“It’s OK.” Greg walked over and gently relieved her of the gun. Wrapping an arm around her shoulder to help her to the couch, he was horrified by how thin she was. He could feel every bone. “You’ve had a huge shock.” Tracy sat beside him, still shaking. “I’ll make you some tea.”
A few minutes later, wrapped in a heavy blanket like a shipwreck survivor and sipping hot, very sweet tea, Tracy apologized.
“I needed someone to lash out at. I needed to do something,” she told Greg.
“I understand, really. No need to apologize. To be frank with you, Tracy, I’m just glad you’re here.”
“What do you know about my son?” Tracy asked.
“We don’t know anything,” Greg admitted. “But there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the accident.”
“The FBI took a look at Blake Carter’s truck. It appeared that the steering may have been tampered with.”
Tracy’s hand flew to her mouth. “No! That’s not possible. Who would want to hurt Blake? He didn’t have an enemy in the world.”
“I agree,” Greg Walton said. “He didn’t.”
He paused a few moments for the import of his words to sink in.
“We’ve had reports of a woman at the diner Blake and Nick went to that night. Tall, dark-haired, attractive. None of the locals knew her. She left the restaurant right after Mr. Carter did. She was driving a black Impala.”
Tracy’s mind flashed back to her last conversation with Nick.
“Blake thought someone was following us. A woman. He was kind of distracted.”
“Nick said something,” she murmured, as much to herself as to Walton. “In the hospital. Before he . . . He said a woman was following them.”
Greg Walton leaned forward earnestly. “Her physical description tallies with what we believe Althea looks like.”
Tracy shook her head, disbelieving.
“It’s only a theory,” Walton went on. “But we know this woman knows you, Tracy. That she wants to draw you into this whole mess with Group 99 and the hostages. Someone messed with Blake’s truck—Blake who, as you said yourself, has no enemies.”
Tracy shook her head more vehemently.
No. This can’t be because of me. Nick and Blake can’t be dead because of me.
“An unknown woman, fitting Althea’s description, then followed Blake and your son, possibly driving them off the road.”
With a huge effort of will, Tracy forced herself to be logical.
“It doesn’t add up. For one thing, how would harming Blake or Nick help her?”
“I don’t know,” Greg admitted. “Maybe she simply wanted to hurt you. Or maybe she thought, with your family out of the picture, you’d agree to come help us. To get involved.”
There was a horrible, twisted plausibility to this that made Tracy’s heart race. Even so . . .
“It’s so messy, though. A car accident,” she said. “What if they’d survived? I mean Nicholas almost did. When I saw him afterwards, at the hospital, he . . .”
She stopped dead. All of a sudden she looked as if she’d seen a ghost.
“What?” Greg Walton asked. “Tracy, what is it?”
“At the hospital,” she whispered. “I saw someone go into his room.”
“A nurse. I thought it was a nurse. She was in uniform. But . . .”
Greg took her hands in his. “Tell me, Tracy. What did she look like?”
“I only saw her from behind. But I noticed her because she had mud all over her sneakers. Like she’d been out hiking or something.”
Tracy looked right at him. “She had long, dark hair. And she was really, really tall.”
AFTER TRACY CHECKED INTO a hotel, Greg Walton picked up the phone.
“How is she mentally?” Milton Buck asked.
“Shaky. She’s still in shock.”
“Terrible. She looked like she’d aged twenty years. Her hair’s completely white.”
“Jesus.” Buck whistled through his teeth. “But she’ll do it? She’s in?”
“Are you kidding me?” Despite everything, Greg Walton couldn’t entirely keep the smile out of his voice. “Tracy Whitney won’t rest until she finds Althea now. She’s in all right. To the death.”
MILTON BUCK HUNG UP, turned to his wife and hugged her tightly.
“What was that for?” Lacey Buck giggled. Milton had been like a bear with a sore head these past few weeks. He was always this way when work was going badly.
“Oh nothing.” Buck grinned. “Sorry I’ve been such a Grinch. Turns out it might just be a merry Christmas after all.”
LAKE GENEVA, SWITZERLAND, ONE MONTH LATER . . .
WHEN WILL YOU BE home, Henry? Remember we have dinner with the Alencons tonight.”
Henry Cranston looked at his wife, Clotilde, and wished she were younger. And prettier. And less demanding. Had he ever been attracted to her? He couldn’t remember. Maybe, before the twins were born and her stomach got all saggy and wrinkly, like the skin on an overblown apple.
“I’ll be home when I’m home,” he said rudely. “I have a lot on at work today.”
Clotilde Cranston tried to pout but last week’s Botox injections had rendered her lower face almost immovable. She really must change dermatologists. Dr. Trouveau was supposedly the “top man” in Geneva, but that wasn’t saying much. Clotilde missed New York. At least there she had girlfriends to distract her from her loveless marriage. Girlfriends and a decent dermatologist. And Bergdorf’s.
“I love you!” she called after Henry, desperately and untruthfully.
“You too,” Henry Cranston lied back.
Closing the door of his Bentley with a satisfyingly heavy thud, he immediately felt better. He did have a lot on at work today. He would spend the morning banging his new secretary, a perky little brunette barely out of her teens and wonderfully eager to please.
Then he would sign off on the bribes to the Poles and nail down his latest deal, winning Cranston Energy Inc. the fracking rights to a vast swath of Polish countryside bursting at the seams with shale gas. It wasn’t quite as good a deal as the one he’d struck for exclusive fracking rights in Western Greece, on land still owned by the exiled royal family. Unfortunately, thanks to their stupid, faggot son hanging himself, that had all unraveled faster than a politician’s promises after the election. But the Polish deal was a decent consolation prize.
After sewing that up, Henry would have a late lunch with his mistress, Claire. Claire was also becoming too demanding. He’d have to get rid of her soon, but not until he’d completed his home video collection and browbeaten her into having anal sex with him. I mean, really, what did the silly bitch think she was for? If he wanted boring, vanilla sex he could have it with his wife, without paying an extra half million euros a year on a rented penthouse apartment!
Henry Cranston slipped his key into the ignition and started the engine.
AT THE REUTERS OFFICE in Manhattan at that exact same moment, journalist Damon Peters watched his computer screen go blank, then fill with a familiar computer-generated image of red balloons.
The same thing happened at the London Times, the New York Times, the China Post and the Sidney Morning Herald, along with hundreds of other newspapers and media organizations around the world.
Except this time, the first balloon to reach the top of the screen popped. Tumbling out of it, in heavy, dark block letters, came the chilling message:
VIVA GENEVA. HENRY CRANSTON R.I.P.
In Manhattan, Damon Peters spun around in his chair. Looking at his colleague, Marian Janney, he asked, “Who’s Henry Cranston?”
“And what the hell just happened in Geneva?”
LOCALS REPORTED THE EXPLOSION could be heard up to two miles away.
Clotilde Cranston was blown backwards through the front door of her house, shattering her pelvis and breaking four ribs.
Miraculously, she lived.
So did their dog, Wilbur.
Henry Cranston was blasted into a million, lying, cheating, mean-spirited pieces.
TRACY WHITNEY STUDIED THE pictures of the Geneva bomb scene again.
There wasn’t much to see. Twisted lumps of metal. Fragments of rubble from what had once been a garden wall. A single, severed finger.
Greg Walton asked, “How soon can you be out there?”
Tracy was in Gregory Walton’s office at Langley, being briefed on the latest development in the fight against Group 99. It was February, three days since Henry Cranston’s murder. Tracy had spent the last month in Washington, regaining her strength physically and mentally. At Greg Walton’s insistence, she’d been placed on a strict, high-calorie diet and although she remained extremely slim, she was no longer the skeletal waif who had shown up on Greg’s doorstep. Her white hair had been dyed back to its original chestnut brown, and she’d been prescribed strong sleeping pills, which seemed to be working.
The only part of the CIA’s treatment program that wasn’t working was the therapy. Tracy had answered all of the therapist’s questions politely and cooperatively. But she refused to even begin the work of processing Nick’s death.