The Washington Post
House of Secretsby Richard Hawke
But there’s a problem.
There are people who know that Andy Foster’s charm can get
Senator Andrew Foster has it all: charm to spare, a loving wife, a beautiful daughter, and a fast-track career that will surely land him one day in the White House. And with the sudden resignation of the vice president, that track may have gotten a lot faster.
But there’s a problem.
There are people who know that Andy Foster’s charm can get the better of him, and they have bugged the Shelter Island bungalow where he is enjoying a midnight tryst with a beautiful campaign adviser. But all hell breaks loose when a man carrying an iron pipe comes crashing through the bedroom’s sliding glass door. Within seconds, the young woman lies bloodied, dead on the sheets, and Foster has fled in panic.
And it’s all on tape.
As momentum builds for Foster’s likely selection as the next vice president, the senator’s only hope of keeping his involvement with the murdered woman secret is to locate his blackmailers. But even they don’t have their hands on the devastating images. The man they used for the job has turned the tables and is blackmailing them.
All the while, Foster’s personal life is collapsing. His wife, Christine, senses that something is terribly wrong. Unhappy about their daughter’s living in a political fishbowl, Christine is also worried that she and her husband have drifted away from each other. Little does she know that power-hungry politicians and brutal gangsters are ready to rip her family utterly apart.
From the rarefied halls of Washington to the briny boardwalks of Brighton Beach, Richard Hawke pulls back the curtain to reveal what is taking place inside the hearts and minds of the powerful people we read about every day in the news. With House of Secrets, Hawke has delivered a pulse-pounding thriller that ignites the fatal mixture of politics, arrogance, and lust.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt
Christine Foster sat with her stepfather at the bar in Denver International Airport, her eyes trained on the hideous swirls of snow having their way with the terminal's large slanted windows. Her stepfather was watching them as well. For the better part of the past hour, Ben Turner had been digging his thumbnail into the label of his beer bottle, rendering it a shredded mess. Anyone watching the two would have thought that he was the one waiting to hear the status of his night flight from Denver to New York.
Ben looked up from his mutilation project. "Are you getting a signal?"
Christine's cell was pressed to her ear. The strap of her camera had ridden up on her neck, catching some of her hair. She twisted her body slightly on the barstool in a vain attempt to escape the music-Steely Dan's "Reeling in the Years"-pumping relentlessly from the low ceiling speakers. She ignored Ben's question as her husband's outgoing message gave over to the beep.
"Hi, honey," Christine said loudly. She bent further into her phone. "Mrs. Miniver here. I'm at the airport. It's my guess we're about to be officially socked in, but I haven't heard for sure yet. This snow is intense. If I come home with frostbite and you're all tanned and yummy, I'm going to kill you, I swear. You have been warned."
She aimed a smile over at her mother's husband. "Ben's here with me. We're getting plastered at the bar. You'd be so ashamed of me. Listen, I'll call you later when I know something. I hope your talk went well. I can't wait to see you. Mother sends her worst, ha ha."
As Christine tucked the phone back into her purse, Ben asked, "He wasn't there?"
Christine took a beat. The question was classic Ben. For reasons that Christine was certain she would never fully fathom, her mother had decided to take as Spouse Number Two the type of person who would watch a person leaving a message for someone over the phone and then ask, "He wasn't there?" Sweet man, but only nominally more vibrant than a paper clip. He and Lillian had now been married for just over six years. For someone like Lillian, Ben had been an astonishing plunge into meekness, about as far from Christine's father-who was still very much alive-as she could have gone. But then, Lillian lived to astonish.
Christine confirmed Ben's deduction. "No. He wasn't there."
"What's 'Mrs. Miniver'?"
Christine was readjusting the strap of her camera. "That? It's just silliness. Andy's in eternal love with Greer Garson, the movie actress from the forties. The very first time we met, he went through his whole Greer Garson song and dance. She's so beautiful, she's so warm, she's so spunky. And of course he said I reminded him of her, thank you muchly. Though I guess that's not such a bad pickup line. 'You remind me of someone I absolutely adore.' " She laughed. "I was certainly not immune."
Outside the window, furious gusts were whipping the snow about, as if the night was determined to beat down the glass and roar right into the terminal. From the blackness, a large bloblike shape appeared and smacked hard against the window. Christine and Ben started. It was a tarp of some sort, possibly torn loose from one of the luggage wagons. The tarp rotated slowly on the glass-it too looked as if it wanted in- then peeled back along one corner and was flung back into the night.
Christine's milky skin had gone a shade sour. She turned to Ben.
"News flash. Mrs. Miniver is not climbing into any goddamned airplane tonight, no matter what anybody says. Just how dumb do I look?"
Dimitri Bulakov twisted the cap from the wet bottle and tossed it in a high arc toward the black plastic trash can. It hit the television set atop the dresser, bounced off Barbra Streisand as she was charming the great Louis Armstrong with her invisible trombone, and fell to the carpet.
Dimitri could not understand what it was about this woman on the television that had made her such a big American star in her day. She is pushy. Her eyes are too small and too close together. And the nose, it is more like a joke than a nose. It is the nose of a camel. Dimitri supposed that if he and this pushy woman were stranded together on a deserted island, okay, that was one thing. But otherwise . . .
In just under an hour-according to the cardboard triangle on top of the television-the next movie would be starting. It starred the actress Angelina Jolie. This, Dimitri thought, makes sense. He could imagine spending many many many months on the island with someone like this. Dimitri glanced around the wood-paneled confines of his motel room and imagined Angelina Jolie coming in from the tiny bathroom wrapped in a small towel, her big hair falling down past her shoulders like wet snakes, and looking at him with those mean sexy eyes of hers. Dimitri slid his free hand down the front of his boxers. As he did, his gaze drifted to the mirror that sat behind the television set. Reflected in the glass was a puffy-faced, forty-one-year-old man sporting an impressive beer gut and a nest of wiry black hair all over his torso, holding a beer bottle in one hand, and with his other hand shoved down the front of his faded plaid boxers. On the TV, Camel Nose and Louis Armstrong were making goo-goo eyes at each other and laughing uproariously.
Dimitri withdrew his hand from his boxers.
His cell phone rang.
Dimitri hit the mute button on the television and scooped the phone off the pillow next to him. The accent on the other end of the line was the same as Dimitri's.
"They're on their way."
Dimitri scooted up in the bed. "Yes."
"Everything is set?"
Dimitri answered. "Good to go." Dimitri liked this expression, though he wasn't happy with the way it had sounded just now. Two or three times recently in front of the bathroom mirror, he had gotten it pretty good. Good. To. Go.
There was a pause on the other end of the phone. Then, "You'll call me once it's done."
It was not a question.
"The sound quality is good? We will be able to hear everything?"
Dimitri scowled. "I told you. It's all good. It's ready. I know what I am doing."
On the silent television screen the actress whose popularity Dimitri could not fathom was sauntering away from the camera spinning a parasol over her shoulder. Her dress came all the way to her feet and was nice and tight across her body. Nice rump, Dimitri thought. This he could fathom.
"Call me," the man said again, and the phone went dead.
Dimitri hit the remote and the hourglass figure vanished. He rolled off the bed and carried his beer bottle to the window, where he tweezered open the curtains to peer out into the night. Across the narrow road in front of the motel was the small beach, a crescent of sand bordering the inlet. The beach was empty: a lifeguard chair, a tangle of braided white cord pocked with red oval floats, an overturned rowboat. It was only April. In another few months, the renters and second-home owners from the city would be flooding the small island. But right now it was Deadtown.
At the far end of the beach-to Dimitri's right-a steep wooded hill rose up from the inlet. Dimitri turned from the window and knuckled the enter key on the laptop that was lying open on the second bed. He leaned past the computer to fetch his cigarettes and matches from the bedside table, shook one loose, and lit it. As a ghostlike rectangle burned into view on the computer's screen, Dimitri set down his beer bottle and took up a pair of binoculars from the bed. Scratching his belly, he returned to the window.
On the nearby hill Dimitri sighted the staccato illumination from a pair of headlights as a car passed among the trees. He trained the binoculars on an area near the highest part of the hill, where the front portion of a modest-sized house was somewhat visible. Several seconds passed, then a light-colored sports car came into view and pulled to a stop in front of the house.
Smoke from Dimitri's cigarette was stinging his eyes, but he ignored it as he toggled the binoculars' focus wheel. The driver's side door opened, and a woman stepped out of the car. She paused, raking both her hands through her hair. The passenger's side door opened, and a man emerged. Dimitri lowered the binoculars.
"Hello, Dolly," he intoned thickly. "Good to go."
And he turned to his computer.
Robert Smallwood sat hunched in the wooden lifeguard chair, hugging his long, slightly chubby legs against his chest and gazing intently up at the stars.
Rather, he was staring back at them.
It was Smallwood's contention that every single puckered star dotting the vast black bowl overhead was an eye-an actual, glimmering, data- collecting eye-and that from the moment he had clambered up into the wooden chair those countless eyes peering down from the dark had all turned their attention to him. They were watching him. They were mesmerized by him.
The eyes had it.
While sitting motionless in the wooden chair, Smallwood had also deduced that just as the human eye is attached to a human consciousness, this extraordinary collection of eye-stars must be linked to a Supreme Sage Consciousness. And that Consciousness-of this he was positive-was fully aware of what it was Robert Smallwood was planning to do in just under an hour's time. It knew. It was aware of his motivations and it was aware of his intentions. And it approved wholeheartedly.
Of course it did. It couldn't not.
The rope of muscles along Smallwood's shoulders ached wonderfully from the strenuous rowing across the choppy sound to the island beach earlier in the evening. Once settled in the wooden chair he had made a vow to remain completely still and to simply wait, to keep all his energy balled up, hugging his knees to his chest and bringing forth his Prodigious Patience. The only part of his body to which he had granted permission to move was his glorious head, which swiveled slowly, like a methodical owl's: a perfect calibration of ball bearings in the neck. Smallwood scanned the calm inlet, taking in the black sound just beyond it, as well as the phosphorous haze hovering over sleepy Greenport Harbor some half mile distant. This sublime level of stillness-his oscillating head notwithstanding-
enthralled Smallwood. Such contained and sustained energy, he couldn't explain. He found it so exciting. Smallwood felt that had he chosen to, he could have detonated the energy gathered at his very core and propelled himself out into the sky exactly like a rocket or a missile. In fact, when at one point a shooting star grazed the edge of his peripheral vision, a Mona Lisa smile tugged at the corners of Smallwood's mouth.
That's me. There I go. Faster than a blazing motherfucker.
All flights were canceled. The midsection of the country was taking too hard a pounding. Ben and Christine were moving briskly through the terminal. Ben implored Christine as they stepped onto the moving walkway.
"But Lillian will insist that I bring you back home."
Christine was adamant. "It doesn't make any sense, Ben. I've had my visit. I'm just going to get a room in one of the hotels here. I'll fly out as soon as the weather clears. I tried to tell you both it wasn't necessary for you to drive me out here in the first place."
"I know. But . . ." Ben gave up the fight.
"If you want me to call Lillian myself and tell her, I will."
"No. It's okay, Chrissie. I'll explain it to her. Don't worry about it."
As they reached the end of the moving walkway Christine spotted an airport bookstore. She brushed Ben's elbow.
"Hold on a second."
Pulling her roller bag behind her, she veered off the carpeted hallway and into the store. A round table just inside the entrance held a pyramid display of the current bestseller by the latest spiritual health guru, a seven-figure smile beaming from the book's cover. Christine moved past the guru's pyramid to a second display table, this one featuring several titles in more modest stacks. Christine picked a book off one of the stacks. Even three weeks into the whole thing, the funny feeling still came to Christine's stomach when she saw Andy's book.
A SENSE OF URGENCY
Senator Andrew P. Foster
Christine still considered the photograph on the cover essentially shameless: her and Andy's daughter Michelle (six years old in the photograph; seven and a half years old now) whispering something into her daddy's ear and Andy responding with a huge burst of laughter. Part of what was so special about the photograph was the knowing expression on Michelle's face, the little girl's awareness that what she was whispering to Daddy would definitely trigger his funny bone. The striking family similarity in the two faces lent an additional power to the photograph. Little Wizard, Big Wizard. Neither Andy nor Christine could recall precisely when the paired nicknames had first surfaced, but Michelle and her father had been employing them on each other now for several years at least. Christine had thrown a small fit during Andy's recent reelection campaign when Andy had allowed the media (invited, had been Christine's assertion) to catch Michelle on tape using the nickname. Michelle had subsequently been referred to as "the Wiz Kid" in most of the news outlets, a development that had done little to stem Christine's irritation with her husband.
"The next time you want to exploit our child, why don't you put her on your payroll first?" Christine had told him pointedly. "There's one public figure in this household, okay? And it's not the kid with the pink backpack."
As she gazed at the cover of her husband's book, Christine was seized by twin twinges of guilt and hypocrisy, hardly the first of either. The truth was, she had not only been the one to tell Michelle what to whisper into Daddy's ear, she had been the one aiming the camera, nailing the composition perfectly. It's what she did. She took pictures. What was worse was that ultimately she had allowed Andy and his editor to convince her that the photograph absolutely had to be used for the cover of Andy's book. The sense of hypocrisy Christine felt whenever she fielded compliments on the photograph was due in no small part to the fact that for all that it irked her to have given in to the use of her daughter's image for the furthering of Andy's career, she couldn't help but take pride in the photograph itself. In the end, it had been on that basis as much as anything else that Christine had given her blessings for its use.
Ben appeared next to her. "You know, I've been dying to ask. Just what is she saying to Andy that's so funny?"
Christine lied. "Oh, who knows? It's just those two. They're always goofing together."
The two exited the bookstore, Ben insisting on commandeering Christine's roller bag. Christine granted the man his chivalry, and as the two continued down the terminal hub, Ben asked yet another question whose answer he already knew.
"So, when does Andy get back from Florida?"
"He flies into D.C. tomorrow morning," Christine said. "Then home for the weekend, and we'll spend Easter with my dad and Jenny."
"And the book? It's selling well?"
"It's looking pretty good so far. Everybody seems to be pleased. Andy's been getting more-than-decent turnouts at the bookstores." She let out a gently mocking laugh. "The publisher's hoping that all the retired New Yorkers down in Florida will flock to see the great man."
An electric cart carrying half a dozen elderly passengers was trundling down the center of the wide aisle, beeping as it approached. As Ben and Christine skirted to the side to let it pass, Christine noted the anxious expression on her stepfather's face. "Is everything okay, Ben?"
Ben's gaze trailed after the receding cart. "I probably shouldn't be bringing this up. But . . . I just wanted to say that it was really good of you to visit, Chrissie. Seriously. I know your mother can be a handful sometimes."
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Richard Hawke is the author of Speak of the Devil and Cold Day in Hell. He lives and writes in New York City.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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U.S. Senator Andrew Foster believes his manifest destiny is the White House. He has everything going for him that an ambitious person needs and with the vice president forced to resesign, a potential rival is out of the game with an opening for him to move up. However, like a Shakespearean tragic figure, Andrew has a flaw; the married Andy loves the women. At his Shelter Island, New York bungalow, Andy enjoys sex with his campaign adviser Joy when Robert Smallwood crashes through the glass door. The intruder hammers the young woman with a pipe before leaving her dead. Andy flees into the night, but Dimitri Bulakov was taping Foster's infidelity when he captured the homicide and flight. Whereas Bulakov's clients blackmail Foster over his affair, he blackmails them over the tape. This is an exciting thriller in which failure to remain zippered may nuke the political and personal lives of Foster. Although the motive for Joy's murder seems over the top of the moraines, the strong cast and frantic pace from the opening bungalow invasion to the final confrontation with numerous subplots in between will leave readers enjoying this entertaining tale. Harriet Klausner