Deliver us from evil, p.16
Deliver Us From Evil, p.16Part #2 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
The man shrugged. “I like this room. It is actually better than what I have in Kandahar. But, again, so what?”
Waller took a step back and smiled. He had to admire at least the man’s courage.
“I do not like to be betrayed.”
“You do not understand the ways of the Muslim world, then. It was not betrayal. It was negotiation. It was caution. And all of Islam has been betrayed by the West many times. So why should you be any different?”
“I am here on holiday and yet I have to take time away from pleasantries because you tried to cut me out of the deal.”
“It is simply business. Do not take it personally.”
“Forgive me, but I always take it personally when someone tries to blow me up.”
“Then you are too sensitive.”
“Why did you do it?”
“You lied to us,” Abdul said simply.
“I do not lie when it comes to business.”
The Muslim scoffed. “A Canadian? You have enriched uranium? I do not think so. You are most likely a spy. That is why we tried to kill you.”
“Actually, I have highly enriched uranium. It is a critical difference. And if you did not believe it, why bother to deal with me at all?”
“I meant that I did not believe it. But others of my group did. They made the mistake and I was left with the mess to clean up.”
“But they were right and you were wrong.”
“Again, so you say. The Americans own your country. Everyone knows that. Canada is a satellite of the great Satan. A dog does not leave its master’s side.”
Waller turned to his men and flicked a hand at the door. They obediently left and shut the door behind them with Pascal being the last one out. Before closing the door he pointed to a metal case sitting on the floor in one corner of the room. He and his employer exchanged a look of mutual understanding.
Waller turned back to the captive and grabbed a handful of the man’s filthy hair. “This is simply because you think I’m Canadian? Can you truly be that stupid?”
Abdul-Majeed’s eyes flashed interest for the first time. “Think you are Canadian? You mean you are not?”
“No, Abdul-Majeed, I am not.” He slipped off his jacket and pulled up his shirtsleeve, revealing a mark on the inside of his upper arm, where it could not be easily seen when his shirt was off. He held it up in front of the Muslim. “Do you see that? Do you know what it means?”
Abdul-Majeed shook his head. “I do not know of such marks.”
Waller pointed to them one by one. “They are alphabet letters.”
“That is not English,” said Abdul-Majeed. “My English is good. I don’t know what that is.”
“It is Ukrainian. It is a variation of the Cyrillic alphabet. It stands for the Fifth Chief Directorate. Tasked to provide internal security against the enemies of the Soviet Union. I loved my job. So much that I burned it into my skin.”
Abdul-Majeed’s eyes widened. “You are Ukrainian?”
Waller rolled his shirtsleeve back down and put his jacket back on. “Actually, I always considered myself a Soviet citizen first and foremost. But perhaps that is simply splitting hairs. And since Ukraine was the repository for a good deal of the nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union, do you now understand? I still have many contacts there.”
“Why did you not tell us this?” spat out Abdul-Majeed.
Waller pulled up a chair and sat down. “It’s not my responsibility to provide you with my personal history, simply enough HEU—highly enriched uranium—to blow up a large part of a major American city. Do you even know what HEU really is, Abdul-Majeed?”
“It is Allah’s weapon.”
“No, it has nothing to do with Allah,” Waller said derisively. “Uranium is a naturally occurring mineral found all over the world in trace quantities. It took the Germans during Hitler’s reign to realize its peculiar potential through precise fission, namely to destroy people and property in vast quantities. Did you know that one can actually hold highly enriched uranium in his hand and not feel any adverse effects until years later? I have done so myself. Stupid of me, of course, but to hold that much power? The temptation was too great when I was a young and foolish man, though the toxic effects will probably kill me before my time.
“It takes fifty kilos, or nearly a hundred and ten pounds, of the substance to create a nuclear detonation. Whereas one would need nearly one ton, or twenty times that amount, of low-enriched uranium to produce a single nuclear bomb. It takes far less plutonium, about twenty pounds or so, to do the same thing. But unlike HEU, plutonium has to come from the reprocessing of nuclear material from reactors. And no country would allow terrorists to obtain that because, like a fingerprint, the device possesses the chemical signature of that country.”
“You promised enough material for a suitcase nuke,” Abdul-Majeed said.
Waller shook his head in disappointment. “You know, if you’re going to be in the nuclear terrorist business, you should take the time to really understand the science. Suitcase nukes are bullshit, the stuff of Hollywood films and paranoid politicians. It’s more like an SUV nuke. It can be done perhaps in a smaller footprint, but the smaller the device, counterintuitively perhaps, the greater its maintenance costs. And it would take a very strong man to carry around a suitcase weighing hundreds of kilos and the nuclear core would not last long. No, what I promised you was enough highly enriched uranium processed through second-generation gas centrifuge techniques to provide the core of a nuclear explosive device. That is fissile uranium containing in excess of eighty-five percent uranium 235. That means it is weapons-grade. I can also offer you, for a reduced price, weapons-usable grade, which only has twenty percent U-235. The boom will be far less, but you will still get a damn big boom with radiation fallout.”
Waller stood and moved around the room, but his gaze remained on the Muslim.
“I can also offer technical assistance. For instance, wrapping the weapon’s fissile core in a neutron reflector because it will dramatically lessen the critical mass, which is a good thing when you want as much explosive power as possible. It’s a tricky balance. A bit too much U-238 isotope and the chain reaction that gives the substance its ability to mass-fission is rendered unworkable. Then, no boom and no burn.”
For the first time Abdul-Majeed looked impressed. “You know much about this.”
“Yes, I know much about this,” mocked Waller. “I lived in Ukraine when it was one large atomic weapon waiting to be deployed. I have worked in nuclear facilities.” He added ominously, “And I have tortured scientists suspected of selling out their country to the Americans and their allies. It was a most valuable classroom for me on many levels.”
“Then we were wrong about you. We can go through with our deal.”
Waller looked amused. “Oh, you think so? After you tried to kill me?”
“Why not? You did not die. Things are explained. You will make much money.”
“Well, it’s not always about money, is it? And not everything is explained. For instance, I know you didn’t make the decision to kill me, because you aren’t important enough to do so. But I want the names of those who did.”
Abdul-Majeed smiled grimly. “That you will never know.”
“Have you ever been tortured, Abdul-Majeed? Forgive me if I refuse to use the ridiculous term ‘enhanced interrogation.’ I prefer to cut to the chase.”
The Afghan looked bored. “Sleep deprivation, waterboarding, cattle prods, loud music.”
“No, you misunderstood me. I asked if you’d been tortured, not coddled by what passes for torture these days.”
Waller walked over, opened the metal suitcase, and pulled out various instruments. “It is said that the Germans knew how to torture people, and indeed they were good at it. Today, the Israelis have the reputation of being the best interrogators, and they claim to not torture at all, but instead to use psychological means. As for me, I believe the Soviets stood alone when it came
“What fact?” the Muslim said in a hollow tone.
Waller turned to him. “That people are soft shits. Are you a soft shit, Abdul-Majeed? We will find out tonight, I think.”
WHY WOULD I be troubled?” asked Reggie.
She made no move toward Shaw, so he came to her.
“Sorry, guess I was wrong about that. How was dinner?”
“It was fine. He knows his wines very well. Good conversationalist.”
“Is there a problem?”
“I told you one of his guys was spying on you. Then they block off the street like they own it—”
“Evan apologized for that,” she said, interrupting him.
“Oh, it’s Evan?”
“That is his name. In fact he told me his last name too. Unlike you. It’s Waller.”
“Young. Bill Young.” He paused. “Someone searched my room the day we went kayaking.”
Reggie looked genuinely startled by this news and both her respect for and suspicion of Shaw increased. “Was anything taken?”
“Not that I can tell, no.”
“Why would someone do that?”
He shrugged. “Gordes is certainly turning out to be more exciting than I thought it would be.”
They started to walk along. Up ahead, near the village square, a band of teenagers were playing guitars and drums and a small crowd of people had stopped to listen and drop money in their basket.
“He asked about you,” said Reggie.
“About me? Why?”
She smiled. “I think he wanted to know if you were serious competition for him.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“That I hardly knew you. Which is true.”
“You don’t know him either,” he pointed out.
“He seems nice enough. I mean, he’s far too old for me.” She playfully smacked his arm. “He’s even older than you.”
“For some reason I don’t think age differences matter to a guy like that.”
“Well, I think that’s my decision to make, not his. If I tell him to back off, I’m sure he will.”
“He doesn’t look like a guy who takes no for an answer.”
“But you don’t know him. You’ve never even met him.”
“Did he tell you what he did for a living?”
“Well, that covers a lot of possibilities.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine. This is Provence after all. What’s he going to do?”
Shaw quickly looked away, his pulse hammering at a vein near his temple.
“Are you okay?”
“Dinner’s not agreeing with me.”
“You want to go back to your room? I can make my way back to the villa by myself.”
“No, I’ll walk you.”
They took the shortcut and arrived at her villa a few minutes later. “Seems like our boy’s out for the night,” he said, looking at the empty parking spaces in front of Waller’s villa.
“He did leave rather abruptly after dinner,” she noted. “Said he had some business to take care of.”
Her next words sent a cold dread down Shaw’s back. “He’s going to Les Baux, to see the Goya exhibit. He asked me to go with him.”
“And what did you tell him?” Shaw asked, a bit too sharply.
She stared at him, perplexed. “I told him I’d think about it and get back to him.”
Shaw thought swiftly and the words tumbled out of his mouth. “You don’t have to do that.”
“Because you’re going with me to Les Baux. Tomorrow. I’ve wanted to see the exhibit. I’d meant to ask you earlier.”
“Really?” she said skeptically.
“We can make a day of it. Have some lunch in Saint-Rémy?”
“Why are you doing this? Are you thinking this is a competition too? I’m not a prize to be won.”
“I know you’re not, Janie. And if you’d rather go with him instead, I’ll understand perfectly. It’s just that…”
“I just wanted to spend some more time with you. That’s all. No fancy explanation. Just be with you.”
Reggie’s features softened and she grazed his arm with her hand. “Well, how can I turn you down since you asked so nicely.” She smiled. “It’s a date. Now the critical question is, Vespa or car?”
“It’s a little far for the Vespa, so I think your Renault would work out far better. Let’s say nine o’clock? I’ll walk down to your place.”
“Let me come up and get you.”
Shaw looked at her curiously.
“I just think it’ll be easier that way. We can drive straight out to the main road.”
“And Waller won’t know anything about it, you mean?”
“I can take care of myself.”
“I’m sure you can, Bill.” She paused. “And so can I.”
WALLER PLACED a sticky patch connected to a long thin cable against the side of Abdul-Majeed’s neck. Then he connected the line to a small battery-powered monitor that he turned on.
“What is that?” asked Abdul-Majeed nervously.
“It is nothing to worry about. It just measures your pulse. I do not have enough electrical power here to shock the truth out of you, my Muslim friend. But there are other ways.” Waller placed a cuff around the man’s arm and then plugged the cord running from the cuff into the same device as he had for the pulse reading. “And that of course measures your blood pressure.”
“Why do you need that?”
“Because I want to make sure I stop the pain before I kill you, of course.”
Abdul-Majeed tensed and began to chant under his breath.
“So your god is great, Abdul-Majeed?” said Waller, translating the words. “We will see how great he is to you.”
Abdul-Majeed did not answer, but kept up his chanting. Waller checked the readout of his vitals on the screen. “Your pulse is already at ninety-eight and your blood pressure is elevated, and I have not even started. You must relax your breathing; calm your nerves, my friend.”
“You will not break me!” the captive said defiantly.
Waller took duct tape out of his box and wound it around the man’s forehead, chin, and shoulders and around the table several times. The result was that Abdul-Majeed could not move his head or upper torso even an inch away from the wood.
“Do you know why I do this?” Waller asked. “It is so you will not be able to render yourself unconscious when the pain becomes too great. I have known men to crack their own skulls in order to escape it. I made that mistake once, but never again. Torture does not work if one cannot feel the pain.”
Waller pulled more items from his box, placed one in his pocket, and came back over to the table. “They say that the agony of a single kidney stone passing through one’s body is even greater than that experienced giving birth. I have never given birth, of course, but I have passed kidney stones and the pain is indeed severe.” He slipped on latex gloves, looked down at Abdul’s private parts, and then held up a thin glass tube twenty centimeters in length.
Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on49 votes