The whole truth, p.8
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       The Whole Truth, p.8
 

         Part #1 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci

  Creel pointed to a large worktable in the war room where two people were laboring over some written materials.

  “Explain.”

  “That’s the ‘Tablet of Tragedies.’ We recently discovered that one of our competitors was hired to put something like this together during Persian Gulf One to help convince the West to defend Kuwait. It worked brilliantly there. So we thought we’d use the same concept here. But instead of printing hundreds of thousands of glossy copies we opted for handmade rudimentary stuff. That’ll give it a realistic homegrown feel to balance the high-tech attack so far. We’ll only make a dozen but send them out to optimal targets for maximum effect.”

  “Boots on the ground,” Creel muttered thoughtfully.

  “That was to be on your end,” Pender pointed out. “I can make anyone believe a lie is true. However, there’s no substitute for real blood spilled.”

  “I have the boots quite figured out. In fact you’ll see evidence of that very soon.”

  “What about the other piece of the equation?”

  “What about it?” Creel said sharply.

  “Only that you said you would advise us of the timing of it.”

  “Have I advised you yet?”

  “No.”

  “Then it must not be time!”

  A moment later Creel was gone. Pender had helped make the man a fortune during the cold war, and when that dried up, they’d engineered numerous smaller global conflicts until the first Iraq War had literally fallen into their laps followed by the lucrative second Iraq War. But as he’d recently told Pender, “The Americans are completely tapped out. And the EU’s in a peace mode, pouring their money into education, infrastructure, and health care instead of defense. The idiots never stop to think that it would be damn hard for the kiddies to go to school and Grandma to the doctor if they can’t protect their countries from ending up pledging allegiance to Allah. But with all that going against me I’m going to win this war.”

  And Dick Pender would never bet against the man.

  CHAPTER 20

  SERGEI PETROV WALKED DOWN THE STREET, his collar upturned against the chill that had descended on New York in the last two days. He’d just finished a taping for a local television show, recounting the considerable horrors that he’d witnessed under the Putin/Gorskhov regimes as the number two man in the Federal Security Service before fleeing the country. The westerners ate up what he was selling and paid well for the privilege, Petrov had found, far better than playing lapdog to dictators disguised as presidents. He didn’t know where the Red Menace campaign had originated from and didn’t really care. Gorshkov was evil. Petrov’s homeland was going in the wrong direction. Whether all the horrors that had come to light recently were true or not he also didn’t care about. Some of them probably were. That was good enough.

  He felt for the gun in the pocket of his coat. Petrov was a careful man. He knew he had become a target. If Gorshkov had a top hit list he would be high on it. He always went out armed, never strayed from public places, and his trained eye was ever watchful. He would never drink or eat whenever anyone else was present. He would not die as Litvinenko had. There would be no polonium-210 cup of tea for him.

  He walked to the corner and hailed a cab. One drew to a stop beside the curb; the driver looked out.

  “Grand Central Station,” Petrov said. The man nodded and he climbed in. As he did, the rear door on the opposite side opened and a man jumped in. At the same instant another bulky gent pushed Petrov from behind and slid in next to him. The doors closed and the cab raced off.

  Petrov didn’t even have time to look at his kidnappers. They pressed against him, their bulk pinning his hands to his body, his gun remaining in his pocket. The knife slashed once against his throat even as he felt another blade bite deeply into his right side. And then another bite and then another.

  He fell forward as his life drained away.

  The cab drove out of town and into Westchester. Next to a small, dark park it stopped and the three men climbed out and into a waiting SUV. It drove off, leaving Petrov’s still body lying on the floor of the cab.

  Written on his forehead with a black Sharpie pen was one word in Russian. Its English translation made perfect sense.

  Traitor.

  Back in the SUV Caesar took off his hat and mask. This was Nicolas Creel’s opening salvo in the “boots on the ground” department. Caesar had one more task to complete tonight. The SUV rolled on for a long time until they reached their destination. Arrangements had been made and money paid and they drove in without a problem. The SUV made its way to the very back edge of the place where a large crater had been dug in the earth. The men got out, opened the back of the truck, and slid out the body bag.

  Caesar unzipped the bag and peered in at the face that looked blankly back at him.

  Poor Konstantin, his Latino soap opera career never had the chance to take off. Caesar closed up the bag, hoisted it over his shoulder, carried it to the side of the crater, and tossed it in. A dump truck immediately started up, crept to the edge, and tons of construction debris poured over Konstantin’s “grave.” After that a bulldozer drove up and proceeded to push a mountain of earth back into the hole. By the next morning there would be no crater left. Caesar gave the man an informal salute.

  Good-bye, Konstantin, we’ll never forget you.

  As Caesar and his men drove off he called a private number and reported the success of his mission.

  Thousands of miles away, Nicolas Creel scratched another item off his to-do list. Dick Pender was a smart man who knew just how to play the world for a sucker with his head games. But sometimes one “real” dead body could break a million souls. And no one played that game better than Nicolas Creel. And if you could accomplish all that with one dead body, think what you could do with lots of them.

  CHAPTER 21

  KATIE JAMES EXTENDED HER STAY, unwilling to return to New York and the next big death. She’d taken a First ScotRail train over from Glasgow to Edinburgh, soaking in the alternately stark and then lush Scottish countryside during the fifty-minute ride, near where the Firth of Forth dug a notch out of the country right above the capital city.

  She checked into the Balmoral and had a quick bite of lunch in the restaurant before setting off. She bumped into a tall, broad-shouldered man on the way out. He politely apologized for the collision and strode quickly away. Katie rubbed her bruised shoulder and stared after him. It’d been like hitting a damn wall. He was probably a rugby player.

  She passed the doorman in his full kilt outfit, right down to the ceremonial dagger in the sock. After a pleasant day touring the city and taking tea near Holyroodhouse Palace, she dodged myriad pubs trying to draw her in like a nail to a magnet and made the pilgrimage up the hill to the crown jewel of the city, Edinburgh Castle.

  The dark crag of Castle Rock lurching skyward above the setting-sun end of town was the sole reason Edinburgh existed. The rock-strewn volcano remains sat like an anchor between central Scotland and England, the land many Scots still referred to as the “Auld Enemy.” Katie passed the Entrance Gateway, flanked by statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, who’d each built their legends on kicking English ass. She’d missed the firing of the one o’clock gun, a World War II twenty-five-pounder, but she did see the Stone of Destiny. It had been taken by the English in the thirteenth century, who’d kept it until the twentieth. In the intervening seven hundred-odd years it had rested under the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey, on which every monarch from Edward II to Elizabeth II had perched their royal bums.

  A bit later she walked to the peak of Castle Rock where sat St. Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. It was here, inside the chapel, that she saw him again, the big man who’d bumped into her at the hotel. He was kneeling in front of the third pew. As she drew closer, Katie spied another man next to him. He looked like a typical tourist. She would’ve turned and walked out except for what she suddenly glimpsed. She
quickly knelt down in the rear pew, slid out her camera, and used the zoom to confirm her initial observation.

  The tattoo on the man’s right forearm. She’d seen one just like it years ago while covering yet another war overseas. Her senses heightened now, she could tell they weren’t praying or reciting well-worn catechisms. They were whispering to one another.

  She could not hear them clearly enough to make out the words, so she left the chapel but remained within a few feet of its front door. Ten minutes later the tattooed man came out. She was debating whether to follow him when he was suddenly lost in a gaggle of passing tourists.

  The tall man stepped out a minute later and Katie focused on him instead. If he was staying at the Balmoral, she thought, he might be heading there now. She had no reason really to follow him, or to become involved in any of this. Yet she was a reporter, a reporter at rock bottom desperately looking for any way to crawl her way off the obituary page. She had no idea if this would lead to anything, but it might. And it wasn’t like she had anything else to do.

  He didn’t return to the Balmoral. Instead, he headed north of the city center, two miles to be exact, to Leith, where he plopped his money down to tour the royal yacht Britannia, out of commission and anchored there.

  Katie slipped off her shoes and rubbed her sore feet. Her quarry had been inconsiderately a very fast walker. She paid her pounds and crossed the gangplank. She tried her best to blend into the crowd, because if the man she was following recognized her from the hotel? The chapel? He looked powerful enough to strangle a bull.

  Katie half listened to the guide as he recited yacht facts to the crowd. She did focus when the man pointed out the mahogany windbreak on the balcony deck in front of the bridge. It had been built to prevent sneaky breezes from suddenly lifting royal skirts and revealing royal panties. Katie kept a firm grip on her own skirt even as she watched the tall man wander away. She followed. He looked out over the water. Another person joined him at the rail. Katie moved as close as she dared. She managed to hear three words that summed it all up for her. Tonight, and Gilmerton’s Cove.

  She immediately left the yacht and grabbed a cab back to the hotel. She didn’t have much time to get ready. And she had a little research to do first. She didn’t know what she’d stumbled onto. Yet experience had taught her that some of the biggest stories started from the most unexpected encounters.

  CHAPTER 22

  THIS CREW MADE THE IRANIAN and his bloodthirsty boys look like a bunch of four-year-old thumb suckers, thought Shaw. He was sitting in a car, a block of granite from Tajikistan on one side of him with a small mountain from that same Asian country on the other. It was a wonder even the large Mercedes’s front wheels weren’t off the road with the half ton of flesh perched in back. But then again it might have been due to the pair in the front seat, both also Tajiks, who pulled at least seven hundred pounds between them, and very little of it from fat that Shaw could see. Add one more guy and they could have made a decent line for any NFL team.

  Shaw had never met a Tajik who didn’t seem angry. Perhaps living in a brutishly mountain-bound country that had been used by the Soviets as a toxic waste dump and had an eighty percent poverty rate gave them good reason to be perpetually ticked off.

  He said something in Russian and received what could only be described as a growl in response. Tajiks didn’t see themselves as Russian; culturally they along with the Persians were part of the Iranian ethnic pool. Shaw had never bothered to learn Tajik. He hoped he didn’t live to regret that decision.

  He settled back in his seat. The Tajiks were selling drugs, heroin specifically, made from opium produced in neighboring Afghanistan, the country’s most lucrative export crop. This was possible because coalition forces had largely abandoned Afghanistan to go make Iraq a beacon of democracy. Drug-dealing empires of the world thanked them every night for their thoughtfulness, because without opium one could not make heroin, one of the most popular street drugs of all time. The sheer misery this one bastardized chemical time bomb had imposed on the world was beyond calculation.

  Shaw was here to purchase one metric ton of the misery, one thousand kilos with a street value U.S. of fifteen million dollars or $120,000 a gram. The drugs would be shipped out from Scotland to New York concealed inside thousands of soccer balls. Imports from Scotland, the Tajiks had discovered, received far less scrutiny from undermanned U.S. customs inspectors than, say, a large package from Iran or North Korea with “Death to America” written large on the outside.

  Of course, if things went according to plan, the cargo Shaw would be purchasing tonight would be confiscated at New York Harbor. The seizure would be touted in the press as a huge blow to international drug traffickers and a testament to the efficiency of global law enforcement efforts. That’s if Shaw succeeded in his mission and managed to walk away with all his organs intact. Although he seriously doubted that Frank would see his survival as a necessary gauge of triumph.

  Yet making U.S. customs agents look good was not why Shaw was here. It was to prevent the proceeds of the drug deal from flowing to an international crime syndicate that had been partially taken over by Islamic fundamentalists who were all over Tajikistan. Their share of this take tonight could buy a few dirty bombs or ten thousand IEDs, neither of which was a good thing for the civilized world.

  They weren’t that far from Edinburgh but the land had quickly turned open and isolated. Far to the north was the Firth of Forth. As one of the Tajiks rolled down his window to blow out smoke from his cigarette, Shaw thought he could smell the heavy sea air. Thirty minutes later they turned onto a gravel road and were quickly swallowed by dense trees on either side.

  The driver of the truck waiting at the end of the road nodded at his colleague in the sedan as it slowed to a stop next to the truck.

  Shaw and the four men climbed out of the car.

  “Soccer balls?” Shaw asked, pointing to the cargo in the truck.

  The man to his left grunted, which Shaw took as a “yes” in Tajik.

  The only reason Shaw was still alive was because these men thought he would be a good future customer on the other side of the pond. South American cartels ruled the U.S. illegal drug market, the world’s biggest, but the Tajiks had long had their eye on it. If they had to fly to Colombia and rip the throats out of a few thousand Spanish speakers they would be more than willing.

  Shaw slit open one of the soccer balls using a knife handed to him by one of the Tajiks. Inside were plastic baggies filled with a white powder. He didn’t slice open a baggie and taste the stuff like they did on TV since he didn’t want the crap in his system. The only thing worse than heroin on that score was meth. It seemed if you even sniffed the stuff from a hundred yards you were a candidate for detox.

  “And what, I only have your word that it’s heroin and all the other balls are filled with it right up to a thousand kilos?”

  The four men stared back at him; none seemed inclined to answer. The passenger side of the truck opened and a small, slender man sprang down, landing lightly on the soft ground. He had thinning blond hair, wore an expensive suit and a perpetual smile showing a new set of implants.

  “We’ve been doing this a long time,” he said, any accent he might have had barely discernible. He extended his hand to Shaw.

  “All new clients have the same question. But they are never disappointed.” He pointed to the split soccer ball. “That is the best heroin in the world. Guaranteed seventy percent pure even with all the shit you’ll put in it before it hits the streets in the U.S. Most heroin, you need ten kilos to get a little over two salable kilos. That’s a forty percent purity rate. That’s for shit. That costs you money, my friend. With our product you’ll make double that.”

  Shaw imagined himself standing in a product demo line listening to the pitch.

  The man continued, “And I threw in ten kilos at no extra charge. That’s a million-two U.S. on the street. It’s for new customers only, to show our good faith. One
time only,” he added firmly, but still smiling. “We sell it to you for five million euros and you get twelve to fifteen U.S. for it in New York, L.A., and Miami. Not a bad markup. And we can do this every other week. Easy money.”

  “It’s a big risk pushing drugs in America,” Shaw pointed out.

  The man chuckled. “That’s not what I heard. Candy from babies because all Americans are addicted. Fat, greedy, and sex maniacs. And now that you’ve seen our product, I’d like to see your money.”

  “How do I get the balls to the port?” Shaw asked, buying time. If Frank screwed me? The Tajiks will feed me to the squirrels one finger, toe, and critical organ at a time.

  “We put it right on the ship for you. Nobody the wiser. Now, your money?” The man looked in the Mercedes. “I see no briefcase. Five million euros take up a lot of space even in large notes.” He looked at Shaw inquiringly. “We don’t accept checks or credit cards,” he added with a flicker of a smile, and then his mouth tightened. “Where the hell is the cash?”

  “My people are bringing it,” Shaw said casually.

  “Your people? What people?” The small man looked around at the emptiness that surrounded them.

  “You have your people, I have my people.”

  “We were not told about this.”

  “Come on. You think I’m getting into a car alone with four T-Rexes I don’t know from Adam with millions of euros burning a hole in my pocket? If I were that stupid, I wouldn’t have lasted one week in this business.”

  The little man motioned to his men and four MP5 submachine guns emerged from the trunk of the Mercedes. A metallic sound Shaw heard from the truck indicated that the driver was also armed.

  Where the hell are you, Frank?

  CHAPTER 23

  KATIE JAMES ADJUSTED HER SMALL BINOCULARS at the same time she placed a hand on her chest to try and stop her heart from beating quite so violently. She’d followed the Mercedes from the Balmoral. Having heard the destination earlier on the Britannia, she’d even been able to pass the car a couple of times to avoid suspicion before falling back. When they’d turned onto the gravel road she’d driven on, then doubled back, counting on the fact that they would not have gone far. She’d parked her car behind a bend in the road, set out on foot, topped a knoll, slunk through some trees, and settled herself down behind a berm to watch.

 
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