Authors: Andrew Grant
Minotaur Books New York
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A THOMAS DUNNE BOOK FOR MINOTAUR BOOKS.
An imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.
EVEN. Copyright © 2009 by Andrew Grant. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N. Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Grant, Andrew, 1968–
Even / Andrew Grant.—1st ed.
“A Thomas Dunne book for Minotaur Books”—T.p. verso.
1. Intelligence officers—Fiction. 2. International relations—Fiction. 3. Conspiracy—Fiction. I. Title.
First Edition: May 2009
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Janet Reid and Pete Wolverton; my agent,my editor, and now my friends
When I saw the body, my first thought was to just keep on walking.
This one had nothing to do with me.
There was no logical reason to get involved.
I managed two more steps. If the alleyway had been a little cleaner, there’s a chance I might have kept on going. Or if the guy had been left with a little more dignity, the scene might not have bothered me so much. But the way he’d been discarded—dumped like a piece of garbage—I couldn’t let it pass.
Maybe it was because I’ve had a few close calls in filthy alleyways myself, over the years. Or maybe because I have nowhere to really call “home,” either. But whatever the reason, I could feel a strange connection with the washed-up tramp. It was too late to give him any practical help—he was clearly dead—but I thought I could at least get someone to come and take care of his remains. I felt I owed it to him. Or even to myself. If I was a Good Samaritan for this helpless guy now, perhaps someone would do the same for me when my time came. I didn’t relish the idea of my bones returning to dust in a heap of cheeseburger wrappers and used condoms.
I stepped into the alley. The body was four yards away. It was lyingon its back with its feet toward the sidewalk. Its arms were stretched out the opposite way, pointing back into the narrow passageway. The wrists were close together—not tied—and the hands were partly obscured by the debris that covered the ground.
I moved closer and saw there were bullet holes in the tramp’s clothing. I counted six. But it wasn’t the number that caught my eye. It was the pattern. A neat T shape. Four across the chest, level with the shoulders, and two below, straight down the sternum. Very precise shooting. The work of a professional. A police marksman, maybe, or a soldier. Not something you’d associate with a dead tramp. And not something you can easily ignore.
Thoughts of calling the authorities suddenly took a backseat.
I examined the body from all sides. It was crumpled and slack, like a puppet with its strings cut. The best I could do with age would be ten years either side of fifty-five. There was no way to be more precise. His hair was graying and unwashed, and there was three or four days’ stubble on the tramp’s face. His nails were ragged and dirty but his hands were smooth, and he had the clothes of an office worker. He was wearing a navy blue cashmere overcoat, a gray single-breasted suit, a fine-weave oxford shirt—originally white or cream?—and a pair of scuffed, black, wing tip shoes. I had a picture in my mind of a ruined lawyer or stockbroker. He had quality garments, but all of them were stretched out of shape and each one had a variety of tears and holes and stains. The coat and jacket had lost all their buttons. The pants were held up with string. The leather soles were hanging off his shoes in several places. He’d lost his tie. Wall Street was only a few blocks away. If he had been some kind of professional, what a fall from grace the guy had suffered. He stank. I could smell piss and puke and booze. He was seriously unpleasant to be near.
I went through his pockets. I had to work slowly, because he was covered in blood and I didn’t have any gloves. I started with his coat. At first it seemed to be empty, but as I pulled it open I found that a hard rectangular object had slipped through a hole into the lining. I worked it clear and saw it was a flat glass bottle, half full of a clear, colorlessliquid. The label said it was vodka. I didn’t recognize the brand. There was nothing else hidden away with it, so I moved on to his jacket. The first inside pocket was completely torn away, but I found something in the other side. The tramp’s wallet. It was still there. Whoever had killed him hadn’t bothered to take it.
The wallet was slim. It was made of shiny black leather, and it looked old. The corners had worn away, it was in holes where it folded, and the silk lining was torn inside. It was slightly curved, as if he normally carried it in the back pocket of his trousers. The credit card spaces were all empty, but where the cash would normally be I found a dog-eared Social Security card. It gave his name—Alan James McNeil—and a number, 900–14–0471.
I put the wallet back and stood up. My next step would be to work back along the trail where the body had been dragged through the garbage. I wanted to find the exact spot where McNeil had been killed, and see if anything there would explain why the body had been moved or how the guy had ended up as a victim. But before I could start, I latched on to a sound from behind me. A vehicle. Moving fast. Coming in my direction. It could have been a coincidence, but I was doubtful. There had been no other traffic all the time I’d been in the alley. And the way the body had been left, it was possible someone was coming back for it. Someone with questions to answer.
I moved into the shadows at the mouth of the alley and looked out, down the street. I was right. A car was approaching. A large, pale blue Ford sedan with white lettering on the side and a lighting bar on the roof. An NYPD radio car. I couldn’t risk being found lurking at a crime scene so I stepped forward to beckon it over, but before I could raise my hand the driver gave a short burst with his lights and siren. Then the car surged toward me. I watched it come closer and swing into the alley, wallowing on its suspension as it bounced over the curb. I had to step back or it would have hit me.
The car doors opened and two policemen climbed out. The driver drew his pistol. He held it two-handed, above the door frame, pointing steadily at my chest. The passenger was holding a short-barreledshotgun. Given the width of the alley, it didn’t much matter where he was pointing it.
“Stand still,” the driver said. “Don’t move.”
The officers were both around five feet ten. They were powerfully built and looked in good shape. Neither seemed fazed by the situation. They’d moved calmly and swiftly when they got out of the car, reacting in perfect unison without needing to glance across or speak to each other. Now they were standing stock still, concentrating, alert without being anxious. Their neat blue uniforms summed them up perfectly. They were nowhere near brand-new, but still a long way from worn out. Trying anything with these guys would clearly be a mistake.
“Hands where I can see them,” the driver said. “Slowly. Do it now.”
You could see where this was going. They had the wrong end of the stick, but I knew there was no point trying to change their minds. Uniformed police are the same the world over. Once they set out to do something, they do it. Argue with them, and you just make it worse. So I raised my hands to shoulder height, fingers extended, palms toward them.
The passenger slotted his shotgun back in its cradle and came round toward me. As he moved closer I could see the nameKLEINengraved on a shiny plate beneath the shield on his chest.
“Hands on the hood,” he said, reaching around to push me between the shoulder blades with his right hand.
I leaned on the front of the car and he jabbed at my ankles with his right foot. I shuffled my legs a couple of inches farther apart, and looked over at the driver. His badge gave the nameKAUFMANN. I focused on it while Klein patted me down. He worked fast. He started with my left arm, running both his hands all the way down from my shoulder to my wrist. He did the same with my right arm, then checked my body, my waist, both legs, both ankles, and the pockets of my coat and jeans. He found nothing.
“Clear,” he said from behind me. “No gun.”
Kaufmann nodded, but he didn’t relax in the slightest. His weapon was motionless. My eyes were drawn to the muzzle. It was still pointing at my chest. The tramp had been shot in the chest. Minutes ago, a few feet from where I was standing. I felt the skin covering my ribs begin to tingle.
“I’ll tell CSU,” Kaufmann said. “Don’t worry. They’ll find it.”
Klein pulled my left arm around behind my back. I heard the snap of a heavy press stud being unfastened, then a ratchet closed rapidly. Cold metal bit into the skin of my wrist. He grabbed my right arm, pulling me upright at the same time, and secured the second handcuff.
“What’s your name?” he said.
I didn’t answer.
“Where’s your ID?”
The cuffs were digging into both my wrists. He’d tightened them far more than he needed to.
“What happened here?”
I looked at the front of their car. There were a few minor chips and scratches in the paintwork, and a small crack in one of the headlight lenses.
“Did you kill that guy?”
Lower down, on the fender, there was a sticker offering a reward if you phoned a special number after a cop had been shot.
“OK, I’ve had enough. You’re coming back to the station house. Let the detectives sort this out.”
Klein took my left arm just above the elbow and led me to his side of the car. He opened the back door, reached up to put his hand flat on my head, and guided me inside. He made sure I was clear, then slammed the door behind me. The seat was square and hard. The car was wide, but there wasn’t much room for my legs because of a thick glass screen that rose up from the floor, isolating the rear of the cabin. The surface was scratched and cloudy, obscuring my view through the windshield. I sprawled out sideways and tried to keep my weight off my hands.
The air in the back of the car was warm and stale. I could smell industrial disinfectant. It had a strong sweet scent, but it wasn’t quite enough to cover the lingering odor of dirty, sticky humans. I looked around and saw there were greasy marks on the window next to me. From people’s foreheads. Previous occupants must have rested against the glass. I started to breathe through my mouth. I wished there was some way I could keep my hands off the upholstery.
After five minutes another car arrived. It parked carelessly, sticking out from the curb at a lazy angle next to the entrance to the alley. It was another Ford. The same model as the radio car but with plain, dark blue paintwork. It needed a wash. There was a red, flashing beacon on the dashboard. Two men got out without switching it off. They appeared to be in their fifties, and were wearing suits and raincoats with gold shields hanging from their breast pockets. The men moved slowly and deliberately. Both looked a little overweight.
An unmarked, white box van pulled up on the other side of the car. Two men in navy blue overalls jumped down and walked over to join Kaufmann and Klein. As they came closer I could see woven clothNYPDbadges on their sleeves. One of them turned back toward their vehicle for a moment, and I readCRIME SCENE UNITin tall white letters on his back.
The technicians started looking into the alley. The guys in suits looked into the car, at me. The taller one came over to my side and peered at me through the glass, like a kid drawn to a repugnant reptile at the zoo. His shield identified him as a detective, but it didn’t give a name. Only a number set into the metal at the top. After twenty seconds of staring he called the others together. Kaufmann and Klein closed their doors so I couldn’t hear what was being said. I watched them talk for a couple of minutes. They were very animated. Then the group moved to the front of the car. I could make out lots of hand movement from the uniformed officers. They kept gesturing and pointing at the body, at me, at things in the alley, and at something out on the street. I couldn’t make out what it was.
The taller detective brought the conference to a close, and the officerscame and got back into the car. Neither of them looked at me. Kaufmann started the engine and backed out into the street. Then the car pitched forward and we sped away from the alley.
And, I thought, away from any more trouble.
Ask me where I live these days, and I’d struggle to find an answer.
I do have an address, obviously, but that doesn’t help much. It would just point you to a half-empty apartment in the Barbican, in London. One bedroom, Cromwell Tower, nearer the top than the bottom. I’ve owned it for years. Bank statements still get sent there, and copies of bills, but that’s about all. I haven’t set foot through the door in seven months. The time before it was fifteen months. Home for me has become a succession of hotel rooms. Different cities, different countries, one after the other, rarely a break in between. Memories of one place blur into the next. That’s been the way for fifteen years now, so I’m comfortable with it. But I still recall the first hotel I ever stayed in. It was in Edinburgh, not long after I left college. I was broke. A soft drinks company was looking for recruits. For sales and marketing. I didn’t know much about either, but the money was good so I gave it a shot. I filled in the forms. Then they invited twenty of us up to their local Holiday Inn so they could pick out the five best candidates. We were there for one night. When I went to check out the next morning, the receptionist asked if I’d enjoyed my stay. I said apart from the work, yes. And I was about to go when I heard someone else being asked the same question. A guy called Gordon, from Cambridge. Only his reply was very different. He wasn’t satisfied at all. His pillows had been toosoft. His towels had been too rough. And worst of all, they’d sent up the wrong kind of honey with his breakfast.
They may have sounded petty, but Gordon’s complaints really unsettled me. I could hardly move my feet to walk away. Each word felt like a sharp finger poking through my skin and gouging at my innards. How had such a shallow little weasel spotted all those flaws when they’d completely passed me by? What was wrong with me?
I mulled over the whole episode on the journey home and eventually the answer came to me. It was actually dead simple. I’d really been aware of it my whole life, in a vague kind of way. Gordon’s bleating had just brought it into focus. It came down to this. What you see depends on what you look for. You can enjoy the positives, or seek out the negatives. It’s your choice.
I’d gone one way, he’d gone the other.
I still take that path, as far as I can. I don’t know about him. Because they didn’t offer me the job.
I love the city at night. I prefer it to the day. The darkness draws out a wider spectrum of people, not just shoppers and office workers. Sounds carry farther. Everything you see feels closer and more personal. And the shadows are never far away, whenever you need them.
Kaufmann drove fast. Neither officer spoke. Away from the alley the streets were still busy. They were full of cars and taxis and limos and vans. A few people were still out walking. There were tall buildings all around, made of brick and stone and glass and concrete. They were squashed in on top of each other, bearing down, connecting you to the darkness up above.
The journey didn’t last long. Less than six minutes. The station house was only a dozen blocks away and Kaufmann took a direct route, basically northwest, toward the Hudson. He stopped outside an eight-story, stone-fronted building midway down a side street. Police cruisers and unmarked sedans were parked at forty-five degrees from the curb, jutting out evenly like fish bones. We joined the end of the row. Klein cameround and opened my door. I shuffled out and he led me to the end of a metal railing that separated the sidewalk from the street. Kaufmann caught up with us and we followed him along to a pair of solid, studded wooden doors at the center of the façade. Big keystones were set all around the doorway and on either side a bright green lantern was hanging on a metal bracket.
Inside, the reception area was small and cramped. It smelled of dust and floor polish, like a school. The walls were painted apple green, which is supposed to be a calming color, and there were notices plastered everywhere. About a quarter showed monochrome photofit images of people the police wanted to question, and the rest gave pedantic warnings about every conceivable petty misdemeanor from smoking in the building to dropping litter in the interview rooms.
Kaufmann approached the reception desk and rested his elbows on the wooden counter. Another uniformed officer emerged from a back room and leaned over to talk to him. The pair of them spoke for a minute. They seemed to know each other. This was probably a familiar ritual. I wouldn’t be the first person Kaufmann had dragged in at the dead of night. Finally the officer behind the desk laughed and slapped Kaufmann on the shoulder. He pressed a button, and a gate in a waist-high glass barrier to our right swung open. Klein ushered me through, then led the way down a flight of stairs that followed around three sides of a square elevator shaft.
The next corridor opened up into a broad square lobby area. The far wall was divided into two sections. The right-hand part was wider. It was made of metal. The surface was painted gray, with large rivets set into it at regular intervals. The remainder was blocked off by dull, dirty white metal bars. The other walls were made of whitewashed stone, and the floor had been covered with some kind of speckled, shiny material. It felt like being in a cellar. The atmosphere was cold and vaguely damp. There were only three windows. They were long and narrow, set high up in the left-hand wall. All were closed. It didn’t look as if they could be opened. There were no handles, and they were covered by thick metal bars.
A uniformed officer sat behind a battered wooden desk to our right.He was hunched over, concentrating on a computer screen. His badge gave the nameJACKMAN. When he saw us he pushed the mouse away and stood up.
“Evening, fellas,” he said. “What have you got for me?”
“Just this one guy,” Kaufmann said. “Collar off a homicide on Mulberry Street.”
“You’re in luck, then. Got one vacancy left. Who caught the case?”
“Don’t know. Norman and Johns were at the scene. Said they’d be leaving it for the day tour.”
“No problem. I’ll find out later. What’s the guy’s name?”
“Don’t know. He wouldn’t say.”
“OK then—let’s have a look at him.”
Jackman took a shiny metal dish from a filing cabinet behind him and came around to our side of the desk. He worked his way methodically through my pockets and put each piece of my property in turn into the dish. He ended up with eighty cents in change, eighteen dollars in bills, and the card key from my hotel. He added my watch to the pile. It still didn’t look like much. Jackman stood and studied the dish, gently stirring the contents with his stubby index finger as if weighing up whether there was enough for a bona fide citizen to be carrying. After a moment he frowned, put the dish back down on the desk, and searched me all over again. He pinched his fingers along the seams of my clothes, squeezed the edges of my collar, and inspected the inside of my boots. It was a much more thorough job than Klein had done in the alley, but it turned up nothing more.
Jackman took the dish over to the other side of the desk and tipped the contents into a clear plastic bag. It was twelve inches tall by eight wide. Large enough for a gun or a knife. No wonder he seemed so disappointed with my sorry collection. He sealed the top, and held it up to the light as if to emphasize how little my possessions amounted to. Then he stuck a label on the bag and dropped it into the top drawer of the cabinet. Without looking he nudged the drawer with his elbow, and while it was still grinding slowly back into place on its worn runners he made his way around to the bars.
Klein took his gun out of its holster and laid it on the corner of the desk. Then he grabbed my elbow and pushed me forward. Jackman took a bunch of keys from his belt. They were large and heavy, something you might imagine a medieval jailer would use. He unlocked the center section of bars and swung them open. They hinged outward, toward us. Klein shoved me through the gap. Jackman followed him, then pulled the gate back into place and made sure it was secure.
The wall to the left was blank. So was the one at the far end. To the right was a row of cells. There were five. They were identical. The front walls were made of bars. There was a gate in the center of each, all with a heavy lock. The sides were gray metal, three inches thick, filled with broad rivet heads. I realized the panel you could see from the lobby was the outside of the first cell. The rear walls were whitewashed stone. They were all covered in graffiti. It was scratched, rather than written or painted. A pair of benches ran parallel with the side walls. They were made of metal and had been bolted to the floor. The only other item in each cell was a toilet. The bowls stuck out from the rear wall. They were also made of metal—stainless steel—and none of them had a seat.
Klein led me past the first four cells. They were all occupied. There was a single person in the one nearest the lobby. A young guy. He had stained, shapeless clothes, lank greasy hair, and sunken features. He was standing hunched over near the toilet, looking wide-eyed and confused. There were five people in the second cell and four in each of the next two, but I could see the door to the last one in the row was standing open. It was folded back on itself, flush with the bars. When we reached it Klein let go of my arm. Jackman took over. He pushed me into the cell, and kept going until my shins were touching the toilet bowl. My nose told me it was a while since anyone had cleaned it.
“Look straight at the wall,” he said. “Now, keep looking at it. When I uncuff your left wrist, immediately put your hand on top of your head. Do the same when I uncuff your right wrist. Understand?”
I didn’t reply, but he released my wrists anyway.
“Good,” he said. “Now, stand still. Do not move until you hear me close the cell door. Understand?”
I listened to his footsteps retreat across the cell floor. It sounded as though he were walking backward. He stopped, and the door slammed shut, squealing on its hinges as it was dragged through 180 degrees. I heard the keys jangle as he worked the lock, and then two sets of footsteps receded down the corridor.
The graffiti in my cell was fascinating. It covered every inch of stone from floor to ceiling. People must have stood on the benches and even the toilet to find space. I saw people’s names, gang names, sports teams, including one English soccer club, political slogans, insults about the police, opinions of rock bands and movie stars. But mainly obscenities. And for some reason those were mostly in clumsy attempts at rhyming couplets, so they really made no sense at all.
I gave it a couple more minutes, then picked a spot on one of the benches and tried to get some rest. It wasn’t easy. The giant rivets kept digging into my spine and shoulder blades so I had to slide my back to and fro along the wall until I found a comfortable position. But even then, wherever I looked in that narrow space my eyes couldn’t avoid settling on one cold, hard object or another. The toilet, the other bench, the bars, the floor, the walls. This was definitely not what I’d had in mind for my last night in New York. I’d worked hard. I’d done a good job. I deserved a night to myself. But on the other hand, if the last few days had worked out even a whisker differently, I might not have had any time left to spend anywhere. Maybe this was just fate balancing the scales a little.
Without consciously intending to, my hand moved up to touch the back of my head. It was still sore. Two nights ago someone I was working with made a mistake. It was their miscalculation, but I was the one to pay the price. A piece of flying glass had cut me. A big piece. It had sliced my skin, right through to the bone. So I had to admit, annoying as the situation was, things could have been a lot worse. It wasn’t as if I’d never been locked up before. It comes with the territory. As cells go, this one wasn’t too bad. It was a bit small maybe, and pretty spartan, but relatively clean. And I was in there on my own. There’s nothing worse than being crammed in with a horde of unwashed lowlifes, spewing out theirfoul breath and trampling on your feet. Plus, I wouldn’t be in there long. Not like the hopeless cases you normally find in these places. Sad, desperate people clinging to the fruitless fantasy they weren’t going to spend the rest of their lives in jail. For me, clearly, it was only a temporary problem. A bump in the road. Nothing more.
Because in a few hours, I’d be on a plane back to London.
I first moved house when I was still in kindergarten.
It was because of my dad’s job. He worked for the government and for some reason they found it essential to transplant us from Birmingham to London. One large English city to another. On the face of it, not too big a change. But for a six-year-old, different worlds.
Looking back, violence was inevitable. I had a different accent. A different vocabulary. I was used to different rituals and routines. And it was the 1970s, after all. With hindsight, what happened the first time I set foot in the playground wasn’t a huge surprise. For a moment I stood on my own, looking around, getting my bearings. Then I noticed a group of kids coming toward me. I counted about twenty. All boys. At first I was pleased, thinking they wanted to play or to make friends. Two of them came right up close. The rest gathered around. They formed a tight circle. And started to chant.
Fight, fight, fight.
I’d never encountered a situation like that before. My old school had been happy and peaceful. I had no experience to base my response on. Only instinct. And it was telling me the danger had to be snuffed out fast, before things got out of control. I focused on the two boys in front of me. They were the biggest. Clearly a year or two older than therest. One was a little taller than the other. And a little broader. That made him more of a threat, so I decided he had to go down first.
I was surprised, but one punch was all it took. It left him rolling on the ground, a mess of blood and snot and tears. Then I turned to his pal. Only I couldn’t hit him. He’d already run away, along with the rest of their little gang. And after that, until the day I left, they never came near me again.
It wasn’t a very good school. That was the only lesson I learned, the whole time I was there.
But I can’t complain. It’s served me well over the years.
I woke to the sound of footsteps on the far side of the gate. They were approaching the lobby. I could hear three sets. Two were confident and purposeful. The other was shuffling and reluctant. They drew closer, then stopped. I heard voices. One was Officer Jackman, starting the property-bagging ritual. The others were unfamiliar. I guessed it was around 2:30A.M., Monday morning. I’d most likely been asleep on the bench for less than two hours.
Two of the cells only had a single occupant. Mine, and the one nearest the gate. If the guy in that one was as stoned as he looked, I knew they wouldn’t risk putting anyone in with him. Which meant I was about to get a new cellmate. I sighed to myself and leaned across to get a better view down the corridor.
Jackman was the first to appear. Behind him, two more uniformed officers were struggling with a prisoner. He was quite tall—about six feet two, only a couple of inches shorter than me—but incredibly wide. Everything about him seemed distorted. His legs, his arms, his chest, his neck—they all looked stretched sideways, like a regular TV picture on a wide-screen set. He was wearing tight, dark blue jeans with white patches bleached into them, army-style boots with the leather stripped away to expose the steel toe caps, and a faded burgundy sleeveless sweat top. His head was completely shaved. He had a flat, square face apart from his nose, which was crooked from being broken too often. But themost eye-catching thing about him was the tattoo on his neck. It was a line of swastikas. They were scarlet, outlined in black, and drawn so that the hooks at the end of each arm were joined together in an unbroken ring.
Jackman opened the door and the two officers heaved the Nazi into my cell. They really put some effort into it, but he still came to a halt after one step. Jackman followed, but didn’t try to push him any further. The officers stayed close and drew their nightsticks. They looked tense. Their eyes didn’t leave the big guy’s back. One of them had grazed knuckles on his right hand. The other had red patches on his forehead and a cut about an inch long to the side of his left eye. Maybe they were afraid the Nazi might kick off again. Or maybe they were hoping he would.
Jackman began to gingerly remove the Nazi’s handcuffs. They were stretched to their widest setting to fit around his huge wrists. There was no “keep looking at the wall” speech this time, but the Nazi put his hands on his head anyway, without being told. I guess he was no stranger to the routine, and he wasn’t stupid enough to give the officers behind him any excuse to go to work with their nightsticks.
The Nazi remained completely still until the officers had locked up and pulled back to the lobby. Then he glanced over his shoulder to make sure I was watching, and stretched his arms up high over his head. The stench of stale sweat grew stronger. With his arms still extended, he unlaced his fingers and showed me that the way he’d been holding them, it was as if he’d been giving a V sign to the officers behind him. He half turned toward me, and the solid slabs of his cheeks folded into a huge smile. He began to chuckle, and finally broke into a braying laugh.
I kept my expression as neutral as possible and looked away, keeping track of him out of the corner of my eye. His laughter slowly trailed off and an embarrassed, sulky frown spread across his face. Then, slowly and deliberately, he turned to fully face me.
“The hell are you?” he said, as if seeing me for the first time.
“No one for you to worry about,” I said.
“The hell you doing in my cell?”
“But that could change. . . .”
“The hell you doing on my bench?”
“Oh—this is your bench?”
“Yeah. And I want to sit down, asshole.”
“Sit on the other bench.”
“Then stay standing up.”
“I want to sit on my bench. Now.”
“What makes it your bench?”
“I’m telling you it is.”
“It’s your property?”
“You own it?”
“So what happened? Did you buy it?”
“The police department sell it to you?”
“Your mummy write your name on it, so you wouldn’t lose it in the playground?”
“Or did the guards name it after you? ‘The Imbecile Nazi Memorial Bench?’ In memory of your brain? Assuming you once had one.”
He took a moment before trying to answer this time, and I watched as his giant fists balled up by his sides.
“Last chance,” he said, stressing each word individually. “Off the bench. Right now.”
“What’s your name?” I said.
“Simple question. What’s your name?”
“Well, Derek, let me ask you one last thing. ‘No’ is a short word. Which part are you struggling with?”
For ten seconds he loomed over me, pulling a pained expression as though I were a dim-witted acquaintance who was trying his patience. Then he shrugged, sighed, and made as if to turn and walk away. But instead of putting any distance between us he immediately spun back around toward me, using the momentum to throw a huge right-handed punch straight at my face. It was powerful. He had all his weight behind it. I would have had a serious problem if he’d hit his target. But subtlety wasn’t his strong suit. I watched what he was doing, and at the last moment I whipped my head across six inches to the right. It was far enough. His fist flew past my ear and tried to bury itself in the metal surface of the wall. I could feel the vibration running right down my spine. I don’t know how many bones he broke, but from the pitch of his screams as he clutched his hand and staggered back toward the toilet, I’d guess most of them.
I checked the corridor. There was no sign of anyone coming to investigate.
“On the gate,” I called. “Officer Jackman. This guy has a problem. You need to move him out of here. He needs help.”
There was no reply.
“Out of luck, asshole,” the Nazi said, taking a step toward me. “They never move me. Takes three of them. So it’s just you and me till morning. And I ain’t the one gonna need help.”
“Derek, it’s only a bench,” I said. “It’s not worth getting hurt over.”
“I’m not gonna get hurt,” he said, taking another step. “You are.”
“Derek, I’ve given you one chance. I’m not giving you another. Now sit down and be quiet.”
He stayed where he was for another thirty seconds. Just long enough for me to hope he might have the sense to let it drop. But no. People like him never do. He started to move toward me again. I eased onto my feet and backed up against the bars, ready to go.
“Derek, don’t do this,” I said. “It’s really not worth it.”
He took a final step, close enough for me to nearly choke on his vile breath. Then he smiled and shaped up to hit me with his left hand. It was a good idea, but again he lacked sufficient finesse. He just couldn’tdisguise the movement in his right leg as he pulled it back, getting ready to kick me. So before he could complete his move I launched myself off the bars and swung my left elbow around, driving it into his temple.
He was already off balance preparing for the kick, so the force of the blow knocked him right off his feet. He fell backward, spinning around toward the side wall. The back of his head crashed into the metal. He slumped down, smashing his right temple into the bench. His momentum kept him going and he half bounced, half rolled face-first into the rim of the toilet and then down onto the floor. His left temple cracked against the ground and he finally came to rest between the bowl and the side wall. As his head connected with the concrete an arc of blood shook free from his shattered face, splattering the legs of “his” bench with little shiny droplets.
That was the closest he got to his prize.
After the medics had dragged the Nazi away Jackman came back and stood in the corridor, staring in at me through the bars.
“What was that all about?” he said.
I looked at him and shrugged.
“You do that to him?” he said.
“Me?” I said. “No.”
“So what happened?”
“No idea. The guy just collapsed.”
“And you were doing what? Sleeping?”
“No. Calling you to come and help him. I guess you didn’t hear me.”
“Let me see your hands.”
“The guy just collapsed, all on his own, and somehow got his face all smashed in. That seem a little strange to you?”
“You didn’t help him on his way?”
“No. I didn’t touch him.”
“Show me anyway.”
I shrugged and pulled my hands out of my pockets. I held them up so he could see my palms.
“Other side,” he said.
I turned them over. There wasn’t a blemish to be seen. Jackman stared intently as if hoping something would magically appear if he looked hard enough. Then he glared at me, snorted, and stalked away to the lobby. I thought about calling him back. The morning suddenly seemed a long time away. I was tempted to ask him to call the consulate for me. I know the right people. They could pull me out in no time. The NYPD would be told to forget all about me. Then I thought about all the paperwork that would involve me in when I arrived in England. The endless, stupid questions I’d have to answer. Maybe a reprimand of some kind. So I decided against it. I was safe where I was. I’d done nothing wrong. There was no reason not to let things run their course.
As long as I got to JFK on time, no one ever need know what had happened.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
That could have been my new school’s motto. When the teachers finally showed their faces in the playground that first day all they saw was me on my feet and the other boy on the ground. I was new, and one of their guys was hurt. It was clearly my fault. I was marked down as a hooligan. A thug. Someone with a faulty attitude who needed close supervision. I was kept in at lunchtime for a month. Banned from the playground for the rest of the term. And barred from soccer indefinitely.
Things weren’t much better in the classroom. If I asked a question the teachers wouldn’t take it seriously. They just said I was being disruptive. Then they’d send me to sit at the back, on my own. Report me to the headmaster. Write moaning letters to my parents. Give me bad reports. It made no difference what I was questioning, or whether I was right or wrong. Whenever real life didn’t match their comfortable theories, it wasn’t the theories they doubted. It was real life.
That never made any sense to me.
And nothing’s happened in the meantime to change my mind.
The day-tour detectives didn’t arrive too early. Somewhere in the region of 9:30A.M., I’d guess. There were two of them. A uniformed officernamed Cauldwell let them into my cell. He must have relieved Jackman when the night shift went off duty.
Apart from wearing suits instead of uniforms, the detectives reminded me of the officers who had picked me up in the alley. They had the same weathered, capable appearance, though one of them was a little younger. Probably in his early forties. He was the first to speak.
“My name’s Detective Gibson,” he said. “This is my partner, Detective Harris.”
“We’ve been assigned to your case,” Gibson said. “We need to get a couple of formalities out of the way, then I thought we could go upstairs and get this whole thing worked out?”
“Got any coffee upstairs?” I said.
“As much as you can drink.”
“Maybe some doughnuts. Could be stale.”
“They’ll have to do,” I said, standing up. “Let’s get on with it.”
We stopped on the first floor for photographs and fingerprints, then carried on up to the detectives’ squad room on the fourth. It was basically an ordinary open-plan office, but there was a strangely austere, regimented feel to the place. The rows of storage cabinets behind the administrator’s desk were inch-parallel, and they were all neatly closed. There were no keys in any of the locks, and no papers peeping out from between any of the doors. The desks were evenly distributed around the room. There were six pairs, all facing the same way, all with identical chairs tucked in underneath. The surface of each one was absolutely clear, apart from the matching computer keyboards and mice. There were no mugs or family photos or personal effects of any kind, and the sleek flat-panel monitors were all switched off. There was nothing on the windowsills, and all the trash cans I could see were completely empty. It felt more like a furniture showroom than a place where real people did important work.
Harris and Gibson led me around the side of a small booth that had been built in the center of the room. We passed the entrance and kept going toward the far wall. A line of doors was spaced out along it. There were six. We headed for the last one, which was almost in the corner.INTERVIEW ROOM THREE. Harris flipped a slider across to theOCCUPIEDposition and pushed the door open. Lights set into the ceiling flickered on automatically as Gibson and I followed him inside.
The room felt small and cramped after the expanse of the main office. The ceiling was lower, and the blinds were shut across the window, blocking out any natural light. Most of the space was taken up by a wooden table. It looked solid and sturdy, as if it were built to withstand some abuse. It had already taken some, judging by the dents and blemishes in its surface. There were three chairs around it. Harris took the one at the far side. Gibson guided me to the next one, which was on its own at the long side of the table.
“Make yourself comfortable,” he said.
The remaining chair was to my left, so there was nothing to block my view of a mirror built into the opposite wall. It was rectangular, four feet high, six feet wide. I smiled into it politely in case anyone was on the other side, already watching.
I’d expected Gibson to sit down as well, but when I turned back to him I saw he’d moved across to the door.
“Back in a minute,” he said, and left the room.
I looked at Harris. He didn’t seem to be paying any attention to me at all. He was just leaning back in his chair, vaguely smiling, and staring into space. There was a tape strip alarm running along the wall, a few inches from his shoulder. I found myself wondering how quickly he could reach it. Then I saw him glance up to the corner of the room above the door. I turned to look, and saw a tiny CCTV camera mounted on a metal bracket where the walls met the ceiling. A red light next to the lens was blinking steadily.
Maybe that’s why he was looking so smug.
Gibson returned to the interview room carrying a notebook, some papers, and three white polystyrene cups with lids.
“No doughnuts,” he said as he sat down. “Sorry.”
“Just don’t tell me you put milk in my coffee,” I said.
“No. For you, I guessed no milk, no sugar.”
“That’s a relief.”
The detectives were silent as I took a sip of coffee. It was surprisingly good. A little cold, maybe, but I allowed myself a moment to enjoy the strong, bitter taste. Gibson left his cup on the table and watched me. Harris emptied his with a single gulp and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
“Now, before we start, I need to tell you something,” Gibson said. He spoke really slowly, as if he thought I might not understand. “It’s important you should know, you can have an attorney present if you want one. But before you make a decision on that, I think you should hear what we’ve got, and let me tell you what you can do to help yourself. Then, you can decide which way to go when you know all the facts. What do you say?”
“Fine with me,” I said. “I’m not looking to drag this out.”
“OK then, let’s not waste any more time. I just need you to sign something to say you’ve passed on the attorney for now, and we’re in business.”
Gibson took a ballpoint pen from his jacket pocket and handed it to me. Then he shuffled through the papers he’d brought back with him, selected a single sheet, and slid it across. I scanned my way down the page until I came to a box at the bottom. Someone had highlighted the outline in yellow. It was too small for my signature, so I just scrawled right across the bottom of the page. Gibson reached over and gathered up the pen and paper. He looked at the form for a moment and frowned.
“Nope,” he said. “Can’t read that. And the guys downstairs told me you don’t have ID, so maybe you can start by telling us your name?”
“David Trevellyan,” I said.
“And where are you from, David?”
“Thought I recognized the accent. So what are you doing in New York?”
“Working. I’m here on business.”
“What kind of business?”
“And is that why you were out on the street last night, David? You were doing telecommunications work?”
“Of course not. I’m a consultant, not an engineer.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I work with corporate clients. Give them advice. Help them with strategy, overcoming operational problems, that sort of thing.”
“What kind of problems were you overcoming last night?”
“None. I wasn’t working last night. I’ve just finished a contract and I don’t have to be back in the U.K. until tomorrow, so I was taking a night off.”
“What kind of contract was it, you just finished?”
“No offense, but why would the government hire a British consultant? Don’t we have plenty of our own?”
“Not your government. The British government.”
“If it was the British government, why are you in the United States?”
“I was working for the Foreign Office. I started at the embassy in Washington and then moved on to the consulate here in New York.”
“Where were you before Washington?”
“On another job. In Paris.”
“Paris, France? You came directly from there?”
“Six weeks ago.”
“Then you came directly to New York?”
“Three weeks ago.”
“Been here ever since?”
“Haven’t set foot outside Manhattan.”
“And your contract finished, when?”
“Yesterday was Sunday.”
“What time yesterday? Morning? Afternoon?”
“Late afternoon. The project owner’s based in London, so I had to wait at the consulate until sign-off came through.”
“What time was that?”
“People can verify that?”
“Good. ’Cause we may need to talk to them. We’ll come back to you for names if we do.”
I shrugged. It would be a pain, but I could find some people to say the right thing if he really insisted.
“Now, let’s see if I got this,” he said. “Five-thirty, you’re at the consulate getting a sign-off on your project. Midnight, you’re in an alley with a corpse.”
“That’s right,” I said. “Six and a half hours after finishing work, I was unfortunate enough to discover a dead body.”
“Fill in the gaps.”
“I left the consulate, obviously. Went back to my hotel. Had a shower. Got changed. Went out for a meal.”
“At a small restaurant. Fong’s, it was called.”
“No one. I went on my own.”
“What about the receipt?”
“What about it?”
“It wasn’t with your things.”
“So where is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why not? What did you do with it?”
“I paid cash. I didn’t keep it.”
“How is it convenient?”
“Anyone see you there? Staff? Customers?”
“Sure. Try eating out alone and not getting stared at.”
“Maybe we’ll go ask. OK. What else?”
“I finished my meal. Started walking back. Saw the body. It was in an alley off Mulberry Street. I checked to see if I could help the guy, and was on my way to call 911 when your colleagues arrived.”
“Why not call on your cell phone?”
“Don’t carry one. I don’t like cell phones. They fry your brain.”
“So, you just found the body lying there?”
“It was already there when you went into the alley?”
“Afraid so. I did check, but it was too late.”
“And that’s it?”
“Doesn’t quite add up, does it, David?”
“Doesn’t add up how? That’s what happened.”
“Think about it. You’re a businessman. A consultant. A respectable citizen enjoying a well-earned night off. And with all the wonders of New York City to pick from, you choose to spend your time in a shit-filled alley where there just happens to be some bum’s body, still warm, full of bullets? Sorry. Doesn’t work for me.”
“That’s not what I said. I told you, I spent my evening in a restaurant. I found the body afterward, when I was walking back to my hotel.”
“Why were you walking? Why not take a cab?”
“And I only went into the alley because I saw the body lying there.You could see it from the street. Other detectives were there. And uniformed officers. Check with them. They’ll confirm where it was.”
“We don’t care where the body was, David. We only care about how come there was a body.”
“And if you know anything about that, now would be the time to tell us,” Harris said, looking at me for the first time since we entered the interview room.
“You need to work with us on this, David,” Gibson said. “If you’re straight with us now, maybe we can help you. But if you keep lying to us, we’ll make sure this whole thing falls right on you.”
I sat and looked from one to the other. I felt insulted, more than anything. If I had been lying, there was no way anyone would know about it, least of all either of these guys.
“You should be looking to get out in front of this, David,” Harris said. “Be smart. This is your last chance to do yourself some good.”
“We’ll find out later, anyway,” Gibson said. “But then it’ll be too late to help. You need to tell us now.”
“I’ve told you what I know,” I said.
“Look, I don’t believe you’re a bad guy, David,” Harris said. “But if you didn’t mean what happened, you need to let us know now. Stop wasting our time.”
I took another sip of coffee.
“Maybe the guy attacked you?” Gibson said. “Forced you into the alley?”
“Yeah—maybe it was his gun,” Harris said. “He used it to get you into the alley, you struggled, the gun went off . . . ?”
“So it was an accident?” Gibson said. “You never meant to kill him. That would definitely help you.”
“But if that was how it happened, you need to tell us,” Harris said. “Then we can help you with your statement. Make sure it shows you in the best light.”
“You think it might have been an accident?” I said. “I’m curious. Would that be a single accident, where the gun went off six separate times? Or six individual accidents, one after the other?”
“Hey, David, we’re just trying to help,” Harris said.
“I appreciate that,” I said. “So listen to what I’m telling you. I found the body. Nothing else.”
“If that’s how you want to play it—fine,” Harris said. “But there’s something else you should know. Someone saw you.”
“Saw me find it?”
“No. Saw you kill the guy.”
“No, David, it’s true. They called 911.”
“How do you think the radio car got there so quick?” Gibson said. “It was there before you even left the alley, right?”
“Maybe someone did call 911,” I said. “Maybe they did see who killed the guy. But it wasn’t me.”
Harris reached into his jacket and took out a tape recorder. It was a tiny, handheld one such as people use for dictation. He held it up so I could see clearly what it was, then stood it upright on the table in front of him. Both detectives were looking at me intently. Harris’s lips were glistening.
“Anything to add, now’s the time,” he said.
I picked up my cup and sloshed the dregs around for a moment.
“I could do with another coffee, actually,” I said. “This last bit’s gone a little cold.”
“This is taken from the 911 voice recorder,” he said, reaching out to the tape machine.
A synthesized female voice gave out a date. March 15. That was yesterday.
“New York Police Department Central Emergency Reception,” it said. “The time is 23:57 hours. Agent 8304.”
“Nine-one-one Emergency,” a real operator’s voice said, taking over. Her voice sounded harsh and metallic through the tiny speaker. “Your name, telephone number, and address, please.”
“Please, just help me,” a man’s voice said. It was high-pitched andtrembling. “I’ve just seen a guy get murdered.” He was breathing hard, and I could hear some light traffic noise in the background.
“I understand that, sir, but I need to start with your name, telephone number, and address.”
“OK, it’s Andy Newm—”
Harris leaned forward and pressed a button. The voice on the tape squealed and jabbered for a moment, so I couldn’t make out any more details. Then Harris let go of the machine and I heard the operator speaking again.
“. . . me what you saw?”
“OK, well, there was, like, this guy. A big guy. He went into the alley. Up to a bum. The bum saw him. Stood up. Real slow. Shaky on his feet. Like he was drunk or something. The guy pulled a gun. The bum just stood there, looking at it. Then he backed up. Kept going back. Right back. All the way to the wall. He tried to climb on the Dumpster, but the guy . . . the guy just . . . shot him. In the chest. A bunch of times. Like, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. And that was it. The bum was dead.”
“What happened next?”
“The bum fell down. On the ground. The big guy just left him there. Then I ran. Didn’t want him to see me.”
“Where is this alley?”
“Near Canal Street. Mulberry. Off there.”
“And where were you when this was happening?”
“Right there, on the street.”
“Are you sure the man with the gun didn’t get a look at you?”
“No. I was hiding. Down from the kids’ playground.”
“Did you get a good look at him?”
“Yeah. I got a real good look.”
“Can you describe him?”
“Sure. He was white. Tall. Bout six four. Black leather coat. Round collar. Sort of medium length. Didn’t reach down to his knees. Black jeans. Black boots. But the weird thing about this guy was, he had a big chunk of hair missing. Back of his head.”
“What, like he was going bald?”
“No. Like it had been shaved off. Like for an operation or something. I thought maybe he was mental, or had a lobotomy or something.”
“But you said the bald patch was at the back of his head?”
“Yeah, I said the back. Had stitches in it.”
“How many stitches?”
“A lot. Maybe ten or fifteen.”
“OK, and can—”
Harris switched the machine off.
“David, I notice you’re a white male,” he said. “You’re about six four tall, wearing black boots, black jeans, and a black three-quarter-length leather coat. And the collar is . . . round.”
“Your point being what?” I said.
Harris got up and walked around behind me. I felt him lean his weight on the back of my chair. His breath was warm on my neck. I watched him in the mirror, making a show of examining the back of my head. I guessed he was focusing on the shaved patch. That, and the line of twelve neat stitches running across the center of it. I was beginning to resent that scar. It wasn’t the only one I had. It wasn’t even the largest. But it was causing more than its share of trouble.
“Anything you’d like to share with us, David?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “I think I will have a word with my lawyer, after all.”
Harris looked irritated. He shot a sour glance at Gibson, and dropped back into his chair.
“You can do that, David, if you want,” Gibson said slowly, as though he were talking to an imbecile. “But if you do, we can’t help you. We can’t even talk to you. You’ll stay in jail while we check into all the unsolved homicides from while you were in New York. And in D.C. It’ll take months, if you go that way.”
“But it’s not too late to talk to us,” Harris said. “Help us now, and we’ll try to keep you out of the system. Get this thing cleared up real quick. That’s what you said you wanted.”
“Not anymore,” I said. “Now I want to speak to my lawyer.”
“David, calm down,” Gibson said. “All we’re saying is, we’ve heard the caller’s side of the story. Why not tell us yours?”
“I’ve told you already,” I said. “You didn’t listen. Now I want my lawyer.”
“Let’s not be hasty, here, David,” Gibson said. “Look at it from our side. Think how this thing looks.”
“It looks like a frame,” I said. “It looks like you can’t be bothered to do your jobs. Now—my lawyer. Fourth time. I won’t ask again.”
“At least tell us why you moved the body,” Gibson said.
I folded my arms and kept quiet.
“When that guy called 911, the body was at the back of the alley,” Gibson said. “That was at 23:57.”
“Four minutes later, when the uniforms arrived, it had moved to the front,” Harris said.
“You were the only one at the scene,” Gibson said.
“So it had to be you who moved it,” Harris said.
“Only question is, why?” Gibson said.
I didn’t answer.
“Like we said before, David, we don’t think you’re a bad guy,” Harris said. “We think you felt bad about what happened. We think you dragged that body nearer the street ’cause you wanted it to be found. You wanted to put things right.”
“That shows remorse, David,” Gibson said. “Remorse is good. Remorse could really help you. But you have to tell us.”
“Your lawyer will tell you to keep quiet,” Harris said. “But he doesn’t have to live with this thing. You do.”
“So, if you were sorry, if you were trying to put things right—tell us about it,” Gibson said. “You’ll feel a whole lot better.”
“And save yourself a whole lot of jail time,” Harris said.
“Because if you don’t talk to us, we’ll have to pull in that witness,” Gibson said. “And with a description of you like he gave on the phone, he’ll pull you out of a lineup in a second.”
“And that would change the game, David,” Harris said. “Big-time.”
“Make what you did look premeditated,” Gibson said.
“Self-defense would be out of the window,” Harris said.
“Manslaughter would be out,” Gibson said.
“We’d be talking about murder,” Harris said. “Think about that.”
Gibson slid his pen and a pad of paper toward me.
“Write what happened, the way we told you,” he said. “Or write your lawyer’s number. Your choice.”
I wrote down a number.
The first thing I do in the morning, if I’m not in jail, is read the papers.
I enjoy them well enough from Monday to Saturday. Sundays aren’t so good, though. There’s too little news. Too much opinion. And a huge sheaf of magazines to deal with. Like the ones I picked up at Charles-de-Gaulle on my way over to start this last job. There was a whole supplement about people’s attitudes to work. Why had they taken their jobs? What did they like about them? What did they not like? What would make them leave? The answers had been spun out into four pages of bar graphs and diagrams and pie charts. All the usual reasons were there—money, status, promotion, hours, travel. But according to the journalists, the biggest factor was “interaction with colleagues.”
Not something you’d expect to see in my profession.
Although, just once, I met someone who made me wish it was.
Tanya Wilson looked pretty much the same as the day I first met her in Madrid, three years ago. She was five feet eight, slim, with an elegant blue suit that combined perfectly with her plain white blouse and low-heeled navy shoes. Her dark shoulder-length hair was pulled back from her face, as usual. She’d always preferred that style, despite the way it emphasized the sharpness of her features. I remember thinking at ouroriginal meeting that she looked like a lawyer, and today, with a battered leather briefcase and narrow metal-framed glasses, the impression was stronger still.
For a moment neither of us spoke.
In our profession, when it comes to relationships, there’s a line you don’t cross. Or at least, you don’t if you have any sense. Tanya and I both understood, but we’d come close to crossing it anyway that spring. Perilously close. Maybe a couple of toes had actually crept over to the other side. I’m pretty sure mine had. I think hers had, too. But before we could abandon reason altogether and leap right across with both feet, fate intervened. I was sent to Morocco, to collect someone.
It should have been a routine trip. Four days, maximum, there and back. Tanya was handling the arrangements so I had no reason to worry. And as you’d expect, the job started flawlessly. Travel documents, flights, currency, accommodation, vehicles. Everything went exactly according to plan. There wasn’t even the slightest hint of a hitch until the end of day two. Then, when we were thirty minutes away from our rendezvous, that all changed. There was an incident with our Jeep. It was caught in an explosion. Some sort of improvised roadside device, I assume, but there was no proper investigation into what kind. I never found out who planted it. How it was triggered. What happened to our contact. Who cleaned up the mess. Or how the remains of the driver—someone I’d known for ten years—ended up back in Scotland for a memorial service I couldn’t attend. All I can remember is waking up in a hospital in Rabat, two days later. It was a dismal place. The lights were down low and I thought I’d been left there alone, but as I drifted back into consciousness I realized that someone else was with me. It was Tanya. She was standing at the end of my bed, silently watching me, with a single tear glistening in the corner of her right eye.
Tanya visited me every day after that. First in Morocco, then in Spain when I was sent back to recuperate. Some days she could only grab a few minutes. Others she was with me for hours on end. But however long we were together, all we could think about was gettingsome real time to ourselves. Alone. Away from doctors and nurses and squeaky hospital furniture. It was becoming an obsession. Rules and conventions and protocols wouldn’t have stood a chance. Nothing would, if fate hadn’t showed its hand a second time.
The same day I was discharged from the hospital, Tanya was transferred. I never heard where to. She was just there one day, gone the next. That’s the way it goes in our world. There was nothing either of us could do. But she’s been on my mind a lot since then. I often wondered, if our paths crossed again, would I feel the same? And that old question was just raising its head when Tanya broke eye contact and turned to close the interview room door. She checked it had latched and then came over toward the chair Gibson had been using. A subtle hint of sandalwood and bergamot drifted over to me as she moved and I felt a tiny shiver ripple the skin between my shoulder blades.
I guess I had my answer.
“Sorry, David,” she said as she sat down. “I got here as quickly as I could. Have you been waiting long?”
“One thousand and forty-nine days,” I said.
Tanya looked blank for a moment, then broke into a shy smile.
“I am sorry,” she said. “I only flew in yesterday. Started here this morning. Didn’t know you were even in town till I heard the call come in from the detectives. Then I had to check a couple of things. It’s been a while since I crossed swords in the American courts.”
“You’re fresh in and they gave you the case?” I said.
“I took it. I didn’t give them a choice. My stock’s risen a little, these last couple of years. And I couldn’t leave it to anyone else. Not once I realized they were talking about you. I’m the only here who knows what you’re really like.”
“What am I really like?”
“Oh, no. I’m not answering that one. So. I haven’t seen you for a while. How’ve you been?”
“Can’t complain. Still in one piece. You?”
“Fine. Or I will be, once I get you out of here.”
“Heard the latest?”
“Think so. I spoke to the detectives before I came in. They have one dead body and a pretty strong impression you’re responsible for it. Plus lots of circumstantial evidence. And a recording from an eyewitness. It sounds like a mess, David, quite frankly.”
“It’s bogus, is what it is.”
“I know that. But the point is, we’ll have to work a lot harder. Knowing they have that kind of testimony will make you more of a flight risk. And with you being a foreign national, it could be a problem.”
“Flight risk? What do you mean?”
“When we ask for bail. The judge won’t agree if it looks like you could run.”
“Sorry, Tanya—what bail?”
“To get you out of here. Oh, hold on. Wait a minute. You weren’t going to ask London for . . . ?”
“Tanya,” I said, nodding toward the observation mirror.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “They can watch us, but not listen. Not while I’m present. They wouldn’t risk it. So, tell me you weren’t about to mention the d-word?”
I didn’t answer.
“You were, weren’t you?” she said. “You were going to ask to be hooked out. From the U.S.A. Are you mad?”
“Is that a problem?” I said.
“Don’t you get operational bulletins anymore, David?”
“And do you read them?”
“Absolutely. Whenever I’m in an office, with nothing better to do.”
“You don’t, do you? Our people make the effort to put out useful updates so you know what’s what, but do you take any notice? No. You’re still ignoring our advice. Until you’re in trouble. Then you expect us to wave a magic wand.”
“What’s magic about getting me pulled out? Embarrassing—yes. Heavy on paperwork—yes. But hardly out of the ordinary. I worked with a fellow in Nairobi who got dip-exed from three jobs in a row.Admittedly, he did get canned after the last one, but this is my first time. What’s the problem?”
“Diplomatic exfiltration may have been common practice in the past. It isn’t now.”
“Does the name David Robinson mean anything to you?”
“Surely you’ve been briefed on this. Didn’t you read . . . Oh, all right, I’ll spell it out. Robinson was a U.S. Marine. He was posted to Grosvenor Square. Last year, just before Christmas, he was picked up by the Met. Charged with indecently assaulting a female student in the toilets of a nightclub in Soho, somewhere. Washington came through. Wanted him pulled out. London refused. Said it was a civilian offense, in civilian premises, while he was off duty. Insisted he stay in the U.K. to stand trial like anyone else.”
“Seems fair. Did they nail him for it?”
“It never went to court. Robinson killed himself in jail the night before the hearing.”
“Maybe. But that’s not the point.”
“The liaison protocols. Washington tore them up.”
“But that’s not workable. How can you—”
“Officially sanctioned operations are still covered. But that’s all.”
“Problem solved, then. Tell them I was sanctioned.”
“I can’t do that, David. These guys aren’t fools.”
“So what do we do?”
“Go for bail, like I said.”
“Don’t know. How long will it take?”
“Depends when your arraignment is. The DA will argue you should stay in custody. We’ll argue you should get bail. Then it’s up to the judge.”
“What’s the earliest it could be? I’m due back in London tomorrow. I’m on a flight out this afternoon.”
“David, it’s time for you to face facts. You’re not going to be on that plane. And being late home is the least of your worries. First we have to get you out of here. Then we go to work on your defense. As for the arraignment, I’ll push for an early hearing. Otherwise they’ll move you.”
“A regular jail. They only have holding facilities here.”
I looked at Tanya, and it was obvious she could tell what I was thinking. We both knew what kind of place she was talking about. Outdated. Overcrowded. Unsanitary. Crawling with degenerate criminals.
“David, think about this,” she said, reaching across and placing her hand over mine. “Don’t do anything stupid. Ever since this Robinson thing, Washington has been looking for payback. They want their pound of flesh. Give them the chance, and they’ll take it from you.”
The droplets of blood from the Nazi’s face had congealed on the bench legs and turned a dirty brown, like specks of rust. Harris spotted them when the detectives returned me to my cell. He went straight over for a closer look. Maybe word of the incident had spread around the building while we’d been upstairs.
“Know anything about this?” he said.
“Absolutely nothing,” I said.
“Nothing, huh? Just like you know nothing about the guy in the alley? Well, we do know something, David. We know you killed that guy. So what you need to do is stop lying and tell us what happened, while we can still help you.”
“What I need to do is sit here and wait for my lawyer to get me released.”
“You can try,” Harris said. “But trust me. You’ll have a long wait.”
Harris was wrong. I only had to wait forty minutes. At dead-on one o’clock he was back with Gibson, standing outside my cell, waiting for Cauldwell to work the lock. Only this time, he had his handcuffs ready.
“On your feet,” he said. “Turn around. Show me your hands.”
He fastened the cuffs and gave each one an extra squeeze, making sure they were clamped really tight around my wrists.
“Ms. Wilson works fast, doesn’t she?” I said.
“What?” Harris said.
“Ms. Wilson. My lawyer. Works fast, to get me released already.”
“You’re not being released, jackass. And this has nothing to do with your lawyer.”
“No? So where are we going?”
“We’re not going anywhere. You are. The FBI is here.”
“Why? What do they want?”
“Like you don’t know.”
“I don’t know. Why is the FBI involved?”
“Enough. Shut your mouth. Not one more word, or you’re going to take a beating right here.”
Three men were waiting for us near the reception desk. I’d never seen any of them before. The little glass gate swung open as we approached and the oldest of the group stepped forward. He had short, graying hair and a bulging stomach that hung down over his belt.
“My name is Lieutenant Hendersen, NYPD,” he said. “I’m here to inform you that at 12:05P.M.today, jurisdiction in your case was assumed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These gentlemen are agents. We’ve completed the paperwork. They’ll take it from here.”
“I’m Special Agent Lavine,” the taller of the other two men said, stepping up alongside Hendersen. He was a shade over six feet tall, slim, with broad shoulders and short blond hair. His gray single-breasted suit was well cut, and his white shirt looked crisp and new next to his dark, striped tie. Cuff links peeped out from under the sleeves of his jacket, and I caught sight of initials embroidered onto his shirt pocket when he moved. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in a tailor’s window, other than for his face. It looked tired and drawn, with deep lines etched into the skin around both eyes. The third guy looked muchmore awake, almost bouncing on the balls of his feet. His clothes were similar, but he was an inch taller, six inches wider, and a good ten years younger. He stepped into line a moment later, moving slowly as if working hard to resist the urge to reach out and grab me.
“This is Special Agent Weston,” Lavine said. “You’re with us, now. Come on. Time to go.”
“The FBI are taking over?” I said to Hendersen. “Why?”
He ignored me.
“What about my arraignment?” I said. “Does my attorney know about this?”
Hendersen sneered at me.
“Good-bye, Mr. Trevellyan,” he said, and turned to walk away.
Gibson handed my bag of possessions to Agent Weston, and Harris removed his cuffs from behind my back. I went to rub my wrists, but before I could get the circulation going again Lavine had grabbed them and snapped on his own cuffs. They were of a slightly different design, but every bit as uncomfortable.
Weston took my arm and guided me out through the main door. He led me along the sidewalk to a plain white van parked at the end of the line of vehicles. Lavine opened the rear doors and Weston bundled me inside. The load space was empty apart from an old gray blanket like the kind moving companies use to protect furniture. It was crumpled and stained, and smelled of mildew. I pushed it away with my foot. I didn’t like to think what it might have been used for.
I don’t know which agent took the wheel, but whoever it was had a heavy right foot. The rear tires screeched as we lurched forward, and the van crunched into every pothole and swerved around every corner after that. The interior was pitch-dark, and as I bounced helplessly around, banging and bruising myself on the hard metal surfaces, it reminded me of a story I’d once heard. Something an old-time U.S. Army intelligence guy had told me. About the CIA in Vietnam. He said they used to load Vietcong suspects onto helicopters, put sacks over their heads, and fly them around for a while before taking them in for questioning. They got the most drugged-up, whacked-out pilots they couldlay their hands on and just let them go crazy for a couple of hours. Then the prisoners would come staggering out, sick to their stomachs, totally disoriented. Much more likely to talk. Apparently a couple of times the poor guys were so out of it they actually believed they’d landed in the United States, and gave it all up straightaway.
“So where are we, then?” I said to Weston when he finally opened the rear doors, twenty minutes later. “Saigon?”
He didn’t answer.
“Quantico, maybe?” I said.
He gestured for me to get out.
“Federal Plaza, at least?” I said, looking over his shoulder at the parallel rows of square pillars and grimy, oil-stained floor. “Because I’ve got to tell you, I’m not impressed with the decor.”
Weston reached into the van and leaned forward to grab my arm. His jacket gaped open and the rough black polymer grip of his service weapon stood out against his clean white shirt. I let him tug impatiently at my sleeve for a moment, then shuffled toward him until I could swing my legs around and get my feet on the ground.
I stepped away and saw we were in the corner of a large, rectangular basement garage. There were only four other vehicles. Identical Ford sedans, standing in line to the side of the van. They looked new and shiny. They were much larger than European cars, but even with all the empty spaces each one was parked neatly within the yellow lines.
There were no other people. Apart from the two agents and me, the place was deserted. No one to witness anything that could happen there. A notice on the wall said the owners—some bank—denied responsibility for any damage that may be caused. I couldn’t see which bank because someone had taped a piece of cardboard over the name withJUDAShandwritten in large red capitals. Next to the sign were the remains of a metal bracket. It was like the one above the door in the police interview room. A short length of wire was dangling from it, neatly cut at its end. I looked around the rest of the garage. Similar brackets had been mounted on the pillars at regular intervals.
Now, they were all empty.
Maybe the cameras had been recovered by the bank when it abandoned the building. Maybe they’d been stolen while it was lying derelict. Or maybe they’d been removed for another reason.
I backed up against the side of the van, just in case.
Lavine broke the silence.
“Hey,” he said, standing in front of a pair of turquoise wooden doors set into the wall. “Will you hurry it up?”
Weston turned to look at his partner, and that gave me a decision to make. My eyes were drawn to his neck. Cervical vertebrae are notoriously delicate. Even wearing handcuffs, I could sever his spinal cord with one sharp snap. Then I could reach down under his arm and take his gun. A Glock 23 holds thirteen rounds, but I wouldn’t need that many. One would be enough. Two, if I went by the book. Lavine would be finished before he could take his own weapon out of its holster.
If all I was supposed to have done was kill a tramp, why was the bureau so interested in me? What made it worth trampling all over the NYPD and dragging me away to this building? There was too much I didn’t understand.
So you can call it curiosity. Or professional courtesy. But either way, I decided to play along.
There were always plenty of books in the house when I was a kid.
A lot were borrowed from the library. Others had been inherited from relatives. But a few had been bought for me. I remember the first one my parents ever gave me, after I’d learned to read for myself. It was a collection of proverbs and fables. Some of them seemed pretty old-fashioned, even in those days. Some didn’t make much sense. Some I’ve forgotten the detail of.
And others, I should have paid more attention to.
Ones likeCuriosity killed the cat. . . .
The turquoise doors were the only way I could see to get out of the garage, other than the vehicle ramp at the opposite side. They had obviously been heavily used. The paint was worn and peeling, and the corner of the right-hand door scraped on the ground when Lavine pushed it open. Weston and I followed him through into a small concrete-walled lobby. There was an elevator to our right, but Lavine ignored it. He kept going and disappeared up a set of stairs at the far side. They only went up one level. We trudged along behind him and caught up just before he reached a heavy gray door at the top. He held it open for us and we emerged into a large, bright, open space.
I paused to check my new surroundings, but Weston grabbed my arm and hauled me past a deserted reception counter that ran along the left-hand wall. It would have been wide enough for three people to work behind, but now I could only see one chair. All the usual receptionists’ paraphernalia was missing—sign-in books, visitors’ badges, telephone switchboards, computer screens—and there was no other furniture in the whole area. It must have been some time since the place was occupied. A layer of dust covered the floor, making the marble tiles feel a little greasy underfoot, and a few small spiderwebs clung to the angles of the tall window frames.
The bottom six feet of glass had been covered up with sheets of coarse blockboard. One section was boarded up on the inside, as well. It was next to the far end of the counter, in line with a semicircle of black textured rubber set into the floor. It looked like the remains of a revolving door. It would have led to the street, but now the thick wooden panel blocking the opening was braced with two stout planks. Each was held in place by six heavy steel bolts. You’d need some decent tools to get through there, now. Or a little C4.
Weston didn’t release my arm until we reached a line of shiny silver posts. There were five, dividing the reception area on one side from a twin bank of elevators on the other. I guess they would have originally held hinged panels—probably glass, judging by the brackets—to control access into the building. Now their fittings were broken and there was nothing to fill the spaces between them. We walked through, past a double door leading to some offices, and headed toward the elevators. A door in the far corner was labeledSTAIRS. For a moment I thought Lavine was going to make us climb again, but he reached out and pressed the call button instead. The indicators above three of the elevators were blank, but the fourth one was already showingGROUND. Its doors parted, and the three of us filed inside.
The elevator had buttons for twenty-four floors. Lavine hit the one labeled “23.” The doors closed gently, and almost imperceptibly we began to ascend. The elevator’s walls were covered by some sort of rough sacklike material hanging from small metal hooks near the ceiling. Ipulled back the edge of one of the sheets and found it was protecting a mirror. I presume it was the same on the other walls. If so, I was glad they were hidden. I didn’t need an endless sea of those agents’ miserable faces reflecting all around me.
The display gradually wound its way up to 23. We stopped moving and the doors silently slid apart. Weston pushed me out first. He guided me around to the right, away from the elevators, and then steered me along the corridor until we reached an enormous open-plan office. Two lines of storage cabinets were laid out along the center of the room, forming a kind of pathway to a glass supervisor’s booth that jutted out from the end wall. The cabinets were low—less than waist height—and a gap after each third one gave access to groups of desks on either side. They were pushed together in fours to form parallel rows of identical crosses. These were arranged alternately one against the cabinets, one against the windows all the way down the room. The nearer ones were completely bare, except for a tangle of wires spilling out from the exposed cable trays at the back. Farther away several computer keyboards were scattered around, all with their leads neatly coiled up, and I could see a handful of old telephone headsets mixed in among them.
The last couple of desks on the right looked as if they hadn’t been cleared yet, and the ones at the far end on the left had been moved out of position. They’d been pushed aside, and the space between them was filled with chairs. At least a hundred. They were piled high on each other at impossible, drunken angles. Some had their arms hooked together to hold them in place. Others had fallen off and were lying on the floor, blocking the entrance to the booth.
Lavine flipped a couple of the fallen chairs onto their wheels and rolled them through the glass doorway. I had to stand aside as he came back out for another one, and I ended up squashed against the last desk on the right. I could hardly see any of its surface. It was covered with pizza boxes, Coke cans, coffee mugs, newspapers—all kinds of junk. The next desk was clinical in comparison. It held neat piles of papers and folders, several pens, a cell phone charger, and a pair of laptop computers.The screensavers had kicked in on both of them. One had a floating FBI shield that rippled as it moved. Homer Simpson was showing his backside on the other.
Two maps were pinned to the wall behind the desks, completely filling the space between a pair of windows. At the top was a large-scale street map of Manhattan. Clusters of red dots and blue triangles had been marked on it, along with a series of times and dates from the previous week. Below that a color-coded linear diagram was superimposed on an outline of the United States. The key said it was a schematic of the national railroad network. A set of black-and-white photographs had been stuck around the top right-hand border. They showed men’s faces. I counted five. All of them would be in their mid to late thirties. They looked scruffy and unkempt, but basically cared for. Certainly not a pack of tramps. Arrows had been drawn connecting them to points on different railroad lines. All the points were on routes that fanned out from New York.
And all the men in the photos looked as if they were dead.
I sat right at the rear of the booth. Lavine had pushed my chair all the way in, so my back was literally against the wall. The agents sat facing me. They were shoulder to shoulder, pressing forward, blocking me in, trying to make me uncomfortable.
No one spoke for eleven, maybe twelve minutes. Then the fingers on Lavine’s left hand started to drum against his thigh. He fought it for another minute, and then his mouth got the better of him.
“How’re your veins?” he said. “Good?”
“Hope they’re not,” Weston said. “Hope they have to really dig around in there, trying to find one big enough.”
“You know you’re looking at the needle,” Lavine said. “New York’s a death penalty state. Being English won’t save you.”
“But hey,” Weston said. “That’s what you get when you start snapping people’s necks.”
I allowed myself a little smile.
“Snapping necks?” I said. “Didn’t the NYPD tell you? The guy I found in the alley had been shot.”
“The guy in the alley had been,” Lavine said. “But the other five guys all had their necks broken.”
“What five guys?” I said. “The NYPD were only trying to frame me for one. What is this? Rollover week at the bureau?”
“The guys who were found by the railroad tracks,” Lavine said. “I saw you looking at their pictures, outside.”
“I’ve never been near one of your railroads.”
“Don’t waste my time. We’re not here for a confession. Forensics will take care of that. We’re here for something else.”
“Truth is, we don’t know when things started going wrong for you,” Weston said. “We don’t even know for sure if they did. Maybe you just killed those guys ’cause you liked it.”
“But either way, we don’t care,” Lavine said.
“So why are we talking?” I said.
“Because you have something we want,” Weston said.
“A name,” Lavine said. “Help us with that, and we can take the death penalty off the table.”
“We can save your skin,” Weston said. “And we’re the only ones who can.”
“The only ones,” Lavine said. “You need to understand that. You need to be real clear. Take a moment. Think about it.”
He leaned back, his fingers moving faster now.
“You want help with a name?” I said. “Why? Is one of you expecting a baby?”
“Michael Raab,” Lavine said. “Who gave him up to you?”
“Who told you how to contact him?” Weston said. “Who he was? How to recognize him?”
“No idea what you’re talking about,” I said.
“You’re not thinking straight,” Weston said. “We have you. We can bring the hammer down any time we like.”
“And believe me, we would like to,” Lavine said. “The only thing we want more than you is the name. Who gave Michael Raab away?”
“Are we on to weddings, now?” I said.
“He went to that alley specifically to meet someone,” Weston said.
“The alley where you were found,” Lavine said.
“Someone with an English accent,” Weston said.
“You called him,” Lavine said. “You set the meeting up.”
“Wasn’t me,” I said.
“We heard the 911 tape,” Lavine said. “You didn’t pick him at random. You targeted him. Why? How did you know who he was?”
“Someone gave him away,” Weston said. “Who?”
“You’re barking up the wrong tree,” I said. “The only people in that alley were me, and the tramp. And he was already—”
“Not ‘the tramp,’ ” Lavine said. “Mike Raab.”
“No,” I said. “The tramp’s name was Alan McNeil. I saw his Social Security card. His number was—”
“No idea where that came from,” Lavine said. “Something he must have picked up. We’ll look into it. But get this straight. His name wasn’t McNeil. It was Michael Raab.”
“And he was no tramp,” Weston said.
“He looked like a tramp,” I said. “Smelled like one, too.”
“Because he was undercover,” Weston said.
“Michael Raab was a Special Agent,” Lavine said. “I knew him for twelve years. He was my partner. And my friend.”
One year my father organized a fete at the local community center.
That would have been OK, except that he made me help. It meant he wouldn’t let me buy anything until the customers had finished picking over the stalls, leaving behind only mangled piles of worthless rubbish. He didn’t believe in gambling, so the raffles and lotteries were out of the question. The only thing I could do, apart from wander around spotting thieves and pickpockets, was the single game in the place that involved skill rather than chance. And even that was stretching the point. All you had to do was throw Ping-Pong balls into empty toilet bowls. You got three shots for five pence. I remember wondering why they bothered. It would have been easier just to hand over the prizes at the start.
I had a go anyway, and went home with three goldfish. They spent the next few months cooped up in a bowl in the kitchen, between the sink and the toaster. None of them did anything. They just floated aimlessly around while people stared in at them through the glass.
I never really gave them much thought, once they were home.
But after the next hour, I knew how their lives must have felt.
The agents withdrew from the booth without saying another word and for fully sixty minutes they hung around outside, observing me. Someof the time they were sitting, tinkering with their PCs or muttering to each other. Some of the time they were on their feet, standing still or wandering about aimlessly. But all the time, at least one of them had his eyes glued to me, watching me waste even more of my time.
Eventually Lavine’s cell phone rang. He answered quickly, as if he’d been expecting the call. He talked for a minute, gesturing with his free hand even though it was obvious the other person couldn’t see him, and then spun abruptly around to look at me. His face seemed to turn a shade paler, and as he listened I could see his expression change from surprise to bewilderment and finally something close to disgust.
Weston just looked angry when Lavine spoke to him after the call ended. They talked for another minute, then drew their handguns and Lavine stepped cautiously toward the booth. He pushed the door open with his free hand, keeping to the side so that his body was never between Weston and me.
“Stand up,” he said. “Get out.”
This time they did everything by the book. It was as though their actions were being scrutinized by a hidden assessor and they were determined not to get a bad score. We went back through the main office, around to the elevator lobby, and across to a door in the far corner. It led to a staircase. There was no corporate decor, here. Just a gray floor, gray walls, gray handrails, and a gray ceiling. Different sizes of gray pipes were attached to the walls by plain, functional brackets. The place was cold and it echoed, a little like the inside of a battleship.
We went up one level, to the top floor. Two men were waiting for us. They were wearing neat gray suits like Weston and Lavine, and both were holding guns. As we approached they backed off through a door at the top of the stairs and took up defensive positions on the far side.
This floor had the same basic layout as the one below, but instead of passing through an open plan area, the corridor led us between two groups of more modest-sized rooms. There were individual offices on the right, and meeting rooms on the left. Several of the office doors still had name plates. I sawPETER MOULDS,NIGEL GOWER,DEREK WOODS. That one was open. I looked inside. The furniture was gone, but the carpetwas a different class and there were outlines on the wall where pictures would have hung.
We continued along the corridor until we reached a pair of wide doors at the far end. The pale veneer was richly polished, and a plaque on the right-hand side readPRINCIPAL BOARDROOM. Lavine knocked lightly, twice, just below it.
“Come,” a male voice said.
Lavine pushed the door halfway open and Weston bundled me through the gap into a large, square room. It was the full width of the building, and all three external walls were floor-to-ceiling glass. There were no blinds, and my eyes were immediately drawn to the tiny people milling around, far below. We were so high there was no sense that the building could be rooted in the same streets. It felt more as if we were floating above them, completely disconnected from everyday life.
Inside, the room was dominated by an enormous table. It was easily thirty feet long by ten feet wide. The surface was made from black granite, so highly polished it looked as if it were wet. I ran my eye all the way along, but I couldn’t see any joins. It seemed to be a single slab. That would explain why it was still there. The partition walls must have been built around it. There would be no way to get it out now—it was too big.
Three men were sitting at the far side of the table, facing me. They appeared to be in their mid-fifties, and had the pallid complexion of people who don’t see enough sunshine. Their suits were plain and nondescript. They had crisp white shirts and sober ties, and each wore his graying hair in a neat, conservative style.
The man in the center of the trio wore narrow, wire-rimmed glasses. He was looking down at a folder on the table in front of him. It held a half-inch stack of papers, but I could only see part of the top sheet. It was a computer-generated form. A photograph was clipped to the top, obscuring a quarter of the page. It showed a man’s face. It was clean shaven, and the hair was tidier and shorter, but there was no doubt I’d seen the person before. Less than twenty-four hours ago.
Dressed as a tramp.
Weston put his hand on my shoulder and guided me toward a broken-down typist’s chair. It was on its own on our side of the table, lined up opposite the three older men. Its blue cloth covers were badly torn. Clumps of stuffing were poking out of the holes, and various levers and handles were dangling from its base. I looked at Lavine as I lowered myself gingerly onto the seat, but he wouldn’t make eye contact. He just turned his head away and shuffled farther along the table to my left. Weston removed his hand and slunk away to my right, leaving me isolated. On the other side of the table the man with the glasses closed his folder and pressed his fingertips against his temples for a moment. Then he dropped his hands and began to speak.
“Forgive me,” he said. “Closing a personnel file for the last time is never easy. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Bruce Rosser, deputy director of Special Operations with the FBI.”
“I’m David Trevellyan,” I said. “But you knew that already.”
“I did,” he said, solemnly nodding his head. “Now—my colleagues. On my left, Louis Breuer. On my right, Mitchell Varley, also with Special Operations. Agents Lavine and Weston, you’ve already met.”
I looked at each of them, but didn’t say anything.
“Mike Raab was a good agent,” Rosser said. “He’ll be missed.”
“Yeah, well, everyone’s a saint, once they’re dead,” I said.
“No. Mike really was one of the good guys. I knew him pretty well. Mentored him, his first couple of cases, back when I was in the field. We used to play cards. Any chance we could find. All night, sometimes.”
“Beats working, I suppose.”
“How about you, Mr. Trevellyan? Do you play?”
“Shame. You should. You really get to know someone, that way. How they think. How they plan. How they adapt. How they bluff. How they lie. You know, if I had to get the measure of someone right now, given a regular interview or one hand of cards, I’d go with the cards.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes, sir, it is. And you know what else I use them for?”
“I could suggest something.”
“Problem solving. Ever gathered all the facts, but just can’t see how they fit together? Cards can give you the answer. Help you put the pieces in place, one at a time.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.”
“You know what? Let’s do more than that. Let’s play right now,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a pack. They were white with a gold band around the edge and a large, ornate eagle design embossed in the center. They looked well used. “One hand of blackjack. For Mike. And for you. Help you straighten out your situation. I’ll deal. You tell me when to stop.”
“Stop,” I said.
He carried on shuffling, then laid the pack facedown on the table.
“Ready?” he said.
I didn’t answer.
“OK, here we go,” he said, turning over the top card. It was the two of clubs. “Lavine and Weston told you about the bodies. We’ve found five, male, near railroad tracks, their necks broken.”
The second card was the four of diamonds.
“I assigned Mike after the second one was found,” he said. “It was slow, but he was getting somewhere. He followed the trail to New York City. Set up in here, to stay under the radar while he was undercover.”
Next was the two of hearts.
“Yesterday morning, he missed a regular contact.”
Two of spades.
“We followed protocol. Spoke to the local police, emergency rooms, everyone else. At midday we heard the NYPD had found Mike’s body.”
Three of clubs.
“And they also had his killer in custody.”
Three of diamonds.
“With eyewitness testimony on tape.”
Four of spades.
“Which indicated a leak inside the bureau.”
Rosser leaned back and gestured to the line of cards.
“So, how are we doing?” he said.
“How should I know?” I said. “I told you. I don’t play.”
“Just look at the cards. Add them up.”
“Don’t count them,” he said, after a moment. “Add up the values.”
“Twenty,” I said.
“Twenty, that’s right. A good hand. Almost unbeatable. The guy who killed an FBI agent, served up on a silver platter. A lot of people would stick with a hand like that.”
“But you’re not going to.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s think about it. Break the puzzle down a little more,” he said, splitting the cards into three piles. “See, I think we actually have three problems here. You follow?”
“You have a dead agent,” I said. “You have someone killing railway passengers. And you think you have a leak in the bureau.”
“Good. We’re on the same page. And these problems—separate, or connected?”
“Can’t say. I don’t know enough about the case to connect them, but if they’re not connected, that would be a pretty big coincidence.”
“And I guess we both feel the same way about coincidences, right? So let’s start at the beginning. The railroad guys. They weren’t passengers, the victims.”
“So who where they? Employees? People living near railroad lines?”
“No. Free riders.”
“People who hitch rides on freight trains.”
“They still do that? I thought leaping onto moving trains went out with the Depression.”
“Most people think that. It suits us. And we don’t go out of our way to correct them. The fewer know about it, the fewer start doing it.”
“Maybe. I just wouldn’t have thought it was such a big deal.”
“It’s not al-Qaeda, granted. But it’s big, and it’s getting bigger. Try this. Right now, this moment, guess how many free riders are out there?”
“I don’t know. Twelve?”
“No. Any given time, around two thousand. And a group that size, it needs to be managed.”
“Really? Sure you’re not exaggerating? There’s not a bit of budget padding going on here?”
“How do you know? About the numbers. Do you have people standing on bridges with clipboards, counting?”
“Not exactly. But we do keep a close eye.”
“Not your business.”
“OK. So why do people do it? To save the price of a ticket?”
“It started that way, years ago. But now it’s a way of life. Bums, with nowhere else to live. Illegal immigrants, sneaking into the country. Vets, from Nam. And lately Iraq, obviously. And Afghanistan. It’s the closest to peace some of those guys are ever going to get, now.”
“It doesn’t sound very peaceful to me.”
“I don’t know. Riding around, alone, in an empty boxcar. That rhythm you get, with the wheels on the rails. It lulls crazy people into a kind of trance. Or lying under the stars, on an open trailer, winding slowly through the mountains. It’s like being on vacation, for them.”
“So what do you think happened? Did some vet start taking out his post-traumatic stress on these bums?”
“No. We don’t get much trouble with the vets. They’re mostly pacifists, now. They just want to be left alone.”
“Another kind of person altogether. Someone who doesn’t need to ride the rails. Someone who wants to.”
“Because it’s against the law. Because it’s fun. The greater the danger, the greater the thrill. People get all romantic about it. They think they’re modern-day cowboys, riding the last freedom trail around America.”
“They do. It’s true. Or how about this? Because it’s a great place to kill people no one will miss, and then disappear before the bodies are found. It’s like a recurring stain.”
“It’s happened before?”
“Many times. Four years ago, a guy killed eleven. The last guy, thirteen.”
“You caught them?”
“Raab’s team did. Eventually. But there’s over a hundred and seventy thousand miles of track in the major routes alone. That’s a lot of places to hide. Or you can run. One side of the country to the other in three days flat. Or cross into Mexico. Or Canada.”
“And wherever you go, you don’t leave any records.”
“You got it. No tickets. No credit cards. No hotels. Nothing.”
“So if the guy’s still in the wind after five murders, what changed? Why would he suddenly think the net was closing? Late-onset paranoia?”
“Someone told him. Warned him. That’s the only answer.”
“Now you’re being paranoid. It’s more likely Raab just showed his hand somehow. He probably screwed things up himself.”
“No. For two reasons. One, we’ve traced every step he took. He didn’t give himself away. We know that. And two, this guy didn’t just spot some anonymous cop breathing down his neck. He had specifics. Who was running the investigation. Where they’d be. When.”
“But that’s high-level information. How would a bum or a vet get access to it?”
“You’ve got to understand the kind of guys we’re talking about. They’re not garden-variety lawbreakers. There’s a whole subculture building up around this. There’s a lot of juice involved.”
“You said they were bums and vets.”
“I did. And they’re still there, sure. But now we’ve got movie stars doing it. Rock stars. Tycoons. Guys who are used to getting what they want, when they want it, regardless.”
“I’m talking about powerful guys. People with contacts. Especiallythe business guys. They all have politicians and public officials in their pockets. One of them must have a hook in the bureau, as well. It’s not good, but it happens.”
“So the guy who killed these riders was tipped by his buddy in the bureau?”
“And then he took Raab out to save his own skin?”
“It was the same guy?”
“That’s how we saw it.”
“What do you need to complete your hand?”
“Then go ahead. Deal your last card.”
“If it is an ace, we’re going to start the paperwork on you,” Rosser said, his hand hovering just above the pack. “You still want me to do it?”
Rosser flipped the top card over and covered it with his hand. He moved so fast all I saw was a blur of red, blue, and yellow against the white background. There was no sign of any numbers. Then he looked straight at me and raised his hand.
It was a grotesque character in a harlequin suit, standing on the north pole and showering the globe with dozens of tiny cards.
“Oh, my,” Rosser said. “Would you look at that.”
“The joker,” I said. “How appropriate. Nice meeting you.”
“Wow, slow down. Maybe we need to look at this thing again. If the train killer and Raab’s killer are different people after all,” he said, separating the three piles of cards, “maybe they’re still connected some other way. What do you think?”
I didn’t answer.
“Let’s talk about this guy on the trains,” Rosser said. “He’s some kind of maverick entrepreneur. He’s rich. More than rich. Loaded. Would he be the kind of guy to, say, wash his own shirts?”
“I doubt it,” I said.
“Do his own ironing?”
“Drive his own limousine?”
“So, would he be the type of guy to go up against a federal agent on his own?”
“You think he killed five other people.”
“They were spaced-out vets. That’s a whole different ballgame. Plus, they were a hobby. This is business.”
“He’d approach it the same way he approaches everything else. He has the money, the contacts, the established pattern of behavior. He’d hire someone to do it for him.”
“No. Definitely. Now the question is, if you were hiring someone for a job like this, what kind of person would you choose?”
“No idea. Never had a problem I couldn’t solve on my own.”
“But if you did, what would you think of this as a résumé?”
Rosser pulled a sheaf of papers from under Raab’s file and tossed it across the table toward me. I scrabbled it up from the shiny surface and looked at the top sheet. It was the printout of an e-mail.
The following information is for research and analysis purposes only. It should not be used as the basis for overt or covert action against Lieutenant Commander Trevellyan or any other Legation Resource Unit personnel.
So Headquarters wouldn’t help me, but they were quick enough to roll over for the FBI—weasel words or not.
“Legation Resource Unit,” Rosser said. “Used to be plain old Royal Navy Intelligence. Am I right?”
I didn’t answer.
“Which section?” he said. “C?”
“Corporate rebranding meets diplomatic security,” he said. “Wow. Do the men in bow ties feel any safer?”
I stayed silent.
“You’re really a sailor, then?” he said.
“Of course I am,” I said. “A world record holder, me.”
“Solo global circumnavigation. In the dark. Backward.”
“No, thought not. Bet you can’t even swim.”
“Amazing. No one’s ever said that to me before. Royal Navy. Water jokes. You made that jump pretty fast. But if you’re going to ask me where I left my battleship, you know what? Don’t bother.”
“OK. I won’t. Smart move, by the way, giving the NYPD an unlisted consulate phone number. First thing we checked, when they gave us your file. Your bosses in London were real impressed. Shows a lot of strategic awareness, for a guy who’s supposed to be covertly guarding the place.”
“That’s not relevant,” I said, turning back to the wad of papers. “The contact was unscheduled. I followed standard procedure. They know that.”
The first part of the report was a summary of my service record. It started with my initial assignment to Hong Kong and carried on with an entry for most of the places I’d been sent to since then. I scanned the next seven pages and saw Washington, Canberra, Moscow, Paris, Lagos, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Tel Aviv, La Paz, Vienna, and half a dozen others. It covered the last fourteen years of my life, going all the way up to the mission I’d just completed here in New York. Nine weeks’ work, four people’s lives, and twelve stitches in the back of my head, all boiled down to fifty sterile words.
“Here we are,” I said, pointing to the paragraph as well as the handcuffs would allow. “This proves it. I couldn’t have been involved with this train thing.”
“We know that now,” Rosser said. “But keep going. It gets more interesting.”
The next section listed some of the training the navy had put me through. I skipped that part. Too many memories of freezing, wet nights on the Welsh mountains. And also because I was hoping the final few pages would contain one thing in particular.
I wasn’t disappointed.
It was the psychological evaluation the navy had carried out during my recruitment. I’d never seen it before. Normally, they’re guarded like the crown jewels. I started at the beginning.
David is an adaptable realist, relying on what he sees, hears, and knows for himself. He is hardworking, righteous, fiercely independent, and convinced that his cause must win above all else. David is optimistic and positive, living mainly in the here and now. He pushes others as hard as he pushes himself, and would prove a challenging adversary.
“Turn over,” Rosser said. “Check the parts I’ve marked out.”
Three sections on the next page were outlined in yellow.
David appears not to be overly concerned with the needs of others, and may resort to extreme practices if anything threatens to get in his way.
David’s rather impersonal approach to life may leave little time, tolerance, or compassion for other people. He may adopt an “if you’ve got a headache, take an aspirin” attitude, which indicates a lack of empathy.
David dislikes being told what to do, or how to do it. He may frequently rebel against the rules, and in so doing will strongly resist attempts by others to regulate his behavior.
“What do you think?” Rosser said. “Makes you an ideal candidate for the hired help, doesn’t it?”
“Because a shrink thinks I may lack empathy?” I said.
“No. We know why you got involved. And it clearly had nothing to do with empathy. Mitchell?”
Mitchell Varley, the guy on Rosser’s left, lifted up a slim black briefcase and balanced it on his lap. He popped the catches and took out a small, clear Ziploc pouch. It contained a fragment of charred paper about an inch wide. He held the tiny bag at arm’s length for a moment, gripping it between his finger and thumb, then gently placed it on the table.
“You have some ash in a bag,” I said. “Should I be impressed?”
“We searched your hotel room,” Varley said. “Guess those bill wrappers didn’t burn quite as good as you figured. This was from a ten-thousand-dollar block. Enough in the room for five of them. What was that—the down payment? Half before, half after? That’s the normal deal?”
“So a hundred thousand dollars was the price of Michael Raab’s life,” Rosser said. “Question is, have you got what it’ll cost to save your own?”
It was early in December when we moved away from Birmingham.
I remember the date because I’d just been given a part in the school nativity play. It was my first one. I was going to be Joseph. The plot wasn’t too convincing, but acting it out sounded fun. I was disappointed to miss the chance, at first. But at my new school we heard all sorts of other Bible stories. Some were much better. David and Goliath, for example. That was the best of all.
The hero shared my name, for a start.
And when the chips were down, I liked how he stepped up and faced his enemy alone.
The reflection of Rosser’s pale, humorless face floated in the polished granite like a ghoul hovering over a giant overturned gravestone.
“Downstairs, was the death penalty mentioned?” he said.
“It might have been,” I said. “I can’t remember. People are threatening to kill me all the time. And yet, here I am.”
“Good. Because I’ve changed my mind. I’ve got something else lined up for you.”
“An apology? A first-class ticket back to London?”
“An eight-by-ten cell,” he said, reaching to his left and slowly drawingthe edge of his hand across the shiny surface. “Think about it. That’s about a quarter of the size of this table.”
“I don’t see a judge in here.”
“Eight feet by ten. Your whole world. Twenty-three hours a day. How long would you last?”
I didn’t answer.
“Not long, a guy like you,” he said. “So this is what you’re going to do. Go back downstairs with Lavine and Weston. Tell them about the guy who hired you. Every last detail. Help us take him down. Him, and his rat buddy in the bureau. Then, maybe we’ll think about sending you back to London.”
“I can’t do that,” I said. “There’s no one to tell them about. No one hired me. I’m not involved.”
“We can prove you are. Don’t kid yourself. Force us into court with this and the whole thing will land right at your door. It’ll destroy you.”
“You can prove nothing. And London will never stand by and watch me walk into a courtroom.”
“They’ve already agreed. You’ve been disavowed, Mr. Trevellyan. You’re not a lieutenant commander anymore. You’ll walk into that courtroom a private citizen. It’ll be you and a public defender against the bureau’s attorneys. How do you think the cards will be stacked then?”
I didn’t answer.
“Don’t believe me?” he said. “OK. Louis—get London on the phone.”
Thirty-five minutes later the door swung open and Tanya Wilson strode into the room. She was wearing the same smart suit as before, but had replaced the briefcase with a small, blue leather handbag. There was no sign of the prop glasses and her expression was aloof and impatient, like an executive who had been called into a meeting with people she thought were going to waste her time. She scowled at me as though that were my fault, then took a quick look across the table.
“Afternoon, gentlemen,” she said, and introduced herself.
I glanced at Tanya’s watch. It had just turned five to four.
“Ms. Wilson,” Rosser said. “Sorry to drag you across town, but you have some information for Mr. Trevellyan?”
“I do,” Tanya said. “Though I’d appreciate a moment’s privacy with him. This episode has been embarrassing enough. London wouldn’t thank me for airing any more of their dirty laundry.”
“Understood. Agent Lavine—find Ms. Wilson a suitable room down the hallway. Will five minutes be enough?”
Tanya nodded. I got to my feet and we followed Lavine back out into the corridor. He led the way to the first door on the right. Tanya pushed it open and stood aside for me to go through before her. She followed me in and seemed surprised to find Lavine hard on her heels. He walked to the center of the room and turned slowly around, surveying the blank walls and empty floor space. The only object to be seen was a set of emergency evacuation instructions. They were in a plain clip frame on the wall to the side of the door. It had a glass front. Lavine removed it on his way out.
“Four minutes thirty,” he said. “I’ll be right outside.”
“What are you doing here, Tanya?” I said. “It seems you’re not my attorney anymore.”
“No, I’m just a messenger now,” she said, stepping closer and taking hold of my lapels. For a moment I thought she was going to reach up and kiss me. At least I hoped she was. “I’ve been sent to tell you something.”
“What is it?”
“London has been on the phone,” she said, letting go of my coat and taking a step back. You can always rely on Headquarters people to dampen the moment.
“I’m sorry, David. There’s no easy way to say this. They dressed it up in a load of bullshit, but the bottom line is, London is washing their hands. As far as this current situation is concerned, you’re on your own.”
“They’re cutting me loose?”
“I’m sorry, David. I wouldn’t personally go this way, but it’s London’s call.”
“That’s ridiculous. Why?”
“This dead agent. The eyewitness. Something about some physical evidence the FBI found at your hotel.”
“It’s something to Washington. Whatever they found, it somehow convinced them you’ve been freelancing. They say they’re coming after you personally unless you give up your client.”
“And London? They believe that?”
“They don’t know either way.”
“So they just gave me up, anyhow?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time someone crossed the line. And Washington thinks they’ve got a traitor in the bureau, which is making them extra crazy.”
“That’s their problem. London should have stood up.”
“I’m sorry, David. I agree with you. I think they’re making a mistake. I tried to argue with them, but who am I?”
“Don’t worry about it, Tanya. It’s not your fault. You didn’t go over there and remove their backbones.”
“I still feel bad, though.”
“That’s life. Shit happens. It’s what you do about it that counts.”
“But what can you do? You didn’t kill their agent, and you don’t have a name to give them. It’s a lose-lose situation.”
“Something will come to mind.”
“Like what? If you don’t cooperate they’ll think you’re holding out on them. They’ll come after you extra hard, out of spite.”
“It won’t come to that.”
“How can you avoid it? The moment they get you in a courtroom, you’re finished. The odds are totally stacked in their favor.”
“So maybe I won’t go into a courtroom.”
“David, there’s no way to avoid it. Without London’s help you don’t have a choice. Face the facts. You’re stuck with it, so we’ll justhave to think of a different approach. Something to balance the scales a little.”
“This legal aid person Washington is offering? Their public defender? Forget him. Hire a better lawyer. It would be expensive, but if you worked with them to build a really strong case you could beat the FBI at their own game. And make London eat humble pie at the same time. How sweet would that be?”
“Work with a lawyer?” I said, moving over to the window. There were fewer people on the street now, and the ones that were left seemed somehow smaller and farther away. “That’s one option.”
There was a bang on the door.
“Sixty seconds,” Lavine said, from the corridor.
“His watch must be fast,” Tanya said. “Arsehole. So anyway, decision time. What are we going to tell Rosser when we go back in?”
“Tell him whatever you like,” I said, crossing to the opposite corner of the room. “But for now, do me a favor. Stay where you are.”
“David? What are you doing?”
I found a spot where I’d be concealed by the door when it opened and got into position, lying on my back with my right knee slightly bent and my arms stretched out above my head, as straight as the handcuffs would allow. Then I slowed my breathing right down and relaxed my whole body until it was perfectly still.
Lavine didn’t knock a second time, and he came into the room well before the final minute was up. He took a step toward Tanya and then stopped abruptly with one hand still holding the door. After a moment the closing mechanism pulled the handle clear of his fingertips and it swung back into place with a bang.
“Where is he?” Lavine said.
Tanya nodded in my direction. She looked nervous.
If Lavine had been sensible and headed back to the corridor for helpI’d have had a problem. But he didn’t. He came over to gawp at me. People can never resist the sight of a body. I should know.
I stopped breathing altogether as Lavine approached. He stepped into the gap I’d left next to the wall, bent over me, then knelt down for a closer look. I could feel his breath on my cheek. It was damp. I guess he was worried, wondering how to explain this fiasco to Rosser.
Before he could move away I whipped my right leg up, hooked it around the back of his head and dragged him down toward me, trapping his neck between my thighs and jacking myself up into a sitting position at the same time. My arms were still above my head, and in one continuous movement I swung them over and brought them down in front of me, slamming the edges of my fists into his left temple like a pair of sledgehammers.
Tanya rushed over and stood for a moment, staring down at the pair of us entwined on the floor. She looked completely aghast. Then, without me asking, she began to haul Lavine’s slack body off my leg.
“David, what on earth do you think you’re doing?” she said. “How are we going to fix this?”
“Give me a hand,” I said. “I need his keys.”
“What’s going on inside your head? Why did you attack him? Talk about making yourself look guilty. Who’s going to believe you now?”
“Things were bad enough already. Now you’ve made them a thousand times worse. Just be quiet for a minute. I need time to think.”
“We don’t have any time. I need to be out of here before they come looking for Lavine. They’ll wonder where we are.”
“You’re running away? Things are getting a bit tough, and this is how you react?”
“I’m not running away, Tanya. Never have, never will.”
“Then what are you doing? You might as well sign a confession. Do you want to die in jail?”
“Stop thinking inside the system, Tanya. I gave it a chance. It came up short. Now it’s time to take care of business for myself.”
“Find out who’s framing me.”
“Then what? Have you thought about this at all? Have you got any idea what you’re going to do?”
“Bring them back here. Accept Rosser’s apology. Go back to work.”
“You’re taking the law into your own hands? You really think that’s the best way to go? You’ll be a fugitive. A cop killer. The FBI, NYPD, everyone you can think of will be out there, hunting you down.”
“They can try, Tanya. It’s nothing new. And who else is going to sort this crock out? Lawyers? I don’t think so. Washington? Too busy throwing me to the lions. London? Sitting back, watching. You? Running around, delivering messages?”
Tanya turned away. Her breathing sounded sharp and fast but she made no attempt to speak.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “That wasn’t fair.”
“No, it wasn’t,” she said, without moving. “I’ve been trying to help ever since I got your call.”
“I know. But if you really want to do something helpful, please, get me the damn keys.”
Tanya found them in Lavine’s pants pocket, which was the first place she looked. She pulled them out, stalled for a moment while she pretended to examine his Bart Simpson key ring, and then very hesitantly released my wrists.
“OK,” she said. “So I’m an accessory now. What else can I do?”
“Nothing,” I said, taking Lavine’s gun and $130 in bills from his wallet. “London has washed its hands. You can’t get involved.”
“Hello? News flash—I am involved. I want to be. What London’s doing is wrong. I’m not going to just stand by and see you stabbed in the back.”
“Absolutely. Why not? In for a penny, in for a pound.”
“You’ll end up in hot water.”
“OK then. Maybe there are a couple of things you could do.”
“Keep your phone on. Hook me up with the right people when I’m ready to come back in. No one too trigger-happy.”
“You’ve got my number. What else?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute,” I said.
Something on the wall had caught my eye. About waist height, fifteen inches in from the corner. From a distance I thought it was just a dent, but looking up from the floor I wasn’t so sure. I moved closer and saw it was actually the mouth of a metal socket. It was square, about half an inch across. The plaster had been chipped away all around it, disguising the shape. I ran my hand across the surface and into the narrow alcove that formed where the two walls met. I reached up inside the dusty channel but didn’t find anything. Then I moved my hand down again and my fingers brushed against something cold and metallic. I took hold, pulled, and it came away from its moorings quite easily. It was a steel bar, shaped like the starting handle from a vintage car. One end was squared off. I tried it in the socket. It fitted perfectly.
I turned the handle gently, but nothing happened. I tried a little harder, and very gradually the entire side wall began to move. It was sliding away toward the far side of the room and gathering up like a concertina between two banks of windows. I could have wound it all the way back to join our room up with the next one, but there was no need. I stopped after a dozen turns, leaving a space just wide enough to squeeze through.
I poked my head through the gap and quickly scanned the room. It was a similar size, also empty, with nothing on the walls. I didn’t go through. There wasn’t time for a thorough inspection, but that didn’t matter. I could see enough from where I stood. A socket for winding the folding wall back into place—this time with a metal plate around it—and a door leading to the corridor. Everything I was going to need.
Tanya had her back to me, still gazing down at Lavine.
“That other favor,” I said. “Tell them I overpowered their guy on my own. Don’t mention that you found the keys. Then say I knocked you down, and you don’t know what happened after that. OK?”
“Do you think they’ll swallow it?” she said.
“Just keep it simple, don’t elaborate, and stick to your story.”
“Oh, Tanya?” I said, pulling the handle free from its socket. “One last thing. I need you to scream.”
She didn’t disappoint. I kissed her—just for luck—then hooked her legs out from under her. She went down, hard, already yelling before she even landed on Lavine. I dived through into the next room. The handle slotted into place and I quickly started turning. A door opened in the distance. It sounded like the boardroom. Rosser and the others coming to investigate. More footsteps thundered down the corridor. Two people, running. Coming from the opposite direction. The agents who had been stationed by the elevators.
The wall inched across as if it were being pulled by a snail. I turned the handle even faster and the edge finally slotted home just as I heard the door fly open on the far side. People rushed in. I heard them milling around. Their voices were raised. They sounded angry and confused. I moved over to my door, eased it open a crack and peeped out into the corridor. It was clear. I opened the door wider and slipped through. Then I had to wait there for a moment, easing the door closed against the mechanism so it didn’t bang into the frame.
But thanks to Tanya, there was no one around to see me.
Stairs are your enemy, my Escape and Evasion instructor used to say.
He repeated it constantly, never missing a chance to drum it into our heads. At first I thought he must be mad, but pretty quickly I came to see his point. Run up or down enough of them and your legs turn to jelly, however fit you are. Bad if you’re carrying a tray of coffee back to your office. Worse if there are people with guns waiting for you at the other end.
I figured that with their top brass in an insecure building the bureau guys would be doing everything by the book. The agents who had been stationed by the elevators would be the inner perimeter. I didn’t have to worry about them. I’d got through, and I’d hear if they tried to follow me. But there’d also be an outer perimeter, either on the ground floor or in the garage. And probably a backup vehicle outside on the street. That put a lot of stairs between me and anyone with a hostile disposition.
I decided to take things nice and slow.
I stopped on the twentieth floor to see if anything was happening with the elevators. There was only one in service—the same one that Lavineand Weston had taken me up in—and the display showed it was on the ground floor.
I stopped again on the first floor. This time I went straight through the lobby area and down the corridor, looking into all the various rooms. The first few on both sides were empty. Then I found one with a desk in it. That wouldn’t work. Too big to carry. A large cardboard box had been left in the next room, but it was damaged. Too flimsy to stand on. But in the next room—the last but one—I found a small set of wooden shelves tucked away in a closet in the corner, next to the window. They were three feet wide, two feet high, and nine inches deep. Sturdy enough, and a perfect size. I picked them up and headed back to the elevators.
I went directly to the active one and hit the call button. The doors parted after a few seconds and I moved inside. I placed the shelves in the center of the floor, climbed up on them, and shoved the escape hatch in the ceiling just hard enough to partially dislodge it. Then I laid the shelves on their side, hit the buttons for the tenth and the ground floors, and stepped back out into the lobby.
Without making a sound, I ran down the one remaining flight of stairs. I slowed down as I approached the door to the reception area and peered through the coating of dust on the little window. I saw four men on the other side. They were wearing black utility suits withFBIin large yellow letters on their backs. Three were standing, looking at the active elevator. The other was facing the other way. He was talking on a handheld radio, his empty hand pressed against his free ear.
His conversation ended and he turned to join the others. He gestured with his arms and they moved to form a shallow horseshoe facing the metal doors, an arm’s length apart. They all drew their weapons. I checked the floor indicator. The elevator was on the tenth. The display blinked. The elevator had started moving. It was coming back down. None of the agents reacted until it reached the second floor. Then, in unison, they raised their Glocks and took aim at the join in the center of the doors. I took hold of the handle in front of me and gently started to twist.
The elevator reached the ground floor. The agents were like statues.Their legs and backs were taut, their necks strained forward, all their senses focused in front of them. The elevator doors slid apart. At the same moment, I slipped into the lobby through the gap I’d made and carefully eased the door back into place. That put me six feet away from the nearest agent, directly behind him.
For a moment, all four stayed perfectly still. The agent who’d been on the radio was the first to move. He crept forward toward the elevator, his pistol snapping up and down between the abandoned shelves on the floor and the crooked escape hatch above them. As he moved, I moved. He went forward. I went sideways. He reached the entrance to the elevator, only looking up now, satisfied the car was empty. I reached the line of silver posts and kept moving, slowly and smoothly, until I was level with the entrance to the garage stairs.
Without warning, the elevator doors timed out and began to close. Another agent stepped up and hit the call button. The doors paused at the halfway point, then slid apart again. The two agents moved forward, together now, into the elevator itself. I edged backward, nudged the door, and disappeared silently down the steps.
I was at the bottom of the final flight before I realized I’d forgotten one detail. There were no windows in the turquoise doors leading to the garage. It would be impossible to tell if there were any more agents lurking on the other side. And no time to set up another diversion.
I gave the bottom of the left-hand door a sharp jab with my foot. It moved about twelve inches, its trailing edge grating harshly against the concrete. I slid across so that I was covered by the wall and waited for a reaction. There wasn’t one. No shots. No voices. No one coming to investigate. I waited another minute. Still no response. So I drew Lavine’s pistol, took a deep breath, and stepped through the gap.
There were more vehicles in the garage than when I arrived, but no people. Another three identical white vans had appeared next to Weston and Lavine’s, and two more black Fords were parked alongside the four I’d seen earlier. A couple of spaces farther down there was a pair of even larger black sedans—Lincolns—and opposite them, a shiny Cadillac with dark privacy glass.
Taking one of the vehicles was out of the question. I didn’t have the time or the tools to deal with the trackers. Not that I minded—staying one step ahead in a city is always easier on foot.
The exit ramp was on the other side of the garage. I made my way across, climbed up, and slipped into the empty security booth at the top of the slope. It gave a clear view of the street. There were vehicles parked along both sides. They were mostly sedans and SUVs—older models, dirty, with a few dents and scratches—but diagonally opposite the entrance there was a clean, white van. It was the same make and model as the four in the garage. A sign sayingBAXTER ELECTRICALwas attached to the rear panel, but it wasn’t fooling anyone.
A steel-blue Jeep Cherokee turned into the street and cruised slowly between the lines of parked cars. It stopped, and reversed into a space a couple of slots behind the van. Two men got out. Both were wearing suits. The driver slung a black nylon computer bag over his shoulder. He locked the Jeep from his remote and they crossed the street, heading toward the garage. I waited for them to draw almost level and then drifted out of the booth, a couple of paces in front. It wouldn’t have fooled anyone keeping a proper watch, but I didn’t have time to wait.
As we walked I could hear a couple of vehicle engines on the move. They sounded like cars. Nothing more powerful. I risked taking a look over my shoulder and saw the white van was still in place at the curb. The guys from the Jeep were behind me, looking down, trudging along in silence. They stayed with me until the next corner when I peeled off to the left.
Two cars followed me. Black Lincolns. The first one drew level then braked to match my pace. It was far too slow to be regular traffic. The bureau guys in the van must have been on the ball, after all. I looked for some cover—an entrance to a building, a ramp down to another garage, an alley, a fire escape, anything to get off the street—but there was nothing I could use. Just a long, blank wall.
I turned to run back the other way. The cars responded, surging up onto the sidewalk. One cut across in front of me, blocking me off. Theother came from behind, penning me in. The one in front was way too keen and its huge bulbous fender slammed right into the brickwork.
On a normal day that would give me my way out. I’d shoot the guys in the car behind me and slide over its hood while the other two were still wrestling with their airbags. And when they’d disentangled themselves and tried to follow, I’d shoot them, too.
But today wasn’t normal. I was dealing with FBI agents. Killing them wasn’t an option. Nor was fighting my way out. These were trained, motivated guys who thought I’d killed one of their own. The situation was too volatile. Things would escalate too quickly. I was on the wrong side of the line already, and if one of them got seriously hurt, there’d be no way back for me. In the circumstances, I had no choice. Annoying as it was, I’d have to let them take me back in.
And next time, be more careful.
The guys from the rear car got out and walked toward me. There were two of them. They would be in their mid-twenties, with black, slightly shiny suits and dark, glossy hair. Both were holding weapons. The driver had a Colt .38 Super in polished stainless steel. The passenger had a Smith & Wesson 1911 Performance Center in glassbead black. Expensive pieces of hardware. Flashy. Not the kind of thing you’d expect Quantico to approve.
The passenger tucked his gun into his waistband and came over to search me. It was my third time in seventeen hours. I’d be surprised if it was his third time, ever. He didn’t even turn me around. Just put his left hand on my chest to hold me against the wall and checked me over with his right. The urge to gooseneck his left wrist and force him onto his knees in front of me was almost too strong to resist. Instead I held my arms out, kept quiet, and let him have a good rummage around in my clothes. Lavine’s gun went into his waistband, next to his own, the money went into his back pocket, and the handle I’d taken from the meeting room seemed to confuse him, so he just dumped it on the ground.
“Give me your hands,” he said, reaching forward and grabbing both my wrists.
He’d left himself completely open. I was amazed the FBI could havesent such amateurs to arrest me, knowing what they knew. Quite insulted, actually. Then something struck me about how they’d driven into the wall. How their vehicles had functioning airbags. How they were using shiny handguns in the field. How comically inept their search technique was. Put it all together, and there was only one explanation.
They weren’t FBI agents at all. I looked down at the guy’s face and smiled. He wasn’t off limits any longer. My head started to roll back. The muscles in my neck began to tighten, all on their own. It was as if some kind of magnetic attraction had developed between my forehead and the bridge of his nose. But before I could split his skull, another thought hit me. It stopped me in my tracks. This was no random mugging. These cowboys were out in too much force for that. And how had they known to target me in particular? What I looked like? Or where I’d be?
Someone had been helping them. And that was good.
Because now they were going to help me.
When I was four years old my grandparents bought me Snakes & Ladders for my birthday. Chutes & Ladders, they call it in the States. But whatever the name, it was my favorite toy for quite a while. And all because of the first time we played with it. I remember the anticipation, waiting for the old folks to get ready. Then lining up the counters next to the board. Picking up the dice. Rolling. And getting a . . . one.
I was disappointed. It was a terrible score. The worst you could get. I was obviously doomed. I took my counter and gloomily reached toward the first square. Then I noticed the ladder. It sprouted from the bottom corner and ran all the way up to square 38. It would carry me nearly halfway home with my first move.
From despair to hope in a single moment. It was an amazing feeling.
And when the fool from the Lincoln pulled a long white cable tie out of his pocket and wrapped it around my wrists, I felt something like it again.
I knew the guy from the car wouldn’t have been able to tell me anything useful, himself. He was too low down the food chain. But the person who sent him would be a different story. And this idiot was going to save me the trouble of tracking him down. I nearly laughed outloud, even when the driver popped the trunk and gestured for me climb inside.
We were on the move for fifty minutes. It was absolutely dark in the trunk, but apart from being cramped and a bit airless, I didn’t really mind. The carpet was thick and soft, and there was a raised ledge that made a kind of pillow. The big sedan’s suspension was much more civilized than the FBI van, it didn’t stink like the NYPD car, and the driver was taking it nice and steady. I’d been in hotel rooms that were less comfortable.
The first part of the journey was all stops and starts, so I guessed we were still in the city. Then there was a really rough section with tight twists and turns and lots of tire noise. After that a long, smooth, fast road with a couple of sweeping right-hand bends. The last five minutes were slower, then we turned left into some sort of rough yard or driveway. We snaked right and left, then crunched to a halt. The car paused for a moment. Then it rolled forward for the final few yards before coming to rest. The engine note died away. A car door slammed. Footsteps passed me. A mechanical clanking sound started up somewhere close. It lasted twenty seconds. Then there was silence.
The trunk lid opened, and all I could see was the inside of a roll-up garage door looming above me. The panels were made of wood. They ran horizontally. Each one was ten inches high, with some kind of dull brown coating applied to them. Rails ran up the sides to a winding mechanism that was fixed to the rough plasterboard ceiling.
The door was less than an inch from the car’s rear fender. I stood up in the trunk and looked around. The front of the car was touching a wooden pole, sticking straight upright, with a red circular reflector attached to it at windshield height. There was a blank unplastered wall to our left, and room for two other cars to our right. The driver was in the center of the empty space. He was leaning against a round metal pillar, his hands in his pockets, looking pleased with himself. The passenger climbed out and went to stand next to him, also with a smug grin on his face. Then a plain wooden door in the opposite wall scraped open and another man stepped into the garage. He would be in hisfifties, and was heavyset with dark, wiry hair and an open, friendly face. He was wearing a black polo shirt with some kind of golf club logo, beige trousers, and boat shoes. He could easily have been a lawyer or stockbroker, home for a long weekend and killing time before the Tuesday-morning rush.
“You two,” he said. “Where are your manners? Help our guest.”
My feet were on the ground long before the passenger ambled across to the car, so he just took my elbow and steered me toward the internal door. The older man stepped through first, leading us into a basement area. It was basically a long rectangle, but with a block taken out at our end for a set of stairs. Another area was paneled in at the far end for something—I couldn’t see what—which made the remaining space into a shape like a capital H.
The floor was gray concrete throughout. There were wooden shelves all around the walls with piles of suitcases, bags, plastic containers, and cardboard boxes neatly lined up on them. There was a lot of stuff in there, but you could have emptied the place inside ten minutes. The ceiling was the only part that wasn’t tidy and organized. It was mostly boxed in, but in several places the boards were missing and wads of pink fiberglass insulation were hanging down. Either the place had recently been searched, or they had a major mouse problem.
The corner between the door and the stairwell was taken up with a washing machine, a dryer, some ironing equipment, and various baskets of clothes. The older man ignored them and hurried straight through, heading for the alcove on the opposite side. That was about the same size as the laundry area, and was also fitted out for a particular purpose. But not with white goods. Two giant cages had been crammed in there. They must have been ten feet deep by six wide and seven high. The floors as well as the sides and roofs were made of heavy-gauge wire mesh. Each one had a mesh door at the front. Both were padlocked.
The cage on the right, next to the stairs, was empty. There was a person in the other one. It was a woman. She was lying curled up on her side in the far corner, facing away from us. Her clothes looked smart. She had gray-green trousers, a matching suit jacket, and blacklow-heeled boots. I watched her carefully. Her shoulders flexed slightly as she breathed, but otherwise she didn’t respond to our arrival in any way.
“Need the john?” the older guy said.
“No,” I said.
I didn’t answer.
He took a bunch of keys from his pocket and unlocked the empty cage. I stepped inside.
“Hang in there,” he said. “I’ll be right back with some food. Then you can eat. Or not. It’s up to you.”
The guys from the car trailed meekly away after the older man. Their footsteps were hard and hollow on the bare wooden stairs, and the ceiling creaked loudly as they walked about above my head. I was glad they’d gone with him. With them all out of the way I could start to look around. I’d never been in a cage like that before. I wanted to know how it was made. Where its weaknesses were.
“Don’t you know what these things are?” a female voice said. It sounded harsh and irritated. I looked around and saw my neighbor had stood up. She was tall. Five eleven, allowing for the heels. It hadn’t been so obvious when she was curled up.
“They’re dog cages,” she said. “Made to hold big, angry dogs. Dobermans and Alsatians, for God’s sake. And you think you’re just going to claw your way out? Some fingernails you must have.”
“Have you seen any dogs around here?” I said.
“I didn’t say I’d seen dogs. I said these were dog cages. Which they are. Look.” She pointed with her right foot to a metal tag attached to the mesh low down at the side of her cage. It saidHOUND COMPOUND INC.
If these were dog cages, where were the dogs? I’d had more than my fill of trouble with them in the past, and there was no room in my plans for them now. Especially not big, angry ones. I scanned the rest of the basement. There were no leads or bowls or baskets. No packets or cans of dog food. No dog paraphernalia of any kind. No dog hairs on the floor. No smell of dogs. And no sound of barking.
Maybe the dogs were dead.
Maybe a previous owner had left the cages behind.
Or maybe these cages hadn’t been bought with dogs in mind.
A door banged above us, then I heard footsteps on the stairs again. The three guys reappeared. The older one was carrying a rectangular tray. It was brown plastic with fake wood grain like they use in cheap cafeterias. Two items were on it. Something tall and square wrapped in shiny white paper, and a small bottle of Coke. It was plastic. There was no cutlery.
The driver took the tray and the older man fished in his pocket for the keys. He motioned for me to move back then opened the door. The driver put the tray down just inside the cage. He moved slowly and kept his eyes on me until he’d stepped back out and fixed the padlock into place.
“There you go,” the older man said. “Enjoy.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Maybe I will. Then what?”
He studied me for a moment, as if deciding whether to answer.
“Someone wants to speak to you,” he said, finally.
“Who?” I said. “When?”
“Someone important. They’re on their way now. Be here soon. Better eat. Might not get the chance, later.”
He stayed and looked at me levelly for another few seconds. It didn’t seem threatening. More like he was curious about me. Then he turned and led the others back upstairs.
I picked up the tray, took it to the back of the cage and sat down. I took a mouthful of Coke—nice and cold—and then unwrapped the white paper package. A sandwich was inside. The largest sandwich I’d ever seen in my life. It was fully three inches thick. There were two large chunks of white bread crammed with dozens of slices of pastrami and big wedges of Swiss cheese. Mustard was dripping out between the layers. Fitting it into my mouth would be quite a challenge.
“This is huge,” I said to the woman. “Like some? There’s plenty for both of us.”
She came across to the boundary of the cages and had a look.
“Don’t like pastrami,” she said.
I shrugged and picked up the sandwich.
The woman waited until I’d finished eating and then moved down inside her cage so she was level with me. She leaned forward and took hold of the wire. Her hands were close together, about shoulder height, and I could see her wrists were bound with the same kind of cable tie as mine.
“Same jeweler?” I said, raising my arms. She smiled.
“Sorry about before,” she said. “If I was rude.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“ ’Cause I could really use a friend right now. Think we could be friends?”
“No. I shouldn’t think so.”
“Oh. Why not?”
“Different taste in sandwiches. I might want more pastrami, you’d insist on something wholesome—it would be a disaster. We’d probably kill each other inside a week.”
“Oh, yeah. I see what you mean. Could be a problem, the food thing. Think we could work around it?”
“Maybe. In the circumstances.”
“That’s good. ’Cause I really need to talk. You mind? You’re not one of these silent, solitary-type guys are you?”
“Me? No. I’m like the village gossip.”
“Good. But, you know, I’m not normally chatty like this. If we were in a bar right now, I’d be trying to decide whether to take my hat off to you or punch you in the face.”
“Well, given you’re not wearing a hat, I’m glad we’re where we are.”
“Nothing personal. Just I’ve got a funny feeling you’re in the same line of work as me.”
“I doubt that very much.”
“Bit of a coincidence, both of us ending up here, if we were.”
“I don’t agree. You follow the same story, you end up in the same place. You’re bound to.”
“You’re following a story? You’re a reporter?”
“Like you’re not. And forget about following. You’re not following. You’re stealing. My exclusive. And somehow getting further with it than me. You asshole. You must be very good.”
“Listen, don’t worry. A reporter is the last thing I am. Journalists and me—we’re like oil and water.”
“Really? I’m offended now. What’s wrong with reporters? Everyone should mix with us.”
“Nothing’s wrong. But let’s just say we don’t really seek publicity, where I work.”
“Where do you work?”
“My office is in London. I do a lot of telecoms consultancy. For the government. Tend to be a bit secretive, some of those guys.”
“Sounds interesting. That why you’re in New York?”
“See? That’s why we don’t mix. Can’t help yourself, can you?”
“Sorry. But my problem is, if you were lying, that’s exactly the sort of thing you’d say.”
“Good point. Maybe next time we meet I’ll be picking up the Pulitzer and you’ll be on table Z, crying into your Chardonnay.”
“You know about the Chardonnay? Now I’m really suspicious.”
“Yeah—I was there last year, at the ceremony. Hiding behind the curtains, deciding which big scoop to steal.”
“Then you would never have got mine. I never talk about a story until it’s published. Except to my editor. It brings bad luck.”
“It brought bad luck anyway. I’m guessing it was your story that got you in trouble?”
“So it would seem.”
“Two guys—the same two that got you—set up a meeting. In a parking lot. Said they had information for me. Then they pulled guns. Put me in the trunk of their car. Drove me out here. It was horrible. I nearly puked.”
“Any idea where we are?”
“Not really. But it’s quiet. And from the length of the drive I’d guess maybe Connecticut? Upstate New York?”
“When did they grab you?”
“Three days ago.”
“Been here all that time?”
“Apart from trips upstairs, to the bathroom.”
“Will anyone have missed you? Raised the alarm?”
“What about your editor?”
“Haven’t got one yet. I pitched it to everyone. No one bit.”
“So you’re working it on your own, anyway?”
“Yeah. Pretty stupid, huh?”
“No. I like that. It shows commitment. But what were you stirring up that’s worth all this trouble?”
“You really don’t know?”
“Wouldn’t waste my time asking if I did.”
“Could take a while.”
“Doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere.”
“OK then. It basically started as a social justice piece. I got details of all the homicides in Manhattan over the last twelve months. It was a long list, so I broke it down by clear-up rate. Then I looked at the NYPD’s results. I wanted to see how much is based on the victim’s background.”
“What did you find? Anything conclusive?”
“Oh, yeah. No doubt about it. Institutionalized discrimination, from one end of the city to the other.”
“Based on what?”
“It’s like this. If a Wall Street guy gets hit, the police go hell-for-leather. The killer’s as good as caught before the knot gets tied on the toe tag. But if it’s a bum, the detectives go straight to the paperwork. Kick it down to Open Unsolved.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. They even have their own code for it. ‘NHI’—No Human Involved.”
“It wasn’t like that last night. I found a bum’s body and the NYPD were all over me like a rash.”
“That was different. The way I heard it, there was something a bit special about the victim.”
“How did you hear that? I thought you were locked up in here?”
“I overheard the guys talking, before they went to pick you up.”
“How did they know?”
“I just heard them talking,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “So is it true? The victim was an FBI agent?”
“Yes, he was,” I said. “But they only found that out later. The NYPD didn’t know at the time.”
“See, this federal thing is confusing me. I looked into all the organized groups that could possibly enjoy killing bums. Or benefit from it. Gangs, property developers, white supremacists, psychos, other bums, you name it. And the bureau didn’t factor in once.”
“So what am I missing? I’ve got a lot riding on this story. If there’s a huge hole in it, I need to know.”
“There’s no hole. The feds aren’t involved in your story.”
“But their guy was disguised as a bum. He was killed in Manhattan. That’s a coincidence?”
“Why not? It’s a big city. Must be dozens of investigations going on, all the time.”
“What were they looking at, then, the guys you spoke to?”
“Don’t know,” I said. After all, she was still a reporter. “They kept their cards pretty close. But it was clear they were only looking at things that happened outside the city.”
“Then thank goodness,” she said, turning her back to the dividing wall and sinking to the floor. “I thought I’d missed something. If all this was for nothing . . .”
I shifted around the corner so I was sitting nearer to her. We ended up almost back to back, our right shoulders separated by the mesh. Herthick black hair was spilling through into my cage. Some of it was touching my arm. She twisted her head to look at me and a strand tickled my cheek. It smelled of coconut.
“What’s your name?” I said. “I want to look out for your byline.”
“Julianne,” she said. “Julianne Morgan. You?”
“David, can I ask you something? I’m curious.”
“About the FBI. Did they give you a hard time?”
“Why did they pull you in, then?”
“The NYPD had a tip from a bogus eyewitness. It threw them off the scent for a while.”
“But the feds believed you in the end?”
“We came to an understanding.”
“They didn’t want to throw you in jail while they checked out your alibi, or whatever?”
“They may have preferred me to hang around a little longer.”
“So why let you go? Did you pull some lawyer trick?”
“Dialogue had stalled. It was time to explore other avenues.”
“What does that mean?”
“I felt I could contribute more to solving the case if I was free to operate in a less restricted environment.”
“In other words, you escaped?”
“If you like.”
“Oh yes, I do like. How? What did you do?”
“Not much. Just walked out the door when they weren’t looking.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Any chance of fixing it so these guys aren’t looking? So you could walk out of here, too? And take me with you?”
“Absolutely. When the time is right.”
“When the time is right? When will that be?”
“Someone’s coming to talk to me. It would be rude to leave without having a chat.”
“Screw ‘rude.’ I’ve been here three days.”
“Another couple of hours won’t hurt.”
“David, ever thought what they’ll do when they don’t need us anymore? Like maybe after they’ve talked to us?”
There was another bang above our heads, then two people’s footsteps clattered down the stairs. Julianne slumped forward like she’d been shot.
“Too late,” she said.
The two younger guys appeared from the bottom of the staircase.
“Your boss here?” I said.
They ignored me and crossed to the front of Julianne’s cage. The guy who’d driven me here had the keys. He opened her door. Julianne stood up and backed away.
“Where are you going?” he said. “Come on. Out.”
Julianne didn’t move. The driver stepped into her cage. She retreated. He followed her into the corner, grabbed her upper arm and hauled her out. The passenger pulled the door shut after him.
The padlock was one of the old-fashioned English kind. You can’t just click them shut with one hand—you have to hold the hasp in place while you turn the key. They’re more awkward to use, but I prefer them. No effort has been wasted on decoration or convenience. It’s all gone into making them solid and functional. They look uncompromising, like they belong in an ancient jail or dungeon. My door had the same kind.
The driver finished with the key and the two guys moved back toward the stairs, dragging Julianne between them.
“Don’t worry,” the driver said as they passed me. “You’re next.”
That would be fine for me.
Maybe not for Julianne.
Certainly not for them.
So far, all my assignments have been in cities.
All except one, that is. It started out OK. I had a roof over my head, running water, cooked food. But things soon went downhill. It spread into the jungle. In Colombia. And I hated it. The entire place was full of creatures that spent every waking moment trying to kill you. Everything that walked or crawled or slithered or swam or flew was absolutely lethal. Even the frogs were poisonous. Apart from one type. Some exotic species that was all covered in bright red and yellow blotches. They’d evolved that way to fool people into thinking they were dangerous, apparently. Like the guys who’d taken Julianne, in many ways. Only there was a problem with that approach. Some predators fell for it and walked away, unwilling to take the risk. The rest just steamed in harder.
That may have worked for the frogs, half the time.
But neither result was going to suit me.
Julianne was brought back after only twenty minutes. I took a good look at her as the driver shoved her through the cage doorway. She seemed pretty composed. Not in any obvious pain, anyway. I tried to catch her eye but she didn’t lift her head. She wouldn’t stop staring at the floor.
The driver opened my door and glared across at me, alert and anxious. He was standing bolt upright, chest out, chin up.
“Your turn,” the driver said. “The hell you waiting for?”
“Nothing,” I said quietly, making sure not to look him in the face.
I hesitated for a moment, then wearily hauled myself to my feet. I made a real meal of it, slumping my shoulders and bowing my head. Another few seconds slipped away. The driver was beginning to relax, not perceiving a threat. Another long pause dragged by and, finally satisfied, I crept timidly out of the cage.
The passenger took my right arm and held it while the driver swung the cage door shut. When he had both hands on the padlock, concentrating, I stamped my right heel down sideways into the passenger’s left kneecap. He yelled, dropped my arm, and doubled over in pain. Struggling for balance, he hopped drunkenly back, hunched up, hugging his injured leg to his chest.
The padlock hit the floor. The driver was starting to react. His right hand was moving to his waistband, toward the shiny .38. But before he could grab it, my left elbow reached the side of his face. It was hard to get the power with my wrists bound so close, but I caught him well enough. His head flopped sideways, full into the frame of the cage door, and he went down.
I turned back to the passenger. He’d straightened up and was taking some weight on his left leg again. His face was twisted with fury. His left hand was clenched into a fist, and as I watched his right hand appeared from behind his back, holding his .45. I sprang forward, slamming into him, hands out in front of me, pushing his arm back down. The gun jammed into his groin. I went to twist his arm up and around, ready to break his elbow, but I couldn’t get the leverage with my wrists tied. I was short of options, so I just drove my forehead straight into his face. It was rushed, but still enough to break his nose—I heard the crack—and knock him backward onto the floor.
He dropped the gun as he went down. I kicked it sideways under the nearest set of shelves. He lay still for a moment, then rolled onto his front, struggled onto all fours, and clawed himself upright using thewooden frame like a ladder. He turned to face me. Blood was gushing from his nose, covering his chin, and already soaking into the front of his shirt. He took a limping, unsteady step toward me. I let him take one more, then swung my right knee up hard, high into his rib cage. He folded over in front of me, too winded to yell any more, so I smashed my fists down into the base of his skull, stepped aside, and left him to fall.
The driver’s Colt had fallen out of his waistband when he went down, so I leaned over and retrieved it. It was a nice weapon. The wooden grip felt good in my hand. My thumb hovered over the safety. Two each in the head would seem like a fair return. But that would be too noisy. It would attract the wrong kind of attention.
The driver had landed facedown, so I put his gun in my pocket and knelt down beside him. I put my right knee between his shoulder blades and took hold of his head, hands by his ears, ready to twist.
“David,” Julianne said, in a kind of hissing whisper. “What are you doing?”
She was at the front of her cage, only a couple of feet away. Her fingers were through the mesh and her eyes were wide and staring.
“Oh, my God,” she said slowly, her voice shaking. “You’re going to kill him.”
It was a long time since I’d worked with civilians. I’d forgotten how they can react in this kind of situation. Failing to neutralize those guys would be ridiculously naïve. Let them live, and you know what would happen. They’d pop up later, guaranteed, trying to put a bullet in your back. But on the other hand, I couldn’t tell how she would respond to seeing me do it. If she panicked I wouldn’t be able to take her with me. She’d been upstairs. She might be useful. And if I had to leave her behind, I couldn’t see her getting out on her own.
That wasn’t really a problem. I’d only just met her. It was too soon to say I really liked her. But this whole thing had started because I’d tried to help someone. The old tramp in the alley. Or the agent, as he’d turned out to be. I was too late then, but there was still a chance with Julianne. I didn’t want to walk away without at least telling myself I’d given it a decent shot.
I took a careful look at her. She was trembling. Her breathing was fast and shallow. I decided I couldn’t take the risk. She was too close to hysteria already.
“Kill him?” I said, sliding my hands smoothly around to find his carotid artery. “Are you joking? I’m doing first aid. I’ve got to check his pulse. And breathing. Make sure he’s not hurt.”
I got off the driver’s back, picked his keys up off the floor, and opened Julianne’s door. She took two quick steps back. Her arms were out as if to fend me off and her hands and fingers were rigid. I went back to the bodies. She stayed in the cage.
“We need to search them,” I said. “Come and give me a hand.”
I rolled the driver onto his back.
She didn’t move.
“We need a knife,” I said. “Or scissors. Something sharp. To get these ties off our wrists.”
She came to the cage door.
“We haven’t got long,” I said. “Someone will come looking, soon.”
“What do you want me to do?” she said.
“Start with him,” I said, nodding toward the driver. If she was hesitant already, seeing the passenger’s blood wasn’t going to encourage her any. “Turn out his pockets. Put the stuff in a pile on the floor. I’ll do the same with the other guy.”
She came out and moved cautiously away from the cage. She knelt down next to the driver, stretched out her hands, and touched him delicately on the hip. Her hands hovered there for a moment and then slid slowly toward his pants pocket, but as her fingertips reached the opening she snatched them back as if she’d been stung.
“Can’t do it,” she said. “I’m sorry. It doesn’t feel right.”
“You can,” I said. “One pocket at a time. Pants and jacket. Just stick your hand in, grab whatever’s there, and pull it out.”
She didn’t look convinced, but she had another try.
The passenger’s pockets were disappointing. Apart from three cable ties and $400 in notes there was nothing I could use. Julianne had similar luck with the driver, except that he only had $260 in his wallet.
Neither had anything with a blade.
“Not very impressive,” I said. “Put the average ten-year-old to shame, where I grew up. But never mind. We’ll find something upstairs. We’ll start with the kitchen. There are bound to be knives in there.”
“Good thinking,” she said. “Let’s go. I know the way.”
“Hold on. I need to put these guys where they won’t cause trouble. We’ll use the cages.”
The driver’s legs were blocking the door to the cage I’d been in so I grabbed his pants at the ankles and heaved them to the side, out of the way. His body bowed awkwardly from the waist, but his jacket didn’t follow the curve. It didn’t fold properly. There was still something inside it. I looked at Julianne. She looked away.
“Well?” I said.
“Well, what?” she said.
“I told you to look in his jacket.”
“I did. I thought I’d got everything.”
“Doesn’t look like it.”
“Don’t start. I never wanted to search him, anyway. That was your genius idea. So if I missed something, big deal.”
“Unless it’s a knife . . .”
I checked his pockets again, myself. All were empty except the one inside his jacket. It held a brown envelope. It was folded over in both directions to form a little package, about two inches by three and a half. I unwrapped it. It was A5 size, unsealed, with no name or address. There was no marking of any kind.
“What’s inside?” Julianne said, curious now.
I opened the envelope and shook the contents into my hand. It was a Social Security card. About a hundred years old, judging by the creases and stains. It was hard to read. I could just about make out a name—Charles Paul Bromley—and a number, 812–67–7478.
“What do you make of it?” I said. “Does it look normal?”
“Well, yeah, pretty much,” Julianne said. “But I wonder why he kept it in an envelope, not his wallet? Seems a bit unusual.”
I wrapped the card up and put it back in the driver’s pocket.
“Maybe it wasn’t his,” I said, thinking of the one in Agent Raab’s jacket. “We’ll figure it out later. No time now.”
Julianne halfheartedly guided the driver’s feet while I dragged him into the cage, attached his wrist to the back wall with a cable tie, and went back for the passenger. I put him in Julianne’s cage and secured him to the side wall, well out of the driver’s reach.
“Happy now?” Julianne said. “Can we go?”
I took the padlock from Julianne’s cage and fixed it onto my door.
“What are you fiddling around with now?” she said.
I picked up the other padlock and hooked it onto Julianne’s door.
“You’ve already beaten the crap out of them and tied them to the walls,” she said. “Who do you think they are? A pair of Houdinis? Let’s just get out of here before someone comes.”
I locked the padlocks and tossed the keys into an open box on one of the shelves. It wasn’t a perfect solution—those guys were still breathing—but at least it would slow them down. And sometimes, you just have to go with what you’ve got.
Julianne went up the stairs like a greyhound out of a trap. She didn’t waste any time in the hallway, either. It was a spacious, rectangular area with tall white walls, quarry tiles on the floor, and a dramatic angled ceiling above a galleried landing. There were two internal doors to our left, an external door on the far side—I could see bushes and a brick path through a window—and a wide arch in front of us leading to a formal living room with two low white sofas, several abstract paintings on the walls, and a variety of tall bookcases overflowing with hardbacks.
Julianne ignored all these and headed through another, narrower archway to our right. It led to a combined kitchen/family room. The center of the space was taken up with a large blue L-shaped sofa and a glass coffee table on wheels. It sat on a rug with a Picasso-style design woven into it, and was piled high with all kinds of magazines and catalogues. Fashion, design, music, cars, art, you name it. A long bookcaseran all along one wall—hardbacks at the bottom, paperbacks at the top, except for one section that held five small trophies. Next to that was an elaborate wood-burning stove, and in the far corner there was another doorway. I couldn’t see where it led.
The kitchen was separated by a peninsular unit that housed some cupboards and a dishwasher. The worktop was black granite, immaculate, uncluttered by kettles or toasters or other utensils. The sink was under a small window that looked onto a screened porch. It was empty. There was another archway in the wall to the left leading to a dining room, as well as some more units and a gas cook top. Next to the cook top was a wooden block holding five steel-handled chef’s knives.
“Grab one of those,” I said. “The center one.”
“A knife?” Julianne said, disappearing through the archway. “Scissors would be better. There must be more cutlery somewhere. I’ll check through here.”
I had no idea what she was thinking, turning her nose up at a chance like that, but there wasn’t time to argue. I put the driver’s gun down and took out the knife. It was solid and heavy with a gleaming five-inch Sheffield steel blade. There were five drawers under the cook top. I opened the top one a couple of inches and wedged the knife inside, sharp side up. But before I could get enough pressure on the blade to cut the tie, I heard footsteps from the dining room.
Julianne came into the kitchen first, followed by the older guy who’d brought my food. His right arm was around her neck, and he was holding an old Army Colt to her left temple. She was standing stiffly, back arched, grimacing. He was smiling. His throat was unguarded. I closed my fingers around the knife blade. It was a good weight for throwing. How much did I want to save this woman? It was unlikely I could stop the guy getting one shot off. But certain I could stop him getting two.
I heard the clatter of heavy feet on wooden stairs. Someone was coming down. They paused in the hallway and then appeared through the arch. It was someone new. He was huge. At least six feet seven. His head was shaved and he had to duck as he came in. He was wearing a smartblue suit with a white shirt and striped tie. It was hard to tell without the hair, but I put him in his late thirties. Apart from his freak size he looked like a businessman stepping out of a meeting to grab a coffee.
“What’s going on, George?” he said. “Where’s Jason and Spencer?”
“Don’t know,” the older guy said. “Found this bitch sneaking around, and him in here playing with the utensils. Haven’t seen the pretty boys.”
“Where are Jason and Spencer?” the tall guy said, looking at me.
“Who?” I said.
“The two guys I sent to fetch you.”
“Oh, them. Downstairs.”
“Dead?” he said, looking at the knife.
“No. Just . . . resting.”
“George, take the woman back down there. Lock her up, and see what’s going on with those fools.”
The tall guy stepped aside to let George get past with Julianne. Her eyes stayed on me, wide and frightened, as if begging for help.
“Let’s you and me go upstairs,” the tall guy said. “We need to talk.”
I didn’t move. The knife was still in my hand.
“Going to use that?” he said. “Go ahead. I’m not carrying.”
He held his arms out to the sides, as if inviting a search.
I stayed where I was.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go. My boss is upstairs.”
I didn’t reply.
“Come on,” he said. “My boss is waiting. That’s not good.”
“Your boss?” I said.
“Right. Wants to talk to you.”
“You think I’m one day old?”
“You think I was born yesterday? You snatch me off the street and lock me in a kennel like a dog because your boss wants to talk?”
“OK, look, I won’t bullshit you. The thing with the kennel—that was wrong. But with everything jumping off at once—journalists sniffing around, FBI all over the place, you suddenly on the loose—we had to move fast. We made some mistakes.”
“Just a few.”
“We know that, now. We should have shown more respect, but we needed you off the street.”
“To keep you out of anyone else’s pocket. We heard some rumors. Needed time to check them out.”
“Rumors? About me?”
“Look, put the knife down. Come upstairs. Hear what we’ve got to say. It’ll make sense. And what’s to worry about, anyway? If we wanted you dead, you’d be on the slab already.”
“I’m not meeting anyone like this,” I said, holding up my hands.
The tall guy came over and very gently took hold of the knife handle. He waited for me to clear my fingers, then severed the tie. It fell to the floor, leaving a narrow red welt around both my wrists.
“Happy now?” he said. “So let’s go.”
He slid the knife back into the block, picked the driver’s Colt up from the countertop, and turned to lead the way. As he walked toward the hallway he slipped the gun into his jacket pocket. It rattled against something metal.
And as sincere as the guy had seemed, I doubt it was his keys.
Several of my previous assignments had been missing from Rosser’s file.
A number of them had taken place in the United States. One was in California. I’d been sent there to infiltrate a cell phone company where we suspected some employees were selling transcripts of sensitive short message service messages. The scheme had been well hidden. It took three months to flush out. I’d felt strange working in the same office for so long, but in the end a little part of me was sorry to leave. Not because of the people, though. Most of them were crooks. It was more about the way you were looked after. There was gym membership. Concert tickets. Discounts at local stores. You don’t even get free parking in the navy.
Another strange thing was the company newsletter. Different departments telling each other what they were doing. That’s a weird concept. The magazine was nicely produced—glossy paper, plenty of photos—but the lack of real news meant they had a lot of ads and bogus articles. One was written by a psychologist. Every month someone gave him pictures of a manager’s office and he revealed all kinds of insights based on how they kept their workspace. Once we learned that the papers strewn all over the desk of the president of Human Resources showed she was a really caring person. The next month we found out that the way the VP of engineering arranged his stationery demonstrated a sound grasp of complex technology. I was certainly convinced.
That psychologist would have loved the large rectangular room the tall guy took me to next, at the end of the landing corridor. It had a white-stained wooden floor, plain white walls, and a white ceiling that sloped sharply to one side. There was a wide window at the far end and double closet doors built into the wall on the left. An L-shaped desk ran along the other wall and stuck out halfway across the room. Behind it was a single chrome and black leather chair. There were no piles of papers or letter trays or pen holders. The only thing anywhere on the desk was a small, white laptop. Its screen was folded down and there was no sign of it being connected to anything. And there was no printer, router, fax, or phone.
The space between the desk and the door was filled with a boardroom-style table. It was made from light wood with rounded corners and beveled edges. The tabletop was polished like glass and I couldn’t see a single mark or scratch or blemish. There was a flap, eight inches by twelve, set into the surface at both ends. They were probably to conceal power outlets. Three chrome and leather chairs were arranged along each side—precisely parallel—and two more were lined up at each end.
A projector sat in the middle of the table with its cable in a neat coil at its side. It was pointing at a screen on the wall next to the door. The other walls were bare, except for a print of Magritte’sCeci n’est pas une pipe, which hung over the desk. The original is in the L.A. County Museum. I noticed it when I was tailing a couple of suspects on that mobile phone job. I remember liking it. Finding a copy of it here seemed strange.
“Take a seat,” the tall guy said. “Won’t be long.”
I chose the chair in the center on the far side. He took the one nearest the exit. Farther down the corridor a door slammed. Footsteps approached. One set, light but confident, moving fast without rushing. They paused, and then a woman entered the room. The way she strode in made it clear that we were the ones invading her domain, not the other way around.
The woman had ginger hair. Fiery red, not orange. It was cut long at the back and sides to emphasize her long, slender neck and delicate jaw. Her skin was pale and flawless, and her wine-red lipstick broughtout a wild green glint in her eyes. Her clothes—jacket, vest-style top, slacks, and pumps—were all black. They looked expensive. From a distance I put her at around thirty-five, but when she came over and took the seat opposite me I guessed she was at least a decade older.
She sat and looked straight at me for a full fifteen seconds. Her eyes seemed to glow from behind her bangs like a cat’s and she had the calm, unrushed air of someone in complete control of herself and everything around her.
“You’re from out of town, so you probably don’t know who we are,” she said.
I didn’t answer.
“So we’ll start with some ground rules,” she said. “We’re not like the police. Or the FBI. We don’t care about guilt or alibis. We have no rules or procedures. All we’re here to do is talk about a proposition. Something we can both benefit from. Any bullshit from you, and the conversation ends.”
“OK then,” I said. “No bullshit. What can we do for each other?”
“We can help with your current problem. You can do us a small favor in return.”
“What current problem?”
“Your FBI problem. They don’t like you very much. Not anymore. Not now they think you killed their agent.”
“How do you know?”
“Because we killed him.”
“You did? Why?”
“No reason. We have lots of balls in the air, any given moment. Every now and again one gets dropped. It’s no big deal.”
“It is from where I’m sitting.”
“OK,” she said, after a moment. “Truth is, it was a mistake. Our guy didn’t watch him long enough. We didn’t know he was an undercover agent.”
“An agent disguised as a tramp,” I said. “But why kill a tramp?”
“That’s not relevant.”
Then I made the connection. The Social Security cards. Raab was carrying one. It was old and filthy and used. The guy downstairs had another. They were stealing identities. From tramps. And probably selling them. Rosser had mentioned illegal immigrants using the railroads. They were exactly the kind of people who’d need new papers. Maybe that was how Raab had got caught up with these guys.
“So Agent Raab was killed by mistake,” I said. “That’s nice to know. His family will be delighted. But how does it help me?”
“It doesn’t,” she said. “In itself. But if we give you the guy who pulled the trigger, that would work. Might even throw in the gun. They run ballistics, you’re free and clear.”
“Why would you do that?”
“When the FBI pulled you in, you met three main guys?”
“Right. Rosser, Varley, and Breuer.”
“Good. That’s what we heard. So this is what you do. Contact the FBI. Tell them you have the real shooter, and you want to bring him in. But you’ll only hand him over to the same three guys you already met. Say you don’t trust anyone else. Can you do that?”
“I know someone. They could set it up. But why those three guys?”
“We have a problem with one of them.”
“What sort of problem?”
“His continued existence.”
“Not that you’re one to bear a grudge . . .”
“Let’s just say our paths have crossed before. More than once.”
“They have? Excellent. I always enjoy a good bit of vengeance. What did he do?”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said, and I saw her left hand slip down from the table into her lap. “But my guy’s going to correct the situation.”
“How?” I said.
“With a .22. One shot, close range. Straight through the temple. But don’t worry. You’ll be in no danger. The bullet won’t even come out the other side. It’ll just rattle around, turning his worthless brain to mush.”
“And that’s your small favor?”
“Put our guy and Varley together. That’s all we want.”
“Then I’m sorry. I can’t help.”
Air hissed from between the woman’s clenched teeth.
“You were with Varley for what, an hour?” she said.
“Less,” I said.
“And now you’re ready to die for him? Must have been some conversation you guys had.”
“That sounds vaguely like a threat.”
“No, not a threat. Just Plan B. Because aside from the chance to rid the world of Mitchell Varley, there’s still this thing with the dead agent. I’ve got to deal with it somehow. If I’m not giving you the shooter, I’ll have to do something else.”
“Not my problem.”
“Absolutely your problem. The feds already thought you did it. Escaping confirmed that. Now they’ve got a hard-on for you like you wouldn’t believe.”
“So we leave your body where it’s easy to find. They’ll close the case on the spot. Never even look in our direction. So, time to lose this sentimental crap with Varley. Otherwise . . .”
“There is no sentimental crap with Mitchell Varley. He barely said two dozen words to me. And frankly, I wasn’t impressed with what he did say. I couldn’t care less what happens to him.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Well, let’s just think about it for a moment. I bring your guy in. He immediately kills Varley, who’s only there because I specifically asked for him to be. How’s that going to look? I’ll be lucky if the others don’t shoot me on the spot.”
“They won’t shoot you. They’ll thank you.”
“For what? Getting their friend killed?”
“No. For saving them.”
“How am I going to do that?”
“SeenIn the Line of Fire? At the end. Like that.”
“You want me to take a bullet?”
“No. Just make it look like you were willing to. Appearance is everything. The second Varley gets hit, you yell at the others.Get down, he’s got a gun, like that. Then jump in front of them. It’ll look like you saved Rosser and Breuer, not set up Varley.”
“What happens to your guy?”
“He goes for the door, under cover of your heroics.”
“And after that?”
“What if he doesn’t make it?”
“Then it’s my pawn for their queen. Varley’s worth it.”
“Does your guy see it the same way?”
“He knows it’s a risk, obviously. But I’ve made it worth taking.”
“What if he goes after one of the others first? Or me?”
“He has his instructions,” she said, standing up and moving toward the desk. “He’ll follow them. That’s what my people do.”
“What’s your name?” I said.
“I was thinking Agripinilla, for some reason.”
“Know anywhere in the city where you could do this?” she said, opening one of the desk drawers and taking out a cell phone. “Or do you want me to find you a place? Needs to be away from their building. Nowhere with witnesses. Easy access.”
“How about the building they took me to this afternoon?” I said. “It is theirs, but it’s not fitted out yet. No one else uses it.”
“Metal detectors? Cameras?”
“Good. And the location’s OK,” she said, switching the phone onand bringing it over to me. “You already know the layout. Ties in with wanting to see the same three guys. All right. Go ahead.”
I left the phone on the table.
“Two more things,” I said. “One—I spent last night in jail. Today I’ve had a coffee, a sandwich, and a Coke. No way am I meeting these guys tonight. Tomorrow at the earliest. And I’m not staying here. I want a night in a decent hotel, with a decent meal, which you’re paying for.”
“Be safer here,” she said. “People are looking for you.”
“People are always looking for me. It comes with the territory.”
“Well, OK, I guess. I’ll send a couple of guys with you. What else?”
“Julianne Morgan. The woman you’ve got locked up in the basement. I’m taking her with me.”
“You want the woman?” she said, glancing at the tall guy. “Why?”
“She got mixed up in this by mistake. She’s got no idea what’s going on. She’s no threat to you. If Varley and this other guy of yours don’t make it through—too bad. They knew the risks. They made their choices. She didn’t.”
“What will you do with her?”
“Take her to the city. Let her stay in the hotel tonight, and cut her loose in the morning. I’m hardly going to want a journalist hanging around me tomorrow.”
“Well, why not? OK. You can have her. Saves us having to get rid of her. But she rides to the city in the trunk. We’ll have cars watching you. Let her out anywhere this side of the river, she’ll be dead before her feet touch the sidewalk.”
“I can live with that,” I said, wondering if Julianne could.
“Now make the damn call before I change my mind.”
Tanya answered on the first ring.
“This is David,” I said.
“David?” she said. “Are you all right? Where are you?”
“Those contacts you had at Federal Plaza. Are they still in place?”
“What’s up? Is someone listening?”
“Yes. Could you call them? Set something up for tomorrow?”
“Really? That soon?”
“Yes. Call tonight. Right now, if you can. This is urgent.”
“What do you need?”
“Tell them I’m holding the guy they’re looking for. From the alley, last night. They’ll know who I mean. I’m prepared to hand him over, but only to the same three guys I met today. Rosser, Varley, and Breuer.”
“Could be difficult, David. They’re still really mad at you. Why not deliver him to me, let me liaise? Stay out of the firing line?”
“No. It has to be the same three guys. The same three, or I cut this guy loose and they’ll never find him.”
“Oh. OK, then. I’ll square it somehow. Where and when?”
“Don’t know yet. I still have to get out of the city. Tell them to be at the Wall Street helipad at 9:00A.M.Bring a pilot, and enough fuel for two hours. I’ll call then with a time and location.”
“Understood. Back in five.”
Lesley hadn’t even pretended not to listen.
“Nice misdirection, with the heliport,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said. “Talking of which—my hotel room, with the ash? That was you?”
“That was me,” the tall guy said.
“Really?” I said. “Good work. Subtle. I might use it myself, sometime.”
“Just glad they went for it,” he said. “It was kind of last-minute. And a bitch to do, without the smoke alarms going off.”
“How did you know where I was staying?”
“Someone told us.”
“Can’t remember now. Could have been so many people.”
“That kind of information isn’t exactly commonplace.”
“Depends who you know. The NYPD? They’re like the TV, the Internet, and the newspapers all rolled into one, for us. Same goes for the FBI. Nothing happens in this city we don’t find out about.”
“You found out pretty fast.”
The tall guy shrugged.
“Wanted to make sure they swallowed you whole,” he said. “Didn’t know it would be the feds that found it. Didn’t even know the vic was one of theirs at the time. Just didn’t want any possibility of the spotlight coming our way.”
“See, speed is the key,” Lesley said. “Anything goes wrong, our people are motivated to tell us right away. That way, we can jump right on it. Never miss an opportunity to protect ourselves. You might want to remember that, the next couple of days.”
“I hope there’s not an element of distrust developing here?”
“Depends how smart you are. For instance, maybe you’re thinking you could take the .22 away from my guy? Hand him to the feds without him killing Varley?”
“That never crossed my mind.”
“Good. Because I haven’t given you one hundred percent of the facts about that.”
“Convenient time to mention it.”
“See, the guy I’m giving you—he isn’t really the one from the alley. That was one of my other guys. Not the cream of the crop. Now this guy—he’s one of my best. French. Ex-Sûreté. Perfect for the job. Could do it in his sleep. But he’s got a real loose tongue. Hand him to the feds, and it’ll all come pouring out. Everything will point straight back at you.”
“What if he gets caught?”
“He won’t. He’ll get out, or go down fighting. That’s the way he is.”
“You can’t be sure. The feds are no mugs.”
“It would be too late, then, anyway. Rosser and Breuer would have seen him pull the trigger. It would be your word against a cop killer. And he’d never see the inside of a courtroom, anyway. Trust me. None of my people ever have.”
“Why take the chance? Why not just give me the real guy?”
“Look at it as an incentive. To make sure you hold up your end. Plus the real guy won’t be working for a while. He needs some retraining.”
“Where is he?”
“Downstairs. Want to meet him?”
“He’s the one who called 911? Gave them my description?”
“He’s the one. His idea, though, to give you up. We’re not normally big on framing passers-by. It’s an unnecessary risk. Usually just leave the body where the NYPD will trip over it. As long as it’s unwashed, they don’t lose much sleep.”
“Then, yeah, I want to meet the guy. Alone, preferably.”
“Can’t do alone,” she said, getting up and heading for the desk. “But don’t worry. You’re going to love what I’ve got for him.”
I watched Lesley open one of the lower drawers, then the cell phone she’d given me started to vibrate in my pocket. It was Tanya.
“Deal’s done,” she said. “We’ll be at the helipad at 9:00A.M.tomorrow, waiting for your call. The three guys you specified and me.”
“Excellent,” I said. “Thanks. Any problems getting it set up?”
“Don’t ask. You owe me, big-time.”
“Dinner’s on me, then, when this is over.”
“Three dinners, minimum. Don’t forget that stunt with Lavine. And you still owe me one from Madrid.”
Lesley had started back before I hung up.
“We’re in business,” I said.
“I heard,” she said.
She was carrying a lumpy, vaguely cylindrical parcel, nine inches long by four inches diameter. It was made of gray suede, held together by a fine silver chain. I heard the tall guy shifting in his chair, and I saw his eyes were glued to the object as Lesley gently laid it down on the table in front of her.
“Something you should think about,” she said. “We own people. They tell us things. Your name. Where you were staying.”
“You mentioned that already,” I said.
“It goes further. Let me give you an example. Louis Breuer received a secret e-mail from London this afternoon. One of our guys got to itfirst. We’d read it before Breuer or Rosser or Varley. We know all about you. What you do. All your little trips around the world. Not a bad life, for a sailor boy.”
“And your point is?”
“You need to believe, anything goes wrong tomorrow—accidentally or otherwise—we’re going to know before you leave the building.”
“I’m sure you’re right.”
“I am. Like this afternoon. You outsmarted the FBI. Got away from them, easily enough. But not me. Because my ear’s to the ground. Always. I heard what you did. And I had two cars outside before you even found the door.”
I allowed myself a little smile. She still didn’t realize the favor she’d done me back there.
“OK,” I said. “If anything goes wrong tomorrow, it won’t be down to me.”
“Good,” she said. “ ’Cause there are penalties for people who let me down.”
“Like what? You don’t let them shoot tramps anymore?”
“Yeah. Kind of like that. I was going to tell you about it, but then I thought, why not show you?”
Lesley nodded at the tall guy. His face was blank, bordering on sullen. He paused for a moment then hauled himself up and stalked out of the room, his big feet clattering along the landing and down the stairs.
“Watch what happens next,” she said. “Then see if you still have a taste for wisecracks.”
I passed my test at seventeen. And learned to drive at twenty-two.
It’s one of the first things the navy does when they recruit you. For intelligence work, anyway. They take your license away and make you earn it back. Which sounds fine in principle, because you know you’ll not be dealing with Nissan Micras and three-point turns anymore. You’ll be in modified vehicles, on private racetracks, getting to grips with the A to Z of defensive maneuvers.
There’s only one snag.
They insist you understand the cars before you drive them.
I remember on the first day they showed us two groups of twenty different models lined up on opposite sides of an old aircraft hangar. One half were regular civilian cars. The others were from the motor pool. We knew the navy cars had been adapted. They would have special engines. Brakes. Tires. Suspensions. Electronics. You name it. But it was all so discreetly done that no one could tell which was which.
It was a pain, learning enough mechanics to be let loose behind the wheel. And at the time I thought I was just finding out about cars. But over the years I’ve seen it’s the same story with people. Compare pros and amateurs in any field, and there’s only ever one conclusion.
They might look similar on the surface.
But underneath, they’re completely different animals.
Lesley sat and watched me, completely still except for her left hand. It seemed to be moving on its own, creeping steadily across the tabletop toward the gray parcel. Her fingertips reached it, paused, and climbed on top. Then they started to caress the soft suede, rippling across the smooth surface like a spiteful sea creature tormenting its prey.
Her fingers only stopped circling when the door opened and a man took a couple of hesitant steps into the room. He would be in his mid-twenties, reasonably tall—a shade over six feet—with jeans cut to show off his narrow waist and a pair of broad, powerful shoulders showing through a plain black T-shirt. His short blond hair was a little shaggy, like he was growing out a crew cut, and he hadn’t shaved for a couple of days. The only off note was his face—it was slightly pointy, and he had beady brown eyes that were a touch too close together. They made him look like some kind of rodent.
The tall guy came in next. He didn’t come over to the table this time but stayed by the door, like a sentry. George—the guy who’d brought my food and caught Julianne in the dining room—was last. He came across and stood next to the wall, near me. He was looking down, fiddling with a small video camera. The strap was looped safely around his right wrist.
“David, this is Cyril,” Lesley said, nodding toward the new guy. “Actually his name isn’t Cyril, but we call him that ’cause we think he looks like a squirrel. It kind of suits him. Cyril the squirrel. You Brits like rhyming words, don’t you?”
“Not particularly,” I said.
“He recognizes you. Don’t you, Cyril? Had to take a real close look, before he made that 911 call. Surprised you didn’t see him.”
“He was hiding by the time I got there,” I said. “In a kiddies’ playground, apparently. Not the kind of place I spend much time in.”
“That true, Cyril?” she said.
He didn’t reply.
“Cyril, David and I have been talking about your performance last night,” she said. “We’re not real impressed.”
“Lesley, I—” Cyril said.
“Quiet. Don’t make it any worse,” Lesley said, and then turned to me. “Cyril made a mistake last night. He hasn’t worked for me long, but a mistake’s a mistake. Can’t have my people making mistakes. And he made a big one. So now he’s going to do something useful.”
“Make a cup of tea?” I said.
“Maybe later. If we have any. But first, he’s going to show you what happens to people who let me down.”
Lesley turned the gray parcel over and I saw that the clasp on the silver chain was shaped like a tragicomic mask.
“This is me,” she said, pointing to the smiling face. “And this other guy is—can you guess, Cyril?”
His face had turned pale, and the patchy stubble made his skin look as if it were covered in mold. Lesley opened the clasp, unwound the chain, and set it to one side. Then she unrolled the gray suede. It made a rectangle about eighteen inches long with a flap of the same material folded over, hiding its contents.
Lesley got to her feet and started to walk toward Cyril, casually sliding the half-opened parcel along the tabletop with the tips of her fingers. Cyril started to fidget. Lesley reached the corner of the table, stopping barely five feet away from him. She stood there for a moment, looking him up and down, and then the corners of her mouth began to creep up into the ghost of a smile.
The smile was too much for Cyril. He turned and made a dash for the door, but the tall guy was ready for him. He caught him, spun him round, and marched him right up to the end of the table with his arms pinned to his sides.
“You want to beg, now would be the time,” Lesley said.
Cyril was breathing so hard he was almost wheezing, but he didn’t say anything.
“Shame,” Lesley said. “I like it better when they beg.”
“Does it make any difference?” I said.
“Does to me,” she said, grasping the corner of the suede flap and slowly peeling it back.
The parcel held a pair of rubber surgeon’s gloves, which were small, even allowing for them to stretch; a coil of white elastic, an inch across, with metal hooks at each end; four long copper needles, like the kind acupuncturists use; a small hammer; two scalpels; a pair of long-nosed surgical forceps; a pair of slender, pointed scissors; a clear plastic box, rectangular in shape, containing a sewing needle and some bright blue thread; and a device that looked a little like a pair of miniature bolt cutters. It had the same kind of mechanism to multiply the force but the jaws were more rounded and it had a swollen, bulbous end.
Each item was held in place with a little loop of black elastic, obviously designed specially for the purpose. There were no gaps, and nothing extra had been squeezed in. It looked like something you might use to carry your favorite housebreaking tools.
Lesley left the parcel open in front of Cyril and went to the built-in closet at the far end of the room. She opened the right-hand door, reached inside, and hauled out a trolley like the kind they use to carry stacks of linen in hotels and hospitals. It was made of shiny wire mesh, six feet tall and two feet square. There was nothing inside it. The wheels at each corner were disproportionately large, like the ones on modern furniture. They probably weren’t the original wheels, but they were very effective. The trolley was taller than her, but Lesley moved it effortlessly. It glided across the floor after her without a sound.
As she drew level I saw that the frame of the trolley had been reinforced with inch-square metal tubing, and that one of the sides was missing. Four thick, brown leather straps had been attached near the corners of the opening, six inches from the bottom and three inches from the top. With the mesh and the straps, it looked like a portable cage.
Lesley wheeled the trolley all the way to Cyril’s end of the table. Sheleft it with the open side facing the room. Cyril didn’t notice. He was still staring at the strange collection of tools, completely transfixed. The tall guy eased him back a couple of steps and Lesley moved up close to him. Her left hand grabbed his groin. She squeezed. Cyril squealed. His eyes looked like they were ready to pop out of his skull.
The tall guy let go of Cyril’s arms and brought the trolley in right behind him. Lesley kept hold of Cyril’s groin, looked behind her at the table, and hitched him up an inch or so onto his tiptoes. The tall guy moved quickly and secured Cyril’s ankles to the frame of the trolley before he could sink back down. He did the same to Cyril’s wrists, pulling hard enough on the straps to break the skin. Then he nodded to Lesley who let go, leaving Cyril spread-eagled. He was quaking, causing part of the wire mesh to rattle.
Lesley reached toward Cyril’s groin again, but this time he saw her coming. He wriggled his hips from side to side and tried to arc away from her, his backside retreating right inside the trolley. Lesley put her hand on Cyril’s thigh and slowly ran her fingers up his leg, over the front of his jeans, and as far as the hem of his T-shirt. Then she rolled it up, revealing the kind of sculpted stomach muscles you see on the cover of fitness magazines.
“No hair,” she said. “Pity.”
Cyril’s jeans were held up by a wide leather belt. The buckle was shaped like a motorcycle. A Harley, or maybe an Indian. It wasn’t a very good replica. Lesley unfastened it, pulled the strap free of the belt loops and dropped it on the floor. The crash made Cyril jump. Then Lesley unfastened his waistband. The jeans had a button fly. Lesley undid all four, pausing each time one popped open to gaze into Cyril’s face.
Lesley eased Cyril’s jeans right down to the point where his ankles were strapped to the trolley. He had Calvin Klein underwear—a pair of tight black trunks with a gray stripe at the top. Lesley gently rubbed the front with the palm of her hand and the slight bulge began to grow more pronounced.
“That feeling you’re getting right now?” she said, hooking her fingers into his waistband and pulling down. “Enjoy it while you can.”
George released a catch and folded the LCD screen out from the side of the camera. Then he rotated a little dial with his thumb. A button in the center lit up green.
Lesley reached over to the row of tools and took out the coil of elastic. She turned to Cyril and passed it around his body, nearly level with the top of his buttocks. She joined the metal hooks together and positioned them at his side. Then she let the loop ping back, pinning his exposed penis to his abdomen. The elastic held it upright, pointing away from his scrotum.
“Time to go, George,” she said.
George hit the green button with his thumb and the camera started recording. He started off with a wide shot to show Cyril trussed up on the trolley, and then homed in on his groin. Cyril could see what George was focusing on, and the extra attention made the elastic hardly necessary.
Lesley had picked up one of the scalpels and the bolt cutter, and was holding them up in front of her. George panned across to include her in the frame.
“Since this is all for David’s benefit, let’s give him the choice,” she said. “Which method, David? Old or new?”
“Neither,” I said.
“Neither? You want me to rip his balls off with my bare hands? I suppose I could . . .”
I said nothing. Cyril yelped, and his penis twitched beneath the elastic strap. George somehow held the camera steady, his face completely blank. The tall guy was leaning on the wall near the door, arms folded, staring at the floor.
“OK then,” Lesley said, putting the scalpel down. “If you’re squeamish, we should go with the burdizzo. Designed for animals. Not much blood. Crushes the epididymis, and the balls just fall right off. After a few days, anyway, while they shrivel away and die.”
She held the device up to Cyril’s face and made a show of opening and closing its jaws. She snapped them open easily enough, but made a real play of squeezing the handles together again. Strain lined her faceand sharp tendons bulged in her wrist. Then she winked at him. His eyes started to roll back in their sockets.
“Look, he’s getting the idea,” she said, smiling and turning to point the thing at me. “Ever seen one of these before?”
“Frequently,” I said. “All the ambassadors have them. Standard government issue.”
“This one’s for rams. Perfect for humans, too. Used to have one for lambs, but it didn’t work too well. Sometimes one ball would survive. Had to come back later and finish it off. Couldn’t get the pressure. Handles were too short. Not a problem with this one. But you know the best thing about it?”
I said nothing.
“The noise it makes. When it crushes the little tubes. Like biting into a stick of fresh celery.”
“Means nothing to me. I eat nothing green.”
“Then I guess my special toy would be wasted on you,” she said, and turned to tuck the device back into its space. “This your first time?”
I didn’t answer.
“Then cutting would be better anyway. Get to see right inside. It’ll change your life, believe me.”
Lesley pushed the end two chairs out of the way and reached over to the hinged flap in the tabletop. She scrabbled to get a grip on it for a moment, then pulled it right over on itself until it was lying horizontally along the wooden surface. There was a strip of black, brushlike material about half an inch wide fixed to the long edge, opposite the hinges. It would be to let cables run through when the flap was closed, but in that position the ends of the bristles finished exactly level with the edge of the table.
Unlike the rest of the wood, the underside of the flap was not polished. It wasn’t finished at all. Instead, it was covered in brown stains, the color of old blood. There were dozens of patches. Many were overlapping. I doubt there’d been huge volumes, but it had soaked well into the grain. There would be no chance of removing it now. It had formedan indelible pattern, a little like those inkblot pictures that psychiatrists show you.
Lesley stepped aside, and the tall guy levered himself away from the wall. He came over and pushed the trolley forward so that Cyril’s groin was pressing into the edge of the tabletop. He peered around the front and checked that the underneath of Cyril’s scrotum was hanging down far enough to rest on the surface of the flap. The tall guy didn’t touch it—he just looked. Satisfied, he locked the brakes on the trolley’s rear wheels and went back to his place by the door.
Lesley slipped her jacket off and hung it on the back of the nearest chair. She took the surgeon’s gloves from the roll of tools and snapped them on. A small cloud of talc puffed out from around each wrist. It smelled vaguely of lavender. Then she picked up two of the long copper needles. She gripped them carefully between her left thumb and index finger to avoid snagging the gloves and held them out for Cyril to see.
He started to wail.
Lesley picked up the hammer and stepped across, next to Cyril. His wailing grew louder and he began to thrash about, desperately straining against the leather straps. Lesley held one of the needles between her lips and reached down toward the table with the other. Before the tip had even touched him Cyril’s wailing had grown into a shrill, piercing howl. A trace of blood appeared as Lesley passed the needle through the left-hand side of his scrotum and gently tapped it into the underside of the wooden flap. The blood bubbled up around the stem of the needle for a moment, then streamed away across Cyril’s skin. Some got caught up in the blond hairs, but most made it down onto the rough, pitted surface. It pooled for several seconds before gradually being absorbed, adding a new, darker stain of its own.
Lesley tapped the second needle through the other side of Cyril’s scrotum, took a good pinch of skin, and tugged. The needles held firm. Then she swapped the hammer for a scalpel. Her left hand kept the skin taut while she made two cuts from just below the base of his penis in akind of upside-down V-shape, away from his body and out toward his thighs. Blood oozed over the steel blade and the tips of her gloves as she calmly worked her way down. When she finished cutting she took the remaining copper needles and tacked the flap of skin down tight, forming a neat triangular hole.
I couldn’t help but stare through it at the gray, fibrous membrane inside. Lesley took the scalpel and sliced straight down the middle, leaving a single incision an inch and a quarter long. She took the forceps and guided the tip through the hole she’d made. She angled them to Cyril’s left and delicately probed the inside of his scrotum. Her hand moved in tiny, unhurried circles. After ten seconds she suddenly stopped and squeezed the handles together until the latches clicked into place. She cautiously drew the forceps back out. A loop of tubing, an eighth of an inch in diameter, was squashed flat in their jaws.
“Here comes the first little guy,” she said.
Cyril was silent now, and completely still. He was gawping down at himself, fascinated, not believing what he was seeing. Lesley pulled her hand back a fraction further, took out the scissors, and lined them up on the tube just above where the forceps were gripping it. Then she stopped and put the scissors down on the table.
“What am I doing?” she said. “Planned to go with the burdizzo. Forgot to get their new home ready.”
Lesley went over to the cupboard where the trolley had been stored and returned with a glass jar in one hand and a stainless steel flask in the other. The jar was five inches tall and three inches across, and had a matching lid with a spherical grip. The glass was slightly cloudy as if it had been repeatedly scoured by a machine, making it look aged, like a remnant from some ancient school laboratory.
“The little guys will be safe in here,” she said to Cyril. “Don’t you worry. I’ll take care of them, and you can come visit any time you like.”
Lesley eased the lid off the jar and filled it with clear liquid from the flask. She didn’t replace the lid, and after a moment an unmistakable stench caught in the back of my throat. Formaldehyde. Like in an old mortuary.
“Shall I write a label?” she said. “Or will you recognize them on your own? Got quite a collection going back there . . .”
Cyril didn’t answer. I don’t think he’d even seen the jar. He was still staring down at his groin, completely mesmerized. Lesley shrugged and screwed the cap back onto the steel flask. She picked the scissors up again, but before she used them she turned to look at me.
“You Brits appreciate irony,” she said. “So how do you like this? A squirrel with no nuts.”
Twelve people dropped out before the end of my training program.
Seven quit during the physical endurance phase. Two during weapons assessment. And three during unarmed combat. There was no shame attached to any of them. They all walked away with their heads held high. Because in the navy, it’s better to give 100 percent and come up short than never to try anything new. As long as you give it your best shot, you earn respect.
If you get kicked out, that’s another story altogether. Fortunately, in my class it only happened to one recruit. And not because of his performance. It’s up to the instructors to fix that. The problem was his attitude. Specifically, one question he couldn’t help but ask.
I was surprised at first. Because generally, the navy encourages questions. Have you got the right resources for the job? Could you achieve your objective more quickly? More safely? More effectively? But eventually I understood what he’d done wrong. It was actually pretty simple. I realized that once you’ve accepted an assignment, there’s really only one thing you can’t question.
Whether to do it at all.
The tall guy took me to the family room and asked me to wait while he rounded up the items I was going to need for tomorrow. Then he left me on my own with the sofa to sit on, a stack of magazines to read, and plenty of time to think about what I’d let myself in for.
Lesley’s plan had a reasonable chance of success, I thought. It was simple and straightforward. Realistic objectives had been set. The necessary equipment and personnel had been promised. Commitments had been made, and assurances given.
As for me, I was perfectly clear what my role was going to be. Less sure how much to expect from the other people who were involved. And certain I was going to need more coffee. Typical of a first day in a new job.
I was hoping to lay eyes on my new partner at some point, but the only person to come near me in the next twenty minutes was George.
“It’s all here,” he said, dropping a battered leather Gladstone bag onto the sofa next to me. “Check it if you want.”
I opened the bag and looked inside. It was neatly packed. At one side a black polo shirt had been rolled around some socks and a pair of boxer shorts. Next to the clothes were five clear Ziploc bags. The first held a watch, to replace the one the FBI had held on to. The second, a toothbrush—still in its wrapper—toothpaste, and deodorant. The third, a dozen cable ties and a clasp knife. The fourth, money. One thousand dollars in mixed bills. And the fifth, a gun. A Springfield P9. I took a closer look.
“This is Cyril’s?” I said.
“Right,” George said.
“How can you tell?” I said, pointing to a blurred patch on the right-hand side of the frame. The serial number had been burned off with acid.
“Lesley said so. You want to call her on it, be my guest.”
“Taken care of. Online. Patrick’s got confirmation.”
“The guy you’ll be working with.”
“Where is he?”
“Right here,” said a voice from the hallway.
“Typical Patrick,” George said, shaking his head. “Always has to make an entrance.”
Patrick stayed out of sight for another moment then glided rather than stepped into the room. He hardly made a sound. He was only about five inches shorter than the tall guy, but I doubt he made five percent of the noise when he moved. He did have an advantage with his shoes, though—a pair of soft black Lacoste trainers, rather than shiny city slip-ons. They went well with the black tracksuit he was wearing, but looked a little strange next to his charcoal overcoat and the tan leather suit carrier that was slung over his left shoulder.
“Been working out?” I said.
“No way,” he said. “Hate that stuff. Was on my way to soccer practice. Then Lesley called. Just had time to grab some stuff for tomorrow and come down to meet you. You are David, right?”
“That’s right. I am. Glad to be working with you. You all set?”
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“Then how about we pick up our passenger and hit the road? I’m getting hungry.”
“Sounds good to me,” he said, raising his eyebrows at George.
George fetched a pair of orange-handled scissors from a drawer in the kitchen and then led the way downstairs. Julianne was back in her cage, lying on the floor in the same position as when I’d first seen her. There was no sign of anyone else, but the floor in front of the cages had recently been mopped. It was still slightly damp, with large swirling marks spiraling out from the spot where the driver had landed.
Julianne didn’t react when George released the padlock but she sat up, looking surprised, when she realized it was her door that had swung open.
“What’s happening?” she said. “David? Are you all right?”
“Of course,” I said. “And so are you. It’s over. We’re leaving.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We’re leaving. Right now. Getting in the car. Going to the city.”
“What are they doing here?” she said, pointing at George and Patrick.
“Helping us,” I said. “Don’t worry. We’re all friends now.”
“How did that happen?”
“I fixed it with their boss. Just like I said I would.”
“Something’s not right,” she said, stepping back into the corner of the cage. “It’s a trap. They’re going to kill us.”
“If they wanted to kill us, they’d have done it already,” I said.
“Don’t believe you. I’m not coming.”
“Fine. Stay, then. Lock it, will you, George? I’m not wasting my time. There’s a steak waiting for me at the hotel. And a hot shower. And a king-sized bed. Be seeing you, Julianne. Take care.”
I turned to go. Patrick followed.
“Wait,” Julianne said. “You sure this is on the level?”
She’d come out of the corner and was standing with her head tipped to one side, eyes narrow with suspicion. George had hold of the door, ready to slam it closed.
“Of course,” I said. “Anyway, what have you got to lose?”
She didn’t answer.
“You should listen to him, you know,” George said quietly.
Julianne chewed her bottom lip for a moment then shrugged, rolled her eyes, and moved to the cage doorway.
“OK, then. But I’m not going anywhere with this on,” she said, holding out her hands.
George cut the plastic tie, shoved it in his pocket along with the scissors, and led the way around toward the garage. Julianne followed. Patrick walked next to her, but I lagged behind. When they turned the corner I dodged back to the wooden shelves by the far wall. I started just beyond the spot where the passenger had lunged at me earlier, slipped my hand underneath, and slid it back toward the cages. After eighteen inches my fingers touched something round and metallic. It was the barrel of the passenger’s .45. He hadn’t gone back for it. Or he hadn’t seen where it went.
I pulled the gun out. It was scratched and dusty, with clumps of gray fluff caught all around the trigger guard. I blew them away, stuck the barrel into the waistband at the back of my jeans, and started moving toward the garage. I caught up with the others before they were even through the door.
George popped the black sedan’s trunk with the remote and turned to Julianne, looking a little sheepish.
“That better be for the luggage,” she said.
George looked down at the floor. I shook my head.
“Oh, man,” she said. “Why do we have to ride in there? I hate it.”
“Sorry, Julianne,” I said. “We don’t. You do.”
“What? Why me?”
“Think about it. They couldn’t let you go if you’d seen where this place is. You could lead people back here.”
“What about you? How come you can see it?”
“Bring the police here, and I’m in as much trouble as these guys. It’s part of the deal.”
“What deal? You’ve done a deal with these people? David, what were you thinking?”
“Staying alive has a price, Julianne. Like it or not. I just found a way to pay it. For both of us. All you have to do is get in. That way, you’re forty-five minutes from freedom. Otherwise, you’re back in the cage.”
“But does it have to be the trunk? I really, really hate it in there. Don’t you have a car with black windows or something?”
We both looked at George.
“Sorry,” he said. “Black windows stop you looking in. Your problem’s looking out.”
Julianne sighed, went to the back of the car, and put her hand on the rear fender.
“I’m not climbing in on my own,” she said.
George was closest. He did the honors.
Patrick drove. George had offered me the keys, but I declined. I wanted to get a good look around the neighborhood. I had the feeling I might need to return.
A gold Lexus SUV was waiting for us at the mouth of the driveway. I could see two people inside. Presumably a couple of Lesley’s guys, sent to keep an eye on us. Then two more came up behind us in a black Grand Cherokee and we sat in line for a moment, penned in, until the Lexus pulled away.
The road near the house was narrow and uneven with a steeply domed center. There were no lights or markings, and tall trees were densely packed in on both sides. It was like driving through woods, except for the untidy festoons of power lines and telephone wires hanging down from rough poles that sprouted at unequal intervals from the shoulders. They gave the whole place a temporary feel, like it hadn’t been properly finished.
“So which part of France are you from?” I said, to break the silence.
“I’m not from France,” Patrick said. “I’m from Algeria.”
“Lesley said you were French.”
“No. I speak French. And I moved to Paris when I was a kid. My brother was a footballer. A pretty good one. Scouts from PSG spotted him. The club paid for my whole family to move there.”
“Excellent. Did he make it?”
“My brother? No. Broke his leg. In a training match. Had operations, physical therapists, everything. But he wasn’t the same. Never played for the first team. Never even made it to the bench.”
Patrick slowed as we approached a crossroads. The Lexus made a right turn. We followed. This road was smoother, and after half a mile it became much straighter and broader. The trees thinned out on both sides and then gave way to a row of neat, white-painted buildings. There were shops, restaurants, a couple of real-estate offices, and in the center, a fire station. The doors were open and inside a guy in uniform was standing around drinking coffee while two others polished the brass on a pair of old-fashioned fire trucks.
“Worried about tomorrow?” Patrick said.
“Not really,” I said. “Well, maybe a little.”
“What bothers you? The death of Varley?”
“No. Not him. It’s us I’m thinking about. Whether the FBI believes my story. How you’re going to get out of the building.”
“OK. Listen, David. I’ve been thinking about these things, as well,” he said, reaching into his coat pocket and handing me a piece of paper. “Here’s an address. It’ll pan out if they check. Tell them that’s where the kidnappers took you. You heard the guards talking, one was boasting about last night . . . you fill in the rest.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Might just do that.”
“And the FBI building. You’ve been there. What can I expect?”
“Finding an exit’s the main problem. The first-floor windows don’t open, the ground floor’s boarded up tight, and the only way out is through the garage. Today they had four guys on it, and a backup van outside. Tomorrow there could be more, given what happened.”
“That’s not so bad. Have faith, David. I’ve lived through worse. This thing is going to work out.”
The last building we passed in the little town was a police station, also painted white. It was a small place. Only a single story. A light was on in one of the rooms and a patrol car was sitting on the gravel forecourt outside. Patrick saw it and instinctively checked his speed.
A quarter of a mile farther on we came to a broad stretch of road with streetlights and white lines. An angular concrete bridge crossed over, carrying some kind of highway. A pair of heavy trucks lumbered across as we approached. We emerged at the far side and followed the Lexus up the southbound on-ramp, easing carefully around the tight curve at the top.
Patrick slotted back in line and our little convoy drifted up to a steady sixty. The leather upholstery was soft and supple, and I sank into it like I was sitting in an old armchair. The car wasn’t much to look at, but I had to admit it was comfortable. Certainly a step up after Lesley’s dog cage or the jail cell. The interior was warm, too, and the gentle swaying motion was relaxing. The radio was off so the only sound was the wheelsdrumming rhythmically against the joints in the pavement, reeling in the miles between us and the city.
I did work hard on staying awake after that, but maybe not quite hard enough. I felt my eyes slowly creep shut, and they stayed that way for twenty minutes before Patrick nudged me in the ribs and pointed at something through the windshield.
“Look,” he said. “Your trick worked. Lesley didn’t think it would.”
The road ahead of us broadened out so that you could choose which tollbooth to line up at before using the bridge across to Manhattan. But Patrick was pointing to the other side of the highway. Over there, drivers leaving the city crossed the river before parting with their cash. That meant we couldn’t see the lines of vehicles, but we got a good look in through the backs of the booths.
“See?” Patrick said. “Two people.”
He was right. There were two people in each booth. One sitting down, operating the equipment. And another standing up, silhouetted against the oncoming headlights. The shape of their headgear was unmistakable. They were police officers. I checked the booths on our side. It was harder to see in, but each one definitely had only a single occupant.
“Nice job,” Patrick said. “Telling them you were still in the city. Smart. They’re looking for you getting out, not back in. Keep it up, and you can work with me again.”
“I’m flattered,” I said. “But before you kiss me, what’s she doing?”
There was one officer on our side of the road, weaving her way through the traffic in the general direction of the central divider. Her progress was slow and erratic, and I saw she was handing out leaflets from a satchel she was carrying over her shoulder.
“What do you think they are?” Patrick said. “Takeout menus?”
“Hope so,” I said. “I’m starving. Let’s get one.”
“You can eat at the hotel, if we ever get there,” he said, pulling into the next lane and slipping into the shadow of the Lexus. “Let’s hopethese guys figure out what we’re doing. They’re not the sharpest tools in Lesley’s shed, if you know what I mean.”
We crept steadily forward, hidden from the officer’s view, until we were only two cars away from the barrier. Then the Lexus stopped moving. The car at the front of their line was having a problem. Patrick held back as long as he could, but the traffic was building up behind us. Someone honked their horn. Attention was all we needed, so Patrick lifted his foot off the brake and let the car nose ahead, into the open.
I looked over to the left, expecting the officer to be several lanes away. But she wasn’t. She’d turned around and was heading back in our direction. We rolled another half car’s length forward, and she reached the lane next to the Lexus. She handed a leaflet to a gray-haired guy in a pickup and kept moving, straight toward us. She was heading directly for Patrick. And we were boxed in. A sign near the booth said drivers would be fined for reversing in the line. Fat chance. There was nowhere for us to go.
The officer was barely three yards away. The next leaflet was half out of her satchel. I could see my own eyes staring back at me from a black-and-white photo in the center of the page when Patrick suddenly reached down in front of me and opened the glove box. He started to rummage around inside it, urgently searching for something.
Patrick’s lost it, I thought.He’s got a gun in there.
My fingers were curled around the door handle, starting to pull, when the officer abruptly veered away to her right. She was moving purposefully now, heading for the back of our car. I thought of Julianne. She was still locked in the trunk. Had she found a way to call for help without Patrick or me realizing?
I looked around, and saw the driver of the Lexus had lowered his window. He was leaning out, beckoning to the officer. She walked over and handed him a leaflet. He examined it for a moment, then passed it to his passenger. They started arguing over it, each one pointing to things on the page. They continued to squabble until the car in front of us had cleared the barrier and we started to move again. I saw the driver finally shake his head, crumple up the leaflet, and let it drop behind hisseat. He held the officer’s eye for a moment, shrugged, and then flashed her an apologetic smile.
Patrick hauled himself upright before we picked up too much speed. His right hand was hanging on to a white plastic object he’d retrieved from the glove box. It was about three inches square and one side was covered in shiny silver indentations. As we approached the booth he held it up to the windshield, just below the mirror, and the barrier immediately whipped up out of our way.
“What is that thing?” I said. “Is it legal?”
Patrick nodded toward a board markedTHIS LANE—NO CASH—E-ZPASS ONLY. Then he moved his thumb and I saw a matching logo on the white side of the square.
“Why keep it hidden, then?” I said.
“It’s not hidden,” he said. “It fell off. No one stuck it back on yet.”
I knew the hotel was good—I’d stayed there before—but I wasn’t going back for their service. I knew it was handy for our meeting the next day, but I wasn’t worried about how far we’d have to drive. I’d have chosen the place anyway, whatever it was like and wherever it was located. Because, for that one night, I needed something else more than I needed comfort or convenience. I needed a garage. A particular kind. It had to be underground, away from prying eyes. And, unusually for what I’d seen of New York, one where we could park our own car.
The machine controlling the entrance barrier had developed a fault, causing it to display its instructions in German. Patrick pointed to its small LCD screen and rolled his eyes in disgust.
“Sure you’re not French?” I said.
He took a ticket anyway and then coasted down the ramp, running wide at the bottom to avoid adding to the scrapes of paint on the white concrete wall.
The space we’d entered was smaller than the FBI’s garage—about half the size—but it was cleaner and brighter. The fluorescent lights were closer together, casting no shadows on the shiny gray floor, and the regimented layout of pillars and parking bays was a million miles from the color and chaos of the city streets we’d just crawled through.
Most of the other vehicles were crammed in together at the far end,close to the elevator that led up to the hotel itself. A few cars and SUVs had spilled over into the center section, but farther out the garage was almost empty. The corner opposite the ramp—where people would have the farthest to walk—was completely deserted.
It looked perfect.
Patrick headed for the space at the end of the last row. He swung the car into some empty bays on the other side of the aisle then snaked backward, stopping with the rear fender about four feet from the wall. That left the hood hanging out over the white line, but Patrick didn’t seem worried. He just rolled up his window, switched off the engine, and leaned down to unlock the trunk. I checked my watch. It was seven minutes past nine. Just shy of twelve hours since the detectives had disturbed me in my cell.
Julianne was lying on her left-hand side, curled up in a ball, with her back to the rear of the car. Her arms and legs were pulled in tight and she showed no reaction when I lifted the trunk lid. There was no sign of her even breathing, and her skin looked like perished rubber in the harsh artificial light.
She didn’t look any better when the Jeep arrived, three minutes later. It pulled in next to us, close to Patrick’s side of the car, and kept easing backward until its rear fender was nudging up against the concrete, boxing us in tight.
“Come on, Julianne,” I said, reaching down into the trunk and gently shaking her shoulder. “We’re here. Time to get out.”
“Wait,” Patrick said. “Leave her. Let her wake up on her own.”
I couldn’t see why. I’d known stowaways to recover slowly before, but only when they’d been drugged or wounded, or we’d had some kind of incident en route. Nothing like that had happened to Julianne. She’d been in the trunk twenty minutes longer than I had, earlier in the day, but that was because of the traffic. It was nothing traumatic. There was no reason for her to just lie there, increasing the chances of us being compromised.
I shook her again and after a few seconds her arms loosened and her head began to appear, like a tortoise emerging from its shell. She cranedher neck around and gradually started to take in her surroundings—the trunk lid, the garage walls, the Jeep. And me.
“David,” she said huskily. “This is your fault.”
Julianne refused any help climbing out of the trunk, but she did take my arm as we set off toward the cluster of cars surrounding the elevator. She was still looking a little green and crumpled, and her stride was shorter and stiffer than it had been at the house. The farther we walked the harder she leaned on me, but however much weight I took, it didn’t make her speed up or move any more easily. The opposite, if anything. Patrick and the guys from the Jeep were pulling way out in front of us, despite changing course slightly to pass the Lexus, which had finally appeared in a space away to our left.
“What happens now?” she said quietly.
“Not much,” I said. “We check in. Get a meal. Then some rest.”
“What about tomorrow?”
“Take it easy. Have a lie-in.”
“What’s a lie-in? What are we lying about? Who to?”
“No. Lie in bed. Stay asleep. I’ll see you around lunchtime.”
“You want me to sleep in? Why? What will you be doing?”
“Helping Patrick with something.”
“What you agreed with those people? To make them let us go?”
“Are you OK with it, what they want you to do?”
“Is it something bad?”
“Not entirely. Neutral, overall, I’d say.”
“But something big? It must be big, to trade for our lives.”
“Just something they can’t do on their own.”
“David, this feels wrong. I don’t know what they want, but they’re bad people. You had a gun to your head, back then. Now it’s different. No one would blame you if you didn’t go through with it.”
“Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing. It’ll come out fine.”
“Are you sure? We could make a run for it. You and me. Ditch these guys and hide out somewhere, till we figure out how to make it right with the police.”
“Sorry, Julianne. It wouldn’t work, with the police. It has to be done this way. But trust me. By lunchtime tomorrow, it’ll all be over.”
The automatic announcements in the elevator had also reverted to German, which did nothing to improve Patrick’s mood. He stood in the corner and muttered to himself for the few seconds it took us to reach the ground floor. The doors hadn’t even fully opened before he pushed past me and veered away to the right, heading for the reception desk. Julianne and the other guys moved more slowly, taking a moment to adjust to their new surroundings. Stepping into such a bright, uncluttered space was quite a change after the cramped elevator car.
A row of abstract tapestries hung below the high windows to our left. They provided the only color or texture in the place, standing out vividly against the smooth white marble walls and floors. They were also the only things in there that weren’t strictly necessary. It was a large area, but everything else in it had a practical purpose—the counter where Patrick was standing, a second bank of elevators ahead of us serving the bedrooms, glass double doors on either side leading to the bar and restaurant, and an exit to the street farther down on the right. No space had been wasted on seating areas or display cabinets or porters’ stations. The result obviously wasn’t to Julianne’s taste—I felt her shiver as she took it all in—but I liked it. It made the place seem focused and purposeful.
It also meant that covert surveillance was out of the question.
For Lesley’s people, or the FBI.
Two clerks were on duty that night. Neither had been there when I last visited, a couple of years ago, so there was no danger of them recognizing me. The one on the left was sitting down, hunched over a keyboard.It looked as if he were processing a pile of papers stacked up on the desk beside him. His hands were moving—robotically pressing the keys and sorting through the forms—but the rest of his body was absolutely still. He was completely absorbed by his work. Patrick was close enough to touch him but he had no idea that anyone was even near. You could have brushed the thin flakes of dandruff off the shoulders of his navy blue blazer and I doubt he’d have missed a beat.
The second clerk was younger and a little more animated. She was shuffling around behind the counter, gathering some documents and chatting to Patrick as they waited for us to catch up. A badge clipped to her blazer said she was Maxine, the shift manager. Her eyes did occasionally stray in our direction, but she didn’t seem unduly suspicious. She clearly wasn’t checking anyone against a wanted photograph or trying to match us to a description. More that she was just idly curious, and as we got closer she did nothing more sinister than fan out the wad of forms she’d collected, hand them to Patrick, and reach down for a pot of pens.
The registration forms were preprinted with the details George had given over the Net so all that was left for us to do was sign them. There were three spaces, clearly outlined in black. Even so, it turned out to be a major exercise for the guys from the Jeep. Maybe they had particularly difficult names, but they were still scratching away with the cheap hotel ballpoints long after Julianne and I had finished with ours.
George had booked me in as David Van Der Wahl from Ossining, New York. He had some idea that a Dutch-sounding name might misdirect the clerk if she heard my accent and was questioned later about English guests. I wasn’t so sure. I preferred my usual approach—not speaking to anyone—but I supposed his little subterfuge wouldn’t do any harm. At least he’d come up with a more imaginative name than the ones the navy usually gave me.
Maxine handed out our keys one at a time, and even though the elevators and restaurant were in plain sight, she obstinately ran through how to reach the bedrooms and where to go for breakfast with each of us in turn. She issued my key last, and by the time I’d listened to her instructionsfor the seventh time Patrick and the others had already started to drift away from the counter.
Our rooms were on the tenth floor. Mine was the last on the left, at the far end of the corridor. Patrick’s was next door. Julianne’s was directly opposite.
“See you bright and early,” Patrick said, working the lock on his door and disappearing inside.
“Early, anyway,” I said.
“What about lunch, tomorrow?” Julianne said when he’d gone. She was standing in the middle of the corridor, looking a little lost. “I’m worried. Will you really come back?”
“Of course,” I said, sliding my key card into its slot. “Sleep well.”
The door closed solidly behind me and for a moment I felt a slight pang of regret about leaving Julianne outside, on her own. She looked so forlorn, with her head tipped anxiously to one side and her big brown eyes stretched wide and fearful. Maybe I felt a little bad about lying to her, as well. After what I was planning for tomorrow there was no way they were going to let me out for lunch. I was never going to see her again, and part of me was wondering what other possibilities I was turning my back on. It was a long time since I’d been in a hotel with a woman, voluntarily, and not felt some official eye looking over my shoulder. Tomorrow’s plan wasn’t complex. How much sleep could I need?
But deep down, I knew I was right. If I was going down that road with anyone, it had to be Tanya. Especially now we were back in touch. And tomorrow was about more than the basic ability to stumble through a plan. It was about more than the professional pride of doing a job right. Or even the satisfaction of wiping the smile off Rosser’s smug face.
Tomorrow was about redemption.
Another man’s life would be taken. Mine would be reclaimed.
It deserved my full attention.
Mitchell Varley and his colleagues had seemed innocuous enough when I first met them in their abandoned office building. Devious, certainly, but not physically dangerous. Not like the Nazi from the police cell. You didn’t get the feeling they were going to leap across the table and tear your head off. But with guys like these, superficial impressions don’t count for much. You could say the same for lots of unpleasant species. Spiders, for example. The deadliest ones are always the most harmless looking.
Which is why I changed the plan.
I didn’t call Tanya at nine the next morning, as I’d promised.
I called her at eight.
Tanya answered on the first ring.
“David?” she said. “What’s wrong? You’re an hour early. Is there a problem?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve just brought the schedule forward a little. Are the FBI guys with you yet?”
“But are you OK?”
“Absolutely fine. Are they there?”
There was a pause before she answered.
“Yes,” she said. “All three are here.”
“Good,” I said. “Because here’s some good news for them. They won’t be needing their copter after all. They can save some gas money. We’re going to meet in the city.”
“Oh. OK. Where exactly?”
“The same building they took me to yesterday. Room 3H3. It’s on the first floor, for some reason, not the third like you’d think. End of the corridor. Last room but one, left-hand side.”
“Got that. What time?”
“Eight-twenty. But listen. Tell them I’m set up in the neighborhood with a clear view of the room. If I don’t see Rosser, Varley, and Breuer enter before that time—I walk away. If I see anyone else come in with them, or positioned in the building, I walk away.”
“Got that. What about their guy?”
“He’s stashed somewhere safe. When I’m happy, I’ll lead them to him.”
“Got that. Stand by . . .”
The phone was silent for forty seconds.
“Confirmed,” Tanya said, coming back to me. “All three are en route. ETA ten minutes. Conditions understood. And David—good luck. I want you back in one piece at the end of this.”
“As always,” I said, hanging up the phone and shifting my position to get a better view of the garage entrance.
It took eight minutes for the first vehicles to arrive. There were five of them. Two black Fords, the Cadillac I’d seen yesterday, then two more black Fords. They swept around the corner, moving fast, only a couple of feet between each one. Then the lead car swung the other way and the others followed it into the garage, disappearing like a snake slithering into a hole.
Two minutes later a white van appeared from the opposite direction, traveling much more sedately. It trundled three-quarters of the length of the street, then drifted to the side and stopped in the samespace the backup van had used yesterday. From my position, almost directly above, I couldn’t see any markings on its sides but there was a picture of an engine component—a carburetor?—painted on the hood.
After another two minutes I heard activity in the hallway outside. Footsteps were approaching. It sounded like five sets, but I couldn’t be sure. There was a pause, then the door was flung open. I caught a glimpse of a hand and a gray sleeve, but nothing else.
The door started to close. It was almost back in its frame when someone rammed it with their shoulder and stepped into the room. It was Varley. He was holding a Glock out in front of him, two-handed. He checked both corners to his left and then moved forward. The gun was swinging across to his right when he saw me, standing to the side of the window. He stopped instantly and snapped the weapon back, lining up perfectly on the bridge of my nose.
“Stand still,” he said unnecessarily, as I showed no sign of moving. “Hands on your head.”
I kept my hands down by my sides. There was no chance of him shooting me. Not yet, anyway.
Louis Breuer was next into the room. He was much shorter than I’d realized from seeing him sitting down, and he walked stiffly with a stick in his left hand. He moved to Varley’s right, stopping a couple of feet from the closet where I’d found the shelves, yesterday. It was a perfect spot to triangulate on me, but he didn’t draw his gun. I didn’t know whether to be reassured or offended.
Bruce Rosser came in last. He saw me—I caught his eye for a moment—but pretended not to notice I was there. Then he moved between the others to the center of the room and slowly turned a full circle, like a prospective buyer assessing a new home.
“Coffee stain,” he said, poking a mark on the carpet with his toe.
“Carpet’s damaged,” he said, examining the depressions left in the pile where the desk would have been.
“Place needs cleaning,” he said, running his finger through the layer of dust on the windowsill.
“And you know what else?” he said, turning to look at me. “Somethingdoesn’t smell good. You. Three hours after you escape, wounding another of my men, you’re on the phone wanting a deal. Now you’re ambushing me. What kind of game are you playing?”
“What can I tell you?” I said. “If your people had done their jobs . . .”
“I want to see this guy, who you say is the real shooter.”
“Something else you should know. We’re going to take a good look at him. A real good look. You better be on the level. So had he.”
“I am. I can give you the guy, where I found him, full background.”
“Good. Then let’s go.”
“Not with a gun on me.”
“Mitchell,” Rosser said, shaking his head.
Varley lowered the Glock, but didn’t holster it.
“Now let’s hurry it up,” Rosser said. “We can use my car.”
“Quicker to walk,” I said, moving across to the closet and opening the double doors.
Patrick stepped out. He was wearing the same coat as last night but had swapped his soccer clothes for a gray herringbone suit, white shirt, and black shoes. His arms were in front of him, fastened with a cable tie. He glanced at the three FBI men and then dropped his gaze to the floor. He looked genuinely ashamed of himself. Lesley hadn’t told me he was a bit of an actor.
“This is the guy?” Rosser said. “Who is he?”
“Ask him,” I said.
“Well?” Rosser said, looking at Patrick. “Talk to me.”
Patrick stood in silence for a moment, then shuffled around to face the wall. His head tipped farther forward and his arms started to quiver, as if he were straining to free his wrists. I checked the others. They didn’t seem too concerned. FBI agents had used cable ties themselves, all the time, before flexicuffs were invented. They work the same way. Once they’re on, the only way to remove them is to cut them off. Pull against them and the little plastic teeth just lock together and the sharp edges bite into your skin.
Only, the tie around Patrick’s wrists didn’t have any plastic teeth.Not anymore. I’d sat in my hotel room and carefully removed them with the knife Lesley had given me. So when Patrick turned back around, his wrists were no longer secured. His left hand was gripping the flap that covered the buttonholes on his coat, rolling it back to expose the stitching. His right hand was hidden from view. It was reaching inside an opening concealed in the seam, and when he pulled it back out, a small gun was nestling in his palm. A Smith & Wesson 2213.
Twenty-two caliber, as promised.
Patrick stepped to his left and grabbed Louis Breuer by the hair, jerking his head back and locking his spine. Then he jammed the pistol under Louis’s jaw and flicked the safety down with his thumb.
“Your weapons, please, gentlemen,” he said. “Two fingers only. On the floor in front of you. Do it now.”
Varley let go of his Glock and it fell to the carpet with a muffled thud. Rosser drew his from a holster on his belt and carefully placed it on the ground, its barrel pointing straight at Patrick.
“And you,” Patrick said to Louis.
Louis fumbled and the gun slipped through his fingers, landing between Patrick’s feet.
“You, too, English,” Patrick said, turning to me. “I know you took one from the house.”
I took Cyril’s Springfield out of my jacket, held it at arm’s length and let it drop.
“Easy come, easy go,” I said.
“Now, kick them away,” he said.
Varley’s didn’t travel very far, but Patrick didn’t complain.
“Now, back up against the wall,” he said.
Rosser and Varley shuffled slowly backward, exchanging worried glances. I went across and stood between them.
“Good,” Patrick said. “Now, Mitchell Varley—two steps forward.”
Varley didn’t move.
“Do you want to get your friend killed?” Patrick said, savagely tugging Louis’s hair.
The cane slipped from Louis’s fingers and its metal handle fell down and rattled against the barrel of Rosser’s discarded gun.
Varley took two small, reluctant steps.
“Now, on your knees,” Patrick said.
Varley flopped down onto all fours, throwing his left hand out so it landed eighteen inches from his Glock.
“Hands off the floor,” Patrick said. “Don’t lean forward.”
Varley straightened himself up.
“Now, hands behind your head,” Patrick said. “Fingers laced together.”
Varley did as he was told, and Patrick suddenly dropped his left hand to Louis’s shoulder and started to propel him across the room. Louis half walked, half stumbled in front of Patrick until they were six feet away from us. Then Patrick launched Louis at the wall and stepped sideways, bringing the little .22 down and ramming the barrel into Varley’s temple.
“Your other guy, in the alley?” he said, looking at Rosser. “That was a mistake. We didn’t mean it. I apologize. But this, I’m going to enjoy.”
The sound of the shot was uncomfortably loud in such a small, enclosed space. I normally use a silencer for close-range indoor work, but needs must. Rosser and Breuer flinched. Varley flopped down to his left. And Patrick was knocked backward, off his feet. He landed awkwardly, half on his side, with his right arm trapped underneath him. Blood was draining steadily from the hole in the center of his chest. It was seeping out faster than the carpet could absorb it. I had to be careful not to step in it as I moved in closer. Then I lowered the .45 I’d inherited from Lesley’s guy and put two more rounds in Patrick’s head.
They probably weren’t necessary, but it pays to be thorough.
MEETINGS. A PRACTICAL ALTERNATIVE TO WORK.
I’ve seen that slogan in offices from Mumbai to Montreal and Moscow to Melbourne. It’s a simple observation. And it’s absolutely true. People all over the world build whole careers out of sitting around, talking, secretly looking for ways to steal credit or avoid blame.
And of course, the worst offenders are always the bosses. . . .
Rosser, Varley, and Breuer had set themselves up in the boardroom, leaving me on the twenty-third floor with only Weston for company. They were busy raking over the fallout from the Patrick incident. Searching for connections. Assessing the consequences. Reviewing their procedures. Debating corrective actions. It must have been a complex operation because they’d had to summon more guys from their main New York office to lend a hand. Then they’d spread the net to include the NYPD. Even Tanya Wilson had been dragged in. That meant London would be involved. It would be after lunch in the U.K., but that wouldn’t be a problem. The desk jockeys would still be all fired up, eagerly chipping in over the spider phone and adding their slice of nonsense for the bureaucratic parasites to feast on.
I have to admit, I was starting to get annoyed. The bureau guys wereobsessing over pointless details. Their desperation to nail down Lesley’s exact role in their railroad case was paralyzing them. They wanted everything neatly defined, but whatever part she played it made no difference that I could see. Lesley needed to be taken off the street. She was a murderer, a kidnapper, a sadist, and a thief—minimum. They should snatch her now, and worry about which pigeonhole to file her in later. Maybe that would leave me with some explaining to do—about Cyril being the actual trigger man or the apparent deal I’d made to execute Varley—but I wasn’t worried. None of that would stick. Varley was alive and it didn’t matter who’d killed Raab, as long as it wasn’t me. The point was, we needed to act. Speed was essential. Rosser should have already scrambled a fast-response team and sent it to secure Lesley’s place before she got word from her sources and vanished. Instead, he was upstairs with his buddies, playing chairman of the board, and every second they wasted tipped the scales a little further in Lesley’s favor.
“How long do these talking-shops normally last?” I said to Weston, and pointed to the ceiling.
“No idea,” he said, turning back to his computer. “People don’t normally bring in suspects who try and execute our senior staff.”
“Really? That’s a shame. Keeps them on their toes.”
“Don’t joke about it. Staging a mock execution—that was sick.”
“There was nothing mock about it. Believe me.”
“Then why do it that way? Varley could have been killed.”
“No great loss, from what I’ve seen of him.”
“You should be locked up. You’re an attention-grabbing maniac.”
“Attention-grabbing? Hardly. The NYPD wouldn’t listen to me, remember. Nor would you. Nor would your bosses. You all had your chance. So stop complaining about how I put right what you failed to fix.”
“Look, finding the guy was good work. I’ll give you that. But why not call it in and let us grab him up? Or just hand him to the local PD?”
“ ’Cause he’d have denied it, Einstein. And I was working alone. I don’t have crime labs and technicians backing me up. I needed your bosses to hear the confession.”
“You had his gun.”
“Yeah. Circumstantial evidence. That’s always good. Till he goes with the ‘holding it for a friend’ defense.”
“Got an answer for everything, don’t you?”
“There’s a difference between being arrogant, and being right. You should think about that.”
“Or what? Going to break my jaw, as well?”
“That’s a tempting offer. I always enjoy a bit of jaw-breaking. But ultimately, what’s the point? It’s not your mouth I’m listening to.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, if anyone’s talking out of his ass, it’s you. We’ve got one agent in hospital ’cause of you. Another nearly killed this morning. And now . . .”
“Weston, you want to rant?” I said, getting up from Lavine’s chair. “Go ahead. But do it on your own. I’ve got a call to make.”
I could still see Weston’s mouth moving, but at least with the door shut the glass booth insulated me from the sound of his whining voice. The three chairs were still inside, so I chose the one I’d used yesterday and sat down to dial the number for the hotel switchboard. A receptionist answered on the third ring. She didn’t give her name, but it sounded like the woman who’d checked us in last night. Maxine. She must have been on a late-early. A bit like me.
“Julianne Morgan’s room, please,” I said.
“One moment,” Maxine said. “Connecting you now.”
The phone rang again for another twenty seconds, then Julianne answered. She sounded sleepy.
“Hello?” she said.
“Julianne, it’s David.”
“David? What time is it? Is it lunchtime?”
“No, not yet. But about that. I’m not going to make it, I’m afraid.”
“You’re not? Why? Is everything all right? Are you in trouble?”
“Everything’s fine. No trouble at all.”
“Then why can’t you make it?”
“Something came up, and now the FBI wants my help with it.”
“The FBI? Why? What went wrong?”
“Nothing went wrong. At least, not for me. Can’t say the same for the bad guys, though. That’s why I’m calling. I want you to get out of the hotel, right away.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I didn’t do what the bad guys wanted this morning. I went a different way. Completely stitched them up.”
“You did? Fantastic. David, good for you.”
“Point is, they’re going to hear about it. Soon.”
“So they hear. So what?”
“So they’ll be seriously pissed off. Pissed off enough to maybe send someone after you.”
“Lots of reasons. In case you were in on it. To get back at me, through you. ’Cause you’re a journalist. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is, you’re not safe where you are.”
“Oh. Well, have I got time for a shower before I make my escape?”
I caught sight of a figure approaching from the far end of the room. It was Tanya Wilson.
“Better not,” I said. “Safer just to leave. Have you got a place to go?”
Tanya motioned through the glass that she wanted to talk to me, smiled, then went over to chat with Weston.
“Yeah,” Julianne said. “I live in the Village. It’s walkable.”
“Better head for home, then,” I said. “Sorry again about lunch.”
I saw Weston give Tanya the cold shoulder. She stood and scowled at him for a moment, and then walked over to the side wall and started looking at the train maps.
“Don’t worry about it,” Julianne said. “But I tell you what—if we can’t do lunch, what about dinner?”
“Can’t,” I said, watching Tanya. “I’ve got plans for tonight.”
“Already? You move fast. Who is she? An FBI agent?”
“Who said anything about a ‘she’?”
“Come on. You can’t fool me.”
“It’s just a work thing. Something I promised to do a while ago.”
“Oh, yeah? Just business?”
Tanya’s body suddenly tensed as she studied the railway diagrams and I saw her head tilt slightly to the left, as if something critical had caught her attention.
“That’s what you’re telling me now,” Julianne said. “Wait till you’ve had a few glasses of red. What will it be then?”
“The same,” I said. “It’s not a date. Just someone from the consulate. She helped me out with a few things, and I promised to buy her dinner before I head back to the U.K. Nothing romantic.”
Tanya had turned to Weston and was pointing to the lower map—the one of the entire United States of America.
“You owe someone dinner in return for a few favors?” Julianne said. “Come on, David. I’m not buying that.”
“Journalists,” I said. “Too suspicious for their own good.”
“OK. You got me. I’ll back off. But listen, you did me more than a favor. You saved my life. I must owe you a whole bunch of dinners. What do you think—can’t we do at least one before you leave the country?”
“I’d love to, Julianne. But I don’t know if it’ll be possible. I could be on a plane back home, tomorrow.”
“What if you’re not? What if you’re here longer?”
“OK, tell you what. If I’m here another night, I’ll call you.”
“Great. Only trouble is, I lost my cell. Those guys took it when they threw me in their trunk. Why not give me your number. I’ll call tomorrow, after lunch, and see if you’re still around.”
I took a moment to think about her idea. I didn’t own a personal cell phone, and there’s no way I’d give my work number to a casual acquaintance. But the phone Lesley had given me was unofficial. It was untraceable, and in a few hours it would be landfill. Letting her try it tomorrow wouldn’t hurt. And it was a good way to shut her up now.
“Good plan,” I said, and read out the digits.
I slipped the phone back into my pocket and signaled for Tanya to come and join me in the booth.
“Briefing’s over,” she said, touching my shoulder then taking the chair next to me.
“Wow,” I said. “Must be some kind of record.”
“They want to raid this Lesley’s headquarters.”
“They want you to go with them. Show them where it is.”
“Why not? You’ve been there. You know the way.”
“Too late. She’ll be long gone.”
“Maybe. But their forensics teams might recover something.”
“No chance. The place will be empty. She’ll take what she can, and destroy what’s left. It’ll be a complete waste of time.”
“You’re probably right. But hey. London has agreed, and you have fences to mend. Better put a smile on your face and get on with it.”
“Book us somewhere nice for dinner.”
“Really? I didn’t know if you were serious about that, after everything that happened. And three years is a long time to wait.”
“I was dead serious. But you better make it late, though, in case this raid nonsense drags on. We’ll have to trail over there, fake surprise at all the empty rooms, and then haul ourselves back here again. And they’re bound to want a full finger-pointing session afterward.”
“No doubt about that. The blame game’s started already.”
“Really? Who’s in the frame?”
“No one knows who’s been leaking information. It’s too early for that. But for the big picture, fingers are pointing at Mitchell Varley.”
“Varley? Poor bastard. Both sides are after him now. Maybe I should have just let that guy shoot him, after all.”
“There were a few in that room who wouldn’t have complained.”
“How come? He may be an arse, but how is all this his fault?”
“I’m not sure, exactly. But listening between the lines, it sounds like he has some skeletons and they’re not too well buried.”
“Something professional. It started with a counterfeiting crew, here in New York. Years ago. The bureau tried to take it down. Varley was part of the team. Their inside man. He latched on to this Lesley and used her to get to the others. That’s how their paths first crossed. She was just a lieutenant, back then, though. Sounds like she’s the boss now.”
“So what happened? He took down her crew? She swore revenge?”
“No. Not at all. Apparently the feds had Lesley’s mob on the hook. They were ready to move. Then she pulled a really vile stunt. Some kind of trademark of hers, they say. Ritual mutilation. Of the genitals. Some poor foot soldier who’d screwed something up.”
“Still does that. She’s one sick puppy.”
“Sick, yes. And smart.”
“Not that smart. You don’t need a Ph.D. to terrorize people.”
“I don’t think that’s why she did it. Not just to terrorize. She sounds more calculating than that. I think it was a test.”
“Her people. To flush out any traitors. Or infiltrators.”
“Sounds a bit far-fetched.”
“No. Because she always does it when new recruits are around, apparently. She knows no one with a conscience would be callous enough to just sit and watch something like that.”
“More likely she’s just a psycho.”
“Maybe. But either way, Varley bit.”
“You’re joking. He blew his cover?”
“Cardinal sin. The idiot. What happened?”
“Lesley was wounded, but escaped. So did the other bad guys. Apart from the foot soldier. He died. And none of the other agents made it, either. I don’t know how many there were, but they left behind some friends. And friends with long memories.”
“Oh, dear. Varley’s in deeper shit than I’d thought.”
“He probably is,” she said, opening the door. “But now you better get moving. They want to form up in the garage at nine-thirty. That’s less than ten minutes, and Rosser’s getting uptight.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, following her out. “They can’t leave without me. What was up with the map, by the way? Just now?”
“Oh, that. It was weird. I thought I recognized someone. There are photos around the edge.”
“Really?” I said, moving over to the map. “Which one? Show me.”
Tanya pointed to the photo in the top right-hand corner. It showed a man’s face, in his mid to late thirties. An arrow connected his picture to a point on a railroad just south of the Canadian border.
“Who is it?” I said.
“He doesn’t look familiar?” she said.
“No. Why? Should he?”
“I think it’s a guy called Simon Redford.”
“A Royal Marine. We met him in Spain, when we were there together. You don’t remember him? My brother knew him, too. Same regiment.”
“No. Definitely not.”
“Strange. Maybe I met him before you arrived?”
“Maybe. But why would he be here? All these guys were murdered by some serial killer, apparently. Something to do with trains.”
“I don’t know. But they’ve gone outside, now, Simon and my brother. Could be anywhere.”
“No. He went to work for some private security firm. They both did. In Iraq.”
“So what do you think? Is it him?”
“I don’t know. But it really, really looks like him.”
“Ask this guy,” I said, nodding toward Weston. “He’s working the case. Should know the victims’ names.”
“I did,” Tanya said. “He wouldn’t speak to me.”
“Oh, really?” I said. “Maybe I should ask.”
Weston was working on his laptop, pretending not to listen, and he kept up the act as I moved in behind him.
“Agent Weston,” I said, as I leaned over his shoulder and slammed the screen down hard on his fingers. “Perhaps you would like to show my colleague some professional courtesy?”
He tried to wriggle free, but I just leaned down harder.
“Of course,” he said eventually, through gritted teeth. “What does she want?”
“Speak to her,” I said. “She’s right here.”
“I want a name,” Tanya said. “The man in the photo I pointed to.”
“I’ll need to look it up,” he said.
I flipped the screen back up and gave Weston a minute to locate the file.
“Dmitry Blokhin,” he said. “Illegal immigrant from the Ukraine. Deserter, on the run from their army.”
“There now,” I said. “That wasn’t so hard.”
“And it’s justUkraine,” Tanya said. “Notthe Ukraine. They hate that, you ignorant pig.”
I needed a bathroom break on my way downstairs, so I stopped on the first floor and found some restrooms near the elevators. I didn’t exactly rush, so it was past 9:41A.M.by the time I reached the garage. Rosser and Varley were already there, standing next to one of the black Fords that had escorted the Cadillac when they arrived. Rosser looked impatient. Varley just looked angry.
“First you were an hour early,” he said. “Now you’re late.”
“No pleasing some people,” I said.
“We have a job for you,” Rosser said. “If you want brownie points, do it without anyone else getting killed.”
“Depends what it is,” I said. “Might not be possible.”
“I have two teams ready to roll, outside,” Rosser said. “I want you to escort them to the premises where you apprehended the suspect in Raab’s shooting.”
“Why don’t I give them directions?”
“I want you to take them there, personally. Wait outside till you get the green light. Then go in. Look around. You’re the only one who’s been inside. I want to know everything that’s missing or out of place.”
“I hope you’ve got a lot of paper. It’ll be a long list. She’ll have had a two-hour head start, minimum, by the time we get there.”
“Then so be it. Just get it done.”
“Since you ask so nicely. And am I traveling alone, or will I have a babysitter?”
Varley stepped aside, and I saw Weston sitting behind the wheel.
“Oh, well,” I said. “At least it’ll be a quiet journey.”
The first FBI team entered Lesley’s house via the garage. The second—with Weston trailing behind, still wearing his suit—went in through the front door. I stayed in the car and figured the odds of Lesley not having booby-trapped the place.
Twenty minutes passed without any explosions then Weston reappeared, heading back down the path. He was flanked by two agents in full urban assault kit, which made him look like an alien abductee.
“Better come inside,” he said. “There’s something you should see.”
It turned out I was wrong about the house being completely empty. Something had been left behind, in Lesley’s office. It was the metal trolley that Cyril had been strapped to. Inside it was a glass bottle. The same cloudy, industrial kind she had used yesterday. Its lid was off, so you could smell the formaldehyde, and a label was attached to the side.
Two words were written on it, by hand, in green ink.
My friend Jeremy was a born victim.
I first met him two weeks after I started at high school. He’d missed the beginning of term because he was still recovering from a recent kicking. He appeared in the corner of the classroom one morning and I remember thinking he might as well haveBULLY MEtattooed on his forehead, the way he behaved. The local thugs just gravitated toward him. I had to step in and save him on several occasions over the years, when people were taking too much from him or it looked like he was going to get seriously hurt again. I could have stopped the trouble altogether without too much effort, but I didn’t think that would be right. I wasn’t going to be around for the rest of his life and he needed to learn how to stand up for himself. The problem was, he had no instinct for it. No idea how to spot danger coming or stop it in its tracks.
Most of the skirmishes he got into were fairly low level until one day I overheard a couple of kids threatening to beat him up after school if he didn’t give them money. So, straightaway, he emptied his pockets. It was as if he were hearing their words but not understanding what they meant. It was such an obvious mistake. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. And after he’d sent out a message like that I knew there was nothing for it. I was going to have to take the long way home.
I left the school gates at the same time as Jeremy then hung back,drifting between the various groups who walked the same way as him. The journey started uneventfully. Nothing happened until we came to an alley, half a mile from his house. Then my heart sank. He walked straight into it without even looking. I turned the corner and saw the two kids who must have been waiting there. They’d already caught him, about twenty feet away. One was holding him, the other was standing with his fist pulled back, ready to strike. He was too far away to grab so I picked up a rock—a big chunk of flint with sharp, shiny edges—and hurled it at the kid’s head. He looked around at the last second and it connected with the middle of his forehead. He tumbled backward, blood already oozing from the wound, and the other kid turned to run. But the passage wasn’t long enough. I reached him with ten yards to spare.
Jeremy was so happy to get his lunch money back I don’t think he really understood the point I was trying to make. I told him threats are like smoke. They’re like the first wisps that appear before a fire really catches hold. And there’s only one way to deal with them. Stamp them out before they grow into something bigger.
That method worked for me when I was a kid, and I’ve stuck with it ever since.
So you can imagine how I felt that afternoon, locked in an FBI debriefing while Lesley was left to slink away unopposed . . .
The rickety typist’s chair I’d sat on yesterday had been relegated to the far corner of the boardroom and was now half hidden under a tangle of navy blue overcoats. But that wasn’t a problem. Eight more chairs had been brought up and shared out along each side of the big granite table. I headed to the right, where two empty seats separated Tanya from a plump forty-something in a gray suit. The backrest of the one nearer her was stained, so I went to swap it with its neighbor.
“Hey,” the plump guy said. “Someone’s using that.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Me.”
The double doors opened again and a guy hurried in with four largecoffees wedged into a cardboard tray. He left one in the place to my right and took another round to Varley, who was sitting on his own at the center of the long side of the table. Then the new guy came back and flopped into the seat next to me, leaving two cups unclaimed.
“Which one of those was for Rosser?” I said.
“Why would one be for him?” he said.
“Come on, which one?”
“That one. Why?”
“I’m guessing black, no sugar?”
“Right. But what’s that to you?”
“That’s just how I like it,” I said, taking the cup and passing the other one to Tanya.
“Hey,” the new guy said. “That’s . . .”
“Yes?” I said, turning to look at him.
“Hot. Maybe. Still.”
“Gentlemen,” Varley said. “And lady. Time to get under way. I guess you don’t all know our English friends, so let’s start with a quick round of introductions. We’ll go clockwise. Ivan?”
“Ivan Sproule,” the plump guy said. “FBI Special Operations, working for Mitchell out of New York.”
“Brian Schmidt,” the guy with the coffee said. “Also FBI Special Ops.”
“David Trevellyan,” I said. “Yesterday, in league with the devil. Today, innocent bystander slash tour guide.”
“Tanya Wilson,” Tanya said. “British Consulate.”
“Lieutenant Byron McBride,” the guy opposite Tanya said. “NYPD intelligence task force. I’m pulling together a citywide response to the spate of homicides involving elderly and vagrant victims.”
“Detective Rosenior,” the next guy said. “NYPD intell, working for Lieutenant McBride.”
“That just leaves me,” Weston said from his seat opposite the plump guy. “And our English friends certainly know who I am.”
Varley stayed with Weston for his first set of questions, which involved asking for a full account of the raid on Lesley’s house and then picking it to shreds. How had they entered? Where had they searched?How long had they taken? What had they found? How had they documented the scene? Could they have missed anything? How could he be sure? Had they taken photos? Had forensics unearthed anything later? Varley was relentless, firing his queries and driving Weston over and over the same ground for a full twenty minutes.
The police officers were next to come under the microscope, but Varley came at them from a different angle. This time he wasn’t interested in one specific case, but pushed them for detailed breakdowns of the previous year’s crime figures. How many vagrants had been murdered, precinct by precinct? What were their age groups? Gender? Religion? Previous occupations? Cause of death? How many had made it into the press? State or country of birth? How many had been cleared? The barrage was exhausting, and Varley tired of it first. McBride was still going strong, wading through his endless reservoir of statistics when Varley cut him off and turned to me.
“Mr. Trevellyan, you recently infiltrated the criminal organization of the woman known to us, but not exactly loved, as Lesley?” he said. “Is that correct?”
“Yes,” I said. “She tried to recruit me.”
“And she raised the subject of Agent Raab’s death with you?”
“What did she say about it?”
“That one of her operatives had killed him.”
“The individual you brought here this morning?”
“You heard him say that for himself.”
“Did she say why they targeted an FBI agent?”
“She said they didn’t. They had intended to kill an ordinary vagrant, but her operative failed to establish Raab’s true identity before pulling the trigger. Which I guess you could take as a testimony to Raab’s skill in working undercover.”
“Why did they want to kill a vagrant? How was her operation linked to Raab’s case?”
“I don’t believe it was. I think she was involved with identity theft. It had nothing to do with the railroad killings.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because Agent Raab had a stolen Social Security card in his wallet when he was found, and I saw a similar card in someone’s possession at Lesley’s house. That can’t be a coincidence.”
“Maybe not. It’s an interesting angle. We should follow up on it. Make absolutely sure there’s no connection.”
“I’ll get right on it,” Schmidt said.
“Good,” Varley said. “Now, let’s recap. Based on Lesley’s conversation with Commander Trevellyan and the confession from her operative that I heard myself, we can be confident we know who killed Mike Raab. Anyone unhappy with that?”
No one responded.
“Agent Weston searched Lesley’s premises and found no evidence that Raab was deliberately targeted, or that the gang had been acting on information received from within the bureau. Anyone disagree?”
“Lieutenant McBride has thoroughly analyzed all the available data, and has identified no pattern or trend consistent with the targeting of federal agents in New York. Anyone disagree?”
“OK. That being the case, I conclude that Agent Raab simply fell victim to an unrelated criminal act perpetrated by Lesley’s organization, which we know to be both extensive and vicious. As, in a sense, did Commander Trevellyan. Anyone disagree, now’s the time.”
Again, no one spoke. Everyone was still except for Weston, who looked down at the floor.
“All right then. This is what we’re going to do. Kyle, now we know that Lesley’s involvement was only coincidental, I want you to get moving with the train thing again. Pick up where Raab left off. I don’t want any more bodies.”
“Sir,” Weston said.
“Ivan, work with Commander Trevellyan. Get an up-to-date description of Lesley and all her known associates. I want it with everyfield office and every PD nationwide before the end of the day. I don’t care that Mike was only caught in her crossfire. She’s still going to pay.”
“Sir,” the plump guy said.
“Brian, you’re on this new ID theft theory. I can’t see how it could be connected to Mike’s case, but it could still be significant. It should be followed up in its own right. Cooperate fully with D.C. And get help from Commander Trevellyan if you need more detail.”
“Yes, sir,” the coffee guy said.
“David, are you happy with that?”
“Not entirely,” I said. “I know it didn’t cause Agent Raab to be targeted, but you do still have a leak. So does the NYPD. People have been passing all kinds of information about me to Lesley, for example. Who knows what else they’re giving her?”
“You’re right. But don’t worry. We’re on it. Standard procedure is to bring in a team from another office to do a deep-dive investigation. They’re on their way. It’ll be a pain in the ass, but they’ll probably want to talk to you, if that’s OK?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Excellent. So, Ms. Wilson, Lieutenant, Detective, thank you for your time this afternoon. I appreciate your input and—”
Lieutenant McBride’s cell phone began to ring. He excused himself and answered the call.
“Sorry, guys,” he said, closing his phone after ninety seconds. “I asked my office to let me know if anything came up that might be related.”
“And was it?” Varley said.
“Don’t think so. Just another vagrant found dead this morning.”
“Not missing any more agents, I hope?” I said.
“Better not be,” Varley said.
“Well, if you are, remember I’ve been with you all day.”
“Don’t say that. You’re making me nervous. McBride, what do we know about this guy?”
“Don’t worry, you’re pretty safe,” McBride said. “The vic was seventy-six. Born in Brooklyn. Name of Charles Bromley. Died of bluntforce trauma. Found by a jogger in Central Park. Oh, and he only had one arm.”
“Thank goodness,” Varley said. “All my guys have a full set.”
“What was his middle name?” I said. “The victim. Was it Paul?”
“Does it matter?” McBride said.
“Hold on then. I’ll check.”
“His middle name was, in fact, Paul,” McBride said after a moment on the phone. “How did you know?”
“And his Social Security number?” I said. “Was it 812–67–7478?”
McBride shrugged and made another call.
“You’ve got some explaining to do,” he said when he hung up.
“That’s the name and number I saw on the card at Lesley’s house, yesterday,” I said. “One of her thugs had it.”
“Not possible,” McBride said. “The ME was clear. Time of death was after midnight.”
“They must have already snatched the guy,” Weston said. “Took his card, and kept him holed up somewhere, like a room you never went in. Then brought him back to the city and killed him during the night.”
“That just about works,” Varley said.
“No,” the plump guy said. “It doesn’t. That’s not it at all.”
“Explain it, then,” Weston said.
“Something’s been bothering me ever since I heard a card was found on Raab’s body,” he said. “It didn’t make sense, killing him and leaving the card behind. But now I understand. They’re doing the opposite of what Mr. Trevellyan thought. They’re not stealing identities. They’re creating them.”
“You know, he might be right,” I said. “I’ve heard of something like this before. In Africa, or somewhere. It’s clever.”
“What is?” Varley said.
“It’s a Social Security scam,” the plump guy said. “Lesley must have a guy inside the department. What he does is create hundreds, maybe even thousands of dummy accounts. Then they skim off the payments for a bunch of people who don’t exist.”
“Thousands?” the coffee guy said. “Could be big money. How much do retired people get?”
“Don’t know,” the plump guy said, unclipping a PDA from a holster on his belt. “But I can find out. I’ll Google it, now. OK. Here we go. It’s taking me to the Social Security Administration Web site. It says the maximum payment for a retired worker is $2,185 per month, and the average is $1,079.”
“They’d stick somewhere around the average,” the coffee guy said. “To avoid attention. But how many fake accounts do they have? That’s the key.”
“Sorry,” the plump guy said. “Dead end. There’s no way to tell.”
“Can’t you estimate?” Tanya said. “How many people receive Social Security over here?”
“Give me a second,” the plump guy said. “Here we go. In New York, 1,996,230. And that was in 2005, so there’ll be even more now.”
“OK,” Tanya said. “And how accurate is that data?”
“Federal standard is 99.96 percent,” the plump guy said. “Which isn’t bad.”
“Not bad,” Tanya said. “But even so, point-zero-four percent of almost two million is a fair few dummy accounts.”
“Around eight hundred,” I said.
“And if each one receives, say, thirteen thousand dollars a year?” Tanya said.
“Wow,” the coffee guy said. “That’s well over ten million dollars, annually.”
“If all your assumptions are right,” Weston said. “And if all the false accounts are fraudulent, not just mistakes. And if all the fraudulent ones are tied to Lesley.”
“They will be,” Varley said. “Trust me. She doesn’t tolerate competitors.”
“But even if it’s half that amount, it’s still huge,” the plump guy said. “And dead easy. Once it’s set up, the money will keep rolling in all on its own.”
“I just don’t see it,” Weston said. “Surely they have auditors.”
“Of course they do,” I said. “That’s why people are getting killed.”
“If it’s like previous scams, the department will randomly check X-number of accounts every month,” the plump guy said. “The inside man will match the list against the dummy ones he set up. And any time he sees they’re investigating one of his, he’ll warn Lesley.”
“So?” Weston said.
“So Lesley will have a suitable homeless guy killed,” the plump guy said. “Plant a fake Social Security card on the body. The police find it, the victim’s new identity works its way back through the system, and the investigators take that as proof their records were legit all along.”
“That’s why they moved Agent Raab’s body,” Tanya said. “Remember how it had been dragged to the front of the alley? David practically tripped over it. Lesley wanted it found in a hurry.”
“Sounds almost foolproof,” Varley said. “Lieutenant, can you tell how many victims’ records were being audited at the time they died?”
“Not right now,” McBride said. “But give me a week. I’ll get the new parameters added to the database.”
Give the guy a week. He’ll add the new parameters. Which is fine, from an admin point of view. But if you were Lesley, would you be scared?
Some skills, the navy can teach you.
Others, they can only develop. There has to be something already there, inside you, for them to work with. I first figured that out when we were learning about close-target reconnaissance. Surveillance, as most people think of it. The approach was that before we could try out any techniques for ourselves, we had to go on loan to the army for a week. We were told they needed untainted “volunteers” to be tracked by a group of trainee spooks who were taking their final assessments. It seemed like an easy enough assignment. All you had to do was walk around a different city center each day and carry out a number of mundane tasks like posting letters or buying groceries. Our brief was to keep our eyes and ears open, and every evening give a written report on how many tails we’d spotted and where. We were warned the spooks could be anywhere. In cars, on foot, riding bicycles, walking dogs, sitting in cafes. If they could observe us without being detected, they would pass their course. But as usual with the navy, there was something they weren’t telling us. Being stalked by the army guys wasn’t just the end of their evaluation. It was the start of our own. If you couldn’t pick up, instinctively, when you were being followed, you never made it to the next stage. Because there are a lot of things you had to know to makeyou effective in the field. But only one thing you had to have. A kind of sixth sense.
Useful, if you wanted to pass your assessment.
Vital, if you wanted to stay alive afterward.
The table Tanya had booked for us turned out to be at Fong’s. That was the same restaurant I’d eaten at two nights ago, just before walking into the whole debacle over Raab’s body. And as good as the place was, choosing to go back so soon did seem a little strange. The feeling that I wasn’t getting the full picture was still gnawing at me when I arrived, exactly at nine-thirty, and I knew it wouldn’t go away until I’d asked Tanya what she’d been thinking of when she made the reservation. But as it happened, I couldn’t ask her anything. Because she didn’t turn up.
I had the same waiter as last time. He gave me the same table. And when Tanya’s apologetic text arrived he gave me the same half amused, half pitiful look you always get when you eat out alone.
I ordered the same meal. The same wine. And I was staying in the same hotel, so I decided to complete the whole déjà vu experience by walking back the same way. Except that by the time I reached Raab’s alleyway, I had a strong feeling I was no longer on my own.
Five people had left Fong’s around the same time as me. Two couples and one single male. I wasn’t too concerned about the couples. They’d been in the restaurant before I arrived, sitting together, and I watched them hang around at the edge of the sidewalk chatting for a few moments before they drifted off in the opposite direction. The guy was much more interesting, though. I hadn’t seen him inside, eating or working. He’d just appeared from the side of the building, near the staff entrance, and then loitered in the shadows until he saw which way I was headed. He set off in front of me and walked fast until he was twenty feet ahead. Then he slowed his pace to match mine, carefully keeping the gap between us roughly constant.
At the first corner he turned right, the way I was planning to go. I followed him into the next street and found he’d stopped ten feet fromthe intersection and was standing sideways, looking toward me and laboriously trying to light a cigarette with a spluttering old Zippo. As soon as he saw me he snapped the lighter closed and moved off again in the same direction, quickly stretching the gap back out to twenty feet. The same thing happened at the next corner, except that this time he’d paused to fiddle with the heel of his right shoe. So, when I reached the mouth of the alley, I decided it was time for a test. Without breaking step I dodged sideways into the gloom and flattened myself against the wall.
Nothing happened for half a minute. Then I heard footsteps coming back toward me. One set, fast and light. I looked down and scanned the layer of garbage on the alley floor until I spotted something suitable—a section of wooden banister rail, about four feet long. I crouched down, took a firm hold, and when the guy from Fong’s hurried into view I scythed it around in a low arc toward the street. It connected with his shins, halfway between his knees and ankles. He shrieked and cartwheeled forward, not quite bringing his arms up in time to save his face from plowing into the sidewalk.
I stepped out of the alley and checked both ways, up and down the street. There were no pedestrians. No vehicles were moving. No windows overlooked us. No one had seen what happened. I leaned down to check the guy’s pulse and breathing. Both were fine. He was just stunned, so I moved on to his pockets. He had a wallet, cash, a cell phone, and two sets of keys. Nothing of any use. The only thing worth taking was a Browning Hi-Power 9 mm, which he’d tucked into the waistband of his jeans.
The smart move at this point was clearly to dial 911 and walk away. I’d stood at this very spot two nights ago, and could hardly believe the trouble I’d brought on myself by getting involved in someone else’s problems. I took out my phone. It was the one Lesley had given me. Lesley, who’d left that glass jar with my name on at her house that morning. How had she been intending to fill it? I looked down at the guy on the sidewalk. I had no idea who he was. Where he had come from. Or why he was following me. Maybe Lesley had sent him? Because if shehad, that changed everything. There was no way I could let that pass. I needed to be sure. And if I handed the guy to the police, the chances were I’d never find out.
I reached down, grabbed the guy’s collar and dragged him into the alley. He was still pretty groggy so I took a moment to call up the main menu on my phone. I picked the option to create a new contact, typedLesley(personal cell) and entered917followed by seven random digits. Then I put the phone away, sat the guy upright, propped him against the wall, and retrieved my piece of wooden banister.
“Evening,” I said, when he looked as if he could focus again. “How are you feeling?”
He grunted and wriggled forward, reaching for his gun and trying to stand up at the same time. I pushed him back down with my foot.
“Move again, and I’ll hit you in the head with this,” I said, showing him the banister. “Understand?”
He grunted again, but stayed still.
“Good,” I said. “Now. What’s your name?”
He didn’t answer.
“OK,” I said. “No problem. To be honest, I don’t really care what your name is. What I really want to know is, why did Lesley send you after me?”
He didn’t speak, but a flicker of recognition showed in his eyes.
“Actually, don’t worry about that, either,” I said. “I already know why she sent you. I double-crossed her, killed one of her guys, and now she wants to pay me back.”
“Right,” the guy said, at last.
“She wants to give me her special treatment. Just like Cyril.”
“I thought as much. So, here’s my real question. What were you supposed to do once you caught me?”
“Like I’m going to tell you. Go ahead. Hit me with that thing. No way am I talking.”
“Oh, I don’t know. An adult human has 206 bones. I doubt I’d have to break more than five percent of yours before you were singing like acanary. But hey. It’s late, and I’m tired. Let’s cut out the middleman. Why don’t we just call Lesley and ask her?”
I took out my phone.
“You’re shitting me, now,” he said. “No one knows her number.”
I showed him the contact entry I’d just created.
“I used to be her partner, remember?” I said. “Of course I know her number. Now before I call, here’s one last question. Her special treatment? Remind me. Does she save it for people who betray her? Or do people who fail her get it, too?”
He didn’t answer.
“OK,” I said. “I’m calling her now. And I’ll be sure to mention that you’re right here, helping me.”
“Please,” he said. “Don’t.”
“So, what were you supposed to do when you caught me?”
“I wasn’t supposed to catch you. Only tail you. In case you didn’t go back to your hotel.”
“People are waiting there?”
“Yes. Two in the lobby. Two in your room.”
“How did they know where I was staying?”
“Lesley’s contacts. In the feds. And the police. Someone told her.”
“What about Fong’s? No feds or police knew I was eating there.”
“You don’t get it. She owns people, everywhere. Cab drivers. Limos. Bars. Hotels. Restaurants. And she’s generous. Someone’ll be buying a new car off calling you in to her, minimum.”
“And the guys at my hotel. What are they supposed to do with me?”
“Take you someplace.”
“An old building. In the basement, there. A couple of blocks away. Lesley owns it.”
“You know the address?”
“Beep her. So she can come down and do the you-know-what. Turn you from David to Davina.”
“As soon as we could lay hands on you.”
“Good,” I said. “Now shut up.”
I dialed Varley’s number.
There was no answer.
I tried Lavine’s.
It was switched off.
I tried Tanya’s, to get the details for Rosser and Breuer.
Her line was busy.
I knew I couldn’t trust anyone else in the bureau or the NYPD, so that left me with three choices. Hang around the alley hoping someone would answer their phone before a cop car came by. Handle Lesley myself. Or walk away.
“Who knows Lesley’s beeper number?” I said to the guy on the ground. “Just the guys at the hotel?”
“No,” he said. “I’ve got it, too.”
“Good,” I said, handing him the phone. “Now. Call your buddies. Tell them tonight is a trap. Lesley is going to dish out some special treatment, all right, but not just for me. To all four of them, as well. Tell them to run for their lives. And then take me to this old house.”
Lesley’s guy took me to a side street tucked away off Canal Street, three blocks to the east. It had no visible name. He paused for a moment then led me right to the far end, moving slowly as both the remaining streetlights had been broken. We stopped in front of an old tenement building—the last structure standing on the right-hand side. It was a complete ruin. The steps up to the entrance were chipped and pitted. The doors were boarded up. All the windows were smashed. Every inch of the walls was daubed with graffiti and a tide of empty cardboard cartons and plastic bags had drifted several feet deep along the frontage.
The guy tugged my sleeve and set off down a narrow flight of stepsto the left of the main set. They led to a recessed door. It was made of steel. I guessed it was new because it hadn’t been vandalized yet. I waited while the guy fished for one of his sets of keys and used them to work the lock. He pushed the door and it swung back, silently. I followed him inside. He hit the lights and I saw we were in a long, rectangular room. It was easily forty feet by twenty-five. The floor and walls were covered in shiny white tiles, and the ceiling was divided into a series of sloping red-brick vaults.
I moved farther into the room, toward a rusty industrial-sized boiler that sat in the far corner. It clearly wasn’t working—the place was freezing—but a maze of pipes still led out from the top and meandered their way through a series of holes in the walls and ceiling. Four piles of clothes were neatly folded on the floor in front of it. They were all men’s. Next to those lay the remains of a bed mattress—just the springs and frame, no material or stuffing. The only other thing I could see was attached to the wall on the other side of the boiler. It was a metal ring, four inches in diameter, eight feet from the ground. Two lengths of chain were hanging from it. And there was a shackle at the end of each one.
“Hospitable kind of place,” I said.
The guy didn’t answer.
“Let’s not waste any more time,” I said. “Lesley’s pager number. What is it?”
He told me, and I made the call.
“OK,” I said. “I’ve whistled. Let’s see if she comes running. How long should she be?”
“Don’t know,” the guy said. “I don’t know where she’s coming from.”
“Better get ready then, in case she’s around the corner. You get in the boiler, where the coal would go, and keep your head down. I’ll stay out here.”
“You’re not going to . . . ?”
“I’m not going to do anything. To you, anyway. Unless you come out before Lesley gets here. Then I’ll shoot you in the head. If you come out after Lesley gets here, or make any kind of noise, you knowwhat she’ll do. But if you wait quietly till we’ve gone, you’re free to walk away. You’ve played your part. I’ve got no axe to grind with you.”
Lesley must have been holed up somewhere nearby because it only took her twenty minutes to arrive in the cellar. She made no sound creeping down the outside steps. She just appeared in the doorway, paused for a moment with one hand leaning on the frame, then launched herself into the room like a model strutting down a catwalk. Her eyes were fixed on me. I was in the corner next to the boiler, arms behind my back, leaning slightly forward to keep a realistic tension on the heavy chains. She stopped in the center of the room, leering at me, then suddenly the smile disappeared from her face.
“Where are my people?” she said. “They should be here.”