The Inside Ring

A Joe DeMarco Thriller

by Mike Lawson

Paperback, 429 pages, Grove Press, List Price: $7.99 | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Title
The Inside Ring
Subtitle
A Joe DeMarco Thriller
Author
Mike Lawson

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Book Summary

Following an assassination attempt that wounds the president and kills his longtime best friend, the Secretary of Homeland Security, who had warned the Secret Service about the attack, ignites an investigation, with the help of honest attorney Joe DeMarco, that follows a twisted trail to the highest level of government.

Read an excerpt of this book

NPR stories about The Inside Ring

The Iwo Jima Memorial, on the Virginia side of the Potomac River overlooking Washington, D.C., is one of many capital landmarks that do double duty as crime scenes in the novels of author Mike Lawson. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Inside Ring

Prologue

The video begins with the President walking toward a marine helicopter.

The rapids of the Chattooga River are visible behind the helicopter, and beyond the river is a dense pine forest, the ground rising sharply to a bluff overlooking the river. The President is dressed in khaki pants, a blue T-shirt, and hiking boots. Over the T-shirt he wears a lightweight fishing vest with multiple pockets for storing tackle. He appears relaxed, his pace is unhurried. He smiles and waves once in the direction of the camera, and then ignores it. In the third year of his first term he's comfortable with the mantle of power, undaunted by the media's ever present eye.

There are two Secret Service agents in front of the President and two behind him. The agents wear identical dark-blue Windbreakers and all have on sunglasses. A puff of wind exposes the automatic weapon one agent carries on a sling beneath his Windbreaker.

Walking next to the President, on his right, is the writer Philip Montgomery. Montgomery also wears outdoor clothing, though his outfit has a more lived-in look than the President's. Montgomery is talking to the President as he walks, then looks toward the

camera and holds his hands apart as if describing a good-size fish. The President shakes his head and mutters something, his lips barely moving. Montgomery throws back his head and laughs.

As the group of men nears the helicopter they pass into the shadow created by the bluff across the river. A Secret Service agent in front of the President, the agent on his right-hand side, takes off his sunglasses. He folds them quickly and attempts to pocket them in his Windbreaker, but he misses the pocket and the sunglasses fall to the ground. The agent quickly bends at the waist to scoop up the glasses but Philip Montgomery, who is still talking to the President and looking to his left instead of forward, bumps into the agent's rump as he's reaching for the glasses. The agent pitches forward, almost falling, and the collision throws Montgomery off balance and he stumbles into the President.

This chain reaction of gaucherie would have been slightly amusing, something for the anchormen to

chuckle about on the evening news, except it ends with Philip Montgomery's brains exploding out the back of his skull. A second later a spray of blood spurts dark red from the President's right shoulder.

With the second shot the President's security detail reacts. A Secret Service agent shoves the President hard to the ground then lies on top of him, covering him with his own body. The other three agents form a protective triangle around the President's prone form. The agent who had dropped his sunglasses stands directly in front of the President's head, and between this agent's spread legs can be seen the President's face. His eyes are white-blue saucers of panic and pain.

The picture spins: a slice of blue sky, a fuzzy wedge of green forest, the whirring blades of the helicopter. When the camera refocuses, the agents have weapons in their hands and are frantically searching the area for a target. One of the agents suddenly points upward, at the bluff and his weapon begins to spit bullets into the air. At the same time the agent fires, the assassin fires a third time. His bullet hits the forehead of the agent who is lying on the President, missing the President's face by less than two inches. Experts later testify that the bullet passed between the legs of the agent who was standing in front of the President.

The last images frozen on the screen are Montgomery's body, limbs bent at awkward angles, and then a close-up of the President's face: a crimson mask created by the blood pouring down from the forehead of the agent who died protecting him.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

CHATTOOGA RIVER

ASSASSIN FOUND DEAD

Probable Suicide Victim

By Sharon Mathison

The Washington Post

Last night police in Landover, Maryland, found the body of the man believed to be responsible for the attempted assassination of the President and the deaths of author Philip Montgomery and Secret Service Agent Robert James.

At 10:30 p.m. on July 19th, a 911 caller reported hearing a single gunshot at the home of Harold Mark Edwards. Landover police responding to the call entered the house and found Mr. Edwards' body.

According to FBI spokesperson Marilyn Peters, Edwards died from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound from a .45 caliber automatic pistol. Ms. Peters said that in a suicide note, written in what appears to be the victim's handwriting, Edwards confessed to attempting to assassinate the President on July 17th. In this same note, Edwards stated that he had acted alone.

Edwards was an unemployed machinist who was laid off sixteen months ago when his job was outsourced to Thailand. The FBI spokesperson said the Secret Service was in possession of two letters written by Edwards earlier this year in which he blamed the President for losing his job. In one of those letters, Edwards threatened the President's life.

Also found in Edwards' home were two rifles. Preliminary ballistics tests conducted by the FBI indicated that one of the rifles was the weapon used during the assassination attempt.

Mr. Edwards was a prior member of the Army Reserve and was classified as an expert marksman. His neighbors said that he was an avid hunter and also said that he had been despondent over his inability to find work.

Still unanswered is how Edwards could have penetrated the President's security at Chattooga River, Georgia, the morning of July 17th. When asked to comment, Secret Service spokesperson Clark Brunson would only say that the Secret Service does not discuss procedures used to protect the President.

1

The receptionist — Boston-bred, fiftysomething, hard and bright as stainless steel — arched a disapproving eyebrow at DeMarco as he entered Mahoney's offices.

"You're late," she said. "And he's in a mood today."

"So since I'm late I guess that means I can go right in," DeMarco said.

The receptionist was married to a successful accountant, a very nice man, very slim and neat and considerate. On those rare occasions they made love she fantasized about burly Italian construction workers. She used to fantasize about black men with washboard abs and shaved heads but the last few months it had been men who looked like DeMarco: dark hair, blue eyes, a Travolta dimple in his chin — and arms and shoulders made for wife-beater undershirts. However, fantasy man or not, she didn't approve of tardiness — or flippancy.

"No, you can take a seat," the receptionist said, flashing a brittle smile, "and in a few minutes, after I finish my tea, I'll tell him you're here. Then he'll make you wait twenty more minutes while he talks to important people on the phone."

DeMarco knew better than to protest. He took a seat as directed and pulled a copy of People magazine from the stack on the coffee table in front of him. He was addicted to Hollywood gossip but would have died under torture before admitting it.

Thirty minutes later he entered Mahoney's office. Mahoney was on the phone wrapping up a one-sided conversation. "Don't fuck with me, son," Mahoney was saying. "You get contrary on this thing, next year this time, the only way you'll see the Capitol will be from one of them double-decker buses. Now vote like I told ya and quit telling me about promises you never shoulda made in the first place."

Mahoney slammed down the phone, muttered "Dipshit," then aimed his watery blue eyes at DeMarco.

"You see Flattery?" Mahoney asked.

DeMarco took an unmarked envelope from the inside breast pocket of his suit and handed it to Mahoney. DeMarco didn't know what was in the envelope; he made a point of not knowing what was in the envelopes he brought Mahoney. Mahoney sliced open the envelope and took out a piece of paper the size and shape of a check. He glanced at the paper, grunted in either annoyance or satisfaction, and shoved the paper into the middle drawer of his desk.

"And the Whittacker broad?" Mahoney asked.

"She'll testify at the hearing."

"What did you have to give her?"

"My word that I wouldn't tell her husband who she's been sleeping with."

"That's all it took?"

"She signed a prenup."

"Ah," Mahoney said. Greed never surprised him — nor did any other human frailty. "So those bastards at Stock Options R Us will spend eighteen months in a country club prison, the guys who lost their pensions will eat Hamburger Helper for the rest of their lives, and her, she'll get her fuckin' picture on Time as whistle-blower of the year. Jesus."

DeMarco shrugged. There was only so much you could do.

"You need anything else?" he asked Mahoney.

"Yeah, I want you to ..." Mahoney stopped speaking, derailed by his addictions. He reignited a half-smoked cigar then reached for a large Stanley thermos on the credenza behind his desk. The thermos was battered and scarred and covered with stick-on labels from labor unions. Mahoney poured from the thermos and the smell of fresh coffee and old bourbon filled the room.

As Mahoney sipped his morning toddy DeMarco studied the bundle of contradictions that sat large before him. Mahoney was an alcoholic but a highly functional one; few people accomplished sober what he had managed in his cups. He was a serial adulterer yet deeply in love with his wife of forty years. He stretched soft-money laws like rubber bands and took tribute from lobbyists as his royal due, and yet he was the best friend the common man had on Capitol Hill. John Fitzpatrick Mahoney was Speaker of the House of Representatives and only the vice president stood between him and the Oval Office should the President fall. DeMarco doubted the authors had Mahoney in mind when they penned the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

The Speaker was DeMarco's height, almost six feet, but DeMarco always felt small standing next to him. Mahoney had a heavy chest and a heavier gut, and created the impression of a man perfectly balanced, impossible to rush, fluster, or inflame. His hair was white and very full, his complexion ruddy red, and his eyes sky blue, the whites perpetually veined with red. His features were all large and well formed: strong nose, jutting jaw, full lips, broad forehead. It was a face that projected strength, dignity, and intelligence — it was a face that got a man elected to a national office every two years.

Mahoney swallowed his laced coffee and said, "I want you to go see Andy Banks."

"The Homeland Security guy?"

"Yeah. He needs help with something."

"What?"

"I dunno. We were at this thing last night and he said he had a problem. Something personal. He says somebody told him I had a guy who could look into things."

DeMarco nodded. That was him: a guy who looked into things.

"Go see him this morning. He's expecting you."

"What about that problem in Trenton?"

"It'll wait. Go see Banks."

Excerpted from The Inside Ring by Mike Lawson. Copyright 2009 by Mike Lawson. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press.