This is a chapter that was deleted from the final pages of KILLER THRILLER. Don’t read these deleted scenes if you haven’t read the book first, because it contains major spoilers. I cut it because it slowed the momentum of the story. The substance of the scene is referred to by characters in the book, and that worked fine to convey what happened, which is another reason why I cut it. The first draft of FAKE TRUTH, the upcoming third book in the series, actually opened with this chapter before I cut it again. So I offer it to you now as a “bonus chapter.”
The White House, Situation Room. Washington, D.C. July 7, 2 pm. Eastern Standard Time.
Vice-President Willard Penny sat at the head of the conference table, nursing a Diet Coke, and squeezing back a titanic fart. He didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of the joint chiefs of staff and the heads of the CIA, Homeland Security, and the Secret Service at this critical and historic moment. It was bad enough when he’d let one rip on live, national television during the Vice-Presidential debates.
An hour ago in Paris, someone had tried to assassinate the Presidents of the United States and France. The white-haired, double-chinned VP faced a wall of flat screens that showed live feeds from the TV networks of the scorched, smoking hole left by the anti-tank missile that had smacked into in the Champ De Mars, the park at the base of the Eiffel Tower, where the Presidents and their wives had been dining to mark the end of the G8 summit.
“The missile was fired at the Eiffel Tower from Tour Montparnasse, an office building a few miles away, and fell short by just a hundred yards,” explained Michael Healy, the director of the CIA, a clean-cut man in his fifties who came across so wholesome, he could pass for a beloved high school teacher, a Mormon missionary, or the reliable love interest in one of those Hallmark Channel movies, which were all the Penny household watched on TV besides The 700 Club and Joel Osteen.
“My God,” Penny said.
Patricia Swain, the head of the secret service, spoke up. “The President and the First Lady are safe and en route to Air Force One at Orly now. The French President and his wife are unharmed and back inside the Elysee Palace.”
Penny had heard that Swain, during her time in Army Intelligence in Afghanistan, was once attacked by a terrorist and had killed him with her bare hands. There was nothing Hallmark about that. For some reason, the thought gave him a pleasurable twinge in his groin that almost made him lose control of that fart. He asked, “Do we know who is responsible for this?”
“Not yet,” Healy said.
“Was the target our President, the French President, or both?”
“It’s too soon to tell,” he said.
Penny took a sip of his Diet Coke without considering the extra gas he’d have to contend with as a result. It was a stalling tactic. He needed to come up with an action plan, something that showed his vision and his leadership.
“I’ll tell you what I think,” he said. “Taking out two Presidents at once may have been intended by a terrorist group or a rogue nation as the opening act for Armageddon. Those plans haven’t changed because that rocket missed its target.”
“You’re probably right,” Healy said.
“I want every embassy military base, aircraft carrier, destroyer, and nuclear submarine we have on high alert.”
One of the generals shifted in his seat. “Already done, sir. Our allies are doing the same and stand ready to back whatever action we take.”
“That’s reassuring.” The truth was that Penny resented the General for basically saying, we already thought of that, you idiot. Penny turned to the Homeland Security director, who had eyebrows that looked like squirrel tails. “What are we doing domestically?”
“We’ve enacted our imminent terrorist threat protocols nationwide,” he said. “Security is at the highest possible level at every airport, train station, subway system, and port of entry. Police departments and national guard bases throughout the country are on maximum threat alert as well.”
Another general said, “fighter jets are in the air over every American city as an extra precaution.”
“Well done,” Penny realized that there really wasn’t anything he could contribute and he was anxious to get somewhere where he could let go of his fart without political or historic repercussions. “I expect status updates every thirty minutes until the President is safely back in the Oval Office.”
Everyone stood and Penny headed straight for the door. Healy met him there and whispered. “Could I have a private word, sir? It’s important.”
“Of course,” Penny said. “Come with me.”
# # #
Healy stood in the Oval Office and waited for Penny to emerge from the Presidential Bathroom. He wondered if there was a Presidential seal embroidered on the toilet seat or imprinted in the bars of soap.
Penny walked out of the bathroom, shaking his head. “I can’t stop thinking about this. It’s unbelievable, Mike. It’s a miracle that the missile fell short.”
“It wasn’t a miracle. Two Americans overpowered the assassin and altered the missile’s course at the last second.”
It actually was a miracle, Healy thought, given that the two Americans were a civilian author who wrote spy thrillers and a novice agent on her first assignment. But Ian Ludlow had a gift for envisioning threats to national security before they happened and Margo had a natural aptitude for field work, despite a troubling tendency to defy authority.
Penny pinned Healy with a hard stare that made him appear more constipated than angry. But Healy knew constipation wasn’t one of Penny’s problems. “That’s not what you just told us in the briefing.”
“I lied,” Healy said.
“Because there was a traitor in the room,” Healy said.
“My God, Mike, you can’t be serious.”
“The evidence is right here.” Healy held up his phone and played a video. Penny stepped closer to look at the screen and saw himself, cavorting in bed with two naked, Chinese women. “You’re the traitor. You’ve been a Chinese puppet for decades.”
The color drained from Penny’s face and he let out a fart as loud and startling as a gunshot. “I had no idea the President was in danger. You have to believe me.”
“Bullshit,” Healy stabbed a finger at him. “You didn’t know how or when, but you were certain the moment you were being sworn into office as VP that the President wouldn’t survive his term. You knew the Chinese endgame was for you to sit in the Oval Office. I’m sure that was how you tolerated all of the little indignities the President inflicted on you.”
“Does the President know about this?”
“I told him yesterday. He wanted to put you in front of a firing squad.”
“He is such a moron,” Penny said. “We don’t have firing squads any more. We have Senate hearings and TV cameras instead.”
“You deserve to be tried, imprisoned, and forever reviled as the worst traitor in U.S. history. But that is not in the best interests of our country. So the President and I agreed on a different approach.”
That must have been a relief for Penny because Healy could see some of the color returning to the man’s face. “What do you intend to do?”
“You remember that Diet Coke you were guzzling down in the Situation Room? I spiked it with an odorless, tasteless, forensically undetectable poison that has no antidote. In a few minutes, you will die of a massive heart attack.”
Penny reflexively touched his hand to his chest and sat down on the couch. “You’re just going to stand there and watch me die.”
“Of course not,” Healy said, looking down on him. “The last thing you’re going to see on your way to hell is me flipping you off.”
“So be it.” Penny leaned back into the cushions, accepting his fate. “At least my family will be spared the shame of living with what I did.”
Healy sighed. Penny was a sanctimonious prick to the end. “Get up, Willard. I didn’t poison you. Although it was one of the options we seriously considered.”
Penny’s hand dropped from his chest and glared at him. “Are you disappointed that I didn’t beg? That I didn’t soil myself?”
Yes, he was, but he said: “The President has decided to let you live and keep your job.”
Penny thought about this for a moment. “I see. You’re going to blame ISIS for the assassination attempt, allowing you to get billions out of Congress for defense spending, and then use me to manipulate the Chinese.”
“I will use you any way I like,” Healy grabbed Penny by the lapels of his coat and lifted him to his feet, bringing them nose to nose. “You’re mine, Willard. You will do whatever I tell you, whether it’s feeding lies to the Chinese, sleeping with your mother-in-law, or rolling in pig shit. If the President of the United States dies or leaves office for any reason before the end of his term, you will immediately resign or you will be killed. The same thing will happen if you ever run for any elected position again, even if it’s president of your country club. Do you understand me?” Penny nodded and Healy shook him hard. “Say it.”
“Yes, I understand.”
Healy released him, pushing him away. “You disgust me.”
“Think what you will about me,” Penny said. “But we both know I would’ve been a much better President than he is.”
Healy stared at Penny in disbelief. “The Chinese own you.”
“So what?” Penny said. “They own everything.”