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“A new friend of ours told me Ogden’s been telling those close to her that she thinks the attacks last week were not on the up and up.”

Rapp froze for a second and then turned to Trittin. “What in the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Trittin checked to make sure no one was near and then said, “She thinks it may have been a plot by certain people in this building to eliminate their critics and whip up anti-Muslim sentiment.”

“Come on.” Rapp didn’t know if he should be pissed off, concerned, or just laugh. He decided to go with the first one. “And kill a bunch of innocent people in the process. Including a lot of colleagues over at NCTC.”

“Like most conspiracy theories, it’s heavy on motive and very weak on evidence.”

“It’s also crazy . . . I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve thought of plugging a few of those self-serving idiots, but actually doing it is nuts.”

“The president agrees, and that is why he’s asked me to

quietly see if I can leak it to the press.”

“Why?” Rapp asked in shock. “That’s not the kind of thing you want floating around out there.”

“It already is. At least on the internet. It’s all the same jokers who think 9/11 was a conspiracy. The bottom line, Mitch, is that the president is willing to make a move against her. He’s sick of her antics. He’d never say it publicly but he thinks she’s come unhinged.”

“Thinks . . . shit, I could have told him that years ago.”

“Well . . . I just wanted to let you know we have your back on this one. You stay focused on finding this Lion of al Qaeda, and we’ll deal with Ogden and the FBI.”

“Thanks, Julie. I appreciate it.”

Trittin gave him a quick hug and then moved off. Rapp circled the perimeter until he reached the Nash kids. They’d staked out their own turf near the back wall. Not an adult within fifteen feet. Just the four Nash kids and Tommy Kennedy, Irene’s ten-year-old son. When Rapp pulled up they were standing in an informal circle with Charlie the toddler waddling around in the middle looking like a drunken British sailor—his mom had dressed him in a white sport coat and white shorts with white shoes. The other kids, including Tommy Kennedy, were dressed in their prep school uniforms. They all turned to greet Rapp, and Charlie saw his chance. He broke out of the circle and charged his dad’s friend. Rapp bent over, snatched him up, and tossed him up in the air. Charlie let out a squeal before landing safely in Rapp’s arms.

“Kids,” Rapp said, “how’s it going?”

Jack Nash stepped forward. “My dad is really mad at you.”

“Me . . . come on . . . you can’t be serious.”

“He was trying to talk all quiet on the way over here, but he’s half deaf from that explosion, so he doesn’t know we can hear everything he says. He was really mad.”

Shannon stepped forward with a smile and said, “My mom was laughing at him, so I don’t think he was that mad, but he did say some not-very-nice things about you.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time. Did you kids enjoy meeting the president?”

“Yeah,” Jack said excitedly. “We got to take photos and everything.”

“Heads up,” Rory said, while looking over Rapp’s shoulder. “Here he comes.”

Rapp turned and saw Nash coming straight for him, his eyes locked on him as if he were a ram-hell bent on knocking something off his ledge. A few people tried to stop him and offer their congratulations, but Nash kept moving. Rapp was suddenly glad he was holding Charlie. He figured the little fella would deter any serious physical confrontation. He turned so Charlie was in the direct line of fire.

Nash pulled up to the group. “You’re unbelievable.”

“Nice medal,” Rapp said, pointing at Nash’s chest.

Nash looked down and fingered it. “I’ve already taken it off twice. My wife and Irene and some PR handler keep making me put it back on.”

Rapp laughed over his friend’s obvious discomfort.

“You think this is funny? I swear if you weren’t holding Charlie I’d take a swing at you.”

Rapp tried to turn serious. “You have to admit I got you.”

“Yeah . . . and I’m going to get you,” Nash said as he leaned in. “This is bullshit and you know it.”

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