Deliver us from evil, p.28
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       Deliver Us From Evil, p.28

         Part #2 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  “It appears he may be exactly what he says he is,” said Liza. “An agent for another organization that was on Kuchin’s trail for another reason.”

  “The nuclear trafficking,” said Mallory. “Yes, I suppose that is the most logical explanation. Damn inconvenient coincidence, going after the same scoundrel at the same time but for different reasons.”

  Liza responded, “Not so much of a coincidence. They undoubtedly had the same thinking we did. Attack the man on his holiday because they might not get another chance.”

  “And no word from Regina?” asked Mallory.

  Whit shook his head. “Not yet, no. They’re probably on a boat right now chugging across the water to here. At least I hope they are.”

  “But not to Harrowsfield,” said Mallory, looking alarmed. “She wouldn’t bring him here?”

  “She’s not daft,” said Whit, but he looked away when he said it.

  “You have to contact her, Whit, and tell her to come in alone,” said Mallory. “She cannot bring this man with her.”

  “I’ve been trying to contact her but she’s not answering her damn phone.”

  “Then you need to try harder. You need to go out there and find her.” Mallory waved his hand toward the window.

  Whit looked enraged. “Out there? Where out there? Are you talking the grounds at Harrowsfield or the bleeding world? And she got herself into this bloody mess so she can sure as hell get herself out, can’t she?”

  “I don’t think that attitude is helping,” admonished Mallory.

  “Well, right this minute, I don’t really care what you think,” Whit shot back.

  “I believe we all need to calm down,” said Liza. “Perhaps some tea.”

  Whit snorted. “Tea? Hell, Liza, give me a bottle of Locke’s eight-year-old single malt and then maybe I’ll calm down enough to listen to this doddering old bloke again.”

  Dominic spoke up. “I think we need to trust Reggie to do the right thing.” He looked around at the others, who now all stared back at him. “I know I trust her.” He sat back and rubbed his bad arm, seemingly exhausted after his little speech.

  “I think Dominic is right,” said Liza.

  “Do you really want to take that chance?” asked Mallory. “Sacrifice everything we’ve worked for here? You remember the concerns you had about her and this Shaw chap,” he added, looking at Whit. “She could be persuaded, perhaps. Blinded by, well, you get my point, surely.”

  The Irishman looked uncomfortable now. “She pretty well explained that away. And the fact is we had the bastard in our crosshairs. The mission should have succeeded.”

  “And then you were ambushed?” said Mallory.

  Whit said, “The fact is, Prof, those blokes knew right where we were. They got the clear jump on us. I want to know how that happened. No, I need to know how that happened.”

  “You might have made a mistake,” said Liza. “They could have grown suspicious and followed one of you. Learned about it that way.”

  “No one would’ve known me and Dom were involved until D-day. Whenever Reggie came to visit us at the cottage there was no way she was followed.”

  “You met at the church at night,” Dominic pointed out.

  “That might be a hole,” Whit admitted. “But we have to know for sure.”

  “And Kuchin is still out there,” said Mallory.

  “It’s not done, Prof. I can’t keep breathing knowing he’s still alive.”

  “And I’m sure Fedir Kuchin is thinking the same thing about us,” responded Liza.

  “That’s what Shaw said,” added Dominic. “He wanted to help protect us against Kuchin.”

  “And I told him we didn’t need his protection,” said Whit sharply. “And we don’t.”

  “And no clue as to who he’s with?” said Liza.

  “They have their own wings, so they’re not operating on a shoestring like us,” Whit told her with a touch of envy in his voice.

  “I don’t like this at all,” said Mallory after a long silence. “I don’t know whether I’m more worried about Fedir Kuchin or this man Shaw.”

  “Know what? I say we worry about them both,” retorted Whit.

  CHAPTER

  65

  REGGIE, clutching her stomach, stepped onto the wharf, knelt down, and kissed the grimy boards as the ferry pulled back from the dock and began its drift out to sea in heavy swells. It was piloted by a Dutchman whom Shaw had known for years, for reasons he would not divulge to Reggie. The drop-off point was actually a long-forgotten World War II–era naval landing spot technically in the middle of nowhere. It had taken nearly three days for Shaw and Reggie to get back into England, much of it spent on the vessel as it slowly made its way through turbulent waters.

  “Thank you, Jesus,” moaned Reggie.

  “The boat ride was a little rough,” Shaw remarked as he helped her back up.

  “A little rough?” Reggie’s throat convulsed and she looked ready to throw up again, but finally she stood straight and let out a long breath, putting an arm on his shoulder to steady herself. “I thought the only place we were going to reach was the bottom of the bloody sea.”

  “Last boat ride I took was across the Irish Sea. It was pretty choppy then too. The woman I was with kept throwing up, just like you. Must be a girl thing.”

  “Who was that?” Reggie asked while eagerly if gingerly walking next to Shaw toward solid earth.

  “That was a long time ago.”

  “How did you know about this place?”

  “It’s come in handy a couple of times in the past.”

  “Quite a hole in our border security.”

  “Every country has at least one.”

  When they reached the grassy area next to the pier, Reggie checked her cell phone. It only had a sliver of juice left and no bars. She hadn’t been able to contact anyone about her status and still couldn’t. “Damn it. This is just great.”

  “I’ve got bars and juice. Give me the number and I’ll make the call.”

  “I don’t think so. Then you’ll have the number on your phone.”

  “This isn’t my phone. It belongs to one of your guys. The one I knocked out with a toilet.”

  “Did you look at any of the contact information on it?”

  “No.”

  “You’re lying.”

  “Maybe I am,” he said.

  “Can I have it? I need a phone.”

  “Maybe later.”

  Since he had nearly a foot in height and over a hundred pounds on her, she didn’t push it, but looked around at the dark surroundings. “Where are we?”

  “A few hours outside of London. I’ve arranged for wheels. Where do you want to head now?”

  “I think our separate ways.”

  “That is not a good idea. Kuchin can—”

  “He can do a lot of things, but catching us is not one of them. In fact, Whit was right. We’ll go back after him.”

  Shaw took her by the arm like he wanted to shake her. “What part of the memo didn’t you get? He almost killed you all when he didn’t know you were coming. Now that he’s warned you’ve got no chance of taking him.”

  “We almost got him before.”

  “Did you ever stop and think why you didn’t?”

  “What?”

  “How did those guys end up ambushing you?”

  Reggie pulled away from him. “How should I know that?”

  “You need to know that. They had inside information. They were waiting for you. You’ve got a mole somewhere.”

  “That’s impossible.”

  “Then give me another explanation that fits.”

  “We screwed up in the field somehow and they got onto us that way. I went to the church before to meet with Whit to go over the plan. Someone could have followed me then.”

  “Why would they even suspect you?”

  “You’re the one who’s trumpeting how good Kuchin is. He probably suspects everybody.”

  “
I listened to him when he was tied to that crypt, and so did you. He tried to bluster about killing you, but that was a man who expected to die that day. And if he suspected you, why would he have come with you to the church in the first place?”

  “We used the Muslim information you gave us to work an angle to herd him that way.”

  “Just like that?”

  “Just like that,” she said defensively. “And it worked.”

  “If someone had followed you to the church earlier and knew what was up, why would they let it play out? Why not blow the whistle? That way Kuchin is never in danger at all.”

  After staring at the dark, rolling sea for a bit, she said, “I can’t answer that. I don’t know why.”

  “But the answer, whatever it is, is not good for you. If you do have a traitor in your ranks it’ll make it pretty easy for Kuchin to come after you.”

  She closed her eyes for a moment and wearily rubbed her temples. “Look, you said you made arrangements for some wheels. Can you just get me to London? It’s the middle of the night and I’m too tired and dirty and still way too nauseous to think clearly about this right now.”

  He stared at her before shrugging. “Sure, the wheels are just up there.”

  “Just up there” turned out to be a half-mile walk through uneven terrain in the pitch dark to a road. A motorbike was near the tree line, keys under the seat. He tossed her the spare helmet. “It’s not the Vespa but it’ll do.”

  She clung to him on the way back to town. When they reached London, lines of smoky pink were beginning to burn against the sky, and early morning commuters were making their way along the still mostly empty streets. A few cabs and one bendy-bus puttered along the roads.

  She tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to one corner. He slowed the bike and then stopped near the entrance to the Tube. She got off and handed him back the spare helmet.

  “Sure you don’t want to hang with me?” he said.

  “First stop we made for petrol I’d just sneak out of the bathroom window. Why not save time and cut to the chase?”

  He pulled the phone from his jacket pocket and tossed it to her. “Bonne chance.”

  “So that’s it? No more trying to convince me? Just wish me good luck?” It seemed clear to Shaw that part of her wanted to stay with him. But he wasn’t feeling conciliatory right now.

  “Just another job.”

  He throttled the bike.

  “Thanks for saving our butts, Shaw,” she said, a bit guiltily.

  “Like I said, just another job. Reg.”

  He popped the gear changer with his heel, released the clutch, and pulled away, leaving her to trudge on to the Underground alone.

  CHAPTER

  66

  REGGIE LOOKED AROUND the small footprint of her dingy flat in London. There was a lumpy four-poster bed, an old chest that had belonged to her mother, a square of frayed carpet, a table with two straight-backed chairs, a hotplate, a small under-the-counter fridge, a four-foot-high shelf crammed with books, and two dirty windows that looked out on the back of another grimy building. Her single potted plant was quite dead because a freak heat wave that had hit London while she was gone had baked her room, which sat defenseless without the benefit of central air-conditioning. The toilet and shower were down the hall. The folks in her building were early risers and if she wanted to bathe with even moderately hot water she had to get there by 6 a.m.

  I’m twenty-eight and still live like I’m at university.

  She’d showered in cold water since she’d arrived home late, and then changed into the only clean clothes she had left in her closet. She bagged up her dirty laundry with the intent of washing it later in the facilities downstairs. Since she’d been gone awhile, her fridge held nothing edible. She ate breakfast at a café down the street, taking her time over eggs, coffee, and a buttery croissant. She’d charged her phone and sent a text to Whit. She’d received an immediate reply. All their people had gotten out safely. One had even gone to the villa and retrieved her personal things and brought them back to England. In his message Whit wanted to know where Shaw was. He wrote, “Make sure he can’t find Harrowsfield.” She emailed him back and told him that Shaw was no longer with her and that she would make sure she wasn’t followed.

  Walking down the street Reggie stretched her arms and worked the kinks out of her legs. The boat ride had been horrible, pitching and swaying nonstop. Shaw had taken the ordeal easily in stride. He’d never once become sick. He just sat at a table, reading a book and even eating, and would hand her towels and a bucket when she needed it, which was frequently.

  When she would glance up at him for sympathy she didn’t receive any. Then she felt guilty for even seeking it. It was an unforgiving business and one had to tough it out. He certainly had. She, on the other hand, had come up a little short with her sea legs. At least she was safely back in England, as was her entire team. While it was true they had missed Kuchin, things could be far worse.

  She rode the Tube to Knightsbridge. She was heading out to Harrowsfield later to brief the others but had something to do first. She had a sixty-millimeter-size safe deposit box housed at a company that specialized in storing people’s valuables. It had all the latest technological security devices—biometric scanners, access cards, and each box wired directly to the closest police station while closed-circuit cameras monitored the vault. This level of security cost nearly a hundred pounds a year and was worth every penny to her.

  She entered the building and successfully passed through the various layers of security. Alone in the vault room, she accessed her box and slid out the contents. Making sure her back was between the camera overhead and the items she was looking at, Reggie sat down at the table and began to read through things she knew by heart.

  This was her ritual. After every mission she came and did this. All other times she had been successful. This was her first miss, her first loss, her first ass-kicking. But still here she was. It was important.

  The newspaper articles were old and yellowed. Over time the paper would fully disintegrate, but the information contained in the pages would never be erased from her mind. Some days she wished that it would disappear.

  Robert O’Donnell, age thirty-six. The photo of the man was a faded black-and-white, but Reggie had no trouble recognizing him. He was her father, after all. He’d died on her seventh birthday. The headline from the Daily Mail had covered all the basic points and added in its typical dash of hyperbole:

  London’s Most Notorious Serial Killer Since Jack the Ripper Dead!

  It was not exactly what a little girl wanted to read about her dad on her birthday.

  Twenty-four victims, all female and all in their teens and twenties, had died at her father’s sadistic hands. At least those were the ones that were known. People had even compared him to the American serial killer Ted Bundy, who’d been executed around that time. A charming, good-looking man who’d lured young women to their deaths. Except Bundy had not been married with children. He’d been a loner. Reggie’s father had a good job, a loving wife, and a boy and a girl. And yet somehow over the years he’d managed to slaughter at least two dozen human beings with such ferocity and depravity that veteran constables who’d discovered some of the bodies had spent time afterwards in therapy to help them through the horrors they’d witnessed.

  Even now, once the truth had been established past all doubt, she still couldn’t quite bring herself to accept that the man who had helped create her was the same man in these horrible stories. She looked at another newspaper, one written on the fourth anniversary of her father’s death. It had a full-page picture of him in his last days. In the face Reggie could see a man possessed by something not human at all. But she also saw something else that terrified her even more.

  My eyes. My nose. My mouth. My chin.

  Physically she was far more her father than her mother. Physically.

  The end of her father’s violent life had been crushing because it a
lso marked the end of the other two lives she cared most about. Her mother’s. And her beloved older brother’s.

  It was her brother who had been the hero. At age twelve and having figured out what his father had done, Lionel O’Donnell had gone to the police. At first they had not believed the ramblings of a child. They were swamped with leads, most of them false, and under enormous pressure to catch the worst serial killer any of them could remember.

 
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