The Washington Decree

Jussi Adler-Olsen

The following is an exclusive excerpt from The Washington Decree, by Jussi Adler-Olsen. First released in 2006, and now reissued for its timely subject matter, this political thriller about a folksy demagogue ties in to global issues of gun violence, election disputes, and growing conservatism.

She slept late the next day, letting the chambermaid knock in vain a couple of times before she was ready to face the world. Although it was a raw, cold day, she was planning to spend the rest of the morning sitting out on her mother’s veranda in Chesapeake with her boots up on the railing. She was planning on the two of them wrapping themselves up in old blankets and having a good laugh or two at her father’s expense, but Wesley called again before she got out of the hotel. He explained that Bruce Jansen and his entourage would be in Richmond before noon, and Doggie should be ready and waiting when they all met in the governor’s office in the state capitol building at one o’clock. Apparently, some kind of threat had been made against Jansen, and Sunderland wanted to gather the troops.

“What kind of threat?” she asked, but that was all Wesley knew. She understood: Jansen and Sunderland had chosen to brief all of them at once.

She packed her little valise and took the service elevator down to the parking basement. She had a nice, old MG with spoke wheels that she’d saved up for out of her modest wages. No way was she having a valet fetch it, fooling with those sensitive manual gears.

When the elevator door rolled open in the parking garage, she found herself standing face-to-face with a grinning Toby O’Neill. He was unshaven and wearing a gray smock, apparently on his way to compress some paper in the wastepaper baling machine. “Well, well, Miss Curtis, on your way again, I see,” he muttered.

Doggie was about to give him her correct name again but then just nodded. What was the use?

Article continues below

“On your way back to your big asshole of a boss?” She tried to ignore him and walk past.

“Back to that asshole Jansen and his whore of a wife who are duping the whole country and the whole world, those two cheating assholes.”

She stopped. “What was that again, Toby?”

“He’s an asshole, and his stinking wife’s exactly like all the other whores!”

She felt like slapping him across his grubby face. “Listen here, Toby O’Neill, you don’t use that language with me! Where do you get that filth?”

Article continues below

O’Neill rubbed his chin. It was hard to tell how handicapped his brain actually was. Sometimes he acted normal, sometimes like a six-year-old. He was indefinable and unpredictable. He could shrink into himself one minute and flare up the next.

She regretted her question and continued walking towards her car. “That big asshole has eyes like a reptile and a gross, forked tongue!” came his voice. “Him, we don’t trust in these parts. Nope, we don’t trust him or his whore, so now you know. We sure don’t.”

She turned, walked back towards him, and put her hand on his shoulder. “Who are ‘we,’ Toby?”

“Not you, that’s for sure,” he said with a laugh.

“Is it my father who’s said these things to you, Toby?”

He smiled for a second, then stiffened. “Your father?” He suddenly looked serious. “Your father doesn’t say anything at all about stuff like that. Nope.”

She noticed he was looking over her shoulder and turned around. A couple of yards behind them stood her father, studying them with a disturbing expression. What on earth was he doing down here? She looked around. Had he just come in his car? She hadn’t heard anything. She turned back to look at Toby again. He looked very frightened.

“You talk too much, Toby,” said her father, giving the skinny little man an angry look. “We don’t want to hear that kind of talk about Doggie’s employer, you got that?”

She drove north on the highway, her head swarming with thoughts, and stepped into the governor’s conference room a minute past one.

The entire staff was already seated for the briefing around an enormous oval table in the high-ceilinged room. They looked like they’d already been waiting a long time. She plopped down in a chair next to Wesley.

Sunderland was just entering the room. He nodded briefly to the assembly and sat down.

“At 10:05 a.m. the police gave us a tip about threats having been made against Senator Jansen.”

“At 10:05 a.m. the police gave us a tip about threats having been made against Senator Jansen,” he said, and gave everyone in the room a hard look, as though they had something to hide.

Doggie felt the presence of a ghost from the Beijing trip tragedy and looked at Wesley, but apparently he didn’t sense it.

“We’re still not sure what it’s about,” Sunderland continued, “so therefore I’ve been compelled to inform Senator Jansen that security measures have been tightened. It looks like we’ve entered phase two of the campaign, where we all must behave as though we were representatives of a coming government, which will make us targets for all kinds of deranged people’s hatred and wickedness. Naturally, this is regrettable, but that’s the way it is.”

Sunderland nodded towards the door that one of the governor’s office’s security guards had just opened, and six severe-looking men in black suits filed in, one after another.

“From now on, Jansen won’t be showing himself anywhere in public before the site has been searched and analyzed. But now you have an opportunity to meet our new security people, so let’s welcome them!” He clapped a couple of times. “This corps is under the command of special agent Ben Kane, who is presently being introduced to his new employer. From now on, these men will be in charge of Senator Jansen’s personal security and will coordinate their work with the Secret Service and its standard security procedure for presidential candidates that begins in July, a hundred and twenty days before election day. As of today you are to do whatever these men tell you, is that understood? Take a good look at these men because they may make a vital difference in all our futures.”

Doggie studied them, one by one. It would take a mother to tell them apart. They were all clones of identical height and bulk, with the same dead eyes. She was about to mention this to Wesley, but the door opened again and Jansen came in, accompanied by another man in a black suit—presumably the new security chief, Ben Kane.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!” Jansen seemed completely unperturbed by the situation.

“Are we ready to congratulate ourselves, folks? Because I can inform you that we already have an exit poll for Virginia. Do you want to hear it?” There was a loud, positive response. “We’re going to take Virginia with almost eighty percent!”

“Yes!” cried Wesley, and they all sprang out of their seats, arms wav- ing in the air. It was early in the day for an exit poll, but . . . 80 percent! That was simply amazing.

A great wave of relief swept over Doggie. Now it looked like they were headed straight for the White House.

Thomas Sunderland raised his hand as the excitement died down. “Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen. This is wonderful—it really is. Let’s give our next president and each other a hand.” He began clapping and everyone joined in, adding yells of enthusiasm. Then Sunderland raised his hand again. “Yes, now it looks like we’re right on course for election day in November, and therefore it’s even more important that we finish discussing security. There are bound to be more threatening situations along the way.” He turned towards Bruce Jansen. “Excuse me, Senator. I know it’s become a tradition to let ourselves be received and applauded under open skies, and I know how much you’re looking forward to meeting the press out here on the front lawn of your old domicile, but unfortunately, I must tell you we can’t permit it today.”

Jansen was undaunted. Smiling, he pounded Sunderland so hard on the back that it disheveled his hair. Doggie noticed how quickly he tried to smooth it down again.

“Everybody should be allowed to see how happy I am today, Thomas. We don’t know who made the threat yet, or what kind it was. It’s probably a false alarm and I believe we should treat it as such. I think the occasion calls for a big celebration and no one should be allowed to deny us it, should they, people?” He lifted both arms in the air. “Today is our day, friends!” he cried.

Most of the assembly stood up and cheered, but this time Doggie and Wesley didn’t join them. If Sunderland thought they should be vigilant, then why not do it?

Sunderland straightened up in his chair. “I don’t think that’s a wise idea. We’re winning the election on our strong viewpoints, but strong viewpoints make enemies. This is America, Senator Jansen. Presidents aren’t a protected species, and that definitely includes presidential candidates as well. The world’s a dangerous place. You should know that better than anyone, Senator.”

Doggie saw Jansen’s face darken. Allusions to the murder of Jansen’s first wife were not welcome. Sunderland knew this, just like everyone else present.

Jansen stood silently by the window for a moment. Then he said, “I’m going down to meet them anyway. I’m going to stand in front of the fountain, dammit. Can’t you just see it?”

Sunderland gave him an irritated look. “Not if I have anything to say about it!”

Jansen patted him on the back again. “Thomas, you can’t build anything on distrust, can you? We’ll take our precautions, okay, and go outside on the lawn, how about that?” Then he abruptly left for the chamber next door where the governor was waiting for him. Everyone looked at Sunderland, who was sitting still with a dark expression that said he was really fed up. “Okay!” he finally barked after a few seconds. He clapped his hands together. “You all know the routine, so let’s get going!” Then he pushed back his chair and went over to talk quietly with his dark-clad men.

The room began to empty, but Doggie and Wesley remained seated.

There was still at least an hour until they were “on.”

Wesley saw her yawn and tilted his head. “Are you sure you got enough sleep?” he asked. She nodded. Was he studying her, wondering whether perhaps her sleep had been disturbed by an unknown rival? So ask me, then, she thought. But then Wesley blinked, and her fantasies evaporated. So much for that. Suddenly it was just good old Wesley again, asking how her day off had gone and what she’d had to eat. This was why he was a master at dispensing with journalists’ impertinent questions.

He was both ice-cold and nice, attentive, and interesting.

Slowly he softened her up as they began chatting and got her to tell about her early days in Richmond, about the years after her parents’ divorce, about her father’s peculiar ways, and finally about her father’s wish to have Jansen spend election night in November at the Splendor Hotel in Virginia Beach. Wesley didn’t seem particularly surprised to hear it, but he didn’t comment, either. Then she told him she wasn’t sure whether she should pass the offer on, and how, for a long time, she’d been upset by her father’s vacillating attitude towards her working for the senator. Wesley nodded as she spoke, as though it were impossible to tell him something he didn’t already know. It gave her a strange feeling, one that somehow felt good.

“I know my dad’s capable of a lot. He’s good at saying one thing and meaning something else; otherwise he probably never would have gotten to where he is today.”

“My father has this handyman at the hotel in Virginia Beach,” she continued. “His name is Toby O’Neill, and I can’t stand him. He’s obviously not too bright, so I guess you have to forgive him that, but sometimes he’s just too much. Today he said some nasty things about Jansen that made my skin crawl, so I don’t think I want to tell Sunderland about my father’s proposal, and I don’t think you should, either. Maybe it’s my father who’s been slandering Jansen in front of O’Neill, and maybe it’s nothing, but after what we’ve heard today we know there are people who hate our candidate like the plague. I know my dad’s capable of a lot. He’s good at saying one thing and meaning something else; otherwise he probably never would have gotten to where he is today.” Suddenly a voice came from behind them. “What was it this O’Neill said about Jansen, Doggie?” She turned around to face a dead-serious Sunderland. How long had he been there, she wondered. “Oh, nothing in particular,” she replied. “The man’s an idiot.” Sunderland kept his eyes locked on her.

She sighed. “Okay, he called Mimi Jansen a whore and said that Jansen was duping everyone. That he was a big asshole with the eyes of a reptile and a forked tongue.”

“I see. And . . . ?”

“He said that folks didn’t trust him down here in the South, but it looks like we proved him wrong today, didn’t we?” She put on a big grin. “Eighty percent! That’s a figure that speaks for itself. You almost feel sorry for his opponents.” She laughed, making it sound as real as she could, and noticed faint smile wrinkles forming around Sunderland’s eyes. “Forget that idiot, Mr. Sunderland, he’s not worth it.”

Sunderland’s smile withered as quickly as it had appeared. “Did you say that your father offered us the Splendor Hotel in Virginia Beach for our headquarters on election night? That’s a quality hotel, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s just gotten its fifth star.” Doggie shrugged her shoulders. “It’s embarrassing, but my father’ll do anything for publicity. I promised him I’d present you with his offer, and now I have. That’s the only thing I promised him.”

One of the black-suited men approached, catlike and silent. It was Ben Kane, a conspicuously attractive man with glistening black hair, the overall effect marred only by two grotesque, massive gold bracelets that dangled from his wrist. He laid one hand on Sunderland’s upper arm and held the other up to his earpiece. Sunderland listened while Kane spoke in his ear, then nodded.

Threats or not, security preparations for the open-air press conference were apparently well under way.

It looked like the folksy Jansen tradition was going to be upheld.


From THE WASHINGTON DECREE by Jussi Adler-Olsen, to be published on August 7, 2018 by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2006, 2009 by Jussi Adler-Olsen. Translation copyright © 2017 by Steve Schein.

More Story
In an Age of Predators, Seeking Vengeance in Crime Fiction You recognize him by now. The coach or the team doctor, looking sad and helpless and slight, after his secrets have come...

Support CrimeReads - Become a Member

CrimeReads needs your help. The mystery world is vast, and we need your support to cover it the way it deserves. With your contribution, you'll gain access to exclusive newsletters, editors' recommendations, early book giveaways, and our new "Well, Here's to Crime" tote bag.

Become a member for as low as $5/month