|A Year and Change|
"Elsewhere" had been an awards banquet in Atlanta. The breaking story had caught him in bed with a lady who was most unlike his wife, but that was not really important. What was important was that he was far from Washington. Winnie discovered that he lacked the clout to borrow a corporate jet or to wrangle a military flight. Chartering a suitable plane proved beyond his purse. So, he was forced to take the commercial flight he had already booked. It was diverted to Dulles from Washington National, but he made Alexandria by noon. There was some delay at the bridge, but after that, the Mayor was on his way to the scene of the action.
It is not as if there were not plans for emergencies at the White House. There had been all kinds of studies over the years, some of them so ludicrous they were buried under a mountain of classification. Some of them were actually useful--after all, the air defense system, while useless against trucks, vans, or buses, had stopped a slow, unstealthy cruise missile. Many agencies had thought mighty thoughts about these things.
Now that it had actually happened, thought, no one knew what to do, although some acted as if they did. Then there was the question of who was in charge. In theory, the Vice President is in charge the instant the President is incapacitated. In fact, the Vice President had been Vice President long enough to become an afterthought, like all Vice Presidents. No one could really take him seriously yet. Besides, he was in Belgium when the crisis erupted; he was just beginning the flight back when the first hostage was released.
In such confused situations, power can easily go to the most ambitious and assertive. These qualities were possessed in spades by Anne Kerkorian, Acting Director of the FBI. She sped to the scene and snatched up Katherine Warfield, who honored her by surrendering the envelope. After seeing what was inside, the Acting Director began making her power calls.
In her excitement, however, Kerkorian did not clearly establish control of the other released hostages, and did not give them much thought. Without her clear direction, and with the exit of Special Agent Potter and four others, Special Agent Brickline, with all of a week's seniority, was not able to get a rapid response from the J. Edgar Hoover building, even when he mentioned "Blue Note."
The Mayor's luck still seemed poor when he arrived, for Michiru had already come and gone--she was nearby, somewhere, but she was not in front of the cameras, and he had not been there when she had come out. He sent someone to her, but he stayed on the scene, talking to police, and, of course, to the reporters, who had no one else to talk to for some minutes since a nobody named Hotaru Tsukino had come out with her child.
The APC had become the recognized interrogation room by now, and it had a new staffer: Major Vierhofen, an army guy. He knew how to get a lot. For instance, by asking pertinent questions, he had been able to get much more detail about the terrorist's weapons from witnesses who knew little or nothing about weapons.
He also knew a lot of languages, and he was interested in particular in the languages Colonel Nur's men had spoken, and especially Colonel Nur himself. To identify this, he spoke a few phrases from a language, and asked her if Nur had sounded like that. She found one that she said fit.
Ballin had a different agenda, but he could hardly ask about the connection to the Jones affair with witnesses. He asked her, "How well do you know the women who were taken away?"
The frail-looking young mother replied, "I have known Mizuno-san and Aino-san since I was small. Dr. Han I do not know as well, but she has been a good friend."
Ballin asked, "Why were they taken away?"
Mrs. Tsukino answered, "No one would tell us. But it happened soon after one of their men got sick. I think they wanted Mizuno-san and the others for their sick man."
"Are you sure he was really sick?" asked Ballin. "Could he have been faking?"
Mrs. Tsukino asked, "Why would he do that?"
Ballin shrugged. "Perhaps to get out of work. Or perhaps he was ordered to do it, so they would have an excuse to take your friends away. Now, are you really sure he was sick?"
Mrs. Tsukino said, "He sat down, and the man in charge came to him and yelled at him. He slapped him, and he fell off the chair. He tried to get up, but he did not. When the others pulled him up, he threw up. There was also a bad smell. I think he emptied his bowels, too."
Ballin said, "Well, he was either very sick, or a very good actor. One more thing. Do you remember how they called your three friends? That is, who was first, second, and last?"
"Yes. First they called Aino-san, then Dr. Han, and finally Mizuno-san."
Ballin asked, "Was it all at once, or did they take away one or two first?"
"It was all at the same time. A man came in with a list and read their names off."
Ballin asked, "Can you tell me exactly how he said each name?"
"It was 'Nurse Aino,' 'Dr. Han,' and 'Dr. Suuri.'"
"Yes. Suuri is Mizuno-san's married name."
"But it was 'Nurse Aino,' not 'Nurse Jones.' You are sure of that?" asked Ballin.
"Yes, I am sure. Why is this so important?"
"It may not be," said Ballin, "You can go join your friends now."
After Mrs. Tsukino was shepherded away by a cop, the SWAT Lieutenant asked, "Why do you keep asking about those three women?"
Ballin responded, "For one thing, every one of them has said it was 'Aino,' 'Han,' and 'Suuri.' That's exactly how they appear on the sheet that was sent to the Bureau a few days ago."
"So?" asked the Lieutenant. "They must have found it on the scene. It wouldn't be very hard to find, would it. Not exactly Top Secret.
"The official guest list for the evening reads 'Han,' 'Jones,' and 'Mizuno,' in that order. I'm thinking that the hacker who got into the White House computers may have gotten into ours, too." Ballin turned to the Major. "What are you getting at with all those hardware questions? They have different kinds of guns, but they all shoot pretty much the same bullets."
"Yes, they do, pretty much. The brutal guards, they all are using the same gun: the Galil. It looks like an AK-47, but it fires the same 5.56 millimeter NATO round we use. Colonel Nur's men have Steyrs, Lancasters, M16's, and perhaps one of the French weapons, but they all fire the same round." The Major put a new cassette in his recorder, something of an anachronism in Washington, where the newer, more expensive digital recorders were very much in style. "It also tells me that Nur's men are probably genuine mercs. They don't have to use different guns; they want to."
"What does all that language testing tell you?" asked Ballin.
"It tells me that Nur speaks Hungarian. That's not very common at all in the mercenary trade. There hasn't been any fighting in Hungary in over half a century now, and very few served anywhere else in the world like the Cubans and East Germans before 1989. The Hungarian army has no reputation, so who wants them? There's a little resistance activity in Romania right now by Hungarian speakers, but they've got no outside support. Besides, Colonel Nur doesn't read as a political."
Kincaid, the SWAT Lieutenant, said, "Well, why don't you two masterminds solve the rest of the world's problems while I have a smoke." But a few steps away from the APC, he exclaimed, "Hey, you want to meet the Mayor?"
His Honor's luck improved, for who should come out but the first African-American hostages to be released: two women, both with children. There was also a white woman, and two orientals, one a woman and one a girl. The Mayor walked out to meet them, breeching the police line and bringing through staff and, of course, reporters and cameras. "What can I do for you? I'm Winston Clayborne, the Mayor. Ask for it, and if it is in my power, I will get it for you."
The magnificent picture was somewhat spoiled when the two African- American toddlers broke away from the woman who was holding their arms and ran screaming to the oriental girl, who was holding a dark-skinned baby. That woman said, "You're welcome to them!" and then asked where the nearest bathroom was. The other African-American woman introduced herself as Noreen Sweetley and said she had just joined the White House staff in April. She began a long story.
Meanwhile, Ballin sought out Setsuna Meiou. Even if Marty's ex wasn't next to her, he could have picked her out instantly. There was a clot of reporters, but Meiou wasn't giving them much. Instead, she was talking to two girls, about the same size, maybe four, maybe five. Both the girls were crying. Meiou was talking to them in Japanese. Ballin switched on his recorder on a vague feeling, but left it in his pocket. He waited until Meiou stopped talking to the girls before asking her, like the others, for a few minutes alone, while her memories were fresh.
Meiou startled him by saying, "You are Victor Ballin, aren't you?"
Ballin nodded. <Lorraine told her,> he thought. "I'm on official business now, Ms. Meiou. Will you come with me?"
"I will come," replied Meiou smoothly, "If you bring Minako-san's baby. That woman has her, and I think she will be talking for a long time."
Setsuna Meiou did not have a terribly different story from the others, and neither did Lorraine, although they had spent most of their confinement in different parts of the East Room. Ballin wanted to be dubious about her story about how she had taken the children of the three missing women, but Meiou seemed unshakeable. He was also distracted by Lorraine. She seemed utterly under Meiou's spell, whatever it was.
Besides, there was the Lieutenant and the Major. He could hardly press any of the Blue Note buttons with them around.
The University Hospital was an obvious place to take the hostages. It was a short drive, straight up Pennsylvania Avenue. But it was also far enough from the White House to be isolated from the incident site. The Chief of Police, a competent man and also one with further ambitions, had anticipated hostage releases and casualties in his force, and made plans to handle them in a cleared ward. The early release surprised him, but his plans were implemented fairly quickly and successfully.
Only hospital staff and "authorized" people were allowed into the ward, as Mamoru discovered on his first attempt to enter. Claims to be family did not impress the cops. Besu's attempt to vamp them made things worse.
However, Dr. Mamoru Chiba knew his way around a hospital. He obtained a set of scrubs and found another entrance to the ward. He found some of the children in a lounge. Kimi, Ishtar, Lily, and Nereid were upon him in an instant.
Adult supervision for the moment was provided by Makoto, who asked, "Chiba-san, how did you get here?"
"The Asteroid sisters brought me. We came in on the roof. There are cameras and people up there, but they were all looking the other way. Where is Usako? And Chibi-Usa?"
Makoto answered, "Usagi-chan is in the room with Rei-chan. They gave her a sedative. She was very upset. Chiba-san, you must be careful. There--"
"Excuse me. Could I see your ID?"
It was a policeman. A man in a suit stood by him.
Mamoru had dealt with many a policeman by now. He slowly took out his ID and explained, "I am Dr. Chiba. My family is here. You wouldn't let me in."
The man in the suit took the ID from the cop, and said, "Dr. Mamoru Chiba?"
"I know him," said Makoto. "He means no harm."
"He is my father," said Nereid solemnly.
"Mine too," said Kimi.
"And mine too," said Ishtar.
"He's my daddy!" said Lily. "He'll save Mommy!"
The man in the suit laughed. "He is who he says, Sergeant. I just did background on him." He handed back the ID.
The cop said, "All right, Dr. Chiba. Do you want to explain how you got in here?"
"I borrowed these clothes, and then I borrowed a cleaning cart. No one seems to notice cleaning people."
"Our men will from now on," said the Sergeant. "Come and show me who let you by."
"Sergeant, would you let me have him? There are some questions I want to ask this man."
The cop hesitated a moment, then shrugged. "Don't wander off, Doctor. We have some questions, too." Then he went away.
The man in the suit stayed. Mamoru said, "Could I see my family first?"
"Certainly," said the man in the suit, reaching inside his coat for a moment.
Mamoru's daughters all wanted to talk at once.
Mamoru found Usagi unconscious. Rei explained, in Japanese, "Usagi blames herself for putting Minako, Ami, and Ginger in danger. We got her to take the sedative. It seemed best. We did not think you would get here so quickly." Then Rei switched to the Old Language. "We guessed wrong. They don't know about us."
Mamoru asked, "How badly did they hurt you?"
Rei switched to English. "They broke three bones in my foot and five ribs. When this is all over, I am going to sue!"
Mamoru shook his head.
Ballin took Chiba to a landing on the stairs, the most private place he could find for the moment. Dr. Chiba said, "Thank you for giving me time with my family."
Ballin said, "Your kids seem to think a lot of you. They've gone through some bad times."
"Yes," responded Dr. Chiba. "They were very brave, all of them."
"Especially Kimberly, the one with the bad leg. She was assaulted just a few months ago, wasn't she?"
"Yes," said Dr. Chiba. "May I ask how you know that? It is not something we talk about."
"I did background research on you. You and the other guests; we do that for all people who meet with the President." Ballin decided to shift to another topic, for the moment. "I remember your wife used a phone before she talked to us. Did she call you?"
Ballin said, "Tell me about the call, anything she told you about the incident."
Dr. Chiba hesitated before speaking. Perhaps he was trying to remember, or maybe he was figuring out what he should say. "She said that they were releasing the women and children a few at a time. She told me about the men being taken away. No, she told me the men had been taken away. She did not actually see that . . . She said that they had promised to release Hino-san next, and that some of them had beaten Rei badly. Then she talked about the children."
Ballin asked, "Did she mention Colonel Nur? Or another leader who seemed to be kind to the prisoners?"
"No," replied Chiba.
Ballin said, "Is that all she said about the situation here?"
"She said there were a lot of people who wanted to ask her questions," said Chiba. "That did not surprise me."
"Well, your wife witnessed things none of the other released hostages did," said Ballin. "I'm afraid we will be asking her more questions as soon as she is able to answer. I'm sorry about that, Dr. Chiba, but that is just how things are going to be."
Dr. Chiba said, "I understand."
Ballin said, "You wife has gone through a lot. Being crippled in an unsolved shooting, then the unsolved attack on your daughter, and now this. I can understand how she might go over the edge for awhile. We all have our limits."
Dr. Chiba was silent.
Ballin said, "You had a child with Minako Jones. Ms. Jones interested the Director enough to warn the President about her. The President decided to let her come to the White House anyway."
Dr. Chiba said, "Minako is a good citizen of this country. She has never been accused of any crime."
"That is what I told the President," Ballin said. "Unfortunately the same thing cannot be said for her late husband, and certainly not his brother. I didn't need to use any of the Bureau's confidential files to find that family connection. Some newshound will pick up on it soon enough. In fact there was supposed to be a guy at the White House last night who wrote a story about Ms. Jones. He might be one of the hostages."
A hospital staffer passed by them in the stairwell. After that interruption, perhaps when he was sure the stranger was gone, Dr. Chiba said, "You seem to be hinting that you want me to confess something. What do you want from me, Mr. Ballin?"
"What do I want?" responded Ballin. He considered the concept, and decided to be candid. "What I want from you is what you really know about the brothers Jones, about Martin Tiggs, and about what went on between them." He paused, but not long enough to draw a response. "The Bureau, frankly, would as soon leave the Jones case dead and buried with the brothers. But with this happening, someone is liable to dig it up."
"This has nothing to do with the crisis here," responded Chiba, a bit of tension apparent in his tone. With more care, he continued. "I knew of Kevin Jones' past, but I was careful not to question him about it. I, my wife, and the rest of Minako's friends accepted him as we found him. We gave him, in the American phrase, a 'fresh start.' He was good to Minako, and good to our daughter Ishtar."
"You became friends with him, then?"
"No," said Chiba. "But I came to know him quite well. Nothing about his criminal activities, of course--though he was not a criminal when I knew him, I am sure of that." Chiba seemed to look into the distance. "I would say he was never a criminal, someone who commits crimes just to make a living. He was a samurai in the service of his brother, a fighter, a warrior, a soldier . . . " Chiba's gaze returned to Ballin. "That is how he seemed to me."
"Now your friend," continued Chiba, "I knew him as Meiou-san's husband. He lived with us for a much shorter time than Minako's husband. I did not come to know him well."
"How well did you come to know Marvell Jones?" asked Ballin.
"I spoke with him only a few times," answered Chiba. "I never met him in person. I always talked with him on the phone. He called when Kevin and later when their mother were in my hospital, and I was on duty. Once he did call me at home, but it was to ask about his mother. He was trying to decide whether to visit her." Chiba shook his head. "I told him not to come. She was in a coma, and there was always the chance one of his enemies was watching the hospital. I told him that. I did not want him to bring his war into my hospital. But he did not take my advice. He was killed on the next day."
Ballin heard someone coming again on the stairs. He pulled out one of his cards, wrote on the back, and handed it to Chiba. "If you ever remember more, this is my private number."
Chiba took it, looked at both sides, and said, "I do not have a suitable pocket for this now. Could I get my clothes before someone takes them away? They are not far."
"I'll keep you company," said Ballin.
"Agent Ballin," said Chiba, "I came here to be with my family and my friends. I am not going to run away."
"Well," said Ballin, "I wouldn't want you to get lost."
His Honor the Mayor had finally arrived, escorting his favored reporters through the lines for his meeting with the released hostages. He spoke again with the two black women. This time the older one was ready to talk, and it went well. He went next to some of the women who had brought out the bodies; they had had long enough to recover a bit from the experience, and, again, the Mayor did well and was seen doing it. The mothers still seemed reluctant, but then Michiru emerged and gave a wonderful performance, describing the entire evening and the fateful delay of Roland Descartes that kept them at the White House so late. Then she described the takeover, and the ordeal afterward. She let the Mayor draw it most of it out of her, but occasionally she would respond to a reporter's question. The Mayor was not a fool: he recognized it for what it was: a performance. But it was a superb performance.
After the press was shooed out, the Mayor asked for a few words alone with Michiru. That was not really possible inside the crowded ward, but he felt safe in her room, where only her most camera-shy friends were.
"I really do have all your recordings, Ma'am," said the Mayor. "And I listen to them often."
"Thank you," said Michiru. "I am sorry you had to miss this performance. But perhaps you are not sorry?"
Clayborne chuckled. "To tell the truth, I was steamed when I wasn't invited." Then he got to the question he really wanted to ask. "You put on a show out there, a real good one. Do you mind telling me why?"
"The reporters wanted a show," said Michiru. "I know how to put on a show. My friends do not, especially now." The performance was clearly over; she sounded bone-weary.
The Mayor said, "I can get you all places to stay. You'll want to stay over until this is finished, won't you?"
Michiru's companion, whom the Mayor recognized but had not spoken with, said, "We have rooms in a hotel. All of us, together."
Another woman, a very young one he didn't remember at all, said, "We were going to stay on to see all the sights here."
The Mayor said, "The reporters will have found your hotel by now. Where is it?" The little one described it, and the Mayor said, "That's out on the beltway. I can't do much for you there. But I can get you some privacy here, if you want it." He turned to face Michiru. "You and Mrs. Descartes, just about any reporter would recognize you right away. I can put you in my residence here, or I can get you to a very safe place about an hour out of town. The rest of your friends I can put in with my people, but not all together; they would attract attention. What do you think?"
Michiru said, "That is a good offer. I must talk to all my friends first."
"Take your time to decide," said the Mayor. He pulled out one of his cards, and wrote on the back. "Leave your message at this number. They can reach me anywhere." Handing Michiru his card, he asked, "How were you planning to get back to your hotel, anyway? Getting over the bridges is pretty hard now."
"We chartered a bus," said Michiru's tall companion. "With so many of us, it was more practical."
"And less expensive," said Michiru, looking over the card. "Again, your offer is kind, but I must talk with my friends, Your Honor."
After leaving Michiru and her friends, the Mayor took steps to ensure they would accept his hospitality. Why subject them to some tourist trap after all this? A charter bus company needed to keep on good terms with the District, so it would not be a problem to make sure their bus was delayed . . .
Unlike Sultan, Baiburs, or even Fahd, Nagy had not laid exclusive claim to a bedroom. Beds were too few for everyone, even sleeping in shifts. Once he had decided it was time for some rest, Nagy simply looked for a likely place--and he found one.
"Sergeiev, what are you doing watching television? Get up and let me put that bed to some use."
Sergeiev scowled and growled. But he scowled and growled at pretty much everything. Nagy was not impressed. However, Sergeiev spoke up, something the tight-lipped Siberian did not do lightly. "The Americans are not broadcasting our demands, Colonel."
Nagy said, "You mean 'Commander Sargon's demands,' don't you, Warrant Officer Sergeiev?"
Sergeiev said, "They have had the demands for more than three hours now. What are they saying to you?"
Nagy could not give Sergeiev a pat answer. Sergeiev was a good soldier, but he was not an automaton. Neither was he a fool.
"The negotiatiors are trying to stall, of course. The policeman keeps trying to be my friend. The military man keeps reminding me of how hopeless my tactical situation is. The man from their State Department is always waiting to hear from his superiors." Nagy shook his head. "It is all so much wind. Their Vice President will make the decision."
Sergeiev grunted as he climbed back into his web gear.
The Mayor had left University Hospital at 3:10 pm. At that moment, he was the most powerful man in the District of Columbia and the most visible man in the world. All National Guard units in the city were active and under his authority, and the Governors of Maryland and Virginia had pledged cooperation with him, in public.
The reign of Winston Clayborne was destined to be a brief one, though. Certain contents of the envelope Katherine Warfield had handed over to the Acting Director of the FBI had finally reached a place where they could be evaluated properly. At 3:26, the first results came in. Analysis was not definitive yet, but the first results were very impressive. The news of the first results percolated through a very select group in and around the District of Columbia, a group that did not include the Mayor or anyone associated with him. Then, in coded, and considered, form, it went to Air Force Two, where, decoded, it was handed to the Vice-President at 4:17, EDT ( the Vice President was still two time zones to the east).
At 4:19 pm, EDT, the Vice President of the United States said, "The first thing we are going to do is federalize the Guard in D.C, Maryland, and Virginia. The Army is going to be in charge, and I am in charge of the Army. Next . . . "
Previous: Public Relations
Next: Three Women
Story Index Main Index