The Echo of the Whip — excerpt

Chapter 1

Pacific Palisades, California, Friday, March 13, 2015
The whistling man approached the rear entrance of the fertility clinic just off Sunset Boulevard dressed in a tan janitorial jumpsuit, a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap and wraparound sunglasses. Both his fingerprints and his sneakers’ tread pattern had been altered by applications of adhesives that could be removed with hot water and soap.
The color of his complexion might have been that of a Latino, Asian or light-skinned African-American. The blurring of his ethnic lines was intentional, the product of artfully applied cosmetics. The makeup also served to camouflage his age, though gray hair at the temples, peeking out from his baseball cap suggested he was at least middle-aged.
Still, the spring in his step as he pushed a covered, wheeled trash can to the rear door suggested he still possessed the vigor of younger man. Though there was no one about to hear him in the first rays of daylight, he continued whistling a show tune. Both personal experience and psychological studies proved this exercise to be disarming. What evil intent could someone whistling “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music have?
It would be as farfetched as suspecting Julie Andrews of being an assassin.
Upon reaching the keypad that would provide entrance to the clinic, he tapped in the seven-key sequence smoothly, as if he’d done it countless times before.
The door clicked open and he pushed his trash can into the building ahead of him. At that early hour, the only other person in the building was a private security office named Mindy Crozier. A recent graduate of Cal State Fullerton with a BS in criminal justice, she had an application in to join the LAPD.
She was surprised to see the guy in custodial garb. The cleaning crew usually worked right after office hours. She might have reached for her sidearm if he hadn’t been whistling, stopping just long enough to smile at her.
She was just about to say, “Hey, what’s up? You got a special job to do?”
Only in the moment she’d been lulled into a false sense of security, he pulled a C2 Taser — she recognized the model at a glance — out of a pocket and shot her. The 50,000 volt charge lit her up like a Beverly Hills Christmas tree. Her eyes rolled up in her head and with a moan she crumpled to the floor.
Whistling once more, the guy in the Dodgers cap took a hand-held vacuum cleaner out of his trash can and meticulously sucked up every last anti-felon ID tag, confetti-like bits of material stamped with bar codes that would identify the taser that had dispersed them.
He gave just a moment’s attention to Mindy. Her respiration appeared to be rhythmic and without distress. There was really no telling how long she might remain unconscious. It would be best if he worked quickly. He didn’t want to kill her if he didn’t have to.
A second keypad protected the room where the embryos were kept in cold storage. The whistler knew the code for that keypad, too. He entered the room. Tanks of liquid nitrogen were used to store the embryos of men and women who had reason to bank their most personal assets. A liquid known as cryptoprotectant was added to the tanks to safeguard the embryos during freezing. Not all embryos survived freezing and thawing, but the man in the Dodgers cap was determined that none would be lost due to his activity.
He’d been drilled on how to handle the matter. He had the equipment he needed in his trash can. Barring some staffer or doctor making an unexpectedly early appearance, he should have more than enough time to complete his task.
He set about his work with complete focus. He’d stolen many things over his career, but he’d never heisted potential human beings before. In the process, he was struck by a thought that had never occurred to him until that moment: What would it be like to become a dad?
He knew whose embryos he was stealing.
He took jobs only when he had all the information he would need.
The people whose sperm and ova had been combined to create the embryos were smart, successful and damn nice looking, too. One of them was even a movie star. All that data was being processed on a secondary level while the whistler meticulously completed his work.
The girl security guard, bless her little heart, was still out like a light. No need to spill any of her blood. Chances were the brief look she got at him, at the image he’d wanted her to see, would be as scrambled as a plate of eggs when she woke up.
The whistler had the trash can stored securely in the back of his van within minutes. He was driving away from Pacific Palisades before most of the locals had gotten out of bed. Good for him, a shame for them. It was yet another beautiful morning in SoCal.
Made him keep right on whistling. “My Way,” now.
He decided to keep one of the embryos for himself.

Chapter 2
Washington, DC, Friday, March 20, 2015
On the first day of spring, President Patricia Grant was impeached.
In an exclusive one-on-one interview with Ellie Booker, she was asked how she felt.
“I’m tempted to say I’d rather be in Philadelphia, but I’ll leave that line to W. C. Fields. What I can tell you is that a political assassination is preferable to a real one.”
For the sake of propriety and political cover, the House of Representatives followed the procedures for impeachment in fine detail. The Judiciary Committee took up the question of whether there were grounds to impeach the president. Their focus was on the president’s authorization to transfer Joan Renshaw to the Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, Connecticut and the prison cell holding Erna Godfrey.
Erna was the woman who had killed the president’s first husband, Andrew Hudson Grant.
Within the first hour of her incarceration there, Joan Renshaw had choked Erna Godfrey to death. The murder was captured on video, as was Renshaw’s declaration: “I sure hope this was Patti Grant’s idea, putting me in here.”
It was actually Margaret “Sweetie” Sweeney’s idea.
But President Patricia Grant had made it happen.
“You know what the Republicans are saying about that,” Ellie Booker said to the president.
“I do.”
“That you knew how Joan Renshaw would react when put within arm’s reach of Erna Godfrey.”
“I didn’t know; no one knew.”
“Nonetheless, they’re saying you wanted revenge for what she did to Mr. Grant.”
Patti Grant reminded Ellie, and by extension the American people, “I issued a grant of clemency to Erna Godfrey, commuting her sentence to life in prison when I could have let her be executed, if what I wanted was to see her die.”
“The reply to that is you regretted that decision, that it ate at you and you could abide it no longer. So you sent Joan Renshaw into Erna Godfrey’s cell in the hope that she would do just what she did.”
“No, that was not the reason. I hoped Joan Renshaw would talk to Erna Godfrey and resolve the matter of whom Joan Renshaw worked with in the planned attempt on my life at Inspiration Hall.”
“The people who voted to impeach you today claim that’s just a pretext for what you did.”
The Judiciary Committee, where questions of impeachment originated, sent a resolution to the full House stating there was reason to impeach the president.
A small group of cooler heads in the House leadership decided that first degree murder, requiring malice aforethought, was too much of a reach, but second degree murder, under the assertion of depraved indifference, deficient moral sense and recklessness would do just fine.
Murder-2 also fit neatly under the Constitution’s “other high crimes and misdemeanors” grab-bag of impeachable offenses.
“There was no pretext,” the president said. “There was no depraved indifference. Joan Renshaw had no history of physical violence. It was unimaginable to think that Erna Godfrey would offer no attempt to defend herself when she was attacked. And I have no record of seeking vengeance against anyone. I was simply trying to learn who was involved in the plan to kill me, but it went tragically wrong.”
“And yet the House voted to impeach you,” Ellie said.
The Rules Committee had set the terms of the debate and the vote on the question of whether to impeach the president. The ayes had it, 258-177. The GOP and True South voted unanimously for impeachment. They were joined by three Democrats.
White House Chief of Staff Galia Mindel had silently vowed to make the lives of those three turncoats miserable until the days they died.
With the article of impeachment approved by the House, the process would move to the Senate. The president would be tried there. The chief justice of the United States, Craig MacLaren, would preside. A two-thirds vote of the Senate was required for conviction.
By all present expectations, Joan Renshaw would not be available to testify. She’d suffered a psychotic break shortly after killing Erna Godfrey. The psychotherapists attending her couldn’t even hazard a guess as to when or if she might regain mental competence.
In the event she did, however, a voluntary manslaughter charge against her was pending.
Ellie pointed out the political lay of the land to the president and the country. “The coalition of the Republicans and True South, caucusing together, took control of the Senate in the midterm election. But they don’t have the two-thirds majority necessary to convict you. Do you think they’ll be able to persuade enough Democrats to vote with them for conviction?”
The president offered a thin smile. “I won’t say anything that might be misconstrued as an improper attempt to influence the Senate.”
That wrapped up the president’s interview.
When Ellie managed to get a moment on camera with James J. McGill, he was far more blunt.
He told her, “You know what might be just the thing to straighten out this town? A good punch in the snoot. At least one for every trouble-maker working in the federal government.”
The implication that a large number of those miscreants occupied seats in Congress could not be missed. Within minutes of the airing of McGill’s sentiment, the Capitol Hill Police were flooded with protection requests from worried senators and representatives. The thrashing McGill had once given former Senator Roger Michaelson had quickly come to mind.

McGill Investigations, Inc. — Georgetown
“You can’t talk like that,” Galia Mindel told McGill as she sat in his office.
In the six-plus years of Patricia Grant’s presidency, the White House chief of staff had never visited the offices of McGill Investigations, Inc before that day. She’d been warned from the start to keep her nose out of McGill’s private sector business. That had rankled her in the beginning, but she’d come to see that McGill kept his nose out of government business as much as possible, and his restraint had made things easier for her.
Reciprocity mattered to Galia.
Then there was the fact that McGill had saved her life, endearing him ever after to Galia’s sons and grandchildren. Crossing the president’s henchman would risk causing a family rift. The very thought of that was enough to make Galia tread lightly.
“You mean I shouldn’t give any warning?” McGill asked. “Just punch anyone who gets out of line.”
Margaret Sweeney and Special Agent Deke Ky were in the room with McGill and Galia.
Neither of them looked like they took McGill’s words as jest.
To the contrary, they might join in any brawl he initiated.
“I’m serious, Mr. McGill. The president’s immediate well being and her place in the history of our country depend on many things going right. We can’t afford any unnecessary distractions. I do not want to see her convicted by the Senate.”
Hearing that idea expressed aloud set McGill back in his seat.
“You think there’s a real chance of that?” he asked.
Galia gave him the numbers. “The GOP and True South hold fifty-four seats in the Senate; they need sixty-seven to convict. Persuading thirteen Democrats to vote with them might seem like a reach, but fourteen of them are up for reelection in 2016. Four of those fourteen looked like losers before the president was impeached. I expect them to defect shortly.”
McGill would have cursed if Sweetie wasn’t there.
Instead, his face grew red and he looked as if he might ask Galia for the names of the four would-be traitors. The better to rearrange their facial features sooner rather than later. But he took a deep breath and let his anger dissipate as he exhaled.
“Even if those four change sides, that means the other side would still have to get nine out of the ten Democrats up for reelection to get to the two-thirds majority,” McGill said.
Galia nodded. “The thing you have to remember is the president has been a Democrat for a very short time. She doesn’t have a lot of long-standing friendships in the party. She doesn’t have a history there to rely on. And as you no doubt know any politician’s first loyalty is to keeping his or her seat.”
McGill’s face went slack. “You truly think Patti might be convicted?”
“I think it’s within the realm of possibility … but I also think the other side might push for and be satisfied with a resignation.”
“Like Nixon,” McGill said.
McGill asked Sweetie and Deke to step out. They left with objection.
“Galia, you don’t have to say a word. I’m just going to look you in the eye. I’m going to see whether you have a plan to prevent both a conviction by the Senate and any chance that Patti will be forced to resign.”
The chief of staff kept her face impassive, but her eyes burned fiercely.
Telling McGill: Damn right I do. Good thing you saved my keister.
McGill nodded, satisfied.
“One more thing, sir.”
“What’s that?” McGill asked.
“I have a case for you to work, in California.”