The Brethren - Page 17

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Chapter Seventeen

For his next visit to Langley, the first in three weeks, the candidate arrived in a caravan of shiny black vans, all going too fast but who would complain. They were cleared and waved onward, deeper into the complex, until they roared to a collective stop near a very convenient door where all sorts of grim-faced, thick-necked young men were waiting. Lake rode the wave into the building, losing escorts a she went until finally he arrived not at the usual bunker but in Mr. Ivlaynard's formal office, with a view of a small forest. Everyone else was left at the door. Alone, the two great men shook hands warmly and actually appeared happy to see one another.

Important things first. "Congratulations on Virginia;" Teddy said.

Lake shrugged as if he wasn't sure. "Thank you, in more ways than one."

"It's a very impressive win, Mr. Lake;" Teddy said. "Governor Tarry worked hard there for a year. Two months ago he had commitments from every precinct captain in the state. He looked unbeatable. Now, Ithink he's fading fast. It's often a disadvantage to be the front-runner early in the race."

"Momentum is a strange animal in politics," Lake observed wisely.

"Cash is even stranger. Right now, Governor Tarry can't find a dime because you've got it all. Money follows momentum."

"I'm sure I'll say this many times, Mr. Maynard, but, well, thanks. You've given me an opportunity I'd hardly dreamed of."

"Are you having any fun?"

"Not yet. If we win, the fun will come later."

"The fun starts next Tuesday, Mr. Lake, with big Super Tuesday. New York, California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, Maryland, Maine, Connecticut, all in one day. Almost six hundred delegates!" Teddy's eyes were dancing as if he could almost count the votes. "And you're ahead in every state, Mr. Lake. Can you believe it?"

"No, I cannot."

"It's true.You're neck and neck in Maine, for some damned reason, and it's close in California, but you're going to win big next Tuesday"

"If you believe the polls," Lake said, as if he didn't trust them himself. Fact was, like every candidate, Lake was addicted to the polls. He was actually gaining in California, a state with 140,000 defense workers.

"Oh, I believe them. And I believe that a landslide is coming on little Super Tuesday. They love you down South, Mr. Lake. They love guns and tough talk and such, and right now they're falling in love with Aaron Lake. Next Tuesday will be fun, but the following Tuesday will be a romp."

Teddy Maynard was predicting a romp, and Lake couldn't help but smile. His polls showed the same trends, but it just sounded better coming from Teddy. He lifted a sheet of paper and read the latest polling data nom around the country. Lake was ahead by at least five points in every state.

They reveled in their momentum for a few minutes, then Teddy turned serious. "There's something you should know," he said, and the smile was gone. He flipped a page and glanced at some notes. "Two nights ago, in the Khyber Pass in the mountains of Afghanistan, a Russian long-range missile with nuclear warheads was moved by truck into Pakistan. It is now en route to Iran, where it will be used for God knows what. The missile has a range of three thousand miles, and the capability of delivering four nuclear bombs. The price was about thirty million dollars US., cash up fiont paid by the Iranians through a bank in Luxembourg. It's still there, in an account believed to be controlled by Natty Chenkov's people."

"I thought he was stockpiling, not selling."

"He needs cash, and he's getting it. In fact, he's probably the only man we know who's collecting it faster than you:"

Teddy didn't do humor well, but Lake laughed out of politeness anyway.

"Is the missile operational?" Lake asked.

"We think so. It originated from a collection of silos near Kiev, and we believe it's of a recent make and model. With so many lying around, why would the Iranians buy an old one?Yes, it's safe to assume it's fully operational."

"Is it the first?"

"There've been some spare parts and plutonium, to Iran and Iraq and India and others, but I think this is the first fully assembled, ready-to-shoot missile."

"Are they anxious to use it?"

"We don't think so. It appears as if the transaction was instigated by Chenkov. He needs the money to buy other kinds of weapons. He's shopping his wares, things he doesn't need."

"Do the Israelis know it?"

"No. Not yet. You have to be careful with them. Everything is give and take. Someday, if we need something from them, then we might tell them about this transaction."

For a moment, Lake longed to be President, and immediately. He wanted to know everything Teddy knew, then he realized he probably never would. There was, after all, a sitting President right then, at that moment, albeit a lame duck, and Teddy wasn't chatting with him about Chenkov and his missiles.

"What do the Russians think about my campaign?" he asked.

"At first, they weren't concerned. Now they're watching closely. But you have to remember, there is no such thing as a Russian voice anymore. The free marketers speak favorably of you because they fear the Communists. The hard-liners are scared of you. It's very complex."

"And Chenkov?"

"I'm ashamed to say we're not that close to him, yet. But we're working on it. We should have some ears in the vicinity soon."

Teddy tossed his papers onto his desk, and rolled himself closer to Lake. The many wrinkles in his forehead pinched closer together, downward. His bushy eyebrows fell hard on his sad eyes. "Listen to me, Mr. Lake;' he said, his voice much more somber. "You have this thing won. There will be a bump or two in the road, things we cannot foresee, and even if we could we'd be powerless to prevent them. We'll ride them out together. The damage will be slight. You're something brand new and the people like you.You're doing a marvelous job and communicating. Keep the message simple-our security is at risk, the world is not as safe as it looks. I'll take care of the money, and I'll certainly keep the country firightened.That missile in the Khyber Pass, we could've detonated it. Five thousand people would've been killed, five thousand Pakistanis. Nuclear bombs exploding in the mountains.You think we'd wake up and worry about the stock market? Not a chance. I'll take care of the fear, Mr. Lake.You keep your nose dean and run hard."

"I'm running as hard as I can."

"Run harder, and no surprises, okay?"

"Certainly not."

Lake wasn't sure what he meant by surprises, but he let it pass. Just a bit of grandfatherly wisdom, perhaps.

Teddy lolled away again. He found his buttons and a screen dropped from the ceiling. They spent twenty minutes viewing rough cuts of the next series of Lake ads, then said their good-byes.

Lake sped away from Langley, two vans in front and one behind, all racing to Reagan National Airport, where the jet was waiting. He wanted a quiet night in Georgetown, at home where the world was held at bay, where he could read a book in solitude, with no one watching or listening. He longed for the anonymity of the streets, the nameless faces, the Arab baker on M Street who made a perfect bagel, the used-book dealer on Wisconsin, the coffeehouse where they roasted beans from Africa. Would he ever be able to walk the streets again, like a normal person, doing whatever he pleased? Something told him no, that those days were gone, probably forever.

When Lake was airborne, Deville entered the bunker and announced to Teddy that Lake had come and gone without trying to check the mailbox. It was time for the daily briefing on the Lake mess. Teddy was spending more time than he'd planned worrying about what his candidate might do next.

The five letters Klockner and his group intercepted from Trevor had been thoroughly researched. Two had been written by Yarber as Percy; the other three by Beech as Ricky. The five pen pals were in different states. Four were using fictitious names; one was bold enough not to hide behind an alias. The letters were basically the same: Percy and Ricky were troubled young men in rehab, trying desperately to pull their lives together, both talented and still able to dream big dreams, but in need of moral and physical support from new friends because the old ones were dangerous. They freely divulged their sins and foibles, their weaknesses and heartaches. They rambled about their lives after rehab, their hopes and dreams of all the things they wanted to do. They were proud of their tans and their muscles, and seemed anxious to show their new hardened bodies to their pen pals.

Only one letter asked for money Ricky wanted a loan of $1,000 from a correspondent named Peter in Spokane, Washington. He said the money was needed to cover some expenses his uncle was refusing to pay.

Teddy had read the letters more than once. The request for money was important because it began to shed light on the Brethren's little game. Perhaps it was just a two-bit enterprise someone taught them, some other con who'd finished his time at Trumble and was now roaming at large stealing anew.

But the size of the stakes was not the issue. It was a flesh game--thinner waists and bronze skin and firm biceps-and their candidate was in the middle of it.

There were still questions, but Teddy was patient. They would watch the mail. The pieces would fall into place.

With Spicer guarding the door to the conference room, and daring anyone to use the law library, Beech and Yarber labored away with their mail. To Al Konyers, Beech wrote:

Dear Al:

Thanks for your last letter. It means so much to me to hear from you. I feel like I've been living in a cage for months, and I'm slowly seeing daylight. Your letters help to open the door. Please don't stop writing. I'm sorry if I've bored you with too much personal stuff: I respect your privacy and hope I haven't asked too many questions.You seem like a very sensitive man who enjoys solitude and the finer things of life. I thought about you last night when I watched Key Largo, the old Bogart and Bacall film. I could almost taste the Chinese carryout. The food here is pretty good, I guess, but they simply can't do Chinese.

I have a great idea. In two months when I get out of here, let's rent Casablanca and African Queen, get the carry-out, get a bottle of nonalcoholic wine, and spend a quiet evening on the sofa. God, I get excited just thinking about life on the outside and doing real things again.

Forgive me if I'm going too fast, Al. It's just that I've done without a lot of things here, and not just booze and good food. Know what I mean?

The halfway house in Baltimore is willing to take me if I can find a part-time job of some type. You said you had some interests there. I know I'm asking a lot because you don't know me, but can you arrange this? I will be forever grateful.

Please write me soon, Al. Your letters, and the hopes and dreams of leaving here in two months with a job on the outside, sustain me in my darkest hours.

Thanks, friend.

Love, Ricky

The one to Quince Garbe had a very different tone. Beech and Yarber had kicked it around for several days. The final draft read:

Dear Quince:

Your father owns a bank, yet you say you can only raise another $10,000. I think you're lying, Quince, and it really ticks me off. I'm tempted to send the file to your father and wife anyway.

I'll settle for $25,000, immediately, same wiring instructions.And don't threaten suicide. I really don't care what you do. We'll never meet, and I think you're a sicko anyway.

Wire the damned money, Quince, and now!

Love, Ricky

Klockner worried that Trevor might visit Trumble one day before noon, then drop off the mail at some point along the way before returning to his office or his home. There was no way to intercept it while en route. It was imperative that he haul it back, and leave it overnight so they could get their hands on it.

He worried, but at the same time Trevor was proving to be- a late starter. He showed few signs of life until after his two o'clock nap.

So when he informed his secretary that he was about to leave for Trumble at 11 a.m., the rental across the street sprang into action. A call was immediately placed to Trevor's office by a middle-aged woman claiming to be a Mrs. Beltrone, who explained to Jan that she and her rich husband were in dire need of a quick divorce. The secretary put her on hold, and yelled down the hallway for Trevor to wait a second. Trevor was gathering papers from his desk and placing them in his briefcase. The camera in the ceiling above him caught his look of displeasure at having been interrupted by a new client.

"She says she's rich!" Jan yelled, and Trevor's frown disappeared. He sat down and waited.

Mrs. Beltrone-unloaded on the secretary. She was wife number three, the husband was much older, they had a home in Jacksonville but spent most of their time at their home in Bermuda. Also had a home in Vail. They'd been planning the divorce for some time, everything had been agreed upon, no fighting at all, very amicable, just needed a good lawyer to handle the paperwork. Mr. Carson had come highly recommended, but they had to act fast for some undisclosed reason.

Trevor took over and listened to the same story. Mrs. Beltrone was sitting across the street in the rental, working from a script the team had put together just for this occasion.

"I really need to see you," she said after fifteen minutes of baring her soul.

"Well, I'm awfully busy;" Trevor said, as if he were flipping pages in half a dozen daily appointment books. Mrs. Beltrone was watching him on the monitor. His feet were on the desk, his eyes closed, his bow tie crooked. The life of an awfully busy lawyer.

"Please;" she begged. "We need to get this over with. I must see you today"

"Where's your husband?"

"He's in France, but he'll be here tomorrow"

"Well, uh, let's see," Trevor mumbled, playing with his bow tie.

"What's your fee?" she asked, and his eyes flew open.

"Well, this is obviously more complicated than your simple no-fault. I'd have to charge a fee of ten thousand dollars." He grimaced when he said it, holding his breath for the response.

"I'll bring it today," she said. "Can I see you at one?"

He was on his feet, hovering over the phone. "How about one-thirty?" he managed to say.

"I'll be there."

"Do you know where my office is?"

"My driver can find it. Thanks, Mr. Carson."

Just call me Trevor, he almost said. But she was gone.

They watched as he wrung his hands together, then pumped his fists, gritted his teeth, said, "Yes!" He'd hooked a big one.

Jan appeared from the hall and said, "Well?"

"She'll be here at one-thirty. Get this place cleaned up a little."

"I'm not a maid. Can you get some money up front? I need to pay bills."

"I'll get the damned money."

Trevor attacked his bookshelves, straightening volumes he hadn't touched in years, dusting the planks with a paper towel, stung files in drawers. When he charged his desk, Jan finally felt a twinge of guilt and began vacuuming the reception area.

They labored through lunch, their bitching and straining making for great amusement across the street.

No sign of Mrs. Beltrone at one-thirty.

"Where the hell is she?" Trevor barked down the hall just after two.

"Maybe she checked around, got some more references" Jansaid.

What did you say?" he yelled.

"Nothing, boss "

"Call her;" he demanded at two-thirty-

"She didn't leave a number."

"You didn't get a number?"

"That's not what I said. I said she didn't leave a number."

At three-thirty Trevor stormed out of his office, still trying desperately to uphold his end of a raging argument with a woman he'd fired at least ten times in the past eight years.

They followed him straight to Trumble. He was in the prison for fifty-three minutes, and when he left it was after five, too late to drop off mail in either Neptune Beach or Atlantic Beach. He returned to his office and left his briefcase on his desk. Then, predictably, he went to Pete's for drinks and dinner.


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