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BOOK: Nobody Dies For Free
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His head still throbbed when
he woke up in the Turkish prison. He cursed in his mind. Had he
been on camera in the subway? Where had he slipped up? He was
screwed now, and he knew it. Turkish prisons were the worst, and
murder counted for, at the very least, life inside the walls. He
found himself hoping for execution and wondered—and religion was
not a frequent subject in his mind—if he might possibly find
Genevieve in the afterlife.

His death hopes were
short-lived. A key rattled in the cell door and a small Turkish man
in a tan suit waltzed in. The mouth opened and smooth English
poured out.


I am the warden here and I
want you to leave my prison immediately.”

He tossed an envelope onto
the floor in front of the slab Monroe had slept on.


In there,” the warden said,
“is the money my men found on you, as well as two tickets for an
airplane trip and a new passport bearing your real name, Mr.
Monroe. You will leave here and go to a hotel where you will make
yourself not stink so much. You will purchase new clothing. You
will go to the airport and board a flight to Chicago in the United
States. When you land there, you will get on a bus, one of those
Gray Dog buses that are so famous in your country, and you will
ride to the small town of Cradle, located in the state of
Wisconsin. If you do not go to Cradle, then you will be sent to
your grave.”

Monroe almost laughed at the
warden’s unintended abuse of an old expression, but he refrained
and let the last words come from the small Turk’s lips.


Do these things now. Get
out of my jail!”

Chapter 2: Very
Good on Tuesdays

 

 

Less than twelve hours
later, Richard Monroe was not only seated aboard a 747, but he
looked like the man he had been more than six months earlier. He
had left the Turkish prison and done precisely as the warden had
instructed him, not wanting to tempt Fate any further. He found a
hotel and shaved off that horrible beard after being stunned by how
bad he looked. He saw himself in the mirror for the first time
after his mind had cleared of the haze of grief and anger that had
consumed him since Paris. He had a barber sent up to the room too
and had a much needed trimming done, followed by a massage and a
long, very hot shower. He then bought a new suit, not as good as
what he had owned in Paris, but at least it fit him well. He looked
like a man again and not a raggedy rat.

The staff in the lobby did
not recognize the man who walked out of the hotel as the same who
entered only hours before. Some of them even looked twice or thrice
at him now. Richard Monroe was six-foot-two, thin but in a solid,
athletic way, had a full head of brown hair just a few shades shy
of black that was now cut to a length that would have fit the style
of any era from the nineteen-forties onward. His eyes were blue and
bright, the sort of eyes that can shift from a flirtatious heat to
a calculating cold in a split-second’s time. The only thing that
was slightly off from what he had been for most of the years he had
spent travelling and seeing to the sort of business that most
people never even realize is transacted was that he now had a
certain weariness in his expression. He wore the slight scarring of
the aura that occurs when a constant winner loses badly for the
first time. He now faced the aftermath, hopefully temporary, of
staring into the jaws of the abyss. Monroe knew the weariness was
there, but he still had not decided if it was there to stay or if
even the deepest wound he had ever suffered would someday heal over
and let him come fully back to life.

He left the hotel and took a
cab ride to the airport, carrying only one bag. The contents
included a change of casual clothes, toiletries, and the money he
still had in his possession. This had shrunk, but would still keep
him lodged and fed for a week or two before he had to resort to
bank funds. He had opted to ditch the misericord; the only souvenir
he needed was the memory of the look in the eyes of the prey as the
predator had struck, turning the tables on a professional reaper.
That was a souvenir that could be touched at will but would not
intrude otherwise the way a physical memento might. The long, thin
medieval blade had found a new home in the sewer system of
Istanbul, where Monroe hoped it would rot out of this world like
its final victim: ashes to ashes, rust to rust.

The 747 took off and Monroe
wondered what awaited him in the previously unheard of town of
Cradle, Wisconsin. He had a few ideas, but nothing definite to go
on, so he put speculation aside and let it drift out of his mind.
He would find out soon enough.

He had his face back, his
posture back, and his mental clarity back. What Richard Monroe
needed to recover now was his personality, the one that might have
been the real one and might have been the mask; he could not be
sure which it was anymore. The hard man inside, the one who had
killed Baltasar al-Hamsi had been real enough before Genevieve and
was real when he came back. Before the five years in Paris, the
cultured, witty playboy Monroe had been the illusion, a tool to
advance the spy game. But then Genevieve had come along and maybe,
Monroe thought, she had made that part of him real too. Now he
found himself hoping that he could blend the two, keep both the
angel and the devil on his shoulders, even if he found it hard to
distinguish which held the pitchfork and which wore the halo. He
swore to himself that he would be complete again, as complete as he
could be without Genevieve. That was what she would have wanted for
him.

Yes, he vowed, he would feel
pleasure again, and he would seek purpose again. Something to do
that
meant
something, a life beyond personal needs. Richard
Monroe vowed to rebuild.

His personality, he thought,
yes, where was it now? He breathed deeply once and realized that he
would just have to fake it until it became real, and what better
place to work at it than an airplane full of people who had never
seen him before?

He smiled, not sure how real
it was.

He was seated in coach on a
European airline. The flight would take him to London, where he
would change planes and head to Chicago from there. The passengers
were a mix of European, Middle Eastern, and a few fellow Americans.
The seat next to Monroe was unoccupied, for which he was glad, for
it meant that he would not be tied to a conversation for the
duration of the flight.

Once the flight was in full
swing, a stewardess began to make her rounds. Monroe watched her as
she approached, stopping to talk to the passengers in the rows
before his. She was Eastern European by birth, he decided, probably
from some place that was now a broken-off puzzle piece of the
former Soviet Union. She was late-twenties, attractive, the sort of
slim, muscular woman who had probably been involved in either
ballet or gymnastics a decade earlier—a cliché almost, he supposed.
She was not only a stock character, Monroe decided, but a target
for the practice of the arts he had kept dormant for the span of
his marriage. Now it was time to play.


Would you like a drink,
sir?” she asked him as she stood in the aisle beside his seat. Her
accent confirmed his guess about her nationality. There was a
definite hint of Russian or some close cousin in her voice. Her
name tag said, “Irina,” and he would use that.

Name badges could be put to
two kinds of uses, Monroe had long ago learned. Picking at the
name, repeatedly sticking your knowledge of it under the named
one’s nose could cause irritation, annoyance, bitterness. But using
it wisely, placing it gently and strategically into your sentences
could put the wearer of the tag at ease with you and slip a sweet
little familiarity into the exchange.


You know, Irina,” Monroe
said, “I think I
will
have a drink. Make it a scotch,
please.”


Yes, sir,” Irina said, and
she went off to fetch it.

Monroe smiled. Not too much
yet: just a kind request, the insertion of her name, a smile. He
realized also at that moment that it would be his first real drink
since the glass of wine he had just an hour before the bullet
outside the Paris Opera. He had not allowed himself the enjoyment
of a drink or anything else vaguely related to relaxation in the
months between the bullet and the misericord. He was ready now to
enjoy that scotch.


Here you are, sir,” Irina
said as she came back down the aisle and handed him the
glass.

Monroe took it slowly from
her and let it hang in the air between them just long enough to
make their eyes meet. “Thank you, Irina, and there’s no need to
call me ‘sir.’ I don’t look that old, do I?”

The stewardess smiled. “No,
sir, not at all, I just…”


You just call every man
that. I know. It’s part of the job. It’s all right if you make an
exception for me, isn’t it? My name is Rick.”

And as he spoke, he let his
eyes wander down just enough, just a glance at her neck, her
blouse, her skirt. Enough to signal interest without seeming openly
predatory, working like a pianist who knows how, and when, to hit
just the right notes without going too far.


The customer, I think you
say in America,” Irina laughed, “is usually right,
Rick.”

She turned and walked away,
leaving Monroe to his scotch. He took the first sip, satisfied that
he still had what it took. A tiny part of his mind was tempted to
see if he could take it to its conclusion, maybe borrow a few hours
of Irina’s time when they reached London, but he held off. It was
too soon after Genevieve, he told himself, and he wanted to get to
the bottom of whatever his new situation in life was going to be
before he indulged too much.

Irina continued to smile at
him throughout the flight, kept calling him Rick too, but he left
it at that. The point had been proven, to himself, so there was no
need to prove anything to her.

The Istanbul to London leg
of the flight went by faster than Monroe had anticipated. He felt
good and so time slipped through his fingers. He walked around
Heathrow Airport for an hour between flights, had a bite to eat,
and was soon airborne again. On his way to the United States for
the first time in half a decade; he could hardly believe it had
been that long. He had been placed in Paris by the CIA, had
expected perhaps a six-month term in that station, but then
Genevieve had happened and they let him stay, apparently having
decided that marriage added realism to his cover. Five years away
from the country of his birth: that was a record for Richard
Monroe. He had mixed feelings about going back.

 

***

 

Chicago was cold. Monroe did
not dilly-dally there. He got off the plane at O’Hare, stopped in
the city only long enough to buy a better coat, one with a
winter-worthy liner even though it was only autumn now, and figure
out the Greyhound routes.

Aboard the bus an hour later
and rolling out of the Windy City, destination: Cradle, Wisconsin.
Monroe felt very out of sorts in that rolling tin can, crowded in
with the job-seeking wanderers, runaway kids, recently released
prisoners, and a few enlisted soldiers trying to get home the
budget way. He had not been on a bus in years, at least not when he
was really who he was. He was not counting the months as a ragged,
vengeance-seeking nomad crisscrossing Europe on a heartbroken
crusade, for it now felt like it had been someone else on that
journey.

Mercifully, Monroe managed
to doze for most of the pilgrimage, getting off only at some of the
stops, only when he had to urinate. By the time the bus reached
Wisconsin, most of the passenger load had changed, a few getting
off or on at each stop. Monroe stayed the course, rolling past
dairy fiends and little towns with old-style cemeteries and
frequent baseball diamonds. The Greyhound finally stopped in Cradle
and Monroe disembarked. He stood with case in hand as the bus left
the scene and he began to size up the little town that he had never
heard of until the Turkish warden had walked into his
cell.

Cradle was indeed a small
town. Except for the cars being modern and some of the sidewalk
people texting or talking on BlackBerrys, Cradle might have just
been thawed out from the Rockwell era. They had passed a Wal-Mart a
few miles outside town and Monroe suspected that most of the town’s
residents worked there or maybe on farms that lay on the edges of
Cradle, for there did not seem to be enough in-town businesses to
support the population of even a small settlement like this one,
the several thousand that Monroe guessed might live in such a
place. There was a post office, two churches, elementary school, a
police station that made Monroe think of Mayberry, only one gas
station in sight, the necessary diner, and just a scattering of
other things: doctor, dentist, hair salon for the women and
barbershop for the men. Monroe noticed a few obviously dead
storefronts too, presumably victims of the Wal-Mart
invasion.

So that was Cradle. What was
he doing there? Standing on the corner of what had to be called
Main Street—he did not bother to look for a sign yet—in a town that
was probably left off most maps and that Google Earth may not even
have noticed. Monroe knew that all he could do now was to wait.
Whoever had wanted him here had managed to get him out of prison,
fly him across the world, and demand his presence in the middle of
nowhere. They would reveal themselves sooner or later, but probably
sooner.

BOOK: Nobody Dies For Free
4.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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