Evan Waller is a monster. He has built a fortune from his willingness to buy and sell anything…and anyone. In search of new opportunities, Waller has just begun a new business venture, one that could lead to millions of deaths all over the globe.
On his trail is Shaw, the mysterious operative from The Whole Truth, who has tracked Waller to Provence and must prevent him from closing his latest deal. But someone else is pursuing Waller: Reggie Campion, an agent for a secret vigilante group headquartered in a musty old English estate – and she has an agenda of her own.
Hunting the same man and unaware of each other’s mission, Shaw and Reggie will be caught in a deadly duel of nerve and wits.
CHAPTER 1The ninety-six-year-old man sat in his comfy armchair enjoying a book on Joseph Stalin. No mainstream publisher would touch the delusion-ﬁlled manuscript since the author had been unfailingly complimentary about the sadistic Soviet leader. Yet the self-published book’s positive opinion of Stalin appealed greatly to the old man. He’d purchased it directly from the writer not long before the latter was committed to a mental institution.
No stars could be seen hovering over the elderly man’s large estate because of a storm moving inland from the nearby ocean. Though he was wealthy and living in great luxury, his personal needs were relatively simple. He wore a decades-old faded sweater, his shirt collar secured all the way to his ﬂeshy neck, which was thick with wattles. His cheap pants lay loose over his skeletal and useless legs. The hypnotic drum of rain on the roof had begun and he settled farther back in his chair, content to delve into the mind and career of a madman who had killed tens of millions of people unlucky enough to live under his cruel ﬁst.
The old man occasionally laughed at something he read, at least the particularly gruesome parts, and nodded his head in agreement over passages where disciples of Stalin explained his graphic methods for the destruction of all civil liberties. In the Soviet dictator he clearly saw the leadership qualities necessary to drive a country to greatness while also causing the world to shake with terror. He tilted down his thick spectacles and glanced at his watch. Nearly eleven o’clock. The security system went on promptly at nine, with every door and window professionally monitored. His fortress was secure.
A crack of thunder seemed to cause the lights to ﬂicker. They sputtered twice more and ﬂuttered out. In the lower-level electronics room the battery backup in the security system had been removed, causing it to cease functioning when the power supply was interrupted. Each door and window was instantly disarmed. Ten seconds later the massive backup generators kicked in and brought the electrical ﬂow back to full power, returning the security system to online status. However, within that ten-second span a window had opened and a hand had darted out and caught the digital camera that had been tossed from ground level. The window closed and was locked a second before the system armed once more.
Oblivious to this, the old man idly rubbed his hairless head; it was mottled over with scabs and patches of sun-damaged skin. His face had collapsed long ago into a pile of gravity-ravaged tissue that pulled his eyes, nose, and mouth downward into a permanent scowl. His body, what was left of it, had followed a similar route of degradation. He relied on others to help him perform the simplest tasks now. But at least he was still alive, when so many of his brothers in arms, indeed perhaps all of them, were dead, many by violent means. This made him angry. History showed that inferiors were perpetually jealous of those greater than them.
He ﬁnally put down his book. At his age three or four hours’ sleep at a time was all that was required, but it was now that he required it. He called for his attendant by pushing the blue button on the small circular device he always wore around his neck. It had three buttons, one for the attendant, one for his doctor, and one for security. He had enemies and ailments, but the attendant was mostly for pleasure.
The woman entered. Barbara had blonde hair and was dressed in a hip-hugging white miniskirt and tank-top blouse that allowed him a liberal view of her breasts as she bent down to help him up into his wheelchair. He had insisted on her wearing revealing clothing as a condition of employment. Old, rich, perverted men could do what they pleased. His wrinkled face nestled against her soft cleavage and lingered there. As her strong arms slid him onto the wide seat, his hand slipped under her skirt. His ﬁngers glided along the backs of her ﬁrm thighs until they touched her buttocks. Then he gave each cheek a hard squeeze. He let out a small moan of appreciation. Barbara made no reaction because she was well paid to endure his groping.
She wheeled him to the elevator and they rode in the car together to his bedroom. She helped him undress, averting her eyes from his collapsed body. Even with all his fortune he could not force her to look at his nakedness. Decades ago she would have certainly looked at him, and also done so much more for him. If she wanted to live. Now he was simply helped on with his pajamas like an infant. In the morning he would be washed and fed, again like a baby instead of a man. The cycle was complete. From cradle back to cradle and then the grave.
“Sit with me, Barbara,” he commanded. “I want to look at you.” He said all this in German. That was the other reason he had hired her; she spoke his native language. There were few left around here who could.
She sat, crossed her long, tanned legs, and kept her hands in her lap, occasionally smiling at him because she was paid to. She should be thankful to him, he felt, because she could either work for him in this grand house where the tasks were easy and the time in between long, or else go whore herself on the streets of nearby Buenos Aires for what amounted to pennies a day.
He ﬁnally waved his hand and she immediately rose and closed the door behind her. He leaned back on the pillows. She would probably go to her room, strip off her clothes, leap in the shower, and scrub hard enough to rub the ﬁlth of his touch off her. He quietly chuckled at this image. Even as a shrunken old man he could have some effect on people.
He vividly remembered the glorious days when he would walk into a room, the heels of his knee-high ofﬁcer’s boots clicking on the concrete ﬂoor. That sound alone would send ripples of terror throughout the entire camp. Now that was power. Every day he was given the privilege of feeling that sense of invincibility. His every command was carried out with no hesitation. His men would line up the vermin, long columns of them in their filthy clothes, their heads bowed, but still they eyed the shine of his magnificent boots, the power of his uniform. Playing God, he would decide which ones would die and which ones would live. The living hardly got the better of it, for their reward was a hell on earth, as painful and miserable and degrading as he could possibly make it.
He shifted to the left and pushed against a rectangle of paneling on his headboard. The piece of wood swung outward and his hand shakily punched in the combination on the safe door revealed there. He slid his hand in and pulled out the photo, then settled back on his pillow and looked down at it. He calculated that it was taken sixty-eight years ago to the day. His mind was still all there, even if his body had deserted him.
He was only in his late twenties in the picture, but he’d been given great responsibility because of his brains and ruthlessness. Tall and slender, he had light blond hair that was striking against his tanned, square-jawed face. He looked so ﬁne in his full uniform with all his medals, though he had to concede that hardly any of them were actually earned. He had never seen combat since he had never been able to muster much personal courage. The talentless masses could fire the guns and die in the trenches. His skills had allowed him to seek safer ground. His eyes ﬁlled with tears at the sight of what he had once been; and next to him of course stood the man himself. He was small in stature, but colossal in every other way. His black mustache was frozen for all time over the expressive mouth.
He kissed his younger self in the photo and then did the same to the cheek of his magnificent Führer, completing his nighttime ritual. He returned the photo to its hiding place and thought about the years since he’d ﬂed Germany months before the Allies marched in and Berlin fell. He’d come here by prearrangement because he’d seen the inevitable outcome of the war, perhaps before his superiors had. He’d spent decades in hiding but once more used his “talents” to build an empire of wealth from mineral and timber exports in his new homeland, ruthlessly crushing all competition. Yet he longed for the old days, when the life and death of another human being was solely in his hands.
He would sleep comfortably tonight as he did every night, his conscience clear. He felt his eyelids growing heavy when he was surprised to hear the door opening again. He looked across the gloom of the chamber. She stood there silhouetted against the darkness.