Summer page-turner: David Baldacci's 'Deliver Us From Evil'

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.

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