Deliver us from evil, p.20
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       Deliver Us From Evil, p.20

         Part #2 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  Reggie took one of the bottles and glanced at the label. “He was right. I am impressed. These must have cost you a small fortune, even in Provence.”

  “I’ve never let money get in the way of fun. And as a lobbyist I’m used to negotiating folks down on things.”

  She rose up on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. He followed her into the kitchen, his gaze running over the twitch of her hips.

  “Do you miss the work?” she asked.

  “Not really. I basically was paid an extravagant amount of money to make even more money for people who already had too much of it.”

  “I’ve got all the prep work assembled. Your instruments await you.” She pointed to a serrated knife and a wooden chopping board set next to a pile of vegetables and tomatoes.

  “Okay, but first a thirst quencher.” He grabbed the corkscrew off the counter, worked the cork out, poured two glasses, and handed her one. They clinked and sipped. He put down the glass and picked up the knife. “So what are we having?” he asked as he started slicing.

  “The main course is a stew with chicken, tomatoes, and vegetables and a few closely guarded secret spices. I’ve got a cheese platter and crackers with some stuffed olives to munch on beforehand. Then there’s salad, some bread and olive oil, and a little creamy dessert that I bought at the bakery because I can’t bake. The coffee of course will be from a French press.”

  “Sounds terrific.”

  “You know, as depressing as Goya can be, I really did enjoy today.”

  He glanced over at her as she was stirring the stew. “Me too. Must have been the company.”

  Reggie frowned. “Okay, in the interests of full disclosure, Evan asked me to go with him to Roussillon tomorrow.”

  Shaw finished dicing a tomato and started on the celery. “Are you going?”

  “I told him I would, but I think I’ll drive separately.”

  “Okay.”

  “You don’t seem okay.”

  “If it were up to me you’d have nothing to do with the guy.”

  “But it’s not up to you.”

  “I’m acutely aware of that.”

  “You really think he’s a bad guy?”

  “Let’s put it like this, I don’t want you to feel the brunt of my being correct on that issue.”

  She smiled. “Well, I take solace in the fact that you’ll be here to protect me.”

  His thrusts at the vegetables became so fierce that she asked, “Is there something wrong?”

  He dropped the knife and wiped his hands on a dishtowel. “I’ve had a change in plans. I have… I have to leave tomorrow. To go back home.”

  The color drained from her face. “Leave? Why?”

  “Something’s come up with my son.”

  “Oh, God, I’m sorry. Is it serious?”

  “He’s not sick or anything. It’s more emotional than physical, but I’m his dad and it’s important enough to cut short the wonderful time I’m having here.”

  “I can see why I like you. You have your priorities right.”

  Shaw looked away, ashamed at her unwittingly misplaced praise. “So I won’t be here to protect you.”

  “I was just joking about that. It’s not your job to protect me.”

  When he glanced at her again she’d turned her attention back to the stove. Shaw sensed something else in her features. Was it relief? Was she actually happy he was leaving?

  They chatted about inconsequential things over dinner, and didn’t linger over their coffee or dessert.

  “I hope everything works out with your son,” she said as he helped her clear the table.

  “I hope everything works out okay for you too.”

  “Stop looking so worried. I’ll be fine.”

  Shaw couldn’t know that she was thinking, And now so will you.

  Afterwards, at the front door, Reggie said, “Well, I guess this is it.”

  “Take care of yourself.” He paused and added, “Our time together meant more to me than I think you can imagine.”

  “Oh, I don’t know, I actually have a pretty good imagination.”

  He thought she was going to leave it at that, but then her arms slipped around him, and he hugged her back. Shaw thought he felt her grip him perhaps a beat too long and a bit too tightly. Yet perhaps she was thinking the same thing about him, he realized.

  She kissed him uncomfortably close to the lips and Shaw felt himself maneuvering to reach her mouth on the next attempt. They heard a cough and both glanced over to see one of Waller’s men watching them.

  Reggie said in a voice loud enough for the man to hear, “Again, I’m sorry you have to leave tomorrow, Bill. Have a good flight back to America.”

  Then she closed the door. Shaw stared at the lion’s head brass knocker for a long moment. Why the hell had she said that? He looked around and saw the muscleman’s triumphant smile. The news of Shaw’s imminent departure would no doubt be quickly reported to his boss.

  “Nice night,” the guy said.

  Shaw walked back up the darkened path to Gordes. He took the shortcut, taking the ancient steps two at a time. The plane left from Avignon at eight in the morning. Avignon was about a fifty-minute drive, so he would have to leave Gordes early in the morning. And Janie Collins would be off to Roussillon with a man who made a fortune by selling girls into sexual slavery and who also wanted to sell nukes to fanatics.

  He could opt not to go, but then Frank’s men would come for him and he’d have to go on the run, which meant he would be no help to Janie. He could see no way out of this dilemma. But then again, as Frank had pointed out, he wasn’t her guardian. He was here on a mission. That mission had been canceled and he was being deployed somewhere else. He had turned his back on Katie James, a woman who had risked her life for his. So what was making him want to stay and defend the honor and perhaps the life of a woman he barely knew? It was all irrational behavior, and if Shaw had always been one thing it was logical. But he also couldn’t ignore what he was feeling.

  And then in a burst of extreme lucidity it all came together. The villa next door, the gun, the kick to the kidneys, and continuing to swim in the pool when she knew people were watching. And, finally, playing him against Waller. For that, Shaw suddenly realized, was what she was doing. She was setting the guy up for some reason. But she’d let it be known to Waller’s man that Shaw was leaving. The only explanation was that she was trying to make sure Waller would do nothing to harm Shaw. She was protecting him.

  So engrossed was he in these new troubling thoughts that he never had time to block the descending blow. It connected squarely with the back of his head. His feet went out from under him and he struck the pavement, cutting his knees and elbows on the hard stone. He tried to rise but another blow sent him down face first. He felt himself being bound and then picked up and thrown into a small compartment.

  Then for Shaw it all became black.

  CHAPTER

  45

  REGGIE ROSE EARLY; the night sky was still in the process of burning into dawn. She opened the window to her bedroom and gazed out. From habit she peered toward the villa next door but saw no activity. Still, she was sure his men would be on guard outside. Roussillon today and dinner at his place tonight and she dreaded all of it even though it could immeasurably aid in bringing Kuchin down. She was steadfastly counting the minutes to when they would end the man’s life. It couldn’t come soon enough for her.

  She showered, dressed, and left her villa by the side door. She had something she wanted to do. No, something she needed to do. She walked up the hill to Gordes. There were a few people already about, including the man hosing down the streets. He nodded to her as she passed. Her feet carried her past the town square and around the curve of the road. The hotel was located on the left, through a set of double glass doors. She roused a sleepy-looking clerk at the front desk.

  In French she said, “Can you ring Bill Young’s room, please? Tell him it’s Jane Collins.”

&n
bsp; The clerk, an older, thin man with puffy white hair and slack cheeks, looked a bit miffed and even suspicious. “It’s very early, young lady. I doubt he’s even up.”

  “He’s expecting me,” she lied.

  “At this hour?”

  “We’re having breakfast together.”

  The clerk didn’t look convinced but he rang the room.

  “No answer,” he said, putting the phone down.

  “He might be in the shower,” said Reggie.

  “He might be,” said the clerk defensively.

  “Could you ring him again in a few minutes?”

  “I suppose I could if it’s necessary.”

  “It is necessary,” Reggie said politely but firmly.

  The clerk tried again five minutes later.

  “Still no answer,” he said in a tone that indicated their discussion was over.

  “Did you see him go out?”

  “No.”

  Reggie had a sudden thought. “He hasn’t checked out, has he?”

  “Why would he if he was going to have breakfast with you?”

  “Plans sometimes change.”

  “He didn’t check out. At least not while I’ve been on duty.”

  “Can you examine the register from before you came on duty?”

  The man sighed but did so. “He didn’t check out.”

  “Then can you go to his room?”

  “Why?”

  “To see if he’s okay. He might be ill or he might’ve fallen.”

  “I seriously doubt that—”

  “He’s an American. They sue over everything. If he’s sick or hurt and you don’t check even though I asked you to it could open the hotel to enormous liability.”

  Her words had their intended effect. The man grabbed a key and headed up the stairs. Reggie started to follow.

  “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.

  “I have training in medicine. If he’s hurt I can help.”

  They hurried up the stairs. The clerk knocked, then called out, and then knocked again.

  “Unlock the door!” Reggie urged.

  “This is very much against hotel policy.”

  “Oh for God’s sake.” She grabbed the key, shoved him out of the way, and unlocked the door. She stepped inside with the clerk right behind. It only took her a minute to see that the room was empty, yet all of Shaw’s things were still there.

  “The bed hasn’t been slept in,” she said, as she looked accusingly at the clerk.

  “It is not my responsibility to determine that all guests are in and accounted for,” he added with indignation.

  Reggie thought quickly. The man had come on at midnight and Bill had left her home around eleven. It was a five-minute walk-up. What if he had never made it? But she’d made certain Waller’s man heard that he was leaving town. He would have no reason to—

  “Excuse me?” said the clerk.

  Jolted from these thoughts, Reggie saw that he had his hand out for the key. She gave it to him.

  “You should report this to the police,” she advised.

  “I do not think so. He might not have come back to the hotel last night because he had something better to do.” He gave her a knowing look. “This is Provence after all.”

  “Can I search his room, then, for a clue to where he might have gone?”

  “If you attempt that, rest assured that I will call the police.”

  Exasperated, Reggie pushed past him and raced back down the stairs.

  She left the building and was hurrying back to her villa when she heard the screech of tires behind her. She turned and saw the car stop in front of the hotel. She flitted into the shadows and watched as three men, one wearing an old-fashioned hat, jumped out of the vehicle and raced into the hotel. She didn’t venture closer because she could see that the driver was still in the car.

  A few minutes later the men came out again, only now one of them was carrying something. Reggie instantly recognized it as the suitcase that was in Bill Young’s room. As the car flew past where she was hiding she saw the man wearing the hat through the car’s passenger window. He was on the phone, talking fast, and he didn’t look happy at all.

  Reggie hurried back to the hotel. The clerk sat mutely behind his desk.

  “I saw the men come,” Reggie began.

  “This is the worst morning of my life,” moaned the older man.

  “What did they want?”

  He stood. “What did they want? What did they want? The same thing you wanted. Who is this man you all want?”

  “Did they say anything to you?”

  “They said nothing.”

  “Then why did you let them take his things?”

  In a tremulous voice he said, “Because they had guns. Now get out!”

  CHAPTER

  46

  SHAW AWOKE SLOWLY and then tensed. He’d had a cracked skull once before and it felt like he had one now. He flexed his arms and legs but the bindings had been applied with skill. The more he pulled, the tighter they became. He finally sat motionless.

  As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he sensed that the room he was in was small and, except for him, empty. There were no windows, so he must be in a cellar or maybe an old storage building. The floor was a concrete slab. The only light came from under the door that was directly in front of him.

  With each beat of his heart there was an accompanying throb in his head. He deserved this, for letting someone sneak up on him that easily. Yet he’d let his guard down because he’d been thinking about things he shouldn’t have.

  Evan Waller could have two possible reasons for kidnapping him. First, he was jealous and wanted to take out his rival. Second, he’d discovered who Shaw really was. The first reason didn’t seem so plausible, especially since Janie had let it be known that Shaw was removing himself from the field. But if Waller had found out who Shaw was, he wondered why he wasn’t dead already. Maybe Waller wanted to gloat first. Maybe he wanted to torture Shaw like he had the terrorists before he’d killed them.

  He raised his head slightly when the door opened and the man came in. Silhouetted against the partial darkness, the man said, “Are you awake?”

  “Yes.”

  “Are you hungry or thirsty?”

  “Yes.”

  Shaw figured if they untied him to eat and drink, he might have an opportunity to escape. The man came forward. Shaw didn’t recognize him as one of Waller’s men. The fellow held a bottle of water in one hand and another object in his other. He unscrewed the bottle top but he didn’t untie Shaw. He just held the bottle to his lips and let Shaw drink.

  “And just so you know, we have you in a clear firing line.”

  Shaw looked over the man’s shoulder and sensed someone else in the darkness.

  The man took the drink away and held out a chunk of bread.

  “Bread and water?” asked Shaw.

  “Better than nothing.”

  “Mind telling me why you caved in my skull and kidnapped me?”

  “Basically for your own good.”

  “Why don’t I believe that?”

 
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