Mahoney disconnected the call, then just stood there staring out the window.
From his apartment in the Watergate complex, he could see a portion of the Kennedy Center, the broad black ribbon that was the Potomac River, and the lights of Northern Virginia. Had it been daylight, he would have been able to see some of the white headstones in Arlington National Cemetery, a view, that when he was in his cups, often brought tears to his eyes.
Tonight there were tears in his eyes, but not because he'd been contemplating the final resting place of so many valiant Americans. The tears had welled up after the call he'd received.
His wife said, "John, is something wrong? Who was that?"
Mary Pat could tell the call had stunned him, but he couldn't tell her why. No way could he tell her why.
He wiped a big hand across his face to brush away the tears, and finally turned to face her. She was standing in the living room doorway, in a robe. She'd been about to go to bed when he'd received the call. Her face was scrubbed free of makeup, and he thought: Geez, she looks old. But then, if Mary Pat—who, unlike himself, didn't drink or smoke and exercised daily—looked old, he knew he must look like the walking dead. He supposed it was the call that had made him think about what little time they both had left on this capricious planet.
He said, "I gotta...I gotta go out for a bit."
"At this time of night?"
It was almost midnight.
"Yeah, I need to..."
He didn't finish the sentence. He couldn't tell her that it felt as if the walls were closing in on him. He needed air. He couldn't breathe. And he was afraid he might burst into tears—and then he wouldn't be able to explain to her why.
He headed for the door, and Mary Pat said, "I hope you're not planning to drive anywhere. You're in no shape to be driving."
That was probably true. He'd been drinking since he got home from work, but he always drank when he got home from work—and usually drank while he was at work. He was an alcoholic. But he wasn't planning to drive. He just needed to be alone.
He said, "I'm not driving. I just need some fresh air."
"John, what's wrong?"
"I'll tell you tomorrow. Go to bed."
Now he was going to have to make up something to tell her. He didn't know what; he'd figure it out later. He opened the door, and she said, "John! Put on a coat. You'll freeze out there."
She was right. It was March. It wasn't raining at the moment, but the temperature was in the low forties, and he was wearing only the suit pants he'd worn to work and a white dress shirt. He grabbed a trench coat off a hook near the door and shrugged it on. Mary Pat was saying something as he closed the door, but the words couldn't penetrate the fog surrounding his brain.
John Mahoney had just been told that his son had been killed—and his wife didn't know that he had a son.
Mahoney stepped outside the building and started walking in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial, a couple of miles away. The wind whipped the trench coat around his legs and stung his cheeks, but he didn't notice.
Mahoney was a handsome, heavyset man, broad across the back and butt. His most distinctive features were sky blue eyes and a full head of snow white hair. When he appeared on camera, he had the makeup lady cover the broken veins in his nose.
He was currently the minority leader of the United States House of Representatives. He'd been the Speaker of the House for more than a dozen years, then lost the position when the Republicans took control, but he was still the most powerful Democrat on Capitol Hill. When he'd had the affair with Connie DiNunzio, he'd been in Congress for only three years.