Saturday, May 21, 2016

Chapter 11 of The Unmaking of the President (a novel)

Portrait of the author
by Susan C. Price
Hush Money

By W.M. Dean

[The novel is set in the 1970s of Watergate. Links to earlier chapters are provided at the bottom.]

Senator Wicked arrived early. Lafayette Square wasn’t the best place to meet. The tourists were numerous after the schools let out, and many of them were scrutinizing everybody else who didn’t look like another tourist, hoping to identify a Washington celebrity.
    Across the street, more tourists hung on the fence around the White House.
Judge “Maximum John” Sirica
    A ten-year-old boy pulled his mother’s purse strap. “Hey, Mom! There’s Judge Maximum.”
    “Shhh. Don’t point. Where?”
    Senator Wicked turned away from the scene. It irritated him. But just below the threshold of his self-consciousness, he wished tourists pointed at him too.
    He sat down on a bench facing a clump of bushes. Someone who knew him would be less likely to recognize him here.
    Clara Noemann arrived a few minutes later. She wore 148 huge dark glasses. “Hello, Senator.”
    “Any news about Fred? Has the SLA given instructions where to leave the money?”
    “No news. The President has decided not to pay the ransom.”
    The Senator twisted around to face Clara. “He’s throwing Fred to the wolves? But doesn’t he know there’s no chance of getting him back without paying the ransom? My God! – they might even decide to brainwash Fred.”
    He looked at his friend’s face and believed the calm he saw there was produced by a philosophic spirit. He didn’t suspect it sprang from her certitude that the fix was in.
    “Did Flawless himself decide against paying…or—”
    “Yes, Addleman was a factor.” Clara kicked off her shoes and rubbed the bottom of each foot vigorously against the heel of the other.
    “Addleman! That s-o-b figures he’s finally got the chance to stick it to Fred. But why does the President have to go along with the guy?”
    “Senator, I think I learned part of the answer to that when I was in the Oval Office just now. The question of the ransom was proposed, and the President called for a few moments of meditation. What do you think he said after he had meditated?”
    The Senator waited for the answer.
    “He said, ‘What should we do, Rob?’”
    “It took meditation to decide to ask Addleman?” The Senator slowly shook his head. “What do you want me to do?”
    Clara told him that the President had discovered a bug under his desk. “He already•makes the connection between that bug and the bug in my vase.”
    “Do you think there’s really a connection?”
    Clara suppressed the urge to boast. “I think the President believes it’s Addleman.”
    “So, it looks like if we can drive a wedge between Flawless and Addleman, maybe we can get him to pay the ransom?”
    A young boy jumped from the bushes in front of the bench. “Are you talking about hush money?”

Senator Lowell Weicker
    “Shoo. Run along.” Senator Wicked wiggled his hands as though he were driving away a cat or a dog.
    The boy stood up taller and raised his chin.
    Clara reached into her purse. She extended a hand toward the boy. “Will fifty cents buy your silence about anything you may have heard?” She winked at the boy.
    He looked from one to the other of them. “A dollar.”
    Gravely Clara got out a dollar. “Then you must not only be silent – you must also forget.”
    The youngster took the bill and ran off, all arms and legs.
    The Senator frowned. “We were talking about ransom money, not hush money.”
    It would have been simpler if Senator Wicked knew about the real plan. Clara remembered Senator Divine’s quotation about tangled webs. She preferred to withhold information and encourage others to weave their own webs.
    The ransom wasn’t an issue. Or, rather, it was an issue only to whoever believed in the kidnapping, as the Senator did.
    “Yes,” she said, “getting Fred back is now our first priority. But I think we can get him back by attending to our other priority: getting rid of Addleman. We have to act fast, though.”
    “How can we prove that Addleman bugged the President?”
    Clara grinned. “We can’t. But don’t you think the President might respond now to a public charge that his chief aide took money from me?”
    “Public! But what about you? They’ll say you bribed him.” Senator Wicked realized he had raised his voice. He tucked his head in and looked around for the kid who was interested in political payoffs. He whispered: “It would be like…passing a law freezing our own salaries to fight inflation. Excessive. Suicidal.”
    “No, I don’t think so. You can put the emphasis elsewhere.” Clara reached in her purse. “Here are a few sample paragraphs you can include in your statement.” She handed him a xeroxed copy of a typewritten sheet, double-spaced.
    Senator Wicked’s eyebrows rose. He started to speak, but Clara motioned for him to read the paragraphs.
    The first paragraph illuminated his face. “I see. You didn’t bribe him, he collected a campaign contribution from you and pocketed the money.”
    “Read on, Senator. It gets better.”
    The Senator read the second paragraph, then reread it. He read it a third time. He read it out loud: “‘The President has known about Addleman’s criminal activities for at least a month. For some reason, which ought to be investigated, Addleman still works at the White House. Why is the President covering up? Has he known about the campaign contribution all along?’
    “Really, Clara—”
    “Yes, really. Six weeks ago, the attorney general received an anonymous note stating that I gave Addleman money before the convention.”
    “That doesn’t mean the President knew.”
Attorney General John Mitchell,
who believed that the government’s 
need for “law and order” justified
restrictions on civil liberties
   “Oh, I think we can assume Mr. Orda informed the President. He hates Addleman. The note implied Addleman had taken a bribe.”
    “Why didn’t the President get rid of Addleman then?”
    “For several reasons, not least of which is the President’s anemic dependence on Addleman. And if the President didn’t know about the money, Addleman might have convinced him he didn’t take any money.”
    The Senator nodded. “And, like me, of course, they couldn’t believe you’d make a public charge. They thought they were safe…Shrewd!”
    “Your statement will shift the emphasis from Addleman to the President himself.”
    “But this will wound him. It’s like…like passing a law cutting back the President’s salary to fight inflation.”
    “And what would the President do if such a law were passed? He’d veto it as recessionary. The cover-up charge won’t hurt him. He’ll dump Addleman and give an excuse for not doing it sooner…He might say the attorney general didn’t show him the note.”
    The Senator nodded. “Hmm. So, the cover-up charge just ensures he’ll get rid of Addleman. Nice…But what if they say you never gave Addleman any money?”
    “I’ve taken care of that – it’s documented.”
    “Okay, I’ll work up this material into a statement, have it typed and copies made, then call a conference.”
    “That’ll take too long. We’ve got to act now, for Fred’s sake. Mark up this sheet and call in the reporters. They can take notes. It’s short. The exact wording isn’t important. But do stress ‘campaign contribution’ and ‘cover-up’.”

Clara walked over to Fifteenth Street and skirted the Treasury Department building to enter the White House grounds out of view of the West Wing. She went through the East Wing and along the underground corridor to the Vice-Presidential apartment.
    She brewed a pot of Earl Grey tea and went to her tiny sitting room. She piled a half-dozen cushions on the chaise longue and leaned back on them to wait. The Earl Grey tasted spicy. It warmed her all the way down.
    She supposed she would hear from a reporter first, and then, perhaps, from the President. Senator Wicked’s announcement could be tricky. But whatever the press labeled her transaction with Addleman, the announcement was going to hurt Addleman a lot more than it could hurt her.
    She could insist she was making a campaign contribution unconnected with anything. Unfortunately for Addleman, he couldn’t take refuge in that story – none of the money, not even the hundred thousand that she and Addleman had agreed was for the election, had been reported by the election committee.
    But neither could any other cover story about the money do Addleman any good. He was cooked. The President would have to light a sacrificial fire – his easiest course would be to claim ignorance of the whole thing. Whether he knew about the money or not, he’d have to deny it – and possibly the Orda note as well.
    These speculations clouded her mind. She tried to think about Fred. How long could Austin Froth drag out this kidnapping? She wondered whether Froth planned for Fred to pretend he’d really been kidnapped. Would he sound convincing when he described the kidnappers? Could Froth’s contrivances really fool the FBI?
    She was even less satisfied with this line of thinking. Everything was so hypothetical.
    The telephone rang. She let it go four rings. “Hello.”
Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein,
who, with Bob Woodward,
wrote All the President’s Men
  “Hello. This is Carla Burnstone.” She sounded as though she smoked too much. “Don’t worry about my calling you like this – it has nothing to do with deep thought…I’m sorry about your husband, Mrs. Noemann.”
    “What?” Alarmed tones were easy over the telephone. “Has there been—” She trailed off to enable the reporter to supply her own image.
    “Oh, no, no. I mean , I know how you feel about the kidnapping.”
    “You do?”
    “Well, I guess I don’t really. I never had a husband kidnapped. He just walked out in the night…I sympathize with you, that’s all.”
    “Thank you.” Clara thought Burnstone was a shrewd reporter – she knew the value of establishing rapport with a news source.
    “Senator Wicked has made a statement…I don’t suppose I need to outline it for you, do I?”
    “Now, really, Miss Burnstone!”
    “Okay, okay.” She outlined the Senator’s statement. “In other words, Mrs. Noemann, you bought the nomination for your husband?”
    Clara would have to revise her opinion of Burnstone’s rapport…But she was shrewd. “No, I didn’t feel he had to buy it. He was the best man around, and Otis Flawless knew it. The best man shouldn’t have to buy the nomination – the second- and third-best are the ones that have to pay.”
    “But suppose…Let’s just suppose that Addleman said to you, ‘I know your husband’s the best, but second-best over here is going to make it worth my while to recommend him.’ In a case like that, even the best might end up paying for it.”
    “It didn’t happen like that. I understood that Fred already had the nomination. I made a contribution to the campaign…through Addleman.”
    “There is no record of it in the committee’s official records. Why was it secret?”
    “It wasn’t secret…Senator Wicked, for instance, knows about it.”
    “You told him?”
    “No, he saw my income tax return.” Clara now realized that releasing the information through Wicked was not only unnecessary, but probably not the best way. She could have arranged for Burnstone to see her return. “By the way, Miss Burnstone, that was for background.”
    “We had no such prior agreement.” Burnstone sounded tough.
    Clara didn’t argue.
    “Why did the Senator charge the President with covering up? Did he know about the contribution?”
    “Maybe he saw my income tax return too…Well, I can’t speculate. What the President might have known is for you to discover.”
    “What about the bug in your vase?”
    “Hmmm. That might be a fruitful line of inquiry.”
    There was a commotion at Burnstone’s end of the line.
    “Uh, excuse me a moment, Mrs. Noemann.” Burnstone seemed to put her hand over the mouthpiece.
    Clara suspected that the reporter was being coached in what questions to ask. Her editor might even be listening to the conversation on an extension.
    “Mrs. Noemann?”
    “Uh, something’s come over the wire, Mrs. Noemann.” Burnstone seemed unwilling to say what it was.
    Clara put her feet on the floor and sat forward.
Symbionese Liberation Army publicity
image of new member Patty Hearst,
whom they had kidnapped
   “The New York Times has received a package…from the SLA.”
    Clara smiled and leaned back again. Froth had made an impression, whatever was in the package.
    “It was one of the Vice-President’s ears – Oh, I’m sorry, Mrs. Noemann.”
    Clara’s chest felt empty. She was disoriented. What she had just heard didn’t fit her assumptions. “What was that?” Her voice was hollow.
    Burnstone repeated the news.
    Clara forced herself to think. It couldn’t be Fred’s ear. Froth’s plan couldn’t call for Fred to return with a story about being kidnapped. Convincing the FBI that he had actually been kidnapped would be almost impossible…Therefore— Clara tried to think what followed from that.
    …Therefore, Froth could make the “kidnapping” as sensational as he wanted. Fred wouldn’t come back with a bloody…Clara pictured the scene in the movie “Cromwell” in which one of Cromwell’s supporters walked into the church after he had been beaten by Charles the First’s men. They had lopped off an ear. The black, bloody hole in the side of the man’s head….
    “Was the ear fresh?” Clara bowed her head and wagged it. It was too late to take the question back. If it was really Fred’s ear….
    But surely Froth had procured the ear from one of his many sources…Why was he making it so sensational?
    “Fresh? Uh, are you okay, Mrs. Noemann?”
    “No, no, I’m not. Excuse me. I mean, thank you. I appreciate it.” She trailed off and put down the phone.
    She wanted to talk with Froth to make sure everything was okay, but he hadn’t provided for communication between them during the disappearance. An intercepted communication would have foiled the plan.
    Well, she would have to react soon. The question of paying the ransom was becoming urgent. Why didn’t Froth let the plan unfold gradually?...There would be a public outcry to pay the ransom and save the Vice-President…But it was unthinkable for the money to be paid.
    Clara punched one of the pillows she held. “Ha!” What was she thinking? The million dollars would never be picked up. The “kidnappers” wouldn’t be heard from again, and in another day or two Fred would walk out of the mountains. Froth was resourceful. He was something else!
    Unless…What if the money were picked up? Maybe Froth sent the ear to ensure that the ransom would be paid. Clara couldn’t expose him without revealing the plan.
    Yes, maybe Froth was something else – something else entirely.
    She decided not to wait for the President’s call. She couldn’t let Froth put one over on them.
    The phone began to ring as she lifted the receiver. “Clara, this is the President. I apologize for not believing you. An ear— ”
    “Don’t pay the ransom!” she exclaimed.

Links to earlier chapters:
Chapter 1. “Downstairs at the White House
Chapter 2. “Making It Happen
Chapter 3. “The Muse’s Fee
Chapter 4. “The Game Plan
Chapter 5. “Home Movies (Blue)
Chapter 6. “Keeping Up Appearances
Chapter 7. “Better to Serve You With, My Dear
Chapter 8. “The Battle of the Press Conferences
Chapter 9. “The Vice-President's Plan Is Missing
Chapter 10. “What the Man on the Street Said
Copyright © 2016 by W.M. Dean

1 comment:

  1. Takes me back to the good old bad days---thank God pot was cheap back then.