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First pages

NAKED AMBITION

With his secret secure and brain afire, Beck was alive. Fueled by a rush of adrenalin, his mind would not rest. But it was not always that way. Like now. Oh man, especially like now.

Grateful to finally be home in the solace of his cluttered condominium after a turbulent morning flight back to Washington, Beck was cranking through a chilling novel and a second Corona Light. He’d suffered through five interminable days in a fleabag in Flyover, America. And for what? The stale beer? The stench of cigarettes? No, it was the lumpy bed and the low-pitched rumble of the sputtering air conditioner. Or maybe the all-night, rag-tag symphony of truckers braking at the intersection just outside his hotel. Yeah. That was it. Had to be. The price of admission to his world.

His cell phone rang. Not now, he thought.

He’d just reached the climax, where the hero discovered his beautiful accomplice was an enemy spy. Finally, Beck would learn…

The damn thing rang again.

He glared at it, vibrating on his coffee table, willing it to shut up and stop dancing.

Caller ID was blocked. Shit. He looked back at the page, determined to finish the chapter, but his eyes refused to focus. His DNA was nothing if not emphatic. God, he hated that about himself.

“Yeah?” he grumbled into the phone.

“Beck Rikki?”

“Yeah.”

“The reporter for the Post-Examiner?”

“Maybe. Who’s calling?”

“Daniel Fahy, head of the Public Integrity Section at Justice. Your office said I could reach you at this number. I’d like to speak with you privately.”

“About?”

“I’d rather not say over the phone. Can we meet?”

Not another crackpot, thought Beck. He’d just finished a week of hounding false leads. He didn’t need this right now. “Got a thing about phones?”

“It would be more appropriate to discuss what I have to say face-to-face.”

“How do I know that?”

“You’ll just have to trust me.”

“Why should I? I haven’t a clue who you are.”

“I just told you.”

Beck groaned softly. He needed to talk to the city desk about giving out his number. “Look, I’ve had a bad week. Lost my appetite for wild goose chase. Throw me a bone.”

“Are you always this difficult?”

“Occupational hazard. You always this secretive?”

“Occupational hazard.”

Beck leaned back on his couch and stared at the ceiling, waiting. Not another smartass government bureaucrat whining about his boss mistreating him. Why do these loons always call a reporter instead of HR?

Fahy fell silent, but Beck heard muffled laughter in the background. “You still there?”

“I’m thinking,” Fahy said.

Beck heard more laughter. “That’s okay. While you’re at your party, I’m sitting here quietly engrossed in one of the best novels I’ve read all year. I’ve got nothing better to do with my time than to listen to silence on my end of your phone call.”

“Okay. Okay. I think I’ve run across a bribery scheme involving a very important public official—a very important public official. Interested?”

Beck sat up straight. “I could be. How important is important?”

“Near the top of the Washington food chain.”

“Meaning?”

“He looks in the mirror every morning and imagines he sees the President.”

“That’s half of Washington.”

“He’s already taken the measurements of the Oval Office and ordered new carpet.”

Beck felt his brain spark. It was like striking a match. Then just as quickly, the familiar refrain of his defenses jumped in to douse the flames.

“Why tell me?” he asked. “I thought you Justice guys liked to do this sort of investigation in the shadows. You hate the press.”

“I’ve got my reasons. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll not only give you what I think is a story, but I’ll explain my motivation for calling you when we meet. Fair enough?”

“Not fair, but it’s enough.” Beck had to play ball. He’d just about gone crazy over the past several months. It had been too long since he published a significant investigative piece. His editors had been hounding him. One even suggested he be assigned to a regular beat again. A beat? For the most decorated investigative reporter at the paper? How humiliating.

Fahy suggested breakfast the next day and gave Beck directions to a restaurant south of Old Town Alexandria on old US Route 1, a good ten miles outside of Washington.

“How will I recognize you?”

“Don’t worry,” Fahy said. “You will.” And hung up.

2

Beck eyed his cell phone for a moment. What the hell? Who was this guy Fahy? He’d heard a rasp, maybe a hint of an Irish or Scottish brogue? Languages weren’t his thing. Even his exasperated journalism prof once told him English was his second language.

No mind. He grabbed his laptop and Googled Daniel Fahy. Sure enough, the director of the Justice Department unit that prosecutes dirty politicians, graduated fourth in his class at Georgetown Law and, according to an old Nicky Allen POLITICO story, had a reputation as a Boy Scout — a government do-gooder. An oxymoron, at best, in this town, Beck thought.

A couple of clicks later, he pulled up some old Post-Examiner stories from the newspaper morgue. Same thing. A feature a few years back mentioned Fahy’s reputation for prosecuting wayward politicians. His investigations didn’t make him popular in Washington, but did make him politically untouchable.

“Red?” Beck did not look up at his writing assistant sitting in the far corner of his living room, but continued scanning his computer screen. “This guy might be legit.”

He checked the article’s byline. Shit. Kerry Rabidan. Her newsroom moniker was Rabid Dog — she was that good. But lacking enough seniority to own her job, the paper downsized her a year ago. Union rules. She now worked for the rival News-Times, Washington’s other daily newspaper. Damn, he thought, can’t call the competition for background.

“Red, why is the head of the Justice Department Public Integrity Unit really calling me at home?”

Beck stood and walked back into his living room. He sank into the soft brown couch and felt the expensive speckled leather cushions sigh beneath him.

He shoved a week’s worth of old newspapers into a pile atop his crowded coffee table and created a soft landing for his feet. He noted his Italian shoes were badly scuffed. Must have been from dogging dead ends around Flyover, he thought. It was all he had to show for a week’s worth of hard labor.

Beck leaned back with his neglected Corona Light and took a swig. Good. It was still cold. He wiped his mouth and mustache with his sleeve.

Red faced the fireplace near Beck’s Whodunit Wall — a floor-to-ceiling collection of autographed Lawrence Block mysteries, as well as first edition Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler detective novels. Beck especially liked his Michael Connelly novels, but he recognized himself more as a character in one of Carl Hiaasen’s offbeat beach capers. Five hardback copies of his own nonfiction work were scattered in no particular order on the bottom shelf along with several Jimmy Buffett books. Thank god the maid was coming tomorrow. She’d make order of his chaos.

Beck stared at Red as she sat in silence. He thought about the possibilities of the phone call. If Fahy really did have the goods, Beck knew he and Red might quickly be back on top. He wanted nothing more. A big story meant he would not face the agony of backsliding into the mundane trappings of covering a beat like most of his newsroom colleagues. And most important, there would be no threat of anyone finding out about Red. A big story meant they could continue to work together in private, here, in his man cave sanctuary. He had worked too hard with too little talent to get this far. He needed a big score and he needed Red’s help to make it happen.

God he was glad they’d met. Even if they hadn’t collaborated in months, without her clandestine assistance, he would have never become one of Washington’s most successful investigative reporters. Beck had never shared a byline with her, but he credited Red with organizing his thoughts, two Pulitzer Prize nominations and two New York Times bestsellers. She was always the first one he acknowledged in his books.

Twelve years ago his career was in the toilet. No Justice Department officials were calling then, requesting secret meetings. He was a snarl of dangling participles and disjointed gerunds demanding industrial strength editing from the city desk.

But then, thanks to a half-price Labor Day sale on all-leather furniture, Red entered his life.

Their accidental partnership began about a week after he brought her home. He paced the floor, wearing a path in his Oriental rug and reading a draft out loud, struggling to craft a story for the weekend national news section. He then turned his attention to Red for a moment, and something suddenly clicked. The words flowed easily. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he had found his muse — and a half-priced one at that. Considering his level of writing talent, maybe that was appropriate. It wasn’t poetry, but it was close enough. He was suddenly welcome on the front page. It was embarrassing — no, outright humiliating — but Red saved his career.

He gazed across the room at her — an empty leather chair nestled comfortably in the corner.

Beck felt that queasy sensation in his stomach; the one he got when he wasn’t certain of his facts. “Red, you think Fahy could be setting us up?”

3

Daniel Fahy hung up and slipped his cell phone back into his suit coat pocket. He worried if he’d overstepped by calling a reporter. Then he glanced up, toward a commotion across the hotel lobby. The doors to F Street swung open, ushering in a whiff of steamy summer downpour, followed by a strong gust of Senator David Bayard. Bayard strode across the plush lobby of the W Hotel, two young aides drafting in his wake.

Fahy felt desperate. He knew he was losing his battle to rein in Bayard before the senator won his party’s presidential nomination. If he didn’t do something quickly, Bayard would likely escape justice forever. Fahy took a big breath, and felt helpless watching his target from afar.

The lobby was unusually crowded. Dozens of bangle-laden tourists huddled boisterously near the first floor alcohol supply to escape the violent afternoon thunderstorm that had cleared the rooftop terrace lounge. Halfway across the lobby, Bayard stopped suddenly to greet a designer couple dressed in black and white and clinging to martini glasses filled with unmet expectations. The trio created a traffic jam in the boutique hotel’s packed corridor. Bayard gave the woman a peck on the cheek and pumped the man’s hand, shaking his martini far more than the bartender ever intended.

Perched across the room, cradled in a cushioned velvet chair near the 15th Street lobby entrance, Fahy felt silly at his feeble attempt at amateur sleuthing while watching his prey with a bit of awe. The alpha male was establishing his exceptionalism.

The senator stepped back from the couple, nodding in a well-practiced farewell gesture, and slipped away into the glittering, damp-haired crowd, heading in the direction of the lobby bar. Unlike the throng, he showed no signs he had just stepped from Washington’s summer steam bath. His groomed graying hair — turned premature blond at some high-priced salon — along with his crisp tailored suit hugging his slim, athletic frame, belied both his age and the weather.

Bayard shook three more bejeweled hands as he eased through the throng of slinky summer dresses and brass-button sports jackets — each time grabbing a forearm and practically jamming its reluctant hand into his palm.

Fahy recognized the insatiable urge for political sustenance. So far, he had remained immune to the Washington epidemic — the incurable need for recognition that seemed to accompany political power. He preferred to wield whatever power he possessed quietly and remain anonymous.

He studied his quarry. Bayard appeared obsessed with grabbing the ultimate brass ring — preaching God, family and lower taxes — all the while using his elective office to grow his personal wealth. Bayard’s government financial disclosure reports suggested it. Fahy needed to somehow prove it. And he needed to prove it quickly before Bayard took down the entire Republican Party.

Bayard slapped another back and finally slithered next to a whale of a man sitting at the end of the bar. Built like a former college football player — “former” being the operative word — the Whale wore a crumpled navy chalk stripe suit and hovered over his latest round. How many tumblers was it? Fahy had lost count.

The senator talked briefly with the man, and then motioned with his thumb over his shoulder toward the well-heeled couples behind him. Both men laughed, but Fahy could make out none of it above the genial roar of the raucous crowd, whose volume had risen with their alcohol consumption.

The Whale stood, as big a man as Fahy had imagined. His belly cascaded over his belt as he reached into his trousers pocket and withdrew a shimmering money clip. He extracted two bills and slapped them on the bar.

Bayard turned briefly to his two young aides, told them something and swiveled, briefly resting his hand on the big man’s shoulder. The two men then walked together across the black and white marble lobby to the nearby elevator and slipped through its ornate doors, leaving the two young assistants at the bar.

Fahy eyed the electronic display on the lobby wall above the elevator. The elevator did not stop until it reached the rooftop lounge. He rose from his chair, folded the newspaper he had used as a prop, and strode toward the elevator, dodging several small gatherings. It was not unlike his morning commute, darting in and out of traffic on the Beltway, always in a rush to get to the Justice Department.

He needed to hurry. For what, exactly, he wasn’t sure. But he felt he was running out of options.

In moments, he sat unnoticed and uncomfortable under the still-dripping canopy shielding the rooftop terrace, posted in a chair far across the expanse of damp empty tables and chairs from the Whale and the Republican senator from New Jersey. He smiled to himself. Thanks to the storm, the empty rooftop lounge offered not only an unfettered view of the presidential candidate, but a stillness that enabled him to make out bits of their conversation — even from across the steamy patio. Thank God for Mother Nature, he thought. She’s a Republican.

Bayard nursed a glass of clear liquid on the rocks. The Whale appeared to have arranged for another tumbler of brown liquor. Fahy suspected single malt Scotch, the preferred drink of the power elite. Washington was so cliché — a city of red tie conformity and uniform egocentric comportment. The drinks rested on the high top table between them, mere props as both men leaned in, engulfed in conversation.

Fahy partially hid behind his wilting copy of the day’s Post-Examiner as the waiter brought him iced tea. Spy craft, he had to admit, was not his forte. He strained to hear and bit his lip, hoping for something — a clue of some sort. He wiped his brow. His suit was starting to stick to him. Was he just nervous or was it the loitering humidity?

He looked up again over his newspaper. Would they recognize him? But the two men — busy chatting and laughing — paid him no attention.

The Whale made a grand gesture, extending his arm out over the balcony’s iron railing toward the White House, whose roof and top floor loomed a block away. Fahy felt he could reach out and touch the executive mansion from his chair. He imagined Bayard did too. But this had to be as close as the senator got.

Bayard looked toward the White House and smiled.

It might as well have a For Sale sign planted on the South Lawn, Fahy thought. Bayard had slithered through his fingers again and again, and now the Republican convention was just days away. If Bayard got the nomination, he would be placing a substantial down payment on the First Family residence. If elected and subsequently exposed, Fahy was sure Bayard would destroy the Republican Party. Fahy could kick himself. Had he done a better job, the New Jersey senator would never have gotten this close.

Bayard must have intentionally chosen his seat next to the rooftop railing. Literally, nothing stood between him and the White House.

“Shoot! You’re kidding. You’re killing me, man,” the Whale cackled. The words echoed throughout the empty lounge.

Fahy smiled and immediately looked at his watch, marking the time. Maybe this time, he thought. Just maybe.

Bayard leaned on the railing and spied the White House as if affirming his future ownership.

Perfect, thought Fahy. He has no idea the White House was spying right back.

4

The bulky green backpacks appeared to be stacked randomly about five feet high on a bed of silver needles against a Sitka tree towering over a stand of firs. The packs were visible from the open field. Stupid kids, thought Gardener. They were supposed to camouflage the damn things. In the darkness of night they probably hadn’t realized how exposed the bags were to the open field. That, or they were just too eager to get the hell out of here before sunrise. He thought about it for a moment. Probably the latter.

Through his powerful riflescope he eyed the bags and for the third time this morning swept his viewfinder across the field. Always checking. Could never be too careful. Then he caught a blur of movement. He stopped and slowly backtracked with his scope. There. There it was—a Mountie walking slowly along the tree line through the tall grass and wild flowers, staring into the forest, no more than twenty yards from the stack. Gardner studied him closely. It appeared he had not yet spotted the backpacks. Maybe there was still a chance.

And then he noticed it. Damn. The lawman had a dog. That was it. He was done. The canine would surely pick up a scent. He immediately thought about his own position. If the wind changed, the animal would quickly find him as well. Damn it. The entire mission was now at risk. He was looking at millions sitting under that tree and he needed it badly. The boss did not take failure lightly.

Had the Mounties already discovered their decoy deliveries, as intended? Those were supposed to divert the constables miles away over into the next district, far from this, the real haul. The law should be forty miles from here in the next valley. Yet here he was. How the hell did he get here? Was he tipped off or did he just stumble into it? Did it really matter at this point?

Gardener was crouched in the tall grass, watching the money. He had been as still as the spruces and pines for the past half hour, something he had learned years ago when he was a guerrilla in South America. Now he was the next link in the money’s circuitous journey back home.

He looked for the Mountie’s partner. He thought they always traveled in pairs. From his crouch position Gardener slowly studied the field through his scope with his good eye. He was in his realm sitting alone in a field of tall grass, buttercups, fireweed and elephant head. His real name wasn’t even Gardener, but everyone called him that because of his love of beautiful flowers and the joy he found in running his hands through thick, rich soil. Even in the trade, everyone knew how he could bring new life to their abused plants. So it was convenient to go by Gardener. It was better to not use his given name.

He felt the warmth of the early morning sun at his back. He turned, forgetting how low the sun was in the sky. It blinded his view as he scanned for additional lawmen. He looked away and held his breath. He closed his eyes and listened for anything beyond the sunlight. Only the nervous pulsing of blood through his veins interrupted. He picked up nothing but the irritating chirping of crickets. He hated crickets.

Then from his flanks he heard the distinct calls of geese, grouse and maybe a magpie or two. He turned back around. The only manmade sounds were right in front of him, a hundred yards away. In the morning stillness he could easily pick up the steady crunch of dead needles and the snapping of twigs as the Mountie trudged after his dog along the edge of the trees, pushing dead branches and brush aside as he deliberately edged forward.

Gardener scanned the valley back and forth with his scope. Still nothing. Then there was more movement. The dog had found the money. It was barking and wagging its tail with urgency.

The Mountie turned toward him and quickly surveyed the field. Gardener paused just a millisecond, then quickly ducked, losing his balance, slamming left elbow in the ground. Had he been seen?

Then he heard a sound he did not recognize and slowly raised his head. The Mounty was tearing through the bags. Gardener recognized zippers grinding open, the ripping of paper and the thud of the heavy packs being tossed to the barren forest floor. And the dog. He could hear the dog still whimpering with excitement.

The Mountie must be new, thought Gardener. Probably his first major haul. No fears of a booby trap or nothing. Son of a bitch, Gardener thought, he wouldn’t know a booby trap if it smacked him right upside the head. Gardener smiled at the thought and stifled a laugh. Must figure he’s safe by now.

Gardener did one more quick sweep of the valley. Still nothing. Then returned to watch patiently through his scope as the constable stopped, turned and stepped away from the bags of cash and looked toward the field again.

He kept his head just below the top of the wild flowers and didn’t move. Through the scope, the Mountie appeared to be only a few feet away. His face was reddened, partially covered in acne. He was a baby-faced kid, thought Gardner. Not even stubble on his chin. Hell, he had a nephew his age.

They were face to face. It was like the Mountie was staring right at him. Almost as if he could see him crouched in the grass. Creepy, he thought. What was the minimum age for joining the Mounties, anyway?

Then there was a sudden look of recognition on the Mountie’s face. Gardener had been made. The Mountie quickly grabbed for his belt. It was a radio. He started lifting it to his ear. Gardner squeezed the trigger and a second later the Mountie’s head exploded into a red spray of blood and tissue fanning out over the quiet field of fireweed, glorious harebills and tall grasses.

The pop of the rifle had broken the morning calm. Then silence again. Gardener heard only the rustle of God’s beautiful bounty waving ever so slightly in the light breeze across the valley floor. There was not even a whimper from the dog.

Yep, thought Gardener, wouldn’t know a booby trap if it smacked him right upside the head.

 

WHEELS UP FOR THE PRIVATE Gulfstream G450 jet at precisely 4:30 p.m. The pilot had filed his flight plan for just another trip for just another affluent businessman and his family headed to Mexico on vacation. In a week, the plane would return to Canada with two trunks of fashion samples for the mother’s small family boutique. Last month, two Canadian businessmen longed for a week of fishing on Ascension Bay on the Yucatan Peninsula. A week later, they returned with coolers full of bonefish, tarpon and snook. Next month, it would be a rock musician finishing up a five-concert tour in Canada and heading home to Mexico City. There were no plans to return to Canada after that. Planning too far in advance was too risky.

The small private airstrip, a hundred miles from Vancouver, British Columbia, was strategically located for its runs to Mexico and Central America. The Gulfstream did not have to refuel in the United States, which allowed it to veer out over the Pacific Ocean and avoid US airspace. That was deliberate, because the “Cash Cow,” as its owners dubbed it, was crammed with seventeen suitcases stuffed with American one hundred dollar bills.

The most dangerous part of the trip was over — escaping the US into Canada. Cash was bulky and difficult to hide from authorities, but most of the border stood unprotected and easily passable, unlike Mexico, which was monitored constantly. The Gulfstream owners — a shell corporation out of Venezuela — preferred human mules with backpacks to make the crossing.

Now with their hoard secure onboard, the pilot pushed forward on the stick and the plane leveled out. On the horizon, he saw the green Pacific Ocean melding into the blue sky. It was difficult to tell where they met. He watched the approaching coastline and the white caps and fishing boats offshore. The vessels bobbed like tiny toys in a bathtub.

In a little over seven hours, the bank manager at a friendly Mexican bank would open his back door in the middle of the night for his special client and welcome him in. Welcome indeed. The bank charged exorbitant fees to deposit foreign cash in exchange for asking no questions about its origin.

Once in the banking system, the money flowed as easily as water, beginning a long circuitous journey through several South American financial institutions. It changed form — from bulky paper bills requiring human mules or aircraft to transport them, to computer digits carried on the backs of electrons passing at the speed of light. The funds moved with a few computer keystrokes from latitude to latitude, thousands of miles in seconds, making it impossible for authorities to trace. Only a few knew its true destination.

On several occasions, the pilot overheard the owners call the Cash Cow’s flight “the circle of life” because the money, they said, would some day circle right back to where it came from. They were never more specific, and he wasn’t about to ask any questions. Like everyone else in the organization, he was well paid to keep his mouth shut and his eyes averted. He knew what would happen if he didn’t.

5

A few hours after returning from the W Hotel, Fahy uploaded the audio file he requested from Homeland Security. He double-checked to ensure it was set at the precise time noted on his watch. The voices of Senator David Bayard and his Chief of Staff, Doug Jones, percolated up, electronically separated from the din of background noise that always surrounded the White House.

This time, the audio came from speakers wired to Fahy’s office computer, the sound as unmistakable and precise as if the two men sat next to him. He knew he shouldn’t be in awe of the quality of the White House surveillance operation, or how easy it was to pull up electronic files from Homeland Security, and yet he couldn’t help himself.

Since 9/11, everything had changed. Washington was a city under electronic siege. Audio and video monitors loomed everywhere. Bomb sniffing equipment hid at all major entrances to the city. A truck carrying a large explosive couldn’t get within three thousand feet of the White House or the Capitol without being detected. Hell, Fahy knew he couldn’t walk into a donut shop on 14th Street for a cup of his favorite Texas-style coffee without being recorded by at least three different cameras.

Washington had copied London, the archetype of surveillance, and then raised the bar. If not entirely original, then it was at least a sign of America’s consistent need to flex its superiority. The thought made Fahy grin.

He adjusted the volume on his computer.

“Shoot. You’re kidding. You’re killing me, man.” The boisterous recorded voice of Doug Jones, the Whale, made Fahy jump as it burst from his computer speakers.

“That was subtle,” said Fahy, hitting the pause button. He looked across his desk at FBI Special Agent Patrick McCauley, who tilted his head in a knowing fashion. Fahy forced a nervous smile. “This better be good. I’ve been waiting for a long time for a break in this case.” He busied himself adjusting the speaker volume.

McCauley had called in the morning, notifying Fahy of Bayard’s meeting at the W Hotel and saying he also had new information on the investigation he wanted to share after his shift. His timing was impeccable. Fahy had just received the recording from Homeland Security.

Fahy clicked the play button again. “No, you’re killing me, man. Washington was built on sweetheart deals,” Bayard said.

Fahy felt like an impatient child about to open the biggest present under the tree on Christmas morning. Maybe this recording would finally reveal a clue he needed to piece the Bayard puzzle together. He knew he might have something when he heard the fat man’s expletives on the terrace of the W Hotel. Ballistic-laden words like “shoot” and “kill” guaranteed every word of the conversation would be recorded. And depending on the severity of the perceived threat, the computers either alerted officials immediately, or relayed a message to a low-level agent for later review.

“Jesus, I hate Washington summers,” Jones said. “Shoot, Dave. These summers are murder.”

“Dougie, how long has the staff been handlin’ this?”

“They’ve been digging through your finances for nearly a year. We’ve got to be prepared to release them publicly soon. When you win the nomination next week, we can’t avoid releasing more information. We’ll be pressing the Dems to do the same.”

“So what’s your issue?”

“You’ve made a lot of money — all legal, mind you — but based on your knowledge of what happens on Capitol Hill. If we go public with your finances, the Democrats will blast you with insider trading charges. The race is too close for that kind of distraction.”

Fahy leaned in to one of the speakers to listen closer.

“My investments are all legal,” Bayard said.

“Insider trading based on your knowledge of pending legislation was legal. But it will soon be against Senate rules,” Jones replied.

“Just because that White House bastard Bill Croom pressured us to change the ethics rules, doesn’t mean I broke the law.”

“But it looks bad. And if they get ahold of this Grand Cayman thing, you’re toast.”

Fahy clicked on the pause button again. “The Grand Cayman thing?” Fahy turned to McCauley. “Is that what you wanted to talk about?”

McCauley looked up from the speakers. “Maybe.”

Fahy looked at him briefly, silently questioning his response, and then clicked the play button again on his computer screen. “How do I keep the public — and nosy reporters — from digging deeper into my investments?” asked Bayard.

“Senator, let’s face it, most reporters add two and two and get chocolate. You think those dim bulbs could ever figure out any of this? But the opposition’s another matter. They’re the smart guys in the room.”

“So you think we can cover up my crony capitalism?” Bayard laughed. “Crony capitalism. Who came up with that phrase anyway?”

“It’s this Lamurr lease in the Caribbean — in Grand Cayman — that I’ve got trouble with. We can’t let it see the light of day. I’ve come up with a pretty simple plan and, well, if I do say so myself, rather ingenious.”

“I’m listening.”

Fahy watched the audio signal bounce up and down on his computer screen. He was enjoying every minute of this conversation.

“We have your lawyers put the offshore stuff in a blind trust, and it disappears altogether from your public financial disclosure report.” Jones’ voice practically crackled from the computer. “The Senate rules don’t require public disclosure of any details from a blind trust.”

“They don’t?”

“Not a word.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. You’re a friggin’ genius.”

“I’ll get the lawyers to make the trust retroactive to last year and move the island assets in there now.”

“Is that legal?”

“Do we care at this point? If ever any nosy reporters catch wind of it, we’ll be long past the due date on this election and can finesse it a dozen different ways. We’re talking reporters after all. They don’t know chocolate from vanilla, and we’ll feed ’em strawberry.” Jones was laughing.

“What?” The technology made the conversation so vivid; Fahy could almost hear the puzzled look on Bayard’s face.

“It’s just so perfect,” Jones continued, his voice rising half an octave. “I love the irony.”

“Irony?”

“Sure. The public thinks you’re clear of all conflicts of interest by putting your assets in a blind trust...” Jones was wheezing and laughing at the same time. “…when…when…in fact we’re just hiding your conflicts of interest from the public in a blind trust.”

They both broke into laughter.

“Dougie, you’re killing me.”

Fahy clicked the file closed and swiveled in his desk chair to face the tall man seated across from him.

“This is the break I’ve been looking for,” Fahy said. “I’ve been trying to nail this bastard for years.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I love wit, writing, good cigars, biking and a sunny beach with a barefoot bar. As a child I yearned to be Perry Mason. But I discovered journalism and realized a reporter could be judge, jury and prosecutor—so who needed to be a lawyer? I started out as a newspaper reporter. Today, I am a magazine editor. In 2015 I was a finalist for Editor of the Year and named to the Folio 100—the 100 most influential people in magazine publishing.

Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
Scott Turow's book PRESUMED INNOCENT has inspired me ever since I read it years ago. I'm also a huge fan of Lawrence Block, who writes the wittiest dialogue since Dashiell Hammett. And one of my favorite writers is Michael Connelly, whose talent I would love to mimic.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
Check out all of my rejected covers at RickPullen.com. I consulted several designers who explained what a thriller cover should be. My first concept, I was told, looked like a romance! Oops. I'm still learning. Fortunately, I had Brad Latham design all of my covers. He's the best.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
NAKED AMBITION is the first in my naked thriller series. I have at least two more books planned. You'll have to read NAKED AMBITION to understand what that is all about. Imagine my protagonist, Beck Rikki, baring more of his secrets in subsequent thrillers.

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