As he drove, Max Engle breathed heavily, sad because his relief offered only the knowledge that Solutions’ meeting would be held today in Jay Hamilton’s office atop the Hamilton-Budini Building. Engle, the former Marine Lt. Colonel, with his hard-lined demeanor earned from years of constant strain harvesting intelligence, wanted this day to end. He knew the haunting anniversary would plague him forever.
If today’s meeting had been held at his partners’ traditional meeting place at Dave Reeve’s home in Calhoun, Georgia, Max would have begged off. Dave and his wife, Angie, were like family to him and he cherished Angie’s Mexican cooking, but today recalled a darkly painful memory. With her acute, mother’s instincts, Angie would have little difficulty sensing Max’s anguish. He wasn’t prepared to open up that wound, not even to Angie.
Twenty years ago this April day, Max all but lost his belief in the system of intelligence gathering he’d been indoctrinated with so thoroughly. On that day, Tatyanna Bresnin committed suicide because she wouldn’t submit to being a double agent working against her Mother Russia. Max would carry to his death the fact that he’d done his job so well she would’ve had no choice but to do his bidding.
He wheeled the metallic, smoked-gray Vet into his spotless slot in the garage beneath the Hamilton-Budini building, squeezed his eyes shut and forced back the threatening tears and the anger. "Damn it," he said, "it’s behind you." He shook his head and willed himself from the car.
The ground floor of the Hamilton-Budini Building in downtown Atlanta housed a mini-mall with a Cartier Jewelers, London Fog apparel store, a kitchenware outlet, and various other up-scale shops and galleries. The remaining thirty-two floors headquartered Hamilton Real Estate Enterprises, and its satellite company, Solutions, an international development-consulting firm.
Max had quelled enough of the pain he was re-living before he reached Jay’s penthouse office atop the building. John Avery(Jay)Hamilton, Max, and the other two partners who owned Solutions, had a covert agenda with their firm.
It would’ve been insane to any of them five years earlier to believe an ultra-secret organization whose member’s quest plotted to control the world’s resources could actually exist.
But they all knew now, too well, El Ultimo Mandato flourished in major businesses, in governments, and even in organized-crime mobs from the Mafia to the Tong. Their experience with it involved a level of personal observance. They had resolved to expose and destroy it.
They gathered at Jay’s office on the top floor of his flagship building, which served as the Hamilton Enterprises logo, to listen to the President of the United States deliver a worldwide speech touting a new trade agreement with China. Solution’s partners recognized it as one more step in the plan for a one-world-government, under El Ultimo Mandato’s control, with no representation for and of the people. Max and his partners had committed to derailing the plan and the organization.
Jay walked over to the built-in TV in the buffed, oak-wood shelving and turned it on manually. Any other day Max would find it amusing that Jay couldn’t remember where he last put the damned remote, which his secretary, Judy, always placed in the right-hand top drawer of his desk. Jay had no trouble keeping in mind the vast specifications for the multiple projects Hamilton Enterprises had going at any given moment.
"He’s doing it guys. Grafton is stepping up his push to force the US into joining the World Peace Conglomerate (WPC). He and his pals, with all of their giveaway programs have pretty much put the American people asleep with a bad case of apathy."
Max nodded and said, "And we’re not close enough to go public."
He and Dave Reeves sat on the maroon leather sofa against the wall opposite the TV, in the vaulted, high-ceilinged office. Dave, oldest of the team in terms of age happened to be the newest, and the tallest as well as the grayest. He’d worked over thirty years in several ventures before receiving the break of his life from Jay, almost four years ago.
He ran his hand through his gray hair and said, "We’ve got to maximize our efforts to connect Grafton's China policy with the WPC and the EUM."— The partners, had taken to calling El Ultimo Mandato, the EUM or the Mandatos, primarily for brevity..
Roger Vanceworth, Jay’s oldest and closest friend and attorney, said, "We need an explosive issue to ensure Stan Freedland’s election to President. He’s got a strong enough backbone to take them on. If he’s elected, the Mandatos will fear him."
Max nodded at Roger who was seated in the winged back chair facing Jay’s desk. He said, "You’re right about that, we need to focus our efforts real hard before November’s elections. Stan understands the cancer the Mandatos are."
Dave gestured at the TV. "Well, let’s hear what ‘Sleazy’ has to say. "
President Grafton hadn’t arrived, but the gathering silence signaled his entry would be soon.
First Lady, Miriam Grafton, idly pondered Mother Nature’s scheme to use scattering bursts of wind to distribute the seeds for the renewal season, very unlike the freezing, leaf-stripping blasts of autumn. She contemplated the late April day in the nation’s capital from the President’s sitting room, where they talked. Few people imagined they actually slept in separate bedrooms.
Her husband fussed over himself in his second-floor White House master bedroom. She knew he resented the intrusion. "No, damn it, Miriam! We aren’t going back to Louisiana when this term is over. We’re going to Switzerland. I told you that when I was re-elected. I'm so fucking tired of reading those pathetic editorials questioning the job I've done as President, and the constant probing of my private affairs, I could puke."
She used his own words to make her counter-point. Blunt and brutal. "Really? Maybe if you’d used a little discretion about some of those affairs they wouldn't have so fucking much to talk about."
Miriam, no longer easily impressed, acknowledged the fifty-three year old Wilmot Jennings Grafton still cut a boyish, if not handsome, figure. A cherub among world leaders even for a man who’d served nearly two terms as the President of the United States. Physically he reminded some of former President Bill Clinton; still, a toss-up prevailed as to who deserved the most morally bankrupt title, but Miriam refused any longer to be affected.
Sure, Wil was only human. So human, Miriam realized, getting to Switzerland counted more than an option to him. The new administration whichever it might be, would discover the obstacles he’d saddled them with while he enjoyed his chalet in the Alps.
"Don’t be naive, darling," he said. "my affairs have nothing to do with why we're going to Switzerland. You know as well as I, I've given my successor few choices except to join the World Peace Conglomerate." He snorted a short, ‘humph.’ before continuing. "The new administration will want to castigate me instead of honoring me as they should. I won’t give them the chance. I've done my job and I deserve to enjoy the rest of my life." He raised his chin slightly to straighten his tie.
Miriam gazed at him through intense hazel eyes. "And Jonathon? What does he deserve?"
Their son was a frequent subject of concern for Miriam as Wil’s second term neared its end, she knew it irked him.
"Jon’s a smart kid. He’ll understand why I've done what I had to do, and he’s young enough to adapt. He'll find school in Europe exciting."
Her chin was set firmly, she’d heard his bullshit before. "I've talked to him about this already, Wil. He has no intention of attending school in Switzerland. Spending a few months out of the year would be fine with him, but not during the school semesters. You know he needs to go to Harvard. He deserves it, and we need to make it possible for him."
Their son was their one shared concern. They loved him to a fault. When they fought, Jonathon was often the only hammer Miriam could use successfully against him.
"I just think he might be better off, at least for a couple of years, until the press can find some other prey to unleash their venom on." Wil breathed heavily, the way he always did when he wanted to end the conversation. "He can still finish out school at Harvard and the change could be good for him."
Miriam was the target of so many stories and the butt of countless jokes by the press. Of course, she blamed Wil for most of it, but she sided with him in protecting their son from the media’s brand of maliciousness. "You do have something of a point," she replied, "but we need to talk more about this."
"Okay, but not now. I've got to meet with Michael’s people to announce the Chinese trade package. I need a clear head for the questions they're going to try to ask."
The First Lady understood he didn’t mean the questions Michael Lan’s people would ask, but rather the inquisition he was likely to receive from the press. She’d never seen her husband work so long and hard arranging a deal. He’d spent months massaging a wary Republican leadership over some of the concessions in the package. He even employed some of their own big-business constituents to convince them the imbalances in the trade reciprocation would be offset as the Chinese economy improved. The President argued, if the U.S. didn’t get in on the ground floor of the Chinese growth, the financial losses to the US economy could be devastating.
As he turned for the door to head downstairs, Miriam glimpsed a feint smile on his lips. She wondered how much Michael Lan and the mysterious Dan Emets, who never visited, had to do with Wil’s efforts to initiate the Chinese trade-package.
Downstairs the President’s friend, Michael Lan, and the Chinese Ministers of Foreign Investment waited along with the press corps and Arne Bertren. In his public life Michael Lan was a respected businessman with ties to the upper echelons of the Chinese government, which was why Grafton appointed him to secretly initiate talks for the U.S. with the leaders in China.
That wasn’t a problem since Michael’s business took him back to his homeland on a regular basis. Being a member of El Ultimo Mandato gave him a number of influential business contacts in China, as well as a voice in the emerging political scene there. His connections with the American-Chinese business community were known to Asian Americans and Caucasians both, having received his Stanford University post-graduate education while living with his uncle and aunt in San Francisco. Community leaders and citizens of high-standing in northern California’s Bay Area, his relatives were instrumental in his having been granted a visa to the U.S. during a period of calm but cautiousness between the two countries.
Lan was the catalyst in bringing the Minister of Foreign Investments to the US for the President’s speech today.
"Good morning, Mr. President." Michael stood along with the Minister and his top aide as the President entered the Oval Office.
"Good morning, Michael," Wil said. He shook hands with the six-foot-two Chinaman who was three years his senior, in excellent physical condition, and the primary author of much of Wil’s foreign affairs strategy. "Have you gone over our discussions with the Minister here?"
The President extended his hand to the smiling officials while press photographers and TV cameras captured the moment.
Michael spoke easily, as if they might simply be discussing the luncheon menu. "Yes Mr. President, I believe the wording mentioned last evening is satisfactory."
As the commotion of the moment subsided, Arne Bertren, the pudgy White House press secretary, prodded the participants into their places. The President sat in one of the ornate Queen Ann chairs and faced the fireplace, while Michael sat to his right in another similar chair. To the President’s left were the Minister and his assistant, looking slightly hesitant to sit back in the ornate sofa as if it might swallow them.
Grafton shifted smoothly in his chair and appeared to be looking at the two representatives of the Chinese government, actually it permitted him to look directly into one of the TV cameras behind them. He smiled and began: "My fellow citizens of America, and the world, I want to inform you that this administration has moved into a new era in which we are developing better relations with all nations of the world.
"As you know, I have been establishing a way to help the Chinese people into the world market. Particularly, by providing technology and strategies to assist them in becoming competitive in that market.
"The comprehensive trade package I have designed, approved by the bipartisan leadership in both the Senate and the House," the President looked directly into the camera and smiled graciously, "will allow us to help not only the Chinese economy, but in the long run ours as well.
"As the productivity of the Chinese market grows, opportunities for the expansion of our own economy will blossom too. I wish to commend our Chinese visitors here for their intensive efforts in making this all possible, Minister Huang Trin Tao and his able assistant, Minister Li. They have spent many days away from their families to give us their brilliant input. We couldn’t have accomplished this without their contributions."
The ministers spent most of their daytime hours photographing places of interest in the District of Columbia, and more salacious events which Michael arranged for the evening.
Minutes later, his speech finished, Wil stood and extended his hand to the Chinese Minister and then the assistant. The handshakes signaled to Bertren that the President didn't wish to answer any questions from the press.
Michael grinned as he nodded to the Chinese Minister of Foreign Investment, also a member of the powerful "Mandato" organization. Their purpose for this trip had been accomplished. The two countries, almost equally invested now, would result in El Ultimo Mandato having access not only to U.S. resources, but also China’s cheap labor force.
Michael had been influential in motivating Wil Grafton to give away enough of the American nuclear technology to China for its initial development, but the US still had superiority over all countries in the world; even if only for the next three to five years. El Ultimo Mandato, through Wil, had crippled the US effectiveness in the world market with this trade package, which allowed China even more advantages than were given to the Japanese and many European countries after the second world war. Wil Grafton, knew the choices had been minimal for the trade agreement in the first place. China after all was the chief source for loans to support the ever increasing social programs the progressive-liberal Democrats demanded in order to keep their constituents addicted to their constant hand outs.
The gradual erosion of the conventional US military capability was the coup d'état that served as the catalyst for their strategy.
Most of this, Grafton had accomplished gradually over the past seven years with the help of the strong liberal contingents in both houses of Congress, and a liberally biased media anxious to pry loose every military blemish of the last fifty years.
Grafton was able to convince many Americans that no need existed for the military might of the past. Relying on the threat of nuclear weaponry offered the correct protection in such advanced times, then with forceful negotiations and the might of the United Nations, even nuclear protection would be unnecessary. The end game, of course would be the World Peace Conglomerate, the eventual central government, too strong to be opposed by anyone.
China, on the other hand, was gradually developing its military forces with the capability to defend or attack with conventional weapons, in addition to building the use of nuclear weapons as their ultimate threat. They would be the eventual motivating force to nudge the wary into the WPC. The final ‘super power.’
"I can see, Mr. President, only one or two things left for you to accomplish, old friend."
"And what would they be, Michael?"
"First is to get our friends here on their flight back to China."
"I think we need some well earned R and R!"
The three men grinned and clinked glasses in a mock toast.
Michael Lan leaned back and smiled broadly. Fate had bestowed a stroke of good fortune on him. Part by his genius, and a windfall of blind luck, he’d become the principle architect of Wil Grafton's political ideals.