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Книга Whiplash. Содержание - 25

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"Actually, it's about my wife, Nikki. You worked with her at one time, didn't you?"

He wanted to talk to her about his dead wife? What was this all about? Dana said, "Yes, and I liked her very much. It was a huge loss to all of us when she died." That sounded good, she thought, and it was the truth, at least way back then. She saw a spasm of pain cross his face. He was still grieving? She ate a bit of organic salad, and waited for him to speak. But the salad didn't taste very good, more like a TV remote with vinaigrette on it. Had he asked her to lunch for a trip down memory lane about his dead wife? Wasn't this about the advice she could provide him on the miserably low funding currently under discussion in committee for children's diseases?

"I believe you and my wife were involved in one of her favorite charities-spinal meningitis? As I recall, you were just a baby lobbyist at the time, full of passion, wanting desperately to move up in your lobbying firm. Weren't you with Patton and Associates at the time? Nikki was very impressed with the work Patton did."

Dana nodded automatically. She couldn't believe it, he'd asked her to talk about his damned wife? And her damned charities? She felt deflated, a bit angry at his deception.

Hoffman suddenly sat forward, his lunch, a small Cobb salad, untouched in front of him. "I still miss her, Dana. I suppose you could say she even speaks to me."

Speaks to him? Was he crazy?

"There was something I wanted to ask you about, something she told me about the two of you-"

Dana Frobisher heard his deep mellifluous voice, the words nearly resonating, a master's voice, she thought, but oddly, she couldn't seem to understand the words, what they meant, ah, but they were so beautiful, his voice so mesmerizing. There were two shrimp left on her plate and she forked one up, but as with the salad, she couldn't taste the delicious fried fat anymore. She stopped chewing the shrimp when she felt a hard pounding over her right eye. Oh, no, not a headache. The last thing she needed was a headache while she was sitting not two feet from one of the most powerful men in Washington. She never had headaches, but she knew this wasn't just a headache, this was something more, this was fast becoming excruciating, vicious. She closed her eyes and swallowed, felt suddenly nauseated.


She opened her eyes, tried to concentrate, but she couldn't quite focus. She realized she couldn't seem to swallow, and she started to hear her own breath in her throat. She rubbed her palms over her neck, working the muscles, but everything seemed to be backing up inside her, not just her precious breath, but something black and rancid and vile. She tried to scream with the sudden terror of what was happening, something she couldn't begin to understand, but nothing came out of her mouth. She fell over onto the floor, vomit heaving out of her mouth. In another moment, she went into violent convulsions. She heard the shouts of those around her, felt hands touching her, and she saw Senator Hoffman's face over hers, a pale blur, and she heard him say over and over, "Tell me what's wrong, Dana. Talk to me. Tell me what to do."

What to do? Her stomach was ripping apart and he wanted her to tell him what to do? He was shaking her shoulders, still speaking, but now it didn't matter because her mind spasmed with horrible, unspeakable pain and then something inside her brain seemed to pop, and she didn't know she was convulsing anymore, or that foam was billowing out of her mouth.

Her heart stopped at exactly one-thirty p.m.


Wednesday afternoon

Savich stepped out of the black FBI Bell helicopter at exactly five p.m. Special Agent Dane Carver waved him toward his Jeep. As Dane pulled out of Andrews Air Force Base, he said, "Everything's still in an uproar. The body of the lobbyist who was poisoned at the Foggy Bottom Grill is already with Dr. Branicki at Quantico. The paramedics who showed up a few minutes after she died said it looked like arsenic to them. We already know they were right. Of course, they've closed the place down and it's all over the news."

Savich said, "Where is Senator Hoffman?"

"Back at his home in Chevy Chase, with Mr. Maitland. He's shaken, as you can imagine. Look, Savich, Mr. Maitland told us you'd been working with Hoffman, that you told him his wife was trying to warn him-do you think the poison was meant for him? That Dana Frobisher was poisoned by mistake?"

Savich looked out the Jeep window at the sun baking the sidewalks, radiating enough heat to make you sweat just looking. Here it was mid-September and nearly ninety degrees. There were still tourists wandering around, families with tired children in tow. Wasn't school back in session? He remembered Dane's question. "To swallow a bullet meant for someone else, to die because of a mistake. That's tough, Dane."

Dane turned onto K Street. He spotted staffers thick on the ground, off for the day, heading for the local bars, maybe for home. He pulled the Jeep into a parking slot in the underground garage at the Hoover building.

Dane said, "According to Senator Hoffman, she'd had only a few bites of the salad, but she'd really plowed into the fried shrimp. I guess the poison was probably in the batter coating the shrimp. It's all being analyzed as we speak."

They walked through security, took an elevator to the fifth floor, and walked down the impossibly wide hall to the CAU, Savich's Criminal Apprehension Unit.

Ollie Hamish, Savich's second in command, was speaking to Ruth Warnecki, gesticulating as he always did. Agent Cooper McKnight, only three months in the unit, stood close, listening intently. Shirley, their unit assistant, sat on Dane's desk, chewing on an apple, listening as well.

Everyone turned when Savich and Dane walked into the large room. Ollie called out, "Mr. Maitland just phoned. Arsenic poison was all over the shrimp, in the batter, and she ate five of the six shrimp they served her. That's why she died so quickly. He said it wasn't elemental arsenic, but an arsenic compound-arsenic trioxide, to be exact. Get this-arsenic trioxide is approximately five hundred times more toxic than elemental arsenic. A lethal dose of pure arsenic in adults is about a hundred milligrams. The woman ate about four hundred milligrams of the arsenic trioxide. Dr. Branicki said she'd have died from just one shrimp.

"It literally exploded her system. She was dead within minutes, maybe less. The senator is in shock.

"Ruth here personally interviewed the waiter. Tell him, Ruth."

Ruth Warnecki said, "Mr. Graves is a twenty-year veteran waiter at the Foggy Bottom Grill. He told me the senator always orders the fried shrimp every week when he comes in. This time he didn't. Mr. Graves said he was surprised, but the senator told him, laughing, that his waistline was begging for only a salad today, and Mr. Graves recommended a small Cobb salad. He remembers the senator told his companion about how great the fried shrimp was, and she ordered it.

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