The Brethren - Page 35

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Chapter Thirty-Five

Deep in a basement garage, they rolled Teddy Maynard into his van and locked the doors. York and Deville sat with him. A driver and a bodyguard handled the van, which had a television, a stereo, and a small bar with bottled water and sodas, all of which were ignored by Teddy. He was subdued, and dreading the next hour. He was tired-tired of his work, tired of the fight, tired of forcing himself through another day, then another. Fight it six more months, he kept telling himself, then give it up and let someone else worry about saving the world. He'd go quietly to his small farm in West Virginia where he'd sit by the pond, watch the leaves fall into the water, and wait for the end. He was so tired of the pain.


There was a black car in front of them and a gray one behind, and the little convoy made its way around the Beltway, then east across the Roosevelt Bridge and onto Constitution Avenue.


Teddy was silent, so therefore York and Deville were too. They knew how much he loathed what he was about to do.


He talked to the President once a week, usually on Wednesday morning, always by phone if Teddy had his way. They last saw each other nine months earlier when Teddy was in the hospital and the President needed to be briefed.


The favors usually fell to an equal level, but Teddy hated to be on the same footing with any President. He'd get the favor he wanted, but it was the asking that humiliated him.


In thirty years he'd survived six Presidents, and his secret weapon had been the favors. Gather the intelligence, hoard it, rarely tell the President everything, and occasionally gift-wrap a small miracle and deliver it to the White House.


This President was still pouting over the humiliating defeat of a nuclear test ban treaty Teddy had helped sabotage. The day before the Senate killed it, the CIA leaked a classified report raising legitimate concerns about the treaty, and the President got flattened in the stampede. He was leaving office, a lame duck more concerned with his legacy than with the pressing matters of the country.


Teddy had dealt with lame ducks before, and they were impossible. Since they wouldn't face the voters again, they dwelt on the big picture. In their waning days, they liked to travel, with lots of their friends, to foreign lands where they held summits with other lame ducks. They worried about their presidential libraries. And their portraits. And their biographies, so they spent time with historians. As the clock ticked they became wiser and more philosophical, and their speeches became grander. They talked of the future, of the challenges and the way things ought to be, conveniently ignoring the fact that they'd had eight years to do all the things that needed to be done.


There was nothing worse than a lame duck. And Lake would be just as bad if and when he had the chance.


Lake. The very reason Teddy was trekking to the White House, hat in hand, to grovel for a while.


They were cleared through the West Wing, where Teddy suffered the indignity of having his wheelchair examined by a Secret Service agent. Then they rolled hint to a small office next to the cabinet morn. A busy appointment secretary explained with no apology that the President was running late. Teddy smiled and waved her off and mumbled something to the effect that this President had never been on time for anything. He'd suffered a dozen fussy secretaries just like her, in the same position she was now in, and the others were long gone. She led York and Deville and the others away, down to the dining room where they would eat by themselves.


Teddy waited, as he knew he would. He read a thick report as if time meant nothing.


Ten minutes passed.


They brought him coffee. Two years ago the President had visited Langley, and Teddy had made him wait for twenty-one minutes. He needed a favor then, the President did, needed a little matter kept quiet.


The only advantage to being crippled was that he didn't have to jump to his feet when the President entered the room. He finally arrived in a rush, with aides scrambling behind him, as if this would impress Teddy Maynard. They shook hands and made the required greetings as the aides got rid of themselves. A waiter appeared and placed small green salads before them.


"It's good to see you;" the President said with a soft voice and drippy smile. Save it for television, Teddy thought, and he couldn't bring himself to return the lie. "You're looking well;" he said, only because it was partially true.The President had a new tint to his hair, and he looked younger. They ate their salads, and a quietness settled around them.


Neither wanted a long lunch. "The French are selling toys to the North Koreans again," Teddy said, offering a crumb.


"What kinds of toys?" the President asked, though he knew precisely about the trafficking. And Teddy knew he knew.


"It's their version of stealth radar, which is quite stupid because they haven't perfected it yet. But the North Koreans are even dumber because they're paying for it. They'll buy anything from France, especially if the French try to hide it. The French, of course, know this, so it's all cloak and dagger and the North Koreans pay top dollar."


The President pushed a button and the waiter appeared to remove their plates. Another brought chicken and pasta.


"How's your health?" the President asked.


"About the same. I'll probably leave when you do."


This pleased them both, the prospect of the other leaving. For no apparent reason, the President then launched into a windy narrative about his Vice President, and what a wonderful job he would do in the Oval Office. He ignored his lunch and became very earnest in his opinions of what a fine human being and brilliant thinker and capable leader the man was. Teddy played with his chicken.


"How do you see the race?" the President asked.


"I honestly don't care;'Teddy said, lying again. "As I told you, I'm leaving Washington when you do, Mr. President. I'm retiring to my little farm where there's no television, no newspapers, nothing but a little fishing and a lot of rest. I'm tired, sir."


"Aaron Lake scares me;" the President said.


You don't know the half of it, Teddy thought. "Why?" he asked, taking a bite. Eat, and let him talk.


"A single issue. Nothing but defense. You give the Pentagon unlimited resources and they'll waste enough to feed the third world. And all this money worries me."


It never worried you before. The last thing Teddy wanted was a long, useless conversation about politics. They were wasting time. The sooner he finished his business, the sooner he could return to the safety of Langley. "I'm here to ask a favor;" he said slowly.


"Yes, I know What can I do for you?"The President was smiling and chewing, enjoying both the chicken and the rare moment of having the upper hand.


"It's a little out of the ordinary. I'd like clemency for three federal prisoners."


The chewing and smiling stopped, not out of shock but out of confusion. Clemency was usually a simple matter, unless it involved spies or terrorists or infamous politicians. "Spies?" the President asked.


"No. Judges. One from California, one from Texas, one from Mississippi. They're serving their time together in a federal prison in Florida."


"Judges?"


"Yes, Mr. President."


"Do I know these people?"


"I doubt it. The one from California was once the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court out there. He got himself recalled, then had a little trouble with the IRS."


"I think I remember that."


"He was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to seven years. He's served two. The one from Texas was a trial judge, a Reagan appointee. He got drunk and killed a couple of hikers inYellowstone."


"I do remember that, but vaguely"


"It was several years ago. The one from Mississippi was a justice of the Peace who got caught embezzling bingo profits."


"I must've missed that one."


There was a long pause as they considered the questions. The President was bewildered and not certain where to start. Teddy wasn't sure what was coming, so they finished eating in silence. Neither wanted dessert.


The request was an easy one, at least for the President. The felons were virtually unknown, as were their victims. Any fallout would be quick and painless, especially for a politician whose career was less than seven months from being over. He'd been pressured to grant far more difficult pardons. The Russians always had a few spies they lobbied to get back. There were two Mexican businessmen locked away in Idaho for drug trafficking, and every time a treaty of some sort was on the table their clemency became an issue. There was a Canadian Jew serving a life sentence for spying, and the Israelis were determined to get him out.


Three unknown judges? The President could sign his name three times and the matter would be over. Teddy would owe him.


It would be a simple matter, but that was no reason to make things easy for Teddy.


"I'm sure there's a good reason for this request," he said.


"Of course."


"A matter of grave national security?"


"Not really Just a few favors for old friends."


"Old friends? Do you know these men?"


"No. But I know their friends."


The lie was so obvious the President almost jumped at it. How could Teddy know the friends of three judges who just happened to be serving time together?


Nothing would come from grilling Teddy Maynard, nothing but frustration. And the President would not stoop that low. He would not beg for information he'd never get. Whatever Teddy's motives were, he would take them to his grave.


"This is a bit confiising;" the President said with a shrug.


"I know. Let's leave it at that."


"What's the fallout?"


"Not much.The families of the two kids who were killed in Yellowstone might squawk, and I wouldn't blame them."


"How long ago was it?"


"Three and a half years."


"You want me to pardon a Republican federal judge?"


"He's not a Republican now, Mr. President. They have to swear off politics once they take the bench. Now that he's been convicted, he can't even vote. I'm sure if you granted clemency he'd become a big fan of yours.


"I'm sure he would."


"If it'll make matters easier, these gentlemen will agree to leave the country for at least two years."


"Why?"


"It might look bad if they return home. Folks will know that they somehow got out early. This can be kept very quiet."


"Did the judge from California pay the taxes he tried to evade?"


"He did:'


"And did the guy from Mississippi repay the money he stole?"


"Yes sir."


All the questions were superficial. He had to ask something.


The last favor had dealt with nuclear spying. The CIA had a report documenting widespread infiltration of Chinese spies in and through virtually all levels of the US. nuclear arms program. The President learned of the report just days before he was scheduled to visit China for a highly touted summit. He asked Teddy to come have lunch, and over the same chicken and pasta he asked that the report be held for a few weeks.Teddy agreed. Later, he wanted the report modified to place more blame on prior administrations. Teddy rewrote it himself. When it was finally released, the President deflected most of the blame.


Chinese spying and national security, versus three obscure ex judges. Teddy knew he would get the pardons.


"If they leave the country, where will they go?" the President asked.


"We're not sure yet."


The waiter brought coffee. When he was gone, the President asked, "Will this in any way hurt the Vice President?"


And with the same expressionless face, Teddy said, "No. How could it?"


"You tell me. I have no clue what you're doing."


"There's nothing to worry about, Mr. President. I'm asking for a small favor. With a little luck, this will not be reported anywhere."


They sipped their coffee and both wanted to leave. The President had a full afternoon with more pleasant matters. Teddy needed a nap. The President was relieved it was such a benign request. Teddy was thinking, If you only knew.


"Give me a few days to do the background," the President said. "These requests are pouring in, as you might guess. Seems everybody wants something now that my days are numbered."


"Your last month here will be your happiest;" Teddy said with a rare grin. "I've seen enough Presidents to know"


After forty minutes together, they shook hands and promised to talk in a few days.


There were five ex-lawyers at Trumble, and the newest one was using the library when Argrow entered. Poor guy was up to his elbows in briefs and legal pads, working feverishly, no doubt pursuing his last feeble appeal.


Spicer was rearranging law books and managing to look sufficiently busy. Beech was in the chamber, writing something.Yarber was absent.


Argrow removed a folded sheet of white paper from his pocket, and gave it to Spicer. "I just saw my lawyer," he whispered.


"What is it?" Spicer asked, holding the paper.


"It's a wire confirmation. Your money is now in Panama."


Spicer looked at the lawyer across the room, but he was oblivious to everything except his legal pad. "Thanks;" he whispered. Argrow left the room, and Spicer took the paper to Beech, who examined it carefully


Their loot was now safely guarded by the First Coast Bank of Panama.


***



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