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Authors: W. T. Tyler

The Shadow Cabinet

The Shadow Cabinet

W. T. Tyler

With today's mass civilization it isn't absurd to suggest that in some rich, advanced and neutral country, power might one day be seized, for example, by a coalition of athletic clubs. In that case, we might have a sportsman in shorts or a beauty queen in a bathing suit at the helm of state. But even then, public affairs would not become crystal clear.


The School for Dictators

Part One


It had been a gray Monday in Washington, a day too chilly to be autumn and too wet to be winter, a day when the trees seemed as bare as January, naked against a sodden sky, but a day when some leaves still fell out across the Virginia and Maryland hills. Darkness had fallen as Haven Wilson reached Farragut Square in his old Chevrolet station wagon. The commuter exodus had been snarled by a brief deluge that drowned visibility and crippled a few stoplights. Some intersections were blocked. By the time he found a parking garage, he was fifteen minutes late.

The address Charles Larabee had given him over the telephone that afternoon led him to a rain-darkened old structure that more resembled a private residence than a businessmen's club. No lights showed; the interior shutters were drawn. In the dimming subversive light beyond the reach of the streetlamps, the empty sidewalks pocked by a light steady drizzle, he thought he'd made a mistake. The massive door at the top of the narrow steps under the broken pediment was painted a greenish black and decorated by a polished brass knocker in the shape of a mermaid. A small brass plate, recently polished, held the name Larabee had given him—
The Six Hundred Club

Wilson, a tall, gently bred Virginian who'd spent twenty years in Washington as a government lawyer, first with the Department of Justice and then with two Senate committees, had never heard of it. The foyer inside was softly lit, upholstered in red plush and illuminated by brass fixtures with art deco milk-glass shades, something like a New Orleans bawdy house. A hostess in a black velvet jacket, velvet shorts, and black fishnet hose took his name and led him to the steamboat room at the rear where Larabee was waiting, hunched over a small table, a margarita in front of him.

Wilson had had only the dimmest recollection of Larabee when he'd called that afternoon, and now he remembered him no better. Larabee was in his late fifties. His coarse face was darkened below the wiry reddish hair by what may have been a golf course suntan, and he was heavy in the neck and shoulders. The dark-blue jacket seemed too small, like the starched collar, which had squeezed a beading of water from the tan flesh above the sandy brows. His rough voice had a cardiac wheeze, a faintly aspirate echo from too much tobacco, too much alcohol, and too little exercise. In the lapel of his dark jacket was a small flag of the Republic of China.

“It's a backstreet place, this club,” Larabee informed him as he lit another cigarette. “Gives you a little privacy, something you can't buy in this town. The foreigners go for it, especially the A-rabs and the Latinos, so we do a little business here. They go for the skin show.” He lifted his pale-green eyes toward a bare-shouldered waitress who was approaching. “What are you drinking?”

Wilson asked for a martini on the rocks. The waitress couldn't have been more than eighteen. Her pitted face was heavily rouged, her penciled eyebrows not her own, but she had a nice smile that showed her small milk teeth. She wore black hose and a pink-and-black boudoir corset, laced tightly in the back, squeezing unnatural cleavage from a youthful figure remarkable in its own right. Around her neck above the bare shoulders was a black velvet band, like a dog collar, to which was pinned a cameo inscribed with the club logo. Wilson felt sorry for her.

“Bring me another margarita, would you, dolly?” Larabee asked, his drink still half full in front of him. His eyes followed her back across the room. “Like I said, it's a fun place. You go to the Army-Navy Club, you see too many people you don't want to see, you know what I mean? Keep it confidential, like you used to do, right? How long since you left the Senate Intelligence Committee?”

“About eight months.”

“You got tired of it, we heard, fed up. Resigned, was that it? Someone said you broke your pick with a few senators, is that right?”

“No, I just left. No hard feelings. They understood.”

“That's the way to play it—don't burn your bridges, right? Ten years hacking away with those Senate committees is long enough, believe me. A bunch of prima donnas. They squeeze you all the time, those assholes, and then election time rolls around and they play with your balls like a pussycat. I thought you might be interested—that's why I called you up. Some pals of mine are looking for a guy with your kind of experience.”

Larabee had claimed he had a small interest in a management and consultant firm handling U.S. military sales, PL-480 shipments, communications contracts, and special projects for several foreign clients. Wilson's recollection of Larabee was as dim as ever. He recalled that Larabee had had a desk in a Senate office building, part of a Pentagon liaison team putting special briefings, Quantico quail shoots, Air Force planes, and European commissaries at congressional disposal, but he couldn't recall which service.

“What's your role with this consultant firm?” Wilson asked.

“I'm a contact man, you might say.”

“You've done pretty well, then.” Wilson let his eyes drop to the Republic of China flag in the buttonhole.

“Oh, shit, yeah,” Larabee said, looking down at the flag too. “They're giving a small reception tonight, which is why I've got to cut out early, quarter to seven at the latest. A purchasing mission in from Taiwan.”

The waitress brought the drinks. Larabee drained his first glass, then hunched forward over the table to toy with his second.

“Shifting vocational gears, yeah, I know your problem,” he resumed as he watched the waitress's saucy promenade across the room. “Someone said you were selling real estate now. Lemme tell you something. The bucks aren't there these days, you know what I mean? Not for a lawyer like you. You've got something to sell, right? Ten years on the Hill, ten years over at Justice, sure. That's worth a bundle in this town, believe me.”

“That's what my wife says,” Wilson replied without irony, wondering where Larabee had got his information. He wasn't selling real estate. He was handling the legal work for a small brokerage in Virginia in which he had a small interest, while he considered his options.

“She's right. The little woman's right, Haven. It's Haven, isn't it? I'm Chuck. So listen, Haven, you've got something to sell but you've gotta pick your spots, the way I did. Two years ago, these pals of mine were just getting off the ground, but the Carter types made them look bad. Now they've got more than they can handle. They're putting together a couple of military packages for the Persian Gulf, a couple of emirates out there. A few C-130s, some commo equipment, maybe a few Hueys. Saudi financing, some of it. It'll run—what?—maybe seventy, eighty million.”

The pale eyes lingered on Wilson's face, searching for a reaction. Wilson said nothing. “That's a lotta bucks for a guy that was just hanging around CINCPAC five years ago, waiting for another stripe.”

“So you were Navy, then,” Wilson said.

“Navy, sure. Two tours in 'Nam, two in Taiwan, one in Seoul. I had a Special Forces hookup, real tough, and I didn't shit in my britches in 'Nam like a lot of them did. I lost my cherry up near Pleiku, Cambodian border.” He drank from the margarita and pulled another cigarette from the package of filter tips on the table. “Real estate won't cut it, Haven. Maybe you're doing something else too, right? Maybe you've got your own sideshow going in addition to this real estate. Some sort of special consultancy? You look like you're keeping in shape. Me, I try to work out twice, three times a week. Keep down to a hundred and ninety, hundred and ninety-five. Gym work. How much do you weigh?”

“A hundred and ninety.”

“That's what I figured. So maybe you've got something cooking, some kind of project your old pals over at Justice cut you in on.” He seemed to smile as he lit the cigarette, both thick hands brought to his face to shield the flame, the way an old Navy line officer would.

“No, just some real estate legal work while I make up my mind,” Wilson said, watching the ribald face through the curtain of smoke. Larabee, he decided, was trying to hustle him.

“Waiting for an offer from some blue-chip law firm?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“So what is it, a guy with your contacts?” Larabee leaned forward to again toy with his drink. “You've got a lot of contacts around this town. Justice. Up on the Hill. Senate committee on intelligence, special investigations staff. Some big opportunity came along, your pals wouldn't just hang you out to dry—not with all those years you put in. What is it—something they cut you in on?”

“I'm on my own now, still looking around,” Wilson said.

“There's a lot going on these days—not domestic stuff, either. You don't wanna limit yourself, you know what I mean? Take Honduras. A couple of my friends got some big projects down there—real tough, real quiet too. I'm helping them out—their contact man, you might say. Training packages, a little ordnance. I did a job down there in Nicaragua a couple of years back—consultant on some Navy ordnance. Somoza's brother-in-law was a buddy of mine.” Cigarette held in his mouth, Larabee took his wallet, opened it, and passed a faded business card across the table. It was in Spanish. Larabee's name was in the corner, an agent for an import firm. He passed another card proclaiming him a member of the Managua Chamber of Commerce.

The waitress returned with another margarita and a second martini. “Thanks, doll,” Larabee said. “I've got a whole lot of drinking ahead of me tonight, but you get used to it. It's out at Ben's place. Spring Valley. Real classy.” His voice dropped. “These pals of mine I was telling you about, they've got a few old Agency types on board. They've got people know the Middle East as good as anyone. Persian Gulf too. Charley Finch, you know him? Station chief in some stinkhole out there. Now they've got him aboard. George Rawson's another, an old Agency type, retired two years ago. You remember George?”

Wilson met the pale lifted eyes, remembering Rawson's name. He'd been retired in 1978 under dubious circumstances. “I don't think so.”

“Speaks Arab like a raghead,” Larabee continued. “So they've got people know the Middle East and have the contacts out there, same as Latin America, where they're in solid. It's the legislative side they're trying to build up, not the senators so much—the salad boys in the back room, oiling up the cabbage. And it's big cabbage, too, Haven, lemme tell you—big bucks. You worked with the Foreign Relations Committee, didn't you? You say the word and I could get you together with these friends of mine.”

“That was a few years ago. I don't think it interests me much these days.”

Larabee wasn't daunted. “You got the experience, the nuts and bolts. Take El Salvador. They had a piece of the El Salvador package, maybe five, six million, but the fuckers turn the water off. It's still in the pipeline. So you got Latin America heating up, the administration's gonna open things up down there, like this Honduras operation I was telling you about, closing off this Cuban-Nicaraguan arms corridor to El Salvador, but Congress has to get its shit together. You've got the right contacts for that.…”

Wilson didn't reply. Larabee rambled on:

“Some of those Senate and House staffers still act like it's the goddamn Carter administration, you know what I mean? They're still in a reactive mode. You take the defense budget. It's a big-ticket operation—that's what the White House wants, what the public wants. So you gotta keep Congress honest. I had one guy over on the Hill say to me last week, ‘Look, Chuck, we gotta think about political answers before we talk about beefing up military sales, right?' Well, that's bullshit, lemme tell you.”

“How many Latin American countries do your friends handle?” Wilson asked with only polite interest. The nearby tables were beginning to fill as more members entered from the rainy street. The din from the bar in front had grown louder.

“Three, I think it is,” Larabee said, his eyes restlessly prowling the room. He looked at his watch. “So Latin America's heating up, this administration's blowing the lid off down there. That's why my friends need to beef up their legislative staff, make sure those guys on the Hill get the right message about what the Sandinistas and Cubanos are doing to our friends down there. You say the word, I'll put you in touch.” He leaned down to bring his briefcase from beneath the table and removed a large manila envelope. “Basically, when it comes to national defense, I'm a PR purist, Haven, no schlock. That's how they made up this brochure—it tells it like it is. It tells you how this firm is set up, who their clients are, where you'd fit in if you want to come aboard. Take a look at it. If you're interested, give me a call and I'll get you together with them.”

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