The whole truth, p.19
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       The Whole Truth, p.19

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  Hands pulled her away. People were shouting in French at her, but she wouldn’t let go. She couldn’t let go of him.

  Then a voice barked at her in English. “He’s bleeding to death! Let him go! Or you’ll kill him, lady!”

  Katie immediately released her grip, backed off, but continued to stare at Shaw as the hospital personnel put him on a gurney and whisked him away.

  Frank glared at Katie, reached down, picked up her phone where Shaw had dropped it, and tossed it back to her.

  “Thanks for all your help, James!” he said bitterly. “Next time, why don’t you just bring a gun and pop a round right in his brain? It’s quicker that way.” He stalked off.

  Katie stared after him for a few moments then fearfully glanced down at the phone’s screen. Emblazoned across it was the headline “London Massacre.” She threw the Nokia down the hall and sank to the floor with fresh tears pouring down her face.

  CHAPTER 47

  SHAW SLOWLY PUT ON his loose-fitting shirt, careful to work around the thick bandage on his left arm. The wound was so deep and wide that the surgeon had had to staple the folds of skin back together. A plastic surgeon had also been called in and had done the best she could at the time. There would be scars, the doctor told Shaw, who really could have cared less.

  “We can do another surgery later, after the staples come out, fix it up better,” she’d told him.

  “No,” Shaw answered without hesitation. He could still fire a gun, that’s all he cared about right now.

  Fortunately, the hacksaw blade had managed to miss his tendons and there had been no nerve injury either. Yet as the doctor had told him, “If that blade had struck a centimeter to the right or left, we might not be having this conversation.”

  It would be a while before Shaw was at full strength, but the doctors assured him he would make a complete recovery.

  “I want to go to London, today,” Shaw announced to Frank as he finished packing his bag in the hospital room.

  Frank sat moodily in a chair. “Let me guess why.”

  “How fast can I get there?”

  “Chunnel train’s quicker than planes these days. You can be in London in the same time it takes you to get through De Gaulle.”

  “Private wings?”

  “Sorry, I don’t have any available right now.”

  “Then book me on the train. Make it for early this afternoon.”

  “Are you sure you want to do this?”

  “Book me on the train, Frank.”

  “Okay, then what?”

  “Where’s Katie James?”

  Frank looked surprised. “Why?”

  “I want to thank her.”

  “Are you out of your frigging mind? After what she did?”

  “What she did was fly halfway around the world to see if I was okay. Where is she?”

  “Hell if I know. I’m not the lady’s keeper. I’ve got my hands full with your ass.”

  “Tell me where she is,” Shaw persisted.

  “What happened to me giving the orders and you following them?” Frank said spitefully.

  “It stopped when Anna died because I don’t give a shit anymore. Where’s Katie?”

  “I told you, I-”

  Shaw interrupted. “You don’t let anybody just walk away. Now where is she?” he barked.

  Frank glanced out the window. “Staying at some friend’s apartment off Rue de Rivoli near the Hotel de Ville while the guy’s out of the country.”

  “I’ll need the address. Can you get me a car?”

  “Can you drive with that busted wing?”

  “So long as it’s not a clutch.”

  Frank helped Shaw slip on his jacket. Shaw picked up his bag using his good arm.

  Frank said, “Look, I’m sorry about Anna, Shaw. Really sorry. And believe it or not, I was going to let you go when you got married. And you can take as much time off as you need now.”

  Shaw’s features clouded. “Why the hell are you telling me this now? And just for the record, why are you cutting me any slack at all?”

  Frank stepped over to the window. He turned back. “Just looking for skinheads,” he said, smiling.

  “Why, Frank? You hate me. I hate you. Not a great working relationship, but at least the ground rules are understood.”

  Frank plopped back down in the chair, his gaze on the wall. “How do you think I came to work for this fine organization?”

  “Tell me.”

  He looked at Shaw. “I had the same choice you did. And my ass is still here.”

  Shaw gaped at him. “You got railroaded too! And, what, you paid it forward to me?”

  “Yeah! So what? And just for the record, I still hate you.”

  “Thanks, Frank. And here I was thinking my life couldn’t get any better.”

  Frank looked down at his beefy hands. “She must’ve really loved you. I never had anybody like that.”

  “Well, now I don’t either.” Shaw paused at the door. “Is Anna’s body still at the morgue in London?”

  Frank nodded slowly. “They haven’t released any of them yet. Ongoing investigation,” he added unnecessarily.

  “She’d have wanted to be buried back in Germany. I’m sure her parents are making arrangements.” A part of Shaw’s mind couldn’t even contemplate, much less understand, that he was talking so calmly, so rationally about Anna’s upcoming funeral. He suddenly felt as though if he didn’t get out into the open air, his skin would catch on fire.

  Frank followed him out. “Are you going to see James now?”

  “Yes.”

  “Want me to tag along?”

  “No.” Shaw suddenly stopped and held his injured arm, evidently in pain.

  Frank put a supporting arm on his shoulder. “Sorry about the screwup with the Nazi freaks,” he said in what seemed a sincere manner. “Right-hand, left-hand crap. It won’t happen again.”

  “Yeah.”

  Frank made a call as they were heading out of the hospital to the car waiting for Shaw on the street. He wrote something down on a piece of paper and handed it to him. “James’s address.”

  “Thanks.”

  Shaw slid into the driver’s seat and then popped his head back out the window. “Call me with the train info.”

  Frank nodded glumly. “You’re just going to see Anna’s body, right? You’re not going anywhere near where it happened. Right?”

  “I’ll see you later.”

  “Damn it, Shaw, you are not to go anywhere near The Phoenix Group. Do you hear me?”

  “I’ll make a deal with you, Frank. A deal so good you can’t refuse. Wanta hear it?”

  Frank looked at him suspiciously. “I don’t know, do I?”

  “You let me poke around The Phoenix Group.”

  “Shaw,” Frank began, but Shaw kept talking over him.

  “You let me do that, I’ll work with this MI5 guy Royce on the Russian piece.”

  “I don’t think that’s-”

  Shaw interrupted. “And I’ll sweeten the pot. You sign off on it, and I’ll keep working for you until I drop.”

  Frank was silent for a long moment, then slowly said, “But what about retiring?”

  Shaw gave him a look that somehow contained both helplessness and menace. “Retiring to what, Frank? Is it a deal?”

  Frank hesitated. “Yeah, sure.”

  Frank started to say something else but with a squeal of tires, Shaw was gone.

  Frank turned and walked down the street to find a bar and a drink.

  CHAPTER 48

  A WISP OF RISING SUNLIGHT managed to slip by the window blinds, creep across the floor, and end up briefly settling on the bare calf that poked out from under the sheet. Later it traveled ruler-straight across the bed and slid to the floor where it glanced off the empty blue gin bottle lying there, causing beads of swirling, reflected light to kaleidoscope off the ceiling.

  The demons had finally caught up to Katie James. The last few days were lost to her i
n a drunken binge of such mammoth proportions that the only thing she remembered later was the feeling of deep shame. And the worst hangover she’d ever had.

  In the throes of some nightmare she kicked off the sheet and lay there in a long-sleeved T-shirt and baggy gym shorts, perspiration rising through her pores and moistening her clothes. Her breathing became normal and she finally grew still, the slight lift of her chest and her pink flesh the only real evidence that she was still alive.

  She never heard the front bell, the accompanying knock, the pounding on the door, or the call of her name. She never heard the front door open, or the footsteps traversing the small living room, or the bedroom door swinging wide. She never felt the other person’s presence in the room, never felt anything when the intruder lifted the sheet off the floor and covered her with it.

  The slight creak of the bedsprings as the visitor sat down didn’t arouse her either. The quiet call of her name? Oblivious. The gentle shake of her shoulder? No response.

  However, the glass of water thrown in her face? Now that got the lady’s attention.

  She sat up sputtering, rubbing at her eyes and nose.

  “What the-” she began angrily until her eyes focused on Shaw sitting there holding the empty glass and staring at her.

  She let out one more gag as the rest of the water that had made its way into her windpipe went down hard. “How did you get in?”

  “I rang the bell, pounded on the door, called out your name. I did the same thing when I got in. You never let out a peep. I didn’t think anyone was here until, well, I actually saw you lying in this bed.”

  She rubbed at her throbbing temples. “I… I’m a heavy sleeper.”

  Shaw picked up an empty bottle of gin. “You’re a heavy something.” He hooked a second empty bottle and then a third and then a fourth.

  “You mix gin, bourbon, and scotch?”

  “When in Scotland, you know.”

  “We’re in France,” he said, frowning.

  She ran a hand through her tangles of blonde hair and yawned. “Oh, right, Paris,” she said absently. Then something seemed to strike right through the clouds of alcoholic stupor. “Oh my God, right.” She hastily sat up straighter.

  “Shaw, I am so sorry. For everything. For the stupid cell phone, for lying to you.” She paused. “And about Anna.”

  Shaw took his time lining up the empty bottles on a bureau set against one wall. “I actually wanted to thank you for coming to see how I was.”

  Katie seemed surprised by this. “You didn’t have to do that. Especially after yesterday at the hospital. It was yesterday, right?”

  “Actually, it was five days ago.”

  She looked stunned. “Five days! You’re joking?”

  He glanced over at the line of bottles. “Does your head feel like I’m joking?”

  She stared at him, then at the bottles, and sat back on the bed. “I hadn’t touched a drop in over six months, can you believe that?”

  He glanced at the line of bottles. “No, I can’t.”

  She let out a deep groan. “Well, it’s true. I… I can’t believe I did this. I can’t believe I fell off the wagon.”

  Shaw looked at the line of bottles again. “It wasn’t a wagon, it was a cliff. I’ll wait in the next room. Get showered and dressed. Then I’ll buy you some breakfast.” He headed to the door.

  “Wait a minute, what are you doing out of the hospital?”

  “I’m done with hospitals.”

  “You really think so?” she said doubtfully, eyeing the bulge under his left jacket sleeve.

  “I’m heading to London later today on the Chunnel. But first I wanted to talk to you about Anna.”

  “What do you want to know?”

  “Why someone would have wanted to kill her.”

  Katie stared at him blankly. “But I don’t know anything about that.”

  “You might think you don’t. But you also might have seen or heard something when you visited her that could help me.”

  “Shaw, do you really think you’re well enough to take this on?”

  He turned and fixed his eyes on her, eyes that were so blue and potent that Katie found herself holding her breath, digging her fingernails nervously into her palms like a schoolkid in serious trouble.

  He said quietly, “My life is over, Katie. But whoever did this to Anna is going to die. And soon.”

  Every hair on the back of Katie’s neck stood straight up and her skin actually goose-pimpled for the first time in years. Her head was pounding and her stomach gave a sudden disquieting lurch.

  “Now get dressed. Please.”

  As soon as he left the room she sprinted to the bathroom and threw up five days’ worth of liquid hell.

  CHAPTER 49

  THEY ATE OUTSIDE at a small brasserie that had partial views of the Seine across Quai de Gesvres. If Katie craned her neck just a bit she could glimpse the spires of Notre Dame Cathedral in the middle of the famous river. The Louvre was less than half a mile to their west, the Bastille a little farther than that to the east.

  The coffee was strong, the bread hot, the simple egg dish as delicious as only the French seem to be able to accomplish.

  “You met her in London,” Shaw said. “At her office? Her flat?”

  “We first met at a café, then we moved on to her office.”

  “Anything strike you as out of the ordinary when you got there?”

  Katie shrugged as she delicately took a forkful of eggs while her stomach continued to do little flip-flops. “It seemed ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. A beautiful old row house on a quiet street in the heart of London filled with a bunch of scholars who write things no one reads, or at least that last part was Anna’s description.” She glanced over at him. “Have you ever been there?”

  Shaw nodded. “And just for the hell of it about a year ago I checked the real estate records to see how valuable that building was. Care to guess?” Katie shook her head and bit into a piece of toast as she stared at him curiously. “Sixteen million pounds.”

  The toast nearly fell out of Katie’s mouth. “That’s over thirty million dollars.”

  “That’s right. And that was just the purchase price ten years ago. It’s obviously worth a lot more now.”

  “How long had Anna worked there?”

  “Five years. She was a senior analyst, one of the best they had.”

  “I’m sure. She told me basically what they do there. But who owns the Phoenix Group?”

  “She said once. Some rich American recluse living in Arizona, hence the name. Although she also told me she thought it came from the mythical bird, the phoenix.”

 
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