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The evening was sparkling, traffic dense as the cab pulled into the circular drive in front of the elegant Hay Adams Hotel. Bill Lane, a husky, thick-shouldered man in his mid-forties, dressed in a dove gray Italian silk suit, an Hermès tie, matching pocket square, and hand-sewn Brazilian loafers, got out of the cab and paid the driver. As the bellman was getting his Louis Vuitton luggage out of the trunk, Lane stared at the White House through the trees across the far side of Lafayette Park, his deep blue eyes narrowing slightly as if he were measuring distances.
All of Washington was busy this Friday evening, with a reception for the prime ministers of all seven EC nations at the White House, and cocktail parties at every major hotel and many of the embassies. The United Nations General Assembly had just adjourned after one of the most contentious sessions in its history, and the diplomats and their staffs had come to Washington to celebrate. The trouble in the Balkans was finally over. The former Yugoslavia had been successfully partitioned into three independent nations, and although no one was overjoyed by the politics of the UN-brokered treaty, at least the killing had stopped.
The lobby was busy. A lot of people were dressed in evening clothes. A string quartet playing a Vivaldi piece was all but drowned out by the hum of conversation.
"You have a reservation for me. The name is Vandermeer,"Lane told a young woman at the registration desk.
The night manager, wearing morning clothes, came over smoothly. "Welcome to Washington, Mr. Vandermeer," he said. His brass name tag read Mr. Wilson. "Indeed we do have a suite reserved in your name." He glanced down at a computer screen. "Three nights?"
"That's right," Lane said. He handed an American Express platinum card to the manager, who deftly slid it through the card reader and immediately returned it.
"I hope you had a pleasant trip."
The registration form popped out of the printer and the manager laid it and a gold pen from his pocket on the counter. Lane signed under the name William Vandermeer, the Kruger Investment Group, Cape Town, South Africa.
The manager pocketed his pen, handed one of the room keys to the bellman waiting with Lane's luggage, then came around the counter as the bellman headed toward the service elevator.
"I'll show you to your room, sir."
Lane followed the night manager to the bank of ele vators on the left. Before the door closed he glanced across at a group of people dressed in evening clothes near the string quartet.
"The city seems busy tonight."
"Oh, yes, sir."
"Are you fully booked?"
"Completely," the manager said. "In fact you were lucky that there was a cancellation. Even the Presidential Suite is occupied."
The manager was surprised. "Why, yes, sir."
"Bank of Moscow?"
"Yes, sir. They're having a reception this evening for their new North American branch manager."
"I would have thought they'd hold such a gathering at their own embassy."
"It's not big enough," the night manager said. "But you need not be concerned, sir. The reception is being held on the mezzanine, ten floors below you, so you shouldn't be bothered."
The suite was very large, and overlooked Lafayette Park and the White House beyond. One room was furnished with a larger than king-size bed, two walk-in closets, his and hers dressing areas, and a palatial master bathroom. The other room was furnished as a living room with sectional couches, chairs, an entertainment center, a second bathroom, and a fully stocked wet bar. There were vases of cut flowers here and there throughout the suite, and a thick terry-cloth robe was laid out on the bed.
The bellman was just finishing with the bags. When he came out, Lane handed him a fifty-dollar bill.
"Thank you, sir," he said and left.
"Shall I pour you a glass of champagne, sir?" the night manager asked.
"If it's any good."
"A vintage Dom Pérignon."
"Very well," Lane said. He lit a cigarette and went to the windows. He'd never stayed at the Hay Adams before. It was very nice; too bad Frannie wasn't here to share it with him. "The Russian reception tonight is a closed affair?"
"Yes, sir. By invitation only," the night manager said. He brought Lane a glass of champagne. "Will there be anything else?"
Lane handed him three hundred dollars. "I'd like an invitation to that reception."
The night manager hesitated only a moment before pocketing the money. "I'll see what I can do."
"What time does it begin?"
"Two hours from now. Nine o'clock."
"Right. I'll just change clothes and pop down to the lobby bar to wait."
"Very good, sir," the night manager said, and he left.
Copyright © 1998 by David Hagberg