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The Whole Truth

David Baldacci

  To Zoe and Luke

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

  – The person quoted above requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the record as to matters of truth.


  “Dick, I need a war.”

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

  “It won’t be a typical conflict.”

  “I never expect typical from you.”

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

  “I can make them believe anything.”


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

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

  “I am dead. I was murdered.”

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

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

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

  His crime? Simply wanting freedom.

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

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

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

  “My name is Konstantin. My name was Konstantin,” he corrected. “It is too late for me and my family. We are all dead now. My wife, my three children, all gone. Do not forget me, and why I died. Do not let my family perish in vain.”

  As the man’s image and voice faded from view, a mushroom cloud lit up the screen, and superimposed on the bottom of this horrifying visual was the ominous tagline: First the Russian people, then the rest of the world. Can we afford to wait?

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

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

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

  And from the e-mail, blog, and chat room circuits the story was picked up by newspapers on the outskirts of the mainstream. And then the likes of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and leading dailies around the world were sucked into the frenzy, if for no other reason than it was what everyone was talking about. From there, it hit the global TV circuit, with everyone from Channel One in Germany to the BBC to ABC News and CNN to government-run TV in China heralding a possible new doomsday era. And from there it became firmly planted in the world’s collective mind, soul, and conscience, becoming the number one story to such an extent that there were no other stories anyone cared about.

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

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

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

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

  Meanwhile, the world would never be the same.


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

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

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

  Creel had spent the next several decades building what was now the largest defense conglomerate in the world, the Ares Corporation. According to Forbes magazine he was the fourteenth richest person on the planet with over twenty billion dollars to his name.

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

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

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

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

  “One thousand suppliers spread across America, keeping you safe,” the Hollywood voice-over would proclaim in deeply resonant tones that made your skin tingle and your heart pound. It sounded very patriotic. It had actually been done for only one reason. Now if some bureaucrat tried to cut any of the pork, 535 members of Congress would rise up and strike the person dead for having the audacity to try and take jobs from their people. Creel had successfully implemented this same strategy in a dozen other countries as well. Just like war, the Americans did not have a monopoly on self-serving politicians.

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

  Ares’s global marketing and lobbying budget was three billion dollars per year. For that mammoth sum there wasn’t a major country with defense dollars to spend that didn’t hear the message over and over again: We are strong. We stand by you. We keep you safe. We keep you free. We are the only thing standing between you and them. And the pictures were just as compelling: barbecues and parades, flags waving, children saluting as tanks rolled by and planes soared overhead, and grim-faced soldiers with black-smudged faces threading through hostile territory.

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

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

  Yet things were changing. People, it seemed, were growing tired of war. The attendance at the enormous trade conventions Ares put on annually had fallen for five years in a row. Now Ares’s marketing budget was bigger than its net income. That revealed only one truth: people weren’t buying what Creel was selling.

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

  Creel didn’t shake hands.

  “It’s started,” he said.

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

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

  “What about the incident?”

  “You’re the incident,” Creel pointed out.

  “It worked before without boots on the ground.”

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

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

  “Just be ready to go.”

  “It’s your dime,” said Caesar.

  “You bet it is.”

  On the chopper ride back to the Ares Building, Creel eyed the city’s concrete, glass, and steel temples below. You’re not in West Texas anymore, Nick.

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

  Initially there would be pain.

  There would be loss.

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

  He settled back in his seat.

  The creator of Konstantin knew a little.

  Caesar knew a little.

  Only Nicolas Creel knew all.

  As gods always did.


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

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

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

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

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

  Shaw gazed at his passport while the Dutchman looked on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  The Dutchman stiffened and then his tone became less adversarial.

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

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

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

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