Authors: James Patterson,Bill Clinton
take a deep breath and enter the bar.
Inside: banners for the Georgetown Hoyas and Skins and Nationals, televisions perched in the corners of the exposed-brick walls, loud music competing with the animated chatter of the happy-hour crowd. Many are dressed casually, college and grad students, but some are young after-work professionals in their suits with ties pulled loose or in blouses and pants. The outdoor patio is filled to the brim. The floors are sticky, and the odor is one of stale beer. I’m taken back again to Savannah during basic training, when we used to tear up River Street on the weekends.
I nod to the two Secret Service agents, dressed in suits, standing sentry. They’ve been told that I was coming and how I’d be dressed. They’ve been told not to formally acknowledge me, and they follow that directive, only brief nods, a slight stiffening of their posture.
In the back corner, my daughter is seated at a table, surrounded by people—some friends, some who just want to be in the presence of the First Daughter—drinking something colorful and fruity from a glass as another woman whispers something into her ear over the loud music. She reacts to the comment, bringing her hand to her mouth, as if trying to laugh and swallow at the same time. But it looks forced. She’s just being polite.
Her eyes scan the room. They pass over me at first but then return to me. Lilly’s lips part, her eyes narrow. Finally, her expression softens. It took her a moment, so my disguise must be pretty good.
I keep walking, past the bathrooms into the stockroom at the back of the bar, the door unlocked by design. Inside, it smells like a frat house, with shelves upon shelves of assorted liquors, kegs lined up along the walls, open boxes of napkins and bar glasses on the concrete floor.
My heart swells when she walks in, the infant with the round face and enormous eyes reaching out to touch my face, the little girl lifting herself on her tippy-toes to kiss me with a PBJ-smudged face, the teenager slicing the air with her hand as she argued the merits of alternative-energy incentives at the state debate finals.
When she draws back and looks me in the eyes, her smile has vanished. “So this is real.”
“Did she come to the White House?”
“She did, yeah. I can’t say more than that.”
“Where are you going?” she asks. “What are you doing? Why don’t you have Secret Service? Why are you dressed in some disguise—”
“Hey. Hey.” I hold her at the shoulders. “It’s okay, Lil. I’m going to meet with them.”
“With Nina and her partner?”
I highly doubt that the girl in the Princeton T-shirt gave my daughter her real name. But the less said, the better. “Yes,” I say.
“I haven’t seen her since she talked to me,” says Lilly. “Not once. She completely disappeared from the program.”
“I don’t think she was ever enrolled in the Sorbonne program,” I say. “I think she went to Paris to see you. To deliver the message.”
“But why talk to
of all people?”
I don’t answer. I don’t want to give any more specifics than necessary. But Lilly has her mother’s smarts. It doesn’t take her long.
“She knew I’d deliver the message to you directly,” she says. “No intermediaries. No filter.”
That’s exactly why.
“So what did she mean?” Lilly asks. “What’s ‘Dark Ages’?”
“Lil…” I draw her in close but don’t say anything.
“You won’t tell me. You can’t,” she adds, giving me the out, forgiving me. “It must be important. So important that you asked me to fly home from Paris, and now you’re…doing whatever it is you’re doing.” She glances over her shoulder. “Where’s Alex? Where’s your protection? Other than Frick and Frack, the men you sent to guard me?”
Since she graduated from college, Lilly has opted to decline protection, as is her right. But the moment I got the call from her last Monday, I rushed the Service to her side. It took a couple of days to get her home, because she had a final exam, and I was assured she was secure in Paris.
“My protection is around,” I say. She doesn’t need to know that I’m going it alone. She has enough anxiety as it is. Getting over the loss of her mother, barely a year ago, is still a work in progress. She doesn’t need to add the possibility of losing a second parent. She’s no child, and mature beyond her years, but she’s only twenty-three, for God’s sake, still a babe in the woods when it comes to what life will throw at her.
My chest tightens at the thought of what all this could mean to Lilly. But I have no choice. I made a vow to defend this country, and I’m the only person who can do this.
“Listen,” I say, taking her hand. “I want you to spend the next few days at the White House. Your room’s all ready. If you need anything from your condo, the agents will get it for you.”
“I…don’t understand.” She turns and looks at me, her lips trembling slightly. “Are you in
It’s all I can do to rein in my emotions. She stopped calling me Daddy during adolescence, though she pulled it out once or twice when Rachel was dying. She reserves it for the times when she’s feeling most vulnerable, most terrified. I have stood down sadistic drill sergeants, cruel Iraqi interrogators, partisan lawmakers, and the Washington press corps, but my daughter can punch my buttons like no one else.
I lean over and touch my head against hers. “Me? C’mon. I’m just being cautious. I just want to know that you’re safe.”
It’s not enough for her. She wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes tight. I draw her close, too. I can hear her sobs, feel her body shake.
“I’m so proud of you, Lilly,” I whisper, trying to avoid the catch in my throat. “I ever tell you that?”
“You tell me that all the time,” she says into my ear.
I stroke the hair of my brilliant, strong, independent girl. She is a woman now, with her mother’s beauty and brains and spirit, but she will always be the little girl who lit up when she saw me, who squealed when I’d bombard her with kisses, who couldn’t fall back asleep after a nightmare unless Daddy held her hand.
“Go with the agents now,” I whisper. “Will you?”
She pulls back from me, wipes the tears off her cheeks, takes a breath, looks at me with hopeful eyes, and nods.
Then she lunges toward me, throwing her arms around me again.
I squeeze my eyes shut, hold her trembling body. Suddenly my grown daughter is fifteen years younger, a grade-schooler who needs her daddy, a father who is supposed to be her rock, who will never let her down.
I wish I could hold her, wipe away her tears, allay her every concern. I had to teach myself, long ago, that I couldn’t follow my baby girl around and make sure the world was kind to her. And now I have to pry myself loose and get on with the business at hand when I’d like nothing more than to hold her and never let go.
I cup my hands around her face, my daughter’s swollen, hopeful eyes looking up at me.
“I love you more than anything in the world,” I say. “And I promise I will come back to you.”
fter Lilly leaves the bar with the Secret Service agents, I ask the bartender for a glass of water. I reach into my pocket and take out my pills, the steroids that will boost my platelet count. I hate these pills. They mess up my head. But I either operate with a fuzzy brain or I’m out of commission altogether. There’s no in-between. And the latter is not an option.
I walk back to my car. The clouds are as bruised as the backs of my legs. No rain has fallen, but the smell of it is in the air.
I pull my phone out of my pocket and call Dr. Lane as I walk. She won’t recognize this phone number, but she answers anyway.
“Dr. Lane, it’s Jon Duncan.”
“Mr. President? I’ve been trying to reach you all afternoon.”
“I know. I’ve been busy.”
“Your count is continuing to drop. You’re under sixteen thousand.”
“Okay, I’m doubling up on the steroids, like I promised.”
“It’s not enough. You need immediate treatment.”
I almost walk into oncoming traffic, not paying attention as I step into a crosswalk. An SUV driver lays on the horn, in case I hadn’t noticed my mistake.
“I’m not at ten thousand yet,” I say to Dr. Lane.
“That’s a guideline. Everyone is different. You could be suffering internal bleeding as we speak.”
“But that’s unlikely,” I say. “The MRI was negative yesterday.”
“Yesterday, yes. Today? Who knows?”
I reach the lot where my car is parked. I hand over my ticket and cash, and the attendant hands me the keys.
“Mr. President, you’re surrounded by talented and capable people. I’m sure they could keep on top of things for a few hours while you take a treatment. I thought presidents delegated.”
They do. Most of the time. But this I can’t delegate. And I can’t tell her, or anyone else, why.
“I hear everything you’re saying, Deborah. I have to go now. Keep your phone handy.”
I punch out the phone, start up the car, and drive through thick traffic. Thinking about the girl in the Princeton T-shirt—Nina to my daughter.
Thinking about “Dark Ages.”
Thinking about my next meeting tonight, threats I can issue, offers I can make.
A man holding a white sign that says
waves me into a lot. I pay money and follow another man’s directions to a spot. I keep my keys and walk for two blocks until I stop in front of a medium-rise apartment building bearing the name
CAMDEN SOUTH CAPITOL
over the entrance. Across the street, there is a roar from the crowd.
I cross the boulevard, no easy task with the traffic. A man passes me saying, “Who needs two? Who needs two?”
I remove the envelope Nina gave me and pull out the single colorful ticket to tonight’s game, the Nationals versus the Mets.
At the left-field gate of Nationals Park, attendants are processing people through a metal detector, wanding people who don’t pass the test, checking bags for weapons. I wait my place in line, but it’s a short wait. The game has already started.
My seat is in section 104, nosebleed seats. I’m accustomed to the best seats in the house, a skybox or behind home plate or right off the dugout on the third-base line. But I like this better, here in the left-field stands. My view isn’t the greatest, but it feels more real.
I look around, but there’s no point. It will happen when it happens. My job is to sit here and wait.
Ordinarily I’d be like a kid in a candy store here. I’d grab a Budweiser and a hot dog. You can shelve all those microbrews: at a ball game, there is no finer beverage than an ice-cold Bud. And no food ever tasted so good as a dog with mustard at a ball game, not even my mama’s rib tips with vinegar sauce.
I’d kick back and remember those days hurling fastballs at UNC, dreams of a pro career when the Royals drafted me in the fourth round, my year in Double A with the Memphis Chicks, sweating on buses, icing my elbow at night in dive motels, playing before crowds numbering only in the hundreds, eating Big Macs and dipping Copenhagen.
But no beer for me tonight. My stomach is already in turmoil as I wait for my visitor, the Princeton girl’s partner.
My phone vibrates in the pocket of my jeans. The caller ID on the screen reads
Carolyn texts a single number:
I type back
and hit Send.
This is our code for a status update: so far so good. But I’m not sure everything is so good so far. I’m late to the ball game. Did he already come and go? Did I miss him?
That couldn’t be. But there’s nothing I can do but sit here and wait and watch the game. The Mets pitcher has a live arm but overthrows his split-fingered fastball, which is why it won’t drop. The Nationals leadoff hitter, a lefty, is in an obvious bunt situation with men on first and second and the third baseman staying back. The pitcher should throw high and inside, but he doesn’t. He gets lucky when the batter can’t get the bunt down either time he tries. Ultimately, with two strikes, the kid lofts a long fly ball to deep left field, toward me. Instinctively the crowd rises, but he got under it too much, and the Mets left fielder hauls it in short of the warning track.
When we all sit back down, someone in my peripheral vision is still standing, angling down the row toward me. He is wearing a Nationals cap that looks brand-new, but otherwise he looks completely out of place at a baseball game. I know instantly that the seat he’s going to take is the open one next to mine.
This man is Nina’s partner. It’s time.
he assassin known as Bach closes the door, locking herself in the small bathroom. She draws a shaky breath, drops to her knees, and vomits into the toilet.
When she’s done, her eyes stinging, her stomach knotted up, she takes a breath and falls back on her haunches. This is no good. Unacceptable.
When she’s able to, she stands up, flushes the toilet, and uses Clorox wipes to thoroughly scrub the toilet, then flushes the wipes, too. No trace evidence, no DNA.
That is the last time she will vomit tonight. Period.
She checks herself in the dingy mirror above the sink. Her wig is blond, a bun. Her uniform is sky blue. Not optimal, but she didn’t get to pick the outfits worn by the cleaning crew at the Camden South Capitol apartments.
When she emerges from the bathroom into the maintenance room, the three men are still standing there, likewise dressed in light-blue shirts and dark trousers. One of the men is so muscular that his biceps and chest nearly bulge out of his shirt. She took an instant dislike to him when she met him earlier today. First because he stands out. Nobody in their profession should stand out. And second because he has probably relied too often on his brute strength and not enough on wits and skill and a nasty temperament.
The other two are acceptable. Wiry and solid but not physically impressive. Homely, forgettable faces.
“Feeling better?” the muscle-bound guy says. The other two react with a smile until they see the look on Bach’s face.
“Better than you’re going to feel,” she says, “if you ask me that again.”
Don’t mess with a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy, with morning sickness that isn’t limited, apparently, to the morning. Especially one who specializes in high-risk assassinations.
She turns to the leader of the trio, a bald man with a glass eye.
He raises his hands in apology. “No disrespect, no disrespect,” he says. His English is good, though heavily accented—the Czech Republic, if she’s guessing.
She puts out her hand. The leader hands her an earbud. She fits it in her ear, and the man does the same.
“Status?” she asks.
Through her earbud comes the answer.
“He has arrived. Our team is ready.”
“Then we will all take our positions,” she says.
With her weapon case and duffel bag in tow, Bach takes the freight elevator. While inside, she removes a black coat from her bag and puts it on. She removes her wig for the time being and puts on a black ski cap. She is now dressed from head to toe in black.
She gets off the elevator at the top and climbs the stairs to the door to the roof. As promised, it is unlocked. The wind on the roof is swirling, but it’s nothing for which she can’t adjust. She feels certain it will rain at some point. But at least it has held off until now. Had this silly sporting event been canceled altogether, her operation would have been aborted.
So now she must be prepared for the rain interrupting this sports contest, forcing thousands of people out at once, hidden amid a sea of umbrellas. She once killed a Turkish ambassador by firing a bullet through an umbrella into his brain, but he was with only one other person on a quiet street. Her problem tonight will be acquiring her target in the first scenario—should a mass of people move simultaneously through the exits.
That’s what the ground teams are for.
She opens her weapon case using the thumb recognition and assembles Anna Magdalena, her semiautomatic rifle, mounting the tactical scope, loading the magazine.
She moves into place, crouching down under the cover of near darkness. The sun will set in less than twenty minutes, which will obscure her position on the roof all the more.
She gets herself into position and focuses the scope. She finds the entrance she’s looking for, the left-field gate.
She will wait. It could be five minutes. It could be three hours. And then she will be called upon to act almost immediately with deadly precision. But this is what she does, and she has never failed.
Oh, how she longs to put on her headphones and listen to a piano concerto! But every job is different, and for this one, she needs an advance team giving her prompts in her ear. They could come at any time, so instead of listening to Andrea Bacchetti playing Keyboard Concerto no. 4 at the Teatro Olimpico di Vicenza, she listens to automobile traffic, the cheers of a crowded stadium, blasts of organ music revving up the crowd, and occasional updates from the advance team.
She breathes in, breathes out. Lets her pulse slow. Keeps her finger close to but free of the trigger. There is no point in impatience. The target will come to her, as always.
And as always, she will not miss.