The whole truth, p.24
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       The Whole Truth, p.24

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  “But if the Russian government sent their killers in as retribution against The Phoenix Group, and they know about the Chinese connection, then that seems to be an act of war right there. I’m actually surprised Gorshkov hasn’t gotten on the world pipeline and told everyone he did it.”

  “He can’t. Most of the people killed were British citizens. Blowing up a bunch of Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan is one thing. But you don’t waltz into London and wipe out nearly thirty of their people and then start bragging about it. I don’t care if you are Russia. The Brits have nukes too. And their closest ally is America. And not even Gorshkov wants to take on that eight-hundred-pound gorilla. And we don’t know for certain that the Russians are aware of the Chinese connection.”

  “But nothing you’ve told me is a reason not to write the story. An eyewitness says some Russians in Gorshkov’s pay did it. I’ll say nothing about the Red Menace stuff or the Chinese connection because I told you I wouldn’t. But the fact that the Russians hit that building came from my source and is a story the world needs to know.”

  “Come on, who can’t read between those lines! And if the Chinese think that the Russians took out one of their offices? They might retaliate against Moscow.”

  “But even you said the Red Menace stuff was bull crap. It was planted. The Chinese weren’t behind it.”

  Shaw shook his hands in exasperation. “Exactly, Katie. Don’t you get it? The Russians wouldn’t have planted that stuff, especially if they knew of the Chinese connection. What would have been the point? They wouldn’t go out of their way to pick a fight with China by framing them. The two countries are too evenly matched militarily. If they were going to pull a stunt like that they would’ve chosen a country a lot easier to blow out of the water. Hell, start with the A’s and nail Albania. That war would be over in twenty-four hours. But China? They have three soldiers for every Russian grunt. And they have nukes too.”

  Katie looked confused. “So what exactly are you saying?”

  “That the Russians didn’t do it. And The Phoenix Group isn’t behind the Red Menace and neither are the Chinese.”

  “Okay, then who is behind it all?” she said doubtfully.

  “There’s a third party involved. A third party that is playing a game I don’t completely understand, but that I know is somehow designed to pit Russia and China against each other.”

  “So you’re saying my source is lying about the Russian involvement?”

  “If he said he overheard people speaking in Russian who said they worked for Gorshkov, then, yeah, I think he might be lying, because I don’t believe the killers were working for Russia. Or else, and it’s a real stretch, they somehow knew he was in the building and let him live so he could tell what he’d heard, or what they wanted him to hear.”

  She snapped her fingers. “He did say he overheard the Russians, or according to you, the fake Russians talking about someone else being in the building. If they were watching the back of the office they would’ve seen him go in. But they didn’t do another search because a window was broken and a woman was screaming out of the office and they were afraid the police would show up.”

  Shaw’s expression grew clouded. Katie said, “Did that happen?”

  He nodded slowly. “The woman was Anna. She broke her office window, tried to get out that way, but was killed before she could.”

  “How do you know that?”

  “The street camera recorded it.”

  “My God, you saw it happen?” She put a hand over his. “Shaw, I don’t know what to say.”

  “Say you won’t write the story.”

  “I can’t do that. The world deserves to hear it.”

  “Really? Even if it’s all lies? Or maybe Katie James believes she deserves to get back on top, any way she can? Even if it means the end of the world as we know it?”

  Katie’s face flushed and she drew away from him. “That is not why I’m doing this!”

  “Then tell me why you are doing it.”

  “I’m a journalist. I have a story. A story of the decade! I can’t just sit on it because you have a bunch of pet theories, or because you say the world might end.”

  “And what if I’m right? Are you prepared to deal with it?”

  “Yes,” she said, but her voice shook slightly.

  “Then we have nothing else to talk about.” He rose and held the door open.

  “Shaw, please don’t do this.”

  “We have nothing else to talk about,” he said more firmly.

  She slowly walked past him and he slammed the door shut behind her.

  CHAPTER 60

  NICOLAS CREEL’S TRIPS to China and Russia had been successful. No firm deals had been announced, but he had laid the groundwork for that to almost certainly happen and soon. When the “real” truth of The Phoenix Group came out – and Creel expected Katie James to publish it anytime now – the dynamic between China and Russia would quickly change from regional competitors to that of absolute enemies. And the trillions of dollars would begin flowing his way.

  Yet with that triumph just behind him, he still had a problem.

  He once more sat on the top deck of the magnificent Shiloh, one of the world’s greatest super-yachts, while his ditzy wife lay sprawled naked on a plush chaise longue on the foredeck. Creel had finally gotten fed up and demanded that she put something on. She flatly refused, claiming that even a string bikini would unbalance her tan.

  She’d told him in a pouty voice, “My body is perfect. No tan lines. No lines, Nicky! You can’t make me.”

  How could one respond to such stark logic, to such earnest narcissistic proclamations? Creel had almost laughed, as he would’ve when a child had done something silly. No, this marriage was clearly not going to last. His ship phone rang. It was the captain. Mrs. Creel had finally fallen asleep.

  “Then put a damn blanket over her, neck to toes,” Creel instructed and hung up.

  The woman he’d met in L.A. when he’d been given the philanthropic award was an art curator at the Met in New York. With multiple degrees from Yale, she was stunningly intelligent, world-traveled, attractive, nicely built, and he seriously doubted she would have been the least concerned about tan lines across her ass. He’d had a wonderfully fascinating evening with the woman that had involved no physical contact at all. He’d have his attorneys draw up the divorce papers when he returned home.

  But that looming domestic change was not the problem Creel was troubled by.

  He stared down at the photo of the man with Katie James. James had left Shaw’s hotel in tears, Creel had been told. Was the man going to screw this up? He wanted revenge. He was highly skilled. Yes, a potential problem. Shaw’s days were probably numbered. But then what was one more?

  Creel gazed out onto the calmness of the Mediterranean where a hot sun slowly burned its way downward to the lazy shimmer of sea. Despite selling the best military hardware on earth, he was a peaceful man. He had never struck anyone in anger. He had, it was true, ordered the deaths of people, but it was never done with malice.

  Yet from the first club wielded in anger to an A-bomb that wiped out six figures’ worth of people in a few ticks of the clock, physical conflict was an essential part of humanity. Creel knew this, just as he knew that war had many positive attributes. Most significantly, it made people forget the frivolous and bond together for the greater good.

  He certainly felt guilt for what he’d done. In fact he’d already pledged ten million dollars to a fund set up for the families of the victims of the London Massacre. It was the least he could do, he believed. And while across the Atlantic in England people were trying to make sense of what seemed senseless, he had gotten down on his knees in his $175 million aircraft, and asked his god, who surely couldn’t be that much farther above him, to forgive him. And when Creel rose off that wool-carpeted floor and got back into his luxurious bed and turned off his ten-thousand-dollar designer lamp, he was reasonably certain his god had accommo
dated him.

  While Pender was busy manufacturing something and selling it to everyone as the truth, Creel clearly knew what “real” truth was.

  The world is a much safer place when the powerful actually use their power and much less safe when they don’t.

  The United States could wipe out the problem in the Middle East in days. Certainly there would be innocents who would die. But what was the difference between millions killed in ten minutes or ten years? They’d still be dead and you would have avoided a decade of misery and uncertainty. And Creel would gladly provide every weapon needed to extinguish the savages. It really was all about us versus them. And only the strong survived.

  “And the weak perish,” he said to the setting sun as it colored the water and the Italian coast a noble burgundy. The weak always did die. It was the natural order.

  If Creel has his way the big boys would be back in control. Mutually assured destruction, or MAD, was a term from the cold war and the subject of much fear, all of it misplaced. MAD was actually the greatest stabilizing force in history, though so many people, ignorant of how the world really functioned, would be appalled by such a statement. MAD provided certainty, predictability, and perhaps annihilation of certain elements of humanity for the greater good.

  He walked to the upper deck railing and looked down at his sleeping wife. She was an idiot, like most people. They were blind to everything but themselves. No vision. Simple, weak, lazy. He gazed once more at the photo of Shaw. He didn’t look simple, weak, or lazy. Because he wasn’t.

  It would be a pity to have to kill him. Yet Creel would, if necessary.

  He lifted the ship’s phone. The Shiloh’s captain, a man with thirty years’ experience on the open seas serving a variety of rich masters, answered in a brisk positive tone.

  Creel said, “Arrange to bring all the children out tomorrow. Take in the sixty-footer to get them. And bring the mother superior. I want to give her a check.”

  “Very good, Mr. Creel. Will you want to launch the submarine again? The kiddies certainly enjoyed it last time.”

  “Good idea. Have it ready. And have the chopper prepped to take Mrs. Creel to the small jet. She’ll be going to the South of France in the morning. And have her maid lay out some suitable clothing. The more the better.”

  “Right you are, sir.”

  Creel hung up. The good captain might not have been so pleasant had he known what Creel had done. The captain was British, London born and raised.

  But the children would come tomorrow. Creel’s life had become a series of balances. One bad deed weighed against one good one. Yes, he very much looked forward to the children coming tomorrow.

  And to building them a brand spanking new place to be orphans in.

  CHAPTER 61

  THE STEEL BED ROLLED OUT with a clanking sound that Shaw felt down to his toes. The place smelled of chemicals and urine and other things he didn’t want to think about.

  Frank stood next to him.

  “Look, Shaw, you don’t have to do this. In fact I’m thinking you shouldn’t be doing this. Why remember her like this? In this place?” He waved his hand around the antiseptic space.

  “You’re right,” Shaw said. “But I still have to do it.”

  Frank sighed and nodded at the attendant.

  For an instant, as the man’s fingers clutched the sheet, Shaw wanted to run, run to daylight before it was too late. Instead, he simply stood there as the sheet was lifted up and Shaw stared down at Anna. Or what was left of her.

  He tried to avoid staring at the wound in the middle of her forehead, or the V-shaped suture tracks where the medical examiner had cut her open looking for helpful clues as to what had killed her, or at the twin bullet holes that had erupted through her chest. Yet he found that was all he could look at, the absolute destruction of the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He didn’t even have the gentle embrace of her green eyes, since they were closed forever.

  He nodded at the attendant again and turned away. The bed rolled back and the door clanged shut and with Frank’s help Shaw left the death room on shaky legs.

  “Let’s go get drunk,” Frank said.

  Shaw shook his head. “I have to go to Anna’s apartment.”

  “What, are you some sort of masochist? First you see her on the slab and now you want to go rip your heart out some more. What’s the point, Shaw? She’s not coming back.”

  “I’m not asking you to go. But I have to.”

  Frank hailed a cab. “Right, but I’m still going.”

  They climbed in the taxi and Shaw gave the driver the address. Then he hung his head out the window trying to fight the waves of nausea that were pounding him.

  He shouldn’t have gone to the morgue. Not to see her like that. Not Anna.

  Shouldn’t have, but had to.

  He opened the door to her apartment a few minutes later, entered, and sat down on the floor while Frank stood nearby, his gaze on him. As Shaw looked around at the familiar sights, he slowly calmed. This was the living, breathing Anna here, not the butchered object he’d just left lying on unforgiving stainless steel. Here, Anna was not dead, not murdered.

  He rose, lifted a photo off the mantel; it was of him and Anna in Switzerland last year. She was a fine skier, he was less than that. But the fun they’d had. Another photo of them in Australia. A third shot of them atop an elephant she’d nicknamed Balzac for its love of coffee that it would slurp right from the cup with its trunk.

  Everywhere were her belongings, her loves, her passions.

  Her.

  He sat down again. In a few seconds he endured a million obvious thoughts that run through a bereaved person’s mind at a time like this. The bite of Adolph’s saw blade didn’t even come close to the pain he was feeling now. One bloody wound versus your entire mind, body, and soul being slowly crushed. They had no painkillers that could fight that.

  Frank must’ve noticed the change in his expression. “Come on, Shaw, let’s go get that drink now.”

  Shaw finally realized he couldn’t stay here either. In some ways the living Anna was more catastrophic to him than the dead one on the metal slab. It brought back so clearly what he’d lost, what they’d both lost together.

  He struggled to his feet, but before Frank could reach it the knob turned and the door opened.

  The next moment Shaw and Frank were standing eye to eye with Anna’s parents.

  Wolfgang’s face flushed. He reached out to grab Shaw, but Shaw stepped back, out of the man’s range.

  “No, Wolfgang, no!” screamed his wife.

  “This monster, this monster.” Wolfgang was so incensed he was sputtering, choking on the few words, his eyes all the time shooting dangerous volleys at Shaw, who hung back, unsure of what to do.

  “Now just hold on,” Frank said. “He’s hurting too.”

  “What are you doing here?” demanded Natascha, clutching at her husband’s arm, trying to hold him back.

  “Do not talk to him, to that filth,” yelled Wolfgang. “He killed our daughter. He killed Anna.”

  Now Shaw took a step forward, his eyes flashing like blue acid. “What the hell are you talking about? I had nothing to do with Anna’s death.”

  “Shaw, let me handle this,” Frank said.

  Wolfgang pointed a fat finger directly in Shaw’s face. “Anna would not be dead but for you. You killed her.”

  Frank yelled, “Wait a minute. That’s bullshit!”

  Shaw started to move past him, but Wolfgang suddenly charged forward, grabbed him around the throat, and his heavy bulk caused both men to fall back hard against the wall. Natascha screamed and tried to pull her husband off. “No! No! Wolfgang. No!”

  Frank tried to tug Wolfgang off Shaw but the man was too heavy.

  Wolfgang’s thick shoulder collided with Shaw’s wounded arm and he grunted in pain. He managed to lever the big German away from him by pushing a knee against his gut. When Wolfgang charged him again, Shaw sidestepped the fa
r slower man, who was breathing so hard and whose face was so red, Shaw thought he might be having a heart attack. Wolfgang struck the wall. Before he could turn around again and attack, Shaw used his hand to pinch a nerve right next to the man’s thick neck. Wolfgang slumped to the floor crying out in pain.

  The next instant Natascha’s heavy purse struck Shaw in the face, cutting his cheek. He felt the blood ooze down. Frank ripped the purse from the woman’s hand and threw it across the room. Natascha knelt next to her husband, her arms protectively around him.

  His chest heaving, blood running in his mouth, Shaw stared down at them. “Is he all right?”

  “You go. You go now!” Natascha screamed at him. “You leave us alone. You have done enough. Enough!”

  “I had nothing-” Shaw stopped. What the hell is the use?

  Frank was pulling him to the door. “Let’s get out of here before somebody really gets hurt.”

  Shaw wiped the blood off, turned and left, shutting the door behind him.

  As they walked down the stairs Frank said, “They were not told you were some kind of monster, Shaw. We just-”

  Shaw suddenly stopped, sat down on the steps, and let out a sob so
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