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Whole Truth

By Bernice Price,2014-11-04 18:43
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Nicolas Creel is a man on a mission. He heads up the world's largest defense contractor, The Ares Corporation. He's retained Dick Pender to "perception manage" his company to even more riches by manipulating world conflicts. Shaw (no first name), a man with a truly unique past, travels the world reluctantly doing the bidding of a secret multi-national intelligence agency in order to keep the world at peace and safe. Katie James, a journalist who will do anything to get back to the top of her profession, has just gotten the break of a lifetime, the chance to interview the sole survivor of a massacre that has stunned the world. Published by Grand Central Publishing on 2008/09/10

Synopsis:

    Nicolas Creel is a man on a mission. He heads up the world’s largest defense contractor, TheAres Corporation. He’s retained Dick Pender to “perception manage” his company to even moreriches by manipulating world conflicts. Shaw (no first name), a man with a truly unique past,travels the world reluctantly doing the bidding of a secret multi-national intelligence agencyin order to keep the world at peace — and safe. Katie James, a journalist who will do anythingto get back to the top of her profession, has just gotten the break of a lifetime, the chanceto interview the sole survivor of a massacre that has stunned the world.

    In this terrifying thriller with a global backdrop, these characters’ lives will collide head-on as a series of events is set in motion that could change the world as we know it. An utterlyspellbinding story that feels all-too-real, THE WHOLE TRUTH delivers all the twists and turns,

    emotional drama, unforgettable characters, and can’t-put-it-down pacing that Baldacci fansexpect — and still goes beyond anything he’s written before.

    ?

    ?

    The Whole Truth

    By

    David Baldacci

    ?

    Copyright ? 2008

    ?

    ?

    To Zoe and Luke

    ?

    ?

    Why waste time discovering the truth when you can so easily create it?

     — The person quoted above requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak

    on the record as to matters of truth.

    ?

    ?

    ?

    ?

    PROLOGUE

    ?

    “Dick, I need a war.”

    “Well, as always, you’ve come to the right place, Mr. Creel.”

    “It won’t be a typical conflict.”

    “I never expect typical from you.”

    But you have to sell it. You have to make them believe, Dick.”

    “I can make them believe anything.”

    ?

    CHAPTER 1

    ?

    AT PRECISELY ZERO HOURS UT, or midnight Universal Time, the image of the tortured man eruptedonto the world’s most popular Web site.

    The first six words he spoke would be remembered forever by everyone who heard them.

    “I am dead. I was murdered.”

    He was speaking Russian on the screen but at the bottom his tragic story was retold invirtually any language one desired with the press of a key. Secret Russian Federation policehad beaten “confessions” of treason out of him and his family. He’d managed to escape andmake this crude video.

    Whoever held the camera had either been scared to death, drunk, or both, for the grainy filmvibrated and shook every few seconds.

    The man said if the video had been released that meant he’d been recaptured by governmentthugs and was already dead.

    His crime? Simply wanting freedom.

    “There are tens of thousands just like me,” he told the world. “Their bones lie heavy on thefrozen tundra of Siberia and in the deep waters of Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan. You will seeevidence of this soon. There are others who will take up the fight now that I am gone.”

    He warned that while the world had focused on the Osama bin Ladens of the world for so long,the old evil, with a destructive force a million times greater than the combined Islamicrenegades, was clearly back, and deadlier than ever.

    ,” he shouted at the camera, then broke down in“It is time the world knew the whole truth

    tears.

    “My name is Konstantin. My name was Konstantin,” he corrected. “It is too late for me and my

    family. We are all dead now. My wife, my three children, all gone. Do not forget me, and why Idied. Do not let my family perish in vain.”

    As the man’s image and voice faded from view, a mushroom cloud lit up the screen, andsuperimposed on the bottom of this horrifying visual was the ominous tagline: First the Russian

    ?people, then the rest of the world. Can we afford to wait

    The production values were rudimentary, the special effects amateurish, but no one cared aboutthat. Konstantin and his poor family had made the ultimate sacrifice so that the rest of theworld would have a chance to live.

    The first person to see the video, a computer programmer in Houston, was stunned. He e-mailedthe file to a list of twenty friends on his share list. The next person to view it secondslater lived in France and suffered from insomnia. In tears, she sent it to fifty friends. Thethird viewer was from South Africa and was so incensed at what he’d seen that he phoned theBBC and then did an e-mail blast to eight hundred of his “closest” mates on the Web. Ateenage girl in Norway watched the video in horror and then forwarded it to every person sheknew. The next thousand people to view it lived in nineteen different countries and shared itwith thirty friends each, and they with dozens each. What had started as a digital raindrop inthe Internet ocean quickly exploded into a pixel-and-byte tsunami the size of a continent.

    Like a spreading pandemic, the video ignited a maelstrom worldwide. From blog to blog, chatroom to chat room, e-mail to e-mail, the story passed. With each retelling it grew inproportion until the globe was in apparent jeopardy of being overrun at any moment by crazy,bloodthirsty Russians. Within three days after Konstantin’s sad proclamation, the world rangwith his name. Soon half the earth’s population, including many who had no idea who the U.S.president or the pope was, knew all about the dead Russian.

    And from the e-mail, blog, and chat room circuits the story was picked up by newspapers on theoutskirts of the mainstream. And then the likes of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal

    , and leading dailies around the world were sucked into the frenzy, if for no other reason thanit was what everyone was talking about. From there, it hit the global TV circuit, with everyonefrom Channel One in Germany to the BBC to ABC News and CNN to government-run TV in Chinaheralding a possible new doomsday era. And from there it became firmly planted in the world’scollective mind, soul, and conscience, becoming the number one story to such an extent thatthere were no other stories anyone cared about.

    The rallying cry of “Remember Konstantin” was heard on the lips of people on all sevencontinents.

    The Russian government issued emphatic denials to all of it. Russian president Gorshkov evenwent on international television to denounce it as a complete and total lie and offered up whathe called “slam dunk” evidence that no such person as Konstantin had ever even existed. Yetnot many people believed him. Gorshkov was ex-KGB. From top to bottom, the Russian governmentwas filled with fascist demons; journalists across the world had been informing people of thatfor years. It was just that up to this moment no one had really cared, because, well, ithadn’t interfered with their lives. Now they had dead Konstantin and a mushroom cloud on theInternet telling them that it suddenly mattered very much.

    There were certainly plenty of skeptical people out there who held serious doubts as to who andexactly what Konstantin and his video were actually supposed to represent. These same peoplewould start to investigate the supposedly dead man and his story. Yet for many others they hadheard and seen all they needed to unequivocally make up their minds.

    But Russia and the rest of the world would never discover that Konstantin was actually afledgling actor from Latvia, his “wounds,” and “emaciation” the result of clever makeup andprofessional lighting. After shooting his piece he’d washed up, removed all elements of hisdisguise, and had a nice lunch at, of all places, the Russian Tea Room on 57th Street in NewYork, spending part of the $50,000 he’d been paid to do the shoot. Since he also spoke Spanishand possessed dark good looks and a chiseled body, his chief ambition now was to win a majorrole in a Latino soap opera.

    Meanwhile, the world would never be the same.

    ?

    CHAPTER 2

    ?

    NICOLAS CREEL LEISURELY FINISHED his Bombay Sapphire and tonic and put on his jacket. He wasgoing for a walk. Actually, normal people went for walks. Billionaire corporate chieftainstraveled high above the rabble. As he looked out the chopper window on the short ride acrossthe Hudson to Jersey the skyscrapers below reminded him of how far he’d come. Creel had beenborn in West Texas, an area so big and barren with a seemingly endless flatness that it wassaid many who called it home were unaware there was any other place to live, or at least anyway to get there.

    Creel had spent exactly one year of his life in the Lone Star State before moving to thePhilippines along with his army sergeant daddy. From there seven other countries had followedbang-bang-bang until Creel’s father was deployed to Korea and promptly blown to ash in whatthe army later described as an unfortunate logistical snafu. His widowed mother had remarried,and, years later, college followed for Creel, where he earned an engineering degree. Afterthat, he cobbled together enough funds for an MBA run, but petered out after six months,choosing instead to learn the ropes in the real world.

    The one valuable lesson his soldier daddy had taught him was that the Pentagon purchased moreweapons than anyone and overpaid for every single one of them. And even better, when you neededmore profit, you just asked for it and they gave it to you. It wasn’t their money, after all.And there was nothing easier to give away than someone else’s cash, especially since Americahad the biggest piggy bank in the world. It seemed a damn fine business to be in, because asCreel quickly found out, one really could sell the U.S. military $12,000 toilets and $9,000hammers and actually get away with it under a mountain of legal trickery and congressionalhearing mumbo-jumbo.

    Creel had spent the next several decades building what was now the largest defense conglomeratein the world, the Ares Corporation. According to Forbes magazine he was the fourteenth richest

    person on the planet with over twenty billion dollars to his name.

    His late mother had been a native Greek with a fiery temper and fierce ambition he’d inheritedalong with her dark good looks. After Creel’s father had been logistically snafued in Korea,she’d remarried to a man higher up the socioeconomic scale who’d shunted Creel off toboarding schools and not very good ones at that. While the sons of other wealthy men hadeverything handed to them, the outsider Creel endured their taunts and sweated and scraped forevery nickel. Those experiences had given him armor for skin.

    Naming his company after the Greek god of war was a tribute to the mother he’d loved above allothers. And Creel was proud of what his company produced. The name stenciled on his four-hundred-foot motor yacht was Shiloh, one of the bloodiest battles in the American Civil War.

    Though born on U.S. soil, Creel had never considered himself simply an American. Ares Corp. wasbased in the United States, but Creel was a citizen of the globe, having long ago renounced hisU.S. citizenship. That suited his business well, for no country had a monopoly on war. YetCreel spent as much time as he liked in the States because he had an army of lawyers andaccountants who found every loophole in the stuttering linguistic morass called the U.S. taxcode.

    Creel had learned long ago that to protect his business he had to spread the wealth. Everymajor Ares weapon system contract was disseminated across all fifty states. His glossy,expensive ad campaigns touted that fact above all others.

    “One thousand suppliers spread across America, keeping you safe,” the Hollywood voice-overwould proclaim in deeply resonant tones that made your skin tingle and your heart pound. Itsounded very patriotic. It had actually been done for only one reason. Now if some bureaucrattried to cut any of the pork, 535 members of Congress would rise up and strike the person dead

     people. Creel had successfullytheirfor having the audacity to try and take jobs from

    implemented this same strategy in a dozen other countries as well. Just like war, the Americansdid not have a monopoly on self-serving politicians.

    Ares-built military jets flew over every major sporting event in the world, including the WorldSeries, the Super Bowl, and the World Cup. How could you not get goose bumps when a tightformation of space age warships costing $150 million a pop came roaring overhead with enoughfirepower to easily take out every man, woman, and child in the place with a single strike? Itwas near poetic in its frightful majesty.

    Ares’s global marketing and lobbying budget was three billion dollars per year. For thatmammoth sum there wasn’t a major country with defense dollars to spend that didn’t hear themessage over and over again: We are strong. We stand by you. We keep you safe. We keep you

     them. And the pictures were just asfree. We are the only thing standing between you and

    compelling: barbecues and parades, flags waving, children saluting as tanks rolled by andplanes soared overhead, and grim-faced soldiers with black-smudged faces threading throughhostile territory.

    There was no country on earth that could withstand that sort of heart-pumping message, Creelhad found. Well, perhaps the Germans, but that was about it.

    The way the commercials were scripted it was like the mighty Ares Corporation was giving theweapons away out of patriotic fervor instead of eternally being over budget and behindschedule. Or convincing defense departments to buy expensive war toys that were never even usedwhile ignoring the lesser-priced items, like body armor and night-vision goggles, that gruntson the ground actually relied on to survive. It had worked brilliantly for decades.

    Yet things were changing. People, it seemed, were growing tired of war. The attendance at theenormous trade conventions Ares put on annually had fallen for five years in a row. Now Ares’smarketing budget was bigger than its net income. That revealed only one truth: people weren’tbuying what Creel was selling.

    So he was currently sitting in a nice room in a building owned by his company. The big mansitting opposite him was dressed in jeans and combat boots, looking like a grizzly bear minusthe fur. His face was tanned and worn, with what looked like either a bullet crater or themother of all measles pocks on one cheek. His shoulders were thick and his hands huge andsomehow menacing.

    Creel didn’t shake hands.

    “It’s started,” he said.

    “I’ve seen comrade Konstantin.” The man could not resist a smirk when he said this. “Theyshould just award him the Oscar now.”

    Sixty Minutes is doing a story on it this weekend. Along with every other newsmagazine. Theidiot Gorshkov’s making it easy on us.”

    “What about the incident?”

    You’re the incident,” Creel pointed out.

    “It worked before without boots on the ground.”

    “I’m not interested in wars that stop at a hundred days or devolve into glorified ganglandstreet fights. That doesn’t even pay the light bill, Caesar.”

“Give me the plan and I’ll execute it, Mr. Creel, like always.”

    “Just be ready to go.”

    “It’s your dime,” said Caesar.

    “You bet it is.”

    On the chopper ride back to the Ares Building, Creel eyed the city’s concrete, glass, and

    You’re not in West Texas anymore, Nick.steel temples below.

    This, of course, wasn’t just about money. Or saving his company. Creel had enough money andregardless of what he did or didn’t do, Ares Corp. would survive. No, this was really aboutputting the world back into its proper structure. Things had been misaligned for long enough.Creel had grown weary of watching the weak and savage dictate to the strong and civilized. Hewas about to set things right. Some might claim he was playing God. Well, in a way he was. Buteven a benign god used violence and destruction to make his point. Creel intended to followthat model to the letter.

    Initially there would be pain.

    There would be loss.

    There always was. Indeed, his own father had been a victim of keeping the spectrum of worldpower on a firm footing, so Creel quite clearly understood the level of sacrifice required. Butin the end it would all be worth it.

    He settled back in his seat.

    The creator of Konstantin knew a little.

    Caesar knew a little.

    Only Nicolas Creel knew all.

    As gods always did.

    ?

    CHAPTER 3

    ?

    “WHAT’S THE ‘A’ STAND FOR?” the man asked in fluent English with a Dutch accent layeredover it.

    Shaw looked at the gentleman standing opposite him at Passport Control in Schiphol Airportfifteen kilometers southwest of Amsterdam. One of the busiest airports in the world, it restedfive meters below sea level with trillions of tons of swirling water nearby. Shaw had alwaysconsidered this the height of engineering daring. Yet much of the entire country was below sealevel, so they didn’t really have much of a choice on where to park the planes.

    “Excuse me?” Shaw said, though he well knew what the man was referring to.

    The fellow stabbed the photo page of Shaw’s passport with his finger.

    “There. Your given name is just the initial ‘A’. What does it stand for?”

    Shaw gazed at his passport while the Dutchman looked on.

    As befitted the tallest nation on earth, the passport man in his regulation uniform was sixfoot two, only one inch above a Dutchman’s average height, but still coming in three inchesunder Shaw’s imposing stature.

    “It doesn’t stand for anything,” Shaw answered. “My mother never gave me a Christian name,so I named myself for what I am. A Shaw. Because that is my surname, or at least it was my

    mother’s.”

    “And your father had no objection to his son not taking his name?”

    “You don’t need a father to deliver a baby, only to make one.”

    “And the hospital did not name you, then?”

“Are all babies born in hospitals?” Shaw jabbed back with a smile.

    The Dutchman stiffened and then his tone became less adversarial.

    “So Shaw. Irish, as in George Bernard?”

    The Dutch were a wonderfully informed people, Shaw had found. Well educated and curious, lovedto debate. He’d never had anyone before ask him about George Bernard Shaw.

    “Could be, but I’m Scottish. The Highlands. At least my ancestors came from there,” he addedquickly, since he was holding an American passport, one of a dozen he actually possessed. “Iwas born in Connecticut. Perhaps you’ve been there?”

    The man said eagerly, “No. But I would like very much to travel to America.”

    Shaw had seen that lustful look before. “Well, the streets aren’t really paved with gold andthe women aren’t all movie stars, but there’s a lot to do and lots of room to do it in.”

    “Maybe one day,” the passport man said wistfully before reassuming his duties. “Are you hereon business or pleasure?”

    “Both. Why come all this way and have to choose?”

    The man chuckled. “Anything to declare?”

    Ik heb niets aan te geven.”

    “You speak Dutch?” he said in a surprised tone.

    “Doesn’t everyone?”

    The man laughed and smacked Shaw’s passport with an old-fashioned ink stamp instead of thehigh-tech devices some countries were using. These, Shaw had heard, implanted a digitaltracking device on the paper. He’d always preferred ink to tracking devices.

    “Enjoy your visit,” said Shaw’s new Dutch friend as he handed back the passport.

    “I intend to,” Shaw replied as he walked toward the exit and the train that would carry himto Centraal Station in Amsterdam in about twenty minutes.

    From there it would only get more exciting. But first he had a role to play.

    Because he had an audience.

    In fact, they were watching him right now.

    ?

    CHAPTER 4

    ?

    THE CAB SHAW TOOK from the train station dropped him off at the grand Amstel IntercontinentalHotel. It housed seventy-nine rooms of great beauty, many with enviable views of the riverAmstel, although Shaw was not here for the views.

    Adhering to his role-playing over the next three days, Shaw was a tourist in town. There werefew places more suited to that enterprise than Amsterdam, a city of 750,000 people, only halfof them Dutch-born. He took a boat ride, enthusiastically snapping pictures of a city with morecanals than Venice and nearly thirteen thousand bridges in a space of barely two hundred squarekilometers, of which one-fourth was water.

    Shaw was especially drawn to the houseboats, nearly three thousand of them, docked along thecanals. They appealed to him because they represented roots. Even though they were floating onwater, these boats never moved. They were handed down from one generation to the next or soldoutright. What might that feel like, he wondered, to have such ties to one place?

    He later donned shorts and running shoes and jogged across the wide-open spaces of Oosterparknear his hotel. In a very real sense Shaw had been running his whole life. Well, if things wentaccording to plan that was going to end. Either that or he’d end up dead. He would gladly takethe risk. In a way, he was dead already.

    Sipping a coffee at the Bulldog, Amsterdam’s most famous café chain, Shaw watched people goabout their business. And he also eyed the men who were so very clearly watching him. It waspathetic, really, observing folks undertaking surveillance who didn’t have the least clue asto how to do it properly.

    The next day he lunched at one of his favorite restaurants in the city, run by an elderlyItalian. The man’s wife sat at one table reading the newspaper all day while her husband actedas maître d’, waiter, chef, busboy, dishwasher, and cashier. The place only had four barstoolsand five tables, not counting the wife’s domain, and prospective customers had to stand in thedoorway and be scrutinized by the husband. If he nodded, you were allowed to eat. If he turnedaway, you found another place to dine.

    Shaw had never been turned away. Perhaps it was his imposing physical stature, or his magneticblue eyes that seemed to snatch one up in their powerful embrace. But most likely it wasbecause the owner and he had once worked together, and it wasn’t in the field of food andbeverage.

    That night Shaw put on a suit and attended the opera at the Muziektheater. After theperformance was over he could’ve walked back to his hotel, but he chose instead to head in theopposite direction. Tonight was why he’d really come to Holland. He was a tourist no longer.

    As he approached the red-light district he observed some activity down a dark and particularlynarrow alleyway. A little boy stood there in the shadows. Next to him was a rough-looking manwith his zipper down and one large hand stuffed in the boy’s pants.

    In an instant Shaw had changed direction. He slipped into the alley and placed a blow to theback of the man’s head. It was a measured strike, designed to stun, not kill, though Shaw wassorely tempted to finish off the predator. As the man fell unconscious to the pavement Shawcrammed a hundred euros in the boy’s hand and sent him off with a hard push and a dire warningin Dutch. As the child’s frantic footfalls echoed away, Shaw knew the boy would at least notstarve or die tonight.

    As he resumed his original route he noted for the first time that the old stock exchange wasdirectly across from the hookers in the red-light. This struck him as odd until he thoughtabout it. Cash and prostitution had always been bedfellows. He wondered if some of the ladiesaccepted company shares in lieu of euros as payment.

    Even more ironic than the exchange’s close proximity to the whores was that the red-lightdistrict completely surrounded Oude Kerk, or Old Church, the city’s most ancient and largesthouse of worship. Built in 1306 as a simple wooden chapel, it had been constantly tinkered withand enlarged for the next two centuries. One jokester had even inlaid a brass pair of breastsinto the pavement by the front entrance. Shaw had been inside a few times. What had struck himwas the series of carvings on the choir benches depicting men having massive bowel movements.He could only assume that masses must have been really long in those days.

    Saints and sinners, God and hookers, mused Shaw as he reached the middle of this strip ofiniquity. The Dutch called the area the Walletjes, or “Little Walls.” Presumably whathappened behind the Walletjes stayed there. Tonight he was counting on that.

    The red-light district was not that large, perhaps two canals long, but there was a lot packedinto that pair of blocks. At night the prostitutes on duty here were the most beautiful. Manywere stunning eastern Europeans who’d been brought to the country under false pretenses andthen become “trapped in the trade,” as it was delicately termed. Ironically, the nighthookers were mostly for show. After all, who wanted to step through the libidinous portals withthousands watching? In the mornings and afternoons the district was quieter and that’s whenthe serious customers paid their visits to the far less comely but efficient ladies of thesecond and third eight-hour shifts.

    The whores’ rooms were difficult to miss, as they were all outlined in red neon tubing thatwas nearly blinding. The rooms also had fluorescent lighting such that the skimpy clothing thegirls wore blazed like a summer sun. Shaw passed window after window where women stood,

    sometimes dancing, sometimes posing erotically. In truth most people who came here came togawk, not fornicate, although the beds still racked up roughly half a billion euros in salesyearly.

    Shaw kept his head down, his feet carrying him to one particular destination. He was almostthere.

    ?

    CHAPTER 5

    ?

    THE LADY IN THE WINDOW was young and beautiful with raven hair that swirled around her bareshoulders. She was wearing only a white thong, spiked heels, and a cheap necklace wedgedbetween her large breasts, the nipples of which were covered with sunflower pasties. Aninteresting choice, Shaw thought.

    He kept eye contact with her as he threaded through the masses. The woman met him at the door,where he confirmed his interest. Even in her heels she was a foot shorter than him. In thewindow she’d looked bigger. Things on display often did look bigger. And better. When you gotyour purchase home, it didn’t seem nearly as special.

    She shut the door and then closed the red curtains, the only sign one would get that the roomand the lady were occupied now.

    The space was small, with a sink, toilet, and, of course, a bed. Set next to the sink was abutton. It was the one the hookers pushed in an emergency. Then the police would suddenlyappear and drag away the customer who’d gone too far to satisfy himself. This was one of thebest-patrolled areas in the city — anything to keep the tax revenue coming. Shaw saw a seconddoor in the back wall and then glanced away. In the next room the sounds of another happycustomer were coming through loud and clear. Hooker digs were set side by side with cheapdrywall or sometimes only a curtain in between. The business clearly did not require much spaceor frills in which to operate.

    “You’re very good-looking,” she said in Dutch. “And large,” she added, gazing up at him.“Are you as big all over? Because I am not so big down there,” she added, now staringpointedly at his crotch.

    Spreekt u Engels?” Shaw said.

    She nodded. “I speak English. It’s thirty euros for twenty minutes. But I’ll do an hour forseventy-five. It’s a special, just for you,” she added matter-of-factly. She handed him alist in Dutch but that was also repeated at the bottom of the page in ten different languagesincluding English, French, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic. It was entitled, “Things I Will andWon’t Do.”

    Shaw passed her back the paper. “Is your friend here?” he asked. “I’ve been waiting a longtime to meet him.” He glanced toward the second door.

    She appraised him in a different way now. “Yes, he is here.”

    She turned and led him to the door set in the back wall. Her exposed butt cheeks, though firm,still quivered slightly as she performed an exaggerated model’s sashay in front of him. Hedidn’t know if she did that out of habit or because the stilettos were too unstable.

    The woman opened the door and motioned Shaw in. She left him there facing the old man seated ata small table where a plain meal had been laid: a wedge of cheese, a piece of cod, a fist ofbread, and a bottle of wine.

    The man’s face was a cache of wrinkles, the white beard scraggly and the small belly soft andround. The eyes peered out from under tufts of ramshackle snowy hair badly in need of pruning.The eyes caught on Shaw’s and held.

    The man motioned to the table. “Hungry? Thirsty?”

    There was a second chair but Shaw chose not to use it. Indeed, if he had attempted to sit down,the man might have shot him, for there was a gun grasped in his left hand pointed right at Shawand the prearranged instructions had been explicit. One did not sit. One did not eat or drinkif one wanted to live.

    Shaw’s gaze had already swept the tiny room. The only entry was the doorway he’d comethrough. He’d positioned himself so that he could keep one eye on this portal and one eye onthe man. And his gun.

    He shook his head and said, “Thank you, but I already ate at the De Groene Lanteerne.” It wasa cheap place with traditional Dutch food served in a room that was three hundred years old andlooked it.

    The dopey code words out of the way, the man rose, slid a piece of paper from his pocket, andhanded it to Shaw.

    Shaw glanced at the address and other information on the paper, ripped it up, and tossed thepieces into the toilet set against one wall and flushed it. Seemingly on cue the old man put ona beaten-up hat and patched coat and left.

    Shaw could not leave yet. Sexual encounters typically lasted a bit longer than two minutes evenfor the teenage first-timers. And you never knew who was watching. Well, actually, he did.There were several of them.

    He stepped back into the main room where the lady was stretched out, catlike, on her cot. Thecurtain was still drawn; her meter was still running.

    “Do you want to screw me now?” the woman asked in a slightly bored tone as she started toslide the thong down her legs. “It’s been paid for,” she added if he needed any inducement.

    off the list for another thirty euros.”“A full hour. And I will go

    Nee, dank u,” he replied, smiling politely. If you were going to turn a lady down in thematter of sex, better you say it in her own language.

    “Why not? Is there a problem?” she said, obviously offended.

    “I’m married,” he said simply.

    “So are most of the men who see me.”

    “I’m sure.”

    “Where is your wedding ring?” she asked suspiciously.

    “Never wear it at work.”

    “You’re sure you don’t want me?” Her tone of disbelief was as clearly etched as the look ofincredulity on her face.

    He hid his bemusement. She must be really new because her vanity was largely intact. The olderwhores would surely jump at the chance for full pay that included no humping.

    “Absolutely sure.”

    She slid her thong back up. “Pity.”

    “Yes, pity,” he said. Actually, if things went according to plan, in two days hence he’d bein Dublin with the only woman he’d ever really loved. And also the reason why he had to getout. Now.

    Still, even Shaw had to acknowledge, it was a big if. In his line of work, tomorrow was justanother day to die.

    ?

    CHAPTER 6

    ?

    THERE IS ALWAYS A DAMN Tunisian, Moroccan, or Egyptian involved. Always. Shaw said this to

    himself. One slip with these gents and they’d rip your gonads off and force-feed them to youand say that Allah had told them to do it if they bothered to give you a reason at all. See you

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