Sidney Sheldon’s Reckless

Tracy watched in an agony of embarrassment as the Frenchman turned and walked away.

“It’s jerks like you that give Americans a bad name, Buck.”

Milton Buck shrugged. “The truth hurts. Just calling it like I see it. Speaking of ‘no leads,’ your latest report on Althea made depressing reading, Tracy. You’re no closer to finding her than when you started, are you?”

Tracy glared at him. “You asked me to look for links between Althea and what happened on this campus.”

“Exactly,” said Buck.

“Well, there are none. I realize you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Agent Buck. But I’m not sure I can simplify that any further, even for you,” Tracy shot back. “How’s the hunt for Hunter going? From what I hear the tumbleweed’s still rolling.”

It was hard not to blurt out to the odious Milton Buck that she’d already tracked down Hunter Drexel; that she’d come this close to confronting him face-to-face; and that the British had too, leaving him and his tragically arrogant agency in ignominious third place. The only person she’d told about what really happened in Montmartre was Cameron Crewe. And even with him she’d left out the part about seeing Jeff.

Because you didn’t see him. You couldn’t have. You made a mistake in the heat of the moment.

“As usual, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Milton Buck said caustically. Leaning in closer, he hissed in Tracy’s ear. “Walton won’t protect you forever, you know. If you don’t come up with something on Althea soon, people are going to start asking questions. Like whether you know more than you’re telling.”

“Like you with Hunter Drexel, you mean?” Tracy hissed back.

Buck looked for a moment as if he might hit her. “Do yourself a favor and forget about Drexel. I’m a senior FBI agent, Miss Whitney. You’re an ex–con artist who’s in danger of outliving her usefulness.”

To Tracy’s relief, a charming Frenchwoman from ballistics interrupted them and led Tracy away for a detailed briefing on exactly what had happened at Neuilly. Getting away from Buck was a joy, but as always after her encounters with him, Tracy felt a dull residue of fear lingering in the pit of her stomach.

He’s loathsome, but he might end up running the bureau one day.

If he does he won’t rest till I’m back in jail and they’ve thrown away the key.

Tracy took copious notes with the ballistics expert, then made her way up to the château that had been the main school building for lunch. She soon lost her appetite, however, when she spotted Major General Frank Dorrien making his way towards her in the buffet line.

“Miss Whitney.” Frank gave Tracy the same blank, robotic smile she remembered from their last meeting in London. The man was about as sincere as a fortune cookie compliment. “I trust you’ve had an informative morning?”

“Thank you. Yes. You?”

“It’s been very interesting.”

The last time Tracy had seen Frank he’d been standing in the street in Montmartre, flapping his arms like a distressed chicken as his quarry, Hunter Drexel, got away, along with his would-be killer. Tracy had decided that the blond with the limp must have been Hunter.

As she told Cameron later that night, “It was him, I know it. I think he’d been shot in the leg.”

As usual, Cameron ended up playing Devil’s advocate. “It could have been a bystander, hurt in the crossfire.”

Tracy wasn’t buying it. “A bystander would lie there and wait for help, especially once the gunman had made a run for it. But this man was as desperate to get away as the shooter. He couldn’t risk being identified.”

And Hunter Drexel had gotten away, again, leaving Major General Frank Dorrien red-faced and empty-handed. For the second time that day, Tracy found herself resisting the temptation to shame a man she loathed. Not least because, if she had seen him that day, there was at least a chance that Frank had seen her entering Pascal Cauchin’s apartment, but was choosing to keep quiet about it.

Maybe we’re both keeping secrets?

From each other and from the CIA?

“Do you know the most interesting thing I learned today?” Frank asked casually, helping himself to a large slice of Brie and proceeding to slather it over his baguette. “One of the teenagers murdered here was Jack Charlston.”

Frank gave Tracy a questioning look, but the name meant nothing to her.

“Jack was Richard Charlston’s son. Only son, as it happened.”

Richard Charlston. It rang a bell. Tracy dredged her memory, trying to place it.

“Richard was the MEP who opposed Crewe Oil’s attempts to secure fracking rights across the EU, including right here in France,” Frank Dorrien reminded her. “Vociferously opposed. And successfully.”

That’s right. Cameron had mentioned the name Richard Charlston to Tracy the very first night they met, in Geneva. He’d been in Switzerland trying to drum up support in the European parliament for an expansion of his European business, and the British MEP was speaking against him.

“I remember,” Tracy said.

“Richard Charlston was due to give a speech here, at Camp Paris, on the day of the shooting but pulled out at the last moment. I daresay nobody informed Group 99 of the change of plans. Still”—Frank smiled—“at least they got his son. I daresay that’s better than nothing from your boyfriend’s point of view.”

Tracy put down her plate. “What do you mean by that?”

“Merely that Cameron Crewe was an enemy of Richard Charlston. Just as he was an enemy of Henry Cranston. Doesn’t it strike you as curious the way that Group 99 seem to target your boyfriend’s enemies?” Frank helped himself to a large handful of dates and some pâté. “Almost as if they’re doing Crewe Oil’s dirty work.”

A surge of absolute loathing ran through Tracy’s body.

“Cameron lost a son,” she told Frank. Her voice was quiet but she was shaking with anger. “Marcus. He was a teenager, just like the children murdered here.”

“Yes, I . . .”

“I’m not finished.” Tracy cut the general off furiously. “I lost my son, too. At the same age. So you see, General, we know what it feels like. Cameron and I. We know what the Neuilly massacre parents are going through. In a way that you never will. If you think for one second that Cameron is capable . . . that he would ever be involved in the murder of children, or support that in any way . . . then you’re even more bigoted than you look. You’re deranged.”

Frank looked at Tracy calmly. “I believe that all human beings are capable of terrible things, Miss Whitney. Just as we are all capable of greatness. Don’t you?”

Tracy glared at him in silence.

What a hateful, hateful man, she thought, as the general walked away.

But the names Jack and Richard Charlston haunted her for the rest of the day.

Group 99. Fracking. Cameron.

There was a link there. Not the link that Frank Dorrien was insinuating. But a link. Something connecting Cameron, or at least his industry, with these vile and cowardly acts of terror.

Did Hunter Drexel know what that link was? Was that why he had run?

Had Hunter seen whatever it was that Tracy was missing?

And where did Althea, whoever she was, fit into the puzzle?

Not for the first time, Tracy was left with the unsettling feeling that nothing and nobody were what they seemed.

UPSTATE NEW YORK WAS beautiful at this time of year. From her bedroom window at the rehab facility, Kate Evans enjoyed glorious views across rolling countryside. Bright green fields and wildflower meadows stretched as far as the eye could see, dotted with cows, picket fences, oak trees and the occasional white clapboard farmhouse. There was nothing ugly out here. Nothing noisy or unpleasant, no poverty or disease or filth or pain. Not a blade of grass out of place, in fact. Just the sort of sanitized, unthreatening, almost manicured beauty that occurred when human beings took nature in hand and bent it to their will. All was order and peace. It was the perfect place to rest, and Kate had rested. But now it was time to go.

“I wish you’d reconsider.”

Bill Winter, Kate’s psychiatrist, tried again to change her mind. Tall and thin, with a craggy face like a dried-up riverbed and intense, thoughtful brown eyes, Dr. Winter reminded Kate of her father. Owen Evans had died during Kate’s first year of high school—a massive heart attack had felled him instantly, like a lightning-struck tree. That was the first time Kate’s heart had broken. It hadn’t healed, not fully anyway, till she met Daniel.

“I know you do.” She smiled at Dr. Winter. “But I really can’t stay any longer. There’s someone I need to see. And I really do feel so much better.”

That last part was truthful. But most of what Kate had revealed to her doctors and therapists here at Westchester Meadows had been a web of half-truths, interwoven with outright lies. That was one of the benefits of a life spent working in intelligence. Once you knew what it meant to go into deep cover—to become somebody else, for your own safety and the safety of others—you learned how to hold on to that other self with an iron grip. Even under hypnosis, Kate could be whoever she needed to be. And yet when the time came to break cover, she could walk away without a backward glance.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon