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Authors: Keith M. Donaldson

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Senate Cloakroom Cabal (8 page)

BOOK: Senate Cloakroom Cabal
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A senator wanted to talk with me. I dialed his number.

After my call, I went immediately to Lassiter's office.

“He didn't tell me a lot. He's bringing me some papers tomorrow. He said it involved the pharmaceutical industry and one company in particular.”

“He's coming here?”

“Delivering it personally.”

“And he's Senator Dalton's AA?”

“That's what he said.”

“I'll have Van check him out, see if he's who he says he is.”

“He's definitely in the senator's office.”

“Fine. Let's see what he's got.” Her tone reflected her desire for our meeting to be over.

“Right,” I said, standing.

“If it's got a local twist, we might be allowed to keep it here. We don't do Capitol Hill.”

“We didn't do the White House either,” I chirped, smiling cockily.

“How you coming along on that ballpark story?”

. I got carried away. “I'm on it.”

As I left Lassiter's office, I felt things were finally getting back to normal.


returned to my desk, properly chastised. I'd gotten too friendly, and Lassiter put a quick button on it. I didn't feel put upon. It was time to be reporter and editor.

I returned three of the four remaining calls, which were from media types. Before I got to Kat, I called my father, filling him in on my day, alerting him to the TV coverage. We'd had a nice chat last night. He'd reprinted the
's story on my award in his own paper, adding a couple of local touches.

We had a good laugh over that, and it felt so good. In fact, I couldn't remember when we had ever laughed over anything together. Our conversation had buoyed me. How wonderful it was to be able to share what I was doing with him.

Reconciling with my mother and father, having Tyler, and winning the Pulitzer all in less than a year was more than I had ever dreamt possible. Any one of them was huge, but all three:
In addition, I had Jerry, a wonderful friend in Max, and a great job.

I thought of Janet Rausch's family in Iowa and the families of the other two murder victims. How had the Pulitzer story affected them? Janet's killing had brought down some self-absorbed people who had toyed with people's lives.

Then there was Kat Turner, a physical and mental victim in the saga. I'd saved her return call for last because I knew it would be the most emotional. I dialed.

“Kat Turner,” she answered in her soft alto voice.

“Laura Wolfe.”

“Laura! My gosh. Thanks for calling back.”

“Hey, thanks for calling me.”

“Congratulations. Wow! Our local paper carried your story on the first page,” said the former vice presidential staffer, or intern, as they were familiarly called.

“How you doing?”

“Wonderfully. Scott and I are adjusting to married life. I've finished with my rehab.”

“Fantastic.” There had been a time when I wondered if Kat would ever fully recover.

“I go back for a checkup next month. I'm almost walking without a limp.”

The car that had sideswiped us both had almost killed Kat. The driver, Milo Bannini—who worked for George Manchester, the Atlanta entrepreneur who was a major supporter of Vice President Grayson—had crashed into a telephone pole and died. If Max hadn't yelled, I wouldn't have escaped between parked cars. Unfortunately Kat, who had been a half step behind me, had been slammed into a parked car and come very close to dying.

Max had fired at the escaping vehicle hitting both it and the driver, causing the car to go out of control. At first we thought it had been an attempt on my life, but it turned out to be unrelated to anything about me or my job. Manchester had been interrogated, but he'd had no idea why his life-long friend and employee would do such a thing. Alcohol and drugs had not been involved. It was still a mystery.

“You must heal well . . . or was it your mother's soup?”

“A little of both,” Kat laughed. “So, your life must be very busy. How's Tyler? Do you see Marsha?”

Marsha had been Janet Rausch's roommate, and Kat had been Janet's closest friend, working together in the VP's office. “Marsha was at Tyler's christening. She's working part-time in Jerry's office and finishing up at Georgetown Law.”

“Tell her I said hi. Now, tell me about Tyler.”

“He's growing, eats like a horse. We're blessed; he's a good, healthy, happy kid. We moved last fall into a house in Clarendon that has a back yard. We have an extra bedroom just waiting for visitors.”

“I don't know,” Kat said uncertainly.

“It's there, if you change your mind. We'd love to see you both.”

“Too many horrible memories. I don't have nightmares, but I do wake up some nights and see Janet's face staring down at me.”

I felt a chill. I offered, “What has helped me recover are all the changes in my life. Tyler, the new home, a great relationship now with my folks . . .”

“A Pulitzer!” Kat said brightly.

We talked awhile longer. For all her not wanting to return to Washington, Kat seemed to be holding onto the call. I finally ended it when we began repeating stuff.

We promised to stay in touch, and I hoped that would be true.


got a solid night's sleep. Jerry, Tyler, and I enjoyed our morning. I drove in with my new parking permit affixed to my windshield. Mary said her request for that permit had sailed through. Driving my peppy little convertible into the garage was, as Yogi Berra once said,
déjà vu all over again.

Jerry usually drove it these days so I could use his SUV to accommodate Tyler's car seat. We had considered trading the convertible in, but now that I was back at work, we decided there would be plenty of time to “mom-up” to a minivan.

Mary greeted me with a message that Michael Horne would like to see me.

“Anytime between 11:00 and 2:00 is good,” I said.

“What are you up to?” she asked, alluding to my self-invented shorthand notes on the pad on my desk.

“I've pulled up stuff on FDA and its assorted subgroups.”

“Did you find anything about the cost of drugs?” Mary asked. “That's real bad.”

“Somehow I don't think that's what Mr. Horne has on his mind.”

I logged in and surfed the paper's archives, rummaging through drug approvals. It was a lot of dull reading. Tiring of that, I swung over to articles on the new baseball team and the proposed construction of a new ballpark. I hard-copied half a dozen new stories and set up a file. I called a contact in City Hall and asked for copies of all City Council discussions or actions pertaining to the ballpark. The arduous part was researching these people, looking for connections. I felt a gurgle in my stomach and checked the time. It was a little after noon.

I told Mary I was heading to the cafeteria. A few minutes after I settled down to eat a grilled chicken salad, my cell phone rang. It was Mary. “What's up?”

“Mr. Horne is probably rounding the corner, as we speak,” she said.

“Doesn't give us much notice, does he? I'll be there in ten minutes.”

I entered the newsroom and headed for Mary's desk. A medium-sized man with dirty-blond, curly—no, tousled—hair stood by Mary's desk holding a thin, black briefcase.

“Mr. Horne,” I said, walking up behind him.

He twirled to greet me. “Ms. Wolfe.” It was a statement.

“I put another chair in your cubicle,” Mary said flatly.

“Thank you, Mary. Mr. Horne,” I said, motioning in the direction of my desk. “Let's go to my cubicle. It's small, but homey.” For all his casual, thrown-together look, I sensed tenseness in him. He sat in the chair that Mary had provided and placed his briefcase on his lap. He unlatched its two hasps and removed a file folder, thinly filled.

“You will find the information in this folder is devoid of people or company names. Everything in here has been retyped on plain bond paper. I assure you that, other than the identities, we have not edited or characterized the sensitive information these pages contain,” Michael Horne said firmly, as he handed me the folder and removed another.

“I have a duplicate of what I just gave you. If you like, I can wait while you browse it, maybe answer any—”

“I appreciate that. However,” I said softly and non-threateningly, “I would prefer to take this home and read it at my own leisure.”

“No. No, that's fine.” He sounded relieved.

I smiled. “I'm so used to working on my own, I have built-in study habits.”

“Believe me, I understand.” He slid his folder back in and snapped the hasps. “The senator would very much like to meet with you privately. She suggests her place in Crystal City tomorrow night, if that fits your schedule.”

I noticed he held my gaze easily. There was no come-on in him. He portrayed earnestness without acting pushy.

“We've been struggling with this issue,” he said, “but when we addressed our leadership, we were rebuffed. If you've followed anything on this subject, you may identify a senator or two, maybe even a particular company. If you choose to go forward, we will provide you with everything.”

He flashed me a self-effacing smile.

I studied him as he spoke. He was around my age. His attire, to me, represented a disguise. He wore earth colors, not the dark suit so typical in Washington.

“I will read this at home this afternoon. I work short days here right now.”

“Yes. I saw in the news reports that you recently gave birth to a boy. Congratulations. I hope our suggestion for an evening meeting isn't an inconvenience.”

“No, if we can make it about 7:00. We like to get my son's last feeding in around 10:00.” I was going to say breastfeeding, but some men are squeamish about that.

“That should be fine.” He stood and handed me his business card. I rose.

He said, “Thank you for seeing me so quickly. We feel time is working against us. My home number is on the back of the card. Please feel free to call me. I should be home after 7:00.”

I gave him my card, and said, “I will be working from home tomorrow. This has my cell number. We can confirm tomorrow evening's meeting more easily this way. I'll walk you out.”

When I returned to my desk, I buzzed Mary.

“Mr. Horne has gone. I have some reading to do. If there are no cries for my body or soul, I'm going home. The last couple of days are catching up to me.”

“I think that's an excellent idea. Is your fax machine working?”

“You know, I'm not sure. The copier and printer part work. I guess it does. We have a dedicated line for the computer. Let me get that for you. You can give it a try.”

“Before you go, call Mr. Probst. They've had a couple of network requests.”

“As long as they're not for today or tomorrow. I want to coast into a restful weekend.”

“You're sounding too sensible—are you sure you are you?”

“I'll call Mr. Probst, check in with the boss, and then check out with you.”

“I'm in awe,” Mary said.


yler, he do good. Eat good,” Anna told me. “He sleep now.”

I nodded. “I have some reading, for work,” I said, holding up the manila envelope.

“Okay,” Anna said, and went to the kitchen.

I sat down with Horne's envelope and extracted about a dozen or so letter-sized pages. I curled up in the corner of the sofa and scanned the first page, and then the second, of Michael's synopsis. It became immediately clear there were multiple issues.

Dalton and Horne speculated that heavy pressure was being put on the FDA to disapprove Tutoxtamen, a drug that early testing showed to be a potential miracle cancer-cure drug. There were questions about senatorial ethics. Horne speculated pharmaceutical lobbyists were buying Senate cooperation to get this drug rejected. Why would they want that? I thought they lobbied
their members, not against them.

Also included were pages on drug pricing, formularies, and Medicare.

The brief spelled out staggering results the cancer drug had on humans and, before that, on animals. The drug had received outstanding grades. Horne had put a lot into synthesizing what must have been copious pages. I'd have to thank him.

A familiar itch began creeping up my spine. If these tests were true, and that's a huge
, then why were nonscientific senators so against the drug? According to what I was reading, the FDA hadn't questioned the test results until recently. What was to be gained or lost here? Who would benefit financially? Who might not? The old saying
follow the money
was not to be ignored. I tried reading more, but I couldn't concentrate. My mind was on fire with the multiple issues. Whose ox was being gored?

Was something really wrong with the drug? I would need an unbiased expert. The closest I'd ever been to the drug industry was getting a prescription filled. Jerry needed to look at this. He might see some legal issues or know how the FDA works.

I didn't normally have the time or opportunity to discuss my work with Jerry until after I'd written the story. The rare times we could kick things around, I enjoyed it. He was an excellent sounding board, agree or not. He certainly had helped during the serial killings. Jerry was also good at pulling me out when I got in deep and when I couldn't see the forest for the trees.

I heard Tyler. Anna must have gotten him up. I looked at my watch, I'd been at it for nearly two-and-a-half hours, and it was nearing Anna's time to leave. I heard Tyler again. It sounded like he was talking to Anna. I heard her soft voice, but not her words. I wondered if she was teaching him Spanish.

There would have been a time, not too long ago, when I would have resented any domestic activity getting in the way of my work. No distractions. Now after four months of maternity leave with Tyler, I almost looked at it the other way around.

BOOK: Senate Cloakroom Cabal
6.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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