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When the seemingly isolated deaths of multiple high-level politicians are linked to a single professional killer, former Georgia senator and new president Will Lee, with the help of his CIA director wife, Kate Rule Lee, follow leads from a quiet D.C. suburb to an island hideaway in Maine. 200,000 first printing.
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Stuart Woods is the author of fifty novels, including the New York Timesbestselling Stone Barrington and Holly Barker series. He is a native of Georgia and began his writing career in the advertising industry. Chiefs, his debut in 1981, won the Edgar Award. An avid sailor and pilot, Woods lives in New York City, Florida, and Maine.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
SENATOR FREDERICK WALLACE OF SOUTH CAROLINA ROSE at dawn from the bed in the lakeside cabin that he had shared with his African-American lover for more than twenty years. He went into the bathroom and relieved himself noisily. His lover, Elizabeth Johnson, liked to sleep later than he.
Freddie and Elizabeth had produced two sons early in their relationship, both of whom were enrolled in Ivy League universities. Freddie’s wife, Betty Ann, disliked coming back to Chester, their putative home, preferring the social life and shopping of Washington, D.C., which made it easy for Freddie to make weekend trips back to South Carolina, ostensibly for constituent services. He did a bit of that, of course, but mostly he and Elizabeth did each other. It was the only completely satisfying sexual relationship of his entire life, and he cherished it above everything else in his existence, except his status as a conservative Republican U.S. senator. Since he was a politician, the hypocrisy of his position weighed lightly upon him. Once, a couple of years before, someone had found out and had tried to expose the relationship, but Freddie had, by a previous plan with Elizabeth, denied everything and fought the rumor to a standstill. He had been unable to see her for three months, and that had hurt him badly.
TED, who had been sitting in the trees for more than an hour before first light, caught sight of the senator through the leaves, as he apparently relieved, then weighed himself in the bathroom. He didn’t like the sight line—too many branches in the way—so he bided his time.
FREDDIE WALLACE tied his robe around him and walked into the kitchen. Since Elizabeth slept later, he always made his own breakfast. First, though, he attended to a little ritual that had been suggested to him by Harry Truman, a president whom he would not admit admiring. He went to a kitchen cupboard and removed a bottle containing an amber liquid, with a hand-printed label. It was a private-batch bourbon, 100 proof, that an old friend kept him supplied with, as many old friends kept Freddie supplied with many things, from suits to Cadillacs. He had once, in a reflective moment, calculated that if the value of all the gifts he received each year was made known to the Internal Revenue Service, the resulting income tax would exceed his income as a U.S. senator.
* * *
TED HAD HIM in the kitchen now, and the line was good. He moved the tripod a couple of feet to his left, and sat down, cross-legged, behind it, tightening the mount adjustment and bringing the barrel to bear on the kitchen window. He had, on a previous visit, measured the distance from his present position to the center of the house, which came to three hundred and four yards, give or take, and he had already sighted in the weapon for that distance.
The appearance of the rifle, which he had made himself, would have puzzled even an experienced shooter, since the weapon was bereft of any material that did not contribute to its accuracy—no walnut stock, just an aluminum rod; no trigger guard; no visible bolt. The long, fat flash suppressor and silencer would have seemed totally out of place; only the large, light-gathering telescopic sight would be familiar. Ted loaded a single, .22-caliber, long-rifle cartridge into the chamber and closed it, then took his first sight through the scope.
FREDDIE WALLACE POURED himself a jigger of the superb bourbon, then recorked the bottle and put it away. He tossed down the ounce and a half of spirits, waiting for it to hit bottom before he moved.
THE TARGET STOOD absolutely still for just a moment, and Ted, almost casually, squeezed off the round. The only sounds were the pffffft of the firing and the tinkle of window glass as the copper-jacketed round passed through it. Had he been inside the room, he would have heard a noise like a slap across the face as the bullet struck the senator’s left temple, then the sound of his body collapsing like a sack of oranges onto the kitchen floor.
ELIZABETH JOHNSON was turning over in her sleep when she heard the noise. It was one she had heard only once before, but she had imagined it many times, the sound of a male body hitting the floor. Given the state of Frederick Wallace’s health, she had been expecting it.
She got out of bed, picked up her robe, and walked toward the kitchen with some trepidation. “Freddie?” she called, but there was no answer. She continued into the kitchen and saw him lying there. It was not until she came near the body that she saw the hole in the temple and the blood and gore that the exiting bullet had taken with it. “Oh, shit, Freddie,” she said; then she ducked down below window level and checked his pulse. There was none.
TED PICKED UP the rifle, with its tripod still connected, and walked off into the woods. When the house had vanished behind him, he changed directions by sixty degrees, walked another five minutes, then switched back, avoiding any bare dirt or branches he might break along the way. After twenty minutes of walking, he could hear the traffic on the highway, and he approached the spot where he had left his other things. He knelt in the leaves, spread out a piece of army blanket, unscrewed the rifle from its tripod, removed the scope and the silencer, and packed everything into a camera bag and two fishing-rod tubes. He got out of his camouflage jacket, stuffed it into a backpack, and donned his tweed jacket and matching hat.
He peeked through the underbrush at the traffic, waited until there was a lull, then ambled to his RV, parked in a little roadside rest area. He unlocked the cabin door, hid the camera bag and tubes in the places he had designed for them, got behind the wheel, and drove away at a moderate pace, not anxious to attract attention.
A few miles down the road, he parked in the lot of a fast-food restaurant, went to his laptop computer, adjusted the dish on the roof for contact with the satellite, logged online, using a program that took him through six portals before finally connecting, and went to Microsoft Front Page. He made some changes in the Web site, then logged off and went into the restaurant for a big breakfast.
ELIZABETH JOHNSON had gone through the house carefully, packing anything that might be linked to her into two large suitcases. She and Freddie had talked about this more than once, and his instructions had been explicit. She got the bags into the trunk of her car, then went back into the cabin and made another search for anything of hers. Finally, she went back into the kitchen, knelt next to the body, bent over, and kissed it lightly on the lips. “Goodbye, my sweetheart,” she said; then she left the house with tears streaming down her cheeks and drove away.
When she was back in Chester, she pulled over, took out the cell phone that Freddie had given her, and dialed the sheriff’s home number.
“Hello?” he said.
“Tom, you know who this is?”
“Yep, I do,” he replied.
“You better get out to the cabin. Somebody shot him in the head about half an hour ago.”
There was a stunned silence. “Was it you?” he asked finally.
“I was in bed asleep. I heard him fall.”
“Anybody know you was there?”
“No, and I cleared out everything of mine. I’m on my way home.”
“Don’t you talk to nobody about this, you hear? I’ll let you know what I find out after I find it out.”
“Goodbye.” She hung up, started the car, and drove to her little house. She went inside, lay down on the bed, and let herself cry some more.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, WILLIAM Henry Lee IV, sat on the edge of his bed and contemplated his toenails. His wife, Katharine Rule Lee, came out of the bathroom and stopped.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I hate clipping my toenails,” he said. “Tell me again why I can’t have pedicures.”
“Because the Republicans would find out about it and cast you as an effete, liberal snob. And I’m not going to clip them for you. I have a very important meeting in less than an hour, and I have to get dressed.” Katharine Rule Lee was director of Central Intelligence, appointed to that post by her husband after an act of Congress had allowed him to do so.
“I know you have an important meeting,” Will said. “I expect to be there, too, since you and the director of the FBI and the military are briefing me.”
“Oh, yes, I forgot you’d be there.”
The telephone rang, and Will picked it up. “Will Lee,” he said.
“Sir, this is the White House operator.”
“Good morning, Inez,” Will said. “What’s up?”
“We just had a phone call from a Sheriff Tom Stribling, of Chester, South Carolina.”
“That’s where Senator Wallace lives, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. Sheriff Stribling asked that we inform you that Senator Wallace was shot to death less than an hour ago.”
Will took a quick breath and tried not to think about the ramifications of such news. “Any details?”
“The sheriff said he is at your disposal, if you want to call him.”
“Thank you, Inez,” Will said, then hung up.
“What is it?” Kate asked.
“Freddie Wallace is dead. Somebody shot him early this morning.”
“Anybody we know? I’d like to send him a box of chocolates.”
“I hope to God, it was a Republican.”
“Well,” Kate said, “it would be interesting to sit around and speculate about who did it and why. Heaven knows there are enough people with enough cause, not to speak ill of the dead. But, as I said, I have an important meeting to go to.”
“I remember,” Will said, picking up the phone.
“Put down the phone for a minute,” she said.
Will put down the phone. “What?”
“I’ll tell you something you don’t know about Freddie Wallace, if you won’t ask me how I know.”
“Why can’t I ask you how you know?”
“Because I’m the director of Central Intelligence, and how I know is classified.”
“Am I not cleared at that level?”
“Maybe. Let’s call it need to know.”
“For more than twenty years, Freddie has had an African-American mistress, with whom he is—was—deeply in love. They have two sons, one at Brown, one at Harvard.”
“Holy shit. I thought that was just a canard.”
“How do you know this?”
“You promised not to ask me.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Your promise was implied as part of an oral contract.”
“Now you’re talking like a lawyer.”
“I am a lawyer.”
“I forgot. I always think of you as a spy.”
“I think I rather like that,” she said, walking over to him, raising his chin with a finger, and kissing him.
“Maybe tonight we can find time to discuss at some length why you like that,” he said, reaching for her ass and missing as she stepped away.
“I very much doubt it,” she said. “We have a very important White House dinner this evening, and we’ll both be worn out by bedtime.”
“I could cancel it because of Freddie’s death,” he said hopefully.
“I don’t think that the prime minister of Japan would think that appropriate, and since he’s the guest of honor—”
“All right,” Will said. He picked up the phone again. “Please get me Sheriff Tom Stribling, in Chester, South Carolina,” he said. He loved never having to find a pencil to write down a phone number; all he had to do was speak a name, and he was connected to anyone, anywhere. It was one of the better perks of being president.
A few seconds later, the operator said, “You’re connected, Mr. President.”
“Yes, Mr. President, I’m right here.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“I’m at the scene now, sir,” the sheriff said. “The senator took a small-caliber bullet through the left temple and died instantly, far as we can tell. Nobody heard a gunshot.”
“Who was with the senator?”
“No one, sir, he was alone.”
“Then who didn’t hear a gunshot?”
“I know about the black lady, Sheriff.” It was worth a shot.
Stribling let out a breath, as if he had been holding it.
“She was here, sir. She heard him fall to the floor, but she didn’t hear a shot.”
“Is she still there?”
“No, sir, she’s at her home, and so are all her things.”
“I take it she’s not going to be a part of any public announcement or inquiry.”
“No, sir. The senator left very clear instructions about that a long time ago.”
“Have you given this to the press yet?”
“No, sir. I expect it will be close to noon before we’re finished with the crime scene. I’ll fax an announcement to the Columbia papers and the AP after that.”
“I see. Have you spoken to Betty Ann Wallace?”
“Yes, sir, a few minutes ago.”
“How did she take it?”
“She’s in Washington?”
“I’ll call her,” Will said. “Thanks for letting me know, Tom.”
“I’m glad to be of service, sir.”
They both hung up.
Will got the operator back. “Get me Senator Wallace’s wife, at their Washington home.” He waited while he was connected, dreading the conversation ahead.
WILL WAS IN HIS LITTLE STUDY OFF THE OVAL OFFICE AT eight-thirty, and his secretary, a tall, thin African-American woman named Cora Parker, was waiting with his schedule and a number of other items.
“Good morning, Mr. President,” she said, taking a seat next to his desk and setting the folder on his desk.
“Good morning, Cora,” Will replied. “There’s some news: I just learned that Senator Freddie Wallace was shot around dawn this morning. He died instantly.”
“Oh, my God,” Cora said, putting a hand to her mouth.
Since nothing ever fazed Cora, Will looked at her closely. “I know you’re from South Carolina, but I wouldn’t have thought that Freddie’s death would upset you all that much.”
“No, sir, it doesn’t, exactly,” Cora replied. “I was just thinking about—”
“Cora, do you know about the senator’s friend?”
“What friend would that be, sir?”
“The lady friend.”
She sighed. “Yes, sir, I know. I’m from Columbia, but I’ve got a first cousin who lives in Chester, and she and the lady are friends. That’s how I know her.”
“What’s the lady’s name?” he asked.
“Elizabeth Johnson. She’s a widow.”
“And they had two sons together, is that correct?”
“Yes, sir, George and Johnny, named after her two brothers. Their last name is House, Elizabeth’s maiden name.”
“Do the boys know who their father is?”
“I believe they do,” Cora replied.
“Is there anything else I should know about all this, just to keep from putting my foot in it?”
“Not that I can think of, Mr. President. Do they know who shot him?”
“No, not yet. This isn’t going to be announced until around noon today, so keep it to yourself until you hear it on the news.”
“Can I call Elizabeth?”
“Not on a White House phone,” Will said. “We don’t want that call logged, and don’t use your staff cell phone, either. Wait until you can get to a phone outside somewhere.”
“Now, I spoke to Mrs. Wallace a few minutes ago. She wants two funerals, one here and one in Chester. She wants me to give the eulogy at the one here, in the National Cathedral.”
Cora produced a leather-bound diary. “When, sir?”
“She wants it on Wednesday. Do we have any...
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