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The rule of the people, p.11
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       The Rule Of The People, p.11

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  The safe house was an hour’s drive from Washington, an isolated ranch-style home with enough resources to keep the three of them self-sufficient for at least another month. It was only now that they could actually relax and as far as Lavergne and Preston were concerned their role in the conspiracy was complete, their bonus more than matching McDowell’s expectations.

  To be fair, McDowell knew it was well deserved, every problem and difficulty countered, their strategy adapted to match the accelerating political crisis. Not everything had gone smoothly, especially that last week once Anderson had interfered more directly, but the fact McDowell’s face was black and blue from Anderson’s fists was more of an embarrassment than anything else, a blow to his pride that he would prefer to forget. The free-for-all in the National Mall had never been part of any plan and actually shooting Thorn – albeit in the arm – had turned out to be an inspired mistake, adding an impressive element of authenticity to the attack.

  The loss of Terrill had been the one low point and since then McDowell had felt as if he was working blind, Jon Carter’s skills particularly missed, the Englishman never once failing to live up to expectations. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for the D.C. lawyers tasked with his release; frustrated perhaps by their inability to pin something worthwhile on Carter’s associates, the FBI seemed determined to throw the book at him, accessory to murder their main threat, charges of conspiracy and terrorism also possible. The lawyers had access to an emergency account but that would soon run dry and McDowell was impatient for the investigation to be officially abandoned. With the new Administration needing to focus on more immediate problems, that might not happen for a few days yet and even then it might be considered ill-advised to release Carter.

  For Yang Kyung-Jae and Neil Ritter the repercussions had proved even more severe. McDowell had little for concern for Ritter, but Yang’s murder had been a shock, McDowell taken aback by his own deep sense of regret. Yang had always treated him with respect, going out on a limb to offer encouragement and support, even persuading the others to let McDowell take charge; Yang had certainly deserved far more than an assassin’s bullet, affluence obviously no guarantee as to future good health.

  One immediate concern had been far more selfish in nature, McDowell relieved to discover that his staged payment and hefty bonus had been transferred only hours before Yang had been killed. Only later did he wonder whether the two events were somehow linked, the attack deliberately timed to take place once McDowell had been paid – if so, that suggested both inside knowledge and excellent judgement. Neil Ritter’s murder so soon after could hardly be down to coincidence and the conspiracy was clearly tearing itself apart; with both naïve paymaster and hireling considered expendable, McDowell too would seem to be under threat – but not just yet, his unique set of skills still very much in demand.

  McDowell had deliberately been kept isolated from the main American players and his only contact had always been through Ritter or Yang. Now necessity had helped ensure that protective element of separation had finally been abandoned, McDowell offered an unexpected role in the second phase, a first payment ready and waiting.

  If there were concerns that McDowell’s continued participation might be influenced by recent events then they were left unsaid. McDowell could be as irrational as the next man in terms of how he defined loyalty and the murder of Yang was unfortunate; however, risking everything in a futile act of vengeance was stretching any such ties a little too far. Even so, he took his time responding: no well-equipped base, no computer expert, a relatively tight schedule – if McDowell was to stand any chance of success, he would need to call in a good few favours while trusting he could still work some sort of miracle. In twenty-four hours Lavergne and Preston were due to go their separate ways, Costa Rica and Mexico the lucky recipients; now McDowell might well need to ask them to hold on to their dollars for a while longer.

  McDowell well recognised that the stress of the past few weeks was influencing his ability to think coherently, his decisions suddenly based more on some irrational desire to prove it was all possible than a logical appraisal of the risks. The precise schedule would be governed by factors well beyond his control, McDowell struggling to know how best to replicate Jonathan Carter’s essential skills. Another major worry was the unexpected tenacity of the various agencies arrayed against them and McDowell had anticipated – even been promised – a winding down of the investigation. His FBI source had already started to distance himself, worried that he in turn was under suspicion – a fact duly confirmed by Jon Carter.

  Carter might be drugged up to the eyeballs and supposedly watched every minute of the day, but within twenty-four hours of his arrival at Terrill, he had managed to post an online message detailing the facility’s new role and Anderson’s presence there, also warning McDowell not to make contact. It was typical of the man, and despite his outward appearance and willingness to complain, Carter was well able to look after himself. Their one-sided exchange had also convinced McDowell as to his next move, his decision ensuring he would need to correct at least one unfortunate legacy of the past week.

  McDowell had little respect for any politician, viewing D.C. as nothing more than a political abyss, made up men and women fully prepared to barter their own integrity in an attempt to justify their existence. If McDowell could subsequently give some of them a few sleepless nights, then that in itself would be worth a little extra risk.

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