Authors: Dale Amidei
Tags: #Suspense & Thrillers, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Fiction
“Now Janine thinks I’m having her followed, or something. I never heard what spooked her. For all I know, it’s paranoia. Hell … maybe she’s been doing coke, too.” Bradley stood once more. “I only know it’s over. Eleven months and six days tomorrow.” His jaw clenched. His eyes fixed on her own now, weakening her resolve. “I guess I wanted you to hear it from me.”
Boone felt the sadness of her expression radiate. “Oh, bullshit. You needed someone to listen to you vent, and there
no one else. You don’t have enough
in your life, Terrence Bain Bradley. All you have are seventeen agencies full of spooks and their emergencies. You should work on that … until I see you again.”
The DNI—her boss, her friend and once not long enough ago her lover—nodded, perhaps realizing himself the danger of the two of them being alone in this room. “Not a bad idea, Doctor H. Thanks for the advice.” He moved uncomfortably near, passing in front of her to walk toward her door.
Staring at his back, still holding herself, she did not dare to join him there. “Keep me in the loop, Terrence, please?” she pleaded in a low voice.
“You’ve got it, Agent Hildebrandt,” he replied, forcing himself, as she could tell, to use his Director's Voice. He was through the door a second later—and not a moment too soon.
Her hand went to her face as she clutched her eyes and slowly shook her head, amazed at the devastation she could wreak by trying to help a friend. Dr. Rebecca Boone Hildebrandt, Level One Case Officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, raised her chin and stared into space, her fingers now at her trembling lips.
Oh, Terry, you poor man. I’m so sorry.
Four months later
It will be dawn soon. Is the symbolism not delicious?
Valka Gerard, though she was standing offstage and not on the floor in the midst of his jubilant supporters, applauded with a vigor equal to any of them. Their President—and her protégé—now occupied the stage for his campaign victory speech.
The overnight wait had been long and tense. Going into the evening, Gerard knew the ground game to be in place in the key battleground states. She also knew the precinct captains in the urban areas—those where critical votes could most easily be generated by any number of methods—to be meticulously marshaled and schooled by her party’s National Committee. Despite the challenger’s slight lead in the polls leading up to Election Day, she believed the outcome was never really in doubt. Nevertheless, Ohio, the last state to be called and holding the deciding bundle of electoral votes, remained too close to call only an hour previously. Once the reserve ballots in Cuyahoga County were added to the tally, her President was indisputably in the lead there as well. Even the Eagle Network was forced to declare the long contest—and the hours of Election Night standby—finally to be over.
A gracious concession from the opposing candidate had followed, and then it was time to reward the patience of the true believers in the McCormick center.
Expectations are to be put into place. Idolization is to be promoted. Catharsis is then released as reinforcement.
Better than almost any other woman on Earth, Valka Gerard knew how to bring a politician into power in the twenty-first century.
This is how things are done.
And we are so much better at it than the other side.
The applause of the crowd seemed to be building on itself rather than subsiding.
And why not? It was held long enough in waiting
. Those managing the audience, per direction, had yet made no move to settle them down. The effect was as much a part of the man’s aura as any of the campaign’s many other engineered moments.
Our side knows how to win. And in the end, that’s all that really matters.
Finally, once the arm raising, the gestures of acknowledgment and the broad smiles from the stage had placated enough of the significant attendees, the TelePrompTer system illuminated. She knew the floor crew would now begin the process of quieting the crowd so as to allow the man to speak. Indeed, when it was time, he began his delivery.
Gerard had not bothered to review the text of his address this time, allowing the President and his speechwriters to indulge themselves. It would be much the same as before, she was certain. Long on promises and nonspecific in regard to means, it would feed image and not perception. This, too, was part of the overarching strategy of those who knew How Things Were Done. The masses needed someone in whom to believe, not immersion in the minutiae of policy.
Strategy is information for leaders, not followers.
Instead of listening to the speech, Gerard watched the faces of the people in the front ranks, those who had not even considered seeking a seat farther back on the floor or in the rows above. Few of them knew—or would care if it was so—how many of his words were actually hers. It had been so from the time he emerged from Illinois politics onto the national stage of his first and only Senate campaign.
A naturalized citizen, she was one who had come out from her native Estonia with her parents in the 1950s. As a result, it was
who could never directly experience election to the highest office in this land. Regardless, this night was hers as much as the President’s. Her philosophies, her strategizing, her priorities and her initiatives had constructed him whom the adoring faces in the front rows believed they saw. From such levels of support was derived the dedicated action of a campaign, and from action derived power.
And power is what allows us to reshape a society into what it needs to become in order to accommodate the future.
The shape of things to come, she believed, would envelop and propel her politics into prominence, becoming the accepted norm.
Too much time and energy is wasted in the current system. We need defined leadership. They need to accept reality without question; it is
who make the guiding decisions. Only then can the true engine of progress begin to turn and move us forward.
night, effectively the beginning of the
term, which her every effort of the last two years had gone toward securing. The first four years in office, though they contained their own achievements, were merely the launching pad for the second. Valka saw something other than raw emotions in the sleep-deprived faces of the crowd now listening to him speak. She saw opportunity … and ever-growing
The President’s Senior Advisor saw a significant barrier lowered now with concerns over re-election to a second term evaporated.
Demonstrated intent could now replace restraint for the sake of appearance. Candor would overtake inhibition. The subtlety of the first term was coming to an end though none of the smooth words now flowing across the reflective screens on either side of his podium would exhibit transition. She watched his head swivel from the left display to the one on his right, noting the set of his shoulders as he emphasized what they would hear as a significant highlight. She observed his practiced smile and accentuating nod as he delivered the image of a leader for the benefit of the cameras. Network news faithfully propagating the delivery was a given.
This is his victory. This is his night. But the things to come will be mine.
With the rest of them, Valka Gerard applauded when the time came. Her introspection moved into the background of her mind, interrupted by the crowd’s programmed response to his cogent delivery. She did not feel the need for any recognition. No, visibility could sometimes itself prove counterproductive. A Senior Advisor required only respect for the power she had come to wield from the back offices of the West Wing. Respect, as she knew well after so many years in politics, was learned.
Those who do not yet know will be need to be educated, and those who stand in the way will need to burn
. She could barely wait to begin as she applauded once more, just as everyone in attendance did. Though her role was much different than theirs, she joined them so as not to detract from the moment, the purpose of the gathering. The apparent masked the unapparent this night, always as it did in successful strategy.
“Valka, dear, let me offer my congratulations.”
The deep, accented voice emanating from over her left shoulder belonged, she knew, to none other than Benedek Jancsi Novak. Like her, the man was also of foreign birth though his extraction was Carpathian. The Hungarian-American’s
however, were the internationally recognized colors of green and gold. From an accumulation of wealth thousands of times greater, he lavished millions exclusively on causes such as the long campaign effort which had only just prevailed this night.
“Benedek! How good it is that you should join us,” she said, turning to greet him with her most dazzling smile. The embrace and kiss on the cheek were perfunctory. His heavy features radiated as much of a sense of satisfaction, she was sure, as did her own. The financier, she was certain, had leveraged buyouts and brought down currencies using sums making the expenditures of other major campaign contributors seem trivial.
This night is partially his as well, and the man knows as much.
“A hard-fought victory!” he exclaimed, beaming. His voice took on a lower, more subtextual tone. “And to the victor belong the spoils. Was it not one of your own who said it so long ago?”
“Indeed Benedek … William Learned Marcy, who was a distinguished senator in his time if my recollection of history does not fail me.” Her eyes returned to the supporters who had by now joined her President on stage to culminate the celebration.
Supporters … but not insiders. We know our own.
Commenting with obvious derision, Novak replied, “Ah,
.” He included an addendum as his smile returned. “Yet, it is possible to transform them into a more useful commodity, is it not so?”
” she reproved him. Her eyes settled once more on one of her party’s most ardent and well-financed backers. “I must thank you for the use of the jet. The value of the time it saved me during the course of the campaign is
He gestured expansively. “Operating costs are
my dear. And please, forgive my cynicism. It is an aftereffect of time spent in the real world.” The billionaire motioned toward the stage. “Your show is almost over, Valka. Whatever will occupy your days to come?”
As if you need to ask, old man.
Valka restrained the smirk as her first inclination in response to his question. “All things in their own time, of course.”
Look at him. He understands completely without a word needing to be said.
“Ah, yes, and are those not the sweetest?” His eyes had followed hers to the stage. After a moment, his gaze returned from there to her again. “They are the fruits of patience, and the harvest of timing which acquiesces to the demands of practicality. Agendas … aged in reserve to perfection. It is much the same in politics as business.”
They will all be the same concern soon. And you know how you will be there with us, don’t you, my old friend?
Her eyes engaged his with warmth reserved for only a few. “You wax poetic tonight! You know we are grateful for your support in
area, Benedek. Not only your money, but your advice, and always your
insight.” She thought the Hungarian look pleased.
Yes, Benedek Jancsi. You know it is time.
“Rest assured, dear lady, I will be there. With what shall we start?”
“The matter we last discussed, I should think. The moment seems to have arrived, does it not?”
He appeared to agree. “Yes, yes. All is in place, just as we expected.” He smiled faintly. Their conversation concluded, with the late hour seeming to finally register on his flagging exuberance. He gave her one last evaluating glance.
A businessman’s expression.
She had seen it before
“The hour is late, my dear, and it seems for now we have done everything necessary. Tomorrow brings its own priorities. Rest assured I will be attending those forthwith.”
Valka Gerard delivered her last smile aimed at him just as expertly as she had her first. This one required less effort as he took her hand. “Until I hear from you again, Benedek … thank you in advance for your help in what we will do together.”
“Indeed, my dear. Indeed.” The financier moved away, and his people—experts themselves in remaining in the background—left with him.
At the same time, her assigned Secret Service agents carefully repositioned themselves in the shadows, even farther out of the glare of the klieg lights trained on the stage.
So it begins already,
she thought as she watched Novak and his entourage depart. Initiative upon initiative waited to follow, like water flowing over the top of a dam. The administration she served was now poised to transform the country. The other nations of the world waited in queue.
Chapter 2 - Level Zero
Fairfax County, Virginia
Traffic was light on the 495 heading up from Annandale. Rex Schilling knew it was due to the delayed election returns. The morning’s news had fully validated his late-night decision to give up on waiting and hit the rack. Whatever the outcome, he had known his body would still need a minimum amount of sleep to operate with anywhere near the mental efficiency his position regularly demanded.
The election results—and an account of the swing-state drama preceding them—were prominently featured on his clock radio’s top-of-the-hour headlines upon his waking, and the reporting had not been to his liking. As the Senior Case Officer for USIC Director Terry Bradley, however, Rex oversaw assignments which were at their core disturbing and intolerable nearly every day.
At least today, none of them will involve management infighting. Ohio was called at four in the morning. Good God, half the town will probably be sleeping until noon.