Sidney Sheldon’s Reckless

“I know Greece,” Cameron continued. “We do a lot of business there and I’m involved in numerous charities. It was a tragedy what happened to that country. A classic case of what happens when you push a people beyond their limits.”

“Their prime minister called it a humanitarian crisis,” said Tracy.

“He’s right. Like Germany with the reparations after World War I, the suffering of the man on the street simply became too much to bear. Politically you start to see the rise of men like Calles. And beneath the surface, men like Argyros starting Group 99. Alexis Argyros might be smarter than your average ISIS militant. But his agenda was always violence, in the end.”

The waiter cleared their empty plates. Tracy wasn’t hungry but she found herself ordering dessert anyway, some sort of milk pudding made with rice that Cameron recommended. It sounded disgusting, but was in fact quite ambrosially delicious. They kept talking.

“What about the tactics issue,” Tracy said. “Drexel and Daley’s kidnaps, Daley’s murder, the Cranston bombing. Surely you don’t put that down solely to testosterone-fueled boys lusting for blood and guts?”

“Not solely, no,” Cameron agreed. “Even if the Lost Boys are taking over Group 99, and the likes of your Althea are being pushed out, they’d have had to try to sell the idea of a shift towards old school violence internally.”

“And how would they do that?”

“There are plenty of arguments you could use,” Cameron said breezily. “Kidnap and murder have proved highly effective tools for other terror groups, especially if the aim is to engage the enemy, to escalate conflict. Plus it’s a shock to the enemy’s system. People are used to seeing medieval barbarism in the Middle East and Africa, but not in Europe. The irony is, it’s precisely because hacking has gotten so sophisticated and so virtually unstoppable that we’re seeing a return to old school methods. U.S. nuclear codes are stored on paper files these days. Once you know the Pentagon can be hacked to the core, it’s only a short step to the major powers moving back to cannons and bows and arrows.”

Tracy laughed.

“OK, maybe not bows and arrows. But technological weaponry like drones might easily fall out of favor. And once armies start heading back to the dark ages, why not companies, or banks? It would certainly suit Group 99’s ends to see a return to bartering, for example. The abolition of financial markets, maybe even of paper money itself. I know it sounds crazy to us, sitting here, about to pay for a five star meal with our platinum visa cards.”

“Your platinum visa card,” Tracy corrected him.

Cameron laughed. “You really are old school, aren’t you?”

“I try.” Tracy raised her glass.

“But it could happen. Financial anarchy. Or utopia, depending on how you look at it. Group 99 embracing more traditional terror tactics could certainly be presented as a step in that direction. That would make it consistent with their views.”

Tracy changed the subject. “Tell me about Hunter Drexel.” She found Cameron fascinating and could listen to him theorize all night. But she was here to find Althea, and to do that she needed facts, not theories. She felt sure that there must be a connection between Althea and the abducted American journalist. Something none of them had thought of yet.

“I’m sure you know far more about Mr. Drexel than I do,” Cameron answered cautiously.

“I know he was on his way to meet you in Moscow when Group 99 abducted him.”

“That’s right.”

“Why had you agreed to meet him that day?”

Cameron looked surprised by the question.

“Drexel was working on a piece about the fracking industry. As I assume you already know. Specifically about corruption in the business.”

“I hear there’s a lot of it about.”

“I hear that too.” Cameron smiled briefly. “I imagine that’s what he wanted to talk to me about but I’m not certain. He was rather cryptic on the telephone. And of course, we never actually met, in the end.”

“You don’t usually give interviews,” Tracy said. “In fact you never give them. According to the CIA files you’re notorious for avoiding the media.”

“Notorious? Am I really?” Cameron gave Tracy a wry look, taking a sip of his jasmine tea. “What else do Greg Walton’s files say about me?”

Tracy blushed, thinking about Marcus, Cameron’s only son, lost to leukemia, and his divorce. It was embarrassing to know these private things about a person. She’d already said too much.

“It’s all right,” Cameron said. “It’s true I’m a very private man. After my son died I withdrew pretty much completely from public life. It’s also true I don’t like journalists. They all bang on about how we need to break our dependence on Saudi oil, yet they have no qualms in slagging off the fracking business, or in tarring all oil and gas companies with the same brush.”

“So why meet Drexel?”

“I was curious. Hunter Drexel was just different from all the others.”

“In what way?”

Cameron considered for a moment. “Better, I suppose. A better man and a much better writer. Did you read his article in Time about the Nazi hunters?”

Tracy admitted that she hadn’t.

“You must,” said Cameron. “It’s a beautiful piece of writing, moving without being schmaltzy, meticulously researched. Hunter Drexel is really, really good at his job. He’s also fearless. But of course, there’s a downside to that, as he learned in Moscow. I imagine the man has a lot of enemies.”

“Such as?”

“Ex-lovers. Disgruntled poker players. Drexel’s reneged on a lot of debts in his time. He’s a serious gambling addict. The subjects of his op-eds. Pretty much any editor he’s ever worked with.” Cameron calmly listed the potential Drexel-haters out there. “He’s a great writer but he’s also a maverick. Erratic. Famously impulsive. He’s one of those guys who puts a lot of store by his instinct, without necessarily always having the facts to back it up. When someone sues for libel, it’s the editor who ends up picking up the pieces.”

“But you said his Time piece was well researched?” Tracy reminded him.

“It was. But they haven’t all been. He’s written some outrageous takedowns of public figures—like Senator Braverman, remember him?”

Tracy cast her mind back. “The orgy guy?”

“Yes, except he wasn’t. Drexel’s source was flat-out wrong on that story, had him confused with some other sleazy republican. The magazine that ran that story’s gone now. Filed for Chapter Eleven just to pay Braverman’s damages. But the Senator’s career never recovered. Drexel walked away without a scratch, or a shred of remorse. He’s been sued more times than a tobacco company and fired more times than a cheap shooting range pistol.”

“And Group 99? Why would they want to harm him, do you think?”

“I don’t know,” Cameron admitted. “Perhaps something he’d uncovered in his research had rattled them? On the face of it, they don’t make natural enemies.”

Tracy decided to cast a fly over the water. “What about the U.S. Government? Were they his enemy?”

Cameron frowned. “What do you mean?”

Greg Walton had given Tracy strict instructions not to tell anybody about Hunter running from the task force sent to rescue him. Unfortunately for Walton, Tracy had never been a big follower of instructions. Like Hunter Drexel, she trusted her instincts, and her instincts told her that she could trust Cameron Crewe.

With a deep breath, she told Cameron the whole story. How Hunter had run. How the CIA and MI6 were working jointly to find him, before Group 99 did, so far with no success. How President Havers had lied outright to the world’s media about what happened that fateful night in Bratislava.

“Holy shit,” Cameron said, once she’d finished. “But, why? Why would he run from his rescuers? Especially after what happened to poor Captain Daley.”

“I don’t know,” said Tracy. “But I expect the answer lies with Althea. There’s a connection between her and Drexel. I feel it in my bones.”

It was getting late, but neither Cameron nor Tracy was ready to end the conversation. Cameron paid the bill and they moved to one of the Mandarin Oriental’s smaller, more intimate bars. Settling themselves into a corner, candlelit table, Tracy ordered a Cognac and Cameron a single malt.

“Tell me about you, Tracy,” Cameron said. “Walton told me you were helping them try to track down Althea. But he didn’t say why. Where do you fit into all this?”

Tracy gave him the summarized version. How Althea had sent a coded message to the CIA, after she’d directly ordered Bob Daley’s brutal murder, mentioning Tracy by name. “She thinks she knows me. She certainly knows of me.”

“But you don’t know her?”

“I’ve been wracking my brain, obviously. Trying to think of a connection. There are a number of different chapters in my life where our paths may have crossed. I’ve had what you might call a checkered past,” Tracy admitted.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon