Home > Kill and Tell (CIA Spies #1)(2)

Kill and Tell (CIA Spies #1)(2)
Author: Linda Howard

The only time he felt alive since then was when he had a rifle in his hands, sighting through the scope and feeling that rush of adrenaline, the heightening of all his senses. Funny that the thing that had killed him was the only thing that could make him feel alive. Not the rifle; the rifle, as true and faithful a tool as had ever been fashioned by man, was still just a tool. No, what made him feel alive was the skill, the hunt, the power. He'd been a sniper, a damn good one. He could have come back to Jeanette if it had been only that, he sometimes thought, though he was years past trying to analyze things. He'd killed a lot of men, and murdered one.

The distinction was clear in his mind. War was war. Murder was something else.

He stopped at a pay phone and fished some change out of his pocket. He had already memorized the number. He fed in the change and listened to the ring. When the call was answered on the other end, he said clearly, "My name is Dexter Whitlaw."

He had wasted his life paying for the crime he had committed. Now it was someone else's turn to pick up the tab.

Chapter 2

February 17, Columbus, Ohio

The package was lying on the small front porch when Karen Whitlaw got home from work that February night. Her headlights flashed briefly on it as she pulled into the driveway, but she was so tired she couldn't work up any curiosity over the contents. Wearily, she lifted her tote bag, crammed full with her purse and papers and the paraphernalia of her job, and endured the usual struggle of climbing out of the car with the heavy bag. It caught on the console, then on the steering wheel; swearing under her breath, Karen jerked the bag free, and it banged painfully against her hip. She slogged through the snow to the porch, gritting her teeth as the icy mush slid down inside her shoes. She should have put on her boots, she knew, but she had been too tired when her shift ended to do anything but drive home. The box was propped against the raised threshold, between the screen door and the front door. She unlocked the door and reached in to flip on the lights, then leaned down to lift the box. She hadn't ordered anything; the box had probably been delivered to the wrong address. The house was chilly and silent. She had forgotten to leave a light on again that morning. She didn't like coming home to darkness; it reminded her all over again that her mother was no longer there, that she wouldn't unlock the door and smell the delicious smells of supper cooking or hear Jeanette humming in the kitchen. The television would be on even though no one was watching it, because Jeanette liked the background noise. No matter how late Karen worked or how tired she was when she got home, she had always known her mother would have a hot meal and a quick smile waiting for her. Until three weeks ago.

It had happened fast. Jeanette had complained one morning of feeling achy and feverish and diagnosed herself as having caught a cold. She sounded a little congested, and when Karen took her temperature it was only ninety-nine degrees, so a cold seemed like a reasonable assumption. At noon, Karen called to check on her, and though Jeanette's cough was worse, she kept saying it was just a cold. When Karen got home that night, she took one look at her mother, huddled in a blanket on the sofa and shaking with chills, and knew it was influenza instead of just a cold. Her temperature was a hundred and three. The stethoscope relayed alarming sounds to Karen's trained ears: both lungs were severely congested.

Karen had always thought the best benefit of being a nurse was learning how to bully people gently and inexorably into doing what you wanted. While Jeanette argued that she had only a cold and it was silly to

go to a hospital with a cold , Karen made swift, competent preparations and within fifteen minutes had Jeanette, warmly wrapped, in the car.

It had been snowing heavily. Karen had always enjoyed snow, but now the sight of it brought back that night, when she had driven, white-knuckled, through the swirling, blinding sheets of white and listened to her mother fight an increasingly desperate battle for oxygen. She made it to the hospital where she worked, driving up to the emergency entrance and blowing the horn until help came, but other than the snow, her only clear memory of that night was of Jeanette lying on the white sheets, small and somehow shrunken, rapidly fading into unresponsiveness no matter how much Karen talked to her. Acute viral pneumonia, the doctors said. It worked fast, shutting down all the internal organs one by one as they starved for oxygen. Jeanette died a mere four hours after arriving at the hospital, though the medical team had worked frantically in their efforts to defeat the virus. There were so many details to dying. There were forms to fill out, forms to sign, forms to take to other people. Calls and decisions had to be made. She had to choose a funeral home, a service, a coffin, the dress her mother was to be buried in. There were people to be entertained—God!—her mother's friends who called and came over and brought more food than Karen would ever be able to eat, her own colleagues from work, a couple of neighbors. Her throat felt permanently closed, her eyes gritty. She couldn't cry in front of all those people, but at night, when she was alone, she couldn't stop crying. She got through the funeral service, and though she had always thought them barbaric, she now understood the sense of closure ritual brought, a ceremony to mark the passing of a sweet woman who had never asked much from life, who was content with the ordinary. Prayer and song marked the end of that life and paid homage to it.

Since then, Karen had gotten through the days, but that was all. Her grief was still raw and fresh, her interest in work nonexistent. For so long, she and Jeanette had been united, the two of them against the world. First Jeanette had worked, and worked hard at any job she could get, to keep a roof over their heads and give Karen the opportunity for a good education. Then it had been Karen's turn to work and Jeanette's time to rest, to do what she enjoyed most: puttering around their small house, cooking, doing the laundry, creating the nest necessity had always denied her.

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