From Publishers Weekly
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Irene Kennedy looked out at the white landscape from her seventh-floor office. Three fresh inches of snow had fallen overnight. The capital had a majestic winter wonderland feel to it when it snowed. It tended to be the kind of wet, heavy snow that coated every branch, statue, and park bench. The city looked frozen in time, and in a sense it was. A lame-duck president occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and the president – elect was one week away from taking his oath of office. Traditionally, the only business that got done the week before the inauguration was the business of pardons. Lawyers, lobbyists, and big-money players lined up to ask the president to forgive someone for a crime they had committed, or been accused of committing. Politics had gotten so rough that sometimes just being a friend of the president could bring about the unwanted attention of a special prosecutor. With that attention also came a mountain of legal bills. It was quickly becoming a tradition for outgoing presidents to wave a magic wand and make these legal problems go away. Pardons could also be about bricks and mortar. A new presidential library needed to be built, and they were not cheap. With this president, however, it was mostly about setting things right.
This should have been on Kennedy’s mind, but it wasn’t. As director of the Central Intelligence Agency she should have been lobbying for a blanket pardon herself, but her mind was occupied with the here and now. This transition period between presidential administrations was always stressful, but even more so this time. The nation was without decisive and focused leadership until the new administration took over, and that left them vulnerable. To make matters worse, the word was out that the new administration was going to clean house. This was no surprise to Kennedy. She knew the minute the election results came in that she was out of a job. Actually, she knew several weeks earlier when the CIA’s Global Ops Center called to alert her of the attack on that Saturday in late October.
The motorcade of presidential candidate Josh Alexander had been hit by a car bomb. Alexander and his running mate had narrowly escaped. Their limousine had been flipped by the blast of the bomb, but the structural integrity of the outer shell held. Alexander walked away unharmed while his running mate, Mark Ross, suffered a separated shoulder and a cut above his left eye. The second limousine did not fare as well. The front third of the vehicle collapsed under the blast and exposed Alexander’s wife and three Secret Service agents to the superheated gases of the explosion. All four people were virtually incinerated. Fifteen other individuals were also killed, and another thirty-four were wounded, seven of them critically.
An al-Qaeda splinter group had released a statement the week before the attack that they were going to disrupt the American elections. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, Kennedy had a pretty good idea how the American people would react to such foreign intervention in the democratic process. Two weeks later they proved her right. They turned out in record numbers on election day, and Josh Alexander and Mark Ross were swept into office by a landslide. Shortly after the election Ross began making statements to the press that he was going to do a top-down review of the CIA. That was code for cleaning house.
Despite twenty-three years of service, Kennedy took none of this personally. It simply wasn’t worth it. The people had spoken, and in one week there would be the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another. Her chief focus for this last week would be to purge every possible piece of information that could come back and bite her, or any of her people, in the ass. Part of her unpleasant history with Ross was that he was a vindictive prick. Simply running her out of the job after two brief years as the first female director of the Agency might not be enough for him. Kennedy felt there was a real chance he would want to burn her at the stake, tie her up in investigations for the next decade. She made a mental note to ask President Hayes for that blanket pardon. After all she’d done it would not be out of line to do so.
Kennedy took her eyes off the frozen landscape and checked her watch. They were late. It must be the snow, she thought to herself. It was a Saturday morning, and Kennedy worked most Saturday mornings. At least for another week. For all she knew, they’d take away her pass and cardkey when she showed up for work a week from Monday. That would be Ross’s style. He’d make it as painful and embarrassing as possible.
There was an upside to all of this. At least, that was what she kept telling herself. At forty-five, she’d given twenty-three years of her life to the CIA. She had a beautiful ten-year-old son whom she didn’t get to spend enough time with. Soon he would enter that stage where he would want nothing to do with her. This premature departure from the Agency would give her a chance to spend more time with him. It was no secret in Washington that she was on her way out. She’d already received two offers from local universities to teach, three from think tanks, and another from a private security firm. That was without lifting a finger. She tried to stay positive. Tried to tell herself they were great options, but in the end nothing else would match the mission and the people she worked with. That was what bothered her most.
There was a knock on the door and then it opened. Kennedy smiled when she saw it was Skip McMahon.
“Sorry I’m late,” said the hulking six-foot-four FBI special agent. “People in this town lose their minds when it snows.”
“It’s a good thing it’s a Saturday.”
McMahon was holding a large briefcase. He crossed the room and kissed Kennedy on the cheek.
“So what’s this all about? Have you finally decided to announce your intention to marry me and make me an honest man?”
Kennedy smiled and gestured toward the sitting area. “Coffee or tea?”
“Since when do I drink tea?”
She poured him a cup of coffee while McMahon sat on the couch. He kept the briefcase close. Kennedy handed him the cup and sat in one of the wing chairs.
The FBI man gestured with his hands and said, “I half expected you to have all of your stuff boxed up and ready to go.”
Kennedy sipped her tea. “Do you know something I don’t?”
“Funny.” McMahon looked around the wood paneled office ignoring her feigned naiveté. The walls were covered with photos of people and places. Some of the photos were self-explanatory: former CIA directors, the Twin Towers, the Berlin Wall. Others were more obscure: a baby’s hand wrapped around a father’s finger, a demolished building with a man standing in the foreground sobbing, and a group of Arab women covered in black from head to toe walking down a dusty street. McMahon had been to the office many times. A naturally inquisitive person, he had asked Kennedy about some of the photos before. Her response was always the same. She simply smiled and changed the subject. It occured to him that this might be his last chance to glean the importance of the more cryptic shots.
“The photo of the Arab women in black. Is that Saudi Arabia?”
“Why do you have it in a frame?”
“It’s a reminder of the subjugation of women in the Arab culture.”
McMahon nodded. “That’s what I thought.”
Kennedy began laughing.
“What?” asked McMahon.
“It’s not a reminder of the subjugation of Arab women. It’s actually a team of Delta Force commandos who were on their way to say hello to an individual who, let’s just say, wasn’t playing by the rules.”
“You’re shitting me?” McMahon stood up so he could examine the photo more closely. “Who were they going after?”
“Did they get him?”
“Good.” McMahon settled back into his spot on the couch. “So what’s the deal with the meeting this morning?”
“Do you know Cap Baker?”
“The Republican strategist.”
“He’s the mystery person you dragged me out here to see?”
“He assured me it was in your best interest.”
A scowl of irritation fell across McMahon’s leathered face. “Why in the hell would I want to spend two minutes with a political whore, especially a Republican one?”
Kennedy looked at her watch and ignored the question.
“Why the hell didn’t he just come see me at the Hoover Building?”
Before Kennedy could answer, there was a knock on the door. A second later it opened and Cap Baker entered. If it weren’t for his signature shock of gray hair they might not have recognized him. They were used to seeing him on TV wearing suits, expensive shirts, and fancy ties. He was rumored to charge eight hundred dollars an hour for his advice and lobbying skills. This morning he was dressed in boots, khakis, and a plaid flannel shirt. A puffy win...
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