A car is reported burned, with an unidentified body inside, the day Susan's colleague disappears. Susan suspects her friend was murdered.
When a man Susan believes to be involved with her colleague's disappearance approaches her, she escapes. Susan travels to Vietnam, with a Navy SEAL she knew from home, and uncovers evidence exposing the black market. Susan gets caught in the Tet offensive of 1968 and kills a Viet Cong.
At the time her colleague disappeared, Susan was dating a member of the administration. Part of the evidence she uncovers in Vietnam proves her boyfriend is involved in the black market.
Susan and the SEAL travel back to the United States and turn the evidence over to a former boyfriend of Susan's who is an FBI agent. The result of uncovering the black market has a devastating effect on the 1968 presidential election.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)|
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By JOHN MACDONALD
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 John W. Macdonald
All rights reserved.
The endless waves roll onto shore. The sky is overcast, and there is a chill in the air that is typical for this time of year in Southern California. The temperature is in the seventies, but with an onshore breeze skimming over sixty-degree seawater, the air is cool. Behind me sits the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, California, and in front of me, across the entrance to San Diego Bay, lies Point Loma. I'm treating myself to a few days of luxury at the hotel before heading off to Europe with Jim for a summer of backpacking. After that, we will be moving to an apartment in Santa Monica, a few miles from the UCLA campus. The Navy SEALs ran by a few moments ago. I got a hearty "Hoo-yah!" I consider myself one of the boys, but I don't run with them. This will make sense as the story unfolds.
Just to keep the record straight, all charges against Jim and me have been cleared or dropped. Well, maybe that's not accurate, but at least we are not going to be prosecuted. I'm waiting for Jim to be discharged from the Navy—honorably, I might add.
Mesmerized by the waves, I reflect on how my life has been transformed these past five months and how a lady as naïve and innocent as me could be charged with a serious crime—murder, no less. Five months ago, I was a straight-laced bureaucratic staffer in Washington, DC. My life goal was to marry the man of my dreams (rich), settle down in a suburban colonial house with the dog de rigueur (Labrador or setter), have two children (one boy and one girl) while maintaining a youthful figure, send the kiddos to private schools (of course), join the country club, play golf on ladies' day, play tennis and bridge, have lunch on the terrace, have cocktails at six, eat dinner with the correct friends, always be invited to the right parties (popular), own jewelry galore, never be seen in the same outfit twice, drive a big station wagon, travel, own a second home (can't decide between Nantucket and Florida), and whatever else I was entitled to as a lady of my stature. Would anyone argue with that?
Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined living in California, with its hippies, drugs, and sex-crazed culture. But there I was, and all I craved was a beach life. Was I right in what I'd done? I believed so, or I would not have done it. And I'm sure plenty of people thought what I did was wrong, maybe to the point of treason. I questioned authority and did what I thought best, and I have to live with the consequences. I know I was responsible for others' deaths. Isn't that punishment enough? After I tell my story, others can judge me as they please.
The escapade started innocently enough. My name is Susan England. I skipped into work fashionably late on a Monday morning in early October 1967, ready to tackle another boring week in the president's budget office. That is correct—I worked for the president of the United States. Does that sound impressive? It really wasn't. I was scheduled for a 10:00 meeting with the budget director, Mr. Bob Williams, along with several others. I can't recall what the meeting was about; so much has happened since. The first sign something was amiss was that Randy Finkland wasn't present. That was uncharacteristic of Randy. Randy was always punctual and dependable.
I was decked out in my work uniform: an A-line blue wool skirt, white blouse, and low pumps. My auburn hair was slightly askew, pulled into a bun. I owned nice clothes and dressed according to the occasion, but for work I didn't want to draw attention to myself—unlike some of the girls in the office, who dressed for the kill every day. To be frank, I was pretty plain: five foot seven, 125 pounds (115 on my driver's license), and no bust to speak of, if it really must be known. I was a good athlete. I had played varsity tennis at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts—not number-one singles but good enough to make the team. I'd been called a tomboy, which I hated. And nobody mistook me for Natalie Wood, which I also hated.
I was confident with my sexuality. I had a boyfriend (i.e., lover, soon to be my fiancé, or so I thought), so I didn't feel compelled to flaunt it. I hate to disparage the other girls in the office, but most were on the prowl to upgrade their socioeconomic status, their marital situation notwithstanding. As they say, "All's fair in love and war." As I mentioned, this was Washington, DC, the nation's capital, where hardworking taxpayers sent millions upon millions of dollars to the government, which in turn was supposed to govern. Governing did go on, but a lot of other shenanigans went on as well. The citizens were to blame. They voted the clowns into office.
When I arrived at the Monday-morning meeting, I expected to see Randy. We worked in the Executive Office Building across from the White House. Randy worked as a cost analyst in the administration's budget office, but his real duty was to keep track of the president's reelection finances. I worked as an administrative assistant to the budget director, the aforementioned Mr. Bob Williams. The job title sounded impressive, but what I did was arrange his schedule, travel, dry cleaning, official entertainment, etc. I didn't need a degree from a prestigious women's college to pick up laundry, and I was never going to tell my father, after the exorbitant tuition he'd paid.
Mr. Williams was the prime target of many women. The reason wasn't difficult to understand. He was handsome, about six foot one, with jet-black hair, an athletic build, and alluring mannerisms. He dressed impeccably. His Harvard MBA, Colgate undergrad, private prep school, New England social connections, and family money made him a very desirable catch. Unfortunately, he was married, with two little girls. But that didn't stop the sharks in the secretarial pool from circling—bending over in front of him, displaying voluptuous views of their breasts, or turning and giving him enticing views of their rumps. To him, I was a know-nothing employee who was there to make his day run smoothly. He and his family lived on a gentleman's farm near Charlottesville, Virginia. He also owned a townhouse in Georgetown, where he stayed during the week.
After I left the meeting, I went to Randy's office to see if he'd arrived. As I said, he was always prompt and meticulous. The words stereotypical geek would describe Randy. He wore thick glasses and was slight of build. His hair was too long for the high-and-tight administration types. He wore retrograde clothing and was shy in demeanor, but it was all an act. Randy was super-smart, having graduated magnum cum laude from Princeton with a double major in economics and accounting. Randy befriended me when I first started working for the executive branch. He was the outcast geek, and I was the outcast tomboy. We didn't fit in with the swell, overachieving, and glamorous types of the administration. We became fast friends. There was never a sexual attraction between us. We enjoyed each other's company and lambasted anybody who wore a tie or girdle. I'm sure we were ridiculed for being so not-with-it.
We went to hippie counterculture cafes, listened to jazz and poetry, and got into long, deep discussions about the meaning of life. There may have been some recreational drug use that made the discussions more profound. He was against the Vietnam War, as I was, but we would never bring that up at work if we wanted to keep our jobs. On the other hand, we supported the president's war on poverty and affirmative action.
As I said, I was against the war, but I didn't side with the hippies. No group advocated violence more than those peace-loving jerks. Hypocritical doesn't begin to describe those sickos. The typical waitress at a hippie café would be an emaciated waif. She would exhibit the unhealthy complexion of a vegetarian. I imagined she was on a strict diet of granola and hashish. She'd slur, "Hey, man," which in hippie-speak meant, "May I take your order, or do you need a few minutes?" I would get the glare. Those hippie people wanted to be accepted as being liberated from all hang-ups, as if people shouldn't be judgmental of the way they dressed or conducted themselves, and normal people should be tolerant of the hippies' weirdness. Everyone should chill out. So why weren't they tolerant of me? Did I represent the dreaded establishment by the way I dressed? Did they think I was going to be judgmental about them being underachieving, hygienically challenged, drugged out, ne'er-do-well jerks hiding behind a veil of enlightenment? Give me a break.
Back to Randy being missing. I called his apartment, on the chance he was sick and had stayed home, but there was no answer. I asked around the office, on the chance that somebody had seen or heard from him. Nobody had a clue. I was concerned because this was so unlike Randy. At the meeting, I made excuses for him.
That evening, I called his sister, thinking maybe a family emergency had called Randy away, even though I knew that if it had, he would have called his office to notify them he would not be at work.
Randy's sister, Emily, lived in the SoHo district of Manhattan. She and her husband worked for Goldman Sachs and made a gazillion dollars a year. They had met at work and started a relationship (which was taboo), but they convinced their supervisors it would not interfere with their duties. Emily was three months along with their first baby, and she was very excited. I was very envious.
Conceiving had been a struggle for the couple in their mid-thirties. Emily and her husband had tried for several years and then resorted to all sorts of experts, including quacks who prescribed herbs and potions. Not being able to conceive seemed to be common among highly stressed professionals who'd put off having children until they were ready. My personal belief was that it was because they ate only organically grown foods that left them without enough oomph to perform the job properly.
"Emily, have you heard from Randy? He wasn't in his office today, and we had a meeting scheduled."
"No, I talked to him this weekend, but not today," replied Emily.
Emily and I both knew Randy's secret, but we never discussed it openly. Emily and I were acquaintances via Randy, and not confiding friends, but I felt this was important enough to bridge the gap. "Do you think he ran off with his friend?" Randy was always talking of chucking it all and moving to Tahiti.
There was hesitation on Emily's end of the line. "I doubt it, though anything is possible."
"Okay—if you hear from him, give me a call." I was ready to end the call.
"Wait. Before you go, there is something." I was all ears. "Randy has been acting depressed for the past few weeks. When I talked to him Saturday he told me something disturbing about work. I don't want to repeat it over the phone."
I was at a loss, but my curiosity was piqued. "Listen, I'm going home to St. Louis Friday for my mother's fiftieth. I could change my plans and fly to New York Friday morning. I need to get her a decent present. They have nothing in DC. Then I could fly on to St. Louis. Could we do lunch? Besides, I need an excuse to do some shopping for myself."
"Okay, sounds good." Emily's voice sounded more positive. "Give my office a call when you get in, and we'll go from there."
After I'd hung up I sat on my bed for several minutes, contemplating. I shared a two-bedroom, two-level townhouse in Georgetown with Mary Jo, a secretary for New York's junior senator. A college friend introduced us when I moved to the nation's capital. Mary Jo and I had been living together for over three years, and we were not close, which I found strange. I knew DC wasn't rah-rah college, but still, two girls living together should confide somewhat. I tried, but Mary Jo was very guarded, to the point of being introverted. I thought she was weird, though harmless—but nonetheless weird. I knew I wasn't. I was the last normal woman on the planet.
Incidentally, the senator Mary Jo worked for was the brother of the president who was assassinated in 1963. Not that it matters, but in my opinion Mary Jo was a country girl from Pennsylvania who went to a small college and was in over her head in DC. She tried to look fashionable, but just didn't have the knack. Her brown hair was homely, her figure average. In fact, everything about her was average, from makeup, to clothes, to her presentation—everything. I thought she was secretive, conniving, and possessed of unrealistic ambitions by the way she talked, but who was I to judge? We agreed not to bring men back to the townhouse, so what she was doing or who she was doing was none of my business. And I really didn't care.
When Mary Jo didn't come home at night, I didn't inquire the next day. What she did with her time was her business. And to be truthful, there were a few nights when I didn't come home. Mary Jo and I girl-talked about men we met at work or socially, but it was never on an intimate level. We didn't speak about our relationships.
Around nine thirty that evening, my boyfriend called. He called every night he wasn't in a late meeting or he wasn't traveling, which seemed to be all the time. We didn't cohabit, which was all the rage in the liberated sixties. His schedule and other factors prevented us from being a high-profile couple. The deciding factor was that he also worked for the administration, and if our relationship were to become known, one of us would have to go. Him being senior and a male, you can guess which one of us would get the boot. We were working through this difficult period of our relationship. We were committed to each other and determined that once we were married all the effort would have been worthwhile. There were sleepovers and an occasional weekend getaway to Vermont or the Cape, but in public we acted as if we were mere acquaintances. This arrangement had been going on for well over a year. A reasonable question might be, how was it that an attractive man in his late thirties was still available? Answer: he'd been in several relationships, some serious. But with a high-pressure job in the administration, he hadn't been able to hold onto the modern feminist who wouldn't put up with long periods of inattention. That was until he met wonderful me.
"What's up sweetheart? How was your day?" he inquired.
"Fine, except Randy didn't show up for a meeting. Do you know where he is?" I asked.
"No," he responded, sounding distracted. I could always tell when he was doing paperwork while speaking with me.
"Yeah, well, I called Randy's sister, and she hasn't heard from him. Emily sounded concerned, so I'm going to New York Friday, to visit and find out what she knows," I stated.
He responded, "Let me know what she says. This is unlike him. I hope he's not sick or something." Since when does a man care about another man's health? We chatted for a while about how much we loved each other, and how much we wanted to be together, and some gossip going around the administration, and then we said good night.
I thought Mary Jo should know I was leaving Friday morning. I went down the hall and saw the light on under her door. I knocked. "Mary Jo?"
"Come in," she answered. She was lying on her bed reading Time magazine.
"I'm going to New York Friday and then on to St. Louis. I may return Sunday evening, but most likely Monday," I stated.
"Have fun," was all the response I got. So much for close roommates. Wasn't she interested in who I would see, or why I was going, or what I would wear?
I returned to my room and turned on the ten o'clock news. There was a report of a body found in a burned-out car in Fort Marcy Park. The body was burned beyond recognition, and no identification was found. I got a sickening feeling.CHAPTER 2
In the morning, before I boarded my plane for New York, I called an old friend. It was an old boyfriend, and the breakup had not gone smoothly, so there had been some angst. Actually, more like panic—but right now I needed to find out what he knew about the burned car in Fort Marcy Park. Eric Stutter was an FBI agent. He was the first person I'd dated when I'd moved to Washington, DC, four years ago, right out of college.
Excerpted from QUESTION AUTHORITY by JOHN MACDONALD. Copyright © 2013 John W. Macdonald. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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