Authors: Stuart Woods
Bill Wright got a call from his boss. “Good morning,” he said.
“Bill, we got a tip from our source,” the man said.
“Same one as last time?”
“And what good news does she have for us today?”
“The group we’re dealing with has a marksman in its midst, who is undergoing further training. Also, a special silencer is being created specifically for his weapon.”
“We’re told a high-powered rifle, that’s all. No caliber or maker.”
“We’re sure this is the same source as last time?”
“Can I ask a question?” Bill said.
“If our source knows who these people are, why haven’t we arrested them for the Maine killings?”
“She has no knowledge of that incident and, thus, no evidence to connect them with it.”
“Does she have any clue as to where or when they will make the attempt?”
“No, but the source says they know that she’s coming back to Washington for a few days, so that gives us a time frame.”
“I’d give a lot to know how they know that.”
“We all would, Bill. Our task now is to absolutely ensure her safety while she’s here. When and how is she arriving?”
“Tomorrow, aboard her friend Barrington’s aircraft. At Manassas—it’s a lot easier to cover than Dulles.”
“It is. The equivalent of a White House detail will meet her. It’s a budget-buster, but I have to do it.”
“May I make a suggestion?”
“Instead of meeting her with a lot of agents, why don’t we just disguise her a bit and have her met by a car that’s armored but appears to be civilian.”
“What do you mean by ‘disguise’?”
“Gray wig, sunglasses, dowdy coat. Age her twenty years.”
“That’s unconventional for us.”
“But cheap,” Bill reminded him.
“I can’t argue with that. You handle it from your end.”
“I can do that. I have another suggestion.”
“If she stays in her Georgetown house, then we’re back to the full-detail problem. Why not put her in a place that’s inaccessible and much safer?”
“Sounds good. What do you have in mind?”
“The family quarters of the White House.”
“You think the president will go for that?”
“I think she’ll be delighted. They’re old friends and colleagues.”
“That’s right. I’ll call the president.”
“Why not just call the head of the White House detail and ask him to ask her? Keep it out of official channels, where it might cause talk.”
“I think that’s a great idea, Bill. Let me know if you have any more suggestions.” He hung up.
Bill knew a retired agent who had a wife who was a theatrical makeup artist. Her name was Tillie Marks, and he soon established contact.
“What can I do for you?” Tillie asked.
“I have a lady in my care, and we have to age her twenty years to get her safely off an airplane in plain view of others, then into a car.”
“That’s it?” Tillie asked.
“Let me make a suggestion that will save you twenty-five hundred dollars, which is my fee for a day’s work.”
“Find out her hat size, then go to Bloomingdale’s and buy a gray wig, on the longer side. Put her in that, with a head scarf and sunglasses.”
“Is that going to make her look twenty years older?”
“It will if you give her a walker, available at any big drugstore or medical supply store.”
“Tillie, you’re a peach,” Bill said. “I owe you a good dinner one night soon.”
“We never turn down anything free,” she said, and hung up.
Claire Dunn walked into the room, and he brought her up to date.
“I can do that,” she said.
“How much is a gray wig?”
“A couple hundred, maybe more. The walker won’t be much.”
“I want you to fly down with her and appear to be helping her off the airplane. Do it slowly, and have the car waiting at the wingtip. Then she can use the walker to hobble out there, with you beside her.”
“Where’s she traveling from the airport, and in what?”
“To the White House. Keep the disguise until you’re on the elevator with her. I asked for a civilian-looking car, but armored.”
“They’ve got a bunch of refurbished and beefed-up Lincoln Town Cars in the garage. That should do.”
“When are we leaving?”
“Ask the lady when you’re getting her hat size.”
“Am I going to stay with her while she’s in D.C.?”
“You are, and you’ll be covered by the White House detail.”
“How do we get back to New York?”
“Same airplane, same airport, same car, and same disguise.”
Bill’s phone rang. It was his boss.
“The president would be delighted to have her as a guest. It’s convenient for both of them, because our Kate is going to be conducting a tutorial for Holly, on how to be a female president. The rest is in your hands.”
Bill explained what they were doing and got a hearty approval.
“And it’s cheap,” his boss said.
“You can add the savings to my salary,” Bill said. His boss chuckled and hung up.
“Why don’t you come upstairs with me,” Claire said. “We’ll brief her together.”
Holly had no idea what her hat size was. “On the rare occasions when I’ve bought a hat, I’ve just tried them on until one fits. I never thought about them coming in sizes.”
“Small, medium, or large?” Claire hazarded.
“I’m not a small or medium girl,” Holly replied. “What am I going to wear for a coat?”
“We’ll supply one from our own stock.”
“You mean it will be bulletproof.”
“Well, yes, but the big benefit is that it will put twenty pounds on your frame and make you look older.”
“That’s a benefit?”
“It is for this occasion. Once you’re at the White House, you can take it all off until the trip back to New York.”
Holly sighed, then went back to work having her clothes fitted.
Claire picked up the phone, called her Washington office, and wheedled a purchase order out of someone in accounting, then called her supplier. “She’s five ten or eleven, 140 pounds.”
“That would be tall and slim,” the man said. “How long do you want the coat?”
“Down to the mid-calf.”
“Got it. Gimme till the end of the day and an address.”
Claire gave him Stone’s address and the purchase order number and hung up.
Ten minutes later he called back. “I’ve got one in stock in black. How’s black?”
“Black is good.”
“Bye.” He hung up again.
“I heard that,” Holly said. “Black isn’t good for me. It makes me look like an old woman.”
“That’s the idea, ma’am. This is a disguise, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m still in shopping mode.”
“This is what we could call the fool- ’em mode. The alternative is a detail of twenty-five men with shotguns and half a dozen armored SUVs. It’s expensive.”
“Who’s paying for this?”
“The Secret Service. We add it to our next budget request.”
Stone came up from downstairs. “Lunch in ten minutes,” he said. “What’s going on up here?”
Claire explained the plan to him.
“Cunning,” he said.
“Oh,” Holly said, “bill my transition team for the airplane.”
“It’s free of charge,” Stone said.
“No, that would be too much like graft. Then later, when you want something from me, people will say it’s a payoff for the airplane.”
“How much should I bill?”
“Whatever it would cost to charter the same airplane.”
“You’ll be shocked,” he said.
She shook her head. “The Treasury will be shocked, but they’ll spread the cost around, since there’ll be half a dozen Secret Service people and one Air Force pilot on board.”
Stone called Joan. “Please find out what it would cost to charter a Gulfstream 500 for an hour and a half flight to Manassas, Virginia, and a return flight in a few days.”
“Don’t you already have one of those?” Joan asked.
“Yes, but we have to figure out what to charge the transition team for it.” He hung up.
“This is going to cost twenty-five thousand dollars,” Holly said.
Joan rang back and told Stone the cost. He hung up. “Not even close,” he said. “It’s thirty-eight thousand dollars, each way.”
“We need the cheapest available price,” Holly said.
“That’s it. Joan called three services. Not all of them have a G-500 available.”
“If it were up to me, I’d hitchhike,” Holly said.
“You are hitchhiking,” Stone replied.
“Hitchhiking is free.”
“Free ain’t what it used to be,” Stone pointed out. “Now come to lunch.”
Lunch was a Caesar salad with chunks of chicken and a bottle of fizzy mineral water.
“You know,” Holly said, “the scale of all this is weighing heavily on me.”
“Get used to it,” Stone replied. “It’s not going to change.”
“At State, I was always trying to save a buck here and there.”
“The federal budget makes State’s look like the widow’s mite. Anyway, the cost of the airplane is spread over your transition, the Secret Service, and the Air Force, and maybe two or three other agencies we can’t think of at the moment. And they all move on money. Fuel costs money. Airports cost money—that’s why there are landing fees. It costs money to scrape the bugs off the windshield.”
Stone and Holly were having breakfast in bed the following morning when Holly’s phone rang. “Yes? Scrambled. Hi, there! What a good idea. I’ll ask him.” She turned toward Stone. “Kate wants you to come to D.C. with me and stay at the White House a few days, then we’ll fly back.”
Stone thought about it for a millisecond. “Okay.”
“He’s in. Yes, we’ll be there for lunch. Bye-bye.”
“Why does she want me there?” Stone asked.
“Because she enjoys your company. So does Will. Do you realize how few people she deals with daily whose company she does not enjoy?”
“I’d never thought about it.”
“Now you know.”
They arrived at Teterboro, and the airplane was on the
ramp with the right engine already running. The car pulled up close, and Claire got out, unfolded the walker, and positioned it by the rear car door.
Stone got out, then turned to assist Holly. “Do this very slowly and very carefully, like you don’t want to fall and break a hip.” He helped her stand up and take a step to the walker. Claire was at her elbow. When they reached the airstairs, both Claire and Stone were right behind her, each taking an elbow, then the stewardess boarded with the walker and closed the door, and immediately the left engine started.
“Jesus,” Holly said, struggling to get the coat off. “This thing weighs a ton!” She yanked off the wig. “And it’s so hot!” She hung it on the walker and sat down, smoothing her hair, which was pinned up.
“Don’t take the hair down,” Claire said. “We don’t have a hairdresser aboard to fix it when we arrive.”
“Oh, all right,” Holly said.
“I’m going to give you a little pep talk when we arrive,” Claire said, “so you won’t have to remember it any longer than it takes to get into the car.”
Holly nodded, opened her briefcase, and started to read reports and documents.
Stone sat beside her, with Claire facing her. “You know,” Claire said, “I think we can get a lot of mileage out of this wig and coat thing.”
Holly rolled her eyes but said nothing.
Stone spoke up. “When that outfit wears out, you can strap her onto a stretcher and put her in an ambulance for the ride.”
“Not without shooting me in the head first,” Holly said, then went back to reading.
They set down at Manassas, Virginia, and before the airplane stopped rolling, a black Lincoln Town Car, maybe ten years old but impeccable, drove up to the left wingtip.
Claire helped Holly with the wig and the coat, and Stone preceded them down the airstairs, carrying the walker.
“All right, Grandma,” he said, taking her elbow. “Cling to the walker, as if it were life itself, and don’t forget to limp.”
Holly performed beautifully, gripping the walker, while Stone supported her arm. He tucked her into the car and went around to the other door and got in. “Don’t take off anything,” he said. “You’ll still need the disguise at the other end, so the White House staff won’t recognize you.”
“Harrumph!” Holly said.
“Lung cancer? That’s good!”
The performance was repeated at the White House until they were safely in the elevator, and Holly started to shed things. She unpinned her hair and ran her fingers through it, looking remarkably put together.
In the family quarters they were shown to a suite at the opposite end of the apartment from where the Lees slept. Holly hung up her clothes, brushed her hair, and was ready. They walked down the hall to the living room and found
President Katharine Lee already seated near the fireplace. Kisses and hugs were exchanged, and they sat down with glasses of iced tea.
A moment later, the vice president–elect, Senator Sam Meriwether, joined them. “Betsy sends her regrets,” he said, referring to his wife. “She’s got a walk-through of the Naval Observatory house with a decorator, and after that she’ll have to select a couple of dozen paint colors and wallpapers and twice as many fabrics.”
“We understand, Sam,” Kate said.
Will Lee and their young son, Billy, arrived and shed their coats. “We just had a walk around the grounds,” Will said.
The little boy gravely shook everyone’s hand, then sat between his parents.
“Stone,” Kate said. “How have you been spending your time?”
“Following Holly around, mostly,” he replied.
“Get used to it,” Will Lee said. “The pain goes away after a year or two.”
“Swell,” Stone said, “but I’ll be spending most of my time in New York. I’ll only get down here once in a while.”
Holly leaned close and whispered, “Whenever I’m horny.”
“Not that often,” he whispered back.
After lunch, the Lees disappeared and Holly and Stone were left with Bill Wright and Claire Dunn.
“We’re delighted with how well it went this morning,” Bill said.
“Next time,” Holly said, “I’ll go as a mental patient, in a straitjacket.”
“Too obvious,” Stone said. “You’re doing very well as my grandmother, which is how you were listed on the manifest.”
“What do you hear from my pursuers?” Holly asked.
“We know they know you’re coming to town, but they won’t ever know you’re in the White House . . . unless you make an unauthorized public appearance.”
“I guess that rules out my favorite restaurants,” Holly said.
“We can order for you and bring it here,” Bill said.
“I’ll hold you to that,” Holly said. “There are few things I enjoy as much as dinner in a restaurant with friends.”
“We can arrange for a few friends to be invited to dinners at the White House,” Bill replied.
“Nobody ever turns down that invitation,” Stone remarked.
“And then they can be surprised to find you here and be sworn to secrecy,” Bill said.
“I’ll give you a list,” Holly said, “and I’ll try to keep it short.”
Claire suddenly produced a cell phone that had not rung. “Yes?” She listened some more. “Thank you.” She hung up and turned to the others. “A maid at the Hay-Adams Hotel, across the street, found a sniper’s rifle with a silencer attached, in a supply closet in the hotel.
As she spoke, other agents entered the room and closed the blinds on the Hay-Adams side of the White House.
“Does this mean I aged twenty years for nothing?” Holly asked.