Authors: Stuart Woods
Tom Blake was at his desk when his secretary buzzed. “Yes?”
“Peg Parsons, on one.”
Tom pressed the button. “Hi, Peg.”
“You sound wary,” she said.
“No, I don’t. I may sound sleepy. I’ve been reading a very boring report.”
“You don’t have to be wary of me, Tom,” she said. “I don’t mind being an occasional piece of ass, but I’m not a home-wrecker.”
“Not intentionally,” he said, “but you have no idea how suspicious Amanda is when your name comes up.”
“Then don’t bring it up,” she said.
“I make a point of not doing that.”
“All right, all right. I have a tip for you. By the way, did your plan work when I published my piece?”
“It seemed to. I can’t really go beyond that.”
“Well, I have something new for you.”
“I can’t shoot on the phone. Buy me lunch.”
“That’s dangerous, Peg, for both my case and my ass.”
“Then cover them both, please, but we’ve had word that some of our lines at the paper are tapped, and we’ve been told to be careful what we say.”
“Okay, lunch. But somewhere we won’t be talked about if we’re seen together.”
“All right, we’ll meet in my car at the same spot at Rock Creek Park—at the far end of the parking lot, away from the buildings. One o’clock?”
“Okay, at one.”
“I’ll bring lunch.”
“See you then.” He hung up and buzzed his secretary.
“I’m supposed to have lunch with Assistant Director Taylor today. Reschedule, will you? Tell him I have to see a source.”
“Is Peg Parsons a source?”
“Don’t you ever mention that name to anyone, understand?”
“Understood. I’ll reschedule with Taylor.” She hung up.
Tom arrived at Rock Creek Park first and parked where he had been told. She was right; that part of the lot was empty.
He switched off the ignition and waited. Two minutes
later her little Mercedes parked alongside him, and she got out, carrying a wicker picnic basket. She didn’t approach his car, she just walked into the woods, and he scurried after her.
There was no path, but the forest floor was covered in pine needles, so it was easy going. He began to hear the sound of flowing water, then he found her on a flat rock near the creek, and she was spreading a blanket.
“Hi, there,” she said, opening the hamper and producing sandwiches, coleslaw, and a bottle of chardonnay. She handed him a corkscrew. “The wine is your job.” She waved a hand: “Is this private enough?”
“It would seem so.” He got the bottle open and filled the waxed paper cups she had brought.
She raised her cup. “Bon appétit. This is delicious, if I do say so.”
He took a bite of his sandwich and drank some wine. “So, Peg, what have you got to tell me?”
“You know the group down in Virginia, the white-supremacy guys?”
“Well, I now have a source on the inside, one who knows a lot about them.”
“What has he told you?”
“I didn’t say it was a ‘he.’ But for purposes of conversation, we’ll assume the masculine pronoun.”
“He hasn’t been with them for all that long, but they’re coming to trust him.”
“How did he establish contact?”
“He got a call from a guy named Sykes, then they met.”
“Is he participating in their, ah, adventures?”
“Not yet, but he believes he will be invited along soon. There was an incident with a cell phone, and that slowed things down, but he thinks they’re back on track now. Apparently, the incident at the White House—broken window, injured staffer—was something to do with the group. He said that Sykes apparently thought they had killed Holly Barker, and when he saw her on TV, shopping in New York, he was upset to find she was still alive.”
“I believe a decision was made to make it seem that she might have been sidelined.”
“Hence, the story about the injured staffer?”
“Off the record, maybe something to do with that.”
“Anyway, Sykes apparently believes that she’s going to be in New York running her transition team, pretty much until the inaugural festivities.”
“And he wants her in D.C., where she might be more accessible?”
“That’s it, sweetheart.”
“That’s what you have to tell me?”
“Let’s call it an introduction to my source.”
“What’s your source’s name?”
“Can’t tell you that.”
“I need enough information about him to allow us to check him out. He could be a member of the group and just playing you.”
She shook her head. “I did my own checking. He was a government employee before, so that made it easier.”
He also needed enough information to ascertain whether Elizabeth Potter was her source as well as his. “I’m sorry, Peg. That’s not how the Bureau works. If we’re going to bring on a CI—a confidential informant—we have to do an FBI background check, and that’s more thorough than you can imagine.”
“Well, Tommy, that’s not how it’s going to work with my source. He tells me, I tell you. If he turns out to be right, he’s good. If not, well, you can look elsewhere. But I’m telling you, I have a very good nose, and if he was lying to me, I’d sniff him out. I don’t need a platoon of FBI agents to do it for me.”
“You’re very cocky, aren’t you?”
“Let’s just say that I’m cock-oriented.” She stroked his crotch and got a response.
“Careful,” he said, “it bites.”
“So do I,” she said, pulling his zipper down and putting a hand inside to free him.
“Be gentle,” he said, lying back and letting her have her way with him.
“Oh, that’s right,” she said. “You’ll have to use it again tonight, won’t you?” She went to work on him and got excellent results.
Tom sat at his desk, still a little weak in the knees, and tried to think how he might contact Elizabeth. He decided to continue to be Dad, e-mailing:
Hi, there, baby. It’s been too long since I’ve seen my girl. Let’s get together soonest. When are you free? Love, Dad.
He pressed the send button. There was no way of telling when she’d see the e-mail; he’d just have to be patient. At five, he left the office and drove home. Amanda’s car was in the garage, so he took a few deep breaths and put on his innocent face.
“Evening, sweetheart,” he said, as he walked in.
Amanda looked up, surprised. “You’re home early,” she said. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” She kissed him and pressed herself against him.
“A long and very boring report,” he said. “In fact, I think I need an hour’s nap.” He loosened his tie.
“Want some company?” she asked.
“Give me an hour, then I’m yours.”
She checked her watch. “All right, you’re on the clock. Shoo.”
He went upstairs and got undressed. As he hung his suit on a hanger he saw something he hadn’t seen before, and it scared him. The suit was a light tan, and there was lipstick on his fly.
He looked around for something that would dissolve lipstick. He went into the bathroom and found a bottle of rubbing alcohol and some tissues. He poured some on the Kleenex, replaced the bottle in the cabinet, then went back and applied it to his fly. To his vast relief it seemed to come off, but when he blew on it to dry it, it still left a visible stain, just not a red one. He hung the suit on the second rack, behind the first row, then flushed the tissues down the toilet.
Finally, he turned down the duvet, got into bed, and stretched out. In a couple of minutes he was snoring lightly.
He felt a draft and reached for the covers, but he encountered a head of hair instead. He hadn’t inspected himself for lipstick stains, so he pulled her away and up to his lips.
“I smell alcohol,” she said, sniffing.
“I spilt something on my suit at lunch, and I was trying to get out the stain.”
She rolled on top of him and made to insert him. “You’re not very responsive today,” she said.
“I was sound asleep,” he replied.
“Well, your hour is up.” She fondled him until she got a response, then mounted him. Ten minutes later they were both spent. She went into the bathroom for a minute, then returned and opened his closet door. “Which suit? I’ll see what I can do.”
“The tan gabardine, second row.”
She pulled it from the closet and hung it on a hook. “Where?”
“On the trousers,” he said.
“What was the stain?”
“Russian dressing from a sandwich. That pink stuff.” He held his breath.
“Yes, I can still smell the alcohol. And it seems to have worked.” She put the suit back into the closet. “Dinner’s in fifteen minutes,” she said, pulling her jeans back on and slipping into a sweater and flip-flops. “See you downstairs.”
Halfway through dinner his phone vibrated. “Excuse me,” he said, and went to his messages.
Dear old Dad!
I’ll be home around nine; if you can stop by, I’ll give you a drink!
Your loving child
“Anything important?” Amanda asked.
“Yes, a message from a CI. He’s not allowed to contact me by phone. I’ll have to go out for an hour or so after dinner.”
“Oh, well. At least I’ve already exhausted you. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel.”
Tom drove to Elizabeth’s apartment house, near DuPont Circle, pulled into the garage, and parked. He took the elevator up to the floor above hers, then walked a flight down the fire stairs and peeked into the hallway. The coast was clear. He walked quickly down the hall, found the door off the latch, and let himself in. “Elizabeth?” he called.
“Have a seat. I’ll be there in a minute.”
He sat down on the sofa and looked around. He’d been there only once before, and it seemed much the same: comfortable.
Elizabeth appeared, buttoning her blouse.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” he said.
“Fat chance. Drink?”
“I’ve already had some wine with dinner. I’d better not.”
She poured herself one and sat down. “What’s up?”
“First, a question.”
“Have you recently had any contact with a female journalist?”
“You mean like Peg Parsons?”
“She’ll do. Have you seen or communicated with her?”
“No, I haven’t. Do you have some reason to believe that I might have?”
“I saw her today, and she told me that she has a source in Sykes’s group.”
“My feelings exactly. Do you have any idea who that might be?”
“Did she say it was a female?”
“No, she used the editorial male gender when speaking of him, but said it might be a woman.”
“I’m the only woman I’ve seen there, so it’s got to be a man. What sort of information did she get?”
“Nothing earthshaking. She said Sykes had seen Holly Barker in New York on television, so he knows she’s not dead.”
“I was with him at dinner when he saw that on TV.”
“How did he react?”
“He seemed annoyed, but he didn’t say anything more about her.”
“I guess he wouldn’t. I got your message about the trackers.”
“I checked them out, and they’re working just fine. I watched his Explorer go into the village for groceries and gas, then return.”
“That’s odd,” she said. “Elroy would ordinarily go in for groceries. Could it have been the liquor store? He might have bought some wine.”
“Holy shit again!”
“What is it this time?”
“It’s Elroy, the black cook.”
“What about him?”
“He’s got to be Peg Parsons’s source!”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because he hates Sykes.”
“How can you tell?”
“It’s obvious, trust me.”
“What’s Elroy’s last name?”
“Do you know anything about his background?”
“He’s retired Navy, where he was a cook—supposedly his last posting was as the chef at the officers club at Naval Air Station Pensacola.”
“I’ll check him out,” Tom said, glancing at his watch. “I’ve got to get home.”
“Is Amanda keeping you on a short leash?”
“You could put it that way,” he said.
She walked him to the door.
“Anything else to report?”
“Nope. Drive carefully.” She let him out and locked the door behind him. She walked slowly back to the sofa. “Elroy,” she said. “Now, whose team is he playing on?”
Tom found Amanda sound asleep, so he wouldn’t have to make love for a third time today. He lay on his back, naked, cooling down, and thought about Elroy Hubbard.
Who did he represent in Sykes’s camp?
There were options: he could simply be a source Peg Parsons had cultivated after a chance meeting. Or he could be CIA—they were never shy about trampling on his territory. Or one of the fifteen other intelligence agencies. Not the NSA: too technical. Then who would want what Hubbard had on Sykes? A state agency, maybe?
It took him an hour to sink into sleep, finally, after ten milligrams of Ambien. The following morning he was groggy, as he had known he would be after seeking pharmaceutical help so late. He took a cold shower to wake him
sufficiently for action. But what action? He was running Elizabeth Potter as a one-off; there was no team to back her up, just himself. He contemplated creating a team, but he didn’t want anyone to know he was running an agent alone—it would be embarrassing to ask for help at this late date, especially when the life of a president-elect was in play. And he didn’t like admitting that he was working with the Secret Service, rather than with his own Bureau.
He called Mamie Short. She was experienced, inventive, and distrusted by most of the male agents because she was a female agent. There was still resistance to that in the Bureau.
He used his private line to call her on a direct line, avoiding secretaries.
“This is Short,” she said.
“Mamie, Tom Blake. I need to see you outside the office, without our being seen together. Any suggestions as to where?”
“How about my office? This place empties out at noon, like a herd of cattle avoiding branding.”
He thought about that; not a bad idea. “Is there a conference room with a lock on the door?”
“Two doors from my office.” She gave him a room number. “Twelve-fifteen?”
“Good.” He hung up.
At twelve-ten he walked two floors down the stairs and found the room. She was sitting at the table, munching on a sandwich.
“I brought you one,” she said, indicating a brown paper bag at the next seat.
“Thanks, Mamie.” He sat down and took a moment to think about her while unwrapping his sandwich. She was tallish, blond, early forties, casually dressed. Hoover would have hated her on sight.
“I’ve been running an agent on my own, and I need help.”
“And you had to come two floors down to get that?”
“For a variety of reasons, I don’t want to assemble a team.”
“And you don’t want to tell me what your reasons are?”
“If it becomes relevant, I will.”
“Okay, I’ll trust your judgment on relevance.”
“Thank you. Do you know an agent named Elizabeth Potter?”
“Late twenties, a looker, smart?”
“That’s a start.”
“I met her once socially, and we had a little chat.”
“Superficial, I should have said. She asked my advice.”
“On what subject?”
“We had been talking about women in the Bureau, and she said, ‘Any advice?’ We were interrupted before I could give her any.”
“There’s a small group of white supremacists in Virginia, run by a man named Wade Sykes.”
“Him, I’ve heard of: retired colonel, sort of drummed out of the Army for promoting his views too obviously.”
“That’s the one.”
“How’s Elizabeth doing?” Mamie asked.
“Pretty good: she’s in, but our problem is communicating. There’s no cell service at their compound and they only turn on the Wi-Fi twice a day, apparently at random times, so if I e-mail her, posing as her father, I never know when she’ll get it.”
“Okay, how can I help?”
“We’ve learned—let me rephrase that—we’ve heard from a journalist who has somebody inside, too. Elizabeth thinks she knows who—a black cook, using the name of Elroy Hubbard, whose legend is retired Navy cook, last assignment at Naval Air Station Pensacola, as chef at the officers club. I need you to run that name through the mill and see if that legend has roots, or is he just making it up. If somebody’s running him, I want to know who, and I need at least one name.”
“Okay, anything else?”
“Since what I’ve told you is everything, you and I know
“Why does Potter think he’s Parsons’s guy?”
“I didn’t say it was Parsons.”
“Oh, come on, Tom. You two were an item at Georgetown. I was there, too, remember?”
“Not that we knew each other well. Your time was taken up with Parsons.”
“Okay, it’s Peg. I have to keep that very quiet, because my wife’s eyeballs bulge whenever her name is mentioned.”
“Why are you even in touch with her?”
“I needed to plant a story in her column for cover.”
“And she did that for you?”
“And what did she get out of it?”
“Mamie . . .”
“She had a reputation at Georgetown.”
“Put her out of your mind,” Tom said firmly. “Got it?”
“Okay, I’ll use my imagination.”
“Don’t even do that.”
Mamie recapped her pen. “Anything else?”
He scribbled a number on a blank card. “This is a burner phone. Leave a message there on how to reach you or see you.”
She handed him a card. “No need. This is my burner.”
Tom tucked it into a pocket.
“You want me to text you information?”
“If it’s urgent. Otherwise, I’d rather talk face-to-face.”
“You think you can read me better that way, Tom?”
“Don’t be a smart-ass, Mamie.”
“But I’m so good at it!”
“Thanks for the sandwich.” He hadn’t touched it. He put it back in the bag and took it with him, then ate it at his desk.