Just to wet your whistle, I’m starting a serial release in this blog of my new novel, a political thriller called “Identity Check.” Each week I will publish another chapter. Always welcome feedback, dear readers. Shall we start at the beginning?
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and should not be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Identity Check© Richard Allan Jones 2015. All rights reserved.
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Drafted (2004) ISBN: 1-4140-3710-4 (e-book)
Calvin Mills, the senior Democratic Senator from Maryland, relaxed in his favorite leather chair, watching the latest CNN news summary. He’d spent a long day on the hill fighting for his water conservation bill and felt as drained as a rock star after a three-hour concert in JFK Stadium. After shutting down the big screen TV, he headed to the kitchen, where he found Danny sitting at the table eating a late-night meal. “Find everything you need?”
The startled Secret Service agent jumped to his feet, his mouth stuffed with a man-sized bite of his turkey sandwich, and mumbled, “Yes, sir, appreciate your hospitality.”
“I still think this protection is a waste of taxpayer money,” Calvin said, as he grabbed a soda from the magnet-covered refrigerator.
Danny, his white shirt opened at the neck and his striped tie pulled aside for comfort, discretely wiped mustard off his chin with his finger. “No matter how much you complain, sir, we’re not going away. This is for your own safety.”
Calvin nodded. “I know. Now sit down and finish your sandwich, I’m going to bed.” The senator climbed the stairs, pausing at the mid-point landing to catch his breath, before entering the second-floor master bedroom.
Judy, his wife and best friend for more than thirty years, clad in a white silk nightgown, was sitting up in bed, leaning against the headboard, but remained so engrossed in her latest romance novel, she didn’t notice him go into the bathroom to brush his teeth. The sounds of running water, gargling and spitting, however, finally broke her concentration. “Calvin Mills, is that you?”
He stuck his head out. “No, dear, some stranger is using your sink. Honestly, if I can’t get your attention, how do you expect me to win the nomination next month?”
“Don’t pout because I don’t dote on your every move. Look, I know you’ll win. You have a sizable lead in the polls, and everybody knows Walter doesn’t stand a chance in the general election.”
Calvin put the toothbrush back in its silver holder, crossed to the antique four-poster oak bed, and slipped under the covers. “I can’t remember when an incumbent president didn’t get the nomination, and by the way, today’s Washington Post editorial agrees with me. Maybe I should have accepted his offer to be vice president.”
Judy laid down her book. “Absolutely not…why play second fiddle when you can lead the orchestra?”
He held her hand and looked at her slightly wrinkled, but still lovely face. “We’ve been down this trail many times. I know you think I can walk on water, but it would take a bigger miracle for me to become president.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. Who knows what will happen? If you can’t line up enough votes, then we’ll strike a deal. Goodness knows Walter’s going to need his own miracle to stay in office. No matter what, we can’t let the Republicans move back into the White House.”
He kissed his wife on the forehead. “Now I remember why I’ve kept you around all these years.”
Judy swung a pillow at his head, but he ducked, and then playfully pinned her down. “Besides, if everything else falls through, my old law firm would take me back in a heartbeat.”
“It’ll work out for the best. It always does.” Judy wiggled under his weight. “Now get off me, you big horse.”
Calvin rolled over to his side of the bed, smiling, as he watched his wife perform her evening ritual—tuning the nightstand clock radio to light jazz from WJZW-FM, setting the sleep timer for thirty minutes, and then kissing the ornate, silver-framed picture of their son, daughter-in-law, and three wonderful grandchildren.
Judy sighed, settled under the covers and then leaned over to give Calvin a peck on the cheek. “Goodnight, sweetheart.”
“Goodnight, dear,” Calvin said.
He switched off the Tiffany lamp, and then cuddled behind her, spooning like newlyweds. The moonlight through the bedroom windows projected a diffused tick-tack-toe pattern on the polished mahogany floor as they drifted off to sleep.
A tall figure, nearly invisible in his hooded black sweats, waited deep in the shadows hidden within a stand of birch trees, his breath crystallizing in the cold night air. Through powerful infrared binoculars, Frank Tate observed the activities at the Mill’s large colonial home, nestled safely in the upscale community of Chevy Chase, Maryland.
He checked his watch and smiled with satisfaction as the agent, like every other night, finished circling the house, punched in the home security code, and opened the back door—trading places with a second agent, who now stood under the porch light enjoying his last smoke of the evening.
Nasty habit, Frank thought, doesn’t he know those things can kill you.
Pulling a titanium compound hunting crossbow from his bag, he cocked the heavy gauge Dacron synthetic string, placed an aluminum shaft, four-bladed arrowhead into position, and took careful aim through the ATN Mars6x Gen.2 scope. His adrenaline surged as he squeezed the sensitive trigger and watched the arrow fly true to its mark.
The agent could only gurgle as he tried in vain to shout a warning to his partner and the sleeping couple he had been assigned to protect. Before the injured man could pull his gun, Frank had quickly crossed the perfectly-manicured lawn and pinned the agent against the house. While covering the man’s mouth with one hand, Frank plunged his two-inch wide hunting knife just below the ribs. He stared into the man’s eyes, watching him blink several times before the agent fell to his knees and then toppled face-first to the cement. Frank retrieved his arrow by pushing it through the neck and then returning it to his quiver.
Frank’s head throbbed after another successful kill. He tried to rub it out, but the unrelenting pain and intense flashes of blinding light behind his eyes made relief impossible. He fumbled out a homemade briar pipe from his jacket pocket and filled the bowl with a pungent-smelling mixture of marijuana and tobacco. After tapping the crushed leaves down with his finger, he raised the pipe to his lips and held a match to the potent concoction until it began to glow. Taking several deep drags, he felt his headache subside to a tolerable level.
Frank put out the pipe, re-packed his crossbow and arrows, and then advanced to the still open doorway. He peered into the empty kitchen and then inched his way forward into the home. He lowered his bag silently onto the kitchen table and stole a bite of a mostly-eaten sandwich lying there. Grabbing some paper napkins from an antique holder, he wiped clean the freshly-coagulated blood along the blade’s serrated edges but chose the back of his sleeve to brush away a few bread crumbs from the corner of his mouth.
One down, one to go, he thought. Hearing a TV playing softly in the den, Frank bent low and crept across the carpet until he reached a spot directly behind the second agent. With the only light coming from the flickering screen, he rose, silent as a specter, knife in hand, and ended the man’s life with one slashing stroke, while a late night comedian made jokes about President Kendall’s latest ineptness.
Crossing to the stairs, Frank looked up into the darkness and listened for any noise coming from his primary target. The blinding flashes returned, so he lit his pipe again, and then step-by-step climbed toward the master bedroom, hugging the wall as he went, so the stairs wouldn’t creak and provide any advance warning, although he wasn’t too concerned about the sleeping couple putting up much of a struggle.
Jazz still played softly on the clock radio, but discordant free-form improvisation didn’t cause Mrs. Mills to jerk awake—it was her keen sense of smell. She wrinkled her nose and shook her husband. “Calvin, get up. Something’s burning on the stove.”
He moaned and replied without turning over. “Why does your imagination go into overdrive the minute I fall asleep? We never cook, so there can’t be anything burning—unless one of the agents decided to surprise us with a Sunday roast.”
But then he picked up the scent too. Now a non-smoker, he could still recognize—and briefly crave—burning tobacco, but the familiar aroma was mixed with a sweetness he hadn’t smelled since his undergraduate days at Yale. Now wide awake, Calvin sat straight up in bed, put on his glasses and scanned the room for the source of the odd scent. He stopped at the bedroom door when he came upon a red glow, like a demonic eye, staring back at him. “Who’s there?” He shouted.
But his words had barely left his lips before the stranger took three quick strides to the astonished senator’s side, pinned him to the headboard, and sliced a jagged trench just below his distinguished chin. Calvin turned toward his wife with a look of astonishment before sliding down to his pillow; coming to rest in an expanding pool of blood.
Judy stared up at the man, trembling, crying. She tried to speak, but nothing came out. Finally, one pleading word emerged. “Why?”
Frank shrugged. “It’s j-just some-thin’ I g-gotta do.”
He moved toward her, and she screamed, “Danny…John,” but no one answered.
Frank hated to do this, especially to a sweet old lady, but his orders were clear—no witnesses. As he reached for her, she picked up a silver picture frame from the nightstand and threw it at his head. He ducked and watched the missile shatter against the wall, sending shards of glass flying everywhere.
Judy scrambled across her dead husband and ran out the bedroom door screaming. He caught her at the top of the stairs, his strong fingers snapping one of the thin straps of her nightgown, causing the woman to ricochet off the banister, and then half fall, half tumble down the steps—collapsing in a heap at the bottom.
Taking three stairs at a time, Frank hauled the dazed woman to her feet and held her tightly from behind. His head next to hers, he picked up the faint scent of her lily-of-the-valley perfume. Judy’s eyes opened wide in terror as he whispered into her ear, “S-S-Sorry ma’am.”
With a gloved hand, he drew the knife across the woman’s delicate white throat, simultaneously severing another scream and the carotid artery. He scooped up her crumpled body in his arms, cradling the woman like a small child, and carried her back upstairs—carefully placing her beside her dead husband. He watched the lacy pillowcase turn dark red, the sticky blood making a mess of what used to be her immaculately-styled, mostly gray hair. After wiping his weapon on the bedspread, he put it back in its sheath and then knelt down beside Mrs. Mills. He drew close, gently stroked her pale cheek, and softly wept—such a waste.
Shaking off the sadness, Frank picked up his pipe from where he had dropped it during the attack and relit it. The drug, along with a moment of meditation, helped reduce the pounding in his head long enough for him to finish his assigned task.
He opened a jewelry box on the dresser, stuffed a handful of rings, bracelets and necklaces into his jacket pocket and threw the box on the floor. In a quick turn around the bedroom, Frank knocked over a lamp, trashed some books, and for good measure kicked a hole in small TV sitting on a wheeled stand in the corner.
Pushing aside the clothes in the closet, he felt along the floor for a seam, and then ripped up a small square of Velcroed carpet. Pulling a piece of paper from his pocket, he dialed the in-floor safe combination, opened the heavy metal door, and removed several documents and a banded stack of cash.
Frank flipped off the light, bounded down the stairs, and swept up his equipment bag on his way out the door. Producing a cell phone, he hit a pre-programmed number on the pad.
After three rings, a thin male voice answered, “Yes?”
“I d-d-done it…like you t-t-told me.”
“Good. I’ll send the money to your regular account, Frank.”
“You know I d-don’t d-do this for the m-m-money.”
“Sure, I know.”
“Why d-d-did that woman have to d-die?”
“Don’t worry about it, Frank. Just go home.”
Frank walked to an unlocked gray Ford Taurus station wagon and threw his gear into the backseat. He had parked three blocks away in case any of the neighbors might be watching. Probably not a necessary precaution, because these days neighbors barely spoke, let alone watched out for each other. Nobody had ever cared about him or his sisters. He sighed, climbed in behind the wheel, took another deep drag on his pipe, and then drove off into the night.