Authors: Suzanne Munshower
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #International Mystery & Crime, #Medical
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Suzanne Munshower
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of
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Cover design by David Drummond
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014952526
we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Anna was going over the flat one last time, making sure nothing of her would remain but some makeup, clothes, and a few books, when the bell downstairs rang. Hesitantly, she picked up the security phone by the front door.
“It’s Pierre. Please, let me in.” Her boss’s voice was harsh, and when he arrived at the top of the stairs, he was red faced and fighting for breath, looking very unlike his usual urbane self. His eyes were sunken, his usually impeccably groomed hair hanging lank over his forehead.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
He closed the door behind him and leaned heavily against it, his attaché case clutched to his chest. “Of course. The Bentley’s at the body shop, so I had Marina drop me off down the road and walked to make sure nobody was following. Some guy almost knocked me down coming around the corner . . . Just need to get my breath back.” Pierre Barton sank down onto the sofa in the living room, his pretense of normality utterly wasted.
Anna wanted to scream, “Where have you been these past few days? Who do you think would follow you?” But she said only, “Would you like coffee? Just instant, I’m afraid. Or tea.”
“Some water, thank you. Marina stopped at a Starbucks and got us cappuccinos to drink in the car.”
When she came back from the kitchen, he was in the same position as when she’d left, head back, breathing labored. “Pierre?”
He grasped the water and gulped it down. “Sorry. I’m a mess. I’m just . . . I don’t know what’s going on, Anna, but it’s bad. And it’s spun out of control now.”
“Just relax for a minute.” Surreptitiously, she checked her watch. “What’s happened?”
He stared at her with haunted eyes. “That couple you said followed you—”
She cut him off. “I saw the paper yesterday. I know they’re dead.”
“I promise you, I had nothing to do with anything. I know it needs to stop.”
“What’s ‘it,’ Pierre? Why are people dying? Are you behind this? Is Martin Kelm?”
“No, of course it’s not me.” He looked pained. “Not Kelm, either. No, no, my wife—”
“Marina says Kelm can be trusted.”
“And you? What do you say?”
“She—I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. But for your own safety, you should go back to America. The project is dead now. That’s one thing I
“And Kelm? Who is Martin Kelm, Pierre?”
“Kelm? Marina . . .” He looked down at his hands, unmoving on his thighs. “Please,” he said wearily, sounding parched, “more water. The coffee burnt my tongue.” Slowly, as if hypnotized, he raised one hand to his mouth.
She picked up the glass and refilled it in the kitchen. She should stop badgering him until he recovered. He was making no sense, anyhow. The sound of a thud reached her as she turned from the sink. Had he left, slamming the door behind him?
She entered the living room, the glass of water in her hand. She was expecting to find the room empty. She wasn’t expecting to find a body in the middle of it, splayed out on the Persian rug in front of the coffee table.
He lay on his back in front of the couch, his face a mottled gray and purple. “Pierre!” She rushed over and shook him, calling his name again.
Somehow, she managed not to drop the glass of water. Her heart pounding, she carefully set it down, then knelt, searching for a pulse. When she failed to find one, she grabbed her handbag from the table and fumbled for her compact. At another time, she might have been amused by her wild thought,
I’m from Los Angeles—I know what to do from the movies
. No mist appeared when she held the mirror up to the parted, blue-tinged lips, and the only sound was her own ragged breath.
She was sure he was dead, but she kept trying to find a pulse, first in his wrist again, then in his neck.
She reached for the attaché case lying on the couch, then thought better of it. Instead, she rushed first to look out the window to see if anyone was watching the building. On this quiet, tree-lined street in London, a woman walked a corgi, a boy rode past on a bicycle, and a few cars drove by.
she thought, as if anything in her life could be good at that moment.
Swiftly, she went to the hall stand to grab the leather gloves she’d bought in anticipation of cooler weather. She removed a flash drive from her handbag, then pulled on the gloves before reaching for the attaché case on the couch and gingerly opening it. She removed Pierre’s computer and took it back to the chair she’d been sitting on. Waiting for it to start up, she said a silent prayer, envisioning Barton sitting next to her in the Bentley after visiting his mother. She entered “MarieHeloise,” his mother’s name, in the password box and clicked. No. That wasn’t it.
“C’mon, Pierre,” she muttered. With trembling fingers, she typed “MarieHeloiseBeaumarchais” then “Marie_Heloise.” Then “Marie_Heloise_Beaumarchais.” Finally, the welcome screen flashed on.
She inserted the flash drive, avoiding even a glance at what lay on the floor.
It took only a few minutes to copy Barton’s Word files and spreadsheets. Then she turned off the computer and slipped it back into the case. She plucked Barton’s BlackBerry from his breast pocket, then put it back. Locked. She couldn’t waste more time.
A closer inspection of the attaché yielded two current British passports, for Peter and Maria Kelm. The photos of Pierre and Marina Barton in them looked recent. Sick with fear but steely with resolution, she put both in her purse, which already held her American passport and her UK Tanya Avery passport. Only when she had everything in order did she telephone emergency services. “Heart attack!” she gasped, not having to feign the near-hysterical quaver in her voice. “I’m in South Kensington. Please hurry.” She gave the dispatcher the address, then took the glass of water into the kitchen, carefully draining and drying it. She averted her eyes from the body as she passed.
It didn’t take long for the ambulance to arrive. The look the two EMTs exchanged confirmed that her visitor was beyond help; still, they started CPR and strapped on an oxygen mask as they hustled the stretcher down the stairs.
“What hospital?” she called after them.
A last-minute check, a wipe-down, and she was ready to leave even before the ambulance siren had faded in the distance. She slipped on her jacket, tucked all her hair into her knit cap, then slung her backpack and handbag over her shoulder. She dropped the keys through the mail slot after locking up the apartment that had been her home these past nine weeks.
Downstairs, she steeled herself before opening the front door. She needed to look as if she weren’t checking for spying eyes, yet appear worried and rushed. She took a deep breath, then walked out, went down the front steps, and strode quickly to the curb. She let the first black cab pass before flagging the second.
When the taxi stopped, she approached his open window and said loudly, “I need to go to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, please!” before opening the back door and climbing in.
But once the taxi had turned the corner and traveled a few blocks with no sign of a tail, she told the driver, “I’ve changed my mind. Mayfair. The Green Park entrance to the Underground, all right?”
Thank God she’d already planned all this—minus the dead body. She knew which Tube train to take and where to get off and backtrack so there’d be less chance she’d be followed. She knew to the minute when she had to board the train at St. Pancras Station.
No one sped up behind as she was exiting the taxi or as she hurried down the stairs to the Underground. She got on the first train going south, then jumped off at the first stop and circled around to get one heading north to St. Pancras, where she paid cash for a ticket to Brussels before hurrying to the platform.
Just as the train was about to leave, she sent a quick text to Marina on her Barton Pharmaceuticals BlackBerry: “Pierre’s had some kind of attack and been taken by ambulance to Chelsea and Westminster. I’m on my way.” She signed it “Tanya.”
On her iPhone, she sent another text.
D. Out of town for a few days’ holiday. I’ll be in touch. T.
Then she was in a crowded second-class car on a high-speed train whisking her out of England and into whatever nightmare might be awaiting her.
She had a good idea what they’d do if they caught her. What she didn’t know was who “they” were.
While searching online the day before, Anna had decided on the late-morning Eurostar to Brussels. The two-hour trip seemed the fastest and easiest way of getting out of England and into a major transportation hub in order to disappear. She knew she’d have to keep on the move for now.
She’d always longed to see Bruges and Antwerp, but all she got of Belgium was an hour’s worth of Brussels-Midi, not even the main station. Then she was on another train to Amsterdam, this time making a passage without border controls.
She’d been there once—decades before, but it seemed unchanged. When she arrived in the afternoon, she headed for the closest hostel offering private rooms. She located it near the red-light district, featuring an attached “coffee shop” where stoners could smoke pot or nibble hash brownies and a clerk she counted on being too laid-back to worry about a guest who said she’d come down with her passport after she dug it out of her bag. She paid cash in advance, plus the half-a-night’s key deposit—required when she said she had no credit card—and a rental fee for sheets and towels.
Her room was spartan: a narrow bed and folding chair, partitioned-off sink and toilet, and a footlocker at the end of the bed. The last had a reprogrammable combination lock and was bolted to the floor for security. Into it she put everything important, including her laptop, BarPharm BlackBerry, and all her electronics except her iPhone and the extra SIM cards she kept in her wallet. Her cash, which she’d divided into six small packets wrapped in plastic, stayed where it had been all day—stuck in the socks and boots she was wearing, the world’s costliest innersoles. She locked up carefully. Out on the street, she caught a tram to the Leidseplein, where she could blend in with the tourists.
Pea soup in a run-of-the-mill café made for an unexciting but comforting lunch. The canal view was superb, but she might have been looking out at a brick wall, willing her hand not to shake and spill soup, wondering who might be hot on her trail. Thanking her lucky stars that, unlike Americans, not every European possessed a smart phone or iPad, she found an Internet café and checked train times to Berlin. She’d escaped Great Britain; now she was in the Schengen Treaty countries, where no one would ask for her passport to move from one to another. But she needed to get to a big city, where she could be even more anonymous.
On the way back to the hotel, she bought a sandwich and screw-top bottle of wine. She wouldn’t be going out again before she left for good.
Back in her room, she topped up the BlackBerry battery while she copied the contents of Barton’s computer from the flash drive onto her new laptop. She’d left the old one—BarPharm’s property—back in the apartment, the hard disk wiped clean. Going through Pierre’s files would have to wait—there were hundreds.
She felt too vulnerable to go down the hall to the shower room, instead washing up at the sink before slipping into her nightgown and between her rented sheets. She was exhausted, and she had a big day coming up.
But sleep didn’t come easily. She couldn’t stop remembering how this had all started back in the spring—couldn’t stop picturing the face she had just seen in the mirror when washing off the day’s grime, the face of a woman at least thirty years younger than Anna Wallingham, a woman named Tanya Avery.