He rubbed his eyes and breathed rapidly. "What for?"
"I get demoted for asking those questions, sir."
"Do you have any mouthwash?"
"Well, yes, I believe so. Do you want it?"
"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want it. Bring it to me. Do you have any gum?"
"Yes sir. Do you want it too?"
"Just bring me the mouthwash and gum, and some aspirin if you have it." He walked to his desk and sat down, holding his head in his hands and rubbing his temples. He heard her banging drawers, and then she was before him with the goods.
"Thanks. I'm sorry I snapped." He pointed at the brief in a chair by the door. "Send that brief to Eric East, he's on the fourth floor. Write a note from me. Tell him to look it over when he has a minute."
She left with the brief.
FLETCHER COAL opened the door to the Oval Office, and spoke gravely to K. O. Lewis and Eric East. The President was in Puerto Rico viewing hurricane damage, and Director Voyles now refused to meet with Coal alone. He sent his underlings.
Coal waved them to a sofa, and he sat across the coffee table. His coat was buttoned and his tie was perfect. He never relaxed. East had heard tales about his habits. He worked twenty hours a day, seven days a week, drank nothing but water, and ate most meals from a vending machine in the basement. He could read like a computer, and spent hours each day reviewing memos, reports, correspondence, and mountains of pending legislation. He had perfect recall. For a week now they had brought daily reports of their investigation to this office, and handed them to Coal, who devoured the material and memorized it for the next meeting. If they misstated something, he would terrorize them. He was hated, but it was impossible not to respect him. He was smarter than them, and he worked harder. And he knew it.
He was smug in the emptiness of the Oval Office. His boss was away performing for the cameras, but the real power had stayed behind to run the country.
K. O. Lewis placed a four-inch stack of the latest on the table.
"Anything new?" Coal asked.
"Maybe. The French authorities were routinely reviewing footage taken by the security cameras at the Paris airport, and they thought they recognized a face. They checked it against two other cameras in the concourse, different angles, then reported to Interpol. The face is disguised, but Interpol believes it is Khamel, the terrorist. I'm sure you've heard of"
"They've studied the footage at length, and are almost certain he exited a plane that arrived nonstop from Dulles last Wednesday, about ten hours after Jensen was found."
"No, United. Based on the time and the locations of the cameras, they have ways of determining the gates and flights."
"And Interpol contacted the CIA?"
"Yes. They talked to Gminski around one this afternoon."
Coal's face registered nothing. "How certain are they?"
"Eighty percent. He's a master of disguise, and it would be a bit unusual for him to travel in such a manner. So there's room for doubt. We've got photos and a summary for the President's review. Frankly, I've studied the pictures, and I can't tell anything. But Interpol knows him."
"He hasn't been willingly photographed in years, has he?"
"Not that we know of. And rumor has it he goes under the knife and gets a new face every two or three years."
Coal pondered this for a second. "Okay. What if it's Khamel, and what if he was involved in the killings? What does it mean?"
"It means we'll never find him. There are at least nine countries, including Israel, actively stalking him right now. It means he was paid a bunch of money by someone to use his talents here. We've said all along the killer or killers were professionals who were gone before the bodies were cold."
"So it means little."
"You could say that."
"Fine. What else do you have?"
Lewis glanced at Eric East. "Well, we have the usual daily summary."
"They've been rather dry as of late."
"Yes, they have. We have three hundred and eighty agents working twelve hours a day. Yesterday they interviewed one hundred and sixty people in thirty states. We have"
"Coal held up his hand.Save it. I'll read the summary. It seems safe to say there is nothing new."
"Maybe a small new wrinkle." Lewis looked at Eric East, who was holding a copy of the brief.
"What is it?" Coal asked.
East shifted uncomfortably. The brief had been passed upward all day until Voyles read it and liked it. He viewed it as a long shot, unworthy of serious attention, but the brief mentioned the President, and he loved the idea of making Coal and his boss sweat. He instructed Lewis and East to deliver the brief to Coal, and to treat it as an important theory the Bureau was taking seriously. For the first time in a week, Voyles had smiled when he talked of the idiots in the Oval Office reading this little brief and running for cover. Play it up, Voyles said. Tell them we intend to pursue with twenty agents.
"It's a theory that has surfaced in the last twenty-four hours, and Director Voyles is quite intrigued by it. He's afraid it could be damaging to the President."
Coal was stone-faced, never flinching. "How's that?"
East placed the brief on the table.It's all here in this report.
Coal glanced at it, then studied East. "Fine. I'll read it later. Is that all?"
Lewis stood and buttoned his jacket. "Yes, we'll be going."
Coal followed them to the door.
THERE WAS NO FANFARE when Air Force One landed at Andrews a few minutes after ten. The Queen was off raising money, and no friends or family greeted the President as he bounced off the plane and darted into his limousine. Coal was waiting. The President sunk low in the seat. "I didn't expect you," he said.
"I'm sorry. We need to talk." The limo sped away toward the White House.
"It's late and I'm tired."
"How was the hurricane?"
"Impressive. It blew away a million shacks and cardboard huts, and now we'll rush down with a couple of billion and build new homes and power plants. They need a good hurricane every five years."
"I've got the disaster declaration ready."
"Okay. What's so important?"
Coal handed over a copy of what was now known as the pelican brief.
"I don't want to read," said the President. "Just tell me about it."
"Voyles and his motley crew have stumbled across a suspect that no one has mentioned until now. A most obscure, unlikely suspect. An eager-beaver law student at Tulane wrote this damned thing, and it somehow made its way to Voyles, who read it and decided it had merit. Keep in mind, they are desperate for suspects. The theory is so farfetched it's incredible, and on its face it doesn't worry me. But Voyles worries me. He's decided he must pursue with enthusiasm, and the press is watching every move he makes. There could be leaks."
"We can't control his investigation."
"We can manipulate it. Gminski is waiting at the White House, and"
"Relax, Chief. I personally handed him a copy of this three hours ago, and swore him to secrecy. He may be incompetent, but he can keep a secret. I trust him much more than Voyles."
"I don't trust either one of them."
Coal liked to hear this. He wanted the President to trust no one but him. "I think you should ask the CIA to immediately investigate this. I would like to know everything before Voyles starts digging. Neither will find anything, but if we know more than Voyles, you can convince him to back off. It makes sense, Chief."
The President was frustrated. "It's domestic. CIA has no business snooping around. It's probably illegal."
"It is illegal, technically. But Gminski will do it for you, and he can do it quickly, secretly, and more thoroughly than the FBI."
"It's been done before, Chief, many times."
The President watched the traffic. His eyes were puffy and red, but not from fatigue. He had slept three hours on the plane. But he'd spent the day looking sad and concerned for the cameras, and it was hard to snap out of it.
He took the brief and tossed it on the empty seat next to him. "Is it someone we know?"
BECAUSE IT IS A CITY of the night, New Orleans wakes slowly. It's quiet until well after dawn, then shakes the cobwebs and eases into the morning. There's no early rush except on the corridors to and from the suburbs, and the busy streets downtown. This is the same for all cities. But in the French Quarter, the soul of New Orleans, the smell of last night's whiskey and jambalaya and blackened redfish lingers not far above the empty streets until the sun can be seen. An hour or two later, it is replaced with the aroma of French Market coffee and beignets, and around this time the sidewalks reluctantly show signs of life.
Darby curled herself in a chair on the small balcony, sipping coffee and waiting on the sun. Callahan was a few feet away, through the open french doors, still wrapped in sheets and dead to the world. There was a trace of a breeze, but the humidity would return by noon. She pulled his robe closer around her neck, and inhaled the richness of his cologne. She thought of her father, and his baggy cotton button-downs he allowed her to wear when she was a teenager. She would roll the sleeves tightly to her elbows and let the tails hang to her knees, then walk the malls with her friends, secure in her belief that no one was cooler. Her father was her friend. By the time she finished high school, she had the run of his closet, as long as things were washed and neatly pressed and put back on the hangers. She could still smell the Grey Flannel he splashed on his face every day.
If he was living, he would be four years older than Thomas Callahan. Her mother had remarried and moved to Boise. Darby had a brother in Germany. The three seldom talked. Her father had been the glue in a fractious family, and his death had scattered them.
Twenty other people died in the plane crash, and before the funeral arrangements were complete the lawyers were calling. It was her first real exposure to the legal world, and it was not pleasant. The family attorney was a real estate type who knew nothing about litigation. A slick ambulance chaser got next to her brother, and he persuaded the family to sue quickly. His name was Herschel, and for two years the family suffered as Herschel stalled and lied and bungled the case. They settled a week before trial for half a million, after Herschel's cut, and Darby got a hundred thousand.
She decided to be a lawyer. If a clown like Herschel could do it and make big bucks while wreaking havoc on society, then she certainly could do it for a nobler purpose. She thought of Herschel often. When she passed the bar exam, her first lawsuit would be filed against him for malpractice. She wanted to work for an environmental firm. Finding a job, she knew, would not be a problem.
The hundred thousand was intact. Her mother's new husband was a paper company executive who was a little older and a lot wealthier, and shortly after their marriage she divided her portion of the settlement between Darby and her brother. She said the money reminded her of her deceased husband, and the gesture was symbolic. Though she still loved their father, she had a new life in a new city with a new husband who would retire in five years with money to burn. Darby had been confused by the symbolic gesture, but appreciated it and took the money.
The hundred thousand had doubled. She placed most of it in mutual funds, but only in those without holdings in chemical and petroleum companies. She drove an Accord and lived modestly. Her wardrobe was basic law school, purchased from factory outlet stores. She and Callahan enjoyed the better restaurants in town, and never ate at the same place twice. It was always Dutch treat.
He cared little for money, and never pressed her for information. She had more than the typical law student, but Tulane had its share of rich kids.
They dated for a month before they went to bed. She laid the ground rules, and he anxiously agreed to them. There would be no other women. They would be very discreet. And he had to stop drinking so much.
He stuck to the first two, but the drinking continued. His father, grandfather, and brothers were heavy drinkers, and it was sort of expected of him. But for the first time in his life, Thomas Callahan was in love, madly in love, and he knew the point at which the Scotch was interfering with his woman. He was careful. With the exception of last week and the personal trauma of losing Rosenberg, he never drank before 5 P.M. When they were together, he abandoned the Chivas when he'd had enough and thought it might affect his performance.
It was amusing to watch a forty-five-year-old man fall for the first time. He struggled to maintain a level of coolness, but in their private little moments he was as silly as a sophomore.
She kissed him on the cheek, and covered him with a quilt. Her clothes were placed neatly on a chair. She locked the front door quietly behind her. The sun was up now, peeking through the buildings across Dauphine. The sidewalk was empty.
She had a class in three hours, then Callahan and con law at eleven. There was a mock court appellate brief due in a week. Her casenote for law review was gathering dust. She was behind in classwork for two courses. It was time to be a student again. She had wasted four days playing detective, and she cursed herself for it.
The Accord was around the corner and down a half a block.
THEY WATCHED HER, and it was enjoyable. Tight jeans, baggy sweater, long legs, sunglasses to hide the eyes with no makeup. They watched her close the door and walk quickly along Royale, then disappear around the corner. The hair was shoulder-length and appeared to be dark red. It was her.
HE CARRIED HIS LUNCH in a little brown paper bag, and found an empty park bench with his back to New Hampshire. He hated Dupont Circle, with its bums, druggies, perverts, aging hippies, and black-leather punks with red spiked hair and vicious tongues. Across the fountain, a well-dressed man with a loudspeaker was assembling his group of animal rights activists for a march to the White House. The leather people jeered and cursed them, but four mounted policemen were close enough to prevent trouble.
He looked at his watch and peeled a banana. Noon, and he preferred to eat elsewhere. The meeting would be brief. He watched the cursing and jeering, and saw his contact emerge through the crowd. Their eyes met, a nod, and he was sitting on the bench next to him. His name was Booker, from Langley. They met here occasionally, when the lines of communication became tangled or blurred and their bosses needed to hear real words that no one else would hear.
Booker had no lunch. He began shelling roasted peanuts and throwing the hulls under the circular bench. "How's Mr. Voyles?"
"Mean as hell. The usual."
He threw peanuts in his mouth. "Gminski was in the White House until midnight last night," Booker said.
There was no response to this. Voyles knew it.
Booker continued. "They've panicked over there. This little pelican thing has scared them. We've read it too, you know, and we're almost certain you guys are not impressed, but for some reason Coal is terrified of it and he's got the President upset. We sort of figure you guys are just having a little fun with Coal and his boss, and since the brief mentions the President and has that photo in it, we figure it's sort of fun for you guys. Know what I mean?"
He took an inch off the banana, and said nothing.
The animal lovers moved away in ragged formation as the leather lovers hissed at them.
Anyway, it's none of our business, and should be none of our business except the President now wants us to secretly investigate the pelican brief before you guys can get to it. He's convinced we'll find nothing, and he wants to know there's nothing to it so he can convince Voyles to back off."
"There's nothing to it."
Booker watched a drunk urinate in the fountain. The cops were riding off into the sun. "Then Voyles is having a little fun, right?"
"We are pursuing all leads."
"No real suspects, though?"
"No." The banana was history. "Why are they so worried about us investigating this little thing?"
Booker crunched on a small peanut still in the hull. "Well, to them it's quite simple. They are livid over the revelation of Pryce and MacLawrence as nominees, and of course it's all your fault. They distrust Voyles immensely. And if you guys start digging into the pelican brief, they're terrified the press will find out and the President will take a beating. Reelection is next year, blah, blah, blah."
"What did Gminski tell the President?"
"That he had no desire to interfere with an FBI investigation, that we had better things to do, and that it would be illegal as hell. But since the President was begging so hard and Coal was threatening so much, we'd do it anyway. And here I am talking to you."
"Voyles appreciates it."
"We're gonna start digging today, but the whole thing is absurd. We'll go through the motions, stay out of the way, and in a week or so tell the President the whole theory is a shot in the dark."
He folded down the top of his brown bag, and stood. "Good. I'll report to Voyles. Thanks." He walked toward Connecticut, away from the leather punks, and was gone.
THE MONITOR was on a cluttered table in the center of the newsroom, and Gray Grantham glared at it amid the hum and roar of the gathering and reporting. The words were not coming, and he sat and glared. The phone rang. He punched his button, and grabbed the receiver without leaving the monitor. "Gray Grantham."
He forgot the monitor. "Yeah, so what's up?"
"I have two questions. First, do you record these calls, and second, can you trace them?"
"No and yes. We don't record until we ask permission, and we can trace but we don't. I thought you said you would not call me at work."
"Do you want me to hang up?"
"No. It's fine. I'd rather talk at 3 P.M. at the office than 6 A.M. in bed."
"Sorry. I'm just scared, that's all. I'll talk to you as long as I can trust you, but if you ever lie to me, Mr. Grantham, I'll quit talking."
"It's a deal. When do you start talking?"
"I can't talk now. I'm at a pay phone downtown, and I'm in a hurry."
"You said you had a copy of something."
"No, I said I might have a copy of something. We'll see."
"Okay. So when might you call again?"
"Do I have to make an appointment?"
"No. But I'm in and out a lot."
"I'll call during lunch tomorrow."
"I'll be waiting right here."
Garcia was gone. Grantham punched seven digits, then six, then four. He wrote the number, then flipped through the yellow pages until he found Pay Phones Inc. The Vendor Location listed the number on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Justice Department.
THE ARGUMENT started with dessert, a portion of the meal Callahan preferred to drink. She was nice enough when she clicked off the drinks he'd already consumed with dinner: two double Scotches while they waited on a table, one more before they ordered, and with the fish two bottles of wine, of which she'd had two glasses. He was drinking too fast and getting sloppy, and by the time she finished rattling off this accounting he was angry. He ordered Drambuie for dessert, because it was his favorite, and because it was suddenly a matter of principle. He gulped it and ordered another, and she was furious.
Darby spooned her coffee and ignored him. Mouton's was packed, and she just wanted to leave without a scene and get to her apartment alone.
The argument turned nasty on the sidewalk as they walked away from the restaurant. He pulled the keys to the Porsche from his pocket, and she said he was too drunk to drive. Give her the keys. He gripped them and staggered on in the direction of the parking lot, three blocks away. She said she would walk. Have a nice one, he said. She followed a few steps behind, embarrassed at the stumbling figure in front of her. She pleaded with him. His blood level was at least point-two-zero. He was a law professor, dammit. He would kill someone. He staggered faster, coming perilously close to the curb, then weaving away. He yelled over his shoulder, something about driving better drunk than she could sober. She fell behind. She'd taken a ride before when he was like this, and she knew what a drunk could do in a Porsche.
He crossed the street blindly, hands stuck deep in his pockets as if out for a casual stroll in the late night. He misjudged the curb, hit it with the toes instead of the sole, and went sprawling and bouncing and cursing along the sidewalk. He scrambled up quickly before she could reach him. Leave me alone, dammit, he told her. Just give me the keys, she begged, or I'm walking. He shoved her away. Have a nice one, he said with a laugh. She'd never seen him this drunk. He'd never touched her in anger, drunk or not.
Next to the parking lot was a greasy little dive with neon beer signs covering the windows. She looked inside the open door for help, but thought, how stupid. It was filled with drunks.
She yelled at him as he approached the Porsche. "Thomas! Please! Let me drive!" She was on the sidewalk and would go no farther.
He stumbled on, waving her off, mumbling to himself. He unlocked the door, squeezed downward, and disappeared between the other cars. The engine started and roared as he gunned it.
Darby leaned on the side of the building a few feet from the parking lot's exit. She looked at the street, and almost hoped for a cop. She would rather have him arrested than dead.
It was too far to walk. She would watch him drive away, then call a cab, then ignore him for a week. At least a week. Have a nice one, she repeated to herself. He gunned it again and squealed tires.
The explosion knocked her to the sidewalk. She landed on all fours, face down, stunned for a second, then immediately aware of the heat and the tiny pieces of fiery debris falling in the street. She gaped in horror at the parking lot. The Porsche flipped in a perfect violent somersault and landed upside down. The tires and wheels and doors and fenders slung free. The car was a brilliant fireball, roaring away with flames instantly devouring it.
Darby started toward it, screaming for him. Debris fell around her and the heat slowed her. She stopped thirty feet away, screaming with hands over her mouth.
Then a second explosion flipped it again and drove her away. She tripped, and her head fell hard on the bumper of another car. The pavement was hot to her face, and that was the last she remembered for a moment.
The dive emptied and the drunks were everywhere. They stood along the sidewalk and stared. A couple tried to advance, but the heat reddened their faces and kept them away. Thick, heavy smoke billowed from the fireball, and within seconds two other cars were on fire. There were shouts and voices in panic.
"Whose car is it!"
"Is anybody in it!"
They dragged her by the elbows back to the sidewalk, to the center of the crowd. She was repeating the name Thomas. A cold cloth came from the dive and was placed on her forehead.
The crowd thickened and the street was busy. Sirens, she heard sirens as she came around. There was a knot on the back of her head, and a coldness on her face. Her mouth was dry. "Thomas. Thomas," she repeated.
"It's okay, it's okay," said a black face just above her. He was carefully holding her head and patting her arm. Other faces stared downward. They all nodded in agreement. "It's okay."
The sirens were screaming now. She gently removed the cloth, and her eyes focused. There were red and blue lights flashing from the street. The sirens were deafening. She sat up. They leaned her against the building beneath the neon beer signs. They eased away, watching her carefully.