The whole truth, p.34
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       The Whole Truth, p.34

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  front of her. As her eyes became accustomed to the dark, she noticed other things too, things that shouldn’t have been where they were, including a smashed photo on the floor. She picked it up, squinted at the picture. It was a man with a young boy.

  She put it down and edged along the hall. A box was on the floor. She bent down to see what it was. The box turned out to be empty, but it looked like something had been kept in there. Was this Shaw’s doing? Was he looking for something she didn’t know about? Was there someone else in here and all this debris evidence of a struggle? She really should just run, but what if Shaw were hurt?

  The door was up ahead. She clutched the knob, took a breath, and eased it open. It was a bedroom. A large one. The master suite of this McMansion.

  Her breath caught in her throat as she saw the figure in bed. He was propped up on pillows. The weak moonlight that came through the window allowed her to see. The man looked like he was still screaming. But he wouldn’t be screaming anymore. Katie had seen corpses before and this was one.

  She turned to run.

  And smacked right into a human wall.

  Shaw clamped a hand over her mouth.

  She stared up at him fearfully, every inch of her body sliding into spasms of terror.

  He removed his hand and motioned to the body. “He’s dead.”

  Katie slowly nodded, her eyes still wide with a look of terror.

  Realization spread across Shaw’s features and then was replaced with anger.

  “Check the body, it’s already cold.”

  “No, that’s okay.”

  He pushed her toward the bed.

  “I believe you,” she said, turning back to him.

  “No, you obviously don’t. So go see for yourself.”

  She edged forward. Shaw followed her.

  “He’s in full rigor,” he said. “That happens about twelve to twenty-four hours after death. I’ve only been in here for fifteen minutes.”

  More curious than scared now, Katie touched the man’s arm. It was like a rock. His skin was ice.

  “What killed him?”

  He pointed to the pillow where she could see dried stains.

  “Gunshot wound to the back of the head.”

  She stepped back from the bed and gazed around the room. Shaw had a flashlight that he used to sweep the area. Furniture was overturned in here too and there were drawers pulled out and contents dumped on the floor.

  “A struggle?” she said. “A search?”

  Shaw pointed toward the closet. “Look at this.”

  They stepped inside the room. In the back a portrait was hanging off its hinges. Behind it a chunk of wall had been ripped out, revealing a cavity.

  “My guess is there was a safe there. Whoever did this took it with them.”

  “So it was just a burglary that went wrong? The dead guy is fully dressed. He might have come home, stumbled on them, and they killed him.”

  He stared at her. “You really believe that?”

  “No.”

  “Good. Because it’s all been staged. Just like everything else in this whole damn thing.”

  “But this is the right house, isn’t it?”

  He nodded. “I checked the car in the garage first. Sticker’s on the back. And there’s a slight scratch on the back panel that I noted from the video. It’s the right car.”

  “And the dead guy?”

  Shaw picked up a photo that was on a shelf and shone his light on it. It looked like the guy on the video.

  “It’s the owner of the house. Richard Pender,” said Shaw.

  “We better get out of here.”

  “No, I want to finish searching the place first.”

  “Shaw, what if we get caught?”

  “You can leave.”

  “Damn it, do you always have to make everything so complicated?”

  “I didn’t ask you to follow me tonight.”

  “How do you know I was following you?”

  “Maybe it’s the fact that you’re standing in this house with me right now.”

  “I could’ve come here on my own. I can memorize addresses too.”

  “If you had memorized the addresses you’d know this was Pender’s house. And last but not least, I saw you about a dozen times tonight in your car following me.”

  “Wait a minute. If you knew I was following you, why didn’t you stop me? Or try to lose me?”

  Shaw started to say something but then stopped. He looked away, and said quietly, “I’m no murderer.”

  “I’m glad you realized that.”

  A brief moment passed, and then Shaw asked, “Are you going to help me look or not?”

  “I’ll help. Let’s just make it quick.”

  A half hour later they’d found nothing of any use. Richard Pender owned a firm called Pender amp; Associates. Shaw had never heard of it. They got the office address from some letterhead they found in a desk drawer.

  Katie stared at the paper. “I know this name for some reason.” She thought for a moment and then shook her head. “It’s not coming.”

  They left out the back door.

  Or tried to.

  They never made it.

  CHAPTER 90

  SHAW AWOKE FIRST, the synapses in his head screaming out intense messages of pain to the rest of his body; yet that busted-up nerve mailbox was pretty full. He tried to sit up and push back the feelings of nausea rolling over him. He assumed he’d be bound. But he wasn’t; his hands and feet were free.

  He heard a groan and looked behind him over the top of the seat. Katie was lying on the floor there.

  “Katie? Are you all right?”

  Another groan was followed by a soft moan, and then came a bit of movement as she slowly sat up.

  She rubbed her head. “Yeah, but I’ve got the mother of all knots on the-”

  There was a grinding sound, like metal against something equally hard.

  “What was that?” she said. “Where are we?”

  She looked around. They were in a car. Her car. The one she’d followed Shaw in.

  “Don’t move,” Shaw hissed.

  “What?”

  Another grinding sound came, and Katie had the sickening feeling of the floor slipping beneath her.

  “What’s going on?”

  Shaw inclined his head at the window. Katie stared out and saw nothing but black. No, not entirely black. She saw some trees, large trees and thick bushes.

  “Did they leave us in the woods?”

  “Yes, but not exactly on level ground.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “Look out the windshield but do not move.”

  Katie slowly turned her head to stare straight ahead and her breath got lost halfway up her throat. She was looking straight down, or at least it seemed that way. It was like being on a roller coaster about to go over the edge, or a plane in a death spiral and you were the pilot watching the ground coming at you sickeningly fast.

  “Where are we?” she whispered.

  “In a car on the side of what appears to be a very steep hill with a clear path of two hundred feet in front of us at least until we get to the bottom. Then we hit a wall of trees. And if we manage to plow through those, we go right into the river.”

  “River?”

  “The Potomac.” He slowly raised his arm and pointed out the windshield. “That looks to be Georgetown over there, doesn’t it?”

  She gazed at the pulse of lights from across the water. “Then we’re off the George Washington Parkway?”

  He nodded.

  “Can you open the doors?”

  “They’re locked, and if I try to open one, we’re going for a short ride way too fast.”

  “How did we get here? The last thing I remember is leaving Pender’s house.”

  “They must’ve been waiting for us. I’m an idiot! They were waiting for us at the graveyard in Germany. Why not Pender’s house? They must have figured out what we’d done on the call,
gotten to Pender first, and then waited for us to come poking around.”

  Katie shuddered. “They made his death look like a burglary and now we’re going to end up as a traffic accident.”

  Shaw grimaced as yet another pain shot through his battered head. “A run off the road and down the hill where we burst into flames when the gas tank ignites as we smash into the trees down there. I’m sure the skid marks off the road were professionally done.”

  “So why hasn’t the car rolled down already?”

  “We seem to have gotten stuck on an outcrop of rock.”

  “Are we really that close to going down or am I becoming almost hysterical for no reason?”

  “None of the tires are touching the ground. It’s like being on a seesaw and the rock is the fulcrum. We move too much, down we go.”

  “And if we don’t move, at some point, we go down anyway. Can you call somebody? Frank? Royce? The president?”

  Shaw gently felt in his pocket. “They took my phone. How about you?”

  “It was in my purse. I left it in the car. Do you see it?”

  Shaw eyed the floorboard. “Yeah, but if I try to get it, we’re going over.”

  “Can you slide into the backseat? With your weight back here it might anchor the car.”

  Shaw tried to ease himself backward, but another long groan and a few more inches of the car sliding stopped him.

  “Okay, that’s a no-go.”

  “We can’t just sit here waiting to die,” Katie exclaimed.

  He moved his weight a little to the left. The scraping sound came immediately and they could both feel the car move forward another inch.

  “Okay, that tells me something.”

  “What?”

  “Not to move again.” Shaw eyed the interior. The keys were still in the car. They would have to be, he thought, to make it look like a real accident when the police found the charred wreckage. He edged his hand forward and carefully turned the keys one click to the right. That didn’t turn the engine on, but it did do something else. He slowly reached over and depressed the window button. The glass slid down even as the car eased forward another inch or so.

  “Okay, the window’s down, now what? We can’t exactly jump for it.”

  Shaw reached down, undid his belt, and slid it off. “Please tell me you’re wearing a belt.”

  “I am.”

  “Take it off and give it to me. But slowly.”

  She did so, but it seemed like even moving her arms made the car wobble on its precarious perch. She finally got it off and handed it to him.

  Using very slow and careful movements Shaw made a loop with her belt and then slid his belt through that circle, cinching it tight and leaving a stretch of leather about four feet long in his hand.

  “What’s that supposed to be?” she asked.

  “A lasso.”

  “What exactly are you going to lasso?”

  “That tree branch outside the car window.” He nodded at the short but thick piece of wood. “If I can pull myself through the window, with my weight out of the front seat, the rear should settle back down. And I can get something to wedge under the front tires. And then get you out.”

  “Should? Should settle back down? What if it doesn’t? What if you getting out makes the car go hurtling down to those trees? Are you just going to wave bye-bye while I plummet to my death?”

  Shaw thought for a minute. “Okay. We’ve got one shot at this. Just one. If we get out we get out together. If we go down, well…”

  “Trust me, I get the picture. What’s the plan?”

  “Basically a thousand-to-one shot.”

  “Okay, I’m already loving it,” she said sarcastically.

  “As soon as I get the loop over that branch, you grab on to me like you’ve never held on to anything in your life. Got it?”

  Katie’s breaths were coming quickly now as the car started to tilt forward even more. “We’re going over, aren’t we?”

  “Katie, did you hear me?”

  “Yes, yes I did. Grab on to you, never let go. Got it.”

  “But wait until I get the loop over the branch.”

  “And you’re going to do all that in the millisecond you’ll have before we fall to our deaths? Pull us to safety using a belt I bought at the Gap for ten bucks?”

  “Katie, don’t go hysterical on me. I know you’ve been in plenty of tight places before. This is just one more of them.”

  She gazed fearfully out the windshield and then looked away. “Okay.”

  Shaw eased sideways and eyed the branch trying to convince himself that it would not necessarily be a miracle if what he was about to do worked. It would actually constitute more than a miracle, he realized. It would take divine intervention plus luck, plus some unknown element of cosmic wizardry.

  “You ready?” he said.

  Katie was breathing so hard she sounded like she was about to deadlift a ton of iron as she prepared herself to escape a two-thousand-pound car as it fell away from them at speed. She looked at the window opening. It seemed about three inches in diameter. They were never going to make it. I can do this, she said to herself. I can do this. Oh please God let me do this.

  Shaw tossed the loop. It missed.

  Katie cried out, “Maybe I can try it from back here.” She hit the window button and the panel of glass slid down.

  And then the car suddenly snaked forward.

  “Oh shit!” Katie said.

  “Hold on!” Shaw called out.

  “It’s going, Shaw. It’s going over. Oh my God!”

  The car was indeed going and there was nothing between it, them, and a hundred tons of oak. From where he was sitting Shaw could no longer even reach the branch with his belt rope.

  “Shaw!” Katie screamed, gripping the seat with all her strength as the front of the car shot downward and the rear lifted up into the air like the Titanic about to take the final plunge.

  Shaw swore, flipped backward over the seat, turned in mid-roll, and let the belt lasso fly out Katie’s window.

  It somehow snagged the branch and Shaw pulled it tight.

  Miracles did, it seemed, happen.

  The car’s momentum had pulled Shaw, who was holding on to the belt with both hands, halfway out of the window.

  “Katie, grab hold of my legs. Now!”

  He felt her grip his legs. The car was going all the way, no stopping it now.

 
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