Enemy of Mine
Доступ к книге ограничен фрагменом по требованию правообладателя.
Two months ago
The time to start recording came and went, and I hesitated still. I studied the screen, searching for whatever was causing my reticence. I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing I hadn’t seen a hundred times before. A simple room, ten feet by twenty feet, with only a beat-up desk and chair. No place to hide. No weapons of any kind. A room tailor-made for a takedown.
Yet a vague unease made me pause, like the fleeting stench of something rotten under the floor. Made me believe that perhaps I wouldn’t want anyone in the future to see what I was about to witness.
The camera was located just above the single door to the room, allowing me full view of its entire length. The image it fed to the screen was grainy and harsh as it strained to work in the dim light of the single fluorescent bulb. The corners were hidden in shadows, but the desk was clearly illuminated. Good enough to trigger the assault when the time came.
I caught movement, and saw the top edge of the door swing open. I quickly dialed my phone, alerting the team. “Stand by.”
A figure entered the frame. It was a woman. Not the target. She moved to the desk, then turned around, giving me a clear shot of her face. I knew her.
What the hell is she doing here? Why didn’t she stay home?
I said, “We have an innocent on the X. I’m calling an abort.”
A voice I didn’t recognize answered. “Mission takes priority. No abort.”
A small girl entered the screen, running to the woman.
“You’ve now got two innocents. One child. Abort. My call.”
“It’s not your call. It’s a Taskforce call, and the mission takes priority.”
The decision made no sense. We had plenty of other opportunities to get this guy, and the noncombatants had the potential to turn the hit into a fiasco. At the very least, it would be impossible to keep the operation from leaking out.
“Who the hell is this? Put on the team leader.”
All I heard was “Mission takes priority.” Then a click as he hung up. I was redialing when another figure entered the room. A man, but not the target. The man didn’t turn around, but I knew who it was. The woman’s face showed fear, and the child darted behind her back. The man advanced toward them both and I saw he was holding a club.
The phone connected and I said, “The innocents are in trouble. Execute, execute, execute.”
The mechanical voice said, “Trouble from the target? Is the target there?”
“No. It’s someone else, but he’s bad. I know he’s bad. Get in there!”
“The mission takes priority. We wait for the target.”
The man jabbed with the club like he was holding a sword, hitting the woman in the stomach. She doubled over.
“Dammit, get your ass in there, now!”
The phone was dead.
The man swung the club upward, catching the woman in the jaw. The impact split her jaw sideways in a spray of blood, the stark white of bone punching through the red flesh of her cheek.
I screamed at the flickering image and grabbed the edges of the monitor, desperately trying to will myself to the scene.
The woman fell backward onto the desk, exposing the girl. She cowered at the man’s feet, tears running down her face, her mouth open in a shriek I couldn’t hear. The man grabbed her by the head and lifted her off the ground. He rocked to the left once, then violently swung to the right, whipsawing the small child into the wall by her head. She crumpled in an unnatural heap. The man withdrew a knife from his jacket and held it up high. In full view of the camera. For me to see. Then he began to slowly turn toward the lens…
…And I woke up, drawing in great gulps of air. I was disoriented and bathed in sweat, the feeble light from the outside parking lot finally showing me the corners of the hotel room. I felt an echo, and wondered if I’d screamed for real. I began to sit up when the nausea hit. I scrambled for the toilet through the dim light, reaching it a second before spewing out everything I had eaten in the last six hours.
The heaves subsided and I curled next to the toilet, still trembling at the aftershocks of the dream.
The man had returned, and now he was bringing my family with him.
I should have never looked at the pictures.
It had been four years since the murder of my wife and daughter, and I had never had a dream of the crime. I had dreamed of the man plenty. He stalked me like a Freddy Krueger, popping up in all sorts of weird ways, but never with my family. Never. I had been blessed with nothing but good dreams of them. Dreams that brought melancholy when I awoke, but good nonetheless. Ephemeral moments I tried hard to remember, but which faded away like fog hit by the morning sun. Unlike this one. Acid wouldn’t remove the etching it had left in my soul, I knew.
Why did I look?
I had come back to Fayetteville, North Carolina, to check on any progress in solving the crime, like I had done about every three months since the murders, as if my presence would cause something to break free. It never did. The case was as cold as Jimmy Hoffa, and the police barely tolerated me now. They were nice enough, but they knew it was going nowhere, and looked at me with pity.
This time I had decided to study the crime-scene photos to see if there was a clue they were missing, something I’d never done before. Something others had warned me against. Four years ago the officers had said the pictures were brutal, and because of it, at every visit, I had never asked. This time I did. And they were right.
Now the pictures had brought the stalker to my family. Had allowed him unfettered access to torture me every night, a faceless mass of evil that would never leave me in peace.
In all the dreams I saw him from the back. He never turned around. Never showed me his true nature, content to simply taunt me, like he had tonight with the knife. Deep inside, a part of me begged for him to show himself. A corner of my soul that lived in blackness and craved escape. Craved relief. It believed that if I could see him, I could kill him.
And it desperately wanted to do that.
When she saw her suitcase come up first on the conveyor belt, the investigator’s face broke into a smile. The flight from Beirut had been a long one, and she was ready to get home. Had she known how little time she had left, she most definitely would have preferred it to come out last-or not at all.
Across the baggage claim area, a man caught her expression, and grinned to himself at the irony: He knew the airport luggage tag that had proved so efficient in delivering her suitcase would also be the cause of her death. All he needed to do was make sure she didn’t rip it off and throw it in the trash before she left the airport.
He watched her intently until she had exited, suitcase in tow, traitorous baggage tag flapping in the breeze. In her right hand, she held a briefcase, and in the swing of her arm the man caught a glimpse of the handcuff that attached it to her wrist. That was his target. Along with destroying the information in her brain.
She exited in the direction of the shuttle bus that ferried passengers to the Rotterdam train station, but she could just as easily be hiring a car to her destination. Either way, he knew where she was going: Leidschendam, home of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Established in 2009, the tribunal was tasked with investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafic Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon. Amid rumors that high-ranking officials in the Syrian government and their terrorist proxy Hezbollah had a hand in the murder, massive protests had rocked the country demanding the removal of Syrian occupation forces from Lebanon. Called the Cedar Revolution, it proved to be the catalyst for a Syrian withdrawal from the country later that year. It could have ended with that-a Syrian retreat and rumors-but the tribunal was now investigating in earnest, turning over stones that should have been left untouched. Four Hezbollah foot soldiers had already been indicted, with the inquiry climbing ever higher into the ranks.
The woman was an investigator for the prosecution, and had finally managed to find a well-placed person who would talk: a disgruntled former Syrian intelligence asset with an axe to grind and some inside knowledge. He had spent an hour and a half with the investigator. Hezbollah had done what it could to prevent the meeting, but failed, managing only to make an example of the man after the fact to dissuade others who might think about talking.
The information she had discovered was extremely volatile. Knowing Hezbollah’s reach, she had chosen not to file a report electronically, and certainly wasn’t going to discuss it on a phone system run by the very terrorists she was investigating. She flew straight back from Beirut to the tribunal’s office in the Netherlands to report in person. Which is where the man hunting her came in.
Unlike the bloodbath that could be perpetrated in Lebanon against Lebanese civilians, the investigator would have to be handled with care. Her death could in no way be attributed to her work. It had to appear innocent.
At first, the man thought about simply mugging her and stealing the briefcase, leaving her as a victim of random street crime. After conducting a site survey, he realized that wouldn’t work. Unlike his hometown of Chicago, there wasn’t a whole lot of violent crime in the Netherlands, and certainly none in the middle of the day in Leidschendam. Not to mention he’d probably have to cut off her hand to get to the contents of the briefcase, which would raise an eyebrow. He’d have to be more subtle.