Read The Traitor's Story Online
Authors: Kevin Wignall
ALSO BY KEVIN WIGNALL
Among the Dead
Who is Conrad Hirst?
The Hunter’s Prayer
A Death in Sweden
“Hal Checks Out”
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 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
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Lisa Horton
To Iain and Pip
Harry Simons was dying—there was no question about it. The medics kept working, but even a brief look at that stricken face was eno
ugh to know it was pointless. He’d always been so easy-going, a young guy full of laughter, smiling eyes, and yet now his features were waxy and unresponsive, registering no pain or discomfort, his eyes flickering about but fixing on nothing.
Harry Simons was dying. And still the medics kept working, and Perry wished they’d stop and let Harry die with some dignity, because there was nothing more unsettling than the violence done to a man to keep him alive when he’d been critically wounded.
Johnson walked up and waited until he’d got Perry’s attention before saying, “Jack Trelawney wants a word when you’ve got a second.”
“I’ve got a second now. Where is he?”
Johnson pointed across the darkened dockyard to the ambulance where Trelawney was being treated.
Perry nodded, relieved to have a reason to walk away, but crouched down, ignoring the medics, and put a hand on Harry’s cheek, which was cold and wet with sleet. He wished he could say something, but there were no words, and Harry looked too far away to hear them anyway, alone in some quiet descent.
He stood again and Johnson said, “Do you think he’ll make it?”
Perry walked from the shelter of the warehouse, briefly exposed to the squall that was still blowing in across the docks—this small part of the Baltic refusing to acknowledge the early arrival of spring. He glanced up at the floodlights as he walked; the illuminated sleet looked like the grain in an old film.
Trelawney had taken a bullet to the hand. Not bad considering the complete bloodbath that had taken place here—not only Harry but two FSB men down, three of the local police, half a dozen of Karasek’s men. Of course, Karasek hadn’t been among them, and there was nothing to prove they were his men or that he had any connection to the shipment that had been intercepted. To that extent, this joint operation, the much-vaunted Sparrowhawk, had been a complete failure.
Perry looked at Trelawney. “What have you got for me, Jack?”
Trelawney shook his head, unable to form an answer, then said, “What about Harry?”
“They think the bullet bounced around inside his ribs, hit an artery.” Trelawney looked devastated. Everyone liked Harry, but it was important they stayed professional, so Perry repeated, “What have you got for me?”
“If Harry dies, someone should take Finn Harrington and blow his brains out.”
Trelawney used the hand that wasn’t being bandaged to reach inside his coat. The medic continued working on the other hand, not giving way. Trelawney pulled a sheaf of papers free and thrust it out.
“Ed, this was in their truck. Take a look. Harrington’s rotten—he’s been working for Karasek all along.”
Perry looked at the top sheet—a printed email—tipping it out of his own shadow and trying to protect it from the sleet at the same time, struggling to take in the information printed there. It wasn’t so much that he hadn’t known about Harrington, but that he hadn’t even suspected, and he was technically Harrington’s superior, so this would inevitably look bad on him.
He heard a voice—Louisa Whitman saying, “Let me see that.” He turned. She was dressed as if going on a shoot at a country house: waxed jacket, matching hat. She also seemed unfazed by the cold and the wet. He handed the paperwork over, and as she took it she smiled at Trelawney and said, “How are you feeling, Jack?”
“Good.” She turned to Perry. “The FSB are less than happy, and it is just a little embarrassing for us, particularly as it seems half the shipment is missing. Now, what have we got here?”
“I’ve only just seen it, but it looks like what Jack says is true—Harrington’s been working for Karasek, probably tipped him off about us being here tonight.”
She studied the papers, shaking her head in ever-greater disbe
lief, then looked up and said, “But he and Harry Simons are best friends.”
“In Harrington’s defense, I very much doubt he thought it would end like this.” Trelawney let out a single derisive laugh. Perry looked at him, then back to Louisa as he said, “He’ll have to be dealt with, of course. By the letter of the law he’s a traitor.”
“He’s a bastard,” said Trelawney. Louisa looked at him in admonishment but he wasn’t about to back down. “I don’t care. If he was here right now I’d shoot him myself, but he isn’t here right now, is he? How convenient is that?”
Perry said, “That’s enough, Trelawney.”
“Oh, Ed—Jack’s only venting his feelings.” She brandished the papers. “This will have to be investigated, as will the entire operation and the parts we’ve all played in it, and people rather more senior than me will decide upon the most judicious course of action. Either way, I suspect Harrington’s life is about to become rather uncomfortable.”
Trelawney, frustrated by Louisa’s relaxed tone, said, “It’s obvious, isn’t it? It’s why he resigned before all this—because he got paid off. All these bogus rumors about one of our team working for Naumenko, and it turns out Harrington was working for Karasek right under our noses. He’s betrayed his country, but he’s betrayed all of us, too. Even you, Louisa.”
Louisa nodded, apparently accepting the unshakable truth of it, then said, “Shame—I rather liked him.”
“Me too,” said Perry, though in reality he’d never really warmed to him. Harrington hadn’t been much of a team player—affable enough, but always a little distant, a little cold, at least with everyone except Harry, who he’d inadvertently sacrificed here tonight. But whether or not Harrington got the bullet in the head that Trelawney wanted, Louisa was certainly right about the way things would pan out for him now.
To be a traitor was one thing; to be stupid enough to get caught, and in such a careless way, that was another. To be a traitor and bring about the death of someone like Harry Simons raised it to another level. The future would be grim for Harrington, and the contempt and vengefulness he’d face would be nothing less than he deserved.
Perry glanced over his shoulder but couldn’t see whether the two medics were still struggling to keep Harry alive. They were lost in shadow, ominously still.
He looked at Louisa again and said, “I suppose this is the end of Sparrowhawk.”
“Take a look around you, Ed. What do you think?”
She turned and walked away, and he stood there in the sleet in the middle of the night, the dead and injured littering the dockyard. Yes, with absolute certainty he could say that this was the end of Sparrowhawk, the end of Harry Simons, and in one way or another, the end of Finn Harrington, too—no less than if he’d been here and taken a bullet himself.
Lausanne—six years later
Finn took a taxi from the station, and as it approached his building he spotted the concierge standing outside staring up at the sky, which even this early in the year had the promise of spring in it.
Finn paid the driver and said, “Bonjour, Monsieur Grasset.”
Grasset looked as if he hadn’t expected Finn to return, and smiled as he said, “Monsieur Harrington, it’s nice to see you back. A research trip?”
“That’s right. Béziers, mainly. I stopped in Paris for a night on the way home.”
“Ah, so you’re writing about the Cathars.” Finn nodded. “Very interesting.”
“I hope so.”
Finn made to move on, but Grasset stopped him with a regretful look. “Monsieur Harrington—your wife . . . she left.”
Finn heard the words as if they were a skillfully constructed riddle. Did he mean she’d left, or gone away? Finn had only been traveling for eleven days and she’d sounded fine the last time he’d spoken to her . . . seven days ago.
Unsure how to respond, and irritated by Grasset’s kindly invasion of his privacy, he said, “She isn’t my wife.”
Grasset nodded, looking a little embarrassed, and in turn Finn
felt he’d been churlish, that the old man had meant no harm. Finn
searched for something mollifying to say, perhaps a suggestion of where she might have gone, but he could think of nothing.
“Do you know where she went?”
Grasset shrugged. “To the station. She looked upset, but . . .” More hopefully, he added, “Perhaps someone in her family is sick?”
“Could be. Thanks for letting me know.”
Finn left Grasset outside, took the elevator, and let himself
into the empty apartment. He left his case in the hall and walked into
the kitchen and then the study, the two places she might have left a note. There was nothing in either room. He put his laptop case on the desk, then took his suitcase into the bedroom and hoisted it onto the bed but didn’t open it.
For a few moments, he studied the rails of clothes in her closet, trying to estimate how much was missing. Apart from her current favorite coat, he wasn’t sure, and he struggled even to remember what she’d been wearing when he last saw her.
Anyway, he supposed the things she’d taken wouldn’t tell him much about how long she intended to stay away—for all he knew,
the clothes in front of him might be those she was willing to aban
don forever, things she’d bought on a whim, or loved once but no longer.
He tried her phone, but it went straight to voicemail and he hung up without leaving a message. She’d left him. He stood in the middle of the bedroom, uncertain what to do next. He called her again, and when the voicemail kicked in he said, “Adrienne, it’s me. Grasset tells me you’ve left. Call me. If you want to.” As he hung up, he regretted the final four words, knowing how she’d interpret them.
But there was nothing more he could do. He stood for a moment longer, then walked back into the study, knowing that the book needed to be written no matter what happened to his relationship.
He took the laptop from its case and opened it up, arranged his notebooks, and started to transcribe, all the while thinking his way through the Albigensian Crusade. He had enough material, but now it was a question of illuminating it for his readers in a style that was fresh and original and compelling.
He’d already decided it would need multiple viewpoints. There would be Pope Innocent III, struggling to keep his Church intact in the face of Cathar heretics. The Abbot of Cîteaux, of course—the leader of the crusade. Perhaps he would imagine the perspective of a regular soldier in that army, too. And then, as a counterpoint, one of the townspeople of Béziers itself, believing that the good intentions of twenty thousand people could save the lives of two hundred, a misjudgment like no other in history.
But Arnaud Amaury, the Abbot of Cîteaux, a Cistercian monk with a military vision, he had to be the key . . .
There was a knock on the door. He ignored it, but struggled to reconnect with his thoughts, his concentration already brittle. The knock came again, and he went to the door and opened it.
It was Adrienne’s friend from the floor below, the preppy Debbie Portman, who looked like she might be a lawyer or a junior congresswoman, but who actually did nothing. Adrienne occasionally wrote features for a French art magazine but essentially lived off family money, so the two of them were natural companions.
Finn didn’t even know what Ethan Portman did except that it was something in finance. They were American and had a daughter, which was about the sum of his knowledge—they were Adrienne’s friends, and his only by default.
She smiled but it looked strained, and even though he picked up the signals in her expression, he said, “Debbie, good morning. I’m afraid Adrienne isn’t here.” He realized Grasset hadn’t told him when she’d left, though he presumed it had been recent. “I imagine she’s just gone away for a day or two.”
Debbie looked momentarily at a loss, as if she wanted to say one thing but felt obliged to respond to his opening comment. With the air of someone wanting to dismiss a subject quickly, she said, “Adrienne left nearly a week ago. Haven’t you spoken to her since then?”
“Where’s she gone?” She hesitated, not wanting to say. It galled Finn that he had to discuss this with someone else. “Debbie, I’m only asking where she’s gone.”
“To her brother’s.”
“In Paris?” That irritated him. He’d almost called Mathieu while he was in Paris, but had somehow failed to get around to it. “Okay. Well, thanks for letting me know.”
He searched for something in her expression or body language that acknowledged the conversation was over, but she remained still, like someone held on pause. And now that he looked at her, he could see how drawn she looked, how lacking in sleep. For a sickening moment he wondered if Adrienne’s departure somehow involved Ethan Portman.
“Might I come in for a moment?”
“Is it something that can wait? You see, I’m working . . . right in the middle of something, in fact.”
He realized she must have seen him come in, and had to know he’d only been working for ten minutes or so, but she caught him out by saying, “On the Cathars. I know.” He’d always asked Adrienne not to discuss his works in progress with friends, but before he could say anything, Debbie caught him off guard a second time. “My daughter’s missing.”
“Er . . .” She looked on the verge of tears, as if her entire unshakable, preppy edifice was about to crumble. “I see. Please, come in, come and sit down,” he said, hoping movement would help her to pull herself together.
She walked through into the living room and sat down on the edge of one of the sofas. Now that she was inside, she looked eager to leave, perhaps wanting to be back in her own apartment in case there was news.
“Can I get you a drink or something?” She shook her head, looking into the middle distance. “Okay . . . er . . . so you say Hailey’s missing?”
“Three days, and the police aren’t helping, and I know something’s happened to her, I know it. That’s why I’m here, Finn. I just need someone who can do more than—”
Finn saw where she was heading and couldn’t believe it. He jumped in quickly, saying, “Hold on, Debbie. I’m sympathetic, really I am, but I’m not sure what you want of me.”
She fixed her gaze on him, her eyes rimmed with tears now. “Help to find her. I know about your career, about who you are . . . Adrienne told me.”
“Told you what? I write popular history books.”
“Before that, Finn. She told me—you were a spy or an agent or whatever it is they call them now.”
He was briefly angry with Adrienne, not so much because she’d refused to let the whole spying business drop—if anything, he admired that she’d always seen through his denials—but because she’d shared those thoughts with Debbie Portman. It proved that he’d been right never to be completely open with her, that it was best never to be completely open with anyone.
“No, no, no. Adrienne likes to believe I was a spy, but she shouldn’t have told you that because it’s ridiculous, and now it’s given you false hope. I’m not a spy, I never was. I write popular history books—”
She sprung up from the sofa. “Jesus, Finn, my daughter is missing! You’re the only person we know who might have the contacts, who might know how to help, and I’m asking you to help find her, that’s all.”
He felt hemmed in, the startling sense of exposure less oppressive than the urgent realization that he had to deny it, that he couldn’t admit to a past of any kind, no matter what the emergency.
He shook his head. “I wish I could, I really do, but I’m not who you think I am. Even if I were, I’m not sure how that would help me find a missing schoolgirl.”
“You could help. There must be something you could do, someone—”
“Debbie, I can help you as a neighbor . . . as a friend. But what you’re talking about, it’s just Adrienne’s fantasy. You know, not everyone with a gap in their CV is a spy.”
She didn’t believe him, perhaps believed him even less than before, and said with utter conviction, “You could help.”
“No, I couldn’t. Not in the way you think.”
Her eyes didn’t leave his, but instead stared hard—accusing, calculating. Adrienne’s word meant more than his, and as a result Debbie saw only a man who didn’t want to help, not a man who couldn’t. If he was honest with himself, she was partly right in that assumption, because both of those things were true.
“Bastard.” It was said with quiet hatred, and then she turned and walked out. He expected to hear the door slam, but she left with a composure and a dignity that made him feel less of a man.
He walked through to the bedroom, opened his suitcase but didn’t empty it. Instead he went back to the study, to his notes, settling back into his chair, into history, struggling to put the unpleasantness of Debbie Portman’s visit out of his mind.
He forced himself to focus, because Debbie Portman’s daughter wasn’t his problem. How to make the Abbot of Cîteaux sympathetic—that was his real problem, and the key to his book. The Pope, the crusader, the citizen of Béziers . . . he could see a way of making all of them sympathetic, but none of them was the key.
How could he make his reader empathize with a man who’d ordered the deaths of twenty thousand people, a man who’d brought such destruction on the city that it had taken two hundred years to put right—and all in the name of God?
For Finn, his understanding of the abbot’s ruthlessness lay in the simple and brutal beauty of knowing it had worked. All the other towns had capitulated willingly in the knowledge of what had happened to Béziers, and surrendered the Cathars to their fate. That was enough to fill Finn with a sneaking admiration for the Abbot of Cîteaux, but he doubted it would be enough for his readers.
He heard an ambulance siren somewhere in the distance and his thoughts found their way stubbornly back to his neighbors and their domestic drama. He guessed the girl was around fourteen, and his mind reeled unwillingly through the possibilities of what might have happened to her, a backdrop against which running away was the fragile best-case scenario.
But Debbie hadn’t talked of Hailey running away; she’d said she was missing. There was an implication there—one strengthened by her trenchant belief that someone with an intelligence background might be able to help in a way the police couldn’t. It made him curious. What exactly did she think had happened to her daughter? Was it just a woman refusing to believe that her precious little girl had become sick of living with her parents?
His brain quickly discounted the second question. He was reas
sembling all his memories of the Portmans now, as well as all the things Adrienne had told him, engaging with the everyday details of his life in a way he probably hadn’t for six years. Ethan and Debbie Portman were smart, decent people, and if they thought something had happened to their daughter, it probably had.
Finn closed his laptop and walked through to the living room again. He stood looking over the lake, reluctantly giving way to his curiosity, to his innate desire to solve any puzzle put before him. She’d been a pleasant kid, polite, wry. Then he felt a slight nauseous lurch as he realized he was thinking about her in the past tense.
He couldn’t admit his background to them—that was beyond question. Besides, even if he did, how could he explain why he had no contacts, why that world was as closed to him as if he’d never been a part of it?
He’d offer his help as it was, without credentials, because he supposed that’s what people did for their neighbors, for their friends. And a critical internal voice questioned why he even needed to think about it, questioned what had happened to him over these last years. When had doing the right thing stopped being the automatic option and become something that had to be worked at instead? He hadn’t always been this person, but he was no longer even sure of when the transformation had taken place.