The President's Assassin (7 page)

BOOK: The President's Assassin
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“Define ‘selectively.’”

“Use your judgment.”

“Bad idea. Spell it out for me.”

“All right. We’re all on the same team, and we’re interested in the same goal. I don’t really care who gets credit for success. I do care greatly about who is blamed for failure. Understood?”

I nodded.

“Good. Any other questions?”

I had been waiting for this moment. “Why me?”

“Why not you?” After a moment she mentioned, “I read your classified Army file before I decided to bring you over here. You’ve had an interesting and varied career, Sean. Five years with the Special Forces, hunting and killing terrorists. Eight as a criminal lawyer, handling the most sensitive kinds of cases. My people are analysts or field operators...they have no investigative or killing experience.” She looked me in the eye and asked, “So again, why not you?”

Well, I was new to the job, I wasn’t actually a CIA employee, I didn’t have a clue how the Agency was supposed to help, how it operated internally, not to mention a federal statute called Posse Comitatus, which prohibits military officers from engaging in domestic law enforcement activities. Also I hadn’t voted for, nor did I even particularly
like
this President. But deductive logic aside, I could think of only one impelling reason it should be me—I was the perfect scapegoat.

But perhaps I was being overly cynical. Skepticism’s healthy, but is only a hop, skip, and jump from the abyss of paranoia, which is not. Really, it boiled down to trust, and the question was: Could I take this lady at face value?

I recalled what I knew about Miss Phyllis Carney, whose job title, incidentally, was Special Assistant to the Director. There was only one special assistant in these parts, and lumping two spoonfuls of sugar into the boss’s coffee wasn’t the duty description.

I knew she had fifty-three years in the Agency and had climbed, scratched, and clawed her way from a secretarial stool to her current exalted perch. This made for an interesting and exotic résumé, I’m sure, not to mention a skillset including such archaic talents as stenography and garroting. Given the span of her service, she had played in some rough games and tilted against the big leaguers, or as the boys in the ranks say, she’d seen her share of the shit. She was either quite good at what she did or monumentally expert at dodging blame. Probably both.

Regarding her personal life and habits, I was aware she had once been married and her husband had either died or they were divorced. So there was no family left in the picture, no distractions from her work, and no complicating loyalties. Actually she was quite charming, bright, and clever, and her speech, manner, and dress were old-fashioned in a way that was disarming and faintly seductive. In her presence, in fact, you actually had to remind yourself that nobody survives half a century in her line of work who can’t yank the lever on the scaffold and walk away whistling.

I recalled the words she had used to welcome me to this organization: “We only handle high stakes in this shop, Sean. We’re usually the last resort and only occasionally the first resort. The problems that come to us are either too hard or too sensitive for the organization at large to swallow. Although not physically dangerous, our work can be professionally hazardous.” I had replied, “Piscem natare doces,” and she had stared at me a moment before she snapped, “I’m not teaching a fish to swim. I’m warning a cocky fool to be careful.” She smiled pleasantly and added, “Latin minor, Smith College, class of ’48.”

Phyllis was not universally known, though I had come to discover that she was known individually by nearly everybody in the Agency, an important and worthy distinction. Like most big organizations, the CIA is a collection of duchies and princedoms run by big egos, a briar patch of conflicting agendas and reciprocal paranoias, with high walls you can’t see but that you can definitely stub your toe on. Mentioning you work for Phyllis Carney was like waving an E-ZPass. Now she asked me, “Is there a compelling personal reason that would preclude you from handling this?”

“Several. George Meany—you might recall that he and I had a few issues.”

“Yes, I recall that...Watch your back around George.”

“Two—I’m not qualified for this job.”

“Nobody is
qualified
for this job. I can’t recall an instance where someone placed a bounty on our President’s head. Can you?”

“All right...I don’t trust you.”

After a moment, she said, “I see.” After another moment, she said, “I have to place a call to the office to inform everybody to lock up their sensitive materials and take three days off. And you look like you need a cup of coffee.”

Actually, I needed a new job. But I left and found Jennie in the snack bar, slathering jam onto something that looked like a breadish acorn when I approached her from behind and asked, “What’s that?”

She did not turn around. “A scone. It’s an English breakfast treat.”

“No kidding. Like an English doughnut?”

“Spare me the bad doughnut jokes, please.” After a moment, she said, “You’re really
not
from the Agency, are you?”

“Why?”

“Well, you wear a suit that costs too much, you’re bright and cocky, so you’re three-quarters of the way there. But you’re not arrogant...or sneaky. I don’t think you’re even sly.”

I studied the back of her head. “How long have you worked for George Meany?”

“A few months.”

“What happened to we’ll watch each other’s asses?”

“Oh...
that
...” She began squeezing a tea bag into a cup. “Did you take the deal? I don’t recall hearing it.”

“All right—it’s a deal.”

She had left her blue jacket on the chair in the conference room and I could now observe that hers was indeed an ass worth watching. Also she had a wasplike waist, slender hips, and if I had to guess, a 38D cup, or maybe DD, although what’s in a letter? Of course, I was already seriously involved with a significant other. Sort of. But from a purely professional standpoint, I was reassured to observe that Agent Margold was not only brainy, she was in tip-top shape, she could probably chase down your average badass, and in an emergency I wouldn’t herniate doing the fireman’s carry. Also she smelled good, sort of lemony, so she probably practiced good hygiene. Clean bodies, clean minds. But maybe not.

Anyway, she stirred her cup for a few seconds, avoiding conversation. Eventually she said, “Actually...George requested you this morning.”

“Did he?”

“He said you knew your way around.”

“Is that all he said?”

“He also mentioned he had worked a case with you before. He said you showed good instincts. That was it.”

Was that
it
, or was George setting up Act Two so he could slip me the weenie? If so, where and how did Ms. Margold fit into that scheme? I grabbed a foam cup and pushed a lever that gushed coffee out of a big vat. I asked, “Did you know about the bounty?”

“Nope. It’s interesting, though.”

“You mean it’s interesting if it’s not on you.”

“That’s exactly what I meant.” After a moment she asked, “Do you think the money’s behind it?”

“I think it’s one possibility. We slap bounties on the heads of Aideed, bin Laden, and Saddam, and now somebody decides to turn the tables. Poetic retribution. Right?”

We diddled with our coffee and tea.

“It would be really remarkable,” she said.

“It would be the ultimate screw-you. They announce that they intend to whack our President and they do it.”

She finally said, “We have to be careful here. Lesson one at my classes at Quantico, I always stressed the dangers of reverse causality.”

“Good point. But you don’t have to worry about that with me.”

“No?”

“I keep protection in my wallet.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m referring to the trap of circuitous logic. Bad things always come in threes...A woman has triplets, therefore the babies are bad.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

I think she was regretting she’d called me bright. But as if his ears were burning, George Meany suddenly materialized beside us and grabbed a foam cup. With a sideways glance at me, he mentioned, too nonchalantly, “Well, Drummond, I see we’ll be working together again.”

“Small world.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Too small.”

He ignored that and asked, “So what do you think?”

“About you?”

“About this.”

I looked him in the eye and said, “I think, George, that you’ve got about forty-eight hours to get to the bottom of this or your career’s toast. You’ll go down as the Agent in Charge who failed to prevent a presidential assassination. What do
you
think?”

He did not answer that loaded question; instead he changed the subject and asked, “Incidentally, how’s Janet? I hear you two have become an item.”

“Great. She turned thirty last week. What a party we had. She got into her birthday suit, and I got into my birthday suit, and...” I looked at George and said, “Is this...well, an insensitive topic for you?”

Apparently so, because he said, “Fuck off,” and walked away.

Jennie stared at his back. “What was that about?”

“Nothing.” Though in fact it was about a great deal. Prior to his reassignment to D.C., Meany was an agent in Boston, where he and the lovely Miss Morrow had worked together on several cases. Love and lust bloomed, they moved in together, got engaged, and then Georgie Boy screwed her to break a big case that got him glory, a promotion, and a career shift to D.C. As if that weren’t enough—both literally and figuratively—the guy tried to screw Janet again after her sister was murdered. But Janet was far too nice a person to tell George what an asshole he was.

I’m not a nice person. Besides, somebody had to remind this putz that there is a price when you screw friends and lovers. Also, I was sure Georgie had something up his sleeve regarding yours truly, and I wanted to get in the first blow. Actually, George was slick and resourceful, and I might not get in a second shot. I said to Jennie, “We’d better get back.”

“Yeah, we better.”

While we were walking down the hallway she advised me, “Don’t antagonize George. A lot’s riding on his shoulders. He doesn’t need distractions.”

“Probably not.”

“This case is bigger than whatever there is between you two.”

“You’re...well, thank you for pointing that out.”

“You have to rise above personal issues. Think of the country. Get this under control.”

“Exactly what I was thinking.”

“Also George Meany’s a small-minded, vindictive prick. He’ll find a way to really hurt you.”

Goodness.

So we reentered the conference room. The players were all back in their seats, but apparently there’d been a little reshuffling, and Mrs. Hooper was now directly across from Mr. Meany, and Messrs. Halderman and Wardell now sat closest to Jennie and me. If poor Gene Halderman made another idiotic remark, he’d be sitting in the parking lot. I made a point to sit next to the exit.

Mrs. Hooper kicked things off, saying, “Let me size up this problem for you. Seven months out from the general election, can you imagine a worse time to have this crisis? Do you all understand what I’m saying?”

I think we were all wondering when Mrs. Hooper thought there
was
a good time, but we collectively nodded and tried our best to appear attentive and sensitive to her problem. We were civil servants getting our marching orders from our political masters. It’s always interesting and often informative to hear what the politicos are thinking.

She continued, “The President’s schedule over the next four days includes a campaign sweep through the South. These are key battleground states. This is a neck-and-neck campaign. The election will turn on who wins there, and we cannot cancel or even reshuffle these appearances.” She added, as though the guy were an afterthought, “The Vice President has scheduled appearances, some of which we can cancel, some of which we cannot.”

I said, “Did it occur to you that the assassins might know the President’s schedule? In fact,” I added, “maybe they started the killing this morning because they knew the President would be vulnerable for the next two days.”

Mrs. Hooper stared at me a moment, then replied, “I don’t believe that’s an issue. Some events are publicized, but the details and security arrangements are strictly need-to-know.”

I reminded her, “So was the security plan for Belknap’s house.”

She did not appear to welcome or embrace this insight, but Wardell picked up on it and said, “The advice of the Secret Service is to bury the Vice President in cold storage till this thing blows over. Also, cancel
all
public appearances for the President over the next few days, or until this thing becomes clearer.”

She replied coldly, “I told you that’s not in the cards.”

“That’s an official recommendation, incidentally.”

“You’re on record.”

“I’ll follow up with a paper copy of our recommendation after the meeting.”

“I’m sure you will.”

Having gotten the pissy ass-covering out of the way, Wardell explained for all our benefits, “We can and will beef up the security details, but no way can we provide double coverage of everybody in the administration.”

Mrs. Hooper thought about that grim warning a moment. “After this meeting’s over, I’ll give you the names of the people we want double-covered. Offhand, the President and Vice President, obviously, and certainly the Secretary of Defense.”

It went without saying that Mrs. Hooper would also make the final scrub. But nobody was impolitic enough to mention that, including me.

Wardell informed her, “Double coverage of the President and Vice President was initiated at 0730 this morning. We don’t do the SecDef, he has a CID detail. But I’ll be sure to pass the word.”

Meany chose this moment to ask a good and timely question. He said, “If you double the coverage, Chuck, what are the odds?”

“That depends. Our defenses and techniques are set up primarily to deter, hinder, and prevent the very type of single assassin Agent Margold described—nuts, weirdos, and ego-deprived idiots. There’s a strong historical basis...you know, Lincoln, Garfield, JFK, the attempts on Ford and Reagan...All those assassins were lone nutcases. So our agents study profiles of these people and we train them to react to the modus operandi of that kind of individual.”

BOOK: The President's Assassin
8.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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