Deliver us from evil, p.18
Deliver Us From Evil, p.18Part #2 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
Whit back, he didn’t answer.”
“So you think they might have had a row?”
“It seems so. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time.”
Mallory put his pipe aside, wandered over to the window, and looked out past the rain-splattered glass. “Did you contact Dominic too?”
“No, he and Whit are rooming together, so I didn’t think he could be candid. And I don’t want to create even more tension.”
Mallory clasped his hands behind his back and stared moodily out into the dark. “I should have anticipated this. I should have had Whit remain behind and sent either Caldwell or perhaps David Hamish with Dominic. Whit has resentment, a great deal more than I had thought, apparently.”
“You don’t think that will interfere with him performing his duties?”
“If I had the answer to that I wouldn’t be worried, would I?”
She glanced over at his desk. “Burning the midnight oil again?”
“I seem to do my best thinking after dark.”
“Any further word on funding?”
Surprised, he turned to her. “Why, what have you heard?”
“Folks know it takes a lot to keep this place functioning. It’s not like we do this for money, but people are paid some wages. And the upkeep here. And then there’s the mission expense. The rent on the villa where Reggie is staying is quite staggering. It all adds up.”
Mallory remained silent for a few moments before sighing and sitting back down. “Things are a bit tight, I won’t deny it. The villa lease is all right, though. A gentleman of considerable means with a Ukrainian background stepped up for those funds. And I have one or two other prospects. It must be done discreetly, of course.”
“Of course.” She added, “When was the last time you had a holiday, Miles?”
“A holiday?” He chuckled. “I could be incredibly saccharine and say that what I do here is a holiday, but I will refrain from doing so.”
“Seriously, Miles, when was the last time?”
His eyes took on a faraway look. “I suppose while Margaret was still alive. Rome. And Florence. She always loved the statue of David. She would sit and stare at him for hours. Quite the fan of Michelangelo was my dear wife. It was a nice visit. She became ill after we returned. Six months later she was gone.”
“If I recall that was eight years ago.”
“Yes, yes, I suppose it was. Time does march on, Liza.”
“Everyone here is under considerable strain, but some more than others. You are our leader. We cannot afford to lose you.”
“I’m fine. Or as fit as an overweight and sedentary old professor can be.” He looked around. “I do love it here, this old wreck of a place. Regina loves it here too. I hear her wandering around at all hours of the night.”
“She visits the cemetery regularly. Did you know that?”
Mallory nodded. “In particular the grave of Laura R. Campion. No connection that I have ever been able to discern. Yet she does seem drawn to the woman.”
Liza gave him a piercing stare. “Was there a particular reason you targeted Reggie for recruitment?”
He gave her a hard look before saying, “None different than any other. She passed all the hurdles. But it really starts off with a simple judgment call on my part. In that regard Regina Campion was hardly unique.”
She eyed him for a few seconds before looking away.
“Now this American,” Mallory began.
“Yes, it’s not good. A distraction. Perhaps more. We have no real information on the man. Anyone can pose as a former lobbyist.”
Liza ran a hand along the drawstring of her robe. “True enough. By the way, Whit also reported that Reggie will be traveling to Les Baux with him tomorrow.”
Mallory looked startled. “Les Baux? For what purpose?”
“Whit didn’t know why. He felt strongly that she should be working on Kuchin instead.”
“As do I. I think I’ll ring her right now.”
“Don’t do that, Miles.”
“She’s under a lot of stress, but Reggie has the best instincts of anyone we have in the field. I think we can trust her. I think she’s earned that, don’t you?”
Mallory seemed frozen with indecision, but his features finally relaxed. “All right. I largely agree with that assessment,” he added stiffly.
Liza rose and glanced at the desk once more. “I suppose you’re working on the next one?”
“Never wise to let the grass grow, you know.”
“Well, let’s pray Reggie and the others come back alive so they can do it all again.”
She closed the door softly behind her.
Mallory stared after her for a few moments, then went back to his desk, rummaged in a drawer, and pulled out the photo he’d received from Whit. He sat down and began studying the picture of Bill Young.
A troubling premonition was creeping up his spine. And something told him it had everything to do with this man. He did trust Reggie, but there was always a limit to trust in anyone. And nothing could interfere with their getting to Kuchin. It was too important. He debated for a bit and then decided to do it. He slipped a mobile phone out of his pocket and thumbed in a text message. The professor was not nearly as electronics-illiterate as he let on. He put the mobile away and sat back in his chair. He hoped he had done the right thing.
Sometimes in this line of work all you had were your instincts. When you were right all was well. When you turned out to be wrong, however? Well, innocent people sometimes died.
REGGIE’S AND SHAW’S journey to see the Goya exhibit consisted of a winding ride over mountains and a series of stomach-churning switchbacks. The topography had changed completely as they ventured southwest. The area was dominated by calcium and limestone quarries. It reminded Shaw of the white cliffs of Dover in England.
“This really is quite extraordinary,” said Reggie after they’d arrived at the exhibit and she peered around the rock walls. They were on the outskirts of Les Baux-de-Provence at the top of the Alpilles mountain range in an old stone quarry that had a bird’s-eye view of the Val d’Enfer, or Valley of Hell. It was an unusual place for an art experience.
Every wall that she and Shaw could see was lighted up and the masterpieces of Spaniard Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes stared back at them in pixeled glory. There were typical portraits of Spanish royalty, but also the nude and clothed Majas that had created a public uproar when they were unveiled and were subsequently confiscated during the Spanish Inquisition for being obscene.
The works of the late Spaniard were also displayed on the floors. It was a little unnerving to be walking on acknowledged masterpieces, but after a few minutes one simply became entranced with the spectacle. Thematic music filtered across the darkened space, but there was no accompanying narrative audio. Prose was displayed along the walls, giving information about Goya’s career. The images constantly changed as Shaw and Reggie walked along. One moment they were awash in brilliant colors, other times the hues darkened, casting a sobering feel over them. A few attendants in uniform were present, not to direct the patrons but only to admonish anyone attempting to touch the walls.
When Reggie and Shaw arrived at the section of the caves depicting Goya’s later, far darker work, she fell silent. Shaw glanced over the brochure they’d been given at the entrance. However, it was bare-bones and did not tell what any of the paintings were.
“Pretty grim,” he said to Reggie as a sad tune filled their ears.
“That’s The Third of May 1808,” she said, gesturing to the painting depicting French soldiers firing on defenseless Spaniards. “It commemorates Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s invasion of their country.”
“Were you an art history major?”
She shook her head. “No, just interested in it.”
Reggie stared at the man in the white shirt in the portrait, his
“What was that?”
“Though he agreed the paintings were bleak, he said they were also powerful insights into the human soul. And he said something that really gave me a chill.” She hesitated, as though she simply wanted to drop this thread of conversation.
“What did he say, Janie?” Shaw prompted.
“He said that the potential for evil lurks in everyone.” She turned to Shaw. “I told him I didn’t believe that. Do you?”
When Shaw didn’t answer right away, she said, “Never mind. It doesn’t matter.” She looked over at the painting again. “This piece actually inspired later works by Manet and Picasso. People slaughtering other people. What an inspiration.” Reggie wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. The temperature had dropped thirty degrees as soon as they passed through the entrance to the quarry and stepped inside the Cathédrale d’Images, as it was known.
The next section of the exhibition was from when an older Goya had become deaf and ill, reportedly suffering from a disease that was destroying his mind. The so-called Black Paintings were nightmarish in scope. A set of aquatint prints titled The Disasters of War were equally horrifying. After that came the piece titled Saturn Devouring His Son. It showed a monstrous, disfigured creature eating a headless, bloodied torso.
“I wonder if they give out free Valium when you exit this place,” said Shaw, only half-jokingly.
“It’s important to see this, Bill,” said Reggie.
“If we don’t we’ll just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. War, violent death, misery, all man-made and preventable.”
“Well, we seem to keep making the same mistakes anyway.”
“Were you ever in the military?” she asked suddenly.
“No.” With a completely straight face he added, “The closest I ever came to battle was being in paintball fights in college.”
“Yep, lucky me.”
The last painting was Courtyard with Lunatics. As Reggie explained it, the piece portrayed the unfortunate inmates in a sixteenth-century asylum. She stood stock-still staring at the images. When Shaw glanced over at her, he saw a tear rolling down her cheek.
“Hey, Janie, maybe we should get back to daylight and have that nice lunch in Saint-Rémy.”
She didn’t appear to have heard him. When he touched her on the shoulder, though, she jumped and turned to him. Her eyes were reddened and moist.
Choosing his words carefully he said, “Do you know someone—I mean not in a place like that, of course—but someone who had some… issues?”
She didn’t answer him, but turned and walked back through the space. After a moment he hurried after her. She stopped in front of the first painting on exhibit, The Nude Maja. The naked brunette was lounging on a chaise, her hands clasped behind her head.
“I have to say, that’s more my taste in paintings,” said Shaw. “At least over the flesh-eating monster back there.”
“It’s amazing how they’re able to display these images on the walls.” Reggie’s eyes had dried and her voice had returned to normal.
“Well, they probably just use basic projection equipment, maybe even like a computer PowerPoint thing.”
“So, pretty easy to do, actually?”
“I guess so, but I’m no expert.” He smiled. “Why? You planning your own exhibition?”
She gave him a whimsical look. “You never know.” She slipped her arm through his. “How about that lunch?”
On the way out they passed an old fortress that was carved out of the mountain. Reggie pointed up to it. “The King’s Fortress. Built right out of the stone and placed perfectly for maximum defensive measures.”
“Okay, were you ever in the military?” said Shaw.
“I just read a lot. And that French immersion class included a historical overview of Provence. The fort overlooked the King’s Valley down there. The provincial crowns ruled their fiefdoms from up here.”
“It’s always rulers up top and everybody else down below. Separation is the key. Only thing that prevents anarchy, or democracy, depending if you’re a ruler or the ruled.”
“That was actually very philosophical, Bill.”
“I have my moments.”
They ate outside at a small café in Saint-Rémy. After that they toured the Popes’ Palace in Avignon, getting caught in a sudden shower as they headed back to the car, which was parked in an adjacent underground garage. They ran laughing and soaked across the stone courtyard to the garage, Shaw using his jacket as an umbrella to cover them both.
“I guess that’s why I like big guys,” said Reggie, looking up at the large jacket over her.
By the time they returned to Gordes their hair and clothes had mostly dried. As they pulled up to Shaw’s hotel Reggie’s cell phone buzzed, indicating a text message had just arrived. She slipped it from her pocket and glanced at the screen, then put it away without commenting.
“Let me guess, Evan Waller wants to know where you’ve been all day?” said Shaw.
“Getting a bit jealous, are we?”
“No, I’m not the possessive type. But I don’t think I can say the same for him.”
“But like I said, you don’t even know him.”
“I’ve known lots of guys like him. And haven’t we had this discussion?”
“Yes. But it’s nice to know you care.”
Shaw put a hand on her arm. “Seriously, Janie. Tread lightly with the guy. I’ve just got some weird vibes about him.”
“I’ll be careful. Would you like to get together for dinner later?”
“Not sick of me yet?” he said with a grin.
“Not yet, no,” she said impishly.
“Okay, up in town or somewhere else?”
“How about I cook for you?”
He looked mildly surprised. “At your place? Sure. But only if you let me bring the wine.”
“Deal. Say about eight?”
Shaw walked up to his room, unlocked his door, and froze.
The man sitting in the chair beside his desk stared back at him.
AFTER DROPPING Shaw off Reggie didn’t return to her villa. She continued on out of Gordes again, passed her villa, turned onto the main road, and drove off. Twenty minutes later, after making certain she wasn’t being followed, she reached her destination.
Dominic had seen her drive up and was waiting for her at the door.
When she walked in the cottage and saw the messy digs she said, “I see Whit has settled in quite nicely here. Where is he, by the way?”
“Out working on the job. Told me to hang here.”
“I just got a text from the professor. That’s why I’m here. He wanted to know if there are problems. Are there?”
Dominic tugged at the wrists of his sweatshirt. “I take it you and Whit had words.”
Reggie sat down on the edge of a chair. “Why, what did he tell you?”
“You want his version straight or the cleaned-up copy?”
“What did he say, Dom!”
“Verbatim, that you’ve ‘lost your bloody head over this bloke and you’re possibly screwing everything up,’ only he didn’t use the word ‘screwing.’ ”
“Is that what you think?”
“You went out with him today, right?”
“And I’m going to see him tonight too.”
“Reg,” he began.
She cut him off. “And do you know why?”
“Why don’t you enlighten me?” he said sarcastically.
“I can see you’ve been hanging out with Whit too long. That tone
Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on49 votes