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by Jonathan Rabb
In the summer of 1531, Medici soldiers, working for Pope Clement VII, tortured to death an obscure Swiss monk, Eusebius Eisenreich. What Eisenreich would not reveal was the location of a simple manuscript.
The Pope never found it.
Saddled with overnight bag, purse, and briefcase, Sarah Trent looked the typical attorney making her weekly trek to New York. The heavy winter coat bounced playfully just above her knees, revealing a pair of rather exquisite legs. At five foot seven, trim and athletic, Sarah was used to the turned heads, the long stares. She smiled back, her keep chestnut eyes flashing in response, as she moved along the platform to a nonsmoking car, the Metroliner surprisingly empty for noon on a Thursday.
She had opted for the train rather than the shuttle for the simple reason that she needed more time with the files--two days hadn't been enough to digest all the material that had landed on her desk. A research update. just some background information for the new system, the note had read. We've got the space, we need to fill it. Typical bureaucratic reasoning.
Now, finding a pair of seats midway through the car, Sarah swung the two cases onto the window seat, then dropped herself into the one on the aisle. She turned to the briefcase as she unbuttoned her coat.
She had spent the last two days on the phone, trying to piece together the strands of information in the files. Very little had come up. And whenever she tried to dig a bit deeper, awkward pauses followed by curt responses had make it clear that she was not meant to look further. Brush-offs, notwithstanding, a few names had popped up to catch her attention--organizations that seemed to fit into a category with various right-wing fringe groups but which remained just this side of respectability.
In all the digging, one name had continued to crop up. One Alexander Jaspers, a prolific academic who had spent the last few years churning out article after article on the new decency in conservatism. His phrase. Sarah had leafed through a number of his pieces and, realizing she had found her font of information, had made an appointment to see him.
As the train emerged from the station, Sarah opened the one file that had intrigued her most during her first perusal. Tieg, The infamous host of Tieg Tonight--one of the country's more popular evening television entertainments. Jaspers would be well up on Tiegs history, having mentioned him in at least two of the articles. Never comfortable with academic types--always a bit intimidated--Sarah was determined to hold her own with Doctor Jaspers. She settled into her seat and let her shoes drop to the floor, ready now to peruse the file more
The first pages were standard form: born 33 to Hungarian émigrés, public schools, regional wrestling champion, scholarship to St. Johns. Nothing unusual until 51, when, in a period of less than six weeks, Tiegs father died, he dropped out of school, and he set sail for Europe. No explanation.
Sarah took a moment to jot down a few notes and then turned to the last few pages. The story beyond 69 was common knowledge. Buying up a number radio stations--the source of the initial capital unclear--Tieg had parlayed them into a series of local television outfits, and by 73 had the largest media package in the Southwest. Then the shift to telecommunications in 75, when he started to drum up business in Washington. His current linkups included Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America.
And then, just as quickly as he had gotten into technology, he moved on, turning his attentions to Tieg Tonight, the homespun talk show that blossomed from a four share in 93 to a twenty-two share by 97, a legendary rise by any standards. The ratings established Tieg as the premier pontificating politico of the airwaves.
Sarah placed the file on her lap and closed her eyes. She had read the last few pages without the attention she knew they deserved, preoccupied by the three-year hiatus Tieg had enjoyed in Europe. The question remained: Who--or what--was allowing him to escape the keep eye of the worlds most thorough intelligence agency forty years later? How had those three years remained hidden?
They sat. I'd recommend a nice cup of tea and a piece of the raspberry chocolate cake, but not everybody's a chocolate nut.
No, that sounds nice. Everything was nice, Sarah thought--the idea of tea, the funny little cafe that wanted so desperately to evoke images of Paris or Berlin--and the company. There was something very relaxing about young Dr. Jaspers. Something that seemed so...unacademic.
So, Clara mentioned the State Department and my articles. I can only guess were here to talk about The New Right and the rise of conservatism. The self-mocking tone in his voice prompted another smile from Sarah. The title of a very dull article I wrote.
Not so dull.
Jaspers eyes widened. You've actually read it?
My job, Professor Jaspers--
Xander, he interrupted. Everyone calls me Xander.
Again, she smiled. One of the many I read...Xander. All very informative. And all quite different from the other articles on the subject. Your approach is...how shall I put this--
Unique? Probably the source. He pulled a thin well-worn book from his jacket pocket, several rubber bands holding it together. He placed it on the table. The cover read The Prince. Never leave home without it.
Machiavelli? she asked.
Dont be so surprised. They were pretty bright in the sixteenth century. He was probably the brightest.
And now he's a man for all centuries, she said, watching as Jaspers stretched the rubber bands around the flaking pages.
The nice thing about theory, Ms. Trent, is that it can apply to any number of situations. He put the book in his pocket. Its the way you apply it that makes the difference.
And your friend Machiavelli just happens to fit in with the New Right?
And the junk-bond market, and several LBOs, even a separatist group in Idaho--I'm not the only one whose seen a connection. I just keep it theoretical. Its everyone else who tries to put it into practice.
Theories are...susceptible to broad interpretation. That's what makes them so seductive. Sometimes, they're hard to dismiss. But at a certain point, you have to recognize their limitations.
Ill try to keep that in mind, Sarah said. So, she continued, its all really just a matter of context.
Exactly, he replied. Machiavelli wrote the Prince as a...how-to manual on wielding political power. What he really wanted was job from the Medici--Florences ruling family. Machiavelli was a genius, but he was a sixteenth-century genius, and we have twentieth century questions.
So you think he takes us only so far.
Don't get me wrong, answered Jaspers. I love the old guy, but he's a springboard, that's all. A modern equivalent is what the New Right has been doing over the last few years. Except instead of going directly to the people, they pander to any number of interest groups in order to maintain control. Theoretically, its Machiavelli: practically, its--
The new decency in conservatism. The Centrist Coalition.
WASHINGTON, FEBRUARY 26, 3:51 P.M. The class moved through the museum, a Veronese the highlight, each child busy with notebook and pen, jotting down the relevant information. On cue, one of the girls quietly sank to her knees, hidden by the other children as she removed the grating of the vent directly below the painting. She placed her pack inside the opening slipped through. A boy followed, the grate immediately replaced.
They had no need of lights or maps; they had run the mock-up perhaps a hundred times in the last week. At the fourth duct, they turned. The girl checked her watch. Eight minutes. Plant it, set the linkup, and return. They had done it once in seven.
Half a minute later, they fashioned the pieces from their backpacks into two large plastic bricks and a small black box, a copper coil connecting it to the wires along the wall.
They had done well. Six and a half minutes. The old man would be pleased.
Its typical right-wing maneuvering, said Xander. They don't want the government to tell people how to run their lives, but they're more than happy to be the country's moral conscience. The Coalition likes to do it through school curriculums. Abortion, sexual orientation--those are big issues. They've got plans to develop private institutions of their own. Schools, funded by the Coalition, to compete with the public sector, giving them a blank check on what, and how, they teach. They have TV monitors in the halls and classrooms, all linked to some high-tech computers that function interactively with the kids. Specialized computers that sound quite extraordinary, to make sure a clear, consistent message reaches all of the Coalitions devoted little followers. That's not education; that's indoctrination.
Brainwashing? Sarah asked skeptically. Computers have been around for a long time, Professor. Just because the Coalitions using them doesn't mean--
If they're the only things that tie Jonas Tieg and Laurence Sedgewick together--two men who haven't the slightest bit of interest in education--I'm not so sure. Jaspers stared across at her.
Sarah jotted down a few words. With her eyes still on the pad, she asked, And Anton Votapek? She was about to repeat the question, when she looked up and noticed Jaspers expression. He was staring at her, a look of sudden concern etched on his face.
Votapek? repeated Jaspers. Sarah leaned forward to pour herself a second cup. Are we talking about the same Anton Votapek? The Tempsten Project.
It was actually called the Learning Center, she corrected. The media dubbed it the Tempsten Project.
He shook his head. Votapek? He paused. Why would--
Its about schools, isn't it, Professor?
Yes, but...I mean, the man was genius, the educational guru of the sixties, but then...Tempsten. His eyes began to drift. Some sort of high concept...modular teaching-- One more wild theory forced into practice. He continued to stare off, as if trying to remember something. What was it, about ten children, all around eight or nine. One of the darker moments in American education. Eight- and nine-year-olds, turned into... He suddenly looked at her, his expression far more intense than only a moment ago. You think he's linked to Tieg and Sedgewick?
I dont think anything, she answered. I simply asked if his name had come up in your research.
Jaspers stared across at her. I see. He paused. It hasn't.
Have I said something wrong?
Absolutely. After all, I wouldn't mind seeing your files.
As he stood, Sarah remembered something. Oh, there was one other thing. This might sound strange--
I'm sure it isn't. He began to put on his coat.
Enreich. Does that mean anything to you?
WASHINGTON, FEBRUARY 26, 4:24 P.M. The air erupted in a torrent of glass and water, metal driving up through the ground, a crater where the galleries lower promenade had been. Screams filled the expanse, silenced eighteen seconds later by the detonation of the second bomb, which hurled its flame through the opening and encased body after body in a searing wave of gold. A sweet smoke followed, more deadly than the blaze, stifling breath and forcing its victims to what remained of the ground.
It was over in less than six minutes. Some had been lucky. The initial blast had taken them unawares. Others had had to live through the gas, feel the flames lick at their flesh, endure their own incineration.