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Authors: Stuart Woods

Choppy Water (18 page)

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50

Wade Sykes sat in the rear seat of his SUV, wearing his class A uniform, with his colonel’s eagles on his shoulders, and waited for the traffic to move at the main gate of the Army Intelligence Center. The gate guards were looking closely at IDs and examining the trunks of visiting cars.

Eugene was at the wheel, also in his class A uniform, with its sergeant’s stripes.

Finally, they pulled to a stop at the guardhouse. The sergeant on duty spotted the eagles and snapped off a salute, which Sykes returned. “Good morning, Colonel,” the man said, peering into the car, which Eugene had taken care to clean of any items that might arouse suspicion. “IDs,” he said. Eugene handed him both his and the colonel’s, and the guard had a long look at them before handing them back.
“Open the tailgate, please,” the guard said. Eugene pressed the button. The guard lifted the floorboards and had a look at and around the spare tire, then closed the tailgate. He walked back to the driver’s window and handed over the IDs. “Pass on,” he said, and Eugene did so.

“The IDs held up,” Eugene said.

“What did you expect?” the colonel asked. “They’re the real thing. If they’d run them, our photos would have popped up.”

“I guess we can’t do better than that,” Eugene replied.

Sykes consulted a map. “Second right,” he said. “The auditorium will be on your left.”

Eugene found the building and pulled into the parking lot, and both men got out.

Sykes walked to the main entrance of the building and tried the doors; they were unlocked. They passed through a large lobby area and the double doors. The empty rows of the auditorium lay before them. “It seats seven hundred fifty,” Sykes said, “and I’m sure it will be full.”

“Can we go upstairs?” Eugene asked.

The colonel led the way. “It has a projection booth.”

The booth was in the center of the last row of balcony seats. Eugene tried the door. “Locked.” He took a lockpick kit from his pocket and made quick work of getting inside. He did not turn on the lights but used a penlight. “I like this,” he said, climbing into the single seat where the projectionist could watch the movie. He looked down at the stage, then opened the small viewing window. “Ideal,” he said.

“That’s what you said about the projection room at St. Mary’s,” the colonel reminded him.

“They’re both ideal,” Eugene said. “Our uniforms and IDs give us an advantage here.”

“We’d have different uniforms at St. Mary’s, but egress is the problem at both venues,” Sykes said. “Let’s have a look.”

Eugene had a last look around, then the two men followed the
EXIT
signs to a door that opened onto an outside landing and a flight of stairs to the ground.

“Both front and rear entrances,” Eugene said. “A piece of cake.”

“Okay, then how do we get off the base?” the colonel asked.

Eugene pointed past the rear exit and across the street. “Officers club,” he said, “noncom club next door. I’ll drop you at the first then park in front of the second. We can have a sandwich at the bar, wait for the hubbub to die down, then leave by the main gate, where they checked us in.”

“I like it,” Sykes said.

“So do I,” Eugene replied. “But I like St. Mary’s, too. I’d be wearing a workman’s coveralls there. I can put the disassembled rifle in my tool kit, then walk outside onto a busy Manhattan street and get into the van. But here is different. How are we going to get the rifle on and off the base? I don’t want to leave it. It’s a fine piece of equipment.”

“There’s room under the rear seat,” Sykes said. “I’ll ride in the rear seat, like today, so I’ll be sitting on the case.”

“And we have the advantage of already being in their computer, both today and tomorrow. Nothing strange about us.”

“Do you consider them both doable?”

“I do,” Eugene replied.

“Equally so?”

Eugene thought about it. “It’s a shorter shot at St. Mary’s, but given the steep incline of the seating area, more downhill; but I can deal with that. Yes, equally so.”

“Then let’s go back to the city and think on it,” Sykes replied.

They took the George Washington Bridge back across the Hudson River, because Sykes always felt trapped in a tunnel, even one as large as the Lincoln.


Bess left Bloomingdale’s and couldn’t find a vacant cab anywhere, so she hoofed it back to the Lowell, which was only a few blocks. Tom Blake was sitting in the hotel lobby, reading a newspaper. He did not look at her as she passed.

She was putting away the plunder of the day when there was a rap on the inside door. She opened it, and Tom was standing there.

“We’ve got a problem,” Tom said.

“Come in and have a seat.”

Tom sat down. “We’ve narrowed their opportunity to two venues,” he said. “She’s giving an award at St. Mary’s College at nine
AM
tomorrow, then she’s moving to the Army Intelligence Center in New Jersey, for an 1:30
PM
event.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“We don’t know which one they’re going to make the attempt at.”

“Jesus, Tom, then cover both of them!”

“We don’t have the personnel. The president is in town for an appearance downtown tomorrow, and the White House has drained away all available personnel from both the Bureau and the Secret Service.”

“How about the New Jersey State police?”

“They can’t operate on a federal installation.”

“Army MPs can.”

“They’re all tied up dealing with the traffic and visitors for the event.”

“Have you got enough people to cover one event?”

“Yes, but barely.”

“Then pick one and cancel the other.”

“Peregrine refuses to cancel either, says they’re very important to statements she wants to make—on the arts at St. Mary’s and on national defense in New Jersey. Do you think you can find out from Sykes which one he’s going to hit?”

“I think the odds are heavily against it. He’s beginning to trust me, but we’re not there yet.”

“Then I’ll call Stone Barrington. Maybe she’ll listen to him.”

“Now
that’s
an idea.”

51

Stone listened patiently to Tom Blake and Bill Wright on a conference call, then listened to all of the suggestions Bess had made. “So you’re at an impasse again,” Stone said. “And you’re both afraid to insist that Holly make the choice.”

Silence.

“Asked and answered,” Stone said.

“Stone,” Bill said, “we’d be very grateful if you’ll speak to Holly on our behalf and get her to make the choice.”

Stone sighed heavily. “And why do you think that will make a difference?”

“Because she’s known you a long time, and she respects your advice.”

“Is flattery all you’ve got, Bill?”

“It is.”

“All right, I’ll have a go. I’ll wait until she gets home and put it to her then.”

“She’s not going to be home until around five o’clock, and she might get delayed beyond that. Please call her and speak to her now.”

“Oh, all right. If she’ll speak to me. She could be in a meeting.”

“Please try.”

Stone hung up and called Holly’s cell phone.

She picked up immediately. “You’re calling for Tom Blake and Bill Wright, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but . . .”

She hung up.

Stone stared at the telephone, swearing at it. He called back.

“They have my answer,” she said.

“No, they don’t, because the question has changed.”

“The hell it has.”

“The circumstances have changed, too.”

“All right, take your best shot, then I’ll hang up again.”

“This is your choice. If you won’t choose one venue, then the Bureau and the Secret Service will cancel both of them.”

“What?”

“You heard me; what’s it going to be?”

“They don’t have the authority to cancel those events.”

“You’re not president yet, remember? They can cancel them, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it.”

“That’s outrageous!”

“No, it’s not. It’s sensible. What’s outrageous is your insistence on doing both events, when you’ve been told they don’t have the manpower to cover both.”

“I don’t believe them.”

“They’ve explained it to me, and I believe them. Do you want me to explain it to you again?”

“What’s my excuse for canceling?”

“Flu-like symptoms; you forgot to get a flu shot.”

“I did so get my flu shot!”

“It isn’t one hundred percent effective,” he pointed out.

She thought about it. “If I say that, then it will start a whole big immunization thing, and I’ll find myself arguing with all those people who won’t let their kids be vaccinated for whatever.”

“All right, what we need is a reason for your absence that isn’t a lie.”

“Tell me one.”

“How about diarrhea and vomiting?”

“Too unattractive, and still a lie.”

“Intestinal difficulties.”

“Same thing.”

“Exhaustion.”

“Well, I’m certainly getting tired of talking about this.”

“How about the FBI and the Secret Service made you do it.”

“Which one?”

“Both of them?”

“Reason?”

“Because the president is in town for four events, and they’re spread too thin to cover everything.”

“Well, that has the attraction of being true.”

“Can you hang on a minute?” He didn’t wait for an answer, just called Tom Blake.

“Is Bill with you?”

“Yes.”

“How about postponing both events for a day. Can you cover both the day after tomorrow?”

“Yes!”

“Hang on.” He sent back to Holly. “We’ve got it, it’s true, and it works.”

“What does?”

“Postponing both events for a day.”

“Oh, hell, all right. But they’re making the phone calls, not I.”

“Done.” Stone hung up. “You still there?”

Both of them said, “Yes.”

“Postpone until the day after tomorrow, and you two have to make the calls. Flip a coin.”

“Great idea!” Tom said. “We’ll confirm!”

“And Tom, Bill?”

“Yes?”

“If that doesn’t work, reschedule them for different days, maybe next week, and clear it with the transition team.”

“Okay.”

Stone put down the phone and pondered the thought that it could be like this for the next eight years.


Shortly after five, Holly walked into his study, grabbed a bourbon bottle, got some ice, and poured. “You’re in big trouble,” she said.

“Bourbon, please,” Stone said, looking up from the TV.

A CNN anchorperson came on. “It seems that events scheduled for tomorrow by both the president and the president-elect have overstretched the limits of protection that can be provided for them, so the president-elect’s events at St. Mary’s College and the Army Intelligence Center, in New Jersey, have had to be canceled and rescheduled for another time.”

“I guess the president takes precedence,” his coanchor added.

Stone switched off the TV. “There, that wasn’t so bad,” he said.

“It wasn’t, but you’re still in trouble.”

“Why?”

“Because neither event could be rescheduled before January 20.”

“That is my fault, how?”

“Well . . .”

“Look at it this way: you don’t have to go to New Jersey tomorrow and drive back during rush hour.”

She sat down and kissed him. “Maybe you’re not in such big trouble after all.”

52

Bess, watching the local news, learned that both of Holly Barker’s events had been canceled. Shortly, Sykes called and invited her for a drink at 6:30, dinner to follow. She appeared on time, wearing her new little black dress and her pearls.

When Sykes opened the door, Bess saw Eugene having a drink but, thankfully, he was not dressed for dinner. The TV was on, and Sykes went to turn it off.

“Can you leave it on?” Bess asked. “I like Lester Holt.”

“Of course.” He made her a drink and sat down next to his own. “How was your shopping day?” he asked.

“Just about perfect,” she said. “I bought this dress, some trousers, and some silk blouses.” She handed the Amex card to him. “Thank you.” She squeezed an earring and turned on the pearls.

Lester Holt came on, read a couple of national stories, then said that Holly Barker’s events had been canceled for the next day and why.

“Well,” Eugene said, “that’s one decision you don’t have to make, Colonel.”

“I guess we’ll have to pick a new event when her next schedule is made up. We may be in New York for a few more days.”

“Just out of curiosity,” Eugene said, “which event did you decide on?”

“The one in New Jersey,” Sykes replied. “We’re both more comfortable in that environment than at an artsy-fartsy college.”

“So true,” Eugene said.

“What sort of event do you need?” Bess asked.

“Something like the two that were canceled. One will turn up, don’t worry. She’s a politician, she can’t hole up for long. She’s got to be seen and see people. She’s already running for reelection.”

“How can I help?” Bess asked.

“By enjoying yourself while you’re in the big city,” Sykes replied. “If we need you for something, I’ll let you know.”

“She needs to leave the transition office now and then, if only to go home for the night,” Eugene said.

“She’s staying at the Carlyle, which is on East Seventy-sixth Street. That block is congested because of the hotel entrance, and it’s not good for us. I believe you and the boys have tickets to see the Knicks play tonight?”

“Right you are.” Eugene stood up. “I’d better get going.”

“Should we move on, too?” Bess asked.

“Our table’s not until eight o’clock, and we have another guest coming for drinks.”

“Anybody I know?”

“We’ll see.”

Bess was immediately nervous. What if it really was somebody she knew, or who knew her? There was a knock on the door.

Sykes opened it to admit a room-service waiter with a tray of canapés. He put them on the coffee table, accepted a tip, and left.

They watched another couple of minutes of news, and there came another knock.

Sykes got up and heartily greeted a man at the door. “Bess,” he said, “this is United States senator Les Hardy,” he said. “Les, this is Bess Potts.”

Hardy, a tall, well-tailored man, greeted her with charm and compliments on her dress and pearls.

“Thank you, Senator,” she replied.

“Please, it’s Les. I’m only just getting used to the title.”

Bess recalled that the senior senator from Virginia had died a few weeks before, and that the governor had appointed Hardy, who only recently had been sworn in, to the vacant seat.

They finished a couple of drinks and left the hotel for dinner.

“Where are we dining?” Bess asked.

“At La Goulue, just down the street. We’ll walk.”


Fisk and Tom Blake listened to the transmitted conversation. “Well, there’s a wild card for you,” Tom said. “I had no idea that Sykes and Hardy were tight.”

Fisk did a little work on Google. “They were classmates at West Point,” he said, “and roommates their senior year.” He scrolled down. “Their paths crossed on a couple of assignments, too: one in Germany and one in Florida.”

“What did Hardy do as a civilian?”

“He retired from the Army last year as a colonel, and became a part-time lobbyist for a gun manufacturer. The Army was a big customer, and he was a big contributor to the governor.”

“Does he have any ties to any right-wing organizations?” Tom asked.

Fisk checked. “Only ones listed are a club in Washington and the NRA.”

La Goulue was crowded and noisy. Bess wondered how that was going to affect the performance of her wire. There was nothing she could do about it, except lean in for conversation, so she decided to relax and listen.

“Pity about those schedule changes,” Hardy said to Sykes, after they had ordered dinner.

“We’ll have other chances,” Sykes said, “as long as your friend keeps the information flowing.”

God, Bess thought. I hope my colleagues heard
that.


Tom Blake and Fisk were listening intently on earphones.

“Did you understand that?” Tom asked.

“I heard it, but I’m not sure I understood it,” Fisk replied. “What information?”

“About Barker’s schedule, I think. Can you clean up some of the crowd noise on this audio?”

“No, but we’ve got a guy who can. I’ll call him.” He picked up a phone.

A half hour later, a technician was at work on the tape, while Blake and Fisk continued to listen to the live feed.

“I think they regard that line as a slip,” Fisk said, “and now they’ve become more guarded.”


The tech took off his headset. “You want to hear it?”

Everybody gathered around the speaker.

“We’ll have other chances, as long as your friend keeps the information flowing.”

“That’s Sykes’s voice, speaking to Senator Hardy,” the tech said. “Looks like he said what you thought he said.”

“Oh, shit,” Tom replied.

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