CHAPTER 52

Watching water evaporate,” Gage answered Milton Abrams. His call had come in as Gage was washing his dinner dishes.

“You’re being a little cryptic,” Abrams said.

Gage crooked the phone between his neck and shoulder and dried his hands.

“I have to be for a while,” Gage said. “Is Viz around?”

“He’s in the kitchen cooking chili for lunch. You want to talk to him?”

“Just tell him I’ll call him in half a minute.”

Gage disconnected, then retrieved his encrypted cell phone from his jacket pocket.

Viz answered the first ring.

“How’s Abrams behaving?” Gage asked.

“His sex life seems to be suffering, but otherwise he’s okay.”

“Anybody show up to take Anthony Gilbert’s place?”

“Seems so. One of his gofers has taken over. Davey Hicks. He has a New York PI license, but only subcontracts for others. I learned from a guy I worked with in the DEA who’s now gone private that Hicks is a nose-to-the-ground grunt. Cash up front. No questions asked. Fired from NYPD three years ago for shooting a suspect in the back.”

“How good is he at surveillance?”

“I don’t know yet. We’ve only been going to public places so I haven’t needed to try to evade him.”

“With Gilbert out of the way, this is probably his big break.” Gage thought for a moment. “But that may depend on who hired him. It’s likely that it was Gilbert, but we don’t know for certain. He could’ve been hired by Abrams’s wife, trying to find out who he was sleeping with. The fact that she’s not talking to him doesn’t mean that she’s not watching him.”

Gage heard Abrams’s voice in the background.

“Let me talk to him,” Gage said.

“Here,” Viz said to Abrams.

“Why the Dick Tracy phone? “ Abrams asked.

“My calls are being intercepted. It could be at this end or as they pass through switching stations in the States. And Faith’s are being intercepted at her end by the PLA. She’s been helping the leader of the Chengdu uprising expose corruption in the area.”

“The one the press is calling Old Cat? “

“The PLA is using him to let a hundred thorns bloom.”

“Now it makes sense,” Abrams said. “I get it.”

“Now what makes sense?”

“I got a call from CIA Director Casher yesterday. He’d also called the vice president and the secretary of state saying we may want to respond to the big Chinese media blitz at the Davos World Economic Forum this week, accusing the U.S. of trying to undermine their economy. He’s calling it their Whine, with a ‘wh,’ and Dine Strategy.”

Gage now wondered whether it was the CIA that was intercepting Faith’s calls and if they’d gotten on to her because they’d been listening in on him. He stared out of the kitchen window at telephone and power lines illuminated by a streetlight and swaying in the breeze, and imagined the air around him crisscrossed with signals, some intersecting, some dodging and bending and fighting off attacks.

“I don’t think it’s entirely whine,” Gage said. “We’ve gathered almost enough information to get the CEOs of RAID and Spectrum and a dozen others indicted for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and I suspect the CIA has filled in the empty boxes on our flowchart.”

“With the underlying threat that we better make some trade concessions or they’ll start painting bull’s-eyes on all of the corporate heads in the U.S.”

“And Europe.”

“If they start naming names and banks and accounts and amounts,” Abrams said, “the Hong Kong stock market will crash the next morning, followed by the rest of the exchanges one time zone at a time.”

“I take it that Casher didn’t mention that part.”

“No. He just said to stand by for an update.”

“Why was he talking to Wallace instead of the president?”

“I wondered the same thing, then I saw on the news that today is the president’s annual physical. After that he’ll be exercising with schoolkids and then giving a speech announcing a new commission on obesity.” Abrams snorted. “If I was him I’d worry more about our gorging on debt rather than our gorging on fried chicken.”

Gage didn’t respond. He wasn’t in the mood for either an economic tirade or sarcasm, not with Batkoun Benaroun lying in a Marseilles hospital with a bullet lodged next to his spine, the latest in a trail of casualties that might lead to Abrams’s doorstep.

Might lead.

Now Gage wasn’t so certain. He looked through the kitchen door at the dining room table. Only then did he hear the hum of the heater and the hair dryer.

“Let me call you back,” Gage said. “I’m in the middle of something.”

“Are you any closer to finding Ibrahim?” Abrams asked.

“That’s what I’m in the middle of.”

“You’re being cryptic again.”

“Let’s keep it that way, at least until I’ve found him.”

Gage disconnected and walked over and inspected Hennessy’s notebook. The narrow opening had widened as the surrounding sheets had dried. He retrieved tweezers from the bathroom and tilted the top edge of the notebook toward the lamp next to the table and reached into the space and tugged at the square of paper. He felt it pull free from the opposite side, then he worked it back and forth up the gap. First a white glossy border appeared, the gray of concrete, then the black of leather shoes and laces, then the brown of socks and cuffs, the slacks splotched with water or The photograph slipped free of its sheath. It was blood.

Gage stared at the mutilated body. Its arms bound with wire that cut into the skin. Its shirt torn exposing a chest pocked with burns. The slacks pulled down to its knees. But the face was untouched, eyes dulled with death, mouth open as if he’d died with a last gasp.

Gage opened the MIT brochure that he’d gotten from

Goldie Goldstein and matched the portrait of Ibrahim to the face in the photo.

It was him. There could be no doubt.

A newspaper lay next to the body. The International Herald Tribune. The photo on the cover showed the French president greeting the world’s central bankers in Marseilles on the day before Abrams was to meet Hennessy.

The message was clear. Hennessy couldn’t have missed it. There was no need for words, for an explanation, or an accusation, or a threat.

In his pursuit of Ibrahim, Hennessy had forced someone’s hand, and they’d used it to torture Ibrahim to death and then aimed the photograph like a sickle to slash at the fragile membrane that had shielded Hennessy from the abyss.

Contents