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The rule of the people, p.4
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       The Rule Of The People, p.4

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  Jensen walked at a brisk pace towards the National Mall, drawn like so many others to seek inspiration from its surroundings. In every direction stood some iconic building or structure, the Lincoln Memorial looking out across the parkland and on past the Washington Monument towards the Capitol Building two miles away.

  It was walk Jensen tried to do at least once a week, his security detail concerned as to its regularity but not yet insistent he abandon such pleasures. It didn’t help that he tended to have his mind on other matters and somehow Jensen had to work out how best to juggle his Cabinet responsibilities while keeping a firm hand on the inquiry into Thorn. Conscious of the need for discretion, he had picked team leaders he knew well and trusted absolutely, initiative and tenacity essential ingredients if they were to have any chance of success.

  With an icy wind and rain now threatening, much of the National Mall was relatively free of tourists, Capitol Hill and the tented city between 3rd and 4th Street attracting the attention of most of those brave enough to venture out. A mix of entrepreneurs and volunteers provided the encampment with the essentials of food and drink, a public-address system regularly booming out their message across the Mall. The D.C. authorities – specifically Mayor Henry – had worked hard to show their implicit support, everything from ensuring the police kept a low profile to arranging temporary toilet facilities, even a medical tent. A committed hard-core around a thousand-strong remained, all wanting to show their support for Dick Thorn and their anger at Congress’ many faults: immoral, unrepresentative and incompetent – it wasn’t just the narrow-minded opinion of a few Washington diehards, and millions more people across America were plainly embarrassed by the reputation of their elected senators and representatives.

  The news of Dick Thorn’s appointment as Secretary of Defence was not yet public knowledge, Jensen guessing that it might just be enough to satisfy the majority of those camped outside the Capitol. But maybe not all, a few doubtless waiting until they saw something more productive, anything from a missile strike on China’s Navy to the U.S. Marines forcibly retaking every Chinese-held island and reef in the South China Sea. The President might baulk at such dramatic alternatives but the military options remained under review, nothing specific yet decided.

  While the attack on the USS Milius was still not officially being blamed on China, the U.S. could easily use China’s seizure of three of the Spratly Islands to justify any hostile response. China’s ambassador was about to be summoned, a seventy-two hour deadline set for China to withdraw or face military action – no vague phrases about ‘just and proportionate retribution’, but a very specific reference to the use of military force.

  Jensen slowed and headed west, following the tree-lined path as it paralleled the northern edge of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, his head down and apparently lost in thought. His protection detail kept a respectful distance, just out of earshot, an agent merely nodding in acknowledgement as a tall figure caught up with Jensen, the man slowing to match the Secretary’s pace.

  “Good timekeeping, Agent Flores,” Jensen said quietly. “I’m sorry to drag you away from your nice warm office.”

  “Exercise is good for the soul, Sir. And it wasn’t an office, just a stuffy thirty-foot truck parked near Independence Avenue; a spacious and air-conditioned office would be a welcome change.”

  “Almost exactly what I have in mind for you,” responded Jensen glibly. “Just miss out the spacious part.”

  They walked on, Jensen waiting until they passed an elderly couple seated on a bench before continuing, his voice low but not quite a whisper.

  “I’m afraid I have need of your services for a while longer, Agent Flores. Our new President is keen to pursue the present inquiry: who’s involved, to what degree, and what precisely is their agenda. I’ve asked Derek Fitzpatrick to take over as SAC (Special Agent-in-Charge), with Bryan Walker now focusing solely on the search for McDowell. I need you and your team to work independently, somewhere discreet and well away from the Hoover Building. You’ll still have full access to the inquiry’s findings but with a different target in mind.”

  Flores nodded in understanding but stayed silent, pleased that he wasn’t being overlooked. It was galling that the Bureau always seemed to be one step behind Pat McDowell and his fellow conspirators, and Flores for one was determined to prove the FBI was equal to the task. Chances had been lost, mistakes made, Flores as guilty as anyone of misjudging their adversaries.

  “Bob Deangelo,” continued Jensen, almost sounding embarrassed at what he was asking Flores to do. “Go back over his every action for the past six months and see if there is anything to be worried about; I don’t care about any extra-marital affair or a troublesome tax return – we need to know if the President was directly involved with Thorn or McDowell to remove Cavanagh.”

  Flores was still taking it all in, not sure whether to feel honoured or appalled. He had known Deangelo might be part of the conspiracy but to be the one to prove the President’s guilt or innocence was a challenge he hadn’t quite anticipated.

  Jensen continued, “By going at it from a different angle, you might also pick up on something Fitzpatrick or Walker has missed. A month is all I can give you; after that we have to assume there’s nothing to be found.” His voice softened, well knowing what he asking, “Perhaps you should think about it, Agent Flores; it would be foolish to underestimate the risks.”

  “I don’t need to think about it, Sir,” Flores replied positively, confident that his team would be of the same mind. “And I well understand the risks… How much does Fitzpatrick know about my role?”

  “Neither he nor Walker have any reason to know of your specific line of inquiry and you’ll just be another layer of bureaucracy.” Jensen gave a frustrated shake of his head, “There’s just too much at stake not to take precautions; a single mistake or misjudgement and this Administration could easily follow Cavanagh into obscurity.”

  With Flores duly signed-up, Jensen quickly moved on to what he hoped would be a rather less contentious issue, every available avenue needing to be followed in the search for the truth.

  “Jon Carter is also prepared to make a deal; four days of hospital food and he’s already had enough. If you can persuade him to co-operate fully, then so much the better and he must know whether Deangelo was involved. We also need to find out from him if Pat McDowell’s work here is complete.”

  “So not such a good friend to McDowell after all,” observed Flores drily.

  “Maybe he doesn’t appreciate being left to take the rap, especially having been shot for his troubles. Carter’s on the mend but you’ll need to think carefully where you’re based; somehow I doubt he’ll be that co-operative if he has to sleep in a thirty-foot truck. Just make sure I get a daily update on progress direct to my office.”

  Jensen paused and his tone changed, wanting to emphasise that what came next was simply a suggestion rather than a direct order. “I leave it to your good judgement, Agent Flores, but you might also want to make further use of Anderson; for some reason, he seems to have a flair for searching out trouble. And just to make life even more interesting, Dick Thorn is back in the Cabinet as Secretary of Defence…”

  Jensen was still uncertain that he had done enough, the combination of a fixed time-limit and FBI traitor making it difficult to know how best to organise his various resources. It wasn’t just the complication of a political conspiracy; officially Pat McDowell was one of three men wanted for the murder of two Mississippi Congressmen and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and Congress was growing impatient, unhappy that it was taking so long to make an arrest. The FBI’s Director was soaking up most of the pressure but soon some of it would land on Jensen’s desk, the usual raft of excuses unlikely to satisfy an increasingly temperamental Congress.

  Jensen slowed to halt, gazing out towards the marble columns of the Lincoln Memorial before turning to face Flores. “To find anything concl
usive in a few weeks is a tough ask – we need to hope one of you gets lucky.”

  “And if Deangelo is part of it?”

  Jensen shrugged, “Let’s just see where it all leads…” There was still good reason to be positive and despite Jensen’s earlier fears there had been no powerful clique taking control and no military coup. To the American public, Deangelo was a virtual unknown; he was also not part of any specific faction within the Democratic Party, circumstances thrusting him into the Oval Office purely as a quick-fix. In two years, unless his approval rating was particularly impressive, the Democrats would almost certainly cast him aside – two years with Dick Thorn beside him every step of the way, watching and waiting.

  “I’ve asked Fitzpatrick to keep an especially close eye on Thorn,” said Jensen pensively, resuming his walk. “State Department to Defence after a week in the wilderness – I’m just not sure how he’s gained out of all this. Thorn might be popular with the public but he’s made a good few enemies in Congress and despite the President’s optimism, I doubt he’ll get Senate approval.”

  Flores’ eyes narrowed in surprise, reading more into Jensen’s words than he’d perhaps implied, “You still think a coup is possible?”

  Jensen was uncertain in his own mind as to what he was actually suggesting, his suspicions based on a highly questionable interpretation of the facts. “Not perhaps a full-blown military takeover but maybe something more specific to D.C. itself. Two days ago Thorn had close to a million people in the Mall, the Capitol surrounded, members of Congress needing a police escort in order to vote. Now, from his perspective, it’s all fallen a little flat, his office in the Pentagon perhaps only temporary. The momentum is still with Thorn and if his ambitions extend beyond that of Secretary of Defence, then he’s in the ideal place to plan something dramatic.”

  “A million people marching through the Mall isn’t reason enough for a coup,” said Flores, trying not to sound dismissive. “However flawed our present system of government might be, Thorn would never get the military to support him. Even if one rogue general somehow convinced his troops to storm the White House or the Capitol, ten others would be beating at the door to claim it back.”

  “I hope you’re right, Agent Flores,” said Jensen with a broad smile, encouraged by Flores’ optimism. “Whatever happens, the country needs Deangelo to still be in the White House come Christmas...”

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