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Not many people know this, but back when Jake Cazalet was a lieutenant in Vietnam, he had a one-night affair with a French countess he'd just rescued that led to many warm memories and one lissome daughter, Marie de Brissac. Now an Israeli terrorist calling himself Judas Maccabeus has snatched her from a scenic Corfu villa to force her father to execute Nemesis, a series of surgical nuclear airstrikes that'll reduce Iran, Iraq, and Syria to rubble. In order to carry his demands to President Cazalet, Judas decides he needs the services of former IRA stalwart Sean Dillon. But using Dillon as a lowly errand boy (intending to execute him as soon as he's met with Cazalet) is one big mistake, since it gets Dillon's current boss, Brigadier Charles Ferguson, and his well-armed minions into the act. As Maccabeus's Stealth network of low-level moles, who've infiltrated all the official computer systems the President could use to get information, go up against the wiles of Dillon, Ferguson, and their friends-and- relations, Maccabeus heats up the brew by kidnapping Ferguson's assistant, Chief Inspector Hannah Bernstein, too. But it doesn't matter, because all the characters are too blank to be worth caring about: Newcomers like Cazalet and watercolorist Marie are such ciphers that they make Dillon, who's about as personable as the Energizer Bunny, look like Hamlet. What's left is a bevy of hijackings, druggings via hypos and coffee cups, caches of Semtex and Uzis, more handcuffs than at an S/M convention, and numberless dark threats with silenced pistols (in lieu of "Zounds! After them!" characters mutter, "No one will hear a thing").
Higgins's 27th (Drink with the Devil, 1996, etc.), negligible as melodrama, shows the old pro giving Tom Clancy a run for his money as the most fetishistic of contemporary thriller writers.
Jake Cazalet was twenty-six years old when it happened, the incident that was to have such a profound effect on the rest of his life.
His family were Boston Brahmins, well respected, his mother hugely wealthy, his father a successful attorney and Senator, which meant that the law seemed the natural way to go for young Jake. Harvard and the privileged life, and as a college student it was possible to avoid the draft and Vietnam seemed far away.
And Jake did well, a brilliant student who got an excellent degree and moved on to Harvard Law School with enormous success. A great future was predicted. He started on a doctorate, and then a strange thing happened.
For some time, he had been disturbed by the scenes from Vietnam, the way he saw that brutal war portrayed on television each night. Sometimes it seemed like a vision from hell. A sea change took place as he contrasted his comfortable life with what life seemed like over there. The ironic thing was that he could actually get by in Vietnamese, because at the age of thirteen he had lived in Vietnam, when his father had spent a year at the U.S. Embassy.
And then came the day in the cafeteria at college. People were lining up for the lunch counter, lots of new students, and amongst them one who was no more than twenty, dressed in white tee shirt and jeans like anyone else, books under one arm, the difference being that where his right arm had been there was now only a small stump. Most people ignored him, but one guy, a swaggering bully whose last name was Kimberley, turned to look at him.
"Hey, what's your name?"
"You lose that over there in 'Nam?"
"That's about the size of it."
"Serves you right." Kimberley patted his face. "How many kids did you butcher?"
It was the pain on Grant's face that got to Cazalet and he pulled Kimberley away. "This man served his country. What have you ever done?"
"So what about you, rich boy?" Kimberley sneered. "I don't see you over there. Only over here." He turned and patted Grant's face again. "If I come in anywhere, you step out."
Jake Cazalet's only sport was boxing and he was on the team. Kimberley had twenty pounds on him, but it didn't matter. Spurred on by rage and deep shame, he gave Kimberley a double punch in the stomach that doubled him over. A boxing club he went to in downtown Boston was run by an old Englishman called Wally Short.
"If you're ever in a real punch-up, here's a useful extra. In England, we call it nutting somebody. Over here it's head-butting. So, use your skull, nine inches of movement, nice and short, right into his forehead."
Which was exactly what Cazalet did as Kimberley came up to grapple with him, and the big man went crashing back over a table. Pandemonium followed, girls screaming, and then security arrived and the paramedics.
Cazalet felt good, better than he had in years. As he turned, Grant said, "You damn fool, you don't even know me."
"Oh, yes, I do," Jake Cazalet said.
Later, in the Dean's office, he stood at the desk and listened to the lecture. The Dean said, "I've heard the facts and it would seem that Kimberley was out of line. However, I can't tolerate violence, not on campus. I'll have to suspend you for a month."
"Thank you, sir, but I'll make it easy for you. I'm dropping out."
The Dean was truly shocked. "Dropping out? But why? What will your father say? I mean, what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to go right down to that recruiting office downtown and I'm going to join the army."
The Dean looked devastated. "Jake, think about this, I beg you."
"Good-bye, sir," Jake Cazalet told him and went out.
So here he was eighteen months later, a lieutenant in Special Forces by way of the paratroops—his knowledge of Vietnamese had seen to that—and halfway through his second tour, decorated, twice wounded, a combat veteran who felt about a thousand years old.
The Medevac helicopter drifted across the Delta at a thousand feet. Cazalet had hitched a lift because it was calling at a fortified camp at Katum and they needed him there to interrogate a high-ranking Vietnamese regular officer.
Cazalet was only five feet six or seven, with the kind of hair that had red highlights. His eyes were brown, his broken nose a legacy of boxing days and, in spite of the tan, the bayonet scar that bisected his right cheek was white. It was to become his trademark in the years ahead.
Sitting there now in his camouflaged uniform, sleeves rolled up, the Special Forces beret tilted forward, he looked like what war had made him, a thoroughly dangerous man. The young medic-cum-air gunner, Harvey, and Hedley, the black crew chief, watched him and approved.
"He's been everywhere, or so they say," Hedley whispered. "Paratroops, Airborne Rangers, and now Special Forces. His old man's a Senator."
"Well, excuse me," Harvey said. "So what do you get for the man who has everything?" He turned to toss his cigarette out of the door and stiffened. "Hey, what gives down there?"
Hedley glanced out, then reached for the heavy machine gun. "We got trouble, right here in River City, Lieutenant."
Cazalet joined him. There were paddy fields below and banks of reeds stretching into infinity. A cart was blocking the causeway that crossed the area and a local bus of some sort had stopped, unable to continue.
Harvey peered over his shoulder. "Look, sir, it's pajama night at the Ritz again."
There were Vietcong down there, at least twenty, in their conical straw hats and black pajamas. A man got out of the bus, there was the distinctive crack of an AK47, and he fell. Two or three women emerged and ran, screaming, until the rifle fire cut them down.
Cazalet went to the pilot and leaned over. "Take us down and I'll drop out and see what I can do."
"You must be crazy," the pilot said.
"Just do it. Go down, drop me off, and then get the hell out of here and fetch the cavalry, just like good old John Wayne."
He turned, found himself an M16 and several pouches of magazines, and slung them around his neck. He clipped half a dozen grenades to his belt and stuck some signaling flares in the pockets of his camouflage jacket. They were going down fast and the V. C. were shooting at them, Hedley returning the fire with the heavy machine gun.
He turned, grinning. "You got a death wish or something?"
"Or something," Cazalet said, and as the helicopter hovered just above the ground, he jumped.
There was a call. "Wait for me." When he turned, Harvey was following him, his medical bag over one shoulder.
"Crazy man," Cazalet said.
"Aren't we all?" Harvey replied, and they ran through the paddy field to the causeway as the helicopter lifted and turned away.
There were more bodies now and the bus was under heavy rifle fire, windows shattering. Screams came from inside, and then several more women emerged, two of them running for the reeds, and three Vietcong emerged on the road farther along, rifles ready.
Cazalet raised his M16 and fired several short bursts, knocking two of them down. There was silence for a moment and Harvey knelt beside one of the women and tried for a pulse.
"She's had it, for a start," he said, turning to Cazalet, and then his eyes widened. "Behind you."
In the same moment, a bullet took Harvey in the heart, lifting him onto his back. Cazalet swung, firing from the hip at the two who had emerged on the causeway behind him. He caught one and the other slipped back into the reeds. Now there was only silence.
There were five people left alive in the bus, three Vietnamese women, an old man traveling to the next village, and a dark-haired, pretty young woman who looked badly frightened. She wore a khaki shirt and pants and the shirt was stained with blood, someone else's, not hers.
She'd been speaking in French to the old man earlier, and now he turned to her as a single bullet hit the fuel tank of the bus and flames erupted.
"Not good staying here, we must hide in the reeds." He repeated what was presumably the same message in Vietnamese to the women.
They shouted something back to him and he shrugged and said to the young woman, "They are afraid. You come with me now."
She responded instantly to the urgency in his voice, sliding out of the door after him, crouching, then starting to move. A bullet took him in the back and she ran for her life down the side of the causeway and plunged into the great banks of reeds. Cazalet, who was in their shelter a little farther along the causeway, saw her go.
She forced her way through the water and mud, pushing the reeds aside, ploughing straight out into a dark pool to find two Vietcong confronting her on the other side, AKs at the ready. Fifteen yards away, no more, so that she could see every feature of these young faces, mere boys, not much more.
They raised their weapons, she braced herself for death, and then there was a terrible cry and Cazalet erupted from the reeds on her left, firing from the hip, blasting them both back into the water.
Voices called nearby and he said, "No talking." He stepped back into the reeds and she followed.
They seemed to move several hundred yards until he said, "This will do." They were on the edge of the paddy fields protected by a final curtain of reeds. A small knoll rose above the water. He pulled her down beside him. "That's a lot of blood. Where are you hit?"
"It's not mine. I was trying to help the woman sitting next to me."
"That's right. Jacqueline de Brissac," she said.
"Jake Cazalet, and I wish I could say it was a pleasure to meet you," he replied in French.
"That's good," she said. "You didn't learn that at school."
"No, a year in Paris when I was sixteen. My dad was at the Embassy." He grinned. "I learned all my languages that way. He moved around a lot."
Her face was spotted with mud, hair tangled as she tried to straighten it. "I must look a mess," she said and smiled.
Jake Cazalet fell instantly and gloriously in love. What was it the French called it, the thunderclap? It was everything he'd ever heard. What the poets wrote about.
"Have we had it?" she said, aware of voices calling nearby.
"No, the Medevac helicopter I was going to Katum in cleared off to call up the cavalry. If we keep our heads down, we stand a good chance."
"But that's strange. I've just been to Katum," she said.
"Good God, what for? That really is the war zone."
She was silent for a moment. "I was searching for my husband."
Cazalet was aware of an unbelievably hollow feeling. He swallowed. "Your husband?"
"Yes. Captain Jean de Brissac of the French Foreign Legion. He was in the Katum area with a United Nations fact-finding mission three months ago. There were twenty of them."
What a strange sensation. Sorrow, sympathy ...was that almost relief? "I remember hearing that," he said slowly. "Weren't they all ...?"
"Yes," she said quietly. "Caught in an attack. The Vietcong used hand grenades. The bodies were not recognizable, but I found my husband's bloodstained field jacket, and his papers. There's no doubt."
"So why are you here?"
"A pilgrimage, if you like. And I had to be sure."
"I'm surprised they let you come."
She gave a small smile. "Oh, my family has a great deal of political influence. My husband was Comte de Brissac, a very old military family. Lots of connections in Washington. Lots of connections everywhere."
"So you're a countess?"
"I'm afraid so."
He smiled. "Well, I don't mind if you don't."
She was about to say something when they heard voices nearby, shouting to each other, and Cazalet called out in Vietnamese.
She was alarmed. "Why did you do that?"
"They're beating through the reeds. I told them there was no sign of us over here."
"Don't thank me, thank my dad for a year at the Embassy in Saigon."
"There, too?" she said, smiling despite herself.
"Yes, there, too."
She shook her head. "You are a most unusual man, Lieutenant Cazalet." She paused. "I suppose, if we get out of this, that I owe you something. Would you have dinner with me?"
Jake grinned. "Countess, it would be my pleasure."
There was the distant thud of rotors rapidly approaching and several Huey Cobra gunships came in, line astern. Cazalet took two recognition flares from his pocket, a red and a green, and fired them up into the sky. The sound of the Vietcong voices faded as they retreated and Cazalet took her hand.
"The cavalry arriving in the nick of time, just like the movies. You'll be okay now."
Her hand tightened in his as they waded out into the paddy field and one of the gunships landed.
The Excelsior was French Colonial from the old days and the restaurant on the first floor was a delight, a haven from the war, white tablecloths, linen napkins, silverware, candles on the tables. Cazalet had waited in the bar, a striking figure in his tropical uniform, the medal ribbons a brave splash of color. He was excited in a way he hadn't been for years. There had been women in his life, but never anyone who had moved him enough to contemplate a serious relationship.
When she entered the bar, his heart turned over. She wore a very simple beaded white shift, her hair tied back with a velvet bow, not much makeup, a couple of gold bracelets, a diamond ring next to her wedding ring. Everything was elegance and understatement, and the Vietnamese head waiter descended on her at once, speaking fluent French.
"A great pleasure, Countess." He kissed her hand. "Lieutenant Cazalet is waiting at the bar. Would you care to sit down straight away?"
She smiled and waved to Jake, who approached. "Oh, yes, I think so. We'll have a bottle of Dom Perignon. A celebration."
"May I ask the occasion, Countess?"
"Yes, Pierre, we're celebrating being alive."
He laughed and led the way to the corner table on the outside veranda, seated them, and smiled. "The champagne will be here directly."
"Do you mind if I smoke?" she asked Cazalet.
"Only if I can have one as well."
As he leaned across to give her a light, he said, "You look wonderful."
She stopped smiling, very serious, then smiled again. "And you look very handsome. Tell me about yourself. You are a regular soldier?"
"No, a volunteer on a two-year hitch."
"You mean, you chose to come here? But why?"
"Shame, I think. I avoided the draft because I was at college. Then I went to law school at Harvard. I was working on a doctorate." He shrugged. "Certain things happened, so I decided to enlist."
The champagne arrived, and menus. She sat back. "What were these things?"
So he told her everything, exactly what had happened in the cafeteria and its consequences. "So here I am."
"And the boy who lost an arm?"
"Teddy Grant? He's fine. Working his way through law school. I saw him when I went home on leave. In fact, he works for my father now during his vacation. He's bright, Teddy, very bright."
"And your father is some sort of diplomat?"
"In a way. A brilliant lawyer who used to work for the State Department. He's a Senator now."
She raised her eyebrows. "And what did he think of your enlisting?"
"Took it on the chin. Told me to come back in one piece and start again. When I was last on leave, he was campaigning. To be honest, it rather suited him to have a son in uniform."
"And a hero?"
"I didn't say that."
"No, but your medals do. But we're forgetting the champagne." She picked up her glass. "What shall we drink to?"
"Like you said, to being alive."
"To life, then."
"And the pursuit of happiness."
They clinked glasses. "When do you go back?" he asked.
"To Paris?" She shook her head. "I'm in no hurry now. I don't really know what I'm going to do next."
"Now that you've laid the ghosts?"
"Something like that. Come on," she said, "let's order."
Jake Cazalet was deliriously happy, and afterwards couldn't even remember what he had for dinner except that some sort of steak featured in there. A small band started to play, and they moved inside and danced. She was so light in his arms, he was always to remember that, and the smell of her perfume.
And how they talked. He could never recall having such a conversation with anyone in his life. She wanted to know everything. They had a second bottle of champagne, and ice cream and coffee.
He gave her a cigarette and sat back. "We shouldn't be here. We should be up there in the mud."
A shadow crossed her face. "Like Jean?"
"I'm sorry." He was instantly contrite and reached for her hand.
She smiled. "No, I'm the one who should be sorry. I told you I was through with ghosts, and then.... Listen, I'd like to do a ride 'round in one of those horse-drawn carriages. Will you take me?"
"I thought you'd never ask," he said and pushed his chair back.
The streets of Saigon were as noisy as usual and crowded with cars, scooters and cyclists, people everywhere, girls propping up the wall outside the bars, looking for custom.
"I wonder what they'll all do when we go?" Cazalet asked.
"They managed after we left, the French," she said. "Life always goes on in one way or another."
"You should remember that," he said and took her hand.
She didn't resist, simply returned the pressure and peered out. "I love cities, all cities, and particularly at night. Paris, by night, for example, and the feeling of excitement, that anything might happen just up there around the next corner."
"And usually doesn't."
"You are not a true romantic."
"Teach me, then." She turned her face toward him in the shadows and he kissed her very gently, an arm sliding around her shoulder.
"Oh, Jake Cazalet, what a lovely man you are," she said and laid her head against his shoulder.
At the Excelsior, she got the key to her suite from reception, handed it to him without a word, and went up the broad carpeted stairway. She paused at the door of the suite, waiting, and Cazalet unlocked the door and opened it. He stood to one side, then followed her in.
She crossed to the open French window and stood on the terrace looking down at the crowded street. Cazalet slipped his arms around her waist.
"Are you sure about this?"
"Oh, yes," she said. "As we were saying, life is for living. Give me a few moments, then come in."
Afterwards, Cazalet lay propped up against pillows, smoking. It had been the most wonderful experience of his entire life, and now she slept quietly beside him. He checked his watch and sighed. Four o'clock and he was due at base for a briefing at eight.
He eased out of bed gently and started to dress. A muffled voice said, "You're leaving, Jake?"
"Sure, I'm on duty. Important briefing. Can we meet for lunch?"
"That would be wonderful."
He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I'll see you later, my love," he said and went out.
The briefing was at general staff level and couldn't be avoided. His colonel, Arch Prosser, caught him over coffee and said, "General Arlington wants words. You've been covering yourself with glory again."
The general, a small energetic man with white hair, took his hand. "Damn proud of you, Lieutenant Cazalet, and your regiment is proud of you. What you did out there was sterling stuff. You'll be interested to know that others share my view. It seems I've been authorized to promote you to captain." He raised a hand. "Yes, I know you're young for the rank, but never mind that. I've also put you in for the Distinguished Service Cross."
"I'm overwhelmed, sir."
"Don't be. You deserve it. I had the pleasure of meeting your father three weeks ago at a White House function. He was in tiptop form."
"That's good to know, General."
"And very proud, and so he should be. A young man of your background could have avoided Vietnam and yet you left Harvard and volunteered. You're a credit to your country."
He shook hands vigorously and walked away. Cazalet turned to Colonel Prosser. "Can I get off now?"
"I don't see why not, Captain." Prosser grinned. "But you don't leave this base until you call in at the quartermaster's and get fitted with proper rank insignia."
He parked his jeep outside the Excelsior, went in and ran up the stairs, excited as a schoolboy. He knocked on the door of her suite and she opened it, her face wet with tears, and flung her arms around his neck.
"Oh, Jake, thank God you're here. I was just leaving. I didn't know if I'd see you."
"Leaving? But—but what happened?"
"They've found Jean. He's not dead, Jake! A patrol picked him up in the bush, he's badly wounded; they flew him down this morning. He's at Mitchell Military Hospital. Will you take me?"
Jake felt the room spinning around him, but he spoke carefully. "Of course I will. I've got my jeep outside. Is there anything you need?"
"No, Jake, just get me there."
Already, she was slipping away from him, like a boat making for different waters and not his.
At the hospital, he peered through the window in the door of the private room and saw the man who was Captain Comte Jean de Brissac lying there, his head heavily bandaged, Jacqueline at his side with a doctor. They came out together.
Jake said, "How is he?"
It was the doctor who answered. "A bullet creased his skull and he was half-starved when they found him, but he'll live. You're both very lucky."
He walked away, and Jacqueline de Brissac smiled through her tears. "Yes, aren't we?" Her voice caught. "Oh, God. What do I do?"
He felt incredibly calm, knowing that she needed his strength. The tears were streaming down her face, and he took out his handkerchief and wiped them away gently. "Why, you go to your husband, of course."
She stood there looking at him, then turned and opened the door into the private room. Cazalet went down the corridor to the main entrance. He stood on the top step and lit a cigarette.
"You know what, Jake, I'm damn proud of you," he said softly and then he marched very fast toward the car, trying to hold back the tears that were springing to his eyes.
When his time was up, he returned to Harvard and completed his doctorate. He joined his father's law firm, but politics beckoned inevitably, Congressman first and then he married Alice Beadle when he was thirty-five, a pleasant, decent woman for whom he had a great affection. His father had pushed for it, feeling it was time for children, but there weren't any. Alice's health was poor and she developed leukemia, which lasted for years.
Over the years, Jake was aware of Jean de Brissac's rise to the rank of full general in the French Army. Jacqueline was a memory so distant that what had happened seemed like a dream, and then de Brissac died of a heart attack. There was an obituary in the New York Times, a photo of the general with Jacqueline. On reading it, Cazalet discovered there was only one child, a daughter named Marie. He considered writing but then thought better of it. Jacqueline didn't need an embarrassing echo of the past. What would be the point?
No, best to leave well enough alone ...
Once elected Senator and regarded as a coming man, he had to take trips abroad on government business, usually on his own, for Alice simply wasn't up to it. So it was that in Paris in 1989, on government business, he was once again on his own, except for his faithful aide and private secretary, a one-armed lawyer named Teddy Grant. Amongst other things, there was an invitation to the Presidential Ball. Cazalet was seated at the desk in the sitting room of his suite at the Ritz when Teddy dropped it in front of him.
"You can't say no, it's a command performance like the White House or Buckingham Palace, only this is the Elysee Palace."
"I haven't the slightest intention of saying no," Cazalet told him. "And I'd like to point out it says Senator Jacob Cazalet and companion. For tonight, that means you, Teddy, so go find your black tie."
"Oh, I don't mind," Teddy told him. "Free champagne, strawberries, good-looking women. For you, anyway."
"Good-looking French women, Teddy. But I'm not in the market anymore, remember? Now get out of here."
The ball was everything one could have hoped for, held in an incredible salon, an orchestra playing at one end. All the world seemed to be there, handsome men, beautiful women, uniforms everywhere, church dignitaries in purple or scarlet cassocks. Teddy had departed to procure some more champagne, and Cazalet stood alone on the edge of the dance floor.
A voice said, "Jake?"
He turned around and found her standing there, wearing a small diamond tiara and a black silk ballgown. "My God, it's you, Jacqueline."
The heart turned over in him as he took her hands. She was still so beautiful it was as if time had stood still. She said, "Senator Cazalet now. I've followed your career with such interest. A future President, they say."
"And pigs might fly." He hesitated. "I was sorry to hear of your husband's death last year."
"Yes. It was quick, though. I suppose one can't ask for more than that."
Teddy Grant approached with a tray holding two glasses of champagne. Cazalet said, "Teddy, the Comtesse de Brissac ...an old friend."
"Not the Teddy Grant from that Harvard cafeteria?" She smiled. "Oh, I truly am pleased to meet you, Mr. Grant."
"Hey, what is this?" Teddy asked.
"It's okay, Teddy. Go and get another glass of champagne and I'll explain later."
Teddy left, looking slightly flummoxed, and he and Jacqueline sat down at the nearest table. "Your wife isn't with you?" she asked.
"Alice has been fighting leukemia for years."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"She's a brave woman, but it dominates her life. That's why we didn't have any kids. You know, it's ironic. My father, who died last year, too, urged me to marry Alice because he thought I should have a family. People worry about politicians who don't."
"Didn't you love her?"
"Oh, I have a great deal of affection for Alice, but love?" He shook his head. "I've only known love once."
She touched his arm. "I'm sorry, Jake."
"So am I. We all lost—Alice, you, and me. I sometimes think I came off worst, having no kids."
"But you do, Jake," she said gently.
Time seemed to stop for Jake. "What do you mean?" he said at last.
"Look over there, just at the French window to the terrace," Jacqueline said.
The girl's hair was long, the white dress very simple. For a heart-stopping moment, it might have been her mother.
"You wouldn't kid a guy," he whispered.
"No, Jake, that would be too cruel. She was conceived that one night in Saigon, and born in Paris in nineteen-seventy. Her name is Marie and she is halfway through her first year at Oxford."
Jake couldn't take his eyes off the girl. "Did the general know?"
"He assumed she was his, or so I thought, until the end, when the doctors told him just how bad his heart was."
"It seems that while he was in the hospital in Vietnam after being found up-country, that someone sent him a letter. It told him that his wife had been seen with an American officer, who had not left her suite until four o'clock in the morning."
"A member of staff, we think. The maliciousness of it! Sometimes I despair of human beings. But he had known, all that time, my dear Jean. Before he died, he signed a declaration under the provisions of the Code Napoleon, stating that he was Marie's titular father. It was to preserve her position and title legally."
"And she doesn't know?"
"No, and I don't want her to, and neither do you, Jake. You're a good man, an honorable man, but a politician. The great American public doesn't take kindly to politicians who have illegitimate daughters."
"But it wasn't like that. Dammit, everyone thought your husband was dead."
"Jake, listen to me. You could be President one day, everybody says that, but not with this sort of scandal hanging over you. And what about Marie? Isn't it better if she just lives with her memory of her father, the general? No, if Marie isn't told, that leaves only two people in the world who know—you and me. Are we agreed?"
Jake gazed at the lovely girl by the window, and then back at her mother. "Yes," he said. "Yes, you're right."
She took his hand. "I know. Now ...would you care to meet her?"
"My God, yes!"
She led the way to the French windows. "She has your eyes, Jake, and your smile. You'll see."
Marie de Brissac turned from speaking to a handsome young officer. "Mama," she smiled. "I've said it before, but you look incredible in that dress."
Jacqueline kissed her on both cheeks. "Thank you, cherie."
Marie said, "This is Lieutenant Maurice Guyon of the French Foreign Legion, just back from the campaign in Chad."
Guyon, very military, very correct, clicked his heels and kissed Jacqueline's hand. "A pleasure, Countess."
"And now allow me to introduce Senator Jacob Cazalet from Washington. We're good friends."
Guyon responded with enthusiasm. "A pleasure, Senator! I read the article about you last year in Paris Soir. Your exploits in Vietnam were admirable, sir. A remarkable career."
"Well, thank you, Lieutenant," Jake Cazalet said. "That means a lot, coming from someone like you." He turned and took his daughter's hand. "May I say that, like your mother, you look wonderful."
"Senator." She had been smiling, but now it faded and there was only puzzlement there. "Are you sure we haven't met before?"
"Absolutely." Jake smiled. "How could I have possibly forgotten?" He kissed her hand. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to dance with your mother."
As they circled the floor, he said to Jacqueline, "Everything you said—everything—is true. She's wonderful."
"With such a father, she would be."
He looked down at her with enormous tenderness. "You know, I think I never stopped loving you, Jacqueline," he said. "If only—"
"Hush," she said, putting her fingers to his lips. "I know, Jake, I know. But we can be happy with what we have." She smiled. "Now, let's put some life into those feet, Senator!"
He never saw her again, the years rolled on, his wife finally died from the leukemia that had plagued her for years, and it was a chance meeting with the French ambassador at a function in Washington three years after the Gulf War that brought him up to date. He and Teddy were standing with him on the lawn at the White House.
The ambassador said, "Congratulations would seem in order. I understand the Presidential nomination is yours for the asking."
"A little premature," Jake said. "There's still Senator Freeman, if he decides to run."
"Don't listen to him, Mr. Ambassador, he can't fail," Teddy said.
"And I must believe you." The ambassador turned to Cazalet. "After all, as everyone knows, Teddy is your eminence grise."
"I suppose so." Jake smiled. Then, he didn't know why—was it the music?—he said, "Tell me, Ambassador, there's a friend of mine I haven't seen in many years, the Comtesse de Brissac—do you know her?"
An odd expression came over the ambassador's face, then he said. "Mon Dieu, I was forgetting. You saved her life in Vietnam."
"Hell, I'd forgotten that one," Teddy said. "That's how you got your D.S.C."
"You are not in touch?" the ambassador said.
"The daughter was engaged to a Captain Guyon, a fine boy. I knew the family. Unfortunately, he was killed in the Gulf."
"I am very sorry to hear that. And the Countess?"
"Cancer, my friend, at death's door, as I understand it. A great pity."
Cazalet said to Teddy, "I've got to get out of here, and fast. Two things." He was walking rapidly along a White House corridor. "Get in touch with our Embassy in Paris and check on the present condition of the Comtesse de Brissac, then phone the airport and tell them to get the Gulfstream ready for a flight to Paris."
His mother's death a couple of years before had left him very wealthy, although with his interest in politics, he was content to put it all in a blind trust and leave the finances to others. However, it did give him the privileges of rank, and the Gulfstream private jet was one of them.
Teddy was already speaking over his mobile phone, and as they reached the limousine, said, "They'll call me." They got in the rear and he closed the glass partition between them and the driver. "Jake, is there trouble? Anything I should know about?"
Cazalet did an unusual thing for him during the day. He reached for the bar and selected a crystal glass. "Pour me a Scotch, Teddy."
"Jake, are you okay?" Teddy said anxiously.
"Sure I am. The only woman I ever truly loved is dying of cancer and my daughter is all alone, so give me a Scotch."
Teddy Grant's eyes widened and he poured. "Daughter, Jake?"
Cazalet took the Scotch down in one swallow.
"That was good," he said, and then he told him everything.
In the end, the mad dash across the Atlantic proved fruitless. Jacqueline de Brissac had died two weeks before. They had missed the funeral by five days. Cazalet seemed to find himself moving in slow motion and it was Teddy who saw to everything.
"She was laid to rest in the de Brissac family mausoleum. That's in a cemetery at Valency," he said, turning from the phone in their suite at the Ritz.
"Thanks, Teddy. We'll pay our respects."
Cazalet looked ten years older as they settled in the limousine, and Teddy Grant cared for him more than any other person on this earth, more even than he cared for his long-term partner, who was a professor of physics at Yale.
Cazalet was the brother he'd never had, who'd taken interest in his career ever since the cafeteria incident at Harvard, had given him a job with the family law firm, had given him the totally unique job of being his personal assistant, and Teddy had grabbed it.
Once, at a Senate committee meeting, he'd sat at Cazalet's shoulder, monitoring and advising on the proceedings. Afterwards, a senior White House liaison had come up to Cazalet, fuming.
"Hell, Senator, I truly object to this little cocksucker constantly appearing at these proceedings. I didn't ask for fags on this committee."
The room went quiet. Jake Cazalet said, "Teddy Grant graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law school. He was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery in the field in Vietnam and the Vietnamese Cross of Valor. He also gave an arm for his country." His face was terrible to see. "But more than that, he is my friend and his sexual orientation is his own affair."
"Now, look here," the other man said.
"No, you look here. I'm off the committee," and Cazalet had turned to Grant. "Let's go, Teddy."
In the end, when the President had heard, it was the White House staffer who got moved, not Jake Cazalet, and Teddy had never forgotten that.
It was raining at the cemetery and slightly misty. There was a small records office, with a clerk on duty, and Teddy went in to find the location. He returned with a piece of paper and a single rose in a cellophane holder, got in the limousine, and spoke to the driver.
"Take the road north, then left at the top. We'll get out there."
He didn't say anything to Cazalet, who sat there looking tired and tense. The cemetery was old and crowded with a forest of Gothic monuments and gravestones. When they got out, Teddy raised a black umbrella.
"This way." They followed a narrow path. He checked the instructions on the paper again. "There it is, Senator," he said, strangely formal.
The mausoleum was ornate, with an angel of death on top. There was an arched entrance to an oaken door banded with iron and the name de Brissac.
"I'd like to be alone, Teddy," Cazalet told him.
"Of course." Teddy gave him the rose and got back into the limousine.
Jake went into the porch at the door. There was a tablet listing the names of members of the family laid to rest there, but there was a separate one for the general. Jacqueline de Brissac's name was in gold beneath it and newly inscribed.
There were some flower holders and Jake took the rose from its wrapping, kissed it, and slipped it into one of the holders, then he sat down on the stone bench and wept as he had never wept in his life before.
A little while later—he didn't know how long—there was a footstep on the gravel, and he looked up. Marie de Brissac stood there, wearing a Burberry trenchcoat and a headscarf. She held a rose just like his own, and Teddy Grant stood behind her, his umbrella raised.
"Forgive me, Senator, this is my doing, but I thought she should know."
"That's all right, Teddy." Cazalet was filled with emotion, his heart beating.
Teddy went back to the limousine and the two of them were left staring at each other. "Don't be mad at him," she said. "You see—I already know. My mother told me a year or two after we met at the Ball, when she was first ill. It was time, she said."
She put her rose into one of the other holders. "There you are, Mama," she said softly. "One from each of us, the two people in the world who loved you best." She turned and smiled. "So here we are, Father."
As Cazalet wept again, she put her arms around his neck and held him close.
Afterwards, sitting on the bench, holding hands, he said, "I must put things right. You must allow me to acknowledge you."
"No," she said. "My mother was adamant about that, and so am I. You are a great Senator, and as President of the United States of America you could achieve remarkable things. Nothing must spoil that. An illegitimate daughter is the last thing you need. Your political opponents would have a field day."
She laughed. "Such language from a future President. No, my way is best. Only you and I know, the perfect cover."
"Ah, yes, lovely Teddy. Such a good man and your true friend. My mother told me about him. You mustn't be annoyed that he spoke to me."
She raised her voice. "Teddy, come here."
Teddy Grant got out of the limousine and joined them. "I'm sorry, Jake."
"You did right, Teddy. I'm grateful, but she won't allow me to go public. Tell her she's wrong."
"No, I'm afraid she's right. You could cripple your chances. The opposition would make it look real dirty. That's politics."
Jake's heart churned, but in his head, he knew they were both right. Damn it! "All right." Cazalet turned to her, still holding her hand. "But we must see each other on a regular basis."
She smiled gently and raised her eyebrows to Teddy, who said, "I'm sorry, Jake, but there would be talk. Hell, the press would jump on it. They'd think you'd found yourself a new girlfriend."
Cazalet's shoulders sagged. She touched his face gently. "Perhaps the odd occasion, some public function. You know the kind of thing."
"God, but this is painful," he said.
"You are my father and I love you, and not because you were that glorious young war hero who saved my mother in some godforsaken swamp. It's the decency of a man who nursed his wife through an appalling illness to the very end and never wavered that I admire. I love you, Jake Cazalet, for yourself, and I'm truly glad to be your daughter." She held him close and turned to Teddy, who had tears in his eyes. "Look after him, Teddy. I'm going now." She stepped out into the rain and walked away.
"God help me, Teddy, what am I going to do?" Jake Cazalet said brokenly.
"You're going to make her proud of you, Senator. You're going to be the best damn President our country has ever seen. Now let's go."
As they walked to the limousine, Cazalet said, "Kennedy was right. Anyone who believes in fairness in this life has been seriously misinformed."
"Sure, Senator, life's a bitch, but it's all we've got," Teddy said as they got into the limousine. "Oh, and by the way, I just had a call on my mobile. Senator Freeman's decided not to run. The nomination is yours. We're on our way."\
Posted May 5, 2011
Posted November 9, 2002
The President's Daughter is the first Jack Higgins book I ever read. His ability to interact factual information into the story line is smooth and applicable to this story. I simply could not put the book down. Sean Dillon is simply one of the most interesting heroes with an interesting past. Great work Mr. Higgins!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 30, 2001
Jack Higgins has written a novel to rival The Eagle has Landed. The perpetrators of the crimes planned and executed are ruthless terrorists. The unlikely assistance rendered to British Intelligence comes from an IRA chief in prison. The action speeds along at Higgin's usual pace right to the end. A great read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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