Frank Lonergan's living room looked as if it had been struck by a miniature hurricane. All the drawers and cabinets had been pulled open and their contents had been scattered over the floor.

Nick Reese watched Frank Lonergan's body being removed. He turned to Detective Steve Brown. "Any sign of the murder weapon?"


"Have you talked to the neighbors?"

"Yeah. The apartment building is a zoo, full of monkeys. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Nada. Mrs. Lonergan is on her way back here. She heard the news on the radio. There have been a couple other robberies here in the last six months, and - "

"I'm not so sure this was a robbery."

"What do you mean?"

"Lonergan was down at headquarters the other day to check on Paul Yerby's things. I'd like to know what story Lonergan was working on. No papers in the drawers?"


"No notes?"


"So either he was very neat, or someone took the trouble to clean everything out." Reese walked over to the work table. There was a cable dangling off the table, connected to nothing. Reese held it up. "What's this?"

Detective Brown walked over. "It's a power cable for a computer. There must have been one here. That means there could be backups somewhere."

"They may have taken the computer, but Lonergan might have saved copies of his files. Let's check it out."

They found the backup disk in a briefcase in Lonergan's automobile. Reese handed it to Brown.

"I want you to take this down to headquarters. There's probably a password to get into it. Have Chris Colby look at it. He's an expert."

The front door of the apartment opened and Rita Lonergan walked in. She looked pale and distraught. She stopped when she saw the men.

"Mrs. Lonergan?"

"Who are - ?"

"Detective Nick Reese, Homicide. This is Detective Brown."

Rita Lonergan looked around. "Where is - ?"

"We had your husband's body taken away, Mrs. Lonergan. I'm terribly sorry. I know it's a bad time, but I'd like to ask you a few questions."

She looked at him, and her eyes suddenly filled with fear. The last reaction Reese had expected. What was she afraid of?

"Your husband was working on a story, wasn't he?"

His voice echoed in her mind. "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."

"Mrs. Lonergan?"

"I - I don't know anything."

"You don't know what assignment he was working on?"

"No. Frank never discussed his work with me."

She was obviously lying.

"You have no idea who might have killed him?"

She looked around at the open drawers and cabinets. "It - it must have been a burglar."

Detective Reese and Detective Brown looked at each other.

"If you don't mind, I'd - I'd like to be alone. This has been a terrible shock."

"Of course. Is there anything we can do for you?"

"No. Just...just leave."

"We'll be back," Nick Reese promised.

When Detective Reese returned to police headquarters, he telephoned Matt Baker. "I'm investigating the Frank Lonergan murder," Reese said. "Can you tell me what he was working on?"

"Yes. Frank was investigating the Chloe Houston killing."

"I see. Did he file a story?"

"No. We were waiting for it, when - " He stopped.

"Right. Thank you, Mr. Baker."

"If you get any information, will you let me know?"

"You'll be the first," Reese assured him.

The following morning, Dana Evans went into Tom Hawkins's office. "I want to do a story on Frank's death. I'd like to go see his widow."

"Good idea. I'll arrange for a camera crew."

Late that afternoon, Dana and her camera crew pulled up in front of Frank Lonergan's apartment building. With the crew following her, Dana approached Lonergan's apartment door and rang the bell. This was the kind of interview Dana dreaded. It was bad enough to show on television the victims of horrible crimes, but to intrude on the grief of the stricken families seemed even worse to her.

The door opened and Rita Lonergan stood there. "What do you - ?"

"I'm sorry to bother you, Mrs. Lonergan. I'm Dana Evans, with WTE. We'd like to get your reaction to - "

Rita Lonergan froze for a moment, and then screamed, "You murderers!" She turned and ran inside the apartment.

Dana looked at the cameraman, shocked. "Wait here." She went inside and found Rita Lonergan in the bedroom. "Mrs. Lonergan - "

"Get out! You killed my husband!"

Dana was puzzled. "What are you talking about?"

"Your people gave him an assignment so dangerous that he made me leave town because he...he was afraid for my life."

Dana looked at her, appalled. "What - what story was he working on?"

"Frank wouldn't tell me." She was fighting hysteria. "He said it was too - too dangerous. It was something big. He talked about the Pulitzer Prize and the - " She started to cry.

Dana went over to her and put her arms around her. "I'm so sorry. Did he say anything else?"

"No. He said I should get out, and he drove me to the train station. He was on his way to see some - some hotel clerk."


"At the Monroe Arms."

"I don't know why you're here, Miss Evans," Jeremy Robinson protested. "Lonergan promised me that if I cooperated, there would be no bad publicity about the hotel."

"Mr. Robinson, Mr. Lonergan is dead. All I want is some information."

Jeremy Robinson shook his head. "I don't know anything."

"What did you tell Mr. Lonergan?"

Robinson sighed. "He asked for the address of Carl Gorman, my hotel clerk. I gave it to him."

"Did Mr. Lonergan go to see him?"

"I have no idea."

"I'd like to have that address."

Jeremy looked at her a moment and sighed again. "Very well. He lives with his sister."

A few minutes later, Dana had the address in her hands. Robinson watched her leave the hotel, and then he picked up the phone and dialed the White House.

He wondered why they were so interested in the case.

Chris Colby, the department's computer expert, walked into Detective Reese's office holding a floppy disk. He was almost trembling with excitement.

"What did you get?" Detective Reese asked.

Chris Colby took a deep breath. "This is going to blow your mind. Here's a printout of what's on this disk."

Detective Reese started to read it and an incredulous expression came over his face. "Mother of God," he said. "I've got to show this to Captain Miller."

When Captain Otto Miller finished reading the printout, he looked up at Detective Reese. "I - I've never seen anything like this."

"There's never been anything like this," Detective Reese said. "What the hell do we do with it?"

Captain Miller said slowly, "I think we have to turn it over to the U.S. attorney general."

They were gathered in the office of Attorney General Barbara Gatlin. With her in the room were Scott Brandon, director of the FBI; Dean Bergstrom, the Washington chief of police; James Frisch, director of Central Intelligence, and Edgar Graves, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Barbara Gatlin said, "I asked you gentlemen here because I need your advice. Frankly, I don't know how to proceed. We have a situation that's unique. Frank Lonergan was a reporter for the Washington Tribune. When he was killed, he was in the middle of an investigation into the murder of Chloe Houston. I'm going to read you a transcript of what the police found on a disk in Lonergan's car." She looked at the printout in her hand and started to read aloud:

"'I have reason to believe that the President of the United States has committed at least one murder and is involved in four more - '"

"What?" Scott Brandon exclaimed.

"Let me go on." She started to read again.

" 'I obtained the following information from various sources. Leslie Stewart, the owner and publisher of the Washington Tribune, is willing to swear that at one time, Oliver Russell tried to persuade her to take an illegal drug called liquid Ecstasy.

"'When Oliver Russell was running for governor of Kentucky, Lisa Burnette, a legal secretary who worked in the state capitol building, threatened to sue him for sexual harassment. Russell told a colleague that he would have a talk with her. The next day, Lisa Burnette's body was found in the Kentucky River. She had died of an overdose of liquid Ecstasy.

"'Then-Governor Oliver Russell's secretary, Miriam Friedland, was found unconscious on a park bench late at night. She was in a coma induced by liquid Ecstasy. The police were waiting for her to come out of it so that they could find out who had given it to her. Oliver Russell telephoned the hospital and suggested they take her off life support. Miriam Friedland passed away without coming out of the coma.

"'Chloe Houston was killed by an overdose of liquid Ecstasy. I learned that on the night of her death, there was a phone call from the hotel suite to the White House. When I looked at the hotel telephone records to check it, the page for that day was missing.

"'I was told that the president was at a meeting that night, but I discovered that the meeting had been canceled. No one knows the president's whereabouts that night.

"'Paul Yerby was detained as a suspect in Chloe Houston's murder. Captain Otto Miller told the White House where Yerby was being held. The following morning Yerby was found hanging in his cell. He was supposed to have hanged himself with his belt, but when I looked through his effects at the police station, his belt was there, intact.

"'Through a friend at the FBI, I learned that a blackmail letter had been sent to the White House. President Russell asked the FBI to check it for fingerprints. Most of the letter had been whited out, but with the aid of an infrascope, the FBI was able to decipher it.

"'The fingerprints on the letter were identified as belonging to Carl Gorman, a clerk at the Monroe Arms Hotel, probably the only one who might have known the identity of the person who booked the suite where the girl was killed. He was away at a fishing camp, but his name had been revealed to the White House. When I arrived at the camp, Gorman had been killed in what appeared to be an accident.

"'There are too many connections for these killings to be a coincidence. I am going ahead with the investigation, but frankly, I'm frightened. At least I have this on the record, in case anything should happen to me. More later.'"

"My God," James Frisch exclaimed. "This is...horrible."

"I can't believe it."

Attorney General Gatlin said, "Lonergan believed it, and he was probably killed to stop this information from getting out."

"What do we do now?" Chief Justice Graves asked. "How do you ask the President of the United States if he's killed half a dozen people?"

"That's a good question. Impeach him? Arrest him? Throw him in jail?"

"Before we do anything," Attorney General Gatlin said, "I think we have to present this transcript to the president himself and give him an opportunity to comment."

There were murmurs of agreement.

"In the meantime, I'll have a warrant for his arrest drawn up. Just in case it's necessary."

One of the men in the room was thinking, I've got to inform Peter Tager.

Peter Tager put the telephone down and sat there for a long time, thinking about what he had just been told. He rose and walked down the corridor to Deborah Kanner's office.

"I have to see the president."

"He's in a meeting. If you can - "

"I have to see him now, Deborah. It's urgent"

She saw the look on his face. "Just a moment" She picked up the telephone and pressed a button. "I'm sorry to interrupt you, Mr. President Mr. Tager is here, and he said he must see you." She listened a moment. "Thank you." She replaced the receiver and turned to Tager. "Five minutes."

Five minutes later, Peter Tager was alone in the Oval Office with President Russell.

"What's so important, Peter?"

Tager took a deep breath. "The Attorney General and the FBI think you're involved in six murders."

Oliver smiled. "This is some kind of joke..."

"Is it? They're on their way here now. They believe you killed Chloe Houston and - "

Oliver had gone pale. "What?"

"I know - it's crazy. From what I was told, all the evidence is circumstantial. I'm sure you can explain where you were the night the girl died."

Oliver was silent.

Peter Tager was waiting. "Oliver, you can explain, can't you?"

Oliver swallowed. "No. I can't."

"You have to!"

Oliver said heavily, "Peter, I need to be alone."

Peter Tager went to see Senator Davis in the Capitol.

"What is it that's so urgent, Peter?"

"It's - it's about the president."


"The attorney general and the FBI think that Oliver is a murderer."

Senator Davis sat there staring at Tager. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"They're convinced Oliver's committed several murders. I got a tip from a friend at the FBI."

Tager told Senator Davis about the evidence.

When Tager was through, Senator Davis said slowly, "That dumb son of a bitch! Do you know what this means?"

"Yes, sir. It means that Oliver - "

"Fuck Oliver. I've spent years putting him where I want him. I don't care what happens to him. I'm in control now, Peter. I have the power. I'm not going to let Oliver's stupidity take it away from me. I'm not going to let anyone take it away from me!"

"I don't see what you can - "

"You said the evidence was all circumstantial?"

"That's right. I was told they have no hard proof. But he has no alibi."

"Where is the president now?"

"In the Oval Office."

"I've got some good news for him," Senator Todd Davis said.

Senator Davis was facing Oliver in the Oval Office. "I've been hearing some very disturbing things, Oliver. It's insane, of course. I don't know how anyone could possibly think you - "

"I don't, either. I haven't done anything wrong, Todd."

"I'm sure you haven't. But if word got out that you were even suspected of horrible crimes like these - well, you can see how this would affect the office, can't you?"

"Of course, but - "

"You're too important to let anything like this happen to you. This office controls the world, Oliver. You don't want to give this up."

"Todd - I'm not guilty of anything."

"But they think you are. I'm told you have no alibi for the evening of Chloe Houston's murder?"

There was a momentary silence. "No."

Senator Davis smiled. "What happened to your memory, son? You were with me that evening. We spent the whole evening together."

Oliver was looking at him, confused. "What?"

"That's right. I'm your alibi. No one's going to question my word. No one. I'm going to save you, Oliver."

There was a long silence. Oliver said, "What do you want in return, Todd?"

Senator Davis nodded. "We'll start with the Middle Eastern peace conference. You'll call that off. After that, we'll talk. I have great plans for us. We're not going to let anything spoil them."

Oliver said, "I'm going ahead with the peace conference."

Senator Davis's eyes narrowed. "What did you say?"

"I've decided to go ahead with it. You see, what's important is not how long a president stays in this office, Todd, but what he does when he's in it."

Senator Davis's face was turning red. "Do you know what you're doing?"


The senator leaned across the desk. "I don't think you do. They're on their way here to accuse you of murder, Oliver. Where are you going to make your goddam deals from - the penitentiary? You've just thrown your whole life away, you stupid - "

A voice came over the intercom. "Mr. President, there are some people here to see you. Attorney General Gatlin, Mr. Brandon from the FBI, Chief Justice Graves, and - "

"Send them in."

Senator Davis said savagely, "It looks like I should stick to judging horseflesh. I made a big mistake with you, Oliver. But you just made the biggest mistake of your life. I'm going to destroy you."

The door opened and Attorney General Gatlin entered, followed by Brandon, Justice Graves, and Bergstrom.

Justice Graves said, "Senator Davis..."

Todd Davis nodded curtly and strode out of the room. Barbara Gatlin closed the door behind him. She walked up to the desk.

"Mr. President, this is highly embarrassing, but I hope you will understand. We have to ask you some questions."

Oliver faced them. "I've been told why you're here. Of course, I had nothing to do with any of those deaths."

"I'm sure we're all relieved to hear that, Mr. President," Scott Brandon said, "and I assure you that none of us really believes that you could be involved. But an accusation has been made, and we have no choice but to pursue it."

"I understand."

"Mr. President, have you ever taken the drug Ecstasy?"


The group looked at one another.

"Mr. President, if you could tell us where you were on October fifteenth, the evening of Chloe Houston's death..."

There was a silence.

"Mr. President?"

"I'm sorry. I can't."

"But surely you can remember where you were, or what you were doing on that evening?"


"Mr. President?"

"I - I can't think right now. I'd like you to come back later."

"How much later?" Bergstrom asked.

"Eight o'clock."

Oliver watched them leave. He got up and slowly walked into the small sitting room where Jan was working at a desk. She looked up as Oliver entered.

He took a deep breath and said, "Jan, I - I have a confession to make."

Senator Davis was in an icy rage. How could I have been so stupid? I picked the wrong man. He's trying to destroy everything Vve worked for. I'll teach him what happens to people who try to double-cross me. The Senator sat at his desk for a long time, deciding what he was going to do. Then he picked up a telephone and dialed.

"Miss Stewart, you told me to call you when I had something more for you."

"Yes, Senator?"

"Let me tell you what I want. From now on, I'll expect the full support of the Tribune - campaign contributions, glowing editorials, the works."

"And what do I get in exchange for all this?" Leslie asked.

"The President of the United States. The attorney general has just sworn out a warrant for his arrest for a series of murders."

There was a sharp intake of breath. "Keep talking."

Leslie Stewart was speaking so fast that Matt Baker could not understand a word. "For God's sake, calm down," he said. "What are you trying to say?"

"The president! We've got him, Matt! I just talked to Senator Todd Davis. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, the chief of police, the director of the FBI, and the U.S. attorney general are in the president's office now with a warrant for his arrest on charges of murder. There's a pile of evidence against him, Matt, and he has no alibi. It's the story of the goddam century!"

"You can't print it."

She looked at him in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"Leslie, a story like this is too big to just - I mean the facts have to be checked and rechecked - "

"And rechecked again until it becomes a headline in The Washington Post? No, thank you. I'm not going to lose this one."

"You can't accuse the President of the United States of murder without - "

Leslie smiled. "I'm not going to, Matt. All we have to do is print the fact that there is a warrant for his arrest. That's enough to destroy him."

"Senator Davis - "

" - is turning in his own son-in-law. He believes the president is guilty. He told me so."

"That's not enough. We'll verify it first, and - "

"With whom - Katharine Graham? Are you out of your mind? We run this right now, or we lose it."

"I can't let you do this, not without verifying everything that - "

"Who do you think you're talking to? This is my paper, and I'll do anything I like with it."

Matt Baker rose. "This is irresponsible. I won't let any of my people write this story."

"They don't have to. I'll write it myself."

"Leslie, if you do this, I'm leaving. For good."

"No, you're not, Matt. You and I are going to share a Pulitzer Prize." She watched him turn and walk out of the office. "You'll be back."

Leslie pressed down the intercom button. "Have Zoltaire come in here."

She looked at him and said, "I want to know my horoscope for the next twenty-four hours."

"Yes, Miss Stewart. I'll be happy to do that." From his pocket, Zoltaire took a small ephemeris, the astrological bible, and opened it. He studied the positions of the stars and the planets for a moment, and his eyes widened.

"What is it?"

Zoltaire looked up. "I - something very important seems to be happening." He pointed to the ephemeris. "Look. Transiting Mars is going over your ninth house Pluto for three days, setting off a square to your - "

"Never mind that," Leslie said impatiently. "Cut to the chase."

He blinked. "The chase? Ah, yes." He looked at the book again. "There is some kind of major event happening. You are in the middle of it. You're going to be even more famous than you are now, Miss Stewart. The whole world is going to know your name."

Leslie was filled with a feeling of intense euphoria. The whole world was going to know her name. She was at the awards ceremonies and the speaker was saying, "And now, the recipient of this year's Pulitzer Prize for the most important story in newspaper history. I give you Miss Leslie Stewart." There was a standing ovation, and the roar was deafening.

"Miss Stewart..."

Leslie shook away the dream.

"Will there be anything else?"

"No," Leslie said. "Thank you, Zoltaire. That's enough."

At seven o'clock that evening, Leslie was looking at a proof of the story she had written. The headline read: MURDER WARRANT SERVED ON PRESIDENT RUSSELL. PRESIDENT ALSO TO BE QUESTIONED IN INVESTIGATION OF SIX DEATHS.

Leslie skimmed her story under it and turned to Lyle Bannister, her managing editor. "Run it," she said. "Put it out as an extra. I want it to hit the streets in an hour, and WTE can broadcast the story at the same time."

Lyle Bannister hesitated. "You don't think Matt Baker should take a look at - ?"

"This isn't his paper, it's mine. Run it. Now."

"Yes, ma'am." He reached for the telephone on Leslie's desk and dialed a number. "We're going with it."

At seven-thirty that evening, Barbara Gatlin and the others in the group were preparing to return to the White House. Barbara Gatlin said heavily, "I hope to God it isn't going to be necessary to use it, but just to be prepared, I'm bringing the warrant for the president's arrest."

Thirty minutes later, Oliver's secretary said, "Attorney General Gatlin and the others are here."

"Send them in."

Oliver watched, pale-faced, as they walked into the Oval Office. Jan was at his side, holding his hand tightly.

Barbara Gatlin said, "Are you prepared to answer our questions now, Mr. President?"

Oliver nodded. "I am."

"Mr. President, did Chloe Houston have an appointment to see you on October fifteenth?"

"She did."

"And did you see her?"

"No. I had to cancel."

The call had come in just before three o'clock. "Darling, it's me. I'm lonely for you. I'm at the lodge in Maryland. I'm sitting by the pool, naked."

"We'll have to do something about that."

"When can you get away?"

"I'll be there in an hour."

Oliver turned to face the group. "If what I'm about to tell you should ever leave this office, it would do irreparable damage to the presidency and to our relations with another country. I'm doing this with the greatest reluctance, but you leave me no choice."

As the group watched in wonder, Oliver walked over to a side door leading to a den and opened it. Sylva Picone stepped into the room.

"This is Sylva Picone, the wife of the Italian ambassador. On the fifteenth, Mrs. Picone and I were together at her lodge in Maryland from four o'clock in the afternoon until two o'clock in the morning. I know absolutely nothing about the murder of Chloe Houston, or any of the other deaths." Copyright 2016 - 2024