Authors: Elizabeth Lowell
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense
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Tell Me No Lies
scanned by Ginevra
Some of the world's most priceless artifacts are being smuggled into the U.S. An international crisis is about to explode unless a desperate trap to catch a thief succeeds. One woman is the key
Lindsay Danner. Her worldwide reputation as an expert in ancient treasures and her knowledge of the international art market make her the perfect pawn in a deadly game. But she needs protection.
TELL ME NO LIES
Copyright Š 1986 by Two of a Kind, Inc.
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.
Catlin barely controlled a sound of disbelief. Adrenaline poured through him, ripping away the comforts of the present, revealing the bones of the past when a woman had taught him the true meaning of betrayal. The lesson would have cost his life had it not been for the speed of another man. The woman had died. The other man had died. The man known then as Jacques-Pierre Rousseau had lived.
He looked at the ancient Chinese coin lying in his palm. The metal had been cut deliberately in half, sundering the vague, graceful lines of a swallow in flight, leaving a bird with one wing. Inside the cut, the copper's untarnished core shone like a pale wound. The coin was both familiar and subtly alien. He was used to seeing the other half of the swallow, the half that he carried as a good luck charm, the half that had come into his hands a world and a lifetime ago.
Long ago, far away, in another country.
Catlin's eyes shifted from the coin to the slight, erect figure of Chen Yi.
"An interesting keepsake," said Catlin neutrally. "A shame about the mutilation. Han coins like this are rare."
"A man of your connections could join both halves," pointed out Yi in a soft voice.
"Oh? Did you bring the other half with you?" asked Catlin, but the verbal fencing had already lost its urgency. He had the other half in his pocket. All that remained was to be sure that Yi's possession of the coin wasn't an accident or a trick to win Catlin's confidence.
Yi waited, his face as impassive as Catlin's.
"How did you get this?" asked Catlin.
"From a man who was also named Chen."
"There are literally millions of Chens in China."
Yi took a hard pull on the evil-smelling Chinese cigarette he held. The act was a sign of addiction, not nervousness. Yi was not a nervous man.
The distinctive odor of Yi's cigarette, the odd cadence of Yi's English, and the ancient Chinese coin all combined to give Catlin a feeling of dreamlike unreality. He wasn't fool enough to give in to the feeling. The adrenaline expanding through his body in a chemical shock wave told him that the night and the moment were all too real, potentially deadly.
"Which Chen gave this to you?" asked Catlin, flipping the mutilated coin absently into the air, catching it, flipping it again. His voice was like his body, totally controlled, poised for whatever might come next. Including death.
"It came with word of my " Yi stopped speaking abruptly as he searched his memory for the exact equivalent of a Chinese word. It did not come to him. "What is the English word for my father's brother's nephew's nephew's son?" asked Yi.
"Shirttail cousin," Catlin offered sardonically.
The sound was not the soft near-sigh used by Americans. It was a blunt verbal punctuation mark signifying that a point had been made. That, and the ever-burning unfiltered cigarette, branded Yi as a modern mainland Chinese more surely than his folded eyelids or the subtle golden cast of his skin.
"The cut coin came to me with the notice of the death of my shirttail cousin, Chen Tiang-Shi," said Yi.
The name caused a chain reaction of memories in Catlin's mind. For an instant he lived again in Southeast Asia, felt again the delicacy of Mei's hands searching over his hot flesh, smelled again the heady scent of her aroused body, knew again the moment of blank shock when at the instant of his own release she raised a gun barrel toward his head. He knew then that he was dead, that the woman who was climaxing beneath him at that moment would kill him in the next, that he had been betrayed in ways that he could not begin to name or number. Then the shots, the convulsive leap of flesh, more shots, the red rains of a woman he had loved lying across him. And Chen Tiang-Shi slumped at the foot of the pallet, apologizing even as he died cursing his treacherous cousin Genevieve Mei Chen Deneuve.
Later the mutilated coin had come to Catlin, bearing only the message that one day the other half would also come to him, and with it a small request that he could ignore or honor as he chose.
Catlin's eyes focused on the silent figure waiting for his decision. "If it is in my power, it is yours," said Catlin simply. "And the English word to describe Chen Tiang-Shi is man. His life gave honor to his family and to his ancestors."
Yi bowed slightly, making light stir within his fine, nearly white hair. "As I was told," he murmured, "no matter what name you wear, you are a man of great face."
Grimly Catlin waited for the flattery to end so that he could find out what kind of bargain he had made for the redemption of his younger, more foolish soul.
"You no longer work in Indochina," said Yi.
It was a statement, not a question, but Catlin answered. "I no longer work in Indochina."
"You no longer work for your government."
This time Catlin hesitated, counting all the gradations of lie up to the final truth. "I don't work against my government, either."
"Ah." Yi noted the caveat, absorbed it and continued. "You owe no loyalty to family, community or tradition."
"Not in the Chinese sense," agreed Catlin.
"You walk in no man's shadow."
"Not if I can help it," Catlin said dryly. "I love the sun."
Yi looked at him with black, shrewd eyes set wide in a face the color and texture of parchment. Yi was clean shaven; the People's Republic of China had little use for the thin beards that had been the Chinese style since Confucius. Yi's nails, though long for Western tastes, were not so lengthy as to draw immediate attention. Although his hair had little black left in it, and his voice was breathy from a lifetime of cigarettes, his eyes as they probed Catlin were those of a young man clear, quick, intense.
Catlin underwent the scrutiny with patience, sensing that Yi was trying to understand him by describing him. To a Chinese, Catlin's lack of blood and community ties was unthinkable, abhorrent.
"You worship neither the Christian God, the Muslim Prophet, the Buddha, the silent Tao, the once-voluble Mao nor your own ancestors," continued Yi. "Yet you are a man of great face. A man of honor."
Catlin made a gesture with one hand that could have signified agreement, disagreement or anything between.
"I am grateful to Chen Tiang-Shi," murmured Yi, "that you survived a woman's treachery to enlighten this poor intellect on the true nature of the impossible."
Impassively Yi continued studying the much larger, much more powerful man whose name had once been whispered in tones of fear and admiration throughout Indochina. Yi nodded abruptly, having reached a decision. He lit a crumpled cigarette from the ragged stub of the previous one and began to talk about events more tangible than honor, enlightenment and the nature of impossibility.
"You are familiar with the archaeological explorations at Xi'an?" asked Yi.
Again, it was more statement than question, but again, Catlin answered.
"I no longer collect Warring States bronzes," Catlin said deliberately, "but yes, I know about Xi'an and the Emperor's Army. It is arguably the greatest archaeological find in the history of man."
Yi looked for an ashtray, found none and tossed the thinly smoking butt into the fireplace.
"If you did collect such bronzes," asked Yi, "what would you pay for a charioteer, chariot and horses inlaid in gold and silver, half life-size, from Emperor Qin's own grave?"
Catlin didn't bother to conceal the swift intake of his breath, for he knew that his interest would already have been revealed by the equally swift dilation of his pupils. He hadn't had to live undercover in several years. He had gotten out of the habit of making his body live the same lies as his mind.
And the offer itself was breathtaking. It was like asking an avid Egyptologist if he would like to own King Tut's solid gold coffin.
"If I were still collecting, I would pay whatever I had to for such a bronze," Catlin said quietly.
"Five hundred thousand American dollars?" pressed Yi.
"One million American dollars?"
"If I had it. And if I were sure that the bronze was neither fraudulent nor available in quantity." Catlin smiled rather grimly, thinking of the Chinese government's stand on the exportation of antiquities. "Given the PRC's position on the illegal export of cultural treasures, I don't think that Emperor Qin's bronzes will be a drug on the art market anytime soon. Unless there has been a change of policy?"
Yi's dark glance didn't waver. "There has been no change."
"Then this discussion is, as we say, academic."
The cigarette glowed urgently between Yi's narrow lips.
Catlin waited, sensing that the Chinese had approached a point of no return.
"It should be," Yi said curtly. "It is not."
"And I'm not a collector of Chinese bronzes." Catlin's voice was smooth and hard, leaving no doubt that he meant each word.
Yi's hand moved in a sharp gesture, trailing smoke. "This is known. But you once were. If you were again to become a collector, would you be approached by people selling Qin bronzes?"
"Under the name of Catlin? I doubt it. It would take time to establish myself as a collector of that magnitude."
"If the name were Jacques-Pierre Rousseau?" Yi asked, his normal staccato delivery making the question sound even more blunt.
"Didn't you hear? The poor fellow died. Somebody chucked a grenade into his hotel room a few years back. Must have been a hell of a mess."
Yi looked into eyes that were the pale, clear amber of a winter sky just after sunset. But there were no stars to illuminate the depths of Catlin's eyes, only the certainty of night to come. Dragon's eyes, alive with predatory intelligence.
'There were people who doubted that a man of Rousseau's abilities would so easily die," said Yi, pulling sharply on his cigarette. "There were rumors."
"There always are." Catlin hesitated, then shrugged. The man who had brought him the other half of the Han swallow deserved the truth. Rousseau could be more trouble to you alive than he is dead," Catlin said bluntly. "He wasn't exactly a friend of the People's Republic of China."
Yi thought about that possibility for several silent minutes. "When the nest is overturned," he murmured, "all eggs are broken."
Catlin smiled thinly. "The nice thing about Chinese sayings is that they can mean everything. And nothing. Whose nest? Whose eggs? And who's turning things upside down?"
With an abrupt motion Yi threw his spent cigarette into the fireplace. "Is it necessary for the tool to know the mind of the artisan?"
Catlin weighed the half coin in his hand. An image came to him: China's beautiful Li river at twilight, when the fishermen lit lanterns on their narrow rafts and poled out onto the river. At their feet were cormorants that had been hand-raised from birth to answer to their master's distinctively pitched cry. When the rafts were joined in a circle, fish rose to the fascinating shimmer of lantern light against the dark surface of the water. Then the cormorants were released into the river to dive and fish. A string tied around each bird's throat prevented it from swallowing the fish it caught. The cormorant returned to its master's raft, surrendered the fish, then swam back down into the black water to hunt again. When the master's basket was full, the strings were removed from the birds and they fished for themselves.
"Tell me, Chen Yi. When the fisherman of Li take their cormorants out onto the dark river, do they tie the throat string so tightly that the birds strangle?"
Yi's response was seen only in the slight hesitation before he flicked open a lighter whose design hadn't changed since the Chinese first learned how to copy Zippos. "The string should be tight enough that the bird cannot swallow the fish it catches," said Yi, drawing sharply on the fresh cigarette. "Any tighter and the bird is useless." The lighter snapped shut with a metallic click. "Any looser and the bird eats his master's meal."
"I'm more intelligent than a cormorant."
"And therefore far more dangerous."
"How badly do you want to catch fish?"
Yi replaced the lighter in the pocket of his very Western suit coat. He looked again at the half coin resting on Catlin's hard palm and remembered just a few of the things he had heard about the man called Rousseau.
Trustworthy. Intelligent. Quick. A man of great face. Deadly.
"Perhaps if you told me what fish you wanted to eat," offered Catlin, "I could suggest ways of catching and cooking it."
Yi looked around the room as though orienting himself. He knew that the apartment belonged to the Pacific Rim Foundation and was used when its employees came to give expert testimony before Senate committees or more private advice to the powerful men who worked in Washington, D.C. Yi also knew that Catlin was the Pacific Rim Foundation. Despite Catlin's experiences in Asia, or perhaps because of them, the foundation had gained a reputation for being neither advocate nor enemy of Asian aspirations.
There was nothing Chinese in the room, neither modern nor ancient, to hint that Catlin had spent a decade and a half of his life immersed in a foreign culture. Yet even so, Yi sensed something in the room that made him comfortable. In the design and placement of the furniture there was an austerity and discipline that recalled the great Chinese calligraphers. In the richness of fabric and rug there was the same celebration of the senses that characterized imperial silks.
It was apparent that Catlin was a man of taste and intelligence. And power. Deadly power. But then, that was why Yi had sought him out. Yi needed a man both intelligent and deadly.
Unfortunately, it was rather like fishing with a dragon instead of a cormorant.
Yi pulled at his cigarette, swallowed the smoke and said, "There is a woman."
Catlin smiled sardonically, remembering his own past. "There usually is."
Without smiling, Yi looked amused. "She is American, raised in China. Her parents were Christian missionaries in the Shaanxi province until 1959." He noted Catlin's surprised expression and nodded. "Yes, even after we became the People's Republic. Her father was Canadian and her mother was American, although few people knew about her mother. It was too dangerous. Americans were not " He hesitated, searching for a word that would not be insulting. "Applauded."