The whole truth, p.17
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       The Whole Truth, p.17

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  That didn’t sound too good, thought Katie. For a surreal moment she wondered if Shaw had been with Anna at The Phoenix Group and been killed too. Yet why would a Frenchwoman have his phone if the massacre had taken place in London? “Yes,” she told the woman. “I’m family. His sister. Who are you?”

  The woman said that she was a nurse and her name was Marguerite.

  “A nurse? I don’t understand.”

  “This man, this Shaw is in hospital,” Marguerite said.

  “What’s wrong with him?”

  “He has been injured. He is in surgery.”

  “Where?”

  “In Paris.”

  “Which hospital?”

  The woman told her.

  “Will he be okay?”

  Marguerite said she didn’t know the answer to that.

  Katie ran to pack. Using her millions of frequent flyer miles, she booked a seat on an Air France flight leaving JFK that night.

  She tried to sleep on the flight over, but couldn’t. As other passengers dozed all around her, Katie’s eyes were glued to the news channel on her personal monitor. There was a bit more information about the Phoenix Group massacre, as the media had initially termed it, but nothing really enlightening. Katie had tried to call Anna before boarding the plane, but it still went to voice mail.

  As the jet zoomed across the ocean, Katie asked herself why she was doing this. She barely knew Anna or Shaw. And as Shaw had made quite clear, and quite correctly too, she had no right butting into their lives.

  So why are you doing this, Katie? Why?

  Perhaps the answer was as simple as she had nothing else in her life. And while she didn’t know Anna and Shaw very well, the very dramatic way in which she had met them both made the pair seem far more than mere acquaintances. She cared about them. She wanted them to be happy. And now? And now she felt as though a very close friend had died.

  She landed at seven in the morning local time, passed through customs, and grabbed a taxi to the hospital, which was near the center of Paris.

  She paid off the cabbie and ran through the front doors. Using her broken French she quickly found someone who spoke English and asked for the location of Shaw’s room. There was no one here under that name, she was told.

  Damn it! She mentally kicked herself for not asking the nurse on the phone the name Shaw had been admitted under.

  “He was badly injured. He was in surgery yesterday. He’s a big man, six-five or so, dark hair, really blue eyes.”

  The woman looked at her blankly. “It is a large hospital, madame.”

  “I spoke to a nurse here about him. Her name was Marguerite.”

  “Ah, Marguerite, bon, that is helpful,” said the woman. She made a call, spoke for a minute, and then nodded at Katie. “Monsieur Ramsey is in room 805.”

  As Katie ran to the elevator bank, her small carry-on rolling behind her, the woman started speaking into the phone again, her worried gaze on Katie’s back.

  CHAPTER 43

  AN HOUR AFTER ANNA FISCHER WAS KILLED, Nicolas Creel’s BlackBerry buzzed. He rolled over in bed, picked it up, hit a key, and five words appeared on the screen: “All’s well that ends well.” It was from Caesar. Who would have thought such a man would have been a fan of the Bard? Creel checked his watch. Afternoon in London, right on schedule. He rolled over and went back to sleep.

  Later that evening, Creel smoothed down his tuxedo jacket, adjusted his French cuffs, and rose from his seat to thunderous applause. As he strode to the lectern, he shook the hand of the governor who’d just introduced him to an elite crowd that had paid five thousand dollars a pop for the privilege of seeing Nicolas Creel named man of the year for his philanthropy, the latest of which had been a donation of eighty million dollars for a state-of-the art cancer wing for children at a major hospital. The wing was not named after Creel, though. He had enough buildings named after him. He’d christened it in his late mother’s honor.

  The governor of California had been effusive in his introductory remarks, calling the billionaire arms manufacturer a man for the ages with unsurpassed vision and unbridled compassion for others. Had Creel’s mother been alive, she no doubt would have shed many tears over that description. Creel’s eyes never even grew moist. It was just not his way. As with everything else in his life, every action had multiple motivations. Tonight’s event was no exception. Indeed it was money well spent. He had no problem helping kids who were sick. He’d nearly lost his oldest son to leukemia, which had spurred his interest in cancer research and treatments. He might be more greedy and ambitious than most, but he was far more successful than most too.

  He actually had a generous heart. And better still, he had plenty of money. Over the decades Creel had given away billions to charity, far more than most of his fellow super-rich. And spreading the wealth made you feel good, made others feel good, and did some good all at the same time. It was also a fine way to honor his mother, to give her the immortality she deserved. But doing good works gave you friends in high places when you needed them. He had a feeling the governor of California and the state in general would be his friend for life. It was a win-win, a classic no-brainer. At eighty million bucks it was actually cheap.

  He drew his speech from his pocket and looked out over the adoring crowd, suddenly wondering if there was a brand-new Miss Hottie out there. There was a good reason he’d left his wife at home. It was definitely time for a change there. She was bored with him and the only asset she possessed of interest to him had long since lost its appeal. He figured he’d opt more for brains this time so long as the lady had an exceptional exterior. He was a man who loved beautiful things around him.

  He started off his remarks with a reference to what the media were now callously terming the London Massacre. He then asked for a few moments of silence in respect for those killed. He thought it a nice touch. He bowed his head and even thought of the dead and their families. With this his eyes did grow moist. It really was horrible. He was sorry he’d had to do it. If there had been any other way. What a tragedy. The world had grown so damn complicated and with it good and bad lines blurred to near extinction.

  He looked back up and saw a sea of glistening eyes staring back at him. It was a magical moment, it really was. In those few precious moments, he and the audience had bonded. They were in this together. The world had grown a bit closer with this calamity, just as it did when other disasters had occurred. From adversity, from catastrophe come astonishing things. It was no coincidence that the greatest American presidents had all served during wartime. Armed conflict did that to you. Or rather for you. You either soared or crashed. There was no in-between, there was nowhere to hide. It was the most perfect scorecard in all of history. It was only with loss, Creel believed, that people fully realized the potential of life.

  As he finished his remarks about ten minutes later and returned to his seat, humbly playing down the lengthy standing ovation he received, he reflected for a moment on Caesar’s message.

  It really had been a remarkable evening, even for him!

  Caesar and Pender no doubt thought that this was all about money, about bringing Ares back from the corporate dead. That certainly was one of the reasons, but only one and not the major motivation at that. Only he, Nicolas Creel, realized why he was doing this. And if people had known his reasons, he was certain many would applaud them. Sometimes the ends really did justify the means. In that old cliché, so abused and discredited over the years, existed a gem of wisdom that Creel believed others were finally starting to comprehend.

  The ends did justify the means, but only if the ends were truly critical enough. Yet few were. In every endeavor humanity undertook there was an evaluation done. Whether it was to give expensive medical treatment to a ninety-year-old who had little time left anyway, or to stop oil fields from being exploited so that a certain owl could survive, or to spend trillions of dollars and sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives to establish a beachhead of democracy in Mu
slim lands in the hope that freedom would spread. Those decisions were made every day. And no matter which way they were decided someone was hurt, often many died, many more lives were destroyed, but the decision had to be made. And that was exactly what Creel had done. Indeed, he had executed it with far more planning and thought than most governments exercised when contemplating something as monumental. Above all, Creel had an exit strategy, whether his plan worked or not.

  In the reception that followed the awards ceremony, he did meet several women who might make the cut as future companions, not wives: he’d made up his mind on that. They were always at these types of events, even the ones with brains and degrees from fancy schools. He was just too damn rich and socially well connected to ignore.

  Later, as the tall, elegant woman he’d selected to take out for a drink stepped into his limo, Creel had a sense that nothing would ever go wrong in his life again. It was a vitally empowering and – even for men like him – rare moment.

  He intended to savor it for as long as he could. For Creel well knew that tomorrow all of that could change.

  A smart man understood that victory was not inevitable. An even smarter man knew that defeat was never really total if you figured out how to handle the aftermath with skill and just the right spin.

  And the smartest men of all, even when they lost, they actually won.

  Nicolas Creel had always considered himself to be just such a man.

  CHAPTER 44

  WHEN KATIE STEPPED OFF THE ELEVATOR and onto the eighth floor a large hand immediately pressed against her shoulder. Her immediate reaction was to rip it off, but when she looked up into the eyes of the broad-shouldered man with the serious expression she thought better of it.

  “Come with me,” he said in a clipped British accent.

  “Why?”

  The man’s grip tightened on her shoulder. At the same time another man in a suit joined them, even larger and more powerful-looking than the first. He flashed a badge so fast that Katie couldn’t see what it said.

  “We have some questions for you,” the second man said.

  “Good, because I’ve got some questions for you.”

  The pair bracketed her as they strode down the hall. A door opened and Katie was ushered into a small room and told to sit. She remained standing, arms crossed and a defiant look on her face. One of the men sighed.

  “We’ll be back in a minute.”

  Sixty seconds later they returned with another man, older, bald, and wearing a rumpled suit that needed a good cleaning.

  He sat down and motioned Katie to do the same. “You want something to drink?”

  “No,” she said as she sat down across from him. “What I want is to see Shaw.”

  Frank sat back and studied her. “You mind my asking how you know him?”

  “Yes, I do mind.”

  He nodded at one of his men, who ripped Katie’s purse out of her hand. She clutched at it, but the other man held her back. Her wallet and passport were plucked out and given to Frank.

  He perused them for a minute. “Katie James, name rings a bell. Reporter, right? You doing some kind of story on Shaw?”

  “No, he’s a friend.”

  “That’s funny, because I happen to know all of Shaw’s friends and you’re not one of them.”

  “I’m a recent friend. And can I see your badge or credentials? I want to get my facts right for the exposé I’ll do on you if you don’t let me the hell out of here!”

  “How recent?” asked Frank calmly.

  She hesitated. “Edinburgh.”

  “He never mentioned it.” Frank studied her passport more closely. “So you flew all the way over from New York to see your recent friend? Why?”

  “Who the hell are you?”

  “Why are you here?” Frank said again.

  “Is he alive or dead!”

  “Alive, barely. Now answer my question.”

  “I called him yesterday. A woman answered. She said he was in the hospital, that he was in surgery. So I came.”

  “I see. And why did you call him?”

  “Do I get another question answered?”

  “Why did you call him?”

  Katie glanced nervously around the room. The two other men stared impassively back at her. “Because I heard about The Phoenix Group.”

  Frank did not look pleased by this at all. “What about them?”

  “Oh come on!” Katie exploded. “I doubt you missed the massacre in London.”

  “What’s the connection to Shaw?”

  “Anna Fischer. And I can see by your expression that you know all about that, so don’t try and bullshit. It doesn’t sit well.”

  “How do you know Ms. Fischer?”

  “Is she dead?”

  “How do you know her, Ms. James?”

  Katie debated whether to tell the whole truth or not. She decided on a complete fabrication that would sound plausible. “I was doing a story on The Phoenix Group. I met Anna that way. And through her I met Shaw. We became friends.”

  “You said you met Shaw in Edinburgh. How did you know he’d be there?”

  “Anna told me.”

  “No she didn’t. I can read bullshit as well as you can. Now, you have two options. Either tell me the whole truth, or you can go cool your heels in a French jail as a remand prisoner. And French courts are notoriously slow. You might be in there for a few years before somebody remembers to bring you to trial. And the French aren’t known for the cleanliness of their incarceration system.”

  “I know. I did a story on the French garbage cans they call prisons five years ago and won a major journalism award for the effort. By the way, what offense am I being charged with? Because even the French require that before throwing somebody’s butt in jail.”

  “How about being stupid and uncooperative?”

  “How about taking me to the American embassy? I have the address memorized.”

  “We seem to have reached an impasse.” He tapped his fingers on the table. “Will you tell me the truth if I let you see Shaw?”

  Now Katie sat back, not looking as defiant or as confident. This time she opted for the truth. “Okay, I was in Edinburgh on holiday. I saw Shaw and another man at the chapel at the castle. Something made me suspicious.” She went on to explain what had happened near Gilmerton’s Cove, Shaw saving her life, and her following up the clue Shaw had left at his hotel. And then her meeting Anna that way.

  “I’m surprised he didn’t tell me any of this.”

  “He barely survived that night. And he didn’t know about my tracking Anna down until very recently. And he wasn’t happy about it. In fact he got quite angry.”

  “I’m sure he did.”

  “Now you know all.” Katie hesitated hoping against hope. “Was Anna killed?’

  “Yes. Along with everyone else in the place.”

  Katie looked down at her hands. “Why? They were just a think tank. Anna said no one even paid attention to their work.”

  “Apparently someone did.”

  “Does Shaw know, about Anna?” She glanced up at him.

  “No,” Frank said quietly, not meeting her eye.

  “Is he going to be okay?’

  “He lost a lot of blood, but the docs say he came through the surgery fine and that he’s out of danger. He’s a tough guy.”

  Katie let out a long breath. “Thank God.”

  “But when he finds out about Anna…?”

  “Someone has to tell him.”

  “I’m not sure it should be anytime soon,” Frank said candidly.

  “But if he finds out on the TV, newspaper, telephone?”

  Frank shook his head. “We’ve got that covered.”

  “Won’t he wonder why she’s not here with him at the hospital?”

  “I’ll tell him I made her stay away.”

  “But he’ll want to talk to her, at least by phone.” She paused. “I never got your name.”

  He hesitated. “Frank.”
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  “First or last name?”

  “Just Frank.”

  “Okay, Just Frank, they’re engaged to be married. He’s not going to buy for one second that he can’t talk to her or see her.”

  “I didn’t say it was a perfect plan, okay!” Frank suddenly exploded. “He asked me to call her when he thought he was dying. And I told him I would even though I already knew she was dead.” He jumped up and started pacing around the small room, hands shoved deep in his pockets, his gaze on his shoes.

 
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