“The guy doesn’t fit the pattern, Tim, what’s going on? That suit had to cost five grand—Italian, I think.”
The small man, Frank Wade, was much younger than his partner. It was a fluke that he came into Executive Protection so early in his career. He was black, and some whose paths were not quite so facile, pointed that out as a reason for his success,
Maybe we’ll find something,” Tim Murphy said, “but right now it’s a puzzle.” The older man was tall, and, at the end of his career, a bit stooped. Despite his long time in the Secret Service he had never seen a presidential assassination, not even an attempt, and he was slightly skeptical whether this would turn out to be one either.
“Do we know who he was yet?”
“Benjamin Gold, Georgetown grad, Democrat, brand new lawyer, single, drove a Porsche, I think that’s all we’ve got. Make sure to tell the unis to be head’s up for that car.”
“What about the gun?”
“Yeah, it’s an old Russian model--a Tokarev. No traces yet of course, probably someone’s souvenir. He had it gripped so tight the med examiner had to do something to his hand so it would release.”
“How many rounds did he get off?”
“Huh,” Tim Murphy said, “there’s the weirdest part. None. Gun was fully loaded, and the hammer was down, but no mark on the primer.”
“What do you mean?” Frank turned to look up at his partner.
“I mean the gun didn’t have a firing pin. It’s not broken or anything, it’s just not there.”
“McCreary drilled him, right?” Frank restated the obvious.
“Two in the heart, one-inch group. Textbook.”
The two men stood, killing time in the effortless way that becomes habitual for those in Executive Protection. They watched while the crime scene was documented by the Metro cops. Behind them, the evidence techs’ cameras flashed incessantly, recording every inch of the hallway. Gold’s body was gone now with the coroner’s crew; it was represented only by a chalked outline. A TV news reporter stood just beyond the crime scene tape doing a stand-up in which the word ‘assassination’ featured in every other sentence.
“A good shoot you think?” Frank stood idly, watching the activity, his eyes moving constantly.
“Sure,” Tim nodded, “Mac was clearing the hallway by himself, RENEGADE and RENAISSANCE were just steps behind him, and this joker pops out with a pistol in his hand. There’s no way Mac could have known it wasn’t ready to shoot.”
“Mac is a machine,” Frank said, “I saw him do a demo at the Academy. He’s perfect.”
“’Cept maybe for Diana?” Tim said it quietly, with no particular emphasis, but it curled there in the air like a serpent. “With a wife like that. . . .”
The younger man hunched his shoulders. It had to be coming. Diana had been an actress, and some said she had done a turn as a porn star. Mac’s supporters were quick to point out that her long ago film work had been soft core; bad taste maybe, but nothing criminal.
Worse, said the arguments that went on quietly in training rooms and late night beer sessions, she was white. Not just white, but the kind of white that only comes with pale green eyes and flame red hair.
“You think Diana’s a problem?” The younger man tried to keep his voice absolutely neutral and his pacing deliberate.
“Not for me,” Tim Murphy said, “but there are guys who say Mac would never even have gotten into the Service ten years ago, let alone be lead agent on the presidential detail.”
“Why? A black man can’t have a white wife, even in this day and age?” Wade unconsciously stretched to be taller.
“Now, don’t get your panties in a wad, Frank, it’s not me that says it. It’s just that the Service likes to be low key and that’s not what Mrs. McCreary is; never could be. She’s bound to make the TV news. As soon as they find her, she’ll be all over the tube. I’ll bet the Director is dreading it.”
For Diana, the problem was always men. Men noticed her, and Mac noticed them noticing her. Tom McCreary had been a highly decorated Marine recon team leader just back from some unmentionable operation when he met Diana at a pistol range in Twenty-Nine Palms. She stood there shooting a .45 with deadly efficiency. When he questioned her firearms knowledge she fieldstripped the pistol faster than he could. From that day there was an unending struggle between them. The relationship was fire and ice. They competed and resisted each other’s domination, separating and rejoining, but Diana won again and again.
Ten years ago, on the day of her wedding to Mac, she had taken an old lover to bed. When the prospective groom walked in on them she had blithely said, “I can’t just disappear without saying goodbye, can I?”
He should have walked that day, some said, but he didn’t. Her emotional need for him was matched by his physical need for her, and what formed between them was fiercely strong, but not quite love. When the baby was stillborn, somehow they were welded even more tightly, planets in orbit around each other, sharing gravity, but not light.
The Secret Service was a natural progression for Major Tom McCreary. The Service needed his skills. Diana was always a distraction, but she stayed in the background; pursued her own interests. Mac exposed her to his comrades only in the most inescapable situations, and he watched her like a hawk.
His progress was swift. He did his time as a uniformed officer and moved directly into Executive Protection; and then he was selected as the supervisory special agent for the candidate who was finally victorious. Mac’s constant, unrelenting travel left Diana at loose ends. She could still make him grovel for her favors, but her power over him lessened, and she felt the loss. With the impossibility of knowing when Mac would be home, and with the long absences of the campaign, Diana reverted to type.
Mac was on the candidate’s overseas tour in July and Diana felt release; freed, abandoned, simultaneously lonely and starved for attention. It was during an impromptu pub-crawl during that period of freedom that she stumbled across Benjamin Gold.
She sauntered into the place in Georgetown with a vastly more understated girlfriend in tow. She wore a little black dress and a chunky necklace of uncut emeralds. She was Diana the huntress in every way.
The first pass was a reconnaissance mission. Benjamin Gold registered on her instantly, and half an hour later Diana walked in for the second time, alone. He sat at a tiny table; leftovers pushed away, half watching some Discovery Channel thing about lions and crocodiles.
When Diana turned toward him she was as purposeful as one of the reptiles. “Hi,” she said, “don’t I know you from Annapolis?”
“Don’t think so,” Benjamin said, turning to appraise her. “I would have remembered, but don’t let mistaken identity mess up a perfect opportunity. Have a seat, what are you drinking?”
“I really can’t,” she said.
“Ah, come on,” he looked up at her, still standing beside him, “as a matter of fact, I think I do remember you from Annapolis, now what would you like to drink?” He gave her the schoolboy grin.
“Hmmmm, a Gimlet, I guess,” She sat across from him, “I shouldn’t, they go straight to my head.” She looked up through lowered lashes and touched his wrist with a single finger. For a second he saw the tip of a pink tongue.
Benjamin held up the two-finger sign to the bartender and directly a very large Gimlet cocktail appeared. The greenish liquid reflected her pale eyes.
The icy sweetness and the bite of gin swept over her, but her purpose stayed needle-focused. Diana looked up to see television footage from Afghanistan flashing across the screen. She recognized Mac’s ebony complexion contrasting with the candidate’s paler hue, but the buzz of the Gimlet and the feeling of escape stayed strong.
Under the guise of responding to his interest in the necklace she afforded him an excellent view of her pale breasts resting, as if on offer, in the cupped bodice of her cocktail dress. Their knees brushed, retreated, and then returned to meet sensuously, followed by Ben’s hand touching tentatively, softly, on her inner thigh. She moved effortlessly toward him until his fingers felt embroidered silk; her pale green eyes never left his. She excused herself, left the table and shortly returned. They resumed just where they had left off. She slid toward him again, and this time he felt the hot center of her.
The green eyes were steady, “I took them off,” she said, “they were wet.”
They slept together that night in Benjamin’s preternaturally tidy bachelor’s pad.
He called in sick the next morning, pleading migraine, and they spent the day as tourists. They visited Diana’s home in the Maryland suburbs to allow her to change clothes, and she made Benjamin park the Porsche around the corner, a block away. At his look of askance, Diana began to unreel the sad statistics of her marriage. She refrained from mentioning the Service, merely explaining that Mac was “some kind of policeman.”
By the time she finished the sad tale of neglect, jealousy, and threats, Benjamin was holding her close, stroking the teardrops from her cheeks, breathing in her ear, “there’s no way you deserve this kind of treatment.”
Benjamin and Diana were inseparable. The ten days of the candidate’s overseas junket passed too quickly. Benjamin neglected work and sank deeper and deeper into an unfamiliar swirl of emotions. From his normal disinterest toward the problems of others, he found himself idly considering a role as rescuer.
It was not until after the election, when Mac’s schedule temporarily stabilized and the lovers had less time together, that Diana turned up the heat. She admitted to Benjamin that Mac was a Secret Service agent, and she reiterated her concerns that he was dangerously out of control. In early December she arrived at Benjamin’s apartment with an angry red blotch on her alabaster cheek and tears in her eyes.
“He hit you? You’ve got to call the police.”
“You’re kidding,” she sobbed, perhaps a bit theatrically; “he’s a cop too. They all have the secret handshake. I want you to do something for me. I want you to call me. Call me a few times a day just to make sure I’m all right. If it rings more than three times, you’ll know I’m in trouble.”
“Okay, I will. Here’s my cell, you can call me whenever.”
“No, I can’t,” but she didn’t explain.
Two weeks before the inauguration Diana made a breathless call to Benjamin from a pay phone at Metro Center. “We’ve got to meet. I have some papers you need to see.”
It was the first time she mentioned a gun. “Look, this is the protection plan for all the inaugural balls.” She led him through the complex symbology. Mac had not explained the chart to her, but Diana was observant and quick on the uptake. “See here, this is Mac, and here he’s alone. He’s the bridge between this venue and the car. It’s a narrow little hallway, and Mac has to do the clearing by himself. There are no other agents until here.” Her manicured nail jabbed the paper. “See this door here?” Her voice was huskier all at once. “If that door were to be unlocked, a person could get in there and pop out with a gun at just the right time.”
“Are you crazy? Do you mean assassinate the President?”
“Of course not, that’s what everyone would think, but, say a person just shot a Secret Service agent and left? The search would all be focused to find a person with a motive to kill the President-- white power, Aryan Brotherhood, right-wing whackos-- nobody like you; and Mac would be a dead hero, because he would have given his life chasing away the assassin and saving the First Family.” She paused a long time, looked into his eyes and said, “After the investigation, we could be together.”
“That door would be locked, you know that. They’re thorough; they’d never miss a detail like that.”
Her smile was inscrutable, “I think that lock might malfunction,” her pale eyes were on him. She leaned forward and kissed him open-mouthed; he felt her tongue writhe like a flame. Her nipples pressed against him and he heard the sound of a rising wind in his ears.
“So how is retirement, Tim?” Frank wore his earpiece and the discreet gold pin in his lapel. He held a glass of iced tea. A year had passed, and they sat in an outdoor space of the type that occupies every corner of pavement when spring reaches Washington, D.C.
“Well,” Tim stretched and glanced down at his open-necked polo shirt, “for the last six weeks or so I got dressed every morning for Mac’s trial. I got a seat most days. Really seemed like I was still at work.”
“Yeah,” Frank said, “I followed it on the news. They didn’t want us showing up-- active duty guys--I mean. I think the brass decided to make sure we ended up on the right side. Like maybe there was a little distancing going on, you know what I mean?”
“Who would have thought it would come out this way?” Tim looked down, “remember when I told you it was a good shoot?”
“Yeah,” Frank glanced at the waiter, “seemed cut and dried didn’t it?”
“It was, before they found all the calls from Gold on Diana’s cell phone—dozens of calls,” Tim said, “and the copy of a site layout for that venue in Gold’s pocket. Official Service diagram with Mac’s assignment circled in red. How did Gold get that? They went all out to prove that Mac had to have given it to Gold. That’s all the prosecutor needed for motive.” Tim began methodically to peel the label from a bottle of Olde Heurich. “I still can’t believe Mac would have decided to take the guy out that way even if he was involved with Diana. And the damned defense never brought up a thing about her past history.”
“Well, she wasn’t on trial,” Frank seemed unexplainably sad.
“That might have been a mistake,” Tim said without looking up from the beer bottle.
“You know the prosecutor’s theory,” Frank said slowly, as if tasting the words, “He called it a ‘narrative that fit the observed facts.’”
“Yeah,” said Tim, “it means he didn’t have a case; somebody higher up decided they weren’t going to defend Mac. You know that’s what happened, somebody threw him under the bus.”
“So, as I understand it from the press,” Frank doggedly went back to his point, “the story was that Mac lured Gold into a confrontation, basically challenged him to a duel, winner take all. The only thing is, in the prosecutor’s version, Mac rigged the contest with a gimmicked gun . . . premeditated as hell.” Frank stared off into the distance.
“Why would he do that?” Tim shook his head; “Mac could beat anybody in a shootout, let alone some preppie lawyer. Why not just shoot Gold on the street? You know how many homicides go unsolved in this town?”
“There’s no way to figure how men will react where women are concerned.” Frank’s words seemed to echo in his own ears.
“It was Diana who sank him,” Tim said with a hollow tone, “all those sobs and the big green eyes brimming with tears, you know the drill.”
“Yeah,” Frank said quietly, “she can be convincing—”
“They really drew her out on his suspicions, the jealously and all that stuff, She definitely came across as the helpless victim, caught between a jealous husband and a maniac stalker. She said he accused her of being involved with Gold. She swore it wasn’t true. Diana admitted Mac hit her, and then they got her to say that she thought the pistol was from Mac’s collection, that she thought she had seen him working on it. When she said that, it was like a knife in his heart. I think right up to that second he thought it was all just a big misunderstanding.”
“Yeah, is it true what they said, that he looked shocked when they introduced the handwritten list of his personal weapons with that Tokarev’s serial number and the note with Gold’s address and telephone number?” Frank looked at his partner watching for some sign.
“Shocked wasn’t the half of it,” Tim shook his head. “He turned white. No offense, I mean if he could have, it was that kind of look,” Tim said. “From then on the prosecutor just hammered away on that ‘misguided duel of honor’ theme. A helpless victim lured into a fixed game by a jealous husband . . .bullshit.”
“Yeah, I understand. So were you there when . . .”
“No,” Tim said, looking away, “I mean, yes, I was there, but he was still in the hallway with the U.S. Marshalls when he—“
“Could you hear the shot?”
“Huh uh, and I don’t think anyone in the courtroom would have recognized what it was, I mean, who would have thought?”
“Well what about all the conspiracy rumors that they let him escape on purpose?”
“Don’t believe any of it,” Tim shook his head. “You know how many times Mac taught that exact scenario-- the manacled prisoner escapes, grabs an officer’s gun. Why didn’t they think about that?”
Frank unconsciously reached up to touch the gold pin in his lapel and moved his hand to the earpiece. “Because in the training scenario, the prisoner never sticks the pistol in his own mouth.”
“Yeah,” Tim nodded, “and he was so fast.”
“Why did he do it? There’s no way he could know whether the jury was going to find him guilty.”
“Shame, depression, self-loathing, she definitely made him sound like a crazy, suspicious bastard. You notice the Service didn’t provide a character witness? Wouldn’t you think the Director would be up there on the stand saying Mac was exemplary and all that stuff? Maybe he just had all the betrayal he could stand; everybody abandoned him,” Tim murmured.
“Final solution to a temporary problem,” Frank said, “surely it would have all come out on appeal.”
Tim looked up at his former partner; there was a grim look on his face. “Personally, I think most of these theories come from Diana herself, one way or the other. Anybody who could refute them is dead. For him to win on appeal they would have had to go after Diana.”
“You still think she was involved, don’t you, Tim? You think she somehow set this whole thing up.”
“I, yeah, I think maybe she was involved with Gold. I think she had him living in a fantasy world. Maybe she even lured Mac to hit her, I don’t know. She still had him wrapped around her finger.” The words came out in a rush, “She got a gun somewhere, she could have gimmicked the thing, she had the skills, added it to Mac’s list, wrote that note herself. She told me one time Mac could never tell whether he signed a check or she did, I don’t know, it seems crazy, but she could have given the gun to Gold. She could have gotten the diagram.”
“But, what about motive? That’s even more circumstantial than the prosecutor’s fantasy.”
“You ever look at the size of Mac’s pension? They’re going to let her keep it. How about that for motive?”
“Tim, Is it that thing you have about her being married to a black man? Is that what’s making you come up with this crazy story?”
“Hell, no,” Tim said emphatically. “I told you from the beginning that never bothered me.”
“That’s good, ‘cause she called me a couple days ago.”
“Diana called you?”
“Yeah. She said she missed seeing me. Said she had been thinking about me,” Frank’s voice grew fainter; “she said she had been thinking about me for a long time.”
“Hmmm, go figure,” Tim said.
From across the street on the sidewalk patio of a competing restaurant, a figure shifted in a chair. There was a flash of nylon-sheathed legs. A fashion magazine shielded a pale face from the sun; a large hat concealed red hair. From behind stylish sunglasses, pale eyes the color of a Gimlet cocktail regarded the two old colleagues. The gaze held no expression