Keith Spence's powerful debut novel concerns David Jourbet, a penetration agent for the CIA with a very big problem: he's just gunned down the Agency's chief of counterintelligence in cold blood. Fort Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary awaits. A life sentence for murder.
Then he's offered a way out. A simple deal, really. Help the Agency locate a missing operative and all charges will be dropped. Just like that.
Except this isn't just any agent who's gone missing. It's Marlena Cory, David's lifelong love, a woman he jilted at the altar two years earlier.
Before the mystery of Marlena's disappearance can be solved, David must return to the scene of some of some of his most traumatic childhood memories, battling demons both past and present, real and imagined.
And through it all, he will find himself plunging deeper and deeper into a spiritual and emotional Hell that makes a lifetime at Leavenworth seem like an inviting alternative.
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Runnels of perspiration streaked across Fairchild's forehead as he stared at the 7.62mm Makarov with attached noise suppressor aimed at the center of his chest.
The same weapon he boasted of winning from a vodka-drenched KGB colonel in a high-stakes poker game during the Helsinki Accords. The one he kept hidden beneath a stack of meaningless memorandums in the upper right-hand drawer of his desk.
The one I was prepared to use without remorse to administer the justice he had thus far managed to evade.
He scanned the interior of his office with nervous eyes, searching for some avenue of escape or method of self-defense to take form as if conjured up by a sorcerer. Before committing myself to this unpleasant but essential task, I'd taken great care to insure that Fairchild's miracles, especially in avoiding culpability for his crimes, had reached an end.
“Please, Jourbet,” he whimpered like a beaten puppy. “These are heinous crimes you've accused me of. I have proof, indisputable proof that you are mistaken. You must believe me.”
“I'd sooner believe in leprechauns, you heartless bastard.” My finger tightened around the trigger guard. “I saw the proof with my own eyes, remember? You're a traitor. And worse, you're a murderer.”
He stepped back and leaned a supporting hand against the teak paneling that surrounded his fourth-floor office. A row of the countless number of college degrees he'd earned in his fifty-seven years—Harvard, MIT, Duke—were lined above his head in perfect sequence. All were enclosed in gold frames. He used them as a form of visual intimidation, to dehumanize his less-educated subordinates while endorsing his own imagined superiority.
Rutherford Fairchild was a vile, despicable man who thrived in the shadow game because he had once been an outstanding intelligence officer, before the lure of easy money perverted his ability to judge right from wrong.
“I have no idea what you're talking about, Jourbet,” he said, his standard narcissism creeping back into his voice. “You're living in a fantasy world. You can't prove anything. It's my word against yours. But please, continue. I'm eager to hear what else you're overactive imagination has fabricated.”
“Murder, except it's not a dream. And neither is prison. You'll find that out soon enough. 'Cause prison's where you're gonna spend the rest of your miserable life.”
He strained to smile, counterbalanced by the apprehension festering beneath his designer eyeglasses. He still hadn't wiped away the sweat, which continued to ooze from his overworked glands.
“I have to hand it to you though,” I said. “You covered your tracks well. Made sure there was no one left alive who could testify against you. But you didn't get me, and that was a terrible blunder on your part.”
“You're completely mad.” Tone brusque now, more secure.
In case his sick mind had somehow blotted his sins from memory, I reminded him of the things he'd done. How he'd ordered the executions of the wife and teenage daughter of Dr. Frederick Holden, a prominent nuclear scientist consumed by gambling debts, once his plot to blackmail the good doctor fell apart. How he'd been willing to sell Holden's CIA-financed nuclear research to the Iranians at a financial premium, knowing it was the goal of the rogue Arab state to turn that technology on its Middle Eastern neighbors.
Holden's wife and daughter were found murdered ten days ago in their elegant French Provincial home in the Arlington countryside. They'd been raped and sodomized, throats ripped open with a garrote. A sadistic crime made to appear that they'd fallen prey to a psychotic sexual predator, when, in fact, they had died at the hands of something much worse: a cold, calculating killer who murdered for the most fundamental of motives—greed—and who choreographed the entire episode to divert suspicion away from himself.
The only saving grace was that Holden never learned the fate that befell his family. Before he could be told he, too, was killed by Fairchild's henchmen in Tehran. It was also in the Iranian capital, where I'd spent the last week searching for Holden, that I learned the truth of Fairchild's savagery. I didn't know at the time, but the rescue mission had all been a set-up, a suicide trying to save Holden from his captors.
Not that Fairchild planned to send me to my grave with any hero's valediction, either. By planting the necessary evidence, he fully intended to pin all his crimes on me. Dead men are easy scapegoats and they don't make good witnesses. Only one problem, from Fairchild's standpoint anyway: I wasn't dead. With the help of contacts established several years ago in the mudjaheddin, I managed to fake my own death in a diversionary explosion and escape across the desert into Afghanistan.
Even if there had been no innocent victims deserving of retribution, all the adversity and struggle involved in making my way home from the Middle East would have been worth it just to see the priceless astonishment on Fairchild's face when he first realized his plan had failed and I was still alive.
But there were innocent victims. I refused to let them die in vain.
Fairchild listened without interruption as I recounted his deceit. The strained smile had actually grown wider by the time I finished. His back stiffened. He no longer needed the wall for support.
“Such a grand soliloquy,” he mused. “Too bad you never studied drama. I could have obtained you a prime slot with the Shakespeare Theatre. I'm a member of the Board of Directors, you know.”
“I'm taking you to see General Garoway,” I said, shoving him forward with my left hand, the Makarov in my right. “We'll see just how skilled a performer you really are. Are you good enough to talk your way out of the electric chair?”
He stopped and whirled around. My grip on the gun grew more determined. He said, “I already told you, Jourbet. You can't prove any of it. Do you honestly think General Garoway will believe you, an undercover agent, over the word of his chief of counterintelligence? My God, undercover agents slip over the edge every day. You people have no scruples, no discipline. I, on the other hand, have been a member of the executive staff for over twenty years. General Garoway and I served together in Korea. Figure it out for yourself. Nothing will result from your unfounded accusations. Aside from your own personal humiliation and forced resignation.”
The appalling arrogance of his words threatened to tear my heart from my chest. When I first made my unannounced entry into Fairchild's office—bypassing his astounded secretary who hadn't had time to alert her boss—I really had not been sure what I intended to do. Bring him to justice or kill him and spend the remainder of my life at Fort Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.
He'd already instructed the Office of Security to switch off the closed-circuit video cameras and laser recording devices that monitored his office twenty-four hours day. It was the first thing he did after I rushed in.
I hadn't dissented because I'd already made up my mind to disclose his treachery to the world, expose him for the murderer and traitor he was. When I first entered his office, I carted no desire to sink to his level, turn the gun on him. But that decision had been made before my thought processes were given time to properly examine the issue from all sides. Before Fairchild's words cast new light on the truth.
You can't prove any of it, Jourbet...nothing will result from your unfounded accusations.
He was right. Why would anyone believe me? He was the chief of counterintelligence. There was no evidence against him. I understood now there was only one way to extract justice in this case. I had to channel deep within myself and summon the composure and raw nerve necessary to do unto the murderer as he had done unto others.
I took a deep breath and tried to remember the crime scene photographs I'd seen of Holden's wife and daughter. Innocent lives snuffed out in a sea of blood. Both women nearly decapitated. The courage to do what had to be done swelled in my soul.
“You know, Fairchild, you're exactly right,” I said. “I can't prove a thing. The courts and the judicial system aren't any help, either. That's why I have to make sure you never harm anyone again, why I must seek a more...permanent solution to this crisis.”
A disbelieving panic stretched across his face. “What are you saying, Jourbet? Good God, you can't just gun a man down in cold blood and expect to get away with it. You must be insane.”
“I don't expect to get away with it.” The certainty I was doing the proper thing grew stronger with each passing breath. “I expect to spend the remainder of my life in prison. Not that I've got anywhere else to go. Besides, it'll be worth whatever they do to me to make sure you get what you deserve.”
“Please, Jourbet, you must listen to me.” He took a step toward his desk. I followed with the gun pointed at the back of his skull, suddenly fearful that he might have a spare weapon hidden nearby. “It's right here in my top desk drawer. Conclusive evidence that you are wrong, that killing me would be a tragic mistake.”
I didn't buy a word of it, these ramblings of a desperate murderer. '"Tragic? Yes, but not a mistake. I'm going to do it with your own gun, Fairchild. Are you ready? Here it comes.”
“Jesus Christ, Jourbet!”
He spun and charged at me, arms outstretched, still pleading his case. It was too late. The jury had decided on the death penalty. My trigger finger was already in motion, the silencer on the Makarov no more than an inch from his face when the weapon discharged.
A blood storm converged between his eyes as the bullet opened a stellate wound in his forehead. His upper body jerked back and forth, the thrust of the projectile carving a path through his brain. He collapsed to the carpet with a thud.
I stood over him and watched red juice spurt from his head like a geyser. Then I dropped the Makarov and headed for the undercover officer's lounge to ponder my last moments of freedom.