The whole truth, p.31
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       The Whole Truth, p.31

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  “A stupid meaningless probe that, according to my sources, scared the hell out of both sides. Now we can settle down for a nice long rearmament phase.”

  “But what if they actually go to war?”

  “Dick, just do your job and let me worry about the consequences, remember? And if they do go to war, well, it won’t be the end of the world. They’ll have to have weapons to fight with and what they use up they have to replace. And if they beat the crap out of each other, who cares?”

  “But what about the nukes? They have nukes.”

  “Mutually assured destruction. Neither Moscow nor Beijing wants to disappear. That’s why I could never do this with the Muslims. They don’t seem to care if they get annihilated so long as everyone else does too. You see, even in war you need a civilized attitude to make it really work. Now pour it on!”

  Creel clicked off and Pender immediately instructed his team to pull out all the stops. The mission had been a challenge for Pender, but then Creel always was a challenge. Pender opened up his official playbook and turned his horses loose. He would show Creel very clearly what pouring it on meant. There wouldn’t be a news outlet in the world that didn’t get his attention. The globe would ring with more lies than ever before in history. It would be the master PM’s finest hour.

  Now that they were nearing a successful end, Pender contemplated how large the bonus to his firm – to him actually – would be. Creel did not deal in small numbers. Fifty million? A hundred million? Pender had always wanted two possessions more than anything else: his own yacht and his own aircraft. Not in the same class as Creel’s, of course. That would always be beyond his purse strings. Yet a Gulfstream V jet and a trim 120-foot Italian-built double-decker vessel would be perfect. These days those two items were what one really needed to say they had actually made it to the big time. And Pender wanted to say that with gusto.

  He daydreamed about this possibility for a few more minutes until his dreams collapsed into a nightmare.

  On his computer screen popped up a message from Pender’s aide. It read, “Barney Rubble Blog update.” An e-mail had come in on the blogger site that according to the aide, Pender needed to see right away.

  Pender opened it and began to read even as he multitasked on some other agenda items. As soon as he read the first sentence, he stopped multitasking.

  “I know who you are and what you did. I want a face-to-face or I’ll retract the story and write the real truth. K.J. P.S. Nice try with Lesnik. And next time you set up a fake blogger site, use someone who knows what they’re actually doing.”

  Instantly gone were all thoughts of a jet and a yacht. His playbook didn’t have a counterattack to this.

  The master perception manager had just realized his greatest fear.

  The truth was literally staring him in the face.

  CHAPTER 80

  SHAW SAT WATCHING the computer screen over Katie’s shoulder. She’d sent the e-mail ten minutes ago. They’d hoped for an answer before now.

  “Should I send it again?” Katie asked him.

  “No.” Though he looked a bit nervous too.

  Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait much longer.

  The message was short. “What do you want?”

  Katie and Shaw exchanged glances. “Answer it,” Shaw said.

  A face-to-face, Katie typed.

  “Impossible,” the answer said.

  Then I’ll just write my new story.

  “No one will believe you,” came the reply.

  I can be very persuasive. And I have some facts that will back me up and blow your plan out of the water.

  “What facts?”

  I’ll tell you in person.

  “I’m not doing that. This could be a setup.”

  Shaw and Katie glanced at each other. Of course it was a setup.

  A phone call, then.

  The answer didn’t come immediately. “What do you want to talk about?”

  Money, Katie typed, adding no fewer than three exclamation points. Money for my silence.

  “We can do that over e-mail.”

  I want to hear you sweat. Katie smiled at this intentionally mixed metaphor.

  A long minute went by as they anxiously stared at the screen. “When?”

  Katie clapped her hands together. Tonight. Midnight U.S. East Coast time. She typed in a cell phone number that was untraceable. Shaw had given it to her.

  “He’ll suspect that we’ll try to trace the call when he’s on the phone,” she said.

  “He’ll use a sterilized cell phone, believing that even if we trace the signal and burn a target between the cell towers, it’s still a big place.”

  “Well, isn’t it?” Katie said.

  “The world isn’t nearly as large as people think it is. In fact, it’s pretty small. If we can track his signal, that’ll give us about a city-block footprint to target. Once we get that, Frank can send in people fast. With his connections, he has assets pretty much everywhere that he can call on.”

  “That’s still a big space to search, Shaw.”

  “It is, but it’s better than nothing. And we might just get lucky.”

  Pender sat back in his office after having finished his digital conversation with Katie James. That’s who it had to be of course, the damn reporter.

  The initials at the end of the e-mail, K and J. The threat to retract her story.

  He should have immediately phoned Nicolas Creel, but he couldn’t. He’d obviously blundered on setting up the sham blogger site, because the damn woman had seen right through it. He could not let Creel know about that. He had never personally seen what Creel had done to underlings who’d failed him, but he’d heard enough rumors. He would handle this himself. It was only a phone call and he would take all necessary precautions against it being traced. There was no way they would be able to find him.

  If it was merely money she wanted, that was doable. James would no doubt be reasonable in her request. If it took millions, he’d just take it out of his bonus. It wasn’t like he needed both the yacht and the private plane. But what if she kept coming back for more money?

  Pender took a deep breath as his nerves began to bunch up and down his spine. This had never happened to him before. He was only used to being behind the scenes, never in the trenches. But he would get through this. He was the master of this game. In the end he would win.

  And best of all, Nicolas Creel would never have to know.

  He prayed to God that the man would never find out.

  CHAPTER 81

  NEXT TO THE TABLE where Katie would be sitting when she made the call, Shaw had set up a large clock with an LED readout down to the seconds. He held a video camera pointed at Katie and the clock; he also had on a headset.

  “Just keep him on as long as you can. Once they track the tower locations they can zero in on a more exact location and send in a team.”

  Right at midnight the phone rang. Shaw started videotaping the clock as Katie answered.

  “Right on time,” she said into the phone.

  “How much do you know?” the voice said tersely.

  “More than you want me to.”

  “How much do you want?”

  Shaw motioned to Katie. “Keep him talking,” he mouthed as he listened to the man on the other end of the headset phone.

  “Don’t you want to know how I figured it out?” she said. “I mean in case next time you want to avoid something like this happening again.”

  “Okay, how?” Pender asked.

  Katie took her time explaining about Lesnik, the broken loo, the inconsistencies in his story, and finally the impossibility of him doing what he said he’d done. “You should have just taken him in the place with you,” she advised. “Instead of briefing him on it later.”

  “So why’d you write the story then if you knew it wasn’t true?”

  “I just found out.”

  Shaw jerked his head up as Frank’s voice came through the headset. He pointed
at her. “He’s in a moving car. Tell him to pull off the road! Now!”

  Katie immediately barked, “Pull your car off the road!”

  Pender was so astonished by her observation and demand that he nearly swerved his big Mercedes off the road before regaining control. “How the hell did you know I’m in a car?” he hissed suspiciously.

  Thinking fast, Katie said, “You were breaking up. I’m not moving, so you must be. And besides, I can hear the traffic noise in the background. Now pull off so I can hear you clearly. We don’t want any misunderstandings, do we?”

  “Give me a minute.” Pender still sounded wary. He pulled off at the next exit and said, “Okay, how much?”

  “Twenty million dollars and consider it a gimme.”

  “That’s not a gimme. It’s a helluva lot of cash.”

  “Well, it’s a helluva big thing you’re involved in. But if you don’t want to pay, fine. I’ll retract my story and tell the real one.”

  “Which is?”

  “You can read about it along with everyone else. But the world will know that the Russians did not do the London Massacre and the Chinese are not behind the Red Menace. And this whole war thing goes right down the tubes. That’s what this is about, right? War?”

  Pender was really sweating now. Twenty million dollars.

  “It’ll take me a little time to raise the cash.”

  “No it won’t, I want it in twenty-four hours. I have, big surprise, an offshore account. You can write down the wiring instructions. I know you’ll send it in a way that can’t be traced, but that doesn’t matter to me. I just want the cash.”

  “I can’t do it that fast. I need more time.”

  “How much more time?”

  “A week.”

  “Seventy-two hours. And consider yourself lucky. I really want to start my vacation.”

  “Tired of being a reporter?” Pender sneered.

  “I’d much rather be rich.”

  “Five days,” he retorted.

  “The negotiations are closed! Three days or your plan goes down the tubes.”

  “I doubt one story from you will turn such an overwhelming global tide.”

  “Fine, then don’t pay and we’ll see what happens. Good-bye.”

  “Wait, wait!”

  “I’m listening.”

  “All right. Three days. But a piece of advice, Ms. James. If you do something as incredibly stupid as double-crossing us-”

  “I know, I know. It won’t be pretty. Don’t worry. I’ve already got my Pulitzers. All I want now are the good things in life.”

  She gave him the bank information and glanced at Shaw. He was making a slashing motion against his neck.

  “Nice doing business with you,” Katie remarked before clicking off.

  She looked at Shaw, who turned off the video camera.

  “Well?” she asked.

  “Western suburbs of Washington, D.C.; the Dulles Toll Road.

  “They know that fast?”

  “There’re two cell towers right there. It was easy to trace the signal. He would’ve been far safer sitting in a crowded hotel. Too many signals there to narrow down to one person.”

  “Okay, but what about just tracing the number the man used?”

  “We did. He tried to block the number, that’s why it didn’t pop up on your screen, but we had a wireless intercept on the phone you used. It overrode his block, snagged the number, and sixty seconds later we had our phone number owner.”

  “Who was it?”

  “According to Frank, an eighty-six-year-old priest in Boston who I’m reasonably sure is not running around the world starting wars, and has no idea someone stole his phone number.”

  “So how does knowing that this guy was driving on that road help us? Could they tell which car?”

  He shook his head. “Technology’s not there yet. Same as trying to pinpoint a person.”

  “So how do we trace the guy, Shaw?” she said, exasperated.

  He patted the video camera. “By using this.”

  “That? You’ve been taking a video of me and a clock.”

  “That’s right.”

  “So now what?”

  “Now we fly to D.C.”

  CHAPTER 82

  THEY SNAGGED A RIDE TO AMERICA on a private wing that Frank managed to get hold of. The plane had enough range to make it to D.C. without refueling so they settled in for the seven-hour-plus flight from London.

  Ed Royce from MI5 was with them. Shaw and Katie strapped into their seats in the back while Frank and Royce went over some details up front.

  Katie pulled a blanket snugly around her. She sipped on some club soda and stared over at Shaw as they rode a smooth flight path across the Atlantic.

  “This beats the hell out of the trip across the Irish Sea on that roller coaster, doesn’t it?” she said.

  Shaw nodded, but kept staring at the seat in front of him.

  “Do you really think we’re going to find out who’s behind it?” she asked.

  He glanced at her. “If we’re lucky, maybe. But finding out and then doing something about it are two different things.”

  “Evidence that’ll stand up in court, you mean?”

  Shaw didn’t say what he meant. He turned away from her again.

  “You okay?” she asked, touching his shoulder. It was his bad arm, so she did it very gently.

  “Yeah, I’m good,” he said unconvincingly.

  “When we get this all figured out and the bad guys are put away, I think I’m going to go see my parents.”

  “Where are they?”

  “In Vermont, at least they were the last time I checked. They like to move around. I think that’s where I got the wanderlust.”

  “What do they do?’

  “My father’s a professor of English. He teaches creative writing. That’s why my middle name is Wharton. Edith is one of his favorite writers. I was actually named after Katherine Chopin, but people have always just called me Katie. My dad grew up in D.C. but went to college at Stanford. That’s where he met my mom. He got his Ph.D. and started teaching at Harvard. Mom taught there too until the kids started coming.”

  “How many?”

  “Including me, four. I’m the youngest. I was born in Harvard Square. Literally. After three kids I guess Mom figured she could wait to the very last second before heading to the hospital. She and Dad were running to the car when her water broke. I ended up being born in a spare classroom. How about you?”

  “How about me what?”

  “I just divulged some details of my earth-shattering past. Now it’s your turn.”

 
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