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Home > The Sky Is Falling(12)

The Sky Is Falling(12)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

Dana was talking to Nancy Patchin, one of Taylor Winthrop's secretaries, a woman in her sixties, with a lined face and sad eyes.

"You worked for Mr. Winthrop for a long time?"

"Fifteen years."

"In that period of time, I imagine you got to know Mr. Winthrop well."

"Yes, of course."

Dana said, "I'm trying to get a picture of what kind of man he was. Was he - ?"

Nancy Patchin interrupted. "I can tell you exactly what kind of man he was, Miss Evans. When we discovered my son had Lou Gehrig's disease, Taylor Winthrop took him to his own doctors and paid all the medical bills. When my son died, Mr. Winthrop paid the funeral expenses and sent me to Europe to recover." Her eyes filled with tears. "He was the most wonderful, the most generous gentleman I've ever known."

Dana arranged for an appointment with General Victor Booster, the director of the FRA, the Federal Research Agency, which Taylor Winthrop had headed. Booster had refused to talk to Dana at first, but when he learned whom she wanted to talk to him about, he agreed to see her.

In midmorning, Dana drove to the Federal Research Agency, near Fort Meade, Maryland. The agency's headquarters were set on eighty-two closely guarded acres. There was no sign of the forest of satellite dishes hidden behind the heavily wooded area.

Dana drove up to an eight-foot-high Cyclone fence topped with barbed wire. She gave her name and showed her driver's license to an armed guard at the sentry booth and was admitted. A minute later she approached a closed electrified gate with a surveillance camera. She spoke her name again and the gate automatically swung open. She followed the driveway to the enormous white administration building.

A man in civilian clothes met Dana outside. "I'll take you to General Booster's office, Miss Evans."

They took a private elevator up five floors and walked down a long corridor to a suite of offices at the end of the hall.

They entered a large reception office with two secretaries' desks. One of the secretaries said, "The general is expecting you, Miss Evans. Go right in, please." She pressed a button and a door to the inner office clicked open.

Dana found herself in a spacious office, with ceilings and walls heavily soundproofed. She was greeted by a tall, slim, attractive man in his forties. He held out his hand to Dana and said genially, "I'm Major Jack Stone. I'm General Booster's aide." He indicated the man seated behind a desk. "This is General Booster."

Victor Booster was African-American, with a chiseled face and hard obsidian eyes. His shaved head gleamed under the ceiling lights.

"Sit down," he said. His voice was deep and gravelly.

Dana took a seat. "Thank you for seeing me, General."

"You said this was about Taylor Winthrop?"

"Yes. I wanted - "

"Are you doing a story on him, Miss Evans?"

"Well, I - "

His voice hardened. "Can't you fucking journalists let the dead rest? You're all a bunch of muckraking coyotes picking at dead bodies."

Dana sat there in shock.

Jack Stone looked embarrassed.

Dana controlled her temper. "General Booster, I assure you I am not interested in muckraking. I know the legend about Taylor Winthrop. I'm trying to get a picture of the man himself. Anything you can tell me would be greatly appreciated."

General Booster leaned forward. "I don't know what the hell you're after, but I can tell you one thing. The legendwas the man. When Taylor Winthrop was head of the FRA, I worked under him. He was the best director this organization ever had. Everybody admired him. What's happened to him and his family is a tragedy I can't even begin to comprehend." His face was tight. "Frankly, I don't like the press, Miss Evans. I think you people have gotten way out of hand. I watched your coverage in Sarajevo. Your hearts-and-

flowers broadcasts didn't help us any."

Dana was trying hard to control her anger. "I wasn't there to help you, General. I was there to report what was happening to the innocent - "

"Whatever. For your information, Taylor Winthrop was as great a statesman as this country has ever had." His eyes fixed on hers. "If you intend to tear down his memory, you're going to find yourself with a lot of enemies. Let me give you some advice. Don't go looking for trouble, or you're going to find it. That's a promise. I'm warning you to stay the hell away. Good-bye, Miss Evans."

Dana stared at him a moment, then rose. "Thank you very much, General." She strode out of the office.

Jack Stone hurried after her. "I'll show you out."

In the corridor, Dana took a deep breath and said angrily, "Is he always like that?"

Jack Stone sighed. "I apologize for him. He can be a little abrupt. He doesn't mean anything by it."

Dana said tightly, "Really? I had the feeling he did."

"Anyway, for what it's worth, I'm sorry," Jack Stone said. He started to turn away.

Dana touched his sleeve. "Wait. I'd like to talk to you. It's twelve o'clock. Could we have lunch somewhere?"

Jack Stone glanced toward the general's door. "All right. Sholl's Colonial Cafeteria on K Street in an hour?"

"Great. Thank you."

"Don't thank me too soon, Miss Evans."

Dana was waiting for him when he walked into the half-deserted cafeteria. Jack Stone stood in the doorway for a moment making sure there was no one he knew in the restaurant, then he joined Dana at a table.

"General Booster would have my ass if he knew I was talking to you. He's a fine man. He's in a tough, sensitive job, and he's very, very good at what he does." He hesitated. "I'm afraid he doesn't like the press."

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