Early February 2002
The money paid had been money well spent.
The figure paused in the doorway, backlit by the dim glow from the hall, eyes flickering from one still form to the other. The patients were scattered about the room, here and there in their chairs, each wrapped in his or her gauzy haze, somewhere between the memories of the past and the vagueness of today. The object of the visitor's attention was in his usual place by the window that overlooked the wide expanse of lawn, where he could catch the changing of the seasons, year after year, for as many years as his advancing age and the whims of fate would permit.
And fate could be fickle, as everyone knew. Everything could change in a heartbeat. One moment of clarity, one memory recovered, and even the old man's now-simple life could so easily become nothing more than someone else's memory.
Crossing the room in a long-legged stride, the visitor took a seat in front of the old man's chair.
"Hello." The old man nodded.
"How are you?"
"I'm fine," was the automatic response.
"Did you have a good day?"
"Yes." A nod of the head.
"What did you do today?"
"I took the train to Chicago." The old man smiled. "With Dorothy."
"I did." His smile broadened.
"And who is Dorothy?"
"Dorothy is . . ." The old man frowned. "Dorothy is . . . someone."
His face folded into lines as his brows knit together, as he tried to recall. Tried so hard to bring it back. He'd just had it, if only for a second. Now it was gone.
"Dorothy was your sister," he was reminded. "She died a long time ago."
"I see," the old man mumbled as he picked at a thread on his expensive sweater.
"Do you remember when Dorothy died?"
"No." The old man shook his head. "But I remember when she was in Chicago."
"What else do you remember, Miles?"
The old man looked out the window, as if perhaps something there might be familiar.
"Do you remember when you lived in Washington?"
"Do you remember when you worked in the White House?"
"We lived in a white house, once. It was near Newport. There was a pond out back. Teddy drowned in the pond. He was very small. . . ." The old man's gaze drifted back to the window, where the setting sun was beginning to send streaks of orange across a pale lavender sky.
"Yes, that was your little brother." A touch to the old man's face to get his attention. "I don't mean that white house. I mean the White House. In Washington, D.C. Where the President lives. Do you remember when you worked there?"
The old man's vague look was his only response.
"Do you remember Graham Hayward? President Hayward?" A studied pause. "Do you remember President Hayward? He was your friend. Your very best friend. You worked together in Washington."
"Am I supposed to remember?" the old man mumbled. "I can't remember."
"It's okay." A forgiving pat on the old man's hands reassured that all was well. "It's all right. It's okay that you can't remember." Another pause to reflect before adding, "Better for your sake, actually, that you don't."
The visitor sat with the old man for a few more moments, grateful that no memories had surfaced, that there would be nothing this day to be dealt with.
Finally, "Do you remember me?"
"No." The old man searched the face that was now so close to his own. A sharp but fleeting image flashed from somewhere in the past but disappeared before he could name it.
"No," he repeated warily, denying recognition even to himself.
His companion smiled for the first time since walking into the assisted living home, then stood and returned the chair to its place by the wall. In that brief time, the old man's gaze had drifted back to the window and the world beyond.
"Good-bye, Miles. I'll see you again soon." The parting remarks went unnoticed.
A pause in the hall only long enough to press a folded envelope into the hands of the white-jacketed orderly who awaited.
"How did you find your . . . old friend?" the orderly asked.
"Same as always."
The orderly nodded and served as an escort down the hall toward the now-darkened dayroom and the back door he'd unlocked earlier. In his pocket his fingers toyed with a corner of the envelope in which there was cash in an amount equivalent to his monthly salary. All for watching one old man and listening to his ramblings. The rich sure were different.
But why should he care, he shrugged, as long as that fat envelope came every month like clockwork? And it wasn't as if he were doing anything illegal or immoral. Hell, he wasn't hardly doing anything at all.
"Call me if there's a change." The figure paused in the open doorway.
"Any change." The emphasis was unnecessary. The orderly understood perfectly.
"Take it easy out there in the parking lot!" the orderly called through the double doors. "It's still a little icy there. . . ."
"Thanks." Hands tucked into pockets, the visitor headed out into the cold of the winter evening. Large, soft flakes were just beginning to fall, and they covered the brick walk and the parked cars like lacy leaves.
Humming, the figure walked through the pale shadows cast by the overhead lights to the car that waited at the back of the far lot, between a rusty Dumpster and a new red pickup truck.
The money had bought peace of mind. At least for tonight.
The old man's memories were buried and locked away in a place where, hopefully, they would remain for the rest of his natural life.
Which was a very good thing. As long as they remained so, the secret was safe.
And Miles Kendall--who once long ago had moved among the powerful, among Kings and Princes and senators, who had kept the confidence, and the secrets, of a President--would live to see another day.
Simon Keller handed over the keys to his vintage Ford Mustang to the valet, then climbed the steps to the trendy restaurant that overlooked Baltimore's Inner Harbor. His curiosity piqued by an invitation to lunch with his favorite former college professor, Simon had been more than happy to make the drive across the Chesapeake to meet with Dr. Philip Norton. Onetime head of the journalism department at Georgetown University. Onetime White House press secretary.
It had been an unexpected pleasure, Simon reflected, running into his old journalism professor three weeks ago at the wedding of a classmate, after having lost touch for the last year or so. Time in which Simon's life had changed as surely as had Philip Norton's.
The maitre d' led Simon to the table where Norton sat admiring the sweeping view of the harbor where water the color of dull pewter crested in whitecapped waves and a few hearty souls braved the winter winds for an afternoon sail.
"Philip." Simon smiled at the aging but still handsome slightly balding man who turned and leaned his tall frame half out of his seat to extend a hand in greeting. "I hope you haven't been waiting long."
"Not at all, Simon. I was just admiring the courage of the skipper of that small sailboat." Norton gestured toward the water. "Those little yellow and red and white flags seem to lend it a bit of bravado, don't you think, considering the forecast?"
"I missed the forecast, but judging from the look of those clouds and given the fact that the temperature has been dropping all morning, I'd say we were in for a storm." Simon accepted the menu that was handed to him by a young waiter.
"While driving up from D.C., I heard that we could expect another half foot of snow, to begin sometime this afternoon." Norton sipped at his water, then set the glass down carefully and smiled. "I'm hoping to get back to the city before it starts."
"In that case, maybe we should order now," Simon suggested.
"I heartily recommend the crab cakes," Norton noted. "They're a specialty here."
"Crab cakes have become a staple of my diet, since I live so close to the bay. I think I'll have a salad and the steak sandwich this time around." Simon smiled and folded his menu, handing it to the waiter who had appeared to take their orders and to bring Norton a previously requested cup of tea.
Simon watched his old mentor's eyes as they followed the efforts of the small boat to fight back against the wind, and wondered for perhaps the tenth time what had prompted Norton's call. He wasn't the sort of man given to idle socializing. His contacting Simon had a point, and Simon was intrigued by what that point might be.
Finally, Norton turned and said, "How are your folks? Still farming?"
"Still farming." Simon smiled. "Still doing hand-to-hand combat with those northern Iowa winters."
"Any thoughts of going back someday?"
"Only for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Mother's Day. The family farm is in the capable hands of my father and my brother. Steven never wanted to do anything but farm. I knew by the time I was eight that I didn't have a feel for it."
"Then your family is lucky to have Steven to carry on the family business." Norton folded his arms, one over the other, and leaned forward slightly. "So. Tell me how that book of yours is coming along."
"Still working on it."
"Have you been able to find an agent?"
"Still working on that, too." Simon shrugged.
"It's a difficult business, publishing."
"Are you speaking as an author or as a publisher?"
"Both, actually." Norton smiled.
"Who's your agent?" Simon asked, one side of his mouth edging into a half grin.
Norton laughed. "Actually, I do have an agent. I've only published a few, very select works of my own through Brookes Press."
Simon raised an eyebrow. "What would be the point of owning a publishing company if you're not going to publish your own books?"
"Brookes has the reputation--well earned, I am proud to say--of publishing only top-rate nonfiction. Last year's bestseller of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Howard Rensel, for example." Norton stirred his tea. "Several years ago, I wrote a novel. I felt at the time that, had I published the book myself, it would have been viewed as unnecessarily self-indulgent. Which, in truth, it would have been. I was afraid of undermining the reputation that I'd worked for over the years as publisher of a small independent press. The last thing I wanted was for Brookes to be thought of as a vanity press. So I took my novel elsewhere."
"Was it published?"
"No, it was not. Actually, I have the distinction of having been rejected by every major publishing house in New York." Norton looked momentarily amused, then sobered. "We did, however, publish a small volume of poems my wife had written shortly before her death. They were damned good poems, and I forgave myself that bit of indulgence because they were so damned good. Elisa deserved to have those poems published."
The death of Philip Norton's wife, the junior senator from New Jersey, several years earlier had been ruled a suicide. Simon knew that Norton never believed it. He could not accept that his beloved Elisa had put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger, regardless of the assurances of law enforcement officers that no evidence had been found to the contrary.
Norton's eyes drifted, then focused on the waiter who approached with a smile on his face and a salad plate in each hand.
"It's tough to sell a first book, especially one such as yours, that deals with a controversial topic," Norton continued after he and Simon had been served and the waiter turned his attention to the next table. "Especially one without corroboration. Some publishers might be afraid of being sued, should the story be challenged."
"You mean, should the story be challenged and should the author refuse to reveal his confidential sources."
"Yes. That's exactly what I mean." Norton met Simon's eyes from across the table. "And I am assuming that you are still unwilling to reveal yours."
"You assume correctly." Simon leaned back in his chair. "I quit my job at the Washington Press rather than reveal my sources on that story. I will always do everything I can to protect them."
"It must have been very difficult to have walked away from the newspaper," Norton noted.
"I could not work for a paper that demanded disclosure--even to their legal department--of the identity of some poor sucker who was putting his life on the line by talking to me." Simon's eyes reflected the same dark pewter as the bay. "Or an editor who failed to back me up."
"I admire your sticking to principal, Simon, however difficult it might make life for you at times. But tell me, then, if I might ask, what are you doing for work?"
"Right now, I'm working on my book." Simon shifted slightly in his seat.
"Anything that's generating a little income?"
"Not at the moment." The fact was that he was pretty close to the end of his savings, a fact that Simon knew he'd have to deal with in the very near future.
Both men picked at their salads for a long moment; then Norton said, "I have a proposal I'd like to run past you."
"For a book that I have in mind. One I'd very much like to see written."
Simon looked up from his plate of greens, wondering where this might lead.
"Simon, what do you know about Graham Hayward?"
"The late President?"
"Well, I know that he's considered by some to be one of the great presidents of the twentieth century. That he had the reputation of being totally honest and ethical." Here Simon smiled and added, "As honest and ethical as any man with so much power could be, I suppose. And I know that, back in the seventies, when he was in office, you were his press secretary before you taught at Georgetown."
"And very proud to be. Graham Hayward was a man who was never touched by scandal. As far as I know, he kept his promise to never lie to the American people. Hayward set the moral standard that subsequent occupants of the White House have never been able to live up to."
"How did you meet him?"
"We were both from Rhode Island, both attended Brown, as you may know, though he was several years ahead of me. Our paths crossed many, many times over the years. I supported him in every way I could. I was thrilled to be able to work with him in the White House. Those days were some of the best of my life."
Excerpted from The President's Daughter by Mariah Stewart. Copyright © 2002 by Mariah Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.