The whole truth, p.16
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       The Whole Truth, p.16
 

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci

  The shot hit her directly in the forehead.

  As she let out what was to be her last breath, it sounded very much like a name. “Shaw.”

  Caesar used his boot to push roughly against the woman’s shoulder, but it was crystal clear she would never bear witness against them as to what had happened here today.

  The second man spoke into a walkie-talkie. He listened for a moment and then nodded.

  “All dead,” he told Caesar.

  “All dead,” Caesar repeated back. “Hack Squad?

  “Almost done.”

  “Tell them they’ve got two minutes. Send somebody down to the street to see if anyone saw the chick at the window. If they did, they know what to do. The plane’s waiting. If they ain’t on it, they ain’t on it. Let’s hit it.”

  He and the other man opened their backpacks and took out notebooks, reams of paper, charts, graphs, and other documents and then proceeded to press Anna’s fingertips to many of the documents.

  As the men started to spread the material over Anna’s desk, Caesar said, “Damn.” He was looking at the papers that were already on Anna’s desk.

  “What?” asked his companion.

  Caesar pointed at one of the papers Anna had printed out showing her interest in the Red Menace.

  He said, “Lady was obviously already curious. But it’ll tie in okay.”

  He took out a camera and started snapping pictures of the office’s interior.

  They received an all-clear that no one had seen Anna at the window, though some of her blood had made its way to the small garden standing to the left side of the building entrance. The orange daylilies had grown a shade darker on impact.

  Soon, a third man joined them. He sat down at Anna’s computer and slid a CD into the intake slot. The man typed so fast his gloved fingers were a blur and the keyboard was rattling like a train car over bad tracks.

  Sixty seconds later he took out the CD. “Download’s finished.” He got up and raced out.

  Thirty seconds later there wasn’t a living person left inside The Phoenix Group building.

  CHAPTER 41

  AS PRESIDENT BENISTI WAS LEAVING the Ritz in Paris after giving a speech, six men were arrested for attempting to assassinate the French leader. The news reports touted it as miraculous police work, for the would-be assassins, who’d gained access to the event with cleverly forged documents, were apprehended before they could get close to Benisti. In a related story, an attempt was made to attack Benisti’s elderly father but the criminals were caught before they could enter the senior Benisti’s apartment. Two of them had been shot dead by authorities.

  The men appeared to be members of a well-known neo-Nazi group operating on the outskirts of Paris. Further arrests were expected. Authorities said this had likely dealt a fatal blow to the ultraviolent organization.

  Shaw listened to this report on the TV as he packed his bag in his hotel room. His phone vibrated and he picked it up.

  “Congratulations,” Frank said. “Your stink stayed away.”

  “You always had a way with words.”

  “Ready for some more work?”

  “No, I’m headed out.”

  “Let me guess, London?”

  “I just can’t keep any secrets from you, can I?”

  “Two days. Then I need you back.”

  “Three. And consider yourself lucky.”

  He clicked off, picked up his suitcase, and walked to the door. It opened before he touched the handle.

  The pistol was leveled right at Shaw’s chest as he backed up, still clutching his case.

  Victor fired off a ball of spit at Shaw, drilling him right in the face.

  Another man carrying a small rucksack slipped in behind Victor and shut and bolted the door.

  In Shaw’s pocket his phone started vibrating. It was probably Frank warning him, but far too late.

  Adolph grinned. “No, no, mon ami, you must not leave Paris yet. The show, it is not over yet.”

  Shaw took another step back until he butted up against the wall. His gaze flitted from the gun to Adolph as the spit from Victor’s launch trickled down his face.

  Adolph drew a hacksaw and a small ax from his rucksack as Victor spun a suppressor onto the end of the pistol.

  Shaw said, “You must be the only two left.”

  “I can always get more men,” Adolph said. “For every one I lose, I can get five to replace them.”

  “The French really need to do something about their unemployment.”

  Adolph lifted the ax up. “Are you a Jew?”

  Shaw eyed the tool. “Why, would you cut me up kosher?”

  “I want to know why you set me up. I want to know this before you die. It will be good to cleanse your soul. Confess to me. Confess to Papa Adolph.”

  “I tell you what. I’ll give you one chance to get out of here. Only one. Then all bets are off.”

  Adolph looked at Victor and laughed. “We have weapons and you have nothing. So that must mean you are full of bullshit.” He brandished the saw and smiled maliciously. “If you are full of shit, I will certainly find out.”

  Shaw pressed a button near the lock on his suitcase. A second later an earsplitting siren erupted all around them.

  Startled, Adolph and Victor glanced toward the window, no doubt thinking the police were coming.

  In the next instant Shaw was charging directly at the pair, his suitcase held out in front of him. Victor took aim and fired at the suitcase, thinking it would easily rip through the cloth and hit Shaw in the head. He thought wrong.

  The bullets did hit the suitcase but bounced off the super-strong composite lining and embedded in the ceiling. The impact of the shots staggered Shaw but he managed to keep his forward momentum. When he hit Victor the collision was so violent it ripped the gun from the man’s hand and also tore off the skinhead’s trigger finger.

  Victor screamed in pain as he clutched the bloody stump. He stopped screaming when Shaw’s suitcase smashing against his head sent him flying over a small couch.

  Before Shaw could turn to face Adolph the man slashed his left arm deeply with the hacksaw. As he staggered back Adolph raised the ax but Shaw managed to kick his legs out from under him. Adolph went down hard, the ax slipping from his hand. He slid across the floor toward it, grabbed the weapon, and hurled it at Shaw. Fortunately the handle rather than the blade slammed into Shaw’s thigh, but it still hurt like hell.

  He didn’t feel his phone vibrating once more in his pocket because Adolph was coming at him with the hacksaw and Victor, half his face a busted-up, bloody mess, had risen shakily to his feet looking for his gun.

  Shaw launched himself at Adolph and drove his shoulder right into the man’s gut, propelling them both onto the bed and over it, where they landed hard on the floor, Shaw on top. Adolph grabbed Shaw’s face, gouging at his eyes. Partially blinded, winded badly, and his wounded arm and leg throbbing, Shaw still managed to lever his arm against Adolph’s windpipe. But when he tried to press down to finish him, his normal strength simply wasn’t there. He glanced at his arm. The blood was pouring out thick and fast.

  Shit! The blade must have hit an artery. He felt his fingers growing numb.

  He pushed away from Adolph and managed to stand up on legs that unfortunately were starting to fail. As he turned looking for some way out, he froze.

  Victor was pointing his gun right at Shaw’s head, his middle finger on the trigger.

  The skinhead’s malevolent grin was apparently going to be Shaw’s last conscious memory. What a shitty way to go.

  The door crashed open and Frank and six of his men burst in. Frank immediately sized up the situation and fired two shots. Both hit Victor in the head and he dropped to the floor.

  With a scream Adolph jumped on Shaw, his hands around his throat.

  “Damn it, get him,” yelled Frank, and four of his men raced to Adolph and tore him off the badly wounded man.

  “Get that piece of crap out of h
ere,” ordered Frank, and Adolph was hustled from the room.

  When Frank turned back to Shaw the big man’s face was chalk white and a moment later he slumped to the floor.

  “Shaw!” Frank raced across the room and knelt next to him.

  “Get the EMTs up here now!” Frank roared.

  Frank cradled Shaw’s head with his hand. “Shaw? Can you hear me? Shaw!”

  Shaw’s head rolled back and forth in Frank’s grasp. Frank glanced down at the deep tear in Shaw’s arm, ripped off his necktie, and fashioned a tourniquet above the wound.

  “Hang on, Shaw, hang on, the EMTs are coming right now. Right now!”

  He screamed at his men, “How the hell did these bastards find him? He was supposed to have cover!”

  “Frank?” the faint voice said.

  Frank looked down at Shaw, who was now staring up at him.

  “Shaw, it’s gonna be okay. I hear the EMTs on the stairs.”

  “Call Anna,” Shaw said, his breathing growing very shallow. “Call Anna for me.”

  The EMTs burst into the room and surrounded Shaw and Frank. As Frank tried to pull away from Shaw, the injured man clutched at him with the little strength he had left.

  “Call Anna. Please.”

  “Right, I will. I’ll do it right now,” Frank said quickly.

  Shaw drifted into unconsciousness and his arm fell to his side motionless.

  A few minutes later they were hustling him out on a stretcher.

  Victor the dragon-tattooed skinhead made his final exit in a body bag.

  Frank watched from the window as the ambulance raced off. The room would be sterilized, the local police dealt with, and this would never appear on the French news. Frank mentally went through the steps of getting this done.

  “Who’s Anna?” one of Frank’s men asked as he walked up to his boss.

  Frank pulled his BlackBerry out of his pocket and read the e-mail on the screen for the fourth time. “Urgent Alert: Attack on The Phoenix Group in London. No survivors.” That’s why he’d been trying to call Shaw at the hotel. When he didn’t get an answer he was on his way over to tell him in person when he’d gotten the distress signal from Shaw. He let out a deep breath as he surveyed the wreckage of the room. “Just a woman he was really close to.”

  CHAPTER 42

  KATIE JAMES WAS SITTING in her small apartment on the Upper West Side in New York staring at a bottle of gin she had placed carefully on her kitchen counter. An empty glass sat next to it. She put five ice cubes in the glass and then added two fingers of tonic. She sat back and examined what she had done so far. She swirled the tonic around with a spoon, the ice clinking enticingly against the sides of the glass. She eyed the bottle of gin. One drink, that was all. And didn’t she deserve it?

  She had nearly been killed, for starters. And then she’d flown home to New York to find she’d been canned from her job on the death page due to budget concerns. They’d replaced her with a freelancer who was pushing eighty.

  They’d also given her a hearty “Good luck, Katie!” as they had her escorted from the building by security. She wanted to run back in, take the Pulitzers she’d won, and cram them down their fat throats.

  Instead, she’d come home and was staring at the gin. She would stop at one. She knew she could. She could just feel that she had the strength to stop at one. She unscrewed the top, smelled the delectable gin. She dropped a wedge of lime in the glass, swirled it around as she worked herself up for the final step, the adding of the Bombay Sapphire. It would be a toast to her new career – in what she didn’t yet know.

  But that wasn’t the whole story. The thing was, when she was sober she saw Behnam in her dreams. The little Afghan boy who had died so that she could win her second Pulitzer always came to her when she slept. He seemed very much alive, his curly hair being lifted by a stifling desert wind. The smile on his face would melt the hardest heart, light the darkest night. But the dream always ended with him lying dead in her arms. Always dead was Behnam.

  It was only when she was drunk that she didn’t see him. It was only when she was wasted that he stayed away. And that meant she had seen him pretty much every night over the last six months. He had died hundreds of times after being resurrected in her dreams three or four times a night. She was tired of the spectacle. She wanted a drink. No, she wanted to be drunk. She didn’t want to see Behnam alive and then dead.

  As she sat back on her bare haunches, a ratty old sweatshirt her only clothing, she stared out the window. There was a rally going on in Central Park today. It was a protest against the Russian government. Tens of thousands of people were marching and waving “Remember Konstantin” flags. Katie couldn’t know the flags had been secretly delivered to the rally organizers by a firm working for a shell corporation with an untraceable connection to Pender amp; Associates. Twenty million of the flags had been manufactured and distributed throughout the world for rallies just like this one.

  Katie had decided not attend the protest. She had other things on her mind.

  She glanced away from the window and happened to stare through the blue glass of the gin bottle to the TV beyond.

  Breaking news. Right. There was always breaking news. The next big story. In the recent past she’d already be on a plane, hurtling five hundred miles an hour right to the epicenter of the storm. And loving it. Loving every second of it until it was over and the next big story came along. And then the one after that in a psychotically charged, adrenaline-burning race that had no finish line.

  London again. Well, London had its share of breaking news, though nothing bad had happened while Katie had been there. Just her luck. She took a deep breath and idly looked at the building with police tape all around it. It looked familiar. She sat up straighter and forgot about the gin.

  What was the woman saying? Westminster? What group? Katie jumped to her feet, jogged into the living room, and turned up the sound.

  The newsperson was standing in the rain while police and people in white uniforms raced here and there. A curious, neck-craning crowd was being held back by portable barriers. TV film crews were arrayed up and down the street, their satellite masts flinging the story electronically around the world one frantic byte and pixel at a time.

  “The Phoenix Group would be the last place most people would expect something like this to happen,” the reporter was saying. “Situated on a quiet London street, it has been described as a think tank conducting research on global policies covering myriad social and scientific subjects. Virtually all the people who worked here were scholars and scientists, many of them former academics that one would hardly expect to be the target of a brutal murder rampage. An official list of the dead has not been released pending notification of family. While details remain sketchy it appears that the massacre-”

  Massacre? Did the woman say massacre? Katie slumped down on the carpet, her heart thudding against her chest. Her limbs felt dead.

  The reporter continued, “As of right now, the authorities are only saying that there are nearly thirty victims inside the building. There has been no indication of any survivors.”

  No indication of any survivors? Katie glanced at her watch and did a quick time zone calculation as her reporter mentality kicked in despite her rising panic. It was evening in London now. A few hours for the bodies to be discovered, the police called, and the news people and crowds to get there. It might have happened around three or four that afternoon. Then the panic resumed.

  No survivors.

  She bolted up, raced to her phone, grabbed the business card Anna had given her, and made the call. It went immediately to voice mail. Katie choked back a sob as Anna’s precise voice came on the line asking her to please leave a message. Katie hung up without saying anything.

  Her next thought hit her like a lightning bolt. “Shaw!” she exclaimed.

  She called the number he had given her. It rang four times and she thought it too was about to go to voice mail when someone answered.


  “Allo?” a woman’s voice said in French.

  Confused for a moment Katie said, “Um… can I speak to Shaw?”

  The woman at the other end spoke to her again in French.

  Katie thought quickly, trying to conjure up her college French and the little she had learned while overseas. She asked the woman if she spoke English and she said a bit. Katie asked her where Shaw was.

  The woman did not know that name.

  “You’ve got his phone.”

  Now the woman sounded confused but asked her if she was family.

 
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