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Authors: Tim Lees

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CHAPTER 22

RESCUE

T
he light was still on when I woke. A dismal, thirty-­watt bulb in a metal cage screwed to the ceiling. Glad I didn't pay the bills in here.

I woke because I had to piss. And, as so often, the reverse was also true: my throat felt parched and sore from shouting, like I hadn't had a drink in years. I needed coffee—­good, strong Hungarian coffee, and perhaps a shot of something on the side, as well, the way the workmen did it in the cafés here.

I went over to the door and, chastened by my misbehavior last night, called out, very politely, “Hello? Anyone there? Hello? Hello?”

I knocked, expecting nothing.

“I'm awake. Hello?”

The judas hole slid back, so suddenly I jumped. Someone growled at me.

I said, “Coffee? Breakfast . . . ?”

He growled some more—­I couldn't understand a word he said—­then put his wristwatch to the hole so I could see it.

It said 5:17.

I couldn't believe it. I'd thought it must be nine at least.

So I went back to my incarceration.

Sitting there. No way to tell the time. Nothing but pale blue walls, blue ceiling . . . Maybe they were that color to calm you down. Remind you of the sky, perhaps, “that little tent of blue.” Fact is, there's nothing worse than being locked away with no idea when you'll get out. I sat down, I stood up. I peed about a dozen times. I felt panic and anger and had to talk them both down, reason with them. I tried to sleep again, simply to pass the time. It didn't work. Time passed, though. Slowly. Like a thousand years of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

T
he doctor wore a loud check jacket, like a vaudeville comedian, and he had his hair brushed straight from one side of his forehead to the other, then plastered down with grease. He looked as if a cow had just crapped on his head.

“Mouth,” he said, and peered into my mouth.

“Eyes,” he said, and shone a light into my eyes.

I blinked.

“Do you hear voices? In here?” He tapped his temple. “Now or any other time?”

Yes,
I thought.
I'm hearing yours
.

“No,” I said.

His forehead creased up like an old rag.

“I'm not lying,” I said.

He made a small note on his clipboard.

“Beliefs or ideas others may think are unusual? Ideas that cause distress?”

“Can't think of any.”

“Do you ever—­ah.” He sat back, cleared his throat. “Have desire to harm yourself?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Desire to harm others? Hm?”

He smelled of garlic. At 10:00 a.m. Who smells of garlic at 10:00 a.m.?

I looked at him, with his stupid cowpat haircut and his stinking breath.

“No,” I told him, and this time I was definitely lying.

“Undo your shirt, please.”

He sounded my chest. Then he put a cuff on my arm and took my blood pressure. I didn't like that; it always feels as if the cuff's just going to squeeze and squeeze and take my arm off. But it stopped, he did his reading, then stuck a thermometer into my ear and noted the results down on his little board. He exchanged some grunts with my guard.

“Am I normal?” I said. “Am I healthy?”

But he didn't deign to answer me.

I
wasn't taken back to the interrogation room. Instead, the Colonel came to visit me there in my cell. A guard gave him a wooden chair, which he sat on backwards, folding his arms over the backrest, watching me. His trim moustache peeped up over his cuffs, his blue eyes slitted: a soldier in a bunker.

That went on a long time. Then he said, “You know that they will charge you for the murders. You know this, yes?”

“That's ridiculous.”

He shrugged. “Perhaps.”


You
know it's ridiculous.”

“But they need someone. And—­well. You are here.” He was very calm about it. Just sat there, watching me. No, it really didn't worry him a bit. “Perhaps you need me to explain,” he said, “how bad this will become?”

I didn't answer him.

“You are thinking it will not become bad because you are not guilty. Because your government will intervene. But I must assure you: you are not at home now. You are hiding things from us. You may, of course, choose to reveal those things and hope that somebody is interested enough to listen. Or . . . well.”

He stood. He picked the chair up easily in one hand, knocked the door to be let out.

Looking back, he said, “This is difficult for us, you understand. Maybe you are innocent. How do we know? Your organization does not recognize you. Nothing is authenticated. You are not a tourist, not on business. You tell us one thing, but . . .” He shrugged, helpless.

I said, “Um?”

“If we had proof . . . ? Something we could validate, perhaps . . . ?”

There were footsteps in the corridor, the clack-­clack-­clack of studded boots.

“Your Registry ID? Or—­I don't know. You have access to their intranet? A user name? A password?”

I heard a big key scrabbling in the lock.

“If you can give us these—­I cannot promise, but it might help. I will speak for you. I have . . . some influence . . .”

He smiled, lifting his brows expectantly.

“Your user name?” he said again. “Your password?”

The door opened.

“Some other proof, perhaps?”

He nodded to the guard, stepped out into the corridor.

“No? A shame.”

I told him, “Wait—­”

And the door slammed shut.

They wanted me willing, frightened. Desperate to talk.

I hadn't got there yet.

A
nd yet it isn't just the fear. That's there, of course, and you can't get away from it: realizing how big and how corrupt the national machine of justice is, how easily these ­people can do anything they want with you; that human rights come to an end the instant that you're out of common sight.

There's more: there's the desire to please.

We're pack animals. Social creatures. Show us an alpha male, and half of us will fawn all over him, roll on our backs and ask to have our tummies tickled.

I didn't see it at the time, but I can see it now.

They let me stew. No big man, slapping me about the head. I got a meal, though it was hardly Cordon Bleu. I got a mug of thin, sweet tea. No one said anything.

And I waited for the Colonel to come back. Thinking,
Maybe I should trust him. Maybe he's my chance and I should tell him everything. All those questions that he asked about the Registry, and every site and source of energy from here to Moscow. What harm could it do?
Chances were, they knew it anyway. Better than I did, come to that.

Or maybe I should just assume they're lying.
Wouldn't be the first time. Wouldn't be the last. . .

The key turned in the lock. I stiffened, straightened. My fingers smoothed my shirt-­front, trying to smarten myself up.

But it was not the Colonel. Not this time.

It was Detective Ganz.

She looked pale and sickly in the dim lights, and her eyes flicked left and right, checking the corridor.

“You are to come now. Quick, please.”

But I remembered how she'd put me in there, and I hung back.

“Come! Quick. Quick, please.”

Her voice was low and hoarse. I didn't trust her. On the other hand, I wasn't going to sit there in the cell simply to prove how mad at her I was. So I walked out and she locked the door behind me.

There was no one in the corridor.

Halfway down the hall stood a small bench. She stopped and slipped the key under the seat cushion.

We didn't pass the main desk. We took a back way and a fire exit and walked into a parking lot and got into her car.

“No paperwork?” I said.

She started up the engine.

“Nothing to sign?”

She backed out rapidly, in too much haste.

“Not even an apology?”

She brushed a hand across her eyes.

“You mean I'm free to go?”

She turned the car, flashed a badge at the man on the gate, pulled out onto the street.

“You are already gone, Mr. Copeland.”

“Yeah. And very glad, I'm sure.”

“You have been gone for two days. There is proof.”

“Deniability. Of course.” I sulked a few minutes. Then I said, “Not having had access to a mirror for the last few hours, I can't be sure of this. But I'd bet I've got a visible bruise or two, just here and there. And I can smell that fucking chemical toilet, even now. So I will be making a complaint. I will be making a very long complaint, and at the very highest levels.”

The building fronts flipped past. She lit a cigarette. She said, “You left from Budapest Ferenc Liszt International, Terminal 2B. American Airlines to New York JFK International Airport. There is your record at passport control. There is CCTV footage. You used your card to purchase meatballs and coffee at a concessionary stand. And your flight touched down successfully at JFK, where you were admitted to the United States. So it is clear we can no longer hold you, yes?”

“What?”

“We are going to America, Mr. Copeland. You, me. Once we have necessary documents. Now tell me you are pleased?”

“I'm . . .”

“Your zoo-­man. He has come to light. And we will follow him, and bring him back. And you will get your passport. Yes now?”

 

CHAPTER 23

GOING TO AMERICA

I
did not look at Anna Ganz.

She sat beside me, all the way to Paris, and then, much longer, all the way to Newark. (We did not get the nice direct AA route my doppelganger had pursued. I don't know why, but I think it had to do with money. Most things did.) Once I woke with her head lolling on my shoulder, and for a moment felt a little thrill of pleasure, even excitement. Then I froze.

She'd had me locked up. She'd had me questioned, isolated, almost tried for murder.

Well, no. Not as she saw it, at least. Things had sort of . . . got away from her. She'd explained it all over a glass of wine while we'd been stuck at Charles de Gaulle, waiting for the connection. I will say, she was very matter-­of-­fact. No apology, no self-­justifying, no excuses. I suppose I liked that. In a way.

“You must understand,” she said. “Russians were in charge for many years. They had inner circles—­in police, in government, in law, in medicine, wherever. Before that, Germans. Russians have been gone a long time now. Germans longer. But circles are still there. Circles inside circles. Always.”

“So it's the Russians, then.”

I don't know if she caught my sarcasm. She spoke on, very controlled, very level, staring at the wineglass cradled in her hands.

“Not Russians. But circles still. They are . . . ­people. Cliques. With their own aims. Their own plans.” She shrugged. “I did not expect they would involve themselves. I did not . . . anticipate.”

“Well. Thank you. That gives me great comfort.”

“Mr. Copeland.” She looked straight at me now; her eyes were an unusual shade, a kind of honey-­brown, almost golden in the bar lights. “You come to me, you tell me something very strange. Something I must always see as suspect. I am police, I cannot help this. You were arrested. This is my work. My job. What happened next, I do not know. There are ­people want to speak to you for reasons I am not informed. My job is to catch killer. A man I now believe is in the United States, and I plan to apprehend.”

I took a big drink this time. Looked around.

“That's public spirited.”

She didn't answer me. But later, as we waited in Departures, she said, “You dislike Hungarian police, I think. Perhaps all Hungarians. You think we are not good.”

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

“We take bribes. We can be bought. In your eyes, we are corrupt.”

I didn't answer. I watched a very fat man manipulate a very fat suitcase, humping it forwards a few inches at a time with his knee and boot-­toe: bump, bump, bump.

“It is true. It is true of all police, but perhaps more true of ours. That does not mean we do not have a job to do, Mr. Copeland. ­People to protect. There is still honor, there is still justice. Not the American way, perhaps. But still true. Do you understand?”

I grunted, still smarting from my days' imprisonment. But later, I felt bad about it, especially the way that she got treated when we finally reached Newark. Though that, as I say, was later. We'd still a way to go till then.

 

CHAPTER 24

THE VERGE OF GREAT THINGS

A
t Newark, we queued. There was the usual mix of boredom and impatience, homecomers and holidaymakers caught up in this antechamber to reality, this in-­between place, governed by surveillance and bureaucracy. Laptops tucked away, cell phones itching to be used. Everyone held incommunicado, clutching their passports and their visa waivers and their customs declarations.

I didn't have a passport. Someone—­no guess who—­had checked into my room, having claimed he'd lost his key; he'd taken my documents, my cash, my credit cards—­also, my reader, flask, and my containment gear. What I had now was a paper from the embassy. I waited, debating banter to swap with Ganz when we would meet again, out on the far side of the barrier: “Bet it's weird, you being fingerprinted for a change.” But Anna Ganz did not seem strong on humor, even when the jokes were funny. It was a police thing, maybe. Or a Hungarian thing. Or a Ganz thing, perhaps.

The guy in the booth called me forward. His face was round and swarthy, caterpillar eyebrows and moustache to match. He checked my papers, tapped his keyboard, studied his computer screen.

Next thing I'd got two tall gents in uniform requesting me to come this way, sir. Not a summons that would brook refusal. I made to follow, but the guy in the booth called me back. “This is yours.” He passed me my documents. I looked for Anna. Couldn't see her. Then I vanished into that hive of back rooms that few ­people, if their lives are simple and straightforward, and not like mine, are ever privileged to see.

I
was not under arrest. I was not a security threat. This I deduced from being left alone, unguarded, and in fairly comfortable surroundings. A double row of metal chairs stood fastened to the floor. A countertop held half a dozen computer screens; at the rear, a metal cabinet topped by a small green light suggested some mysterious, arcane machinery.

A fat man in a short-­sleeved shirt arrived. He nodded to me, asked my name, checked a few things on the screens, then, rolling like a young bullock, left me there. The black bead of a camera watched me from the corner of the wall. I imagined someone, maybe miles away, analyzing each time I crossed my legs, or twitched, or scratched my chin. Like a Warhol movie, boring and fascinating at the same time.

The inner door swung open once again.

Seddon appeared.

He was very tall and thin, in an elegant charcoal-­gray suit and black-­and-­white silk tie. His movements were both unhurried and purposeful, giving the impression that he hadn't really needed to keep me waiting there; it had merely suited him to do so. He held a hand out, and I rose and took it.

“Chris. Good to see you. Now: let's get you out of here, shall we?”

I moved towards the door by which I'd entered, but he told me, “Quicker this way. Less palaver. Come along.”

We passed through several further rooms where ­people stared into computer screens.

I said to him, “I didn't realize you were here.”

“I wasn't. I was up in Boston. Thought you'd like to see a friendly face. Eh now?”

“Very kind.”

Everyone, in fact, was being very kind. It was enough to make me worry.

We stepped into an elevator, down two floors, then through an unmarked door and suddenly we were outside. Warm sun struck my face. A row of cars shone in the light.

“I've got—­there's—­”

“Bags? All taken care of. Now, let's see . . .” He craned his neck. “There we are now.”

A car was parked a bit farther along; a chauffeur was loading bags into the trunk.
My
bags, in fact.

I said, “I was with someone. We ought to wait for her.”

“Miss Ganz? I think she's quite able to find her way around, don't you? A very competent young lady, so I hear.”

He managed to inject his voice with just the slightest hint of boredom, as if we'd already discussed the subject at too great a length. The chauffeur held the door; we slid into the back of this big, sleek machine. The seat cushions enveloped me like giant hands.

“I believe you're booked into some squalorous old hole in Jersey, aren't you? Well, I've arranged a ­couple of nights for you at my hotel. Expect you'll need to relax a while. And you'll be a great deal happier across the river. Don't you think?”

The dirty brick and bright blue skies of Newark slipped behind us, and Seddon smiled his reassuring little smile, raising thick, white-­tufted brows, wordlessly inquiring how I was.

I wondered if he knew how sinister it made him look: like a pedophile uncle, asking what you wanted for your birthday.

I
've spent a lot of time in hotels. It goes with the job. But few were as luxurious as this one on the Upper East Side, just back from Museum Mile. The top floors must have looked across the park. I was a little lower, but in no position to complain. I settled on the bed and let its magic fingers soothe my aches. Yet the more comfortable my body was, the more my mind grew nervous, and the more the prospect of a few days' luxury began to seem like prison in a different form.

I had no cell phone. I was under strict instructions not to contact Ganz or our “squalorous old hole” in Hoboken. “We'll let her know you're safe and sound,” Seddon assured me, assuring not at all. I started feeling sorry for her. True, she'd put me in a bad place for a while, but maybe she was telling me the truth. Perhaps it really hadn't been her fault. She'd just taken precautions, after all. Someone else had had me banged up, questioned, and smacked about the head. Someone keen to learn about the Registry.

This wasn't comforting, on any level.

S
eddon called after an hour or two, inviting me for drinks down in the bar. “Still, I think, the only real way to unwind.” He drank a scotch and ginger ale, or maybe it was only ginger ale. I ordered G&T, which I don't much like. I figured I'd stay sober longer with a drink that made my tongue curl up.

“So. Bit of a pickle over there, I hear?”

“I had my passport stolen. And a fair bit else.”

“Oh, I know, I know. Caused something of a diplomatic incident, too, in fact. We had to ask a few sharp questions, trying to get you out of there.” He nodded, sucked his lower lip.

I said, “What's happening in Boston?”

“Oh—­nothing of interest. One of those tedious liaisons we do so much of nowadays. Building bridges, all that guff. Frankly,” he said and gave me a direct look, his forehead wrinkling like a puppy's, “I am rather more concerned with you, if you don't mind my saying so.”

“Hm.”

He raised his brows, attentively. Innocently.

I said, “I heard the Registry'd denied I ever worked for them. That wasn't very helpful.”

“Really? From whom did you hear this?”

“Hungarian police. While I was in detention.”

“Well. I'd have thought that one explained itself, eh? Meant to make you feel helpless and abandoned. Interrogation technique, I'd think.” He paused; I heard him draw a breath. “They
were
interrogating you, I take it?”

“You could call it that, yeah. If you wanted.”

“About . . . ?”

“I was arrested on suspicion of being a Hungarian serial killer. The Budapest Bloodsucker, if you believe. Despite not having been there in years. But once they'd got me, they asked about a lot of things.” I looked at him, weighing the situation up inside my head. I didn't much trust Seddon, but I told him what he wanted, anyway. “About the Registry,” I said.

He clasped his hands. He pursed his lips.

“And you said . . . what, exactly?”

“Very little. It wasn't really torture. Well, they hit me round the head a few times, but that's all. And locked me up. Not like I've much to tell them anyway, though, is it? I'm just a field op. No big thing.”

“Dear Chris. I'm sure that you could tell them a great deal if you'd a mind to. Luckily, I trust in your discretion.”

“Yeah. Well. My discretion's great, it really is.”

He had his stare: face relaxed, voice casual, and eyes like knives.

“Still,” he said. “You feel all right? You're not hurt? We can arrange for counseling, if that would help. And we've already put in writing a complaint to the Hungarian government. A complaint in the strongest possible terms, I might add.”

I said nothing. I downed my G&T. It was wearying, trying to duel with Seddon. It burned me out. I signaled for another drink. He had one, too. Then he said, “This killer, then. You tell me about him.”

And so I did.

Some, at any rate.

“A
nd this was Adam Shailer's sole request to you?”

I nodded. “He thinks it's something in our field. He could be right. I used the reader on a crime scene there.”

“Mm-­hm?”

“The whole place was just drained. No energy, no nothing. Don't think I've ever seen that kind of thing before. Not to that extent.”

He pondered this a moment. Then, filing it away, said, “And why do you suppose that Shailer wanted you? Specifically?”

I shrugged. I could be disingenuous as well. “Because we'd worked together. Because he knew me.” I took a drink. “Who knows? Perhaps he reckons I'm a good op.”

“Which you are.” He trotted this out automatically. But then he said, “There's a story come to me of late. About the last time you two worked together. I believe there was some sort of . . . error, yes?”

“We talked about this. A malfunction, not an error.”

“Yes, yes. Odd, don't you think? It must have happened, what, six or seven years ago, old news, really. Yet, lo and behold—­here it is.” He paused, and I refused, I totally refused, to prompt him. He said, “You see—­as I heard it, there
was
an error. Your error, in fact. And Adam Shailer, young and inexperienced, tried to alert you to it. But you refused to listen. And you slapped him in the face.”

He sat, a little smile upon his lips, watching me, and waiting.

“So that's what Shailer says.”

“Oh, I don't know where it comes from. Gossip—­really shouldn't listen to it, not if you're sensible. But it does so get around.

“Besides,” he added, “I'm quite sure Shailer would deny all knowledge. Too well-­placed for that kind of behavior, I'd say. Don't you think?”

I grunted, neither yes nor no.

“And nobody who knows your work would countenance a word of it. You're too reliable. Nonetheless . . . this sort of tittle-­tattle . . . a drop of poison in the well, you know?”

I shifted in my seat. “Can I make a formal complaint?”

“Oh, God, no! For what? Against whom? Dame Gossip”—­his smile became a chuckle, an intimate amusement—­“is a ripple on the wind.” He waggled his fingers. “Can't catch her, can't pin her down. But ignore her, and in no time, poof! Away she goes. You see what I'm saying?”

“I see.”

But I was angry now. I finished off my drink. Folded my arms.

“This killer you and your . . . girlfriend? No? Ah. Would there be anything to link this man to you? Besides stealing your passport?”

I had not told him the truth:
he looks like me. Exactly like me. Otherwise, no link at all
. But it didn't seem to matter what I told him, what I didn't.

Seddon raised a calming hand. His fingers, like the rest of him, were long and narrow. “Nonetheless—­it must be said—­the Registry is on the verge of great things, Chris. Great, great things. That also means that situations can be . . . delicate. Adverse publicity, for instance. Any little fly in the ointment. No reason to suspect that such a thing would come to pass, of course. But if it did . . . The blame would have to be deflected somewhere, at somebody. Away from the organization as a whole. Hm?”

“Delicate.”

“I'm very much afraid so, yes.”

He let that sink in for a while.

Across the room, a drunk in a good suit tottered between tables, moving cautiously, as if walking on ice.

I said, “You changed your mind, didn't you? When I was locked up.”

Seddon's eyebrows flicked up, little flags there in the half-­light.

“You denied I worked for you, then got me off the hook. How come?”

“Oh, nothing to do with me, I can assure you, Chris. You know me—­if I'd have heard you were in trouble, I'd have been on the phone immediately.”

“I'm asking why, not who.”

But Seddon was no longer smiling.

“If I were forced to speculate . . . then I'd have said, first response, a knee-­jerk reaction. Deny everything. Rubbish the source of information.”

“What information? And who wants it, anyway?”

“I'd imagine someone with an interest in electric power. Wouldn't you? That's the main thrust of our business, after all. So, at a guess, I'd say—­oh, someone wants our methods, and our knowledge, and doesn't much want us. A little . . . industrial espionage, as it were. Hm?”

“Is that likely?”

“Oh, I certainly think so. There's more than enough at stake to warrant it. Interest groups again, you see? At home, abroad, wherever.”

I wasn't much convinced by this.

I said, “And that's what got me out?”

“That . . . and your imposter at the airport. I've seen the police report. They're baffled, naturally. But it did suggest to me a certain . . . expedience in your being here. Eh?”

“Expedience.”

“Yes. Because sometimes, well—­sometimes one's greatest problem can become one's greatest asset. And if things go wrong—­pray God they don't—­”

“But if they do, you've got a scapegoat, ready set to take the flack. I see.”

He held his hand up, pursed his lips.

“Please. Nothing so brutal or so callous. I have always tried to defend the members of the organization. Always. Of course, I'm sure you're aware, Mr. Shailer has placed you in a rather tricky spot. You know this, no doubt far better than I. It would be . . .
poetic,
I think, if his plans backfired on him. Eh now?”

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