In Sheep's Clothing: An Action-Packed Political Thriller (Matthew Richter Thriller Series Book 1)

BOOK: In Sheep's Clothing: An Action-Packed Political Thriller (Matthew Richter Thriller Series Book 1)
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IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING

L.D. Beyer

 

This is a work of fiction.  The events that unfold within these pages as well as the characters depicted are products of the author’s imagination.  Any connection to specific people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 by L.D. Beyer

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission.

 

Cover design by Lindsey Andrews

 

ISBN: 978-0-9963857-1-8

 

 

Battle Creek, MI

http://www.ldbeyer.com

For Mona, who patiently supported my follies from the very beginning

NEARLY ALL MEN CAN STAND ADVERSITY,

BUT IF YOU WANT TO TEST A MAN'S CHARACTER,

GIVE HIM POWER.

 

- Abraham Lincoln

PROLOGUE
September

As the clay disk sailed out of the trap house, the president swung his gun, tracking the target.  A gentle squeeze of the trigger and the target exploded, nothing left but dust in the air.

One for one.

The Secret Service agent standing ten feet behind him nodded.  President Thomas Walters was a life-long member of the NRA and former winner of the Marines’ Expert Marksmanship Badge.  The man was lethal with a gun.

It was a typical fall day for northern Maine.  The morning sun had just cleared the tree line but wasn’t yet strong enough to burn away the fog seeping out of the woods.  Although the air was chilly, the president and his entourage of agents didn’t seem to mind.  Trap shooting was something that the many demands of his office prevented the president from enjoying as often as he would have liked.  The way he looked at it, he could escape for a few moments while his Secret Service detail enjoyed a change of scenery.  Besides, today it seemed the foliage was at its peak.  The red, orange, and yellow leaves, together with the scent of autumn, reminded him of hunting trips with his father long ago.

The clay bird shot off to the president’s left, but he swiftly adjusted his aim and fired.

Two for two. 

His father was the one who had taught him how to shoot, the one who had told him again and again that ammunition was expensive—a precious commodity not to be wasted by a bad shot.  His skill had come from necessity.

The president changed his angle as another target sailed past the shooting line.

Three for three.

One of his father’s friends, a buddy from his old platoon, owned a cabin on a lake up in Michigan.  Every year in November, his father had gone hunting while the future president had stayed home with his mother and sister.  Tom Walters was thirteen when his dad had first asked him to come along.  He remembered how excited he’d been on the ride up to the cabin; how happy he’d been that his dad thought that he was old enough, man enough, to go.  Almost instantly, the happy memory vanished as he recalled how humiliated he’d felt on the way home.

Another clay bird exploded over the field.

Four for four.

On the second day of the trip, he had missed a buck that was grazing fifty yards away.  He had hesitated, waiting for the animal to turn for a better shot, a perfect shot.  That one second had cost him, as the deer, sensing danger, bolted.  He had squeezed off a wild shot, knowing as he did so that it was hopeless.  God, how he had wished he could relive those few seconds.  He had wanted so much to hear his father tell him how proud he was.  The rest of the week was horrible as he dreaded the long ride home….

“What the hell’s the matter with you, boy?  There’s no reason you shoulda missed that shot.  Hell, I’ll bet your sister coulda hit that buck.  Maybe I’ll bring her next year and leave you home!” 

It was four more years before his father asked him to go again.

Five for five.

His father was the one who had pressured him to enlist, told him that the Corps would make a man out of him. The president felt a twinge of guilt wondering what his dad would think now when the story broke.  Jesus!  The press would be all over him like vultures on an animal carcass and all for something that happened almost forty years ago.

Six for six.

At one point, back when his career was beginning, he dreaded that his past “indiscretions” would suddenly surface and his budding political career would wither and die.  But, as time passed and his career progressed, the fears had faded.

The target shot out in front of the president.  He swung the gun, but not with the same fluid motion.  The clay bird broke into several large pieces. 

Seven for seven.

As the president reloaded his shotgun, he could almost hear his father:

“Concentrate now, boy!  You almost missed that time!  People will think I’m raisin’ a sissy!”

He had just been discharged from the service and entered college on the GI bill.  Like many young men away from home for the first time, away from authority, he lived the life of a rebellious freshman, going to beer parties, skipping classes, trying to get every girl he met in the sack.  In a few short months, the disciplined life he had led while in the Corps seemed a vague memory.  At the end of his first semester, after final exams, he celebrated with his roommate and some coed friends by drinking shots of tequila and playing strip poker.  The poker game soon gave way to sex, and after they each had made love to both women, Walters and his roommate watched as the two women made love to each other.  He must have had a lot of tequila—before he realized what he was doing, he was having sex with his roommate. 

What might have been excused as a drunken college stunt or youthful experimentation probably would have been except for two things.  First, over the next several years, he and his roommate had continued to fool around.  Second, one of the women managed to capture a few intimate moments of the future president and his roommate on her camera.

He had thought the whole incident long forgotten until two months ago.  Tyler Rumson, an aggressive, two-term Republican Senator from New Jersey, showed him the pictures and suggested that he reconsider running for reelection.  When he refused, Rumson had threatened to leak the pictures to the press.  He had increased the pressure over the last several weeks, and the president had finally realized that even if he agreed to drop out of the race, Rumson would give the pictures to the press anyway.  It was odd, Walters thought, that the possibility of losing the presidency, of losing his wife, and possibly being cast aside as a social pariah didn’t bother him nearly as much as the prospect of facing his father.  He was a sixty-six-year-old man, he was the President of the United States, and he was still afraid of his father.

The president called for the next target.  As the clay bird flew out of the trap house, he turned the gun, stuck the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

CHAPTER ONE
November

President David Kendall swore under his breath.  He had been hurrying to finish his speech before the technical staff invaded and converted the Oval Office into a TV studio with lighting, teleprompters, cameras, boom microphones, and wires snaking all over the floor.  After his speech writer left to make the final changes and to load the speech onto the teleprompter, he found his Chief of Staff, Charles Howell, waiting, with news that the Secretary of State was resigning. 

“What reason did he give?” the president asked.

Howell frowned.  “He believes that he no longer has the support he needs to be effective.”

The president cursed again.  Bill Duggan had been instrumental in representing U.S. interests around the globe, especially in Asia, where China’s growing influence on world affairs was a concern.  The president both liked and trusted the man.  But now, for some reason, Secretary of State Duggan had just submitted his resignation.  The president shook his head, frustrated both at the timing and at the impact Duggan’s loss would likely have.

He sighed.  It had been eight weeks since President Walters’ tragic death, and the nation was struggling to move on.  The fact that Walters’ death was due to his own bullet and not an assassin’s made it that much more difficult to comprehend.  David Kendall had chosen that evening to address the nation—again.  He needed to reassure the country that the initiatives President Walters had started, the promises he had made during his campaign, the reason so many voters had selected him as their president, had not been forgotten.  This would be the fourth time Kendall would address the nation as president, but this time he needed to bring a different message to the American people: one of moving forward, not looking back.  He had to restore the nation’s confidence in their government and in themselves.

President Kendall glanced at his watch.  Although the speech was not until eight o’clock, still several hours away, he had two more meetings and then dinner with his family.  The latter was something he had promised his daughters he wouldn’t miss. 

“I have Felicia next?” he asked, referring to Commerce Secretary Felicia Jackson. 

Howell nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

“Postpone her.  I need to speak to Bill.”

___

Thirty minutes later, the president hung up the phone and cursed again.  Bill Duggan had been adamant.  Despite Kendall’s reassurances, Duggan insisted that foreign policy decisions were being made by others without the State Department’s involvement and that he no longer felt he had the president’s confidence and support.  When pressed for details, Duggan provided little.  The president sat back and sighed.  Although Duggan had agreed to meet the following day, he made it clear that it was only to submit a formal letter of resignation.  Kendall had been surprised by the frustration, the anger and hurt in the voice of someone he had respected and supported for the last two years. 
What the hell happened?
He wondered. 

He stood, stepped to the windows behind his desk, and stared out over the South Lawn.  His frustration clouded the picture-perfect fall day.  People needed stability, and they needed to have faith in their government, especially so soon after President Walters’ death.  And a change within the administration right now—his administration—wouldn’t help. 

He sighed again.  When he had taken the oath of office almost two years ago—then as vice president—he never expected to be standing here, inside the Oval Office.  At the time, he was familiar with the line of succession and the role the vice president played in ensuring continuity of government.  And if he hadn’t been, the briefings by the White House Chief Usher, the legal scholars, and the Secret Service would have corrected that.  The meetings had been sobering, and he had dutifully listened and asked questions and prepared himself for the day that he thought would never come. 

But then it did.

___

He had been in Paris meeting with the United States’ major economic allies on the recent rise of the U.S. dollar.  President Walters had thought it important for the U.S. to demonstrate its commitment to other G-7 nations and had insisted that Vice President Kendall attend the meetings along with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the Secretary of the Treasury.

The U.S. delegation had just arrived at a reception at the German Embassy when, without warning, his Secret Service detail grabbed him and forced him back into the limousine.  Kendall remembered the surreal feeling as his bodyguards barked orders into the microphones hidden in their sleeves while the limo raced away.  It had seemed an eternity before one of them told him that the president was dead.  At the airport, he was hustled onto the plane and, minutes later, they were airborne.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had been waiting at Andrews Air Force Base when Kendall landed, and he had taken the oath of office on the plane.  Then, under heavy guard, he was rushed to Marine One for the quick flight to the White House.  The rest of the night was a blur as he met with congressional leaders, legal scholars, and constitutional experts to discuss succession, chain of command, and transition.  At some point during the long night, he had been given the nuclear launch codes and instructed on the hows, whens, and whys of sending the world into oblivion.  Then, at sunrise, he was escorted up to the second floor, where he met with President Walters’ family.

Hours later, he was in the Oval Office, reviewing drafts of a speech—his first as Commander-in-Chief—trying to figure out what he was going to say that could bring some sense of comfort to a shocked nation. 

___

Now, tonight, he would speak to the nation again and, this time, he hoped to bring a sense of closure to a tragic chapter in America’s history.  As much as he had admired and respected Thomas Walters, the man was gone.  The baton had been passed to him, and it was time to move forward. 

Since he’d assumed office, he hadn’t traveled out of the country.  For that matter, he hadn’t spent much time away from Washington.  His initial focus had been on succession and transition.  The meetings with foreign leaders, the state visits and summits that had been on President Walters’ schedule had all been postponed, and thankfully there hadn’t been a major foreign crisis.  The handful of issues that had arisen so far had been deftly handled by Bill Duggan and the State Department through diplomatic channels.  And Kendall had spoken personally to counterparts throughout the world, reassuring them of America’s stance and offering promises to meet soon.  It was only four weeks ago that he traveled for the first time: to the University of Chicago where he spoke to a summit of educators.  Nonetheless, there were many pressing matters outside of Washington, both at home and abroad, that were demanding his attention.

He turned from the window, his face grim.  Now, it seemed, there was another crisis that had to be managed before he could give his full attention to doing the job he had been elected to do—if not directly, then as a stand-in for the man who’d been. 

___

At six-thirty the following morning, the president sat down, as he did most days, with Charles Howell.  It was a chance to review the schedule over a cup of coffee and, with the perspective that comes only after a night’s sleep, to discuss the events and issues of the prior day. 

His address to the nation had been well received, and more than one advisor told him that the tone and message were exactly what the nation needed.  They must have been right, because the political commentary that followed had been overwhelmingly positive, and his approval rating had surged overnight.  The discussion soon turned to the Secretary of State.

“I can’t figure out what happened,” the president said, frowning.  He picked up his cup of coffee then hesitated.  “Who’s he close to?”

Howell was silent a moment.  “Amalu, in Homeland Security,” he finally said.

“Okay.  Speak to Henry.  See what you can find out.”

Howell nodded and scribbled a note.  “We need to think about a replacement.”

“I know.”  The president sighed.  “We also need to think about what we’re going to say.”

Howell nodded again.  “I already spoke to the Communications Office.  They’re drafting something.”

The president took a sip of coffee.  “Okay.  Let’s set some time up with Linda Huff,” he said, referring to the White House Counsel.  “We need to start developing a list of potential candidates.”

“She’s already on it,” Howell responded.

The president smiled weakly.  Howell, as usual, was a step ahead of him.  As he took another sip of coffee, he wondered again what was troubling Duggan.  There had been no misunderstandings, no disagreements, no warning signs as far as he could tell. 

Just three weeks ago he had invited his Cabinet and the White House staff to Camp David for the weekend.  Although he had worked with most of them for almost two years, the dynamics in the White House had changed when he assumed the presidency and, he reminded himself, when the new vice president had joined the team.  The two days were a chance to get away from the hyper-charged environment in Washington, to focus on the future and on the team that would be responsible for helping guide the nation forward.  By the end of the weekend, he sensed optimism again.

But after they returned to Washington, he could feel an undercurrent—a tension—that he attributed to President Walters’ death.  This was, after all, an environment that allowed little time to grieve.

___

Vice President Tyler Rumson seemed to agree.  They were sitting in the private dining room next to the Oval Office, something they did once a week.  It was a practice that President Walters had instituted when Kendall was vice president.  The lunches provided a private forum for the president to share his views on the issues, events, and decisions that concerned him with the man who, in a heartbeat—or more aptly, Kendall thought, the lack of one—would take over.  As he knew all too well, the next man in line had to be prepared.

Kendall looked forward to these meetings.  Like his early morning coffee with Charles Howell, it was an opportunity to put things in perspective, to focus on the big picture and to prioritize. 

The salads had just been served.  President Kendall waited until the Navy Steward retreated before he shared his concerns with Rumson.  He had met with Bill Duggan earlier in the day, but Duggan hadn’t changed his position.

“Have you noticed anything?” the president asked.

“With Duggan specifically?”  Rumson responded.  “No.  But people are under stress.  Walters’ death was a shock and, all of the sudden,” he smiled and nodded in Kendall’s direction, “there’s a new boss.  Change is difficult, especially sudden change.  And with the pace everyone works around here, it’s not surprising.”

The president nodded.  There was a heightened sense of urgency in the White House and, by extension, in the agencies and departments that were part of the Executive Branch.  The pace was frantic and people tended to work brutal hours, very often through the weekend and, many times, through the night.

“Do you think we need to get away again?” he asked.  “Maybe do something different this time?”

Rumson shook his head.  “If it were me, I would give people some time, some space.”

The president frowned.  Time and space were luxuries those in the White House could not afford.

“Washington’s not for the weak-hearted,” Rumson continued after a moment, seemingly changing the subject.  “You need to have tough skin to survive here.”

The president scowled as he studied Rumson.  “Meaning what?” he asked.

“Duggan probably made a few enemies over the years.  From what I understand, he’s territorial and insists that foreign policy concerns trump everything else.  It wouldn’t surprise me if someone was out to get him.”

“So someone planted the idea that I wanted him to resign?” the president asked.  “A game of political one-upmanship?”

Rumson shrugged.  “Hey, this is Washington.”

Kendall sat back, wondering.  He had seen his share of political battles over the years.  He had seen firsthand how Washington and the White House could bring out the best in people.  He had also seen how they could bring out the worst.  It wasn’t surprising.  It was a politically charged environment, where knowledge and proximity to the Oval Office conveyed power.  People guarded what they knew and with whom they shared it.  Invisible walls seemed to rise on their own.  And the majority of the people in Washington were Type A personalities, most plagued with an exaggerated sense of self-importance.  He had been in Washington long enough to know that battling egos thought nothing of stepping on each other’s toes—or worse, throwing potential adversaries under the bus. 

As the discussion continued, he realized that Rumson was probably right; Duggan had likely made an enemy or two along the way.  But he didn’t agree that he should sit back and do nothing, not when the people who worked for him—the people in charge of the government—were worried and tense.  That was a recipe for disaster.

He and Tyler Rumson had different styles.  Kendall believed in creating a vision and setting the agenda and then getting out of his team’s way so they could do their jobs.  Rumson had a take-charge approach.  But, like Charles Howell, Rumson’s focus on execution—on pushing the agenda forward and getting things done—was a good compliment to his own focus on steering the country in the right direction.

BOOK: In Sheep's Clothing: An Action-Packed Political Thriller (Matthew Richter Thriller Series Book 1)
2.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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