Authors: Stephen Coonts
Tags: #Qaida (Organization), #Intelligence officers, #Assassination, #Carmellini; Tommy (Fictitious character), #Fiction, #Grafton; Jake (Fictitious character), #Suspense, #Espionage, #Thrillers, #Suspense fiction, #Undercover operations, #Spy stories
I left the hotel via a side door. Outside on the sidewalk I could look straight up between the buildings at a crisp, clear winter’s night. I stood there sucking in air and thinking about things while the media held a three-ring circus complete with lights, cameras and talking heads in front of the Walden. Abu Qasim had made the news worldwide, although not in the way he intended. Sometimes life goes like that.
The next morning Callie, Amy and I caught the train to Washington at Penn Station. I bought a copy of the morning Washington Post at a newsstand before I boarded. Sure enough, Jack Yocke had the whole front page. Photos of Qasim and Marisa on the floor covered half the page. I scanned the story. Some of it was true, most of it wasn’t, which I guess is about par for any news story. Neither Grafton’s nor my name was mentioned. After all, we hadn’t been there.
Across the aisle the women conferred, about what I don’t know. This mother-daughter thing is pretty powerful stuff. I stirred through the rest of the newspaper, then gave up on it and sat looking out the window.
Having had last night and that morning to think about it, I realized that Grafton didn’t know any more about who killed Jean Petrou than I did. What he had told me last night was just a plausible story. It could have easily been Marisa who sprinkled the digitalis.
Perhaps it didn’t really matter who killed him. For all I knew, they both did it.
Grafton probably knew that, too.
In the weeks that followed, Jerry Hay Smith wrote reams about his adventure and did a few talk shows, yet he never breathed a word different from what Jack Yocke printed. I don’t think he felt threatened by Grafton, although maybe he did, but Yocke made him out to be a hero, and I suspect Jerry Hay sorta liked that. He played it for all it was worth.
Huntington Winchester and Simon Cairnes patched up their differences, apparently. I saw an article in a magazine a few months later about how they had both endowed a scholarship for medical students in Owen Winchester’s name.
Amy Carol got engaged to her stockbroker. The wedding was set for July.
All that was yet to come. Six days after the Walden Hotel affair, Jake Grafton got back to town and called me into his office.
“Hey,” he said as I walked in. He gestured to a chair. I sat.
Then I saw what was in a glass ashtray on his desk. It was Abu Qasim’s ring, complete with pointy sticker.
He saw me looking at it and said, “Go ahead. They cleaned all the poison off.”
I picked it up. The sticker could be flipped out from the body of the ring. When it was lying on the ring, it was almost invisible.
I laid it back in the ashtray. “Marisa?” I asked.
Grafton shook his head. He started to say something, then changed his mind.
I just sat there feeling glum.
After a while he said, “One of the television networks got a cassette from Qasim on Friday morning. He apparently made it weeks or months before, then mailed it Thursday afternoon. They decided not to run it. Want to watch it?”
Grafton shrugged. “It’s a real piece of work, full of rantings about religion and jihad and the duty of the faithful and how rotten civilization is.”
“And he was going to fix civilization and glorify God with murder?”
“That’s about the size of it. By the way, the Secret Service is going to release some of the TV footage. They have digitally suppressed your image—you aren’t in it.”
“Well, I really wasn’t there, according to the Post.”
“So tell me, why didn’t you tackle Marisa and take the pistol away from her?”
“Is this for a report or my evaluation or something?”
“Nope. Just curious.”
I sat there for a bit, trying to remember just how it was. “You told me to use my best judgment,” I said. Then disgust washed over me. “Hell, you knew I wouldn’t do that or you would have told me about the gun.”
Grafton’s eyebrows wagged. “I wanted you to play it by ear, process everything you were seeing. You are amazingly good at that.”
He was lying, of course, probably to make me feel better. So I explained: “I could see her staring at someone and, of course, I figured it was ol’ Abu. Then she popped up and marched off, and I saw the butt of the pistol in her hand. I followed right along. Figured I could break her neck if she aimed it at anyone I liked.”
He thought about that for a while, then said, “You really liked her, didn’t you?”
He eyed me critically. “So how you doing, Tommy?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“Right! Well, I fixed you up on a blind date. Tonight at”—he named the restaurant, a popular place right on the Potomac in Georgetown. “You know it?” Sure.
“She’ll meet you there at seven.”
“Oh, man, you didn’t need to do this to me!”
“Tommy, this woman has been hot to have a date with you. I have no idea why. Callie asked me to do this for her. Smile. Eat too much. Enjoy some feminine companionship, charm her and take her home. Or what-ever.
I didn’t know what to say.
“How do I get out of this?” I finally asked.
“You don’t. Be there at seven—that’s an order. Wear a smile. Now get out of my office.”
I got to the joint five minutes late. I was trying to be right on the dot, but parking in Georgetown was a mess. I had to walk four blocks. If he hadn’t said Callie asked me to do this, I would have refused. I figured I owed Callie.
When I got there, I gave my name to the girl on the reservation desk. She checked her list, then said, “Right this way, Mr. Carmellini,” and led off. I trailed along.
The lady at the table was facing the other way. I recognized the dark brown hair, swept over one ear. I froze. Naw, it couldn’t be …
She saw me and smiled. When I bent over for a kiss I saw the bandage on her arm.
I squatted down, my eyes inches from hers. People were staring curiously, but I didn’t care. “I thought you were dead.”
“I asked Grafton not to tell you. I knew you’d come visit, and I didn’t want you to see me like that.”
“I thought that stuff was fatal, which was why Qasim was out to scratch the president with it.”
“It would have been fatal,” she admitted, “but Grafton had the antidote in his pocket. The emergency people gave me an injection within thirty seconds.”
“The admiral thought it would be poison—that was the only practical possibility—and he thought Qasim had probably gotten it from Surkov. He called a man he knew in Russian intelligence, and they had a long chat. Then he went out that afternoon and had a druggist make up the antidote.”
I kissed her cheek gently.
She smiled again. She had a hell of a nice smile.
“So what’s good here?” I asked, seating myself across the table from her and picking up my menu.
“Oh, everything, I imagine,” she replied, “if you’re alive and with someone you care about.”
“Well, by golly, we’ll find out,” I said cheerfully.
It was a great evening.