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“An exciting romp through the maze of Washington politics.”—The Dallas Morning News
During a gala benefit for the Democratic Party's hottest presidential hopeful at the glittering Kennedy Center, a young woman dies, a victim of quick and brutal violence. The murder weapon belongs to the candidate. The chief suspect is the candidate's son. The dynamic campaign of Senator Kenneth Ewald has collided with a tragedy that can send his son to jail—and wreck his own career.
George Washington University law professor Mac Smith comes out of the classroom to tackle a case that's bad for Senator Ewald but may prove even worse for the nation. And Smith himself marches straight into the firing line of an unscrupulous TV evangelist who gets his orders from God and a dethroned Central American dictator who takes interference from no one. . . .
“Margaret Truman has become a first-rate mystery writer.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Murder at the Kennedy Center
Moments ago, she’d been angry and filled with the bravado such anger generates. She’d threatened, the volume of her voice kept low, the intensity high-pitched.
Now, she saw it. It was a revolver. Not a big one. There was a toylike quality to it.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, her voice cracking, a tentative laugh behind the words indicating the fear that gripped her body. “No, please, don’t do this. We can …”
“The gun was thrust forward, its short barrel ramming sufficiently hard into the softness of her belly to move her back a step.
She saw the finger squeeze the trigger. Her flesh muffled the report. The bullet penetrated her, taking with it muscle and nerve, bone and skin. It tore through her back, slower and wider than when it had entered.
She was driven backward, her beautiful eyes open wide and fixed on the last sight they would ever see, the face of her murderer.”
“Well, Leslie, how does it sound to you?”
The wife of Senator Kenneth Ewald smiled at Ed Farmer, her husband’s campaign manager, an aide who seldom smiled himself. “Everything sounds wonderful, Ed. We all think we know about show biz, but I had no idea how much was involved in putting together an event like this. Ken will be delighted.”
“That’s because it’s a one-time event; everything has to be invented or imported for the occasion,” Farmer said in his characteristically flat tone. “There are very few genuine experts. It’s like a presidential campaign.”
The others in the Kennedy Center’s George Rogers Clark Room agreed that everything seemed to have been covered; everything and everyone was in place or would be. From above, ceramic birds and animals looked down on them as if holding a meeting of their own, or judging this one.
The Marshall Boehm family had donated the room to the Center, including the collection of ceramic wildlife, and it was a popular tourist stop; there had been more than 85 million visitors to the handsome, sprawling arts complex since its dedication in 1971. The Clark–Boehm Room was seldom used for meetings, but a socialite on the committee who liked little animal and bird sculptures had pulled strings.
“It’s a shame that Mac Smith couldn’t be at this final meeting,” Mrs. Ewald said, “after everything he’s done to help us get this started and on track, and keep us legal. But his teaching comes first. It certainly looks as if it’ll be worth the time and talent and money of everyone here, and we’ve certainly stocked the pond with celebrities.”
“Boris,” Farmer said, “have you any final comments?”
Seated at the opposite end of the table was a menacing man with a shaven head, hooked nose, and absolutely black eyes like moles in his head. Boris Trenka was the Kennedy Center’s artistic director.
Trenka, who’d defected to the United States ten years earlier, after many years as artistic director of Russia’s Bolshoi, said in a low voice thick with an accent, “This is a television production. I know nothing of television.”
Farmer sighed. That was all he had heard from Trenka since they began to work on a musical gala to advance the presidential candidacy and the coffers of Ken Ewald, senator from California.
“I don’t think we should adjourn until Georges returns,” said one of Trenka’s aides.
Another aide remarked, “I suppose he’s still having trouble working out Sammy’s transportation. There was a foul-up.”
“I don’t think we need to be concerned about the travel arrangements or the lives of the rich and famous,” Farmer said. “That’s Georges’s job.”
“I should hope it’s not ours,” said Trenka haughtily.
Farmer ignored him and looked at an attractive young woman seated to his left. “The stars will get here. Anything we’ve neglected to cover, Andrea?”
Andrea Feldman had worked with Ewald for a little over a year. Because a great deal of her five feet nine inches was in her legs, she didn’t appear to be tall when seated. She had thick black hair that hung loosely to her shoulders, and a face surprisingly fair considering the dusky color of her hair and striking eyes. She wore a smartly tailored gray suit and white blouse with a simple collar, and her makeup was so expertly applied as to be undiscernible. Her nails were without polish, and the only jewelry she wore was a simple gold band on the ring finger of her right hand. She smiled. “No, Ed, I think that covers it. With all the high-priced talent around here, I can’t imagine anything going wrong.”
The door opened, and Georges Abbatiello entered the room. A veteran director of TV music specials, including the previous year’s Grammy Awards, he was a short, slight man with thinning hair, a perpetual look of harassment, and hands in constant flight, small birds hovering around a feeder—or a meeting. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, “but there’s been a misunderstanding with Sammy’s people.” He plopped in a chair next to Trenka and said, “Sammy is marvelous, just dances through these problems, you know, the old soft shoe.” He looked at Trenka. “Have I missed anything?”
Trenka said, “I think not. There is little to miss.”
“Oh, there is something else,” Andrea Feldman said, holding a finger in the air. “Miss Gateaux’s manager wants us to put her on later in the program.”
“Why?” Abbatiello said in a voice that had risen to fly with his hands. “You don’t just arbitrarily change the order of guest appearances. We’ve choreographed this down to the last second. The final version of the script is being typed at this moment. The orchestra has rehearsed everything in order. No, tell Ms. Gateaux’s manager that one thing we don’t need now is a diva’s temperament.” He sat down, elaborately weary.
“Why did you wait until now to bring this up, Andrea?” Farmer asked.
“I talked to her manager just an hour before the meeting and made a note to bring it up, only it got lost in the shuffle. She wasn’t demanding it—was very nice, actually.”
“I think it’s ridiculous to have her on the program anyway,” an Ewald media consultant said. “The senator, as everyone knows, is a jazz lover. He knows nothing from opera, so why have an opera singer? Opera doesn’t pull in many votes.”
“Jazz pulls even fewer. Are we really going to debate this now?” Farmer asked.
“I disagree,” said Trenka, the first hint of amusement in his voice all day. “At least we will have some serious music represented.”
“This whole conversation is academic,” Farmer said, closing the briefcase in front of him to make the point that he was about to leave. “Roseanna Gateaux has been invited to participate, and she will. The senator likes jazz but was especially pleased when she agreed to appear on his behalf, and that’s that.” Farmer, a slender young man with rimless glasses, a hairline that had started its rapid rise in law school, and a fondness for colorful wide-striped shirts, bow ties, and penny loafers, had been with Ewald since the senator’s early days in California as a national political figure.
“What do you think, Mrs. Ewald?” Andrea Feldman asked.
Leslie Ewald smiled. “I think I share Mr. Trenka’s appreciation for having opera represented in the musical fare. I happen to particularly enjoy opera, and Ken loves jazz. One doesn’t preclude the other. I think it’s nice that both will be heard. Maybe we should include some rap music, too.” There were a few smiles.
Farmer stood. “And,” he said, “let’s not go changing performance schedules at this late date. The show is tomorrow, and there’s enough for this committee to do to make sure the parties and such go well. Thank you all very much, ladies and gentlemen, for taking yet more time this afternoon.” To Andrea, he added, “Call Ms. Gateaux’s manager, tell him to convey to her that we love her, that it is too late to make changes, that her part of the show is prime time, before audience fatigue sets in and before we lose part of the TV audience to a very popular network comedy that cuts in before we’re finished. She’s an artist, she’ll understand.”
Farmer and Leslie Ewald were the first to leave the room. As they led two Secret Service agents into the upper lobby outside the opera house, Farmer growled, “Stars. Spare me.”
“I know, Ed, but it is wonderful that all these artists have agreed to appear on Ken’s behalf tomorrow night. The jazz lineup alone reads like a Who’s Who, and also having performers like Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez is really an incredible affirmation of their belief in him.”
“More like a belief in having someone in the White House who appreciates them. Some of these performers aren’t exactly what you’d call left-wing Democrats. Once they saw Ken pick up a head of steam in the primaries, they seemed to have forgotten the impurity of his ideology.” He laughed scornfully. “Like all the other committee frauds.”
Ewald had come in fourth in the Iowa caucus in February, third in the New Hampshire primary the same month. There was talk of dropping out. Then he took sixteen of the nineteen states on “Super Tuesday,” March 8. That was when Perry, Bradley, Cuomo, Gore, Nunn, and Alexander called it quits, leaving only Ewald and Jody Backus in the remaining pro forma races.
Farmer and Leslie Ewald crossed the sprawling main lobby and passed through the Hall of Nations, the flags of all countries currently maintaining diplomatic relations with the United States lining the soaring white marble-veneer walls above them. Farmer helped Leslie on with her raincoat and opened the door to the outside, where her limousine waited. “Ride?” she asked.
Margaret Truman won faithful readers with her works of biography and fiction, particularly her ongoing series of Capital Crimes mysteries. Her novels let us into the corridors of power and privilege, and poverty and pageantry, in the nation’s capital. She was the author of many nonfiction books, including The President’s House, in which she shares some of the secrets and history of the White House where she once resided. Truman lived in Manhattan and passed away in 2008.