Due Diligence Excerpt

From:     jmbilby@undisclosed.gov

Subject: Interview

Date:      December 14, 2013

To:          Charles Vella

Chuck,I’m there for you buddy. Just saw a special on the History Channel. Carpet bombing! Who knew? Telling Kisse about it. I see a foreign relations policy shift coming. Just goes to show, he who forgets history does some stupid shit.

Tex

This is a little embarrassing. I’d intended to continue my series of interviews with characters from my novels. I’d invited J. Madison Bilby from Trojan Hearse. He accepted last week but didn’t show. Well I’m sure whatever came up is a matter of vital national security interest.

As an alternative I’ve attached the draft of the first chapter of Due Diligence. As you’ll see, it’s a little different. No attempt at humor. It’s more of a traditional thriller. Anyway, let me know what you think.

Monday, 11/18

From a distance you couldn’t tell. Was the tall one was holding the short one up or dragging him down the street by the arm? One of the short ones. When they come through the gate there was three a them. Kurt never said there’d be three a them. Winter shoved the end of that stuffed pizza thing he’d gotten from the street vendor into his mouth and wiped his hands along his jeans. Lotsa people selling things from street carts, holy shit for tourists, food. Otherwise Winter just couldn’t see it. Why people came here. Not when you could go to Vegas and a lot cheaper too. Lotsa old shit, buildings. Hardly no hot water in the hotel. And what’re you supposed to do? Drink coffee and walk around, look at old churches? No shows. OK. This is work and better here than Ganistan, right? At least no one was setting bombs on you here. But Ganistan had barracks with AC and three squares a day when you’re not out getting shot at. Here? Winter took a look up and down the street. Old shit. And cold.

The tall one walked like he was old, stiff. Like granddad when he’d first got up in the morning. The other two was small. Which one was the Chink? The tall one stretched his neck, like he was looking around. Not looking for Winter though, just admiring the scenery. Couldn’t’ve made Winter. One guy standing on the street. Never seen him before. Besides, it’d been dark almost an hour already. Something else Kurt didn’t tell him, how early it got dark here. They all looked Winter’s way and he looked right back. Shit. Both the small ones looked like Chinks. Could see clear as day even from here, the three of them huddled under the street light on the corner. What the hell was he supposed to do about that? Huh?

Daugherty tilted his nose into the frigid air and sniffed. Dry. Tinged with carbon monoxide from the shoebox sized cars darting around each other like a 3-D video game. Did it ever snow in Rome? Never did in Washington anymore. Global warming. Damn shame. One more thing younger generations’d been screwed out of. Christmas without snow just didn’t seem like Christmas.

Funny. All these years and this was the first time he’d ever spent the holidays at the Vatican. Too caught up in Washington, politics. And then what finally brought him here? God? Irony there somewhere, if it were worth looking for.

The season was dignified here. At least more dignified than in the states. No inflatable Santas or Rudolphs. End of November and you weren’t overwhelmed by decorations. Hell, at home they started coming up before Halloween, much less Thanksgiving. The thought of Thanksgiving gave him a pang. Daugherty didn’t consider himself a sentimental man, but he’d always spent Thanksgiving at home. First with his parents, continuing the tradition after he’d finished seminary. Then with his sister and her family. More of them every year. Four kids, six grandkids. Still some good Catholics around. Up to this year he’d only missed the two years he’d spent in Vietnam. If he were honest with himself he was going to miss not being there this year. Must be getting old. But this. This was his chance to do something. Make a difference. Before he ended up wheeled around a home by a young nun saying things like, ‘how did we sleep last night father?’

“Excuse me Cardinal Daugherty.” The interpreter shivered like a little bird. One of those people who apologized so often he seemed to be telling you he was sorry for taking up good oxygen. Still, hard to blame him. Life in a police state’d do that to you, wouldn’t it? And Daugherty’d always thought the Chinese police state was worse than the Russians’d ever been. Crushing conformity on top of suppression. Amazing they weren’t all crazy over there.

“The car was to meet us here?” the interpreter went on timidly, looking up at him, even more like a bird with a tiny hand holding his coat closed at the neck.

“Sant’Anna gate,” Daugherty answered, trying to keep an edge out of his voice. Wasn’t the man’s fault that he was a timid little bastard. Besides, he needed the other one calm. So they could talk. He glanced from the interpreter to the man standing between them, Father Song. The man on whom everything depended. Just as small, just as Chinese. No doubt he’d felt the heavy hand of repression far more than his frightened little interpreter, but this man didn’t apologize. Didn’t say much at all, come to that. Stood there in between them, staring off into space, hands down at his side. Daugherty’d been working him for the better part of a week and couldn’t tell whether he’d made any impression, much less any progress.

“I’ll give them a call.” He let go of Song’s arm, shoved his hand under his arm to pull off a glove, pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. He flipped through the saved numbers and punched the security gate. “Damn.” Closed. What kind of godd…take a deep breath. What kind of security office closed at five? The number rang through to the main operator, who had no idea where the security detail was and didn’t seem particularly interested. Italian bureaucracy at its finest.

“Well tell him to meet us at the Lucia.” He lifted his wrist and pulled his glove down with an elbow to see his watch. “It’s six now so tell him to be there at eight, no, better make it nine.” Nobody ate fast in this country. He listened. Closed his eyes. Who was the patron saint for patience, Saint Monica? “I don’t know. The Mama Lucia, the Papa Lucia, the something Lucia for Chrissake. On Via Plauto. How many Lucias can there be?”

“But father,” the interpreter reached past the man between them and tugged at his elbow like a child. “We are supposed to not leave the holy Vatican without escort.” His little brown eyes scanned the streets, predators behind every parked car. What was it like to go through life like that, scared of your own shadow?

“Yes, yes. We’ll walk,” Daugherty barked into the phone. “Tell him to meet us there so he can drive us back. Nine. Right? And tell him to show up this time.” He punched the phone off and tried to smile reassuringly at the interpreter. “It isn’t far.” He jammed the phone into his pocket and worked his hand back into his glove.

They were moving. The tall one latched back onto the arm one a the Chinks and pulled him along while the other one walked on their heels. Winter watched the tall one’s head swivel back and forth before leading his little train across the street, like one big coat with three heads and six legs. Looked both ways before crossing. You can’t be too careful. Not the way these Eyetalians drive.

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