sunday, december 23, the present
The bullet tore into Cotton Malone’s left shoulder.
He fought to ignore the pain and focused on the plaza. People
rushed in all directions. Horns blared. Tires squealed. Marines
guarding the nearby American embassy reacted to the chaos, but were
too far away to help. Bodies were strewn about. How many? Eight?
Ten? No. More. A young man and woman lay at contorted angles on a
nearby patch of oily asphalt, the man’s eyes frozen open,
alight with shock --- the woman, facedown, gushing blood. Malone
had spotted two gunmen and immediately shot them both, but never
saw the third, who’d clipped him with a single round and was
now trying to flee, using panicked bystanders for cover.
Dammit, the wound hurt. Fear struck his face like a wave of fire.
His legs went limp as he fought to raise his right arm. The Beretta
seemed to weigh tons, not ounces.
Pain jarred his senses. He sucked deep breaths of sulfur-laced air
and finally forced his finger to work the trigger, which only
squeaked, and did not fire.
More squeaks could be heard as he tried to fire again.
Then the world dissolved to black.
Malone awoke, cleared the dream from his mind --- one that had
recurred many times over the past two years --- and studied the
He was lying atop the bed in his apartment, the nightstand’s
lamp still on from when he’d plopped down two hours
Something had roused him. A sound. Part of the dream from Mexico
City, yet not.
He heard it again.
Three squeaks in quick succession.
His building was 17th century, completely remodeled a few months
ago. From the second to the third floor the new wooden risers now
announced themselves in a precise order, like keys on a
Which meant someone was there.
He reached beneath the bed and found the rucksack he always kept at
the ready from his Magellan Billet days. Inside, his right hand
gripped the Beretta, the same one from Mexico City, a round already
Another habit he was glad he hadn’t shucked.
He crept from the bedroom.
His fourth-floor apartment was less than a thousand square feet.
Besides the bedroom, there was a den, kitchen, bath, and several
closets. Lights burned in the den, where a doorway opened to the
stairway. His bookshop consumed the ground floor, and the second
and third floors were used exclusively for storage and work
He found the doorway and hugged the inner jamb.
No sound had revealed his advance, as he’d kept his steps
light and his shoes to the carpet runners. He still wore his
clothes from yesterday. He’d worked late last night after a
busy Saturday before Christmas. It was good to be a bookseller
again. That was supposedly his profession now. So why was he
holding a gun in the middle of the night, every one of his senses
telling him danger was nearby?
He risked a glance through the doorway. Stairs led to a landing,
then angled downward. He’d switched off the lights earlier
before climbing up for the night, and there were no three-way
switches. He cursed himself for not including some during the
remodeling. One thing that had been added was a metal banister
lining the stair’s outer edge.
He fled the apartment and slid down the slick brass rail to the
next landing. No sense announcing his presence with more creaks
from other wooden risers.
Carefully, he glanced down into the void.
Dark and quiet.
He slid to the next landing and worked his way around to where he
could spy the third floor. Amber lights from Højbro Plads
leaked in through the building’s front windows and lit the
space beyond the doorway with an orange halo. He kept his inventory
there --- books bought from people who, every day, lugged them in
by the boxload. “Buy for cents, sell for euros.” That
was the used-book business. Do it enough and you made money. Even
better, every once in a while a real treasure arrived inside one of
the boxes. Those he kept on the second floor, in a locked room. So
unless someone had forced that door, whoever was here had fled into
the open third floor.
He slid down the last railing and assumed a position outside the
third-floor doorway. The room beyond, maybe forty by twenty feet,
was littered with boxes stacked several feet high.
“What do you want?” he asked, his back pressed to the
He wondered if it had only been the dream that had sparked his
alert. Twelve years as a Justice Department agent had certainly
stamped paranoia on his personality, and the last two weeks had
taken a toll --- one he hadn’t bargained for but had accepted
as the price of truth.
“Tell you what,” he said. “I’m going back
upstairs. Whoever you are, if you want something, come on up. If
not, get the hell out of my shop.”
He started for the stairs.
“I came to see you,” a male said from inside the
He stopped and noted the voice’s nuances. Young. Late
twenties, early thirties. American, with a trace of an accent. And
calm. Just matter-of-fact.
“So you break into my shop?”
“I had to.”
The voice was close now, just on the other side of the doorway. He
retreated from the wall and aimed the gun, waiting for the speaker
to show himself.
A shadowy form appeared in the doorway.
Medium height, thin, wearing a waist-length coat. Short hair. Hands
at his sides, both empty. The face blocked by the night.
He kept the gun aimed and said, “I need a name.”
“What do you want?”
“Henrik Thorvaldsen is in trouble.”
“What else is new?”
“People are coming to kill him.”
“We have to get to Thorvaldsen.”
He kept the gun aimed, finger on the trigger. If Sam Collins so
much as shuddered he’d cut him down. But he had a feeling,
the sort agents acquired through hard-fought experience, one that
told him this young man was not lying.
“What people?” he asked again.
“We need to go to him.”
He heard glass break from below.
“Another thing,” Sam Collins said. “Those people.
They’re coming after me, too.”
Graham Ashby stood atop the Place du Dujon and admired the tranquil
harbor. Around him, crumbly pastel houses were stacked like crates
among churches, the olden structures overshadowed by the plain
stone tower that had become his perch. His yacht, Archimedes, lay
at anchor half a kilometer away in the Vieux Port. He admired its
sleek, illuminated silhouette against the silvery water.
Winter’s second night had spawned a cool dry wind from the
north that swept across Bastia. A holiday stillness hung heavy,
Christmas was only two days away, but he could not care less.
The Terra Nova, once Bastia’s center of military and
administrative activity, had now become a quarter of affluence with
lofty apartments and trendy shops lining a maze of cobbled streets.
A few years ago, he’d almost invested in the boom, but
decided against it. Real estate, especially along the Mediterranean
shoreline, no longer brought the return it once had.
He gazed northeast at the Jetée du Dragon, an artificial quay
that had not existed just a few decades ago. To build it, engineers
had destroyed a giant lion-shaped rock dubbed the Leone, which once
blocked the harbor and had figured prominently in many
pre-twentieth-century engravings. When Archimedes had cruised into
the protected waters two hours ago, he’d quickly spotted the
unlit castle keep upon which he now stood --- built by the
island’s 14th century Genoese governors --- and wondered if
tonight would be the night.
He hoped so.
Corsica was not one of his favorite places. Nothing but a mountain
springing from the sea, 115 miles long, 52 miles wide, 5,500 square
miles, 600 miles of coast. Its geography varied from alpine peaks
to deep gorges, pine forests, glacial lakes, pastures, fertile
valleys, and even some desert. At one time or another Greeks,
Carthaginians, Romans, Aragonese, Italians, Brits, and the French
had conquered, but none had ever subjugated the island’s
Another reason why he’d passed on investing. Far too many
variables in this unruly French département.
The industrious Genoese founded Bastia in 1380 and built fortresses
to protect it, his tower perch one of the last remaining. The town
had served as the capital of the island until 1791, when Napoleon
decided that his birthplace, Ajaccio, in the south, would be
better. He knew the locals had still not forgiven the little
emperor for that transgression.
He buttoned his Armani overcoat and stood close to a medieval
parapet. His tailored shirt, trousers, and sweater clung to his
fifty-eight-year-old frame with a reassuring feel. He bought all
his ensembles at Kingston & Knight, as had his father and
grandfather. Yesterday a London barber had spent half an hour
trimming his gray mane, eliminating those pale waves that seemed to
make him look older. He was proud at how he retained the appearance
and vigor of a more youthful man and, as he continued to gaze out
past a dark Bastia, at the Tyrrhe?nian Sea, he savored the
satisfaction of a man who’d truly arrived.
He glanced at his watch.
He’d come to solve a mystery, one that had tantalized
treasure hunters for more than sixty years, and he detested
He heard footsteps from the nearby staircase that angled its way
twenty meters upward. During the day, tourists climbed to gawk at
the scenery and snap pictures. At this hour no one visited.
A man appeared in the weak light.
He was small, with a headful of bushy hair. Two deep lines cut the
flesh from above the nostrils to his mouth. His skin was as brown
as a walnut shell, the dark pigments heightened by a white
And he was dressed like a cleric.
The skirts of a black soutane swished as he walked closer.
“Lord Ashby, I apologize for my lateness, but it could not be
“A priest?” he asked, pointing to the robe.
“I thought a disguise best for tonight. Few ask questions of
them.” The man grabbed a few breaths, winded from the
Ashby had selected this hour with great care and timed his arrival
with English precision. But everything was now out of kilter by
nearly half an hour.
“I detest unpleasantness,” he said, “but
sometimes a frank, face-to-face discussion is necessary.” He
pointed a finger. “You, sir, are a liar.”
“That I am. I freely admit.”
“You cost me time and money, neither of which I like to
“Unfortunately, Lord Ashby, I find myself in short supply of
both.” The man paused. “And I knew you needed my
Last time he’d allowed this man to learn too much.
Something had happened in Corsica on September 15, 1943. Six crates
were brought west from Italy by boat. Some said they were dumped
into the sea, near Bastia, others believed they were hauled ashore.
All accounts agreed that five Germans participated. Four of them
were court-martialed for leaving the treasure in a place that would
soon be in Allied hands, and they were shot. The fifth was
exonerated. Unfortunately he was not privy to the final hiding
place, so he searched in vain for the rest of his life.
As had many others.
“Lies are all the weapons I possess,” the Corsican made
clear. “It’s what keeps powerful men like you at
“Old man --- ”
“I dare say, I’m not much older than you. Though my
status is not as infamous. Quite a reputation you have, Lord
He acknowledged the observation with a nod. He understood what an
image could do to, and for, a person. His family had, for three
centuries, possessed a controlling interest in one of
England’s oldest lending institutions. He was now the sole
holder of that interest. The British press once described his
luminous gray eyes, Roman nose, and flick of a smile as the visage
of an aristocrat. A reporter a few years ago labeled him imposing,
while another described him as swarthy and saturnine. He
didn’t necessarily mind the reference to his dark complexion
--- something his half-Turkish mother had bestowed upon him --- but
it bothered him that he might be regarded as sullen and
“I assure you, good sir,” he said. “I am not a
man you should fear.”
The Corsican laughed. “I should hope not. Violence would
accomplish nothing. After all, you seek Rommel’s gold. Quite
a treasure. And I might know where it waits.”
This man was as obtrusive as he was observant. But he was also an
admitted liar. “You led me on a tangent.”
The dark form laughed. “You were pushing hard. I can’t
afford any public attention. Others could know. This is a small
island and, if we find this treasure, I want to be able to keep my
This man worked for the Assemblée de Corse, out of Ajaccio. A
minor official in the Corsican regional government, who possessed
convenient access to a great deal of information.
“And who would take what we find from us?” he
“People here, in Bastia, who continue to search. More who
live in France and Italy. Men have died for this
This fool apparently preferred conversations to move slowly,
offering mere hints and suggestions, leading by tiny degrees to his
But Ashby did not have the time.
He signaled and another man exited the stairway. He wore a charcoal
overcoat that blended well with his stiff gray hair. His eyes were
piercing, his thin face tapered to a pointed chin. He walked
straight to the Corsican and stopped.
“This is Mr. Guildhall,” Ashby said. “Perhaps you
recall him from our last visit?”
The Corsican extended his hand, but Guildhall kept his hands in his
“I do,” the Corsican said. “Does he ever
Ashby shook his head. “Terrible thing. A few years ago Mr.
Guildhall was involved in a nasty altercation, during which his
face and neck were slashed. He healed, as you can see, but the
lasting effect was nerve damage that prevents the muscles in his
face from fully functioning. Hence, no smile.”
“And the person who slashed him?”
“Ah, an excellent inquiry. Quite dead. Broken
He saw that his point had been made, so he turned to Guildhall and
asked, “What did you find?”
His employee removed a small volume from his pocket and handed it
over. In the weak light he noted the faded title, in French.
Napoleon, From the Tuileries to St. Helena. One of countless
memoirs that had appeared in print after Napoleon died in
“How . . . did you get that?” the Corsican asked.
Excerpted from THE PARIS VENDETTA © Copyright 2011 by Steve
Berry. Reprinted with permission by Ballantine Books. All rights