By Gayle Lynds
ST. MARTIN'S PRESS Copyright © 2004 Gayle Hallenbeck Lynds
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-312-30144-8
Chapter One May 2003 Brussels, Belgium
In one of his trademark conservative suits, Gino Malko strolled through the rue Saìnte-Catherine area in the heart of the lower city, enjoying the cool sunlight of the northern spring as he swung his special ebony cane with the silver handle. From time to time, he threw back his head, shut his eyes, and let the sun warm his face, somehow avoiding the other walkers as if he had built-in radar.
Eventually, he turned into a café, Le Cerf Agile, and sat at an outdoor table covered in white lace.
The eager waiter bustled over. "Good morning again, monsieur. Another fine day, eh?" he asked in English. "Your usual?"
"Thank you, Ruud," Malko said, smiling, playing his role.
Malko was a heavy tipper, so the waiter returned quickly with café au lair and a Belgian pastry. Malko nodded his appreciation, poured from the two silver pitchers, stirred, and bit into the pastry. He leaned back at his ease to watch the passing throng of locals, NATO personnel, businessmen, tourists, and EU staff members. It was early for tourists, but the fine spring weather had attracted a swarm.
He was on his second pastry when he spotted the target. He casually picked up his cane and moved naturally into the stream of pedestrians. Apparently, the density of the crowd forced him to hold the cane upright.
In the normal course of things, he bumped into one or two people, including his target, expressed his horrified regrets each time, and finally, as if the crush were too much, turned back toward the café.
A woman screamed. Everyone looked in her direction. Near her, a tall, slender man with a Mediterranean complexion had collapsed on the sidewalk, his hand clutching his chest.
As Brussels' thick traffic surged past, people converged. They shouted in French, Flemish, and English.
"Give him air!"
"Call the paramedics!"
"Can anyone administer CPR?"
"I'm a doctor-stand aside!"
Now back at his table at the café, Malko sipped coffee and chewed his pastry and watched as the doctor dove into the riveted throng. The spectators whispered into one another's ears and peered down. As Malko finished his pastry and dusted his fingers, a shiver of horror swept around the circle.
Almost immediately, a man in shirtsleeves fought his way out, dialing a cell. His face was pink with excitement. "There's been a tragedy on the street in the rue Saìnte-Catherine district!" he reported in French. "Heart attack-a doctor just said so. What? Yes, he's dead. Important? Hold your hat: It's EU Competition Commissioner Franco Peri! Get it on the air at once. Yes, the lead. Pull whatever else you have off!"
Gino Malko smiled, left euros on the lace-covered table, and headed off, cane swinging. He would be back in his hotel in five minutes. Checked out in ten. And in fifteen, taxiing to the airport.
July 2003 The University of California Santa Barbara
It was after nine o'clock in the morning, and Campbell Hall was crammed with students sitting in row after row, rising toward the back of the amphitheater. Liz Sansborough studied them as she gave her last lecture of the summer term. There was something about their indifferent, interested, scrubbed, dirty, sleepy, alert faces that radiated hope.
They reminded her of her years at Cambridge, when she was their age and searching for a clue, too. She would probably continue to search until she keeled over from work and the occasional but necessary martini. The fact that they showed up class after class made her optimistic that they would not quit the hunt either.
"Marx claimed violence was the midwife of history," she told them. "But fascism wasn't created by an aristocracy any more than communism was by a peasantry. Both were the result of political ideologues, from Trotsky and Lenin to Hitler and Mussolini, and each political system was born in violence. They and their followers resorted to 'overkill' out of ideological intoxication-a substitute religion, if you will-to create a new world and a new human. In the cases of Stalin and Hitler, they used terrorism and violence not only against other armies but against civilians, including their own, just as dictators do today. Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and the al-Qaeda network are modern examples." She paused to let the summary sink in, then smiled. "All right, now it's your turn. Where do you think all of this fits in with what we've been talking about in terms of the psychology of violence?"
She watched their feet shuffle and their gazes lower. The hands of the usual suspects shot up, but she wanted someone else to show some mettle.
"Come on, brave-hearted souls," she coaxed. "Who wants to take a wild stab?" A few more hands rose. "All right, you look as if you'll have something interesting to say." She pointed a finger. There was no seating chart for such a large lecture class, and although she recognized the twentysomething, she was unsure of her name.
The young woman had a sheet of pale blond hair that hung straight, masking half her face. She tossed her head to free her eyes and mouth, perhaps even to breathe. She said earnestly, "Adult aggression and violence can stem from early-childhood experience, Professor Sansborough, but that's not always the complete explanation."
"In fact, that explanation could be construed as too easy," she said, gaining confidence. "A cheap shot. 'Good' people sometimes get seduced into violence by situational forces. They ... they get caught up in a violent moment, and their real selves sort of get lost." She stopped, groping for more.
Liz nodded. "In other words, their personal identities get suspended in a kind of moral disengagement. They use justification and interpretation to legitimatize their actions. Ergo, the 'herd mentality' and the 'power of the mob' and how an average person can wind up doing something despicable and violent and evil that they'll never forget and may never be able to forgive themselves for...."
For Liz, the rest of the lecture sped past. When it was over, she was feeling wired. She gathered her notes and stuffed them into her briefcase. She was not supposed to have taught today. In fact, she should be in Paris right now, taking some vacation time with Sarah and Asher. But in the end, she had been unable to make herself leave this final lecture of the summer session to her assistant. It was too important. In it, she summarized everything her students should have learned, and if they paid attention and went back over their notes, each had a very good chance of not only doing well on the test but actually learning the material.
The lights dimmed in response to California's latest energy worries, and the auditorium emptied quickly. As they often did, a few stayed to walk with her across the grassy campus to her office.
"But shouldn't the 'good' person resist the power of the mob?" one asked.
Tall eucalyptus trees swayed in the ocean breeze. The air smelled fresh, of sea salt and sunshine. Liz breathed deeply, enjoying the summery morning, enjoying her life.
"Absolutely," she agreed. "But with that, we're getting into ethics."
"It's not an easy thing to do," another said quietly. "To resist, I mean."
"Right," said a third. "When the surf's up, sometimes you've just gotta dive in."
"And sometimes not," Liz reminded them. She liked their questions. They were thinking, which was the major point of an education, as far as she was concerned. "Ask yourselves what it takes to say no when everyone else is insisting yes. Once you start to consider how you'd like to behave, you begin to build up a savings account against the times when you face difficult decisions, and you will face them."
"I'm really glad you didn't get sucked completely into the TV thing," the youth who liked surfing said. "I mean, it's great you're still teaching."
"I can't imagine I'll ever quit," she assured him. "Now that we've got a professional producer and crew for the series, I have more time for you."
They smiled and peppered her with questions about the new episodes on the Cold War that would be aired.
"You'll have to be patient," she told them. "I'm sworn to secrecy."
They liked that and laughed. When the small group reached the psychology building, she shooed them on their way. One young man was particularly sweet. He had a crush on her and was often among the group that stayed late.
Tongue-tied, he managed to mumble, "Great lecture, Dr. Sansborough," before shuffling off.
Liz pushed in through the door and climbed to the third floor. The building was faded pink concrete, utilitarian, without pretense, which she liked. The corridors bustled with staff and students. When she arrived at her office, Kirk Tedesco was inside, leaning back in her chair, his big Rockports propped up on her desk.
He was reading TV Guide. He lowered it and grinned. "Hi, babe. How was the howling mob?"
Her office was cluttered with books and papers. Kirk was the calm in the center of the research storm. She smiled in greeting. "Sharp as little tacks." She closed the door and dropped her briefcase onto the floor next to her gym bag.
"Right. In your wildest." Kirk was a psych professor, too, specializing in personality disorders. He was so easygoing that his scholarship was on the light side, but he was friendly and fun, and she had grown to depend on his companionship.
"No, really, Kirk," she told him. "This is a great class. They're interested in the subject. I'm glad I stayed for them. Paris can wait until tomorrow."
He picked up TV Guide again and waved it at her. "Nice article in here about you and the new season."
She took it from him, pleased. The first four shows for this new series were in the can, the next three were being filmed, and she was researching future ones. Her gaze ran down the story:
Sansborough's Cold War Series Is Back!
One word-and a simple image-said it all. Last month, posters that read "July 29" in scarlet red, with "Top Secret" stamped across in black, plastered New York City's bus shelters. No photos. No title.
But to aficionados, it was a code that sent shudders of delight that the wait for Dr. Liz Sansborough's sleeper hit, Secrets of the Cold War, to return was almost over.
A Compass network executive revealed that among the chilling Cold War situations to be aired was that of a leading CIA official's illegal tampering with presidential politics. Also on tap was a hushed-up FBI scandal that included a KGB defector who was a master of disguise.
In just three years, Dr. Sansborough's series has grown from a local cable show into an underground sensation.
As for next season, the psychology professor tantalized us with the prospect of juicy details about some of the Cold War's most elusive and deadly players-global assassins such as the renowned Abu Nidal and lesser-known, but many say mythical, figures like the Carnivore and the Abbot....
"Good coverage," she agreed, and tossed it back at him.
"It's more than that. Someday your face is going to be as famous as Julia Roberts's. You're already a hell of a lot prettier."
"And you're full of blue sky." But she grinned, grateful, because he had been a reluctant supporter of the series.
The window in her office looked back over the campus, north toward the sawtooth peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains. She was high enough up that no one else could see her. She peeled her shirt over her head and stepped out of her trousers.
"Nice jogging bra," Kirk said. "Nice thong bikini."
She ignored him and stepped into her running shorts. "Aren't you getting bored? You drop by to see me do this three or four times a week, you and your lame excuses. You've got too much time on your hands, Kirk. Hey, you didn't even bother with an excuse this time." She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and slipped a band around it.
"Definitely not bored. And I have a very good excuse." He lowered his feet to the floor and advanced on her. He was a square man, early forties, nice big shoulders, going a little soft in the middle, which she found endearing.
"Go away." She shook her head, amused, and knelt to tie the laces of her shoes. "This is my jogging time."
"So I noticed. You look much more appetizing in shorts than in that prison jumpsuit you wear for karate."
With his cheerful face, freckles, and red hair, Kirk was easy on the eyes. They had arrived at UCSB in 1998, the recipients of two brand-new chairs funded by the prestigious Aylesworth Foundation. In the same department, and single, they had gravitated toward each other and become friends. The rest had developed slowly.
"So tell me what your excuse is." She jumped up and lifted her knees, loosening her muscles.
"The dean's summer bash. This afternoon, remember? It begins at three o'clock. Want to meet there, or are you going to let me pick you up?"
"Let's meet." She patted his shirt and gave him a quick kiss on the lips.
He grabbed for her, and she dodged.
"You're going to get all sweaty," he warned, eyes twinkling.
"Looking forward to it, too." She found her sunglasses and visor.
As she locked her door and zipped her keys into her fanny pack, he ambled to his office. Eagerly, she ran down the stairs and out into the hazy California sunshine.
When it was ten o'clock in the morning in California, it was seven o'clock in the evening in France. As Liz Sansborough left for her run in Santa Barbara, some six thousand miles away Sarah Walker and Asher Flores strolled across the lobby of their Latin Quarter hotel, holding hands.
They were a handsome couple, somewhere between the ages of thirty-five and forty. He had curly black hair and a strong face, with the kind of sharp gaze that was never fully at rest. She was tall and lanky, with short auburn hair. A dark mole just above the right corner of her smiling mouth gave her a dramatic air, and the small finger on her left hand was crooked, hinting at some past athletic endeavor gone amiss.
They had arrived in Paris the night before and checked into her cousin's favorite hotel. Her cousin, who was joining them for just three days, had postponed her arrival until tomorrow. Neither Sarah nor Asher was the type to wait around. They had gone sight-seeing, visiting the Louvre and other traditional tourist places for which they had never had time, and returned to change for dinner.
The night portier caught sight of them through the glass lobby door. He pulled it open and bowed. "Mademoiselle Sansborough," he greeted her. "A pleasant surprise. I did not realize you were staying with us again."
Sarah shot him a smile as she headed out under the awning. "Sorry, but I'm not Liz Sansborough. She was delayed."
Excerpted from The Coil by Gayle Lynds Copyright © 2004 by Gayle Hallenbeck Lynds. Excerpted by permission.
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