D. W. Buffa
Richard Bauman sat just inside the doorway to the suite, annoyed that he was reading for the second time that evening the sports section of a day-old paper. He was in the most expensive suite in one of the most expensive hotels in New York, and all he could do was sit there and let his eyes wander down the box score of a game he did not even know had been played. Tossing the paper on the coffee table, he walked over to the window and stared out at the moonlit shadows of Central Park, wondering what it would be like to have the kind of money to be rich enough to come here on his own. The thought vanished as quickly as it had come as he glanced across to the double doors that led into the bedroom.
“Strange business,” he muttered, shaking his head.
Three or four times every month they stayed here, in this hotel, and always in this same suite. There was never any reason given; everyone understood. It was a simple matter of logistics, the easy convenience that did not even need the lie. Another room, on the other side of the suite, a door that could be unlocked to add another bedroom, or, which was here the point, kept separate and apart. It was a way to get privacy with discretion, a way to make sure that all the rumors remained only that; rumors that, even if nearly everyone believed them, no one could actually prove.
“Strange business,” Bauman repeated under his breath as he checked his watch. Ten minutes past one in the morning, ten minutes past one on a Saturday night. With a gruff sigh, he sat down in the chair and started reading the sports section he had read twice before.
He was just turning the page when he thought he heard something. He put down the paper. He heard it again, louder this time, a brutal, gasping noise. He leaped out of the chair and ran to the bedroom door. It was locked. He could hear someone moving around inside. He pounded on the door.
“Mr. President!” he shouted. “Are you all right?”
No one answered; no one came to the door. Then he heard it again, louder, more insistent, an unmistakable cry for help.
“Mr. President!” screamed Bauman at the top of his lungs, beating on the locked door.
The door flew open. A tall, thin woman in her late twenties or early thirties, with raven hair and frantic dark eyes, stood there, holding a sheet in front of her and pointing toward the bed.
“We were…and then he just stopped, and then he pulled away and he got this strange, crazy look in his eyes, like something had happened and he couldn’t figure out what it was, and then he just rolled away and his eyes kind of…kind of went dead.”
Bauman pushed past her and ran to the bed. Robert Constable, the president of the United States, was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling with eyes that could no longer see. Bauman checked the president’s wrist and then his throat; there was no pulse. Robert Constable was dead.
“He had a bad heart, didn’t he?” asked the young woman, clutching the sheet under her chin. Bauman looked at her and told her to get dressed.
“You’re in the room next door? Get your stuff and get out of here, get out of here now!” he ordered. His eyes started moving all around the room. “Here,” he said with a little more sympathy, “let me help you.” He picked up the few of her things still scattered on the floor and handed them to her.
“Now listen to me, listen carefully. You weren’t here. You understand me? You were never here. Go back to your room. I’ll lock the door behind you. Pack your bag, whatever you brought with you, and leave the hotel. Do it now,” he said as he took her by the arm and led her to the door. “Get dressed and leave. You have to be out of here in five minutes, because in five minutes half of New York is going to be here. Now go!”
It had all been instinct, the immediate first reaction: protect the president, even if it was to protect the president against himself. He turned back to the dead body lying on the bed. “What a waste,” he told himself. “What a stupid thing to do.”
There would be speculation enough, all those hollow-eyed talking heads on television, all those gossip-hungry fools, always full of news, most of which they invented on the spot. Think what they would do with this. Robert Constable, the president of the United States, screws himself to death with a gorgeous young woman less than half his age. Bauman tried to clear his mind. Had he forgotten anything? Had the girl left anything behind? He checked the nightstand next to the bed, and then the bathroom. There was a trace of powder, white powder, next to the sink.
“Crazy bastard,” he muttered, as he wiped the counter clean. He caught a glimpse of himself in the shiny silver mirror and for an instant thought he saw his conscience looking out. He looked away, finished what he was doing, and went back to the bedroom.
The girl had not left any jewelry, or anything else that he could see. Then he remembered. He felt a strange sense of impropriety, a violation of privacy, and not just that of the president and the woman he had been with, but of his own, as he searched beneath the pillows and then the corners of the bed, on the chance that the girl had left her underwear behind.
It had been only a few minutes since he first entered the room and found the president dead. He had done everything he thought he needed to, at least everything he could do alone. His eyes darted toward the body. It could not be left like that, stark naked, with… Why hadn’t he noticed it before? Lipstick, and not just on the president’s mouth.
“Damn it!” he exclaimed in a whispered, angry shout, as he hurried into the bathroom where he scrubbed soap and hot water into a washcloth.
He almost could not do it, wash away the tell-tale signs of a grown man’s infidelity, a womanizer’s last-time cheat. He taunted himself with being squeamish and, when that was not quite enough, tried to remember that it was not as if he had to deal with the disappointment he might have felt if this had been a president he revered. When he was finished, he took one last look around and then walked through the sitting room, opened the door to the hallway, and motioned to the agent standing just outside.
“We have a situation.”
James Elias, taller than Bauman and ten years younger, had worked with him long enough to know from his tone of voice that this was something serious.
“You want the others?”
Elias looked down the corridor to where two other agents stood opposite the elevators, and then followed Bauman inside. The doors to the bedroom were open. Though trained to caution, Elias was shocked at what he saw.
“Jesus Christ! Have you called the medics?”
Bauman was all business. “He’s dead. Nothing anyone can do. We need to get him dressed, get some pajamas on him.”
Elias respected Bauman-more than that, he looked up to him-but while he had been willing to go along with other things to keep the president out of trouble, this was rearranging the scene of a death.
“I’ve taken care of everything else,” explained Bauman, who understood the younger man’s dilemma. “You know what will happen if he’s found like this.”
Elias still did not move. He looked at Bauman, but Bauman suddenly seemed exhausted, too tired to think beyond the immediate present and the thing he had to do next.
“What about the girl?”
“There was always a girl.”
Bauman did not answer; he turned and started toward the bedroom. Elias did not follow.
“Look, what choice do we have?” asked Bauman, his voice betraying some slight irritation. “We were supposed to take a bullet for him, if it came to that. This isn’t quite as bad, is it?”
Bauman was not sure himself how he would have answered that question. There was something noble and heroic about putting your life on the line for the president, whom you were sworn to protect; it was hard to find anything to brag about in cleaning up the evidence of this last scene of almost Roman decadence: a sex-crazed politician, dead in the middle of an orgasm, the only witness to his final passing moments, not his family and friends, but some coke-sniffing woman with the face of an angel and a harlot’s heart, the kind who only sleeps with men who can sleep with anyone because of who they are.
“Maybe I should have found out who she was, but I didn’t,” he admitted with a weary, rueful glance.
“The room next door?” asked Elias, as they pulled the pajamas up over the president’s dead-weight legs.
“Yeah; we better check it, make sure she didn’t leave anything.”
“You see her before? She someone he…?”
“No, she was new. Young, gorgeous. A model, maybe-I don’t know.” He paused, remembering something that made him think. “She wasn’t scared. I didn’t pick up on it-too many things were going through my mind-but I’m sure of it. She wasn’t scared. Her voice trembled a little, like she was-scared, I mean, but her eyes-they didn’t move. She looked right at me, almost as if she were trying to measure my reaction.”
Elias tied the pajama cord and stepped away to see if everything looked the way it should.
“Wouldn’t surprise me, given the kind of woman he seemed to like,” he said, tilting his head to the side to look at what he had done from a slightly different angle.
“What wouldn’t surprise you?”
“That she didn’t look scared.” He nodded t ...