[Quinn 01] - The Cleaner
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Brett Battles lives and writes in Los Angeles. He grew up on a navy base in the middle of the desert, where his father was a civilian physicist working for the military. He is currently Executive Producer for E! Entertainment Television and has three children.
The Cleaner is his first novel. Brett Battles' second Jonathan Quinn novel, The Deceived, will be published in July 2008, also by Preface.
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Adobe ISBN: 9781409025160
Published in the United Kingdom by Preface Publishing in 2008
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Copyright © Brett Battles 2007
Brett Battles has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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To Mom and Dad
For all the obvious
and not so obvious reasons
To paraphrase John Donne, no writer is an island. While much of the work authors do is done alone, the final version of any work is touched by many. This book is no exception.
Thank you to Jon Rivera, Kathy Karner, Ann Epstein-Cohen, Pam Epstein-Cohen, Patty Kiley, and Jeremy Quayhackx, for acts of kindness that went beyond mere friendship. Also, to those members of the group whose suggestions and insights are weaved throughout this story: Derek Rogers, Brian Perry, Ken Freeman, Eloise Freeman, and Allison Stuart. Thanks to Tammy Sparks, Theresa Imback, Dawn Butler, Darren Battles, Mark Paoletti, Janet Joe, Jean Galbraith, Aki Norita, Hunter Athey, Bruce Lambert, and Raquel Rancier, who braved early drafts and provided feedback and encouragement. And to authors J.T. Ellison, Sandra Ruttan, and J. B. Thompson for doing the same. Also thanks to authors John Ramsey Miller and John Gilstrap for providing invaluable assistance and advice. Your unselfishness and help are appreciated more than I can ever express.
For advice on medical issues, I owe a large debt to Dr Phil Hawley, Jr. The same is also true for Andreas Kanonenberg and Christiane Freuss-Turgel, who helped with German language issues. As for any medical errors or German language mistakes, I wish I could blame them, but I can't. Those would be my fault.
Without the following people, this book would still be sitting in a box in my closet; Nathan Walpow for providing an unexpected introduction; Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender at Ugly Town for taking the initial chance on me, then arranging my transition to Bantam Dell; Shannon Jamieson Vazquez for enthusiastically bringing me into the Bantam Dell family; Danielle Perez for being a wonderful editor, friend, and champion; and Nita Taublib for being such an enthusiastic supporter from the moment she read my manuscript. Also, thanks to my agent, Anne Hawkins, who has become my guide and biggest supporter; it's amazing what a chance meeting will produce.
Finally, there are four people who deserve extra-special recognition. My mentor and friend, Bill Relling, who gave me more than any writer could ever hope for. I only wish he were still around to see the results of his work.
And Ronan, Fiona, and Keira, you are each so much more than a father could ever hope for.
Denver was not Hawaii. There were no beaches, no palm trees, no bikinis, no mai tais sipped slowly on the deck of the Lava Shack on Maui. Instead there were people dressed like they were expecting the next ice age, directing planes down taxiways lined with mounds of freshly plowed snow. There wasn't anyone wearing a bikini within five hundred miles. Worse yet, while it was only 3:00 p.m. local time on Thursday afternoon when Jonathan Quinn's flight began disembarking, a layer of gunmetal-gray clouds made it seem like it was almost night.
It was definitely vacation over, back to work.
After he exited the plane, Quinn made his way toward the front of the terminal, pulling his only piece of luggage, a carry-on suitcase, behind him. Not far beyond his arrival gate was a small kiosk. He stopped and bought an overpriced cup of coffee.
As he took a sip he glanced around. There seemed to be an equal amount of people walking to and from the gates. A typical busy afternoon in a typical busy international airport.
But it wasn't typical people he was looking for. He did a lot of traveling and knew from experience that you could never be sure who you might run into. In his business, that wasn't necessarily a good thing. But his arrival appeared to have been unobserved. He took another sip of his coffee and moved on.
Instead of following the crowd and proceeding to the passenger pickup area, Quinn found a seat next to a set of arrival and departure screens near the ticketing and check-in counters. He pulled out the book he'd been reading on the plane, South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami, and started in where he'd left off. When he finished the book an hour later, two dozen additional flights had arrived. He closed the novel and returned it to his bag. Time to call in.
'I thought you said you'd arrive first thing this morning,' the voice on the other end of Quinn's phone said, irritated.
'Selective memory, Peter,' Quinn replied. 'Those were your words. Is my ride here?'
'It's been there since eight a.m.,' Peter fumed. He told Quinn where to find the car, then hung up.
The ride turned out to be a blue Ford Explorer. The vehicle came equipped with leather seats, an AM/FM radio, a CD player, and two men, neither of whom felt it necessary to give Quinn their names. He designated them the Driver and the Other One.
As Quinn climbed into the back seat, the Other One tossed him a nine-by-twelve-inch padded
envelope. It was about an inch thick and weighed maybe a pound. Quinn started to open it. 'Don't,' the Driver said. He was glancing at Quinn in the rearview mirror.
'Why not?' Quinn asked.
The Other One turned toward him. 'Not until we're gone. Instructions.'
Quinn rolled his eyes and set the envelope on the seat beside him. 'I wouldn't want you to get in trouble.'
They drove in silence for the next hour, through Denver and into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It was dark now and Quinn was getting hungry. The last meal he'd had was on the plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, if you could call the less-than-inviting beef Stroganoff he'd been served a meal. But he kept his hunger to himself. He knew if he didn't, his two new companions might decide that they were hungry, too. God forbid he would be forced to eat with them.
Instead, he tried to imagine that the pine trees they drove by were palm trees, and that the cloudy sky was just the regular afternoon rainstorm moving onto the island. After a few minutes, he gave up and just stared out the window. The dirty snow along the side of the road was a poor substitute for the beaches of Kaanapali.
Finally, the Driver exited I-70 and drove a mile down a two-lane road into the darkened wilderness, before turning left onto a narrower, snow-packed road. A hundred yards ahead, a green Ford Taurus was parked off to the side, tucked up against the encroaching woods. The Driver stopped behind it and turned the SUV's engine off. If Quinn didn't know better, he would bet he was about to be removed permanently. Deserted road. Two silent goons. A getaway car. Classic assassination scenario.
Game over, buddy. Thanks for playing, but you lose.
And though he knew he had nothing to worry about, he tensed a little, preparing himself just in case.
Without a word, both the Driver and the Other One opened their doors and got out. As they did, a blast of cold air swept into the SUV. Quinn watched as they walked over to the Taurus and climbed in. A moment later, the sedan roared to life. Without even giving the engine time to warm up, the Driver executed a quick U-turn, then sped off, back toward I-70.