Ethan Justice: Guilty (#4) – Prologue
You’ve beaten me down. “Where’s Ethan Justice 4?” you keep asking. Well, here’s a taster – the Prologue – just for you.
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I wedge my Glock semi-automatic into the car’s glove compartment and exit onto the tarmac of the car park. It will be a welcome change to kill without a gun, a rare opportunity to exercise my creativity. The summer sun is shining, and I should get the job done in time for lunch at a cosy nearby bistro. If I’m lucky, they’ll have tables outside. Being here in the North of England, my window for eating beneath the sun’s rays might be a short one.
Six massive limestone pillars give the hospital an air of magnificence, but as I get closer, the signs of neglect are staring me in the face. Walls constructed from huge honey-coloured blocks of stone are darkened by pollution and the wear of time. Passing the pillars and climbing the uneven stairs, I reach the imposing wooden entrance doors. I kick a crumpled Coke can to one side and watch it roll to a rest amongst candy-bar wrappers, cigarette butts and a pool of hardening vomit that the flies busily feed upon.
Inside, in the cooler air of the old building, forty or so mostly desperate-looking souls clamour for the attention of four uniformed receptionists. Like drunks at a bar, they push forward as if their lives depend on being served immediately. Locating a row of chairs away from the commotion, I remove my coat, lay it on the seat’s scratched surface and sit. I have time, at least an hour, probably closer to two.
All I need is a location.
Sifting through the nearby pile of torn and crumpled magazines wastes no more than a couple of minutes. Do people actually read this trash? If I ever need a new car, tips on improving my sexual performance, or advice regarding menstruation, I’ll know where to come. My phone vibrates, and I pull it from inside my jacket. I enter the code to decrypt the message. It reads, ‘Cardiac Care Unit – No bed info. You’ll have company in 15 mins.’
How did he get so close so fast? Part of me longs to cross paths again. His reputation has soared since we last met in Washington. But my orders are clearer than today’s sky.
Grabbing my coat, I’m quickly striding down corridors, following signs, marching past old stone, then brick, and eventually graffiti-covered glass, all in a matter of a hundred yards. Nobody notices me, staff and visitors too lost in their own worries, heads down, making their way to or from the sick or infirm. I figure I’ve walked at least half a mile by the time I arrive at Cardiac Care, an area notably less chaotic than the main reception.
There are three nurses and a junior doctor congregating around a nest of desks adjoining a small empty reception area. The short run of pale, wood-laminated furniture sits directly opposite a row of six beds. Thankfully none are curtained from view. My target’s thick thatch of tousled white hair gives him away, his skin ominously pale.
The chunky oriental nurse sitting at one of the desks looks up and raises his hand at me like he’s stopping traffic.
“Visiting hours are over. You’ll have to come back at four.”
I hand him a business card. “I’m Carl Eichmann’s doctor. I just got a call that he’d been brought here. I’d like to get a look at his chart and show him a friendly face.”
He doesn’t bother to glance at the card, and his unwelcoming scowl intensifies. “You’re his GP?”
“No,” I answer. “I’m his cardiologist.”
The young doctor, pretty with tied-back auburn hair, leans down and snatches my business card from the nurse’s grip. Wide hazel eyes light up as she reads from the stationery printed only an hour ago. “Doctor Sean Harrison, in the flesh. What brings you to England? We are honoured. How’s the stem cell research going?”
Research, research, research – the art of a successful assassination is always in the research. I meet her gaze with a thoughtful nod. “Now that we’re generating cells from the skin or blood of patients, we can tell how different drugs will affect them before the prescription stage. These are exciting times.”
She glowers down at the seated nurse, who refuses to meet her gaze. He’ll be getting a dressing down the second after I’ve left. “Let me apologise for the misunderstanding. Your research is remarkable. Perhaps we could sit down and talk after you’ve checked on Mr Eichmann?”
No chance. As much as her looks and intelligence appeal to my baser needs, this is not the time for contemplating pleasure, not to mention the old bastard might die before I get to him and the unwanted guest about to burst in on proceedings. “Sorry, got a quadruple bypass before the day’s out. I really should press on.”
“Of course.” She gestures toward Eichmann’s bed.
I pull the turquoise curtain around the patient and turn off the sound on his heart monitor before sitting down on the edge of the bed. The low-volume beep in time with his heart is fine, but the loud and shrill alarm when his heart dies would be sure to attract company.
With a bulbous nose, thin lips and gnarled old skin, he looks like a mean son-of-a-bitch. He grumbles in his sleep, top lip twitching. I slap the top of his head with my fingers. His eyes blink open, and I clamp my hand over his mouth before he can cry out. Gaps between heartbeats displayed on the monitor shorten as he struggles to no avail. His pulse reads 156, probably a little high for a heart attack patient. What do I know? There’s only so much research a man can do.
“How’s it going, Carl?” I ask, keeping his head pressed hard against the pillow. “I’m here to see that you don’t recover, but luckily for you, I’m a greedy man.”
Beneath my coat, jacket and shirt, sweat trickles from my armpits and down my sides. At this soggy temperature, the ward must be slowly cooking patients. I wish I could take off my coat, but there’s no time. “What can you offer me to change my mind? I’m going to move my hand from your mouth. If your voice rises above a whisper, I’ll snap your neck. Okay?”
He nods, signs of fear almost gone from his slate-grey eyes. Carl Eichmann, better known to us as Carl Weber, is one of the few people terrorists of any allegiance can go to for guns, explosives, documents and anything else they might need. Undoubtedly, he’s threatened on a regular basis, but if he’s afraid to die, he doesn’t show it. Perhaps at eighty-two, he’s ready to go, ready to bow out for good. But I don’t think so. I sense a hunger for life in the withered old dog.
I remove my hand. “So what have you got for me, Carl? Make it quick. I’m on a tight schedule.”
His whisper is raspy, and thirty years in the UK has removed nearly all trace of his German heritage. “In … in my jacket.” He points a shaky finger toward the floor by my feet.
“You’d think they’d at least give a daft old bastard like you a coat hanger,” I say, scooping up the jacket with one hand and turning out the pockets with it spread across my lap. “This hospital is a joke. I don’t suppose you get private medical benefits in your line of work.”
He claws at a piece of paper that shuffles loose during my rummaging, almost tugging free the tubing from the cannula attached to his hand. “Keys,” he croaks, holding out the tiny scrap of paper. “Use … with the … security device.”
Pulling a bunch of keys from a pocket, I notice a number pad, like a minute calculator attached to the metal ring. “Is this it?” I ask, rotating it in one hand, turning it over, inspecting it.
He nods and clears his throat. “There’s … over three hundred thousand sterling … in the account. You can … access over Internet … transfer … to wherever you like.”
“It’s a good start,” I say, taking the paper from his grasp and stuffing it and the keys into my coat pocket. “But I need more.”
He erupts into splutters, chest rattling, small blotches of pink rising on his cheeks like cherries on a pair of iced buns. I am on him in a flash, hands ready to squeeze his neck and cut off his air supply. His fit subsides before I apply pressure, the threat of death clearly more effective than any cough syrup. I wait, listening for the approaching footsteps of the nursing staff. When there are none, I sit back.
“Well?” I say.
Eichmann turns away from me, spitting out the large glob of phlegm he’s just hacked up. It hits the curtain and begins to slither down. “One of the independents sold us out. Piece of shit bastard,” he says, the rasp now all but cured. “He was caught messing with young kids. Sold us out to avoid deportation to Saudi and a date at Chop Chop Square.” His eyes narrow. “But you know this, or you couldn’t have tracked me here.”
“Yeah, just like you, the paedo coughed his guts out,” I say, standing up. “What else can you give me?”
His eyes dart from side to side, like he imagines someone scarier than me might burst through the curtains at any second. “Not a chance. It would be better if you killed me now.” His skin seems to fade from deathly white to translucent in front of me.
“Scary types, are they?” I hear voices close to us. I lean toward him. “I’m not interested in intel, you old fool. I want money. There must be more you’ve put away for a rainy day.”
He shakes his head. The voices are closer now. No more time. I lean a little nearer and whisper, “One more thing …”
“Eh?” he says, scrunching up his wizened old face.
I bring my mouth to within a few inches of his ear, digging a hand into my deep coat pocket and pulling free a 90mm lumbar-puncture needle. Hospitals ought to keep better track of their inventory. His body tenses. “If anyone asks, I was never here, okay?” He nods, breath whistling in his nose, muscles relaxing again as if he senses an end to the ordeal.
I doubt it’s the end he’s hoping for.
Pressing his clammy cheek against my own, I guide the needle to the side of his head and plunge it through his eardrum until my fingertips touch the gristly flap of his ear. I savour the slow removal of the makeshift weapon, like I’m playing and holding the perfect note on a violin. He twitches for a few seconds, then stills, body limp and very dead.
Replacing the wet needle into the lining of my coat pocket, I part the curtains and exit the ward. No doubt the staff will comment on my lack of departing etiquette, until they discover that my rudeness is the least of their worries.
In the endless corridors, I spot my threatened gate-crasher. My work had finished not a second too soon. I’d prefer our reunion to happen elsewhere, away from here, but the choice isn’t mine. He sees me straightaway, perhaps even before I see him. Our long dark coats are such a giveaway. He’s taller than I remember, thicker set, an imposing stature by any standards. We walk toward each other, eyes locked like boxers in the ring. When we meet, he places a hand on my shoulder, taking us to one side of the Perspex corridor where thick swirling graffiti blocks out much of the light.
He looks at me but says nothing. His face is unreadable, blank.
“You’re too late, Agent Johnson,” I say. “Weber is dead.”
Well, do you want more?