The Brethren - Page 39

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Chapter Thirty-Nine

Buster zigzagged westward for days until he made his final bus stop in San Diego.The ocean attracted him, the first water he'd seen in months. He hung around the docks looking for odd jobs and chatting with the regulars. A charter boat captain hired him as a gopher, and he jumped ship in Los Cabos, Mexico, at the southern tip of the Baja. The harbor there was filled with expensive fishing boats, much nicer than the ones he and his father once traded. He met a few of the captains, and within two days had a job as a deckhand. The customers were wealthy Americans from Texas and California, and they spent more time drinking than fishing. He earned no wages or salary, but worked for tips, which invariably got larger the more the clients drank. A slow day would net him $200; a good day, $500, all cash. He lived in an inexpensive motel, and after a few days stopped looking over his shoulder. Los Cabos quickly became his home.


Wilson Argrow was suddenly transferred out of Trumble and sent to a halfway house in Milwaukee, where he stayed exactly one night before walking away. Since he didn't exist he couldn't be found. Jack Argrow met him at the airport with tickets, and they flew together to D.C. Two days after leaving Florida, the Argrow brothers, Kenny Sands and Roger Lyter, reported to Langley for their next assignment.


Three days before he was scheduled to depart D.C. for the convention in Denver, Aaron Lake arrived at Langley for lunch with the Director. It was to be a joyful occasion, the conquering candidate once again thanking the genius who'd asked him to run. His acceptance speech had been written for a month, but Teddy had a few suggestions he wanted to discuss.


He was escorted to Teddy's office, where the old man was waiting under his quilt, as always. He looked so pale and tired, Lake thought.The aides vanished, the door was closed, and Lake noticed that no table had been prepared. They sat away from the desk, face to face, very close together.


Teddy liked the speech and made just a few comments. "Your speeches are getting too long," he said quietly. But Lake had so much to say these days.


"We're still editing;" he said.


"This election belongs to you, Mr. Lake," Teddy said, quite feebly.


"I feel good, but it will be a brawl."


"You'll win by fifteen points."


Lake stopped smiling and listened hard. "That's, uh, quite a margin."


"You're up slightly in the polls. Next month the Vice President will be up. It will go back and forth until the middle of October. Then, there will be a nuclear situation that will terrify the world. And you, Mr. Lake, will become the messiah."


The prospect frightened even the messiah. "A war?" Lake asked quietly.


"No. There will be casualties, but they won't be Americans. Natty Chenkov will get the blame, and the good voters of this republic will flock to the polls.You could win by as much as twenty points."


Lake breathed deeply. He wanted to ask more questions, even perhaps object to the bloodshed. But it would be futile. Whatever terror Teddy had planned for October was already in the works. There was nothing Lake could say or do to stop it.


"Keep beating the same drum, Mr. Lake. The same message. The world is about to become a lot crazier, and we have to be strong to protect our way of life."


"The message has worked so far."


"Your opponent will become desperate. He'll attack you for the single issue, and he'll whine about the money. He'll beat you up and score some points. Don't panic. The world will be turned upside down in October, trust me."


"I do."


"You've got this thing won, Mr. Lake. Keep preaching the same message."


"Oh, I will."


"Good;" Teddy said, and closed his eyes for a moment as if he needed a quick nap. Then he opened them and said, "Now, on an entirely different topic,


I'm a little curious about your plans once you get to the White House."


Lake was puzzled, and his face showed it.


Teddy continued the ambush: "You need a partner, Mr. Lake, a First Lady, someone to grace the White House with her presence. Someone to entertain and decorate, a pretty woman, one young enough to have children. It's been a long time since we had children in the White House, Mr. Lake."


"You must be kidding." Lake was flabbergasted.


"I like this Jayne Cordell on your staff. She's thirtyeight, smart, articulate, quite pretty though she needs to drop fifteen pounds. Her divorce was twelve years ago, and it's forgotten. I think she'd make a fine First Lady"


Lake cocked his head to one -side, and was suddenly angry. He wanted to lash out at Teddy, but for the moment words failed him. He managed to mumble, "Have you lost your mind?"


"We know about Ricky;" Teddy said, very coolly, with his eyes penetrating Lake's.


The wind was sucked out of Lake's lungs, and as he exhaled he said,"Oh my god." He studied his feet for a moment, his entire body frozen in shock.


To make matters worse, Teddy handed over a sheet of paper. Lake took it, and instantly recognized it as a copy of his last note to Ricky.


Dear Ricky:


I think it's best if we end our correspondence.


I wish you well with your rehab.


Sincerely, Al


Lake almost said that he could explain things; they were not as they seemed. But he decided to say nothing, at least not for a while. The questions flooded his thoughts-How much do they know? How in hell did they intercept the mail? Who else knows?


Teddy let him suffer in silence. There was no hurry.


When his thoughts cleared somewhat, the politician in Lake came to the surface. Teddy was offering a way out. Teddy was saying, "Just play ball with me, son, and things will be fine. Do it my way"


And so Lake swallowed hard and said, "I actually like her."


"Of course you do. She's perfect for the job."


"Yes. She's very loyal."


"Are you sleeping with her?"


"No. Not yet."


"Start soon. Hold hands with her during the convention. Let the gossip start, let nature take its course. A week before the election, announce a Christmas wedding."


"Big or small?"


"Huge. The social event of the year in Washington:"


"I like that."


"Get her pregnant quickly Just before your inauguration, announce that the First Lady is expecting. It'll make a marvelous story. And it will be so nice to see young children in the White House again."


Lake smiled and nodded and appeared to like the thought, then he suddenly frowned. "Will anyone ever know about Ricky?" he asked.


"No. He's been neutralized."


"Neutralized?"


"He'll never write another letter, Mr. Lake. And you'll be so busy playing with all your little children that you won't have time to think about people like Ricky."


"Ricky who?"


"Atta boy, Lake. Atta boy"


"I'm very sorry, Mr. Maynard. Very sorry. It won't happen again."


"Of course it won't. I've got the file, Mr. Lake. Always remember that." Teddy began rolling himself backward, as if the meeting was over.


"It was an isolated moment of weakness," Lake said.


"Never mind, Lake. Take care of Jayne. Get her a new wardrobe. She works too hard and she looks tired. Ease up on her. She's going to make a wonderful First Lady"


"Yes sir."


Teddy was at the door. "No more surprises, Lake."


"No sir."


Teddy opened the door and rolled himself away.


By late November, they had settled in Monte Carlo, primarily because of its beauty and warm weather, but also because so much English was spoken there. And there were casinos, a must for Spicer. Neither Beech nor Yarber could tell if he was winning or losing, but he was certainly enjoying himself. His wife was still tending to her mother, who'd yet to die. Things were tense because Joe Roy wouldn't go home, and she wouldn't leave Mississippi.


They lived in the same small but handsome hotel on the edge of town, and they usually had breakfast together twice a week before scattering. As the months passed and they settled into their new lives, they saw less and less of each other. They had differing interests. Spicer wanted to gamble and drink and spend time with the ladies. Beech preferred the sea and enjoyed fishing. Yarber traveled and studied the history of southern France and northern Italy.


But each always knew where the others were. If one disappeared, the other two wanted to know it.


They'd read nothing about their pardons. Beech andYarber had spent hours in a library in Rome, reading American newspapers just after they fled. Not a word about them. They'd had no contact with anyone from home. Spicer's wife claimed to have told no one that he was out of prison. She still thought he'd escaped.


On Thanksgiving Day, Finn Yarber was enjoying an espresso at a sidewalk cafe in downtown Monte Carlo. It was warm and sunny, and he was only vaguely aware that it was an important holiday back home. He didn't care because he would never go back. Beech was asleep in his hotel mom: Spicer was in a casino three blocks away.


A vaguely familiar face appeared from nowhere. In a flash, the man sat across from Yarber and said, "Hello, Finn. Remember me?"


Yarber calmly took a sip of coffee and studied the face. He'd last seen it at Trumble.


"Wilson Argrow, from prison;" the man said, and Yarber put down his cup before he dropped it.


"Good morning, Mr. Argrow," Finn said slowly, calmly, though there were many other things he wanted to say.


"I guess you're surprised to see me."


"Yes, as a matter of fact."


"Wasn't that exciting news about Aaron Lake's landslide?"


"I suppose. What can I do for you?"


"I just want you to know that we're always close by, just in case you need us."


Finn actually chuckled, then said, "That doesn't seem likely" It had been five months since their release. They had moved from country to country, from Greece to Sweden, from Poland to Portugal, slowly heading south as the weather changed. How on earth could Argrow track them down?


It was impossible.


Argrow pulled a magazine from inside his jacket. "I ran across this last week," he said, handing it over. The magazine was turned to a page in the back where a personal ad was circled with a red marker:


SWM in 20's looking for kind and discreet American gentleman in 40's or 50's to pen pal with.


Yarber had certainly seen it before, but he shrugged as if he hadn't a clue.


"Looks familiar, doesn't it?" Argrow asked.


"They all look the same to me," Finn said. He tossed the magazine on the table. It was the European edition of Out and About.


"We traced the address to the post office here in Monte Carlo;" Argrow said. "A brand-new, box rental, with a fake name and everything. What a coincidence."


"Look, I don't know who you work for, but I have a very strong hunch that we're not in your jurisdiction. We haven't broken a single law. Why don't you bug off?"


"Sure, Finn, but two million bucks isn't enough?"


Finn smiled and looked around the lovely cafe. He took a sip of coffee and said, "You gotta keep busy."


"I'll see you around;" Argrow said, then jumped to his feet and vanished.


Yarber finished his coffee as if nothing had happened. He watched the street and the traffic for a while, then left to gather his colleagues.


***



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