In spite of his black mood, Dalton had to smile at that.
my back, and you already have. No. You have a life here, Veronika. A good one. Much better than mine. Go back to it.”
He was thinking, but did not say,
People around me die
Veronika leaned over and gave him a kiss, a very fine one. The two patrol cops grinned as they passed by, their muffled voices carrying through the window glass. Dalton felt the kiss with varying degrees of intensity everywhere in his body. So did Veronika.
She pulled back, touched his cheek again.
“Maybe I don’t like my life that much.”
a Catholic cathedral-fortress about three miles northwest of Vienna, was a limestone monolith perched on top of what they like to call mountains in that part of Austria. The Danube, not actually blue, ran in a broad, lazy curve around its base before straightening out, splitting in two, and running like a divided highway right down the middle of Vienna. The view from the stone terrace on the south side, a memorial to the war dead, took in the entire city, from the industrial regions in the east to the dense masses of pink stone buildings in the Ring District. Low green hills and tilled farmlands rose up almost to the forward glacis of the cathedral. At this time in the spring, everything was green and growing, and the old city glowed with a rose light under a pale yellow sun.
They were in Dalton’s ancient Mercedes-Benz, a squared-off and gleaming black tank with a black-leather-and-rosewood interior, that Dalton had inherited from Porter Naumann, along with his town house in Wilton Row and his hotel suite in Venice.
It was a wildly impractical car, too damned big for most European towns. Getting it through a chicane was like riding a rhino down a wet clay bank. Every time he filled it up, he got a thank-you note from the Sultan of Brunei. It had the carbon footprint of a five-alarm fire in a rubber tire plant, but it was as hard to stop as a heart attack. Dalton could drive it through a brick wall. And the engine block had once taken three 7.62 rounds without missing a stroke. Try that with a Smart car sometime.
Veronika, when she had first seen it, said all of the same things about it that everyone else did—the Austrians being an earnest and eco-minded people—but by the time they were coming up the long curving drive that led to the parking lot, she wanted to give up her flat and move in. The car had international plates—Dalton always kept a couple of valid sets in a hideaway under the trunk—and today he was using a set linked to an actual consulting firm in Marseille, where he had a freelance stringer who’d cover for him on any official check. And Europe was jam-packed with old black Mercedes-Benzes. So, all things considered, including the black-tinted windows, it was a good ride.
It was about nine in the morning. The parking lot was full, and the café-restaurant was crowded with people. Hundreds of mangy back-packers and overstuffed tourists were milling about the grounds.
Veronika wheeled the Benz slowly up and down the ranks of parked cars while Dalton scanned the plates and looked for anyone in the crowds around the cathedral steps who was paying a little too much attention to them. But no one was.
It was just another sunny Viennese morning, God was in his Heaven, and all was right with the local tourist trade. An ice-cream truck had set up shop in one corner of the cobblestoned park, under the shelter of a twenty-foot stone wall, and a platoon of little kids in matching uniforms—blue and white—was lining up for ice cream and chocolate sauce. The sun was growing in strength, and parasols were popping up here and there above the crowds like flowers in a summer garden. From the far side of the cathedral—Dalton assumed it was from the terrace—a string quartet was playing, of course,
Tales from the Vienna Woods
There was no sign at all of Issadore Galan.
Dalton was early, of course, but Galan always arrived at a meet about an hour before just to check out the terrain. They came around the last bend and rolled up beside a short row of vehicles: a large green maintenance van, a small blue Audi, a silver Opel Meriva, and a mud-brown 1986 Saab sedan with rusted fenders, sagging shocks, and bald tires. It looked empty.
Dalton, watching the Saab carefully, asked Veronika to keep rolling and park the Benz a few rows away. She found a slot two rows beyond, managed to back the tank into it without scratching the paint-work, and shut the Benz down.
“Was that his car?” she asked. “The Saab?”
“Yes,” he said, pulling his SIG out of the lockdown under the glove compartment.
“Aren’t we sort of out in the open here?”
“Can’t be helped. You know what to do?”
“Yes,” she said, patting the little H&K on the seat beside her. “If you’re hurt or killed or taken, I drive like hell to the nearest police station and tell them everything. If anybody tries to stop me, I run them down or I shoot them with this. Or both. And, yes, it’s loaded.”
Dalton gave her a smile, and a kiss on the lips in case it was his last, shoved the SIG into his belt under his navy V-neck, pulled the gold silk scarf around his neck, and climbed out of the car, patting the hood as he closed the door.
The sun was strong on the back of his neck as he walked through the car ranks, and he studied every face in the crowds around him as carefully as he studied every car and truck he passed and the walls of the cathedral-fortress that overlooked the parking lot. Down in his lizard brain, whatever lived there was sleeping soundly. He did not feel that he was being watched. Not even by Issadore Galan.
But now he was quite certain that Galan was here.
Dalton reached the Saab.
It was parked at the rear of the lot, hard up against a low stone wall, more or less in the corner farthest away from the cathedral itself. The Saab just sat there, forlorn, squat, as ugly as the man himself, covered in dust, looking as if it had been there since the war.
Dalton ran a fingertip through the dust, lifted it up. The dust was not from this parking lot. It was greasy brown and smelled of diesel, sewage, and seaweed. The scent reminded him of Venice in the summer. He came around to the driver’s side, wiped some dust off the glass. The interior of the Saab was clean, nothing on the seats, nothing on the floorboards. The ashtray, which Galan usually kept stuffed to overflowing with crushed-out Gitane butts, was empty.
The interior looked as if it had been recently vacuumed, which was very unlike Galan, who treated the backseat like a Dumpster and could not be persuaded to clean the vehicle until he couldn’t see out the back window. Dalton dropped to a knee, leaned down, and checked the underbody carefully. No wires. No explosives taped to the exhaust. His heart heavy and a tight feeling in his chest, he walked around to the rear of the car and stood for a time looking down at the trunk lid.
The dust lay thick on it and had not been disturbed at all. If there was anything in the trunk, it had been there for a while.
He looked across the roofs of the other cars, saw the big square Benz fifty feet away rising above the rounded little eco-cars like a bull in a rabbit hutch. The sun was on his face. The sky was a perfect sky blue, as was only right, and the air was full of the scent of spring flowers and strong Austrian coffee. He was young and healthy, and his unreliable libido was in working order again after a very long hiatus. It was a good day to die.
He reached down, grabbed the trunk handle, braced himself, and jerked it upward. The trunk lock popped as it always did, which was useful since Galan was always leaving his keys inside.
Dalton let his breath out slowly, relieved to find that he was still in one piece. He held the lid for a moment, leaning down to look for a detonator, a wire, a trigger mechanism of any kind, although anything clever would have gone off as soon as he popped the lock.
There was no wire. But in the narrow gap he could see brown burlap sacking stained with something dark. And now the stench hit him, drove him backward, his eyes watering. As he stepped back, his hand came off the trunk lid, and it rose slowly on its springs, opening up like the lid of a coffin.
Crowded—no, stuffed—stuffed into the trunk like a load of dirty laundry was a large man-shaped bundle wrapped in burlap soaked with dried blood.
Dalton reached down, got his fingers into the fabric, and ripped it away. It was stiff with blood and shredded as it came off Galan’s body. Dalton stood for a time looking down at what had been done to Galan. A cursory glance told him that almost everything that the Jordanians had
done to Galan these new people finally had. Based on the bleeding and the bruising and the dried blood pooled in his empty eye sockets and around his exposed intestines and the obscenity of his genitals, it had been done while he was still alive.
Well, they would, wouldn’t they?
I mean, otherwise, what’s the fucking point?
No man could have endured this without, in the end, telling them everything—anything—they wanted to know. In a way, it was a kind of relief to Dalton. Galan had not turned against him, and whatever he had revealed in those last terrible moments of his life had been torn from him by utterly vile men who were going to die as soon as Dalton could find them. But Galan had not betrayed him.
Inevitably, he had told—whoever did this—everything about the meeting. The Schottentor trolley station. The
. It didn’t explain the access to his BlackBerry and GPS, but it explained a lot.
How long had they had him?
A week at least, since Dalton had gotten Galan’s request for a meeting over a week ago and had come as soon as the Albanian hysteric in Bonn had stopped threatening to kill himself. It was hard to say how long Galan had been dead without a detailed examination, but the state of decomposition and the lack of rigor mortis suggested an outer limit of twenty-four hours, perhaps less.
He looked at Galan’s left hand. There was something driven through his wrist, something metal. It was a large slot-headed wood screw. They had actually screwed his wrists into his hip bones just to amuse themselves. The Jew had been crucified on the skeleton of his own body.
For no reason at all other than Yusef, Dalton thought of Muslims. Compared to the ingenious torturers of the New Caliphate, Torquemada was an acupuncturist, as had been vividly demonstrated on the bodies of several American soldiers captured alive in Iraq. There were odd indentations like gouges in Galan’s skin just under his fingertips. The nails were bloody and filled with decaying flesh. Dalton brushed at the marks, and a thin scale of dried blood flaked off.
Scored into the skin of Galan’s left hip were two odd marks. Dalton cleaned the surface of Galan’s hip and stretched the skin out.
He looked at the gouges for a moment, thinking of what it must have cost Galan to do something like that, done under conditions of unspeakable agony in the certain expectation of his own death and with the faint hope that perhaps after his body was found, Dalton would see the marks and know what they meant. A final act of defiance—and faith—from a good man and a fine friend. Dalton, his eyes burning a bit, sighed heavily and then stood up again.
There was a tube of paper, rolled up tight and stuck in Galan’s bloody mouth. Dalton took it out slowly. It was dry, without blood-stains, and looked . . . fresh.
He unrolled it.
The Yid died begging Slick it was big fun we all had him he squeal like girl when he get fucked but you probably already know that anyway we just getting started fucking with
Slick we see you real soon
Your old friend
Ps—you got five minutes from when you open trunk so you better run but don’t worry if you die we still do that Miklas whore same like we do the Yid
Dalton read the last words, shoved the letter deep into his pocket, slammed the trunk lid, raced around to the front of the Saab and wrenched the hood open. The starter wires were still there. He spent a precious thirty seconds trying to find the device and gave it up. He figured he had—
he had—at least two minutes.
He tugged out his BlackBerry, turned it on. In the Monitor’s Room at Crypto City, his indicator code flashed on, and the Activation Notice, along with the GPS coordinates and the brief voice packet that followed, was digitally tagged and logged for the Requesting Agent. Working with one hand on the ignition wires, he thumbed out Veronika’s number and held it to his ear.
Answer! Answer! Answer!
“The Saab’s wired. I’ve triggered it. I’ve got to get it away from these crowds. Come after me, but
. Hear me! Not close—”
“But Micah, you’ll be—”
“No time, Veronika. No talk. Just