The whole truth, p.33
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       The Whole Truth, p.33

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci

  get you to react. And you did. Now they look at the video, time the conversation, and they see you almost wreck at the precise instant James said what she did. That way they can pinpoint the car.”

  Caesar added, “And then she told you to pull off. And you did. Right through the tollgate.”

  “Oh my God. They could be at my house right now. It’s been two days. I…”

  “Calm down, Dick. If the road cameras had gotten a clear shot of you, you’d already be under arrest. So it obviously didn’t.”

  “But the toll. I paid electronically. There’ll be a record.”

  “Fortunately, we learned of this development in time. I had some of my best hackers target the firm that operates the electronic toll pay. Quite soon after you went through the gate, they suffered a complete crash of their recordation system.”

  Pender let out a relieved breath. “As usual, you thought of everything.”

  “Now I need you to do something for me.”


  “We’ll have to shut the entire project down. Right now. I want you to tell your employees in the war room to go home. We’re going to clear it out of everything that shows your connection to the Red Menace.”

  “My people can do that, Mr. Creel. I can make the call right now.”

  “In light of recent events, I’d prefer my people to handle the cleanup. I’m sure you understand.”

  “All right, if you insist.”

  “And best of all, you won’t have to pay the money, Dick.”

  “I guess that’s right. But then she’ll write the story, the real story.”

  “Let her. I believe things have gotten to a point-of-no-return stage. The contracts are signed and China and Russia are still only a few steps from going to war, regardless of this recent diplomatic effort. The only thing James can do is back off her original story. ‘I was duped,’ she’ll claim. But with no corroboration her credibility is zero. She’ll simply look incompetent.”

  “Then we’ve won.”

  Creel put an arm around Pender’s shoulders. “Yes, Dick, we’ve won. Now call your employees and let’s finish this.”


  THEY SAT IN KATIE’S HOTEL ROOM going over the video for the hundredth time. A room service table was stacked with plates and cups since they had not bothered to leave the room to eat. The drapes were drawn and the room was dark so they could see every detail on the screen better. They had enlarged all angles of the shots on the laptop and dissected them grid by grid.

  And they had come up with absolutely nothing.

  Shaw lay on the floor gazing at the ceiling. An exhausted, red-eyed Katie was on the unmade bed moodily doing the same. She slipped off her pumps, padded over to the room service table in her stocking feet, and poured out a cup of coffee.

  “You want one?” she asked Shaw.

  He shook his head and kept his gaze fixed on the ceiling.

  “Frank checked the overseas account he set up for the money drop. No twenty million yet.”

  “Great,” Katie shot back. “I’m clueless and still poor.”

  She sat down at the desk chair, sipped her coffee, and stared at the screen.

  “What’s the latest on the diplomatic efforts?” Shaw asked.

  Katie hit a few computer keys, accessed the Internet, and read the news. “They’re still meeting in London. China and Russia haven’t even agreed to send delegations. But they’re hopeful of some sort of peaceful resolution.”

  She clicked off the Net and ran the video of the Mercedes again, this time in slow motion.

  Shaw glanced over at her.

  She was dressed in a skirt, stockings, and a blouse and her face was wrinkled in concentration.

  “Katie, we’ve done that to death and gotten zip. And the damn toll people still can’t tell us anything. And every minute that goes by…” He didn’t have to finish the statement.

  Katie wasn’t listening. Her gaze was suddenly riveted on the screen.

  “Shaw! Look!”

  He hopped up and joined her at the desk. “What?”

  “There.” She pointed the bottom of the screen where she’d enlarged the grid section.

  “It’s the rear fender of the Mercedes. So what?”

  “It’s a black Mercedes.”

  “Really? Hell, I thought it was white,” he said a little heatedly. “Get to the point.”

  “Hey, keep your pissy attitude under control.” She nicked the screen with her fingernail. “The car is black, but that spot is blue. And gold.” She pointed to another smudge of color. “And red.”

  “I noticed that before. We all did. It’s a sticker on the bumper. But that’s all you can see. No writing. It could be anything. The techs already enlarged it and came up empty.”

  “I know that. But wait a minute.” Katie was hitting keys, enlarging the section even more. Now was revealed a red top bar, a short line of gold, and a background of deep blue. Katie hit another key, zooming in on the gold and red parts.

  “We’ve seen that, Katie,” Shaw said, studying her intense expression. “What’s the big deal?”

  “When I saw it the first time, I thought I knew that pattern, but nothing came to me so I just thought I was mistaken. But now that I’m looking at it again I know I’ve seen it before. Somewhere. It’s bugging the crap out of me.” She looked at Shaw’s jacket hanging on the chair. She touched the breast pocket. “Damn, that’s it. That’s it!”

  Her hands flew over the keyboard. She got back online and did a Google search.

  When the screen revealed the answer to her query Shaw gaped as he stared at the top of the page.

  It was a crest with a red top bar, a blue shield, and a gold X with a red crown in the center. It seemed a fleshed-out match for the bit of sticker visible on the bumper.

  Shaw read the name at the top of the screen. “St. Albans School?”

  She nodded. “I told you my dad grew up in Washington? Well, he went to St. Albans. It’s an exclusive private boys’ school in D.C.” She held up the sleeve of Shaw’s coat. “He still has a jacket with that crest on it. That’s where I remember seeing it. And I bet our guy has a son that goes or went there.”

  A second later Katie was lifted into the air. Shaw’s strength was such that he had done it solely with his good arm.

  “Great work, Katie,” he said into her ear.

  He put her down and turned his attention to the screen while she looked slightly flustered.

  She said, “So we tell Royce and Frank. They can search St. Albans’s database, get a list of names, we match it to vehicle registrations, and we find the black Mercedes and our guy.”

  “Do you think we can find that out without calling Royce and Frank?” He didn’t look at her when he said this.

  She answered hesitantly. “I don’t know. I mean, you’d probably need a search warrant.”

  “But you said your father went there. That might make a difference.”

  “Maybe, but I can’t access vehicle registrations. And why don’t you want to call them?” She looked uncomfortably at Shaw.

  He turned, towering above her. She unconsciously took another step back.

  “Why do you think?” he said bluntly.

  “I don’t know what to think.”

  “Sure you do. You’re a smart woman.” He nodded at the screen. “Smart enough to have seen that when none of us did.”

  “I can’t help you do what you want to do, Shaw.” Her voice was tinged with a quiet desperation.

  “Getting squeamish on me all of a sudden? Worrying about the rights of others? Innocent until the trial lawyers cover up the truth so no one can find it and the guilty walk free?”

  “I don’t give a damn about the people who did this. They can rot in hell.”

  “So what’s the problem then?”

  “The problem is you. You take the law into your own hands, you go to prison. Or worse. I won’t be a part of that. I can’t.”

  He sat in the
desk chair and stared down at the carpet.

  “Shaw, you can’t throw your life away over this.”

  Shaw didn’t appear to be listening. “I thought I knew what real pain was, Katie. What it was to hurt like you’ve never hurt before. But when Anna died, I discovered exactly what it felt like.”

  Katie crept forward and put a hand on his shoulder. “You need to let it out, Shaw, before it destroys you.”

  He stood so quickly that she had to jump back. “I’ll call Frank and get him going on this.”

  “Just like that?” she said, bewildered.

  “Just like that. It’ll be faster that way,” he added ominously.

  As he made the call, Katie stared at the crest of St. Albans School and then over at Shaw as he relayed her discovery to Frank.

  When he clicked off, Shaw said, “Get your shoes on. We’ve been stuck in this room long enough. I’ll take you to dinner while they bang through the database.”

  Katie retrieved her shoes, sat on the bed, and slipped on her heels.

  He put a hand on her arm and guided her out the door. As they walked down the hall, her heart was thumping in her chest. She didn’t believe Shaw. Not at all.

  And she was afraid. Not for herself.

  She was afraid for him.


  THERE WERE EIGHT FAMILIES on the St. Albans database that owned black Mercedes S500s, a match with vehicle registration showed. Shaw, Royce, Frank, and Katie sat in a room at the FBI’s northern Virginia office studying this list.

  “Two in McLean. One in Great Falls. Three in Potomac. The rest in D.C. Four of them have kids currently enrolled in the school,” an FBI agent rattled off.

  Katie broke off staring at the screen and glanced at Shaw. His focus was totally on the list, she could see. As she watched, she saw him mouthing words to himself.

  He’s memorizing the names and addresses.

  “The smart thing to do,” Frank said, “is split up our assets and hit them all at once.”

  “We can actually narrow the list down even more,” the agent said. “The house in Great Falls and the car are registered to a woman; she’s eighty-six. The ones in D.C. are men, Stephen Marshall and Sohan Gupta, but they’re African American and Indian, respectively. You said your guy was a white guy. We can check out those people later just in case someone had access to their cars, but it makes sense to prioritize.”

  Frank said, “So that leaves five. Two in McLean, Virginia, and three in Potomac, Maryland.”

  “We’ll have to get search warrants executed,” the FBI agent said. “That’ll take some time since the circumstances” – he glanced at Frank – “are a little unusual.”

  “How long?” Royce asked.

  The agent checked his watch. “We’ll push hard, but tomorrow morning at the earliest.”

  “Do it.”

  “Should we post surveillance teams at their houses?” Frank asked.

  “Might spook them,” Shaw pointed out. “And if we don’t have search warrants in place…”

  “Then they could destroy evidence and there’d be nothing we could do about it,” Royce finished for him.

  Frank sighed and said to the FBI agent, “Just get ’em as fast as you can.”

  Katie glanced over at Shaw in time to see a grim smile cross his face. And then it was gone. “I want to go with you when you do the hits,” he said.

  Frank nodded. “But we let the FBI guys lead the way.”


  Royce nodded in agreement. “I’m clearly out of my jurisdiction here.”

  The meeting broke up and Shaw walked out. Katie quickly followed him. As he reached his car in the parking lot, she put a hand on the car door.

  “Don’t do it.”

  He eased her hand off the door. “Don’t do what exactly?”

  “You know what.”

  “I’ll give you a ride to your hotel. You obviously need some sleep. You’re sounding a little punchy.”

  She gripped his sleeve. “Shaw, I saw what you were doing back there. You memorized the list. You’re not waiting for a search warrant. You’re going to go to those places tonight. And-”

  “And what? Start killing people? Is that what you think?”

  “I’m not sure what to think.”

  “Good, you can join the club.” He pulled his arm free. “You want that ride?”

  “No, I don’t.”

  “Suit yourself.”

  He drove off. Frank and Royce came out of the building and headed toward her. Frank stared after Shaw’s car. “Your buddy leave you high and dry?”

  “No, I just…”

  “You want a ride?”

  When they got in the car, Frank turned and looked at her.

  “Everything okay?”

  “Everything’s great.”

  Royce gave her a penetrating stare, glanced at Frank, and shrugged.

  When Katie got back to the hotel, she stripped off her clothes, took a hot shower, and nearly scrubbed herself raw. She rested her head against the tile wall of the shower and let the water pour over her.

  What do I do now? Tell Frank and Royce? Let them follow Shaw? Stop him from killing somebody? From being killed?

  That’s what she should do, Katie knew. But it wasn’t that simple. What if she was wrong? What if Shaw found out she’d betrayed him? Yet she hadn’t promised not to tell. He’d never asked her not to reveal her suspicions.

  She got out of the shower, dressed, and put on dark clothing. She couldn’t snitch on Shaw. But she also couldn’t just stand by and let him destroy what life he had left.

  She called his room. When he answered she hung up. He was still there. Two minutes later she was in the lobby sitting in a high-backed chair waiting for him to come down.

  An hour later he did. He headed out. And so did Katie.


  THE FIRST TWO HOMES Shaw checked out weren’t the ones. From a distance Katie watched him enter the places only to come out of each a few minutes later. At the third house, however, a stone mansion in McLean, he didn’t come right back out. In fact, he didn’t come out at all.

  Katie checked her watch. Ten minutes had gone by. This must be the jackpot. She slipped out of her car and crept into the house the same way as Shaw had – through the back door. Her heart was hammering in her ears as she threaded her way down the hall. She almost tripped over something that was in her path. It was all she could do not to scream.

  Is it a body?

  Is it Shaw’s body?

  As she groped around with her hand, she felt the overturned chair in
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