Authors: Stuart Woods
Bill Wright rapped on the door.
“Come in!” A woman’s voice.
He opened the door. Holly Barker was sitting at a large desk, its top obscured by stacks of bound documents.
“What can I do for you, Bill?” she asked.
“Ma’am, this is Tom Blake, assistant director of the FBI for criminal investigations.”
“We’d like to take a look outside your window,” Bill said.
“Help yourself. Am I in the way?”
“I’ll let you know in a minute.”
The two men went and stood by the window, which was made of a thick plate glass. And between two layers, a fine wire mesh could be detected.
Tom rapped on the window with his class ring, which, he reflected, was about all it was good for. “Is this going to stop a bullet?” he asked.
“We believe so,” Bill said, “but it was installed before my time, so I haven’t seen any test results.”
“A high-powered rifle’s bullet?” Tom asked.
“Ma’am,” Tom said. “May I sit in your chair for a moment?”
Holly rose and stepped aside.
Bill unrolled the satshot and oriented it properly. “Okay,” he said. “There would be the possibility of a hit from anyplace we can see out the window.” He marked the limits on the satshot.
“Everything I can see from here,” Tom said, “with two exceptions, looks like government to me.”
Bill looked out the window and compared it with the map. “I agree. The two exceptions are the Hay-Adams Hotel and an Episcopal church.” He pointed to both on the map.
Tom checked the view again, then returned to the map. “What’s this building next to the church?”
“The rectory, I think.”
“I’m a Baptist. What happens in a rectory?”
“Church offices, maybe a residence or two.”
“There’s a row of identical windows along the top floor that could be individual rooms or small apartments,” Tom said.
“Maybe for staff or priests or other employees.”
“What’s behind the rectory?”
Bill checked and tapped the satshot with a finger. “A garden.”
“What we can hear on the tape is about an apartment where they’ve paid two months’ rent.”
“And we agree that there are no other residential buildings within rifle range of that window except for the rectory?”
“Then let’s go take a look at it,” Tom said.
“We’re sorry to have disturbed you, ma’am,” Bill said. “Would you mind if we relocate your desk? It’s for your personal safety.”
“Anywhere you like.”
“On the other side of the building would be nice,” Tom muttered.
“Not possible,” Bill said. “Give me a hand with this.”
“Where is it going?”
“All the way over there in that corner. I’m afraid, ma’am, that won’t leave you with much of a view.”
“Nor for the shooter,” Holly replied. “I like it.”
The desk, with its load of documents was very heavy, but they eventually managed to slide it across the carpet and into position.
“There,” Bill said.
Holly pushed her chair over to the desk and sat down. “I can’t see a thing outside the window.”
“Good,” Tom said.
“Tom,” Bill said. “Does the FBI have some sort of a department that could put a dummy in a chair near the window?”
“Yes. It’s called the Department of Special Services.”
“Make her a tall redhead,” Bill said.
Tom got out his phone. “No service,” he said.
“That’s because of the wire mesh in the plate glass.”
“You can use a house phone in the living room,” Holly said. “The White House operator can connect you with any phone in the world.”
“That’ll do,” Tom said, and they left her alone, closing the door behind them.
Tom picked up a phone on a sofa-side table and made his call.
The two men sat in the office of the bishop, who was regarding them askance. “You want to search the rectory?”
“That is correct, sir. It’s a matter of safety for the White House.”
The bishop looked at the two IDs on his desk. “Who are you looking for?”
“A man with a high-powered rifle, but he won’t have arrived yet.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” He spoke to his assistant. “Eric, please find the keys to the rooms on the upper floors of the rectory and escort these gentlemen there for a tour. Make sure they don’t steal the silver.” He handed back the IDs. “Good luck to you.”
What’s on the upper floors?” Bill asked Eric as the elevator rose.
“Top floor is sort of a dormitory that used to house visiting high-school kids who did summer internships. It isn’t used anymore. There are a few single rooms, as well, for their teachers. One floor down is busy office space.”
“Let’s see the top floor,” Bill said.
As they got out of the elevator a maid stepped out of a door, towing a mop bucket behind her.
“Miss, which rooms did you clean?” Tom asked.
“All of the singles. We do it once a week, though they’re little used.”
“Are they locked?” Eric asked.
“There are three furnished,” Eric said. “Which do you want to see?”
“All of them,” Tom replied
The three were identically furnished with a bed, a desk, a padded chair, and two lamps. There were fresh towels in the bathrooms.
“Which of the rear windows in the dormitory have views of the garden?” Bill asked.
“I suppose the ones across from these rooms.”
Tom tried the windows in all three rooms. Only one opened freely. The others were nailed shut.
“There used to be an air conditioner in that window,” Eric said, “before the whole place got new ductwork.”
Bill walked across the dormitory and found one window that would open. “Nice view of the garden,” he said when he returned.
“I noticed locks on the doors of the three rooms,” Tom said. “Where are the keys?”
Eric held up a bunch of, perhaps two dozen keys. “Help yourself.”
“Okay,” Tom said, “let’s lock the rooms on either side. We can put men in both. He’ll have only one option and one working window.”
“I’d call that boxing him in,” Bill said.
Bill Wright and Tom Blake sat in Holly’s temporary office and watched as two FBI technicians worked. They set up a card table in front of the window and placed the dummy, dressed in a white blouse and a red wig, in a chair between the window and the table. They borrowed several thick documents from Holly’s desk and arranged them on the card table, then placed the dummy’s left hand on an open document and her right hand, holding a pencil, on another document. They set a lamp on the table and plugged it into a receptacle under the window.
“Would you turn on that light switch, please, Mr. Blake?” the tech in charge asked, pointing to a switch beside the door. Bill did so, and the light came on. Also, the head of the dummy, which had been pointed down at the open
document, turned to its right, and its right hand made small movements, as if writing.
“Wonderful!” Bill said “From a distance it will be indistinguishable from the lady herself.”
“I agree,” Tom said. “Thank you, gentlemen.”
The two techs closed their tool kits and prepared to depart.
“How will we turn it on tomorrow morning?” Tom asked.
“We’re not going to have access at dawn,” Bill replied.
“Why don’t you just leave the light switch on?” the lead tech said. “It’s a fresh lightbulb; it won’t burn out overnight.”
“Good idea,” Bill said
The two men took their tools and left. Wright and Blake departed with them, leaving the light switch on.
The dummy continued doing its work.
, they circled the block, checking for police, then stopped at the gate to the church gardens. “Can you handle the lock?” the driver asked Eugene.
“I can handle just about any lock,” Eugene replied. “Honk, if you spot a cop.” He got out of the car, took his case, and walked to the gate, perhaps thirty feet away. He removed an instrument that looked like a small electric drill from his case, inserted one end in the lock, and opened it in under twenty seconds. He closed his case and let himself into the garden, then applied a piece of duct tape to the lock’s bolt, so that it wouldn’t lock him in. That done, he walked up the stone path to the rear of the rectory and unlocked the rear door by the same means.
Inside, he made sure he could open it without a key, then walked to the elevator and took it to the top floor. He was surprised to find two of the single rooms locked, but the third one was not. He pulled on a pair of soft, thin leather gloves and let himself into the room, then set his case on the bed and opened it.
The case contained the dismantled rifle, scope, and silencer; his lock pick; and a coil of nylon rope with a half-hook at one end, the whole length tied in a series of knots. He walked across the dormitory room, opened the unlocked window, laid the half-hook over the sill and tossed the rope out into the night air. He watched to see that the other end nearly touched the ground.
He returned to the room, locked the door behind him, and then practiced assembling and disassembling the rifle as quickly as possible, something he had rehearsed many times in his room. He set up the folding tripod, attached the rifle, and sighted across the avenue to the White House, where a single window of the family quarters was lit. To his astonishment, the woman was sitting at a desk, going through a document and making notes.
“Good God, an insomniac,” he said.
He checked his equipment again, then it occurred to him: Why wait? His chances of pulling this off and getting away were better now than in the morning. He got out his cell phone and speed-dialed a number.
“Conditions are favorable at this hour,” he said.
came the astonished reply.
“I repeat: conditions are favorable now. Plans change. Position the vehicle.”
“As you wish.”
“How long do you need?”
“Ring once when you’re in position.”
Both men hung up.
Eugene made his final preparations, then sighted through the rifle again. She was still at work. He positioned himself behind the rifle, took aim, and waited.
The cell phone in his breast pocket vibrated once. Eugene squeezed off the first shot. He saw the window star; it would be much weakened now. He squeezed off the second shot, saw the window explode and the woman’s hair move. Then he saw a red flashing light under the eaves near the window and heard a bell start to ring rhythmically. The shattering of the window had tripped an alarm system. He wasn’t going to bother with changing into pajamas; he had to get out
Quickly and smoothly, he closed the window, disassembled the rifle, packing each piece into its place, closed the case, unlocked the door and walked quickly to the open window in the dorm. He looked out the window, chose a thicket of bushes, and dropped the case. He saw it disappear into the shrubs.
He straddled the windowsill, checked that the half-hook was holding, then climbed out the window and slid down the rope, controlling his descent with the knots. Once on the
ground, he flicked the rope twice; the half-hook popped off the windowsill and fell to the ground. He retrieved his case from the bushes, tucked the rope inside it, and ran for the gate, removing the duct tape as he left. The car was waiting.
Eugene tossed his case into the rear compartment of the SUV. “No more than thirty miles an hour,” he said. The driver pulled away and drove, unobserved, through the empty streets.
, Bill Wright was dressed and having toast and coffee in his kitchen. He and Blake were meeting at the rectory at four
. His phone rang. “Wright,” he said.
“Code 101 at location zero,” a voice said.
Wright was stunned. “What damage?”
“To be determined.”
Wright put away his phone and ran for his car. The second call came as he was backing out of his garage.
“It’s Tom. Did you hear?”
“I’m on my way. I’ll meet you there.” He hung up and switched on his flashing lights.
The White House gate guard waved him through quickly. He drove to the portico, got out, and ran for the elevator.
Tom Blake was already in the room, along with two uniformed Secret Service guards. Holly Barker and the president and the first gentleman were also in the room, all of them dressed in nightclothes and robes.
Bill said good evening to them, then walked to the window and inspected it. There was a hole the size of a softball in the two layers of glass. “Upgrade needed here,” he said to nobody in particular.
He bent over and inspected the dummy. “Two shots to the head.”
“Then I must be deceased,” Holly said.
Colonel Sykes was sound asleep when he was awakened by the telephone. The bedside clock read 3:33
, and the shoot was to take place after seven
. Something had gone wrong. “Hello?”
“Confirm project has been successfully completed,” Eugene’s voice said.
“You must be confused,” Sykes said. “Too early.”
“Subject is an insomniac. Favorable conditions prevailed earlier than planned.” He hung up.
Sykes sat on his bed, his heart pounding. He had made it happen, just as he had planned, only sooner. He looked up the number of Eugene’s burner phone and dialed it.
“Confirm successful completion.”
“Confirmed. It was perfect.”
“Listen to me: don’t arrive carrying the package. Leave it where you can find it again. Also, any relevant clothing. Do not make your final turn if there is any vehicle in sight.”
“Understood,” Eugene said, then hung up.
Sykes breathed a sigh of relief and began to calm down. They would get rid of the rifle and tools and not lead anyone to the compound. All that remained was to get his people to bed, and it would be over.
There was a knock at his door. “Wade?” Bess was awake.
She opened the door and stepped inside, wearing a robe. “I was awakened by voices. Is everything all right?”
“It was just a phone call,” he said. “Everything is all right. Go back to bed.”
“You sounded very tense,” she said.
“How could you hear me from across the hall?”
“You tend to shout when you’re tense,” she said.
“You’re right, I do. Now please go back to bed and don’t come out until breakfast time.”
“All right.” She shut the door, and he heard her door close.
She turned on her iPhone and checked it: no phone service, no Wi-Fi, no e-mails received. She lay back down and tried to sleep, but could only rest. Finally, as dawn broke, she got up, showered, washed and dried her hair, and dressed. She walked into the dining room at seven sharp. No one was there.
She heard men laughing outside and peeked out a window. Sykes, Eugene, and the other man were obviously elated. She left the dining room and didn’t return until she heard them come in. “Good morning,” she said cheerfully.
“Good morning,” the three of them said together.
“You’re looking very pleased with yourself,” she said to Sykes. “Has something good happened?”
“I don’t know,” Sykes replied, reaching for a TV remote control. “Let’s check CNN.”
A woman was standing on the White House lawn, microphone in her hand. “This is the statement issued a few minutes ago,” she said. “‘Last night, very late, a breach of White House security occurred. A member of the staff was injured, is being treated at a local hospital, and is expected to recover.’ That’s all we have at the moment.”
“No name or gender of the person injured?” the anchorperson asked.
“No, just what I read. Everyone is very tight-lipped, as you might expect when a member of the White House staff has been injured.”
The anchorperson turned to other stories, and Sykes switched off the TV.
“‘Injured’?” Eugene asked, clearly surprised.
Sykes cut him off with a sharp glance. “That’s what she said. We’ll hear more later.”
They continued their breakfast in silence. “I have to get to work,” Bess said. “Will you excuse me?”
“Of course,” Sykes replied. “Will we see you at the weekend?”
“If you like.”
She left, gathered up her purse and her coat, got into her car, and departed.
Sykes stood up. “Eugene,” he said. “I want you to go up to the top of the hill, to the spot where you were shooting the other day, and see if you can find a cell phone.”
“What would a cell phone be doing up there?” Eugene asked. “You’ve got all the phones.”
“Look for a burner,” he said, “and be thorough. Work your way outward from where you were firing.”
Bill Wright and Tom Blake sat at a table in the White House mess with George Perkins, the head of the White House Secret Service detail.
“My people have been over the rectory with a fine-tooth comb,” Perkins said. “Nothing was disturbed, no new fingerprints found, no gunshot residue detected. The only thing that might have been out of place was an open window overlooking the garden, and they think a maid might have done that yesterday when it got warm upstairs. The cleaning staff will be questioned as soon as they arrive at work.”
Bill Wright spoke up. “I think we need to get the president-elect out of here today. I’ve already called Barrington on my
own authority, and his airplane will arrive around eleven
, at Manassas.”
“You didn’t run that by your director?” Tom asked.
“No. I’m in charge of her personal detail until she’s sworn in on January 20.”
“What did your director have to say about what happened?”
“I haven’t spoken to him yet, and I won’t until we’re in the air.”
“I didn’t hear that,” George Perkins said.
“Don’t worry, George, I’ll take whatever heat there may be.”
“I don’t see how you could be in any trouble,” Tom said. “After all, we prevented an assassination.” His phone rang, and he checked the incoming number before stepping away from the table. “Yes?”
“It’s me,” Elizabeth said. “What the hell happened at the White House early this morning?”
“There was an attempt on her life, but the shooter hit a dummy we had set up. Everyone here is fine.”
“No one in the hospital?”
“That was a cover story.”
“I was awakened by Sykes’s telephone last night. He’s across the hall from my room.”
“What time did the call come in?”
“A little after three-thirty.”
“His man was reporting in,” Tom said.
“They were outside talking when I came down for breakfast. They were excited and elated.”
“Eugene reported a successful hit, and it was, but on the dummy.”
“I got your e-mail,” she said. “I take it my message wasn’t received.”
“It was very broken, but it got us looking. The shot was fired from the rectory at the Episcopal church across the way from the White House. Wright and I checked it out yesterday, and we had planned to be there at four
, but they turned up early and were long gone when we got there.”
“I heard the White House report on TV.”
“That was about making them think they had succeeded.”
“Well, it worked. Now what?”
“Did anything happen at Sykes’s compound that would stand up as evidence for an arrest?”
“Just what I told you.”
“When are you going back out there?”
“Sykes clearly doesn’t trust you.”
“That’s because I’m not sleeping with him. I told him I’m a lesbian.”
“And he wouldn’t trust a lesbian?”
“Not in a century. But I wasn’t willing to fuck him to gain his trust. I’m a lousy undercover agent, right?”
“I like you better lousy. Keep me posted over the weekend.”
“It’s not easy. There’s no cell service, and Wi-Fi is only turned on a couple of times a day, to receive messages.”
“Do the best you can.” They both hung up.