The whole truth, p.4
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       The Whole Truth, p.4
 

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci

  results that had taken the world right to the edge of destruction.

  The digital images flowing across global networks right now, the faces of tens of thousands of supposedly murdered Russians looking pleadingly at the rest of humanity, was a tactical maneuver that Creel’s perception manager liked to call a “Vesuvius,” after the volcano that had erupted and destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Through sheer overwhelming bulk, it made whatever denials the government in Moscow was making seem absurd, even though it was the truth. It was part of a classic “mind manipulation maneuver,” something Creel’s man referred to as the “Triple M,” and that had worked in this instance to perfection. Not only did the Russians look like liars, but they appeared to be incompetent liars on top of it.

  Creel looked out the window of his 767 wide-body jumbo jet. Designed to hold over 250 ordinary people, it was amazing how one could make the ordinary extraordinary by reconfiguring the aircraft to accommodate twenty privileged individuals, wrapping them in the embrace of private bedrooms with en suite baths, a gym, full-time masseuse, dining room, conference room, and even a movie theater. And at his beck and call were three leggy flight attendants in tight skirts with “Ares” on the back of their blouses. Not that Creel noticed this. Well, perhaps a bit.

  He was a married man. In fact, he had been married four times and counting, the latest to a Miss World Hottie or something like that; he couldn’t exactly remember her title. It was absurd of course and wouldn’t last. He’d have some fun, though, and she’d get enough from the divorce to live comfortably. His first two wives had been elegant, smart, and opinionated and driven him absolutely insane. He now opted for the arm candy, trading in for a new model every so often with the security of an ironclad prenup seriously limiting what the lady walked away with.

  He looked out the window. Down below was China, a country with more potential and more problems than any land on earth. Yes, a complex place, perhaps the most complicated of all. And what a superb place to start a war, thought Creel. Yet it was actually far more complicated than something that simple.

  Nicolas Creel had never sought out the easy. He always went for the seemingly impossible.

  CHAPTER 9

  KATIE JAMES GROANED as sunlight flooded the room. Apparently the three wake-up calls had failed to stir her, even though she’d specifically asked for them, naively believing perhaps that one of them would break through the fog of her brain. She was exhausted from travel, time zone changes, and lack of sleep, and anyway, who wanted to get out of a comfy bed to go to a funeral? Groggy, she finally sat up, tugging the sheet high up around her neck. She coughed, rubbed her throat, and glanced at the clock.

  Oh shit! I’m really late. Hold the body, I’m coming.

  She leapt up, dashed naked into the bathroom, and in the span of ten blurred minutes was showered, dressed, and slamming the hotel room door behind her, wet hair and all. The life of the globe-trotting journalist had at least prepared her to move fast when she absolutely had to. Fine, she was attending a funeral. What she really wanted was a mojito. In fact she wanted about three of them, just to start. Then the bourbon would kick in. Then the martinis followed by the gin and tonics. She didn’t discriminate. She loved them all.

  It had started with too much bar time trying to keep up with the boys covering the next big story overseas. Yet it was when she’d won her second Pulitzer, almost dying in the process, that the booze had gotten out of hand. Katie had very good reasons to drink after that near-death experience, but she kept them strictly to herself.

  The alcohol had not become a career problem until her editor had noticed the slurred speech, the red eyes in the afternoon, and the occasional forgetting of places to go, stories to write, asses to kiss. He in turn had informed the managing editor, and up the line of command the lurid truth had galloped. They were all lushes themselves, having successfully extended the liquid lunch into the twenty-first century, yet the hammer had come down on her until she’d finally been reassigned to write about dead people. In Hollywood, going into rehab got you instant street cred. In journalism, she was damaged goods.

  It’d been the talk of New York journalism circles for a few weeks and then everyone quit caring. Everyone except Katie.

  So here she was covering a state funeral of a beloved Scottish leader who’d lived to be a hundred and four or some ridiculous age. To see a shriveled man with the face of a Shar-Pei dressed in a full kilt lying at the bottom of a gigantic coffin like a miniature doll in a massive toy chest made her want to laugh, not cry.

  She’d tried AA, only because her editor had demanded it as a condition of her continued employment. He’d obviously forgotten the two Pulitzers she’d earned the damn newspaper or the wound in her left arm that had never really healed. Or the powerful stories she’d delivered, plumbing them over the years from every chaotic and wildly dangerous corner of the earth. This had been accomplished at enormous personal cost to herself, meaning, exactly, that she had no life outside of putting pen to paper. She’d been to eighty-four countries and experienced exactly one blind date, to a Pakistani who’d told her she reminded him of his favorite cow. Bless him. She wondered if his nose had ever healed from her fist colliding with it.

  Then, three years shy of the big four-oh, she’d woken up in a room she didn’t recognize with a man she didn’t know, in a country she didn’t know how she’d gotten to, covered in what appeared to be her own sick. That had propelled her back to AA, where she’d stood up and told a roomful of strangers that she was a totally screwed-up basket case that hoped to get better. Her last drink had been six months ago. Yet every morning, afternoon, and evening the monster was there, urging her to break her pledge, take that one little sip. And here she was in Scotland, home of the world’s best whisky, or at least the most choices of it. Her lips quivered and her throat tightened at the thought.

  It wasn’t until she arrived at the funeral that she realized she’d mistakenly dressed all in white, frantically grabbing whatever clothes she could find in her hotel closet. She looked like a lily amid the sea of dreary black. Katie was tall and slim, with shoulder-length blonde hair that was still wet even after hanging it outside the taxi window on the ride over. She’d been mistaken more than once for Téa Leoni. There might have been a time when Téa Leoni would have been mistaken for her, especially after the second Pulitzer when her picture was plastered all over the world, because she’d come seconds and inches away from losing her life getting the damn story.

  One older man had suggested that she was actually a dead ringer for Shirley Eaton, the Goldfinger girl from the Bond film. He’d intimated that he wouldn’t mind seeing Katie in gold enamel paint and nothing else, even as his hand had slid to her rear end and squeezed tightly. She’d hurt her fist on his face too.

  Hollywood of course had wanted to film her harrowing adventure in winning journalism’s top prize, and had even suggested Leoni as a potential lead to play her. Yet Katie had said no to all such offers. It was not for reasons of vanity, or privacy. It was for reasons of shame. Of guilt.

  There had been someone else involved, someone who had lost his life while she earned her short-lived fame. A child. A little boy. And it had been somewhat Katie’s fault. No, perhaps mostly her fault. No one knew that part of the story. No one except Katie. That’s when the only solace she could find anywhere in life was while staring at a full glass of liquor and then pouring it down her throat, letting it burn the hell out of her, grafting scars onto her soul on the way down one highball at a time.

  The little Afghan boy’s name had been Behnam. She’d been told the name meant goodness and honor. And he had possessed both qualities she’d found. Curly black hair, a smile that could melt the stoniest of hearts, full of life right up to the moment it was violently taken from him.

  Her fault. He’d died. She’d lived. But not quite all of her had made it. A part of Katie had perished with the child. When she’d received the second Pulitzer her emotions had
been such that no wordsmith, no matter how gifted, could have hoped to capture them in mere language. It was her night; everyone was telling her how brave, how wonderful, how talented she was. Her wounded arm bundled up in thick bandages and a brace, the really serious internal damage the bullet had done mostly hidden away in her emaciated, weakened body, had only seemed to emphasize in a dramatically visual way her unequivocal birthright to the prize. Yes, a deserving winner if ever there was one. She’d smiled, hugged them all with her one good wing, and generally given off the aura of someone perfectly at peace with herself and her exalted position in life.

  She’d gone home alone that night to her apartment in New York and woken up the next morning in her underwear on her living room floor, an empty bottle of Jack on her gut, hating herself. Yes, perfectly at peace. Other than her very soul having been rent in two, she was doing fine.

  CHAPTER 10

  KATIE SAT AT THE FUNERAL and took copious notes that she would somehow fit into a story that people would read one minute and forget the next. Walking back from the gravesite she exchanged a few pleasantries with people she didn’t know. Her reputation had suffered such shipwreck that no one there recognized her other than one old codger from the Times who shot her a condescending smile. He was eighty-four. He should be covering the death page, she felt; it was a great way for him to check up on his contemporaries. Yet it was also very plainly true that he was here because he wanted to be. Katie was here because she had nowhere else to go.

  Back in her hotel room she typed up her piece. The official bio of the departed Scot had long since been archived, as were those of all persons with even a remote connection to celebrity. Her story was simply to add atmosphere, her take on the proceedings. Yet there were only a few ways to describe the event of someone’s passing. People are sad; people cry. People go home and keep on living; the departed, out of necessity, stays behind.

  Andrew MacDougal had enjoyed a long career in European politics but had been “retired” for over thirty years and thus he’d long since faded from the public eye. The whole story would encompass fewer than five hundred words and it would only be that long because the president of Katie’s newspaper was Scottish. If there was a picture attached to the story, it would no doubt show the dead man in this prime kilting years.

  She shook her head at the thought of it. A nearly seven-hour flight to London and a ratty connector to Glasgow, with the same on the way back. All that for a man who’d ended his political career when Katie was still a child. And all while the news story of the millennium was playing out right before her eyes.

  She of course had been following closely the events of Konstantin and all the rest. She had even sent carefully worded e-mails to her editor suggesting that perhaps since she was over this way anyway, a trip to Moscow might be worthwhile. She took it as a bad sign that he never bothered to respond.

  I write about dead people while the story that could resurrect my career rolls on. Lucky, lucky me.

  After she e-mailed her obit masterpiece off, Katie had the rest of the day free. Hell, she might even extend her stay. It wasn’t like she had anything to go back to. She could venture to the ancient city of Edinburgh, which was just a short hop to the east. Glasgow was Scotland’s largest city and not particularly inviting ground for a recovering alcoholic since it was filled with enticing pubs and clubs. By comparison, the capital of Edinburgh was a bit more sedate. And who knew, another hundred-year-old Scotsman worthy of obit page status might drop dead while she was here. She could bag two prone Scots with one roll of parchment. If she were lucky she might even get a bonus.

  Katie made a wide detour around the hotel bar and hit the streets.

  She’d never really spent much time in Scotland. Ireland was where all the news was, at least when the IRA was active. Very early in her career she’d once been caught in a crossfire in Belfast that had gone on for half a day. She’d phoned in the story while squatting behind a rusted Fiat and dodging bullets. After it was over, she’d made the bar rounds, and then taken a bath back at her hotel. It was only then that she’d found the flattened bullet stuck in her hair. It must have ricocheted off something. She’d kept that slug all these years; it was her lucky piece. Yes, she kept it, wore it around her neck in fact, despite it obviously having stopped working a long, long time ago.

  She dropped by a café to eat. When the Earl Grey and blueberry scones came, she barely touched them. She paid her bill and left, her disinterested expression lingering behind somehow as though her weariness had the power to create solid mass from the shitty circumstances of her life.

  She didn’t like being depressed, or one binge away from destroying her life again, perhaps for good. She knew she had to take steps to turn herself around, and that included more than leaving the bottle alone. The alcohol was capable of crushing her, certainly. Yet Katie knew her real demons lay within, much of it emanating from the death of an innocent little boy. It was a guilty secret of devastating degree.

  And every minute she could feel those demons trying to take her over. She walked down the crowded street in Glasgow feeling more alone than ever.

  CHAPTER 11

  DUBLIN WAS ONE OF Shaw’s favorite cities. With a pub and bookstore on virtually every corner, what wasn’t to love? Half the population was under thirty and the second most spoken language was Mandarin Chinese: young, diverse, and well-read pub dwellers, who often settled differences with a glib Irish tongue, speedy Irish fists, or sometimes both.

  Shaw had gotten into two fights in Dublin pubs, both one-punch victories for him. He could have held back and made them suffer, but combat to him had always had one rule: when given the opening, deliver the haymaker and let somebody else sweat the eulogy.

  When the opponents had regained consciousness they’d each asked the victor his name.

  “Shaw.”

  “Scottish?”

  “No.” The truth was Shaw didn’t really know his origins. For him, one past was often as good as another, when you needed it to be.

  “Well, damn, that explains it,” one of them had said in his brogue, with soft, truncated vowels and rock-hard consonants as he rubbed his smashed jaw. “You’re bloody Irish!”

  After tossing his bags in his hotel room and changing clothes, Shaw pounded along the 709 hectares of Phoenix Park, a green paradise over twice the size of Central Park. Along his run he passed the residences of the U.S. ambassador and the Irish president and failed to salute at either one, though at various times he’d worked for both as a freelancer. He covered five miles in half an hour. Not his personal best, but a good pace. He could run it faster and he knew the time would come when he would have to.

  He returned to his hotel, took two showers, put on lotion and extra swipes of deodorant, and still swore he could smell the stink of the Amsterdam canal oozing from his every pore. He checked his watch. He still had some time to kill so he took a stroll, finally reaching the spot on the river Liffey where as recently as 1916 the Brits had sent a gunboat up and commenced lobbing shells into Dublin proper to quell the “Uprising.” It was no wonder, Shaw thought, that the Irish were still a bit prickly with respect to their neighbors to the east.

  Wars. They were the easiest things to start and hardest things to end. Shaw knew this, unfortunately, from experience.

  He checked his watch again. It was time to go see Anna.

  Anna Fischer. Born in Stuttgart, university-educated in England and France, she was now currently living in London, except when she was giving a speech, which she was doing in Dublin. Hence Shaw was here too. He and Anna often hooked up around the world, yet this time was different. And the nerveless Shaw suddenly felt his heart rate quicken and his breathing grow more shallow. It really was time.

  CHAPTER 12

  THE WALK TO TRINITY COLLEGE took only about ten minutes with Shaw’s long-gaited pace and pent-up anticipation. Her lecture nearly over, he waited for his lady across from a side entrance to the college close to Maggie’s Bookshop,
a favorite of theirs. He spent a few minutes chatting with the woman who ran the shop.

  On one shelf he found a copy of a book that Anna had written on the subject of the origins of fascist governments entitled A Historical Examination of Police States. The love of his life was fun-loving in many ways, emotional and romantic, but she also possessed an IQ far to the north of genius level and the issues that dominated her professional life were serious ones indeed. Was there ever a more potent combination to win someone’s heart than brains and beauty?

  When Anna came out, the hug lingered. She pressed her long fingers directly into the small of his back, kneading as she moved up the spine. She could always sense pain in him and he was a man who hid such things extremely well.

  “Tense?” she asked, her German accent virtually nonexistent. Anna Fischer could speak fifteen languages at last count and all of them like a native. After six years at Oxford writing brilliant research papers and books, she had joined the UN as a simultaneous translator. After that stint, she’d accepted a position at a think tank in London and did work on international policies and global issues of unfathomable complexity with not an easy answer in sight. She was certainly far smarter than Shaw, yet never made him feel it.

  “A little.”

  “Bad flight from Holland?”

  “Ride was great. Just an old rugby injury.” Actually it was the free fall into the canal cesspool, but she didn’t need to know that.

  “Boys and their games,” she said in a mock scolding tone. “Is that how you got that?” She pointed to the bruise on his face courtesy of the Iranian who would never see freedom again.

  “Luggage came out of the plane bin faster than I thought it would. Looks worse than it is.”

  When they finally let go of each other, Anna stared up at him, but at five-eleven and wearing two-inch pumps she didn’t have to crane her neck too much. Still, Shaw had never been more grateful for his imposing height.

  “How was the speech?” he asked.

  “It was fairly well attended. However, in the interests of full disclosure I have to add that the heightened numbers were probably due largely to the catered food from the best Indian restaurant in town, and the open bar. I’m disappointed you missed it. I could have at least imagined you in your skivvies.”

  “Why imagine when you can see it for real?”

  She kissed him and intertwined her long fingers through his thick ones.

  He held out her book he’d purchased.

  “You paid for it? I could’ve given you one for free. They sent me all the unsold copies. They were so numerous I used them as furniture in my office.”

  “Well, this one you’re getting the full royalty on. Will you sign it for me?”

  She took out her pen and wrote something in the book. When he tried to see what, she said, “Read it later. After Dublin.”

  “Thanks.”

 
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