With Andrew Vachss’s trademark razor-sharp dialogue and inimitable prose style, SignWave—the third entry in the Aftershock series—is guaranteed to reverberate powerfully long after it has been read.
About the Author
The dedicated website for Andrew Vachss and his work is www.vachss.com.
Read an Excerpt
Before Dolly, I had given up many things.
Some taken from me, before I learned. Some after, when I had to discard weight to move quickly.
Both my childhoods—the one that had been wiped from my memory before I ran from that “clinic” in Belgium, and the briefer but so much richer one that I’d had with Luc—gone forever.
To be a mercenary may not have been my fate, but it was the only option I had. When that first five years was up, I left La Légion. I’d served long enough to walk away . . . but to where? The five years gave me French citizenship, but I didn’t want that any more than the French wanted me. No gitan could be truly French, and that part of my chromosomal chain was stamped across my face as clearly as the thickened slab of scar tissue on my wrist. And I couldn’t cover my face with a sleeve.
Soldiering was all I knew. I went back to Darkville, and signed on with one of the mercenary outfits. Being a former légionnaire was all the credential I needed. They knew no man would make such a claim falsely—too many of us had later become soldiers-for-hire to take that much risk.
But waiting with Olaf as he stayed alive long enough to deliver his only legacy, that was when I decided. That was the moment I knew that the day would come when I would walk away from soldiering for paymasters, and never return.
Still, in a strange way, I have always followed his rules. Killing for money, that I did. But when Dolly accepted me, that part of me was gone—the man she wanted was no killer-for-money, and I had to be that man.
And now, so many years later, I was an impossible construct. A force mathematics could not rule; an assassin who once would kill anyone for money and now would forfeit his own life with equal lack of concern.
Worse, he would do that only for the one person who could really, truly betray him.
I spent half my life searching for what I would spend the rest of it defending.
That wasn’t some random thought. It wasn’t something I ever consciously considered—it was simply the way things were.
If others are trying to kill you, “Why?” is a question you get to speculate about only if they don’t succeed.
“Simple” isn’t the same as stupid. My world has been black-and-white ever since I could remember.
But my memory—my actual memory, a past I could look back on—that started much later than most. I’m not even sure how old I was—nine, ten, eleven, even?—when I escaped that “clinic.” That’s the word they used for it, but it wasn’t healing anyone. Or curing them, or whatever clinics are supposed to be doing. It just kept us.
And there really was no “us.” I didn’t actually understand this until many years later. Not until I was a légionnaire did I learn that even POW camps aren’t what they appear to be. The razor wire and the armed men walking the perimeter—some with shoulder-strapped machine pistols, some with dogs—you’d think that was just one side guarding its captives. But those captives weren’t a single unit. They probably killed more of their own than any guards did; the only weapon they would need for that was betrayal.
None expected to be traded for their side’s captives. Men awaiting execution are desperate. Men who would welcome execution instead of the daily “interrogations” are driven past the edge of sanity. Digging a tunnel is a madman’s task. But the plotting, that never stopped. And was never shared.
When the guards learned of a plot, or even discovered a weapon, some captives died. Not just the ones the guards took away; those who had betrayed them, too. The most deadly thing in those camps was always their inhabitants—suspicion was God, and traitors were sacrificed on that altar all the time.
If any of the captives wondered if perhaps the man they killed hadn’t actually been proved a traitor, they would keep such thoughts to themselves.
No barbed wire had surrounded my childhood. There were no patrols. The adults—doctors, nurses, orderlies—they were kind to us. The food was plentiful, and it was good food, not a prisoner’s slop. The place was always the same temperature, and the inside air was clean.
But the children inside that place had nothing in common, not even whatever brought us there. Some kids were malformed, huge heads on stick bodies. Some drooled. Some never stopped talking, in a language I didn’t understand. Some hardly moved.
All we had to share was the truth, and it wasn’t a truth we could share. Only this one truth: It had to be very expensive to keep us there. All that equipment, even the buildings and the grounds, never mind the salaries. So, really, two truths: whoever put us there didn’t lack for money . . . and didn’t want us in their lives.
I knew what “retrograde amnesia” was. Not because I was so smart, but because the doctors explained it to me. That was why I had no memory of anything before that place, they said. They also said that, if the trauma that had wiped my mind had been powerful enough, those memories might never come back.
“You have to start from now,” they would say. Kindly, but unyielding. They either didn’t know what had erased any memory of my life before I woke up in that place, or wouldn’t tell me. For me, those were the same.
They would say this “Start from now” as if it was a magic chant. But they never would say where I would be going once I started.
Somehow, I knew I could not “start” unless I stopped waiting. One night, I just dropped out the second-floor window of my room onto the soft, moist grass of the manicured lawn, and walked into the darkness.
How long it took, I couldn’t be sure—time is more difficult to measure when you move only in darkness. I know I walked all the way to Paris. There, I became a gutter rat. I was sometimes very cold. I was always hungry. But it never occurred to me to try and return to that clinic.
Then Luc found me.