It's a Plan
I liked the sound of the word abduction a lot better than the word assassination. I still do, even knowing it’s only a subtle difference, that the gunfire that can break out in a kidnapping attempt is just as deadly as a shot aimed carefully at a presidential cranium. Maybe it’s the softer consonants. I think it’s something more, though. There seems to be something more civilized, more liberal, socially considerate about the terror of seizing a living body and holding it prisoner until terms are met than the terror of deliberately murdering someone. While assassination may be more sophisticated, there’s an element of ignobility about it that’s missing from abduction.
As a reward for his opting for life over death the kidnapper assumes a greater risk of himself being caught and perhaps killed. Akin maybe to the Lakota brave counting coups with his lance, touching the enemy to let him know he could have killed him. I’m not sure what the tactical point of this might have been, unless it was to win a psychological advantage. Abducting a modern U.S. president has got to be rapturously ballsy if not a plain stupid thing to do. “Four months yesterday, sir,” Ashmore said. He looked to be in his late twenties and spoke in the flat, rapid, memorized manner universal among rookie cops and soldiers addressing superiors or civilians. “You sleeping with her?” “Sir?” “Are you having sexual congress with Miss Walquer, Agent Ashmore?”
“Sir, with all due respect…”
Bob Rose snapped: “Answer the man.”
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir.” He delivered the first to Rose, then turned his head to face me and delivered the second. I held my stare at him and raised my eyebrows.
“Yes, sir,” he added, “I’ve been sleeping with the subject.”
“The subject? For god sakes, Agent Ashmore. How long have you been out of the academy?” I said.
“Which academy, sir?”
“Hell, I don’t know, any academy. You talk like a shave tail. Why don’t we drop the bullshit. We’ve got some heavy work ahead of us. How about you call me Al and I’ll call you Roger?” Rose was grinning. Hendrian was gazing at the fireplace, bored not to be the center of attention.
“Yes, sir, Al. Sorry about that. This is pretty heady stuff for me. I’m just trying to be professional.”
“Aren’t we all, Roger. Aren’t we all. But I think this will work more smoothly if we all try to sing the same tune - at least on the chorus. We haven’t much time to get inside each others heads, and that’s what we’re all going to have to do here in order to be able to put something together in only a few hours that will work, that will save the President and as many others as possible from harm. It’s a huge job and we’ve got to feel comfortable with each other if we’re going to expect to bring it off.”
Somewhere during this oration I experienced the sensation that I was naked, that my hair looked silly and that I was blowing obvious gas. But the words flowed right along anyway with few inhibitors - few enough anyway that I could ignore them without losing my train of thought.
Maybe it was the oration or maybe my hair was sticking up in some hilarious manner that became noticeable when I turned my head to look at Ashmore. It isn’t especially manageable hair. I’ll leave it for the serious historians to decide, but my three guests arranged themselves more comfortably on the couch as I spoke, and Ashmore did end the rookie bullshit.
He was indeed one of “Lori’s” lovers, he said. They all were - all, meaning the stable of male admirers who made themselves available for her merest whims around the clock. A couple of them, actors - Guz Fetz and Carl Hanke - once had promising film careers until they fell under her spell while working in movies with her. Now the only parts they had time for were roles she found for them in her own films, and she always had a new leading man, as she invariably seduced each of them. Most she soon tired of and dropped.
Nonetheless, they’d hang around nearby, turning down jobs that would remove them from her proximity, and, as they became gaunt and flaky, their careers collapsed. Harry Richman and Lou Usher were not actors. Richman, a bomber-pilot-cum-lawyer, had abandoned his wife, three children and their palatial Encino home and changed his name two years ago after Lorelei asked him in the kitchen at a fundraising cocktail party if he would undo the clasp of her bra so she could get more comfortable. Lou Usher is Edna Usher’s number one son - or was. The CEO of American Enterprises had disowned Lou about the same time Harry Richman left his family. Edna had thought it the only way to encourage Lou to rethink his decision to drop out of Stanford, where he’d been pursuing an MBA, to join the Marine Corps. Her move did persuade him to rethink the Marine Corps bit and he returned home for a while ostensibly to suck up and “prepare” himself to return for the final semester to get his degree and step into a friendly managership at Wilde Laboratories. He did a little sucking up at first. He also secretly videotaped the old lady in a violet teddy romping with a couple of nude, barely pubescent lads, sold her the tape for a $10 million Swiss account and, only days later, entered a trance while glancing at a close-up of Lorelei Walquer’s face on the cover of Newsweek. He found her, she liked him and he became one of the boys. This is what Ashmore told us. As for Ashmore, he was assigned to get to know Lorelei after one of her cast-off lovers - apparently one who wasn’t content to just hang out near her - notified the Secret Service that Lorelei and her followers were planning to assassinate the President. Ashmore did his duty, and Lorelei liked him even if he wasn’t as gaga over her as the others - except perhaps the one who’d ratted her out.
“Why?” I said. I couldn’t fathom how a man could get so close to her and not go gaga. Ashmore hadn’t so much as said this, but it was obvious he was able to keep his feelings at arms length to continue doing his job as an agent.
“I mean how. How can you be so blasé about being so close to Lorelei Walquer? Do they feed you guys saltpeter at Treasury?”
Ashmore chuckled. “Oh, I see what you mean. I’m not blasé about Miss Walquer. Not by a long shot. She’s a beautiful woman, and I can truthfully say this assignment has been both a curse and a blessing.”
“What do you mean? You’re not married.”
“Oh, no. I mean I know that once this is over with, it will be over with.”
“Yeah, but these other guys throw their lives away for her. I’m afraid I would throw mine away, too, in that situation. She does something to me. She does something to every man who takes a good look at her. Most men would kill for what you have. So how come you’re not throwing your career on the trash heap to stay in her pants?” Ashmore blinked a couple of times, then looked at Bob Rose, who nodded approval. Then Ashmore explained he has a special talent that enables him to perform sexually with anyone, anywhere, anytime. A babysitter had inadvertently dangled her bare breasts in front of him through a loose blouse when he was six or seven. The experience had such a powerful effect on his libido he could recall its full force whenever he wished just by imagining those bare breasts dangling in front of his innocent face, he explained. “It works every time. It saved my life once when a drug-dealing motorcycle gang tested me with a couple of chickens. I felt like vomiting as I went to pick the first one up, but then I thought about Claudia’s breasts. I passed the test,” he said.
“Yeah, but surely you don’t need Claudia’s breasts to get it up for Lorelei Walquer.”
“Oh, no. But I can’t look at Miss Walquer’s eyes. Our psychologist says it’s her eyes that get you. So I look at a spot just above them, on her forehead. I guess maybe that turns her on some because she really seems to like me. I stare at that spot on her forehead and think of Claudia’s breasts, that’s all.”
“So,” I said, genuinely perplexed. “You’re not really making it with Lorelei Walquer, are you? You’re just screwing some distant memory of a pair of breasts that are probably sagging and dried up by now.” I regretted saying this all the while I was saying it, realizing it hadn’t a damned thing to do with why we were gathered in my apartment. Warren stared at me with a face stretched in consternation. Bob Rose fidgeted and Ashmore was frowning deeply. “Sorry,” I muttered. “This whole business is just so bizarre. So what’s the plan?”
Warren did the talking then. The two agents sat at attention and watched me closely. I figured they were wired, and I knew Warren was. I was probably the only one in the room who wouldn’t have any electronic backup of what was being said, it having never occurred to me to bug my own apartment. The idea that any of this was on tape added to my discomfort, but rather than risk queering something the President had made clear she wanted I decided to look past my apprehensions and use caution when I spoke. Warren quickly indicated he was thinking likewise, as his recitation smacked of the encrypted circumspection drug lords use dealing over a phone they figure is tapped. Instead of talking about shipments of olive oil or coffee beans he couched his report in language that suggested that while we knew Lorelei had ill-intent, to arrest her without solid evidence could backfire politically, as could a snub, were the President to rescind her invitation and provoke a catty public statement from the actress.
“It’s unlikely she’d make her move during the brunch, although we’ll have the place crawling with agents,” Warren said. “The press thing in the Rose Garden afterward is when I expect it to happen. There will be enough people out there, what with the reporters and TV crews and the politicians and their families and guests of Miss Walquer - yes, we have to let them in, too, or she’ll know we’re suspicious of her - that things could get horribly confused in the wink of an eye.
“We don't have enough time to check everybody out who wants credentials. We have the rest of today and tomorrow to set this up. We’ll just have to get as many agents in there as we can and keep them close to the President. We’ll seal off every street within three blocks of the White House and we’ll have agents in pursuit cars staking out each of them. We’ll have assault helicopters in the air for the whole shebang, and guys on the ground with rockets just in case something gets through anyway. Have I forgotten anything?”
My heart was leaden. Well, you left out some stuff, I thought, but kept quiet. Stuff like how we could make sure Lorelei’s backpack got in unmolested, assuming they would have to appear at the White House gate packing heat. I learned later, while running over the plan with Warren, that Lorelei’s entourage would ride in with her in a limo. They’d be lugging cameras and video equipment in cases where presumably they’d also have their guns stashed. The abduction attempt would come, Roger Ashmore told us, as the President was walking out to the Rose Garden. Lorelei and a couple of her henchmen, both wearing girdles of dynamite, would step up to the President and ask her to come with them. The four of them would then hurry to the limo, which would be idling under the command of Lou Usher. The limo would whisk them out of the White House compound and dash to a corporate airstrip near Bethesda while Roger Ashmore, driving an identical limo, would decoy away any pursuing Secret Service agents who might happen to follow. Harry Richman would be waiting in the cockpit of Lorelei’s warmed-up Boeing 737 ready to spirit them off to who knew where.
The trick, we decided, would be to take down the two human bombs - Gus Fetz and Carl Hanke - while preserving the illusion that the sticks strapped around their waists were in fact dynamite (Roger, who was to supply the girdles, would, of course, rig them with fake sticks. These girdles would be switched with ones carrying actual dynamite after Fetz and Hanke were in custody.)
“If this works out and we get some points in the polls even Republicans will be dropping money off at the front gate,” said Warren, a little too eagerly. And if it doesn’t work, I thought but kept to myself, not in a mood for Warren’s hysteria, they’ll be dropping off subpoenas.
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