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Authors: Stuart Woods

Tags: #Thriller, #Suspense, #Mystery

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BOOK: Cut and Thrust
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G
overnor Richard Collins was joined for breakfast by Vice President Martin Stanton in the governor’s bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. A table had been elegantly laid on the private patio. The governor was sitting in a chaise longue, reading a stack of morning papers. A political writer’s daily column had caught his eye, and he read it quickly.

“Good morning, Dick,” the vice president said from the patio door. A Secret Service agent stood behind him. The agent looked quickly around the patio, then stepped back into the bungalow’s living room and closed the door between him and his charge.

“Good morning, Marty,” Collins said, rising to greet his guest. “Shall we sit down?” He motioned his guest to a chair. “Orange juice?” the governor asked, picking up a pitcher.

“Thank you, yes.”

“Would you like some champagne or vodka in it?”

“Thanks, I’ll wait until lunchtime.”

Collins poured the orange juice, and a waiter came and delivered eggs Benedict. “So, Marty, how do you think the convention is going for you?”

“As well as can be expected,” Stanton replied.

“Do you think you have enough votes to win on the first ballot?”

Stanton hesitated before replying. “I believe that may depend on you, Dick.”

Collins took a bite of his eggs and shrugged. “I think our delegation is holding. At least, nobody has told me he’s doing otherwise.”

“I hear rumors that there’s some crumbling in Pete Otero’s delegation.”

“You mean, some of his delegates are switching to you?”

“I mean, I hear they’re switching—I can’t be sure to whom.”

“I hear there may be half a dozen,” Collins said.

“Do you hear where they’re going?”

“I can only guess.”

“All right then, guess.”

“I think more likely to Kate than to you.”

“That won’t hurt me on the first ballot,” Stanton said.

“No, that won’t, not until the second ballot.”

“Then we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?”

The governor chewed thoughtfully. “How did your sit-down with Kate go last evening?”

Stanton flinched visibly. “How could you know about that?”

“I try to stay on top of things. What did you two have to say to each other?”

“She offered me State if I’d drop out and nominate her.”

“If you don’t get the nomination, Marty, which would you prefer, State or the Senate?” Collins already knew the answer. State was too much work, too much globe-hopping for Stanton, who had always been a little lazy.

“I guess that’s my choice, isn’t it? If I don’t win the nomination.”

“What did you say to Kate?”

“After I turned it down, I offered her State.”

“And?”

“She wouldn’t commit—said she’d let me know by noon.”

“Marty, it’s time for you and I to be entirely honest with each other. Realistic, too.”

“How do you mean?”

“Kate isn’t going to take State.”

“I’ve got until noon before we know.”

“It’s not going to happen. Put it out of your mind.”

“I don’t see how you can know that, Dick.”

“You’ll know at noon, but by then you will have wasted four hours.”

“Wasted how?”

“You have no time to waste, Marty. Right now, you can accept my offer of an appointment to the Senate. That offer will expire when we rise from this table. Then, when Kate calls you at noon—or, more likely, doesn’t call at all—you will be out of options.”

“But you said—”

“No, I didn’t,” Collins said. “I didn’t say my offer was open-ended. And Kate didn’t offer you State.”

Stanton’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t see how you can say that, Dick, you weren’t there.”

“I didn’t need to be.”

“Why not?”

“Because I know you, Marty, and I know Kate. The fact is, your personal conduct has made it impossible for you to be nominated.”

“I know it hasn’t helped,” Stanton admitted.

“In the Senate, Marty, no one will care who you take to bed, you’ll be a bachelor again. You’re rich enough to buy a nice house in Georgetown—the women will be all over you. Think about it.”

“I’ll have no seniority in the Senate.”

“Your stature in the party will get you good committee assignments, and the press will always want to know what you have to say, especially the TV reporters. You’ll be a regular on the Sunday-morning shows.”

“Do you know something I don’t, Dick? About who’s slipping in the delegation?”

“Nobody has told me anything, I just know what I know. It’s time for you to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. You can spend it doing good work in the Senate, or you can spend it serving on corporate boards and playing golf.”

“Come on, Dick, I’ve done a lot for you. You wouldn’t be governor—”

“And I’m very grateful to you, Marty, that’s why I’ve offered you the Senate seat. Most politicians would kill for that.”

The governor finished his eggs. Stanton hadn’t touched his. Collins looked at his watch. “Well, I’ve got a nine-o’clock across town.” He pushed his chair back.

“Time to decide, huh?” Stanton said.

“Yes, it is, Marty.”

Stanton pushed his chair back and stood up. “All right, Dick, I’ll take the Senate seat.”

Collins stood up and shook his hand. “Wonderful, Marty, and I’ll be there when you run for reelection in four years.”

“Thank you, Dick.”

“Now,” said the governor, taking Stanton’s arm and propelling him toward the door, “let me tell you how this is going to go.”

The two men walked slowly through the bungalow’s living room and outside to where their cars waited. The governor did all the talking; Stanton nodded. At one point, Stanton seemed to object, but Collins kept him moving, talking earnestly in a low voice.

They reached their cars, and a Secret Service agent was holding the door open for Stanton.

“Then we’re agreed, Marty.” It wasn’t a question.

Stanton nodded, got into the car, and was driven away. Collins did the same, but he was smiling.

A
nn Keaton sat at her desk in her small office in the presidential cottage and began working delegates, one by one. Molly, Kate’s secretary, sat at an adjacent desk. Her phone rang, she listened and then tapped Ann on the shoulder.

Ann covered the phone. “Yes, Molly?”

“Hang up.”

“I’ll call you back,” Ann said into her phone, then hung up.

“Evan Chandler, from Senator Mark Willingham’s campaign, wants to speak to you,” Molly said. “This could be important.”

Ann pressed the button. “Good morning, Evan, how are you?”

“Very well, Ann. Senator Willingham would like to meet with Director Lee—this morning, if possible.”

“She has meetings all morning and a lunch at twelve thirty,” Ann said. “I could make some time between the meetings and lunch—say, twelve?”

“That’s fine. The senator would like to meet in his suite at the Bel-Air.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible, given her schedule,” Ann said. “It will have to be at the presidential cottage at The Arrington.”

“Hold on.”

Ann found herself listening to piano music.

“What’s going on?” Molly asked.

“I’m on hold. Willingham wants a meet, but I won’t let the first lady go to him.”

“Ann?” Chandler was back on the line.

“Yes, Evan.”

“The senator will be there at noon.”

“I’ll leave word at the gate,” Ann said. “Security is very tight here.”

“He’ll be on time.” Chandler hung up.

Ann put down the phone and ran down the hall to the presidential office. She rapped on the door and opened it. Kate and Will Lee were sitting on the sofa, their laps full of papers.

“Director, you have a meeting with Mark Willingham at noon, here.”

“I do?” Kate asked, surprised.

“Unless you want me to cancel.”

Will looked at her and shook his head.

“All right, Ann.”

Ann smiled and went back to her desk.


KATE LOOKED AT WILL.
“Now, what do you suppose?”

“It won’t be State,” Will said.

“He’s not going to offer me the number two spot,” Kate said.

“Why not? Mark will do whatever he has to do, and he’s all out of time. Nominations are tonight, and he’ll want to have everything lined up. He obviously believes that Marty doesn’t have the votes to win on the first ballot.”

“It’s incongruous,” Kate said. “Willingham was your worst enemy among the Democrats in the Senate.”

“Doesn’t matter. Mark has decided you’re the only way he can win.”

Kate shook her head. “Impossible.”

“Well,” Will said, “all you have to do is listen.”


KATE HAD ARRANGED
the furniture again in the library and was sitting when the knock came.

“Senator Willingham,” Manolo said.

Willingham strode into the room and shook Kate’s hand, then sat down. He didn’t wait for her to sit first.

“What can I do for you, Senator?” Kate asked.

“I have it on good authority that the California delegation is cracking,” he said.

“Cracking how?” Kate asked.

“On the first ballot, after California votes, someone will ask the chair to poll the delegation.”

“How much of a crack are we talking about?”

“A dozen, fifteen votes.”

“And whom will they crack for?”

“Me.”

“So that will give you, what, ninety, ninety-five delegates to the vice president’s one twenty, one twenty-five?”

“My people think that when California cracks, delegates from other states will start to jump ship. They think I’ve got a very good shot at a first-ballot win. And if it goes to a second ballot, we’re a sure thing.”

“That’s awfully optimistic of you, Senator,” Kate said.

“I know it is, that’s why I’m here. I want you to nominate me tonight. I think that could make the difference.”

“Well, I suppose there’s a weird kind of logic to that idea,” Kate said. “Of course, when delegates start to jump, many might go to Otero. And as strange as it may seem to you, Senator, many of them might even go to me.”

“Kate, would the vice presidency appeal to you?”

“Senator, is that an offer?”

“I’m just curious.”

“Satisfying your curiosity is not very appealing to me, Senator.”

“All right, if you’ll nominate me tonight, the vice presidency is yours.”

“Senator, the vice presidency is not yet your gift to give.”

“You know what I mean—you’ll have the number two spot on the ticket with me.”

“Shall I be frank with you, Senator?”

“By all means.”

“I don’t think California can crack enough to give you the nomination. I don’t think that enough ship jumpers would go to you, either. In fact, if suddenly Marty dropped out of the race, I don’t think you’d get the nomination.”

A flash of anger passed across the senator’s face and he stood up. “I’ll take that as a no,” he said.

“That’s very perceptive of you,” Kate replied.

“Good day.” He stalked across the room and out the door.

Ann came into the room. “He looked very angry, Director. Did you tell him to go fuck himself?”

“Pretty much,” Kate replied.

S
tone hosted Kate and Ann for lunch on his poolside patio. Ann had billed it as a strategy session.

“Whew!” Kate said, blowing upward to clear her forehead of a strand of hair.

“Is Ann working you too hard?” Stone asked.

“When Will was running I met a lot of people, but that was nothing compared to now. I’m having to soak my hand in ice water to keep the swelling down.”

“How do you feel about the way things are going?” Stone asked.

“If all I needed was the goodwill of the delegates I’ve met, I’d feel very confident,” she said. “Unfortunately, I’m not the only one seeking their votes and most of them are already committed, barring a second ballot.”

“If you had it to do over, would you start earlier and enter the primaries?”

Kate thought about it. “No, I don’t think so. I think I’ve done the right thing almost by accident.”

“How by accident?”

“I had thought about doing it last year and going through the whole process and decided against it. Then, months later, over dinner, Will said something to me about it not being too late. I had been thinking about life after the White House. And if Will hadn’t said that at that moment, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that I might have a chance if I got in late.”

“What did he say?”

“He said the field had been narrowed to three candidates and all of them were making credible showings, so the chances of one of them winning on the first ballot were slim.”

“He didn’t think at that point that Marty Stanton would make it?”

“He thought Marty could, but he also thought there was a very good chance that he’d get caught with his pants down and implode. Well, he got caught, but the implosion isn’t complete yet, so he could still win.”

“What does Sam Meriwether think the count is?”

“Marty needs a hundred and thirty-five delegates out of two seventy to win on the first ballot and he has about a hundred and thirty-two. Willingham has about eighty-one and Otero has maybe fifty.”

“And how many do you have, Kate?”

“We’re figuring none.”

“But surely—”

“Most of the people who would vote for me on the first ballot are from primary states and are committed to the man who won their states, and by the time I got in, the others were pretty much committed. Sam thinks it’s better if we work on a worst-case basis, and that’s no delegates for me. I’ve no chance unless Marty fails to get a hundred and thirty-five. Then we’ll see.”

“I have to admit,” Stone said, “it seems impossible.”

“That’s what we want everybody to think,” Ann said, “until tomorrow night.”

“Well, yes.”

“Pete Otero hasn’t called you,” Ann said. “I find that odd that he wouldn’t want your support.”

“Pete knows he isn’t going to win the nomination, so he doesn’t need my support,” Kate said. “I’m sure that both Marty and Willingham have already met with him and I expect they’ve both offered him the vice president’s slot on the ticket. He’s smart not to commit. If he made the wrong move, then he’d miss eight years of being vice president, then a really good shot at the presidency. And if whoever gets the nomination loses in the general, Pete is first in line for the nomination four years from now. Remember Jack Kennedy at the 1956 election? He thought he’d get the vice president slot on the ticket, but Adlai Stevenson threw him a curve ball when he threw the vice presidential nomination open to the convention and Estes Kefauver won. But by that time Jack was as well known to the electorate as almost anybody in the party, and when Adlai lost, the nomination was wide open to him in 1960. Pete has patience and it may work well for him.”

They ate their lunch talking mostly about everything but the convention. Stone saw Kate relaxing and he thought the change of subject probably did her good.


THEY WERE DONE
with lunch and on coffee when the telephone buzzed and Stone answered.

“Telephone for Mrs. Lee,” Manolo said.

“Who’s calling?”

“They wouldn’t say.”

Stone pressed the hold button. “Mystery call for you, Kate. Do you want to take it?”

“Who would know you were here?” Ann said.

“Let’s find out,” Kate replied. She took the phone and pressed the button. “Kate Lee. Good morning—or afternoon, as it may be.” She listened for a moment. “All right, I agree—not even Will.” She listened some more. “How sure are you about this? Thank you for calling.” She hung up.

No one said anything for a long moment.

“Who was it?” Ann asked finally.

“I’m sorry, I can’t say,” Kate said. She drank the last of her coffee. “Will you excuse me, please? I think I want to go and lie down for a little while. And, Ann, please cancel the rest of today’s schedule.”

Ann’s face fell. “Are you sure?”

“I don’t think it will matter,” Kate said and got to her feet.

They stood with her.

“Thank you so much for lunch, Stone,” she said, then she walked toward the presidential cottage, and the two Secret Service agents standing a few yards away fell in a few paces behind her.

“What do you suppose that was all about?” Stone asked.

“I have absolutely no idea,” Ann replied. “Did you see her face? It had to be bad news if she canceled her schedule. She had half a dozen appointments with delegates this afternoon.”

“She certainly didn’t seem elated.”

“Somehow,” Ann said, “I have the feeling that the bottom has just dropped out of her world.”

BOOK: Cut and Thrust
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