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The rule of the people, p.34
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       The Rule Of The People, p.34

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  The Kremlin’s Taynitsky Garden revealed nothing of the battle that had taken place to the north and Markova stood on the steep bank facing the helipad, her thoughts a bitter mix of anger and resentment.

  Would she have actually done anything? Perhaps, but once Dorokhin had noticed her reaction in the Senate, the decision had been taken from her. Two guards now stood close at hand just in case she tried something stupid and even her pistol had been seized, Markova at least spared the indignity of actually being arrested.

  The snow had eased into an occasional gentle flurry, the evening sky and artificial lighting managing to turn the scene below into a ghostly parody of reality: a civilian helicopter sat on the helipad, its black and silver livery seeming to flicker with anticipation as each of the six passengers climbed aboard. Evgeny Sukhov was the last, pausing for a final look towards where General Morozov stood before giving him the respect of a slight nod of acknowledgement, perhaps even thanks.

  Markova felt her body tensing, the anger seeming to mount with every turn of the helicopter’s rotor blade. Finally it climbed skywards, pulling around to head north-west. A second helicopter swept in from the south, stationing itself behind the ex-President’s transport, its role both that of chaperone and guardian.

  Markova turned to follow the navigation lights, St. Petersburg the lead helicopter’s eventual destination. Golubeva was doubtless already planning her triumphal return, today a minor hiccup to be countered as soon as the opportunity presented itself. How many more would need to die in the months ahead to satisfy Golubeva’s thirst for power?

  Markova assumed Yang Kyung-Jae had been murdered on Golubeva’s orders and the British police were now definitely linking it to the Russian Mafia rather than the Americans. The cabal had learnt of Golubeva’s true nature too late to save one of their own – now General Morozov’s judgement was equally at fault, Golubeva too dangerous an enemy to leave alive.

  “Did you know Morozov had a son?” said a voice behind her.

  Markova twisted around, surprised to see Dorokhin. “One son, one daughter,” she recited. “Both in their early twenties; Kristina and Petr…” She gave a frown of confusion, “You said ‘had’ – I wasn’t aware that the boy was dead.”

  Dorokhin idly gazed up at the lights from the two helicopters, “Petr was killed three weeks ago outside Volgograd; twenty-three and your life is ended. To have lost a son is never easy – Irina Golubeva should have borne that in mind.”

  Markova was quick to understand and she sought out the two helicopters, now just a pair of flashing strobe lights high-up and moving steadily north-west. Abruptly a flickering line of tracers reached out from the second helicopter to touch the first, the latter twisting and weaving.

  There was only ever likely to be one outcome, Markova breathing a sigh of gratitude and only turning away once the sound of the explosion rolled dully over her. She was the one being naïve, not Morozov. The General was quickly learning the ways of Russian politics, particularly those of a president, and there was just one simple rule – kill your enemies before they killed you.

  Washington, D.C. – 11:45 Local Time; 16:45 UTC

  Anderson had suffered a restless night, twisting and turning, his thoughts tumbling from one impossible premise to the next, still trying to find a better solution to fit the facts. Speculation and gut instinct were not necessarily that reliable, and in the light of day and fully sober the assumptions of the previous evening looked rather less convincing, the contradictions more obvious; yet the idea his time would be better spent joining those making the most of Black Friday was never a consideration – once Anderson had got his teeth into something, he was loath to let it go, especially if it involved Pat McDowell.

  Flores might be on enforced leave but he wasn’t suspended, still with friends willing and able to confirm the odd fact and pass on the latest gossip. Too pushy and Flores would have had someone important on his back, maybe even Jensen if he was unlucky. Yet he had learnt enough to add some substance to their suspicions, the relationship between Deangelo and Thorn visibly growing ever more difficult once Vietnam had been attacked. Henry too had good reason to resent the President, it implied he had indeed lost out on a Cabinet post. If there had been some private understanding between the three of them then it was clearly beginning to unravel, and the President’s public support of Thorn was starting look more and more like a charade.

  Then there were the billionaire investors of Solomon’s hedge fund, each with a potential axe to grind – although, if the reports as to the identity of Yang’s murderers were to be believed, then the person most likely deserving of their vengeance had already been killed in a helicopter crash. It was too early to know whether Golubeva’s death would have any bearing on U.S.-China relations, the complication of North Korea forcing other countries to follow the example of Japan and South Korea by raising their military state of alert. One serious incident and the whole region could become embroiled in a vicious war, few willing to guarantee that a nuclear weapon would never be used.

  With respect to McDowell, Anderson’ strategy remained as it always had – bumble along and hope that something worthwhile would turn up, Flores apparently happy enough to do the same. If they were right and Thorn was indeed a target, then McDowell would need to act before there was any hint of compromise with China, Thorn and his allies perhaps already working behind the scenes to undermine any indirect approach from Beijing.

  The future security of the Capitol Building remained more Jensen’s purview than Anderson’s and despite sitting since early that morning, Congress had made little progress in its confirmation of the Vice-President, Jack Shepard subject to hours of questions, the Democrat majority in the Senate the sticking point to any consensus. Thorn’s confirmation hearing had been put back to the Saturday, it still hoped that the agreement made earlier would hold.

  The National Mall had been the focus for every key event of late, and Anderson and Flores had already that morning walked all of its two miles and more, from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial, then back to stand beside the reflecting pool close to the National World War II Memorial.

  Anderson had randomly given McDowell one week to do his worst and with Thorn’s public schedule proving difficult to pin down, they had been forced to second-guess the Secretary’s itinerary. The candlelight march and vigil for the victims of China’s attack on Vietnam was due to set off from the War Memorial just after six o’clock, once the obligatory speeches and platitudes had been completed. Such events were a regular sight somewhere in the Mall, the giant screen and sound system already in place, politicians and celebrities often turning up out of the blue to show support. For Dick Thorn it might even seem prudent to make it a priority: address, march or subsequent vigil – any of the three would provide a convenient photo opportunity to reinforce the Administration’s own message. The War Memorial’s granite pillars and two arches were a solemn reminder of America’s past commitment, the sacrifice of the Philippines also recognised; the Freedom Wall was simply a mass of stars, each one representing a hundred American servicemen who had died serving their country.

  The Washington Monument towered away to the east, its observation deck a perfect location for a skilled sniper such as Lavergne – just not that practical, its high security problematic even for McDowell. Anderson used the zoom on his camera to focus instead on the Lincoln Memorial, west across the reflecting pool.

  “Half-a-mile,” he said without conviction. “I guess that’s within Lavergne’s capabilities, assuming the video screen doesn’t get in the way.”

  “Forget it,” said Flores dismissively. “The plaza is about six feet lower than the surroundings and the Freedom Wall cuts off line of sight; Thorn’s tall but he’s not eight foot.”

  Anderson gave a shrug of frustration, their walk around the War Memorial fairly inconclusive. Thorn was protected 24/7 and McDowell’s options were fairly restricted, especially if his time-s
cale was relatively short. It was anyone’s guess as to when or whether America and China would work out their differences but North Korea’s recent announcement could surely only accelerate the desire, and despite the media regularly reporting some new diplomatic effort, there was never anything definite. Secretary of State Burgess was in Manila before returning on Sunday via Canberra, seemingly more interested in cementing an anti-Chinese alliance than promoting a peaceful resolution.

  Anderson hadn’t ever been to a vigil, Flores not since 9/11, and it wasn’t as if either of them had anything better to do. If Thorn passed up the opportunity to join them, then Anderson was happy to lump in Mayor Henry as another potential target for McDowell, the idea that he might try to take both of them out at the same time intriguing if a little extreme. Having discarded the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, there were no tall buildings within line of sight; even if Lavergne could find somewhere high-up and safe from the prying eyes of police and visitors, he would have no easy shot past trees and a crowd of several thousand.

  If not the address, then the march or vigil – even Thorn’s next visit to Congress – were realistic possibilities, McDowell with perhaps enough inside influence to access the Capitol Building itself despite the extra security. He had certainly never shied away from taking chances: Memorial, Capitol or Pentagon – it was impossible to predict McDowell’s next move, Anderson just having to go on instinct and hope for the best.

  Flores had done his duty and informed Jensen as to their suspicions, the evidence – such as it was – met with polite disapproval; Jensen had even been unwilling to comment as to whether the alert on Capitol Hill was related to Nash or not. Flores’ earlier mistakes obviously still counted against him and as far as the authorities were concerned McDowell was either long gone or in hiding.

  Anderson took such scepticism in his stride, more confused by the moral complexities of what he was presently trying to do: Dick Thorn had likely conspired to cheat the people of America of their rightful leader; now Anderson was doing everything he could to protect Thorn – somehow it just didn’t seem right.
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