It was sunny in Washington, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The fall breeze gently nudged the few remaining leaves from the trees that now stood like skeletons on the Capitol grounds. The drivers of three yellow school buses carrying children from a nearby Maryland district on a field trip to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum all slowed to see what they could of what was unfolding on the sidewalk just a half block away. The lead driver, a history buff, wanted to see what she could. She had hoped to turn the bus left onto First Street NE, but a uniformed Capitol policeman grew impatient and blew his whistle as he waved her on. She shook her head in frustration and continued down Constitution Avenue toward their destination. The children were oblivious, all caught up in their friends, phones, or sleep.
Security around the proceedings was tighter than any other event in the nation’s capital, save the night of the President’s annual State of the Union address or an inauguration. But the protectee—the witness determined to be heard—insisted on walking up the front steps of the Supreme Court rather than cowering to the threats made against her and entering through its underground garage. She wanted the country, the world, and most importantly her young daughter, to witness her bravery, her love for her country, and her belief in the sanctity of the law.
Then it happened.
Matt winced on the Isle of Capri as he watched it unfold on the flatscreen in his study. The sniper’s bullet made a mess of the witness, who dropped straight to the ground. A single shot had slammed twelve grams of lead into her forehead just as she had turned and waved to her supporters, her flowing blond hair teased by the breeze. It rained red for just a moment, in contrast to the bright white façade of the Supreme Court’s massive vertical columns. She was dead before her eyes took their last blink—and her daughter had experienced it all. The last remaining female Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court had been gunned down.
Since the President’s assassination the previous year, Washington had truly become the Wild West. The betrayals by the closest advisors of the leader of the free world—and worse yet, those sworn to protect him—had left him vulnerable and eventually put him in a morgue. It was what Matt had warned the President of that those around him could be compromised if they hadn’t been already. And now it had come to fruition.
Matt’s biggest fear had been that once the now-deceased President had declared war on the corrupt, all hell would break loose. And it had. Money, power, and ambition had been brought to bear to preserve and protect not the Constitution but seats in the Senate, chairs on the Supreme Court, and most importantly, the occupation of the White House. These were the very same things that, years before, had forced Matt to face jail time for a crime he didn’t commit—or leave his homeland. Despite wanting to fight the battle he knew couldn’t win, he opted for banishment and the codename The Export. Matt sighed. “Well, they got to see what she was made of,” he said as he turned to Francesca, looking for her reaction. She didn’t take her eyes off the screen. A floral scent drifting in from the flower boxes on the balcony, normally sweet-smelling, today reminded him only of yet another funeral to come.
They watched the incident live on BBC News. Plainclothes agents formed a protective ring around the body, their guns drawn, training their eyes on those near them or looking upward at the windows and rooftops of the buildings nearby. Most of the bystanders ran. Some stood in shock. A few recorded the event on their cell phones. Lost in the chaos was the child who had just lost her mother’s grasp, forever. Finally, an agent scooped up the girl and ran with her to the left, seeking cover behind the marble statue: the Contemplation of Justice.
“Pallbearers,” Matt addressed the screen. “That’s what you all were the minute you let that woman step out of that Suburban.” He walked to the kitchen and poured another cup of coffee, bypassing his customary hazelnut creamer and dosing it heavily with Bailey’s instead. He knew he would soon need something much stronger.
Matt turned off the television and tossed the remote onto the yellow-gold sofa as he walked by. The soft night air greeted him at the balcony door as he looked down, resisting the urge to hurl the flower boxes over the rail and into the darkness.
“Christ, when’s this shit gonna stop?” he fumed. Another cold-blooded murder and another innocent child damaged forever. He stared out toward the Mediterranean, shining brightly under a full moon. He took in deep breaths, trying to calm himself, but his adrenaline was surging despite the shot of liqueur. He’d need more, much more.
“You were right,” Francesca whispered from her chair. When he didn’t respond she repeated her words. The two of them had bet that the Supreme Court justice would never make it inside.
Francesca looked at her watch. “It’s nearly ten. Are we ever going to dinner?”
“She was ballsy, I’ll give her that,” Matt said as he came in from the balcony ignoring her question. Another strong, intelligent, patriotic woman had been taken before her time. He looked at Francesca and wondered if the same fate awaited her before shoving aside his emotions. She was stunning, a Mediterranean “10.” A hint of her perfume changed his focus.
“Ever wonder if that’s the way we’ll go out?” he asked. She smiled and shook her head slowly.
“No, my dear,” she replied as she freshened her red lipstick and then tossed the gold tube into her black leather Gucci bag. “For you, someone might find that appropriate, but whoever comes for me will do it up close, from behind, more intimate, perhaps whisper something sentimental in my ear, and then slit my throat without flinching. But this is the life we have chosen.”
Matt grabbed his dark blue sports coat from the back of a chair. “You know what scares me the most?”
“That I might kill you if you don’t feed me soon?” Francesca replied, narrowing her gaze in mock warning.
“The shot. The angle,” he said as he slipped on his jacket.
“It had to have come from the Capitol roof or from inside one of the Senate offices. In this environment, nothing would surprise me. It was an easy shot for a pro, just under eight hundred feet.” They looked at each other: an inside job was anyone’s worst nightmare. Matt looked at Francesca again, remembering how his trust in her had become an issue not once but twice before. If a third time ever came, would that be his curtain call?
“Maybe someday, if it’s ever safe enough, you can take me there and show me around,” she suggested as she checked her compact Beretta—a 9 mm hollow-point round loaded in the chamber—before tossing it in with her lipstick.
“Ready?” he joked as he tapped his foot impatiently as if she’d been the one slowing them down. Moments later they were on their way to dinner.
Five thousand miles west of Capri, another woman would soon come under attack.
She couldn’t breathe … and it wasn’t the altitude. For an instant, the lightning quickness of the sudden move the man had made had shocked her, but as she wiped the red cake and white icing from her eyes, nose, and mouth, the newly married Anne Collins-Winters laughed with joy and surprise.
The private ceremony consisting of the bride, her groom Wes, and a soft-spoken balding minister wrapped in a long black robe who charged by the hour, was held at the spot within the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado where the couple had first met while hiking just five months before.
“If I had a dollar for every time that happened,” the minister laughed as Anne took an aggressive posture toward her new husband.
“That’s it, buddy,” she shouted through a laugh, “You’re going down!”
“Sure hope so,” Wes shouted back as Anne chased him round and round the minister.
Suddenly she stopped and began to eat the remnants she’d just scraped off.
“You’ll get yours but when you’re least expecting it. Mark my words.”
With the minister paid and sent on his way, the newlyweds shared Anne’s favorite red velvet cake, sweet champagne, and a long embrace before packing up and heading to Denver for a twelve-hour overnight flight to Munich, Germany. They had forgone the traditional flowing white lace dress and tuxedo to dress as they lived: in blue jeans, hiking boots, and whatever shirt or top matched the weather forecast. Anne’s blue LA Dodgers baseball cap was the closest thing to a veil she’d ever put on her head and Wes’ well-worn red Formula One cap served its purpose. As they began to walk back down the trail toward her olive-green jeep she spun him around and kissed him again. Their ball caps fell to the ground as her long blond hair moved with the breeze. Wes’ flat-top military cut didn’t budge. Soon they would be both at work. Wes would be back from leave and ready for an assignment from his friend and boss, Matt Christopher; Anne would dive into a new job, her first overseas assignment as an investigative reporter for an international wire service.
Wes was happy to be back home in Munich. He had fallen for the city and the region during his recuperation from injuries he suffered in Iraq as an Army Ranger and, despite reuniting with his parents back in Colorado, he had longed for his humble abode. They laughed as he carried Anne over the threshold, remembering to duck at the last second. The apartment was old-world Bavarian in every way, including the doorways built for much shorter men of a bygone era.
Anne looked forward to exploring München as the locals called it, her new home. Her great-grandfather had worn the U.S. Army uniform and fought the Nazis during World War II, so her interest was keen. But Anne protested when Wes offered to give her his version of a guided tour. She insisted on the Munich Third Reich Tour she had found online. Her shock and frustration with what she had learned of the evil in the men who had walked there. That made her want to know more. Anne wanted to hear the history from a German perspective.
On Capri, an island just eight miles from the Italian coastline perhaps best known for the Blue Grotto, a cavern where the sea glows as sunlight passes through an underwater cave, Matt said good night to his security detail. The young man and woman posing as a couple had shadowed him and Francesca on the short walk into town and back. Matt set the alarm and threw his jacket on a chair as he walked to the kitchen to brew coffee, assuming that Francesca had retired for the evening. She startled him as he closed the refrigerator door and found her ready to pounce. They laughed. It was rare for anyone to be able to sneak up on him.
“You were distracted all through dinner,” she said softly.
Matt took her in his arms, held her close, and touched his forehead to hers.
“You were preoccupied, thinking of that little girl, weren’t you?” she suggested as she stepped back and looked into his eyes.
He smiled, nodding. “It made me think of a little guy in Ireland.”