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Authors: Warren Adler

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We Are Holding the President Hostage

BOOK: We Are Holding the President Hostage
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BOOKS BY WARREN ADLER

Banquet Before Dawn

Blood Ties

Cult

Death of a Washington Madame

Empty Treasures

Flanagan's Dolls

Funny Boys

Madeline's Miracles

Mourning Glory

Natural Enemies

Private Lies

Random Hearts

Residue

The Casanova Embrace

The Children of the Roses

The David Embrace

The Henderson Equation

The Housewife Blues

The War of the Roses

The Womanizer

Trans-Siberian Express

Twilight Child

Undertow

We Are Holding the President
Hostage

SHORT STORIES

Jackson Hole, Uneasy Eden

Never Too Late For Love

New York Echoes

New York Echoes 2

The Sunset Gang

MYSTERIES

American Sextet

American Quartet

Immaculate Deception

Senator Love

The Ties That Bind

The Witch of Watergate

Copyright ©
1986
by Warren Adler.

ISBN 978-1-59006-106-0

All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced
in any form without permission. This novel is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, incidents are either the product
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

Inquiries: WarrenAdler.com

STONEHOUSE PRESS

For Ike Pappas

John Dean

"This is the sort of thing the Mafia can do.... "

"That's right."

The President

FROM THE WATERGATE TAPES

1

EVEN HERE, MARIA THOUGHT, a pebble's throw from the grimy
once-ornate facade of the Egyptian Museum, the fetid stew of Cairo in July hung
in the air, noxious and unhealthy. From the car she could see shimmering
thermal patterns, like ghostly dervishes, whirling through the late-afternoon
falluca
traffic on the river.

Joey's rubber ball made pocking sounds against the rear
deck of the Mercedes. It printed smudges in the dusty surface but left no
damage, and she let him amuse himself. Her gaze drifted toward the hodgepodge
of vehicles thrashing forward in the streets: ramshackle buses choked with
people, trucks belching dark exhausts, cars of every vintage, donkeys pulling
flatbed carts, a slow-moving river of molasses. She contemplated the impending
Friday run to Alexandria. It would be a gut-wrenching punishment.

One more time she looked at her watch. Robert had told her
that the schedule called for the delegation to be finished with the museum tour
by four, which meant five or thereabouts, acknowledging the Egyptian penchant
for defying punctuality. It was now fifteen minutes past five.

"Can't duck this one," Robert had apologized at
breakfast, offering his mock-exasperated smile, mischievous under his shock of
sandy hair, which made him appear so deceptively yielding and innocent. How
misleading, she thought, warmed, once again, by the image. After all, hadn't he
defied the vaunted all-powerful Padre? She allowed herself a private grin as a
momentary picture of her father, like a bit of flotsam on the slate gray of the
Nile, passed briefly on the flow of memory. Padre! Her voice could never say
it, although it resonated often in her mind. He is daddy, she protested, yet
again, whispering the word.

"What?" Joey asked, coming to the open window.

"Nothing, sweets."

"We'll be late, Mommy."

"Late for what?" she asked patiently.

"For a swim." Joey pouted. "You
promised."

"Then I'll keep it. Even if it's dark."

"But I'm afraid of the dark, Mommy."

She was disturbed that her irritation had made her say
that. Impatience and the heat, she rationalized.

"We'll make it, sweets. You'll see," she said
gently, putting out her hand, ruffling his hair. He smiled and went back to the
rear of the car, resuming his game.

The Assistant Secretary was a classmate from Princeton,
Robert had explained with his usual bias, one of the foot soldiers who ventured
into the muck of irreversible entropy, which was, specifically, modern Egypt and the Arab world in general. Robert, ever the antiquarian, often vented his
contempt for the modern world using the Arab example. The visit of the
Assistant Secretary had set him off that morning.

"Their entire culture is dominated by a mentality that
will not rest until it gets the upper hand, which is impossible, like
immortality. Yet they continue to haggle away like traders in the marketplace.
They have a sweetness in them that is very attractive, but they cannot compromise."

"Are you saying we shouldn't deal with them?"
Maria asked gently. She had heard the monologue before.

"Not shouldn't. Can't."

"That goes nowhere."

"Why must there always be a somewhere?" Robert
asked.

"For an archaeologist, you are remarkably cynical,"
she said, an old refrain.

"For the daughter of the Mafia don, you are remarkably
hopeful."

"I just don't believe in the sins of the fathers
falling on the heads of the children. Look at me. Living proof." She had
bent over and kissed his cool forehead. Painful issues, once grating and
divisive, had finally reduced themselves to domestic banter, for which she was
grateful.

"Someday," he replied, "somebody like me
will be poking around in our rubble."

"And what will they find?"

"Artifacts and a lesson too late to learn."

It was obligatory for Americans, especially in the case of
first-timers like Robert's Princeton friend, whose name was Bigelow, to view
the geegaws of antiquity in the musty museum. American voluntary contributions
attempted to hold back further decay, but they were sufficient only to provide
for figurative sandbags to top the barricades.

Maria's husband was an exchange professor of Egyptian
antiquities from Amherst doing research under a government grant. He was,
therefore, frequently asked to shepherd official visitors through the museum.
Normally, especially in the stifling summers, he had begged off on Fridays.
Unfortunately, his Princeton connection made his attendance obligatory.

"But where is Daddy?" Joey whined, exhibiting his
five-year-old petulance. He suddenly lost the rhythm of the ball, which bounced
out of range and rolled along the macadam of the parking lot. The ball came to
rest under a car.

"Now look what you've done," Maria said, sliding
out of the driver's side and following her son to the car. Six men sat in the
car's interior, which surprised her mildly since the windows were pulled up and
the temperature was nearly one hundred. She tapped on the window.

"My son's ball," she said in pidgin Arabic,
offering an accompaniment of miming gestures. She assumed, from the men's rough
appearance, that they did not speak English. The men scowled back at her, her
intrusion an obvious annoyance. Hoping that her phony smile was ingratiating,
she stumbled through another awkward explanation, using her hands to illustrate
the location of the ball.

The men looked at her with frigid indifference, which was
baffling. Even her persistent tapping against the drawn window could not stir
them. Her attention was suddenly diverted by Joey's attempt to crawl beneath
the car to get at the ball. She pulled at his legs, dragging him to safety.

"Are you crazy?" she said, waving a finger in
front of his nose. "They could suddenly start to move." Wouldn't put
it past these hard cases, she thought.

Tamping down the momentary panic, she tapped the window
again with her knuckles.

"Just move the damned car," she said, this time
in English, feeling the anger rise as she mumbled to herself. "You
indifferent bastards." She had absolutely no doubt that they understood
her request.

The driver lifted heavy-hooded eyes and dismissed her with
a wave of his hand. He was a young man with a black scraggly beard and an
expression of unsmiling menace. Still, she would not be intimidated. Not the
daughter of the Padre. Again she tapped on the window with her knuckles,
angling them to use her wedding ring to increase the noise level.

One of the men in the back seat waved his finger at her and
snarled. Another tried to wave her away. She tapped again. Arab machismo, she
decided with contempt. To these stubborn asses, a woman was nothing. It stirred
her rage, reinforced her female consciousness, and stiffened her resolve. She
continued to tap insistently against the window.

They apparently got the message. She saw the man sitting to
the right of the driver move his lips, muttering some words to the others which
she could not hear. Without rolling down the window, the driver gunned the
motor and moved forward by half a car's length, just enough for Joey to scoop
up the ball. She waved her hand, resisting the temptation to raise her middle
finger, and mimed a sarcastic thank-you to the men. She wished she could
emulate her father's expression at such moments, that look which telescoped the
message of harnessed hate which could strike consummate fear in those who
received it.

But the men barely glanced her way. After the ball had been
removed, the car was driven back into its original position.

"Hope you bastards fry," she mumbled as she
grabbed Joey's hand and led him back to their car. Her anger triggered her
curiosity. Why would six grown men sit in a locked car in the parking lot of
the Egyptian Museum on a steaming Friday afternoon? It jogged a shard of
memory. Men in cars. The image subliminally absorbed in childhood suggested
that six grown men sitting in a locked automobile, watchful and waiting,
ignoring heat and discomfort, were about to perform something momentous and
probably violent.

In memory, she heard her father's voice admonishing her
gently but firmly, "Go to your school." Or was it "Help
Mama" or "Go play with your dollies"? A signal for her
disappearance, an absolute order for her obedience. It meant "none of your
business."

She recalled cars filled with adult men with gruff voices
and odd names. Even now, the smell of them was vivid, odors of masculinity,
winey, garlicky, thick with the pall of cigar smoke and masking peppermints.
Always with the memory came the feel of her father's gentle hands stroking her
thighs as she sat on his lap scrunched against his chest. Occasionally his lips
would brush against her cheek and his breath would sing past her ear. Daddy's
little girl.

The guilt of survival bubbled up inside of her. Total
containment inevitably failed. Without warning, it attacked her like a sudden
volcanic eruption blowing the head off her control. The men in the car had set
it off, starting the endless, chain of recall, the curse of memory. She railed
against her brothers for stupidly making her the last sibling. Yet it was
pointless to admonish two dead brothers. She was the dregs at the bottom of the
pot, the only survivor of the three Padronelli children. Which put the onus on
Joey, the grandson, the worshiped one, whose wiry little body throbbed with the
beat of Padronelli blood.

The mystique of the blood. One would think it had been
pumped directly from the veins of St. Peter himself instead of that product of
a Naples slum that had been the American Padronelli, the dynastic beginning.
Often she had suspected that the name itself, Padronelli, with its obvious
diminutive, was his synthetic concoction, a private joke. Later, visiting Naples, she had found two columns of Padronellis in the telephone directory, which
considerably dampened her suspicions.

It didn't matter, however. By then the myth was irrevocably
cut into the stone of history. He was her father's father, the patrone of
patrones. He had died, as befits the invulnerable, in bed, twenty years before
her birth. By then the blood-encrusted mace had been passed to her own father,
who embellished the throne from his Greenwich Village castle and consolidated
the Kingdom, the mythical land of Mafiosa bounded by the East River, the
Atlantic, the Hudson, and mysterious other liquid points in the universe.

To his everlasting credit, Robert had stood before the
Padre and fought for her as if she were the lady locked in the castle turret. A
lousy no-money professor with the temerity to court and win the heart of
awesome daddy's little girl. "We want no part of your scummy life,"
he had shouted, flinging down the gauntlet in the face of the Padre's loyal
pistolas.

Secretly, of course, she knew that the old bastard was
delighted to have her safely ensconced in the embrace of this handsome young
WASP from Boston. "Some of the boys checked the family out," the Padre
had told her.

There were always some of the boys to check things out. And
worse. Their house was always filled with them. No one, not herself or her
mother or her brothers Gino and Mario, ever ventured into the mean streets
without some of the boys within sight or earshot.

Of course they were not boys, but men like those in the
locked car—malevolent, humorless, dark-eyed, and menacing, their Draconian
energy held in check by the mythical power of the charismatic Padre and the
mumbo-jumbo code of honor that underpinned the myth. What acts these men
performed, even then, seemed outside the pale of what ordinary mortals did to
survive. Doing business, the Padre called it. She was never certain what that
meant, only that it was violent and rapacious.

Whatever all that Gothic energy was supposed to produce, it
couldn't have been money alone. The Padronellis had lived modestly in a
two-story brick house in that corner of Greenwich Village known as Little
Italy.

Yet the enterprise had claimed her two older brothers and,
one might speculate, her mother as well. A grieving heart also kills, she had
discovered. Suddenly she shook her head, hoping the movement would dislodge the
memories.

She resented the six men for having induced them, looking
their way suddenly, catching the metallic glint of sunbeam on metal, another
familiar image engraved in memory. Not that. Was her imagination running away
with her? Go play with your dolly, she ordered herself, reaching out to once
again ruffle Joey's thick sandy hair.

But the image had induced a sense of discomfort. The men in
the car and all her resultant memories had taken the patience out of the
exercise. She now resented her husband's reluctance to meet their time frame.
Friend or no friend, his obligation was still to his family first, one of the
few inherited values she had preserved.

She looked toward the museum entrance. The official caravan
of three shiny Mercedes limousines with little Egyptian flags perched on their
fenders waited as chauffeurs watched the entrance for emerging signs of their
VIP guest. Maria assumed that the usual security types would be inside
protecting their charge as he poked around the mummies and sculptures of
animal-faced deities of the old Egyptian dynasties.

There was no escaping the signs of tightening security and
paranoia that had gripped the government. It was no secret that the fanatic
Islamic Brotherhood made life difficult for the moderate posture of the
Egyptian President.

Signs of the Islamic fundamentalist tide were everywhere in
the city. One could see frightening anti-Western graffiti slogans on walls and
in handbills scattered on the city streets like confetti. From the American
press, she read occasional stories of murders, kidnappings, and student riots,
echoes of which filtered through the walls of their comfortable apartment in Cairo and their rented villa in Alexandria.

BOOK: We Are Holding the President Hostage
7.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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