The hastily called meeting in the Oval Office had been going on for only a few minutes and the air was already crackling with dissension.

The secretary of defense was saying, "If we delay any longer, the situation is going to get completely out of control. It will be too late to stop it."

"We can't rush into this." General Stephen Gossard turned to the head of the CIA. "How hard is your information?"

"It's difficult to say. We're fairly certain that Libya is buying a variety of weapons from Iran and China."

Oliver turned to the secretary of state. "Libya denies it?"

"Of course. So do China and Iran."

Oliver asked, "What about the other Arab states?"

The CIA chief responded. "From the information I have, Mr. President, if a serious attack is launched on Israel, I think it's going to be the excuse that all the other Arab states have been waiting for. They'll join in to wipe Israel out."

They were all looking at Oliver expectantly. "Do you have reliable assets in Libya?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"I want an update. Keep me informed. If there are signs of an attack, we have no choice but to move."

The meeting was adjourned.

Oliver's secretary's voice came over the intercom. "Mr. Tager would like to see you, Mr. President."

"Have him come in."

"How did the meeting go?" Peter Tager asked.

"Oh, it was just your average meeting," Oliver said bitterly, "about whether I want to start a war now or later."

Tager said sympathetically, "It goes with the territory."


"Something of interest has come up."

"Sit down."

Peter Tager took a seat. "What do you know about the United Arab Emirates?"

"Not a lot," Oliver said. "Five or six Arab states got together twenty years ago or so and formed a coalition."

"Seven of them. They joined together in 1971. Abu Dhabi, Fujaira, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Qaiwan, and Ajman. When they started out, they weren't very strong, but the Emirates have been incredibly well run. Today they have one of the world's highest standards of living. Their gross domestic product last year was over thirty-nine billion dollars."

Oliver said impatiently, "I assume there's a point to this, Peter?"

"Yes, sir. The head of the council of the United Arab Emirates wants to meet with you."

"All right. I'll have the secretary of defense - "

"Today. In private."

"Are you serious? I couldn't possibly - "

"Oliver, the Majlis - their council - is one of the most important Arab influences in the world. It has the respect of every other Arab nation. This could be an important breakthrough. I know this is unorthodox, but I think you should meet with them."

"State would have a fit if I - "

"I'll make the arrangements."

There was a long silence. "Where do they want to meet?"

"They have a yacht anchored in Chesapeake Bay, near Annapolis. I can get you there quietly."

Oliver sat there, studying the ceiling. Finally, he leaned forward and pressed down the intercom switch. "Cancel my appointments for this afternoon."

The yacht, a 212-foot Feadship, was moored at the dock. They were waiting for him. All the crew members were Arabs.

"Welcome, Mr. President." It was Ali al-Fulani, the secretary at one of the United Arab Emirates. "Please come aboard."

Oliver stepped aboard and Ali al-Fulani signaled to one of the men. A few moments later, the yacht was underway.

"Shall we go below?"

Right. Where I can be killed or kidnapped. This is the stupidest thing I have ever done, Oliver decided. Maybe they brought me here so they can begin their attack on Israel, and I won't be able to give orders to retaliate. Why the hell did I let Tager talk me into this?

Oliver followed Ali al-Fulani downstairs into the sumptuous main saloon, which was decorated in Middle Eastern style. There were four muscular Arabs standing on guard in the saloon. An imposing-looking man seated on the couch rose as Oliver came in.

Ali al-Fulani said, "Mr. President, His Majesty King Hamad of Ajman."

The two men shook hands. "Your Majesty."

"Thank you for coming, Mr. President. Would you care for some tea?"

"No, thank you."

"I believe you will find this visit well worth your while." King Hamad began to pace. "Mr. President, over the centuries, it has been difficult, if not impossible, to bridge the problems that divide us - philosophical, linguistic, religious, cultural. Those are the reasons there have been so many wars in our part of the world. If Jews confiscate the land of Palestinians, no one in Omaha or Kansas is affected. Their lives go on the same. If a synagogue in Jerusalem is bombed, the Italians in Rome and Venice pay no attention."

Oliver wondered where this was heading. Was it a warning of a coming war?

"There is only one part of the world that suffers from all the wars and bloodshed in the Middle East. And that is the Middle East."

He sat down across from Oliver. "It is time for us to put a stop to this madness."

Here it comes, Oliver thought.

"The heads of the Arab states and the Majlis have authorized me to make you an offer."

"What kind of an offer?"

"An offer of peace."

Oliver blinked. "Peace?"

"We want to make peace with your ally, Israel. Your embargoes against Iran and other Arab countries have cost us untold billions of dollars. We want to put an end to that. If the United States will act as a sponsor, the Arab countries - including Iran, Libya, and Syria - have agreed to sit down and negotiate a permanent peace treaty with Israel."

Oliver was stunned. When he found his voice, he said, "You're doing this because - "

"I assure you it is not out of love for the Israelis or for the Americans. It is in our own interests. Too many of our sons have been killed in this madness. We want it to end. It is enough. We want to be free to sell all our oil to the world again. We are prepared to go to war if necessary, but we would prefer peace."

Oliver took a deep breath. "I think I would like some tea."

"I wish you had been there," Oliver said to Peter Tager. "It was incredible. They're ready to go to war, but they don't want to. They're pragmatists. They want to sell their oil to the world, so they want peace."

"That's fantastic," Tager said enthusiastically. "When this gets out, you're going to be a hero."

"And I can do this on my own," Oliver told him. "It doesn't have to go through Congress. I'll have a talk with the Prime Minister of Israel. We'll help him make a deal with the Arab countries." He looked at Tager and said ruefully, "For a few minutes there, I thought I was going to be kidnapped."

"No chance," Peter Tager assured him. "I had a boat and a helicopter following you."

"Senator Davis is here to see you, Mr. President. He has no appointment, but he says it's urgent."

"Hold up my next appointment and send the senator in."

The door opened and Todd Davis walked into the Oval Office.

"This is a nice surprise, Todd. Is everything all right?"

Senator Davis took a seat. "Fine, Oliver. I just thought you and I should have a little chat."

Oliver smiled. "I have a pretty full schedule today, but for you - "

"This will take only a few minutes. I ran into Peter Tager. He told me about your meeting with the Arabs."

Oliver grinned. "Isn't that wonderful? It looks like we're finally going to have peace in the Middle East." He slammed a fist on the desk. "After all these decades! That's what my administration is going to be remembered for, Todd."

Senator Davis asked quietly, "Have you thought this through, Oliver?"

Oliver frowned. "What? What do you mean?"

"Peace is a simple word, but it has a lot of ramifications. Peace doesn't have any financial benefits. When there's a war, countries buy billions of dollars' worth of armaments that are made here in the United States. In peacetime, they don't need any. Because Iran can't sell its oil, oil prices are up, and the United States gets the benefit of that."

Oliver was listening to him unbelievingly. "Todd - this is the opportunity of a lifetime!"

"Don't be naive, Oliver. If we had really wanted to make peace between Israel and the Arab countries, we could have done it long ago. Israel is a tiny country. Any one of the last half-dozen presidents could have forced them to make a deal with the Arabs, but they preferred to keep things as they were. Don't misunderstand me. Jews are fine people. I work with some of them in the Senate."

"I don't believe that you can - "

"Believe what you like, Oliver. A peace treaty now would not be in the best interest of this country. I don't want you to go ahead with it."

"I have to go ahead with it."

"Don't tell me what you have to do, Oliver." Senator Davis leaned forward. "I'll tell you. Don't forget who put you in that chair."

Oliver said quietly, "Todd, you may not respect me, but you must respect this office. Regardless of who put me here, I'm the president."

Senator Davis got to his feet. "The president? You're a fucking blow-up toy! You're my dummy, Oliver. You take orders, you don't give them."

Oliver looked at him for a long moment. "How many oil fields do you and your friends own, Todd?"

"That's none of your goddam business. If you go through with this, you're finished. Do you hear me? I'm giving you twenty-four hours to come to your senses."

At dinner that evening, Jan said, "Father asked me to talk to you, Oliver. He's very upset."

He looked across the table at his wife and thought, I'm going to have to fight you, too.

"He told me what was happening."

"Did he?"

"Yes." She leaned across the table. "And I think what you're going to do is wonderful."

It took a moment for Oliver to understand. "But your father's against it."

"I know. And he's wrong. If they're willing to make peace - you have to help."

Oliver sat there listening to Jan's words, studying her. He thought about how well she had handled herself as the First Lady. She had become involved in important charities and had been an advocate for a half-dozen major causes. She was lovely and intelligent and caring and - it was as though Oliver were seeing her for the first time. Why have I been running around? Oliver thought. I have everything I need right here.

"Will it be a long meeting tonight?"

"No," Oliver said slowly. "I'm going to cancel it. I'm staying home."

That evening, Oliver made love to Jan for the first time in weeks, and it was wonderful. And in the morning, he thought, I'm going to have Peter get rid of the apartment.

The note was on his desk the next morning.

I want you to know that I am a real fan of yours, and I would not do anything to harm you. I was in the garage of the Monroe Arms on the 15th, and I was very surprised to see you there. The next day when I read about the murder of that young girl, I knew why you went back to wipe your fingerprints off the elevator buttons. I'm sure that all the newspapers would be interested in my story and would pay me a lot of money. But like I said, I'm a fan of yours. I certainly would not want to do anything to hurt you. I could use some financial help, and if you are interested, this will be just between us. I will get in touch with you in a few days while you think about it.


A friend

"Jesus," Sime Lombardo said softly. "This is incredible. How was it delivered?"

"It was mailed," Peter Tager told him. "Addressed to the president, 'Personal.'"

Sime Lombardo said, "It could be some nut who's just trying to - "

"We can't take a chance, Sime. I don't believe for a minute that it's true, but if even a whisper of this gets out, it would destroy the president We must protect him."

"How do we do that?"

"First, we have to find out who sent this."

Peter Tager was at the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters at 10th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, talking to Special Agent Clay Jacobs.

"You said it was urgent, Peter?"

"Yes." Peter Tager opened a briefcase and took out a single sheet of paper. He slid it across the desk. Clay Jacobs picked it up and read it aloud:

" 'I want you to know that I'm a real fan of yours...I will get in touch with you in a few days while you think about it.' "

Everything in between had been whited out.

Jacobs looked up. "What is this?"

"It involves the highest security," Peter Tager said. "The president asked me to try to find out who sent it. He would like you to check it for fingerprints."

Clay Jacobs studied the paper again, frowning. "This is highly unusual, Peter."


"It just smells wrong."

"All the president wants is for you to give him the name of the individual who wrote it."

"Assuming his fingerprints are on it."

Peter Tager nodded. "Assuming his fingerprints are on it."

"Wait here." Jacobs rose and left the office.

Peter Tager sat there looking out the window, thinking about the letter and its possible terrible consequences.

Exactly seven minutes later, Clay Jacobs returned.

"You're in luck," he said.

Peter Tager's heart began to race. "You found something?"

"Yes." Jacobs handed Tager a slip of paper. "The man you're looking for was involved in a traffic accident about a year ago. His name is Carl Gorman. He works as a clerk at the Monroe Arms." He stood there a moment, studying Tager. "Is there anything else you'd like to tell me about this?"

"No," Peter Tager said sincerely. "There isn't."

"Frank Lonergan is on line three, Miss Stewart. He says it's urgent."

"I'll take it." Leslie picked up the telephone and pressed a button. "Frank?"

"Are you alone?"


She heard him take a deep breath. "Okay. Here we go." He spoke for the next ten minutes without interruption.

Leslie Stewart hurried into Matt Baker's office. "We have to talk, Matt." She sat down across from his desk. "What if I told you that Oliver Russell is involved in the murder of Chloe Houston?"

"For openers, I'd say you are paranoid and that you've gone over the edge."

"Frank Lonergan just phoned in. He talked to Governor Houston, who doesn't believe that Paul Yerby killed her daughter. He talked to Paul Yerby's parents. They don't believe it either."

"I wouldn't expect them to," Matt Baker said. "If that's the only - "

"That's just the beginning. Frank went down to the morgue and spoke to the coroner. She told him that the kid's belt was so tight that they had to cut it away from his throat."

He was listening more intently now. "And - ?"

"Frank went down to pick up Yerby's belongings. His belt was there. Intact."

Matt Baker drew a deep breath. "You're telling me that he was murdered in prison and that there was a cover-up?"

"I'm not telling you anything. I'm just reporting the facts. Oliver Russell tried to get me to use Ecstasy once. When he was running for governor, a woman who was a legal secretary died from Ecstasy. While he was governor, his secretary was found in a park in an Ecstasy-induced coma. Lonergan learned that Oliver called the hospital and suggested they take her off life-support systems." Leslie leaned forward. "There was a telephone call from the Imperial Suite to the White House the night Chloe Houston was murdered. Frank checked the hotel telephone records. The page for the fifteenth was missing. The president's appointments secretary told Lonergan that the president had a meeting with General Whitman that night. There was no meeting. Frank spoke to Governor Houston, and she said that Chloe was on a tour of the White House and that she had arranged for her daughter to meet the president."

There was a long silence. "Where's Frank Lonergan now?" Matt Baker asked.

"He's tracking down Carl Gorman, the hotel clerk who booked the Imperial Suite."

Jeremy Robinson was saying, "I'm sorry. We don't give out personal information about our employees."

Frank Lonergan said, "All I'm asking for is his home address so I can - "

"It wouldn't do you any good. Mr. Gorman is on vacation."

Lonergan sighed. "That's too bad. I was hoping he could fill in a few blank spots."

"Blank spots?"

"Yes. We're doing a big story on the death of Governor Houston's daughter in your hotel. Well, I'll just have to piece it together without Gorman." He took out a pad and a pen. "How long has this hotel been here? I want to know all about its background, its clientele, its - "

Jeremy Robinson frowned. "Wait a minute! Surely that's not necessary. I mean - she could have died anywhere."

Frank Lonergan said sympathetically, "I know, but it happened here. Your hotel is going to become as famous as Watergate."

"Mr. - ?"


"Mr. Lonergan, I would appreciate it if you could - I mean this kind of publicity is very bad. Isn't there some way - ?"

Lonergan was thoughtful for a moment. "Well, if I spoke to Mr. Gorman, I suppose I could find a different angle."

"I would really appreciate that. Let me get you his address."

Frank Lonergan was becoming nervous. As the outline of events began to take shape, it became clear that there was a murder conspiracy and a cover-up at the highest level. Before he went to see the hotel clerk, he decided to stop at his apartment house. His wife, Rita, was in the kitchen preparing dinner. She was a petite redhead with sparkling green eyes and a fair complexion. She turned in surprise as her husband walked in.

"Frank, what are you doing home in the middle of the day?"

"Just thought I'd drop in and say hello."

She looked at his face. "No. There's something going on. What is it?"

He hesitated. "How long has it been since you've seen your mother?"

"I saw her last week. Why?"

"Why don't you go visit her again, honey?"

"Is anything wrong?"

He grinned. "Wrong?" He walked over to the mantel. "You'd better start dusting this off. We're going to put a Pulitzer Prize here and a Peabody Award here."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm on to something that's going to blow everybody away - and I mean people in high places. It's the most exciting story I've ever been involved in."

"Why do you want me to go see my mother?"

He shrugged. "There's just an outside chance that this could get to be a little dangerous. There are some people who don't want this story to get out. I'd feel better if you were away for a few days, just until this breaks."

"But if you're in danger - "

"I'm not in any danger."

"You're sure nothing's going to happen to you?"

"Positive. Pack a few things, and I'll call you tonight."

"All right," Rita said reluctantly.

Lonergan looked at his watch. "I'll drive you to the train station."

One hour later, Lonergan stopped in front of a modest brick house in the Wheaton area. He got out of the car, walked to the front door, and rang the bell. There was no answer. He rang again and waited. The door suddenly swung open and a heavyset middle-aged woman stood in the doorway, regarding him suspiciously.


"I'm with the Internal Revenue Service," Lonergan said. He flashed a piece of identification. "I want to see Carl Gorman."

"My brother's not here."

"Do you know where he is?"

"No." Too fast.

Lonergan nodded. "That's a shame. Well, you might as well start packing up his things. I'll have the department send over the vans." Lonergan started back down the driveway toward his car.

"Wait a minute! What vans? What are you talking about?"

Lonergan stopped and turned. "Didn't your brother tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

Lonergan took a few steps back toward the house. "He's in trouble."

She looked at him anxiously. "What kind of trouble?"

"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to discuss it." He shook his head. "He seems like a nice guy, too."

"He is," she said fervently. "Carl is a wonderful person."

Lonergan nodded. "That was my feeling when we were questioning him down at the bureau."

She was panicky. "Questioning him about what?"

"Cheating on his income tax. It's too bad. I wanted to tell him about a loophole that could have helped him out, but - " He shrugged. "If he's not here..." He turned to go again.

"Wait! He's - he's at a fishing lodge. I - I'm not supposed to tell anybody."

He shrugged. "That's okay with me."

"No...but this is different. It's the Sunshine Fishing Lodge on the lake in Richmond, Virginia."

"Fine. I'll contact him there."

"That would be wonderful. You're sure he'll be all right?"

"Absolutely," Lonergan said. "I'll see that he's taken care of."

Lonergan took 1-95, heading south. Richmond was a little over a hundred miles away. On a vacation, years ago, Lonergan had fished the lake, and he had been lucky.

He hoped he would be as lucky this time.

It was drizzling, but Carl Gorman did not mind. That's when the fish were supposed to bite. He was fishing for striped bass, using large minnows on slip bobbers, far out behind the rowboat. The waves lapped against the small boat in the middle of the lake, and the bait drifted behind the boat, untouched. The fish were in no hurry. It did not matter. Neither was he. He had never been happier. He was going to be rich beyond his wildest dreams. It had been sheer luck. You have to be at the right place at the right time. He had returned to the Monroe Arms to pick up a jacket he had forgotten and was about to leave the garage when the private elevator door opened. When he saw who got out, he had sat in his car, stunned. He had watched the man return, wipe off his fingerprints, then drive away.

It was not until he read about the murder the following day that he had put it all together. In a way, he felt sorry for the man. I really am a fan of his. The trouble is, when you're that famous, you can never hide. Wherever you go, the world knows you. He'll pay me to be quiet. He has no choice. I'll start with a hundred thousand. Once he pays that, he'll have to keep paying. Maybe I'll buy a chateau in France or a chalet in Switzerland.

He felt a tug at the end of his line and snapped the rod toward him. He could feel the fish trying to get away. You're not going anywhere. I've got you hooked.

In the distance, he heard a large speedboat approaching. They shouldn't allow power boats on the lake. They'll scare all the fish away. The speedboat was bearing down on him.

"Don't get too close," Carl shouted.

The speedboat seemed to be heading right toward him.

"Hey! Be careful. Watch where you're going. For God's sake - "

The speedboat plowed into the rowboat, cutting it in half, the water sucking Gorman under.

Damn drunken fool! He was gasping for air. He managed to get his head above water. The speedboat had circled and was heading straight for him again. And the last thing Carl Gorman felt before the boat smashed into his skull was the tug of the fish on his line.

When Frank Lonergan arrived, the area was crowded with police cars, a fire engine, and an ambulance. The ambulance was just pulling away.

Frank Lonergan got out of his car and said to a bystander, "What's all the excitement?"

"Some poor guy was in an accident on the lake. There's not much left of him."

And Lonergan knew.

At midnight, Frank Lonergan was working at his computer, alone in his apartment, writing the story that was going to destroy the President of the United States. It was a story that would earn him a Pulitzer Prize. There was no doubt about it in his mind. This was going to make him more famous than Woodward and Bernstein. It was the story of the century.

He was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. He got up and walked over to the front door.

"Who is it?"

"A package from Leslie Stewart."

She's found some new information. He opened the door. There was a glint of metal, and an unbearable pain tore his chest apart.

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