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The President's Assassin
By Brian Haig
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Format:ebook $7.99 $9.99 CAD
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It looked like a mass execution: six people, systematically shot and killed in a private Washington mansion. One of the targets happened to be the White House Chief of Staff. But that wasn’t the reason Sean Drummond was called in on the case. Newly enlisted in a CIA cell called the Office of Special Projects, the former Army lawyer was informed that the murders were just a warning. The killer had left a note: “You can’t stop us. There will be others, and the President will be history in the next two days.”
The clock is ticking. The hunt begins for the ultimate killer-for-hire-a brilliant, coldhearted professional with an insider’s knowledge of Washington. For Sean Drummond, it’s the greatest challenge of his career, a terrifying cat-and-mouse game with unthinkable consequences. If he fails, the world will never be the same-and one calculating killer will collect the $100 million bounty on the President’s head.
The story of one shocking conspiracy, two fateful days, and an earth-shattering death threat, THE PRESIDENT’S ASSASSIN is a gripping and chillingly real novel from one of the world’s premier writers.
Also by Brian Haig
A lot of exceptional people had a hand in this novel. Luke Janklow, the world's greatest agent and truly a friend to treasure. Everybody at Janklow, Nesbit who labors every day to make their writers' lives rewarding and fulfilling. Rick Horgan, my editor, my friend, and the bane of my existence because of his unmatched eye, because of his bothersome integrity, and because he just won't allow an unresolved plot point or flawed personification to linger. Mari Okuda and Roland Ottewell, copy editors and friends—or perhaps alchemists—who magically turn a pig's ear into a purse. And to everybody at Warner Books, from Larry and Jamie and Jimmy down, who treat publishing not as a business, but as a wonderfully fun way to make a living.
A few special observances: Chuck Wardell and Pete Kinney, who not only loaned me pieces of themselves to construct Sean Drummond, but also, in this book, loaned me their names; and Mike Grollman, a friend, a talented writer whose day will come, and a great sounding board.
SETTLING INTO THE BACKSEAT OF THE CAR, I MENTIONED TO THE ATTRACtive young lady seated beside me, "That's a lovely pistol you're carrying."
"The accessorized holster's nice, too."
"Well...they're FBI issue."
"No kidding. Ever shoot anybody with it?"
"Not yet." She gave me a brief glance. "You might be my first."
From her accent she was from the Midwest, Ohio, someplace like that. From her tone and demeanor, she meant it. Neither she nor the gentlemen in the front smiled, offered hands, or appeared in any way pleased to have me as a passenger.
So to break the ice, I said, "I'm Sean Drummond."
She said, "Keep quiet."
"Nice morning, isn't it?"
She gave me an annoyed look and stared out the window.
"Where are we going?" I asked her.
"I'm trying to think. Shut up."
"That's not what I asked."
"Well...you're not paying attention to the answer you're getting."
We were in the backseat of an unmarked black sedan with two plainclothes types in front. I said, "You guys know where we're going?"
The one in the passenger seat glanced sideways at his partner. "Yeah."
As I mentioned, I'm Sean Drummond, an Army major and a JAG attorney, and for all I knew these three were goombahs and we were on our way to the nearest marsh for a quick whack. Well, probably not—though I think the lady was tempted. We had just departed the front gate of CIA headquarters and turned right onto Dolley Madison, headed west toward McLean. No lights or sirens were turned on, but the driver kicked it up to about seventy, which I regarded as interesting fact number one.
I knew the lady's name was Jennifer Margold; I knew she was a special agent from the D.C. Metro Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and probably she wouldn't be in the backseat of this car were she not good at something. Early to mid-thirties, shoulder-length coppery hair, slender, and as I mentioned, attractive—not beautiful, more like pretty in an interesting way.
She looked bright, and wore a dark pantsuit with practical pumps, light on the makeup, and heavy on the bitchiness, if you ask me. Also, for fieldwork Fibbies prefer what she was not wearing: bulletproof vests, blue windbreakers, and baseball caps. I regarded this as interesting fact number two. Her eyes, incidentally, were a sort of frosted blue, like chilled cobalt.
I should also mention that I wasn't attired in a uniform or anything, but a blue serge suit, which was both stylish and appropriate, as my current assignment had nothing to do with the Army or law. Actually, I was new to this job. In fact, I wasn't really sure what my job was. I said to the driver, "I'd really appreciate it if you'd pull over at the nearest Starbucks."
I said, "Come on, guy. I'll buy. You all look like mocha latte types."
Agent Margold replied, "I told you, shut up."
Anyway, I was on loan—or maybe banished—to something innocuously titled the Office of Special Projects, part of the Central Intelligence Agency, though I wasn't working at the Langley headquarters but somewhere called an offsite—a nondescript large red-brick warehouse in Crystal City with a sign over the entrance that read "Ferguson Home Security Electronics."
You'd think that would be enough of a front, but the Agency has a classified budget, which is an invitation for extravagant idiocy. Three or four red delivery vans were parked out front, and there were actually a few guys whose job it was to drive them around all day, and even more guys who were supposed to pop in and out and pose like customers. There was even a receptionist out front named Lila to handle the occasional rube who dropped in looking for a home alarm or something. But she's okay. She's very friendly. Also, she's really pretty.
The CIA is really into this smoke-and-mirrors stuff. I mean, how much simpler would it be to just slap up a sign that read "VD Clinic"? No more vans and no more phony customers, and for sure there'd be no casual foot traffic. I actually submitted this recommendation on my second day on the job. But I already knew the response. These people have big-time image issues. For an agency charged with national security, they're really insecure.
Anyway, after only a mile or so we turned left onto a street called Ballantrae Farm Drive, a sort of suburban block filled with Pepsident monstrosities. McLean, if you're interested, is one of Washington's more elite suburbs, with no shortage of posh enclaves for the rich and privileged. Still, I could picture a Realtor taking a prospective couple to this block saying something like, "But since you said money is no object, I wanted to be sure you saw this lovely neighborhood."
We continued our drive down the street and eventually we reached a cul-de-sac, and it wasn't hard to guess that the big shack with the three Crown Vics at the curb was our destination. Two guys in suits stood guard at the front entrance, and they weren't holding welcome signs.
You saw that house and you knew—all red brick with tall, thick Corinthian stone columns in front, slate-roofed, and if I had to estimate, about fifteen thousand square feet of interior grandiosity and pomposity, pool out back, cabana, and all that.
We climbed out of the backseat, and one of the guys in suits promptly approached. He seemed to know Special Agent Margold, because he said, "Everybody's inside, Jennie. It's ugly. Director's still ten minutes out." He handed her a clipboard and she signed in, name, time, date, whatever.
Presumably he was referring to Mark Townsend, the head of the Federal Bureau, which told you these clowns were also Fibbies. Not that I have anything against the FBI. I actually admire what they do and how well they do it. It's how they do it. A lot of FBI types are lawyers and accountants, and when you turn them into law enforcement agents you get this weird culture and this sort of hybrid personality, or maybe a hyphenated personality. They're so insufferable, they better be good.
Also, jurisdiction's always a touchy issue with law enforcement types. Aside from the aforementioned government sedans and federal agents, I saw no ambulances, no ME wagon, no forensics van, nor had anybody strung up any yellow crime scene tape. This was interesting fact number three.
Interesting fact number four was the absence of uniformed or local cops, the usual first responders. So whatever occurred inside that house was being kept strictly federal, a synonym for serious, and was being handled low-key, which often rhymes with messy, or, more often, embarrassing.
Margold handed the clipboard back to the guy, who asked me, "Who're you?"
He did not respond. I asked, "You the termite guy?"
He smiled tightly. "I'd like to see your ID before you sign in."
Actually, when I was pulled out of the shower by a 7:09 A.M. phone call from my boss, the only instructions she could offer over an open line were to be sure not to sign the crime log, and nobody but Agent Margold was authorized to know my true identity. She also mentioned that to preserve my anonymity, I should curb my tart tongue and watch my manners, whatever that means.
In my few short weeks with these clandestine types, the one thing I'd learned is that what is said rarely is all that is meant. You have to read between the lines. Don't sign in means we don't want you getting subpoenaed later. Don't identify yourself means it would be inconvenient to have a witness on the stand recalling your presence. So I was being neither coy nor rude when I told him, "Seriously, if I show you my ID I'll have to kill you."
He said, "Seriously...if you don't, I might kill you."
Agent Margold stepped in and informed the guy, "He's authorized. I'll keep an eye on him."
"He has to sign in, Jennie."
"Trust me, he doesn't. If you get backlash, refer it to me."
She stared him down with those icy blue eyes, and reluctantly he allowed us to pass. Whatever happened inside this house this fine spring morning had these people so tightassed it would take a month of Metamucil to clear their pipes. But we progressed together, she and I, up the driveway and then along a walkway to the grand front entrance. She paused at the doorway, slipped white paper booties over her shoes, slapped latex gloves on her hands, and, speaking out the side of her mouth, said to me, "It's apparent that you have authority issues. If I get the slightest problem from you, Drummond, I'll slap your ass in handcuffs and have you carted out." She handed shoe covers and gloves to me and added, "Stay beside me, keep your smartassed mouth shut, and don't touch a thing. You're here to observe, period."
Goodness. I tucked my tail between my legs and replied, "You're right. I'm glad you brought this to my attention, and I'm truly sorry. You have my word, I'll be more responsive, helpful, and obedient."
Actually, I didn't say that. I slipped on my booties and gloves and asked, "You going in first?"
And without further ado, we entered a cavernous foyer with white marble floors and, to the left, a sweeping curved stairway, and on the ceiling above, a massive crystal chandelier. As I was here to observe, period, I also took note of the oriental chest against the far wall, the handwoven Chinese rug centered neatly in the foyer, and the corpse about five feet from the door.
The corpse—a female, late twenties, and in admirable physical shape, ignoring her present condition. She was dressed in a nice navy blue suit with a plain jacket and short skirt and was lying on her back, hands clutched at her throat with her knees bent and her legs spread wide apart, so you could see her pink undies; though modesty was no longer a concern for her. Both the position of her hands and the halo of blood around her head suggested she'd been shot in the throat. The blood looked dark, indicating an artery had been nicked, and the fact that it was only partially dry that she'd gotten it around the time I should've been having my morning joe.
She looked like a broken rag doll that had gotten caught in a big wind and tossed on her butt. But that's not what happened—she'd taken a frontal shot from a slug with enough throw weight to fling her five feet through the air.
I don't think Ms. Margold missed the corpse, though she ignored it and walked on. Also, she had either been in this house before or had been briefed on the layout, because she led me straight through a large living room and directly to the dining room, and more corpses.
More precisely, an elderly man and woman were seated at each end of the dining table, slumped forward, facedown in the soup—or to be completely precise, their faces were in soup bowls, filled with Cheerios for him and Frosted Flakes for her.
The man was about mid-sixties, white-haired, attired in a gray pinstriped light wool business suit, white shirt, and shiny black tasseled loafers. An expensive black leather briefcase was parked beside his left foot, like he was about to leave for work, though obviously that didn't pan out. The woman was about his age, red-haired, and she wore pink pajamas under a blue silk dressing gown, as if she expected to be eating in front of strangers, though from the scene at the table, probably not the strangers who dropped by.
Agent Margold moved directly to the male victim's body, felt his neck very briefly, and backed off. I noticed, to our right, nearly in the corner, two agents leaning against the wall who did not seem to be doing much of anything. But maybe they weren't supposed to. She suggested to them, "What...maybe two hours?"
The heavier one nodded. "An ME's on the way. But yeah...when we arrived thirty minutes ago, he was still real warm. Time of death between six and seven o'clock. Closer to six, I think."
She walked around and examined the room a moment. The table was long and thick, custom-made obviously, able to seat about fourteen. The room itself was expansive and expensively furnished, and the lady of the house was a finicky housekeeper and possessed good decorating taste, or she hired good help. Fresh bouquets of flowers rested on the fireplace mantel and a large centerpiece sat on the middle of the table, suggesting, I thought, that she and the hubby might've entertained recently.
But maybe they weren't husband and wife. You have to be careful about assumptions at a murder scene. The dead guy could be her lover, her tax accountant, or her killer. Also, the two gents by the wall kept glancing at the male corpse and largely ignored the woman. As a general rule, all corpses are relevant to a crime, and perhaps not in life but in death, all bodies become equal. Yet in most multiple murders, one corpse is the main event and the rest are simply victims of the three Ws—wrong place, wrong time, wrong company. I wondered if the young lady in the foyer was their daughter.
We all contemplated the corpses for a moment. Margold asked, "Who was the first responder?"
Again the heavier guy responded, "Danny Cavuso. Works out of the Tysons Corner cell. Because of proximity to the residence, the Tysons office is on standby for problems. A telephonic check was supposed to be made every morning when Hawk left for work. When no call came by six-thirty, a call was made here. No answer. So Cavuso was dispatched."
"Andy Warshuski from his office was his backup. The front door was unlocked. They swept the house and grounds, and called in the incident. When we arrived, they left together."
"So they're the only two who departed the site?"
"Except the killers."
"Keep it that way. Complete quarantine. Nobody departs unless I say so."
He replied, "Already got that word," and she returned to her visual inspection, leaving me to ponder interesting fact number five. Perhaps she was worried about forensics getting disqualifying foot- and fingerprints from everybody who entered the house. Or perhaps I was missing something important.
Anyway, lawyers are not forensic experts, but eight years of criminal law does afford a few skills and insights. The right side of the man's head had a small entry hole—dead center in the temple—and though I couldn't yet observe an exit wound, the gray-and-red mess splattered on the expensive wallpaper suggested the bullet had passed through cleanly. I moved around a bit, formed a mental image of the male victim alive and seated upright. The shot had been fired flat and level, I decided, as if the shooter positioned the gun right next to the guy's temple, and boom. But more likely the killer had taken the shooter's crouch and fired from a distance, which accounted for the level trajectory. The lady of the house had taken her bullet in the right rear quadrant of her neck. From the debris splattered messily across the near side of the table, the shooter had stood slightly to her right rear with the weapon sighted slightly downward. I made a mental note to think about that.
That the bullet had passed cleanly through the male's head rather than ricocheting around the skull, as so often happens, suggested a powerful weapon. And from the way the lady back at the front door had been flung backward, you knew it was more than a .22, certainly, though I thought the size of the entry wound in the man's temple indicated something smaller than a .45.
I walked around and visually checked the exit wound of the male victim. The whole side and rear quadrant of his skull was missing, too large a hole for a .38, unless the bullet had been a hollowpoint or been modified in some nasty way to boost the tissue damage. The bullet had to be lodged in the wall—good news for the ballistics folks.
Also, the attack had come as a complete surprise to the couple at the table. That was obvious. Neither victim had tried to stand up or fend off the attack, or had even acknowledged their killer. Like, "Could you please pass the sugar, Martha," then—bang—"Auugh." No, actually, more like, "Martha, could you pass another slice of that delicious toast?" "Of course, dear, and would you—" bang, bang, Augh, Augh.
Special Agent Margold appeared to be in a hurry, because after only a cursory inspection, she asked, "How do we get to the basement?"
The skinnier agent said, "Back by the kitchen. Second door on the right. Ben Marcasi's down there."
She glanced at me and said, somewhat curtly, "Come along."
So I came along.
We went through a short passage to the hallway and found the second door on the right. As we walked, I tried to piece together why the Agency was on the hook for this thing, and more selfishly, was Sean Drummond on the hook for anything? From the looks of things and the presence of the Bureau I ruled out the ordinary stuff: burglary, drug deal gone sour, and so on. In fact, what happened inside that dining room looked like an execution. There had been no conversation between victims and killers, no argument over money, no vengeful message, no negotiation, not even an exchange of good-byes.
Generalizations, like assumptions, can be misleading, yet it's a fact that executions nearly always are the tradecraft of mobsters and drug gangs. Both like to regard murder as just business, a swift and elegant way to settle a dispute, end a partnership, or terminate a misbehaving employee. But wiseguys would bring in only the Feds, and drug gangs might draw in the DEA but should not concern the CIA. A blown witness-protection thing? That could involve the Agency if the victim was a witness in an international terrorism case, I guess. So that was a possibility. Or was the dead guy at the table a CIA employee? Maybe this was some weird courtesy thing between federal agencies: Hey, one of your guys got whacked this morning—want to come see?
I smelled coffee as we passed the kitchen. For some reason, the odor sent a chill down my spine. Not three hours before three people awakened, never realizing they were dressing for the last time, sharing their final breakfast. Sad. So I followed Agent Margold down the stairs and into the basement, and at the bottom of the steps she yelled, "Ben!...Ben!..."
"Back here," a voice replied.
The basement was large with a high ceiling, essentially a spacious, open room with tan wall-to-wall, no sliding doors, no exterior entrances, not even windows. It was more casual and sparsely furnished than upstairs, and there was a feeling like it didn't see much use, but in the far right corner I spotted a tidy pile of toys; an Erector set, two balls, a toy truck, and so forth.
Like that, the couple upstairs were no longer clinical clue magnets; they were now Grandma and Grandpa, they took the grandkiddies to the Smithsonian and remembered all their birthdays, and their murder became more than an incident: It became a tragedy for some family and a matter of more than passing interest for me. Wondering if Margold's mood reflected some personal connection, I asked, "Did you know these people?"
She faced me and said, "Open your mouth again and you're gone."
We were getting along famously.
Anyway, we proceeded to a door and entered a small room that, from the condition of the drywall and unmarred whitewash, appeared to be a recent addition.
A heavyset middle-aged male stood in the middle of the floor, running his hands through his balding hair, and he turned to face us as we entered. The absence of other living beings in the room indicated this would be Ben. The room—small and claustrophobic, because in addition to Ben were some ten wall-mounted video monitors, a high-tech communications console, a brown Naugahyde lounge chair, and a single bed in the far corner. Also, strewn here and about, three additional corpses.
Nearest to the door and us sat a young woman who had taken three or four slugs on the right side of her body. She was seated in an office chair at the commo console, her body pitched to the left, her right hand stretched toward the console, and it struck me she might've been reaching for something when she got popped. The other two corpses were males, late twenties and mid-thirties, wearing wrinkled gray suits and more bullet holes.
The younger of the two men had removed his jacket and was prone on the bed, and if you ignored the small hole in his right temple and the splatter of skull viscera on the far wall, the expression on his face was weirdly placid and content—arms crossed, feet crossed; his sleep had turned permanent without so much as a whimper.
The second male corpse was seated on the lounge chair, jacket slung over the chair back, eyes wide open, and his expression, not placid, was a mixture of shock and agony. His fingers were clutched at his throat, just like the lady at the door, where he'd also been shot. If you didn't know better, you'd think he'd had a heart attack. In a way he had. They all had.
Another thing got my attention. The dead guy on the bed had removed not only his jacket but also a holster containing a Glock automatic. A matching holster and Glock pistol were still hooked to the belt of his dead partner. I eliminated my CIA employee theory and leaned toward the blown witness thing. "Who are these people?" I asked Margold.
Margold was busy feeling the neck of the young lady at the console and said, "Shut up" to me, and then to Ben, "Roughly same time of death as the others."
"Yeah." After a long moment, he noted, "Nearly simultaneous."
"Same weapon as upstairs, right?"
"Uh...maybe. Same caliber. I'm thinking a thirty-eight."
"About. Had to be a silencer."
"Had to be," he agreed. After a moment, he said to her, "Can you reconstruct yet?"
"Yeah...it's pretty straightforward. Who's at the front door?"
"June Lacy." He added, "Been with us three years. From upstate Minnesota, I think...engaged to get married next week."
"Uh-huh. What time did Hawk's driver arrive?"
"Same time every morning, 6:15. Name's Larry Elwood. Anyway, Larry'd pull into the driveway, leave the car idling, come to the front door, and June, or whoever was on shift, took over from there."
Agent Margold was examining a clipboard on the console, apparently a security log, because she said, "The entry's right here. Six-twenty, Elwood arrived." She looked at Ben. "'Took over from there'? What's that mean?"
"The team had a morning routine. June would roust the Hawk out. She'd escort him out to the car, and Elwood drove him in. The Hawk liked to be at his desk at 6:45 sharp, even on Saturdays. You can tell by the condition of the house the man was a stickler...We got serious heat if we threw him off schedule."
"So that's what happened," Margold replied after a moment. "Elwood—at least someone who looked like Elwood—pulled into the driveway, came to the door, rang the bell, only this time, when Lacy answered, she took it in the throat." She added, "Nothing arbitrary about that throat shot. Drowned out her warning."
Ben nodded. "I just reviewed the tape. The car pulled up at 6:20. Like you said—five minutes late. And you're right, a guy who looks like Elwood walked directly to the front door. Obviously, the cameras only canvass the exterior, though."
"Yeah, well...it's fairly obvious what happened inside. After he killed Lacy, he stepped inside, capped the Hawk and his wife, then rushed down here and did these three." She pointed at the bank of monitors. "Let's see the tape."
I didn't think it was that obvious, but Ben raised no objections, nor did I. Ben moved to the console, pointed to one of the monitors, pushed a few buttons, and rewound till you could see the time was 6:19. He pushed play, and after about thirty seconds a shiny black Lincoln Town Car with impenetrably darkened windows crossed in front of the house and pulled up the driveway, not stopping till it was nearly to the garage door. A male got out, walked to the front of the car, then you lost him for a few seconds as he crossed the front of the car, but he reappeared as he headed up the walkway to the entrance. The camera lost his image again when he walked under the overhang supported by the concrete columns. So you couldn't observe what happened at the door, though from June Lacy's corpse, you knew what happened, just not how.
The driver, Larry Elwood, wore a dark suit, was heavyset and black. One of those silly chauffeur's hats with a visor obscured his face. Also he walked slowly, almost haltingly, and slightly hunched over, like he had a stomach cramp or was trying to work a kink out of a bum leg. Or perhaps as though he was hiding his face, disguising his physical appearance from the camera.
Margold picked up on it, too, because she asked Ben, "You're positive that's Elwood?"
"Looks like him. Hell, though, I'm not sure of anything."
I suggested, "Maybe there was more than one of them."
Ben asked, "Who's he?"
I asked, "Who're you?"
"Ben Marcasi." He turned to Agent Margold and again asked, "Who the hell's he?"
Margold looked at me. "I thought I warned you to keep your mouth shut."
"Right. Just, you know...forget what I said."
But obviously she couldn't forget what I said. She informed me, "Ben's Secret Service...the deputy chief of the White House security detail." She waved an arm around. "This house falls under his supervision. These are his people."
Goodness. It all came into focus—the poop was hitting the fan, and clearly they knew it. What wasn't at all clear was who had died upstairs, and what I was doing in range of the splatter.
So to clarify that first point, I asked, "And the dead guy upstairs...Mr. Hawk?"
"A code name. The deceased male upstairs is Terry Belknap...White House Chief of Staff." But she obviously wasn't interested in providing more insights or information. She asked me, "Why do you think there were two shooters?"
"Did I say only two?"
"I don't...uh, okay, two or more. Why?"
I allowed her a moment to digest her own question before I suggested, "You understand that the couple upstairs were shot nearly simultaneously, right? He was facing his wife and he took it in the right temple. The geometry suggests his shooter fired from the living room entry into the dining room. Had the same shooter nailed Mrs. Belknap, the bullets would've struck her in the front or possibly left frontal lobe. But the Mrs. was facing the Mr. and she took it in the rear left quadrant of her neck. Ergo, a second shooter popped her from the kitchen entry into the dining room."
Agent Margold nodded and said, "You could be right. But there are—"
"Not could be...It's a fact."
- "Haig... never fail[s] to keep us on our toes."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Dec 17, 2007
- Page Count
- 416 pages