BRETT BATTLES The Silenced

ISBN 13: 9780099553380

The Silenced

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9780099553380: The Silenced

Professional “cleaner” Jonathan Quinn has a new client and an odd job: find and remove the remains of a body hidden twenty years ago inside the walls of a London building, before the building is demolished.

But Quinn and his team are being watched. Suddenly caught in the cross fire between two dangerous rivals, Quinn must unravel the identity of the body and why it still poses so great a threat even in death. Because a plot stretching from the former Soviet Union to Hong Kong, from Paris to London, from Los Angeles to Maine, is rapidly falling apart. And Quinn hasn’t been hired just to tie up loose ends—he is one.

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About the Author:

Brett Battles lives in Los Angeles and is the author of four novels in the acclaimed Jonathan Quinn series: The Cleaner, which was nominated for a Barry Award for Best Thriller and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel; The Deceived, which won the 2009 Barry Award for Best Thriller; Shadow of Betrayal; and The Silenced. He is currently at work on his fifth novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

9780440245674|excerpt

Battles: THE SILENCED

CHAPTER

1
 
Petra glanced at her watch.
4:15 p.m.
Her lips tightened as she held in the curse she so desperately wanted to mutter.
The Cathay Pacific flight to New York was only fifteen minutes from boarding, and there was still no sign of Kolya.
If it had been Mikhail who had not yet arrived, she wouldn’t have been so worried. But it wasn’t Mikhail. He’d already been sitting in the waiting area when she walked up.
No, of course it was Kolya. She had known from the beginning that he had been too young, too inexperienced to take with them. But what choice did she have?
Maybe an officer at Passport Control had scrutinized his documents. They were expertly done, but fake, so there was always a chance something had been missed.  Maybe Kolya had begun to sweat and look nervous. Maybe Hong Kong security had him in a back room right that very moment, questioning him about his identity, and trying to find out who he might be traveling with.
Maybe the police were even now heading toward the gate where Petra and Mikhail waited, intending to take them into custody.
Petra looked down the concourse toward the main part of the terminal. But there were no uniformed men marching in her direction, only other passengers toting carry-ons and wasting time until their flights departed.
There was also no Kolya.
She glanced over at Mikhail two rows away. Though she couldn’t see his face, she knew he had to be as tense as she was. Their operation could afford zero complications, especially after having experienced another setback, this time right there in Hong Kong, the former British colony where it had all begun so long ago.
Another possibility hit her. What if Kolya hadn’t even arrived at the airport yet? They had each traveled separately. Mikhail took the Airport Express train, while Kolya and Petra had each hailed taxis. What if Kolya’s cab had broken down? What if the driver had misunderstood Kolya’s destination? Doubtful, she knew. Airport was airport. Even with Kolya’s limited English, he should have been able to communicate where he needed to go.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” a voice blared over the public address system. “At this time we will begin pre-boarding Cathay Pacific flight 840 to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. Passengers traveling with small children or those who need additional assistance may board the aircraft now. Once we are done pre-boarding, we will start boarding all our First Class and Business Class passengers, Marco Polo Club members, and...”
Petra pushed herself up, unable to sit still any longer. Where was he?
Her hand slipped into her shoulder bag as she scanned the terminal, her finger tips quickly searching through her contents. They found what they were looking for. Just touching it made her relax, if only just a little.
At the far end of the terminal dozens of people wearing identical blue sweatshirts moved almost as one toward a gate. Elsewhere, individuals and couples, some using the automated sidewalks, some walking beside them, moved between shops and waiting areas and restrooms. But none of them, none of them, was Kolya.
“Excuse me,” a voice said into her ear.  “Did you drop this?”
Petra turned quickly, surprised to find Mikhail standing right behind her, holding a pen out. She hadn’t even heard him walk up.
“What are you doing?” he whispered through his smile.
“You shouldn’t be talking to me,” she whispered back. They were each supposed to be solo travelers with no knowledge of the others. It was another safety precaution. One they had used since they started on the mission. In a louder voice, she said, “Yes, I did. Thank you.”
As he handed her the pen, he said, “You need to get control of yourself.”
She glanced at him. “What are you talking about?”
He held her eyes for a moment, then looked down. As she followed his gaze, her breath suddenly caught in her throat. In her other hand was the photograph. She had actually pulled it out of her purse, and was holding it in front of her.
Anyone who glanced at it probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But to have it out in the open was tempting fate. This was their map, the only reason they were in Hong Kong, and the only reason they were heading to the east coast of the United States. If someone was tailing them, and figured out what the photograph was, all could be lost.
“Thank you for waiting, ladies and gentlemen,” the voice on the overhead speaker announced. “At this time we will begin boarding our first class...”
“Put it away,” Mikhail whispered.
Petra slipped the photo back in her bag, then hunted around for her ticket.  “Kolya?” she whispered.
Mikhail glanced past her for a moment. “Have a nice flight,” he said, then dipped his head and walked away.
Once he was gone, Petra stretched, then readjusted herself so that she was facing the direction Mikhail had been looking. Sure enough, standing on one of the moving sidewalks was Kolya. He was letting the system do all the work while he leaned against the handrail and sipped at a can of soda.
“At this time we will begin boarding seats in rows thirty-one through forty-four. Rows thirty-one through forty-four.”
Petra watched their young companion a moment longer. Then, with a final, mental pull of an imaginary trigger, she retrieved her boarding pass, and got into line.

 
 
LATE SEPTEMBER
 
2
 
 
“At this time, Harold’s son, Jake Oliver, would like to say a few words.”
The old wooden pews creaked as people used the break between speakers to reposition themselves. When no one immediately stood, necks craned and heads turned, looking toward the first row of the chapel.
Jonathan Quinn felt something poke him in his side. But he continued to stare forward, lost in his own thoughts. When it happened again, this time harder than the first, he pulled himself out of his head and looked over. Orlando was staring at him. Before he could ask what she wanted, she motioned toward the front of the room with her eyes.
He looked over and saw Reverend Hollis gazing at him, smiling.
“Jake, whenever you’re ready.”
Quinn closed his eyes for a second. Oh, God. He’d been hoping this moment would somehow never come.
Despite the dead bodies he dealt with on a regular basis, attending funerals was something he’d been able to avoid for the most part. His reasoning was simple. It was the grieving. Death marked the living more than it marked the dead, and Quinn was never sure how to deal with those who mourned. Plus, seeing that grief made him think too much about what he did for a living. And that was something that was becoming more difficult to do.
Slowly, he rose. This funeral was different. The man lying in the open casket at the front of the room wasn’t some casual acquaintance, and the grieving weren’t friends of the deceased he had never met.
The mourners here in the Lakeside Mortuary Chapel in Warroad, Minnesota, were people he’d known for a long time. And the man in the box? He was the person Quinn had called his father.
He took a step away from the pew, and glanced back at his mother. Her red-rimmed eyes were firmly fixed on the casket several feet away, her face not quite accepting, but resigned now.
Two days before, as they’d sat in the mortuary office, her face had been covered in shock and disbelief. Because of this, Quinn had ended up answering many of the questions the funeral director had asked. After a while he had put a hand over hers. “Mom, would you rather we finish this later?”
Nothing for several seconds, then she looked at him. “I’m okay,” she said, failing at an attempted smile. “I don’t want to come back and do this again. Let’s finish it now.”
Quinn held her eyes for a moment, still unsure.
“Sweetheart, I’m fine. I’m just glad you’re here to help me.”
They had talked caskets and hymns and Bible passages and who would deliver a eulogy.
“I’d like both you and Liz to say something,” she’d told him.
He had been caught off guard by the request. Speak at his father’s funeral? What would he say that didn’t sound insincere or made up? It would be much better if his sister were the only speaker. He started to say as much, but the look in his mother’s eyes stopped him.
“Of course. If that’s what you want.”
And now here he was, slowly making his way to the podium, a piece of paper with some random, scribbled notes in his pocket, but really having no idea what he was going to say.
“Just think of your mother,” Orlando had told him a few hours earlier as they were getting ready.
“I’ve been doing nothing but thinking of her.”
“You’ve been doing nothing but worrying about her, and, even more than that, worrying about screwing up in front of her.”
“Exactly.”
“You’re thinking too much,” she’d said, then kissed him on the cheek. “You’ll know what to say when the time comes.”
He pulled her into his arms and held on tight, needing the energy she was feeding him.  So naturally, just as some of his tension was starting to ease, his phone had rung.
“Who is it?” Orlando asked.
“David Wills.”
“Don’t answer it.”
He frowned. “You know I have to.”
Wills was a client who worked out of London. A week before Quinn’s father had died, he had put Quinn on standby for an upcoming project. With very few exceptions, if Quinn agreed to do a project, he’d do it.
He flipped the phone open. “Hello, David.”
“Quinn. How are you?”
“What can I do for you?”
“I’m calling about the project we discussed. We’re officially on,” Wills said, his British accent clipped and proper. “I need you to get on a flight tonight to—”
And there it was, one of those exceptions. “Let me stop you. I can’t do tonight.”
“Okay,” Wills said, not sounding particularly happy. “Then first thing tomorrow morning—”
“David, I’m sorry but the next few days are out. If you need to find someone else, I completely understand.”
Orlando leaned through the bathroom door. “He’d better understand.”
“Have you taken another job?” Wills asked.
“No, of course not. It’s just...a personal issue.”
“How personal?”
Quinn, annoyed, said, “Very.”
A few seconds of silence.
“Right then, sorry. Didn’t mean to push. How long will you be tied up?”
“Could be up to five or six days.”
“Five or six days?” Will said, surprised. “Hold on.” There was half a minute of silence, then Wills came back. “There is some flexibility with this project. I think I can arrange things so that the early operations are covered. Then you can take over and finish everything off.”
“Operations plural? How big is this?”
“It involves several related assignments,” Wills said.
“That could get expensive,” Quinn said.
Quinn was a cleaner, the guy you went to when you needed a body – or in Wills’s case, apparently, bodies – to disappear. His rate was simple: thirty-thousand a week with a two-week minimum for each project. If someone had two jobs for him, and each took a day, it was still  $120,000 total. He’d explained all that to Wills before the first job he’d done for the Englishman.
“I realize that, but I thought maybe we could work out a flat rate.”
“I don’t do flat rates.”
“Quinn,” the Englishman said, quickly. “Please, just hear me out first.  Given your scheduling conflicts, I anticipate only needing your services on three separate operations. Four, tops. Time-wise, we’re talking no more than three weeks. What I’m proposing is a flat rate of one hundred and ninety thousand.”
Quinn paused. He didn’t like making exceptions to his rules, but given what was he was dealing with at the moment, getting back to work would be a nice diversion.
“Make it two-ten and we have a deal.”
“Can I count on you being available to start by October first?”
That was a little over a week away. “Depending on where you need me, I should be able to do that.”
“Your first assignment will be in the states.”
“I’d say that’s doable.”
“Great,” Wills said. “Then we have a deal.”
As Quinn neared the podium he almost wished he’d told Wills he would fly out that night. It would have meant he and Orlando would’ve already been on the road to Minneapolis, a six-hour drive away. He could have avoided the whole ceremony. But the reality was he could have never done that.
He caught sight of his sister, Liz, sitting next to their mom. Predictably, she didn’t return his gaze.
When he and Orlando had arrived a couple of days before, he had thought that maybe their father’s death would spark a reconciliation between Liz and himself. Maybe not full on at first, but at least start things moving in the right direction.
But because of her school schedule in Paris and the long, trans-Atlantic flight, Liz didn’t arrived in Warroad until right before the service. Quinn had been in the lobby greeting mourners when she came rushing in, still wearing jeans and a sweater.
“Liz,” he said, surprised.
“I’m not too late, am I?” She seemed to be all motion: fidgeting with the shoulder strap of her bag, one foot tapping, and her head swiveling side-to-side as she took in everything in the lobby except her brother.
“You’ve still got thirty minutes.”
She nodded, her face neutral. “Where’s mom?”
“She’s in back with Reverend Hollis. She should be out in—”
Liz started walking toward the chapel doors. “She’s through here?”
“Liz, it’s probably not a good idea to interrupt them right now.”
“I don’t care what you think. I want to see mom.”
“Liz, wait.”
But before he could say anything else, she had disappeared into the chapel.
The podium was right before him now. There was no backing out.
With a deep breath, he stepped behind it, then looked out at the room full of his parents’s friends and relatives. Everyone watched him, waiting.
Everyone except Liz. Her eyes were riveted on the flower display behind the casket, her jaw tense. Quinn couldn’t feel mad at her. He knew, like his mother, she was hurting. She’d lost her father. If anyone in the room had ever understood Harold Oliver well, it would have been Liz.
Quinn pulled the notes he’d written out of his pocket and set them on the podium. After another deep breath, he smiled at his mom, then looked again at the people gathered before him.
“What I remember most about my father...what I...”
He stopped and glanced at his notes, but there was nothing there that could help him.
I remember his coldness.  I remember his distance. 
He had written down things he thought people would want to hear. Lies about a relationship with his father he had never experienced. Feelings he had never had.
I remember his anger.  I remember his inability to love. Me, anyway.
If he tried to say any of the things he’d prepared, everyone would see right through him.
He glanced up at his mom again. She was looking back, her eyes soft, streaks of tears on her cheeks. He wanted to tell her he was sorry, that the right words just weren’t coming. But then, as he looked at her, he realized there was something he could say, something that wouldn’t be false.
“What I remember most about my father is th...

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