"I can't run," Wakefield said. "I've got a wife and six kids."
They'd heard him whine about his six kids for five hours now. As if they didn't have families. Velmano was divorced, and his two children were grown. They could handle it. And he could handle it. It was time to retire anyway. He had plenty of money stashed away, and he loved Europe, especially Spain, and so it was adios for him. He sort of pitied Wakefield, who was only forty-two and didn't have a lot of money. He earned well, but his wife was a spendthrift who had a penchant for babies. Wakefield was unbalanced at the moment.
"I don't know what I'll do," Wakefield said for the thirtieth time. "I just don't know."
Schwabe tried to be a bit helpful. "I think you should go home and tell your wife. I don't have one, but if I did I'd try to brace her for it."
"I can't do that," Wakefield said pitifully.
"Sure you can. You can tell her now, or wait six hours and she'll see your picture on the front page. You have to go tell her, Sims."
"I can't do that." He was almost in tears again.
Schwabe looked at Velmano and Cortz.
"What about my children?" he asked again. "My oldest son is thirteen." He rubbed his eyes.
"Come on, Sims. Get a grip," Cortz said.
Einstein stood and walked to the door. "I'll be at my place in Florida. Don't call unless it's urgent." He opened the door and slammed it behind him.
Wakefield stood weakly and started for the door.
"Where are you going, Sims?" asked Schwabe.
"To my office."
"I need to lie down. I'm okay."
"Let me drive you home," Schwabe said. They watched him carefully. He was opening the door.
"I'm fine," he said, and he sounded stronger. He closed it when he left.
"You think he's okay?" Schwabe asked Velmano. "He worries me."
"I wouldn't say he's okay," Velmano said. "We've all had better days. Why don't you go check on him in a few minutes?"
"I'll do that," Schwabe said.
Wakefield walked deliberately to the stairway and down one flight to the ninth floor. He picked up speed as he approached his office. He was crying when he locked the door behind him.
Do it quick! Forget the note. If you write it, you'll talk yourself out of it. There's a million in life insurance. He opened a desk drawer. Don't think about the kids. It would be the same if he died in a plane crash. He pulled the .38 from under a file. Do it quick! Don't look at their pictures on the wall.
Maybe they'll understand one day. He stuck it deep in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
THE LIMO stopped abruptly in front of the two-story home in Dumbarton Oaks, in upper Georgetown. It blocked the street and that was fine because it was twenty minutes after midnight, and there was no traffic. Voyles and two agents jumped from the rear of the car, and walked quickly to the front door. Voyles held a newspaper. He banged the door with his fist.
Coal was not asleep. He was sitting in the dark in the den in his pajamas and bathrobe, so Voyles was quite pleased when he opened his door.
"Nice pajamas," Voyles said, admiring his pants.
Coal stepped onto the tiny concrete porch. The two agents were watching from the narrow sidewalk. "What the hell do you want?" he asked slowly.
"Just brought you this," Voyles said, sticking the paper in his face. "Gotta a nice picture of you right next to the President hugging Mattiece. I know how much you like newspapers, so I thought I'd bring you one."
"Your face'll be in it tomorrow," Coal said as if he'd already written the story.
Voyles threw the paper at his feet, and started walking off. "I got some tapes, Coal. You start lying, and I'll jerk your pants off in public."
Coal stared at him, but said nothing.
Voyles was near the street. "I'll be back in two days with a grand jury subpoena," he yelled. "I'll come about two in the morning and serve it myself." He was at the car. "Next I'll bring an indictment. Of course, by then your ass'll be history and the President'll have a new bunch of idiots telling him what to do." He disappeared into the limo, and it sped away.
Coal picked up the paper, and went inside.
GRAY AND SMITH KEEN sat alone in the conference room, reading the words in print. He was many years beyond the excitement of seeing his stories on the front page, but this one brought a rush with it. There had been none bigger. The faces were lined neatly across the top: Mattiece hugging the President, Coal talking importantly on the phone in an official White House photo, Velmano sitting before a Senate subcommittee, Wakefield cropped from a bar convention picture, Verheek smiling at the camera in an FBI release, Callahan from the yearbook, and Morgan in a photo taken from the video. Mrs. Morgan had consented. Paypur, the night police reporter, had told them about Wakefield an hour earlier. Gray was depressed about it. But he wouldn't blame himself.
They began drifting in around 3 A.M. Krauthammer brought a dozen doughnuts, and promptly ate four of them while he admired the front page. Ernie DeBasio was next. Said he hadn't slept any. Feldman arrived fresh and hyper. By four-thirty, the room was full and four televisions were going. CNN got it first, and within minutes the networks were live from the White House, which had no comment at the moment but Zikman would say something at seven.
With the exception of Wakefield's death, there was nothing new initially. The networks bounced back and forth between the White House, the Supreme Court, and the news desks.
They waited at the Hoover Building, which was very quiet at the moment. They flashed the photos from the papers. They couldn't find Velmano. They speculated about Mattiece. CNN showed live footage of the Morgan house in Alexandria, but Morgan's father-in-law kept the cameras off the property. NBC had a reporter standing in front of the building where White and Blazevich had offices, but he had nothing new. And though she wasn't quoted in the story, there was no secret about the identity of the author of the brief. There was much speculation about Darby Shaw.
At seven, the room was packed and silent. The four screens were identical as Zikman walked nervously to the podium in the White House press room. He was tired and haggard. He read a short statement in which the White House admitted receiving the campaign money from a number of channels controlled by Victor Mattiece, but he emphatically denied any of the money was dirty. The President had met Mr. Mattiece only once, and that was when he was the Vice President. He had not spoken to the man since being elected President, and certainly did not consider him a friend, in spite of the money. The campaign had received over fifty million, and the President handled none of it. He had a committee for that. No one in the White House had attempted to interfere with the investigation of Victor Mattiece as a suspect, and any allegations to the contrary were flat wrong. Based on their limited knowledge, Mr. Mattiece no longer lived in this country. The President welcomes a full investigation into the allegations contained in the Post story, and if Mr. Mattiece was the perpetrator of these heinous crimes, then he must be brought to justice. This was simply a statement for the time being. A full press conference would follow. Zikman darted from the podium.
It was a weak performance by a troubled press secretary, and Gray was relieved. He suddenly found himself crowded, and needed fresh air. He found Smith Keen outside the door.
"Let's go eat breakfast," he whispered.
"I need to run by my apartment too, if you don't mind. I haven't seen it in four days."
They flagged a cab on Fifteenth, and enjoyed the crisp autumn air rushing in the open windows.
"Where's the girl?" Keen asked.
"I have no idea. I last saw her in Atlanta, about nine hours ago. She said she was headed for the Caribbean."
Keen was grinning. "I assume you'll want a long vacation soon."
"How'd you guess?"
"There's a lot of work to be done, Gray. Right now we're in the middle of the explosion, and the pieces start falling to earth very soon. You're the man of the hour, but you must keep pushing. You must pick up the pieces."
"I know my job, Smith."
"Yeah, but you've got this faraway look in your eyes. It worries me."
"You're an editor. You get paid for worrying."
They stopped at the intersection at Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House sat majestically before them. It was almost November, and the wind blew leaves across the lawn.
AFTER EIGHT DAYS in the sun, the skin was brown enough and the hair was returning to its natural color. Maybe she hadn't ruined it. She walked miles up and down the beaches and ate nothing but broiled fish and island fruit. She slept a lot the first few days, then got tired of it.
She had spent the first night in San Juan, where she found a travel agent who claimed to be an expert on the Virgin Islands. The lady found a small room in a guest house in downtown Charlotte Amalie, on the island of St. Thomas. Darby wanted crowds and lots of traffic on narrow streets, at least for a couple of days. Charlotte Amalie was perfect. The guest house was on a hillside, four blocks away from the harbor, and her tiny room was on the third floor. There were no shutters or curtains on the cracked window, and the sun woke her the first morning, a sensuous wake-up call that summoned her to the window and displayed for her the majesty of the harbor. It was breathtaking. A dozen cruise ships of all sizes sat perfectly still in the shimmering water. They stretched in a careless formation almost to the horizon. In the foreground, near the pier, a hundred sailboats dotted the harbor and seemed to keep the bulky tourist ships at bay. The water under the sailboats was a clear, soft blue, and as smooth as glass. It gently curled around Hassel Island, and grew darker until it was indigo and then violet. as it touched the horizon. A perfect row of cumulus clouds marked the line where the water met the sky.
Her watch was in a bag, and she had no plans to wear it for at least six months. But she glanced at her wrist anyway. The window opened with a strain, and the sounds of the shopping district echoed through the streets. The warmth filtered in like a sauna.
She stood in the small window for an hour that first morning on the island, and watched the harbor come to life. There was no hurry. It woke gently as the big ships inched through the water, and soft voices came from the decks of the sailboats. The first person she saw on a boat jumped into the water for a morning swim.
She could grow accustomed to this. Her room was small but clean. There was no air conditioner, but the fan worked fine and it was not unpleasant. The water ran most of the time. She decided to stay here a couple of days, maybe a week. The building was one of dozens packed tightly together along streets that ran down to the harbor. For the moment, she liked the safety of crowds and streets. She could walk and find whatever she needed. St. Thomas was known for its shopping, and she cherished the idea of buying clothes she could keep.
There were fancier rooms, but this would do for now. When she left San Juan, she vowed to stop looking over her shoulder. She'd seen the paper in Miami, and she'd watched the frenzy on a television in the airport, and she knew Mattiece had disappeared. If they were stalking now, it was simply revenge. And if they found her after the crisscrossing journey she had taken, then they were not human, and she would never lose them.
They weren't back there, and she believed this. She stayed close to the small room for two days, never venturing far. The shopping district was a short walk away. Only four blocks long and two blocks deep, it was a maze of hundreds of small and unique stores selling everything. The sidewalks and alleys were crammed with Americans from the big ships. She was just another tourist with a wide straw hat and colorful shorts.
She bought her first novel in a year and a half, and read it in two days while lying on the small bed under the gentle rush from the ceiling fan. She vowed to read nothing about the law until she was fifty. At least once an hour, she walked to the open window and studied the harbor. Once she counted twenty cruise ships waiting to dock.
The room served its purpose. She spent time with Thomas, and cried, and was determined to do it for the last time. She wanted to leave the guilt and pain in this tiny corner of Charlotte Amalie, and exit with the good memories and a clean conscience. It was not as difficult as she tried to make it, and by the third day there were no more tears. She'd thrown the paperback only once.
On the fourth morning, she packed her new bags and took a ferry to Cruz Bay, twenty minutes away on the island of St. John. She took a taxi along the North Shore Road. The windows were down and the wind blew across the backseat. The music was a rhythmic mixture of blues and reggae. The cab-driver tapped the wheel and sang along. She tapped her foot and closed her eyes to the breeze. It was intoxicating.
He left the road at Maho Bay, and drove slowly toward the water. She'd picked this spot from a hundred islands because it was undeveloped. Only a handful of beach houses and cottages were permitted in this bay. The driver stopped on a narrow, tree-lined road, and she paid him.
The house was almost at the point where the mountain met the sea. The architecture was pure Caribbeanwhite wood frame under a red tile roofand built barely on the incline to provide for the view. She walked down a short trail from the road, and up the steps to the house. It was a single story with two bedrooms and a porch facing the water. It cost two thousand a week, and she had it for a month.
She placed her bags on the floor of the den, and walked to her porch. The beach started thirty feet below her. The waves rolled silently to the shore. Two sailboats sat motionless in the bay, which was secluded by mountains on three sides. A rubber raft full of kids splashing moved aimlessly between the boats.
The nearest dwelling was down the beach. She could barely see its roof above the trees. A few bodies relaxed in the sand. She quickly changed into a tiny bikini, and walked to the water.
IT WAS ALMOST DARK when the taxi finally stopped at the trail. He got out, paid the driver, and looked at the lights as the cab drove in front of him and disappeared. He had one bag, and he eased along the trail to the house, which was unlocked. The lights were on. He found her on the porch, sipping a frozen drink and looking like a native with bronze skin.
She was waiting on him, and this was so damned important. He didn't want to be treated like a houseguest. Her face smiled instantly, and she set her drink on the table.
They kissed on the porch for a long minute. "You re late," she said as they held each other.
"This was not the easiest place to find," Gray said. He was rubbing her back, which was bare down to the waist where a long skirt began and covered most of the legs. He would see them later.
"Isn't it beautiful?" she said, looking at the bay.
"It's magnificent," he said. He stood behind her as they watched a sailboat drift toward the sea. He held her shoulders. "You're gorgeous."
"Let's go for a walk."
He changed quickly into a pair of shorts, and found her waiting by the water. They held hands and walked slowly.
"Those legs need work," she said.
"Rather pale, aren't they?" he said.
Yes, she thought, they were pale, but they weren't bad. Not bad at all. The stomach was flat. A week on the beach with her, and he'd look like a lifeguard. They splashed water with their feet.
"You left early," she said.
"I got tired of it. I've written a story a day since the big one, yet they want more. Keen wanted this, and Feldman wanted that, and I was working eighteen hours a day. Yesterday I said good-bye."
"I haven't seen a paper in a week," she said.
"Coal quit. They've set him up to take the fall, but indictments look doubtful. I don't think the President did much, really. He's just dumb and can't help it. You read about Wakefield?"
"Velmano, Schwabe, and Einstein have been indicted, but they can't find Velmano. Mattiece, of course, has been indicted, along with four of his people. There'll be more indictments later. It dawned on me a few days ago that there was no big cover-up at the White House, so I lost steam. I think it killed his reelection, but he's not a felon. The city's a circus."
They walked in silence as it grew darker. She'd heard enough of this, and he was sick of it too. There was half a moon, and it reflected on the still water. She put her arm around his waist, and he pulled her closer. They were in the sand, away from the water. The house was a half a mile behind them.
"I've missed you," she said softly.
He breathed deeply but said nothing.
"How long will you stay?" she asked.
"I don't know. A couple of weeks. Maybe a year. It's up to you."
"How about a month?"
"I can do a month."
She smiled at him, and his knees were weak. She looked at the bay, at the moon's reflection in the center of it as the sailboat crawled by.Let's take it a month at a time, okay Gray?"