The newspaper editors were in town last week, and one of the more interesting panels dealt with the "Washington Novel." The members of the panel were William Safire, who wrote "Full Disclosure," Marilyn Sharp, who authored a mystery entitled "Sunflower," Les Whitten of "Conflict of Interest," and Barbara Howar, who wrote "Making Ends Meet."

Their conclusion was that the Washington novel is alive and well, mainly because all the ingredients for the novel are here -- power, suspense and sex.

I've been trying to write a Washington novel for some time, but have not been successful, mainly because every time I think I've got a good fiction plot, someone else has already done it.

Here are some of the false starts I've had, which never got off the ground.

President Coeburn sat in the Oval Office. Stretched out on the couch was the beautiful, raven-haired, buxom Olga. She said to him bitterly, "Why do we have to keep sneaking around like this all the time? Are you ashamed to take me to the Gridiron Club?"

"Darling, you know I have to take my wife to the Gridiron Club."

"You always say that. But I know the real reason."

The president, in an exasperated voice said, "What's the real reason?"

"I'm the Russian ambassador."

Congressman Blevens Bombast got into his new Toyota, which was parked in front of his modest Georgetown home. He looked forward to the drive up to Capitol Hill, as it gave him time to think about how he was going to balance the budget. Just as he was going to put his key into the ignition, Blevens noticed a large, unmarked manila envelope on the front seat. He opened it, and found 600 fresh $100 bills. He looked around fearfully, and got out of his car and placed the envelope in the trunk.

Wiping the perspiration from his face, he got back into the car and started the most fateful journey of his life. He could go straight down Pennsylvania Avenue to FBI headquarters, or turn left on the Beltway and keep driving until he hit Las Vegas. He thought of the trust the people in his district had in him. The he thought of his wife and five children. There was no question about what he would do. He made the left turn and was surprised at that hour to find so few cars on the Beltway.

Secretary of State Clem Hapsted picked up the phone, and a man with a heavy foreign accent said, "This is Fotopick calling. We have the pictures you ordered."

"Oh my God," said Hapsted. "How did you get them?"

"With a telephoto lens opening of f8 at 200th of a second."

"What will it cost me to get the negatives?"


The man in the slouch hat and dirty raincoat pretended to be studying a portrait of Mary Washington in the National Gallery when the uninformed guard took out his .45 pistol and fired three shots at him. The man fell to the floor with a thud. People rushed from all over as the guard hurried away to a phone booth. He dialed a number and then hung up. Ten seconds later, his phone rang. All the guard said was, "The deed is done." The voice on the other end of the line said, "Good. Now for your next clue, go to the Air and Space Museum and follow the instructions hidden in John Glenn's space capsule."

"Are you sure I'm going to win a prize?"

Of course. Everyone wins a prize in the Reader's Digest Sweepstakes."