A woman's unborn child is the key to a cult leader's sinister plan.
(Read or print)
The pregnancy test was negative.
It was one of thosedo-it-yourself kits found in a small cardboard box, strategicallyplaced in the supermarket aisle between the tampons and condoms.Totally disposable. Pee on the plastic stick, wait three minutes,and see if the dot turns blue.
For Gwen, those threeminutes might as well have been three hours. She'd been late againthat October. And with the lateness came hope. And with the hopecame a prayer and another failed pregnancy test. Her cycle was aviscous beast. Hard to pin down. And unlike the woman herself, neveron time.
If only the harshfeelings had been disposable, too.
Gwen sat on the toiletseat in the master bathroom for a good ten minutes, surrounded bythe beauty of antique-glazed tiles and imported porcelain installedat the turn of the century, but stared only at that damn plasticstick. Willing it to turn blue. Then finally cursing it forremaining the same, negative white. Tears followed he brief rage.But they always did, cracking the cool and savvy veneer Gwen hadcultivated for over the last twenty years.
GwenCorbett-Sullivan. A name with a ring and a sterling reputation. Goodbreeding, her father used to say, was in the heart and not thewallet. But Daddy'd never said good breeding hurt so damnmuch.
She dumped the failedtest into a wastebasket under the sink. The aging housekeeper,Geneva, would see to it that it was emptied by the time she returnedfrom her office. So by bedtime, Gwen would wipe away the day'smakeup and lipstick with a sterile cotton ball and toss it into anempty receptacle, cleansed of any reminder from that horridmorning.
Such had been the ritualfor nearly three years now. Every month, when she'd take that testonly to find no blue dot or plus sign or double vertical linesdeveloping in that damned little window, it killed her that muchmore. She'd sit in the bathroom and cry, eventually showering offthe feelings that she was defective in a hot spray, dress insomething crisply Armani, touch up her delicate face with a littleblush and powder, stuff the leftover emotions in her empty womb, andhead off to the office.
With her maternal dutycomplete for another twenty-eight days, happiness would have towait. Fulfillment, somewhere down the road. She speeddialed herhusband's private line in Washington D.C. from her Ford Explorer.After it rang three times, she was certain she'd get shuttled off tovoice mail. Instead, Will Sullivan picked up.
"This is Will," heanswered.
"It's me," said Gwen.Her voice was slightly choked, but she covered it with a joke."Betcha thought it was Sully."
"When it rang, yeah,"said Will. "But then I heard it was a car phone--"
"Where are you?"
"Just pulling out of thedriveway. The leaves are turning. You should see 'em."
"I'll be up for theweekend, so save some for me."
"I'll see what I can do.But me and Mother Nature haven't exactly been getting along."
Will knew what shemeant. On first hearing her voice he had thought he'd get back toher once she reached her office. He was already behind with hisdaily staff meeting. But another negative pregnancy test was apriority. "I'm sorry."
There was a dull momentof cellular static between the couple. The tension was real. ThenWill, always with the solution, served up some encouragement. "So wego back to Dallas. You give me the date, I'll book that old suite atthe Melrose."
"I'd rather not talkabout it," she said, her voice cracking. Or was it the cellular?"Not now. So... I saw you on 'Nightline.'"
"What'd you think?"
Her voice was bolsteredby the change in subject. "I thought you were really strong on thecommittee's overall goals. But I don't think Koppel believed youwhen you said that justice was on board with the committee'sinvestigation."
"He asked and Ianswered," he said a bit tersely. Practically his entire key staffwas in his office, eyes on him, waiting for the personal call tocome to a close. "I'll let the Ladies justice speak for themselves.They had the opportunity to go on air with me and they bugged out atthe last minute.)
Both the attorneygeneral, Margie Van Hough, and her right arm, FBI Director LoisFreehold, had been engaged in a proprietary war against WillSullivan and his committe hell-bent on oversight of thescandal-ridden Food and Drug Administration. In twenty-four hours,at 2 P.m. Eastern -time, will would chair the first round of livetelevised hearings, embarking on what was certain to be a trophiedmoment in . his young career. In Will's opinion, the FBI had bungledtheir two-year investigation of the FDA, leaving the agency ripe forthe political picking.
"I can't believe theyput on that prick of a shill Bob Jamison instead," said Gwen. "And Ireally think you let him off the hook when it came to all that moneyhe took from the drug companies.
"Purely tactical. I needhim on my side for SB245."
"Was that a spotdecision or did someone twist your arm?"
"No arm-twisting. Koppelclued me to the questions during the break, so I made the deal withJamison right there in the studio. if I choose, I can come back andhammer him anytime I want if he doesn't go my way when it comes tothe floor vote."
"That's fine and dandy,sweetie. But what works on the Hill doesn't necessarily work forTV," she reminded him, sounding every bit as patronizing as shecould muster. "Ma and Pa America don't know your deals from theirlocal Wal-Mart. You get hit, you hit back. Nobody gets off the hookunless they deserve it." He was her husband, her partner, and herpolitical prodigy. And hell if she'd ever let him forget it.
Will switched back tothe subject of progeny in an attempt to close out the conversation."I'm thinking the sooner the better, hon. I say we pick ourselves upand get back into the saddle, so to speak."
"I'm the horse,remember?" said Gwen. "I need to be the one to say when I get backin the stirrups."
Will knew to dump thesubject. She'd rebound in her own quick time. "Okay, fine. Whatelse?"
"I can tell you're in acrew call," said Gwen.
"What was your firsthint?" he asked. "My precious staff get so little of me as it is."With that, Will gave a wink to his silent clan, spread out on thechairs and the sofa while the boss held court from behind hisdesk.
Gwen could picture them.Levinthal, Will's legislative director. Sandra Corwin, director ofcommunications. Four ferrets-Gwen's description of eitherlegislative assistants or legislative correspondents. Two differentjobs, but both requiring the same masochistic attributes of youth,character, and an unmitigated willingness to stay up the ass of anissue.
"Give my regards to LaRoy. I'll betcha he's on the sofa, boots on the coffee table,halfway through something called Samoan java."
Will Sullivan let hisgaze swivel across his Senate office to his chief of staff, WildBill La Roy. Half-Seminole Indian, half-Haitian, and one hundredpercent American, whose dress de rigueur was pressed jeans and awhite, open-collared shirt hugging a small potbelly bulging over asilver rodeo belt buckle. Then there were those trademarklizard-skin cowboy boots-- La Roy was rumored to carry a small,semiauto handgun inside the right one. If asked, he would alwaysgrin and deny that he ever packed heat. La Roy's look was capped offby a gold Rolex and a thin platinum neck chain, all in starkcontrast to the darkest, most chocolate-brown skin a black man hadever been blessed with.
"She's got your number,Bill," Will said to La Roy.
"Tell the BostonBallbuster that one, she's making my meeting go way toofuckin' long," answered La Roy. "And two, that if she keeps you onthe phone any longer, a black man's gonna start making policy in thename of her husband's lily-white uppity fuckin' state."
Gwen heard La Roy overthe car speaker. "Okay, you gotta go. So do I."
They said theirgood-byes and Will hung up, catching a wide grin from La Roy and aline that drew titters from the crew. "What, y'all forget to say 'Ilove you'?"
"After twelve years, wedon't need to say it," said Will, returning to the docket. He had tohurry up and cut through the chaff of the daily legislative agendaso he could get on with the ten-minute underground walk over to theDirksen Building for his last and final prep-day before the FDAhearings. Tomorrow was his big show, And the star wasn't about to goon without a full dress rehearsal.
"Earnest is as Earnestsays. Is that it?" teased La Roy, hooking Win simply for the sheeramusement of the staff He loved calling Will by his own petnickname, Earnest. It came from Will's uncanny ability tostare a constituent in the eye and, no matter how great the gulfbetween them, or how deep the bullshit, seem just that. Earnest inevery way. As for the marriage part? La Roy had seen better. He'dalso seen worse. Two of them his own.
"Wasting my time," saidLa Roy. "Let's move."
"Wasting yourtime?" mocked the senator. "Okay. Moving on. Who's chasing theSpeaker on the proposed AFDC cutbacks?"
"I'm on it, Senator,"said one of the ferrets, seemingly out of breath before she'd gottenher first words out.
"You're not onit," barked La Roy. "You own it. The job's aboutaccountability, kiddo."
Will's Amtel beeped witha scrolling message:
With a simplethumb-gesture La Roy successfully shooed out the rest of the staff,half of whom never got to their own agendas, dockets, orquestions.
"I betcha Mrs.Sullivan's got you a closet fulla Italian threads back up inyou-know-where."
"In my uppity house inmy uppity state?" asked Will.
"I might have had acouple."
"But would you ever wearone?"
"Let's just say Imothballed the fleet at the same. time I sold the Porsche." Theflashy car, the suits, the attitude-- all gone when Will finishedthe booze.
La Roy smiled. WillSullivan was hardly a man of the people, but boy, he was suretrying. Will was convinced that's what had got him elected to theHouse, then four years later, the U.S. Senate. Man-of-the-peopletalk. Man-of-the-people walk. That and he was the first politicianto come out of an alcoholic's closet on TV. Fox's popular "Overnightwith Buddy Prince." On the nationally syndicated program, thereformed boozer made the kind of statement reserved only forAlcoholics Anonymous meetings:
My name is WillSullivan, and I am an alcoholic.
Will had ridden hispublic sobriety wave into office with help from his friend andsponsor, Bill La Roy, a wife who believed in him, and a couple ofwell-fitting department-store suits.
"You know Versace wasn'treally killed by that spree-killer-guy?" said La Roy. "I read it wasthe Italian mob. He was up to his eyelashes in their confederatecash, but wasn't paying the vig."
The Amtel beeped again.
"I've got you down forRay Hensel with the Lobby Reform Institute. Billy's Green Room,one-thirty."
"Move him," said Will."See what he has next month. Cocktails. And make sure it's pushed upagainst some kind of sit-down, black-tie event so I have an excuseto leave early."
"See what I can do. Andin his stead?"
"I'm taking SenatorAkira to lunch. Let his office pick. just as long as it's not thatfar off campus."
"What if he wants theCDR?"
The Congressional DiningRoom. Will was actually fond of the inhouse eatery. But only forbreakfast. At the beginning of a new session, he'd regularly show upearly, just when the doors opened. There he'd always find a freshmancongressman or youngish senator. He'd invite himself to sit, he'dshake their hand, then respectfully introduce himself as if they'dnever met, setting himself up to have his own ear bent. "Give 'em aplatform and let 'em talk," ol' Sully used to say. "Politics is apair of good ears and never fogettin' to fix them potholes."
That was from back whenWill used to listen to his father.
La Roy had a differenttake on it. Politics is power. Power is addictive. And recoveringalcoholics need a vice. Most end up as chain-smokers. Willquite smoking the same day he quit booze. La Roy, himself a formerfalldown drunkard, hooked up with hourly doses of gourmet coffee,single white women, and conspiracy theories-- the more outlandishthe better.
"Akira won't want theCDR," said Will. "My esteemed cochair from Hawaii wants to grind meone last time before tomorrow. He won't want to shake that manyhands while he's trying to sell me softballs. Where's Allison?"
"On her way," Myriarnsaid, straightening out Will's tie." In her case, probably at a deadrun."
"And don't you like tosee them young white things on the move?" said La Roy in anot-so-subtle attempt at getting under Myriarn's leathery skin.
Myriam fired him an uglysideways glare. The man reeked of impropriety and, in her opinion,did not belong in the building, let alone the office of a UnitedStates senator. She'd made a deal with Will that over herresignation would she take an order or instruction from Bill LaRoy.
In her lime-green Hush Puppies, Allison Flannery skiddedaround a marbled comer, meeting up with Will and La Roy just beforethe doors of the Russell Building's private elevator closed. She wastwenty-five, freckled from head to toe, with a frizz of radiant redhair. Flushed and panting from sprinting down the entire length ofPennsylvania Avenue, she swung off her backpack and shucked hermohair sweater. The backpack contained so many files it shook theelevator when she dumped it onto the floor.
Allison looked night atLa Roy and made sure she used his standard. "I own thisspeech."
"Good girl," he saidproudly. The smart ones learned fast. Allison was displayingpromise.
"You showed it toBregman?" asked Will, referring to the White House's unofficialliaison to the FDA hearings.
"Showed it to him," shesaid. "And I swear, sir, as I'm standing right here, Bregimn walkedme across the street and straight into the Oval Office."
Without missing a beat,La Roy turned instantly abrasive. "That sorry Southern sack of shit!He's worse than a barnyard dog!"
"Bregman?" asked astunned Allison.
"Not Bregman," riffed LaRoy. "The president. Did he ask you to do the Dance of the SevenFucking Veils?"
Allison was lost,shocked, and too mystified to respond. That and she was locked in LaRoy's surly gaze. Will cut in, righting the subject. "You showed thespeech to the president?"
"Actually, sir," saidAllison, regaining focus, "it was more in the manner of performanceart."
"Ah-hah!" shouted LaRoy.
Will ignored La Roy andallowed his interest to pique. He'd known for some time that theWhite House had an acute eye on him. And hell if he didn't likebasking in the glow of the presidency.
"Did he give you anynotes?" asked Will.
"Other than ask me toread it again?" Allison shook her head and sneaked a glance at LaRoy, who was rolling his eyes. Allison was such a muffin. Will couldsee La Roy cataloguing every drop of her young sweat into hissub-sexual cortex. just as President Addison most likely had.
"Well done. Leave thespeech with Myriam and she'll set aside thirty minutes thisafternoon for us to lock it." Will gave Allison a confident wink.His opening speech was the first big piece that Allison hadoutlined, run down the dog on, and owned. Finally, Will had givenher an hour of dictated notes and the go-ahead to write theall-important opener. Eleven drafts, twenty hours of lost sleep, andsix pints of Rum Raisin later, she'd delivered a spirited littlemasterpiece.
They'd been walking theconnecting tunnel between the Russell and Dirksen Buildings, when LaRoy made a scheduled pit stop into the nearest men's room. Will hada Mind to join him when Allison tugged at his arm.
"Senator? I don't meanto be a bother. But I have to ask. I don't think Mr. La Roy likes mevery much."
Will read the pain onher face. La Roy was her superior-and a man who sometimes appearedout of control.
"It's an act," saidWill.
"All the bluster. BillLa Roy's a puppy dog in wolfs clothing. That and he doesn't caremuch for our commander in chief It's a Florida thing."
"They go way back," said Will. "Plus the last time La Roy saw the inside of the Oval Office was a NAACP luncheon with Jimmy Carter."
"Oh, gawd, I feel so young." She blushed. "I think I was about only eight years old back then."
"There," said Will, hands up and framing her face in his fingers. "That's your secret, Allison. Stay young. And as long as people underestimate you, you'll retain the element of surprise."
Allison beamed and almost followed him into the men's room, but caught herself just short of the threshold. She took a deep breath. She couldn't believe she was there. In Washington. Making policy. Working for him. "He is sooo amazing," she sighed to herself. Then she spun a one-eighty, just to make sure nobody had heard here.
MysteryNet.com: The Online Mystery Network.
Copyright © 1999 Newfront Productions, Inc. and Avon Books