The rule of the people, p.32
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       The Rule Of The People, p.32

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  The meal was the first proper Thanksgiving spread Anderson had ever had: squash soup, turkey and cornbread, a dozen different vegetables – he was already well overfed but it seemed churlish not to move on to the pecan pie. The family tradition of eating the Thanksgiving meal sharp at 3 p.m. had not helped his digestive struggles, Anderson making do with just one helping of pie and no pumpkin cake. He had actually made the number around the table an uneven nine, but both Ray and Rachel Flores had been insistent he join them, no excuse accepted.

  Anderson had felt awkward at first, taking his lead from Rachel Flores, the consequences of her ordeal at McDowell’s hands well hidden. A welcome hug and kiss had seemed a generous recognition of Anderson’ minor role in her release, especially as he was still feeling guilty that somehow it was his fault, in part at least. By some unspoken and mutual consent, the topic of conversation stayed well clear of U.S. problems, briefly settling on Russia and the news that the Kremlin was under siege. Anderson had idly wondered whether Markova might be part of it somehow, not even certain whether she was still alive; under the circumstances, it seemed best to keep his word to the FSB and he made no mention of his involvement in the previous year’s events, unsure how much Flores might actually know.

  Rachel Flores was a considerate if overworked hostess, well aware that Anderson had an ulterior motive for accepting their offer of dinner. By six-thirty there was just the three of them left, Rachel happy to leave the two men alone to discuss strategy.

  Anderson was conscious that Flores might well prefer to move on from the problem of McDowell or even be annoyed that Anderson had kept Carter’s revelation to himself, but that was certainly not the case; Flores just needed convincing there was something actually worth pursuing. Anderson’s dubious logic involving a shut-down – or not – of Congress was at best speculative, there no single persuasive piece of evidence to prove it either way.

  From Anderson’s perspective, Flores was an important ally, someone with the right connections and the understanding to help work out what if anything came next, it still taking an hour of argument to get him thinking along the same lines as Anderson.

  “I get that the threat to Congress could be real or exaggerated,” Flores confirmed, trying to make it sound positive rather than patronising. “And the fact it was McDowell not Carter who gave you Nash – I’m just not sure I agree as to why.”

  “Let’s just go back a few weeks,” said Anderson, still uncertain in his own mind as to how the various aspects fitted together. “McDowell spent months helping put someone more hard-line than Cavanagh into power, someone willing to risk a war with China, Yang and his friends prepared to bankroll it all. Plan A was for Russia to then attack from the north; America, the Philippines and Vietnam squeezing China from the south. If there was a plan B, then this isn’t it and Deangelo is now facing a much more difficult challenge. So far he’s done what people seem to want and the way things are going, there’s little reason for him to worry about Congress not backing him over China, at least for a while. There’s no advantage to Deangelo of a coup and McDowell could simply be trying to divert our attention. The question is, from what?”

  Flores still didn’t see it that way, “If Congress isn’t a target then giving us Nash just seems pointless. The Capitol’s now crawling with extra security – how does that help McDowell or anyone else?”

  “Maybe the extra security’s essential for some reason,” said Anderson with a shrug, desperately trying to think of something sensible. “Perhaps it’s a bizarre way of actually getting someone inside the Capitol.”

  “To do what exactly?”

  “No idea; blow it up if Thorn gets his way...”

  “You’re certain McDowell’s not just following orders?” offered Flores. “And deliberately trying to sabotage a very specific threat to Congress? Maybe the murder of Yang persuaded his friends it was time to cut and run?”

  “Then do that; why even bother giving us Nash?”

  “Revenge, spite, temper – who knows?” said Flores, exasperated. “You can’t be certain it’s a McDowell trick. Perhaps he’s even trying to be helpful?”

  “So Pat McDowell’s suddenly developed a conscience – that would be a first.”

  Flores persevered, not yet willing to let a good idea be so easily dismissed. “There’s no guarantee Congress won’t make life difficult for Deangelo over China, especially if Russia ends up a potential ally. And nominating Thorn was always going to be controversial – being able to forget Congress just makes everything easier. For someone like Thorn, that could be as a good a reason as any to bring in the 82nd Airborne.”

  Anderson gave a frustrated shake of his head, “That was true a month ago but not now; Deangelo gets nothing from a coup except a lot of angry people thirsting for his blood – he’d be worse off than Cavanagh…”

  The discussion was getting heated, it not yet an argument, both of them hoping for some sudden insight that would convince the other.

  “Let’s assume you’re right about Deangelo,” said Flores graciously, a better idea finally taking shape. “It’s different for Thorn; he and his friends are continuing to push two clear messages: China is the enemy and Congress is corrupt – for them, neutralising Congress still makes good sense. To Deangelo, a takeover has become high risk for minimal gain, and if he wants out he either convinces the others to abandon or he makes sure an attack on Congress can’t possibly succeed. One casual comment from Carter is about all it takes – job done.”

  Anderson realised it made as much sense as anything else they had and maybe Flores had a point. “Thorn’s still a problem,” he said slowly. “He’s risked his career to help Deangelo and he might not even end up as Secretary of Defence. Nor can he guarantee the Democratic presidential nomination in the future. If it all now falls flat, he’s lost everything; Thorn can’t just sit back and do nothing. Or is Deangelo that much of a friend?”

  “Colleagues but hardly friends,” responded Flores thoughtfully. “There’s nothing to suggest they socialise outside of work; very different backgrounds and interests. However, Thorn and Henry have known each other for years, good friends for at least the last five.”

  Anderson was impressed, “It sounds like you’ve been doing some homework.”

  “Just picked up a few things along the way,” said Flores with a smile.

  Anderson was just wary of automatically assuming Deangelo would be the one wanting out. “Let’s not forget Henry; this would have all been far more difficult without him. As Mayor, he lent his support to the protests in the Mall, his friendship with Kovak ensuring the D.C. Police backed him up. Deangelo wins the biggest prize and even Thorn gets a sniff at a Cabinet job, but for Mayor Gene Henry there’s nothing more than ‘thanks’ and a whole lot of aggro from the FBI. Even his standing in the Democratic Party has been tainted by his association with Thorn… I assume there’s nothing to suggest Henry missed out when Deangelo became president? A promise made but unfulfilled?”

  “Not that I’m aware of,” Flores replied. “D.C. thrives on rumours but there’s been nothing. Maybe Ritter’s murder was more of a falling out than simply tidying up a loose end.”

  G-man and journalist, they might well be out of their depth in understanding the subtle nuance of D.C. politics but they were doing their best. All Anderson wanted was to link everything together in one neat and logical package, the unexpected combination of Bourbon and pumpkin cake hopefully helping it along. There were far too many unknowns to work out a clear way forward, Anderson unable even to sort out the guilty from those who merely gained by default.

  “Deangelo knows Congress would do everything it could to block Thorn,” said Anderson, rethinking it through, “but he still nominated him. He’s tried swinging the vote but that could easily fail. Either Deangelo was convinced he could control the vote or he’s always had something else in mind…”

  “The hacked emails,” Flores interrupted. “Publicly Deangelo
’s pushing Thorn’s confirmation but maybe he wanted to make sure the Senate would never agree; the emails haven’t just stirred up public opinion they’ve re-ignited party divisions.”

  “So you’re suggesting he’s also using McDowell to sabotage Thorn’s chances?” He’s doing a pretty good job of that himself, I’m not sure he needs anyone else’s help.”

  “It’s insurance, I guess…” Flores reached for the bourbon, needing another dose of inspiration. “But then that makes no real sense: if both Thorn and Shepard fail to get confirmed, Deangelo’s lost a lot of credibility.”

  “Basically,” said Anderson with a resigned shake of his head, “we’re still going round in circles. If it wasn’t for Thorn, Congress might just be willing to compromise on Shepard. Maybe we need to forget Henry and Kovak; this is really about Thorn and Deangelo. They might have started out with a common aim in mind but circumstances change.”

  Flores stuck with the concept of a falling out, Thorn’s views always seeming more extreme than anything Deangelo had ever professed. “When you read what Thorn has said over the years, he’s consistently warned as to the threat from China. Deangelo stood on the steps of Congress to promise that America would be a good friend and a fierce enemy – Dick Thorn’s not the type of man to let him forget a single word of that very public commitment. The way things are going, Deangelo could easily seek a compromise with China that Thorn finds unacceptable and, as you said earlier, from his perspective everything will have been for nothing. Deangelo is then treading on very thin ice, never quite knowing what Thorn might say or do... Look at how he stabbed Cavanagh in the back.”

  Flores lapsed into silence but Anderson was already one step ahead, “So you think McDowell’s real target might actually be Dick Thorn?” It came across as a question but was virtually a statement, Anderson already warming to Flores’ idea as more than just another vague theory.

  “Get rid of Thorn and a good part of Deangelo’s problems will simply melt away,” said Flores with a shrug of resignation. “One well-aimed shot from Lavergne is all it takes.”

  Anderson slowly nodded in agreement. If Deangelo or Henry had got cold feet then McDowell and his friends would be an effective panacea, Congress saved and Thorn finally dealt with. Maybe the earlier shooting in the Mall hadn’t just been for effect, Thorn far luckier than Anderson had ever anticipated. Killing Thorn might even strengthen Deangelo’s position with Congress and a dubious public, especially if were seen as yet another terrorist act.

  The fact he and Flores could sit having a friendly drink while discussing a man’s potential murder was a sad reflection as to their present state of mind, yet necessary if they were to work out a way forward. Their twist on McDowell’s role might be nothing more than a paranoid fantasy but still worth pursuing, if only to be proved wrong. And despite everything, it had a perverse logic which well-matched the conspiracy’s past endeavours...

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