Deliver us from evil, p.25
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       Deliver Us From Evil, p.25

         Part #2 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
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  The only way to move was forward. So he did.

  CHAPTER

  57

  THIS MARKET is certainly well-attended,” said Waller as he walked next to Reggie along the crowded and narrow streets of Gordes. “But one could become quite claustrophobic.” Waller glanced behind him. His two beefy guards were pushing past vendors and customers, struggling to keep up with the pair. Reggie had her market basket in her right hand and her walking pace was brisk. She’d already purchased some things, including six hand-stitched table napkins from a man with his wares housed in an ancient van with ratty tires. He’d given her a good price and even a bonus item that rested at the bottom of the basket but still within easy reach: a Beretta pistol.

  “Well, the Saturday market is the big one.”

  “I can see that. Would you like me to carry your basket?” offered Waller.

  “Never ask a woman that when she’s in a shopping frenzy,” said Reggie, drawing a laugh from the man. He held up his hands. “I defer to the consumer expertise of the fairer sex.”

  “Thank you.”

  Reggie glanced over Waller’s shoulder and saw the sign. On cue, a car started to putter through the crowds and the mass of people slowly moved out of the way to allow the vehicle to pass. Reggie counted off the seconds along with her footsteps. She had to hit her marks precisely.

  “That’s strange,” she said, as she stopped to look at a pair of sandals hanging from a rack at one vendor’s spot.

  “What?” asked Waller.

  She pointed over his shoulder. “I’ve never seen any Muslims here before.”

  Waller jerked around and stared across the road, where two bearded men in starched robes and turbans were climbing out of the dented car that had been puttering along.

  “Oh my God, are those guns?” exclaimed Reggie.

  Waller looked for his guards, but then several loud bangs sounded and the street became filled with dense smoke. People screamed and ran blindly, crashing into racks of goods as well as each other. Waller called out for his guards. He couldn’t see them anywhere. That was because they were both on the ground, having received well-placed blows to the back of the head. A young woman raced past them shouting, the items in her market basket cascading into the street. Everywhere there were screams and sounds of people running. Two more twin bangs occurred and the smoke in the street grew thicker. From out of the haze the two men in robes and turbans appeared with guns out and protective masks over their faces. They had the street completely blocked.

  “Shit!” exclaimed Waller as he saw them approaching.

  “Evan, do you know those men?”

  “We need to get out of here. Now!”

  She grabbed his hand. “Quick. I know a way.”

  They raced down a side street off the main courtyard. The street dead-ended here. Waller looked up and saw the church’s bell tower.

  “There is no way out,” Waller screamed in fury.

  “There is, but we have to go through the church. It’ll put us on the other side of the village. Remember the way I showed you before? It’s the only escape route.”

  That was why she’d shown him the route earlier. So he would know it was a way to safety. It was risky but otherwise she could not have counted on his following her. Only this time she would not be leading him to safety.

  To give urgency to their flight, a well-timed bullet whizzed over their heads. Waller turned back to see one of the Muslims rushing after them.

  “Oh my God, they’re shooting at us,” screamed Reggie.

  “Just keep moving,” urged Waller, grabbing her by the shoulder and thrusting her forward. “To the damn church, quickly.”

  Reggie pushed open the door and Waller followed her in. He slid a heavy credenza against the door before turning toward the altar.

  “Who are those men?” gasped Reggie.

  “Not now. Move!”

  Reggie and Waller raced down the set of steps next to the altar. They passed through a door, which he locked behind them. Running down another set of stairs, they came out into an open but darkened area. Here was the critical moment, Reggie knew. The passage they’d gone down previously to exit the church was to the left. She was counting on the fact that under the extreme circumstances Waller wouldn’t remember that. She turned to the right. Waller glanced back up the stairs as something crashed overhead.

  “They’ve gotten in the church,” he exclaimed.

  “Come on, Evan.” She pulled him down the passage to the right and into the room.

  The walls, ceiling, and floor burst with light. Waller shielded his face against this brilliance. When he looked at her Reggie was pointing her pistol at him.

  “Welcome to hell, Fedir Kuchin,” she said.

  CHAPTER

  58

  STRONG HANDS grabbed Kuchin, pulled him over to a crypt, and tied him down on top of it. Kuchin looked slowly around. Whit, Dom, and Reggie had surrounded him.

  “Who are you?” Kuchin said calmly.

  Whit said, “I’m a bit disappointed the man’s not more impressed.”

  “We’re people who know who you really are,” answered Reggie, her eyes on the Ukrainian. By her tone and attitude she was no longer role-playing as the naïve American Janie Collins. She was Reggie Campion and fully in the zone to finish this man.

  “Fedir Kuchin,” added Dominic. “The real butcher of Ukraine.”

  “And we brought back some of your victims,” said Reggie.

  “Before we do to you what you did to them,” added Whit. “Although we’re normally very nice people, we’re working really hard to be cruel and evil for your benefit.”

  Whit spread his arm wide. Kuchin looked up at the ceiling and over at the walls that were awash in light as Dominic’s projection equipment continued operating. Nothing Goya could have conceived would have equaled the horror captured in these images. The pictures of the dead or dying men, women, and children stared back at them. On one wall was the photo of the mass grave with the exposed small bones of the children buried there.

  “One atrocity after another,” said Reggie. “Take your time. We want you to relive the past.”

  “Who are you?” asked Kuchin again.

  “Why does it matter?” retorted Whit.

  “Because I want to know who I’m going to kill in the future. The near future.”

  “I don’t see that happening,” said Whit.

  “Then you are blind.”

  Reggie pointed to one wall depicting a stack of bodies piled up like cords of wood. “The slaughter in Sevastopol.” She indicated another image on the ceiling where gaunt near-death faces peered out from behind barbed wire. “The torture camp in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast in western Ukraine.”

  A third image was of the skull-like countenances of women and children lying in the dirt. “Kotsuri in Volyn Oblast,” said Dominic. “You took a page from the Holodomor with that one, didn’t you? Starving rural farmers?”

  Kuchin stared up at the pictures as they glimmered across the stone ceiling, like heat rising from a desert floor. When he looked back at them his face held no trace of remorse. “There is no need to show me any of this. I remember it quite well.” He smiled. “Down to the last skeleton, in fact.”

  Whit snapped, “Okay, screw the pics. Let’s just do it right now and throw him in the bone box.” He pointed to a crypt along the side of the wall with its top off. “That’s where your skeleton’s going to be, Fed. Hope you’ll enjoy rotting in old Gordes for all eternity.”

  Fedir ignored this and continued to stare at Reggie. “I should have been more cautious. Never trust a beautiful woman when she plays, how do you say, hard to get?”

  “Look at the pictures,” said Reggie. “And if you really are as religious as you claim, make peace with your God.”

  “And how will the fatal blow come. Gun, knife?” Kuchin cocked his head. “Will you strangle me with your bare hands? But do you dare get that close to me now? I can smell the fear you have of me. No,
you will keep your distance, I think.”

  “You’re not the first monster and you certainly won’t be the last.”

  “Never lump me in with others,” barked Kuchin. “I stand alone.”

  Whit looked over at the open crypt. “Well you won’t be lying alone. There’s another set of bones in there. I actually feel bad some poor bloke has to share it with the likes of you.”

  The click of multiple gun hammers made Whit freeze and mutter a curse.

  Reggie slowly turned to see the men standing there, pointing weapons at them. She recognized two of them as Kuchin’s other bodyguards.

  Reggie’s forehead was lined up on Pascal’s front pistol sight. “Gun down. Now.”

  Reggie bent down and placed it on the floor.

  “Kick it away.”

  She did so.

  Alan Rice stepped out from behind his hiding place. He stared inscrutably at Reggie before saying, “Untie him. Now.”

  As she started to move forward Whit said, “No, I’ll do it.”

  He took the straps off Kuchin, who rose slowly, rubbing his wrists and ankles. When he stood fully upright he nodded at Whit and then drove a fist into his gut, doubling him over. A kick against Whit’s head slammed him against the crypt, where his blood mixed with centuries-old bone dust. Dominic and Reggie darted forward, but Pascal fired a bullet in front of them and they froze.

  Kuchin put out his hand and Pascal tossed him a spare pistol. He turned to Reggie. “You seem to know a lot about me. Enough to send two Muslim terrorists after me. I assume they were imposters whose sole purpose was to funnel me here.”

  Reggie said nothing. Her breathing was shallow, all in her throat, but controlled.

  “You don’t wish to answer?” Kuchin motioned to the images on the wall. “You bring me here under false pretenses, to show me all this? And then to kill me? And yet you don’t wish to explain yourself?” His easy smile disappeared as he grabbed her neck and squeezed on a point near the left jugular vein. Reggie bit her lip but made no sound. He increased the pressure and she felt the blood and oxygen supply disappearing from her brain. She finally grabbed his arm and hit a nerve point that made his hand weaken. He let go and she gasped and fell back. She planted a hand against a wall and righted herself, her gaze holding on him.

  He said, “Impressive. But if you couldn’t endure such a small measure of pain I suppose you would not be in this line of work.” He looked at Dominic. “You mentioned a butcher: You think I’m dangerous? The second coming of the Holodomor? I actually like that description.”

  He placed the muzzle of his pistol against Dominic’s forehead and pulled the trigger. Reggie screamed and Dominic flinched but then opened his eyes. There was no entry wound. The front and back of his head were still intact. No blood. No death. He looked bewildered by his survival.

  Kuchin looked furious. “Never hand me a pistol, Pascal, without a round in the chamber.”

  Kuchin corrected the omission and started to line up his shot again, taking his time, completely in control. This turned out to be a very significant miscalculation.

  The blur of motion to his right made Kuchin look away for a vital second from Dominic. Shaw catapulted out of hiding, both elbows raised horizontally to the top of his delts. An arced jab of hard bone against soft face threw one of the guards with such force against the stone wall that he crumpled to the floor, the fight and his senses driven completely from him. The element of surprise distinctly his, Shaw kept moving forward and caught Pascal in the throat with a strike that left the smaller man flat on his face gasping and gagging for air, his gun bouncing across the floor. He stopped gagging when Shaw slammed his foot on the back of Pascal’s head, ricocheting it off the stone and knocking him out.

  Alan Rice made the mistake of following the effect of the attack rather than the source. He screamed and fired his weapon; his wild round barely missed Kuchin’s head and unfortunately embedded itself in Dominic’s forearm, shattering bone and burning tissue. Dominic grunted and fell to the floor.

  Whit launched and caught Kuchin in the sternum, sending him heels over ass, the Ukrainian’s weapon sailing away.

  Shaw pounced on Rice, swung him around, and slammed him against a crypt. He slid to the floor unconscious as blood streamed out of his smashed nose.

  Kuchin got to his feet as everyone scrambled for weapons or cover in the ongoing shimmer of the images on the wall. With the added human movement the entire spectacle took on the aspect of some bizarre performance art. Reggie lunged for her pistol but Kuchin kicked her in the face, slashing her cheek with the heel of his shoe. When Whit hurled himself at the man a second time, Kuchin was prepared. He deftly sidestepped the thrust and, taking a page from Shaw’s attack method, slammed a bony elbow into Whit’s face, dropping the Irishman in his tracks.

  Kuchin snatched up Reggie’s Beretta, turned, aimed, and would have fired a bullet into the fallen woman’s brain from inches away if Shaw hadn’t connected with such a massive uppercut to the chin that it lifted the two-hundred-and-thirty-pound Ukrainian completely off his feet. He crumbled backward and hit the floor, spit out a tooth and tried to rise, but he was too dazed by the terrific shot he’d taken.

  Shaw jammed one gun in his belt and grabbed another pistol off the floor and tossed it to Whit, who’d staggered to his feet holding his face. Shaw stooped, snagged Reggie’s arm, and pulled her up. With his other hand he hauled Dom to his feet. “We have to get out of here. Now!”

  “Not before we kill that bastard!” screamed Whit.

  At that instant Kuchin managed to get to his feet, and he ran out of the catacombs.

  “Hey!” yelled Whit. He ran after Kuchin, followed by the others.

  “Stop!” barked Shaw, and he grabbed Whit, who was lining up a shot. “He’s got other muscle, and they’re probably on their way right now.”

  As soon as Shaw had finished speaking, three more armed men clattered down the stairs and saw them. They opened fire. The sleepy hamlet of Gordes probably hadn’t seen such aggression since the Romans had been in town two millennia before.

  “This way,” yelled Reggie. She led them to the passage that would carry them to the doorway near the villa.

  Kuchin ran toward his men and screamed, “Get them, but don’t kill the woman!”

  Shaw turned and fired at the men. As the bullets ricocheted off the stone walls Kuchin’s guards scrambled for cover. Whit pulled a slender canister from his pocket, popped a tab, and tossed it into the room. Dense smoke formed a wall between them and their pursuers.

  They turned and fled down the passage, steel-jacketed rounds chasing them every step of the way.

  Fittingly for a church, they all mouthed silent prayers as they fled.

  CHAPTER

  59

  DOWN THIS WAY,” Reggie told Shaw. “There’s another exit.”

  “The one that lets out down by the villas?” said Shaw.

  Reggie stared at him as they rushed along. “How did you know?”

  “I can recon. But that door opens onto a public street.”

  “And Kuchin knows about it,” said Reggie. “I had to show him that route earlier to convince him to go to the church today. Then I led him to the catacombs instead.”

  Shaw said, “Then it’s no good for two reasons.” He looked over at Dominic, who ran bent over, clutching his injured arm. “Are you going to make it?”

  Reggie took off her bandanna and wrapped it around the wound.

  “I can make it,” Dominic said, grimacing.

  Whit eyed Shaw. “What then? We can’t go back unless we want to shoot our way out, and those guys have a lot more bullets than we do.”

  Shaw pointed to his left. “That way.”

  Whit grabbed his arm. “There’s nothing down there. I checked.”

  “At the end of the hall is a hidden door built into the stone. The passage there leads to the old fort.”

  “How do you know that?” demanded Whit.

  “Through
a little history reading.”

  “What?”

  “Catholic priests often had to run for their lives. Just like we are.
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