Deliver us from evil, p.24
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       Deliver Us From Evil, p.24

         Part #2 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  “And what happened to the other women?”

  “I don’t really know.”

  “You’re not being very convincing.”

  “That’s ironic, considering I’m telling the truth.”

  “So who are you protecting here? Me or your boss?”

  “I thought it was clear. I’m protecting Evan. I don’t even really know you.”

  “I appreciate your frankness. So protecting him from himself?”

  “That’s one way of looking at it.”

  “Well, for me, it’s the only way of looking at it.”

  “So will you leave? Now? Don’t wait until Saturday.”

  Reggie rose and put down some euros for her coffee. “I don’t think so, no. I’ve made plans to go with him to the market tomorrow, and I plan to follow through with it.”

  Rice stood. “Leaving now really would be the wisest thing you could do, trust me.”

  “That’s the rub, Alan. I’m having a hard time trusting anyone right now.”

  A few minutes later Alan Rice stood next to a treadmill where his boss was performing his daily jog. Waller wiped his face with a towel and drank from a bottle of water as he increased the incline on the machine.

  “You look troubled, Alan.”

  “I just had a chat with our little friend.”

  “Our little friend?”

  “Jane Collins.”

  Waller slowed the machine and reduced the incline. “Why did you do that?”

  “I’m worried.”

  “About what. We had the woman checked out, correct?”

  “Absolutely, you saw the reports yourself.”

  “Then what is the problem?”

  “I see how you look at her.”

  Waller slowed to a fast walk on the treadmill. “You see how I look at her?” he said questioningly.

  “Please don’t be upset, Evan. It’s just that in the past you—”

  The next instant Rice lay on the floor, blood flowing from his mouth. Waller stood over him, his hand cut from where it had struck the other man’s tooth.

  Waller bent down and pulled Rice to his feet. “Put some ice on that before it starts to swell,” he said calmly.

  “I was only trying to protect you,” Rice stammered, clutching his jaw.

  “If I were in need of protection that would be admirable. However, I am not.” Waller stared fiercely at the other man. “You are my associate, Alan. You are my underling. Never forget your place. You are not and never will be my equal. Do you understand precisely what I am telling you?”

  “I understand.”

  Waller put an arm around his shoulders. “Good, then we will speak of this no more.”

  Rice left to put ice on his injured jaw, leaving Waller alone to stare moodily out the window. He would never allow anyone to question his judgment or authority. Rice had come very close to doing both. Had there been anyone else in the room to hear this, Waller probably would have ordered his “right-hand man” put to death. However, he had displayed an alarming degree of independence just now, truly alarming.

  And yet was there truth in his words? Did he need protection, essentially from himself? Yes, he was infatuated with Jane Collins; many men would be. Her close proximity aided in that infatuation. Yet it was much more than that. The woman was resisting him—now, that was the challenge. She was independent, outspoken, stubborn, unwilling to be led or manipulated. Waller found that he wanted desperately to possess her.

  And he would. Of that he was convinced.

  CHAPTER

  55

  REGGIE ROSE early and swam in the pool before first light had broken. It was usually this way with her on the final day of a mission. She always did something pleasurable, as it might be the last day of her life. The water felt cool against her skin as she sliced through it, counting her strokes, taking her practiced breaths. She didn’t bother to see if anyone was spying on her from the villa next door. It didn’t matter anymore.

  She finished, went inside, up the corkscrew stairs to her bathroom, and stripped off her bikini. The next instant she whirled to stare at the far corner of the space.

  She was sure she’d heard something, seen a shadow lingering… But there was nothing.

  She locked the door and took a shower, letting the hot water slide over her, seeing if it could overwhelm the chills. She was nervous before the end of every mission, when the person she planned to kill would discover who she really was.

  She thought now of Bill Young. She knew she shouldn’t have gone to see him. Yet something inside her, perhaps deeper than she had cared to delve for a long time, had forced her to do so. It wouldn’t matter now. After today, none of it would matter. What she felt. Or what he felt. They would never see each other again. She caught her gaze in the mirror as she recalled the spark between them when their hands touched. How he looked at her. How she had to work so hard to control herself around him.

  Stop it, Reggie. Just stop it now.

  She dried her hair and dressed in slacks, sneakers, and a loose-fitting shirt over a tank top with a bandanna in her hair. The shoes were a practical choice in case she had to run. The bandanna conceivably could be used as a garrote. Yet if it came to that desperate recourse, her chances of survival were very low. The mental images of Fedir Kuchin’s victims, housed in her brain for weeks now, paraded past her.

  Today is for all of you, she thought.

  She looked out her window onto the cobbled path below. People on foot were already starting up the hill to the market. They looked happy, eager, excited. She was all those things too; well, perhaps not happy, not yet. Small cars and vans moved slowly past, their wares crammed into the tiny spaces. As she stood there, first Whit and then Dom trudged past carrying large duffels. Neither man looked up at her. In a few moments they were gone from her sight. The new wrinkle Whit had added was a brilliant one, she thought. Now all she had to do was execute it properly.

  She closed the window, went downstairs, and made her coffee. She lingered over the cup and the toast and fried eggs she’d made. She kept taking steady breaths, willing away any nerves, going over the plan again and again both for reassurance and also as a way to minimize any potential mistakes. She had met one final time with Whit and Dom and they had taken her through the revised plan. The equipment Dom had purchased in Avignon would work perfectly. Everything was loaded and ready to go. Each man complimented her on the idea.

  “Makes for a right fitting show for old Kuchin,” Whit had said.

  “A right fitting show,” repeated Reggie now as she washed her cup and dishes and set them back in the cabinet.

  She walked to the terrace and watched as the sun marched upward, firing the sky. The ridge of mountains and the plain of the valley came alive as though administered a transfusion of fresh blood. Reggie’s nerves faded, her breathing returned to normal, and her features became determined and finally set in stone. It was time.

  If today was to be her final day, Reggie swore that no matter what else happened it would be Fedir Kuchin’s last as well. Some things were just worth the price.

  * * *

  Back at Harrowsfield, Miles Mallory was on the telephone. The call was from just a few kilometers outside of Gordes, and the caller was not Whit or Dom. It was Niles Jansen, and he was telling Mallory things he did not want to hear.

  “She actually went to see this man?” Mallory snapped into the phone. “He knows we’re going after Kuchin?”

  Jansen answered. Mallory exclaimed, “And he’s with some law enforcement organization?” Jansen said something in response.

  “Wait for my phone call back,” ordered Mallory. “I need to think this through.”

  He replaced the receiver and sat back in his chair. It had been unbelievably reckless of Whit to tell Reggie that they had Bill Young captive. The plan had been to let the man go after the mission was finished. But Mallory wasn’t certain that was an option any longer. If people ever found out about what they were doing… He absentl
y pulled his pipe from his pocket, looked at it, and then threw it across the room where its stem cracked against the mantel.

  He called Jansen back. His message was terse. “Whether the mission succeeds or not, he cannot live. Do it now.” He put the phone down, sat forward, and put his face in his hands.

  “Miles?”

  He looked up to see Liza staring at him. “What’s wrong?” she said.

  He shook his head, started to speak, but then lowered his eyes and stared at the floor, his hands dangling uselessly in front of him like he’d just suffered a stroke.

  “Miles!”

  “Not now, Liza, please, not now.”

  CHAPTER

  56

  NILES JANSEN checked the Glock 17’s magazine, which carried nineteen bullets in an extended double-column box configuration. He’d worked as support on three missions with Whit and Reggie, but he’d never been ordered to do something like this before. He was nervous but determined. He chambered a round and drew from his pocket a capped syringe that was marked with a poison label. Jansen was alone, so the plan was to have the prisoner handcuff himself to the chair and then he would administer the poison. The prisoner, he believed, would just assume it was another sleeping solution. It would be easy. It turned out not to be.

  He walked slowly down the hallway and then stopped, unable to believe what he was seeing. Water was pouring out from under the locked door and also through the food slot.

  He rushed forward calling out, “What the hell happened?”

  “The pipe on the toilet broke and the whole damn room is flooding. I’m up to my ass in water,” Shaw yelled back. “Where’s the water cutoff?”

  “Step away from the door.”

  “Step away from the door? I’m crunched against a wall. The whole building’s going to come down. I’ve been screaming for somebody for an hour.”

  Jansen reached the door and pulled out his keys. His plan was to open the door and then quickly step aside as the water rushed out. Things did not go according to plan, however.

  The door being knocked off its hinges was the first indication of things going awry. The door landing on top of Jansen was the second. Shaw dropped the heavy toilet he had used to bash his way to freedom, grabbed the man’s gun, and pulled the stunned Jansen up. When the object fell to the floor Shaw stooped and picked it up. It was the syringe. He looked at the man.

  “Was this meant for me?”

  Jansen said nothing. Shaw shook him. “I’m about a second from putting a round in your brain. Was this meant for me?” He placed the muzzle against the man’s forehead. “Now.”

  Jansen said, “I was just following orders.”

  “Whose? One of the other guys here? The woman?”

  “No. They don’t know.”

  Shaw knocked Jansen unconscious with a blistering left hand that carried about as much pure anger as Shaw had felt in a while. He laid him back down, pocketed the syringe, rushed back into the room, turned the water off where the commode used to be, and then ran back out. The water hadn’t been up to his butt, of course, but just high enough to reach the level of the door slot and start pouring out. Shaw had used a plastic water bottle to stop up the hole in the floor revealed after he’d worked the commode loose using his nifty homemade tools.

  He carried Jansen over his shoulder, the gun held out in front of him just in case anyone else was around who wanted a piece of him. He used a lamp cord to tie him up, lifted his cell phone and his car keys, kicked open the front door, leapt off the short stack of steps, and climbed into a two-door gray hatchback parked in front of the house.

  Ten seconds later he was flying down the road. The car had GPS and he inputted his destination with jabs of his finger.

  Gordes.

  He checked the clock on the dash that also had the current date.

  Market day.

  He might still have time. He floored the little car and reached a main road. He punched in a number. Frank’s voice came on. When he heard Shaw he started yelling.

  “Shut up, Frank, and listen.”

  “Me listen! Shaw, I will have your ass—”

  “They’re going to hit Waller.”

  That caught Frank’s attention. “What? Who is?”

  Shaw filled Frank in on all that had happened. “I’m pretty sure it’s going down today. I need some backup.”

  “There is none. We pulled all our assets from the area.”

  “There’s nobody?”

  “I’ve been spending all my time covering for your ass with my bosses. They think you went nutso over this chick. They are pissed.”

  “I can’t do this by myself. I need some help. Waller has a lot of muscle.”

  Frank was silent.

  “Hey,” Shaw cried out, “talk to me.”

  “There is one asset in the area.”

  “Who?”

  “Me.”

  “Why are you still here?”

  “Forget it, I just am.”

  “Why, Frank?”

  “Because I’ve been looking for you, that’s why. Happy? Now how do you want to play this?”

  “Here’s how.” Shaw started talking fast.

  When he was done Frank said, “Do you really trust this woman?”

  “To the extent I trust anybody, yeah, I trust her.”

  “Well, I hope to hell you’re right.”

  Shaw clicked off and floored it. The hatchback’s engine whined to near its breaking point as the Provençal countryside whizzed by.

  He reached the turnoff to Gordes, saw the traffic backup, ditched the car, and sprinted up the winding road. Reaching and clearing the side street leading to the twin villas, he saw no guard in front of Waller’s place, which meant he was probably not there. He looked around at the groups heading up to the market and the line of cars and vans filled with goods for sale. Walking up to one slow-moving truck that had racks of clothing and hats piled in the back, he pulled out some euros, and a minute later Shaw was covered up with a colorful poncho, a wide-brimmed canvas hat, and a cheap pair of sunglasses that the driver had thrown in from his own pocket for free.

  He jumped in the back of the truck and got a ride up to town. There he moved quickly through the crowds, slouching to disguise his height. His gaze darted to all corners, looking for Reggie, Waller, or anyone else of interest. Finally his observation paid off when he passed by a side alley, glanced down it, and then drew back. He waited for a few moments, then pulled out his phone and made the call to Frank, telling him what to do.

  That done, he checked the gun he’d stolen. You never went into possible combat without doing something that basic. The Glock 17 had been designed in the 1980s by its namesake Gaston Glock, an Austrian who had never built a gun before. What he did have was a lot of knowledge about advanced synthetic polymers. So he made, basically, the world’s first plastic handgun. It beat out H&K, SIG Sauer, the Italians’ Beretta, the Browning, and the top-notch Steyr favored by special forces personnel in a competition to arm the Austrian army. Its success around the world had been immediate and immense. Seven out of ten cops in America carried it in their holster. And yet with all that, just like any other weapon it wasn’t infallible. Shaw was stunned he hadn’t noticed it before.

  The muzzle was cracked. It must’ve happened from the collision of the heavy door and heavier toilet against the weapon’s polymer frame. Thank God he hadn’t had to fire the pistol. It probably would’ve exploded in his hand. A Glock could fire wet all day. No gun, however, could fire safely with a damaged barrel. Now he had no weapon and no way to get one. Frank was at least thirty minutes away and Shaw was out of time.

 
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