Authors: Stuart Woods
Colonel Sykes didn’t broach political views on that first occasion, and neither did Bess. By the time he had gotten around to that they had had three or four dinners. He had not made a move of any kind, but he had done his research. He knew what she earned at Justice, that she shared a small apartment with an older woman, and best of all, that she felt her job was a dead end, and she had another fifteen years before she could retire on her pension.
Then one evening she seemed a little depressed, and he gently asked her why.
“My boss won a case today, one that should have never been prosecuted.”
“What sort of case?”
“You’ve probably read about it in the
,” she said. “A
kid was stopped for a broken taillight, the police found an illegal gun and white-supremacist pamphlets in his car.”
“I don’t read the
,” he replied. “I like my news unfiltered by the liberal press.”
“So do I, but I have to read it for work.”
“What did this kid get?”
“He hasn’t been sentenced yet, but my boss is recommending eight to twelve, out in six, if he keeps his nose clean and his mouth shut.”
“Who is he?”
He slid his card across the table. “I may be able to help. Can you get me a copy of his file and his presentencing investigation and the name of the judge?”
She looked at him closely. “You? How could you help?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Yes, I’ll get you the file. A thumb drive okay?”
“You didn’t answer my question, either.”
“It’s better if you don’t know now. Maybe later.”
She reached into her purse and came up with a thumb drive. “I was taking this home for myself, but you can have it. The judge is Stanton Rutledge.”
Sykes slipped the drive into his pocket.
She seemed to look at him with new interest.
Sykes went home and plugged the thumb drive into his computer. The boy was Willard Simmons—he knew that
from Bess. He was twenty-four, had two years of college at Georgetown, had been kicked out over an incident involving a racial slur, followed by a fistfight.
He knew something about the judge, too: from an old Virginia family, once considered for a slot on the federal bench, until the newspapers had published a college yearbook with a photograph of him in blackface at a frat party. He and Sykes belonged to the same club in D.C. and had met a couple of times. There was something else, too. He fished a copy of the club’s monthly newsletter out of a pigeonhole in his desk and scanned it. Yes, there it was.
It was not hard to find Judge Rutledge in the early evenings, since each day he devoted an hour to relaxation in the club’s bar, followed by dinner in the dining room. The judge was a widower and had no one to go home to.
Sykes got a drink from the bar and turned to find the judge at a nearby table. He strolled over. “Good evening, Judge,” he said.
“Hello there, Sykes. Join me?”
“Thank you, I will.” He sat down. “Can I get you the other half of that?” He nodded at the judge’s nearly empty glass.
“Don’t mind if you do. It’s bourbon. Doesn’t matter what kind.”
Sykes raised a finger to a waiter. “A Knob Creek on the rocks for the judge, please.”
The drink was there in a flash, and the judge took a sip. “Why, that’s remarkable. What is it again?”
Sykes told him, and the judge made a note.
There was a copy of the club newsletter on the table between them. Sykes picked it up and pretended to scan it. “I see there’s a Rutledge who has been proposed for membership. Any relation?”
“Yes, my nephew, Carter. He’s just moved up from Richmond to take a job at State. Doesn’t know all that many people in town.”
Sykes slid his card across the table. “E-mail me his CV, and I’ll be glad to put something together.”
“That’s very decent of you, Colonel.”
“Not at all. Someone I didn’t know was kind enough to write a letter for me, some years back. Now I can pass on the favor.”
They chatted on amiably for a few minutes. Sykes had hoped the judge might bring up the case, but he didn’t. So he made his own move. “Didn’t I see in the
that you heard the case of this young man, Simmons?”
“Yes, a tragedy at his age.”
“It read like nothing more than a young man’s high jinks,” Sykes said. “Has he been sentenced?”
“Next Monday. The DA wants eight to twelve.”
“Whew! That’s mean! Does the prosecutor have some personal interest in the case?”
“I don’t believe so, but he came to Justice from the ACLU. I had the feeling he was personally offended by what the boy had done.” The judge looked around to be sure they were out of other members’ hearing range. “The attorney general is Jewish, you know.”
Sykes nodded sagely. “What a shame. I know some of the boy’s folks down in my neck of the woods, and they’re fine people to a man. He’s the sort of young fellow I’d offer a job to when he’s out.”
“Really, Judge. I think justice should be merciful, when possible, not just mean.”
“That’s my philosophy, too. I’m going to read his record again, see what I can do.”
“God bless you,” Sykes said. “You’re a humanitarian, Judge.”
The judge waved off the compliment. “One does what one can.”
A few days later, Sykes asked Bess to dinner again.
“Did you see the papers today?” she asked.
“The Simmons boy got time served and four years of probation. My boss was beside himself!”
“Sometimes justice does prevail,” Sykes said.
“Did you have anything to do with that?”
“I ran into the judge at a club we both belong to, and we had a drink. I offered to write a letter to the admissions committee on behalf of his nephew, who is a candidate for membership. The judge asked if there was anything he could do for me.” He shrugged. “I guess he wasn’t just saying that.”
“You are wonderful,” she said, squeezing his arm.
Holly had spent a week in New York with Stone when they were dining with the Bacchettis at Rotisserie Georgette, an East Side restaurant specializing in roasted fowl.
“I’ve got to stop living as if I’m on the lam,” Holly said, broaching a new subject.
“Is that how you feel at my house?” Stone asked.
“It’s nothing to do with you or your house,” she replied. “When I’ve taken office I’ll be surrounded by all the security my government can manage. But right now I’m a president-in-waiting, and I don’t want to make presidential demands. Also, from now until my inauguration, I don’t want to be seen as hiding from the public. It would seem cowardly somehow, and that is just not in my nature. I’m my father’s daughter.”
Holly had been raised as an Army brat by a mostly single parent, a rawhide-tough master sergeant whose wife had died young, moving every few years and attending a dozen schools. She had never allowed anybody to bully her, and she wasn’t going to start now.
Dino spoke up. “How are those two Secret Service agents at the table behind you going to take that?”
“I don’t mind them two at a time,” Holly replied, “but the other six scattered around the restaurant and in the vehicles outside are just too much. I’ve already gotten six of them killed, and I don’t want their replacements living in danger because of me.”
“All right,” Stone said. “If that’s how you’re going to handle this, there are some things you need to do.”
“Tell me,” she replied.
“The Secret Service will take care of that. They’ll explain why they are necessary to your continued survival.”
“I’m not really that vulnerable,” she said.
“What would have happened if you and I had not been out sailing when the attack on Islesboro occurred?”
“We would have shot it out with them.”
“I remind you that two of the dead were guarding the front and rear doors of my house. A couple of armor-piercing rounds would have taken us out as we stood by the living room fireplace, warming our hands. Fortunately, they didn’t know how hardened the house was.”
“What else? And don’t dump it on the Secret Service.”
“I don’t want you moving out of my house,” Stone said. “I know that’s greedy of me, but where you’re concerned I
don’t have any trouble being greedy. But sooner rather than later, someone in the media is going to figure out that we’re shacking up, and seconds after they do, the world will know. I don’t want that news competing with the reportage on your transition, and I don’t want that information coloring your character.”
“Then where should I live? I have an apartment in New York, but it’s rented. I can’t go back to Washington, because my transition office is here, and here is where I need to be.”
“Move back into the Carlyle. I’ll surreptitiously pay for the suite, if your transition budget can’t handle it. And there are lots of ways for both of us to sneak into or out of the hotel.”
“My budget can handle it,” she said. “But I don’t know if I can.”
“You’re sweet,” Stone replied, “but we’ll manage.”
“What about after the inauguration?”
“I’m going to let you handle those arrangements,” Stone said, “since you will have all the strings to pull. I can always be across the street at the Hay-Adams Hotel. I’ve already arranged for a long-term suite there.”
Holly smiled. “I like good planning,” she said. “What name is it in?”
“Well, I was going to put it in Dino’s name, so if anybody found out, then he, not I, would be saddled with the attention of the media.”
“Thanks a bunch,” Dino said.
“From me, too,” Viv added, “though it pisses me off that you would even consider that.”
“It’s registered to a Delaware corporation. That’s the most security I can get without being appointed New York City’s police commissioner or elected president.”
“Are you going to have a tunnel dug to the White House?” Holly asked.
“That, too, would require presidential powers. The government has all the shovels.”
“I’ll look into whether I’ll have the authority to call in the Army Corps of Engineers.”
“We’ve still got Maine and Key West,” Stone said, “when you can get a weekend off—as long as you don’t make the trip in Air Force One. At least you don’t play golf. I read somewhere that it costs three million dollars every time a president has to travel to a golf course.”
“At least,” Holly said. “That’s why Will and Kate stopped playing. Kate told me that Will is turning a big chunk of the family farm in Georgia into a nine-hole course. He’s been seen down there, driving a bulldozer.”
“That’s about as much fun as a boy can have,” Viv said.
They were back in Stone’s Bentley, driving home, when Bill, in the front passenger seat, started speaking into his fist.
“Uh-oh,” Holly said.
Bill turned around. “Stone, your security system started squawking a minute ago, so we’re going to take the scenic route home,” he said.
The SUV in front of them started making turns, and a moment later, they were driving into Central Park.
“Central Park is closed to automobile traffic,” Stone said to Bill.
“They’re making an exception for us,” Bill replied. “Fred, pull over here, and we’ll wait for the all clear.”
“Bill?” Holly asked. “Do you think it would be safe for us to take a moonlight walk in the park?”
“I don’t see why not,” Bill replied, “as long as you have an armed guard ahead of and behind you.”
They got out of the car. “Let’s go see who’s awake at the zoo,” Holly said. She led the way to the cages, with an occasional grunt or snort coming from somewhere.
“Isn’t this lovely?” she asked.
“Not really,” Stone replied. “Zoos depress me.”
“Because they’re prisons for animals,” he replied. “And far from their natural homes.”
“And I was going to suggest we take a bench and neck for a while.”
“That works better for me if there’s no scent of elephant dung in the air,” Stone said.
Bill approached from behind them. “We’ve got the all clear at your house, Stone,” he said. “Some sort of electronic glitch.”
They trudged slowly back to the waiting car.
The black phone rang, and Elizabeth Potter jumped. She let it ring twice more while she composed herself, then picked it up. “Michael Crow’s office,” she said.
“What position does Mr. Crow hold?” a male voice asked.
Liz knew the voice immediately. “Mr. Crow is the deputy attorney general for criminal prosecution,” she replied.
“Can we talk on this line?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Crow is attending a meeting outside the office. May I take a message for him?”
“When do you think he could get back to me?”
“I should think between twelve-thirty and one.”
He gave her a number. “I’ll be waiting for the call.”
She wrote down the number; probably a burner cell phone. “I’ll see that he gets the message,” she said, then hung up. She memorized the number, then dropped the
slip of paper into her shredder, which immediately ingested it.
She waited until 12:35 before returning the call.
“Ah! Where are you?”
“At a table in a courtyard near my office.”
He gave her some walking directions. “It’s a pub called Shannon’s,” he said. “Ten minutes?”
“Five,” she replied. She put away her cell phone and began walking. Six minutes later she spotted the pub: not the sort that would attract anyone she knew for lunch. She found Sykes in a booth at the back. “Nice place you’ve got here,” she said, sliding in.
“Let’s just say that it doesn’t attract the carriage trade.”
“Nor the Justice trade.”
Sykes looked around, then back at her. “Quite right. I’ve received word that our bird is flying back to Washington for a few days.”
“That’s interesting. Where will she roost?”
“Two possibilities: the residence where your friends last made contact with her, or the family quarters of a large, white residence not too far away.”
Someone set a bowl of something before her. “What is this?” she asked, sniffing at it.
“Irish stew,” he replied. “The best in town.”
“How much competition is there?”
“Perhaps a dozen or so such pubs.”
She tasted it gingerly. “Not too bad.”
“Would you like something else?”
“What would you suggest?”
has been praised by connoisseurs.”
“What is that?”
“Stomach of cow,” he replied, “sliced, seasoned, cooked, and cut into bite-sized pieces.”
“The Irish stew sounds delicious,” she said, filling a spoon and eating it.
“A wise choice,” Sykes said. “What do you think about our problem?”
“Well, let’s see: the last location has probably been fortified since our last visit.”
“And the alternative is guarded by a tall fence, dogs, guards armed with automatic weapons, and ground-to-ground missiles on the roof. Does either option sound inviting?”
“They both have the attraction of unexpectedness, one having been previously visited, the other suffering from complacency.”
“‘Complacency’? You think so?”
“I guess that means the previous location.”
“Not unless you can get someone inside, undetected, long enough to plant explosives,” she said. “And that someone will not be me.”
“I thought you bolder,” he said.
“Foolish, more likely.”
He reached out, stroked her forearm, and took her hand.
“Never that,” he said.
“Colonel,” she said, withdrawing her hand, “there is something you should know about me before we continue this conversation.”
“That you’re beautiful? I already know that.”
“That I’m a lesbian,” she replied.
He withdrew his hand as if her flesh were afire. “I would never have guessed,” he managed to say, finally.
“That’s the way I prefer it,” she said. “I’m afforded a wider range of company, if no one suspects.”
“Most people are distrustful of others who present themselves as one thing, then turn out to be another. I find it more useful to let them make their presumptions, then follow their preconceived notions.”
“What would you say if another woman asked you directly: ‘Are you a lesbian?’”
“I would reply, ‘Why? Are you?’ And if she answered honestly in the affirmative, I would consider her as a potential lover. Men and women are not so different in the manner of their choices, as long as they’re on familiar ground.”
“And how long have you been, ah, that way?”
“You’re so delicate, Sykes. Since birth, probably before. It’s not a choice, you know. Just as you didn’t choose to be heterosexual.”
“That’s very enlightening,” Sykes said.
“I’m so happy you find it to be.”
“Now, back to the reason for our meeting.”
“Ah, yes. Can you present me with a more opportune setting?”
“Colonel, I seem to recall someone at your dinner table saying that your intelligence was inadequate.”
“I’m working on it. Do you, at your place of work, have access to the file of Holly Barker?”
“I do, if the file includes behavior indicating criminal activity or proclivity. I hardly think, given the positions she has held, that she had anything of the sort in her background. If so, it would have been discovered long ago.”
“Nevertheless, I’d like to know if she has a file and, if so, what’s in it.”
“If I can find a plausible excuse to work late one evening soon, then I know where the key is kept.”
“How about this evening?”
“Tomorrow evening would be better.”
“Call me the day after,” he said, hipping his way out of the booth. “Lunch is on me.” He walked out of the pub.
She didn’t watch him go.