About the Author
Andrew Shaffer is the New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen books, including the national best seller Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery. He lives with his wife, the novelist Tiffany Reisz, in Kentucky.
Read an Excerpt
What a bunch of malarkey.
That had been my response when I’d seen Murder on the Amtrak Express on the paperback rack at the airport. Some two-bit hack had written a potboiler starring yours truly, Joe Biden. Not only that, but the money-grubbing publisher had the gall to slap my mug on the cover. There I was, grimacing behind the wheel of a silver Pontiac Firebird Trans Am—a car I’d never driven in my life. Now, six chapters in, my initial assessment of its literary merit was unchanged. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.
I might as well have flushed my fifteen bucks down the crapper.
My cab screeched to a halt, sending the book tumbling from my hands. The cabbie—a dead ringer for Bears legend Mike Ditka—laid on the horn. A half dozen pedestrians dashed in front of us, tying up four lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Lake Shore Drive.
Traffic had been stop-and-go since Midway. What should have been a twenty-minute drive into Chicago had already taken double that.
“Is there another route?”
Ditka shook his head. “St. Paddy’s Day weekend. Holiday’s tomorrow, but the parade’s today. Your friend Obama picked da wrong morning for his ecumenical forum, if you ask me.”
“Economics,” I said. “It’s a global economics forum.”
Ditka glared at me in the rearview mirror. I could tell he wanted to say something smart, but he was having a rough time getting the old hamster to spin the wheel. A woman in a tight pair of green hot pants raced to catch up to her friends, feather boa in tow. My driver redirected his attention accordingly.
I should have expected the zaniness. St. Patrick’s Day was the second biggest day on the Irish American calendar, right after November twentieth (birthday of the forty-seventh vice president of the United States). Outside of Boston, there wasn’t another American city that took more pride in its Irish heritage than Chicago. By noon, the sidewalks would be stained with Guinness.
We started moving again. I groped around under the front seat for the book. My fingers brushed it, but the cab braked hard and it slipped away. Thank God I hadn’t eaten anything this morning. If I had, it would have been all over the backseat. There was a reason most cab seats were vinyl.
“Lose something back there?” Ditka asked, craning his head around as we inched forward. The hedgehog on his upper lip was dotted with spittle.
“Nothing important,” I said. The book belonged under the seat. I’d read cereal boxes with better character development. In the parlance of Tony the Tiger, the book was not grrreat.
Wave after wave of pedestrians were now jaywalking around us, weaving between cars. Horns honked, with little effect. Traffic had come to a complete standstill.
I couldn’t see the Tribune Tower, but I knew it was situated along the river. A mile away, give or take a city block. If I were still in office, I could have arranged a helicopter extraction. Good ol’ Marine Two would’ve gotten me there faster than you could say “Scott Pruitt.” Those heady days, however, were long gone—and besides, I’d never taken advantage of my position as a public servant like that.
I glanced at my watch. Quarter till nine. The prayer breakfast would be wrapping up shortly. If I hoofed it from here, I still had a chance to catch the keynote address. I might miss Barack’s introduction, but I wasn’t in town to see him. Not this time.
I cleared my throat. “Just let me out here.”
Ditka shrugged. No sweat off his stones. I paid my fare in cash, stepped out onto the curb. A cool breeze rolled off Lake Michigan. All I had to do was head west until I hit the Magnificent Mile, then turn north. In the midst of a city-wide bar crawl.
“Be careful out there,” Ditka shouted through the open door. “It’s snake weather.”
The Mazda in front of him moved forward three inches, causing a line of cars to honk like mad when the cab didn’t follow suit. I threw them a gentle wave, which instigated another chorus of honking. Tough crowd.
“Snake weather, huh?” I said, lingering at the open door.
“Supposed to warm up into da fifties today,” Ditka said. “First nice weekend of spring is always the most dangerous. The city thaws, the snakes come out. Pickpockets, swindlers. Gangbangers with itchy trigger fingers. Criminals of every stripe.”
A solitary green feather floated past my face. I batted it away. He might have been yanking my chain, but I didn’t think so. There was something in the air. The Midwest had been under a blanket of snow and ice since early December. Threeplus long months of tension simmering below the surface, unleashed by Mother Nature.
I snorted. “Don’t worry about me,” I told him. “This isn’t my first rodeo.”
It wasn’t until I shut the door that I remembered I’d never been to a rodeo.
Every city has its own springtime fragrance. Visit Wilmington and you’ll wander into a botanical paradise not unlike my wife’s shampoo. Washington would forever be associated in my mind with the sweet smell of blossoming magnolias and cherry trees.
As Chicago thawed that March morning, my nostrils were assaulted with a pungent stew of corned beef, cabbage, and horse manure. It was enough to make me nostalgic for the Senate chambers in August in the seventies, when air-conditioning was still considered a luxury. Back before global warming had made it a necessity.
I ducked into a souvenir store for a little St. Paddy’s flair to blend in with the downtown crowd. I was already strapped for time, but I would be in real trouble if anyone recognized me. The last thing I needed was to be engulfed by hundreds upon hundreds of well-wishers chanting “Run, Joe, run!”
I modeled a green-and-white striped scarf in a mirror. Behind me, I caught a glimpse of a short, squat fellow with a reddish chinstrap beard. Green jacket: check. Newsboy cap: check. A damn leprechaun. All he was missing was a pot of gold.
The clerk was waving me up to the counter. I turned around, scanning the store for the leprechaun, but there were only a couple of young women snapping photos of each other in four-leaf-clover sunglasses. Huh. I handed the clerk a twenty.
“Keep the change,” I said. “I don’t need a bag.”
His hand was still outstretched. “It’s $34.99, sir.”
“For a scarf?”
“It’s a nice scarf.” He motioned to a display of garish green socks adorned with shamrocks and mugs of green beer. Two pairs for ten bucks. “If you’re looking for something on the cheap side . . . ”
I handed him another twenty.
This time I asked for the change.
Nobody gave me so much as a second look over the next eight city blocks. It wasn’t because of the scarf. I was just another white-haired Irish American in a city swimming with Celtic cud chewers. I passed no fewer than twenty-three doppelgängers who could have made good money impersonating me at birthday parties and confirmations.
The sidewalk in front of the Tribune Tower was blocked off with sawhorses—not for the parade, but for the protestors. A small crowd of twenty or thirty Occupy activists were milling about, wielding posters attacking the usual suspects.
NO BORDERS, NO BANKS.
STOP CORPORATE GREED.
MR. OBAMA TEAR DOWN THIS WALL (STREET)
Not exactly the homecoming welcoming committee.
Not exactly surprising, either.
A pair of cops on horseback watched the fracas. They paid no attention as I skirted around them. They were only one line of defense, however. A muscled-up heavy in a too-tight suit was blocking the main entrance doors. Had to be private security. I’d never seen a Secret Service agent with the Van Heusen label still stitched onto their sleeve.
A man in an ivory suit and fedora barreled out of one of the revolving doors. He brushed past the security guard, and I stepped to the side to avoid being bowled over. The man met my eyes as he passed. A VIP pass hung on a lanyard around his thick neck. He wore a look of determination—he had somewhere to be. And by the way his eyebrows were angled, he didn’t look too happy about it.
I removed my shades and turned to the guard. An Irish and an American flag were flapping above us in the wind.
“This the conference?” I asked.
“Need to see your pass.”
“I should be on the list. Biden. Joe Biden.”
Without taking his eyes off me, he loosened the walkie-talkie from his belt like he was unholstering a pistol. “If you’re not wearing a pass—”
The revolving door behind him spun again. The woman who emerged was wearing a sharp blue top. I noticed she didn’t have a conference pass clipped to it. I had half a mind to ask the guard why this woman didn’t need a pass, but I already knew the answer: it was Michelle Obama. And Michelle Obama did whatever the heck Michelle Obama wanted.