Deliver us from evil, p.29
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       Deliver Us From Evil, p.29

         Part #2 of A. Shaw series by David Baldacci
 

  It was only afterwards that they realized he was right. By then it was too late. Her entire family had perished on a single day. Her enraged father had discovered his son’s betrayal and killed them. He would’ve killed Reggie too if the police hadn’t arrived when they did. She still had nightmares about it. She supposed she would always have nightmares.

  Reggie turned to another article and started trembling as soon as she saw the photo and caption underneath. The girl’s hair was done in pigtails. The eyes were vacant. The small mouth was set in a thin, unemotional line. No joy, no sadness, no feelings at all. More than twenty years later Reggie struggled to remember what it felt like to be photographed that day. Where she was, what she’d been thinking.

  Her gaze drifted to the caption underneath: Only surviving family member Jane Regina O’Donnell, age seven.

  The next weeks, months, even years were a frantic whirl of events. Her mother’s family took her in. They left the country. New lives were set up. Nothing was ever said about the past—not her mother, her brother, and certainly not the monster of a father. And yet Reggie, armed with her mother’s maiden name instead of her father’s, had eventually come back to the city where he’d committed his atrocities. Her identity had been buried deep. She was no longer seven and vacant. She was Reggie Campion, a grown woman on a mission rebuilding a life from the catastrophic ruins of her past.

  And yet she now wondered, and not for the first time, whether Professor Miles Mallory knew who she really was. And if that was why he’d approached her. He had never given any indication that he did know her true history, but he was also the sort of man who wouldn’t have let on if he did.

  There were other items in the box, yet she decided to look at only two more. One was a photo of her mother, a petite blonde woman whom Reggie remembered as innocent if not overly intelligent or curious, and yet someone who loved her children unconditionally. The second item was a photo of her brother, Lionel, who had gone to the police and ended the monster’s reign in London, though it had cost him his life. Even at age twelve, he was tall, like his father, who had been six-four and well over two hundred pounds. Lionel took after their mother, not in stature, but in looks. The hair was light, the eyes a dim blue, the mouth usually curled into a smile. But not in this picture. This was a photo of her brother lying dead in his coffin. Reggie didn’t know where it had come from, only that she’d discovered it years ago and now found herself unable to part with it. It was sick, macabre, she realized that. But it was also a reminder of her brother’s ultimate sacrifice to save all of them from evil.

  She put the items back in the box, locked it up, and slid it back into the wall vault receptacle. Reggie returned to her flat, packed a bag, climbed in her little car, and drove to Harrowsfield.

  On the way there she thought of nothing else other than how to get one more chance at Fedir Kuchin. Well, that was not entirely true. Another tall man with dark hair kept uncomfortably intruding on those thoughts too.

  Where was Shaw now?

  CHAPTER

  67

  ALMOST as soon as Reggie passed the town of Leavesden and started making her way along the winding roads to the estate, the sun disappeared behind darkening clouds. At least the meteorological conditions matched her mood. She passed the entry gates, parked her car, took a long breath, and walked inside.

  She’d phoned ahead with her expected time of arrival and they were waiting for her in the library. The professor, Whit, Liza, and Dominic. As she passed down the hall she saw Niles Jansen, the colleague that Shaw had steamrolled back at the cottage in Provence. She tossed him back his cell phone that Shaw had taken.

  “How is it?” she asked, indicating the large bruise on his face.

  “Like a bloody tank hit me,” said Jansen.

  “Actually, I think it did.”

  She drew a calming breath and opened the door to the library. Taking a seat on one side of the long table with all the rest aligned on the other, she painstakingly went through everything she recalled from her time in Gordes and then briefed them on the days spent with Shaw.

  “And you learned nothing more about him than that?” asked Mallory, who did not bother to hide his incredulity.

  “It’s hard to be a competent interrogator when you’re vomiting your brains out,” she answered. “And he’s not the sort to volunteer much information. He’s obviously an experienced hand. Other than that, it’s all speculation.”

  “But his organization is obviously official whilst ours is not,” pointed out Mallory.

  “Meaning that we could all be charged with attempted murder for all the good we’ve done,” said Whit. “Hell, Kuchin could sue us for what we did and probably win. Maybe we should all retain solicitors.”

  “This isn’t funny, Whit,” snapped Liza. “Our entire operation could be jeopardized.”

  “Shaw doesn’t know where we are,” said Reggie. “It wasn’t like I was going to bring him here.”

  “See, I told you that,” noted Whit. He looked at Reggie. “And Dom here reminded all of us that you’d earned the right to be trusted.”

  Reggie gave Dominic a grateful look before turning back to Mallory. “But that’s not a real solution. With their resources, they may be able to track us down. They certainly know what the three of us look like.”

  “I suggest that all of you stay at Harrowsfield until further notice,” said Mallory.

  Both Whit and Dominic slowly nodded in agreement.

  But Reggie said, “I’ve got some things to take care of, but then I’ll be back here to stay.”

  Mallory nodded. “Good, that’s settled. Now let’s move on to more important issues, namely Fedir Kuchin and his unfortunate survival.”

  “We’ll go after him again, like we talked about yesterday,” said Whit.

  “I actually agree, after much deliberation, with your Mr. Shaw,” said Mallory, surprisingly.

  Reggie, having not been privy to this conversation, said, “Agree with him in what way?”

  Whit spoke up. “He’s talking about your buddy’s assessment that Kuchin will be coming after us. So instead of going after him we have to guard our own flanks.”

  “We talked about that too, right before we parted company,” said Reggie.

  Mallory rose, walked over to the empty fireplace, and knocked out the dregs from a new pipe into the hearth. “I’m sure you did. Indeed, it seems that this other organization might be more aptly suited to take Mr. Kuchin down than we are.”

  Whit burst out, “But they’re not going to do it. I told you that. They were pulling out. Apparently they don’t care that he’s selling girls as whores. Once he dropped the nuke angle it was all copacetic as far as those blokes were concerned.”

  “That was before they knew who he was.” He looked at Reggie. “You told him, correct? That Waller was Fedir Kuchin?”

  “Yes. But he didn’t know who that was.”

  Mallory took a few moments to puff his pipe to life. “No matter. He will look into it now, and then there you are. When he knows the real Butcher of Kiev is out there, chances are very good that either they’ll go after him or they’ll notify another appropriate agency to do so.”

  “So we just fob off on them the job we set out to do?” said Reggie. “Why should they have to deal with him?”

  Mallory eyed her with interest. “Are you really thinking why should this Shaw fellow have to deal with him?”

  Reggie’s face reddened. “That is not what I said, Professor.”

  “And there’s no guarantee they will go after him,” protested Whit. “They might have other things on their agenda.”

  Mallory turned to him. “There are no guarantees about anything we do, Whit. And I believe this is the best we can do. At least currently.”

  “Well, I disagree.”

  “I don’t mind disagreement so long as you do not turn it into unilateral action.”

  “Well, what if Kuchin ends up walking free?”

  “There ar
e many men like him out there. I will not jeopardize catching all of them in order to take one down.”

  Whit snapped, “But we’ve already shown him the shit from his past. Now all we need to do is kill the bastard. A rifle shot from long distance. Poison in his morning coffee. Stick the prick in the street with an umbrella tipped with poison, like they did that Bulgarian fellow.”

  Mallory shook his head. “But since the authorities presumably will know who he is, they will investigate his death and past and publicize their results to the world—that he is indeed the Butcher of Kiev. And all others will be warned.”

  “All others?” scoffed Whit. “You think these assholes send out newsletters to each other? Look out, fellow scum, the good guys are gunning for you? I’ve never bought that rationale before, Prof, and I sure as hell don’t buy it now. You’re saying we as good as let him go free forever.”

  “No, I said we can let others handle it for now.”

  Reggie spoke up. “I think I side with Whit on this, but the problem is that Kuchin will dig in so deep now we’ll never be able to find him. He probably has safe houses all over the world.”

  “Since we have limited resources, that makes all the more reason to move on to someone else. But for now, I think all of you should relax and regroup. Dominic needs to heal physically.” Mallory looked at Reggie and then at Whit. “And you need to do so in other ways.”

  “My head is on as straight as ever,” muttered Whit.

  “I wasn’t necessarily talking about you,” replied Mallory.

  “So me then?” exclaimed Reggie. She looked darkly at the man.

  “Just everyone please take a rest,” said Mallory a trifle wearily.

  “Even if the Ukrainian psychopath has us in his gunsights?” asked Whit.

  “Yes, even then,” said the professor sharply. Mallory then rose and left the room.

  “He’s under a lot of pressure,” said Liza defensively.

  “We’re all under a lot of pressure, Liza,” rejoined Reggie.

  “The operation in Provence cost a lot of money,” Liza continued. “And funds are getting harder and harder to come by. Miles spends a great deal of his time finding benefactors.”

  Whit scowled at her. “Great, fine. I’ll cut my salary. Oh, that’s right, I don’t really get paid a bleeding quid to risk life and limb, now do I?”

  “I didn’t mean it that way, Whit,” she said.

  “I don’t think any of us mean anything we’re saying right now,” said Dominic.

  Whit rose. “Speak for yourself, Dom. I meant it all.”

  Before anyone could say anything he’d slammed the library door behind him.

  CHAPTER

  68

  REGGIE DECIDED against seeking refuge in the underground shooting range. This was principally because she didn’t think her still queasy stomach could take the pungent smells created by the weapon’s discharge in close quarters. Yet she didn’t want to remain inside the distinctly chilly atmosphere at Harrowsfield, so she settled on wandering the grounds. That of course led her to the graveyard and then to the gravesite of Laura R. Campion. She’d visited her mother’s and brother’s graves only once, years ago, and her father’s never. And yet here she was, for the hundredth time standing in front of what was almost certainly a stranger’s final resting place.

  Are you going mad, Reg? Is this what it feels like?… Is this what happened to my… dad?

  She had long ago convinced herself that her father had become insane, because that was the only way to explain what he’d done. But at a certain level she knew that might not be true. And it terrified her.

  She said out loud, “Do you just go mad? Or are you simply born evil? Or do you simply slaughter because history gives you the chance?”

  “Yes to all three,” said a voice.

  Reggie nearly toppled over as she spun around, her mind recognizing the voice but also at the same instant wondering how it could possibly be.

  Shaw stood at the edge of the yew hedge that nearly surrounded the cemetery.

  “How?” she began, before Shaw put a finger to his lips as he came forward.

  He stood beside her. “Good to see you again too.”

  “How the hell did you get here?”

  “The phone I gave back to you? GPS.”

  “That’s impossible. We disable all GPS chips in our phones when we’re on mission to prevent just this sort of thing.”

  “I know. That’s why I had to put one in it on the boat ride over.”

  Reggie groaned and put a hand to her forehead. “I can’t believe I was that incredibly stupid.”

  “You’re not stupid, you’re really good. But I’m pretty good at what I do too.”

  Reggie looked around nervously. “If they find you here?”

  “What? They’ll kill me?”

  “We don’t do that,” she said sternly.

  “Oh really?” He reached in his jacket pocket and slipped out the syringe he’d taken from Niles Jansen at the cottage where he had been held captive. He held it up.

  Reggie looked from the syringe to Shaw. “What are you doing with that?”

  “They were going to kill me with it, Reggie.”

  “That’s impossible. We never told anyone—”

  “The guy I knocked out said the order came from someone else.” He looked in the direction of the mansion. “Maybe somebody in the big house I passed?”

  “Shaw, that is just not possible.”

  “So do you guys just carry this stuff around with you?”

  “That poison was intended for Kuchin. But we already had a syringe with us.”

  “So why a second one?”

  “In case something happened to the first, I imagine,” she said lamely.

  “Or in case someone got in the way. Like me.”

  “This is absurd. He actually said that somebody ordered him to kill you?”

  “I’m not really in the habit of making stuff like that up. I mean, what would be the point?”

  Reggie slowly moved away from him and slumped down on a weathered stone bench on the edge of the small cemetery. Shaw joined her there, drawing up his collar against the chilly air and cloudy skies that had come back to England with a vengeance as if to make up for the rare heat and sunshine.

  “The plan was to let you go once we’d finished with Kuchin.”

  “Plans change if the right person wants them to. Who here has that kind of clout?”

  Reggie involuntarily glanced toward the mansion.

  “So I was right. They’re in there. You got a name?”

  “Why? Are you going to go in there and arrest him?”

  “So it’s a he? Trouble is, I don’t actually have any authority to arrest anyone.”

  “Then what? Kill him? You go after him you’ll have a lot of other people you’ll have to kill too.”

  “Including you?”

  “Yes,” she said without hesitation.

  “Well, then I find my options limited.” He handed her the syringe. “Just make sure whoever you stick with that really needs killing. No second chances there.”

  Reggie held the capped needle in her open palm while gazing up at Shaw. “Why did you come here?”

  “Wanted to see for myself the competition, I guess. Nice digs. My office is either at forty thousand feet or right at ground level with lots of excitement going on all around me.”

  “Is that all?”

  “Oh, there was something else. I wanted to make sure you weren’t still puking your guts out. See, I feel a little responsible for that. And I guess I wasn’t as sympathetic to you as I should have been while we were bouncing across the water.”

  This drew a meager smile from Reggie. “Well, truthfully, I’m still a bit wobbly, but my bearings are slowly returning.” She paused while carefully pocketing the syringe. “Does your boss know that you’re here?”

  “We’re not always in sync.”

  She glanced once more in the direction of the old ma
nsion. “Actually, I can relate to that. How long will you be in England?”

 
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