The whole truth, p.23
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       The Whole Truth, p.23
 

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci

  anything that could help lead him to Anna’s killers.

  He walked into the room and suddenly grew very cold. His gaze wandered over the room, the books, the old desk, and the chair he had sat in when visiting her here. His eyes took in the small patch of oriental carpet in the middle of the room, her plants, and the sweater that still hung on the back of her chair. He touched the sweater, and his wall of professionalism started to crumble when he breathed in Anna’s scent that somehow still lingered on the fabric, despite the still-present stench of discharged weapons and the antiseptic vapor trail of the forensic team.

  His professional demeanor started to crumble a bit more when his gaze went to the bookshelf right behind her desk where there were several photos of him and Anna. Their broad smiles seemed to pile up on him, like grain into a silo, threatening to bury him with their collective tonnage.

  When he glanced down at the floor and saw her blood where it had leached into the wood, he had to sit down. In those dark stains he saw his past, present, and even his bleak, lonely future in one crushing vision. When you gave your heart to someone, you were never free ever again. And you had better be prepared for something like this. Only you never really could be.

  The shattered window had been taped over, but he rose and studied it anyway, telling himself that if he broke down now, it would not help avenge Anna. He saw the scratches her desperate fingers had made in the window frame. She must have been seconds from jumping. He glanced back at the door and the twin bullet holes there. His practiced eye did the rough trajectory. It would have indeed hit her chest-high as the video had shown. Yet with the door closed the shooter could not have known Anna was trying to jump out the window.

  A lucky shot, he concluded painfully.

  She had fallen back inside the room. He knelt down and looked at the bloodstains and taped outline. Outside he could hear the normal sounds of a large city. In here there was only the silence of death. And yet sometimes the dead speak loudest of all.

  Talk to me, Anna. Tell me what happened.

  He looked closer and thought he saw the faint trace of a footprint in the blood. It wasn’t large enough to help with the investigation, which was probably why Royce hadn’t mentioned it. He moved to Anna’s desk and sat down in her chair. Her computer had been removed for examination by Royce’s people, but her desktop was still covered with things she’d been working on. The only difference was that each item had been sealed for evidence.

  Shaw picked up one bundle. Through the plastic he saw Anna’s precise handwriting in the margins of the typed pages. He had joked with her more than once that she was an inveterate scribbler and annotator; that she never saw a piece of writing she couldn’t comment on. He put it down and picked up another bagged stack.

  The documents in here purportedly showed that Anna had been engaged in putting together elements of the Red Menace propaganda. Even though her fingerprints were supposedly all over the documents, Shaw knew the idea that Anna had helped propagate the Red Menace campaign was ridiculous. And if he had any doubts as to Anna’s involvement they were dispelled by these pages not having a single mark from her pen on them. Anyone who knew the woman well would have spotted that glaring omission. Yet Shaw was aware that that would hardly be conclusive proof for the rest of the world.

  They must have pressed everyone’s fingers against the papers after they were dead. And they’d shot Anna in the head, even though the chest wounds would’ve been fatal. And I will take great pleasure in killing every single one of the heartless bastards.

  He also suspected that every computer in the place had had incriminating files downloaded onto it. Careful scrutiny might show that they had been put there on the day of the killing, but if someone really knew what he was doing they might never be able to prove that.

  He wasn’t going to tell Royce his doubts about the evidence because he wasn’t sure how all this was going to turn out. While he made a show of working with Royce, he knew that his and the MI5 agent’s interests were going to diverge at some point. Royce wanted merely to arrest whoever had done this. Shaw simply wanted to kill them.

  Feng had admitted that the Chinese government had ties to The Phoenix Group. So was someone trying to make it seem as though the Chinese were behind the Red Menace? But who would do that and why? Russia against China? What maniac would want that global scenario to play out?

  And Anna had been caught right in the middle. But why had they chosen the Phoenix Group out of all the places they could have targeted? Was it just a coincidence that it had ties to the Chinese government? No, it can’t be.

  The killers had obviously found out the connection, which must have taken some legwork. Yet there must be tens of thousands of entities with ties to China spread all over the world. Why here? Why Anna?

  He went to the shelf and picked up one photo. It’d been taken the night he’d proposed. Anna had gotten a waiter to snap the picture of them together, with particular emphasis on the new engagement ring on her finger. Her smile, so full of the bright future ahead, made him forget about the pain in his arm, because the agony in his heart hurt so much.

  He suddenly realized he couldn’t stay here for another second. He pounded down the steps and threw open the front door. He felt like he couldn’t breathe, his lungs hard as stone. The image of Anna falling dead back into that room, the imagined vision of her killer standing over her and Shaw far away and helpless seared his brain.

  He rushed past the officer on duty and catapulted out onto the street, where a split second later he knocked a person flat to the pavement.

  He reached down to help, an apology ready on his lips, an apology he would never deliver. He merely gaped.

  Katie slowly got to her feet. “We need to talk. Right now.”

  CHAPTER 58

  NICOLAS CREEL HAD HAD A BUSY DAY even for him. He’d ridden on his private jet from Italy to New York and then on to Houston where he’d picked up his executive sales team. They spent the considerable flight time going over last-minute details for their upcoming high-level sales presentation in Beijing.

  Creel was now in his stateroom staring at a picture of a man he’d just been sent, along with accompanying details. His name was Shaw and he was working on The Phoenix Group massacre. He was attached to a highly secretive international law enforcement agency; though Creel had been informed, the agency often went outside the law to achieve results. Shaw was one of their best operatives and he apparently had a personal motivation to solve the crime. That was troubling. What was even more irritating was the e-mail he’d just received from Caesar. He had men watching The Phoenix Group building of course. And they reported seeing Shaw and Katie James going off together. He’d instructed Caesar to have them followed. He didn’t want this man Shaw to interfere with James’s unwitting role in his plan.

  He returned to the jet’s conference room where his executives were putting the finishing touches on a sales pitch that they hoped would lead to the largest defense contract China had ever awarded to an outside firm. Actually, this was only the opening salvo, Creel alone knew. When the events in London were more fully explained to the world, the Chinese would understand quite clearly the precarious position in which they stood. The Asian Dragon would become a bull’s-eye for the Russian Bear. And the communists would triple their weapons order if for no other reason than to ward off the madman Gorshkov. With any luck, they’d be in bed with Ares Corp. for the next two decades at minimum.

  That would have been plenty for most businessmen. But not Nicolas Creel. The Beijing piece was only half the equation.

  After China, Creel would continue flying west and visit Moscow. He fully expected much resistance from the former Soviets, who as yet did not see a great need for the latest and greatest in military hardware. They, like the rest of the world, had ceded the field to the Yanks, who simply outspent everyone. Yet Creel was one of the few, perhaps the only visionary who saw that that need not be the case forever. World powers came and world powers
went. The Americans had been on top for a very long time, at least by recent historical standards. They were due to be overtaken. Whether by the Russians or the Chinese, or both, Creel didn’t really care. He just wanted to be the one to arm the next superpower.

  He would not dwell on, or even mention to Gorshkov’s and China’s defense ministers, the issue of Russia versus China and the heightening tensions between the two nations. Instead, he would take a more positive tack. This is your time, he would tell both countries. This is your century. You must seize it or someone else will. He would let their respective imaginations fill in the identity of that someone.

  His underlings could sweat the actual numbers and details. He was along for the ride to deliver the closer, to put into clear perspective what was at stake for both countries. And trillions of dollars were at stake for Ares, because once Russia and China undertook a substantial rearmament, so would everybody else with dollars to spend and egos to defend. That would include the Yanks, who would most certainly see their world leadership rank being usurped. What was a few trillion more in debt anyway? It wasn’t like the Americans could possibly pay back what they owed already.

  Creel swiftly ran through the numbers in his head. National debt at about ten trillion dollars, not counting the Social Security accounting charade. Just interest on what amounted to America’s credit card debt was over $300 billion a year, along with $700 billion in defense spending, which totaled a full trillion annually, or about one-third of the total budget. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid costs were well over $1 trillion, collectively. Welfare and unemployment expenditures were about $400 billion. That left a paltry few hundred billion dollars for everything else. In the grand scheme that was chump change. And every day the Yanks went hat in hand to the likes of China and Japan and Saudi Arabia essentially begging for money to finance their consumption. Creel had long ago figured out the ending to that song. He had to because it was in his business interests to know. Despite the Americans’ well-deserved reputation for ingenuity and resilience, the veteran businessman knew that the dollars never lied.

  Unless the country does a complete turnaround, in thirty years or less the Yanks will be finished. That’s why I’m buying euros, yen, yuans and rupees and looking to expand my clientele well beyond the land of the free, home of the brave. No one with that much debt is free and the home is mortgaged to the hilt. Still, they can enjoy it while it lasts, credit card their way for another couple decades anyway. Future generations will have to pay the piper and all hell will break loose when that bill comes due.

  Clearly, several other major defense contractors would get a piece of the global pie, but Creel’s firm was perfectly positioned to get the bulk of it. It would be the crowning jewel of his lifetime. His company would be saved, his legacy ensured. And, most importantly, the world’s natural equilibrium reinstated.

  It was everything he could have hoped for. And they were almost there.

  Yet he kept going back to the photo Caesar had sent him. His gaze burned into the tall man’s eyes. Creel didn’t like those eyes. He had made several fortunes by reading correctly the expressions, the poker faces of his opposition. And he didn’t like this man’s at all. In fact the eyes he was looking at in the photo seemed very familiar to him. As he glanced into a mirror hanging on the wall opposite he suddenly realized who it was.

  They remind me of me.

  Creel sat back and listened to his sales team drone on as they covered 550 miles an hour on the way to sell peace and security at the end of a tank muzzle to another satisfied customer.

  And yet his mind kept going back to those eyes. And that man. Only one man for sure. Yet sometimes it only took one to bring it all down.

  Creel would never let that happen. He was not afraid of much, but one thing that terrified him was uncertainty. That’s why he’d hired Pender, who made the world believe what Creel wanted it to believe. It was often a war of attrition. You made up the truth and then buried the real thing under so much garbage that people grew weary of trying to dig through it and instead just accepted what you offered. It was the easy way out and humans were programmed to always go that way. After all, there were bills to pay, shopping to do, kids to raise, and sports to watch, so who had time for anything else? Yes, you cover every base, but sometimes something or someone slips in and undoes it all.

  But not this time.

  No, not this time.

  CHAPTER 59

  “TAKE ME TO SEE THIS GUY,” Shaw said to Katie as they sat in his room at the Savoy. She had just finished telling him about her meeting with the Pole.

  “I can’t do that,” Katie replied. “I promised.”

  “I don’t care what you promised. He’s a material witness in a murder investigation.”

  Katie looked out the window where Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the pie-shaped London Eye stared back at her with the narrow Thames in the foreground. “You don’t think I know that?”

  “Okay, tell me his name then.”

  “Yeah, right. How about I show you his picture and give you his mailing address while I’m at it?”

  “This isn’t a joke! People have died.”

  She whirled around. “Don’t throw that crap in my face. I do the journalism thing for a living, okay? Ever heard the phrase ‘source protection’? Journalists invoke it every day. Some even go to prison in defense of it, which I happened to have done in the past. So save the guilt act for somebody else.”

  Shaw looked down and Katie realized she had gone too far. She sat across from him and said quietly, “Look, there’s no one in the whole world who wants to find Anna’s killer more than you do. And I want that too. But I’ve got a job to do. I’ve been assigned to write about this story, and I have to go about it as a professional.”

  “You tell me what the guy told you, and you expect me to stop there? Why tell me at all if you won’t take me to see him?”

  Katie sat back, kneading her fists into her thighs. “I wish I had a stellar answer for that, but I don’t. I just wanted you to know. I guess I just wanted you to say he’s telling the truth.”

  “Do you believe him?”

  “The details I told you, the copier, the bodies near the front door, the guy named Bill Harris? Can you verify that since you were in there?”

  “The copier on the second floor and the bodies near the front door, yes, that’s all accurate. I’ll check to see if the storage in the copier was big enough to hold him. I didn’t get a complete roster of the dead, so I can’t vouch for this Harris guy, but it’ll be easy enough to check that. You said he entered and left through the back?” Katie nodded. “Then that’s why we didn’t see him on the video footage. It only recorded the street entrance.”

  “So he seems legit,” she said hopefully.

  “He would also know all of those things if he were in on the murders.”

  “I thought of that, but he didn’t seem the type. He’s basically a skinny little Polish kid scared out of his mind.”

  “Who just happened to walk up to you on the street in front of the murder scene? Bit of a coincidence, don’t you think?”

  “It would be, but he heard me talking to a cop. Pegged me as a journalist. And it’s not so unusual for a survivor to come back to where it happened. Guilt and all.”

  “You sound like you’re trying very hard to convince yourself.”

  “Trust me, I’m going to check this guy every way there is.”

  “So what do you want from me?” Shaw asked.

  Katie let out a breath. “You’ve pretty much confirmed for me that he was in there. I think, well, I keep working on the story.”

  Shaw rose and stared down at her. “What the hell are you talking about? What story?”

  She looked back at him with equal incredulity. “An eyewitness to the London Massacre? Don’t you think that’s newsworthy?”

  “Katie, he said the killers were speaking Russian.”

  “Yeah, so?”

  Shaw loo
ked very troubled as she eyed him suspiciously.

  “Is there something you haven’t told me?” she said.

  “I’ll only tell you if you promise not to write the story.”

  “I can’t do that, Shaw. I can’t. I won’t! This is news.”

  “Even if it might start a world war?”

  “What world war!” she exclaimed.

  “If I tell you, you can never repeat it, to anyone, anywhere, including in print. Those are my terms. Take ’em or leave ’em.”

  Katie hesitated for an instant and then nodded. “Deal.”

  “They found evidence inside the building that purportedly shows The Phoenix Group was behind the Red Menace campaign.”

  Katie sprang out of her chair. “What? You’re sure?”

  “Sure the evidence was there? Yes. What it really means, I don’t know yet.”

  “And my eyewitness also overheard the killers saying they were there on orders from Gorshkov.”

  “Damn it, why didn’t you tell me that?”

  “Look who’s talking about holding things back? Like you, I tend to keep things close to the vest. But if The Phoenix Group was involved in putting together the Red Menace campaign, that would explain why the Russians on orders from Gorshkov attacked the place.”

  “But it’s not true. The Red Menace stuff was planted.”

  “How can you be certain about that? I did see those materials in Anna’s office. Maybe she wasn’t researching it. Maybe she was doing it.”

  “And just left the stuff lying around for you to see while the whole world is trying to find out who’s behind it?” he said incredulously.

  Now Katie looked unsure of herself. “I guess that doesn’t make sense, but where does the world war thing come in? I must have missed that.”

  “Gorshkov has pledged that whoever was behind the smear would open itself up to attack.”

  “The Phoenix Group was attacked, not a country.”

  Shaw took a deep breath and said, “The Phoenix Group is run by the Chinese, or at least has deep ties to them.”

  Katie exclaimed, “The Chinese? You’re sure?”

  “Yes. I met with one of the owners. He confirmed it.”

  “But do you seriously believe Russia will attack China?”

  “Who knows? But the last thing we need to find out is that the answer to that question is yes.”

 
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