Fire And Rain - Chapter 15
“Why aren’t you in school?” called out Heather sleepily.
“Same reason you’re not at work,” retorted Tori. “Getting kidnapped and almost murdered twice in one day gets me one comp day off school. It’s in the CHHS handbook.”
“Sorry, hon, that was a stupid question,” said Heather.
“Besides, I don’t think it’s a very good idea to go outside now,” added Tori. “We’re kind of under siege, so to speak.”
“What?” asked Heather.
“Look out the window,” said Tori. Matt pulled on his trousers and went to the window.
“The boys and girls of the Fourth Estate,” he said, peeping out between the Venetian blinds. “Looks like camera crews from Fox and CNN and, ah, I think that’s the local CBS affiliate. They’re camped out on the front lawn.”
“My God!” moaned Heather. “I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t try to go into work. Not to mention that fact that I had my boss arrested,” she added with a giggle. “I wonder if I’ll have a job after today? I’m still in my probationary period, and Paul Lieberman was the one who had to do my six-month evaluation to get me vested. I wonder if he’ll recommend me for permanent staff now?”
“The media’s claiming you and Paul Lieberman were getting it on,” said Tori.
“What?” cried Heather.
“They’ve been calling all morning,” said Tori. “Some reporter from the Raleigh paper asked me that. I told her no, you were getting it on with Two Gun Matt.”
“Tori!” shouted her mother in exasperation. “Don’t talk to any of those people at all, not about anything!”
“You’re catching on fast, Watson!” said Matt with an approving chuckle.
“Well, I haven’t said much,” said Tori. “Their questions are so stupid I’ve started letting Trumpeldor talk to them.”
“I beg your pardon?” queried Heather.
“I put him on the table, cut him a slice of cheddar and tell him to sing, and when he starts meowing for it I hold the phone up to his mouth. NPR actually played it over the air. It was fun until I ran out of cheese just now.”
“You fed that cat a whole 12-ounce block of cheese?” demanded Heather. “Tori, that’s bad for him! He’s too overweight as it is. Cats can have heart attacks too, you know.”
“Well, I had to give it to him once I showed it to him and he sang for it, didn’t I?” protested Tori. “Teasing him is mean.”
“It’s big news, Heather,” said Matt. “Lieberman was looking good for next Chancellor of the consolidated university system. Tori, any public comment on the connection with Margaret Mears, and most especially any news on what happened out at Mile End Road yesterday?”
“Ah, yeah, that’s what I came up here to tell you, Matt,” said Tori. “You’re not going to like it. There’s not going to be any follow-up with Margaret Mears or with that Feebie creep Bennett. You’d better come down and hear for yourself.”
When they arrived downstairs, Heather in her nightgown and robe, Tori had CNN on the television. An elegantly dressed woman telejournalist was standing in front of the Capitol in Washington with a microphone in her hand, a stricken look on her face, talking to someone named John in her studio. “Washington is reeling in shock this morning, John, from the news of not one but two sudden deaths by apparent suicide among top associates of the Clinton administration. Democratic Congresswoman Margaret Mears of New York was found dead early this morning in the basement of her Georgetown home by her long-time companion and domestic partner, Washington attorney Cynthia Morrison. Congresswoman Mears apparently took her own life sometime in the early hours of this morning by hanging herself from a pipe.”
“Like Jeannie was strung up to a pipe in the basement,” growled Matt. “How appropriate. Poetic justice!”
The newswoman continued, “Also, this morning at approximately seven o’clock A.M. a jogger discovered the body of FBI Assistant Director Charles R. Bennett, lying alongside a trail in a national park in Northern Virginia. U.S. Park Police have issued a statement that Bennett apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head sometime last night...”
“They forgot to mention the self-inflicted hand grenade wounds,” commented Tori sarcastically. Matt clicked the remote and the TV fell silent. “What stupid lying dorks!”
“Damn,” Matt muttered. “Damn! Damn! DAMN!”
“Dear God!” whispered Heather in horror. “Matt, they killed her! A Congresswoman! Will they be coming after us next?”
“I don’t know,” said Matt. “Let me make a call.”
“I still have a few friends up there who might talk to me about this,” said Matt. “There’s one guy in particular who would be in a position to know.” Matt dialed. He got a switchboard and asked for the man he wanted to talk to by name. Heather and Tori’s jaws both dropped in stunned amazement when they heard the name. Matt held his finger to his lips and put the call on speaker phone. He was on hold for a long time. A man’s voice finally answered the phone. “Thanks for taking my call, Al,” he said. “I wasn’t sure you would.”
“Jesus fucking Christ on a raft, Matt!” yelled Al. “You bastard’s ghost! Where the hell do you get off wasting an Assistant Director of the FBI? Not to mention two of the Company’s top choppers? We’re all supposed to be on the same side, last I heard!”
“Bennett didn’t see it that way,” said Matt. “The man was committing kidnapping and conspiracy to murder. He also covered up two murders here on my patch twenty-six years ago. Come on, Al, everybody inside the Beltway knew damned well that Chuck Bennett was the dirtiest fed there was, long before Waco. He was holding two women hostage and he and his crew were going to kill them, and me.”
“Holy shit! Why the hell didn’t you call me, Matt? I owe you big time, I’ve never denied that. I would have sorted it out if you’d just given me time!”
“There wasn’t any time, Al, and this wasn’t something that could have been sorted out,” said Matt. “Do you know what it was about? How’d you hear about it?”
“I just got back from the White House. Where the hell do you think I heard about it?” said the man on the phone. “Hillary is damned near hysterical. She wants your hide nailed to the barn door, Matt, and it was all Bill and me between us could do to keep her from calling up Janet and ordering you hit on the spot! Nobody’s shedding any tears over Bennett, I gotta admit, but Meg Mears was a close friend of Hillary’s from way back when they were both chewing on Richard Nixon’s leg.”
“That’s what I’m calling about, Al. I need to know how bad this is going to get. Look, I know you may not feel you can tell me this, and if not I understand, but what about Meg Mears? Did she really kill herself or was she terminated?”
The man on the other end seemed to reflect. “Matt, I’ll level with you. I just don’t know. I don’t think so. Sounds to me like she offed herself. You know that lawyer dyke she was shacking with found her hanging in the basement? She told the cops Meg was very upset because of a call she’d received from you last night. No mention of any unusual visitors wearing dark suits. Bill and Hillary believe she did herself in because you dug up all this old stuff about her daughter’s murder. If it was a hit nobody’s informed them of the fact. I know Janet would never order a termination within the United States on her own.”
“Next question. Are they coming after me, and are they coming after Heather and Tori Lindstrom?” asked Matt.
“Honest to God, Matt, I just don’t know,” said Al. “You know I’m not exactly in the loop over there, even less so than normal for the guy in my slot.”
“Al, I need to see them coming,” pleaded Matt quietly. “I appreciate the fact that I’m asking you to put your ass on the line if you help me. I’ve never asked for any quid pro quo over that business in Panama. The way I see it I was just doing my duty. I can live with the sword of Damocles hanging over my head, I’m used to it, but these two women can’t, and dammit, they shouldn’t have to! They haven’t done anything except stumble onto the counterculture’s dirty little secret by accident.”
There was silence for a bit. “Matt, that other business, with Vladimir Nakritin and Margaret Mears. I just heard about that this morning for the first time. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I have to ask you, is it true?”
“Yes,” said Matt.
“The North Vietnamese financed most of the anti-war movement through the Soviet espionage network in this country?”
“Yes. I don’t know how much money came in from Hanoi but it must have been well over a million dollars. That’s 1970 dollars,” Matt reminded him.
“Damn!” whispered Al. “I was a captain in ‘Nam, you know.”
“Yes, sir, I know.”
“You were there too, weren’t you?” asked Al.
“Yeah, I was an E-5, just caught the tag end of it in ‘72, didn’t do a full tour. Spent most of my time in the NCO’s mess in Bien Hoa drinking beer,” said Matt.
“When Hillary laid that little bombshell on me this morning all of a sudden I remembered this black kid named Derrick,” said Al, his voice quiet and far away. “I am ashamed to say I can’t remember his last name. He saved my life, although not intentionally. One day in Quang Tri he stepped on a land mine about three seconds before I would have. His leg was blown off clean at the hip, no way anybody could have saved him. He died in my arms. Hillary was crying this morning, ranting and raving about how you had killed her friend. The 58,000 names on that wall a few miles from here didn’t even enter her mind.”
“They wouldn’t,” said Matt.
“Matt, I’ll tell you this much. Right now we’ve all got a lot on our plate, as you know unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past twelve months. Hillary’s calmed down and she’s got sense enough to understand that now is not the time. She can’t afford the slightest whiff of any more scandal and she knows it. That last grand jury came too close for comfort. If we get back in on the fifth, though, you watch out for Hillary. She wants you dead and I gather Janet wouldn’t be too upset either if you had an accident. Something about an insubordinate letter of resignation you wrote.”
“Just between you and me and the wiretaps, Al, how do you rate your chances next month?” asked Matt curiously.
“Well, we’ve got those two million brand new citizens we’ve had the INS and every other bureaucratic body we could scrape up processing like mad all summer,” said Al. “We called it Citizenship USA.”
“Yeah, I heard. The Republicans have been bitching about it.”
“Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. We’ve concentrated on five cities, New York, Miami, Chicago, L.A. and San Francisco. That’s New York, Florida, Illinois, and California, almost enough electoral votes to win. Most of our new Americans are from Third World countries, of course, so they understand the quid pro quo. As a public service we’ve even got voting registrars on hand at these massive swearing-in ceremonies. We filled Candlestick Park the other day.”
“Yeah, I saw it on the news,” put in Matt.
“The mayors in Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles and St. Louis are pulling out all the stops for us, since Janet whispered the magic words ‘Federal indictment’ in their ears. A lot depends on whether or not Daley in Chicago can deliver the goods like his old man could and make damned sure we get those Illinois electoral votes like in ‘60 and ‘76,” Al went on. “I know Bill’s sure as hell no Jack Kennedy, but if Daley and some of the other city bosses can do the old Lazarus trick and raise the Democratic dead, with the blacks and the fems and what’s left of the unions up north, and all that lovely disposable gay income keeping our war chest nice and topped up, we just might slip back in by a hair. Love that electoral college! Of course it doesn’t help the GOP that their candidate is Mr. Baker the Undertaker. We were sweating bullets that Buchanan’s peasant uprising might succeed and we’d be facing somebody with charisma and some actual principles, but the country club Republicans did him in for us quite neatly. They’d rather lose than allow the peasants into the country club.”
“Somehow I don’t think you’re going to get much of the American Legion vote this year,” commented Matt.
“Politically partisan rumor-mongering, Matt,” warned Al. “Some university egghead went off the rails, killed a guy and held some teeny-bopper hostage, now he’s trying to muddy the waters and save his ass. I don’t know if Margaret Mears died by her own hand or not, Matt, but now she’s dead she’s officially a martyr for the Movement and of course she’s also conveniently beyond questioning. That’s what this morning’s meeting was about, basically. The spin doctors are already spinning, Matt, the media feeding frenzy is gearing up and you and your lady are both going to get stripped to the bone like you’ve been attacked by piranhas. You’ve got no proof, and by tonight Dan Rather will be telling the whole country there’s no proof. NPR will be leading the chorus screaming bloody murder and by Sunday night Sixty Minutes will have exposed the whole thing as a right-wing hoax that probably originated with Jesse Helms. It’s rotten and it makes me sick, Matt, it’s spitting on the grave of every man who died over there, but there it is.”
“I know,” replied Matt wearily. “Won’t be the first time those guys have had their graves spit on by the Usual Suspects.”
“Ain’t that the truth? Even if we are tossed out on the fifth, you’re still going to have a problem with the Company. They don’t take kindly to country bumpkins in fedoras knocking off their guys. I will do this much for you: while I’m here I’ll make it my business to keep my ears peeled and if I can possibly warn you of any impending problems I will. If I leave office I’ll make sure somebody reliable takes over the listening post.”
“Thanks, Al.” said Matt. “I appreciate that.”
“I owe you, buddy. I remember that every time I look at my wife. And Matt...?”
“Any chance of picking up your vote on November 5th?” Matt laughed out loud.
“No chance at all,” he replied.
“Didn’t think so. Take care, Matt,” he said.
“You, too.” He hung up. Heather stared, waving her hands inarticulately, questioning. “That was one that didn’t make the papers or the tabloids,” explained Matt. “National security, diplomatically sensitive and so forth. A few years ago his wife was on an official tour of Panama. Some muchachos from Medellín got the idea of snatching her and trying to exchange her for Pablo Escobar. I was able to dissuade them. I got that grenade I used yesterday off one of them. He didn’t need it any more.”
“Oh,” said Heather weakly. “Matt, what will Margaret Mears’ death do to the case itself? About the girls, I mean? All we have is Paul Lieberman ranting and raving on a tape recording while he’s obviously emotionally distraught. Even I can guess that recording will be suppressed by the court. Apparently the story is out, like you wanted it to be, but there is still not one bit of hard proof.”
“You can lead a horse to water, Heather, but you can’t make him drink,” sighed Matt. “We’ve done all we can. The horse is standing at the water’s edge and it’s there if he’s ever thirsty. I just hope it will make the dead and the living both rest a bit easier.”
“One is resting easier already,” said Tori quietly. “I went down into the cellar this morning. Jeannie’s gone.”
“God be praised!” said Heather fervently, her head bowed.
“Amen!” seconded Matt. “Mary Jane?”
“She’s still here. I’m not sure why. I get the impression she’s waiting for someone,” said Tori.
“Her father,” said Matt. “He’s probably not going to be with us too much longer.”
“Say, does the federal government really operate like a bunch of gangsters all the time?” asked Tori with interest.
“In a word, yes,” said Matt.
“I have a civics paper I’m supposed to do,” said Tori with a grin. “I wonder...”
“Put down whatever orthodoxy your teacher wants you to put down and get an A on it,” advised Matt quietly but firmly. “If you want to fight it when you’re an adult then more power to you, but for the next few years your mission in life is to cop a couple of pieces of paper off the system, girl, starting with your high school diploma and then a college degree. I never had the chance to go to college, but I’ve always regretted it. Don’t rock the boat until you’ve got those pieces of paper in your grubby little paw.”
“I agree,” said Heather. The phone rang. Heather picked it up. “Hello?”
“Ah, is this Ms. Heather Lindstrom?” said a female voice. “Ms. Lindstrom, this is Lindley Beatty from the Los Angeles Times, and I’d like to ask you a few...”
“Meow!” said Heather, and hung up.