In this twisting, ferocious novel of suspense, the presidential race has a number of men all clawing to get to the top. Each man has a locked closet of secrets. And one man holds every key.
Julian Mellow has spent his life amassing a fortune out of low-risk / high-reward investments. But the one time in his life he got in over his head, he left another man holding the bag, and made an enemy for life, one who has nothing to lose. Now, Mellow has an even greater ambitionto select the next President of the United Statesand to make that man do his bidding, in business and beyond.
It all ties to an African nation where his son died years before, where a brutal dictator still rules supreme, and where a resistance movement lurks in the alleys, waiting for the right time to strike.
Margolis spans the globe to weave together a brilliant story of politics at its most venal, where murder is a part of the political process, where anyone’s life is up for sale, and where one manthat bad penny of an enemycould bring the whole kingdom toppling.
As the new President is inaugurated, Seth Margolis has penned a perfect thriller for the voting public, one that asks who really puts the next person in the White Houseand at what cost?
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
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TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2
Harry Lightstone climbed Mason Street toward the top of Nob Hill. Perhaps he should have availed himself of the car and driver the organization had placed at his disposal. He'd visited San Francisco dozens of times, but somehow he never quite remembered just how steep the hills were. Whose idea had it been to build a city on the back of a giant camel? And who had booked him at the Fairmont when the convention, where he'd delivered the keynote address, had been at the Saint Francis, a thousand feet closer to sea level? He exercised five days a week — free weights with a trainer and at least a half hour of cardio — and still he was sucking air, never mind that he was climbing at a snail's pace. Even at fifty-six, shouldn't all that exercise count for something? He was the same weight he had been the day he graduated Princeton. Press profiles often described his face as "craggy" (his enemies called it vulpine). He tended to look best in black-and-white photos, which was just as well, since his face was in one newspaper or another almost every day of the week. Black and white brought out the shadows cast by his jutting cheekbones, the just-short-of-rakish overhang of his lush gray hair, the meditative thrust of his lower lip. "Yon Lightstone Has a Lean and Hungry Look," one columnist had headlined a recent screed in which his ambition had been attacked. Got it wrong, as usual. He was undeniably lean, but hunger, in the metaphorical sense at least, had never been a defining trait, which was almost remarkable, given how far he'd come. He hadn't been born with ambition. He'd married it, quite unintentionally. Lean he might be, but Marcella was the hungry one.
Half a block ahead, a woman turned onto Mason from Sutter Street and began to climb. She had on very high heels, but even without them she'd be five ten, perhaps even five eleven. He sped up, thrusting his arms like pistons to help propel him up the near-vertical slope. How did she manage to move so quickly perched atop those shoes? Excellent proportions for a woman that size. Perfect, in fact. He wanted a closer look at a woman who wore three-inch heels despite her height. Goddamn hill, he'd collapse of a heart attack before he got a frontal view.
He was a few feet away from her when she fell forward, onto her knees. Unable to stop himself in time, despite the incline, Harry bumped into her and buckled to the sidewalk next to her.
"Damn these shoes," she said. "And damn these hills."
Even on her knees she was a magnificent presence, sharp features highlighted by a deft application of makeup, the lush dark hair billowing from her scalp adding a precious half inch to her stature.
"Let me help you up," Harry said as he struggled to his feet. He extended a hand and, after a moment's hesitation, she took it. Despite her initial uncertainty, it seemed to him that she let him do all the work in hoisting her off the pavement. He felt the full weight of her in his right biceps, and as she slowly rose to her full elevation, like a corn stalk shooting up in fast motion, he felt that familiar and bafflingly erotic combination of potency and weakness. He had raised her up. He was dwarfed by her.
"Thanks. I might have stayed on the sidewalk all night if you hadn't come along." Her voice was throaty, almost gruff, with an insinuating lilt. She brushed off her knees, and when she stood erect he was again struck by the size of her, at least two inches taller than he was, aided by those heels, of course. She had the legs of an athlete, sturdy rather than sleek — a serious tennis player, perhaps.
"I'm ... Herbert." Harry angled to the left of her so that she was on the uphill side, adding an additional two inches to her height advantage.
"Danielle," she said, extending a long arm. They shook hands. "Are you heading up?" She indicated the top of Nob Hill, three steep blocks ahead of them. When he nodded they began their ascent.
"Are you from here?" he asked.
"I'm staying at the Mark Hopkins. You?"
"The Fairmont. What brings you to San Francisco, Danielle?" He felt unable to rise above clichÃ© in the presence of such a woman, though shortness of breath wasn't aiding articulation.
"Business," he said.
"What kind of business?" Molded by her lustrous voice, the question sounded fraught with implication. He said the first thing he could think of.
"Huh. Me too."
They looked at each other, sideways glances that acknowledged the mutual lie, and he knew that an early night in bed with the day's newspapers and briefing books was not to be. At the top of Mason Street she stopped and turned to him.
"I could use a drink," she said, not at all out of breath.
"There's a bar on the top floor of the Mark Hopkins," he said. There was also one at the Fairmont, but he couldn't possibly bring a woman back to his hotel, even a "consultant."
"Excellent." They turned right onto California Street. He had to take extra-long steps to keep pace with her. He fell behind her once they entered the Mark Hopkins, the better to avoid being recognized. He sensed all eyes were on Danielle, anyway.
In the elevator she pressed the tenth-floor button.
"The bar ... is on the ... roof," he said, still short of breath.
"The minibar is in my room."
He didn't have an immediate reply as he considered a number of possible reasons for her apparent haste to hop in bed, none of them having to do with his craggy good looks. Harry Lightstone was nothing if not a realist.
"You're not a ..."
She gave a coy smile. "Do I look like a hooker?" She placed her hands on her hips.
He gave her a quick scan, taking in all six feet of her. He was no judge of fashion, though his wife spent a small fortune on clothes and accessories. A large fortune, actually. But Danielle seemed dressed conservatively, if anything. Did hookers wear cream silk blouses and navy skirts? Well, if she wasn't a hooker ...
"Do you know who I am?"
He felt his dick stiffen at his good fortune. He'd been more or less true to Marcella for twenty-two years, the first fifteen or so because he'd been generally satisfied — or perhaps too busy to stray, the last seven because he'd been too afraid of getting caught, which had everything to do with his public life. More or less, because there was that one time with the tennis pro from his club in Pittsburgh, a tower of a woman with deltoids like hard cantaloupes. But he'd stopped short of doing anything technically adulterous. It was all about technicalities in his business nowadays. And he'd come close with a woman he'd met in a chatroom, crossing the line he'd prudently erected between his online life and what he thought of as reality. They'd met for a proper cup of coffee and she wasn't nearly as statuesque as she'd led him to believe — a major disappointment, in fact, but a relief, too, as he hadn't been tempted to proceed beyond caffeine.
Danielle unlocked her room and crossed it in two magnificent strides. After snapping the curtains shut, she turned back to him and he nearly swooned at the prospect of what was coming.
"So, um, about that drink," he offered. "Vodka?"
She opened the minibar and removed two small bottles of vodka, which she poured into one glass and handed to him.
"Nothing for you?"
She stepped so close to him that her breasts grazed his suit jacket. She reached around and pulled his head toward her, crouching slightly to maneuver her lips onto his. She smelled of lilac and musk.
"I've always ... I've always had this thing ..." Damn, still out of breath. "For really ... I mean, you're so ... tall." He put the glass down.
"Some men are intimidated by my size," she said as she unbuttoned her blouse. "You're not intimidated, are you, Herbert?"
Harry shook his head, but in fact his heart was threatening to push through his chest, and fear, the sense of being helpless in her presence, was certainly a part of it. He ran his hands along her broad shoulders, then down her long arms. He crouched to his knees and let his hands drift down her skirt, along her calves to her feet, which he noted, approvingly, were large — at least a man's size eleven. He registered the cream blouse hitting the floor.
"I can't do this," he said with as much conviction as he could summon, pulling away from her.
"I think you can." She picked up the glass and held it to his lips. "You're not the least bit intimidated by a woman like me, are you, Herbert? You're more of a man than that."
"I've never done this before." Technically. "You see, I'm —"
"I see that you're here, on business. Like me. No one needs to know. No one needs to care ..."
"If only you weren't so ..." But words failed him, as they almost never did, and vodka had weakened whatever sense of caution was left. It wasn't about her, anyway. It was about him, about that dizzy sense of feeling at once small and vulnerable and completely protected. Powerless, for a change, but safe.
"I like a man who knows what he wants, Herbert, a man like you."
"Perhaps if I could just see ... "
Slowly, he lifted her skirt, sliding his hands along her bare thighs, relishing the astonishing ... scale of her. Danielle was correct on one point at least. He was a man who knew what he wanted.
* * *
In Manhattan, Julian Mellow answered the phone before the first ring had ended. Not his usual cell phone; this one had been procured for him for this call alone. The bedside clock read one thirty, which meant he had been asleep for about an hour, if you could call it sleep. He often wondered if he ever fell into a true slumber. Some mornings he woke up (if you could call it waking up) and spent the first moments of full consciousness trying to determine if he'd actually slept. Dreams and conscious thoughts had a way of merging seamlessly at night. It had been two years since he'd had a truly satisfying night of sleep. Two years, two months, and three days.
"Yes," he said softly into the phone. On the other side of the bed, Caroline rolled onto her side, away from him, and yanked the covers over her shoulders. His wife had no trouble sleeping.
"It's Danielle. The ... person you —"
"I know who you are."
"I forget, what's your name?"
"I never told you. How did it go?"
"Perfectly. Check your email. I just sent the file."
"You had no problem getting his attention?"
"He's a height freak. I know the type. Looked up at me with these huge, adoring eyes, like I was his mother."
"I'll check my email. Goodnight, Danielle."
"What about my money?"
"The second payment will be delivered to you tomorrow morning."
Julian hung up and got out of bed. He walked to his bathroom (Caroline's was on the Fifth Avenue side of the master bedroom, and had a view). He glanced at his reflection before moving to the toilet. Had he been asleep when the phone rang? His blue eyes looked alert, his skin taut. Even his hair, unusually thick and dark for a man of fifty-one, looked tousled rather than unkempt. No one had ever called him handsome, but as a younger man he'd had no trouble attracting women. He was no longer much interested in attracting women but they came at him still, though he was enough of a realist to know that it was his position on the Forbes list of the four hundred wealthiest Americans (somewhere near the top, he guessed, never bothering to check anymore) and not his good looks or charm that drew them.
He entered his study, turned on his computer, and logged on to the account he'd established to receive a single email, which, as Danielle had promised, was waiting for him. BigDanniXXX@gmail.com. Two clicks on the email's attachment launched a video player, which he maximized.
The first image was of the back of a woman's head. She was standing slightly to the left of the camera and appeared to be alone. But he soon became aware of a low murmuring and then saw the top of a man's head, thick gray hair just clearing the bottom edge of the frame. She must have activated the camera while he was exploring her lower regions. Smart. A few moments later the man stood up, but his face was obscured from the camera by her head and billowing hair. "Move over," Julian whispered at the monitor. What if she'd gotten the wrong man? "Show me the face!" There was some muffled talk, mostly from him, letting her know he never did this sort of thing, suggesting without any conviction that they stop even as his hands moved greedily along her body, and then Danielle began moving to her right, easing her companion with her so that they were both in the exact center of the screen. Then she slowly sank to her knees, and as she disappeared from the monitor she revealed her companion's face in close-up.
A very, very famous face. Harry Lightstone, senior senator from Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A publicity whore, apparently, since he'd accepted a less than glamorous speaking engagement on Election Day. True, it was an off-year, twelve long months before the presidential election, but the media would be focused on local races thought to have bellwether qualities, leaving little chance of Lightstone's address making the evening news. He was a conservative Republican with ties to the party's extreme right wing, and, most relevant for Julian's purposes, a long-married father of two who had the strangest, most unlikely obsession with very tall women.
"I'm pulling down your zipper," he heard Danielle say, a bit louder than was probably called for. "Unbuckling your belt. Oh, someone's happy to see me."
The blow-by-blow narration was unnecessary and risky, though apparently the senator hadn't caught on. His expression and the guttural moans emanating from the mouth that had delivered countless speeches from the floor of the Senate told the story clearly enough. Still, getting a blowjob from a giantess would probably not be enough for what Julian had in mind. Men had survived worse. He rolled his mouse over the fast- forward button and moved the clip ahead. Danielle stood up and began to undress the senator. He reached around her and removed her bra, releasing two large, perfect breasts, which she pressed into him at about shoulder level. Even at fast-forward speed, even knowing that the protagonist was perhaps the fifth most powerful man in the country, the movie was a sordid bore. And still no money shot, nothing he could really put to work for him.
The clip fast-forwarded along, the actors' movements jerky, like panicked mice. Finally, they made it to the bed, Danielle practically pushing him onto his back, revealing the senator to be in decent shape and modestly endowed. Danielle jumped onto the bed and stood over him, legs astride his body. She still had on her skirt but was otherwise naked. With her back to the camera she began to unfasten her skirt but stopped and said something inaudible to the senator, who shimmied down the bed so that his feet dangled over the end. She went to the head of the bed and turned to face the camera, positioning herself just behind the senator's head. In full view of the camera she unfastened her skirt and let it fall to her ankles, revealing to the senator and to Julian — and to no one else, if the senator behaved as expected — an impressively large, semihard penis.CHAPTER 2
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 3
At the breakfast table Wednesday morning, Julian was on the phone (his usual phone) when Caroline entered. She had on a floor-length silk robe and heeled slippers — the look of a 1940s movie goddess. Caroline was an aristocratic beauty, with a long, disdainful nose; pale blue, skeptical eyes; and full, disapproving lips. That she was the daughter of a mailman from Natick, Massachusetts, with a younger sister who, blessed with the same genetic raw material, had become a popular performer at a local strip bar, only added to her appeal, for Julian was drawn to people who, like himself, were the products of their own stubborn imaginations.
"I can't talk right now," he said quickly into the phone when he saw Caroline. "The plane leaves in one hour. There will be a passenger boarding in San Francisco. Say nothing to him. You'll return to New York on a commercial flight. I'll call you once you're in the air."
"Who was that?" Caroline asked after he'd hung up.
She poured coffee from the pot that Inez, their housekeeper, had earlier placed on the sideboard of the small breakfast room, which separated the kitchen from the formal dining room. "Since when do you ferry your employees on the jet?"
"It's early," he said with a sigh, and picked up the New York Times. The governor of New Mexico had announced the previous day that he was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, a late entrant. That swelled the field to four, with the first primary three long months away.
"It's about Matthew."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Presidents' Day"
Copyright © 2017 Seth Margolis.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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