The second novel in the Shaw and James series, Baldacci brings us the 'The Whole Truth' characters - one a mysterious operative and the other a secret agent - who must prevent millionaire Evan Waller from embarking on a dangerous new business venture - one that could cost millions of lives worldwide. Bring lots of sunscreen, Baldacci's latest suspense novel won't be put down.
Read an excerpt of the book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
The ninety-six-year-old man sat in his comfy armchair enjoying a book on Joseph Stalin. No mainstream publisher would touch the delusion-filled manuscript since the author had been unfailingly complimentary about the sadistic Soviet leader. Yet the self-published book's positive opinion of Stalin appealed greatly to the old man. He'd purchased it directly from the writer not long before the latter was committed to a mental institution.
No stars could be seen hovering over the elderly man's large es- tate because of a storm moving inland from the nearby ocean. Though he was wealthy and living in great luxury, his personal needs were relatively simple. He wore a decades-old faded sweater, his shirt collar secured all the way to his fleshy neck, which was thick with wattles. His cheap pants lay loose over his skeletal and useless legs. The hypnotic drum of rain on the roof had begun and he settled farther back in his chair, content to delve into the mind and career of a madman who had killed tens of millions of people unlucky enough to live under his cruel fist.
The old man occasionally laughed at something he read, at least the particularly gruesome parts, and nodded his head in agreement over passages where disciples of Stalin explained his graphic meth- ods for the destruction of all civil liberties. In the Soviet dictator he clearly saw the leadership qualities necessary to drive a country to greatness while also causing the world to shake with terror. He tilted down his thick spectacles and glanced at his watch. Nearly eleven o'clock. The security system went on promptly at nine, with every door and window professionally monitored. His for- tress was secure.
A crack of thunder seemed to cause the lights to flicker. They sputtered twice more and fluttered out. In the lower-level electron- ics room the battery backup in the security system had been re- moved, causing it to cease functioning when the power supply was interrupted. Each door and window was instantly disarmed. Ten seconds later the massive backup generators kicked in and brought the electrical flow back to full power, returning the security system to online status. However, within that ten-second span a window had opened and a hand had darted out and caught the digital camera that had been tossed from ground level. The window closed and was locked a second before the system armed once more.
Oblivious to this, the old man idly rubbed his hairless head; it was mottled over with scabs and patches of sun-damaged skin. His face had collapsed long ago into a pile of gravity-ravaged tissue that pulled his eyes, nose, and mouth downward into a permanent scowl. His body, what was left of it, had followed a similar route of degradation. He relied on others to help him perform the simplest tasks now. But at least he was still alive, when so many of his broth- ers in arms, indeed perhaps all of them, were dead, many by violent means. This made him angry. History showed that inferiors were perpetually jealous of those greater than them.
He finally put down his book. At his age three or four hours' sleep at a time was all that was required, but it was now that he required it. He called for his attendant by pushing the blue button on the small circular device he always wore around his neck. It had three buttons, one for the attendant, one for his doctor, and one for security. He had enemies and ailments, but the attendant was mostly for pleasure. The woman entered. Barbara had blonde hair and was dressed in a hip-hugging white miniskirt and tank-top blouse that allowed him a liberal view of her breasts as she bent down to help him up into his wheelchair. He had insisted on her wearing revealing cloth- ing as a condition of employment. Old, rich, perverted men could do what they pleased. His wrinkled face nestled against her soft cleavage and lingered there. As her strong arms slid him onto the wide seat, his hand slipped under her skirt. His fingers glided along the backs of her firm thighs until they touched her buttocks. Then he gave each cheek a hard squeeze. He let out a small moan of appreciation. Barbara made no reaction because she was well paid to endure his groping.
She wheeled him to the elevator and they rode in the car together to his bedroom. She helped him undress, averting her eyes from his collapsed body. Even with all his fortune he could not force her to look at his nakedness. Decades ago she would have certainly looked at him, and also done so much more for him. If she wanted to live. Now he was simply helped on with his pajamas like an infant. In the morning he would be washed and fed, again like a baby instead of a man. The cycle was complete. From cradle back to cradle and then the grave.
"Sit with me, Barbara," he commanded. "I want to look at you."
He said all this in German. That was the other reason he had hired her; she spoke his native language. There were few left around here who could.
She sat, crossed her long, tanned legs, and kept her hands in her lap, occasionally smiling at him because she was paid to. She should be thankful to him, he felt, because she could either work for him in this grand house where the tasks were easy and the time in between long, or else go whore herself on the streets of nearby Buenos Aires for what amounted to pennies a day.
He finally waved his hand and she immediately rose and closed the door behind her. He leaned back on the pillows. She would probably go to her room, strip off her clothes, leap in the shower, and scrub hard enough to rub the filth of his touch off her. He quietly chuckled at this image. Even as a shrunken old man he could have some effect on people.
He vividly remembered the glorious days when he would walk into a room, the heels of his knee-high officer's boots clicking on the concrete floor. That sound alone would send ripples of terror throughout the entire camp. Now that was power. Every day he was given the privilege of feeling that sense of invincibility. His ev- ery command was carried out with no hesitation. His men would line up the vermin, long columns of them in their filthy clothes, their heads bowed, but still they eyed the shine of his magnificent boots, the power of his uniform. Playing God, he would decide which ones would die and which ones would live. The living hardly
got the better of it, for their reward was a hell on earth, as painful and miserable and degrading as he could possibly make it.
He shifted to the left and pushed against a rectangle of paneling on his headboard. The piece of wood swung outward and his hand shakily punched in the combination on the safe door revealed there. He slid his hand in and pulled out the photo, then settled back on his pillow and looked down at it. He calculated that it was taken sixty-eight years ago to the day. His mind was still all there, even if his body had deserted him.
He was only in his late twenties in the picture, but he'd been given great responsibility because of his brains and ruthlessness. Tall and slender, he had light blond hair that was striking against his tanned, square-jawed face. He looked so fine in his full uniform with all his medals, though he had to concede that hardly any of them were ac- tually earned. He had never seen combat since he had never been able to muster much personal courage. The talentless masses could fire the guns and die in the trenches. His skills had allowed him to seek safer ground. His eyes filled with tears at the sight of what he had once been; and next to him of course stood the man himself. He was small in stature, but colossal in every other way. His black mus- tache was frozen for all time over the expressive mouth.
He kissed his younger self in the photo and then did the same to the cheek of his magnificent Führer, completing his nighttime rit- ual. He returned the photo to its hiding place and thought about the years since he'd fled Germany months before the Allies marched in and Berlin fell. He'd come here by prearrangement because he'd seen the inevitable outcome of the war, perhaps before his superiors had. He'd spent decades in hiding but once more used his "talents" to build an empire of wealth from mineral and timber exports in his new homeland, ruthlessly crushing all competition. Yet he longed for the old days, when the life and death of another human being was solely in his hands.
He would sleep comfortably tonight as he did every night, his con- science clear. He felt his eyelids growing heavy when he was sur- prised to hear the door opening again. He looked across the gloom of the chamber. She stood there silhouetted against the darkness. "Barbara?"
She came forward after locking the door behind her. As she drew closer to the bed he could see that she was wearing only a cotton robe that barely covered her thighs and dipped low around the chest. Her tanned skin peeked out at him from several angles, except at the flap of the robe. There he could see the paleness of her revealed hip. She had loosened her hair and now it swept around her shoulders. She was also barefoot. She slipped onto the bed next to him.
"Barbara?" he said, his heart beginning to beat faster. "What are you doing here?"
"I know you want me," she said in German. "I can see it in your eyes."
He whimpered as she took his hand and drew it inside the folds of her robe, near her breasts. "But I'm an old man, I can't satisfy you. I . . . I can't."
"I will help you. We'll take it nice and slow."
"But the guard? He's outside the door. I don't want him to . . ."
She gently stroked his head. "I told him it was your birthday and I was your present." She smiled. "I told him to give us two hours, at least."
"But my birthday isn't for another month." "I couldn't wait."
"But I can't do it. I do want you, Barbara, but I am too old. Too damn old."
She drew closer, touched him where he hadn't been touched for decades. He moaned. "Don't do this to me. I tell you it won't work."
"But why would you want me?"
"You're a very rich and powerful man. And I can see that you were once very handsome."
He seized on this statement. "I was. I was. I have a picture."
"Show me," she said. "Show me," she moaned into his ear as she moved his hand up and down inside her robe. He pressed the panel, extracted the photo, and handed it to her. Her gaze lingered over the image of him and Adolf Hitler. "You look like a hero. Were you a hero?"
"I did my job," he said dutifully. "I did what was asked of me." "I'm sure you were very good at it."
"I've never shown that picture to anyone else. No one." "I am flattered. Now lie back."
He did so and she straddled him, unloosening her robe so he could see her body more fully. She also removed the call device from around his neck.
He started to protest.
"We don't want the buttons to be pushed accidentally," she said, holding it away from him. She bent down so her breasts were close to his face. "We don't want to be interrupted."
"Yes, you are right. No interruptions."
She reached in her pocket and held up a pill. "I brought you this to take. It will help with that." She motioned to his crotch.
"But I don't know if I should. My other medications—"
Her voice dipped still lower. "You will last for hours. You will make me scream."
"God, if I only could."
"All you have to do is swallow this." She held up the small pill. "And then take me."
"Will the pill really work?" In his excitement a bit of spittle appeared on his lips.
"It has never let me down before. Now take it."
She handed it to him, poured out a glass of water from a carafe on the nightstand, and watched as he swallowed the pill and greedily slurped down the water.
"Is it getting bigger?" he asked eagerly.
"Patience. And in the meantime I have something to show you."
From the pocket of her robe she pulled out a slim camera. It was the one that had been tossed to and caught by Barbara at her window when the power had gone off and the security system had disarmed.
"Barbara, I feel funny."
"It is nothing to worry about."
"Call the doctor to come in. Press the button for him. Do it now."
"It is fine. It's merely the effects of the pill."
"But I can't feel my body. And my tongue—"
"It feels large? My goodness. The pill must be working on your tongue and not on your other part. I will have to register a complaint with the manufacturer."
The old man gurgled loudly. He tried to point to his mouth but his limbs wouldn't work anymore. "Push the but—"
She moved the call device farther away and pulled her robe tight, cinching it up. She settled next to him. "Now, here are the pictures I want you to see."
She turned on the camera. On the small screen an old black-and- white photo of a face appeared.
"This young boy was David Rosenberg," she explained, pointing to the youthful but gaunt face on the screen; the hollow cheeks and glassy eyes indicated that death was not far away. "He never made it to his bar mitzvah. Did you know that before you ordered his death, Herr Colonel Huber? He was already past thirteen, but of course in the camps Jewish rites of passage were not observed."
The old man continued to quietly gurgle, his terrified gaze still on the photo.
Barbara pressed a button and a young woman's face appeared on the camera screen. She said, "This is Frau Helen Koch. She was killed by a rifle bullet to the belly fired by you before your first cigarette of the morning. By all accounts she only suffered for a mere three hours before expiring while your men kept back all attempts at aid by her fellow Jews. In fact, you killed two people that morning, since Frau Koch was pregnant."
While the rest of his body remained immobile, the old man's fin- gers started to claw the covers. His gaze was on the call device, but though it was only two feet away, he couldn't reach it. She tilted his chin back and held it there so he had to gaze at the screen.
"You have to focus, Colonel. You remember Frau Koch, don't you? Don't you? And David Rosenberg? Don't you!"
He finally blinked his assent.
"I would show you the pictures of the other people you con- demned to death, but since there are over a hundred thousand of them, we don't have time." She pulled a photo from the pocket of her robe. "I took this from the frame on the piano in your beautiful library." She held the picture in front of his face. "We found your son and daughter and your grandchildren and your great-grand- children. All these innocent people. You see their faces. Just like David Rosenberg and Helen Koch and all the others. If I had time I'd tell you in exact detail how each will die tonight. In fact, seven of them already have been butchered simply because of their con- nection to you. You see, Herr Colonel, we wanted to make certain that there were no monsters left to reproduce."
He started to cry, his mouth making little mewing sounds.
"Good, good, tears of joy, Herr Colonel, I'm sure. Maybe they will think our sex is so good you cry. Now it's time to go to sleep, but keep your eyes on the picture. Don't look away. It is your fam- ily after all." When he closed his eyes, she slapped his face, forcing his eyes open. She leaned down and whispered into his ear in an- other language.
His eyes widened.
"Do you recognize it, Herr Huber? It's Yiddish. You heard that phrase often in the camps, I'm sure. But in case you never knew the translation, it means, 'Rot in hell.'"
She placed a pillow over his nose and mouth but did not cover his eyes, so he could see his doomed family as his last image during life. She pushed down with considerable strength. The old man could do nothing as his oxygen vanished. "This is a far easier way to die than you deserve," she said as the pump of his lungs quickened, seeking air that wasn't there.
After his chest lurched one final time, she removed the pillow and placed the picture of Huber in his uniform in the pocket of her
robe, along with the small camera. They had not killed his family and had no intention of doing so. They did not murder innocent people. But they had wanted him to believe, with his final dying breath, that he had precipitated the destruction of his loved ones. They knew his death could never match the horror of the slaughter carried out on his orders, but this was the best they could do.
She crossed herself and whispered, "May God understand why I do this."
Later, she passed the guard, a cocky young Argentine, on the way back to her room. He eyed her with obvious lust. She smiled back at him as she playfully twitched her hips, letting him glimpse some pale skin under her thin robe. "Let me know when it's your birthday," she teased.
"Tomorrow," he said quickly, making a grab for her, but she darted out of the way.
That is very good, because I won't be here.
She walked directly to the library and returned the photo to its frame. An hour later the lights flickered once more and then went out. The same ten-second gap occurred before the generator kicked on. Barbara's window opened and then closed. Dressed all in black with a knit cap over her hair, she climbed down a drain- pipe, skirted the perimeter security, clambered over the high wall around the estate, and was picked up by a waiting car. It was not that difficult since the security measures at the estate were chiefly designed to keep people out, not in. The driver, Dominic, a slen- der young man with dark curly hair and wide, sad eyes, looked relieved.
"Brilliant job, Dom," she said in a British accent. "The timing on the power going out was spot-on."
"At least the forecasters were right about the storm. Provided a good cover for my engineering sleight of hand. What did he say?"
"He spoke with his eyes. He knew."
"Congratulations, it's the last one, Reggie."
Regina Campion, Reggie to her intimates, sat back against her seat and pulled off the cap, freeing her dyed blonde hair. "You're wrong. It's not the last one."
"What do you mean? There are no Nazis like him left alive. Huber was the final bastard."
She pulled the photo of Huber and Adolf Hitler from her pocket and gazed at it as the car raced along the dark roads outside Buenos Aires.
"But there will always be monsters. And we have to hunt down every one of them."
Shaw was hoping the man would try to kill him, and he wasn't disappointed. Seeing your freedom about to end with the distinct possibility of an execution date in your future just made some people a bit peeved. A few moments later the fellow was lying un- conscious on the floor, the imprint of Shaw's knuckles on his crushed cheek. Shaw's backup appeared a minute later to take the man into custody. Shaw mentally crossed off his to-do list a heart- less zealot who used unwitting children to blow up people who didn't believe in the same god he did.
Ten minutes later he was in a car going to the airport in Vienna. Sitting next to him was his boss, Frank Wells. Frank looked like the meanest son of a bitch you would ever run into, principally because he was. He had the chest of a mastiff along with the beast's growl. He favored cheap suits that were perpetually rumpled from the mo- ment he put them on, and a sharp-edged hat that took one back several decades. Shaw believed that Frank was a man who'd been born in the wrong era. He would have done well in the 1920s and 1930s chasing criminals like Al Capone and John Dillinger with a tommy gun and not a search warrant or Miranda warning card in sight. His face was unshaven and his second chin lapped against his thick neck. He was in his fifties and looked older, with about eighty years of acid and anger built up in his psyche. He and Shaw had a love-hate relationship that, at least judging from the foul expression on the man's face, had just swung back to hate.
A part of Shaw could understand that. One reason Frank favored wearing his hat inside cars and indoors was not simply to cover his egg-shaped bald head, but also to hide the dent in his skull where a pistol round fired by Shaw had penetrated. It was not an ideal way to begin a healthy friendship. And yet that nearly lethal confrontation was the only reason they were together now.
"You were a little slow on picking up Benny's movements back there," said Frank as he chewed on an unlit cigar.
"Considering 'Benny' bin Alamen is the holder of the number three slot on the Most Wanted Terrorists list, I'll just take a moment to pat myself on the back."
"Just saying is all, Shaw. Never know if it might come in useful next time."
Shaw didn't answer, primarily because he was tired. He looked out the window at the beautiful avenues of Vienna. He'd been many times to the Austrian capital, home to some of history's greatest musical talent. Unfortunately, his travels here were always for work, and his most vivid memory of the town was not a moving concerto but rather almost dying from a large-caliber round that had come uncomfortably close to his head.
He rubbed at his hair, which had finally grown back. He'd had to scalp himself for a recent mission. He was only in his early forties, six and a half feet tall and in rock-hard shape, but when his hair had come back there'd been a sprinkle of gray at the temples and a dab at his sharp widow's peak. Even for him the last six months had been, well, difficult.
As if reading his mind, Frank said, "So what happened with you and Katie James?"
"She went back to being a journalist and I went back to doing what I do."
Frank rolled down the window, lit his cigar, and let the smoke drift out the opening. "That's that, huh?"
"Why would there be any more than that?"
"You two went through some serious stuff together. Tends to draw people closer."
"Well, it didn't."
"She called me, you know."
"While back. Said you left without saying good-bye. Just walked off into the sunrise."
"Didn't realize there was a law against that. And why didn't she just call me?"
"Said she tried, but you'd changed your number." "Okay, so maybe I did."
"Because I felt like it. Any other personal questions?" "Were you two sleeping together?"
This comment made Shaw noticeably stiffen. Frank, perhaps sensing he'd gone too far, looked down at the folder in his lap and said quickly, "Okay, we'll be wheels up in thirty minutes. We can go over the next job on the wings."
"Great," said Shaw dully. He rolled down his window and breathed in the morning air. He did most of his work in the middle of the night and many of his "jobs" ended in the early morning hours. I work for something loosely called an agency that doesn't officially exist doing things around the world that none will ever know I did.
"Agency" policy allowed its operatives to go right up to the line of legality, often crossing it, sometimes obliterating it. The coun- tries financially and logistically supporting Shaw's agency were part of the old G8 vanguard and thus technically constituted the most "civilized" societies in the world. They could never employ brutal and sometimes lethal tactics through their own official chan- nels. So they circumvented that problem by secretly creating and feeding a hybrid beast that was only graded on results achieved through any means possible. Typically, neither personal rights nor the benefit of legal counsel entered the equation.
Frank studied him for a moment. "I sent some flowers to Anna's grave."
Surprised, Shaw turned to him. "Why?"
"She was a fine woman. And for some reason she was head over heels for your sorry ass. That was the only flaw I could find in the lady, her poor judgment in men."
Shaw turned to look back out the window.
"You'll never find anybody that good ever again."
"That's why I'm not even bothering to look, Frank." "I was married once."
Shaw closed the window and sat back. "What happened?"
"She's not living anymore. She was sort of like Anna. I married way above my pay grade. That stuff never strikes twice."
"At least you made it down the aisle. I never got that chance."
Frank looked like he was going to say something else, but lapsed into silence. The two men rode the rest of the way to the airport without speaking.
Copyright David Baldacci 2010