25—All the King's Horses
It hadn't made the media yet, but that was about to change. The FBI was already looking for Chuck Searls. They already knew that it wouldn't be easy, and the truth of the matter is that all they could do, on the basis of what they had, was to question him. The six programmers who'd worked to some greater or lesser extent on the Electra-Clerk 2.4.0 program had all been interviewed, and all of them denied knowledge of what they all referred to as the "Easter Egg," in every case with a mixture of outrage at what had been done and admiration at how. Only three widely separated lines of code, and it had taken all six of them working together twenty-seven hours to find it.
Then had come the really bad news: all six of them, plus Searls, had had access to the raw program. They were, after all, the six senior programmers at the firm, and like people with identical security clearances, each could access it whenever he or she wished, up to the very moment that it left the office on the toaster-disk. In addition, while there were records of access, each of them also had the ability to fiddle the coding on the master computer and either erase the access-time reference or mix it with the others. For that matter, the Easter Egg could have been in there for the months it had taken to perfect the program, so finely crafted it was. Finally, one of them admitted quite freely, any of them could have done it. There were no fingerprints on computer programs. Of greater importance for the moment, there was no way of undoing what Electra-Clerk 2.4.0 had done.
What it had done was sufficiently ghastly that the FBI agents on the case were joking grimly that the advent of sealed thermopane windows in Wall Street office buildings was probably saving thousands of lives. The last identifiable trade had been put up at 12:00:00, and beginning at 12:00:01, all the records were gobbledygook. Literally billions—in fact, hundreds of billions of dollars in transactions had disappeared, lost in the computer data records of the Depository Trust Company.
The word had not yet gotten out. The event was still a secret, a tactic first suggested by the senior executives of DTC, and so far approved by both the governors of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York Stock Exchange. They'd had to explain the reasons for it to the FBI. In addition to all the money lost in a crash such as had taken place on Friday, there would also have been quite a bit of money made through "puts," the name for derivative trades used by many brokers as hedges, and a means that allowed profit on a falling market. In addition, every house kept its own records of trades, and therefore, theoretically, it was possible over time to reconstruct everything that had been erased by the Easter Egg. But if word of the DTC disaster got out, it was possible that unscrupulous or merely desperate traders would fiddle their own records. It was unlikely in the case of the larger houses, but virtually inevitable in the case of smaller ones, and such manipulation would be nearly impossible to prove—a classic case of one person's word against another's, the worst sort of criminal evidence. Even the biggest and most honorable trading houses had their miscreants, either real or potential. There was just too much money involved, further complicated by the ethical duty of traders to safeguard the money of their clients.
For that reason, over two hundred agents had visited the offices and homes of the chief executive officers of every trading establishment within a hundred-mile radius of New York. It was a feat easier than most had feared, since many of the executives were using their weekend as a frantic work period, and in most cases they cooperated, turning over their own computerized records. It was estimated that 80 percent of the trades that had taken place after noon Friday were now in the possession of federal authorities.
That was the easy part. The hard part, the agents had just learned, would be to analyze them, to connect the trade made by every house with the corresponding trade of every other. As irony would have it, a programmer from Searls' company had, without prompting, sketched out the minimum requirements for the task: a high-end workstation for every company-set of records, integrated through yet another powerful mainframe no smaller than a Cray Y-MP (there was one at CIA, and three more at NSA, he told them), along with a very slick custom program. There were thousands of traders and institutions, some of whom had executed millions of transactions. The permutations, he'd said to the two agents who were able to keep up with his fast-forward discourse, were probably on the order of ten to the sixteenth power…maybe eighteenth. The latter number, he'd had to explain, was a million cubed, a million times a million times a million. A very large number. Oh, one other thing: they'd better be damned sure that they had the records of every house and every trade or the whole thing could fall apart. Time required to resolve all the trades? He'd been unwilling to speculate on that, which didn't please the agents who had to return to their office in the Javits Federal Office Building and explain all this to their boss, who refused even to use his office computer to type letters. The term Mission: IMPOSSIBLE came to their minds on the short drive back to their offices.
And yet it had to be done. It wasn't just a matter of stock trades, after all. Each transaction had also held a monetary value, real money that had changed electronic hands, moving from one account to another, and though electronic, the complex flow of money had to be accounted for. Until all of the transactions were resolved, the amount of money in the account of every trading house, every institution, every bank, and ultimately every private citizen in America—even those who did not play the market—could not be known. In addition to paralyzing Wall Street, the entire American banking system was now frozen in place, a conclusion that had been reached about the time that Air Force One had touched down at Andrews Air Force Base.
"Oh, shit," commented the Deputy Director in Charge of the New York Field Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In this he was more articulate than investigators from other federal agencies who were using his northwest-corner office as a conference room. The others mainly just looked at the cheap carpet on the floor and gulped.
The situation had to get worse, and it did. One of the DTC employees told the tale to a neighbor, an attorney, who told someone else, a reporter, who made a few phone calls and drafted a story for The New York Times. That flagship paper called the Secretary of the Treasury who, just back from Moscow and not yet briefed on the magnitude of the situation, declined to comment but forgot to ask the Times to demur. Before he could correct that mistake, the story was set up to run.
Secretary of the Treasury Bosley Fiedler practically ran through the tunnel connecting the Treasury Building with the White House. Not a man accustomed to strenuous exercise, he was puffing hard when he made it into the Roosevelt Room, just missing the departure of the Japanese Ambassador.
"What is it, Buzz?" President Durling asked.
Fiedler caught his breath and gave a five-minute summary of what he'd just learned via teleconference with New York. "We can't let the markets open," he concluded. "I mean, they can't open. Nobody can trade. Nobody knows how much money they have. Nobody knows who owns what. And the banks…Mr. President, we have a major problem here. Nothing even remotely like this has ever happened before."
"Buzz, it's just money, right?" Arnie van Damm asked, wondering why it all had to happen in one day after what had been a rather pleasant few months.
"No, it's not just money." Heads turned because Ryan was the one who answered the question. "It's confidence. Buzz here wrote a book about that back when I was working for Merrill Lynch." Perhaps a friendly reference would steady the man down some, he thought.
"Thank you, Jack." Fiedler sat down and sipped a glass of water. "Use the 1929 crash as an example. What was really lost? The answer in monetary terms is, nothing. A lot of investors lost their shirts, and margin calls made it all worse, but what people don't often grasp is that the money they lost was money already given to others."
"I don't understand," Arnie said.
"Nobody really does. It's one of those things that's too simple. In the market people expect complexity, and they forget the forest is made up of individual trees. Every investor who lost money first gave his money to another trader, in return for which he received a stock certificate. He traded money for something of value, but that something of value fell, and that's what the crash was. But the first guy, the guy who gave the certificate and got the money before the crash—notionally he did the smart thing, he didn't lose anything, did he? Therefore the amount of money out in the economy in 1929 did not change at all."
"Money doesn't just evaporate, Arnie," Ryan explained. "It goes from one place to another place. It doesn't just go away. The Federal Reserve Bank controls that." It was clear, however, that van Damm didn't understand.
"But then, why the hell did the Great Depression happen?"
"Confidence," Fiedler replied. "A huge number of people really got slammed in '29 because of margin calls. They bought stock while putting up an amount less than the value of the transaction. Today we call that sort of thing leveraging. Then they were unable to cover their exposure when they had to sell off. The banks and other institutions took a huge beating because they had to cover the margins. You ended up with a lot of little people who were left with nothing but debts they couldn't begin to pay back, and banks who were cash-short. Under those circumstances people stop doing things. They're afraid to risk what they have left. The people who got out in time and still have money—the ones who have not actually been hurt—they see what the rest of the economy is like and do nothing also, they just sit tight because it simply looks scary out there. That's the problem, Arnie.
"You see, what makes an economy isn't wealth, but the use of wealth, all the transactions that occur every day, from the kid who cuts your grass for a buck to a major corporate acquisition. If that stops, everything stops." Ryan nodded approval to Fiedler. It was a superb little lecture.
"I'm still not sure I get it," the chief of staff said. The President was still listening.
My turn. Ryan shook his head. "Not many people get it. Like Buzz said, it's too simple. You look for activity, not inactivity, as an indication of a trend, but inactivity is the real danger here. If I decide to sit still and do nothing, then my money doesn't circulate. I don't buy things, and the people who make the things I would have bought are out of work. That's a frightening thing to them, and to their neighbors. The neighbors get so scared that they hold on to their money—why spend it when they might need it to eat when they lose their jobs, right? And on, and on, and on. We have a real problem here, guys," Jack concluded. "Monday morning the bankers are going to find out that they don't know what they have, either. The banking crisis didn't really start until 1932, well after the stock market came unglued. Not this time."
"How bad?" The President asked this question.
"I don't know," Fiedler replied. "It's never happened before."
" 'I don't know' doesn't cut it, Buzz," Durling said.
"Would you prefer a lie?" the Secretary of the Treasury asked. "We need the chairman of the Fed in here. We're facing a lot of problems. The first big one is a liquidity crisis of unprecedented proportions."
"Not to mention a shooting war," Ryan pointed out for those who might have forgotten.
"Which is the more serious?" President Durling asked.
Ryan thought about it for a second. "In terms of real net harm to our country? We have two submarines sunk, figure about two hundred fifty sailors dead. Two carriers crippled. They can be fixed. The Marianas are under new ownership. Those are all bad things," Jack said in a measured voice, thinking as he spoke. "But they do not genuinely affect our national security because they do not pertain to the real strength of our country. America is a shared idea. We're people who think in a certain way, who believe that they can do the things they want to do. Everything else follows from that. It's confidence, optimism, the one thing that other countries find so strange about us. If you take that away, hell, we're no different from anybody else. The short answer to your question, Mr. President, is that the economic problem is far more dangerous to us than what the Japs just did."
"You surprise me, Jack," Durling said.
"Sir, like Buzz said, would you prefer a lie?"
"What the hell is the problem?" Ron Jones asked. The sun was already up, and USS Pasadena was visible, still tied to her pier, the national ensign hanging forlornly in the still air. A fighting ship of the United States Navy was doing nothing at all, and the son of his mentor was dead at the hands of an enemy. Why wasn't anyone doing something about it?
"She doesn't have orders," Mancuso said, "because I don't have orders, because CINCPAC doesn't have orders, because National Command Authority hasn't issued any orders."
"They awake there?"
"SecDef's supposed to be in the White House now. The President's been briefed in by now, probably," ComSubPac thought.
"But he can't gel his thumb out," Jones observed.
"He's the President, Ron. We do what he says."
"Yeah, like Johnson sent my dad to Vietnam." Jones turned to look at the wall chart. By the end of the day the Japanese surface ships would be out of range for the carriers, which couldn't launch strikes anyway. USS Gary had concluded her search for survivors, mainly out of fear of lingering Japanese submarines out there, but for all the world looking as though she'd been chased off the site by a Coast Guard cutter. The intelligence they did have was based on satellite information because it hadn't been thought prudent even to send a P-3C out to shadow the surface force, much less prosecute the submarine contacts. "First out of harm's way, eh?"
Mancuso decided not to get angry this time. He was a flag officer and paid to think like one. "One thing at a time. Our most important assets at risk are those two carriers. We have to get 'em in, and we have to get 'em fixed. Wally is planning operations right now. We have to gather intelligence, think it over, and then decide what we can do."
"And then see if he'll let us?"
Mancuso nodded. "That's how the system works."
The dawn was pleasing indeed. Sitting on the upper deck of the 747, Yamata had taken a window seat on the portside, looking out the window and ignoring the buzz of conversation around him. He had scarcely slept in three days and still the rush of power and elation filled him like a flood. This was the last prescheduled flight in. Mainly administrative personnel, along with some engineers and civilians who would start to put the new government in place. The bureaucrats with that task had been fairly clever in their way. Of course, everyone on Saipan would have a vote, and the elections would be subject to international scrutiny, a political necessity. There were about twenty-nine thousand local citizens, but that didn't count Japanese, many of whom now owned land, homes, and business enterprises. Nor did it count soldiers, and others staying in hotels. The hotels—the largest were Japanese-owned, of course—would be considered condominiums, and all those in the condo units, residents. As Japanese citizens they each had a vote. The soldiers were citizens as well, and also had the franchise, and since their garrison status was indeterminate, they were also considered residents. Between the soldiers and the civilians, there were thirty-one thousand Japanese on the island, and when elections were held, well, his countrymen were assiduous in making use of their civil rights, weren't they? International scrutiny, he thought, staring out to the east, be damned.
It was especially pleasing to watch from thirty-seven thousand feet the first muted glow on the horizon, which seemed much like a garnish for a bouquet of still-visible stars. The glow brightened and expanded, from purple to deep red, to pink, to orange, and then the first sliver of the face of the sun, not yet visible on the black sea below, and it was as though the sunrise were for him alone, Yamata thought, long before the lower people got to enjoy and savor it. The aircraft turned slightly to the right, beginning its descent. The downward path through the early-morning air was perfectly timed, seeming to hold the sun in place all the way down, just the yellow-white sliver, preserving the magical moment for several minutes. The sheer glory moved Yamata nearly to tears. He still remembered the faces of his parents, their modest home on Saipan. His father had been a minor and not terribly prosperous merchant, mainly selling trinkets and notions to the soldiers who garrisoned the island. His father had always been very polite to them, Raizo remembered, smiling, bowing, accepting their rough jokes about his polio-shriveled leg. The boy who had watched thought it normal to be deferential to men carrying arms, wearing his nation's uniform. He'd learned different since, of course. They were merely servants. Whether they carried on the samurai tradition or not—the very word samurai was a derivation of the verb "to serve," he reminded himself, clearly implying a master, no?—it was they who looked after and protected their betters, and it was their betters who hired them and paid them and told them what to do. It was necessary to treat them with greater respect than they really deserved, but the odd thing was that the higher they went in rank, the better they understood what their place really was.
"We will touch down in five minutes," a colonel told him.
"Dozo." A nod rather than a bow, because he was sitting down, but even so the nod was a measured one, precisely of the sort to acknowledge the service of an underling, showing him both politeness and superiority in the same pleasant gesture. In time, if this colonel was a good one and gained general's rank, then the nod would change, and if he proceeded further, then someday, if he were lucky, Yamata-san might call his given name in friendship, single him out for a smile and a joke, invite him for a drink, and in his advancement to high command, learn who the master really was. The Colonel probably looked forward to achieving that goal. Yamata buckled his seat belt and smoothed his hair.
Captain Sato was exhausted. He'd just spent far too much time in the air, not merely breaking but shredding the crew-rest rules of his airline, but he, too, could not turn away from his duty. He looked off to the left and saw in the morning sky the blinking strokes of two fighters, probably F-15's, one of them, perhaps, flown by his son, circling to protect the soil of what was once again their country. Gently, he told himself. There were soldiers of his country under his care, and they deserved the best. One hand on the throttles, the other on the wheel, he guided the Boeing airliner down an invisible line in the air toward a point his eyes had already selected. On his command to the copilot, the huge flaps went down all the way. Sato eased back on the yoke, bringing up the nose and flaring the aircraft, letting it settle, floating it in until only the screech of rubber told them that they were on the ground.
"You are a poet," the copilot said, once more impressed by the man's skill.
Sato allowed himself a smile as he engaged reverse-thrust. "You taxi in." Then he keyed the cabin intercom. "Welcome to Japan," he told the passengers.
Yamata didn't shout only because the remark surprised him so. He didn't wait for the aircraft to stop before he unbuckled. The door to the flight deck was right there, and he had to say something.
"You understand, don't you?"
His nod was that of a proud professional, and in that moment one very much akin to the zaibatsu. "Hai." His reward was a bow of the finest sincerity, and it warmed the pilot's heart to see Yamata-san's respect.
The businessman was not in a hurry, not now. The bureaucrats and administrative soldiers worked their way off the aircraft into waiting buses that would take them to the Hotel Nikko Saipan, a large modern establishment located in the center of the island's west coast, which would be the temporary administrative headquarters for the occupa- for the new government, Yamata corrected himself. It took five minutes for all of them to deplane, after which he made his own way off to another Toyota Land Cruiser whose driver, this time, was one of his employees who knew what to do without being told, and knew that this was a moment for Yamata to savor in silence.
He scarcely noticed the activity. Though he'd caused it to happen, it was less important than its anticipation had been. Oh, perhaps a brief smile at the sight of the military vehicles, but the fatigue was real now, and his eyes drooped despite an iron will that commanded them to be bright and wide. The driver had planned the route with care, and managed to avoid the major tie-ups. Soon they passed the Marianas Country Club again, and though the sun was up, there were no golfers in evidence. There was no military presence either except for two satellite uplink trucks on the edge of the parking lot, newly painted green after having been appropriated from NHK. No, we mustn't harm the golf course, now without a doubt the most expensive single piece of real estate on the island.
It was right about here, Yamata thought, remembering the shape of the hills. His father's rude little store had been close to the north airfield, and he could remember the A6M Type-Zero fighters, the strutting aviators, and the often overbearing soldiers. Over there had been the sugarcane processing plant of Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha, and he could remember stealing small bits of the cane and chewing on them. And how fair the breezy mornings had been. Soon they were on his land. Yamata shook off the cobwebs by force of will and stepped out of the car, walking north now.
It was the way his father and mother and brother and sister must have come, and he imagined he could see his father, hobbling on his crippled leg, struggling for the dignity that his childhood disease had always denied him. Had he served the soldiers in those last days, bringing them what useful things he had? Had the soldiers in those last days set aside their crude insults at his physical condition and thanked him with the sincerity of men for whom death was now something seen and felt in its approach? Yamata chose to believe both. And they would have come down this draw, their retreat toward death protected by the last rear-guard action of soldiers in their last moment of perfection.
It was called Banzai Cliff by the locals, Suicide Cliff by the less racist. Yamata would have to have his public-relations people work on changing the name to something more respectful. July 9, 1944, the day organized resistance ended. The day the Americans had declared the island of Saipan "secure."
There were actually two cliffs, curved and facing inward as though a theater; the taller of them was two hundred forty meters above the surface of the beckoning sea. There were marble columns to mark the spot, built years earlier by Japanese students, shaped to represent children kneeling in prayer. It would have been here that they'd approached the edge, holding hands. He could remember his father's strong hands. Would his brother and sister have been afraid? Probably more disoriented than fearful, he thought, after twenty-one days of noise and horror and incomprehension. Mother would have looked at father. A warm, short, round woman whose jolly musical laugh rang again in her son's ears. The soldiers had occasionally been gruff with his father, but never with her. And never with the children. And the last service the soldiers had rendered had been to keep the Americans away from them at that final moment, when they'd stepped off the cliff. Holding hands, Yamata chose to believe, each holding a child in a final loving embrace, proudly refusing to accept captivity at the hands of barbarians, and orphaning their other son. Yamata could close his eyes and see it all, and for the first time the memory and the imagined sight made his body shudder with emotion. He'd never allowed himself anything more than rage before, all the times he'd come here over the years, but now he could truly let the emotions out and weep with pride, for he had repaid his debt of honor to those who had given him birth, and his debt of honor to those who had done them to death.
The driver watched, not knowing but understanding, for he knew the history of this place, and he too was moved to tears as a shaking man of sixty-odd years clapped his hands to call the attention of sleeping relatives. From a hundred meters away, he saw the man's shoulders rack with sobs, and after a time, Yamata lay down on his side, in his business suit, and went to sleep.
Perhaps he would dream of them. Perhaps the spirits of whoever it was, the driver thought, would visit him in his sleep and say what things he needed to know. But the real surprise, the driver thought, was that the old bastard had a soul at all. Perhaps he'd misjudged his boss.
"Damn if they ain't organized," Oreza said to himself, looking through his binoculars, the cheap ones he kept in the house. The living-room window afforded a view of the airports, and the kitchen gave one of the harbor. Orchid Ace was long gone, and another car ferry had taken her berth, Century Highway No. 5, her name was, and this one was unloading jeep-type vehicles and trucks. Portagee was fairly strung-out, having forced himself to stay up all night. He'd now done twenty-seven hours without sleep, some of them spent working hard on the ocean west of the island. He was too old for that sort of thing, the master chief knew. Burroughs, younger and smarter, had curled up on the living-room rug and was snoring away.
Oreza wished for a cigarette for the first time in years. They were good for staying alert. You just needed them at a time like this. They were what a warrior used—at least that's what the World War II movies proclaimed. But this wasn't World War II, and he wasn't a warrior. For all he'd done in his over thirty years in the United States Coast Guard, he'd never fired a shot in anger, even on his one Vietnam tour. Someone else had always been on the gun. He didn't know how to fight.
"Up all night?" Isabel asked, dressed for her job. It was Monday on this tide of the International Dateline, and a workday. She looked down and saw that the pad of note paper usually kept next to the phone was covered with scribbles and numbers. "Does it matter?"
"I don't know, Izz."
"Want some breakfast?"
"It can't hurt," Pete Burroughs said, stretching as he came into the kitchen. "I think I conked out around three." A moment's consideration. "I feel like…hell," he said, in deference to the lady in the room.
"Well, I have to be at my desk in an hour or so," Mrs. Oreza observed, pulling open the refrigerator. Breakfast in this house consisted of a selection of cold cereals and skim milk, Burroughs saw, along with toast made of the bread baked from straw. Toss in a little fruit, he thought, and he could have been back in San Jose. The coffee he could already smell. He found a cup and poured some.
"Somebody really knows how to do this right."
"It's Manni," Isabel said.
Oreza smiled for the first time in hours. "I learned it from my first chief. The right blend, the right proportions, and a pinch of salt."
Probably in the dark of the moon and after sacrificing a goat, Burroughs thought. If so, however, the goat had died for a noble cause. He took a long sip and came over to check Oreza's tally sheet.
"Could be conservative. It's two flying hours from here to Japan. That's four on the round-trip. Let's be generous and say ninety minutes on the ground at each end. Seven-hour cycle. Three and a half trips per airplane per day. Each flight about three hundred, maybe three-fifty soldiers per hop. That means every plane brings in a thousand men. Fifteen airplanes operating over one day, that means a whole division of troops. You suppose the Japs have more than fifteen 747's?" Portagee asked. "Like I said, conservative. Now it's just a matter of bringing their mobile equipment in."
"How many ships for that?"
Another frown. "Not sure. During the Persian Gulf War—I was over there then doing port-security work…damn. Depends on what ships you use and how you pack them. I'll be conservative again. Twenty large merchant hulls just to ferry in the gear. Trucks, jeeps, all kinds of stuff you'd never think of. It's like moving a cityful of people. They need to resupply fuel. This rock doesn't grow enough food; that has to come in by ship, too, and the population of this place just doubled. The water supply might be stretched." Oreza looked down and made a notation on that. "Anyway, they came to stay. That's for damned sure," he said, heading for the table and his Special K, wishing for three eggs up, bacon, white-bread toast with butter, hash-browns, and all the cholesterol that went with it. Damn turning fifty!
"What about me?" the engineer asked."I seen you pass for a local. I sure as hell can't."
"Pete, you're my charter, and I'm the captain, okay? I am responsible for your safety. That's the law of the sea, sir."
"We're not at sea anymore," Burroughs pointed out.
Oreza was annoyed by the truth of the observation. "My daughter's the lawyer. I try to keep things simple. Eat your breakfast. I need some sleep, and you have to take over the forenoon watch."
"What about me?" Mrs. Oreza asked.
"If you don't show up for work—"
"—somebody will wonder why."
"It'll be nice to know if they told the truth about the cops who got shot," her husband went on. "I've been up all night, Izz. I haven't heard a single shot. Every crossroads seems to be manned, but they're not doing anything to anybody." He paused. "I don't like it either, honey. One way or another we have to deal with it."
"Did you do it, Ed?" Durling asked bluntly, his eyes boring in on his Vice President. He cursed the man for forcing him to deal with one more problem among the multiple crises hanging over his presidency now. But the Post piece gave him no choice.
"Why are you hanging me out to dry? Why didn't you at least warn me of this?"
The President waved around the Oval Office. "There are a lot of limits you can do in here and there are things you can't do. One of them is to interfere with a criminal investigation."
"Don't give me that! A lot of people have—"
"Yeah, and they all paid a price for it, too." It's not my ass that needs to be covered, Roger Durling didn't say. I'm not risking mine for yours. "You didn't answer my question."
"Look, Roger!" Ed Kealty snarled back. The President stopped him with a raised hand and a quiet voice.
"Ed, I have an economy in meltdown. I have dead sailors in the Pacific Ocean. I can't spare the energy for this. I can't spare the political capital. I can't spare the time. Answer my question," Durling commanded.
The Vice President flushed, his head snapping to the right before he spoke. "All right, I like women. I've never hidden that from anyone. My wife and I have an understanding." His head came back. "But I have never, NEVER molested, assaulted, raped, or forced myself on anybody in my whole fucking life. Never. I don't have to."
"Lisa Beringer?" Durling said, consulting his notes for the name.
"She was a sweet thing, very bright, very sincere, and she begged me to—well, you can guess. I explained to her that I couldn't. I was up for re-election that year, and besides she was too young. She deserved somebody her age to marry and give her kids and a good life. She took it hard, started drinking—maybe something else, but I don't think so. Anyway, one night she headed off on the Beltway and lost it, Roger. I was there for the funeral. I still talk with her parents. Well," Kealty said, "not lately, I guess."
"She left a note, a letter behind."
"More than one." Kealty reached into his coat pocket and handed two envelopes over. "I'm surprised nobody noticed the date on the one the FBI has. Ten days before her death. This one is a week later, and this one is the day she was killed. My staff found them. I suppose Barbara Linders found the other one. None were ever mailed. I think you'll find some differences between them, all three, as a matter of fact."
"The Linders girl says that you—"
"Drugged her?" Kealty shook his head. "You know about my drinking problem, you knew it when you asked me in. Yeah, I'm an alcoholic, but I had my last drink two years ago." A crooked smile. "My sex life is even better now. Back to Barbara. She was sick that day, the flu. She went to the pharmacy on the Hill and got a prescription, and—"
"How do you know that?"
"Maybe I keep a diary. Maybe I just have a good memory. Either way, I know the date this happened. Maybe one of my staffers checked the records of the pharmacy, and maybe the medication she took had a label on the bottle, one that says don't drink while using these capsules. I didn't know that, Roger. When I have a cold—well, back then, anyway, I used brandy. Hell," Kealty admitted, "I used booze for a lot of things. So I gave some to her, and she became very cooperative. A little too cooperative, I suppose, but I was half in the bag myself, and I figured it was just my well-known charm."
"So what are you telling me? You're not guilty?"
"You want to say I'm an alley cat, can't keep it zipped? Yeah, I guess so. I've been to priests, to doctors, to a clinic once—covering that up was some task. Finally I went to the head of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School. They think there's a part of the brain that regulates our drives, just a theory, but a good one. It goes along with hyperactivity. I was a hyperactive child. I still don't ever sleep more than six hours a night. Roger, I am all those things, but I am not a rapist."
So there it was, Durling thought. Not a lawyer himself, he had appointed, consulted, and heard enough of them to know what he'd been told. Kealty could defend himself on two grounds: that the evidence against him was more equivocal than the investigators imagined, and that it wasn't really his fault. The President wondered which of the defenses might be true. Neither? One? Both?
"So what are you going to do?" he asked the Vice President, using much the same voice he'd summoned a few hours earlier for the Ambassador from Japan. He was increasingly sympathetic with the man sitting across from him, in spite of himself. What if the guy really was telling the truth? How could he know—and that was what the jury would say, after all, if it got that far; and if a jury would think that, then what would the Judiciary hearings be like? Kealty still had a lot of markers out on the Hill.
"Somehow I just don't think anyone's going to print up DURLING/KEALTY bumper stickers this summer, right?" The question came with a smile of sorts.
"Not if I have anything to say about it," the President confirmed, cold again. This wasn't a time for humor.
"I don't want to hurt you, Roger. I did two days ago. If you'd warned me, I could have told you these things sooner, saved everybody a lot of time and trouble. Including Barbara. I lost track of her. She's very good on civil-rights stuff, a good head on her, and a good heart. It was only that one time, you know. And she stayed in my office afterwards," Kealty pointed out.
"We've covered that, Ed. Tell me what you want."
"I'll go. I'll resign. I don't get prosecuted."
"Not good enough," Durling said in a neutral voice.
"Oh, I'll admit my weaknesses. I'll apologize to you, honorable public servant that you are, for any harm I might have done to your presidency. My lawyers will meet with their lawyers, and we'll negotiate compensation. I leave public life."
"And if that's not good enough?"
"It will be," Kealty said confidently. "I can't be tried in a court until the constitutional issues are resolved. Months, Roger. All the way to summer, probably, maybe all the way to the convention. You can't afford that. I figure the worst-case scenario for you is, the Judiciary Committee sends the bill of impeachment to the floor of the House, but the House doesn't pass it, or maybe does, narrowly, and then the Senate trial ends up with a hung jury, so to speak. Do you have any idea how many favors I've done there, and in the Senate?" Kealty shook his head. "It's not worth the political risk to you, and it distracts you and Congress from the business of government. You need all the time you have. Hell, you need more than that." Kealty stood and headed toward the door to the President's right, the one that was so perfectly blended into the curved, eggshell-white walls and gold trim. He spoke his final words without turning. "Anyway, it's up to you now."
It angered President Roger Durling that, in the end, the easy way out might be the just way out, as well—but nobody would ever know. They would only know that his final action was politically expedient in a moment of history that demanded political expediency. An economy potentially in ruins, a war just started—he didn't have the time to fool with this. A young woman had died. Others claimed to have been molested. But what if the dead young girl had died for other reasons, and what if the others—God-damn it, he swore in his mind. That was something for a jury to decide. But it had to pass through three separate legal procedures before a jury could decide, and then any defense lawyer with half a brain could say that a fair trial was impossible anyway after C-SPAN had done its level best to tell the whole world every bit of evidence, tainting everything, and denying Kealty his constitutional right to a fair and impartial trial before disinterested jurors. That ruling was likely enough in a Federal district court trial, and even more so on appeal—and would gain the victims nothing. And what if the bastard actually was, technically speaking, innocent of a crime? An open zipper, distasteful though it was, did not constitute a crime. And neither he nor the country needed the distraction. Roger Durling buzzed his secretary.
"Yes, Mr. President?"
"Get me the Attorney General."
He'd been wrong, Durling thought. Sure, he could interfere with a criminal investigation. He had to. And it was easy. Damn.