Authors: Stuart Woods
Holly wore a silk scarf and dark glasses as she entered Bloomingdale’s. The Secret Service people worked hard at not being noticed, and Claire was her body agent for the day, since two women navigating the store didn’t attract a lot of attention.
She bought much of a new wardrobe that, after tailoring, would be shipped to Stone’s house, where she would use a spare bedroom as a dressing area during the transition.
Lunch was at Ralph Lauren’s office on Madison, where she, the designer, and his team began talking about a special-occasion wardrobe, beginning with the inauguration and the inaugural ball. Another team would work on
everyday clothes and outfits for travel to foreign countries. Stone was making a big contribution to the wardrobe, through the inaugural committee, taking care not to violate any campaign contribution laws.
She also met with an interior design group to talk about the Carlyle suite and the family quarters at the White House, plus the Oval Office. They looked at sketches for fabrics and wallpapers and rugs for the family quarters. A small army of decorators would move into the Big O the night before the swearing-in ceremony, and it would be ready for photographing and use at noon on January 20. Holly would stay at her Georgetown house for as long as it took them to do up her quarters.
When she got back to Washington she would be given a tour of the National Gallery and allowed to borrow paintings for the White House. They would be hung at night, shortly before Inauguration Day.
Late in the afternoon she was driven to the West Side of Manhattan, to a large building where Strategic Transport, a branch of Strategic Services, was building a small fleet of presidential cars and SUVs, as it was time to replace many of the old ones. She sat in the rear of a limousine and chose places for the controls she would use, then looked at leathers for the interior.
She finished her day at Frederic Fekkai’s salon, where a mani/pedi technician, a facialist, and a makeup artist did their work, then ceded her to the man himself.
She arrived back at Stone’s house to find him in his office, where she joined him for a drink.
“You look wonderfully refreshed. Tell me about your day,” he said, and she did, in more detail than he had bargained for.
“What are we doing for dinner?”
“You are making your Manhattan restaurant debut at Patroon, with Dino, Viv, and me, at eight o’clock.”
“Well, I guess it had to come sometime. Will there be photographers and all that?”
“Not unless some staffer squeals,” Stone said. “I think it will be pretty quiet.”
She looked at her watch. “I want an hour’s nap. Then I’ll freshen up, change, and be ready at a quarter to eight.”
“I’ll be upstairs in time to change. I’ll wake you up.”
“Be gentle, I’ve had a long day.”
They arrived at Patroon on time, to be greeted by the owner, Ken Aretsky, who led them to a corner table, through a standing ovation from the other diners, many of them with phone cameras.
“Well,” she said, “
never happened before.”
“Get used to it,” Dino said.
Viv demanded a recounting of her day’s events, so Stone and Dino had to amuse each other until the women had finished.
Stone was signing the check when Bill Wright appeared. “Ma’am, we’ll be leaving by another door,” he said.
“Is anything wrong?” Holly asked.
“No, ma’am, it’s just that the second seating is arriving, and the front vestibule is very crowded with people checking their coats.”
Holly and Stone exchanged a glance. “All right,” she said. “Let’s go.”
They rose and were led to the rear of the restaurant, then through the kitchen, and out a door where deliveries arrived. Their cars were waiting there, so they said good night to the Bacchettis and got into the Bentley.
The agent shut their door, then got into the front passenger seat. “Go,” he said, and they drove away faster than Stone had expected.
“All right, Bill,” Holly said. “What’s happened?”
“We’ve had a tip that something might have been planned for this evening.”
“A tip from where?”
“It was anonymous, a woman, who said we should be very careful this evening.”
“Were you able to trace the call?”
“Only partly. It was made from somewhere in northern Virginia, and they had Mr. Barrington’s private number.”
Holly sat back and exhaled. “Home, please.”
Fred managed to get the garage door open at the moment they drove in, then quickly closed it.
“That’s a relief,” Holly said.
“It was probably nothing,” Bill said, opening her door, “but we won’t count on that.”
Holly came to bed in a flimsy red nightgown, which Stone made disappear.
“I thought about this while I was having my hair and nails done,” she said, receiving him.
“Well,” Stone said, “there was nothing else to think about, was there?”
“Tomorrow I’ll start thinking about saving the world,” she said.
Holly arrived at her new transition office at nine
sharp. Her key staff were gathered around a plywood conference table in a back room. They stood and gave her a round of applause.
“All right,” Holly said. “It’s time to put aside the golden memories of all those halcyon days during the campaign and get to work.” She took a file folder from her large purse, then extracted a single sheet of paper and handed it to a volunteer. “Make a dozen copies, pronto, then distribute them.
“Now, before we start the process of staffing up, let’s talk about the inner circle. That would be all of you.”
The volunteer returned with the copies and distributed them. “Each of you will find your name on this list and, beside it, the position on the White House staff you are being
offered. You and I have been having this discussion, off and on, since before I announced my run, so there should be no surprises. That list is comprised of my final decisions. If you want the job, write me a brief letter accepting, and don’t get mushy about it. At the bottom of the page is a list of key jobs as yet unfilled. I want recommendations for those slots before the day is out.
“Now, let’s turn to the cabinet.” She found another sheet of paper in her file, handed it to the volunteer to also be copied, then distributed.
“You will note that only one or two positions have a single name beside it. Those decisions are made. What I want from you—again, before the day is out—is one or, at the outside, two recommendations for the other departments or agencies, along with about half a page on each, saying why.”
The process was repeated with the positions and names of military officers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretaries of the various armed services.
“There is a much longer list of judicial appointments to go through, and I’d like any suggested additions or subtractions by the end of the week. There are five names, three of them women, who are being considered for the Supreme Court, when vacancies arise. Any further additions from you should be limited to one person each, with a short description of why. No disquisitions, please.” She gave her file to Vice President–elect Sam Meriwether. “Sam, after you’ve felt out the chosen few, please write letters for my signature, dated January 20, formally offering them the jobs, and have them hand delivered on that date. We’ll already know who
has accepted, of course, but I can’t make the appointments official until after I’ve taken the oath.”
They worked on throughout the day, had pizza delivered for lunch, and beers for after six
Holly arrived back at Stone’s house at six-thirty and found Stone, and a bottle of Knob Creek, in his study. He was pouring her one as she entered the room. Bill and Claire were there, too.
Holly raised her glass. “Your continued health,” she said.
“Holly,” Stone interjected. “Bill and Claire are here to talk about
“Am I looking a little peaked?” she asked.
“No, ma’am,” Bill and Claire said, simultaneously.
Then Bill continued, “The threat last evening was not a hoax. The call came from an actual phone booth—one of the last extant, I suppose—at a convenience store and diner in Fairfax County, Virginia. The woman who made it was observed by a clerk inside to have driven away in a newish pickup truck of a dark color. Two hours after that, about the time you reached this house after dinner, an attempt was made to break into your Georgetown house. Shots were exchanged with our agents on duty there, none of them were wounded. They believe they shot one of the two intruders in the upper left arm as they fled on foot, at first, then in a newish pickup truck of a dark color, driven by a woman. The pickup truck was found, wiped clean, half an hour later. So they switched vehicles, and we have no idea to what kind.”
“It sounds as though we have a friendly snake in a nest of vipers,” Holly said.
“If so,” Bill said, “one who has put herself at risk twice: once making the call, the other when driving away with the perpetrators.”
“Let’s see if we can think of a way of encouraging her, without getting her killed.”
“We’re working on that, but no joy yet. Her safety will be our primary concern.”
“I should think,” Stone said quietly, “that Holly’s safety would be your first concern.”
“Of course. I misspoke.”
“I understand, Bill,” Holly added. “I suppose the Georgetown incident indicates that they didn’t know I wasn’t still there.”
“Yes, but it’s unlikely that they don’t know that now. Unfortunately, the tabloids have reported your presence at Bloomingdale’s.”
“But not at any other location?”
“No. We think this indicates a Bloomie’s employee on the payroll of a newspaper.”
“Has anyone in the media learned where the transition office is?”
“So far, so good,” Claire said. “Oh, they’ll eventually figure it out: some reporter will spot a staffer on the street and follow her there—something like that. I suggest that you make a point of going there as infrequently as possible.”
“And you may as well say it, Claire,” Stone said. “Back to Washington as soon as possible.”
“That would be our preference,” Claire said, “but we understand fully, ma’am, that you have things to do that can only be done in New York.”
“Quite right,” Holly replied, shooting a sidewise glance at Stone. “You’ll be happy to know that, after my shopping spree, I’ll be doing all my fittings and further appointments here in Stone’s house. He’s kindly provided a large room upstairs where those can take place.”
Bill let out a deep breath. “That was a sigh of relief, ma’am,” he said. “I think it would be best if they not enter the house through the front door or the office entrance. We would prefer to meet them at the rear gate to the gardens, on Second Avenue. We have someone there.”
“A good move,” Stone said.
“Some of these people, like Ralph Lauren, are VIPs in their own right, and I’d prefer it if they could enter and leave through the garage.”
“A touch of the cloak-and-dagger,” Stone said. “They’ll like that. But please let them know not to arrive in stretch limos; that would strain our facilities, not to mention our garage doors.”
“I’ll see to it,” Bill said.
The two agents tossed off the remainder of their drinks and excused themselves.
Colonel Wade Sykes sat in a rear treatment room at a veterinarian’s office a few miles from his base and watched the DVM inject a man’s left arm with lidocaine, then flush the wound, and after testing for numbness, used a probe to locate the bullet. When he had done so, he used another tool to extract it and dropped it into a steel tray. He flushed the wound again and applied a coagulant, then trimmed the edges, stitched it closed, and bandaged it. “Okay, you can sit up now or, if you’re feeling ill, just lie there for a few minutes.”
“He doesn’t feel ill,” Sykes said. “Let’s go, kid. We’ve got to get out of here before daylight comes.” He handed the DVM ten folded hundreds. “It was our lucky day, Doc, when you grabbed that nurse’s ass and got drummed out of med school for your trouble.”
“Maybe my lucky day, too. My work here is easier, and my patients don’t complain. Let this guy rest for twenty-four hours, Colonel, before you put him in harm’s way again.” He gave the man another injection of something, then handed him an unmarked bottle of pills. “One, twice a day, until they’re all gone.”
“Is there a painkiller in there?” the colonel asked.
“There is not. I know your policy on pain. Those are an antibiotic. You don’t want the trouble of an infected patient.”
“He’s going to get back on that pony pretty soon,” Sykes shot back, slapping the young man on the back and causing him to wince. “C’mon, boy.” He led the man outside and put him in the rear seat of his pickup, then drove off toward home.
Once there, he put the man on a bed in the bunkhouse, threw a blanket over him, and went home for dinner. His cook, an older black man named Elroy, a fine practitioner of the old Southern school, set down a plate filled with a fried chicken breast, collard greens, and creamed corn. A plate of biscuits followed, then he poured a glass of a wine his boss had already chosen. Two of Sykes’s men and a young woman called Bess were waiting for him.
“How’s he doing?” the woman asked.
“We don’t discuss business at table,” Sykes replied, rolling his eyes toward Elroy. They all continued eating in silence. When they were done they left the dirty dishes for Elroy, then adjourned to the living room, where Sykes poured everyone a brandy.
“Sorry about that, Colonel,” Bess said. “I thought you trusted Elroy.”
“I’m alive because there exists only a very short list of those I find trustworthy. Elroy’s not very bright, and obviously he’s . . . not one of us. Who knows what hatreds he harbors?”
“Quite right,” she said. “Now, how is the boy?”
“He’s asleep. The doctor gave him something, I think, and his wound has been properly treated. He’s going to experience some pain when he wakes up, but that will be good for him. Up until today, he was a raw recruit, but tonight, he was blooded.” He took a sip of his brandy. “Now,” he said. “I want a proper report.”
One of the men leaned forward in his chair. “Bess drove us to within a block of the house. We took a turn around the place and found it mostly dark, with a lamp on here and there. We found a window with no alarm module on it and broke a pane. The boy was halfway through when I heard the shot from inside and saw the flash. The boy fell into my arms, and I fired two rounds to keep the on-duty man away from the window. Bess was there in a hurry, and we beat it out of there. We drove back to where we had left the van, and Bess got a combat bandage on the boy’s arm, while I wiped down the pickup, then we got the hell out of there.”
“Sounds like Bess is the only one of you with any brains,” the colonel said.
His man flushed and sat back in his chair, silent now.
“It’s obvious now that Ms. Barker was not in residence,” Bess said. “She must have got out Sunday or Monday,
probably after dark. A New York City newspaper put her at Bloomingdale’s yesterday morning. We need better intelligence than this, Colonel. We shouldn’t be reading about it in the
New York Post.
Sykes took that as a rebuke and glowered a bit. “We’re working on it.”
“Best thing would be a Secret Service agent, maybe one who’s recently retired or fired; somebody with an axe to grind,” Bess said. “Just knowing their procedures better would be a big help.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Sykes shot back.
“I don’t see much evidence that you do,” she said coolly. “After the cockup in Maine, we need people who can, at the very least, read a map.”
“We’re working on a retired agent,” Sykes said.
“What are his particulars?”
“Been with the Service for twenty-two years, the last three or four becoming progressively marginalized. His wife died—a woman he hated, by all accounts—but it still threw him. I’ve got a man drinking with him two or three nights a week at his local pub. He’s finding it hard to stretch his pension to cover his expenses.”
“He sounds ideal,” Bess said. “Do you want me to see him and observe?”
“Maybe,” the colonel replied. “Maybe soon. I could use another opinion.”
“Wire up your man, and I can nurse a drink at another table and hear their conversation. I’d like to question him, but I suppose it’s too soon for that.”
“Maybe not,” Sykes said. “We’ll see.”
They finished their brandy and departed the house for bed, except for Bess, who had a guest room upstairs, to keep the men away from her, or, perhaps, vice versa.
Sykes performed his bedtime ablutions, then got into the pajamas under his pillow and had his nighttime think.
Bess was on the cheeky side, but he put up with it because she was the smartest member of his group, and he did not necessarily exclude himself from that assessment. He had met her on a firing range in D.C., where she worked as a personal assistant to somebody important at Justice, and thus had had a proper vetting, which cut down on the work he otherwise would have had to pay for.
After they put away their weapons, Sykes had approached her in the small coffee bar. “Can I get you something?” he had asked.
“Thank you, a double espresso.”
He got one for each of them. “May I join you?”
She was fairly good-looking: slim, with nice breasts—he liked that. She looked as though she would clean up nice, so she might be a good candidate to accompany him to one of those dinner parties he kept getting invited to since his wife had left him four years ago, a year before she died. He had not been broken up about that, since he had contrived for
her benefits from the divorce to die with her, keeping him twice as rich as he otherwise would have been. Then, because she had not updated her will, he had inherited the house and property that had belonged to her father, where he now lived and ran his group.
“What do you do? Something in government, I would imagine.”
“You have a good imagination,” she had replied. “I’m assistant to the deputy director for criminal investigations.”
Oh, good, he had thought.