Before Holly had returned to Washington from New Orleans, there hadn’t been time for Buchanan to explain all the basics of how to behave if she thought she was being watched. The most important thing, he’d emphasized, was not to become so self-conscious that she exaggerated her movements as if putting on a show for someone. “Never do something that you wouldn’t normally do. Never fail to do something that you
At the moment, what Holly would normally have done would have been to stop sitting on a goddamned park bench when the drizzle turned to rain. She’d been on the bench since twenty after two, the rendezvous time she’d established with Buchanan. Now he was twenty-five minutes late, and in New Orleans he had told her that thirty minutes was the maximum time she should ever wait for him to show up. Otherwise, if she was under surveillance, she would make her observers wonder why she was lingering. That she was lingering now became even more conspicuous given the recent turn in the weather.
Holly strongly suspected that she should do the natural thing and leave right now. Buchanan had told her that if he ever failed to show up, she should return to the rendezvous area twenty-four hours later, provided he didn’t get a message to her in the meantime. Returning tomorrow would be conspicuous, yes, but it was a lot less conspicuous than seeming not to have the brains to get out of the rain. There weren’t many people in the park anymore; most had headed toward the shelter of buildings. She felt as if she was center stage and hoped that she seemed natural when she looked around. When she made up her mind and stood, she abruptly noticed movement to her left.
The movement had been there for about a minute. She just hadn’t paid attention to it. It was so common that she took it dismally for granted. But now turning, she saw a black man with a cardboard sign that said I’LL WORK FOR FOOD approach a woman who was hurrying through the park. The black man said something to her. The woman shook her head with force and kept hurrying. The black man continued through the park. The rain had begun to streak the inked letters on his sign so that now it read, I ORK OR OOD.
Holly felt a pang of sympathy as the black man approached another hurrying pedestrian, a man this time, who strode quickly on as if the beggar were invisible. Now the black man’s sign began to droop.
Oh, hell, at least one good thing will come out of this, Holly thought. She reached in her camera bag, took a dollar from her wallet, and handed it to the man as he came to her. She felt so dejected that she would have given him more, just to heighten her spirits, but she kept remembering Buchanan’s instruction not to do anything unusual. A dollar at least was better than a quarter.
“Thank you, ma’am.” What he said next startled her. “Mike Hamilton says you’re being watched.”
Holly’s pulse faltered. “What?”
“You’re to go over to the Fourteenth Street entrance to the Metro. Take the train to. . Metro Center. Go out the east doors. Walk toward the. . yes. . the National Portrait Gallery. He’ll be in touch.”
Pocketing the dollar Holly had given him, the black man moved on.
Holly’s instinct was to rush after him, to ask for a more detailed explanation, to question him about how Buchanan had known she was being watched.
But her instinct was totally wrong, she knew, and she fiercely repressed it, ignoring the black man’s retreat, acting as if he was an inconvenient interruption, glancing around as if still in hopes that the person she waited for would arrive. She didn’t dare act immediately after speaking to the man. If so, whoever was watching her might suspect that she’d been given a message.
She waited. Five seconds. Ten seconds. Fifteen. Drops of water fell from the brim of her hat. What was the most natural thing to do? To check all around her one more time, then shake her head with annoyance and walk away.
She headed back toward work, then stopped as if she had a better thought, and changed direction, moving in the opposite direction toward the Fourteenth Street entrance to the Metro. Certainly the conflict she acted out was true to what she was feeling. Two days ago, Buchanan had scared her during their talk on the paddlewheeler in New Orleans. He had made the potential threat to her seem disturbingly vivid. Because of the story she was researching. The story about
But what about journalistic responsibility? What about the courage of being a professional? Holly had dodged those issues by postponing her decisions, by telling herself that if she waited for further developments, the story might get even better. She hadn’t walked away from the story; she was merely letting it cook. Sure. Then why was she so terrified because Buchanan had gotten in touch with her? What did he want? If she was the reporter she’d always believed she was, she ought to be eager. Instead, she had the feeling a nightmare was starting.
Ten minutes later, amid the echoing rumble of trains behind her, she climbed the congested stairs from Metro Center, exited onto noisy, traffic-glutted G Street, and walked through the rain toward the huge Greek Revival quadrangle that housed the National Portrait Gallery. Despite the weather, the sidewalk was crowded, people hurrying. And here, too, there were indigents, wearing tattered, rain-soaked clothes, asking for quarters, food, work, whatever, or sometimes holding signs that announced their need.
One of them had a sign identical to that of the black man in the park: I’LL WORK FOR FOOD. She started to pass.
“Wait, Holly. Give me a quarter,” the indigent said.
To hear him call her by name shocked her as if she’d touched an exposed electrical wire. Overwhelmed, she stopped, managed to make herself turn, and saw that the stooped man in the tattered clothes and droopy hat with grime on his face was Buchanan.
“Jesus,” she said.
“Don’t talk, Holly. Just give me a quarter.”
She fumbled for her wallet in her camera case, obeying, liking the way he said her name.
Buchanan kept his voice low. “Drummond. Tomez. That’s all I have. No first names. The sort of people who’d need protection. Find out everything you can about possible candidates. Pretend to make a pay-phone call at the gallery. Meet me at eight tonight. The Ritz-Carlton. Ask the hotel operator to connect you with Mike Hamilton’s room. Have you got that? Good. Keep moving.”
All the while, Buchanan held out his hand, waiting for Holly to give him the quarter. He took it, saying louder, “Thanks, ma’am. God bless you,” turning to an approaching man, saying, “Can you spare a quarter, just a quarter?”
Holly kept moving as Buchanan had instructed, proceeding toward the National Portrait Gallery, hoping that she looked natural. But although she managed to keep her pace steady, her mind swirled from fear and confusion.