Authors: Stuart Woods
Bess was having lunch with Sykes in his suite when Eugene knocked, then let himself in and handed a sheet of paper to Sykes. “I believe we’re on,” he said.
Sykes looked at the paper. “Have you already reconnoitered?” he asked.
“No, but I found some photographs of the theater on their website, and a map check shows a street behind it where the van won’t attract attention. We should get over there and check it out as soon as possible.”
“I’ll meet you downstairs in twenty minutes,” Sykes replied.
“I’ll let the others know what the van has to look like,” Eugene said, then left.
“You look excited,” Bess said.
“I am,” Sykes replied. “When both our earlier choices got
canceled, I thought they were on to us, but this place seems ideal.”
“Where is it?” Bess asked. She was wearing her pearls.
“At Hunter College, over on Lexington.” He went and got a New York City street map. “Here,” he said, tapping. “And the van will be on the street behind. You’ll be driving.”
She smiled. “You’re sure you can trust me?”
“Of course,” he replied. “And if you fail us, we can always shoot you.”
Bess just smiled again. “I won’t fail you.”
“Let me have your iPhone,” he said.
She handed it to him.
Down the hall a couple of doors, Fisk twiddled with some knobs. “We got all of that,” he said.
“Is anything going on in that theater right now?” Tom asked.
Fisk looked at the schedule. “No, it should be empty. We finished our work there yesterday. All we had to do was tap into the college’s own security network. We’ve got cameras and audio. You want to watch?”
“And record,” Tom said. “We’ll call it a cold run-through.”
Sykes, Eugene, and Bess parked the van on the back street and walked up the fire stairs. Eugene had the lock picked in a moment, and he peered into the theater. “The lighting is
dim,” he said, stepping inside and holding the door for them.
They walked into a theater with maybe six hundred seats, lit by a single bulb from a work lamp onstage. Sykes found a bank of switches and turned on the other lights. “Follow me.”
He led them across the front row of seats and up some stairs to another door behind the stage. He opened it to reveal a sitting room. “Here’s their greenroom,” he said. “She has a 10:30 meeting with the president, two floors up, so they’re likely to take the elevator down and enter through the main door. They’ll be briefly exposed on their way to the greenroom.”
He walked them up the rows of seats to the projection booth. “It isn’t even locked,” he said, opening the door.
They walked in and looked around, then Sykes went to the projectionist’s viewing window and sat down. “So you can get a first shot as she comes through the door.”
“Maybe, but not ideal,” Eugene said. “She’ll likely be surrounded by other people. According to the instructions on her schedule, she’s due to be in there by 10:45. That’s when the main doors will be opened and the students and faculty will start to file in. When they’re all seated, the curtains will be drawn to reveal the set for the play they’re doing that evening, and the president will introduce her from the center-stage microphone. She’ll enter from the greenroom at stage left, and when she’s alone at the microphone, that’s when I’ll fire. When she’s down and dead, I’ll cut the lights from that panel by the door”—he pointed—“and we’ll step outside and leave through the fire door on this level. Our
two guys will cover us and shoot anybody who tries to follow.”
“Bess, that’s when you’ll be on. The van’s engine should be running, and as soon as the door is closed, you’ll start down the street at a very normal pace, then turn two lefts onto Lexington and head downtown. We’ll park the van in midtown and just walk away. It will have already been wiped clean, and everybody will be wearing cotton gloves, which we’ll ditch at convenient trash baskets on the streets.”
“Wade,” she said, “we shouldn’t ditch them anywhere near the van. They’ll search every trash can for blocks, and if they find even one pair, they’ll get DNA from them. When we get back uptown, we can douse them with something flammable and dump them there to burn.”
“You’re right, that makes more sense,” he said. “Eugene, anything else to cover?”
“They’re working on what we need for the van now,” he replied. “The outside will read ‘New York Video and Audio.’”
“We should rip that off as soon as possible. If somebody sees us drive away, they’ll note the name,” Bess said.
Wade looked at her fondly. “We may keep you on here,” he said.
We’ve got it all,” Fisk said. “They’re toast.”
“First of all, they’ll be toast when they’re toast, and not before. Second, be goddamned sure that nobody shoots Bess.”
“She will be in the van, remember?” Fisk replied.
“Then nobody shoots at the van at any time, until she is out of it and clear. Pass that order around; don’t miss anybody.”
“I understand,” Fisk said.
The whole group sat at Stone’s dining table early that evening and heard Tom Blake’s report. “I’ve made sure that everyone understands not to fire on the van until our agent is clear of it.”
“Why do they want her to drive?” Stone asked. “Are they short of hands?”
“She drove on the mission to kill Ms. Barker in her home, and Sykes thinks she did well. She’s been pestering him, at discreet moments, to trust her and give her more to do.”
“I see. It bothers me that she’s on this mission in any capacity. Is that necessary?”
“It bothers me, too,” Tom said, “but Sykes thinks she’s necessary, so we can’t pull her.”
“If she’s left alone in the van,” Stone said, “just have her drive away without them, ditch the van, and beat it to transition headquarters.”
“I’m certainly good with that, if she’s left alone. If Sykes leaves somebody with her, she can’t drive away until he’s aboard.”
“All right,” Bill said. “Stone, I think that’s the best we can do.”
Stone looked at Holly, and she nodded. “Agreed,” he said.
Elizabeth was lying in bed, in the semidarkness, eyes wide open, reviewing the coming day, nailing down every detail, when there was a short rap on the connecting door. She had been half expecting it and had left the door unlocked. “Come,” she said.
Tom Blake came in and found the only light to be from a large-digit electric clock on the bedside table. He could see her, up on one elbow.
“Come in,” she said, moving over and leaving him room to sit on the bed.
He joined her. “I just want to see if you’re feeling ready for tomorrow.”
“More than ready; I’m excited,” she replied. She brushed a lock of hair off her forehead, and a nightgown strap slipped off her shoulder, making for an enticing view of her
breast. “Don’t worry about me,” she said, putting a hand on his cheek. “I’ve rehearsed every detail, over and over.”
“A new order. If you’re left alone in the van, drive away. Don’t wait for them. But not if someone is left there with you. I don’t want to lose a good agent.” He indicated the door with a nod of the head. “I’ve got to get back in there,” he said. “I’ve got to be in that room, and alone.” He walked to the door. Before he closed it, he said, “Good luck tomorrow. Take care of yourself, because you’ll be on your own.”
“Don’t worry about me,” she said, and he closed the door.
Five minutes after Tom was back in the room, his phone rang. “Blake.”
“It’s Stone Barrington. Any developments?”
“None. We’re primed and ready to go. Is Holly worried?”
“No, she’s tougher than I,” Stone said. “She’s dead to the world. I doubt if I’ll sleep tonight.”
“Relax, Stone. We’re at a point where that’s all we can do.”
“Holly said something like that,” Stone replied.
“She was right. See you in the morning.” They said good night and hung up.
Stone was at the transition office at 8:30
; it would be the command headquarters for the operation. Tom Blake and Bill Wright were sitting in Holly’s glassed-in office with a woman. Wright waved Stone in.
“Good morning, Stone,” Bill said. “This is Betty Cromwell, one of our scheduling staff.”
“How are you?” Stone said, offering her his hand. Hers was ice cold and clammy.
“Betty here worked for then state senator Hardy, of Virginia, in his Richmond office, before she joined us.”
Stone got the message. He pulled up a chair and kept his mouth shut.
“So, Betty,” Bill said, “as I was asking, how did you come to work for Senator Hardy?”
“A family friend knew him from the Army,” she replied, “and I interned in his state senate office when I was just out of school.”
“And how did you come to work for Holly Barker?”
“I was attracted to her ideas.”
“Which ideas, specifically?” Bill asked.
“How about abortion?”
Betty blinked. “She and I have different views on that subject.”
Bill consulted a file in his hand. “I see you attended a Pentecostal church.”
“Yes. Isn’t that all right?”
“Of course it is. I just wondered how a Pentecostal could work for someone who is so strongly pro-choice?”
She shrugged. “We can’t all agree on everything.”
“Who was your family friend who knew Senator Hardy?”
“Ah, I don’t remember. I didn’t know him well.”
“Would his name have been Sykes?”
“Possibly. I don’t remember.”
“Did you ever visit Sykes’s home?”
“Once, I think, with my father.”
“What was your impression of his place?”
“It was very nice.”
“Did you visit his library?”
“Did you see any books there that you had read before?”
She was now clearly uncomfortable, shifting in her seat. “I have to get to work,” she said.
“Not today,” Bill said. “You’re off today. We’re just going to sit here for a while and talk about your relationship with Colonel Wade Sykes.”
Tom rose and left the room, beckoning Stone to follow.
“She’s the mole,” he said. “Let’s leave her to Bill. He’s a gentler interrogator than I—he’ll get her whole story.” Tom led Stone to the rear of the offices, to a room he hadn’t entered before. There were a half dozen video monitors and some audio equipment.
“We’ll listen from here, and watch as much as we can cover.”
They both took seats.
“Holly was still sound asleep when I left the house,” Stone said. “I don’t know how she does it.”
“Did you get any rest?”
“Off and on. How about you?”
“I finally dozed off, middle of the night. I had the on-call duty.”
“Where’s the van?” Stone asked.
“We don’t know yet. They’ll pick up Sykes and my agent, Elizabeth, at their hotel. After that, the whole lot will soon be ours.”
“I didn’t ask last night,” Stone said, “but the theater is supposed to be filled by a student audience, isn’t it?”
“It was,” Tom replied. “But we made some changes in the schedule.”
“Is anybody going to get hurt?” Stone asked.
“None of the students. Others will.”
Tom Blake walked into a rear room at the transition headquarters and watched for a couple of minutes how a fine theatrical cosmetologist could turn Gerry Mason into Holly Barker. That done, a hairdresser sprayed water on her hair and blew it dry, placing soft curls in the places that Holly had them. One of Holly’s suits hung on a nail in the wall nearby.
Tom took Gerry’s hand. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Calm, but excited,” she said. “Ready. I don’t really have all that much to do. The Secret Service agents will push me in the right direction.”
“Are you armed?”
“I brought a piece.”
“Do you have a shoulder holster?”
“Wear it. You probably won’t need it, but if you do, you should have it.”
“Thank you, Tom, I will.”
Tom checked his watch. “We’ll load up in about fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll be ready.”
Elizabeth put on her underwear and slacks, leaving off her blouse, then slipped on her lightweight, flesh-colored shoulder holster, got into the blouse and buttoned it, leaving the top button undone Someone looking for a gun would get the sight of cleavage instead. She slipped on a light leather jacket and zipped it up halfway. She picked up her Sig Sauer .380, pumped a round into the chamber, then popped the magazine and replaced the round, before reinserting the magazine. She slipped a spare magazine into her jacket pocket, then finally she put on her pearl necklace and earrings.
The hotel phone rang. “Yes?”
“Bess, it’s Wade. You ready?”
“Meet me downstairs in five minutes.”
Wade hung up the phone in his suite. “All right, Eugene is in place at the theater, and Earl is already on-site. Jimmy,
you’re in the rear seat behind Bess, who will be driving. These are your instructions: If you see a threat of any kind, or anyone displaying a badge coming toward you, you are to shoot Bess in the head twice, before you deal with the threat.”
Jimmy looked surprised. “Isn’t she one of us?”
“Do you understand your instructions?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Are you fully capable of carrying them out?”
“I am, sir.”
“Then let’s go.”
Bess was waiting beside the van when they came out of the hotel. She tugged at her right earring, then got into the driver’s seat and adjusted the mirrors and the seat. She was looking into the rearview mirror when Jimmy got in behind her. She noticed that there were beads of sweat on his upper lip. A first-timer, like her, she reckoned.
Sykes got in beside her. “All right, let’s go. Normal speed, don’t blow the horn or do anything to attract attention.”
Bess started the van, put the gear lever in D, and pulled out onto Madison Avenue, then turned east on East Sixty-fourth Street.
“Any questions, Bess?”
“Nope,” she replied.
“No, sir, none.”
Stone walked out of the transition office with a half dozen people, among them Gerry Mason and Tom Blake. Tom directed him into the front passenger seat. An FBI agent was behind the wheel, his badge clipped to his outside suit breast pocket. They pulled away from the curb.
“Stone,” Tom said, “are you armed?”
“Yes,” Stone replied, “lightly so.”
“You are not a policeman. Do you understand?”
“Wrong, Tom. I’m still carried on the NYPD roster as a detective first grade. My shield is on my belt; do you want me to display it?”
“Regardless of what your status is with the NYPD, this is a Bureau operation. Do you understand?”
“Of course,” Stone said. “I’m under your command, Tom.”
“Then this is your first order. When we walk into the building, you may accompany us, but you stop at the theater door. You are not to follow us into the theater until I order it. Is that clear?”
“As you wish, Tom; I’ll wait outside the door.”
“Good. You may display your shield when you do.”
They were quiet for a moment.
“Stone,” Tom said, “how is it you’re still on the NYPD roster?”
“Our present mayor, who was commissioner of police at the time, made me a gift of the badge, promoted me to detective first, and put me on active duty until further notice. I’ve never had further notice.”
“Extraordinary,” Tom said.
“Perhaps so, but I can still participate in a bust.”
“Not this one,” Tom said.
“You’ve made that clear.”
“You don’t know the drill for the bust, and I don’t have time to plant it in your skull.”
“Understood. If someone armed comes out the door, do you want me to arrest him or shoot him?”
“The first person out of that door, after the bust begins, will be me, so hold your fire,” Tom said.
The van stopped outside the main door of Hunter College.
“Everybody out,” Tom said. “Normal pace, no rush. Stone, bring up the rear.”
Two more agents joined the group inside the door, and the unit moved across the main lobby toward a pair of double doors. Stone noted that they were both carrying long weapons under their raincoats. It wasn’t raining, he thought, outside or inside. Why did they need long weapons in a small theater? Stone wondered. He wondered about something else. Who was going to speak? Surely Gerry could pass for Holly at a distance, but she couldn’t speak in her place.
This whole business wasn’t adding up for him. Something was wrong.
They reached the double doors and stopped.
“Everybody ready?” Tom asked.
There was a murmur of assent from the group. The
man in front of Stone put his palm on top of Gerry’s head.
Stone had never seen that before, unless shots had been fired. The door opened, and everyone started inside, except Stone. He hung his shield on his breast pocket, leaned against the door, facing the lobby, and waited.