Read The Knowland Retribution Online

Authors: Richard Greener

Tags: #mystery, #fiction, #kit, #frazier, #midnight, #ink, #locator, #bones, #spinoff

The Knowland Retribution (31 page)

Walter did what he thought to be the most humane thing possible. He tossed a grenade through the open window. The explosion killed the American and the five Vietnamese. It blew the hut to pieces and started a small fire. Walter hit the ground in anticipation of the blast. Now he jumped to his feet and entered the smoking rubble. He grabbed a severed foot, knowing it was the pilot's because the toenails had been pulled out. He found the stub of a hand, a piece of skull, half an ear, each one obviously from a white man. He shoved the body parts into his backpack. Walter heard the village come to life. A fire had begun just behind the now demolished shack. People were running toward it. He removed two more grenades from his belt, pulled the pins, and threw each of them as far as he could into the darkness in opposite directions. Two explosions rattled the night. More fire. More screams. More casualties. Now people were racing in all directions, some ducking behind huts, others fleeing toward the rice fields. Voices everywhere, all yelling in Vietnamese. Walter understood nothing. He needed to deflect their attention to make his escape. He spotted the American's dog tags and reached to pick them up. A piece of skull with blonde hair spared by the flames lay next to them. He put both in his backpack.

Backing away from the village, the same way he had entered it, Walter had to pass by the outlying hut again. This time he could not move unnoticed. The family living there was standing outside, huddled together in fear, watching the chaos from a distance. There was no way for Walter to crawl past them. He decided the safest passage was the most direct. He moved out of the shadows and began walking slowly, but at a steady gait. He was only a few feet away when he could see them and they could see him. A man, a woman, a much older woman, and two small children looked straight at him. At that moment they realized what and who had approached their home. Walter returned their stare. Then, the man—Walter could not be certain how old he was—dashed into the hut. Instantly, he reappeared, holding a rifle he pointed at Walter. And just as quickly Walter shot him. The old woman rushed at Walter, her high-pitched scream barely audible through her tears. She lunged at him, grabbing his shirt and tearing the top button off. Walter shot her and she fell to the ground. The younger woman, undoubtedly the children's mother, drew her children to her. They held tightly to her side and she laid a hand on the head of each. All three were weeping. Walter stood there, looking at them, unsure what to do next. The shots he fired gave him away, and he could hear the villagers behind him. He had to go quickly. They would catch up to him in less than a minute. Which direction should he go? This way? That way? Whichever way he chose, this mother and her children would tell the others. He pushed them into the hut. They disappeared in the darkness, but he heard them. He heard the children crying and the mother trying to calm her babies. It may have been a strange language, but Walter knew she was comforting them, telling them, “It'll be alright. It'll be alright.” He tossed the grenade into the hut and began running. The explosion was the most violent thing he had ever heard, much louder than its actual sound. It was the sound of a mother and her children being attacked by millions of tiny pieces of sharp metal, a shower of death. He did not stop and he did not turn around. He navigated the rice paddies and made it into the jungle on the other side. The search for him was relentless. He evaded soldiers and villagers day after day, hiding in empty caves, climbing trees, taking cover in leafy swamps. He ate insects when his meager rations were used up. Three times he stole food, again picking on the most remote hut farthest from its village. The first of these huts was empty and he walked off with enough to eat for almost a week. The other two times he killed the occupants and took their food. Once he sneaked up behind a teenage boy who had lost his right leg at the knee. He cut his throat. The last time he beat an old man and his wife to death with the butt of his rifle. He needed to eat to live. On the twentieth day since being lowered into the high grass on a rope, he spotted a patrol of American soldiers. He didn't have the slightest idea where he was,
but he knew he had made it back safely. The odor from his backpack sickened the soldiers who rescued him, but he refused to take it off until he could deliver its contents to Headquarters. Walter's report described everything that happened to him, down to the smallest detail. It made difficult reading for some. There were others who found it thrilling. All those who read it looked at Walter Sherman with a mixture of awe and fear. And there were the rumors. In time, Walter heard them all. He never believed them, but could not totally dismiss them. He'd been gone three weeks. In Vietnam that's as good as forever. Had officers at Headquarters really placed bets on whether or not he would return? Had members of his own unit done the same? After the first week, had some demanded payment? When the Colonel smiled and promoted him to sergeant, was he counting his money?

New York

Maloney tried to ease
things. He was an expert at that. In moments of self-doubt he often feared he was an expert at only that. Once more he saw a need to apply his gifts. Walter was still standing in front of the door to the suite. “Na Trang!” had stopped him in his tracks, but he had not yet turned to face the little man who knew more about him than he dreamed possible in his worst nightmare. Tom Maloney walked over to the bar and poured a Diet Coke. He approached Walter with it. “Take it,” he said, his voice and demeanor very much the opposite of Stein—Stein the jackal, Stein the screecher, Stein the sonofabitch. “Go ahead,” he said, handing the glass to Walter. He put his other hand on Walter's shoulder and guided him to the couch across the room, nearest the doors leading to the patio. He motioned for Walter to sit.

“A man's history,” he said, taking a seat himself, “it's never a complete mystery. It's always there waiting to be unearthed, discovered, brought into the light of day by those whose interest is served by disclosure. You should know that as well as anyone. You've been a historian of men for many years, haven't you? Of course you have. And a brilliant one at that. Who else could have identified Leonard Martin and then found him? Leonard Martin, the most hunted man in America—perhaps in the entire world—and who else could have done that? No one, that's who. You are a historian, but you're fallible, Walter. You're just a man. You have your limitations, like all men. We do too. But we have resources to overcome those limitations. Resources you cannot imagine. You think we live in a world where we
think
we know things others don't? No. You're wrong.” Maloney's eyes motioned Stein out of the room, or at least out of Walter's sight. “We
know
we live in that world. That world belongs to us.” Maloney left Walter sitting there and moved to a chair in the middle of the room. Nathan Stein sat off to the side and behind Walter. He said nothing. Maloney was on a roll, and Nathan recognized it as he had so many times before. Finally, Walter sipped his Diet Coke. That single, simple act worked to return the color to his cheeks and bring his respiration back to normal. He looked up into Tom Maloney's angelic, Catholic face.

Maloney said, “Your past is safe with us. And your future too. You're ‘the Locator,' and you've created a life in which you cannot be located. We've been over that, haven't we? We've no wish to disturb that delicate balance, unmask you before official agencies that are unaware of your existence, open your secret sores before your wife—ex-wife—your daughter, your grandsons. No one wants that. When this is over you go back to St. John, back to your past, back to your privacy. And you do so a rich man. Do you follow me here?”

“I do,” said Walter.
“Sister, how do I make out the check?”
It pounded in his head.

“Precisely.”

“But I don't do that any—”

“Walter, Walter, Walter.” Maloney was on his feet, his voice louder than before, his tone harsher. His puffy Irish face reddened. He threw his hands and arms wide apart and said, “Who among us would not change the past if we could? You? Me? Nathan? Wesley, wherever the fuck he is? For damn sure, Hopman, MacNeal, Grath, that fellow Ochs, and now Louise. Leonard Martin? What about him? You think he wouldn't give everything just to change one single day for his wife and family? But he can't. They can't. We can't. You can't. Change the past? The past is the future, for all of us. And that means you too.”

The iron gates had swung open against his will. The stone walls were breached. The enemy was pouring in. Nathan Stein—Na Trang—had changed the rules, changed everything, and Walter felt the heavy metal and broken stone weigh him down. “The future,” he thought, “what future?” Maloney was right. The past is the future.

“You'll find Leonard Martin before he finds us, and you'll kill him. You won't do it for us. I know that. But you'll do it for Gloria, for your daughter, for your grandchildren, for yourself. Will you think of the mother and her two children crying in the hut? The one-legged boy whose food you stole and whose throat you sliced open? The American whose life you saved by ending it? I hope so. I hope so because the past will lead you to your future. Change the past? No. Embrace the past and recognize that you cannot change the future.”

“Wilkes?”

“He's gone. I didn't get a chance to fire him. He bailed out as soon as you made his man. Chickenshit sonsofbitches; they only want the easy work.”

Walter breathed deeply. He smelled that hotel smell,
a combination of food, smoke, and alcohol mixed with the expensive scent of cleanliness. There was no escaping it, even in the penthouse of the Waldorf Astoria. That might have been sign enough for Maloney, but Walter further obliged with a nod of the head.

“Walter, you have my word that when this is done you'll never hear from us again, ever. We're not blackmailers. Quite the opposite. We're just clients. And, as clients, we want you to go home now. We know you're most comfortable there. Make your plan, then make your move. But move fast.” Maloney stepped back, an acknowledgment of Walter's freedom to leave. Walter rose up from the couch as if his whole body ached with despair and regret. Maloney thought he seemed a smaller man than before. “By the way,” he added, “we've taken the liberty of depositing some more money into your bank account.” Walter just nodded again and started for the door. “Don't you want to know how much?”

The extra hundred grand still fresh in his mind, Walter asked, “How much?”

“Thirty million dollars.”

“Thirty million dollars?”

“You never know when you might need some extra cash,” Maloney said, glancing at Stein, whose attention seemed elsewhere.

“Thirty million dollars?”

Maloney just laughed as Walter walked out.

St. John

Watching the old man
strike a wooden match he'd taken from his shirt pocket, Billy said to Ike, “Remember, it was you who once said ‘some things don't have no argument.' Well, this is one of them things.” As Ike lit up, the flame nearly exploded when it made contact with the tobacco. They were talking about the size of a certain boat. It was a boat belonging to a bigtime bushwhacker, an Englishman named Spence. By all accounts it was a large vessel, although
how large
was the question at hand. The boat was named “Lady Kate” after the Englishman's wife Catharine, a magnificently beautiful woman, no youngster herself, yet many years his junior. No matter how big the boat really was, instead
of “Lady Kate” Billy called it “The Stugots” because he was sure Louis Spence—if that was his name—was mobbed up.

“I've seen it bigger,” Ike said. “Sometimes.”

“What the hell does that mean—you've seen it bigger, sometimes?” Billy was leaning over the bar, getting as near to Ike as he could get considering the old man was sitting practically outside. “Sometimes?”
he repeated.

“Well, you know, there's times I see it sort of coming straight at me and it has a certain size to it. You understand? Then there's other times I see it going away—from behind—and it looks different.”

Billy pulled two bottles of wine from a box on the floor behind the bar and shoved them in the ice cooler, the new one he bought when he finally replaced the small icemaker last week. Then he did the same with two more. “Looks different to you depending on which side you're looking from?” he asked. “That's no big deal. An old man like you can't see good no more.” Billy looked toward Walter for confirmation.

Walter said, “That sounds like an argument to me.”

“I think Billy's right,” said Ike. “It's no argument. Not that I can't see. I see just fine, thank you. That boat though, it's all relative.”

“Einstein,” said Walter. “Albert Einstein.”

“That's him,” said Ike, releasing a huge cloud of smoke that caught the breeze coming in from off the water, blowing across the square and into Billy's Bar. The smoke was soon a long, thin, hazy blue line headed directly for the spot where Billy stood. He must have seen it, because, quick as a cat, he moved all the way to where Walter and Isobel sat at the far end near the kitchen. He mumbled something about Ike's cigarette and then looked up into Walter's eyes, searching for
understanding.

“Einstein,” Walter said. “You know, it's all relative. He invented it, or discovered it, or whatever.”

“You know what it means?” Billy asked.

Walter smiled at the bartender. “No,” he said. “I sure don't.”

Ike said, “Well, it's like this. What you see coming at you is not what you thought it was when it passed you by.” He sucked in an almost inhuman amount of smoke—Walter thought for sure the blazing butt would burn his fingers to a crisp—and while the smoke slithered out of both sides of his mouth and his nose at the same time, he added, “Just like life, boys. Just like life.” Then he flashed his trademark smile for all to see.

“Pretty close,” said Isobel, “pretty close.” Being around Ike had already made an impression on her. She found herself too often repeating something in the way he did. Once she realized what she was doing she made a successful effort to stop it, but the old man had his effect. She was here, back on St. John, in Billy's Bar, sitting in the seat next to Walter, drinking a beer and munching on some french fries because the Moose had kicked her out of the paper until after New Year's. It was
her own fault. She'd been summoned to his office right after Louise Hollingsworth was killed.

“Isobel, we can't print this,” said Mel Gold, waving a sheet of paper in his hand as though her writing was on it, when in fact it wasn't. He couldn't remember the last time he read anything anyone wrote on paper. All he had done for years was read things on the monitor screen of his computer. The days of typing on paper were long gone, and, for many middle-aged newspapermen, sorely missed. “You know we can't do that.” The Moose was more than a little pissed. Isobel had flown to Vermont and back by helicopter. She had her details, her interviews with law enforcement, even an exclusive—a preliminary report from the Medical Examiner. Her story began:

Leonard Martin, who has already killed four men, continues his relentless pursuit of those responsible for the deaths of his wife, daughter, and two grandsons. Yesterday it took him to rural Vermont, where he shot to death Louise Hollingsworth. Martin's family died in the great E. coli poisoning disaster three years ago. The disaster, which paralyzed America's food supply for months thereafter, was perpetrated by a combination of business interests. Their identities became known to Mr. Martin later. The personal pain and anguish that gave birth to his violent campaign for a justice he feels has been denied, appears undiminished. Ms. Hollingsworth, a Vice President and Senior Analyst at Stein, Gelb, Hector & Wills Securities Inc., worked with a small, high-level group within her company. Sources say it was Ms. Hollingsworth and others at Stein, Gelb, Hector & Wills, including Nathan Stein, Thomas Maloney, and Wesley Pitts, who were responsible for allowing more than a million pounds of deadly beef to be sold to the public. Mr. Martin has sworn to kill them all. “I can only imagine how he feels,” said Warren Kimbrough, Chief of the Vermont State Police.

The Moose shrugged, his mouth drawn tightly into a crooked line, one side pointing up, the other down. His chins seemed to take on a life of their own. He squinted in frustration, and finally, no longer able to control himself, grunted. He looked at his empty chair, knowing that if he sat down it would surely collapse and splinter into pieces from nothing more than the weight of his dismay. Isobel said nothing. She too chose to stand.

“It's
‘advocacy.
' We don't do
‘advocacy
.' Is this where you're going?” Isobel remained silent. “Are you a reporter—a
New York Times
reporter—or are you looking to go back on
60 Minutes
? Because this,” he waved the same empty sheet of paper in the air again, “this is exactly what they like. ‘The personal pain and anguish that gave birth to his violent campaign . . .' That kind of language doesn't belong in the
New York Times
.”

“Oh yeah,” she said. “Being dead.” That's all she needed to say, just two words, for him to understand. Everyone at the
Times
knew those were the first two words from a legendary sentence in the story about the State of New York's posthumous pardon of Lenny Bruce: “Being dead, Mr. Bruce is not expected to reap any immediate benefit from the pardon.”

“That got in the
Times
,” she said.

“Don't give me bullshit! Lenny Bruce said ‘fuck you' a couple of times. He didn't kill five people! Now what the fuck is going on here?”

Isobel said nothing. Mel Gold tried to calm down, but he couldn't. “Come on, damnit! Talk to me, Isobel!”

“They tried to kill me, Mel.” She spoke quietly, almost in a whisper.

“What!”

“Stein, Maloney, the gang of criminals at Stein, Gelb—”

“They—”

“They tried to kill me.” This time her voice was loud and clear. He heard every word and thought he glimpsed a look of relief in her eyes.

Now the Moose sat down, confident his bulky frame wouldn't break anything. “Hey kiddo, what's going on here? There's something I don't know and I think you need to tell me. Sit down. Talk to me. Tell me.”

She did. She told him all of it. Some of it he already knew, some he'd never heard before—from Walter Sherman's first call, to the incident with the former NYPD detective Jack Allen and the warning Walter gave Tom Maloney. She told Gold everything. Almost everything. She left out the sex. And, for reasons she did not fully comprehend, she did not give Gold a description of the “new” Leonard Martin. Whatever she saw of him remained her secret. She said he was “unrecognizable”—although only Walter Sherman had actually seen him—but she didn't describe his appearance even as Walter had related it to her.

“What the hell does that mean, ‘unrecognizable'?” Mel Gold knew his voice was the wrong one, his manner delivering the wrong message. He wanted so badly to be more compassionate. He yearned to be a real friend to Isobel in her time of need, but he was a newspaperman. Like a soldier in combat, he newspapered on. “What does he look like?”

“I've never seen him,” Isobel answered. “I was blindfolded,
remember?”

“Sure, so what did Sherman say?” Isobel was silent. The Moose knew she was having a hard time giving him up. “Here's the deal,” he said. “Listen closely, and if you don't understand, ask me, okay?” She nodded. “If you've never seen Leonard Martin you can't describe him. If Walter Sherman says he's seen him and if he can describe him, if he says Martin has changed or altered his appearance in any way, we have no way of corroborating Sherman's story, do we? We have only your word that someone, a third party—in this case Walter Sherman—told you something, right?” Again, Isobel nodded. “But we do have Sherman's description. Can we use it? Can the
New York Times
publish a story about a physical description of Leonard Martin that differs from the public record? Can we do that based solely on what you say somebody else said?” He paused for a long moment. Isobel said nothing and she did not nod her head. She waited. “No,” he said. “We can't. If we don't have a first-hand sighting or a cooperative source, which I gather Walter Sherman is not, plus a second witness, we will not print a description for which we have no backup. Am I clear? Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now go back and write it. Give me every little detail Sherman gave you about Leonard Martin's appearance. Do it on paper or on your own computer—not here. I don't want it showing up anywhere on anyone's hard disk or mainframe or wherever in hell all this shit gets stored. Print it out and give it to me. I'll keep it at home. You and I will be the only ones who know, but I must know. There has to be a record. Believe me, the time will come when there has to be a record. And you and I have to know what we're looking at when we see it.”

“You won't share it with anyone? And we won't print it?”

“Absolutely correct. I know you speak French and some other languages, even some I've never heard of, but you speak English too. You heard me. You do understand me, right?”

Isobel smiled at the big man. “Eai, I, Han jee, Io,” she said—yes, in Kiribati, Rotuman, Hindi, and the standard Fijian she spoke as a child.

Mel Gold grinned from ear to ear, then told her to get out of town until after New Year's. He'd get someone else to finish writing the Louise Hollingsworth story. She would get her byline with whoever wrote the final draft.

“Now get out of here. You're on the beach for a week or so.”

“D-d-dog days of summer, eh, Mel?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” he said. “It's December. It's fucking Christmas, for Christ's sake.”

Isobel gave him a kiss on the cheek, called Walter, and headed for the airport.

“Ike is close,” said Isobel. “Einstein published two theories of relativity. The first when he was only twenty-three years old. Can you believe that? He called it the ‘special theory of relativity,' and ten years later he published a second one he called the ‘general theory of relativity.' Relativity takes into account different points of view—literally, like Ike pointed out—and says that what you think is real could be seen in a different way. Einstein was all about questioning the interchangeability of absolute time. And this fits because his theory holds that the idea that every object has a form and a mass that are constant is false. He also deals with heavy mass objects, saying they actually curve with the universe, which explains gravity, although I don't think that has much to do with the size of this boat.”

“Damn,” Ike said. Billy and Walter had nothing to add. They were indeed speechless. Each assumed the others, like himself, were still in the dark. “Damn. Where'd you learn that, child?”

Isobel said, “St John's.”

“Not here you didn't,” said Billy.

“That's for damn sure,” said Ike, poking through his pockets, looking for another cigarette.

“I didn't mean here, St. John. I said St. John's, with an
s
.”

“What's that?” Billy asked.

“It's a college,” said Walter. “Unlike the three of us, this charming and lovely young lady is an educated woman.”

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