Hands of the Traitor, страница 1
HANDS OF THE TRAITOR
A Matt Rider thriller #1
Private investigator Matt Rider wants to find out if his grandfather killed Sophie Bernay, and uncovers an appalling international secret. Domestic Chemicals, a New York company owned by the Heinman dynasty, made poison gas for Nazi Germany. And now the past is back to haunt them -- like the bloated corpse Frank B. Heinman saw rising to the surface in the East River as a boy. Matt Rider in England and Frank Heinman in New York are on a collision course. The ex-president of Domestic Chemicals will make sure no one stays alive if he sees them as a danger to the company. Matt Rider just wants the truth. Hands of the Traitor is the first Matt Rider detective thriller.
Hands of the Traitor
First published in the USA by Hard Shell Publishing ©Christopher Wright 2004
This North View Publishing edition ©Christopher Wright 2016
Hands of the Traitor is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Statements made by characters in this book may not always reflect historical fact, just what they choose to believe to be true. Any racist statements are those of the fictional characters making them, and do not reflect the views of the author.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this book.
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This book was first published in 2004. This North View Publishing edition has received some minor edits, but the technology has not been updated, so the story still takes place in 2004. This was an analog rather than a digital world! The four Matt Rider books take place six months to a year apart, allowing Matt and Zoé to develop their relationship.
FRANK BECKER HEINMAN signed the last letter of the day and left the office. Today he ceased to be president of DCI. Some of the staff thought they had seen the last of him, maybe even hoped it, but he had no intention of giving his useless son full control of the company.
He could perhaps allow himself a small sigh of relief. The company's secret past had remained hidden for sixty years. Just thinking about the possibility of exposure would have been enough to destroy a lesser man. His own father had been tough, but perhaps life required a tough tutor. His own father had also been a fool, and gotten himself killed in northern France on company business in 1944. He hailed a Yellow Cab.
Thirty-five minutes later he opened the front door to his Manhattan brownstone and sank into his much-loved armchair in the empty house. Thank God it was all behind him now.
ALEC RIDER raised himself in his bed and stared at the strange shadows. Shut in this hateful institution, appalling memories filled his mind. Living with the past and all its terrors, trapped in a prison smelling of urine and polish. He could recall those wartime days in northern France, but not remember the name of the man who shared his room today.
He watched the shadows from the tree dancing on the wall, swaying like reeds beside the Nazi rocket base. Matt was going to untie the past. He could remember Matt. Matt was his grandson, working for the police. Or was he a private detective? He sighed, a heavy sigh that echoed across the room. It was easy to get muddled. His memory failed him too often now. Perhaps the padre was right and the events in France were too dreadful to recall.
The war had been foul, when men -- ordinary family men -- had learnt to kill, and then done it until they stopped caring. He cared. Cared about killing Sophie. Even now, a lifetime later, the recollection made him sweat at night. The wartime padre, Fergus Hawkins, had told him that killing was the price of freedom. But what freedom had the killing of Sophie bought?
He slid his feet over the side of the bed and lowered them onto the thin carpet. The texture felt rough, like sandy gravel, like the ground at the launch site near Calais. The man opposite was snoring quietly. The street lamp let enough light through the window to show the fruit. He took an apple. It was the size of a grenade. The blade of the knife by the side of the bowl glinted invitingly. The knife brought back more memories as he picked it up with his empty hand.
He stared into the dim shadows. The man in the other bed. Was he Heinman, the American with a signet ring on each hand -- strange rings engraved with letters and a green eye -- a man with a case of gold for the Nazis? There was only one thing to do. The Special Operations Executive had trained him, and the SOE were experts. The man's mouth was wide, like a man would scream in agony if his hands were being cut off. He forced the grenade into the gaping jaws.
"Sophie!" he yelled.
He could see blood on the blonde girl's face. See her eyes open wide in fear.
Then the grenade exploded.
England -- Friday
HE DIDN'T mean to touch her hand. It was just that they both reached for the same book at the same time. He'd not even realized she was standing so close. Matt Rider laughed, mostly to cover his embarrassment.
Medical textbooks were new territory for him. He hoped she wouldn't think he wanted this volume for any personal reason. It was then that he became aware of her perfume.
"I am sorry," she said, pulling her hand back quickly. The accent sounded French.
"You are French?" It was worth a try.
She smiled as she nodded, but said nothing.
"Mon nom est Matt." He was reasonably fluent in French, but it wouldn't do to show off. "Matt Rider."
"Zoé Champanelle," she said.
It wasn't only her perfume. Her whole body...
"You are a doctor?" she asked in English.
It was a reasonable question. The medical book he'd reached for was large. And very expensive. "I'm a private investigator."
She caught his eye for a moment, a glance that not only shot him through the heart but hit him lower down too. Then she looked away, and back again briefly, still smiling. "And I am a nurse. Bonjour, Matt."
She was picking him up. He was sure of it. Their hands hadn't touched accidentally. Her move had been deliberate, the timing perfect.
He wanted to talk but felt tongue-tied. His friends would laugh if they could witness this fiasco. Fortunately there was no one here who knew him.
"I'm doing this for my grandfat
"Your grandfather is a doctor?"
"He's not well." This was getting too complex. He'd say too much and regret it. "If you're not busy, we could..."
She looked interested. At least, he thought she did.
THE SINGLE security light flashed unsteadily as a sheet of rain swept across the road. Matt Rider flicked the wipers to high speed and stared at the side door of the electrical warehouse. He could swear he'd seen it swing shut a moment ago.
He should be home with Louise, not driving around on his own like this, late at night. But Louise had left him.
For a moment all he could see was the French woman in the bookshop.
He edged his car through the entrance to the service yard for a clearer view. Something was wrong, but he couldn't decide what. This was an attractive place for villains after dark, and from Monday it would be his responsibility to make sure it remained secure. It was just as well to check it out now.
In the bookshop he'd been feeling like the white knight in distress, with the beautiful maiden coming to set him free. Only the maiden didn't know about his troubles. And even if she did know, she probably had a life of her own and wasn't into rescue missions. But it was fun to fantasize. It helped heal the hurt.
Perhaps it was a trick of the light but the side door appeared to be partly open again. The main alarm should have gone off if someone had broken in. No way was he getting out in this rain. He reversed between two rubbish skips and the engine died with a rattle. The side door was definitely open. It was no illusion.
Then he realized what had been bothering him. He shouldn't have been able to get into the service yard. The main gates from the road should be closed and locked. He reached for his mobile phone. This job needed backup.
He tried to imagine what it would be like to have the French woman here in the car, sharing this moment, showing her the sort of thing he did for a living.
A torch flashed briefly in the warehouse doorway. Time for a phone call. But first a couple of snaps. He grabbed the camera from the glove box. Never travel without a camera. It was part of his training. He needed evidence and this was the safest way to get it. Slowly he lowered the passenger window, raised the reflex camera to his eye and zoomed in on the face. A man stood under the security light, his head and shoulders framed in the viewfinder. Matt focused on the face. The combination of auto focus and high speed film would allow him to freeze the face.
He could still sense the woman's sexy aroma that he'd somehow taken away with him.
As he pressed the shutter a brick smashed the driver's window. A gloved hand reached in and snatched his mobile phone. Matt turned the ignition. The engine sprang into life, the revs rose in a scream, the clutch bit. The figure, still holding the phone, fell away from the shattered glass.
With the front tires spinning on the wet tarmac he aimed his car for the gateway. A white Transit van appeared from nowhere and blocked the exit. Its wheels locked, Matt sat helpless as his car slid into the side of the van.
He selected reverse and accelerated backwards, made a handbrake turn and circled the yard. The broken headlights made it impossible to see into the shadows. Wind and rain streamed into his face through the shattered window as three men in the yard snatched bricks from a pile of rubble and threw them at his car.
Would she have agreed to meet him in the White Lion for a drink tomorrow if she wasn't even a bit interested?
The wall emerged without warning out of the darkness. He caught sight of a gap closed off with a steel gate. It was a narrow opening, perhaps no wider than his car. He hit the gate and slid between the brick pillars with less than an inch to spare. The remains of the gate clung to the bonnet for a moment, then fell away as he swung the steering wheel towards the glow of lights at the far end of the service road. He had to find a phone as soon as possible. He'd taken just one exposure on the film, but with luck it would be enough for a conviction.
He glanced at the passenger seat, at the book of advanced French grammar he'd bought after she'd gone, the cover now soaking wet. What was he, some kid with a crush on a girl in the fifth form, buying the book so he could brush up his French which was pretty good anyway? Could a man in his thirties get any more ridiculous than that? Louise would be furious if she found out.
As the rain continued to pour through the broken window he smiled as he thought of Louise's reaction. Zoé Champanelle. A nurse who'd touched his hand in a bookshop. He felt better already.
The police told him they'd be there within ten minutes. He was to wait by the phone box and not go near the warehouse -- for his own safety. It was a bit late for advice like that. Anyway, as an ex-policeman he should have known better than to handle this one on his own. Perhaps it was because he had someone on his mind. Someone stunning. Someone French.
"I THOUGHT you'd be pleased with last night." Matt Rider stood in front of his boss at Habgood Securities and smiled confidently. "And I'm not even asking for overtime."
"But it wasn't only your old car that got damaged." Ken Habgood swiveled anxiously in the red captain's chair behind his desk. "I suppose you know I'm a member of Tom Grieves' club. I've been worrying about this ever since you phoned me at home last night. We could have done well out of Tom's firm -- if you'd been a little more careful with his property."
"You'll be glad to know I didn't get hurt."
"Don't try wriggling out of this. Tom rang to say there were bricks and pieces of glass all over the yard when he went to clear up. In his words, a right old mess. And the Transit you hit belonged to his company. I know the villains were getting ready to load it, but Tom Grieves is not impressed with our surveillance methods. You should have phoned the police straight away."
"I wasn't expecting problems."
"You know what your trouble is, kiddo? You're always thinking on the hoof. You to need to plan ahead."
"I've always worked like this. It's called initiative. The police didn't like it."
"I don't like it either. Planning, planning, planning. It's the only way to come out on top."
Matt looked at the immaculately clear desk of the boss of Habgood Securities. A clear desk never impressed him. "The photo came out well," he said with a forced cheerfulness. "I got a positive ID."
"You were one lucky PI."
Matt shrugged. "It's what comes of thinking quickly. One of Grieves' own employees starred in the picture. No prize for guessing who opened the main gate and why the alarm stayed off."
Ken Habgood sounded grouchy. Perhaps it was coming to work on a Saturday. "But you didn't need to drive your car into the side of his van. And that's what I told Tom."
"Did you tell him it was raining a monsoon and there were three madmen in the yard with a handful of bricks?" Matt started to resent the way he was being treated. He'd come to work on his day off feeling proud. "Those three heard we were starting surveillance next week. That's why they brought the raid forward. Your Mr. Grieves has too big a mouth."
"You may be right." Ken sounded more relaxed. "I gather you've been down with your old mates at the Trinity Green cop shop, giving them the full SP."
"They're not all mates, Ken. You know I left the police in a bit of a rush. Some of them think I blew the whistle when that MP's case went wrong."
"Trinity Green didn't put themselves out too much for Tom Grieves."
"Right!" Matt tapped his finger on the clear desktop. "So tell him to stop bitching. Tom's troubles are over -- thanks to me."
Ken raised his hands. "Okay, you're a good PI but you charge into things, that's all. One day you'll rush into something big and be in trouble."
"I can cope with it."
Ken mellowed. "Perhaps I've not passed on Tom's thanks properly. He's grateful, kiddo, so I owe you one. Okay?"
"Good, I'm glad we've got that sorted out. Someone's insurance owes me a mobile phone, a new set of headlights, a side window -- oh, and a
Ken drew his breath in sharply. "I can get you another phone, but there's not much point in fixing the car bodywork when the engine's falling apart. You were about to scrap that old banger."
"Tom Grieves doesn't know that, and I've only got third party."
"I'm not getting involved in an insurance scam."
"Forget the insurance. If Tom Grieves is that grateful, tell him to buy me a new car."
Ken ignored the suggestion. "Just remember you were supposed to be doing the job next week, kiddo, sitting in one of Tom's vehicles with a decent cell phone for company. Your car would have been safe if you'd left it at home."
"If I'd waited till Monday we'd have missed them."
Ken looked flustered. "Okay, so Tom's lucky you were there. How come you didn't have Louise with you? Friday was always a special night for lovers when I was young."
Matt kept silent. Louise would have been with him on any other Friday night. Had she really meant their relationship was over, or just that they should get a life apart for a few weeks? He was meeting Zoé outside the White Lion in less than an hour. Zoé Champanelle; and he knew nothing about her. She could be married. Just flirting. An unmarried mother of three. She might be fun for a week, but he'd been going with Louise for over two years now. He had to be careful not to act on the rebound.
Okay, so Louise had made it clear that his prospects at work weren't good enough for her. But would she be any happier with the man she kept talking about, a young manager from her office? Just because the man wore a suit and drove a silver BMW didn't mean he was Mr. Fantastic.
"It's over, Ken. I'll tell you about it next week."
It was still tipping down as he ran to his car. He opened the driver's door but paused, still holding the handle. He'd better not risk taking this wreck into town. Some jobsworth in uniform would probably be hanging around, wet and miserable, with a pocketful of blank tickets. He'd get the bus to the White Lion.
He took another look at the dented bonnet, at the cracked bumper and broken lights. Even if it could be mended, a heap like this wasn't going to impress anyone. The car was a write-off, and no way could he afford a replacement. Louise was right: his prospects at work were pathetic. Even before he'd walked out of the police, before coming here to work for Ken, Louise hadn't exactly been impressed with his potential. So it should be no surprise that she'd decided to set her sights higher.