There was a university somewhere in the Midwest, Jack had once heard on the radio, which had an instrument package designed to go inside a tornado.
Each spring, graduate students and a professor or two staked out a likely swath of land, and on spotting a tornado, tried to set the instrument package, called "Toto"—what else?—directly in the path of the onrushing storm. So far they had been unsuccessful. Perhaps they'd just picked the wrong place, Ryan thought, looking out the window to the leafless trees in Lafayette Park.
The office of the President's National Security Advisor was surely cyclonic enough for anyone's taste, and, unfortunately, much easier for people to enter.
"You know," Ryan said, leaning back in his chair, "it was supposed to be a lot simpler than this." And I thought it would be, he didn't add.
"The world had rules before," Scott Adler pointed out. "Now it doesn't."
"How's the President been doing, Scott?"
"You really want the truth?" Adler asked, meaning, We are in the White House, remember? and wondering if there really were tape machines covering this room. "We screwed up the Korean situation, but we lucked out. Thank God we didn't screw up Yugoslavia that badly, because there just isn't any luck to be had in that place. We haven't been handling Russia very well. The whole continent of Africa's a dog's breakfast. About the only thing we've done right lately was the trade treaty—"
"And that doesn't include Japan and China," Ryan finished for him.
"Hey, you and I fixed the Middle East, remember? That's working out fairly nicely."
"Hottest spot right now?" Ryan didn't want praise for that. The "success" had developed some very adverse consequences, and was the prime reason he had left government service.
"Take your pick," Adler suggested. Ryan grunted agreement.
"Hanson? Politician," replied the career foreign-service officer. And a proud one at that, Jack reminded himself. Adler had started off at State right after graduating number one in his Fletcher School class, then worked his way up the career ladder through all the drudgery and internal politics that had together claimed his first wife's love and a good deal of his hair. It had to be love of country that kept him going, Jack knew. The son of an Auschwitz survivor, Adler cared about America in a way that few could duplicate. Better still, his love was not blind, even now that his current position was political and not a career rank. Like Ryan, he served at the pleasure of the President, and still he'd had the character to answer Jack's questions honestly.
"Worse than that," Ryan went on for him. "He's a lawyer. They always get in the way."
"The usual prejudice," Adler observed with a smile, then applied some of his own analytical ability. "You have something running, don't you?"
Ryan nodded. "A score to settle. I have two good guys on it now."
The task combined oil-drilling and mining, to be followed by exquisitely line finishing work, and it had to be performed on time. The rough holes were almost complete. It had not been easy drilling straight down into the basaltic living rock on the valley even one time, much less ten, each one of the holes fully forty meters deep and ten across. A crew of nine hundred men working in three rotating shifts had actually beaten the official schedule by two weeks, despite the precautions. Six kilometers of rail had been laid from the nearest Shin-Kansen line, and for every inch of it the catenary towers normally erected to carry the overhead electrical lines instead were the supports for four linear miles of camouflage netting.
The geological history of this Japanese valley must have been interesting, the construction superintendent thought. You didn't see the sun until an hour or more after it rose, the slope was so steep to the east. No wonder that previous railway engineers had looked at the valley and decided to build elsewhere. The narrow gorge—in places not even ten meters across at its base—had been cut by a river, long since dammed, and what remained was essentially a rock trench, like something left over from a war. Or in preparation for one, he thought. It was pretty obvious, after all, despite the fact that he'd never been told anything but to keep his mouth shut about the whole project. The only way out of this place was straight up or sideways. A helicopter could do the former, and a train could do the latter, but to accomplish anything else required tampering with the laws of ballistics, which was a very difficult task indeed.
As he watched, a huge Kiowa scoop-loader dumped another bucketload of crushed rock into a hopper car. It was the last car in the train's "consist," and soon the diesel switch engine would haul its collection of cars out to the mainline, where a standard-gauge electric locomotive would take over.
"Finished," the man told him, pointing down into the hole. At the bottom, a man held the end of a long tape measure. Forty meters exactly. The hole had been measured by laser already, of course, but tradition required that such measurements be tested by the human hand of a skilled worker, and there at the bottom was a middle-aged hard-rock miner whose face beamed with pride. And who had no idea what this project was all about.
"Hai," the superintendent said with a pleased nod, and then a more formal, gracious bow to the man at the bottom, which was dutifully and proudly returned. The next train in would carry an oversized cement mixer. The pre-assembled sets of rebar were already stacked around this hole—and, indeed, all the others, ready to be lowered. In finishing the first hole, this team had beaten its nearest competitor by perhaps six hours, and its furthest by no more than two days—irregularities in the subsurface rock had been a problem for Hole Number 6, and in truth they'd done well to catch up as closely as they were now. He'd have to speak to them, congratulate them for their Herculean effort, so as to mitigate their shame at being last. Team 6 was his best crew, and it was a pity that they'd been unlucky.
"Three more months, we will make the deadline," the site foreman said confidently.
"When Six is also finished, we will have a party for the men. They have earned it."
"This isn't much fun," Chavez observed.
"Warm, too," Clark agreed. The air-conditioning system on their Range Rover was broken, or perhaps it had died of despair. Fortunately, they had lots of bottled water.
"But it's a dry heat," Ding replied, as though it mattered at a hundred fourteen degrees. One could think in Celsius, instead, but that offered relief only as long as it took to take in another breath. Then you were reminded of the abuse that the superheated air had to be doing to your lungs, no matter how you kept score. He unscrewed the top from a plastic bottle of spring water, which was probably a frigid ninety-five, he estimated. Amazing how cool it tasted under the circumstances.
"Chilldown tonight, all the way to eighty, maybe."
"Good thing I brought my sweater, Mr. C." Chavez paused to wipe off some sweat before looking through the binoculars again. They were good ones, but they didn't help much, except to give a better view of the shimmering air that roiled like the surface of a stormy, invisible sea. Nothing lived out here except for the occasional vulture, and surely by now they had cleaned off the carcasses of everything that had once made the mistake of being born out here. And he'd once thought the Mojave Desert was bleak, Chavez told himself. At least coyotes lived there.
It never changed, Clark thought. He'd been doing jobs like this one for…thirty years? Not quite but close. Jesus, thirty years. He still hadn't had the chance to do it in a place where he could really fit in, but that didn't seem terribly important right now. Their cover was wearing thin. The back of the Rover was jammed with surveying equipment and boxes of rock samples, enough to persuade the local illiterates that there might be an enormous molybdenum deposit out there in that solitary mountain. The locals knew what gold looked like—who didn't?—but the mineral known affectionately to miners as Molly-be-damned was a mystery to the uninitiated in all but its market value, which was considerable. Clark had used the ploy often enough. A geological discovery offered people just the perfect sort of luck to appeal to their invariable greed. They just loved the idea of having something valuable sitting under their feet, and John Clark looked the part of a mining engineer, with his rough and honest face to deliver the good and very confidential news.
He checked his watch. The appointment was in ninety minutes, around sunset, and he'd shown up early, the better to check out the area. It was hot and empty, neither of which came as much of a surprise, and was located twenty miles from the mountain they would be talking about, briefly. There was a crossroads here, two tracks of beaten dirt, one mainly north-south, the other mainly east-west, both of which somehow remained visible despite the blowing sand and grit that ought to have covered up all traces of human presence. Clark didn't understand it. The years-long drought couldn't have helped, but even with occasional rain he had to wonder how the hell anyone had lived here. Yet some people had, and for all he knew, still did, when there was grass for their goats to eat…and no men with guns to steal the goats and kill the herdsmen. Mainly the two CIA field officers sat in their car, with the windows open, drank their bottled water, and sweated after they ran out of words to exchange.
The trucks showed up close to dusk. They saw the dust plumes first, like, the roostertails of motorboats, yellow in the diminishing light. In such an empty, desperate country, how was it possible that they knew how to make trucks run? Somebody knew how to keep them running, and that seemed very remarkable. Perversely, it meant that all was not lost for this desolate place. If bad men could do it, then good men could do it as well. And that was the reason for Clark and Chavez to be there, wasn't it?
The first truck was well in advance of the others. It was old, probably a military truck originally, though with all the body damage, the country of origin and the name of the manufacturer were matters of speculation. It circled their Rover at a radius of about a hundred meters, while the eyes of the crew checked them out at a discreet, careful distance, including one man on what looked like a Russian 12.7mm machine gun mounted in the back. "Policemen," their boss called them—once it was "technicals." After a while, they stopped, got out and just stood there, watching the Rover, holding their old, dirty, but probably functional AK rifles. The men would soon be less important. It was evening, after all, and the caq was out. Chavez watched a man sitting in the shade of his truck a hundred meters away, chewing on the weed.
"Can't the dumb sunzabitches at least smoke it?" the exasperated field officer asked the burning air in the car.
"Bad for the lungs, Ding. You know that." Their appointment for the evening made quite a living for himself by flying it in. In fact, roughly two fifths of the country's gross domestic product went into that trade, supporting a small fleet of aircraft that flew it in from Somalia. The fact offended both Clark and Chavez, but their mission wasn't about personal offense. It was about a long-standing debt. General Mohammed Abdul Corp—his rank had largely been awarded by reporters who didn't know what else to call him—had, once upon a time, been responsible for the deaths of twenty American soldiers. Two years ago, to be exact, far beyond the memory horizon of the media, because after he'd killed the American soldiers, he'd gone back to his main business of killing his own countrymen. It was for the latter cause that Clark and Chavez were nominally in the field, but justice had many shapes and many colors, and it pleased Clark to pursue a parallel agenda. That Corp was also a dealer in narcotics seemed a special gift from a good-humored God.
"Wash up before he gets here?" Ding asked, tenser now, and showing it just a little bit. All four men by the truck just sat there, chewing their caq and staring, their rifles lying across their legs, the heavy machine gun on the back of their truck forgotten now. They were the forward security element, such as it was, for their General.
Clark shook his head. "Waste of time."
"Shit, we've been here six weeks." All for one appointment. Well, that was how it worked, wasn't it?
"I needed to sweat off the five pounds," Clark replied with a tense smile of his own. Probably more than five, he figured. "These things take time to do right."
"I wonder how Patsy is doing in college?" Ding murmured as the next collection of dust plumes grew closer.
Clark didn't respond. It was distantly unseemly that his daughter found his field partner exotic and interesting…and charming, Clark admitted to himself. Though Ding was actually shorter than his daughter—Patsy took after her tall and rangy mom—and possessed of a decidedly checkered background, John had to allow for the fact that Chavez had worked as hard as anyone he'd ever known to make himself into something that life had tried very hard to deny him. The lad was thirty-one now. Lad? Clark asked himself. Ten years older than his little girl, Patricia Doris Clark. He could have said something about how they lived a rather crummy life in the field, but Ding would have replied that it was not his decision to make, and it wasn't. Sandy hadn't thought so either.
What Clark couldn't shake was the idea that his Patricia, his baby, might be sexually active with—Ding? The father part of him found the idea disturbing, but the rest of him had to admit that he'd had his own youth once. Daughters, he told himself, were God's revenge on you for being a man: you lived in mortal fear that they might accidentally encounter somebody like yourself at that age. In Patsy's case, the similarity in question was just too striking to accept easily.
"Concentrate on the mission, Ding."
"Roger that, Mr. C." Clark didn't have to turn his head. He could see the smile that had to be poised on his partner's face. He could almost feel it evaporate, too, as more dust plumes appeared through the shimmering air.
"We're gonna get you, motherfucker," Ding breathed, back to business and wearing his mission face again. It wasn't just the dead American soldiers. People like Corp destroyed everything they touched, and this part of the world needed a chance at a future. That chance might have come two years earlier, if the President had listened to his field commanders instead of the U.N. Well, at least he seemed to be learning, which wasn't bad for a President.
The sun was lower, almost gone now, and the temperature was abating. More trucks. Not too many more, they both hoped. Chavez shifted his eyes to the four men a hundred yards away. They were talking back and forth with a little animation, mellow from the caq. Ordinarily it would be dangerous to be around drug-sotted men carrying military weapons, but tonight danger was inverting itself, as it sometimes did. The second truck was clearly visible now, and it came up close. Both CIA officers got out of their vehicle to stretch, then to greet the new visitors, cautiously, of course.
The General's personal guard force of elite "policemen" was no better than the ones who had arrived before, though some of this group did wear unbuttoned shirts. The first one to come up to them smelled of whiskey, probably pilfered from the General's private stock. That was an affront to Islam, but then so was trafficking in drugs. One of the things Clark admired about the Saudis was their direct and peremptory method for processing that category of criminal.
"Hi." Clark smiled at the man. "I'm John Clark. This is Mr. Chavez. We've been waiting for the General, like you told us."
"What you carry?" the "policeman" asked, surprising Clark with his knowledge of English. John held up his bag of rock samples, while Ding showed his pair of electronic instruments. Alter a cursory inspection of the vehicle, they were spared even a serious frisking—a pleasant surprise.
Corp arrived next, with his most reliable security force, if you could call it that. They rode in a Russian ZIL-type jeep. The "General" was actually in a Mercedes that had once belonged to a government bureaucrat, before the government of this country had disintegrated. It had seen better times, but was still the best automobile in the country, probably. Corp wore his Sunday best, a khaki shirt outside the whipcord trousers, with something supposed to be rank insignia on the epaulets, and boots that had been polished sometime in the last week. The sun was just under the horizon now. Darkness would fall quickly, and the thin atmosphere of the high desert made for lots of visible stars even now.
The General was a gracious man, at least by his own lights. He walked over briskly, extending his hand. As he took it, Clark wondered what had become of the owner of the Mercedes. Most likely murdered along with the other members of the government. They'd died partly of incompetence, but mostly of barbarism, probably at the hands of the man whose firm and friendly hand he was now shaking.
"Have you completed your survey?" Corp asked, surprising Clark again with his grammar.
"Yes, sir, we have. May I show you?"
"Certainly." Corp followed him to the back of the Rover. Chavez pulled out a survey map and some satellite photos obtained from commercial sources.
"This may be the biggest deposit since the one in Colorado, and the purity is surprising. Right here." Clark extended a steel pointer and tapped it on the map.
"Thirty kilometers from where we are sitting…"
Clark smiled. "You know, as long as I've been in this business, it still surprises me how this happens. A couple of billion years ago, a huge bubble of the stuff must have just perked up from the center of the earth." His lecture was lyrical. He'd had lots of practice, and it helped that Clark read books on geology for recreation, borrowing the nicer phrases for his "pitch."
"Anyway," Ding, said, taking his cue a few minutes later, "the overburden is no problem at all, and we have the location fixed perfectly."
"How can you do that?" Corp asked. His country's maps were products of another and far more casual age.
"With this, sir." Ding handed it over.
"What is it?" the General asked.
"A GPS locator," Chavez explained. "It's how we find our way around, sir. You just push that button there, the rubber one."
Corp did just that, then held the large, thin green-plastic box up and watched the readout. First it gave him the exact time, then started to make its fix, showing that it had lock with one, then three, and finally four orbiting Global Positioning System satellites. "Such an amazing device," he said, though that wasn't the half of it. By pushing the button he had also sent out a radio signal. It was so easy to forget that they were scarcely a hundred miles from the Indian Ocean, and that beyond the visible horizon might be a ship with a flat deck. A largely empty deck at the moment, because the helicopters that lived there had lifted off an hour earlier and were now sitting at a secure site thirty-five miles to the south.
Corp took one more look at the GPS locator before handing it back.
"What is the rattle?" he asked as Ding took it.
"Battery pack is loose, sir," Chavez explained with a smile. It was their only handgun, and not a large one. The General ignored the irrelevancy and turned back to Clark.
"How much?" he asked simply.
"Well, determining the exact size of the deposit will require—"
"Money, Mr. Clark."
"Anaconda is prepared to offer you fifty million dollars, sir. We'll pay that in four payments of twelve and a half million dollars, plus ten percent of the gross profit from the mining operations. The advance fee and the continuing income will be paid in U.S. dollars."
"More than that. I know what molybdenum is worth." He'd checked a copy of The Financial Times on the way in.
"But it will take two years, closer to three, probably, to commence operations. Then we have to determine the best way to get the ore to the coast. Probably truck, maybe a rail line if the deposit is as big as I think it is. Our up-front costs to develop the operation will be on the order of three hundred million." Even with the labor costs here, Clark didn't have to add.
"I need more money to keep my people happy. You must understand that," Corp said reasonably. Had he been an honorable man, Clark thought, this could have been an interesting negotiation. Corp wanted the additional up-front money to buy arms in order to reconquer the country that he had once almost owned. The U.N. had displaced him, but not quite thoroughly enough. Relegated to dangerous obscurity in the bush, he had survived the last year by running caq into the cities, such as they were, and he'd made enough from the trade that some thought him to be a danger to the state again, such as it was. With new arms, of course, and control over the country, he would then renegotiate the continuing royalty for the molybdenum. It was a clever ploy, Clark thought, but obvious, having dreamed it up himself to draw the bastard out of his hole.
"Well, yes, we are concerned with the political stability of the region," John allowed, with an insider's smile to show that he knew the score. Americans were known for doing business all over the world, after all, or so Corp and others believed.
Chavez was fiddling with the GPS device, watching the LCD display. At the upper-right corner, a block went from clear to black. Ding coughed from the dust in the air and scratched his nose.
"Okay," Clark said. "You're a serious man, and we understand that. The fifty million can be paid up-front. Swiss account?"
"That is somewhat better," Corp allowed, taking his time. He walked around to the back of the Rover and pointed into the open cargo area. "These are your rock samples?"
"Yes, sir," Clark replied with a nod. He handed over a three-pound piece of stone with very high-grade Molly-be-damned ore, though it was from Colorado, not Africa. "Want to show it to your people?"
"What is this?" Corp pointed at two objects in the Rover.
"Our lights, sir." Clark smiled as he took one out. Ding did the same.
"You have a gun in there," Corp saw with amusement, pointing to a bolt-action rifle. Two of his bodyguards drew closer.
"This is Africa, sir. I was worried about—"
"Lions?" Corp thought that one pretty good. He turned and spoke to his "policemen," who started laughing amiably at the stupidity of the Americans. "We kill the lions," Corp told them after the laughter settled down. "Nothing lives out here."
Clark, the General thought, took it like a man, standing there, holding his light. It seemed a big light. "What is that for?"
"Well, I don't like the dark very much, and when we camp out, I like to take pictures at night."
"Yeah," Ding confirmed. "These things are really great." He turned and scanned the positions of the General's security detail. There were two groups, one of four, the other of six, plus the two nearby and Corp himself.
"Want me to take pictures of your people for you?" Clark asked without reaching for his camera.
On cue, Chavez flipped his light on and played it toward the larger of the two distant groups. Clark handled the three men close to the Rover. The "lights" worked like a charm. It took only about three seconds before both CIA officers could turn them off and go to work securing the men's hands.
"Did you think we forgot?" the CIA field officer asked Corp as the roar of rotary-wing aircraft became audible fifteen minutes later. By this time all twelve of Corp's security people were facedown in the dust, their hands bound behind them with the sort of plastic ties policemen use when they run out of cuffs. All the General could do was moan and writhe on the ground in pain. Ding cracked a handful of chemical lights and tossed them around in a circle downwind of the Rover. The first UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter circled carefully, illuminating the ground with lights.
"BIRD-DOG ONE, this is BAG MAN."
"Good evening, BAG MAN, BIRD-DOG ONE has the situation under control. Come on down!" Clark chuckled into the radio.
The first chopper down was well outside the lighted area. The Rangers appeared out of the shadows like ghosts, spaced out five meters apart, weapons low and ready.
"Clark?" a loud, very tense voice called.
"Yo!" John called back with a wave. "We got 'im."
A captain of Rangers came in. A young Latino face, smeared with camouflage paint and dressed in desert cammies. He'd been a lieutenant the last time he'd been on the African mainland, and remembered the memorial service for those he'd lost from his platoon. Bringing the Rangers back had been Clark's idea, and it had been easy to arrange. Four more men came in behind Captain Diego Checa. The rest of the squad dispersed to check out the "policemen."
"What about these two?" one asked, pointing to Corp's two personal bodyguards.
"Leave 'em," Ding replied.
"You got it, sir," a spec-4 replied, taking out steel cuffs and securing both pairs of wrists in addition to the plastic ties. Captain Checa cuffed Corp himself. He and a sergeant lifted the man off the ground while Clark and Chavez retrieved their personal gear from the Rover and followed the soldiers to the Blackhawk. One of the Rangers handed Chavez a canteen.
"Oso sends his regards," the staff sergeant said. Ding's head came around.
"What's he doing now?"
"First Sergeants' school. He's pissed that he missed this one. I'm Gomez, Foxtrot, Second of the One-Seventy-Fifth. I was here back then, too."
"You made that look pretty easy," Checa was telling Clark, a few feet away.
"Six weeks," the senior field officer replied in a studiously casual voice. The rules required such a demeanor. "Four weeks to bum around in the boonies, two weeks to set the meet up, six hours waiting for it to happen, and about ten seconds to take him down."
"Just the way it's supposed to be," Checa observed. He handed over a canteen filled with Gatorade. The Captain's eyes locked on the senior man. Whoever he was, Checa thought at first, he was far too old to play games in the boonies with the gomers. Then he gave Clark's eyes a closer look.
"How the fuck you do this, man?" Gomez demanded of Chavez at the door to the chopper. The other Rangers leaned in close to get the reply.
Ding glanced over at his gear and laughed. " Magic!"
Gomez was annoyed that his question hadn't been answered. "Leaving all these guys out here?"
"Yeah, they're just gomers." Chavez turned to look one last time. Sooner or later one would get his hands free—probably—retrieve a knife, and cut his fellow "policemen" free; then they could worry about the two with steel bracelets. "It's the boss we were after."
Gomez turned to scan the horizon. "Any lions or hyenas out here?"
Ding shook his head. Too bad, the sergeant thought.
The Rangers were shaking their heads as they strapped into their seats on the helicopter. As soon as they were airborne, Clark donned a headset and waited for the crew chief to set up the radio patch.
"CAPSTONE, this is BIRD DOG," he began.
The eight-hour time difference made it early afternoon in Washington. The UHF radio from the helicopter went to USS Tripoli, and then it was uplinked to a satellite. The Signals Office routed the call right into Ryan's desk phone.
"Yes, BIRD DOG, this is CAPSTONE."
Ryan couldn't quite recognize Clark's voice, but the words were readable through the static: "In the bag, no friendlies hurt. Repeat, the duck is in the bag and there are zero friendly casualties."
"I understand, BIRD DOG. Make your delivery as planned."
It was an outrage, really, Jack told himself as he set the phone back. Such operations were better left in the field, but the President had insisted this time. He rose from his desk and headed toward the Oval Office.
"Get'm?" D'Agustino asked as Jack hustled down the corridor.
"You weren't supposed to know."
"The Boss was worried about it," Helen explained quietly.
"Well, he doesn't have to worry anymore."
"That's one score that needed settling. Welcome back, Dr. Ryan."
The past would haunt one other man that day.
"Go on," the psychologist said.
"It was awful," the woman said, staring down at the floor. "It was the only time in my life it ever happened, and…" Though her voice droned on in a level, emotionless monotone, it was her appearance that disturbed the elderly woman most of all. Her patient was thirty-five, and should have been slim, petite, and blonde, but instead her face showed the puffiness of compulsive eating and drinking, and her hair was barely presentable. What ought to have been fair skin was merely pale, and reflected light like chalk, in a flat grainy way that even makeup would not have helped very much. Only her diction indicated what the patient once had been, and her voice recounted the events of three years before as though her mind was operating on two levels, one the victim, and the other an observer, wondering in a distant intellectual way if she had participated at all.
"I mean, he's who he is, and I worked for him, and I liked him…" The voice broke again. The woman swallowed hard and paused a moment before going on. "I mean, I admire him, all the things he does, all the things he stands for." She looked up, and it seemed so odd that her eyes were as dry as cellophane, reflecting light from a flat surface devoid of tears. "He's so charming, and caring, and—"
"It's okay, Barbara." As she often did, the psychologist fought the urge to reach out to her patient, but she knew she had to stay aloof, had to hide her own rage at what had happened to this bright and capable woman. It had happened at the hands of a man who used his status and power to draw women toward him as a light drew moths, ever circling his brilliance, spiraling in closer and closer until they were destroyed by it. The pattern was so like life in this city. Since then, Barbara had broken off from two men, each of whom might have been fine partners for what should have been a fine life. This was an intelligent woman, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, with a master's degree in political science and a doctorate in public administration. She was not a wide-eyed secretary or summer intern, and perhaps had been all the more vulnerable because of it, able to become part of the policy team, knowing that she was good enough, if only she would do the one more thing to get her over the top or across the line, or whatever the current euphemism was on the Hill. The problem was, that line could be crossed only in one direction, and what lay beyond it was not so easily seen from the other side.
"You know, I would have done it anyway," Barbara said in a moment of brutal honesty. "He didn't have to—"
"Do you feel guilty because of that?" Dr. Clarice Golden asked. Barbara
Linders nodded. Golden stifled a sigh and spoke gently. "And you think you gave him the—"
"Signals." A nod. "That's what he said, 'You gave me all the signals.' Maybe I did."
"No, you didn't, Barbara. You have to go on now," Clarice ordered gently.
"I just wasn't in the mood. It's not that I wouldn't have done it, another time, another day, maybe, but I wasn't feeling well. I came into the office feeling fine that day, but I was coming down with the flu or something, and after lunch my stomach was queasy, and I thought about going home early, but it was the day we were doing the amendment on the civil-rights legislation that he sponsored, so I took a couple Tylenol for the fever, and about nine we were the only ones left in the office. Civil rights was my area of specialty," Linders explained. "I was sitting on the couch in his office, and he was walking around like he always does when he's formulating his ideas, and he was behind me. I remember his voice got soft and friendly, like, and he said, 'You have the nicest hair, Barbara' out of the blue, like, and I said, 'Thank you.' He asked how I was feeling, and I told him I was coming down with something, and he said he'd give me something he used—brandy," she said, talking more quickly now, as though she was hoping to get through this part as rapidly as possible, like a person fast-forwarding a videotape through the commercials. "I didn't see him put anything in the drink. He kept a bottle of R'emy in the credenza behind his desk, and something else, too, I think. I drank it right down.
"He just stood there, watching me, not even talking, just watching me, like he knew it would happen fast. It was like…I don't know. I knew something wasn't right, like you get drunk right away, out of control." Then her voice stopped for fifteen seconds or so, and Dr. Golden watched her—like he had done, she thought. The irony shamed her, but this was business; it was clinical, and it was supposed to help, not hurt. Her patient was seeing it now. You could tell from the eyes, you always could. As though the mind really were a VCR, the scene paraded before her, and Barbara Linders was merely giving commentary on what she saw, not truly relating the dreadful personal experience she herself had undergone. For ten minutes, she described it, without leaving out a single clinical detail, her trained professional mind clicking in as it had to do. It was only at the end that her emotions came back.
"He didn't have to rape me. He could have…asked. I would have…I mean, another day, the weekend…I knew he was married, but I liked him, and…"
"But he did rape you, Barbara. He drugged you and raped you." This time Dr. Golden reached out and took her hand, because now it was all out in the open. Barbara Linders had articulated the whole awful story, probably for the first time since it had happened. In the intervening period she'd relived bits and pieces, especially the worst part, but this was the first time she'd gone through the event in chronological order, from beginning to end, and the impact of the telling was every bit as traumatic and cathartic as it had to be.
"There has to be more," Golden said after the sobbing stopped.
"There is," Barbara said immediately, hardly surprised that her psychologist could tell. "At least one other woman in the office, Lisa Beringer. She…killed herself the next year, drove her car into a bridge support-thing, looked like an accident, she'd been drinking, but in her desk she left a note. I cleaned her desk out…and I found it." Then, to Dr. Golden's stunned reaction, Barbara Linders reached into her purse and pulled it out.
The "note" was in a blue envelope, six pages of personalized letter paper covered with the tight, neat handwriting of a woman who had made the decision to end her life, but who wanted someone to know why.
Clarice Golden, Ph.D., had seen such notes before, and it was a source of melancholy amazement that people could do such a thing. They always spoke of pain too great to bear, but depressingly often they showed the despairing mind of someone who could have been saved and cured and sent back into a successful life if only she'd had the wit to make a single telephone call or speak to a single close friend. It took only two paragraphs for Golden to see that Lisa Beringer had been just one more needless victim, a woman who had felt alone, fatally so, in an office full of people who would have leaped to her aid.
Mental-health professionals are skilled at hiding their emotions, a talent necessary for obvious reasons. Clarice Golden had been doing this job for just under thirty years, and to her God-given talent had been added a lifetime of professional experience. Especially good at helping the victims of sexual abuse, she displayed compassion, understanding, and support in great quantity and outstanding quality, but while real, it was all a disguise for her true feelings. She loathed sexual predators as much as any police officer, maybe even more. A cop saw the victim's body, saw her bruises and her tears, heard her cries. The psychologist was there longer, probing into the mind for the malignant memories, trying to find a way to expunge them. Rape was a crime against the mind, not the body, and as dreadful as the things were that the policeman saw, worse still were the hidden injuries whose cure was Clarice Golden's life's work. A gentle, caring person who could never have avenged the crimes physically, she hated these creatures nonetheless.
But this one was a special problem. She maintained a regular working relationship with the sexual-crime units of every police department in a fifty-mile radius, but this crime had happened on federal property, and she'd have to check to see who had jurisdiction. For that she'd talk to her neighbor, Dan Murray of the FBI. And there was one other complication. The criminal in question had been a U.S. senator at the time, and indeed he still had an office in the Capitol Building. But this criminal had changed jobs. No longer a senator from New England, he was now Vice President of the United States.
ComSubPac had once been as grand a goal as any man might have, but that was one more thing of history. The first great commander had been Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood, and of all the men who'd defeated Japan, only Chester Nimitz and maybe Charles Layton had been more important. It was Lockwood, sitting in this very office on the heights overlooking Pearl Harbor, who had sent out Mush Morton and Dick O'Kane and Gene Fluckey, and the rest of the legends to do battle in their fleet boats. The same office, the same door, and even the same title on the door—Commander, Submarine Force, United States Pacific Fleet—but the rank required for it was lower now. Rear Admiral Bart Mancuso, USN, knew that he'd been lucky to make it this far. That was the good news.
The bad news was that he was essentially the receiver of a dying business. Lockwood had commanded a genuine fleet of submarines and tenders. More recently, Austin Smith had sent his forty or so around the world's largest ocean, but Mancuso was down to nineteen fast-attack boats and six boomers—and all of the latter were alongside, awaiting dismantlement at Bremerton. None would be kept, not even as a museum exhibit of a bygone age, which didn't trouble Mancuso as much as it might have. He'd never liked the missile submarines, never liked their ugly purpose, never liked their boring patrol pattern, never liked the mind-set of their commanders. Raised in fast-attack, Mancuso had always preferred to be where the action is—was, he corrected himself.
Was. It was all over now, or nearly so. The mission of the nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine had changed since Lockwood. Once the hunters of surface ships, whether merchants or men-of-war, they'd become specialists in the elimination of enemy subs, like fighter aircraft dedicated to the extermination of their foreign cousins. That specialization had narrowed their purpose, focusing their equipment and their training until they'd become supreme at it. Nothing could excel an SSN in the hunting of another. What nobody had ever expected was that the other side's SSNs would go away. Mancuso had spent his professional life practicing for something he'd hoped would never come, detecting, localizing, closing on, and killing Soviet subs, whether missile boats or other fast-attacks. In fact, he'd achieved something that no other sub skipper had ever dreamed of doing. He'd assisted in the capture of a Russian sub, a feat of arms still among his country's most secret accomplishments—and a capture was better than a kill, wasn't it?—but then the world had changed. He'd played his role in it, and was proud of that. The Soviet Union was no more.
Unfortunately—as he thought of it—so was the Soviet Navy, and without enemy submarines to worry about, his country, as it had done many times in the past, had rewarded its warriors by forgetting them. There was little mission for his boats to do now. The once large and formidable Soviet Navy was essentially a memory. Only the previous week he'd seen satellite photos of the bases at Petropavlovsk and Vladivostok. Every boat the Soviets—Russians!—were known to have had been tied alongside, and on some of the overheads he'd been able to see the orange streaks of rust on the hulls where the black paint had eroded off.
The other possible missions? Hunting merchant traffic was largely a joke—worse, the Orion drivers, with their own huge collection of P-3C aircraft, also designed for submarine hunting, had long since modified their aircraft to carry air-to-surface missiles, and had ten times the speed of any sub, and in the unlikely event that someone wanted to clobber a merchant ship, they could do it better and faster.
The same was true of surface warships—what there were of them. The sad truth, if you could call it that, was that the U.S. Navy, even gutted and downsized as it was, could handle any three other navies in the world in less time than it would take the enemies to assemble their forces and send out a press release of their malicious intent.
And so now what? Even if you won the Super Bowl, there were still teams to play against next season. But in this most serious of human games, victory meant exactly that. There were no enemies left at sea, and few enough on land, and in the way of the new world, the submarine force was the first of many uniformed groups to be without work. The only reason there was a ComSubPac at all was bureaucratic inertia. There was a Com-everything-else-Pac, and the submarine force had to have its senior officer as the social and military equal of the other communities, Air, Surface, and Service.
Of his nineteen fast-attack boats, only seven were currently at sea. Four were in overhaul status, and the yards were stretching out their work as much as possible to justify their own infrastructure. The rest were alongside their tenders or their piers while the ship-service people found new and interesting things to do, protecting their infrastructure and military/civilian identity. Of the seven boats at sea, one was tracking a Chinese nuclear fast-attack boat; those submarines were so noisy that Mancuso hoped the sonarmen's ears weren't being seriously hurt. Stalking them was about as demanding as watching a blind man on an empty parking lot in broad daylight. Two others were doing environmental research, actually tracking midocean whale populations—not for whalers, but for the environmental community. In so doing, his boats had achieved a real march on the tree-huggers. There were more whales out there than expected. Extinction wasn't nearly the threat everyone had once believed it to be, and the various environmental groups were having their own funding problems as a result. All of which was fine with Mancuso. He'd never wanted to kill a whale.
The other four boats were doing workups, mainly practicing against one another. But the environmentalists were taking their own revenge on Submarine Force, United States Pacific Fleet. Having protested the construction and operation of the boats for thirty years, they were now protesting their dismantlement, and more than half of Mancuso's working time was relegated to filing all manner of reports, answers to questions, and detailed explanations of his answers. "Ungrateful bastards," Mancuso grumbled. He was helping out with the whales, wasn't he? The Admiral growled into his coffee mug and flipped open a new folder.
"Good news, Skipper," a voice called without warning.
"Who the hell let you in?"
"I have an understanding with your chief," Ron Jones replied. "He says you're buried by paperwork."
"He ought to know." Mancuso stood to greet his guest. Dr. Jones had problems of his own. The end of the Cold War had hurt defense contractors, too, and Jones had specialized in sonar systems used by submarines. The difference was that Jones had made himself a pile of money first. "So what's the good news?"
"Our new processing software is optimized for listening to our warm-blooded oppressed fellow mammals. Chicago just phoned in. They have identified another twenty humpbacks in the Gulf of Alaska. I think I'll get the contract from NOAA. I can afford to buy you lunch now," Jones concluded, settling into a leather chair. He liked Hawaii, and was dressed for it, In casual shirt and no socks to clutter up his formal Reeboks.
"You ever miss the good old days?" Bart asked with a wry look.
"You mean chasing around the ocean, four hundred feet down, stuck inside a steel pipe two months at a time, smelling like the inside of an oilcan, with a touch of locker room for ambience, eating the same food every week, watching old movies and TV shows on tape, on a TV the size of a sheet of paper, working six on and twelve off, getting maybe five decent hours of sleep a night, and concentrating like a brain surgeon all the time? Yeah, Bart, those were the days." Jones paused and thought for a second. "I miss being young enough to think it was fun. We were pretty good, weren't we?"
"Better 'n average," Mancuso allowed. "What's the deal with the whales?"
"The new software my guys put together is good at picking out their breathing and heartbeats. It turns out to be a nice clear hertz line. When those guys are swimming—well, if you put a stethoscope up against them, your eardrums would probably meet in the middle of your head."
"What was the software really for?"
"Tracking Kilo-class boats, of course." Jones grinned as he looked out the windows at the largely empty naval base. "But I can't say that anymore. We changed a few hundred lines of code and ginned up a new wrapper for the box, and talked to NOAA about it."
Mancuso might have said something about taking that software into the Persian Gulf to track the Kilo-class boats the Iranians owned, but intelligence reported that one of them was missing. The submarine had probably gotten in the way of a supertanker and been squashed, simply crushed against the bottom of that shallow body of water by a tanker whose crew had never even noticed the rumble. In any case, the other Kilos were securely tied to their piers. Or maybe the Iranians had finally heard the old seaman's moniker for submarines and decided not to touch their new naval vessels again—they'd once been known as "pigboats," after all.
"Sure looks empty out there." Jones pointed to what had once been one of the greatest naval facilities ever made. Not a single carrier in view, only two cruisers, half a squadron of destroyers, roughly the same number of frigates, five fleet-support ships. "Who commands Pac Fleet now, a chief?"
"Christ, Ron, let's not give anybody ideas, okay?"