Deliver us from evil, p.15
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       Deliver Us From Evil, p.15

         Part #2 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  of the abbey. She was here for a meeting. She’d chosen this rendezvous spot chiefly because it would have been impossible for anyone to follow her here. One-lane death traps did that for you.

  She strolled along with a tour group, breaking off toward the gift shop when they veered into the chapel. The room was warm and a single fan puttered overhead, managing only to move pockets of warm, stale air from one place to another. A machine in the small foyer sold both Cokes and cappuccino. She headed to the section of the shop housing large picture books on Provence, many of which of course had lavender fields on the cover.

  As she stood browsing a book on the abbey’s history, her cell phone buzzed. She checked the text message. It read, “six o’clock.” She put the book down, picked up another, and turned casually around.

  Whit was standing behind her checking out a small wooden carving of the abbey building you could purchase for fifteen euros. He wore a baseball cap, shades, raggedy jeans, a week’s worth of beard, and had his iPod ear buds in. He put the book back and strolled outside. She waited a minute and then followed after buying the book she’d been looking at.

  She saw him standing over by a low stone wall that stretched in front of the building. He was holding his camera and looking through the lens. He glanced up and saw her.

  “Would you mind taking my picture in front of the abbey?” he asked.

  She smiled. “Only if you’ll do the same for me.”

  They alternated taking shots of the other and then strolled along together.

  “Any results on my friend Bill?” she said in a low voice.

  “Negative. No hits on prints. And we scored a zero on his picture too. He must be a good little boy. His full name, by the way, is William A. Young.”

  “What does the A stand for?”

  “We could never find that out.”

  “Do you think he’ll realize you two went through his room?”

  “We were very thorough in putting everything back exactly. His passport is American, the address checked out. There are lots of lobbyists named William Young registered in America. We can’t crank through them all in the time we have. Probably a waste anyway. I don’t see any dirt there.”

  “Or his back cover could be as good as mine.”

  “Or the bloke could be who he says he is, Reg.”

  “He scaled a wall and then disarmed me. A lobbyist?”

  Whit looked troubled by this. “Well, he is a big guy. But I guess I see your point. So what do you want to do?”

  “I’m not sure. What does the professor think?”

  “The brilliant one has deferred to your expertise in the field.”

  “Great. So what do you think?”

  “I reckon we have to nail Kuchin and changing plans willy-nilly now based on flimsy intelligence could screw everything up. So we go with the original plan and if something solid does come up, we work around it.”

  “How’s Dom?”

  “Fired up and ready to go. So what’re your first impressions of old Fedir?”

  “The same as my original ones. He fills up every bit of space he’s in and then some.”

  He glanced at her skeptically. “Not getting swept off your feet, are you?”

  “With the monster? Hardly.”

  “Actually I’m not talking about Kuchin.”

  She gave him a hard stare.

  Whit grinned maliciously. “Tall, mysterious, and the scaler of walls?”

  “I’ll pretend you didn’t say that,” she answered coldly.

  “I’m not trying to tell you what to do—”

  “Then don’t, Whit.”

  “Just watch yourself.”

  “Look who’s talking.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  She gave him a sideways glance. “Did you really paint a swastika on a target’s forehead using his blood after shooting him in the balls?”

  “What can I say? I’m an artiste.”

  “Right. I’m heading back.”

  “So dinner with our Ukrainian friend tonight?”

  “Yes.”

  “I wonder if tall and mysterious will be hovering.”

  “It’s a small village.”

  “Well, just don’t get yourself in the middle of a ménage à trois. They can be messy. And before you ask, yes, I speak from experience.”

  “Whit, I don’t know how I tolerate you some days.”

  “It’s bound to be my charm.”

  “How do you know you even have any?”

  He looked offended by the question. “Jesus, woman, I’m Irish. It’s in our DNA.”

  CHAPTER

  34

  REGGIE HAD INSISTED that they eat at one of the restaurants in Gordes instead of at his villa, and Waller had finally relented.

  “You are tenacious,” he had said in a mildly scolding tone.

  “No, I’m just exercising common sense. I don’t really know you. And my parents wouldn’t have wanted me to go unescorted to your house, even just for dinner.”

  “Wise people, your parents.”

  “They were, yes.”

  “I see. I am sorry.”

  “So am I,” Reggie had said firmly.

  They had walked up together to the village and taken a table outside that was wrapped by a three-foot-high wrought iron fence. As usual, Waller’s men hovered at a nearby table. However, Pascal was not part of the security team tonight.

  “Do they always go where you go?” Reggie asked as she observed the armed men.

  “One of the prices that must be paid for success,” Waller said, spreading his arms in mock helplessness. He was dressed in a blue blazer with a white pocket kerchief, khaki slacks, white silk shirt, and royal blue deck shoes that showed his bare pale ankles. The air had not yet cooled from the day’s heat and there was a line of perspiration across his brow. She was sure there would be curves of sweat under his armpits too. Reggie had opted for a pale blue skort, yellow blouse, and white sandals, with a matching yellow scarf around her hair. There was no sweat on her face.

  “It would be hard to imagine anyone trying to hurt anyone around here,” said Reggie as she finished her last bite of beef.

  Waller sipped his wine and eyed her appraisingly. “It is serene here, bucolic. Beautiful.” He smiled. “Just as you are.”

  At a wave from Waller the waiter brought a second bottle of the same wine and poured it out. Reggie picked up her full wineglass and began to swirl the liquid around, absently checking its color against the flame of the lighted candle set in a bowl in the middle of the table. “You mentioned that you might have children my age. Do you have children?”

  He waved a hand carelessly. “No, I was merely speaking hypothetically. I suppose I was always too busy for children.”

  “Wife?”

  “If I had one now, she would be with me on this trip.”

  “Had one now? So you were married?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did she pass away, or were you divorced?”

  “Questions, questions,” he said in a casual tone, but his look was sterner.

  “I’m sorry,” Reggie said. “I was just curious.”

  “Both.”

  “What?”

  “The first one died and the second one divorced me.” He patted her hand. “You remind me a little of my first wife. She was beautiful too. And stubborn.”

  “What was her name?”

  Waller started to say something and then seemed to catch himself. “That is the past. I don’t dwell on the past. I live for the present and look to the future. Let’s finish this wonderful Bordeaux and then take a stroll and admire all things French.”

  Later, he guided her back to the street where they set off, his arm through hers. She once more eyed the bodyguards. Waller followed her gaze.

  She said, “I suppose for you it’s necessary, but I wouldn’t want to have to live my life that way.”

  “But you yourself are obviously well off. You travel in style;
you rent luxurious villas in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Are you not worried about being kidnapped? Or even killed for your money?”

  “I have no money with me unless you count a few euros. If they want my credit cards, they hardly have to kill me for that. And if they kidnap me there won’t be anyone to pay the ransom. So you see, I would be a very inadequate target for a criminal.”

  “Perhaps you are right. Now, the man you’ve been seeing, he looks like he would make a competent bodyguard.”

  “Bill does look like he can take care of himself.”

  “Ah, so it’s Bill. His last name?”

  “He didn’t tell me his last name,” she said truthfully. Whit had found it out for her.

  This ignorance seemed to brighten Waller’s spirits. “Then you are not that friendly with him. I have only been here a short time and already you know my last name.”

  “It’s not a competition, Evan.”

  “Of course not,” he said in an unconvincing tone.

  “And you are old enough to be my father, like you said.”

  “In truth, I am actually old enough to be your grandfather, well almost.” He let go of her arm and pointed across at the church. “There is one of those in every village you will travel to here.”

  “A church? Yes, I suppose so.”

  “People use religion for much, mostly to explain their own shortcomings.”

  “That’s an unusual theory.”

  “Books filled up by foolish people who don’t want to take control of their own lives. So they look for some divine providence to explain their desires.”

  “You mean to guide them?”

  “No, I mean for excuses. The people who actually do something with their lives do so from here.” He tapped his chest. “They don’t need men in collars telling them what to think and who to pray to. And most importantly who to give their money to.”

  “I take it you’re not a regular churchgoer.”

  He smiled. “Oh, but I am. Every week I am there. And I give much money to the church.”

  “Why, if you think it’s a bunch of crap?”

  He took her arm once more. “No, I do so because it’s in my heart. I believe. And there is much good with faith. Much good. My mother would have been in a convent if she’d had her way. Fortunately she did not, otherwise I would not be here. I loved my mother very much.”

  Reggie turned to see him staring directly at her.

  “I am going on a private tour of the Les Baux photographic exhibit this week. Have you heard of it?”

  “I read about it, yes.”

  “Goya is the selected artist this year.”

  “Goya? Not a very uplifting choice.”

  “It is true that many of his masterpieces are bleak, but they have such power, such insight into the human soul.”

  “They depict evil,” Reggie said, before looking away from the man she considered one of the most evil she had ever pursued.

  “Yet evil is a large component of the soul. Its potential inhabits everyone.”

  “I don’t believe that,” Reggie said breathlessly. “I refuse to believe that.”

  “You may refuse if you choose to, but that does not mean that you are right.” He paused. “I would like for you to accompany me on this tour. We can debate further this point then.”

  Reggie didn’t answer right away. “I’ll think about it and let you know.”

  He smiled through this mild reproach, bent down and kissed the back of her hand. “I enjoyed our dinner, Janie. And now, as I have business to attend to, I wish you good night.”

  He turned and walked off, his men following him.

  Reggie just stood there in the middle of the street, desperately trying to divine what that last look had truly meant.

  “Troubled?”

  She turned around.

  Shaw was leaning against a pillar in front of the church.

  CHAPTER

  35

  EVAN WALLER climbed into the black SUV and his three-vehicle motorcade roared off, throwing road dust on an older couple slowly making their way up the hill to Gordes. Waller sat back and studied the screen on his phone. The email was brief, which he liked, and to the point, which he liked even better.

  “How long?” he called up to the driver.

  “GPS says fifty minutes, Mr. Waller. Crappy roads.”

  “Make it forty.”

  The man punched the gas and spoke into his headset. “Roll harder.” The other two vehicles in the column immediately gunned it.

  Thirty-nine minutes later the three vehicles transitioned from a two-lane to a one-lane road and eventually wound their way far back to a small stone house wedged in among a stand of leafy trees. The yard was dirt, the roof in disrepair, and the stone crumbling. It was clear no one had lived here for a long time. And there was no other house for miles.

  Waller popped open the SUV’s door and stepped out, waiting only a few seconds for his men to clear the area by sight, though he already had a man posted there who had come out of the house when the trucks had arrived. Waller marched into the house, his men bringing up the rear, with two left outside on perimeter watch.

  The room was small, dark, and smelled of feces and mildew. It had no effect on Waller. He’d experienced much worse. There was one narrow table in the middle of the room, seven feet long and turned on one end so it reached nearly to the low ceiling. Two of the legs had been sawn off and the table edge rested against the floor. The remaining two legs were wedged against a wall for support. A naked man with dark hair and a beard was tied spread-eagled to the tabletop. Waller looked over at Pascal, who stood in one darkened corner, his gaze on the man with no clothes.

  “You did well in organizing his capture, Pascal.”

  “He tried to run, Mr. Waller, but he didn’t know how to.”

  Waller walked up to the captive. From the light thrown by a couple of battery-powered lanterns, he could see the ambivalence in the man’s features. This angered Waller. Either fear him or hate him, but feel something. He slapped the man across his bloodied face.

  “Are you awake, Abdul-Majeed? You do not seem to be all here.”

  “I am awake. I see you. So what?” Waller knew that the man’s casual attitude was meant to embolden the Muslim and deflate his own expectation, as though Waller were the captive instead of the other way around. In actuality, it probably achieved neither. Fat Anwar the accountant had been westernized. Abdul-Majeed was still hard, a man of the desert for whom extreme privation was the norm. Waller had to respect such a man, but only to a certain degree.

  “Do you miss Kandahar, Abdul-Majeed? Or do you like the beauty of Provence better?”

 
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