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The Fifth Profession
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WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1990 by David Morrell
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
The following publishers have given permission to use quotations from copyrighted works: I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Written by Hank Williams © 1949, renewed 1977. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., and Hiriam Music. Used by permission. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
Cover design by Jesse Sanchez
Cover photo by Herman Estevez
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Originally published in hardcover by Warner Books
First eBook Edition: April 1991
ALSO BY DAVID MORRELL
First Blood (1972)
Last Reveille (1977)
The Totem (1979)
Blood Oath (1982)
The Hundred-Year Christmas (1983)*
The Brotherhood of the Rose (1984)
The Fraternity of the Stone (1985)
The League of Night and Fog (1987)
The Covenant of the Flame (1991)
Assumed Identity (1993)
Desperate Measures (1994)
The Totem (Complete and Unaltered) (1994)*
Extreme Denial (1996)
Double Image (1998)
Black Evening (1999)
Burnt Sienna (2000)
John Barth: An Introduction (1976)
* Limited edition. With illustrations. Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Hamption Falls, New Hampshire.
Obeying professional habits, Savage directed the elevator toward the floor below the one he wanted. Of course, an uninvited visitor would have had to stop the elevator at the second-highest floor, no matter what. A computer-coded card, slipped into a slot on the elevator's control panel, was required to command the elevator to rise to the topmost level. Savage had been given such a card but declined to use it. On principle, he hated elevators. Their confinement was dangerous. He never knew what he might find when the doors slid open. Not that he expected trouble on this occasion, but if he made one exception in his customary methods, he'd eventually make others, and when trouble did come along, he wouldn't be primed to respond.
Besides, on this warm afternoon in Athens in September, he was curious about the security arrangements of the person he'd agreed to meet. Although he was used to dealing with the rich and powerful, they were mostly in politics or industry. It wasn't every day he met someone not only associated with both arenas but who'd also been a movie legend.
Savage stepped to one side when the elevator stopped and the doors thunked open. Sensing, judging, he peered out, saw no one, relaxed, and proceeded toward a door whose Greek sign indicated FIRE EXIT. In keeping with that sign, the door's handle moved freely.
Cautious, Savage entered and found himself in a stairwell. His crepe-soled shoes muffled his footsteps on the concrete landing. The twenty-seven lower levels were silent. He turned toward a door on his right, gripped its knob, but couldn't budge it. Good. The door was locked, as it should be. On the opposite side, a push bar would no doubt give access to this stairwell—in case of emergency. But on this side, unauthorized visitors were prevented from going higher. Savage slid two thin metal prongs into the receptacle for the key—one prong for applying leverage, the other for aligning the slots that would free the bolt. After seven seconds, he opened the door, troubled that the lock was so simple. It should have taken him twice as long to pick it.
He crept through, eased the door shut behind him, and warily studied the steps leading upward. There weren't any closed-circuit cameras. The lights were dim, giving him protective shadow while he climbed toward a landing, then turned toward the continuation of the steps. He didn't see a guard. At the top, he frowned when he tried the door—it wasn't locked. Worse, when he opened it, he still didn't see a guard.
On nearly soundless carpeting, he proceeded along a corridor. Glancing at numbers on doors, he followed their diminishing sequence toward the number he'd been given. Just before he reached an intersecting corridor, his nostrils felt pinched by tobacco smoke. With the elevators to his right, he turned left into the corridor and saw them.
Three men were bunched together in front of a door at the far end of the corridor. The first had his hands in his pockets. The second inhaled from a cigarette. The third sipped a cup of coffee.
Amateur hour, Savage thought.
Never compromise your hands.
When the guards noticed Savage, they came to awkward attention. They were built like football players, their suits too tight for their bullish necks and chests. They'd be intimidating to a nonprofessional, but their bulk made them too conspicuous to blend with a crowd, and they looked too muscle-bound to be able to respond instantaneously to a crisis.
Savage slackened his strong features, making them non-threatening. Six feet tall, he slouched his wiry frame so he looked a few inches shorter. As he walked along the corridor, he pretended to be impressed by the guards, who braced their backs in arrogant triumph.
They made a show of examining his ID, which was fake, the name he was using this month. They searched him but didn't use a hand-held metal detector and hence didn't find the small knife beneath his lapel.
"Yeah, you're expected," the first man said. "Why didn't you use the elevator?"
"The computer card didn't work." Savage handed it over. "I had to stop on the floor below and take the stairs."
"But the stairwell doors are locked," the second man said.
"Someone from the hotel must have left them open."
"Whoever forgot to lock them, his ass is grass," the third man said.
"I know what you mean. I can't stand carelessness."
They nodded, squinted, flexed their shoulders, and escorted him into the suite.
No, Savage thought. The rule is, you never abandon your post.
The suite had a sizable living room, tastefully furnished. But what Savage noticed, disapproving, was the wall directly across from him, its thick draperies parted to reveal an enormous floor-to-ceiling window and a spectacular view of the Parthenon on the Acropolis. Though Athens was usually smoggy, a breeze had cleared the air, making the pillared ruins brilliant in the afternoon sun. Savage allowed himself to admire the view but only from where he'd paused just inside the room, for he hated huge windows whose draperies were open: they gave an enemy an unnecessary advantage, inviting easy invasion with telescopes, microwave-beamed listening probes, and most crucial, sniper bullets.
The potential client he'd been summoned to meet wasn't present, so Savage assessed a door on the wall to his left. A closet perhaps, or a washroom or a bedroom. He directed his attention toward a muffled female voice behind a door on the wall to his right, and that door he was sure led to a bedroom. Because he didn't hear a responding voice, he assumed that the woman was using a telephone. She sounded insistent, as if she wouldn't conclude for quite a while.
With disciplined patience, Savage glanced farther right toward the wall beside the door through which he'd entered. He recognized two Monets and three Van Goghs.
His burly escorts looked bored when they realized that their employer wasn't present. No brownie points for them, no audience with their client, no compliments for supposedly doing their job. Disappointed, two of them shuffled their feet, adjusted their ties, and went back to their stations in the hall, no doubt to drink more coffee and smoke more cigarettes. The third closed the door and leaned against it, crossing his arms, trying to look diligent, though the pressure with which he squeezed his chest made it seem that he suffered from heartburn.
As air-conditioning whispered, Savage turned from the paintings toward a glass-enclosed display of Chinese vases.
The remaining bodyguard straightened.
The door on the right swung open.
A woman, a legend, stepped out of a bedroom.
Her official biography put her age at forty-five. Nonetheless she looked astonishingly the same as when she'd last appeared in a film a decade earlier. Tall, thin, angular.
Intense blue eyes. An exquisite oval face, its sensuous curves framed by shoulder-length, sun-bleached hair. Smooth, tanned skin. A photographer's dream.
Ten years ago, at a press conference in Los Angeles after she'd won her best actress Academy Award, she'd surprised the world by announcing her retirement. Her marriage one month later—to the monarch of a small but wealthy island-kingdom off the French Riviera—had been equally surprising. When her husband's health had declined, she'd taken over his business affairs, doubling the tourism and casinos that accounted for his island's wealth.
She ruled as she had acted, with what film reviewers had called a style of "fire and ice." Intense yet controlled. Passionate but in charge. In her love scenes, she'd always played the dominant role. The sequence in which she finally seduced the charismatic jewel thief whose attentions she'd persistently discouraged remained a classic depiction of sexual tension. She knew what she wanted, but she took it only when her desires didn't put her at risk, and her pleasure seemed based on giving more than she took, on condescending to grant the jewel thief a night he'd never forget.
So, too, her island subjects courted her attention. In response, she waved but kept a distance until at unexpected moments her generosity—to the sick, the homeless, the bereaved—was overwhelming. It seemed that compassion to her was a weakness, a fire that threatened to melt her icy control. But when politically advantageous, emotion could be permitted, indeed allowed in excessive amounts. As long as it didn't jeopardize her. As long as it made her subjects love her.
She smiled, approaching Savage. Radiant. A movie in real life. For his part, Savage admired her artful entrance, knowing that she knew exactly the impression she created.
She was dressed in black handcrafted sandals, burgundy pleated slacks, a robin's-egg-colored silk blouse (its three top buttons open to reveal the tan on the top of her breasts, its light blue no doubt chosen to emphasize the deeper blue of her eyes), a Cartier watch, and a diamond pendant with matching earrings (their glint further emphasizing her eyes as well as her sun-bleached hair).
She paused before Savage, then studied the remaining bodyguard, her gaze dismissive. "Thank you."
The burly man left, reluctant not to hear the conversation.
"I apologize for keeping you waiting," she said, stepping nearer, permitting Savage to inhale her subtle perfume. Her voice was husky, her handshake firm.
"Five minutes? No need to apologize." Savage shrugged. "In my profession, I'm used to waiting a great deal longer. Besides, I had time to admire your collection." He gestured toward the glass-enclosed display of vases. "At least, I assume it's your collection. I doubt any hotel, even the Georges Roi II, provides its clients with priceless artworks."
"I take them with me when I travel. A touch of home. Do you appreciate Chinese ceramics?"
"Appreciate? Yes, though I don't know anything about them. However, I do enjoy beauty, Your Highness. Including—if you'll forgive the compliment—yourself. It's an honor to meet you."
"As royalty, or because I'm a former film personality?"
A flick of the eyes, a nod of the head. "You're very kind. Perhaps you'd feel more comfortable if we dispensed with formalities. Please call me by my former name. Joyce Stone."
Savage imitated her gracious nod. "Miss Stone."
"Your eyes are green."
"That's not so remarkable," Savage said.
"On the contrary. Quite remarkable. A chameleon's color. Your eyes blend with your clothes. Gray jacket. Blue shirt. An inattentive observer would describe your eyes as—"
"Grayish blue but not green. You're perceptive."
"And you understand the tricks of light. You're adaptable."
"It's useful in my work." Savage turned toward the paintings. "Superb. If I'm not mistaken, the Van Gogh Cypresses were recently purchased at a Sotheby auction. An unknown buyer paid an impressive amount."
"Do you recall how much?"
"Fifteen million dollars."
"And now you know the mysterious buyer."
"Miss Stone, I deal with privileged information. I'd be out of business tomorrow if I didn't keep a secret. Your remarks to me are confession. I'm like a priest."
"Confession? I hope that doesn't mean I can't offer you a drink."
"As long as I'm not working for you."
"But I assumed that's why you're here."
"To discuss your problem," Savage said. "I haven't been hired yet."
"With your credentials? I've already decided to hire you."
"Forgive me, Miss Stone, but I accepted your invitation to find out if I wanted you to hire me."
The sensuous woman studied him. "My, my." Her intense gaze persisted. "People are usually eager to work for me."
"I meant no offense."
"Of course not." She stepped toward a sofa.
"But if you wouldn't mind, Miss Stone."
She raised her eyebrows.
"I'd prefer that you used this chair over here. That sofa's too close to the window."
"Or else let me close the draperies."
"Ah, yes, now I understand." She sounded amused. "Since I enjoy the sunlight, I'll sit where you suggest. Tell me, are you always this protective of people you haven't decided to work for?"
"A force of habit."
"An intriguing habit, Mr. … I'm afraid I've forgotten your name."
Savage doubted that. She seemed the type who remembered everything. "It doesn't matter. The name I provided isn't mine. I normally use a pseudonym."
"Then how should I introduce you?"
"You don't. If we reach an agreement, never draw attention to me."
"In public. But what if I have to summon you in private?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"A nickname. The way I'm identified in my business."
"And did you acquire it when you were in the SEALs?" Savage hid his surprise.
"Your former unit's name is an acronym, correct? Sea, air, and land. The U.S. Navy commandos."
Savage subdued an impulse to frown.
"I told you I found your credentials impressive," she said. "Your use of pseudonyms makes clear you cherish your privacy. But with persistence, I did learn several details about your background. In case I alarm you, let me emphasize that nothing I was told in any way jeopardized your anonymity. Still, rumors travel. The help you gave a certain member of the British Parliament—against IRA terrorists, I believe—is widely respected. He asked me to thank you again for saving his life. An Italian financier is similarly grateful for your skillful return of his kidnapped son. A West German industrialist feels that his corporation would have gone bankrupt if you hadn't discovered the rival who was stealing his formulas."
Savage kept silent.
"No need to be modest," she said.
"Nor should you. Your sources are excellent."
"One of the many advantages to marrying royalty. The gratitude of the Italian financier was especially compelling. So I asked him how I might get in touch with you. He gave me the telephone number of—I suppose, in my former life, I'd have used the term—your agent."
"You didn't learn his name, I hope."
"I never spoke to him directly, only through intermediaries."
"Which brings me to my problem."
"Miss Stone, another force of habit. Don't be specific in this room."
"No one can overhear us. There aren't any hidden microphones."
"What makes you sure?"
"My bodyguards checked it this morning."
"In that case, I repeat …"
"Don't be specific in this room? My bodyguards didn't impress you?"
"They impressed me, all right."
"But not the proper way?"
"I try not to criticize."
"Another commendable habit. Very well, then, Savage." Her smile matched the glint of her diamond earrings. She leaned from her chair and touched his hand. "Would you like to see some ruins?"
The black Rolls-Royce veered from traffic to stop in an oval parking lot. Savage and two of the bodyguards got out—the third had remained at the hotel to watch the suite. After the guards assessed the passing crowd, they nodded toward the car's interior.
Joyce Stone stepped smoothly out, flanked by her guards. "Circle the area. We'll be back in an hour," she told her driver, who eased the Rolls back into traffic.
She turned, amused, toward Savage. "You keep surprising me."
"Back at the hotel, you objected to my sitting near a window, but you haven't said a word about my going out in public."
"Being famous doesn't mean you have to be a hermit. As long as you don't advertise your schedule, an accomplished driver can make it difficult for someone to follow you." Savage gestured toward the swarm of traffic. "Especially in Athens. Besides, you know how to dress to match your surroundings. To echo a compliment you gave me, you're adaptable."
"It's a trick I learned when I was an actress. One of the hardest roles … to look average."
She'd changed before they left the hotel. Now in place of her designer slacks and blouse, she wore faded jeans and a loose gray turtleneck sweater. Her diamonds were gone. Her watch was a Timex. Her shoes were dusty Reeboks. Her distinctive sun-bleached hair had been tucked beneath a floppy straw hat. Sunglasses hid her intense blue eyes.
Though pedestrians had paused to study the Rolls, they'd shown little interest in the woman who got out.
"You're playing the part successfully," Savage said. "At the moment, a producer wouldn't hire you, even for a walk-on."
She curtsied mockingly.
"I do have one suggestion," he said.
"Somehow I knew you would have."
"Stop using the Rolls."
"But it gives me pleasure."
"You can't always have what you want. Save the Rolls for special occasions. Buy a high-performance but neutral-looking car. Of course, it would have to be modified."
"Reinforced windows. Clouded glass in the rear. Bullet-proof paneling."
"Don't humor me, Miss Stone."
"I'm not. It's just that I enjoy a man who enjoys his work."
"Enjoy? I don't do this for fun. My work saves lives."
"And you've never failed?"
Savage hesitated. Caught by surprise, he felt a rush of torturous memories. The flash of a sword. The gush of blood. "Yes," he said. "Once."
"Your honesty amazes me."
"And only once. That's why I'm so meticulous, why I'll never fail again. But if my truthfulness gives you doubts about me …"
"On the contrary. My third movie was a failure. I could have ignored it, but I admitted it. And learned from it. I won the Oscar because I tried harder, although it took me seven more films."
"A movie isn't life."
"Or death? You should have seen the reviews of that third movie. I was buried." "So will we all."
"Be buried? Don't be depressing, Savage."
"Did no one tell you the facts of life?"
"Sex? I learned that early. Death? That's why a man like you exists. To postpone it as long as possible."
"Yes, death," Savage said. "The enemy."
They followed a tour group toward the western slope of the Acropolis, the traditional approach to the ruins since the other ridges were far too steep for convenient walkways. Past fir trees, they reached an ancient stone entrance, known as the Beulé Gate.
"Have you been here before?"
"Several times," Savage said.
"So have I. Still, I wonder if you come for the same reason I do."
Savage waited for her to explain.
"Ruins teach us a lesson. Nothing—wealth, fame, power—nothing is permanent."
" 'Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.' "
She turned to him, impressed. "That's from Shelley's 'Ozymandias.' "
"I went to a thorough prep school."
"But you don't give the name of the school. Anonymous as usual. Do you remember the rest of the poem?"
"… Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Shelley understood precision. If he'd been Japanese, he'd have written great haikus."
"A bodyguard quoting poetry?"
"I'm not exactly a bodyguard, Miss Stone. I do more than run interference."
"What are you then?"
"An executive protector. You know, except for the sand, the ruins Shelley describes remind me of …"
Savage gestured toward the steps they climbed. The marble had been eroded by time, by use, by various invaders, and worst of all, by automobile exhaust.
They passed through a monument called the Propylaea, its precious decaying walkway protected by a wooden floor. Five gateways of columns grew wider and taller, leading them to a path that split right and left.
After the cloying heat of summer, September's moderate temperature brought the start of the tourist season. Sightseers jostled past them, some out of breath from the climb, others taking photographs of monuments on either side, the Precinct of Brauronia and the less impressive House of Arrhephoroi.
"Tell your guards to walk behind us," Savage said. "I'll watch ahead."
Turning right, they proceeded to the vast rectangular Parthenon. In 1687, a conflict between invaders had resulted in a Venetian bomb's igniting a Turkish gunpowder magazine in the Parthenon, which in ancient times had been a temple devoted to the Greek goddess of purity, Athena. The explosion had destroyed a considerable part of the monument, toppling pillars and much of the roof. Restoration was still in progress. Scaffolding obscured the magnificence of surviving Doric columns. Guardrails kept visitors from further eroding the interior.
Savage turned from the tourists, approaching the precipitous southern ridge of the Acropolis. He leaned against a fallen pillar. Athens sprawled below him. The earlier breeze had died. Despite a brilliant clear sky, smog had begun to gather.
"We can talk here without being overheard," Savage said. "Miss Stone, the reason I'm not sure I want to work for you—"
"But you haven't heard why I need you."
"—is that an executive protector is both a servant and a master. You control your life—where you go and what you do—but your protector insists on how you get there and under what terms you do it. A delicate balance. But you've got a reputation for being willful. I'm not sure you're prepared to take orders from someone you employ."
Sighing, she sat beside him. "If that's your problem, then there isn't a problem."
"I don't understand."
"The trouble isn't mine. It's my sister's."
"Do you know about her?"
"Rachel Stone. Ten years your junior. Thirty-five. Married a New England senator campaigning to be president. Widowed because of an unknown assassin's bullet. Her association with politics and a movie-legend sister made her glamorous. A Greek shipping magnate courted her. They married last year."
"I give you credit. You do your homework."
"No less than you."
"Their marriage is like the Parthenon. A ruin." Joyce Stone rummaged through her burlap purse. Finding a pack of cigarettes, she fumbled with a lighter.
"You're not a gentleman," she snapped.
"Because I won't light your cigarette? I just explained, when it comes to protection, you're the servant and I'm the master."
"That doesn't make sense."
"It does if you realize I have to keep my hands free in case someone threatens you. Why did you ask to see me?"
"My sister wants a divorce."
"Then she doesn't need me. What she needs is a lawyer."
"Her bastard husband won't allow it. She's his prisoner till she changes her mind."
"She's not in chains, if that's what you're thinking. But she's a prisoner all the same. And she's not being tortured." She managed to light her cigarette. "Unless you count being raped morning, noon, and night. To remind her of what she'd miss, he says. She needs a true man, he says. What he needs is a bullet through his obscene brain. Do you carry a gun?" she asked, exhaling smoke.
"Then what good are you?"
Savage stood from the column. "You've made a mistake, Miss Stone. If you want an assassin—"
"No! I want my sister!"
He eased back onto the column. "You're talking about a retrieval."
"Whatever you want to call it."
"If I decide to take the assignment, my fee …"
"I'll pay you a million dollars."
"You're a poor negotiator. I might have settled for less."
"But that's what I'm offering."
"Assuming I accept, I'll want half in an escrow account at the start, the other half when I deliver. Plus expenses."
"Stay in the best hotels for all I care. Spend as much as you want on meals. A few extra thousand hardly matters."
"You don't understand. When I say 'expenses,' I'm thinking of as much as several hundred thousand."
"You're asking me to antagonize one of the most powerful men in Greece. What's he worth? Fifty billion? His security will be extensive, costly to breach. Tell me where your sister is. I'll do a risk analysis. A week from now, I'll tell you if I can get her."
She stubbed out her cigarette and slowly turned. "Why?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"I get the feeling this job's more important to you than the money. Why would you consider accepting my offer?"
For a chilling instant, Savage had a mental image of steel glinting, of blood spraying. He repressed the memory, avoiding her question. "You told your driver 'an hour.' It's just about time. Let's go," he said. "And when we get back to the car, tell him to take an indirect route to your hotel."
- On Sale
- Dec 14, 2008
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Grand Central Publishing