By Andrew Grant
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2010 Andrew Grant
All rights reserved.
I come from a small family. My mother was an only child. My father had one sister, but they weren't close. We didn't see much of her even when I was a kid. Partly because she still lived in Ireland, and my parents found it a nuisance to get over there. But mostly because the two of them didn't get on. My dad is very practical and down-to-earth. If he can't see or touch or taste something, it doesn't exist. My aunt was the absolute opposite. Her life was barely her own. She abdicated all personal responsibility and just drifted happily along, governed by an endless stream of signs and omens and portents and premonitions.
The premonitions in particular drove a wedge between the two of them. He thought she was some kind of crazy, half-pagan simpleton. She thought he was too stiff and stubborn to see the world in front of his nose. And so anytime the family was together, they fought. Relentlessly. Not physically, obviously. It was more subtle than that. At some point, soon after we arrived, she would announce a prediction. We would be waiting for it. He would denounce it. Then the duel would begin. There'd be endless, pointed looks. Barbed comments. Contrived, cynical observations. The level of sarcasm would ratchet higher and higher until one was proved right and the other descended into days of impenetrable sulking.
Believe me, those visits were always fun.
My own view falls somewhere between the two. I certainly don't believe the future is already set. We're not helpless. Our destiny is ultimately in our own hands. But take some time to think, mix that with a little experience, and it's not too hard to see what's waiting around the corner.
In some circumstances, at least.
Mainly the ones involving bosses and their stupid plans.
I knew no one was following me, but I still had the cab from Midway drop me half a mile from my destination. But this was no random paranoia. Old habits die hard. The first thing you always do when you're sent somewhere new is tap into the service grapevine. To find out how the land lies in your next city. It's quicker and more efficient than any corporate intranet I've ever come across. And from what I'd been hearing about the current state of play, a little extra caution would not be out of place.
The ride in from the airport felt strangely flat. I had no idea why I'd been sent to Chicago, but that wasn't unusual. You begin lots of assignments without the slightest clue what you're going to be asked to do. And the way a mission looks on paper is generally a million miles from how it plays out in the field. For me, that's part of the excitement. Like being a handed a Polaroid photograph, fresh from the camera, and watching as the image gradually takes shape on the warm, shiny paper. But the familiar feeling of promise and anticipation was completely missing that morning. Normally I love the first glimpse of a new place, but as I watched the cityscape morphing out of the traffic haze, it left me absolutely cold. Because I knew I wasn't going to have anything meaningful to do, there. I was just passing through. Quickly, I hoped. I should have been called straight back to London. This detour had the feeling of a wrong turn about it. The sense that the fallout from my last mission — or the debacle that followed it — had knocked me off the freeway and shunted my career onto an obscure backstreet. I needed to get back into the thick of things, to put the record straight. And to find some real work to do. Something to keep me from dwelling too long on absent friends.
My orders were simple. Report to a liaison officer called Richard Fothergill. I'd never worked with the guy, but I'd heard him talked about often enough over the years. The prospect of meeting him was the one ray of sunshine cutting through the heavy, swirling clouds that had filled the sky since dawn. And not because he was supposed to be nice. His reputation made him out to be pretty much the opposite. Which actually seemed like a good thing, that morning. Recent events had left me with no wish to add to my circle of friends.
In my profession there's a line that's better not crossed when it comes to building friendships. The rationale is pretty obvious. And the line is even more pronounced when it comes to closer, more personal relationships. This rule was made clear to me when I first started out, and back then I'd never have dreamed of breaking it. Assignment after assignment came and went, and I never wavered. I never came close. I never thought I would. And then, three years ago, something happened to change that. Or rather, someone. My liaison officer on a job in Madrid. Tanya Wilson. The most spectacular human who ever lived.
Tanya and I both knew the conventions. We were aware of the protocols. We'd heard all the wise words and sensible advice from the senior ranks. But despite everything, the line that divided us evaporated before our eyes. I felt like it had never existed. Without it, we started to fall. And we'd have fallen all the way — there's no doubt — if it hadn't been for two things. A spell in the hospital for me. And a transfer order for her.
The hours after Tanya left turned into days and then weeks, but she was never far from my thoughts. And even after the months had become years, no one ever took her place. I often wondered whether things would be the same if our paths ever crossed again. I'd almost lost hope of that happening, though, when she did suddenly resurface. It was at the end of the case I'd just closed. And her presence showed me two things.
The flame had not burned out during our time apart.
And the line that should have separated us had been drawn for a reason.
So, with both the personal and professional sides of my life needing a shot in the arm, it's fair to say I was looking for a short-term distraction. Richard Fothergill sounded like he could fit the bill. He was a very unusual person. Because although he worked in liaison now, he'd started his service life in the field. He'd made a transition that most observers would tell you is impossible. Which statistically, it is. I've checked. And from what I've been told, only sixteen people have ever managed it.
I figured the Hancock Center was a suitably innocuous location, so I bailed out and found a good spot, near the flags and the fountains. I paused there for five minutes, watching the shoppers and tourists and office workers bracing themselves against the wind. I waited until I was certain that no one was paying me any undue attention. Then I walked north for another block, crossed the street, and made my way back up the opposite side of Michigan Avenue.
It took me twelve minutes to reach the Wrigley Building. The public entrance to the British Consulate is on the thirteenth floor, but I took the elevator to the fourteenth, to an office marked with our usual cover name — UK Trade & Investment. The receptionist was expecting me. She checked my ID and then came out from behind her desk and led me to a row of doors on the right of the lobby area, away from the main corridor. There were four. They looked like closets from the outside, but when she opened the nearest one I saw it led to a clear cylinder, about seven feet tall and three feet across. The segment facing me slid open, and she gestured for me to step inside. It was unusual for people to make me bother with this kind of thing, but after what had apparently happened here in the last couple of days I supposed a bit of stable-door bolting was inevitable. I complied, and immediately the curved glass slotted back into place behind me. I heard a gentle hiss and dry, bottled air swirled around me for fully twenty seconds. The sound died away. I waited while the machine sniffed for incriminating particles. Then an indicator light above my head turned from red to green and the panel ahead of me swung aside, releasing me into the narrow gray corridor on the other side.
The office I wanted was at the far end, on the left. The door was standing open, so I gave a cursory knock and stepped straight inside. The room was larger than I was expecting. Around twenty feet by thirty. Not a bad size for a liaison guy. In fact, the biggest I'd ever seen. There was a glass desk to my left, completely bare, with a high-tech chrome and black mesh chair behind it. A round glass coffee table to my right, covered with newspapers, and surrounded by four black leather chairs. A densely woven Oriental rug filling most of the floor space between the two areas. And another man, directly ahead of me on the far side of the room. He was on his feet, his back toward me, gazing out at the river from the central one of three large windows. He was around five feet eleven with thick, glossy gray hair clipped neatly above the collar of his blue pin-striped jacket. When he turned to greet me I saw that his lined face looked somber and dignified, like a statesman or a judge. I put him in his late fifties. He was smart. Imposing. The kind of person a corporation or government department would put on TV to break the worst kind of news. The only thing that jarred was his left arm. It was in a sling. But it wasn't the injury that struck me. I'd already heard the rumor about his recent brush with a 9 mm bullet. Fired by a fellow officer. In that very room. No. It was the material he'd used to support it that caught my eye. It was fine, blue, pin-striped wool. Exactly the same kind of cloth as his suit. A haute couture bandage. I couldn't see this guy cutting it easily in the field, anymore. He must be spending too much time behind his desk. Or in front of a mirror.
"Commander Trevellyan?" he said, offering me his hand. "David?"
"In the flesh," I said, as we shook.
"Delighted to meet you," he said, taking my arm and guiding me toward the easy chairs. "Shall we sit? My name's Fothergill, by the way. But please, call me Richard."
"Any chance of a coffee around here, Richard?"
"I'm sure we could round some up for you," Fothergill said. "Be pleased to. We've heard a lot about you. Word spreads quickly. Especially from New York. The Big Apple's a very leaky place, you know. You should remember that. Though I doubt you'll be rushing back there, anytime soon."
I didn't reply.
"No trouble en route, I hope?" he said.
"None," I said. "Why? Should there be? It's hardly an arduous journey."
"Nothing untoward at La Guardia?"
"Nothing. I used the Marine Terminal. It's small. Quiet. There was no problem at all. I wish all airports were like that."
"Well, that's good. It's a relief, actually. I'm just glad we were able to pull the right strings. Get the NYPD to back off for long enough to get you out."
"Well, the New York people did the actual string pulling, obviously. But I'm happy we're here to offer you a port in a storm, as it were. No use them getting you out if you had nowhere safe to go."
"Are you confusing me with someone else? No one got me out of anything. I'd finished what I was doing over there. And the police had no reason to be sniffing around me."
"Of course," Fothergill said, pulling a newspaper from the bottom of the pile and placing it in front of me. "Whatever works for you. I completely understand."
The paper was a copy of yesterday's New York Times. It was folded to emphasize the story beneath a double-width photograph. The picture showed a house festooned with crime-scene tape. The headline read BUTCHERED IN THE BRONX: WOMAN, MEN MASSACRED IN UNEXPLAINED, SAVAGE ATTACK. I didn't need to read the report. I knew they wouldn't have got the details right. And what happened in that house didn't strike me as unduly savage, given the circumstances. So instead I took a moment to glance around the room, checking the walls and furniture for signs of bullet damage. I wanted to know if the story about how he'd been injured was true. Being shot in your own office by a colleague did seem a little unusual. Not to mention embarrassing. But then, I'd known this guy less than two minutes and already I was beginning to understand how it could happen. Only if it had been me pulling the trigger, he'd have been left needing more than a fancy sling.
"Interesting story," I said, thinking of the last time I'd seen Tanya. "Someone must have had a pretty good reason to do all that."
"A very good reason," he said. "I hear the first officer to respond lost his breakfast, the scene was so brutal. Which is something, for a cop used to working the Bronx."
"Really?" I said. "I wouldn't know. I've never been there."
Well, I'd been there once, actually. To one house. To take care of one piece of business.
"Of course you haven't," he said, tapping the side of his nose. "Of course, the NYPD think otherwise."
"They've been wrong before," I said.
"Not this time. I understand they're very confident."
"How so? I hear there were no survivors. No witnesses. No usable forensics."
I knew there were none. I'd gone out of my way to make sure.
"But they do have the victim's identity," he said. "And that tells them a lot."
"Which victim?" I said. "Weren't there several?"
I remembered each one's face. Their clothes. Their smell. What they'd been doing as I tracked them through the house. How they looked as I lowered them, lifeless, to the ground and moved on to the next one in line.
"There were eight or nine, they think," he said.
"I'd say more like seven," I said. "From what I heard."
Only four of them had been any good, though. The others should have found another line of work.
"It's the woman they're focusing on," he said.
And why not? That's exactly what I'd done. Though for an entirely different reason.
"How chivalrous," I said.
"No," he said. "Just practical. A lot of things stand out about her."
"I'm sure they do."
"I'm serious. The way she was singled out, for example. She was the last to go, you know."
I did know. Because I'd planned it that way. I hadn't wanted any interruptions.
"Are they sure about that?" I said.
"Yes," he said. "They're certain."
"Then maybe she was hiding when, whatever it was, all kicked off. Maybe the others were trying to protect her."
They didn't try very hard. But it wouldn't have mattered if they had. Nothing and no one could have saved her that night.
"That's what the NYPD think," he said. "That the men were her bodyguards."
"They didn't do such a good job, then," I said. "They hardly put up a fight. By the sound of it. She should have hired more carefully."
I remembered the misplaced sense of peace in the house, when the final guard was dead. The stillness. The silence. The inevitability, once the last obstacle had been removed.
"The police don't think it was the guards' fault," he said. "They're not blaming them at all."
"Why not?" I said.
I felt like I was back there, moving from room to room, feeling her presence, knowing the end was near.
"They were all ex-military," he said. "Well trained. Heavily armed. No trace of drink or drugs. None of them had been sleeping on the job. They were just overwhelmed."
"Implying a number of attackers, then, surely?" I said.
I'd had her in my sights once before, and then stood aside to let the authorities take their shot. I wasn't going to make that mistake again. And she knew it.
"No," he said. "Just one. A professional. Someone who does this kind of thing for a living."
I had warned her. She knew I'd be coming.
"They don't know that," I said. "The police are just fishing."
"No," he said. "Look. These guards were killed one at time. Silently, so as not to alarm the others. Or the neighbors. Some had their necks broken. Others were stabbed, neatly, between the ribs. One was suffocated. They were picked off methodically to give ... someone ... access to this woman."
He was right. It had been methodical. A means to an end. Collateral damage. Nothing more. And no worse than you can expect, if you sign up for the wrong side.
"That proves nothing," I said.
"And there's the way she was killed," he said. "Someone physically dragged her out of her panic room. Then shot her in the head. Twice. From close range."
I hadn't wanted to touch her, but there'd been no choice. She wasn't dignified enough to come out on her own. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Die Twice by Andrew Grant. Copyright © 2010 Andrew Grant. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.