To all appearances, Dan Chase is a harmless retiree in Vermont with two big mutts and a grown daughter he keeps in touch with by phone. But most sixty-year-old widowers don’t have multiple driver’s licenses, savings stockpiled in banks across the country, or two Beretta Nanos stashed in the spare bedroom closet. Most have not spent decades on the run.
Thirty-five years ago, as a young army intelligence hotshot, Chase was sent to Libya to covertly assist a rebel army. When the plan turned sour, Chase acted according to his conscience—and triggered consequences he never could have anticipated. To this day, someone still wants him dead. And just when he thought he was finally safe, Chase is confronted with the history he spent much of his life trying to escape.
Edgar Award–winning author Thomas Perry writes thrillers that move “almost faster than a speeding bullet” (Wall Street Journal). The Old Man is his latest whip-smart standalone novel, and has been adapted into a critically acclaimed television series starring Jeff Bridges as retired CIA Agent Dan Chase.
“Perry drives deep into Jack Reacher territory in this stand-alone [novel] . . . Swift, unsentimental, and deeply satisfying.” —Kirkus Reviews
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"An old man should have a dog." Dan Chase's daughter had told him that ten years ago, after his wife died. The part that surprised him was the term "old man." He had just turned fifty then. But he supposed she was only giving him advance notice, time to get used to the idea and find a suitable dog. After a man's wife died, he had to do something not to die too.
After decades taking responsibility for a wife, then a daughter, then her husband and sons too, he woke up one morning and realized that the conditions he had been accustomed to seeing as permanent had changed. He was no longer at the center of things. After his wife died the house had gone silent. It wasn't the hearth where the clan gathered for warmth and sustenance anymore. It was just a solitary man's place.
The dogs were looking at him expectantly right now. He opened the door and the two big mutts, Dave and Carol, slipped out ahead of him into the yard, already galloping, a pair of black streaks. They always charged across the five hundred feet of yard to the back fence, their bodies elongated as they bounded along. When they reached the fence they stopped and trotted around the perimeter, patrolling. When they'd made one circuit and found nothing to pursue, they made one more circuit sniffing the ground before they returned to Dan Chase, hoping for an assignment.
After he had taken his daughter's advice he found there was much he remembered about dogs from when he was a boy. All dogs wanted to be good dogs, no matter how unpromising they seemed. You just had to help them find a way. And they were sunshine creatures. When their master opened his eyes in the morning it was their signal that the day had begun, and a day was to be greeted with joy and intense interest. They were a good example for an old man.
Chase started to walk and the two big dogs fell in beside him to skirt the side of the house to get to the gate. The two dogs were on his right at the moment, but they constantly changed positions, maintaining an orbit around him as he went. He opened the gate and, as always, they squeezed their sleek, muscular bodies through the opening ahead of him.
Dan Chase wore a pair of short leashes hanging from his neck, so if he saw a stranger walking toward him he could snap the leashes on Dave and Carol's collars. Even a person who loved dogs didn't necessarily want to meet two hairy, black eighty-pound beasts running free before he'd been introduced to them. Dave and Carol didn't mind. The big thing was to be out and going somewhere with Dan Chase.
Every day the three walked four or five miles, and did their errands on the way. About once a week Chase would take the car out, just to be sure the battery was charged and the oil got on the parts, but the rest of the time they walked. The walk was usually silent, except when they ran into somebody that Chase wanted to talk to, and there were some occasions when he spoke to the dogs. He had never believed in telling them what to do unless he had to, so the dogs generally got along by doing what Chase did. But when he did speak to them they stopped, their ears perked up, their heads turned, and their sharp, intent eyes focused on him.
Dave and Carol had been from the same litter, acquired together by animal control. The volunteer told him their mother had been a cross between a black Labrador and a standard poodle, but the father was something unknown. Nobody knew what he was except that he must have been bigger and hairier. Chase couldn't bear to split them up, so he didn't. When his daughter came to visit after he'd brought them home from the pound, she said, "Oh, Jesus. That's not the kind of dog I meant. Look at their feet. They're going to grow up big."
"I like big dogs," he said. "They're calmer and quieter. It's scared dogs that bite."
"I don't know," she said. "You really want to have two animals that could kill you? You're —"
"An old man. A stiff breeze could kill me."
"You know what I mean."
"I do," he said. "It's just another reason to make sure they never want to."
His relationship with Dave and Carol had worked that way, over time. This morning the three made their way along Norwich's Main Street past a succession of white clapboard houses and a couple of restaurants and hotels to the bridge over the Connecticut River that led to Hanover, New Hampshire. They were having a gentle early spring this year, after a winter that had hit early and held on, and kept most inhabitants of northern New England defending small areas of warmth for days at a time and going out only because there was somebody paying them to do it.
As Chase and his dogs stepped onto the bridge, Chase looked out over the river. Today the dark water was higher than yesterday, swelled by the early spring melt. The sun had been shining fairly steadily for a few days, and he judged that the big pockets of snow in the high places had begun to yield.
The first sign that something was wrong came just beyond the end of the bridge on the New Hampshire side. Chase's ears were attuned to the sounds of his world, and one of the sounds was the movement of cars. He had gotten used to the steady passage of cars across the long, narrow concrete bridge, about one every five seconds, going between twenty-five and thirty-five miles an hour, the sound approaching first from over his left shoulder, and then turning to a whish as it came abreast of him, and then fading far ahead. This vehicle came off the bridge just after he did and was moving much more slowly than cars usually did. Chase looked up the slight incline in the road ahead of him to detect a reason for a car to slow. The road ahead was clear, but the car drifted along on his left side, hanging behind him as he walked.
Chase pivoted to the right and walked up between the riverbank and the first house. The two dogs seemed to hesitate behind him, but he said quietly, "Come on." So they did. He didn't look back, but took out his cell phone and touched the camera symbol, held up the phone as though to take a shot of the river, but aimed it over his shoulder toward the car. He took a shot, and then hit the video symbol and kept the phone in his hand with his arm down at his side, pointing the lens behind him as he went.
Dave and Carol were happy enough to resume their walk, and in a moment the rhythm of car sounds was restored, with cars going up the incline toward Wheelock Street at the usual rate.
He looked at the picture he had taken. The shot was badly framed and at an angle, but the car was clear. It was a silver compact car, something like a Subaru Impreza. For the past few years those things had become as common as pigeons all over New England because they were cheap and had good traction on snow and ice.
His view of the driver's face was blocked by the car's roof. The one thing Chase could see from his high angle was the passenger seat, which had a lone object lying on it. Was that what it looked like? He squinted and stared, but he could think of nothing else it could be. It had to be a toy, a replica, or the real thing.
A part of his mind that he had kept dormant for a long time awakened. He changed his plan. The best time to walk back across the bridge was now, while the driver was still headed in the other direction and would have to turn around on a side street to follow. When that happened Chase wanted to be on the right side of the car where the driver couldn't shoot him easily. He muttered, "Come." Then he swung both arms to signal the dogs, trotted quickly across road, and headed back across the bridge.
When they returned to the Vermont side of the river, he moved off Main Street. If this person knew Chase was in Norwich, he or she would certainly know where he lived. He would be much safer if he got there first. He picked up his pace and cut across a couple of unfenced backyards and down an alley that led to the gravel parking lot behind the Norwich Inn.
Chase had not been ready. He had stayed here in this peaceful corner of the country for too long. When he came to the area he had bought guns and ammunition and hidden them in his house, his car, and his garage. But he hadn't carried one in ten years. There had been no sign of danger, and he had been out of sight for so long by then. He admitted to himself that what had ended the habit had been Anna's death. She had always been the one to remind him to stick a pistol into his coat before he went out. After she died he had not been very interested in protecting what was left of his life.
Chase's eyes and ears were now alert and sensitive, evaluating every sight and sound, trying to pick up anything that didn't belong, anything that had changed. He reminded himself that he couldn't be sure that there was anything to detect. A car had followed him across a bridge, its driver apparently slowing to look at him or the dogs. This might be nothing.
As Chase and the dogs moved along the paths and shortcuts toward his house, he checked the streets for the silver car. He was careful to check the parking lot in front of Dan and Whit's Country Store. The Congregational Church's lot was visible across the green, and it was empty.
He reached the final block before his house and headed along the fence to the side opening near the back door. The dogs surged ahead of him and sniffed the ground, zigzagging as they did when following an invisible trail. Chase left them at it and stepped into his garage. He had placed a .45 Colt Commander under the seat of the car the day he bought it, and a second one in the spare tire bay under the floor of the trunk. The gun weighed thirty-six ounces and held only seven rounds, but there had been times when he'd bet his life that it would fire them all smoothly and accurately, and he was still aboveground. He took the pistol from under the seat and hid it beneath his coat.
When he emerged from the garage he saw that Dave and Carol were agitated, rushing to the distant fence and running back across the yard to the steps. Maybe someone had been here in their absence, and they resented the incursion. He stood with his back to the clapboards of the house and the gun in his belt under his jacket, waiting to see. After a short time, the dogs settled down. Whoever they had sensed must be gone. He put his hand on the gun and walked to the front steps. He looked in the window, and then opened the back door without stepping into the opening. There was no sound of feet sidestepping for a better angle. No shot. "Okay," he said, and the dogs leapt up on the porch and moved inside.
When Dave and Carol trotted across the floor, stopped on opposite sides of their big water bowl, and began to lap up the water, he let go of the gun. If anybody had been in the house, the dogs would have sniffed the air and gone to hunt for him.
Chase walked through the house, verifying that nothing had been changed or touched. He was almost certain this was unnecessary, but he had gotten lazy and irresponsible lately, so he made the extra effort. When he first moved to town he had taken lots of precautions, but over the years he had not bothered to stay ready.
Apparently today had been a false alarm, possibly even his subconscious producing a chimera to startle him into doing what he should. But he knew the real thing would seem just about as subtle and innocuous. Someone he didn't know would show an interest in him. But once the attack started, it would be loud and fast. Maybe today had been a blessing, a harmless event reminding him to make some corrections.
He patted the two dogs, gave them each a biscuit, and went to check on his preparations. He walked to the closet in one of the spare bedrooms where he kept his escape kit, opened the backpack, and looked inside. The money was there — ten thousand in US hundreds, another five thousand in Canadian hundreds, and ten thousand euros. The two guns were Beretta Nanos, and each was accompanied by four spare magazines full of 9mm rounds.
The three wallets contained the necessary credit cards and licenses for three different identities — Henry Dixon of Los Angeles, Peter Caldwell of Chicago, and Alan Spencer of Toronto. He had American passports for Dixon and Caldwell, and a Canadian passport for Spencer. The expiration dates on the cards were well spread out, and he checked and verified that he had not been inattentive enough to let any of the credit cards expire. He had known he could count on the companies to keep sending new cards. The companies paid themselves from bank accounts he'd held in those names for twenty-five years or more.
He went to the next hiding place in the small attic at the peak of the house, opened a box of Christmas ornaments, and pulled out the second kit, which included more money and female identities with the same surnames as the men. The photographs on the cards were of Anna. He took this second kit down to the spare bedroom with him.
He had three prepaid burner cell phones in his kit with the batteries removed. He plugged one of them into the surge suppressor under the bed to recharge the battery and stowed the others. He started to take the kit he'd made for Anna out of the room to throw it away, but then changed his mind. He took the contents of Anna's pack and added it to his pack. If he ever needed a kit at all it would be dangerous to leave anything here that revealed his next surnames. He and Anna used to call the packs bugout kits, because they were only to be used if they ever had to bug out — abandon their home and escape. The kit contained everything either of them would need to start over again somewhere else.
He let Dave and Carol out into the backyard again. Usually around this time they liked to have him throw a ball so they could race after it, but today none of them felt like playing. Instead, the dogs followed him as he walked around the yard looking for footprints, signs that the fence had been scuffed when someone had climbed it, or other indications that anyone had been there. The dogs could still be funny and puppyish when they felt like it, but today they were serious, even solemn. They stayed close, staring up at him now and then with their big, liquid eyes, as though to read his thoughts.
Chase spent the rest of the day watching for signs that never came, and making up for his neglected preparations. He checked and engaged all the locks on doors and windows and tested the alarm system. He spent a few minutes in the garage tying a piece of monofilament fishing line to a pair of tin cans from his recycling bin, and then tying another piece to the necks of two bottles.
They all had dinner at the usual time, and then the dogs went out while Chase did the dishes and cleaned up. After they came in he engaged the alarm and watched television for a while, keeping the volume very low so he or the dogs would hear any unusual sounds. At 11:30 p.m. after the weather report he took the dogs to bed. As usual, Dave and Carol jumped up and lay on the left side of the bed, nearest to the door.
When they were settled, Chase went to the end of the hallway that led from the kitchen and set up the two cans connected by the transparent fishing line. Then he did the same with the bottles at the beginning of the bedroom hallway. He was fairly sure the electronic alarm system would function well enough, but he knew making his own would help him sleep better.
It was nearly 3:00 a.m. when the clatter of tin cans broke the silence. He opened his eyes, and the dogs both lifted their heads from the bedcovers. Chase could see in silhouette that their heads were both turned toward the doorway, and their ears were pointed forward.
Dave launched himself off the bed. There was a heavy thud as his forepaws hit the hardwood, and then rapid scratching sounds as he accelerated down the hallway. Carol leapt after him, adding to the scrit-scrit of toenails down the hall.
Dan Chase was on his feet in a second, stepping into his pants. He picked up the Colt Commander and the flashlight from his nightstand and followed. He paused at the end of the hallway, leaned forward to let one eye show at the corner, but saw only dark shapes in motion. He turned on his flashlight in time to see Dave barrel into a man at the far end of the room and begin to growl.
The man went down, but he punched and kicked at Dave, trying to get the dog's jaw to open and release his arm.
"Lie still!" Chase shouted, and switched on the overhead lights. "Don't fight them."
Then the man had a gun in his hand, and Chase could see it had a long silencer attached to the barrel. The silencer was the man's enemy, because the extra eight inches made it too long for him to turn it around to fire into the dog. He managed to get it close, but the twisted arm gave Carol her opening. She ducked in beside Dave and bit.
This time the man was in trouble. Soon Carol was tearing at his shoulder, working her way up toward his throat. He knew it, and he struggled harder, using the unwieldy pistol to hammer at the dogs.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Old Man"
Copyright © 2017 Thomas Perry.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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