Special Agent B. W. Molloy, now retired, tells the following story: One morning the body of a child was found in the Rose Garden. The sun had just risen. A concert had been given the night before in celebration of the National Arts and Humanities Awards, an event held every year in May. The body was discovered by Frank Calabrese, sixty, the groundskeeper, who had arrived in advance of his workers to oversee the striking of the performance tent. Dew was on the grass and the air was fresh. The light inside the tent was soft and filled with shadows. What Calabrese saw under two folding chairs in a middle row at the east end of the tent was a small Nike running shoe protruding from a shroud-like wrapping. Not knowing what else to do, he phoned the Marine guard post.
In a matter of moments the on-duty Secret Service were at the site. They secured it and radioed the FBI. At the same time the President was awakened, the measures for emergency evacuation of the White House were put in motion, and in short order he, separately, and his family, their overnight guests, and the resident staff were away from the area.
The shroud was scanned and then unwrapped by the FBI bomb squad. The body was that of a boy, white, perhaps five or six years old. It bore no explosives. It was photographed, covered again, put in a plastic bag, and taken away in the trunk of an unmarked Agency sedan.
After the public rooms of the White House and the grounds had been gone over, the President’s party was allowed to return. The workers who had been held with their truck outside the gates were waved in and a few hours later all trappings of the ceremony of the night before had been removed and the White House grounds and gardens stood immaculate under the mid-morning sun.
At seven-thirty that same morning Agent Molloy, a twenty-four-year veteran of the Bureau, who worked in the Criminal Investigation Division, met with the chief of the Washington field office. You’re the SAC on this one, his chief said. Whatever you need. I don’t have to tell you—they are livid up there.
And so, just a few months from retirement, Molloy found himself the agent in charge of a top-priority case. It didn’t matter that the event was without apparent consequences. There was no place in the world with tighter security than the White House complex, and someone had breached it—someone who seemingly could carry a dead child wrapped in a sheet past all manner of human and electronic surveillance.
He had delicate issues to deal with. He wanted first of all to have all military and Secret Service personnel on duty the night before account for their actions. He wanted everything diagrammed. The agents he assigned this task looked at each other and then at him. I know, I know, Molloy said. They have their routines, we have ours. Go.
From the White House social secretary Molloy procured the list of the previous night’s guests. Three hundred and fifty people had been invited to the evening’s concert—awardees, their families, their publishers, dealers and producers, cultural figures, Washington A-list culls, members of Congress. Then there were the orchestra players, various suppliers, and press. Maybe as many as five hundred names and SS numbers to check. He called his chief and got the manpower. Dossiers, if any, were to be pulled. He hoped research would reduce the need for interrogations to a fraction of the attendees.
With everything up and running, Molloy had the groundskeeper brought to his office. Calabrese was a simple man and somewhat stunned by the high-powered reaction to his discovery. He had been in government service all his working life and had years of White House clearances. He was a widower who lived alone. He had a married daughter, a lawyer, who worked in the Treasury Department.
I just seen this sneaker, he said. I didn’t touch a thing. Not the chairs. Nothing.
Were the chairs moved?
Out of line.
No, no—they was straight. And this sneaker sticking out. It was a kid, wasn’t it? A dead kid.
Who told you?
Nobody had to tell me. Imagine. And all wrapped around in white, like a cocoon. That’s what it reminded me. A cocoon.
Calabrese had nothing more to offer. Molloy told him he was not to speak of the matter to anyone, and had already sent him out to await a lift back to the White House when a call came from one Peter Herrick, a White House deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Domestic Policy, saying the groundskeeper was to be detained incommunicado under provisions of the counterterrorist statutes until such time as all investigative questions had been answered to the President’s satisfaction. A formal authorization would be coming shortly from the Attorney General’s office.
The gall rose in Molloy’s throat. In my judgment that is a mistake, he said.
We’ve got to put a lid on this, Herrick said. Nobody other than the President knows the reason for this morning’s alert. If this is in the nature of a terrorist act of some kind, it should not be given air.
Without a doubt, Molloy said. But when Calabrese is reported missing, we’ll end up answering more questions than we want to. His daughter’s a lawyer in Treasury.
I’ll get back to you, Herrick said.
Molloy says that only when the line went dead did it occur to him to wonder why the White House liaison re this matter was the Office of Domestic Policy.
At noon he heard from Forensics. The boy had been dead from forty-eight to sixty hours. There were no signs of abuse, no grievous injuries—death was from natural causes.
Molloy went to the lab to see for himself: The body was supine, its hands clenched at its side. Attached to a lanyard around its neck was a bronchodilator. The mouth was open. The face was florid. The eyelids did not completely cover the bulging eyes. The little chest was expanded, as if the kid was pretending to be Charles Atlas. He had black hair a bit longer than it should have been. Molloy had the impression he might be Hispanic.
No foul play here, the pathologist said. You’re looking at respiratory failure. The airways spasmed and closed up.
Kid had asthma. The worst kind—status asthmaticus. Comes a time when no inflammatories or dilators can control it. To keep him breathing, because he can’t get rid of the carbon dioxide, he would have to be put on a respirator. I guess where he was, there was none available.
The boy’s clothing had been sealed in plastic bags: T shirt, jeans, briefs. Gap items. No nametags. Together with the shroud, and the Nikes, the clothing was still being analyzed. He hoped for something, he didn’t know what. Maybe a lot identification that would indicate origin of shipment.
At eight the next morning, Molloy went back to the Rose Garden and stood looking at the White House from where the orchestra platform had been. Fifty feet away and somewhat to the side was a staked ribbon to show the body’s position. He wondered when a wrapped body could have been brought into the tent so that it would not be noticed by any one of hundreds of people until the groundskeeper came to work the following morning. Conceivably, it could have been brought in after the concert was concluded and everyone had left and the lights were turned off—but that was a scenario he didn’t want to think about. It meant he would need to direct his investigation to persons who would not have been required to leave the premises once the evening was over.
Over the next several days considerable manpower was used in an attempt to identify the child. Once they knew who he was, the question of who had brought him onto White House grounds would begin to answer itself. In the meantime, the agents called him P.K., for Posthumous Kid. With photos in hand, they checked missing-children files, visited hospital pediatric wards, and interviewed pulmonologists in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. No leads were forthcoming. The Bureau’s national data bank showed no reported kidnappings to match his description. As the paper piled up on Molloy’s desk, he remembers he wondered at what point these inquiries, which were bound to create gossip, would come to the attention of someone whose profession it was to ask questions.
In order to comply with directives calling for interagency cooperation, Molloy held a briefing for a deputy of the Secret Service, an electronic-security expert assigned to the NSA, and a psychologist consultant to the CIA whose specialty was terrorist modalities.
Molloy didn’t know any of them. I don’t have much time, he said, and quickly filled them in.
Secret Service sat tall in his chair, a man in his late thirties, early forties who obviously used the gym, his suit as if tailored to his musculature. Well, he said with an icy smile, are we clean?
So far, Molloy said.
The electronics man with the NSA said he could run a system check, but the system was self-monitoring. It sends out an EKG that would have shown something, he said. So we’d already know.
Molloy’s own techs had told him the same thing.
The psychologist held his chin in his hand and frowned. Would you say this was a symbolic action, Agent Molloy?
I remind you that 9/11 was strongly symbolic, in case you think what we have here is necessarily over and done. You might be tempted to invoke the sixties as historical precedent, when you had those anti-nuke activists trespassing on government property and pouring blood on missile housing and so on. Where they were more interested in propagandizing than doing real damage. But you would be wrong. Those hippie types were American. They put their bodies on the line. They took jail terms. They didn’t sneak in, leave their calling card, and sneak out. So this is something else entirely. Something more ominous.
Like what, Molloy said.
Like a warning. As in, We’ve done this so you see we can.
So a dead boy doesn’t mean anything in particular? Molloy said. He’s just a calling card?
Well, they brought him from somewhere, the consultant said. This feels to me like an Arab thing.
Secret Service said, Still no I.D.?
No. A white kid. He could be anything.
Then he could be from where they hate us, the psychologist said. He could be a Muslim kid.
In the second week of the investigation, a break came when a district commander of the D.C. police, John Felsheimer, called Molloy and invited him for an after-hours beer. The two men had worked together on occasion over the years, and while they were not exactly friends, they had a high regard for each other’s professionalism. That they were of the same generation, family men with grandchildren, was another bond between them.
Once they’d exchanged amenities, Felsheimer withdrew a letter from his breast pocket. He said he was sorry he had not learned of the FBI investigation of a missing person until he happened to pick up some scuttlebutt that very day. He said the letter had been left at his district station a week before. Unsigned, undated, it was a single page, with just one computer-typed sentence. “You should know that a child was found, dead, in the Rose Garden.”
Felsheimer explained that Molloy was holding a Xerox copy—the original had been kept by the White House. He had put the original in a glassine envelope and taken it to the office that liaised with the D.C. police. Rather hastily, he’d been shunted over to the Office of Domestic Policy, which he thought odd. A deputy assistant, a Peter Herrick, had heard him out and expressed surprise that he, Felsheimer, would attach any importance to a crank letter. But then Herrick had said he would hold on to it.
Felsheimer, on his second beer, recalled the conversation:
So you’re saying there was nothing in the Rose Garden?
No, I didn’t say that, Commander Felsheimer. What it was, was an animal.
Yes. A raccoon. FBI did the tests. It died of rabies. It just came in there to die.
We don’t see much rabies in Federal City.
Well, you live and learn. Just to be safe, we had the First Dog tested, checked the kids of staff, and so on. Negativo problems. It just wandered in and died. End of story.
So, Brian, Felsheimer said to Agent Molloy after a pause. Am I wrong to put two and two together? Is that why the FBI is into missing-persons work now? You’re looking to make an I.D. on a dead kid?
Molloy thought awhile. Then he nodded yes.
And the kid was found where the letter said?
Molloy said: John, for both our sakes, I have to ask for your word. This is a classified matter.
Felsheimer drew another letter from his pocket. Of course you have my word, Brian. But you may be glad you leveled with me. Here’s a letter that came this morning addressed to the district commander, meaning me. When I heard you were running the show, I knew better than to go back to the White House.
This letter text was exactly the same as the first. Computer-printed, Times Roman, fourteen-point. And unsigned. But unlike the first letter, it had come through the mail. And the envelope had a Houston postmark.
Molloy did not blame himself for assuming, from the lab report of time of death—forty-eight to sixty hours before the body was examined—that the child had lived and been treated in D.C. or Virginia or Maryland. He put in a call to the chief of the FBI field office in Houston, whom he had known since their days as agent trainees, and asked for the complete paid obituary notices in all the Texas papers for the month of May. And throw in Louisiana, Molloy said.
Naturally, knowing you, the chief said, I’m to put this at the top of my things-to-do list.
You got that right, Molloy said.
He called his secretary into his office and told her to run the National Arts and Humanities Awards guest roster through the computer to tag all names with Texas addresses. The names as of today? she said. It’s down to under a hundred. The original list, Molloy told her.
He sat back in his chair and considered the mind of the person or persons he was dealing with. They had wanted it made public. Why then had the press not been tipped off? Why wasn’t it now a rumor flying all over the Internet? Only a note delivered to a district station and, upon a lack of response, a note mailed, this time almost as a reminder to the district commander? How peculiar to rely on authority when authority is what had been subverted. But there was something else, something else … a presumption that a line could be drawn between those powers who might be trustworthy, like local police, and those who were thought not to be, like himself. It did not square with the boldness of this bizarre act that the person who committed it had a hopeful regard for the law. Molloy had from the beginning theorized that he was dealing with eco-terrorists. But he had now the scintillating sense of a presiding amateurism in the affair.
It was time for a meeting with the White House liaison, Peter Herrick. Molloy found a balding blond young man who wore Turnbull & Asser shirts with French cuffs. Herrick had been a hotshot regional director in the last campaign, a President’s man. Molloy had seen his like over the years. They came and went but, as if it were a genetic thing, always managed a degree of condescension for federal employees putting in their time.
You heard from John Felsheimer, Molloy said.
D.C. police. You took a piece of evidence from him.
I suppose so.
I’ll have it now, Molloy said.
Just sit down, Agent Molloy. There are things you don’t know.
Withholding evidence is a chargeable offense, even for White House personnel.
Perhaps I was overprotective. I’ll dig it up for you. But you appreciate why we can’t have any leaks. It would be like the other party to jump on this for political advantage. There’s so little else they have going. And this is the kind of weird shit that sticks in the public’s mind.
What things don’t I know?
You said there were things I don’t know.
No, I was speaking generally about the political situation. I wonder why we haven’t heard your working hypothesis. I assume you have one? Wouldn’t you think it figures, from this crowd, something disgusting like this? The desecration of a beloved piece of ground? Not that I ever expect the artists, the writers, to show gratitude to the country they live in. They’re all knee-jerk anti-Americans.
You let a hypothesis limit an investigation and you can get off on the wrong track, Molloy said.
I’m thinking of the cases musical instruments come in. That kid could have fit into a cello case, a tuba.
The program was Stephen Foster and George Gershwin, Molloy said. There are no tubas in Stephen Foster or George Gershwin.
I used that as an example.
The cases are left back at the hotel. The instruments are examined on the bus.
Writers were on hand whose books are adversarial to the Republic. Painters of pictures you wouldn’t want your children to see. Our reward for these socialist giveaway programs.
Molloy rose. I do admire your thinking, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Domestic Policy Herrick. You have any more helpful ideas, pass them on to my office. Meanwhile, I’ll expect that letter.
Molloy knew that as a piece of evidence, the letter was useless. It would be dime-store stationery, just like the one in his possession, and overhandled at that. But he had to make a point. This group trusted only themselves. Molloy was certainly no liberal, but he detested politically driven interference in a case.
He was put in a better mood that same afternoon when one of his agents brought him a missing-persons bulletin taken from the interstate police net: Frank Calabrese, widower, age sixty. The report had been filed by Ann Calabrese-Cole, his daughter. Molloy smiled and told his secretary that when a call came from the Office of Domestic Policy, she was to say he was out.
He now had dossiers—some thirty of the guests had files. He set to work. A while later he looked up and noticed that the windows of his office had grown dark. He turned on his desk light and kept reading, but with a growing sense of dissatisfaction: There were book publishers and art dealers who’d marched against the Vietnam War. A playwright who’d met with a visiting Soviet writers’ delegation in 1980. University teachers who’d refused to sign loyalty oaths. Contributors to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. A lawyer who’d defended priests in the Sanctuary movement. A professor of Near Eastern studies at George Mason. A folksinger who’d gotten an arts award several years before … He knew only halfway through the pile that it was useless, as if he could hear the voice that had written You should know that a child was found dead in the Rose Garden. It was not the voice of any of these files. These were the files of people who, no matter for what cause, were by nature self-assertive. What he heard here was a circumspect voice going quietly about an unpleasant duty. It sounded to him like a woman.
Molloy was handed a FedExed 250 MB Zip disk from Houston when he arrived at work the next morning. He gave it to a young agent nerd whom he suspected somewhere down the line of having considered a career in criminal hacking. Would have done quite well, too: In an hour the nerd produced published notices for every child twelve and under who had died in every city and county in Texas and Louisiana in the month of May, then a refined list by city and county of male child deaths in south Texas and southwest Louisiana, and, under that, a target list of all young male deaths in south Texas and southwest Louisiana that had occurred within seventy-two hours of the ceremonial in the Rose Garden.
Molloy sighed and started in on the target list. He first looked for the age and struck out names of kids over seven. Then he eliminated names that to his mind connoted black children. With the names remaining, he read in detail the simply worded expressions of heartbreak: beloved son of … alive in our hearts … classmate of … taken from us … in the bosom of Jesus … It was not with any sense of satisfaction, but with something like a disappointment in himself, that he came upon what he knew he had been looking for. In the Beauregard, Texas, Daily Record a boy named Roberto Guzman, age six, had been remembered in three paid obits—by his parents, by his cub scout troop, and, crucially, by someone unidentified, who had written, “Rest in Peace, Roberto Guzman, it was not God who did this to you.”
Molloy told his secretary to make out the appropriate travel forms and book a next-day flight to Houston with a car rental at the airport. He had a pile of paperwork to go through—the agent interviews were still coming in—but he thought he’d have another look at the cadaver. He seemed to remember there was a small brown mole on the kid’s cheek. The on-site flash photos weren’t any good. He requisitioned a Sony Cyber-shot and went off to the morgue.
The kid was not there.
Molloy, stunned, questioned the attendant, who knew nothing about it. Wasn’t on my shift, the attendant said.
Well, someone took it. You people keep a book, don’t you? Bodies just don’t fly in and out of here.
Be my guest.
Molloy found nothing written to indicate a child’s body had been received or taken away.
Immediately, he called his bureau chief. He was told to come right over.
Now, what I’m about to tell you, Brian, his chief said—you have to understand a policy decision has been made that was explained to the director, and however reluctantly, he has chosen to go along.
What policy decision?
The investigation is concluded.
Right. Where’s the kid? I’m pretty sure I’ve made an I.D.
But you’re not listening. There is no kid. There was no body in the Rose Garden. It never happened.
So where’d they bury him?
Where? Where they would not be questioned, where nobody would see them at two in the morning.
The two men looked at each other.
They panicked, the chief said.
Did they, now?
They shouldn’t have detained that groundskeeper who found the body.
You’re so right.
Someone tipped his daughter over in Treasury. So they swore him to secrecy, sprung him, and allowed as they’d been holding him as a material witness on some classified matter. But they also told her that they’d perceived signs of dementia. So if he does say something—
That’s really low.
It wasn’t just that. The Post is nosing around. Someone sent them a letter.
Well, yes. How did you know?
I can tell you what it said, Molloy said.
When Agent Molloy got back to his office, he was seething. He sat down at his desk and, with his forearm, swept the stack of paperwork to the floor. There’d been a pattern of obstruction from the start. He’d felt an operative intelligence in the shadows all through this business. On the one hand they wanted answers, as why wouldn’t they, given an intolerable breach of security? On the other hand they didn’t. They may have made their own investigation—or they may have known from the beginning. Known what? And it was so sensitive it had to be covered up?
Whenever Molloy needed to cool off, he went for a walk. He remembers how, when he first came to Washington as a young trainee, he’d been moved almost to tears by the majesty of the nation’s capital. Quickly enough it became mere background to his life, accepted, hardly noticed. But in his eyes now it was the strangest urban landscape he had ever seen. Classical, white, and monumentalized, it looked like no other American city. It was someone’s fantasy of august government. On most any day of the week, out-of-town innocents abounded on the Mall. The believers. The governed. He kept to the federal business streets, where the ranks of dark windows between the columns of the long pedimented buildings suggested a nation’s business that was beyond the comprehension of ordinary citizens.
Back in his office, Molloy scrambled around on the floor looking for the awards-ceremony guest list. When he found it, it was as he’d thought—no Texas residents. At this point it occurred to him that if the President had had personal friends staying over that night, they might not have been on this list. Personal friends were big-time party supporters, early investors in the presidential career, and prestigious moneyed members of his social set. They were put up on the second floor, in the Lincoln Bedroom or across the hall in the suite for visiting royalty, these friends.
Molloy left a message with the White House social secretary. By the end of the day his call had not been returned. This told him he might not be crazy. Like everyone else in Washington, he knew the names of the in crowd. A couple of them had cabinet appointments, others had been given ambassadorships, so they were not possibles. But one or two of perhaps the most important held portfolios as presidential cronies.
On a hunch, he called the controllers’ tower at Dulles. He would have to show himself with his FBI credentials to get the information, but he thought he’d give them a head start: Molloy wanted to know of any charter or private aircraft logged out of Dulles with a flight plan for anywhere in Texas the morning after the awards event.
In heavy rush hour traffic he drove to the airport. He was tired and irritable. His wife would be sitting home waiting for him to appear for dinner, too inured to the life after all these years even to feel reproachful. But his spirits lifted when an amiable controller in a white shirt and rep tie handed him a very short list. Just one plane matched his inquiry: a DC-8 owned by the Utilicon Corporation, the Southwest power company, with home offices in Beauregard, Texas.
He had some leave time coming and put in for it and flew to Houston on his own money. Looking down at the clouds, he wondered why. Over the years he’d been involved in more than his share of headline cases. But in the past year or two he’d felt his official self beginning to wear away—the identity conferred by his badge, his commendations, the respect of his peers, the excitement of being in on things, and, he had to admit, that peculiar sense of superiority as a tested member of an elite, courteous, neatly dressed, and sometimes murderous police agency. In his early days he would bristle when the FBI was criticized in the press; he was more judicious now, less defensive. He thought all of this was his instinctive preparation for retirement.
How would he feel when it was over? Had he wasted his life attaching himself to an institution? Was he one of those men who could not have functioned unattached? He had suspected of some of his colleagues that they had taken on the federal agent’s life as much for their own protection as anyone else’s. Whatever his motives, it was a fact that he’d spent his life contending with deviant behavior, and only occasionally wondering if some of it was not justifiable.
He picked up a car at the airport. Beauregard was about an hour’s drive to the east. He could see it miles away by the ochre cast of sky.
At the outskirts, he turned off the interstate and continued on a four-lane past petrochemical plants, oil storage tanks, and hardscrabble lots that were once rice paddies.
The Beauregard downtown looked as if it had succeeded in separating itself from the surrounding countryside: a core of glass-curtain office buildings, a couple of preserved old brick hotels with the state flag flying, chain department stores, and, dominating everything else, the skyscraping Utilicon building, a triangular tower faced in mirrors.
Molloy did not stop there but went on through the residential neighborhoods where imported trees shaded the lawns, until, after crossing the railroad tracks, he was bumping along on broken-down roads past bodegas and laundromats and packed-dirt playgrounds and cottages with chain-link fences bordering the yards.
He pulled over at the Iglésia del Bendijo la Virgen. It was a clapboard church, unusual for Catholics. The priest, Father Mendoza, a younger man than Molloy, slender, with a salt-and-pepper beard, explained that it had been built by German immigrants in the 19th century. Their descendants live in gated communities now, he said with a wry smile.
They sat in the shade on the rectory porch.
You realize I can say nothing.
I understand, Molloy said.
But yes, Juan and Rita Guzman are my congregants. They are righteous people, a virtuous family. Hardworking, strong.
I need to talk to them.
That may be difficult. They are being detained. Perhaps you can tell me what exactly is the motivation of the INS.
I have no idea. That is not my bailiwick.
I will tell you the child had last rites. A mass. Everything from that point to burial a scrupulous celebration of the Mystery.
Unfortunately, in the shock of bereavement, in the sorrow of their loss, people are at their weakest, the father told him. Sometimes the consolations of the Church and the assurance of Christ do not quite reach to the depths of the heart of even the most fervent believer. Are you a Catholic, Mr. Molloy?
Not as much as I used to be.
This is a poor congregation, the priest said. Working people who just get by, if that. They love their Blessed Virgin. But they are learning to be Americans.
The Guzman bungalow was like any other on the street, except for the little front yard—it was not burnt-out, it was green. It had hedges for a fence and a carefully tended border of the kind of wildflowers that Mrs. Johnson, the former First Lady, had once designated for the medians of Texas highways.
The inside of the house was dark, the shades drawn. A stout old woman in black and a girl of about twelve watched Molloy as he looked around.
In the sitting room, a boy’s grade-school photo was the centerpiece of a makeshift shrine on a corner table: Roberto Guzman in life, with a big smile and a little brown mole on his cheek. The picture was propped against a bowl of flowers placed between two candles. On the wall behind it was a carved wooden crucifix.
Molloy glanced at the girl: his older sister, with the same large dark eyes but without Roberto’s deep shadows underneath.
Special Agent Molloy with the image of the dead boy in his mind felt the shame of someone who had seen something he shouldn’t have. He mumbled his condolences.
The old woman said something in Spanish.
The girl said: My grandmamma says, Where is her Juan? Where is her son?
I don’t know, Molloy said.
The old woman spoke again and shook her fist. The girl remonstrated with her.
What does she say?
She is stupid, I hate her when she is like this.
The girl began to cry: She says the Devil came to us as a señorita and took my mama and papa to hell.
The two of them, the old woman and the girl, were both crying now.
Molloy went through the little kitchen and opened the back door. There in the hazy sun was a formal garden with brick-edged flowerbeds, shrubs, small sculpted trees, grass as perfect as a putting green, and a small rock pool. It was very beautiful, a composition.
The girl had followed him.
Molloy said, Is Señor Guzman a gardener?
Yes, for Mr. Stevens.
Stevens, the chairman of the power company?
What is the power company?
Sí, of course the Utilicon, the girl said, tears running down her cheeks.
Before he left, he took down a phone number from a pad beside the wall phone: in faded ink, el médico.
He found the Beauregard City Library and read Glenn Stevens’s c.v. in Who’s Who. It was a long entry. Utilicon’s nuclear and coal plants provided power for five states. Molloy was more interested in the personal data: Stevens, sixty-three, was a widower. He had sired one child, a daughter. Christina.
Molloy got into his car and drove to the Stevens estate and was admitted by a gatekeeper. Several hundred yards down a winding driveway were the front steps.
I thought this was all settled, Glenn Stevens said as he strode into the room. Molloy stood. The man was well over six feet. He had graying blond hair combed in pompadour style, a ruddy complexion, and a deep voice. He wore white ducks and a pale yellow cashmere sweater and loafers with no socks.
Just tidying up some loose ends, Molloy said. He had waited twenty minutes to be received. The Stevens library was paneled in walnut. Settings of big leather chairs, polished refectory tables with the major papers and magazines laid out in neat rows. The french windows opened onto a deep stone terrace with potted trees and balusters wound with white flattened flowers.
But the books in the scantily stocked shelves—Durant’s Story of Philosophy, the collected works of Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon memoirs, Henry Kissinger memoirs, and ancient best-sellers in Book-of-the-Month-Club editions—were not up to scratch.
I didn’t know the Bureau was involved, Stevens said. Nobody told me that. Molloy was about to reply when a young man in pinstripes and carrying a briefcase came into the room. As fast as I could, he said, mopping his brow.
I thought I’d better have counsel present, Glenn Stevens said, and sat down in a leather armchair.
Our concern is we were told the Bureau had been called off.
That’s true, Molloy said. The incident is not only closed, it never happened.
You have to understand that Mr. Stevens would never embarrass the President, whom he admires as no other man. Or do anything to bring disrepute to the great office he holds.
I do understand.
Mr. Stevens was one of the President’s earliest supporters. But more than that, the two men are old friends. The President regards Mr. Stevens almost as a brother.
I can understand that too, Molloy said.
And he has shown the tact and grace and compassion so typical of him in assuring Mr. Stevens that nothing of consequence has happened and that their relationship is unchanged.
So why are you here? the lawyer said.
This is a family matter, Stevens chimed in. And while it may be extremely painful for me personally, it is only that, and if the President understands, why can’t the damn FBI?
Mr. Stevens, Molloy said, we do understand that this is a family matter. It has been judged as such and sealed. Nobody is building a case here. But you must understand a serious breach of security occurred that calls into question not only the Bureau’s methods but the Secret Service’s as well. We have to see that such a thing never occurs again, because next time it may not be a family matter. We would not be fulfilling our mission were we to be as casual about the President’s safety as the President.
So what do you want?
I would like to interview Miss Christina Stevens.
Absolutely not, Mr. Stevens! the lawyer said.
Sir, we’re not interested in her motives, the whys or wherefores. Molloy flashed an ingratiating smile and continued: But she pulled something off that I, as a professional, have to admire. I just want to know how she did it, how this young woman all by herself managed to leave egg on the faces of the best in the business. I know it’s been difficult for you, but considering it purely as a feat, it was quite something, wouldn’t you say?
She betrayed my trust, Stevens said hoarsely.
Mr. Stevens means his daughter is not well, the lawyer said.
Look, sir, sure she did. But there will be an internal investigation of our procedures. And I’m sure you appreciate how it is with company men—we have to cover our ass.
Out on the gravel driveway at the bottom of the steps the lawyer gave Molloy his card. Anything else, from now on, you deal with me direct. No more unscheduled visits, Agent Molloy, agreed?
Where is this place?
Do you know Houston?
Not very well.
When you get there, give them a call and they’ll lead you in. It’s no mystery, you know.
How she did it. One look at Chrissie Stevens and you’ll understand.
The lawyer was smiling as he drove off.
Molloy stayed that night at the Houston Marriott, eating room service and watching CNN. He liked the bureau chief here but didn’t want to have to answer for himself. What he did was put in a call to Washington—a lady friend from his bachelor days, a style writer for the Post, who had since moved up in marital increments to her present life as a Georgetown power hostess.
The gal has quite a history, Molloy. Isn’t this a little late for your midlife crisis?
You’ll be discreet, I know, Molloy said.
Chrissie Stevens is a flake. She was riding pillion with a Hell’s Angel at the age of fourteen. Then she found religion, Zen wouldn’t you know, and spent a couple of years in Katmandu in some filthy ashram. Oh, and she lived in Milan for a year with some Italian polo player till she dumped him, or he dumped her. You want more?
Not just once has she been in for detox at Betty Ford. That’s the talk, anyway. You know my theory?
Lives to pay Daddy back for the life he’s provided her. I mean, that may be her true passion—they are really a very intense couple, Glenn and his daughter Chrissie. But you know what’s most remarkable?
You sit across from her at the dinner table and she is spectacular. A vestal virgin, not a sign of wear and tear. Brian, she has the most beautiful skin you can imagine, coloring I would die for. Goes to show.
The phone number Molloy had found in the Guzman kitchen was for the office of a Dr. Leighton, a pulmonologist, one of three associates in a clinic a few blocks from the Texas General medical complex. The waiting room was packed, aluminum walkers and strollers abounding: women with children on their laps, the elderly, both black and white, clutching their inhalators. Three TV sets hung from the walls. Eyes were cast upward—a chorus of labored breathing and bawling children blocked out the sound. It was a world of eyes sunk in hollow sockets.
A nurse, turning pale at the sight of Molloy’s credentials, had him wait in an examining room. Molloy sat in a side chair next to a white metal cabinet on which sat racks of vials, boxes of plastic gloves. On the facing wall, a four-color laminated diagram of the human lungs and bronchia. In a corner, on the other side of the examining table, a boxy looking machine hung with a flexible tube and mask. Nothing out of place, everything immaculate.
Dr. Leighton came in, equally immaculate in his white coat over a blue shirt and tie. He was a bit stiff, but quite composed and professorial-looking behind wire-framed glasses. He leaned back against a windowsill and with his arms folded looked as fresh as if he had not been tending all morning to an office full of people who had trouble catching their breath. Molloy remarked on the crowd.
Yes, well, the smog has been worse than usual. You put enough nitrogen oxide into a summer day and the phones light up.
I wanted to ask you about the Guzman boy who died last week, Molloy said. I understand he was your patient.
Am I obligated to talk with you?
No, sir. Do you know a Christina or Chrissie Stevens?
The doctor thought a moment. A sigh. What would you like me to say—what is it you want to hear? The boy suffered terribly. On days like this, he was not allowed to go to school. He tried so hard to be brave, to control his terror, as if it was unmanly. He was a great kid. The more scared he was, the more he tried to smile. In this last attack, they rushed him up here—Chrissie and the priest and the boy’s father—and I put him on intubation. I couldn’t reverse it. He died on me. Roberto didn’t need a respirator, he needed another planet.
Chrissie Stevens had been checked in to the Helmut Eisley Institute, a sanitarium for the very wealthy.
Molloy found her in the large, sunny lounge to the right of the entrance hall. She was seated on a sofa, her legs tucked under her, her sandals on the carpet. He had not expected someone this petite. She was the size of a preteen, a boyishly slim young woman with straight blond hair parted in the middle. Her elbow propped on the sofa arm, her chin resting on her hand, she was posed as if thinking about Molloy as she stared at him.
But don’t you people travel in twos? she said with a languid smile.
Not all the time, Molloy said.
Behind her, standing in attendance, was a very young Marine in olive drab too warm for the climate. He had the flat-top haircut, the ramrod posture, the rows of ribbons, of a recruitment poster.
This is my friend Corporal Tom Furman.
When the corporal put his hand on her shoulder, she reached back and covered his hand.
Tom is visiting. He just flew in today.
Where are you stationed, son?
When he didn’t answer, Chrissie Stevens said, You can tell him. Go ahead—nothing’s going to happen. It’s been decided.
Sir, I’m posted at the White House.
Well, Molloy said, that’s a plum assignment. Does it come with the luck of the draw or is it saved for the very exceptional?
Sir, yes. We’re chosen I suppose, sir.
Ah me, ah me, Chrissie Stevens said. Can we all sit down, please? Pull up a chair for Agent Molloy and you sit beside me here, she said to the Marine as she patted the sofa cushion.
And so the two men sat as directed. Molloy hadn’t anticipated Chrissie Stevens as a Southern belle. But she was very much that. His own daughters, straightforward field-hockey types, would have taken an instant dislike to her.
She was strikingly attractive, very pale, with high cheekbones and gray eyes. But what was mesmeric was her voice. That was where the vestal-virgin effect came from. She had a child’s soft Southern lilt, and when she lowered her eyes, her long blond lashes falling like a veil over them, it was as if she had to examine in her mind the things she was saying to make sure they were correct, and the effect of an ethereal modesty was complete.
I’m not here of my own volition, Agent Molloy. Apparently I’ve done something for which the only possible explanation is that I’ve gone off the deep end. But if that is true, what other questions are left to ask?
I have just a few.
Though it’s not at all bad here, she said, turning to the corporal. They fatten you up and give you a pill that makes you not care about anything much. They stand there until they see you swallow it. I’m out to pasture right now. Are my words slurred? I mean, why not, why not, you can dream your life away, she said with her sad smile. That’s not so bad, is it?
Molloy said: Did you know that the boy’s parents are faced with deportation?
Clearly, she didn’t.
But I think that can be stopped, he said. I think there’s a way to see that it doesn’t happen.
She was silent. Then she mumbled something that he couldn’t hear.
I beg your pardon?
Deport me, Agent Molloy. Send me anywhere. Send me to Devil’s Island. I’m ready. I want nothing more to do with this place. I mean, why here rather than anywhere else? It’s all the same, it’s all horribly awful.
Oh Lord, she said, they always win, don’t they. They are very skillful. It didn’t come out quite as we planned—we are such amateurs—but even if it had, I suppose they would have known how to handle it. I just thought maybe this could restore them, put them back among us. It would be a kind of shock treatment if they felt the connection, for even just a moment, that this had something to do with them, the gentlemen who run things? That’s all I wanted. What redemption for little Chrissie if she could put a tincture of shame into their hearts. Of course I know they didn’t give our gardener’s son the asthma he was born with. And after all they didn’t force his family to live where the air smells like burning tires. And I know Daddy and his exalted friends are not in their personal nature violent and would never lift a hand against a child. But, you see, they are configured gentlemen. Am I wrong to want to include you, Agent Molloy? Are you not one of the configured gentlemen?
Configured in what way?
Configured to win. And fuck all else.
Her Marine reached over and held her hand.
What do you think? Chrissie Stevens said. Am I making sense? Or am I the family disgrace my father says I am?
The both of them were looking at Molloy now. They made a handsome couple.
Would you like some refreshment, Agent Molloy? There’s a bell over there—they bring tea.
Back at his desk in Washington, Molloy caught up on the cases that he’d left when the call came in about the dead child in the Rose Garden. One of the cases, a possible racketeering indictment, was really hot, but as he sat there he found his mind wandering. His office was a glass-partitioned cubicle. It looked out on the central office of lined-up desks where the secretaries and less senior agents worked away. There was a nice hum of energy coming through to him as phones rang and people went briskly about their business, but Molloy couldn’t avoid feeling that he was looking at a roomful of children. Certainly everyone out there was at least twenty years younger. Younger, leaner, less tired.
This is what he did: He put in a call to Peter Herrick at the Office of Domestic Policy and quietly told him, though not in so many words, that if the parents of the dead child were not released by the INS and allowed to return home, he, Molloy, would see to it that the entire incident became known to every American who watched television or read a newspaper.
Molloy then sat at his computer and composed a letter of resignation.
The last thing he did before he turned out the lights and went home to his wife was to write, by hand, a letter to Roberto Guzman’s parents. He said in the letter that Roberto’s grave might be unmarked but that he rested in peace at the Arlington National Cemetery among others who had died for their country.