God be thanked for books! they are the voices of the distant and the dead, and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages.

W.E. Channing

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Tác giả: David Baldacci
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
Nguyên tác: The Whole Truth
Biên tập: Dieu Chau
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Language: English
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Chapter 29
HAW WAS STANDING INSIDE Heidelberg Castle in front of the largest wooden barrel in the world ever to hold wine. He’d flown into Frankfurt from Edinburgh the night before and driven to Heidelberg that morning. His assignment this time was relatively easy, passing some papers to another man to be carried up the line.
After the task was completed he was supposed to drive to see Anna’s parents at their bookshop in the little town of Wisbach. Should he still go? Frank had made it clear that Shaw’s enslavement was not going to end anytime soon. In fact, it might only terminate when his life did. So what was the reason to go to Wisbach? He could not marry Anna and continue to work for Frank. He never should have asked her to marry him. Now that he had, he should just get the hell out of her life so someone else could give her what he couldn’t.
That would be the noble, unselfish thing to do, and yet Shaw felt neither noble nor unselfish. He did not want to lose Anna. He could not lose Anna. He would drive to Wisbach and perhaps on the way he would miraculously think of some way out of this nightmare.
The papers were passed a half hour later with nary a glitch to a young man who looked like an American college student right down to the Red Sox ball cap, grungy jeans, and Nike tennis shoes. Shaw continued his role as tourist by taking pictures of the castle and its grounds and learning about the history of one of Germany’s most famous castles and its seven-meter-thick walls. When it was safe to leave, he nearly sprinted back down the hill to his rental car and drove off for Wisbach.
He passed through the edge of Karlsruhe on his way to Wisbach. As Anna had said, the bookshop was easy to locate, being on the main road of the quaint village.
Natascha Fischer met him at the door. There was much of her daughter’s height and good looks in the mother. However, where Anna was talkative and outgoing, her mother was reserved and did not meet his eye as he introduced himself.
The bookshop was small but the shelves had good bones of aged pine and dark walnut. There was a rolling ladder perched against one wall of old volumes, and against another was a large desk littered with papers. Here sat a man even larger than Shaw. Wolfgang Fischer rose and extended his hand. Anna had told them he was coming. Natascha put a “Closed” sign on the door and locked it. She then followed her husband and Shaw through a door into the adjoining flat where the Fischers lived.
Like the bookshop it was neat and nicely decorated with many photos of Anna from infant to grown woman. While Natascha put on a pot of coffee, Wolfgang pulled out a small bottle of cognac from a cupboard.
“An event like this calls for something stronger than coffee, eh?” Wolfgang said in English, but with a heavy German accent that Shaw had a little difficulty following. Wolfgang poured out the drinks, sat down, and stared expectantly up at Shaw, who leaned nervously against a rough-hewn wooden mantel.
“Anna has told us much about you,” Wolfgang began in a helpful tone.
Natascha came back in with the coffee and some cakes on a tray. She looked disapprovingly at the glass of cognac in her husband’s hand.
“It is not yet four o’clock,” she said in a scolding tone.
Her husband grinned. “Shaw here was just about to say something.”
Natascha sat and poured out the coffee, but she shot anxious glances at their visitor.
Shaw felt the perspiration staining his armpits. He almost never broke a sweat from nerves, even when people were shooting at him. He felt like a schoolboy on his first date. His mouth was dry; his legs seemed unable to support his weight.
“I came here to ask you something,” he finally said, sitting down opposite them.
I might as well just say it. He looked directly at Dad. “Would you have a problem with me marrying your daughter?”
Wolfgang glanced at his wife, his lips curling into a smile. Natascha dabbed her eyes with a tea napkin.
Wolfgang lurched up, pulled Shaw to his feet, and gave him a bear hug that made Shaw’s ribs ache. Laughing, he boomed, “Does that answer your question?”
Natascha nimbly got to her feet, took Shaw’s hand in a firm grip, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and said in a quiet voice, “You have made Anna so happy. Never has she talked of anyone as she does you. Never. Has she, Wolfie?”
He shook his head. “And she makes you happy, yes, I am sure?”
“Happier than I’ve ever been.”
“When will the wedding be?” asked Natascha. “It will be here, of course, where her family is?”
Wolfgang looked at her crossly. “Well, what of Shaw’s family? Maybe they do not like to come to a small village like this.” He slapped Shaw on the arm, unfortunately on the spot where he’d been winged by the bullet in Scotland. It was all Shaw could do not to cry out in pain.
“Here will be fine,” he said. “I, uh, I have no family.” The Fischers looked at him curiously. “I was an orphan.”
Natascha’s bottom lip trembled. “Anna did not tell us this. I am sorry.”
Wolfgang said, “But now you have family. Lots of family. In Wisbach alone there are ten Fischers. If you include Karlsruhe and Stuttgart, it is many more. In Germany, thousands, is that not right, Tasha?”
“But not all will be coming to the wedding,” Natascha said hastily.
“Grandchildren,” Wolfgang said, staring at Shaw, a broad smile on his face. “Finally, I will have grandchildren. You and Anna will have a big family of course.”
“Wolfgang,” Natascha said sternly, “that is none of our business. And Anna is not that young anymore. She has a career, a very important career. And it is in the hands of God. We wanted many children but only had Anna.”
“Well, not a huge family then,” Wolfgang amended. “No more than four or five.”
“We’ll do the best we can,” Shaw replied uneasily.
“Anna said you were a consultant,” Wolfgang continued. “What is it that you consult in?”
Shaw wondered if the daughter had suggested this line of questioning to force him to tell her parents what he’d already confided in her.
“International relations,” he answered.
“Is there much work in this international relations?” Wolfgang asked.
“More than you can possibly imagine.” Then he added, “Well, actually it’s a bit more than that.” As they looked on expectantly, he leaned against the wall. The stout wood seemed to stiffen his resolve. “I work with an agency that helps make the world safer.”
They exchanged glances. Wolfgang said, “You are like a policeman? A policeman of the world?”
“Something like that. But I’m planning on retiring when Anna and I get married.”
Gratefully, they only asked a few more questions about his job, perhaps sensing it might entail classified information.
If they only knew.
Shaw stayed with the Fischers for over an hour. As soon as he’d passed out of sight a man walked up to their front door and knocked. When Natascha opened the door, the man said, “Mrs. Fischer, I need to talk to you about the man you just met with.”
He swept past her without waiting for an invitation. As Wolfgang joined her the fellow said, “I think both of you should sit down.”
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