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The rule of the people, p.38
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       The Rule Of The People, p.38

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  The idea that McDowell could be tempted out by an unscripted appearance from Thorn was growing on Anderson – there might be no chance to prepare beforehand but McDowell would be happy enough with that, and it might well offer a better opportunity than the other options. The rumours that a ceasefire was close to being agreed were becoming more persistent, some reports indicating that a permanent deal covering all of the Spratly Islands was also under discussion. If true then everything Thorn had fought so hard for would soon be wasted. What then for a very pissed off Secretary of Defence?

  The McDowell-Thorn theory was still one hundred percent speculative; not that Anderson was that bothered and despite the snow he was quite enjoying his walk in the park. He had taken plenty of photos, always hoping for something spectacular and occasionally getting one or two shots a real professional might actually be proud of. Photo or investigative journalist: Anderson still hadn’t the skill of the former, his persistence seemingly better suited to the latter.

  Most of those involved in the candlelight march had now reached 3rd Street, people standing around and waiting for the stragglers to join them. Security concerns had changed the location of the vigil from the steps of the Capitol to between 3rd Street and the Capitol Reflecting Pool, the public-address system already moved there from the WW2 Memorial. There was no giant screen and because of the weather the organisers had reduced the vigil to no more than twenty minutes, prayers and music the plan.

  Anderson walked across 3rd Street to stand beside the reflecting pool and stare up towards the lights of the Capitol Building. It was still snowing but not quite as heavily as before, and the setting and elements cleverly combined to make it all rather surreal, the sound of a siren in the far distance slightly spoiling the moment. A handful of police had kept pace with the march but they were the only ones he had noticed; under the circumstances that seemed surprisingly few and Anderson couldn’t help but wonder where the rest were waiting – or maybe the few B-list celebrities amongst the marchers weren’t considered that important.

  If Thorn deigned to make an appearance, 3rd Street would seem the most likely place for his convoy of cars to park, leaving the Secretary a sixty yard walk to the vigil. The high buildings to either side might provide suitable line of sight for Lavergne but most were government controlled – would McDowell really have enough time to plan something so complex? The tree cover was also relatively sparse now, nothing else leaping out as offering a viable alternative.

  An icy trickle was working its way down the back of Anderson’s neck and he sought the protection of a large elm tree before phoning Flores with an update, both men prepared to wait it out just to be sure. McDowell was doubtless wise enough to stay in the warm and let others do the worrying, Thorn’s D.C. residence or his Massachusetts home no doubt providing a rather more predictable setting if McDowell were so minded, perhaps also a better chance for Lavergne’s skills with a rifle.

  Apart from those taking part in the vigil, Anderson had seen hardly any other visitors in the last hour and he waited beside the elm tree, watching as the organisers gathered everyone together for a final symbolic march across 3rd Street. Relatively few of those that had attended the lighting ceremony looked to have given up because of the snow and it was questionable as to whether they’d all squeeze into the area between the road and the reflecting pool. 3rd Street was pretty much empty of traffic, two police officers ready to do their duty as crossing guards.

  “No sudden movements, Mike; you don’t want to make me nervous.”

  Anderson felt the cold tingle of fear run up his spine as he recognised McDowell’s voice, and he noticeably flinched as the hard metal of a gun pressed into his back, McDowell’s instructions somehow superfluous. Their roles of adversary and prey had instantly been reversed, the consequences of Anderson’s brief lack of concentration likely to be unfortunate.

  “Hands where I can see them,” added McDowell curtly. He patted Anderson down one-handed, phone pulled from his side pocket, before positioning himself slightly behind Anderson and to his right.

  Anderson risked a quick glance, McDowell standing with the gun now cradled in the crook of his arm, only a small part of the silencer actually visible. It was enough to suggest running might be a second serious mistake, Anderson still with the presence of mind to wonder where exactly Lavergne and Preston might be.

  “Persistent as always,” McDowell said, his tone almost friendly. “And no FBI tail other than Special Agent Flores – you really need to care more care, Mike.”

  When Anderson didn’t respond, McDowell turned to view the trail of candles as the first group of marchers crossed 3rd Street. “Will Secretary Thorn honour the vigil with his presence or not?” he asked rhetorically. “He was thinking about it an hour ago but you never can tell with these politicians. Sadly, it seems there’s some new problem at the Pentagon which might well take precedence.”

  “Your doing?” said Anderson, finally finding his voice.

  “Not down to me, Mike; I’ve been here, watching you. I hear you’ve been busy: Boston and then a daily visit to the Mall, even a tour of the Capitol.”

  Anderson didn’t bother asking how McDowell knew all this; phone tracker or tail – it was all irrelevant now and McDowell wasn’t likely to let him off with anything less than a bullet in the brain.

  McDowell continued, “I wouldn’t get your hopes up that Agent Flores will come and rescue you; he seems quite happy on his side of the Mall. Personally, I’d rather just deal with Thorn then we can all go our separate ways – even you, Mike.”

  “Generous as always, Pat; you deserve a gold star. Forgive me if I choose not to believe you.” Past experience had proved McDowell’s promises were generally meaningless, nothing more than empty words to try and smooth the way forward. If there was to be a way out of this mess, it would down to Anderson alone.

  “Bob Deangelo owes you a big favour,” said McDowell cheerfully, “and that has to be worth something. He was never that keen on muzzling Congress but it was Thorn’s price for risking his career; now thanks to you it’s a non-starter.”

  Anderson certainly didn’t want the credit, angry with everyone, especially himself. “You gave me Nash; I was just the sucker who did all the hard work.”

  “Well, think of how grateful our nation will be to the man who helped save U.S. democracy; just make sure you’re still around to receive a personal thank you from the President and a congratulatory handshake.”

  Despite the cold, Anderson felt the sweat running down his face, not knowing how long he could delay the inevitable. A couple of friends having a chat while watching the vigil wasn’t going to make anyone curious, and even though Anderson’s sudden collapse into a heap might create a stir of interest in the Mall, it was a chance McDowell would eventually be forced to take.

  The rest of the marchers were steadily making their way across 3rd Street; for the moment they were staying close to the centre of the Mall but any further south and McDowell might start getting nervous. Anderson kept scanning the trees on the other side of the park but he couldn’t see any sign of Flores, not that he had any idea what to do even if he could.

  “You should give it up,” said Anderson, hoping for a miracle. “Three men against Thorn’s protection detail – it’s a suicide mission. The Capitol is crawling with police and FBI; the first shots and you’ll have a hundred more armed men to deal with.”

  “You’re probably right,” McDowell responded, his tone still annoyingly complacent. “But with a ringside seat, it’d be a shame to miss all the excitement.”

  Anderson couldn’t work it out, it sounding as though McDowell was happy just to stand and watch. “You’re leaving it to Lavergne and Preston?” he said, unable to hold back his surprise.

  “The art of delegation; you should try it sometime. My face is too well-known to take unnecessary risks. But don’t worry, Mike; if Thorn turns up, we’ll make sure he gets a suitable welcome.”
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