The President's Assassin (5 page)

BOOK: The President's Assassin
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But our investigation led us into the middle of a very sensitive and vital CIA operation, and I was dragged into this same building and had my arm nearly twisted out of its socket. The CIA wanted to protect its operation, I wanted everybody involved in my friend’s death to pay. They thought they had a deal, I didn’t, and everybody I wanted to pay, paid. Happy ending, right?

Right—there are no happy endings with the federal government. The CIA was impressed with my cleverness, my deviousness, and particularly my ruthlessness. My Army boss was not, notes were compared, and here I am.

In short, Clapper got what he wanted—me out of his hair. The CIA got what it wanted—an employee on somebody else’s dime. And nobody cared to ask what
I
wanted. But there are worse places to be, I guess. At least the work seems fairly interesting.

Also, I got the girl, Janet Morrow, and for her role in this affair, she got to be a big celeb up in Beantown and was elevated to deputy district attorney, so her life and mine have gotten quite busy. She now has to oversee the combined caseloads of some thirty criminal attorneys. I supervise only myself, but that’s an exhausting and full-time job. So we see each other on the occasional weekend, and we’ve both got a foot on the brake, because we know this is no way to build a relationship.

Also, I ended up with a full rack of Brooks Brothers suits and sports coats—courtesy of the law firm—so I look richer and classier than I am, and I blend in really well at the CIA.

Anyway, now a CIA employee awaited at the front entrance, a suave and polite gentleman who even opened the door for Agent Margold, smiled at us both, and said, “Hi. I’m John, from the Director’s office.”

Margold said, “Hi, John.”

And he paused for a moment, until I also said, “Hi, John.” How did I get involved with these people?

He nodded. “I hate to rush you, but things are chaotic topside.” But John was also curious and he asked me, “How bad was it?”

“How bad was what?”

“The killings. You just left the Belknap murder site, right?”

“Well...how are things over here, John?”

“Hectic. Everybody’s bouncing off walls, rumors flying. So what’d you see?”

“Dead people.”

“Yeah, right. How’d they get it? Shot?...Gassed?...What?”

I looked John in the eye and said, “Six good people are dead and it is absolutely none of your fucking business how.”

Margold smiled.

John scowled. But he swiftly cleared Margold and me through security, and then escorted us through the lobby to the elevator, up three floors, and down a hallway and into an empty conference room.

“Wait here,” he informed us. “The bosses are meeting in the Director’s office. The other participants should all be here shortly.”

He departed without saying who they were, which was annoying and probably intended to be. I have that effect on people. But the Director John referred to was James Peterson—head tuna of my food chain. And you can bet that what was happening upstairs in his airy top-floor suite was a food fight, though the particular genre of this game was dodge the banana. To continue with the bad food metaphors, Belknap’s assassination was the hot potato the bosses were flipping from lap to lap, hoping it would stick to somebody else’s department, service, agency, bureau, or whatever. For sure, everybody was going to get a piece of the action, but in D.C. it is called getting The Lead. When things go south, as so often happens, The Lead has the center seat at the congressional inquest and everyone else shovels the crap in their in-box. I smiled at Margold. “Five bucks says it’s yours.”

She shrugged but did not take my bait. After a moment she did say, “Tell you what. Let’s make a deal.”

“Bad idea.”

“Why?”

“Because you have nothing I want.”

“Not a trade. A deal.”

“Go on.”

“I’ll watch your ass if you watch mine.”

“It takes a deal to watch your ass?”

She stared at me, and I wondered for a moment if I was about to be reported to the PC Bureau for Impure Ribaldry or something. But she said, “Come on, Drummond, we could be good together.”

“Good at
what
together?”

She smiled. “Well, you strike me as a guy who knows how it works. You keep me apprised of what’s happening here, and I’ll fill you in on our side. I’m not looking for glory or credit. I just want to survive this thing.”

Could I trust her? Absolutely not. But in these situations you don’t say no, you play all sides against the middle. I said, “You’ve already seen how good I am. How good are you?”

“I’m...well, I’m a little out of my depth on this one.”

“There is no depth on this one.”

She held out her hand. “Jennie, from Columbus, Ohio, thirty-five years old...Ohio State undergrad, psych major, master’s and Ph.D. in Applied Psychology from Johns Hopkins.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, I’m very smart.” She smiled again. “Eleven years on the job...three in Detroit working the bricks, three more years on the bricks in the Big Apple...the last five I worked in the Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico as an instructor and profiler.”

“Is that why you’re involved in this case? Profiling?”

“No. Three months ago, I was promoted to Senior Agent in Charge, or SAC, for National Security, at the D.C. Metro Office.” She looked to see if I had any further questions. I didn’t, and she said, “Now, you. Quickly.”

But before I could reply, the door burst open and a line of people began filing in, two women, the rest men. Everybody had their game faces on, like they had all been airbrushed of emotions, self-doubts, or confusion. Facial expressions aside, you knew their sphincters were the size of pinheads.

First to enter were the heavies, Mark Townsend, Agent Margold’s esteemed Director, and behind him the aforementioned James Peterson, ringmaster of this gathering of egos.

I took a moment to examine these two. Townsend was tall and slender, stringy-looking actually, with a long narrow face, a gray brush cut, and an odd, wide-eyed, unblinking stare. Peterson was short, chubby, dark-haired, blubbery-lipped, and a bit sanguine in appearance.

Actually they looked a little like Abbot and Costello, though neither man was to be taken lightly, and you knew at that moment neither was in a jovial, lackadaisical, or chummy mood.

Townsend, to his credit, was not a political hack, but had actually scaled the ranks on hard work, merit, and performance. Thus he personified the full corporate ethos of his Bureau: incorruptible, humorless, a stickler for details and punctuality, lacking compassion or forgiveness for sins, oversights, or errors. Understandably, the White House and the Bureau field hands were terrified of Mark Townsend. This had something to do with Agent Margold’s bitchiness that morning, I surmised.

Peterson was more relaxed, more personable, more reasonable, and certainly more amiable. But he had spent six years as the incumbent honcho of the Agency, a near record of survival, so his charm was illusory and his footwork was mythical. Mr. Peterson did not evoke terror, but he did promote coyness and a healthy sense of insecurity.

Anyway, I was so distracted by the entrance of Les Grand Pooh-Bahs that I entirely failed to notice the gent who followed three steps behind them, before Margold elbowed me and whispered, “My boss.”

So I looked, and it turned out I knew the guy, George Meany. In fact, George was the former fiancé of my current squeeze, Janet Morrow, and he and I had worked together on the murder of her sister Lisa Morrow. More precisely, George Meany had been conducting the government cover-up, so “worked together” is a term with interesting and generously loose ends. Also, I had gotten in the way of his attempt to rekindle his romance and passion with the lovely Miss Morrow. I had the impression George held some resentment about that.

I wondered if he knew I was now doing his former. By the same token, I wondered if the lobby metal detector had been checked recently.

But maybe I had nothing to worry about. Maybe George had put it all behind him, us, and the instant he laid eyes on me he would rush across the room, throw his long arms around my shoulders, and say, “Sean, Sean, you great guy you. Gee, I really missed you.”

In fact, George was the ambitious type, and when we bagged the killer, he had stolen full credit, made a big name for himself, and, as present circumstances indicated, landed a big promotion out of the deal. From that angle, the guy owed me big-time. I just wasn’t betting George would see it that way.

Anyway, Townsend and Peterson moved to the front of the room, and the underlings all began taking seats. There was a bit of confusion and jostling, because the session was too rushed for namecards, and, impromptu or not, in the celestial capital of the world’s mightiest nation, where you sit defines who you are. I took a chair against the wall and tried to pretend I wasn’t there.

George Meany bagged the seat closest to the front, right beneath his boss’s nose, close enough that he wouldn’t have to strain his neck to get his nose up his boss’s butt. By the way, this wasn’t musical chairs; the name of this game was avoid the hot seat. Ergo, the Bureau had La Lead and Monsieur Meany had his pudley on the chopping block. I directed a finger at Margold. She tried to ignore me.

Our host, Director Peterson, allowed everyone a moment to get organized, settled, and so forth, before he cleared his throat and said, “We have a lot to get done and very little time. Most of us already know each other, I think. Still, we should begin by identifying ourselves.”

I saw Meany’s eyes scan the faces around the table, and when he got to me he did not appear surprised or even displeased by my presence. Actually, I had the sense he
expected
me to be there. George correctly pronounced his own name, and announced to all concerned, “As the Assistant Director in Charge, or ADIC, of the D.C. Metro Office, I will head this investigation. I just want to thank all of you in advance for whatever help and assistance you can offer. We have tense and busy days ahead. But we are all professionals. I’m confident we’ll work well together.”

Everybody nodded at George, acknowledging this masterpiece of bullshit. The federal government hasn’t got a clue how to work together—not well, not otherwise. Still, it was good form to state it, and equally good form to recognize the sentiment.

The gent across from George went next; he was named Charles Wardell, he represented the Secret Service, and he looked fidgety and edgy. Mr. Wardell had come to hear how his Service screwed up and to assure everybody it would not happen again. Nobody at that table offered to trade places with him. His team already had minus six on the scoreboard and couldn’t even hope to break even.

The lady to Meany’s right appeared hesitant, and I thought at first that she was seized with shyness; eventually I understood she was waiting to be introduced. When nobody stepped into the breach, she said, “Nancy Hooper...Special Assistant to the President.”

Regarding this la-di-da title, there are many special assistants to the President, most of whom are superfluous stamp lickers. But Mrs. Hooper was not superfluous, innocuous, nor, I gathered from the expressions around the table, a welcome presence. She was the President’s public relations guru, consigliere, and hatchet person. She informed us, “I’m here, obviously, to provide political guidance and oversight.”

Nobody corrected her, but the expressions around the table said, Bullshit. She was here to make sure the buck stopped in this room.

Her hair was dark and curly, and the rest of her was tall, skinny, and lanky, with piercing brown eyes and a hooked nose, which lent her a weird resemblance to a featherless parrot. I recalled seeing her on the tube a few times. She had struck me as pushy and glib, but bright, with a quick mind, a facile tongue, and she went straight for the kneecaps. Her admission to this conference room did not signal happy sailing ahead.

Next went the guy across from her, Mr. Gene Halderman, an Assistant Secretary of Who-Gives-A-Shit from the newly minted Department of Homeland Security. Gene appeared to be in his late twenties, Armani suit, blow-dried hair, and I wondered if he’d wandered into the wrong room. Certainly he was the youngest person at the table, he was from the youngest department, and he didn’t get the dress code.

I was really hoping somebody would send Gene out to get coffee. But maybe he was a whiz kid, maybe I underestimated him and we were lucky to have him in our midst.

Anyway, Gene Halderman made it through his introduction without stuttering, which was a hopeful sign. He then looked down the table, directly into George’s eyes, and said, very earnestly, “And you can expect the full cooperation of my department in this matter. We are facing a dire national emergency. We will not let you down, George.”

Nobody laughed, but a few people coughed into their hands. Mr. Halderman’s secret was out—he was an idiot.

Next went the little old lady seated to the left of Mrs. Hooper and directly across from me. She said, “Phyllis Carney, Office of Special Projects here at the CIA.” As I mentioned, she was old, white-haired, thin-framed, at least seventy, pushing eighty, and you looked at her and wondered what she was doing here—on active government duty—and not down in Florida, the Elephant’s dying ground, parching her skin and whacking little white balls into little empty holes. But you had to know that nobody dodges the federal age ax unless they possess some supernatural talent or skill, or a loving and influential nephew on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

I wasn’t sure which applied to Phyllis Carney, nor did I—nor would I ever—have the balls to ask. It happened that Phyllis was my boss, the same lady who had arranged for my assignment to her organization, and the same lady who dispatched me to the den of death this morning. I was still wondering why, and something told me I was about to find out.

Agent Margold went next. Her comparatively low title drew a few unimpressed stares, and then moi. I failed to mention my Army rank, which wasn’t a deception but an optional protocol for military officers serving as interagency exchange students. Though, in truth, even in the Army nobody takes a JAG officer’s rank seriously, especially JAG officers. Anyway, I was the only person in the room lacking a rarefied title and responsibilities, and I was sort of hoping somebody would send me out to fetch coffee.

BOOK: The President's Assassin
2.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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