By: Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik


Shadowy elements within the State Department secretly cause tensions to
flare between Iran and the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.  They
hope to start a shooting war to increase their own power and profit.

At the same time, the conspirators decide to up the ante- by deposing
the President of the United States.  In a treacherous scheme, they
convince the President that he is mentally unstable, and a silent coup
d'etat is within their reach.

Now, Paul Hood and the members of Op-Center are pitted against the clock
to prevent the outbreak of war, save the honor of the President- and
expose the traitors within... A powerful profile of America's defense
intelligence, and crisis management technology,

Novels by Tom Clancy












Created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik











Created by Tom Clancy and Martin Greenberg













(written with General Fred Franks)


(written with General Charles Horner) Tom Clancy's Op-Center





If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that
this book is stolen property.  It was reported as "unsold and destroyed
to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received
any payment for this "stripped book."

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are
either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously,
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with Jack Ryan Limited
Partnership and S & R Literary, Inc.


Berkley edition / June 2000

All rights reserved.

Copyright 2000 by Jack Ryan Limited Partnership and S & R Literary, Inc.

This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by mimeograph or
any other means, without permission.  For information address:

The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., 375
Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

The Penguin Putnam Inc.  World Wide Web site address is

ISBN: 0-425-17480-8


Berkley Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division
of Penguin Putnam Inc."  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

BERKLEY and the "B" design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam


10 987654321 Acknowledgments

We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Martin H. Greenberg,
Larry Segriff, Robert Youdelman, Esq., Tom Manon, Esq."  and the
wonderful people at Penguin Putnam, including Phyllis Grann, David
Shanks, and Tom Colgan.  As always, we would like to thank Robert
Gottlieb of The William Morris Agency, our agent and friend, without
whom this book would never have been conceived.  But most important, it
is for you, our readers, to determine how successful our collective
endeavor has been.

--Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik


Washington, D.C.

Sunday, 1:55 p.m.

The two middle-aged men sat in leather armchairs in a corner of the
wood-paneled library.  The room was in a quiet corner of a Massachusetts
Avenue mansion.  The blinds were drawn to protect the centuries-old art
from the direct rays of the early-afternoon sun.  The only light came
from a dull fire that was smoldering in the fireplace.

The fire gave the old, wood-paneled room a faintly smoky smell.

One of the men was tall, stout, and casually dressed with thinning gray
hair and a lean face.  He was drinking black coffee from a blue Camp
David mug while he studied a single sheet of paper resting in a green

The other individual, seated across from him with his back to the
bookcase, was a short bulldog of a man with a three-piece gray suit and
buzz-cut red hair.  He was holding an empty shot glass that, moments
before, had been brimming with scotch.  His legs were crossed, his foot
was dancing nervously, and his cheek and chin bore the nicks of a quick,
unsatisfactory shave.

The taller man shut the folder and smiled.

"These are wonderful comments.  Just perfect."

"Thank you," said the red-haired man.

"Jen's a very good writer."  He shifted slowly, uncrossing his legs. He
leaned forward, causing the leather seat to groan.

"Along with this afternoon's briefing, this is really going to
accelerate matters.  You know that, don't you?"

"Of course," the taller man said.  He put his coffee mug on a small
table, rose, and walked to the fireplace.

He picked up a poker.

"Does that scare you?"

"A little," the red-haired man admitted.

"Why?"  the taller man asked as he threw the folder into the flames. It
caught fire quickly.

"Our tracks are covered."

"It's not us I'm worried about.  There will be a price," the red-haired
man said sadly.

"We've discussed this before," the taller man said.

"Wall Street will love it.  The people will recover.  And any foreign
powers that try to take advantage of the situation will wish they
hadn't."  He jabbed the burning folder.

"Jack ran the psychological profiles.  We know where all the potential
trouble spots are.  The only one who's going to be hurt is the man who
created the problem.

And he'll recover.  Hell, he'll do better than recover.

He'll write books, give speeches, make millions."

The taller man's words sounded cold, though the redhaired man knew they
weren't.  He had known the other man for nearly thirty-five years, ever
since they served together in Vietnam.  They fought side by side in Hue
during the Tet offensive, holding an ammunition depot after the rest of
the platoon had been killed.  They both loved their country
passionately, and what they were doing was a measure of that deep, deep

"What's the news from Azerbaijan?"  the taller man asked.

"Everyone's in place."  The red-haired man looked at his watch.

"They'll be eyeballing the target close-up, showing the man what he has
to do.  We don't expect the next report for another seven hours or so."

The taller man nodded.  There was a short silence broken" only by the
crackling of the burning folder.

The red-haired man sighed, put his glass on the table, and rose.

"You've got to get ready for the briefing.  Is there anything else you

The taller man stabbed the ashes, destroying them.

Then he replaced the poker and faced the red-haired man.

"Yes," he said.

"I need you to relax.  There's only one thing we have to fear."

The red-haired man smiled knowingly.

"Fear itself."

"No," said the other.

"Panic and doubt.  We know what we want, and we know how to get there.
If we stay calm and sure, we've got it."

The red-haired man nodded.  Then he picked up the leather briefcase from
beside the chair.

"What was it that Benjamin Franklin said?  That revolution is always
legal in the first person, as in 'our' revolution.  It's only illegal in
the third person, as in 'their' revolution."

"I never heard that," said the taller man.

"It's nice."

The red-haired man smiled.

"I keep telling myself that what we're doing is the same thing the
founding fathers did.  Trading a bad form of government for a better

"That's correct," the other man said.

"Now, what I want you to do is go home, relax, and watch a football
game.  Stop worrying.  It's all going to work out."

"I wish I could be as confident."

"Wasn't it Franklin who also said, "In this world nothing can be said to
be certain, except death and taxes'?

We've done the best we can, and we've done everything we can.  We have
to put our trust in that."

The red-haired man nodded.

They shook hands, and the shorter man left.

A young aide was working at a large, mahogany desk outside the library.
She smiled up at the red-haired man as he strode down the long, wide,
carpeted corridor toward the outside door.

He believed that this would work out.  He truly did.

What he didn't believe was that the repercussions would be so easy to

Not that it matters, he thought as a security guard opened the door for
him and he stepped into the sunlight.

He pulled sunglasses from his shirt pocket and slipped them on.  This
has to be done, and it has to be done now.

As he walked down the paved drive to his car, the red-haired man held
tight to the notion that the founding fathers had committed what many
considered to be treasonous acts when they forged this nation.  He also
thought of Jefferson Davis and the Southern leaders who formed the
Confederacy to protest what they considered repression.  What he and his
people were doing now was neither unprecedented nor immoral.

But it was dangerous, not just for themselves but for the nation.  And
that, more than anything, would continue to scare the hell out of him
until the country was firmly under their control.

fiaAu.  Azerbaijan Sunday, 11:33 p.m.

David Battat looked impatiently at his watch.  They were over three
minutes late.  Which is nothing to be concerned about, the short, agile
American told himself.

A thousand things could have held them up, but they would be here. They
would come by launch or motorboat, possibly from another boat, possibly
from the wharf four hundred yards to his right.  But they would arrive.

They had better, he thought.  He couldn't afford to screw up twice. Not
that the first mistake had been his fault.

The forty-three-year-old Battat was the director of the Central
Intelligence Agency's small New York field office, which was located
across the street from the United Nations building.  Battat and his
small team were responsible for electronic SOS activities: spying on

Keeping track of foreign "diplomats" who used their consulates as bases
for surveillance and intelligence gathering activities.  Battat also had
been responsible for overseeing the activities of junior agent Annabelle

Ten days before, Battat had come to the American embassy in Moscow. The
CIA was running tests in the communications center on an uplink with a
new highgain acoustic satellite.  If the satellite worked on the
Kremlin, the CIA planned on using it in New York to eavesdrop more
efficiently on foreign consulates.  While Battat was in Moscow, however,
Annabelle helped a group of terrorists infiltrate the United Nations.
What made it especially painful was that the young woman did it for pay,
not principle.  Battat could respect a misguided idealist. He could not
respect a common hustler.

Though Battat had not been blamed officially for what Annabelle did, he
was the one who had run the background check on her.  He was the one who
had hired her.

And her "seconding action," as it was officially classified, had
happened during his watch.  Psychologically and also politically, Battat
needed to atone for that mistake.  Otherwise, chances were good that he
would get back to the United States and discover that the field agent
who had been brought in from Washington to operate the office in his
absence was now the permanent New York field director.

Battat might find himself reassigned to Moscow, and he didn't want that.
The FBI had all the ins with the black marketeers who were running
Russia and the Bureau didn't like to share information or contacts with
the CIA.  There wouldn't be anything to do in Moscow but debrief bored
aparatchiks who had nothing to say except that they missed the old days
and could they please get a visa to anywhere west of the Danube?

Battat looked out over the tall grasses at the dark waters of the Bay of
Baku, which led to the Caspian Sea.

He raised his digital camera and studied the Rachel through the
telephoto lens.  There was no activity on the deck of the sixty-one-foot
motor yacht.  A few lights were on below deck.  They must be waiting. He
lowered the camera.  He wondered if the passengers were as impatient as
he was.

Probably, he decided.  Terrorists were always edgy but focused.  It was
an unusual combination, and one way that security forces zeroed in on
potential troublemakers in crowds.

Battat looked at his watch again.  Now they were five minutes late.
Maybe it was just as well.  It gave him a chance to get a handle on the
adrenaline, to concentrate on the job.  It was difficult.

Battat had not been in the field for nearly fifteen years.

In the closing days of the war in Afghanistan, he had been a CIA liaison
with the Mujahideen guerrilla fighters.

He had reported from the front on Soviet troop strength, arms,
deployment, tactics, and other battlefield details.  Anything the
military might need to know if the United States ever fought Soviet or
Soviet-trained soldiers.

That was back when the United States still had people on the ground
collecting solid, firsthand intelligence instead of satellites gathering
pictures and audio transmissions, which teams of experts then had to

Former operatives like Battat who had been trained in HUMINT--human
intelligence--called those experts "educated lucky guessers," since they
were wrong just as often as they were right.

Now, dressed in black boots, blue jeans, leather gloves, a black
turtleneck, and a black baseball cap, Battat was watching for a possible
new enemy.  One of those satellites Battat hated had picked up a
communication during a test run in Moscow.  For reasons as yet unknown,
a group known as "Dover Street" was meeting on the Rachel, presumably a
boat, to pick up "the Harpooner."  If this was the same Harpooner the
CIA had missed grabbing in Beirut and Saudi Arabia, they wanted him.
Over the past twenty-five years, he had been responsible for the deaths
of hundreds of Americans in terrorist bombings.  After discussing the
contents of the message with Washington, it was decided that Battat
would photograph the individuals and return to the American consulate in
Baku for positive ID.  After that, the boat would be tracked by
satellite, and a special ops team would be dispatched from Turkey to
take him out.  No extradition debate, no political hot potato, just a
good, old-fashioned erasure.  The kind the CIA used to do before
Iran-Contra gave black ops a bad name.  Before "do something" was
replaced by "due process."  Before good manners replaced good

Battat had flown to Baku.  Clearing customs, he had taken the crowded
but clean metro out to the Khatayi stop on the sea.  The ride cost the
equivalent of three cents, and everyone was exceedingly polite, helping
one another on and off and holding the doors for late arrivals.

The United States embassy in Baku maintained a small CIA field office
staffed by two agents.  The agents were presumably known to the
Azerbaijani police and rarely went into the field themselves.  Instead,
they brought in outside personnel whenever necessary.  The embassy would
not be happy to be presented with the action as a fait accompli. But
there were increasing tensions between the United States and Azerbaijan
over Caspian oil.  The republic was attempting to flood the market with
inexpensive oil to bolster its weak economy.

That represented enormous potential damage to American oil companies,
who were only marginally represented here--a holdover from the days of
the Soviet Union.  The CIA in Moscow did not want to inflame those

Battat spent the late afternoon walking around a section of beach,
looking for a particular boat.  When he found it, anchored about three
hundred yards offshore, he made himself comfortable on a low, flat rock
among a thatch of high reeds.  With his backpack, water bottle, and bag
dinner at his side and the camera hanging around his neck, he waited.

The smell of salty air and oil from the offshore rigs was strong here,
like nowhere else in the world.  It almost burned his nostrils.  But he
loved it.  He loved the sand under his rubber soles, the cool breeze on
his cheek, the sweat on his palms, and the accelerated beat of his

Battat wondered how many foreign invaders had stood on these shores,
perhaps in this very spot.  The Persians in the eleventh century.  The
Mongols in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  The Russians in the
eighteenth century, then the Persians again, then the Soviets.  He
couldn't decide whether he was part of a dramatic historical pageant or
an ugly, unending rape.

Not that it matters, he told himself.  He wasn't here to safeguard
Azerbaijan.  He was here to redeem himself and to protect American

Crouched among the high reeds at this isolated section of beachfront,
Battat felt as though he had never been away from the field.  Danger did
that.  It was like a fond song or a familiar food smell, a bookmark in
the soul.

He loved that, too.  He also felt good about what he was doing.  Not
just to atone for Annabelle but because it was right.

Battat had been here for nearly seven hours now.  The cell phone
communications they'd intercepted said that the pickup was scheduled for
eleven-thirty p.m. The Harpooner was supposed to be there to examine the
parcel, whatever it was, then pay for it and leave.

Just then, something happened on the boat.  A hatch door opened, and a
man climbed out onto the deck.  Battat looked out at the water.  The man
turned on a radio.

It was playing what sounded like local folk tunes.  Maybe that was a
signal.  Battat's gaze swept across the water.

Suddenly, an elbow locked around Battat's throat from behind and yanked
him to his feet.  He gagged.  He tried to tuck his chin into the elbow,
to relieve the pressure on his throat so he could breathe, but the
attacker was well trained.  He had locked his right arm around his
throat and was pushing Battat's head with his left hand so he couldn't
turn it.  Battat tried to drive an elbow back into the attacker's gut,
but the man was standing to the side.  Finally, he tried to reach back
and grab the shoulder of the choking arm and pull the attacker over.

The attacker responded by tilting his own body back and lifting Battat
from the ground.  Although Battat was able to grab the man's shoulder,
he couldn't throw the attacker.  Battat's feet were in the air and he
had no leverage.

The struggle lasted five seconds.  The attacker's arm squeezed against
the American's carotid arteries from the side, immediately cutting the
blood supply to the head and causing Battat to black out.  Taking no
chances, the attacker kept pressing the arteries for another half
minute.  Then he dropped the unconscious body to the sand.

The Harpooner reached into the pocket of his windbreaker.  He removed a
syringe from his pocket, pulled off the plastic tip, and injected the
man in the neck.  After wiping away the small drop of blood, he took out
a flashlight and flicked it on.  He waved it back and forth several
times.  Another flashlight answered from the Rachel.

Then both lights went dark.  Moments later, a motor dinghy lowered from
the boat and headed toward shore.

Camp Springs, Maryland Sunday, 4:12 p.m.

Paul Hood sat on an armchair in the corner of the small, TV-lit hotel
room.  The heavy shades were drawn and a football game was on, but Hood
wasn't really watching it.  He was watching reruns in his mind.  Reruns
of over sixteen years of married life.

Old pictures in my new home, he thought.

Home was an anonymous fifth-floor suite at the Days Inn on Mercedes
Boulevard, located a short distance from Andrews Air Force Base.  Hood
had moved in late Saturday night.  Though he could have stayed at a
motel right next to the base where Op-Center was located, he wanted the
option of being able to get away from work.

Which was ironic.  It was Hood's dedication to Op Center that had cost
him his marriage.

Or so his wife maintained.

Over the past several years, Sharon Hood had become increasingly
frustrated by the long hours her husband kept at Op-Center.  She grew
tense and angry each time an international crisis caused him to miss one
of their daughter Harleigh's violin recitals or their son Alexander's
ball games.  She was bitter that virtually every vacation they planned
had to be canceled because of a coup attempt or assassination that
demanded his attention.  She resented how he was on the phone, even when
he was with his family, checking with Deputy Director Mike Rodgers on
how the mobile Regional Op-Center was performing in field tests or
discussing with Intelligence Chief Bob Herbert what they could do to
strengthen the new relationship with Op-Center's Russian counterpart in
Saint Petersburg.

But Hood had never believed that work itself was really the problem. It
was something older and deeper than that.

Even when he had resigned his position as director of Op-Center and went
to New York for Harleigh's performance at a United Nations reception,
Sharon still wasn't happy.  She was jealous of the attention that other
mothers on the junket gave him.  Sharon realized that the women were
drawn to Hood because he had been a highly visible mayor of Los Angeles.
After that, he had held a powerful job in Washington, where power was
the coin of the realm.  It didn't matter to Sharon that Hood put no
stock in fame and power.  It didn't matter to her that his replies to
the women were always polite but short.  All Sharon knew was that she
had to share her husband again.

Then came the nightmare.  Harleigh and the other young musicians were
taken hostage in the Security Council chambers by renegade United
Nations peacekeepers.

Hood had left Sharon at the State Department's understaffed crisis
center so that he could oversee Op Center successful covert effort to
rescue the teenagers and the captive foreign delegates.  In Sharon's
eyes, he had not been there for her again.  When they returned to
Washington, she immediately took the children to her parents' house in
Old Saybrook, Connecticut.  Sharon had said she wanted to get Harleigh
away from the media zoo that had pursued the children from New York.

Hood couldn't argue with that.  Harleigh had seen one of her friends
seriously wounded and several other people executed.  She was almost
killed herself.  She had suffered the clinical consequences of classic
stress or triggers for post-traumatic stress disorder: threats to the
physical integrity of herself and others; fear and helplessness;

and a guilt response to survival.  After all that, to have been
surrounded by TV lights and shouting members of the press corps would
have been the worst thing for Harleigh.

But Hood knew that wasn't the only reason his wife had gone back to Old
Saybrook.  Sharon herself needed to get away.  She needed the comfort
and safety of her childhood home in order to think about her future.

About their future.

Hood shut off the TV.  He put the remote on the night table, lay back on
the bunched pillows, and looked up at the white ceiling.  Only he didn't
see a ceiling.  Hood saw Sharon's pale face and dark eyes.  He saw how
they had looked on Friday when she came home and told him she wanted a

That wasn't a surprise.  It was actually a relief in some ways.  After
Hood had returned from New York, he met briefly with the president about
repairing the rift between the United States and the UN.  Being back at
the White House, being plugged into the world, had made him want to
withdraw his resignation from Op-Center.  He liked the work he was
doing: the challenge, the implications, the risk.  On Friday evening,
after Sharon had told him of her decision, he was able to withdraw his
resignation with a clear conscience.

By the time Hood and Sharon talked again on Saturday, the emotional
distancing had already begun.  They agreed that Sharon could use their
family attorney.  Paul would have Op-Center's legal officer, Lowell
Coffey in, recommend someone for him.  It was all very polite, mature,

The big questions they still had to decide were whether to tell the kids
and whether Hood should leave the house immediately.  He had called
Op-Center's staff psychologist Liz Gordon, who was counseling Harleigh
before turning her over to a psychiatrist who specialized in treating
PTSD.  Liz told Hood that he should be extremely gentle whenever he was
around Harleigh.  He was the only family member who had been with her
during the siege.  Harleigh would associate his strength and calmness
with security.  That would help to speed her recovery. Liz added that
whatever instability was introduced by his departure was less dangerous
than the ongoing strife between him and his wife.  That tension would
not show Hood in the light Harleigh needed to see him. Liz also told him
that intensive therapy for Harleigh should begin as soon as possible.
They had to deal with the problem, or she ran the risk of being
psychologically impaired for the rest of her life.

After having discussed the situation with Liz Gordon, Hood and Sharon
decided to tell the kids calmly and openly what was happening.  For the
last time as a family, they sat in the den--the same room where they had
set up their Christmas tree every year and taught the kids Monopoly and
chess and had birthday parties.  Alexander seemed to take it well after
being assured that his life wouldn't change very much.  Harleigh was
initially upset, feeling that what had happened to her was the cause.

Hood and his wife assured Harleigh that was not the case at all, and
they would both be there for her.

When they were finished, Sharon had dinner with Harleigh at home, and
Hood took Alexander out to their favorite greasy pit, the Corner
Bistro--the "Coroner Bistro" as the health-conscious Sharon called it.
Hood put on his best face, and they had a fun time.  Then he came back
to the house, quickly and quietly packed a few things, and left for his
new home.

Hood looked around the hotel room.  There was a glass-covered desk with
a blotter, a lamp, and a folder full of postcards.  A queen-sized bed.
An industrial strength carpet that matched the opaque drapes.  A framed
print of a painting of a harlequin whose outfit matched the carpet.  A
dresser with a built-in cabinet for a mini refrigerator and another
cabinet for the TV.  And, of course, a drawer with a Bible.  There was
also a night table with a lamp like the one on the desk, four
wastebaskets, a clock, and a box of tissues he had moved from the

My new home, he thought again.

Except for the laptop on the desk and the pictures of the kids beside
it--last year's school photos, still in their warping cardboard
frames--there was nothing of home here.  The stains on the carpet
weren't apple juice Alexander had spilled as a boy.  Harleigh hadn't
painted the picture of the harlequin.  The refrigerator wasn't stocked
with rows of plastic containers filled with that wretched
kiwi-strawberry-yogurt juice that Sharon liked.

The television had never shown home videotapes of birthday parties, pool
parties, and anniversaries, of relatives and coworkers who were gone.
Hood had never watched the sun rise or set from this window.  He had
never had the flu or felt his unborn child kick in this bed.  If he
called out to the kids, they wouldn't come.

Tears pressed against the backs of his eyes.  He turned to look at the
clock, anything to break the steady succession of thoughts and pictures.
He would have to get ready soon.  Time--and government--stopped for no
man.  He still had professional obligations. But lord God, Hood thought,
he didn't feel like going.  Talking, putting on a happy face the way he
did with his son, wondering who knew and who didn't in the instant
message machine known as the Washington grapevine.

He looked up at the ceiling.  Part of him had wanted this to happen.
Hood wanted the freedom to do his job.

He wanted an end to being judged and criticized by Sharon.  He also
wanted to stop constantly disappointing his wife.

But another part of him, by far the largest part, was bitterly sad that
it had come to this.  There would be no more shared experiences, and the
children were going to suffer for their parents' shortcomings.

As the finality of the divorce hit him, hit him hard, Hood allowed the
tears to flow.

Washington, D.C.

Sunday, 6:32 p.m.

Sixty-one-year-old First Lady Megan Catherine Lawrence paused before the
late-seventeenth-century gilded pier mirror over a matching commode. She
gave her short, straight, silver hair and ivory satin gown one last
check before picking up her white gloves and leaving her third-floor
salon.  Satisfied, the tall, slender, elegant woman crossed the South
American rug collected by President Herbert Hoover and entered the
private presidential bedroom.  The president's private dressing room was
directly across from her.  As she stepped out, she looked out at the
lamp-lit white walls and light-blue Kennedy curtains, the bed that was
first used by Grover and Frances Cleveland, the rocking chair where
delicate, devoted Eliza Johnson awaited word of her husband Andrew's
impeachment trial in 1868, and the bedside table where each night the
seventh president, Andrew Jackson, would remove a miniature portrait of
his dead wife from its place beside his heart, set it on the table next
to her well-read Bible, and made certain that her face was the first
thing he saw each morning.

As she looked out at the room, Megan smiled.  When they first moved into
the White House, friends and acquaintances would say to her, "It must be
amazing having access to all the secret information about President
Kennedy's missing brain and the Roswell aliens."

She told them the secret was that there was no secret information.  The
only amazing thing was that, after nearly seven years of living in the
White House, Megan still felt a thrill to be here among the ghosts, the
greatness, the art, and the history.

Her husband, former Governor Michael Lawrence, had been president of the
United States for one term when a series of stock market tumbles helped
the moderate conservative lose a close election to Washington outsiders
Ronald Bozer and Jack Jordan.  Pundits said it was as much the family
lumber fortune of the Oregon redwood that had made the president a
target, since he was largely unaffected by the downturn. Michael
Lawrence didn't agree, and he was not a quitter.  Rather than become a
token partner in some law firm or join the board of directors of his
family corporation, the former president stayed in Washington, set up a
nonpartisan think tank, American Sense, and was a hands-on manager.

He used the next eight years to find ways to fix or fine-tune what he
perceived had been wrong with his first term, from the economy to
foreign policy to social programs.  His think tank members did the
Sunday morning talk show circuit, wrote op-ed pieces, published books,
and gave speeches.  With a weak incumbent vice president to run against,
and a new vice president on his own ticket--New York Senator Charles
Gotten--Michael Lawrence decisively won reelection.  His popularity
rating remained in the 60 percent region, and reelection was considered
a fait accompli.

Megan crossed the room to the president's dressing room.  The door was
shut, which was the only way to keep the bathroom warm, since draftiness
came with the old walls and history.  That meant her husband was
probably still in the shower, which was surprising.  Selected guests
would be arriving at the second-floor study for a small, private
half-hour cocktail reception at seven.  Her husband usually liked to be
ready fifteen minutes before that to sit with his thick personnel folder
and review the likes, dislikes, hobbies, and family data of foreign
guests.  Tonight, he had the newly appointed acting ambassadors from
Sweden and Italy coming up before a state dinner for key United Nations
delegates.  Their predecessors had been assassinated during the recent
siege, and the replacements had been named quickly to show the world
that terrorism could not stop the pursuits of peace and diplomacy.  The
president wanted a chance to meet the two men privately.  After that,
they'd go down to the Blue Room for a formal pre dinner reception with
other influential United Nations delegates. Then it was on to the dinner
itself, which was designed to show unity and support after the attack
the previous week.

The president had come up shortly before six o'clock, which should have
given him plenty of time to shower and shave.  Megan couldn't understand
what was keeping him.  Perhaps he was on the phone.  His staff tried to
keep calls to the private residence to a minimum, but he'd been getting
more and more calls over the past few days, sometimes in the small hours
of the morning.  She did not want to sleep in one of the guest bedrooms,
but she wasn't a youngster anymore.  Years ago, when they first started
campaigning for public office, she used to be able to get by on two or
three hours of sleep.  No more.  It had to be even worse on her husband.
He was looking more tired than usual and desperately needed rest.  The
crisis at the United Nations had forced them to cancel a planned
vacation in the northwest, and they had not been able to reschedule it.

The First Lady stopped by the six-panel door and listened.

The shower was not running.  Neither was the water in the sink.  And it
didn't sound as if he was on the phone.


Her husband did not answer.  She turned the bright brass handle and
opened the door.

There was a narrow anteroom before the bathroom.

In an alcove to the right was a stand-alone cherry wood wardrobe where
the president's valet left his clothes for the day.  In an alcove to the
left was a matching cherry wood dressing table with a large, brightly
lit wall mirror above it.  The president was dressed in a royal blue

He was standing there, breathing heavily, a look of rage in his narrow
blue eyes.  His fists were white knuckle tight at his sides.

"Michael, are you all right?"

He glared at her.  She had never seen him look so angry and--disoriented
was the word that came to mind.

It frightened her deeply.

"Michael, what is it?"

He looked back at the mirror.  His eyes softened and his hands relaxed.
His breathing came more easily.  Then he slowly lowered himself into a
walnut side chair in front of the dressing table.

"It's nothing," he said.

"I'm fine."

"You don't look fine," she said.

"What do you mean?"

"A moment ago, you looked like you wanted to take a bite out of
something," Megan told him.

He shook his head.

"That was just leftover energy from my exercises," he said.

"Your exercises?  I thought you were at a meeting before."

"I was just doing isometrics," he told her.

"Senator Samuels does them for ten minutes every morning and evening. He
says they're a great tension releaser when you can't get to the gym."

Megan did not believe him.  Her husband perspired easily when he
exercised.  His forehead and upper lip were dry.  Something else was
happening here.  He had seemed increasingly distant the past few days,
and it was starting to scare her.

She stepped forward, coming to his side, and touched his face.

"Something's bothering you, hon," she said.

"Talk to me."

The president looked at her.

"It's nothing," he said.

"These past couple of days have been rough, that's all."

"You mean the calls at night--" "That, plus everything else that's going
on," the president said.

"Is it worse than usual?"

"In some ways," he said.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not right now," he said, forcing a little smile.  His deep voice had
regained some of its vigor and confidence, and his eyes had a little
sparkle now.  The president took her hands in his and rose.  He stood
just over six-foot-four.  He looked down at her.

"You look beautiful."

"Thank you," Megan said.

"But you've still got me worried."

"Don't be," he said.  He looked to his right.  There was a shelf with a
gold clock that had belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

"It's late," the president said.

"I'd better get ready."

"I'll wait for you," she told him.

"And you'd better do something about your eyes."

"My eyes?"  he said, glancing at the mirror.  He'd gotten up even
earlier than she had that morning, and his eyes were severely bloodshot.
It was bad for an individual in a position of great responsibility to
look weak or tired.

"I didn't sleep very well last night," he said, touching and tugging on
the skin around them.

"A few eye drops will take care of that."  The president turned back to
his wife and kissed her gently on the forehead.

"It's all right, I promise," he said, then smiled again and turned away.

Megan watched as her husband walked slowly toward the bathroom and shut
the door.  She heard him turn on the shower.  She listened.  Michael
usually hummed rock and roll oldies when he showered.  Sometimes he even
sang.  Tonight he was silent.

For the first time in a long time, Megan didn't believe what her husband
had told her.  No politician was entirely truthful on the outside.
Sometimes they had to say what voters and political rivals wanted to
hear.  But Michael was an honest man on the inside, at least with Megan.
When she looked into his eyes, she knew whether or not he was hiding
something.  When he was, Megan could usually coax him into telling her
about it.

But not today, and that bothered her deeply.  She was suddenly very
scared for him.

Slowly, Megan walked back toward her own dressing room.  She pulled on
her gloves and tried to concentrate on what she had to do for the next
four hours.  She had to be an outgoing hostess.  She had to be gracious
and complimentary to the delegates' wives.  At least she would be with
people she didn't know.  It was easier to hide her feelings when she was
with strangers.  They would not know that she was putting on an act.

But it would be an act.

Megan went back into the bedroom.  There was a small,
early-nineteenth-century mahogany Tambour writing cabinet on her side of
the bed.  She picked up a folder from her executive secretary and went
over the guest list, paying particular attention to the names of the
foreign delegates and their wives.  There was a phonetic guide beside
each name, and she reviewed the pronunciation aloud.  The names came
easily to the First Lady.

She had an affinity for language and had planned on becoming a
translator when she met and married her husband.  Ironically, she had
wanted to work for the United Nations.

Megan closed the folder and set it down.  She looked around the room.
The magic was still here, the lurking spirits and the resonance of great
drama.  But she was also acutely aware of something she didn't often
feel here.  Here, in a house that was literally watched by every eye in
the world.

She suddenly felt a great sense of isolation.

Baku.  Azerbaijan Monday, 2:47 a.m.

David Battat awoke slowly.

The sea air was chilly and becoming raw.  David was lying on his belly,
his face turned to the reeds in front of the water.  There was cool
moisture on his cheeks, condensation from the Caspian.

He tried to move, but his head felt as if it were made of concrete. His
throat was raw, and his neck hurt.  He touched it gently and winced. The
skin was bruised and extremely sore.  His camera was gone. The CIA team
back in Moscow wouldn't be able to study the photographs he took to see
who else might have been on the boat, or calculate how much weight it
was carrying by where the waterline reached.  Artillery and missiles
weighed a lot more than explosives, currency, or drugs.

Battat tried to push himself off the ground.  As he did, he felt as
though a spike had been hammered through the back of his neck.  He
dropped, waited a few seconds, then tried again even more slowly.  He
managed to get his knees under him, then sat looking out across the dark

The Rachel was gone.  He'd blown this big time.  Like it or not, he'd
have to let Moscow know as soon as possible.

Battat's head throbbed, and he lowered himself back to the ground.  He
rested on his forearms, placed his forehead on the cool earth, and tried
to get a handle on the pain.  He also tried to make sense of what had

Why was he still alive?  Battat wondered.  The Harpooner had never let
anyone live.  Why him?

Then it occurred to him that maybe he went down before the Harpooner
even arrived.  Maybe some waterfront thug had happened by, saw his
camera and backpack, and decided to steal them.  Battat couldn't decide
which was worse: letting his target sneak up on him or being mugged. Not
that it mattered.  They were both bad.

The operative took a long breath, then rose slowly, first to his knees
again and then to his feet.  He stood unsteadily as his head pounded. He
looked around for his backpack.  That was gone, too.  No flashlight, no
chance to look around for footprints or other clues.

He looked at his watch.  His wrist was trembling, and he used his free
hand to steady it.  It would be dawn in less than three hours. Fishermen
would be setting out soon, and Battat didn't want to be seen here.  Just
in case he wasn't meant to survive, he didn't want anyone to know that
he had.  He walked slowly from the shore, his head drumming.  Each
swallow was painful, and the collar of his turtleneck chafed his bruised

But the worst pain was none of those.

The worst pain was the knowledge that he'd failed.

Washington, D.C.

Sunday, 8:00 p.m.

As he entered the White House through the East Appointment Gate, Paul
Hood remembered the first time he brought his children here.  Hood had
come to Washington for a conference of mayors.  Harleigh was eight at
the time, and Alexander was six.  Alexander was not impressed by the
imposing G. P. A. Healy painting of Abraham Lincoln or the magnificent
Blue Room chairs bought by James Monroe or even the secret service

Alexander had seen paintings and chairs and police officers in Los
Angeles.  The spectacular chandelier in the State Dining Room was barely
worth an upward glance, and the Rose Garden was just grass and flowers.

But as they crossed the lawn toward E Street, the young boy finally saw
something that impressed him.

Horse chestnuts.

The dark green chestnuts growing from the stout trees resembled nothing
so much as little floating mines with Herz horns projecting from all
sides.  Alexander was convinced that they were little bombs to keep
prowlers out.  They'd bump their heads, and the chestnuts would explode.
Alexander's father played along with the idea, even snatching a few of
the chestnuts--carefully, of course--so they could plant them in the
ground back at home.  Harleigh finally busted her dad by stepping on one
of the newly planted chestnuts and failing to blow up.

Sharon had never approved of the deception.  She felt that it encouraged
militarism.  Hood felt that it was just a boy's imagination at work,
nothing more.

It was rare that Paul Hood came to the White House without thinking of
the horse chestnut trees.  Tonight was.  no different, except that for
the first time in years.  Hood had the strong desire to go out back and
pluck a few.

Bring them to his son as a token, a memory of a good time shared.
Besides, walking around the grounds would have been preferable to what
he was doing.

He had dressed in his tuxedo, driven to the White House, and presented
his calligraphic invitation at the East Appointment Gate.  A junior
secret service agent met Hood there and escorted him to the Red Room,
which adjoined the State Dining Room.  The president and First Lady were
still in the Blue Room, which was the next room over.  Though no one
said so, the smaller Red Room--typically used for entertaining by the
first ladies--was for the B-level guests.

Hood recognized but did not really know many of the people who were
there.  He knew some of them from conferences, some from briefings, and
many from other dinners he attended here.  The White House had two
hundred fifty state dinners every year, and he was invited to at least
fifteen of those.  His background in Los Angeles government--which
really meant knowing movie stars--finance, and espionage made him an
ideal dinner guest.  He could talk to generals, world leaders,
diplomats, reporters, senators, and their spouses, informing and
entertaining them and also not offending them.  That was important.

Sharon usually came with him to those dinners.  Being in the health-food
business, she was generally unhappy with the fare, though she always
loved the settings, which were from different administrations, different

When Sharon couldn't make it, Op-Center's press liaison Ann Farris went
with Hood.  She liked any food that was put in front of her and, unlike
Sharon, enjoyed talking to whoever she was seated with.

This was the first time Hood had come stag.  Regardless of how the White
House might try to position it, Hood did not consider Mala Chatterjee as
his date.  The UN secretary-general was also coming alone and was
assigned a seat at Hood's table, directly to his left.

Hood opened the door and looked into the long, chandelier-lit dining
room.  Fourteen round tables had been brought into the dining room. Each
one was set for ten people.  Hood's invitation had said that he was
seated at table two, near the center of the room.  That was good.

He was rarely seated so close to the president.  If things got tense
between him and Chatterjee, Hood would be able to exchange knowing
glances with the First Lady.

Megan Lawrence had been raised in Santa Barbara, California.

She had spent time with Hood when he was mayor of Los Angeles, and they
got to know each other quite well.  She was a smart, classy lady with a
dry sense of humor.

While senior staff members watched, liveried White House wait staff
hurried around, making last-minute adjustments to the rose centerpieces.
They were dressed in black jackets and were multiethnic, which was to be
expected at an affair of this kind.

The White House selected from a large pool of security-cleared hourly
employees.  And though no one liked to admit it, the composition of the
staff was determined by the nature of the dinner.  The young and
attractive personnel were filling crystal water glasses and making sure
the flatware was spaced exactly alike from setting to setting.

Straight ahead was the towering 1869 portrait of Abraham Lincoln that
hadn't impressed Alexander.  It was the only painting in the dining
room.  Directly across from him, inscribed on the mantel, was a passage
written by John Adams to his wife Abigail before they moved into the
newly completed executive mansion.  Franklin Roosevelt had read the
lines and liked them so much that they became the official White House
prayer.  The inscription read:

I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that
shall hereafter inhabit it.

May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof- Sorry, Mr.
Adams, Hood thought.  We managed to blow that one.

One of the senior attendants walked over.  Dressed in white trousers and
a white waistcoat with gold braid, he politely but insistently shut the
door.  Hood stepped back into the Red Room.  It had grown noisier and
more crowded as people began filing in from the Blue Room.

He couldn't imagine what it was like in here before air-conditioning.

Hood happened to be facing the door to the Blue Room as Mala Chatterjee
entered.  She was on the arm of the president, who was followed by the
First Lady and two delegates.  The vice president and Mrs.  Cotten came
in next followed by California Senator Barbara Fox.  Hood knew Fox well.
She looked uncharacteristically confused.  Hood didn't get to ask why.
At almost exactly that moment, the door to the State Dining Room opened.
There was no more rushing around inside the hall.  The twenty members of
the wait staff were lined up along the northwest wall, while attendants
stood in a row by the door to show guests to their tables.

Hood made no effort to link up with Chatterjee.  She was an intense
woman, and she seemed caught up in her conversation with the president.
He turned and went back into the dining hall.

Hood watched as the glitterati entered beneath the golden light of the
chandelier.  There was something almost ghostly about the procession:
people moving slowly, stiffly dignified, and without much expression;

voices low and hollow in the echoing chamber, with only occasional
polite laughter; chairs soundlessly lifted and moved by attendants so
they didn't drag on the hardwood floor; and a sense that this scene had
been repeated over and over throughout the years, throughout the
centuries, with the same people: those who had power, those who wanted
it, and people like Hood who were the buffers between them.

Hood took a sip of water.  He wondered if divorce turned all men into

Chatterjee had left the president's side and was being shown to the
table.  Hood rose as the New Delhi native neared.  The attendant pulled
out her chair.  The secretary-general thanked him and sat down. Without
obviously ignoring Hood, the forty-three-year-old woman managed not to
look at him.  Hood had no patience for that.

"Good evening.  Madam Secretary-General," Hood said.

"Good evening, Mr.  Hood," she replied, still without looking at him.

Other people began arriving at the table.  Chatterjee turned and smiled
at Agriculture Secretary Richard Ortiz and his wife.  That left Hood
staring at the back of the secretary-general's head.  He exited the
awkward moment by reaching for his napkin, putting it on his lap, and
looking the other way.

Hood tried to put himself in Chatterjee's position.  The
attorney-turned-diplomat had only been on the job for a short while when
the terrorists struck.  She had joined the United Nations as an avowed
peacekeeper, and here were terrorists executing diplomats and
threatening to shoot children.  Chatterjee's negotiating tactics had
failed, and Hood had embarrassed her publicly by infiltrating the
Security Council and ending the crisis with quick, violent action.
Chatterjee was further humiliated by the way many member nations loudly
applauded Hood's attack.

But Hood and Secretary-General Chatterjee were supposed to be putting
that ill will behind them, not nurturing it.  She was an avowed advocate
of first move detente, in which one party demonstrated trust by being
the first to lay down arms or surrender land.

Or maybe she only believes in that when she advocates others to make the
first move.  Hood thought.

Suddenly, someone appeared behind Hood and spoke his name.  He turned
and looked up.  It was the First Lady.

"Good evening, Paul."

Hood rose.

"Mrs.  Lawrence.  It's good to see you."

"It's been too long," she said, taking his hand in hers and holding it

"I miss those Los Angeles fund raisers

"We had fun," Hood said.

"We made some history, and hopefully we did some good, too."

"I like to think so," the First Lady said.

"How is Harleigh?"

"She took a very hard hit, and is having a rough time," Hood admitted.

"I can't even imagine," the First Lady said.

"Who's working with her?"

"Right now, it's just Liz Gordon, our staff psych at Op-Center," Hood

"Liz is getting a little trust going.

Hopefully, in a week or two, we can bring in some specialists."

Megan Lawrence smiled warmly.

"Paul, maybe there's something we can do to help each other.  Are you
free for lunch tomorrow?"

"Sure," he said.

"Good.  I'll see you at twelve-thirty."  The First Lady smiled, turned,
and went back to her table.

That was strange.  Hood thought.

"Maybe there's something we can do to help each other."  What could she
possibly need his help for?  Whatever it was, it must be important.  A
First Lady's social calendar was usually well-booked months in advance.
She would have had to move her engagements around to make room for him.

Hood sat back down.  The table had been joined by Deputy Secretary of
State Hal Jordan and his wife Barri Alien-Jordan as well as two
diplomats and their spouses who Hood did not know.  Mala Chatterjee did
not introduce him, so he introduced himself.  The secretary general
continued to ignore him, even after the president rose at his table to
offer a toast and say a few words about how he hoped this dinner and its
show of unity would send a message to terrorists that the civilized
nations of the world would never yield to them.  As the White House
photographer took pictures and a C-SPAN camera unobtrusively recorded
the event from the southwest corner of the hall, the president
underscored his faith in the United Nations by announcing officially,
and to great applause, that the United States was about to retire its
nearly two billion dollar debt to the United Nations.

Hood knew that paying off the debt had very little to do with
terrorists.  The United Nations didn't scare them, and the president
knew it, even if Mala Chatterjee didn't.

What the two billion dollars did was get the United States out of the
doghouse with poor countries like Nepal and Liberia.  With thawed
economic relations in the Third World, we could then convince them to
take loans with the provision that they buy American goods, services,
and military intelligence.  That would become a self-perpetuating source
of income for American companies, even when other nations started
putting money into those countries.  That was the great thing about a
government budgetary surplus and a politically expedient moment.  When
they came together, an administration could look benevolent and score
points on the stock exchange.

Hood was only half listening to the speech when the president said
something that drew him back in.

"Finally," the president said, "I am happy to inform you that American
intelligence leaders are presently earmarking personnel and resources
for a vital new initiative.

It is their intention to work closely with governments around the world
and guarantee that attacks against the United Nations cannot, do not,
and will not happen again."

There was mild applause from tables where there were delegates.  But the
statement had caught Hood's attention because he knew something that the
president apparently did not.

It wasn't true.

Hellspot Station, the Caspian Sea Monday, 3:01 a.m.

The white Cessna U206F flew low over the dark Caspian Sea, its single
engine roaring loudly.  Its only occupants were a Russian pilot and the
man seated beside him, an Englishman of average build and average

This trip had started out off the coast of Baku.  After taking off, the
seaplane had headed northeast and had traveled nearly two hundred miles
in the past ninety minutes.  It had been a smooth, quiet ride.  Neither
the pilot nor his passenger spoke a word the entire time.

Though forty-one-year-old Maurice Charles spoke Russian--along with nine
other languages--he did not know the pilot well and did not trust even
those people he did know well.  That was one reason he'd managed to
survive as a mercenary for nearly twenty years.

When they finally arrived, all the pilot said was, "Below, four

Charles looked out his window.  His pale blue eyes fixed on the target.
It was a beautiful thing.  Tall, brightly lit, majestic.

And alone.

The semi submersible offshore oil drilling platform stood approximately
150 feet above the water and was surrounded by sea.  There was a helipad
on the north side of the platform, a 200-foot-tall derrick beside it on
the northwest side, and a network of tanks, cranes, antennae, and other
equipment in the oil processing area.

The rig was like a lady standing on a deserted avenue under a streetlamp
late at night by the Mersey back home.  Charles could do what he wanted
with it.  And he would.

Charles picked up a camera that was sitting in his lap.

He popped the button on the tan leather carrying case and removed the
top.  The camera was the same thirty five-millimeter reflex that he had
used in his first assignment, back in Beirut in April 1983.  He began
snapping pictures.  A second camera, the one he had taken from the CIA
operative on the beach, lay on the floor of the cabin between his feet
along with the man's backpack.  There might be names or numbers in there
that would prove useful.  Just like the operative himself would be
useful, which was why Charles had left him alive.

The airplane circled the oil platform twice, once at 600 feet and once
at 300 feet.  Charles exposed three rolls of film, then indicated to the
pilot that it was all right to leave.  The seaplane swung back to its
cruising altitude of 2000 feet and headed to Baku.  There, Charles would
rejoin the crew of the Rachel, which by now would have removed the white
banner with the fake name.  They had ferried him to the plane and would
be his partners in the next part of the undertaking.

But that would only be the start.  His employers in America had very
specific goals, and the team Charles had put together were experts in
achieving those goals:

turning neighbor against neighbor, nation against nation, through acts
of terrorism and assassination.  Before they were finished, the region
would be awash in fire and blood from around the world.

And though he had already made a lot of money in the terrorist game, he
had spent a lot of that wealth buying weapons, passports,
transportation, anonymity.  With this job, he would be richer than he
had ever dared to imagine.  And he had a fertile imagination.

When he was growing up in Liverpool, Charles had often dreamed about
wealth and how he might obtain it.

He thought about it when he swept the train station where his father
sold tickets.  He thought about it when he slept with his two brothers
and grandfather in the living room of their one-bedroom flat, a flat
that always smelled of perspiration and trash from the adjoining alley.
He thought about it when he helped his father coach the local men's
football team.  The elder Charles knew how to communicate, how to
strategize, how to win.  He was a natural leader.  But Maurice's father,
his family, his working-class people were held down by the upper class.
They were not permitted to go to the better schools, even if they could
have afforded them.  They weren't allowed to work in the upper levels of
banking, of communications, of politics.  They had funny, common accents
and brawny shoulders and weather-beaten faces and weren't taken

Charles grew up feeling bad that the only outlet, the only joy his
father had was football.  Charles also idolized the Beatles because they
had made it out--the same reason, ironically, his father and so many of
his contemporaries hated "those young punks."  Charles realized that he
could not escape poverty musically because he had no talent for that and
it had already been done.  He had to get out his way, make a mark that
was uniquely his own.  How could he have known that he would find his
hidden skills by joining the Royal Marines, 29 Commando Regiment, Royal
Artillery, and learning to work with explosives?  By discovering the
pleasure and genius involved in tearing things down?

It was a glorious feeling to put events like- this in motion.  It was
the creation of art: living, breathing, powerful, bleeding, changing,
utterly unforgettable art.  There was nothing else like it in the world,
the aesthetics of destruction.  And what was most rewarding was that the
CIA had inadvertently helped him by sending that man to watch for him.
The agency would conclude that it couldn't be the Harpooner who had
attacked their man.  No one had ever survived an encounter with the

Charles settled comfortably into his seat as the Cessna left the lights
of the rig behind.

That was the beauty about being an artist, he told himself.

It gave him the right and privilege to surprise.

Camp Springs, Maryland Monday, 12:44 a.m.

Throughout the Cold War, the nondescript two-story building located near
the Naval Reserve flight line at Andrews Air Force Base was a staging
area for pilots and their crews.  In the event of a nuclear attack,
their job would have been to evacuate key officials from the government
and military to a safe compound in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

But the ivory-colored building with its neat, green lawn was not just a
monument to the Cold War.  The seventy-eight full-time employees who
worked there now were employed by the National Crisis Management Center,
familiarly known as Op-Center, an independent agency that was designed
to collect, process, and analyze data on potential crisis points
domestically and abroad.

Once that was done, Op-Center then had to decide whether to defuse them
preemptively through political, diplomatic, media, economic, legal, or
psychological means or else--after gaining the approval of the
Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committee--to terminate them
through military means.  To this end, Op Center had at its disposal a
twelve-person tactical strike team known as Striker.  Led by Colonel
Brett August, Striker was based at the nearby Quantico FBI Academy.

In addition to the offices upstairs, a secure basement had been built
into the facility to house the more sensitive intelligence retrieval
systems and personnel.  It was here that Paul Hood and his top advisers

Hood came directly from the White House affair.  He was still dressed in
his tuxedo, which earned him a "Good morning, Mr.  Bond" greeting from
the Naval officer at the gate.  It made him smile.  It was the only
thing that had done that for days.

A strange uneasiness had settled over Hood after the president made his
comments.  He couldn't imagine why the president had said the United
States would offer intelligence assistance to the United Nations.  If
there was one thing many member nations feared, it was that the United
States was already using the international organization as a means of
spying on them.

The president's short speech had pleased some people, most notably
delegates who were targets for acts of terrorism.

But it struck some other attendees as odd.  Vice president Cotten
appeared surprised, as did Secretary of State Dean Can" and America's
United Nations Ambassador Meriwether.  And Mala Chatteijee had been
openly bothered by the comment.  So much so that she'd actually turned
to Hood and asked if she had understood the president correctly.  He
told her that he believed she had.

What he didn't tell her was that Op-Center would almost certainly have
been involved in or briefed about any such arrangement.  Something might
have been arranged during the time that he was away, but Hood doubted

When he visited his office the day before to catch up on business he had
missed, he saw no reference to a multinational intelligence effort.

Hood didn't bother talking to anyone after the dinner.

He left promptly and went to Op-Center, where he did additional digging
into the matter.  This was the first time he had seen the weekend night
crew since his return.

They were glad to see him, especially weekend night director Nicholas
Grille.  Grille was a fifty-three-year-old former Navy SEAL intelligence
expert who had moved over from the Pentagon around the same time Hood
had first joined Op-Center.  Grille congratulated him on the fine job he
and General Rodgers had done in New York and asked how his daughter was.
Hood thanked him and told him that Harleigh would be all right.

Hood began by accessing the files of the DCI--the Director of Central
Intelligence.  This independent body was a clearinghouse of information
for four other intelligence departments: the Central Intelligence

Op-Center; the Department of Defense, which included the four branches
of the military, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National
Security Agency, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency; and
Department Intelligence, which consisted of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, the Department of State, the Department of Energy, and
the Department of Treasury.

Once Hood was into the DCI database, he asked for recent agreements or
initiatives pertaining to the United Nations.  There were nearly five
thousand listings.  He eliminated those that did not involve
intelligence gathering for the United Nations and its members.  That
reduced the list to twenty-seven.  Hood browsed those quickly.  The last
was filed a week before, a preliminary report about the failure of the
CIA field office to catch Annabelle Hampton's terrorist-support
activities in New York.  Blame was placed on New York field office head
David Battat and his supervisor in Washington, Deputy Assistant Director
Wong.  Wong was given a written warning, which was not entered into his
record.  Battat was given a sterner reprimand, which did not become part
of his permanent dossier.  But Battat would be hung out to dry for a
while, doing what Bob Herbert had once described as "sewer rat-a-tat"
jobs--dirty work in the line of fire.  The kind of work that freshmen
agents usually had to perform.

There was nothing about a United Nations operation involving any of the
fourteen intelligence agencies.

Given the new detente the president was trying to establish with the
United Nations, it wasn't surprising that Lawrence would look for a way
to help them.  But presenting a desire or opportunity as a done deal was

The president would have needed the cooperation of the head of at least
one of these agencies just to undertake a study for such a proposition,
and that wasn't anywhere in the files.  There wasn't even any
correspondence, electronic or otherwise, requesting such a study.

The only answer Hood could think of was a handshake deal between the
president and the CIA, FBI, or one of the other groups.  But then one of
those persons would have been there at tonight's dinner, and the only
representative from the intelligence community was Hood.

Perhaps the president was trying to force the issue, the way John F.
Kennedy did when he announced, publicly, that he wanted Congress to give
NASA the funds to put a man on the moon.  But United States involvement
in international intelligence-gathering was an extremely sensitive area.
A president would be reckless to attempt a wide-ranging operation like
this without assurances from his own team that it was possible.

It could all be the result of a series of misunderstandings.

Maybe the president thought he had the support of the intelligence
community.  Confusion was certainly not uncommon in government.  The
question was what to do now that the idea had been presented to the
world body.

The United States intelligence community was sure to be torn.  Some
experts would welcome the opportunity to plug directly into resources in
nations like China, Colombia, and several former Soviet republics where
they currently had very restricted access.  Others--Hood included--would
be afraid of joining forces with other nations and being fed false data,
data that would then become part of U.S. intelligence gospel with
potentially disastrous results.  Herbert once told him about a situation
in 1978, just before the overthrow of the shah of Iran, when anti
extremist forces provided the CIA with a code used by supporters of the
Ayatollah Khomeini to communicate via telefax.  The code was

Once the ayatollah assumed power, the shah's files were raided, and the
code was found to be in American hands.

The code remained in the CiA's system and was used to interpret secret
communiques.  It wasn't until the ayatollah's death in 1989--when the
secret communiques said he was recovering--that the CIA went back and
took a close look at the code and the disinformation they'd received.
Ten years of data had to be reviewed and much of it purged.

Hood could just imagine what Teheran would say about joining this new
antiterrorism network.

"Sure, sign us up.  And don't forget to use this new code to monitor the
Sunni terrorists working out of Azerbaijan."  It could be a real code
for real transmissions, or the Iranians could use false transmissions to
create deeper mistrust of the Sunnis.  The United States could not
refuse to help them, because the president had offered; we could not
trust the code; and yet what if it turned out to be real and we ignored

The whole thing was a potential for disaster.  For his part.  Hood
intended to contact Burton Gable, the president's chief of staff, to
find out what he knew about the situation.  Hood didn't know Gable well,
but he had been one of Lawrence's think tank geniuses and was
instrumental in getting the president reelected.  Gable hadn't been at
the dinner, but there was no policy undertaking in which he was not

Hood went back to the motel, napped, then was back at Op-Center at
five-thirty.  He wanted to be there when his staff arrived.

Hood had spoken to psychologist Liz Gordon about Harleigh, and to
attorney Lowell Coffey about the divorce, so both of them knew he was
coming back.  Hood had also informed General Rodgers, who had let
intelligence chief Bob Herbert know.

Herbert rolled in first.  He had lost his wife and the use of his legs
in the American embassy bombing in Beirut in 1983.  But he had turned
that setback into an advantage: Herbert's customized wheelchair was a
mini communications center with phone, fax, and even a satellite uplink
that helped to make him one of the most effective intelligence
collectors and analysts in the world.

Rodgers followed him in.  Though the gray-haired officer had played a
key role in ending the terrorist standoff at the United Nations, he was
still recovering emotionally from the torture he'd suffered at the hands
of Kurdish terrorists in the Middle East.  Since his return, there
hadn't been quite the same fire in his eyes or bounce in his walk.
Though he hadn't broken, some proud, vital part of him had died in that
cave in the Bekaa Valley.

Rodgers and Herbert were happy to see him.  The two men stayed long
enough to welcome him back and for Hood to brief them on what had
happened at the state dinner.  Herbert was blown away by what the
president had said.

"That's like the Goodyear Blimp saying it's going to watch the stands
for rowdy fans instead of watching the Super Bowl," Herbert said.

"No one would believe that.

No one."

"I agree," Hood said.

"Which is why we've got to find out why the president said it.  If he
has a plan that we don't know about, we need to be brought into the
loop.  Talk to the other intel people and find out."

"I'm on it," Herbert said as he wheeled out.

Rodgers told Hood that he would get in touch with the heads of Army,
Navy, Air Force, and Marine intelligence to find out what their
knowledge of the situation was.

When Herbert and Rodgers left.  Hood was visited by the only key members
of the team who hadn't known about Hood's return, FBI and Interpol
liaison Darrell McCaskey and press liaison Ann Farris. McCaskey was just
back from a stay in Europe, working with his Interpol associates and
nurturing a romance with Maria Comeja, an operative he had worked with
in Spain.

Hood had a good sense about people, and his instincts told him that
Darrell would be handing in his resignation before long to return to
Maria.  Since McCaskey was gone while Hood's retirement was briefly in
effect, he had not missed his boss.

Ann Farris was a different story.  The five-foot, seven inch-tall
divorcee had always been close to Hood and had hated to see him leave.
Hood knew that she cared for him, though no one could have told that
just by looking at her.  The thirty-four-year-old woman had developed
the perfect poker face for reporters.  No question, no revelation, no
announcement made her jump.  But to Hood, her large, dark-rust eyes were
more articulate than any speech-maker or television moderator he had
ever heard.  And right now, her eyes were telling Hood that she was
happy, sad, and surprised all at once.

Ann walked toward the desk.  She was dressed in what she called her
"uniform," a black pantsuit and white blouse with a pearl necklace. Her
brown hair was shoulder length and held back from her face with a pair
of clips.  Hood's office was stripped of his personal touches.

He hadn't had time to put the photographs and mementos back.  Yet after
the struggles with Sharon and the coldness of his hotel room, Ann's
arrival suddenly made this place seem like home.

"Mike just told me," she said.

"Told you what?"

"About Sharon," Ann replied.

"About your coming back.  Paul, are you all right?"

"I'm a little banged up, but I'll be okay."

Ann stopped in front of the desk.  Was it only just ten days ago that
she had stood there while I packed?  Hood thought.  It seemed so much
longer.  Why did pain stretch time while happiness made it feel so

"What can I do, Paul?"  Ann asked.

"How are Sharon and the kids?"

"We're all reeling.  Liz is helping Harleigh, Sharon and I are pretty
civil, and Alexander is Alexander.  He's okay."  Hood dragged a hand
through his wavy black hair.

"As for what you can do, I just realized we're going to have to send out
a press release about my return."

"I know."  She smiled.

"A head's-up would have been a big help."

"I'm sorry," Hood said.

"That's all right," Ann replied.

"You had other things on your mind.  I'll write something up and show it
to you."

Ann looked down at him, her shoulder-length brown hair framing her
angular features.  Hood had always felt the sexual tension between them.
Hell, he thought.

Everyone around them did.  Bob Herbert and Lowell Coffey used to tease
Hood about it.  Hood's unwillingness to give in to that tension had
always kept Ann at a distance.  But he could feel that distance closing.

"I know you have a lot to do," Ann said, "but if you need anything, I'm
here.  If you want to talk or don't want to be by yourself, don't be
shy.  We go back quite a few years."

"Thanks," Hood said.

Ann's eyes held him for a long moment.

"I'm sorry for what you and your family are going through, Paul.

But you've done an amazing job here, and I'm glad you're back."

"It's good to be back," Paul admitted.

"I think that frustrated me more than anything else."

"What did?"  she asked.

"Not being able to finish the work I started," he said.

"It may sound corny, but the teamwork of exceptional men and women built
this nation.  Op-Center is a part of that tradition.  We have a great
team here doing important work, and I hated leaving that."

Ann continued to look at him.  She seemed to want to say something more
but didn't.  She stepped back from the desk.

"Well, I've got to get to work on the press release," she said.

"Do you want me to say anything about the situation with Sharon?"

"No," Hood said.

"If anyone wants to know, tell them.

Otherwise, just say I had a change of heart."

"That's going to make you sound wishy-washy," she said.

"What the Washington Post thinks isn't going to affect my job
performance," he said.

"Maybe not now," Ann said.

"But it might if you ever decide to run for public office again."

Hood looked at her.

"Good point," he said.

"Why don't we tell them that the president asked you to return?"  she

"Because he didn't," Hood said.

"You two had a private meeting when you came back from New York," she

"He won't deny asking you to return.  It shows loyalty on his part.
Everyone benefits."

"But it isn't true," Hood said.

"Then let's just say this," Ann said.

"After meeting with the president, you decided to reconsider your

That's true."

"You really want to get the president in there."

"Whenever I can," Ann said.

"It gives us weight."

"Weight?"  Hood said.

"You mean suction."

"Excuse me?"

"Nick Grille said that the word-de-jour is suction."

"Actually, that's not quite right," Ann informed him.

"Weight is when someone has credibility.  Suction is when they have
considerable influence.  There's a difference."

"I see," Hood said.  They smiled at each other.  Hood looked away.

"I'd better get to work," he said.

"There's a lot of catching up to do."

"I'm sure," Ann said.

"I'll e-mail you a copy of the press release before it goes out."

"Thanks again," Hood said.

"For everything."

"Sure."  Ann hesitated.  She looked at Hood for a long moment more and
then left.

Hood turned to the computer monitor on his right.  He did not want to
watch Ann go.  Ann Farris was a beautiful, intelligent, very sexual
woman.  For the five years they had known each other, they had flirted,
she more openly than he.  Now that Hood was going to be single, he felt
uneasy about continuing the game.  There was no longer someone between
them.  Flirting no longer felt like a game.

But Hood did not have time to think about that now.

There was a lot to do.  He had to review the daily briefings that had
gone to Mike Rodgers during the past week, which included intelligence
data collected from around the world as well as ongoing covert

He also had to look at reports from the rest of the staff and have a
glance at the schedule for the upcoming week before he went to see the
First Lady.  He noticed that Rodgers was going to be interviewing the
final candidates to replace Martha Mackall, the political liaison who
had been assassinated in Spain, as well as candidates for the new post
of economic adviser.  With more and more nations linked together
financially--"Siamese megatuplets" was how Lowell Coffey had put
it--politics was becoming a troublesome sideshow to the force that
really drove the world.

Hood decided to let Mike make those hires.  Not only had he started the
process, but Hood was going to be too busy with everything else.  But
with all that was going on, one thing remained true.

Paul Hood loved this work, this place.

It was good to be back.

Baku, Azerbaijan Monday, 4:00 p.m.

Azerbaijan is a nation in flux.

Because of political conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, twenty
percent of the country--mostly in the southwest, along the borders with
Armenia and Iran-are occupied by rebel forces.  Though a cease-fire has
been observed since 1994, firefights occur with some regularity.
Privately, diplomats fear that the selfproclaimed Republic of
Nagorno-Karabakh will become the next Kosovo.  Protests, often violent,
erupt in Baku and other cities without warning.  Some of them pertain to
politics, others to general unrest.  Since the breakup of the Soviet
Union, there has been an extreme shortage of staples such as medical
supplies, produce, and new technology.  Cash--preferably U.S.
dollars--is the only form of exchange recognized in most areas of the
country, including the capital.

The United States has managed to openly support the legitimate
government of Azerbaijan without alienating the powerful insurgent
forces.  Loans have been granted to Baku, while goods have been sold
directly to "the people"--primarily the rebels.  In the event of
widespread revolt, the United States wants to have open lines of
communication on both sides.

Maintaining that balance is the primary task of the small American
embassy.  Since March 1993, the fifteen employees and ten marine guards
have operated from a small stone building at 83 Azadlig Prospect.  In
the back of that building, in a windowless, wood-paneled room, is the
Department of News Services.  Unlike the small press department, which
issues news releases and arranges for interviews and photo ops with U.S.
congressmen, senators, and other government leaders, officially the job
of the DNS is to collect news clippings from around Russia and keep them
on file for reference.


In fact, the DNS is staffed by one CIA operative who gathers
intelligence from around the nation.  Most of the information comes from
electronic surveillance that is conducted both from the office via
satellite and from vans.  Some of it comes from personnel who are paid
to watch, listen to, and photograph government officials-sometimes in
compromising situations.  Some of those situations are also arranged by
the DNS.

Because he was hurt, David Battat did not want to attempt returning to
Moscow.  Instead, he made his way to the embassy on foot.  He was taken
to see Deputy Ambassador Dorothy Williamson, who brought in Senior
Researcher Tom Moore.  Williamson was a large woman with curly black
hair.  Battat guessed her to be about forty.  Moore was a lean giant in
his thirties with a long, gaunt face and a lugubrious expression.  If
Battat had to be stranded in Baku, his expression would be gloomy as

Williamson's aide was a smart veteran named Ron Friday.  He was the only
one who gave Battat an encouraging smile.  Battat appreciated that.

While Battat gave Moore a quick rundown on what had happened, Williamson
had the Marine medic take a look at Battat's wounds.  There was swelling
in his throat and traces of blood in his saliva, though the damage did
not appear to be serious.  When the medic was finished with him, Battat
was taken to the DNS room.  He was given privacy while he called Moscow.
He spoke to Pat Thomas, the assistant director of public information at
the embassy.  Thomas was also an OTR--off the record--field director for
the CIA.  That meant there was no record of him at agency headquarters.
His reports were delivered directly to Washington in the diplomatic

Thomas did not take the news well.  If Battat had succeeded in
identifying the Harpooner, Thomas would have been a hero.  Instead, he
would have to explain to his counterpart in Baku and his superior in
Washington how they had managed to blow the relatively simple job of

Thomas said that he would think about their next step and let him know.
Food was brought in.  Battat ate, even though he had left his appetite
back at the beach, along with his self-esteem, his energy, the mission,
and his career.  Then he sat in a chair resting until Williamson and
Moore arrived for a second, more thorough, conversation.

Moore looked grim.  This was going to be painful.

Acoustic devices planted in the walls caused conversations to sound like
static to the electronic eavesdropping devices that the Azerbaijanis had
placed on surrounding buildings.

Battat told them that Moscow had suspected the Harpooner was in Baku,
and he had been sent to try and identify him.  This news did not meet
with the approval of the senior researcher.

"The field office in Moscow obviously didn't feel it was necessary to
involve us in this operation," Moore complained.

"Do you want to tell me why?"

"They were afraid that our target might have people watching the
embassy," Battat said.

"Not all of our people are in the embassy," Moore pointed out.

"We have external resources."

"I understand," Battat said.

"But Moscow felt that the fewer people who were in the loop, the better
our chances of surprising the target."

"Which didn't really help, did it?"  Moore said.


"Whoever attacked you obviously knew you were coming."

"Apparently, though I don't understand how," Battat said.

"I was well hidden, and I wasn't using anything that gave out an
electronic pulse.  The camera was one of the digital seventies.  No
flash, no glass in front to reflect light, no moving parts that

"Couldn't this Harpooner or his people have done a routine sweep of the
shore?"  the deputy ambassador asked.

"I was watching for that," said Battat.

"I got to the site early, at a spot we'd selected through satellite

We chose it specifically so that I could see and hear people coming and

"Then why didn't you see or hear the god damned assailant coming?" asked

"Because they hit me just when something started to happen out on the
boat I was watching," he said.

"Someone came from below and turned on a radio.  It was a perfect

"Which suggests that someone knew you were in that spot, Mr.  Battat,"
Moore said.


"Possibly even before you got there," Moore went on.

"I don't see how, but I can't rule it out," Battat agreed.

"What I really want to know, though, is whether this was even the
Harpooner," Moore went on.

"What do you mean?"  the deputy ambassador asked.

"The Harpooner has been a terrorist for over two decades," Moore told

"He has personally run or been a part of at least fifteen terrorist
strikes that we know of and probably many more that we don't know about.

He's eluded countless efforts to trap him thanks, in large part, to his
ability to stay mobile.  He has no permanent address that we know of,
hires whoever he needs, and rarely uses the same people twice.  We only
know what he looks like because one of his arms suppliers once snuck a
photo to us.  The supplier's body was found a few months later on a
sailboat, slit from chin to belly with a fish-gutting knife--after we'd
relocated him and given him a new ID."

"I see," the deputy ambassador said.

"He left the knife behind," Moore said.

"He always leaves his weapons behind, from spear guns to bowline

"Sea-related things," said Williamson.

"Often," Moore said.

"We suspect he was in the naval service somewhere--not a big leap of
faith, though we haven't been able to trace him.  But in all that time,
the Harpooner never left a witness.  Which means that either it wasn't
the Harpooner who attacked Mr.  Battat or the Harpooner wanted him

The deputy ambassador regarded Battat.

"For what reason?"

"I can't think of one," Battat admitted.

The three were silent for a moment.  The only sound was the hum of the
air vent.

"Mr.  Battat, the presence of a man like the Harpooner in this region
could have terrible ramifications for all of us," said the deputy

"Which is another reason why we should have been in the loop on this!"
Moore said angrily.

"Hell, we know who the undercover guys are that are watching us, and
they haven't been around for days.  They're too busy trying to find a
Russian spy who slipped out of jail two days ago."

"Again, I'm sorry," said Battat.

"Would you mind staying in Baku while we try to make sense of all this?"
the deputy ambassador asked.

"Not at all," said Battat.

"I want to help."

"Hopefully, it's not too late for that," Moore said.

They rose.

"What about the Rachel?"  Battat asked.

"I've sent a small plane out to look for it," Moore told him.

"But they've had several hours head start, and God knows which direction
they went.  I'm not optimistic."

"Can't you trace the name?"  Battat asked.

"Isn't there a local registry?"

"There is," Moore told him, "and the Rachel isn't in it.  We're checking
records in Dagestan, Kalmyk, and other republics on the Caspian, but my
guess is she's a rogue."

Moore showed Battat to a small guest room on the second floor of the
building.  There was a cot in the corner, and Battat lay down to think.
The boat, the music they played, the brief glimpse he had of the man on
deck--he replayed the sounds and images over and over, looking for more
information.  Something that might tell him who the crew of the Rachel
were, how they were dressed, or where they might have come from. In SD
sessions--subconscious debriefing--trained interviewers would walk
agents through experiences to help them remember lost details. The
interviewers would ask about the color of the sky, the look of the
water, the force of the wind and the smells riding it.  Once the agent
was reimmersed in the scene, the interviewer would move him around, ask
him to describe distinctive markings on the hull of the boat or whether
there were banners on the stern or mast or sounds coming from the deck
or below.  It always surprised Battat how much information the brain
stored that was not always immediately accessible.

Though Battat closed his eyes and breathed slowly and deeply and went
through the SD checklist, he could not remember anything that brought
him closer to whoever was on the boat or from what direction his
assailant might have come.  He could not even remember the feel of the
fabric on the arm that had been choking him or the smell of the man who
had attacked him.  He couldn't remember if the man's cheek had touched
him and whether he was bearded or clean-shaven.  Battat had been too
focused on trying to survive.

Battat's eyes remained shut.  They stopped looking into the past and
gazed ahead.  He would stay in Baku, but not just because the deputy
ambassador had asked.

Until Battat found whoever had attacked him, his confidence was broken
and his life belonged to them.

Which, he realized, could be why he was left alive.

Washington, D.C.

Monday, 11:55 a.m.

It had always amazed Hood how different Washington looked during the
daytime.  At night, the white facades were brightly lit and appeared to
stand alone, shining with Olympian grandeur.  In the day, situated
between modern office buildings, vending carts, and glossy restaurant
logos, beneath loud and ever-present jet traffic and security barricades
of concrete and steel, the landmarks seemed almost antique instead of

Yet both were Washington.  They represented an old, increasingly
monolithic bureaucracy that had to be dealt with, and a vision of
greatness that could not be ignored or diminished.

Hood parked in the Ellipse on the southern side of the grounds.  He
crossed E Street and walked up East Executive to the East Appointment
Gate.  He was buzzed through the iron gate and, after passing through a
metal detector, waited inside the East Wing for one of the First Lady's

Of all the landmarks in Washington, Hood had always been partial to the
Capitol.  For one thing, it was the guts of the government, the place
where Congress put wheels on the president's vision.  They were often
square wheels or wheels of different sizes, but nothing could move
without them.  For another thing, the building itself was a vast museum
of art and history, with treasures everywhere.

Here a plaque indicating where the desk of Congressman Abraham Lincoln
was located.  There a statue of General Lew Wallace, the onetime
governor of the territory of New Mexico and the author of Ben-Hur.
Somewhere else a sign indicating the status of the search for the
cornerstone of the building, which was laid over two hundred years
before in a little-noted ceremony and was somehow buried and then lost
under numerous modifications to the foundation.

The White House wasn't as imposing as the Capitol.

It was a much smaller structure, with peeling paint and warping wood on
the exterior.  But its grounds and columns, its rooms and many familiar
angles were intertwined in American memory with images of great leaders
doing great things--or, sometimes, infamous, very human things.  It
would always be the symbolic heart of the United States.

A young male assistant to the First Lady arrived.  He brought Hood to
the elevator that led to the third floor.

Hood was somewhat surprised that the First Lady wanted to see him
upstairs.  She had an office on the first floor and typically received
visitors there.

Hood was taken to the First Lady's sitting room, which adjoined the
presidential bedroom.  It was a small room with a main door that led to
the corridor and another, he assumed, that opened into the bedroom.
There was a gold settee against the far wall, two matching wing chairs
across from it, and a coffee table between them.

A tall secretary with a laptop sat on the opposite wall.

The Persian rug was white, red, and gold; the drapes were white, and
they were drawn.  A small chandelier threw bright shards of light around
the room.

Hood looked at the two portraits on the wall.  One was of Alice
Roosevelt, daughter of Theodore.  The other was a painting of Hannah
Simpson, mother of Ulysses S. Grant.  He was wondering why they were
here when the First Lady entered.  She was dressed casually in beige
slacks and a matching sweater.  Her aide shut the door behind her,
leaving the two of them alone.

"Nancy Reagan found them in the basement," Megan said.

"I beg your pardon?"

"The portraits," she said.

"She found them personally.

She hated the idea of women being left to gather dust."

Hood smiled.  They embraced lightly, and then Megan gestured toward the

"There are still wonderful things down there," Megan said as they sat.

"Furnishings, books, documents, things like Tad Lincoln's writing slate
and a diary that belonged to Florence Harding."

"I thought most of that memorabilia was in the Smithsonian."

"A lot of it is.  But many of the family-related things are still here.
People have gotten jaded by all the scandals over the years," Megan

"They forget how much the White House was and is a home.  Children were
born and raised here, there were weddings, birthdays, and holidays."

Coffee arrived, and Megan was silent as it was served.

Hood watched her as the White House steward quietly and efficiently set
out the silver service, poured the first cup, then left.

The passion in Megan's voice was exactly as Hood remembered.  She never
did anything she didn't care deeply about, whether it was addressing a
crowd or advocating greater education spending on TV talk shows or
discussing the White House with an old friend.  But there was something
in her expression he had never seen before.  The old enthusiasm stopped
short of her eyes.

When he looked in them, they seemed frightened.  Confused.

Hood picked up his cup, took a sip of coffee, then turned to Megan.

"I appreciate your coming," the First Lady said.  Her cup and saucer
were on her lap, and she was looking down.

"I know you're busy and that you have problems of your own.  But this
isn't just about me or the president, Paul."  She looked up.

"It's about the nation."

"What's wrong?"  Hood asked.

Megan breathed deeply.

"My husband has been behaving strangely over the last few days."

Megan fell silent.  Hood didn't push her.  He waited while she drank
some of her coffee.

"Over the past week or so, he's been more and more distracted," she

"He hasn't asked about our grandson, which is very unusual.  He says
that it's work, and maybe it is.  But things got very strange
yesterday."  She regarded Hood intently.

"This remains between us."

"Of course."

Megan took a short, reinforcing breath.

"Before the dinner last night, I found him sitting at his dressing

He was running late.  He wasn't showered or dressed.  He was just
staring at the mirror, flushed and looking as though he'd been crying.
When I asked him about it, he said he'd been exercising.  He told me
that his eyes were bloodshot because he hadn't been sleeping.  I didn't
believe him, but I let it be.  Then, at the pre dinner reception, he was
flat.  He smiled and was pleasant, but there was no enthusiasm in him at
all.  Until he received a phone call.  He took it in his office and
returned about two minutes later.  When he came back, his manner was
entirely different.  He was outgoing and confident."

"That's certainly how he seemed at dinner," Hood said.

"When you say the president was flat, what exactly do you mean?"

Megan thought for a moment.

"Do you know how someone gets when they're really jet-lagged?"  she

"There's a glassiness in their eyes and a kind of delayed reaction to
whatever is said?"

Hood nodded.

"That's exactly how he was until the call," Megan said.

"Do you know who called?"  Hood asked.

"He told me it was Jack Fenwick."

Fenwick was a quiet, efficient man who had been the president's budget
director in his first administration.

Fenwick had joined Lawrence's American Sense think tank, where he added
intelligence issues to his repertoire.

When the president was reelected, Fenwick was named the head of the
National Security Agency, which was a separate intelligence division of
the Department of Defense.

Unlike other divisions of military intelligence, the NSA was also
chartered to provide support for non defense activities of the Executive

"What did Fenwick tell the president?"  Hood asked.

"That everything had come together," she told Hood.

"That was all he would say."

"You have no idea who or what that is?"

Megan shook her head.

"Mr.  Fenwick left for New York this morning, and when I asked his
assistant what the phone call was about, she said something very
strange.  She asked me, "What call?"

" "Did you check the log?"

Megan nodded.

"The only call that came into that line at that time was from the
Hay-Adams Hotel."

The elegant old hotel was located on the other side of Lafayette Park,
literally across the street from the White House.

"I had a staff member visit the hotel this morning," Megan went on.

"He got the names of the night staff, went to their homes, and showed
them pictures of Fenwick.

They never saw him."

"He could have come in a back entrance," Hood said.

"Did you run a check of the registry?"

"Yes," she said.

"But that doesn't mean anything.

There could have been any number of aliases.  Congressmen often use the
hotel for private meetings."

Hood knew that Megan wasn't just referring to political meetings.

"But that wasn't the only thing," Megan went on.

"When we went downstairs to the Blue Room, Michael saw Senator Fox and
went over to thank her.  She seemed very surprised and asked why he was
thanking her.  He said, "For budgeting the initiative."  I could see
that she had no idea what he was talking about."

Hood nodded.  That would explain the confusion he had noticed when
Senator Fox entered the room.  Things were beginning to fall into place
a little.  Senator Fox was a member of the Congressional Intelligence
Oversight Committee.  If any kind of intelligence operation had been
approved, she would have to have known about it.  Apparently, she was as
surprised to learn about the international intelligence-sharing
operation as Hood had been.  Yet the president either assumed or had
been told, possibly by Jack Fenwick, that she had helped make it happen.

"How was the president after the dinner?"  Hood asked.

"That's actually the worst of it," Megan said.  Her composure began to
break.  She set her coffee cup aside and Hood did likewise.  He moved

"As we were getting ready for bed, Michael received a call from Kirk

The former chief of Navy Intelligence, Pike was the newly appointed
director of the CIA.

"He took the call in the bedroom," Megan went on.

"The conversation was brief, and when Michael hung up, he just sat on
the bed, staring.  He looked shellshocked."

"What did Pike tell him?"

"I don't know," Megan told him.

"Michael didn't say.

It may have been nothing, just an update that got his mind working. But
I don't think he slept all night.  He wasn't in bed when I got up this
morning, and he's been in meetings all day.  We usually talk around
eleven o'clock, even if it's just a quick hello, but not today."

"Have you talked to the president's physician about this?"  Hood asked.

Megan shook her head.

"If Dr.  Smith can't find any thing wrong with my husband, he might
recommend that Michael see Dr.  Benn."

"The psychiatrist at Walter Reed," Hood said.

"Correct," Megan said.

"Dr.  Smith and he work closely together.  Paul, you know what will
happen if the president of the United States goes to see a psychiatrist.

As much as we might try to keep something like that a secret, the risks
are much too high."

"The risks are higher if the president isn't well," Hood said.

"I know," Megan said, "which is why I wanted to see you.  Paul, there
are too many things going on that don't make sense.  If there's
something wrong with my husband, I'll insist that he see Dr.  Benn and
to hell with the political fallout.  But before I ask Michael to submit
to that, I want to know whether something else is going on."

"Glitches in the communications system or a hacker playing tricks," Hood

"Maybe more Chinese spies."

"Yes," Megan said.


He could see Megan's expression, her entire mood, lighten when he said
that.  If it were something from the outside, then it could be fixed
without hurting the president.

"I'll see what I can find out," Hood promised.

"Quietly," Megan said.

"Please, don't let this get out."

"I won't," Hood assured her.

"In the meantime, try and talk to Michael.  See if you can get him to
open up somehow.  Any information, any names other than what you've told
me, will be a big help."

"I'll do that," Megan said.  She smiled.

"You're the only one I can trust with this, Paul.  Thank you for being

He smiled back.

"I get to help an old friend and my country.  Not a lot of people get
that chance."

Megan rose.  Hood stood, and they shook hands.

"I know this is not an easy time for you, either," the First Lady said.

"Let me know if there's anything you need."

"I will," Hood promised.

The First Lady left, and her aide returned to show Hood out.

Baku, Azerbaijan Monday, 9:21 p.m.

Pat Thomas experienced two miracles in one day.

First, the Aeroflot TU-154 that was scheduled to leave Moscow at six
p.m. did so.  On time.  With the possible exception of Uganda Royal
Airways, Aeroflot was the most notoriously late carrier Thomas had ever
flown on.

Second, the airplane landed in Baku at 8:45 p.m.--five minutes ahead of
schedule.  During his five years of service at the American embassy in
Moscow, Thomas had never experienced either of those events.  What was
more, despite a relatively full aircraft, the airline had not double- or
triple-booked his seat.

The slim, nearly six-foot-tall, forty-two-year-old Thomas was assistant
director of public information at the embassy.  What the title of ADPI
really meant was that Thomas was a spy: a diplomatic private
investigator was how he viewed the acronym.  The Russians knew that, of
course, which was the reason one or two Russian agents always shadowed
Thomas in public.  He was certain that someone in Baku would be waiting
to tail him as well.  Technically, of course, the KGB was finished. But
the personnel and the infrastructure of the intelligence operation were
still very much in place and very much in use as the Federal Security
Service and other "services."

Thomas was dressed in a three-piece gray winter suit that would keep him
warm in the heavy cold that always rolled in from the Bay of Baku.
Thomas knew he would need more than that--strong Georgian coffee or even
stronger Russian cognac--to warm him after the reception he expected to
receive at the embassy.  Unfortunately, keeping secrets from your own
people was part of the spy business, too.  Hopefully, they would vent a
little, Thomas would act contrite, and everyone could move on.

Thomas was met by a staff car from the embassy.  He didn't rush tossing
his single bag in the trunk.  He didn't want any Russian or Azerbaijani
agents thinking he was in a hurry.  He paused to pop a sucker into his
mouth, stretched, then climbed into the car.  Be boring.  That was the
key when you thought you were being watched.  Then, if you had to speed
up suddenly, chances were good you might surprise and lose whoever was
trailing you.

It was a thirty-minute drive from Baku International Airport to the
bay-side region that housed the embassies and the city's commercial
district.  Thomas never got to spend more than a day or two at a time
here, though that was something he still meant to do.  He had been to
the local bazaars, to the Fire Worshipper's Temple, to the State Museum
of Carpets--a museum with a name like that demanded to be seen--and to
the most famous local landmark, the Maiden Tower.  Located in the old
Inner City on the bay and at least two thousand years old, the
eight-story tower was built by a young girl who either wanted to lock
herself inside or throw herself into the sea--no one knew for certain
which version was true.  Thomas knew how she felt.

Thomas was taken to see Deputy Ambassador Williamson, who had returned
from dinner and was sitting behind her desk, waiting for him.  They
shook hands and exchanged a few banal words.  Then she picked up a pen
and noted the time on a legal pad.  Moore and Battat came to her office
moments later.  The agent's neck was mottled black and gunmetal gray. In
addition to the bruises, he looked exhausted.

Thomas offered Battat his hand.

"Are you all right?"

"A little banged up," Battat said.

"I'm sorry about all this, Pat."

Thomas made a face.

"Nothing's guaranteed, David.

Let's see how we can fix it."

Thomas looked at Moore, who was standing beside Battat.  The men had met
several times at various Asian embassy conferences and functions. Moore
was a good man, what they called a twenty-four seven--an agent who lived
and ate his work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Right now,
Moore was making no attempt to conceal his dark, unforgiving mood.

Thomas extended his hand.  Moore accepted it.

"How have you been?"  Thomas asked.

"That isn't important," Moore said.

"I'm not happy now.  There was no reason for this to go down the way it

"Mr.  Moore, you're correct," Thomas said as he released his hand.

"In retrospect, we should have done this all differently.  The question
is, how do we fix it now?"

Moore sneered.

"You don't get off that easily," he said.

"Your team mounted a small operation here and didn't tell us.  Your man
says you were worried about security risks and other factors.  What do
you think, Mr. Thomas--that the Azerbaijani are wet-wired into the
system?  That we can't conduct a surveillance without them finding out?"

Thomas walked to an armchair across from Williamson.

"Mr.  Moore, Ms.  Williamson, we had a short time to make a quick
decision.  We made a bad one, a wrong one.  The question is, what do we
do now?  If the Harpooner is here, can we find him and stop him from
getting away?"

"How do we bail you out, you mean?"  Moore asked.

"If you like," Thomas conceded.  Anything to get this out of reverse and
moving ahead.

Moore relaxed.

"It isn't going to be easy," he said.

"We've found no trace of the boat Mr.  Battat says he saw, and we have a
man watching the airport.  No one who fits the description of the
Harpooner has left today."

"What about working backward?"  Thomas said.

"Why would the Harpooner be in Baku?"

"There are any number of targets a terrorist for hire could hit," Moore

"Or he may just have been passing through on his way to another republic
or to the Middle East.  You know these people.  They rarely take a
direct route anywhere."

"If Baku was just a layover, the Harpooner is probably long gone,"
Thomas said.

"Let's concentrate on possible targets in the region and reasons for
hitting those targets."

"The Nagorno-Karabakh and Iran are our biggest concerns," Williamson

"The people in NK have voted themselves an independent republic, while
Azerbaijan and Armenia are both fighting to claim it.  The whole region
will probably explode when Azerbaijan gets enough money to buy more
advanced weapons for its military.  That would be bad enough for both
nations, but with Iran just fifteen miles to the south, it could end up
being quite an explosion.  As for Iran, even without the NK situation,
Teheran and Baku have been gnawing at each other for years over access
to everything from offshore oil to Caspian sturgeon and caviar.  When
the Soviet Union watched over the Caspian, they took what they wanted.
And not only are there problems, but the problems overlap," Williamson

"Sloppy drilling by Azerbaijan has caused a quarter-inch-thick oil film
in parts of the sea where Iran fishes for sturgeon.  The pollution is
killing the fish."

"What is the oil situation, exactly?"  Thomas asked.

"There are four major oil fields," Williamson said.

"Azeri, Chirag, Guneshli, and Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan and the Western
Consortium members that underwrite the drilling are convinced that
international law protects their exclusive rights to the sites.  But
their claim is based on boundaries that are defined by fishing rights,
which both Iran and Russia insist do not apply.  So far, the arguments
have all been diplomatic."

"But if someone perpetrated a new action somewhere," Thomas said, "such
as an embassy explosion or an assassination--" "There could be a
disastrous chain reaction reaching into a half-dozen surrounding
nations, affecting oil supplies worldwide, and drawing the United States
into a major foreign war," Williamson said.

Moore added sarcastically, "That's why we like to be kept informed about
covert actions in our backward little outpost."

Thomas shook his head.

"Mea culpa.  Now, can we all agree to look ahead instead of back?"

Moore regarded him for a moment, then nodded.

"So," Williamson said, looking down at her notes.

"As I understand this, there are two possible scenarios.

First, that the individual who attacked Mr.  Battat was not the
Harpooner, in which case we may have nothing more than a drug smuggler
or gunrunner on our hands.

One who managed to get the drop on Mr.  Battat and then slip away."

"Correct," said Thomas.

"What are the chances of that?"  Williamson asked.

"They're unlikely," Thomas said.

"We know that the Harpooner is in the region.  An official from the
Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research was on a Turkish
Airlines flight from London to Moscow and made a tentative ID of the
Harpooner.  He tried to follow the target but lost him."

"You're saying an INR guy and the world's most wanted terrorist just
happened to be on the same flight?" Moore said.

"I can't speak for the Harpooner, only for the DOS official," Thomas

"But we're finding that more and more terrorists and spies take the
diplomatic routes.

They try to pick up intel from laptops and phone calls.

DOS has issued several alerts about that.  Maybe it was a coincidence;
maybe there was a diskette or phone number the Harpooner wanted to try
and steal when the official went to the rest room.  I don't know."

"The official was able to identify the Harpooner based on what?"
Williamson asked.

"The only known photograph," Thomas told him.

"It was a good picture, reliable," Moore assured her.

"We were notified and did some checking," Thomas went on.

"It fit with some intel we had picked up independently.

The passenger was traveling under an assumed name with a fake British
passport.  We checked taxi records, found that he had been picked up at
the Kensington Hilton in London.  He'd only been there for one night,
where he met with several people who, according to the concierge, looked
and sounded Middle Eastern.  We tried to track the individual in Moscow,
but no one saw him leave the terminal.  So we checked flights to other
areas.  Someone matching his description had shown a Russian passport in
the name of Gardner and flown to Baku."

"It is the Harpooner's boat," Deputy Ambassador Williamson said

"It has to be."

The others looked at her.

"You've heard of it?"  Thomas asked.

"Yes.  I went to college," Williamson said.

"Gardner is the captain of the Rachel in Moby-Dick.  It's one of the
ships that was chasing the elusive white whale.  She failed to capture
him, I might add."

Thomas regarded Battat unhappily.

"The Harpooner," Thomas said.

"Dammit.  Of course.  He planted that for us to find."

"Now, there's a smart terrorist," Moore said.

"If you recognize the allusion, you would have thought it a joke and
wouldn't have bothered to pursue.  If you thought it was real, then the
Harpooner knew just where you'd be looking for him.  And he would be
there, waiting to stop you."

"But the boat was real," Battat said.

"I saw the name--" "A name that was put there to hold your attention for
a while," Thomas said.

"Shit.  We fell for that one, big time."

"Which brings us to the second and suddenly very likely scenario,"
Williamson said.

"If the Harpooner has been in Baku, there are two things we need to find
out pretty damn quick.  First, what he wanted and second, where he is
now.  Is that about right?"

Thomas nodded.

Moore rose.

"I'm betting he's no longer using the Russian passport.  I'll get into
the hotel computers and check the names of the guests against our
passport registry database.  See if any new names pop up."

"He may also be working with people here, in which case he may not be
staying at a hotel," Thomas said.

"I'll give you a list of known or suspected foreign cells," Moore told

"You and Mr.  Battat can crosscheck those with people the Harpooner
might have worked with before."

Battat said he would do that.

"There's one other thing we should try," Thomas said.

"We pretty much tapped out our Moscow-based sources on this before Mr.
Battat came down.  It wasn't very productive, but that was all we had
time for.  What about other governments in the region?"

"We haven't made any significant intelligence inroads with any of them,"
the deputy ambassador admitted.

"We don't have the personnel to nurse the relationships, and a lot of
the republics, including Azerbaijan, have had their resources strained
with internal problems.

Everyone is busy spying on each other, especially on Chechnya."

"Why there?"  Battat asked.

"Because despite the coalition government that exists on paper, Chechnya
is really controlled by Islamic militias intent on destabilizing and
bringing down the other republics, including Russia," she said.

"I'm hoping that the initiative the president announced last night in
Washington will remedy that."

"What initiative?"  Battat asked.

"An intelligence cooperative with the United Nations," Moore told him.

"He announced it last night in Washington."

Battat rolled his eyes.

"You know, there is one place we might be able to try," Thomas said.

"A couple of years ago I remember hearing that the National Crisis
Management Center was involved with a Russian group based in Saint

"A Russian crisis management group," Moore said.

"Yeah, I remember hearing about that."

"I can call Washington and have them contact Op Center Moore said.

"See if they still have a relationship with the Russians."

"When you do, have them contact Bob Herbert over there," Thomas

"He's the head of intelligence--a really capable guy from what I hear. I
understand that the new guy running the place.  General Rodgers, is
something of a hard-ass."

"He's not running Op-Center," the deputy ambassador said.

"Who is?"  asked Thomas.

"Paul Hood," said the deputy ambassador.

"We got a directory update this morning.  He withdrew his resignation."

Moore snickered.

"I'll bet he won't be involved in the UN intelligence program."

"Regardless," Thomas said, "have them contact Herbert.

The Harpooner may try to slip out of the region by heading north, into
Scandanavia.  If he does, the Russians may be able to help us up there."

Thomas agreed.  Everyone rose then, and Thomas offered his hand to the
deputy ambassador.

"Thank you for everything," Thomas said.

"I'm truly sorry about all this."

"So far, no real harm has been done."

"We're going to see that it stays that way," Thomas said.

"I'll have a room prepared for the two of you," Williamson said.

"It's not fancy, but it's a place to crash."

"Thanks," Thomas said.

"But until we find our man, I have a feeling I won't be getting a lot of

"None of us will, Mr.  Thomas," Williamson assured him.

"If you'll excuse me.  Ambassador Small is due back from Washington at
ten p.m. He'll want to be briefed on this as soon as possible."

Thomas left and walked down the corridor to Moore's office.  The ADPI
hated having lost the Harpooner.  But he also hated the fact that the
bastard was probably laughing at them for taking the whale bait.  He
also wondered if the Harpooner might somehow have known that Battat had
come from Moscow.  Maybe that was why he'd let the agent live, to create
conflict between the CIA office in Moscow and Baku.  Or maybe he did it
just to confuse them, have them waste time wondering why he hadn't
killed Battat.

Thomas shook his head.  Your mind is all over the damn place, he chided
himself.  Stop it.  You've got to focus.  But that was going to be
tough, Thomas knew, because the Harpooner was obviously a man who liked
to keep his trackers off balance by mixing games with reality.

And so far, he was doing a helluva job.

Washington, D.C.

Monday, 3:00 p.m.

The cell phone rang in the office of the red-haired man.  He shooed out
two young assistants who closed the door behind them.  Then he swiveled
his chair so the high leather back was facing the door.  He looked out
the window, drew the cell phone from his inside jacket pocket, and
answered on the fifth ring.  If the phone had been stolen or lost and
someone answered before that, the caller had been instructed to hang up.

"Yes?"  the red-haired man said softly.

"He's completed phase one," said the caller.

"Everything is exactly on schedule."

"Thank you," said the red-haired man and clicked off.

He immediately punched in a new number.  The phone was answered on the
fifth ring.

"Hello?"  said a gravelly voice.

"We're on track," said the red-haired man.

"Very good," said the other.

"Anything from Benn?"  asked the red-haired man.

"Nothing yet," said the other.

"It will come."

The men hung up.

The red-haired man put the phone back in his jacket pocket.  He looked
out across his desk and the office beyond.  The photographs with the
president and foreign heads of state.  The commendations.  A
seven-by-ten-inch American flag that had been given to him by his

The red-haired man had carried it, folded, in his back pocket during his
tour of duty in Vietnam.  It was framed on the wall, still creased and
soiled with sweat and mud, the lubricants of combat.

As the red-haired man called his two aides back to the office, the
ordinary nature of that act, the return of routine, underscored the
extreme and complex nature of what he and his partners were undertaking.
To remake the international political and economic map was one thing.
But to do it quickly, in a stroke such as this, was unprecedented.

The work was daunting, and it was exciting.  If the operation ever were
to become publicly known, it would be considered monstrous by some. But
to many, so were the American Revolution and the Civil War in their day.

So was the involvement of the United States in World War II, before
Pearl Harbor.  The red-haired man only hoped that if their actions were
ever revealed, people would understand why they had been necessary. That
the world in which the United States existed was radically different
from the world into which the United States had been born. That in order
to grow it was sometimes necessary to destroy.  Sometimes rules,
sometimes lives.

Sometimes both.

Camp Springs, Maryland Monday, 3:14 p.m.

Paul Hood called Senator Fox after returning from the White House.  She
admitted being totally confused by the president's remarks and had put
in a call to him to talk about it.  Hood asked her to hold off until
after he had had a chance to review the situation.  She agreed.

Then Hood called Bob Herbert.  Hood briefed the intelligence chief on
his conversation with the First Lady, after which he asked Herbert to
find out what he could about the phone call from the hotel and whether
anyone else had noticed any odd behavior from the president.

Because Herbert stayed in touch with so many people-never asking them
for anything, just seeing how they were doing, what the family was up
to--it was easy for him to call and slip in important questions among
the chitchat without making it seem as though he were fishing.

Now the two men were back in Hood's office.  But the Herbert who wheeled
through the door was different than before.

"Is everything all right?"  Hood asked.

The usually outgoing Mississippi native didn't answer immediately.  He
was extremely subdued and staring ahead at something only he could see.

"Bob?"  Hood pressed.

"They thought they had him," Herbert said.

"What are you talking about?"

"A friend of mine at the CIA slipped me some news from the embassy in
Moscow," Herbert said.


Herbert took a long breath.

"Apparently, they had a solid lead that the Harpooner was in Baku."

"Jesus," Hood said.

"What for?"

"They don't know," Herbert said.

"And they lost him.

They sent one freakin' guy to do the recon and--surprise!--he got
clocked.  I can't blame them for wanting to be low profile, but with a
guy like the Harpooner, you have to have backup."

"Where is he now?"  Hood asked.

"Is there anything we can do?"

"They don't have a clue where he went," Herbert said.

He shook his head slowly and swung the computer monitor up from the

"For almost twenty years what I've wanted most out of life is to be able
to hold the bastard's throat between my hands, squeeze real hard, and
look into his eyes as he dies.  If I can't have that, I want to know
that he's decaying in a hole somewhere with no hope of ever seeing the
sun.  That's not a lot to ask for, is it?"

"Considering what he did, no," Hood said.

"Unfortunately, Santa's not listening," Herbert said bitterly.  He
angled the monitor so he could see it.

"But enough about that son of a bitch.  Let's talk about the president."

Herbert shifted in his seat.  Hood could see the anger in his eyes, in
the hard set of his mouth, in the tense movements of his fingers.

"I had Matt Stoll check the Hay-Adams phone log."

Matt Stoll was Op-Center's computer wizard.

"He hacked into the Bell Atlantic records," Herbert said.

"The call came from the hotel, all right, but it didn't originate in any
of the rooms.  It originated in the system itself."


"Meaning someone didn't want to be in one of the rooms where they might
have been seen coming or going," Herbert said.

"So they got to the wires somewhere else."

"What do you mean 'got' to them?"  Hood asked.

"They hooked in a modem to transfer a call from somewhere else," Herbert

"It's called dial-up hacking.

It's the same technology phone scammers use to generate fake dial tones
on public phones in order to collect credit card and bank account
numbers.  All you need to do is get access to the wiring at some point
in the system.  Matt and I brought up a blueprint of the hotel.  The
easiest place to do that would have been at the phone box in the
basement.  That's where all the wiring is.  But there's only one
entrance, and it's monitored by a security camera--too risky.  Our guess
is that whoever hacked the line went to one of the two public phones
outside the Off the Record bar."

Hood knew the bar well.  The phones were right beside the door that
opened onto H Street.  They were in closetike booths and there were no
security cameras at that spot.  Someone could have slipped in and gotten
away without being seen.

"So, with the help of a dial-up hacker," Hood said, "Jack Fenwick could
have called the president from anywhere."

"Right," Herbert told him.

"Now, as far as we can tell, the First Lady is correct.  Fenwick's in
New York right now, supposedly attending top-level meetings with UN
ambassadors.  I got his cell phone number and called several times, but
his voice mail picked up.  I left messages for him to call me, saying it
was urgent.  I left the same message at his home and office.  So far, I
haven't heard from him.  Meanwhile, Mike and I checked with the other
intel departments.  The president's announcement was news to each of
them.  Only one of them was involved in this cooperative effort with the
United Nations."

"The National Security Agency," Hood said.

Herbert nodded.

"Which means Mr.  Fenwick must have sold the president some bill of
goods to convince him they could handle this operation solo."

Herbert was correct, though in one way the National Security Agency
would have been the perfect agency to interface with new intelligence
partners.  The primary functions of the NSA are in the areas of
cryptology and both protecting and collecting signals intelligence.
Unlike the CIA and the State Department, the NSA is not authorized to
maintain undercover personnel on foreign soil.  Thus, they do not
generate the kind of knee-jerk paranoia that would make foreign
governments nervous about cooperating with them.  If the White House was
looking for an intel group to pair with the United Nations, the NSA was
it.  What was surprising, though, was that the president didn't brief
the other agencies.

And he should have at least notified Senator Fox.  The Congressional
Intelligence Oversight Committee is directly responsible for approving
programs of counter proliferation counterterrorism, counternarcotics,
counterintelligence, and covert activities abroad.  What the president
had proposed certainly fell under their jurisdiction.

But because the NSA does operate independently, and in very specific
areas, it's also the least-equipped to organize and oversee a massive
undertaking of the kind described by the president.  That was the reason
Hood didn't believe Lawrence when he announced the initiative at the
dinner.  It was why a large part of him still didn't believe it.

"Did you talk to Don Roedner about this?"  Hood asked.  Roedner was the
Deputy National Security Adviser, second in command to Fenwick.

"He's with Fenwick, and I couldn't get him on the phone either," Herbert
told him.

"But I did talk to Assistant Deputy National Security Adviser Al

And this is where things get a little weirder.  Gibbons said that he was
present at an NSA meeting on Sunday afternoon where Fenwick didn't
mention a goddamn thing about a cooperative intelligence effort with
other nations."

"Was the president at that meeting?"

"No," Herbert said.

"But just a few hours later, Penwick called the president and apparently
told him that they had an intelligence deal with several foreign
governments," Hood said.

Herbert nodded.

Hood considered that.  It was possible that the UN initiative was on a
need-to-know basis and that Gibbons wasn't part of that loop.  Or maybe
there was a bureaucratic struggle between different divisions of the

That wouldn't have been unprecedented.  When Hood first came to
Op-Center, he studied the pair of 1997 reports that had effectively
authorized the creation of Op- Center.  Report 105-24 issued by the
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and 105-135 published by the
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence-the two arms of the
Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committee--both proclaimed that the
intelligence community was extremely top-heavy with "intramural
struggles, waste, and uninformed personnel lacking depth, breadth, and
expertise in political, military, and economic analysis," as the SIC
report summed it up.  Congressional reports didn't get much rougher than

When Op-Center was chartered by act of Congress, Hood's mandate had been
to hire the best and the brightest while the CIA and other intelligence
groups worked on cleaning house.  But the current situation was unusual,
even by intelligence community standards, if the NSA's senior staff
didn't know what was going on.

"This whole thing just doesn't make sense," Herbert said.

"Between Op-Center and the CIA, we already have official cooperative
intelligence plans with twenty-seven different nations.  We have
intelligence relationships with eleven other governments unofficially,
through connections with high-ranking officials.  Military intelligence
has their hands in seven other nations.  Whoever talked the president
into this wants their own discreet, dedicated intelligence line for a

"Either that, or they wanted to embarrass him," Hood said.

"What do you mean?"

"Sell him a project, tell him it's been cleared with other agencies and
foreign governments, and then have him make a big public stumble."


"I don't know," Hood said.

He didn't, but he didn't like where this was leading him.  Op-Center had
once run a psyops game called Alternate Reality on how to make Saddam
Hussein so paranoid that he would turn on his most trusted advisers.

What if a foreign government were doing something like that to the

It was a far-fetched idea, but so was the KGB killing a dissident by
poking him with a poisoned umbrella, and the CIA attempting to slip
Fidel Castro a poison cigar.

Yet these things had happened.

Then there was another option he didn't want to consider:

that it wasn't a foreign government but our own.

It was possible.

It could also be less sinister than that.  The First Lady said her
husband wasn't himself.  What if she was right?

Lawrence had spent four tough years in the White House and then eight
tough years winning it back.  Now he was in the hot seat again.  That
was a lot of pressure.

Hood was aware of several presidents who had showed signs of breaking
during extended periods of stress: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt,
Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton.  In the case of Nixon, his closest
advisers encouraged him to resign not just for the health of the nation
but for his own mental well-being.  With Clinton, the president's staff
and friends decided not to bring in doctors or psychiatrists but to keep
a careful watch and hope he came through the impeachment crisis.

He did.

But in at least two cases, allowing the president to carry the full
burden of decision making and politicking was not the best policy.
Wilson ended up with a stroke trying to push the League of Nations
through Congress.

And toward the end of World War II, burdened by the pressure of winning
the war and drawing up plans for a postwar world, Roosevelt's closest
advisers feared for his health.  Had they impressed on him the absolute
need to slow down, he might not have died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Any of those scenarios could be correct, or they could all be dead
wrong.  But Hood had always believed that it was better to consider
every option, even the least likely, rather than be surprised.
Especially when the result of being right could be cataclysmic.  He
would have to proceed carefully.  If he could get to see the president,
he would have an opportunity to lay his few cards on the table and also
observe Lawrence, see whether Megan's concerns had merit.  The worst
that could happen was the president would ask for his resignation.
Fortunately, he still had his last one on file.

"What are you thinking?"  Herbert asked.

Hood reached for the telephone.

"I've got to see the president."

"Excellent," Herbert said.

"Straight ahead has always been my favorite way, too."

Hood punched in the president's direct line.  The phone beeped at the
desk of his executive secretary, Jamie Leigh, instead of going through
the switchboard.

Hood asked Mrs.  Leigh if she could please squeeze him in for a few
minutes somewhere.  She asked him for a log line for the calendar to let
the president know what this was about.  Hood said that it had to do
with Op Center having a role in the United Nations intelligence program.

Mrs.  Leigh liked Hood, and she arranged for him to see the president
for five minutes, from four-ten to four fifteen

Hood thanked her then looked at Herbert.

"I've got to get going," Hood said.

"My appointment's in forty minutes."

"You don't look happy," Herbert said.

"I'm not," Hood said.

"Can we get someone to nail down who Fenwick is meeting in New York?"

"Mike was able to connect with someone at the State Department when you
two were up there," Herbert said.


"Lisa Baroni," Herbert told him.

"She was a liaison with the parents during the crisis."

"I didn't meet her," Hood said.

"How did Mike find her?"

"He did what any good spymaster does," Herbert said.

"When he's someplace new, he looks for the unhappy employee and promises
them something better if they deliver.  Let's see if she can deliver."

"Good," Hood said as he rose.

"God.  I feel like I do whenever I go to Christmas Eve Mass."

"And how is that?"  Herbert asked.

"Guilty that you don't go to church more often?"

"No," Hood replied.

"I feel like there's something going on that's much bigger than me. And
I'm afraid that when I figure out what that is, it's going to scare the
hell out of me."

"Isn't that what church is supposed to be about?"  Herbert asked.

Hood thought about that for a moment.  Then he grinned as he left the
office, "louche," he said.

"Good luck," Herbert replied as he wheeled out after him.

Gobustan, Azerbaijan Monday, 11:56 p.m.

Gobustan is a small, rustic village located forty-three miles south of
Baku.  The region was settled as far back as 8000 b.c. and is riddled by
caves and towering outcroppings of rock.  The caves boast prehistoric
art as well as more recent forms of expression--graffiti left two
thousand years ago by Roman legionnaires.

Situated low in the foothills, just beneath the caves, are several
shepherds' shacks.  Spread out over hundreds of acres of graze able
land, they were built early in the century and most of them remain in
use, though not always by men tending their flocks.  One large shack is
hidden behind a rock that commands a view of the entire village.  The
only way up is along a rutted dirt road cut through the foothills by
millennia of foot traffic and erosion.

Inside, five men sat around a rickety wooden table in the center of the
small room.  Another man sat on a chair by a window overlooking the
road.  There was an Uzi in his lap.  A seventh man was still in Baku,
watching the hospital.  They weren't sure when the patient would arrive,
but when he did, Maurice Charles wanted his man to be ready.

The window was open, and a cool breeze was blowing in.  Except for the
occasional hooting of an owl or rocks dislodged by prowling foxes in
search of field mice, there was silence outside the shack--the kind of
silence that the Harpooner rarely heard in his travels around the world.

Except for Charles, the men were stripped to their shorts.  They were
studying photographs that had been received through a satellite uplink.
The portable six-inch dish had been mounted on the top of the shack,
which had an unobstructed view of the southeastern sky and the
GorizonT3.  Located 35,736 kilometers above twenty-one degrees
twenty-five minutes north, sixty degrees twenty-seven minutes east, that
was the satellite the United States National Reconnaissance Office used
to keep watch on the Caspian Sea.  Charles's American contact had given
him the restricted web site and access code, and he had downloaded
images from the past twenty-four hours.

The decoder they used, a Stellar Photo Judge 7, had also been provided
by Charles's contact through one of the embassies.  It was a compact
unit roughly the size and configuration of a fax machine.  The SPJ 7
printed photographs on thick sublimation paper, a slick, oil based sheet
that could not be faxed or electronically transmitted.  Any attempt to
do so would be like pressing on a liquid crystal display. All the
receiver would see was a smudge.  The unit provided magnification with a
resolution of ten meters.  Combined with infrared lenses on the
satellite, he was able to read the numbers on the wing of the plane.

Charles smiled.  His plane was on the image.  Or rather, the Azerbaijani
plane that they had bought.

"Are you certain the Americans will find that when they go looking for
clues?"  asked one of the men.  He was a short, husky, swarthy man with
a shaved head and dark, deep-set eyes.  A hand-rolled cigarette hung
from his downturned lips.  There was a tattoo of a coiled snake on his
left forearm.

"Our friend will make sure of it," Charles said.

And they would.  That was the reason for staging this attack on the
Iranian oil rig.  Once the incident occurred, the United States National
Reconnaissance Office would search the satellite database of images from
the Guneshli oil region of the Caspian.  Surveillance experts would look
back over the past few days to see who might have been reconnoitering
near the rig.  They would find the images of Charles's plane.  Then they
would find something else.

Shortly after the attack, a body would be dropped into the sea--the body
of a Russian terrorist, Sergei Cherkassov.  Cherkassov had been captured
by Azerbaijan in the NK, freed from prison by Charles's men, and was
presently being held on the Rachel.  Cherkassov would be killed shortly
before the attack, shot with a shell from an Iranian-made Gewehr 3
rifle.  That was the same kind of bullet that would have been fired by
security personnel on the rig.  When the Russian's body was found-thanks
to intelligence that would be leaked to the CIA--the Americans would
find photographs in the terrorist's pockets: the photographs Charles had
taken from the airplane.  One of those photographs would show portions
of the airplane's wing and the same numbers seen in the satellite view.
Another of the photographs would have markings in grease pencil showing
the spot that particular terrorist was supposed to have attacked.

With the satellite photographs and the body of the terrorist, Charles
had no doubt that the United States and the rest of the world would draw
the conclusion that he and his sponsors wanted them to draw.

The wrong one.

That Russia and Azerbaijan had united to try to force Iran from its
lucrative rigs in Guneshli.

New York, New York Monday, 4:01 p.m.

The State Department maintains two offices in the vicinity of the United
Nations Building on New York's East Side.  One is the Office of Foreign
Missions and the other is the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

Forty-three-year-old attorney Lisa Baroni was the assistant director of
diplomatic claims for the Diplomatic Liaison Office.  That meant
whenever a diplomat had a problem with the United States' legal system,
she became involved.  A legal problem could mean anything from an
allegedly unlawful search of a diplomat's luggage at one of the local
airports, or a hit-and-run accident involving a diplomat, to the recent
seizure of the Security Council by terrorists.

Ten days before, Baroni had been on hand to provide counsel for
diplomats but found herself giving comfort to parents of children who
were held hostage during the attack.  That was when she'd met General
Mike Rodgers.

The general talked with her briefly when the siege was over.  He said he
was impressed by the way she had remained calm, communicative, and
responsible in the midst of the crisis.  He explained that he was the
new head of Op-Center in Washington and was looking for good people to
work with.  He asked if he could call her and arrange an interview.
Rodgers had seemed like a no nonsense officer, one who was more
interested in her talent than her gender, in her abilities more than in
the length of her skirt.  That appealed to her.  So did the prospect of
going back to Washington, D.C. Baroni had grown up there, she had
studied international law at Georgetown University, and all her friends
and family still lived there.  After three years in New York, Baroni
could not wait to get back.

But when General Rodgers finally called, it was not quite the call
Baroni had been expecting.

It came early in the afternoon.  Baroni listened as Rodgers explained
that his superior, Paul Hood, had withdrawn his resignation.  But
Rodgers was still looking for good people and offered her a proposition.
He had checked her State Department records and thought she would be a
good candidate to replace Martha Mackall, the political officer who had
been assassinated in Spain.  He would bring her to Washington for an
interview if she would help him with a problem in New York.

Baroni asked if the help he needed was legal.  Rodgers assured her it
was.  In that case, Baroni told him, she would be happy to help.  That
was how relationships were forged in Washington.  Through

What Rodgers needed, he explained, was the itinerary of NSA Chief Jack
Fenwick who was in New York for meetings with United Nations delegates.
Rodgers said he didn't want the published itinerary.  He wanted to know
where Fenwick actually ended up.

That should have been relatively easy for Baroni to find.  Fenwick had
an office in her building, and he usually used it when he came to New
York.  It was on the seventh floor, along with the office for the
secretary of state.  However, Fenwick's New York deputy said that he
wasn't coming to the office during this trip but was holding all of his
meetings at different consulates.

Instead, Baroni checked the file of government-issued license plates.
This listing was maintained in the event of a diplomatic kidnapping. The
NSA chief always rode in the same town car when he came to New York.
Baroni got the license number and asked her friend.  Detective Steve
Mitchell at Midtown South, to try to find the car on the street. Then
she got the number of the car's windshield-mounted electronic security
pass.  The ESP enabled vehicles to enter embassy and government parking
garages with a minimum of delay, giving potential assassins less time to
stage ambushes.

The ESP didn't show up on any of the United States checkpoints, which
were transmitted immediately to State Department security files.  That
meant that Fenwick was visiting foreign embassies.  Over one hundred
nations also transmitted that data to the DOS within minutes.  Most of
those were close U.S. allies, such as Great Britain, Japan, and Israel.
Fenwick had not yet gone to visit any of them.  She used secure e-mail
to forward to Rodgers the information where Fenwick hadn't been.

Then, just after four p.m."  Baroni got a call from Detective Mitchell.

One of his squad cars spotted the chief of staff's car leaving a
building at 622 Third Avenue.

That was just below Forty-second Street.  Baroni looked up the address
in her guide to permanent missions.

The occupant surprised her.

Washington, D.C.

Monday, 4:03 p.m.

Paul Hood arrived at the west wing of the White House at four o'clock.
Even before he had finished passing through the security checkpoint, a
presidential intern had arrived to show him to the Oval Office.  Hood
could tell he had been here at least several months.  Like most seasoned
interns, the freshly scrubbed young man had a slightly cocky air.  Here
he was, a kid in his early twenties, working at the White House.  The ID
badge around his neck was his trump card with women at bars, with chatty
neighbors on airplanes, with brothers and cousins when he went home for
the holidays.  Whatever anyone else said or did, he was interacting with
the president, the vice president, cabinet, and congressional leaders on
a daily basis.  He was exposed to real power, he was plugged into the
world, and he was moving past the eyes and ears of all media where the
expressions and casual utterances of even people like him could cause
events that would ripple through history.  Hood remembered feeling a lot
of that when he was a kid working in the Los Angeles office of the
governor of California.  He could only imagine how much more extreme it
was for this kid, the sense of being at the center of the universe.

The Oval Office is located at the far southeast corner of the West Wing.
Hood followed the young man in silence as they made their way through
the busy corridors, passed by people who did not seem at all self
important  They had the look and carriage of people who were very late
for a plane.  Hood walked past the office of the national security
adviser and the vice president, then turned east at the vice president's
office and walked past the office of the press secretary. Then they
turned south past the cabinet room.  They walked in silence all the
while.  Hood wondered if the young man wasn't speaking to him because
the kid had a sense of propriety or because Hood wasn't enough of a
celebrity to merit talking to.  Hood decided to give him the benefit of
the doubt.

The office past the cabinet room belonged to Mrs. Leigh.  She was seated
behind her desk.  Behind it was the only door that led to the Oval
Office.  The intern excused himself.  Hood and the president's tall,
whitehaired secretary greeted each other with smiles. Mrs. Leigh was
from Texas, with the steel, poise, patience, and dry, self-effacing
humor required for the guardian of the gate.  Her husband was the late
Senator Titus Leigh, a legendary cattleman.

"The president's running a few minutes late," Mrs. Leigh said. "But
that's all right.  You can tell me how you are."

"Coping," Hood said.

"And you?"

"Fine," she replied flatly.

"My strength is the strength of ten because my heart is pure."

"I've heard that somewhere," Hood said as he continued toward the
secretary's desk.

"It's Lord Tennyson," she replied.

"How is your daughter?"

"She's strong, too," Hood said.

"And she has an awful lot of people pulling for her."

"I don't doubt that," Mrs.  Leigh said, still smiling.

"Let me know if there's anything I can do."

"I absolutely will," Hood said.  He looked into her gray eyes.

"There is something you can do for me, though."

"And that is?"

"Off the record?"

"Of course," she assured him.

"Mrs.  Leigh, has the president seemed all right to you?"  Hood asked.
The woman's smile wavered.  She looked down.

"Is that what this meeting is about?"

"No," Hood said.

"What makes you ask a question like that?"

"People close to him are worried," Hood said.

"And you're the one who's been asked to bell the cat?"  she asked.

"Nothing that calculated," Hood said as his cell phone beeped.  He
reached into his jacket pocket and answered the phone.

"This is Paul."

"Paul, it's Mike."

"Mike, what's up?"  If Rodgers was calling him here, now, it had to be

"The target was seen leaving the Iranian mission to the UN about three
minutes ago."

"Any idea where he was the rest of the time?"  Hood asked.

"Negative," said Rodgers.

"We're working on that. But apparently, the car didn't show up at the
embassies of any of our top allies."

"Thanks," Hood said.

"Let me know if you find out anything else." Hood hung up.  He put the
phone back in his pocket. That was strange.  The president had announced
an intelligence initiative involving the United Nations, and one of the
first missions the national security adviser visits belongs to Iran.  As
a sponsor of the kind of terrorism the United Nations opposed, that did
not make sense. The door to the Oval Office opened.

"Mrs.  Leigh, would you do me a favor?"  Hood said.


"Would you get me Jack Fenwick's itinerary in New York?"

"Fenwick?  Why?"

"He's one of the reasons I asked you the question I did," Hood replied.
Mrs.  Leigh looked at Hood.

"All right.  Do you want it while you're with the president?"

"As soon as possible," Hood said.

"And when you get the file number, let me know what else is in the file.
I don't need specific documents, just dates when they were filed."

"All right," she said.

"And Paul--what you asked before?

I have noticed a change." He smiled at her.

"Thanks.  If there's a problem, we're going to try and fix it quickly
and quietly, whatever it is." She nodded and sat at her computer as the
vice president emerged from the Oval Office.  Charles Gotten was a tall,
stout man with a thin face and thinning gray hair.  He greeted Paul Hood
with a warm handshake and a smile but didn't stop to talk.  Mrs.  Leigh
punched the phone intercom.  The president answered.  She told him that
Paul Hood was here, and the president asked her to send him in.  Hood
went around the desk and walked into the Oval Office.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 12:07 a.m.

David Battat lay on the flimsy cot and stared at the dark ceiling of the
damp basement storehouse.  Pat Thomas slept on his back in a cot on the
other side of the small room, breathing softly, regularly.  But Battat
couldn't sleep. His neck still ached, and he was angry at himself for
having gotten cold-cocked, but that wasn't what was keeping him awake.
Before going to sleep, Battat had reviewed the original data the CIA had
received about the Harpooner. He could not put it out of his mind.  All
signs, including a reliable eyewitness, pointed to it having been the
terrorist that was being met by the Rachel. And if that were so, if the
Harpooner had passed through Baku on his way to somewhere else, Battat
was deeply troubled by one question: Why am I still alive? Why would a
terrorist with a reputation for scorched earth attacks and homicidal
behavior leave an enemy alive? To mislead them? To make them think it
wasn't the Harpooner who was there?  That had been his initial reaction.
But maybe the terrorist had left him alive for another reason.  And
Battat lay there, trying to figure out what that reason could be. The
only reason he could think of would be to carry misinformation back to
his superiors.  But he had not carried any information back, other than
what was already known: that the Rachel was where it was supposed to be.
And without knowing who got on or where it went, that information did
them no good. Battat's clothes had been gone over carefully for an
electronic bug or a radioactive tracer of some kind. Nothing had been
found, and the clothes were subsequently destroyed. If one had been
located, it would have been used to spread disinformation or to
misdirect the enemy.  Moore had gone through Battat's hair, checked
under his fingernails, looked in his mouth and elsewhere for a micro
transmitter that could be used to locate Battat or eavesdrop on any
conversations he might have.  Nothing had been found. There wasn't a
damn thing, he thought.  And it gnawed at him because he didn't think
this was a screw-up.  He was alive for a reason. He shut his eyes and
turned on his side.  Thinking about this while he was dead tired would
get him nowhere. He had to sleep.  He forced himself to think about
something pleasant: what he would do when he found the Harpooner. The
thought relaxed him. As he lay there, Battat began to feel warm. He
attributed that to the poor ventilation in the room and the distress he
was feeling over everything that had happened.

A few minutes later, he was asleep.

A few minutes after that, he began to perspire.

A few minutes after that, he was awake and gasping for breath.

Washington, D.C. Monday, 4:13 p.m.

The president was writing on a white legal pad when Hood entered.  The
president told Hood to have a seat;

he needed to make a few notes before they talked.  Hood quietly shut the
door behind him and walked toward a brown leather armchair in front of
the desk.  He turned off his cell phone and sat down. The president was
dressed in a black suit and silver and black striped tie.  A rich yellow
light gleamed off the panes of bulletproof glass behind the president.
Beyond it, the Rose Garden looked rich and alive. Everything seemed so
right here, so healthy and normal, that for a moment Hood doubted
himself. But only for a moment.  Hood's instincts got him where he was;
there was no reason to start doubting them now. Besides, the battle was
always somewhere else, never in the command tent. The president finished
writing, put down his pen, and looked at Hood. His face was drawn and
warm, but his eyes had their usual gleam.

"Talk to me, Paul," the president said. Hood grew warm behind the ears.
This wasn't going to be easy.  Even if he were correct, it wasn't going
to be easy convincing the president that members of his staff might be
running an operation of their own. Hood did not have a lot to go on, and
part of him wished that he had gone to the First Lady before coming
here.  It would have been better to let her talk to him in private. But
if the intelligence Herbert had received was right, there might not be
time for that.  Ironically, Hood would have to keep Megan Lawrence out
of this.  He did not want the president to know that his wife had been
talking about him behind his back. Hood leaned forward.

"Mr.  President, I have some concerns about the United Nations
intelligence operation."

"Jack Fenwick is setting it all up," the president said.

"There'll be a comprehensive briefing when he returns from New York."

"Will the NSA be running the project?"

"Yes," the president informed him.

"Jack will be reporting directly to me.  Paul, I hope this visit isn't
about some kind of territorial pissing contest between Op Center and the

"No, sir," Hood assured him. The intercom beeped.  The president
answered.  It was Mrs.  Leigh.  She said she had something for Paul
Hood. The president frowned and asked her to bring it in.  He looked at

"Paul, what's going on?"

"Hopefully, nothing," Hood said. Mrs.  Leigh walked in and handed Hood a
single sheet of paper.

"Is this all?"  Hood asked. She nodded.

"What about the file itself?"

"Empty," she said. Hood thanked Mrs.  Leigh, and she left.

"What file is empty?"  the president asked irritably.

"Paul, what the hell is going on?"

"I'll tell you in a moment, Mr.  President," Hood said. He looked down
at the paper.

"From eleven a.m. this morning until four p.m."  Jack Fenwick was
scheduled to meet with representatives of the government of Iran at
their permanent mission in New York."

"Impossible," said the president.

"Sir, Mrs.  Leigh obtained this from the NSA office," Hood said.  He
handed the president the paper.

"It has their file number on top.  And according to intel we received,
Fenwick did spend a good part of the afternoon at the Iranian mission."
The president looked at the paper and was still for a long moment. Then
he shook his head slowly.

"Fenwick was supposed to be meeting with the Syrians, the Vietnamese, a
half-dozen others," he said.

"That's what he told me last night.  Hell, we aren't even close to
reaching an intelligence agreement with Iran."

"I know," Hood said.

"But Fenwick was there.  And except for this document, the file is
empty.  As far as the NSA is concerned, there is no such thing as the UN

"This has to be bullshit," the president said dismissively.

"More bullshit."  The president jabbed the intercom button on his phone.

"Mrs.  Leigh, get me Jack Fenwick--"

"Sir, I don't think you should talk to anyone at the NSA," Hood said.

"Excuse me?"

"Not yet, at least," Hood said.

"Hold on, Mrs.  Leigh," the president said.

"Paul, you just told me my national security adviser is way off the play
book  Now you're telling me not to bother finding out if that's true?"

"Before you do that, we need to talk," Hood said.

"About what?"

"I don't believe this situation with Fenwick is a miscommunication,"
Hood said.

"Neither do I," the president said.

"My conversations with him were very explicit.  That's why he and I need
to talk."

"But what if something is very wrong?"  Hood asked.


"What if this is a rogue operation of some kind?" Hood asked.

"You're out of your mind," the president said.  He appeared stunned.

"Christ, Paul, I've known most of these people for fifteen, twenty
years--they're good friends!" Hood understood.  And all he could think
to say was,"

"Et to.  Brute?"

"The president looked at him.

"Paul, what are you talking about?"

"When Julius Caesar was killed by republicans in the senate, it was his
closest and oldest friend who organized the assassination," Hood said.
The president looked at him.  A moment later, he told Mrs.  Leigh to
forget the call.  Then he shook his head slowly.

"I'm listening," the president said.

"But this better be good." Hood knew that.  What he didn't know was
where to begin.  There was a possible conspiracy and possible mental
illness.  Perhaps both.  He decided to start at the beginning and work
his way through.

"Mr.  President, why did Fenwick call you last night?" he asked.

"He had finished a day of meetings with ambassadors at the Hay-Adams,"
the president said.

"There was strong opposition to the intelligence initiative from several
key governments.  He was supposed to let me know if and when he finally
pulled it all together."

"Mr.  President," Hood said, "we don't believe that Jack Fenwick was at
the Hay-Adams Hotel last night. The call he made to you was apparently
routed to the hotel from somewhere else."

"From where?"  the president asked.

"I don't know," Hood admitted.

"Perhaps he was already in New York.  Was Fenwick also liaising with the

"No," the president said.

"Getting approvals from the Oversight Committee was the responsibility
of Fenwick's deputy, Don Roedner, and Red Gable on this end." Hood
didn't know Roedner any better than he knew Gable.  He didn't even know
Gable had a nickname.

"Sir," Hood continued, "last night, when you thanked Senator Fox for
budgeting Mr.  Fenwick's initiative, that was the first she'd heard
about it." President Lawrence froze, but only for a moment.  His
expression changed slowly.  He looked very strange for a moment, both
twenty years older and like a lost boy. He sat back.

"Gable wouldn't go behind my back on something," the president said

"He wouldn't.  And if he did, I'd read it in his face."

"When was the last time you saw him?"  Hood asked. The president

"Friday, at the cabinet meeting."

"There were a lot of people there, a lot of issues on the table," Hood

"You might have missed it.  Or maybe he was snookered by the NSA."

"I can't believe that, either," the president said.

"I see," Hood said.

"Well, if Fenwick and Gable aren't rogue, there's only one other option
I can think of."

"Which is?" Hood had to be careful how he said this.  He was no longer
floating ideas about the president's staff but about the president

"Maybe none of this happened," Hood said.

"The UN initiative, the meetings with foreign governments--none of it."

"You mean I imagined it all," the president said. Hood didn't answer.

"Do you believe that?"  the president asked.

"I do not," Hood replied truthfully.  If nothing else, there was the
rerouted phone call from the Hay-Adams, and the president didn't imagine

"But I won't lie to you, Mr.  President," Hood went on.

"You do seem tense, guarded, distracted.  Definitely not yourself." The
president took a long breath.  He started to say something and then

"All right, Paul.  You've got my attention.  What do we do next?"

"I suggest we proceed under the assumption that we've got a serious
problem," Hood said.

"I'll continue the investigation from our end.  We'll see what we can
find out about the Iranian connection.  Check on what else Fenwick has
been doing, who he's been talking to."

"Sounds good," Lawrence said.

"Fenwick is due back late tonight.  I won't say anything to him or to
Red until I hear from you.  Let me know as soon as you learn anything

"I will, sir."

"Will you also bring Senator Fox up to speed?" Hood said he would and
then stood.  So did the president. He seemed a little stronger now, more
in command. But the things Megan had told Hood still troubled him.

"Mr.  President," Hood said, "I do have one more question." The
president looked at Hood intently and nodded once.

"A few minutes ago, you said that this was'more bullshit,"
"Hood said.

"What did you mean?" The president continued to regard Hood.

"Before I answer that, let me ask you a question."

"All right."

"Don't you already know the answer to that?"  the president asked. Hood
said that he did not.

"You came to see me only because of what happened last night?"  the
president asked. Hood hesitated.  The president knew that he and the
First Lady were old friends.  It was not Hood's place to tell the
president that his wife was worried about him. But Hood also did not
want to be just one more person who was lying to the president.

"No," Hood answered truthfully.

"That is not the only reason." The president smiled faintly.

"Fair enough, Paul.  I won't press you."

"Thank you, sir."

"But I will tell you one thing about the bullshit," the president said.

"This is not the only mix-up we've had here over the past few weeks.
It's been frustrating."  The president extended his hand across his

"Thanks for coming, Paul.  And thanks for pushing me." Hood smiled and
shook the president's hand.  Then he turned and left the Oval Office.
There was a group of eager-looking Boy Scouts waiting outside with a
photographer.  The young men were award-winners of some kind, judging by
their sashes. Hood winked at them, taking a moment to savor their
openmouthed awe and innocence.  Then he thanked Mrs. Leigh as he passed
her desk.  She flashed a concerned look at Hood, and he indicated that
he would call her. She mouthed a thank-you and then showed the Boy
Scouts inside. Hood walked briskly to his car.  He started the engine,
then took out his cell phone and checked his messages. There was only
one.  It was from Bob Herbert.  As Hood headed toward Fifteenth Street,
he called Herbert back.

"Bob, it's Paul," said Hood.

"What's up?"

"Plenty," Herbert said.

"First of all.  Matt traced the call that came from the Hay-Adams."


"The call originated on Fenwick's cell phone."

"Bingo!"  Hood said.

"Maybe, maybe not," Herbert replied.

"Explain," Hood said.

"I got a call a few minutes ago, one I didn't expect to get," Herbert


"Penwick," Herbert replied.

"He was open and sounded surprised by what I had to say.  He told me he
didn't speak to the president last night.  He said his briefcase was
stolen, which is why he didn't get the calls I left on his cell phone.
He only got the one I left at his office."

"I'm not ready to buy that," Hood replied.

"The president did receive a call, and it was routed through the hotel."
True," Herbert said.

"But do you remember Marta Streeb?"

"The woman who had the affair with Senator Lancaster?" Hood asked.


"What about her?"

"Her calls were run through a phone bank at Union Station so they
couldn't be traced," Herbert said.

"I remember," Hood said.

"But the president isn't having an affair."

"Are you sure?"  Herbert asked.

"His wife said he was acting strange.  That could be guilt--"

"It could be, but let's rule out the national security issues first,"
Hood snapped.

"Sure," Herbert replied. Hood took a moment to calm down.  His anger
surprised him.  Hood had never had an affair, but for some reason,
Herbert's comment made him feel guilty about Sharon.

"What else did Fenwick have to say?"  Hood asked.

"That he doesn't know a damn thing about any UN initiative," Herbert

"He didn't get any calls about it and didn't read about it in the paper.
He told me he was sent to New York to help the Iranians with the
situation involving the Harpooner and possible Azerbaijani terrorists in
the Caspian.  And there could be some truth to that," Herbert pointed

"If the CIA was compromised over there, the Iranians might need to turn
to someone else for help.  Someone that could get them signal
intelligence capacity ASAP."

"Were the Iranians working with the CIA on this?"

"I'm trying to find that out," Herbert said.

"You know those Company guys.  They don't like to share.  But think
about it.  Op-Center's worked with other governments, some of them
hostile.  We'd get in bed with Teheran if all we were going to do was
snuggle a little." That was true.  Hood had to admit.

"And Fenwick was at the mission," Herbert continued.

"That much is pretty clear."

"It's about the only thing that is," Hood replied.

"Bob, you said that Fenwick was sent to New York.  Did he say who sent

"Yes," Herbert replied, "and I don't think you're going to like this.
Fenwick says the president was the one who sent him."

"Triple-0?"  Hood asked.  Triple-0 was oral orders only.  They were
given when an official didn't want to leave a paper trail to or from a
potentially explosive situation.

"Triple-0," Herbert told him.

"Jesus," Hood said.

"Look--someone else would have to have been in this Iranian loop."

"Sure," Herbert agreed.

"The veep, probably.  The chief of staff--"

"Call Vice President Cotten's office," Hood said.

"Find out what he has to say.  I'll be there as soon as possible."

"I'll call out for pizza," Herbert told him. Hood hung up and
concentrated on getting himself through the maddening rush-hour traffic.
At the moment, it was a welcome diversion.

Gobustan, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 1:22 a.m.

The other men had gone to sleep on threadbare bedrolls they
had bought secondhand in Baku.  But Maurice Charles was still awake,
still sitting at the wooden table in the shepherd's shack.  Though he
never had trouble sleeping before a mission, he did have trouble waiting
for other people to do things. Things on which the mission depended.
Until then, he would not--could not--rest. When the phone finally
beeped, he felt a nearly electric shock.  This was it.  The last
unfinished business before H-hour. Charles went to the equipment table.
Beside the Stellar Photo Judge 7 was a Zed-4 unit, which had been
developed by the KGB in 1992.  The secure phone system was the size and
general shape of an ordinary hardcover book.  The small, flat receiver
fit neatly into the side.  It was a remarkable improvement over the
point to-point radios Charles had used when he was first starting out.
Those had a range of two and one-half miles. The Zed-4 utilized a series
of satellite links to pick up cellular transmissions from around the
world.  A series of internal audio enhancers and boosters virtually
eliminated breakup and lost signals. The Zed-4 was also quite secure.
Most secure-phone calls, including the United States Tac-Sat units, were
encrypted with a 155-digit number.  In order to crack the code,
eavesdroppers had to factor that into its two component prime numbers.
Even using sophisticated computers like the Cray 916, that could take
weeks.  The CIA had managed to cut that time into days by stealing
computer time from personal computers.  In 1997, the agency began using
Internet servers to piggyback the numbers into home computer systems.
Small amounts of memory were appropriated to work on the problem without
the user being aware of it.  Networked throughout a system of millions
of PCS, the CIA was able to add gigabytes of computation power to the
problem.  It also created a problem for counter programmers since it was
not possible to shut down the Cia's so-called Stealth Field System.
Thus, the Zed-4 was created using a complex encryption code of 309
digits.  Even the SFS lacked sufficient power to break that code in a
timely fashion. Charles answered on the third ring.

"B-sharp," he said.  That was the receiver code name.

"C-natural," said the caller.

"Go ahead," said Charles.

"I'm across the street from the target," said the caller.

"They're bringing him out the side door."

"No ambulance?"

"No," said the caller.

"Who's with him?"  Charles asked.

"Two men," said the caller.

"Neither of them in uniform." Charles smiled.  Americans were so
predictable.  If there were more than one operative, they invariably
went to the user's manual.

"How to Be a Soldier or Spy," Rule Fifty-three: Put the man above the
mission.  That thinking went at least as far back as the United States
cavalry out West.  Whenever the more aggressive Native American tribes
like the Apaches were being pursued, they would stop to attack
homesteaders.  The warriors would always rape one of the women, leaving
her where the cavalry was certain to find her.  Invariably, the soldiers
would send the woman back to the fort with an escort.  That would not
only delay the pursuing column but leave them depleted.

"Is backup in place?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then take them," Charles said.

"It's done," the caller said confidently.

"Out." The phone went dead.  Charles hung up. That was it.  The last
piece.  He'd allowed the one agent to live to draw the others out.  An
injection in the neck, a fast-acting bacterial pneumonia, and the entire
local cast was out of commission.  Now there would be no one to put
pieces together, to stop him from completing the mission. Charles had
one more call to place before he went to bed.  It was to a secure line
in Washington, to one of the few men who knew of Charles's involvement
in this operation. To a man who didn't follow the rule book. To a man
who helped devise one of the most audacious schemes of modern times.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 1:35 a.m.

The ride to the V.I.P Hospital took
just under ten minutes.  The V.I.P was the only hospital the American
embassy deemed to be up to the standards of western health care.  They
had an arrangement with Dr. Kanibov, one of the city's few
English-speaking physicians.  The fifty-seven-year-old Kanibov was paid
off the books to be available for around-the-clock emergencies and to
recommend qualified specialists when necessary. Tom Moore didn't know if
a specialist was going to be necessary.  All he knew was that Pat Thomas
had woken him twenty minutes earlier. Thomas had heard David Battat
moaning on his cot.  When Thomas went over to check on Battat, he found
him soaked with perspiration and trembling. The embassy nurse had a look
at him and took Battat's temperature.  He had a fever of 105.  The nurse
suggested that Battat may have hit his head or suffered capillary damage
when he was attacked. Rather than wait for an ambulance, Thomas and
Moore loaded Battat into one of the embassy staff cars in the gated
parking lot and brought him to the hospital themselves. The medic called
ahead to let Dr.  Kanibov know that they had a possible case of
neurogenic shock. This is all we need, to be down a man, Thomas thought
as he drove through the dark, deserted streets of the embassy and
business district. It was bad enough to have too few people to deal with
normal intelligence work.  But to find the Harpooner, one of the world's
most elusive terrorists, was going to take more.  Thomas only hoped that
his call to Washington would get them timely cooperation on a Saint
Petersburg connection. Dr. Kanibov lived just a block from the hospital.
The tall, elderly, white-goa teed physician was waiting when they
arrived.  Battat's teeth were chattering, and he was coughing.  By the
time a pair of orderlies put him on a gurney just inside the door, the
American's lips and fingernail beds were rich blue.

"Very restricted blood flow," said Kanibov to one of the orderlies.

"Oxygen."  He looked in Battat's mouth.

"Traces of mucus.  Suction, then give me an oral temperature."

"What do you think is wrong?"  Thomas asked.

"I don't know yet," Kanibov said.

"The nurse at the embassy said it could be neurogenic shock," Thomas
said to the doctor.

"If it were, his face would be pale, not flushed," the doctor said with
annoyance.  He looked at Thomas and Moore.

"You gentlemen can wait here or you can go back and wait--"

"We'll stay here," Thomas informed him.

"At least until you know what's wrong."

"Very well," the doctor said as they wheeled Battat into the ward. It
seemed strangely quiet for an emergency room, Thomas thought. Whenever
his three boys hurt them selves back in Washington or in Moscow, the ERS
were like the West Wing of the White House: loud, purposeful chaos.  He
imagined that the clinics in the poorer sections of Baku must be more
like that.  Still, the silence was unnerving, deathlike. Thomas looked
at Moore.

"There's no sense for both of us to be here," Thomas said.

"One of us should get a little sleep."

"I wasn't sleeping," Moore said.

"I was making those contacts we discussed and reviewing files."

"Did you find anything?"  Thomas asked.

"Nothing," Moore said.

"All the more reason for you to go back to the embassy," Thomas said.

"David is my responsibility.  I'll wait here." Moore considered that.

"All right," he said.

"You'll call as soon as you know something?"

"Of course," Thomas said. Moore gave him a reassuring pat on the
shoulder, then walked back through the lobby.  He pushed the door open
and walked around the front of the car to the driver's side.

A moment later, Tom Moore's head jerked to the right and he dropped to
the asphalt. Washington, D.C. Monday, 6:46 p.m. Paul Hood arrived at
Op-Center, where he was to meet with Bob Herbert and Mike Rodgers.  He
also telephoned Liz Gordon.  He asked her to wait around so he could
talk to her later. He wanted to get her input on what, if anything,
might be happening with the president from a clinical standpoint. Hood
bumped into Ann Farris on the way to his office. She walked with him
through the tight, winding maze of cubicles to the executive wing.  As
Herbert had joked when he first went to work at Op-Center, that was
where the cubicles had ceilings.

"Anything interesting going on?"  Ann asked.

"The usual confusion," Hood said.

"Only this time, it's happening in Washington, not overseas."

"Is it something really bad?"

"I don't know yet," Hood said.

"There seems to be a loose cannon somewhere in the NSA."  Hood didn't
want to say anything about the president possibly having mental lapses
of some kind.  It wasn't that he.  didn't trust Ann, but Megan Lawrence
had told him something in confidence.  For now, he wanted to keep the
number of people with whom he shared that as small as possible.

"What's going on in your department?"

"The usual efficiency and expert coordination," she said with a
disarming smile.

"You mean nothing's going on."

"Exactly," Ann said.  She waited a moment, then asked, "Do you expect to
be here long?"

"A couple of hours," he said.

"There's no reason to go back to the hotel.  I'd just sit there and
watch some bad sitcom."

"Can I interest you in dinner?"  she asked.

"It may be a long night," Hood said.

"I don't have any plans, either," she said.

"My son is staying with his dad this week.  There's nothing for me to go
home to but a spoiled cat and those same sitcoms." Hood's heart began
thumping a little faster than usual. He very much wanted to say yes to
Ann.  But he was still a married man, and going out with a divorced
female coworker could cause trouble, legally as well as ethically.  And
Op-Center did not need this distraction. The intelligence team was
brilliant at uncovering information. Hood having dinner with Farris
would be common knowledge by morning. Besides, if dinner with Ann was in
the back of his mind, he would not be focusing on a crisis in the
executive branch.

"Ann, I wish I could," he said sincerely.

"But I don't know when I'll be finished here.  Some other time?"

"Sure," she said with a small, sad smile.  She touched the back of his

"Have a good meeting."

"Thanks," Hood said. Ann left, and Hood continued on his way. Hood felt
terrible now.  He had not done what he really wanted to do, which was
have dinner with Ann.  And he had hurt her feelings. He stopped.  He
wanted to go after her and tell her he would have the dinner.  But once
he started down that road, there was no turning back. Hood continued
toward his office. Hood buzzed Rodgers and Herbert when he arrived.
Rodgers said he would be right over.  Herbert was on the computer and
said he would be with them in a few minutes. Rodgers was alert and
professional when he arrived. The general had always wanted to run
Op-Center.  If he harbored any resentment about having it handed to him
and then abruptly pulled away, it did not show.  Above all, Rodgers was
a good man and a team player. General Rodgers had spent most of the day
overseeing the activities of Op-Center while Paul Hood was involved with
the president and the UN initiative.  As Hood briefed his deputy
director about Herbert's talk with Fenwick, Herbert wheeled in.  The
intelligence chief was flushed and perspiring slightly.  He had hurried
to get here.

"How's your relationship with Sergei Orlov at the Russian Op-Center?"
Herbert asked breathlessly. The question surprised Hood.

"I haven't spoken to him in about six months.  Why?"

"I just received a message that was forwarded from the U.S. embassy in
Baku," Herbert said.

"One of the Cia's people over there, Tom Moore, is now convinced that
Baku has had a visit from the Harpooner.  Moore doesn't know why the
bastard's there--"

"It could have something to do with what you were just telling me
about," Rodgers said to Hood.

"Bob's conversation with Fenwick--"

"About Iran fearing terrorist attacks from Azerbaijan," Hood said.
Rodgers nodded.

"I agree that that's a possibility," Herbert said.

"Paul, if it is the Harpooner, Moore wants to catch him going into or
keep him from getting out of the former USSR. He's hoping that the
Russian Op-Center can help."

"How?"  Hood asked.

"Orlov and I shared our files years ago.  There was nothing on the

"Orlov's facility was new then," Herbert said.

"He or his people may have found something in the old KGB files since
then.  Something they might not have told us about."

"It's possible," Hood agreed.  Op-Center was understaffed, and the
situation at their Russian counterpart was even worse.  Keeping up a
regular flow of information was difficult.

"In addition to intel on the Harpooner," Herbert said, "Moore was hoping
that Orlov's people might be able to watch the northern and northwestern
sections of Russia. He was thinking that the Harpooner might try to
leave the region through Scandinavia." Hood looked at his watch.

"It's about three in the morning over there," he said.

"Can you reach him at home?"  Herbert asked.

"This is important.  You know it is." Herbert was right.  Regardless of
the intelligence chief's desire to see the terrorist captured, tried,
and executed, the Harpooner was a man who deserved to be out of

"I'll call," Hood said.

"Before you do, what about President Lawrence?" Rodgers asked.

"How did things go over there?"

"I'll fill you in after I talk to Orlov," Hood said as he accessed his
secure phone list on the computer.  He found Orlov's number.

"But from the look of it, we're facing a lose-lose situation.  Either
the president is suffering from some kind of mental fatigue, or we've
got a group of top officials running a black ops action of some kind--"

"Or both," Herbert said.

"Or both," Hood agreed.

"I've got Liz Gordon coming in later to talk about what the president
might be experiencing." Before punching in Orlov's home telephone
number, Hood called Op-Center's linguistics office.  He got Orly Turner
on the line.  Orly was one of Op-Center's four staff translators.  Her
area of expertise was Eastern Europe and Russia.  Hood conferenced her
in to the call. Though Orlov spoke English well enough.  Hood wanted to
make sure there were no misunderstandings, no delays if technical terms
or acronyms had to be explained.

"You want to know what my gut tells me?"  Herbert said.

"What?"  Hood asked as he punched in Orlov's number.

"That all of this is related," Herbert said.

"The president being out of the loop, Fenwick dealing secretly with
Iran, the Harpooner showing up in Baku.  It's all part of a big picture
that we haven't figured out yet." Herbert left the office.  Hood didn't
disagree with him. In fact, his own gut was willing to go one step
further. That the big picture was bigger than what they imagined.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 3:58 a.m.

When Tom Moore went down.  Pat Thomas ran toward the hospital door.  He
was halfway out when he saw blood pulsing from the side of Moore's head.
Thomas stopped and jumped back just as a shot blew out the glass in the
door.  The bullet punched into his left thigh and knocked him down.  He
landed in a sitting position and continued to scuttle back. A second
bullet chewed up the green tile inches in front of his foot. Thomas
hurried backward along the floor, propelled by his palms and right heel.
The wound burned viciously, and each move was agony.  He left a long
smear of blood behind him. It was a few moments before the hospital
staff realized what had happened.  One of the nurses, a young woman, ran
forward and helped pull Thomas back. Several orderlies followed.  They
dragged him behind the admissions desk.  Another nurse called the

A bald-headed doctor knelt beside Thomas.  He was wearing off-white
surgical gloves and shouted instructions in Azerbaijani to other
hospital workers who were in front of the counter.  As he did, he took a
pocket knife from his white coat and carefully cut away the fabric
around the wound. Thomas winced as the khaki fabric came away.  He
watched as the doctor exposed the wound.

"Will I live?"  Thomas asked. The doctor didn't answer.  Suddenly, the
bald man started to rise.  But instead of getting up, he straddled the
American's legs.  He sat on the wound, sending fire up through his
patient's waist.  Thomas wanted to scream, but he could not.  A moment
later, the doctor slipped a hand behind the America's head, holding it
in place, and pushed the knife blade through his throat.  The metal
entered the skin just behind Thomas's chin and pinned his mouth shut.
The blade continued upward until Thomas could feel the point of the
blade under his tongue. Thomas choked as he coughed blood into his
closed mouth.  He raised his hands and tried to push the bald man back.
But he was too weak. Calmly and quickly, the bald man angled the knife
back.  Then he drew the knife down until it reached Thomas's larynx.  He
cut swiftly to the left and right, following the line of the jaw all the
way to the ears. Then he removed the blade, rose, and allowed Thomas to
flop to the floor.  The doctor pocketed the knife and walked away
without a glance back. The American lay there, his arms weak and his
fingers moving aimlessly. He could feel the warm blood flowing from both
sides of his throat as the flesh around it grew cold.  He tried to call
out, but his voice was a burbling whisper.  Then he realized that his
chest was moving but no air was going to it.  There was blood in his
throat. Thomas's thoughts were confused.  His vision swirled black.  He
thought about flying up to Baku, about meeting with Moore.  He wondered
how Moore was.  And then he thought about his children.  For a moment,
he was back playing ball with them on the front lawn. Then they were

Saint Petersburg, Russia Tuesday, 4:01 a.m.

General Sergei Orlov was standing in the snow in the small town of
Nar'yan Mar on the Arctic Ocean when a peeping bird caused him to start.
He turned to look for it and found himself staring at his alarm clock.
He was back in his one-bedroom apartment in Saint Petersburg.

"Damn you," Orlov said as the phone rang again.  The former cosmonaut
did not often dream of the town where he grew up.  He hated being taken
away from it and from his loving parents.

"Sergei?"  his wife Masha said groggily beside him.

"I have it," Orlov told her.  He picked up the receiver of the cordless
phone.  He held it to his chest to stifle the ringing.

"Go back to sleep."

"All right," she said. Orlov listened enviously to the cozy rustle of
the sheets as his wife curled up on her side.  He got out of bed, pulled
a bathrobe from the edge of the door, and pulled it on as he stepped
into the living roomEven if this were a wrong number, Orlov would have
trouble getting back to sleep. He finally answered the telephone.

"Hello," Orlov said with a trace of annoyance.

"General Orlov?"  said the voice on the other end.  It was a man.

"Yes?"  Orlov said as he nib bed his eyes vigorously with his free hand.

"Who is this?"

"General, it's Paul Hood," said the caller. Orlov was suddenly very much

"Paul!"  he practically shouted.

"Paul Hood, my friend.  How are you?  I heard that you resigned.  And I
heard about what happened in New York.  Are you all right?" Orlov walked
over to an armchair while the woman translated.  The general had a
decent command of English, the result of the years he spent as a
goodwill ambassador for the Russian space program after his flying days
were finished.  But he let the woman translate to be sure he didn't miss
anything. Orlov sat down.  Standing just under five-foot-seven, he had
the narrow shoulders and compact build that had made him an ideal
cosmonaut.  Yet he had presence.  His striking brown eyes, high
cheekbones, and dark complexion were, like his adventurous spirit, a
part of his Manchu heritage.  He walked with a significant limp due to a
left leg and hip badly broken when his parachute failed to deploy in
what turned out to be his last space mission.

"I'm fine," Hood said in reply.

"I withdrew my resignation." While Turner translated, Orlov turned on
the lamp beside the chair and sat down.  He picked up a pen and pad he
kept on the small end table.

"Good, good!"  Orlov said.

"Listen, General," Hood went on, "I'm very sorry to be calling you so
early and at home."

"It's no bother, Paul," Orlov replied.

"What can I do for you?"

"The terrorist who calls himself the Harpooner," Hood said.

"You and I once spoke about him."

"I remember," said Orlov.

"We've been looking for him in connection with the terror bombings in
Moscow several years ago."

"General, we believe he is in Azerbaijan." Orlov's full lips tightened.

"That would not surprise me," he said.

"We thought we had him located in Moscow two days ago.  A guard near
Lenin's Tomb was very confident in his identification.  He summoned
police assistance, but by the time it had arrived, the suspect had

"Do you mean the police lost him, or the suspect knew he was being
watched and managed to get away?" Hood asked.

"The police are generally good at surveillance," Orlov replied.

"The subject went around a corner and was gone.  He could have changed
clothes somehow--I don't know.  The Kievskaya metro stop is near where
he was last seen.  It is possible he went down there."

"It's more than possible," Hood said.

"That was where one of our embassy people spotted him."

"Explain, please," Orlov said.

"We had heard that he was in Moscow," Hood said.

"The embassy person followed the man he thought was the Harpooner onto
the metro.  They went to a transfer station, and the Harpooner got off.
He boarded another train, left it at the Paveletskaya stop, then he
literally vanished." Orlov was now very interested.

"You're sure it was Paveletskaya?"  he asked.

"Yes," Hood asked.

"Is that significant?"

"Perhaps," Orlov said.

"General Orlov," Hood said, "however the Harpooner left Moscow, it's
possible that he may be headed back there or toward Saint Petersburg. Do
you think you could help us try and find him?"

"I would love to capture that monster," Orlov replied.

"I will contact Moscow and see what they have.  In the meantime, please
send whatever information you have to my office.  I will be there within
the hour."

"Thank you.  General," Hood said.

"And again, I'm sorry to have wakened you.  I didn't want to lose any

"You did the right thing," Orlov assured him.

"It was good speaking with you.  I will talk to you later in the day."
Orlov rose and went back to the bedroom.  He hung up the phone, kissed
his precious, sleeping Masha on the forehead, then quietly went to the
closet and removed his uniform.  He carried it into the living room.
Then he went back for the rest of his clothes.  He dressed quickly and
quietly, then left his wife a note.  After nearly thirty years, Masha
was not unaccustomed to his comings and goings in the middle of the
night.  When he had been a fighter pilot, Orlov was often called for
missions at odd hours.  During his spacefaring years, it was common for
him to suit up while it was still dark.  Before his first orbital flight
he had left her a note that read, "My dearest--I am leaving the earth
for several days.  Can you pick me up at the spaceport on Sunday
morning?  Your loving husband, Sergei.  PS: I will try to catch you a
shooting star." Of course, Masha was there. Orlov left the apartment and
took the stairs to the basement garage. The government had finally given
him a car after three years, since the buses were unreliable. And with
everything that was going on in and around Russia, from restless
republics to rampant gangsterism in major cities, it was often
imperative for Orlov to be able to get to his Op-Center's headquarters.
And it was imperative now.  The Harpooner was back in Russia.

Washington, D.C. Monday, 7:51 p.m.

Liz Gordon came to Hood's office after his conversation with Orlov.  A
husky woman with sparkling eyes and short, curly brown hair, Gordon was
chewing nicotine gum and carrying her ever-present cup of coffee. Mike
Rodgers remained for the talk. Hood told Gordon how the president had
seemed during their meeting. Hood also gave the woman a brief overview
of the possible covert activities that might explain what appeared to be
the president's delusions. When Hood was finished, Gordon refilled her
coffee cup from a pot in the corner of the office.  Though Hood had been
dubious of psychiatry when he had first come to Op-Center, Gordon's
profiling work had impressed him.  He had also been won over by her
thoroughness. She brought a mathematician's prooflike manner to the
process.  That, coupled with her compassion, had made her an
increasingly valuable and respected member of the team.  Hood did not
have any trouble entrusting his daughter to her.

"The president's behavior does not seem extreme," Gordon said, "so we
can eliminate some very serious dementias, which would indicate a
complete or near complete loss of intellectual capacity.  That leaves us
with dangerous but more elusive delusions, of which there are basically
six kinds.  First there's organic, which is brought on by illness such
as epilepsy or brain lesions. Second is substance-induced, meaning
drugs.  Third is somatic, which involves a kind of hyper awareness of
the body--anorexia nervosa or hypochondria, for example. What you've
described doesn't sound like any of those. Besides, they certainly would
have been caught by the president's physician during one of his regular
checkups. We can also rule out delusions of grandeur--megalomania--since
that would show up in public.  We haven't seen any of that.

"The only two possibilities are delusions of reference and delusions of
persecution," she went on.

"Delusions of reference is actually a mild form of delusions of
persecution, in which innocent remarks are deemed to be critical.  That
doesn't seem to apply here.  But I can't be as quick to rule out
persecution delusions."

"Why not?"  Hood asked.

"Because the sufferer will go to great pains to conceal them," she said.

"He or she believes that others are trying to stop them or hurt them in
some way.  They often imagine a conspiracy of some kind.  If the
president fears that people are out to get him, he won't want to confide
in anyone."

"But the stress might come out in little bursts," Rodgers said.

"Exactly," Gordon told him.

"Crying, withdrawal, distraction, temper--all of the things Paul

"He seemed to want to trust me," Hood said.

"That's true and also characteristic of the illness," Gordon said.

"Delusions of persecution is a form of para noia.  But as a sage once
said, "Sometimes even paranoids have enemies."

"Is there something we should do?"  Hood asked.

"The First Lady's feelings notwithstanding, we have to do something if
the president can't continue to function under these circumstances."

"Whatever is going on sounds like it's in an advanced-early stage,"
Gordon said.

"The effects are unlikely to be permanent." Hood's phone beeped.

"If there is a conspiracy, and you can expose it quickly," Gordon went
on, "there is every reason to believe the president can stay on the job
after a short rest. Whatever has happened probably wouldn't have any
effects, long-term or short." Hood nodded as he answered the phone.


"Paul, it's Bob," said Herbert.

"What's up?"

"A major situation," he said.

"I just got a call from the CIA suit who relayed Tom Moore's request to
me from Baku.  Moore and the CIA guy from Moscow, Pat Thomas, were just
wasted.  They were taking David Battat to the hospital--the guy the
Harpooner attacked during the stakeout.  Moore was tagged by a sniper
outside the hospital, and Thomas had his throat cut in the lobby."

"By who?"  Hood asked.

"We don't know."

"No one saw him?"  Hood asked.

"Apparently not," Herbert replied.

"Or if they did, they didn't see him again."

"Where is Battat?"

"He's still at the hospital, which is why the suit called me," Herbert

"The embassy called for police protection, but we don't know whether
they've been compromised or not.  The CIA is out of people, and they're
afraid Battat will be next, and soon.  We don't have anyone in Baku, but
I thought--"

"Orlov," Hood said urgently.

"I'll call him now."

Khachmas, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 4:44 a.m.

Maurice Charles did not like to repeat himself. If he arrived someplace
by car, he liked to leave by bus or rail.  If he went west by air, he
liked to go east by car or bus.  If he wore a hat in the morning, he
took it off in the afternoon.  Or else he wore a different one or dyed
his hair.  If he destroyed a car with a pipe bomb, he attacked the next
target with C-4.  If he had done surveillance along a coastline, he
retreated inland for a short time. Repetition was the means by which
entrepreneurs in any field were undone.  Patterns enabled lesser
thinkers to anticipate you. The only exceptions were densely populated
cities where he might be seen. If he found a relatively obscure route
through a place like that, he would use it more than once.  The risk of
being spotted and identified was greater than the risk of refusing an
out-of-the-way road or tunnel. Because Charles had surveyed the Caspian
oil drilling site by plane, he decided to return to it by boat.  The
American and possibly Russian satellites would be looking for an
aircraft by now.  He and his team would take the motor yacht, which
would have a different name on its side than it had the day before.  One
of the team members had made those arrangements in Baku.  It would be
waiting for them in Khachmas, a coastal town some fifty miles north of
Baku.  A freelance crew had been hired in Baku and sailed up with one of
Charles's Iranian sailors. Not only was Khachmas closer to their target,
it was unlikely that anyone would recognize them or the vessel. After a
short sleep, which was all he needed, Charles and his comrades had
climbed into a van that was parked behind the shack.  Their gear was
already on board, and they drove from Gobustan back toward Baku. They
traveled along roads that were utterly deserted at this time of night.
Though Charles did not drive, he did not sleep. He sat in the backseat
with a.45 in his lap. If anyone approached the van for any reason, he
wanted to be awake. The van arrived in sleepy Khachmas shortly before
4:30.  They had driven the seventy miles nonstop.  No one had approached
them. The Rachel--now the Saint Elmo--was waiting in a slip at a
ramshackle marina.  The berth was close to shore.  The hired crew had
been dismissed.  They had departed in their own boat, a fishing vessel,
which had accompanied the motor yacht north. Wearing night-vision
goggles, Charles stood watch while the equipment was transferred from
the van to the Saint Elmo.  When all the gear was on board, one of the
team members drove off in the van.  The vehicle would be painted locally
and driven to another city.  Finally, the motor yacht set off. The trip
to the target would take fifty minutes.  The sun would just be coming up
when they arrived.  That was important.  Working at sea, Charles did not
like to use artificial lights.  They were too easy to spot in the dark
and reflected on the water.  He also didn't like to work during bright
daylight when the wet suits glistened. Early dawn was best.  There would
be just enough time to get the job done and depart without being seen.
Then he would leave Azerbaijan and do nothing but enjoy life for a month
or two.  Savor the international ramifications of what he had
accomplished.  Cherish the fact, as he always did, that no world leader,
no army, no business, had a greater impact on international events than
he did.

Saint Petersburg, Russia Tuesday, 4:47 a.m.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, many officials in Moscow were afraid
of the Ministerstvo Bezopasnosti Ruskii, or MBR, the Security Ministry
of Russia.  They were even more afraid than when the intelligence agency
had been known as the KGB and was routinely tapping their phone lines
and opening their mail. The officials feared that leaders of the former
Soviet intelligence group would either support ousted Communists in an
effort to recapture power or attempt to seize power themselves. Because
of this, the Kremlin's new regime had created an autonomous intelligence
agency outside of Moscow, away from the immediate reach of the MBR. They
based it in Saint Petersburg.  And, following the adage of hiding in
plain sight, they located the Op Center in one of the most visited
places in Russia: the Hermitage. The Hermitage was built by Catherine
the Great as a retreat. The towering, white, neoclassical building was
formally known as the Winter Palace.  It was a place where Catherine
could enjoy the gems and great old masters paintings, drawings, and
sculptures she had collected. She literally acquired them at a rate of
one every other day from 1762 to 1772.  When Catherine first opened her
home to the patrician public, her only comments were that visitors
should be joyful. However, she added, they "shall not try to damage,
break, or gnaw at anything."

The Hermitage remained a repository of the imperial collection until
1917.  After the Russian Revolution, the Hermitage was opened to all the
people.  Its collection was expanded to include an from other schools as
well as modern art.  It currently houses over 8,000 paintings, 40,000
etchings, and 500,000 illustrations. Today, it is second only to the
Louvre in Paris in terms of the size of its collection. The Russian
Op-Center was constructed underneath a fully operational television
studio.  Though the broadcast facility had been built as a cover for the
construction of the intelligence center, satellite dishes beamed famed
Hermitage programs around the world.  Most of the time, however, the
highly advanced uplinks allowed the Op Center to interface with
satellites for both domestic and international electronic
communications.  The comings and goings of museum staff and tourists
helped to disguise the presence of Op-Center personnel.  Also, the
Kremlin had decided that in the event of war or revolution, no one would
bomb the Hermitage.  Even if an enemy had no use for art as an aesthetic
possession, paintings and sculptures were always as negotiable as
currency. It was still dark when the fifty-three-year-old Orlov arrived
at the museum.  Because the Hermitage was still closed, he entered
through an inconspicuous studio door on the northeastern side of the
museum.  As he did, he gazed north across the dark Neva River.  Directly
across the water were the stately Academy of Sciences and Museum of
Anthropology. Nearby was the Frunze Naval College.  In addition to
training cadets, the college housed the dozen soldiers of the center's
special operations force, Molot, which meant Hammer. There was a guard
seated behind a desk inside the TV studio.  Orlov acknowledged him as he
passed.  The elderly guard stood and saluted. The general reached a door
and used the keypad to enter.  Once inside, he made his way through the
dark reception area and down a short flight of stairs.  At the far end,
he punched the new day's four-digit code on a keypad, and the door
popped open.  The next day's number was always given to Orlov by the
center's security chief at the end of each workday. When Orlov shut the
door behind him, the overhead lighting snapped on automatically.  There
was another, longer set of stairs.  He walked down where a second keypad
gained him access to the Op-Center. The facility consisted of a very
long corridor with offices to the left and right.  Orlov's office was at
the end, literally at the shores of the Neva.  There were times when he
could hear barges passing overhead. Ordinarily, Orlov did not arrive
until nine o'clock. There was a skeletal night staff, and they were
surprised to see the general.  He greeted them without stopping. When he
entered his small, wood-paneled office, he shut the door and walked over
to his desk.  The desk faced the door.  On the walls were framed
photographs Orlov had taken from space.  There were no photographs of
the general himself.  Though he was proud of his accomplishments, he
didn't enjoy looking at the past.  All he saw was how short he fell of
his goals.  How he had hoped to walk on the moon and command a manned
mission to Mars.  How he had dreamed of seeing the cosmonaut corps grow
and prosper.  Perhaps if he had used his celebrity more constructively,
more aggressively, he could have helped make that happen.  Perhaps if he
had spoken out against the war in Afghanistan. That struggle drained the
nation's resources and pride and hastened the union's downfall. There
were no photographs of himself because General Orlov preferred to look
ahead.  The future held no regrets, only promise. There was a voice mail
from Paul Hood.  The message did not say very much.  Only that the
matter was urgent. Orlov sat down and booted his computer.  As he opened
his secure phone list and auto-dialed Hood, he thought back to how the
American Op-Center had helped him prevent a cabal of right-wing Russian
officials from overthrowing the government.  The counterattack had cost
Hood one of his top field operatives.  Lieutenant Colonel Charles
Squires.  Since then, the two Op-Centers had occasionally exchanged
information.  But they had never become fully integrated partners, which
was something both Hood and Orlov had wanted.  Unfortunately, like many
of the progressive dreams Orlov had, the bureaucrats had not been ready
for this.  Distrust between the nations was still too deep. The phone
beeped once.  Hood answered.

"Hello?"  Hood said.

"Paul, it's Sergei," Orlov said. Op-Center's translator was on standby.
It only took her a moment to get on the line.

"General, I need your trust, and I need it fast," Hood said.  His urgent
tone left no room for discussion.

"Of course," Orlov said.

"Our team searching for the Harpooner suffered a catastrophic hit at a
hospital in Baku," Hood informed him.

"It happened a little over an hour ago.  Two of our men were killed. The
first was taken down by a sniper outside the hospital.  The second had
his throat cut inside the lobby.  The last man is a patient.  His name
is David Battat, and he is ill with a fever of some kind." Orlov took a
moment to write the name down.

"The police are at the hospital, but we don't know who the killer is,"
Hood said.

"He or she may still be in the hospital."

"The killer could be a police officer," Orlov pointed out.

"Exactly," Hood said.

"General, do you have anyone in Baku?"

"Yes, we do," Orlov said without hesitation.

"In what room is Mr.  Battat located?"

"He's in one fifty-seven," Hood said.

"I will send someone at once," Orlov said.

"Tell no one." Hood gave him his word. Orlov hung up. The three most
powerful Russian intelligence groups had their own personnel.  These
groups were the MBR;
the military's Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie, or GRU, the Main
Intelligence Directorate; and the Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del, or MVD,
the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  The Russian Op-Center did not have
the financial resources to maintain its own network of intelligence and
counterintelligence personnel, so it was necessary to share people with
other relatively small Russian agencies.  These were administered by the
Sisteme Objedinennovo Utschotya Dannych o Protivniki, or SOUD, the
Interlinked System for Recognizing Enemies.

SOUD also provided personnel for the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, or SVR,
the Foreign Intelligence Service; the Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti,
or FSB, the Federal Security Service; the Federal'naya Sluzhba
Kontr-razvedky, or FSK, the Federal Counterintelligence Service; and the
Federal'naya Sluzhba Okhrani, or FSO, the Federal Protective Service.
Orlov quickly accessed the SOUD files.  He input the highest-priority
code.  Red Thirteen.  This meant that the request was not only coming
from a senior official-level thirteen--but involved a case of immediate
national emergency: the apprehension of the Harpooner. The Red Thirteen
code gave Orlov the names, locations, and telephone numbers of field
personnel around the world.  Even if the operatives were involved in
other situations, he would be authorized to commandeer them. Orlov went
to the file for Baku, Azerbaijan. He found what he was looking for. He
hesitated. General Orlov was about to ask a deep-cover operative to try
to help an American spy.  If the Americans were planning an operation in
Baku, this would be the quickest way to expose and neutralize Russian
intelligence resources.  But to believe that, Orlov would have to
believe that Paul Hood would betray him. Orlov made the call.

Washington, D.C. Monday, 9:00 p.m.

Paul Hood was angry when he hung up with Orlov. Hood was angry at the
system, at the intelligence community, and at himself.  The dead men
were not his people.  The man at risk was not his operative.  But they
had failed, and the Harpooner had succeeded, partly because of the way
spies did business.  The Harpooner commanded a team. Most American
agents worked as part of a team. Theoretically, that should give the
operatives a support system.  In practice, it forced them to operate
within a bureaucracy.  A bureaucracy with rules of conduct and
accountability to directors who were nowhere near the battlegrounds.  No
one could fight a man like the Harpooner with baggage like that.  And
Hood was guilty of supporting that system. He was as guilty as his
counterparts at CIA, NSA, or anywhere else. The irony was that Jack
Fenwick had apparently done something off the books. It was Hood's job
to find out what that was. The bureaucrats are checking up on the
bureaucrats, Hood thought bitterly.  Of course, he probably should not
be thinking at all right now.  He was tired and frustrated about the
situation with Battat.  And he had not even called home to see how
Harleigh was doing. Rodgers had stayed with Hood between the time he
first phoned Orlov and Orlov returned the call.  While they waited for
Bob Herbert to come back, Rodgers left to grab a soda.  Hood decided to
call home.  It did not improve his mood. He was doing just the thing
that Sharon had always hated.  Working late. Calling home as an
afterthought. He could hear the anger in her throat, in the tightness of
her mouth, in the brevity of her answers.

"I'm doing laundry," Sharon said.

"Harleigh is in the den playing solitaire on the computer.  Alexander is
in his room doing homework and studying for a history test."

"How does Harleigh seem today?"  Hood asked.

"How do you think?"  Sharon said.

"Your own psychologist said it's going to be a while before we see any
kind of change.  If we see any kind of change," Sharon added.

"But don't worry, Paul.  I'll handle whatever comes up."

"I'm not going anywhere, Sharon," Hood said.

"I want to help."

"I'm glad.  Do you want me to get Alexander?"  she asked.

"Not if he's studying," Hood said.

"Just tell him I called."


"Good night," Hood said. He could feel Sharon hesitate.  It was only a
moment, but it felt much, much longer.  "

"Night, Paul," she said, then hung up. Hood sat there holding the phone
for several moments. Now he was a bastard and a bureaucrat.  He lay the
phone in its cradle, folded his hands, and waited for Rodgers.  As he
sat there, something began to tick inside him.  It wasn't a clock or a
bomb.  It was like a cam and rocker arm.  And with each click of the
arm, a spring grew tighter inside him. A desire to do something--and not
just debate or call the Russians for help.  Hood wanted to act.
Something was not right, and he needed to know what it was. Rodgers and
Herbert arrived together.  They found Hood staring at the back wall of
his office where plaques and framed photographs once hung, the mementos
of his years in government. Pictures with world leaders, with
constituents.  Photographs of Hood laying cornerstones or working in a
Thanksgiving soup kitchen. His life as a bloody goddamn bureaucrat.  As
part of the problem, not the solution.

"Are you all right?"  Herbert asked.

"Fine," Hood said.

"Did you get news?"  Herbert pressed.

"No," Hood said.

"But I want to make some."

"You know where I stand on that," Herbert said.

"What were you thinking of?"

"Battat," Hood said.  That was not entirely true.  He was thinking that
he never should have withdrawn his resignation.  He should have left
Op-Center and never looked back.  He wondered if resigning had actually
been for him and not to spend more time with his family, as he had
believed.  But he was back, and he was not going to run away. Battat was
the next stop in his thought process.

"This man was sent to the hospital with some kind of sickness where a
pair of assassins were waiting," he said.

"That doesn't sound like a coincidence."

"No, it doesn't," Herbert agreed.

"My brain trust and I have been looking into that." Herbert's brain
trust consisted of four deputy intelligence directors who had been
brought to Op-Center from military intelligence, the NSA, and the CIA.
They were three men and one woman who ranged in age from twenty-nine to
fifty-seven.  With input from Darrell McCaskey, who liaised with the FBI
and Interpol, Op Center had the best per capita intelligence team in

"Here's what we've been thinking," Herbert said.

"The CIA is ninety-nine percent certain the Harpooner passed through
Moscow and went to Baku.  A DOS agent thinks he saw him on a flight to
Moscow, but that may have been intentional."

"Why?"  Rodgers asked.

"It wouldn't be unprecedented for a terrorist to let himself be seen,"
Herbert said.

"Back in 1959, the Soviet spy Igor Slavosk allowed himself to be seen at
Grand Central Station in New York so he could draw police attention and
bring FBI personnel to his apartment. When they got to the place down on
Jane Street, it blew up.  Slavosk came back, collected badges and IDS,
and had perfect fakes made.  He used them to get into FBI headquarters
in Washington.  So, yes, it's possible the Harpooner allowed his
presence to be known through channels."

"Go on," Hood said quietly.  He was getting impatient. Not at Bob
Herbert; the intelligence chief was simply a convenient target.  Hood
wanted Orlov to call him back. He wanted to hear that everything was all
right at the hospital.  He wanted some good news for a change.

"Sorry," Herbert said.

"So the Harpooner somehow lets it be known that he's going to Baku.  He
has some kind of operation planned.  He knows there are CIA personnel
attached to the embassy.  He also knows that the CIA might not want to
expose those people since police from the Azerbaijani Ministry of
Internal Security are probably keeping an eye on embassy personnel,
watching for foreign intelligence operations.  So the CIA brings someone
in from Moscow."

"Battat," said Hood.

"Yes," Herbert said.  He seemed a little uneasy.

"David Battat was the head of the CIA's New York City field office.  He
was the man who hired Annabelle Hampton."

"The junior officer we busted during the UN siege?" Rodgers said.
Herbert nodded.

"Battat was in Moscow at the time. We checked him.  He's clean.  One of
our CIA contacts told me he was sent to Baku to do penance for the New
York screw up." Hood nodded.

"All right.  You've got Battat in Baku."

"Battat goes out to a target area to watch for the Harpooner and gets
taken down," Herbert said.

"Not taken out, which the Harpooner could have done with no problem.
Battat was apparently infected with a virus or chemical designed to drop
him at a specific time.  Something serious enough so that he'd be taken
to the hospital."

"Under guard from his fellow CIA operatives," Hood said.

"Exactly," Herbert replied.

"Pretty maids all in a row."

"Which leaves the Harpooner free of CIA interference to do whatever he's
planning," Hood said.

"That's what it looks like," Herbert said.

"No one but the United States, Russia, and probably Iran has any kind of
intelligence presence in Baku."

"Because of the Caspian oil?"  Rodgers asked. Herbert nodded.

"If the Harpooner also hit operatives from Moscow and Teheran, we
haven't heard about it." Hood thought about that.

"Iran," he said softly.

"Excuse me?"  Herbert said.

"That's the second time we've been talking about Iran today," Hood said.

"But not for the same--" Herbert said, then stopped.

"Not for the same reason?"  Hood asked.

"Aw, no," Herbert said after a moment.


"Hold on," Rodgers said.

"What am I missing?"

"You're thinking the game of telephone could go from the Harpooner to
Teheran to Jack Fenwick to the NSA to the CIA," Herbert said.

"It's possible," Hood said.

"That would put Fenwick in bed with them on something involving the
Harpooner," Herbert said.

"Something he would not want the president to know about," Hood pointed
out. Herbert was shaking his head.

"I don't want this to be happening," he said.

"I don't want us working with the sonofabitch who killed my wife."

"Bob, I need you to calm down," Hood said. Herbert was glaring at Hood's

"If the Harpooner is up to something in Baku, we might still be able to
get him," Hood said.

"But only if we stay focused." Herbert did not respond.


"I hear you," Herbert said.

"I'm focused." Hood looked at Rodgers.  A minute ago.  Hood wanted to
lash out.  Now that one of his friends was hurting, the desire had
subsided.  All he wanted to do was help Herbert. Why did he never feel
that way about Sharon when she was angry?

"Mike," Hood said, "we really need to pin down what Fenwick's been up to
and who, if anyone, he's been working with."

"I'll get that information," Rodgers said.

"But I can tell you this much.  I found two e-mails in my computer files
from six months ago.  They were written by Jack Fenwick and Burt Gable."

"What were the memos about?"  Hood asked.

"They were responding to a Pentagon white paper," Rodgers said.

"The paper was about me minimal threat of possible Russian military
alliances with neighbors who were not part of the former Soviet Union.
Fenwick and Gable took issue with that."

"The head of the National Security Agency and the president's chief of
staff both took issue to the report, independently," Hood said.

"Correct," said Rodgers.

"The memos were sent to all the members of congress and various military

"I wonder if the two men met philosophically online," Hood said.

"What was the time code on the memos?"

"A few hours apart," Rodgers said.

"They didn't appear to be part of a concerted effort.  But they both
shared an aggressive disapproval of the report."

"I guess it doesn't matter whether Fenwick and Gable issued those memos
independent of one another or whether they found out they had something
in common when they read them," Hood said.

"The question is whether they did something about it.  Whether they got
together and did some plotting."

"What makes you think they might have?"  asked Herbert, easing back into
the conversation.

"Gable's name came up today in my talk with the president," Hood said.

"He and Fenwick's assistant Don Roedner were responsible for keeping the
CIOC in the loop about that UN initiative."

"And didn't," Herbert said.

"No, they didn't."  Hood tapped the desk slowly.

"We've got two issues here," he said a moment later.

"Fenwick's activities in New York and the Harpooner's activities in

"Assuming they are separate," Herbert said.

"The two operations do have Iran in common.  The Harpooner has worked
for Teheran before." Hood nodded.

"What if he's working for them again?"

"Against Azerbaijan," said Herbert.

"It's possible," Rodgers said.

"The Iranians have two potential areas of conflict with Azerbaijan. The
Caspian oil reserves and the bordering Nagorno-Karabakh region."

"But why would Fenwick want to be involved in something like that?"
Herbert said.

"Just to prove the Pentagon wrong?  Then what?"

"I don't know," Hood said.  He looked at Rodgers.

"Get to him and make him open up.  Not only about Iran but about why he
lied to the president."

"Tell him you've got information you can only tell him face-to-face,"
Herbert said.

"Right," Hood said.

"Have Liz work out a psych profile of the president.  One based on
firsthand observations, including my own, that makes it look as though
Lawrence is losing his grip.  Bring that to Fenwick, ostensibly on the
Q.T. Ask if he's heard anything about this." Rodgers nodded and left.
Hood looked at Herbert.

"If Iran has any military adventures on the drawing board, they may have
moved troops or materiel.  The NRO may have noticed something. Has
Stephen Viens gone back to work there?"

"Last week," Herbert said. The NRO was the National Reconnaissance
Office, the top-secret facility that manages most of America's spy
satellites.  An agency of the Department of Defense, the NRO is staffed
by personnel from the CIA, the military, and civilian DOD personnel. The
existence of the NRO was declassified in September of 1992, twenty years
after it was first established.  Stephen Viens was an old college buddy
of Op-Center's computer chief Matt Stoll.  He had been extremely helpful
getting information to Op-Center when more established groups like
military intelligence, the CIA, and the NSA were fighting for satellite
time. Viens had been accused of hiding money in a black ops situation
but was later vindicated.

"Good," Hood said.

"See if Viens can find anything. The NRO may have spotted activity in
Iran without perceiving any immediate danger."

"I'm on it," Herbert said. The intelligence chief wheeled his chair from
the office. Hood sat back.  He looked at the phone.  He wanted to hear
from Oriov. He wanted to hear that the Russian had someone in place and
that Battat would be all right. He wanted to hear that they had managed
to put the brakes on the bad news and could start turning this situation
around. We have to.  Hood thought.  There was something out there.
Something big and dangerous.  He did not know what it was or who was
behind it. He did not know if the pieces Op-Center had collected would
fit together. He only knew one thing for certain: Whatever it was, it
had to be stopped.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 5:01 a.m.

David Battat felt frigidly cold and light-headed.  He could hear his
heart in his ears, feel it in his throat.  He was aware of being wheeled
somewhere.  There were faces over him.  Lights flashed by. Then he felt
himself being lifted.  He was placed on a bed, still experiencing a
sense of forward motion.  He was not strapped down, but there were
raised metal gates on the side of the bed. Battat shut his eyes.  He did
not know what had happened to him. He remembered waking up at the
embassy, perspiring and shaking.  Moore and Thomas brought him to the
car, and then he must have slept.  The next thing he knew, he woke up on
a gurney. He heard people moving around him.  He coughed and opened his
eyes. There was a white-haired man looking down at him.

"Mr.  Battat, can you hear me?"  the man shouted. Battat nodded.

"We are going to undress you and put you in a gown," the man said to

"Then we need to get an-IV into you.  Do you understand?" Battat nodded.

"What...  happened?"

"You're ill," the doctor told him as a pair of male nurses came over.
They began lifting and undressing him.

"You have a very high fever.  We have to bring it down."

"Okay," Battat said.  What else could he say?  He could not have
resisted if he wanted to.  But he did not understand how he could have
gotten sick.  He had felt fine before. The medical team worked on him
for several minutes. Battat was not entirely aware of what they were
doing. He only knew that he was being shifted and turned and poked.  He
felt a pinch in his right arm, at the elbow, and then there was no
further pain.  He was also shivering, and he felt cold.  Sweat had
soaked into Battat's pillow.  His fever warmed it quickly.  His head
sank into the down, muffling the sounds of the people and whatever it
was they were doing.  He shut his eyes again and allowed his mind to go
wherever it wanted. Soon it was quiet and dark.  Battat began to feel a
little warmer, more comfortable.  He no longer heard drumming in his
ears.  He was awake, but his thoughts were dreamlike.  His mind went
back over the days.  He saw short, blurry visions of the embassy in
Moscow, the trip to Baku, the seashore, the sudden pain of the attack. A
pinch in his neck.  He was unaware of time passing or the hospital room.
There was just a strange, not unpleasant sense of drifting.  There must
be something in the IV.  Something that was relaxing him. Then Battat
heard something click.  It sounded like a gun hammer cocking.  He opened
his eyes. There was a window to the left of the bed, but it was shut. He
glanced toward the foot of the bed.  The last time he had looked, the
door was ajar. Now it was shut.  A doctor or nurse must have closed it.
The room was even quieter than before.  It was nice.  He shut his eyes
again.  There were no more visions, only darkness.  Battat slipped
quickly into a dreamless sleep. There was another click.  The sound woke
Battat, and he opened his eyes. The door was still closed.  But now
there was someone in the room.  He could see a dark figure standing in
front of the door. The figure was black against the darkness behind it.
Battat was not sure he was awake.

"Hi," he said.  He heard his own voice.  He was definitely awake.
Slowly, the shadow moved toward him.  Someone must have come to check on

"It's all right," Battat said in a soft slur.

"You can turn on the light.  I'm awake." The figure did not speak.
Battat could not make out whether it was a man or a woman.  It appeared
to be wearing a medical robe of some kind. And it was holding something
long and slender.  Battat could see the silhouette low at its side.  It
looked like a knife.

"Do you speak English?"  Battat asked. There was a monitor on the wall
behind Battat.  The green glow threw a faint light on the figure as it
stopped beside the bed.  It was a man. And he was definitely holding a
knife.  The long blade gleamed in the dull light.

"What is this?"  Battat asked.  It was beginning to penetrate his foggy
mind that the newcomer was not a doctor. Battat tried to move, but his
arms felt like they were full of wet sand. The man's arm went back.

"Someone!"  Battat said, trying to raise his voice.

"Help me--" And then the man vanished.

A moment later, sounds came from the floor.  There were low grunts,
chattering, and then a long, slow groan. They were followed by silence.
Battat tried to raise himself on an elbow.  His arm shook, and he fell
back down. Suddenly, someone rose beside the bed.

"There may be others," said the figure.

"We have to leave." The sharp, thickly accented voice belonged to a
woman.  There were an awful lot of people here.

"I thought this was a private room," Battat said. With swift, sure
movements, the woman lowered the gate beside the bed, unhooked the IV,
and raised Battat to a sitting position.  She kept her hand on his back.

"Can you walk?"  she asked.

"If you let go...  I'm not sure I can sit," he replied. The woman lay
Battat back down and stepped away from the bed.  She was a tall, lean
woman with broad shoulders.  He could see now that she was wearing a
police uniform.  The woman went to the window and pulled the curtains
aside.  She turned the latch and raised the window.  A cool, salty
breeze blew in.  It made him shiver.  The woman looked outside. Then she
grabbed a bathrobe from a hook behind the door and returned to the bed.
She sat Battat up again and pulled the robe around his shoulders.

"What are we doing?"  he asked.  Without the IV in his arm, he was
feeling a little more focused.  His head was also hurting from sitting

"No talk," she said.

"But wait," he said.

"They've killed your companions, and they're trying to kill you," she

"I was sent to get you out."

"Killed them?"

"Quiet!"  she hissed. Battat stopped talking. His head ached as the
woman helped him stand.  She grabbed Battat's clothes, then slipped his
left arm around her shoulder and helped him to the window.  As they
hobbled over, Battat tried to focus on what she had just told him.  Were
Moore and Thomas dead?  If so, it had to be the Harpooner.  Maybe he
thought they knew more than they did.  But if they were dead, who had
sent this woman to help him?  And how did he know that she was not
working for the Harpooner?  She might be taking him somewhere so the
killer could finish the job. But Battat knew he might as well trust her.
He was certainly in no condition to resist.  Besides, the woman was
being gentle with him. And if she had wanted him dead, she could have
killed him in the bed. Or she could have let the other intruder kill
him. When they reached the window, the woman told Battat to lean on the
sill. He did, unsteadily.  She kept a hand on him, helping to keep him
upright as she slipped around him.  She landed quietly among the hedges
outside the window and then helped him down.  She put his arm back
around her shoulder and then crouched.  They listened for several
seconds. Battat was shivering again, his teeth clattering.  But at least
he was more awake than before.  After a moment, they were on the move
again. He felt as if he was being carried through the night.  They had
emerged in back of the hospital and were making their way around to the
north side. They stopped at a car.  To Battat's surprise, it wasn't a
police car but a small black Hyundai. She probably was not a policewoman
at all. Battat did not know if that were a good thing or a bad thing.
But as she laid him across the backseat and climbed behind the wheel, he
knew one thing for certain. If he remained conscious, he would find out
very soon.

Washington, D.C. Monday, 10:03 p.m.

The red-haired man sat behind his large desk.  The office was dark, save
for the glow of a green-shaded desk lamp and the red light on top of the
phone.  That meant the scrambler function was engaged.

"People are asking about Fenwick's trip," said the red-haired man.

"What people?"  said the man on the other end of the line.

"The intelligence unit at Op-Center."

"Op-Center is well removed from the president," the other man said.

"They don't have the same clout as the CIA-"

"I'm not so sure about that," the red-haired man interrupted.

"What do you mean?"

"I was told that Director Hood asked for and received a private meeting
with the president a few hours ago," said the red-haired man.

"I know."

"Do you know what they discussed?"  asked the redhaired man.

"No.  More fallout from the United Nations affair.  I'd guess.  Do you
have reason to believe otherwise?"  the man asked.

"Paul Hood spoke briefly with the First Lady last night."  the
red-haired man said.

"I checked his file.  They knew each other in the past."

"Knew each other in a way we can use?"

"No," said the red-haired man.

"It was platonic.  Anyway, she might have seen a change in the
president. Maybe she said something to Hood.  I just don't know."

"I see," said the other. There was a long silence.  The red-haired man
waited. He was concerned about the unexpected presence of Op Center  The
other agencies had all been covered.  He and his partners had been
counting on the transition period between Paul Hood and General Rodgers
to keep Op Center eyes looking inward.  Unfortunately, that had not
happened. But with H-hour approaching on the foreign operation, they
could not afford to have anyone watching.  Harpooner had seen to it on
his end. They must see to it on their end.

"Is the other documentation ready?"  the other man finally asked. The
red-haired man looked at his watch.  He really needed glasses to read
this close, but he was fighting that.  He was fighting a lot of things.
He moved his wrist back slightly.

"In another hour or so," he replied.

"All right," said the other man.

"I don't want to move against Op-Center directly.  There isn't time. And
without careful planning, we might do more harm than good."

"I agree," said the red-haired man.

"Let's continue with the plan," said the other man.

"If Op-Center is watching Fenwick or the president without any real idea
what we're up to, that should keep them busy enough.  Just make sure
Fenwick doesn't do or say anything that might give them more

"Understood," said the red-haired man.

"I'll let Fenwick know." The other man thanked him and hung up. The
red-haired man placed the receiver in the cradle. He would call Fenwick
in a minute.  This was serious, unprecedented business.  He needed a
moment to remind himself that this was all being done for a good reason:

to make sure that the United States survived the new millennium. Despite
this small setback, everything was still working the way they had
planned.  Reporters had been calling his office to find out about the
new UN initiative, an initiative that only the president seemed to be
aware of.  Members of the CIOC and even people at the UN apparently had
not known about it.  One very dogged TV reporter had called this evening
to ask if the president had imagined "this whole thing, too." And Red
Gable, the president's chief of staff, had answered off the record, "I
honestly don't know, Sam.  I do not know what is wrong with the
president." Though the quote would be off the record.  Gable knew that
his sentiment would be mentioned in the broadcast.  The reporter
reminded Red that this was the third time in a week the president had
gotten something seriously wrong.  The first time was at a breakfast
with reporters.  The president commented about farm subsidy legislation
that was supposedly before congress.  It was not.  The second time, just
two days ago, was at a press conference.  The president's opening
remarks included comments about a civil rights case that was supposedly
before the Supreme Court.  No such case existed.  What Gable did not
tell the reporter, of course, was that the set of documents the
president had been given during his daily briefings was different from
the set of documents that he should have seen.  The real ones.  Gable
had slipped those documents into the president's files after he made the
public misstatements.  When the president had the files brought to him,
he did not understand where the misinformation had come from.
Investigations by Gable and his assistants failed to turn up any
suspicious activity. Gable did not smile.  He could not.  The situation
was too serious. But he was gratified.  The reporter and many of his
colleagues were very concerned about the president's state of mind.  By
tomorrow afternoon, the rest of the nation would also be concerned.
Events that were about to unfold a world away and in Washington had been
very carefully orchestrated.  Events that would be misinterpreted by
everyone except the third and most important leader of their team: the
vice president. The president would insist that Azerbaijan had attacked
an Iranian oil rig.  He would recommend staying out of the conflict
because it was a local issue.  As Iran built up its forces in the
region, the vice president would publicly" urge a different tack. He
would say that he did not trust Iran and would strongly advise building
up an American military presence in the Caspian.  Fenwick would back up
the vice president.  He would report that during his meetings with the
Iranians, they had spoken vaguely of events that were on the horizon. He
would say that they asked the United States to do nothing while they
strengthened their hold on oil reserves in the region. The Iranians
would deny that, of course.  But no one in America would believe them.
The disagreement between the president and vice president would cause a
very public rift. And when the Harpooner's Iranian cohorts were found
dead with photographs and other evidence of sabotage on their
bodies--murdered by the Harpooner himself--the vice president and
Fenwick would be vindicated. Reporters would then openly discuss the
president's questionable judgment.  Washington would be abuzz with
rumors that the president was unstable.  Senators like Barbara Fox would
have no choice but to support a motion to impeachment.  Sex scandals
were one thing. Mental illness was something much different.  There
would be calls for Lawrence to step down.  For the good of the nation,
Lawrence would have no choice but to resign. Vice president Gotten would
become president.  He would ask Jack Fenwick to become his new vice
president. Congress would quickly endorse his selection. Meanwhile, the
American military would move into the Caspian.  They would help the
Azerbaijanis protect their rigs. In the heat of rising tensions.
President Gotten would remain strong. And then something else would
happen.  Something that would demand an American response so firm, so
devastating, that religious fanatics would never again attack a target
under American protection. In the end.  Gable told himself, the career
of a president was worth that sacrifice.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 6:15 a.m.

When forty-seven-year-old Ron Friday first arrived in Baku, he felt
as though he had been dropped into medieval times. It was not a question
of architecture.  Embassy row was in a very modern section of the city.
The modern buildings could have been lifted whole from Washington, D.C."
or London, or Tokyo, or any other modern metropolis.  But Baku was not
like those cities where he had spent so much time.  Once you moved past
the embassies and business center of Baku, there was a pronounced sense
of age.  Many of the buildings had been standing when Columbus reached
the Americas. No, the architecture was not what made Baku seem so old,
so feudal.  It was a sense of entropy among the people.  Azerbaijan had
been ruled from the outside for so long, now that the people were free
and independent, they seemed unmotivated, directionless.  If it were not
for petrodollars, they would probably slip deep into the Third World. At
least, that was Friday's impression.  Fortunately, when the former Army
Ranger and his people were finished with what they were doing here,
Azerbaijan would not be quite so independent. Friday entered his
seven-story apartment building. The ten-year-old brick building was
located two blocks from the embassy. He made his way up the marble
stairs. Friday lived on the top floor, but he did not like being in
elevators. Even when he was with the other embassy workers who lived
here, he took the stairs.  Elevators were too confining, and they left
him vulnerable. Friday walked toward his apartment.  He could not
believe that he had been here nearly six months.  It seemed much longer,
and he was glad his tenure was coming to an end.  Not because Deputy
Ambassador Williamson didn't need him.  To the contrary, Friday had
proven valuable to the diplomat, especially in her efforts to moderate
Azerbaijani claims on Caspian oil.  Friday's years as an attorney for a
large international oil company served him well in that capacity.  But
Friday's real boss would need him elsewhere, in some other trouble spot.
He would see to it that Friday was transferred. To India or Pakistan,
perhaps.  That was where Friday really wanted to go.  There were oil
issues to be dealt with there, in the Arabian Sea and on the border
between the Great Indian Desert in the Rajasthan province of India and
the Thar Desert in Pakistan.  But more than that, the Indian
subcontinent was the place where the next big war would begin, perhaps
triggered by a nuclear exchange.  Friday wanted to be in there, helping
to manipulate the politics of the region.  It had been a dream of his
ever since he was in college.  Since the day when he had first gone to
work for the National Security Agency. Friday put the key in the door
and listened.  He heard the cat cry. Her mewing was a normal welcome.
That was a very good indication that no one was waiting for him inside.
Friday had been recruited by the NSA when he was in law school.  One of
his professors, Vincent Van Heusen, had been an OSS operative during
World War II. After the war.  Van Heusen had helped draft the National
Security Act of 1947, the legislation that led to the founding of the
Central Intelligence Agency. Professor Van Heusen saw in Friday some of
the same qualities he himself had possessed as a young man. Among those
was independence.  Friday had learned that growing up in the Michigan
woods where he attended a one-room schoolhouse and went hunting with his
father every weekend--not only with a rifle but with a longbow. After
graduating from NYU, Friday spent time at the NSA as a trainee. When he
went to work for the oil industry a year later, he was also working as a
spy.  In addition to making contacts in Europe, the Middle East, and the
Caspian, Friday was given the names of CIA operatives working in those
countries.  From time to time, he was asked to watch them--to spy on the
spies, to make certain that they were working only for the United
States. Friday finally left the private sector five years ago, bored
with working for the oil industry.  They had become more concerned with
international profits than with the vitality of America and its economy.
But that was not why he quit.  He left the private sector out of
patriotism.  He wanted to work for the NSA full-time. He had watched as
intelligence operations went to hell overseas. Electronic espionage had
replaced hands-on human surveillance. The result was much less efficient
mass intelligence gathering.  To Friday, that was like getting meat from
a slaughterhouse instead of hunting it down.  The food didn't taste as
good when it was mass produced  The experience was less satisfying.  And
over time, the hunter grew soft. Friday had no intention of growing
soft.  So when his Washington contact told him that Jack Penwick wanted
to talk to him, Friday was eager to meet.  Friday went to see him at the
Off the Record bar at the Hay-Adams Hotel.  It was during the week of
the president's inauguration, so the bar was jammed, and the men were
barely noticed. It was then that Fenwick suggested a plan so bold that
Friday thought it was a joke.  Or a test of some kind. Then Friday
agreed to meet with some of the other members of the group. And he
believed. Oh, how he believed.  They sent him here and, through contacts
in Iran, he was put in touch with the Harpooner. Iran did not realize
they were going to be double crossed That once they had an excuse to
move into the Caspian Sea, a new American president would move against
them. And the Harpooner?  He did not care.  Friday and the Harpooner had
worked closely organizing the attack against Battat and the program of
disinformation to the CIA. Friday was still dressed in yesterday's
clothes.  In case anyone saw him, that would support the story he would
tell them.  It was just one of the many stories he had perfected over
the years to cover meetings he had to make with operatives. Or targets.
Friday was glad the Harpooner had put one of his other men inside the
hospital as backup.  They had hoped that Friday would be able to get
both Moore and Thomas while they were outside.  But the way the
ambulance was parked he did not have a clear shot at Thomas.  Friday
hoped the Iranian assassin had been able to get the other man.  It would
have been easier, of course, if Friday could have taken all three men
out in the embassy.  But that might have exposed him.  The embassy was
not that large, and someone might have seen them.  And there were
security cameras everywhere.  This way had been cleaner, easier. After
firing the shot, Friday had dropped the rifle the Harpooner had given to
him.  It was a G3, a Heckler & Koch model, Iranian manufacture. He had
others at his disposal if he needed them.  Friday had tossed the weapon
in a shallow pond near the hospital.  He knew the local police would
search the area for clues and would probably find it.  He wanted it to
be traced back to Teheran.  Friday and his people wanted to make very
sure that the world knew Iran had assassinated two officials of the
United States embassy.  The Iranians would disavow that, of course, but
America would not believe the Iranians.  The NSA would see to that. The
Iranians who were working with the Harpooner had made cell phone calls
to one another during the past few days.  They had discussed the attack
on the oil rig and described the two pylons that had to be destroyed:

"target one" and "target two."  The Iranians did not know that the
Harpooner made certain those calls were monitored by the NSA.  That the
conversations were recorded and then digitally altered.  Now, on those
tapes, the targets the Iranians were discussing were embassy employees,
not pylons. In a phone call of his own, the Harpooner had added that the
deaths would be a warning, designed to discourage Americans from
pursuing any action against Iran in the coming oil wars.  The Harpooner
pointed out in the call that if Washington insisted on becoming
involved, American officials would be assassinated worldwide. Of course,
that threat would backfire.  After President Lawrence resigned, the new
president of the United States would use the brutal murders as a
rallying cry. He was not a live-and-let-live leader like the incumbent.
Someone who was willing to cooperate with the United Nations to the
detriment of his own nation.  The assassinations, like the attacks on
the oil rigs, would underscore that the United States had unfinished
business from the previous century: the need to strike a decisive, full
scale blow against terrorist regimes and terrorist groups that were
being protected by those regimes. Friday entered his apartment.  He saw
the red light on his answering machine flashing.  He walked over and
played the message.  There was only one, from Deputy Ambassador
Williamson.  She needed him to come to the embassy right away.  She said
that she had tried his cell phone but could not reach him. Well, of
course she could not.  His cell phone had been in his jacket, and his
jacket had been slung over a chair in another room.  He had not heard
the phone because he was in the bedroom of a woman he had met at the
International Bar. Friday called her back at the embassy.  Williamson
did not bother to ask where he had been.  She just told him the bad
news.  Tom Moore had been shot and killed by a sniper outside the
hospital.  Pat Thomas's throat had been cut by an assassin inside the
hospital. Friday allowed himself a small, contented smile.  The
Harpooner's assassin had succeeded.

"Fortunately," Williamson went on, "David Battat was able to stop the
man who tried to kill him." Friday's expression darkened.


"His throat was cut with his own knife," she said.

"But Battat was ill--"

"I know," said the deputy ambassador.

"And either Battat was delirious or afraid.  After he stopped the
killer, he left the hospital by the window.  The police are out looking
for him now.  So far, all they've found was the rifle used to kill Mr.
Moore.  Metal detectors picked it up in a pond."

"I see," Friday said.  The assassin did not speak English. Even if
Battat were lucid, he could not have learned anything from the killer.
But Fenwick and the Harpooner would be furious if Battat were still

"I'd better go out and join the search," Friday said.

"No," Williamson said.

"I need you here at the embassy. Someone has to liaise between the Baku
police and Washington.  I've got to deal with the political

"What political ramifications?"  Friday asked innocently. This was going
to be sweet.  It was going to be very sweet.

"The police found the rifle they think was" used in the attack on
Moore," she said.

"I don't want to talk about this on an open line.  I'll tell you more
when you get here." That was good news, at least.  The deputy ambassador
had concluded that the killings were political and not random.

"I'm on my way," Friday said.

"Watch yourself," Williamson said.

"I always do," he replied.  Friday hung up, turned around, and left the

"I always do."

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 6:16 a.m.

The Harpooner and his team reached the oil rig just before dawn.  The
boat cut its engines one thousand feet from the nearest of the four
columns.  Then the Harpooner and four members of his Iranian team
slipped into the water.  They were all wearing wet suits and compressed
air cylinders.  Slipping beneath the dark surface of the sea, the men
swam toward the rig. Two of them carried waterproof pouches containing
water gel high-energy explosives. The Harpooner had carefully injected
the blue sticks with heat-sensitive pentanitroaniline.  As the sun rose,
the heat would cause the foil packet to warm.  The sunlight itself would
detonate the explosion. Two other men carried an inflatable raft.  This
would allow them some stability underneath the platform. Many rigs had
sensors on the columns and motion detectors along the sea line. Avoiding
the columns and going under the motion detectors was the safest way to
get inside the perimeter.  Once the explosives were placed, it would be
virtually impossible for the crew of the rig to get to them in time. The
Harpooner carried a spear gun and night-vision glasses.  He would use
the gun to fire the water gel packets around the support struts beneath
the platform.  The Harpooner had brought along only a dozen of the seven
eighths-inch sticks of explosive.  He had learned long ago that the
trick to destroying something big is not necessarily to hit it with
something big.  In hand-to-hand combat, a foe could be driven back with
a powerful roundhouse punch.  He can be debilitated faster, more
efficiently, and with more control, with a finger pressed against his
throat, just below the larynx and above the clavicle.  Hooking the top
of a foot behind the knee and then stepping down with the side of the
foot will drop someone faster than hitting them with a baseball bat.
Besides, all it takes to neutralize a bat attack is to move in close to
the attacker. The Iranian oil rigs in the Caspian Sea are mostly semi
submersible platforms.  They rest on four thick legs with massive
pontoons that sink below the waterline. There is a platform on top of
the legs.  The riser system--the underwater component, which includes
the drill--descends from the derrick, which is mounted on the platform.
The key to destroying a platform like that is not to take out the
columns but to weaken the center of the platform.  Once that has
happened, the weight of the structures on top will do the rest.  The
Harpooner's team had been able to get copies of the oil rig blueprints.
He knew just where to place the water gel The men reached the underbelly
of the rig without incident.  Though it was dark in the water, the
higher struts of the rig caught the first glint of dawn.  As the
Harpooner eyeballed the target, two men inflated the raft while the
other two attached a pair of water gel sticks beneath the tip of three
spears.  The twelve-inch-long sticks were carefully taped
belly-to-belly.  This configuration allowed the spear to be fitted into
the tube muzzle. It also made sure that the sticks of water gel would
not upset the balance of the spear.  Though it would have been easier to
assemble the package on the boat, the Harpooner had wanted to keep the
water gel packets as dry as possible.  Though moisture would not harm
the explosives, wet foil would take longer for the sun to warm.  These
packets would only be exposed to direct sunlight for a half hour.  He
had to make certain they were dry enough--and thus hot enough--to
explode within that time. The raft was a six-man hexagonal platform. The
Harpooner did not need it to hold six men.  He wanted the larger size
for stability.  Larger rafts tended to ignore the smaller waves.  That
was important when he lay on his back to fire.  He had removed the
canopy to make it lighter. The large case in which it had been carried
was discarded.  The Harpooner climbed on board while the other men hung
onto the sides to steady the raft even more. The spear gun was made of
stainless steel.  It was painted matte black to minimize reflected
sunlight.  The spears were also black.  The weapon was comprised of a
forty-inch-long black tube and a yellow grip and trigger at the end.
Only a foot of spear protruded from the end. Normally, a rope was
attached to the spears so that prey could be hauled back to the
spearman.  The Harpooner had removed these back on the boat. There were
six-inch-thick acoustic dampeners beneath the platform. They were
located fifty feet above the sea. The hard rubber pads had been placed
there to muffle the sounds of activity.  This was done so that people
who lived on the rig would suffer as little noise pollution as possible.
The Harpooner had chosen his targets from the blueprints.  He would fire
two harpoons.  The first would go into the padded area below and to the
northeast of the derrick. The derrick was in the southwest corner of the
platform. When the detonation occurred, the derrick would fall toward
the center of the platform.  A second harpoon would be fired into the
platform at the point where the heavy center of the derrick would land.
The second explosion, plus the impact of the derrick, would shatter the
platform and cause it to collapse inward. Everything would slide to the
center and tumble into the sea. The Harpooner would not need the third
harpoon to destroy the rig, though he did not tell his people that. The
terrorist donned night-vision glasses and lay on his back.  The spear
gun had terrific recoil, equivalent to a twelve-gauge shotgun. That
would give him quite a bump.  But his shoulder could take it.  He aimed
the weapon and fired.  There was a sound like a metallic cough and the
spear flew through the dark. It hit the target with a faint thunk.  The
Harpooner quickly repositioned himself to fire the second shaft.  It,
too, struck its target.  He motioned the men to start back. As soon as
the others ducked underwater, the Harpooner pulled the tape from the
spear, grabbed one of the equipment bags, and slipped the water gel
sticks inside.  Then he slid into the water and followed his men back to
the boat. Upon boarding the vessel, the men dropped the remains of
Sergei Cherkassov into the sea.  On the way over, they had burned the
body. It would look as though he had been killed in the blast.  The
photographs that had been taken from the airplane were already in his
pocket. As far as the Iranians on board knew, the Russians and the
Azerbaijanis would be blamed for the attack. The Harpooner knew
differently. When Cherkassov was in the water, the boat departed. They
were nearly out of visual range when the oil rig exploded. The Harpooner
was watching through high-powered binoculars. He saw the puff of yellow
red smoke under the platform.  He saw the tower shudder and then do a
slow pirouette drop toward the center.  A moment later, the muted pop of
the first explosion reached the boat. The Iranians on the deck all
cheered.  Which was odd, the Harpooner thought. Even though they thought
they were doing this for the national good, they were happy about the
deaths of at least one hundred of their countrymen.

A moment before the derrick hit, the second water gel packet exploded.
The Harpooner had positioned the two to go off nearly at the same time.
It would not have done for the derrick to crash, knock the spear from
the rubber padding, and drop it into the sea.  A second cloud of red and
yellow smoke began to form, but it was flattened and disbursed when the
derrick struck the platform. It hit with a small-sounding crunch. Debris
flew into the morning sky, chasing away the distant gulls. The entire
rig shuddered.  The whole thing reminded the Harpooner of a vignette he
had seen as a child.  A poplar tree had been split during a storm and
fell across power lines.  It hit them, bounced, then hit them again. The
lines hung there for a moment before sagging and then ripping from the
poles on the left and right.  That was what happened here.  The platform
stood for a moment after the derrick struck.  Then, slowly, the steel
and concrete sagged where the second blast had weakened them. The
platform bent inward.  Sheds, cranes, tanks, and even the helicopter
began sliding toward the crease. Their weight caused additional strain.
The Harpooner could hear the ugly collisions in the distance, see the
smoke and shattered pieces of wood and metal fly into the air. And then
it happened.  The added weight was too much for the platform to bear. It
cracked and dumped everything into the sea.  The boat was now too far
away for the Harpooner to make everything out.  The collapse looked like
a waterfall from this distance, especially when the cascade of white and
silver debris hit the sea, sending up waves and spray. As the rig
disappeared beyond the horizon, all the Harpooner could see was a large
ball of mist hanging in the new day. He turned away, accepting the
congratulations of the team.  They were treating him like a football
hero, but he felt more like an artist. Using the medium of explosives
and a canvas of steel and concrete, the Harpooner had created a perfect
destruction. He went below to wash up. He always needed to wash after
creation.  It was a symbolic act of completion and of getting ready for
the next work. Which would be soon. Very soon. When the boat reached the
docks, the Harpooner told the crew he wanted to go ashore.  He told the
Iranians he wanted to make certain that the Azerbaijani police had not
already learned of the blast.  If they had, the police might be checking
incoming vessels.  They might be looking for possible terrorists and
also for eyewitnesses to the explosion. The men thought that was a good
idea. The Harpooner told them that if he did not come back in five
minutes, they should leave the dock and head to the open sea.  The
Harpooner said that if the police were talking to people, stopping them
from leaving the area, he would figure out a way to elude them. The men
agreed.  The Harpooner went ashore. Six minutes later, there was a
massive explosion in the harbor.  The Harpooner had stuck a timed
detonator into one of the sticks of water gel  He had set it and then
left it below, under one of the bunks. Evidence from the attack was
still on board.  It would take a while, but eventually the authorities
would find traces of the water gel on the boat and on the rig and
realize that the Iranians, aided by a Russian terrorist, had attacked
their own operation.  The Iranians would dispute that, of course, and
tensions would rise even higher. The United States would suspect that
the Russians and Iranians were working together to seize the Caspian oil
wells.  There would be no way to avoid what was coming. The Harpooner
got in the repainted van and drove it from the harbor. There were no
police there.  Not yet.  At this hour, the Baku police force was
involved primarily in traffic management and accident investigation.
Besides, there was no indication that a boat had attacked the rig or
that it had come to Baku.  That would come later, when they found the
Russian and the Americans had sent over satellite photographs of the
region. The Harpooner headed toward the Old City. There, he drove up
Inshaatchilar Prospekti toward the hotels on Bakihanov Kuchasi.  Two
days before, he had taken a hotel room under an assumed name.  Here he
was Ivan Ganiev, a telecommunications consultant. It was a name and
profession he had chosen with care.  If he were ever stopped by customs
agents or police, he could explain why he was traveling with high-tech
equipment.  And being Russian had another advantage, especially here.
One that would help him get out of the country when the time came. He
had left clothing, gear, and cash in the room and a do not disturb sign
on the door.  He would clean himself up, dye his hair, and then take a
long nap.  When he woke, he would apply a fake mustache, slip colored
contact lenses into his eyes, and call a cab to take him to the train
station.  A cabdriver was always a good hostage in case he was
discovered and surrounded.  He would use his fake passport to leave the
city. He parked the van in an alley near the hospital.  Then he pulled a
packet of dental floss from his pocket.  He rubbed it deeply between two
teeth until his mouth filled with blood. Then he spat on the floor,
dashboard, and seat cushion.  It was the fastest way to draw blood.  It
also left no scars, in case anyone decided to stop him and check for
wounds.  He did not need a lot of blood. Just traces for the forensics
people to find.  When he was finished with that, he slipped a plastic
mircochip in the gas tank. Then he replaced the cap. When he was
finished dressing the van, the Harpooner took the backpack containing
the Zed-4 phone and left. When the authorities found the vehicle, they
would also find evidence inside tying it to the Iranians in the boat.
That would include their fingerprints on the wheel, glove compartment,
and handles.  They would assume that one or more of the men got away.
The blood would suggest that he was injured.  The police would waste
time looking through hospital records for a possible perpetrator. The
Harpooner would return to Moscow.  Then he would leave Russia and permit
himself a rest. Possibly a vacation in some country where he had never
committed terrorism.  Some place where they would not be looking out for
him. Some place where he could sit back and read the newspapers. Enjoy
once again the impact his art had had on the world.

Washington, D.C. Monday, 11:11 p.m.

Paul Hood was concerned, confused, and tired. Bob
Herbert had just spoken with Stephen Viens of the National
Reconnaissance Office.  Viens was working late to catch up on paperwork
that had collected during his absence.  While Viens was there, an NRO
satellite had recorded an explosion in the Caspian Sea.  He had called
Herbert, who wanted to know if anything unusual had happened in the
region.  Then Herbert called Paul Hood.

"According to our files, the coordinates of the explosion match those of
Iran's Majidi-2 oil rig," Herbert said.

"Could it have been an accident?"  Hood asked.

"We're checking that now," Herbert said.

"We've got some faint radio signals coming from the rig, which means
there may be survivors."

"May be?"

"A lot of those rigs have automatic beacons to signal rescue craft in
the area," Herbert said.

"That may be what we're hearing.  The audio keeps breaking up, so we
can't tell if it's a recording."

"Understood," Hood said.

"Bob, I've got a bad feeling about this.  Fenwick goes to the Iranian
mission, and then an Iranian rig is attacked."

"I know," Herbert said.

"I tried to call him, but there was no answer.  I'm wondering if the NSA
knew about this attack, and Fenwick took intelligence to the mission in
New York."

"If Fenwick had intel, wouldn't Iran have tried to prevent the attack?"
Hood asked.

"Not necessarily," Herbert told Hood.

"Teheran has been itching for a reason to establish a stronger military
presence in the Caspian Sea.  An attack by Azerbaijan could give them
that reason.  It's no different than historians who say that Franklin
Roosevelt allowed Pearl Harbor to be attacked so we'd have a reason to
get into World War Two."

"But then why all the deception with the president?" Hood asked.

"Plausible deniability?"  Herbert replied.

"The president has been getting misinformation."

"Yes, but Jack Fenwick would not undertake something of this magnitude
on his own," Hood said.

"Why not?"  Herbert asked.

"Oilie North ran an uberoperation during Iran-Contra--"

"A military officer might have the balls for that but not Jack Fenwick,"
Hood said.

"I had a look at his dossier. The guy is Mr.  Support Systems.  He's
instituted backup systems for backup systems at the NSA.  Got congress
to jack up the budget fifteen percent for next year.  The CIA only got
an eight percent bump and we got six."


"Yeah," Hood said.

"And he just doesn't strike me as the kind of guy to take this kind of
chance.  Not without backup."

"So?"  Herbert said.

"Maybe he's got it." Shit, Hood thought.  Maybe he does.

"Think about it," Herbert went on.

"He got double the increases everyone else got.  Who has that kind of
sway with congress?  Not President Lawrence, that's for sure. He's not
conservative enough for the budget group."

"No, he's not," Hood agreed.

"Bob, find out if Matt can get into Fenwick's phone records and
calendar.  See who he might have talked to and met with over the past
few days and weeks."

"Sure," he said.

"But it's going to be tough to draw any conclusions from that.  The NSA
head meets with practically everyone."

"Exactly," Hood said.

"I don't follow."

"If Fenwick were part of a black-ops situation, he would probably meet
with his team away from the office. Maybe by seeing who he stopped
meeting with, officially, we can figure out who he's been seeing on the

"Nice one, Paul," Herbert said.

"I wouldn't have thought of that."

"But that isn't what has me worried," Hood went on. The phone beeped.

"Excuse me.  Bob.  Would you bring Mike up to date on this?"

"Will do," Herbert said. Hood switched lines.  Sergei Orlov was on the
other end.

"Paul," Orlov said, "good news.  We have your man."

"What do you mean you have him?"  Hood asked.  The Russian operative was
only supposed to keep an eye on him.

"Our operative arrived in time to save him from joining his comrades,"
Orlov said.

"The assassin was dispatched and left in the hospital room.  Your man
was taken from the hospital to another location.  He is there now."

"General, I don't know what to say," Hood told him.

"Thank you."

"Thank you is good enough," Orlov said.

"But what do we do now?  Can he help us get the Harpooner?"

"I hope so," Hood told him.

"The Harpooner must still be there.  Otherwise, he would not have had to
draw these people out and assassinate them.  General, did you hear what
happened in the Caspian?"

"Yes," Orlov said.

"An Iranian oil rig was destroyed. The Azerbaijanis are probably going
to be blamed, whether they did it or not.  Do you know anything more
about it?"

"Not yet," Hood said.

"But the operative you saved might.  If the Harpooner's behind this
attack, we need to know.  Can you arrange for the American agent to call
me here?"

"Yes," Orlov said. Hood thanked him and said he would wait by the phone.
Orlov was correct.  Suspicion would fall on Azerbaijan. They were the
ones who disputed Iran's presence in that region of the sea.  They were
the ones who had the most to gain.  But the Harpooner had done most of
his work for Middle Eastern nations.  What if Azerbaijan wasn't behind
the attack?  What if another nation was trying to make it seem that way?
Hood got back on the phone with Herbert.  He also patched in Mike
Rodgers and briefed them both.  When he was finished, there was a short

"Frankly, I'm stumped," Herbert said.

"We need more intel."

"I agree," Hood said.

"But we may have more intel than we think."

"What do you mean?"  Herbert asked.

"I mean we've got the NSA working with Iran," Hood said.

"We have a president who was kept out of the loop by the NSA.  We have a
terrorist who works with Iran taking out CIA agents in Azerbaijan. We
have an attack on an Iranian oil installation off the coast of
Azerbaijan. There's a lot of information there.  Maybe we're not putting
it together in the right way."

"Paul, do we know who in the CIA first found out the Harpooner was in
Baku?"  Rodgers asked.

"No," Hood said.

"Good point."

"I'll get someone to find that out ASAP," Herbert said. Hood and Rodgers
waited while Herbert made the call.  Hood sat there trying to make sense
of the facts, but it still was not coming together. Concerned, confused,
and tired.  It was a bad combination, especially for a man in his
forties.  He used to be able to pull allnighters without a problem.  Not
anymore. Herbert got back on.

"I've got someone calling the director's office.  Code Red-One," he

"We'll have the information soon." Code Red-One signified an imminent
emergency to national interest. Despite the competitiveness between the
agencies, CRIS were generally not denied.

"Thanks," Hood said.

"Paul, do you know the story about the Man Who Never Was?"  Rodgers

"The World War Two story?  I read the book in high school," Hood said.

"He was part of the disinformation campaign during World War Two."

"Correct," Rodgers said.

"A British intelligence group took the body of a homeless man, created a
false identity for it, and planted papers on the body that said the
Allies would invade Greece, not Sicily.  The body was left where the
Germans would find it.  This helped divert Axis forces from Sicily.  I
mention this because a key player in the operation was a British general
named Howard Tower.  He was key in the sense that he was also fed

"For what reason?"  Hood asked.

"General Tower's communiques were intercepted by the Germans," Rodgers

"British Intelligence saw to that."

"I'm missing something here," Herbert said.

"Why are we talking about World War Two?"

"When Tower learned what had happened, he put a gun barrel in his ear
and pulled the trigger," Rodgers said.

"Because he was used?"  Hood asked.

"No," Rodgers said, "because he thought he'd screwed up."

"I'm still not getting this," Herbert admitted.

"Paul, you said the president was pretty upset when you spoke with him,"
Rodgers went on.

"And when you met with the First Lady, she described a man who sounded
like he was having a breakdown."

"Right," Hood said.

"That may not mean anything," Herbert said.

"He's president of the United States.  The job has a way of aging

"Hold on.  Bob.  Mike may be onto something," Hood said.  There was
something gnawing at Hood's stomach. Something that was getting worse
the more he thought about it.

"The president did not look tired when I saw him.  He looked disturbed."

"I'm not surprised," Herbert said.

"He was being kept out of the loop and made an apparent faux pas about
the UN.  He was embarrassed."

"But there's another component to this," Hood told him.

"There's the cumulative psychological impact of disinformation.  What if
plausible deniability and bureaucratic confusion aren't the reasons the
president was misled?  What if there's another reason?"

"Such as?"  Herbert asked.

"What if disinformation isn't the end but the means?" Hood said.

"What if someone is trying to convince Lawrence that he's losing his

"You mean, what if someone is trying to gaslight the president of the
United States?"  Herbert declared.

"Yes," Hood replied.

"Well, it's going to take a lot of convincing before I buy that,"
Herbert said.

"For one thing, anyone who tried that would never get away with it.
There are too many people around the president--"

"Bob, we already decided that this is something Jack Fenwick would not,
probably could not, do on his own," Hood said.

"Yes, but to make it work, he'd need a small army of people who were
very close to the president," Herbert said.

"Who?"  Hood asked.

"The chief of staff?"

"For one," Herbert said.

"He's privy to most of the same briefings the president receives."

"Okay," Hood said.

"Gable's already on my list of unreliables.  Who else?  Who would be
absolutely necessary for a plan like this to work?" Before Herbert could
answer, his phone beeped.  He answered the call and was back in less
than a minute.

"Don't tell me, "I told you so,"

"Herbert said.

"Why?"  Hood asked.

"A high-level official at the CIA in Washington got the intel about the
Harpooner from the NSA," Herbert told them.

"The NSA didn't have anyone in Baku, so they notified the CIA.  The CIA
sent David Battat."

"Whom the Harpooner knew just where to find," Rodgers said.

"Instead of killing him, the Harpooner poisoned him somehow.  And then
Battat was used to bring out Moore and Thomas at the hospital."

"Apparently," Herbert said.

"Paul, you asked a question a moment ago," Rodgers said.

"You wanted to know who else would be necessary for a psyops maneuver to
work against the president. That's a good question, but it's not the
first one we need to answer."

"No?"  Hood said.

"What is?"

"Who would benefit the most from the mental incapacitation of the
president?"  Rodgers asked.

"And at the same time, who would be in a perfect position to help make
some of the disinformation happen?" Hood's stomach was growling now. The
answer was obvious. The vice president of the United States.

Washington, D.C. Monday, 11:24 p.m.

Vice President Charles Gotten was in the ground-floor sitting room of
the vice presidential residence.  The mansion was located on the
sprawling Massachusetts Avenue ; grounds of the United States Naval
Observatory.  It was a twenty-minute drive from here to the vice
president's two offices: one in the White House and the other in the
neighboring Old Executive Office Building.  It was just ' a short walk
from the mansion to the National Cathedral.

Gotten had been spending more time than usual at the
cathedral. Praying. An aide knocked and entered.  The woman told the
vice president that his car was ready.  The vice president thanked her
and rose from the leather armchair.  He entered the dark, wood-paneled
hallway and headed toward the front door.  Upstairs, Cotten's wife and
children were asleep.. My wife and children.  They were words Gotten
never thought would be part of his life.  When he was a senator from New
York, Cotten had been the ultimate lady's man.  A new, gorgeous date to
every function.  The press referred to these younger women as "Cotten
candy." There were regular jokes about what went on below the Gotten
belt. Then he met Marsha Arnell at a Museum of Modern Art fund-raiser in
Manhattan, and everything changed.  Marsha was twenty-seven, eleven
years his junior.  She was a painter and an art historian.  She was
telling a group of guests about late-twentieth-century art and how the
work of commercial artists like Frank Frazetta, James Bama, and Rich
Corben defined a new American vision: the power of the human form and
face blended with landscapes from dream and fantasy.  Gotten was
hypnotized by the young woman's voice, her ideas, and her vital and
optimistic view of America. They were married four months later. For
nearly ten years; Marsha and their twin girls had been the foundation of
Charles Cotten's life.  They were his focus, his heart, and their future
was never far from his thoughts. They were the reason the vice president
had conceived of this plan.  To preserve America for his family. The
fact was, the United States was at risk.  Not just from terrorist
attacks, though more and more those were becoming a very real threat.
The danger facing the United States was that it was on the verge of
becoming irrelevant.  Our military could destroy the world many times
over.  But other nations knew that we would never do that, so they did
not fear us.  Our economy was relatively strong.  But so were the
economies of many other nations and alliances.  The Eurodollar was
strong, and the new South American League and their SAL currency was
growing in power and influence. Central America and Mexico were talking
about a new confederacy.  Canada was being tempted to join the European
economy. Those unions, those nations, did not face the kind of suspicion
and resentment that greeted America the world over.  The reason? America
was a giant everyone wanted to see brought down.  Not destroyed; they
needed us too much for international policing.  They simply wanted us
humbled and humiliated. We were a meddling thug to our enemies and an
overbearing big brother to our supposed allies. These were not concerns
that bothered other nations during times of international depression or
world war.  It was all right to invade France to free the French of
Hitler. But it was not okay to fly over France to bomb Libya, the home
of a different despot.  It was all right to maintain a military presence
in Saudi Arabia to protect the nation from Saddam Hussein.  But it was
not all right to fly jets from Riyadh to protect American troops in the
region. We were not respected, and we were not feared.  That had to
change. And it had to change long before Michael Lawrence was scheduled
to leave the White House in three years.  That would be too late to act.
The problem had not been caused by Michael Lawrence.  He was simply the
latest bearer of the torch of arrogant isolationism.  When he was in the
Senate, Cotten had felt that there needed to be a United States that was
better integrated with the world.  The one that Teddy Roosevelt had
described.  The one that carried a big stick and was not afraid to use
it.  But also one that knew how to speak softly.  An America that knew
how to use and exert diplomacy and economic pressure. One that had the
resolve to use quiet assassination and blackmail instead of mounting
very public and unpopular mini wars When the senator was tapped to share
a ticket with presidential candidate Michael Lawrence, Cotten accepted.
The public liked Lawrence's "I'm for the people" slogan and style, his
perception as a man who had come back from the political wilderness to
serve them. But he had wanted to balance his relatively up-front and
independent manner with someone who knew how to work the back rooms of
Congress and the corridors of power abroad. Cotten left the mansion and
slid into the car.  The driver shut the door for him.  They rolled into
the dark, still night.  Cotten's soul was on fire.  He was not going to
enjoy what he and his allies were about to do.  He remembered when he
had first approached them and others individually.  Seemingly casual
remarks were dropped.  If they were ignored, he let the subject drop. If
not, he pursued it with more pointed remarks.  Cotten realized that was
what it must be like for a married man to ask a woman to have an affair.
Go too far with the wrong individual, and everything could be lost. Each
man had become involved for the same reason:

patriotism.  The creation of an America that led the world community
rather than reacted to it.  An America that rewarded peace with
prosperity and punished warmongers not with a public pummeling and
credibility but with quiet, lonely death.  Lawrence was not willing to
cross the line from legal war to illegal murder, even though lives would
be saved.  But the dawn of the twenty-first century was not a time for
warfare.  It bred short-term misery and long-term hatred.  The world was
becoming too small, too crowded for bombs.  As distasteful as this was,
a change had to come.  For the nation and for the sake of its children.
For the sake of his children. The car moved swiftly through the empty
streets. Washington was always so deserted at night.  Only the spies and
plotters were afoot.  It seemed strange to think of himself in that
capacity.  He had always been a straight shooter.  If you felt
passionately about something, you spoke your mind.  If you didn't feel
passionately, then it probably was not worth doing.  But this was
different. This operation had to be kept very quiet.  Kept only among
those who were actively involved in its planning and execution. Now this
was it.  Gotten thought.  The last leg of the operation. According to
the president's staff, announcing a UN intelligence initiative that did
not exist had seriously rattled Lawrence.  It had shaken him more than
the other canards Fenwick and Gable hail led him and subsequently
denied--usually during a cabinet session or meeting in the Oval Office.

"No, Mr.  President," Gotten would say softly, seemingly embarrassed for
the confusion of the president, "there was never a Pentagon report that
Russia and China exchanged artillery fire over the Amur River. Sir, we
had not heard that the FBI director had threatened to resign. When did
this happen?  Mr.  President, don't you recall?  We had agreed that Mr.
Fenwick would share this new intelligence with Iran." The question of
sharing intelligence with Iran had been important to the final stage of
the operation.  Jack Fenwick had told the Iranian ambassador that
according to United States intelligence sources, an attack would come
from Azerbaijan.  They weren't sure what the target would be, but it
would probably be a terrorist attack in the heart of Teheran.  Fenwick
had assured Iran that if they retaliated, the United States would stay
out of it. This nation wanted to nurture closer ties with the Islamic
Republic of Iran, not stand in the way of its self-defense. Lawrence, of
course, would be pushed to behave in a less accommodating manner.  And
when he realized where his confused perceptions had taken the nation, he
would be forced to resign. The fact that Lawrence had known nothing
about the meeting was irrelevant.  At tonight's meeting with the
so-called "Eyes Only Group"--Gable, Fenwick, and the vice president--the
men would convince the president that he had been kept informed.  They
would show him memos that he had seen and signed.  They would show him
the calendar his secretary kept on the computer. The appointment had
been added after she left for the day.  Then they would jump right into
the current crisis. They would trust and the president would lead. By
morning, Michael Lawrence would be publicly committed to a path of
confrontation with two of the most volatile nations on earth. The
following morning, with the help of unnamed NSA sources, the Washington
Post would run a frontpage, above-the-fold article about the president's
mental health.  Though the newspaper piece would be hooked to the UN
fiasco, it would also contain exclusive details about some of the
president's increasingly dramatic and fully documented lapses.  The
nation would not tolerate instability from the commander-in-chief.
Especially as he was about to send the nation to war. Things would
happen very quickly after that.  There was no constitutional provision
for the president to take a leave of absence. And there was no
short-term cure for mental illness.  Lawrence would be forced to resign,
if not by public pressure then by act of congress. Gotten would become
president.  The United States military would immediately back down in
the Caspian Sea to avoid a confrontation with Iran and Russia.  Instead,
through intelligence operations, they would prove that Iran had
masterminded the entire operation in the first place.  Teheran would
protest, but the government's credibility would be seriously
compromised.  Then, through diplomacy, the United States would find ways
to encourage moderates in Iran to seize more power. Meanwhile, spared a
pounding from Iran and Russia, Azerbaijan would be in America's debt.
After the clouds of war drifted away.  President Cotten would make
certain of something else.  That Azerbaijan and America shared in the
oil reserves of the Caspian Sea.  The Middle East would never again hold
the United States hostage.  Not in their embassies nor at the gas pump.
With order restored and American influence and credibility at its peak.
President Charles Gotten would reach out to the nations of the world.
They would be invited to join us in a permanent peace and prosperity.
When their people experienced freedom and economic reward for the first
time, they would cast those governments out. Eventually, even China
would follow suit.  They had to. People were greedy, and the old-line
Communists would not live forever. If the United States stopped
provoking them, providing the government with a public enemy, Beijing
would weaken and evolve. This was the world that Charles Gotten wanted
for America.  It was the world he wanted for his own children. He had
thought about it for years.  He had worked to achieve it.  He had prayed
for it. And very soon, he would have it.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday  8:09 a.m.

David Battat was lying on a hard twin bed in the small, sparsely
furnished studio apartment.  There was a window to his left.  Though the
blinds were drawn, the room brightened as light leaked through the
slats. Battat was shivering but alert.  His abductor, hostess, or
savior--he had not yet decided which--was in the kitchenette off to the
right. She had been making eggs, sausage, and tea when the phone rang.
Battat hoped the call was brief.  The food smelled good, but the thought
of tea was even better.  He needed to warm himself inside.  Do something
to stop the trembling. He felt as though he had the flu.  He was weak
and everything he saw or heard seemed dreamlike.  But his head and chest
were also very tight. More than from any sickness he could remember.
Hopefully, once he had tea and something to eat, he would be able to
focus a little better, try to understand what had happened back at the
hospital. The woman walked over to the bed.  She was carrying the phone.
She stood about five-foot-nine and had a lean, dark face framed by
thick, black, shoulder-length hair. Her cheekbones were pronounced, and
her eyes were blue.  Battat was willing to bet there was Lithuanian
blood in her.  She handed the receiver to Battat.

"There is someone who wishes to speak with you," she said in thickly
accented English.

"Thank you," said Battat.  His own voice was a weak croak.  He accepted
the cordless phone.  He did not bother to ask her who it was.  He would
find out soon enough.


"David Battat?"  said the caller.


"David, this is Paul Hood, the director of Op-Center."

"Paul Hood?"  Battat was confused.  Op-Center found him here and was
calling him now to ask about--that?

"Sir, I'm sorry about what happened," Battat said, "but I didn't know
that Annabelle Hampton was working with--"

"This isn't about the United Nations siege," Hood interrupted.

"David, listen to me.  We have reason to believe that the NSA set you
and your colleagues up." It took a moment for Battat to process what
Hood had said.

"They set us up to be murdered?  Why?"

"I can't tell you that now," Hood replied.

"What's important is that for the present, you're out of danger." The
young woman walked over with a cup of tea.  She set it on the night
table beside the bed.  Battat used an elbow to drag himself into a
sitting position.  She helped him by putting strong hands under his arm
and literally lifting him from the bed.

"What I need to know is this," Hood went on.

"If we can locate the Harpooner, do you feel up to helping us take him

"If there's a way for me to get the Harpooner, I'm up for it," Battat
said.  Just the thought of that energized him.

"Good," Hood told him.

"We're working with a Russian intelligence group on this.  I don't know
when we'll have additional information.  But when we do, I'll let you
and your new partner know." Battat looked over at the young woman.  She
was standing in the kitchenette spooning eggs onto two plates.  The last
time he was in the field, Russians were the enemy.  It was a strange
business they were in.

"Before I go, is there anything else you can tell us about the
Harpooner?"  Hood asked.

"Anything you might have seen or heard while you were looking for him?
Anything Moore or Thomas might have said?"

"No," Battat said.  He took a sip of tea.  It was stronger than he was
used to.  It was like a shot of adrenaline.

"All I know is that someone put me in a choke hold from behind.  The
next thing I knew, I was on the ground.  As for Moore and Thomas, they
were as mystified as I was."


"The Harpooner had let me live," Battat said.

"Assuming it was the Harpooner," Hood said.

"Listen. Use the time you have to rest.  We don't know where the
Harpooner may turn up or how much time you may have to get to him.  But
we need you to be ready to move out."

"I'll be ready," Battat said. Hood thanked him and hung up.  Battat
placed the phone on the night table.  Then he took another swallow of
tea.  He still felt weak, but he was trembling a little less than
before. The young woman walked over with a plate for him. Battat watched
her as she set the plate on his legs and placed a cloth napkin and
utensils on the night table. She looked tired.

"My name is David Battat," he said.

"I know," she said.

"And you are--?"  he pressed.

"In Baku, I am Odette Kolker," she said.  There was finality in the
young woman's voice.  It told him two things.  First, that she was
definitely not an Azerbaijani recruited by the Russians.  And second,
that Battat would not be getting her real name.  Not from her, anyway.

"I'm pleased to meet you," Battat said, extending his hand.

"I'm also extremely grateful for everything you've done."

"You're welcome," she said. The young woman shook Battat's hand firmly
but perfunctorily. As she did, Battat noticed several small bloodstains
on the sleeve of her off-white police blouse. There were no lacerations
on her hand or forearm.  The blood did not appear to be hers.

"Are you really a policewoman?"  Battat asked.

"Yes," she replied.

"Were you working the night shift?"  he asked.

"No," she replied.

"I was called in to do this."  She smiled slightly.

"And I cannot collect overtime for it." Battat sipped more tea and
smiled back.

"I'm sorry they had to wake you."  He moved the plate to the night table
and started to throw off the cover.

"I probably shouldn't be taking your bed--"

"No, it's all right," she said.

"I'm expected on duty in less than an hour.  Besides, I'm accustomed to
having unexpected guests."

"A hazard of the business," he said.

"Yes," Odette observed.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to eat.  You should do the same.
Eat and then rest."

"I will," Battat promised.

"Do you need salt or anything else?"

"No thank you," he said. Odette turned and walked slowly toward the
kitchenette. Less than an hour ago, she had killed a man.  Now she was
serving Battat breakfast.  This was a strange business.  A very strange
business indeed.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 12:10 a.m.

"Hello, Paul." Sharon's voice was thick and cold on the other end of the
phone.  Hood glanced at the clock on his computer.

"Hi," he said warily.

"Is everything okay?"

"Not really," she replied.

"I just got back from the hospital."

"What happened?"

"The short version," she said, "is that Harleigh freaked out about
ninety -minutes ago.  I called an ambulance--I didn't know what else to

"You did the right thing," Hood said.

"How is she?"

"Dr.  Basralian sedated her, and she's sleeping now," Sharon went on.

"What does he think is wrong?"  Hood asked.

"Is it physical--?"

"He isn't sure," she said.

"They're going to run tests in the morning.  The doctor said that
sometimes a traumatic event can have physical repercussions.  It can
affect the thyroid, cause it to get hyper, or create a surplus of
adrenaline. Anyway, I didn't call so you'd drop what you're doing and go
to see her. I just wanted you to know."

"Thank you," Hood said.

"I'll still get over as soon as I can."

"No need for that," Sharon told him.

"Everything's quiet.  I'll let you know if there's a change."

"All right," Hood said.

"If that's what you want."

"I do.  Just some down-time.  Tell me, Paul.  Is there a problem?"
Sharon asked.

"With what?"

"The world," Sharon said.

"Always," Hood replied.

"I tried the motel first," Sharon told him.

"When you weren't there, I figured you must be putting out a fire
somewhere." Hood was not exactly sure how to take that remark. He tried
not to read anything into it..

"There's a problem in the Middle East," Hood said.

"Could be a bad one."

"Then I won't keep you," Sharon said.

"Just don't kill yourself, Paul.  You're not a kid anymore.  You need
sleep.  And the kids need you."

"I'll take care of myself," he promised. Sharon hung up.  When Hood and
his wife were together, Sharon used to be frustrated and angry whenever
he worked long hours.  Now that the two of them were apart, she was calm
and concerned.  Or maybe she was holding it all together for Harleigh's
sake.  Whatever the reason, it was a sad, sad joke being played on the
Hood family. But Hood did not have time to consider the injustice of it
all or even the condition of his daughter.  The phone rang a moment
after he hung up.  The call was from another concerned wife. The

Saint Petersburg, Russia Tuesday, 8:30 a.m.

General Orlov was proud that his operative had been able to save the
American.  Proud, but not surprised. Odette--Natalia Basov--had been
working with him for three years.  The thirty-two-year-old was a former
decryption expert who had begun her career with the GRU, Soviet military
intelligence.  Her husband Viktor was an officer in the Spetsnaz, the
Russian special forces.  When Viktor was killed on a mission in
Chechnya, Basov became deeply depressed.  She wanted to get out from
behind a desk.  Because the GRU was being dismantled and its components
downsized, Basov was sent to see Orlov. Orlov was happy to put her in
the field.  Not only was Basov skilled in electronic intelligence, her
husband had taught her the self-defense techniques of the systema, the
lethal martial arts style of the Spetsnaz.  Orlov himself had studied
the basics as a way of staying in shape.  The systema did not rely on
practiced moves or on physical strength.  It taught that during an
assault, your own defensive motion dictated what the counterattack
should be.  If you were struck on the right side of the chest, you
instinctively turned the right side away to avoid the blow.  As a
result, your left side automatically came forward. Thus, your attack
would be with the left arm.  And it would not be a single blow.  It
would be a trinity. Perhaps a fist to the chin, an elbow to the jaw, and
a swipe with the back of the hand, all in quick succession.  While that
was going on, you were positioning yourself to unleash the next trinity.
Typically, an opponent did not get more than a first chance to strike.
Multiple opponents were too busy avoiding their falling comrades to move
in. Basov had mastered the form well.  And she had proven to be a
valuable asset in Azerbaijan.  Orlov's people had created a false
identity for her, and she had obtained a job with the police force. That
put her in a job to watch and question people, other officers, guards,
and night watchmen at plants and military bases.  To learn what was
happening in Baku's corridors of power and in the military.  Being a
beautiful woman made men more inclined to talk to her, especially in
bars.  And underestimate her. Basov said that she and her guest were
safe, but they were not what bothered Orlov right now. What concerned
him was finding the Harpooner. Basov had told Orlov that the Baku police
radio was reporting an explosion in the harbor.  A boat had blown up,
killing everyone on board.  Orlov was willing to bet that the boat had
belonged to the Harpooner.  That was his way--to destroy all the
evidence along with some or all of his coworkers.  The dead men would
probably be blamed for the rig attack.  Orlov wondered who they were.
Azerbaijanis? Iraqis?  Russians?  There were any number of people he
could have recruited for a job like that.  Just as long as they did not
know what usually happened to his employees. Most of Orlov's staff began
arriving at half-past eight. The general had left e-mail for the two key
members of his intelligence team, Boris and Piotr, to come and see him
as soon as possible.  If the Harpooner had been responsible for the
attack in the Caspian, he probably would not attempt to leave Baku
immediately.  In the past, the Harpooner apparently waited a day or two
after an attack.  And when he finally moved, he often passed through
Moscow.  No one knew why. Unfortunately, by the time authorities learned
he was in the city, he had vanished.  General Orlov did not want that to
happen again.  The question was how to find him.  And Paul Hood might
have unwittingly given them a clue. Boris Grosky was a sullen,
gray-haired intelligence veteran who missed the Cold War.  Piotr Korsov
was an eager newcomer who had studied at Technion in Haifa, Israel.  He
was openly thrilled to be working in a field he loved and for a man who
had helped pioneer space travel.  The men entered the windowless office
within a minute of one another.  They sat on the couch across from
Orlov's desk, Boris drinking tea and Korsov sitting with a laptop on his
knees. Orlov briefed the men.  Grosky became noticeably more interested
when the general mentioned that the NSA and CIA might somehow be
involved in the Caspian operation.

"What I want to know is this," Orlov said.

"We have eavesdropped on cell phone communications between American
intelligence operatives before.  We've gotten through many of their
secure lines."

"We've gotten through most of them," Grosky pointed out.

"They try to keep you out by altering the signal from second to second,"
Korsov said.

"The shifts are all within just a few megahertz in the superhigh
frequency. We've learned how to ride most of the shifts."

"The difficult part is decoding the messages, which are scrambled
electronically," Grosky added.

"The American agencies use very complex codes.  Our computers aren't
always up to the task of decrypting the calls."

"Do the same callers usually use the same signals, the same patterns?"
Orlov asked Korsov.

"Usually," Korsov told him.

"Otherwise, there would be audio crossover.  Callers would keep bumping
into one another."

"Do we keep records of the calls?"  Orlov asked.

"The conversations?"  Grosky asked.

"Yes.  We keep working on them, trying to decode--"

"I mean the signals," Orlov interrupted.

"Absolutely," said Grosky.

"We send them up to the Laika so it can keep a lookout for those
signals." The Laika was the Russian Op-Center's sentry satellite. Named
for the pioneering Soviet space dog, the Laika was in a high
geostationary orbit over Washington, D.C. It could intercept signals
from the United States, all of Europe, and parts of Asia.

"So, if the Harpooner spoke with an intelligence unit in Washington, we
might have picked up the signal if not the content," Orlov said.

"That's right," said Kosov.

"Very good," said Orlov.

"Go to the computer records for the past two weeks.  Look up communiques
between Azerbaijan and the National Security Agency in Washington  Get
me all the information you have."

"Even if we haven't decrypted them," said Kosov.

"Yes," Orlov replied.

"I want to know exactly where the Harpooner or his people might have
been calling from."

"When you know that, what will you do?"  Grosky asked.

"I'll call the American Op-Center and ask them to go through any
satellite imaging they have for the region," Orlov said.

"The Harpooner had to move explosives and personnel into position.  If
we can pinpoint his location, there may be a photographic record of

"And clues to where he might be," Grosky said. Orlov nodded.

"We'll have that information for you as soon as possible," Kosov said

"It would be a coup if we could catch that monster."

"It would be," Orlov agreed. The men left.  Orlov put in a call to Paul
Hood to bring him up to date. Catching the Harpooner would be a
highlight of his career.  But more than that, he wondered if this close
cooperation between Op-Centers could become increasingly routine.  If
the trust and sharing could lead to less suspicion and greater
international security. That would be the real coup.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 12:30 a.m.

"Paul, I'm glad I found you," Megan Lawrence said.

"I think you should come here.  There's something going on." The First
Lady's voice was steady when she got on the line, but Hood knew her well
enough to know that it was Megan's "I have to be strong" voice.  He had
heard that voice during the campaign when there were hard questions from
the press about an abortion she had had before she met the president. As
she had years before, Megan was pulling this strength from deep inside.
She would crash only when it was safe to do so.

"Talk to me," Hood said.  He was drawing on his own emotional and
psychological reserves to deal with the First Lady's problem.  The call
from Sharon had shaken him.

"We were just getting into bed when Michael received a call from Jack
Fenwick," Megan said.

"Whatever Fenwick said rattled my husband very much.  His voice was calm
while they talked and then afterward, but I watched this look come over

"What kind of look?"  Hood asked.

"It's difficult to describe," she said.

"Was it guarded, startled, doubtful?"  Hood asked.

"All of that," Megan replied. Hood understood.  That was what he saw in
the Oval Office.

"Where is the president now?"  he asked.

"He went down to meet with Fenwick, the vice president, and Red Gable,"
Megan said.

"Did he say what the meeting was about?"  Hood asked.

"No.  But he told me not to wait up," she said. It was probably about
the Caspian situation.  A small, non conspiratorial part of Hood said
that this might not be anything to worry about.  On the other hand, the
president was meeting with people who had fed him misinformation before.
Perhaps that was what Megan had seen in her husband's expression The
fear that it might be happening again.

"Paul, whatever is going on, I think Michael needs to have friends
around him," Megan said.

"He should be with people he knows well and can trust.  Not just policy
advisers." Hood's aide Stef Van Cleef beeped.  She said there was a call
from General Orlov.  Hood told her to apologize to the general for the
delay. He would take it in just a moment.

"Megan, I don't disagree," Hood said.

"But I can't just invite myself to a meeting in the Oval Office--"

"You have the security clearance," she said.

"To get into the West Wing, not the Oval Office," he reminded her. Hood
stopped.  His eyes were on the beeping light on the phone.  Maybe he
would not have to get himself invited.


"I'm here," Hood said.

"Megan, listen to me.  I'm going to take a call, and then I'm going to
the White House.  I'll call your private line later and let you know how
things are going."

"All right," Megan said.

"Thank you." Hood hung up and took the call from Orlov.  The Russian
general briefed him on the plan to try to locate the Harpooner.  Orlov
also told him about the destruction of the boat in the harbor.  He
suspected that Azerbaijani officials would find bodies in the water,
either the Harpooner's hirelings or people who were abducted to
impersonate hirelings. Hood thanked Orlov and informed the general that
he would have Op-Center's full cooperation.  Hood indicated that he
would be away from the office for a while and that he should contact
Mike Rodgers with any new information.  When Hood hung up, he
conferenced Herbert and Rodgers on his cell phone.  He updated them as
he hurried to the parking lot.

"Do you want me to let the president know you're coming?"  Rodgers asked

"No," Hood said.

"I don't want to give Fenwick a reason to end the meeting early."

"But you're also giving Fenwick and his people more time to act,"
Rodgers pointed out.

"We have to take that chance," Hood said.

"If Fenwick and Gable are launching some kind of end game I want to give
them time to expose it.  Maybe we can catch them in the act."

"I still think it's risky," Rodgers said.

"Fenwick will press the president to act before other advisers can be

"That could be why this was timed the way it was," Herbert pointed out.

"If there's a plot of some kind, it was designed to happen when it was
the middle of the night here."

"If this is tied to the Caspian situation, the president will have to
act quickly," Rodgers went on.

"Mike, Bob, I don't disagree with what you're saying," Hood told them.

"I also don't want to give these bastards a chance to discredit anything
I may have to say before I get there."

"That's a tough call," Herbert said.

"Real tough.  You don't have a lot of information on the situation

"I know," Hood said.

"Hopefully, we'll have more intel before too long."

"I'll be praying for you," Herbert said.

"And if that doesn't work, I'll be checking other sources."

"Thanks," Hood said.

"I'll be in touch." Hood sped through the deserted streets toward the
nation's capital. There was a can of Coke in the glove compartment. Hood
kept it there for emergencies.  He grabbed the can and popped the tab.
He really needed the caffeine.  Even warm, the cola felt good going
down. Rodgers was correct.  Hood was taking a chance.  But Hood had
warned the president about Fenwick.  The rerouted phone call, the visit
to the Iranian mission, failure to communicate with Senator Fox and the
COIC. Hopefully, Lawrence would look very carefully at whatever data was
being presented to him.  The president might also take the time to run
the information through Op Center just to make sure it was valid. But
Hood's hopes did not change the fact that the president was under an
unusual amount of stress.  There was only one way to be certain what
Michael Lawrence would do.  That was for Hood to get there with new
intelligence.  And while Hood was there, to help the president sift
through whatever information Fenwick was presenting to him. And there
was one more thing Hood had to do.  Pray that Mike Rodgers was not
right. That there was still time.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 9:01 a.m.

Maurice Charles settled into his small room at the Hyatt.  The room had
a queen-sized bed and a tall cabinet that held the TV and minibar. There
was a desk to the left of them and a night table on either side of the
bed. An armchair was tucked into a corner opposite the desk. There was
very little room, which was fine with Charles. He did not like suites.
There was too much open space. Too many places for people to hide. The
first thing Charles did was to tie a nylon rope to one of the legs of
the desk.  It was located near the window. The room was on the third
floor of the ten-story hotel. If Charles were cornered there for any
reason, the police would find it difficult to climb from the ground or
rappel from the roof without making noise. That left only the door as a
means of getting in.  And he was prepared to deal with that.  He carried
cans of shaving cream that were actually filled with highly flammable
liquid methanol.  Spilled under the doorway and set aflame, it burned
hot and fast and drove people back. That would give Charles time to
shoot anyone who was waiting for him outside the window, then use the
rope to climb out. Methanol was also a fatal poison.  The liquid's fumes
were so potent that even brief exposure to the vapors could cause
blindness. Charles turned on the light beside the bed and drew the heavy
drapes. Next, he picked the locks between his room and the adjoining
room. That was another route of escape in case he needed it.  Then he
pulled over the desk chair.  He braced the back of the wooden chair
under the knob of the door between his room and the next. He would be
able to remove the chair quickly to escape. But if anyone on the other
side tried the door, they would think it was locked. The security
arrangements took under a half hour. When they were finished, Charles
sat on the bed.  He went to his luggage and took out his.45.  He placed
it on the floor beside the bed.  He pulled a Swiss army knife from his
pocket and lay it on the night table. He also brought over a bag of
several stuffed animals he had bought when he first came to Baku.  All
of the animals had costumes. If Charles were ever questioned, the plush
toys were for his daughter. There were photos of a young girl in his
wallet.  It was not his daughter, but that did not matter.  Then he
opened the Zed-4. There was one last call to make. The call was to the
abandoned van.  The microchip he had placed in the gas tank was a remote
detonator.  It had been nicknamed a Kamikaze Cell Phone by its Taiwanese
inventor.  The KCP had no function other than to pick up the signal, do
its job, and then die. This particular KCP had been programmed to heat
to 145 degrees Fahrenheit when triggered.  Some chips could be
programmed to emit high-pitched sounds to interfere with electronic
signals or even confuse bloodhounds. Other chips could be used to create
magnetic bursts that would cause radar or navigational tools to go
haywire. This chip would melt and leave no trace of itself.  It would
also set the gas tank afire.  The police and fire department would be
forced to respond at once to calls about a burning van.  They would
arrive in time to save some of the vehicle along with what little
evidence Charles had left for them to find.  That included the traces of
Charles's blood. The heat of the fire would cause the water content of
the blood to evaporate, leaving clear stains on the metal door handle,
glove compartment knob, and other sections of the van that had not
burned. The police would conclude that the wounded terrorist had tried
to destroy the van and the evidence before leaving.  They would assume
that their quick response had enabled them to save what they were not
supposed to see. Charles punched in the number of the KCP.  He waited
while his signal traveled twenty-five miles into space and bounced back
to a street three blocks away.  There were two short clicks and then the
dial tone returned. That meant the call had been completed.  The chip
had been designed to disconnect from the Zed-4 as it began to heat up.
Charles hung up.  He put everything into his backpack except for the 45.
As he did, he heard sirens.  They stopped exactly where they were
supposed to. By the burning van. Comforted by the unparalleled feeling
of a job well done, Maurice Charles made the final preparations for his
stay.  He removed one of the pillows from the bed and put it on the
floor between the bed and the window, directly in front of the
nightstand.  Then he lay down and looked to his right, toward the bed.
The hem of the bedspread reached nearly to the floor.  Beneath and
beyond the bed, he could see the front door.  If for some reason anyone
came in, Charles would see their feet. That was all he had to see to
stop them. Charles kept his clothes and shoes on in case he had to leave
in a hurry, but they did not distract him.  Nothing did now.  This was
the time he enjoyed most. When he had earned his rest and his pay. Soon,
even the sound of the police and fire sirens did not penetrate his deep,
rewarding sleep.

Saint Petersburg, Russia Tuesday, 9:31 a.m.

At 9:22 a.m. Piotr Korsov e-mailed General Orlov a brief data file. The
file contained a list of the secure calls that had been intercepted
between Azerbaijan and Washington during the past few weeks.  Most of
those calls had been between the American embassy and either the CIA or
the NSA.  The Russian Op-Center had been unable to decrypt any of the
conversations, but Orlov was able to scratch them off his list.  Those
calls were pretty much routine and not likely suspects for calls made by
the Harpooner. Over the past few days, there had also been calls to the
NSA from Gobustan, a village to the south of Baku. They were all made
before the attack on the oil rig.  The calls from the embassy to the
United States had a slightly different band with from the Gobustan
calls.  That meant the calls were made from different secure phones. In
a note attached to the file, Korsov said he was watching for new calls
made from either line. Orlov was not very hopeful.  The Harpooner
probably would not signal his allies to tell them he had been
successful. Whoever he was in league with would hear about that from
their own intelligence sources. The very fact that a secure satellite
uplink had played any part in this business was personally disturbing to
Orlov.  That was the kind of technology his space flights had helped to
pioneer--satellite communications.  The fact that they were being so
expertly abused by terrorists like the Harpooner made him wonder if the
technology should have been developed at all.  It was the same argument
people had made for and against splitting the atom.  It had produced
plentiful and relatively clean atomic power, but it had also bred the
atomic bomb. But Orlov had not had a hand in that work.  Just in this.
Then again, Orlov thought, as Boris Pasternak wrote in one of his
favorite novels.  Doctor Zhivago, "I don't like people who have never
fallen or stumbled.  Their virtue is lifeless and it isn't of much
value.  Life hasn't revealed its beauty to them."  Progress had to allow
monsters like the Harpooner to surface.  That was how it showed the
creators where the flaws were. Orlov had just finished reviewing the
material when his private internal line beeped.  It was Korsov.

"We picked up a ping," Korsov said excitedly.

"What kind of ping?"  Orlov asked.  A ping was how his intelligence
officers described any kind of electronic communication.

"The same one we recorded as having been sent from Gobustan," Korsov

"Was the call made from Gobustan?"

"No," Korsov replied.

"It was made from Baku to a site very close by.  A site that was also in

"How close?"  Orlov asked.

"The caller and receiver were less than a quarter mile," Korsov told

"We can't measure distances less than that."

"Maybe the Harpooner was calling accomplices who have another secure
line," Orlov suggested.

"I don't think so," Korsov told him.

"The phone call only lasted three seconds.  As far as we can tell there
was no verbal communication."

"What was sent?"

"Just an empty signal," Krosov said.

"We've fed cartographic al data into the computer.  Grosky is overlaying
the signal and trying to pinpoint the exact location now."

"Very good," Orlov said.

"Let me know as soon as you have it." As soon as Orlov hung up, he put
in a call to Mike Rodgers to let him know about the apparent NSA
Harpooner connection and the possible location of the Harpooner.  Then
he called Odette.  He hoped that the American she had saved was ready to
move out.  Orlov did not want to send Odette against the Harpooner
unassisted, but he would if he had to. Because more than that, he did
not want to lose the Harpooner. As Orlov punched in Odette's number, he
began to feel hopeful and upbeat.  The technology that he had helped put
into space was actually a two-edged sword. The Harpooner had been using
a secure satellite uplink to help destroy lives.  Now, with luck, that
uplink would have an unexpected use. To pinpoint the Harpooner and help
destroy him.

Teheran, Iran Tuesday, 10:07 a.m.

The chief of the Supreme Command Council of the Armed Forces of the
Islamic Republic of Iran had been called at home shortly after dawn.
Teheran maintained listening posts on many of their oil rigs in the
Caspian Sea.  From there, they eavesdropped electronically on foreign
shipping and on military sites along the Caspian coast.  Each post sent
a pulse every five minutes to indicate that the electronics were still
on-line.  The sudden silence of Post Four was the first indication
anyone in Teheran had that something was wrong in the Caspian. An F-14
Tomcat was immediately dispatched from the Doshan Tapeh Air Base outside
of Teheran.  The Tomcat was one of ten that remained of the seventy
seven that had been a part of the shah's state-of-the-art air force. The
fighter confirmed that the oil rig had been destroyed. Salvage experts
and military engineers were immediately parachuted into the region by a
Kawasaki C-l transport.  While rescue patrol boats hurried to the site
from Caspian fleet headquarters in Bandar-e Anzelli, the engineers found
burn marks on the platform that were consistent with powerful high
explosives.  The fact that the underside had been struck suggested a
submarine attack that had somehow eluded sonar detection. At nine-thirty
a.m."  the salvage experts found something more.  The body of Russian
terrorist Sergei Cherkassov. The report galvanized the often fractious
officers of the SCCAF as well as the minister of the Islamic Revolutions
Guards Corps, the minster of foreign affairs, the minister of the
interior, and the minister of intelligence. The moderates had joined the
extremists, and by ten a.m." the order had been given: the IRI military
was ordered to defend Iranian interests in the Caspian at any and all
cost.  * On the sea, the initial thrust was to be an antisubmarine
defense.  That was spearheaded by antisubmarine aircraft and
helicopters.  Marine battalions in the region were also mobilized. The
second wave would consist of destroyers and frigates, which were to be
stationed around the remaining rigs. Chinese-made Silkworm missiles were
rushed to the forces defending the Caspian. In the air, Chinese-made
Shenyang F-6s began regular patrols from both the Doshan Tapeh Air Base
and the Mehrabad Air Base.  Three surface-to-air missile battalions in
the region were also put on high alert. At the same time, Iranian
embassies in Moscow and Baku were ordered to notify the Russian and
Azerbaijani governments that while the attack was under investigation,
any further moves against Iranian interests would be regarded as a
declaration of war by those governments. Iranian diplomats were informed
by both governments that they had had no hand in the attack on the
Iranian oil facility. Representatives of Moscow and Baku added that
Iran's increased military presence was unwelcome. Both nations indicated
that their own navies and air forces would be placed on alert and would
increase patrols in the region. By late morning, waters that had given
lives to fishermen and oilmen the night before were rich with something
else. The promise of death.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 1:33 a.m.

Mike Rodgers was in his office when General Orlov called.  After hearing
what the Russian had to say, Rodgers immediately called Paul Hood in his
car and gave him the new information about the Harpooner.

"How certain is General Orlov about the NSA Harpooner connection?" Hood

"I asked him that," Rodgers told Hood.

"Orlov answered that he is very certain.  Though I'm not sure the
president is going to put a lot of credence in what a Russian general

"Especially if several of the president's top advisers refute that
information," Hood said.

"Paul, if Orlov is correct, we're going to have to do more than tell the
president," Rodgers said.

"There's going to have to be a massive housecleaning in the NSA. We
can't have American intelligence agencies hiring terrorists who have
attacked American interests, taken American lives."

"Didn't we do that with the German rocket scientists after World War
Two?"  Hood asked.

"The operative phrase is, 'after World War Two,"

"Rodgers said.

"We didn't hire German scientists to work for us while they were still
building missiles to attack Great Britain."

"Good point," Hood said.

"Paul, this is the guy that helped kill Bob Herbert's wife," Rodgers

"If Oriov's intel is true, the NSA has to be held accountable for this."

"I hear you," Hood said.

"Look, I'll be at the White House soon.  Work on trying to get me any
kind of backup you can.  See if Bob can dig up signal intelligence that
backs up Oriov's claims."

"He's working on that now," Rodgers said. Hood hung up, and Rodgers got
up.  He poured coffee from the pot that sat on a cart in the back of his
room. It was an aluminum cart from the 1950s.  He'd picked it up at a
Pentagon garage sale ten years before.  He wondered if the sounds of
crisis still resonated somewhere deep in its molecular structure.
Arguments and decisions about Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam. Or were they
arguments about whose turn it was to treat for coffee and Danish?
Rodgers wondered.  That was part of war, too, of course.  The moments of
downtime that let decision makers catch their breath.  Do something real
instead of theoretical.  Remind themselves that they were talking about
people's lives and not just statistics. When he sat back down, Rodgers
started going through the files of the NSA's top officials.  He was
looking for people who had previous ties with Jack Fenwick or had ever
investigated Middle Eastern terrorist groups. The NSA could not have
contacted the Harpooner unless someone in one of those groups had
helped.  If it turned out that Orlov was right, Rodgers wanted to be
ready to help with the purge.  A purge of Americans who had collaborated
with a man who had murdered American men and women, soldiers, and
civilians. He wanted to be ready with a vengeance.

Washington, D.C Tuesday, 1:34 a.m.

The White House is an aging monument in constant need of repair.  There
is peeling paint on the southern columns and splitting wood on the
third-floor terraces. But in the West Wing, especially in the Oval
Office, there is a sense of constant renewal.  To outsiders, power is a
large part of the appeal of the Oval Office.  To insiders, it is the
idea that an intense new drama presents itself every hour of every day.
Whether it's small, cautious maneuvering against a political rival or
the mobilization of the military for a massive offensive and possible
casualties, each situation starts, builds, and ends.  For someone who
thrives on out thinking an adversary or on extrapolating short- and
long-term results from quiet decisions, the Oval Office is the ultimate
challenge.  It clears the game board every few minutes and offers new
contests with new rules. Some presidents are aged and drained by the
process.  Other presidents thrive on it. There was a time until very
recently when Michael Lawrence was invigorated by the problems that
crossed his desk.  He was undaunted by crises, even those that required
quick military action and possible casualties. That was part of the job
description.  A president's task was to minimize the damage caused by
inevitable aggression. But something had changed over the past few days.
Lawrence had always felt that however stressful situations got, he was
at least in control of the process.  He could chair meetings with
confidence.  Lately, that was no longer the case.  It was difficult for
him even to focus. Lawrence had worked with Jack Fenwick and Red Gable
for many years. They were old friends of the vice president, and
Lawrence trusted Jack Cotten.  He trusted his judgment.  Lawrence would
not have selected him as a running mate otherwise.  As vice president,
Cotten had been more closely involved in the activities of the NSA than
any previous vice president.  Lawrence had wanted it that way.  For
years, the CIA, the FBI, and military intelligence had had their own
agendas.  The Executive Branch needed its own eyes and ears abroad.
Lawrence and Cotten had more or less appropriated the NSA for that task.
The military could still utilize the NSA's chartered assets, which were
the centralized coordination and direction of U.S. government
intelligence technical functions and communications.  Under Cotten, its
role had quietly been expanded to increase the breadth and detail of
intelligence that was coming directly to the president. Or, rather, to
Fenwick and the vice president and then to the president. The president
stared at the open laptop on his desk. Jack Fenwick was talking about
Iran.  Data was downloading quickly from the NSA.  Fenwick had some
facts and a good deal of supposition.  He also had an edge. He appeared
to be going somewhere, though he had not yet indicated where. Meanwhile,
Lawrence's eyes stung, and his vision was foggy.  It was difficult to
concentrate.  He was tired, but he was also distracted. He did not know
who to believe or even what to believe.  Was the data from the NSA real
or falsified?  Was Fenwick's intelligence accurate or fabricated? Paul
Hood suspected Fenwick of deception.  Hood appeared to have the evidence
for it.  But what if it were Hood's evidence that wasn't trustworthy?
Hood was going through an extremely stressful time.  He had resigned his
post at Op-Center, then returned.  He had been at ground zero of the
explosive UN hostage crisis.  His daughter was suffering from an extreme
case of posttraumatic stress disorder.  Hood was in the process of
getting a divorce. What if it were Hood who had the agenda, not Fenwick,
the president wondered.  When Fenwick had arrived at the White House
before, he admitted that he had been to the Iranian mission.  He
admitted it openly.  But he insisted that the president had been
informed.  The vice president corroborated that fact.  So did the
calendar on the president's computer.  As for the call regarding the
United Nations initiative, Fenwick insisted that was not placed by him.
He said the NSA would investigate. Could it have been placed by Hood?

"Mr.  President?"  Fenwick said. The president looked at Fenwick.  The
national security adviser was seated in an armchair to the left of the
desk.  Gable was to the right, and the vice president was in the center.

"Yes, Jack?"  the president replied.

"Are you all right, sir?"  Fenwick asked.

"Yes," Lawrence replied.

"Go on." Fenwick smiled and nodded and continued. The president sat up
taller.  He had to focus on the issue at hand. When he got through this
crisis, he would schedule a short vacation. Very soon.  And he would
invite his childhood friend and golfing buddy. Dr. Edmond Leidesdorf,
and his wife.  Leidesdorf was a psychiatrist attached to Walter Reed.
The president had not wanted to see him officially with this problem
because the press would find out about it. Once that happened, his
political career would be over.  But they had played golf and gone
sailing before.  They could talk on a golf course or boat without
raising suspicion.

"The latest intelligence puts the Russian terrorist Sergei Cherkassov at
the scene of the explosion," Fenwick continued.

"He had escaped from prison three days before the attack on the rig. His
body was found at sea. There were burn marks consistent with flash
explosives. There was also very little bloating.  Cherkassov had not
been in the water for very long."

"Do the Azerbaijanis have that information?"  the president asked.

"We suspect they do," Fenwick replied.

"The Iranian naval patrol that found Cherkassov radioed shore on an open
channel.  Those channels are routinely monitored by the Azerbaijanis."

"Maybe Teheran wanted the rest of the world to have the information,"
the president suggested.

"It might turn them against Russia."

"That's possible," Fenwick agreed.

"It's also possible that Cherkassov was working for Azerbaijan."

"He was being held in an Azerbaijani prison," the vice president said.

"They might have allowed him to escape so that he could be blamed for
the attack."

"How likely is that?"  the president asked.

"We're checking with sources at the prison now," Fenwick said.

"But it's looking very likely."

"Which means that instead of the attack turning Iran against Russia,
Azerbaijan may have succeeded in uniting both nations against them," the
vice president said. Fenwick leaned forward.

"Mr.  President, there's one thing more.  We suspect that creating a
union between Russia and Iran may actually have been the ultimate goal
of the Azerbaijani government."

"Why in hell would they do that?"  the president asked.

"Because they are practically at war with Iran in the Nagorno-Karabakh
region," Fenwick said.

"And both Russia and Iran have been pressing claims on some of their oil
fields in the Caspian."

"Azerbaijan wouldn't stand a chance against either nation individually,"
the president pointed out.

"Why unite them?" Even as he said it, the president knew why. To win

"How much of our oil do we get from that region?"
the president asked.

"We're up to seventeen percent this year with a projection of twenty
percent next year," Gable informed him.

"We're getting much better prices from Baku than we are from the Middle
East.  That was guaranteed by the trade agreement we signed with Baku in
March 1993.  And they've been very good about upholding their end of the

"Shit," the president said.

"What about the other members of the Commonwealth of Independent
States?" he asked.

"Where will they stand if two of their members go to war?"

"I took the liberty of having my staff put in calls to all of our
ambassadors before I came over here," the vice president said.

"We're in the process of ascertaining exactly where everyone stands. But
a preliminary guess is that it will pretty much be split.  Five or six
of the poorer, smaller republics will side with Azerbaijan in the hopes
of forming a new union with a share of the oil money.  The other half
will go with Russia for pretty much the same reason."

"So we risk a wider war as well," the president said.

"But this is more than just the possibility of us losing oil and
watching a war erupt," Fenwick pointed out.

"It's Iran and the Russian black market getting their hands on
petrodollars that scares me." The president shook his head.

"I'm going to have to bring the joint chiefs in on this." The vice
president nodded.

"We're going to have to move quickly.  It's midmorning in the region.
Things are going to happen very quickly.  If they get ahead of us--"

"I know," the president said.  He was suddenly energized, ready to deal
with the situation.  He looked at his watch and then at Gable.

"Red, would you notify the joint chiefs to be here at three?  Also, get
the press secretary out of bed.  I want him here as well."  He looked at
the vice president.

"We'll need to alert the thirty-ninth Wing at Incirlik and the naval
resources in the region."

"That would be the Constellation in the North Arabian Sea and the Ronald
Reagan in the Persian Gulf, sir," Fenwick said.

"I'll put them on alert," the vice president said.  He excused himself
and went to the president's private study.  It was a small room that
adjoined the Oval Office on the western side.  That was also where the
president's private lavatory and dining parlor were located.

"We'll also have to brief NATO command," the president told Gable.

"I don't want them holding us up if we decide to act.  And we're going
to need a complete chemical and biological workup of the Azerbaijani
military. See how far they'll go if we don't join in."

"I already have that, sir," Fenwick said.

"They've got deep reserves of anthrax as well as methyl cyanide and
acetonitrile on the chemical side.  All have surface-to surface missile
delivery systems.  Most of the reserves are stored in or near the NK.
We're watching to see if any of them are moved." The president nodded as
his intercom beeped.  It was his deputy executive secretary Charlotte

"Mr.  President," said Parker, "Paul Hood would like to see you.  He
says it's very important." Fenwick did not appear to react.  He turned
to Gable and began talking softly as he pointed to data on his notepad.
Are they talking about the Caspian or about Hood?

the president wondered.  Lawrence thought for a moment.  If Hood were
the one who had lost his way-either intentionally or because of external
pressures-this would be the time and the place to find out.

"Tell him to come in," said the president.

Saint Petersburg, Russia Tuesday, 9:56 am.

"We have the Harpooner's location!"  Korsov shouted. Orlov looked up as
Korsov rushed into his office.  The young intelligence officer was
followed by Boris Grosky, who looked less glum than Orlov had ever seen
him.  He did not look happy, but he did not look miserable. Korsov was
holding several papers in his hands.

"Where is he?"  Orlov asked. Korsov slapped a computer printout on
Orlov's desk. There was a map and an arrow pointing to a building.
Another arrow pointed to a street several blocks away.

"The signal originated at a hotel in Baku," Korsov said.

"From there it went to Suleyman Ragimov Kuchasi.  It's an avenue that
runs parallel to Bakihanov Kuchasi, the location of the hotel."

"Was he calling someone with a cell phone?"  Orlov asked.

"We don't believe so," Grosky said.

"We've been monitoring police broadcasts from the area to find out more
about the oil rig explosion.  While we were listening, we heard about a
van explosion on Suleyman Ragimov. The blast is being investigated now."

"It doesn't sound like a coincidence," Korsov added.

"No, it doesn't," Orlov agreed.

"Let's assume the Harpooner was behind that," Korsov said.

"He might want to see it from his hotel room--"

"That might not be necessary, as long as he could hear it," Orlov said.

"No.  The Harpooner would be worried about security if he were staying
in a hotel room.  Do we have any way of fine-tuning the location of the

"No," Korsov said.

"It was too brief, and our equipment is not sensitive enough to
determine height in increments under two hundred feet."

"Can we get a diagram of the hotel?"  Orlov asked.

"I have that," Korsov said.  He pulled a page from the pile he was
holding and laid it beside the map.  It showed a ten-story hotel.

"Natasha is trying to break into the reservations list," Grosky said. He
was referring to the Op-Center's twenty-three-year-old computer genius
Natasha Revsky.

"If she can get in, she will give us the names of all single male

"Get single females as well," Orlov said.

"The Harpooner has been known to adopt a variety of disguises." Grosky

"You feel very confident about this?"  Orlov asked. Korsov had been
leaning over the desk.  Now he stood like a soldier, his chest puffed.

"Completely," he replied.

"All right," Orlov said.

"Leave the hotel diagram with me.  This was very good work.  Thank you
both." As Grosky and Korsov left, Orlov picked up the phone.  He wanted
to talk to Odette about the hotel and then get her on site.  Hopefully,
the American would be strong enough to go with her. The Harpooner was
not a man to tackle alone.

Baku.  Azerbaijan Tuesday, 10:07 a.m.

Odette Kolker was cleaning up the breakfast plates when the phone
beeped.  It was the apartment phone, not her cell phone.  That meant it
was not General Orlov who was calling. She allowed her answering machine
to pick up.  It was Captain Kilar. The commander of her police unit had
not been in when she phoned the duty sergeant to let him know that she
would be out sick.  Kilar was calling to tell her that she was a good
and hardworking officer, and he wanted her to get well.  He said that
she should take whatever time she needed to recuperate. Odette felt bad
about that.  She was hardworking.  And though the Baku Municipal Police
Department paid relatively well--twenty thousand manats, the equivalent
of eight thousand American dollars--they did not pay overtime.  However,
the work Odette did was not always for the BMP and the people of Baku.
The time she spent at her computer or on the street was often for
General Orlov.  Baku was a staging area for many of'the arms dealers and
terrorists who worked in Russia and the former Soviet republics.
Checking on visa applications, customs activity, and passenger lists for
boats, planes, and trains enabled her to keep track of many of these
people. After putting away the few dishes, Odette turned and looked back
at her guest.  The American had fallen asleep and was breathing evenly.
She had placed a cool washcloth on his head and he was perspiring less
than when she had brought him home.  She had seen the bruises on his
throat. They were consistent with choke marks.  Obviously, the incident
in the hospital was not the first time someone had tried to kill him.
There was also a tiny red spot on his neck.  A puncture wound, it looked
like. She wondered if this illness were the result of his having been
injected with a virus.  The KGB and other Eastern European intelligence
services used to do that quite a bit, typically with lethal viruses or
poison. The toxin would be placed inside microscopic pellets. The
pellets were sugar-coated metal spheres with numerous holes in their
surface.  These would be injected by an umbrella tip, pen point, or some
other sharp object. It would take the body anywhere from several minutes
to an hour or two to eat through the sugar coating. That would give the
assassin time to get away.  If this man had been injected, he probably
was not supposed to die by the virus.  He had been used to draw his
colleagues out into the open.  The hospital ambush had been well
organized. Just like the ambush that killed her husband in Chechnya, she
thought. Her husband, her lover, her mentor, her dearest friend.  They
all perished when Viktor died on a cold, dark, and lonely mountainside.
Viktor had successfully infiltrated the Chechan mujihadin forces.  For
seven months, Viktor was able to ohtain the ever-changing radio
frequencies with which different rebel factions communicated.  He would
write this information down and leave it for a member of the KGB field
force to collect and radio to Moscow. Then the idiot KGB officer got
sloppy.  He confused the frequency he was supposed to use with the one
he was reporting about.  Instead of communicating with his superiors, he
broadcast directly to one of the rebel camps. The KGB officer was
captured, tortured for information, and killed.  He had not known
Viktor's name but he knew which unit her husband had infiltrated and
when he had arrived.  The rebel leaders had no trouble figuring out who
the Russian agent was.  Viktor would always leave his information under
a rock which he would chip in a distinctive fashion. While he was out
one night, supposedly standing watch, Viktor was brought down by ten
men, then taken into the mountains.  There, his Achilles tendons were
severed and his wrists were slashed. Viktor bled to death before he
could crawl to help.  His last message to her was painted on a tree
trunk with his own blood.  It was a small heart with his wife's initials
inside. Odette's cell phone beeped softly.  She picked it up from the
kitchen counter and turned her back toward her guest.  The woman spoke
softly so she would not wake him.


"We believe we've found the Harpooner." That got Odette's attention.


"At a hotel not far from you," Orlov said.

"We're trying to pinpoint his room now." Odette moved quietly toward the
bed.  She was required to check her service revolver when she left
police headquarters every night.  But she kept a spare weapon in the
nightstand.  It was always loaded.  A woman living alone had to be
careful.  A spy at home or abroad had to be even more careful.

"What's the mission?"  Odette asked. Termination," Orlov said.

"We can't take a chance that he'll get away."

"Understood," Odette said calmly.  The woman believed in the work she
was doing, protecting the interests of her country.  Killing did not
bother her when doing it would save lives.  The man she had terminated
just a few hours before meant little more to her than someone she might
have passed in the street.

"Once we've narrowed down the guests who might be the Harpooner, you're
going to have to make the final call," Orlov said.

"The rest depends on what he does, how he acts.  What you see in his
eyes.  He's probably going to have showered but still look tired."

"He's been a busy bastard," Odette said.

"I can read that in a man."

"The chances are he won't open the door to the hotel staff," Orlov went

"And if you pretend to be a housekeeper or security officer, that will
only put him on guard."

"I agree," she said.

"I'll find a way to get in and take him by surprise."

"I spoke to our profiler," Orlov said.

"If you do get to him, he'll probably be cool and even pleasant and will
appear to cooperate.  He might attempt to bribe you or get you to be
overconfident.  Try to get your guard down so he can attack.  Don't even
listen.  Make your assessment and do your job.  I wouldn't be surprised
if he also has several traps at the ready.  A gas canister in an air
duct, an explosive device, or maybe just a magnesium flash to blind you.
He might have rigged it to a light switch or a remote control in his
heel, something he can activate when he ties his shoe. We just don't
know enough about him to say for certain how he secures a room."

"It's all right," Odette assured him.

"I'll make the ID and neutralize him."

"I wish I could tell you to go in with a squad of police," Orlov said

"But that isn't advisable.

A shout, rerouted traffic, anything out of the ordinary can alert him.
Or the Harpooner may sense their presence.  If he does, he may get away
before you can even get to him.  I'm sure he has carefully planned his
escape routes.  Or he may try to take hostages."

"I understand," Odette said.

"All right.  Where is the Harpooner registered?"

"Before I tell you that, how is your guest?"  Orlov asked.

"He's sleeping," Odette replied.  She looked down at the man on the bed.
He was lying on his back, his arms at his side.  His breathing was slow
and heavy.

"Whatever he's suffering from was probably artificially induced," she

"Possibly by injection."

"How is his fever?"

"Down a bit, I think," she said.

"He'll be okay."

"Good," Orlov said.

"Wake him."

"Sir?"  The order took her completely by surprise.

"I want you to wake him," Orlov told her.

"You're bringing him with you."

"But that's not possible!"  Odette protested.

"I don't even know if the American can stand."

"He'll stand," Orlov said.

"He has to."

"Sir, this is not going to help me--"

"I'm not going to have you face the Harpooner without experienced
backup," Orlov said.

"Now, you know the drill.  Do it." Odetted shook her head.  She knew the
drill.  Viktor had taught it to her.  Lit matches were applied to the
soles of the feet.  It not only woke up the ill or people who had been
tortured into unconsciousness, but the pain kept them awake and alert as
they walked. Odette shook her head.  By definition, field work was a
solo pursuit. What had happened to Viktor underscored the danger of
working with someone even briefly.  Even if the American were well, she
was not sure she wanted a partner.  I'll, he would be more of a burden
than an asset.

"All right," Odette said.  She turned her back on the American and
walked toward the kitchenette.

"Where is he?"

"We believe the Harpooner is in the Hyatt," Orlov told her.

"We're trying to have a look at their computer records now.  I'll let
you know if we learn anything from the files."

"I'll be there in ten minutes," Odette promised.

"Is there anything else.  General?"

"Just this," Orlov said.

"I have grave reservations about sending you after this man.  I want you
both to be careful."

"We will," Odette said.

"And thank you." She hung up and hooked the cell phone on her belt. She
removed the gun and ankle holster from the night table and slipped them
on.  Her long police skirt would cover the weapon.  She slipped a
silencer in her right pocket.  She had brought a switchblade to the
hospital. That was still tucked in her left skirt pocket.  If she did
not need it for self-defense, she would need it as a throwaway.  If she
were stopped for any reason, perhaps by hotel security, Odette could say
that she was visiting a friend--the checkout who, of course, would no
longer be there.  Odette would be able to say that she knocked on the
wrong door and the Harpooner attacked her.  With her help--using
information provided by Orlov and the Americans--the police would
connect the dead man with the terrorist attack. Hopefully, though, it
would not be necessary to explain anything to anyone.  With surprise on
her side, Odette might be able to catch the Harpooner relatively
unprepared. Odette walked on slightly bent knees and tiptoed to the
front door of the apartment.  The hardwood floors creaked loudly
underfoot.  It was strange, Odette thought. It had never been necessary
for her to be quiet here before.  Until today, there had never been
anyone but her in this bed.  Not that she regretted that. Viktor had
been all she ever wanted. Odette opened the door.  Before leaving, she
looked back at the sleeping American. The woman felt bad about lying to
General Orlov. Though the coin of her profession was subterfuge and
deceit, she had never lied to Orlov.  Fortunately, this was a win-win
situation for her. If she succeeded in bringing down the Harpooner,
Orlov would be angry with her-but not very.  And if she failed, she
would not be around to hear Orlov complain. Odette stepped into the
corridor and quietly shut the door behind her. If she blew this
assignment, she would probably have to listen to Viktor complain. Listen
for all eternity. She smiled.  That, too, was a win situation.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 2:08 a.m.

A stoic secret service agent opened the door to the Oval Office and
admitted Paul Hood.  The large, white door closed with a small click.
The sound seemed very loud to Hood as he crossed the carpet toward the
president's desk.  So did the sound of Hood's heart.  He had no way of
knowing for certain whether Fenwick was a rogue figure or working as
part of a team.  Either way, convincing others about possible
involvement in an international conspiracy of some kind was going to be
extremely difficult. The mood in the room was hostile.  Hood could feel
that even before he saw the faces of the vice president, Fenwick, and
Gable.  None of the men looked back at him, and the president's
expression was severe. Mike Rodgers once said that when he first joined
the military, he had a commanding officer with a very singular
expression of disapproval.  He looked at you as though he wanted to tear
heads off and use them for punting practice. The president had that
look. Hood quickly made his way between the armchairs to the president's
desk. The Washington Monument was visible through the windows behind the
president.  The tower was brightly moonlit in the flat, black night.
Seeing it then gave Hood the flash of courage he needed.

"I'm sorry to intrude, Mr.  President, gentlemen," Hood announced.

"This couldn't wait."

"Things never can wait with you, can they?"  Fenwick asked.  He glanced
back at the green folder in his lap.

A preemptive strike.  Hood thought.  The bastard was good.  Hood turned
and looked at the NSA chief.  The short, slender man had deep-set eyes
beneath a head of thick, curly white hair.  The whiteness of his hair
emphasized the darkness of his eyes.

"Your team has a history of rushing blindly into evolving crises, Mr.
Hood.  North Korea, the Bekaa Valley, the United Nations.  You're a
lighted match waiting for the wrong tinderbox."

"We haven't blown one yet," Hood pointed out.

"Yet," Fenwick agreed.  He looked at Lawrence.

"Mr. President, we need to finish reviewing our data so that you can
make a decision about the Caspian situation."

"What does Maurice Charles have to do with the Caspian situation?" Hood
demanded.  He was still looking at Fenwick.  He was not going to let the
man wriggle away.

"Charles?  The terrorist?"  Fenwick asked.

"That's right," Hood said.  Hood said nothing else.  He wanted to see
where this went. The president looked at Fenwick.

"Did the NSA know that Charles was involved with this?"

"Yes, Mr.  President, we did," Fenwick admitted.

"But we don't know what his involvement was.  We've been looking into

"Maybe I can point you in the right direction, Mr. Fenwick," Hood said.

"Maurice Charles was in touch with the NSA both before and after the
attack on the Iranian oil rig."

"That's bullshit!"  Fenwick charged.

"You seem sure of that," Hood said.

"I am!"  Fenwick said.

"No one in my organization would have anything to do with that man!"
Hood had expected Fenwick to 3D the charge: disavow, deny, and delay.
But neither the vice president nor Gable had jumped in to defend him.
Perhaps because they knew it was true? Hood turned to the president.

"Sir, we have every reason to believe that Charles, the Harpooner, was
involved in the destruction of that rig."

"Evidence from whom?"  Fenwick demanded.

"Unimpeachable sources," Hood replied.

"Who?"  Vice President Cotten asked. Hood faced him.  The vice president
was a calm and reasonable man. Hood was going to have to bite the bullet
on this one.

"General Sergei Orlov, commander of the Russian Op-Center." Gable shook
his head.  Fenwick rolled his eyes.

"The Russians," the vice president said dismissively.

"They may have been the ones who sent Cherkassov into the region to
attack the rig.  His body was found in the water nearby."

"Moscow has every reason not to want us involved in the region," Gable

"If Azerbaijan is chased out of the Caspian, Moscow can lay claim to
more of the oil reserves.  Mr.  President, I suggest we table this side
of the problem until we've dealt with the larger issue of the Iranian

"We've reviewed the data Orlov provided, and we believe it's accurate,"
Hood stated.

"I'd like to see that data," Fenwick said.

"You will," Hood promised.

"You wouldn't also have given General Orlov any secure codes to help him
listen in on alleged NSA conversations, would you?" Hood ignored that.

"Mr.  President, the Harpooner is an expert at creating and executing
complex cover stories. If he's involved in this operation, we have to
look carefully at any evidence that comes in.  We should also inform
Teheran that this action may have nothing to do with Baku."

"Nothing?"  Fenwick said.

"For all we know, they may have hired the Harpooner."

"You may be right," Hood said.

"What I'm saying is that we have no evidence of anything except the fact
that the Harpooner is in the region and was probably involved in the

"Secondhand evidence," Fenwick said.

"Besides, I spent a day trying to open a dialogue with Teheran about an
intelligence exchange.  The bottom line is that they don't trust us, and
we can't trust them."

"That is not the bottom line!"  Hood snapped.  He stopped.  He had to
watch that--showing anger.  He was frustrated, and he was extremely
tired.  But if he lost control, he would also lose credibility.

"The bottom line," Hood continued evenly, "is that misinformation has
been passed regularly between the NSA, the CIOC, and the Oval Office--"

"Mr.  President, we need to move on," Fenwick said calmly.

"Iran is moving warships into the Caspian region  That is a fact, and it
must be dealt with immediately."

"I agree," said the vice president.  Cotten looked at Hood.  There was
condescension in the vice president's eyes.

"Paul, if you have concerns about the actions of personnel at the NSA,
you should bring your proof to the CIOC, not to us.  They will deal with

"When it's too late," Hood said.

"Too late for what?"  the president asked. Hood turned to the president.

"I don't know the answer to that, sir," Hood admitted.

"But I do believe you should hold off making any decisions about the
Caspian right now." Fenwick shook his head.

"Based on hearsay from Russians who may themselves be moving planes and
ships into the region."

"Mr.  Fenwick has a point," the president said.

"The Russians may indeed have designs on the Caspian oil," Hood agreed.

"That in itself doesn't repudiate General Orlov's intelligence."

"How long do you need, Paul?"

"Give me another twelve hours," Hood said.

"Twelve hours will give Iran and Russia time to position ships in the
Azerbaijani oil regions," Gable said. The president looked at his watch.
He thought for a moment.

"I'll give you five hours," he said. That was not what Hood wanted, but
it was obviously all he was going to get.  He took it.

"I'll need an office," Hood said.  He did not want to waste time running
back to Op-Center.

"Take the Cabinet Room," the president said.

"That way I know you'll be done by seven.  We'll be moving in then."

"Thank you, sir," Hood said. Hood turned.  He ignored the other men as
he left the Oval Office.  The hostility was much greater now than when
he had come in.  Hood was certain he had hit a bull's-eye.  Just not
with enough firepower. It would have been too much to expect the
president to buy everything he was telling him.  Even after their
earlier conversation, Lawrence was still obviously struggling with the
idea that Jack Fenwick could be a traitor. But at least the president
had not dismissed the idea entirely.  Hood had been able to buy himself
some time. Hood walked down the quiet, green-carpeted hallway of the
West Wing. He made his way past two silent secret service officers.  One
was posted outside the Oval Office.  The other was standing down the
hall between the doorway that led to the press secretary's office on the
northwest end of the corridor and door to the Cabinet Room on the
northeast side. Hood entered the oblong room.  There was a large
conference table in the center of the room.  Beyond it, in the northern
end of the room, was a desk with a computer and a telephone.  Hood went
over and sat down. The first thing Hood would do was contact Herbert. He
had to try to get more information about the Harpooner's contacts with
the NSA.  Yet even having the exact time and location of the calls would
probably not persuade the president that there was a conspiracy. Hood
needed proof.  And right now, he did not know how he was going to get

Saint Petersburg, Russia Tuesday, 10:20 a.m.

When he was a cosmonaut. General Orlov had learned to read voices.
Often, that was the only way he learned whether there was a problem with
a flight.  Ground control had once told him that all was well with his
Salyut space station mission.  In fact, pitting from micro meteoroid
dust and a chemical cloud dumped by the spacecraft's own thrusters had
corroded the solar array.  The panels had been so seriously compromised
that the station was going to lose power before a Kosmos ship from Earth
was due to ferry them home. The first hint of trouble came from the
voice of the liaison in ground control.  His cadence was a little
different from usual. Orlov already had an ear for voices from the years
he spent as a test pilot. Orlov insisted on being told what the problem
was with the Salyut.  The entire world heard the conversation,
embarrassing the Kremlin.  But Orlov was able to shut down noncritical
systems and conserve power rather than wait for scientists to figure out
how to realign the remaining panels while also shielding them from
further corrosion. Orlov trusted Natalia Basov.  Completely.  But he did
not always believe her, which was not the same thing. There was
something in her tone of voice that worried him.  It was as if she had
been concealing something. Just like the liaison at ground control.
Several minutes after they spoke on her cell phone, Orlov called the
phone registered to Odette Kolker at her apartment.  It rang a dozen
times and no one answered. Orlov hoped that meant she had taken the
American with her.  Twenty minutes later, he called back again. This
time a man with a slurred voice answered.  In English. Orlov looked at
the readout on the telephone to make sure he had the correct number.  He
did.  The woman had left without the American.

"This is General Sergei Orlov," he said to the man.

"Is this Mr.  Battat?"

"Yes," Battat replied groggily.

"Mr.  Battat, the woman who rescued you is my subordinate," Orlov went

"She has gone out to try and apprehend the man who attacked you on the
beach.  You know who I am talking about?"

"Yes," Battat replied.
"I do."

"She has no backup, and I'm worried about her and about the mission,"
Orlov said.

"Are you well enough to get around the city?" There was a short delay.
Orlov heard grunts and moans.

"I'm on my feet, and I see my clothes hanging behind the door," Battat

"I'll take one step at a time. Where did she go?" Orlov told the
American he had no idea what Odette's plan was, or if she even had one.
Orlov added that his team was still trying to get into the hotel
computer to find out which rooms were occupied by single males. Battat
asked Orlov to call him a taxi, since he did not really speak the
language. Orlov said he would do that and thanked him.  He gave Battat
his telephone number at the Op-Center and then hung up. Orlov sat still.
Save for the faint buzz of the fluorescent light on his desk, his
underground office was dead silent.  Even space was not this quiet.
There were always creaks as metal warmed and cooled or bumps as loose
objects struck equipment.  There were sounds of coolant moving through
pipes and air rushing through vents. And every now and then there was
someone talking in his headphone, either from Earth or somewhere else in
the ship. Not here.  This was a lonelier-feeling place by far. By now,
Odette had probably reached the hotel and gone inside.  He could phone
her and order her back, but he did not think she would listen. And if
she was intent on going through with this, he did not want to rattle
her. She needed to know she had his support. Orlov was angry at Odette
for having disobeyed orders and lying to him. His anger was tempered by
an understanding of what had driven the woman. Her husband had been a
loner as well.  A loner who had died because of someone else's
carelessness. Still, she would not stand in the way of Orlov's job. And
that job was not just to capture or kill the Harpooner. It was to make
certain that Odette did not end up like Viktor.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 10:31 a.m.

There was a great deal of traffic, and it took Odette twice as long as
she expected to reach the Hyatt Hotel. She parked on a side street less
than a block from the employees' entrance. She did not want to park out
front. There was still a sniper out there somewhere, the person who had
shot the American diplomat outside the hospital. The killer might be
bird-dogging the hotel for the Harpooner. He might have seen her car at
the hospital and could recognize it again. It was a sunny morning, and
Odette enjoyed the brief walk to the front of the hotel.  The air tasted
richer and seemed to fill her lungs more than usual.  She wondered if
Viktor had felt this way while he was in Chechnya. If simple moments had
seemed more rewarding when there was a real risk of losing it all.
Odette had been to the rear entrance of the hotel twice before.  Once
was to help a cook who had burned himself in a skillet fire.  Another
time was to quiet a man who was complaining about charges on his dinner
bill.  She knew her way around the back. Unfortunately, she didn't think
she would find the Harpooner here. Odette assumed that when the
Harpooner came and went, he used the front entrance.  Sneaking out a
delivery door or first floor window might call attention to himself.
Smart terrorists hid in plain sight. And smart counter terrorists waited
for them rather than charging into their lair, she thought. But Odette
had no idea when the Harpooner would be leaving. It could be the middle
of the night.  It could be early afternoon.  It could be three days from
now.  She could not be here the entire time. She also had no idea
whether or not he would be disguised.  And for all she knew, he might
even hire a prostitute to pose as his daughter, wife, or even his
mother.  There were some old prostitutes in Baku.  Some very young ones,
too.  Odette had arrested a number of them. There were many
possibilities, all of which made it imperative that Odette get to the
Harpooner before he left.  The question was how to find him.  She had no
idea what his name was or what name he might be using. Except for the
Harpooner, Odette thought.  She laughed to herself. Maybe she should run
down the halls shouting that name.  Watch to see which doors did not
open.  Anyone who did not need to see what the uproar was about had to
be the Harpooner. Odette rounded the corner and walked toward the front
of the hotel. There was a kiosk around the corner.

A newspaper extra was already announcing the Iranian buildup in the
Caspian Sea.  There were aerial reconnaissance photos of Iranian ships
setting sail.  Baku had always been relatively insulated from military
action. This was something new for the nation's capital.  That would
help to explain the traffic.  Most people lived in the suburbs.  Many of
them probably came to work, heard the news, and were getting out of town
in the event of attack. There was just one person standing beneath the
gold and green awning. A doorman in a green blazer and matching cap.
There were no tour buses, though that was not surprising.  They usually
left by nine a.m. Tourists who had entered the country as part of a
group probably could not opt for early departure and had almost
certainly gone ahead with their plans.  In any case, checkout was not
until noon.  People who did want to leave were probably on the phones
trying to book plane, train, or car reservations-Of course, she thought.
The phone. Orlov had said that the Harpooner made a call using a secure
phone. That would mean he probably had not made any calls using the
hotel phone. She would look for a single male occupant with no phone
charges on his bill. Odette entered the hotel.  She looked away from the
front desk as she crossed the lobby.  She did not want to risk being
seen by the manager or any of the clerks who might recognize her.  The
first thing she did was turn to the right, toward the corridor that led
to housekeeping. The long, simple office was located in the back of the
hotel.  There was a desk with a supervisor in the front of the office.
Behind her was an array of cleaning carts. To her right was a Peg-Board
with keys for all the rooms.  A row of master keys was located on the
bottom. These were given out to the cleaning staff each morning. Two
keys remained. Odette asked the elderly clerk if she could have more
shampoo.  Smiling pleasantly, the clerk rose and went to one of the
carts.  While the woman's back was turned, Odette took one of the master
keys from the wall.  The clerk returned with three small bottles of
shampoo.  The woman asked if she needed anything else.  Odette said that
she did not. Thanking her, Odette returned to the lobby and walked to
the bank of telephone booths that lined an alcove in the back. As she
was walking, her phone beeped.  She tucked herself into one of the
booths, shut the door, then answered it. Orlov said his team had broken
into the hotel computer and they had five possibilities.  Odette wrote
down the names and room numbers.

"We might be able to narrow it down a little more," Orlov told her.

"If someone wanted to get out of the country quickly, he would assume a
nationality the Azerbaijani would not want around."

"Iranian," Odette said.

"No," Orlov countered.

"Iranians might be detained. Russian is more likely.  And there are two
Russians at the hotel." Odette said she might be able to narrow it down
even further by checking the room telephone records.

"Good thinking," Orlov said.

"Hold on while we're checking.  Also, Odette, there's one thing more."
Odette felt her lower belly tighten.  There was something about the
general's voice.

"I spoke with Mr.  Battat a few minutes ago," Orlov said. Odette felt as
if she'd run into a thick, low-lying tree branch.  Her momentum died and
her head began to throb.  She did not think she had done wrong, leaving
a sick man at home.  But she had disobeyed an order and could think of
nothing to say in her defense.

"The American is on his way to the hotel," General Orlov continued

"I told him to look for you in the lobby.  You're to wait until he
arrives before you try to take down your man.  Do you understand,

"Yes, sir," she replied.

"Good," Orlov said. The woman held on as Orlov's staff checked the
records. Her palms were damp.  That was less from nervousness than from
having been caught.  She was an honest woman by nature, and Orlov's
trust was important to her. She hoped he understood why she had lied. It
was not just to protect Battat.  It was to allow herself to concentrate
on the mission instead of on a sick man. According to the hotel's
records, two of the five men staying there had not made any calls from
the room.  One of them, Ivan Ganiev, was Russian.  Orlov told her they
were also checking the computer's housekeeping records. According to the
last report, filed the day before, Ganiev's room, number 310, had not
been cleaned in the three days he had been there. Meanwhile, Orlov went
to his computer and asked for a background check on the name.  It came
up quickly.

"Ganiev is a telecommunications consultant who lives in Moscow.  We're
checking the address now to make sure it's valid.  He doesn't appear to
work for any one company," Orlov said.

"So there's no personnel file we can check for his education or
background," she said.

"Exactly," Orlov said.

"He's registered with the Central Technology Licensing Bureau, but all
it takes to get a license is a bribe.  Ganiev does not have family in
Moscow, does not appear to belong to any organizations, and receives his
mail at a post office box." That made sense, Odette thought.  No mail
collecting in the postbox, no newspapers piling up on the stoop. None of
the neighbors would be certain whether he was there or not.

"Hold on, we have his address," Orlov added.  He was silent for a
moment.  Then he said, "It's him.  It has to be."

"Why do you say that?"

"Ganiev's residence is a block from the Kievskaya metro stop," Orlov
told her.

"Which means--?"

"That's where we've lost the Harpooner on at least two other occasions,"
Orlov said. Battat walked into the lobby just then.  He looked like
Viktor did after ten rounds of boxing in the military amateurs.  Wobbly.
Battat saw Odette and walked toward her.

"So it looks as though he's our man," Odette said.

"Do we proceed as planned?" This was the most difficult part of
intelligence work. Making a determination about life and death based on
an educated guess. If General Orlov were wrong, then an innocent man
would die.  Not the first and certainly not the last.  National security
was never error-free.  But if he were correct, hundreds of lives might
be spared. Then there was the option of attempting to capture the
Harpooner and turn him over to Azerbaijani authorities. Even if it could
be done, there were two problems with that.  First, the Azerbaijanis
would find out who Odette really was.  Worse, they might not want to try
to extradite the Harpooner.  It was an Iranian rig he had attacked. And
Russian buildings.  And American embassies.  The Azerbaijanis might want
to make some kind of arrangement with him.  Release him in exchange for
his cooperation, for help in covert actions of their own. That was
something Moscow could not risk.

"You're going to wait for the American to arrive?" Orlov asked.

"He's here now," Odette said.

"Do you want to speak with him?"

"That won't be necessary," Orlov said.

"The Harpooner will probably be traveling with high-tech equipment to go
with his cover story.  I want you to take some of it and any money he's
carrying.  Pull out drawers and empty the luggage.  Make it look like a
robbery.  And work out an escape route before you go in."

"All right," she said. There was nothing patronizing about Orlov's tone.
He was giving instructions and also reviewing a checklist out loud.  He
was making sure that both he and Odette understood what must be done
before she closed in. Orlov was quiet again.  Odette imagined him
reviewing the data on his computer.  He would be looking for additional
confirmation that this was their quarry.  Or a reason to suspect it was

"I'm arranging for airline tickets out of the country in case you need
them when you're finished," Orlov said. He waited another moment and
then decided as Odette knew he must.

"Go and get him." Odette acknowledged the order and hung up.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 2:32 a.m.

Hood shut the door of the Cabinet Room behind him. There was a coffee
machine on a small table in the far corner.  The first thing Paul did
upon entering was brew a pot using bottled water. He felt guilty doing
that in the midst of a crisis, but he needed the caffeine kick.
Desperately. Though his mind was speeding, his eyes and body from the
shoulders down were crashing.  Even the smell of the coffee helped as it
began to brew. As he stood watching the steam, he thought back to the
meeting he had just left.  The shortest way of defusing the crisis on
this end was to break Fenwick and whatever cabal he had put together. He
hoped he could go back there with information, something to rattle
Fenwick or Gable.

"I need time to think," he muttered to himself.  Time to figure out how
best to attack them if he had nothing more than he did now. Hood turned
from the coffeemaker.  He sat on the edge of the large conference table
and pulled over one of the telephones.  He called Bob Herbert to see if
his intelligence chief had any news or sources he could hit up for
information about the Harpooner and possible contact with the NSA. He
did not.

"Unless no news is news," Herbert added. Herbert had already woken
several acquaintances who either worked for or were familiar with the
activities of the NSA.  Calling them in the middle of the night had the
advantage of catching them off guard.  If they knew anything, they would
probably blurt it out.  Herbert asked if any of them had heard about
U.S. intelligence overtures to Iran. None of them had.

"Which isn't surprising," Herbert said.

"Something of that magnitude and delicacy would only be conducted at the
highest executive levels.  But it's also true that if more than one
person knows about an operation over there, then everyone has heard at
least a piece of the story.  Not so here."

"Maybe more than one person at the NSA doesn't know about this," Hood

"That could very well be," Herbert agreed. Herbert said he was still
waiting to hear from HUMINT sources in Teheran.  They might know
something about this.

"The only solid news we have is from Mike's people at the Pentagon,"
Herbert said.

"Military Intelligence has picked up signs of Russian mobilization in
the Caspian region.  Stephen Viens at the NRO has confirmed that. The
Slava-class cruiser Admiral Lobov is apparently already heading south
and the Udaloy II-class destroyer Admiral Chebanenko is joining it along
with several corvettes and small missile craft.  Mike expects air cover
over the Russian oil installations to commence within a few hours."

"All from something that started with the Harpooner-or whoever first
hired him," Hood said.

"Eisenhower was the first to use the metaphor in 1954," Herbert said.

"He said, "You have a row of dominoes set up; you knock over the first
one and what will happen to the last one is that it will go over very
quickly."  He was talking about Vietnam, but it applies to this."
Herbert was right.  You could count on the fact that dominoes not only
fell, but they dropped quickly.  And the only way to stop dominoes
falling was to get far enough ahead of the chain and remove a few tiles.
After hanging up.  Hood poured himself coffee, sat down in one of the
leather seats, and called Sergei Orlov. The fresh, black coffee was a
lifesaver.  In the midst of chaos even a small respite seemed enormous.
The general brought Hood up to date on the situation with the Harpooner.
Hood could hear the tension in the Russian's voice as he explained what
the overall plan was.  Hood related to Orlov's concern completely. There
was worry for his operative Odette and a desperate desire to end the
career of a notorious terrorist.  Hood had been in that place.  And he
had both won there and lost there.  This was not like a film or novel
where the hero necessarily won. Hood was still on the phone with General
Orlov when the door opened. He glanced up. It was Jack Fenwick.  The
time to think was over. The NSA head entered the room and shut the door
behind him.  The Cabinet Room was a large room, but it suddenly seemed
small and very close. Fenwick walked over to the coffee and helped
himself. Hood was nearly finished with the call.  He ended the
conversation as quickly as possible without seeming to hurry.  He did
not want Fenwick to hear anything.  But he also did not want to show the
NSA chief a hint of desperation. Hood hung up.  He took a swallow of
coffee and glanced over at Fenwick. The man's dark eyes were on Hood.

"I hope you don't mind," Fenwick said.  He indicated the coffee.

"Why should I?"  Hood asked.

"I don't know, Paul," Fenwick shrugged.

"People can get protective about things.  Good coffee, by the way."

"Thanks." Fenwick perched himself on the edge of the table.  He was just
a few feet from Hood.

"We've taken a little break," Fenwick told him.

"The president is waiting for the joint chiefs and secretary of state
before making any decisions about the Caspian situation."

"Thanks for the update."

"You're welcome," Fenwick said.

"I can give you more than an update," he went on.

"I can give you a prediction."

"Oh?" Fenwick nodded confidently.

"The president is going to respond militarily.  Emphatically.  He has
to." Both Op-Center and the NSA had access to photographic
reconnaissance from the NRO.  No doubt Fenwick knew about the Russians
as well. Hood got up to freshen his coffee.  As he did, he remembered
what he had been thinking just a few minutes before. The only way to
stop the dominoes falling was to get far enough ahead of the chain and
remove a few tiles.

"The question is not what the president will do, what the nation will
do.  The question is what are you going to do?"  Fenwick said.

"Is that why you came here?  To pick my brains?"

"I came here to stretch my legs," Fenwick said.

"But now that we've gone there, I am curious.  What are you going to

"About what?"  Hood asked as he poured more coffee. The dance was on.
They were each watching their words.

"About the current crisis," Fenwick replied.

"What part are you going to play?"

"I'm going to do my job," Hood said.  He was either being interviewed or
threatened.  He had not yet decided which.  Nor did he care.

"And how do you see that?"  Fenwick asked.

"The job description says'crisis management,"" Hood said.  He looked
back at Fenwick.

"But at the moment, I see it as more than that.  I see it as learning
the truth behind this crisis and presenting the facts to the president."

"What truth is that?"  Fenwick asked.  Though his expression did not
change, there was condescension in his voice.

"You obviously don't agree with what Mr.  Gable, the vice president, and
I were telling him."

"No, I don't," Hood said.  He had to be cautious.  Part of what he was
about to say was real, part of it was bluff.  If he were wrong it would
be the equivalent of crying wolf.  Fenwick would not be concerned about
anything Hood had to say.  And Fenwick could use this to undermine
Hood's credibility with the president. But that was only if he were

"I've just been informed that we captured the Harpooner at the Hyatt
Hotel in Baku," Hood said.  He had to present it as a fait accompli. He
did not want Fenwick calling the hotel and warning the terrorist.

"Then it's definitely the Harpooner?"  Fenwick said. Fenwick took a sip
of coffee and held it in his mouth. Hood let the silence hang there.
After a long moment, Fenwick swallowed.

"I'm glad," Fenwick said without much enthusiasm.

"That's one less terrorist Americans have to worry about.  How did you
get him?  Interpol, the CIA, the FBI--they've all been trying for over
twenty years."

"We've been following him for several days," Hood went on.

"We were observing him and listening to his phone calls."

"Who are we?"

"A group comprised of Op-Center, CIA, and foreign resources," Hood

"We pulled it together when we heard the Harpooner was in the region. We
managed to lure him out using a CIA agent as bait." Hood felt safe
revealing the Cia's role since it was probably Fenwick who had given the
information about Battat to the Harpooner. Fenwick continued to regard

"So you've got the Harpooner," Fenwick said.

"What does all this have to do with the truth about what's going on? Do
you know something that I don't?"

"The Harpooner apparently had a hand in what happened in the Caspian,"
Hood said.

"That doesn't surprise me," Fenwick said.

"The Harpooner will work for anyone."

"Even us," Hood said. Fenwick started when he heard that.  Just a
little, but enough so that Hood noticed.

"I'm dred, and I don't have time for guessing games," Fenwick

"What do you mean?"

"We're talking to him now," Hood went on.

"He seems willing to tell us who hired him in exchange for limited

"Of course he does," Fenwick said dismissively.

"That bastard would probably say anything to save his hide."

"He might," Hood agreed.

"But why lie when only the truth can save his life?"

"Because he's a twisted bastard," Fenwick said angrily. The NSA chief
threw his cup into the wastebasket beneath the coffeemaker and got up
from the table.

"I'm not going to let you advise the president based on the testimony of
a terrorist.  I suggest you go home.  Your work here is finished."
Before Hood could say anything else, Fenwick left the Cabinet Room.  He
pulled the door shut behind him.  The room seemed to return to its
former size. Hood did not believe that Fenwick was concerned about the
president getting misinformation.  Nor did he believe that Fenwick was
overworked and simply venting. Hood believed that he had come very close
to exposing a relationship that Fenwick had worked hard to conceal.

A relationship between a high-ranking adviser to the president and the
terrorist who had helped him to engineer a war.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 10:47 a.m.

When David Battat was six years old, he came down with the mumps and was
extremely sick.  He could barely swallow and his belly and thighs ached
whenever he moved.  Which was not so much of a problem because David had
been too weak to move. Battat felt too weak to move now.  And it hurt
when he did move.  Not just in his throat and abdomen but in his legs,
arms, shoulders, and chest.  Whatever that bastard Harpooner had
injected him with was debilitating. But it was also helpful, in a way.
The pain kept him awake and alert. It was like a dull toothache all over
his body. Whatever energy Battat had now was coming from anger.  Anger
at having been ambushed and debilitated by the Harpooner.  And now anger
at having been indirectly responsible for the deaths of Thomas and
Moore. Battat's hearing was muffled and he had to blink to see clearly.
Yet he was extremely aware of his surroundings. The elevator was
polished brass with green carpet. There were rows of small bright
lightbulbs in the ceiling. There was a trapdoor in the back, and a
fish-eye video lens beside it. The elevator was empty except for Battat
and Odette. When they reached the third floor, they stepped out. Odette
took Battat's hand, like they were a young couple looking for their
room.  They checked the room numbers posted on the wall in front of
them: 300 to 320 were to the right.  That put 310 in the center of a
long, brightly lit corridor.  They started toward it.

"What are we doing?"  Battat asked.

"Checking the stairwell first," Odette said.

"I want to make sure the other killer isn't watching the room from

"And after that?"  Battat asked.

"How would you feel about being married?"  she asked.

"I tried it once and didn't like it," Battat said.

"Then you'll probably like this less," she replied.

"I'll tell you what I'm thinking when we reach the stairwell." They
headed toward the stairwell, which was located at the opposite end of
the corridor.  As they neared 310, Battat felt his heart speed up. The
"Do Not Disturb" sign was hanging from the door handle.  There was
something dangerous about the place.  Battat felt it as they passed. It
was not a physical sensation but a spiritual one.  Battat was not
prepared to go so far as to say it was palpable evil, but the room
definitely had the feel of an animal's lair. Odette released his hand
when they reached the stairwell. She removed the gun from her holster
and screwed on the silencer.  Then she stepped ahead of Battat and
cautiously peered through the window at the top of the door.  No one was
there.  Odette turned the knob and stepped inside.  Battat followed.  He
backed toward the concrete steps and leaned on the iron banister with
one arm.  It felt good not to have to move.  Odette kept a heel in the
door so it would not close and lock them out.  She faced Battat.

"I'm sure the Harpooner has his room heavily protected from the inside,"
she said.

"Since we probably won't be able to break in, we're going to have to try
and draw him out."

"Agreed," Battat said.  He was tired and dizzy and had to force himself
to focus.

"What do you propose?"

"You and I are going to have a lovers' quarrel," she said. That got his

"About what?"  he asked.

"It doesn't matter," she said.

"As long as we end up arguing about which room is ours."

"One of us will say it's 312 and the other will insist it's 310," Battat

"Exactly," Odette replied.

"Then we'll open the door to 310."

"How?" Odette reached into her pocket.

"With this," she said as she pulled out the master key she had taken
from the housekeeper.

"If we're lucky, the Harpooner will only want to chase us away."

"What if someone else comes from their room or calls hotel security?"
Battat asked.

"Then we argue more quickly," Odette said as she took off her jacket and
slipped it over her forearm, concealing the gun. The woman seemed to be
growing impatient, a little anxious.  Not that Battat blamed her.  They
were facing both the Harpooner and the unknown. If it were not for the
dullness caused by whatever was afflicting him, he would have been
experiencing fear on top of his lingering anger.

"This is not a science," she added.

"The point of what we're doing is to distract the Harpooner long enough
to kill him."

"I understand," Battat said.

"What do you want me to do?"

"When I open the door, I want you to push it back hard," she said.

"That should startle the Harpooner and also give me a moment to aim and
fire.  When we're finished, we come back to the stairwell and leave."

"All right," Battat said.

"Are you sure you feel up to this?"  Odette asked.

"I'll be able to do what you want me to," he said. She nodded and gave
him a reassuring half smile.  Or maybe she was trying to reassure

A moment later, they headed down the hall.

Saint Petersburg, Russia Tuesday, 11:02 a.m.

Josef Norivsky was the Russian Op-Center's liaison between the country's
other intelligence and investigative agencies as well as Interpol.  He
was a young, broad shouldered man with short black hair and a long, pale
face.  He strode into General Orlov's office wearing an expression that
was somewhere between fury and disbelief.

"Something is wrong," he said.  Norivsky did not disseminate information
unless he was sure of it.  As a result, when he spoke, he had a way of
making any statement seem like a pronouncement. The intelligence liaison
handed Orlov a set of eight by-ten photographs. Orlov looked quickly at
the eleven blurry black-and-white pictures. The shots showed five men in
ski masks moving a sixth, unmasked man through a corridor made of cinder

"These photographs were taken by security cameras at the Lenkoran
high-security prison in Azerbaijan," Norivsky explained.

"We received them two days ago.  The man without the mask is Sergei
Cherkassov.  The SIS was hoping we could help to identify the others."
The SIS was Azerbaijan's State Intelligence Service. They still
maintained relatively close, cooperative relations with Russian
intelligence groups.

"What have you come up with?"  Orlov asked as he finished going through
the photographs.

"The weapons they're carrying are IMI Uzis," said Norivsky.

"They're based on the submachine guns Iran bought from Israel before the
Islamic revolution.  In and of themselves, they don't necessarily mean
anything. Iranian arms dealers could have sold them to anyone. But look
how the men are moving." Orlov went back through the pictures.

"I don't follow," he said. Norivsky leaned over the desk and pointed to
the fourth picture.

"The men in the ski masks have formed a diamond shape around the
Cherkassov.  The point man covers the package, the escapee, the man in
the rear watches their flank, and the men on the sides cover right and
left.  The fifth man, the only one who appears in pictures one and two,
is ahead of the group, securing the escape route.  Probably with a
rocket launcher, according to reports."  Norivsky stood.

"This is the standard evacuation procedure used by VEVAK."

VEVAK was Vezarat-e Etella'at va Amniat-e Keshvar.  The Iranian Ministry
of Intelligence and Security.

"Why would Iran want to free a Russian terrorist from Azerbaijan?"
Norivsky asked.  The intelligence chief answered the question himself.

"To use his talents?  It's possible.  But another possibility is that
they wanted to dump his body at the attack site.  How many bodies were
found in the harbor at Baku?  Four to six, depending on how the pieces
eventually fit together."

"The same number of people who helped him to escape," Orlov said.

"Yes," Nirovsky replied.

"Which may mean they were all working together," Orlov said.

"Nothing more than that."

"Except for the presence of the Harpooner," Norivsky pointed out.

"We know that he has worked for Iran on many occasions.  We know that he
can usually be contacted through a series of associates in Teheran. What
I'm saying.  General, is, what if Iran organized the attack on its own
oil rig as an excuse to move warships into the area?"

"That wouldn't explain the involvement of the American National Security
Agency," Orlov said.

"But Cherkassov's presence might," Norivsky insisted.

"Consider, sir.  Iran threatens Azerbaijan.  The United States becomes
involved in that conflict.  It has to.  American oil supplies are being
threatened.  If the foe is only Iran, Americans are not opposed to an
air and sea war.  They have wanted to strike back at Teheran for
decades, ever since the hostage crisis in 1979.  But imagine that Russia
is brought into the situation.  At his trial, Cherkassov admitted
working for the Kremlin.  That was how he avoided execution. Suppose
Azerbaijan or Iran retaliates by attacking Russian oil platforms in the
Caspian. Are the people of the United States going to stand for a world
war erupting in the region?"

"I don't think they would," Orlov said.  He thought for a moment.

"And maybe they wouldn't have to stand for it."

"What do you mean?"  Norivsky asked.

"The Harpooner was working with the NSA, apparently to orchestrate this
showdown," Orlov said.

"What if someone in the American government made a deal with Iran before
it happened?"

"Does the NSA have that kind of authority?"  Norivsky asked.

"I don't believe so," Orlov said.

"They would probably need higher-ranking officials working with them.
Paul Hood at Op-Center indicated that contacts of that
type may have taken place.  What if the Americans agreed they would back
down at a certain point?  Allow Iran to have more of the oil-rich
regions in exchange for American access to that oil?"

"A normalization of relations?"  Norivsky suggested.

"Possibly," Orlov said.

"The American military pushed to brinkmanship then pulled back for some
reason. But what reason?  That had to have been arranged as well." Orlov
did not know the answer, but he knew who might.  Thanking Norivsky,
Orlov rang his translator and put in a call to Paul Hood.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 3:06 a.m.

After Fenwick left the Cabinet Room, Hood sat alone at the long
conference table.  He was trying to figure out what he could tell the
president to convince him that something was wrong with the intelligence
he was receiving, That was going to be difficult without new
information. Hood thought he had convinced him of Fenwick's duplicity
earlier.  But in the press of developing crises, crisis managers often
took the advice of trusted and especially passionate friends.  Fenwick
was passionate, and Cotten was an old ally.  Without hard facts.  Hood
would not be able to combat that.  But what troubled him nearly as much
was something the NSA head had said to Hood before leaving the Cabinet

"I'm not going to let you advise the president." This was not just an
international showdown.  It was also a territorial fight in the Oval
Office.  But for what, exactly?  It was not just about access to the
president of the United States.  Fenwick had tried to confuse Lawrence,
to embarrass him, to mislead him.  Why? Hood shook his head and rose.
Even though he had nothing to add to what he said before.  Hood wanted
to hear what the joint chiefs had to say. And Fenwick could not bar him
from the Oval Office. As Hood was leaving the Cabinet Room, his phone
beeped.  It was General Orlov.

"Paul, we have some disturbing information," Orlov said.

"Talk to me," Hood replied. Orlov briefed him.  When he was finished,
Orlov said, "We have reason to believe that the Harpooner and Iranian
nationals carried out the attack on the Iranian oil rig.  We believe the
attack may have been the same Iranians who freed the Russian terrorist
Sergei Cherkassov from prison. This would make it seem as if Moscow was

"Compelling the United States to lend its support to Azerbaijan as a
counterbalance," Hood said.

"Do you know if Teheran sanctioned the attack?"

"Very possibly," Orlov replied.

"The Iranians appear to have been working for or were trained by VEVAK."

"In order to precipitate a crisis that would allow them to move in
militarily," Hood said.

"Yes," Orlov agreed.

"And the presence of Cherkassov, we think, was designed to give Iran a
reason to threaten our oil facilities.  To draw Russia into the crisis.
Cherkassov may have had nothing to do with the attack itself."

"That makes sense," Hood agreed.

"Paul, you said before that members of your own government, of the NSA,
were in contact with the Iranian mission in New York.  That it was a
member of the NSA that was in communication with the Harpooner in Baku.
Could that agency be involved in this?"

"I don't know," Hood admitted.

"Perhaps the mission put them in contact with the Harpooner," Orlov
suggested. That was possible.  Hood thought about it for a moment. Why
would Fenwick help Iran to blow up its own rig and then encourage the
president to attack Iran?  Was this a plot to sucker Iran into a
showdown?  Was that why Fenwick had concealed his whereabouts from the
president? But Fenwick would have known about Cherkassov, Hood thought.
He had to know that Russia would be drawn in as well. And that still did
not explain why Fenwick had made a point of calling the president right
before the United Nations dinner.  That was a move designed to humiliate
Lawrence.  To erode confidence in the president's-Mental state.  Hood
thought suddenly. Hood followed the thread.  Wasn't that what Megan
Lawrence was concerned about?  Mental instability, apparent or real,
created by a careful pattern of deception and confusion?  The president
becomes deeply shaken. The United States finds itself on the precipice
of war, led there by Fenwick.  Lawrence tries to manage the crisis. What
happens next?  Does Fenwick undermine him somehow?  Make him doubt his
abilities-Or does he make the public doubt his abilities? Hood wondered.
Senator Fox was already concerned about the president. Mala Chatterjee
had no love for him.  The secretary-general would certainly give
interviews stating that the president had been completely mistaken about
the United Nations initiative.  What if Gable or Fenwick were also to
leak information about bad judgment the president had shown over the
past few weeks? Reporters would swallow it whole.  Hood knew.  It would
be easy to manipulate the press with a story like that.  Especially if
it came from a reliable source like Jack Fenwick. And it wasn't just
Fenwick and Gable who were involved in this.  Hood now knew for certain.
The vice president had been on the same page as Fenwick and Gable back
in the Oval Office.  Who stood to benefit most if the president himself
and possibly the electorate were convinced that he was unfit to lead the
nation in a time of crisis?  The man who would succeed him, of course.

"General Orlov, have we heard from our people tracking the Harpooner?"
Hood asked.

"They're both at the hotel where he is staying," Orlov reported.

"They're moving in on him now."

"To terminate, not capture."

"We don't have the manpower to capture him," Orlov stated.

"The truth is, we may not even have the manpower to complete the mission
at hand.  It's a great risk, Paul."

"I understand," Hood said.

"General, are you solid about this information?  That the men who
attacked the Iranian rig are Iranian?"

"Until their body parts are collected and identified, an educated guess
is the best I can do," Orlov said.

"All right," Hood said.

"I'm going to take that information to the president.  His advisers are
pushing him to a military response.  Obviously, we have to get him to
postpone that."

"I agree," Orlov said.

"We're mobilizing as well."

"Call me with any other news," Hood said.

"And thank you, General.  Thank you very much." Hood hung up the phone.
He ran from the Cabinet Room and jogged down the carpeted hallway toward
the Oval Office.  Canvas portraits of Woodrow Wilson and First Lady
Edith Boiling Wilson looked down from the wall.  She had effectively run
the country in 1919 when her husband suffered a stroke.  But she was
protecting his health while looking out for the country's best
interests. Not her own advancement.  Had we become more corrupt since
then?  Or had the line between right and wrong become entirely erased?
Did presumably virtuous ends justify corrupt means? This was maddening.
Hood had information, and he had a strong, plausible scenario.  He had
Fenwick turning pale when he said that the Harpooner had been captured.
But Hood did not have proof.  And without that, he did not see how he
was going to convince the president to proceed slowly, carefully,
regardless of what Iran did. Nor were the joint chiefs likely to be much
help.  The military had been itching for a legitimate reason to strike
back at Teheran for over twenty years. He turned the corner and reached
the Oval Office.  The secret service officer stationed at the door
stopped him.

"I have to see the president," Hood told him.

"I'm sorry, sir, you'll have to leave," the young man insisted. Hood
wagged the badge that hung around his neck.

"I have blue-level access," he said.

"I can stand here. Please.  Just knock on the door and tell the
president I'm here."

"Sir, my doing that won't help you to see the president," the secret
service agent told him.

"They've moved the meeting downstairs."

"Where?"  Hood asked.  But he already knew.

"To the Situation Room." Hood turned and swore.  Fenwick was correct. He
was going to keep him from seeing the president.  The only way to get
down there was with the next-level access badge, which was red level.
Everyone who had that level would be down there.  Being seduced and
controlled by Jack Fenwick. Hood walked back toward the Cabinet Room. He
was still holding his cell phone and tapping it against his open palm.
He felt like throwing the damn thing.  He could not phone the president.
Calls to the Situation Room went through a different switchboard than
the rest of the White House.  He did not have clearance for direct dial,
and Fenwick would certainly have arranged it so that any calls Hood made
would be refused or delayed. Hood was accustomed to challenges, to
delays.  But he always had access to the people he needed to talk to and
persuade.  Even when terrorists had seized the United Nations Security
Council, there had been ways to get in.  All he needed was the resolve
and manpower to do it.  He was not accustomed to being utterly
stonewalled like this.  It was miserably frustrating. He stopped
walking.  He looked up at the portrait of Woodrow Wilson, then looked at
the painting of Mrs. Wilson.

"Shit," he said. He glanced down at the phone.  Maybe he wasn't as
stonewalled as he thought. Jogging again.  Hood returned to the Cabinet
Room. He was willing to bet there was one avenue Jack Fenwick hadn't
closed down. He couldn't have, even if he wanted to.

A queen always beat a Jack.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 11:09 a.m.

As Odette walked down the hall, she had two concerns. One worry was that
she might be making a mistake about the identity of the man in room 310.
That he was not, in fact, the Harpooner.  Orlov had given Odette a
general idea what the Harpooner looked like.  But he had added that the
Harpooner probably wore disguises.  She had a mental picture of someone
tall and aquiline with pale, hateful eyes and long fingers.  Would she
hesitate to shoot if someone not-so-tall and heavyset with blue,
welcoming eyes and stubby fingers opened the door? Would that give him a
chance to strike first? An innocent man would come over and say "Hello,"
she told herself.  The Harpooner might do that to throw off her guard.
She had to strike first, whoever was in there. Her other concern was a
question of confidence.  She had been thinking about the reluctance she
heard in General Orlov's voice.  Odette wondered what concerned him
most.  That something would happen to her or that the Harpooner might
escape?  Probably both.  Though she tried to rev up an "I'll show him"
mentality.  General Oriov's lack of confidence did not boost her own. It
doesn't matter, she told herself.  Focus on the goal and on nothing
else.  The mission was all that mattered. The target was just a few
doors down. Odette and David Battat had agreed that she would start
their spat. She was the one who had to open the door and go in.  She
should control the timing.  The couple passed room 314.  Odette was
holding the key in her left hand.  She still had the gun in her right
hand, under the jacket, which was draped over her forearm.  Battat was
holding the switchblade at his side.  He seemed to be somewhat more
focused than he had been when he arrived.  Odette was not surprised. She
was, too. They passed room 312. Odette turned to Battat.

"Why are you stopping?"  she asked him.  Odette made sure not to shout
just so the Harpooner could hear.  Her tone was normal, conversational.

"What do you mean, "Why am I stopping?"" he asked right back. Odette
moved ahead several steps.  She stopped in front of room 310. Her heart
was speeding.

"Aren't we going inside?"

"Yes," he replied impatiently.

"That's not our room," Odette said.

"Yes it is," Battat said.

"No," Odette said.

"This is our room."

"We're in 312," Battat said confidently. She put the key in the slot of
310.  That was the signal for Battat to step over to the room.  He
walked over and stopped directly behind her. His right shoulder was
practically touching the door. Odette's fingers were damp with sweat.
She could actually smell the brass of the key.  She hesitated.  This is
what you'we been waiting for, she reminded herself.  An opportunity to
prove herself and to make Viktor proud. She turned the key to the right.
The bolt went with it. The door opened.

"I told you this was our room," she said to Battat.  Odette swallowed
hard.  The words had caught in her throat and she did not want to show
her fear.  The Harpooner might hear it in her voice. With the door open
a sliver, Odette withdrew the key. She slipped it in her pocket and used
that moment to listen.  The TV was off and the Harpooner was not in the
shower.  Odette was half hoping he had been in the bathroom, cornered.
But she heard nothing. She opened the door a little more. There was a
short, narrow hallway inside.  It was cave dark and utterly still.  They
had assumed the Harpooner would be hiding in the room, but what if he
were not? He could be out for a late breakfast.  Or he might have left
Baku. Perhaps he kept the room as a safe house in case he needed it. But
what if he's waiting for us?  she thought then.  And she answered her
own question.  Then we "II have to handle the situation. Viktor used to
say that nothing was guaranteed.

"What's wrong, honey?"  Battat asked. The words startled her.  Odette
looked back at her companion.  The American's brow was pinched.  He was
obviously concerned.  She realized that she was probably waiting too
long to go in.

"Nothing's wrong," she said.  She opened the door a little farther and
reached in with her left hand.

"I'm just looking for the light." Odette pushed the door until it was
halfway open.  She could see the glowing red numbers of the alarm clock
on the night table.  There was a jagged line of white light in the
center of the drapes.  Its brilliance only made the rest of the room
seem darker. Odette's gun was still hidden under her jacket, still
behind the half-closed door.  She found the light switch with her left
hand.  She nicked it on.  The hall light came on as did the lamps on the
night tables.  The walls and furniture brightened with a dull yellow
orange glow. Odette did not breathe as she stepped into the hallway. The
bathroom was to her right.  She turned and looked in.  There were
toiletries on the counter beside the sink. The soap was opened. She
looked at the bed.  It had not been slept in, though the pillows had
been moved around.  She saw a suitcase on the luggage stand, but she did
not see the Harpooner's shoes.  Maybe he was out.

"Something's wrong here," Odette said.

"What do you mean?"

"That's not our bag on the luggage rack," she replied. Battat stepped in
behind her.  He looked around.

"So I was right," he said.

"This isn't our room."

"Then why did the key work?"  she asked.

"Let's go back downstairs and find out," Battat urged. He was still
looking around.

"Maybe the bellman made a mistake and put someone else in here," Odette
suggested. Battat suddenly grabbed Odette's left shoulder.  He roughly
shoved her into the bathroom and followed her in. Odette turned and
glared at Battat.  He put a finger to his lips and moved very close.

"What's wrong?"  she whispered.

"He's in there," Battat said quietly.


"Behind the bed, on the floor," Battat told her.

"I saw his reflection in the brass headboard."

"Is he armed?"  she asked.

"I couldn't tell," Battat said.

"I'm betting he is." Odette put her jacket on the floor.  There was no
longer any reason to conceal the gun.  Battat was standing a few steps
in front of her, near the door.  Just then she saw a small round mirror
and extender arm attached to the wall to his right.  She had an idea.

"Hold this," she whispered and handed Battat the gun. Then she walked
around him, popped the mirror from its holder, and moved toward the
door.  Crouching, she carefully poked the mirror into the corridor.  She
angled it so that she could see under the bed. No one was there.

"He's gone," she said quietly. Odette extended the mirror arm a little
farther so she could see more of the room.  She angled it slowly from
side to side.  There was no one in the corners, and she could not see a
bulge behind the drapes.

"He's definitely not here," she said. Battat squatted behind her and
looked into the mirror. Odette wondered if the feverish man had really
seen anyone or if he had been hallucinating.

"Wait a second," Battat said.

"Move the mirror so we can see the head of the bed." Odette did as he
asked.  The drapes were moving there.  It looked as if they were being
stirred by a gentle wind.

"The window's open," Odette said. Battat rose.  He entered the room
cautiously and looked around.


"What?"  Odette asked as she stood.

"There's a rope under the drape," he said and started toward it.

"The bastard climbed--" Suddenly, Battat turned and hurried back into
the bathroom.

"Down!"  he shouted and shoved Odette roughly to the floor.  He dove
down beside her, next to the fiberglass bathtub.  Quickly, he pulled her
jacket over their heads and lay beside her, his arm across her back.

A moment later, the hotel room was lit by a yellow red flare.  There was
a whooshing sound as the air became superheated.  The flare died after a
moment, leaving a sickly sweet smell mixed with the stench of burning
fabric and carpet.  The room smoke detector was squealing. Odette
whipped her jacket from them and knelt.

"What happened?"  she shouted.

"There was a TIC on the desk!"  Battat yelled.

"A what?"

"A TIC," Battat said as he jumped to his feet.

"Terrorist in a can.  Come on--we've got to get out of here!" Battat
helped Odette up.  She grabbed her jacket and the two of them swung into
the hallway.  Battat shut the door and staggered over to room 312.  He
was obviously having difficulty staying on his feet.

"What's a terrorist in a can?"  Odette asked.

"Napalm with a benzene chaser," Battat said.

"It looks like shaving cream and doesn't register on airport X-ray
machines.  All you have to do is twist the cap to set the timer, and
blam."  The main fire alarm began to clang behind them.

"Give me the master key," he said as they reached 312. Odette handed it
over. Battat opened the door.  Smoke was already spilling through the
door that connected the room to 310.  Battat hurried past it and ran to
the window.  The heavy drapes were open.  He edged toward the window,
standing back just enough so that he could see out but not be seen from
below.  Odette stepped up behind him.  Battat had to lean against the
wall to keep from falling.  They looked out at the empty parking lot.

"There," Battat said, pointing. Odette moved closer.  She looked out.

"Do you see him?"  Battat asked.

"In the white shirt, blue jeans, carrying a black backpack."

"I see him," Odette replied.

"That's the man I saw in the room," Battat said. So that's the
Harpooner, she thought.  The monster cut an unimposing figure as he
walked unhurriedly from the hotel.  But his easygoing manner only made
him seem even more noxious.  People might be dying in the fire he set to
cover his escape.  Yet he did not care. Odette wished she could shoot
him from here.

"He's probably going to keep moving slowly so he won't attract
attention," Battat told her.  He gave the gun back to her.  He was
panting, having trouble standing.

"You've got enough time to catch up to him and take him out."

"What about you?"

"I'd only slow you down," he said. She hesitated.  An hour ago, she had
not wanted him to be part of this. Now she felt as if she was deserting

"You're wasting time," Battat said.  He gave her a gentle push and
started toward the door.

"Just go.  I'll get to the stairwell and make my way back to the

I'll see if I can do anything from there."

"All right," she said, then turned and hurried toward the door.

"He'll be armed!"  Battat yelled after her.

"Don't hesitate!" She acknowledged with a wave as she left the room. The
hallway was filling with smoke.  The few guests who had been in their
rooms were filing into the hallway to see what was happening.
Housekeeping staff and security personnel were beginning to arrive. They
were helping everyone toward the stairwell. Odette told one of the
security men that someone needed help in 312. Then she rushed ahead to
the stairwell. In less than a minute, she was in the street.  The
parking lot was on the other side of the building.  She ran toward it.
The Harpooner was gone.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 3:13 a.m.

Paul Hood returned to the Cabinet Room and shut the door.  He took a
calming breath.  The room smelled of coffee.  He was glad.  It covered
the stink of treason. Then he took out his Palm Pilot, looked up a
number, and went to the phone to enter it. This was not something that
Hood wanted to do.  It was something he had to do.  It was the only way
he could think of to prevent what was effectively shaping up as a coup
d'etat. The phone was answered right after the second ring.

"Hello?"  said the voice on the other end.

"Megan, it's Paul Hood."

"Paul, where are you?"  asked the First Lady.

"I've been worried--"

"I'm in the Cabinet Room," he said.

"Megan, listen. Fenwick is definitely involved in a conspiracy of some
kind.  My feeling is that he.  Gable, and whoever else is in this have
been trying to gaslight the president."

"Why would anyone want to make my husband think he's lost his mind?" she

"Because they've also set in motion a confrontation with Iran and Russia
in the Caspian Sea," Hood told her.

"If they can convince the president or the public that he's not equipped
to handle the showdown, he'll have to resign.  Then the new president
will either escalate the war or, more likely, he'll end it. That will
win him points with the people and with Iran.  Maybe then we'll all
divide up the oil wells that used to belong to Azerbaijan."

"Paul, that's monstrous," Megan said.

"Is the vice president involved with this?"

"Possibly," Hood said.

"And they expect to get away with it?"

"Megan, they are very close to getting away with it," Hood informed her.

"The Caspian situation is revving up, and they've moved the strategy
sessions from the Oval Office to the Situation Room.  I don't have
security clearance to go down there."

"I'll phone Michael on the private number and ask him to see you," Megan
told him.

"That won't be enough," Hood said.

"I need you to do something else." Megan asked him what that was.  Hood
told her.

"I'll do it," she said when he was finished.

"Give me five minutes." Hood thanked her and hung up. What Hood had
proposed was a potentially dangerous tactic for him and for the First
Lady.  And under the best of circumstances, it was not going to be
pleasant.  But it was necessary. Hood looked around the room. This was
not like rescuing his daughter.  That had been instinctive. He had to
act if she were to survive.  There had been no choice. This was
different. Hood tried to imagine the decisions that had been made in
this room over the centuries.  Decisions about war, about depressions,
about human rights, about foreign policy.  Every one of them had
affected history in some way, large or small.  But more important than
that, whether they were right or wrong, all of them had required a
commitment.  Someone had to believe they were making the proper
decision.  They had to risk anything from a career or national security
to the lives of millions on that belief. Hood was about to do that.  He
was about to do both, in fact.  But there was a proverb that used to
hang in the high school classroom where Hood's father taught civics. It
was appropriate now:

"The first faults are theirs that commit them.  The second theirs that
permit them." As Hood turned and left the Cabinet Room, he did not feel
the weight of the decision he made.  Nor did he feel the danger it
represented. He felt only the privilege of being able to serve his

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 11:15 a.m.

It had been a long time since Maurice Charles had to make a sudden
retreat from a safe site.  It infuriated him to run from a place he had
carefully prepared.  But it infuriated him even more to run from anyone
or anything. It did not even matter to him at the moment how someone had
found out where he was. From their accents, the intruders were Russian
and American.  Perhaps Moscow and Washington had been tracking him
without him knowing it.  Perhaps he had slipped up somewhere. Or maybe
one of his associates had made a mistake. But Charles did not believe
the couple had been there by accident.  For one thing, he had taken both
of the keys to room 310 when he checked in. The front desk did not have
a third key to give out. When the click of the bolt being opened woke
him up, he knew something was not right.  For another thing, Charles had
watched the woman's feet, listened to her speak as she came in.
Everything about her entrance was tentative.  If she truly thought this
were her room, she would have strode in and turned on the light.  Women
were always eager to prove things when they believed they were correct.
Yet, as angry as Charles was, he refused to give in to his rage.  The
immediate task was to cover his tracks so he could get away.  That meant
eliminating the couple who had come to his room.  He had not considered
calling the assassins he had used the night before.  He did not want it
to be known that he had run into trouble. That would be bad for his
reputation and bad for business. He had gotten a good look at the
couple's feet and pants. That would be enough to identify them.  He had
his gun and his knife.  They would not survive the morning Charles had
walked halfway into the parking lot before turning around. If the couple
were looking out a window to find him, he wanted them to see him.  He
wanted them to come rushing downstairs to stop him from getting away.
That would make them easier to spot. It would also tell him whether or
not they had backup. If they had called for help, cars or other
personnel would converge on the parking lot within moments.  If that did
not happen, he could dispatch them and then get out of the city by train
as he had planned. After giving the couple a chance to see him, Charles
doubled back to the hotel.  He entered by the side door, which led past
a row of shops. There were fire sirens approaching the hotel but no
police sirens.  No other cars came speeding into the lot.  That did not
mean Charles was home free.  But it did suggest that the man and woman
had been acting without immediate backup near or on site.  Losing
himself in a crowd that was fleeing a fire should be easy.  First,
however, he had to finish his business with the intruders.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 3:17 a.m.

During the administration of Harry Truman, the White House was virtually
gutted and rebuilt due to the weakened condition of its centuries-old
wooden beams and interior walls. The Trumans moved across the street to
Blair House and, from 1948 to 1952, new foundations were laid and the
decaying wooden struts were replaced by steel girders.  A basement was
also excavated, ostensibly to provide more storage space. In fact, it
was created to provide safe areas for the president and members of his
staff and family in the event of nuclear attack. Over the years, the
basement was secretly expanded to include offices, command headquarters,
medical facilities, surveillance posts, and recreational areas.  It is
now comprised of four levels that go down over two hundred feet. All
four basement levels are only accessible by a pair of elevators. These
are located in both the East and West Wings.  The West Wing elevator is
located a short distance west of the president's private dining room, in
a corner that is halfway between the Oval Office and the vice
president's office.  The carriage is small and wood paneled and holds
six people comfortably.  Access to the elevator is gained by thumbprint
identification.  There is a small green monitor to the right of the door
for this purpose.  Since the White House recreation areas are down
there, all the members of the First Family have access to the elevator.
Hood went to the vice president's office and waited outside. Because the
vice president was at the White House, there was a secret service agent
standing a little farther along the corridor.  The vice president's
office was close to the State Dining Room, where the original White
House meets the newer, century-old West Wing. Hood was there less than a
minute when Megan Lawrence arrived.  The First Lady was dressed in a
medium-length white skirt and a red blouse with a blue scarf.  She was
wearing very little makeup.  Her fair skin made her silver hair seem
darker. The secret service agent wished the First Lady a good morning as
she passed.  Megan smiled back at the young man and then continued on.
She embraced Hood warmly.

"Thank you for coming down," Hood said. Megan put her arm through his
and turned toward the elevator.  That gave her a reason to stand close
to Hood and talk quietly.  The secret service man was behind them.

"How are you going to handle this?"  she asked.

"It's going to be a tough, uphill fight," Hood admitted.

"Back in the Oval Office, the president was very focused. If your
husband has had doubts about his ability to function, then what Fenwick
and the others have given him is the perfect remedy.  A crisis. They
couldn't have planned it better.  The president seemed to be putting a
lot of trust in what Fenwick was telling him.  He needed to. It was
helping him get his confidence back."

"So you said," the First Lady remarked.

"And they're all lies."

"I'm certain of it," Hood assured her.

"The problem is, I don't have hard evidence."

"Then what makes you so sure they are lies?"  the First Lady asked.

"I called Fenwick's bluff when we were alone in the Cabinet Room," Hood

"I told him we had the terrorist who orchestrated the situation
overseas.  I told him the terrorist is going to tell us who he was
working for. Meaning Fenwick.  Fenwick told me I'll never get the
information to the president." They reached the elevator.  Megan gently
put her thumb on the screen. There was a faint hum behind it.

"Fenwick will deny he ever threatened you," she pointed out.

"Of course he will," Hood said.

"That's why I need you to get the president away from the meeting. Tell
him you need to see him for five minutes.  If I did that, Fenwick and
his people would chew me up.  But they'll be very reluctant to attack
you.  That would turn the president against them."

"All right," Megan replied.  The door slid open.  The First Lady and
Hood stepped in.  She pressed button Sl--Sublevel One.  The door closed,
and the elevator began to move.

"There's a guard downstairs," Megan said.

"He's going to have to call ahead.  I don't have access to the Situation

"I know," Hood replied.

"Hopefully, someone other than Fenwick or Gable will answer the phone."

"What if I can only get my husband alone?  Just the two of us," Megan

"I get his attention.  Then what?"

"Tell him what you've noticed over the past few weeks," Hood said.

"Talk to him honestly about what we're afraid of, that Fenwick has been
manipulating him.  Buy me time, even if it's only two or three hours.

I need that to get the evidence to stop a war." The elevator stopped.
The door opened.  Outside was a brightly lit corridor.  The walls were
white and lined with paintings of American military officers and famous
battles from the Revolution to the present. The Situation Room was
located at the end of the corridor behind two black double doors.

A young, blond, fresh-faced marine guard was seated at a desk to the
right of the elevator.  There was a telephone, a computer, and a lamp on
the desk.  On a metal stand to his left were several security monitors.
The guard rose and looked from Hood to Megan.

"Good morning, Mrs.  Lawrence," he said.

"Up kind of early for a swim," he added with a smile.

"Up kind of late.  Corporal Cain," she smiled back.

"This is my guest, Mr.  Hood.  And I'm not going for a swim."

"I didn't think so, ma'am," he replied.  The guard's eyes shifted to

"Good morning, sir."

"Good morning," Hood said.

"Corporal, would you please phone the president?" Megan said.

"Tell him I need to speak with him.  Privately, in person."

"Certainly," the guard said. Cain sat and picked up the phone.  He
punched in the extension of the Situation Room. Hood did not often pray,
but he found himself praying that someone other than one of Fenwick's
people was there to answer the phone.

A moment later, the guard said, "The First Lady is here to see the
president." The guard fell silent then.  Hood and Megan stood still in
the quiet corridor.  The only sound was a high faint whine that came
from the security monitors. After a moment, the guard looked up.

"No, sir," he said.

"She's with a gentleman.  A Mr.  Hood."  The guard fell silent again.
That wasn't a good sign.  Only one of Fenwick's people would have
thought to ask that question. After several seconds the guard said,
"Yes, sir," and hung up.  He rose and looked at the First Lady.

"I'm sorry, ma'am.  I've been told that the meeting can't be

"Told by whom?"  she asked.

"Mr.  Gable, ma'am."

"Mr.  Gable is trying to keep Mr.  Hood from delivering an important
message to the president," Megan said.

"A message that may prevent a war.  I need to see my husband."

"Corporal," Hood said.

"You're a military man.  You don't have to take orders from a civilian.

I'm going to ask you to place the call again.  Ask to speak to an
officer, and repeat the First Lady's message."

"If Mr.  Gable gives you trouble, I will take responsibility," Megan
said. Corporal Cain hesitated, but only for a moment.  He picked up the
phone and remained standing as he punched in the extension.

"Mr.  Gable?"  he said.

"I would like to speak with General Burg." General Otis Burg was the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"No, sir," Cain said after a moment.

"This is a military matter, sir.  A security issue." There was another
pause.  Hood tasted something tart in the back of his throat.  He
realized, after a moment, that it was blood.  He was biting his tongue.
He relaxed.

A few seconds later, Corporal Cain's voice and demeanor changed.  His
posture was stiffer, his tone formal. He was speaking with General Burg.
Cain repeated the request.  Several seconds after that, the young
Corporal hung up.  He looked at the First Lady.

"Your husband will see you both," he said proudly. Megan smiled and
thanked him. Hood and Megan turned and hurried down the corridor to the
Situation Room.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 11:22 a.m.

Unsteadily, David Battat made his way down the stairwell. Because of the
late morning hour, not many people were exiting the hotel.  Several of
the people who did pass Battat asked if he needed help.  The American
told them that he had inhaled some smoke but would be all right. Hugging
the iron banister, he made his way slowly down the concrete stairs. When
Battat reached the lobby, he leaned against a wall near the house
phones.  He did not want to sit down.  He was weak and dizzy and afraid
he would not get back up.  One of the hotel staff members, an assistant
manager, asked him who he was and what room he was staying in.  He said
he was not a guest but had been visiting a friend. The young woman told
him that firefighters wanted everyone to go outside.  Battat said he
would go out as soon as he caught his breath. Battat looked across the
lobby. It was crowded with people, mostly hotel staff, along with about
fifty or sixty guests.  The guests were concerned about their belongings
and asking questions about security. They did not seem in a hurry to
leave. There was no smoke in the lobby, and firefighters were just
pulling into the circular drive in front of the hotel. Battat was
concerned about how Odette was making out.  He had been proud of her
when she left the hotel. If she had been afraid, she did not show it. He
wished he were a little steadier.  He did not like the idea of her
having to face the Harpooner alone. There was a side exit down the
corridor to Battat's right.  The parking lot was to the right, the front
of the hotel to the left.  Since the fire trucks were out front, he felt
he stood a better chance of catching a taxi in the parking lot.  If not,
there was a major thoroughfare beyond the parking lot.  He had seen it
from the upstairs window.  He could probably catch a bus there. Pushing
himself off the wall, Battat shuffled down the carpeted hallway. He felt
feverish again, though he did not feel worse than he had before. His
body was fighting whatever he had been injected with. That probably
meant it was viral rather than chemical.  He could finally get medical
attention and start to shake this. Battat's vision was misty as he moved
past the bank of telephones. There were several shops beyond, their
picture windows reflecting each other.  There was no one inside, either
customers or employees.  The displays of shirts and trinkets, of luggage
and toys, all seemed to merge as Battat neared.  He tried to blink them
clear.  He could not. The sickness plus the exertion had worn him down
much more than he thought.  Battat gave serious thought to going back to
the lobby and asking the fire department medics for a ride to the
hospital.  He had been afraid to go there lest someone recognize him
from the night before and ask about the dead man in his room. But he was
beginning to doubt that he could make it from the hotel, let alone reach
the embassy. Suddenly, someone appeared in Battat's line of vision. The
American stopped and squinted.  It was a man wearing jeans and a white
shirt. There were straps around his shoulder.

A black backpack. Oh Christ, Battat thought as the man approached.  He
knew who it was. And he had no doubt that the man recognized him.  And
knew why he was in such a weakened condition.  After all, it was
probably this same man who had injected him with the toxin on the beach.
The Harpooner. The assassin had just walked in through the side door. He
was about twenty feet away.  He was holding what looked like a knife in
his right hand.  Battat would not be able to fight him.  He had to try
and get back to the lobby. Battat turned, but he moved too fast.  His
vision blurred and he stumbled against one of the shop windows. He
quickly pushed off with his shoulder.  He staggered ahead.  If he could
just get to the lobby, even if he fell square on his face, someone might
get to him before the Harpooner could. Battat reached the bank of
phones.  He extended his left arm, used it to move himself along the
wall.  Push, step, push, step. He was halfway along the bank when he
felt starched fabric slide along the front of his throat.  A sleeve.  A
strong arm pulled back, putting Battat into a choke hold.

"The last time we met, I needed you alive," the assassin whispered

"Not this time.  Unless you tell me who you're working with."

"Up yours," Battat gasped. Battat felt a knee against the small of his
back.  If the Harpooner intended to kill him standing up, he was going
to be disappointed. Battat's legs gave out and he dropped to the floor.
The Harpooner immediately released Battat and swung around in front of
him.  He straddled Battat and dropped a knee on his chest.  Battat felt
a sharp jab in his side and exhaled painfully.  One or more of his ribs
had been broken.  The Harpooner brought the knife to the left side of
the American's throat.  He pressed the sharp tip just below the ear.

"No," the Harpooner hissed as he glared down at Battat.

"This is going up yours." Battat was too weak to fight.  He was aware
that he was going to be cut from ear to ear and then left to drown in
his own blood.  But there was nothing he could do about it.  Nothing.
Battat felt a pinch in his throat.  A moment later, he heard a soft pop
and blood sprayed into his eyes.  He thought it would hurt more, having
his throat pierced. But there was no pain after the initial pinch.  He
did not feel the blade moving through his skin.  And he was still able
to breathe. An instant later, Battat heard a second pop.  He blinked
hard to clear the blood from his eyes.  He watched as the Harpooner just
hovered there, crouched on his chest.  Blood was pumping from a wound in
his throat.  There was no drama in his face, no great gesture befitting
the size of his crimes.  Just a momentary look of confusion and
surprise. Then the killer's eyes shut, the knife fell from his hand, and
the Harpooner tumbled to the floor between Battat and the phone bank.
Battat lay there.  He did not know exactly what had happened until
Odette appeared from behind.  She was holding her silenced pistol in
front of her and looking down at the Harpooner.

"Are you all right?"  she asked Battat. He reached up and felt his
throat.  Except for a trickle of blood on the left side, it felt intact.

"I think I'm okay," Battat said.

"Thank you." Battat managed to half wriggle, half crawl away as Odette
bent and examined the Harpooner.  The woman kept the gun pointed at the
Harpooner's head as she felt his wrist for a pulse.  Then she held her
fingers under his nose, feeling for breath.  But she had struck him once
in the throat and once in the chest.  His white shin was already thick
and dripping with blood.

"I'm glad you followed him," Battat said.  He pulled a handkerchief from
his pocket and pressed it to his own wound.

"I didn't," Odette said as she rose.

"I lost him.  But then I thought he might come back to try to cover his
tracks.  And I knew which one of us he would recognize." Just then, a
housekeeper in the lobby saw the body and screamed. Battat looked back.
She was pointing at them and shouting for help. Odette stepped around
the corpse to help Battat to his feet.

"We've got to get out of here," she said urgently.

"Come on.  My car isn't far--"

"Wait," Battat said.  He bent over the Harpooner's body and began
working on the straps of the backpack.

"Help me get this off.  There may be evidence we can use to identify his

"You just get on your feet," Odette said as she pulled out her knife.

"I'll do that." Battat pulled himself up, using the ledge under the
phones while Odette cut the backpack free.  Then, lending Battat her
shoulder, Odette led the American down the hall. They were nearly at the
door when someone yelled at them from behind.

"Stop!"  a man yelled. Battat and Odette turned.  An elderly hotel
security officer was standing just beyond the phone bank.  Odette let
Battat lean against one of the shop windows while she pulled her badge
from her back pocket. She held it toward the security officer.

"I'm Odette Kolker of Metropolitan Squad Three," she said.

"The man on the floor is a wanted terrorist.  He started the fire in
310.  Make sure the room is sealed off.

I'm taking my partner to the hospital to see that he gets proper care.
Then I'll be back." Odette did not wait for the man to answer or for
other security personnel to arrive.  She turned and helped Battat from
the building. She did that well, Battat thought.  Gave the man a
mission, made him feel important, so he would not interfere with them.
The brisk, clear air and sharp sunshine helped give Battat yet another
fresh start.  This was the last one, though.  He knew that for certain.
The American's legs were rubbery, and he was having trouble holding his
head up.  At least his neck was not bleeding badly.  And the
handkerchief was keeping most of that inside, where it belonged. Only
after they had made their way through the parking lot to the rear of the
hotel did it hit Battat.  Odette had done it.  She had not only saved
his life but she had stopped the Harpooner.  She had killed a terrorist
who had eluded all of Europe's top security agencies.  He was proud to
have had a small hand in this.  The only down side was that Odette
probably would not be able to remain in Baku after this.  It was going
to be tough to explain this to her police superiors.  And if the
Harpooner had allies, they might come looking for her.  It was probably
a good time for Odette to assume another identity. Five minutes later,
Battat was seated in the passenger's seat of Odette's car.  They pulled
from the curb and headed toward the American embassy.  It would be a
short ride, but there was something that could not wait. The Harpooner's
backpack was in Battat's lap.  There was a small padlock on the flap. He
borrowed Odette's knife and cut the flap away. He looked inside. There
were some documents as well as a Zed-4 phone. He had worked one of those
when he was in Moscow. They were more compact and sophisticated than the
American Tac-Sats. Battat removed the phone from the case.  There was an
alphanumeric keypad along with several other buttons. Above them was a
liquid crystal display on top. He pushed the menu button to the right of
the display. For the Harpooner's sake, the instructions were in English.
And for the first time since David Battat arrived in Baku, he did
something he had missed. He smiled.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 4:27 am.

The Situation Room was a brightly lit chamber with a low ceiling, white
walls, and soft, fluorescent lighting. There was a conference table in
the center of the room and chairs along three of the four walls.
Computer monitors were attached to the arms of the chairs.  They
provided aides with up-to-the-minute information. The fourth wall was
fitted with a ten-foot-long high definition TV monitor. The screen was
linked to the National Reconnaissance Office. Real-time satellite images
could be displayed there with magnification of objects up to three feet
long.  Most of these high-tech improvements were made within the last
four years using over two billion dollars that had been allocated to
fixing the White House recreation facilities, including the pool and
tennis court. Hood and the First Lady entered through the door that was
under the high-definition monitor.  The chiefs of the army, navy, and
air force and the commandant of the marine corps were sitting along one
side of the table with their chairman.  General Otis Burg, in the
center. Burg was a big, barrel-chested man in his late fifties.  He had
a shaved head and steel gray eyes that had been hardened by war and
political bureaucracy.  The joint chiefs' aides were seated behind them.
Along the other side of the table were the president, the vice
president, NSA head Fenwick, Chief of Staff Gable, and Deputy National
Security adviser Don Roedner.  Judging by their tense expressions,
either it was a difficult meeting or they did not appreciate the
interruption.  Or both. Several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
registered surprise to see Hood with the First Lady.  So did the
president.  He had been in the process of rising to go into an adjoining
study and talk with her.  The president froze and looked from Megan to
Hood, then back to Megan.  The new arrivals stopped at the head of the
conference table.

"What's going on?"  the president asked. Hood glanced at the joint
chiefs, who were a wall of impatience.  He still did not know whether
the frustration was with him or with the issue at hand.  All he knew was
that he would not have much time to present his case.

"Sir," Hood said, "there is increasing evidence that the attack on the
Iranian oil rig was executed not by Azerbaijanis but by Iranians under
the direction of the terrorist known as the Harpooner." The president
sat back down.

"Why?"  he asked.

"So that Iran could justify moving ships into the region and seize as
many oil resources as possible," Hood told him.

"And risk a military showdown with the United States?"  Lawrence asked.

"No, sir," Hood replied.  He looked at Fenwick.

"I believe there is an agreement in place to make sure the United States
does not interfere.  Then, when the tensions are defused, we simply buy
our oil from Teheran."

"And when was this agreement made?"  the president asked.

"Yesterday, in New York," Hood said.

"Probably after many months of negotiations."

"You're referring to Jack's visit to the Iranian mission," the president

"Yes, sir," Hood replied.

"Mr.  Fenwick was not empowered to make such a promise," the president
pointed out.

"If he did make one, it would not be valid."

"It might be if you were not in office," Hood said.

"This is ridiculous!"  Fenwick declared.

"I was at the Iranian mission to try and expand our intelligence
resources in the Middle East.  I've explained that, and I can document
it.  I can tell you who I met with and when."

"All part of the big lie," Hood said.

"Mr.  Roedner was with me," Penwick said.

"I have the notes I made, and I'll be happy to name my contacts. What do
you have, Mr.  Hood?"

"The truth," he replied without hesitation.

"It's the same thing I had when you vowed to keep me from seeing the
president."  ' "What I vowed was to keep you from bothering the
president," Fenwick insisted.

"Secret deals with Iran. The president being out of office.  This isn't
the truth, Mr.  Hood. It's paranoia!" The vice president looked at his

"Mr.  President, forgive me, but we're wasting time.  We need to get on
with this meeting."

"I agree," said General Burg.

"I'm not up to speed on any of this back-and-forth, and it isn't my job
to say which of these gentlemen is full of gravy.  But whether we play
offense or defense, we have to make some quick decisions if we're going
to match Iran's deployment." The president nodded.

"Then get on with the meeting, Mr.  President, General Burg," Hood said.

"But please delay taking military action for as long as possible.  Give
me time to finish the investigation we've begun."

"I asked for evidence to back your claims," the president said, his
voice extremely calm.

"You don't have that."

"Not yet," Hood said.

"And we don't have the extra time I thought there'd be to investigate.
We've got to proceed as if the Caspian threat is real," the president
said with finality.

"Which is exactly what they want you to do!"  Hood said.  He was growing
agitated and had to pull himself back.  An outburst would undermine his
own credibility.

"We believe a crisis is being engineered, one that will call into
question your ability to govern."

"People have argued about that for years," the president said.

"They voted me out of office once.  But I don't make decisions based on

"I'm not talking about a policy debate," Hood said.

"I'm talking about your mental and emotional state.  That will be the
issue." Fenwick shook his head sadly.

"Sir, mental health is the issue.  Mr.  Hood has been under a great deal
of stress these past two weeks.  His teenage daughter is mentally ill.
He's going through a divorce.  He needs a long vacation."

"I don't think Mr.  Hood is the one who needs a leave of absence," the
First Lady said.  Her voice was clear and edged with anger.  It quieted
the room.

"Mr.  Fenwick, I have watched my husband being misled and misinformed
for several weeks now.  Mr.  Hood looked into the situation at my
personal request.  His investigation has been methodical, and I believe
his findings have merit."  She glared at Fenwick.

"Or do you intend to call me a liar as well?" Fenwick said nothing. The
president looked at his wife.  Megan was standing straight and stoic at
Hood's side.  There was nothing apologetic in her expression. The
president looked tired, but Hood thought he also seemed sad.  He could
not tell whether it was because Megan had run an operation behind his
back or because he felt he had let her down. The couple was silent.  It
was clearly an issue they would settle some other time, in private.
After a moment, the president's eyes returned to Hood.  The sadness

"Your concern is noted and appreciated," the president said.

"But I won't jeopardize the nation's interests to protect my own.
Especially when you have no evidence that they're at risk."

"All I want is a few hours," Hood said.

"Unfortunately, we don't have a few hours," the president replied. For a
moment, Megan looked as though she was going to hug her husband. She did
not.  She looked at Fenwick and then at the joint chiefs.

"Thank you for hearing us out," she said.

"I'm sorry to have interrupted." She turned and started toward the door.
Hood did not know what else to say.  He would have to go back to the
Cabinet Room and work with Herbert and Orlov.  Try to get the proof the
president needed and get it quickly. He turned to follow the First Lady
from the Situation Room.  As he did, there was a gentle beep from
somewhere in the room.  A cell phone.  The sound had come from the
inside pocket of Fenwick's suit. He shouldn't be able to get a signal in
here.  Hood thought.  The walls of the Situation Room were lined with
chips that generated random electrical impulses or impedence webs.  The
IWS were designed to block bugs from broadcasting to anyone on the White
House grounds.  They also blocked cell phone calls with one exception:
transmissions relayed by the government's Hephaestus satellite array.
Hood turned back as the NSA chief had slipped a hand into his jacket.
Fenwick took out the phone and shut off the ringer. Bingo. If it got
through IW security, it had to be a Hephaestus call.  Highest security.
Who wouldn't Fenwick want to talk to right now? Hood leaned over the NSA
chief and pulled the phone from his hand. Fenwick reached for it, but
Hood stepped away.

"What the hell are you doing?"  Fenwick demanded. He pushed the chair
back and rose.  He walked toward Hood.

"I'm betting my career on a hunch," Hood said.  He flipped open the
cover and answered the call.


"Who is this?"  asked the caller.

"This is Jack Fenwick's line at the NSA," Hood said. He walked toward
the president.

"Who's calling?"

"My name is David Battat," said the clear voice on the other end. Hood
felt the world slide off his shoulders.  He held the cell phone so the
president could listen as well.  Fenwick stopped beside them.  The NSA
head did not reach for the phone.  He just stood there.  Hood saw just
where the weight of the world had shifted.

"Mr.  Battat, this is Paul Hood of Op-Center," said Hood.

"Paul Hood?"  Battat said.

"Why are you answering this line?"

"It's a long story," Hood said.

"What is your situation?"

"A helluva lot better than Mr.  Fenwick's," Battat said.

"We just took down the Harpooner and recovered his secure phone.  This
number was the first one that came up on the Harpooner's instant-dial

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 4:41 a.m.

Paul Hood stepped to a corner of the room to finish speaking with
Battat.  It was important that he get all the information he could about
the Harpooner and what had happened. While Hood did that. President
Lawrence stood.  He glanced over at his wife, who was standing by the
door. He gave her a little smile.  Just a small one to show that he was
okay and that she had done the right thing.  Then Lawrence turned to
Fenwick. The NSA chief was still standing beside him.  His arms were
stiff at his side and his expression was defiant.  The other men
remained seated around the table. Everyone was watching Lawrence and

"Why did the Harpooner have your direct number and the Hephaestus access
code?"  the president asked.  There was a new confidence in his voice.

"I can't answer that," Fenwick said.

"Were you working with Iran to orchestrate a takeover of Azerbaijani oil
deposits?"  the president asked.

"I was not."

"Were you working with anyone to organize a takeover of the Oval
Office?"  the president asked.

"No, sir," Fenwick replied.

"I'm as puzzled as you are."

"Do you still believe that Mr.  Hood is a liar?"

"I believe that he's misinformed.  I have no explanation for what is
going on," Fenwick said. The president sat back down.

"None at all."

"No, Mr.  President." The president looked across the table.

"General Burg, I'm going to get the secretary of state and our UN
ambassador working on this right away.  How would you feel about
coordinating a midlevel alert for the region?" Burg looked at his
colleagues in turn.  No one voiced a protest.  The general looked at the

"Given the confusion about just who we should be fighting, I'm very
comfortable with yellow status." The president nodded.  He looked at his

"We'll reconvene in the Oval Office at six-thirty.  That will give me
time to work with the press secretary to get something on the morning
news shows.  I want to be able to put people at ease about our troops
and about the status of our oil supply."  He regarded vice president
Cotten and Gable.

"I'm going to ask the attorney general to look into the rest of this
situation as quietly as possible.  I want him to ascertain whether
treasonable acts have been committed.  Do any of you have any thoughts?"
There was something challenging in the president's voice.  Hood had just
finished up with Battat and turned back to the table.  He remained in
the corner, however. Everyone else was still. The vice president leaned
forward and folded his hands on the table. He said nothing.  Gable did
not move. Fenwick's deputy, Don Roedner, was staring at the conference

"No suggestions at all?"  the president pressed. The heavy silence
lasted a moment longer.  Then the vice president said, "There will not
be an investigation."

"Why not?"  asked the president.

"Because you will have three letters of resignation on your desk by the
end of the morning," Gotten replied.

"Mr.  Fenwick's, Mr.  Gable's, and Mr.  Roedner's.  In exchange for
those resignations, there will be no charges, no prosecution, and no
explanation other than that members of the administration had a
difference of policy opinion." Fenwick's forehead flushed.

"Three letters, Mr.  Vice President?"

"That's correct, Mr.  Fenwick," Cotten replied.  The vice president did
not look at the NSA chief.

"In exchange for complete amnesty." Hood did not miss the subtext.  Nor,
he was sure, did the president. The vice president was in on this, too.
He was asking the others to take a fall for him--though not a big one.
Quitting an administration, high-ranking officials often tumbled upward
in the private sector. The president shook his head.

"I have here a group of administration officials who apparently
conspired with an international terrorist to steal oil from one nation,
give it to another, reap foreign policy benefits, and in the process
steal the office of president of the United States.  And you sit there
arrogantly declaring that these men will be given de facto amnesty. And
that one of them, it appears, will remain in office, in line for the
presidency." Cotten regarded Lawrence.

"I do declare that, yes," he said.

"The alternative is an international incident in which the United States
will be seen as having betrayed Azerbaijan.  A series of investigations
and trials that will ghost this administration and become its sole
legacy. Plus a president who was unaware of what was going on among his
closest advisers.  A president who his own wife thought might be
suffering from a mental or emotional breakdown.  That will not boost
public confidence in his abilities."

"Everyone gets off," the president said angrily.

"I'm supposed to agree to that?"

"Everyone gets off," the vice president repeated calmly.

"Mr.  Vice President, sir?"  General Burg said.

"I just want to say if I had my weapon here, I would shoot you in the

"General Burg," the vice president replied, "given the pitiful state of
our military, I'm confident you'd miss." He regarded the president.

"There was never going to be a war.  No one was going to shoot at anyone
or be shot at.  Peace would have been reached with Iran, relations would
have been normalized, and Americans would have had a guaranteed fuel
supply.  Whatever one may think of the methods, this was all done for
the good of the nation."

"Any time laws are broken, it is not for the good of the nation," the
president said.

"You endangered a small, industrious country trying to get its footing
in a post Soviet world.  You sought to undo the will of the American
electorate.  And you betrayed my faith in you." Cotten rose.

"I did none of those things, Mr.  President," he replied.

"Otherwise, I would be resigning.  I'll see you all at the six-thirty

"You will not be needed there," the president said.

"Ah," said the vice president.

"You would prefer I go on the Today Show to discuss administration
policy in the Caspian region."

"No," the president replied.

"I would prefer that you draft your letter of resignation to submit with
the others." The vice president shook his head.

"I won't do that."

"You will," the president replied.

"And attribute your resignation to mental exhaustion.  I won't make you
a martyr to an anti constitutional fringe.  Find some other line of
work, Mr.  Cotten."

"Mr.  President, you are pushing the wrong man," Cotten warned.

"I don't think so," the president replied.  His eyes and voice grew

"You're correct, Mr.  Cotten.  I don't want a national or international
scandal.  But I'll suffer those before I leave a traitor in the line of
succession to the office of president.  Either you resign or, in
exchange for that amnesty, I will urge Mr.  Fenwick and his associates
to tell the attorney general what they know about your involvement in
this operation." Cotten was silent.  Red and silent. The president
reached for the phone in front of him. He pushed a button.

"Corporal Cain?"

"Yes, Mr.  President?"

"Please have an unarmed detail report to the Situation Room at once,"
Lawrence told him.

"There are some gentlemen who need to be escorted to their offices and
then from the grounds."

"Unarmed, sir?"  Cain repeated.

"That's right," Lawrence said.

"There won't be any trouble."

"Right away, sir."

"Wait outside the door when you're finished," the president added.

"The men will be joining you in just a moment."

"Yes, sir." The president hung up.  He regarded the four men.

"One more thing.  Information about your participation in these events
must not leave this room.  Amnesty will not be based on anything I
intend to do for you.  Pardoning you would be a sin.  It will be based
solely on the absence of news." The men turned and walked toward the
door. Megan Lawrence stepped aside. Hood's eyes met hers.  The First
Lady was glowing with pride.  They were obviously thinking the same
thing. She was the only Lawrence who would be stepping aside this day.

Saint Petersburg, Russia Tuesday, 12:53 p.m.

In most intelligence agencies it's often difficult to tell night from
day.  That's because conspiracy and espionage never rest, so the counter
terrorists and spy busters also work around the clock.  Most are usually
fully staffed. The distinction is even less noticeable in the Russian
Op-Center because the facility is below ground. There are no windows
anywhere. But General Orlov always knew when it was afternoon. He knew
because that was when his devoted wife called.  She always rang shortly
after lunchtime to see how her Sergei's sandwich was.  She phoned even
today, when she had not had time to prepare a bag lunch before he left.
Unfortunately, the call was brief.  It often was.  They usually had
longer conversations when he was in space than they did at the
Op-Center.  Two minutes after Masha called, Orlov received a call from
Odette.  He told Masha he would have to call her back.  She understood.
Masha always understood. Orlov switched lines.

"Odette, how are you?"  the general asked eagerly.

"I'm very well," the woman replied.

"We accomplished our mission." Orlov was unable to speak for a moment.
He had been worried about Odette and concerned about the mission. The
fact that she was safe and triumphant left him choked with pride.

"We terminated with complications," Odette went on, "but we got away.
There were no other injuries."

"Where are you now?"  Orlov asked.

"At the U.S. embassy," she said.

"Mr.  Battat is getting medical care.  Then I'll be going to the police
station.  I had to show my badge to a hotel worker, but I think I'll be
able to work it out with my superior.  The Harpooner set a fire.  I can
tell the captain that I went there to see if I could help."

"So you don't want to leave, then?"  Orlov asked.

"I think there will be some interesting problems because of all this,"
she said.

"I'd like to stay for a while."

"We'll talk about it," Orlov said.

"I'm proud of you, Odette.  And I know someone else would be, too."

"Thank you," she said.

"I think Viktor was looking out for me today.  So was David Battat. I'm
glad you asked him to come along." Odette gave Orlov additional
information about what had happened.  They arranged to talk again in six
hours. If it became necessary for Odette to leave Baku, there was an
Aeroflot flight she could catch at eight p.m. Orlov took a moment to
savor the victory's many rewards. First, having won the battle against a
tenacious enemy.  Second, having made the right decision to send Odette
and Battat into the field together.  And finally, having been able to
help Paul Hood.  Not only did it repay an old debt, but it hopefully
opened the door to future close collaborations. Odette said that Battat
had spoken with Paul Hood. There was nothing Orlov could add to that.
Orlov would call him in a few minutes.  First, however, he wanted to
brief the staff members who had been involved in the hunt. He was about
to send for Grosky and Kosov when the men came to his office door. Kosov
was carrying a rolled-up blueprint.

"General," said the outgoing Kosov, "we have some news."

"Good news?"  Orlov asked.

"Yes, sir," Kosov said.

"That information the Americans gave us about the Harpooner's Russian
identity has proved very useful."

"In what way?"  Orlov asked.

"It suggested to us how he has been able to come to Moscow and disappear
without ever being seen," Kosov said.  He stepped forward and unrolled
the blueprint on Orlov's desk.

"This is a map of the old Soviet army railroad routes," he said.

"As you know, they go underground well outside of Moscow and stop at
various points beneath the city."

"It was designed that way so troops could be moved into place
clandestinely, to put down riots or even foreign attacks," Grosky added.

"I know about these," Orlov said.

"I've traveled in them."

"But what you may not know about is this one," Kosov said. The
intelligence analyst used a pen to point to a faint red line.  It led
from Kievskaya metro stop to several other stations around the city.
Kosov was right.  Orlov did not know what it was.

"This is unmarked, as you can see, even though it links up to the main
trunk," Kosov continued.

"We thought it might be a service tunnel of some kind, but we looked at
an older map from the GRU files just to make certain.  It was the old
Stalin tunnel.  If the German army had ever reached Moscow during World
War II, Stalin would have been evacuated through this system. Only his
closest military advisers know that it existed." Kosov stepped back and
folded his arms.

"We believe, sir, that all we need to do to catch our rat is to put
video cameras at the entrance and exit.  Sooner or later, the Harpooner
is certain to show up there." Orlov looked at the map for a moment, then
sat back.

"You may have solved a very perplexing riddle," he said.

"Excellent work."

"Thank you, sir," Kosov beamed.  , "Fortunately," Orlov went on, "the
Harpooner was killed earlier today.  The only rats that will be using
the tunnel are the four-legged kind." Grosky's mouth twisted slightly at
one end.  Kosov's expression seemed to fall entirely.

"But we could not have taken him without you, and I will say so in my
report to the president's director of intelligence review," Orlov
promised.  He rose and extended his hand to each man in turn.

"I am proud of you both and deeply grateful." Kosov's disappointment
evaporated quickly.  Grosky's mouth remained bent.  But even Grosky's
perpetual sourness couldn't spoil the moment. An inexperienced woman, a
sick man, and two former enemies had joined forces to win a big one. It
was an extraordinary feeling.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 5:04 a.m.

After the vice president and his team had been ushered away, the
president asked Hood to wait for him. Hood stepped outside the Situation
Room as the president and Megan stood alone behind the conference table,
talking.  The president took his wife's hands in his.  He seemed
composed, once again in control. The Joint Chiefs of Staff filed out
quickly after Cotten's group had been led off.  They headed quickly
toward the elevator.  Before leaving. General Burg paused and turned to
Hood.  He shook the intelligence leader's hand.

"What you did in there was good work, smart work," the general said.

"It was also ballsy.  My congratulations, Mr.  Hood.  I'm proud to be
associated with you.  Proud to be an American." Coming from anyone else
under almost any other circumstance, that sentiment might have sounded
corny. But the system had worked, despite the formidable forces and
pressures rallied against it.  General Burg had every reason to feel
proud.  Hood did.

"Thank you.  General," Hood said sincerely. After the Joint Chiefs left,
the hall was quiet, save for the whispered conversation of the president
and First Lady.  Hood was relieved but still a little shell-shocked by
everything that had just happened.  He did not believe that the press
would accept the given explanations for a mass resignation of the vice
president and top administration officials.  But that was a battle for
other warriors and another day.  Hood and his team had saved the
presidency and defeated the Harpooner.  Right now, all he wanted to do
was hear what the president wanted to say, get back to the hotel, and go
to sleep. The president and First Lady emerged a few minutes later. They
looked tired but content.

"Did your man in Baku have anything else to say?"
the president asked as he walked toward Hood.

"Not really, sir," Hood said.

"He's at the American embassy now.  We'll talk again.  If there's any
other intel, I'll let you know at once." The president nodded as he
stopped next to Hood. Megan was standing beside him.

"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, but Mrs. Lawrence and I wanted to
thank you together," the president said.

"She told me you've been working on this nonstop since Sunday night."

"It's been a long day and a half," Hood admitted.

"You're more than welcome to sleep upstairs, if you'd like," the
president said.

"Or a driver will take you home."

"Thank you, sir," Hood said.  He looked at his watch.

"Rush hour doesn't start until six, so I should be all right.  I'll just
roll down the window and enjoy the fresh air."

"If you're certain," the president said.  He offered his hand.

"I've got work to do.  Megan will make sure you get back upstairs.  And
thank you again.  For everything." Hood accepted the president's hand.

"It's been an honor, sir." After the president left, Megan faced Hood.
There were tears in her eyes.

"You saved him, Paul.  While I stood there, I watched him pull back from
wherever they had taken him."

"He did that by himself," Hood said.

"And without your heads-up, I wouldn't have acted on any of this."

"For once in your life, Paul, give the self-effacement a rest," Megan

"You took all the risks in there.  If things had gone the other way, you
would have been ruined." Hood shrugged. Megan grimaced.

"You're exasperating.  Michael is right about one thing, though. You're
tired.  Are you sure you won't rest awhile before you head back?"

"I'm sure," Hood said.

"There are still a few things we have to tie up, and I want to call

"How's that going?"  Megan asked.

"As good as could be expected," Hood said.

"Harleigh's in the hospital so we're focused on that." Megan touched his

"If you want to talk, I'm here." Hood thanked her with a smile.  They
left together, and then Hood headed for his car.  A plane rumbled in the
distance.  Hood looked up as he unlocked his car door.  The first hint
of daylight was appearing on the other side of the White House grounds.
Somehow, that seemed fitting.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 6:46 a.m.

Hood was surprisingly alert when he reached his office. Mike Rodgers was
gone.  He had left a voice mail message two hours before about a
military situation that was developing along the Pakistan-India border.
Rodgers said he had gone home to get some rest before going off to a
meeting at the Pentagon.  Although General Rodgers was officially
attached to Op-Center, he was called upon to assess flash points in
different corners of the world. Bob Herbert was still awake and "at the
switch," as he described it. He came to Hood's office and quickly
brought Hood up to speed on the little additional intelligence that
Orlov had on the Harpooner and his movements. Then Herbert asked Hood
how things had gone at the White House. Herbert listened intently to his
chief's matter-of-fact recitation of the facts.  When Hood was finished,
the intelligence head sighed.

"I've been sitting here collecting intelligence while you were out
there, in the field, saving America and the Constitution from a

"Some guys have all the luck," Hood said dryly.

"Yeah," Herbert said.

"But you're not the one I envy."

"Oh?" Hood thought for a moment.  Then, just before Herbert said it.
Hood knew what was coming.

"I wish I had been the one who pulled the plug on the Harpooner,"
Herbert said.  His voice was a low monotone.  His eyes were staring. His
mind was somewhere else.

"I'd have done it slowly.  Very slowly.  I would have made him suffer
the way I've suffered without my wife." Hood did not know what to say,
so he said nothing. Herbert looked at him.

"I've got a lot of vacation time coming, Paul.  I'm going to take it."

"You should," Hood said.

"I want to go to Baku and meet this woman Odette," Herbert said.

"I want to see where it happened."

"I understand," Hood told him. Herbert smiled.  His eyes were damp.

"I knew you would."  His voice cracked.

"Look at me.  You're the one who's had his ass on the firing line twice
in the past two weeks.  But I'm the one cracking up."

"You've been carrying this pain and frustration for nearly twenty
years," Hood said.

"It's got to come out." He snickered humorlessly.

"I'll break, too.  Bob.  One day the UN thing, the White House--it's all
going to hit me and I'll come apart big time." Herbert smiled.

"Just hold on till I'm back from vacation so I can pick up all the cogs
and wheels."

"It's a deal," Hood said. Herbert wheeled around the desk and hugged
Hood warmly.  Then he turned his chair around and left the office. Hood
put in a quick call to General Orlov, thanking him for everything he had
done and suggesting that they work out a way to integrate their two
systems on some level. Create an Interpol for crisis management. Orlov
was all for the idea. They agreed to talk about it the following day.
After hanging up with Orlov, Hood looked at the computer clock.  It was
still too early to call home. He decided to go to the hotel and phone
Sharon and the kids from his room.  There would be no other calls, no
distractions. Hood left his office and headed back upstairs.  He greeted
members of the day team as they arrived: Darrell McCaskey, Matt Stoll,
and Liz Gordon.  He told them each to go see Bob Herbert for an update.
Hood said he would brief them more fully later in the day. By the time
he reached the parking lot, he was starting to crash.  The caffeine had
made its way through his system.  Hood's body was definitely winding
down.  As he neared his car, he saw Ann Fan-is.  She was just pulling
through the gate.  The press liaison saw him, waved, and drove over. She
rolled down the window.

"Is everything all right?"  she asked. Hood nodded.

"Just tired," he said.

"Bob is still there. He'll brief you.  There's nothing we have to press
release, though. Not yet."

"Where are you headed?"  she asked.

"Back to the hotel," he said.

"I've got to get some rest."

"Hop in and I'll run you over," she said.

"You don't look like you should be driving."

"I don't know when I'll be coming back," Hood told her.

"I need the car."

"You'll be coming back this afternoon," Ann said.

"I know you.  A two- or three-hour power nap, and then you'll be back.
Just call when you wake up, and I'll come and get you." The offer
sounded inviting.  He did not feel like driving anymore.

"All right," Hood said. Hood went to the passenger's side and slid in.
He shut his eyes and had to be nudged awake when they arrived. He was
groggy.  Ann left her car out front and walked him to his room. She
returned a few minutes later, climbed behind the wheel, and sat there
for a moment.

"Screw this," she said.  Instead of driving off, she moved the car to
the main lot.  Then she went back inside. Hood had just finished his
short chat with Sharon.  His wife had said that there had been no change
in anything. Hood removed his shoes and tie and was unbuttoning his
shirt when there was a knock on the door.  It had to be a bellboy with a
fax from the office or his attorney.  No one else knew he was here.  He
fished a dollar from his wallet and opened the door.  He was surprised
to see Ann.

"Thanks," she said, "but I didn't come back for my tip." He smiled and
let her in. Ann was still wearing her jacket, but she looked different.
There was something more accessible about her. It was in the eyes, he
decided. Hood shut the door behind her.  As he did, he was surprised by
something else.  He was glad that she had come back.


Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 3:00 p.m.

Throughout the late morning and early afternoon, the surprises kept
coming for Ron Friday, each one more startling than the last. First,
Friday was surprised to find David Battat at the embassy.  The CIA
operative was being nursed to health by the embassy medic.  He looked in
remarkably good health and even better spirits. Next, Friday was even
more surprised to hear that a local policewoman had been responsible for
killing the Harpooner. Friday himself would not have known how to find
him or what he looked like.  He could not imagine how a policewoman had
gotten to him.  Maybe it was an accident or they were mistaken.  Perhaps
someone else had been mistaken for the Harpooner.  In any case,
authorities were speculating that he had been the man behind the attack
on the Iranian oil rig.  Prodded by the United States, military
mobilization was being delayed while an investigation was under way. But
the biggest surprise was the call from Jack Fenwick's executive
secretary, Don.  Her boss, Don Roedner.  Red Gable, and the vice
president were all resigning later that morning. Don did not know
anything about the operation Fenwick had been running and was stunned by
the announcement.  Friday was stunned, too. He could not imagine how
everything had come unraveled. He could not imagine what his old mentor
must be feeling.  He wished he could speak with him, say something
reassuring. But Friday had not been able to reach Fenwick on his cell
phone. Someone else answered, and he quickly hung up.  He did not know
whether the NSA chief would be investigated and whether that
investigation would ever get to him.  Friday did not generally report to
Fenwick directly. He reported to T. Perry Gord, assistant deputy
director of South Asian affairs.  There was no reason it should reach
him.  Gord knew nothing about Fenwick's other activities. Still, after
weighing whether or not to remain in Baku, Friday decided it would be
best to leave.  He would go somewhere that was a little bit off the
radar.  Someplace the international press would not be paying so much
attention to over the next few weeks. Fortunately, there was a situation
developing on the India-Pakistan border that fell within Gord's
jurisdiction. Rather than send someone over from Washington, Friday
arranged to have himself transferred to the embassy in Islamabad in
order to do on-site intelligence gathering. There was a Pakistan
International Airlines flight leaving Moscow the following morning.  He
would fly from Baku tonight and make certain that he was on it. It would
have been nice, he thought, if it had all worked out for Fenwick.  With
Cotten in the White House, Fenwick would have had unprecedented access
and power.  And any one of the few people who had taken part in the
changeover would have been rewarded. Not just for their contribution but
for their silence.  On the other hand, one of the reasons Friday had
gone into intelligence work was for the challenge. The danger.  He had
done his job.  And he had enjoyed doing it, taking out a CIA operative
who had CIA swagger.  The kind that had helped to keep Friday back his
whole life.  That swagger did not prevent Thomas Moore from walking into
a neat little NSA trap. All right, Friday thought.  Things had not
worked out. It was on to the next project. That, too, was one of the
things Ron Friday enjoyed about intelligence work.  It was never the
same.  He never knew who he might be working with--or against.  In
Islamabad, for example, it was not just a question of getting a good man
to the flashpoint.  It was getting the right man there quickly.  Gord
had heard through the grapevine that someone from Op-Center was being
brought in to consult on the India-Pakistan situation and was probably
going to be sent to the region.  Over the past few years, Op-Center had
taken over a great deal of the work Fenwick's team used to handle.  That
had resulted in ongoing budget and personnel battles at the NSA. Fenwick
got the monies he wanted but it had turned a heated rivalry into a
ferocious one. Friday carefully disassembled and packed a rifle.  He
took along two boxes of shells. Because he was going to Islamabad with
diplomatic credentials, his luggage would not be checked. Showing up
Op-Center was important.  But as Friday had demonstrated in Baku and
elsewhere, outperforming a rival was not the only way to bring them
down. Whoever this man Mike Rodgers was, he would learn that the hard


The ultimate scenario for World War HI—the final battle for global control...



CIA analyst Jack Ryan stops an assassination—and incurs the wrath of Irish terrorists....

—The Wall Street Journal


The superpowers race for the ultimate Star Wars missile defense system,*.*.    .


The killing of three U.S. officials in Colombia ignites the American government's explosive, and top secret, response....

—The Washington Post

The disappearance of an Israeli nuclear weapon threatens the balance of power in the Middle East—and around the world....

—The Dallas Morning News

The Clancy epic that fans have been waiting for. His code name is Mr. Clark. And his work for the CIA is brilliant, cold-blooded, and efficient... but who is he really?

"HIGHLY ENTERTAINING."—The Wall Street Journal



A Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier
"Clancy is a master of hardware." —The Washington Post

A Guided Tour of an Airborne Task Force
"Nobody does it better."        — The Dallas Morning News

SUBMARINE  AChifttedToerlnrfde       
Takes readers deeper than they've ever gone inside a
Kirkus Reviews


A Grided Tour of an Armored Cavalry Regiment
'Tom dancy is the best there is."
—San Francisco Chronicle

A Guided Tour of an Air Force Fombat Wing
"Clancy's writing is so strong that readers feel they are there."    —Boston Sunday Herald

A Guided Tour of a Marine Expeditionary Unit
"No one can equal his talent"        —Houston Chronicle AT BOOKSTORES EVERYWHERE!

Novels by Tom Clancy
, DBBT OF HONOR   ;fc,r'%>-^6CUTIVE ORDERS .    ."' "'••••• x;'  *.'. /   iXlNBQW SIX
ssn: STRATOGHeS; of submarine warfare   Created by TjH* CStKfy and Steve Pieczenik
TOM GLANCE'S Q&?sStf$iik f$^0BS,JpF. STATE
tom clancy's op-center: acts of was tom clancy's op-center:'bala*k5b of w5wer
tom clancy's op-center: state of siege tom clancy's op-center: divide and conquer

tom clancy's net force
'tom ciJitei^'lti^:'foi^:: fiteMCBJo pobut

< and Martin Greenberg
..,.,,...,.,....,..,....l , . _.,!,-i:*i?'*»*OIJIttft.':' T«^cfc«*cY'S power plays:
tom clancy's power plays: bio-strike

submarine: a guided tour inside a nuclear warship
armored cav: a guided tour of an armored cavalry regiment
fighter wing: a guided tour of an air force combat wing
marine: a guided tour of a marine expeditionary unit
airborne: a guided tour of an airborne task force
carrier: a guided tour of an aircraft carrier

into the storm: a study in command   (written with General Fred Franks)
EVERY MAN A TIGER   (written with General Charles Homer)

Tom Clancy's power plays: BIOSTRIKES

created by
Tom Clancy
martin Greenberg

Jerome prekler



If you pureh    'S6qkBB!GHTONv  R°AD

to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped "fftp'r'f r\iu

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are
either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously,
arrf any «*C|9blanc«F to actual persons, living or dead, business
estabtishiHents, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with RSE Holdings, Inc.

. Berkley edition y November 2000',   .

All rights reserved. Copyright © 2000 by RSE Holdings, Inc.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form
without permission.
For inforrwiiofl.address; The Berkley Publishing Group, ••.:.-    •.••••'••:     a division of Penguin Pumam Inc.,    , 375 Hudson Sire^N^ Work, New York 10014.

ISBN: 0-425-17735-1

BERKLEY* Berkley Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY and the "B" design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.


10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   21


I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Marc Cerasini, Larry Segriff, Denise Little, John Heifers, Robert Youdelman, Esq., Tom Mallon, Esq.; the wonderful people at Penguin Putnam Inc., including Phyllis Grann, David Shanks, and Tom Colgan; and Doug Littlejohns, Kevin Perry, the rest of the Bio-Strike team, and the other fine folks at Red Storm Entertainment and Holistic Design. As always, I would like to thank Robert Gottlieb of the William Morris Agency. But most important, it is for you, my readers, to determine how successful our collective endeavor has been.

—Tom Clancy



american cities run by the clock. teds is truest
of the largest and busiest, where the minute hand impels people through their routines without room for pause. The sleep-demolishing clatter of a five a.m. trash pickup, a breakneck dash to the subway, back-to-back conferences noted in a desk planner, business luncheons, happy hours, and more commuter sprints—these are distance markers on the constricted urban fast track, a daily marathon of appointments and schedules where it is only an apparent contradiction to say even the unpredictable occurs at predictable times.
It was largely because of its precise adherence to schedule, its tidal inflow and outflow of humanity, that the New York Stock Exchange was chosen to be ground zero for the northeastern seaboard of the United States, the epicenter of an explosion that would be neither heard nor felt by die thousands of souls it overtook, yet was potentially more catastrophic than a full-scale nuclear assault.    *

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Inconspicuous as the weapon he was carrying, the man in the dark blue suit walked past the statue of George Washington in Federal Plaza to the impressive Greek Revival building on Wall Street amid a swarm of traders and clerks eager to make the opening bell. A tobacco-leather briefcase in his right hand, he climbed the broad outer stairs^ passed under the stone pediment with its sculpted gods of finance and invention, and strode through the entrance onto the main trading floor. Once inside, he continued moving with the flood of conservatively dressed men and women as they pushed toward the brokerage booths, trading posts, and banks of phone and video monitors that linked the Exchange to the national and foreign market networks.
Scanning the room, he discovered an unoccupied phone stall, jostled toward it, placed his briefcase on the floor near his feet, and lifted the receiver.
His hand on the hook, he randomly keyed in a number and pretended to make a call.
He would stand mere waiting until the time was right.
A few moments later, the bell rang out from the platform, and the nation's- most powerful engine of commerce jotted into high gear. The buzz of voices around him became an enthusiastic clamor, the loud outcries of stock auctioneers carrying up to the vaulted ceiling, tantalizing their bidders like bright flashes of gold and precious gems.
He felt sure that no one was paying attention to him. He was invisible in his conformity, to all eyes just another securities professional touching base with his office as the early quotes hit the board.
The silent phone cradled between his chin and shoulder, he leaned down and pushed a catch beside one of


the briefcase's combination locks. The latch did not snap open. Nor had that been his intent.
Still bent over the case, he heard a low sound issue from its side panel.
Like a venomous snake.
The device was patterned after the modified attache cases once found by authorities in the compound of Japanese   Aum Shinrikyo terrorists, the same extremist cult responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway attack that killed a dozen riders and left over 5,000 people grievously injured from exposure to sarin nerve gas. Like the Aunt's   delivery system, it had been contrived from a small aerosol canister, a battery-operated handheld fan, and a nozzle running to a camouflaged vent in the shell of the briefcase. His single improvement to their original design was the lock-catch triggering mechanism, which eliminated any need to raise the lid and reduced his chances of drawing unwanted attention.
Lifting his case, the man in the dark blue suit hung up the receiver and stepped back into the crowd. Someone immediately shouldered past to take his place at the phone, scarcely noticing him. Good, he thought. In the general commotion, the expulsion of aerosol couldn't be heard. He had only to wind his way around the room a bit, insuring the agent was spread throughout, and his job here would be finished. His targets would do the rest with their scrambling between appointments, their five- o'clock cocktail gatherings, their close-packed bodies on homebound trains and buses. Mingling with coworkers, casual acquaintances, and friends, kissing their wives and hugging their children, going around and around in

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

relentless, cyclical patterns of high-speed movement, they would very effectively do the rest
Soon he left the Exchange and tuned onto Broad Street, the canister in his briefcase emptied of its unseen contents. In his mind, he could still hear the noise from the vents: hissssss.
The memory raised the hairs at the back of his neck. He'd been guaranteed there was nothing to worry about, and the assignment had paid handsomely enough to help compensate for any lingering anxiety. Still, he was glad to be outside the building, and he welcomed even the thick, unseasonably warm air of Manhattan m fall... knowing he hadn't really left anything behind. Not anything that couldn't follow bin).
If what he had released wasn't already out mere on the street, it would be.
Soon enough, it would be everywhere.

The Air Tractor AT-802 turboprop is a mainstay of the agricultural aviation industry and a common sight in the sky above central Florida, a region that accounts for almost 70 percent of the nation's total citrus production. Aboard me plane is an 800-gallon hopper that may contain any of a wide range of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. Pumps beneath the fuselage drive the chemical from the hopper into wing-mounted booms equipped with either special nozzles, in the case of liquids, or spreaders, in the case of solids, for spraying the vast groves of orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime trees.
On mis particular morning, an AT-802 launched from a grass airstrip west of Qermont for a spray run with something worlds removed from the products normally used by ag pilots. To prevent its degradation in storage


and transport, the material had been lyophilized, or freeze-dried, into an ultrafine, whitish powder that resembled confectioners' sugar to the naked eye. The particles were then embedded in tiny granular spheres composed of a biodegradable organic compound, increasing their stability and ensuring a controlled and uniform rate of release. Perfectly smooth and free-flowing, the microcapsules rolled virtually without friction and would not acquire electrostatic charges mat might make them cling to objects on which they alighted, enabling secondary dissemination of the agent in breezes kicked up by weather, the wings of birds, or the tires of a Mack semi whipping down the interstate.
Its manufacturer had wanted only the best and obtained it at the cost of millions, knowing his clients would find the product irresistible, and confident of an impressive return on his investment.
The crop duster banked to the southwest now, maintaining a low altitude, flying across the wind- At his controls, its pilot could see the trees spread out beneath him, row after row seaming the fields to the extreme limit of his vision, their heavy green crowns jeweled with orange and yellow fruit that would soon be harvested, packaged, and shipped from coast to coast. On his panel were state-of-the-art GPS and CIS displays mapping the acreage to be covered in exact coordinates, displaying a stream of real-time data about outside environmental conditions, monitoring every aspect of his dispersal unit's operation. According to the instruments, a meteorological inversion had kept a band of cool air close to the ground today, ideal weather because it would prevent the powder from drifting off target with warmer, rising air currents.

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

He buzzed over the groves, once, twice, and again, a vaporous swath trailing from his wings with each deliberate pass. The aerosol hong in the blue, billowed in the blue, marked die blue with wide, white, parallel stripes that gradually scattered and bled into a tight, milky haze.
Then—gently, softly—it settled to earth.

A Boeing 747 wide-bodied jumbo jet can carry over 400 passengers on an international trip, seating as many as 10 abreast, far exceeding the capacity of other commercial airliners. For Steve Wbitfbrd das had been so much a mixed blessing that he found himself happily awaiting his layover as his flight taxied to a halt in Sydney.
White he had gotten the last available booking on that flight at the very last possible minute—and supposed he should have been too thankful for the seat to bemoan die absence of teg and elbow room—Steve had little doubt the plane would have burst open tike an overstuffed  tube of Pillsbury cookie dough had they tried squeezing even a single additional body aboard. At a spindly six feet four—with most of that beanpole height stacked from hip to shin—he was wilting to admit his opinion might be a tad prejudiced, but he would have argued its worthiness, nonetheless. Higher than himself can no men think, hadn't some famous philosopher said diat once upon a time?
Good lawyer mat he was, Steve never missed an opportunity to eke precedent
"... tike to thank those of you who are visiting Australia or going on to connecting Sights for choosing our airiine. For diose continuing to London with us after the stop, please feel free to stretch your tegs and enjoy die airport's restaurants, shops, and odrer amenities...."


Steve unfastened his seat belt, slid into the aisle, and took the flight attendant's advice, stretching, massaging the small of his back with his knuckles. His achiness and complaints aside, he had to admit mat there were worse things in life than rubbing up against his neighbor in the window seat
He glanced over at her, an appealing blonde of about thirty in a sort of retro hippieish outfit consisting of a peasant blouse, hip-hugging bell-bottoms, and big, round red earrings like three-dimensional polka dots. At forty- four, Steve could recall an era when clothes of mat type hadn't been so, well, form-fitted, as if they'd come straight out of a chic fashion designer's showroom.
Not mat she didn't look good in them. In fact, he'd been very aware of how good she looked the moment they boarded the jet in Hong Kong, and had tried striking up a conversation with her soon after takeoff. Just chitchat, really, while he'd checked her finger for a wedding band—a quick glance verified there wasn't one—   and tried to assess whether she might be inclined to pursue a more intimate dialogue at some later point in time. He'd told her his name, that he was an attorney who had been in Asia doing some patent and licensing work for a Massachusetts-based toy manufacturer, and that he was about to take a few days' R and R in London before returning to the grind. She, in turn, introduced herself as Melina, no surname given and none asked, her English subtly laced with an accent he couldn't associate with any particular nationality. It was kind of exotic, that name, especially hanging there exparte, so to speak. With a whimsy peculiar to the solo traveler, he had speculated that she might be an actress or pop star.
At any rate, she'd been reserved but pleasant, re

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

spending to his comments on the weather, their runway delays, and the lousy airline food, not revealing much about herself in the process. When he thought about it, she seemed almost secretive ... although it was likely he was coming off too many days of legal gamesmanship to be a reasonable judge.
Steve got his travel bag out of the overhead stowage compartment, figuring he'd find a restaurant, eat a halfway decent meal, then maybe step some cologne on his face in the rest room to freshen up for the next long leg of the transcontinental haul. He'd batted around the idea of asking Melina to join him and was still undecided. Why. necessarily take her reticence as a snub? It was understandable that a woman flying alone would be cautious toward some strange guy talking her up. Besides, he couldn't see anything inappropriate in a friendly invite.
He stood looking at her from the aisle. Still in her seat, she'd reached into her purse for a pen and a paper bag with the words Gift Shop printed on it in frilly silver lettering, then slipped some postcards out of the bag. It appeared she meant to stay put during the layover... unless he could persuade her to do otherwise.
He took a breath and leaned toward her. "Excuse me," he said. "I was wondering if you'd like to join me for a cup of coffee, maybe grab a quick bite. My treat."
Her smile was polite, nothing more, nothing less. "Thank you, but I really have to fill these out." She placed the postcards on her tray table. 'It's the kind of thing that can sup right by."
"Why not bring the cards along? A change of scene might inspire you to write better. Or faster, anyway."
The cool, unchanging smile was a rebuff in itself,


making her clipped reply superfluous. "No, I think I'll
stay right here."
Steve decided to do some face saving. They would be
sitting together for another seven hours or so once the 'plane got back in the air, and he didn't want the situation  I  to get awkward.
He nodded toward the postcards in front of her.  I     "Guess you do have a fair-sized stack there."   l> "Yes." She looked at him. "You know how it is with
obligations. They're like little plagues on my mind."
< Steve stood looking back at her. Sure, -whatever you
say, he thought   *    He told her he'd see her later, turned back into the
aisle, and filed toward the exit with the other debarking

She waited, her eyes following him until he stepped off the plane. Then she rapidly got down to business.
She removed the top of her pen and dropped it onto her tray beside the postcards. The ink cartridge was metal, with a small plastic cap above the refill opening. She twisted the cap to loosen the cartridge, slipped it out of the pen, and put the bottom half of the pen beside the other items on the tray.
Little plagues, she thought. A choice of words the man who was bora her employer and her lover might have appreciated, though he surely would have disapproved of her speaking them aloud.
Her thumb and forefinger tweezered around the cap, she separated it from the cylindrical cartridge with an easy pull. Careful that no one was watching, she held the cartridge away from herself, turned it upside down, and tapped it with her fingertip. A powdery white substance sprinkled out and immediately dispersed in the

Tom Cfancy's Power Plays

coin's cycling air. On newer commuter jets,  maximum-    efficiency filters might have trapped a significant amount of the contaminant, but she knew the aging fleet of Boeing 747s used ventilation systems that would suck it in and recireulate it with the plane's oxygen supply.
Entering the respiratory tracts of the aircraft's crew and passengers, the microscopic capsules would release die dormant presences within diem. Transmitted from person to person, airport to airport, and city to city, spread across nations and continents by their hosts, these unsuspected invaders would aggressively do what they had been created to do.
They would incubate. They would multiply. And they would smolder until fanned into inextinguishable wildfires, outbreaks that would burn scouring rings around the world.
Nw the blonde woman checked her watch and de- t to move on.  • '    .'.••
from her

rfctter j of powder table, she blew . They wisped away i of die cabin.
Her business was concluded. jlxiek her tray table, she rose from her seat tad slid into the aisle. The plane was empty except for a handful of passengers and one male flight attendant near the exit, and she smiled at him as she left the plane. He smiled back, a touch admiringly.



She passed through the jetway into the terminal and glanced up at the monitors listing arrivals and departures. Her next flight was slotted for departure in just over two hours. It would be the seventh and last, and   she knew better than to believe the number was coincidence. No, it was without question a demonic fancy. A conceit of the fiend to whom she had given herself willingly, needfully, body and soul.
Little plagues. Seven, and then some.
She was tired, even exhausted, from crisscrossing die globe. But she had dispensed almost her entire supply of the agent and, after the jog into Frankfurt, would be through with the remainder.
Meanwhile, she could find a place to relax for a while and possibly have something to eat. As long as she was careful to stay clear of her latest seatmate, why not?
There was a comfortable margin of time left before she had to be at the boarding gate.

Sight being its only faculty, the eye trusts what it sees. Striving always to keep us on a steady path, it will often slide past the out of place to turn toward the familiar. This makes it easily fooled.
A business-suited investor in Manhattan's financial district. A crop duster winging over open farmland. An airline passenger filling out postcards to kill time during a layover. AU are sights that fit and belong. And all may be something other than they appear, camouflage to deceive the willing eye.
In San Jose, California, a municipal street sweeper brought the aerosol payload through die target zone, dispensing it from an extra spray reservoir aboard its heavy steel frame. It whooshed along Rosita Avenue, amber


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

cab lights strobing, circular gutter brooms whirling, wash-down nozzles deluging the pavement with water as the lab-cooked agent jetted from its second tank.
An everyday part of the urban scene, the sweeper barely scratched the surface of people's awareness: It was a minor inconvenience, a momentary hiccup in their progress through the morning. Motorists shifted lanes to get out of Us way. Pedestrians backstepped onto the curb to avoid its rotating brooms, raised their conversational pitch a notch or two as it swished past, and otherwise ignored it.
They breamed invisible clouds of aerosol and never attributed the slight tickle in the nose or scratchiness at the back of the throat to anything more harmful than stirred up sidewalk grit. They scattered the microscopic particles with their shoe bottoms, ferried them on men* skin and clothing, and sent them out along countless routesof transmission with the money they exchanged and laUes. •, •
jgljffefaeijype  of porth on Rosita > that was the famed s pf UpLink International, far ffs largest corporate employer, the street sweeper kept moving in

When Roger Gordian's daughter telephoned him on her way home from the courthouse, he didn't know what to say. No matter that the proceeding's outcome had been



i foregone conclusion or that he'd had months to prepare the news. No matter mat he was used to talking to business leaders and heads of state from everywhere on rcarth, often under hot-button circumstances that required ipiick thinking and verbal agility. Julia was his daughter, arid he didn't know what to say, in part because almost everything he had said to her these past few months had ypfoven to be exactly the wrong thing, leading to more than one inexplicable skirmish between them. Gordian fed found himself having to consciously resist feeling like the parent of an adolescent again, prepared for every word he spoke to come back at him and explode in his lace. That would have been thoughtless, unfair, and corrosive to their relationship. Julia was a remarkably competent thirty-three-year-old woman who'd led her own life for many years, and she deserved better man stale, fatherly programming from him... difficult as that sometimes was.
"It's over, nay divorce is final," she had told him over her cellular. "The paperwork's signed, and I should be getting copies in a couple of weeks."
That was four long seconds ago.
Five, now.
His stomach clutched.
He didn't know what to say to her.
Six seconds and counting.
His watch ticked into the silence of his office.
Gordian was not by disposition an introspective man. He saw his mind and feelings as fairly uncomplicated. He loved his wife and two daughters, and he loved his work. The work less. Though for some years it had consumed a greater share of his time than it should have, and the family had felt bumped to the sidelines. His


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

wife, in particular. He hadn't realized, then, how much. At first there was so much to be done, a decade of struggle building his electronics firm up from the ground. The importance of being an earner, a provider, had been fostered in him early in life. His father had died before the term quality time was coined, but it was doubtful Thomas Gordian would have been able to grasp the concept in any event. He'd been too busy adding thick layers of callus to his fingers at the industrial machine plant where he had pulled a modest but steady wage from the day he'd turned sixteen and quit high school to help support his depression-stricken family. For the elder Gordian, bringing home a paycheck was how you expressed your love of family, and that dogged blue-collar sensibility had taken deep root in his only son, enduring long after he'd returned from Vietnam , with thjc help of loan officers and a handful of far1  a limping, debt-ridden San : TiBChnoJogies for the giveaway

into a
tremendously suc- One after anorner, the in, and Gordian had worked ever to keep them coming. He had used the >gical windfall from his development of GAPS-
FREE advanced military reconnaissance and targeting equipment to propel his firm to the leading edge of civilian satellite communications, and rechristened it UpLink International.
He had earned. He had provided for his loved ones. He had made more money than he would ever need.



And so he'd gone ahead and found a new reason to
Ikeep working.
?   By die time his corporation went multinational—and Fortune 500—in 1990, Gordian's thoughts had slung
tottward to pursue what his wife usually referred to as The Dream, based upon an idea as straightforward as his personality: Information equaled freedom. No lightning bolt of originality mere, perhaps, but his real inspiration had been in how he'd set out to draw concrete results frfl« the abstract. As head of the world's most extensive civilian telecommunications network, he'd been in a position to bring people access to information, a currency with which he could buy better lives for untold millions, particularly where totalitarian regimes sustained themselves by doing the very opposite—choking off the gateways of communication, isolating their citizens from knowledge that might challenge their strangleholds of oppression. History had shown that radical government change nearly always followed quieter revolutions in social consciousness, and the old axiom that democracy was contagious seemed no less true for all the times it had been used as a political cheer line.
Again, Gordian's triumphs went far beyond his expectations —but, ironically, the signals Ashley was sending from home about her own unhappiness weren't getting through the bottleneck of humanitarian goals he'd continued to pursue. Not till she'd compelled his attention with words he would remember for the rest of his days.
"/ know that everything you've accomplished in the world makes a huge difference to people everywhere. I
| know it's your calling, something you have to do. What


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

/ don't know is if I'm strong enough to wait until you're done."
Her words, those shattering, unforgettable words, had forced him to look into a deep mirror and see things about himself that were difficult to accept Far more importantly, they also saved his marriage.
He had been luckier man he'd even realized at die time.
"Dad, you still with me? I'm on the highway ramp and it's pretty noisy—"
"Right here, hon." Gordian tried to pull his thoughts together. "I'm just glad the worst of the ordeal's behind you and mat you can get on with your life."
"Amen." She produced a sharp laugh. "You know what happened when we were leaving court? After evcrydung we've been through, all the legal sniping, all the i^finecs, he asked roe to have lunch with him. At ^'"^^'^pbce downtown we used to go to some-

id abruptly into silence.
his hand tight around the receiver.
dess-^had startled him.
of glass suddenly crack

said, "we were supposed to as born again singles over wine and

i heard the creak of his office chair as he [position. He, common noun, had once been referred to by name: Craig. Her husband of seven years. K was still unclear what had pulled them apart The divorce petition Craig had filed cited irreconcilable differ- no elaboration. Over the months she'd been



tying with her parents, Julia had occasionally talked it their long separations because of his career, about loneliness when he was away on the job. He was a tural engineer, freelance, though most of his recent |assignments had been for die big oil companies. His spe- niche was the design of fixed offshore drilling and he'd often spent many weeks onsite, :ing construction. One month it was Alaska, the j next Belize. His absences surely contributed to their problems, but Gordian suspected there had to be more. If Julia was the one feeling neglected, why was it Craig   who'd wanted out? Gordian hadn't pushed for answers, however, and Julia had offered very few on her own to either him or Ashtey. She had claimed mere was no Infidelity, and they were trying to take her at her word. Bat why had she been so guarded with them? Were the reasons too painful to share? Or migh? Julia herself still be in the dark? •    . .'-^ , . , Gordian shifted in the chair again. "What did you tell

"Nothing. I was too incredulous," she said, "But wait, ft gets better. While I was staring at him, really dumbstruck, he leaned over and tried to kiss me. On the lips. I turned my head soon as I realized what he was doing, or trying to do, and it landed on my cheek. I had to stop myself from wiping it off. Like a kid who gets a wet from some ancient aunt or uncle she hardly knows." ^ "And then?"   i    "And then he backed off, wished me luck, and we went our separate ways. God, it was just so awkward
Gordian shook his head. "An overture toward putting the bad feelings to rest,"


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be said. "Ill-advised, inappropriate, and without any grasp of how you'd be affected. But I suppose that was his intent"
"He wanted die greyhounds as pact of the settlement, Dad. If I hadn't been the one to sign that contract at the adoption center instead of him, giving me ownership in black and white, he'd have taken Jack and Jill away from me. There's an overture I won't forget"
Gordian strove to come up with a response. In me end he could only echo his own previous comments.
"It's behind you now, Julia. You can move on. Let's be glad for that"
Another significant pause. Gordian heard car boms squalling at the other end of the line. He wished she hadn't insisted on going to court alone, wished she weren't driving unaccompanied—not being as distressed as she sounded.
"Better go, traffic's a mess," she said. "I'll be home in time for dinner."    •
But it was barely nine o'clock in the rooming, Gordian thought,
"There are quite a few hours between now and then," he said. "How are you planning to fill diem?"
There was no answer.
He waited, wondering whether she'd beard him.
Then, her tone suddenly brittle: "Did you want a complete schedule?"
Gordian raised his eyebrows, puzzled. His fingers tightened around the receiver.
1 only meant—"
. "Because I can pull over at the nearest Kinko's and fax something over for your approval."
Gordian made a gesture of frustration into the empty



pBOom. His stomach went from bad to worse. P>'"J«lia—"
•?f "I'm a grown woman," she interrupted. "I don't think : you need a full rundown of my comings and goings in J Sawmce." I |f;.fJulia, hang on—"
|*.-**See you later," she said.
Ifhe connection broke.
'ffjKew it, Gordian scolded himself Somehow, you blew it again.    ~              .
And try as he did to see where he had gone wrong, he could not. | We simply could not.
iitMany  stories below on Rosita Avenue, a street shot past the building as Gordian's employees to arrive for die commencing workday, but the of its equipment would not have impinged upon |rs thoughts even had it reached the heavy floor-to«Hliog  windows of his office. From where he was sit- Iteg, done at his desk, the dead, silent telephone still |   Inched in his hand...
|:f||i;From where he was sitting right rtow, die rest of die World seemed immeasurably far away.




that descended from the heights to the modern business district, one could look up beyond the rows of exhausted little shacks on the canyon wall to where three of Illimani's five snow-capped peaks took a great bite out of the Andean sky. It was a sight that none who visited the city could forget, and that even indigenous Aymara Indians, with their blood memories of the Incas as encroaching newcomers, viewed with awe and respect.
The National Police Corps vehicle and its motorcycle escort headed southeast on Avenida Villazon to its wide fork less than a mile past the Universidad Mayor San Andres, then bore left onto Avenida Anicento Arce toward the Zona Sur. Nuzzled deep within the canyon in Calocoto and other suburban neighborhoods, sheltered from the cold sting of high-altitude winds, the city's affluent lived behind high gates in exaggerated chalets and sprawling, tile-roofed adobe mansions constructed in deliberate imitation of Hollywood cinematic style.


In the police car's backseat, the lean, ascetic man in first officer's dress had ridden most of the way with his eyes downturned, a bony hand on the satchel beside him, his lips moving in a nearly constant whisper. He had looked out the window only twice—the first time, by simple chance, when they had passed Calle Sagarnaga, crammed as always with customers of the Witches' Market. There at the outdoor vendors' stalls were charms, potions, powders, and fetuses carved from the wombs of llamas for their alleged luck-bringing properties, their dessicated skin pulled tight over unformed bones, forcing them into contortions that resembled, or perhaps preserved, a state of final agony. There, indigent chola mothers, wearing traditional bowler hats and shawls, walked beside women of means in Parisian and Milanese vogue, a rare mixing of classes in this city, fear or reverence for pre-Christian deities being perhaps all they had in common. There, yatiri witch doctors eyed the crowd for potential clients, estimating their worth in bolivianos or U.S. dollars, cannily deciding how much might be charged to read their fortunes or work fraudulent magic on their behalf.
The car's single passenger had frowned disapprovingly. He spent much of his time among the poorest of society and knew they reached out to the ancient superstitions in ignorance and desperation. But the moneyed, well-educated elite, what was their reason? Did they think to apportion their faith like cash in separate bank accounts, placing small deposits in each, giving their full trust to no god while hoping to prejudice the will of all?
As his escort had left Calle Sagainaga behind, remaining on the boulevard that traced the subterranean flow of the Choqueyapu River to the city's outskirts,


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he'd briefly looked out his window again, his eyes going to the slum housing on the face of the mountain. At first glance it seemed an insult to the divine scheme, heaven and hell inverted, those in the bowl of the earth living without need, those on the heights needing for everything. But that was to ignore the more sublime visual message of Illimani in the background: its sharp white peaks at once reminders of God's soaring majesty and a warning that He had teeth.
Bowing his head again, the passenger addressed his inner preparations for the next thirty minutes, fingers spread atop the satchel, quietly reciting the prescribed lines of verse from memory.
Now his car swung over to the right side of the road, slowed, and turned gently into a circular drive. Ahead and behind, the flanking carabineers throttled down their motorbikes. At the end of the drive he could see the large gray hospital building rising above a handsome lawn with tiled walks, shaded benches, and a glistening multitiered fountain that drizzled off wavery rainbows of sunlight.
The Hospital de Gracia was the newest and best- equipped medical facility in Bolivia. The physicians recruited for its staff held model credentials. Like the luxurious homes in its surrounding neighborhood, it had been built and financed with money from the illicit cocaine trade and was affordable only to those of high status and privilege.
How ironic, then, that the patient admitted under absolute secrecy ten days ago had vowed before the nation to eradicate the cartels and to apprehend and prosecute the mysterious foreigner called El Tio, who had unified
them in his recent ascendancy.
«   22


The man in the officiates uniform plunged deeper into his recitation, his lips fitting comfortably around the Latin.
"Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis, et omnes ini- qultates meaas dele ..."
Turn away thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities...
"Cor mundum crea in me, Deus, et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis..."
Create a clean heart in me, oh God, and renew a right spirit within my bowels ...
"Ne proicias me a facie tua, et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a mei."
Cast me not away from thy face, and take not thy   holy spirit from me.
The motorcade pulled into a wide space that had been left vacant in front of the hospital's main entrance, the carabineers lowering their kickstands to dismount. One of the lead riders came around back and opened the door for the passenger. Lifting his satchel off the seat by its strap, he let himself be helped from the car. He could almost feel the eyes watching from other vehicles around the parking area, peering at him through tinted windows.
It was to be expected, he thought. There would be a great many secret police.
He climbed the stairs to the hospital entrance with his head still slightly bent and the carabineers on either side of him, sensing their unease as he continued giving whispered utterance to Psalm 50, the Miserere, one of the preliminary invocations for the dying.
"Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus."
Deliver me from blood, oh God.
A somber delegation of hospital officials and white23

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coated doctors met the visitors in the lobby and guided them toward the elevator bank with a minimum of formalities. A pair of soldiers in gray green fatigues were posted at the head of the corridor. They held submachine guns and wore the insignia of the Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotrafico, the military's elite antinarcotics  task force.
The soldiers hastily checked the small group's identification papers and motioned them into an elevator. A third FELCN guard stood at the control panel. He pressed a lighted button, and they hurtled up three floors.
Moments later, the elevator doors reopened, and they started toward the intensive care ward.

Humberto Marquez, the vice-president-elect, was waiting in an anteroom. He stepped toward the man in the officer's uniform and gave him a firm handshake.
"I thank you for your swift response to our summons," he said. "And for your tolerance of the rather unusual security measures we've had to adopt in bringing you here."
"Would there had been no cause for any of it."
"Indeed." Marquez ushered him inside. "Our coalition government is bound together by a fragile thread. If news of why you've come leaks out before I can meet with old rivals whose differences were just lately reconciled ..."
"That thread might well begin to fray even before you are sworn into office. I understand." The man placed his canvas bag on a low table beside the doorway. Though the committee of doctors and hospital officials had entered the room with him, he noted that his police escort



had stayed respectfully out of earshot in the hall. "Please, tell me of his condition."
Marque"z did not reply immediately. An attorney by background, he possessed an automatic verbal restraint that had served him well since his entry into politics. His manner formally polite, his frame as tapered as his dark gray suit, he nodded his chin at one of the doctors.
"As the one in charge of this case, Dr. Alvarez, it is perhaps best that you address such questions," he said.
The doctor looked from Marquez to the uniformed man.
"The presidente is semiconscious and on a ventilator," he said. "I hope you will forgive any impropriety, but let me be direct in my advice: Omit whatever rites you can, for time is short."
The visitor kept his eyes on the doctor for two or three seconds. Then he nodded silently. What more was there to say?
He unbuttoned the officer's blouse he'd been given to conceal his black clerical shirt, shrugged it off, and draped it neatly over the back of a chair. His other vestments were in the satchel with the articles he would require for the sacrament. He opened the bag and began arranging them on the table.
"Un momenta, Padre Martin. Par favor."
He glanced over his shoulder at the doctor.
"It pains me to interfere. But we have safety practices regarding apparel. Protective clothing must be worn in fee ward."
"Such as?"
"Latex gloves and a gown are standard. As is a filtration mask."


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Martin raised his eyebrows. "Has the presidente's illness shown itself to be communicable?"
"The presidente's illness is still undiagnosed."
"That was not my question."
Alvarez exchanged a glance with him.
"No additional cases of infection have been reported," he said. "To my knowledge."
"Then I will follow the directives of the church. And, God willing, leave here with my good health."
The doctor's hand went up in a forestalling gesture. But it was the troubled look in his eyes that gave Martin pause.
"Listen to me, please," he said. "I have witnessed much suffering in my years of medical practice, but when I go home to my family, it is pushed from my mind. That is how I cope—or always have in the past." He hesitated. "The affliction that has taken hold of Pres- idente Colon is a mystery. Ten days ago he was admitted for examination after complaining of symptoms associated with the common flu. Aches and pains in his joints. Some feverishness. Mild gastronomic discomfort. But there is nothing common about his illness. What I have watched it do to his body, its rapid acceleration... I cannot escape the thoughts and images. They will often come upon me suddenly as I put my arms around my wife or look into the faces of my two young sons. And when it does, I am afraid for them. / am afraid."
Martin looked at the doctor steadily, appreciating his frankness. It had seemed a difficult thing for him to step from behind his wall of clinical detachment. But Martin had not changed his mind.
"Our callings revolve around mysteries of a different nature, my friend," he said after a few seconds. "You



must come to terms with yours, and I with mine. As each of us deems fitting and necessary."
They were quiet for a while, Alvarez's eyes shifting to one of the administrators. Martin watched him get an almost imperceptible nod. Then the doctor turned back to him and sighed.
"Very well," he said resignedly. "I will bring you to the ward."

The president-elect's room was segregated from the rest of the intensive care ward and guarded by more FELCN troopers. Alvarez led Father Martin quickly through the security check and then down a long hall to its door.
As they reached it, Martin thought he heard noises from inside. The rasp of something scuffing against fabric, followed by a series of unrhythmical thumps. He waited beside the doctor, listening, and heard the sounds again.
He gave Alvarez a questioning look.
"The spasms can be violent," Alvarez explained. His voice was muffled by the particulate mask covering the lower half of his face. "We've applied restraints to prevent his injury or the interruption of life support."
He reached for the door handle, but Martin lightly touched his wrist to stop him.
"Wait," he said. "I need a moment."
He moved in front of Alvarez, conferred the ritual blessing upon the entryway, and, because there was no one to respond, gave answer in his own quiet voice.
"May peace reign over this place. "
"It will enter by this route."
His prayer completed, Martin pushed open the door himself. His missal and a neatly folded white stole were


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

tucked under the crook of his arm. A burse hung from a cord around his neck, its front embroidered with a large red crucifix. Strapped over his right shoulder was the canvas bag holding his candles, holy water, and a communion cloth, the latter brought in the event Colon proved able to receive the Host.
Martin entered the room. Inside, oxygen hissed through soft rubber tubes snaking from the artificial ventilation unit into the patient's nostrils, then down behind his tongue into the pharynx. A female nurse stood at the foot of the bed, a clipboard in her gloved hands. A bouffant cap, mask, and isolation gown hid all her features except her eyes, which were visible through a pair of clear goggles. They were large, brown, pretty, and full of the same profound distress Alvarez had confided in the anteroom.
Martin looked at her for a second, then turned to the man he had come to see.
He was either unconscious or asleep, the lesions on his eyelids, cheeks, and lips showing in angry contrast to his waxen pallor. His blankets had been turned down to free his bare right arm for the intravenous drip lines. Patched with a scarlet rash, it was all taut skin and knobby bone, reminding Martin in an awful way of the mummified llama fetuses at the Mercado del Hechiceria.   Three fingers of each hand were enclosed in open-mesh tubes to the second knuckle, the tubes connected to a strap looped around the bed frame. The blemishes on his wrists were dark and cuff-shaped.
'The finger restraints have been effective in reducing his skin trauma," said Dr. Alvarez, standing behind Martin. "Any pressure causes blood to well up through the pores. We call it pinpoint bleeding. You can see the



bruising that resulted from our use of conventional restraints earlier on."
Martin's eyes were still on the bracelets of discolored skin around Colon's wrists.
"Yes," he said. "I can see."
A stand beside the bed had been cleared in advance of his arrival, and he stepped over to it now, donning his stole, taking the candles out of his satchel. Checking that they were secure in their holders, he mounted the candles on the stand and lighted them with a match. From his burse he extracted the pyx containing the wafer and put it on the bed stand in front of the candles. He covered this with the communion cloth and genuflected.
Rising from his knees, Martin reached into the satchel for the holy water, went around to the foot of the bed, and sprinkled the dying man according to the points of the cross—once to the front, once to the left, once to the right. His lips moving in prayer as they had in the police car, he performed further consecrations of the room with his sprinkler, extending it toward the walls and floor around him. At last he turned and shook droplets of holy water over the nurse and Dr. Alvarez.
He was walking back around to the bed stand when Colon went into another convulsion. All at once, his lips peeled back from his gums in a kind of rictus. The muscles of his neck and jaw began to quiver. A gargling sound escaped his mouth, his chest heaving and straining, the hiss of the ventilator growing louder as his demand for oxygen increased. He arched off the mattress, his right knee springing up to mound the blanket, his foot thrashing from side to side like a captured animal.
Martin gripped his missal closer to his chest and turned to Alvarez.


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"Is there nothing you can do?"
The doctor shook his head. "The seizures are unpleasant to watch, but they will pass." He was observing the life support monitors on the wall. "We give him muscle relaxers. Otherwise, it would be much worse."
Martin wanted to turn away, but in his mind that would have been an act of selfishness and thus an abdication of his responsibility. In this room, charity was reserved for the dying.
He saw Colon's right hand sweep across the linen sheet, jump stiffly into the air, then pound down on the mattress several times: rasp, thumpthump-thump. When the arm jerked, it pulled his intravenous lines up over the safety rail, but the finger tubes and strap had sufficiently restricted its movement to prevent the lines from tearing loose.
The spasms diminished after less than thirty seconds, his withered arm falling over the rail, dangling there limply for a moment until the nurse came around to readjust it at his side.
Martin stared down at him. His cheeks felt too hot, then too cold in the air-conditioning. He could hear the intake and expulsion of his own breath over the hiss of the ventilator.
He ordered his legs to move him toward the bed.
"Senor Colon," he said in a low voice. "It is Father Martin."
There was no acknowledgment.
The priest leaned over the deathbed. The sores on Colon's face were crusted with yellowish discharge. Martin could smell ointment on him and, underneath, the far more unpleasant odor of infection.
"Do you remember our discussions?" he said. "We



have had many of them, about many subjects. About faith. And strength."
He thought he saw Colon's eyes twitch under their closed lids.
"Now we will ask God's grace, and find renewed strength in our unity with his spirit," he said. "You and I, together—"
Alvarez stepped forward. "Father, he is much too weak."
Martin shot a hand out behind his back and waved him into silence.
"Mi presidente," he said. "Can you take Communion?"
A moment passed. Colon's eyes flickered more rapidly. And then one of them opened and fastened on Martin.
Its white was swimming in blood.
Martin's cheeks flushed hot and cold again. He realized they were wet with perspiration.
"Are you able to receive Communion?" he repeated, trying to smooth the tremor in his voice.
Colon strained to answer, managed nothing more than a croak.
"Enough," the doctor protested. "He mustn't be—"
This time Alvarez fell silent without any urging.
Colon had declared his wish with a weak but unmistakable nod, his red eye never leaving Martin's face.
Martin turned to the bed stand, knelt before it a second time, and lifted the communion cloth off the pyx. If the heart of Alberto Colon was weighted with sin, he would have to unburden himself before God almighty; it was not humanly possible for him to give confession in his present state.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Moving to the bedside, Martin put the communion cloth under the dying man's chin and recited the Con- fiteor, offering penance in his name, pleading for his absolution from worldly sin: "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa."
When he had finished his petition, he took the Host from its receptacle, blessed it, and brought it over to Colon.
"Try to swallow," he said. "If you have difficulty, a sip of water might help."
Colon stared at him with his one open eye, the iris uncannily bright, as if all the passion and will that had gained him the presidency—an office he had won in a free election against a powerful league of corrupt influences   —was blazing through it.
He produced a groan of effort. Then his cracked lips slowly parted.
The odor of sickness on his breath was even stronger than it had been coming off his pores. Crops of raised, purplish lesions marched across his tongue and palate. His front teeth were smeared with blood where it had leaked from the rim of his gums.
The wafer between his thumb and index fingers, Martin bent to put it in his mouth... and that was when everything inside him stalled.
He stood there, rigid, his hand inches from the dying man's mouth.
Those ulcers on his tongue. Open. Weeping fluids.
Martin was unable to budge.
Unable to touch him.
What was it Alvarez had said to him in the anteroom?
"/ cannot escape the thoughts and images... and I am afraid."



The priest felt a cutting shame. His resolute dismissal of the doctor's admonition came back to him now as self-mockery.
/ am afraid.
His forehead beaded with sweat, he averted his eyes from Colon long enough to place the wafer on his tongue. But he could not keep his hand from shaking or drawing quickly back, and as he gave utterance to his prayers of viaticum, they seemed to fall away from him, or he from them. The disconnection was like nothing Martin had experienced before. It was as if he were slipping into a dark hole, some forsaken inner recess where all words of faith dissolved into empty silence.
And though he would spend much time trying to convince himself otherwise, right then, betrayed by his fear, praying in secret anguish, Martin knew for a dreadful certainty that his fall had only begun.




rollbe thibodeau felt his tackle jerk hard as
the giant sea bass erupted from the bay, its spiny dorsal fin raised like a mainsail, foam spraying off its mottled flanks.
He braced himself, his feet planted apart, knowing he couldn't afford to give the fish any slack. His heavy line stretched taut. The stand-up rod bent in his hands, and its butt pressed into his abdomen. He tightened his grip, his harness straps digging into his shoulders, the muscles of his arms straining against the drag of the line.
Then something gave out inside him. It was less a sensation of pain than a sudden buckling weaknes's between his stomach and groin. His feet slipped forward over the Pomona's deck, and he saw the gunwale come closer. Three, maybe four inches, but that was enough tow for the bass. It rushed straight up out of the water, plunged with a tremendous splash, and then broached again, its wide gray head whipping ferociously from side to side.


Vibrating like a bowstring across its entire length, the line snapped just behind the wire leader.
The bass flailed backward, away from the stern of the motor yacht, Thibodeau's hook still buried in its gaping jaw. For a charged moment it was completely airborne. Its scales seemed to darken and lighten in patches as its great body undulated in the sunlight. Thibodeau guessed it was between five and six feet long.
He was shouting imprecations at the creature as it smacked down into the water, rolled over, and dove beneath the surface, its tail churning up a small spiraling wake before it torpedoed from sight.
Winded, his face red with exertion above his short, brown beard, Thibodeau tossed his rod disgustedly to the planks and leaned over the rail.
"Damn," he grunted. And kicked the gunwale. "Goddamn!"   
Megan Breen stared at his back for a few seconds, then shifted her eyes to Pete Nimec over to her left. Both had raced up behind Thibodeau to cheer him on when the fish struck.
Nimec mimed a basketball handoff. Ball's in your court.
She looked at him another moment in the crisp, offshore breeze, a thumb hooked into the hip pocket of her Levi's, her thick auburn hair blowing over the shoulders of a tailored leather blouse.
Then she shrugged and stepped closer to Thibodeau.
"It happens, Rollie," she said. "Everybody has a story to tell about the one that got away."
He turned abruptly from the rail.
'Won," he panted, shaking his head. "I had it beat."
"Seemed to me that it was full of fight."


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"You don' know!" he said. His cheeks and forehead went a darker shade of red. "Doesn't matter if that thing was twistin' like a demon in holy water. It was tired out,   and I shoulda had if/"
Her eyes sharpened.
"Cool down, Rollie," she said. "They call what you were doing sporffishing for a reason. It's supposed to be an enjoyable activity."
He shook his head again, took a deep breath, then released it.  
"Ca marche comme un papier de muslque," he said. "All right, everythin' goin' smooth, jus' got me a little frustrated." He looked embarrassed. "My big mouth am' caused no trouble between us, eh?"
She regarded him steadily.
"No," she said. "No trouble."
"Then I think I'll go below, pack away the damn rod, an' enjoy the boss's luxury accommodations."
She nodded.
Thibodeau bent to pick up the angling rod and then strode off across the hundred-footer's deck, passing Nimec  without a hint of acknowledgment.
Nimec came to stand beside Megan.
"I've never seen him act like that before," he said. "You?"
"No," she said, watching Thibodeau climb down into the stairwell under the vessel's flying bridge. "And we've been friends a lot of years."
"You think it was his tug-of-war with the fish that got to him, or the one with Ricci at the meeting?"
"Maybe both. I'm not sure." She sighed, her gaze drifting toward the vessel's prow. "Speaking of our other



global field supervisor, he appears to be in a mood of his own."
Nimec turned to look. His serious face visible in profile, Tom Ricci stood gazing out over the water.
"I have to wonder if the cooperative arrangement we worked out for those two wasn't good chemistry," he said.
"Almost seven months down the road seems kind of late for us to second-guess our decision. We have to   make it good." She put a hand on each of his shoulders. "Your guy," she said, "your ball."
Nimec let her aim him toward Ricci and shove him off.
Tall, lean, and dark-haired, his angular features several sharp cuts of the chisel from handsome, Ricci kept staring across the water through his sunglasses as Nimec approached.
"The ragin' Cajun get over losing the big one?" he said, moving not at all.
Pete stood next to him, his arms crossed over the rail.
"Didn't think you were paying attention," he said.
Ricci remained still.
"Old cop habits," he said. "I pay attention to everything."
They were quiet. Some yards aft, Megan had settled into a deck chair, reclining it to bathe in the afternoon sun, her long legs stretched out in front of her. Ricci tilted his head slightly in her direction without seeming to take his eyes off the water.
"Those Levi's, for example," he said. "They say snug jeans are out, baggies are in. Convinces me they haven't seen snug on Megan Breen."
Nimec smiled a little.


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"Got you," he said.
They stood viewing the calm blue iridescence of the   bay in silence.
"There's been a ban on landing giant bass since the eighties," Ricci said after a couple of minutes. "Thibodeau  would've had to let it swim, anyway."
"The payoff's in the catching, not the keeping."
"Let me hear you argue that to the fishermen I knew up in Maine," Ricci said. "Funny thing, you won't find one of those guys who'll ever describe the sea in terms of its beauty. For them it stands for waking up in the cold before sunrise and long hours hauling nets on damp, leaky tubs. But it's the source of their livelihood, and there's a different kind of appreciation for it."
Nimec looked over at him. "I'm not sure what you're getting at."
Ricci leaned forward over the rail.
"Me neither, exactly," he said, shrugging. "I'm an East Coast boy, Pete. Grew up ten minutes from the Boston shipyards. I've nlways thought of the Atlantic as a workingman's ocean. ?yJight not be reasonable, but to me the Pacific coast is catamarans, blond surfer dudes, and blonder Baywatch girls."
"Ah," Nimec said. "And you think you might be constitutionally unsuited to temperate waters, that it?"
Ricci started to answer, hesitated, then slowly turned to face him.
"I wasn't looking to get into it with Thibodeau at the meeting," he said at last.
"Nobody said you were."
Ricci shook his head.
"That's not the point," he said. "What anyone did or



didn't say isn't important to me. I don't need that kind of bullshit."
Nimec's expression was reflective.
"Agreed," he said. "The question is how you choose to handle it."
Ricci stood in the breeze, his shirtsleeves flapping around his sinewy arms.
"I don't know," he said. "Everybody who was at the meeting . .. except for me ... has been with Gordian for years. You've all got similar ideas about what Sword ought to be. You're all used to sticking to certain operational guidelines. You developed them."
"Sounds to me like you've already decided you don't fit," Nimec said. "Or can't—or won't."
Ricci looked at him.
"I'm trying to be realistic," he said. "Come on, Pete. Tell me you don't have your doubts after what happened today."
Nimec thought about it. Sword was the intelligence and security arm of his employer's globe-spanning corporation, its title derived frori^sfteference to the ancient legend of the Gordian knot, wflich had defied every attempt at unraveling its complicated twists and turns until Alexander the Great cast subtlety aside and split it apart with a definitive stroke of his blade. This illustrated Roger Gordian's own no-nonsense attitude toward the modern day problems that might jeopardize his interests, utilizing country-specific political and economic profiles to help anticipate the vast majority of them before they became full-blown crises, and tackling the unpredictable emergencies that cropped up to endanger UpLink personnel with the most highly trained and well-equipped counterthreat force he could assemble.


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Every twelve months before the happy distractions of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays kicked into high gear, Gordian gathered Sword's leadership aboard his yacht for a sort of informal year-end review and freewheeling blue-sky session, an open forum at which they could examine the organization's recent accomplishments and shortcomings, evaluate its current state of preparedness, and hopefully reach a consensus of opinion about its future direction.
This year's roundtable, however, had produced less in the way of common understanding than acrimonious confrontation, at least between two of its key participants.
The session had convened before lunch amid the plush carpeting and rich mahogany furnishings of the Pomona's spacious main salon. Besides Nimec, Megan, Ricci, Thibodeau, and Gordian himself, it had been attended by Vince Scull, UpLink's chief risk-assessment analyst, freshly returned from a long stint in the South Pacific, where he'd been scouting out locales for new satellite ground facilities and had very noticeably added inches to his belly roll, as well as a tiny but expert helical tattoo to the back of his right hand that, he explained, had been applied by a Malaitan tribeswoman as a lasting souvenir of their acquaintance.
Scull had kicked things off with an endorsement of French Polynesia as a potentially excellent site for a monitoring and relay station, scarcely needing to refer to his copious notes while offering detailed facts and figures about the country's natural and industrial resources, trade statistics, governmental structure, etc. After taking several questions about his recommendation,



he had moved on to a broader overview of UpLink's international standing.
Given his deserved reputation for crankiness, Scull's sanguine tone was remarkable.
"All in all, we can knock wood," he'd said in summation, rapping his fist twice against the tabletop. "It's been peace and quiet since that nasty affair last spring. There hasn't been a single territorial or ethnic flare-up anywhere we've committed our resources that couldn't be defused before it got out of hand, thanks as much to our company's pull as diplomatic massages. And lots of places that were giving me worries about their internal stability have managed to avoid the coups, genocidal bloodbaths, even your garden variety power plays that usually bite us in the ass." He had smoothed an errant strand of hair over his increasingly bald pate. "Take Russia as a for instance. With our old drook President Star- inov resigning and the nationalist opposition coming on strong again, I figured we might be looking at payback for helping him hang onto his Kremlin office suite awhile back. But what we're worth in jobs and cash inflow seems to have gotten us past any vendettas."
"And your forecast?" Gordian asked. "I'm talking about Russia and elsewhere."
Scull shrugged. "Nothing lasts forever, I guess, but I don't see any major blips on my screen, bumps on the road, pick your favorite metaphor. Name a spot on the map that hosts an UpLink bureau or is linked to our satcom net, and you'll see people with a better quality of life. And not even the most balls-on tyrant wants to be known as the Grinch who'd mess with prosperity. Goes to show free market democratization works, folks."
"And that the fear of political backlash is a viable


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substitute for conscience with most heads of state," Megan said. She glanced at Scull. "You'll notice, Vince, I made my point without a single mention of the lower anatomy."
Gordian smiled thinly.
"I'm pleased in either case," he said, sipping from a glass of Coke.
More discussion had followed across a range of subjects. How was the Sword hiring drive in India going? In South Africa? Where were they in terms of testing that new firearm developed by the nonlethal weapons division? The implementation of intranet software upgrades? What about those negotiations with Poland? And the possible ramifications of the sudden death of Bolivian president-elect Alberto Colon? The tragedy of it went beyond his youth. His humanitarian values and aggressive challenge to the minicartels had promised to spark a regional trend and led to preliminary talks with UpLink about joint commercial initiatives with his country. What were the prospects for those efforts without Colon at the young administration's helm?
And so on and so forth. At noon they broke for a lunch of cold poached salmon with hollandaise, and capers and cucumber salad, freshly prepared in the Pomona's   galley, brought in with decorum by a pair of adept servers, and eaten with corresponding appreciation.
It was not by chance that they had waited until after their meal to bring up the previous spring's sabotage of a NASA space shuttle carrying UpLink orbital technology, and Sword's presumably connected encounters with paid terrorists in southern Brazil and Kazakhstan—the "nasty affair" to which Scull had alluded. A number of



major issues surrounding those events remained unresolved, and Gordian had wanted everything else on the agenda out of the way so they could devote the latter half of the meeting to them without digression.
The empty dishes carried off, he'd turned his penetrating blue eyes toward Rollie Thibodeau.
"Okay," he said. "Any progress to report?"
Thibodeau pursed his lips.
"Some," he said. "Got to do with Le Chaut Sauvage."
Nimec would later recall seeing Ricci tense with something between edginess and anger at Thibodeau's mention of the tag he'd given the terrorists' otherwise nameless field commander, Cajun French for "The Wildcat." A man who had twice eluded their efforts to capture him, the second time after tearing away from Ricci during a fierce hand-to-hand struggle at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
"Up till a few days ago, we didn't have anythin' would give us a firm lead on him," Thibodeau had continued. "Was plenty for guesswork, though, startin' with what we knew about that American botanist in Peru got kidnapped and ransomed for seven million back in '97. He say the guy callin' the shots with the narco-guerrillas who did the snatch was tall, blond, an' light-skinned, body like a weight lifter. Ordered him returned to his family minus both eyes."
Gordian shook his head in horror. "Making a positive ID by the victim close to impossible, if any of his abductors were ever captured," he said. "The cold-blooded logic certainly fits our man."
Thibodeau nodded. "Ain't the worst of it, either. Word out of the Sudan was that someone with the same looks headed up mercenary extermination squads in the



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south, part of the country they call the triangle of death. This'd be two years ago, when the civil war heated up. Wiped out entire villages hostile to the radicals in Khartoum. Men, women, children, the old an' sick, wasn't no difference to him." He scowled. "Son of a bitch ain't just cold-blooded. Be a monster."
"And he gets around," Nimec said. "Remember the Air Paris flight that was hijacked in Morocco last year? Another hostage situation, another large payoff. The Algerians who took responsibility threatened to start killing the children first and convinced the authorities it wasn't a bluff. They were provided with a private jet as a condition of the hostage release, flew off to an unknown location, and got away clean with twenty million francs. Or mostly clean." He leaned forward. "This one has a silver lining, Gord."
Gordian had waited.
"The hijacker giving the orders never removed his stocking mask on the tarmac outside the plane. But inside with the air-conditioning down, no ventilation, it was another story," Nimec said. 'Take one guess how he was described by the passengers who saw his face when the mask came off."
Gordian looked at him. "Blond, light-complected."
"And a heavy lifter," Nimec said, nodding. "Definitely   wasn't Algerian, spoke with an accent that might've been either Swiss or German." He paused. "I prepared a brief on the incident when it happened, but because we didn't have any involvement, it had kind of escaped my mind. Then I came across my thumbnail on the computer while reviewing data for our own investigation, and got to thinking the blond guy responsible might be the same guy we're after. So I went back into the files



and out popped the most crucial detail as far as we're concerned. Namely, a French ambassador being held on board managed to get a photo of him when he wasn't paying attention. He was so traumatized, it was months before he remembered the film and had it developed."
Gordian had raised his eyebrows.
"Did you actually see a copy of the photo?"
"Not then, I didn't," Nimec said. "But thanks to Rol- lie, I have."
Thibodeau minimized this accomplishment with a wave of his hand.
"Couldn't beat Pete's source for the info, a unit commander in the Gendarmerie National crisis intervention team at the airport," he said. "Only trouble was that he gave it off the record and uncorroborated. No GIGN official would admit there was a snapshot for a couple reasons. One, they're supposed to be the best, and it embarrassed 'em that the hijackers escaped. They wanted to save face, make it harder for competin' agencies to run 'em down before they did. Two, the ambassador got scared, pulled strings to make the picture disappear. Figured the terrorists might take revenge on him or his family if it was ever used as evidence in court and they found out who took it. I was in his spot, maybe I'd feel that way, too."
"Tell me how you got hold of it," Gordian said.
Thibodeau shrugged. "The ambassador ain't the only one has contacts. I called in an IOU with somebody in Europol, who did the same with somebody else. Like that, soil. Took a while for anything to shake. Then one morning last week, I turn on my computer, and there's the photo attached to an encrypted E-mail. Right away I recognize our man from that airstrip in the Pantanal,


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but I punch up the satellite image the Hawkeye-I got of him just to be a hundred percent sure. Forwarded the pair of 'em to Ricci, since he actually seen him up close."
Gordian glanced across the table at Ricci.
"It's him," Ricci said. "No question."
Gordian looked thoughtful.
"Got another thing in the works," Thibodeau said into the momentary silence. "Might turn out to be important, gonna have to see."
Gordian gave him his attention. "Let's hear it," he said.
"Wasn't no small favor I used up with that friend of mine, but my whole nest egg," Thibodeau said. "Besides wantin' the picture, I asked to tap into Europol's database of known terrorists. Took longer for him to swing that, but he say it could happen any day. I'm gonna run every at-large be a general match for Le Chaut Sauvage   through that new Profiler system the techies been wor- kin' on, see if we get any hits."
"The software's designed to recognize suspects hiding behind full-face masks or disguises, even ones who've had plastic surgery, by comparing digital file images with each other and a checklist of hard-to-alter physical characteristics," Nimec said. "When it started to look like the Europeans might open up for Rollie, Megan and I became mildly optimistic about getting some cooperation from domestic security agencies. We've been trying   to convince them to let us input their intelligence tech."
"Any luck?"



"CIA's my albatross," Nimec said. "I'm still being routed through channels."
Gordian glanced at Megan. "What about the FBI? Have you gotten in touch with Bob Lang in D.C.?"
She nodded. "He's sympathetic to my request, and I seem to be making headway." A shrug. "We've arranged a face-to-face meeting for early next week."
"Try to goose him along," Gordian said. He jotted a notation on the yellow pad in front of him. "Meanwhile, I'll place a call to Langley. We should stick to our game plan, at least as far as this aspect of the probe's concerned —"
"That isn't close to good enough."
In retrospect, Nimec guessed Ricci's interruption had surprised him less than the fact that he hadn't spoken up much sooner. He'd been at constant odds with his colleagues over how the probe was being handled and had expressed his unhappiness to Nimec on a multitude of occasions.
Gordian turned toward Ricci, as had Nimec and everyone else in the room.
"What bothers you about it?" he asked in a level voice.
"I was asked to join this team because you wanted somebody to help retool it, make it more proactive, not tinker with the status quo," Ricci said. "That was what I heard when I got the hiring pitch, anyway. And here we are talking about putting in phone calls to the Euros and feebs."
Gordian regarded him steadily a moment.
"You believe we should be doing something different," he said.
"A whole lot of somethings," Ricci answered. "I think


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we need a special task force on the job twenty-four/ seven. I think it should have a separate command center with the capability to send rapid deployment teams after the people that hit us in Cuiaba and the Russian launch site. I think we have to be willing to dig them out from under rocks, pull them out of the trees, whatever it takes, wherever they're laying low or being protected. They killed our people without provocation, and we've lost months that should have been spent running them down. We have to go on the offensive."
Gordian kept his eyes on him. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it. Rubbed his cheek.
"Well," he said. "You certainly aren't on the bubble about this." He rubbed his cheek again. "I just wish you'd come to me with your feelings sooner."
Ricci merely shrugged, but it was obvious to Nimec why he hadn't. Whatever their disagreements, he and Ricci had been friends for many years. For Ricci to approach Gordian directly would have meant going over his head, and Ricci's sense of personal loyalty would never permit that.
After a brief pause, Gordian looked around the table.
"Anybody like to comment?"
Thibodeau was quick to gesture that he did. Maybe too quick, Nimec would think in hindsight.
"We gotta be realistic," he said, frowning. "Never mind the drain that kind of manhunt would put on our resources. Be hard enough gettin' approval to patrol our ground facilities in foreign countries. By whose sanction we gonna have armed search teams operate across borders?"
"Our own," Ricci said at once.



Thibodeau's frown deepened.
"That might've washed when you was a city cop lookin' to haul some gangbangers off the street, but not when you got to abide by international rules of law," he said. "We can't be goin' anywhere we want, doin' any- thin' we please."
Ricci had fixed him with a sharp look.
"Like when you got yourself shot to bits playing Wy- att Earp in Brazil, that right?" he said.
The sudden tension in the room was palpable. Thi- bodeau stiffened in his chair, glaring at Ricci with open resentment and hostility.
"Knew plenty of tough guys in 'Nam," he said. His voice was trembling. "They either gave up their attitudes or choked on 'em."
Ricci said nothing in response. He sat absolutely still, his face impassive, his eyes locked on Thibodeau's.
Nimec hadn't been sure what was going on between them but had felt deep down that it had little to do with their differences over the investigation. There had been scarcely a moment to think about that, however. He'd been afraid Thibodeau would lunge at Ricci and was watching him closely, preparing to haul them apart if that happened.
Fortunately, it never did, thanks to Gordian's intervention. He had made a loud business of clearing his throat, breaking into the strained silence.
"I believe we should call it an afternoon, spend some time enjoying the fresh air," he'd said in a deliberate tone.
Thibodeau had started to reply, but Gordian cut him short.


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"Meeting adjourned," he said, abruptly rising from his seat. "Let's try to relax."
And that had about finished it, or at least discouraged the hostilities from boiling over on the spot. And here Nimec stood topside two hours later, Ricci beside him at the rail, both men staring contemplatively into the blue distance.
What was Thibodeau's problem, exactly? he thought. Why had Ricci provoked such blistering rancor from him, the Fish That Got Away notwithstanding? Pete had always known Thibodeau to be a grounded, fundamentally reasonable man, and it was hard to reconcile that with his mercurial outbursts. His mind once again insisted that the root cause of his behavior was as yet unspoken and unknown ... which got him where insofar as being able to keep the show he and Megan had scripted from folding?
Nimec wasn't quite certain—more or less standard for him lately, he supposed—but it had struck him that maybe part of the answer could be found in his recollection of another meeting, one that took place at UpLink's corporate headquarters just over a half year earlier and ended on a note very unlike the crashing discord of today's grand finale. It had been three, four days after Ricci had returned from his mission in Kazakhstan, something like that, and he'd joined Nimec, Megan, and Gordian to confer about the troublesome loose ends they'd been left to grapple with. At that point, their spirits had been anything but high, and it had been Ricci's thoughts on the affair that had helped to bring them around.
Nimec glanced over at him now, remembering.
"Small steps, that's how you count your gains," he



said quietly. "Those words sound familiar?"
Ricci didn't move for several seconds. Then he turned toward him, the faintest hint of a smile on his face.
"Yeah," he said. "Familiar."
"It's solid advice," Nimec said. "I can't think of a   better way of saying you ought to give things a chance to work out."
Ricci grunted and studied the water again.
"Assuming for a minute that I would," he said. "If Thibodeau shoves, from now on, I'm shoving back harder. That bother you?"
Nimec shrugged.
"Whether or not it does, I'd be willing to carry it," he said.
Ricci gave no comment, just leaned forward with his elbows on the rail.
"The bay's pretty this late in the afternoon," he said after a long while.
"Yeah," Nimec said. "It's how the sun hits the swells when it dips toward the horizon."
"Just sort of glances off their tops, makes it look like they're sprinkled with a few zillion gold flakes."
Ricci looked over at him.
"I'll stick around, Pete," he said. "For now."
Nimec nodded, and this time it was his turn to smile a little.
"That's about all I can ask," he said.

A distancing from consequence salves the betrayer's guilt. Do not look toward crime and politics for examples; that facile sense of remove is bait for the waiting trap, and we've all heard the excuses in our ordinary


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lives. The woman next door that leaves the cat behind on moving day—van's here, have to go, who'd have thought the dumb thing would wander off for so long after she let it out? The family man enjoying a peccadillo with his secretary after office hours—his wife's happily provided for, bought her an expensive gold bracelet last week, and he's sure his kids prefer their computer games to hanging around with dull old Pop.
Remove any act from a broader context, and one can become convinced it means nothing. You see how easily this happens? Just close the eyes to cause, look away from effect, and walk on down the road.
Alone in Roger Gordian's office at UpLink in San Jose, Don Palardy told himself it was only a few hairs he was taking.
Only a few hairs, what was the terrible crime?
White cotton gloves on his hands, he stood behind Gordian's open desk drawer and used a tweezer to pull a strand from the comb in one of its neat compartments. He carefully dropped it into his Zippit evidence collection bag and then plucked two more from the teeth of the comb, dropping them into the plastic bag as well.
As head of the sweep team that performed weekly electronic countersurveillance checks in the building's executive offices and conference rooms, Palardy had no concerns about being discovered in an awkward or compromising position.
He knew that Gordian was at the yearly blue-water conference and would not be walking in on him today. He knew mat he wasn't being observed through hidden spy cameras first and foremost because it would have been he, Palardy, or one of his subordinates who performed their installation, had Gordian ever requested it—



and he had not. Moreover, Palardy had carried into the room with him the broad-spectrum bug detector known in his section as the Big Sniffer—a twenty-thousand- dollar device that looked like a somewhat larger-than- standard briefcase when closed, and that was now opened and unfolded on the floor to reveal a microcomputer- controlled system of radio, audio, infrared, and acoustic correlation scanners, the output of which was displayed on LED bar graphs or optional hard-copy printouts. Among the Big Sniffer's package of advanced tools was a Very Low Frequency receiver sensitive to the 15.75 kilohertz  frequency emitted by the horizontal oscillators of video cameras. And the VLF detector was neither beeping nor flickering, which indicated none had been located.
Alone and trusted here in the office—safe from "surreptitious intercept," as it was known in the trade—Pa- lardy slid the evidence bag between his thumb and forefinger to seal it, dropped the bag into a patch pocket of his coveralls, and pushed the kneehole drawer shut.
The deed done, he plugged the cable of his boom detector into its socket in the rear of the Big Sniffer and went about his routine sweep with due diligence. Taking care to avoid the antique Swiss bracket clock he so admired, moving the mop-shaped antenna across the walls of the office, Palardy probed for the harmonic signals of tape recorders, microphones, and other passive and active bugs. Had he found anything amiss, he would have been quick to disable it and report his findings to his higher-ups in Sword security.
Don Palardy considered himself a decent and caring man, though not without human frailty. Had he found an expensive piece of jewelry on the carpet here, a miss53

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ing cuff link or tie clip studded with diamonds, he would have returned it to his employer, regardless of how much taking it with him would have helped with his debts.
All he had taken were a couple, three hairs.
Since Brazil, he'd gotten very good at rationalizing away his transgressions.




for two miles toward the United States under the sagebrush desert midway between Tijuana and Mexicali. Its southern opening was accessible through a trapdoor in the rear of a barnyard storage shed. Its northern opening was a small cleft in the hillside at the bottom of an arroyo within eyeshot of the California border. The old tales said it had been dug by Jesuit priests wishing to secrete away a portion of their abundant wealth—alleged to have been gathered through outlawed trade with pirates and Manila galleons—when the jealous Spanish crown ordered its confiscation in 1767. Over 230 years later, it remained a busy conduit for smuggling operations, although the clandestine traffic was now in narcotics and illegal immigrants bound for America. "The occasion makes the thief," went the Mexican saying.
Tonight, some thirty yards from the tunnel's northern entrance, two stripped-down, lightweight all-terrain vehicles and a dusty old Chevrolet pickup sat hidden from

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Border Patrol agents by a carefully arranged screen of manzanita and chamiso. The truck's windshield had been blown out, and broken glass was sprayed all over the hood and interior. Both men inside were dead, slumped backward in their seats, the woven upholstery soaked with blood and chewed to ragged scraps by the fusillade of bullets that had passed through and around their flesh. Their pants were drawn down over their ankles, their severed genitals stuffed into their gaping mouths. Each of the lifeless ATV drivers had been shot, mutilated, and left sitting in an identical fashion.
Above the blind of shrubbery that surrounded the vehicles, a dozen men were positioned on sandstone ledges along the east and west walls of the gulch, the four-by- fours in which they had arrived from Tijuana parked at a distance. They carried Mendoza bullpup submachine guns with tritium dot sights and lamp attachments. On the outcropping nearest the tunnel mouth was a wiry, dark-skinned young man with a neat little chin beard and coal-colored hair swept straight back from his forehead. He stood flattened against the slope in a toss of shadows cast by the dim light of a quarter moon. Beside him on the rock shelf was a can-shaped metal object with a thin telescoping antenna on top. His weapon against the leg of his blue jeans, he studied the tunnel mouth from his elevated vantage, not suspecting that he, too, was being observed.
Higher up the arroyo's western slope, Lathrop crouched behind a wide slab of rimrock, his mouth slightly open, his upper lip curled back, almost seeming to sniff the air as he watched the men below with intense fixation. It was an attitude queerly resembling the fleh- men reaction in cats—the detection of airborne trace



molecules with the Jacobson's organ, a tiny, exceedingly acute sensory receptor in the roof of the mouth that, like the tailbone, remains vestigial in humans, and whose function is something between smell and taste, endowing the feline with what is often taken for a sixth sense.
Lathrop had held an affinity for cats since childhood, was fascinated by their ways, owned three of them even now—though this was in all probability nothing but coincidence with regard to his own flehmen, of which he was altogether unconscious.
Calm, motionless, wholly focused in on his surveillance of those below, Lathrop watched from his solitary position of concealment. His face was daubed with camouflage cream. He had on lightweight black fatigues and tactical webbing with a .40 caliber Beretta in a hip holster. Lying beside him on the ground was his SIG-Sauer SSG 2000 sniper rifle. The firearms had been brought only as a precaution. If he were forced to use either of them, it would mean he'd botched the whole setup.
Peering into the eyepiece of his miniature DVD camcorder, Lathrop switched it to photo mode and made a minor adjustment to the night-vision scope coupled to its lens.
He'd have a lot of extra material on disk before he was finished, but better that than to take the chance of missing something important. Anyway, whatever was nonessential could be edited out when he input the digital images to the wallet-sized computer on his belt.
"Okay, Felix, let's do it with feeling," Lathrop whispered under his breath.
He zoomed in tightly on the bearded man and pressed the Record button.


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Guillermo hated going into the hole. Hated entering a shed piled with swine feed to lower himself onto a precarious wooden staircase that creaked, swayed, and buckled with each downward step. Hated the stifling heat inside by day, the miserable cold by night. Hated the low roof pressing down overhead, forcing the tallest men to stoop as they walked. Hated the close dirt walls, crudely shored up in places with wood and concrete but still looking as if they might collapse around him without warning. Hated the skitter of rodents and insects in darkness so thick you could almost feel it pouring over your skin, smothering you like black sludge. Perhaps more than anything else, though, he hated the fetid odor of sweat, unwashed clothing, and bodily wastes that permeated the narrow tunnel despite the swamp coolers used to pull fresh air through ventilation shafts along its entire length.
He hated going into the hole, yes, hated every moment of every passage he'd made through its cramped, stinking twists and turns, but he knew with an absolute certainty that without it he'd never have lasted a decade, more than a decade, in an occupation that had put many behind prison bars in a fraction of that time. It was because of the hole that he'd had unmatched success at eluding the border patrols, because of the advantage it gave him over the competition that the Salazar brothers had turned an ever-increasing volume and diversity of trade his way. There were dozens of coyotes on the peninsula to whom Los Reyes Magos de Tijuana granted their blessing and protection, but Guillermo was sure that none besides himself would have been entrusted with this latest bulk shipment, sixty kilograms of high- quality black-tar heroin, worth a fortune on the norte-



amerlcano wholesale market. And while the job was far riskier than others he'd carried out for them in the past, it was also less work than having to hustle together enough people who could afford his thousand-dollar-per- head fee to make a border crossing worth the trouble. Most often he was booking agent and conductor rolled into one. Tonight, the train had been filled prior to his involvement, and he had merely to bring it up to the line to receive his payment from Lucio Salazar.
Un coyote, si, Guillermo thought reflectively. This was the popular label for a smuggler of human beings and contraband, and he was well aware not all its connotations were flattering. Fast, canny, and dangerous, wise to the lay of the land, the creature was also an opportunist that scavenged its meals wherever and however it could. Si, si, why take shame in it? The environment Guillermo inhabited tolerated moralists poorly, and he much preferred survival to becoming a righteous casualty.
His flashlight shining into the gloom now, he moved through the tunnel ahead of the Indians who had backpacked  the heroin from Sonoma—thirty-five villagers by his hasty count, none older than twenty, most teenagers, perhaps a third of them girls—the youthful couriers themselves followed at gunpoint by a half dozen of the Salazars' forzadores, their enforcers. It made for, what, fifty people, give or take, double the number he'd brought down with him on any previous run, easily double.   Madre Dios, he hoped these walls could withstand the tread of all those feet.
Imagined or not, the increased danger of a cave-in during this particular run only worsened Guillermo's usual state of unease. As, he supposed, did the rifles


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being leveled at the ninas. One of them in particular, a pretty fourteen- or fifteen-year-old, had reminded him of his own angelic daughter, who was about her age and had hair that was the same length, that even fell over her forehead in an uncannily similar way ... though he wasn't willing to let their resemblance lead him to any exaggerated assumptions. The government was fond of propagandizing that the Salazars had turned remote villages in the Gran Desierto and further south across the Sierra Madres into armed camps and sources of slave labor. But why did that portrayal make no mention of the abominable conditions that the inhabitants had endured before their "occupation," of families starving in shelters pieced together from the remnants of cardboard boxes until the Salazars arrived and replaced them with permanent dwellings? Which alternative left them better off? Guillermo didn't know, hadn't enough information to form a balanced opinion, and at any rate, it was truly none of his affair. The train was not his. He had only to mind his business and guide it along toward Estacion Lucio, as it were. And collect.
Guillermo rounded an abrupt bend in the path, widening the variable focus of his flashlight. It revealed countless overlapping footprints in the earthen floor, some of them fresh, others little more than faded scuff- ings that were probably generations older than he was.
Then the conical beam glanced off a heap of scattered rubble that Guillermo recognized as a trail marker of sorts. He was nearing the last portion of the underground march. In another fifty, sixty yards, the tunnel would ascend to its exit on the western side of the arroyo, where Lucio's men would await him with their transport vehicles. Guillermo would have a short rest as they



loaded up, and then it would be back into the hole for the return trip with the villagers and forzadores, tiring work for the fittest of men—and the growing paunch above his belt was conspicuous evidence he had never been especially good at self-maintenance.
Guillermo continued on for another fifteen minutes or so before the ground began to rise, and the tunnel's stagnant atmosphere was relieved by a stream of fresh air from outside. Soon afterward, he noticed a wash of spectral moonlight through the break in the rock face that opened into the gully.
He increased his pace despite his weariness, impatient to reach it.

Felix Quiros had been patient. Resisting any impulse to act prematurely, he had waited for several breathless moments after Guillermo appeared from the tunnel's entrance, waited until the long line of mules had filed into the arroyo behind the stupid fucking cabron, even waited until all but a few of the Salazar forzadores had emerged—which was to say, until he was positive that the entire shipment of heroin had been carried out—   before he reached a hand down to the radio detonator's transmitter unit on the ledge beside him.
Then, with a quick tug on its antenna to be certain it was fully extended, he flipped the device's firing switch.
Inside the tunnel, its receiver sent a jolt of current through the wires leading to the multiple TNT satchel charges that Quiros and his men had planted along the final yards of the passage, covering them from sight with stones and loose earth.
The explosion was virtually instantaneous. It clapped and rolled through the arroyo, shaking its very walls, a


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

fantastic claw of flame and smoke lashing from the tunnel's entrance. Debris pelted from the spiky edges of the fireball like meteors, buffeting the forzadores who had been last to exit the tunnel as its sides came tumbling down in a cascade of blasted rubble, slamming some to the ground.
Felix aimed his bullpup at Guillermo and opened up on him, taking him out with a rapid volley that knocked him onto his back, his legs jerking and kicking, his hands on his spurting chest. Felix poured several more rounds into him and, when he finally stopped moving, began to rake the bottom of the gully with fire, raising little geysers of sand and pebbles into the air, fanning his weapon from side to side even as his men did the same from their own perches. Screaming in pain and terror, the helpless young mules were cut down where they stood, some crawling on the ground under their bulky loads in futile attempts to reach cover.
Meanwhile, the handful of stunned forzadores who remained on their feet had begun blindly triggering their own weapons at the outcrops, but they were easy, exposed targets for the scissoring barrage from the ambush positions.
The men on the slopes continued to lay down fire until all movement in the gully had ceased. Paused in the echoing, smoking stillness. Reloaded. And on Felix's signal chopped out another sustained hail of bullets, emptying their magazines into the sprawled bodies below, making sure every one of them had been left a corpse.
The slaughter had taken less then ten minutes from beginning to end.



Lathrop kept recording for a while longer, wanting to catch a scene of Felix and his men as they descended into the arroyo for the scag. They worked fast, cutting the straps of the dead couriers' bundles with folding knives, then tearing them from their backs and gathering them into a single huge mound. While this was going on, a few of Felix's hombres split off from the rest and went scrambling toward the north end of the gulch, presumably to bring the vehicles they'd use to haul away their score.
Lathrop considered waiting for them to return, maybe taking a shot of them in the process of loading up, but rejected the idea almost immediately. He'd got Felix hands down for the killings and the snatch, got what he needed from A to Z. Why push the envelope? Sometimes there was a temptation to make too much of a game out of things. He knew his weaknesses and had to be careful about giving in to them. No way a guy in his position could afford that.
Not unless he wanted to join Guillermo and those other victims who'd come out of the tunnel with him in the great hereafter.
Carefully detaching the night scope from his camcorder, Lathrop put both back into their cases, shouldered his weapons, and silently retreated into the darkness.




"any success convincing lang to pay for his
chits?" Nimec asked, and held up his punch mitt.
"You're starting to sound like Roger." Megan threw an off-balance left jab that barely nicked the padded leather.
"Shit," she muttered, winded. Her face was glistening with perspiration.
"Let's go, keep your rhythm."  
"We've been at this for almost an hour, might be a good time to call it quits—"
"Pete, I'm bushed. It isn't coming together for me this morning, and I still have to get showered for work—"
"What I hear, you were tired in Kaliningrad when you took down an armed assailant. Way before you started these lessons."
"I had no choice then."
"You don't now, either," he said, sidestepping to the right. "Breathe deep. And stay on me!"


Megan opened her mouth and swooped in some air. Keeping her left foot in front of her right, she pivoted toward him and took another shot. It landed more solidly, closer to the white target dot in the center of the mitt.
"Better," he said. "Again."
Her fist snapped out, caught the edge of the dot.
"Again! Keep that arm in line with your lead foot!"
Her next punch was precisely on the spot.
"Good," Nimec said. He stepped in closer, pressing her, flicking the mitt past the side of her cheek. "Cover up, I could've nailed you right there. And what do you mean 'like Roger'?"
Megan raised her arms, tucked her chin low to her collarbone. Her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, she was wearing a white sweatband around her head, a white tank top with an Everlast logo in front, black bike shorts, and Adidas sneakers.
"I mean that you're both assuming Bob feels he owes us," she said.
Bob, Nimec thought.
"Doesn't he?"
"I think he thinks we're even."
"With regard to what? The time we saved a nuclear sub from being hijacked with the President aboard? Or found out who did the Times Square bombing after his people got steered down the garden path?"
Megan let his question ride, bouncing on her knees to stoke her energy. They were in a regulation fight ring on the top level of his San Jose triplex condominium, the entire floor a sprawling rec/training facility that included, in addition to the professionally equipped boxing gym, a martial arts dojo, a soundproofed firing range,


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

and an accurate-downtothereekofcigarette-buttsawashin-beer  reproduction of the South Philadelphia pool hall where the blush of youthful innocence was slapped off Nimec's cheeks by the harsh red glare of neons when he was fourteen or so. Megan had never spoken to him about that period of his life at any length, never gotten the gist of why he looked back on a past that included being the junior member of a father-son hustling team, a borderline juvenile delinquent, and, by her standards, a victim of child exploitation—what else would you call being kept truant from school to hold a cue stick in a dive full of chronic gamblers?—with such obvious fondness. Whether this was because her own upbringing was so different from his, she couldn't really say for sure, but Ridgewood, New Jersey, might as well have been worlds away from downtown Philly, and while she'd taken courses on Old and Middle English at Groton prep, there had been nary a mention of draw, follow, left, or right English in the offered curriculum.
She concentrated on her workout now, measuring Nimec  with repeated flicks of her outthrust fist as he continued side-shuffling to her right, protecting the outside margin of the defensive circle he'd taught her to imagine around herself.
"Back to Lang," he said. "We have to utilize the NCIC database if we're going to get the intelligence we need."
"And his inclination is to ask the director to okay us," she said. "Right up to the highest classification levels."
"Up to," he said.
She nodded.
"But not including."
She nodded again.



"That won't cut it," he said. "Your average uniformed cop can input the overall system from his prowl if it's got an onboard computer. I want Lang to arrange for unrestricted access."
Nimec lifted both mitts in the air. She threw a one- two combination, followed through with a straight left, and blocked another swipe at her head without surrendering any canvas.
"It gets sort of complicated," she said. "National security's foremost with him."
Nimec looked confused.
"He doesn't trust us?"
"I didn't say that."
"Then complicated how?"
"I'd rather not explain it right now."
She saw his frown of confusion deepen.
"Leave it alone, Pete. I'm flying to D.C. again in a couple of days. We'll see what Bob's got to say."
Nimec looked at her a moment.
Bob again, he thought.
Then he gave a little shrug and shifted direction, dropping his right mitt to take an uppercut. Megan swung and made only glancing contact.
"You pulled that one. Again."
She brought her arm up smoothly, throwing her shoulder into the blow, and felt the satisfying impact of her fist thumping the leather dead on.
"Okay, that was perfect. Relax a minute," he said, coming to a flat-footed halt. "Now listen, this is important." He patted the middle of his rib cage with his mitt. "A guy comes at you, here's where you hit him. Do it hard and clean, and it'll collapse his diaphragm, doesn't matter how big he is. And he won't have expected it


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

from a woman. People who don't know how to fight will generally make the same mistakes. They either aim for the nose or chin, which aren't easy to tag, or the gut, where there's more muscle, fat, whatever sort of insulation, than anywhere else." He lifted the other mitt to the side of his neck, just below the ear. "If you don't have an opening for the upper body, and you think you have the reach, you'll want to pop him right here. At the pressure point. Got it?"
"The chest or the neck," Megan said, the words spaced between long gulps of breath. She brushed a trickle of sweat from her eye with her glove. "You've told me that at least a dozen times."
"Reinforcement's never hurt anyone I've trained." He wiggled the mitt in front of his ribs. "Quick, let me have some—"
"And we'll be through for today."
She let him have some.
Ten minutes later, they were outside the ropes, towels draped over their shoulders, their T-shirts splotched with perspiration and clinging to their bodies. Nimec went over to his supply locker, put away his target mitts, then helped Megan to unlace her gloves.
"There's another item of business we need to discuss," he said, hanging the gloves on a peg inside the locker.
"Ricci's brain flash about establishing RDTs," he said. "I've been mulling it over and feel it ought to be done."
Megan stood undoing her hand wraps, her open gym bag on a bench against the wall behind her.
"I agree," she said. "Provisionally."
"Your provisions being ... ?"



"It would have to be on an experimental basis and subject to constant review. And I'd want everybody on board. Meaning Gord and Rollie." She looked at him. "You seem surprised, Pete."
Nimec shrugged.
"You didn't seem too enthused about the suggestion when it was offered," he said. "I figured I'd run into more resistance."
Megan considered how to respond. She finished removing the linen wraps, wound them up neatly, then turned to the bench and dropped them into her bag.
"Ricci's aptitude isn't anything that I question," she said finally, looking back at Nimec. "I just don't enjoy his contentious solo flier routine. And sometimes I need to be where he isn 't to get past it."
Nimec shrugged a little, his hand on the locker's open door.
"Sounds like some kind of solution, anyway."
"You could call it that," she said. "I think of it as keeping my sights on the bigger picture."
He gave her a questioning glance.
"Whoever attacked us in Brazil last spring killed a lot of our people and would have caused even more destruction ... would have been able to blackmail every country on earth ... if we hadn't gotten in the way of their plans," she said. "Put me in our enemy's shoes, I'd be carrying one serious grudge. And the thought of not being ready if and when it's acted upon worries the hell out of me, Pete."
He kept looking at her for several long seconds and then swung the locker door inward. It shut with a dull, metallic clang.
"Makes two of us," he said.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Some months earlier in Madrid, in the Villanueva building of the Museo del Prado, he had gone to view Brueghel the Elder's painting The Triumph of Death, and even now was unsure how long he had stood before it. It was as if time had stilled around him. As if his innermost visions had been projected onto the wall of the gallery.
He had not known where to rest his eye. On the molten orange landscape with its pools of fire, its spewing clouds of black, volcanic smoke? Or the medieval village besieged by an exterminating army of skeletons, banners of war hoisted above their skull heads, the hollow sockets of their eyes showing only a pitiless adherence to their single objective? Here they hacked at the living with broadswords. Here they impaled them on the points of spears. There a cadaverous looter knelt over his prostrate victim, holding knife to throat to deliver the finishing stroke. In the right foreground, a peasant woman who had fallen atop a pile of twisted corpses raised her arms in a futile plea for mercy as a bone soldier stood with one conquering foot planted on her body, his battle-ax swinging inexorably downward. Where to rest the eye? On which scene of fabulous annihilation? The death barge advancing over a mire of crushed bodies and blood, its skeletal crew wrapped in the white cerements of the grave? The townsman hanging, limp, from the single forking limb of a shattered tree? The emaciated dog, all skin and protruding ribs, sniffing hungrily at the child in its fallen mother's embrace? Or the revelers in peacock finery scattering from their dinner table in helpless panic as a swarm of cadaverous marauders closed ranks around them?



^    Where, indeed, to rest the eye? ||i The painting had been remarkable. Absorbed in its |l sweeping infernal beauty, Siegfried Kuhl might have be-   ffV lieved its creator had reached a hand across the centuries .{f| and tapped deep into his mind for inspiration. His um- fiJ bilical connection to it had been overwhelming. It had t| at once seemed to draw its energy from him and infuse Sf him with its own.
J:    Until that unforgettable experience, Kuhl had never been moved by a work of art. He had gone to the museum out of curiosity and nothing more, compelled by Harlan DeVane's remark that he might find it of interest. Six months ago, it had been. After the debacle in Kazakhstan, where only a chance diversion had allowed him to break away from the Sword operative with whom he'd grappled in the launch center's cargo-processing facility.
The man's features were framed in his mind in photographic detail. Whenever he pictured the sharply angular jut of his cheekbones, the set of his mouth, he would feel the restless desire for vengeance slide coldly through his intestines. As he felt it now, six months later and a continent away, sitting at a window table in a brasserie called La Pistou, opposite the Champs de Ba- taille Pare, in Quebec City. Watching the entrance to the park, waiting for his lovely courier to arrive.
Kuhl's failure at the Cosmodrome had been a severe blow. Driven underground, wishing to get far ahead of his pursuers, he had altered his appearance, obtaining colored contact lenses, darkening his hair, filling out his lips with collagen injections, even growing a short beard. Then, in his global migrations, he had found himself in


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Spain for a time, and he realized it was no accident that brought him there.
DeVane had understood how it would be for him to see Brueghel's masterpiece, reflecting, as it did, the grim sensibility of an age when the Black Death had raged across continents, an indiscriminate scourge exempting no man or authority, no civilized institution, from being laid to waste. An age when none knew whether to blame Heaven or Hell for their miseries.
What power a man who let neither hold sway over his conscience, a man of iron and will, could have seized amid such upheaval. In violent action Kuhl was calm. In chaos he was whole. In the storm amid cries of turmoil he was strongest. And in strength he achieved fulfillment.
DeVane had understood, yes. And it seemed in retrospect that his comments had been as revealing as they were insightful—most probably by design. He found it amusing to lay out enigmatic, far-winding paths for others to untangle.
At any rate, his Sleeper Project must have been well along at that point. Kuhl was not a scientist, but he had sufficient knowledge of the basics of genetic engineering to be certain it would have taken years to produce a pathogenic agent of the type generated at the Ontario facility. The procurement of recombinant DNA technology and raw biological materials would have been a difficult, expensive undertaking. As would the search for top experts in the field from around the world. And preliminary challenges of that sort would have paled to insignificance before those that emerged in the later developmental stages.
The complexities of manipulating a viral organism's




genetic blueprint were manifold. Given the additional requirement that its infectiousness be keyed to a particular genetic trait—blue eyes, left-handedness, familial diabetes, ethnic and racial characteristics, the possibilities were endless—the difficulty of the task became even more considerable. Still, the techniques needed to create such a microbe had been the focus of widespread experimentation in both private and government laboratories in the most advanced nations. And DeVane had gone several steps beyond. His criteria had been that the Sleeper pathogen respond to an unlimited range of inherited human characteristics on demand, laying dormant until activated by a chemical trigger or set of triggers. That it could, therefore, bring about symptoms in targets ranging from specific individuals to entire populations, depending entirely on which trigger was selected for dispersal.
In effect, he had overseen the successful creation of a microscopic time bomb. It could be customized to order, residing harmlessly in one host, hatching explosive malignancy in another. It could be as precise as an assassin's bullet or as widespread in its capacity for devastation as the Plague itself.
It was, Kuhl thought now, nothing less than the ultimate biological weapon.
He looked out the window and saw her emerge from the park, his lovely pale rider, punctual as always, crossing the Grande Allee to the brasserie, her blonde hair tossing in the wind, the collar of her dark, knee- length coat pulled up around her neck against the inclement weather. Though still a month off by the calendar, winter had made an early intrusion into the region, and spits of snow were blowing from a dark gray


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

sky over the bare, rolling fields and ragged trees west of the Citadel.
Kuhl was glad of this. In the long spread of park fringing the cliffs above the Saint Lawrence River, the armies of France and Britain had fought their climactic battle for domination of the region. Yet in the warm seasons, flowers bedecked the soil where the blood of generals had been spilled, and strollers sniffed the perfumed air in the smothering lameness of landscaped gardens.
Those floral blankets scattered to the wind now, the harsh contours of nature were uncovered, appealing to something in the stony fastness of KuhFs heart.
She spotted him from outside on the sidewalk, their eyes making contact through the window, a smile tracing at her lips. She entered the restaurant and strode directly toward his table, walking ahead of the punctilious maitre d' who approached her at the door, motioning to indicate she'd already found her party. Kuhl rose to greet her, touching his lips to the soft white skin below her ear as he came around and helped her out of her coat, she lightly touching the back of his hand with her fingertips, he allowing his kiss to linger on her neck a moment before turning to give the coat to the maitre d'.
They sat. Kuhl had been drinking mineral water, and he waved for the waiter, a quick snap of his hand. She ordered wine, an American Pinot Noir. The waiter hovered beside the table as she tasted it and nodded her approval to him, then hurried off, noticing the impatience in Kuhl's glance, giving them their privacy.
"Did you have a pleasant trip?" he asked.
"And your lodging?" he said.




"It's fine," she said, her English bearing the faint, indeterminate accent characteristic of those who have lived in various parts of the world. "I've missed you."
He nodded silently.
"Will you be joining me at the hotel tonight?" she asked. Turning her wineglass in her hands.
He leaned slightly forward over the table.
"I would like nothing better," he said. "But we have other dictates."
"Which can't be postponed, even for a short while?"
"I leave Quebec before sundown," he said. "And your flight to the States is scheduled for early tomorrow morning."
"There have been so many flights lately." She hesitated. "I'm tired."
He met her gaze. She was a receptive sexual partner, and he enjoyed her more than any of his other women. Exploring and penetrating her body was like opening a series of catches, one after another after another, unlocking progressively greater measures of her passion until she was his fully and without inhibition. There was exquisite power in reaching to the core of such lust. In being able to control its tornadic outpouring. And power was ever a temptation.
"We will be together. Very soon," he said. "But..."
"Dictates." She fell silent, lowering her eyes to her glass. After a few seconds she looked back up at him. "I understand."
Kuhl nodded and reached into the inside pocket of his sport coat, producing a black enameled gift box of the sort that might hold a bracelet, along with a small card envelope. He held both out to her across the table.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

"I've gotten you something very unique," he said. "The rarest of items."
Anyone happening by the table would have seen her smile as she took them from him, their fingers making the briefest contact.
"Thank you," she said.
He leaned his face closer to hers, dropped his voice to a near whisper.
"In San Diego you will be meeting with someone named Enrique Quiros," he said, his lips scarcely moving at all. "The note I've written in the card will tell you the rest."
She nodded with understanding and carefully placed the box and envelope into her purse.
"I'll be sure to read it back in my room." She was looking into his eyes again, her own eyes shining, the smile on her lips no longer contrived for the benefit of idle viewers. "I wish you could be with me."
Kuhl acknowledged a stirring inside him.
"Soon," he said.
"Tell me when—"
"After this is done, I promise," Kuhl said. "We can go to Madrid, if you'd like." He paused a moment. "It is special to me."
She looked at him.
"Madrid," she said, raising the wineglass again, touching its rim to her bottom lip, letting it rest there a moment before taking a sip. "Yes, I would like that very much. Would like it to become special to both of us."
Kuhl watched her and nodded.
"Surely," he said, "it will."



"How long you been sitting on this?" Lucio Salazar said, the fingers of his right hand digging into the arm of his fleecy burgundy sofa, his other hand holding the last of the digital prints Lathrop had given him to scrutinize, the rest of the infrared photos on the coffee table in front of him.
"What do you mean?" Lathrop said, answering Salazar's  question with one of his own, knowing damn well what he meant. This asshole had the balls to think he was going to interrogate him. It was pretty funny. "Your load was grabbed last night, I'm here today."
Salazar looked at him. He was a large man in his late fifties wearing a cream-colored tropical suit, a pale blue shirt open at the collar, and tan Gucci loafers. There was a Rolex with an enormous diamond-crusted gold band on his right hand, a diamond ring on his left pinkie, a diamond stud in his right earlobe. A gold figure of some saint or other hung from a chain around his thick neck.
"I was asking when you found out these fucking mar- icones were going to make a move on me," he said. "If I had known sooner, I'd have been able to do something about it."
Lathrop's expression was calmly businesslike.
"You can get furnished with bad information from any weasel on the street and wind up chasing your own tail." He leaned forward and tapped one of the snapshots on the coffee table with his finger. It showed Felix Quiros and his men cutting the knapsacks off the backs of Salazar's massacred Indian couriers outside the smoking ruin of the tunnel entrance. "I get a tip, I check it out before coming to you with it. That's quality, Lucio. And it's what I provide."
"Value for the dollar, eh?"


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Lathrop grinned.
"Believe it," he said.  
Salazar fell silent again. His gold and jewels twinkled in the sunlight pouring through the glass wall that faced the beachfront below and behind him. These days, Lathrop thought, the base price of a Del Mar home with an ocean view was maybe six, seven hundred grand, and that was if you were talking about something the size of Monopoly board real estate, where you had to stand tiptoe on the roof with a set of binoculars just to catch a glimpse of the water. A place like Salazar's sin citadel here—built to his specs on a bluff, sprawling enough to contain the entire population of whatever burro shit Mexican village had spawned his proud ancestral line of cutthroat thieves, highwaymen, and pimps—a place like this had to have cost him in excess of three mil.
After perhaps twenty seconds, Salazar leaned forward over the table and studied another of the pictures, his eyebrows knitted in brooding thought, slowly shaking his head from side to side as he recognized the body of the coyote Guillermo.
"El muerto nada se lleva y todo se acaba," he said in an undertone.
The dead take nothing with them and everything comes to an end.
He glanced back up at Lathrop. "You know if Felix was being stupid on his own, or does the stupidity go up the line?" he asked.
"Felix? Come on," Lathrop said, preparing to stir in the lie. "He might have his boys glom car computers, shake down bodega owners, nickel-dime stuff, on his own string. Might even get away with laying an extra cut on a key before he delivers it, skimming a few



ounces for himself. But his big cousins are just letting him run off the leash so he feels a player instead of a punk, and even Felix isn't brainless enough not to realize I* how far to take it before he smacks into a brick wall. What happened at the tunnel—he'd never in his miserable   life try it without their endorsement."
Lathrop watched the thought lines on Salazar's forehead deepen. He was seething, and with very good reason. In tight with the old-line South American growers and processors from the days when his father headed the clan, Lucio's organization had been smuggling contraband   across the U.S.-Mexico border for over half a century, starting with hot cars back in the fifties, and here in California was the principal polydrug distribution outfit along the Pacific coast, carrying cocaine, dope, pot, methamphetamine, name your favorite poison, from Chula Vista clear on up to Los Angeles and Frisco. The Quiroses were way down the hierarchy, with transit routes inland from northern Sonora into south Texas and sections of New Mexico, and until recently hadn't done anything to challenge the Salazar empire, sticking to a relatively insignificant share of the coke market. New drug money, you might call them. But since they'd gotten tied in with El Tio's network a year or so back—it was hard for Lathrop to believe he'd still been with the El Paso special field division at the time, my oh my how things had changed—there had been signs they were looking to make inroads into Salazar's territory. What was now causing Lucio such profound and well- warranted distress was the sheer nerviness of the act—   not only stealing some heavy dope, but intentionally humiliating him in the process, smearing his couriers all over the arroyo, killing his drivers, and leaving them


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

with their mouths chock-full of their own privates.
You go dissing someone like Lucio Salazar with that kind of impunity, you're sending a big, bold-faced message that there's major juice behind you.
Salazar was still shaking his head with combined anger and dismay.
"I can't accept this," he said.
Which, Lathrop thought, was absolutely right on, assuming he wanted to stay in business.
"It's got to be fixed," Salazar said.
Which, Lathrop thought, equaled taking serious retaliation.
Salazar looked at him.
"You find out how the Quiroses knew when my shipment was coming, anything else about their setup, I give you my word of honor it'll be worth a jackpot," he said.
Lathropr nodded, making an effort not to smile. He often wondered if guys like Salazar copped their dialogue from television and the movies or vice versa. Or whether it was some weird kind of self-perpetuating loop. Reality mimicking fiction mimicking reality.
"I'll see what I can do," he said and rose from his chair feeling mightily satisfied with his performance ... and just as strongly convinced it would lead to the results he desired.
Next stop on the road, Enrique Quiros.

"I'm leaning in favor of Ricci's idea," Gordian said to Nimec from behind his desk.  
He reached for the container of rolled wafers in front of him, opened it, slipped a wafer out of the container, and stirred it in his coffee so the drink would pick up the flavor of its hazelnut praline filling. This new morn80


ing ritual was in observance of his wife's latest dietary commandment: Thou shalt not drink hazelnut coffee. Her prohibition of his favorite blend rose from her theory that its hidden calories and fatty oils were responsible for the five-pound weight gain and slightly elevated cholesterol level revealed by his latest routine checkup.
The flavored coffee of which he'd been drinking three to five cups a day for the past year, therefore, was gone and out, per spouse's orders, replaced on her shopping list by the cream-filled wafers he was allowed to dip, stir, and consume twice a day to satisfy his hazelnut craving, the equivalent of nicotine chewing gum to a smoker trying to quit the habit.
Admittedly, though, the sweet sticks were tasty, if not to say addictive, in their own right.
"My primary reservations concern the delicacy of placing our RDTs in host countries that might feel threatened by their activities, perhaps with some justification," he said, letting the wafer steep in his coffee. "Or, trickier still, inserting them into hostile countries where we know in advance that their presence would be unwelcome."
Across the immense desk from him, Nimec was trying not to betray his delight at now having gotten his second "yes" of the day—albeit another qualified one—with a fair and highly unexpected degree of ease.
"I can relay your concerns to Tom, see that he addresses them in a formal written proposal," he said.
Gordian pulled the wafer stick out of his coffee and took a bite.
"That would be a reasonable start," he said, looking happy as he chewed.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Nimec started to lift himself off his seat, eager to make his exit while the going was good.
Gordian raised a hand.
"One last thing before you go," he said.
Nimec settled back down, waited.
"I'm with Megan that Rollie Thibodeau has to accept the plan, at least in theory, before we take it any further."
Nimec considered that a moment, then nodded.
"I'll ask her to talk to him," he said.
"No," Gordian said.
Nimec looked at him.
Gordian shook his head.
"You do it," he said.
Nimec kept looking at him.
"She's better with Rollie than I am, two of them go way back," he said. "They've got a rapport."
"And that's precisely why it's going to be you and he who have the conversation," Gordian said. He took a gulp of coffee, the wafer back in his cup like a swizzle stick. "The fractiousness I saw aboard the yacht last week troubles me. If it continues, our organization is going to split into separate camps, and once that happens, we'll cease to be a functional team. Think about it, Pete. It has to stop."
Nimec ballooned his cheeks, slowly released a breath.
"Ought to be an interesting chat," he said.
Gordian smiled.
"Ought to be," he said and munched down the rest of his treat.




every day it was the same, for the whole day.
Trying to work through the deepening bog of paperwork in front of him. Trying to decide which decisions needed to be made first and which could be deferred until later. All across his desktop half-finished fiscal reports and operational plans silently screamed for his attention. Employment applications, personnel evaluations, and equipment requisitions were spilling from his overloaded in box like tenants from a collapsing high-rise. Only the adjoining out box was uncluttered, and that sure as hell wasn't much encouragement. It seemed sadly neglected, waiting for something to drop into it.
Six months after his elevation to the post of global field supervisor, Rollie Thibodeau had still to feel any balance between the continuous supervisory and administrative demands of an organization as large as Sword and his personal capacity to fulfill them.
It wasn't that he'd been ignorant of the job's respon-

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

sibilities when Megan Breen offered it to him, nor had he failed to recognize it would mean spending many more hours in an office chair than he ever did heading up night security at UpLink's Brazilian manufacturing compound. Except...
A desolate frown creased Thibodeau's face.
Too much sit-down break trousers, he thought. It was a Louisiana bayou adage that went back forever, and he could remember his mother chastening him with it time and again when she'd caught him shirking his chores around the house. Too much sit-down break trousers. You wore out the back of your pants as quickly sitting on your rump as doing honest work. Though maybe his rump was the most functional part of him these days, being one of the few spots on his body that hadn't been drilled by a slug in Brazil.
Not that anyone had expressed the tiniest smidgen of unhappiness with his performance to date. On the contrary, Gordian, Nimec, and Megan all seemed to approve of the way he was handling things. The dissatisfaction, the discontent, came entirely from inside him.
"Watcha gonna say, boy?" he asked himself aloud. "Watcha gonna goddamn say, huh?"
Shrugging, Thibodeau reached into his breast pocket—   as was his often-noticed preference, he had on the official indigo blue Sword uniform blouse usually reserved for members of active security details rather than executives at the San Jose office tower, where business suits were the norm—and pulled a satiny Montecristo No. 2 from a two-finger leather cigar case. It was one of the few remaining torpedoes he'd brought from Cuiaba,   beaucoup hard to find, and he'd planned to savor it over some drinks at his favorite local tavern tonight. But he



felt ready for some uplifting, damn ready, and wasn't about to stand on occasion.
He had been appointed to one of the top posts in Sword, a post that had, in fact, been created especially for him, with a commensurate raise that boosted him into an income bracket he'd never even considered within reach. Yet he felt a total lack of achievement or gratification, a gnawing absence of confidence that he was suited to the role. Making him, what, some kind of pretender?
Because he knew how much faith was being placed in him by people he respected and cared for, how much rested on his shoulders, Thibodeau was ashamed of himself for feeling as he did.
And then there was Tom Ricci, one of the most galling, cocksure bastards he'd ever met, always pushing fire. Thibodeau hated sharing the job with him, and to compound matters, was angered over the position he'd just been put in because of him. Of being forced to either nix or okay a move to which he'd vehemently objected when it was proposed and that he still maintained was wrongheaded, but that everyone else involved in the decision-making process had been convinced was worthy of a go.
"On a trial basis," Pete Nimec had qualified when soliciting his approval. "With constant oversight."
As he'd listened to him, Thibodeau had felt increasingly boxed in despite the repeated attempts to allay his concerns. Sometimes, he'd thought, one bad move could cost you the whole game.
Now he clipped the end of the cigar with his Swiss army knife, forgoing the expensive double-blade guillotine cutter he'd received as a fare-thee-well from his


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

crew in Brazil. Having been relegated to the back corner of a desk drawer, it was a gift that was much appreciated for the sentiments it represented but was also much too fancy for his liking.
Thibodeau struck a match and lit up, carefully holding the tip of the cigar at the edge of the flame, turning it in his hand until it caught all the way around. Then he raised the cigar to his mouth and smoked.
Looking across his desk at the empty chair where Nimec  had sat only minutes before, Thibodeau again recalled his limber pitching style, so reminiscent of Megan's approach that he'd wondered if she had been offering pointers.
"We proceed either unanimously or not at all," Nimec had said, after first relaying the news that Gordian and the others had come down in favor of establishing an RDT section. "Decision this important, it's got to have your support."
Thibodeau's reply was blunt.
"My opinion's what it is," he said. "Don't expect me to change it to suit the boss."
"Nobody wants that, Rollie. I'm here to see whether I can convince you to agree to this, not accede under duress."
"An' Gordian?"
"Gord shares some of your qualms, and he's especially concerned about stretching the hospitality of countries where we might have to send in teams. You spent over a year in Brazil dealing with their government and law enforcement agencies—"
"An' way before that, a couple back-to-back tours of duty with the Air Cav commandin' a long range recon patrol in Vietnam," Thibodeau interrupted. "Choppers



it would drop us into enemy territory, we'd search and
"destroy. My units knew our mission an' were the best
I at what we did. But the bigger mission, one sunk us into
jfethe war, that wasn't so clear, an' we both know how it
lended." He'd snorted with disgust. "Lesson learned,
least by me."
Nimec was undeterred. "What I was about to say, Rol- lie, is we were hoping you could draw on your expedience.  Help  to  define the  circumstances that would | warrant launching an RDT into the field, stipulate the ; rules and constraints it would operate under to avert po!  litical incidents, and so forth. Give us a total strategic framework."
Thibodeau shook his head. "Say I ain't willin'," he said. "What then?" Nimec had looked him straight in the eye. "Then I walk out of here and into Gord's office and report that the plan's DOA," he replied. "I said 'unanimous,' and I meant it."
Thibodeau was quiet. Nimec's embracing reasonability  was hard to argue with, but he couldn't stop himself from trying.
"An' where's Tom Ricci fit into the plan?" he asked. "What's he supposed to do while I'm cookin' up strategy?"   
Nimec had seemed prepared for the question. "My idea is for Ricci to concentrate on tactical issues," he said.
"Tactical." .    "And on training," Nimec added.
Thibodeau wondered why that stung him. And tried not to show it did.
"You discuss that with him yet?"


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

"No, but—"
"So how you know he gonna take to it?"
"I don't think he'll object. The field's where his talents would be best applied and where he's most at home," Nimec said. "It'd be a kind of dual-path approach, with Megan and yours truly coordinating." He paused. "I recognize that you two have had trouble meshing, and for the present it seems like the most balanced, workable arrangement."
More silence from Thibodeau. Again he'd felt that he was groping for a reason not to cooperate.
Nimec had moved forward in the chair opposite him, his hands on the edge of the desk, his gaze unwavering.
"Come on, Rollie," he'd pressed. "Give it a try."
Thibodeau waited another few seconds to answer, then expelled a relenting sigh.
"Go ahead an' count me in," he said. "But I got my doubts. Mighty ones."
"Understood," Nimec said.
Thibodeau shook his head. "Maybe, maybe not," he said. "This ain't nothin' between me an' you, but I want my feelings on record."
Nimec responded with a quick nod.
"It'll be easy enough for me to note them in my memo to Gord and carbon copy it to you," he said. "Settled?"
After a moment's further hesitation, Thibodeau had told him it was, more or less concluding their parley on a note of accord. Although that had done nothing to resolve the inner conflict he was experiencing—and still didn't fully understand.
He snapped back to the present, puffing on his Montecristo.  As always, he enjoyed the rich flavor of its tobaccos, the mild tingle it left on his tongue. But why



wasn't it having its usual calming effect on him? Lifting away his cares in puffs of aromatic smoke?
He pushed himself out of his chair, feeling a sudden peed to get out from behind the desk. Fragments of his Conversation with Nimec refused to leave his mind—   one in particular—and he wanted desperately to shake it. To quiet the mingled resentments swirling around in- gide him like some sort of nebulous cloud, now swelling in his gut, now sending flares of heat into his chest.
"My idea is for Ricci to concentrate on tactical issues. The field's where his talents would be best applied...
'ifrwhere he's most at home."
II    Thibodeau strode around the desk and paced the office
iiftwith his hands behind his back, the cigar thrust straight
Jpout between his lips, smoke pouring upward from the
fscomers of his mouth.
|     Then, abruptly, he ceased to pace. He realized he was
| standing in front of his desk, staring at his heaping in
I box.
Staring at it with eyes that burned fiercely with anger and frustration.
Ricci. Tactical issues. Field's where he's most at home.
His hand shot out with sudden violence, sweeping the
^ in box off his desktop. It struck the wall with a crash, papers spilling from it, littering the floor. Thibodeau felt (he vicious urge to take a giant rushing step over to the box and kick it across the room like a soccer ball, to Stamp it to pieces before getting down on his knees and tearing up its scattered contents as he came upon them, ; flinging the tiny shreds of paper into the air, watching
'•'. them drift down on his office furniture like tiny bits of confetti....


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

And then he got hold of himself. All at once, got hold. The red haze of anger peeled from his vision to leave him looking at the strew of forms and documents that had flown from the overturned in box, his expression marveling and horrified, hardly able to believe his eyes.
What had he done?
What in God's name was wrong with him?
Thibodeau stood there as if waiting for an answer.
When it didn't come after a long while, he knelt and slowly began gathering the papers off the floor.

In his navy blue blazer, olive golf shirt, and dark khaki slacks, Enrique Quiros might have been a particular brand of contemporary executive: Ivy League, thirtyish, perhaps the founder of some Internet-based corporation. The cut of his wavy black hair was short, neat, and un- fussy. The glasses through which his intelligent brown eyes peered out at the world were lightweight tortoiseshell  with wire stems. His slender build was that of a careful eater and dedicated exerciser.
He was, indeed, an alumnus of Cornell Business School. The prismatic lettering on the door of his third- floor office suite in downtown San Diego read Golden Triangle Services, a corporate name apparently referring to the area northeast of La Jolla, where it was clustered in among many of the city's upstart, high-tech businesses.
The office decor was bright and open, with smooth plexiglass surfaces, beige carpeting, some muted abstract prints on the walls, and a spacious conference corner where a pair of his bodyguards now sat on a raw-sienna leather sofa, looking respectable and respectful, eyeing



Quiros's visitor indirectly, as feral wolves might to signal cautious nonaggression.
The slight bulges of the firearms hidden under their sport jackets would have been unnoticeable to the average observer, but Lathrop had discerned them immediately as he arrived for his appointment. He wasn't at all bothered. The guns were solely for their employer's protection, and Lathrop intended no threat. Also, he him;    self was carrying and had confidence he'd be able to take both men out before their hands got anywhere near their weapons, in the unlikely event of a problem.
"Nice new office, Enrique," Lathrop said, approaching his desk. "You're moving up."
Quiros smiled and indicated the chair opposite him.
"The economy chugs along, whistle blowing," he replied. "Like everyone else, I try my best to ride the curve and, if possible, stay a little ahead of it."
Lathrop sat. He could remember when Enrique's speech had been thickly accented with what they called Spanglish on the peninsula. This was before he had gone off to school, when his father was still alive and running the operation. Now he sounded like a TV news announcer, having acquired the flavorless pronunciation and intonation that was known as General American Dialect in college diction courses, absent any trace of ethnicity or regionalism. The benefits of a higher education.
Quiros shrugged his wristwatch from under the sleeve of his jacket and checked the time.
"You called just at the right moment, Lathrop," he said. "A half hour later, and I'd have already left for an appointment."
"I won't be long."
"Frankly, I was surprised to hear from you at all.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

You've been doing a lot of work for the Salazars, and it made me wonder if you'd chosen to give up your independence for steady employment."
Lathrop shook his head.
"Freelance is more enjoyable," he said. "Make your own rules, don't have to radon your sick days."
Quiros was smiling again. "I'd have thought Lucio and his brothers would run a looser ship than your former taskmasters."
Lathrop shrugged.
"Life gets confusing when people think they know things that they don't," he said.
Quiros looked at him. "What do you have for me?" he said, dropping the banter.
"Information more valuable than any dollar amount I can lay on it."
Quiros's eyes came alive with interest behind his lenses.
"If I can depend on its accuracy," he said, "you can depend on being satisfied with my money."
Lathrop took a moment to review the latest modification of his story line. It was becoming a little complicated, and he needed to stay on his toes.
"Four nights ago, your nephew Felix and his friends grabbed a shipment the Salazars were bringing up from Mexico," he said, getting right to it. "I'm talking sixty kilos, maybe more, a major load. Took out a bunch of Salazar's people and cut up a few of them to send him a message."
Quiros had immediately begun shaking his head in denial.
"You've got to be mistaken," he said. "Felix has been



troublesome in the past, but doing something like that isn't in him."
Lathrop shrugged mildly.
"I'm telling you what happened. You don't want the rest, fine."
Quiros studied him a moment, then gave out a long exhalation.
"Let's hear it," he said.
Lathrop hadn't expected any other answer.
"Since you started running with the top dog in South America, word from my sources is Felix has been acting like he's untouchable," he resumed. "When he got tipped off about the product that was being muled over, it hyped him up to where he couldn't resist pissing in the Salazars' front yard to mark territory."
"What are you saying? That knowing I'd be opposed to an action that rash, Felix went ahead and moved without my consent?"
Lathrop nodded. "So you wouldn't interfere."
Quiros was still trying to push off acceptance. "Felix is impulsive and sometimes acts in ways that aren't very smart, but he has enough sense to realize I'd find out about the theft. And I won't question his loyalty. If you're suggesting he didn't tell me because he means to keep the profits to himself—"
"You didn't hear me say that, Enrique. Maybe he figures to make a quick turnover on the product, impress you with a surprise jackpot. All I know is, he did this thing. I don't know why he did it. And I'm not here to speculate on his motives or put myself in the middle of your family business."
Quiros was frowning unhappily.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

"Okay." He produced a sigh that was even longer than the first. "What else can you give me?"
Lathrop prepared to cinch his knot of deception.
"Like I said before, Felix made a mess at the scene of the rip-off, but from what I hear, one of the Salazars' men lived long enough afterward to tell who was responsible," he said. The lie sounded good as it left his mouth. "Lucio holds you personally to blame. He can't see Felix having the cajones to go ahead with something this heavy without you ordering it or at least giving it your blessing."
Visibly agitated, Quiros didn't say a word for perhaps a full minute. The fingers of both his hands were outspread on the desk in front of him, arched as if he were pounding chords on a piano, pressing down hard enough to make them white around the nails.
Lathrop waited. He was sure now that Enrique had bought his story, and could practically visualize the question forming in his mind. The trick was not to show he saw it coming.
"I'd like to find out how Felix learned about the shipment," Enrique said at length. Clearly, he understood that there would be dire repercussions if Salazar was truly convinced the hijack had been done with his authorization and if he didn't move quickly to correct that impression. "Do you have anything on that?"
Lathrop shook his head no. Convincingly. And thought about the meet he'd set with Felix to ensure Enrique never found out.
"You want me to do the research?" he said.
"It would be helpful." Quiros abruptly checked his watch again and straightened. "We'd better put a wrap on this. I have to be going."



Lathrop's head tilted back a little, the hinges of his jaw relaxing, his lips parting as if to taste the air. Upset as Enrique had been a second ago, he'd managed to compose himself—outwardly anyway—and Lathrop gave him credit for that. But the way he'd almost jumped from his seat when he looked at his watch seemed very peculiar. If the appointment he'd remembered was pressing enough to cut their business short, given the significance of what they'd been talking about ... well, it would have to be pretty important itself, wouldn't it?
Damn important, in fact.
Careful not to appear the least bit curious, Lathrop stood, told Quiros he'd be in touch, then turned and walked past the two bodyguards in the conference area and left the office.
He was eager to find out what was in the wind.




had been his nature to look at the dark side of things. Probably, he'd been born with that disposition ... an "insufferable gloom," wasn't that the phrase in the Poe story? Always, always, he'd been compelled to poke around under the rug or lift up the rock and see whether some secret nastiness might be exposed underneath.
As he moved between the joggers and strollers on the path leading around the carousel in Balboa Park, Lathrop remembered reading somewhere—in his downtime he would go through stacks of books, gobbling them the way some people did potato chips—that in French, carrousel   meant "tournament," while the Italian word ca- rosello translated to "little war," giving origin to the English carousel when one of the later crusading armies, composed of knights and mercenaries from throughout Europe, went marching off to relieve their boredom through a healthy dose of bloodshed and noticed that


Ottoman Turk and Arab cavalrymen would practice their lancemanship by charging toward a tree on horseback and trying to jab the weapon's tip through a ring hung from a branch. When the industrious European warriors brought the idea back home—those who hadn't been slaughtered because they were too wasted from drinking and debauchery to put up any kind of fight—the tree became a rotating pole, and the real horses became wooden mounts that got cranked around by a chain-and- mule contraption, but the purpose of the whole rigmarole was still a martial exercise.
So the merry-go-round had started out as a drill for impaling your enemy with lethal accuracy, and Lathrop had known it since he was writing book reports in grade school. Other kids would reach for the brass ring to win a free ride; he'd imagined somebody sticking it to his tender young gut if he didn't make the grab. It was the same with everything. When other kids saw their pet kitties flip their rubber squeak toys up and over their   heads with their paws, they thought Puss, Tabby, or Spooky was just the smartest and the cutest, a regular cat-baseball major leaguer. Lathrop, meanwhile, went and got a book from the library and discovered that the up-and-over move was an aspect of the hunter-killer instinct, how felines in the wild tossed fish out of a stream prior to making them a dinner course.
The lesson in this for Lathrop was that whenever you played, you had to know you were playing for keeps ... which, on second thought, had definitely been learned for the better, since minus that invaluable insight, he would not have come away from Operations META and Impunity with all his vital organs in their proper relative positions.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Ah, the glory days of a hot-shit deep-cover op.
Now Lathrop slowed to a halt at the edge of the path. He had a good view of the carousel from where he stood and didn't need to get any closer. It was old-fashioned, dating back maybe a century, with a band organ, several rows of antique carved animals, and gondolas on the outside of the platform. Though this was a weekday, the warm, sunny weather had brought visitors to the park in droves, and the ride was filled.
Lathrop bent as if to tie his shoelaces and gazed covertly at the spinning platform through the lightweight, black-framed eyeglasses he'd donned in his car. An instant later, he pushed a tiny knob at the hinge of their left stem with his fingertip, and a rectangular augmented reality panel appeared on that side. Seeming to hover about two feet in front of him, the AR display was in fact being projected onto the upper half of the plain plastic lens by the microelectromechanical, or MEMS, optical systems embedded in the frame of the glasses.
A twist of the control knob focused the image reflector/magnifiers in the lens and smoothed the display's borders.
"Profiler," Lathrop whispered into the pickup mike clipped to his collar.
On his vocal command, an audio link through a slender cable running down under his windbreaker to his hidden wearable computer—the same device he'd had on his belt the night of the tunnel ambush—launched a bootleg version of the UpLink International face-finding application sold to him by Enrique Quiros. Talk about an intriguing turn of the wheel.
Lathrop waited as the software loaded. To conserve memory, he'd installed a minimized version that con98


tained a search index of ten thousand terrorists, criminals, and their known associates and would show the twenty closest matches in the AR panel. The program's full-option setup on his desktop computer would have let him scan many times that number, and Lathrop knew he could have accessed its database resources over his wireless network connection. But that was a time- consuming distraction in the field, and the pinhole dig- icam in the bridge of his glasses would capture an image of his subject that he could review at his convenience.
He continued to watch the carousel's jumpers slide up and down on their poles as it went around to the cycling pipe music. Most of the younger kids were belted onto the menagerie animals that made up the inner rows: spotted pigs, smiling fairy tale frogs, and brightly colored birds with long, arched necks that might have been fanciful cranes or ostriches. On the tall king's horses behind the gondolas were their older brothers and sisters, some with their parents standing alongside the saddles to steady them. A group of whooping, overly giddy teens that Lathrop nailed as stoned on pot occupied the remaining painted ponies.
None of them was his concern.
Estimating he had about a minute to fiddle with his sneakers without attracting attention, Lathrop concentrated on the twosome sitting like sweethearts in a gondola at the perimeter. Except, he thought, this was no such snuggly interlude.
The man was Enrique Quiros. Lathrop didn't recognize the blonde looker riding with him, but he'd been on enough tails in his day to read their body language and was positive that whatever was going on here was strictly business.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

This afternoon was proving to be much more interesting than he could have anticipated.  
After leaving Quiros's Golden Triangle front in La Jolla, Lathrop had pulled his Volvo out of the hourly garage around the corner, swung back toward the office building, and double-parked about halfway down the street, where he'd gotten a good view of its front entrance. That was the only way in or out besides the loading and emergency doors, and Enrique wouldn't have seen any reason to leave through them.
Five minutes later, Quiros emerged alone onto the busy sidewalk, turned in the opposite direction from Lathrop, and walked a block to yet another of the neighborhood's ubiquitous indoor garages.
Lathrop followed, stopped near the garage, and watched some more. It wasn't long before Quiros came driving out in a custom Porsche Carrera 911, the vehicle of choice for ostentatious, drug-dealing slime crawlers. Probably he'd called ahead for the attendant to have it ready.
Lathrop allowed Quiros to get about two car lengths ahead of him and then angled his Volvo into the flow of traffic. The 911 made a left onto A Street and headed north on Twelfth Avenue, following the road to where it became Park Boulevard, moving along toward Balboa Park at a moderate speed. At the intersection beyond the overpass, Quiros waited at a red light, took a left on the green, drove a short distance, and then turned right into the macadam parking lot back of the Spanish Village Art Center.
There were plenty of available spaces, and Lathrop swung in five or six slots down the aisle from Quiros, between a Ford Excursion that could have carted around



the entire Osmond clan and an only slightly less house-y minivan. As he'd watched Quiros step out of the 911 and walk north, away from the art center toward the carousel and zoo entrance, he got his jogging clothes out of the gym bag on the passenger seat and changed into them, stuffing the sport jacket, dress slacks, and cordovans he'd shed into the bag.
The concealment offered by his tinted windows and the large, unoccupied vehicles on either side convinced Lathrop nobody would be able to peek in on him, but he doubted it would have raised an eyebrow even if that were the case. Guys did stranger things in their cars. And all he'd have looked like to some busybody who might notice was a working stiff who'd sneaked away from his desk to play hooky in the springlike weather.
Keeping Quiros in sight, Lathrop brushed back his hair and put on the Nike baseball cap resting on his dash. His first law of disguise, a baseball cap was the perfect standby, as long you didn't wear one with a team logo that might stick in anyone's memory. Costume beards, wigs, facial prosthetics, and other materials of that sort were great tricks of the trade, but preparation was needed to use them effectively, and Lathrop had been working on the hoof.  
He added the AR glasses last, plugging them into the hidden microcomputer belted around his waist.
Within minutes after Quiros left his car, Lathrop made his own exit and trailed behind him to the carousel, where the slinky blonde had been waiting for Enrique near the ticket line.
Now he watched them circle around and around, talking rapidly, as if trying to cram in whatever had to be said before the five-minute ride came to a finish. Lathrop


Tom  Clancy's Power Plays

was hoping he'd be able to piece together their conversation on playback using the speech-reading component of his desktop software, which employed context- sensitive logic to fill in sequential blank spots when their faces spun away from his digicam lens or the carousel's movement blurred the video input, also compensating to some extent for the cross talk that occurred during ordinary verbal exchanges.
As the carousel whirled on, the Profiler floated a dozen possible hits, overlaying the bottom of the mug shots with their known or assumed names, ages, nationalities, and a requisite listing of offenses.
Lathrop was mildly disappointed. He'd have liked to ID the blonde on-site, but it was clear she wasn't any of the criminal candidates that had popped into his display. Still, he was charmed to have stumbled onto this little tryst and had plenty of recorded conversation to study later.
He straightened, figuring he'd bent over his shoelace long enough. Also, the ride was grinding to a halt, and he was concerned Enrique would start in his direction after getting off. The guy might not suspect he was being shadowed, but neither was he an oblivious fool.
Lathrop was about to move on down the path when he noticed something that caused him to risk staying put another few seconds. As the gondola spun past on one of its final slow revolutions, Blondie abruptly opened her purse, brought out a smallish object, and gave it to Enrique. A box, dark and shiny, the kind Lathrop imagined they'd carry in those exclusive Rodeo Drive jewelry stores.
He watched with sharp curiosity. The quick handoff squelched any second thoughts that might have occurred



to him about this being a lovers' outing. It didn't even seem especially amicable. There were no smiles. No meeting of the lips, chaste pecks on the cheeks, or air kisses. Moreover, Enrique looked reluctant to accept the box, almost nervous, stuffing it into the pocket of his sport jacket like it was red hot to the touch.
Lathrop's chin tilted upward. His lips parted and curled. He drew in a breath. That transaction was it. Right there. The reason for the meet. And he'd captured the cherished moment on his wearable's flash memory card.
Or had he?
Excited, Lathrop indulged his urge to confirm it.
"Exit Profiler, run video," he said into his mike, watching the gondola pull away from him.
Another two voice commands, and the scene was replayed on his eyeglass display.
A thrill shot from his spine into his arms and fingertips. Beautiful. And to think a few seconds ago, he'd felt let down.
He supposed he could have hung around some more, drifted among the crowd until he'd observed where Qui- ros and his lady companion headed once they left the ride. But experience told him it was time to fold. And he was sure they'd be going their separate ways, at any rate.
Enrique had gotten what he came for. As had Lathrop himself.
Thinking he couldn't be happier with his afternoon's work, Lathrop turned from the carousel and took the walkway back toward the parking lot.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

"Three Dog Night. Jefferson Airplane. The Troggs," Ricci read aloud, leaning over the selection tabs on the big vintage jukebox in Nimec's poolroom. "Got to admit, Pete, you're—"
"A wild thing?" Nimec snapped his fingers.
"Groovy," Ricci said.
Nimec grinned.
"That's the same model juke that was in the hall where I spent the whole summer of '68 with my father. A Wurlitzer 2600." He patted the machine's fake wood- grain side panel. "Same songs, too. Three selections for a quarter, ten for fifty cents."
Ricci looked at him.
"Must've been some year."
"We were on a streak, and flush for a change. Couldn't miss the sweet spot on a cue ball for anything," he said. "I don't think it would've mattered if we'd been trussed and blindfolded, which is how I bet some of the mugs considered dealing with us before they paid up. These were some hard, tough sons of bitches, let me tell you."
"How come they behaved?"
"My old man was harder and tougher."
Ricci nodded.
Nimec went around the soda bar. It was white with a red Coca-Cola bottle-cap design on the base, chrome trim along the counter's edge, and a half-dozen white stools. Everything looked a little grubby. The chrome finish was scratched and dulled in places. There were cigarette burns on the countertop. Some crumbled and yellowed padding was pushing through a tear in the leatherette cushion of one of the stools.
"How about something to drink?" Nimec said from



i behind the pump. "The cola's got the right proportions Jof syrup and fizz. And I have frosty mugs. Or there's jbeer, if you want."
Ricci sat on one of the stools, inhaled air thick with the odor of stale cigarettes and cheap cologne.
"Better make it soda," he said. "I start out hugging a drink, three hours later I wind up wrestling with one. Like that Bible story, when Christ wrestles with Satan (in the desert."   ?    Nimec looked at him.  I     "Except," he said, "Jesus, you're not."
Ricci gave a vague impression of amusement. "The truth shall set you free," he said. Nimec poured two colas from the fountain, puffs of condensation dispersing from the ice-cold mugs as he .filled them and then handed one to Ricci across the countertop.
They drank in silence. Then Ricci lowered the mug from his lips with an ahhh of appreciation.
"Good," he said. "Not too fizzy, not too syrupy." Nimec smiled.
Still holding the mug by the handle, Ricci made a scratch in the thin rime of ice on its outer curvature with his thumbnail.
"You going to tell me why I was invited here?" Nimec gave him a nod. "Your RDT proposal's been rubber-stamped on a trial basis," he said. "I figured you'd be pleased. And I wanted to give you my congratulations in person rather than over the phone." Ricci sat there looking at him for a long moment. "Thanks, Pete," he said. "And not just for the well wishes." Nimec shook his head. "I don't deserve any credit for


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

this. The idea was yours. You're the one who sold Gord on it. Sold everybody on it. Some of us just took longer than others to realize they'd been persuaded."
"And maybe wouldn't have at all if you didn't push."
Nimec shrugged and said nothing.
"The ragin' Cajun among the enlightened?" Ricci asked after a moment.
"To be honest, he's not gung ho. But he's willing to suspend his opposition and give things a fair chance."
"Didn't think fairness was one of his capacities."
Nimec put down his mug and leaned slightly forward over the counter.
"About Thibodeau," he said. "He's a little headstrong, maybe going through some difficult personal times, I don't know. But he's also a good man, stand up to the bone."
"Your comment on the Pomona about the circumstances that got him shot was a low blow. He may have deserved it from you at the time, and I'm not going to be critical. But between us, his actions in Brazil weren't careless or foolhardy. They were heroic, expedient, and they saved a lot of lives, very nearly at the cost of his own. I would hope you could acknowledge it."
Ricci was briefly quiet.
"Say I do," he said. "Say I even respect him for it. You asking me to admit that to anyone but you?"
Nimec shook his head.
"I know when I'm already running ahead," he said.
They sat drinking their Cokes in the deliberate shabbiness  of a pool parlor generated from thirty-five-year- old memories and impressions
"So when can I start putting together the new sec106


tion?" Ricci said after a while. "Soliciting volunteers for tryouts, that sort of thing?"
Nimec glanced at his watch.
"It's three o'clock on the button," he said. "You okay with about five after?"
Ricci gave him the barest smile and lifted his soda to his lips. The frost on the mug had now melted to leave behind glistening beads of moisture.
"Bottoms up," he said.

On the books, Felix Quiros earned his bread from the family-owned automobile salvage business he managed on the outskirts of San Diego. But his veal was in the money he made shipping various hot American vehicles to countries throughout the world via Mexico.
Sometimes in broad daylight, mostly at night, these were driven into the fourteen-acre yard directly from the streets and garages where they were stolen. The spiffiest models would be rolled into long aluminum vans that would cart them across the border at illegal transit   points. The less-desired vehicles were dismantled for parts in Felix's chop shop.
As he gazed down between stacks of crushed automobile bodies in the dark of this chill, moonless November night, Lathrop could see a shadowy line of maybe five or six cars pass through the chicken-wire fence across the yard toward where the metal vans waited with their extended ramps. A couple of others were moving along a different gravel path toward the lifters, conveyers, and compactors in the recycling and .demolition area.
It was almost like watching them roll into an automatic car wash, he thought. Neat.


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"So, when I gonna find out why you got me here rattling my stones, instead of us meeting inside where it be nice and warm?" Felix said, standing there with Lath- rop amid the rows of gutted and flattened vehicles. He hugged himself for warmth, rubbing his hands briskly over his shoulders. "What the fuck's this about?"
"Privacy," Lathrop said.
Felix tipped his head toward the trailer at the far end of the scrapyard.
"That right over there is my private office, com- prende?"
Lathrop looked at him.
"You have a fresh mouth, sonny. Ought to consider finishing school," he said. "It did wonders for Enrique. Who's the reason I'm here."
Felix made an unsatisfactory attempt at minimizing how much that piqued his interest.
"Ain't got to be disrespectful. All I'm saying, we both gentlemen, ought to give ourselves our props," he said. "And what's up with my uncle, anyway?"
"Main thing far as you're concerned is I met with him today, and he happened to mention that he's upset about you moving on Salazar without his nod."
Felix struck a posture of bluff rejection lifted straight from some MTV hip-hop video, head pulled back, chest thrust forward.
"How'd he find out I got anything to do with that?" he asked. "And why he want to talk to you about it?"
Lathrop released a deep breath.
"Okay, time to cut the wiseass bullshit," he said. "You didn't hear me say our meeting was about you. Enrique made a comment, and I figured you might want to know what it was. Far as who clued him it's you did the hijack,



I don't have the foggiest idea. Maybe you opened that big show-off's mouth of yours to somebody with an even bigger one."
Felix shook his head rapidly.
"No way, no way," he said. "Besides, if Enrique's in a burn about this, how come you didn't put in a good word? You the man told me when Salazar's shipment was coming. You the man told me Enrique wouldn't have faith I could do the job. Told me to keep it under the fucking table till after the product's turned over, split the earnings with him afterward, finally get him to recognize   me. You the man, Lathrop."
"Doesn't mean I'm your guru. Or your lawyer. It's not my place to jump into the middle of a family tiff. I gave you my best advice before, figured I'd give it now. No extra charge. Go talk to Enrique. Tell him the truth, be clear you weren't intending to hold out on him. Just omit the fact it was me who put you onto the shipment."
Felix tossed his head and did a kind of petulant shuffle, kicking the toe of his shoe into the dirt.
"Omit, right," he muttered. "How I know it wasn't   you gave me up to my uncle?"
Lathrop expelled another long breath, glanced quickly around to be sure nobody was lurking amid the walls of the junk-metal canyon into which he'd lured Enrique, wanting to avoid making a mess of the punk's trailer. A mess that would have to be scrubbed and sanitized before he could be on his way.
"I warned you about talking nasty," he said. "You should have listened."
Felix suddenly became still. Swallowed. His expression showing an awareness that he really had opened his mouth too wide this time.


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"What's that supposed to mean, man?" he said.
The silenced Clock nine appeared in Lathrop's hand as if he'd snatched it out of nowhere.
"Means you're gone, Felix," Lathrop said. "Gonzo alonzo."
He brought up the pistol and squeezed the trigger   twice, putting two slugs into the precise center of Felix's forehead before he knew what hit him.
Cleanup here was easy. Lathrop put on his gloves and disposed of the body in one of the junked cars down the aisle with a rusty but undamaged trunk lid, stuffing it inside the trunk, pushing the lid shut, even getting it to latch.
Then he went back to toss some dirt over the blood and skull fragments.
Lathrop wasn't looking to be overly thorough concealing the kid's remains. It really didn't matter whether Felix was discovered by some Quiros stooge or eaten by foraging rodents. Just as long as nobody could pin anything on him.
Ten minutes later, he slipped out of the salvage yard unnoticed, anxious to get back home. Tired as he was, he meant to take a closer look at the videos he'd taken of Uncle Enrique and Blondie on the carousel.
Not to mention that his cats needed feeding and a little tender loving care before he fell into bed, the three of them having been left alone since very early that morning.




1^    margaret rene doucette lived alone in a
A    three-story ancestral townhouse in the heart of New Or-
4    leans, attended by her servant of long years, an aging
If    Creole woman named Elissa, who occupied the detached
s    slave quarters out back. Engaged by Margaret Rene's
§    parents when she, their only child, was just nine or ten,
•    Elissa had stayed on as caretaker of the house after it     was willed to Margaret Rene as part of a large inheri•?    Cance
upon their sudden, untimely deaths.
§    At the time of the automobile collision that killed
P    them in 1990, Margaret Rene was thirty-two years old,
I    recently married to a financial consultant with a carriage
if    trade  brokerage   firm,   and  three  months  expectant.
'Jj    Though she and her husband had purchased a new riv$    erside
home in Jefferson Parish, they decided to put that
|;    property up for sale and move into the Vieus Carre res|    idence.

•    Despite her grief, Margaret Rene had found solace
|    knowing the family she planned to raise would be em

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bosomed in a place so full of sentimental attachments for her, where the spirits of her forebears seemed still to inhabit the high-ceilinged bedrooms and parlors, the graceful interior courtyard with its terra-cotta tiling and bowers of lush, tropical greenery, imbuing them with a healing and supportive warmth.
Since those days, a decade gone now, the hope of renewal that eased Margaret Rene's sorrow had been peeled away from her like bloody strips of skin under a torturer's flaying knife.
Her son—christened Jean David, after her father—   had seemed a normal, if colicky, infant for the first six months of his life. But ominous signs of problems far worse than simple cramping had soon manifested. He'd had difficulty swallowing, and his food often would not stay down. There would be unpredictable spikes and dips of body temperature that could not be associated with common pediatric illnesses. When he was ten months old, Margaret Rene noticed an odd jerkiness to his movements and a gradual loss of previously acquired physical skills. His balance would fail even when he was holding the bars of his crib, and he would be unable to sit straight in a high chair. Playthings would drop from his straining grasp, his fingers sometimes clenching around his thumb as in a newborn—a fist that would lock tightly shut, the fingernails digging into his palm until it bruised, and on one occasion bled profusely.
In precautionary tones, the child's doctors had recommended a blood sample be taken and sent to a laboratory specializing in the detection of lysosomal disorders, a term unfamiliar to Margaret Rene and her husband until then, broadly explained to characterize a range of defects in a type of cellular membrane. When



clinicians at the lab noticed an almost total deficiency of galactosylceramide B, a bodily enzyme vital to the development of the brain and nervous system, they hastily forwarded the specimen to yet another medical facility in Philadelphia for further testing. More frightening, alien terms such as leukodystrophy and DNA mutation   and myelin sheath were mentioned to the parents during this tensely wailful period. As Margaret Rene struggled to understand them, she had often felt as if she were listening to the indecipherable chants of the voodoo priests who had been said to wander the narrow streets of the Quarter in her girlhood.
The final diagnosis was devastating. Jean David was found to have globoid cell leukodystrophy, or Krabbe's disease, a rare genetic disorder transmitted by a pair of carrier parents. The enzymic compound surrounding his nerve fibers was decayed, like insulation that had been eaten away from electrical wiring, causing the nerves themselves to degenerate and die. While the disease's symptoms could be managed and possibly slowed, there was no cure, no stopping or reversing its progression. It was terminal in virtually all infantile cases. Only the length of its course was uncertain.
For Jean David, the slippage was rapid. As his first birthday approached—a joyous occasion for the parents of healthy children—the breakdown of his motor system led to paralysis and near blindness. There were bed sores that went to the bone. He would burn with fevers for days, growing weaker with each prolonged episode. He soon lost the ability to take solid foods and had to be nourished through entubation.
As the pressures of coping with Jean David's steady decline had escalated in her, Margaret Rene had tried


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reaching out to her husband for support, but his private suffering had plunged him into his own downhill slide. He became uncommunicative and began drinking heavily. Problems at the office led to his having to accept a forced sabbatical. He would rise from bed in the middle of the night, leaving the house without notice, his mysterious departures lasting from a few minutes to several hours. At times he was gone until well after daybreak. When he arrived home after the first such absence, he'd claimed to have taken a long drive to clear his head. Later on, he would not bother with explanations.
Margaret Rene supposed his affairs should have been obvious to her, but all her thoughts had been turned toward her waning son. Everything else had seemed peripheral to giving him whatever comfort she could.
Finally Jean David developed a severe case of pneumonia from which he was not expected to recover. By then, Margaret Rene's anguished prayers at his crib side were no longer for a miracle to spare him but for God to put an end to his ordeal, to grant him a compassionate surcease.
Her pleas went unanswered. Jean David lingered for weeks.
He was just sixteen months old when he passed away.
Margaret Rene's marriage survived him by less than a year.
Was it possible to feel guilt over a flaw in one's own biology? For that guilt to be transferred to the person with whom you, by chance combination, produced a doomed, tormented offspring? Margaret Rene did not know how else to explain the resentment and seeming aversion her husband developed toward her. In bed his back would be turned. He had refused to seek marital



counseling, and in the heat of an argument confessed to having met another woman. He was in love with her, he said. He wanted a fresh start, he said. A divorce, he said.
And then he had left her.
This was ten years ago.
A decade, gone, since Margaret Rene had retreated into solitude. Still vigorous at seventy, Elissa maintained an atmosphere of old-world elegance, seeing that the expensive silk upholstery and antimacassars on the chairs and sofa were neatened and mended, the antique rosewood furniture polished to a rich gloss, the crystal chandeliers, ivory statuettes, and antique china bricabrac regularly dusted. When required, professional help was called for servicing and repairs. But for Margaret Rene, the townhouse had become a cold, somber fortress. After returning from her son's funeral ceremony, she had placed the urn containing his cremated remains on the fireplace mantle in the grand salon, then draped the gilt framed mirror above it with a heavy cloth, not wishing to see her pain reflected; there at her insistence it hung 'to the present. And these days, the oil portraits of ancestors that had once given her consolation seemed to gaze severely down from their places on the walls as she wandered the silent rooms and hallways, thinking of poisoned hope, of love turned to ashes.
On rare occasion, Margaret Rene would step onto the balcony overlooking Royal Street and lean over the wrought-iron rail to watch the residents of the city pass below, imagining their conversations, trying to guess which ones had been seared by life's bitter lessons and which had yet to learn them. But otherwise she rarely went outside, leaving Elissa to order the groceries and take care of her various needs.


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Margaret Rene did not, however, consider herself to be uninvolved with the world. Her parents had entrusted her with guardianship of their financial wealth, amassed over generations, and the inheritance had to be monitored and protected. She remained in intermittent contact with lawyers, estate managers, investment counselors, and a select handful of others. Old money came with old secrets, some quite dark. Margaret Rene had always understood this, as had her parents and their parents. Throughout the years, she had met men who could arrange certain things, perform certain services, discharge certain requests that people of common extraction might deem illicit or forbidden. Facilitators, her father had called them. Their names were neither spoken in public nor ever forgotten, and Margaret Rene had been mindful of keeping her ties with them ... one such individual in particular.
Shunning direct personal interaction, ill at ease on the telephone, she had purchased a desktop computer and, quickly becoming proficient with it, would routinely attend to her correspondences over the Internet. Late at night, she would sit at her desk reading and responding to E-mail. And when she had finished with this, Margaret Rene would remain on-line to engage in another increasingly consuming pursuit.
With her browser she had located and assembled an extensive directory of Web sites relating to human genetic diseases, most of them with hyperlinks to associated resources, many providing message boards and E-mail addresses through which the families of the afflicted could network to share information and advice based on their personal experiences.
A curious, unrevealed visitor prowling the boards,




Margaret Rene would crawl down the lists of postings about care options and treatments, about experimental therapies, about advances in genome research that might someday lead to cures. And as she pored over them, reading one message after another, deluged with their preponderant optimism, a bitter juice would rise into her mouth.
And she would think of her own poisoned hope.
Of her love turned to ashes.
And with what she told herself was sympathy and goodwill, Margaret Rene decided to break her silence and send E-mails of her own to those she felt had been betrayed by false encouragements.
Realizing her motives might be misinterpreted, might even elicit feelings of enmity, she established an account with an encryption remailer that would deliver her messages anonymously, stripped of any data their recipients could use to respond to them or trace her identity.
To the mother of an infant daughter with GCL about to begin treatment with an experimental drug, she wrote,   Kill the child now. She will never improve.
To the parents of a young adult with a related neurological disorder seeking donors for a bone marrow transplant purported to stay the progress of his disease:   The surgery will be futile. Spare yourself unnecessary pain and be resigned to your inevitable fate.
To the parents of a child in the advanced stages of still another leukodystrophy: Prepare for what comes after the end. You have seen the awful fruit of your passion, and it will drive a wedge of revulsion between you. Dissolve your marriage amicably before the faith is breached.
To a doctor offering palliative advice: Your lies are


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transparent. You are a filthy vampire who seeks to capitalize on the suffering of others.  
At first the E-mailings had been a periodic activity, reserved for those unsettled nights when memories would churn inside her and rest would not come. But in recent months Margaret Rene had grown increasingly preoccupied with them. Heedless of the clock, she would write her notes into the emergent dawn with an absorption that was nearly trancelike. It was not until the light of full morning came streaming through her lace curtains and over the evantails latanlers near the window behind her, the palmetto leaves stenciling fan-shaped patterns of shadow across the room, that she would at last go to bed. Having found she needed less and less sleep as time passed, she would awaken shortly before noon and eat the light breakfast Elissa prepared, anticipation building in her breast as she began thinking about her next session at the computer.
When darkness arrived, Margaret Rene's consistent practice was to first check her unfiltered E-mail application for messages relating to financial affairs, hastily reply if necessary, then switch to her anonymous account and type out the dispatches of compassion she had mentally composed during the day.
Until tonight.
What happened tonight had changed everything.
Margaret Rene sat staring at her computer display now, openmouthed. Just minutes ago she had completed her usual log-on to the proxy server and noticed that a ciphertext E-mail had arrived. Instantly her eyes had widened. She had provided only a single person with the digital key code that would allow him to send a message to her via the anonymous account. A facilitator of



matchless capabilities, with whom both her father and her former husband had dealings.
Her hands shaking with excitement, she'd typed in her decryption key.
The E-mail simply read:


Margaret Rene's pulse quickened. Perhaps a year before, in a private chat room over an encrypted link, the originator of the current message had posed a question to which she'd replied with complete straightforwardness, although interpreting it as a mere hypothetical.
She could recall their exchange verbatim.
"What would you give to terminate all children with leukodystrophies while they were still in the womb?"
"I would give anything."
"And if it meant the death of the carrier parents?"
"That would be for the best."
"And if it meant your own death as well?"
"Better still."  
And that was the end of it. He had cut the virtual link, and Margaret Rene had heard absolutely nothing more from him for a considerable while. But his probing inquiry had kept drifting in and out of her mind. What had been the reason for it? As much as she'd wished for an explanation, she had known better than to ask for one, known he would inform her in his own time.
Months passed before stunning notification of the Sleeper Project had arrived in the form of an Email


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attachment. Reading it with a mixture of eagerness and incredulity, Margaret Rene had at last understood what he had been leading toward in his prior communication.
What he claimed to have achieved had seemed beyond imagining. Beyond yearning.
Margaret Rene was advised to await future word of the specific date and terms of the offering and refrain from any interim contact lest it become void. Somehow, she found the will to comply. And as days turned to weeks without another announcement, she had nearly convinced herself that his assertion of success had been premature. While he had never before failed to deliver to her family, she had wondered if perhaps this time he had overreached.
And then tonight...
Her thin face bathed in the ghostly radiance of the computer screen, her heart thumping in her chest, Margaret Rene felt as if she were poised on the threshold of a dream.
Yes, tonight, everything had finally changed.
•      •      •

The Arab mind is prone to express itself in a pragmatic and concrete way, and as Arif al-Ashar, the Sudanese minister of the interior, sat reading the Email attachment on his computer screen, his thoughts immediately took the shape of an unambiguous proverb: "In any vital activity, it is the path that matters."



His dilemma was that each of the paths before him gleamed with fabulous inducements, as if paved with sterling silver.
Where, then, to place his forward foot?
For decades his government in Khartoum had been engaged in civil war with rebels in the nation's south, their opposition fanned by Dinka tribesmen of black African origin who had resisted acceptance of shari'a, the strict Islamic code of law and conduct imposed after the revolution. Instead, the infidels clung to the barbaric spirit worship of their ancestors or the Christianity spread by missionaries in centuries past, calling for partial autonomy or complete separation, it all depended on which of their many factional groups one chose to heed, and when a particular group made its demands—for they seemed to change as often as the rebel leadership.
The situation had been a morass as far back as al- Ashar could remember. There was a period when the Dinkas had formed an alliance with the Nuer, a bordering tribe with whom they shared—and often feuded over—livestock grazing areas and water resources in the riverine plains around the White Nile. Taking strict measures to suppress the guerilla activities, Khartoum had deployed military land and air elements to the region, sealing it off to UN observers and representatives of the so-called humanitarian aid organizations that were plainly tools of the American CIA—Westerners who in their ignorance, presumptuousness, and mongrel weakness would have been quick to condemn a nation for exercising its right to preserve internal security and engage in a cultural cleansing that would bring about a politically unified and devoutly virtuous society.
Indeed, al-Ashar felt his government had shown the


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southerners greater leniency than was warranted by their anarchic conduct. Upon eradication of the villages that gave support to rebel garrisons, women, children, and the elderly were spared execution. Mercifully gathered from their crude thatch huts in what their people chose to term kashas, or roundups, they were sent to relocation camps in which ample attention was given to their welfare. Boys certain to be indoctrinated into rebel bands if left to hear the lies and distortions of family members sympathetic to their cause were transferred to separate facilities—the southern refugees who had fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Eritrea chose to call these abductions   or kidnaps—where they were given suitable Arabic names, taught the holy ways of Islam, and trained to be loyal members of the national militia upon reaching the age of conscription. Was this not generous? Did it not show commendable restraint?
In spite of Khartoum's efforts to impose order, the rebels persisted in their defiance, but a political dispute had flared between the Dinka and Nuer commanders and left their Sudan People's Liberation Army divided and weakened. Old tribal conflicts over land and water rights were revived, and soon the former confederates were firing Kalashnikovs at one another. Government forces capitalized upon this by moving into the breach and seizing enemy base towns where the opposition troops were in disarray. With drought and famine spreading across the countryside to further devitalize the rebellion, Sudan's lawful ruling establishment—the National Congress Party to which Arif al-Ashar belonged—had been encouraged that it might finally be subdued. Partly to silence international cries of outrage that had resulted from the propagandizing of Dinka refugees to gullible




representatives of the American and European media, airdrops of water, grain, and medicine had been allowed into the southern part of the country.
There was a second, tactically advantageous reason for the admission of relief shipments, however.
Also struck by drought, the Nuba Mountains in the north had presented a distinct problem for the government. Infiltrating their high notches and passes, SPLA bands had become entrenched in pocket strongholds near remote villages inhabited by Nubians, an indigenous people that had by and large refrained from participation in the civil war, sharing neither the southern tribes' desire for independence nor the Arabic population's devotion to Islam. In allowing food and other supplies to reach the plains, the government had gambled that the rebels in the Nuba range, who were low on provisions, would be lured from their hideaways in attempts to replenish their stockpiles. And while the Nubians presented no armed threat in themselves, their refusal to accept shari'a, and their racial kinship with the SPLA, made them an undesirable and potentially destabilizing presence. Khartoum's hope had been that they, too, would be coaxed from their villages into the relocation camps and government-held towns.
With attack helicopters and army raiding parties lending it impetus, the initiative had produced estimable results.
Then, as Allah would have it, another set of complications arose.
Over the past three years, a series of intertribal councils initiated by Dinka and Nuer elders had led the squabbling rebel factions toward reconciliation. Simultaneously, America and its UN allies had exerted in123

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creasing diplomatic pressure on Khartoum—directly as well as through Arab-African intermediaries—to allow relief drops into the Nubas and arbitrate a peace agreement with the southerners, backing their demands with the ever-present threat of trade sanctions. Sharing a long border with Sudan to the north, its commercial shipping and agricultural health dependent on the Nile waters flowing through both nations, Egypt in particular had no   great wish to see the southern Sudan split off into a non- Arab, potentially antagonistic sovereign state—but neither could it risk losing American economic and military support. Thus, it had encouraged a compromise settlement to the extended civil war.
Weary from decades of struggle and natural disaster, facing a resolidified insurgent movement that was liable to keep the fighting at an impasse, torn by rifts between religious conservatives and secular reformers in its own parliament, Khartoum had capitulated to mounting demands and entered into a peace dialogue with the rebels, the stated agenda of which was to grant the southern provinces an as-yet-unspecified level of self- determination.
Displeased with the government's acquiescence, Arif al-Ashar and a small group of his fellow conservatives had at that juncture committed to secretly hunting for a more palatable alternative. Arif al-Ashar himself had contacted a one-stop provider of black market arms, technology, and mission personnel with whom he'd had a long-standing affiliation—and the upshot was the message that had just appeared, then dissolved, on his computer display.
Now the question for al-Ashar remained: Which shining path to take?



Without official government approval, funds for his
venture would have to be secured through clandestine
: means, and there were limitations to what could be fun-
I neled from existing budgetary appropriations before the
• drain became noticeable. The wealthier members of al- Ashar's parliamentary cabal were certain to pledge ad:  ditional monies, but the product's high price tag was still ft restrictive, and hard choices needed to be made.
He clucked his tongue against his front teeth, watch;ing  the file attachment devour itself on his screen. A single disease trigger capable of leveling the Dinka and ; Nuer without causing a pandemic that would affect all sthe peoples of sub-Saharan Africa had to be keyed to a igene or gene string unique to those tribes, did it not?   I Yet even assuming an exchange of such genetic markers J~had occurred through racial ancestry and generations of living in close proximity to one another, intermarriage between tribal members was traditionally discouraged, and the number of individuals who shared a unique hereditary trait—and were likely to be susceptible—   would be fewer than al-Ashar wished. A minimum of ptwo triggers, obtained at a cost of a hundred million ^dollars, would therefore be necessary to ensure satisfac-
* tory results.
f But what if only one of the tribes—say, the Dinka—   i were targeted? Arif al-Ashar's brow creased in thought. kTTiat could prove to the best advantage. The infection | would still be sweeping in scale, decimating their pop- halation, while claiming significant casualties among I Nuer of mingled bloodlines. In the short term, this would  I  Mitigate the impact of a brokered treaty granting the SSouth full or partial independence, leaving the survivors fctoo ravaged by their losses to pose a foreseeable threat


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to the north. At the same time, Khartoum would have presented a moderate face to the world by having shown a willingness to reach a negotiated solution to the civil conflict. And as long as the triggers were available, dealing separately with the Nuer remained an option.
The third path al-Ashar saw before him seemed less appealing initially, but he would not dismiss it out of hand. Were the outbreak to occur among the Nubians, the Sudanese north would be purged of ethnic and cultural impurity to a highly acceptable degree. Foreign aid to the stricken mountain dwellers might be allowed to demonstrate the government's new charitability and to blunt criticisms of its supposed indifference to human rights. As talks with the south commenced, international mediators would be tacitly made to understand that a hard-line prosouthern stance could once again lead to a cutoff of access to relief providers. The humanitarian issue that the Westerners had been using as a political lever against Khartoum would become a mallet poised to swing down from above them.
His brow creased in thought under the white wrappings of his emma, al-Ashar reached for the cup of spiced tea called shai-saada that had been steeping beside his computer. Eyes closed, he inhaled the steam curling up from it before taking his first sip, savoring the feel of its moist warmth on his cheeks, the aroma of cloves and mint, the pleasurable tingle it left in his sinuses.
Safety was in caution, regret in haste, he mused. Time remained for him to confer with his brothers in the ministry and arrive at a decision.
For the moment, al-Ashar would relish his sense of wide-open possibility, of roads that glowed with their



own bright silvery light stretching out to even brighter f|  crossings yet unglimpsed.
Wherever it led him, the journey was going to be I memorable.




and would need to stay perhaps another two before the diamonds-for-weapons deal was concluded. In this part of the world, haggling was a recreational activity, and ordinarily simple arrangements took on needless and infinite complications. But there was a wealth of precious stones to be derived, and he always fulfilled an assignment to which he'd committed.
And he could not claim that he hadn't known what to expect.
Antoine Obeng was a thug, a rebel warlord who had secured an official government post through guileful manipulation after the fractures of civil war were weakly repaired. Now he was chief of police in the nation's capital, a title that validated his ego and legitimized the   power he relished above all else. But he continued his behind-the-scenes leadership of the outlaw militias that roamed the city at will and held the inestimably productive mines in the countryside by force of arms.


Much could be said for his endurance in a nation where political control changed hands often and violently, and death by assassination was the fate of most ; competing warlords.
Nonetheless, it was only the convenient location of
the top-end hotel and its exceptional services catering to
diplomatic and business travelers from abroad that had
curbed the visitor's annoyance over the inexhaustible
: convolutions of the bargaining.  
A man of rigorous discipline, he preferred sticking to a tight routine. Every morning since his arrival he had taken a swim in the indoor pool at six o'clock, a time when few others were outside their rooms and he stood the best chance of having it to himself. It was also the one time each day he felt at ease moving about without his personal guard, wanting an interval of solitude.
After taking the elevator up from his room to the twelfth-floor recreational area, he would put on his bathing trunks in the locker room between the gym and solarium, rinse off in the shower, then walk through the short connecting corridor to the glass-enclosed pool and do his laps for precisely an hour.
On the first day, a garrulous Dutch banker had intruded on his privacy and asked whether he cared to have breakfast in the hotel restaurant after finishing his "dip." Shunning interaction with strangers, he had tersely declined and ignored the man until he'd backed off.
In the three days since, he had found the pool empty and gone about his laps without disturbance.
Then, today, he had reached the locker room and again encountered undesired company.
Habitually alert, he whisked his eyes over the men inside. Both were fit and in their midthirties. One had


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blond hair, the other brown. They were wearing workout clothes and speaking American English to each other with the easy familiarity of close friends or associates. The blond-haired man had a somewhat tousled appearance and a light growth of beard. He was neatly hanging his street apparel in a locker. His companion sat removing items from his gym bag. A folded towel and sports bottle were on the bench next to him.
Superficially, they seemed of a type. Professionals on an overseas junket. Of no particular interest to him besides being trespassers upon what he had come to regard as his proprietary domain.
But he trusted the unconscious perception of environmental cues we call instinct. And something in the air told him to be careful.
As he stood inside the entryway, the men gave him mannerly nods. He noted them without response and went to the nearest free locker to the door, an ear attuned to their conversation.
"The taxis around here, Jesus, that ride from the airport gave me bruises where I sit. Plus he must have just missed getting us crunched at least twice," said the man with the twenty-four-hour stubble. He yawned. "Thought I'd never make it to the conference."
The one on the bench looked amused. "You should've listened to my advice, taken a metered cab. Their drivers have to be licensed. And they carry identity cards."
"Like that's going to do you any good. Or you really think the insurance companies pay off around here? Assuming they have insurance companies."
"Maybe not, but you'd know who to curse out for putting you in a body cast."
The bristle-cheeked man grinned and reached inside



the locker to adjust his trousers on the hook. The other's hand was returning to his bag.
Without letting another instant pass, the morning swimmer abruptly abandoned his locker and strode back out the door.
The pair in the room exchanged glances.
His hand coming out of the gym bag with a .22 N.A.A. Black Widow, the man on the bench sprang to his feet and slipped the five-shot minirevolver into the belly band under his sweatshirt.
The stubbled man simultaneously turned from his open locker, leaving its door flung wide. From his trouser  pocket he'd removed a holstered Beretta 950 BS semiautomatic, his own choice of a peekaboo gun. He stuffed the deep-concealment holster into the pocket of his loosely fitting workout pants.
Both trotted to the doorway, then slowed as they went into the hall and looked up and down its length.
Neither saw any sign of the swimmer.
They split off in opposite directions, each using restraint to keep from moving too quickly. If the swimmer had about-faced for a reason unconnected to their presence —as they hoped was the case—it would do no good to raise his suspicions now.
Reaching the bank of three elevators, the brown- haired man glanced at the floor indicators above their doors. The numbers over the first and last cars were dark. The second elevator in line was descending, the number eleven and Down arrow lit up. He pressed the call button to be certain that the stationary cars weren't sitting on his floor, the swimmer perhaps having ducked inside to wait out his pursuers, trick them into thinking


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

he'd taken the other car. Send them chasing it via the stairwell while he stayed put.
No such luck.
Both cars began to rise from the ground-floor entrance lobby, obviously unoccupied.
He returned his eyes to the indicator panel above the middle car.
The eight had flashed on.
Seven, six, five ...
The elevator stopped at the fourth floor and its indicator light blinked off.
He frowned, looked down the hall at his partner, shook his head.
"Shit," he muttered to himself.
The Wildcat had retreated to his den.

"I can't figure where we slipped up," the blond man was explaining over his handheld radio. "One minute he's walking through the door, heading toward a locker, then he just takes off. In and out..."
"Never mind," Tom Ricci said into his communications headset. He'd heard the locker room banter through installed surveillance mikes and thought the slipup was evident. You went incognito, you stuck with what you knew, kept your act simple. Instead, they'd gotten too clever for their own good.
There was an impermeable tunnel of silence over the radio. Then, "How do you want us to proceed?"
Ricci took a breath. Along with a couple of snoop techs named Gallagher and Thompson, he was across the street from the hotel, in an office hastily rented through a cutout and used as a spy post for the past several days.
"Stay at the hotel," he said. "You'll hear from me."



More silence. The blond man at the other end of the trunked connection understood what Ricci's order meant. He and his buddy were finished. Removed from the action, and soon to be cut loose from the fledgling RDT. Good night, take care, see you again sometime.
"Okay," he said, his regret and disappointment evident despite the digital scrambling process that robbed so much tonality from the human voice.
Ricci aborted contact and passed Thompson's headset back to him. He wasn't unsympathetic to the snatch team but neither were their hurt feelings of paramount concern to him. The bungled opportunity at the hotel meant things were about to get a lot more difficult for him and the rest of his task force.
They had maintained a constant watch on Le Chaut Sauvage—the Wildcat—almost from the moment the terrorist arrived in the country, acting on reliable word from a plant among Antoine Obeng's inner circle. In essence, their operational model was the Mossad's abduction of Adolf Eichmann from his safe haven in Argentina a half century ago: success achieved through simplicity of planning and execution. A small team watches the target's patterns of movement, subdues him when a clean opening is presented, rustles him out of the country.
No witnesses, no fuss, no muss.
There were, however, some major differences between the past and present scenarios. The Israeli agents had shadowed their target for months without interference from Argentinian officials, who had a decent political relationship with their government, were aware of their activities in the country, and had lent them a sort of passive endorsement. By contrast, Ricci's team had


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no such temperate climate in which to carry out a mission that had necessarily been planned on short notice. They were undermanned and underresourced. They were in a nation that was on the shakiest diplomatic terms with America and just recently had been taken off the State Department's list of designated terrorist sponsors. The capital's top cop was a crooked, venal son of a bitch who exercised his power in shameless cahoots with bands of khat-chewing thieves and looters. And, most significantly, the Wildcat was in the city at his direct invitation, enjoying the protective graces of the police and criminal militias that Obeng commanded with equal impunity.
It was a difficult and potentially ugly situation for Ricci and his men. If they got into a pinch, there would be no U.S. liaison—no one at all—to provide a bailout. They were entirely on their own string.
You asked for it, he thought, you got it.
Thompson had turned to him from the multiplex transmitter.
"What's next?" he said.
Ricci leaned back in his chair. The answer to that question depended on his assessment of what the Wildcat had or had not come to suspect and, moreover, what his degree of suspicion might be—which meant Ricci needed to slip into the skin of a mercenary killer and international fugitive. The scary part was that it came easily to him. So easily it had made him close to dysfunctional when he was working undercover with the Boston P.O. So easily he'd eventually requested a transfer out of the Special Investigations Unit on psychological grounds.
And here he was again. Back where he didn't want



to be. He could know his enemy, see the world through his eyes, walk in his shoes. Sure he could. It was a natural inclination that he distrusted for the lines it blurred, an effortless reach into the darkness within him.
If he were the Wildcat, what would he do?
Had the topic of conversation in the locker room been the weather or hotel food, had the two men inside been exchanging war stories about fatherhood, home repairs, deadlines, simple stuff, chances were that the Wildcat would have hardly paid attention to them, and they'd have been able to make their intended move on him as he got ready for his swim. But instead, they chose to gripe about the local taxi service, and that had seemed unconvincing even to Ricci. An American traveling to this country for a business conference, staying at an expensive, first-class hotel, was no small potato with whatever firm he represented. It was far more likely than not that a courtesy car would be waiting for him at the airline terminal. And that the driver engaged by his corporate hosts would treat him like royalty.
Okay, then. The two men's small talk had struck a false note, and their quarry had been sensitive to it. But not all hosts were equally hospitable. It wasn't inconceivable that they'd have taken cabs from the airport, and it wasn't as if they'd done anything that was a tangible and conclusive tip-off—revealing their firearms too soon, for instance. Would their clumsiness have been enough to make the Wildcat drop out of sight, abandon an immensely profitable deal that was well on the way toward finalization? Or would he instead opt to take extra precautions and accelerate the pace of his talks, clinch things before leaving the country?
Ricci stared at the ceiling and thought in silence a


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

while longer. He imagined the tactile sensation of holding the illicit diamonds in hand, their weight and smoothness, his fingers clenched tightly around the forbidden gems.
Then he sat forward, looked at Thompson and Gal- lagher.
"We're shifting to our fallback options," he said. "Let's have the intercept teams keep close tabs on the airport and other departure routes just in case. But five gets you ten our guy isn't going anywhere before he pays Obeng another visit."

Ricci's bet was on the money.
It was late afternoon when Le Chaut Sauvage appeared. Two of his bodyguards had preceded him out of the hotel, looking up and down the street, scouting for any indication of a threat. Then one of them made a discreet all-clear gesture with his hand, and the Wildcat emerged onto the sidewalk, another couple of guards trailing a few steps behind.
Minutes earlier, a line of five police vehicles had arrived at the entrance, two standard patrol cars followed by a diesel-fueled South African Lion 1, reinforced from frame to engine block with ballistic-andblast-resistant carbon fiber monocoque. After pulling the big, armored four-by-four up to the curb, several of its uniformed occupants had exited and leaned against its heavy flank with their arms folded imposingly across their chests.
The group from the hotel moved straight toward the Lion 1. One of the uniforms standing beside it opened the rear door, and the Wildcat climbed in back between the original pair of bodyguards to have left the hotel. The second two hovered beside the vehicle until his door



shut and then went to the lead police car and got into it.
:    Behind drawn shades in the office across the street, Ricci and his techs watched on an LCD panel as the motorcade pulled into the two-way avenue bisecting the downtown area and then rolled eastward, the pictures feeding from 180-degree trackable spy eyes suctioned to §{; the windowpane.
Ricci glanced at the city map on the wall above the |# monitoring station. East was toward police headquarters, I'Obeng's official seat of corruption, its location circled on the map with a red highlighter. His unofficial cradle f lay west of the downtown area. Ricci had penned the words "Gang Central Station" above the blue circle that I- marked its coordinates.
A vertical crease etched itself in the middle of his forehead. Something wasn't kosher about what he'd just observed. A few somethings. If the Wildcat believed he If might be under surveillance, why stroll out the front of |ihe hotel, head so openly to the cop station, make the "trip there surrounded by a goddamned cortege? <i     "Alert the strike team at Gang Central that company's i on its way," he abruptly said to Thompson.
Thompson spun around in his chair and looked at him. "Will do," he said, sounding confused. His eyes went   ;,to the wall map. "But—"
| "I can read that as well as you," Ricci said. "The |whole scene in front of the hotel was a dupe. Like a {'game of three-card monte. Soon as Wildcat reaches po- liice HQ, he's out the back door and into a different Ifvehicle." He paused, his mind racing. "We'll keep one   yff the tail cars on him. Let's have the others sit outside il'the cop station, make themselves just conspicuous


Tom  Clancy's  Power Plays

enough so our man feels comfortable he's outsmarted us," he said.
Comprehension dawned on Thompson's face. He nodded briskly and turned to the multiplexer.
Ricci chewed the inside of his mouth, still thinking hard, making sure he'd covered all his bases. Then he rose from his chair and grabbed the shoulder-bolstered FN Five-Seven pistol that was hung over the backrest.
"Have Simmons and Grille bring around the tac van," he said, and strapped on the holster. Basics first; he would finish gearing up en route. "I'm heading out to meet them."

Since before the civil war, Antoine Obeng had presided over his rackets from a five-story commercial frame building set back from the street on a low hill in one of the city's quieter outlying neighborhoods. A paved blacktop turnaround gave motor access to the main doors   and led to the entrance and exit ramps of its sunken parking garage. Descending behind it were three or four yards of terraced slope and manicured shrubbery, below which the neat plants yielded to a snarl of wild, thorny growth that went down another thirty feet to the bottom of the hillside and then extended outward into a small, flat, muddy barrens.
On the ground floor were two businesses that Obeng owned and controlled through tamely obedient surrogates: the main offices of a shipping/mailing company and a travel agency. These afforded the warlord with useful fronts for laundering a portion of his criminal earnings, distributing forged documents, and orchestrating a multiplicity of smuggling operations, a partial index of which included the transport of stolen luxury cars


- "$'&*

and antiquities, bootlegged music and video recordings, illegal weapons and narcotics, and the meat, hides, horns, and hooves of exotic animals killed by poachers in wilderness preserves all across central and western Africa.
Like everyone else in the city, the thirty or so employees of Obeng's front businesses were aware of his command of the militias and indeed could not have possibly failed to notice the regular comings and goings of his hoodlum lackeys. But only a few knowingly participated in his lawless undertakings or profited from them in any way. The majority of these men and women showed up each morning for an honest day's work, went home to their families at quitting time, and brought home modest paychecks at the end of the week.
They were what Tom Ricci had called "solid citizens" back when he'd carried a detective's tin.
They were also convenient human shields for Obeng.  
From Ricci's standpoint, this was not good.

As he sloshed through a foul-smelling drainage culvert in a near squat, his boots awash in brown sludge, his arms, legs, and ballistic helmet soiled with wet clots of grime that had peeled like fresh scabs off the curved, close-pressing top and sides of the channel, Ricci knew the worst things that could go wrong with his maneuver would be having innocent civilians taken hostage, injured, or, even more unthinkable to him, killed during its execution.
.;    Morally wrong, operationally wrong, politically wrong. Rollie Thibodeau had correctly pointed out aboard the Pomona that the mere presence of his RDT on foreign soil shredded several chapters of international


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

law. Without question, the course of action on which they were now embarked would trash the rest of the rule book.
But Ricci had come a long way to collar the Wildcat, stalked him with all the resources at his disposal, and he was not going to succeed by knocking on Obeng's front door and politely asking that his guest step into the waiting arms of justice.
Neither would he do so by shrinking from a calculated risk.
Given the best opportunity for a nab that was liable to present itself, Ricci damn well intended to exploit it. If he screwed up, he was ready to take the heat. And his darling admirer Megan Breen could flash her razzle- dazzle smile as she watched him swing in the wind like a gallows bird.
Ricci dismissed that unpleasant image from his mind.
He'd been twice on the money today, after all.
As expected, the Wildcat's ride to the police station had been a classic casino shuffle. Soon after arriving there, he left in different clothes than he'd worn out of the hotel—taking a side exit rather than the back door, the only detail not to meet Ricci's prediction to the letter   —and was then chauffeured off in the passenger seat of an unmarked sedan that pulled into the crosstown avenue's westbound lanes and clanked along seemingly on two cylinders, an authentic touch that allowed it to blend nicely with the crumpled matchboxes driven by the average motorist in this land of plenty.
Thirty minutes later, that car swung into the parking garage at Gang Central.
Ricci and his strike team had been ready and waiting in the swampy, weed-clogged field out back.



Now he crawled toward the building by way of the subterranean overflow channel beneath the hill, his helmet-mounted torch beam lancing sharply into the dimness. Like the men slogging along at his rear, he was |; clad in a mottled woodland camouflage stealth suit with protective knee and elbow pads and an ultrathin Zylon , bullet-resistant lining. Besides the Five-Seven in his side | holster, he was toting a compact version of UpLink's
• variable velocity rifle system—or VVRS—submachine gun, a second-generation variant that was half the size and weight of the original, that was manufactured with an integrated silencer, and that fired subsonic ammunition. The rotating hand guard, which manually adjusted the earlier model's barrel pressure from lethal to less- than-lethal, had been replaced by MEMS circuitry that did the job at the fast and easy touch of a button.
A snap-on attachment under the barrel resembled and was technologically related to a laser targeter, though it served a very different function. While Ricci disliked the way the device threw off his weapon's balance, its use
|| by the entire team was crucial to their objective. '    They had brought other equipment from the tac van as well, some of it defensive in nature.
Because he had taken point, Ricci held in his left hand a portable vapor detector that looked oddly similar to
'. > the super-eight movie cameras he remembered from distant childhood, and was presently scanning for environmental hazards that ranged from the toxic methane,
initrogen, and sulfurous gases of decaying sewage to
^chemical and biological weapons agents to the minutest
••airborne traces of the explosive ingredients of booby |?lraps. In the event its beeper alarm sounded, a backlit I LCD readout would specifically identify the threat, with


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

the beep tones increasing in rapidity as the instrument was brought closer to it. Should that threat prove to be chem/bio or the products of organic decomposition, each member of the strike team was ready to convert the carry bag strapped over his shoulder into an air-powered, filtered-breathing system at the pull of a zipper, worn as if it were a masked and hooded vest. Should a bomb be detected, they would hopefully steer clear of its triggering mechanism.
And there was still more equipment, some of it suppressive,  referred to as public order weapons by law enforcement personnel with a penchant for cooking up new euphemisms every fifteen seconds.
Call them what you wished, their fundamental purpose was to incapacitate their targets without causing serious injury.
Ricci's absolute intent, second only to bagging the Wildcat, was that no harm come to the innocent civilian workers in the building. This was foremost out of bounds. But he was also determined to avoid using deadly force on any of Obeng's rotten cops, and for that matter against Obeng himself, all of whom held nominal claim to being upstanding members of the population. Even the militiamen would not be permanently damaged, if possible, though Ricci was giving his ops some leeway in dealing with them, as it was unlikely their country's heads of state, eager to improve relations with America, would raise a commotion over the loss of a   few known malcontents whose looting and violent behavior threatened their own government's stability, and who they were consequently better off living without.
Cramped from kneeling, Ricci led the way through the narrow drainage duct for another ten minutes. Then



• his torch disclosed its circular mouth a few yards up
ahead. He moved forward and saw that it opened out
some three or four feet above the bottom of a cement;
walled tunnel with room enough for him and the others
to stand upright.
He raised a clenched fist to signal a pause, then glanced over his shoulder at Grillo. v   "Drop's maybe a yard," Ricci told him in a hushed | voice. "Everybody be careful. Looks to me like the tun- Sffnel's ankle deep in water. Not much of a flow, but it's | bound to be slippery."
Grillo nodded and passed the word to Lou Rosander, the man behind him, who in turn relayed it to the next ^in line.
Ricci inched over to the opening and sprang down. He landed with a splash. A layer of slime coated the floor under the stagnant water, but he had a good sense of balance and was aided by the corrugated rubber soles of his boots.
^    The rest of the team hopped from the pipe one at a I toe, all of them joining him in short order. They im- pinediately formed up in single file. .'•':,   Ricci looked around. The passage was almost cham- ; berlike measured against the constricted tube from which he'd jumped. Other tunnels of nearly equal width and height branched off from it in various directions. They had reached a major juncture of the system. Ricci did not need to consult his underground street tplan to know which of the diverging passages to take.   '•• He had committed the system layout to memory before |;'proceeding with his mission, just as he'd memorized the |tocation of the drainage pipe's outflow opening from the


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

high-res GIS data provided by Sword's satellite mapping unit.
With another crisp hand signal, Ricci turned toward the dark hole of the tunnel entrance to his immediate left and stepped into it, his feet squishing in the muck.
His men followed without hesitation.

"Okay," Rosander whispered. "I see a single attendant. I don't think he's one of Obeng's goons. Or that he's gonna be a problem."
"He in a booth?" Ricci asked.
Rosander kept peering through a thin fiber-optic periscope that he'd coiled upward through the metal drain cover above him. With maybe four feet of clearance between the floor of the sunken garage and the bottom of the sluice in which they were hunched, a six-year-old would have had difficulty standing erect, let alone the ten grown men of Ricci's team.
"No," he said. "The guy's nodding off in a chair against the wall."
Ricci nodded.
"There anybody else around we have to worry about?" he said.
"Give me a sec."
Rosander rotated the fiberscope between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, his other hand making adjustments to the eyepiece barrel to focus its color video image.
"Not a soul," he said.
"Number of vehicles?"
"I'd say about a dozen, including the rattletrap that brought the Wildcat."
Ricci nodded again.



He reached into a gear pouch for a breaching charge, peeled the plastic strip from its adhesive backing, and pressed the thin patch of C2 explosive—a compound as ^powerful as C4, but more stable—against the ceiling surface until it was firmly secured. Then he took the "lip=  stick" detonator caps out of a separate pouch and inserted them. Before blowing their mouse hole into the sunken l.garage, his team would back through the runoff duct to |;keep a safe distance from the blast and falling masonry.
After a moment, Ricci turned to Simmons and handed 'him the vapor detector.
;,    "I'll go in first, take down the attendant," he whisipered.  "Stay close, and don't forget the regs." "Right."
Ricci got his radio out of its case on his belt. While the explosion he was setting off would be small and contained, any explosion was by definition noisy, and therefore would be heard by those in the building unless masked.
!•••     Ricci had arranged for something even noisier to do I just that.   H?"
jfjk few blocks east on the crosstown avenue, two men in ^ihe white uniforms of emergency medical responders had been waiting patiently in the cab of a double-parked ambulance.
After receiving Ricci's cue, the driver cut the radio r;and turned to his partner. I    "We're on," he said.
They raced into traffic toward Gang Central, the ambulance's light bars flashing, its siren cranked to peak /Volume and howling like a thousand tortured wolves.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Seated across a desk from Obeng in the warlord's second-floor office, Le Chaut Sauvage heard the ululant wail of the rapidly approaching medical vehicle and tilted his head toward the window.
"Is that one of yours?" he asked, his voice raised over the deafening clamor.
Obeng shook his head no.
"An ambulance," he said.
The Wildcat gave him a questioning look.
"You're certain?"
"Yes," Obeng assured him. He was almost shouting to be heard. "Even here people get sick."

As he leaped up through the small crater in the garage floor, Ricci didn't know whether it was the detonating C2 or the eardrum-piercing shrillness of the ambulance siren that shocked the attendant from his dozy position on the chair.
Not that it made a jot of difference to him.
The attendant shot to his feet now, his chair crashing onto its back, his features agape at the sight of men in visored helmets and tactical camo outfits pouring out of a rubbled, dust- and smoke-spewing hole that hadn't existed a split second before.
Ricci swiftly bound over to him and pressed the squirter of the dimethyl sulfoxide cannister clenched in his gloved fist.
The attendant raised his hands over his face on reflex, but the stream of odorless, colorless DMSO ...
A chemical with myriad properties that was originally an incidental by-product of the wood pulping process, used as a commercial solvent for fifty years, a medical



organ and tissue preservative for about forty years, and j a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory with limited PDA | approval for slightly less than thirty years ...
A chemical that in the past decade or so had attracted |»:the close attention of nonlethal weapons researchers be:cause  of its instant penetration of human skin and its capacity to completely sedate a person on contact and ^without side effects if administered in sufficient concen-   \ tration ...
The DMSO running down over the attendant's out- thrust palms and fingers made him crumple like one of ythe foam training dummies Ricci sometimes used in |^and-to-hand combat practice.
Ricci caught the attendant in his arms to ease his fall, ' 'towering him gently onto the floor. Then he quickly rose and scanned the garage for ways to reach the building's aboveground levels.
There was a single elevator about ten yards to the right. Not a chance his men were going to box them- ffelves into that death trap.
His gaze found the door leading to the stairwell to his ffar left, on the opposite side of the garage. :    He turned toward the rest of the men, now standing back-to-back in a loose circle, their individual weapons pointed outward, covering all points of the garage while l| they peripherally watched for his gestured command.
Ricci was about to wave them toward the stairs when :'he heard the distinct sound of the elevator kicking in. |'.;'He glanced in its direction, his eyes fixing on the indi|cator  lights over its door.
It was coming down the shaft from the ground floor. Coming down fast.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Grille had likewise turned to face the elevator, his eyes narrowed behind his helmet visor.
He watched its door slide open seconds after its hoisting motor activated, appraised its passengers at a glance.
Don't forget the regs, he thought, needing no real incentive. The man and woman inside were a couple of honest Injuns if there'd ever been any, probably customers leaving one of the quasi-legit businesses right upstairs.
They took maybe a step out of the car and then froze at the scene that met their eyes, both simultaneously noticing the assault team, the unconscious garage attendant, and the debris-strewn hole in the floor.
Grillo didn't give them a chance to recover from their initial confusion.
He whipped his hand down to his belt, unholstered his stingball pistol, and pulled the trigger twice.
The mini-flash bangs it discharged hit the floor directly in front of their feet, the fragile rounds shattering like eggshells against the hard cement to produce startlingly  loud reports and blindingly bright bursts of light.
The couple staggered dazedly, the woman covering her eyes with both hands, the man tripping backward to sprawl with the upper part of his body inside the elevator and his legs stretched out. Its door tried to close, struck his hip with its foam rubber safety edging, automatically retracted, tried to close again, hit him again, the whole sequence repeating itself over and over as he writhed there on the floor of the garage.
Grillo put the stingball gun away, satisfied with how the weapon had delivered. Poor guy was going to have



Ipome bruises to show for his unexpected adventure, but   what could you do? He looked at Ricci.
Ricci completed his interrupted hand signal, waving ; the stairwell door. His team dashed across the garage in its direction.

men climbed the stairs as one, as trained, a single nposite organism armored in synthetic materials, their Iguns bristling like deadly spines.
A few steps below the first-floor landing they paused tfor Rosander to peer around the corner with his tele- fiscopic search mirror, a low-tech, reliable, simple tool. iJRicci's cardinal rule was in play here: Use the fiberoptic ^scope when you wanted maximum stealth, but when the actual insertion began, when speed was of the essence, you didn't want to screw with finicky shit like flexible electronic coils and video apertures.
Nobody in sight, they hustled up onto the landing, ci motioned for two of them, Seybold and Beatty, to it off from the others and cover the first floor. This ; an organism that could divide and reassemble itself pB required.
Up the next flight of stairs, ten now having become Seight; Ricci and Rosander were in the lead.
Midway to the second floor, on the next landing, Roier  again stuck the pole around the corner and saw reflections of three men on the mirror's convex sur- Ifeoe.
He signaled quickly. Two fingers pointed at his eyes:   emy in sight. Then three fingers in the air, revealing number of opponents on the way down.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

"Militia," he mouthed soundlessly to Ricci, who was squatted beside him.
Ricci nodded.
His men readied themselves in the short moments available. This time they wouldn't be facing a bleary- eyed garage worker or a couple petrified with astonishment, literally struck blind on the way back to their car after booking a trip to paradise at the ground-floor travel agency.
They held their guns at the ready.
The militiamen continued downstairs toward the landing.
Ricci's hand was raised, motionless, slightly above shoulder height: Hold your fire.
It was his show. His and Rosander's. They could not worry about taking accidental hits from their own teammates behind them.
The militiamen were carrying assault rifles, Russian AKs. One of them glimpsed the assault team below.
His gun muzzle came up as he grunted out a warning to his companions.
Ricci squeezed the trigger of his baby VVRS, its electronic touch control set for maximum blowback. Lethal as lethal could be. And quiet.
The militiaman fell to the landing, spots of crimson on his chest. Then a quick burst of gunfire from above, bullets swarming down the stairwell.
The still body of the guy he'd hit pressing against his shins, weighty against his shins, Ricci stayed put and swung his weapon toward the remaining two. The mirror in one hand, Rosander had lifted his gun with the other and was already spraying them with ammunition. A second man collapsed, rolled downward, olive fatigues



ained red. The third kept standing, got off some more
unterfire, and Ricci heard a grunt from Rosander as   |p(he pole of his inspection mirror flew from his fingers |iind went clattering against the metal risers below.
Edging back against the handrail, out of the shooter's ct line of fire, Ricci triggered his gun again, aiming |;for the legs, and when he saw the legs give out, finished |1$e militiaman with a sustained burst to the chest.
Silence. A pale gray haze of smoke.
Ricci looked around at Rosander.
The visor of his helmet was splashed red. Dripping tied where he'd been hit. Ricci could not see his face ugh it.
He glanced at the others behind him, shook his head.
They couldn't linger here in the enclosed stairwell.
ey had to keep moving. The exchange of gunfire had Ifceen brief and probably wouldn't have been heard too fiar beyond the concrete walls of the fire stairs. But it r;-jnight have drawn the attention of someone nearby.
Keeping his eye on the mission, Ricci ordered his unit |fo resume its hurried advance.
As they passed over the bodies lying across the stairs, Irillo snatched the search mirror from where it had sdropped.
They would need it later on.

strike team pushed through the door to the second1    hallway, each of its members familiar with the floor knowing the exact location of Obeng's office at |Jhe rear of the building.
The thing none of them knew was what sort of oh-
cles to expect along the way.
The corridor was empty as far as they could see.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Closed office doors on either side. Then, perhaps ten yards up, an elbow bend. They would need to turn it, head down another short, straight length of hallway, round another corner. And then they'd be there.
Easily said.
They ran forward, guns at hip level, eyes sweeping the sides of the hall.
Ricci saw a door open a little. Third ahead on the right. He signaled a halt, pointed to it. His men fanned out, sticking close to the walls for cover.
Waiting with their guns angled toward the door.
The crack widened, widened, and then a muzzle poked through.
The wait extended. An eternity of seconds. More of the weapon appeared. A semiautomatic pistol. Its barrel slipped tentatively outward into the hall.
That kind of firearm, that kind of cautiousness, Ricci was betting they were dealing with a cop here.
He looked into the eye peering out at him through the crack.
"Toss it!" he said.
The hand ceased to move but held onto the pistol.
Ricci kept looking into that eye. The man behind the door could see how his team was equipped, the serious ordnance they were carrying. Maybe he'd have the brainpower to realize he was outclassed.
"We're not interested in you. Or any other officers with you," Ricci said. "Lose that gun, come out with your hands up, you'll be fine."
There was another hanging pause.
Ricci couldn't afford to delay any longer with this small fry.



"Last chance," he said. "Give it up." The opening between the door and its frame widened. Ricci lifted his weapon, prepared to fire. The pistol dropped from the man's hand onto the cor- pjridor floor. Then he stepped out of the office, arms raised S&bove his head.
A uniform, sure enough.
Ricci moved forward, kicked the relinquished gun side, then grabbed the cop by his shoulder and pushed lim face against the wall for a frisk. He patted him down hurriedly, found a revolver in an holster, and handed it back to one of his men, a ifening recruit named Newton. The cop wasn't packing aything else.
Ricci hauled his captive away from the wall and pstayed behind him, his gun pressed into the base of his e, his free arm locked around his throat. Using him cover in case anyone in the office decided to do something stupid.
At his nod, Grillo and Simmons moved to either side • the half-open door, flanking it, their weapons steady jtfil their hands.
Ricci slammed it the rest of the way open with his Scooted foot.
The office was nearly bare. A couple of chairs, a metal Hjfesk with a push-button telephone on it, a trash can be- ade the desk.
Two more uniforms were inside, both with their hands igh in the air. Ricci glanced at Newton.
"Dump whatever weapons they've got in there," he lid, indicating the trash can with a jerk of his chin. ; phone, too. Then pull the can out into the hallway."


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Newton did as he was ordered.
Ricci thought a moment, then shifted his eyes back to the now-empty phone socket on the wall. He still had the first cop in a choke hold.
"You already ring your boss to tell him we're here?" he said into his ear.
The cop didn't respond.
"I can hit the redial button, see who answers, find out what I need to know myself," Ricci said. "Be better for everybody if you save me the time."
The cop still didn't answer.
Ricci pushed the snout of his gun deeper into his back.
"I mean it," he said.
The cop hesitated another second, then finally nodded his head.
Thirty seconds later, Ricci and Newton had backed into the corridor, leaving the disarmed cops in the office.
"Stay put for half an hour, then you're free to leave," he said from the doorway. "You get the urge to do something different, you might want to keep in mind we don't mean your boss any harm. And that no outsider's worth getting killed over."
He pushed the door shut, turned to his men.
"Obeng and his guest of honor know about us," he said. "But we're between them and the elevators and stairs, the only routes out of the building unless they want to start jumping out windows, and it's a long drop down the hill from Obeng's office. So they either go through us or they're stuck where they are."
He looked from one man to the other. Their eyes were upon him.
"Cornered animals fight hard," he said. "Capice?"
Nods all around.



Ricci inhaled.
"Okay," he said. "Let's move."
They continued up the hall toward Obeng's roost.

J-At the final bend in the corridor, Grillo held out the
* search mirror's curved pole, glanced into it for barely a : second, pulled it back, and turned to the others behind |him.
"Four of Obeng's goons, headed straight toward us  with  AKs," he whispered to Ricci. "Not a dozen feet  
*;»way in the middle of the corridor."
"Take them out," Ricci said. "I want it done yester|day."   
The strike team launched around the corner in a con- pltrolled rush, firing short, accurate bursts with their guns.
Two of the militiamen dropped before they could re[•    ten fire, their weapons flying out of their hands like hurled batons. The remaining pair split up, one breaking |;.to the left, the other to the right.
Ricci heard the whiffle of subsonic ammo from a baby I'WRS, saw the man on the left fall to the floor, arms |*nd legs wishboned.
One to go.
The militiaman who'd run to the opposite side of the ridor was bent low against a closed door, practically ^flattened against it, seeking a modicum of cover in the
allow recess as he poured wild volleys into the hall|way.   
Ricci hugged the wall, aimed, fired his weapon, una- |sble to get a clean shot at his target. His sabot rounds ^whanged against the door frame, missing the gunnie, but ; causing him to duck back and momentarily lay off the |trigger.


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Ricci knelt against the wall. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Grille and the others take advantage of the distraction and dash up the hall toward Obeng's office.
He held his weapon absolutely still. Let the gunnie lean out of that space one inch. Just a single goddamned inch...
Up ahead, Simmons was sweeping the entrance to Obeng's office with the ionic vapor detector, checking for explosives that might be rigged to a tripwire or similar gimmick. Good. The rest were in their entry-preparation positions. Grillo and the newbie Harpswell on one side of the door. On the opposite side, another green recruit named Nichols held the rammer, while the more experienced hands, Barnes and Newton, stood behind him.
Suddenly, movement from where the militiaman was huddled. His back still pressed to the door, he lifted his hands. The tip of his AK tilting outward. His knees unfolding slightly.
Ricci inhaled through gritted teeth.
This was going to be it.
As the gunnie scuttled into the hall, his weapon spitting bullets, Ricci caught him with a single shot to the center of the chest. He went down hard, his green fatigue shirt turning brilliant red.
Ricci pushed from the wall, racing around the fallen bodies in the corridor to join his team. He could see Simmons complete his scan, move himself out of the doorway—
His eyes widened. Nichols had suddenly moved toward   the door with the rammer, was swinging it back for momentum, about to drive it against the jamb, unaware of Barnes reaching out to stop him.
"Hold it!" Ricci shouted. "Fucking hold it!"



He could see Nichols try to check himself, but the warning registered an instant too late. His entire upper body was already into the forward swing.
The rammer hit the door and it flew inward with a
crash, and that was when the attack dogs came lunging
out. Pit bulls, five of them, silent and vicious, their voice
boxes surgically removed. Called hush puppies by the
SWAT personnel Ricci had known in his police years,
too often encountered in crack-house raids, they were
; usually maddened from drugs, torture, and starvation,
i reduced to a core of frenzied, bestial aggression by their
; keepers.
Their muscles humped and rippling under their pelts, jaws snapping, lips peeled away from their carnivorous white fangs, they sprang into the corridor and were on his men in a heartbeat—
"Stop!" A voice from Obeng's office. "Sit!"
The pit bulls stopped in their tracks and got onto their haunches, immediately heeding the firm command.
"That's it, that's it, nice doggies," the voice said. This   I time coming from just inside the doorway. ;     A hand reached from the entrance, rows of shiny gold and silver bracelets clattering around the wrist. Then an arm in a colorful, hand-beaded shirtsleeve.
The man who stepped into the corridor a moment later had performed his role to the hilt, even dressing the part of a warlord.
He bent over the dog nearest the door, scratched behind its ear, then reached into his trouser pocket for some biscuits and began passing them out to the obedient animals.
They crunched them happily, tails wagging, crumbs flying from their jowls.


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"Hate to be the one to say this," he told Ricci, looking up at him. "But—"
The Sword op who'd been the Wildcat for the week- long training exercise strode from the office to finish the sentence for him.
"But your guys just got their balls chewed off," he said. "And probably some other chunks of their anatomy, too."
Expelling a long breath, Ricci turned from the office door in disgust. Down the hall, the militiaman he'd nailed with his practice round rose from the floor and pulled his dye-soaked shirt away from his chest.
"Shit's sticky," he muttered. "And cold."
Ricci glared over at Nichols.
In that kid's case, getting his balls chewed off was exactly what he could look forward to.
No playacting.





in suburban illinois, a man named lance jefififefson
Freeman, formerly known as Ronald Mumphy ... An identity he'd shed once he emerged from federal rison upon getting his investment fraud conviction •^overturned on a so-called legal technicality, the appellate H judge reluctantly citing an error in the submission of Ipprosecutorial discovery filings ...
In his home office in the affluent town of Hanscom, H Illinois, the reborn and redubbed Lance Jefferson Free- |v'man, or simply L. J. as his devoted Internet radio show ft listeners affectionately called the founder and crown ^minister of the White Freedom Church, was having thoughts that were in many respects identical to those   ;J;of Arif al-Ashar in East Sudan, which was quite extraor-

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

dinary, given the vast gulf of miles, culture, ideology, and personal background separating them. Even more remarkable in terms of their congruence, L. J.'s thoughts had also framed themselves as a familiar saying, albeit one that took its context and meaning from a classically (though by no means uniquely) American experience.
"A kid in a candy store," he muttered to himself. "That's what I am, yes, mister ..."
Meaning, in other words, that L. J., too, was coming to understand he would have to prioritize between the many ethnic groups he wished to see deleted from existence, like the terse three-line solicitation about to be electronically wiped from his computer screen.
L. J. lifted a pencil off his desk and started nibbling at its eraser with his large, white, perfectly even front teeth. Then he checked himself, recalling that his dentist had warned him the nervous habit could damage the cosmetic bonding he'd recently gotten done. When you were in the public arena, a media personality of sorts, a smile was your calling card. So scratch the pencil. You did not need to constantly chew on something when you were trying to plan things out.
L. J. lowered the pencil from his mouth but instead of putting it aside found himself tapping it against the top of his desk. Well, no harm in that, he supposed. Whenever he got chugging along on full horsepower, he'd work up a potent head of steam and had to find a way of blowing a little of it off somehow.
L. J. tapped. Where was he? Oh yes, the Jews. The Jews. They would be high on his list. Probably foremost. It was through books given to him by a cellmate during his prison stint (the most influential had been titled The Wisdom and Prophesies of Adolf Hitler, The Protocols



ffhe Learned Elders ofZion, and Satan's Seedline: The vil Race) that L. J. had learned the truth behind the Sonist Occupied Government, or ZOG, that had secretly ested control of America from its God-chosen foun- i through its institutions of high finance, absorbing it Oto their multinational New Imperium and using fiat icy ...
In other words, the legal tender minted by the Federal •ve Bank, from penny coins to printed notes of denomination...
Fiat money to replace gold and/or silver weights and sures as an honest system of exchange, thereby aiding usurious Jewish moneylenders to manipulate in- rates and leech away the assets of the Anglo ton, Teutonic, and kindred white races, who, in their superiority, were the only blessed and rightful heritors of the kingdom of God—the United States, in feother words—just as they had craftily fleeced the people ||0f Germany before the heroic martyrs of the National cialist Party had stood up in brave resistance.
J.'s pencil-tapping quickened. The Jews, absoely,  it had to be them. Pulling together fifty million i rid the land of their domination wouldn't be difficult, sidering the resources of his more well-off support- a core group of patriots and true believers who'd iged to open their wallets for the cause. In fact, right he was projecting a surplus of funds, enough to lultaneously purge another corrupting racial element society. The tough thing was deciding which one. truth be known, maybe not. L. J. supposed it : back to his readings about the preservation of racial (its when he was behind cell bars, a whole lot of ma- written by some high-gigahertz thinkers and sup161

Tom  Clancy's  Power Plays

ported by the work of people like the world's leading phrenologist, an eighty-two-year-old pioneer who'd run an institute of his own in Austria since before World War II. Anyway, L. J.'s early research had made it clear that the black race presented the second greatest threat to the children of Adam, these being people of ruddy complexion, in other words whites, according to a biblical code that yet another of L. J.'s favorite authors had unraveled.
The blacks were number two because they, along with other non-Caucasian minorities, had entered into a Satanic conspiracy with ZOG to commit genocide ...
A word that meant the destruction of a group through race-mixing rather than mass extermination, as the Jewish-run reference book companies had tried to redefine it by perpetuating the myth of the Holocaust, of which there was no evidence except a bunch of lies and doctored photographs produced by the Secret Disinformation Bureau of Elsenhower's treacherous Allied Expeditionary Force, but that was another can of worms right there.
The blacks. Threat number two. Because their goal was to commit genocide upon the children of Adam by intermarrying and procreating with them in violation of divine will.
"Meaning they have to go," L. J. concluded aloud. "Go straightaway into the bottomless pit, yes, mister."
He tapped away at the desk with his pencil. A plan of action, that was what he'd come up with here, and he was feeling pretty good about it. The Jews and blacks first. And then, well, he would have to evaluate his progress. See where his finances stood, and measure the rest of the social contaminants against each other to deter162


tie which presented the greatest immediate dangers. : off the bat, he figured the Asians were prime can- ates; you never knew what insidious machinations were up to. And the Hispanics, of course, with their to annex the southwestern portion of the United es to Mexico ...
And so it went for L. J. Freeman, crown minister of White Freedom Church, in his Hanscom, Illinois, ne office, his thoughts rotating around their fixed axis   ' hatred like the rings of some dark and hostile planet, lasting on and on and on into the outer extremities of night.

headquarters of the Black Exclusivist Movement located on the first and second floors of an uptown ttan tenement that the group's leader, the Fever- 1 Nate Grover, had paid for in cash by adding a dozen liealendar stops to the busy lecture circuit that netted him jjl^everal million dollars in yearly honorariums, which he essed maybe sounded like a lot when Whitey got to eking him on the tube, always talking about his ex- avagant lifestyle, using that phrase to jab at his integ- every time his name got mentioned. Reverend Nate "trover, whose extravagant lifestyle includes a multi- 'KiiaUion dollar home in East Hampton, Long Island, a frJKallection of thirty antique cars, a large personal staff,   I'pBd art and antiques estimated to be valued at this or at or the other amount and so on and so extravagantly th. As if a man of African descent in this twenty-firstpsentury  America wasn't supposed to earn the same or Ifpore than some retired white political flack or no-selling ate writer who couldn't pack half as many people into room, hell, a third as many people, talking shit to


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

spoiled white college students who looked like pale, cloned pigs.
A few months back, when Grover was organizing his annual Liberty Uprising March on Washington, a woman reporter from one of those TV news magazine shows had one of her own personal staffers—which you damn well better believe she never got criticized for having at her beck and call—had her flunky staffer phone to arrange an interview with him, he figured, why not, get some free media access, told her to come on down...
Or up, as the case happened to be. No blonde white woman reporter with no major white-controlled news organization Grover ever heard of had to travel down from anywhere in the city to get to Harlem, 50 Rockefeller Center being about as far uptown as they ever got without being flanked by a camera crew and probably notifying the goddamn NYPD where they were going in case it wanted to provide an armored escort.
He'd told her to come on down, figuratively speaking, and two days later, she was swishing through the door in her Barbie doll outfit with stiletto heels and a full set of accessories, all sugar and spice, you know, even commenting that she was impressed by his office space. Said she wished she had something as nice and roomy down at 50 Rock or wherever, which should have clued him in about what was coming next.
Then the videotape starts to roll, and what do you know, what do you know, Barbie doll changes into the She Creature before his eyes, goes into a jam about how when he bought the building "for a song," he'd hired contractors to "totally gut and renovate the lower stories that would house your offices, putting off repairs and



uprovements to the thirty or so crumbling rental apart- nts on the third, fourth, and fifth floors—in large ocupied  by  working poor black families—for some specified future date."
• All the while she's saying this, she's smiling at him  he  a shark.
"Do you see," she asks, moving in for the kill, "how is that charges of opportunism and hypocrisy have
leveled against you from various quarters?" I For a minute Grover was tempted to ask what she spected to find here, somebody in a Huggy Bear pimp lit sitting around some kind of piss-and-shit stinking   de shooting gallery, and you want to please explain you're referring to with that phrase "various quar- "? But even though she'd got an irritation going in , Grover reminded himself that this was what you I a media opportunity, a chance to mainstream him- llfclf, and took a deep breath. The plan here was to give Reverend Nate Grover Lite, formulated for popular umption so the Great White American Unwashed i't develop a mass case of acid reflux. 'Try doing too much at once, no way anything gets amplished," he replied. "The improvements to the of the building have been temporarily delayed, I erscore the word temporarily, because as a civic representing the black community, I've been time and time again to react to various acts of jvoked brutality by the authoritarian powers that be,
se agenda is the continued oppression of my peo-

*•Grover figured he'd done okay, given her an earful ile staying cool for the camera, but She Creature was ermined to stay on the attack.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

"Speaking of agendas," she said, "I'd like to give you the chance to explain some of your own recent statements, which polls indicate the vast majority of white people and African-Americans find incendiary and frankly disturbing. You have in numerous speeches accused the federal government of flooding urban neighborhoods with narcotics and automatic firearms, specifically targeting high-school-age children in—this is a direct quote—'a covert program to instigate their mass suicide-murder through the evils of violence and addiction.' You also called for African-Americans to refrain from all transactions with white-owned businesses, withdraw from the democratic election process until a political party open only to black candidates and voters is established, and, I'm quoting you again now, 'assume the license to make war upon our enemies and achieve a noncapitalist economic system,' referring to the police as 'a demonic army of persecution that must be brought to its knees by any means necessary,' which seems to espouse the very violence that you acknowledge is devastating inner-city black youth. What's still more controversial, you're said to have begun echoing the separatist policies of the Black Panther movement in its earliest days, explicitly advocating ..."
The partition of several states into an independent black territory, possibly in the South, that was absolutely   what he'd been talking about at his campus engagements, though he'd known it to be about as achievable as an exodus of the people to Shangri-la on a giant magic carpet. But every so often, when he was in front of a crowd, something would kind of pop out of his mouth that caught their attention, just shook the room, you know, and when that happened, he'd take off im166


avising, get them more fired up, reasoning that part of job as an orator and motivator was to keep his Users from falling asleep in their seats, and moreover at it didn't actually matter if some his declared goals way, way in the outfield, as long as he stuck to his eneral message. In his mind, he was like a kid making list, asking for twenty, fifty, a hundred different ssents for Christmas, figuring he'd be lucky to see en one or two of them ... but also figuring it couldn't ; to ask, because you never knew what might turn up the tree, all gift-wrapped and shiny. That was the fptung in life, you really never did know. If* Still, as Grover had sat in his office with the television from the big-time, number-one-rated network ews magazine rolling away, conscious that his inter- |Wew would be seen in millions of homes across the jfiountry, it had occurred to him that maybe he ought to jy/ease off some of his positions, soften his earlier com- jgjitents, take another deep breath and remember that he jjpfts supposed to be Reverend Nate Grover Lite.
And then, just as he was about to respond, he'd seen out-for-blood look in She Creature's eyes, seen that was ready to get in his face again no matter what said, and all at once he flashed red hot with anger. Hj&nd he'd thought, What the fuck, give her what she
"I have come to believe that coexistence between cks and whites within a single society is impossible," abruptly found himself answering. "I have come to Sieve that until the day all my brothers of color remove emselves from this wicked nation and form a North nerican state governed by and for themselves, they ill continue to wear the chains of enslavement that


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

brought them to its cursed shores. I have come to believe anything short of complete separation of the races is futile and will bring on their mutual destruction. And as to the comments you've mentioned, I emphatically and unapologetically stand by them."
Grover's single modification, which had jumped right off the top of his head, was that he would be willing to consider the state of New Jersey and sections of Pennsylvania and Ohio as components of an exclusivist black territory, should the southern states prove somehow unobtainable.
It went without saying that Grover's interview had made a huge splash in the ratings. It also went without saying that he'd for sure kissed his ticket to mainstream U.S.A. good-bye, along with any frequent flyer offers that might have come along down the line if he'd held   his temper. But he had refused to worry about what might've been if he'd done this or if he'd said that, because he'd done what he'd done, said what he'd said, and none of it could be taken back.
And besides, look what it had led to.
Just look.
The day after the program aired—the very next morning, in fact—was when the E-mail arrived. Who it came from was a surprise; Grover hadn't done business with him for ages, since he'd agreed to wash some dirty money through the movement's tax-free charitable accounts in exchange for a percentage, which had gone toward subsidizing his first Liberty Uprising March. And before that, it had been the ecstasy distribution deal in Los Angeles ... but the e thing was years ago, a lifetime   ago far as Grover was concerned, when he was just a few shaky steps out of Rampart and needed the green to



I make sure he didn't fall flat on his face. These days, he acticed what he preached, damn well did, and would ever again under any circumstances help put poison nto the bodies of black youth. No way he was going to do that again. Out of curiosity, though, he'd opened the E-mail beany of the others on his queue. That was when Reverend Nate Grover learned about
Sleeper bug.
If the message had been from anyone besides the man (?ho'd sent it, Grover would have dismissed it right off ; a weird prank. But he'd known that man didn't play That his bulletin about the super germ he'd de- eloped, customer satisfaction guaranteed, was some- ling that could be taken dead seriously, wild as it
l; Grover had awaited the actual offering ever since, it would appear each time he switched on his iputer. And today, now, at last, it had:


denly, items one through one hundred on Grover's
list could be his for the asking, i Wild as it seemed, for the asking. The North, the South, the Midwest... to hell with sing slices of the American pie when he could have whole thing laid before him in shiny gift wrapping,   ' the best and biggest present under the tree on Christ- morning.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

At fifty million dollars, Murdock Williams considered it a bargain. A first grader could calculate the profit-versus- loss margins easily enough; he wasn't talking quantum physics here but simple checkbook arithmetic.
Williams's lawyers had already offered that elderly couple on the Upper East Side, what, two, three million dollars to relinquish the lease to their rental apartment and vacate, guaranteeing them a two-bedroom elsewhere in the city. This was far more than the building's other occupants had gotten—Williams believed the highest any of them had been paid was 1.5 mil—and they'd all jumped at the offer. You were talking about handing over a pot of gold, giving them the chance to strike it rich by ordinary standards, how many people wouldn't?
Well, those two fossils Mr. and Mrs. Bognar, obviously. Husband something like eighty, wife only a few years younger, living in the same York Avenue apartment for half a century, you'd think they might appreciate a change of scenery before God lowered the boom. Instead, they were sticking like old wallpaper.
It wasn't that Williams harbored any personal animosity toward them—would he have upped the buyout offer if he did? In fact, there was some sympathy in him. Some understanding. His own great-grandparents had been from Russia, fled the pogroms, arrived in America with next to nothing. He was sure he still had a photograph, or daguerreotype, whatever, of Fred and Erna Waskow, bearers of his pre-Ellis Island family name, hanging on a wall somewhere in one of his homes. The Bognars, they'd come over as refugees when the Rus- skies pushed into Budapest in '56, so there was a definite feeling of kinship in Williams's heart. But no real estate



eveloper ever reached his level of success by shying  way  from the bottom line, sympathy and understanding

The Mews was what they called those East Side apart- lit houses, erected around wide, gated courts and area- in  the  late   1800s.  Williams could  see how c-minded types found them appealing, although didn't cut it for him personally. Occupying big of river frontage, they had started out as sanato- where moneyed tuberculosis patients could come ' Hie then fresh air, and thirty or forty years later were averted into dwellings for the city's growing middle s—predominantly Hungarian and German immi- displaced by one overseas conflict or another. In 1980s, the addresses became fashionable, attracting ves of yuppies from hither and yon, but a sizable   • of Europeans from yesteryear had clung to their it-stabilized apartments throughout the neighborhood sition.
p'^When Williams acquired the properties from their for- owner, he'd paid top dollar, knowing full well that  I  purchase price would represent only a fraction of his expenses. But his bean counters estimated his -range profits to be in the hundreds of millions, pos- piy over a billion dollars, way off the board like that, real value being in the airspace above the existing
j^Just six stories tall, they were a colossal waste of living space as they stood. Because the row of contiguous buildings included a corner lot, Man- zoning regulations allowed them to be torn down replaced with a single high-rise skyscraper that


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

would dominate almost an entire square block and soar at least ninety-five stories above the city, surpassing in height the residential tower that Williams's famous rival was raising opposite the United Nations ... the very same competitor-slash-mogul who was always getting his picture on the front pages, and who had presold penthouse units in his building for upwards of ten million dollars apiece before so much as a single drop of concrete was mixed for its foundation.
At stake, therefore, was a staggering bundle and also the posterity Williams would finally achieve by owning the largest residential structure in New York City, ergo the country, ergo the world.
With the f's crossed and the i's dotted on his ownership papers, Williams had lost no time making lavish buyout offers to the residents of the buildings, about 75 percent of whom had happily taken the deal. A smaller group of tenants had waited for him to sweeten the pot, which he'd done by somewhat upping the dollar amount and in some cases tossing in the free relocation proviso.
It wasn't long before the remaining holdouts cleared the premises—except for the Bognars, who refused to budge from the Mews to which they were sentimentally attached. The Bognars, who would not change their minds regardless of how much cash was shoved at them, be it over, under, or around the table. The Bognars, who, despite their advanced age, appeared to be in sufficiently good health to stay put in their apartment for years to come before finally giving up the ghost.
And years was longer than Williams intended to wait.
After having his last buyout offer snubbed, he'd instructed his attorneys to start eviction procedures against



Bognars, but even the Legal Aid interns they got to ent them had possessed the savvy to call his bluff, rent-control laws were ironclad when it came to ting their current lease and giving them a renewal once it lapsed. Moreover, as sitting tenants, they by the same legislation entitled to renew indefi- ay.
Blown out of the courtroom, catching heat from uor-citizen advocacy groups that had salivated over chance to make the Bognars a cause celebre, Wil- in desperation got in touch with certain admittedly operators about providing what might be called illegal recourse. He was thinking that these opera- -who had their hands in the construction industry ; many others around town, controlling the unions, suppliers, plumbing and electrical companies, name it, from behind the scenes—might be able to |<toow a scare into the couple, something of that nature. *""    when he'd made his request to one such acquain- : over dinner in Little Italy, Williams was told that  I  fuss made by the various senior-rights organizations i local media outlets had created an awkward hitch.   '. "Think about it," his acquaintance had explained. "All bad publicity you've gotten on this, a wasp stings   • of those decrepit old farts, and he or she cries ouch,   iy's going to claim the fucking thing was trained sent on its mission by Murdock Williams." |g Williams had looked at him pointedly across the table. "You people are supposed to be experts at persuasion, I can't see how this is a tall order," he'd insisted. I'm not the only one losing out while the old i sit on a fortune. Or don't you understand how much ' ttis wealth your organization could be sharing?"


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

The other man had stared at him a moment, then slowly lowered his fork onto his plate.  
"Isn't me who's misunderstanding," he'd replied. "I said there were problems, not that we couldn't get past them. You sit tight, I need to approach somebody I know of. He's on another level from everyone else, so I'll have to go through the Commission. If he thinks he can help, he'll reach you."
And reach Williams he did. The original notification had been E-mailed to him within a week, and it struck him as the craziest damned thing. A designer virus, that was what the sender had declared he could provide. There might have been a hundred other proposals Williams wouldn't have questioned for an instant, recognizing that his acquaintance moved in a realm that was beyond his experience. But it had seemed absolutely far out. He'd had trouble giving credence to it.
Little by little, though, a belief in the claim's legitimacy had begun to emerge in his mind. Something about the way his unidentified contact had been spoken about at the Little Italy meeting had impressed Williams. This cyberspace phantom commanded deference from a man who was almost nobody's lesser.
Nor was it just that. Under the advisement of his broker, Williams had bought heavily into the genomic futures market, but not before doing his homework. Projects that involved the mapping of human and non- human DNA were on the verge of leading to a scientific revolution on a scale with the coming of the industrial age, the harnessing of atomic energy, and the advent of the microchip in its ramifications for society. Genomic research promised rapid breakthroughs in the prevention



| and diagnosis of disease, drug treatments, the farming of lab-cloned body parts for transplantation... there was no telling what advances to expect, no keeping pace with those that had already been made. Nearly every day some new application of biotechnology was announced, so why be skeptical that a customizable virus had been hatched? The longer Williams contemplated it, the more the idea that one hadn 't was what started to look far•'"fetched.

;     In fact, he'd thought, it would be selling short his own biotech investment folder to doubt the probability—and ;?;Murdock Williams never bet against himself. ,,;•   He replied to the E-mail with a note requesting that
•;%e be advised when the product was ready for issue and
Jtben tried his best to focus on other business. Still, in
.Ms idle moments, Williams would visualize his building
soaring above the riverfront, a lasting, commanding
monument to his mastery of the developer's art. And as
far as it went for that old couple, how much time could
;they have left before they reached their expiration dates,
^anyway? Cancer, heart attack, stroke, everybody got
hammered sooner or later. Williams honestly felt he'd
just be hastening along the inevitable.
As his appreciation for the beauty of the solution increased, his craving to gratify his drive and ambition .became unbearable. Had the "cyber-phantom" taken any
•longer to respond, the impatience would have eaten him op alive.
=    Thank heaven the wait was finally over. He'd have 'paid ten times the asking price to end it.
Awaken the Sleeper, fee fifty million, instructions to follow within one week, he thought now, the message


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

that had finally showed up in his on-line mailbox ticking in his mind like a NASDAQ readout.
A week, one more week—seven days until he could get things rolling.
Williams knew he'd be counting down the hours.  




"I can't do what you're asking. it isn't an option."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Palardy," Enrique Quiros said. "Because, as a matter of fact, it's your only   '• Option."
"Don't use my name. It isn't safe—" Quiros shook his head and indicated the portable bug detector on the seat between them.   •'".   "There's where you're mistaken again," he said. "Because this is my Safe Car. Honestly, that's what I call i'it, just as some people might give their cars endearing ;'Httle names like Bessie, Marie, or whatever."
Palardy let out a sigh. The Safe Car in which they sat
Was a Fiat Coupe that Quiros had driven into the parking
lot outside the cruise ship terminal on Harbor Drive. It
was six p.m., the tipper rim of the sun sinking into San
i*Diego Bay, the area outside the terminal crosshatched
;With dusky shadows. Palardy had left his own Dodge

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Caravan several aisles away when he'd reluctantly arrived in answer to Quiros's summons.
"Those pocket units aren't reliable," he said. "Their bandwidth sensitivity's limited. And certain kinds of listening devices operate in modes that won't scan. It's my job to know this sort of thing, my goddamned job, or did you forget—"
"Settle down. I haven't forgotten anything," Quiros interrupted. "This vehicle is garaged on my property, and the grounds are under constant video surveillance. There are alarms. Canine patrols. Unless I happen to be inside it, as now, it's never parked anywhere else."
They looked at each other, Palardy seeing his own features reflected in Quiros's dark green Brooks Brothers sunglasses. He'd always found it offensive when a man wore tinted lenses during a talk with somebody who wasn't wearing them, in this instance himself, the concealment of the eyes a blatant means of gaining distance and position. State troopers, paranoiacs, egotistical movie stars—so many personality types, and yet that desire to set themselves apart was an attribute they all shared.
"Open areas are hard to secure; even the military has problems with them, I don't care how many watchdogs or alarms you've got." Palardy sighed heavily again. "Listen, I'm not trying to argue. My point's just that it doesn't hurt to be careful."
Plainly tired of the subject, Quiros reached into the inner pocket of his sport jacket and produced a zippered leather case.
"Let's make this short so we can both move on," he said, holding the case out to Palardy. "Everything you'll need is in here."



"I told you I can't do this. It's too dangerous. It's too   ch for me."
Quiros looked at him in silence for several moments. l-Then he nodded to himself, turned toward the front of I'the car, and leaned back against his headrest.
"Okay," he said, staring straight ahead with the case Hftill in his hand. "Okay, here's how it is. I'm not inter- in what you have to tell me. When you wanted Kjtooney to pay off your gambling debts in Cuiaba, you tewere glad to sell off confidential information about the pfcyout and security of an installation that it was your job pta protect. When you were rotated back to the States and |found yourself in hock again, loan sharks riding all over Byou, you became more than eager to slink into your em- K|ioyer's office and collect material for a genetic blue- pprint that you knew would be—"
"Please, I don't feel comfortable talking about—" Quiros raised his hand. The gesture was slow and ^Without anger, but something about it instantly quieted IPalardy.
"If I were you, I wouldn't feel comfortable, either. i Because you've done worse than break bonds with every Kfjtofessional trust that's been placed in you. You've been jlf an accessory to acts of murder and sabotage. And if that 'ffteilifbrmation were to surface, it could put you away in ffeprison for the rest of your life."
; There was a brief silence. Palardy swallowed spit- ftlessly.'lt made a clicking sound in his throat. H   "A decision's been made for you," Quiros said. "It's 1000 late for objections or disavowals. And my advice is |;to drop them right now. Or I promise you'll regret it." Palardy swallowed again. Click.


Tom Claney's Power Plays

"I didn't want to get involved in anything like this," he said hoarsely.
Quiros stared out at the terminal in the deepening pool of shadows near the harbor's edge.
"It could be we have that in common," he said, his voice quiet. And paused a beat. "You'll do what you have to do."
He extended the case across the seat without turning from the windshield.
This time, Palardy took it.
In a rental van on the opposite side of the parking aisle, Lathrop began to pack his remote laser voice monitoring system into its black hardshell camera case. From the rear window panel of the van, the invisible beam of the device's near-infrared semiconductor laser diode had been aimed at a ninety-degree angle through the back windshield at the Fiat's rearview mirror.
It is a basic rule of optics that the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection. What this means in practical application is that a beam of coherent light—   that is, a beam in which all light waves are in phase, the defining and essential quality of a laser transmission—   will bounce back to its source at the same angle at which it strikes a reflecting surface, unless that surface creates some sort of modulation, or interference, to throw the waves out of phase, causing some to bounce back at different angles than others. Vibrating infinitesimally from the conversation inside the Fiat—perhaps a thousandth of an inch or less widi each utterance—the window glass had caused corresponding fluctuations in the optical beam reflecting off it, which were then converted into electronic pulses by the eavesdropping unit's re180


leaver, filtered from background noise, enhanced, and
jpKgitally recorded.
Lathrop had gotten every word spoken inside the car.
I And though he wasn't yet certain what they all meant, ip&Be thing was eminently clear to him.
After days of following Enrique Quiros in a succes|j»on  of rentals and disguises, days of following his in-
fjstincts, his patience finally had been rewarded with a lyfeeper and richer load of pay dirt than he could have




the instant palardy entered roger gordian's
office, a strange feeling came over him. Everything seemed the same yet different, like in one of those dreams that was so close to real life you awoke confused about whether its events had actually occurred. The setting of the dream might be the place you grew up, the home you lived in, the park across the street, it didn't matter. You knew you were somewhere familiar, but things weren't quite the way they should be. Both inside and outside yourself.
It was like that for him this morning. The same yet different.
He tried to shake that floaty, disoriented sensation as he strode across the carpet toward Gordian's desk.
"You'll do what you have to do," Quiros had insisted. And Palardy thought now that he could.
He could do it.
Because this was only a day after his regular countersurveillance  sweep, Palardy was not carrying the Big


Sniffer or any of its accompanying equipment, which made him a bit more conspicuous than he otherwise might be. But once Enrique Quiros had forced this thing upon him, he'd known he would want to get it done i| 'right away. That zippered case he took from Quiros, it I had felt so heavy in his hand, so heavy in his pocket. Like some superdense piece of lead being drawn toward   the earth's magnetic core, pulling him down with it. Every minute he held onto it, that downward pull grew harder to resist. Palardy needed to get the thing over with before he sank into the ground.
He'd arrived at work a little before seven o'clock, the usual time for countersurveillance personnel—their sweeps were always conducted before the corporate workday began so as not to interfere with business—and men had gone straight up to Gordian's office suite, prepared with an excuse, should anybody be around. And   it had turned out someone was. Though the boss almost never came in before seven-thirty, a quarter of eight, Palardy knew his administrative assistant, Norma, would often arrive much earlier to get a jump on her filing, |r scheduling, whatever other duties admins performed. And sure enough, she'd been at her desk in the outer office today when Palardy stepped out of the elevator.
Damn good thing he'd had that story ready.
"Morning, Norma," he said, amazed that he could stand there and smile while feeling like he was about to plunge through a hole in the ground. "How goes?"
She'd looked up at him from her computer screen with mild surprise.
"Hi, Don," she said. "Don't tell me it was your twin brother I saw here yesterday with that fancy bag of j tricks?"


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

"Nope, sorry to report there's just one of me to go around," he said.
"I'm crushed on behalf of all womankind," she said with a mock frown. "So what brings you back to us?"
"Actually, I think I must've misplaced one of the fancy little gizmos that go in my bag when I made the rounds." Palardy's words seemed to reach his ears from a far corner of the room. "Maintenance tells me it isn't in the lost and found, so I'm retracing my steps."
Part of his mind had expected Norma to be suspicious. To sit there with her eyes boring into him, discerning something was amiss. Though the rest of him had known that was irrational. Known the reason he'd given for his encore appearance would sound perfectly ordinary and believable.
And, of course, it did. She had waved him toward the door to the inner office.
"Be my guest," she said.
Now Palardy stood over Gordian's big mahogany desk, his back to the door, and hurriedly put on the white cotton gloves he'd brought in his pocket. Just to the right of the blotter was a can of rolled wafers. A month or so before, Palardy had been running behind schedule with his sweep, and the boss had come in and waited at the desk as it was completed. Swirling a wafer in the cup of coffee he'd poured for himself, Gordian had complained in a kind of lighthearted way about having to swear off flavored coffee, and the two-per-day wafer stick allowance his wife had insisted upon instead.
Palardy had clearly remembered that instance in Qui- ros's car the other night. And was remembering it again as he reached for the can of wafers, pulled off its plastic lid, and set it down on the desktop. The can was more



pBian three-quarters empty. Maybe ten wafers left inside.
pHe got the flat leather case out of his coverall pocket,
I unzipped it, produced the disposable syringe, and laid it
fcfceside the can lid. He'd already drawn the solution from
ll'the ampule and tossed it. This should take him sixty
seconds, ninety max.
Get it over with, he thought. Get it done.   With his right hand, he fished one of the wafers out fpof the can. With his left he inserted the syringe's needle ildeep into the opening at one end of the rolled wafer and JNfepressed the plunger about a millimeter. Colorless, Irodorless, tasteless, the contents of the ampule would in- H discernibly permeate the wafer's cream-filled center.
Removing the needle, Palardy put the wafer back in the can, and injected a second, a third, and a fourth wafer.
That would be enough. Would have to be. There was more of the suspension in the hypo, but he couldn't bear staying in the office any longer. His stomach felt like a »•brick of ice.
Palardy closed the can, returned the syringe to the BS^se, and slipped the case back into his pocket.
He was taking off his gloves when he heard the doorknob  turning behind him. His heart tripped. "Any luck?" B*    Norma's voice. From the doorway.
It was the worst moment of his life to that point. Worse, even, than his last terrible meeting with Quiros. ^Balanced equally between guilt and terror, he went 'numb everywhere, the blood seeming to flush from his ;veins.
Somehow Palardy managed to stand perfectly still,


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

managed to keep his body between his hands and the doorway until he'd finished peeling the gloves from his fingers and stuffed them into a patch pocket on his thigh.
He turned toward Norma. She was leaning into the room through the open door.
"No," he said. Realizing nervously that he hadn't looked himself over, hadn't made sure the gloves weren't sticking out of his pocket. Wondering if she could see them. "Not a bit."
The receptionist studied his face a second, shrugged.
"Sorry, my dear," she said. "But in the meantime, don't look so worried, I'm sure your thingamajig will turn up."
She didn 't notice, Palardy thought. Merciful God, she didn 't notice.
He nodded.
"Yeah," he said. "Suppose I can manage without it, meanwhile."
Then the phone on her desk chirruped.
"Better answer that, hope you don't mind letting yourself out," she said and ducked her head back into the outer office area. "I'll remind the cleanup crews to stay on the lookout."
Palardy took a gulp of air, smoothed his coveralls over his body with sweaty palms. The gloves weren't show- big. She hadn't seen anything. He was going to be okay.
A moment later, he followed Norma into the anteroom, exchanging a smile and a wave as he went past her desk, got into the elevator, and rode it downstairs.
Moving on legs he could hardly feel through a world that would never again seem to be the one he'd always known.



Ash," Gordian said into his office phone. "Your els down at LAX yet?"
"On the ground, safe and sound," she said. "I'm call!
on my cellular from the arrivals terminal, so you can biting your nails."
Gordian smiled. Nearly four decades of flying planes
nging from Air Force bombers to his private Learjet
I made him a well nigh unbearable backseat pilot, and
: became even more fretful whenever his wife or kids : to the air with someone else's hand at the controls.
Grown kids, he reminded himself.
'Trip okay?"
"Couldn't have been smoother," Ashley said. "How things at the office?"
"Not without pockets of turbulence," he said. "I just Ktetreated to my desk after running into one, matter of pact. You know Mark Debarre? The Marketing veep?"
"Sure. Nice guy."
"Usually," Gordian said. "You should've seen him
out fangs at today's sales conference. Almost sank
em into one of the guys from Promotions when they into a flap about whether to call those information
vnload kiosks we've developed Infopods or Data- Upods"
She laughed.
Even from hundreds of miles away, the sound warmed |Mm. It was like being able to hear a sunbeam.
"Which was Mark's preference?"
"The first."
"And yours?"
"I'm back and forth."
"Hmmm," she said. "I'll think about it over the week- jpend, give you my opinion, if you'd like."


Tom  Clancy's Power Plays

,'Td like."
"Then consider me on it," she said. "Meanwhile, Laurie,  Anne, and yours truly are about to hold a marketing conference of our own at the luggage claim. We wish to become the most enthusiastically vulnerable, suggestible consumers we can be."
Gordian smiled, reached into his tall can of rolled wafers, fished one out of the can, and let it steep in the cup of coffee on his desk. Ashley's pre-Thanksgiving shopping weekend with her sisters in L.A. was a lollapalooza that had grown in size, scope, and budget each year, seemingly by conscious design.
"Did I hear you say luggage claim?" he said. "Since you're only going to be away from home for two days, my impression was you'd be okay with carry on."
As always, Ashley knew a setup line when it was pitched to her.
'The suitcases, my love, are for bringing home the bounty," she said.
"Guess I'd better wait till you're done with the charge cards before filing for Chapter Eight, then."
'That would be considerate." She laughed again.
A sunbeam touching the wings of a butterfly, Gordian thought. On the brightest and bluest day of summer.
"I really should get cracking," Ashley said after a moment. "Meet you at Julia's house Sunday afternoon, okay?"
"Why don't I pick you up at the airport," he said. "We could drive there together afterward."
"Really, Gord, you don't need to bother. It's easier for me to arrange for a car."
"Besides, some father-daughter alone time might be



1 for the two of you. And I know you'd like to finish : doggie corral you're building for Jack and Jill." "That I would ..."
f'Then knock yourself out," she said.   "/ certainly II."
Gordian pulled his wafer out of his coffee, examined : idly, dunked it back into the cup. "You win," he said. "Have fun. And give my regards i your partners-in-buying." "Will do on both counts," she said. "Love you." "Love you, too, Ash."
Gordian hung up the phone, reached for his cup, i, and decided the wafer stick had imparted all the elnut flavor it was going to. The result wasn't quite ; satisfying as the high-sat-fat coffee blend he'd relinhed  at Ashley's insistence, but having the wafer to ck on with his hot beverage offered something of a
He took a bite of the end that had been soaking in the fee, like a man playing Russian roulette without even i inkling that he holds a cocked and loaded revolver in
hand. !*This, his second rolled wafer of the day, was not
ng those Palardy had injected. 'Three hours later, Gordian would sneak a third into daily allotment as a perk to himself after hearing : cries and lamentations from his fueding execs. lat was the bullet that got him.

fou have any thoughts about why I asked to see you
this late on a Friday afternoon?" ^"Well, sir—" f "Tom's fine for now," Ricci said. After seven months


Tom Clan cy's Power Plays

on the job, he guessed he was past due making up his mind how he wanted to be addressed by his subordinates.
"Yes, sir," Nichols cleared his throat nervously. "Tom."
Ricci looked across his desk at the kid.
"And what might they be?"  
The kid's face was confused.
"Your thoughts," Ricci said.
"Oh." Nichols cleared his throat again. "Well, it's late Friday afternoon ..."
"Which I already established," Ricci said.
"Yes, you did, sorry, Tom ..."
Ricci wound his hand in the air.
"My assumption was that you'd waited till the end of this week to complete your evaluation of my actions during last week's training exercise. And, uh, that you wish to discharge me from the RDT before next week gets under way."
Ricci looked at him.
"That had occurred to me," he said.
The room was quiet a moment. In fact, it was dead still. Late Friday afternoon, almost everybody had gone home for the weekend. Even the corridor outside was deserted.
Ricci glanced at the wire-basket penholder on the desk near his left elbow, decided it was situated too close to him, pushed it farther away, decided he liked its original position better, and returned it there.
"We know what went wrong with the office penetration," he said. "Looking back, you want to tell me how it should've been executed?"
Nichols took a few seconds to think and seemed to



feet steadier and less antsy as he did. The kid had close|  cropped blond hair and cheeks that Ricci doubted would fpave any fuzz on them if he were to miss shaving for a pyeek. But there was a toughness underneath the school- oy looks, a focus. And he had the build of someone i exercised with intelligence, shooting for overall fit',  ness and stamina rather than bulk. Ricci had observed qualities while working briefly with him in KaI'zakhstan,  and then again during the first-round tryout Us for his RDT.
"Our targets were confined to the room. Without any own means of exit but the door, according to our r-plan schematics. That was to their disadvantage," : said at last. "To their advantage, they knew we were side, and the doorway gave them a narrow, direct, easily covered zone of observation and fire." He again. "We could have created multiple diver- before and during our entry. A breaching charge |Could have been placed on the wall adjacent the door. fi'A profusion of chemical incapacitants and distractive 4s were available to us. There may have been time our outside support teams to launch gas projectiles ugh the outside window. Primarily, though, I should ave waited for your specific orders, directions, and ntdown before attempting to break through the

The kid sat rigidly in his chair. He seemed to be mak- a tremendous effort to contain his embarrassment. I somehow that made Ricci feel embarrassed for him.
"You were crackerjack until you swung that rammer," said. "Didn't miss a beat when we were surprised
those guys coming down the stairs. Or when we got that firefight in the hall. Both of 'em were tough


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

situations. What happened at the last? Adrenaline take over?"
Nichols' smooth cheeks flushed a little.
"Not exactly, sir ... Tom, sir..."
He shook his head.
"Go on," Ricci said. "Let's hear it."
The kid inhaled, exhaled.
"When you ordered us to neutralize the men in the corridor, your words ... what I heard you say ... was that you wanted it done yesterday." He breathed again, looked at Ricci. "At the time, I took it to mean you wanted us to directly move on to the next stage and complete the seizure of our target. In hindsight, I think ... that is, I know ... I was too eager to please you and make the grade."
Ricci was quiet a moment.
"I've got this theory about mistakes," he said. "That they're always waiting for us, sort of like hidden mines or trapdoors. Every step along, we've got choices to make. The better ones are usually just enough to get us a little further ahead. The worse ones have this crummy way of being more final. Of doing us in. Which doesn't make for joyous odds."
Ricci eyed his penholder, transferred it to his right side, then his left, then more toward the middle of the desk.
"I've been a soldier, and I've been a cop," he said, looking up at the kid. "Met guys on both jobs who got into trouble not knowing the difference between obedience and blind obedience. Maybe it ought to be emphasized more. Showing men how to see the line, I mean. It can be thin. Razor sharp. Slippery. But if that's where you choose to live, you better be wise to the terrain."



paused. "I'm your commander. My orders are sup- to be clear. You tell me the words I used had a in your scrcwup, I'll take it into consideration, give  in  a second chance. But there won't be a third. Because :'re talking life and death. For you and your team-   is. And because, on my team, just following orders 't cut as an excuse. You've got to use your head, your judgment, everything you've learned, your un- iding of what the mission's about. Of what we're it. And keep the line in sight" Nichols sat quietly in his chair. "Thank you," he said after a few seconds, looking kward. "I appreciate what you've done for me. And f jn sorry—" Ricci interrupted him with a motion of his hand,
;ed at his wall clock. "Go home," he said. "It's late on a Friday afternoon, eekend's calling." "Yes, sir," the kid said.
ci looked at him. Opened his mouth, closed it looked back at his penholder and resumed shifting around his desktop. Nichols rose from his chair and left the office.




roger gordian awoke sunday morning convinced
he was fending off a bad cold.
To be sure, he'd felt more than a little out of sorts the day before but had attributed that to being wearied from a busier-than-average week at the office, the predictable stresses of running an enterprise that spanned five continents —and, at last count, twenty-seven nations—compounded by Friday's difficult sales conference. And he'd been keeping a close eye on Tom Ricci's war games at the New Mexico training camp. Although Ricci had been frustrated with their ultimate resolution, his team's performance had struck Gordian as mostly exceptional. That they'd stumbled at the end wasn't as important to him as how they'd performed overall and what lessons they'd learned from their errors. Why hold operational maneuvers but to work out the kinks?
Still, a long, draining week. And with Ashley gone off to storm the checkout counters of Los Angeles, it felt incomplete, as though a seam had been left out of


cuff. The house was less of a home when she was ay, too quiet, its rooms emptier and larger. Gordian etimes couldn't believe how much time they'd spent before he'd drifted from the matrimonial through onto those eye-opening rumble strips a few years

he'd admittedly gotten used to having Julia despite  their  frequent tense  moments.   She ned delighted with her new place, and he was de- for her. But a part of him selfishly missed fang her and being trailed at his heels by her lovably oying greyhounds.
turning in early Friday night, Gordian spent t of Saturday with a mystery novel on his lap, unable k muster the energy for much of anything else. When |*d warmed the homemade chili Ashley had left in the and its smell failed to charge his appetite, he'd lusively diagnosed himself as an exhausted and bird separated from his flock. Nobody to pay tion to him. No eternally ravenous dogs nosing at (plate. Not even his daughter to give him one of those ng looks that said he couldn't do anything right.
dian had listlessly eaten half a bowl of the chili 1 picked up his crime novel again, figuring he'd read i last few chapters, discover who murdered whom and   y, shower, and go to bed. But after about ten or fif- minutes. his eyes had felt tired and grainy, and he :ided to cut straight to the shower and bed phases of second wild night of bacheloring. He'd wanted to : out for Julia's first thing, anyway, eager to attach : spacers and siding strips to the posts of her dog cor- i. Though he'd already set the posts, and the strips had cut to size at the lumber yard, it would be a de195

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

manding affair to complete just one side of the basket- weave fence. And he was secretly hoping to start on a second section that afternoon.
Then, as he'd risen from the chair in his study, Gordian  had experienced a wave of mild lightheadedness. It was over in seconds, and again all he could think was that he was blown out from a rough week, though perhaps more so than he'd guessed. A few extra hours of shut-eye would do him a world of good.
But his sleep was shallow and fitful. Each time he stirred uneasily to glance at the illuminated face of his bedside clock, he'd find only a short time had passed since he'd last closed his eyes. Twenty minutes, forty, no longer than an hour.
At about two a.m. Gordian roused, chilled and sweating. His throat hurt when he swallowed. There was a dull pain behind his eyes. His arms and back were stiff. Whatever was wrong with him, it didn't feel like a case of simple exhaustion anymore. He felt damn unwell.
He sat up against his pillow and drew his knees to his chest, trembling in the darkness. His mouth was parched, the stiffness in his muscles had become a throbbing ache, and his stomach was unsettled. After a while, he went into the adjoining bathroom for a drink of water. The sudden brightness of the bathroom light sharpened the pain at the back of his eyeballs, and he had to turn the dimmer control down low before going to fill his glass.
As he stood over the sink, it occurred to Gordian that a couple of aspirins might help him. He reached for the bottle in the medicine chest, shook a couple of tablets into his hand, and gulped them down with his water. Then his eye fell on the thermometer inside the chest.



should take his temperature. If Ashley were home, would insist on it. But a fever would mean he'd bly have to can his visit to Julia's, and he had ked forward to seeing her and making progress on ; dog pen. Besides, Ash would be meeting him there t her purchase-laden suitcases, each doubtless weigh;  a ton. She was counting on him to help load them the trunk of the car and drive her home. All he
was to be sick and useless to everyone, j Gordian made up his mind to take his temperature if i condition didn't improve by morning. Well, later in i morning, he thought, remembering the hour.
fact, he'd slowly begun to feel better on his return ibed. The chills abated, and he found that his muscle nps were likewise easing. Maybe he'd caught some of twenty-four-hour bug, and it had peaked over- lit. Or maybe the aspirin had done the trick.
around three-thirty, Gordian again fell asleep and I not reawaken until the alarm buzzed four hours later, iinday came on warm and radiantly clear. With his turned into the golden sunlight flooding his bed- window, Gordian started to think he might not 1 that thermometer after all. His lower back was still ling, and his throat hurt a little when he swallowed, : there were no signs of feverishness or nausea, got up, went into the kitchen to fill the coffee- then decided tea might be a smarter pick. He ied it to his screened-in veranda and sat looking out i1 Ashley's hillside arbor gardens, sipping from his cup, rose-scented breeze wafting over him. Perfect tier for working outdoors. He'd finish the tea and see how he was doing before reaching a conclusion at whether to go on with his plans.


Tom  Clancy's  Power Plays

By eight, Gordian felt considerably recuperated from whatever had hit him the previous night. No sense treating himself as nonfunctional. He would push forward on the corral, take it slow and easy, maybe get a bit less of it done than he might like. He'd always believed moderate physical exertion was a better remedy for a cold than lying around the house. Better for him, at any rate.
Gordian went back into the kitchen and rinsed his cup and saucer in the sink, thinking he should have a bite to eat before leaving for Pescadero. Food didn't tempt him, though. As he turned toward the bathroom for another quick hop under the showerhead, he heard an inner voice argue that skipping breakfast was far from advisable for a person who'd been as sick as he was a few hours ago, and who was looking ahead to a long, active day. But he was sure he'd regain his appetite once he reached Julia's. He could fix himself some toast, an English muffin, risk incurring her wrath and sneak a morsel or two to Jack and Jill. Like old times.
What he wanted right now was to wash up and hurry into his clothes. He was anxious to get moving with things, and the worst of his illness really did seem to be behind him.

"Megan, I'm wondering if it's appropriate for us to discuss a matter of Bureau policy under these circumstances."
"Is my nearness bothering you? Because I can slide over the other way. No offense taken."
"It isn't how close you are per se—"
"Then what is it you find questionable? That we're in a hot tub together? The whole idea of conducting business exclusively in sterile office settings is fossilized,



and that isn't just my opinion. There are a million and one studies that show—empirically prove—relaxed and p:stimulating environments are the places to confer—"
"Come on, help me out here—"
"I'm trying, Bob. What do you think Bohemian Grove (is about except the intersection of government and pri|wate  af—?"
"Forget Bohemian Grove. We're both naked, or ftoaven't you noticed? And I won't get into the subject |pof our intersecting the past couple of days."
That brought a smile to Megan's face.
"Get into it all you want," she said.
Her emerald eyes met his gray ones.
Lang looked back at her in speechless silence.
They were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the curved ench of the hot tub, neck deep in 180-degree water, |steam rising into the 45-degree Shenandoah Valley air iaround them in vaporous ribbons and curlicues. Over land beyond the lattice rail screening their room's rear |deck, the redwood hot tub upon the deck, and their nude, soaking bodies in the tub from the eyes of their hosts j;and fellow weekenders at the Virginia B and B, over fand beyond on the forested Allegheny mountainsides ^across the valley, the hardwoods in autumn foliage were i^vatercolor dashes of cinnamon brown against the pweeping dark green brush strokes of the predominant fpine cover.
"You seem to have blanked out."
Lang sighed.
"My problem," he said, and then paused. "That is, what I believe may be unseemly is that you are making


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

a substantial professional request of me while we're very busily engaged in an extraprofessional relationship. Asking that, in my capacity as Washington Bureau chief, I seek to waive or broaden existing security classifications to give UpLink International access to privileged investigative files."
She shrugged. "We were entirely clothed when I made the request. Neither of us had yet seen the other unclothed at the time. Truthfully, I hadn't begun to entertain the notion that we would, though the fantasy did arise one dark and lonely night."
He shook his head in consternation.
"Be straight," he said. "You can see how there might be at least an appearance of impropriety."
"Sure I can," she said. "But do you believe I've been sleeping with you to cloud your objectivity, compromise your integrity, entice you to violate national security, whichever perception concerns you—?"
"That's ridiculous—"
"And do you think I'd stop sleeping with you as a consequence of your denying us access, if that proves to be your determination?"
"No, of course not—"
"So why don't you help me get things straight," she said. "Give me a rational explanation why the farther along we've come in our friendship, the farther away you've tilted from opening the databases. Since I know who I am, and you seem to know who you are, I can't see either one of us violating our principles for a tumble in the sack."
"Or a splash in the tub, I suppose," Lang said. "I don't know. Maybe I don't have a clear and sensible answer for you. But I've always kept my personal life separate



Bftom my responsibilities to the Bureau. Mixing them is isomething new to me. It throws the formula out of ife whack."
"Would you rather limit your mating prospects to women you meet in bars and nightclubs?"
He looked at her.
"I think you're being a little unfair."
Megan was shaking her head now, her face dead se- grious.
"What isn't fair is putting boundaries on what we've igot going because you're jittery about messing with | some artificial formula," she said. 'The workplace is where adults meet. Where they get to know one other, .sans hackneyed pickup lines. I don't see anything wrong ; with that. Or how our having grown close suddenly makes us Mata Hari and Benedict Arnold."
He was quiet. They sat there alongside each other, ^Steam billowing around them into the chill air, shim- jinering in the sunlight.
Megan craned her head back, looking up into the open psky.
"One last time," she said after a moment, still staring i upward. "My feelings for you aren't predicated on !%hether UpLink obtains the clearances. But I've got my ffjob obligations, too. Gord isn't about to take no for an toswer, and he's got heavyweight contacts from the president on down. I'd prefer we not have to make an K«nd run around you. And I hope that if we must, you'll : Understand and won't let it pull us apart." Her voice ^caught. "That would be a waste. And make me sadder ; than I can begin to express."


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Lang gazed out at the brown-andgreen-splashed mountains in the distance.
"Tell Gordian he'll have my decision by the end of the week," he said.
Megan nodded without looking down.
He turned to her, studied her upturned face for several seconds.
"It must be hard sometimes being a woman and strong," he said.
Her eyes lowered. Met his again.
"Sometimes," she said.
He leaned close and touched his lips to her shoulder. Brushed them along her neck, the line of her chin, the soft flesh below her ear, caressing her face, stroking back her hair with his fingertips, leaving behind traces of white gooseflesh.
"I'm not going anywhere," he whispered and slid his arm around the bareness of her waist to draw her closer, kissing her on the cheek, on the corner of the mouth. "I'm in for whatever happens."
She made a low sound in her throat, her lips parting against his.
"Let's make something happen right now," she husked, and kissed him, smiling as their mouths and tongues joined. She put her hand on him under the water, closed it around him under the water, moved it with quickening intensity under the water. Lang's hand slid down over her hip, down over her thigh, lower, finding her, touching her, matching her rhythm, their eyes locked, their bodies pressing together, moving together, swaying, locked ...
The two of them losing themselves in each other,



psiaking something happen there in the water on the deck I'ibeneath the wide and borderless blue sky.

fijfl a sense, Gordian was right about his building of the feporral having a therapeutic effect on him. He knew a ptoctor would not have condoned it. Might have strictly |8isallowed it. But he felt the warmth of the sun on his ck, the smells of mown grass and freshly dug earth, nd the robust physical workout helped carry him
ugh most of the day. Standing in his daughter's backyard now, Gordian in- tpljpected his workmanship and nodded to himself with oval. He'd developed and patented scores of break- ough technologies, pioneered advances in communi-  long     that    had    transformed    governments    and psconomies, but his justifiable pride in those achieve- |tnents had never topped his pleasure in building some- Mng with only wooden boards, a box full of nails or pgcrews, and a handy set of tools.
It was a feeling that was no less keen today than it been when Gordian was a thirteen-year-old boy |founding together a tree house in Racine, Wisconsin, ordered routine of readying his tools and construc- materials relaxed him and gave him a chance to paganize his thoughts. He enjoyed the way a number of eful and methodical steps that followed a proven design would yield visible results within a relatively short Sme frame. And he enjoyed the direct connection be- ftween hands-on effort and outcome, especially when ey were for the benefit of someone he loved. While it was a bit of a damper to realize he was in- pexplicably getting on that particular someone's nerves, Khe'd almost come to accept that as status quo.


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Gordian removed his safety goggles, slipped them into his tool belt, and flapped his T-shirt to dry the perspiration on his chest and armpits. Certainly he'd been functioning at well below 100 percent. He was breathing hard, his sore throat bothered him, and a nagging, raspy cough had developed over the last few hours. Every so often he would get a pang between his shoulder blades and down at the base of his spine as a reminder not to push too far. But that sun felt great, and there hadn't been a recurrence of the vague dizziness and shakes he'd experienced the night before, and he hadn't looked for trouble by mentioning any of it to Julia. She would surely overreact and push him into a lawn chair, where he'd spend the rest of the afternoon shooing away flies and mosquitos.
No thanks, he thought. He could decide for himself when he'd had enough. Parental privilege.
Gordian blotted the sweat from his eyes and forehead with his sleeve, put his cordless power drill into its belt holster, folded his arms across his chest, and continued to look over his handiwork. The fencing's interwoven board construction required more fuss than, say, an ordinary stockade, but the wider spaces between its boards allowed enough wind filtration to keep it upright during the worst imaginable coastal blow. And gave the greyhounds convenient openings to peep through.
Each side of the square corral was to measure twelve feet by six feet, its horizontal plywood strips sized at a little over four feet long—any longer and they would tend to weaken. Gordian had needed to start off the first side by installing four posts at four-foot intervals. After he'd plotted the corral's measurements with a tape ruler, twine, and temporary stakes on his last visit, he had dug



\ first row of pestholes, filled their bottoms with gravel drainage, and then driven the posts into the ground a heavy mallet, repeatedly checking their vertical with a carpenter's level, packing soil into the holes ic went along. It had been vigorous work that left streaked with dirt and sweat and with a blistered ger or two in spite of the gloves he'd worn. But it n't supposed to be easy, and he hadn't minded, is morning, Gordian had resumed where he'd left using his power tool to fasten the horizontal strips jalternating sides of the posts, moving from bottom to and right to left. What he was presently looking at ; the open space between the last two posts. Once he the horizontals up to close that gap, he'd be done an entire side of the corral, his modified goal for afternoon. Well, almost done with it, since that uld still leave him having to thread the vertical spacfi  through the strips. But it was a relatively quick and emanding task, and he could ask Julia to help him before leaving for home.
lian had another brief spate of coughing and his throat but didn't bring up any fluid, and he ft a bit winded afterward. It was odd, that dry ness of breath. He didn't seem to have any of the ipanying mucus and watery congestion that was ily symptomatic of a cold. Not even a runny nose, as if he'd sucked in a handful of plaster dust and ildn't expel it from his lungs.   fe cast a guarded look over at Julia's back porch, she might have heard his latest hack attack. For- ely, though, she was busy with the tuna and sword- :eaks on her gas grill. When Ashley had called to that she'd been met by her pickup car at the air205

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

port, Julia had gotten into an instant rash to prepare dinner. Maybe too great a rush. The drive from San Jose International would take about an hour in light traffic, and on Sundays, Highway 1 ordinarily became crammed with bumper-to-bumper mall-goers. This close to Thanksgiving, you could count on it. Much as he was anxious to see his wife, Gordian estimated they had a good forty minutes before she arrived, and Julia knew the Bay Area traffic situation as well as anyone. Besides, Ashley would want to relax for a while before eating dinner.
Gordian sighed. Call him oversensitive, but he thought Julia's glued attention to the barbecue seemed an excuse for her utter and deliberate inattention to him. Whatever was bothering his daughter, her emotional state was always best revealed by her attempts to conceal it, to appear calmly preoccupied with her chores and projects, to veer off on her own and peripheralize everything and everyone around her. It was an exasperating quality Gordian found easy to recognize, given that the river from whence it flowed happened to bear his name, first and last.
Unfortunately, recognizing it didn't mean he had the vaguest idea how to deal with it. On the one hand, he didn't like being ignored during what he'd hoped would be a chance for some father-daughter bonding, to paraphrase Ashley. On the other, he didn't want Julia regarding him so closely that she'd detect he was less than the picture of health. Was there no happy medium?
He stood there looking across the yard at the house, and after a few moments became aware that Jack and Jill seemed to be compensating for their mother's cold- shoulder routine. Nice doggies. Leashed to the porch rail



cautious distance from any edibles, they had fixated him in their high-strung and inimitably questioning «ray, their ears cocked in his direction like swivel annas, their eyes penny brown circles of curiosity. Gor- had once heard somebody refer to the breed as shbutton dogs" because of their habit of lying per- :ly still and silent for hours on end, comically anxious i they watched their owners tend to their business, only snap onto all fours with a spring-loaded, running and when it was time to be fed or walked. And while term had been used with affection, he'd been disessed  to learn this peculiar behavior came from years   p being cooped in racetrack kennels that barely allowed em the room to stand or turn, let alone interact with er dogs. As a consequence, they became social miss,  insecure about their status, never quite able to tell was expected of them or how to behave. And so ey kept their constant watch, waiting for reassurance, bottled energy.
Sad, Gordian thought. But thanks to the greyhound lie people and Julia, things had vastly changed for em. And would change even more for those particular eyhounds when their corral was built and they could Hop around outdoors to their hearts' content. He turned, ready for his next go at the fence. The pile   r forty boards he'd set out for himself this morning had tidied to a mere ten spread neatly across the grass. fow that today's section had started to take definite liape, he could scarcely wait to get the rest of them up. Gordian was stooping to lift an armload of boards Wien the lightheadedness washed over him again. He shed hot and cold. His heart fluttered irregularly, then egan to pound.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

He took several deep breaths. The gritty rattle in his throat wasn't any comfort, but he soon grew steadier and felt the pounding in his chest subside.
Within seconds, the spell was over. Gordian knelt on the lawn, his head clear again. Still, he couldn't keep on like this. He would have to get himself checked out. He'd call the doctor tomorrow morning, try to squeeze in an appointment for the same day. He was confident as ever that he wasn't suffering from anything more serious than a nasty cold. Maybe a touch of the flu. But it couldn't just be disregarded ad infinitum.
He glanced over at the porch. Julia remained involved with her cuts of fish, shifting and flipping them over the flame with her spatula. She hadn't noticed his little episode. Good. He'd pretty much recovered and was thinking he could mount the rest of the boards in twenty minutes, tops. Close that space. Then he'd quit. Grab one of those lawn chairs, relax in the sunshine. And wait for Ash.
He gathered half the siding boards on the ground, carried them to the fence posts where he'd be working, and squatted to get the lowermost board in place. Then he took the drill from his holster, checked to see that the screwdriver bit was firmly in the chuck, pulled his goggles over his eyes, and reached into his pouch for a screw.
His power tool slugged the screw into the wood easily, its fat motor startling the birds out of a nearby tree with its racket.
The board went on without a snag. Gordian reached for the next one, positioned it, and was about to squeeze the drill's trigger switch when he heard Julia calling him: "Dad!"



«He looked over his shoulder and saw her approaching ss the lawn. She was outfitted in black capri pants, rilles, and a sleeveless blue midriff blouse that pre-   r matched the color of her eyes. And Gordian's eyes well, though it was not something he noticed at that ament.
he was noticing was the tight, controlled ex- ssion on her face. The overdone casualness of her de.
He braced himself as she reached him. 'Time for a break. We'll be eating soon," she said in t-fiat, clipped tone.
"Hey Dad, you're doing a fantastic job!" Gordian ought. "/ couldn 't have expected better from a profes-
il carpenter!"   * He raised his goggles and regarded her from his
"I'm almost finished with this side of the corral," he ttd. "Your mother hasn't even arrived yet..." 'She shrugged. "I thought maybe you'd want to wash ' before she gets here."
"You're the greatest, Dad! I love you! Jack and Jill 9ve you! We all love you like mad! I honestly don't
what we'd do without you being around!"   Gordian tried not to look set upon. He felt a burr in throat and cleared it to stave off a cough. "Her car just left the airport half an hour ago, and you imagine what the roads are like today," he said, pondering if his voice sounded as weak and croaky as ; seemed. "We should have plenty of time ..." Her gaze flogged him. "Okay," she said. "Whatever." Baffled, Gordian watched her turn away and walk


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

back toward the house. It struck him to call after her, ask her to help him understand the nature of his current transgression, but he thought it might just provoke an argument. He decided the wisest thing to do was concentrate on his undertaking, keep his distance, and maintain a frail peace until Ashley arrived.
Gordian managed that with considerable success. He attached the rest of the boards he'd carried from the shrinking pile and then brought over the five that were left, all without getting into knots about Julia's inexplicable attitude.
Then he was on his last board. He aligned it between the posts with a swell of anticipation and squeezed the trigger of the drill. It whined to life in his hand—
And then the dizziness overtook him in a surge that almost spilled Gordian off his feet. He staggered drunkenly,  his gorge heaving into his throat, rancid and scalding. His vision went gray around the edges, and then the grayness spread over everything, and he felt his body go loose, the drill jolting in his right hand. He experienced a hot, piercing pain in his opposite hand an instant before releasing his grip on the power tool's trigger. Just as the gray turned to black, he saw a bright splash of redness gush from the burning spot from the wandering drill bit.
Julia. Calling him from somewhere at a distance. Her tone of voice so different than it had been only minutes before.
"Dad, Daddy, oh no, oh my God, DADDY—"
Lost in darkness, spinning in a whirlpool of darkness, he felt every part of himself melting away, turning to liquid, rushing into the ground.



It's all right, hon, please don't sound so scared, Gor-
thought he heard himself say. In fact, the words never had a chance to leave his nth.




the body of felix quiros did not quite go to
the rodents. Nor was it exactly found by other members of the Quiros clan.
His executioner would later be amused to hear that they split the difference.
First cousins to one another, third cousins to Felix on opposite sides of his lineage, foremen at his auto salvage yard, and low-level functionaries in the criminal family business, Cesar and Jorge were far from quick to attach his three-day absence from the yard to the notion that any harm had come to him, and even slower to associate it with the scuttling, scratching noise they heard down the aisle of junkers.
Every so often, Felix would shoot down across the border to those Tijuana bars where the young putas   came three for the price of one, bring them to a hotel room, turn them on to some dope or ecstasy, get fucked up, and drop out of sight for days on end. Cesar and Jorge were well aware of his bad habits and guessed they


been the guys taking care of the scrapyard's daily dons ever since Enrique handed it to Felix in an empt to give him a firm set of responsibilities and ep him from running into trouble, but he'd kept on Mng it anyway. Just let him get his hands on a little sh, and you could count on him going no-show until s'd blown every cent of it looking for degenerate kicks. Felix was here, he wasn't here, Cesar and Jorge didn't it was of much consequence either way. They ew about their own obligations. They had the keys entry combinations to every part of the scrapyard usually found that it was less trouble to manage ngs without his high-hat bullshit. When he'd asked i to participate in that score connected with the Sal- goods from Mexico, they'd told him he was a and refused. Because Felix was the illegitimate i of Enrique's sister, Cesar and Jorge kept from voic- their opinions of him except between themselves, ugh the pair had a strong feeling that whatever they ght about the twit was hardly anything that wouldn't occurred to his uncle a hundred times, and that iy would have faulted them too much for anything |y said. Still, you had to observe certain proprieties. lichen Cesar finally noticed the sounds at around it barely aroused his interest. A dumping ground this, acre upon acre littered with decaying vehicles with half-eaten hot dogs, burritos, candy bars, vinkies, ice cream cones, soft drink containers, and rotting trash people left inside them, a place like J|5 was home to every sort of creature you could name, then some. After a while, you didn't actually have |see them to know which ones were nearby. You could tify them just by the sounds they made.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

That scratchy rustle, Cesar immediately knew it was a sign of rats. Some people, ones who didn't have the same experience with them as Cesar, who didn't spend as much of their goddamn lives around them as Cesar, thought they mainly came out at night, but here in the yard you could expect them to appear at any hour of the day. You got used to them being nuisances, used to seeing them dart between the cars, used to hearing them scavenge for food. They'd crawl in through broken windows or holes in the undercarriages, even climb into the trunks and chew through the upholstery of the backseats to enter the junkers. Bring an egg sandwich from the luncheonette for breakfast, a gray, ugly fucker that was bigger and meaner than a Chihuahua was liable to catch a whiff, come right out into the open, right into your trailer or shed if there was a space wide enough for it to crawl through. Sit there staring at you with the shiny beads of its eyes like it expected you to hand over the food. At a certain point, Cesar and Jorge had got to chucking empty beer and soda cans at the rats to scare them away, but some were so bold they'd stay right where they were unless you caught them smack in the head, rearing up on their hind legs, baring their white needle teeth like they were daring you to take another pitch, give it your goddamn best. Finally, Jorge started shooting them on sight when they got too close ... and not with a BB gun, either. Jorge, he'd hit them with rounds from his nine mil, bam, bam, bam. Said that someday he would come in with an Uzi and chop away at the bastards until every last one was blown to pieces.
So it didn't seem exceptional at first, that sound. This was a little after twelve noon, maybe eighty degrees out, a warm day for November, the sun baking straight down



i the wrecks to recook the spoiled food and crap inside em, raising a stink into the air that got the rats sali- ting. You could spend the rest of the day trying to atter them, banging new dents into the already battered bodies with bats and crowbars, risk getting bitten * you weren't careful. And for what good reason? Bearing this in mind, Cesar was initially inclined to verlook the skritch-scratch of their claws and the gnaw;  of their teeth, having been headed toward the office aler for the phone number of this guy who repaired : heavy equipment, wanting to call him down to look
forklift that had gone kaput. But then he'd hesitated and found himself turning to- the noise. No question, a lot of rats were making Very definitely a whole lot. It gave him the creeps, king about them teeming somewhere just out of sight hind the wall of cars. Maybe some other kind of an- had wandered into the yard and dropped dead. A a cat, a fucking coyote, Christ only knew. It had ened in the past, and what you wanted to do in that was clean things out, torch the car if need be, or fore you knew it, a whole section of the yard would swarming with all kinds of vermin. Worms, flies, aggots, a disgusting situation.
H'.So what Cesar had done was reach into his pocket for flip phone, buzz Jorge over at the recycling plant, tell him to haul ass over with his niner. It took him maybe ten minutes to show, a crowbar in hand, his pistol in a belt holster under his hanging ttails. And when he did, Jorge agreed Cesar's feel- gs were merited.
"Sounds to me like there's a lot of goddamn rats back e," he'd said, and passed the crowbar to Cesar. "Bet215   

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ter clean it out or we gonna have some kind of infestation."
Which was, of course, almost word for word what Cesar himself had been thinking.
The noise leading them forward, they inched their way between twisted front panels, jutting bumpers, partially unhinged doors, and fallen wheel covers. It was like being inside an oven here, heat shimmers above the stacked auto bodies. The scratching was very loud, and you could hear the rats squealing excitedly. And the   stink, Jesus, that odor of broiling garbage was enough to make Cesar's stomach clench.
Suddenly Jorge grabbed his shoulder and steered him to the right. He had his gun in his free hand and was pointing it at the back of an old Buick sedan.
But Cesar had already seen the rats. There had to be dozens of them. Fat ones with pale, slopping bellies that dragged underneath them. Smaller ones not much larger than mice. They were squirming over, under, and around the trunk. Crowding on its closed lid, climbing on each other's backs, a frenzied jumble. They did not seem to notice the two men. Or maybe they were too worked up to care about them.
A sound of horror and disgust wringing from his throat, Jorge swung his pistol downward and pumped three rounds into the carpet of rats on the ground. Cesar saw a rat explode as it flopped into the air. The rest that had been clustered near the rear wheels and bumper went scrambling away, but a few of them still clung to the trunk lid, pawing at its flaked, peeling finish.
Jorge raised the gun and fired. Another burst of fur, blood, and guts. Something warm splashed Cesar's cheek, and he winced with aversion. And then the rats



springing from the trunk, tumbling from it, scat- ng in every direction. "We gotta see what's inside!" Jorge yelled, his face aty, gesticulating at the trunk with his niner.
crowbar against his thigh, Cesar stepped reluctly  toward the Buick. He glimpsed a hairless tail slip : of sight under its chassis, shuddered, and stopped.   "Yo, c'mon, open the fuckin' thing!"   Cesar nodded without saying anything. He worked the : end of the steel bar under the trunk lid between the fch and corroded rubber weatherstripping. Then he I down on the crowbar with both hands, using his weight for leverage, took very little prying to disengage the trunk's
latch. The lid popped creakily.   $The stench that rose with the moist, warm air that had trapped inside was sickening. Cesar gagged and his palm over his nose and mouth. Then Jorge ched across his chest and pushed the lid open the rest • the way.
pThey stared into the compartment as another blast of illness gusted over them.
corpse was saturated in a reddish stew of blood other juices. Its clothes were gummy, and the fluids seeped into the trunk's lining. Cesar and Jorge saw ipale hand, a bloated stomach under the scrunched-up and jacket.
large rats had managed to burrow through to the apartment. They withdrew their smeared, gummy uts from inside what was left of the skull and inted out into the bright daylight. The dead man might not have been recognizable ex217

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cept for his clothes. The same familiar clothes he'd been wearing when they'd last seen him.
Their eyes wide, Cesar and Jorge exchanged a glance of shared incredulity.
Felix Quiros's whereabouts had been discovered, and Tijuana this sure as hell wasn't.

Blood for blood. That was how he felt it had to be.
Enrique Quiros sat alone in the San Diego office with the words Golden Triangle Services fronting the outer hallway, his designer glasses folded in his shirt pocket, elbows propped on his desk. He was leaning forward into his hands, eyes closed, the balls of his palms pressed against their lids.
Never in his life had he felt so tired.
It had been an hour since he'd returned from the salvage yard and seen the ghastly remains of his nephew. Dumped inside that trunk. Packed into that trunk with his own blood. And the smell. It seemed to linger in Enrique's nostrils even now, so strong it was almost a taste at the back of his tongue. In his car driving back downtown, he had found an unopened roll of breath mints and popped one after another into his mouth, chewing each in seconds, crushing them between his teeth. That hadn't helped. He'd stood by the car just briefly. A minute or less. But he thought the stench of Felix's decomposing flesh would stay with him for a very long time to come.
Head in hands, he massaged his eyes. On the desktop near his right arm was a small leather case that he had withdrawn from a concealed safe elsewhere in the office suite. Inside it was a plastic ampule and a wrapped, sterile syringe. His reward from El Tio for having relayed



atching kit to Palardy, and a sure means for revenge linst the man culpable for his nephew's death. Although Enrique was not a scientist, he had a solid an's  understanding  of the  incredible biological mi he'd been given. The clear liquid sealed inside : ampule was a neutral, harmless medium for transport administration of the microscopic capsules sus- within. But a single drop held a concentration of is, perhaps thousands of microcapsules. And each of those capsules was a tiny bomblet packed trigger proteins that would allow the Sleeper virus cting every human being to "awaken," that drop id be sufficiently potent to kill the target of an attack times over. All that was required for the virus to ate into its lethal form, attach itself to a specific ge- feature, and amplify, was its victim having a sip   5 water that had been implanted with the trigger, a bite food,... or, Enrique thought darkly, a mint of the : he'd been crunching down in the car.
the fluid medium was only one among many is of getting a trigger into the human body. If your s was to take out a single individual, you could luce it to whatever he was having for lunch. If you to be rid of his family as well, you might inject Thanksgiving turkey before the holiday dinner, jfiden the bull's-eye to include a larger group of people, you'd distribute the trigger across a sweeping num•    of routes. Instead of the food on the table you could urate an entire population's food supply—and be- Spread it over their farm soil, dump it into their ervoirs, float it through the air they breathed. Turn eir environment into an extension of your weapon.   • Enrique supposed the release of a powdered or aerosol


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

medium would give the best shot at effecting a mass exposure. In fact, he had heard El Tio had done exactly that with the Sleeper virus itself. Just as whispers had reached him that Alberto Colon, who had died from mysterious causes last month, was El Tio's first pigeon to die from a precision bio-strike.
Enrique had little doubt that the rumors concerning the virus's dissemination were true. Whether those about Colon were accurate, he didn't know. But it seemed a novel coincidence that the Bolivian president-elect had been poised to threaten the South American coca growers and suppliers from whom El Tio's distribution network —of which the Quiros family was a part—obtained the majority of its product.
Right now, however, Enrique had something else to occupy his thoughts. A very personal affair had to be settled. And though he was inclined to stick with his initial feelings about how to do it, he wanted to deliberate on them further, confirm that he wasn't allowing himself to make a dangerous blunder.
The difficulty now was that he was used to making calculated, rational decisions when it came to business. But in his business, things weren't always that clear. Actions might be rational and emotional without contradiction. Violence could send simultaneous, definitive messages to both the heart and brain. And there were traditions that must not be violated. Matters of honor and loyalty.
He pictured Felix in the trunk of that car. His head blown to pieces and gnawed by rats. His flesh cooking in a soup of his own blood.
An effective message right there.
Enrique lifted his head from his hands, straightened,



ed his glasses back on, and sat quietly staring at the 1. The poor, brainless kid had overstepped. His stunt I hit the Salazars where it hurt. What choice did Lucio Bve except to retaliate? Enrique and his people had aggressively cutting into his market, and because do knew they were backed by El Tfo's international nization, he'd had to accept it, become resigned to   (ing profits. Success brought competition; it was a sic law of trade. However, he would not let himself muscled aside, could not allow everything he'd built i to be usurped. He had to protect his interests. And if :io believed Enrique had condoned Felix's move, as Dp said he did, he would be especially pressed to aw it was a big miscalculation. Show where he drew limits. Show a steep price had to be paid by the asgressor of those limits. Enrique understood this. He appreciated that Felix had ught about his own fate with his deeds. And in a way, B'd also dictated the steps Enrique now must take, ir- evocably linked him to a chain of action and conseence  whose end could not be foreseen. Even in his 3W over what had happened to Felix, Enrique rented him for that. And he suspected he always would, it not for him, this whole thing would never have en started.
But Felix had been his nephew. He could not let Lucio get away with his murder. Because it would  he  the Quiros family look vulnerable and invite fur1    trouble, despite their powerful affiliations. And fam- was supposed to look after each other. Enrique glanced down at the leather case on his desk, embering the night he'd met Palardy at the harbor.   Fo be involved in the assassination of somebody with


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Roger Gordian's fame and stature, even if his connection couldn't be verifiably established... it was insane. There again, his hand had been forced. He'd had to play along with El Tio, knowing very well that his almighty friend might otherwise become his most formidable enemy.
He scowled. To a greater or lesser extent, maybe all actions you took were predetermined. He didn't know. He wasn't a philosopher. But what he did know was that Felix's killing demanded retribution, and that the contents of the ampule would ensure it was achieved. A drop of it, one drop administered to the food or drink Lucio Salazar was renowned for consuming with boundless passion, and the Sleeper inside him would begin its ferocious process of incubation. Disease would rage through his body, eating away his cells and tissues like the hungry little creatures in that old Pac-Man game. His suffering would make death a craved relief. And Enrique would have full deniability. Moreover, only the merest few would even suspect Lucio had been murdered.  
But how would it send a message? How would it demonstrate that Enrique Quiros—college-educated, soft-spoken Enrique—had the qualities to control and build upon the empire he'd inherited from his father? That he was a man who stood on his honor and loyalty? A man who could conduct himself with strength?
Blood for blood. In his world, that was how it had to be. It was a principle that was understood from the brothers and sons who would be Lucio Salazar's successors, down the line to his street-level dealers and enforcers.
Lucio could not die in bed of some untraceable sickness.



: Enrique was to be respected, his hands would have rip red.
ng a deep breath, he turned his eyes from the case and reached across his desk for the tele-

i Salazar's wristwatch read ten minutes past two in afternoon when he received an unexpected and ewhat puzzling telephone call from Enrique Quiros. heir conversation, such as it was, lasted just over
, pensive frown on his face, Salazar replaced the re1    on the end table beside him. Then he sat back in »couch, turning his head to look out at the rippling surf far below, his hand moving from the cradled liver to the large gold charm around his neck.   fe was thinking that this was maybe the third time had exchanged words since Enrique had taken over : family operation from his father, their last direct con- shaving occurred the year before, when they had got- f together to smooth over a territorial dispute between uple of their lieutenants. At the time, he'd expected jue to assume airs, him having gone to that top col- and all, but it turned out he'd been reasonable and jl. Well, okay, sort of lacy, too, but he hadn't i up the hard way like his old man, dodging lawmen sides of the border with carloads of bootleg iskey and cigarettes. Most important to Lucio, he'd ducted himself okay, showed integrity, before and They had reached a compromise agreement that tisfied everyone involved, cemented it with a hand- and Enrique had observed it to the letter. Since this was over a year ago now, you wanted to be


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accurate—there hadn't been any problems between them, except for a few minor bumps and bounces they'd settled through intermediaries. Not until his prick nephew Felix had jacked Lucio's shipment of black tar and slaughtered his people outside that fucking tunnel.
Lucio fingered his charm, a representation of Saint Joseph, patron of workingmen and heads of families—   categories he very much fancied encompassed his position in the great order of things.
On the phone, Enrique had said he wanted to go man- to-man, resolve their problems before they got any further out of hand, turned into a crisis that damaged their relations beyond repair. Meet at Balboa Park over by that reflecting pond in the Spanish City two nights from now, neutral ground, a public place where they'd be free to talk without worrying about bugs or taps. He'd suggested they bring their guards to keep lookout, not bothering to elaborate, which would have been tactless. Obviously, guards would be a precaution against any surveillance the law enforcement community might have going on one or both of them, but the foremost reason for his suggestion was to dispel any concerns Salazar might harbor about the meet being a setup of some kind.
And that had been it. No mention of why Enrique was suddenly anxious to reverse the course toward war that he himself had set or how he planned to compensate the Salazars for their losses. This had raised Lucio's eyebrows. Even if Enrique assumed the reason for the meet was clear and preferred getting into details about it in person at the sit-down, some stated acknowledgment that a grievous wrong had been committed had been due. And although the omission had not elicited any comment



i Lucio, he'd tucked it away in a mental back pocket plie'd accepted Enrique's proposition. iNight after next, Balboa Park, eleven o'clock sharp.
got it. I^And they'd hung up.
f|His face lined with thought now, Lucio continued to out at the satiny water beyond the strand edging Del Mar cliffs, his hand tugging away at his Saint
SHe would keep his appointment at the park. Absoely.  He'd given his word that he would attend, and it Id be to the mutual benefit of their families to reach (•settlement and resume their activities without battling But that did not mean he was about to make a of himself. If Enrique had a razor blade in the sserole, he intended be prepared, bring along a few ises of his own. There were still two days until the two days for him to conduct some research, do ever possible to gain some insights into what was ening inside Enrique's camp, get the lowdown on her he might have a hidden agenda. And it only sense that the first step in his investigation should i to contact Mr. Lowdown himself. ^Grabbing the phone off the table again, he set it on i lap, lifted the receiver, and hit the speed dial button : would put him in touch with Lathrop.




late monday afternoon, roger gordian lay
asleep in his room at San Jose Mercy Hospital, having been given a series of physical examinations, blood tests, and chest X rays throughout the earlier part of the day. At four p.m. on Sunday, he had been transported to the hospital aboard an ambulance, accompanied by his daughter, Julia Gordian Ellis, after losing consciousness in the backyard of her Pescadero residence. When the emergency vehicle appeared in response to her frantic 911, Gordian had a fever of 102.7°, was suffering from dehydration, and had lost several ounces of blood from a superficial wound to his left hand inflicted by the power tool he had been using at the time of his blackout. The medical technicians aboard the ambulance were able to control the bleeding and dress his injury on scene, and they administered oxygen and an electrolyte IV, which revived him during his transport to the hospital. Gordian was fully awake and alert upon reaching the ER, where he was joined by his wife, who had been


via her mobile phone by Julia while en route dero from San Jose International Airport. to that time, Gordian's temperature remained ele- 1, and he was experiencing respiratory difficulties, infill sore throat, abdominal pains, nausea, muscle es, and chills. An initial examination by interns on tion led them to a preliminary diagnosis of influenza stress due to overexertion. In spite of his repeated ence that he was fit enough to be discharged and ver at home, the severity of his symptoms led doc- i suggest that he be admitted for routine monitoring testing, a recommendation to which he eventually liesced at the strong urging of his family members, ifithin an hour of his arrival at the ER, Gordian was ved to a private room on the hospital's fifth floor. As i standard procedure for high-profile individuals, hos- security offered him the option of registering under i alias to deflect attention by ambulance- and celebrity- sing reporters. Though he was disinclined to accept preferential treatment, his wife and daughter pre- upon him to reconsider and finally got him to ulate with reminders of his past unhappiness with i media, striking a particular nerve by mentioning the ageous factual distortions of Reynold Armitage, the ial columnist and television commentator with an awn ax to grind who had been unduly eager to pro- ttnce UpLink International DOA in the middle of a eholder's crisis the year before, and who might be cted to jump at the chance to write Roger Gordian's ature obituary if word of his illness leaked to the

On Ashley's recommendation, the door sign beside 5C would read: Hardy, Frank.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

By Monday morning, Gordian's fever had lowered to 101° and he was feeling stronger, though his breathing continued to be strained and he showed little desire for food. His standardized physician's treatment sheet—   known by the memory key ABC/DAVID to every fourth-year medical student, physician's aid, and registered nurse—listed his condition as stable on its third line, between the Admit to: and Diet information. The next line (A for Activity) had a check mark in front of the words Bed Rest. Blood and sputum samples were ordered in the space that read Studies and Lab on this particular hospital's form (synonymous with Intake and Output in the next-to-last line of the trainee's mnemonic). The final line, listed as Medications (i.e., D for   Drugs), called for a moderate dosage of acetaminophen every four hours pending the lab results, which were not expected to return positive for anything more severe than the flu.
At 8:30 a.m. sharp, Ashley and Julia arrived to visit, Julia leaving at 10 o'clock to attend a meeting at the fashion design firm where she'd recently been hired as a public relations consultant, Ashley staying on until Gordian shooed her home at noon with reassurances that he was doing fine—though she made a point of reassuring him that, fine or not, he could count on seeing her again by dinnertime.
Around three in the afternoon, Gordian's attending nurse came to take his temperature, pulse, and blood pressure readings, give him his prescribed Tylenol capsules, and scribble something on his chart. A few minutes afterward, he became groggy and let himself doze off for a while.
At four P.M., as Gordian slept on the fifth floor, a



on station duty two floors below briefly left her for the ladies' room. The moment she did, a man : crisp white uniform of an orderly entered the sta- from where he had been drifting near a supply
treading quietly in crepe-soled shoes, eping an eye out for the nurse, he pointed-and- through several menus on her computer and re- the bed assignment information on all patients in the past twenty-four hours. He could have to use any of the networked unit computers at 'station in any ward in the building. This was simply nvenient opening; amid the constant movement of a 'hospital, he would have had no trouble finding othconds
later, the data on the patient in room 5C ap'.  on the computer, minus his falsified name, liming to the opening screen, the man left the e's station and strode along the hall until he found 11, unoccupied patients' lounge and entered it. he slipped a wireless phone from his pocket and a call on a digitally encoded line. ie's here," he said into the mouthpiece.

s bottleneck elevator rose from the upper sublevel and to release him with a pneumatic sigh. Emerging   > the corridor, he turned to the right and walked past h-security doors marked with signs for the laborato- in the connecting hallways behind them. Some dis- the universal biohazard symbol at eye level, their l-and-black trefoil pattern conspicuous against the sur-
iing grayness.
||He carried himself lightly for a man of his muscular tions, and this partially went to explain the dead


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

silence of his progress down the hall. But as the fluorescent panels overhead neutralized shading and shadow with their suffused radiance, so did the thick concrete walls seem to dampen sound, flatten color, deduct from between them all except the essential and functional.
While the drab work environment required varying degrees of acclimatization from most of the personnel who spent their days and nights physically isolated even from the outlying northern wilderness, Siegfried Kuhl found it to his decided liking. There was a sense of impregnable weight and austerity that suited him. But he felt something beyond that, an unseen force. On occasion, he would put his two hands against a wall and feel the strong vibrational pulse of machinery behind it, the pumping of compressed-air streams to microencapsulation  chambers and "space suits" in the Level 4 laminar flow enclosures underground. At such times Kuhl imagined himself to be touching a hard womb of stone, the life forms within seething and twisting in furious gestation.
Kuhl advanced through the hall, men and women in surgical scrubs moving singly and in groups toward the laboratory entrances on either side of him. Comparable in his mind to Los Alamos at its inception, this was the only facility of its type on earth, at the frontier of the development and mass production of biological weapons —of which the Sleeper virus was the current acme. Its operations covered every stage of the pathogen's creation from genomic analysis and DNA splicing to its cultivation, stabilization, and chemical encoating. The microbe's trigger mechanism additionally required the concurrent and coordinated applications of protein and molecular engineering processes. And experimentation



(refine the virus continued with the goals of acceler- its lethal progression within the target host or increasing its resistance to potential cures and initiations, and addressing the need for variant strains : would provide buyers with widened options, allow- them to select from among diverse packages of
ere was still work, much work, to be done before ion was achieved. <Jow Kuhl reached a reinforced steel door that divided corridor beyond from the rest of the building. No as marked the entry. He put his hand against its in- ligent push plate and paused for his subcutaneous was- patterns to be IR scanned and matched against a file image in an allied database. . millisecond later, a green indicator light flashed on. the vaultlike door swung inward without a sound I the flow of current to the armature of its electromag-
lock was briefly interrupted. Kuhl entered a short passage. He was alone here. The 11s to his left and right were featureless, the door to single office at the passage's opposite end made of
heavy wood. Its knob was of gleaming brass. He went to the door and waited. There was no need   i announce himself. The biometric scanner that had al- ved him into the hallway would have identified him the office's occupant, and his approach would have en monitored with hidden cameras.
moment later, the door opened, Harlan DeVane iing on the other side, his hand on the polished brass lie, wearing a white shirt, white tie, and custom- I black suit of perfect outline that might have been ciled onto his bony frame.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

"Siegfried, come in," he said, and motioned him inside with a flick of his pale, thin hand. "You'll be pleased to hear the news I've received about Roger Gordian."   

Back at Salazar's palatial house by the sea, Lathrop was enjoying himself tremendously.
Facing Lucio across the room, watching his expression go in stages from astonishment to acceptance to resentful anger, he couldn't have said whether the greater kick came from a regard for his own expert connivance or the reaction it had instigated.
Six of one, he thought.
He sat looking out at the breathtaking view of the sea and waited for Lucio to digest what he'd been told.
"Okay," Lucio said at length. "Help me be sure I've got this right. A step at a time. Because you threw me for a loop here, and a whole lot depends on me not misunderstanding you."
Lathrop nodded.
"First off, you're saying absolutely Felix is dead. You're sure there's no mixup it's him they found in that car trunk."
"Couldn't be surer," Lathrop said, pokerfaced.
"Now, second, you can confirm it was Enrique who killed him—"
"Ordered him killed," Lathrop corrected.
"Ordered his own nephew killed. Because Felix was holding out on the profits from the load he swiped from me."
"It's a little more involved," Lathrop said. "Everybody tolerates some skimming. But Felix was greedy. Claimed he was the one who did the tunnel boost, took



the risks, and deserved to keep every cent of the lings. Bragging about it to anybody who could warm stool next to him. And that was only the last straw, was running hustles left and right, and it was com- i knowledge he was on the pipe. Getting crazier and zier. Becoming a major embarrassment." Lucio shrugged. "Was me looking to burn the com- stition, steal their goods, I wouldn't have trusted the with the job. But say I'm Enrique, and I do, and i hear he's spending my percentage. Being family, I : to him direct. Let him know he's making a big mis:  and better get on track."
rique did that plenty of times. He called Felix in : week to give him one more chance. And instead of gizing to Enrique, offering him a percentage of the from the hijack, Felix told him to shove his griev-
where the sun doesn't shine." ^-Stupid," Lucio said and shook his head.
"Yeah." S*Took cajones, though."
"Yeah. But dumb and ballsy can be a bad combina-
^Lucio was thoughtful.
"Let's get to the next step," he said, shifting his large on his wine-colored sofa cushions. "Enrique de;  enough is enough. Sees the kid isn't afraid of him. he can't be disciplined. So he's gotta go. That on mark?"
' Lathrop nodded. "Lousy  position,"  Salazar  said.   "Felix  being  his
"Which is the reason he's been claiming it was your   aily that had Felix scrubbed," Lathrop said. "Like I


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

told you before, Enrique's story to his sister is that the Magi of Tijuana held a conference across the border about how to handle the problem of the tunnel boost. According to him, you'd already planned the hit to make an example of Felix but wanted a vote of confidence from your brothers before moving ahead."
Lucio seemed affronted.
'That don't even make sense," he said. "I want the kid taken out, I'm gonna be damn sure his body disappears permanent. The way Felix was living, it could've been weeks before anybody figured he wasn't off on some fucking jag."
Lathrop looked out the window, appreciating the expansive view of the sea without end.
"Enrique's head of the family," he said. "His sister admires him. She believes what he tells her."
"But I'd have to be tonto, an idiot, to order a dump job that leaves Felix in a car in his own place of business."
"She's not in the life. She probably doesn't know how things work. Or if she does, she could be too overcome with grief to think that clearly about it. All I can say is he convinced her you're responsible, and now she's demanding that he retaliate."
Lucio was shaking his head again.
"This would be funny, if it wasn't so incredible," he said. "Enrique has Felix steal my shit. Kill my people. Then they have a falling out over revenue from the hijack. Enrique does Felix, fingers me to his sister as a scapegoat. She tells him I have to die for whacking her son. Next, I get a phone call from Enrique, who says he wants to meet. Work out our problems. And I agree to it. Figuring maybe he's realized he made a mistake and



ats to offer reparations. But his real purpose is to do now." He thumbed his chest. "I'm going about my ^ng, not stepping on anybody's toes, and Enrique's try- to make me a victim twice over." Lathrop looked at him. The yarn was quite a nifty tie twister.
"This isn't just about Enrique satisfying his sister," he ; as a finishing touch. "You have to remember where how this started. The tunnel job was a message. He slutely means to shove you out of California and 3ws he has El Tio's fist behind him. Felix was a mar- when he was alive, and now that he's dead, Ens's still using him as a prop for his act." Lucio scowled with contempt. "El Tfo," he said. "Everything's disorder since he's
into the picture. Fucking disorder."   Lathrop said nothing.
|l,ucio sat there sucking his front teeth for a while, he leaned forward on the couch, Lathrop was I to notice the back of the cushion underneath him high off the springs from his ample weight. "You got anything else?" ^That's it."
Lucio sucked his teeth some more. "All right, Lathrop. You're the best. And you can lint on this tip being worth a nice bonus," he said. "As as how it goes between me and Enrique, we'll see luch of us is the fucking idiot two nights from now at
Lathrop nodded.
It did indeed promise to be an interesting showdown, he fully looked forward to being ringside.


Tom Claney's Power Plays

"It is interesting how we measure our accomplishments," DeVane said. "I have many successes behind me, and envision more to come. Widespread ventures that yield abundant rewards. Yet the satisfaction I feel at this moment cannot be reckoned. A single person downed. A problem resolved. I hadn't realized Roger Gordian had gotten quite that deeply under my skin."
Kuhl sat across the desk from him in silence. Behind DeVane, slightly to the left of his chair, was one of the few windows in the entire building, a fixed pane of oneway multilaminate glass able to absorb the impact of a bomb blast or high-powered sniper fire. Perfectly square and soundproof, it somehow imparted a greater sense of separateness from the outlying woodlands than would have been presented by a solid wall. Kuhl saw deer tracks in the snow running toward the white-frocked forest spruces and understood the wild longing of the confined predator to lunge against the glass wall of a zoo or aquarium exhibit, a pull older than anything that could be devised to suppress it. And DeVane didn't fool him. His mannered behavior was embroidery. A wrap he wore as neatly as his expensive suits, and to deliberate effect. But he, too, knew the impulse to strike and taste blood.
"Gordian's condition," Kuhl said. "Were you told of it?"
"He remains among the hospital's general population, which means we can infer that he's still in the early stage," DeVane said. "But the symptoms will progress quickly enough."
Kuhl was without expression.
"I propose that our backups be put in full readiness," he said.



fDeVane smiled, his lips flitting back from his small, Wte teeth.
"Your exactitude is always appreciated," he said. jfcs, I agree, let's surely be prepared for anything." f'There was a brief pause. Then DeVane gestured to- the computer station against the wall to his right, i glowing display filled with rows of unopened Email ?es.
; come the trigger orders, even as we sit here," I said. "Multiples in some cases. To no surprise, our : friend has informed me that he's found a deep of capital. As have many of his neighbors in the It's enthralling, the eagerness of my clients, in the noisy public arenas. Those in solitude. : who fear differences of ethnicity and morphology, ey want greater prestige, greater wealth, a world re- lioned under their influence. Or they seek to inflict internal damage upon mankind, spread the stains I dead loves and passions. Hardly a person to whom made my offer isn't groping. And three days from   v, they'll all have the opportunity to chop away at other." Another flit of a smile. "We're in the ey, Siegfried. And I have faith that humanity will us in it to stay." f?Kuhl peered through the thick synthetic glass at a
bird swooping from the conifers. |"Among the buyers are interests in mortal conflict, represent titanic polarizing forces," he said. "The triggers will give them a power of mutual de- tion that has been unprecedented in history." jmiis concerns you?"
|fI don't fear the prospect of harsh change." 'DeVane looked at him.


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"Ah," he said. "You've wondered about me."
Kuhl nodded. Outside the sealed room, he could see the shadow of the bird's outspread wings create shifting patterns of light and darkness on the rippled carpet of snow.
DeVane formed a cage with his fingers.
"There is a story, a very ancient one, about a child of the god who rode the chariot of the sun across the sky," he said. "It illustrates my way of seeing things."
Kuhl waited. DeVane stared at his finger cage intently, as if to capture his thoughts within it.
"As the tale goes, the son was abandoned by his great and celestial father to struggle on the hard earth with his mother, and did not learn of his paternal heritage until he was on the verge of manhood," he said. "And then his claims were ridiculed. The rejection and denial of all that he was, all the potential within him, caused him unbearable humiliation. So he went to his father's manor. Traveled to the Palace of the Sun to ask the chance to prove his birthright, ride the chariot for a single day." DeVane paused, his face taut around his cheekbones, his gaze fixed on his interlocked fingers. "The father's first reaction was to scorn him. Deny his request. We can imagine he disputed his paternity, refused to acknowledge the youth was of his blood. But the son possessed an inbred strength of will and prevailed. Perhaps he used coercion, blackmail, the threat to reveal an affair his father had long kept hidden from his highborn peers. Who knows? The young man did what was necessary to get what he wanted. A chance. And he climbed aboard the chariot with a thousand warnings. Fly too high and the earth will freeze, drop too low and it will burn. Steer too far to the left or right and the monsters



' the void will snatch you with their claws, suck you the great darkness. These attempts to dissuade the nth only made him more eager to seize the reins and : to the heavens." DeVane returned his eyes to Kuhl. cold shine of steel in them. "Unfortunately, control the horses did prove beyond him in the end. They primal forces, you understand, and he was raised lie soil, dirt under his fingernails. Wherever he ed thundering through the sky, chaos was left in his fee. The countryside was seared with fire. Crops . Ice caps melted to flood great cities. Oceans ned to columns of steam. His whipping, runaway ride Dk the world. Chaos. But when, at last, the most awerful of the gods struck him down with a lightning It, sent him plunging to the ground in flames, the son nt to his death without regret. Because in pursuing ambition, he'd soared above and beyond the limita- of his origins. Beyond what anyone foresaw for Beyond those who'd tried to humble him. He had en audacious, and audacity often has consequences, 'd known it from the beginning. Yet what a run it
Siegfried. What a hell of a run."   DeVane fell silent. He took a deep breath, unlocked is fingers, leaned slowly backward in his chair. When
next spoke, his voice was calm and quiet. c"Is your curiosity satisfied?" he said. "Yes."
, "Then back to business." DeVane's hands were open i the desk. "Is there anything else we should discuss?" Kuhl nodded.
"Our recruit in UpLink. The one who administered trigger to Gordian," he said. "He is weak and faith239

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DeVane shrugged his shoulders. "A small fry swimming out of his depth and poisoned along with the big fish."
"As he must realize by now," Kuhl said. "I ask myself, what if he tries to bite us in his final thrashings?"
DeVane's eyebrows lifted.
"I see," he said. "And you suggest..."
"That El Tio have Enrique Quiros put the little creature out of its misery. The sooner the better."
DeVane regarded him with his coldly metallic eyes.
"Your advice is well taken," he said. "I'll contact Enrique."
Kuhl nodded again and rose from his seat. The large, dark bird had flown off, and there was nothing to be seen past the window panel but the hoofprints in the empty whiteness between the building and the great masts of the trees.
He turned, strode toward the door.
Kuhl looked over his shoulder. De Vane's eyes were still steady on him.
"You now know much about me," he said.
"As much as anyone living ever will."
DeVane looked at him another moment, then nodded.
Kuhl reached for the doorknob and let himself out of the office.

He felt so sick.
Palardy crouched with his head over the John, the bathroom tiles hard against his knees. The taste of acid



nails filled his mouth, and his stomach felt twisted out from the repeated vomiting. He'd been at it Sunday night, losing his half-digested dinner in ul wracking fits. And it had only gotten worse when i Stomach was emptied of its solid contents, his spasms ; on through the morning, the digestive juices spurt- j sour and rancid into his throat. And worse still when was no more bile left in him, when he'd started to
• heave.
aybe three o'clock in the morning he'd thrown on clothes, gone down to the twenty-four-hour con- ence store for some ginger ale, hoping that might : him. Twice, three times during the short walk over had to stop, reel toward the curb, and hug a lamp- to keep from losing his feet. But his stomach ps had been unbearable. And there was the dizzi- , the sidewalk seeming to lurch underneath him with step. It had taken a big piece of forever to get to I'store, find the soda, and pay for it, the clerk looking like he was a drunkard or a drug addict come to the place. Palardy was certain he'd had his hand on tiing under the counter—an alarm button, a gun, could tell?—as he'd rung up the sale.   \ And then the agonizing return to his apartment build- Another small eternity. He'd sat back on his sofa drunk the soda warm. Taking small sips, figuring
•• system could tolerate a little at a time.
dy supposed that was when he'd first noticed his throat. Could be it had been developing gradually aghout the night. Maybe he'd have felt it sooner if 'Stomach hadn't been in constant throes. But it was inflamed, and he doubted it could have gotten that I all at once. His tonsils felt as big as thumbs, and he


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had trouble swallowing. And he'd felt these lumps on either side of his neck; he guessed they were swollen glands.
Drinking that soda had itself been an ordeal. And ultimately, it was for nothing. The trip to the deli, his slow, careful sipping, for nothing. The ginger ale had jetted from him in a fountain before he could make it to the bathroom, spilling over his hands, onto the upholstery, onto the carpet. Bubbles of soda mixed with spit and phlegm.
After that, Palardy hadn't tried to swallow anything, liquid or solid.
Sick, he was so god-awful sick. A few minutes ago, he'd thought his guts would tear themselves apart, come squeezing out of him in bloody nuggets. Those dry, ratcheting heaves, his whole body hurt from them. His back and sides as much as his stomach. Jesus. And the way his heart was beating right now, slamming against his ribs, rapid and erratic. Jesus Christ, it was horrible.
Palardy hung over the toilet, gasping, clutching his middle. Waiting to see if his latest attack had really passed or if another round of spasms would sneak up on him.
After a while, he decided he'd gotten a temporary reprieve and rose to his feet, holding the sink to steady himself. He reached for the tap, splashed cold water on his face, swished some in his mouth, and spat into the basin. The horrid taste didn't leave him. He hadn't expected it would.
Palardy staggered out the bathroom door, his head heavy. He was cold and trembling. In the hallway he got a flannel blanket from the closet and tossed it over his



aiders. Then he made his way back to the living
and dropped onto the couch.
fjjVhat was happening? What was the matter with him?   le sat there wrapped in the blanket, trying to get Wishing he could relax. But a terrible thought asserting itself in his mind. If not from the onset |the sickness, then soon after, he'd started to wonder tier it could be connected to what was in that hylic case Enrique Quiros had given him, to what 1 been in the ampule. Only a gullible fool could have to consider the possibility. It had occurred to i the night he'd met Quiros at the harbor that anybody i would risk ordering someone as important as Roger lian to be hurt or killed would be capable of doing ever it took to cover his tracks. Of doing away with iy who might increase his chances of being tied act. In the car, Quiros had seemed uneasy about rown involvement. Eager to be through with it. Pa- couldn't remember the exact words he'd used, but had hinted that he had no personal interest in harm[  Gordian and was having his strings pulled by some- higher up the line. That he was looking out for elf the same as Palardy.
|jft had been a jarring revelation. Palardy never thought imself as a criminal, couldn't have felt more differ- from Quiros. And to realize they had that in corn- realize they would go to equal lengths to protect 5lves... Jarring as hell.
|l^alardy was aware he was the only link between En•    Quiros and Roger Gordian. Eliminate him, and the would be cut. This had come to him right there in ^cruise ship terminal parking lot. Before parting ways


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with Quiros, he'd raised his fears indirectly and asked how he was supposed to know that exposure to the contents of the ampule wouldn't have some terrible effect on him. And Quiros had spent several minutes explaining that the liquid was harmless in itself, the final ingredient of a biological recipe unique to the individual being dosed. Without every one of the other precise ingredients in your makeup, there was nothing to fear. You could consume a gallon of the stuff, and it wouldn't have any effect.
Palardy had no trouble grasping the general concept. He'd followed developments in genetic research in the news, read plenty of magazine articles. Moreover, UpLink International had owned one of the major gene- tech firms until its downsizing maybe a year ago, still retaining a stake in the company, and Palardy had been chummy with some of the people who worked there. So he was knowledgeable enough about their research to understand that Quiros's reassurances had been worthless. Because the recipe was only as unique as the person brewing it up chose for it to be. Imagine he wanted to get rid of everybody with brown hair, or some other feature shared by an untold number of people. What would that do to the mortality rate of those exposed to his "final ingredient"? Wouldn't that make it more of a final solution?
And there was another part of Quiros's explanation that Palardy had sensed was intentionally misleading. If he wanted to talk about the agent being tailored to a person's inherited traits, fine. But how was Palardy to be sure Quiros hadn't had somebody get hold of his   genetic diagram for that very purpose? Pluck a few hairs from his comb, some dead skin from his shower floor?



into his apartment and contaminate his orange bottled water, or cold cuts with a few millimeters trigger formulated especially for the genetic cake called Don Palardy? How was he to be sure?
iy sank back against the sofa cushions and lis- to the sound of his own labored breathing. This ning, when he'd phoned in sick to work, his inten- had been to call the doctor next. But the thoughts ling around his brain had made him decide against : him petrified of doing it, in fact. If he'd caught linary bug, it would eventually run its course. Yet ; symptoms were being caused by a virus or bacteria Rented in a laboratory, some microbe the doctors i't identify, his sole hope of staying alive would i reveal what he knew about it. And even assuming tcould figure out some way to withhold how he knew : he did, when his disease was found to be the same f, Roger Gordian had contracted, it would inevitably to questions he'd be unable to slip. Then he'd be cated in a murder, the first of its kind, his name up somewhere in infamy with Lee Harvey Oswald. i he'd be as dead as Oswald, too.
face pale and sweaty, his body aching, Palardy his eyes. There had to be something he could Bge. Something he could do to get back at Quiros in he'd been duped. Used and discarded. Maybe he getting carried away with himself, and everything i turn out okay. But just in case, just in case, there 1 to be something ...   nd then, suddenly, it crossed his mind that there was.




when roger gordian's personal physician, dr.
Elliot Lieberman, reviewed his case report Tuesday morning, he was left puzzled and dismayed.
Gordian was undoubtedly a sick man, but the cause of his illness was a mystery. The flulike symptoms that hospitalized him Sunday afternoon had shown an appreciable improvement soon after his admission, continued along that positive trend throughout Monday, and then had taken a sharp, unexpected downturn over the past several hours. At around midnight he'd called the duty nurse to his room because of renewed difficulty breathing, chills, and a stabbing headache severe enough to have awakened him from sleep. His temperature had spiked to 103°, its highest since his arrival in the ER, and at last reading hadn't dropped from that elevated mark. And although his respiratory distress was relieved by oxygen given through a face mask, Lieberman had heard a threadiness in his exhalations during a stethoscopic  exam he'd performed a couple of hours ago, and


liately ordered an X-ray series, which showed onary shadows that hadn't been evident in radio- die images taken the previous day—a typical sign buildup in the lungs. Lieberman asked for ad- pictures at twice-daily intervals and regular upon Gordian's condition, thinking that any further i would likely require his patient be transferred to Btensive care unit. Then he had retreated to his of- jito examine the charts and laboratory results.
bewildering thing was that the early suspicion of nza had been ruled out, as had its most serious lication, viral pneumonia. A rapid-culture nasal test to detect A and B type flu antigens—molec- ' components of the viral strains that stimulated de- ive reactions by the body—had shown the ens to be negative. A second type of quick di- tic on a mucus sample from Gordian's throat pro- identical results within twenty minutes. Both is were considered 99 percent reliable, an analytiScertainty  for all intents and purposes.
ing   with   frustration,   Lieberman   sat   leafing l the papers on his desk for the third time, seeking   !?clues he might have missed. His grandmother, rest soul, could have catalogued Gordian's symptoms a touch to his forehead and a look down his inI,  blistered throat with a flashlight, instructing him en wide in Yiddish. And despite the framed sheep- and certificates on his office wall, Lieberman's ent insight into his condition went little deeper than . Examination of Gordian's blood under a microscope t eliminated the common bacterial pneumonias—priily  pneumococcal, but also staphylococcal, and the rarer Legionella strains responsible for Legion247   

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naires' disease. There was no sign of related chlamydial and mycoplasmal organisms. The serological workup had shown a raised level of lymphocytes, the white helper cells in the bloodstream that responded to an attack by foreign microbes. This was basically confirmation of Grandma's home diagnostic method—clinical evidence that infection was present and the immune system was sending out scent hounds to scout for antigens, just as the swab tests had done. But while the lymphocytes were evidence that a virus was breeding inside Gordian, they would do nothing to establish its identity.
Lieberman had checked San Jose Mercy's databases for similar undiagnosed cases reported within the last forty-eight hours and found none. An expansion of his computer search to include the past week, then the past month, also drew blanks. He had next contacted associates at nearby hospitals by phone to see whether they might have recently encountered anything that resembled Gordian's illness. Again, nothing. However, something had to be done to find out what Gordian was up against. His body was at war with a stealth invader and clearly nagging in its battle. Unless and until its identity was specified, an effective course of medical treatment to aid him would be impossible.
Lieberman inhaled, exhaled. He ought to know what he was confronting here, and he did not. That alarmed him tremendously. He needed to consult with someone who could provide some guidance and specialized expertise.
Lieberman lifted the receiver off his phone to get the chair of the virology department on the line but then decided that call could wait a bit and hung up without punching in his extension. There was another person he



to speak to first. One of his oldest friends and agues, Eric Oh was an epidemiologist with the Cal- health department who had performed some of principal research on molecular methods for the itification of unrecognized and emerging pathogens been a celebrated virus hunter for the Centers for : Control in Atlanta before marrying a hometown I who'd insisted he stop fiddling with BL4 pathogens, I move back West to settle down. It was a downright ch of protocol to involve Eric before consulting with iiior departmental head in this hospital. And the cri- i that would normally warrant contacting government cials—a cluster of reported cases distinguished by ams akin to Gordian's or data suggesting a full- (e outbreak of an infectious disease in the commu- -were absent. A single patient with an ailment that stumped his humble general practitioner for less forty-eight hours did not constitute a public health i, even if that patient was somebody of Roger Gor- i's prominence. Jut Lieberman was getting gut radar signals. The kind grew to credit more and more with age and expe- And insofar as he was concerned, an informal ng of the minds with Eric could hardly be consid- reproachful professional conduct. |His lips compressed to a barely visible stitch on his careworn face, Lieberman retrieved Eric's phone from his pocket organizer and once again ched for the telephone.

. can't believe I was so thoughtless ... so stupid...   W three Sundays in a row building a pen for my i... all I did ... give Dad a hard time ..."


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Julia's voice penetrating his sleep, Gordian stirred, opened his eyes. She was sitting with Ashley near the foot of his hospital bed, back out of the way of the tubes and electronic monitors connected to him.
He lifted his arm from his side and weakly pulled the loose-fitting oxygen mask down below his chin. The women noticed he'd awakened and turned to face him, starting to their feet.
"Get me a drink of water, everything's forgiven," he managed. The inside of his mouth felt dry and clotted. "Deal?"
Julia was at his bedside in a snap, her mother behind her. "Dad, I don't know if you should be taking off the mask—"
He moved his hand.
"Breathing's fine right now." The words scraped out of him. "Just thirsty."
Ashley was already lifting the pitcher from his rolling tray. She filled a paper cup halfway, passed it to Julia, and then pressed the button to raise the upper part of the bed.
Gordian reached for the water as Ash straightened the pillows underneath him, but Julia shook her head.
"Let me hold it for you," she said. "Better take it slow. Little sips, okay?"
Gordian nodded. He wet his lips, rinsed the water over the sticky film on his tongue. Then swallowed. The coolness going down the hot, reddened lining of his throat was indescribably welcome.
"Thought you two were going out to grab a bite," he said.
"We  did,"  Ashley  said.   She   stepped  closer  and



his cheek. "You were asleep when we got

looked at her. 3W long was I out?" HA while ... I'm not sure ..."
i shifted, checked his beside clock. Almost two afternoon. He'd been sure he had drifted off for twenty minutes at the longest. Make that a cou-t»f hours.
shifted his gaze back to his wife. Ash had put on r face, as she liked to say. Not that she needed to wear makeup. So many years of marriage, she looked i the photos taken of her when they were newlyweds. he could see dark crescents under her eyes. Small at their corners that hadn't been there before, you feel like having lunch?" she said, gesturing his tray. "The nurse left some lunch. There's a sandwich. Jell-O, naturally—" shook his head.
|?A little later, maybe," he said. "My legs are cold, iitioning's turned up kind of high, don't you It?"
saw Ashley give Julia the briefest of glances.   not so high, he thought. I'll go ask for another blanket at the nurse's station," i said.
ant on me waiting right here." ; gave him a wan smile and went out into the hall-

lian took down some more water, thanked Julia, i eased back against his pillows. The window shades drawn, but the daylight seeping in around them too bright. He let his eyes close for a second.


Tom Clancy'.s Power Plays

When he opened them, Julia was watching him on the bed.
"You aren't at work," he said.
"No kidding."
"It's a new job," he said. "I'd hate for you to have any trouble."
She sat gently on the edge of the mattress.
"It's okay," she said. "I used the old parent-in-the- hospital scam."
"Good one," he said. "Let's play it to the hilt"
She took hold of his hand, still watching him intently.
"You hear anything new from Dr. LiebennanT' he asked.
"Not since early this morning," she said. "He was supposed to look over your information and meet us here, but got called off on an emergency."
Gordian nodded, felt the tender swellings under his jaw. It reminded him of when he'd had the mumps as a kid.
He looked at Julia, noticed that her eyes had suddenly moistened.
"Honey?" he said. "Something the matter?"
She was shaking her head, but at some unspoken thought rather than in answer to his question.
"What you heard me saying when you woke up... I'm sorry. About how I've been beating you. About the way I acted the other day when you were over at the house." She squeezed his fingers more tightly, swiped away a tear with her free hand. "I've been such a self- absorbed jerk since the divorce.... God, Daddy... I don't know why I keep taking things out on you...."
"Might be because we're two of a kind," he said.



[at not being good with our emotions."
t tightened her grip on his hand, her eyes glisten-

|p like I keep my feelings inside until they fill me know?"
they're all mixed together, and I don't have a   r to deal with them, and instead try to push them   deeper inside. Convince myself they'll go , And men the pressure only gets worse—"
he said. He smiled at her. "Doesn't make ' on the people we love. Just ask your mother."
were quiet for a moment, hands joined at Gortside.   
a'll sort things out," he said finally. His throat was , the temporary relief from the water he'd sipped , 'It takes time. You've been through changes, ;ones—"
pras interrupted by a soft knock on the open door, both turned their heads toward Dr. Lieberman
in the corridor.
Gord," he said. His face was drawn. "I hope [excuse my lateness; it's been one of those days." me about it," Gordian said in a ragged voice. Elliot"
i's eyes made a quick tour of the room as "I was hoping to find Ashley—" |p right behind you."
t glanced over his shoulder, saw her standing in the a folded blanket draped over her arm, and I aside to let her move past him.
he said. "I'm glad the three of you are here." looked at him. It went through all their minds


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

at once that neither Lieberman's tone nor his expression remotely approached gladness, his chosen figure of speech aside.
He reached back and closed the door, then stood silently for what seemed a very long time.
"We have to talk about my findings," he said. 'Talk very seriously."

"Here's what little I know," Megan said. "The boss's condition hasn't improved since this morning, and the tests aren't showing what's wrong with him. His doctor, I think his name is Lieberman, has put in a call to an epidemiologist at the Department of Health in Sacramento."
She was looking at Pete Nimec and Vince Scull, the three of them seated in Nimec's office at UpLink headquarters, their meeting hastily convened minutes after Ashley Gordian phoned to update her from the hospital.
Nhnee's eyes held steady on her face. "That's it?"
She nodded.
"Doesn't make sense," Scull said. "A case gets kicked up to state level, it means there's either gotta be a rash of ones like it or a suspicion that whatever's hit Gord is contagious... and a threat to the public welfare."
Megan shook her head.
"That's what I assumed, too," she said. "But Ashley explained the contact's strictly unofficial. Lieberman has a personal relationship with the government man, and he's reaching out."
They were silent for a while.
"What the hell are we supposed to do?" Nimec said. "And don't tell me to wait and pray for the best."
Megan regarded him gravely.



she said, "sometimes you can't charge to the

[led a breath.
I»," he said. "Goddamn."  to  silence.
1 frowned, rubbing a hand back and forth over his hairless expanse of scalp. Then he looked at

thinking maybe we ought to investigate," he

tigate what?" she said.
: things as the white coats," he said. "You look
bunch of dots and try to draw in the lines them. I mean, if you get right down to it,
a't be any different than what's SOP at my

n't follow."
rubbed his head again.
he said. "I'm in another country conducting  I  analysis from a corporate perspective, I first pre- |ra from Mars, throw every preconception I have mind. Make like a sponge and soak up every- if can. You with me so far?" nodded.
I've been there long enough to get a sense of ; place is about, and I notice a potential problem, political, economic, or social instabilities mat threaten our company interests," he went on. "I the cause or causes, trace their origins. It can plicated. There are always buried issues and s. But I focus on the ones that are exposed. Fol- threads. Most often, they'll lead to others that so visible. And then I follow them. And when I


Torn Claney's Power Plays

know everything I can within whatever time frame's imposed on me, I spin the threads into a regional profile and scenario plans. Then make my recommendations on what our investment strategy should be."
"Okay, I've still got you," Megan said. "Now help my chronically prosaic mind with the rest."
Scull thought for a moment.
"Say you're a medical sherlock. There's a disease you don't recognize, you want to trace its origin, same's I'd do with some radical political movement in Frickfrackistan,"  he said. "So you start looking at how the person you're treating might've acquired it. Where's he been lately? Who were his contacts? You maybe hit on another case that can be linked to him, you can pretty much surmise the sickness is communicable. The next step is to figure out its vectors. How it's spreading. Whether it jumps from rodents to people. Or rodents to insects to people like bubonic plague. Or gets passed directly from person to person. Name your route. The main thing is that once die information's in your pocket, you're on the way to finding your germ. And men you can maybe come to terms with it Figure out how to deal with the thing." He looked from Megan to Pete. "You see where I'm coming from?"
The other two were nodding, Megan with her eyebrows raised.
They sat in pensive silence again.
Then, from Nimec: "Where do we start?"
Scull turned sideways in his chair and rapped his fist   on the wall.
"Right here, PeteyrUpLink HQ," he said. "Where the hell else but the boss's home away from home?"



was dreaming he was in the hospital. Or at least : it was a dream. It was hard to tell sometimes   real and what wasn't. Like the day he'd gone I's office with the syringe. That had seemed was a dream, too. He remembered how he'd I to be floating in space as he walked through the ; sense of unreality. Of being inside and outside at once. And that was how he felt now. So it was all in his mind. Not just the bad things happened to him lately, the things he'd done, tiing since Brazil. The gambling, his selling nts to the space station facility to make his i wife leaving him... and then back to the U.S.A. ; bets, more shylocks, more betrayals demanded jjjNmd carried out. All a dream, every minute of it. day, week, and month, right up to and in- his coming down with the sickness. Merrily, , merrily, merrily, life was ...

[life. Or something like that.
dream he'd been slipping into and out of to- these latest installments of his dream of life, or jNteam, whatever, he was in a hospital bed, tucked i clean sheets, feeling loads better. The fever was e, the glands in his throat swollen to the size "balls. And the heaves and coughs and the blood started coming out of him with the coughing,   ; in his phlegm, then clots, streaking the sink |phe spat into it, darkening the water of his toilet, the bowl even after he'd flush and flush and

, all gone. Pain and trouble down the drain. The had treated him, the nurses were tender and at257

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

tentive, and he was comfortable, on the way to being cured. And whenever he opened his eyes and found himself back in his apartment, lying alone in his bed, twisted up in his soiled, wet, stinking sheets, his head on a pillow soaked with bloody discharges from his nose and mouth, whenever he'd opened his eyes and seemed to wake alone, so alone, Palardy would force himself back into that other place, that place of comfort, where the physicians were skilled and the nurses were kind, and he was getting better, so much better, in a warm, clean bed. And then the only thoughts to disturb him would be about the message in a bottle, the riddle sent to himself and not to himself, so people would be able to figure out what happened to him in case anything bad did happen.
That message, that payback, that whopping fuck-you to his betrayers ... the problem was that it could come right back at him, be a disaster for him if things turned out okay and he recovered, if it was found before he got released from the hospital to intercept it.
Definitely a thought to intrude on his peace of mind, intrude on his dream, jolt him back to the lonely reality of the apartment where he lay wretched and shivering and very possibly dying in his own bodily filth.
In fact, it was pulling him back there right now, and the timing couldn't have been worse. Because in the present snippet of his dream of sweet mercy and healing, a nurse had been about to care for him, quietly entering his room, softly coming around his bedside, and oh, and oh, and oh, although he couldn't quite see her features, Palardy was sure she was beautiful, like his wife on their honeymoon, when they'd made then* first baby, beautiful



wife, and he didn't want to leave her, he didn't ito. - ••
dy opened his eyes. Unsure of his bearings, his of place confused. He seemed to be back in his in his moist and jumbled bed. Sometimes it 1 to be positive on awakening. The shades were i to keep the sun from lancing into his eyes. The t were out for the same reason, that terrible pain in The room was so dim, it was hard to know, thought he was in his apartment. Awake now. t he still had the feeling somebody was with him, bed.
} bunked rapidly. If this was his own place, if he longer in me dream, then nobody belonged in.  except him.   < could be ... ?
iy afraid, Palardy struggled to lift himself on ows, craning his head from side to side. Iy, he thought the man standing to his left was His face smashed and flattened. Then he his eyes still might be blurry with sleep, and i some more to clear them, then he realized the man was wearing a mask, k stocking mask.
fear mounting exponentially, Palardy summoned little strength remained in his body and raised it • off the mattress.
was shoved back down by a black-gloved hand chest, ; hand held him.
hard against his ribs. : him from moving at all. tried to speak but could only groan through his


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

scaled, blue lips. Then tried again as the man's free hand reached into a pouch or a bag on his belt... reappeared with something that finally unlocked his vocal cords ...
"Who?' he managed. "Why ... ?'
Palardy would die without an answer to the first question.
As for the second, his conscience had already answered it for him.




reuters online:

Spokesperson insists
Roger Gordian has not
suffered stroke
Web Posted at 1:14 p.m. PST (2114 GMT) SAN JOSE—Reports that UpLink International CEO Roger Gordian was hospitalized for a massive stroke last weekend were denied this afternoon by a corporate spokeswoman. "There has been a rash of false speculation that I would like to dispel. Mr. Gordian is undergoing thorough tests after experiencing some dizziness and physical discomfort while doing yard work at a family member's house Sunday," longtime UpLink executive Megan Breen told Reuters, reading from a prepared statement. "He's a

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

very active man and may have overexerted himself, but 1 can positively assure you that a stroke is not suspected by his doctors."
Ms. Breen offered no specifics about Gordian's condition and present location but added that he was fully alert and had expressed his eagerness to return to work.
The billionaire defense contractor and communications entrepreneur became the subject of ill-health rumors when information surfaced yesterday that be had unexpectedly canceled several meetings with key Senate and business leaders...

After hearing Lieberman summarize Roger Gordian's symptoms and lab results over the phone, Eric Oh, his colleague at public health, became concerned enough to ask him to fax over the case report the instant they hung up.
Oh waited at his machine, plucking each page out of the tray as it was transmitted. His hurried reading prompted him to make an equally fast callback.
His impressions corresponded to Lieberman's—Oh's version of gut radar, which he'd dubbed his "Spidey sense" in homage to his favorite childhood comic book character, was giving him physical tingles. He urged that a fresh specimen of Gordian's blood be transported to the renowned virology lab at Stanford Medical School in nearby Palo Alto for examination and recommended that Lieberman follow the usual guidelines for a potential biohazardous threat and ship a second viable sample, dry-iced, to die Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.



appreciate you getting another tube of sera ch facility at Berkeley," he said. "I consult . there pretty often, and we have a good ; relationship."
to make matters official," Lieberman said, the departmental chairs, obtain their authoriza-

you can rustle diem together this afternoon?" |we it my best."
i more thing before I forget—Gordian's X-rays, note you've had series taken every twelve 11 see your originals? From the initial images recent. I'll send them right back to you to- pEBorning."
, they should give me a better sense of how this fired," Oh said. "The material's out to Stanford ; hour, I'll drive down to personally sign for it eking."
: you mentioned you were taking Cindy out i dinner tonight." K got used to losing me to an electron microscope plates the day our honeymoon ended, Eli."

plate afternoon when Pete Nimec stepped out of • to find Gordian's admin staring at his office i behind her desk.
aa," he said. "How you holding up?" t turned to him slowly as he approached. I best I can, Pete," she said. "Has Mrs. Gordian | in touch with you again?" j shook his head. "We assume she will after that : epidemiologist has a look at things."


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Norma was quiet.
"I don't want to think about him not being in there." She indicated Gordian's office with her cheerless eyes. "And somehow I can't think about anything else."
Nimec looked at her.
"I know," he said.
"Nothing seems right," she said. "It's so strange. He's one of those people I've taken for granted will always be with us. I can't imagine him being seriously ill. He's so much larger than most..." She paused. "I'm sorry. Of course it doesn't make sense."
He reached across the desk and touched her shoulder.
"Maybe not," he said. "But you aren't alone. Everybody who cares about him feels that way a little."
She put her hand on his and let it rest mere a moment.
"Thank you."
He nodded in silence.
"It's incredible how much Mr. Gordian is able to manage," she said then. "I've spent the past two afternoons canceling his appointments. That luncheon with senators Richard and Bruford from the Armed Services Committee. Meetings with senior executive board members. With a representative from the Silicon Valley Business Alliance. I can't tell you how many others."
"You have to field a lot of questions from the press since that stroke story appeared?"
"Enough," she said. "I've stayed with Megan's official explanation to the letter. Dizziness, maybe too much yard work, routine tests."
"That'll hold a while," he Said.
"And hopefully we won't have any reason to go beyond it"
"Hopefully." He paused. "Norma, while we're on the



of Cord's schedule, I need a favor. Something Scull thinks might be important to the doctors, you be able to provide a list of his verifiable over the past couple, three weeks? The ones i he physically connected, that is."
: at him.
I log all his engagements into an electronic she said. "The calendar automatically apI  turn on my computer every morning. I the date is kept, missed, or reshuffled, illy, Mr. Gordian will have me enter a list of points beforehand. Or his handwritten impresf  how the meeting went." n't ask for Cord's private notes. Just the names i he met and who they work for. Maybe where ngs took place. Can you swing that for me

I'll do anything to help. Now, later, don't hes- check with me for whatever information you forma said. The thought that she could be of use her a kind of animation. "Would you like a : or disk?"
py of each sounds good to me." I've got them," she said, then slipped a rewritable ( her drive and began tapping on her keyboard.

f sorry, truly sorry, but I can't help you with that said Carl VanDerwerf from behind his j,;His job title at UpLink was Managing Director of i Resources. •    I'm  tellin' you I got to have it," said Rollie au from the seat opposite him.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays    .

The two men stared at one another, clearly at an impasse.
"We have to be sensitive to the privacy of our employees," VanDerwerf persisted. "Moreover, there are state and federal laws. You may not be aware of the penalties we could incur. The liabilities were someone to press a suit about your prying into their personnel records for confidential details—"
Thibodeau held a hand in the air to interrupt him.
"Never mind these people's ages, work experience, or whether they like to pole vault or pole dance in their rec time. Doesn't matter to me if somebody's a kleptomaniac, nymphomaniac, single, married, divorced, a bigamist, or takin' care of his or her shut-in Aunt Emma," he said. "Just give me the names of employees in this building who took sick days the past couple weeks, and the departments where they work. You got to have that on file."
VanDerwerf produced an exasperated sigh. "Certainly we do. For payroll and insurance purposes. But if you'd allowed me to finish my sentence a moment ago, you would know the law requires that we keep an individual's medical background confidential."
"Nobody's talkin' background." Thibodeau said. "What you got your neck poked out for? Just let me know who's called in sick lately. An employee does or doesn't choose to get into the reason why, it be up to him."
VanDerwerf sighed again.
"Sir, just as you are responsible for our corporate security operations, I supervise all phases of personnel function. At all levels from senior executive to mail room clerk. My decisions must be guided by UpLink's



policies and procedures and by applicable nt regulations." He pursed his lips, ran a finger his neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper mustache, f, I'm not denying that unanticipated situations will i arise that demand judgment calls. Should you f explain the basis of your request... address my to know if it is associated with rumors cir;  about Mr. Gordian's condition ... I'm sure we cile our differences in a mutually amenable, ense manner."
au glowered. "You sayin' it ain't okay for me a fella straight on whether he had a cold or a ankle last week, but it's fine for you to stick I into the boss's affairs through a third party?" is an oversimplification rendered in insulting rJMy capacities include oversight of UpLink's costs, and Mr. Gordian is covered by our policy. The wall of silence surrounding his : stands to put me in a difficult position with our I merely suggest we trade off—" I enough, you officious little prick." Thibodeau I off his chair and stood over the desk. "Talk about what do you call wastin' my tune, pretendin' to ved up over employees' rights when you only to talk trash—?" : was not my intention—"
• see!" Thibodeau boomed, thrusting a finger at ?**You don't commence to turn over what I gotta you'll know how a bug feels when it's been I on with a hikin' boot."
blinked, rapidly stroking his mustache, t of color on his cheeks and forehead.
t he released his third and longest sigh yet.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

"Okay," he said in raffled capitulation. "My staff's ready to leave for the day. I'll have them get the names to your office first thing tomorrow rooming."
Thibodeau shook his head and sat.
"Best make that your office in fifteen minutes," he said and glanced at his wristwatch. "Meanwhile, I'll just make myself comfortable an' wait for them right here."

True to his promise, Eric Oh was at the Stanford lab in time to receive the radiographs and diagnostic specimen from Lieberman.
They arrived via special courier a little after five o'clock, the serum packed separately in accordance with international requirements for transport of fluid, tissue, cultures, and other substances believed to contain etiologic  agents—live microbial organisms that were potential causes of infectious disease in human beings.
Or, as they were broadly categorized in the rule books: Dangerous Goods.
Its seal wrapped in waterproof tape, the labeled vial had been placed in a tubular plastic container, the spaces around it filled with sufficient wadding to absorb every drop of sera within should an accidental leak or breakage occur in handling. The secondary receptacle was then capped, taped for watertightness, labeled with the name, address, and phone number of the sender at San Jose Mercy, and encased in an outer shipping canister. Besides a duplicate of die sender's identification and contact information label, this third canister bore the standard tag for biomedical etiologic materials prescribed by the federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, highlighted by a bright red biohazard trefoil against a white background and bearing the appro-



j phone number for notification of the CDC should
: become damaged.
same procedures had been followed for the of the sample to Berkeley, as well as for the ent of the sample to Atlanta, with additional ad-white stickers mandated by the International nsport Association for containers of dry ice and substances.
putting on his protective attire and bringing ckage into the virology lab's biosafety cabinet, he planned to spend perhaps an hour or two its contents, Eric rang Lieberman to let him lit had reached him safe and sound. He then went pt a nearby fast-food restaurant, ordered a couple of ; to go, and ate them drowned in ketchup, [to imagine it was the tomato sauce he'd so looked
I to enjoying at his canceled dinner. R knew he was kidding himself, of course.
: wasn't the slightest chance in the world that the would relieve his unfulfilled longing for calat
given his suspicions about Gordian's case, there virtually no chance he'd be leaving the laboy  for many long hours to come.

i what I can see here, we got thirty-four employees ; building called in sick over the last three weeks,"
au said.
ven... no, sorry, make that eight, are currently 'Megan said.
; of them for longer than three days," said Ricci. rest of the absences average two days," Nimec , "I do notice one person, a Michael Ireland in Legal,


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who's been down five and counting...."
"Mike fractured his leg rock climbing," Megan said. "He and his fiancee ate Mends of mine."
"Scratch his name off die list," Scull said and did so on the copy in front of him, drawing a line through it with his pen.
It was a quarter to seven in the evening, regular work hours long past, Nimec's office once again having become a strategy room for Sword's core leadership group... plus one, since Vince Scull was, technically speaking, not a member of the organizational security division. They had pulled up chairs to whatever flat surfaces were available—or reasonably clearable—and were poring over photocopies of the separate computer printouts obtained by Nimec and Thibodeau, verifying, crosschecking, and generally hoping for a lead that might steer them toward a carrier from whom Roger Gordian could have received his infection.
"Anyone think it's worth talking to die people on Rol- lie's list who took off sick and are already back to work?" Nimec said.
"My opinion's mat it isn't, with one possible exception," said Ricci. "This bug has the boss flat-out kayoed. Somebody's on his feet after a couple days, he's not likely to be our contact"
That's if it bits everyone the same, a big assumption to make," Scull said. "Certain people could have a natural resistance and be mildly affected. Or not be susceptible at all. Or fliey could be what are called asymptomatic hosts, intermediaries for die bug to hitch a ride on. Oar germ bag might be unaffected but have an acquaintance or relative who's dearnly sick—"
"Point taken, Vince," Nimec said. "But I diink our



i to stay narrow for now, or we'll find ourselves r the woods."
t nodded. "The direct route gets us nowhere up tracks, we widen our range."
looked at Ricci. "You mentioned an excep-

A James Meisten. His name's the only one both lists." He looked down at the printouts | side-by-side in front of him. "He was out sick ay, back today. Also met with the boss last Fri-

ow him a little," Megan said. "He was at the ng and Promotions conference about the info ki-

i we phone him at home tonight even though he's

it couldn't hurt." She frowned. "Candi- I't exactly leaping out at us, are they? And I weigh what Vince said... it gets so tangled. I : of so many possibilities off the top of my head, ng the carrier is even a human being as opposed ; that flies, creeps, or crawls, he doesn't have a person who actually had a scheduled meeting oger. It could be somebody who chatted with him i hallway or elevator. Or whose office he popped the spur of the moment. Or who shook his hand 5 a thirty-second introduction. And that's before we sider people on his appointment schedule from the company. Businessmen. Politicians. Social tions we don't have the vaguest idea about. He tids, family members ..." i let the sentence trail, ught we were sticking to the straight and nar-


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

row," Ricci said to her. "We've got Meisten, which is better than nothing. And, far as it goes for the boss's unplanned contacts, we should look at Thibodeau's list, try to pinpoint employees most likely to have crossed his path without an appointment over the course of a normal workday. See if that takes us anywhere."
"I've already been doing that," Nimec said. "Only name that stands out as a possible is Donald Palardy."
"Palardy heads one of the sweep teams," Thibodeau said. "Rotated out of Brazil 'round the same time I did."
Nimec was nodding. "He called in sick Monday."
Ricci looked at him.
"A day after the boss collapsed."
"Yeah. And he's still on the absentee list."
Everyone in the room was momentarily quiet.
"Don't see how we can read too much into this," Scull said. "Sweeps are conducted early, right? Before most of us get to work. We've no reason to believe he and Gord have ever been in the same room together."
"No reason to think they haven't, either," Ricci said.
"I know for sure Palardy's been inside the boss's office," Thibodeau said. "We got four teams in the building. All of them be assigned permanent sections. An' his section includes the top executive suites."
Ricci exchanged glances with him.
"No shit," he said.
"Non," Thibodeau said.
There was more silence in the room.
"I think we ought to give him a call," Ricci said.

Lathrop exited the CNN Web site after finding no updated headlines about Roger Gordian's condition and



restored the Profiler application to his computer

ilondie's luscious face reappeared in front of him, ged and enhanced from the digital video he'd taken the carousel in Balboa Park. None to his surprise, (•.program still hadn't made her. The only reason he'd ed running her image through it again was that procured a handful of new investigative files from of his infoworms—although for some reason this ular worm wasn't penetrating very deep inside the lately and soon would be worthless as an infort.  It was part of the natural order of things, Lathrop light. The ebb and flow. They rose to grace, they fell. ' gained access, they lost it. But he had other sources i disposal in a lot of different places. And there were ys prospects to be cultivated among the greedy and chanted.
having his desktop on, he swiveled around in his fortable leather office chair and reclined to watch kcoon cat toy with a favorite ball of yarn. She prodded fjrith her front paws to set it rolling and then crouched ^readiness to pounce, her tail flicking back and forth fthe floor. |"Okay, Missus Frakes," he said in a fond tone. "Let's
• you go for it."
iThe cat cooed at the sound of his voice. Then she tig upon the wound-up yarn and twisted onto her holding the ball against her middle with her fore- s, kicking and raking at it with her sharp rear claws. fLathrop smiled a little. She would work the thing till came unraveled and spread loosely across the carpet. t as he was working his own ball of yarn. The biggest i'd ever chanced upon.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

He sat thinking about what he actually knew, what further information he'd been able to surmise from it, and what choices and opportunities the sum total presented to him.
His surveillances at Balboa and the harbor parking lot combined to tell a pretty amazing story. Whatever her identity might be, it was certain Blondie was a courier for El Tfo. And her purpose in meeting Enrique Quiros had been to deliver the jewelry box for the obscure narco distributer and instruct Enrique to pass it along to the guy he'd then arranged to meet harborside. His name was Palardy. A member of the security or countersnoop team at UpLink International whose gambling jones had gotten him in over his head with some serious operators, and who'd paid off a piece of his debt by turning over classified information about the defense systems of UpLink's manufacturing compound in Brazil. El Tfo's involvement in the terrorist raid on that base was unclear to Lathrop, but it probably didn't have much importance at this stage, and he hadn't concerned himself with it.  
The main thing for him was to keep on top of what was happening now. Because events were already moving fast, and he had the sense they were about to kick up to a breathless pace.
It was interesting how sellout dupes like Palardy could be so utterly blind to the traps being set for them. How they never realized that the type of men who were using them would keep their hooks in until every bit of usefulness was exhausted. At the harbor, Palardy and his current user had talked about genetic blueprints, disease triggers, stuff Lathrop had needed to research afterward. And there was enough he still had to check out. But despite a lingering question mark or two, he'd gotten the



t of their encounter... and stripped to the bone, it all i down to blackmail and murder. Palardy had been i some kind of biological agent, something new un||  fhe sun, and been ordered to take out Roger Gordian lit.
1 tilted a little farther back in his chair, contin- to watch Missus Frakes relentlessly pull apart the i with her teeth and claws.   at's the way, all right, he thought. Work the bas\
the Safe Car—ha-ha—Palardy had understandably vked with resistance. Quiros's errand would bounce l from the role of informant to killer, and he'd never for things to escalate that far. But Quiros bringing up what dirt he had on him, and that s him shut his mouth and agree to cooperate. It was Variation of a theme Lathrop had seen repeated time I again in the territory he chose to prowl, though one We distinction about the enactment featuring Quiros Palardy was that neither had been inclined to get up in Gordian's assassination. That Quiros was elf muscled into it. This had become apparent from protestations to Blondie and a couple of indirect nents he'd made to Palardy—the latter being mo- i of commiseration and empathy that hadn't exactly Lathrop's eyes to mist. But he supposed he was |:cynical audience, having maybe seen the basic plot
old once too often. i* After that night at the harbor, Lathrop had concen- on the script he'd drafted for Quiros and Lucio without their knowledge. It had netted him a et take, and the blowout climax promised to be re- liing fun. But in another twenty-four hours, it would


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

be time to move beyond it. Turn a bend, head on out toward virgin soil.
If he'd needed any incentive to urge him along, nothing could have been better than the news reports about Gordian's hospitalization.
Lathrop glanced around at the pretty lady on his computer screen and remembered the afternoon he'd followed Enrique to his rendezvous with her. Remembered watching the carousel make its slow rotations with the "Blue Danube" piping in the background, the rowdy, stoned-out teenagers on the lead horses rising from their saddles, stretching their arms to reach for the silver and brass rings above them, only the gleaming brass worth a prize.
A smile ghosted at the corners of Lathrop's mouth again.
The brass ring.
He'd gotten hold of it. Without ever climbing aboard the platform, stalking the periphery on his ceaseless, solitary hunt, he'd been the one who caught hold. And that left him having to make two major decisions.
Namely when to claim his prize and how best to trade on its indescribable value.

"Third time I've called, and still no answer except from his machine," Ricci said. "Where the hell is Palardy?"
"Who knows? Maybe he went out for some groceries."
"He's supposed to be sick."
"Doesn't have to mean he's bedridden. A person has to eat, no matter how lousy he feels. If there's no food in the house, you live alone, you go buy some."
"Third time in an hour, Pete. If I'm under the weather



1 need orange juice or something, I might ran over to i corner deli. But I wouldn't make a whole shopping on out of—"
Megan said, putting up her hand. "I think   i. two are getting way ahead of yourselves." ey looked at her from their chairs in Nimec's office. fow so?" Nimec said.
could be that he's turned off the ringer on his to get some sleep, or doesn't hear it, or just n't want to answer."
maybe he was feeling better and went out for air," Scull said. "For all we know, the guy had a ch bug and is already back to normal." |Tf that's the case, why wasn't he at work today?"
shrugged. "He might not have felt normal till • tonight. I'm only agreeing with Meg that—" I^You see me phone his section chief ten minutes ago?
i remember our conversation?" f "Sure I do—"
: he told me, this section chief, was that the last : anybody heard from Palardy was when he phoned ^yesterday, and that the guy sounded sick as a dog, : he was supposed to call back today to report how pS was doing. And never did." |*"I said I remembered—"
?i**The section chief, his name's Hernandez, also said   ' thought it was very odd that Palardy didn't call. In , I'm pretty sure he started to use the word irrespon-
too, but checked himself." I^Probably didn't want to get him in hot water with ' Thibodeau said. "I agree. But that doesn't change anything," Nimec 1 "The sweeps aren't a haphazard affair. If they be277

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

be time to move beyond it. Turn a bend, head on out toward virgin soil.
If he'd needed any incentive to urge him along, nothing could have been better than the news reports about Gordian's hospitalization.
Lathrop glanced around at the pretty lady on his computer screen and remembered the afternoon he'd followed Enrique to his rendezvous with her. Remembered watching the carousel make its slow rotations with the "Blue Danube" piping in the background, the rowdy, stoned-out teenagers on the lead horses rising from their saddles, stretching their arms to reach for the silver and brass rings above them, only the gleaming brass worth a prize.
A smile ghosted at the corners of Lathrop's mouth again.
The brass ring.
He'd gotten hold of it. Without ever climbing aboard the platform, stalking the periphery on his ceaseless, solitary hunt, he'd been the one who caught hold. And that left him having to make two major decisions.
Namely when to claim his prize and how best to trade on its indescribable value.

"Third time I've called, and still no answer except from his machine," Ricci said. "Where the hell is Palardy?"
"Who knows? Maybe he went out for some groceries."
"He's supposed to be sick."
"Doesn't have to mean he's bedridden. A person has to eat, no matter how lousy he feels. If there's no food in the house, you live alone, you go buy some."
"Third time in an hour, Pete. If I'm under the weather



[ need orange juice or something, I might run over to s corner deli. But I wouldn't make a whole shopping sion out of—"
Megan said, putting up her hand. "I think two are getting way ahead of yourselves." fpiey looked at her from their chairs in Nimec's office, tow so?" Nimec said.
could be that he's turned off the ringer on his to get some sleep, or doesn't hear it, or just n't want to answer."
maybe he was feeling better and went out for air," Scull said. "For all we know, the guy had a ch bug and is already back to normal." "If that's the case, why wasn't he at work today?" JfcScull shrugged. "He might not have felt normal till
tonight. I'm only agreeing with Meg that—" iff "You see me phone his section chief ten minutes ago? itou remember our conversation?"
"Sure I do—"
|jf"What he told me, this section chief, was that the last anybody heard from Palardy was when he phoned yesterday, and that the guy sounded sick as a dog, he was supposed to call back today to report how   1 was doing. And never did." "I said I remembered—" | The section chief, his name's Hernandez, also said thought it was very odd that Palardy didn't call. In I'm pretty sure he started to use the word irrespon-   •le, too, but checked himself." "Probably didn't want to get him in hot water with ' Thibodeau said.
| "I agree. But that doesn't change anything," Nimec "The sweeps aren't a haphazard affair. If they be277

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

came disorganized, we start to have countersurveillance lapses."
"Exactly," Ricci said. "Guys on these teams show up for duty at five-thirty, six o'clock in the morning. And unless it happens that one of them wakes up feeling too sick to come in, like Palardy did Monday—"
"Or a last-minute emergency comes up ... car breaks down on the highway, kid's got a fever—"
"Which wasn't the case—"
"Then Hernandez has got to have his people give him notice the day before," Thibodeau said, finishing Ricci's sentence. "Arrange to pull a replacement off another team. Be sure every area in the building due for a sweep is covered."
Ricci nodded.
"Especially when it's a team leader who's going to be out," he said. "Hernandez is sticking with his man until he learns the score, and I'd do the same. But Pa- lardy being MIA is a bigger deal than he wanted us to think."
Megan shook her head. "I'm still not sure I understand what the three of you are saying—"
"What I'm saying is Palardy might be too sick to call. Might've passed out same as the boss." He snapped his fingers. "Just like that."
"You've made quite a huge leap," she said. "It's possible we've hit on a disciplinary problem rather than anything having to do with Gord."
"Meg's right," Scull said. "Don Palardy appears for work tomorrow morning, fit as a fiddle, your whole discussion's moot. Like I said before, I can't see reading a whole lot into his absence. Not at this stage."
Ricci looked at him.



"Maybe not," he said. "But I tell you something, nil. He doesn't show bright and early, I want to know i home address. Because wherever he lives, I'm head- rover there to see what's up."

|. Eric Oh thought they resembled water lilies. Clusters of beautiful, perfectly formed lilies floating t the surface of a quiet pond.
quality of simple structural perfection was the ; of the virus's enduring success as a life form. It also what made them ideally suited for comparison with an electron microscope. Every virion of a was identical. An intact specimen of a virus from [ blood of a patient in Mozambique would be the mir- image of a specimen of the same family, genus, and grown in culture at a California research labora- assuming it was likewise undamaged. To an ex- ced researcher it would look as though they had manufactured at a single factory, on a single, or- iy assembly line. You saw one, you'd seen them all. to three o'clock in the morning, Eric was still at the nford lab, examining the photographs he'd snapped its state-of-the-art Hitachi instrument beside those fd called up on his computer from the vast database I EM pictures compiled and shared by medical and bi-
?ical research facilities around the globe. |*As with any sort of photography, setting up the shot . the difficult part of the process; once you got to the utter click, you were home free. From the moment B'd scanned Gordian's case report, Eric's mind had whispering virus. After he'd inspected the first- neration X rays sent by Lieberman, that whisper be:  an urgent shout. But the problem in taking pictures


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

of viruses was that they tended to be camera shy. The tiniest were dwarfed even by common bacteria. Scientists measured their size in nanometers—billionths of a meter. On this infinitesimal scale, a single droplet of blood became a vast, unmapped sea of crests and troughs where they could remain undetected unless present in great numbers. And the greater their numbers, the worse the infection. It was therefore easier when investigating deadly viral illnesses to find colonies in samples from autopsies of the dead or patients in late-stage disease than in samples taken from less advanced cases.
Eric had hoped from the start that Roger Gordian wasn't going to make life easy for him. When his viewing of an unconcentrated drop of serum failed to reveal any viruses after nearly two hours, he considered it a break. Better he'd needed to take the extra step of placing a sample in a centrifuge to pack as many organisms as possible into a concentrate than have an abounding population instantly jump out at his eyes. Viruses were unsparing, mechanistic parasites that used up the living cells of their hosts as they bred. Given Eric's fears about the nature of Gordian's infection, a sample that teemed with virus particles might have suggested a bleak prognosis indeed.
After centrifugation, Eric had used filter paper to drain the circular grid bearing his concentrated sample, then stained it with a solution of 2 percent phosphotungstate that was conductive to electrons. He had known that his processing would damage whatever viruses might be displayed, and that further deterioration could be expected from the ionizing effect of the microscope's electron beam. But while there were methods of cryogenic preparation that could have substantially reduced, if not



gether eliminated, the loss of a specimen's structural ity, these techniques were finicky and took time. Eric's goal was to aid in Gordian's diagnosis and ent, not his postmortem, which meant he had to Inexpedient. He had weighed the two options against other and decided to go ahead with conventional reasoning that an adequate amount of the sample lined for the lab's regular staff to perform cryo EM " on, should his own examination indicate it was ad- ble.
ow Eric removed his glasses and sat rubbing his s, strained from too many long, sleepless hours fixed Ithe visual panel of the EM, The only reminder that ; stomach wasn't completely empty was an occasional ng of the ketchup-sopped burgers he'd picked up dinner. He knew he ought to go home, pop some cid tablets, and climb into bed. But the pictures ildn't let him budge.
put the glasses back on and looked at his micros.  Then at the electronic library shots on his computer n. His gaze moving between them again and again. lies. On a quiet pond. ^s an epidemiologist with the CDC in the midnine- 8, Eric had been one of the primary investigators who 1 worked to identify the mystery illness that scourged (Four Corners Navajo tribal reservation in the South- and then gradually made its way eastward, killing er than half its victims—many of them young, othise  healthy individuals—within days of their first   •toms. The infections began with mild flulike res- problems and rapidly progressed toward sys- crash, the walls of the capillaries in the lungs ing down, developing tiny leaks that bled out into


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

the surrounding tissues until they became inundated with fluid and sometimes swelled to double their normal size. In many of the fatal cases there was a similar breakdown of stomach membranes. The external signs of terminal- stage disease were especially horrible as the blood vessels in the body's mucous membranes and subcutaneous tissues deteriorated, causing petechiae, pinpoint hemorrhages of the eyes, mouth, and skin.
In the early days of the contagion's spread, the inhabitants of Four Corners came to refer to the epidemic simply—and for Eric chillingly—as sin nombre. Without a name. That designation stuck with it after intensive scientific detective work eventually determined the disease was a new strain of hantavirus, a lethal hemorrhagic fever whose occurrence was never previously recorded in North America.
The tingles Eric had felt on first perusal of Gordian's case report had stemmed from the combination of his respiratory problems and the abnormal lymphocytes and diving platelet count in his bloodstream. Platelets were essential to the body's healing factor, minuscule patches that gathered to stop bleeding and release clotting agents. A normal platelet count averaged 150,000 to 350,000 per microliter of blood. Gordian's count had been 120,000 per microliter when he was admitted to San Jose Mercy—borderline low. It had then fallen to 90,000 Monday morning. On the most recent workup, it declined even more pronouncedly to 50,000 per microliter.
Eric had seen nearly the same profile in sin nombre   patients entering the pulmonary edema phase of the disease. And changes in Gordian's chest X rays had also been discomfortingly familiar. The vague skeins of shadow across his lungs evident on Sunday's pictures



become linear opacities of the airspaces within Bty-four hours, visible as short perpendicular white i at their bases. By Tuesday afternoon, there were • lines developing from the hilum, the crowded in- nge where the blood vessels, nerves, and bronchi ged into the lungs. : notnbre, he thought. Without a name.
liliform viruses now on Eric's computer screen : micrographs that he and his colleagues on the CDC tigative team had taken eight years ago ... and the i he'd gotten out of the EM's photographic chamber   hi bore an undeniably striking similarity to them.   \& in the original series, the organisms were circular tiape. As in the originals, their envelopes were ringed i binding proteins that enabled them to attach to the membranes of host cells. But the architecture of nucleocapsids—the core material within the viral slopes that held the genomic code for their replica- i and entry into the cell—showed a subtle variance, dying the set of images he'd isolated from Roger 's bloodstream, Eric could see none of the ndedness typical of the nucleocapsids on the database Eimens of sin nombre, or for that matter in any of svrelated old-world hantavirus strains he'd encountered scientific career. Instead, they appeared long and fight,   almost   filamentous,   even   when   computer- need.
ric couldn't go beyond guessing whether this anomIrepresented  a difference in the genetic makeup of the ate specimens until a polymerase chain reaction, or probe was conducted on Gordian's samples, and ' actual RNA sequences could be compared against


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

the codes of all other known hantaviruses. But his im- munogobulin capture assays—fluorescent dye screening tests developed in the late 1980s that produced results within three or four hours—had shown weak positives for several catalogued strains of the disease, with the brightest green glow on his lab slide appearing for sin nombre. While that, too, had been relatively pale, it had made Eric nervous as hell once added to the rest of the evidence before him.
His eyes hurting, his stomach hollow, he sat there tensely in the lab, frozen behind his computer as dawn crept its slow way into the sky outside. He could say very little absolutely except that Roger Gordian was in serious trouble. But he believed in his bones that if Gordian didn't have sin nombre, he'd contracted something very much like it.
That a close relative to the disease without a name, one nobody had known about, had just shown up on the doorstep.

The doe strode softly into the thick stand of trees, her tracks like broken hearts in the fallen snow. Food was plentiful here, the low-hanging pine boughs bunched with cones, the needle buds on the saplings still succulent,   only beginning to brown in their cold-weather dormancy.
Scanning a moment for predators, she saw nothing disturb the vegetation, heard nothing except the hushed whisper of the breeze. Then she lowered her head and tore at the young trees with her flat, blunt teeth, lacking incisors to bite into them.
The knife slashed up from beneath the dark shelf of a branch, plunged hilt-deep into the softness of her



Dat, then slashed crosswise once and again. Arterial venous blood gushed over the animal's white down stained the snow under her front hooves mingled es of red. She collapsed heavily, the brightness of frozen in eyes already dead.
Kuhl knelt to pull his knife from the wound, traces of or steaming from its wet blade.
For the first time in weeks, he felt released.

iian awoke, gasping for air. Feverish and disoriented, unable at first to remember he was, he felt certain a hand was clapped over nose and mouth. Then he got his bearings. He was i his hospital room. His bed light off in the dimness of ly morning. A thin crack of illumination spilling un•    his door from the outer corridor. Air.
He needed air.
Gordian struggled to pull down a breath, his body ched off his mattress from the effort. But his lungs I't respond. They felt heavy and clogged. A muffled gling noise escaped him. Air. He fumbled under his bin for the oxygen mask. Couldn't find it. He reached own to his chest and still couldn't locate it. Groped at on his right side, where he sometimes clipped it the safety rail. Not there.
The oxygen mask. He needed the mask. Where was 9
His mouth opened wide, he swung his arm up over i head, found the feed hose running from the wall, and ith a surge of relief slid his fingers down along its ngth. Feeling for the mask at the end of it—


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

His newborn relief suddenly plummeted away into confusion.
The mask ...
He was already wearing it.
He cupped his hand over its curved plastic surface, pressed it against his face, drew hard. Air hissed through the tube. He could hear it over the strangled shreds of sound coming out of him. Hear it flowing into his mask ... but that was where it seemed to stop. His throat, his chest, were blocked.
Desperate, choking, feeling as if his chest were about to explode, he clawed for the emergency button at his side to summon a nurse, hoping to God one was very nearby.




ilonged to a large block of units UpLink International acquired to house its midlevel employees in one of newer planned developments in Sunnydale—a sub- an community with the conceit of a major city, about
miles south of San Jose. By the time he got into his car to drive down Wednesly  morning, Ricci had started wondering if Megan and all could have been right about him making too much ' Palardy's absence. Maybe Palardy had put on a well- earsed sick voice when he'd phoned Hernandez to Sy he wouldn't be at work the previous Monday, aybe he'd met a hot number in a bar and spontaneHsly  decided to take her on a cruise to nowhere. Maybe s would be in bed with his phone unplugged, munching potato chips and watching game shows or reruns of sties sitcoms on cable television. In hindsight, Ricci's li-fall-down   comment   about   Palardy   and   Gordian emed a bit silly, even to him. And his finger-snapping

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

had made it sound sillier. Of course, everyone had agreed that something wasn't kosher about Palardy's continued dereliction after three days, and felt it was at least worth checking out.
His thoughts had gone on in that mode until he finally located Palardy's condo after several wrong turns leading onto streets named for different native flowers that all sounded alike to him, past rows of two-family stucco buildings that all looked alike.
Then Ricci stopped questioning himself and started noticing things. It was a mental shift to a scrupulous objectivity that grounded every good cop the moment he arrived at the scene of an investigation. And Ricci doubted even the Boston Police Department officials who'd once thrown him into the political winds would have disputed that he'd been among their best.
As he rolled his Jetta into the driveway, his first observation was that Palardy's van was in his carport. His second was that Palardy hadn't brought in his newspapers for a few days—there were three lying on his walk in their plastic delivery bags. That could mean he was home and too sick to bother picking them up or that he'd gone off somewhere without his vehicle, although he might own more than a single set of wheels.
He strode to the door, rang the bell, and waited. No one answered. He fingered the buzzer again, keeping it depressed a little longer. Still nobody. Then he knocked without getting a response. After a few minutes, he leaned over to peek through the glass panels on either side of the door, but they were covered with louvered screens. The shade was likewise fully drawn over the front window.



•;>   &   1


ci buzzed again, let another minute pass. He heard and from inside, listened, realized it was the racket I,a cuckoo clock. Palardy didn't come to the door, ci tried the doorknob. Locked. He bent to examine of old habit. A typical key-in cylinder lock. He retract the bolt with a credit card in ten seconds   r In fact, the door had been opened that way before, ng by the scratches on the rim and doorframe. That »ted another observation. The scratches looked as might be fresh.
considered this a moment. The marks might not the slightest significance. Ricci would have been I pressed to count how often he had accidentally got- cked out of his own home and used a charge card his way inside. It was easy once you got the Anybody could do it. Every cop he'd known. Palardy, being a trained countersnoop, it seemed able to assume he wouldn't need to hire a lock- if he forgot his house keys somewhere. Not with  me  Mouse job like this. On the other hand, Palardy I unexplainedly dropped from sight, and Ricci's prob- 5 mind couldn't rule out the chance that someone else ; have gained entry.
s thought about using the card trick to admit himself : now but then dismissed the notion. That very sort ctic had once helped his detractors pin the rogue- tive label on him. And he was just getting com- ble at UpLink.
stood there at the door, attempting to remember ; where he passed the management office. Fuch-   > was it? Or Manzanita? Unable to decide, he returned r'his car and drove around a while, looking for the


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

A quarter hour and multiple wrong turns later, he found it on Lupine. The building manager was a man named Perez whose reservations about admitting a stranger to Palardy's apartment unit began to dissipate the instant Ricci flashed his UpLink Security ID card. And no wonder, since the company owned half the complex.
"We're pretty concerned," Ricci said. He kept his card displayed. "Nobody's heard from him in days."
Perez seemed fascinated with the Sword insignia.
"I do this, got to stick around while you're inside," he said with a heavy Mexican accent.
"Okay by me."
Perez nodded. "Lemme grab the key ring, I meet you over there."
Ricci offered to give him a lift instead, dreading another wrong turn. With Perez beside him to furnish directions, it took under five minutes to get back to the condo.
In the walkway Perez fumbled with his keys for a second, found the right one, and pushed open the door.
They found the living room unoccupied. Utterly still except for the ticking of the cuckoo clock.
"Palardy?" Ricci stood in the entry. "You here?"
Silence. Stillness.
Ricci stepped past the building manager to another door, slightly ajar. He glanced over his shoulder. "This the bedroom?"
Perez nodded.
Ricci rapped the wood. Again no answer. He grabbed the doorknob and entered.
In the doorway behind him, Perez inhaled sharply at the sight of the body.



Ucci's memory of the photo he'd pulled from the rity files confirmed it was Palardy. He was lying in Hon his back, his eyes wide open. A blanket covered to the chest. His face was gray, with dark purple  she's  on the cheeks and forehead. His mouth was . into what appeared to be a grimace of pain. The sticking out from under the blanket was hooked tb a claw, the visible portion of his bare arm also le-

|^ou should stay back," Ricci said to the building ger.
-didn't need encouragement, i" he said shakily. "I got to call the cops—" pHave a cellular on you?" ez nodded.
Ricci inclined his head toward the telephone bedside stand. "I don't think you want that one
i near your mouth."
ez nodded again and crossed himself, staring inside i the entrance.
cci produced a business card and pen from inside ? sport jacket, wrote hastily on the back of the card, I handed it to him. "Do me a favor; contact the guy i name and number I jotted down. That's Pete Me,  at UpLink. Let him know what we found here. If i don't mind, I think it might be better if he's the one   1 gets in touch with the police."
ez nodded a third time and took the portable phone || of his pocket.
cci turned back into the room, reached into his own : for the scrub mask and latex gloves he'd brought him, and put them on. Then he went over to the I for a closer look at the dead man.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

The skin at the back of his neck pebbled.
Palardy's stomach had tossed up whatever was inside it. His gaping, cyanotic lips were crusted with vomit. His face, too. It had overflowed onto his pillows, sheet, and blanket, leaving them splashed with yellowish stains.
Ricci examined the nightstand. Besides the phone, it held a small reading lamp and a half-filled glass of something that might have been apple juice or a soft drink. The glass was on a coaster between the bed and phone. Ricci frowned, thinking. Or rather, letting a thought that had already occurred deep in his mind rise to a conscious level. Had he felt an attack or seizure coming on, Palardy surely would have attempted to call for help. Very likely overturned the glass when he was groping for the phone. Dropped the receiver, if he'd managed to get his hand around it. But they were neatly in place. And the way Palardy's blanket was pulled up to his chest, he almost could have been tucked in. Passed away without stirring from his sleep.
But his contorted features and hand signified that his death had been neither peaceful nor painless.
Ricci's frown grew. So far, the picture wasn't coming together for him.
He looked around the room. The two windows to the left of the bed were closed. On the right wall was what looked like a vintage baseball-dugout clock, the Brooklyn Dodgers logo on it. Quite a collector's item. The rest of the sparse furnishings were contrastingly unremarkable. A television on the small dresser opposite the foot of the bed. A desk with one of those inexpensive fabric office chairs pushed underneath it. Next to the desk, a



liter printer on a wheeled stand. AH he could see desktop was a small stack of billing statements 1 to their payment envelopes, a few pens and pen- f<in a souvenir coffee cup, and a box of facial tissues. I surface was otherwise bare.
ci stepped over to the desk and rolled back the then crouched to look into the kneehole. ; two bidirectional data cables on the floor weren't to anything at his end. One had a parallel port ctor, the other a phone-style plug-in jack. Ricci's . traced the first cable to the back of the printer. The cable went to a LAN modem on the carpet about feet away. The network modem's power light was ng green to indicate it was turned on. From there er cable ran along the edge of the carpet toward bed and then behind the headboard to a small metal below the windowsill. Yet another led from the i plate to the television set.
Jy had a high-speed cable Internet connection, sense. It was probably on the corporate tab. ci rose and turned toward the entrance. Perez was iy putting away his phone.   '. talk to your friend," the building manager told him. he gonna call police right away. Says you should and meet them." fiRicci nodded.
want to look around some more, anyway," he said ugh his mask. "You still feel like keeping an eye on that's fine. But I figure you might rather wait out-

ez glanced over at the corpse, then back at Ricci. res," he said. "Maybe outside."


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Ricci nodded again.
"One question," he said. "Do you know if Palardy owned a computer? Ever notice a machine on his desk when you were doing repairs, or anything like that?"
Perez shrugged.
"Can't remember. I come inside here maybe two, three times before today, that's it," he said. "Why you ask?"
Ricci grunted and shook his head.
"Just curious," he said.

Ashley Gordian was alone with her husband. Such a basic thing. So fundamental. A woman and the man she loved, the man with whom she'd shared a thousand intimacies, together. But she'd had to battle a small army of doctors, plow through their unanimous objections, to make it happen. She understood their reasons, of course. Their fiduciary responsibilities, their obligation to prevent the transference of his infection, their genuine concern for her welfare. And she'd agreed to abide by their restrictions when they finally relented and allowed her into the room into which Roger had been moved, a room in isolation from the rest of the hospital... what she'd overheard one of them refer to as a "warm zone." She had put on protective attire. Let herself be wrapped from head to toe. A cap, mask, and gloves. A smock over her outer clothes. Booties over her shoes. There could be no part of her that was left exposed. No direct contact with him for the fifteen minutes they'd reluctantly given her. Her flesh could not touch his flesh.
Married three decades, and their flesh could not touch.
She looked down at his unconscious form, a large, fit



rendered so fragile in so incredibly short a time, i running into his nose from a mechanical ventilator, ; pressurized air flowing into his lungs to keep them to force oxygen into them, prevent them from ling in this body's own fluids as he lay there, un\  to breathe for himself.
looked down at him now, looked down at him wanted more than anything to remove the gloves i her hands, tear them off and soothe his brow, and r she couldn't, couldn't peel away the layers of plasjf  «nd rubber and synthetic fabric separating them. 3ut their hearts ...
inhaled through her mask and stepped closer to jbed.
eir hearts, she thought, would not be unjoined. lyGord," she said. "It's me ... Ashley ..." She heard the tremor in her voice and paused to conI  it. Come on, you can do better. Be strong. For him. 'fel know I look like a wrapped piece of fish, but trust b, I dressed up for you," she said. "I'm wearing that use you always compliment, the blue silk one, un-
ath this miserable smock." |frHis eyes remained closed. He did not move. The ven-
• pumped breath into him. I^Hannah's flying in from Connecticut today. I think e's tired of Julia being the daughter who gets all your ntion. Brian, he's going to stay home from work to s care of the kids while she's here. You should have me all those years ago when I said he'd make husband material...."
|She brushed her gloved fingertips lightly over his ek, a sterile contact that was the closest she could to feeling him.


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

The ventilator pumped.
"The doctors, they're really hustling to make you well, and trying to be nice to me in their doctorly way," she said. "This morning I was introduced to a specialist ... Eric Oh. He's looking into your case, running tests, and thinks he might have an idea what's wrong with you. He was asking me whether you might have come into contact with rodents lately, of all things. And you know, there I am, worried sick about you, listening to his questions, wanting to do anything I can to help, and all of a sudden I get this crazy urge to lay into him for insinuating we don't keep a clean house."
Another pause.
"Well, I managed to calm myself without saying anything I'd live to regret, and decided it's possible some field mice could have nested in our basement... or even been in Julia's yard when you were working on the dog corral. So now they're sending teams out to look around both our properties for droppings, I think they said." She shrugged. "Mouse shit, honey, in my kitchen. Can you believe it? Maybe I should have cracked that doctor one, huh?"
He did not move.
Not a flicker under his eyelids.
She listened to the ventilator pump.
"Oh, some good news," she said. Strong, strong. "Everybody's starting to talk Super Bowl for the Packers. I've been hearing it all week on the news. They're playing at home Sunday, I think it's that team from Florida you always gripe about. The weather's been so cold in Wisconsin, they already have snow on the ground, and I know you say that gives your boys the advantage over



competition, that they can take a little nip in the

|i She felt a sob well suddenly into her throat and ched her teeth against it. Pushing it back down in- her. Banishing it. | "Anyway, back at the ranch, Megan and Pete and the ew are doing some sleuthing of their own. Trying to if they can find somebody who might have passed the bug. You know how they are, wanting to make |yerything right. I swear, they'd go to war with the uni- for you. And I know Pete would turn red in the if he ever heard me say this ... Vince, too,... oh , especially Vince ... but I think they love you al- st as much as I do. Really love you, Gord."   l\ She became aware of movement behind her, turned to ok over her shoulder.
A nurse. Signaling her from just inside the door. Ashley nodded, held up a finger. The nurse returned the nod and withdrew. Ashley leaned forward over the bed. "I'm getting the hook," she said in a quiet voice. ey only give me a few minutes at a time. The docs,  that is. You know how they are. So before I forget give you the best news ... aside from the football dictions, naturally ... before I forget, I want to an- nce that I've decided to lift the ban on flavored cof- It's over. Finished. As of today. When you get out here, it's hazelnut, French vanilla, mocha Java... iphatever you want. So you hang in there, okay? You ng in."   ; Ashley wiped her eyes with the back of her arm,
athed, heard the ventilator breathe for her husband. i Then she became aware of the nurse at the door again.  


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

In silence, she touched a rubber glove to her heart, gently touched it to his heart, and straightened.
They can't be unjoined, she thought.
And slowly pulled herself away from him and turned to leave the room.




hernandez, the chief countersnoop, was
ged to lead Nimec and Ricci into Palardy's office ninutes after Ricci returned from Sunnydale. Ashley lian had called with word of her husband's rapid vnturn and isolation, and the two Sword ops couldn't ord to lose any time. "You know anybody who fraternized with Palardy?" jfimec asked Hernandez. "Buddies from work, outside
ntacts, girlfriends ... ?"
p Hernandez shook his head. He was a tautly built man his late forties with graying hair, skin the color of n-baked ocher, and intelligent brown eyes. "Don kept to himself," he said. "Didn't even mention used to be married till I noticed that snapshot over : and asked him about it." He tipped his head toward small picture frame on Palardy's desk. The photo awed a plump woman with a nice face and lively aile crouched on a beach blanket with two small chil- A boy and girl who might have been twins and

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

were certainly very close in age. "Don told me he was divorced a few years ago. Wife took custody of the kids. I think she lives somewhere back East." Another shake of his head, this time accompanied by a sigh. "Jesus, I suppose I'd better see if I can get her address from personnel, somebody's got to notify his family."
Ricci nodded. "If an asshole named VanDerwort gives you any flak—"
"VanDerwerf," Nimec corrected.
"You let us handle him," Ricci said.
Ricci glanced around the room. It was a tiny, win- dowlesj cubicle as unremarkable as Palardy's condominium had been. A computer workstation stood against one wall. On a credenza opposite it were a pair of headphones and some other sweep equipment, mostly minor accessories. Heavy-duty apparatus like the Big Sniffer were kept under electronic lock and key in a secure storage locker elsewhere on the floor.
Nimec was looking at Hernandez. "Did Palardy's behavior seem at all unusual lately?"
"Far as his health?"
"That, or anything else. In your opinion."
Hernandez thought a moment, then shrugged.
"Nothing stands out in my mind," he said. "The last time I saw Don must've been Friday. Maybe nine o'clock in the morning, after his sweep. He seemed a little quiet, but that's how it was with him. I won't say he got moody. You could ordinarily expect him to be pleasant. He just wasn't the type to talk about his personal life."
"So you've told us," Nimec said.
Hernandez shrugged again.
'The job's repetitious.  You come in, make your



3s, do your paperwork. Most of the guys walk ugh the door in the morning, pour their coffees, can't ait to tell each other whether they had a good night, a ;sy one, saw a movie, won at poker, got drunk, got
you know. And I encourage that." It "Relieves the tedium," Nimec said.
A nod. "I'd rather have my people happy than un- py. The priorities, though, are that they're reliable . thorough. And Don is. Was. Kept his men on their es."
5 "In what way?" Ricci said.
• "Every way you'd want from a team leader. Don was : about his records. A stickler for equipment main- nee. And nobody was more up on the latest antibug nologies. He knew his stuff, was always requisition;  upgrades."
The first time we talked, you acted like it wasn't nything to set off air-raid sirens about when he stopped ling after Monday. Somebody's that diligent, how
you didn't think it was a bigger deal?" Hernandez looked abashed.
|| "Honestly, I was damn concerned," he said. "But I ured that whatever could make him act so out of char- had to be pretty serious, and I wanted to give him ||!ittle slack. In case it was something personal, know
at I mean?" p Ricci regarded him steadily. "He's one of your own,
look out for him." iJSfHernandez nodded.
"Listen, if you hadn't beat me to it, I would have down to his place tonight myself," he said, the one to find the poor guy." "Lucky me," Ricci said. He expelled a sigh. "Pa301   

Tom Clancy's Power Plays

lardy's records ... where'd he keep them?"
Hernandez waved at the computer against the wall.
"In there. He entered his reports every day, sent copies directly to my terminal at the end of each week. Once a month I'd get his assessment of our surveillance countermeasure  protection level, which is standard practice for all team leaders."
"Sounds like a lot of typing," Nimec said.
"That's true," Hernandez said. "But it's how we plug holes. And avoid new ones."
Ricci was rubbing his chin. "The reports get written up in the building? During business hours?"
"Depends," Hernandez said. "Sometimes when they're making their monthly assessments, the team leaders would rather take the work home with them than park it here."
"Palardy, too?"
"Sure," Hernandez said. "Detailed as his were, he'd never have left this office otherwise."
"He must have had a desktop PC at his condo, then."
Hernandez gestured vaguely with both hands.
"You're the only person I know who's seen the inside of the place," he said. "I can tell you that he brought in a notebook computer every so often."
"He ever leave it behind?"
"I really have no idea. Suppose it's possible."
Ricci glanced around the little room. There was no sign of the notebook and not many spots where it could be. He went over to the workstation, pulled open its drawer. It was rilled front to back with carefully labeled file folders. Nothing else. Questions picking at his mind, he recalled the two disconnected cables under Palardy's bedroom desk.



|He turned to Hernandez.
|"I need to sit down at his computer and check out at's on Palardy's hard drive," he said. "Might take ; a while."
I, Hernandez's expression showed reluctant acceptance. H^You call the shots," he said. "If I asked you why,
aid you tell me?" pRicci looked at Nimec, got his nod, looked back at
| "The boss is in bad shape," he said. "Nobody's sure has him down, but we're afraid it might be the thing that took out Palardy. And we want to trace iy's contacts. Try to connect the dots before this lion gets any worse." IHernandez stood without saying anything for a mo- nt. Then he stepped over to the computer and turned

:/'"It's all yours," he said. "You need any help, call me ; my office. If I'm not there, page me." ||Ricci nodded. He was thinking Hernandez was okay. "Appreciate it," he said, and sat behind the monitor t-see what he could see.

cio Salazar met them in Tecate, a small border town smuggler's gateway on the Baja Peninsula, about a ' hour's drive east of Tijuana. ^Despite the necessity of the trip, Lucio supposed it only as his driver pulled over to the drab motel on   enida Benito Juarez that he altogether believed he was ut to arrange for the death of Enrique Quiros, son of told friend Tomas, with whom he'd pilfered fruit and from the outdoor market stands of Tijuana when were ragged strays without a whole pair of shoes


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

between them. The prepubescent Lucio already looking after his younger brothers, looking to survive on the street, long years from becoming the clan leader of Los Magos. Just another cast-off son of a whore and some unremembered clench in the night, insignificant as a stain on a dirty sheet. And maybe it wasn't until he was in the room with the men he'd hired for the job, looking at one of the guns that would be used for the takedown, that his purpose in coming there really sank into his heart.
He had cause enough to believe things were well beyond any other solution. For openers, Lathrop's information was always solid, and he had been definite that Quiros meant to put him in the grave. Then, by pure coincidence, the scouts he'd sent to Balboa the night before had spotted a group of Quiros's men outside the park, skulking around for twenty minutes before they took off. While they could have been there for the same reason as Lucio's own men, wanting to familiarize themselves with the grounds in case of a double cross, he doubted it, considering what he'd learned of Enrique's recent maneuvers. And he could not overlook the tunnel raid.
Even so, Lucio guessed some part of him was still holding onto a shred of hope that violence would be avoided in this instance. That their differences could be reconciled out of respect for Tomas's memory. But again it came down to a matter of survival. At any cost.
Now he studied the weapon being exhibited for him like some enticing rarity, a Walther 2000 sniper rifle with a special optical attachment on the scope. After a couple of minutes, he glanced up at the slight, dark-eyed man who'd laid it across the bedspread.



I "Let's talk money," he said.
I The little man nodded. "We each take twenty thou- 1 Half up front. The balance when it's done." "Eighty large is high—" i "Not for us, it isn't. And the total is a hundred thou- I Nonnegotiable. There's a fifth member of the team lithe control station."   ;rSalazar gave him a look of hard appraisal.
"Nonnegotiable," he echoed. W'Yes."
"I don't like your position, I can take this contract ewhere." IfThe little man's eyes glittered. | "You can," he said. "But you won't get the same thing   t deliver."
Salazar kept looking at him. He motioned toward the ?alther.
"Your tricked-up piece doesn't impress me," he said, 'm not concerned with anything but results." "I understand that. This isn't about flash. We just like pie to know some of what's behind our asking price." Salazar was quiet. Then he released a long sigh. |"Okay," he said. "We have a deal." The little man nodded. "We'd better go over tonight's timetable," he said.

first application Ricci accessed on Palardy's corner was his E-mail reader, thinking it would be the gical place to search for contacts. Before checking his ess book, Ricci scanned the unopened messages on queue. Most were from subscriber lists related to untersurveillance issues. A few were obvious junk ails.  One was an order confirmation from an EIcseller.   


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

Only the third description caught Ricci's interest. It said:

FROM SUBJECT RECEIVED This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. NONE 11/14/2000 4:36 AM

Ricci turned to Nimec in the chair beside him, pointing toward the mailer's address.
"Look at that," he said. "Palardy sent it to himself."
"Early Tuesday morning," Nimec said.
"Very early."
And almost a full day after anybody at UpLink last heard from him, both men thought.
Nimec leaned forward. "Well, open it already. What are we waiting for?"
Ricci highlighted the description on the screen, double-clicked his mouse, and read the contents of the email:




ie looked at Nimec again. |»'What the hell's this?" he said.

their full-faceplate biohazard ensembles they might pye been astronauts exploring another world. But this no alien landscape. This was the Gordians's home 1 hillside, and the team of state and CDC virus hunters in by Eric Oh had to comb every inch of their erty for the dried rodent excreta known to transmit tttavirus to humans.
fjffThe white space suits with their protective apparatus : burdensome and tiring to wear. Communication been team members was enabled only through two-way  No . Their air packs weighed forty pounds. Their thick, iltilayered gloves made it difficult to get hold of ngs. Their heavy, steel-toed boots made walking itself li« rigor.
• The suits could be hard on their surroundings as well, eservation of Ashley's lovingly maintained gardens impossible in the scrupulous probe for contamints.  It was imperative to inspect any area that might visited or inhabited by field mice and similar crea- Her herb patch was dug up, delicate rosebushes : sheared, the mulch around her shrubs was shoveled bagged. Climbing plants that had flourished on her for a decade were lopped off near the ground, the little mammals might forage among the root In some instances, the bowers and trellises them- flves had to be taken down for the biologists to get at ely sites for established nests or burrows. Dozens of were set for live specimens that would be tested the presence of virus. '; Nor was the interior of the house spared these disrup-


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

live but necessary intrusions. Mice and voles common to the region used the smallest openings to enter and exit from the outdoors, and these were often found in places normally screened from sight. Furniture was moved, rugs lifted, carpets unstapled. Library shelves were cleared of books, wainscoting panels detached from the wall. Gordian's cluttered basement workshop was virtually taken apart piece by piece. In the kitchen, cooking cupboards were emptied, and utensils and appliances   were swept from their shelves. The built-in stainless steel refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, ice maker, and wine captain had to be removed from their cabinets, their outer insulation pulled away. As outside the residence, many traps were laid.
Miles to the south at Julia Gordian Ellis's new home in Pescadero, a second group of investigators in moon suits conducted a procedurally identical hunt for the source of contagion. Forced to abandon the premises, Julia went to stay with a friend, bringing only her dogs and a suitcase full of clothing. Intense focus was put on the section of backyard where her father had been building his greyhound corral, the theory being he might have disturbed an underground rodent den while excavating soil for its posts. The standing section of fence was disassembled, its laboriously installed posts extracted from the ground.
These painstaking efforts of course proved fruitless, for in the end, not a trace of virus was uncovered.

"Hello. Eric Oh, please."
"Eric, it's Steve Karonis over at Sobel Genetics. I know you asked me to call on your direct office line,



itmt I must've misplaced the number. Had to go through line switchboard ..."
"No problem. What've you got on Gordian's virus specimens?"
"Everything is strictly unofficial, okay? Even with our Iwhole staff on this, we need twenty-four hours minimum >.to make a reliable determination, and it hasn't even Ibeen—"
"It's unofficial."
"All right, hold on to your seat. The PCR screening ishows your isolate doesn't match any known strain of ffehantavirus. Which from what you've already told me, I shouldn't come as a surprise—"
"Then why am I still supposed to be worried about 'falling down?"
"Because ... and again, this is only based on initial v results ... but there appear to be RNA sequences that don't occur naturally in the species. Or in the family. They're at the regulation sites on the genome, right j where you'd expect to find them if, well, components fthad been inserted—"
"Are you telling me the virus was artificially modi-   I/W?"
"I'm telling you there are signs of genetic modificaf|tion,  yes."
The phone cradled between his neck and shoulder, Eric looked down at his hand.
He was indeed holding on to his seat, literally holding : on, his knuckles white as bleached bone.

"You want to say the words, or have I got to be the one   {who jumps first?" Ricci said from behind Palardy's com- fputer.


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Nimec's eyes were still on the E-mail they had opened.
"It looks like code," he said. "Some kind of code."
"And we're off into space."
"What do you make of it?"
Ricci shrugged, staring at the screen in contemplative   silence.
"Be straight with me," Nimec said. "When Hernandez was in here with us, I heard you question him about Palardy maybe leaving a notebook computer around here. I saw you look for it in the drawer. And that made me pretty sure you noticed more at Palardy's house than you've let on."
Ricci turned to him. "How come you didn't say anything to me?"
"Figured you had your reasons for being quiet, and you would talk when you were ready."
Ricci nodded.
"I wasn't trying to keep secrets," he said. "I just like to have my thoughts in order before I lay them out. And I'm not sure that I do. That any of what's on my mind makes sense."
"You asked me to jump, and I did," Nimec said. "Your turn."
Ricci regarded Nimec another moment, then nodded again. He told him about the marks he'd seen on the door to Palardy's condo, about the odd positioning of his body given the presumed cause of death, about the cables he'd noticed under Palardy's desk.
"I looked everywhere for a computer before the cops showed, Pete. And I can tell you there wasn't one in the place," Ricci said. "No computer, not a single diskette, either. And that bothered me. Bothers me even more



that we know Palardy sent an E-mail from some   chine at a time we can assume he was at home." He used. "Another peculiar thing caught my eye before I Palardy'd installed one of those floor bolts behind front door. Lets you open the door to see who's side when there's a knock, and not have to worry Dut a robber pushing his way through. You trigger it  with  your foot from inside. Know the kind I mean?" "Sure."
"Well, it wasn't locked. You figure somebody goes to trouble and expense of having something like that |installed, he's going to shoot the bolt while he's home : night."
"So you think somebody opened the door with a credit jpcard, reached inside to disengage it, let himself in. That It?"
"Wouldn't take a master thief," Ricci said. Nimec   looked  curious.   "Okay,   say   it  happened.   fWhat's next? The intruder lifts Palardy's computer and |$lata storage media for some reason?"
"Yeah," Ricci said. "Or maybe he kills Palardy first, hen takes off with it—"
"Hold on. You've told me yourself that Palardy was f obviously sick."
"Sick isn't dead, Pete. Sick can still talk." He nodded ffat the screen. "Or send coded messages to his office."
Nimec didn't comment for a while. Then he said, If^Give me your theory."
"There are poisons that aren't easy to detect or might Jibe overlooked by a coroner if the vic's already on his f way out and somebody wants to speed along his exit. 1, You used to be on the job same as me. How many times I you respond to a sudden death call, take one look


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

around, another at the DOA, and know on account of what you saw that it was a murder disguised as something else? An accident. A routine suicide. A heart attack. I'm telling you, Palardy's body was arranged for viewing."
"You got that from the appearance of the scene, okay. I'm not doubting your eye. But where's the connection to Gord in this? They've found virus in his blood specimens, so we know he wasn't poisoned."
Ricci shot him a look. "We're in thin air together, right? So just between us, Pete, what if the boss and Palardy were both infected with the virus? On purpose. If that's the case, we don't know what Palardy could have told us about it or who'd want to stop him from talking."
Nimec took a deep breath.
"The cops and public health investigators are rushing Palardy's autopsy. I'll stay close to them. Make sure they conduct a toxicological exam for anything that could mimic or speed up the symptoms of the disease."
"Sounds good."
Nimec thought a minute. "Okay, then what? Let's suppose they find Palardy and Gord were exposed to the same germ. Or turn up some forensics that would bear out your suspicions about the circumstances of Palardy's death—"
Ricci interrupted him. 'There's no reason we should wait for them to get that far. Wait for any of their results to gain ourselves a head start. And we goddamn well   know there's something funny about Palardy's message. Why not have the people in our crypto unit put on their decoder rings?"


I f
;A: J

"That's already occurred to me," Nimec said. "I can ave them on it right aw—"
He noticed the computer display unexpectedly go blank, and out of habit checked the power light to see  whether  it had lost current or gone into a sleep mode.
en cartoonish winged clocks and watches began float- ling across it in random patterns, satisfying his interest.
"Screen saver," he said, voicing his minor realization iloud. "Time flies."
Ricci glanced at the display.
"Fits," he muttered.




"something like this, one look at it tells you
almost as much as it doesn't," James Carmichael said without elaboration. He was seated behind Palardy's computer, studying the enigmatic series of letters and punctuation marks in his Email.
Nimec and Ricci exchanged glances from where they stood, bookending him. His statement itself struck them as a bit mysterious, but that was almost expected. Before Roger Gordian lured him into his employ, Carmichael had been a third-generation National Security Agency analyst, his grandfather having worked for the crypto- logic intelligence organization from the time of its Cold War inception by secret presidential memorandum—   back when the government was still mum about its existence, and Washington insiders cheekily referred to the NSA acronym as standing for No Such Agency.
"How about you walk us through," Nimec said. "Starting with whether we're all on the same page about it actually being a code, and not what happens when


|somebody's out of his skull with fever and doesn't know  what  he's typing."
A thirtyish man in shirtsleeves with sharp blue eyes ||aid a bumper crop of wavy black hair, Carmichael aked over his shoulder at Nimec. "Sorry," he said. "The minute I start to sound con- pdescending, permission's granted to whump me across |;the back of the head."
Nimec smiled a little. "We'll allow you one free wpass."
"Deal." Carmichael turned back to the screen. "Okay, |ffirst, I think we can rule out that it's the product of an iilncoherent mind. It's too systematic in its construction. |I also think what we've got in front of us isn't strictly ting a code but a cipher. People use the terms as if |ihey're interchangeable, but there's a distinction, and it's H important for more than semantic reasons. Codes substitute  whole words with letters, numbers, symbols, Ijphrases, or other words. Ciphers create substitutions for I mdependent letters or syllables, and they allow for more Mcomplex communications. They're the basis of modern ^electronic encryption. A good way to keep them straight |Biight be to compare codes to ancient hieroglyphics or ; pictographs, ciphers to the alphabet. Imagine Shake- f speare trying to write Hamlet using pictures on the wall, pand it'll be apparent why ciphertext is more refined and ftfficient."
"You can tell the difference right off?" Ricci said. "Usually, yeah." Carmichael said. He indicated sev§«ral  spots on the lines of characters. "Frequent recur- |-iences of letter groups are a fair giveaway that they're fjrcplacing small linguistic units. See the letter pair, or ibigram,   'BH'?   It   appears   ten,   eleven   times.   You


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

wouldn't expect the same word to be repeated that often within a relatively short message ... but a letter or syllable, sure. And then there's the back-to-back use of the polygram 'JMOO'. That probably equals a double-letter combination in plaintext—"
"Plaintext being ..."
"The words you're trying to conceal," Carmichael said. "As opposed to ciphertext, which would be the characters you're using to conceal them."
Ricci was nodding his head. "That's all there is to this nut, it should be easy to crack," he said. "The regular... the plaintext... alphabet has twenty-six letters. Which means you'd have an equal amount of ciphertext groups, right? One group for each letter, A through Z. Run all the possible matches through a computer, how long would it take to kick out the one that lets you form real words that add up to real sentences instead of nonsense? Simple math, there are only so many possibilities."
Carmichael looked at him. "Your logic makes sense as far as it goes, but leaves us with a couple of big problems," he said. "One, let's assume Palardy's ciphertext groups correlate to letters in the English alphabet, and not some other with a greater or lesser number of characters. Figuring out that part might just be the first step toward getting to the clear—the hidden message—   since we don't know that there aren't added levels of encryption. And two, any cipher worth the thought and effort needed to create it incorporates nulls. These could be letters, digits, symbols, maybe punctuation marks that don't fit the system and can complicate things."
"Wouldn't your computers be able identify them for that very reason?" Nimec asked. "Exclude them because they don't fall into the pattern?"




fei "With time," Carmichael replied tersely, looking at Eliim in a way that conveyed he was all too aware of its
sperate shortage.
Silence hung a minute. Then, from Nimec: "It's crazy. Ifalardy composes a secret message before he dies, Epdails  it here. He must want us to be able to get at it. I
I't see why else he goes to the trouble." ;S Carmichael nodded. "Agreed. Even if his purpose was |jto frustrate us, put us through our paces ... and we don't
aw it was... I still bet he'd provide a key. Either
itely or hidden within the cryptogram." ||V "You think you can do it?" Nimec asked Carmichael. 1'3'ind the key, whatever Palardy's intentions might've Peen?"
"I'll have my people go over every bit of data on this linal's hard drive. And any removable storage media |ie might have left behind. See what we learn from l-them." A sigh. "I know we can do a successful crypta- fiBalysis. Break the system without a key. But truthfully, |i can't estimate how long it would take. Could be hours, |days, even weeks."
"Goddamn it." Ricci frowned. "If Palardy wasn't ^playing games with us... wanted to tell us something ... what the hell was he thinking? Why bother encrypt|  ing his message?"
• "The only reason I can figure would be to keep it from fWhoever got into his apartment and carried away his f notebook," Nimec said.
"If that's it, he could have sent the message in plain language and then wiped it from his notebook's mem- lf ory," Ricci said. "Reformatted his hard drive to be pos- Ilitive it couldn't be recovered."


Tom Clancy's Power Plays

"Unless he was worried about somebody being able to pull it from our mainframe."
"If our security's been compromised to that extent, Pete, we'd both better turn in our resignations."
Carmichael had been listening quietly, his eyes narrowed in contemplation as they spoke.
"Any objections if I toss a hypothesis of my own into the pot?" he said.
"None," Nimec said.
Carmichael looked from one man to the other.
"Maybe Palardy wanted the person who got hold of the computer to know he'd sent us a message but have to sweat about what information it contained," he said. "In other words, maybe he wasn't playing with our heads, but his."

By Wednesday afternoon, Enrique Quiros's eyes were so familiar with the message in the Sent column of Pa- lardy's E-mail program that it might have been burned into their retinas. He had spent hours trying to make sense of it. Long, futile hours.
Quiros switched off the notebook computer that had been brought to him from Palardy's condominium, closed its lid, and reached for the tumbler of scotch on his desk. It was not his usual habit to drink before sundown, but his nerves badly needed steadying. One by one, his recent problems had compounded. Felix's idiotic stunt, Felix's murder, his forced hand in setting up tonight's appointment with Salazar. And now everything he'd feared from the moment he had climbed aboard the carousel with that blonde had come about. She had sucked him into the conspiracy to kill Roger Gordian,



|made him an instrumental participant, and he had known
he would live to regret it.