Authors: Stuart Woods
Stone went over to the Hay-Adams with Bill Wright. They were walked to an upper-floor guest room by a Secret Service agent and found a suitcase lying on the bed, with a broken-down rifle fitted into it. A technician was dusting the room for fingerprints.
“Any prints on the weapon?” Stone asked.
“None,” the tech replied. “Wiped clean. All we’ve found in here are the fingerprints of the maid.”
“How is the silencer made?”
“A soft-drink can filled with sawdust. It might be effective on the first round, but not after that. Too insubstantial.”
“Then the shooter is very confident of his skill,” Stone said, looking out the window toward the White House across the street. “Anybody see him at check-in?”
The agent spoke up. “Tallish man in an overcoat and hat,
paid cash in advance for one night. Used a false name. We’ve got nothing.”
“I’m tired of having nothing,” Bill said.
“How was the rifle discovered?”
“A maid found it when she removed a stack of towels from the closet.”
“How did it get in here?”
“She called a bellman for help because the case was too heavy for her.”
“Did the bellman show him to the room?”
“Yes. The man left a twenty-dollar tip. I guess the bellman was looking at the money, instead of his face. The man was of no help to us.”
“You’ve got nothing,” Stone said to Bill. Stone looked at his watch. “I’m late for lunch.”
“I’ll drive you over there,” Bill said.
Stone walked in to find Holly, Sam Meriwether, and all three Lees at the table. “My apologies.” He took a seat and started on his salad.
“Tell us about the gun.”
“A Remington 700, a very popular hunting rifle. Serial number filed off, no prints.”
“So you’ve got nothing?” Holly asked.
“That’s exactly what we’ve got. It sounds worse when you say it.”
“Have they done everything?”
“The police officer inside you would be satisfied.”
“Did his room have a view of this room?”
Bill Wright was invited in to give his report, which was identical to Stone’s.
When he had gone, Kate said, “I invited him in so he wouldn’t feel left out. Have you left anything out, Stone?”
“Only a suspicion.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“It’s all a little too simple. A man checks in with a suitcase, leaves it in a closet, where it would surely be found in due course, then leaves. He couldn’t have hit Holly through that window unless she was deliberately standing close to it.”
“Why would I do that?” Holly asked.
“My very point.”
“Why would they make a plan for nothing?” Kate asked.
“Because they have another plan, and they want the police to believe they’ve been thwarted. They may also have wanted to send the Secret Service a message that they can’t be easily shaken off.”
“Did you share your theories with Bill?”
“Yes, on the way back here.”
“What was his reaction?”
“A sort of grunt.”
“Did you think he came to the same conclusion?”
“I doubt it. Bill was not trained as a crime solver; that isn’t the Secret Service’s mission.”
“What did the police think?”
“No policemen were there. I’m not sure if they had been
called yet. Hotel security would have known to call the Secret Service. That done, they may not have bothered with the police, they’d think the Secret Service would involve them.”
“I doubt if hotel security would call them. It isn’t the sort of publicity they seek.”
Kate changed the subject, and no one resisted.
After lunch, Kate took Holly into her study and retrieved some notes from her desk drawer. “Now that you’re the president-elect, there are some things I can share with you that might be of assistance after you’ve taken the oath.”
“I’d be grateful for any advice,” Holly said.
“You may be sorry you said that,” Kate replied. She pulled a fat briefcase from under her desk and handed it across. “These are files on every congressman and senator: short bio, legislative record, photos of him or her and spouse, peccadillos. If you can commit them to memory, you’ll impress the hell out of everybody.”
“Thank you, I’ll try.”
Kate took her through every position, foreign and domestic, that her administration held, discussed the work of the intelligence services at length, talked about the military hierarchy, and supplied the same information about them that she had about Congress.
Kate then placed two fat volumes on her desk. “Here’s a digest of the most recent national budget we’ve passed. By
the way, everything I’m giving you will also be available on your computer; you’ll be issued the latest in desktops and laptops, all with encryption.”
Another thick book described the nation’s nuclear arsenal and its capabilities. “This should not leave the White House,” Kate said.
“I’ve already sent your transition team a list of the White House staff, along with recommendations for which ones you should retain, if you can. A lot of them will want to go make some money. Eight or even four years is a long time for a family to live on a White House salary.”
“I can understand that,” Holly said. “State Department salaries are no better.”
“I’ve set up the room next to this one as a temporary study for you, and I’ve assigned you a very knowledgeable assistant, starting tomorrow morning. She’ll help you with the computer system, especially, and she knows everybody here and on the Hill quite well. Her name is Barbara Tanner. She’s the sort of person you’ll want to keep on, so be nice to her.”
They spent another two hours at all this, and Holly went back to her room for a nap before drinks, feeling a little weighed down with information.
Sykes sat at his dining table and surveyed his people. “Where’s Bess?” one of them asked.
“Good question. Not here yet.”
Bess strode in from the living room. “Don’t be troubled. Traffic accident on the road, that’s all.” She pulled up a chair.
“Good,” Sykes said. “How’d it go?”
“As planned,” somebody said. “As far as we can tell, they bought it, hook, line, and sinker. They’ll be wasting a lot of manpower guarding the hotel.”
“Where’s Eugene?” Sykes asked.
“Holed up at the apartment you rented. He’s moved in.”
“Good. We want him to be seen around the building and the neighborhood, to become a part of the wallpaper, so to speak.”
“He moved in with two suitcases of clothes that he’s worn once or twice.”
“Good. When he leaves we don’t want it to look like he’s fled the scene. We’ve sent him a couple of boxes of books and some little stuff to make it look like he’s staying awhile.Has he slept there yet?”
“Tonight’s his first night.”
“She’s not going to stay there forever,” Sykes said.
“We’ve caught sight of her working at a desk for periods of time. It’s a better shot from the roof than the hotel window.”
Bess was taking all this in, but not asking any questions. If Sykes felt she needed to know something, he’d tell her. She knew him well enough by now to know that.
“Here’s how it’s going to go,” Sykes said. “Eugene will carry in his case holding the rifle and the new silencer; he’ll do that this afternoon. He will wear cotton gloves the whole time he’s in the apartment. Before sunup tomorrow he will go to the roof and build himself a little nest in a corner, just enough to hide his presence. Once that’s up, he’ll get the rifle assembled and on its tripod. Then he will wait until she appears at the desk and fire four shots. Pulling the trigger once fires twice—the first two shots will weaken and penetrate the window and the second pull will kill with two head shots. Nobody in the building or the neighborhood will hear anything. The new silencer has been tested; it’s excellent, if I do say so.
“After the kill, he will take the rifle apart, pack it in the case, then take it down a floor to the rear fire escape and drop it from the top level into the garden, where it will be collected and taken away by Arnie. Then Eugene will return to his apartment. He will be dressed in pajamas and a robe and will make himself breakfast and leave the dishes in the sink. He will sit down and read the
until the first searchers arrive; he will greet them at the door with the newspaper in hand and let them have a look around and answer their questions. He will be curious about their reasons for calling, but they will tell him nothing. He will show them the Maryland driver’s license we furnished him with and the passport made by the same craftsman. They’ll leave him to his newspaper and go.
“Eugene will stay there for another day or two before walking away with nothing but his briefcase. We’ve paid two months’ rent and a security deposit, so the apartment won’t be looked at again until he fails to pay the rent. By that time, everybody will have forgotten about him. He won’t have a beard anymore, and that will help. There won’t be any of his fingerprints to be found, and not so much as a hair on the shoulder of a jacket. He will, in short, be untraceable.
“Also, no one here at this moment will leave this house until after Eugene checks out of his building, and I want all your cell phones on the table now.”
Bess unhesitatingly laid hers on the table, and it was collected with everyone else’s. “Have you provided any entertainment for us, Colonel?” she asked, getting a chuckle from the others.
“Yes, there’s the TV, and you may have the run of my library. Did you bring a suitcase, as directed?”
“Yes, it’s in the car.”
“Go and get it, then. Your room is the first on the right at the top of the stairs. You may as well put your things away.”
“Of course.” She got up, left the house, went to her car, and popped the trunk. She set her suitcase on the ground, then opened a side panel and extracted a burner phone and a .380 semiautomatic pistol, tucking the phone into a pocket of her jeans and the pistol into an ankle holster. Then she closed the trunk, walked back to the house, and started up the stairs.
“Just a minute,” a male voice said. She turned to find one of her companions, whose name was Earl, standing there. “Colonel’s orders: I’m to have a look in your suitcase.”
She handed the case over the rail and stood on the stairs while he placed it on a table, opened it, and searched it thoroughly. He closed it and returned it to her. “Thanks.”
“Anytime,” she said, and continued to her room. Once inside, she duct-taped the pistol to the bottom of a desk drawer and retrieved her burner phone, sat down on the bed, and turned it on. It took a moment to boot up.
“Shit!” she said aloud. “No bars.” There was no cell service in this room; she’d have to try others. She tucked the instrument into her pocket, put away her clothes, then walked downstairs. The house was empty except for Elroy, who was working in the kitchen. She got a look at the phone in each room, and there were no bars showing in any of them.
She went back to the kitchen. “Where is everybody, Elroy?” she asked.
“They left with the colonel,” Elroy said. “Maybe gone to D.C.”
“All of them?”
“All the ones here at breakfast. I don’t know who’s in the bunkhouse.”
She left the house through the kitchen door and walked through the breezeway to the bunkhouse, which was empty, then she went back to the kitchen. “Elroy,” she said, “I’m going to take a little hike up the hill over there.” She jerked a thumb toward the hill where Eugene had been practicing his marksmanship. “Anybody asks, that’s where I can be found.”
“Okay,” Elroy said.
“Can you make me a sandwich, please?”
“Sure,” Elroy said, and began busying himself making and toasting the sandwich.
Bess pulled up a chair to the kitchen table. “I hear you’re an ex-Navy man,” she said.
“That’s right,” he replied.
“Is that where you learned to cook?”
“Nope. I learned to cook at my mama’s knee. I only cook Southern. That was all she taught me, but I don’t seem to get any complaints.”
“Certainly not from me,” Bess said. She accepted the sandwich in a brown paper bag, and Elroy opened the refrigerator door to display beer and soft drinks. She selected
a diet soda and dropped it into the bag. “Thanks, Elroy, I owe you one,” she said.
“Think nothing of it,” he said, then went back to rolling biscuits.
Bess left by the back door and set a good pace for herself, following a well-worn footpath.
The path was steep, and Bess judged the top of the hill to be somewhere between 100 and 150 feet above the level where the compound was located.
At the top, she sat on a boulder and panted until her breathing returned to normal, then, with trepidation, she got out the cell phone. What if there was no reception up here? She turned it on and got two bars, sometimes one, sometimes none. Dicey.
She direct-dialed Tom Blake’s cell phone.
“It’s me. Can you record this? It’s important.”
“Just a minute.” There were sounds of fumbling, then the line went dead.
“I’ve got a weak signal here, so I may have to repeat myself to get it all recorded.”
“It’s recording now.”
“The man in charge has rented an apartment on the same side of the big house. The shooter will establish a firing position on the roof of that building. They’re planning the shoot for tomorrow morning when the subject often works at a desk. Got that?”
“Repeat it, just in case.”
She did so. “To continue, the weapon fires two rounds with each pull of the trigger. He will wait until the subject settles at the desk, then fire once to break or weaken the window, then once more.
“The shooter will drop his case off the back of the building, into a garden, where it will be immediately recovered and removed. He will go back to his apartment, dress in pajamas and a robe, where he will be found by searchers, reading the morning papers. He will not leave the building for a couple of days, then he’ll walk away with only a briefcase and not return. Rent is paid for two months. Got all that?”
“Hang on while I replay.” The line went dead again, and when she redialed, the signal was weaker, and the call didn’t go through. She continued to try for a couple of minutes, then stopped, not wanting to run down the battery.
She ate her sandwich and enjoyed the sun for an hour, then tried the call again. No good. She looked up and, in the distance, saw dust rising from a car on the dirt road
approaching the compound. She paced off ten feet, then hid the burner phone under a rock and went back to her seat on the boulder. The car pulled into the parking area at the compound, and the colonel got out. He seemed to be looking at her, so she waved and got a wave back. He beckoned to her, and she started down the trail.
The colonel was at his desk in his study when she entered. “You wanted me?”
“What were you doing on the hilltop?” he asked.
“Enjoying the view. It’s quite a climb up there.”
“Yes, it is. Do you have a cell phone, other than the one you turned in?”
“No,” she said.
“Grab the desk and spread ’em,” he said.
She assumed the position and tried to be patient while he patted down every inch of her, spending extra time at her breasts and crotch.
“Well, there’s no cell reception out here, anyway,” he said. “Except at the hilltop.”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” she said.
He opened a desk drawer. “Which phone is yours?”
“The white iPhone,” she replied, and he handed it to her.
“There’s no Wi-Fi here, unless I turn it on, which I do a couple of times a day to check e-mail.”
“Mostly, I get spam anyway,” she said, tucking the phone in a pocket.
“Don’t we all?”
“If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a nap,” she said.
“Elroy made me a sandwich for my hike.”
“See you at dinner then.”
She went back to her room and turned on her iPhone. She found an e-mail from a box with her dead father’s name on it.
Mom got your card, but she complained about not being able to read your handwriting. Next time, print block letters.
Bill Wright and Tom Blake sat in an empty cubicle in the Secret Service’s small office space, on a lower level in the White House.
Tom replayed his recording from Elizabeth.
“Jesus, that’s terrible,” Bill said. “Is that all you got?”
“I’ve got some tech people working to see if they can improve it,” Tom said, “but I’m doubtful. If it had been an e-mail, we might have a shot at putting it together, but I don’t see how they could do that with a voice message.”
“Well, I heard something about an apartment and a roof and a garden,” Bill said.
“Yeah, I got that, too. Maybe they’re going to shoot from a rooftop?”
Bill went to a cabinet and got out a large, rolled-up sheet
of paper. “What if, as we suspected, the rifle at the Hay-Adams was a kind of decoy, designed to waste our time?” He unrolled the paper and pinned it to a message board in the office. It was a satellite shot of the White House and the surrounding area. He pinned a sheet of clear plastic over it and found a grease pencil. “Here’s the Hay-Adams,” he said, drawing a circle around it. “But I don’t see an apartment building in either direction from it.”
“No, there’s the Chamber of Commerce building and a lot of courts and other government buildings,” Tom replied, “but there’s no building that would house apartments.”
“This just doesn’t make any sense,” Bill said. “God, I wish she’d had better cell service.”
“Maybe we’d do better looking out the window we were worried about,” Tom said.
Bill picked up a phone. “This is Agent Wright. Are the family quarters occupied at the moment?” He listened. “Please ring up there and say that Assistant Director Blake of the FBI and I are coming up, and let the agent on duty know, too.” He unpinned the map and rolled it up. “Come on,” he said.
The two men walked up to the main floor of the White House and found the elevator to the family quarters. They walked out of the elevator into a broad hallway with a seating area at one end. A Secret Service agent stood at the front door of the quarters.
The agent was unknown to Bill, so both men handed him their identification before being admitted to the quarters. “Is the president in the residence?” Bill asked the agent.
“No, sir. She’s making a speech somewhere. There’s just the president-elect and a Mr. Barrington. Last time I checked she was in her temporary office, next to the president’s study.”
“Right,” Bill said. “This way, Tom.”