Darkness and Blood
by Steve Haberman Genre: Thriller
There are letter bombs.
There are car bombs.
And in Steve Haberman's upcoming DARKNESS AND BLOOD, there is a file bomb, ultra top secret information so horrifying in its content that an unintended recipient, after downloading it, dies from a heart attack?
The south of France, past midnight.
An American intelligence officer, accompanied by several bodyguards, has secretly flown in from London, with some terrible news. The news is for a friend, a very ex-intelligence agent, hiding out in an ancient farmhouse. A mutual confidant, a retired MI5 analyst, he explains, has suffered an odd cardiac arrest and died. To compound the mystery, just before the death, three men had entered the deceased's flat. Two of them ranked high up in British domestic intelligence; the third--from the CIA or MI6?--was an unknown. Minutes later, presumably after their old friend had passed away, those three fled his flat and disappeared into the London night.
So sets in motion with this strange night tale the soon-to-be-released thriller, DARKNESS AND BLOOD. The unnerving, all-too-real sequel to THE KILLING PLOY.
Pablo de Silva, ex-CIA agent, awoke from the restless sleep of a man on the run. Had he heard a noise somewhere outside his farmhouse? Intel operatives had found his hideaway to kidnap him back to his former boss? Terrorists, avenging the killing of their leader, had tracked him down? Or a jealous husband set on murdering his wife who had fled his beatings and who lay just as uneasily beside him.
“Qu'est-ce que c'est?" she asked in a whisper. What is it?
He whispered back, "Je ne sais pas." I don't know, and he put a finger to her lips. He listened a moment longer in the absolute stillness of the country night, trying to place the sound. After a moment longer, sure now he had heard something, he patted her warm naked thigh; stay here, his intimate gesture implied.
He leaped from their bed and tiptoed to the room’s threshold. A dash across the darkened living room, and he stood at one of the two windows that overlooked the dirt drive. He knelt, feeling the cold wooden floor on his knees, and, nudging apart the curtains, peered out.
Squinting past the crack in the partly opened wooden shutters, he saw nothing except the thick blackness of night. He heard only the same sound that kept him tense, a mechanical rattle. It came from a car, he saw at last, headlights out, its menacing silhouette looming closer to the end of his farmhouse’s drive. He realized they didn’t have time to flee or for him to search for his 32 cal revolver.
“It’s Robert, I know it is. He’ll kill us both, Pablo.”
Pablo glanced over his shoulder. “Stay in our bedroom, Gabriella."
“He's that kind of husband. He’s crazy with jealousy.”
“Just do as I say, dammit, and lock the door.” Pablo peeked out through the curtains again, ending further discussion. Only one car, not several. Parked about ten feet from the stone steps leading to his front door. Three men in silhouette in the car; a fourth in darkened outline, above average in height, stepping out. Four men in one vehicle, not a convoy bringing a snatch or kill team. More than likely Gabriella’s husband with his armed investigators had somehow found them out.
The man passed in front of several cypress trees bordering the drive, and Pablo silently cursed losing sight of him. He pressed his ear against the paneled oak wall, straining to hear through the thick wood. "I'll do the front," the man called out to his companions. "You guys check around back. The barn especially. Search everywhere." Or did he say, "Search for that pair?" Pablo pressed his ear hard against the wall.
"You sure we got the right farmhouse?" an accomplice, younger sounding, asked. "With all these weeds, the place looks pretty abandoned."
"It's not abandoned, trust me. It's exactly where someone wily would hide out." He paused, muttering about the damn cold and the damn mud. In that moment Pablo believed he had heard that soft voice before. Then saw he had forgotten to turn the locks, and his thoughts were on the impending attack.
A heavy tread, heel, toe, heel, toe, now inches from the front door. A man not afraid to make his presence known especially with backup. The intruder nudged the front door open, waited a moment as though appraising the darkened inside for any unpleasant surprises before chancing a foot in. In the near darkness Pablo heard something uttered, but the intruder was now fully inside the living room. He threw the man against the oak panel wall. He jerked back his own arm to ram his palm up into the intruder’s chin to snap his neck.
The man thrust an arm in front of his face to block the blow. "Hey, stop, wait! Don’t. It's me for fuck's sake, Stuart."
A slice of light from the bedroom opposite the living room caught the man’s craggy, lined face and the mass of unkempt brown hair. “Bishop?” Pablo heard a metallic click. He looked sharply over to the bedroom doorway. “No, no, no, don’t shoot. It's not your husband. I know him.” He released his grip on Stuart’s blazer. “Christ man, why the hell didn’t you call out?” He flicked on the row of brass ceiling lamps to be sure of the man's identity.
"You must have been too keyed up and not heard me. Get a phone, so I can call next time and avoid getting killed." He sagged against the wall, a hand over his chest as though to catch his breath, while he closed his eyes.
Stuart, his eyes still closed, managed a slight nod. "Yeah, yeah, sure, don't sweat it.”
“You certainly are.”
“Just give me a minute, will you. You gave me the scare of my life. I’d forgotten how quick you are." He fluttered his eyes open after a further moment, inhaled deeply before pushing himself upright, and extending a hand in greeting. "There now, back among the living." He swung back and forth the front door, its undersurface scraping against the wooden floor. “Half the world's major cops and intel boys want Mr. Man-on-the-Run dead or alive, and you leave a door unlocked? You're getting pretty careless in your middle age."
“I must have been tired, when I returned from hiking and forgot.”
"Shame on you, Pablo. With what you've been through, you should know better." Stuart glanced out beyond the front door to the dark and gave a flick of his head. “Guys, I found him. Come on in.”
Two men in overcoats, one barrel chested and with bulldog jowls, the other sharp faced and hollow cheeked, trotted heavy booted up the steps into the living room, leaving muddy foot prints in their wake. Both had short hair, cut military style. Stuart didn't introduce them; neither did they. They glanced only a minute at the figure in the bedroom doorway before going into a routine, all business. The sharp featured one dropped into a crouch next to curtained windows near the front door, binoculars trained out into the night. His companion stepped heavy footed to the back of the farmhouse, also gripping field glasses.
Stuart kicked shut the door, turned the three locks, yanked the door knob several times with showy concern for safety. “I think we have security now. Hopefully anyway. Hell of a way to treat someone, who got your ass out of Vienna.” An attempted joke, a bit of a smile.
“I thought you were someone else.”
“Who, the Germans invading France again? Pity whoever he is, if he ever shows.” Stuart looked around the living room. “Cozy place you got. Sure beats hiding out in a damp cave by a long shot.”
“It was till you showed.”
“Mum’s the word, Pablo. Promise, don't worry. I won’t tell George about your bolt-hole.”
“Let’s hope so. And I call it a farmhouse.”
“Fine, a farmhouse. A remote one, too. Once we left Arles, it took ages to find. Exit this autoroute. Take that back road. Follow that Centre Ville sign. Pass that vineyard. You've got a real talent for disappearing.”
"Can you blame me?" Stuart Bishop was a CIA bureaucrat with refined tastes, Pablo reminded himself. London theaters. Paris and Milan art museums. The idea of country living seemed foreign. “The provençal isolation helped my dad forget the headache running his hotel.” He glanced across to the bedroom's doorway and noticed Gabriella still pointed the 32 cal revolver shakily at Stuart. He motioned to lower it. “Ca va." It’s okay.
“Who’s the dark haired beauty?” Stuart tugged out a monogrammed white handkerchief from his breast pocket and used it to beat away dust from his jacket and pants.
He glanced with a raised eyebrow at Pablo. “Some friend. A Juliette Binoche look-alike in a negligee.”
“Her name’s Gabriella, Stuart. Her husband’s a bigwig Paris politician, who's had one too many affairs. She wants out. He threatened to find and kill her, if she gets divorced. She’s leaving anyway. We thought you were him when you showed.” He had had enough polite small talk. “What's this about for crying out loud? You got scared? You have any idea how you scared us? You know what time it is?"
“Something bad's happened in London," Stuart said, ignoring his complaint. "Maurice is dead.”
Pablo felt a sharp stab of pain in his stomach. “He’s what?”
“Yeah, I know, it's hard to believe."
Stuart's face was as grimly serious, he noticed, as his must be hearing the news. "Dead, Jesus, Maurice?"
"I can't believe it myself, but I heard it briefly on the BBC London news, and that's not the half of it. I’m very sorry. He was a good and honorable man in a sometimes rotten profession. A rarity these days, considering who's running MI5's shop. We've a big problem on our hands....
A University of Texas graduate, Steve Haberman pursued legal studies at UCLA before embarking on a career as a legal assistant. Profitable stock market investments made travel abroad possible, and he has since visited Europe extensively and frequently, including London, Paris, Prague, Berlin, as well as Milan and Budapest. Many of these feature as settings in his two e-book novels. "Murder Without Pity," a murder mystery with tragic echoes from the past, occurs in Paris. "The Killing Ploy" (with heavy overtones of "fake news" before that was topical) is set partially in several Continental capitals. His two works in progress, "Darkness and Blood," the sequel to "The Killing Ploy," and "Winston Churchill's Renegade Spy" also use foreign locales. He is presently planning another three month trip abroad for research on a fifth thriller, this one set in the post World War II apocalyptic ruin of the German capital.