Dead man walking / Simon R. Green.
- ISBN: 9781780107868 (electronic bk.)
- ISBN: 1780107862 (electronic bk.)
- Physical Description: 1 online resource.
- Publisher: [United States] : Severn House Publishers : 2016.
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'Call me Ishmael. Ishmael Jones. I am the man in the shadows, that even the shadows are afraid of. The secret agent whose life is the greatest secret of all. And some of the cases I work are trickier than others.' A rogue agent has come in from the cold and wants to spill his secrets. The Organisation wants Ishmael to find out if Frank Parker is who he says he is, what he really knows, and why he has emerged from the shadows after all this time. Ishmael heads to Ringstone Lodge in Yorkshire where Parker is being held to find that an atmosphere of fear and suspicion prevails. As he and his fellow residents are menaced by a series of alarming and inexplicable incidents, Ishmael sets out to prove that it's human trickery rather than any supernatural being behind the seemingly ghostly goings-on. But matters take an unexpected turn when one of their number is brutally murdered, and once again Ishmael must turn detective in order to entrap a twisted killer before they strike again.
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Dead Man Walking
By Simon R. Green
Severn House Publishers Limited
All rights reserved.
A Selection of Recent Titles by Simon R. Green,
Chapter One: Food for Thought,
Chapter Two: Questions, Questions,
Chapter Three: Haunted by More Than One Past,
Chapter Four: Dead Man Walking,
Chapter Five: Who's That Knocking at the Door?,
Chapter Six: Accusations, Denials and People Losing Their Heads,
Chapter Seven: Nothing Stays Hidden,
Chapter Eight: A Good Judge of Character,
Food for Thought
It was a surprisingly sunny day in mid-Autumn when I first heard that the prodigal son wanted to come in from the cold. I was sitting in a pizza parlour on Oxford Street, happily working my way through a deep-dish meat-feast that was supposed to serve two, while waiting for my contact to show up. All around me, the tables were crowded, the noise levels were satisfyingly high and, because it was after all the middle of London, I could make out half a dozen different languages adding to the protective babble. When the world thinks you don't exist, and you want to keep it that way, you learn to be very careful about where you show your face. Fast-food outlets are always a good place to hide in plain sight. Where people are always coming and going, and any number of conversations can take place without fear of being overheard. And as long as you don't tip too little or too big, even the waiter won't remember you.
I'd chosen a table at the rear, with my back to the wall; so I could be sure of getting a good look at everyone else. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and a healthy dose of paranoia. My chair was set far enough back from the table that I could be sure of getting to my feet in a hurry without my legs getting trapped; and I'd already worked out six different ways to quietly disappear, should it prove necessary. One of the disadvantages of living in my world is that you can never relax when you're out in public. You always have to be prepared for enemy action.
The Colonel slipped in off the street with an easy grace and stood for a moment just inside the doors, so he could look the place over. Like a predator checking out the possibilities at a new watering hole. This haughty-looking individual was a new Colonel, the old one having been murdered last year. I caught his killer and avenged his death, but that didn't bring him back. The Colonel is the middleman, the go-between, the overseer and case officer for all his very special agents. I have no idea what his real name might be; but then he doesn't know mine.
If the Colonel is a mystery, the Organization we both work for is a myth, an urban legend of the hidden world; the people who move behind the scenery, making the decisions that really matter. I have no idea who or what they might be, but as long as they preserve my anonymity and provide me with work worth doing, I'm happy enough to go along.
The new Colonel was a tall and elegant presence in his mid-thirties, dressed in the finest three-piece business suit Savile Row had to offer. Which should have made him stand out in such an everyday setting; but he was wrapped in so much unselfconscious authority no one wanted to look at him for fear of attracting his attention. In his own way, he was as invisible as I was. Almost certainly ex-military, given his bearing, and handsome enough in a supercilious sort of way. He looked the pizza parlour over as though he'd never set foot in such an establishment before and now, having done so, was convinced he'd been right all along.
His stern gaze finally picked me out of the crowd, and he strode through the packed tables with a magnificent disdain for one and all. A waiter tried to distract him with a brandished menu, so he could direct the Colonel to a table in his area; only to wither and fall back under the Colonel's icy stare. The great man finally slammed to a halt in front of me, and I made a point of ignoring him as I concentrated on my pizza.
'Next time,' said the Colonel, in his best clipped and businesslike tones, 'I will chose the setting for our meeting.'
'No you won't,' I said, looking up to fix him with my best cold stare. 'You can call me any time and I'll answer, because that's the deal I made when I joined the Organization. But I decide when and where I appear in public. I wouldn't feel safe in any place you'd feel comfortable.'
The Colonel indulged himself with another small sigh. 'Did you lecture my predecessor like this?'
'I didn't need to,' I said. 'We respected each other. Tell me, why are you always the Colonel? Did I join the army and nobody told me?'
'I really couldn't say.'
'And people wonder why I have trust issues. Would you care to order something? So you won't look entirely out of place?' 'I think not,' said the Colonel. 'I shall be dining at my club later.'
'You won't get food like this there.'
'Exactly. Now let me explain why you're here.'
'Does it have something to do with Mummy and Daddy and a very special hug?'
'I understand the old Colonel was prepared to indulge your general impertinence and lack of respect,' he said heavily. 'I, on the other hand, am famous for my complete lack of a sense of humour when it comes to such things.'
I smiled at him, not entirely unkindly. 'Unclench, Colonel. You'll last longer. Trust me, I've been doing this a lot longer than you.'
'Since 1963, to be exact,' said the Colonel. 'You don't look your age, Mr Jones.'
'You don't know my age,' I said.
'I've read your file,' said the Colonel. 'It didn't take me long, because there isn't much in it. No personal details, no background, no photos ... Just a list of the cases you've worked on, and their outcome. Who are you, Ishmael Jones?'
'Wrong question,' I said.
'What is the right question?'
'You see,' I said. 'You knew it all along.'
He studied me for a long moment, as though he believed he could see right through my defences if he just tried hard enough.
'All our agents are assured their anonymity, but you take your privacy to extremes. How are we to protect you from your enemies, if we don't know who and what we're protecting?'
'No questions,' I said. 'That was the deal I made when I joined.'
He sighed, just a little dramatically. 'In an organization that exists to deal with mysteries, you seem determined to be the biggest mystery of them all.'
'Is someone planning to deal with me?' I said.
'Not while you can still be useful. But if you continue to insist on keeping things from us ...'
'I'm not the only one,' I said. 'Unless you're suddenly prepared to tell me your real name?'
'After you, Mr Jones.'
I didn't quite laugh in his face. 'I don't even know who it really is I'm working for.'
'Which is as it should be.'
'Do you know?'
'I doubt it,' said the Colonel.
'What do you want with me?' I said. 'What could be so important that I had to drop everything just to sit down with you? What could be so secret you couldn't even bring yourself to hint at it over the phone? A phone, I might remind you, that was given to me by the Organization. Along with a firm assurance that God herself would have a hard time listening in.'
'Frank Parker wants to come home,' said the Colonel.
And that stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew that name. Everyone in our line of business did. Parker used to be one of the Organization's most respected field agents. I never met the man; but it's inevitable that people like us will hang out with people like us. And over a drink or three it's inevitable that we will end up exchanging gossip, and trying to outdo each other with strange tales and weird adventures. Because only we can talk openly about the kind of things we do.
Frank Parker spent more than twenty years operating in the wilder areas of the hidden world. Taking down people, and things that only pretended to be people, to protect Humanity and keep the world safe. As a reward, he was given all the most important and dangerous cases. Because Parker was the Organization's blue-eyed boy; their foremost troubleshooter, destined for great things. Back in the day, you could frighten a whole room full of really bad people just by dropping his name.
And then he went rogue. Just dropped out of sight one day; and the next thing anyone knew, he was working for everyone except the Organization. Doing bad things for bad people, for really good money.
I sat back in my chair, ignoring my meal. I wasn't hungry any more.
'So Frank Parker has reappeared,' I said. 'What do you want me to do? Organize a whip-round for his coming-home party?'
'Hardly,' said the Colonel.
'Did he ever betray any of his fellow agents?' I said.
'No,' said the Colonel. 'He never did ... Even though the pressure on him to do so must have been immense.'
'So he didn't leave because he was mad at the Organization,' I said. 'He just wanted out. Interesting ...'
'Irrelevant,' said the Colonel.
'Not from where I'm sitting,' I said.
'After several years of working for the opposition, Parker disappeared again,' said the Colonel. 'No one could find him, even though some very highly motivated people spent a lot of time looking. Most of us thought he was dead and that we could all relax at last. But just twelve hours ago Parker reached out to us.'
I didn't ask how. The Colonel wouldn't tell me.
'Did he say where he'd been, all these years he's been missing?'
'No. Just that he wanted to come home, as soon as possible.'
'Does the Organization want him back?'
'He says he's ready to dish the dirt on everyone he ever worked for. Tell us everything he ever did for them. In return for having all his sins forgiven, and a new identity to retire behind.'
'And you couldn't afford to miss out on a deal like that,' I said.
'A chance to bury so many of our worst enemies, and put right some of the damage he did when he left? Oh yes, Mr Jones, we want to know everything Frank Parker knows.'
'Even if it does sound a little too good to be true?' I said carefully.
'Exactly,' said the Colonel. 'Always look a gift horse in the mouth, because it might have a small army tucked away inside it. Parker is currently installed at Ringstone Lodge.'
I didn't let anything show in my face. I'd heard of the Lodge, and not in a good way. An isolated and extremely secure interrogation centre; for defecting agents, suspected traitors, and anyone who knew things the Organization wanted to know. Ringstone Lodge, where the truth will out. One way or another.
'I love a good gossip as much as any other agent,' I said. 'But I have to ask, why are you telling me this, Colonel?'
'Because we need to be sure whether the man we have really is Frank Parker,' said the Colonel. 'Extensive and repeated plastic surgeries have made him unrecognizable. And since we have no physical records on file, it's hard to be sure just who it is we've got. And we need to be certain before we can trust any of the information he gives us.'
'What has this got to do with me?' I said. 'I never even met the man.'
'We're limiting the number of people with direct access,' said the Colonel. 'Because Parker, if he really is Parker, claims to have solid information about bad apples within the Organization. Not just from his time; but right now.'
I looked at him for a long moment. 'And you think that's possible?'
'People above me do. We need a field agent to join the interrogation team at Ringstone Lodge. Because only another agent would have the necessary experience to ask the right questions and evaluate the answers.'
'You need to know whether he's a ringer.'
'Exactly. So, off you go to Ringstone Lodge. Two very experienced interrogators are already in place; they'll do all the heavy lifting. Technically you'll be in charge, but don't push it.'
'Have there been any attempts to get to Parker since his return?' I said. 'To silence him, before he can name names?'
'Not so far. But if there are traitors within the Organization, we can't be sure how long his location will remain secret. The Lodge has first-rate security protections in place, but ...'
'Yes,' I said. 'But ... How long can you give me before I have to make a decision?'
'Forty-eight hours. After that, word will get out and the opposition will start taking steps to limit the damage his information could do.'
'So,' I said. 'No pressure, then.' I sat up straight in my chair as a thought struck me. 'I take it I do have the Organization's assurance that no one at the Lodge will start asking me awkward questions?'
The Colonel smiled briefly. 'I can understand how someone with your privacy issues, and such an inflated sense of your own importance, might well be reluctant to see the inside of Ringstone Lodge. But don't flatter yourself, Mr Jones, we're really not that interested in your no doubt murky background. Unless, of course, there's something you're not telling us ...'
'More than you could possibly imagine,' I said.
'Only guilty people need to keep their lives secret,' said the Colonel.
'And that attitude is exactly why I take such pains to guard my privacy,' I said. 'I serve the Organization and in return they hide me from the world. That is the beginning and end of our relationship. The moment you do anything to threaten that, I am out the door and in the wind. And you can explain to your lords and masters how you lost them one of their best field agents.'
'You really think you can just disappear these days?' said the Colonel. 'Constant surveillance has made it a much smaller world. You have no idea how much effort goes into hiding you and your fellow agents.'
'Parker managed,' I said.
I looked expectantly at the Colonel. Normally, this would be when he handed over the briefing file for the mission. He looked steadily back at me.
'There is no file on this case,' the Colonel said carefully. 'And there isn't going to be one. No official record, nothing in writing, no paper trail. Because if there are traitors operating inside the Organization, they can't be allowed to know that Frank Parker is threatening to reveal their identities. There is no mission. I am not here talking to you. The only people who know about Frank Parker are those who've had direct contact with him, who are currently enjoying a nice holiday somewhere very secure in complete isolation; and those at the very top who give me my orders. And that's the way it's going to stay.'
'So the left hand doesn't know who the right hand's interrogating?' I said.
'Officially,' said the Colonel, 'no one knows Parker is being held at Ringstone Lodge. There are no records of his arrival in this country, and everyone at the Lodge has been brought in specially from outside the Organization just for this particular operation. All the security, interrogation and support staff have been sequestered from the Ministry of Defence. They don't know what we want their people for, and they know better than to ask.
'All of these individuals have worked with us before and have proper Organization clearance. They'll tell you everything you need to know, once you get to the Lodge. But let me be very clear: you are not to contact me until you have made a decision as to whether or not this potential gold mine really is Frank Parker. And whether the information he is offering is worth anything. I will take it from there. Parker will then be sent on somewhere else, the Lodge people will be dismissed, and you will be free to return to wherever you consider home.'
'Fair enough,' I said. I looked at him thoughtfully. 'You've made it clear you don't approve of me, or my methods. So why haven't you argued for one of your other agents to work this mission?'
'You were selected at the very highest level,' said the Colonel. 'Because you are our most secretive agent, who has always maintained the greatest distance between yourself and the rest of the Organization. You are therefore the least likely to be involved with any of our possible traitors.'
'And, of course, if anything should go wrong I will be the easiest to blame and throw to the wolves. Because absolutely no one is in my corner.'
'I knew you'd understand,' said the Colonel.
'Is that it?' I said.
'One last matter,' said the Colonel. 'We understand you prefer to work with a partner these days. Penny Belcourt.'
'Yes,' I said. 'The one person I can trust to watch my back and not stick a knife in it.'
'You are expected to ensure her silence on all relevant matters,' said the Colonel. 'Or we will.'
He rose to his feet. He took his time doing so, to make it clear leaving was entirely his idea. 'You have your assignment. I don't expect to hear from you again until you've decided about Parker. Now I really must be on my way. Civilized food and a decent wine list await.' He paused, to give me one last significant look. 'I will find out the truth about you, Ishmael Jones.'
'If you do, let me know,' I said. 'I've been wondering for years.'
Excerpted from Dead Man Walking by Simon R. Green. Copyright © 2016 Simon R. Green. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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