Authors: Jeff Abbott
Now I am back for a short visit. The terrorist rivals to Blood of Fire, the scum who paid Khaled Murad to kill my brothers with a bomb, have cells across Europe. I have infiltrated such a cell in Paris—with a certain amount of ease, as they believe, I think, my brothers were cut down by the Israeli and Americans and that I am a highly motivated convert to their cause. The cell believes I am doing their filthy work by scouring bombing locations: They want to start a wave of terror attacks against banks and stock brokerages in America, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and France, to weaken the economies, to fray the strength of alliances. I expect to have the details soon, and if I do my job right, the attacks will never happen and an interconnection of cells, from Paris to New York and beyond, will be compromised and destroyed.
And no other innocent families will have to suffer. That drives me, keeps me sharp, keeps me alive until the work is done.
They tell me if my cover and my name are blown, they will give me a new life, protect me. Perhaps. They might just send me to work somewhere else. Which is fine, as once the taste of deception gets in your blood—it is nearly unimaginable to live without it.
I have to go back to work. I remember the man’s face, and I hope I wear a similar mask of strength and resolve.
A month after New Orleans, Ben Forsberg sat on a park bench under the shade of a pine tree in Tyler, Texas. He was waiting for the girl and her mother to walk by; he had shadowed them for a few days, carefully, so that they didn’t notice him watching them. Picking the right moment to say hello.
The east Texas summer was in full, brutal bloom, and the humidity and heat beat like a whip. But a temperamental wind, rising and fading, offered a touch of relief. The park was full. Dogs walked beside their masters, boys sliced the sky with Frisbees, picnickers lounged in the shade, couples strolled under the pines.
Then here came the mother and daughter, holding a kite. Laughing.
He walked and then stopped in front of them. “Mrs. Choate?”
The woman froze and it took her a good five seconds to break her silence. “Well, I once was. I’m Kimberly Dawson now.”
The girl gaped at him.
Ben flicked an awkward smile. “My name is Ben Forsberg. I knew your husband Randall in Indonesia.”
“Oh, my God,” the woman said.
“What was said about him wasn’t true. He wasn’t a drug smuggler. He was framed. I thought you should know the truth.”
The two women were silent. The teenager trembled, as if she might turn and run.
“Is this a sick joke?” Mrs. Dawson said. “It’s not at all funny . . .”
“No joke. Please, just give me a minute. Tamara, you look like your dad.”
“I know,” Tamara said. “I’ve seen pictures.”
Mrs. Dawson stepped closer to the girl. “Did you want something, Mr. Forsberg?” She put a protective arm around the girl, as though she were not happy with the past reaching out toward them, in the sunlight of a perfect summer day.
“I thought Tamara might like to have a keepsake of her father’s.” He handed the girl a sketchbook, small, and black. A hole marred the lower right corner. “I’m sorry it’s damaged.”
Tamara opened the book and gasped at the sketches of herself, from babyhood onward, her face captured in perfect details. She put a hand over her mouth.
“How did he know what I would look like?” Tamara flipped through the pages. “My God, Mom, these drawings, they’re amazing . . .” She stopped at the drawing of herself sitting on a park bench, in the cooling shade of the pines. Stared at the paper, and then up at the park around her, as if it could not be. Realizing what the picture meant, looking up the hill to see where the man must have stood and watched.
“Good imagination,” Mrs. Dawson said in a voice tinged with frost. “Do you work for my late husband’s company, Mr. Forsberg?”
He sensed she knew something of his work for the CIA. “No—I was just his friend.” He leaned down to the girl. “Tamara, I didn’t know your father for very long, but I know that he loved you very much. You can see it in the sketches, his love for you. And I know he always wanted to do the right thing. I know . . . he would have loved to have his life with you. I really wish he could have. Everything would have been different.” Everything. Pilgrim’s life. Ben’s life.
Tamara closed the book, folded her fingers around it. She seemed too stunned to smile or cry. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Ben said to them both and walked away, out of the shadow of the pines, into the bright sunlight, into his beginning.
Many thanks to Ben Sevier, Brian Tart, Lisa Johnson, Erika Imranyi, and everyone at Dutton; David Shelley, Ursula Mackenzie, Jenny Fry, Thalia Proctor, Nathalie Morse, and everyone at Little, Brown UK; Kara Welsh, Kristen Weber, and everyone at NAL; Peter Ginsberg, Shirley Stewart, Holly Frederick, Dave Barbor, and Nathan Bransford; Joyce and Al Preisser; Madeira James; Phil Hunt, M.D., and Charlyne Cooper.
Special thanks to Christine Wiltz, a wonderful writer and guide to New Orleans, and to my mother, Elizabeth Norrid, my guide to the Dallas suburbs.
And always, heartfelt thanks to Leslie, Charles, and William.
About the Author
Nominated for three Edgar and two Anthony Awards, Jeff Abbott is the internationally bestselling author of nine novels, including
Fear, Panic, Cut and Run, Black Jack Point,
A Kiss Gone Bad.
He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and family.