AbandonBy: Carla Neggers
The sixth book in the U.S. Marshall series, 2007
To Bettye-Kate Hall
Andrew Rook focused on a seed that had broken loose from a thin slice of lemon in his ice water, because if he didn’t distract himself, he was going to jump across the polished, black lacquered table and throttle J. Harris Mayer, the would-be informant who had set up this meeting.
If they switched drinks, Rook thought, maybe Harris would choke on the lemon seed.
They were sitting along the back wall of a quiet bar in an upscale hotel four blocks from the White House. In his day, Harris had served two presidents. But it wasn’t his day anymore. He was an outcast, caught five years ago in a gambling scandal that had cost him his job and his reputation, if not his trust fund or his freedom. Many people – including Rook – believed criminal charges should have been filed against him, but Harris, once a federal judge, had managed to skate.
“We’ve been here a half hour,” Rook said. “Get to the point.”
Harris ran a pinkish fingertip along the rim of his beer glass. He was sixty-nine but looked older. His hands were trembling and heavily veined, a wet cough sporadically rattling his thin frame. Brown spots and moles dotted his fair, finely wrinkled skin and showed through his thin white hair. He wore a starched shirt and a sport coat with one of his ubiquitous bow ties, and his wingtip shoes were polished but had just enough sign of wear to suggest he was a man, nonetheless, who still got around Washington – who still mattered.
Lifting his beer, Harris gave a paternalistic tut-tut. “You have a short fuse, Special Agent Rook.”
“You might want to keep that in mind.”
“I chose you because you’re a rising star with the Bureau. You’re familiar with fraud and corruption investigations.” Harris spoke with a nasal, affected patrician voice. “You need to learn patience.”
Rook grabbed his glass and took a long drink. He didn’t care if he swallowed the damn lemon seed. Patience. He’d been patient. For three weeks, he’d played Harris’s game, treating seriously his vague tale of Washington intrigue, blackmail and extortion. Financial shenanigans. Sordid secrets. Fraud. Possible conspiracy. Harris Mayer knew all the buttons to push to get and keep Rook’s attention.
Now it was time for results. So far, Harris had produced nothing of substance, and Rook couldn’t waste any more time indulging an old man’s fantasies of regaining lost prestige, being a player again.
He set down his glass, hard. Harris didn’t seem to notice. Rook wore a dark gray suit, not a cheap one, but not as expensive as most of the suits the other men in the bar had on, including his wannabe informant. Rook hadn’t worn a bow tie since first grade.
“Are we waiting for someone to show up?” he asked.
“Ah. There we are. The federal agent at work, applying his deductive reasoning to the situation at hand.” Harris licked his thin lips. “Of course we’re waiting for someone to show up.”
Rook considering shoving the lemon seed up Harris’s nose. “When?”
Harris shook his head. “Observe the guests walking up the hall to the ballroom. Beautifully dressed, aren’t they? I still have my tuxedo. I haven’t worn it in a long time.”
Rook ignored the small play for sympathy. The table Harris had chosen provided a strategic view of everyone in the bar, as well as everyone who passed by in the gleaming, glittering hall. About two hundred guests were gathering in the ballroom for a cocktail reception to benefit a local literacy organization. Rook had recognized a number of high-powered guests, but no one involved – at least as far as he knew – in criminal activity.
Harris could call the shots tonight. He was the informant. It was his show.
“There’s Judge Peacham.” The old judge almost chortled as he gestured toward the hall, smiling as if he were in possession of a secret that confirmed his natural superiority. “I knew she’d be here.”
“Why do I care if Judge Peacham is at a charity function?”
“Mr. Mayer -”
“Judge,” he corrected with a sniff. “It’s still appropriate to refer to me as Judge Mayer.”
“Seeing Judge Peacham again doesn’t help me.”
“Shh. Patience. We might have to go into the hall. I hope not – I’d prefer Bernadette not see me.”
Bernadette Peacham paused in the hall just outside the bar, her attention focused on something – or someone – behind her. For the past ten years, she’d served as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Before that, she’d been a federal prosecutor and a partner in a prestigious Washington law firm. But her roots were in New Hampshire, where she owned a lake house that had been in her family for more than a hundred years. She often told people she planned to die there, as her parents and her grandfather had.