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|The Prey Series|
Despite the mist, she spent an hour working Chica, and working herself, and she smelled of it, mare-sweat and woman-sweat, with a tingle of Chanel No. 5. They'd turned down the trail from the south forty, easing along, and she could feel the mare's heart beating through her knees and thighs.
The mist hadn't felt cold while they were jumping, but now they were cooling off, and her cheeks and forehead were pink, and her knuckles were raw. A shower, she thought, would be nice, along with a hot sandwich and a cup of soup.
They'd just crossed the fence. She turned in the saddle to watch the gate relatch behind them, and saw the face in the tree line. There was no question that it was a face and in a blink, it was gone, dissolving in the trees.
She turned away from it, casually, tried to capture an afterimage in her mind. A pale oval, truncated at top and bottom, with a dark trapezoid beneath the oval. The face of a man who'd been watching her through binoculars, she realized. The dark shape, the trapezoid, had been arms, joined at the binoculars, in a camouflage jacket."
A thrill of fear ran up her spine. They might be coming for her.
She suppressed the urge to run the mare, but not the urge to push her into a trot. They came down the fence line and she took the remote from her pocket, pointed it at the inside gate, and it swung open in front of them. They went through, and she turned and closed the gate, her eyes searching the tree line as she turned. Nothing. They went on to the barn, Chica in a hurry now, anticipating the feed bag.
When she came off the horse she was feeling loose and athletic and was beginning to question what she'd seen. Was she losing it? Was the pressure pushing her over the edge? There'd been nothing but a flash of white.
Lon, the barn man, came over as she led the horse inside to the smell of horseshit and hay and feed, the odors of a comfortable life. She brushed a fly away from Chica's eye as she handed the reins over. "I worked her hard, Lon. She's pretty warm."
Then over the groom's shoulder, in the lighted square of the open barn door, she saw the housekeeper jogging across the barnyard, a folded newspaper over her hair to deflect the rain. Lon, an older, hook-nosed man whose skin was grooved like the bark on an oak tree, turned to look and said, "She's in a hurry."
She met Sandi, the housekeeper, at the barn door. "Sandi?"
"Two men are here."
"Watchmen," Sandi said.
She looked up at the house: "Did you let them in?"
"Um, it's raining..." Sandi was suddenly afraid that she'd done wrong. "I left them in the front hall."
"That's okay. That's fine." She nodded. "Tell them that I'll be a moment."
Sandi fled back across the barnyard into the house. She and Lon talked about the horse for another thirty seconds, then, as she turned toward the house, Lon said, "Be careful, Maddy."
She took her time, cleaning her boots on the boot-brush outside the door, and on the mat inside, peeling off her rain suit and helmet, shaking out her hair, hanging the gear on the wall-pegs in the mud room. Still wearing the knee-high boots, she clumped across the kitchen and up the back stairs to the bedroom. From the closet, she got the bedroom gun, a blue-steel .380. She jacked a shell into the chamber and disengaged the safety, stuffed it in her jacket pocket.
She was afraid of the Watchmen, but more than that: she was also interested in what they'd say and excited by the prospect of conflict. She wasn't exactly a thrill-seeker, but she enjoyed a test, and the more severe, the better. She'd been a rock climber, she drove fast cars. And always the horses: the horses might someday kill her, she thought. Riding was as dangerous as a knife fight.
She took the back stairs down to the kitchen, walked out through the living room to the front entry. Two men waited there, both in leather bomber jackets, blue shirts, and khaki slacks. They'd put on their uniforms for the visit.
She knew one of them: Bob Sheenan, who worked behind the parts counter at Canelo's Farm & Garden. He was about fourth or fifth in the local Watchmen ranks. She knew the other man's face, but not his name.
"Been out riding?" Sheenan asked when she walked into the entry.
She didn't answer. No pleasantries for the Watchmen: "What do you want, Bob?"
"Well, now..." Sheenan was a big man, with a bar-brawler's face: pale blue berserker's eyes, one damaged eyelid half-shading his left eye, scar tissue under both of them, a crooked banana nose, large yellow teeth. He smelled of pizza and beer, though it was not yet ten o'clock. "You're telling people that the Watchmen had something to do with your husband."
"You did," she said flatly. "I want to know where he is. If you're not here to tell me, then get out."
He jabbed a finger at her, and stepped closer. "We had nothing to do with your husband. If you keep talking that way, we will take you to court."
She squared off to him. "Or beat me up?"
"We don't do that."
"Bullshit. What about that Mexican kid two weeks ago? You broke his cheekbones."
"He was attempting to escape," the second man said.
"You're not the police!" she snapped. "You're supposed to be Boy Scouts. What were you doing capturing him, huh?"
Sheenan and the second man looked at each other for a second, confused, then Sheenan pulled himself back. "I don't care about the Mexican. That's got nothing to do with this."
She bared her teeth: "Is this coming from Goodman? Or is this just some moronic crap you made up on your own?"
"This is not crap, missus." His eyes widened and his shoulders tensed, as if he were about to strike at her. "You are tearing down our good name. I don't know what your husband is up to, or where he's gone, but we will find out. In the meantime, you shut your fuckin' mouth."
"I'm not going to shut my mouth," she said. "I'll tell you something, Bob: you better be here on Goodman's orders, because you're going to need as much backup as you can get. If you came here on your own hook, I'll have your balls by midnight. Now: Are you going to get out, or do I call the sheriff?"
Sheenan shuffled a half step forward, looming, not worried at the threat. The security cameras were on. All this was on tape. She refused to move back, but slipped her right hand into the pocket of the jean jacket, touched the cold steel of the .380.
"Something's going on here," Sheenan hissed, jabbing the finger again, but not touching her. "We're going to find out what it is. In the meantime, you stick close to the house, missus. We don't want something to happen to you, too."
Then he laughed, and turned, and walked out. The other man held the door, and before pulling it closed behind him, said, "We're watching."
She exhaled, walked into the library, out of range of the security cameras, took the pistol out of her pocket with a shaking hand, and engaged the safety. Her biggest fear was that they would do something stupid that they would stage an accident, a mishap, a mystery killing, a disappearance. Even if they were eventually caught, that wouldn't do her any good.
She could hear the local news anchor: "... and then she vanished, into the same darkness that took her husband." She'd worked as a reporter for a television station in Richmond, and used to write that stuff; that's how she'd do it.
She'd been planning to run for two weeks. Sheenan had pulled the trigger. She put the gun back in her pocket, headed for the stairs, and shouted, "Sandi?" Sandi came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. "Yes?"
"I'm going into town. Did you pick up the dry cleaning?"
"Yes, I did. I've still got them in the kitchen."
"I'll need the red blouse and the gray slacks. Bring them up, and put them on the bed. I'll be in the shower."
"What about the schnitzel? Will you be back for lunch?"
"I'll get a bite in town. You and Lon and Carl could have sandwiches... and leave one for me in the refrigerator. I'll eat it cold, this afternoon."
She took the pickup into Lexington, driving too fast, enjoying the feel of the back end kicking out in the turns, grabbing the gravel and throwing it. She was moving fast enough that anyone trailing her would be obvious. If anyone was there, she didn't see him. The face across the fence haunted her: Had it been real? Was it imaginary?
In town, she stopped at the bank, took out five thousand in cash, returned two books to the library, filled the truck's gas tank, went to the feed store and picked up four bags of supplement for the horses. At the post office, she turned off the mail and had it forwarded to Washington. The window clerk was a Watchman, but he was whistling as he put together the temporary change of address, and smiled at her when she said good-bye.
With the chores done, she stopped at Pat's Tea House for a scone and a cup of tea. Pat was a friend, a fellow horsewoman, and came over to chat, as she always did: "How's everything?"
"Delicious," she said. "Listen, can I borrow your phone to call Washington? I left my cell at home."
"Absolutely. Stop in the office when you're done."
She made the call, thinking all the time that she was being paranoid. They wouldn't be watching the phones. Would they?
She was back at Oak Walk at one o'clock, sent Sandi to get Lon and Carl. When the three were assembled in the kitchen, she told them that she was going to Washington and didn't know when she'd be back.
"With the controversy about Lincoln and with the Watchmen visiting this morning, I think I'd better move into town for a while. So you three will be running this place. Deborah Benson will deliver your paychecks on Fridays. If you need to buy anything big, call me, we'll talk, and I'll have Deborah issue a check. I'm going to leave three thousand in cash with Lon. If you need to buy small stuff, use that, and put the receipts in the Ball jar on the kitchen counter. I'll leave the keys for the truck and the car with Lon."
They had questions, but they'd done this before.
"Any idea when you'll be back?" Lon asked.
"I'll check back every once in a while, just to ride, if nothing else. But it could be a while before I'm back full-time probably not until we find Linc," she said.
When she was satisfied that the farm would be handled, she ate the cold schnitzel sandwich, opened the safe and removed and packed her jewelry, packed a small suitcase with clothes she wanted to take to the city, went to the security room, took the tape out of the security cameras, and put in a new one.
She spent another hour on Rochambeau Rocky an aging gelding that had always been one of her favorites, then cleaned up, put on her traveling clothes, and wandered around the house at loose ends, until four o'clock, when she heard the gate-buzzer chirp. She looked out the front window down the lawn where the driveway snaked up from the road. Two cars were coming up the hill, a gunmetal gray Mercedes-Benz sedan and a black Lincoln Town Car.
She went out on the porch when the cars stopped in the driveway circle. A chauffeur got out of the Benz and waited. Another chauffeur got out of the Town Car and held the back door. A young woman got out, followed by a slightly older man, both carrying briefcases. Madison met them at the top of the porch stairs.
"Hello," the woman said. "I'm Janice Rogers, this is Lane Parks, Johnnie said to say hello for him. He will see you tonight."
"Two cars?" she asked.
"Johnnie thought a convoy would be better," Rogers said. "If you're really worried... it would make it more complicated for anyone to interfere with us."
"Good. Let me get my things," she said.
The trip into D.C. took a little more than three hours. Her attorney, Johnson Black, was waiting on the porch when the Benz pulled up to the town house, alerted by the two junior attorneys in the Town Car. Black was dressed like his name, in shades of black, under a black raincoat, but with a brilliant jungle-birds necktie.
She got out, the chauffeur popped the trunk to get her luggage, and she walked up the sidewalk and Black kissed her on the cheek and said, "Quite an adventure."
"The kind I don't need."
"Randall James is coming over tonight, if you don't mind. He wants to talk about those tapes he wants you on his show tomorrow."
She was fumbling for the keys to the front door, found them. "You think that'd be the thing to do?"
"Well, I'll have to look at the tapes, but so far, the press is acting like we're just bullshitting about Linc and Goodman. This could change things. Depends on the tapes..."
Randall James had a noon gig as the Washington Insider on the local ABC outlet. The show got to the right demographic.
James showed up at nine o'clock, an unctuous man with careful black hair, a sharp nose, and a dimple on his chin. He would, she thought, lie for the pure pleasure of it; but he had the demographics.
He sat in the chair, watching the tapes, checking her profile from time to time. When they were done, he said, "I'll put you on right at the top, at noon. Live. This is great shit, Mrs. Bowe." He picked up a remote and ran back to the point where Sheenan had shuffled toward her. The threat seemed more explicit on the tape than it had in person. James froze the scene, said, "Look at the face on that fucker..."
Her name was Madison Bowe. Her husband was an ex–U.S. senator from Virginia, who, two weeks earlier, had vanished after a speech in Charlottesville. Vanished like a wisp of smoke.
The governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia stood in the living room of the private quarters on the second floor of the governor's mansion, watching the television. He was flushed, angry, but silent.
His brother was not. His brother screamed at the television: "Look at the bitch, Arlo. Look at that bitch. She's ruinin' you, and she knows it. Goddamn her eyes..."
"She's good at it," Arlo Goodman said after a moment, a small smile on his face. "That silly ass Randall James is wearing a toupee, huh? He looks like a circumcised cock being attacked by a rat."
Darrell Goodman wasn't amused. He sat on the couch behind the governor, wearing a tan raincoat, his hands in the pockets, a tennis hat shading his eyes, making them invisible in the already dimly lit room. His body was canted toward the TV, trembling with tension. "You want me to..."
The governor turned and pointed a finger at him: "Nothing. Nobody goes near her, not for any reason. I'll make a statement, sweetness and light, apologize, kick the Watchman's ass. What's his name? Sheenan. We kick his ass. But if anything happened to her, I'd be cooked. Done. Finished. Stay the fuck away from her."
"What about Sheenan? Maybe he's working with her. Maybe it was a setup."
The governor grunted: "If that was a setup, he oughta get the Oscar. But it wasn't a setup, Darrell. That was a real, honest-to-God barefaced threat. He thought he was doing the right thing."
"Dumb fuck, getting on tape."
"Let it go. I'll have Patricia deal with him. But I'll tell you what, this is no way to get to be president."
Darrell Goodman studied his brother, his calm face, the smile as he watched the televised assassination. Sooner or later, the governor would realize that they were in a war. Then he'd do more than rave. Then he'd get angry, then he'd move. Darrell looked forward to the day.
The hunter knew Madison Bowe's name. He'd seen her picture, had never met her, had no idea where she lived, had no thought that she might be in his future. As she spoke to a half million people on Randall James's show, he knelt on a rubber tarp, not forty miles from her farm, waiting. Above him, the sun was a dull nickel hidden in the clouds.
The rain had come every night for the past three, courtesy of a low-pressure system stalled over the Appalachians. The night before, the rain began just after 3 A.M. He'd woken in his guest room, upstairs in the cabin, snug under the slanting tin roof. He'd listened for a few moments, the water whispering down a drainpipe, the cotton smell of the quilt around him, and then he'd rolled over and slept soundly until four-thirty.
He woke at four-thirty every morning. When he opened his eyes, he lay quietly for a moment, surfacing, then looked at the bedside clock, stretched, and got out of bed. He did fifty push-ups and fifty sit-ups on the colonial-style hooked rug from China, then a series of stretches, working hard on his bad leg. As he was finishing his routine, he heard an alarm go off down the hall.
He grabbed his jeans and a pair of fresh underpants from his bag, and padded barefoot down the hall to the bathroom. Better first than at the end of the line...
He brushed his teeth, skipped shaving, showered quickly. Out of the shower, he dried himself with his designated towel, pulled on the shorts and jeans, and opened the door. Peyson Carter was leaning against the opposite wall, green eyes, sleepy, wrapped in a bathrobe, holding a hair dryer.
"Morning, Jake," she said, not looking at his bare chest. His name was Jake Winter. "Billy's just getting up."
"Yeah, let me get out of your way."
He slid past her in the hallway, careful not to brush against her. Peyson was his best friend's wife. Since Billy Carter first brought her around, fifteen years ago in college, he'd been a little in love with her. Some of the feeling, he suspected, was returned. They were always careful not to touch, because there might be a question of exactly when the touching would stop. And she loved Billy...
The guys downstairs were slower getting up, but by the time he'd gotten dressed and into his boots, and gathered his coveralls and gear, they were moving around. He could hear the downstairs shower going, and the plop-gurgle of the coffeemaker, the smell of hot coffee on a cool, rainy morning.
As he left the room, Peyson came out of the bathroom, steamy and pink, wrapped in the robe, and he said, "Scrambled?" and she said, "Yes," and shouted, "Billy, get up," and he followed her down the hall, watching her ass, and God help him, if Billy his best friend ever died in a car wreck, he would be knocking on this woman's door the next week.
Peyson went on to the other bedroom and he turned down the stairs.
In the kitchen, he started breaking eggs into a bowl, got some muffin-premix poured into pan-molds, fired up the oven, took a package of bacon out of the refrigerator. Bob Wilson came out of the downstairs bathroom, hair wet from the shower, and said, "Rain."
"Gonna make the woods quiet, anyway. Hope the birds don't hunker down."
Sam Barger walked sleepy-eyed from the bedroom and asked Wilson, "You all done in the shower?"
"Yeah, go ahead."
"Rainin'," Barger said. "TV says it should be outa here by noon."
They took a little time over breakfast: the smell of muffins rising in the oven, bacon and eggs, coffee, the pine-wood walls of the cabin. Peyson Carter across from him, curly blond hair, catching his eyes. Did all attractive women keep a spare tire?
They hunted together every spring and fall, looking for Virginia wild turkeys, four men, one man's wife. They had the routine down. Everybody knew what to bring bows, boots, camo, pasta, booze, garbage bags, toilet paper, target faces and everybody knew about where he or she would set up. They were all bow hunters. Between the five of them, they averaged two turkeys per season. Turkeys were tough.
All that brought him to the rubber tarp, where he knelt in the gloom, waiting for his bird to move. A little hungry now, trying to ignore it. The four-foot-square mat made it possible to shift his weight silently; he had to shift frequently because of his lame leg. The tangle of brush around him made it possible to draw the bow without the motion being seen.
He had a Semiweiss Lighting compound bow, the draw weight adjusted down to provide for a very long hold. He was shooting carbon-fiber arrows, one-inch broadheads with stoppers. A good-sized tom hung out in the oaks behind him. And the tom would be coming out to this cornfield, and with luck, following a track along a shallow ravine below him. He knew the bird sometimes did that, because he'd seen the scat and the tracks on scouting trips.
Whether the tom would do it this day, he didn't know.
He waited, listening, straining to see in through the brush, the problems of the bureaucracy falling away from him. He'd hunted most of his life, since his grandfather had first taken him out when he was six years old. He hunted deer and turkeys in Virginia, elk and antelope out west. When he was hunting, he stepped into a Zen-space and became part of the landscape. Time didn't pass, nor did it stop; it simply wasn't. He faded away from himself and his day-to-day problems.
He'd been in place since dawn. The sun came up, rose higher, broke briefly out of the clouds, disappeared again. A breeze sprang up, played with the oak leaves, died again; squirrels ran across the ground, noisy beasts; a chickadee stopped on a branch a foot from his nose.
He saw it all, but didn't look at it. He was waiting... When the cell phone went off.
The sound was stunning, like being hit in the face by a snowball. He rushed back to the present, out of the Zen-space to the here-and-now. He unzipped a panel on his camo, pushed his hand through to a shirt pocket underneath, and took the phone out.
"Yes." The only people who had the number for that phone were people he needed to talk with.
A woman's voice, quiet, cultivated: "Jake, this is Gina Press. I'm sorry to bother you, I understand you're on vacation. The guy needs to see you."
"Today. Where are you?"
"Down in the valley. It'll be a while."
"It's pretty urgent. Can I put you on the log for four forty-five?"
He looked at his watch: One o'clock. "Okay but give me a hint."
"I'll be there."
The killer could feel the pull of the .45 in his pocket, pulling down on his shoulders, and maybe his soul.
He was moving Lincoln Bowe. Bowe was pale, naked, unconscious, a sack of meat, for all practical purposes. The killer had him slung in a blue plastic tarp, purchased at a Wal-Mart, and wrestled him down the narrow stairs, under the single bare basement bulb.
He was a big man, straining with the load, trying for a kind of tenderness while moving two hundred pounds of inert human being. He wore blue coveralls from Wal-Mart, purchased for the murder, and a hooded sweatshirt, with the hood pulled over his head, and plastic gloves. He knew all about DNA, and it worried him. A hair, a little spit, and he could wind up strapped to the death gurney, a needle in the arm...
He got the load down, puffing and heaving all the way, then looked back up the stairs: two minutes and he'd have to take the body back up. But he couldn't do the killing upstairs, the neighborhood was too tight, somebody might hear the shot.
He slipped the safety and said, "Linc..." and thought:
He put the safety back on, ran back up the stairs, and got the earplugs. They were two bullet-sized bits of compressible yellow foam, made for target shooters. He twisted each one, fitted them into his ears, waited for them to reexpand. If he'd fired the gun in the confines of the basement, without the ear protection, he wouldn't have been able to hear for a week.
He slipped the safety again, teared up, wiped the tears away, pointed the pistol at the point where the phone book covered the naked man's heart, said, "Lincoln," and pulled the trigger.
Without the earplugs, the blast would have been shattering; it was bad enough as it was. The naked man bucked upward, his eyes opening in reflex, the pupils milky with sleep. He stared at the killer for a second, then two, then dropped back flat on the floor.
"Holy mother," the killer said, appalled. He stood staring for a second, shocked by the milky eyes, by a possible gleam of intelligence, the hair rising on the back of his neck. Then, after a moment, he stooped and picked up the phone book. The slug had gone through, and blood bubbled from a purple hole in the naked man's chest. The hole was directly over his heart. He engaged the safety on the .45, slipped the gun back in his pocket, and squatted.
The naked man wasn't breathing. His eyes, when the lids were withdrawn, had rolled up, showing only the whites. He pressed a plastic-covered finger against the naked man's neck, waiting for any sign of a pulse. Didn't find one. Lincoln Bowe was dead.
He rolled Bowe up, enough to look at his back. No exit wound. The phone book had worked like a charm: the slug was buried inside the dead man.
The killer was silent, kneeling, looking at the face of the man on the floor. So many years. Who would have thought it'd come to this? Then he sighed, stood up, pulled the magazine on the pistol, jacked the shell out of the magazine. Looked at the stairs.
This would be the dangerous part, moving the body. If the cops stopped him for anything, he was done.
But they'd made their plans, and he was running with them. He had a lot to do. He stood, still looking at the dead man's face, then said, "Let's move, Linc. Let's go."
Jake stopped at home and changed into a suit and tie, and then caught a taxi to the White House. He checked through the west working entrance, walking first past the outer gate, where a guard examined his ID, then through the inner gate with the X-ray machines.
The X-ray tech, a new guy, spent five minutes looking at his cane, until an older guy came by, glanced at it, and said, "It's okay. Mr. Winter's a regular."
Once through security, he was slotted into a waiting room that offered coffee, newspapers, and high speed Internet. The room had recently been redecorated the walls painted blue, the First Lady's favorite color, and hung with portraits of former First Ladies.
One of the formers, Hillary Clinton, smiled down on the bald spot of John Powers, a Georgetown professor and sometime advisor to the Department of Defense. Powers was sitting in an easy chair reading the Wall Street Journal. He and Jake knew each other as consultants, and as denizens of Georgetown.
"I'm much more important than you are," Powers said to Jake, folding the paper as Jake limped in. He was an urbane man, who looked like he might have run an art gallery. His over-the-calf socks were dark blue with ladybug-sized smiling suns on them. "I publish in Foreign Policy."
"That may be true, but my neckties are from Hermès," Jake said, dropping into a chair across from him. "Wait'll the faculty senate hears that you were reading the Journal."
"They all read it, in secret, greedy little buggers," Powers said. He probed: "Are you over for the boat review?"
Jake shook his head and lied. "Nope. I don't know why I'm over. Probably the convention. History stuff, working it into the program, successor to John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, William Jefferson Clinton, great Americans all, blah-blah-blah."
"The convention." Powers smiled, showing a set of glittering teeth. Campus rumor said that he'd had them veneered for television. "I'm here for the boats. Vice President Landers is leading the charge."
"Good luck with that." Jake opened his case and took out his laptop, balanced it on his knees, turned it on.
"You don't mean that," Powers said, tilting his head. Few people at Georgetown would have.
"I do," Jake said. "I hope they build them all."
Powers brightened, remembering. "Ah. That's right. You were in the military."
"For a while." The boats were five atomic-powered attack carriers that would cost twelve billion dollars each. "With the budget as it is, and the old people loading up behind Social Security, I don't think you've got a chance in hell."
Powers frowned, said, "The Chinese and Indians..." A tall man in shirtsleeves stuck his head into the room and nodded at Powers. "Whoops, here I go. See you at school." Powers took a step away, then said, "Really? Hermès?"
"What do they cost now? Two-fifty?"
When Powers was gone, Jake plugged into the Net, did a search for Madison and Lincoln Bowe. He got sixty thousand hits, filtered them to the last three days, and caught a reference to a Madison Bowe interview on Channel 7's Washington Insider with Randall James.
He called it up from the station's news cache and watched Madison Bowe do her thing: "They've got him, I know it." The camera made love to her face. "They've got Lincoln. If they don't, why are they so worried about me? They did everything they could to shut me up. I'll be honest, I'm very worried. I'm worried that they'll kill him when they're done with him..."
She had tapes of a big shambling man threatening her in her own house. The tapes were made more effective by their security-camera, cinéma-vérité quality. "This is how they work," she said after the tape ran out. She was appealing, with a nervous lip-nibble that made a male hormone jump up and shout, "I'll take care of you."
"This is what they're doing to our America," she said, speaking directly to the camera.
They, Jake mused, were us.
He was moving fast now, scanning the Net news, learning as much as he could about her, and about Lincoln Bowe, and the circumstances around Lincoln Bowe's disappearance; and about their friends, their political allies. Lincoln Bowe had been a conservative Republican, faithful to the party and to the conservative cause, and an aristocrat. Madison Bowe was a lawyer's daughter, smart, media-wise, good-looking, the perfect mate for a rising Republican star.
Then the star had fallen, brought down by Arlo Goodman.
The fight had started with Goodman's run for the governorship, through the rise of the Watchmen, and then into Bowe's reelection campaign. Bowe had been the big stud in Virginia politics, Goodman coming up in the other party, a threat to Bowe's eminence. A fight that started out as political quickly became personal.
Bowe: Have you seen him with his Watchmen? Just like Munich in the 1930s, a tin-pot dictator with his political thugs, a little Hitler without the mustache...
Goodman: Did you ever see that picture of him during Iraq I? The baby-faced bigshot lawyer with his aristocratic chums, with his friends from Skull and Bones, playing poker and smoking Cuban cigars. Let the poor boys die; but none of our precious little richies with their snowy white sweaters with the big blue Y on the chest...
Bowe must have rued the day he'd worn that Yale sweater, let himself be shot in the sweater and shorts, sockless with tasseled loafers, a big cigar and playing cards on the table, the unruly hair falling over his forehead a harmless, attractive photograph at twenty-four that would be shoved up his ass at forty-six...
Goodman had won the gubernatorial race. Two years later, with a lot of help from the White House, and a nationwide money-raising campaign, he'd spearheaded the campaign against Bowe. Bowe had lost his Senate seat to a Goodman crony.
Bowe had lost, but he hadn't shut up. He had the money and the family to re-create himself as the administration's most prominent critic, able to say what sitting members of Congress, too worried about maintaining their share of the pork, could not. Some thought he might run for his old Senate seat again. Some thought if the Republicans came back in, he might be in line for an ambassadorship, the Court of St. James's, or Paris.
Then he'd vanished. Stepped into a car, and was gone, moments after making a vicious attack on the administration's Syrian policy, and, domestically, on special-interest groups who supported the president.
The media had gone crazy. And the longer Bowe was gone, the crazier it had gotten.
ABC had compared his disappearance to Judge Crater's and Jimmy Hoffa's, with hints of organized crime. CNN had done a special that spoke darkly of Nazi, Middle Eastern, and South American politics. They'd intercut the film with shots of the Watchmen, in bomber jackets and khaki slacks, meeting in a football stadium in Emporia, with Goodman on a stage in front of a huge American flag; the implication was clear.
Fox had won the ratings war with a show on even crazier theories, including alien abduction and spontaneous combustion.
Jake had been waiting for forty minutes, and was still paging through media commentaries, when his cell phone rang. Gina. "You're on the log. Come on up."
Jacob Winter was thirty-three years old, six feet two inches tall, rangy, bony, with knife-edge cheekbones, a long nose, black hair worn unfashionably long, arty-long, and pale green eyes. His ex-wife referred to him as Ichabod-in-a-suit, after Ichabod Crane. He did wear suits: a saleswoman at Saks had once taken two hours of her life to coordinate neckties and shirts and suits with his eyes, and to explain how he could do it himself.
"Your eyes are the thing," she'd said. "The right tie brings them out. Frankly, you would not normally be considered a great-looking guy, too many bones in your face, but your eyes make you very attractive. Your eyes and shoulders..."
Yes. The kind of guy who attracts saleswomen from Saks. Not a bad thing; her comment had cheered him for a week. A man of style...
Jake had been born in Montana and raised on a ranch. His mother was an engineer, his father a rancher's son and a lawyer and eventually a congressman. Jake came late in their lives. Since his parents were both Catholic and pro-life, and politics were involved, the pregnancy was tolerated, but they weren't much interested in raising another kid Jake's siblings were fifteen years older than he.
When he was two, his parents, moving between Billings and Washington, began leaving him for longer and longer periods with his grandparents. By the time he was five, they were out of his life. His grandmother died when he was nine; his grandfather followed when he was fifteen. His parents didn't want him. After a year of prep school, he went to college at the University of Virginia, a lonely sixteen-year-old with a history book under his arm.
He graduated at nineteen and could afford to do as he wished when his grandfather died, his will specified that the ranch be sold, and that the money go to Jake, rather than to his father...
Two weeks after graduation, he was in Army Officers Candidate School. He spent eight years with Army Intelligence. The first two years had been in training. The third, fourth, and fifth he'd spent in Afghanistan with a series of Army special forces teams.
At the beginning of the sixth year, he was standing too close to a roadside bomb when it went off on the outskirts of the town of Ghazni. A piece of shell the size of a softball cut through his hip. A medic had stuffed Stop-Flo padding into the hole in his leg and butt and on the medevac chopper, said, "Shit, man, you're lucky. If you'd been standing ninety degrees to the right, that would've been your balls."
The rest of the sixth year was spent at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, getting his leg to work again.
Then, still in therapy, he was posted to the Pentagon, where he discovered an uncanny ability to navigate the world of bureaucracy. While his military colleagues worked on assessments of Chinese special-forces training or the electronic characteristics of Indian shoulder-mounted missiles, Jake's work had been done inside the Pentagon, the various limbs of Congress, and the rat's nest of bureaus and departments that surrounded the intelligence agencies.
He found things out; became the Sam Spade of the circular file, the Philip Marlowe of the burn bag.
And though he could eventually run five eight-minute miles, in a hobbled, windmilling way, the Army would never consider him fully rehabilitated. That career was gone he could stay in, take staff jobs, and someday retire as one of the colonel-intellectuals who argued war theory. Not interested.
Instead, as he worked through rehab and then in the Pentagon, he'd gone to graduate school at Georgetown, with the idea that he might teach at the university level. He'd written his PhD thesis on twentieth-century modernist ideas as they'd bled into politics, and had then rewritten the thesis as a book, Modernism & Politics: The Theories That Changed the World.
He'd gotten solid reviews in the important journals, and followed the first book with New Elites, a study of professional bureaucracies. That had nailed down his status as a political intellectual. He didn't do television. Television, he thought, was sales. He was research and design.
He'd gotten married before he'd been wounded; the marriage hadn't survived rehab. Wouldn't have survived anyway, he thought. The woman was a crocodile. Although, he thought, if she'd known that he would wind up at the White House...
His most influential publication had never seen hard covers. At the urging of a military friend, he'd written Winter's Guide to the Inside, a map and guide to the military/intelligence complex. It had become the best-selling Pentagon samizdat.
The Guide had also gotten him a part-time job with the second most important man in the country.
Ten seconds after Gina called down, Jake met a Marine Corps captain on the indoor side of the waiting room, and followed him into an elevator, up, and then down the eggshell white halls to Danzig's office.
Going to see the guy. The guy was Bill Danzig, the president's chief of staff. Danzig had been a deputy secretary of Defense two administrations back, then a Pentagon consultant when the party was out of power. He'd been given a copy of Winter's Guide, and when he moved to the White House, Jake went on his consultants list.
Jake had done twenty jobs for him in three years, tracking down problems in the bureaucracy. As Danzig came to trust him, the problems became more difficult, the assignments more frequent.
Not quite a full-time job, but lucrative. The job also gave him access to some interesting government computers. Interesting, anyway, for a man who wanted to know what really happened.
A Secret Service agent was standing in the hall outside Danzig's office door, wearing the neat suit, crisp shirt, and a burgundy necktie, with ear-bug. He nodded at Jake and the jar-head, stepped into the middle of the hallway, blocking a farther walk down the hall, toward the president's office, and politely indicating the entrance to Danzig's office.
Jake nodded and took the turn. The Secret Service man said, "Nice to see you again, Mr. Winter."
"Nice to see you, Henry," Jake said. Jake remembered everybody's name; it was part of his talent.
Danzig's outer office was twenty-five feet wide and twenty feet deep, with a small room to one side for printers and copy machines. He had three secretaries. Two sat opposite each other against the side walls, at identical cherry-wood desks, peering at computers.
A third sat behind a broad table, an antique with curved, carved legs pressing into the deep-blue carpet, under a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, beside the door to the inner office. The table was littered with paper, bound reports, a few family photographs, and a vase of cut cattleya orchids, large yellow blooms dappled with scarlet.
The third woman was Gina, the important one, the one who'd called him. She was in her forties, with a dry oval face and close-cropped hair, bright blue eyes, wrinkles in the skin of her neck. She nodded and smiled, as though she wouldn't cut his throat in an instant if her boss asked her to. She said, "Great tie," and touched a button on her desk. Danzig now knew Jake was waiting.
"Great halter," Jake said. "Is that new?"
Gina touched the ID halter at her neck, from which her White House ID dangled; turquoise cabochons set in Navajo silver. "I just got it my husband bought it for our anniversary."
"Nice antique look," he said. "I like it."
ID cards separated Washington insiders from the tourists. The elite-insiders were now separating themselves from the clerk-insiders with gemstones: the sale of jeweled ID halters had been booming.
Gina glanced at her desktop, where a diode had gone green. She said, "Go on in. He's waiting."
Bill Danzig was tying his shoe. He looked up as Jake came through the door, grunted, and said, "Don't buy round shoelaces."
"I'll make a note," Jake said.
Danzig pointed at a chair and Jake sat down. "What's your schedule?" Danzig asked. "Do you have any time?"
Jake shrugged. "I can always make time. We're on Easter break this week, so I've got a week and a half clear."
"Excellent. Now. What do you know about Madison Bowe?" Danzig asked, settling back. He was a fat man, with shoulders slanting down from a thin neck. He had small black eyes and thinning, slicked-back, dandruff-spotted black hair. The odor of VO5 hung about him like the scent of an old apple.
"What I've seen on television and been reading in the papers," Jake said.
"Give me a one-minute version."
Jake shrugged: "Madison Bowe, thirty-four years old, married money in the shape of former U.S. Senator Lincoln Bowe, forty-six. Tells the networks that Lincoln Bowe gave a quote moderately hot-tempered speech to a group of Republican law students at the University of Virginia."
Danzig made a farting noise with his lips; Jake paused, then continued.
"Afterward, she said, he was seen getting into a car with three men in suits, and disappeared. Witnesses told her that the men seemed to be law-enforcement personnel, complete with short haircuts and ear-bugs. Mrs. Bowe says she was told by a highly placed source that the Watchmen picked him up. She fears for his life, since they would never be able to admit afterward that they actually did that."
"That's true," Danzig said.
"She also says that she was being watched on her farm near Lexington, and had been threatened by Watchmen. She has a videotape to prove it. The intimidation part. If the tape isn't a complete fake, I'd say she had reason to be frightened. The guy, the Watchman, acted like he was in the SS or something... and that's about it. I mean, there are more details..."
"Fucking media," Danzig said. He picked up a yellow pencil and began drumming it on his desktop. "Fucking little right-wing Virginia Law assholes, fucking horse-farm owners. This is the biggest circus since Bill Clinton's blow job."
"She's good-looking, too. Madison Bowe. Blond. Good tits, great ass. The media like that."
Jake said, "Yes, sir, I've seen her on TV."
"Lincoln Bowe did not give a quote moderately hot-tempered speech," Danzig said. He paused, watching Jake's face from under his hooded eyes. "If you actually heard it, it was borderline nuts. He sounded like he might be drunk. He essentially said that the president and the Senate minority leader are criminals. It was completely out of control."
Danzig flashed a thin-lipped fat-lizard's smile: "I should ask, Jake have any questions occurred to you?"
"The obvious one. Did the Watchmen take him?"
Danzig spun in his leather chair, a complete turn, caught himself before going around a second time: "That's the question. And the answer is We don't know. It's possible, I suppose. God only knows what Goodman is cooking up down there."
"So what's our problem?" Jake asked.
"Embarrassment. Goodman is one of us, we can't deny it. We loved that whole Watchman idea, the idea of volunteering for America it was like the Peace Corps, but for us. Like something John Kennedy might have thought of. Best of all, it didn't cost anything. Now people are starting to say that they're a bunch of Nazis. We wanted to get rid of Lincoln Bowe, we wanted to get him out of the Senate, and we gave Goodman everything he needed to do the job. Then Bowe disappears, and it all comes back to bite us in the ass."
Jake nodded. There wasn't much to say. The Democrats, with the president leading the way, had poured seventy million dollars into the Virginia election, had used Goodman as their point man.
"So. Find out what happened to Bowe," Danzig said. "Legal as you can. Use the FBI for the technicalities. But find him and give me updates through Gina."
Jake said, "What's the FBI doing? I'm not sure I could help."
Danzig was irritated: "The FBI they're doing a tap dance, is what they're doing. They know a dead skunk when they see one. They're out looking around, but I've been talking to the director, and I know goddamned well that they don't have their hearts in it. They're saying that there's no evidence of a kidnapping, no evidence of force, no evidence of anything. They just stand around and cluck."
"So, what do I do?"
"Kick some ass. Turn over some rocks. Go threaten somebody," Danzig said. "Do what you do. We need to get this thing out of the way. We can't carry this through the summer, into the election, for Christ's sake."
"How much time?"
Danzig shook his head. "No way to tell. It's already a mess. Right now, we're sitting tight, going back-door to all the media, talking about how it's a Virginia problem, not a White House problem. They've bought it so far. But you know how that works: one thing changes, and they'll turn on you like a pack of rats."
"What's my authority?" Jake asked. Sometimes Danzig didn't want anyone to know who was interested.
"I am," Danzig said. "You can use my name. Gina will back you up."
"Okay." Jake slapped his thighs. "I'll move on it."
As he got up and turned to go, Danzig asked, "Kill any turkeys?"
"Nope. Interrupted by a phone call."
"Life in the big city, son," Danzig grunted, already flipping through the paper in front of him. "Maybe you can squeeze a little blood out of this job."
Out of Danzig's office, Jake walked with an escort to the working door, then into the sunshine through the security fences to the street, where he caught a cab home. The magnolias were in full bloom, pink and white, beds of daffodils jumped up like yellow exclamation marks. Early April: the cherry trees would be gorgeous this week down at the Tidal Basin, if you could get to them through the tourists. He made a mental note to stroll by, if he found the time.
Several days of rain had washed the city clean. The Washington Monument needled into the sky, telling the world exactly who the studhorse was. The streets were lined with flowers, busy with bureaucrats with white ID tags strung around their necks, fat brown briefcases dangling from their hands. Good day in Washington when even the bureaucrats looked happy.
Jake lived in Burleith, north of Georgetown, in a brick-and-stone town house that might have been built in the early twentieth century, but was actually a careful replica only fifteen years old.
At the moment, his street was torn up. The owner of a town house three down from his, a stockbroker, had convinced the other residents to rip out the old concrete sidewalks and replace them with brick walkways. Bricks would enhance the value of the neighborhood, the broker said, and would increase the resale value of their houses by making the neighborhood more like Georgetown. Jake was indifferent to the idea, but went along because everybody else agreed to do it. Besides, the noisome little asshole was probably right.
Because of the street work, he had the cabbie drop him at the entrance to the alley at the back of the house, carded through the fence lock, and climbed the stoop to the back door.
He ran a bachelor house: a functional kitchen, a compact dining room, a living room with a wide-screen television, a den used as a library and office, and a half-bath; and on the second floor, a master bedroom suite, a guest bedroom, and a third bedroom where he hid all his junk obsolete golf clubs, a never-used rowing machine, old computer terminals that were not good enough to use, but too good to throw away, three heavily used backpacks and two newer ones he was a bag junkie. He also had a gun safe, a bow locker, and a pile of luggage.
The furnace, a washer and dryer, the telephone and electric service panels, and the master box for the alarm system were all tucked away in a small basement. A two-car garage had been added to the back of the house and occupied most of the backyard.
He kept the place neat with two hours of cleaning a week, usually done on Saturday morning. He wasn't a freak about it, simply logical. Two hours a week was better than two straight days once a quarter.
By the time he got home, the workday was over. He went online with the Virginia State website, found a name for the governor's chief of staff Ralph Goines and tracked him down through the FBI telephone database, then called him on his unlisted home phone. He identified himself and said, "I need to see Governor Goodman. Tomorrow if possible."
"Could I tell the governor why you want to talk to him?"
"It's about Lincoln Bowe. If you saw Randall James's show..."
"We did see it. Absolutely irresponsible," Goines said. "Mrs. Bowe has been carrying on a campaign of slander and innuendo."
"So which one was the big guy in the videotape, the one with the leather jacket?" Jake asked. "Slander? Or Innuendo?"
Bitch-slapping bureaucrats was one way to wake them up. Pause, five seconds of silence: "We are looking into that. It's possible that it was a setup."
"Right," Jake said. He let the skepticism show in his voice. "Maybe the governor could tell me about it."
Back and forth, and eventually an appointment: "One o'clock, then. Be prompt. The governor's a busy man."
Jake nodded at the phone, said, "Sure," and hung up, turned to his computer, and went back online.
Because of his work with Danzig, he had limited access to government reference files. He went into the FBI telephone database again. The Bowes had a place in Georgetown, not far from him, and were also listed at a place in the Blue Ridge, and in New York. He found an unlisted cell-phone number for Madison Bowe and called it.
She answered on the third ring.
Madison Bowe lived in a four-story red-brick town house in Georgetown, up the hill from M Street. Jake paid the cabdriver, straightened his tie, climbed the front steps, and rang the bell. She met him at the door, barefoot, wearing black slacks and a hip-length green-silk Chinese dressing-gown. She didn't smile, but looked up and asked, "You're Jacob Winter?"
"Yes, I am." Jake had only seen her on television, where everyone was cropped to fit the screen and gorgeous blondes were a dime a dozen, and you paid no attention. But Madison Bowe was real, and the reality of the woman was a slap in the face. She was smaller than he'd expected, had short blond hair, a sculpted nose, direct green eyes, and a touch of pinkish lipstick. She spoke with a soft Virginia country accent, in a voice that carried some bourbon gravel.
She still didn't smile; looked up and down the block, then said, "I hate it when I have to trust a Democrat."
"I apologize," Jake said. "I'll go home and kill myself."
Small blondes were his personal head-turner. His ex-wife might have been airmailed to him directly from hell but she, too, had been a small blonde, and right up to the end, even at the settlement conference, the sight of her had turned him around. As did Madison Bowe. And Madison smelled good, like lilacs, or vanilla.
"You better come in," she said, ignoring the wisecrack. "We're in the parlor."
He limped after her. He noticed her noticing it.
The other half of the "we" was a lawyer named Johnson Black, who was sitting on a sofa facing a coffee table, a delicate china cup in his hand. Jake saw him a half-dozen times a year at different lobbyist dinners. He was balding, with merry, pink cheeks and half-moon glasses. In his late sixties, he was one of the classic Washington regulars who moved between private practice and federal appointments.
Black wore a dark suit, as always, but had taken off his brilliant tie, which was draped over a shoulder. He stood up, smiling, to shake hands: "Jake, goddamnit, I couldn't believe it when Maddy said you were coming over. I told her you were a good guy."
"I appreciate that," Jake said. "How've you been, Johnnie? How's the heart?"
"Ah, I'm eating nothing but bark and twigs. It's either that, or they do the Roto-Rooter on me."
Madison was watching Jake. "Johnnie says you're teaching at Georgetown," she said. "Why's a professor... ?"
"I'm not a professor. I teach a seminar. I work for the government as a consultant," Jake said. "I specialize in..." He paused, looked at Johnson Black, and said, "I don't know. What do I specialize in, Johnnie?"
"Hard to tell," Black said. "Maybe forensic bureaucracy?"
"That's it," Jake said, turning back to Madison. "Forensic bureaucracy. When something goes wrong, I try to find out what really happened."
Madison sat on the couch next to Black. She didn't smile back, hadn't smiled yet, and he really wanted to see her smile. Jake took an easy chair, facing them across the coffee table, put his case on the floor by his feet, leaned forward.
"The president has ordered me to find Senator Bowe. I'm going to start kicking bureaucrats, I'm going to raise hell over at Justice, with the FBI, with Homeland Security, and I'm going to talk to Governor Goodman."
"In other words, you're going to make a big public relations show, because the president is feeling the heat," Madison said.
Jake shook his head: "No. No show. That's an explicit part of my deal I don't do public stuff. But I will find your husband. There's a reason he's gone."
"Because he spoke out. Because he was critical of Arlo Goodman and his thugs, and was tying them to this administration," Madison said.
Jake held both hands up, palms toward Madison: "Mrs. Bowe: I heard you on television. I will keep that possibility in mind. But there are other possibilities, and I'm not going to let any of them go."
"What other possibilities?"
"That your husband disappeared for reasons of his own," Jake said.
"You can't believe that," she said, her back rigid. Her hands twisted in her lap, and he was happy that his neck wasn't between them.
"I don't believe anything in particular, Mrs. Bowe," Jake said. "But there's been speculation to that effect. That this is an effort to embarrass Arlo Goodman. That you're jerking him around. There are radio talk show people saying that your appearance on TV was part of that effort."
Her face was intent, earnest: "It was not..."
Jake overrode her: "I'm outlining the possibilities, as I see them. I didn't come over here to argue with you, or to comfort you. I need to ask some questions and to make a request."
She settled back on the couch and crossed her arms over her chest. "What do you want?"
"Your husband is too important a public figure to disappear on his own," Jake said. "If he disappeared of his own volition, then either you, or some close friend, knows where he is. I want you to call all of his close friends. Tell them that if they know anything about Lincoln Bowe, I want them to get in touch with me. We are now at the point where somebody's going to jail, to prison, for involvement with this disappearance. That if this started as a joke, nobody's laughing anymore."
Now Madison leaned forward, her eyes locked on his: "That's what I want! I want somebody to say that in public. The president. The attorney general. That we're talking about prison. Or the death penalty. Or something. Finally get some pressure on whoever's got him. They've just been out there playing around...
"So you'll make the calls?"
"Yes but that won't help," she said. "He did not disappear on his own. He is not with a friend. He would have told me. Even more..."
She hesitated, and Jake said, "What?"
"He spends most of his time at our New York apartment," she said. "He had two cats there. When he disappeared, probably that Friday afternoon, nobody realized that he was gone until Monday, when he missed appointments. When we called the apartment, the maid answered. She said he wasn't there, but not only that: nobody had fed the cats over the weekend. They had no food or water, they were drinking from a toilet. Linc would never have done that, let the cats go like that. Even if he was planning to disappear, he would have made up some excuse to see that they were taken care of."
Jake looked down at his lap and touched his forehead with his middle finger, unconsciously rubbing. In any hunt, any interrogation, there were key moments, when somebody said something that might seem obscure, that looked like a minor point but was, in fact, critical.
Madison misinterpreted his reaction: "What? You don't believe me?"
"No, no," Jake said, looking up again. "It's the single piece of information I've gotten so far that makes me think you're right. That he didn't go away voluntarily."
For the first time, her attitude softened. "I've been trying to tell everybody that. He'd never abandon the cats."
He watched her for a few seconds, then said, "You say he spent most of his time in New York. Did you spend that time with him?"
"No, I..." She stopped, looked at Black, and then said, "We're not exactly estranged. We're friendly. But we don't live together much anymore. He spends most of his time in New York, I spend most of mine at our farm. We mostly intersect here, in Washington... when we do."
Jake took that as a complex of evasions suggesting that they no longer were in bed together.
"Do you think... if you're only friendly, that he might have another friend? Somebody that he might have gone off with for a while?"
She was exasperated: "No, I do not. Frankly, if he was going to do that, he would have told me. And he would have fed the cats."
Okay. Enough of that.
Jake looked at Black, then Madison: "There's a concept, in the bureaucracy, called The Rule. Have you heard of it?"
Madison shook her head, but Black nodded. "From Winter's Guide: You ask, Who benefits?"
Jake said, "Exactly though I didn't think of it. I just picked it up." He held Madison's eyes: "In any analysis of a confusing political problem, the rule is to ask, 'Who benefits?' You will find the answer to any political or bureaucratic question, if you can answer that one correctly. Now, Senator Bowe vanishes under suspicious circumstances, and you ask, 'Who benefits?'"
"So?" she asked.
Jake shook his head: "It sure as hell isn't this administration. The biggest beneficiaries so far have been your husband's political allies. The biggest loser so far has been Arlo Goodman."
"I know what you think about Governor Goodman, that you dislike him."
"He's an asshole," she said.
"So you see my problem. Your husband disappears, and almost nobody is hurt except Arlo Goodman. And, by extension, other Democrats. The election is in seven months..."
Madison looked at Black, and then back at Jake, anger again surfacing as a red flow up her neck and into her cheeks: "All right, let's work through it again because you're wrong about who benefits. It's not just a few Republicans against Arlo Goodman a lot of people are scared of him. The Watchmen are like the Klan, or the Mafia, or the Gestapo. They take their orders from Goodman. If Lincoln's never found, and nobody is ever caught, people become even more afraid of the Watchmen. That's what they want. They want the fear. They want control. Who benefits if we don't find Lincoln? The Watchmen do."
"That's a little overblown," Jake said. "They're a bunch of guys in leather jackets. Boy Scouts who got old."
Her voice rose, never became shrill, but he could feel the anger in it: "That's how they started. Most of them are still that way. Old Boy Scouts. But some of them... In Lexington, the Watchmen came to my house and tried to put me under house arrest. No warrant, no crime, just the Watchmen. Now they're starting up in other states. You don't know how dangerous Goodman is. He won't stop with the governorship. That's small potatoes. He's aiming for the presidency."
"I'm seeing the governor tomorrow," Jake said. "I'll talk to him about it."
"For all the good that'll do," she snapped.
"Back to the point: we don't benefit. I'm not sure I buy the analysis on the Watchmen, but I'll keep it in mind. So: who else? Is there another party?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. If you start thinking it's Arab terrorists or the Masons or the Vatican or a thousand-year-old conspiracy, you'll probably kill him. The answer is closer than that."
Jake nodded and picked up his case. "Okay. Make those phone calls, please. I'll leave my private number for call-backs."
"You're going to find him."
He nodded. "Yes. I will. He was last seen getting into a car with two or three other men. That was not an innocent ride, because not a single person has come forward to explain. So that, I think, must be the moment he disappeared, or began disappearing. And that means there's a group of men who know where he is, what happened. I am going to hound everyone who can do anything to help us break that group. I will find him."
"Be careful where you look. Especially in Virginia."
"The Watchmen don't frighten me," Jake said.
"That bothers me," she said."
"Because that might mean that you're too stupid to find Lincoln."
They stared at each other for a moment, poised over the coffee table, and then Jake cracked a smile: he really liked her. "Okay."
When he left, she shook his hand. Her hands were harder and rougher than he'd expected, probably from riding, or working around the farm, he thought. He turned on the stoop and said, "I'll talk to the governor about you get you back to your farm, make sure you're not harassed. If I need more information, can I come back?"
"Yes, you may, anytime," she said. "If we don't find Linc pretty soon, he's gone. We'll never find him."
Black, standing behind her, said, "And hey, take it easy, huh? Listen to what Maddy's saying about the Watchmen. From what I hear, you were always a little too quick to jump out of the airplane."
When Jake was gone, Madison said to Johnson Black, "The Virginia state police and the FBI are looking for Linc. They're not getting anywhere, so the president sends some bureaucrat to look for him? This is going to help? Am I going crazy?"
"He's not exactly a bureaucrat," Black said.
"That forensic bureaucracy thing was cute," she said, as they idled back into the living room. "But what does it mean?"
"Jake fixes things," Black said. "If there's some really screwed-up problem, that nobody can fix, and that must be fixed, Jake fixes it. He makes lists of people who need to be fired, who need to be promoted. He has ears all over the bureaucracy... he scares the heck out of those people. And that's what's got to be done if you want to find Linc."
"We need to scare bureaucrats?"
"That's right. People are looking for him, they're paying attention because of all the media coverage, but they're not desperate to find him. Jake can make people desperate. He can make them feel that their careers are on the line if they don't and sometimes, they are."
"Hmmp." She settled back on the couch. "I suppose it's better than nothing."
"He used to be married to Nikki Lange, you know."
Her eyebrows went up: "You're kidding me. He's the guy?"
"He's the guy. Couldn't last, of course. Nikki's too deeply involved with herself."
"And her money," Madison said. "Did he get alimony?"
"No. He told the judge that all he was asking for was his life. The judge almost fell on the floor laughing she knew Nikki, too. Besides, Jake's pretty well fixed. Inherited a Montana ranch. Sold to a movie star for big bucks."
"Maybe he rides," she said.
"I'm sure he does." Black smiled. "I was watching you two talk you got sort of engaged."
She stuck her tongue out at him, then said, "He's not entirely unattractive."
Black snorted. "Just... take it easy. Jake is a little strong for most people. As I understand it, he pretty much held his own with Nikki."
"He jumps out of airplanes?"
"Jake was in Afghanistan for years. He killed people that was his job. So. You can toy with him, but I wouldn't annoy him."
"Mmm," she said again. "Maybe he can do something. Maybe we need somebody who'll jump out of an airplane."
Jump out of an airplane.
He dreamed of jumping out of airplanes that night, jumping all mixed up with the face and figure of Madison Bowe; but mostly jumping. Other jumpers talked about their best moment; popping the chute, flying... but for Jake, it had always been that instant when he hit the wind, hit the slipstream, the slap and tickle, the moment of commitment.
He'd liked Afghanistan, the fighting, the comradeship, the countryside, the Afghanis. In Washington ex-military circles, the fashion called for a grudging, manly acknowledgment of having been there, of the toughness of it, but nobody was supposed to have actually liked it, to have loved the exhilaration of combat.
But he did. He'd liked the night runs, he'd liked the ambushes, he'd liked the assaults. He hadn't minded, too much, the occasional pain, right up until the time he took the bad one. He hadn't even minded that pain, though he hated the disability that came with it.
He didn't dream of the disability, though: he dreamed of the airplane door, of the helicopter rope, of the night-vision stalks through the rocky ravines...
He didn't wake up smiling, but he didn't wake up unhappy, either.
In the morning, after his usual four and a half hours of sleep, he cleaned up and went downstairs, ate toast and eggs, then spent an hour with online newspapers, catching up. When he'd finished with the papers, he went out on the government networks, going deeper on Lincoln Bowe and Arlo Goodman. By seven-thirty, he had their biographies down. He made a call to the FBI, then called a cab.
The day would be warm, he thought, as he locked the door. It must have rained sometime overnight, because the gardens and sidewalks were still wet, but now the skies were clearing again, and sun slanted down through the trees along the street. Because of the torn-up sidewalk, and construction equipment in the street, he walked out to the end of the block to wait for the taxi.
The driver was maybe twenty-one, silent, sullen even, wearing an old tweed coat over a T-shirt, and a flat tweed hat.
"Hard night?" Jake asked.
The driver's eyes went up to the mirror. "They're all hard, buddy."
Jake suppressed a smile: the cabbie was living in a movie, delivering movie lines.
The FBI's J. Edgar Hoover Building was a bland outcrop of bureaucratic rock on Pennsylvania Avenue, halfway between the White House and the Capitol. Jake checked through security, got an elevator. He didn't need directions.
Mavis Sanders was the FBI's assistant deputy director for counterterrorism. She met him at the door to her inner office. "Another headache," she said. She was smiling, but her voice wasn't.
"How have you been, Mavis?" Jake asked. He kissed her on the cheek.
"My day wasn't too bad until seven-thirty A.M., when I got the note that said you were coming over," she said.
"C'mon, we're old chums."
"Yeah. Sit down, old chum." She was a slender fine-boned black woman who'd made her reputation tracking Iranian-based jihadists. She dropped into her chair, looked at a piece of paper, set it aside, knitted her fingers on top of her desk, and asked, "What's up?"
"The president and the chief of staff have decided that I should find Lincoln Bowe. I need access to your investigative files, and then I need you somebody, but preferably you to make this thing a priority and get it settled."
"It is a priority."
"Bull. Everybody's playing pass-the-hanky, hoping for the best," Jake said. "Your Richmond guys are doing liaison, you've got nobody really senior involved, except in PR."
"Jake, I really don't know anything about it."
"I'd like to get Novatny working on it."
"Why us?" she asked, with exasperation. "We don't do murders, and we've got a full plate."
"Because you can talk privately to the director and tell him that the president is serious about this and that he's pissed. Tell him that bureaucratic asses are going to be hanged, that careers are going to end. Okay?"
"And because you're the smartest people I know over here. And because, even though you don't do murders, you do work counterterrorism, and this has got the flavor of a conspiracy. That's what we need to penetrate: the ring of guys who picked up Lincoln Bowe. And finally, you've got guys who might possibly keep their mouths shut. We don't want this to become a bigger deal than it already is. We want it to end."
Her mouth turned down and she said, "It can't get much bigger. Did you see Madison Bowe on television?"
"Yes. I talked to her last night."
She looked at him for a moment, sighed, and said, "All right. I'll talk to the director."
"And he'll go along."
"Yeah. If you stand him in a half-mile-an-hour wind, he can tell you which way it's blowing."
"And we get Novatny."
"Something can be worked," she agreed.
"Terrific," Jake said. He pushed himself out of the chair. "I won't bother you any longer."
"You'll mention my name to the guy?"
"Absolutely," Jake said. "You'll be an ambassador in two weeks. What country do you want?"
"Thanks, Mavis. Who do I talk to about the files?"
She found an empty conference room for him, and a clerk brought him a short stack of paper, computer printouts. Too short, he thought, when he saw it. The federal investigation was being run out of the FBI's Richmond office, but the feds hadn't actually taken control of it. Most of the work was being done by the Virginia Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which was treating Bowe's disappearance as a missing-persons incident.
But not a routine one.
From paperwork copied from the state cops to the FBI, Jake understood that the cops thought they were on a murder hunt, or possibly some kind of fraud. The police had interviewed the last few friends who'd spoken to Bowe, the people who'd attended the speech he'd given at the law school, and had collected a half dozen interviews done by the NYPD, including the maid who'd found that the cats had gone hungry.
One comment had been repeated a couple of times: Bowe had been drunk in public on at least two occasions before he disappeared. Personal problems? Another woman he was hiding from Madison? But would that have him drinking during the day, on the way to public appearances? He'd have to be a far-gone alky to do that.
And a close friend of his, asked by the FBI if Bowe drank, said that he'd never seen Bowe take more than two drinks in an evening.
Maybe he'd just started? Something had just happened?
Besides, Jake thought, speculations on alcoholism were pointless. Whatever had happened to Bowe had happened in the presence of a number of short-haired men with ear-bugs. He hadn't gotten blind drunk and put the car in the river; he'd disappeared during the middle of the day.
Jake was still going through the paper when Chuck Novatny stuck his head in the door. He was trailed by his partner, George Parker.
"Man, you're gonna get us in trouble," Novatny said, without preamble.
"Ah, you enjoy your access to us elite guys," Jake said. He stood up and shook hands with Novatny, then reached past him to shake with Parker. "Look what it's done for your career."
"Yeah. Fifteen minutes ago, I was in the canteen eating a salmonella-infected chicken salad on a three-day-old hamburger bun," Parker said. "I can barely stand the eliteness."
Novatny was wiry, sandy haired, fifteen years into his FBI career, a maker of model airplanes that he flew with his sons. Parker was tall, thick, and dark, with a lantern jaw and fifteen-inch-long shoes; a golfer. They both wore blue suits, and Jake had a feeling that the suits reflected a shared sense of humor, rather than the FBI culture. They were competent, and even better than that.
"Lincoln Bowe," Novatny said.
"Yes. This is what you've got," Jake said, waving at the paper on the conference table. "Mostly secondhand crap from the Virginia cops."
"You need us to... ?"
"Kick ass. Take names. Threaten people. Push anybody who might know anything. Starting..." Jake looked up at the wall clock. "Now."
"We've got some things to clean up," Novatny said. "Send the paper down to us when you're through, we'll be on it in a couple of hours. We've been wondering when somebody would start to push."
"When Madison Bowe went on the noon news," Jake said.
"What a coincidence. That's when we started wondering," Novatny said.
They left, and Jake went back to the paper, typing notes into his laptop.
The witnesses who'd seen Lincoln Bowe get in the car with the men with ear-bugs said he hadn't seemed under duress. He'd seemed to expect the ride, and he had no other ride waiting. The men were described as large, white, with business haircuts, wearing suits. One witness said Bowe had been smiling when he got in the car.
The abandoned cats argued for duress. The smile argued for cooperation.
On the one hand, he had only Madison Bowe's word that he cared about the cats. On the other, if Bowe had been picked up by somebody who'd stuck a gun in his ribs and said, "Smile, or I'll blow your heart out," he might have smiled despite duress.
"Huh." No way to make a decision yet. He needed more information.
One thing was clear from the interviews by the Virginia cops: Bowe's speech to the law students had been wicked, and more than one person said that he seemed to be emotionally overwrought, and at the same time, physically loose. He'd been so angry that he seemed, at times, to be groping for words, and at other times, had used inappropriate words, words that simply didn't fit his sentences.
Again, one witness thought he might have been drunk.
Jake looked at his watch, gathered and stacked the paper, called the clerk, told her to send digital copies of everything to his secure e-mail address, and to take the paper to Novatny's office.
Time to see Arlo Goodman.
Jake grabbed a cab back home, made and ate a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, then headed south in his own car, a two-year-old E-class Mercedes. Washington to Richmond was two hours, depending on traffic, south through the most haunted country in America, some of the bloodiest battlegrounds of the Civil War.
Jake had walked all of them, on the anniversaries of the battles. Civil War soldiers, he'd concluded, had been tough nuts.
As was Arlo Goodman.
Four years earlier, Goodman had been the popular commonwealth's attorney for Norfolk, a veteran of Iraq, and politically disgruntled.
His political unhappiness stretched in several directions and he could do something about one of them. Norfolk was at the center of a series of military complexes; convinced that a terror attack was possible, he put together a team of five investigators, including his brother, a former special forces trooper. The team had set up an intelligence net in the port areas, extending to a couple of other independent cities; later, they recruited volunteer watchmen, all veterans.
A group of dissident Saudi students began planning some kind of attack, although exactly what kind was never determined. One of the watchmen picked up on it and talked to the investigators. The apartment of one of the Saudis was bugged, and Goodman got tapes of five students talking about weapons possibilities, and targets, including atomic submarines. The investigators followed them as they bought maps and took photographs.
At one point, three of the students went out to a state park and spent the afternoon throwing Molotov cocktails gasoline and oil mixed in wine bottles into a ravine, to see what would happen. The investigators filmed the explosions. They had the motive, the planning, the means. The Saudis were arrested in a flashy bust at their apartment, and the conviction was a slam dunk.
The next day, Goodman announced the formation of a veterans group called the Watchmen, to keep watch over the streets of Norfolk, in an effort to control street crime, prostitution, drugs, and to keep an eye out for "suspicious activities."
As a popular prosecutor, he had a base. With the Watchmen being replicated in other counties, he had a spreading influence.
Although he was technically a Democrat, he admitted that he had little time for either the Republican or Democratic parties. When the Democratic Party decided to back a liberal candidate for governor, he launched a maverick campaign for the nomination.
He was, he said, a social conservative he'd never met a Commandment he didn't like but an economic liberal. He wanted more help for the elderly, more for veterans, a higher minimum wage for beginning workers. He pushed for a state income tax that would apply only to the well-to-do, progressive license fees for automobiles that rose dramatically for cars that cost more than forty thousand dollars.
He took 45 percent of the Democratic vote in a three-way primary, and 59 percent of the vote in the final.
People who liked Goodman said that he was charming, down-to-earth, intelligent. People who disliked him said that he was a rabble-rouser and a demagogue, a Kingfish, a little Hitler the last accusation pointed at the Watchmen.
Asked about the Hitler comparison, the governor said, "These same people, on both sides, have had this state mired in a political bog for fifty years. Now we're moving again. Now we're getting things done. So we create a volunteer force, to help keep an eye on possible terror targets, to help elderly people get their meals, to help mobilize in case of natural disaster, and they call them Nazis. Isn't that just typical? Isn't that just what you'd expect? I have two words for them: 'Fuck 'em.' "
He'd actually said "Fuck 'em," scandalizing the press corps, but nobody else, and his popularity moved up a half dozen points in the polls.
Two years earlier, with Goodman then only a year in the statehouse, Lincoln Bowe was running for a second term in the Senate. He was widely assumed to be an easy winner.
With encouragement from the White House, Goodman had supported a lightweight Democrat named Don Murray, and had been the local force behind the Murray campaign. The president had done a half dozen fund-raisers. The campaign went dirty, and Murray beat Bowe by four thousand votes, with an independent candidate trailing far behind. Goodman and the Watchmen had been either credited or blamed for Murray's win, depending on which party you were from.
The bitterness that flowed from the campaign had never stopped.
Jake made Richmond in two hours and fifteen minutes, including a frustrating six minutes behind a fifty-mile-per-hour, boat-towing SUV that precisely straddled the highway's center line; and an accident in which a blue Chevy had plowed into the rear of another blue Chevy. A highway patrolman was talking to the Chevy drivers, both women in suits, while ignoring the traffic jam they were creating.
By the time he got to Richmond, he was pissed, and Richmond was not the easiest place to get around, a knotted welter of old streets cut by expressways. Goodman's office was in the Patrick Henry Building on the southeast corner of the Capitol complex.
Jake found the building, and after ten minutes of looking, spotted an empty parking space four blocks away, parked, and plugged the meter. He got his cane and briefcase out of the backseat, walked over to Broad Street, across Broad past the old city hall, and left along a brick walkway.
The walkway and the capitol grounds were separated by a green-painted wrought-iron fence; the fence was supported by posts decorated as fasces, which made Jake smile. As he approached the Patrick Henry Building, he saw two Watchmen sitting on a bench outside the door, taking in the sun. They were in the Watchman uniform of khaki slacks, blue oxford-cloth shirts, and bomber jackets.
When Jake came up with his cane, they stood, two tall, slender men, friendly, and one asked, "Do you have an appointment, sir?"
"Yes, I do, with the governor."
"And your name?"
One of the men checked a clipboard, then smiled and nodded. "Go right ahead."
As Jake started past, the other man asked, "Were you in the military?"
Jake stopped. "Yes. The army."
"Afghanistan," Jake said."
"Ah, one of the snake eaters," the man said. "Have you thought about joining the Watchmen?"
"I don't live in Virginia," Jake said.
"Okay," the man said. "We'll be coming to your neighborhood soon. Think it over when we get there."
"You were in the army?" Jake asked.
"He was a fuckin' squid," the other man said. "Excuse the language."
Jake laughed and said, "See you," and went inside.
Inside he found an airport-style security check. Goines showed up, apparently alerted by the Watchmen, as Jake was processing through the X-ray and metal detectors.
"Mister Winter?" Jake nodded, and as he retrieved his briefcase and cane, Goines said, "This way."
Goines was annoyed. A small blond man with a dimpled chin, a ten-cent knockoff of his boss, he carried a petulant look. His eyes were like a chicken's, and like a chicken, he cocked his head to the side to look at Jake as they rode up a couple of floors in the elevator. He led the way to his office, past a secretary in an outer cubicle, and said, "This better be important," and pointed at a chair as he settled behind his desk.
"There are some indications that the Watchmen may be involved in the detention of Lincoln Bowe," Jake said, crossing his legs. "The president wants me to find Bowe. He wants me to find him now."
"Rumors, mostly," Jake said. "The FBI investigation is picking up vibrations that the Watchmen are involved, or, at least, that a lot of people think so."
"That's a bunch of crap." Goines stood up again, walked over to his window, hands in his pants pockets, looked out his office window. He had a view of an aggressively blank-walled building on the other side of the street, part of a medical center. "People seem to be lining up to shoot at us. If it turns out that a Watchman is involved, he's on his own, he's an outlaw. We sure as hell don't condone it."
Jake said, "Just before he disappeared, Bowe called the governor a cocksucker."
Blood drained away from Goines's face, and a quick tic of fear passed across it. He shook his finger at Jake but said, casually enough, "That was unforgivable. Governor Goodman is a sophisticated gentleman, a successful lawyer before he entered public service. He understands the likes of Lincoln Bowe. He would never go after Bowe, but you can't blame him for not liking a man who could be so vulgar. He won't be pleased with the prospect of tearing up the Watchmen on Bowe's behalf."
Jake thought, Jesus, I haven't seen a tap dance like this in years. Is this place bugged?
"I can absolutely understand that and so does the president," Jake said. Bureaucratic-speak: he could do it as well as anyone, or even better. "The president said, 'I trust Governor Goodman implicitly, but that doesn't mean that there might not be some rotten apples at the bottom of the barrel.' And that's all I'm asking: that you check for rotten apples."
"The governor can speak to that. But you must have heard that some of us think that Bowe has gone on a little vacation, and is letting us twist in the wind."
"We're looking into that, too," Jake said.
"Good." Goines looked at his watch: "One minute: let's go see the governor."
27 February 2020
The Prey series, the Virgil Flowers series, the Kidd series, The Singular Menace, The Night Crew, Dead Watch, The Eye and the Heart: The Watercolors of John Stuart Ingle, and Plastic Surgery: The Kindest Cut are copyrighted by John Sandford. All excerpts are used with permission.
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