Author of House Witness, 2019 Edgar Award Finalist for Best Novel
When it comes to dealing with possible scandals, Joe DeMarco made his bones working for the wily Speaker of the House John Mahoney. But now Joe’s unique skills are needed outside the nation’s capital.
The secretary of the Navy has received a tip that fraud is being committed on a US Naval base. Unwilling to launch a formal investigation, the secretary has asked Mahoney to send DeMarco to investigate before things get out of control.
It doesn’t take DeMarco long to uncover not fraud, but outright treason and foreign infiltration on the base—which puts him right in the crosshairs of a ruthless foreign operative who proves to be deadlier than any foe he’s ever faced before.
Full of the intrigue, action, and stunning plot twists readers have come to expect, in The Second Perimeter “Lawson again ratchets up the suspense and takes DeMarco on a wild ride” (The Oregonian).
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DeMarco pulled his car into a parking space at the Goose Creek Golf Club in Leesburg, Virginia. He got out of the car, shut the door, and had walked twenty yards before he remembered that he hadn't locked the car. He went back to the car, jammed down the knob to lock the door, then slammed the door harder than necessary. It bugged him, particularly this morning, that his Volvo was so damn old that it didn't have one of those cool little beeper things to lock the doors.
On his way into work DeMarco had taken a detour to a used car dealership in Arlington. He'd passed by the place a couple of days ago and had seen a silver BMW Z3 sitting on the corner of the lot, posed like a work of art. The car had sixty-four thousand miles on the odometer, the leather seats were sun-faded, and DeMarco wasn't sure he could afford it — but he wanted a convertible and he was sick to death of his Swedish box on wheels. He had just started to dicker with the salesman when Mahoney's secretary called and told him that Mahoney wanted him down at Goose Creek before he teed off at nine.
He found Mahoney on the practice green, about to attempt an eight-foot putt. DeMarco watched in silence as Mahoney squared his big body over the ball, took in a breath, and stroked the ball. He hit it straight but too hard, and the ball rimmed the cup and shot off perpendicular to its original vector.
"Son of a bitch," Mahoney muttered. "Greens're fast today."
Yeah right, DeMarco thought, like they waxed the grass just before you got here.
Mahoney was almost six feet tall and broad across the chest and back and butt. A substantial, hard gut gave balance to his body. He was in his sixties; his hair was white and full; his features all large and well formed; and his eyes were the watery, red-veined blue of a heavy drinker. He dropped another ball onto the grass.
"The guy I want you to meet," Mahoney said, looking down at the ball, "will be here in a minute. He just went up to the clubhouse to get us some beer." Mahoney stroked the ball smoothly and this one dropped in. "Now that's better," he said.
DeMarco knew Mahoney had been a fair athlete in high school — football, basketball, and baseball. He hadn't competed in college because he went into the marines at seventeen, and when he was discharged, his right knee shredded by shrapnel, the only sports he played had involved beer steins and coeds. But even in his sixties he exhibited the hand-eye coordination of an athlete, and in spite of his size, moved lightly on his feet.
"Here he comes now," Mahoney said, dropping a third ball onto the practice green, this one about ten feet from the cup.
Walking toward the green, carrying a small cooler designed to fit in the basket behind the seat of a golf cart, was a man about Mahoney's age. He was five eight, stocky and had a round head with a flat nose and short gray hair. As he got closer, DeMarco could see his eyes: bright blue and surrounded by a million crow's feet from squinting into the sun. He had the eyes of a fighter pilot — which he'd once been. The man was the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Hathaway.
Hathaway, in turn, studied DeMarco, probably wondering what a hard-looking guy in a suit was doing standing on the practice green. DeMarco was five eleven and had broad shoulders, big arms, and a heavy chest. He was a good-looking man — full dark hair, a strong nose, a dimple in a big chin, and blue eyes — but he looked tough, tougher than he really was. A friend had once said that DeMarco looked like a guy you'd see on The Sopranos, a guy standing behind Tony while Tony hit someone with a bat. DeMarco hadn't thought that funny.
Hathaway acknowledged DeMarco with a nod then said to Mahoney, "Al's in the parking lot, talking on his cell phone. He'll meet us on the first tee. Andy won't be able to make it though. His secretary called and said there's a fire drill in progress, two Saudis they caught trying to cross in from Canada, up near Buffalo." Hathaway put the cooler on the ground near the golf cart and added, "I wouldn't have Andy's job for all the tea in China."
Andy, DeMarco knew, was General Andrew Banks, Secretary of Homeland Security.
Mahoney stroked the ball toward the hole. It dropped in. "Oh, yeah," Mahoney said. Gesturing with his putter at DeMarco, Mahoney said, "Frank, this is Joe DeMarco, the guy I was telling you about."
Hathaway stuck out a small, hard hand and DeMarco shook it.
"John says you do odd jobs for Congress," Hathaway said to DeMarco.
"Yes, sir," DeMarco said.
John was John Fitzpatrick Mahoney, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and DeMarco worked for him — although no organizational chart showed this to be the case. DeMarco had a small office in the subbasement of the Capitol and he performed for Mahoney those tasks the Speaker preferred not to dole out to his legitimate staff. DeMarco liked to think of himself as Mahoney's personal troubleshooter — but odd-jobs guy was accurate enough.
"There's Al," Mahoney said, pointing his blunt chin at a golf cart driven by a man so tall that his head almost touched the canvas roof of the cart. DeMarco recognized him, too: Albert Farris, a onetime forward for the Portland Trail Blazers and currently the senior senator from Oregon.
Just four guys playing a round of golf: a United States senator, the Speaker of the House, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Secretary of the Navy. The fact that it was a weekday morning could mean that something more was going on than a game of golf — or it could mean they all just felt like playing. You never knew.
"Joe, do you golf?" Hathaway said.
"Uh, well ...," DeMarco said.
"Yeah, he plays," Mahoney said as he pulled a can of beer from the cooler and popped the top.
"Well since Andy can't make it, why don't you play the front nine with us?" Hathaway said. "You ride with me and I'll tell you what I need while we're playing."
Meaning Hathaway didn't want to delay his game talking to DeMarco about whatever this odd job was.
"I'm not exactly dressed for it," DeMarco said, gesturing at his clothes. DeMarco was wearing a freshly dry-cleaned suit, a white shirt, and his favorite tie. "And I don't have any clubs," he added, already knowing that the only excuse that would work was polio.
"Aw, just take off your jacket," Mahoney said. "It's fuckin' golf, not football. And you can share Frank's clubs. Let's get goin'."
Shit. And he was wearing brand-new loafers and they'd cost him a hundred and fifty bucks on sale.
"Yeah, sounds great," DeMarco said. He removed his tie, folded it carefully, and put it in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He then took off his suit jacket and placed it neatly in the little basket on the golf cart. Immediately after he did so, Mahoney put the beer cooler in the basket, squashing down his jacket.
At the first tee he was introduced to Senator Farris. Farris was six foot seven. He had no excess fat on his body and his arms still looked strong enough to rip a rebound out of an opponent's hands. During his playing days he'd been the team enforcer, the guy they sent into the game to cripple the opposition's star. Farris's best shot had been an elbow to the ribs. He had short dark hair with a small bald spot on the top of his head, big ears, a beaky nose, and an expression on his face that seemed far too serious for someone about to play a friendly game of golf.
Hathaway told Farris that Banks wouldn't be coming and that DeMarco would be riding with him. "That's good," Farris said, "because I want Mahoney with me so I can keep an eye on him."
"Who's up?" Mahoney said, ignoring Farris's comment.
"I mean it, Mahoney," Farris said. "We're playing by the rules today. No mulligans, no gimme putts, and no, I repeat no, free kicks outta the rough."
"Aw," Mahoney said, "you're just sore 'cause I kicked your ass last time."
"You didn't kick my ass!" Farris yelled, then immediately looked around to make sure no one had heard him. Lowering his voice he said, "You won by one friggin' stroke and I still think you moved your ball on the tenth hole."
"Pure bullshit," Mahoney said. "Now get your skinny butt up there and tee off."
Jesus, DeMarco was thinking. And these guys actually run the damn country.
Farris's drive found the left side of the fairway two hundred and forty yards from the tee. Mahoney's tee shot was slightly longer, also ending up on the left edge of the fairway. Hathaway, who didn't have the bulk of the other two men, hit his shot a respectable two ten and it landed square in the middle of the fairway, as if the Titleist was a wire-guided missile.
This wasn't good.
DeMarco took a couple of practice swings with the driver he'd selected from Hathaway's bag. The grip on the club didn't feel right; it was too small for his hand, or something. "Uh, you know, I haven't played in a couple of months," DeMarco said.
"Yeah, yeah, come on, come on, take your shot," Mahoney said.
Mahoney was rushing the game and DeMarco suspected that this was a tactic to defeat Farris. Mahoney was never in a hurry. Ever. He did whatever he was doing at a pace that suited him. At his level, the next meeting didn't start until he got there.
DeMarco swung. He made good contact. It felt good. It sounded good. And the ball sliced so far to the right that it ended up on the adjacent fairway.
"Christ, Joe," Mahoney said. "You play that way, we'll be here all day."
As Hathaway drove the golf cart over to find DeMarco's ball, he said, "It's my nephew, my sister's kid. He's an engineer and he works at this navy shipyard. The thing is, he thinks some guys out there are committing fraud."
"What kind of fraud?"
"I'm not too clear on that," Hathaway said. "Something to do with some kind of bogus study and the people doing it overcharging the government. Dave, my nephew, he tried to tell his bosses what was going on, but according to my sister, they blew him off. Which is why she called me, all pissed, demanding I do something. Where the hell'd your ball go, Joe? I know it's in these trees somewhere."
DeMarco topped the ball on his next shot and it went about twenty yards. It was Hathaway's midget-sized irons, that's what the problem was. He hit a third shot and he was finally on the fairway — the right fairway.
"So anyway," Hathaway said, when they were back in the cart, "I'd just like you to check the kid's story out and tell me if he's really onto something. John says you've done stuff like this before and I wouldn't think this would be all that hard."
"I've been involved with whistle-blowers before but, well ..."
"Well, why don't you just call up somebody who works for you and ask them to look into it?"
Before Hathaway could respond there was a commotion across the fairway. Farris was yelling at Mahoney, pointing a long finger at something on the ground at Mahoney's feet. Mahoney had probably claimed that his ball was on the concrete cart path and the rules allowed him to move it. Whether his ball had actually been on the cart path was most likely Farris's issue.
"Jesus," Hathaway said, shaking his head. "Those guys are so damn competitive they take the fun out of the game. And Mahoney, well, I think he does bend the rules a bit."
No shit, DeMarco thought.
"You were asking why I didn't have somebody in my chain of command investigate this thing," Hathaway said. "The problem is, I'm the Secretary of the Navy, Joe. If I told my people to look into it, even if I told them to be discreet, in two hours there'd be twenty NCIS agents running around that shipyard questioning every swinging dick who works there. I don't want to cause that kind of ruckus based on a phone call from my sister. And, well, to tell you the truth, there's something else." Hathaway turned and looked away for a moment as if telling the truth bothered him. "You see, both my sister and her kid — it must be genetic — they both tend to be a little, ah, dramatic."
Now this was starting to make sense. Hathaway didn't trust his nephew and if he launched an official investigation based on a tip from a relative and the relative turned out to be wrong, Hathaway would be doubly embarrassed.
"I see," DeMarco said.
"So just check this out quietly. Okay?" Hathaway said. "Go talk to my nephew and see what he says. Interview these guys he's complaining about. If it turns out that there's something to what he's saying, I'll have facts from an independent source — Congress — and then I'll have it officially investigated."
"Okay," DeMarco said, not that he really had a choice.
On the sixth hole, Mahoney's and DeMarco's balls were both in the rough, approximately twenty yards apart. Farris was on the other side of the fairway looking for his ball and Hathaway, as usual, was in the center of the fairway.
Mahoney looked down at his ball — it was behind a small tree — then he looked over to where Farris was standing. "C'mere a minute," Mahoney said to DeMarco. DeMarco figured Mahoney wanted to know what he and Hathaway had been talking about.
As DeMarco approached Mahoney, he heard Farris yell, "Hey, Mahoney! What the hell are you doing over there, Mahoney?"
DeMarco looked over at Farris, and when he turned back toward Mahoney, Mahoney's ball was no longer behind the tree. Mahoney had used DeMarco to block Farris's view.
On the putting green, Farris said, "DeMarco, what did Mahoney do back there? Did he kick his ball out?"
"No, sir," DeMarco said.
"Don't you dare lie to me, DeMarco. I'm a United States senator and that fat son of a bitch is only a congressman. Now tell me the truth, son. Did he move his ball?"
"Come on, come on, let's get goin' here," Mahoney said. "And as usual, you're away, Farris."
Farris's ball was about six feet from the cup. As Farris took his putter from his bag, Mahoney said to Hathaway, "Frank, I'll betcha a beer Farris two-putts this hole. Just like when he choked on that free throw in the playoffs in Chicago."
DeMarco saw the senator's face flush crimson but he didn't say anything. Farris took his position over his ball, adjusted his feet, took in a breath, and stroked the ball. He hit the ball on line, but too hard, and it hit the back of the cup, popped up, and came to rest two feet from the hole. Farris's lips moved in a silent curse and he glared at Mahoney. Mahoney smiled and cleaned off the head of his putter with a grass-stained towel.
When they arrived at the clubhouse after the ninth hole, DeMarco took his rumpled suit jacket out of the golf cart basket. His shirt was soaked through with sweat, there were grass stains on the cuffs of his pants, and his new shoes were scuffed and filled with sand.
"I'll give you a call as soon as I know something, Mr. Secretary," DeMarco said to Hathaway as he tried to smooth the wrinkles out of his jacket.
"Yeah, sure," Hathaway said. He wasn't listening; he was adding up his score. DeMarco could tell that Hathaway wasn't really all that concerned about fraudulent activities taking place at some shipyard. What he had wanted was a way to get his sister off his back, and now, thanks to Mahoney, he had one: Joe DeMarco, hotshot investigator from Congress.
Mahoney, his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth, was also adding up his and Farris's score on the front nine. "You shot a forty-one, Farris," Mahoney said. He paused a minute then said, "I got forty."
"You lemme see that damn card, Mahoney," Farris said.CHAPTER 2
Emma and Christine were sitting in white wicker chairs on Emma's patio drinking mimosas and reading the morning papers. They were a portrait of domestic contentment. Beyond the patio was Emma's English garden. DeMarco knew it was an English garden because Emma had told him so, and an English garden, as far as he could tell, was one in which the gardener planted a thousand long-stemmed flowers in no discernible pattern, all clustered together.
Emma was wearing white linen pants and a blouse that DeMarco thought of as Mexican — an off-the-shoulder number embroidered with small red-and-orange flowers. Christine, a thirty-something blonde who played cello for the National Symphony, wore a tank top and shorts. Christine had the most beautiful legs that DeMarco had ever seen, but since Christine was Emma's lover he made a point of not staring at them. In fact, his eyeballs were getting cramps from the strain of not staring.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Second Perimeter"
Copyright © 2006 Michael A. Lawson.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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