that can do what he can?”

  “Not even close.”


  ANNA NEARLY SCREAMED as she awoke to see the man hovering over her while she lay in bed in her London flat. She sat up, clutched the sheet around her.

  “What are you doing here?” she demanded.

  Shaw sat on the edge of the bed. “I think you know,” he said quietly.

  “How did you get in?”

  He held up a key. “You gave it to me, remember?”

  “I remember,” she said groggily.

  “I went to see your parents, but I’m sure you know that.”

  “And do you know about the man who visited them later? And the man who came to see me?”

  “What did he tell you?”

  “Would you like to guess? It’s actually not too difficult. What I need to know is, was it the truth?”

  “Anna, I’m sorry. I never meant for this to happen.”

  “You should know that lies always hurt people.”

  “I know you’re upset. That you probably hate me right now. And you have every right to. But I came here to tell you the truth.”

  “And I’m simply supposed to believe that it is the truth this time?”

  Shaw glanced around the bedroom. Many happy hours had been spent in here. He knew every inch of Anna’s flat better than any place he’d ever called home. “All I can do is try.”

  “Let me get dressed. You can wait in the other room.”

  “It’s not like I haven’t seen you naked a thousand times.”

  “You won’t see me naked tonight. Go!”

  He left and she joined him a few minutes later, a long dressing gown wrapped around her. She remained barefoot. They sat at the small table overlooking the street at which she and Frank had sat.

  “So explain,” she said tersely.

  “Frank Wells is my superior at the organization I told you about.”

  “Yes. Where you work at a desk job? How is that going, by the way? Any interesting work come across your nice, safe desk job?”

  Shaw stared down at the floor. “The work I do is highly dangerous. There’s hardly ever a time when I go into a mission where I’m sure I’ll come out alive. That’s the truth.”

  Anna let out a noticeable moan but then caught herself. “And you do this out of the goodness of your heart?”

  “Seven years ago I shot Frank Wells in the head in Istanbul. He pulled a gun on me. I thought he was going to kill me. When I realized who he was I took him to a hospital. Otherwise he’d be dead. He probably forgot to mention that part.”

  “He said he was trying to arrest you for some criminal activity.”

  “That’s his story, but it doesn’t make it true.”

  Anna sat back and pulled the robe closer around her. “So what is your version? What were you doing when you shot him?”

  “I can’t tell you. Only that I’m not what Frank thought I was. But I couldn’t really prove it.”

  She stared at him incredulously. “So I’m just supposed to take your word for it? You don’t have a good track record for veracity.”

  Shaw mulled this over for a few moments. “Okay, but this can go no further, Anna. Seriously. No further.” She quickly nodded, her face strained. “I was in Istanbul that day to find out who was trying to frame me for working with a very violent drug cartel operating out of Tajikistan. I was a freelancer back then. I worked for the Americans, the French, the Israelis, among others, and none of it criminal.”

  “Who would try to frame you?” Anna said, but her tone was more conciliatory now.

  “There were lots of potential suspects. The work I did had put a dent in a lot of the bad guys’ activities. And I guess Frank’s organization got involved, became convinced I had gone bad, and were going to take me in. I thought Frank was one of the guys who’d framed me. I believed they’d laid a trap in Turkey and he was there to finish the job. So I shot him before he shot me.”

  “Why would you later agree to work for Frank if you weren’t in the wrong?”

  “Let’s put it this way. If it had gone to court I would have probably never seen the light of day. I had no proof, and the frame job was pretty convincing. Working for Frank isn’t exactly easy, but it seemed better than the alternative. And I think Frank and his people suspected I’d been set up, but instead of investigating further to establish my innocence they used it as an excuse to make me work for them, fine people that they are.”

  “So why did your own people shoot at you in Sco

  “Who told you that?” he said sharply.

  “Perhaps it was Frank.”

  “Don’t lie to me, Anna.”

  “That is a fine one, coming from you.”

  “I’ve never really lied to you. I just didn’t tell you everything.”

  “A distinction that is beyond absurd,” she retorted.

  Shaw looked angry for a moment and then his face cleared. “You’re right, it is. Anyway, they’d agreed that I’d work for them for five years, and if I survived, I was a free man. As of right now I’ve stayed on for nearly six just to make sure.”

  “Why would you work for these horrible people for an extra year? It makes no sense.”

  “I did it because I wanted to be sure they’d let me go. I had to be sure because, well, because of a very important reason. I’d worked for them for nearly three years when I made that decision.”

  “And when exactly did you decide to work for them for an extra year?”

  “Three years ago. At 12 a.m. In Berlin.”

  Their eyes met and held as Anna’s breath caught in her throat. That had been the exact moment when he’d saved her from the muggers. They knew this because a street clock had chimed the hour.

  “But he told me that you’re not free. That you still work for him. That people don’t retire from that job. Ever.”

  “I just found that out myself.”

  He sounded so utterly crushed that she gripped his hand with hers.

  “Can’t you just stop, just walk away?” The tears had started to gather in Anna’s eyes.

  “I could, but I’d be dead or more likely in prison in less than twenty-four hours if I did.”

  “But these people are the law! How can they possibly do that?”

  “They are the law, a law unto themselves. They kill when the ends justify it. It’s a dangerous world and the rules of the game have changed.”

  “That’s very comforting.”

  “Do you want to be safe?”

  “At any price? No!”

  “That makes you a minority.”

  “So where exactly does that leave us?”

  “I asked you to marry me. You accepted. You asked me to get your father’s permission. I did. But I wasn’t truthful with you. And I can’t stop doing work for Frank. And I can’t expect you to marry me under these conditions. It’s not fair. And it’s not right. And I love you too much to do that to you. And now I’m going to do the hardest thing I’ve ever had to.”

  “What is that?” she said in a hollow whisper.

  “Walk out of your life.”

  Shaw started to rise. “Wait!” she exclaimed. He sat back down.

  Anna dabbed at her eyes with the sleeve of her robe. “Do you still want to marry me?”

  “Anna, that’s not the issue anymore. When I go away you’ll never know if I’ll come home alive.”

  “What do you think the spouses of soldiers and police officers do every day?”

  “Anna, that’s easy to say but…”

  She sat on his lap and placed his large, muscular hand over her engagement ring.

  “You only have to ask yourself one question, Shaw. Just one. Do you still love me? If the answer is no, your problem goes away.”

  He placed his head gently against hers. “Then I have a big problem.”


  NICOLAS CREEL HAD NEVER BEEN an overly religious man, yet this amount of good fortune must surely have at its epicenter a divine light. His life of balancing good works with the sale of deadly weapons was clearly paying off, judging by the latest golden opportunity to present itself.

  He’d reviewed the surveillance tapes of The Phoenix Group’s building and watched in astonishment as a woman identified as Anna Fischer and none other than the legendary journalist Katie James walked into the place practically arm in arm!

  He now had the remaining piece to his game plan. Creel had dossiers on a dozen promising candidates, yet Katie James had never even occurred to him because she’d dropped off the radar screen. He’d had an entire file assembled on her within an hour of seeing the woman on the video. And the man liked what he had seen.

  Her fall from the top had been swift. Allegations of alcoholism, stories botched or never written. Relegated to the obit page and she was several years shy of forty. Her two Pulitzers had not saved her from that fate. She looked hungry on the film.

  Well, Creel would play her dreammaker. He would give her the one story that would catapult her right back to the top.

  He called Caesar and told him to be ready to go in two days. Putting down the phone, he sat back in his chair as the door to his study opened and Little Miss Hottie sauntered in holding a bottle of champagne and wearing only what she’d been born with.

  “I love your office,” she said. “It just feels like you. I come in here sometimes and just soak it in.” She sat down in his lap and drank straight from the bottle.

  “This is a nice surprise,” Creel said as he ran his hand along her naked thigh. “It wasn’t on the schedule, sweetie.”

  “A thank you for that kickass ring you got me, baby,” she slurred. She was drunk, and, from the shrunken appearance of her pupils, also high. Yet Creel had found his wife was at her lovemaking best while stoned out of her mind.

  “It’s amazing, really, what twenty carats will get one these days,” sighed Creel, as Hottie slid up on his desk.

  The buzzing sound woke Shaw. He instinctively sat up and scanned the room, until he realized where he was. Next to him Anna was still sleeping. He rubbed his face and glanced at his phone. It was Frank. He snatched it up and went into the next room, looked out the window onto a moonless London night. The rain had passed but a chill mist still floated down the street obscuring everything it touched.

  “What do you want?” Shaw said.

  “Spending the night? The lady must really love you.”

  “You go near her again, Frank, I’ll kill you.”

  “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, my friend.”

  “What the hell do you want?” Shaw snapped.

  “Well, since you didn’t seem all that interested in the assignment from MI5 it’s my job to put your ass back to work. And I hope you’ve got the notion of freedom right out of your head. Or else the little woman can come and visit you in the biggest shithole prison I can find.”

  His reconciliation with Anna was so powerfully euphoric that Shaw found himself immune even to Frank’s taunts. “Where?” he asked curtly.

  “Paris. You’ll take the Chunnel over this afternoon. Initial instructions at St. Pancras. The rest in Paris.”

  “Piece of advice, Frank, always watch your back.”

  The line, however, was already dead.

  Shaw smiled and clicked off. He had Anna. That’s all that mattered. The enormous weight lifted off him almost made Shaw feel he could fly.

  He ate breakfast with his fiancée, kissed her good-bye, and was about to leave the apartment while she showered when he remembered he’d left his jacket in her cluttered office off the dining room. When he retrieved it, he happened to see the card on her desk and picked it up.

  “Katie James, New York Tribune,” he said slowly, his anger rising.

  He flipped the card over and saw the London address penciled in there. That’s how Anna had known about Scotland. He checked his watch. He had time. He slipped the card into his pocket.

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