Read We Are Holding the President Hostage Online

Authors: Warren Adler

Tags: #Hostages, Mafia, Presidents, Fiction, Political, Thrillers, Suspense, Espionage, Mystery and Detective, General, True Crime, Murder, Serial Killers

We Are Holding the President Hostage (8 page)

BOOK: We Are Holding the President Hostage
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"You must make room for four in your crew," the
Padre said without raising his eyes from the plan. His tone was emphatic. The
blood drained from Carlotti's face. The inevitable had finally struck. He
looked as if he might faint. The Padre waited for him to recover.

"But the clearances."

"You do your business. We do ours."

There were ways, the Padre thought. Other men would be
investigated, cleared, given permission. Angelo would know what to do.

"I got family, Padre ... I..." Carlotti began,
his words swallowed in fear.

"Surely you will be considered innocent," Robert
suddenly blurted. His face had gone ashen. The Padre shot him a glance of
reproach, shaking his head. Keep out of this. Robert nodded, catching his
meaning. But it did not restore his color.

Carlotti's face represented a kaleidoscope of conflicting
expressions. A cowardly man, the Padre decided, but too fearful to betray them
in advance. Later he would be the first to protest his innocence. On his knees,
swearing on the life of his mother, he would tell them that the Padre had put a
gun to his head. Poor little Giuseppe, the Padre sighed. I forgive you in
advance.

The Padre said, "All you know is that you must hire
four outside men. Waiters. Bartenders."

"But are they experienced?" the little man asked,
as if it were still another straw to grasp. The Padre suppressed a desire to
smile.

"They will learn," the Padre said.

"How can you serve a meal in the White House without
experienced men? This takes training. This is French service. One hand pickups
with a fork and spoon. They wear white gloves."

"You got to go to college to learn this?" Benjy
said. It was an idea that added to the unreality of the scene. Carlotti
shrugged.

"They'll get wise," he said. "You can't fool
them. There's this woman—"

"This is our business," the Padre said, putting
an end to the discussion. There was no way Carlotti could keep this account.
"We'll take care of all the other details, social security cards, IDs."
He looked at the Pencil, who made his inevitable notes.

"This is the White House, Padre," Carlotti said,
his little mouse eyes darting from face to face. He seemed to want to say more,
to argue, to protest. The Padre reached out and patted his arm.

"It's all right. You know nothing," the Padre
said, as if it were an incantation. Carlotti nodded. But there were tears in
his eyes. He no longer bothered to wipe the droplets of sweat that gravity
forced over his mustache onto his lips and chin. As he turned, he seemed to
stagger. But the Canary was quick, grasping him about the arms as he led him
out the back door.

"So who knows about waiting tables and being a
bartender?" the Padre asked when the Canary returned. They all raised a
hand.

"You are all liars," he said, but he was greatly
pleased at their reaction.

"Actually," Robert said, "I waited on tables
for three years when I was in college. Good restaurants. I was excellent. I'd
be perfect casting."

"No way," the Padre said.

"I'd be more credible than these people," Robert
insisted.

"We must end this, Robert," the Padre said.
"It wouldn't work."

"Why?"

The Padre looked at him and smiled benignly.

"In the first place," he said, "you're not
Italian."

Benjy let out a high-pitched laugh. The others joined in.

"That's absurd," Robert snapped, "and you
know it. I have every right."

The Padre nodded, reached out and grasped Robert's upper
arm.

"It is your personal life, Robert. I know that. I know
how much Maria and Joey mean to you. But we are dealing here with what is not
your business."

"It is my—" Robert said.

The Padre shot him a stern glance that quieted him in
mid-sentence.

"It is not your professional business," the Padre
explained gently. "Besides—" he paused and sucked in a deep breath
"—Maria and Joey will need you."

"Surely there is something useful I can do."

The Padre contemplated the request.

"You will stay with Angelo at Mrs. Santorelli's,
Luigi's sister." He turned toward Angelo. "She is a good cook,
yes?"

Angelo kissed his fingers in confirmation. More important,
the Padre knew, her apartment, just two blocks from Luigi's Trattoria, was one
of the organization's many absolutely safe places in the neighborhood. A good
church-going woman, Luigi's sister was part of the early-warning network long
established by the organization. Her husband, Giovanni, had been a made member
until he had been gunned down by a rival family in less tranquil times. Aside
from the Church, her loyalty was to the Padre and the organization.

"I still say—" Robert began.

"Enough," the Padre said. It was a dismissal. The
Padre turned to the others.

"You, Rocco, must stay outside too."

Rocco nodded.

The Padre would need both these men, Angelo to facilitate
what was necessary and Rocco to keep the organization going in his absence, which
could be forever. In any event, Rocco could be the only one to succeed him. And
yet he could not simply put his mantle on him. Rocco would have to demonstrate
his authority, as the Padre had demonstrated his ability to command after his
father's death.

"Now someone call Luigi to teach us how to be good
waiters," the Padre said.

13

AMY PUT THE STUDS in her husband's shirt and laid it neatly
across the bed. He sat in his shorts on one of the rose chairs, legs crossed,
going over his prepared toast.

"Clichéd pap," he muttered. Even though he would
not read the toast word for word, it would reflect the usual flattery and
innocuousness that characterized the tradition.

"The King's supposed to be a really nice guy,"
Amy said, hoping to get her husband in a festive mood. Lately it had been
impossible to jolt him out of a deep funk. The hostage thing was getting to
him. He wasn't sleeping. Last night she had awakened suddenly and found him
gone. She was alarmed at first. Then the Secret Service man on all-night duty
in the upstairs corridor informed her that the President was resting on the
Truman balcony on the floor above.

When she found him, he was seated on a straight-backed
chair, with his feet on the railing, looking out toward the Potomac. It was a
surprisingly clear summer night. At Camp David it wasn't unusual for them to
sit quietly on the porch of the main cabin, holding hands and staring into the
dark shapes of the forest and listening to the crickets.

They were both descendants of Midwestern porch people and
knew the value of the soothing nature of quiet watchfulness. But it troubled
her that he had not awakened her. She moved another chair, placed it beside
him, and sat down, angling her legs on the railing so that her toes rested on
his shins.

"Generally speaking, it's a beautiful planet," he
had whispered, touching her arm, but without taking his eyes off the night
view. "Except for the people."

"Not all."

"Taking hostages is such an ugly business." It
was clear now where his mind was. More and more the awful reality absorbed his
thoughts.

He shook his head. "I really feel for those people and
their families." In the long silence, she turned and watched his profile
silhouetted against a white portico. "They're gonna die, Amy, and there's
no way in the world I can stop it from happening."

"Except to give in," she said. She had
deliberately posed the idea as an oblique comment, gentle and noninsistent. It
had nothing to do with strategy or affairs of state. It was simply a wifely
response. He was being devastated by the situation. It affected everything,
permeated all other issues, political and personal. It exacted a fearful toll.

"All day long I've been on the phone kissing the asses
of those tinhorns who run those lousy countries. The Syrian is a polite little
bastard. I get reassurances, sympathy. But no action. The Saudis? Masters of
evasiveness. Talking to those people is like talking into a soft cloud. The
Israelis love all this angst. I'll give them this. They're tough. They'll take
it all the way. A counterpunch is an acceptable state action, no matter who or
how many get hurt. Not us. Couldn't do it and get away with it. Not up front.
And I'm afraid to do it covertly. If it backfires, we're finished. Had my way,
I'd send everyone connected with those terrorist bastards a letter bomb airmail
special delivery. Maybe even one of those small A jobs."

"Very funny," she said. Considering that her
husband was always shadowed by someone carrying that horrid little briefcase,
she failed to respond to what he had intended as black humor. Only way you can
preserve your sanity, he had argued, was to joke about "it." He had
never convinced her.

"And this is only the third or fourth generation. Just
wait until we get into the fifth or sixth."

"The fifth or sixth what?"

"Generation of terrorism." He turned to look at
her, his eyes intense and liquid as they gathered the reflected light. He
shivered. She waited, then seemed to catch his chill in the otherwise warm
night. "That's going to be nuclear blackmail. Guy will come in with a nuke
on his back. Blow us all away unless we give in to whatever bullshit he has in
his head. It's coming. In fact, could be done right now. It's a goddamned
miracle it hasn't happened yet. I pity the President who has to deal with that mess."

"So if you look at the bright side, your little
problem isn't so bad."

"I said I'd pity the guy," the President said.
"But now nobody pities me. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. Problem is
it's a spectator sport. Everyone can be an armchair general."

"Except the general on the firing line."

"Nobody understands. Especially if it's one of yours
taken hostage."

"Well, I'm glad it's not one of mine," she said,
thinking of her own children, Tad and Barbara.

He patted her arm and was silent for a long time.

"I can hack everything," he said. "All the
political crap, the endless rituals and ceremonies, the staff ego wars, all the
tugging and pulling, dealing with those stubborn bastards in the Soviet Union
and the pigheaded self-destructive fools of the third world. Even with the idea
of the awesome power of that box in the briefcase. No sweat." He paused,
sighed, sucked in a breath through clenched teeth. "It's the crazies with
these wacko burning causes, the ones who think they have 'the answer.'" He
was silent for a long time.

She shrugged and rubbed her toe against his shin.

"On my desk," he said, "I have these option
papers. We got these highly trained shoot-em-up hit teams. They go in, tear the
place apart, bring home the people dead or alive. One option is to send them
in. We know approximately where most of the hostages are being kept. Might get
between twenty and thirty percent out alive. The Defense and Intelligence boys
are big on risk analysis, kill ratios, stuff like that. Then there's the political
boys. They say thirty percent is too low. Got to be at least double that,
ideally ninety percent. They want both a victory parade and a funeral. Joy and
sorrow. Stir the emotions."

"That's disgusting," Amy said, removing her feet
from the railing.

"Then there's Harkins' way. Sneak in and kick
ass."

"Whose?"

"Anybody around. Take hostages. Ten to one if
necessary. Then kill them. Afterwards, deny it all with a wink."

"When mad enough, kick the dog," Amy said.

"Maybe so. But you know what I've been doing out
here?" He turned and watched her, expecting no response. "I'm
actually considering it, the Harkins way."

She turned, looked at him archly, then reached out with her
hand, stopping just short of his head.

"Don't know if I could live with a man who orders
things like that." She wondered, in the final analysis, if her objections
would really matter.

"Things keep up this way, I may have to. Preempt, like
the Israelis."

He looked out over the railing. From where they sat they
could see the exquisitely lit Mall, the Washington Monument, the Capitol dome,
the tinsel ripple of the Potomac. Following his gaze, she noted that a number
of cars slowly meandered in the street behind the rear gate and she could make
out dark human figures on foot, some stationary, some moving.

"I like this house," he said softly. "And
I'd like to renew the lease." He swung his legs back to the deck and stood
up, pressing his body against the railing.

"Mr. President..."

It was the voice of the Secret Service man who had been
standing just inside the door. The edge of the Truman balcony had become a
security hole. Standing up so close to the railing presented his body to a
would-be assassin. He moved back into the shadows.

"Well, that's one compensation," the President
said.

"What is that?" Amy asked.

"We're safe in here."

14

THEY HAD COCKTAILS brought to the yellow Oval Room. Not
wishing to crease her gown, she stood by the marble mantel and sipped a white
wine while her husband fingered the bronze jousting knights on the gold-inlaid
table.

Miss Hartford arrived at the door. She wore a simple black
gown with straps. As always, it was perfect for her role as social secretary.

"They'll arrive in exactly five minutes."

The President nodded. Amy stood in front of him,
inspecting.

"Last-minute check," she said, patting an errant
lock of his hair and kissing him lightly on the cheek. "Come on now,"
she whispered. "Buck up. You're Paul Bernard starring in
State Dinner
and featuring the King and Queen of Spain."

"Let the cameras roll," he said, flashing his
best politician's smile. He bent slightly, offering his arm. She took it.
Moving out of the Oval Room to the center hall, they were joined by the Secret
Service men who surreptitiously fell into position.

They walked past the octagonal partners' desk, the antique
lamps, tables, and chairs, and the lovely painting of the woman and her two
children by Mary Cassatt. A young boy and girl. She loved that picture. It
reminded her of herself and her two children when they were young. She wondered
whether she would look back on this White House experience as a happy time. The
question irritated her and she put it out of her mind. Silly, she told herself.
Isn't this, after all, the top of the mountain?

They walked slowly down the red-carpeted steps, hands sliding
along the gold banisters. At the landing they continued through the marbled
foyer, past the gauntlet of resplendent young Marines in full-dress uniforms.

Amy glanced at her husband. He was wearing his public smile
now, the one that reflected unbounded joy, showing off his handsome angled
face. They came out of the front entrance into the glare of the light and
descended the steps, covered by the red ceremonial carpet. The cameras flashed.
The King and Queen drove up in a spit-polished limousine and the Chief of
Protocol darted out of the front seat. He waited until the King and Queen were
clear and the door to the car had slammed shut.

"May I present His Majesty Don Carlos and Her Majesty
the Queen, Mr. President."

The President put out his hand. Cameras flashed and the two
couples exchanged pleasantries. They walked in together and took their places
on the receiving line.

"I've been looking forward to this visit for a long
time," the King said.

"I hope we won't disappoint you, Your Highness,"
Amy responded.

BOOK: We Are Holding the President Hostage
2.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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