Extraordinary Powers – Excerpt
The story begins, appropriately enough, at a funeral.
The coffin of an old man is being lowered into the ground. The mourners surrounding the grave site are as somber as any funeral-goers, but they are conspicuously well dressed, radiating power and wealth. It is an odd sight: on this gray, drizzling, cold March morning, in a small rural cemetery in Columbia County in upstate New York, you can see United States senators, Supreme Court justices, the various scions of the New York and Washington power establishments, picking up wet clods of soil and flinging them atop the coffin. They are surrounded by black limousines, BMWs, Mercedeses, Jaguars, and the assorted other vehicles of the rich, powerful, and elect. Most of them have come a long distance to pay their respects; the graveyard is miles from anywhere.
I was there, of course, but not because I am famous, great, powerful, or elect. I was at the time merely an attorney in Boston-for Putnam & Stearns, a very good firm, and earning a respectable salary-and I felt distinctly out of place among the luminaries.
I was, however, the deceased’s son-in-law.
My wife, Molly-more formally, Martha Hale Sinclair-was the only child of Harrison Sinclair, a legend of the American Establishment, an enigma, a master spy. Hal Sinclair had been one of the founders of the Central Intelligence Agency, then a renowned Cold Warrior (a dirty job, but someone had to do it), later a Director of Central Intelligence, brought in to rescue the foundering Agency during its post-Cold War identity crisis.
Like his friend William Casey before him, Sinclair died during his tenure as director. We are all fascinated by the specter of a CIA director dying while in office-what secrets, one wonders, did the old spymaster take with him to the grave? And indeed, Hal Sinclair took an extraordinary secret with him when he went. But on the cold, overcast morning of his funeral, neither Molly nor I nor any of the VIPs gathered so mournfully knew it.
Without question, the manner of my father-in-law’s death seemed suspicious. He had perished a week earlier in a car accident in rural Virginia. It was late at night; he had been driving to an emergency meeting at CIA headquarters in Langley, and the car had been run off the road by an unidentified vehicle, then exploded in a ball of flames.
One day before the “accident,” his executive assistant, Sheila McAdams, had been found murdered in an alley in Georgetown. The Washington police concluded that she’d been the victim of a mugging-her purse and jewelry were missing. Molly and I, to be honest, suspected from the start that both her father and Sheila had been murdered, that there was no mugging, and no “accident,” and we were not alone in our suspicions. The Washington Post, The New York Times, all the television networks, hinted as much in their coverage. But who would have done such a thing? In the bad old days, of course, we would all be quick to blame the KGB or some other dark, mysterious arm of the Evil Empire, but the Soviet Union no longer existed. American intelligence no doubt still had its enemies-but who would want to assassinate, if that’s the right word, the director of the CIA? Molly also believed that her father and Sheila had been having an affair, which isn’t quite as scandalous as it seems, since Sheila was single, and Molly’s mother had died some six years before, leaving Sinclair a widower.
Although Hal Sinclair was a remote, even cryptic figure, I had always felt a closeness to him, from the first time Molly introduced us. Molly and I had been friends in college, more like pals-she was a freshman when I was a senior-and there was unquestionably a spark of attraction between us, but each of us was involved with another. I was seeing Laura, whom I married immediately after college. Molly was involved with some lunk she tired of after a year or so. But Hal Sinclair took to me, and recruited me to the Agency upon my graduation from Harvard, nudging me toward the clandestine service, apparently figuring me for a better spy than I turned out to be. As it happened, this line of work tapped into a dark and violent side that made me a superb if reckless operative-much feared, including by myself.
So for two very tense years I worked for the Central Intelligence Agency as a clandestine operative. I did quite well at it too-until the tragedy in Paris. That was when I quit the Agency and went into the law, not regretting the decision for a moment.
It wasn’t until I returned from Paris a widower, after the incident I still find hard to speak of, that Molly and I began to see each other seriously. Molly, the daughter of the man who was soon to become the Director of Central Intelligence, applauded my decision to leave the espionage business behind me. She had seen firsthand, after all, what it could do to a family, the strains it had put upon her own family, and she wanted no part of it.
Even after Hal Sinclair became my father-in-law, I saw little of him, and never got to know him well. We saw each other only at the occasional family gathering (he was the quintessential workaholic, a committed Company man), where he seemed to regard me with a certain warmth.
But as I said, the story begins at Harrison Sinclair’s funeral. It was there, as the mourners began to disperse, shaking hands with one another under their black umbrellas, walking quickly back to their cars, that a tall, lanky man in his early sixties, with tousled silver hair, slipped up to me and introduced himself.
His suit was rumpled, his tie askew, but beneath all the sloppiness, his clothes were expensive: a double-breasted charcoal wool suit of impeccable tailoring and a striped shirt that looked like it had been custom-made for him in Savile Row. Although I’d never met him, I recognized him at once as Alexander Truslow, an old CIA man of considerable renown. Like Hal Sinclair, he was a pillar of the Establishment, with a reputation for moral rectitude. For a few weeks during the Watergate scandal of 1973-74, he served as acting Director of Central Intelligence. Nixon disliked him-largely because, it was said, Truslow refused to play ball with the Nixon White House and involve the CIA in the cover-up-and moved swiftly to replace him with a political appointee more to his liking.
Soft-spoken and elegant in his slightly disheveled way, Alex Truslow was one of those well-mannered, well-bred WASP Yankee types, like Cyrus Vance or Elliot Richardson, who radiate fundamental decency. He had retired from the Agency after Nixon passed him over, but naturally he never aired any gripes about the president; that would be ungentlemanly. Hell, I would have called a press conference, but that was not Alex’s way.
After casting around a bit, doing the lecture circuit, he had formed his own international consulting firm, based in Boston, which was known informally as the “Corporation.” The Corporation advised corporations and law firms around the world on how to deal with an ever-changing, ever-baffling world market. Not surprisingly, given Truslow’s upstanding reputation in the intelligence community, the Corporation also worked quite closely with CIA.
Alexander Truslow was one of the most respected, eminent men in the intelligence community. After Hal Sinclair’s death, Truslow was known to be on the shortlist to replace him. For reasons of morale in CIA’s ranks alone, Truslow should have been named, so popular was he among the younger officers and the old boys alike. True, there were grumblings about Truslow’s work in the “private sector.” And then there were those with good reason to fear a “new broom.” Even so, as he introduced himself to Molly and me, I silently wagered that I was shaking hands with the next Director of the CIA. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said to Molly. Truslow’s eyes were moist. “Your father was a wonderful man. He’ll be sorely missed.”
Molly only nodded. Did she know him? I couldn’t tell.
“Ben Ellison, is that right?” he said, shaking my hand.
“Good to meet you, Mr. Truslow,” I said.
“Alex. I’m surprised we haven’t run into each other around Boston,” he said. “You may know I’m a friend of Bill Stearns’s.” William Caslin Stearns III is the senior partner of Putnam & Stearns, and himself an old CIA man. Also, my boss. Such were the circles in which I moved.
“He’s mentioned you,” I said.
A few minutes of awkward chat followed as we walked toward where the cars were parked, and then Truslow got to what was clearly his main point. “You know, I’ve mentioned to Bill that I’d be very much interested in having you do some legal work for my firm.”
I smiled pleasantly. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t had anything to do with CIA or intelligence or anything of that sort since I left the Agency. I don’t think I’m the one you want.”
“Oh, your background has nothing to do with it,” he persisted. “It’s purely business, and I’m told you’re the best intellectual-property attorney in Boston.”
“You’ve been badly misled,” I said with a polite chuckle. “There are lots better than me.”
“You’re too modest,” he replied gently. “Let’s have lunch sometime soon.” He gave a lopsided smile. “All right, Ben?”
“I’m sorry, Alex. I’m flattered-but I’m afraid I’m not interested. My loss.”
Truslow looked directly at me with his sad brown eyes. They reminded me of a basset hound’s. He shrugged, and shook my hand again.
“Then it’s my loss, Ben,” he said, smiled forlornly, and disappeared into the back of a black Lincoln limousine.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that it wouldn’t end there. But I could not help thinking it odd that he would want to hire me, and by the time I understood why, it was too late.
Very early the next morning I had breakfast at the Harvard Club in Boston with my boss, Bill Stearns.
Which was when I learned I was suddenly in some serious trouble.
Stearns had breakfast there every morning: Mrs. Stearns, a wan Wellesley housewife, apparently did little else beside serve as a volunteer for the Museum of Fine Arts. I imagined that she slept late, with an eyeshade on, and that since the time their two kids had left the nest for their foreordained lives as junior Boston Brahmins (Deerfield, Harvard, investment banking, alcoholism), he hadn’t had a single breakfast at home.
His table at the Harvard Club was always the same, against the plate-glass window overlooking the city. Invariably he’d have the Harvard Club’s special shirred eggs (Stearns considered the late twentieth-century aversion to cholesterol an evanescent fad, like the sixties). Sometimes he’d eat by himself, with The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe, sometimes with one or more of the senior partners, to discuss business and golf.
Every once in a long while I’d join him. In case you suspect we engaged in conspiratorial, old-boy-network chitchat about the Central Intelligence Agency, I should make it plain that Bill Stearns and I normally talked about sports (which I know just enough about to banter) or real estate. Occasionally-this morning, for instance-there was something of gravity Bill wanted to discuss.
Stearns is the sort of person who’s considered avuncular by those who don’t know him. He’s in his late fifties, gray-haired, ruddy-faced, bow-tied, somewhat pot-bellied. His two-thousand-dollar suits from Louis of Boston look, on him, as if they came off the wrong rack at Filene’s Basement.
The truth is that after those two nightmarish, violent years of clandestine CIA work, I found the very safeness of my legal career at Putnam & Stearns deeply reassuring. But it was my service at CIA that got me recruited to Putnam & Stearns. Bill Stearns was formerly Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency under the legendary Allen Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence from 1953 to 1961.
When I was hired at Putnam & Stearns nine years ago I made it very clear that my intelligence background notwithstanding, I would refuse to have anything to do with the CIA. My brief CIA career was the past, I told Bill Stearns, and that was that. Stearns, to his credit, had shrugged theatrically and said, “Who said anything about CIA?” There was, I’m convinced, a twinkle in his eye. I think he figured that in time I’d relent, that it would be easy business for me. He knew that the Agency feels much more comfortable in dealing with its own, that there’d be all kinds of pressure on me to do whatever legal work the Agency wanted, and that I’d give in. Why else would an ex-field officer like me come to work for an old-boy firm like Putnam & Stearns? The answer, of course, was the money, which was substantially more than any other firm was offering me.
I didn’t know why Bill Stearns had invited me to breakfast that morning, but I strongly suspected something was up. I busied myself with my blueberry muffin. I’d had way too much coffee already, and I figured a little solid matter in my stomach would anchor me. I’ve always hated business breakfasts; I believe Oscar Wilde had a point when he said that only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.
As our food arrived, Stearns pulled a copy of The Boston Globe from his briefcase.
“You read about First Commonwealth, I assume,” he said.
His tone immediately alarmed me. “I didn’t see the Globe this morning,” I said.
He slid it across the table.
I scanned the front page. There, just below the fold, was a headline that made me feel immediately queasy.
INVESTMENT FIRM CLOSED BY FEDERAL GOVERNMENT it read. And in smaller letters: FIRST COMMONWEALTH ASSETS FROZEN BY SEC.
First Commonwealth was a small money-management firm based in Boston which managed all my money. Despite the grandiose name, it is a tiny place, a boutique firm run by an acquaintance of mine, with fewer than half a dozen clients. It was the firm that paid my mortgage each month, the place where virtually all my money was stashed.
Until this morning.
Unlike Stearns, I am not rich. Molly’s father left an insignificant amount of cash, some stock certificates and bearer bonds, and the title to his house in Alexandria, which was mortgaged to the hilt. He also left her, curiously, a document he’d signed and notarized, giving her full and absolute right of beneficiary to all accounts in his name foreign and domestic under the laws of blah blah blah . . . The details would numb your brain, as would most details pertaining to the law of estates and trusts. I say “curiously” because, as Harrison Sinclair’s only surviving heir, she was automatically entitled to beneficiary rights. No piece of paper was necessary. All right, so maybe Sinclair was the overly cautious type.
Me, he left exactly one item: an autographed copy of the memoirs of CIA director Allen Dulles, The Craft of Intelligence. It was a first edition, and it was inscribed “For Hal, With deepest admiration, Allen.” A nice bequest on Sinclair’s part, but hardly a fortune.
When my father died some years back, I inherited a little over a million dollars, which after estate taxes immediately became half a million. I transferred all of it to First Commonwealth because of its good reputation. The head of the firm, Frederick “Doc” Osborne, I knew from various legal dealings, and he always struck me as shrewd. Was it Nelson Algren who said, Never eat at a place called Mom’s and never play cards with a guy named Doc? And that was before the days of money managers.
You may wonder, of course, why someone as shrewd as I’m supposed to be would put all his money in one place. I have often wondered the same thing myself, to be frank, and still do. The answer, I suppose, is twofold. Doc Osborne was a friend, and he had a terrific reputation, and therefore it seemed unnecessary to diversify. And I had always treated my inheritance as a nest egg, a chunk of money I preferred not to touch, since I was making a decent salary. And I suppose, too, it’s like that old saw about the shoemaker’s children never having any shoes: the guys who work with money are often pretty mindless about their own.
I dropped my fork, felt sick to my stomach. Rapidly calculating, I realized at once that unless I could somehow wrest my money back from First Commonwealth, I would immediately go bankrupt-my salary, generous though it was, wouldn’t even cover my mortgage. In the present soft real estate market in Boston, I’d be unable to sell my house except at a tremendous loss.
The veins at my temples throbbed. I looked up at Stearns.
“Help me out here,” I said weakly.
“Ben, I’m sorry-” Stearns said through a mouthful of shirred egg.
“What does this mean? This stuff isn’t my expertise, you know that.”
He took a swallow of coffee and set down the cup noisily in the saucer. “Here’s what it means,” he said with a sigh. “Your money’s frozen, along with that of all other First Commonwealth clients.”
“By whom? Who has the authority to do that? And for what?” I ran my eyes wildly up and down the Globe article, trying to glean some sense from it.
“The Securities and Exchange Commission. Plus the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston.”
“Frozen,” I said dully, disbelieving.
“The U.S. attorney’s office isn’t saying much-they said it’s a pending investigation.”
“All they said was something about securities law violations and RICO statutes. They said it might take at least a year to release the assets, pending the outcome of the SEC’s investigation.”
“Frozen,” I said again. “My God.” I ran a hand across my face. “All right. What can I do about this?”
“Nothing,” Stearns said. “Nothing except wait this out. I can have Todd Richlin talk to a friend of his at the SEC”-Richlin was Putnam & Stearns’s resident financial genius-“but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
I looked out the window at the miniature streets of Boston thirty-some floors below us-the green of the Public Garden and the Common resembling the green-sprayed lichen of a toy train set; the magnificent tree-lined Commonwealth Avenue; and running parallel to it, Marlborough Street, where I lived. If I were the suicidal type, it would have made a good spot from which to jump. “Go ahead,” I said.
“Both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department, acting through the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston, have shut down First Commonwealth, apparently for alleged drug ties.”
“Well, the word is that Doc Osborne’s involved in some kind of money-laundering scheme for drug types.”
“But I have nothing whatsoever to do with whatever shit Doc Osborne is into!”
“It doesn’t work that way,” he replied. “Remember when the Fed shut down that big discount brokerage in New York, Drexel Burnham? They literally went in and put handcuffs on people and put a sticker on the door. I mean, you could take a tour of the place a year later and you’d see cigarettes still in ashtrays, half-full cups of coffee, all that.”
“But Drexel’s clients didn’t lose their cash!”
“Well, look at Marcos of the Philippines, or the Shah of Iran- sometimes they just seize all the money and let it earn interest-for good old Uncle Sam.”
“Seize all the money,” I echoed.
“First Commonwealth literally has a padlock on the door,” Stearns went on. “Federal marshals have seized all the computer equipment, all the records and documentation, sequestered-”
“So when can I get my money?” “Maybe in a year and a half you’ll be able to pry the money loose. Probably longer.”
“What the hell am I going to do?”
Stearns exhaled noisily. “I had a drink last night with Alex Truslow,” he said. Then, daubing his mouth with a linen napkin, he added casually: “Ben, I want you to free up time for Truslow Associates.”
“My schedule’s a little cramped, Bill,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Alex could mean upward of two hundred thousand dollars in billable hours this year alone, Ben.”
“We’ve got half a dozen attorneys as qualified as I am. More qualified.”
Stearns cleared his throat. “Not in all ways.”
His meaning was clear. “As if that’s a qualification,” I said.
“He seems to think it is.”
“What does he want done anyway?”
The waitress, a large-bosomed woman in her late fifties, refilled our coffee cups and gave Stearns a sisterly wink. “Pretty routine stuff, I’m sure,” Stearns said, brushing crumbs off his lapel.
“So why me? What about Donovan, Leisure?” That was another white-shoe law firm, based in New York, founded by “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of the OSS and a major figure in the history of American intelligence. Donovan, Leisure was also known to have links to the CIA. For something as secretive as intelligence, it’s amazing how much is “known” or “rumored.”
“No doubt Truslow does some work with Donovan, Leisure. But he wants local counsel, and of the Boston firms, there aren’t many he feels as comfortable about as he does us.”
I was unable to suppress a smile. ” ‘Comfortable,’ ” I repeated, savoring Stearns’s delicacy. “Meaning he needs some sort of extracurricular espionage work, and he wants to keep it all in the family.”
“Ben, listen to me. This is a wonderful opportunity. I think this could be your salvation. Whatever Alex wants, I’m sure he’s not going to ask you to get back into clandestine work.”
“What’s in it for me?”
“I think something could be arranged. An emergency loan, say. An advance as a lien against your equity stake in the firm. Taken out of your end-of-the-year share of the firm.”
“A bribe.” Stearns shrugged, took a deep breath. “Do you believe your father-in-law died in a genuine accident?”
I was uncomfortable at hearing him articulate my private suspicions. “I have no reason to disbelieve the version I was told. What does this have to do with-”
“Your language betrays you,” he said angrily. “You sound like a fucking bureaucrat. Like some Agency public affairs officer. Alex Truslow believes Hal Sinclair was murdered. Whatever your feelings about CIA, Ben, you owe it to Hal, to Molly, and to yourself to help Alex out in any way you can.
After an uncomfortable silence I said, “What does my legal ability have to do with Truslow’s theories about Hal Sinclair’s death?”
“Just have lunch with the guy. You’ll like him.”
“I’ve met him,” I said. “I have no doubt he’s a prince. I made a promise to Molly-”
“We could all use the business,” Stearns said, examining the table- cloth, a sign that he’d just about reached the end of his patience. If he were a dog, he’d emit a low growl at this point. “And you could use the money.
“I’m sorry, Bill,” I said. “I’d rather not. You understand.”
“I understand,” Stearns said softly, and began waving for the check. He was not smiling.
“No, Ben,” Molly said when I returned that evening.
Normally she is effervescent, even playful, but since her father’s death she was, understandably, a very different person. Not just subdued, angry, despondent, mournful-the range of emotions anyone goes through with the death of a parent-but uncertain, hesitant, introspective. It was a very different Molly these last few weeks, and it pained me to see her like this. “How can this be?”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I just shook my head.
“But you’re innocent,” she said, on the edge of hysteria. “You’re a lawyer. Can’t you do something?”
“If I had been smart enough to spread my money around, this wouldn’t have happened. Twenty-twenty hindsight.”
She was making dinner, something she does only when she needs the therapeutic benefits that cooking provides. She was wearing one of my rattier college sweatshirts and oversize jeans and stirring something in a saucepan that smelled like tomatoes and olives and lots of garlic.
I don’t think you would call Molly Sinclair beautiful the first time you saw her. But her looks grow on you so that after you’ve known her for a while, you’re amazed to hear anyone express the opinion that she’s anything less than stunning.
She’s a little taller than I, five foot ten or so, with an unruly mop of kinked black hair; blue-gray eyes and black lashes; and a healthy, ruddy complexion, which I think is her finest feature. I’ve always considered her somewhat mysterious, slightly distant, no less so now than when we met in college, and she’s graced with a serene temperament.
Molly was a first-year resident in pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, and at thirty-six she was older than anyone else in her year, since she started late. Which is very Molly: she’s a serious procrastinator, especially when she has better things to do. In her case, this meant trekking through Nepal for more than a year after college. At Harvard, even though she knew she’d eventually end up in medicine, she majored in Italian, writing her thesis on Dante-which meant she was fluent in Italian but not so fluent in organic chemistry.
Molly was forever quoting that line from Chekhov, to the effect that doctors are the same as lawyers, but while lawyers merely rob you, doctors rob you and kill you too. She loved medicine, though, far more than she cared about material possessions. She and I had often talked-half seriously-about quitting our jobs, selling this albatross of a house, and moving somewhere rural, where we’d open a clinic to treat poor kids. The Ellison-Sinclair Clinic we’d call it, which sounded like a psychiatric hospital.
She turned down the heat on the sauce, and together we walked to the sitting room off the kitchen, which, like every room in the house, was a mess of lumber, spackling compound buckets, copper pipes, and such, and everything covered with a fine layer of plaster dust. We sat down in the overstuffed armchairs that were protected temporarily with plastic drop cloths.
Molly and I had bought a beautiful old town house in Boston’s Back Bay, on Marlborough Street, five years ago. Beautiful, that is, on the exterior. The interior was potentially beautiful. It was the height of the market, a few months before the bottom fell out-you’d think I’d have been smarter, but like everyone else I figured real estate prices had to keep skyrocketing-and the house was what real estate ads sometimes call a “handyman’s dream.” “Roll up your sleeves,” the ads say, “and use your imagination!” The realtor didn’t call it a handyman’s dream, but then, the realtor also didn’t tell us about the arthritic plumbing, the carpenter ants, or the rotten plasterboard. People used to say in the 1980s that cocaine was God’s way of telling you you have too much money. In the 1990s, it’s a mortgage.
I got what I deserved. The renovation was an ongoing project not unlike the construction of the pyramids at Giza. One thing led to another. If you want to repair the crumbling staircase you must put in a new load-bearing wall, which necessitates . . . well, you get it.
At least there were no rats. I have always had a rat phobia, an irrational, uncontrollable terror of the little beasts beyond the revulsion everyone else experiences. I had ruled out several houses before this, houses Molly adored, because I was convinced I’d glimpsed the silhouette of a rat. Exterminators were out of the question; I believe that rats, like cockroaches, are fundamentally nonexterminable. They will survive us all. Every once in a while, while we were browsing in a video store, Molly would have a little fun at my expense by pulling out a cassette of the rat horror movie Willard and suggesting we rent it for the evening. Not funny.
And as if we needed more stress, we had been arguing for months about whether to have a child. Unlike the normal pattern-the woman wants one while the husband doesn’t-I wanted a kid, or several kids, and Molly vehemently didn’t. I thought it odd for a pediatrician such as she to insist that the secret of raising a kid right is not to be its parent. As she saw it, her career was just getting started, and the timing was all wrong. This always touched off the fiercest quarrels. I’d say I was willing to split the responsibilities with her equally; she’d counter that no male in the history of civilization has ever shared the child-raising duties equally. The plain fact was, I was ready to have a family-when my first wife, Laura, died, she was pregnant-and Molly wasn’t. So the arguments continued.
“We could sell Dad’s house in Alexandria,” she began.
“In this market we’d make next to nothing. And your father didn’t leave you anything. He never cared much about money.”
“Can we take out a loan?”
“Using what as collateral?”
“I can moonlight.”
“That’s not going to do it,” I said, “and you’ll just wear yourself out.”
“But what does Alexander Truslow want with you?”
What, indeed, when the world swarms with lawyers far more qualified? I didn’t want to repeat Stearns’s suspicion that Molly’s father had been murdered: in any case, that didn’t explain why Truslow wanted to sign me on. No reason to upset her further.
“I don’t like to think about why he wants me,” I said lamely. Both of us knew it had to do with my CIA background, probably with my fearsome reputation, but that still didn’t answer why, precisely.
“How was the NICU?” I asked, meaning the neonatal intensive-care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, where, since her father’s funeral, she had been doing her rotation.
She shook her head, refusing to let me off the hook. “I want to talk about this Truslow thing,” she said. She fingered one of her curls anxiously and said, “My father and Truslow were friends. Trusted colleagues, I mean, not necessarily close personal friends. But he always liked Alex.”
“Fine,” I said. “He’s a good person. But once a spy, always a spy.”
“The same could be said for you.”
“I made a promise to you, Mol.”
“So you think Truslow wants you to do clandestine work for him?”
“I doubt it. Not at my billing rate.”
“But it involves CIA.”
“No question about that. CIA is the Corporation’s single biggest client.”
“I don’t want you doing it,” Molly said. “We talked about it al- ready-that’s your past. You made a clean break-stay away.”
She knew how important it was to me to separate myself from the clandestine operative work that brought out the icy ruthlessness in me. “That’s my instinct too,” I said. “But Stearns is going to make it as hard for me to say no as he possibly can.”
Now she got up and knelt on the floor facing me, her hands on my knees. “I don’t want you working for them again. You promised me that.” She was rubbing her hands back and forth on my thighs as she spoke, seducing me away, and fixed me with a beseeching stare, more inscrutable than usual. “Is there anyone you can talk to about this?” she asked.
I thought for a moment, and at last said, “Ed Moore.”
Edmund Moore, who was retired from the Agency after thirty-some years, knew more about the inner workings of the CIA than just about anyone else in the world. He had been my mentor in my brief intelligence career-my “rabbi,” in intelligence argot-and he was and remained a man of rare instincts. He lived in Georgetown, in a wonderful old house, and he seemed to be busier now, since his retirement, than in his active days in the Agency: reading seemingly every biography ever published, attending meetings of CIA retirees, luncheons with old CIA cronies, testifying before Senate subcommittees, and doing a million other things I couldn’t keep track of..
“Call him,” she said.
“I’ll do better than that. If I can clear my calendar tomorrow afternoon, or the day after, I’ll fly to Washington to see him.”
“If he can spare the time to see you,” Molly said. She had begun to arouse me, no doubt her very intention, and as I leaned forward to kiss her neck, she suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, great. Now the damn putanesca sauce is burning.”
I followed her into the kitchen, and as soon as she had turned off the burner-the sauce was now a hopeless cause-I encircled her from behind. Things were so charged between us that with a little nudge in either direction, we could be embroiled in an endless argument, or . . .
I kissed her right ear and made my way slowly downward, and we began to make love on the floor of the sitting room, plaster dust or no plaster dust, pausing only long enough for Molly to go find her diaphragm and put it in.
That evening I called Edmund Moore, who delightedly invited me to join him and his wife for a simple dinner at their home the next evening.
The next afternoon, having postponed three eminently postponable meetings, I caught the Delta shuttle to Washington National Airport, and as dusk began to settle over Georgetown, my taxi crossed the Key Bridge, rattled over the cobblestones of N Street, and pulled up to the wrought-iron fence in front of Edmund Moore’s town house.