Read Choppy Water Online

Authors: Stuart Woods

Choppy Water (19 page)


Tom Blake, Bill Wright, and Stone Barrington sat at Stone’s dining room table and listened to the playback, before and after the tech had tweaked it. Holly had had a dinner to go to and could not be with them.

“How do you read that, Stone?” Wright asked.

“I read it as Hardy has a plant on Holly’s transition staff who’s feeding them her schedule.”

“I don’t know how else anybody could read it,” Tom said.

“Sam Meriwether is running the transition team. How much does he know about those people?” Stone asked.

“I haven’t spoken to him yet, but they’ve all applied for top secret security clearances. I’ve already asked our New York office to pull all applications and investigate them thoroughly.”

“How long have they had the applications?”

“Only a few days. Target date for completion is January 2.”

“Has anybody got a cell number for Sam Meriwether?”

“I have,” Wright said.

“Give him a call and put it on speaker,” Stone said.

Bill did so, and the vice president–elect answered immediately.

“Sam, it’s Bill Wright.”

“Evening, Bill, what can I do for you?”

“I’m with Tom Blake and Stone Barrington. Stone has a question or two for you, and we’re all on the call.”

“Hello, Sam.”

“Hi, Stone. What do you need to know?”

“Tom has reason to suspect that there might be a leak from someone on the transition staff.”

“A leak to whom?”

“To a person unfriendly to Holly.”

“What’s the nature of the leak?”

“Holly’s daily schedule.”

“I manage that, and I know most of our schedulers pretty well.”

“Think about it: Is there someone among the schedulers that you might trust a bit less than the others?”

“Let me tell you how this works,” Sam said. “We get a call—sometimes from a fund-raiser or other friend of the campaign—someone who wants Holly to speak or hand out diplomas at a graduation, or just to shake some hands. The call is directed to the scheduling team, and the person taking the call fills out a form taking down all the details: date,
time, location, purpose of the gathering, numbers expected, like that.”

“Go on.”

“If that staffer thinks the caller isn’t who he says he is, or that the event isn’t worthy of Holly’s time, she puts the form into an out tray and it comes to me. I decide if I think the scheduler is wrong, that it is an important event, and order it to be put on the schedule. If I agree that it’s weak, a form letter goes out, over my signature, politely declining the invitation.”

“What happens if the scheduler thinks it’s a worthy event?”

“Then it goes to a scheduling supervisor, and if she thinks it’s worthy, then it’s discussed at a meeting, where we either schedule it or write a declining letter over Holly’s signature, with a handwritten note at the bottom.”

“So who sees the final schedule?”

“All the heads of the various subcommittees of the transition, at a daily meeting.”

“How far ahead of the event?”

“As little as a day or two or any time before January 20. After that, the White House staff takes over.”

“So how many people have knowledge of the schedule?”

“A dozen or fifteen.”

“Have they all applied for a top secret security clearance?”

“Yes, every one of them.”

“Have any of the clearances been granted yet?”

“No, the Bureau doesn’t do it piecemeal. We’ll eventually
get a letter with a list of the cleared personnel. If someone doesn’t make the cut, I’ll get a phone call about why.”

“Anybody turned down yet?”


“Sam, back to my original question: Is there anybody in that group that you trust a bit less than the others?”

“Anybody who used to be an extreme right-winger of any standing.”

“What does ‘of any standing’ mean?”

“Someone who worked for somebody important at a level requiring trust.”

“How many of those people are on the clearance list?”

“Well, there’s one who used to be a press aide to a recently appointed Republican senator and one who was a policy aide to a Republican congressman.” He gave their names, and Tom noted them.

“Anybody you have any personal qualms about, Sam?”

A long silence. “No. They’re a good bunch.”

“Sam, it’s Tom Blake. A question . . .”

“Go ahead, Tom.”

“Is there anyone among them who anybody thinks may have had ties with or even sympathy for a white-supremacy group?”

“No one that I know about, but a person like that wouldn’t be broadcasting those views around here.”

“Thank you, Sam. Anybody else have a question?”

Heads were shaken.

“That’s all, Sam. Thanks for your help.”

They said good night, then hung up.

“I’ll give these names to the right people,” Tom said.

“One other thing, Tom,” Stone said.

“What’s that?”

“I’d like to know if any of the people on that list are Virginians.”

“Why?” Bill asked.

“Because we’re dealing with a white supremacist from Virginia and, now, a senator from Virginia,” Stone said.

“Fair enough,” Bill said.

“Stone,” Tom said, “have you spoken to Lance Cabot about his man on the inside, the cook, at Sykes’s compound?”

“I confess I haven’t, Tom,” Stone replied. “I’ll speak to him tomorrow morning.”

“While you’re at it, ask him to ask his man if he knows of any outside visitors to the compound, people who aren’t members of his group.”

“I’ll do that,” Stone said, and they adjourned.


The following morning, Stone got Lance Cabot on the phone, and they both scrambled.

“What can I do for you, Stone?”

“Talk to me about Leroy Collins, aka Elroy Hubbard.”

“Are you a messenger from the FBI?”

“If you mean the assistant director you invited to lunch, then stiffed, yes. The question remains unanswered.”

“Do you think we discuss our officers with just anyone?”

“No, and I didn’t believe you would invite them to lunch, then stiff them, either.”

“That was unfortunate. There was a flap.”

“What was the nature of the flap?”

“You don’t have a need to know that,” Lance replied.

“Tom Blake has a need to know anything that will keep Holly Barker alive. I should think, given your past
association with her—and your future service—you’d be happy to help him.”

“Do you want me to tell you everything about Leroy’s work?”

“I’d rather you’d call Tom Blake and tell him.”

“Almost nothing.”

“Say again?”

“Almost nothing; that’s what Leroy Collins knows about Wade Sykes and his merry band of hatemongers.”

“How long has Leroy been on the assignment?”

“Four or five months.”

“And he’s learned nothing? I don’t believe that.”

nothing. He’s learned the name of the FBI agent assigned to the group.”

“Thank you. Tom Blake already knows that—he sent her there.”

“What would you have expected him to learn, Stone?”

“Oh, let’s see. Has he learned that the junior senator from Virginia, Les Hardy, has visited the compound?”

Lance took a beat before he responded. “I beg your pardon?”

“I spoke clearly, Lance. Does that name surprise you?”

“I’ve heard it before.”

“From Leroy Collins?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Lance, who’s running Leroy?”

Lance let out a deep sigh. “I am.”

Stone doubted that. “Doesn’t Leroy ever call? Don’t you have heart-to-hearts?”

“Only when he has something to report,” Lance said.

“Did you hear that Holly canceled two events yesterday?”

“Yes, something about the president being in the city and taking up all the oxygen, I believe.”

“Did you know that Wade Sykes and one of his minions reconnoitered both sites the day before yesterday? Or that they learned about the visits from Les Hardy, who is running a leaker on Holly’s transition team?”

“Where does your information come from?”

“From Tom Blake’s agent, who wears a wire and picked up a conversation between Hardy and Sykes.”

“If that information became any more widely known, it would threaten the life of my agent.”

“No. Sykes never speaks about anything important when Elroy is around, because Elroy is black, and Sykes doesn’t trust anyone black.”

“That would account for Elroy’s lack of productivity,” Lance said.

“Lance,” Stone said, “if I were you I’d find a way to make Elroy more productive or else get him out of there before Sykes twigs and puts the man in an unmarked grave.”

“That’s good advice, Stone,” Lance said, “and I’ll take it. Good day to you.” He hung up.

Stone called Tom Blake.

“Yes, Stone?”

“I just spoke to Lance. He maintains that his agent has learned nothing, except that your agent is FBI. I suggested that he find a way to get more out of him or pull him out before Sykes kills him.”

“I think that was good advice, Stone. Do you think Lance will do it?”

“Which one? Productivity or death?”

“I don’t know how you make a mole more productive, do you?”

“No. I doubt that Lance does, either.”

“So he’ll get him out?” Tom asked.

“If he does, your girl will know about it.”

“Maybe I should get her out, too.”

“Why? It seems to me that she’s been very productive.”

“Because I don’t want to get her killed.”

“It’s a little late for that. After all, it was you who sent her into that nest of vipers. Besides, if you pull her now, Sykes is going to take a great interest in where she went—and if he finds out, he’ll kill her. He might even drop his plans for our lady, and if he does that, you’ll still have nothing on him, and he’ll go right on operating. And you haven’t even started to explore where Senator Hardy stands in all of this.”

“Actually, I have. We’re turning over every stone as we speak.”

“Anything on the transition team leak?”

“There are two people, a woman and a man, who have right-wing connections and hail from Virginia. Soon, we’ll have a chat with them.”

“May I make a suggestion, Tom?”


“Let me have that chat with them, separately. They will feel less fearful of talking with me, rather than with an FBI agent.”

“Good suggestion, Stone. I’ll mention it to the director, who is taking an interest in this.”

“One other suggestion, Tom. I think Lance Cabot is going to yank Leroy Collins. If he does, you should press Lance to let you talk to Leroy. He might know something he doesn’t know he knows.”

“You’re a fount of good ideas, Stone. We’ll see what happens.”

“One more,” Stone said. “Before you talk to your two suspects on the transition team, think about setting up another stop on the schedule that resembles the two you canceled, but a fake. Maybe you can suck Sykes into making his move. Of course, you’ll want Holly out of the way when that happens.”

“I’ll talk with Bill Wright about it,” Tom said.

The two men said goodbye and hung up.


Holly sat at the common table at her headquarters and looked at her watch. She stood up and shouted to the room, “Everybody, be quiet and listen!”

The place fell silent.

“I’ve noticed of late how haggard you are all looking, and I can see that I’ve been working you too hard.”

There were murmured denials.

“Don’t lie to me,” Holly said, “you’re all exhausted. I want you all, every man and woman of you, to get up from your seats, take your coats, if you have them, and your personal effects, then go home.”

Nobody moved. They just looked at her, stunned.

“Your specific orders are to go to wherever you sleep, order in a pizza and a cheap bottle of wine, eat and drink
yourself into a stupor, then go to bed and sleep for twelve hours. That is all. Get out of here!”

They moved fast, before she could change her mind.

When Holly was alone, she went into her office, found a bottle of bourbon in a bottom drawer, grabbed some paper cups, went back to the common table, and sat down.

A lone woman appeared at the other end of the room and stood there, silently.

“Holy shit,” Holly said to herself, unbelievingly. Finally, she took a deep breath and held the bourbon bottle aloft. “Come and have a drink,” she said. She watched the woman approach. She looked eerily familiar. So did the suit she was wearing.

“Have a seat,” Holly said.

The woman sat down.

“Who are you?” Holly asked.

“My name is Holly Barker,” the woman replied. “I’m the president-elect of the United States.”

“Well,” Holly said, pouring them both a drink. “You’ve certainly convinced me.”

They both raised their cups and drank.

“Where on earth did they find you?” Holly asked.

“I’m an agent at the DEA,” the woman replied. “I’ve worked some cases with the Bureau, and somebody there remembered me. They got a hairdresser and a makeup artist in and burgled your house for this suit and a couple of others, then they dyed my dirty-blond hair auburn. I think I’ll keep it this way.”

“What was your name before you were me?” Holly asked.

“Geraldine Mason. Gerry, to you and everybody else.”

“Did they tell you what they expect you to do?”

“I gather I’m to get myself shot, but not in the head. I’m wearing a vest under the suit.”

“My nose is bigger than yours,” Holly said. “Do you think you can pass?”

“People see me get out of the right car, and they’ll believe what they expect to see.”

Tom Blake, Bill Wright, Claire Dunn, Sam Meriwether, and Stone Barrington filed into the room and sat down at the table.

“Good job,” Holly said. “She fooled me.” She shoved the bourbon and cups down the table, and they all partook.

Tom Blake spoke up. “Here’s how it’s going to go down,” he said. He spoke for five minutes or so, then stopped. “Well?”

“I think Holly, here, can pull it off,” Holly said. “I hope the rest of you can, for her sake.” She took a tug on the bourbon. “I’ve already forgotten everything you’ve told me.”

“That’s as it should be,” Claire said. “We’ve had a chat with two of your scheduling staff. They’ll be returning to work tomorrow, and they’ll get a schedule that includes a thirty-minute stop at a theater at Hunter College, over on Lexington Avenue. It will be the only venue on your schedule that might work for them.”

“Why do you think that?”

“It has steeply raked seats with a projection booth at the
top. There’s a fire door that exits to the street behind the college, where a parked van won’t be noticed.”

“Also,” Bill said, “we have it on good authority that they’re getting itchy for action, so they’ll be more likely to bite.”

“Did the cancellation of my two events this week have anything to do with them?”

“Yes. We were not only short of personnel, we were short on time to prepare. And we didn’t have Gerry ready.”

“Do you have time to prepare for this one?”

“We have already done so. We’ll be ready for them at the scheduled time: eleven
, the day after tomorrow.”

“Where will I be when this is happening?” Holly asked.

“Somewhere else,” Stone said. “You get to sleep late, if you like.”

“What are the chances that Gerry here will get out of this alive?”

“As close to one hundred percent as possible,” Bill said. “That’s all we can tell you now. We need to keep some things from you.”

“Do you consider me a possible leak?”

“We consider you a teapot,” Claire said. “If you’re too full and too hot, you might blow.”

“And you want my approval?” Holly asked.

“They already have approval,” Stone said, “they don’t need yours.”

“Why did you want me to send everybody home?” Holly asked.

“We have some electrical work to do here,” Tom said.
“Audio and visual. When they come in tomorrow morning, the schedule will be on everyone’s desk. You can tell them that you and Sam worked out the schedule tonight.”

Claire took a stack of papers from a briefcase and started distributing the pages to the desks. Everybody else began to leave, except two Secret Service agents at the far end of the room.

Stone came to Holly’s chair. “We can go now. How about some dinner?”

“I’m hungry enough to eat an ox,” Holly said, standing.

“I don’t think that’s on the menu at Caravaggio,” he said, “but they have just about everything else, plus the advantage of being right around the corner.”

“Then why aren’t we already there?” Holly asked.

He helped her into her coat, then offered his arm. “Right this way.”

They walked down Madison to Seventy-fourth Street and took a right. As they walked into the restaurant and were escorted to their table, there was a sudden dip in the other guests’ conversation.

“I’m having to get used to that,” Holly said.

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