The old wood cabin sat alone, surrounded by trees and darkness. The shades were drawn, and a dog lay motionless on the front porch. A thin stream of smoke flowed out of the chimney and headed west, across the rural Maryland countryside toward Washington, D.C. Inside, a man sat silently in front of the fireplace, shoving stacks of paper into the hot flames.
The papers were the product of months of tedious and meticulous work. Each sheet represented hour upon hour of surveillance notes, in-depth subject profiles, and maps of neighborhoods throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. He knew when the police patrolled, when the newspapers were delivered, who jogged and at what time, and most importantly, where his targets slept and what time they awoke.
He and his men had stalked them for months, watching and waiting, patiently discerning which part of their daily routine could be exploited -- and when they would be most vulnerable. His strong hands reached for the fire and stopped short. Letting them hang near the flames, he flexed them straight, then pulled them into tight fists. The men he had been stalking had sent him to some of the most obscure places on the face of the planet to kill people who were deemed a threat to the national security of the United States of America.
He had lost track of the number of people he had killed in the service of his country. He had not intentionally blocked the tally from his mind, it was just something he had never bothered to calculate. Whatever the number was, he held no regrets for the men he had killed. They were honorless, evil psychopaths -- killers of innocent civilians.
The solitary figure sitting in frontfor the last month trying to get the votes needed to pass the budget. If the budget was defeated, their chances for reelection would be severely hampered. The count would be close, but there was a plan to make a last-minute charge. The only problem was that Garret needed the president back in his office making phone calls, not sitting in the Blue Room reading nursery rhymes.
As was typical of everything at the White House, the event had started late and was now running over its original half-hour slot. Garret looked down at his watch for the tenth time in the last five minutes and decided enough was enough. Looking to his left, he glared at Ann Moncur, who was standing several feet away. Garret slid between the wall and several other White House staffers and worked his way toward Moncur. When he reached her, he pulled her back and cupped his hand over her ear. "This is the dumbest stunt you've ever pulled. If the budget gets torpedoed tomorrow, you're history. This circus has gone fifteen minutes over schedule. I'm going to the Oval Office, and if he isn't there in five minutes, I'm going to come back in here and personally throw your ass out on the street."
Moncur strained to smile and look relaxed. She glanced around the room and noticed that some of the other staffers and several members of the press were watching. She nodded her head several times and was relieved when Garret stepped away and headed for the door. For obvious reasons, Moncur didn't care for the older, crass chief of staff. Simply put, he was a pain in the ass to work for.
Michael O'Rourke walked purposefully down the hallway of the Cannon House Office Building. It was just after 9 A.M., and the building was crowded with people. O'Rourke avoided making eye contact with anyone for fear of being stopped. He was not in a good mood. O'Rourke didn't like Washington; in fact, it was safe to say he hated Washington. Midway down the hall, he turned into an office and closed the door behind him.
Inside were five men wearing dark suits and drinking coffee. O'Rourke shot his secretary a quick glance, but before she could respond, all five men closed in on him.
"Congressman O'Rourke, could I please have a moment of your time? I just need five minutes," pleaded the man closest to the door.
A short, pudgy man pushed his way to the front.
"Congressman, I would like to speak to you about how the farmers in your district will be affected if you don't vote for the president's budget."
The thirty-two-year-old freshman congressman held up his hands. "Gentlemen, you're wasting your time. I've already made up my mind, and I will not be voting for the president's budget. Now if you will kindly vacate my office, I have work to do." The group started to protest, but O'Rourke opened the door and waved them into the hallway. All five men stumbled to grab their briefcases and then headed off dejectedly, in search of another congressman to cajole.
The portly lobbyist hung back and tried to give it another shot. "Congressman, I've talked to my people in your district, and they've told me you have a lot of farmers waiting for the crop-failure money the president has in his budget." The lobbyist waited for a reaction from O'Rourke but got none. "If this budget doesn't pass, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes come next election."
O'Rourke looked at the man and pointed toward the door with his thumb. "I have work to do."
With the v ote so close the lobbyist was not willing to give up easily. "Mr. O'Rourke, if you vote no on the president's budget, the American Farmers Association will be left with no other choice than to support your opponent next year."
O'Rourke shook his head and said, "Nice try, but I'm not running for a second term." Waving goodbye, the young congressman grabbed the door and closed it in the lobbyist's face. O'Rourke turned to face his secretary, Susan Chambers.
Susan smiled and said, "I'm sorry, Michael. I told them you had a full calendar, but they insisted on waiting around to see if you would fit them in."
"No apologies needed, Susan." Michael left the main reception area and walked into his office. He set his briefcase on the chair beside his desk and picked up a stack of pink messages. Yelling toward the door, he asked, "Has Tim come in yet?"
"Has he called?"
"Yes. He said that since there isn't a snowball's chance in hell of the president taking the funding for the Rural Electrification Administration out of the budget, he's going to get some errands done and be in around one." Tim O'Rourke was Michael's younger brother by two years and his chief of staff.
"I'm glad everyone is so positive around here."
Susan stood up from behind her desk and walked to the doorway of O'Rourke's office. "Michael, we're only being realists. I admire that you're trying to do what's right, but the problem is, guys like you don't win in Washington."
"Well, thank you for your vote of confidence, Susan."
Susan looked up into O'Rourke's bloodshot eyes. "Michael, were you out again last night?" O'Rourke nodded his head yes. "This bachelor life is going to kill you. Why don't you make an honest woman out of that adorable girlfriend of yours?"
O'Rourke had been hearing it from everyone lately, but he was in no position to get married. Maybe in another year...after he got out of Washington. He looked down and sighed, "Susan, I'm Irish, we tend to get married late in life. Besides, I'm not so sure she'll have me."
"That's a lie and you know it. She adores you. Take it from a woman: I've seen the way she looks at you with those big brown eyes. You're the one, so don't screw it up. There aren't too many like her out there." Chambers slapped him in the stomach. "I hope being crowned the most eligible bachelor in Washington hasn't gone to your head!"
O'Rourke frowned and shook his head. "Very funny, Susan."
Chambers turned and walked away, laughing.
"I'm glad you're getting such a kick out of this, Susan. Hold all of my calls. I have an appointment at noon, and until then I don't want to be disturbed."
"What if your grandfather or Liz calls?"
"No one, I don't want to be disturbed." O'Rourke shut the door and sat down behind his desk.
Copyright © 1997 by Vince Flynn