Getting to the truth behind a presidential assassination, aide Nick Addis faces a decision that imperils his own future--and that of the nation. "A page-turning thriller from first word to last."--Jim Lehrer.
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By David Corn
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 David Corn
All rights reserved.
Washington, D.C. June 20
He paused at the top of the moving stairs and looked down to where it was dark. That was the way home. Maybe tonight, if he arrived at a decent hour, it would be different. No arguments. No shouting about where he had been, about why he never was around, about the money for this, the money for that, about her loneliness, her disappointment. And none of the silence that followed, during which they realized there was nothing else to shout, say, or whisper.
Other commuters pushed past as he considered. He watched the steps appear out of nowhere. Do it, a voice said — a voice from an earlier day. Break the pattern. Put one foot forward. Descend to the train. Stride through the townhouse door sooner than expected, carrying flowers, wine — do it, he thought. Everything might change. He pictured her at home, fixed in anger, blaming him for all of it. Waiting for the moment when he crosses the threshold and becomes the available target.
He stared down the escalator. Tomorrow, he said to himself.
He opened his umbrella, walked up Connecticut Avenue in the sticky rain, entered the Mayflower Hotel, and headed straight to the bar.
The thick-necked bartender with a boxer's nose greeted him with a nod. The same bar, once again. Shit, last week, he had been quoted in a newspaper profile about the bartender — the guy had won some contest — and the story described him as a five-nights-a-week regular.
This was a spot to be left alone. But three nights ago a heavy-bearded fellow insisted on buying him drinks to celebrate some unspecified triumph and spent an hour trying to find a common link with him. Someone he knew who knew someone who knew someone who knew him. No such person was found.
The place was not crowded. Probably the rain, he thought. He took off his suit jacket, sat at the bar, and ordered a vodka and tonic.
His hands gripped the rail. It can't go on, he thought. He stared out the window at people rushing home. He watched a famous television reporter hail a cab. Can't go on, he repeated silently. The fights with his wife. The trouble at the office. They were threatening to force a new assignment on him after he had been in his current position for only three months. He had given years to the service and had been awarded with a prestigious posting. Now they were complaining. Your concentration is just not there, they said. Something at home? Something else? They didn't have the guts to say it: the drinking? They probably had seen that story in the paper. In any event, they said, there's this new man we want to try. They had wanted him out this week. He had managed to postpone any change until after the Fourth. Maybe in the next two weeks he could ...
Spent, he thought. Spent. His gaze fixed on two old men in dark suits — they looked like brothers — at a table by the window. Another vodka and tonic. Perhaps it was time to push on. He was finishing his third drink.
She had been sitting next to him for several minutes before he noticed her. He turned when he saw the bartender's eye hold on her, and he caught her face dead-on.
"Don't," she said.
"Don't turn away and pretend you weren't looking."
He started to talk.
"No, no," she interrupted. "You don't have to say anything, no stupid excuses. I sat here because I wanted to meet you. There's practically no one down here, and I wanted company."
Twenty-four, he guessed. Maybe Twenty-five. Teenage to thirty all seemed the same to him. Her hair was long, straight — what they call chestnut brown? — her lips plump. Her eyes — he couldn't tell in this light. Something was off.
He waited for her to continue.
"My eyes. You probably can't see in here. One is blue, one is gray."
In front of her was a notebook with the logo of the Department of Justice. She moved it aside.
"In town for a conference," she said.
"No work talk. I know this is Washington, but let's pretend it's not for a few minutes."
He lifted his drink in a silent toast.
The bartender placed a scotch before her and moved off. He watched where the glass met her lips. He had stopped thinking about leaving the bar. He signaled for a vodka and tonic. He decided not to wonder why this was happening, not to worry that his hair was thinning and that he was developing a slump.
She talked about growing up in Michigan and fishing trips with her father in the Upper Peninsula. He told her he left college to be a jazz pianist. They ordered another round. She mentioned a brother who had died in a car crash. He told her about the time he had seen a ghost in a Vermont farmhouse. She did not believe him and laughed as he tried to convince her.
"Alexia," she said, holding out her hand. "Or Alex."
"Brady." He grasped her hand.
After two hours of talking, she asked if he would escort her to her room. He said yes. This was better, he thought, much better, than once again having to call a friend in search of a bed or couch where he could wait out another night.
In the elevator, his arm brushed against hers. He thought about the escalator to the Metro. Both looked straight ahead. When the door opened, she took his hand. They walked past a maid toward her room. At the door, she looked for her key in her bag and dropped her notebook. He picked it up and noticed the first page was blank.
"A boring conference?" he asked.
"Aren't they all?"
She opened the door. The room was dark. She leaned in front of him to reach the light switch. He smelled her hair. The light came on. She closed the door behind them.
"Alex," he started to say.
The door to the bathroom swung open. Neither of them saw the gun. Nor did they hear the shot that tore through Brady's head. And before she could scream, she was dead, too.
The assailant knelt over the dead man and emptied his pockets. From the pile, he selected one item. He then went through her bag and found the microcassette recorder he had given her. He pushed the rewind button, waited, and pressed the play button.
"Seriously, one time Monk came in when we were playing in this West Side dive, and he —"
He put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign, went to the bed, and lay down, his head against the pillows. He reached for the remote control and turned on CNN. He looked at what he had retrieved from the dead man — a laminated press pass on a chain. He hit the play button again and listened to the tape, fast-forwarding whenever the woman spoke. He watched the television, with the sound turned off.CHAPTER 2
The White House West Wing — June 21
Another trip to New Orleans. Nick Addis was not looking forward to it. He pushed around the papers on his desk. He couldn't sort out the mess: checks, tax returns, land records. He read the memo again. Re-create the trail. Find anyone who knew anything. Go to New Orleans. Don't tell anyone. But if anybody asks, don't say you're not going.
He looked at the bare walls. Another reorganization, another shuffle of offices was under way. Too many people here, he thought, care more about where their desks are located than anything else. Next to his own desk was a stack of boxes and pile of books. On top of the books was a framed postcard from LaTeenah Williams, a student he had fifteen years ago when he taught American history in a East New York high school. After graduating from Harvard, Addis, the son of two Columbia University professors, had postponed his plan to attend Yale Law School and answered the call of the New York City public school system, which, facing a teacher shortfall, had instituted an emergency recruitment program. Addis was placed in a school where he was one of four white teachers. He spent two years riding the subway each morning and plotting how to engage his uncaring students in the history of the United States. The slavery trade — what happened to slaves who rebelled? The building of the transcontinental railroad — how many Chinese laborers were worked to death? The California gold rush — who in the class realized that it led to the most severe slaughter of Native Americans in the country's entire history? The Jim Crow era — who knew that Joshua Gibson, a star in the negro baseball league, hit more home runs in a season than Babe Ruth? Half the class had not been able to identify Babe Ruth.
Few students took his bait. Most were more concerned with avoiding the violence in the school's hallways or guessing who was the father of the baby being carried by this or that student. But LaTeenah Williams, a short, slight girl with a long neck and large eyes, had been one of the few students who had listened and absorbed. Years later, Addis still remembered the report she had written on how President Johnson manuevered civil rights legislation through Congress, cutting deals to win a greater good. Addis had encouraged her to go to college and helped with her applications. She sent him the postcard when she started City University. "Teachers make us all," she had written. "Thank you." Last he had heard from Williams — and that was several years back — she had become a psychiatric social worker based at a hospital in the South Bronx. He stared at her deliberate handwriting and wondered how many people she had helped directly: a suicide prevented, an abused woman rescued from a personal hell, an addict placed into a treatment program. Could Addis claim a piece of these triumphs? Even a small one?
Shit, here I am advising the most powerful man in the world, and I'm thinking, maybe I should have stayed a teacher....
Then he recalled the evening at law school when he and the professor who ran the low-income law clinic had pulled an all-nighter to finish a petition for several families tossed out of a housing project for nonpayment. Why'd you come to law school? she had asked Addis. All he could offer was a cliché: So I can take a swing or two at changing what I don't like in our world. Very noble, she had said, but remember, the smallest victories are the truest.
Addis thought about where he should place LaTeenah Williams's postcard. He picked up a mounted cartoon: a caricature of the previous President at a podium, frantically waving his arms and saying, "Enrico Fermi, I. M. Pei, Lee loccoca — what sort of American names are these?" Below the cartoon was an inscription: "Add Nicholai Addis to the list. Without you, none of this would have been possible." It was signed by Bob Hanover, the President of the United States, and dated the day of his inauguration.
The cartoon referred to an event early in the presidential campaign. A foreign reporter had asked the President about a statement made by an aide to Louisiana Governor Bob Hanover, who was competing in the presidential primaries of the other party. The reporter had used Addis's full first name — given to Addis to honor a grandfather from Russia — which nobody ever did. "Nicholai Addis?" the President had replied. "What kind of American name is that?" After days of unfavorable editorials, the President sent Addis a letter of apology and one of the shoes he had been wearing when he made the remark. "Finally got it out of my mouth," the President had written.
Addis then announced he was sending the shoe to a Washington goodwill store and called for the President to donate the other shoe. Days later, Addis checked with the thrift store. Nothing had arrived from the President. That evening when a network anchor was concluding a live interview with Hanover, he asked what was most on the candidate's mind those frantic days. Hanover grinned: "Well, Mike, I'm waiting for the other shoe."
Hanover's quip made the cover of the major newspapers the following morning. He repeated it for days. Finally, the President donated a case of new shoes to the thrift shop.
Addis's face-off with the President turned him into a political celebrity. Photographs of the most influential campaign aide of the political season appeared in newspapers and newsmagazines. One long piece in a gossipy weekly speculated that Hanover had embraced Addis as a replacement for Hanover's brother, a zookeeper and part- time evangelist in Orlando. A woman's magazine put Addis on its first male cover: "Tall, Skinny, Pale, Nerdy: A Sex Symbol for Now." His toothy, crooked smile stretched across a full page. That had been four years ago.
In his barren office — no window this time — Addis looked at the unpacked boxes. The latest staff shuffle had been prompted by his own suggestion. With Hanover drawing no competition from within the party, the primaries had gone too well. Hanover's reelection campaign, predictably, was attracting little attention from the media. Instead, the press was obsessed with the surprising rise of first-term Florida Governor Wesley Pratt, Hanover's likely opponent in the November election. A onetime country-western singer who had entered politics merely five years ago, the handsome, silver-haired Pratt had won the Iowa caucuses of his party, with the backing of religious activists, and had gone on to sweep most of the subsequent contests. To counter Pratt's momentum, Addis had in mid-spring proposed moving his party's suspense-free convention from the sleepy days of August to the weekend of July 4. Changing the date would bring more attention to the event, the party, and the President.
It was, Addis recognized, a tacky idea: a rip-roaring, red-white-and-blue convention on America's birthday. Satellite connections to Fourth of July celebrations across the country. Country singers — who were not for Pratt — rock stars, orchestras, marching bands. And fireworks, plenty of fireworks.
Hanover embraced it. The mayor of Chicago, the hotel owners, and others screamed about the hardships of moving the date. But Hanover said to do it. Several White House aides were transferred to the campaign office, replacements were appointed, and a series of office roulette had ensued since then. Somehow Addis had lost both his office window and his assistant in the most recent shift. Another assistant, the daughter of the ambassador to Portugal, was due to start tomorrow.
Addis reread the latest memo from Chief of Staff Brewster McGreer. A reporter from a second-rate newspaper in Pittsburgh had been calling the White House press office, asking about an old land deal in Louisiana involving the Hanovers. No one on the staff knew anything about it. The President had provided McGreer the basic details: It had been a straightforward property investment. We were in and out, he said. Picked up some money, declared it all. In his personal papers, Hanover had located some records. McGreer had forwarded the documents to Addis. Sort it all out, McGreer instructed Addis: "Probably not much, but I'm a worrier. Go to New Orleans. See who's saying what."
Shit, New Orleans. Addis thought about his two previous trips to New Orleans. Nearly five years ago, the phone in his cluttered one-bedroom Washington apartment had rung past midnight. Governor Bob Hanover of Louisiana was on the line with an invitation. Could Addis drop by his office in New Orleans tomorrow? A reservation already had been arranged for a morning flight, and Hanover had checked with Addis's boss, Hugh Palmer, the Senate majority leader. "He's all for it," Hanover said with a laugh.
Addis didn't have to ask what was on Hanover's mind. He said he would be there.
In Hanover's office, the two had discussed strategy, the current state of the political culture, the themes that would move voters, excite donors, and impress editorial writers. They talked for three hours. Hanover, fifty-one years old, was square-faced, with a nose that hooked slightly to his right, and the perfect, disciplined speckled hair of a politician. He was more handsome in person than on television.
Excerpted from Deep Background by David Corn. Copyright © 1999 David Corn. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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This is a well written book with a plausible plot not too off the acorn tree if one checks the FEC records. It keeps your interest, makes you understand the naked shear abuse of competition for power and will make you wait for the ending. The only flaw I saw is using a CIA Agent since they cannot do Domestic Intelligence Reports, it should have been the NSA. The author is a clever writer for NATION Magazine who often makes points others in the Liberal Establishment are afraid to tackle, so he is more honest than what we have come to expect from the Left Wing. Yet, I enjoy the book and Magazine both to entertain and to inform. A good read by a fine writer.