The Mirror Maze
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     Mel and Stephanie arrived back at the Embassy Hotel first thing the next morning as agreed. George answered the phone when Mel called the suite from the lobby, and told them to come on up. They found two waiters from the hotel staff there, preparing the table for a breakfast to be served in private. Larry had gone to the airport to collect whoever it was who was coming to talk to them. They suppressed their curiosity and confined themselves to small talk until a call from downstairs announced that Larry and his party had arrived.
     The half dozen or so aides who entered the suite first made no particular impression, apart from looking like what could have been clean-cut executives from any corporation or government department. But the figure who followed after them brought Mel and Stephanie to their feet in astonishment. With his broad frame, craggy but easy-natured features, and thick head of silver hair—early for his years—that had become the kind of nationwide symbol that political cartoonists love, he would have been recognized by any one who hadn't been marooned on a desert island for the last year. Mel had seen him only once before, from a distance, when he had come to speak in Boston.
     "Good morning," he said, in his familiar voice, firm and a shade gravelly, which enhanced the no-nonsense image that so many found inspiring. "Thank you both for staying to hear us. I'm sorry for the misunderstanding yesterday, but I think you'll find that what we have to say is sufficiently interesting to make up for it."
     "It was Henry Newell, president-elect of the United States, the next occupant of the Oval Office.
     Newell possessed what is described as a "presence"—that intangible quality that sets apart "naturals": entrepreneurs of business, captains of ships, generals of armies, leaders of popular movements. It was that kind of quality which is at work whenever a freely interacting group of people, whether it be the occupants of a barrack room, the staff of an office, the guests at a cocktail party, or a bunch of guys out on the town, spontaneously acknowledge one individual as the leader. Some just have it, others haven't, and nobody really knows what it is, though everyone recognizes it.
     In Newell's case, certainly, it had nothing to do with brute-force assertiveness. Indeed, one of the things to strike Mel in his first opportunity to observe at close hand the man who had been figuring so prominently in the public eye, was Newell's disarming soft-spokenness. His style was akin to that of a skillful orator who, rather than thunder out the concluding words as he reaches his crescendo, drops his voice suddenly, compelling a moment of focused attention at the crucial point, lest it be missed.
     Since the mistake had been theirs, Newell and his people accepted the onus of opening after they all sat down to eat. Much of the talking was by Warren Landis, a vigorous, bearded, bespectacled man with high brow and a balding dome, who had apparently flown overnight from Washington to attend. Mel thought that his face seemed vaguely familiar, possibly from the background groups seen with Newell during coverage of the election and the campaign that had preceded it. Mel was astounded to learn that Landis knew of him and his past relationship with Eva, and that the two agents staking out the cemetery had recognized him as a possible lead back her. Following the confusion at Devil's Slide, Landis had also deduced that the girl found dead in Denver was not Stephanie but Eva. This, Mel and Stephanie were able to confirm.
     They in their turn explained about Brett's Soviet connection, the suspicious circumstances of his death, and their conclusion that Eva had been killed in mistake for Stephanie. Newell expressed sympathy for Stephanie's loss and understood her present consternation. He was confused, however, about her reasons for having acted the way she had.
     "And you haven't been in touch with your company at all since you left Denver?" he asked from one end of the table, laden with dishes. The others were still sitting where they had eaten, apart from two men that Mel assumed were security guards, one of whom had positioned himself in an armchair between the table and the door, the other at a side table by the window.
     "No," Stephanie answered.
     "What are your intentions?"
     "I'm not really sure. Officially I'm dead. If there are people out there who went to those lengths, they probably wouldn't hesitate to try again. So we figured it would be best for me to stay dead for the time being . . . until we come up with some idea of what to do."
     "I would have thought the obvious thing to do would be to go to the authorities," Newell said. "Why haven't you done that?"
     Stephanie and Mel glanced at each other guardedly in the same automatic reaction. But if it wasn't safe to be straight with the next president of the country, then everything was as good as over anyway. Mel looked back at Newell and took a long breath. "We're not sure which authorities we can trust. If what we suspect is correct, it was a prominent figure, with close government connections, who was responsible for recruiting Brett."
     Newell pursed his lips for a moment. "Who?" he asked.
     There could be no backing down now. Mel raised his eyebrows at Stephanie and looked back at Newell. "Dr. Herman Oberwald."
     There were some shufflings and exchanges of looks among the others. Mel tried to read whether the information had come as a surprise, but the expressions were impenetrable. One of the aides refilled the coffee cups. Then Melanie said, "We've told you as much as we can about what we think happened to my sister and why. They mistook her for me. You mistook me for her. What we don't know is why you were looking for her."
     There was a short silence. "We appreciate that it could be none of our business," Mel said. "But if that were the case, we'd hardly all be sitting here right now."
     Newell stared at them for what began to seem like a long time. When at last he spoke, he seemed to have gone off at a new tangent. "This nation is entering a new century with expectations of changes for the better. We intend that those expectations will—perhaps after some reversals and disappointments, and a few lessons of the kind that can only be learned from mistakes—be met. But the issues that concern most people are relatively superficial. Of course the majority of people like the idea of lower taxes, increased opportunity, and less official meddling in their lives. Those things follow from the principles we have built our platform on; in themselves, however, they are not the essence of our goals but consequences of them. They're the icing that any democratic cake has to have to be accepted. But they on their own do not represent what the Constitutional movement is all about.
     "The conventional left-right spectrum that people think in terms of is, in most meaningful senses, a myth. After all, if virtually every facet of an individual's life is controlled by government: if he can make his living only with the permission of others, and keep only so much of what he has made as they allow him; if he can be compelled to work for causes that don't concern him; and if his private life and even his thoughts are subject to somebody else's approval, then what does it matter if you call the system communism or fascism, Stalinism or Hitlerism, Caesarism, Pharaohism, or anything else you like? As far as the individual is concerned, the differences are academic. The only spectrum that really means anything, I would submit, is the one that extends from 'Total Government' at one end to "No Government' at the other—in other words total anarchy, which is the only system that kills more human beings than totalitarianism does."
     Newell looked questioningly from Mel to Stephanie, evidently wanting it to be a two-way exchange. "And you would place the Constitutional Party where?" Mel responded. He already knew the answer, but it would be interesting to hear it from Newell himself.
     "Toward the No Government side of center, but well short of the extreme. In other words, a constitutional system with limited powers, those powers being essentially passive and concerned with defending the individual's rights against those who would deny them by force. But you know that already, of course. I also happen to be informed of your activities on behalf of our party, Mr. Shears."
     "So how does this connect with my sister's death and involve us?" Stephanie asked.
     "My point is that whatever label it attaches itself to in the popular mind, our opposition is political extremism," Newell replied. "And regardless of the cause or slogans that it masquerades behind, the aim of extremism is invariably to deliver to the few the power, one way or another, to loot the pockets of the population at large. It achieves this by controlling a society's economic assets. The Left seizes them outright in the name of the collective good; the Right awards itself monopoly privileges to eliminate competition. Although they may be rivals in squabbling over the spoils, the relationship is that of parasites competing in the body of the same host. The real enemy of both of them is the same: the free and independent individual who can't be compelled to serve anyone."
     "So the Constitutional Party is the enemy of both of them," Mel oobserved.
     "Quite. We are a common threat to all such interests. We may have won an election, but we still have enemies that command enormous power, and who can be expected to subordinate their superficial differences to the common objective of seeking our destruction by all of the not inconsiderable means at their disposal. Remember the Arab proverb that says 'My enemy's enemy is my friend.'"
     Mel frowned as he tried to see where this was leading. "Are you saying that what the public sees is a facade?" he asked. "Behind it there's some kind of collusion?"
     "Oh, I wouldn't say it was as cut and dried as that," Newell answered. "But one thing we can be sure of is that the prospect of the legislation we intend carrying through will unleash ferocious passions. Therefore, it is vital not only to our interests but for our very survival to try to know what these people are up to, and their plans. It should come as no surprise to learn that we have our own intelligence-gathering machinery." He indicated Landis with a nod. "In fact, Warren runs it."
     "We lump them together as the 'Opposition," Landis interjected. "Just think of all the interests that stand to lose if the twenty-eighth amendment goes through."
     Stephanie was staring at Newell with a sudden look of revelation in her eyes. "That's what Eva was doing, isn't it?" she said slowly. "She was with your intelligence operation." Newell nodded affirmatively.
     "In fact, she worked for me," Landis informed them.
     "But there was more to it than just that," Newell said. "You see, Eva had infiltrated a part of the Opposition—in fact, it's in no small part due to her that we know as much as we do."
     "Infiltrated?" Stephanie repeated. "You mean she was a kind of spy?"
     "Yes," Newell said candidly. "Sordid, I know, but a regrettable necessity these days. But what made her so valuable was that they though it was themselves who had infiltrated us—that Eva had turned and was working for them inside the most secure part of our organization."
     "A double agent," Stephanie said.
     "As far as they were concerned," Newell agreed. "But in reality she was a triple. Can you see what a priceless asset she represented to us?"
     "Irreplaceable," Mel said mechanically.
     "Surely that possibility must have crossed their minds too," Stephanie said.
     "Of course," Newell agreed. "We expected them to come up with some form of loyalty test for her. He looked toward Landis to elaborate.
     Landis obliged. "In the middle of January, the future vice president, Theo McCormick, will be visiting Egypt and Israel for preliminary talks on envisaged changes in U.S. foreign aid policy. A man called Joseph Kirkelmayer, from our Washington headquarters, was originally scheduled to go with McCormick's party as their public relations man."
     "You mean he's not going now?" Mel checked.
     "No. Eva was given . . ."
     "By the Opposition?"
     "Yes. . . . some documents which expose Kirkelmayer as having leaked confidential party information to our opponents before the election. The idea was to make us think she'd obtained them in the process of working for us. The documents had been faked, of course, but the question was, would we act on them?" Landis shrugged. "Well, it has been announced publicly that Kirkelmayer has been dropped from McCormick's team, the official reason being given as ill health. But we also fed it into the grapevine, in a way that we knew would get back, that there was a huge internal row going on over it."
     Mel looked a shade skeptical. "But isn't that what you'd expect anyone to do if they weren't taken in but wanted to keep up the deception?"
     "True, but it was their game play. Anyhow, it get's more interesting. You see, Eva automatically became Kirkelmayer's replacement—which the Opposition were very anxious to be certain of before they came up with the scheme to remove Kirkelmayer. In other words, they had some reason for wanting to get Eva sent to the Middle East in his place." Landis glanced at Newell to resume from there.
     Newell acknowledged with a nod. "All we have won so far is the popular vote, which adds up simply to an indicator of the public mood—no more. As far as anything concrete is concerned, until after the inauguration in January, it changes nothing. The Opposition has no intention of sitting back and letting the situation rest. We have reason to believe that they are planning something serious, aimed at damaging, discrediting, or even toppling us completely, before the inauguration takes place. Exactly what, we don't know. But our indications are that it will happen during McCormick's Middle East visit, and that Eva was to have played a crucial role in it."
     Newell placed his hands palms-down on the table and stared directly first at Mel, then Stephanie. "We both have a problem. If your suspicions of Soviet espionage and the involvement of people in high places are correct, then your predicament is an impossible one. I applaud your initiative, but it's not something you could have handled on your own. I think you know that. But now it will become a matter to be taken care of by the appropriate agencies at a national level." Mel and Stephanie exchanged quick glances that contained their first glimmer of real hope since the nightmare began. Newell went on, "But we also have a problem, a far more pressing one that can't wait. And we think you can help us. What I want to propose, therefore, is that we hold off temporarily on this other business, and concentrate for the moment on finding out what the other side is planning to do in January."
     Stephanie frowned and looked at a loss. "Yes, I can see what you're saying. But what do you want us to do?" Newell hesitated, as if considering how to phrase something delicate.
     Landis looked at Mel. "You said, a moment ago, Mr. Shears, that Eva was 'irreplaceable.'" His voice held a curious, pointed quality. He waited, watching Mel's face. Then Mel's jaw dropped as he saw at last what the entire conversation had been leading to.
     Newell nodded but directed his words at Stephanie. But then, not quite irreplaceable, maybe. You and your sister have been mistaken for each other twice already." He raised a hand as Stephanie started to say something. "Yes, I know. Make no mistake about what we're asking. There's danger involved. But try and think what it means to us, to the country, and what it meant to Eva. There isn't time to come up with any alternative approach. As you said yourself a few minutes ago, for the time being, officially you don't exist. And that could be convenient. You see, what we want you to do is become Eva. We want you to take your sister's place."
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