The End Game

The End Game

The End Game 27

  “Is a dog with a bone better than a bad dog? Never mind. Since you’re shouting again, of course I can hear you. I like those pants and that shirt—what does it say?”

  She looked down at her chest. It was one of her favorites: FEEL SAFE, SLEEP WITH A COP.

  “So you can read. Bravo.”

  He grinned. “Yes, okay, I want to feel safe.”

  She stared at him. He was wearing pajama bottoms that came low on his hips and a T-shirt, black and snug, and she kept staring.

  In the next instant, she ran those six feet across the room and he grabbed her up in his arms, brought her long legs around his waist, and pulled her tight against him.

  “Mike—Michaela.” The words sounded magic in her mouth and in her brain, and she was kissing him like there was nothing else in the world but the two of them.

  Her hands were in his hair, pulling his face to hers so she could kiss his nose, his cheeks, his forehead, but it wasn’t enough. She yanked and pulled on his T-shirt as his hands went under her bottom, stroking up her back beneath her shirt, feeling the soft flesh, smelling the jasmine in her damp hair. She carried her shampoo in her go-bag? Of course she did. He was losing his mind and didn’t care. He butted her head back to kiss her neck, felt her tighten her legs around his waist. His hands found the smooth, stretchy band at her waist, and he wanted to jerk them down even as he moved to the bed.

  “Uncle Nicholas?”

  They froze.

  “Uncle Nicholas? I woke up when you left our bedroom. Is Aunt Mike okay?”

  He touched his forehead to hers, managed to grab a breath. “Sean, sure, Aunt Mike is fine.” Was that his voice, all deep and gravelly, like he was in pain?

  He felt her heart pounding, cleared his throat, gave her a final fast kiss, then felt her legs loosen at his waist. He lowered her feet to the floor but didn’t let her go. He wanted to cry, maybe howl. He called out, “Sean, I always have to say good night to her or she doesn’t sleep well. And I forgot.”

  “Are you telling her a story? Do you want me to sing to her? I know lots of words to Papa’s songs.”

  Mike cleared her throat. “Thank you, Sean, but that’s okay. I’m really tired and Nicholas already sang me ‘Soft Kitty’; it’s one of my favorites.”

  “Mine, too,” Sean said, and both of them pictured his small hand on the doorknob.

  Nicholas took a fast step back. “Good night, Mike, sleep well. What’s ‘Soft Kitty’? I don’t know that one.”

  She waved him away. He was nearly back to the door. She saw his pajama bottoms were riding even lower and his lovely tight black T-shirt was ripped. How had that happened? Surely she should remember. She stood perfectly straight.

  “Good night, Nicholas. I will sleep well, as will you. We will have nothing to speak about tomorrow. This did not happen, do you hear me? This. Did. Not. Happen.”

  He gave her a grin and was out the door in the next second. “Hey, Sean, let’s go back to bed.”

  “Sean, Nicholas?”

  All he needed. Slowly, Nicholas turned to see Savich standing in the doorway of his and Sherlock’s bedroom. Unlike Nicholas, he wasn’t wearing a T-shirt, only pajama bottoms.

  “Papa, everything’s okay. Uncle Nicholas had to sing Aunt Mike a song, like you do me, so she could go to sleep.”

  “I see,” Savich said, and Nicholas knew he saw very well, particularly the tear in his T-shirt. “Both of you sleep well. Sean, don’t keep Nicholas up. He’s had a very long day.”

  You don’t know the half of it.


  6 a.m.–Noon




  Mike woke to a quiet knocking at her door. She rolled over to see Nicholas standing in the doorway, already dressed in one of his crisp handmade white button-down shirts, and, oddly, a pair of jeans. Tight jeans. He looked like a prep school boy gone rogue. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him she liked him better in the low-slung pjs, but she didn’t. But it was close.

  He was all business. “Get dressed. We leave for a briefing in ten minutes with Vice President Sloane.”

  “You’re wearing jeans to the White House?”

  “We’re heading to her place. And they’ve requested we dress down.”

  “What in the world is going on?”

  “I don’t know, but you need to hurry. I’ll see you downstairs.”

  • • •

  Five minutes later, Mike presented herself in the Savich kitchen, her hair in a ponytail, dressed in jeans and motorcycle boots, a short lightweight black leather jacket over a boatneck black-and-white-striped shirt. Without a word, Nicholas handed her a cup of coffee.

  Savich was sitting at the kitchen table, two laptops open in front of him. She recognized magic MAX, wondered what in the world was happening.

  He looked up from one of his computers. “Good morning, Mike. You slept well?”

  “Yes, yes, thank you.” Was there something in his voice? Nah, she was imagining it. She had to stop it.

  She took a sip of her coffee and sighed. A dollop of milk, nothing else.

  “The lord and master of the coffee universe made it,” Sherlock said, and smiled. “Enjoy.”

  “Five minutes,” Savich said, “and we’ll need to hit the road.” He glanced at Sherlock. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but with Gabriella down with a cold, you’re elected to take Sean to school.”

  “Yeah, yeah, curses on all of you,” Sherlock said. “Good luck to you guys.” And she immediately left the kitchen when Sean’s voice came loud and clear from upstairs: “Mama, where’s my special Batman shirt?”

  Mike said, “Do I need to know anything in particular?”

  Savich packed up MAX. “The vice president set a plan in motion last night and has decided to bring us in.”

  Mike stared at him. “So the vice president is behind the leak about Vanessa? I guess it makes sense, after all, she was in the CIA.”

  Savich nodded. “Yes, a planned leak. If you’re all set, we can go.” He called out as they went out the front door, “See you later, Sherlock. Sean, have a good day.”

  They piled into Sherlock’s sturdy Volvo and headed toward the Naval Observatory. Mike knew the vice president’s mansion was on the grounds, and it must be close to Savich’s home in Georgetown. She was right.

  Savich drove straight up Wisconsin, turned right onto Observatory Lane. They were checked through a tall gate, then wound around the circle to park in front of an impressive white Victorian mansion. She wished she weren’t so nervous, so on edge, to fully appreciate it. The vice president’s house, and wasn’t that something, Mike from Omaha visiting the VP? She tightened her ponytail, then checked herself to make sure she was put together.

  But still, meeting the vice president of the United States wearing jeans and biker boots and no makeup, it would make her mom cringe. So unlike Nicholas, curse him, who looked very cool, she felt like she should be going to a bar to drink beer and line dance.

  She said to Nicholas, “Savich didn’t tell you what was going on?”

  He shook his head. “I think this is a command performance. He woke me, I threw on some clothes and grabbed you.”

  She saw half a dozen Secret Service agents patrolling the house, each of them focused, each of them ready for anything, and she wondered how they could keep up the edge day after day. A tall, fit gray-haired man who looked like he’d never taken crap from anyone in his life came down the steps to greet them.

  “I’m Tony Scarlatti, no relation to the dude who wrote all that cool music for the harpsichord back in the day. I’m the vice president’s lead agent. Thanks for coming to us this morning. Come meet Vice President Sloane.”

  They all shook hands, introduced themselves, then trailed after Tony into the house. Mike immediately wanted to w
hisper, it was so quiet inside. It was also more modern than she’d expected, all cool grays and creams with a few sprinkles of pale green. There wasn’t much time to admire the house; Tony herded them through the round entrance foyer toward the back of the house.

  Vice President Callan Sloane was in a large modern kitchen overlooking the gardens, sitting at a Carrera marble countertop, a large cup of tea in front of her, The Washington Post in her hands. She looked completely relaxed, at ease, as if she was used to a bunch of FBI agents interrupting her breakfast every day.

  “Thank you, Tony. Hello, come in.” Introductions, handshakes, then, “May I get you coffee? Tea? Tony, could you ask Maisie to bring the trays into the dining room? And I’m sure you can smell the cinnamon buns, they’ll be out of the oven in a couple of minutes. Follow me, we’ll talk in there.”

  The few times Nicholas had seen the vice president on TV, he’d thought her impressive, an in-charge type, probably scary competent. In person, though, he realized not only did she look like the ruler of her world, she was also a stunner—pale skin, blond hair without a single strand of gray, and a stubborn chin. Nicholas knew she was fifty-seven, but she didn’t look it. Unlike them, she was wearing black silk slacks and a cream blouse with small mother-of-pearl buttons down the front, and a choker of graduated pearls around her neck.

  She looked expensive and completely in charge, ready to greet the leader of a country or three FBI agents. For a moment, she reminded Nicholas of his ex-wife, Pamela Carruthers, always together, always ready to stride out on the stage, ready for any situation. He remembered the card Pam had sent him upon his graduating from the FBI Academy. Showed a dog with a wagging tail, enthusiastically digging a deep hole. She’d signed it “Your Pam,” whatever that meant—well, he knew what it meant, particularly after the dinner they’d shared in New York. He shook his head, paid attention.

  They followed Vice President Sloane into the dining room, wallpapered in the same creams and grays, with draperies that nearly touched the ceiling above the windows, making the room seem taller than it was. Nicholas knew his mom would really like the rosewood table, large enough to seat twelve people, without extra leaves.

  Mike sat down, wondered who else had sat in this exact chair, looked over at Nicholas. He looked like he belonged, like he assumed a servant would quietly appear at his elbow and pour him a glass of wine. And Savich, his face showing nothing but polite interest, taking in his surroundings with a professional’s eye.

  Once they were served, the vice president got right to it.

  “Thank you for coming on such short notice. I decided last night to let the media know Vanessa Grace is alive. I did not use her real name, but obviously Matthew Spenser will know it’s her.

  “It’s imperative we draw him out as quickly as possible. I’m counting on his seeing the media’s announcement, and believing that the woman he believed he’d murdered had miraculously escaped. I am personally amazed she survived.”

  She turned to Mike. “Agent Caine? Agent Savich tells me you wanted to be bait, but the CIA will be using one of their own agents. Do you believe as I do that Matthew Spenser will come to the hospital to try to kill her again?”

  “Yes, ma’am,” Mike said. “Given what we heard Vanessa saying on the videotapes, Matthew Spenser felt something for her, at the very least he believed to his soul she was there for him, sharing his goals, sharing his missions. Her betrayal hit him very hard, sent him over the edge enough to kill his best friend, Ian McGuire, and believe he’d killed her. So yes, I believe he’ll come and he’ll see killing her as righteous.

  “Also, Vanessa told us Spenser is a news junkie, so if he’s anywhere near a screen, he will see the announcement, and then he will make plans.”

  “Her uncle Carl Grace agrees,” Callan said. “Anything else?”

  Mike said, “Ma’am, we also believe you need to talk the president into canceling the Yorktown event.”

  “Already done. Neither of us will be there. We will announce the cancellation at noon today. The president is not happy about it, but we can’t take any chances with his life, and that is an understatement. And I’d just as soon keep my own hide intact as well. What else, Agent Caine?”

  Mike hadn’t expected humor, and smiled. She said, “Ma’am, we don’t know that Zahir Damari was planning to kill you at Yorktown. We don’t even know where he is and that means we have to keep on red alert, as well as you and your protection team. Damari is a consummate professional. As you probably know, we have a photo of him at a diner in Baltimore. He looked nothing like the photo Vanessa managed to send from COE, which means he makes it a habit of altering his looks, which is why we haven’t been able to identify him. He never gives up and from what we’ve heard and read, he always has redundancies built in.”

  “So he’s never at a loss,” Callan said, and nodded. “He’d make a good politician. Now, trust me, none of my people are letting down their guard. I was told it was possible he was also here to kill another, still unverified, target. Do you agree, Agent Savich?”

  Savich nodded. “Unfortunately, we’re not certain as yet who this other person is. Mossad still doesn’t know?”

  “Not yet. Take a guess, Agent Savich.”

  “The president of the United States.”



  Callan tipped her head to the side and nodded slowly. “I agree. As of twenty minutes ago, Mossad had traced money from Iran to accounts Damari is known to use. Is Iran running the show? Mossad believes it’s one of their high-up military, and more than likely they have the active assistance and involvement of Hezbollah.” She said to Nicholas, “Your PM once described the Hezbollah thugs to me as the Nazi SS of Iran.” She paused a moment, then, “Of course, logically, it wouldn’t seem to make sense to want to kill the president, since he is very pro-peace in the region, at almost any cost, and that means incredible concessions to Iran. So why cut off the hand that is eager to feed you?

  “But the truth is, as we all know, Hezbollah, as well as ISIS, Al Qaeda, and elements in Iran, would like nothing more than to see the world completely destabilized, a delightful euphemism for destroy every human being that isn’t Shia. What didn’t make sense to me is the fact they have to know they can’t win since we have superior weaponry. They’d be crushed.

  “Then I was told about Spenser’s tiny undetectable bombs with a huge payload—witness Bayway—and it all became clear. They believe they can obliterate us without huge casualties on their side. They send their soldiers out far and wide and go. If the payload is as massive as advertised, if the bombs are indeed undetectable, there would be so many casualties, it boggles the mind.

  “Now, do you agree with this assessment, Agent Savich?”

  “It makes terrifying sense, ma’am, particularly if Zahir got one of the coin bombs to Iran, which I have to believe he did. After all, he was with Spenser for months. I imagine he got one of the coin bombs back to his masters in Iran before it was even tested at Bayway. He’d have had to so they would have time to dismantle it, figure out how to make it, then mass-produce it. Yes, they’re ready and eager. The supposed peace talks were a stall.”

  “So it’s all been orchestrated. It’s not a bad plan, all in all, but still, a lot of ifs and maybes. And the keys are the assassinations and the bombs.

  “People, trust me, the CIA is on this. Now, tell me how you think Damari will kill the president? Kill me?”

  Nicholas said, “Given what Vanessa Grace told us, it’s very possible Spenser and Damari planned a two-pronged attack—Damari killing you and Spenser blowing up the president at Yorktown. Killing both the president and vice president of the United States during Middle East peace talks would send a loud message to the world—the Great Satan is a fool, led around by the nose, and now he’s a dead fool. As you said, ma’am, to destabilize the world is something we know many factions want to happen.
With the tiny bombs—”

  Callan nodded. “Yes, it is difficult to take in.

  “Now, people, back to Spenser. He’s our key. Please remember our goal is to capture him, and we will trust the CIA to turn Spenser against Damari, find out not only when and where he plans on killing me, but what he eats for breakfast. Does Spenser know Damari has his bombs and what he did with them? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know.

  “Meanwhile, the CIA is concentrating on verifying if indeed Damari delivered the bomb to Iran and if indeed they have figured out how to make them, and indeed have already begun.”

  She turned to Nicholas, smiled. “I met your father once, at Ten Downing Street. I remember it was a lovely party. Indeed, I waltzed with him. Please send him my best.”

  “I will, ma’am.”

  “If all this comes down to the wire, I do hope you live up to your reputation.”

  Nicholas merely inclined his head, wondering what she expected him to say. Yes, ma’am, I’ll save the world single-handed? Would ma’am like another happy pill?

  Callan said, “Vanessa Grace is safe; she is no longer in residence at George Washington University Hospital. CIA agent Carrie Munson, armed not only with her Glock and red hair, but with a fast and sharp brain, is currently in her room, in her bed.

  “As of five minutes ago, no sightings yet of Spenser, which is why I asked you to dress down. I want you all to go immediately to the hospital, look at everything with professional eyes, stake it out. Remember, he is our only link to Damari. We’re making sure the news story is spread far and wide so he’ll see it.”

  Mike said, “Ma’am, I have only one concern. Is Spenser crazy enough to believe this isn’t a trap?”

  “From what I’ve personally seen over the years, an ideologue whose closest allies betray him loses it big-time. I believe Spenser will implode, for want of a better word, that he’ll be pushed to kill her, for real this time. I’ve read the profilers’ reports on him and this is the picture they paint of the man.