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Jack Houston St. Clair Series (Books 7-9): A Jack Houston St. Clair Thriller

Jack Houston St. Clair Series (Books 7-9): A Jack Houston St. Clair Thriller

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Jack Houston St. Clair Series (Books 7-9): A Jack Houston St. Clair Thriller

541 pages
7 hours
Mar 31, 2019



Sam Houston St. Clair knows the days are running out before the new Congress convenes. 

But before he returns to Washington, Sam has to deal with his late wife. A long-ago former lover never leaves his side, knowing she will likely be Sam's First Lady if he's named the new President. 


Eve Harrington wrangles an invitation from President Norwalk to return to Washington aboard Air Force One. 


Crooked lawyer Derek has to balance his Russian partners' increasing bossiness as they prepare to transfer $27 million to the Bahamas. Watching from the sidelines are the Cuban government undercover operatives funneling the money—they don't trust the Russians. 

Meanwhile, the ambassadors' secret plans to remove Hawkins from the equation, thus ensuring the election for Sam, move forward. 

It all comes to a head at midnight on New Year's Eve.






Sam reflects on life as President after his first full day in office as others do the same thing. He feels fenced in a little by his former lover's efforts to get as close to him as possible, when his real feelings are for Eve.


Matt Hawkins, now a Senator after taking Norwalk's deal to switch votes, is in the news as the tabloids have a field day with the news, not to mention his love affair with Patricia Vaughan.


The new Vice President wants to run against Sam in 4 years, and plans to betray him accordingly.


Eve's mother, Maggie, impressed by how well Eve has done for herself, plots to escape the narrow and constricted life she once shared with Eve in snooty Savannah.


Crooked lawyer Derek, about to be shot by his Russian "friends," jumps into the ocean 50 miles from Miami, and after a harrowing night, is rescued by some fishermen in the morning. He creates big news when he returns to Miami alive.


Slanetti, now a high-paid lobbyist, contacts a major contractor who manages hundreds of military installations for the Pentagon. He tells him he thinks Sam is going to close half of them.


The undercover Cuban operatives have some internal issues that have to be dealt with --- harshly.





Returning from Vienna where he met with Russian and Chinese diplomats, Sam is making his way back to Flagler Hall in Miami, his first trip home since being inaugurated 3 months ago.



Son Jack is in the midst of turmoil of his own back in Miami, dealing with various dramas, not the least of which is his increasing alienation from Babylon Fuentes and his growing attraction to the seductive Lupe Rodriguez.



The Cuban agents address new problems as they struggle to expand Cuba's secret operations in the U.S., made even more difficult as U.S.-Cuban relations thaw.



Russians agents, by gifting $50 million to an ex-President's foundation, set out to buy a gold-uranium mine through a London shell company. The mine is partially owned by Sam and Jack.



At a huge formal dinner, Sam surprises everybody when he makes an announcement that stuns the world.


Mar 31, 2019

About the author

DID YOU FIND AN INTERESTING PLACE? If you discover a place you think I should check out on my next visit, drop me a line, will you? I will mention your name if I end up listing it. Delaplaine lives on South Beach, Miami’s Billion Dollar Sandbar. He writes in widely varied fields: screenplays, novels (adult and juvenile) and journalism. Website - He also writes a series of bestselling political thrillers and would love for you to read the first 3 titles absolutely FREE – no strings attached. Click the link below and you’ll get the download information. Simple as that.  DO IT NOW!

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Jack Houston St. Clair Series (Books 7-9) - Andrew Delaplaine

Jack Houston St. Clair Series

Books 7-9

The Keystone File – Part 7

After the Oath – Day One

After the Oath – March Winds


Andrew Delaplaine


Inquires to:



In the White House

Jeffrey Norwalk, Republican President of the United States

Eric Stathis, Chief of Staff

Phil Slanetti, Aide for Congressional Liaison

In the Republican Campaign

Governor Sam Houston St. Clair of Florida

In the Democratic Campaign

Senator Frederick B. Thurston of Michigan

In the Congress

Lamar LeGrand Perryman of Virginia, Speaker of the House

Matt Hawkins, Democratic Congressman-elect of Wyoming

In the Diplomatic Corps

Lord Harold Ellsworth, British Ambassador

Fyodor Z. Kornilevski, Russian Ambassador

On St. Clair Island

Jack Houston St. Clair, Sam’s eldest son

Vernon Gargrave, major domo to Jack

Sofia St. Clair, wife to Sam Houston St. Clair


Other Principal Characters

Patricia Vaughan, Washington prominent socialite, lover to Matt Hawkins

Bedelia Vaughan, her mother-in-law

Ramona Fuentes, prominent lawyer in Miami

Raven Fuentes, her eldest daughter

Babylon (Babe) Fuentes, Ramona’s second daughter, lover to Jack

Antonia Fuentes, Ramona’s youngest daughter, lover to Rafael St. Clair

Lieutenant Rafael St. Clair, Jack’s younger brother, first officer in USCGC Fearless

Lupe Rodriguez, lawyer in the Miami State Attorney’s Office

Eve Harrington, new curator of antiques at Flagler Hall

Derek Gilbertson, member of the Fuentes law firm, former husband to Raven

Vlad Kucherov, Russian mobster and owner of the Kremlin Club on South Beach

Fernando Pozo, No. 2 in Operational Division I in the Cuban Dirección de Inteligencia (or DI)

Russell Tiller, former Democratic President

Meredith Tiller, his wife

Chloe Tiller, their daughter

Article Two of the Constitution

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate.

The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.

The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if no Person have a Majority, the said House of Representatives shall in like Manner choose the President. But in choosing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, with each State having one Vote.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1


Chapter 2


Chapter 3


Chapter 4


Chapter 5


Chapter 6


Chapter 7




Chapter 1


President Norwalk rolled over and opened his eyes. It was still pitch black in his bedroom, but the ever-so-slight shift in the darkness told him dawn was near. He liked to keep the drapes pulled back, and every night before he turned in, an usher strapped them back with sashes. In good weather, he liked to look at the shadows cast against the far wall by the limbs of the great live oak outside the window on the South Lawn. At this pre-dawn hour, the stark leafless limbs flailed away in a stiff cold breeze, casting shadows against the wall that seemed to vibrate with menace. Even through the reinforced glass of the windows, he could hear the howling wind. A sudden crack of thunder told him a storm was coming.

He got up—he only wore a pair of boxers to bed—and pulled on his bathrobe, slid into his slippers, and went to the window to look out onto the South Lawn just beyond the tree branches whipping so violently in the wind.

When he’d first moved into the White House, his habit was to open the window just a crack—maybe an inch or two—to let in the fresh air, against what he thought was the unnaturally intense objections of the Secret Service.

It’s only an inch or two, he’d said in defense of fresh air.

But Mr. President, the chief of detail had explained, and not very convincingly, that this was a reckless act that might endanger his person.

I could get into Fort Knox easier than I could the one-inch in my bedroom window, mister, he’d barked at the poor guy, Norwalk recollected with a smile. That guy had long since retired, only to be followed by an equally sourpussed replacement. 

Every time he’d opened the window, the Secret Service placed two additional agents just below the window, standing under the big live oak. Their job was to watch the window all night long. Finally, he’d given in when he saw it raining and sleeting on them, sending word to bring them in, that he was closing the window.

For all his years in the White House, he thought he’d leave January 20th never knowing quite how thoroughly the Secret Service kept track of him. He looked around the room. Was there a camera on him even now? There wasn’t supposed to be. Not without his knowledge. But he, of all people, knew only too well how many things happened in the Federal government that weren’t supposed to happen.

He was smart enough to know that a lot went on that even he didn’t know about. How many other Presidents had come to the District of Columbia determined to tame the Federal bureaucracy, only to find out—to accept even—that it was untamable. It had a weird, monstrous life of its own. Presidents could come and go. Cabinet secretaries could come and go. Even Congresses could come and go. None of them mattered to the bureaucracy.

This appalling fact—and the helplessness of elected officials to change anything—was nothing you could ever admit to the American people, however, because they really had no earthly idea how vast the bureaucracy really was. If they ever found out, Norwalk was sure there’d be a revolution. It was a secret politicians—as well as the bureaucrats—were eager to keep from the people.

He reached for the window, longing to feel the rush of air coming in before the storm hit, but he stopped.

Instead, he decided to go out onto the Truman Balcony. He toyed with the idea of going through the adjoining Living Room, which connected to the Yellow Oval Room, which had French doors that gave onto the Truman Balcony. Would Sam, the Secret Service agent on duty in the Center Hall, know he had left the master bedroom?

He decided not to risk scaring the bejesus out of the man and getting himself shot in his underwear, so he went out through the bedroom door into the Center Hall.

Morning, Sam, he said nonchalantly.

Good morning, Mr. President, said Sam, rising suddenly from the chair against the far wall, surprised to see Norwalk up so early.

I’m going to the balcony to get a bit of fresh air, Sam.

Yes, Mr. President.

He walked past him as Sam alerted the security office in the basement where Norwalk was going so they wouldn’t be alarmed when he opened the door and a sensor went off.

Entering the Yellow Oval Room, he stopped before the Christmas tree there. The lights had been turned off by the night usher. He went over to the wall, leaned down and switched them back on.

Do you need any help, Mr. President? said Sam, standing back in the doorway.

No, Sam. Thanks, anyway.

Yes, sir.

How many Christmas trees you think we have in the White House, Sam?

There was a slight pause as Sam considered the odd question.

Must be at least a couple of dozen, Mr. President.

It struck Norwalk as odd there should be so many Christmas trees in the White House when there was no family living in it. There was just him. Other than a few distant relatives he’d kept at arm’s length, he had no one, not since his wife died.

He reached out, unlocked the French doors and pushed them open.

Norwalk inhaled deeply as he took in the frigid air, closing the doors behind him as he stepped outside. The sound of the wind in his ears was thrilling, the smell of the oncoming storm exhilarating, the look of the great live oak’s massive limbs thrashing about exciting. He went over and grasped the freezing cold railing, looking out past the White House grounds to the shining Washington Monument in the distance.

When Slanetti had reported to him after the fiasco involving the death of Agent Pryce, he’d been blunt:

What the hell’s going on down there in Miami, Phil?

It’s all here in my report, Mr. President. Things just went terribly wrong. Terribly wrong.

"I’ll say they did. We are running a highly illegal operation here that I’d like to think we’re keeping quiet, and now all this media coverage of Matt Hawkins. This is not what we want."

No, Mr. President.

Thank God he has the common sense to keep his mouth shut and not give the media anything.

Yes, Mr. President.

The media firestorm had been relentless, but with Hawkins sitting pretty in isolation on St. Clair Island, there wasn’t much the media could do to prey on the rookie congressman till he returned to Washington.

Norwalk had given a passing thought to sacking Slanetti, but what would have been the point, just days away from victory—or defeat? They were both too deep into the Keystone affair to think about altering course at this point. So he’d let him go back to work.

Meanwhile, Transition teams working for both candidates continued the process of consulting with the Norwalk team to insure a smooth handoff on January 20th from his Administration to whoever won.

Norwalk had met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff Christmas Eve for a briefing on the situation along the Chinese-Russian border where troops on both sides remained massed and on alert. The Chiefs seemed to think both sides were waiting for the outcome of the American election, that there was no question the situation would remain at a status quo until January 3rd when the House voted in the winner.

What happens then? he’d asked.

All heads had turned to the CIA director, who’d just shrugged.

"If Thurston wins, the Russians will move against the Chinese, testing him to see how far he’ll go to back them up. If St. Clair wins, the Chinese will push into Russian territory to see how far he’ll go to back them up."

A game of chicken, said one general.

St. Clair will not be drawn into this mess, Norwalk had said.

So everybody was waiting, poised on pins and needles.

He was surprised at how little thought he’d given to his post-Presidential life. He’d been so consumed juggling delicate affairs of state and orchestrating the Keystone initiative through Slanetti that he hadn’t given the least bit of thought to it.

Of course, he had his house in Circleville, Ohio, just south of Columbus, but he had no love for the place since his wife died. He’d ordered that his personal effects be shipped there and everything had already left the White House except the few things he needed—clothes and personal effects—for his remaining days in residence.

Long before St. Clair had thrown his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination, Norwalk, on a visit to Flagler Hall to convince him to run, had taken a tour of the island with Jack and pretty much made up his mind to give serious consideration to buying a modest property down there as a second home or even as a permanent residence. But he hadn’t definitely made up his mind. He’d already planned to spend a month or so at Flagler Hall after the election—no matter who won—so he could get his bearings.

But still the question persisted: what to do with himself?

There was his Library to work on. His memoir alone would earn him $5 to $8 million, a New York agent had told him. While he wasn’t a rich man like St. Clair, he at least felt good that he didn’t have to worry about money.

He was in his 70s, so he wasn’t a young man like Bill Clinton when he left office, a man still in his prime but with no power base. He’d been forced to create such a power base with his Global Initiative, which threw off plenty of money to insure he never had to fly commercial as long as he lived. He didn’t want to give those post-Presidential speeches at $100,000 or $200,000 a pop to feather his nest the way Clinton and Obama had.

He didn’t have the overweening and insufferable ego that Jimmy Carter had, nor the missionary zeal which caused him to create the Carter Center to advance human rights and to alleviate human suffering.

The real purpose of these initiatives, Norwalk knew only too well, was not to alleviate human suffering, but to provide a specific power base from which the ex-President could operate. Use his influence. Throw his weight around. It was a way to maintain a sense of importance. A sense of purpose.

Maybe he’d be more like the Bushes—just fade away. They hadn’t had the egos of the others. (Which is not to say the second Bush lacked hubris. He was so full of himself he thought nothing of launching two wars without considering any of the consequences that would cast negative ramifications for generations to come, that future Presidents would spend valuable time and trillions of dollars either cleaning up—or making worse.)

Well, there would be time to think through all this later on. The night of January 20th he’d already made arrangements to spend in a suite at the Willard, in fact, the very same suite now occupied by Sam Houston St. Clair. He’d booked it for a month.

Norwalk came back into the Yellow Oval Room where he saw Sam in the doorway leading to the Center Hall.

It just occurred to him that Sam shared the same name with Sam Houston St. Clair. Curious that one Sam would be President one day (if things worked out with Hawkins) and the other Sam would be up all night watching his bedroom door.

He took the shortcut he’d thought of using earlier, and went through the Living Room that connected to the master bedroom.

Mary Todd Lincoln had slept here immediately after Abe’s assassination, too distraught to enter the master bedroom she’d shared with her now-martyred husband.

Presidents had often used this room as a second bedroom, especially by those who didn’t sleep with their wives. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon had slept in that same four-poster in the corner. When the Fords moved in, they slept together in the master bedroom.

Norwalk thought it telling that the first President to sleep with his wife in modern times had been Ford, the only one that hadn’t been elected by the people. (He’d been appointed Vice President after Agnew resigned after a scandal, succeeding to the Presidency when Nixon later resigned.)

Presidents after Ford felt obliged to sleep with their wives, or to pretend to. Reagan used the room as a study and ate TV dinners with Nancy in this room.

A few days earlier, he’d kept an appointment with the major general commanding the MDW, short for the U.S. Army Military District of Washington. The staff had told him it was standard procedure for an outgoing President to meet with the MDW to specify details he’d like included in his state funeral when he died. The general had been with him for five minutes before Norwalk abruptly threw him out.

I haven’t got time for this crap now, General. Just get a shovel and throw some dirt on me.

There was still too much to do before he could think about whether he wanted a riderless horse with the boots slung backwards or to use Lincoln’s catafalque.

Norwalk passed through the room and went into his own bedroom where he took off his bathrobe and crawled back into bed. He wanted to enjoy the crisp sheets for another half hour before getting up for some coffee.

* * *

Knowing that Gargrave was an early riser, Lord Ellsworth called and asked if he could walk over to Jack’s house for a cup of tea.

Of course, said Gargrave.

He checked with Santiago when he got downstairs and told him that he was being called back to Washington on urgent Embassy business, to explain his absence and to apologize for him to Governor St. Clair, and also to tell him that he’d be back in time for Sofia’s funeral. He told Santiago he was going to see Gargrave for a few minutes before leaving for the airport. Santiago and the Flagler Hall staff had been alerted that he was leaving suddenly, but Ellsworth wanted Santiago to tell Sam the details. His security detail was up and ready to move.

By the time Ellsworth crossed the 16th green a few minutes later, Gargrave had a pot of tea resting on a table under the awning in front of the Game Room overlooking the dock where Jack’s boats were moored.

Ah, this looks inviting, said Ellsworth as he took the chair Gargrave indicated for him.

You’re up early, Uncle, said Gargrave as he poured out a steaming cup of Earl Grey.


I put out a few of these Cuban pastelitos they sent over from the Club.

Yes, those little Cuban pastries. Very delectable little things.

You liked the ones filled with guava and cream cheese, as I recall.

Yes, very nice. Very sticky. Sticky and sweet.

He took a bite of one of the flaky pastries oozing with the reddish colored guava jelly and then followed it up with a long sip from his teacup.

You’ve gone over to coffee, have you, Vernon?

"I have. But I switched to coffee quite a few years ago.

That’s a nice rich coffee. But then, in Miami, there’s good coffee to be found everywhere.

The aroma filled the air.

The Cubans won’t have it any other way. Why up so early, Uncle?

Ellsworth told him the same thing he told Santiago, and asked him to explain it all to Jack when he woke up.

I’m leaving immediately for the airport. The Embassy sent a plane. It’s waiting for me now.

It couldn’t wait a couple of days, this business?

No, it couldn’t.

Mother’s due in two days, but there will be a funeral for Sofia, so I’m not sure when I’ll get up.

I’m returning for the funeral. I’ll leave your mother with Allison in Washington. After the funeral, perhaps you’ll be free to return to Washington with me.

Ellsworth had a second cup of tea and two more guava infused pastelitos.

I’ll walk you back.

Gargrave accompanied Ellsworth back across the 16th green to Flagler Hall. They walked around to the northwest side of the building where the helipads were located, where Duva wanted to build his twin towers. A chopper was already powered up and waiting for him. 

A Secret Service agent opened the rear cabin door for him and after giving Gargrave a hug, Ellsworth climbed in. Other security boarded and within minutes, the chopper lifted off en route to Opa-locka where a large Learjet waited to return Ellsworth to Washington.

Gargrave watched as the Bell 206L-4 soared across the Bay where it was soon lost in the early morning mist floating over the mainland. There had been something in his uncle’s manner—a nervousness—that hadn’t seemed like him, but Gargrave shrugged his shoulders and put it out of mind. It was something he couldn’t put his finger on. He chalked it up to Sofia’s sudden death and whatever urgent business had called him back to Washington.

* * *

Matt rolled over as the sound of the Bell LongRanger roared past his shuttered window. He was groggy after a long night making love to Patricia.

He reached out to feel for her, but she wasn’t there. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. He was refreshed and tired at the same time. Refreshed because the sex had drained every stressful element out of his body last night. Tired because of the strenuous workout it had entailed.

The adjoining door opened and Patricia came through carrying a cup of coffee.

Matt, wake up! Here’s some coffee.

You’re up early.

Couldn’t sleep. I just found out Sofia died last night.


The room service waiter just told me. Died in her sleep or something.

I better get my shit together. I’ve got to get back to Washington to do the show tomorrow.

How can we leave like this? The poor woman just died.

No choice.

Patricia thought for a second.

How can I come back with you?

You’re right—it’ll look strange us leaving together, especially like this.

You go today. I’ll come back tomorrow or the day after.

That works.

Give me a credit card. I’ll book your ticket. You get in the shower.

Yes, Ma’am.

* * *

All of Flagler Hall woke a little earlier than usual. Sofia’s sudden death meant a lot of people had to go to work to do a lot of things.

Sam had only planned to remain in Miami till December 27. Now he had to plan his wife’s funeral.

Santiago had called Jack and Rafael right after Dr. Cooper broke the news to Sam after the Christmas toast and they’d all rushed right over.

When the boys came in, Jack stood back while Rafael went ahead to hug his father. Then Jack gave Rafael a hug, followed by Babe, Antonia, Lupe, Gargrave, Carlos and nearly everyone else.

The Gilded Cage cleared out as the mood turned from one of celebration to one of mourning, with everyone coming up to pat Sam on the back and mumble a condolence.

Hey, everybody, thanks, Sam said as people started drifting away. Christmas was Sofia’s favorite holiday. Come back and let’s have a toast to her.

Others followed as Sam went to the bar and ordered another Cognac, catching Eve’s eye as he did. He offered her a weak smile and an imperceptible tilt of his snifter. She smiled back and remained on the periphery as everyone crowded around Sam. Eve squeezed her way through the throng and got a drink from the bar. When she turned she saw all the family presents under the Christmas tree, untouched. A sad picture.

Shortly thereafter, Sam had gone up with the boys and their girlfriends and Bedelia to spend a few moments with Sofia. Rafael and Sam had each moved to one side of the bed, taking one of Sofia’s hands to hold. Rafael tried to stifle back tears, causing Antonia to come up behind him to rub his shoulders and stroke the side of his head soothingly.

Sam, for his part, sat silently, rubbing Sofia’s fingers gently, fingers he could feel getting colder and colder by the minute as the heat from what had been a truly passionate body drained out of her completely. He closed his eyes, holding back the tears. To anyone else, he knew, they would look like tears of despair. Only he knew they were tears of remorse and guilt. While his sweet Sofia spent her last moments on earth, he’d been cavorting like a wanton schoolboy on Spring Break with a woman he barely knew in the room directly under the bed where she died.

He took a deep breath, looked around the room and saw Bedelia in the far corner by the door. He’d found himself hoping Eve would be there, but of course he recognized that she wouldn’t be—couldn’t be. 

He continued to rub Sofia’s cold fingers, thinking about their past together, all the things they’d shared, but he couldn’t prevent his mind from drifting back to Eve and the rejuvenating experience he’d had in the Blue Onyx Room. He felt guilty for even thinking about Eve at this moment, but the fact was, he couldn’t help himself. Maybe it was because he and Sofia hadn’t had sex in a couple of years. They’d settled into a pattern where they cuddled, but nothing more strenuous than that. And six months ago, when she’d become weaker, sex had been out of the question, a burden he wouldn’t have forced on her in any case, no matter how insistent his desire.

He forced himself to stop thinking about Sofia. She was dead. He wasn’t. He reached across the bed and held Rafael’s hand. He looked into his eyes and gave him a comforting smile.

I’m so happy I have you, son, he said.

Rafael smiled back at him before returning his gaze to his mother.

Sam glanced over toward the corner where he saw Bedelia standing next to the nurse.

Nurse Maya had come up beside Bedelia.

So sad when it happens, even when you know it’s coming, isn’t it, Ma’am? she whispered.

Yes, of course it’s sad.

And to think you were the last to see her alive.

I think you were the last to see her alive, Maya, Bedelia said, her heart skipping a beat.

Well, that’s true. But you were the last to really talk to her. She was sleeping when I came back and my phone rang again so I was out in the hallway for about ten or fifteen minutes dealing with my stupid bitchy daughter. She must have passed away then.

That’s what happened, yes.

Then when I came back the second time, I went to check on her, and, well—

I understand, Bedelia said, patting Maya on the shoulder. Her journey is over now. That’s all that matters. The pain and the struggle—they’re over. She’s free. 

You won’t mention to Dr. Cooper that I was out in the hall, will you, Ma’am?

Of course not, Maya. Your daughter is very important. You have to deal with her. There was nothing you could have done for Sofia.

Something, Bedelia thought to herself, she knew for a fact.

Maya drifted away to another corner as Bedelia turned her attention to the grieving Sam.

Just before they came up, she’d maneuvered her way next to Sam, giving Rafael and Sam long hugs.

As she hugged Sam, she whispered to him:

I’m staying down here as long as you need me, Sam, remember that, will you?

He held her back by both arms, tears welling up.

Thank you, Bedelia, thank you. He kissed her modestly on the cheek. That means a lot to me and Rafael. More to me, really.

St. Clair’s Tallahassee staff and the Republican campaign staff worked feverishly to make all the arrangements. Sam took calls from Senator Thurston and dozens of other dignitaries calling to express condolences.

Chief of Staff Francis Clougherty and his team back in Washington working on the Transition had to shuffle any number of events to make room for the funeral, which itself was pushed up to be held on the 27th, with the hope that Sam could then return to Washington on the 28th, just a day behind schedule.

Sam was the center of the whirlwind, but like the eye of a hurricane, he was calmness itself. Serene, almost. He insisted the boys breakfast with him in the main dining room and they were all there by 8 A.M.

Rafael had been slated to return to Fearless, but Sam told Rafael that if Skye Billings gave him any trouble about leave, he’d handle it himself. There hadn’t been any trouble.

Sam was the first into the dining room.

Just me and the boys, Santi—and Mrs. Vaughan. He knew Bedelia would be down early.

Santi sat him at a four-top and a waiter came over with coffee.

When Ramona Fuentes came in, Sam jumped up and went over to greet her.

Ramona, so sweet of you to come over.

I told the girls you’d want to spend time with the boys, so I came up to spend time with the girls.

By this time, Rafael had come in with Antonia and Jack appeared with Babe.

Santi! We’ll take a big table so we can all sit together.

Tables and chairs were moved to accommodate them just as Bedelia made her entrance. There were hugs and kisses all round until Bedelia came up to Ramona and Sam.

Bedelia, you remember Ramona Fuentes, don’t you?

Of course, but it’s been years since I saw you. I used to come down quite often with my husband, Toth.

I remember you, too, said Ramona. And Toth. Such a wonderful man.

Have a seat, ladies, said Sam. He placed Bedelia to his left and Ramona to his right.

Patricia came in and Bedelia waved her over. 

May Patricia join us, Sam?

It’s no trouble, Ill get a table over there, said Patricia.

You’ll sit right here, said Babe, nodding to the waiter Luis. Luis, another place setting.

Luis pulled a chair from the next table as Jack and Babe slipped over to make room for Patricia to sit between them.

Plenty of room, said Jack. Now my dad’s not the only one with two beautiful women on his side of the table.

Breakfast moved ahead quickly. Everybody had a lot to get through this day. Patricia waited till Babe was distracted talking to someone across the table so she could lean in to Jack.

Matt Hawkins wanted me to tell you he had to rush back to Washington immediately. Urgent business of some kind.

No problem. When did you see him?

This caught her by surprise, but she recovered quickly, thought Jack.

I saw him—ran into him—on the stairs. I was coming down for an early walk around the island when he was leaving. Said he felt terrible about leaving without a word to you or Sam under the circumstances.

That’s fine. I understand. Sam’s got to cut things short and go back himself.

He wanted me to tell you how sorry he was about Sofia.

It’s not a problem.

And how grateful he was for your hospitality.

It’s fine, Patricia. Thanks.

At 8:30, Santi slid behind Sam’s chair and whispered in his ear.

Excuse me, everybody. Be right back.

Outside the dining room, Sam moved to his Secret Service detail chief and took the cell phone he held.

This is St. Clair, Mr. President. Thank you for calling.

After the usual niceties, Sam gave the cell phone back to the detail chief.


Yes, sir. The Secret Service agent cleared his throat. If I may, Governor, all of us on your detail are sorry for your loss, he said. We just wanted you to know.

Thanks again, guys. That means a lot.

Sam went back to his table.

* * *

Norwalk sat behind his desk in the Oval Office drinking his third cup of coffee and couldn’t help himself but wonder if any of the travails of Sam Houston St. Clair would be enough to sway Matt Hawkins (or anybody else in Congress, for that matter) to change his vote. He touched a button on his console.

Yes, Mr. President?

Get Matt Hawkins of Wyoming.

The Flagler Hall Town Car carrying Matt had just pulled up to the American Airlines terminal at MIA and Matt had just gotten out, wondering if it was proper etiquette to tip a driver if he wasn’t driving a taxi. He decided against it, settled for a thank you very much, and got out of the car with his one bag. He leaned back through the passenger window. Merry Christmas.

Rushing into the terminal, he was pleased there hadn’t been any media to get in his way when he left St. Clair Island. As the car crossed the bridge where the media had camped out, he ducked down onto the back seat so no one could see who was in the car.

He went to the counter to pick up the ticket Patricia had reserved for him, sliding a credit card across to the clerk.

You could have used our first class line, Mr. Hawkins, said the clerk, handing him his ticket.


Matt glanced down at the ticket. Just like Patricia to book him first class. She wasn’t used to flying coach the way he was. He looked at his credit card receipt and raised his eyebrows. The one-way fare was outrageous.

Everything all right, sir?

Uh, yes. Everything’s just fine. Thanks.

He moved away in the direction of the concourse as his cell phone tingled.

Congressman-elect Hawkins? This is the White House calling.


Please hold for the President.

Matt stopped walking and found a quiet corner in one of the bars that hadn’t opened yet. He took a chair.

Matt, how are you?

I’m fine, Mr. President.

A lot going on down there in Miami.

It was a statement, not a question.

Quite a bit more than I ever anticipated, Mr. President.

Look, Matt. I want to level with you, I want to tell you something. When I found out what Slanetti did to corner you, I was furious. I had no idea he was going to put you in such a perilous situation.

I couldn’t help thinking, Mr. President, when I fell off the top of that building, that you’d sent him.

I’ve leveled with you all along, Matt. I’ve been in this job for eight years. Do you know how many men—soldiers and agents—I’ve ordered into places where they died? How many terrorist targets I’m responsible for killing? And even how many women and children who were in the way? If I wanted to threaten your life, do you really think I’m not man enough to do it to your face? That I’d send a piece of shit functionary like Slanetti to do it for me? Is that what you think?

Matt didn’t have to pause very long before he answered, knowing the truth of what the man said.

No, Mr. President. I think you’d tell me to my face.

You’re God damn right I would. As it is, I’m just thankful Jack was there to save you.

Me, too, sir.

But, Slanetti and that nasty incident aside, I was still hoping to hear from you, Matt.

I’m still thinking about your offer, Mr. President.

All right, let’s cut to the chase. I’m going to give you until midnight on New Year’s Eve to make up your mind. If you agree to save yourself, that’ll give us January first and second to get the paperwork processed, Walt out of the Senate, you in the Senate and Bill Crampton back in his House seat where he belongs.

Is that enough time?

It was hard for Norwalk to conceal his contempt for this young man.

Not as much as I’d like. It would be nice if you’d tell me right now one way or the other so I can either make your career or break it. Two days gives me enough time to make it. I’ve got until January 20th to do you damage, and believe me, Matt, that’s all the time I need.

I believe you on that score, Mr. President.


I got it, Mr. President.

If I don’t hear, I’ll know your answer.

I’ll get back to you before the deadline.

That would be nice. Too bad about Sofia. 

Matt was stunned for a moment by Norwalk’s change in tone. He sounded almost human.

Uh, yes. It was very sudden.

She was a feisty bitch, Sofia. I really liked her, Norwalk said with a wry smile.

I really didn’t know her.

No, of course not. Matt heard a deep sigh on the other end of the line. I want you to remember, Matt, I’m not a monster. I don’t want to be a monster. But I’ll act like one to get what I need, understand?

I do, Mr. President.

Merry Christmas, Matt.

And Happy New Year, Mr. President.

Well, Matt, Norwalk said with a sardonic chuckle. That’s all up to you now, isn’t it?

The line went dead as Norwalk hung up.

Matt ran his tongue

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