The Templar Legacy (Page 10)
DE ROQUEFORT APPROACHED THE BOOKSHOP. THE PEDESTRIANS-ONLY street out front was deserted. Most of the district's many cafes and restaurants were blocks away--this part of the Stroget closed for the night. After tending to his two remaining chores, he planned to leave Denmark. His physical description, along with those of his two compatriots, had now most likely been obtained from witnesses in the cathedral. So it was important that they linger no longer than necessary.
He'd brought all four of his subordinates from Roskilde with him and planned to supervise every detail of their action. There'd been enough improvising for one day, some of which had cost the life of one of his men earlier at the Round Tower. He did not want to lose anyone else. Two of his men were already scouting the rear of the bookshop. The other two stood ready at his side. Lights burned on the building's top floor.
He and the owner needed to talk.
MALONE GRABBED A DIET PEPSI FROM THE REFRIGERATOR AND walked down four flights of stairs to the ground floor. His shop filled the entire building, the first floor for books and customers, the next two for storage, the fourth a small apartment that he called home.
He'd grown accustomed to the cramped living space, enjoying it far better than the two-thousand-square-foot house he'd once owned in north Atlanta. Its sale last year, for a little over three hundred thousand dollars, had netted him sixty thousand dollars to invest into his new life, one offered to him by, as Stephanie had early chided, his new Danish benefactor, an odd little man named Henrik Thorvaldsen.
A stranger fourteen months ago, now his closest friend.
They'd connected from the beginning, the older man seeing in the younger something--what, Malone was never sure, but something--and their first meeting in Atlanta one rainy Thursday evening had sealed both of their futures. Stephanie had insisted he take a month off after the trial of three defendants in Mexico City--which involved international drug smuggling and the execution-style murder of a DEA supervisor who happened to be a personal friend of the president of the United States--had resulted in carnage. Walking back to court during a lunch break, Malone had been caught in the crossfire of an assassination, an act wholly unrelated to the trial, but something he'd tried to stop. He'd come home with a bullet wound to his left shoulder. The final tally from the shooting--seven dead, nine injured, one of the dead a young Danish diplomat named Cai Thorvaldsen.
"I came to speak with you in person," Henrik Thorvaldsen had said.
They were sitting in Malone's den. His shoulder hurt like hell. He didn't bother to ask how Thorvaldsen had located him, or how the older man knew that he understood Danish.
"My son was precious to me," Thorvaldsen said. "When he joined our diplomatic corps I was thrilled. He asked for the assignment to Mexico City. He was a student of the Aztecs. He would have made a worthy member of our Parliament one day. A statesman."
A swirl of first impressions raced through Malone's mind. Thorvaldsen was certainly high bred with an air of distinction, at once elegant and rakish. But the sophistication was in stark contrast to a deformed body, his spine humped in a grotesque exaggeration and stiff, shaped like an egret. A leathery face suggested a lifetime of impossible choices, the wrinkles more like deep clefts, the crow's-feet sprouting legs, liver spots and forked veins discoloring the arms and hands. Pewter-colored hair was piled thick and bushy and matched the eyebrows--dull silver wisps that made the older man look anxious. Only in the eyes was there passion. Gray-blue, strangely clairvoyant, one flawed from a star-shaped cataract.
"I came to meet the man who shot my son's killer."
"Why?" he asked.
"To thank you."
"You could have called."
"I prefer to face my listener."
"At the moment, I prefer to be left alone."
"I understand you were nearly killed."
"And you are quitting your job. Resigning your commission. Retiring from the military."
"You know an awful lot."
"Knowledge is the greatest of luxuries."
He was not impressed. "Thanks for the pat on the back. I have a hole in my shoulder that's throbbing. So since you've said your peace, could you leave?"
Thorvaldsen never moved from the sofa. He simply stared around at the den and the surrounding rooms visible through an open archway. Every wall was sheathed in books. The house seemed nothing but a backdrop for the shelves.
"I love them, too," his guest said. "My home is likewise full of books. I've collected them all my life."
He could sense that this man, sixty-plus years old, was given to grandiose tactics. He'd noticed when answering the door that he'd arrived via a limousine. So he wanted to know, "How did you know I speak Danish?"
"You speak several languages. I was proud to learn that my native tongue was one."
Not an answer, but had he really expected one?
"Your eidetic memory must be a blessing. Mine has gone the way of age. I can hardly remember much anymore."
He doubted that. "What do you want?"
"Have you considered your future?"
He motioned around the room. "Thought I'd open an old-book shop. Got plenty to sell."
"Excellent idea. I have one for sale, if you'd like it."
He decided to play along. What the hell. But there was something about the tight points of light in the old man's eyes that told him his visitor was not joking.
Hard flinty hands searched a suit coat pocket and Thorvaldsen laid a business card on the sofa.
"My private number. If you're interested, call me."
The old man stood.
He stayed seated. "What makes you think I'm interested?"
He resented the assumption, particularly when the old man was right. Thorvaldsen shuffled toward the front door.
"Where is this bookstore?" he asked, cursing himself for even sounding interested.
"Copenhagen. Where else?"
He remembered waiting three days before calling. The prospect of living in Europe had always appealed to him. Had Thorvaldsen known that, too? He'd never thought living overseas possible. He was a career government man. American, born and bred. But that was before Mexico City. Before seven dead and nine injured.
He could still see his estranged wife's face the day after he made the call to Copenhagen.
"I agree. We've had enough separation, Cotton, it's time for a divorce." The declaration came with the matter-of-factness of the trial lawyer that she was.
"Is there someone else?" he asked, uncaring.
"Not that it matters, but yes. Hell, Cotton, we've been apart five years. I'm sure you haven't been a monk during that time."
"You're right. It's time."
"You really going to retire from the navy?"
"Already have. Effective yesterday."
She shook her head, like she did when Gary needed motherly advice. "Will you ever be satisfied? The Navy, then flight school, law school, JAG, the Billet. Now this sudden retirement. What's next?"
He'd never liked her condescending tone. "I'm moving to Denmark."
Her face registered nothing. He might as well had said he was moving to the moon. "What is it you're after?"
"I'm tired of being shot at."
"Since when? You love the Billet."
"Time to grow up."
She smiled. "So you think moving to Denmark will accomplish that miracle?"
He had no intention of explaining himself. She didn't care. Nor did he want her to. "It's Gary I need to talk with."
"I want to know if he's okay with that."
"Since when have you cared what we thought?"
"He's why I got out. I wanted him to have a father around--"
"That's bullshit, Cotton. You got out for yourself. Don't use that boy as an excuse. Whatever it is you're planning, it's for you, not him."
"I don't need you telling me what I think."
"Then who does tell you? We were married a long time. You think it was easy waiting for you to come back from who-knows-where? Wondering if it was going to be in a body bag? I paid the price, Cotton. Gary did, too. But that boy loves you. No, he worships you, unconditionally. You and I both know what he'll say, since his head is screwed on better than either of ours. For all our failures together, he was a success."
She was right again.
"Look, Cotton. Why you're moving across the ocean is your business. But if it that makes you happy, then do it. Just don't use Gary as an excuse. The last thing he needs is a discontented parent around trying to make up for his own sad childhood."
"You enjoy insulting me?"
"Not really. But the truth has to be said and you know it."
He stared around at the darkened bookshop. Nothing good ever came from thinking about Pam. Her animosity toward him ran deep and stemmed back fifteen years to when he was a brash ensign. He'd not been faithful and she knew it. They'd gone to counseling and resolved to make the marriage work, but a decade later he'd returned home one day from an assignment to find her gone. She'd rented a house on the other side of Atlanta for her and Gary, taking only what they needed. A note informed him of their new address and that the marriage was over. Pragmatic and cold, that was Pam's way. Interestingly, though, she'd not sought an immediate divorce. Instead, they'd simply lived apart, remained civil, and spoke only when necessary for Gary's sake.
But eventually the time came for decisions--across the board.
So he quit his job, resigned his commission, ended his marriage, sold his house, and left America, all in the span of one long, terrible, lonely, exhausting, but satisfying week.
He checked his watch. He really should e-mail Gary. They communicated at least once a day, and it was still late afternoon in Atlanta. His son was due in Copenhagen in three weeks to spend a month with him. They'd done the same thing last summer, and he was looking forward to the time together.
His confrontation with Stephanie still bothered him. He'd seen naivete like hers before in agents who, though aware of risks, simply ignored them. What was it she always told him? Say it, do it, preach it, shout it, but never, absolutely never, believe your own bullshit. Good advice she should heed. She had no idea what she was doing. But then, did he? Women were not his strong point. Though he'd spent half his life with Pam, he never really took the time to know her. So how could he possibly understand Stephanie? He should stay out of her business. After all, it was her life.
But something nagged at him.
When he was twelve he'd learned that he'd been born with an eidetic memory. Not photographic, as movies and books liked to portray, just an excellent recall of details that most people forgot. It certainly helped with studying, and languages came easy, but trying to pluck one detail from so many could, at times, aggravate him.