Authors: Stuart Woods
Tom Blake excused himself to answer his phone. “Yes?”
“It’s Fisk, sir. Sykes had her checked for a wire, but she turned off the system before the wand could pick it up. He’s talking to her,” the man said, “but they’re leaving now.”
“Tell the man downstairs to wait until they’re in a cab. Then get into his suite and go over it with a fine-tooth comb, but
carefully. Don’t leave a hair out of place.” He hung up and returned to the table. “Our agent’s wire is working. They’re leaving the hotel now to go to dinner somewhere. They’ll be followed.”
“Are FBI agents sneaky enough for this kind of work?” Stone asked. “I always think of them in double-breasted suits and fedoras.”
“That’s only in the noir movies of the forties and fifties,”
Tom replied. “We run more to blue blazers, tweed jackets, and khakis now. Beards, too.”
Tom’s phone rang again, and he made to get up, but Stone gestured him to sit. “You might as well sit and put it on speakerphone,” he said.
Tom set the phone down and pressed the speaker button. “Yes? We’re all listening.”
“They didn’t take a cab,” the agent said. “Sykes was heard telling the manager that they were going to Rotisserie Georgette, which is within walking distance.”
“I know the place,” Stone said. “Where would you like them to sit?”
“At the back of the room,” the agent replied. “We already have a man and a woman at the end of the bar.”
“You want them near Sykes?”
“Yes, sir, if possible.”
Stone called the restaurant. “Georgette?”
“Stone? What time should we expect you?”
“Not tonight, but there are some people on the way I’d like you to seat at the rear of the room, but away from the kitchen. His name is Sykes. And there’s a couple at that end of the bar that I’d like near them before they arrive.”
“And, please, keep it to yourself.”
“Of course. We look forward to seeing you soon.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” he said, “if the stars align.”
“See you then.”
Stone hung up. “They’ll be placed as you wished,” he said to Tom.
“I don’t know why it isn’t always this easy,” Tom said.
“I’d love to dine there tomorrow evening,” Holly said. “And that would give Tom the opportunity to case the joint ahead of our arrival.”
Sykes and Bess arrived at Rotisserie Georgette in due course, and they were seated at the rear of the restaurant at a corner table. They ordered drinks, then Sykes swept the room with his eyes while Bess looked at the menu.
“See anybody suspicious?” she asked.
“Not yet. Order for the two of us.”
“That’s easy. Looks like the specialty of the house is roast chicken.” She ordered the food and wine.
Sykes continued to look at every table anywhere near them.
“I think the couple behind you must be going through a divorce,” he said.
“How can you tell?”
“They’re talking to each other.”
Finally, he turned his attention to her. “The boys are going to have to get used to you,” he said. “They’re unaccustomed to meeting the needs of women.”
“Then I’ll help them out,” Bess said. “By the way, how are you planning to change history with only four men and a woman to help you?”
“History moves in inches,” he said. “But sometimes with a big step.”
“How big are we talking?”
“I think you know who we’re talking about. You visited her home briefly.”
“Ah, that would be a big step, and I wouldn’t be sorry to see her take it.”
“You may have that opportunity. If everybody, including you, does his job well, no one will even notice that it was done but our masters.”
“Masters? Sounds fascinating,” she said.
Any reply was interrupted by the arrival of their first course. Then Sykes stopped talking and started eating.
“They’re eating,” Tom said, “and Sykes isn’t talking.”
“Are your agents getting a divorce?” Stone asked.
Tom laughed. “They’d have to get married first.”
Bess restrained herself from asking further questions for the rest of dinner; instead, she just let him ramble on about the Army, about dealing with Washington, about hunting and fishing—whatever crossed his mind. He became more relaxed as the evening wore on and the level in the wine bottle went down. He mentioned her lesbianism only once, and in regretful terms. She reflected that telling him that had been one of her best decisions, as it kept him off her back without arguments.
“Where’d you find the boys?” she asked, while they were waiting for the check.
“They all served under me in the Army,” Sykes replied. “The best of the best, especially Eugene, who is the best shot with a rifle I ever saw.”
“Are there more of them than I’ve met?”
“Let’s just say we have ample backup, should we need it.”
“Who are my orders coming from? You? Or someone further up the line?”
“That’s a bold question, and I won’t answer it now.”
“So you still don’t trust me?”
“Trust has many levels.”
“Where am I on the scale?”
“Let me ask you a question that might answer your question,” Sykes said.
“When everything is ready, will you be willing to pull the trigger yourself?”
Bess thought about that for a minute, just to make him think she was considering it. “Well,” she said, finally, “I think I would be able to do that, but it remains to be seen, doesn’t it?”
“And, based on your response, where would you put yourself on the scale when it comes to trust?”
“At better than ninety-nine percent, I think.”
“Then I’ll trust you all the way to ninety-nine percent,” Sykes said.
“But not one hundred percent?”
“That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?”
The group sat around Stone’s dining table, a large pot of coffee on the table, and listened to the transmission.
“That was live,” Tom Blake said, when there was no further conversation from the restaurant.
“I suppose we couldn’t expect her to say one hundred percent, when she knew she was being recorded,” Stone said.
“On the contrary,” Tom replied. “She’s certainly willing to lie to him, and any court would believe her when she testified she was lying. She’s keeping him on edge. She doesn’t want him to be entirely comfortable with her.”
“Why not?” Bill Wright asked.
“Because she believes if he’s on edge he’ll be more likely
to make mistakes,” Tom replied. “Hang on, they’re walking back to the Lowell now.”
The group quieted down and listened.
“Wade,” Bess said, “when are we expected to pull this thing off?”
“They’ll accept my judgment on that. They know that I’m not suicidal, that I will expect to walk away when it’s done. I want to be sure you’ll walk away, too.”
“Thank you for that,” she said. “That’s pretty much how I feel, too.”
He laughed. “Then neither of us is suicidal.”
“I guess not.” They walked a little farther. “How about Eugene? Is he suicidal?”
“That’s an interesting question,” he muttered, half to himself. “On a battlefield, Eugene would walk into gunfire.”
“But where is this battlefield going to be?”
“In an urban area with a good-sized audience, probably. Depends on where the target moves.”
“Will Eugene walk into gunfire in those circumstances?”
“I believe he would. He believes too deeply in his principles to allow himself to walk away.”
“Where did he acquire those principles?” she asked.
“From me,” Sykes replied.
They reached the Lowell and stopped talking as they crossed the lobby. They remained quiet in the elevator, too.
“Good night,” Sykes said when they reached their floor.
“Good night,” Bess replied, letting herself into her room.
She listened at the door for a minute, then crossed the room and rapped on the door to the adjoining suite.
Fisk opened the door. “You okay?” he asked, regarding her closely.
“I’m just fine,” she said. “Did you get it all?”
“Every word,” he replied.
“Then I’m going to bed,” she said, closing the door and locking it behind her. She took off the necklace and earrings and left them on a charging pad Fisk had given her. Then she took off her clothes, got into a nightgown, and went to bed.
All right,” Tom said to the group. “It’s a conspiracy, and a wider one than Sykes and his four men.”
“I agree,” Bill said, “judging from the way Sykes talked. He referred to his ‘master’ or ‘masters’ in the plural. And he didn’t deny that his orders came from somewhere above.”
Everybody muttered in agreement.
Claire spoke up. “How are we going to control this thing?” she asked. “We can’t just follow Sykes around and wait until he pulls the trigger, as he put it.”
Stone shook his head. “When the trigger is pulled, Sykes will be far away and in enough company to give him an iron-clad alibi.”
“He’ll believe he’s not even a suspect,” Tom said. “He doesn’t know he’s being listened to.”
“Nobody is addressing my question,” Claire said. “How are we going to control this?”
“I think,” Bill said, “we have to offer Sykes an opportunity he can’t afford to miss. Then we control the opportunity.”
Holly spoke for the first time in a while. “I think by ‘opportunity’ you mean me as bait.”
Bill shook his head. “I won’t allow that,” he said. “We just have to make Sykes, and maybe Eugene,
that you’re the bait.”
“We’ve anticipated this situation,” Tom said, “in that, having learned from our dummy in the White House, we’ve been looking for someone who can
to be you, ma’am.”
won’t allow that,” Holly said. “I’m not going to have some agent or, worse, some innocent risk dying in my place.”
Nobody spoke for a while. Finally, Stone did. “Well, I believe that leaves us at an impasse,” he said. “Bill won’t allow you to be bait, and you won’t allow anyone else to be.”
“It’s late,” Tom said. “I think we should all sleep on this.”
There was a murmur of agreement, and they each got to their feet and shuffled off to their quarters.
Holly turned off the bathroom light and came to bed, crawling, naked, under the covers with Stone.
“I’ve missed you,” he said.
“Same here, pal. Of course, we don’t get this plan right,
is going to miss me.”
“You do understand,” Stone said to her, “that whatever the opportunity is, you’re going to be the bait. I don’t see how you can avoid it, short of never leaving this house.”
Holly sighed. “Yes, I know.”
“All sorts of people have used doubles: Churchill, Eisenhower, et cetera.”
“And what happened to the doubles?”
“They all died in their beds, as far as I know. Field Marshal Montgomery’s double, having been an unknown actor, became a famous actor.”
“Yes, I saw that movie when I was a little girl. Ham took me to see it.”
“I don’t think you’d be putting a double into real jeopardy.”
“Why not? Look what happened to the dummy.”
“The person would be armored up,” Stone pointed out, “not a sitting duck like the dummy.”
“‘Sitting duck.’ That has such a nice ring to it.”
“And anyway, our side now has a distinct advantage: we’ve got two spies in the enemy camp and his hotel suite is bugged, both audio and video.”
“Now that’s the most encouraging thing I’ve heard tonight,” Holly said.
“All right. I’ll agree to the double, if they can find one.”
“Enough talk,” Stone said, pulling her to him.
Bess was having breakfast in her room in her nightgown and a robe when there was a knock on the door. She answered it, and Sykes was standing there. She let him in and closed the door. “Good morning.” She went back to her breakfast and motioned him to take a chair at the table. “What’s up?”
“I have some reconnoitering to do today,” he said. “Why don’t you do some shopping? I’m buying.” He laid a black American Express card on the table.
“There’s no limit on that card, is there?”
“There’s a limit on the user,” he replied.
“Better tell me now,” she said. “It will be too late when I’m at Bloomingdale’s.”
“All right, five grand.”
Her eyebrows went up. “Are we attending a ball?”
“You never know,” he said, getting up. “I’ll see you back here in time for dinner. I may have some news then.”
“Let yourself out, will you?” she said, spearing a sausage.
He did so.
She waited awhile then unlocked the door to the adjoining room and rapped on it.
Fisk stood there in his pajamas.
“Are those Bureau-issued?” she asked.
“No, you come in. Sykes has just left to do some reconnoitering, as he put it.”
“We didn’t hear anything on the wire,” he said, looking alarmed.
“Relax. I don’t wear pearls with my nightgown. Anyway, that’s all he said. Oh, he also said he’d see me for dinner. And he gave me his Amex card and put a five-thousand-dollar limit on my spending.”
“Are you attending a ball?”
“That was my response, too.”
“And what was his answer?”
“He said, ‘You never know.’”
“What do you think that means?”
“I think it means he doesn’t have a venue for an assassination yet. But I suspect he has a means of getting intelligence on that.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Just a hunch.”
“But he won’t be shooting before dinnertime.”
“Maybe not,” she replied, “but who knows?”
Fisk got a call on his cell phone, which he took from his pajama pocket. “Yes? Good. Stay on him, but be careful.” He hung up. “Sykes just left the hotel. We’re following.”
“Good, now get lost. I have to shower and dress.”
Fisk left, and she showered and dressed.
As she was about to leave her room, Fisk came back. “I see you’ve been wearing a cheap wristwatch,” he said. “I brought you a Rolex.”
“What does it do?”
“It tells time. It also performs the tasks the pearls did. Just press the stem once to turn it on and again to turn it off.”
“Got it,” she said, slipping it on. Then she left and headed off to Bloomingdale’s.
Holly sat at the head of the worktable and read through her schedule. “Excuse me for a moment,” she said to the gathered group. She went into her office and motioned for Bill Wright to follow.
He had a copy of the schedule in his hand. “Do you see what I see on this?”
“I see two opportunities,” she said. “St. Mary’s College, where I’m giving an award to a theatrical group, and the Army Intelligence Center, in New Jersey, where I’m giving a speech to the graduating class. I think Jersey looks best.”
“Maybe,” Bill replied. “Sykes and his people already have uniforms, so they can blend in out there. On the other hand, security is tight at that center, so making an escape after the fact could be a problem.”
“Which do you think?”
“I want to send people to both and thoroughly check them out.”
“I’ll look forward to your decision,” Holly said. “Now, I have to get back to work.”
Bill left, and Holly returned to the long table. “This is approved,” she said, waving the schedule. “What’s next?”
Bess was in a dressing room at Bloomingdale’s, trying on a dress, when there was a rap on the door.
“Yes?” she said, expecting a saleslady.
The door opened a crack. “Are you decent?” a male voice asked.
“Tom? Come in.”
Tom Blake walked into the booth, looking embarrassed. “Excuse me, but I need to speak to you about Sykes.”
“All right.” She turned her back to him. “Zip me up, will you?”
Tom zipped her up. “This morning, did you tell Fisk everything Sykes said to you?”
“Yes, I think so. Sykes wasn’t there long. Why do you ask?”
“We’ve lost him,” Tom said.
“Have you got people at the Army Intelligence Center and at St. Mary’s?”
“Not yet; we were supposed to follow him wherever he went.”
“Well, since we suspect him to use one of those two places, you’d better cover both, hadn’t you?”
“I’ve requested more people from New York’s FBI station.”
“Do you expect they’ll honor your request?”
“Yes, but they can be slow.”
“I’m sorry, Tom, but my next problem is which dress to buy. You’re on your own.”
Tom made to leave.
“Oh, one other thing,” she said. “Does Sykes have anyone following me?”
“We haven’t spotted anybody, but behave as though you’re being tailed.”
“In that case, you’d better not be seen leaving this dressing room, or I’ll have to scream for security.”
“Thanks for your help,” Tom said.
“Anytime.” She went back to trying on garments. She particularly liked the selection of silk blouses.