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BOOK: Nobody Dies For Free
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It was now afternoon in
Cradle and the streets were as busy as Monroe guessed they ever
got. The mailman sauntered by, and some schoolchildren, then a man
who may have been the local lawyer or even the mayor. There were a
few teenagers, a thirtyish mother with a baby in a carriage, and a
greasy-shirted mechanic.

A few of them eyed Monroe
suspiciously and he could see the idea of “Stanger,” rolling around
behind their eyes. This did not bother him. He had been in so many
cities in so many countries over the years that he was used to it.
He wondered what the first rumor would assume him to be: travelling
salesman, fugitive, prodigal son of the town, or some poor soul
whose car had broken down somewhere just outside the
town?

A few more townspeople
drifted by and then a small child stopped right in front of Monroe.
It was a little boy, probably no more than seven or eight years
old, with a Scooby-Doo t-shirt showing underneath a hooded jacket
that was zipped up only halfway. The kid stared up at Monroe, who
must have looked toweringly tall from that angle, and spoke in the
rote way a child actor might talk in a cheap movie.


If you are hungry, you
should try the diner. It’s very good on Tuesdays.”

The boy ran off after that
and disappeared around the next corner. Monroe brought up the
mental calendar that he had ignored so much in recent months,
remembered the date on his bus ticket, and calculated. Yes, it was
Tuesday. The kid must have broken the cardinal rule of modern
childhood and talked to a stranger. Lucky kid: he’d probably made a
buck or two, enough to seem like a fortune when you’re
seven.

Monroe turned and walked
across the street to the town’s only diner. The front window looked
darker than it should have in the afternoon. He approached the door
to find a “Closed” sign. Under the sign was a little note on a
sheet torn from a yellow legal pad, taped there on the inside of
the glass. Somebody had tried poetry.


Sorry folks,


The oven’s
broke.


But don’t feel
sorrow,


Come back
tomorrow!”

And under the clumsy verses
was a smaller note:


If you’re the repairman
from RM Electric and Gas, come around back.”

RM: his initials. Monroe
walked around to the side of the building, slid down the narrow
alley that separated the diner from the pharmacy, and found the
back door beside a dumpster and a smaller receptacle that stunk of
discarded grease. He wished he was armed.

He pushed on the door, found
it unlocked, and went in. The kitchen was empty, but the aroma of
food, not terrible, was coming from the other part of the place. He
walked through the kitchen and into the main dining area. The
overhead lights were out but a small lamp glowed in one corner. In
the single illuminated booth, a man sat munching on a hamburger.
Across from his was a second place setting with a sandwich and a
mug that still had steam floating up into the lamplight.


Sit down already,” said the
burger eater.

Monroe went over and slipped
into the booth. Ignoring the food, he stared straight into the face
of his companion. The suit was what he had expected. A man in
black, but not one he had seen before. The man was older, maybe
sixty or even sixty-five. The hair was short and gray, ex-military
style. Lines of experience, most of it harsh, crisscrossed the brow
and danced around the eyes. Only one of those eyes was real, Monroe
realized, the other of glass, certainly.


It took three days’
receipts to get these people to close the diner for a few hours,”
the man said. “There’s really nothing wrong with the oven, of
course, but I’m sure you already knew that. Do you know the one
all-important rule of American diners?”

Monroe shrugged.


Then I’ll tell you,” the
burger man said. “Don’t order beyond the class of the place! Diner
food is diner food and you can’t raise that bar! This is a damn
fine burger and you’ll find that turkey club and coffee in front of
you to be quite adequate. Now if I’d had the owner fix me a filet
mignon before I kicked him out, I’d regret it later. When in Rome,
do as the Romans do…and when in a diner, keep it
simple!”

Monroe took a sip of the
coffee, his instincts telling him that it was not drugged or
otherwise malignant. “I don’t know you, do I?”


You do now,” the old
soldier said. “But I won’t tell you my real name and, after today,
chances are you’ll never see me in person again. Most people who
know I exist—and there aren’t too many of them—call me Mr. Nine,
because they say I have as many lives as a cat. Problem is, every
time I almost die but manage to crawl back to life, I seem to end
up with more scars to add to my collection.”

With that, Mr. Nine lifted
his fork to his face and tapped the prongs against the surface of
the glass eye, creating a very sonar sort of pinging sound. He
laughed at his own little trick and then looked Monroe straight in
the eyes. “Now we get down to business.”


Good,” Monroe said.
“Getting here was too much a chore for there to be no payoff. Who
are you with? Is it CIA, DHS, FBI, Interpol…or none of the
above?”


None of the below,
actually,” Mr. Nine said. “I like to think I’m more important than
any of those clusterfuck agencies. Don’t worry, I’m not here to
pull you back into Central Intelligence. I’m here to offer you
something much more interesting.”


Then enlighten me already,”
Monroe insisted.


Let’s see if I’ve got all
my facts straight first,” Mr. Nine said, and he proceeded to rattle
off words like he was reading from a dossier, although there was
nothing in front of his but a half-eaten burger and a few stray
fries. “Richard Monroe, age forty, born in Massachusetts to a pair
of physicians, both now deceased. Educated at Harvard and spent a
year at Oxford before being granted a commission in the United
States Navy where you learned something about the intelligence
field. Went CIA after the Navy, worked the field on various
continents for nearly a decade, did your share of wet-work too but
were known mostly as a seducer and pawn-mover. You were finally
stationed in Paris just about five years ago where you met and fell
in love with a Genevieve Piaget, married her and went soft around
the edges. She dies, you crack, dump Uncle Sam and go rogue on us,
but manage to track down and take out one Baltasar al-Hamsi, a very
skilled assassin who’s been on our radar for quite some time. Is
all that about right,

Monroe?”


It is,” Monroe
confirmed.


Good,” said Mr. Nine. “And
now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, are you ready to
put the weeping widower act aside and get back to
business?”


Maybe I’ve had enough of
that business,” Monroe challenged.


This isn’t quite the same
game,” Mr. Nine said.


Different rules
then?”


Very different,” Mr. Nine
promised.


Keep talking.”


I color outside the lines,
Monroe,” Mr. Nine said. “This is no big network of agents, just me
and one operative, although there are occasional interactions with
the other boys in the business. No high-tech crap either. Too much
of that makes things unnecessarily complicated and too easy to
bungle if the system goes down or gets hacked. Cell phones,
computers when needed, GPS if we must, but we do not rely on those
things. I much prefer good old-fashioned espionage and shadows.
What I oversee, Monroe, are operations where we don’t want multiple
agents in multiple locations tripping over each other to get to the
prize. I need one man out there doing the dirty work that I’m too
old—and too ugly—to do.”


And you think I’m that
man,” Monroe said.


I hope you might be,” Mr.
Nine confirmed. “You’re a two-sided coin, Monroe. There’s the sleek
side: the handsome, laughing seducer with the looks and the charm
to find a niche in any tribe. And then there’s the serpent: the
hidden killer, ready to strike when needed, venomous to the core,
even if that core doesn’t come to the surface too often. That
little business in Istanbul proved to me that the core is still
intact, even after five years of lovey-dovey mush in Paris. So,
basically, Monroe, here’s what I’m offering: I pay you well. I set
you up in the sort of lifestyle you learned to enjoy in Europe with
all the fine food, fine wine, nice cars, women, too, when you’re
ready for them again. In return, you keep your mind and body sharp
and make sure you’re ready when I need you. That could be tomorrow
and it could be months from now; the sort of situations I deal with
tend to pop up unpredictably. All I really ask is that you stay in
the States so it doesn’t take you days to get back here when
something comes up.”


So this is purely
domestic?” Monroe asked.


Not at all,” Mr. Nine
answered. “I could need you in Shanghai tomorrow for all I know,
but I’d rather have you here as a starting point. So what do you
think of my offer?”


Oh, I’m intrigued,” Monroe
said, “but I need one more thing before I answer.”


What would that
be?”


I need proof that you’re on
the right side of the fence and not pulling some scam for some
foreign power trying to turn an American agent to their own
devices.”


If you hadn’t asked for
that proof,” Mr. Nine said with his voice cold and hard now, “I’d
have shot you where you sit. You may have run off in your grief,
Monroe, but you don’t have a drop of treason in your blood, do
you?”


No, sir,” Monroe
said.

And then Mr. Nine spoke.
From his lips flowed a series of numbers and names and codes and
secrets that very few men in the world and certainly none outside
the highest levels of the CIA and comparable agencies within the
United States and its closest allies would know. That was enough
for Richard Monroe. He smiled and nodded. He suddenly trusted the
mysterious Mr. Nine, and the future looked interesting
again.

Mr. Nine lifted a small
square box from his seat to the table and slid it across to Monroe.
“This is for you,” he said. “Inside, you’ll find a new cell phone.
Don’t try to call me; I’ll call you. Also, a gun: nothing fancy,
just a basic Glock for now. More interesting tools will be provided
when required for the job at hand. There’s some ammo in there too.
Get some practice in. Records say you’re a good shot, but scrape
the rust off, please. And one more item in the package: the keys to
your new car. I hope a Lexus is all right. It’s parked around the
corner. Now get out of here. Pick a city, any city in the
continental states, and get yourself an apartment or even a house
if that’s what you want. You’ve got enough money stocked away from
when you were married, so you can set yourself up, but don’t worry
about running out. As I said before, you’ll be well paid for your
work. Now get out of here and get back to civilization, Monroe.
Cradle, Wisconsin is not your kind of town.”

Chapter 3: A
Bullet Misplaced

 

 

Monroe chose Boston. He had
to settle somewhere in the United States. He wanted a city and
preferred the east coast to the west. New York was too tight and
full for his tastes; Miami was too hot; Washington was too
political. But Boston seemed ideal: wonderfully historical, the
closest major city to his birthplace and childhood world, and
familiar enough from his college days in Cambridge to have
sentimental meaning. But far enough removed in time from his CIA
days to have a sense of freshness about it. Boston it would be
then, for now at least.

He drove the whole way from
Wisconsin to Boston, enjoying the feel of the new Lexus as it
rolled over the highways like a marble on a silk tablecloth. He
spent his first week in Boston sleeping in hotels while he renewed
his acquaintance with the city, relearned the major routes, and
looked for more permanent lodgings. Money was not an issue; he had
enough left from France to start off in the upper-middle class
lifestyle and go from there, assuming he would hear from Mr. Nine
in the near future.

It would not be a house,
Monroe decided immediately upon beginning his quest. One man did
not need that much space. An apartment would do, a nice penthouse,
a beautiful blank canvass of a residence that he could furnish to
his personal tastes. He intended to keep it simple at
first.

He found a suitable place, a
top-story penthouse with a poetic view of a large park, and managed
to fill it with furniture, probably more than one man needed as he
soon found that he rarely occupied any spot other than one large
armchair, his bed, and the kitchen chair that quickly became his
default perch for breakfast. He rarely watched television, except
for the news. Having spent too many hours in front of a monitor and
keyboard when still with the CIA, he avoided the computer. He
filled his afternoons with reading, reacquainting himself with the
classics—everything from Chaucer to the middle of the twentieth
century, trying to alternate between the major canon material like
Shakespeare and the joyously pulpy stuff like Chandler and Fleming.
On most evenings, he ventured out into the city and experimented
with different restaurants: Italian, Japanese, Thai, Greek,
American, fusion styles. He ate a bit of everything, except French
food, for that might bring up memories of Genevieve and rob him of
his appetite.

BOOK: Nobody Dies For Free
10.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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