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Книга Whiplash. Содержание - 29

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When they were alone, Hoffman eyed Ruth. "Where's Agent Sherlock?"

Savich said, "Sherlock's up in Connecticut working on the murder of that German national."

"Oh, yes, I heard about that. What the devil is going on up there?" He stopped, shook his head at himself. "What am I blathering on about? Dana Frobisher is dead. I asked her to go to lunch with me and she ate my favorite dish-the fried shrimp-and died right there in front of me, seizing on the floor, foaming at the mouth." He shuddered, swallowed, then whispered, "It was meant for me, wasn't it, Agent Savich?"

"Could have been," Savich said matter-of-factly. "We're certainly looking at that as one possibility."

Hoffman stared at Savich like he was nuts. "You're telling me it's possible a middle-aged woman who happens to be a lobbyist had enemies who hated her enough to take the incredible risk of poisoning her in the Foggy Bottom Grill?"

"The same could be said for you, Senator. You're a middle-aged man who just happens to be a United States senator, and someone took the incredible risk of trying to kill you. What's the difference?"

"Well, that's a point, Agent Savich, but there is a world of difference between the murder of a lobbyist and what could have been an assassination attempt on a United States senator.

"My wife told you-warned you-but I refused to take it seriously. Even if I had taken her warning seriously, I wouldn't have questioned having lunch at one of my favorite eating places. But it happened there. Now, you're not going to tell me Dana Frobisher's ex-husband paid someone in the kitchen to poison her lunch? The woman isn't-she wasn't-rich, she wasn't particularly savvy or charismatic, she wielded very little power, hardly a person worth killing for any reason other than a personal one."

Ruth said, "Actually, sir, Dana Frobisher did very well financially. Her experience and contacts have given her a certain power, a certain cachet, if you will. I'm told she was a very effective negotiator.

"So far we have not found anything out of the ordinary-no stalkers, no angry neighbors, no seriously pissed-off clients. Her ex-husband is a farmer in New Mexico. He was distraught when we spoke to him. She left one grown daughter, in her third year at Brown, and an extended family, who are in shock. But of course we'll keep looking on her side of things, to see if she could indeed have been the target."

Savich said, "Let's back up a minute, Senator. Tell us why you invited a lobbyist to lunch."

"My wife worked with her years ago, admired her for her energy, her commitment to charities focused on raising money for childhood diseases. I wanted to make use of her expertise in this particular fund-raising area because it is my intention to rekindle Nikki's charities, particularly for spinal meningitis, the charity closest to her heart since her own sister died of that disease when she was six years old. I remember Nikki told me if Dana Frobisher really believed in a cause, she'd throw all her energy into it. I was eager to get her commitment."

Savich said, "Senator, I've told Ruth we have it on good authority-namely, from your wife, Nikki-that danger was coming in your direction. I agree, it seems more likely you were the target. An assassination attempt? I don't know, but it simply doesn't feel like that to me."

Hoffman said, "Over the years you learn to expect a lot of things on the campaign trail and on the Hill. Lies about your record, distortion of the facts, thinly disguised attempts to buy influence, even attempts at extortion-but that someone would try to kill a senator for personal gain? I will tell you, it gives me pause. It certainly felt to me like an assassination attempt."

Hoffman slowly rose, splayed his hands on his mahogany desk. "I think you are wrong about this. I also hope you haven't told anyone about my dead wife contacting you, asking you to warn me. Dear God, man, if the media picks that up, I'll look like a major fool on every TV screen across the United States. It could end my career."

"Only three people other than Sherlock and I know about your wife, Senator, and they are FBI agents I trust to keep things close to the vest. What about the people you've taken into your confidence-Corliss Rydle and your two sons? Are there others you confided in?"

"I told you about my nonpolitical friend, Gabe Hilliard, who owns several security firms. He knows, but believe me, he has no axe to grind. He doesn't want to kill me, he only wants to beat me at golf. Listen, if I can't trust him, I can't trust anybody." The senator looked down at his watch. "Corliss told me Gabe's coming by anytime now. She told him he might have to run the gauntlet through the media. You can meet him if you like."

Savich thought that would be a good idea. "Your aide knows Mr. Hilliard personally?"

"Oh, yes, they're great friends. You know, maybe one of the house staff overheard something, but no one else. All right, I see your point. There are lots of possible leak sites."

Savich said, "I suspect your aide, Corliss Rydle, could have her fingernails yanked out and still not tell anyone about this. I gather you've told your sons you'd cut them off at the knees if they let this thing out?"

"Cut them off at the neck, more like it."

Savich added, "You're sure the investigator has no clue about Nikki?"

"No, Corliss told him we were worried about a stalker, not a ghost. Listen, Savich, a media leak still concerns me."

Savich said, "The media is not what I'm worried about. The fact is, everyone who knows, whether innocently or not, has a tie to this. We have to find out if this was personal, or, as you believe, an assassination attempt, before they have a chance to try again. Now I want to hear everything that happened from the moment you stepped into the Foggy Bottom Grill until Dana Frobisher was taken away by the paramedics."


Hoffman jerked his fingers through his hair, and looked both ashamed and embarrassed. "Here I am thinking about myself, and how all this will affect me. That poor woman is dead because I called her to ask her to lunch.

"All right. When she arrived, we chatted about things in general, you know, nothing important, one doesn't discuss business right away. . . ." He paused a moment. "Then we ordered. I had just begun telling her why I'd asked her to lunch, when she became ill and-died."

Ruth asked, "Did your office call her office?"

"Yes, Corliss usually makes my calls."

"Did Corliss tell her the reason for the lunch invitation?"

Hoffman frowned down at his clasped hands. "No, I don't think so. Corliss was after me about an upcoming vote, and I needed some more information, and so I don't think we did. She accepted my invitation, and that was that."

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