Authors: James Koeper
The characters and
events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or
dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 1999, 2016
by James F. Koeper
All rights reserved. This book or any
portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without
the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief
& JAMES PUBLISHERS
First published by Signet, an imprint of the
Penguin Group, Penguin Putnam Inc.
For My Parents.
Also by James Koeper:
MURDER AT AUGUSTA
thumbed the contents of his briefcase a last time, added a notepad and two
pens, then snapped its cover shut. A quick inspection followed: he smoothed the
front of his dark blue suit coat, straightened his rep tie, and pulled at the
cuffs of his white oxford shirt. The standard Washington D.C. uniform
spots, no wrinkles, and no risks.
He caught his
reflection in the frame of a photo set on his desk. A strong face, light brown
hair parted on the side, a bit of gray above the temples. A competent, reliable
image. He approved.
right, Scott. You ready to go?" he asked, rising from behind his desk
Scott Johnson groaned and rolled his head backward, letting his neck go limp.
Nick tried again.
hour's almost over."
Nick closed his
eyes and sighed. They were the same age, thirty-five, but Scott still acted
like a college kid. Almost looked the part too with his lanky build, tousled
black hair, and deep tan.
Scott put his
palms together as if to pray. "Just a few more minutes, huh, chief? Word
running around the office is she's beautiful."
referred to the new staff auditor down the hall, and yes, Nick had heard the
same. "New assignment for you. First thing tomorrow morning pick up your
office manual and read the chapter on the sexual harassment."
Scott grinned. "Brush
up on some how-to instructions, huh?"
Nick shook his
head. "Your big mouth is going to land you in a mess someday."
if they can't take a joke."
well just reign it in, okay?" Nick said. "Act like a professional. You're
going to be working with her and I don't want any problems."
lit up. "Working with her?"
Nick nodded. "Starting
this afternoon she's part of the team. I'm staffing her on the Yünnan Project
audit. I thought it would be a good introduction for her." Nick didn't
add: "and you would be a good teacher," though he thought it. When
Scott focused on work, he was a damn good auditor. Gifted, really, if you could
apply that term to an accountant.
means late nights
" Scott stiffened ramrod straight
and made a show of crossing his heart. "I'll be on my best behavior,
promise. Just one quick peak before we go?"
Scott ripped a
sheet from a yellow legal pad on Nick's desk, crumpled it into a ball and
tossed it from hand to hand. "Here's the deal. One shot." Scott
pointed toward the waste paper basket. "From the outside. I make it, we
stay a couple of minutes. I miss, we leave."
Nick glanced at
his watch. Forty-five minutes to the start of the Senate hearing, time enough
to drive the dozen or so blocks, park, and review his notes a last time, not
much else. Certainly no time for games. "Two months riding on these hearings,
and what're you interested in
there. Scott hadn't changed since they started at the General Accounting
Office, the GAO, eleven years ago. In some ways Nick admired Scott's ability to
so easily divorce work from play
I'll make it easy on you," Scott persisted. "Two in a row or we
vamoose. Here's the first." Scott arched a long shot over a make-believe
defender; it fell cleanly through the rim of the waste basket. He pumped his
fist. "Yesss! All net. Just tickled the twine."
Nick shook his
head while Scott beamed, arms in the air. "Do you realize I've got all my
college eligibility left. It's just a matter of time before some Georgetown
scout catches my game, then
, I say good-bye to all this"
gestured to the office
"and hello to big-time hoops. Man, then I'm
going to rake in the coin."
despite himself. "Right, a lot of Georgetown scouts hang out at the Y,
watching the over-30 league."
studiously ignored the comment. He retrieved the paper ball and ran back across
the office. "Down by two. Six seconds left. Only a
Georgetown now. St. John's brings it up the court. Johnson moves in to take the
foul, but wait! He
steals the ball
. Dribbles up court. The clock shows
one. He stops, sets, two defenders on him, but he's going to go up! A long
desperation shot from three-point range!"
the paper ball. Nick tracked its arc, and at the last moment, two feet above
the wastebasket, swung out his arm and intercepted it. He imitated Scott's
voice while trying hard to keep a straight face. "Ford blocks the shot! The
crowd goes wild, carries Ford off the court on their shoulders." Nick
lifted his briefcase and started for the office door. "Georgetown loses,
Scott. Now let's get going."
"unfair, goal tending"
deafly. Shaking his head, he grabbed a briefcase full of documents and
The Energy and
Commerce subcommittee filed in late, as a doctor might to an appointment, a
habit refined to make it clear who was in control and who had to answer to who.
Their posturing dove-tailed nicely with the raised bench behind which they sat,
two, maybe three feet higher than the table from which the witnesses testified,
allowing the senators to peer down on their prey.
III, seventy-eight, senator from the great state of Alabama since the civil war
least it seemed he'd been in office that long
led the group of six,
walking briskly with the aid of a cane. He wore a khaki summer suit offset by a
pale blue tie. The tip of the reading glasses he wore to such good effect
during his famed inquisitions showed from above his suit pocket. Above average
height. Not yet infirm, but definitely bowed by age. His white hair, worn long
for a man his age, was combed straight back and, after a few waves, curled at
the nape of his neck: the mane of an old lion.
several minutes for the senators to find their seats. In the interim, at the
witness table, Nick busied himself reviewing his notes while Scott calmly
shuffled papers, arranging four neat piles of material. Nick was to be
examined; Scott was there for support if needed, both technical and moral. In
front of Nick, at the table's mid-point, three light bulbs were affixed
green, one yellow, and one red
to apportion questioning
from C-Span and CNN, stood to their left, tucked in a small balcony built
especially for that purpose. The hearing was news, maybe of a back-page
business section variety, but news just the same
the CNN camera had swung in his direction. Testifying in front of a Senate
subcommittee, especially in front of cameras, would once have set Nick's heart
racing and turned his palms moist, but no longer. After eleven years with the
GAO, all of it in the Division of Special Investigations, testifying before
Congress had become if not an everyday occurrence at least a common one. As the
chief auditor on the case before the subcommittee, Nick would be questioned,
give answers, then head back to the office to divide his time between a dozen
other similar investigations. A cut and dried case of overbilling.
Seal of the United States imbedded in the white-marble wall, the six senators
spread out along a curved bench of dark mahogany. They sat in high-backed leather
chairs, microphones set on the bench in front of them. Behind the senators, in
simple wooden chairs, sat the senators' aides: young men and women in their
twenties, all freshly scrubbed, all conservatively dressed in dark gray or
blue, all intelligent if somewhat naive, and all particularly eager to please
Nick let his
eyes travel from committee member to committee member. A couple approving
looks, a couple disapproving, the balance bored. Senator Whitford clapped his
hand on the back of a fellow senator and laughed. Probably at one of his own
jokes, Nick guessed.
testified in front of Whitford twice in the past, each time before the Senate
Armed Services Committee, which Whitford chaired. Rarely was there a doubt
which position Whitford would adopt during an Armed Services hearing
was said, with some justification, that the senator had never met a defense
appropriation he didn't approve of. Whitford had only recently joined the
Energy and Commerce Committee, however, and so far his loyalties were less
voice of the chairman of the committee, Senator Callahan of Texas, silenced the
gallery. He called the hearing to order, then began his brief introductory
Nick took a
drink of water and a deep breath, his nerves steady. Learn your material,
deliberate before each answer, stay poised, never show nerves: Nick mentally
reviewed the pre-flight checklist for giving testimony
Callahan concluded with time honored puffery: "Today, our first day of
direct testimony, it will be our honor to hear from a most esteemed witness:
Mr. Nicholas Ford of the General Accounting Office's Division of Special
Investigations. Mr. Ford, if you will please rise, raise your right hand, and
repeat after me
Nick rose, straight-backed,
and parroted the Chairman's words, swearing the testimony he was about to give
would be truthful. He then sat, the floor his. He mustered a confident voice
and plunged headlong into a short written statement.
Chairman, members of the committee, as you know, two months ago the ranking
minority member of the Energy and Commerce Committee asked me to undertake an
audit of the contract between Smith Pettit, Inc. and the People's Republic of
China for the design and construction of a pair of hydroelectric dams along the
upper Yangtze River in China's Yünnan Province
the so-called Yünnan
Project. My staff and I began our investigations immediately, and those
investigations are ongoing
stress that the testimony I give today is based on a preliminary review; I
offer it only in the interest of furthering the subcommittee's goal of fact
finding. At this stage in our investigation we have uncovered evidence of
unallowable charges by Smith Pettit in excess of twenty-eight million dollars. Evidence,
in my opinion, sufficient to warrant a referral to the Justice Department for
possible criminal sanctions."
Nick looked up
from the paper and said, "I am open to your questions."
from New Hampshire jumped in first, as Nick hoped she would. A vocal advocate
of budgetary constraint and the GAO's firmest ally on the subcommittee, she had
first called for the audit. Chairman Callahan recognized her.
on behalf of the entire committee, I thank you for taking time from your busy
schedule to appear before us today. I'd like to start today's questioning by
tracing the investigation's time line
And so it
began, Senator Raine lobbing soft-ball after soft-ball, enabling Nick to
present the GAO's findings in the best possible light.
It had started
in the spring of that year, as Nick explained. Senator Raine, upset the Yünnan
Project had ballooned two hundred million dollars over budget, requested a GAO
audit. The GAO honored her request, as protocol demanded of all requests from
ranking minority committee members. A preliminary review found multiple
instances of duplicate billing. That triggered a fuller audit, and revealed
evidence of widespread billing irregularities.
finished his summary, Senator Raine asked, "Mr. Ford, can you explain why
the GAO, or the Senate of the United States for that matter, has any interest
whatsoever in billing irregularities between a U.S. company and the People's
Republic of China?"
Smith Pettit contracted with the People's Republic of China for the
construction of the hydroelectric dams, a portion of the estimated one point
eight billion dollar project cost, ten percent to be exact, will be paid from
the general revenues of the United States pursuant to the Alternative Energy
explain to the subcommittee the purpose of the Alternative Energy Assistance
Nick nodded. "The
program seeks to encourage foreign nations to develop environmentally friendly
forms of power
hydroelectric, wind, geothermal, and solar
discourage the construction of nuclear power plants that could be used to
refine weapons-grade plutonium."
and discourage how?"
present case, the United States has agreed to fund ten percent of the dams'
construction costs, and in return China has agreed to abandon all plans for
nuclear power plants in the Yünnan Province. The program requires the host
nation to employ an American company as general contractor
a means for
the United States to indirectly recoup much of its outlay. In this instance
China chose Smith Pettit."
right, so the taxpayers' money is on the line, and you say it's been
found numerous cases of unallowable billing, that is correct."
share any specifics with us?"
happy to senator. The subcommittee members have my interim audit report in
front of them; it itemizes the twenty-eight million dollars in overbilling we
have documented to date. Let me touch on them briefly
the fictitious overtime costs, the inflated construction costs, and the
improperly allocated overhead costs. He cited the unallowable expense account
items, including charges for liquor and golf junkets to Thailand. Then Nick hit
the numbers and concurrently his stride. That was his domain: estimated costs,
depletion allowances, material price variances, projected cost overruns. To him
they made the case plainly: the GAO had caught Smith Pettit playing a dirty