The way he told it, it sounded like such a happy story. Gilded, gifted American couple fall in love and dedicate their lives to their country. Yet somehow, somewhere along the road between then and now, it had ended in tragedy. In terror and murder and misery.
Fighting to control her emotions, Tracy asked Hunter, “What happened? What went wrong?”
“I don’t know all the details. But the summary is Dan was in Iraq, embedded on some deep cover mission for the agency. Something went wrong back home—some kind of security leak—and his identity was compromised. He managed to make contact with his handler and arranged to meet at a safe house in Basra. He got there expecting to be smuggled out of the country. Instead he was met by three Al Qaeda operatives, horribly tortured, and eventually beaten to death.”
Tracy put a hand over her mouth. “Oh my God. But how did Al Qaeda know about the safe house?”
Hunter shrugged. “That’s an open question. Kate’s always been convinced it was an inside job. That the CIA sold Daniel out. She was still working at Langley at the time. She claims she hacked into files, right up to the director’s office, that prove her husband was betrayed and murdered. But it was all covered up. The doctors said she was deranged with grief and she spent the next year in a secure mental facility in upstate Virginia.”
“Yeah. It was bad. She was tortured by grief, destroyed by it. And everybody she trusted had betrayed her. That’s what she believed anyway. What she still believes.”
Tracy wasn’t sure why, but she believed what Hunter was telling her. From the little she already knew about the CIA and the FBI and the way the intelligence community closed ranks when they felt under threat, Kate Evans’s story sounded horribly plausible.
“When she finally got out of the hospital she was on a mission. The only thing she cared about was destroying the CIA. Getting payback on everyone who had conspired in Daniel’s murder and what followed. That’s what led her to Group 99 and everything that happened next. Kate never bought into their whole communist, punish the wealthy ideology. She’s always been rich. She liked them because they were running rings around the CIA and costing the U.S. government millions of dollars. Plus she was a gifted hacker, with invaluable inside information on how the agency worked. Kate was the one who transformed Group 99 into a global force. She took a ramshackle bunch of angry kids from the slums of Athens and Paris and Caracas and got them organized, funded and ruthlessly focused.”
Tracy sat back in her chair. For the first time, doubts began to creep in.
“You sound as if you admire her.”
“But what about the violence? The murders of all those innocent people?” With a supreme effort, Tracy forced Nick’s face out of her mind. “What about Neuilly?”
“That wasn’t her,” said Hunter. “Kate expressly forbade the attack on the school. But by then she’d lost control to Apollo—Argyros—and his cronies.”
“Henry Cranston, then.”
“Cranston deserved to die,” Hunter said flatly. “But Kate didn’t plant that bomb either.”
“She was there!” Tracy protested.
Hunter shook his head “She was set up. I’m telling you, it wasn’t her.”
“All right then,” Tracy said. “Bob Daley. Kate personally authorized his murder. I heard the recording myself. She told Argyros to shoot him. That is a fact.”
Hunter sighed heavily. “I know it is.”
“So then how can you defend her? I thought Bob Daley was your friend.”
“He was. I admit, Kate was wrong about Bob.”
Wrong? The understatement was so shocking, Tracy wasn’t sure how to react. Wrong? They blew his brains out. The guy’s skull exploded!
Hunter stood up suddenly.
“Let’s go outside. I could use some air.”
THEY WALKED BACK ALONG the corridor to the drawing room, the way Tracy had come in earlier, and out into the garden through the French doors. In the last hour the breeze had gone from cool to distinctly chilly. Tracy shivered in her skimpy dress. Darting back inside, Hunter grabbed a cashmere throw off one of the armchairs and draped it around Tracy’s shoulders, making no reference to the fact that she’d brought her pistol with her and held it tightly in her right hand. She was beginning to trust Hunter more, but there were limits.
“Thank you,” said Tracy.
Hunter reminded her in so many ways of Jeff. Both men were immensely charming, but both used their charm to manipulate others. In this case, me. It was a bizarre feeling, knowing you were being lulled into a false sense of security, but letting it happen anyway.
It struck Tracy that Hunter had been talking solidly for almost an hour, yet she still didn’t know why Group 99 had kidnapped him or what his relationship to the group really was. As for Kate Evans, and her connection to Tracy and to Nick’s death, she was still foundering in the darkness.
Below them, the still waters of Lake Maggiore shimmered silvery black. Above, poplar trees loomed and swayed like dark giants, their feathered fingers rustling ominously in the wind. On the other side of the lake the lights from the town twinkled prettily, cozy houses, bustling restaurants and hotels, an enchanting world of safety and normality and peace.
It’s just a couple of miles across the water, thought Tracy, but it might as well be outer space.
She lived in a different world now. A world of torture and betrayal. Of lies and secrets.
A world of death.
Hunter walked beside Tracy along the graveled path. “I think you still have the wrong impression of me, Miss Whitney,” he said. “Your friends at Langley have convinced you that I sympathize with Group 99. That I support their aims and objectives and approve of their methods.”
Lifting up his shirt, he displayed a painful crisscross of scars, welts, knife wounds and burns cutting a swath across his chest, ribs and back.
“I experienced Group 99’s methods firsthand. Believe me when I tell you, nobody hates them more than I do. These people kidnapped me. They beat me. They robbed me of a year of my life. Alexis Argyros, undoubtedly the most sadistic, straightforwardly evil human being I have ever met, is somewhere out there right now, tracking me down, still trying to kill me. And you honestly think I’m on his side?”
“I think you’re on Kate’s side,” Tracy said quietly.
“That’s different.” Hunter’s voice grew more urgent. For the first time this evening, Tracy heard anger there. “Kate is ill. The CIA made her ill.”
“That’s no excuse . . .”
“I think it is. The CIA broke her mentally. If they hadn’t, Argyros would never have been able to manipulate her the way he did.”
Tracy stopped walking. “What do you mean?”
“Argyros convinced Kate that Bob Daley was working for the CIA. That he was part of a joint British American task force in Iraq who deceived Daniel and left him there to die. Kate did order Bob’s execution. But only because she believed he’d murdered her husband.
“The way I see it, the CIA and Argyros and his bully boys both have Daley’s blood on their hands. Argyros is the one who turned Group 99 into violent terrorists, not Kate. He led his little group of angry boys exactly where they always wanted to go.”
Angry little boys . . . who else had said that?
Tracy’s mind rushed back to Geneva, to her first dinner with Cameron Crewe. She heard his voice now as if he were standing next to her: Group 99 are just a bunch of angry young men . . . They aren’t fighting for a cause. Fighting is their cause. They turn to violence because it makes them feel good. Simple as that. I call them the Lost Boys.
They walked back inside. Hunter closed the French doors behind them and drew the drapes. Then he went over to the bar and returned with two cut glass tumblers of whisky.
He handed one to Tracy. She looked at it for a moment but the time for caution seemed to have passed. She downed it in two swift gulps then asked him the question that had been forming in her mind all the time they were outside.
“Why were you kidnapped? You’re working on your fracking story. The industry don’t like it. The U.S. government don’t like it. But Group 99 are kind of on your side, presumably? Anti-corruption, anti-wealth. Why did they abduct you?”
Hunter looked at her with renewed respect.
“Now that, Miss Whitney, is a good question. That is the question, don’t you agree? Why did Group 99 abduct me?”
“And the answer is . . . ?”
“Simple. Although I’d really like you to get there yourself. I was kidnapped because somebody commanded it. Somebody very rich and very powerful. Somebody who knew I was on to them and had a lot to lose.”