The Devil's Gold by Steve Berry
Excerpt from The Jefferson Key
About the Author
WEDNESDAY, MAY 2
THREE WEEKS AGO
Jonathan Wyatt decided to wait before killing his target.
He’d followed Christopher Combs all across Chile, from one isolated village to the next, up into the mountains and back to the capital, wondering what the lying SOB was doing. To avoid exposure he’d stayed loose, well back from Combs, not making contact with any of the people his adversary had visited. Now his target was safely ensconced in an executive suite at the Ritz-Carlton—five hundred U.S. dollars a night, which raised a whole host of questions considering Combs’ government salary—the reservation confirmed for the next ten days. To add a further insult, Combs was currently lying in the hotel’s spa having the kinks in his fifty-eight-year-old back worked out.
That’s what he’d told himself for the past eight years.
But it was hard.
Wyatt had been known within the intelligence community as a man of few words. He spoke sparingly, on purpose, which many times forced others to talk too much. Silence was an acquired art he’d mastered, and he knew what they’d called him behind his back.
But he hadn’t cared.
And it mattered no longer.
His twenty-year career as an intelligence operative had ended eight years ago.
Thanks to Christopher Combs and Cotton Malone.
The latter brought the charges against him, which the former had assured would be quashed, calling the administrative hearing a mere formality. Two men had died in a bad situation. Malone blamed him for the deaths, calling them unnecessary and sacrificial. He’d resented both allegations. He and Malone had found themselves trapped, under fire, with three agents nearby who could help. He was the senior in charge so he made the call to bring them in, but Malone had objected. So he’d coldcocked Malone with the butt of his revolver and ordered them in anyway.
Malone filed an indictment.
And he hated him for it.
The glory boy of the Magellan Billet and Stephanie Nelle, its director. He’d heard the tales of commendations Malone refused, and how he could do little to no wrong. Ex-navy commander. Lawyer. Pilot. You name it, Malone could do it.
He’d even made a convincing witness against him.
And the admin board—empowered apparently to second-guess people in the field—heard the testimony of Malone and three others, then ruled that he had indeed acted recklessly.
He was summarily fired with a loss of all benefits.
Chris Combs had been his immediate supervisor. An assistant director soon to be, as Combs had privately boasted, a director. To be sure, Wyatt had verified that Combs was definitely next in line for promotion. He’d worked under Combs for five years, his own successes surely helping to fuel the other’s rise. Combs had repeatedly expressed his gratitude and told him that he’d need an assistant director. Twenty years of experience certainly qualified Wyatt. Moving up had always been in the back of his mind.
So the message had been clear.
We rise together.
But at the admin hearing, instead of backing him up, Combs sold him out, testifying that, in his opinion, a finding of recklessness was warranted.
Combs garnered his directorship.
Wyatt had been pink-slipped, spending the past eight years working contract jobs for various intelligence agencies in need of his experience but not his liability. They paid great, but were no substitute.
He wanted his career back. But that was gone.
Seemed that was all he had left.
And he’d been patient. Watching Combs. Waiting for the right moment.
Combs had taken two weeks’ leave and flown alone to Chile. Doing something outside the agency.
What exactly? He actually wanted to know.
So while Combs enjoyed himself at the Ritz-Carlton, and before he killed the bastard, he decided to find out.
He slowed the rental car as he drove into Turingia. The tiny Chilean hamlet’s claim to fame was a popular thermal spring. Placards announced that asthma, bronchitis, digestive disorders, even dry skin could be cured—all of course for a price.
He navigated around a busy central plaza.
An ocher-colored church rose at one end, flanked by an arcade of shops, the quaintness stained only by gangly electric-wire poles. A residential section, west of town, looked more like the English countryside with timbered houses, angled roofs, and flowery trees. He knew about the old woman because a few days ago he’d followed Combs to her house. She lived amid a stand of tall araucaria, their puffy pine boughs stretching toward the sky. The house was a two-story structure longing for paint, its gabled tin roof thick with rust. Two horses grazed within an enclosure. He eased the car down a bumpy lane and parked near a fence trellised with morning glories.
The front door was answered by a birdlike woman with burnished gray-gold hair. Forked veins lined her spindly arms, and liver spots dotted her wrists. She appeared to be pushing seventy, but there was a spry look in her hazel eyes. When he introduced himself her eyebrows rose in apparent amusement and she threw him a smile that featured teeth like a jack-o’-lantern.
She invited him inside, her English laced with German. He sat on a settee upholstered in pink velveteen, while she reclined in an oversized chair draped with a flowered slipcover.
He learned her name was Isabel.
“And what is it you want?” she asked him.
“You had a visitor a few days ago.”
“Oh, yes. He was a lively one.”
“What did he want?”
She studied him with a calculating gaze, a tremor rocking her right eye. Her breaths came in low wheezes. Only the tick of a clock disturbed the tranquility.
“The same as you, apparently,” she said. “You seem like a lively one, too.”