Authors: Kevin Wignall
ALSO BY KEVIN WIGNALL
Among the Dead
Who is Conrad Hirst?
“Hal Checks Out”
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2016 by Kevin Wignall
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
Cover design by bürosüd
Siri was all in black. She saw her reflection in the windows of Mr. Olofsson’s car as she walked past and she liked the totality of it—black leather jacket, tight skirt, patterned black leggings, black knee socks, boots. It made her skin look even paler than it was, and her hair, casually spiked, was almost as translucent.
She’d thought about dyeing her hair black too, because blonde hair was all too common in northern Sweden, but keeping it blonde somehow reminded her that she wouldn’t always be here. She’d escape to university first, then to the world beyond—London, Paris, New York, and who knew where else besides.
Pia was already at the bus stop and so was the older guy who always got on at their stop. Siri nodded to Pia as she got there and gave a half-smile but they didn’t speak. Sometimes they did, today they didn’t, not out of animosity, just a quiet understanding that there wasn’t always a need.
The bus came, not the usual driver, but the same passengers. There were the two middle-aged women sitting at the front who talked continuously and got off at the next stop. There were the two boys from school—they usually nodded to Siri but never spoke. Pia knew them and always sat with them, sometimes laughing and joking. And that was it, at least for the next few stops.
Siri walked two-thirds of the way up the bus and sat down. She didn’t walk all the way to the back because the older guy who got on with them always sat on the back seat, and stayed on after they got off for school. It was just one of those weird unwritten rules—they all sat in the same seats, every morning, no change of routine, not ever
Siri put her earphones in and turned on her music, then closed her eyes against the bright September sunlight and relaxed with the smooth movement of the bus pulling away and gliding along the road towards another day.
A few minutes later she felt it slowing down, then stop, and she knew that the two women would be getting off—normally they’d chat with the driver for a few seconds, but perhaps not today if they didn’t know him. They set off again, Siri’s eyes still closed but glowing orange inside, the music cocooning her.
She felt the bus braking a couple of times more than it usually would have done, the driver slowing down at stops where the familiar driver would have sped past, knowing no one ever boarded there. They didn’t stop though, and then the bus picked up a little speed on the open road.
She became lost in herself and her music, thoughts falling away. Once, briefly, she opened her eyes, saw Pia chatting enthusiastically with the two boys, saw the kaleidoscope of shadows and sunlight flickering along the road edge and among the trees. She shut it all out again and could almost have fallen asleep.
Then she opened her eyes a second time, because in some odd way she could feel that something was wrong, almost as if she was moving sideways rather than forwards. The bus was braking, but the movement seemed wrong somehow. The older guy appeared at her side, quite suddenly, making her jump a little. She thought he was walking down to the front of the bus.
She tried to look forward, to see what was happening, but the older guy stopped and turned abruptly and she realized now that his actions were urgent and directed at her. Before she could respond, he grabbed her, pulling her from her seat with frightening ease. She screamed, the sound of it muffled and contained inside her own head by the music from the earphones.
Briefly, she caught a glimpse of Pia and the two boys. They’d stopped talking, she thought, but none of them turned to see why she was screaming. One of the boys had his face pressed against the window. Siri didn’t have time to think through what it meant because the man was pushing her further up the aisle, a sickening strength in him.
She fell backwards, crashing to the floor in slow motion and without any noticeable impact, as if she was falling against some opposing momentum, as if gravity had briefly failed. And then the man fell on top of her, and she could see him speaking to her, looking desperate and terrifying, but she couldn’t hear him, only the music.
She felt a jolt, and suddenly he held himself tighter against her body, and she saw that his hands were gripping the underneath of the seats, pulling himself harder against her, the weight crushing, suffocating her. She screamed again, looked imploringly, but his own eyes were elsewhere, lost in the monumental effort of keeping her pinned down.
Another jolt, this one shuddering through her, and instantly the man was gone, his weight lifting so abruptly that for a moment she felt she, too, was flying, but she was still almost where he had thrown her. She felt the cold air, and turning, saw that the emergency door at the back of the bus had opened, and without knowing it, she scrambled up, to her knees, to her feet, leaping out onto the road and running maybe a dozen steps before the swiftness of her own escape finally caught up with her and she stumbled to the
One of her earphones fell out, and hearing the world, the desperate braking of a vehicle on the road, the blare of a horn, she yanked the other one free and turned to look behind her. Only now did she understand what had just happened, but it was almost impossible to believe it
She was sitting in the middle of the road, looking at the wreckage of the bus she’d been traveling on and the timber truck with which it had collided. Cut trees were strewn along the Tarmac, and both vehicles were so mangled it was hard to see where one began and the other ended.
She heard someone running towards her, the driver of the vehicle she’d heard braking hard. He stopped, crouched down, put a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t look at him but she could see in her peripheral vision that he was wearing a check shirt, work clothes.
“My God, are you okay?”
His voice was full of incredulity and horror. She nodded.
“There are other people.”
He’d taken out his phone and held it to his ear, but said to her, “I don’t think so. Stay here.”
He got up and walked tentatively toward the wreckage, speaking into his phone, the words not quite audible though she guessed it was the police. And it wasn’t the sight of the crushed and twisted metal that convinced her the man was right, but the disturbing stillness. No one else could have survived that accident.
She should not have survived it herself, and felt strangely light-headed with the realization that she was unharmed, that she was sitting here alive in the middle of the road, and a man she had seen every day, but with whom she had never exchanged a single word, had undoubtedly saved her life.
Ramon Martinez had been living under an alias in this prosperous Madrid suburb for nearly two years now, and had probably reached the point of believing he’d never be found. Maybe it had gone beyond that, and he’d fooled himself into thinking they weren’t even looking for him anymore.
still looking for him, and after eighteen months of drawing a blank, they’d finally employed Dan Hendricks. In the end, that’s how simple it had been—Ramon Martinez didn’t know it, but his time was almost up.
Dan had spent the last two days watching him from the building across the street. He’d had a grandstand view into the Martinez family apartment, observing the man’s day-to-day life with his wife, his young son and baby girl, the maid and the live-in nanny.
This morning, confident of their routine, Dan went one better and walked out of his own building just as Martinez set off to walk the boy the short distance to kindergarten. Dan fell in behind them as they strolled without haste in the autumnal sunshine.
The boy was maybe five or six, wearing a little rucksack, and he talked animatedly to his father as they walked along, his voice carrying on the still morning air. Martinez responded now and then in good humor, even showing contrition when his son chastised him for laughing at something that wasn’t meant to be funny.
They turned right into a long quiet street and Dan dropped back a little, though he needn’t have worried. Martinez was oblivious, as if the matters being explained by his son were the only things of importance in his world.
Briefly, longingly, Dan thought of his own son, but he packed the memory away quickly, determined not to let his concentration slip, determined not to see parallels or even similarities. Nothing was the same, and in truth, he could hardly compare his own life to that of Ramon Martinez.
But it seemed Martinez had found a real happiness here and Dan couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, a little advance regret for what he was about to do to him and his family. And with that t
hought he stopped and turned, walking back again and waiting in the window until Martinez returned on his own twenty minutes later.
Dan had nothing more to do for now. He thought about heading back to the hotel but, instead, lowered himself into the fold-up sun lounger he’d positioned near the window and let his thoughts drift, soaking up the immediate silence, the indistinct sounds of traffic in the wider city somewhere beyond.
When his phone rang, he checked his watch, surprised to see that forty minutes had elapsed, time in which he’d thought of almost nothing. It was Hugo Beck, probably pretending to be interested in how things were going, but actually calling with a new job. Dan didn’t mind that, and would rather keep busy than not.
He answered and Hugo said, “How’s it going? Any problems?”
“None at all. Charlie and Benoit fly in this afternoon. We’ll pick up the target in the morning.”
“Great, great. They should have come to you a year ago. But you know . . .”
He fell into silence and Dan said, “What’s the job, Hugo?”
“I’m not calling about a job. In fact, I’m not sure you should take anything else on for a little while.” That was out of character enough to get Dan’s attention, but before he could even ask what Hugo was talking about, he went on, “What do these names have in common—Mike Naismith, Paul Gardener, Rich Woodward, Karl Wittman?”
Dan had worked with them all, and considered a couple of them friends, including Mike Naismith who’d been killed a few weeks before in a hit-and-run in Baltimore, but he couldn’t see any obvious link beyond that. Even so, he didn’t like the sound of this. Hugo liked to talk in riddles at the best of times, but there was something in his tone now that suggested this was more serious than a guessing game.
“I don’t know, Hugo, why don’t you tell me?”
“How about the fact they’re all dead?”
“What are you talking about?” Dan laughed a little, dismissively. Yes, people got killed in their line of work, but casualties had dropped off since the spikes of Iraq and Afghanistan. People got killed, but not in those numbers. And besides, he’d spoken to Karl a couple of weeks ago. “Hugo, Mike’s dead, but the others—”
“I’m telling you they’re all dead. Naismith you know about. Paul Gardener was killed last week—someone broke into his house in Durban, Paul disturbed them, got killed in the struggle. Rich Woodward was last week too—he was in Athens to meet a potential client, killed in a street robbery. So far, it’s only coincidences, no?”
Uneasy, almost not wanting to hear it, Dan said, “What about Karl?”
“Exactly. Coincidences can take time to produce, but it looks like whoever it is, they’re speeding things up. Karl was found day before yesterday on a building site in Munich. Executed, hands behind the back, shot in the head. The official story is a gangland feud, but . . .”
Dan didn’t respond at first. He and Karl had talked after Mike’s death. Karl had been pretty cut up about it, and it seemed unreal that he was dead too, that his grief had been wasted.
It was obvious that Hugo thought the deaths were linked, and it was hard not to share that view, so when Dan finally spoke, he said only, “Who do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. Worst case? CIA—a cleanup operation.”
“It’s more than two years since any of us worked for them.”
But they’d all done their fair share before that, carrying out the kind of work the agency couldn’t or didn’t want to do for itself. It had all dried up at around the same time that some of it had become public but, until now, Dan had never expected it to come back at them like this.
Hugo said, “What’s two years to the CIA? But look, we don’t know it is them. I’ll see what I can find out and let you know.”
“Okay, I’ll call you tomorrow, once we’re done.” He thought about it, then added, “Who else could it be, if not Langley?”
“Dan, if those four deaths are connected . . . I don’t think it could be anyone else.”
“Okay. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.”
“Good. And good work on Martinez.”
Dan ended the call and sat for a moment or two. In theory, his life had always had its risks, but this was the first time he could remember that there had seemed a tangible threat. If it turned out to be the CIA, and they were set on wiping out a lot of the people who’d contracted for them, he wasn’t sure what he could do about it—he certainly doubted it would be enough to lie low in Thailand for a few months.
His instinct was still to fight, no matter who it was on the other side, and he had advantages—a few of these other guys had settled into some sort of domestic routine and that had probably made them easier to pick off. Dan knew he’d be harder to trace, and that for the time being, they probably wouldn’t think to come looking for him here.
He glanced around the empty apartment, his brief moment of superiority crumbling with the reminder of the life he was actually living. The edge he had over the others was that he had nothing much to lose, and he wasn’t sure how much of an edge that was or if it was worth the price he’d paid.
Dan stood and looked through the scope. Martinez was in the sitting room, talking to the nanny. She was young and attractive, and Dan watched, somehow dreading that Martinez might be about to disappoint him, showing himself up as less than the perfect family man he seemed. But the body language between the two was entirely platonic, and Dan smiled as Martinez nodded his assent to some request and they left the room in opposite directions.
Dan sat again, conscious of the irony of his situation since receiving that call from Hugo and how instantly things had changed. Time was almost up for Ramon Martinez, and Dan still felt a little regret that he was about to bring this family idyll to a close, but it seemed Dan’s future was now no less certain. This was the only real difference between the two of them, an empty apartment, and another full of life.