Sturka is an artist with explosives. A sturdy man approaching middle age, he learned his trade on the darkest battlefields of the twentieth century: Indochina, Palestine, Guyana, Biafra, and the fetid jungles of South America, where he fought alongside Che Guevera but was quick enough not to die with him. He doesn’t know where his new employers hail from; he only knows how well they pay. Today he packs plastic explosive into the false bottoms of three handbags and two suitcases, to be left at strategic locations around Washington, D.C. But this is no ordinary café bombing. Today Sturka targets the men at the top of the American government. The attack causes a crisis of succession, the likes of which America has never seen. If the right man doesn’t take charge quickly, the country will tear itself apart.
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Line of Succession
By Brian Garfield
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1972 Brian Garfield
All rights reserved.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 2
10:45 P.M. EST The girl's body was found by a man in a raincoat. It was in an alley near the intersection of Euclid and Fourteenth Street Northwest—a black neighborhood of brick row-houses and urban ferment.
At first the man in the raincoat shrank from the body: he stood against the wall breathing shallowly, blinking, but in the end he knelt by the girl and began to search near and under the body, although there was little hope. If she had been mugged there would be no handbag.
A car was going by slowly. The man in the raincoat ignored it until it stopped, but then it was too late. The spotlight swiveled onto him and pinned him against the wall.
He threw up an arm in front of his eyes and heard the car door open and chunk shut. There was a voice:
"Turn around. Hands high against the wall."
The man in the raincoat obeyed. He knew the routine. He splayed his feet a yard out from the base of the wall and leaned against his palms. The patrolman frisked him and found nothing and moved with a crunch of shoes to the girl's body.
The second cop got out of the squad car. The first cop said, "DOA. Send in a squeal—we'll want the wagon."
The man in the raincoat heard the first cop get up and take two steps forward. The cop's voice had changed: before it had been weary but now it was taut, angry. "What in the hell did you do that with?"
"I didn't do nothing."
He felt a sudden grip on his shoulder and the cop pulled him upright from the frisk position and cracked the handcuffs against his wrists.
"Now sit down."
He slid down with his back against the brick wall. The drizzle ran down inside the collar of his raincoat and he hitched around on his buttocks to free enough cloth to cover the back of his neck. The spotlight was in his eyes and he kept them squinted almost shut.
"You vicious bastard," the cop said, very soft.
When the boot caught him in the ribs he was half expecting it and he managed to ride with it, toppling over on his side; it hurt but it hadn't broken anything. He stayed on his side with his cheek in the gravel. He had learned submission a long time ago. If you showed any fight at all they would kick the guts out of you.
The cop's feet shifted and the man in the raincoat got ready for another kick but then the other cop came from the car. "Take it easy, Pete."
"You didn't see what the son of a bitch did to her. Take a look."
"Just take it easy. Some lawyer sees him all black and blue they'll turn him loose and hand us a reprimand."
"Since when can anybody see black and blue on that spade hide?" But the cop didn't kick him again.
The other cop went over to the dead girl. Breath whistled out through his teeth. "Sweet Jesus."
"What'd he do it with?"
"Beats me. He must have ditched the knife."
"Took more than a knife."
"I'll have a look around."
The first cop started to prowl the alley, and the second cop came over to the man in the raincoat. "Sit up."
He obeyed. The cop was above him and when he looked up he could see the cop's fleshy white face in the hard beam of the spotlight. The cop said, "You got some identification? Move your hands real slow."
The man reached inside his raincoat and took out the little plastic case. The cop took it from him and lifted it, turning, to get it in the light. All it contained was a numbers slip, a welfare card, Social Security and a single dollar bill.
"Franklin Delano Graham," the cop said. "Jesus Christ."
11:20 P.M. "I think he's telling it straight," the lieutenant said.
The sergeant propped himself against the hip-high partition that delineated the lieutenant's corner of the detective squad room. "Hell, he's a junkie. He wouldn't know the truth if it kicked him in the face."
"Then what did he do? Mangle the girl like that, grab her bag, go away somewhere and hide the bag and the stuff he mangled her with, and then come back and hang around waiting for us to pick him up? I can't buy that."
The sergeant looked across the squad room. A dozen desks, men sitting at half of them. Franklin Delano Graham was on a bench against the far wall, guarded by the patrolman who had brought him in. Graham's black face was closed up with the singular bleakness of a junkie who knows he's not going to get his next hit in time.
The sergeant said, "I guess that's right. But I'll book him anyway."
"Send him over to the methadone clinic."
"What for?" But the sergeant went to his desk and sat down to type up the forms.
The lieutenant was on the telephone. "Have you got a make on the dead girl yet?"
11:35 P.M. Alvin stood just inside the window keeping watch on the street. The sill was a half inch deep in dust and there was a large white-painted X across the outside of the panes. He could see through it past the front steps to the sidewalk where Line and Darleen stood under the street lamp in tight vivid colors, both flaunt-it-baby black and lean, looking too casual to be sentries.
The bombs lay in a row on the table, and Sturka worked on them with studied concentration. The five people from California sat on wooden boxes in a little circle at the far side of the room. Peggy and Cesar were near the table watching Sturka work on the bombs; Mario Mezetti was in the corner on the floor, absorbed in rereading Ché's diary.
Alvin looked out the window again. The air was misty but the drizzle had quit. When cars passed, the wind whipped away white exhaust spumes from their tailpipes. A few black people moved along the street and Alvin looked at their faces. Probably tomorrow wouldn't change their lives at all. But you had to try.
Sturka was hunched over the long refectory table. No one spoke; it was a silence of discipline and sweat.
The room was broken plaster and splintered floorboards. Mario had cellotaped the photo of Mao on the door and beneath it one of his humorless posters, Long Live the Victory of the People's War. The Californians' suitcases were stacked neatly by the table and Peggy was using one for a seat, smoking a Marlboro and watching Sturka build his bombs. There was a gooseneck high-intensity lamp with an extension cord which Sturka moved from mechanism to mechanism as he worked on them. A pile of lumpy knapsacks on the floor, a scatter of ashes and dirt and empty styrofoam cups, and a stale sense of abandonment: the block was marked for demolition and that was why there were whitewash crosses on the windows.
Everything was laid out with professional neatness as if for a display—the five handbags and briefcases, innards exposed; the plastic gelatine and the wires and batteries and detonators and stopwatches.
Peggy was restless: she came to the window and looked out past him at Linc and Darleen on the curb. She touched his sleeve. "Bad vibes, Alvy?"
"You look tight."
"Well it's a heavy thing."
"They're not exactly homemade Embarcaderos."
"I didn't mean that."
They had spoken low but Sturka's head lifted and the intense eyes pushed against Alvin. He turned his shoulder to the room and Peggy went back to her suitcase and lit another Marlboro. Peggy was a sad tough girl and Alvin liked her. Three years ago in Chicago she had been demonstrating against the war—just standing in the crowd, not carrying a sign, not doing anything, but cops had charged into the crowd and a pig had dragged Peggy across the curb steps by her feet, bouncing her head on the concrete; they had manhandled her into a wagon and rousted her into a precinct station, and they had called that resisting an officer. Now she was twenty-three, angry, dedicated, rootless, and one other thing: she was a registered nurse. Sturka surrounded himself only with professionals.
Alvin had come down from New York on Monday night with Sturka and Peggy and four others after Sturka's private meeting with Raoul Riva. The five who had volunteered to carry the bombs had arrived in Washington Thursday from the West Coast; Alvin hadn't seen any of them before and they kept to themselves, so that he still knew very little about them beyond their names and faces. That was the way Riva and Sturka always worked. The less you knew the less trouble you could cause.
The five volunteers sat drinking coffee, two men and three women. The men were short-haired and clean-shaven, quite well dressed; the women looked middle class, the girl in a long-sleeved wool dress and the fat girl in sweater and skirt and the small black woman in a tweed suit. They didn't look like terrorists and of course they weren't supposed to. The little black woman was middle-aged: she had lost two sons in Indochina. She had been teaching at UCLA but they had dropped her contract because of her radical activities. She had a third son somewhere in Canada and a fourth in the Panthers in New York.
Cesar had recruited them. He had gone out to the Coast and hung around the fringes of the radical groups until he had found people who would suit Riva's purposes. Cesar was persuasive as a recruiter: it was Cesar who had brought Alvin in. "Revolutions are made by professionals, not schoolchildren. Look, you've had it with soft-head protest, demonstrations that don't mean nothing. And there ain't no point to the crazies, that's just random violencing. Corby, you got combat experience, you know about tactics and planning and being professional—you want to join an organization that knows where it's at."
The group had no name, no set of initials; even Sturka went under a false name—he was Stratten to everybody he didn't trust, and he hardly ever trusted anyone.
There was no visible coalition but Raoul Riva was somewhere on the fringe—a part of Sturka's operation but not a member of this cell. Possibly Riva had a cell of his own; Alvin wasn't sure—he had seen the Cuban only once and at some distance. It was a taut cell and alliances were not discussed. Riva existed somehow on the periphery—an old warrior brother of Sturka's, a shadow-figure.
Sturka seldom spoke to any of them; he had no small talk and he wasn't a speechmaker. Indoctrination sessions were chaired by Cesar. Sturka remained aloof from the study groups; he absented himself often when Cesar was guiding them through the teachings of Marighela and Mao and Ché. At first Alvin had taken Sturka's indifference badly: a revolutionary had to remember why he was fighting. But he soon learned Sturka had forgotten nothing: his memory was absolute and he required no refresher courses in the philosophy of liberation.
Sturka had no personal charm, he made no effort to light angry fires. He had no striking mannerisms, no habit movements, no interest in what impression he might be making. Alvin had never even heard him complain about injustice or the pig Establishment. Sturka's leadership depended on his competence: he knew what had to be done and he knew how to do it.
Sturka was between forty and fifty, bigger than he looked—he seemed sick-chested because he tended to hunch his shoulders. His face was bony, long-jawed, pitted by the scars of some old skin affliction. He was dark for a Caucasian; he had straight black hair and a vague foreign accent that Alvin had never been able to place. According to Cesar, who had been with him longest, Sturka had fought with Ché and the Palestine guerrillas and in Biafra and Guyana and, fifteen years ago, in the Algerian FLN. From a few things that had been let drop Alvin had the impression Sturka had learned his professionalism as a mercenary in the Congo and in Indochina.
Sturka had an expert's contempt for explosives. He knew the science of demolition and he had the concentration of a monk. Now he was hawked over the bombs, shaping them. The plastic gelatine had been manufactured in the United States but Mario had flown out to Singapore and bought it on the black market—it had been stolen from an arms dump near Da Nang. The stuff was malleable as modeling clay; Sturka was distributing it along sheets of lead foil inside the false bottoms of the three handbags and the two briefcases. The Number Eight detonators and battery packs were pressed into the plastic against the stopwatches that would trigger the detonators. Sturka had machined tiny combination levers, actuated by the lock fittings on the outsides of the cases, to push the start buttons of the watches. The lead-foil sheaths would prevent metal detectors from discovering the concealed mechanisms, and the use of stopwatches would avoid detection by listening devices which otherwise would pick up the ticking of a time-clock detonator.
The preparation of the watches had been delicate and Alvin had watched with interest. Each watch crystal had to be unscrewed; the tip of the minute hand had to be bent up, and a metal prong soldered to the watchcase so that the minute hand in its circle would touch the prong, completing the electric circuit that would detonate the explosive. The watchcase was screwed to the housing but everything else was imbedded in the soft clay of the gelatine, so that the entire apparatus lay flat and looked a bit like a printed electronic circuit. Flattened neatly across the leaded bottom of each case, the bomb was no more than half an inch thick, but each case carried eighteen ounces of plastic explosive and that was enough.
Above the false bottoms the handbags and briefcases contained a variety of journalists' commonplaces: pencils, pens, spiral notebooks, odds and ends of paper secured with paper clips, small pocket pencil sharpeners, ink jars, pocket combs, cosmetics, keys, cigarettes and cigarette lighters, banded packets of three-by-five index cards. Sturka had selected the items for their shrapnel value. A hurtling paper clip could pierce an eye; a cigarette lighter could kill.
Sturka was fitting sheets of lead foil across the tops of the molded bombs now; he was almost finished. It only remained to fit the false bottoms into the cases.
Cesar stood up, pressed his fists into the small of his back and stretched, bending far back; he windmilled his arms to loosen cramped muscles and came across the room to the window. Glanced at Alvin, glanced at Darleen and Line outside, and peeled back his sleeve to look at his watch. Alvin followed his glance: almost midnight. D Day. Alvin looked around the room and after a moment he said, "Where's Barbara?"
"Gave her an errand to run," Cesar said very offhandedly.
It bothered Alvin. Sturka and Cesar had gone out three hours ago with Barbara and had returned without her twenty minutes later. Alvin made his voice very low because he didn't want to disturb Sturka. "Shouldn't she be back by now?"
"Getting kind of close for time. We don't want our people wandering around on the street where they could get picked up and maybe talk."
"She won't talk to anybody," Cesar said, and moved away toward the table.
Alvin looked down at his hands, and turned them over and looked at his palms—as if he had not seen them before. It bothered him that they still didn't trust him enough to tell him things.CHAPTER 2
MONDAY, JANUARY 3
2:10 A.M. EST The Assistant Medical Examiner had just settled gratefully into his chair when the phone rang. "M.E.'s office, Charlton speaking."
"Ed Ainsworth, Doc."
"Hello, Lieutenant." The Assistant M.E. put his feet up on the desk.
"Doc, about that girl they brought in DOA from Northwest. My sergeant seems to have kind of a garbled report on her from your office. Maybe you can straighten it out for me."
"He says you told him somebody'd cut out her tongue with a pair of pliers."
"That's right. I did."
"A pair of pliers?"
"The jaws left clear indentations on what's left of her tongue, Lieutenant. Maybe I phrased it badly in the report. I said they'd cut out her tongue. 'Pulled' would have been more accurate."
"Good Christ." After a moment the lieutenant resumed: "You did the autopsy yourself?"
"I regret to say I did."
"And there's no sign she was sexually molested?"
"None. Of course that's not conclusive, but there's no sign of vaginal irritation, no semen, none of the usual——"
"Okay. Now the cause of death, you've got 'heart removal' here. Now for Christ's sake what——"
"Read the whole thing, Lieutenant."
"I have. God help me."
"Heart removal by probable use of ordinary household tools."
"Yeah. You mean kitchen knife, that kind of thing?"
Excerpted from Line of Succession by Brian Garfield. Copyright © 1972 Brian Garfield. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
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