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Morning Spy, Evening Spy
PART I: MORNING
(FEBRUARY 12-APRIL 27)
1 FEBRUARY 12
"Pray for War"
"Will we ever … I mean ever … figure that asshole?"
Bill Cleppinger, sour this chilly morning, shoots me a look when he asks this, then goes back to staring out the window of our government-service Chevrolet at the rain—a sullen, sloppy February drizzle—descending on the George Washington Parkway.
I shrug: beats me.
We're talking about Ed Powers. And with Ed—well, the more you know, it always seems, the less you know. Even now.
Clep and I are being driven from CIA headquarters in Virginia into the District of Columbia. We are both officers with the Agency—Clep heads the Antiterrorism Action Committee, ATAC in the jargon, and I am special assistant for counterterrorism to the director of the Agency.
We have a midmorning appointment on Capitol Hill with a Senate aide named Jim McClennan. McClennan is chief of staff, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, whose members are supposed to watch over our doings. McClennan has told us he wants to "talk over" what he calls the "Powers thing."
Bill and I have gamed this morning's session, and we know pretty much what we want to tell McClennan about Big Ed. He will hear that and no more.
We are both, nevertheless, deeply uneasy. Powers, a private businessman, had been working for us on contract when he was murdered. He had been in the thick of an operation code-named NOREFUGE, a program we are running out of Peshawar. We think his connection to NOREFUGE may have gotten him killed.
NOREFUGE is beyond sensitive. Its object is to capture an Arab named Osama bin Laden. We have four presidential directives, formal executive orders, tasking us to do the job, and we want to, badly.
NOREFUGE, as befits its purpose, is an elaborate and tricky project, relying on telephone and other electronic intercepts and a small network of human informants we've been able to develop with much delicate work. Through NOREFUGE we have gotten to know who some of bin Laden's top people are and their addresses. We have even learned some of bin Laden's operational style, the way he travels, what his personal security procedures are.
Powers, who knew many strange people in this world, got some Afghan tribals to attack a convoy carrying bin Laden outside Kandahar, his city of choice in southern Afghanistan. Rather than go for a capture, the tribals simply slammed a rocket-propelled grenade into one of bin Laden's Toyota Land Cruisers, incinerating the thing. Wrong Land Cruiser, though—the great man escaped.
But then, a few months later, Powers died. Clep and I, some other people at ATAC, don't like the timing. We think bin Laden's group, al-Qaeda, may have killed Powers in retaliation for the attack on their leader. If so, it means al-Qaeda and bin Laden are onto NOREFUGE and know at least some of what we've been up to. Powers's death may therefore signal the unraveling of the operation.
Terrible, if true. We are getting increasing chatter—ambiguous phone intercepts, vague reports from dubious sources—suggesting that al-Qaeda is planning something very large, perhaps in the United States. We can't tell what. We are beside ourselves.
It is a delicate time, and we do not need a Senate committee barging in on this.
I look over at Cleppinger. "We never found out. About McClennan."
"McClennan. Why he never got told Powers was Agency."
Under current protocol, enshrined in two official memorandums of understanding between us and each oversight committee, House and Senate, we should have informed them when Powers was murdered that he had been an Agency contractor. We did not.
Cleppinger snorts. "McClennan didn't get told fast as he wanted. So what? McClennan's a big boy, he'll get over it. And we're telling him now." Clep makes a dismissive pffft sound. "This is all such bullshit."
About a month ago McClennan got wind somehow that Powers—crooked, slippery Ed Powers—had been on the Agency payroll. When he called over to find out if the stories were true, he got what he thought was a runaround from some of our people at Operations. I do not know—still—exactly what Operations told him, but whatever it was, it did not make Jim McClennan happy.
McClennan, who is ex-CIA himself, is normally a friendly guy, not given to outrage at his former employer, but when he got what he thought was the okeydoke from us, he, or somebody, persuaded committee chairman, Senator Dennis Coale, to send the director of central intelligence a stiff letter (hand-carried, secret courier—the works) demanding an accounting. Hence our trip into town this dank morning.
Clep hates dealing with the Hill and should not be sent on these missions, but McClennan asked for him specifically. Len Davidson, who runs Operations and is Clep's boss, ordered him to show up. Davidson asked me to tag along. I am being sent to keep the proceedings with McClennan civil, which may not be easy.
Clep, who was born pugnacious, is red-eyed and snarly this morning and looks ready for a set-to. Clep is sixty maybe, paunchy, squat, and heavy. He has buzz-cut, graying hair and a gray, suety, allbusiness face, which he keeps in neutral much of the time, though he is a bundle of middle-aged hypertension.
A mordant smile suddenly flits over that chubby face. "Well," he says, "not to worry. We have a secret weapon: this, our Briefing Book"—he taps a thin, blue loose-leaf binder he is holding in his lap. "We will hand them this. This book and what it contains"—tap tap tap—"will make all these troublesome people happy, and they will all go away and leave us alone."
Clep knows the Briefing Book is a crock. It is mostly background material on Big Ed, highly edited, along with some routine cables on Pakistani politics. Len Davidson had the thing put together, hoping it would be some kind of proof of our bona fides. There is nothing of any note in it. If committee is really interested in Powers's death, this stuff will not satisfy them.
Cleppinger's smile has disappeared.
My name is Paul Patterson. I am Ohio born and bred.
I'm heading for fifty—the big five-O—and look it. I'm getting heavy at the edges and thick at the jawline. My hair, blond once, has browned and is beginning to whiten. These days, too, I catch a hint of my mother's squarer, German face (she was an Aultz) moving into, replacing the more angular Patterson shape. It's not a shock anymore.
I like to say I'm the son of a truck driver, though my father, when he died of lung cancer in 1970, had worked for years as the very sedentary manager of a local freight-hauling firm in Columbus. In the late 1940s, though, when he was a young man, not yet married and probably a little wild, my father had driven trucks for a living, and he claimed he knew all the roads and towns between Pittsburgh and Chicago.
When he married my mother, he took an inside job—she insisted on that—and settled down to domestic life. Now and then, though, he would reminisce fondly about his driving days. I recall winter evenings in our small, old-fashioned kitchen, warm from the gas stove, and I hear my father in his gravelly voice telling me of the towns he used to pass through—Wheeling, Zanesville, Dayton, Toledo, Terre Haute—and of the behemoths he would pilot, telling me about what he hauled, about the companies he worked for.
I think my father had a wanderlust, a need to roam that for a time sent him driving from town to town in the Midwest, which I inherited. And for me, a little boy with no sense of the world's immensity, the names of those modest places had the ring of the far, far away, of romance.
About a mile from where we lived, just south of the Columbus city limits, was a small U.S. army base, long since closed, with a contingent of troops. On summer nights with the windows open in the Midwest heat, I would hear the sound of taps coming over the slow water of the Scioto River. The soft, far-off sound of that lone bugle expressed everything I thought was brave, manly, and patriotic, and I would fall asleep, lulled by its somber tones.
I went to college at OSU, and it was there that I managed to live the dream of every Ohio boy in those days. I played football for Woody Hayes, the greatest coach that ever was, that ever would be. Senior year, I was first-string tackle, offense and defense, on a crushing, almost always victorious team. By this time my father had died, but my mother in her earnest, dutiful way, collected all the clippings of Buckeye games from The Columbus Dispatch and kept them in a large, fat scrapbook, which I still have.
At OSU I did Marine Platoon Leaders' Class and between junior and senior years put in part of a summer at Quantico. As soon as I graduated, I joined the Corps over the objections of my mother. I served at Camp Pendleton in California, then Okinawa. I did overseas training in Iceland and France. In all, I gave the Corps three years of happy fealty. And the Corps—its unconditional love of country, its fatalism, its willingness to kill—entered my being and has never left.
"Pray for war," we used to yell as we jogged down the trails at Quantico. We meant it.
I have worked for CIA for almost twenty-five years, mostly overseas in various dusty Eastern capitals. Once in the early nineties, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was covering one of the spectacular trials we used to generate asked me why I'd joined. I told him because work at CIA promised me endless war on Communism. At CIA, I said, we were privileged to fight that war day in, day out. And we fought it everywhere—not just in Moscow or Beijing. We fought it in Cairo, Jakarta, Bogotá, Tehran. We used everything, every weapon, every rock and brick we could pick up off the ground to fight the bastards with.
My speech impressed the guy no end. He seemed to believe me—he got the quotes right and ran them pretty much as he'd heard them. And what I told him was true enough as far as it went.
But I didn't tell him about my wandering father or those Midwest towns, far-off and exotic in a boy's imagination, or the sound of taps in the summer night.
"Word in from an embassy. There's been a killing, you'd better get back in. We can't talk over the phone."
Stu Kremer, Cleppinger's deputy at ATAC, called me at home the day Powers died. Christmas Eve—leave it to Big Ed.
Most of the ATAC office staff, like almost everyone else in the federal government, had gone home that day in the early afternoon, buzzed, some more than others, after an office Holiday Happiness party.
When I got back to ATAC's Fusion Center that dreary evening, four or five other officers had returned to headquarters and were at work in the warren of gray cubicles that surround Cleppinger's suite. They were on their phones or popping away at their keyboards, trying to pull in what we knew about Ed and what he had been up to for us over the years.
Stu, out among them, also at a keyboard, just waved me a distracted hello.
"Peshawar," he said. "Ed Powers. They killed him."
Stu shoved an embassy cable at me describing the murder. I do not surprise easily, and I doubt that I showed much reaction, though even then I sensed the depths of trouble this might cause us.
Cleppinger, tie loose, shirt popped out over his gut, was sitting alone in his office, the only light in the room coming in through his half-open office door. On his desk stood a big, half-empty plastic bottle of Gilbeys he had rescued earlier from the party. He had stayed behind that afternoon to read cables—his way of spending a holiday.
I didn't bother to say hello. "This was not random terrorism," I said. "This was something else."
Not responding to that, Clep said, "He'd been to Peshawar a lot, five, six times in the last year, and it wasn't NOREFUGE work—we got that figured out at least. Jesus Christ, what the hell was he doing there?"
"Well, I guess."
"And got himself murdered in Pakistan—no surprise, the place is such a shooting gallery."
Cleppinger nodded. Other Americans had been killed in that country: four oil company employees in the early nineties, two consular officers in Karachi in 1995, and then in 1997 a CIA officer, a young woman named Terri Talbot, who had been working under embassy cover, also in Karachi. She was shot while being driven to work one morning. Some minor accomplices in her murder have been captured.
"Bill, it was al-Qaeda and it was some kind of payback. Maybe NOREFUGE. Maybe somebody got him for that—what do you think?"
Cleppinger made a muffled noise that sounded like agreement and looked away from me out his window, which runs the length of his office. Black sky by 5:30 p.m., worst goddamn time of the year. Outside in the cold evening, mercury arc lamps had come on to illuminate our grounds. The lamps' chilly blue light melded oddly with the reflection of Cleppinger's round face swimming in the shiny dark of his window, and it looked to me as if a bodiless Cleppinger, nonplussed by an agent's death, was hovering out there above our snowy campus.
Beyond the lamps and the zone of visibility they created, hidden in pine trees and darkness perhaps a quarter of a mile away, ran the ten-foot chain-link fence that defines our perimeter, and beyond the fence, more pine trees and the first hints of the Langley suburbs, out there where it was Christmas Eve.
Next morning, I got an early call at home from Robert Fowler, terrorism honcho on the National Security Council. When Fowler calls, it means the White House is calling.
"What have we got here?" he asked. "Another shooting in Pakistan? What the hell's going on over there?"
"I don't know, Bob. We'll get the station reporting shortly. I've talked with them over the phone, but the Paks have the info. We don't know a lot yet."
Fowler said nothing for a time, just made an impatient humming sound, not much liking my answer. Let him hum, I thought. We know what we know, Bob.
Before coming to NSC, Fowler was at State doing something with arms transfers, for or against I do not know. The rumor is, State wanted to get rid of him and suggested to him, strongly, that he take up the antiterrorism slot at NSC.
Fowler has pale blue eyes, pale white skin, close-cut, wavy red hair that's gone almost white, and a prim little rosebud mouth. He looks like death. He is also a tense, nervous piece of work.
"Who was this Powers?" Fowler asked finally.
"An American businessman."
"Who did it? What do we know? We know anything at all?"
"Right now not much."
"Don't we have assets? What are they telling us?"
"We'll get it together as soon as possible, Bob, and get it to you, promise you that."
Fowler made another impatient little hum, then said, "Right, okay. Talk to you, Paul," and hung up abruptly.
We have a lead on Powers's murder. One. It isn't much, and we are not sure what it means.
On December 19, five days before Powers was gunned down, a wanted international killer entered Pakistan. He goes by the name Liamine Dreissi. Dreissi is not his real name, but it's the one we've got, and until we know better, it's the one we'll have to use.
Dreissi, we believe, is a high-ranking operative of al-Qaeda. We have caught rumors that he engineered the deaths of those four American oil company employees gunned down some years back in Karachi. He is a man we badly want.
A day after Dreissi entered Pakistan, we got a Priority One alert from Islamabad Station reporting that he'd been sighted at the airport.
Hyperlinked with the alert was a black-and-white police photo of Dreissi we have in our archives. The photo shows Dreissi flat on, but he is holding his face tilted back from the camera, his mouth half-open. His black hair is unkempt. His eyes, empty, say nothing, seem to focus on nothing. He has a long, untrimmed beard; his cheekbones are very high. He is wearing a white shirt with a narrow, stiff little collar that he has left unbuttoned. He looks tired.
The photo is captioned, "Supplied by Algerian Sûreté," the main Algerian security service—they have a dozen or so. We got the photo through regular liaison in Algiers.
The photo shows no background, just a flat, dark gray matte. It is time-stamped bottom right—PM 6:44:59 and is dated March 1994. Two years after the photo was taken, Dreissi somehow escaped from his Algerian jail. Bribery or a breakout, we don't know which, but he's been on the loose, dodging the world's police and intelligence services, for five years or so.
Islamabad Station cabled us a confirm on the shot: two months back a Pakistani source in Peshawar had picked it out of a pile of various photos, various faces:
IDEN A, AN ORDINARILY RELIABLE SOURCE ON MATTERS ISLAMIC, RECOGNIZED THE INDIVIDUAL IN THE PHOTOGRAPH AND TOLD STATION THAT HE IS KNOWN AS LIAMINE DREISSI (SPELLING?). IDEN A COMMENTED THAT HE DID NOT KNOW THE INDIVIDUAL'S AFFILIATIONS BUT THAT HE THINKS HE IS A MEMBER OF AL-QAEDA LEADERSHIP AND THAT HE IS "STRONGLY ANTI-AMERICAN."
Dreissi has an uncertain bio. CIA records attached to the file say he was born in Algiers. Speaks Arabic, French, some English. Associated with the Armed Islamic Group, an underground movement in Algeria. Residence in Sudan, residence in Afghanistan, residence in Yemen. Fought the Russians in Afghanistan. He seems to be an al-Qaeda operations chief, an organizer, maybe a recruiter. He has traveled in the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia. Possibly Bosnia, Chechnya. Age: unknown, midforties maybe.
Dreissi had been sighted first in Bangkok, Thailand, ticketed to Karachi, Pakistan. According to Karachi Customs and Immigration, he entered Pakistan through Karachi International Airport, flying PIA. He was carrying a Moroccan passport. They did not pick him up at the airport—Thai security people notified the Paks too late, say the Paks—and he disappeared into the slums of north Karachi. The Paks told Islamabad Station that they had no further information on his ticketing, and they didn't know where he had gotten to, that he had simply slipped out of their surveillance.
Then Powers died. We want this Dreissi.
Clep tosses the Briefing Book scornfully onto the seat between us. "Here's a Powers story," he says, his face brightening. "One time we're at a dinner, Bea and me." Bea is Cleppinger's wife, a heavyset, blue-haired baritone, taller than Clep by six inches or so, and one formidable lady.
"Cairo. Ambassador's residence. Big feed. Powers somehow gets himself invited, and they put him next to Bea. So Bea and Powers are talking about this and that. Now, Bea'd never met Powers before, and I don't know how they got onto it, but Bea tells Powers she was having to put her aunt in a nursing home, right?—told him how she loved her aunt and how it was killing her to do it and all that—this business with her aunt, by the way, really did hurt, major trauma for Bea.
"Anyhow, goddamn Powers tells Bea about putting his father in a home, how it really tore him up, how just before he drove him out to the home, the old guy walked out into his backyard to take one last look at the sunset through the sycamore trees that he'd planted there long, long back. I learn later—no shit—Powers's father'd been dead thirty years, and Powers hated his goddamn guts. Sunset through the sycamore trees! Je-sus Christ, what a bullshitter! And he had no reason to unload all that crap on her, he just did."
A French intelligence officer, a suave and canny fellow, who knew Powers well once said to me, "Your Mr. Powers is very intense, very charismatic, a very charming person. He has energy, dynamism. And dreams, visions, plans. He is a man people believe, because he believes. You think that what he is saying must be true. He has the eyes, you know—the eyes of a man telling the truth."
He did. Powers had the gift—I suppose that's what it is—of talking himself into believing his own lies. People who can do that are the best liars in the world.
Cleppinger shakes his head, chuckling. "You got to admire it, Patterson, you really do. Ed Powers was the mother of all fuckers. And Bea thought he was the greatest. ‘Poor guy,' she says, ‘mourning his father.' Bea, hell, she's a sensible lady, takes no bullshit in this life, but there you go—Powers all the way!"
Bea Cleppinger has loyally followed her short, fat husband from CIA station to CIA station around the world, often teaching—her subject is math—in the overseas American schools. Cleppinger and Bea must have had their ups and downs, but their long marriage is happy as far as I know.
Not so mine.
My wife, Nan, partner and bedmate of twenty-four years, has decamped—fled—to a fancy and expensive apartment down in Crystal City close to Reagan National, leaving me alone in our house in north Arlington.
She blames me for the death of our one child, David, who died eighteen months ago in an automobile crash. The classic accident: 3 a.m. on a summer night, a car full of drunken kids. It was that waiting time between high school and college, when a world of possibilities lies before you and you think you will live forever.
The driver—it wasn't David—lost control of their vehicle on a long stretch of road in north Arlington. The police figured their car was doing 115. Of the five kids in the car, David was the only one who died. All the others were badly injured, one paralyzed from the waist down.
Nan, as I say, blames me. I was, she believes, the absent, workobsessed daddy, a common enough phenomenon in Washington, the kind of daddy that produces disturbed kids.
I think about it. It's not implausible.
David, once a graceful, good-humored boy with a sweet smile, had begun to show some disquieting signs, though nothing really alarming, mostly, I thought, the marks of the adolescent male. He kept his distance, seemed a little secretive, listened to music beyond our ken. He had friends, some of them in the car with him that night, who were not all that great.
When David died, I was out of the country, in Athens, at a regional meeting of Middle East counterterrorism officers. Nan went to the hospital alone.
Through the trees to our left, I catch glimpses of the ragged cliffs across the river in Maryland. A house appears now and then, and one white church steeple pops up out of the trees. Far below us and out of sight is the river itself, running through the chasm it has cut in these granite rocks, down to tidewater and the Chesapeake Bay. The rain has stopped now, and a fine, silky mist hangs in the air.
I came to work today from my home in Arlington and from the arms of my love, Karen. She and I have a my-place, your-place relationship these days, serious to the point of each having a key to the other's house.
I have told Len Davidson at the DDO of the romance—we're supposed to let the Agency know these things—and told Karen that I have told him. Karen, whom I met by the chanciest of chances five months back at a shindig on the Hill, is a reporter with The Washington Post. She does national politics for the Post and is well regarded in the profession.
When I let Davidson know I was dating a reporter, he seemed unsurprised, but I know the structure at Langley would just as soon I weren't. One of the polygraph questions we put to our new recruits these days is "Do you have friends in the media?" Our preferred answer is no.
I think of Karen this chill, dripping day—her hair ash blond in the early light, tousled there on the pillow. I picture her face when, in the early morning's sleepy time, she opened her eyes halfway, smiled, and, closing them again, nestled into my side.
We are in Arlington County now. Across the river on our left Maryland has become the District of Columbia, and we get our first glimpses of the radio towers and the taller buildings over there.
A small, familiar sign—it's there, then it isn't—announces that we are passing over Glebe Road, a street name I do not hear or think of easily. David died on Glebe Road.
For a time after the accident I would drive that long, straight stretch of road in suburban north Arlington where the police said they must have picked up speed. I would drive past the guardrail a hundred yards farther north that they careered off. And I would pull off the road and stop across from the big oak tree they smashed into, its bark noticeably lacerated from the accident. And there, sitting in my car, I would weep, my heart like lead, and I would repeat his child's name, "Davey, Davey, Davey," a name we hadn't used with him for years, embarrassing and also surprising myself at how easily the tears came. As we pass the sign today, it makes me think, as it always does, Davey.
When we crest a rise, the silvery towers of Rosslyn come into view and beyond them, across the river in the District, the Washington Monument and the baroque crenellations of the Watergate building.
"Look at that fucker," Cleppinger says, gesturing with his head at a black shape outside our Chevrolet's window. "Goddamn aircraft carrier, isn't it?"
The shape is a stretch limo that glides soundlessly past us in the gray light and mist, its long bank of dark windows hiding everything and everyone within. Some Virginia real estate brigand, I think. From the limo's trunk rises the V of a radio antenna that sweeps back like the tail of some great sea monster, disdaining lesser creatures in its wake, including, most emphatically, government-issue Chevy Suburbans.
A smaller car, a black Oldsmobile, rides just in front of the limo, and the two, in the sparse midmorning traffic on the GW, seem to move in tandem, swerving quickly into the right lane in front of us. Both are going very fast. Then a second smaller car, also black, follows and pulls in quickly behind the limo, and the three—lead car, limo, and chase—go sailing off in the icy mist.
This flotilla is too fancy for a real estate brigand, even the Virginia species. It dawns on me now that the limo, the other vehicles, had government plates, probably G-12, our usual number, and that all of them are Agency. The director of central intelligence has just sped past us down the GW
"Lindsay," I say.
I grunt, then say, "A little late today. He's usually there by eight."
"Going there in style, isn't he? New buggy? I like it. It's regal. No, no, make that imperial. Yes, indeedy, that's it: imperial. Fits him. Well, good luck to the president."
Paul Lindsay was confirmed DCI six months back, after a short, happy day's worth of testimony before Senate Select. He had been an assistant secretary of defense, one among many, and has no known enemies on the Hill.
Lindsay started coming to town long back, when he was a bright, young engineering professor at Cornell, shuttling in regularly to be on this or that science commission at the Pentagon. In the eighties he worked upper-level jobs at Defense and made friends there with some rising stars, then headed back to Cornell, though always keeping in touch. Four years ago, after cashing in chips at every table in town, he got himself appointed an assistant secretary and impressed enough people of both parties to rise to his current eminence.
Lindsay's an intense, driven man, balding, short, and built like a lightweight wrestler. His love in life is clandestine surveillance: photorecon, imaging, electronic eavesdropping. At the Pentagon he was in charge of some of DOD's blackest boxes, oversaw the spending of billions of dollars, and was a powerful member of the inner circle that runs that place.
At the Agency, though, he is very much an outsider, and many of the troops, especially the older ones in Operations like Cleppinger, were ready to hate him even before he came in. Lindsay, abrasive at the best of times, has already clashed with some of the upper-grade officers.
This touches on me, because in a big way I am a Lindsay man. A year back I lateraled out from CIA to Defense Intelligence and worked down at the Pentagon in their counterterrorism office, where Lindsay and I got to know each other. He liked my work and liked me personally and persuaded me to come back to headquarters, back to the Agency, as his special counterterrorism adviser, partly because I know the territory at Langley, partly because I have some old friends here—I think.
My job is to review ongoing operations, particularly at Near East Division, which everyone considers a vermin pit, and give Lindsay a heads-up on problems just appearing on the horizon. I am also operations special coordinator (OPSPECCO in the cable addresses), a post not on the older organization charts that Lindsay created for me when he brought me back from DOD. As OPSPECCO I am to run projects not quite in the chain of command, pretty much what I did at the Pentagon.
None of this, despite my long years with the Agency, endears me to the structure at Langley, from which I've gotten some chill breezes now that I'm back. I sense that even Cleppinger, a buddy of twenty years, resents my presence and considers it just one more proof that Lindsay's an asshole.
When we get to Rosslyn, we swing left off the GW and onto Roosevelt Bridge, which takes us across the river, broad here and slatecolored in the midmorning winter light. To our right, rising up over the river, is the Lincoln Memorial, to our left, the Kennedy Center and the Watergate. Suddenly we dip down onto Constitution Avenue in the District, just across the bridge at Twenty-third Street, where we stop for the light.
Even in this sorry weather three or four panhandlers, one wearing a black garbage bag to keep off the wet, are out waving plastic cash buckets, hustling the traffic as it comes in over the bridge. All are African-American. One of them, who is tall and skinny, wearing a purple exercise suit and a big, blue, peaked woolen cap, carries a cardboard sign that reads SUPPORT A HOMELESS VIET NAM VET.
I watch him as he walks up and down between the two leftmost lanes of cars, shaking his bucket at the drivers, stoically, almost cheerfully moving on as no one rolls down a window. He has a short, gray, nappy beard and a pushed-in nose, and he looks benignly purposeful. I make eye contact with the guy just to see what he will do, but he glances on quickly, knowing I'm no customer.
He could have been in Vietnam. He looks about the right age.
As the light changes, traffic eases onto the straightaway of Constitution Avenue, and we leave the panhandlers behind in the sodden morning. I wonder about them. Funny how they show so little menace.
We are now in the District of Columbia, in the Washington that the country sees at the movies, and we proceed along Constitution. To the right of us is the Mall, two miles of open green space edged by museums and punctuated with memorials and gardens, a kind of officially approved national memory stream and one of my favorite places in this city. Just out of sight, down below a grove of oak trees, is the black slash of the Vietnam Memorial, its unseen presence announced by a modest brown Park Service sign.
Cleppinger's gone silent. He's been that way, it now strikes me, since we first sighted Rosslyn. Brooding maybe, thinking of McClennan.
Far over the Ellipse on our left I see the White House, where Lindsay and his flotilla have presumably arrived. We proceed now in the slow morning traffic, past all those federal departments and agencies that lie on the north side of this broad avenue: Commerce, Internal Revenue, Justice, the Federal Trade Commission—what you think of when you think of tedium.
Ahead of us, the Hill comes into view, rising gently over all the rest of this city, with the Capitol sitting high up there like a shining temple, as the Founders had wanted it to do, and on the very top of its great white dome the statue of Lady Liberty.
"Spin City," Cleppinger says finally, as much to himself as to me. Then: "Truth scares these people."
MORNING SPY, EVENING SPY. Copyright © 2006 by Colin MacKinnon. All rights reserved.