The End Game

The End Game

The End Game 32

  This is a copy, burn this when you’re through.

  Come home soon. We miss you.

  It was signed simply, HD.

  Nicholas moved to sit beside Mike. He opened the dossier, and the two of them began to read.

  Damari was a chameleon. He managed to elude capture mostly because no one knew what he really looked like. The photographs included in the file showed a tall man, estimated height between one ninety and one ninety-three centimeters, which fit with what Nicholas knew about the Bayonne shootings. The man was about Nicholas’s height. There was a photo of him from twenty years earlier, a shot of a young man in green soldier’s garb, holding a worn Kalashnikov rifle.

  Mike lightly touched her fingers to the photo. “Isn’t that strange? He’s young and he should look innocent, but he doesn’t.”

  “I doubt he looks anything remotely like this now, except maybe for the eyes.”

  They read the various physical descriptions. Mike pulled out the photo of him that Vanessa had taken, and the photo of the man who’d met Woody Reading at the diner in Baltimore. They all looked like different men. “I knew he must be good,” Mike said, “but your dad’s right. This is incredible.”

  His kill list stretched for pages. Damari had been involved or solely responsible for several major assassinations, and many more minor ones. He was charged with unseating governments in Chile and Uganda through pinpoint strikes against certain players, taking out a DA in Argentina, a member of the Saudi royal family who’d gotten too full of himself. Page after page, a long, storied career for an assassin. And these were only the confirmed kills. Who knew how many others there were, off the radar?

  Mike elbowed him, showed him a text on her phone. It was from Gray.

  Border patrol stopped man fitting Damari’s last known description in Texas. Will let you know more when we have it, not that it matters all that much now that we already know he’s here, in our backyard. Have fun partying w/ big dogs. Bring us presidential M&Ms.

  Nicholas stared out the window at the lush green landscape below, at the sprawling towns, wanting to feel excited, but he didn’t. There was something that wasn’t right and he didn’t know what it was. It was driving him nuts.



  Camp David

  Catoctin Mountain

  We’ll be landing shortly at Camp David,” Captain Willis said over the intercom. “Naval Support Facility Thurmont is a full-time naval base tucked high on Catoctin Mountain here in northwestern Maryland. It’s one of the most secure places in the world. I hope you had a pleasant flight and enjoyed our brief tourist spiel. Do give our best to the president. Agent Drummond, he knows he’s a very lucky man, thanks to your being right on the spot.”

  When the green-and-white Sea King touched down and the rotors stopped, they climbed out, shook the pilots’ hands. Mike shivered; it was at least fifteen degrees cooler in the mountains, and she was glad she’d packed a sweater.

  Two rows of sailors, one on either side of the concrete path, waited to greet them. She knew the Navy and Marine personnel who worked on NSF Thurmont had high-level security clearance. It was a coveted position in the military. They were standing at attention. It felt incredible to be at the center of the amazing pomp and circumstance.

  Vice President Sloane was at the end of the line of white-uniformed men and women, standing between the U.S. flag and another flag with the presidential seal on a blue background. She was smiling at them.

  “Yes, I could get used to this,” Mike said to Nicholas, who gave her a distracted smile. What was this? What was he thinking about?

  Callan shook their hands. “Welcome, welcome. We’re so glad to see you. Thank you for everything.”

  Mike saw the sailors who’d greeted them tip their caps. She felt touched, a bit overwhelmed, and managed a wobbly smile.

  Nicholas said, “I am very grateful things turned out well.”

  “They did indeed, thanks to you,” Callan said. “Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow we’ll worry about the bombs and Damari. Come.”

  Mike had never imagined herself being here, at Camp David, of all places, in conversation with the vice president and soon enough, the president himself. Her father was going to love it, want every detail about security, and her mom would want to know about everything from food to clothes to who said what to whom, particularly who had admired and praised her daughter. Oh, yes, and what did she wear?

  Nicholas said, “You honor us, ma’am. Thank you.” He appreciated the respect they were showing. He committed it all to memory for his mom and Nigel. He sent a prayer heavenward, so grateful the code had worked.

  Callan waved for them to follow, began moving toward two waiting golf carts. “We’ll ride to the cabins,” she said. “Hop in.”

  Nicholas was looking around, searching the area, alert, not at all relaxed, taking careful measure of exactly where they were, where the Secret Service and military personnel were stationed, points of ingress and egress. It made Mike more alert, too. Something was definitely up with him.

  Callan said, “We’ve put you in Dogwood, where we’re headed right now. It has a storied history—Brezhnev, Sadat, Medvedev, why, Nixon’s secretary typed up the Watergate notes in the lounge. But no ghosts, so don’t worry about that. I’m over there, in Birch. We’re flaunting protocol, but not too much. It’s a quick walk up to Aspen; Mike, if you’re in heels we can easily leave you the cart, but you’ll have to buzz around to the front entrance, though. Cocktails start in twenty minutes, you have exactly enough time to freshen up. We’re business casual tonight, though whatever you have with you is completely fine.”

  Mike said, “Nicholas always has the right clothes. I think I can muster something out of my bag as well. No heels, though.”

  The golf cart stopped at a green painted cabin with redwood steps leading up to a porch. To the right of the door, the rustic brown wood placard read DOGWOOD in white lettering. Flowers bloomed, the heady evening scent of night-blooming jasmine was heavy in the air around them. Mike could tell they were meticulously cared for, even in the growing dusk.

  The vice president gave them a wave. “I’m sure you’ll have everything you need, I’ll see you in twenty minutes.” She got into the cart that had been following them, and buzzed away.

  The door was open, and they went inside. It smelled woodsy, like lingering fires and evergreen and the sharp scent of starched sheets. They were very casual here, Mike saw. The whole setup screamed “Kick back and eat chips and dip,” and that suited her perfectly.

  The cabin had two bedrooms with updated en-suite baths, a lounge room with tall fireplace, a table with four chairs. Bookshelves lined the walls, with a section near the floor full of cards and poker chips and board games. It was cozy, and the two bedrooms afforded individual privacy. Mike didn’t want to think about what sleeping under the same roof as Nicholas meant, but on the other hand, this cabin had more privacy than some of the hotel rooms they’d shared in Paris and London. Ah, but that was before—no, she wasn’t about to think about that, not now when she would be meeting the president of the United States in fifteen minutes.

  “I’ll take left, you take right?” Nicholas said. “Okay with you?”

  “Fine. Please don’t tell me you don’t have white tie and tails in your go-bag. If you do, prepare to die.”

  “No, not quite tails. Come, now, I know you, you have something black and a little slinky in there, right?”

  “Yep. After our last trip to Paris, I thought something showing more leg than bloody, ripped jeans might come in handy.”

  “Mike, we need to talk.”

  She held up her hand, palm out. “No way. There’s nothing to talk about. How many times do I have to tell you? Forget it, Nicholas, forget everything.”

  He looked startled, then grinned. “No, I wasn’t going to talk about what did
n’t happen between us. This is something else entirely.”

  “Oh. Well, I knew something was wrong,” she said, as she set down her go-bag and headed to the small kitchenette. “You want a Diet Coke?”

  “No, nothing.” But he grabbed a bottle of water and took a swig.

  “You’ve been distracted since before we landed. You’re worried about Damari, aren’t you?”

  He took another drink of water, then faced her. “After reading how my father emphasized what a chameleon he is, how he can fit into any situation, uses makeup and prosthetics to alter his looks regularly, I think I’d be remiss not to worry. Could he somehow be here? Yeah, I know, that sounds crazy, but still, I can’t shake it off. If he is, could he have one of Spenser’s bombs and plans to set it off?”

  She’d never seen him quite like this. She felt her heart begin to pound. “Nicholas, we know he hasn’t had time to have plastic surgery since Vanessa took his photo at Tahoe. So we’re not completely in the dark.” Well, that was a lie. “With what your father told us, maybe it’s enough of a baseline.”

  He tipped his water bottle in salute. “Every photo of him we looked at on our flight here, he didn’t look anything like the photo Vanessa sent in. So, a baseline? Oh, no.” He raised his hand, swiped it through his hair. “I’m still hyper, ignore me.” He stared around the cabin. “It’s just a bad feeling I can’t seem to shake.”

  “The vice president is safe here, Nicholas. Camp David’s security is legendary. I mean, this is a working naval base. Even if Damari had been able to track us, or the vice president, this place is crawling with military. Did you see the men with dogs walking the perimeter? They had HK416s, you know, that’s the updated M4 the SEAL teams like to carry now. I don’t know what their security measures are here on a usual basis, but they’ve clearly stepped things up.” She walked to him and lightly laid her hand on his arm. “It will be all right. Like the vice president said, tonight we celebrate.”

  He nodded, everything she’d said was true, but still . . . He finished the water, sent the bottle in a looping arc toward the trash can, where it slipped in without touching the sides.

  “Nice shot. Not quite a three-pointer, but close.”

  He lightly touched his hand to her arm. “Humor me, Mike. Promise me you’ll keep your eyes open. Just in case.”



  The president of the United States met them at the door of the Aspen Lodge. Up close and personal, Mike thought Jefferson Bradley looked pretty impressive. He was sixty-four, in excellent shape. He had gleaming silver hair, dark eyebrows, a chiseled jaw, and, best of all, he was tall with a commanding presence, seemingly a must to win an election in the United States. He looked the part of fighter pilot turned politician, still had the cocky walk.

  When he folded his hands around hers, they were warm and smooth, a long time since he’d been the wild-hair pilot back in the day.

  He leaned close. “A pleasure, Agent Caine. Thank you for all your help today. I hear your father’s in law enforcement, too. Pretty impressive pedigree you have.”

  “Thank you. Both my father and I love what we do. He tells me I’m very lucky to be working for you, sir.” Not quite the truth, but it would do.

  He laughed. “Yes, I am your boss, aren’t I?” He turned to Nicholas, took his hand and simply looked at him silently for a long moment.

  “I owe you my life,” he said simply. “Without your intervention, I’d be fish food right now, as well as my staff and all the people aboard the plane. I owe you a debt of gratitude which can never be repaid.”

  Nicholas felt the pull of the man’s power, and he felt the emotion in his words.

  “I am very grateful everything worked, sir.”

  “I won’t forget, Agent Drummond.” He stepped back, smiled at both Mike and Nicholas. “Now, welcome to Camp David. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you two making the journey on such short notice. Come on in, I want you to meet some people.”

  Mike thought it was a lovely room; the ceiling had brown rafters and a cozy fire was burning. She could see the lights gleaming off the flagstone back terrace, and the lit pool beyond.

  So the party was an intimate affair, if you considered forty or so people in the living room intimate. She saw everyone was buffed and polished and so very happy to meet her and Nicholas. She recognized congressmen and -women, some military bigwigs, and was that a justice of the Supreme Court? She was glad she had stashed a little black dress rolled in the bottom of her go-bag. No heels, as she’d told the vice president. She wore her motorcycle boots, better than the sneakers, Nicholas had told her. Chic and funky, he’d said. And he’d watched her as she’d twisted her hair into a chignon and set her black-framed glasses on her nose.

  He’d looked her up and down, nodded. “Yes, you are armored up and ready to go, Agent Caine.”

  She could only shake her head and feel like a bag lady next to Nicholas, who, naturally, was dressed impeccably in gray worsted-wool slacks, a light-blue button-down open at the collar, and a dark purple suede jacket, all of it screaming Savile Row, she’d told him.

  “No, like I told you, Nigel has found Barneys and fallen in love. I think our days on Savile Row are now in the past. Except for shirts, of course.”

  “Of course.” Handmade for him—of course. “Aren’t we a pair?” She looked down at herself, then over at him.

  He’d stared at her, and slowly nodded. “Yes, we are quite a pair.” He’d said nothing more and they’d walked to Aspen, side by side, silent, Nicholas watching, always watching.

  She looked over at him now, speaking with someone whose name she couldn’t remember. He hadn’t shaved, but he didn’t look scruffy or unkempt. He looked like a well-dressed bad boy, walking around the room, completely at ease. And always, he’d turn to her and take her hand, but there were too many people who wanted to speak to them individually, so he couldn’t keep her with him.

  Callan was introducing her to her chief of staff, Quinn Costello, a firecracker in a nice suit. She looked over to see Nicholas speaking with Tony Scarlatti, Callan’s Secret Service lead. He was still worried, and now, she was certain he was warning Tony. Surely he’d relax a bit now. Tony was frowning, and nodding. His crew were the watchmen now.

  Mike accepted a glass of champagne, clicked her glass to Callan’s. Callan nodded over her shoulder. “Nicholas Drummond, he’s a lot like his father, I think, and I quickly recognized that man as the complete package.”

  “Yes, he is,” Mike said simply. “A lot like his father, I mean. Did you meet his mother, Mitzie, too?”

  “Alas, no. But I remember her TV show. She’s quite as remarkable as his father.”

  “She solves local village mysteries, you know,” Mike said. “Nicholas tells me that’s where he gets his love of puzzles.”

  “Speaking of solving mysteries,” Callan said thoughtfully, eyeing Mike up and down, “it seems to me the two of you fit together well. I suppose you could say you’re perfectly attuned to each other, each of you needs the other. An amazing partnership. You each have your strengths, and they’re complementary.”

  “You mean like I’m the wallflower and Nicholas is the outgoing charmer?”

  Callan said very precisely, “Do not do that. You are an intelligent woman, Agent Caine. You know very well what I mean.” She looked again toward Nicholas. “And, I might add, speaking as the voice of ancient experience, don’t waste your opportunities.”

  Mike wished she didn’t know what that meant, but of course she did. She also realized it was a long-standing habit, downplaying what she could do, turning away compliments, a habit she should break, but growing up with a mom like the Gorgeous Rebecca, it was tough to be cocky and self-assured.

  Callan Sloane tapped her champagne glass to Mike’s. “If you ever decide you want another life, give me a call. I could use someone
like you on my team. I see that Nicholas and Tony were in close conversation earlier. About Zahir Damari?”

  “Yes, he’s still on the loose. Nicholas is concerned.”

  “Don’t worry, everyone’s on the lookout for him. So relax, Mike. It’s a party and you’re the guest of honor. Like I said, tomorrow we’ll face the next enemy.

  “I sent Tony to grab us some beluga from the pantry. He was in the kitchen earlier with the chef, stealing blinis, I’m sure. The chef said he was making them especially for you and Nicholas. You do like caviar, yes?”

  “Certainly,” Mike said. “Caviar is very popular in Omaha.”

  Callan laughed. “If you don’t like it, you can hide it under the crème fraîche. Now, let’s go introduce you to some more people who are dying to meet you.”

  • • •

  When Callan pulled Mike away, the president took over Nicholas and kept him at his side. They moved around the room from person to person, Nicholas patiently smiling and shaking hands and accepting praise and compliments, most of them sincere. It was an honor and he was grateful, but he’d rather be eating pizza with Savich and Sherlock, maybe playing a video game with Sean, or with Mike, maybe even pulling those pins out of her hair, slipping those glasses off her nose, telling her they needed to talk.

  He saw Mike laughing with the vice president; the two looked like they were sharing a secret, and that made him smile. He was beginning to relax—Mike was right, the security was extraordinary, and it would take an act of God to attack the president in the middle of all these people. Tony had actually patted his hand like a kid he was trying to reassure.

  He took another glass of Veuve Clicquot from the table, shook the hand of yet another staffer to the president. He saw the vice president bringing Mike over now. Mike was smiling, but no matter how incredibly hot she looked in her little black dress and her biker boots, he could tell she was tired.

  Callan said, “Nicholas Drummond. How is it you find yourself on our shores, working for the FBI? You can tell me the truth, you’re some sort of spy for her Majesty, keeping an eye on our intelligence services?”