Read The President's Assassin Online
Authors: Brian Haig
Also by Brian Haig
With love to:
Brian, Patrick, Donnie, and Annie
A lot of exceptional people had a hand in this novel. Luke Janklow, the world’s greatest agent and truly a friend to treasure. Everybody at Janklow, Nesbit who labors every day to make their writers’ lives rewarding and fulfilling. Rick Horgan, my editor, my friend, and the bane of my existence because of his unmatched eye, because of his bothersome integrity, and because he just won’t allow an unresolved plot point or flawed personification to linger. Mari Okuda and Roland Ottewell, copy editors and friends—or perhaps alchemists—who magically turn a pig’s ear into a purse. And to everybody at Warner Books, from Larry and Jamie and Jimmy down, who treat publishing not as a business, but as a wonderfully fun way to make a living.
A few special observances: Chuck Wardell and Pete Kinney, who not only loaned me pieces of themselves to construct Sean Drummond, but also, in this book, loaned me their names; and Mike Grollman, a friend, a talented writer whose day will come, and a great sounding board.
ETTLING INTO THE BACKSEAT OF THE CAR
MENTIONED TO THE ATTRAC
tive young lady seated beside me, “That’s a lovely pistol you’re carrying.”
“The accessorized holster’s nice, too.”
“Well...they’re FBI issue.”
“No kidding. Ever shoot anybody with it?”
“Not yet.” She gave me a brief glance. “You might be my first.”
From her accent she was from the Midwest, Ohio, someplace like that. From her tone and demeanor, she meant it. Neither she nor the gentlemen in the front smiled, offered hands, or appeared in any way pleased to have me as a passenger.
So to break the ice, I said, “I’m Sean Drummond.”
She said, “Keep quiet.”
“Nice morning, isn’t it?”
She gave me an annoyed look and stared out the window.
“Where are we going?” I asked her.
“I’m trying to think. Shut up.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“Well...you’re not paying attention to the answer you’re getting.”
We were in the backseat of an unmarked black sedan with two plainclothes types in front. I said, “You guys know where we’re going?”
The one in the passenger seat glanced sideways at his partner. “Yeah.”
As I mentioned, I’m Sean Drummond, an Army major and a JAG attorney, and for all I knew these three were goombahs and we were on our way to the nearest marsh for a quick whack. Well, probably not—though I think the lady was tempted. We had just departed the front gate of CIA headquarters and turned right onto Dolley Madison, headed west toward McLean. No lights or sirens were turned on, but the driver kicked it up to about seventy, which I regarded as interesting fact number one.
I knew the lady’s name was Jennifer Margold; I knew she was a special agent from the D.C. Metro Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and probably she wouldn’t be in the backseat of this car were she not good at something. Early to mid-thirties, shoulder-length coppery hair, slender, and as I mentioned, attractive—not beautiful, more like pretty in an interesting way.
She looked bright, and wore a dark pantsuit with practical pumps, light on the makeup, and heavy on the bitchiness, if you ask me. Also, for fieldwork Fibbies prefer what she was not wearing: bulletproof vests, blue windbreakers, and baseball caps. I regarded this as interesting fact number two. Her eyes, incidentally, were a sort of frosted blue, like chilled cobalt.
I should also mention that I wasn’t attired in a uniform or anything, but a blue serge suit, which was both stylish and appropriate, as my current assignment had nothing to do with the Army or law. Actually, I was new to this job. In fact, I wasn’t really sure what my job was. I said to the driver, “I’d really appreciate it if you’d pull over at the nearest Starbucks.”
I said, “Come on, guy. I’ll buy. You all look like mocha latte types.”
Agent Margold replied, “I told you, shut up.”
Anyway, I was on loan—or maybe banished—to something innocuously titled the Office of Special Projects, part of the Central Intelligence Agency, though I wasn’t working at the Langley headquarters but somewhere called an offsite—a nondescript large red-brick warehouse in Crystal City with a sign over the entrance that read “Ferguson Home Security Electronics.”
You’d think that would be enough of a front, but the Agency has a classified budget, which is an invitation for extravagant idiocy. Three or four red delivery vans were parked out front, and there were actually a few guys whose job it was to drive them around all day, and even more guys who were supposed to pop in and out and pose like customers. There was even a receptionist out front named Lila to handle the occasional rube who dropped in looking for a home alarm or something. But she’s okay. She’s very friendly. Also, she’s really pretty.
The CIA is really into this smoke-and-mirrors stuff. I mean, how much simpler would it be to just slap up a sign that read “VD Clinic”? No more vans and no more phony customers, and for sure there’d be no casual foot traffic. I actually submitted this recommendation on my second day on the job. But I already knew the response. These people have big-time image issues. For an agency charged with national security, they’re really insecure.
Anyway, after only a mile or so we turned left onto a street called Ballantrae Farm Drive, a sort of suburban block filled with Pepsident monstrosities. McLean, if you’re interested, is one of Washington’s more elite suburbs, with no shortage of posh enclaves for the rich and privileged. Still, I could picture a Realtor taking a prospective couple to this block saying something like, “But since you said money is no object, I wanted to be sure you saw this lovely neighborhood.”
We continued our drive down the street and eventually we reached a cul-de-sac, and it wasn’t hard to guess that the big shack with the three Crown Vics at the curb was our destination. Two guys in suits stood guard at the front entrance, and they weren’t holding welcome signs.
You saw that house and you knew—all red brick with tall, thick Corinthian stone columns in front, slate-roofed, and if I had to estimate, about fifteen thousand square feet of interior grandiosity and pomposity, pool out back, cabana, and all that.
We climbed out of the backseat, and one of the guys in suits promptly approached. He seemed to know Special Agent Margold, because he said, “Everybody’s inside, Jennie. It’s ugly. Director’s still ten minutes out.” He handed her a clipboard and she signed in, name, time, date, whatever.
Presumably he was referring to Mark Townsend, the head of the Federal Bureau, which told you these clowns were also Fibbies. Not that I have anything against the FBI. I actually admire what they do and how well they do it. It’s
they do it. A lot of FBI types are lawyers and accountants, and when you turn them into law enforcement agents you get this weird culture and this sort of hybrid personality, or maybe a hyphenated personality. They’re so insufferable, they better be good.
Also, jurisdiction’s always a touchy issue with law enforcement types. Aside from the aforementioned government sedans and federal agents, I saw no ambulances, no ME wagon, no forensics van, nor had anybody strung up any yellow crime scene tape. This was interesting fact number three.
Interesting fact number four was the absence of uniformed or local cops, the usual first responders. So whatever occurred inside that house was being kept strictly federal, a synonym for serious, and was being handled low-key, which often rhymes with messy, or, more often, embarrassing.
Margold handed the clipboard back to the guy, who asked me, “Who’re you?”
He did not respond. I asked, “You the termite guy?”
He smiled tightly. “I’d like to see your ID before you sign in.”
Actually, when I was pulled out of the shower by a 7:09
. phone call from my boss, the only instructions she could offer over an open line were to be sure not to sign the crime log, and nobody but Agent Margold was authorized to know my true identity. She also mentioned that to preserve my anonymity, I should curb my tart tongue and watch my manners, whatever that means.
In my few short weeks with these clandestine types, the one thing I’d learned is that what is said rarely is all that is meant. You have to read between the lines. Don’t sign in means we don’t want you getting subpoenaed later. Don’t identify yourself means it would be inconvenient to have a witness on the stand recalling your presence. So I was being neither coy nor rude when I told him, “Seriously, if I show you my ID I’ll have to kill you.”
He said, “Seriously...if you don’t, I might kill you.”
Agent Margold stepped in and informed the guy, “He’s authorized. I’ll keep an eye on him.”
to sign in, Jennie.”
“Trust me, he doesn’t. If you get backlash, refer it to me.”
She stared him down with those icy blue eyes, and reluctantly he allowed us to pass. Whatever happened inside this house this fine spring morning had these people so tightassed it would take a month of Metamucil to clear their pipes. But we progressed together, she and I, up the driveway and then along a walkway to the grand front entrance. She paused at the doorway, slipped white paper booties over her shoes, slapped latex gloves on her hands, and, speaking out the side of her mouth, said to me, “It’s apparent that you have authority issues. If I get the slightest problem from you, Drummond, I’ll slap your ass in handcuffs and have you carted out.” She handed shoe covers and gloves to me and added, “Stay beside me, keep your smartassed mouth shut, and don’t touch a thing. You’re here to observe, period.”
Goodness. I tucked my tail between my legs and replied, “You’re right. I’m glad you brought this to my attention, and I’m truly sorry. You have my word, I’ll be more responsive, helpful, and obedient.”
Actually, I didn’t say that. I slipped on my booties and gloves and asked, “You going in first?”
And without further ado, we entered a cavernous foyer with white marble floors and, to the left, a sweeping curved stairway, and on the ceiling above, a massive crystal chandelier. As I was here to observe, period, I also took note of the oriental chest against the far wall, the handwoven Chinese rug centered neatly in the foyer, and the corpse about five feet from the door.
The corpse—a female, late twenties, and in admirable physical shape, ignoring her present condition. She was dressed in a nice navy blue suit with a plain jacket and short skirt and was lying on her back, hands clutched at her throat with her knees bent and her legs spread wide apart, so you could see her pink undies; though modesty was no longer a concern for her. Both the position of her hands and the halo of blood around her head suggested she’d been shot in the throat. The blood looked dark, indicating an artery had been nicked, and the fact that it was only partially dry that she’d gotten it around the time I should’ve been having my morning joe.
She looked like a broken rag doll that had gotten caught in a big wind and tossed on her butt. But that’s not what happened—she’d taken a frontal shot from a slug with enough throw weight to fling her five feet through the air.
I don’t think Ms. Margold missed the corpse, though she ignored it and walked on. Also, she had either been in this house before or had been briefed on the layout, because she led me straight through a large living room and directly to the dining room, and more corpses.
More precisely, an elderly man and woman were seated at each end of the dining table, slumped forward, facedown in the soup—or to be completely precise, their faces were in soup bowls, filled with Cheerios for him and Frosted Flakes for her.
The man was about mid-sixties, white-haired, attired in a gray pinstriped light wool business suit, white shirt, and shiny black tasseled loafers. An expensive black leather briefcase was parked beside his left foot, like he was about to leave for work, though obviously that didn’t pan out. The woman was about his age, red-haired, and she wore pink pajamas under a blue silk dressing gown, as if she expected to be eating in front of strangers, though from the scene at the table, probably not the strangers who dropped by.
Agent Margold moved directly to the male victim’s body, felt his neck very briefly, and backed off. I noticed, to our right, nearly in the corner, two agents leaning against the wall who did not seem to be doing much of anything. But maybe they weren’t supposed to. She suggested to them, “What...maybe two hours?”
The heavier one nodded. “An ME’s on the way. But yeah...when we arrived thirty minutes ago, he was still real warm. Time of death between six and seven o’clock. Closer to six, I think.”
She walked around and examined the room a moment. The table was long and thick, custom-made obviously, able to seat about fourteen. The room itself was expansive and expensively furnished, and the lady of the house was a finicky housekeeper and possessed good decorating taste, or she hired good help. Fresh bouquets of flowers rested on the fireplace mantel and a large centerpiece sat on the middle of the table, suggesting, I thought, that she and the hubby might’ve entertained recently.