'I'd deeply appreciate anything you could do to help, Congressman,' Rustman declared solemnly. 'I'm getting pretty damned tired of being treated like a criminal by a bunch of overzealous, badge-wearing thugs who have the gall to call themselves law enforcement officers. I'm a God-fearing, churchgoing patriot who votes and pays his taxes like every other decent landowner in this county. And I'm all in favor of good law enforcement. You know that. But those fellows are getting out of hand. Somebody needs to rein them in.'

'Consider it done,' Smallsreed snapped irritably, still staring at the distant reeds and cattails where the formation of covertly released Canvasbacks had long since disappeared.

'In the meantime, while Lou and I get things squared away out here,' Rustman went on smoothly as he grabbed the bowline of the first boat and tied it up while his foreman quickly began the familiar cleanup routine. 'I believe there's a hot breakfast waiting back at the main house.'

'And speaking of getting warm' — Simon Whatley's faint leer communicated far more than his words — 'I understand that Maria here makes a mean hot toddy.'

'Is that so?' The senior congressman arched an inquisitive eyebrow as he appeared to notice the attractive young intern for the first time that morning. She nodded her head cautiously in his direction. Other interns had warned her about Smallsreed's infamous temper, but the shotgun incident had been her first clear view of him as anything other than an extremely calm and powerful — and therefore, from her youthful perspective, strangely attractive — older man who vaguely reminded her of her grandfather.

'In that case, my dear' — Smallsreed wrapped a thick arm around her jacketed shoulders and gave her a firm hug along with a conspiratorial wink — 'we'll all agree that the incident with the safety was completely Simon's fault. You are unquestionably and unconditionally forgiven.'

The concerned expression of the girl's pretty face immediately blossomed into a warm and dimpled smile that Smallsreed greeted with a wide, predatory grin.

Long accustomed and completely indifferent to the extracurricular antics of his VIP guest, Lt. Colonel John Rustman released the knot on a tie-down line, and pulled an expensive jet boat in close to the blind.

'Congressman?' He gestured with his head, then stepped back to give Smallsreed room to step cautiously into the shallow-bottomed craft.

'John, I've got to be honest with you. I've never seen a hot toddy yet that I'd swap for a daybreak shot at a flight of cans.' Smallsreed's conciliatory mood dimmed noticeably as he settled himself into the rear passenger seat and watched Eliot expertly wrap the six bloody canvasback carcasses and expended lead-shot hulls in a camouflaged sink-container, then draw six freshly — and legally — killed mallards and an equal number of expended steel-shot hulls out of a similar dripping container.

'However,' he sighed deeply, 'if all we're going to see is more of those goddamned horny greenheads, then I suppose I could be tempted to indulge myself a bit this morning.'

'In that case' — Simon Whatley played his role to perfection — 'why don't you and Maria go on ahead and get those hot toddies ready while I help John and Lou get everything cleaned up out here… including that little matter we talked about yesterday,' he added meaningfully.

Smallsreed blinked in momentary confusion.

'Oh, you mean the Tisbury — ?'

'Yes, I'll take care of it,' Whatley uncharacteristically cut off his superior, an obvious reminder that at least two people in the blind really shouldn't have heard the name that Smallsreed had just blurted out.

For a brief moment, the arrogant congressman's eyes glinted dangerously, and Whatley held his breath, praying that his short-tempered boss wouldn't blow it all, right here, right now.

But then Smallsreed glanced at the young intern — who favored her idol with another naively sensuous dimpled grin — and his fearsome expression dissolved instantly.

Bless you, my dear, Whatley thought to himself. I owe you more than you could possibly know.

But it wasn't over yet. No matter how compelling the self-interest, Regis J. Smallsreed had not managed to survive — much less prosper — during his sixteen terms in Washington, DC, by entrusting his subordinates with the truly important decisions.

'Whatever it takes to resolve the matter to everyone's satisfaction, Simon' — the congressman's eyes bored into Whatley's as he spoke — 'I want you to make it happen. These people are very important… constituents. Very important.'

These people? What the hell is he talking about? Simon Whatley thought. This is Sam Tisbury's deal all the way. Who else could he be


'Is that understood?' Smallsreed pressed in what Simon Whatley immediately — and correctly — interpreted as a dangerously threatening tone.

'Oh, uh, yes sir, absolutely. I'll take care of everything.'

'Fine, you do that.' Regis J. Smallsreed's head bobbed approvingly as he moved to the front of the boat and motioned for the young intern to join him. 'Now then, my dear, tell me, have you ever been at the helm of one of these infernal machines?'

The young woman's blue eyes grew wide as she took in the smooth curve of the low racing hull, the supercharged engine with the wide blower air scoop, the small steering wheel and thick-knobbed throttle, and the thickly padded cushions. Every inch of the dark green camouflaged boat was a monument to one simple underlying principle:

Power. Pure and sensual.

She shook her blond curls, too awestruck to speak, and the subtle current that zinged through the congressman's crotch verified what he'd already guessed.

First time.

The predatory smile completely engulfed Regis J. Smallsreed's ruddy features.

'Well, in that case, my dear, I think it's about time we expanded your horizons.'

Moments later, with the visibly excited young woman at the wheel and one of the country's most influential congressmen nestled close at her side, the powerful jet boat lunged forward, kicking up a long rooster tail as it quickly sped away.

Nodding his head in satisfaction, Simon Whatley watched the small craft disappear around the nearby island.

It's a good thing you're such a lecherous old bastard, Regis, he thought to himself. Otherwise, this entire deal would be a lot more complicated.

Then he turned to Rustman.

'I believe we have some business to discuss?'

Rustman shook his head slowly. 'Not quite yet.'

Whatley blinked in surprise. 'What do you mean, not quite yet?' he demanded irritably.

Ignoring the congressional staffer's officious posturing, the military officer turned to verify that two dark- hooded figures now stood in the nearby blind, one of whom — judging from a flash of purple silk barely visible under a dark-cammo collar — was female. Both held identical stainless-steel Mini-14 rifles.

Satisfied, Rustman turned back to his foreman, who was making a last-minute check of the VIP blind.

'Lou, do you have everything under control here? Everything cleaned up and put away?'

Eliot ran through his mental list — the critical items being to wrap and sink the remains of the illegal Canvasbacks, and exchange the illegal lead-shot rounds in the guns and ammo bags for steel. Then he took one quick look around before nodding. 'Yes sir, all clear.'

'John, I'm talking to you! What the hell do you mean…?' Simon Whatley's strident interruption caused Eliot to observe both men curiously.

Rustman froze the congressional district office manager with an icy stare.

'Wintersole,' he murmured into the collar mike without taking his eyes off of the political staffer, 'put him down.'

Simon Whatley's pupils dilated in shock a split second before a single high-velocity gunshot echoed sharply across the lake surface.

Lou Eliot's lifeless body tumbled backwards into the cold water of his beloved Loggerhead Lake and disappeared beneath its dark surface as Whatley watched in horrified disbelief.

'Now then' — Rustman's chilling gaze never wavered from the congressional district office manager's shocked

Вы читаете Double blind
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату