On the twenty-third of December at 2 P.M. Senator Abigail Jennings sat in the library of her home with Toby and Philip and watched the telecast as the Vice President of the United States formally tendered his resignation to the Chief Executive.
Her lips dry, her fingernails digging into her palms, Abigail listened as the Vice President, propped on pillows in his hospital bed, ashen-faced and obviously dying, said in a surprisingly strong voice, "I had expected to withhold my decision until after the first of the year. However, I feel that it is my clear duty to vacate this office and have the line of succession to Chief Executive of this great country uncompromised. I am grateful for the confidence the President and my party expressed when I was twice chosen to be the Vice Presidential candidate. I am grateful to the people of the United States for having given me the opportunity to serve them."
With profound regret, the President accepted the resignation of his old friend and colleague. When asked if he had decided on a replacement, he said, "I have a few ideas." But he declined to respond to the names suggested by the press.
Toby whistled. "Well, it's happened, Abby."
"Senator, mark my words . . ." Philip began.
"Be quiet and listen!" she snapped. As the scene in the hospital room ended, the camera focused on Luther Pelham in the newsroom of Potomac Cable.
"A historic moment," Luther began. With dignified reticence he recounted a brief history of the Vice Presidency and then came to the point. "The time has come for a woman to be selected for the high office . . . a woman with the necessary experience and proved expertise. Mr. President, choose her now."
Abigail laughed sharply. "Meaning me."
The phone began to ring. "That will be reporters. I'm not in," she said.
An hour later the press was still camped outside Abigail's home. Finally she agreed to an interview. Outwardly she was calm. She said that she was busy with preparations for a Christmas supper for friends. When asked if she expected to be appointed Vice President, she said in an amused tone, "Now, you really can't expect me to comment on that."
Once the door closed behind her, her expression and manner changed. Even Toby did not dare to cross the line.
Luther phoned to confirm the taping schedule. Abigail's raised voice could be heard throughout the house. "Yes, I saw it. You want to know something? I probably have this in the bag right now, without that damn program hanging over my head. I told you it was a rotten idea. Don't tell me you only wanted to help me.
You wanted to have me obligated to you, and we both know it."
Abigail's voice lowered, and Philip exchanged glances with Toby. "What did you find out?" he asked.
"Pat Traymore was up in Apple Junction last week. She stopped at the newspaper office and got some back issues. She visited Saunders, the guy who was sweet on Abby when she was a kid. He talked his head off to her. Then she saw the retired school principal who knew Abby. I was at Pat's house in Georgetown when Saunders phoned her."
"How much damage could any of those people do to the Senator?" Philip asked.
Toby shrugged. "It depends. Did you find out anything about the house?"
"Some," Philip told him. "We got to the realty company that has been renting it for years. They had a new tenant all lined up, but the bank handling the trust for the heirs said that someone in the family was planning to use it and it wouldn't be for rent again."
"Someone in the family?" Toby repeated. "Who in the family?"
"I would guess Pat Traymore," Philip said sarcastically.
"Don't get smart with me," Toby snapped. "I want to know who owns that place now, and which relative is using it."
Copyright © 1984 by Mary Higgins Clark