The Nomineeby Brian McGrory
News is crackling all around him when Jack Flynn, ace reporter for The Boston/b>/i>
Washington press insider Brian McGrory, whose debut novel, The Incumbent, soared onto the national bestseller lists amid rave reviews, is back with a second sizzling political thriller featuring Jack Flynn, the intrepid newspaperman with the wry turn of phrase.
News is crackling all around him when Jack Flynn, ace reporter for The Boston Record, is summoned to a secret meeting with his esteemed publisher, Paul Ellis. Ellis sadly reveals that the newspaper they both love, owned by his family for more than a century, is the target of a hostile takeover bid by a shadowy corporate chain. Desperate, he asks for Jack's help.
Already on the brink of a hot political scoop, Jack sets out in pursuit of a hidden truth. But that very day his life is threatened. The Record is beset by horrific tragedy. And a death from years ago no longer appears what it once seemed.
Now Jack is forced to question not only the words published in his own paper but the relationships that have been the bedrock of his life -- in particular those with his gorgeous ex-girlfriend, who writes for a rival tabloid, and with the venerable Record reporter Robert Fitzgerald, Jack's longtime mentor.
And all along, Jack is sitting on a goldmine of information that could torpedo the president's controversial nomination of the Massachusetts governor to be the next U.S. Attorney General. As he balances on a tightrope of personal and professional peril, shuttling from the swamps of central Florida to the corridors of Congress, then back to the alleyways of Boston, Jack is left with just two questions: Will his newspaper survive long enough for him to tell his story? Will he?
Combining breakneck speed and tension-packed plotting with the insights of a consummate political insider, Brian McGrory explores the ethics and direction of modern journalism and analyzes how, in this era of media saturation, reputations are made and too often destroyed. The Nominee, peopled with irresistible characters that linger long after the last page is turned, confirms his position at the forefront of today's most talented young suspense writers.
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Read an Excerpt
Saturday, April 21
Lance Randolph had never been in the White House, never been offered so much as VIP tickets for the public tour -- though not for any lack of desire. It was, though, for lack of partisanship. Ever since he was elected governor of Massachusetts, the president had always been of the opposite party.
Still was, which was what was so surprising about this night, about this visit.
He sat in the passenger seat of a rented Oldsmobile driven by his chief of staff and longtime aide, Benjamin Bank, who had apparently never been there either, because at the maze of checkpoints manned by uniformed Secret Service officers, Bank kept turning to him with uncharacteristic deference and asking, "Now what?"
"How should I know? Keep driving. We drive in the wrong place, we get shot."
Randolph barely paid attention. They were on the blocked off stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue staring at the gleaming, glistening building, lit up on a fragrant spring night that might well change his life. Randolph's heroes, men like Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, lived and worked and made history in its warren of rooms and offices and hideaways, and now Randolph himself was being beckoned inside by none other than the president of the United States.
Randolph, still gazing out his side window, said, "You really think he's going to jump parties?"
Bank squinted out the windshield and replied, "Not jump parties, but abandon his party. I think he's worried that he can't win a Republican primary and he sure as hell knows he can't win a Democratic one. I think he wants to run for reelection as an Independent, and he's going to start sounding you out for your support."
Bank paused, looked over at Randolph in the passenger seat of the dark car, and added, "Time is on our side. There are eighteen months until the election. We should be able to parlay this into some federal funding for something, even without you making a definitive decision. That's some scratch we really need right about now as we start to think about your own campaign."
No one in politics ever just makes a straight shot at this level, Randolph thought to himself. Everything was always a carom or a cross-corner with a constant obsession for the leave. But it made sense, this scenario, the president pitching for his political support. After all, Randolph was one of the so-called new breed, described as such in a cover story in Newsweek just last year. He was young, the youngest governor in the nation, he was centrist, which was unusual considering his election and reelection in Massachusetts. He was good-looking and ambitious and smart. And right now, more than anything else, he was curious.
The two were directed to the northwest gate by a uniformed officer waving a flashlight at their car. Bank motored down both their windows and a pair of officers approached from each side, backlit by powerful spotlights shining over their shoulders from the roof of the guardshack and a nearby tree.
"Welcome to the White House, Governor," one of them said to Randolph. "Drive up toward the West Wing as far as you can go and park on the right side. It's a little crowded tonight, but we've been expecting you and saved you a space up front. Thank you."
The mechanical gate slowly slid open. Randolph saw that the driveway was nose-to-tail with limousines and dark sedans. Lights blazed inside the main mansion. The beds of red tulips glistened in the spotlights, and the dogwood trees were in full, majestic bloom -- every inch, every view, as beautiful as on TV.
As they pulled closer, they heard music spilling out the main door, jazzy music, followed by a round of festive applause.
"What the hell?" Randolph said softly, as much to himself as to Bank.
Bank shrugged as he wheeled into the space. "I don't know. Maybe he's throwing you a party."
"We have the right night, right?"
"No, sir. I've completely screwed up the dates. I hope you'll accept my apologies."
Randolph ignored his aide and allowed his mind to drift again. What would it take to live here? What separated those who had from everyone else? More brains? No, Ronald Reagan did just fine. A clear vision? Jimmy Carter's presidency would indicate not. Charm? Please. Think Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.
It was skill and it was luck and it was the willingness to take enormous risks, all shaken together in the most alluring of cocktails that so very few people could ever taste. Maybe he would. Maybe someday.
As they were getting out of their car on the darkened driveway, the strains of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" wafted from the residence and drifted through the night air.
Bank said, "Tony Bennett."
"No, I mean that's really Tony Bennett."
Randolph listened intently. It was Tony Bennett, not on a CD, but live and in person -- Tony Bennett at the White House.
Randolph smiled in that sly little way of his and said, "I had the University of Massachusetts marching band at my second inauguration."
"You did, didn't you. And they were excellent."
Randolph continued smiling, but mostly to himself, as they headed toward the Marine guard standing outside the main door of the West Wing.
The two were sitting for ten, maybe fifteen minutes on a pair of royal blue wing chairs in a well lit waiting room outside of the Oval Office with a silent Secret Service officer when a self-important young female aide came through the door in a whir of motion and announced, "Governor Randolph, would you come with me."
Benjamin Bank stood up as well, until the aide said, "The president would prefer to see the governor alone. We'll come back for you." No please, not even so much as a sir. Beacon Hill this was not.
Randolph was expecting to be led into the Oval Office, but instead the attractive aide -- all legs and arms, all bared -- guided him through a set of French doors out into the warm Washington night, then under the columned portico that connects the West Wing to the residence. They walked quickly and in silence, with crickets chirping in the Rose Garden and moist beds of flowers gently fluttering in the springtime breeze. At the door of the mansion, a pair of well-fed Secret Service agents in navy suits waved them in as Tony Bennett sang "I've Got the World on a String." Randolph could see revelers with drinks in their hands at the far end of the hallway, but he was immediately led to an elevator and descended down one flight. They rode in silence.
Stepping off the elevator, the aide waved her hand down a long, wide hallway that ran through the spine of the building and said, "This way."
The music filtered down the stairs, though not loud, and they continued in silence until the aide, ever efficient, even clipped, pointed to a room on the right and said, "If you could just wait in there. The president will be with you momentarily." Just like that, she was gone.
"That ain't some Rand McNally."
The words rocketed through the silent room like javelins, fast and hard, causing Lance Randolph to spin around from the glass-encased map on the far wall. There in the doorway stood the president of the United States, decked out in a tuxedo and black tie, laughing so hard at his own joke that his chest was heaving like a dribbling basketball.
Before Randolph could speak, the president said, "That map you're looking at, FDR used to stick pins in it every night to follow American troop movements across Europe during W-W-Two. This was his sanctuary, where he spent hour after hour. The Map Room. Then Bill Clinton came along and held coffee klatches in here trying to shake down big-ticket contributors. You tell me whether this country is getting better or worse."
Randolph walked toward him and extended his hand. "Good evening, Mr. President."
"Clay Hutchins, son," the president replied. "Pleasure to meet you. Was a big fan of your old man's -- and of yours. Boy, you do look young."
"I don't feel so young anymore, not after a few years in Boston politics."
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I was so excited you were coming in that I put this monkey suit on just for you." He said this loud, then he let loose a deep, gravelly laugh.
In a softer, whiskeyed voice, he added, "The emir of Qatar is at the house tonight. Until about a month ago, I always thought Qatar was a planet, not a country. Now I come to find they have so much money from natural gas they could buy the state of California. If my polling doesn't get any better out there, I might well sell it to 'em.
"So I spend tonight in the company of sixty sheiks in robes while Tony Bennett sings songs none of these guys ever heard before. You seen Tony Bennett lately? He looks like he stepped out of a damned time capsule, he looks so good. The guy never changes."
"My father used to listen to him when I was a kid."
Hutchins, so caught up in his monologue, looked at Randolph blankly. Then he said, "Come sit," and guided Randolph to a pair of upholstered chairs angled toward each other. There were several other maps on the walls, and windows that looked out at ground level on the darkened South Lawn. A steward shut the heavy door and Bennett's voice was suddenly no more.
Hutchins didn't waste any time. From what Randolph read and heard and now saw, he never wasted any time -- no political foreplay, no extended niceties, nothing so much as a cup of coffee and a discussion of the ongoing Massachusetts Senate race.
"Thanks for coming," Hutchins said, his voice still rough, but softer. "That's no small thing. I'm like the third rail these days. Politicians won't touch me. My own party, the bunch of stodgy old fucks, doesn't want me running again. The Democrats can't wait to take my head off in the general. For chrissakes, only the public likes me, but here in Washington, they don't seem to matter."
So Bank was right yet again, Randolph thought. The president was seeking his endorsement. He began recalling his rehearsed lines on how he couldn't at this time offer his support, but would give it every consideration as the election approached. It would make it easier to cross party lines in Massachusetts if the electorate knew that the president had been good to the state in terms of fully funding various public works and public safety projects. Hutchins would respect that kind of quid pro quo, he thought.
"I'm rambling," Hutchins said, bearing down on Randolph. "And believe it or not, I have to get back to this party before I create an international incident by disappearing on my guests.
"So here's the deal. I need an attorney general. Who the hell would have thought that Westfall would resign to become commissioner of baseball, though who can blame him? Better than dealing with all this bullshit, and you don't have to worry about some reporter crawling up your ass for taking free seats to the World Series. Anyway, I want to cross party lines with my nominee. I want to show the nation that cooperation doesn't have to be just in spirit. I want to prove that I don't give a damn about any more Democratic-led investigations. I think the only thing left to investigate about me is the size of my balls, but hell, if you decide you need to see 'em, I'll show 'em to you right now."
Randolph sat stunned, staring at Hutchins, who actually had his hand on the top of his fly. He thought he knew where this was leading now, but he refused to believe it, not yet, not until he heard the words.
"You were a prosecutor up there in Boston. You're a moderate. You're young and ambitious and maybe you even want to live in this house yourself someday. Here's your running start. I want you to be my attorney general."
Randolph blinked hard a couple of times, uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. Attorney general of the United States, just like Robert F. Kennedy. The most powerful law enforcement official in the nation and maybe the world.
"I've had the FBI do an expedited background check and you come up clean. Anything I need to know about you before we go any further?"
Randolph's eyes fell to the floor for the quickest flicker of a moment, then back to Hutchins. He shook his head. "No, sir."
Hutchins, ever intuitive, seemed to sense the hesitance. "You're sure? Believe me when I tell you, the press can find things out that you think are hidden away forever."
"Good. Then you want to think this over for a while. The reason I asked you in at this odd hour on a Saturday night is so there wouldn't be any damned reporters hanging around and you wouldn't be on my official schedule. My own staff doesn't know I'm asking you. The Washington Post says its down to two finalists, neither of whom I like. Take it or leave it, no one knows you are here."
Randolph thought about Bank sitting over in the West Wing, how he'd want to dissect this offer five ways from Wednesday, drain the life out of it, fillet it, run it through a focus group, then go out with a poll. That's how political operatives were. They wore black socks over their pale hairy legs to the beach. You ask them what their outside interests are and they stare at you as if they don't have a clue what you mean. They're great with advice, but never, ever are they putting their own good name before the voters. When they lose, it's on to another campaign.
Sitting with the president of the United States deep in the White House, he decided to do something he rarely ever did. He'd make a decision without Bank. Bank knew a lot about him, but not quite everything.
"You what?" Hutchins asked this as if he was surprised, almost angry, as if he was about to counsel him not to do it.
Both men looked at each other for a long moment before Hutchins continued, his voice low again and his tone grateful, "Thank you."
"Thank you, Mr. President."
Another pause, before Hutchins broke it. "What would you say to a Rose Garden announcement Monday afternoon. We'll clang all the bells and blow all the whistles. You're going to make one hell of a great attorney general for the United States."
"That would be terrific, sir."
"Don't call me sir."
Randolph asked, "To help me in my home state, do you have any objections to me leaking this to the local paper ahead of time?"
Loud again. "The Record? I hate them. Go right ahead."
Hutchins stood up, signaling the end of the meeting. "Back to the Qataris. They're probably drilling for gas in the damned East Room by now."
After his flight back to Boston, Randolph shut his office door, settled onto a soft, beige settee, put his wingtips up on the antique coffee table and flicked the top off a bottle of Heineken. He closed his eyes and took a long pull of his beer.
Attorney general of the United States. A massive office in the Justice Department building. FBI protection. The lead in the most sophisticated, most sensitive, most sweeping investigations in the nation.
He would get constant coverage on the front pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times, profiles in the weekly newsmagazines, regular airtime on the networks. Someone might even write his biography, and of course, do the job well and he'd be touted as a possible Democratic presidential candidate.
It was a gimme, he told himself, an automatic. The president offers you a job like that, you don't say no. No way. He was halfway through his second term as governor, and there was a been-there, done-that quality to it all as he tried to get ramped up for his third gubernatorial campaign. The penny-ante fund-raisers with the egotistical contributors who thought that by accepting their five hundred dollars, you suddenly owed them your soul. All those women with flabby arms and cat food breath who pressed against him getting their picture taken at every campaign stop. Now it was time to head to a bigger stage, Washington, DC, the Broadway of national politics. His old man, he thought, would be so proud.
He tried to smile to himself, but it came out as forced, short, stifled. He felt a pang in his stomach, then his chest. The memory again -- the thundering shots, the spatter of crimson-colored blood, the screams, the inhuman look in the killer's eyes. His father, dead on the ground.
Suddenly restless, Randolph took another gulp of beer and walked toward the windows that looked out over the vast, darkened space of the Boston Common below. It was a view he had analyzed a hundred times before, sometimes by the first light of an autumn morning with the trees drenched in oranges, yellows, and reds, sometimes on a late winter afternoon when the fading sun cast a purplish hue through the bare branches over the freshly fallen snow. Now he looked at it as if he was looking at his own mind: dark and blank and uneasy.
A knock sounded at his door. Before he could answer, a State Police trooper opened it a crack and said, "Gov, Robert Fitzgerald's here."
"Thanks, Quinn," Randolph replied.
The door swung open and a tall, silver-haired man walked in, an interesting cross between patrician elegance and Irish ruddiness. He wore a navy blazer over a blue button-down shirt, casual slacks and a pair of ancient loafers. He had deep lines etched into his face, the lines of a man who has worked hard and played even harder.
"I feel like a rookie reporter," Fitzgerald said. He flashed a smile -- a curious one. The skin crinkled around his eyes. "The phone rings late on a Saturday night and I take off after the story like a bat out of hell. And here I am, Jimmy Olson on the scene."
A pause, then Fitzgerald added with a warm, whimsical smile, "What the hell is going on?"
Randolph walked back across the room from the windows to the sitting area and beckoned Fitzgerald into a chair at the round antique coffee table. Only a single sidelamp with a hunter green shade lit the palatial office, giving the impression they were playing out an intimate scene on a large stage.
Randolph spoke as the two settled into facing chairs. "You've been a good friend to my family for a long, long time, Robert. You're also the best, fairest, smartest newsman I've ever met, and because of that, I wanted you to know this first."
Randolph paused, drawing a deep breath, letting the air slowly descend through his windpipe and into his lungs. Fitzgerald subconsciously fondled the pen in his chest pocket.
"I was invited down to the White House tonight by Clayton Hutchins. I met with him for about ten minutes. During that time, he offered me the nomination to be the attorney general of the United States."
Another pause. Then, "I accepted on the spot."
Fitzgerald's eyes opened wide and his brows shot upward in surprise. He reflexively brought his left hand up to slowly rub the late-night whiskers on his cheek.
After an awkward, silent moment, he said, his tone flat, "Well, I guess all I can say is, congratulations, Lance. Congratulations."
There was a pause, a sigh from the governor. He replied, "I was hoping for something more."
A longer pause. A horn sounded on Beacon Street, a vagrant on the Common screamed that Ben and Jerry were out to destroy the world.
Fitzgerald stared at the burgundy rug, his eyes still wide open, nodding his head but not speaking. Finally, he said in a methodical voice, "You'll make a great attorney general. You will. You were an outstanding prosecutor here in Boston. You're a skilled politician. It's in your blood and your genes. You'll do great."
When he finished, he stared up at Randolph, who sat looking sternly at him.
"That means a lot to me," Randolph said, his voice like ice, void of any appreciation or even emotion. "Especially coming from you."
Fitzgerald didn't respond. Randolph continued, "The announcement will be made in the Rose Garden Monday afternoon. The president's thinking in nominating me is not only a recognition of my political and prosecutorial abilities, but also to attempt to create a more bipartisan administration, and to prove to the public that he does not fear any further Democratic investigations."
The two men locked stares again. Randolph drained his beer and said, "I'm authorized to give this to you now on a not-for-attribution basis, and would prefer you put in print that I was not available for comment. The sourcing should be an official familiar with the White House, which I guess I am now. Best that I know, the Times and the Post won't have this tomorrow. It's yours alone."
Randolph nodded at Fitzgerald, the nod being a punctuation point, a period, or in this case, an exclamation mark.
Fitzgerald said, with a resigned look on his face, "I appreciate that." It was midnight, still time to make the final edition of the Sunday paper. He stood up slowly, and walked from the governor's office without another word, leaving young Lance Randolph alone in the dim light of the moment. His loafers clicked mournfully along the empty marble hallway and down the wide stairs until he finally reached the front door.
Copyright © 2002 by Brian McGrory
Meet the Author
Brian McGrory was a roving national reporter for the Boston Globe, as well as the Globe's White House correspondent during the Clinton administration. He is now a columnist in the newspaper's Metro section. The author of three bestselling thrillers -- The Incumbent, The Nominee, and Dead Line -- he lives in Boston. Find out more at www.brianmcgrory.com.
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Well written with colorful language, this was a great book. Lots of interesting twists and turns, right up to the very end. Dark and funny.
Boston Record publisher Paul Ellis informs his expert investigative reporter Jack Flynn that a hostile takeover of the newspaper is in the works. He also states that the sudden heart-attack death of his predecessor five years ago may have been a homicide. Paul wants Jack to learn what is going on with the buyout attempt and the strange death of the previous publisher. Jack already has interesting information that Massachusetts Governor Lance Randolph inflated his résumé by recalculating his conviction record as a district attorney. Since the President plans to nominate Lance as the next Attorney General, a fabrication may prove almost as embarrassing and damaging as it did to college football coaches. Then again one must consider the standard of an Attorney General vs. that of a head football coach at Notre Dame. Jack flies to Florida to talk with the retired detective who apparently failed to investigate thoroughly the former publisher's death. Upon his return to Boston, Jack learns that Paul was killed in the head during what appears to be a robbery turned ugly. Now Jack seeks the connections that if he lives long enough may more than just abash a president and his nominee. THE NOMINEE is an urban noir starring a modern day Sam Spade tough guy clone. Jack is an interesting hero who keeps the tale from spinning out of control with his colorful descriptions that uses bodily parts as metaphors and similes. Though the shifting between first and third person jars the reader, the investigation is fun and Jack¿s way with words will keep the audience thinking did he really say that? Harriet Klausner