File - Free E
Clear and Present Danger
by
Tom Clancy
To the memory of John Ball,
Friend and teacher,
The professional who took the last plane out
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
As always, there are many people to thank. To "The Great Geraldo" for his friendship; to Russ
for his second installment of wise counsel and amazing breadth of knowledge; to Carl and Colin, who
never knew what they were starting, but then, neither did I; to Bill for his wisdom; to Rich for his
contemplation of what matters; to Tim, Ninja-Six, for more than a few tips on fieldcraft; to Ed,
commander of warriors, and Patricia, who named the Cabbage Patch Hat, for their gracious
hospitality; to Pete, former headmaster of the world's most exciting school (the passing grade is life);
to Pat, who teaches the same course at yet another school; to Harry, mentee, for his most serious
irreverence; to W.H., who does his best in a hopeless, thankless job; and of course to a dozen or so
warrant officers who could teach astronauts a thing or two; and so many others - would that America
served you as faithfully as you serve her.
Law, without force, is impotent.
- PASCAL
It is the function of police to exercise force, or to threaten it, in execution of the state's purpose,
internally and under normal conditions. It is the function of armed forces to exercise force, or the
threat of it, externally in normal times and internally only in times that are abnormal…
[T]he degree of force which the state is prepared to apply in the execution of its purpose… is as
much as the government of the day considers it necessary or expedient to use to avoid a breakdown in
its function and a surrender of its responsibilities.
- GENERAL SIR JOHN HACKETT
Prologue: Situation
THE ROOM WAS still empty. The Oval Office is in the southeast corner of the White House
West Wing. Three doors lead into it, one from the office of the President's personal secretary,
another from a small kitchen which leads in turn to the President's study, and a third into a corridor,
directly opposite the entrance to the Roosevelt Room. The room itself is of only medium size for a
senior executive, and visitors always remark afterward that it seemed smaller than they
expected. The President's desk, set just in front of thick windows of bullet-resistant polycarbonate
that distort the view of the White House lawn, is made from the wood of HMSResolute, a British
ship that sank in American waters during the 1850s. Americans salvaged and returned it to the United
Kingdom, and a grateful Queen Victoria ordered a desk made from its oaken timbers by way of
official thanks. Made in an age when men were shorter than today, the desk was increased somewhat
in height during the Reagan presidency. The President's desk was laden with folders and position
papers capped with a print-out of his appointment schedule, plus an intercom box, a conventional
push-button multiline telephone, and another ordinary-looking but highly sophisticated secure
instrument for sensitive conversations.
The President's chair was custom-made to fit its user, and its high back included sheets of DuPont
Kevlar - lighter and tougher than steel - as additional protection against bullets that some madman
might fire through the heavy windows. There were, of course, about a dozen Secret Service agents on
duty in this part of the Presidential Mansion during business hours. To get here most people had to
pass through a metal detector - in fact all did, since the obvious ones were a little too obvious - and
everyone had to pass the quite serious scrutiny of the Secret Service detail, whose identity was plain
from the flesh-toned ear pieces that coiled out from under their suit jackets, and whose politeness was
secondary to their real mission of keeping the President alive. Beneath the jacket of each was a
powerful hand gun, and each of these agents was trained to view everyone and everything as a
potential threat to WRANGLER, which was the President's current code-name. It had no meaning
beyond being easy to say and easily recognizable on a radio circuit.
Vice Admiral James Cutter, USN, was in an office on the opposite, northwest corner of the West
Wing and had been since 6:15 that morning. The job of Special Assistant to the President for
National Security Affairs requires a man to be an early riser. At a quarter to eight he finished off his
second cup of morning coffee-it was good here-and tucked his briefing papers into a leather
folder. He walked through the empty office of his vacationing deputy, turned right down the corridor
past the similarly vacant office of the Vice President, who was in Seoul at the moment, and turned left
past the office of the President's Chief of Staff. Cutter was one of the handful of real Washington
insiders - the Vice President was not among them - who didn't need the permission of the Chief of
Staff to walk into the Oval Office whenever he felt the need, though he'd generally call ahead first to
give the secretaries a heads-up. The Chief of Staff didn't like anyone to have that privilege, but that
made his unlimited access all the more pleasant for Cutter to exercise. Along the way four security
personnel nodded good morning to the Admiral, who returned the gestures as he would greet any
skilled menial. Cutter's official code-name was LUMBERJACK, and though he knew that the Secre
Service agents called him something else among themselves, Cutter was past caring what little people
thought of him. The secretaries' anteroom was already up and running, with three secretaries and a
Secret Service agent sitting in their appointed places.
"Chief on time?" he asked.
"WRANGLER is on the way down, sir," Special Agent Connor said. He was forty, a section
chief of the Presidential Detail, didn't give a goddamn who Cutter was, and could care less what
Cutter thought of him. Presidents and aides came and went, some liked, some loathed, but the
professionals of the Secret Service served and protected them all. His trained eyes swept over the
leather folder and Cutter's suit. No guns there today. He was not being paranoid. A king of Saudi
Arabia had been killed by a family member, and a former prime minister of Italy had been betrayed
by a daughter to the terrorist kidnappers who'd ultimately murdered him. It wasn't just kooks he had
to worry about. Anyone could be a threat to the President. Connor was fortunate, of course, that he
only had to worry about physical security. There were other sorts; those were the concerns of others
less professional than he.
Everyone stood when the President arrived, of course, followed by his personal bodyguard, a
lithe, thirtyish woman whose dark tresses neatly concealed the fact that she was one of the best pistol
shots in government service. "Daga" - her Service nickname - smiled good morning at Pete. It would
be an easy day. The President wasn't going anywhere. His appointment list had been thoroughly
checked - the Social Security numbers of all nonregulars are run through the FBI's crime computers and the visitors themselves would, of course, be subjected to the most thorough searches that can be
made without an actual pat-down. The President waved for Admiral Cutter to follow him in. The
two agents went over the appointment list again. It was routine, and the senior agent didn't mind that a
man's job had been taken by a woman. Daga had earned her job on the street. If she were a man,
everyone agreed, she'd have two big brass ones, and if any would-be assassin mistook her for a
secretarial type, that was his bad luck. Every few minutes, until Cutter left, one or the other of the
agents would peer through the spy-hole in the white-painted door to make sure that nothing untoward
was happening. The President had held office for over three years, and was used to the constant
observation. It hardly occurred to the agents that a normal man might find it oppressive. It was their
job to know everything there was to know about the President, from how often he visited the
bathroom to those with whom he slept. They didn't call the agency the Secret Service for
nothing. Their antecedents had concealed all manner of peccadillos. The President's wife was not
entitled to know what he did every hour of the day - at least, some presidents had so decided - but his
security detail was.
Behind the closed door, the President took his seat. From the side door a Filipino mess steward
carried in a tray with coffee and croissants and came to attention before leaving. With this the
morning's preliminary routine was complete, and Cutter began his morning intelligence briefing. This
had been delivered from CIA to his Fort Myer, Virginia, home before dawn, which allowed the
Admiral to paraphrase it. The brief didn't take long. It was late spring, and the world was a
relatively quiet place. Those wars underway in Africa and elsewhere were not of great import to
American interests, and the Middle East was as tranquil as it ever seemed to be. That left time for
other issues.
"What about SHOWBOAT?" the President asked while buttering his croissant.
"It's underway, sir. Ritter's people are already at work," Cutter replied.
"I'm still worried about security on the operation."
"Mr. President, it's as tight as one could reasonably expect. There are risks - you can't avoid them
all - but we're keeping the number of people involved to an absolute minimum, and those people have
been carefully selected and recruited."
That earned the National Security Adviser a grunt. The President was trapped - and as with
nearly every president, it had come about from his own words. Presidential promises and
statements… the people had this annoying way of remembering them. And even if they didn't there
were journalists and political rivals who never passed on a chance to make the necessary
reminders. So many things had gone right in this presidency. But so many of those were secret - and,
annoyingly to Cutter, those secrets had somehow been kept. Well, they had to be, of course. Except
that in the political arena no secret was truly sacred, most especially in an election year. Cutter
wasn't supposed to be concerned with that. He was a professional naval officer, and therefore
supposed to be apolitical in his outlook on the ins and outs of national security, but whoever had
formulated that particular guideline must have been a monk. Members of the senior executive service
did not take vows of poverty and chastity, however - and obedience was also a sometime thing.
"I promised the American people that we'd do something about this problem," the President
observed crossly. "And we haven't accomplished shit."
"Sir, you cannot deal with threats to national security through police agencies. Either our national
security is threatened or it is not." Cutter had been hammering that point for years. Now, finally, he
had a receptive audience.
Another grunt: "Yeah, well, I said that, too, didn't I?"
"Yes, Mr. President. It's time they learned a lesson about how the big boys play." That had been
Cutter's position from the beginning, when he'd been Jeff Pelt's deputy, and with Pelt now gone it was
his view that had finally prevailed.
"Okay, James. It's your ball. Run with it. Just remember that we need results."
"You'll get 'em, sir. Depend on that."
"It's time those bastards were taught a lesson," the President thought aloud. He was certain that
the lessons would be hard ones. On that he was correct. Both men sat in a room in which was
focused and from which emanated the ultimate power of the most powerful nation in the history of
civilization. The people who selected the man who occupied that room did so above all for their
protection. Protection against the vagaries of foreign powers and domestic bullies, against all manner
of enemies. Those enemies came in many forms, some of which the founding fathers had not quite
anticipated. But one sort that had been anticipated existed in this very room… though it was not the
one the President had in mind.
The sun rose an hour later on the Caribbean coast, and unlike the climate-controlled comfort of
the White House, here the air was thick and heavy with humidity on what promised to be yet another
sultry day under a lingering high-pressure system. The forested hills to the west reduced the local
winds to a bare whisper, and the owner of Empire Builder was past being ready to go to sea, where
the air was cooler and the breezes unrestricted.
His crewmen arrived late. He didn't like their looks, but he didn't have to. Just so long as they
behaved themselves. After all, his family was aboard.
"Good morning, sir. I am Ramón. This is Jesús," the taller one said. What troubled the owner
was that they were so obviously tidied-up versions of… of what? Or had they merely wanted to look
presentable?
"You think you can handle this?" the owner asked.
"Si. We have experience with large motor craft." The man smiled. His teeth were even and
brushed. This was a man who took care with his appearance at all times, the owner thought. He was
probably being overly cautious. "And Jesús, you will see, is a fine cook."
Charming little bastard. "Okay, crew quarters are forward. She's tanked up, and the engines are
already warm. Let's get out where it's cool."
"Muy bien, Capitán." Ramón and Jesús unloaded their gear from the jeep. It took several trips to
get it all stowed, but by nine in the morning, MY Empire Builder slipped her mooring lines and stood
out to sea, passing a handful of party boats heading out with yanqui tourists and their fishing
rods. Once in open waters, the yacht turned north. It would take three days.
Ramón already had the wheel. That meant he sat in a wide, elevated chair while the autopilot "George" - handled the steering. It was an easy ride. The Rhodes had fin stabilizers. About the only
disappointment was in the crew accommodations, which the owner had neglected. So typical, Ramón
thought. A multimillion-dollar yacht with radar and every possible amenity, but the crew who
operated it didn't have so much as a television set and VCR to amuse themselves when off duty…
He moved forward on the seat, craning his neck to look on the fo'c'sle. The owner was there,
asleep and snoring, as though the work of taking the yacht out to sea had exhausted him. Or perhaps
his wife had tired him out? She was beside her husband, lying facedown on her towel. The string for
her bikini top was untied so as to give her back an even tan. Ramón smiled. There were many ways
for a man to amuse himself! But better to wait. Anticipation made it all the better. He heard the
sound of a taped movie in the main salon, aft of the bridge, where their children were watching some
movie or other. It never occurred to him to feel pity for any of the four. But he was not completely
heartless. Jesús was a good cook. They both approved of giving the condemned a hearty meal.
It was just light enough to see without the night-vision goggles, the dawn twilight that the
helicopter pilots hated because the eye had to adapt itself to a lightening sky and ground that was still
in shadows. Sergeant Chavez's squad was seated and strapped in with four-point safety belts, and
between the knees of each was a weapon. The UH-60A Blackhawk helicopter swooped high over
one of the hills and then dropped hard when past the crest.
"Thirty seconds," the pilot informed Chavez over the intercom.
It was supposed to be a covert insertion, which meant that the helicopters were racing up and
down the valleys, careful that their operational pattern should confuse any possible observer. The
Blackhawk dove for the ground and pulled up short as the pilot eased back on the cyclic control stick,
which gave the air craft a nose-up attitude, signaling the crew chief to slide the right-side door open
and the soldiers to twist the release dials on their safety-belt buckles. The Blackhawk could touch
down only for a moment.
"Go!"
Chavez went out first, moving perhaps ten feet from the door before he fell flat to the ground. The
squad did the same, allowing the Blackhawk to lift off immediately, and rewarding each of its former
passengers with a faceful of flying grit as it clawed its way back into the sky. It would reappear
around the southern end of a hill as though it had never stopped. Behind it, the squad assembled and
moved out into the treeline. Its work had just begun. The sergeant gave his commands with hand
motions and led them off at a dead run. It would be his last mission, then he could relax.
At the Navy's weapons testing and development facility, China Lake, California, a team of
civilian technicians and some Navy ordnance experts hovered over a new bomb. Built with roughly
the same dimensions as the old two-thousand-pounder, it weighed nearly seven hundred pounds
less. This resulted from its construction. Instead of a steel skin, the bombcase was made of Kevlarreinforced cellulose - an idea borrowed from the French, who made shell casings from the naturally
produced fibers - with only enough metal fittings to allow attachment of fins, or the more extensive
hardware that would convert it into an "LGB," able to track in on a specific point target. It was little
known that a smart-bomb is generally a mere iron bomb with the guidance equipment bolted on.
"You're not going to get fragments worth a damn," a civilian objected.
"What's the point of having a Stealth bomber," another technician asked, "if the bad guys get a
radar return off the ordnance load?"
"Hmph," observed the first. "What's the point of a bomb that just pisses the other guy off?"
"Put it through his front door and he won't live long enough to get pissed, will he?"
"Hmph." But at least he knew what the bomb was actually for. It would one day hang on the ATA,
the Advanced Tactical Aircraft, a carrier-based attack bomber with stealth technology built
in. Finally, he thought, the Navy's getting on board that program. About time. For the moment,
however, the job at hand was to see if this new bomb with a different weight and a different center of
gravity would track in on a target with a standard LGB guidance pack. The bomb hoist came over
and lifted the streamlined shape off its pallet. Next the operator maneuvered it under the center-line
hard-point of an A-6E Intruder attack bomber.
The technicians and officers walked over to the helicopter that would take them to the bombing
range. There was no rush. An hour later, safely housed in a bunker that was clearly marked, one of
the civilians trained an odd-looking device at a target four miles away. The target was an old fiveton truck that the Marines had given up on, and which would now, if everything went according to
plan, die a violent and spectacular death.
"Aircraft is inbound over the range. Start the music."
"Roger," the civilian replied, squeezing the trigger on the GLD. "On target."
"Aircraft reports acquisition - stand by…" the communicator said.
At the other end of the bunker, an officer was watching a television camera locked onto the
inbound Intruder. "Breakaway. We have a nice, clean release off the ejector rack." He'd check that
view later with one off an A-4 Sky hawk fighter-bomber that was flying chase on the A-6. Few
people realized that the mere act of dropping a bomb off an airplane was a complex and potentially
dangerous exercise. A third camera followed the bomb down.
"Fins are moving just fine. Here we go…"
The camera on the truck was a high-speed one. It had to be. The bomb was falling too fast for
anyone to catch it on the first run-through, but by the time the crushing bass note of the detonation
reached the bunker, the operator had already started rewinding the tape. The replay was done one
frame at a time.
"Okay, there's the bomb." Its nose appeared forty feet over the truck. "How was it fused?"
"VT," one of the officers answered. VT stood for variable time. The bomb had a miniradar
transceiver in its nose, and was programmed to explode within a fixed distance of the ground; in this
case, five feet, or almost the instant it hit the truck. "Angle looks just fine."
"I thought it would work," an engineer observed quietly. He'd suggested that since the bomb was
essentially a thousand pounder, the guidance equipment could be programmed for the lighter
weight. Though it was slightly heavier than that, the reduced density of the cellulose bombcase made
for a similar ballistic performance. "Detonation."
As with any high-speed photos of such an event, the screen flashed white, then yellow, then red,
then black, as the expanding gasses from the high-explosive filler cooled in the air. Just in front of the
gas was the blast wave: air compressed to a point at which it was denser than steel, moving faster
than any bullet. No machine press could duplicate the effect.
"We just killed another truck." It was a wholly unnecessary observation. Roughly a quarter of the
truck's mass was pounded straight down into a shallow crater, perhaps a yard deep and twenty
across. The remainder was hurled laterally as shrapnel. The gross effect was not terribly different,
in fact, from a large car bomb of the sort delivered by terrorists, but a hell of a lot safer for the
deliverymen, one of the civilians thought.
"Damn - I didn't think it'd be that easy. You were right, Ernie, we don't even have to reprogram
the seeker," a Navy commander observed. They'd just saved the Navy over a million dollars, he
thought. He was wrong.
And so began something that had not quite begun and would not soon end, with many people in
many places moving off in directions and on missions which they all mistakenly thought they
understood. That was just as well. The future was too fearful for contemplation, and beyond the
expected, illusory finish lines were things fated by the decisions made this morning - and, once
decided, best unseen.
1. The King of SAR
YOU COULDN'T LOOK at her and not be proud, Red Wegener told himself. The Coast Guard
cutter Panache was one of a kind, a design mistake of sorts, but she was his. Her hull was painted
the same gleaming white found on an iceberg - except for the orange stripe on the bow that designated
the ship as part of the United States Coast Guard. Two hundred eighty feet in length, Panache was not
a large ship, but she was his ship, the largest he'd ever commanded, and certainly the last he would
ever have. Wegener was the oldest lieutenant-commander in the Coast Guard, but Wegener was The
Man, the King of Search-and-Rescue missions.
His career had begun the same way many Coast Guard careers had. A young man from a Kansas
wheat farm who'd never seen the sea, he'd walked into a Coast Guard recruiting station the day after
graduating from high school. He hadn't wanted to face a life driving tractors and combines, and he'd
sought out something as different from Kansas as he could find. The Coast Guard petty officer hadn't
made much of a sales pitch, and a week later he'd begun his career with a bus ride that ended at Cape
May, New Jersey. He could still remember the chief petty officer that first morning who'd told them
of the Coast Guard creed. "You have to go out. You don't have to come back."
What Wegener found at Cape May was the last and best true school of seamanship in the Western
world. He learned how to handle lines and tie sailor knots, how to extinguish fires, how to go into
the water after a disabled or panicked boater, how to do it right the first time, every time - or risk not
coming back. On graduation he was assigned to the Pacific Coast. Within a year he had his rate,
Boatswain's Mate Third Class.
Very early on it was recognized that Wegener had that rarest of natural gifts, the seaman's eye. A
catch-all term, it meant that his hands, eyes, and brain could act in unison to make his boat
perform. Guided along by a tough old chief quartermaster, he soon had "command" of his "own"
thirty-foot harbor patrol boat. For the really tricky jobs, the chief would come along to keep a close
eye on the nineteen-year-old petty officer. From the first Wegener had shown the promise of someone
who only needed to be shown things once. His first five years in uniform now seemed to have passed
in the briefest instant as he learned his craft. Nothing really dramatic, just a succession of jobs that
he'd done as the book prescribed, quickly and smoothly. By the time he'd considered and opted for
re-enlistment, it was evident that when a tough job had to be done, his name was the one that came up
first. Before the end of his second hitch, officers routinely asked his opinion of things. By this time
he was thirty, one of the youngest chief bosun's mates in the service, and he was able to pull a few
strings, one of which ended with command of Invincible, a forty-eight-footer which had already
garnered a reputation for toughness and dependability. The stormy California coast was her home,
and it was here that Wegener's name first became known outside of his service. If a fisherman or a
yachtsman got into trouble, Invincible always seemed to be there, often roller-coastering across
thirty-foot seas with her crewmen held in place with ropes and safety belts - but there and ready to do
the job with a red-haired chief at the wheel, an unlit briar pipe in his teeth. In that first year he saved
the lives of at least fifteen people.
The number grew to fifty before he'd ended his tour of duty at the lonely station. After a couple of
years, he was in command of his own station, and the holder of a title craved by all sea men - Captain
- though his rate was that of Senior Chief. Located on the banks of a small stream that fed into the
world's largest ocean, he ran his station as tautly as any ship, and inspecting officers had come there
not so much to see how Wegener ran things as to see how things should be run.
For good or ill, Wegener's career plan had changed with one epic winter storm on the Oregon
Coast. Commanding a larger rescue station now near the mouth of the Columbia River and its
infamous bar, he'd received a frantic radio call from a deep-sea fisherman named Mary-Kat: engines
and rudder disabled, being driven toward a lee shore that devoured ships. His personal flagship, the
eighty-two-foot Point Gabriel, was away from the dock in ninety seconds, her mixed crew of
veterans and apprentices hooking their safety belts into place while Wegener coordinated the rescue
efforts on his own radio channels.
It had been an epic battle. After a six-hour ordeal, Wegener had rescued the Mary-Kat's six
fishermen, but just barely, his ship assaulted by wind and furious seas. Just as the last man had been
brought in, the Mary-Kat had grounded on a submerged rock and snapped in half.
As luck would have it, Wegener had had a reporter on board that day, a young feature writer for
the Portland Oregonian and an experienced yachtsman, who thought he knew what there was to know
about the sea. As the cutter had tunneled through the towering breakers at the Columbia bar, the
reporter had vomited on his notebook, then wiped it on his Mustang suit and kept writing. The series
of articles that had followed was entitled "The Angel of the Bar," and won the journalist a Pulitzer
Prize for feature writing.
The following month, in Washington, the senior United States Senator from the State of Oregon,
whose nephew had been a crewman on the Mary-Kat, wondered aloud why someone as good as Red
Wegener was not an officer, and since the commandant of the Coast Guard was in that room to
discuss the service's budget, it was an observation to which a four-star admiral had decided to pay
heed. By the end of the week Red Wegener was commissioned as lieutenant - the senator had also
observed that he was a little too old to be an ensign. Three years later he was recommended for the
next available command.
There was only one problem with that, the commandant considered. He did have an available
command - Panache - but it might seem a mixed blessing. The cutter was nearly completed. She was
to have been the lead ship for a new class, but funding had been cut, the yard had gone bankrupt, and
the commissioning skipper had been relieved for bungling his job. That left the Coast Guard with an
unfinished ship whose engines didn't work, in an out-of-business shipyard. But Wegener was
supposed to be a miracle worker, the commandant decided at his desk. To make it a fair chance, he
made sure that Wegener got some good chiefs to back up the inexperienced wardroom.
His arrival at the shipyard gate had been delayed by the picket line of disgruntled workers, and by
the time he'd gotten through that, he was sure things couldn't get worse. Then he'd seen what was
supposed to have been a ship. It was a steel artifact, pointed at one end and blunt at the other, half
painted, draped with cables, piled with crates, and generally looking like a surgical patient who'd
died on the table and been left there to rot. If that hadn't been bad enough, Panache couldn't even be
towed from her berth - the last thing a worker had done was to burn out the motor on a crane, which
blocked the way.
The previous captain had already left in disgrace. The commissioning crew, assembled on the
helicopter deck to receive him, looked like children forced to attend the funeral of a disliked uncle,
and when Wegener tried to address them, the microphone didn't work. Somehow that broke the evil
spell. He waved them toward himself with a smile and a chuckle.
"People," he'd said, "I'm Red Wegener. In six months this will be the best ship in the United
States Coast Guard. In six months you will be the best crew in the United States Coast Guard. I'm not
the one who's going to make that happen. You will - and I'll help a little. For right now, I'm cutting
everybody as much liberty as we can stand while I get a handle on what we have to do. Have
yourselves a great time. When you get back, we all go to work. Dismissed."
There was a collective "oh" from the assembled multitude, which had expected shouts and
screams. The newly arrived chiefs regarded one another with raised eyebrows, and the young
officers who'd been contemplating the abortion of their service careers retired to the wardroom in a
state of bemused shock. Before meeting with them, Wegener took his three leading chiefs aside.
"Engines first," Wegener said.
"I can give you fifty-percent power all day long, but when you try to use the turbochargers,
everything goes to hell in fifteen minutes," Chief Owens announced. "An' I don't know why." Mark
Owens had been working with marine diesels for sixteen years.
"Can you get us to Curtis Bay?"
"As long as you don't mind taking an extra day, Cap'n."
Wegener dropped the first bomb. "Good - 'cause we're leaving in two weeks, and we'll finish the
fitting-out up there."
"It'll be a month till the new motor's ready for that crane, sir," Chief Boatswain's Mate Bob Riley
observed.
"Can the crane turn?"
"Motor's burned out, Cap'n."
"When the time comes, we'll snake a line from the bow to the back end of the crane. We have
seventy-five feet of water in front of us. We set the clutch on the crane and pull forward real gentlelike, and turn the crane ourselves, then back out," the captain announced. Eyes narrowed.
"Might break it," Riley observed after a moment.
"That's not my crane, but, by God, this is my ship."
Riley let out a laugh. "Goddamn, it's good to see you again, Red - excuse me, Captain Wegener!"
"Mission Number One is to get her to Baltimore for fitting-out. Let's figure out what we have to
do, and take it one job at a time. I'll see you oh-seven-hundred tomorrow. Still make your own
coffee, Portagee?"
"Bet your ass, sir," Chief Quartermaster Oreza replied. "I'll bring a pot."
And Wegener had been right. Twelve days later, Panache had indeed been ready for sea, though
not much else, with crates and fittings lashed down all over the ship. Moving the crane out of the way
was accomplished before dawn, lest anyone notice, and when the picket line showed up that day, it
had taken a few minutes to notice that the ship was gone. Impossible, they'd all thought. She hadn't
even been fully painted yet.
The painting was accomplished in the Florida Strait, as was something even more
important. Wegener had been on the bridge, napping in his leather chair during the forenoon watch
when the growler phone rang, and Chief Owens invited him to the engine room. Wegener arrived to
find the only worktable covered with plans, and an engineman-apprentice hovering over them, with
his engineering officer standing behind him.
"You ain't gonna believe it," Owens announced. "Tell him, sonny."
"Seaman Obrecki, sir. The engine isn't installed right," the youngster said.
"What makes you think that?" Wegener asked.
The big marine diesels were of a new sort, perversely designed to be very easy to operate and
maintain. To aid in this, small how-to manuals were provided for each engine-room crewman, and in
each manual was a plastic-coated diagram that was far easier to use than the builder's plans. A blowup of the manual schematic, also plastic-coated, had been provided by the drafting company, and was
the laminated top of the worktable.
"Sir, this engine is a lot like the one on my dad's tractor, bigger, but-"
"I'll take your word for it, Obrecki."
"The turbocharger ain't installed right. It matches with these plans here, but the oil pump pushes
the oil through the turbo-charger backwards. The plans are wrong, sir. Some draftsman screwed
up. See here, sir? The oil line's supposed to come in here, but the draftsman put it on the wrong side
of this fitting, and nobody caught it, and-"
Wegener just laughed. He looked at Chief Owens: "How long to fix?"
"Obrecki says he can have it up and running this time tomorrow, Cap'n."
"Sir." It was Lieutenant Michelson, the engineering officer. "This is all my fault. I should have-"
The lieutenant was waiting for the sky to fall.
"The lesson from this, Mr. Michelson, is that you can't even trust the manual. Have you learned
that lesson, Mister?"
"Yes, sir!"
"Fair enough. Obrecki, you're a seaman-first, right?"
"Yes, sir."
"Wrong. You're a machinist-mate third."
"Sir, I have to pass a written exam…"
"You think Obrecki's passed that exam, Mr. Michelson?"
"You bet, sir."
"Well done, people. This time tomorrow I want to do twenty-three knots."
And it had all been downhill from there. The engines are the mechanical heart of any ship, and
there is no seaman in the world who prefers a slow ship to a fast one. When Panache had made
twenty-five knots and held that speed for three hours, the painters painted better, the cooks took a
little more time with the meals, and the technicians tightened their bolts just a little more. Their ship
was no longer a cripple, and pride broke out in the crew like a rainbow after a summer shower - all
the more so because one of their own had figured it out. One day early, Panache came into the Curtis
Bay Coast Guard Yard with a bone in her teeth. Wegener had the conn and pushed his own skill to
the limit to make a fast "one-bell" approach to the dock.
"The Old Man," one line handler noted on the fo'c'sle, "really knows how to drive this fuckin'
boat!"
The next day a poster appeared on the ship's bulletin board: PANACHE: DASHING
ELEGANCE OF MANNER OR STYLE. Seven weeks later, the cutter was brought into commissio
and she sailed south to Mobile, Alabama, to go to work. Already she had a reputation that exactly
matched her name.
It was foggy this morning, and that suited the captain, even though the mission didn't. The King of
SAR was now a cop. The mission of the Coast Guard had changed more than halfway through his
career, but it wasn't something that you noticed much on the Columbia River bar, where the enemy
was still wind and wave. The same enemies lived in the Gulf of Mexico, but added to them was a
new one. Drugs. Drugs were not something that Wegener thought a great deal about. For him drugs
were something a doctor prescribed, that you took in accordance with the directions on the bottle until
they were gone, and then you tossed the bottle. When Wegener wanted to alter his mental state, he did
so in the traditional seaman's way - beer or hard liquor - though he found himself doing so less now
that he was approaching fifty. He'd always been afraid of needles - every man has his private dread and the idea that people would voluntarily stick needles into their arms had always amazed him. The
idea of sniffing a white powder into one's nose - well, that was just too much to believe. His attitude
wasn't so much naivete as a reflection of the age in which he'd grown up. He knew that the problem
was real. Like everyone else in uniform, every few months he had to provide a urine sample to prove
that he was not using "controlled substances." Something that the younger crewmen accepted as a
matter of course, it was a source of annoyance and insult to people of his age group.
The people who ran the drugs were his more immediate concern, but the most immediate of all
was a blip on his radar screen.
They were a hundred miles off the Mexican coast, far from home. And the Rhodes was
overdue. The owner had called in several days earlier, saying that he was staying out a couple of
days extra… but his business partner had found that odd, and called the local Coast Guard
office. Further investigation had determined that the owner, a wealthy businessman, rarely went more
than three hours offshore. The Rhodes cruised at fifteen knots.
The yacht was sixty-two-feet long, big enough that you'd want a few people to help you sail it…
but small enough that real master's papers were not required by law. The big motor-yacht had
accommodation for fifteen, plus two crewmen, and was worth a couple of million dollars. The
owner, a real-estate developer with his own little empire outside Mobile, was new to the sea, and a
cautious sailor. That made him smart, Wegener thought. Too smart to stray this far offshore. He
knew his limitations, which was rare in the yachting community, especially the richer segment. He'd
gone south two weeks earlier, tracing the coast and making a few stops, but he was late coming back,
and he'd missed a business meeting. His partner said that he would not have missed it
unnecessarily. A routine air patrol had spotted the yacht the day before, but not tried to contact
it. The district commander had decided that something smelled about this one. Panache was the
closest cutter and Wegener got the call.
"Sixteen thousand yards. Course zero-seven-one," Chief Oreza reported from the radar plot.
"Speed twelve. He ain't heading for Mobile, Cap'n."
"Fog's going to burn off in another hour, maybe hour and a half," Wegener decided. "Let's close in
now. Mr. O'Neil, all ahead full. Intercept course, Chief?"
"One-six-five, sir."
"That's your course. If the fog holds, we'll adjust when we get within two or three miles and
come up dead astern."
Ensign O'Neil gave the proper rudder orders. Wegener went to the chart table.
"Where do you figure he's headed, Portagee?"
The chief quartermaster projected the course, which appeared to go nowhere in particular. "He's
on his most economical speed setting… not any port on the Gulf, I'll bet." The captain picked up a
pair of dividers and started walking them across the chart.
"That yacht has bunkerage for…" Wegener frowned. "Let's say he topped off at the last port. He
can get to the Bahamas easily enough. Refill there, and then anyplace he wants to go on the East
Coast."
"Cowboys," O'Neil opined. "First one in a long time."
"Why do you think that?"
"Sir, if I owned a boat that big, I sure wouldn't run it through fog with no radar. His isn't
operating."
"I hope you're wrong, son," the captain said. "How long since the last one, Chief?"
"Five years? Maybe more. I thought that sort of thing was all behind us."
"We'll know in an hour." Wegener turned to look at the fog again. Visibility was under two
hundred yards. Next he looked into the hooded radar display. The yacht was the closest target. He
thought for a minute, then nipped the set from active to standby. Intelligence reports said that druggies
now had ESM gear to detect radar transmissions.
"We'll flip it back on when we get within, oh, say, four miles or so."
"Aye, Cap'n," the youngster nodded.
Wegener settled in his leather chair and extracted the pipe from his shirt. He found himself filling
it less and less now, but it was part of an image he'd built. A few minutes later the bridge watch had
settled down to normal. In keeping with tradition, the captain came topside to handle two hours of the
morning watch - the one with the youngest junior officer of the watch - but O'Neil was a bright young
kid and didn't need all that much supervision, at least not with Oreza around. "Portagee" Oreza was
the son of a Gloucester fisherman and had a reputation approaching his captain's. With three tours at
the Coast Guard Academy, he'd helped educate a whole generation of officers, just as Wegener had
once specialized in bringing enlisted men along.
Oreza was also a man who understood the importance of a good cup of coffee, and one thing
about coming to the bridge when Portagee was around was that you were guaranteed a cup of his
personal brew. It came right on time, served in the special mug the Coast Guard uses, shaped almost
like a vase, wide at the rubber-coated bottom, and narrowed down near the top to prevent tipping and
spillage. Designed for use on small patrol craft, it was also useful on Panache, which had a lively
ride. Wegener hardly noticed.
"Thanks, Chief," the captain said as he took the cup.
"I figure an hour."
" 'Bout right," Wegener agreed. "We'll go to battle stations at zero-seven-forty. Who's on the duty
boat section?"
"Mr. Wilcox. Kramer, Abel, Dowd, and Obrecki."
"Obrecki done this yet?"
"Farm boy. He knows how to use a gun, sir. Riley checked him out."
"Have Riley replace Kramer."
"Anything wrong, sir?"
"Something feels funny about this one," Wegener said.
"Probably just a busted radio. There hasn't been one of those since - jeez, I don't even remember
when that was, but, yeah. Call Riley up here?"
The captain nodded. Oreza made the call, and Riley appeared two minutes later. The two chiefs
and the captain conferred out on the bridge wing. It only took a minute by Ensign O'Neil's
watch. The young officer thought it very odd that his captain seemed to trust and confide in his chiefs
more than his wardroom, but mustang officers had their own ways.
Panache rumbled through the waves at full speed. She was rated at twenty-three knots, and
though she'd made just over twenty-five a few times, that was in light-ship conditions, with a newly
painted bottom on flat seas. Even with the turbochargers pounding air into the diesels, top speed now
was just over twenty-two knots. It made for a hard ride. The bridge crew compensated for this by
standing with their feet a good distance apart, and in O'Neil's case by walking around as much as
possible. Condensation from the fog cluttered up the bridge windows. The young officer flipped on
the wipers. Back out on the bridge wing, he stared out into the fog. He didn't like traveling without
radar. O'Neil listened, but heard nothing more than the muted rumblings of Panache's own
engines. Fog did that. Like a wet shroud, it took away your vision and absorbed sound. He listened
for another minute, but in addition to the diesels, there was only the whisper of the cutter's hull
passing through the water. He looked aft just before going back into the wheelhouse. The cutter's
white paint job would help her disappear from view.
"No foghorns out there. Sun's burning through," he announced. The captain nodded.
"Less than an hour until it's gone. Gonna be a warm one. Weather forecast in yet?"
"Storms tonight, sir. The line that went through Dallas around midnight. Did some
damage. Couple of tornadoes clobbered a trailer park."
Wegener shook his head. "You know, there must be something about trailers that attract the
damned things…" He stood and walked to the radar. "Ready, Chief?"
"Yes, sir."
Wegener flipped the set from standby to active, then bent his eyes down to the top of the rubber
hood. "You called it close, Chief. Contact bearing one-six-zero, range six thousand. Mr. O'Neil,
come right to one-eight-five. Oreza, give me a time to come left up behind him."
"Aye, Cap'n. Take a minute."
Wegener flipped the radar off and stood back up. "Battle stations."
As planned, the alarm got people moving after everyone had had a chance to eat breakfast. The
word was already out, of course. There was a possible druggie out in the fog. The duty boat section
assembled at the rubber Zodiac. Everyone had a weapon of some sort: one M-16 automatic rifle, one
riot shotgun, and the rest Beretta 9mm automatics. Forward, a crew manned the 40mm gun on the
bow. It was a Swedish-designed Bofors that had once sat on a Navy destroyer and was older than
anyone aboard except the captain. Just aft of the bridge, a sailor pulled the plastic cover off an M2.50-caliber machine gun that was almost as old.
"Recommend we come left now, sir," Chief Oreza said.
The captain flipped the radar on again. "Come left to zero-seven-zero. Range to target is now
three-five-zero-zero. We'll want to approach from the target's port side."
The fog was thinning out. Visibility was now at about five hundred yards, a little more or a little
less as the mist became visibly patchy. Chief Oreza got on the radar as the bridge filled up with the
normal battle watch. There was a new target twenty miles out, probably a tanker inbound for
Galveston. Its position was plotted as a matter of course.
"Range to our friend is now two thousand yards. Bearing constant at zero-seven-zero. Target
course and speed are unchanged."
"Very well. Should have him visual in about five minutes." Wegener looked around the
wheelhouse. His officers were using their binoculars. It was a waste of energy, but they didn't know
that yet. He walked out on the starboard bridge wing and looked aft to the boat station. Lieutenant
Wilcox gave him a thumbs-up gesture. Behind him, Chief Boatswain's Mate Riley nodded
agreement. An experienced petty officer was at the winch controls. Launching the Zodiac into these
sea conditions was no big deal, but the sea had a way of surprising you. The.50-caliber was pointed
safely skyward, a box of ammo hanging on its left side. Forward he heard the metallic clash as a
round was racked into the 40mm cannon.
Used to be we pulled alongside to render assistance. Now we load up, Wegener
thought. Goddamned drugs…
"I see him," a lookout said.
Wegener looked forward. The white-painted yacht was hard to pick out within the fog, but a
moment later the squared-off transom stern was clearly visible. Now he used his glasses to read the
name. Empire Builder. That was the one. No flag at the staff, but that wasn't unusual. He couldn't
see any people yet, and the yacht was motoring along as before. That was why he'd approached from
dead astern. For as long as men had gone to sea, he thought, no lookout ever bothered looking aft.
"He's in for a surprise," O'Neil thought, coming out to join the captain. "The Law of the Sea."
Wegener was annoyed for a moment, but shook it off. "Radar isn't turning. Of course, maybe he
broke it."
"Here's the picture of the owner, sir."
The captain hadn't looked at it before. The owner was in his middle forties. Evidently he'd
married late, because he reportedly had two children aboard, ages eight and thirteen, in addition to
his wife. Big man, six-three or so, bald and overweight, standing on some dock or other next to a
fair-sized swordfish. He must have had to work hard for that one, Wegener thought, judging by the
sunburn around the eyes and below the shorts… The captain brought the glasses back up.
"You're coming in too close," he observed. "Bear off to port, Mister."
"Aye aye, sir." O'Neil went back into the wheelhouse.
Idiots, Wegener thought. You ought to have heard us by now. Well, they had a way to make sure
of that. He poked his head into the wheelhouse: "Wake 'em up!"
Halfway up Panache's mast was a siren of the sort used on police cars and ambulances, but quite
a bit larger. A moment later its whooping sound nearly made the captain jump. It did have the
expected effect. Before Wegener had counted to three a head appeared out of the yacht's
wheelhouse. It wasn't the owner. The yacht began a hard right turn.
"You jackass!" the captain growled. "Close up tight!" he ordered next.
The cutter turned to the right, as well. The yacht settled a bit at the stern as more power was
applied, but the Rhodes didn't have a prayer of outrunning Panache. In another two minutes the cutter
was abeam of the yacht, which was still trying to turn. They were too close to use the
Bofors. Wegener ordered the machine gun to fire across the Empire Builder's bow.
The .50-caliber crackled and thundered for a five-round burst. Even if they hadn't seen the
splashes, the noise was unmistakable. Wegener went inside to get the microphone for his ship's loudhailer.
"This is the United States Coast Guard. Heave to immediately and prepare to be boarded!"
You could almost see the indecision. The yacht came back left, but the speed didn't change for a
minute or two. Next a man appeared at the stern and ran up a flag - the Panamanian flag, Wegener
saw with amusement. Next the radio would say that he didn't have authority to board. His amusement
stopped short of that point.
"Empire Builder, this is the U.S. Coast Guard. You are a U.S.-flag ship, and we are going to
board you. Heave to - now!"
And she did. The yacht's stern rose as engine power dropped off. The cutter had to back down
hard to avoid surging past the Rhodes. Wegener went back outside and waved at the boat
crew. When he had their attention, he mimicked pulling back the slide on an automatic pistol. That
was his way of telling the crew to be careful. Riley patted his holster twice to let the captain know
that the boat crew wasn't stupid. The Zodiac was launched. The next call on the loud-hailer told the
yacht's crew to get into the open. Two people came out. Again, neither looked like the owner. The
cutter's machine gun was trained on them as steadily as the rolling allowed. This was the tense
part. The only way Panache could protect the boat crew was to fire first, but that was something they
couldn't do. The Coast Guard hadn't lost anyone that way yet, but it was only a matter of time, and
waiting for it only made it worse.
Wegener kept his glasses fixed on the two men while the Zodiac motored across. A lieutenant did
the same next to the machine gun. Though no obvious weapons were visible, a pistol wasn't that hard
to hide under a loose shirt. Someone would have to be crazy to fight it out under these conditions, but
the captain knew that the world was full of crazy people - he'd spent thirty years rescuing them. Now
he arrested them, the ones whose craziness was more malignant than simple stupidity.
O'Neil came to his side again. Panache was dead in the water, with her engines turning at idle,
and with the seas now on the beam she took on a heavier but slower roll. Wegener looked aft to the
machine gun again. The sailor had it aimed in about the right direction, but his thumbs were well off
the firing switch, just the way they were supposed to be. He could hear the five empty cases rolling
around on the deck. Wegener frowned for a moment. The empties were a safety hazard. He'd have
some one rig a bag to catch them. The kid on the gun might stumble on one and shoot by mistake…
He turned back. The Zodiac was at the yacht's stern. Good. They were going aboard there. He
watched Lieutenant Wilcox go aboard first, then wait for the rest. The coxswain pulled back when
the last was aboard, then scooted forward to cover their advance. Wilcox went forward on the
portside, with Obrecki backing him up, the shotgun pointed safely at the sky. Riley went inside with
his backup. The lieutenant got to the two men in under a minute. It was odd to see them talking, but
not to hear what they were saying…
Somebody said something. Wilcox's head turned quickly one way, then back the other. Obrecki
stepped to the side and brought the shotgun down. Both men went down on their faces, dropping from
view.
"Looks like a bust, sir," Ensign O'Neil noted. Wegener took one step into the wheelhouse.
"Radio!" A crewman tossed him a Motorola portable. Wegener listened but didn't make a
call. Whatever his people had just found, he didn't want to distract them. Obrecki stayed with the
two men while Wilcox went inside the yacht. Riley had sure as hell found something. The shotgun
was definitely aimed at them, and the tension in the boy's arms radiated across the water to the
cutter. The captain turned to the machine-gunner, whose weapon was still aimed at the yacht.
"Safe that gun!"
"Aye!" the sailor answered at once, and dropped his hands to point it at the sky. The officer next
to him winced with embarrassment. Another lesson learned. A few words would accompany it in an
hour or two. This had been a mistake with a gun.
Wilcox reappeared a moment later, with Chief Riley behind him. The bosun handed over two
pairs of handcuffs to the officer, who bent down to work them. They had to be the only two aboard;
Riley bolstered his pistol a moment later, and Obrecki's shotgun went up to the sky again. Wegener
thought he saw the youngster reset the safety. The farm boy knew his guns, all right, had learned to
shoot the same way his skipper had. Why had he taken the safety off…? The radio crackled just as
Wegener's mind asked the question.
"Captain, this is Wilcox." The lieutenant stood to speak, and both men faced each other, a hundred
yards apart.
"I'm here."
"It's a bad one, sir… sir, there's blood all over the place. One of 'em was scrubbing the salon
down, but - it's a real mess here, sir."
"Just the two of them?"
"Affirmative. Only two people aboard. We've cuffed 'em both."
"Check again," Wegener ordered. Wilcox read the captain's mind: he stayed with the prisoners
and let Chief Riley do the search. The bosun appeared three minutes later, shaking his head. His face
looked pale through the binoculars, Wegener saw. What would make Bob Riley go pale?
"Just these two, sir. No ID on them. I don't think we want to do much of a search, I think-"
"Correct. I'll send you another man and leave you Obrecki. Can you get the yacht to port?"
"Sure, Captain. We got plenty of fuel."
"There's going to be a little blow tonight," Wegener warned.
"I checked the weather this morning. No sweat, sir."
"Okay, let me call this one in and get things organized. Stand by."
"Roger that. Sir, I recommend that you send the TV camera across for a permanent record to back
up the stills."
"Okay, it'll be over in a few minutes."
It took half an hour for the Coast Guard base to get the FBI and DEA agreed on things. While they
waited for word, the Zodiac took another crewman over with a portable TV camera and tape
recorder. One of the boarding party shot off sixty frames with a Polaroid camera, while the TV
recorded everything on half-inch tape. The Coast Guardsmen restarted Empire Builder's engines and
headed northwest for Mobile, with the cutter holding station on her portside. It was finally decided
that Wilcox and Obrecki could take the yacht back to Mobile, and that a helicopter would pick up the
two "yachtsmen" that afternoon - weather permitting. It was a long way to the helicopter
base. Panache was supposed to have her own helicopter, but the Coast Guard didn't have the funding
to buy enough. A third seaman was landed on the yacht, and it was time to bring the prisoners back to
Panache.
Chief Riley took the prisoners aft. Wegener watched the bosun fairly throw them into the
Zodiac. Five minutes later it was hoisted aboard. The yacht headed northwest, and the cutter turned
away to continue her patrol. The first man from the boarding party to reach the bridge was the
seaman who'd worked the Polaroid. He handed over half a dozen of the color frames.
"The chief collected some stuff for you to look at, Cap'n. It's worse'n it looks here. Wait till you
see the TV tape. It's already set up for copying."
Wegener handed the photos back. "Okay - it all goes into the evidence locker. You join up with
the others. Have Myers set up a new tape in the VCR, and I want you all to tell the camera what you
saw. You know how it goes. Let's make sure we get it all right."
"Yes, sir!"
Riley appeared a minute later. Robert Timothy Riley was a man in the traditional pattern of the
chief boatswain's mate. Six-two and over two hundred pounds, he had the hairy arms of a gorilla, the
gut of a man who knew his way around a beer can, and the rumbling voice to outscream a winter
gale. His oversized right hand grasped a couple of plastic food bags. His face showed that anger
was now replacing the shock.
"It's a fuckin' slaughterhouse, sir. Like somebody exploded a couple cans of brown paint - 'cept it
ain't paint. Jesus." One bag came up. "The little one was cleaning up when we pulled 'em
over. There's a trash can in the saloon with maybe a half dozen cartridge cases. I pulled these two
off the rug - just like they taught us, Cap'n. Picked 'em up with my ball-point and shuffled 'em into the
baggie. Two guns I left aboard. I bagged them, too. That ain't the worst of it."
The next baggie contained a small, framed photograph. It had to be the yacht's owner and his
family. The baggie after that contained a…
"Found it under a table. Rape, too. She must've been havin' her period, but they didn't let that
stop 'em. Maybe just the wife. Maybe the little girl, too. In the galley there's some butcher knives,
all bloodied up. I figure they carved the bodies up and tossed 'em over the side. These four people
are shark-shit now."
"Drugs?"
"Twenty or so keys of white powder stowed in the crew's quarters. Some marijuana, too, but that
just looks like a personal stash." Riley shrugged. "I didn't even bother using the test kit, sir. Don't
matter. This is straight piracy and murder. I saw one bullet hole in the deck, a through-andthrough. Red, I ain't seen nothing like this in my whole life. Like something in a movie, but worse."
He let out a long breath. "You have to have been there, sir."
"What do we know about the prisoners?"
"Nothing. They ain't done nothing more'n grunt, leastways not when I was around. No ID on
them, and I didn't want to go messing around things looking for passports an' stuff. Figured I'd leave
that for the real cops. The wheelhouse is clean. So's one of the heads. Mr. Wilcox won't have much
trouble taking her back, and I heard him tell Obrecki and Brown not to touch anything. Plenty of fuel
aboard, he can run her at full speed. He'll have her in Mobile 'fore midnight if the weather holds
off. Nice boat." Another shrug.
"Bring 'em up here," Wegener said after a moment.
"Aye aye." Riley went aft.
Wegener filled his pipe, then had to remember where he'd left his matches. The world had
changed while he'd been off doing other things, and Wegener didn't like it. It was dangerous enough
out here. Wind and wave were as deadly an enemy as man needed. The sea was always waiting for
her chance. It didn't matter how good you thought you were; you only had to forget once, just once,
that you could never trust her. Wegener was a man who never forgot, and devoted his life to
protecting those who had. Remembering that one hazard, and protecting those who forgot, had given
him a full and satisfying life. He liked being the guardian angel in the snow-white boat. You were
never lost if Red Wegener was around. You always had a chance, a good chance, that he could reach
into the wet, stormy grave and pull you out with his bare hands… but sharks were feasting on four
people now. Wegener loved the sea for all her moods, but sharks were something to loathe, and the
thought that they were now eating people that he might have saved… four people who'd forgotten that
not all sharks live in the sea, Wegener told himself. That's what had changed. Piracy. He shook his
head. That's what you called it on the water. Piracy. Something that Errol Flynn had made movies
about in Wegener's boyhood. Something that had ended two centuries earlier. Piracy and murder, the
part that the movies had usually left out. Piracy and murder and rape, each of them a capital offense
in the old days…
"Stand up straight!" Riley snarled. He had both by the arm. Both were still cuffed, and Riley's
hands kept them from straying. Chief Oreza had come along to keep an eye on things.
Both were in their mid-twenties, both were thin. One was tall, about six feet, and arrogant, which
struck the captain as odd. He had to know the trouble he was in, didn't he? His dark eyes burned at
Wegener, who regarded the younger man dispassionately from behind his pipe. There was something
odd about his eyes, but Wegener didn't know what it was.
"What's your name?" the captain asked. There was no reply. "You have to tell me your name,"
Wegener pointed out quietly.
Then something very unusual happened. The tall one spat on Wegener's shirt. There was a
strangely long fragment of time in which the captain refused to believe what had happened, his face
not even showing surprise. Riley was the first to react to the blasphemy.
"You son of a bitch!" The bosun lifted the prisoner up like a rag doll, spinning him in the air and
smashing him down on the bridge rail. The young man landed on his belt, and for a second it seemed
that he'd break in half. The air whooshed out of his mouth, and his legs kicked, trying to find the deck
before he dropped into the water.
"Christ, Bob!" Wegener managed to say as Riley picked him back up. The bosun spun him
around, his left hand clamped on the man's throat as he lifted him clear of the deck with one arm. "Put
him down, Riley!"
If nothing else, Riley had broken through the arrogance. For a moment there was genuine fear in
those eyes as the prisoner fought for breath. Oreza had the other one on the deck already. Riley
dropped his man beside him. The pirate - Wegener was already thinking of him in those terms pitched forward until his forehead touched the deck. He gagged and struggled for breath while Chief
Riley, just as pale, rediscovered his self-control.
"Sorry, Captain. Guess I just lost it for a second." The bosun made it clear that he was
apologizing only for embarrassing his commanding officer.
"Brig," Wegener said. Riley led both aft.
"Damn." Oreza observed quietly. The quartermaster fished out his handkerchief and wiped his
captain's shirt. "Jesus, Red, what's the world comin' to?"
"I don't know, Portagee. I think we're both too old to answer that one." Wegener finally found his
matches and managed to light his pipe. He stared out at the sea for several seconds before finding the
right words. "When I joined up I got broke in by an old chief who told stories about
Prohibition. Nothing nasty like this - he made it all sound like a great big game."
"Maybe people were more civilized back then," Oreza thought.
"More likely you couldn't carry a million bucks' worth of booze on a motorboat. Didn't you ever
watch 'The Untouchables'? The gang wars they had back then were as nasty as the ones we read
about now. Maybe worse. Hell, I don't know. I didn't join up to be a cop, Chief."
"Me neither, Cap'n." Oreza grunted. "We went an' got old, and the world went an' changed on
us. One thing I wish didn't change, though."
"What's that, Portagee?"
The master chief quartermaster turned to look at his commanding officer. "Something I picked up
at New London a few years back. I used to sit in on some classes when I had nothing better to do. In
the old days when they caught a couple of pirates, they had the option of doing a court-martial on the
spot and settlin' things right then an' there - and you know something? It worked." Oreza grunted
again. "I s'pose that's why they stopped doin' it that way."
"Give 'em a fair trial - then hang 'em?"
"Hell, why not, sir?"
"That's not the way we do things anymore. We're civilized now."
"Yeah, civilized." Oreza opened the door to the wheelhouse. "I can tell. I seen the pictures."
Wegener smiled, then wondered why. His pipe had gone out. He wondered why he didn't just
quit entirely as he fished for his matches again, but the pipe was part of the image. The old man of the
sea. He'd gotten old, all right, Wegener thought. A puff of wind caught the match as he tried to toss it,
dropping it on the deck. How did you ever forget to check the wind? he asked himself as he bent
down to retrieve it.
There was a pack of cigarettes there, halfway out the scupper. Wegener was a fanatic on shipcleanliness and was ready to snarl at whoever had tossed the empty pack when he realized that it
hadn't come from one of his crewmen. The name on the pack was "Calvert," and that, he remembered
vaguely, was a Latin American brand-name from a U.S. tobacco company. It was a hard pack, with a
flip-top, and out of simple curiosity he opened it.
They weren't cigarettes. At least, they weren't tobacco cigarettes. Wegener fished one out. They
weren't hand-rolled, but neither were they as neatly manufactured as something from a real American
cancer factory. The captain smiled in spite of himself. Some clever entrepreneur had come up with a
cute way of disguising - joints, wasn't it? - as real cigarettes. Or maybe it was just more convenient
to carry them this way. It must have pitched out of his shirt when Riley flipped him around, Wegener
realized belatedly. He closed the pack and pocketed it. He'd turn it over to the evidence locker when
he got a chance. Oreza returned.
"Weather update. That squall line'll be here no later'n twenty-one hundred. The squalls are
upgraded some. We can expect gusts up to forty knots. Gonna be a fair blow, sir."
"Any problem for Wilcox and the yacht?" There was still time to recall him.
"Shouldn't be, sir. It turned south. A high-pressure system is heading down from Tennessee. Mr.
Wilcox oughta have it pretty smooth all the way in, Cap'n, but it might be a little dicey for the
helicopter. They didn't plan to get it to us until eighteen hundred, and that's cutting it a little
close. They'll be bucking the front edge of the line on the way back."
"What about tomorrow?"
"Supposed to clear off about dawn, then the high-pressure system takes over. We're in for some
rollin' tonight, but then we got four days of good weather." Oreza didn't actually voice his
recommendation. He didn't have to. The two old pros communicated with glances.
Wegener nodded agreement. "Advise Mobile to put the pickup off until noon tomorrow."
"Aye aye, Cap'n. No sense risking a helicopter to haul garbage."
"Right on that, Portagee. Make sure Wilcox gets the word on the weather in case that system
changes course." Wegener checked his watch. "Time for me to get my paperwork done."
"Pretty full day already, Red."
"True enough."
Wegener's stateroom was the largest aboard, of course, and the only private accommodation
aboard, since privacy and loneliness were the traditional luxuries accorded a skipper. But Panache
wasn't a cruiser, and Wegener's room was barely over a hundred square feet, albeit with a private
head, which on any ship was something worth fighting for. Throughout his Coast Guard career,
paperwork was something Wegener had avoided whenever possible. He had an executive officer, a
bright young lieutenant whom the captain stuck with as much of it as his conscience could
justify. That left him with two or three hours' worth per day. The captain attacked it with the
enthusiasm of a man on his way to a hanging. Half an hour later he realized that it seemed harder than
usual. The murders were pulling at his consciousness. Murder at sea, he thought, as he looked at the
porthole on the starboard bulkhead. It wasn't unknown, of course. He'd heard of a few during his
thirty years, though he'd never been directly involved. There had been a case off the Oregon coast
when a crewman had gone berserk and nearly killed a mate - turned out that the poor guy had
developed a brain tumor and he'd later died from it, Red remembered. Point Gabriel had gone out
and collected the man, already hog-tied and sedated. That was the extent of Wegener's experience
with violence at sea. At least the man-made kind. The sea was dangerous enough without the need
for that sort of thing. The thought came back to him like the recurring theme of a song. He tried to get
back to his work, but failed.
Wegener frowned at his own indecision. Whether he liked paperwork or not, it was part of the
job. He relit the pipe in the hope that it would aid his concentration. That didn't work either. The
captain muttered a curse at himself, partly in amusement, partly in annoyance, as he walked into his
head for a drink of water. The paperwork still beckoned. He looked at himself in the mirror and
realized that he needed a shave. And the paperwork wasn't getting done.
"You're getting old, Red," he told the face in the mirror. "Old and senile."
He decided that he had to shave. He did it in the old-fashioned way, with a shaving cup and
brush, the disposable razor his only concession to modernity. He had his face lathered and halfway
shaved when someone knocked at the door.
"Come!" It opened to reveal Chief Riley.
"Sorry, Cap'n, didn't know you were-"
"No problem, Bob, what's up?"
"Sir, I got the first-draft of the boarding report. Figured you'd want to go over it. We got
everyone's statement on tape, audio, and TV. Myers made a copy of the tape from the boarding. The
original's in with the evidence, in a lockbox inside the classified-materials safe, as per orders. I got
the copy if you wanna see it."
"Okay, just leave it. Anything from our guests?"
"No, sir. Turned into a pretty day outside."
"And me stuck with all this damned paper."
"A chief may work from sun to sun, but the skipper's work is never done," Riley observed.
"You're not supposed to pick on your commanding officer, Master Chief." Wegener managed to
stop himself from laughing only because he still had the razor to his throat.
"I humbly beg the captain's pardon. And, by your leave, sir, I also have work to do."
"The kid we had on the fifty-cal this morning was part of the deck division. He needs a talk about
safety. He was slow taking his gun off the yacht this morning. Don't tear his head all the way off,"
Wegener said as he finished shaving. "I'll talk to Mr. Peterson myself."
"We sure don't need people fucking around with those things. I'll talk with the lad, sir, right after I
do my walk-around."
"I'm going to do one after lunch - we have some weather coming in tonight."
"Portagee told me. We'll have everything lashed down tight."
"See you later, Bob."
"Aye." Riley withdrew.
Wegener stowed his shaving gear and went back to his desk. The preliminary draft of the
boarding and arrest report was on the top of his pile. The full version was being typed now, but he
always liked to see the first version. It was generally the most accurate. Wegener scanned it as he
sipped at some cold coffee. The Polaroid shots were tucked into pockets on a plastic page. They
hadn't gotten any better. Neither had the paperwork. He decided to slip the videotape into his
personal VCR and view it before lunch.
The quality of the tape was several steps down from anything that could be called
professional. Holding the camera still on a rolling yacht was nearly impossible, and there hadn't been
enough light for decent picture quality. For all that, it was disturbing. The sound caught snippets of
conversations, and the screen occasionally flared when the Polaroid's flash went off.
It was plain that four people had died aboard Empire Builder, and all they had left behind were
bloodstains. It didn't seem very much of a legacy, but imagination supplied the rest. The bunk in
what had probably been the son's cabin was sodden with blood - a lot of it - at the top end of the
bed. Head shot. Three other sets of bloodstains decorated the main salon. It was the part of the
yacht with the most space, the place where the entertainment had gone on. Entertainment, Wegener
thought. Three sets of bloodstains. Two close together, one distant. The man had an attractive wife,
and a daughter of thirteen… they'd made him watch, hadn't they?
"Jesus," Wegener breathed. That had to be it, didn't it? They made him watch, and then they
killed them all… carved up the bodies and tossed them over the side.
"Bastards."
2. Creatures of the Night
THE NAME ON this passport said J. T. Williams, but he had quite a few passports. His current
cover was as a representative for an American pharmaceuticals firm, and he could give a lengthy
discourse on various synthetic antibiotics. He could similarly discuss the ins and cuts of the heavyequipment business as a special field representative for Caterpillar Tractor, and had two other
"legends" that he could switch in and out of as easily as he changed his clothes. His name was not
Williams. He was known in CIA's Operations Directorate as Clark, but his name wasn't Clark either,
even though that was the name under which he lived and raised his family. Mainly he was an
instructor at CIA's school for field officers, known as "The Farm," but he was an instructor because
he was pretty good at what he did, and for the same reason he often returned to the field.
Clark was a solidly built man, over six feet tall, with a full head of black hair and a lantern jaw
that hinted at his ancestry, along with the blue eyes that twinkled when he wanted them to, and burned
when he did not. Though well over forty, Clark did not have the usual waistline flab that went along
with a desk job, and his shoulders spoke volumes about his exercise program. For all that, in an age
of attention to physical fitness he was unremarkable enough, save for one distinguishing mark. On his
forearm was the tattoo of a grinning red seal. He ought to have had it removed, but sentiment did not
allow it. The seal was part of the heritage he'd once chosen for himself. When asked about it during
a flight, he'd reply, honestly, that he'd once been in the Navy, then go on to lie about how the Navy had
financed his college education in pharmaceuticals, mechanical engineering, or some other
field. Clark actually had no college or graduate degree, though he'd accumulated enough special
knowledge along the way to qualify for a half dozen of them. The lack of a degree would have should have - disqualified him for the position which he held in the Agency, but Clark had a skill that
is curiously rare in most of the Western intelligence agencies. The need for it was also rare, but the
need was occasionally real, and a senior CIA official had once recognized that someone like Clark
was useful to have on the payroll. That he'd blossomed into a very effective field officer - mainly for
special, short, dangerous jobs - was all the better for the Agency. Clark was something of a legend,
though only a handful of people at Langley knew why. There was only one Mr. Clark.
"What brings you to our country, Señor Williams?" the immigration official asked.
"Business. And I'm hoping to do a little fishing before I go home," Clark replied in Spanish. He
was fluent in six languages, and could pass for a native with three of them.
"Your Spanish is excellent."
"Thank you. I grew up in Costa Rica," Clark lied. He was particularly good at that, too. "My
father worked there for years."
"Yes, I can tell. Welcome to Colombia."
Clark went off to collect his bags. The air was thin here, he noted. His daily jogging helped him
with that, but he reminded himself to wait a few days before he tried anything really strenuous. It was
his first time in this country, but something told him that it wouldn't be the last. All the big ones
started with reconnaissance. That was his current mission. Exactly what he was supposed to recon
told him what the real mission would probably be. He'd done such things before, Clark told
himself. In fact, one such mission was the reason that CIA had picked him up, changed his name, and
given him the life that he'd led for nearly twenty years.
One of the singular things about Colombia was that the country actually allowed people to bring
firearms in with very little in the way of hassle. Clark had not bothered this time. He wondered if the
next time might be a little different. He knew that he couldn't work through the chief of station for
that. After all, the chief of station didn't even know that he was here. Clark wondered why, but
shrugged it off. That didn't concern him. The mission did.
The United States Army had reinstituted the idea of the Infantry Division (Light) only a few years
before. The units had not been all that hard to make. It was simply a matter of selecting an Infantry
Division (Mechanized) and removing all of its (Mechanized) equipment. What then remained behind
was an organization of roughly 10,500 people whose TOE (Table of Organization and Equipment)
was even lighter than that of an airborne division, traditionally the lightest of them all, and therefore
able to be air-transported by a mere five hundred flights of the Air Force's Military Airlift
Command. But the light infantry divisions, or "LIDs" as they came to be known, were not as useless
as the casual observer might imagine, however. Far from it.
In creating the "light-fighters," the Army had decided to return to the timeless basics of
history. Any thinking warrior will testify that there are two kinds of fighters: the infantry, and those
who in one way or another support the infantry. More than anything else, the LIDs were postgraduate
institutions for advanced infantry skills. Here was where the Army grew its sergeants the oldfashioned way. In recognizing this, the Army had carefully assigned some of its best officers to
command them. The colonels commanding the brigades, and the generals commanding the divisions,
were veterans of Vietnam whose memories of that bitter conflict included admiration for their
enemies - most especially the way in which the Viet Cong and NVA had converted their lack of
equipment and firepower into an asset. There was no reason, the Army's thinkers decided, that
American soldiers should not have the same degree of skill in fieldcraft that Vo Nguyen Giap's
soldiers had developed; better still that those skills should be mated to America's traditional
fascination with equipment and firepower. What had resulted were four elite divisions, the 7th in the
green hills of Fort Ord, California, the 10th Mountain at Fort Drum, New York, the 25th at Schofield
Barracks, Hawaii, and the 6th at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Perversely, each had problems holding on
to its sergeants and company-grade officers, but that was part of the overall plan. Light-fighters live a
strenuous life, and on reaching thirty even the best of them would think longingly of being able to ride
to battle in a helicopter or an armored personnel carrier, and maybe being able to spend a reasonable
amount of time with their young wives and children instead of climbing hills. Thus the best of them,
the ones that stayed and completed the difficult NCO schools that each division ran, having learned
that sergeants must occasionally act without their lieutenants' direction, then joined the heavy
formations that comprised the rest of the Army, bringing with them skills that they'd never quite
forget. The LIDs were, in short, factory institutions, where the Army built sergeants with exceptional
leadership ability and mastery of the unchanging truths of warfare - it always came down to a few
people with muddy boots and smelly uniforms who could use the land and the night as allies to visit
death on their fellowmen.
Staff Sergeant Domingo Chavez was one of these. Known as "Ding" by his squad, he was twentysix. Already a nine-year veteran - he'd begun as a gang kid in Los Angeles whose basic common
sense had overcome his ineffectual education - he'd decided that there was no future in the Bandidos
when a close friend had died in a drive-by shooting whose purpose he'd never quite figured out. The
following Monday morning he'd taken the bus to the nearest Army Recruiting Office after the Marines
had turned him down. Despite his near illiteracy, the recruiting sergeant had signed him up in a
moment - his quota had been short, and the kid had expressed a willingness to go infantry, thus
fulfilling two blank spots on the sergeant's monthly reporting sheet. Most of all, the youngster wanted
to go right in. It could not have been better for the recruiter.
Chavez hadn't had many ideas what military service would be like, and most of those had turned
out to be wrong. After losing his hair and a rat-faced beard, he'd learned that toughness is worthless
without discipline, and that the Army doesn't tolerate insolence. That lesson had come behind a
white-painted barracks at the hands of a drill sergeant whose face was as black as a jungle night. But
Chavez's life had never known an easy lesson; as a result he hadn't learned to resent the hard
ones. Having discovered that the Army was also a hierarchy with strict hierarchical rules, he stayed
within them and gradually turned into an above-average recruit. Former gang kid that he was, he'd
already known about camaraderie and teamwork, and redirecting these traits into positive directions
had come easily enough. By the time basic training had ended, his small frame was as lean and taut
as a steel cable, his physical appearance was something in which he took inordinate pride, and he
was already well on his way to mastering every weapon that an infantryman can carry. Where else,
he asked himself once a day, do they give you a machine gun and pay you to shoot it?
But soldiers are grown, not born. Chavez's first posting was to Korea, where he learned about
hills, and just how deadly enemy gangs could be, since duty on the DMZ has never been anything that
one might call safe. Discipline, he learned there once and for all, had a real purpose. It kept you
alive. A small team of North Korean infiltrators had picked a rainy night to go through his unit's
piece of the line for purposes known only to their commanders. On the way they'd stumbled on an
unmarked listening post whose two American occupants had decided to sleep through the night, and
never awoke. ROK units had later intercepted and killed the invaders, but Chavez was the one who'd
discovered the men from his own platoon, throats cut in the same way he'd seen in his own
neighborhood. Soldiering, he'd decided then and there, was a serious business, and one which he
wanted to master. The platoon sergeant noticed first, then the lieutenant. Chavez paid attention to
lectures, even trying to take notes. On realizing his inability to read and write beyond things he'd
carefully memorized in advance, the platoon leader had gotten the young PFC help. Working hard on
his own time, before the end of the year Chavez had passed a high-school equivalency test - on his
first try! he told everyone who would listen that night - and made Specialist Fourth Class, which
earned him an extra $58.50 per month. His lieutenant didn't fully understand, though the platoon
sergeant did, that Domingo Chavez had been forever changed by that combination of events. Though
he'd always had the Latino's deep pride, part of the eighteen-year-old soldier now understood that he
had truly done something to be proud about. For this he deemed himself to be in the Army's debt, and
with the deep sense of personal honor which was also part of his cultural heritage, it was a debt that
he would forever after work to repay.
Some things never left. He cultivated physical toughness. Part of that came from his small size just five-eight - but he also came to understand that the real world was not a football field: the tough
ones who made the long haul were most often the compact, lean fighters. Chavez came to love
running, and enjoyed a good sweat. Because of this, assignment to the 7th Infantry Division (Light)
was almost inevitable. Though based at Fort Ord, near Monterey on the California coast, the 7th
trains farther down the coast at Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation, once the sprawling rancho of the
Hearst family. A place of magnificent green hills in the moist winters, Hunter-Liggett becomes a
blistering moonscape in the California summer, a place of steep, topless hills, gnarled, shapeless
trees, and grass that crumbles to dust under one's boots. For Chavez it was home. He arrived as a
brand-new buck sergeant E-5, and was immediately sent to the division's two-week Combat Leaders
Course, a prep school for squad sergeants that also paved the way for his entry into Ranger School at
Fort Benning, Georgia. On his return from that most rigorous of Army training courses, Chavez was
leaner and more confident than ever. His return to Fort Ord coincided with the arrival of a new
"cohort" of recruits for his battalion. Ding Chavez was assigned to command a squad of slicksleeved privates fresh from Advanced Infantry Training. It was the first payback time for the young
sergeant. The Army had invested considerable time and training in him, and now it was time for him
to pass it along to nine raw recruits - and also time for the Army to see if Chavez had the stuff that
leaders are made of. He took command of his squad as a stepfather of a large and unruly family faces
his newly acquired children. He wanted them to turn out properly because they were his, and because
they were his, he was damned sure going to see that they did. At Fort Ord, he'd also learned the real
art of soldiering, for infantry tactics are precisely that for the light-fighters - an art form. Assigned to
Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion of the 17th Infantry Regiment, whose somewhat ambitious motto was
"Ninja! We Own the Night!" Chavez went into the field with his face coated in camouflage paint - in
the 7th LID even the helicopter pilots wear camouflage paint - and learned his profession in full even
while he taught his men. Most of all, he came to love the night. Chavez learned to move himself and
his squad through cover as quietly as a whispering breeze. The objective of such missions was
generally the same. Unable to match a heavy formation force-on-force, Chavez trained to do the
close, nasty work that has always characterized light infantrymen: raids and ambushes, infiltration and
intelligence gathering. Stealth was their means, and surprise was their tool, to appear where least
expected, to strike with close-quarter ferocity, then to escape into the darkness before the other side
could react. Such things had been tried on Americans once, and it was only fair that Americans
should learn to return the favor. All in all, SSG Domingo Chavez was a man whom the Apaches or
the Viet Cong would have recognized as one of their own - or one of their most dangerous enemies.
"Hey, Ding!" the platoon sergeant called. "The ell-tee wants you."
It had been a long one at Hunter-Liggett, ending at the dawn now two hours old. The exercise had
lasted nearly nine days, and even Chavez was feeling it. He wasn't seventeen anymore, his legs were
telling him with some amusement. At least it was his last such job with the Ninjas. He was rotating
out, and his next assignment was to be a drill sergeant with the Army's basic-training school at Fort
Benning, Georgia. Chavez was immensely proud of that. The Army thought enough of him that he
would now be an example to young recruits. The sergeant got to his feet, but before walking over to
where the lieutenant was, he reached into his pocket and took out a throwing star. Ever since the
colonel had taken to calling his men Ninjas, the nasty little steel projectiles had become de rigueur to
the men - somewhat to the concern of the powers-that-were. But there was always a little slack cut
for the good ones, and Chavez was one of these. He flipped the star with a deceptively powerful
flick of the wrist and buried it an inch deep in a tree fifteen feet away. He collected it on the way to
see the boss.
"Yes, sir!" Chavez said, standing at attention.
"At ease, Sergeant," Lieutenant Jackson said. He was sitting against a tree to take the strain off
his blistered feet. A West Point graduate and only twenty-three, he was learning how hard it could be
to keep up with the soldiers he was supposed to lead. "Got a call. They need you back at
headquarters. Something to do with the paperwork on your transfer. You can go in on a resupply
flight out of battalion trains. The chopper'll be down there in an hour. Nice work last night, by the
way. I'm going to be sorry to lose you, Ding."
"Thank you, sir." Jackson wasn't bad for a young officer, Chavez thought. Green, of course, but he
tried pretty hard and learned fast. He saluted the younger man snappily.
"You take care of yourself, Sergeant." Jackson rose to return it properly.
"We own the night, sir!" Chavez replied in the manner of the Ninjas, 3rd Battalion, 17th
Infantry. Twenty-five minutes later he climbed aboard a Sikorsky UH-60A Blackhawk helicopter for
the fifty-minute ride back to Ord. The battalion sergeant-major handed him a message as he got
aboard. Chavez had an hour to get cleaned up before appearing at the divisional G-1 or personnel
office. It took a long shower to erase the salt and "war paint," but he managed to arrive early in his
best set of BDU camouflage fatigues.
"Hey, Ding," said another staff sergeant, who was working in G-1 while his broken leg healed.
"The man's waiting for you in the conference room, end of the hall on the second floor."
"What's it all about, Charlie?"
"Damned if I know. Some colonel asked to see you is all."
"Damn - I need a haircut, too," Chavez muttered as he trotted up the wooden stairs. His boots
could have used a little more work also. Hell of a way to appear before some friggin' colonel, but
then Chavez was entitled to a little more warning than he'd been given. That was one of the nice
things about the Army, the sergeant thought. The rules applied to everyone. He knocked on the
proper door, too tired to be worried. He wouldn't be around much longer, after all. His orders for
Fort Benning were already cut, and he was wondering what the loose womenfolk in Georgia were
like. He'd just broken up with a steady girlfriend. Maybe the more stable life-style that went with a
drill sergeant would allow him to"Come!" a voice boomed in reply to his knock.
The colonel was sitting behind a cheap wooden desk. He was dressed in a black sweater over a
lime-green shirt, and had a name tag that said SMITH. Ding came to attention.
"Staff Sergeant Domingo Chavez reporting as ordered, sir."
"Okay, relax and sit down, Sergeant. I know you've been on the go for a while. There's coffee in
the corner if you want."
"No, thank you, sir." Chavez sat down and almost relaxed a bit until he saw his personnel jacket
lying on the desk. Colonel Smith picked it up and flipped it open. Having someone rip through your
personnel file was usually worrisome, but the colonel looked up with a relaxed smile. Chavez
noticed that Colonel Smith had no unit crest above his name tag, not even the hourglass-bayonet
symbol of the 7th LID. Where did he come from? Who was this guy?
"This looks pretty damned good, Sergeant. I'd say you're a good bet for E-7 in two or three
years. You've been down south, too, I see. Three times, is it?"
"Yes, sir. We been to Honduras twice and Panama once."
"Did well all three times. It says here your Spanish is excellent."
"It's what I was raised with, sir." As his accent told everyone he met. He wanted to know what
this was all about, but staff sergeants do not ask such questions of bird-colonels. He got his wish in
any case.
"Sergeant, we're putting a special group together, and we want you to be part of it."
"Sir, I got new orders, and -"
"I know that. We're looking for people with a combination of good language skills and - hell,
we're looking for the best light-fighters we can find. Everything I see about you says you're one of the
best in the division." There were other criteria that "Colonel Smith" did not go into. Chavez was
unmarried. His parents were both dead. He had no close family members, or at least was not known
to write or call anyone with great frequency. He didn't fit the profile perfectly - there were some
other things that they wished he had - but everything they saw looked good. "It's a special job. It
might be a little dangerous, but probably not. We're not sure yet. It'll last a couple of months, six at
the most. At the end, you make E-7 and have your choice of assignments."
"What's this special job all about, sir?" Chavez asked brightly. The chance of making E-7 a year
or two early got his full and immediate attention.
"That I can't say, Sergeant. I don't like recruiting people blind," "Colonel Smith" lied, "but I have
my orders, too. I can say that you'll be sent somewhere east of here for intensive training. Maybe it'll
stop there, maybe not. If it does stop there, the deal holds on the promotion and the assignment. If it
goes farther, you will probably be sent somewhere to exercise your special kind of skills. Okay, I
can say that we're talking some covert intelligence-gathering. We're not sending you to Nicaragua or
anything like that. You're not being sent off to fight a secret war." That statement was technically not
a lie. "Smith" didn't know exactly what the job was all about, and he wasn't being encouraged to
speculate. He'd been given the mission requirements, and his nearly completed job was to find
people who could do it - whatever the hell it was.
"Anyway, that's all I can say. What we have discussed to this point does not leave the room meaning that you do not discuss it with anybody without my authorization, understood?" the man said
forcefully.
"Understood, sir!"
"Sergeant, we've invested a lot of time and money in you. It's payback time. The country needs
you. We need what you know. We need what you know how to do."
Put that way, Chavez knew he had little choice. "Smith" knew that, too. The young man waited
about five seconds before answering, which was less than expected.
"When do I leave, sir?"
Smith was all business now. He pulled a large manila envelope from the desk's center
drawer. CHAVEZ was scrawled on it in Magic Marker. "Sergeant, I've taken the liberty of doing a
few things for you. In here are your medical and finance records. I've already arranged to clear you
through most of the post agencies. I've also scratched in a limited power of attorney form so that you
can have somebody ship your personal effects - where 'to' shows on the form."
Chavez nodded, though his head swam slightly. Whoever this Colonel Smith was, he had some
serious horsepower to run paperwork through the Army's legendary bureaucracy so quickly. Clearing
post ordinarily took five days of sitting and waiting. He took the envelope from the colonel's hand.
"Pack your gear and be back here at eighteen hundred. Don't bother getting a haircut or
anything. You're going to let it grow for a while. I'll handle things with the people downstairs. And
remember: you do not discuss this with anybody. If someone asks, you got orders to report to Fort
Benning a little early. That's your story, and I expect you to stick to it." "Colonel Smith" stood and
extended his hand while he told another lie, mixed with some truth. "You did the right thing. I knew
we could count on you, Chavez."
"We own the night, sir!"
"Dismissed."
"Colonel Smith" replaced the personnel folder in his briefcase. That was that. Most of the men
were already on their way to Colorado. Chavez was one of the last. "Smith" wondered how things
would work out. His real name was Edgar Jeffries, and he had once been an Army officer, long since
seconded to, then hired by, the Central Intelligence Agency. He found himself hoping that things
would go as planned, but he'd been with the Agency too long to place much store in that train of
thought. This wasn't his first recruiting job. Not all of them had gone well, and fewer still had gone
as planned. On the other hand, Chavez and all the rest had volunteered to join the country's military
service, had voluntarily re-enlisted, and had voluntarily decided to accept his invitation to do
something new and different. The world was a dangerous place, and these forty men had made an
informed decision to join one of its more dangerous professions. It was some consolation to him, and
because Edgar Jeffries still had a conscience, he needed the consolation.
"Good luck, Sarge," he said quietly to himself.
Chavez had a busy day. First changing into civilian clothes, he washed his field uniform and gear,
then assembled all of the equipment which he'd be leaving behind. He had to clean the equipment
also, because you were supposed to give it back better than you got it, as Sergeant First Class
Mitchell expected. By the time the rest of the platoon arrived from Hunter-Liggett at 1300, his tasks
were well underway. The activity was noted by the returning NCOs, and soon the platoon sergeant
appeared.
"Why you packed up, Ding?" Mitchell asked.
"They need me at Benning early - that's, uh, that's why they flew me back this morning."
"The lieutenant know?"
"They musta told him - well, they musta told the company clerk, right?" Chavez was a little
embarrassed. Lying to his platoon sergeant bothered him. Bob Mitchell had been a friend and a
teacher for his nearly four years at Fort Ord. But his orders came from a colonel.
"Ding, one thing you still have to learn about is paperwork. Come on, son. The ell-tee's in his
office."
Lieutenant Timothy Washington Jackson, Infantry, hadn't cleaned up yet, but was almost ready to
leave for his place in the bachelor officers' quarters, called the BOQ, or merely The Q. He looked up
to see two of his senior NCOs.
"Lieutenant, Chavez here's got orders to skip off to Fort Benning PDQ. They're picking him up
this evening."
"So I hear. I just got a call from the battalion sergeant major. What the hell gives? We don't do
things this way," Jackson growled. "How long?"
"Eighteen hundred, sir."
"Super. I gotta go and get cleaned up before I see the S-3. Sergeant Mitchell, can you handle the
equipment records?"
"Yes, sir."
"Okay, I'll be back at seventeen hundred to finish things up. Chavez, don't leave before I get
back."
*
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly. Mitchell was willing to handle shipping - there wasn't
that much to ship - and squared the younger man away, with a few lessons tossed in on the better ways
to expedite paperwork. Lieutenant Jackson was back on time, and brought both men into his office. It
was quiet. Most of the platoon was already gone for a well-deserved night on the town.
"Ding, I ain't ready to lose you yet. We haven't decided who takes the squad over. You were
talking about Ozkanian, Sergeant Mitchell?"
"That's right, sir. What d'you think, Chavez?"
"He's about ready," Ding judged.
"Okay, we'll give Corporal Ozkanian a shot at it. You're lucky, Chavez," Lieutenant Jackson said
next. "I got caught up on all my paperwork right before we went into the field. You want me to go
over your evaluation with you?"
"Just the high spots'll be fine, sir." Chavez grinned. The lieutenant liked him, and Chavez knew it.
"Okay, I say you're damned good, which you are. Sorry to lose you this quick. You going to need
a lift?" Jackson asked.
"No problem, sir. I was planning to walk over."
"Crap. We all did enough walking last night. Load your stuff into my car." The lieutenant tossed
him the keys. "Anything else, Sergeant Mitchell?"
"Nothin' that can't wait until Monday, sir. I figure we earned ourselves a nice restful weekend."
"As always, your judgment is impeccable. My brother's in town, and I'm gone till 0600 Monday
morning."
"Roger that. Have a good one, sir."
Chavez didn't have much in the way of personal gear, and, unusually, didn't even have a car. In
fact he was saving his money to buy a Chevy Corvette, the car that had fascinated him since boyhood,
and was within five thousand dollars of being able to pay cash for one. His baggage was already
loaded into the back of Jackson's Honda CVCC when the lieutenant emerged from the
barracks. Chavez tossed him the keys back.
"Where they picking you up?"
"Division G-1 is what the man said, sir."
"Why there? Why not Martinez Hall?" Jackson asked as he started up. Martinez was the
customary processing facility.
"Lieutenant, I just go where they tell me."
Jackson laughed at that. "Don't we all?"
It only took a couple of minutes. Jackson dropped Chavez off with a handshake. There were five
other soldiers there, the lieutenant noted briefly. All sergeants, which was something of a
surprise. All looked Hispanic, too. He knew two of them. León was in Ben Tucker's platoon, 4th of
the 17th, and Mufioz was with divisional recon. Those were two good ones, too. Lieutenant Jackson
shrugged it off as he drove away.
3. The Panache Procedure
WEGENER'S INSPECTION CAME before lunch instead of after. There wasn't much
complain about. Chief Riley had been there first. Except for some paint cans and brushes that were
actually in use - painting a ship is something that never begins or ends; it just is - there was no loose
gear in view. The ship's gun was properly trained in and secured, as were the anchor
chains. Lifelines were taut, and hatches dogged down tight in anticipation of the evening storm. A
few off-duty sailors lounged here and there, reading or sunning themselves. These leapt to their feet
at Riley's rumbling "Attention on deck!" One third-class was reading a Playboy. Wegener informed
him good-naturedly that he'd have to watch out for that on the next cruise, as three female crewmen
were scheduled to join the ship in less than two weeks' time, and it wouldn't do to offend their
sensibilities. That Panache had none aboard at the moment was a statistical anomaly, and the change
didn't trouble the captain greatly, though his senior chiefs were skeptical to say the least. There was
also the problem of who got to use the plumbing when, since female crewmen had not been
anticipated by the cutter's designers. It was the first time today that Red Wegener had had something
to smile about. The problems of taking women to sea… and the smile died again as the images from
the videotape came back to him. Those two women - no, a woman and a little girl - had gone to sea,
too, hadn't they… ?
It just wouldn't go away.
Wegener looked around and saw the questions forming on the faces of the men around him. The
skipper was pissed about something. They didn't know what it was, but knew that you don't want to
be around the captain when he was mad about something. Then they saw his face change. The
captain had just asked himself a question, they thought.
"Looks all right to me, people. Let's make sure we keep it that way." He nodded and walked
forward to his stateroom. Once there he summoned Chief Oreza.
The quartermaster arrived within a minute. Panache wasn't big enough to allow a longer walk
than that. "You called, Captain?"
"Close the door, Portagee, and grab a seat."
The master chief quartermaster was of Portuguese extraction, but his accent was New
England. Like Bob Riley he was a consummate seaman, and like his captain he was also a gifted
instructor. A whole generation of Coast Guard officers had learned the use of the sextant from this
swarthy, overweight professional. It was men like Manuel Oreza who really ran the Coast Guard,
and Wegener occasionally regretted leaving their ranks for officer status. But he hadn't left them
entirely, and in private Wegener and Oreza still communicated on a first-name basis.
"I saw the tape of the boarding, Red," Oreza said, reading his captain's mind. "You shoulda let
Riley snap the little fucker in half."
"That's not the way we're supposed to do things," Wegener said somewhat lamely.
"Piracy, murder, and rape - toss in the drugs for fun." The quartermaster shrugged his shoulders. "I
know what we oughta do with people like that. Problem is, nobody ever does."
Wegener knew what he meant. Although there was a new federal death-penalty law to deal with
drug-related murders, it had only rarely been invoked. The problem was simply that every drug
dealer arrested knew someone bigger who was even more desirable a target - the really big ones
never placed themselves in a position where the supposed long arm of the law could reach. Federal
law-enforcement agencies might have been omnipotent within U.S. borders, and the Coast Guard
might have plenipotentiary powers at sea - even to the point where they were allowed to board and
search numerous foreign-flag ships at will - but there were always limits. There had to be. The
enemy knew what those limits were, and it was really a simple thing to adapt to them. This was a
game whose fixed rules applied only to one side; the other was free to redefine its own rules at
will. It was simple for the big boys in the drug trade to keep clear, and there were always plenty of
smaller fry to take their chances on the dangerous parts - especially since their pay exceeded that of
any army in history. These foot soldiers were dangerous and clever enough to make the contest
difficult - but even when you caught them, they were always able to trade their knowledge for partial
immunity.
The result was that nobody ever seemed to pay in full. Except the victims, of course. Wegener's
train of thought was interrupted by something even worse.
"You know, Red, these two might get off entirely."
"Hold it, Portagee, I can't -"
"My oldest girl is in law school, skipper. You want to know the really bad news?" the chief
asked darkly.
"Go on."
"We get these characters to port - well, the helo brings them in tomorrow - and they ask for a
lawyer, right? Anybody who watches American TV knows that much. Let's say that they keep their
mouths shut till then. Then their lawyer says that his clients saw a drifting yacht yesterday morning
and boarded it. The boat they were on headed back to wherever it came from, and they decide to take
it to port to claim the salvage rights. They didn't use the radio because they didn't know how to work
it - you see that on the tape? It was one of those gollywog computer-driven scanners with the
hundred-page manual - and our friends don't reada da Eenglish so good. Somebody on the fishing
boat will corroborate part of the story. It's all a horrible misunderstanding, see? So the U.S.
Attorney in Mobile decides that he might not have a good-enough case, and our friends cop to a lesser
charge. That's how it works." He paused.
"That's hard to believe."
"We got no bodies. We got no witnesses. We have weapons aboard, but who can say who fired
them? It's all circumstantial evidence." Oreza smiled for a grim moment. "My daughter gave me a
good brief last month on how all this stuff works. They whistle up someone to back up their version
of how they got aboard - somebody clean, no criminal record - and all of a sudden the only real
witnesses are on the other side, and we got shit, Red. They cop to some little piddly-ass charge, and
that's it."
I_I
"But if they're innocent, why don't they -"
"Talk very much? Oh, hell, that's the easy part. A foreign-flag warship pulls up alongside and
puts an armed boarding party aboard. The boarding party points a bunch of guns at them, roughs them
up a bit, and they're so scared that they didn't say anything - that's what the lawyer'll say. Bet on
it. Oh, they prob'ly won't walk, but the prosecutor will be so afraid of losing the case that he'll look
for an easy way out. Our friends will get a year or two in the can, then they get a free plane ticket
home."
"But they're murderers."
"Sure as hell," Portagee agreed. "To get off, all they have to be is smart murderers. And there
might even be some other things they can say. What my girl taught me, Red, is that it's never as simple
as it looks. Like I said, you shoulda let Bob handle it. The kids would have backed you up,
Captain. You oughta hear what they're saying about this thing."
Captain Wegener was quiet for a moment. That made sense, didn't it? Sailors didn't change much
over the years, did they? On the beach they'd work mightily to get into every pair of female pants in
sight, but on the question of murder and rape, the "kids" felt the same way the old-timers did. Times
hadn't changed all that much after all. Men were still men. They knew what justice was, courts and
lawyers to the contrary.
Red thought about that for a few seconds. Then he rose and walked to his bookshelf. Next to his
current copy of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and The Manual of Courts Martialwas a
much older book better known by its informal title, "Rocks and Shoals." It was the old reference book
of regulations whose ancestry went back to the 18th century, and which had been replaced by the
UCMJ soon after World War II. Wegener's copy was an antique. He'd found it gathering dust in a
cardboard box fifteen years before at an old boat station on the California coast. This one had been
published in 1879, when the rules had been very different. It had been a safer world then, the captain
told himself. It wasn't hard to understand why. All you had to do was read what the rules had once
been…
"Thanks, Portagee. I've got a little work to do. I want you and Riley here at fifteen hundred."
Oreza stood. "Aye aye, sir." The quartermaster wondered for a moment what the captain had
thanked him for. He was skilled at reading the skipper's mind, but it didn't work this time. He knew
that something was going on in there. He just didn't know what it was. He also knew that he'd find
out at fifteen hundred. He could wait.
Wegener had lunch with his officers a few minutes later. He sat quietly at the end of the table
reading over some message traffic. His wardroom was young and informal. Table talk was as lively
as usual. The talk today was on the obvious subject, and Wegener allowed it to go on as he flipped
through the yellow sheets generated by the ship's printer. The thought that had come to him in his
stateroom was taking shape. He weighed the pluses and minuses in silence. What could they really
do to him? Not much, he judged. Would his people go along with him?
"I heard Oreza say that in the old days, they knew what to do about bastards like this," a lieutenant
(j.g.) observed at the far end of the table. There were affirmative grunts all around the table.
"Ain't 'progress' a bitch?" another noted. The twenty-four-year-old officer didn't know that he had
just made a decision for his commanding officer.
It would work, Wegener decided. He glanced up from his messages to look at the faces of his
officers. He'd trained them well, the captain thought. He'd had them for ten months now, and their
performance was as nearly perfect as any commander could ask. They'd been a sorry, dejected lot
when he'd arrived at the shipyard, but now they sparkled with enthusiasm. Two had grown
mustaches, the better to look like the seamen they'd become. All of them lounged in their hard-backed
chairs, radiating competence. They were proud of their ship and proud of their captain. They'd back
him up. Red joined the conversation, just to make sure, just to test the waters, just to decide who
would play a part and who would not.
He finished his lunch and returned to his cabin. The paperwork was still there, and he raced
through it as quickly as he could, then opened his "Rocks and Shoals." At fifteen hundred Oreza and
Riley arrived, and he outlined his plan. The two master chiefs were surprised at first, but fell into
line quickly.
"Riley, I want you to take this down to our guests. One of 'em dropped it on the bridge." Wegener
fished the cigarette pack out of his pocket. "There's a vent in the brig, isn't there?"
"Sure is, skipper," the bosun answered in some surprise. He didn't know about the "Calverts."
"We start at twenty-one hundred," the captain said.
"About the time the weather gets here," Oreza observed. "Fair enough, Red. You know you
wanna be real careful how you -"
"I know, Portagee. What's life without a few risks?" he asked with a smile.
Riley left first. He walked forward to a ladder, then down two levels and aft until he got to the
brig. The two were there, inside the ten-foot-square cage. Each lay on a bunk. They might have been
speaking before, but stopped when the door to the compartment opened. It seemed to the bosun that
someone might have included a microphone in the brig, but the district legal officer had once
explained that such an installation would be a violation of constitutional rights, or a violation of
search-and-seizure, or some such legalistic bullshit, the chief thought.
"Hey, Gomer," he said. The one on the lower bunk - the one he'd cracked across the bridge rail looked around to see who it was. He was rewarded with widening eyes. "You guys get lunch?" the
bosun asked.
"Yes." There was an accent there, but a funny one, the master chief thought.
"You dropped your smokes on the bridge awhile back." Riley tossed the pack through the
bars. They landed on the deck, and Pablo - the chief thought he looked like a Pablo - snatched them
up with a surprised look on his face.
"Thank you," the man said.
"Uh-huh. Don't you boys go anywhere without letting me know, hear?" Riley chuckled and
walked away. It was a real brig. The designers had gotten that part right, the master chief
thought. Even had its own head. That offended Riley. A prison cell on a Coast Guard
cutter. Hmph. But at least that meant you didn't have to detail a couple of men to guard the
gomers. At least not yet, Riley smiled to himself. Are you boys in for a surprise.
Weather at sea is always impressive. Perhaps it looks that way sweeping across a uniform
surface, or maybe the human mind simply knows that weather has a power at sea that it lacks on
land. There was a three-quarter moon tonight, allowing Wegener to watch the line squalls approach
at over twenty knots. There were sustained twenty-five-knot winds in there, and gusts almost double
that. Experience told him that the gentle four-foot swells that Panache rode through would soon be
whipped to a maniacal series of breaking waves and flying spray. Not all that much, really, but
enough to give his cutter an active ride. Some of his younger crewmen would presently regret
dinner. Well, that was something you had to learn about the sea. She didn't like people to overeat.
Wegener welcomed the storm. In addition to giving him the atmosphere he wanted, it also gave
him an excuse to fiddle with his watch bill. Ensign O'Neil had not yet conned the ship through heavy
weather and tonight would be his chance.
"Any problems, Mister?" the skipper asked the junior officer.
"No, sir."
"Okay, just remember that if anything comes up, I'll be in the wardroom." One of Wegener's
standing orders read: No watch officer will ever be reprimanded for calling the captain to the
bridge. Even if you only want to check the correct time: CALL ME! It was a common
hyperbole. You had to say such things, lest your junior officers be so afraid to bother the skipper that
they rammed a tanker by way of protecting his sleep - and ending his career. The mark of a good
officer, Wegener repeatedly told his youngsters, was willingness to admit he had something yet to
learn.
O'Neil nodded. Both men knew that there was nothing to worry about. It was just that the kid had
never learned first-hand that a ship handles a little differently with sea and wind on the
beam. Besides, Chief Owens was standing by. Wegener walked aft, and the boatswain's mate of the
watch announced, "Captain off the bridge."
In the crew's mess the enlisted men were settling down to watch a movie. It was a new tape, with
a "Hard R" notation on the plastic box. Riley had seen to that. Lots of T&A to keep their
attention. The same movie was available to the wardroom TV; young officers had the same hormonal
drives, but they wouldn't be exercised tonight.
The onrushing storm would serve to keep people off the weather decks, and the noise wouldn't
hurt either. Wegener smiled to himself as he pulled open the door to the wardroom. He couldn't have
planned it any better.
"Are we ready?" the captain asked.
The initial enthusiasm for the plan was gone. The reality of things had sunk in a little. That was
to be expected, Wegener thought. The youngsters were sober, but they weren't backing away
either. They needed someone to say something, and they got it.
"Ready here, sir," Oreza said from his seat at the far end of the table. The officers all nodded
agreement. Red walked to his seat in the center of the mess table. He looked at Riley.
"Bring 'em up here."
"Aye aye, sir."
The bosun left the room and proceeded down to the brig. On opening the door again, he caught
the acrid stink that made him think at first that there was a fire in the rope locker - but an instant later
the truth sprang on him.
"Shit," he growled disgustedly. On my ship! "Stand up, Gomer!" his voice boomed, adding,
"Both of ya'!"
The one on the lower bunk flipped his butt into the toilet and stood slowly, an arrogant smile on
his face. Riley answered it, and produced a key. That changed Pablo's smile, but didn't erase it.
"We're taking a little walk, children." The bosun also produced a pair of handcuffs. He figured
that he could handle both of them easily enough, especially stoned, but the skipper had been clear on
his instructions. Riley reached through the bars to yank one toward him. On a rough order to turn
around, the man complied, and allowed himself to be cuffed. So did the other. The lack of resistance
surprised the master chief. Next Riley unlocked the brig door and waved them out. As "Pablo"
passed, Riley removed the pack from his pocket and for want of something better, tossed it back on
the lower bunk.
"Come on." Riley grabbed each by the arm and led them forward. They walked unevenly - the
increased rolling of the ship didn't help, but there was more to it than that. It took three or four
minutes to reach the wardroom.
"The prisoners will be seated," Wegener announced when they arrived. "The court is called to
order."
Both of them stopped cold on hearing that, which told everybody something. Riley steered them
to their seats at the defense table after a moment. It is hard for a person to endure the stares of his
fellowman in silence, particularly when one knows that something is going on, but not quite what it
is. The big one broke the silence after a minute or so.
"What's happening?"
"Sir," Wegener replied evenly, "we are holding a summary court-martial." That only earned him a
curious look, and he went on, "The trial judge advocate will read the charges."
"Mr. President, the defendants are charged under the Eleventh Article of War with piracy, rape,
and murder. Each of these is a capital offense. Specifications: that on or about the fourteenth of this
month, the defendants did board the motor yacht Empire Builder; that while aboard they did murder
the four people aboard the vessel, that is, the owner and master, his wife, and their two minor
children; further, that in the course of these events the defendants did rape the wife and daughter of the
owner and master; further that the defendants did dismember and dispose of the bodies of the victims
prior to our boarding the vessel on the morning of the fifteenth. The prosecution will show that these
actions took place in the course of drug-running operations. Murder in the course of drug-related
activities is a capital offense under United States Code, Annotated. Further, murder in the course of
piracy, and rape in the course of piracy, are capital crimes under the Articles of War. As the court is
aware, piracy is a crime under the doctrine of jus gentium, and falls under the jurisdiction of any
interested warship. Further, murder attending piracy is, as I have stated, a capital crime. Although as
a ship of the United States Coast Guard we have de jure rights to board and seize any American-flag
vessel, that authority is not strictly necessary in a case of this kind. Therefore, this court has full
jurisdiction to try and, if necessary, execute the prisoners. The prosecution announces herewith its
intention to request the death penalty in this case."
"Thank you," Wegener said, turning to the defense table. "Do you understand the charges?"
"Huh?"
"What the trial judge advocate just said was that you are being tried for piracy, rape, and
murder. If you are found guilty, the court will then decide whether or not to execute you. You have
the right to legal counsel. Lieutenant Alison, sitting there at the table with you, is your defending
officer. Do you understand?" It took a few more seconds for things to sink in, but he understood all
right. "Does the defense waive full reading of charges and specifications?"
"Yes, Mr. President. Sir, the defense moves that the cases be tried individually, and begs the
indulgence of the court to confer with his clients."
"Sir, the prosecution objects to splitting the cases."
"Argument?" the captain asked. "Defense first."
"Sir, since, as the trial judge advocate has told us, this is to be a capital case, I beg the court's
indulgence to allow me to defend my clients as best I can under the circumstances, and -"
Wegener stopped him with a wave of the hand. "The defense correctly points out that, since this is
a capital case, it is customary to grant the utmost leeway to the defense. The court finds this a
persuasive argument and grants the motion. The court also grants the defense five minutes to confer
with his clients. The court suggests that the defense might instruct his clients to identify themselves
properly to the court."
The lieutenant took them to a corner of the room, still in handcuffs, and started talking to them
quietly.
"Look, I'm Lieutenant Alison, and I'm stuck with the job of keeping you two characters alive. For
starters, you'd better damned sight tell me who the hell you are!"
"What is this bullshit?" the tall one asked.
"This bullshit is a court-martial. You're at sea, mister, and in case nobody ever told you, the
captain of an American warship can do any goddamned thing he wants. You shouldn't have pissed
him off."
"So?"
"So, this is a trial, you asshole! You know, a judge, a jury. They can sentence you to death and
they can do it right here aboard the ship."
"Bullshit!"
"What's your name, for God's sake?"
"Yo' mama," the tall one said contemptuously. The other one looked somewhat less sure of
himself. The lieutenant scratched the top of his head. Eighteen feet away, Captain Wegener took note
of it.
"What the hell did you do aboard that yacht?"
"Get me a real lawyer!"
"Mister, I'm all the lawyer you're gonna get," the lieutenant said. "Haven't you figured that out
yet?"
The man didn't believe him, which was precisely what everyone had expected. The defending
officer led his clients back to their table.
"The court is back in session," Wegener announced. "Do we have a statement for the defense?"
"May it please the court, neither defendant chooses to identify himself."
"That does not please the court, but we must take that fact at face value. For the purposes of the
trial, we will identify your clients as John Doe and James Doe." Wegener pointed to designate which
was which. "The court chooses to try John Doe first. Is there any objection? Very well, the trial
judge advocate will begin presenting his case."
Which he did over the next twenty minutes, calling only one witness, Master Chief Riley, who
recounted the boarding and gave a color commentary to the videotape record of the boarding.
"Did the defendant say anything?"
"No, sir."
"Could you describe the contents of this evidence bag?" the prosecutor asked next.
"Sir, I think that's called a tampon. It appears to be used, sir," Riley said with some
embarrassment. "I found that under the coffee table in the yacht's main salon, close to a bloodstain actually these two on the photograph, sir. I don't use the things myself, you understand, sir, but in my
experience women don't leave them around on the floor. On the other hand, if someone was about to
rape a lady, this thing would be in the way, sort of, and he might just remove it and toss it out of the
way so's he could get on with it, like. If you see where I picked it up, and where the bloodstains are,
well, it's pretty obvious what happened there, sir."
"No further questions. The prosecution rests."
"Very well. Before the defense begins its case, the court wishes to ask if the defense intends to
call any witnesses other than the defendant."
"No, Mr. President."
"Very well. At this point the court will speak directly to the defendant." Wegener shifted his gaze
and leaned forward slightly in his chair. "In your own defense, sir, you have the right to do one of
three things. First, you can choose not to make any statement at all, in which case the court will draw
no inferences from your action. Second, you are allowed to make a statement not under oath and not
subject to cross-examination. Third, you may make a statement under oath and subject to crossexamination by the trial judge advocate. Do you understand these rights, sir?"
"John Doe," who had watched the preceding hour or so in amused silence, came awkwardly to his
feet. With his hands cuffed behind his back, he leaned slightly forward, and since the cutter was now
rolling like a log in a flume, he had quite a bit of trouble keeping his feet.
"What is all this shit?" he demanded, again making people wonder about his accent. "I want to go
back to my room and be left alone till I can get my own fucking lawyer."
"Mr. Doe," Wegener replied, "in case you haven't figured it out yet, you are on trial for piracy,
rape, and murder. This book" - the captain lifted his "Rocks and Shoals" - "says I can try you here
and now, and this book says that if we find you guilty, we can decide to hang you from the
yardarm. Now, the Coast Guard hasn't done this in over fifty years, but you better believe that I can
damned well do it if I want to! They haven't bothered changing the law. So now things are different
from what you expected, aren't they? You want a lawyer - you have Mr. Alison right there. You want
to defend yourself? Here's your chance. But, Mr. Doe, there is no appeal from this court, and you'd
better think about that real hard and real fast."
"I think this is all bullshit. Go fuck yourself!"
"The court will disregard the defendant's statement," Wegener said, struggling to keep his face
straight and sober, as befitting the presiding officer in a capital case.
Counsel for the defense spoke for fifteen minutes, making a valiant but futile attempt to counter the
weight of evidence already presented by the trial judge advocate. Case summaries took five minutes
each. Then it was time for Captain Wegener to speak again.
"Having heard the evidence, the members of the court will now vote on the verdict. This will be
by secret written ballot. The trial judge advocate will pass out the voting papers, and collect them."
This took less than one minute. The prosecutor handed each of the five members a slip of note
paper. The members of the court all looked at the defendant before and after marking their
votes. The prosecutor then collected the ballots, and after shuffling them in his hand about as adroitly
as a five-year-old with his Old Maid cards, handed them to the captain. Wegener unfolded the ballots
and set them on the table in front of him. He made a note in his yellow pad before speaking.
"Defendant will stand and face the court. Mr. Doe, do you have anything to say before sentence is
passed?"
He didn't, an amused, disbelieving smirk on his face.
"Very well. The court having voted, two-thirds of the members concurring, finds the defendant
guilty, and sentences him to death by hanging. Sentence to be carried out within the hour. May God
have mercy on your soul. Court is adjourned."
"Sorry, sir," the defense counsel said to his client. "You didn't give me much to work with."
"Now get me a lawyer!" Mr. Doe snarled.
"Sir, you don't need a lawyer just now. You need a priest." As if to emphasize that fact, Chief
Riley took him by the arm.
"Come on, sweetheart. You got a date with a rope." The master chief led him out of the room.
The other prisoner, known as James Doe, had watched the entire proceeding in fascinated
disbelief. The disbelief was still there, everyone saw, but it was more the sort of disbelief that you'd
expect to see on the face of a man stuck in front of an onrushing train.
"Do you understand what's going on here?" the lieutenant asked.
"This ain't real, man," the prisoner said, his voice lacking much of the conviction it might have
held an hour or so earlier.
"Hey, man, aren't you paying attention? Didn't they tell you guys that some of your kind just sort of
disappear out here? We've been doing this for almost six months. The prisons are all full up, and the
judges just don't want to be bothered. If we bag somebody and we have the evidence we need, they
let us handle things at sea. Didn't anybody tell you that the rules have changed some?"
"You can't do this!" he almost screamed in reply.
"Think so? Tell you what. In about ten minutes I'll take you topside, and you can watch. I'm
telling you, if you don't cooperate, we are not going to fuck around with you, pal. We're tired of
that. Why don't you just sit quiet and think it over, and when the time comes, I'll let you see how
serious we are." The lieutenant helped himself to a cup of coffee to pass the time, not speaking at all
to his client. About the time he finished, the door opened again.
"Hands topside to witness punishment," Chief Oreza announced.
"Come on, Mr. Doe. You'd better see this." The lieutenant took him by the arm and led him
forward. Just outside the wardroom door was a ladder that led upward. At the top of it was a
narrow passageway, and both men headed aft toward the cutter's vacant helicopter deck.
The lieutenant's name was Rick Alison. A black kid from Albany, New York, and the ship's
navigator, Alison thanked God every night for serving under Red Wegener, who was far and away the
best commander he'd ever met. He'd thought about leaving the service more than once, but now
planned on staying in as long as he could. He led Mr. Doe aft, about thirty feet from the festivities.
The seas were really rough now, Alison noted. He gauged the wind at over thirty knots, and the
seas at twelve or fourteen feet. Panache was taking twenty-five-degree rolls left and right of the
vertical, snapping back and forth like a kids' seesaw. Alison remembered that O'Neil had the conn,
and hoped that Chief Owens was keeping an eye on the boy. The new ensign was a good enough kid,
but he still had a lot to learn about ship handling, thought the navigator, who was a bare six years
older himself. Lightning flashed occasionally to starboard, flash-lighting the sea. Rain was falling in
solid sheets, the drops flying across the deck at a sharp angle and driven hard enough by the wind to
sting the cheeks. All in all it was the sort of night to make Edgar Allan Poe salivate at its
possibilities. There were no lights visible, though the cutter's white paint gave them a sort of ghostly
outline as a visual reference. Alison wondered if Wegener had decided to do this because of the
weather, or was it just a fortunate coincidence?
Captain, you've pulled some crazy shit since you came aboard, but this one really takes it.
There was the rope. Someone had snaked it over the end of the cutter's radio/radar mast. That
must have been fun, Alison thought. Had to have been Chief Riley. Who else would be crazy enough
to try?
Then the prisoner appeared. His hands were still behind his back. The captain and XO were
there, too. Wegener was saying something official, but they couldn't hear it. The wind whistled
across the deck, and through the mast structure with its many signal halyards - oh, that's what Riley
did, Alison realized. He'd used a halyard as a messenger line to run the one-inch hemp through the
block. Even Riley wasn't crazy enough to crawl the mast top in this weather.
Then some lights came on. They were the deck floods, used to help guide a helo in. They had the
main effect of illuminating the rain, but did give a slightly clearer picture of what was
happening. Wegener said one more thing to the prisoner, whose face was still set in an arrogant
cast. He still didn't believe it, Alison thought, wondering if that would change. The captain shook his
head and stepped back. Riley then placed the noose around his neck.
John Doe's expression changed at that. He still didn't believe it, but all of a sudden things were
slightly more serious. Five people assembled on the running end of the line. Alison almost
laughed. He'd known that was how it was done, but hadn't quite expected the skipper to go that far…
The final touch was the black hood. Riley turned the prisoner to face aft toward Alison and his
friend - there was another reason, as well - before surprising him with it. And finally it got through to
Mr. Doe.
'Noooooo!" The scream was perfect, a ghostly sort of cry that matched the weather and the wind
better than anyone might have hoped. His knees buckled as expected, and the men on the running end
of the line took the strain and ran aft. The prisoner's feet rose clear of the black no-skid deck as the
body jerked skyward. The legs kicked a few times, then were still before the line was tied off on a
stanchion.
"Well, that's that," Alison said. He took the other Mr. Doe by the arm and led him forward. "Now
it's your turn, sport."
Lightning flashed close aboard just as they reached the door leading back into the
superstructure. The prisoner stopped cold, looking up one last time. There was his companion, body
limp, swinging like a pendulum below the yard, hanging there dead in the rain.
"You believe me now?" the navigator asked as he pulled him inside. Mr. Doe's trousers were
already soaked from the falling rain, but they were wet for another reason as well.
The first order of business was to get dried off. When the court reconvened, everyone had
changed to fresh clothing. James Doe was now in a set of blue Coast Guard coveralls. His handcuffs
had been taken off and left off, and he found a hot cup of coffee waiting for him on the defense
table. He failed to note that Chief Oreza was no longer at the head table, nor was Chief Riley in the
wardroom at the moment. The entire atmosphere was more relaxed than it had been, but the prisoner
scarcely noticed that. James Doe was anything but calm.
"Mr. Alison," the captain intoned, "I would suggest that you confer with your client."
"This, one's real simple, sport," Alison said. "You can talk or you can swing. The skipper doesn't
give a shit one way or the other. For starters, what's your name?"
Jesús started talking. One of the officers of the court picked up a portable TV camera - the same
one used in the boarding, in fact - and they asked him to start again.
"Okay - do you understand that you are not required to say anything?" someone asked. The
prisoner scarcely noticed, and the question was repeated.
"Yeah, right, I understand, okay?" he responded without turning his head. "Look, what do you
want to know?"
The questions were already written down, of course. Alison, who was also the cutter's legal
officer, ran down the list as slowly as he could, in front of the video camera. His main problem was
in slowing the answers down enough to be intelligible. The questioning lasted forty minutes. The
prisoner spoke rapidly, but matter-of-factly, and didn't notice the looks he was getting from the
members of the court.
"Thank you for your cooperation," Wegener said when things were concluded. "We'll try to see
that things go a little easier for you because of your cooperation. We won't be able to do much for
your colleague, of course. You do understand that, don't you?"
"Too bad for him, I guess," the man answered, and everyone in the room breathed a little easier.
"We'll talk to the U.S. Attorney," the captain promised. "Lieutenant, you can return the prisoner to
the brig."
"Aye aye, sir." Alison took the prisoner out of the room as the camera followed. On reaching the
ladder to go below, however, the prisoner tripped. He didn't see the hand that caused it, and didn't
have time to look, as another unseen hand crashed down on the back of his neck. Next Chief Riley
broke the unconscious man's forearm, while Chief Oreza clamped a patch of ether-soaked gauze over
his mouth. The two chiefs carried him to sick bay, where the cutter's medical corpsman splinted the
arm. It was a simple green-stick fracture and required no special assistance. His undamaged arm
was secured to the bunk in sick bay, and he was allowed to sleep there.
The prisoner slept late. Breakfast was brought in to him from the wardroom, and he was allowed
to clean himself up before the helicopter arrived. Oreza came to collect him, leading him topside
again, and aft to the helo deck, where he found Chief Riley, who was delivering the other prisoner to
the helicopter. What James Doe - his real name had turned out to be Jesús Castillo - found
remarkable was the fact that John Doe - Ramón José Capati - was alive. A pair of DEA agents
seated them as far apart as possible, and had instructions to keep the prisoners separate. One had
confessed, the captain explained, and the other might not be overly pleased with that. Castillo
couldn't take his eyes off Capati, and the amazement in his eyes looked enough like fear that the agents
- who liked the idea of a confession in a capital case - resolved to keep the prisoners as far apart as
circumstances allowed. Along with them went all the physical evidence and several videotape
cassettes. Wegener watched the Coast Guard Dolphin helo power up, wondering how the people on
the beach would react. The sober pause that always follows a slightly mad act had set in, but
Wegener had anticipated that also. In fact, he figured that he'd anticipated everything. Only eight
members of the crew knew what had taken place, and they knew what they were supposed to
say. The executive officer appeared at Wegener's side.
"Nothing's ever quite what it seems, is it?"
"I suppose not, but three innocent people died. Instead of four." Sure as hell the owner wasn't
any angel, the captain reflected. But did they have to kill his wife and kids, too? Wegener stared
out at the changeless sea, unaware of what he had started or how many people would die because of
it.
4. Preliminaries
CHAVEZ'S FIRST INDICATION of how unusual this job really was came at San Jos
airport. Driven there in an unmarked rental van, they ended up in the general-aviation part of the
facility and found a private jet waiting for them. Now, that was really something. "Colonel Smith"
didn't board. He shook every man's hand, told them that they'd be met, and got back into the van. The
sergeants all boarded the aircraft which, they saw, was less an executive jet than a mini-airliner. It
even had a stewardess who served drinks. Each man stowed his gear and availed himself of a drink
except Chavez, who was too tired even to look at the young lady. He barely noted the plane's takeoff,
and was asleep before the climb-out was finished. Something told him that he ought to sleep while he
had the time. It was a common instinct for soldiers, and usually a correct one.
Lieutenant Jackson had never been at the Monterey facility, but his older brother had given him
the necessary instructions, and he found the O-Club without difficulty. He felt suddenly lonely. As he
locked his Honda he realized that his was the only Army uniform in view. At least it wasn't hard to
figure out whom to salute. As a second lieutenant, he had to salute damned near everybody.
"Yo, Timmy!" his brother called, just inside the door.
"Hiya, Rob." The two men embraced. Theirs was a close family, but Timmy hadn't seen his big
brother, Commander Robert Jefferson Jackson, USN, in almost a year. Robby's mother had died
years before. Only thirty-nine, she'd complained of a headache, decided to lie down for a few
minutes, and never stirred again, the victim of a massive stroke. It had later been determined that she
was an undiagnosed hypertensive, one of many American blacks cursed by the symptomless
malady. Her husband, the Reverend Hosiah Jackson, mourned her loss along with the community in
which both had raised their family. But pious man that Reverend Jackson was, he was also a father
whose children needed a mother. Four years later he'd remarried, to a twenty-three-year-old
parishioner, and started afresh. Timothy was the first child of his second union. His fourth son had
followed a path similar to the first's. An Annapolis graduate, Robby Jackson flew fighter aircraft for
the Navy. Timmy had won an appointment at West Point, and looked forward to a career in the
infantry. Another brother was a physician, and the fourth was a lawyer with political
ambitions. Times had changed in Mississippi.
It would have been hard for an observer to determine which brother was prouder of the
other. Robby, with three gold stripes on his shoulder boards, bore on his breast pocket the gold star
that denoted a former command at sea - in his case, VF-41, a squadron of F-14 Tomcat fighters. Now
working in the Pentagon, Robby was on his way to command of a Carrier Air Wing, and after that
perhaps his own carrier. Timothy, on the other hand, had been the family runt for quite a few years,
but West Point had changed that with a vengeance. He had two solid inches on his older brother, and
at least fifteen more pounds of muscle. There was a Ranger flash on his shoulder above the hourglass
insignia of his division. Another boy had been turned into a man, the old-fashioned way.
"Lookin' good, boy," Robby observed. "How 'bout a drink?"
"Not too many, I've been up for a while."
"Long day?"
"Long week, as a matter of fact," Tim replied, "but I did get a nap yesterday."
"Nice of 'em," the elder Jackson observed with some fraternal concern.
"Hey, if I wanted an easy life, I woulda joined the Navy." The brothers had a good laugh on the
way to the bar. Robby ordered John Jameson, a taste introduced to him by a friend. Tim settled for a
beer. Conversation over dinner, of course, began with catching up on family matters, then turned to
shop talk.
"Not real different from what you do," Timmy explained. "You try to get in close and smoke a guy
with a missile before he knows you're there. We try to get in close and shoot him in the head before
he knows where we are. You know about that, don't you, big brother?" Timmy asked with a smile
that was touched with envy. Robby had been there once.
"Once was enough," Robby answered soberly. "I leave that close-quarter crap to idiots like you."
"Yeah, well, last night we were the forward element for the battalion. My lead squad went in
beautiful. The OPFOR - excuse me, Opposing Force - was a bunch from the California Guard,
mainly tanks. They got careless about how they set up, and Sergeant Chavez was inside the laager
before they knew about it. You oughta see this guy operate. I swear, Rob, he's nearly invisible when
he wants to be. It's going to be a bitch to replace him."
"Huh?"
"Just transferred out this afternoon. I was going to lose him in a couple weeks anyway, but they
lifted him early to go to Fort Benning. Whole bunch of good sergeants moved out today." Tim paused
for a moment. "All Spanish ones. Coincidence." Another pause. "That's funny, wasn't León supposed
to go to Fort Benning, too?"
"Who's León?"
"Sergeant E-6. He was in Ben Tucker's platoon - Ben and I played ball together at the
Point. Yeah, he was supposed to be going to Ranger School as an instructor in a couple of weeks. I
wonder why him and Chavez left together? Ah, well, that's the Army for you. So how do you like the
Pentagon?"
"Could be worse," Robby allowed. "Twenty-five more months, and thank God Almighty, I'll be
free at last. I'm in the running for a CAG slot," the elder brother explained. He was at the career
stage where things got really sticky. There were more good men than jobs to be filled. As with
combat operations, one of the determining factors now was pure luck. Timmy, he saw, didn't know
about that yet.
The jet landed after a flight of just under three hours. Once on the ground it taxied to the cargo
terminal at the small airport. Chavez didn't know which one. He awoke still short of the sleep he
needed when the plane's door was wrenched open. His first impression was that there wasn't much
air here. It seemed an odd observation to make, and he wrote it off to the usual confusion following a
nap.
"Where the hell are we?" another sergeant asked.
"They'll tell you outside," the attendant replied. "Y'all have a nice time here." The smile that
accompanied the answer was too charming to merit a further challenge.
The sergeants collected their bags and shuffled out of the aircraft, finding yet another van waiting
for them. Chavez got his question answered before he boarded it. The air was very thin here, all
right, and in the west he saw why. The last glow of sunset illuminated the jagged outline of mountains
to the west. Easterly course, three hours' flight time, and mountains: he knew at once they were
somewhere in the Rockies, even though he'd never really been there. His last view of the aircraft as
the van rolled off showed a fueling truck moving toward it. Chavez didn't quite put it together. The
aircraft would be leaving in less than thirty minutes. Few people would have noticed that it had even
been there, much less trouble themselves to wonder why.
Clark's hotel room was a nice one, befitting his cover. There was an ache at the back of his head
to remind him that he was still not fully adjusted to the altitude, but a couple of Tylenol caplets went
to work on that, and he knew that his job didn't involve much in the way of physical activity. He
ordered breakfast sent up and went through some setting-up exercises to work the kinks out of his
muscles. The morning jog was definitely out, however. Finished, he showered and shaved. Service
was good here. Just as he got his clothes on, breakfast arrived, and by nine o'clock he was ready for
work. Clark took the elevator down to the lobby, then went outside. The car was waiting. He got in
the front.
"Buenos diás," the driver said. "There may be rain this afternoon."
"If so, I have my coat."
"A cold rain, perhaps."
"The coat has a liner," Clark said, finishing the code sequence.
"Whoever thought that one up was bright enough," the man said. "There is rain in the
forecast. The name's Larson."
"Clark." They didn't shake hands. It just wasn't done. Larson, which probably wasn't his real
name either, Clark thought, was about thirty, with dark hair that belied his vaguely Nordic
surname. Locally, Carlos Larson was thought to be the son of a Danish father and a Venezuelan
mother, and he ran a flying school, a service much in demand. He was a skilled pilot who taught what
he knew and didn't ask many questions, which appealed to his clientele. He didn't really need to ask
questions - pilots, especially student pilots, talk a good deal - and he had a good memory for every
sort of detail, plus the sort of professional expertise that invited lots of requests for advice. It was
also widely believed that he'd financed his business by making a few highly illegal flights, then
semiretired to a life of luxury. This legend created bona fides for the people in whom he had interest,
but did so without making him any sort of adversary. He was a man who'd done what was needed to
get what he wanted, and now lived the sort of life that he'd wanted to live. That explained the car,
which was the most powerful BMW made, and the expensive apartment, and the mistress, a
stewardess for Avianca whose real job was as a courier for CIA. Larson thought it all a dream
assignment, the more so because the stewardess really was his lover, a fringe benefit that might not
have amused the Agency's personnel directorate. The only thing that bothered him was that his
placement in Colombia was also unknown to the station chief. A relatively inexperienced agent,
Larson - Clark would have been surprised to learn that that was his real name - knew enough about
how the Agency worked to realize that separate command loops generally denoted some sort of
special operation. His cover had been established over a period of eighteen months, during which
he'd been required to do not very much in return. Clark's arrival was probably the signal that all of
that was about to change. Time to earn his pay.
"What's the plan of the day?" Clark asked.
"Do a little flying. We'll be down before the weather goes bad," Larson added.
"I know you have an instrument rating."
"I will take that as a vote of confidence," the pilot said with a smile as he drove toward the
airport. "You've been over the photos, of course."
"Yeah, about three days' worth. I'm just old-fashioned enough that I like to eyeball things
myself. Maps and photos don't tell you everything."
"They told me the mission profile is just to fly around straight and level, no buzzing or circling to
get people mad." The nice thing about having a flying school was that its aircraft were expected to be
all over the place, but if one showed specific interest in specific people, they might take note of your
registration number, and they might come down to the airport to ask why. The people who lived in
Medellín were not known to ask such questions politely. Larson was not afraid of them. So long as
he maintained his cover, he knew that he had little to worry about. At the same time, he was a pro,
and pros are careful, especially if they want to last.
"Sounds okay to me." Clark knew the same things. He'd gotten old in a dangerous business by
taking only the necessary risks. Those were bad enough. It wasn't very different from playing the
lottery. Even though the odds were against one's hitting the number, if you played the game long
enough, the right - or wrong - number would appear, no matter how careful you were. Except in this
lottery the prize wasn't money. It was an unmarked, shallow grave, and you got that only if the
opposition remembered something about religion.
He couldn't decide if he liked the mission or not. On the one hand, the objective was worthy
enough. On the other… But Clark wasn't paid to make that sort of evaluation. He was paid to do, not
to think very much about it. That was the main problem with covert operations. You had to risk your
life on the judgment of others. It was nice to know why, but the decision-makers said knowing why
often had the effect of making the job all the more dangerous. The field operators didn't always
believe that. Clark had that problem right now.
The Twin-Beech was parked in the general-aviation section of El Dorado International
Airport. It didn't require too much in the way of intelligence to make an accurate assessment of what
the aircraft were used for. There were too many expensive cars, and far too many expensive aircraft
to be explained by the Colombian gentry. These were toys for the newly rich. Clark's eyes swept
over them, his face showing neutral interest.
"Wages of sin ain't bad, are they?" Larson chuckled.
"What about the poor bastards who're paying the wages?"
"I know about that, too. I'm just saying that they're nice airplanes. Those Gulfstreams - I'm
checked out on 'em - that's one sweet-handlin' bird."
"What do they cost?" Clark asked.
"A wise man once said, if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it."
"Yeah." Clark's mouth twisted into a smile. But some things carry a price that's not measured
in dollars. He was already getting into the proper frame of mind for the mission.
Larson preflighted the Beech in about fifteen minutes. He'd just flown in ninety minutes earlier,
and few private pilots would have bothered to run through the whole checklist, but Larson was a good
pilot, which meant he was before all things a careful one. Clark took the right-side cockpit seat,
strapping in as though he were a student pilot on his first hop. Commercial traffic was light at this
hour, and it was easy to taxi into the takeoff pattern. About the only surprise was the long takeoff roll.
"It's the altitude," Larson explained over the intercom headset as he rotated off the runway. "It
makes the controls a little mushy at low speed, too. No problem. Like driving in the snow - you just
have to pay attention." He moved the lever to bring the gear up, leaving the aircraft at full power to
claw up to altitude as quickly as possible. Clark scanned the instruments and saw nothing obviously
awry, though it did seem odd to show nine thousand feet of altitude when you could still pick out
individual people on the ground.
The aircraft banked to the left, taking a northwesterly heading. Larson backed off on the throttles,
commenting that you also had to pay close attention to engine temperatures here, though the cooling
systems on the twin Continental engines were beefed up to allow for it. They were heading toward
the country's mountainous spine. The sky was clear and the sun was bright.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
"It is that," Clark agreed. The mountains were covered with emerald-green trees whose leaves
shimmered with moisture from the night's rain. But Clark's trained eyes saw something else. Walking
these hills would be a cast-iron bitch. About the only good thing to be said was that there was good
cover under which people could conceal themselves. The combination of steep hills and thin air
would make this place an arduous one. He hadn't been briefed on what exactly was going to happen,
but he knew enough to be glad that the hard part of the job would not be his.
The mountain ranges in Colombia run on a southwest-to-northeast vector. Larson picked a
convenient pass to fly over, but the winds off the nearby Pacific Ocean made the crossing bumpy.
"Get used to it. Winds are picking up today because of the weather front that's moving in. They
really boil around these hills. You ought to see what real bad weather is like."
"Thanks, but no thanks! Not much in the way of places to land in case things -"
"Go bad?" Larson asked. "That's why I pay attention to the checklist. Besides, there are more
little strips down there than you might imagine. Of course, you don't always get a welcome when you
decide to use one. Don't sweat it. I just put new engines on this bird a month ago. Sold the old ones
to one of my students for his old King Air. It belongs to the Bureau of Customs now," Larson
explained.
"Did you have any part in that?"
"Negative! Look, they expect me to know why all these kids are taking lessons. I'm not supposed
to be dumb, right? So I also teach them standard evasion tactics. You can read them in any decent
book, and they expect me to be able to do that. Pablo wasn't real big on reading. Hell of a natural
pilot, though. Too bad, really, he was a nice enough kid. They bagged him with fifty keys. I
understand he didn't talk much. No surprise there. Gutsy little bastard."
"How well motivated are these folks?" Clark had seen lots of combat once, and he knew that the
measure of an enemy is not to be found by counting his weapons.
Larson frowned at the sky. "Depends on what you mean. If you change the word from 'motivated'
to 'macho,' that about covers it. You know, the cult of manliness, that sort of thing. Part of it's kinda
admirable. These people have a funny sense of honor. For example, the ones I know socially treat
me just fine. Their hospitality is impressive, especially if you show a little deference, which
everyone does. Besides, I'm not a business rival. What I mean is, I know these people. I've taught a
bunch of them to fly. If I had a money problem, I could probably go to them for help and get it. I'm
talking like half a million in cash on a handshake - and I'd walk out of the hacienda with the cash in a
briefcase. I'd have to make some courier flights to square things, of course. And I'd never have to
pay the money back. On the other hand, if I screwed them, well, they'd make damned sure that I paid
for that, too. They have rules. If you live by them, you're fairly safe. If not, you'd better have your
bags packed."
"I know about the ruthlessness. What about the brains?"
"They're as smart as they have to be. What smarts they don't have, they buy. They can buy
anything, anybody. Don't underestimate them. Their security systems are state-of-the-art, like what
we put on ICBM silos - shit, maybe better than that. They're protected as tightly as we protect the
President, except their shooters are less restrained by rules of engagement. I suppose the best
indicator on how smart they are is the fact that they've banded together to form the cartel. They're
smart enough to know that gang wars cost everybody, so they formed a loose alliance. It ain't perfect,
but it works. People who try to break into the business mostly end up dead. Medellín is an easy town
to die in."
"Cops? Courts?"
"The locals have tried. Lots of dead cops, lots of dead judges to prove it," Larson said with a
shake of the head. "Takes a lot for people to keep plugging away when they can't see any
results. Then toss in the money angle. How often can a man walk away from a suitcase full of taxfree hundred-dollar bills? Especially when the alternative is certain death for himself and his
family. The cartel is smart, my friend, and it's patient, and it has all the resources it needs, and it's
ruthless enough to scare a veteran Nazi. All in all, that's some enemy." Larson pointed to a gray
smudge in the distance. "There's Medellín. Drugs 'R'Us, all in that one little city in the valley. One
nuke could settle things, say about two megatons, air-burst four thousand feet AGL. I wonder if the
rest of the country would really mind… ?"
That earned Larson a glance from his passenger. Larson lived here, knew a lot of these people,
and even liked some, as he'd just said. But his hatred for them occasionally peeked through his
professional detachment. The best sort of duplicity. This kid had a real future in the Agency, Clark
decided. Brains and passion both. If he knew how to maintain a proper balance of the two, he could
go places. Clark reached into his bag for a camera and a pair of binoculars. His interest wasn't in the
city itself.
"Nice places, aren't they?"
The drug chieftains were growing increasingly security-conscious. The hilltops around the city
were all being cleared of trees. Clark counted over a dozen new homes already. Homes, he thought
with a snort. Castles was more like it. Walled fortresses. Enormous dwelling structures surrounded
by low walls, surrounded in turn by hundreds of yards of clear, steep slopes. What people found
picturesque about Italian villages and Bavarian castles was always the elegant setting. Always on the
top of a hill or mountain. You could easily imagine the work that went into such a beautiful place clearing the trees, hauling the stone blocks up the slopes, and ending up with a commanding view of
the countryside that extended for miles. But the castles and villages hadn't been built in such places
for fun, and neither had these houses. The heights meant that no one could approach them
unobserved. The cleared ground around those houses was known in terse military nomenclature as a
killing zone, a clear field of fire for automatic weapons. Each house had a single road up to a single
gate. Each house had a helipad for a fast evacuation. The wall around each was made of stone that
would stop any bullet up to fifty caliber. His binoculars showed that immediately inside each wall
was a gravel or concrete path for guards to walk. A company of trained infantrymen would have no
easy time assaulting one of these haciendas. Maybe a helicopter assault, supported by mortars and
gunships… Christ, Clark thought to himself, what am I thinking about?
"What about house plans?"
"No problem. Three architectural firms have designed these places. Security isn't all that good
there. Besides, I've been in that one for a party - just two weeks ago, as a matter of fact. I guess that's
one area they're not too smart in. They like to show their places off. I can get you floor plans. The
satellite overheads will show guard strength, vehicle garaging, all that sort of thing."
"They do." Clark smiled.
"Can you tell me exactly what you're here for?"
"Well, they want an evaluation of the physical characteristics of the terrain."
"I can see that. Hell, I could do that easy enough from memory." Larson's question was not so
much curiosity as his slight offense at not being asked to do this job himself.
"You know how it is at Langley," was the statement Clark used to dismiss the observation.
You're a pilot , Clark didn't say. You've never humped afield pack in the boonies. I have. If
Larson had known his background, he could have made an intelligent guess, but what Clark did for the
Agency, and what he'd done before joining, were not widely known. In fact, they were hardly known
at all.
"Need-to-know, Mr. Larson," Clark said after another moment.
"Roger that," the pilot agreed over the intercom.
"Let's do a photo pass."
"I'll do a touch-and-go at the airport first. We want to make it look good."
"Fair enough," Clark agreed.
"What about the refining sites?" Clark asked after they headed back to El Dorado.
"Mainly southwest of here," Larson answered, turning the Beech away from the valley. "I've never
seen one myself - I'm not in that part of the business, and they know it. If you want to scout them out,
you go around at night with imaging IR equipment, but they're hard to track in on. Hell, they're
portable, easy to set up, and easy to move. You can load the whole assembly on a medium truck and
set it up ten miles away the next day."
"Not that many roads…"
"What you gonna do, search every truck that comes along?" Larson asked. "Besides, you can manpack it if you want. Labor's cheap down here. The opposition is smart, and adaptable."
"How much does the local army get involved?" Clark had been fully briefed, of course, but he
also knew that a local perspective might not agree with Washington's - and might be correct.
"They've tried. Biggest problem they have is sustaining their forces - their helicopters don't spend
twenty percent of their time in the air. That means they don't do many ops. It means that if anyone
gets hit he might not get medical attention very fast - and that hurts performance when they do run
ops. Even then - you can guess what the government pays a captain, say. Now imagine that
somebody meets that captain at a local bar, buys him a drink, and talks to him. He tells the captain
that he might want to be in the southwestern corner of his sector tomorrow night - well, anywhere but
the northeastern sector, okay? If he decides to patrol one part of his area, but not another, he gets a
hundred thousand dollars. Okay, the other side has enough money that they can pay him up front just
to see if he'll cooperate. Seed money, kind of. Once he shows he can be bought, they settle down to a
smaller but regular payment. Also, the other side has enough product that they can let him do some
real seizures once in a while, once they know he's theirs, to make him look good. Someday that
captain grows up and becomes a colonel who controls a lot more territory… It's not because they're
bad people, it's just that things are so fucking hopeless. Legal institutions are fragile down here and hell, look at the way things are at home, for Christ's sake. I -"
"I'm not criticizing anybody, Larson," Clark said. "Not everybody can take on a hopeless mission
and keep at it." He turned to look out the side window and smiled to himself. "You have to be a little
crazy to do that."
5. Beginnings
CHAVEZ AWOKE WITH the headache that accompanies initial exposure to a thin atmosphere,
the sort that begins just behind the eyes and radiates around the circumference of one's head. For all
that, he was grateful. Throughout his career in the Army, he'd never failed to awaken a few minutes
before reveille. It allowed him an orderly transition from sleep to wakefulness and made the wakingup process easier to tolerate. He turned his head left and right, inspecting his environment in the
orange twilight that came through the uncurtained windows.
The building would be called a barracks by anyone who did not regularly live in one. To Chavez
it seemed more of a hunting camp, a guess that was wholly accurate. Perhaps two thousand square
feet in the bunk room, he judged, and he counted a total of forty single metal-frame bunks, each with a
thin GI mattress and brown GI blanket. The sheets, however, were fitted, with elastic at the corners;
so he decided that there wouldn't be any of the bouncing-quarter bullshit, which was fine with
him. The floor was bare, waxed pine, and the vaulted ceiling was supported by smoothed-down pine
trunks in lieu of finished beams. It struck the sergeant that in hunting season people - rich people actually paid to live like this: proof positive that money didn't automatically confer brains on
anyone. Chavez didn't like barracks life all that much, and the only reason he'd not opted for a private
apartment in or near Fort Ord was his desire to save up for that Corvette. To complete the illusion, at
the foot of each bed was a genuine Army-surplus footlocker.
He thought about getting up on his elbows to look out the windows, but knew that the time for that
would come soon enough. It had been a two-hour drive from the airport, and on arrival each man had
been assigned a bunk in the building. The rest of the bunks had already been filled with sleeping,
snoring men. Soldiers, of course. Only soldiers snored like that. It had struck him at the time as
ominous. The only reason why young men would be asleep and snoring just after ten at night was
fatigue. This was no vacation spot. Well, that was no surprise either.
Reveille came in the form of an electric buzzer, the kind associated with a cheap alarm
clock. That was good news. No bugle - he hated bugles in the morning. Like most professional
soldiers, Chavez knew the value of sleep, and waking up was not a cause for celebration. Bodies
stirred around him at once, to the accompaniment of the usual wake-up grumbles and profanity. He
tossed off the blanket and was surprised to learn how cold the floor was.
"Who're you?" the man in the next bunk said while staring at the floor.
"Chavez, Staff Sergeant. Bravo, 3rd of the 17th."
"Vega. Me, too. Headquarters Company, lst/22nd. Get in last night?"
"Yep. What gives here?"
"Well, I don't really know, but they sure did run us ragged yesterday," Staff Sergeant Vega
said. He stuck his hand out. "Julio."
"Domingo. Call me Ding."
"Where you from?"
"L.A."
"Chicago. Come on." Vega rose. "One good thing about this place, you got all the hot water you
want, and no Mickey Mouse on the housekeeping. Now, if they could just turn the fucking heat on at
night -"
"Where the hell are we?"
"Colorado. I know that much. Not much else, though." The two sergeants joined a loose trail of
men heading for the showers.
Chavez looked around. Nobody was wearing glasses. Everybody looked pretty fit, even
accounting for the fact that they were soldiers. A few were obvious iron-pumpers, but most, like
Chavez, had the lean, wiry look of distance runners. One other thing that was so obvious it took him
half a minute to notice it. They were all Latinos.
The shower helped. There was a nice, tall pile of new towels, and enough sinks that everyone
had room to shave. And the toilet stalls even had doors. Except for the thin air, Chavez decided, this
place had real possibilities. Whoever ran the place gave them twenty-five minutes to get it
together. It was almost civilized.
Civilization ended promptly at 0630. The men got into their uniforms, which included stout boots,
and moved outside. Here Chavez saw four men standing in a line. They had to be officers. You
could tell from the posture and the expressions. Behind the four was another, older man, who also
looked and acted like an officer, but… not quite, Chavez told himself.
"Where do I go?" Ding asked Vega.
"You're supposed to stick with me. Third squad, Captain Ramirez. Tough mother, but a good
guy. Hope you like to run, 'mano."
"I'll try not to crap out on ya'," Chavez replied.
Vega turned with a grin. "That's what I said."
"Good morning, people!" boomed the voice of the older one. "For those of you who don't know
me, I am Colonel Brown. You newcomers, welcome to our little mountain hideaway. You've
already gotten to your proper squads, and for everyone's information, our TO and E is now
complete. This is the whole team."
It didn't surprise Chavez that Brown was the only obvious non-Latino to be seen. But he didn't
know why he wasn't surprised. Four others were walking toward the assembly. They were PT
instructors. You can always tell from the clean, white T-shirts and the confidence that they could
work anyone into the ground.
"I hope everyone got a good night's sleep," Brown went on. "We will start our day with a little
exercise -"
"Sure," Vega muttered, "might as well die before breakfast."
"How long you been here?" Ding asked quietly.
"Second day. Jesus, I hope it gets easier. The officers musta been here a week at least - they
don't barf after the run."
"- and a nice little three-mile jog through the hills," Brown ended.
"That's no big deal," Chavez observed.
"That's what I said yesterday," Vega replied. "Thank God I quit smokin'."
Ding didn't know how to react to that. Vega was another light infantryman from the 10th
Mountain, and like himself was supposed to be able to move around all day with fifty pounds of gear
on his back. But the air was pretty thin, thin enough that Chavez wondered just how high they were.
They started off with the usual daily dozen, and the number of repeats wasn't all that bad, though
Chavez found himself breaking a slight sweat. It was the run that told him how tough things would
get. As the sun rose above the mountains, he got a feel for what sort of country it was. The camp was
nestled in the bottom of a valley, and comprised perhaps fifty acres of almost flat ground. Everything
else looked vertical, but on inspection proved to be slopes of less than forty-five degrees, dotted with
scruffy-looking little pine trees that would never outgrow the height for Christmas decorations. The
four squads, each led by an instructor and a captain, moved in different directions, up horse trails
worn into the mountainside. In the first mile, Chavez reckoned, they had climbed over five hundred
feet, snaking their way along numerous switchbacks toward a rocky knoll. The instructor didn't
bother with the usual singing that accompanied formation running. There wasn't much of a formation
anyway, just a single-file of men struggling to keep pace with a faceless robot whose white shirt
beckoned them on toward destruction. Chavez, who hadn't run a distance less than three miles, every
day for the last two years of his life, was gasping for breath after the first. He wanted to say
something, like, "There isn't any fuckin' air!" But he didn't want to waste the oxygen. He needed
every little molecule for his bloodstream. The instructor stopped at the knoll to make sure everyone
was there, and Chavez, jogging doggedly in place, had the chance to see a vista worthy of an Ansel
Adams photograph - all the better in the full light of a morning sun. But his only thought on being able
to see over forty miles was terror that he'd have to run it all.
God, I thought I was in shape!
Hell, I am in shape!
The next mile traced a ridgeline to the east, and the sun punished eyes that had to stay alert. This
was a narrow trail, and going off it could involve a painful fall. The instructor gradually picked up
the pace, or so it seemed, until he stopped again at another knoll.
"Keep those legs pumpin'!" he snarled at those who'd kept up. There were two stragglers, both
new men, Chavez thought, and they were only twenty yards back. You could see the shame on their
faces, and the determination to catch up. "Okay, people, it's downhill from here."
And it was, mostly, but that only made it more dangerous. Legs rubbery from the fatigue that
comes from oxygen deprivation had to negotiate a downward slope that alternated from gradual to
perilously steep, with plenty of loose rocks for the unwary. Here the instructor eased off on the pace,
for safety as everyone guessed. The captain let his men pass, and took up the rear to keep an eye on
things. They could see the camp now. Five buildings. Smoke rose from a chimney to promise
breakfast. Chavez saw a helipad, half a dozen vehicles - all four-wheel-drives - and what could only
be a rifle range. There was no other sign of human habitation in sight, and the sergeant realized that
even the wide view he'd had earlier hadn't shown any buildings closer than five or six miles. It
wasn't hard to figure out why the area was sparsely settled. But he didn't have time or energy for
deep thoughts at the moment. His eyes locked on the trail, Ding Chavez concentrated on his footing
and the pace. He took up a position alongside one of the erstwhile stragglers and kept an eye on
him. Already Chavez was thinking of this as his squad, and soldiers are supposed to look out for one
another. But the man had firmed up. His head was high now, his hands balled into tight, determined
fists, and his powerfully exhaled breaths had purpose in them as the trail finally flattened out and they
approached the camp. Another group was coming in from the far side.
"Form up, people!" Captain Ramirez called out for the first time. He passed his men and took the
place of the instructor, who peeled off to let them by. Chavez noted that the bastard wasn't even
sweating. Third Squad formed into a double line behind their officer.
"Squad! Quick-time, march!" Everyone slowed to a regular marching pace. This took the strain
off lungs and legs, told them that they were now the custody of their captain, and reminded them that
they were still part of the Army. Ramirez delivered them in front of their barracks. The captain
didn't order anyone to sing a cadence, though. That made him smart, Chavez thought, smart enough to
know that nobody had enough breath to do so. Julio was right, probably. Ramirez might be a good
boss.
"Squad, halt!" Ramirez turned. "At ease, people. Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"Madre de Dios!" a voice noted quietly. From the back rank, a man tried to vomit but couldn't
find anything to bring up.
"Okay." Ramirez grinned at his men. "The altitude is a real bitch. But I've been here two
weeks. You get used to it right quick. Two weeks from now, we'll be running five miles a day with
packs, and you'll feel just fine."
Bullshit. Chavez shared the thought with Julio Vega, knowing that the captain was right, of
course. The first day at boot camp had been harder than this… hadn't it?
"We're taking it easy on you. You have an hour to unwind and get some breakfast. Go easy on the
chow: we'll have another little run this afternoon.
At 0800 we assemble here for
training. Dismissed."
"Well?" Ritter asked.
They sat on the shaded veranda of an old planter's house on the island of St. Kitts. Clark
wondered what they'd planted here once. Probably sugarcane, though there was nothing now. What
had once been a plantation manor was obviously supposed to look like the island retreat of a topdrawer capitalist and his collection of mistresses. In fact it belonged to CIA, which used it as an
informal conference center, a particularly nice safe house for the debriefing of VIP defectors, and
other, more mundane uses - like a vacation spot for senior executives.
"The background info was fairly accurate, but it underestimated the physical difficulties. I'm not
criticizing the people who put the package together. You just have to see it to believe it. It's very
tough country." Clark stretched in the wicker chair and reached for his drink. His personal seniority
at the Agency was many levels below Ritter's, but Clark was one of a handful of CIA employees
whose position was unique. That, plus the fact that he often worked personally for the Deputy
Director (Operations), gave him the right to relax in the DDO's presence. Ritter's attitude toward the
younger man was not one of deference, but he did show Clark considerable respect. "How's Admiral
Greer doing?" Clark asked. It was James Greer who'd actually recruited him, many years before.
"Doesn't look very good. Couple of months at most," Ritter replied.
"Damn." Clark stared into his drink, then looked up. "I owe that man a lot. Like my whole
life. They can't do anything?"
"No, it's spread too much for that. They can keep him comfortable, that's about all. Sorry. He's
my friend, too."
"Yes, sir, I know." Clark finished off his drink and went back to work. "I still don't know exactly
what you have in mind, but you can forget about going after them in their houses."
"That tough?"
Clark nodded. "That tough. It's a job for real infantry with real support, and even then you're
going to take real casualties. From what Larson tells me, the security troops these characters have are
pretty good. I suppose you might try to buy a few off, but they're probably well paid already, so that
might just backfire." The field officer didn't ask what the real mission was, but he assumed it was to
snatch some warm bodies and whisk them off stateside, where they'd arrive gift-wrapped in front of
some FBI office, or maybe a U.S. courthouse. Like everyone else, he was making an incorrect guess.
"Same thing with bagging one on the move. They take the usual precautions - irregular schedules,
irregular routes, and they have armed escorts everywhere they go. So bagging one on the fly means
having good intel, which means having somebody on the inside. Larson is as close to being inside as
anybody we've ever run, and he's not close enough. Trying to get him in closer will get him
killed. He's gotten us some good data - Larson's a pretty good kid - and the risks of trying that are just
too great. I presume the local people have tried to -"
"They have. Six of them ended up dead or missing. Same thing with informers. They disappear a
lot. The locals are thoroughly penetrated. They can't run any sort of op for long without risking their
own. You do that long enough and people stop volunteering."
Clark shrugged and looked out to seaward. There was a white-hulled cruise ship inbound on the
horizon. "I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at how tough these bastards are. Larson was
right, what brains they don't already have they can buy. Where do they hire their consultants?"
"Open market, mainly Europe, and -"
"I mean the intel pros. They must have some real spooks."
"Well, there's Félix Cortez. That's only a rumor, but the name's come up half a dozen times in the
past few months."
"The DGI colonel who disappeared," Clark observed. The DGI was Cuba's intelligence service,
modeled on the Soviet KGB. Cortez had been reported working with the Macheteros, a Puerto Rican
terrorist group that the FBI had largely run to ground in the past few years. Another DGI colonel
named Filiberto Ojeda had been arrested by the Bureau, after which Cortez had disappeared. So he'd
decided to remain outside his country's borders. Next question: had Cortez decided to opt for this
most vigorous branch of the free-enterprise system or was he still working under Cuban
control? Either way, DGI was Russian-trained. Its senior people were graduates of the KGB's own
academy. They were, therefore, opponents worthy of respect. Certainly Cortez was. His file at the
Agency spoke of a genius for compromising people to get information.
"Larson know about this?"
"Yeah. He caught the name at a party. Of course, it would help if we knew what the hell Cortez
looks like, but all we have is a description that fits half the people south of the Rio Grande. Don't
worry. Larson knows how to be careful, and if anything goes wrong, he's got his own airplane to get
out of Dodge with. His orders are fairly specific on that score. I don't want to lose a trained field
officer doing police work." Ritter added, "I sent you down for a fresh appraisal. You know what the
overall objective is. Tell me what you think is possible."
"Okay. You're probably right to go after the airfields and to keep it an intelligence-gathering
operation. Given the necessary surveillance assets, we could finger processing sites fairly easily, but
there's a lot of them and their mobility demands a rapid reaction time to get there. I figure that'll work
maybe a half-dozen times, max, before the other side wises up. Then we'll take casualties, and if the
bad guys get lucky, we might lose a whole assault force - if you've got people thinking in those
terms. Tracking the finished product from the processing sites is probably impossible without a
whole lot of people on the ground - too many to keep it a covert op for very long - and it wouldn't buy
us very much anyway. There are a lot of little airfields on the northern part of the country to keep an
eye on, but Larson thinks that they may be victims of their own success. They've been so successful
buying off the military and police in that district that they might be falling into a regular pattern of
airfield use. If the insertion teams keep a low profile, they could conceivably operate for two months
- that may be a little generous - before we have to yank them out. I need to see the teams, see how
good they are."
"I can arrange that," Ritter said. He'd already decided to send Clark to Colorado. Clark was the
best man to evaluate their capabilities. "Go on."
"What we're setting up will go all right for a month or two. We can watch their aircraft lift off
and call it ahead to whoever else is wrapped up in this." This was the only part of the op that Clark
knew about. "We can inconvenience them for that long, but I wouldn't hope for much more."
"You're painting a fairly bleak picture, Clark."
Clark leaned forward. "Sir, if you want to run a covert operation to gather usable tactical
intelligence against an adversary who's this decentralized in his own operations - yes, it's possible,
but only for a limited period of time and only for a limited return. If you increase the assets to try and
make it more effective, you're going to get blown sure as hell. You can run an operation like that, but
it can't be for long. I don't know why we're even bothering." That wasn't quite true. Clark figured,
correctly, that the reason was that it was an election year, but that wasn't the sort of observation a
field officer was allowed to make - especially when it was a correct one.
"Why we're bothering isn't strictly your concern," Ritter pointed out. He didn't raise his
voice. He didn't have to, and Clark was not a man to be intimidated.
"Fine, but this is not a serious undertaking. It's an old story, sir. Give us a mission we can do, not
one we can't. Are we serious about this or aren't we?"
"What do you have in mind?" Ritter asked.
Clark told him. Ritter's face showed little in the way of emotion at the answer to his
question. One of the nice things about Clark, Ritter thought to himself, was that he was the only man
in the Agency who could discuss these topics calmly and dispassionately - and really mean it. There
were quite a few for whom such talk was an interesting intellectual exercise, unprofessional
speculation, really, gotten consciously or subconsciously from reading spy fiction. Gee, wouldn't it
be nice if we could… It was widely believed in the general public that the Central Intelligence
Agency employed a goodly number of expert professionals in this particular field. It didn't. Even the
KGB had gotten away from such things, farming this kind of work out to the Bulgarians - regarded by
their own associates as uncouth barbarians - or genuine third-parties like terrorist groups in Europe
and the Middle East. The political cost of such operations was too high, and despite the mania for
secrecy cultivated by every intelligence service in the world, such things always got out
eventually. The world had gotten far more civilized since Ritter had graduated from The Farm on the
York River, and while he thought that a genuinely good thing, there were times when a return to the
good old days beckoned with solutions to problems that hadn't quite gone away.
"How hard would it be?" Ritter asked, interested.
"With the proper backup and some additional assets - it's a snap." Clark explained what special
assets were needed. "Everything they've done plays into our hands. That's the one mistake they've
made. They're conventional in their defensive outlook. Same old thing, really. It's a matter of who
determines the rules of the game. As things now stand, we both play by the same rules, and those
rules, as applied here, give the advantage to the opposition. We never seem to learn that. We always
let the other side set the rules. We can annoy them, inconvenience them, take away some of their
profit margin, but, hell, given what they already make, it's a minor business loss. I only see one thing
changing that."
"Which is?"
"How'd you like to live in a house like that one?" Clark asked, handing over one of his
photographs.
"Frank Lloyd Wright meets Ludwig the Mad," Ritter observed with a chuckle.
"The man who commissioned that house is growing quite an ego, sir. They have manipulated
whole governments. Everyone says that they are a government for all practical purposes. They said
the same thing in Chicago during Prohibition, that Capone really ran the town - just one city,
right? Well, these people are on their way to running their own country, and renting out others. So
let's say that they do have the de facto power of a government. Factor ego into that. Sooner or later
they're going to start acting like one. I know we won't break the rules. But it wouldn't surprise me if
they stepped outside them once or twice, just to see what they might get away with. You see what I
mean? They keep expanding their own limits, and they haven't found the brick wall yet, the one that
tells them where to stop."
"John, you're turning into a psychologist," Ritter noted with a thin smile.
"Maybe so. These guys peddle addictive drugs, right? Mostly they do not use the stuff
themselves, but I think they're getting themselves hooked on the most powerful narcotic there is."
"Power."
Clark nodded. "Sooner or later, they're going to OD. At that point, sir, somebody's going to think
seriously about what I just proposed. When you get into the majors, the rules change some. That's a
political decision, of course."
He was master of all he surveyed. At least that was the phrase that came to mind, and with all
such aphorisms it could be both true and false at the same time. The valley into which he looked did
not all belong to him; the parcel of land on which he stood was less than a thousand hectares, and his
vista included a million. But not one person who lived within his view could continue to live were
he to decide otherwise. That was the only sort of power that mattered, and it was a form of power
that he had exercised on occasions too numerous to count. A flick of the wrist, a casual remark to an
associate, and it was done. It wasn't that he had ever been casual about it - death was a serious
business - but he knew that he could be. It was the sort of power that might make a man mad, he
knew. He'd seen it happen among his own business associates, to their sorrow on several
occasions. But he was a student of the world, and a student of history. Unusually, for someone in his
chosen trade, he was the beneficiary of a good education, something forced on him by his late father,
one of the pioneers. One of the greatest regrets of his life was that he'd never expressed his gratitude
for it. Because of it he understood economics as well as any university professor. He understood
market forces and trends. And he understood the historical forces that brought them about. He was a
student of Marxism; though he rejected the Marxist outlook for a multiplicity of reasons, he knew that
it contained more than one grain of truth intermixed with all the political gibberish. The rest of his
professional education had been what Americans called "on-the-job training." While his father had
helped invent a whole new way of doing business, he had watched and advised, and taken
action. He'd explored new markets, under his father's direction, and formed the reputation of a
careful, thorough planner, often sought after but never apprehended. He'd been arrested only once,
but after two of the witnesses had died, the others had grown forgetful, ending his direct experience
with police and courts.
He deemed himself a carry-over from another age - a classic robber-baron capitalist. A hundred
years before, they'd driven railroads across the United States - he was a genuine expert on that
country - and crushed anything in their path. Indian tribes - treated like a two-legged version of the
plains buffalo and swatted aside. Unions - neutralized with hired thugs. Governments - bribed and
subverted. The press - allowed to bray on… until too many people listened. He'd learned from that
example. The local press was no longer terribly outspoken, not after learning that its members were
mortal. The railroad barons had built themselves palatial homes - winter ones in New York, and
summer "cottages" at Newport. Of course, he had problems that they'd not faced, but any historical
model broke down if you took it too far. He also chose to ignore the fact that the Goulds and the
Harrimans had built something that was useful, not destructive, to their societies. One other lesson he
had learned from the previous century was that cutthroat competition was wasteful. He had
persuaded his father to seek out his competitors. Even then his powers of persuasion had been
impressive. Cleverly, it had been done at a time when danger from outside forces made cooperation
attractive. Better to cooperate, the argument had gone, than to waste time, money, energy, and blood and increase their own personal vulnerabilities. And it had worked.
His name was Ernesto Escobedo. He was one of many within the Cartel, but most of his peers
would acknowledge that his was a voice to which all listened. They might not all agree, not all bend
to his will, but his ideas were always given the attention they deserved because they had proven to be
effective ones. The Cartel had no head as such, since the Cartel was not a single enterprise, but
rather a collection of leaders who operated in close confederation - almost a committee, but not quite;
almost friends, but not that either. The comparison to the American Mafia suggested itself, but the
Cartel was both more civilized and more savage than that. Escobedo would have chosen to say that
the Cartel was more effectively organized, and more vigorous, both attributes of a young and vital
organization, as opposed to one that was older and feudal.
He knew that the sons of the robber barons had used the wealth accumulated by their antecedents
to form a power elite, coming to rule their nation with their "service." He was unwilling to leave such
a legacy to his sons, however. Besides, he himself was technically one of the second
generation. Things moved more quickly now. The accumulation of great wealth no longer demanded
a lifetime, and, therefore, Ernesto told himself, he didn't have to leave that to his sons. He could have
it all. The first step in accomplishing any goal was deciding that it was possible. He had long since
come to that decision.
It was his goal to see it done. Escobedo was forty, a man of uncommon vigor and confidence. He
had never used the product which he provided for others, instead altering his consciousness with
wine - and that rarely, now. A glass or two with dinner; perhaps some hard liquor at business
meetings with his peers, but more often Perrier. This trait earned him more respect among his
associates. Escobedo was a sober, serious man, they all knew. He exercised regularly, and paid
attention to his appearance. A smoker in his youth, he'd broken the habit young. He watched his
diet. His mother was still alive and vigorous at seventy-three; her mother was the same at ninetyone. His father would have been seventy-five last week, he knew, except for… but the people who'd
ended his father's life had paid a savage price for their crime, along with all of their families, mostly
at Escobedo's own hand. It was something he remembered with filial pride, taking the last one's wife
while her dying husband watched, killing her and the two little ones before his eyes closed for the last
time. He took no pleasure in killing women and children, of course, but such things were
necessary. He'd shown that one who was the better man, and as word of the feat spread, it had
become unlikely that his family would ever be troubled again. He took no pleasure from it, but
history taught that harsh lessons made for long memories. It also taught that those who failed to teach
such lessons would not be respected. Escobedo demanded respect above all things. His personal
involvement in settling that particular account, instead of leaving it to hirelings, had earned him
considerable prestige within the organization. Ernesto was a thinker, his associates said, but he knew
how to get things done.
His wealth was so great that counting it had no point. He had the godlike power of life and
death. He had a beautiful wife and three fine sons. When the marriage bed palled, he had a choice of
mistresses. Every luxury that money could purchase, he had.
He had homes in the city below him, this hilltop fortress, and ranches near the sea - both seas, in
fact, since Colombia borders on two great oceans. At the ranches were stables full of Arabian
horses. Some of his associates had private bull rings, but that sport had never interested him. A
crack shot, he had hunted everything that his country offered - including men, of course. He told
himself that he ought to be satisfied. But he was not.
The American robber barons had traveled the world, had been invited to the courts of Europe,
had married off their progeny to that of noble houses - a cynical exercise, he knew, but somehow a
worthy one that he fully understood. The freedoms were denied him, and though the reason for it was
plain enough, he was nevertheless offended that a man of his power and wealth could be denied
anything. Despite everything that he had accomplished, there were still limits on his life - worse still,
the limits were placed there by others of lesser power. Twenty years earlier he had chosen his path
to greatness, and despite his obvious success, the fact that he'd chosen that particular path denied him
the fruits that he wanted, because lesser men did not approve of it.
It had not always been so. "Law?" one of the great railroad men had said once. "What do I care
about law?" And he had gotten away with it, had traveled about at will, had been recognized as a
great man.
So why not me? Escobedo asked himself. Part of him knew the answer, but a more powerful part
rejected it. He was not a stupid man, far less a foolish one, but he had not come so far to have others
set rules upon his life. Ernesto had, in fact, violated every rule he wished, and prospered from it. He
had gotten here by making his own rules, the businessman decided. He would have to learn to make
some new ones. They would learn to deal with him, on terms of his own choosing. He was tired of
having to accommodate the terms of others. Having made the decision, he began to explore methods.
What had worked for others?
The most obvious answer was success. That which one could not defeat, one had to
acknowledge. International politics had as few rules as any other major enterprise, except for the
only one that mattered - success. There was not a country in the world that failed to make deals with
murderers, after all; it was just that the murderers in question had to be effective ones. Kill a few
million people and one was a statesman. Did not every nation in the world kowtow to the Chinese and had they not killed millions of their own? Didn't America seek to accommodate the Russians and had they not killed millions of their own? Under Carter, the Americans had supported the regime
of Pol Pot, which had killed millions of its own. Under Reagan, America had sought to reach a
modus vivendi with the same Iranians who had killed so many of their own, including most of those
who thought of America as a friend - and been abandoned. America befriended dictators with bloody
hands - some on the right and some on the left - in the name of realpolitik, while refusing to support
moderates - left or right - because they might not be quite moderate enough. Any country so lacking in
principle could come to recognize him and his associates, couldn't it? That was the central truth
about America in Ernesto's view. While he had principles from which he would not deviate,
America did not.
The corruption of America was manifest to Ernesto. He, after all, fed it. For years now, forces in
his largest and most important market had lobbied to legalize his business there. Fortunately they had
all failed. That would have been disaster for the Cartel, and was yet another example of how a
government lacked the wit to act in its own self-interest. The American government could have made
billions from the business - as he and his associates did - but lacked the vision and the good sense to
do so. And they called themselves a great power. For all their supposed strength, the yanquis had no
will, no manhood. He could regulate the goings-on where he lived, but they could not. They could
range over oceans, fill the air with warplanes - but use them to protect their own interests? He shook
his head with amusement.
No, the Americans were not to be respected.
6. Deterrence
FELIX CORTEZ TRAVELED with a Costa Rican passport. If someone noted his Cuban accen
he'd explain that his family had left that country when he was a boy, but by carefully selecting his port
of entry, he avoided that notice. Besides, he was working on the accent. Cortez was fluent in three
languages - English and Russian in addition to his native Spanish. A raffishly handsome man, his
tropical complexion was barely different from a vacationer's tan. The neat mustache and customtailored suit proclaimed him a successful businessman, and the gleaming white teeth made him a
pleasant one at that. He waited in the immigration line at Dulles International Airport, chatting with
the lady behind him until he got to the INS inspector, as resignedly unhurried as any frequent traveler.
"Good afternoon, sir," the inspector said, barely looking up from the passport. "What brings you
to America?"
"Business," Cortez replied.
"Uh-huh," the inspector grunted. He flipped through the passport and saw numerous entry
stamps. The man traveled a lot, and about half his trips in the previous… four years were to the
States. The stamps were evenly split between Miami, Washington, and Los Angeles. "How long will
you be staying?"
"Five days."
"Anything to declare?"
"Just my clothes, and my business notes." Cortez held up his briefcase.
"Welcome to America, Mr. Díaz." The inspector stamped the passport and handed it back.
"Thank you." He moved off to collect his bag, a large and well-used two-suiter. He tried to come
through American airports at slack hours. This was less for convenience than because it was unusual
for someone who had something to hide. At slack times the inspectors had all the time they needed to
annoy people, and the sniffer dogs weren't rushed along the rows of luggage. It was also easier to
spot surveillance when the airport concourses were uncrowded, of course, and Cortez/Díaz was an
expert at countersurveillance.
His next stop was the Hertz counter, where he rented a full-size Chevy. Cortez had no love for
Americans, but he did like their big cars. The routine was down pat. He used a Visa card. The
young lady at the counter asked the usual question about joining the Hertz Number One Club, and he
took the proffered brochure with feigned interest. The only reason he used a rental car company more
than once was that there weren't enough to avoid repetition. Similarly, he never used the same
passport twice, nor the same credit cards. At a place near his home he had an ample supply of
both. He had come to Washington to see one of the people who made that possible.
His legs were still stiff as he walked out to get his car - he could have taken the courtesy van, but
he'd been sitting for too long. The damp heat of a late spring day reminded him of home. Not that he
remembered Cuba all that fondly, but his former government had, after all, given him the training that
he needed for his current job. All the school classes on Marxism-Leninism, telling people who
scarcely had food to eat that they lived in paradise. In Cortez's case, they'd had the effect of telling
him what he wanted out of life. His training in the DGI had given him the first taste of privilege, and
the unending political instruction had only made his government look all the more grotesque in its
claims and its goals. But he'd played the game, and learned what he'd needed to learn, exchanging his
time for training and field work, learning how capitalist societies work, learning how to penetrate and
subvert them, learning their strong points and weak ones. The contrast between the two was
entertaining to the former colonel. The relative poverty in Puerto Rico had looked like paradise to
him, even while working along with fellow Colonel Ojeda and the Machetero savages to overthrow it
- and replace it with Cuba's version of socialist realism. Cortez shook his head in amusement as he
walked toward the parking lot.
Twenty feet over the Cuban's head, Liz Murray dropped her husband off behind a vanload of
travelers. There was barely time for a kiss. She had errands to run, and they'd call Dan's flight in
another ten minutes.
"I ought to be back tomorrow afternoon," he said as he got out.
"Good," Liz replied. "Remember the movers."
"I won't." Dan closed the door and took three steps. "I mean, I won't forget, honey…" He turned in
time to see his wife laughing as she drove off; she'd done it to him again. "It's not fair," he grumbled
to himself. "Bring you back from London, big promotion, and second day on the job they drop you in
the soup." He walked through the self-opening doors into the terminal and found a TV monitor with
his flight information. He had only one bag, and that was small enough to carry on. He'd already
reviewed the paperwork - it had all been faxed to Washington by the Mobile Field Office and was the
subject of considerable talk in the Hoover Building.
The next step was getting through the metal detector. Actually he bypassed it. The attendant gave
out the usual, "Excuse me, sir," and Murray held up his ID folder, identifying himself as Daniel
E. Murray, Deputy Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There was no way he
could have passed through the magnetometer, not with the Smith & Wesson automatic clipped to his
belt, and people in airports tended to get nervous if he showed what he was carrying. Not that he shot
that well with it. He hadn't even requalified yet. That was scheduled for the next week. They
weren't so strict about that with top-level FBI management - his main workplace hazard now came
from staple pullers - but though Murray was a man with few vanities, shooting skill was one of
them. For no particular reason, Murray was worried about that. After four years in London as the
legal attaché, he knew that he needed some serious practice before he would shoot "expert" with
either hand again, especially with a new gun. His beloved stainless-steel Colt Python .357 was in
retirement. The Bureau was switching over to automatics, and on his arrival in his new office he'd
found the engraved S&W gift-wrapped on his desk, a present arranged by his friend Bill Shaw, the
newly appointed executive assistant director (Investigations). Bill always had been a class
act. Murray switched the bag to his left hand and surreptitiously checked to see that the gun was in
place, much as an ordinary citizen might check for his wallet. The only bad thing about his London
duty was being unarmed. Like any American cop, Murray felt slightly naked without a gun, even
though he'd never had cause to use one in anger. If nothing else, he could make sure that this flight
didn't go to Cuba. He wouldn't have much chance to do hands-on law enforcement anymore, of
course. Now he was part of management, another way of saying that he was too old to be useful,
Murray told himself as he selected a seat close to the departure gate. The problem at hand was about
as close as he was going to get to handling a real case, and it was happening only because the
Director had got hold of the file and called in Bill Shaw who, in turn, had decided that he wanted
someone he knew to take a look at it. It promised to be ticklish. They were really starting him off
with a cute one.
The flight took just over two hours of routine boredom and a dry meal. Murray was met at the
gate by Supervisory Special Agent Mark Bright, assistant special-agent-in-charge of the Mobile Field
Office.
"Any other bags, Mr. Murray?"
"Just this one - and the name's Dan," Murray replied. "Has anybody talked to them yet?"
"Not in yet - that is, I don't think so." Bright checked his watch. "They were due in about ten, but
they got called in on a rescue last night. Some fishing boat blew up and the cutter had to get the crew
off. It made the morning TV news. Nice job, evidently."
"Super," Murray observed. "We're going in to grill a friggin' hero, and he's gone and done it
again."
"You know this guy's background?" Bright asked. "I haven't had much chance to -"
"I've been briefed. Hero's the right word. This Wegener's a legend. Red Wegener's called the
King of SAR - that means search-and-rescue. Half the people who've ever been to sea, he's saved at
one time or another. At least that's the word on the guy. He's got some big-time friends on The Hill,
too."
"Like?"
"Senator Billings of Oregon." Murray explained why briefly.
"Chairman of Judiciary. Why couldn't he just have stayed with Transportation?" Bright asked the
ceiling. The Senate Judiciary Committee had oversight duties for the FBI.
"How new are you on this case?"
"I'm here because DEA liaison is my job. I didn't see the file until just before lunch. Been out of
the office for a couple of days," Bright said as he walked through the door. "We just had a baby."
"Oh," Murray noted. You couldn't blame a man for that. "Congratulations. Everyone all right?"
"Brought Marianne home this morning, and Sandra is the cutest thing I ever saw. Noisy, though."
Murray laughed. It had been quite a while since he'd had to handle an infant. Blight's car turned
out to be a Ford whose engine purred like a well-fed tiger. Some paperwork on Captain Wegener lay
on the front seat. Murray leafed through it while Bright picked his way out of the airport parking
lot. It fleshed out what he'd heard in Washington.
"This is some story."
"How 'bout that." Bright nodded. "You don't suppose this is all true, do you?"
"I've heard some crazy ones before, but this one would be the all-time champ." Murray paused.
"The funny thing is -"
"Yeah," the younger agent agreed. "Me, too. Our DEA colleagues believe it, but what broke
loose out of this - I mean, even if the evidence is all tossed, what we got out of this is so -"
"Right." Which was the other reason Murray was involved in the case. "How important was the
victim?"
"Big-time political connections, directorships of banks, the University of Alabama, the usual
collection of civic groups - you name it. This guy wasn't just a solid member of the community, he
was goddamned Stone Mountain." Both men knew that was in Georgia, but the point was made. "Old
family, back to a Civil War general. His grandfather was a governor."
"Money?"
Bright grunted. "More than I'd ever need. Big place north of town, still a working farmplantation, I guess you'd call it, but that's not where it comes from. He put all the family money into
real-estate development. Very successfully as far as we can tell. The development stuff is a maze of
small corporations - the usual stuff. We've got a team working, but it'll take awhile to sort through
it. Some of the corporate veils are overseas, though, and we may never get it all. You know how that
goes. We've barely begun to check things out."
" 'Prominent local businessman tied to drug kingpins.' Christ, he hid things real well. Never had a
sniff?"
"Nary a one," Bright admitted. "Not us, not DEA, not the local cops. Nothing at all."
Murray closed the file and nodded at the traffic. This was only the opening crack in a case that
could develop into man-years of investigative work. Hell, we don't even know exactly what we're
looking for yet, the deputy assistant director told himself. All we do know is that there was a cold
million dollars in used twenties and fifties aboard the good ship Empire Builder. So much cash
could only mean one thing - but that wasn't true. It could mean lots of things, Murray thought,
"Here we are."
Getting onto the base was easy enough, and Bright knew the way to the pier. Panache looked
pretty big from the car, a towering white cliff with a bright-orange stripe and some dark smudgemarks
near midships. Murray knew that she was a small ship, but one needed a big ocean to tell. By the
time he and Bright got out of the car, someone got on the phone at the head of the gangway, and
another man appeared there within seconds. Murray recognized him from the file. It was Wegener.
The man had the muddy remains of what had once been red hair, but was now sprinkled with
enough gray to defy an accurate description. He looked fit enough, the FBI agent thought as he came
up the aluminum brow, a slight roll at the waist, but little else. A tattoo on his forearm marked him
for a sailorman, and the impassive eyes marked the face of a man unaccustomed to questioning of any
kind.
"Welcome aboard. I'm Red Wegener," the man said with enough of a smile to be polite.
"Thank you, Captain. I'm Dan Murray and this is Mark Bright."
"They told me you were FBI," the captain observed.
"I'm a deputy assistant director, down from Washington. Mark's the assistant special-agent-incharge of the Mobile Office." Wegener's face changed a bit, Murray saw.
"Well, I know why you're here. Let's go to my cabin to discuss things."
"What's with all the scorching?" Dan asked as the captain led off. There was something about the
way he'd said that. Something… odd.
"Shrimp boat had an engine fire. Happened five miles away from us last night while we were on
the way in. The fuel tanks blew just as we came alongside. Got lucky. Nobody killed, but the mate
was burned some."
"How about the boat?" Bright asked.
"Couldn't save her. Getting the crew off was pretty tricky." Wegener held open the door for his
visitors. "Sometimes that's the best you can do. You gentlemen want any coffee?"
Murray declined. His eyes really bored in on the captain now. More than anything else, Dan
thought, he looked embarrassed. Wrong emotion. Wegener got his guests seated, then took his chair
behind the desk.
"I know why you're here," Red announced. "It's all my fault."
"Uh, Captain, before you go any further -" Bright tried to say.
"I've pulled some dumb ones in my time, but this time I really fucked up," Wegener went on as he
lit his pipe. "You don't mind if I smoke, do you?"
"No, not at all," Murray lied. He didn't know what was coming, but he knew that it wasn't what
Bright thought. He knew several other things that Bright didn't know, also. "Why don't you tell us
about it?"
Wegener reached into his desk drawer and pulled something out. He tossed it to Murray. It was a
pack of cigarettes.
"One of our friends dropped this on the deck and I had one of my people give this back to them. I
figured - well, look at it. I mean, it looks like a pack of cigarettes, right? And when we have people
in custody, we're supposed to treat 'em decent, right? So, I let 'em have their smokes. They're joints,
of course. So, when we questioned them - especially the one who talked - well, he was high as a
kite. That screws it all up, doesn't it?"
"That's not all, Captain, is it?" Murray asked innocently.
"Chief Riley roughed one of 'em up. My responsibility. I talked to the chief about it. The, uh, I
forget his name - the obnoxious one - well, he spit on me, and Riley was there, and Riley got a little
pissed and roughed him up some. He should not have done it, but this is a military organization, and
when you spit on the boss, well, the troops might not like it. So Riley got a little out of hand - but it
happened on my ship and it's my responsibility."
Murray and Bright exchanged a look. The suspects hadn't talked about that at all.
"Captain, that's not why we're here exactly," Murray said after a moment.
"Oh?" Wegener said. "Then why?"
"They say that you executed one of them," Bright replied. The stateroom was quiet for a
moment. Murray could hear someone hammering on something, but the loudest noise came from the
air-conditioning vent.
"They're both alive, aren't they? There were only two of them, and they're both alive. I sent that
tape on the helicopter when we searched the yacht. I mean, if they're both alive, which one did we
shoot?"
"Hanged," Murray said. "They say you hanged one."
"Wait a minute." He lifted the phone and punched a button. "Bridge, captain speaking. Send the
XO to my stateroom. Thank you." The phone went back into place, and Wegener looked up. "If it's all
right with you, I want my executive officer to hear this also."
Murray managed to keep his face impassive. You should have known, Danny, he told
himself. They've had plenty of time to work out the little details, and Mr. Wegener is nobody's
fool. He's got a U.S. senator to hide behind, and he handed us two coldblooded killers. Even
without the confession, there's enough evidence for a capital murder case, and if you trash
Wegener, you run the risk of losing that. The prominence of the victim - well, the U.S. Attorney
won't go for it. No chance… There wasn't a United States Attorney in all of America who lacked
political ambition, and putting these two in the electric chair was worth half a million votes. Murray
couldn't run the risk of screwing this case up. FBI Director Jacobs had been a federal prosecutor, and
he'd understand. Murray decided that it might make things a lot easier.
The XO appeared a moment later, and after introductions were exchanged, Bright went on with
his version of what the subjects had told the local FBI office. It took about five minutes during which
Wegener puffed on his pipe and let his eyes go slightly wide.
"Sir," the XO told Bright when he was finished. "I've heard a couple of good sea stories, but that
one's the all-time champ."
"It's my fault," Wegener grumbled with a shake of the head. "Lettin' 'em have their pot back."
"How come nobody noticed what they were smoking?" Murray asked, less with curiosity for the
answer than for the skill with which it was delivered. He was surprised when the XO replied.
"There's an A/C return right outside the brig. We don't keep a constant watch on prisoners - these
were our first, by the way - because that's supposed to be unduly intimidating or something. Anyway,
it's in our procedure book that we don't. Besides, we don't have all that many people aboard that we
can spare 'em. What with the smoke getting sucked out, nobody noticed the smell until that
night. Then it was too late. When we brought them into the wardroom for questioning - one at a time;
that's in the book, too - they were both kinda glassy-eyed. The first one didn't talk. The second one
did. You have the tape, don't you?"
"Yes, I've seen it," Bright answered.
"Then you saw that we read them their rights, right off the card we carry, just like it says. But hung 'em? Damn. That's crazy. I mean, that's really crazy. We don't - I mean, we can't. I don't even
know when it was legal to do it."
"The last time I know about was 1843," the captain said. "The reason there's a Naval Academy at
Annapolis is because some people got strung up on USS Somers. One of them was the son of the
Secretary of War. Supposedly it, was an attempted mutiny, but there was quite a stink about it. We
don't hang people anymore," Wegener concluded wryly. "I've been in the service a long time, but I
don't go that far back."
"We can't even have a general court-martial," the XO added. "Not by ourselves, I mean. The
manual for that weighs about ten pounds. Gawd, you need a judge, and real lawyers, all that
stuff. I've been in the service for almost nine years, and I've never even seen a real one - just the
practice things in law classes at the Academy. All we ever do aboard is Captain's Mast, and not
much of that."
"Not a bad idea, though. I wouldn't have minded hanging those sons of bitches," Wegener
observed. It struck Murray as a very strange, and very clever, thing to say. He felt a little sorry for
Bright, who'd probably never had a case go this way. In that sense Murray was grateful for his time
as legal attaché in London. He understood politics better than most agents.
"Oh?"
"When I was a little kid, they used to hang murderers. I grew up in Kansas. And you know, there
weren't many murders back then. Course, we're too civilized to do that now, and so we got murders
every damned day. Civilized," Wegener snorted. "XO, did they ever hang pirates like this?"
"I don't think so. Blackbeard's crew was tried at Williamsburg - ever been there? - the old
courthouse in the tourist part of the place. I remember hearing that they were actually hung where one
of the Holiday Inns is. And Captain Kidd was taken home to England for hanging, wasn't he? Yeah,
they had a place called Execution Dock or something like that. So - no, I don't think they really did it
aboard ship, even in the old days. Damn sure we didn't do it. Christ, what a story."
"So it never happened," Murray said, not in the form of a question.
"No, sir, it did not," Wegener replied. The XO nodded to support his captain.
"And you're willing to say that under oath."
"Sure. Why not?"
"If it's all right with you, I also need to speak to one of your chiefs. It's the one who 'assaulted' the
-"
"Is Riley aboard?" Wegener asked the XO.
"Yeah. Him and Portagee were working on something or other down in the goat locker."
"Okay, let's go see 'em." Wegener rose and waved for his visitors to follow.
"You need me, sir? I have some work to do."
"Sure thing, XO. Thanks."
"Aye aye. See you gentlemen later," the lieutenant said, and disappeared around a corner.
The walk took longer than Murray expected. They had to detour around two work parties who
were repainting bulkheads. The chiefs' quarters - called the goat locker for reasons ancient and
obscure - was located aft. Riley and Oreza, the two most senior chiefs aboard, shared the cabin
nearest the small compartment where they and their peers ate in relative privacy. Wegener got to the
open door and found a cloud of smoke. The bosun had a cigar clamped in his teeth while his
oversized hands were trying to manipulate a ridiculously small screwdriver. Both men came to their
feet when the captain appeared.
"Relax. What the hell you got there?"
"Portagee found it." Riley handed it over. "It's a real old one and we've been trying to fix it."
"How does 1778 grab you, sir?" Oreza asked. "A sextant made by Henry Edgworth. Found it in
an old junk shop. It might be worth a few bucks if we can get it cleaned up."
Wegener gave it a close look. "1778, you said?"
"Yes, sir. That makes it one of the oldest-model sextants. The glass is all broke, but that's easy to
fix. I know a museum that pays top dollar for these - but then I might just keep it myself, of course."
"We got some company," Wegener said, getting back to business. "They want to talk about the two
people we picked up."
Murray and Bright held up their ID cards. Dan noticed a phone in the compartment. The XO, he
realized, might have called to warn them what was coming. Riley's cigar hadn't dropped an ash yet.
"No problem," Oreza said. "What are you guys going to do with the bastards?"
"That's up to the U.S. Attorney," Bright said. "We're supposed to help put the case together, and
that means we have to establish what you people did when you apprehended them."
"Well, you want to talk to Mr. Wilcox, sir. He was in command of the boarding party," Riley
said. "We just did what he told us."
"Lieutenant Wilcox is on leave," the captain pointed out.
"What about after you brought them aboard?" Bright asked.
"Oh, that," Riley admitted. "Okay, I was wrong, but that little cocksucker - I mean, he spit on the
captain, sir, and you just don't do that kinda shit, y'know? So I roughed him up some. Maybe I
shouldn't have done it, but maybe that little prick oughta have manners, too."
"That's not what we're here about," Murray said after a moment. "He says you hanged him."
"Hung him? What from?" Oreza asked.
"I think you call it the yardarm."
"You mean - hang, like in, well, hang? Around the neck, I mean?" Riley asked.
"That's right."
The bosun's laugh rumbled like an earthquake. "Sir, if I ever hung somebody, he wouldn't go
around bitchin' about it the next day."
Murray repeated the story as he'd heard it, almost word for word. Riley shook his head.
"That's not the way it's done, sir."
"What do you mean?"
"You say that the little one said that the last thing he saw was his friend swinging back and forth,
right? That ain't the way it's done."
"I still don't understand."
"When you hang somebody aboard ship, you tie his feet together and run a downhaul line - you tie
that off to the rail or a stanchion so he don't swing around. You gotta do that, sir. You have
something that weight - well, over a hundred pounds-swinging around like that, it'll break things. So
what you do is, you two-block him - that means you run him right up to the block - that's the pulley,
okay? - and you got the downhaul to keep him in place real snug like. Otherwise it just ain't
shipshape. Hell, everybody knows that."
"How do you know that?" Bright asked, trying to hide his exasperation.
"Sir, you lower boats into the water, or you rig stuff on this ship, and that's my job. We call it
seamanship. I mean, say you had some piece of gear that weighs as much as a man, okay? You want
it swinging around loose like a friggin' chandelier on a long chain? Christ, it'd eventually hit the
radar, tear it right off the mast. We had a storm that night, too. Nah, the way they did it in the old
days was just like a signal hoist-line on top of the hoist and a line on the bottom, tie it off nice and
tight so it don't go noplace. Hey, somebody in the deck division leaves stuff flapping around like that,
I tear him a new asshole. Gear is expensive. We don't go around breaking it for kicks, sir. What do
you think, Portagee?"
"He's right. That was a pretty good blow we had that night - didn't the captain tell you? - the only
reason we still had the punks aboard was that we waved off the helo pickup 'cause of the
weather. We didn't have any work parties out on deck that night, did we?"
"No chance," Riley said. "We buttoned up tight that night. What I mean, sir, is we can go out and
work even in a damned hurricane if we have to, but unless you gotta, you don't go screwin' around on
the weather decks during a gale. It's dangerous. You lose people that way."
"How bad was it that night?" Murray asked.
"Some of the new kids spent the night with their heads in the thunderjugs. The cook decided to
serve chops that night, too." Oreza laughed. "That's how we learned, ain't it, Bob?"
"Only way," Riley agreed.
"So there wasn't a court-martial that night either?"
"Huh?" Riley appeared genuinely puzzled for a moment, then his face brightened. "Oh, you mean
we gave 'em a fair trial, then hung 'em, like in the old beer commercial?"
"Just one of them," Murray said helpfully.
"Why not both? They're both fuckin' murderers, ain't they? Hey, sir, I was aboard that yacht, all
right? I seen what they did - have you? It's a real mess. You see something like that all the time,
maybe. I never have, and - well, I don't mind tellin' you, sir, it shook me up some. You want 'em
hung, yeah, I'll do it and they won't bitch about it the next day, either. Okay, maybe I shouldn't 'a
snapped the one over the rail - lost my cool, and I shouldn't have - okay, I'm sorry about that. But
those two little fucks took out a whole family, probably did some rapin', too. I got a family, too,
y'know? I got daughters. So does Portagee. You want us to shed tears over those two fuckers, you
come to the wrong place, sir. You sit 'em in the electric chair and I'll throw the switch for you."
"So you didn't hang him?" Murray asked.
"Sir, I wish I'd'a thought of it," Riley announced. It was, after all, Oreza who'd thought of it.
Murray looked at Bright, whose face was slightly pink by this time. It had gone even more
smoothly than he'd expected. Well, he'd been told that the captain was a clever sort. You didn't give
command of a ship to a jerk - at least you weren't supposed to.
"Okay, gentlemen, I guess that answers all the questions we have for the moment. Thank you for
your cooperation." A moment later, Wegener was leading them away.
The three men stopped at the gangway for a moment. Murray motioned for Bright to head for the
car, then turned to the captain.
"You actually operate helicopters off that deck up there?"
"All the time. I just wish we had one of our own."
"Could I see it before I leave? I've never been aboard a cutter before."
"Follow me." In less than a minute, Murray was standing in the center of the deck, directly on the
crossed yellow lines painted on the black no-skid deck coating. Wegener was explaining how the
lights at the control station worked, but Murray was looking at the mast, drawing an imaginary line
from the yardarm to the deck. Yeah, he decided, you could do it easy enough.
"Captain, for your sake I hope you never do anything this crazy again."
Wegener turned in surprise. "What do you mean?"
"We both know what I mean."
"You believe what those two -"
"Yes, I do. A jury wouldn't - at least I don't think one would, though you can never really tell
what a jury will believe. But you did it. I know - you can't say anything…"
"What makes you think -"
"Captain, I've been in the Bureau for twenty-six years. I've heard lots of crazy stories, some real,
some made up. You gradually get a feel for what's real and what isn't. The way it looks to me, you
could run a piece of rope from that pulley up there, down to here pretty easy, and if you're taking the
seas right, having a man swing wouldn't matter much. It sure wouldn't hurt the radar antenna that
Riley was so worried about. Like I said, don't do it again. This one's a freebie because we can
prosecute the case without the evidence you got for us. Don't push it. Well, I'm sure you won't. You
found out that there was more to this one than you thought, didn't you?"
"I was surprised that the victim was -"
"Right. You opened a great big can of worms without getting your hands too dirty. You were
lucky. Don't push it," Murray said again.
"Thank you, sir."
One minute after that, Murray was back in the car. Agent Bright was still unhappy.
"Once upon a time, when I was a brand-new agent fresh out of the Academy, I was assigned to
Mississippi," Murray said. "Three civil-rights workers disappeared, and I was a very junior member
of the team that cleared the case. I didn't do much of anything other than hold Inspector Fitzgerald's
coat. Ever hear about Big Joe?"
"My dad worked with him," Bright answered.
"Then you know that Joe was a character, a real old-time cop. Anyway, the word got to us that
the local Klukkers were mouthing off about how they were gonna kill a few agents - you know the
stories, how they were harassing some families and stuff like that. Joe got a little pissed. Anyway, I
drove him out to see - forget the mutt's name, but he was the Grand Kleagle of the local Klavern and
he was the one with the biggest mouth. He was sitting under a shady tree in his front lawn when we
pulled up. He had a shotgun next to the chair, and he was half in the bag from booze already. Joe
walks up to him. The mutt starts to pick up the shotgun, but Joe just stared him down. Fitzgerald
could do that; he put three guys in the ground and you could see in his face that he'd done it. I got a
little worried, had my hand on my revolver, but Joe just stared him down and told him if there was
any more talk about offing an agent, or any more shitty phone calls to wives and kids, Big Joe was
going to come back and kill him, right there in his front yard. Didn't shout or anything, just said it like
he was ordering breakfast. The Kleagle believed him. So did I. Anyway, all that loose talk ended.
"What Joe did was illegal as hell," Murray went on. "Sometimes the rules get bent. I've done
it. So have you."
"I've never -"
"Don't get your tits in a flutter, Mark. I said 'bent,' not broken. The rules do not anticipate all
situations. That's why we expect agents to exercise judgment. That's how society works. In this
case, those Coasties broke loose some valuable information, and the only way we can use it is if we
ignore how they got it. No real harm was done, because the subjects will be handled as murderers,
and all the evidence we need is physical. Either they fry or they cop to the murders and cooperate by
again giving us all the information that the good Captain Wegener scared out of 'em. Anyway, that's
what they decided in D.C. It's too embarrassing to everyone to make an issue of what we discussed
aboard the cutter. Do you really think a local jury would -"
"No," Bright admitted at once. "It wouldn't take much of a lawyer to blow it apart, and even if he
didn't -"
"Exactly. We'd just be spinning our wheels. We live in an imperfect world, but I don't think that
Wegener will ever make that mistake again."
"Okay." Bright didn't like it, but that was beside the point.
"So what we do now is figure out exactly why this poor bastard and his family got themselves
murdered by a sicario and his spear-carrier. You know, when I was chasing wise guys up in New
York, nobody messed with families. You didn't even kill a guy in front of his family except to make a
special kind of point."
"Not much in the way of rules for the druggies," Bright pointed out.
"Yeah - and I used to think terrorists were bad."
It was so much easier than his work with the Macheteros, Cortez thought. Here he was, sitting in
the corner booth of a fine, expensive restaurant with a ten-page wine list in his hands - Cortez thought
himself an authority on wines - instead of a rat-infested barrio shack eating beans and mouthing
revolutionary slogans with people whose idea of Marxism was robbing banks and making heroic
taped pronouncements that the local radio stations played between the rock songs and
commercials. America had to be the only place in the world, he thought, where poor people drove
their own cars to demonstrations and the longest lines they stood in were at the supermarket checkout.
He selected an obscure estate label from the Loire Valley for dinner. The wine steward clicked
his ballpoint in approval as he retrieved the list.
Cortez had grown up in a place where the poor people - which category included nearly everyone
- scrounged for shoes and bread. In America, the poor areas were the ones where people indulged
drug habits that required hundreds of cash dollars per week. It was more than bizarre to the former
colonel. In America drugs spread from the slums to the suburbs, bringing prosperity to those who had
what others wanted.
Which was essentially what happened on the international scale also, of course. The yanquis,
ever niggardly in their official aid to their less prosperous neighbors, now flooded them with money,
but on what the Americans liked to call a people-to-people basis. That was good for a laugh. He
didn't know or care how much the yanqui government gave to its friends, but he was sure that
ordinary citizens - so bored with their comfortable lives that they needed chemical stimulation - gave
far more, and did so without strings on "human rights." He'd spent so many years as a professional
intelligence officer, trying to find a way to demean America, to damage its stature, lessen its
influence. But he'd gone about it in the wrong way, Félix had come to realize. He'd tried to use
Marxism to fight capitalism despite all the evidence that showed what worked and what did not. He
could, however, use capitalism against itself, and fulfill his original mission while enjoying all the
benefits of the very system that he was hurting. And the oddest part of all: his former employers
thought him a traitor because he had found a way that worked…
The man opposite him was a fairly typical American, Cortez thought. Overweight from too much
good food, careless about cleaning his expensive clothing. Probably didn't polish his shoes
either. Cortez remembered going barefoot for much of his youth, and thinking himself fortunate to
have three shirts to call his own. This man drove an expensive car, lived in a comfortable flat, had a
job that paid enough for ten DGI colonels - and it wasn't enough. That was America right there whatever one had, it was never enough.
"So what do you have for me?"
"Four possible prospects. All the information is in my briefcase."
"How good are they?" Cortez asked.
"They all meet your guidelines," the man answered. "Haven't I always -"
"Yes, you are most reliable. That is why we pay you so much."
"Nice to be appreciated, Sam," the man said with a trace of smugness.
Félix - Sam to his dinner partner - had always appreciated the people with whom he worked. He
appreciated what they could do. He appreciated the information they provided. But he despised them
for the weaklings they were. Still, an intelligence officer - and that remained the way he thought of
himself - couldn't be too picky. America abounded with people like this one. Cortez did not reflect
on the fact that he, too, had been bought. He deemed himself a skilled professional, perhaps
something of a mercenary, but that was in keeping with an honored tradition, wasn't it? Besides, he
was doing what his former masters had always wanted him to do, more effectively than had ever been
possible with the DGI, and someone else was doing the paying. In fact, ultimately the Americans
themselves paid his salary.
Dinner passed without incident. The wine was every bit as excellent as he'd expected, but the
meat was overdone and the vegetables disappointing. Washington, he thought, was overrated as a
city of restaurants. On his way out he simply picked up his companion's briefcase and walked to his
car. The drive back to his hotel took twenty leisurely minutes. After that, he spent several hours
going over the documents.
The man was reliable, Cortez reflected, and earned his
appreciation. Each of the four was a solid prospect.
His recruiting effort would begin tomorrow.
7. Knowns and Unknowns
IT HAD TAKEN a week to get accustomed to the altitude, as Julio had promised. Chavez eased
out of the suspenders pack. It wasn't a fully loaded one yet, only twenty-five pounds, but they were
taking their time, almost easing people into the conditioning program instead of using a more violent
approach. That suited the sergeant, still breathing a little hard after the eight-mile run. His shoulders
hurt some, and his legs ached in the usual way, but around him there was no sound of retching, and
there hadn't been any dropouts this time around. Just the usual grumbles and curses.
"That wasn't so bad," Julio said without gasping. "But I still say that getting laid is the best
workout there is."
"You got that one right," Chavez agreed with a laugh. "All those unused muscle groups, as the
free-weight guys say."
The best thing about the training camp was the food. For lunch in the field they had to eat MRE
packs - "Meal Ready to Eat," which was three lies for the price of one - but breakfast and supper
selections were always well prepared in the camp's oversized kitchen. Chavez invariably selected as
large a bowl of fresh fruits as he could get away with, heavily laced with white sugar for energy,
along with the usual Army coffee whose caffeine content always seemed augmented to give you that
extra wake-up punch. He laid into his bowl of diced grapefruit, oranges, and damned near everything
else with gusto while his tablemates attacked their greasy eggs and bacon. Chavez went back to the
line for some hash-browns. He'd heard that carbohydrates were also good for energy, and now that
he was almost accustomed to the altitude, the thought of grease for breakfast didn't bother him that
much.
Things were going well. Work here was hard, but there was nothing in the way of Mickey Mouse
bullshit. Everyone here was an experienced pro, and they were being treated as such. No energy was
being wasted on bed-making; the sergeants all knew how, and if a blanket corner wasn't quite tucked
in, peer pressure set things right without the need for shouting from a superior officer. They were all
young men, as serious about their work as they knew how to be, but there was a spirit of fun and
adventure. They still didn't know exactly what they were training for. There was the inevitable
speculation, whispering between bunks that gradually transformed to a symphony of snoring at night
after agreement on some wildly speculative idea.
Though an uneducated man, Chavez was not a stupid one. Somehow he knew that all of the
theories were wrong. Afghanistan was all over; they couldn't be going there. Besides, everyone here
spoke fluent Spanish. He mulled over it again while chewing a mouthful of kiwi fruit - a treat he
hadn't known to exist a week before. High altitude - they weren't training them here for the fun of
it. That eliminated Cuba and Panama. Nicaragua, perhaps. How high were the mountains
there? Mexico and the other Central American nations had mountains, too. Everyone here was a
sergeant. Everyone here had led a squad, and had done training at one level or other. Everyone here
was a light infantryman. Probably they'd be dispatched on some special training mission, therefore,
training other light-fighters. That made it counterinsurgency. Of course, every country south of the
Rio Grande had one sort of guerrilla problem or other. They resulted from the inequities of the
individual governments and economies, but to Chavez the explanation was simpler and to the point those countries were all fucked up. He'd seen enough of that in his trips with his battalion to
Honduras and Panama. The local towns were dirty - they'd made his home barrio seem paradise on
earth. The police - well, he'd never thought that he would come to admire the LAPD. But it was the
local armies that had earned his especial contempt. Bunch of lazy, incompetent bullies. Not much
different from street gangs, as a matter of fact, except that they all carried the same sort of guns (the
L.A. gangs tended toward individualism). Weapons skills were about the same. It didn't require very
much for a soldier to butt-stroke some poor bastard with his rifle. The officers - well, he hadn't seen
anyone to compare with Lieutenant Jackson, who loved to run with his men and didn't mind getting all
dirty and smelly like a real soldier. But inevitably it was the sergeants down there who earned his
fullest contempt. It had been that paddy Sergeant McDevitt in Korea who'd shown Ding Chavez the
light - skill and professionalism equaled pride. And, when you got down to it, pride truly earned was
all there was to a man. Pride was what kept you going, what kept you from caving in on those
goddamned mountainside runs. You couldn't let down your friends. You couldn't let your friends see
you for something less than you wanted to be. That was the short version of everything he had learned
in the Army, and he knew that the same could be said of all the men in this room. What they were
preparing for, therefore, was to train others to do the same. So their mission was a fairly
conventional Army mission. For some reason or other - probably political, but Chavez didn't worry
about political stuff; never made much sense anyway - it was a secret mission. He was smart enough
to know that this kind of hush-hush preparation meant CIA. He was correct on that judgment. It was
the mission he was wrong on.
Breakfast ended at the normal time. The men rose from their tables, taking their trays and dishes
to the stacking table before proceeding outside. Most made pit stops and many, including Chavez,
changed into clean, dry T-shirts. The sergeant wasn't overly fastidious, but he did prefer the crisp,
clean smell of a newly washed shirt. There was an honest-to-God laundry service here. Chavez
decided that he'd miss the camp, altitude and all. The air, if thin, was clean and dry. Each day they'd
hear the lonely wail of diesel horns from the trains that entered the Moffat Tunnel, whose entrance
they'd see on their twice-daily runs. Often in the evening they'd catch the distant sight of the doubledeck cars of an Amtrak train heading east to Denver. He wondered what hunting was like here. What
did they hunt? Deer, maybe? They'd seen a bunch of them, big mule deer, but also the curious white
shapes of mountain goats racing up sheer rock walls as the soldiers approached. Now, those fuckers
were really in shape, Julio had noted the previous day. But Chavez dismissed the thought after a
moment. The animals he hunted had only two legs. And shot back if you weren't careful.
The four squads formed up on time. Captain Ramirez called them to attention and marched them
off to their separate area, about half a mile east of the main camp at the far end of the flat bottom of
the high valley. Waiting for them was a black man dressed in T-shirt and dark shorts, both of which
struggled to contain bulging muscles.
"Good morning, people," the man said. "I am Mr. Johnson. Today we will begin some real
mission-oriented training. All of you have had training in hand-to-hand combat. My job is to see
how good you are, and to teach you some new tricks that your earlier training may have left
out. Killing somebody silently isn't all that hard. The tricky part is getting close enough to do it. We
all know that." Johnson's hands slipped behind his back as he talked on for a moment. "This is another
way to kill silently."
His hands came into view holding a pistol with a large, canlike device affixed to the
front. Before Chavez had told himself that it was a silencer, Johnson brought it around in both hands
and fired it three times. It was a very good silencer, Ding noted immediately. You could barely hear
the metallic clack of the automatic's slide-quieter, in fact, than the tinkle of glass from the three bottles
that disintegrated twenty feet away - and you couldn't hear the sound of the shot at all. Impressive.
Johnson gave them all a mischievous grin. "You don't get your hands all bruised, either. Like I
said, you all know hand-to-hand, and we're going to work on that. But I've been around the block a
few times, just like you people, and let's not dick around the issue. Armed combat beats unarmed any
day of the week. So today we're going to learn a whole new kind of fighting: silent armed combat."
He bent down and flipped the blanket off a submachine gun. It, too, appeared to have a silencer on
the muzzle. Chavez reproached himself for his earlier speculation. Whatever the mission was, it
wasn't about training.
Vice Admiral James Cutter, USN, was a patrician. At least he looked like one, Ryan thought - tall
and spare, his hair going a regal silver, and a confident smile forever fixed on his pink-scrubbed
face. Certainly he acted like one - or thought he did, Jack corrected himself. It was Ryan's view that
truly important people didn't go out of their way to act like it. It wasn't as though being the President's
Special Assistant for National Security Affairs was the same as a peerage. Ryan knew a few people
who actually had them. Cutter came from one of those old swamp-Yankee families which had grown
rocks on their New England farmsteads for generations, then turned to the mercantile trade, and, in
Cutter's case, sent its surplus sons to sea. But Cutter was the sort of sailor for whom the sea was a
means to an end. More than half of his career had been spent in the Pentagon, and that, Ryan thought,
was no place for a proper sailor. He'd had all the necessary commands, Jack knew. First a
destroyer, then a cruiser. Each time he'd done his job well - well enough to be noticed, which must
have been the important part. Plenty of outstanding officers' careers stopped cold at captain's rank
because they'd failed to be noticed by a high-enough patron. What had Cutter done to make him stick
out from the crowd… ?
Polished up the knocker faithfully, perhaps? Jack wondered as he finished his briefing.
Not that it mattered now. The President had noticed him on Jeff Pelt's staff, and on Pelt's return to
academia - the International Relations chair at the University of Virginia - Cutter had slipped into the
job as neatly as a destroyer coming alongside the pier. He sat behind his desk in a neatly tailored
suit, sipping his coffee from a mug with USS BELKNAP engraved on it, the better to remind people
that he'd commanded that cruiser once. In case the casual visitor missed that one - there were few
casual visitors to the National Security Adviser's office - the wall on the left was liberally covered
with plaques of the ships he'd served on, and enough signed photographs for a Hollywood agent's
office. Naval officers call this phenomenon the I LOVE ME! wall, and while most of them have one,
they usually keep it at home.
Ryan didn't like Cutter very much. He hadn't liked Pelt either, but the difference was that Pelt was
almost as smart as he thought he was. Cutter was not even close. The three-star Admiral was in over
his head, but had not the sense to know it. The bad news was that while Ryan was also a Special
Assistant To, it was not To the President. That meant he had to report to Cutter whether he liked it or
not. With his boss in the hospital, that task would be a frequent occurrence.
"How's Greer?" the man asked. He spoke with a nasal New England accent that ought to have
died a natural death long before, though it was one thing that Ryan didn't mind. It reminded him of his
undergraduate days at Boston College.
"They're not through with the tests yet." Ryan's voice betrayed his worries. It looked like
pancreatic cancer, the survival rate for which was just about zero. He'd checked with Cathy about
that, and had tried to get his boss to Johns Hopkins, but Greer was Navy, which meant going to
Bethesda. Though Bethesda Naval Medical Center was the Navy's number-one hospital, it wasn't
Johns Hopkins.
"And you're going to take over for him?" Cutter asked.
"That is in rather poor taste, Admiral," Bob Ritter answered for his companion. "In Admiral
Greer's absence, Dr. Ryan will represent him from time to time."
"If you handle that as well as you've handled this briefing, we ought to get along just fine. Shame
about Greer. Hope things work out." There was about as much emotion in his voice as one needed to
ask directions.
You're a warm person, aren't you? Ryan thought to himself as he closed his briefcase. I bet the
crew of the Belknap just loved you. But Cutter wasn't paid to be warm. He was paid to advise the
President. And Ryan was paid to brief him, not to love him.
Cutter wasn't a fool. Ryan had to admit that also. He was not an expert in the area of Ryan's own
expertise, nor did he have Pelt's cardsharp's instinct for political wheeling and dealing behind the
scene - and, unlike Pelt, Cutter liked to operate without consulting the State Department. He sure as
hell didn't understand how the Soviet Union worked. The reason he was sitting in that high-back
chair, behind that dark-oak desk, was that he was a reputed expert in other areas, and evidently those
were the areas in which the President had most of his current interest. Here Ryan's intellect failed
him. He came back to his brief on what KGB was up to in Central Europe instead of following that
idea to its logical conclusion. Jack's other mistake was more basic. Cutter knew that he wasn't the
man Jeff Pelt had been, and Cutter wanted to change all that.
"Nice to see you again, Dr. Ryan. Good brief. I'll bring that matter to the President's
attention. Now if you'll excuse us, the DDO and I have something to discuss."
"See you back at Langley, Jack," Ritter said. Ryan nodded and left. The other two waited for the
door to close behind him. Then the DDO presented his own brief on Operation SHOWBOAT. It
lasted twenty minutes.
"So how do we coordinate this?" the Admiral asked Ritter.
"The usual. About the only good thing that came out of the Desert One fiasco was that it proved
how secure satellite communications were. Ever see the portable kind?" the DDO asked. "It's
standard equipment for the light forces."
"No, just the ones aboard ship. They're not real portable."
"Well, it has a couple of pieces, an X-shaped antenna and a little wire stand that looks like it's
made out of a couple of used coat hangers. There's a new backpack only weighs fifteen pounds,
including the handset, and it even has a Morse key in case the sender doesn't want to talk too
loud. Single sideband, super-encrypted UHF. That's as secure as communications get."
"But what about keeping them covert?" Cutter was worried about that.
"If the region was heavily populated," Ritter explained tiredly, "the opposition wouldn't be using
it. Moreover, they operate mainly at night for the obvious reason. So our people will belly-up during
the day and only move around at night. They are trained and equipped for that. Look, we've been
thinking about this for some time. These people are very well trained already, and we're -"
"Resupply?"
"Helicopter," Ritter said. "Special-ops people down in Florida."
"I still think we should use Marines."
"The Marines have a different mission. We've been over this, Admiral. These kids are better
trained, they're better equipped, most of them have been into areas like this one, and it's a hell of a lot
easier to get them into the program without anybody noticing," Ritter explained for what must have
been the twentieth time. Cutter wasn't one to listen to the words of others. His own opinions were
evidently too loud. The DDO wondered how the President fared, but that question needed no
answer. A presidential whisper carried more weight than a scream from anyone else. The problem
was, the President so often depended on idiots to make his wishes a reality. Ritter would not have
been surprised to learn that his opinion of the National Security Adviser matched that of Jack Ryan; it
was just that Ryan could not know why.
"Well, it's your operation," Cutter said after a moment. "When does it start?"
"Three weeks. Just had a report last night. Things are going along just fine. They already had all
the basic skills we needed. It's only a matter of honing a few special ones and adding a few
refinements. We've been lucky so far. Haven't even had anybody hurt up there."
"How long have you had that place, anyway?"
"Thirty years. It was supposed to have been an air-defense radar installation, but the funding got
cut off for some reason or other. The Air Force turned it over to us, and we've been using it to train
agents ever since. It doesn't show up on any of the OMB site lists. It belongs to an offshore
corporation that we use for various things. During the fall we occasionally lease it out as a hunting
camp, would you believe? It even shows a profit for us, which is another reason why it doesn't show
on the OMB list. Is that covert enough? Came in real useful during Afghanistan, though, doing the
same thing we're doing now, and nobody ever found out about it…"
"Three weeks."
Ritter nodded. "Maybe a touch longer. We're still working on coordinating the satellite
intelligence, and our assets on the ground."
"Will it all work?" Cutter asked rhetorically.
"Look, Admiral, I've told you about that. If you want some magical solution to give to the
President, we don't have it. What we can do is sting them some. The results will look good in the
papers, and, hell, maybe we'll end up saving a life or two. Personally, I think it's worth doing even if
we don't get much of a return."
The nice thing about Ritter, Cutter thought, was that he didn't state the obvious. There would be a
return. Everyone knew what that was all about. The mission was not an exercise in cynicism, though
some might see it as such.
"What about the radar coverage?"
"There are only two aircraft coming on line. They're testing a new system called LPI - Low
Probability of Intercept - radar. I don't know all the details, but because of a combination of
frequency agility, reduced side-lobes, and relatively low power output, it's damned hard to detect the
emissions from the set. That will invalidate the ESM equipment that the opposition has started
using. So we can use our assets on the ground to stake out between four and six of the covert
airfields, and let us know when a shipment is en route. The modified E-2s will establish contact with
them south of Cuba and pace them all the way in till they're intercepted by the F-15 driver I told you
about. He's a black kid - hell of a fighter jock, they say. Comes from New York. His mother got
mugged by a druggie up there. It was a bad one. She got all torn up, and eventually died. She was
one of those ghetto success stories that you never hear about. Three kids, all of them turned out pretty
well. The fighter pilot is a very angry kid at the moment. He'll work for us, and he won't talk."
"Right," Cutter said skeptically. "What about if he develops a conscience later on and -"
"The boy told me that he'd shoot all the bastards down if we wanted him to. A druggie killed his
mother. He wants to get even, and he sees this as a good way. There are a lot of sensitive projects
underway at Eglin. His fighter is cut loose from the rest as part of the LPI Radar project. It's two
Navy airplanes carrying the radar, and we've picked the flight crews - pretty much the same story on
them. And remember - after we have lock-on from the F-15, the radar aircraft shuts down and
leaves. So if Bronco - that's the kid's name - does have to splash the inbound druggie, nobody'll know
about it. Once we get them on the ground, the flight crews will have the living shit scared out of
them. I worked out the details on that part myself. If some people have to disappear - I don't expect it
- that can be arranged, too. The Marines there are all special-ops types. One of my people will
pretend he's a fed, and the judge we take them to is the one the President -"
"I know that part." It was odd, Cutter thought, how ideas grow. First the President had made an
intemperate remark after learning that the cousin of a close friend had died of a drug overdose. He'd
talked about it with Ritter, gotten an idea, and mentioned it to the President. A month after that, a plan
had started to grow. Two months more and it was finalized. A secret Presidential Finding was
written and in the files - there were only four copies of it, each of which was locked up tight. Now
things were starting to move. It was past the time for second thoughts, Cutter told himself
weakly. He'd been involved in all the planning discussions, and still the operation had somehow
leaped unexpectedly to full flower…
"What can go wrong?" he asked Ritter.
"Look, in field operations anything can go wrong. Just a few months ago a crash operation went
bad because of an illegal turn -"
"That was KGB," Cutter said. "Jeff Pelt told me about that one."
"We are not immune. Shit happens, as they say. What we can do, we've done. Every aspect of
the operation is compartmentalized. On the air part, for example, the fighter pilot doesn't know the
radar aircraft or its people - for both sides it's just call signs and voices. The people on the ground
don't know what aircraft are involved. The people we're putting in-country will get instructions from
satellite radios - they won't even know where from. The people who insert them won't know why
they're going or where the orders come from. Only a handful of people will know everything. The
total number of people who know anything at all is less than a hundred, and only ten know the whole
story. I can't make it any tighter than that. Now, either it's a Go-Mission or it's not. That's your call,
Admiral Cutter. I presume," Ritter added for effect, "that you've fully briefed the President."
Cutter had to smile. It was not often, even in Washington, that a man could speak the truth and lie
at the same time: "Of course, Mr. Ritter."
"In writing," Ritter said next.
"No."
"Then I call the operation off," the DDO said quietly. "I won't be left hanging on this one."
"But I will?" Cutter observed. He didn't allow anger to creep into his voice, but his face
conveyed the message clearly enough. Ritter made the obvious maneuver.
"Judge Moore requires it. Would you prefer that he ask the President himself?"
Cutter was caught short. His job, after all, was to insulate the President. He'd tried to pass that
onus to Ritter and/or Judge Moore, but found himself outmaneuvered in his own office. Someone had
to be responsible for everything; bureaucracy or not, it always came down to one person. It was
rather like a game of musical chairs. Someone was always left standing. That person was called the
loser. For all his skills, Vice Admiral Cutter had found himself without a seat on that last chair. His
naval training, of course, had taught him to take responsibilities, but though Cutter called himself a
naval officer, and thought of himself as one - without wearing the uniform, of course - responsibility
was something he'd managed to avoid for years. Pentagon duty was good for that, and White House
duty was better still. Now responsibility was his again. He hadn't been this vulnerable since his
cruiser had nearly rammed a tanker during replenishment operations - his executive officer had saved
him with a timely command to the helmsman, Cutter remembered. A pity that his career had ended at
captain's rank, but Ed just hadn't had the right stuff to make Flag…
Cutter opened a drawer to his desk and pulled out a sheet of paper whose letterhead proclaimed
"The White House." He took a gold Cross pen from his pocket and wrote a clear authorization for
Ritter in his best Palmer Method penmanship. You are authorized by the President … The Admiral
folded the sheet, tucked it into an envelope, and handed it across.
"Thank you, Admiral." Ritter tucked the envelope into his coat pocket. "I'll keep you posted."
"You be careful who sees that," Cutter said coldly.
"I do know how to keep secrets, sir. It's my job, remember?" Ritter rose and left the room, finally
with a warm feeling around his backside. His ass was covered. It was a feeling craved by many
people in Washington. It was one he didn't share with the President's National Security Adviser, but
Ritter figured it wasn't his fault that Cutter hadn't thought this one through.
Five miles away, the DDI's office seemed a cold and lonely place to Ryan. There was the
credenza and the coffee machine where James Greer made his Navy brew, there the high-backed
judge's chair in which the old man leaned back before making his professorial statements of fact and
theory, and his jokes, Jack remembered. His boss had one hell of a sense of humor. What a fine
teacher he might have made - but then he really was a teacher to Jack. What was it? Only six years
since he'd started with the Agency. He'd known Greer for less than seven, and the Admiral had in
large part become the father he'd lost in that airplane crash at Chicago. It was here he had come for
advice, for guidance. How many times?
The trees outside the seventh-floor windows were green with the leaves of summer, blocking the
view of the Potomac Valley. The really crazy things had all happened when there were no leaves,
Ryan thought. He remembered pacing around on the lush carpet, looking down at the piles of snow
left by the plows while trying to find answers to hard questions, sometimes succeeding, sometimes
not.
Vice Admiral James Greer would not live to see another winter. He'd seen his last snow, his last
Christmas. Ryan's boss lay in a VIP suite at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, still alert, still thinking,
still telling jokes. But his weight was down by fifteen pounds in the last three weeks, and the
chemotherapy denied him any sort of food other than what came through tubes stuck in his arms. And
the pain. There was nothing worse, Ryan knew, than to watch the pain of others. He'd seen his wife
and daughter in pain, and it had been far worse than his own hospital stays. It was hard to go and see
the Admiral, to see the tightness around the face, the occasional stiffening of limbs as the spasms
came and went, some from the cancer, some from the medications. But Greer was as much a part of
his family as - God, Ryan thought, I am thinking of him like my father. And so he would, until the end.
"Shit," Jack said quietly, without knowing it.
"I know what you mean, Dr. Ryan."
"Hmph?" Jack turned. The Admiral's driver (and security guard) stood quietly by the door while
Jack retrieved some documents. Even though Ryan was the DDI's special assistant andde facto
deputy, he had to be watched when going over documents cleared DDI-eyes-only. CIA's security
rules were tough, logical, and inviolable.
"I know what you mean, sir. I've been with him eleven years. He's as much a friend as a
boss. Every Christmas he has something for the kids. Never forgets a birthday, either. You think
there's any hope at all?"
"Cathy had one of her friends come down. Professor Goldman. Russ is as good as they come,
professor of oncology at Hopkins, consultant to NIH, and a bunch of other things. He says one chance
in thirty. It's spread too far, too fast, Mickey. Two months, tops. Anything else would be a miracle."
Ryan almost smiled. "I got a priest working on that."
Murdock nodded. "I know he's tight with Father Tim over at Georgetown. He was just at the
hospital for some chess last night. The Admiral took him in forty-eight moves. You ever play chess
with him?"
"I'm not in his class. Probably never will be."
"Yes, sir, you are," Murdock said after a moment or two. "Leastways, that's what he says."
"He would." Ryan shook his head. Damn it, Greer wouldn't want either of them to talk like
this. There was work to be done. Jack took the key and unlocked the file drawer in the desk. He set
the key chain on the desk blotter for Mickey to retrieve and reached down to pull the drawer, but
goofed. Instead he pulled out the sliding board you could use as a writing surface, though this one
was marked with brown rings from the DDI's coffee mug. Near the inside end of it, Ryan saw, was a
file card, taped in place. Written on the card, in Greer's distinctive hand, were two safe
combinations. Greer had a special office safe and so did Bob Ritter. Jack remembered that his boss
had always been clumsy with combination locks, and he probably needed the combination written
down so he wouldn't forget it. He found it odd that the Admiral should have combinations for both his
and Ritter's, but decided after a moment that it made sense. If somebody had to get into the DDO's
safe in a hurry - for example, if Ritter were kidnapped, and someone had to see what really classified
material was in the current file - it had to be someone very senior, like the DDL Probably Ritter had
the combination to the DDI's personal safe, as well. Jack wondered who else did. Shrugging off the
thought, he slid the board back into place and opened the drawer. There were six files there. All
related to long-term intelligence evaluations that the Admiral wanted to see. None were especially
critical. In fact, they weren't all that sensitive, but it would give the Admiral something to occupy his
mind. A rotating team of CIA security personnel guarded his room, with two on duty at all times, and
he could still do work in the time he had left.
Damn! Jack snarled at himself. Get your mind off of it. Hell, he does have a chance. Some
chance is better than none at all.
Chavez had never handled a submachine gun. His personal weapon had always been the M-16
rifle, often with an M-203 grenade launcher slung under the barrel. He also knew how to use the
SAW-the Belgian-made squad automatic weapon that had recently been added to the Army's
inventory-and had shot expert with pistol once. But submachine guns had long since gone out of favor
in the Army. They just weren't serious weapons of the sort a soldier would need.
Which was not to say that he didn't like it. It was a German gun, the MP-5 SD2 made by Heckler
& Koch. It was decidedly unattractive. The matte-black finish was slightly rough to the touch, and it
lacked the sexy compactness of the Israeli Uzi. On the other hand, it wasn't made to look good, he
thought, it was made to shoot good. It was made to be reliable. It was made to be accurate. Whoever
had designed this baby, Chavez decided as he brought it up for the first time, knew what shooting was
all about. Unusually for a German-made weapon, it didn't have a huge number of small parts. It broke
down easily and quickly for cleaning, and reassembly took less than a minute. The weapon nestled
snugly against his shoulder, and his head dropped automatically into the right place to peer through
the ring-aperture sight.
"Commence firing," Mr. Johnson commanded.
Chavez had the weapon on single-shot. He squeezed off the first round, just to get a feel for the
trigger. It broke cleanly at about eleven pounds, the recoil was straight back and gentle, and the gun
didn't jump off the target the way some weapons did. The shot, of course, went straight through the
center of the target's silhouetted head. He squeezed off another, and the same thing happened, then
five in rapid fire. The repeated shots rocked him back an inch or two, but the recoil spring ate up
most of the kick. He looked up to see seven holes in a nice, tight group, like the nose carved into a
jack-o'-lantern. Okay. Next he flipped the selector switch to the burst position - it was time for a
little rock and roll. He put three rounds at the target's chest. This group was larger, but any of the
three would have been fatal. After another one Chavez decided that he could hold a three-round burst
dead on target. He didn't need full-automatic fire. Anything more than three rounds just wasted
ammunition. His attitude might have seemed strange for a soldier, but as a light infantryman he
understood that ammunition was something that had to be carried. To finish off his thirty-round
magazine he aimed bursts at unmarked portions of the target card, and was rewarded with hits exactly
where he'd wanted them.
"Baby, where have you been all my life?" Best of all, it wasn't much noisier than the rustle of dry
leaves. It wasn't that it had a silencer; the barrel was a silencer. You heard the muted clack of the
action, and the swish of the bullet. They were using a subsonic round, the instructor told
them. Chavez picked one out of the box. The bullet was a hollow-point design; it looked like you
could mix a drink in it, and on striking a man it probably spread out to the diameter of a dime. Instant
death from a head shot, nearly as quick in the chest - but if they were training him to use a silencer,
he'd be expected to go for the head. He figured that he could take head shots reliably from fifty or
sixty feet - maybe farther under ideal circumstances, but soldiers don't expect ideal
circumstances. On the face of it, he'd be expected to creep within fifteen or twenty yards of his target
and drop him without a sound.
Whatever they were preparing for, he thought again, it sure as hell wasn't a training mission.
"Nice groups, Chavez," the instructor observed. Only three other men were on the firing
line. There would be two submachine gunners per squad. Two SAWs - Julio had one of those - and
the rest had M-16s, two of them with grenade launchers attached. Everyone had pistols, too. That
seemed strange, but despite the weight Chavez didn't mind.
"This baby really shoots, sir."
"It's yours. How good are you with a pistol?"
"Just fair. I don't usually -"
"Yeah, I know. Well, you'll all get practice. Pistol ain't really good for much, but there's times
when it comes in right handy." Johnson turned to address the whole squad. "All right, you four come
on up. We want everyone to know how all these here weapons work. Everybody's gotta be an
expert."
Chavez relinquished his weapon to another squad member and walked back from the firing
line. He was still trying to figure things out. Infantry combat is the business of death, at the personal
level, where you could usually see what you were doing and to whom you were doing it. The fact
that Chavez had not actually done it yet was irrelevant; it was still his business, and the organization
of his unit told him what form the mission would take. Special ops. It had to be special ops. He
knew a guy who'd been in the Delta Force at Bragg. Special operations were merely a refinement of
straight infantry stuff. You had to get in real close, usually you had to chop down the sentries, and
then you hit hard and fast, like a bolt of lightning. If it wasn't over in ten seconds or less - well, then
things got a little too exciting. The funny part to Chavez was the similarity with street-gang
tactics. There was no fair play in soldiering. You sneaked in and did people in the back without
warning. You didn't give them a chance to protect themselves - none at all. But what was called
cowardly in a gang kid was simply good tactics to a soldier. Chavez smiled to himself. It hardly
seemed fair, when you looked at it like that. The Army was just better organized than a gang. And, of
course, its targets were selected by others. The whole point to an Army, probably, was that what it
did made sense to someone. That was true of gangs, too, but Army activity was supposed to make
sense to someone important, someone who knew what he was really doing. Even if what he was
doing didn't make much sense to him - a frequent occurrence for soldiers - it did make sense to
somebody.
Chavez wasn't old enough to remember Vietnam.
Seduction was the saddest part of the job.
With this, as with all parts of his profession, Cortez had been trained to be coldly objective and
businesslike, but there wasn't a way to be coldly intimate - at least not if you wanted to accomplish
anything. Even the KGB Academy had recognized that. There had been hours of lectures on the
pitfalls, he remembered with an ironic smile - Russians trying to tell a Latin about romantic
entanglements. Probably the climate worked against them. You adapted your approach to the
individual peculiarities of your target subject, in this case a widow who at forty-six retained
surprising good looks, who had enough remaining of her youth to need companionship after the
children retired for the evening or went out on their own dates, whose bed was a lonely place of
memories grown cold. It wasn't his first such subject, and there was always something brave about
them, as well as something pathetic. He was supposed to think - as his training had taught him - that
their problems were their business and his opportunity. But how does a man become intimate with
such a woman without feeling her pain? The KGB instructors hadn't had an answer to that one, though
they did give him the proper technique. He, too, had to have suffered a recent loss.
His "wife" had also died of cancer, he'd told her. He'd married late in life, the story went, after
getting the family business back on track - all that time working, flying around to secure the business
his father had spent his life founding - and then married his Maria only three years before. She'd
become pregnant, but when she'd visited the doctor to confirm the joyous news, the routine tests…
only six months. The baby hadn't had a chance, and Cortez had nothing left of Maria. Perhaps, he'd
told his wineglass, it was God's punishment on him for marrying so young a girl, or for his many
dalliances as a footloose playboy.
At that point Moira's hand had come across the table to touch his. Of course it wasn't his fault, the
woman told him. And he looked up to see the sympathy in the eyes of someone who'd asked herself
questions not so different from those he'd just ostensibly addressed to himself. People were so
predictable. All you had to do was press the right buttons - and have the proper feelings. When her
hand had come to his, the seduction was accomplished. There had been a flush of warmth from the
touch, the feeling of simple humanity. But if he thought of her as a simple target, how could he return
the emotions - and how could he accomplish the mission? He felt her pain, her loneliness. He would
be good to her.
And so he was, now two days later. It would have been comical except for how touching it was,
how she'd prepared herself like a teenage girl on a date - something she hadn't done for over twenty
years; certainly her children had found it entertaining, but there had been enough time since the death
of their father that they didn't resent their mother's needs and had smiled bemused encouragement at
her as she walked out to her car. A quick, nervous dinner, then the short ride to his hotel. Some more
wine to get over the nerves that were real for both of them, if more so for her. But it had certainly
been worth the wait. She was out of practice, but her responses were far more genuine than those he
got from his usual bedmates. Cortez was very good at sex. He was proud of his abilities and gave
her an above-average performance: an hour's work, building her up slowly, then letting her back
down as gently as he knew how.
Now they lay side by side, her head on his shoulder, tears dripping slowly from her eyes in the
silence. A fine woman, this one. Even dying young, her husband had been a lucky man to have a
woman who knew that silence could be the greatest passion of all. He watched the clock on the end
table. Ten minutes of silence before he spoke.
"Thank you, Moira… I didn't know… it's been." He cleared his throat. "This is the first time
since… since…" Actually it had been a week since the last one, which had cost him thirty thousand
pesos. A young one, a skilled one. But The woman's strength surprised him. He was barely able to take his next breath, so powerful was
her embrace. Part of what had once been his conscience told him that he ought to be ashamed, but the
greater part reported that he'd given more than he'd taken. This was better than purchased sex. There
were feelings, after all, that money couldn't buy; it was a thought both reassuring and annoying to
Cortez, and one which amplified his sense of shame. Again he rationalized that there would be no
shame without her powerful embrace, and the embrace would not have come unless he had pleased
her greatly.
He reached behind himself to the other end table and got his cigarettes.
"You shouldn't smoke," Moira Wolfe told him.
He smiled. "I know. I must quit. But after what you have done to me," he said with a twinkle in
his eye, "I must gather myself." Silence.
"Madre de Dios," he said after another minute.
"What's the matter?"
Another mischievous smile. "Here I have given myself to you, and I hardly know who you are!"
"What do you want to know?"
A chuckle. A shrug. "Nothing important - I mean, what could be more important than what you
have already done?" A kiss. A caress. More silence. He stubbed out the cigarette at the halfway
point to show that her opinion was important to him. "I am not good at this."
"Really?" It was her turn to chuckle, his turn to blush.
"It is different, Moira. I - when I was a young man, it was understood that when - it was
understood that there was no importance, but… now I am grown, and I cannot be so…"
Embarrassment. "If you permit it, I wish to know about you, Moira. I come to Washington frequently,
and I wish… I am tired of the loneliness. I am tired of… I wish to know you," he said with
conviction. Then, tentatively, haltingly, hopeful but afraid, "If you permit it."
She kissed his cheek gently. "I permit it."
Instead of his own powerful hug, Cortez let his body go slack with relief not wholly
feigned. More silence before he spoke again.
"You should know about me. I am wealthy. My business is machine tools and auto parts. I have
two factories, one in Costa Rica, the other in Venezuela. The business is complicated and - not
dangerous, but… it is complicated dealing with the big assemblers. I have two younger brothers also
in the business. So… what work do you do?"
"Well, I'm an executive secretary. I've been doing that kind of work for twenty years."
"Oh? I have one myself."
"And you must chase her around the office…"
"Consuela is old enough to be my mother. She worked for my father. Is that how it is in
America? Does your boss chase you?" A hint of jealous outrage.
Another chuckle. "Not exactly. I work for Emil Jacobs. He's the Director of the FBI."
"I do not know the name." A lie. "The FBI, that is your federales, this I know. And you are the
chief secretary for them all, then?"
"Not exactly. Mainly my job is to keep Mr. Jacobs organized. You wouldn't believe his schedule
- all the meetings and conferences to keep straight. It's like being a juggler."
"Yes, it is that way with Consuela. Without her to watch over me…" Cortez laughed. "If I had to
choose between her and one of my brothers, I would choose her. I can always hire a factory
manager. What sort of man is this - Jacobs, you say? You know, when I was a boy, I wanted to be a
policeman, to carry the gun and drive the car. To be the chief police officer, that must be a grand
thing."
"Mainly his job is shuffling papers - I get to do a lot of the filing, and dictation. When you are the
head, your job is mainly doing budgets and meetings."
"But surely he gets to know the - the good things, yes? The best part of being a policeman - it
must be the best thing, to know the things that other people do not. To know who are the criminals,
and to hunt them."
"And other things. It isn't just police work. They also do counterespionage. Chasing spies," she
added.
"That is CIA, no?"
"No. I can't talk about it, of course, but, no, that is a Bureau function. It's all the same, really, and
it's not like television at all. Mainly it's boring. I read the reports all the time."
"Amazing," Cortez observed comfortably. "All the talents of a woman, and also she educates me."
He smiled encouragement so that she would elaborate. That idiot who'd put him onto her, he
remembered, suggested that he'd have to use money. Cortez thought that his KGB training officers
would have been proud of his technique. The KGB was ever parsimonious with funds.
"Does he make you work so hard?" Cortez asked a minute later.
"Some of the days can go long, but really he's pretty good about that."
"If he makes you work too hard, we will speak, Mr. Jacobs and I. What if I come to Washington
and I cannot see you because you are working?"
"You really want… ?"
"Moira." His voice changed its timbre. Cortez knew that he'd pressed too hard for a first time. It
had gone too easily, and he'd asked too many questions. After all, lonely widow or not, this was a
woman of substance and responsibility - therefore a woman of intellect. But she was also a woman
of feelings, and of passion. He moved his hands and his head. He saw the question on her
face: Again? He smiled his message: Again.
This time he was less patient, no longer a man exploring the unknown. There was familiarity
now. Having established what she liked, his ministrations had direction. Within ten minutes she'd
forgotten all of his questions. She would remember the smell and the feel of him. She would bask in
the return of youth. She would ask herself where things might lead, but not how they had started.
Assignations are conspiratorial by their nature. Just after midnight he returned her to where her
car was parked. Yet again she amazed him with her silence. She held his hand like a schoolgirl, yet
her touch was in no way so simple. One last kiss before she left the car - she wouldn't let him get out.
"Thank you, Juan," she said quietly.
Cortez spoke from the heart. "Moira, because of you I am again a man. You have done more for
me. When next I come to Washington, we must -"
"We will."
He followed her most of the way home, to let her know that he wished to protect her, breaking off
before getting so close to her home that her children - surely they were waiting up - would
notice. Cortez drove back to the apartment with a smile on his face, only partly because of his
mission.
Her co-workers knew at once. With little more than six hours' sleep, Moira bounced into the
office wearing a suit she hadn't touched in a year. There was a sparkle in her eye that could not be
hidden. Even Director Jacobs noticed, but no one said anything. Jacobs understood. He'd buried his
wife only a few months after Moira's loss, and learned that such voids in one's life could never quite
be filled with work. Good for her, he thought. She still had children at home. He'd have to go easier
on her schedule. She deserved another chance at a real life.
8. Deployment
THE AMAZING THING was how smoothly things had gone, Chavez thought. After all, they
were all sergeants, but whoever had set this thing up had been a clever man because there had been
no groping around for which man got which function. There was an operations sergeant in his squad
to assist Captain Ramirez with planning. There was a medical corpsman, a good one from the
Special Forces who already had his weapons training. Julio Vega and Juan Piscador had once been
machine-gunners, and they got the SAWs. The same story applied to their radioman. Each member of
the team fit neatly into a preselected slot, all were sufficiently trained that they respected the expertise
of one another, and further cross-training enhanced that respect even more. The rugged regime of
exercises had extended the pride with which each had arrived, and within two weeks the team had
meshed together like a finely made machine. Chavez, a Ranger School graduate, was point man and
scout. His job was to probe ahead, to move silently from one place of concealment to another, to
watch and listen, then report his observations to Captain Ramirez.
"Okay, where are they?" the captain asked.
"Two hundred meters, just around that corner," Chavez whispered in reply. "Five of them. Three
asleep, two awake. One's sitting by the fire. The other one's got an SMG, walking around some."
It was cool in the mountains at night, even in summer. A distant coyote howled at the
moon. There was the occasional whisper from a deer moving through the trees, and the only sound
associated with man was the distant noise of jets. The clear night made for surprisingly good
visibility, even without the low-light goggles with which they were normally equipped. In the thin
mountain air, the stars overhead didn't sparkle, but shone as constant, discrete points of
light. Ordinarily Chavez would have noticed the beauty, but this was a work night.
Ramirez and the rest of the squad were wearing four-color camouflage fatigues of Belgian
manufacture. Their faces were painted with matching tones from sticks of makeup (understandably
the Army didn't call it that) so that they blended into the shadows as perfectly as Wells' invisible
man. Most importantly, they were totally at home in the darkness. Night was their best and most
powerful friend. Man was a day-hunter. All of his senses, all of his instincts, and all of his
inventions worked best in the light. Primordial rhythms made him less efficient at night - unless he
worked very hard to overcome them, as these soldiers had. Even American Indian tribes living in
close partnership with nature had feared the night, had almost never fought at night, had not even
guarded their encampments at night - thus giving the U.S. Army its first useful doctrine for operations
in darkness. At night man built fires as much for vision as for warmth, but in doing so reduced that
vision to mere feet, whereas the human eye, properly conditioned, can see quite well in the darkness.
"Only five?"
"That's all I counted, sir."
Ramirez nodded and gestured for two more men to come forward. A few quiet orders were
given. He went with the other two, moving to the right to get above the encampment. Chavez went
back forward. His job was to take the sentry down, along with the one dozing at the fire. Moving
quietly in the dark is harder than seeing. The human eye is better at spotting movement in the dark
than in identifying stationary objects. He put each foot down carefully, feeling for something that
might slide or break, thus making noise - the human ear is much underestimated. In daylight his
method of moving would have appeared comical, but stealth has its price. Worst of all, he moved
slowly, and Ding was no more patient than any man still in his twenties. It was a weakness against
which he'd trained himself. He walked in a tight crouch. His weapon was up and ready to guard
against surprise, and as the moment approached, his senses were fully alerted, as though an electric
current ran across his skin. His head swiveled slowly left and right, his eyes never quite locking on
anything, because when one stares at an object in the darkness, it tends to disappear after a few
seconds.
Something bothered Chavez, but he didn't know what it was. He stopped for a moment, looking
around, searching with all his senses over to his left for about thirty seconds. Nothing. For the first
time tonight he found himself wishing for his night goggles. Ding shook it off. Maybe a squirrel or
some other night forager. Not a man, certainly. No one could move in the dark as well as a Ninja, he
smiled to himself, and got back to the business at hand. He reached his position several minutes later,
just behind a scrawny pine tree, and eased down to a kneeling position. Chavez slid the cover off the
green face of his digital watch, watching the numbers march slowly toward the appointed
moment. There was the sentry, moving in a circle around the fire, never more than thirty feet from it,
trying to keep his eyes turned away from it to protect his night vision. But the light reflected off the
rocks and the pines would damage his perceptions badly enough - he looked straight at Chavez twice,
but saw nothing.
Time.
Chavez brought up his MP-5 and loosed a single round into the target's chest. The man flinched
with the impact, grasped the spot where he'd been hit, and dropped to the ground with a surprised
gasp. The MP-5 made only a slight metallic clack, like a small stone rolling against another, but in
the still mountain night, it was something out of the ordinary. The drowsy one by the fire turned
around, but only made it halfway when he too was struck. Chavez figured himself to be on a roll and
was taking aim on one of the sleeping men when the distinctive ripping sound of Julio's squad
automatic weapon jolted them from their slumber. All three leapt to their feet, and were dead before
they got there.
"Where the hell did you come from?" the dead sentry demanded. The place on his chest where the
wax bullet had struck was very sore, all the more so from surprise. By the time he was standing
again, Ramirez and the others were in the camp.
"Kid, you are very good," a voice said behind Chavez, and a hand thumped down on his
shoulder. The sergeant nearly jumped out of his skin as the man walked past him into the
encampment. "Come on."
A rattled Chavez followed the man to the fire. He cleared his weapon on the way - the wax
bullets could do real harm to a man's face.
"We'll score that one a success," the man said. "Five kills, no reaction from the bad
guys. Captain, your machine-gunner got a little carried away. I'd go easier on the rock and roll; the
sound of an automatic weapon carries an awful long way. I'd also try to move in a little closer, but - I
guess that rock there was about the best you could do. Okay, forget that one. My mistake. We can't
always pick the terrain. I liked your discipline on the approach march, and your movement into the
objective was excellent. This point man you have is terrific. He almost picked me up." The last
struck Chavez as faint praise indeed.
"Who the fuck are you!" Ding asked quietly.
"Kid, I was doing this sort of thing for real when you were playing with guns made by
Mattel. Besides, I cheated." Clark held up his night goggles. "I picked my route carefully, and I froze
every time you turned your head. What you heard was my breathing. You almost had me. I thought I
blew the exercise. Sorry. My name's Clark, by the way." A hand appeared.
"Chavez." The sergeant took it.
"You're pretty good, Chavez. Best I've seen in a while. I especially like the footwork. Not many
have the patience you do. We could have used you in the 3rd SOG." It was Clark's highest praise,
and rarely given.
"What's that?"
A grunt and a chuckle. "Something that never existed - don't worry about it."
Clark walked over to examine the two men Chavez had shot. Both were rubbing identical places
on their flak jackets, right over their hearts.
"You know how to shoot, too."
"Anybody can hit with this."
Clark turned to look at the young man. "Remember, when it's for real, it's not quite the same."
Chavez recognized genuine meaning in that statement. "What should I do different, sir?"
"That's the hard part," Clark admitted as the rest of the squad approached the fire. He spoke as a
teacher to a gifted pupil. "Part of you has to pretend it's the same as training. Another part has to
remember that you don't get many mistakes anymore. You have to know which part to listen to, 'cause
it changes from one minute to the next. You got good instincts, kid. Trust 'em. They'll keep you
alive. If things don't feel right, they probably aren't. Don't confuse that with fear."
"Huh?"
"You're going to be afraid out there, Chavez. I always was. Get used to the idea, and it can work
for you 'stead of against you. For Christ's sake, don't be ashamed of it. Half the problem out in Indian
Country is people afraid of being afraid."
"Sir, what the hell are we training for?"
"I don't know yet. Not my department." Clark managed to conceal his feelings on that score. The
training wasn't exactly in accord with what he thought the mission was supposed to be. Ritter might
be having another case of the clevers. There was nothing more worrisome to Clark than a clever
superior.
"You're going to be working with us, though."
It was an exceedingly shrewd observation, Clark thought. He'd asked to come out here, of course,
but realized that Ritter had maneuvered him into asking. Clark was the best man the Agency had for
this sort of thing. There weren't many men with similar experience anywhere in government service,
and most of those, like Clark, were getting a little old for the real thing. Was that all? Clark didn't
know. He knew that Ritter liked to keep things under his hat, especially when he thought he was
being clever. Clever men outsmart themselves, Clark thought, and Ritter wasn't immune from that.
"Maybe," he admitted reluctantly. It wasn't that he minded associating with these men, but Clark
worried about the circumstances that might make it necessary, later on. Can you still cut it, Johnny
boy?
"So?" Director Jacobs asked. Bill Shaw was there, too.
"So he did it, sure as hell," Murray replied as he reached for his coffee. "But taking it to trial
would be nasty. He's a clever guy, and his crew backed him up. If you read up on his file, you'll see
why. He's some officer. The day I went down, he rescued the crew of a burning fishing boat - talk
about perfect timing. There were scorch marks on the hull, he went in so close. Oh, sure, we could
get them all apart and interview them, but just figuring out who was involved would be tricky. I hate
to say this, but it probably isn't worth the hassle, especially with the senator looking over our
shoulder, and the local U.S. Attorney probably won't spring for it either. Bright wasn't all that crazy
about it, but I calmed him down. He's a good kid, by the way."
"What about the defense for the two subjects?" Jacobs asked.
"Slim. On the face of it the case against them is pretty damned solid. Ballistics has matched the
bullet Mobile pulled out of the deck to the gun recovered on the boat, with both men's fingerprints on
it - that was a real stroke of luck. The blood type around where the bullet was found was ABpositive, which matches the wife. A carpet stain three feet away from that confirms that she was
having her period, which along with a couple of semen stains suggests rape rather strongly. Right
now they're doing the DNA match downstairs on semen samples recovered from the rug - anybody
here want to bet against a positive match? We have a half-dozen bloody fingerprints that match the
subjects ten points' worth or more. There's a lot of good physical evidence. It's more than enough to
convict already," Murray said confidently, "and the lab boys haven't got halfway through their
material yet. The U.S. Attorney is going to press for capital punishment. I'll think he'll get it. The
only question is whether or not we allow them to trade information for a lighter sentence. But it's not
exactly my case." That earned Murray a smile from the Director.
"Pretend it is," Jacobs ordered.
"We'll know in a week or so if we need anything they can tell us. My instincts say no. We ought
to be able to figure out who the victim was working for, and that'll be the one who ordered the hit we just don't know why yet. But it's unlikely that the subjects know why either. I think we have a
couple of sicarios who hoped to parlay their hit into an entree to the marketing side of the business. I
think they're throwaways. If that's correct, they don't know anything that we can't figure out for
ourselves. I suppose we have to give them a chance, but I would recommend against mitigation of
sentence. Four murders - bad ones at that. We have a death-penalty statute, and to this brick-agent, I
think the chair would fit them just fine."
"Getting nasty in your old age?" Shaw asked. It was another inside joke. Bill Shaw was one of
the Bureau's leading intellectuals. He had won his spurs cracking down on domestic terrorist groups,
and had accomplished that mission by carefully rebuilding the FBI's intelligence-gathering and
analysis procedures. A quintessential chess player with a quiet, organized demeanor, this tall, spare
man was also a former field agent who advocated capital punishment in a quiet, organized, and wellreasoned way. It was a point on which police opinion was almost universal. All you had to do to
understand capital punishment was to see a crime scene in all its vile spectacle.
"The U.S. Attorney agrees, Dan," Director Jacobs said. "These two druggies are out of the
business for keeps."
As if it matters, Murray thought to himself. What mattered to him was that two murderers would
pay the price. Because a sufficiently large stash of drugs had been found aboard the yacht, the
government could invoke the statute that allowed the death penalty in drug-related murders. The
relationship was probably a loose one in this case, but that didn't matter to the three men in the
room. The fact of murder - brutal and premeditated - was enough. But to say, as both they and the
United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama would tell the TV cameras, that this was
a fight against the drug trade, was a cynical lie.
Murray's education had been a classical one at Boston College, thirty years before. He could still
recite passages in Latin from Virgil's Aeneid, or Cicero's opening salvo against Catiline. His study of
Greek had been only in translation - foreign languages were one thing to Murray; different alphabets
were something else - but he remembered the legend of the Hydra, the mythical beast that had seven
or more heads. Each time you cut one off, two would grow to take its place. So it was with the drug
trade. There was just too much money involved. Money beyond the horizon of greed. Money to
purchase anything a simple man - most of them were - could desire. A single deal could make a man
wealthy for life, and there were many who would willingly and consciously risk their lives for that
one deal. Having decided to wager their lives on a toss of the dice - what value might they attach to
the lives of others? The answer was the obvious one. And so they killed as casually and as brutally
as a child might stamp down his foot on an anthill. They killed their competitors because they didn't
wish to have competition. They killed their competitors' families whole because they didn't want a
wrathful son to appear five, ten, twenty years later with vendetta on his mind; and also because, like
nation-states armed with nuclear weapons, the principle of deterrence came into play. Even a man
willing to wager his own life might quail before the prospect of wagering those of his children.
So in this case they'd cut off two heads from the Hydra. In three months or so the government
would present its case in Federal District Court. The trial would probably last a week.
The defense would do its best, but as long as the feds were careful with their evidence, they'd
win. The defense would try to discredit the Coast Guard, but it wasn't hard to see what the
prosecutor had already decided: the jury would look at Captain Wegener and see a hero, then look at
the defendants and see scum. The only likely tactic of the defense would almost certainly be
counterproductive. Next, the judge had to make the proper rulings, but this was the South, where even
federal judges were expected to have simple, clear ideas about justice. Once the defendants had been
found guilty, the penalty phase of the trial would proceed, and again, this was the South, where
people read their Bibles. The jury would listen to the aggravating circumstances: mass murder of a
family, probability of rape, murder of children, and drugs. But there was a million dollars aboard,
the defense would counter. The principal victim was involved in the drug trade. What proof of that
is there? the prosecutor would inquire piously - and what of the wife and children? The jury would
listen quietly, soberly, almost reverently, would get their instructions from the same judge who had
told them how to find the defendants guilty in the first place. They'd deliberate a reasonable period of
time, going through the motions of thorough consideration for a decision made days earlier, and report
back: death. The criminals, no longer defendants, would be remanded to federal custody. The case
would automatically be appealed, but a reversal was unlikely so long as the judge hadn't made any
serious procedural errors, which the physical evidence made unlikely. It would take years of
appeals. People would object to the sentence on philosophical grounds - Murray disagreed but
respected them for their views. The Supreme Court would have to rule sooner or later, but the
Supremes, as the police called them, knew that, despite earlier rulings to the contrary, the Constitution
clearly contemplated capital punishment, and the will of the People, expressed through Congress, had
directly mandated death in certain drug-related cases, as the majority opinion would make clear in its
precise, dry use of the language. So, in about five years, after all the appeals had been heard and
rejected, both men would be strapped into a wooden chair and a switch would be thrown.
That would be enough for Murray. For all his experience and sophistication, he was before all
things a cop. He was an adulthood beyond his graduation from the FBI Academy, when he'd thought
that he and his classmates - mostly retired now - would really change the world. The statistics said
that they had in many ways, but statistics were too dry, too remote, too inhuman. To Murray the war
on crime was an endless series of small battles. Victims were robbed alone, kidnapped alone, or
killed alone, and were individuals to be saved or avenged by the warrior-priests of the FBI. Here,
too, his outlook was shaped by the values of his Catholic education, and the Bureau remained a
bastion of Irish-Catholic America. Perhaps he hadn't changed the world, but he had saved lives, and
he had avenged deaths. New criminals would arise as they always did, but his battles had all ended
in victories, and ultimately, he had to believe, there would be a net difference for his society, and the
difference would be a positive one. He believed as truly as he believed in God that every felon
caught was probably a life saved, somewhere down the line.
In this case he had helped to do so again.
But it wouldn't matter a damn to the drug business. His new post forced him to assume a longer
view that ordinary agents contemplated only over drinks after their offices closed. With these two out
of circulation, the Hydra had already grown two new heads, Murray knew, perhaps more. His
mistake was in not pursuing the myth to its conclusion, something others were already
doing. Heracles had slain the Hydra by changing tactics. One of the people who had remembered
that fact was in this room. What Murray had not yet learned was that at the policy-making level, one's
perspective gradually changed one's views.
Cortez liked the view also, despite the somewhat thinner air of this eyrie. His newly acquired
boss knew the superficial ways to communicate his power. His desk faced away from the wide
window, making it hard for those opposite the massive desk to read the expression on his face. He
spoke with the calm, quiet voice of great power. His gestures were economical, his words generally
mild. In fact he was a brutal man, Cortez knew, and despite his education a less sophisticated man
than he deemed himself to be, but that, Félix knew, was why he'd been hired. So the former colonel
trained in Moscow Center adjusted the focus of his eyes to examine the green vista of the valley. He
allowed Escobedo to play his eye-power games. He'd played them with far more dangerous men than
this one.
"So?"
"I have recruited two people," Cortez replied. "One will feed us information for monetary
considerations. The other will do so for other reasons. I also examined two other potential
prospects, but discarded them as unsuitable."
"Who are they - who are the ones you will use?"
"No." Cortez shook his head. "I have told you that the identity of my agents must remain
secret. This is a principle of intelligence operations. You have informers within your organization,
and loose talk would compromise our ability to gather the information which you require. Jefe," he
said fawningly. This one needed that sort of thing. "Jefe, you have hired me for my expertise and
experience. You must allow me to do my work properly. You will know the quality of my sources
from the information which I give you. I understand how you feel. It is normal. Castro himself has
asked me that question, and I gave him the same answer. It must be so."
That earned Cortez a grunt. Escobedo liked to be compared with a chief of state, better still one
who had defied the yanquis so successfully for a generation. There would be a satisfied smile now
on the handsome face, Félix knew without bothering to check for it. His answer was a lie for two
reasons: Castro had never asked the question, and neither Félix nor anyone else on that island would
ever have dared to deny him the information.
"So what have you learned?"
"Something is afoot," he said in a matter-of-fact voice that was almost taunting. After all, he had
to justify his salary. "The American government is putting together a new program designed to
enhance their interdiction efforts. My sources have no specifics as yet, though what they have heard
has come from multiple sources and is probably true. My other source will be able to confirm what
information I receive from the first." The lesson was lost on Escobedo, Félix knew. Recruiting two
complementary sources on a single mission would have earned him a flowery commendation letter
from any real intelligence service.
"What will the information cost us?"
Money. It is always money with him, Cortez told himself with a stifled sigh. No wonder he
needed a professional with his security operations. Only a fool thinks that he can buy everything. On
the other hand, there were times when money was helpful, and though he didn't know it, Escobedo
paid more money to his American hirelings and traitors than the entire Communist intelligence
network.
"It is better to spend a great deal of money on one person at a high level than to squander it on a
large number of minor functionaries. A quarter of a million dollars will do nicely to get the
information which we require." Cortez would be keeping most of that, of course. He had expenses of
his own.
"That is all?" Escobedo asked incredulously. "I pay more than that to -"
"Because your people have never used the proper approach, jefe. Because you pay people on the
basis of where they are, not what they know. You have never adopted a systematic approach to
dealing with your enemies. With the proper information, you can utilize your funds much more
efficiently. You can act strategically instead of tactically," Cortez concluded by pushing the proper
button.
"Yes! They must learn that we are a force to be reckoned with!"
Not for the first time, Félix thought that his main objective was to take the money and run…
perhaps a house in Spain… or, perhaps, to supplant this egomaniacal buffoon. That was a
thought… But not for now. Escobedo was an egomaniac, but he was also a shrewd one, capable of
rapid action. One difference between this man and those who ran his former agency was that
Escobedo wasn't afraid to make a decision, and do it quickly. No bureaucracy here, no multiplicity
of desks for messages to pass. For that he respected El Jefe. At least he knew how to make a
decision. KGB had probably been that way once, maybe even the American intelligence organs. But
no longer.
"One more week," Ritter told the National Security Adviser.
"Nice to hear that things are moving," the Admiral observed. "Then what?"
"Why don't you tell me? Just to keep things clear," the DDO suggested. He followed it with a
reminder. "After all, the operation was your idea in the first place."
"Well, I sold Director Jacobs on the idea," Cutter replied with a smile at his own cleverness.
"When we're ready to proceed - and I mean ready to push the button - Jacobs will fly down there to
meet with their Attorney General. The ambassador says that the Colombians will go along with
almost anything. They're even more desperate than we are and -"
"You didn't -"
"No, Bob, the ambassador doesn't know. Okay?" I'm not the idiot you take me for, his eyes told
the CIA executive. "If Jacobs can sell the idea to them, we insert the teams ASAP. One change I want
to make."
"What's that?"
"The air side of it. Your report says that practice tracking missions are already turning up
targets."
"Some," Ritter admitted. "Two or three per week."
"The wherewithal to handle them is already in place. Why not activate that part of the
operation? I mean, it might actually help to identify the areas we want to send the insertion teams to,
develop operational intelligence, that sort of thing."
"I'd prefer to wait," Ritter said cautiously.
"Why? If we can identify the most frequently used areas, it cuts down on the amount of moving
around they'll have to do. That's your greatest operational risk, isn't it? This is a way to develop
information that enhances the entire operational concept."
The problem with Cutter, Ritter told himself, was that the bastard knew just enough about
operations to be dangerous. Worse, he had the power to enforce his will - and a memory of the
Operations Directorate's recent history. What was it he'd said a few months back? Your best
operations in the last couple of years actually came out of Greer's department… By which he
meant Jack Ryan, James's bright rising star - possibly the new DDI the way things looked. That was
too bad. Ritter was genuinely fond of his counterpart at the head of the Intelligence Directorate, but
less so of Greer's ingratiating protégé. But it was nevertheless true that the Agency's two best coups
in recent years had begun in the "wrong" department, and it was time for Operations to reassert its
primacy. Ritter wondered if Cutter was consciously using that as a prod to move him to
action. Probably not, he decided. Cutter didn't know enough about infighting yet. Not that he
wouldn't learn, of course.
"Going too early is a classic error in field operations," the DDO offered lamely.
"But we're not. Essentially we have two separate operations, don't we?" Cutter asked. "The air
part can operate independently of the in-country part. I admit it'll be less effective, but it can still
operate. Doesn't this give us a chance to check out the less tricky side of the plan before we commit
to the dangerous part? Doesn't it give us something to take to the Colombians to show that we're
really serious?"
Too soon, the voice in Ritter's head said urgently, but his face showed indecision.
"Look, do you want me to take it to the President?" Cutter asked.
"Where is he today - California?"
"Political trip. I would prefer not to bother him with this sort of thing, but -"
It was a curious situation, the DDO thought. He had underestimated Cutter, while the National
Security Adviser seemed quite able to overestimate himself. "Okay, you win. EAGLE EYE starts day
after tomorrow. It'll take that long to get everyone up and running."
"And SHOWBOAT?"
"One more week to prep the teams. Four days to get them to Panama and meet up with the air
assets, check communications systems and all that."
Cutter grinned as he reached for his coffee. It was time to smooth some ruffled feathers, he
thought. "God, it's nice to work with a real pro. Look on the bright side, Bob. We'll have two full
weeks to interrogate whatever turns up in the air net, and the insertion teams will have a much better
idea of where they're needed."
You've already won, you son of a bitch. Do you have to rub it in? Ritter wanted to ask. He
wondered what would have happened if he'd called Cutter's cards. What would the President have
said? Ritter's position was a vulnerable one. He'd grumbled long and loud within the intelligence
community that CIA hadn't run a serious field operation in… fifteen years? It depended on what you
meant by "serious," didn't it? Now he was being given the chance, and what had been a nice line to
be spoken at the coffee sessions during high-level government conferences was now a gray chicken
come home to roost.
Field operations like this were dangerous.
Dangerous to the
participants. Dangerous to those who gave the orders. Dangerous to the governments that sponsored
them. He'd told Cutter that often enough, but like many, the National Security Adviser was
mesmerized by the glamour of field ops. It was known in the trade as the Mission: Impossible
Syndrome. Even professionals could confuse a TV drama with reality, and, throughout government,
people tended to hear only that which they wished to hear, and to ignore the unpleasant parts. But it
was somewhat late for Ritter to give out his warnings. After all, he'd complained for years that such
a mission was possible, and occasionally a desirable adjunct to international policy. And he'd said
often enough that his directorate still knew how to do it. The fact that he'd had to recruit field
operatives from the Army and Air Force had escaped notice. Time had been when the Agency had
been able to use its own private air force and its own private army… and if this worked out, perhaps
those times would come again. It was a capability the Agency and the country needed, Ritter
thought. Here, perhaps, was his chance to make it all happen. If putting up with amateur powervendors like Cutter was the price of getting it, then that was the price he'd have to pay.
"Okay, I'll get things moving."
"I'll tell the boss. How soon do you expect we'll have results… ?"
"Impossible to say."
"But before November," Cutter suggested lightly.
"Yeah, probably by then." Politics, too, of course. Well, that was what kept traffic circling
around the beltway.
The 1st Special Operations Wing was based at Hurlburt Field, at the west end of the Eglin Air
Force Base complex in Florida. It was a unique unit, but any military unit with "Special" in its name
was unique by its very nature. The adjective was used for any number of meanings. "Special
weapons" most often meant nuclear weapons, and here the word was used to avoid offending the
sensibilities of those for whom "nuclear" connoted mushroom clouds and megadeaths; it was as
though a change of wording could effect a change of substance, yet another characteristic of
governments all over the world. "Special Operations," on the other hand, meant something
else. Generally it denoted covert business, getting people into places where they ought not to be,
supporting them while they were there, and getting them out after concluding business that they ought
not to have done in the first place. That, among other things, was the business of the 1st.
Colonel Paul Johns - "PJ" - didn't know everything the wing did. The 1st was rather an odd
grouping where authority didn't always coincide with rank, where the troops provided support for the
aircraft and crews without always knowing why they did so, where aircraft came and went on
irregular schedules, and where people weren't encouraged to speculate or ask questions. The wing
was divided into individual fiefdoms that interacted with others on an ad hoc basis. PJ's fiefdom
included half a dozen MH-53J "Pave Low III" helicopters. Johns had been around for quite a while,
and somehow had managed to spend nearly all of his Air Force career in the air. It was a career path
that guaranteed him both a fulfilling, exciting career, and precisely zero chance at ever wearing
general's stars. But on that score he didn't give much of a damn. He'd joined the Air Force to fly;
something generals don't get to do very much. He'd kept his part of the bargain, and the service had
kept its, which wasn't quite as common an arrangement as some would imagine. Johns had early on
eschewed fixed-wing aircraft, the fast-movers that dropped bombs or shot down other aircraft. A
people-person all of his life, Johns had started off in the Jolly Green Giants, the HH-3 rescue
helicopters of Vietnam fame, then graduated to the Super Jolly HH-53, part of the Air Rescue
Service. As a brash young captain he'd flown in the Song Tay Raid, copilot of the aircraft that had
deliberately crashed into the prison camp twenty miles west of Hanoi as part of the effort to rescue
people who, it turned out, had been moved just a short time before. That had been one of the few
failures in his life. Colonel Johns was not a man accustomed to such things. If you went down, PJ
would come get you. He was the third-ranking all-time rescue specialist in the Air Force. The
current Chief of Staff and two other general officers had been excused a stay in the Hanoi Hilton
because of him and his crews. PJ was a man who only rarely had to buy himself a drink. He was
also a man whom general officers saluted first. It was a tradition that went along with the Medal of
Honor.
Like most heroes, he was grossly ordinary. Only five-six and a hundred thirty pounds, he looked
like any other middle-aged man picking up a loaf of bread in the base exchange. The reading glasses
he now had to wear made him look rather like a friendly suburban banker, and he did not often raise
his voice. He cut his own grass when he had the time, and his wife did it when he didn't. His car
was a fuel-efficient Plymouth Horizon. His son was studying engineering at Georgia Tech, and his
daughter had won a scholarship to Princeton, leaving him and his wife an overly quiet house on post
in which to contemplate the retirement that lay a few years in the future.
But not now. He sat in the left seat of the Pave Low helicopter checking out a bright young
captain who, everyone thought, was ready to be a command pilot himself. The multimillion-dollar
helicopter was skimming treetops at a hair under two hundred knots. It was a dark, cloudy night over
the Florida panhandle, and this part of the Eglin complex wasn't brightly lit, but that didn't matter.
Both he and the captain wore special helmets with built-in low-light goggles, not terribly unlike what
Darth Vader wore in Star Wars. But these worked, converting the vague darkness ahead into a green
and gray display. PJ kept his head moving around, and made sure that the captain did the same. One
danger with the night-vision gear was that your depth perception - a matter of life and death to a lowlevel flyer - was degraded by the artificial picture generated by the masks. Perhaps a third of the
squadron's operational losses, Johns thought, could be traced to that particular hazard, and the
technical wizards hadn't come up with a decent fix yet. One problem with the Pave Lows was that
operational and training losses were relatively high. It was a price of the mission for which they
trained, and there was no answer to that but more training.
The six-bladed rotor spun overhead, driven by the two turboshaft engines. Pave Low was about
as big as helicopters got, with a full combat crew of six and room for over forty combat-equipped
passengers. The nose bulged at various places with radar, infrared, and other instruments - the
general effect was of an insect from another planet. At doors on each side of the airframe were
mounts for rotary miniguns, plus another at the tail cargo door, because their primary mission, covert
insertion and support of special-operations forces, was a dangerous business - as was the secondary
role they practiced tonight, combat search-and-rescue. During his time in Southeast Asia, PJ had
worked with A-l Skyraider attack bombers, the Air Force's last piston-engine attack aircraft, called
SPADs or Sandys. Exactly who would support them today was still something of an open question.
To protect herself, in addition to the guns the aircraft carried flare and chaff pods, IR jamming and
suppression gear … and her crew of madmen.
Johns smiled within his helmet. This was real flying, and there wasn't much of that left. They had
the option of flying with the aid of an autopilot-radar-computer system that hedgehopped
automatically, but tonight they were simulating a system failure. Autopilot or not, the pilot was
responsible for flying the airplane, and Willis was doing his best to keep the helicopter down on the
treetops. Every so often Johns would have to stop himself from flinching as an errant tree branch
seemed certain to slap against the chopper's underside, but Captain Willis was a competent young
man, keeping the aircraft low, but not too low. Besides, as PJ knew from long experience, the top
branches on trees were thin, fragile things that did nothing more than mar the paint. More than once
he'd brought home a helicopter whose underside bore green stains like those on a child's jeans.
"Distance?" Willis asked.
Colonel Johns checked the navigation display. He had a choice of Doppler, satellite, or inertial,
plus the old-fashioned plotting board that he still used, and still insisted that all his people learn.
"Two miles, zero-four-eight."
"Roger." Willis eased off on the throttle.
For this training mission, an honest-to-God fighter pilot had "volunteered" to be trucked out to the
boonies, where another helicopter had draped a parachute over a tree to simulate a genuinely shotdown airman, who had in turn activated a genuine rescue-beacon radio. One of the new tricks was
that the chute was coated with a chemical that fluoresced on ultraviolet light. Johns did the copilot's
job of activating a low-power UV laser that scanned ahead, looking for the return signal. Whoever
had come up with this idea deserved a medal, PJ thought. The worst, scariest, and always seemingly
the longest part of any rescue mission was actually getting eyeballs on the victim. That was when the
gomers on the ground, who were also out hunting, would hear the sound of the rotor and decide that
they might as well bag two aircraft on the same day… His Medal of Honor had come on such a
mission over eastern Laos, when the crew of an F-105 Wild Weasel had attracted a platoon of
NVA. Despite aggressive support from the Sandy team, the downed airmen hadn't dared to reveal
their position. But Johns had coldly decided not to go home empty, and his Jolly had absorbed two
hundred rounds in a furious gunfight before getting both men out. Johns often wondered if he'd ever
have the courage - lunacy - to try that again.
"I got a chute at two o'clock."
"X-Ray Two-Six, this is Papa Lima; we have your chute. Can you mark your position?"
"Affirmative, tossing smoke, tossing green smoke."
The rescuee was following proper procedure in telling the chopper crew what sort of smoke
grenade he was using, but you couldn't tell in the dark. On the other hand, the heat of the pyrotechnic
device blazed like a beacon on the infrared display, and they could see their man.
"Got him?"
"Yep," Willis answered, and spoke next to the crew chief. "Get ready, we have our victim."
"Standing by, sir." In the back the flight engineer, Senior Master Sergeant Buck Zimmer - he and
the colonel went way back together - activated his winch controls. At the end of the steel cable was a
heavy steel device called a penetrator. Heavy enough to fall through the foliage of any forest, its
bottom unfolded like the petals of a flower, providing a seat for the victim, who would then be pulled
back up through the branches, an experience which remarkably enough had never quite killed
anyone. In the event that the victim was injured, it was the job of Sergeant Zimmer or a rescue
paramedic to ride it down, attach the victim to the penetrator, and take the elevator ride himself. That
job sometimes entailed physically searching for the victim, often under fire. It was for this reason
that the people who flew the rescue choppers treated their crewmen with considerable
respect. Nothing so horrifies a pilot as the idea of being on the ground, with people shooting at you.
But not this time. Since it was peacetime and safety rules applied, training or not, the pickup was
being made from a small clearing. Zimmer worked the winch controls. The victim unfolded the seatpetals and hooked himself securely aboard, knowing what was to follow. The flight engineer started
hoisting the cable, made sure that the victim was firmly attached, and so notified the flight crew.
On the flight deck, forward, Captain Willis immediately twisted the throttle control to full power
and moved upward. Within fifteen seconds, the "rescued" fighter pilot was three hundred feet over
the ground, hanging by a quarter-inch steel cable and wondering why in the hell he'd been so fucking
idiotic to volunteer for this. Five seconds later, the burly arm of Sergeant Zimmer yanked him into the
aircraft.
"Recovery complete," Zimmer reported.
Captain Willis pushed his cyclic control forward, diving the helicopter at the ground. He'd
climbed too much on the extraction, he knew, and tried to compensate by showing Colonel Johns that
he could get back down to the safety of the treetops very quickly. He accomplished this, but he could
feel the eyes of his commander on the side of his head. He'd made a mistake.
Johns did not tolerate mistakes. People died of mistakes, the colonel told them every goddamned
day, and he was tired of having people die.
"Can you take it for a minute?" Willis asked.
"Copilot's airplane," Johns acknowledged, taking the stick and easing the Sikorsky down another
foot or so. "You don't want to climb so much winching the guy in, not with possible SAMs out there."
"At night you'd expect more guns than SAMs." Willis was right, sort of. It was a hard call. And
he knew the answer that would come.
"We're protected against small-caliber guns. The big ones are as dangerous as SAMs. You keep
it closer to the ground next time, Captain."
"Yes, sir."
"Other than that, not bad. Arm a little stiff?"
"Yes, sir."
"It might be the gloves. Unless your fingers fit in just right, you end up gripping too hard, and that
translates back into the wrist and upper arm after a while. You end up with a stiff arm, stiff
movements on the stick, and sloppy handling. Get yourself a good set of gloves. My wife makes
mine for me special. You might not always have a copilot to take the airplane, and this sort of thing is
tough enough that you don't want any more distractions than you gotta have."
"Yes, sir."
"By the way, you passed."
It wouldn't do to thank the colonel, Captain Willis knew. He did the next best thing after flexing
his hand for a minute.
"I got the airplane."
PJ took his hand off the stick. "Pilot's airplane," he acknowledged. "By the way…"
"Yes, sir?"
"I've got a special job coming up in a week or so. Interested?"
"Doing what?"
"You're not supposed to ask that," the colonel told him. "A little TDY. Not too far away. We'll
be flying this bird down. Call it Spec-Ops."
"Okay," Willis said. "Count me in. Who's cleared to -"
"In simple terms, nobody is. We're taking Zimmer, Childs, and Bean, and a support team. Far as
everybody knows, we're TDY for some practice missions out on the California coast. That's all you
need to know for now."
Inside his helmet, Willis's eyebrow went up. Zimmer had worked with PJ all the way back to
Thailand and the Jolly Green days, one of the few enlisted men left with real combat
experience. Sergeant Bean was the squadron's best gunner. Childs was right behind him. Whatever
this TDY - temporary detached duty - assignment was, it was for real. It also meant that Willis would
remain a copilot for a little while longer, but he didn't mind. It was always a treat flying with the
champion of Combat Search and Rescue. That was where the colonel got his call sign. C-SAR, in
PJ's lexicon, it came out "Caesar."
Chavez traded a look with Julio Vega: Jesucristo!
"Any questions?" the briefer asked.
"Yes, sir," a radio operator said. "What happens after we call it in?"
"The aircraft will be intercepted."
"For-real, sir?"
"That's up to the flight crew. If they don't do what they're told, they're going swimming. That's all
I can say. Gentlemen, everything you've heard is Top Secret. Nobody - I mean nobody! - ever hears
what I just said. If the wrong folks ever learn about this, people will get hurt. The objective of this
mission is to put a crimp in the way people move drugs into the United States. It may get a little
rough."
"About fucking time," a quiet voice observed.
"Okay, now you know. I repeat, gentlemen, this mission is going to be dangerous. We are going
to give each of you some time to think about it. If you want out, we'll understand. We're dealing with
some pretty bad folks. Of course" - the man smiled and went on after a moment - "we got some pretty
bad people here, too."
"Fuckin' A!" another voice said.
"Anyway, you have the rest of the night to think this one over. We move out at eighteen-hundred
hours tomorrow. There is no turning back at that point. Everybody understand? Good. That is all
for now."
"Ten-Hut!" Captain Ramirez snapped. Everyone in the room jumped to attention as the briefer
left. Then it was the captain's turn: "Okay, you heard the man. Give this one a real good think,
people. I want you to come along on this one - hell, I need every one of you - but if you're not
comfortable with the idea, I don't want you. You got any questions for me?" There weren't.
"Okay. Some of you know people who got fucked up because of drugs. Maybe friends, maybe
family, I don't know. What we have here is a chance to get even. Those bastards are fucking up our
country, and it's time we taught 'em a little lesson. Think it over. If anyone has any problems, let me
know right away. If anybody wants out, that's okay." His face and tone said something else
entirely. Anyone who opted out would be seen by his officer as something less than a man, and that
would be doubly painful since Ramirez had led his men, shared every hardship, and sweated with
them through every step of training. He turned and left.
"Damn," Chavez observed finally. "I figured this was going to be a strange one, but… damn."
"I had a friend died of an OD," Vega said. "He was just playing around, y'know, not a regular user
like, but I guess it was bad stuff. Scared the shit outa me. I never touched it again. I was pissed
when that happened. Tomás was a friend, 'mano. The fucker sold him the shit, man, I wouldn't mind
introducin' him to my SAW."
Chavez nodded as thoughtfully as his age and education allowed. He remembered the gangs who
had been vicious enough in his early childhood, but that activity seemed almost playful in
retrospect. Now the turf fights were not the mere symbolism over who dwelt on what block. Now it
was over marketing position. There was serious money involved, more than enough to kill for. That
was what had transformed his old neighborhood from a zone of poverty to an area of open
combat. Some people he knew were afraid to walk their own streets because of other people with
drugs and guns. Wild rounds came through windows and killed people in front of televisions, and the
cops were often afraid to visit the projects unless they came with the numbers and weapons of an
invading army… all because of drugs. And the people who caused it all were living high and safe,
fifteen hundred miles away…
Chavez didn't begin to grasp how skillfully he and his fellows - even Captain Ramirez - had been
manipulated. They were all soldiers who trained constantly to protect their country against its
enemies, products of a system that took their youth and enthusiasm and gave it direction; that
rewarded hard work with achievement and pride; that most of all gave their boundless energy
purpose; that asked only for allegiance in return. Since enlisted soldiers most often come from the
poorer strata of society, they all had learned that minority status did not matter - the Army rewarded
performance without consideration to one's color or accent. All of these men were intimately aware
of the social problems caused by drugs, and were part of a subculture in which drugs were not
tolerated - the military's effort to expunge its ranks of drug users had been painful, but it had
succeeded. Those who stayed in were people for whom the use of drugs was beyond the pale. They
were the achievers from their neighborhoods. They were the success stories. They were the
adventurous, the brave, the disciplined graduates of the mean streets for whom obstacles were things
to be overcome, and for whom every instinct was to help others to do the same.
And that was the mission they all contemplated. Here was a chance to protect not only their
country, but also the barrios from which they had all escaped. Already marked as achievers within
the ranks of the Army's most demanding units, then given training to make them prouder still, they
could no more decline participation in this mission than they could deny their manhood. There was
not a man here who had not once in his life contemplated taking down a drug dealer. But the Army
was letting them do something even better. Of course they'd do it.
"Blow the fuckers right out of the sky!" the squad's radio operator said. "Put a Sidewinder missile
right up his ass! You got the right to remain dead, sucker!"
"Yeah," Vega agreed. "I wouldn't mind seeing that. Hell, I wouldn't mind it if we got to go after
the big shots where they fucking live! Think we could get them, Ding?"
Chavez grinned. "You shittin' me, Julio? Who you suppose they got working for them,
soldiers? Shit. Punks with machine guns, probably don't even keep 'em clean. Against
us? Shit. Maybe against what they got down there, maybe, but against us? No chance, man. I'm
talking dead meat. I just get in close, pop the sentries nice an' quiet with my H and K, an' let you
turkeys do the easy stuff."
"More Ninja shit," a rifleman said lightly.
Ding pulled one of his throwing stars from his shirt pocket and flicked it into the doorframe fifteen
feet away.
"Smile when you say that, boy." Chavez laughed.
"Hey, Ding, could you teach me to do that?" the rifleman asked. There was no further discussion
of the mission's dangers, only of its opportunities.
They called him Bronco. His real name was Jeff Winters, and he was a newly promoted captain
in the United States Air Force, but because his job was flying fighter aircraft he had to have a special
name, known as a call sign. His resulted from a nearly forgotten party in Colorado - he'd graduated
from the United States Air Force Academy - at which he'd fallen from a horse so gentle that the
animal had nearly died of fright. The six-pack of Coors had contributed to the fall, along with the
laughter that followed from his amused classmates, and one of them - the asshole was flying trashhaulers now, Winters told himself with a tight smile - assigned him the name on the spot. The
classmate knew how to ride horses, Bronco told the night, but he hadn't made the grade to fly F-15Charlies. The world wasn't exactly overrun with justice, but there was some to be found.
Which was the whole purpose of his special mission.
Winters was a small man, and a young one. Twenty-seven, to be exact, he already had seven
hundred hours in the McDonnell-Douglas fighter. As some men were born to play baseball, or to act,
or to drive race cars, Bronco Winters had entered the world for the single purpose of flying fighter
planes. He had the sort of eyesight to make an ophthalmologist despair, coordination that combined
the best of a concert pianist and the man on the flying trapeze, and a much rarer quality known in his
tight community as SA - situational awareness. Winters always knew what was happening around
him. His airplane was as natural a part of the young man as the muscles in his arm. He transmitted
his wishes to the airplane and the F-15C complied at once, precisely mimicking the mental image in
the pilot's mind. Where his mind went, the airplane followed.
At the moment he was orbiting two hundred miles off the Florida Gulf Coast. He'd taken off from
Eglin Air Force Base forty minutes earlier, topped off his fuel from a KC-135 tanker, and now he had
enough JP-5 aboard to fly for five hours if he took things easy, as he had every intention of
doing. FAST-pack conformal fuel cells were attached along the sides of his aircraft. Ordinarily they
were hung with missiles as well - the F-15 can carry as many as eight - but for this evening's mission
the only ordnance aboard were the rounds for his 20mm rotary cannon, and these were always kept
aboard the aircraft because their weight was a convenience in maintaining the Eagle's flying trim.
He flew in a racetrack pattern, his engines throttled down to loitering speed. Bronco's dark, sharp
eyes swept continuously left and right, searching for the running lights of other aircraft but finding
none among the stars. He wasn't the least bit bored. He was, rather, a man quietly delighted that the
taxpayers of his country were actually foolish enough to give him over $30,000 per year to do
something for which he would have been grateful to pay. Well, he told himself, I guess that's what I'm
doing tonight.
"Two-Six Alpha, this is Eight-Three Quebec, do you read, over?" his radio crackled. Bronco
squeezed the trigger on his stick.
"Eight-Three Quebec, this is Two-Six Alpha. I read you five by five, over." The radio channel
was encrypted. Only the two aircraft were using the unique encoding algorithm for this evening; all
that anyone trying to listen in would hear would be the warbling rasp of static.
"We have a target on profile, bearing one-nine-six, range two-one-zero your position. Angels
two. Course zero-one-eight. Speed two-six-five. Over." There was no command to accompany this
information. Despite the secure radios, chatter was kept to a minimum.
"Roger, copy. Out."
Captain Winters moved his stick left. The proper course and speed for his intercept sprang into
his mind unbidden. The Eagle changed over to a southerly heading. Winters dropped the nose a
touch as he brought the fighter to a course of one hundred eighty degrees and increased power a
fraction to bring his speed up. It actually seemed that he was abusing the airplane to fly her this slow,
but that was not actually the case.
It was a twin-engined Beech, Captain Winters saw, the most common aircraft used by the
druggies. That meant cocaine rather than the bulkier marijuana, and that suited him, since it was
probably a cokehead who'd mugged his mom. He pulled his F-15 level behind it, about half a mile
back.
This was the eighth time he'd intercepted a drug runner, but it was the first time he'd be allowed to
do something about it. On the previous occasions he'd not even been allowed to call the information
in to the Customs boys. Bronco verified the course of the target - for fighter pilots anything other than
a friendly was a target - and checked his systems. The directional radio transmitter hanging in the
streamlined container under the fighter's centerline slaved itself to the radar tracking Beech. He made
his first radio call, and flipped on his landing lights, transfixing the small executive aircraft in the
night. Immediately the Beech dived for the wave tops, and the Eagle followed it down. He called
again, giving his order and getting no response. He moved the button on the top of his stick to the
"guns" position. The next call was accompanied by a burst from his cannon. This started the Beech
in a series of radical evasive turns. Winters decided that the target was not going to do what it was
told.
Okay.
An ordinary pilot might have been startled by the lights and turned to evade a collision, but an
ordinary pilot would not do what the druggies did. The Beech dived for the wave tops, reduced
power, and popped his flaps, slowing the aircraft down to approach speed, which was far slower
than the F-15 could do without stalling out. This maneuver often forced the DEA and Coast Guard
planes to break contact. But Bronco's job wasn't to follow the guy in. As the Beech turned west to
run for the Mexican coast, Captain Winters killed his lights, added power, and zoomed up to five
thousand feet. There he executed a smart hammerhead turn and took a nose-down attitude, the Eagle's
radar sweeping the surface of the sea. There: heading due west, speed 85 knots, only a few feet over
the water. A gutsy pilot, Bronco thought, holding that close to a stall and that low. Not that it
mattered.
Winters extended his own speed brakes and flaps, taking the fighter down. He felt to make sure
that the selector button was still in the "guns" position and watched the Head-Up Display, bringing the
pipper right on the target and holding it there. It might have been harder if the Beech had kept speed
up and tried to maneuver, but it wouldn't really have mattered. Bronco was just too good, and in his
Eagle, he was nearly invincible. When he got within four hundred yards, his finger depressed the
button for a fraction of a second.
A line of green tracers lanced through the sky.
Several rounds appeared to miss the Beech ahead, but the rest hit right in the cockpit area. He
heard no sound from the kill. There was only a brief flash of light, followed by a phosphorescent
splash of white foam when the aircraft hit.
Winters reflected briefly that he had just killed one man, maybe two. That was all right. They
wouldn't be missed.
9. Meeting Engagement
"SO?" ESCOBEDO EYED Larson as coldly as a biology professor might look at a caged white
rat. He had no special reason to suspect Larson of anything, but he was angry, and Larson was the
nearest target for that anger.
But Larson was used to that. "So I don't know, jefe. Ernesto was a good pilot, a good student. So
was the other one, Cruz. The engines in the aircraft were practically new - two hundred hours on
each. The airframe was six years old, but that's nothing unusual; the aircraft was well
maintained. Weather was okay all the way north, some scattered high clouds over the Yucatan
Channel, nothing worse than that." The pilot shrugged. "Aircraft disappear, jefe. One cannot always
know why."
"He is my cousin! What do I tell his mother?"
"Have you checked with any airfields in Mexico?"
"Yes! And Cuba, and Honduras, and Nicaragua!"
"No distress calls? No reports from ships or aircraft in the vicinity?"
"No, nothing." Escobedo moderated somewhat as Larson went through the possibilities,
professional as ever.
"If it was some sort of electrical failure, he might be down somewhere, but… I would not be
hopeful, jefe. If they had landed safely, they would have let us know by now. I am sorry, jefe. He is
probably lost. It has happened before. It will happen again."
One other possibility was that Ernesto and Cruz had made their own arrangements, had landed
somewhere other than their intended destination, had sold their cargo of forty kilograms, and had
decided to disappear, but that was not seriously considered. The question of drugs had not even been
mentioned, because Larson was not really part of the operation, merely a technical consultant who
had asked to be cut out of that aspect of the business. Escobedo trusted Larson to be honest and
objective because he had always been so in the past, taking his money and doing his job well, and
also because Larson was no fool - he knew the consequences of lying and double-dealing.
They were in Escobedo's expensive condominium in Medellín. It occupied the entire top floor of
the building. The floor immediately under this was occupied by Escobedo's vassals and
retainers. The elevator was controlled by people who knew who could pass and who could not. The
street outside the building was watched. Larson reflected that at least he didn't have to worry about
somebody stealing the hubcaps off his car. He also wondered what the hell had happened to
Ernesto. Was it simply an accident of some sort? Such things had happened often enough. One
reason for his position as flying instructor was that past smuggling operations had lost quite a few
airplanes, often through the most prosaic of causes. But Larson was not a fool. He was thinking
about recent visitors and recent orders from Langley; training at The Farm didn't encourage people to
believe in coincidences. Some sort of op was about to run. Might this have been the opening move?
Larson didn't think so. CIA was years past that sort of thing, which was too bad, he thought, but a
fact nonetheless.
"He was a good pilot?" Escobedo asked again.
"I taught him myself, jefe. He had four hundred hours, good mechanical skills, and he was as
good on instruments as a young pilot can be. The only thing that worried me about him was that he
liked flying low."
"Yes?"
"Flying low over water is dangerous, especially at night. It is too easy to become
disoriented. You forget where the horizon is, and if you keep looking out of the windows instead of
checking your instruments… Experienced pilots have driven their airplanes right into the water that
way. Unfortunately, flying very low is fun and many pilots, especially the young ones, think that it is
also a test of manhood. That is foolish, as pilots learn with time."
" 'A good pilot is a cautious pilot'?" Escobedo asked.
"That is what I tell every student," Larson replied seriously. "Not all of them believe me. It is
true everywhere. You can ask instructors in any air force in the world. Young pilots make foolish
mistakes because they are young and inexperienced. Judgment comes with experience - most often
through a frightening experience. Those who survive learn, but some do not survive."
Escobedo considered that for a few seconds.
"He was a proud one, Ernesto." To Larson it sounded like an epitaph.
"I will recheck the maintenance log of the aircraft," the pilot offered. "And I will also review the
weather data."
"Thank you for coming in so quickly, Señor Larson."
"I am at your service, jefe. If I learn anything, I will let you know."
Escobedo saw him to the door, then returned to his desk. Cortez entered the room from a side
door.
"Well?"
"I like Larson," Cortez said. "He speaks the truth. He has pride, but not too much."
Escobedo nodded agreement. "A hireling, but a good one."
… like you. Cortez didn't react to the implied message. "How many flights have been lost over
the years?"
"We didn't even keep records until eighteen months ago. Since then, nine. That's one reason we
took Larson on. I felt that the crashes were due to pilot error and poor maintenance. Carlos has
proven to be a good instructor."
"But never wished to become involved himself?"
"No. A simple man. He has a comfortable life doing what he enjoys. There is much to be said
for that," Escobedo observed lightly. "You have been over his background?"
"Sí. Everything checks out, but…"
"But?"
"But if he were something other than what he appears to be, things would also check out." This
was the point at which an ordinary man would say something like, But you can't suspect
everyone. Escobedo did not, and that was a measure of his sophistication, Cortez noted. His
employer had ample experience with conspiracy and knew that you had to suspect everyone. He
wasn't exactly a professional, but he wasn't exactly a fool either.
"Do you think -"
"No. He was nowhere near the place the flight left from, had no way of knowing that it was
happening that night. I checked: he was in Bogotá with his lady friend. They had dinner alone and
retired early. Perhaps it was a flying accident, but coming so soon after we learn that the
norteamericanos are planning something, I do not think we should call it such a thing. I think I should
return to Washington."
"What will you find out?"
"I will attempt to discover something of what they are doing."
"Attempt?"
"Señor, gathering sensitive intelligence information is an art -"
"You can buy anything you need!"
"There you are incorrect," Cortez said with a level stare. "The best sources of information are
never motivated by money. It is dangerous - foolish - to assume that allegiance can be purchased."
"And what of you?"
"That is a question you must consider, but I am sure you already have." The best way to earn trust
with this man was always to say that trust did not exist. Escobedo thought that whatever allegiance
money could not buy could be maintained with fear instead. In that sense, his employer was
foolish. He assumed that his reputation for violence could cow anyone, and rarely considered that
there were those who could give him lessons in applied violence. There was much to admire about
this man, but so much also to merit disdain. Fundamentally he was an amateur - though a gifted one who learned from his mistakes readily enough, but lacked the formal training that might have enabled
him to learn from the mistakes of others - and what was intelligence training but the institutional
memory of lessons from the mistakes of others? He didn't so much need an intelligence and security
adviser as one in covert operations per se, but that was an area in which none of these men would
solicit or accept advice. They came from generations of smugglers, and their expertise in corrupting
and bribing was real enough. It was just that they'd never learned how to play the game against a truly
organized and formidable adversary - the Colombians didn't count. That the yanquis had not yet
discovered within themselves the courage to act in accordance with their power was nothing more
than good fortune. If there was one thing the KGB had drilled into Cortez, it was that good fortune
did not exist.
Captain Winters viewed his gunsight videotape with the men from Washington. They were in a
corner office of one of the Special Ops buildings - Eglin had quite a few - and the other two wore Air
Force uniforms, both bearing the rank of lieutenant colonel, a convenient middle grade of officer,
many of whom came and went in total anonymity.
"Nice shooting, son," one observed.
"He could have made it harder," Bronco replied without much in the way of emotion. "But he
didn't."
"How about traffic on the surface?"
"Nothing within thirty miles."
"Put up the Hawkeye tape," the senior man ordered. They were using three-quarter-inch tape,
which was preferred by the military for its higher data capacity. The tape was already cued. It
showed the inbound Beechcraft, marked as XXI on the alphanumeric display, one of many contacts,
most of which were clearly marked as airliners, and had been high over the shoot-down. There were
also numerous surface contacts, but all of them were a good distance away from the area of the attack,
and this tape ended prior to the shoot-down. The Hawkeye crew, as planned, had no direct
knowledge of what had transpired after handing over the contact to the fighter. The guidelines for the
mission were clear, and the intercept area was calculated to avoid frequently used shipping
channels. The low-altitude path taken by the drug smugglers helped, of course, insofar as it limited
the distance at which someone might see a flash or an explosion, neither of which had happened here.
"Okay," said the senior one. "That was well within mission parameters." They switched tapes
again.
"How many rounds expended?" the junior one asked Winters.
"A hundred 'n eight," the captain replied. "With a Vulcan it's kinda hard to keep it down,
y'know? The critter shoots right quick."
"It did that plane like a chainsaw."
"That's the idea, sir. I could have been a little faster on the trigger, but you want me to try 'n avoid
the fuel tanks, right?"
"That's correct." The cover story, in case anyone saw a flash, was that there was a Shoot-Ex out
of Eglin - exercises killing target drones are not uncommon there - but so much the better if no one
noticed at all.
Bronco didn't like the secrecy stuff. As far as he was concerned, shooting the bastards down
made perfectly good sense. The point of the mission, they'd told him during the recruiting phase, was
that drug trafficking was a threat to U.S. national security. That phrasing made everything
legitimate. As an air-defense fighter pilot, he was trained to deal with threats to national security in
this specific way - to shoot them out of the sky with as much emotion as a skeet-shooter dispatched
clay birds thrown out from the traps. Besides, Bronco thought, if it's a real threat to national security,
why shouldn't the people know about it? But that wasn't his department. He was only a captain, and
captains are operators, not thinkers. Somebody up the line had decided that this was okay, and that
was all he needed to know. Dispatching this Twin-Beech had been the next thing to murder, but that
was as accurate a description of combat operations as any other. After all, giving people a fair
chance was what happened at the Olympics, not where your life was on the line. If somebody was
dumb enough to let his ass get killed, that wasn't Bronco's lookout, especially if he happened to be
committing an act of war against Bronco's country. And that was what "threat to national security"
meant, wasn't it?
Besides, he had given Juan - or whatever the bastard's name had been - a fair warning, hadn't
he? If the asshole'd thought he could outfly the best fucking fighter plane in the whole world, well,
he'd learned different. Tough.
"You got any problems to this point, Captain?" the senior one asked.
"Problems with what, sir?" What a dumbass question!
The airstrip at which they had arrived wasn't big enough for a proper military transport. The
forty-four men of Operation SHOWBOAT traveled by bus to Peterson Air Force Base, a few miles
east of the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs. It was dark, of course. The bus was driven by
one of the "camp counselors," as the men had taken to calling them, and the ride was a quiet one, with
many of the soldiers asleep after their last day's PT. The rest were alone with their own
thoughts. Chavez watched the mountains slide by as the bus twisted its way down the last range. The
men were ready.
"Pretty mountains, man," Julio Vega observed sleepily.
"Especially in a bus heading downhill."
"Fuckin' A!" Vega chuckled. "You know, someday I'm gonna come back here and do some skiing."
The machine-gunner adjusted himself in the seat and faded out.
They were roused thirty-five minutes later after passing through the gate at Peterson. The bus
pulled right up to the aft ramp of an Air Force C-141 Starlifter transport. The soldiers rose and
assembled their gear in an orderly fashion, with each squad captain checking to make sure that
everyone had everything he'd been issued as they filed off. A few looked around on the way to the
aircraft. There was nothing unusual about the departure, no special security guards, merely the
ground crew fueling and preflighting the aircraft for an immediate departure. In the distance a KC135 aerial tanker was lifting off, and though no one thought much about it, they'd be meeting that bird
in a little while. The Air Force sergeant who was load-master for this particular aircraft took them
aboard and seated them as comfortably as the spartan appointments allowed - this mainly involved
giving everyone ear protectors.
The flight crew went through the usual startup procedures, and presently the Starlifter began
moving. The noise was grating despite the earmuffs, but the aircraft had an Air Force Reserve crew,
all airline personnel, who gave them a decent ride. Except for the midair refueling, that is. As soon
as the C-141 had climbed to altitude, it rendezvoused with the KC-135 to replace the fuel burned off
during the climb-out. For the passengers this involved the usual roller-coaster buffet which,
amplified by the near total absence of windows, made a few stomachs decidedly queasy, though all
looked quietly inured to it. Half an hour after lifting off, the C-141 settled down on a southerly
course, and from a mixture of fatigue and sheer boredom, the soldiers drifted off to sleep for the
remainder of the ride.
The MH-53J left Eglin Air Force Base at about the same time, all of its fuel tanks topped off after
engine warm-up. Colonel Johns took it to one thousand feet and a course of two-one-five for the
Yucatan Channel. Three hours out, an MC-130E Combat Talon tanker/support aircraft caught up with
the Pave Low, and Johns decided to let the captain handle the midair refueling. They'd have to tank
thrice more, and the tanker would accompany them all the way down, bringing a maintenance and
support crew and spare parts.
"Ready to plug," PJ told the tanker commander.
"Roger," answered Captain Montaigne in the MC-130E, holding the aircraft straight and level.
Johns watched Willis ease the nose probe into the drogue. "Okay, we got plug."
In the cockpit of the -130E, Captain Montaigne took note of the indicator light and keyed the
microphone. "Ohhh!" she said in her huskiest voice. "Nobody does it like you, Colonel!"
Johns laughed out loud and keyed his switch twice, generating a click-click signal, which meant
Affirmative. He switched to intercom. "Why spoil it for her?" he asked Willis, who was regrettably
straitlaced. The fuel transfer took six minutes.
"How long do you think we'll be down there?" Captain Willis wondered after it was done.
"They didn't tell me that, but if it goes too long, they say we'll get relief."
"That's nice," the captain observed. His eyes shifted back and forth from his flight instruments to
the world outside the armored cockpit. The aircraft had more than its full load of combat gear aboard
- Johns was a firm believer in firepower - and the electronic countermeasures racks were
gone. Whatever they'd be doing, they wouldn't have to worry about unfriendly radar coverage, and
that meant that the job, whatever it was, didn't involve Nicaragua or Cuba. It also made for more
passenger room in the aircraft and deleted the second flight engineer from the crew. "You were right
about the gloves. My wife made up a set and it does make a difference."
"Some guys just fly without 'em, but I don't like to have sweaty hands on the stick."
"Is it going to be that warm?"
"There's warm, and there's warm," Johns pointed out. "You don't get sweaty hands just from the
outside temperature."
"Oh. Yes, sir." Gee, he gets scared, too - just like the rest of us?
"Like I keep telling people, the more thinking you do before things get exciting, the less exciting
things will be. And they get plenty exciting enough."
Another voice came onto the intercom circuit: "You keep talking like that, sir, and we might get a
little scared."
"Sergeant Zimmer, how are things in the back?" Johns asked. Zimmer's regular spot was just aft
of the two pilots, hovering over an impressive array of instruments.
"Coffee, tea, or milk, sir? The meals for this flight are Chicken Kiev with rice, Roast Beef au Jus
with baked potato, and for the weight-watchers among us, Orange Ruffy and stir-fried veggies - and if
you believe that, sir, you've been staring at the instrument panel too long. Why the hell don't we have
a stewardess along with us?"
" 'Cause you and I are both too old for that shit, Zimmer!" PJ laughed.
"It ain't bad in a chopper, sir. What with all the vibration and all…"
"I've been trying to reform him since Korat," Johns explained to Captain Willis. "How old are the
kids now, Buck?"
"Seventeen, fifteen, twelve, nine, six, five, and three, sir."
"Christ," Willis noted. "Your wife must be some gal, Sarge."
"She's afraid I'll run around, so she robs me of my energy," Zimmer explained. "I fly to get away
from her. It's the only thing that keeps me alive."
"Her cooking must be all right, judging by your uniform."
"Is the colonel picking on his sergeant again?" Zimmer asked.
"Not exactly. I just want you to look as good as Carol does."
"No chance, sir."
"Roger that. Some coffee would be nice."
"On the way, Colonel, sir." Zimmer was on the flight deck in less than a minute. The instrument
console for the Pave Low helicopter was large and complex, but Zimmer had long since installed
gimbaled cup holders suitable for the spillproof cups that Colonel Johns liked. PJ took a quick sip.
"She makes good coffee, too, Buck."
"Funny how things work out, isn't it?" Carol Zimmer knew that her husband would share it with
his colonel. Carol wasn't her original given name. Born in Laos thirty-six years earlier, she was the
daughter of a Hmong warlord who'd fought long and hard for a country that was no longer his. She
was the only survivor of a family of ten. PJ and Buck had lifted her and a handful of others off a
hilltop at the final stages of a North Vietnamese assault in 1972. America had failed that man's
family, but at least it hadn't failed his daughter. Zimmer had fallen in love with her from the first
moment, and it was generally agreed that they had the seven cutest kids in Florida.
"Yep."
It was late in Mobile, somewhere between the two southbound aircraft, and jails - especially
Southern jails - are places where the rules are strictly applied. For lawyers, however, the rules are
often rather lenient, and paradoxically they were very lenient indeed in the case of these two. These
two had an as - yet - undetermined date with "Old Sparky," the electric chair at Admore Prison. The
jailors at Mobile therefore didn't want to do anything to interfere with the prisoners' constitutional
rights, access to counsel, or general comfort. The attorney, whose name was Edward Stuart, had been
fully briefed going in, and was fully fluent in Spanish.
"How did they do it?"
"I don't know."
"You screamed and kicked, Ramón," Jesús said.
"I know. And you sang like a canary."
"It doesn't matter," the attorney told them. "They're not charging you with anything but drug-related
murder and piracy. The information Jesús gave them is not being used at all in this case."
"So do your lawyer shit and get us off!"
The look on Stuart's face was all the response either man needed.
"You tell our friends that if we don't get off on this one, we start talking."
The jail guards had already told both men in loving detail what fate had in store for them. One
had even shown Ramón a poster of the chair itself with the caption REGULAR OR EXTRA
CRISPY. Though a hard man and a brutal one, the idea of being strapped into a hard-backed wooden
chair, then having a copper band affixed to his left leg, and a small metal cap set on a bald spot that
the prison barber would shave on his head the day before, and the small sponge soaked in a saline
solution to facilitate electrical conductivity, the leather mask to keep his eyes from flying out of his
head… Ramón was a brave man when he had the upper hand, and that hand held a gun or a knife
directed at an unarmed or bound person. Then he was quite brave. It had never occurred to him that
one day he might be the helpless one. Ramón had lost five pounds in the preceding week. His
appetite was virtually nil and he took an inordinate interest in light bulbs and wall sockets. He was
afraid, but more than that he was angry, at himself for his fear, at the guards and police for giving him
that fear, and at his former associates for not getting him free of this mess.
"I know many things, many useful things."
"It does not matter. I have spoken with the federales, and they do not care what you know. The
U.S. Attorney claims to have no interest in what you might tell him."
"That is ridiculous. They always trade for information, they always -"
"Not here. The rules have changed."
"What do you tell us?"
"I will do my best for you." I'm supposed to tell you to die like men, Stuart could not say. "There
are many things that can happen in the next few weeks."
The attorney was rewarded with skeptical expressions not entirely devoid of hope. He himself
had no hope at all. The U.S. Attorney was going to handle this one himself, the better to get his face
on the 5:30 and 11:00 Eyewitness News broadcasts. This would be a very speedy trial, and a U.S.
Senate seat would be available in just over two years. So much the better that the prosecutor could
point to his law-and-order record. Frying some druggie-pirate-rapist-murderers would surely appeal
to the citizens of the sovereign state of Alabama, Stuart knew. The defense attorney objected to
capital punishment on principle, and had spent much of his time and money working against it. He'd
successfully taken one case to the Supreme Court and on a five-to-four decision managed to get his
client a new trial, where the death sentence had been bargained down to life plus ninety-nine
years. Stuart regarded that as a victory even though his client had survived precisely four months in
the prison's general population until someone who disliked child-murderers had put a shank into his
lumbar spine. He didn't have to like his clients - and most often he didn't. He was occasionally
afraid of them, especially the drug runners. They quite simply expected that in return for however
much cash - it was generally cash - they paid for his services they would get their freedom in
return. They did not understand that in law there are no guarantees, especially for the guilty. And
these two were guilty as hell. But they did not deserve death. Stuart was convinced that society
could not afford to debase itself to the level of… his clients. It was not a popular opinion in the
South, but Stuart had no ambition to run for public office.
In any case, he was their lawyer, and his job was to provide them with the best possible
defense. He'd already explored the chances of a plea-bargain; life imprisonment in exchange for
information. He'd already examined the government's case. It was all circumstantial - there were no
witnesses except his own clients, of course - but the physical evidence was formidable, and that
Coast Guard crew had scrupulously left the crime scene intact except for removing some evidence,
all of which had been carefully locked up for a proper chain-of-evidence. Whoever had briefed and
trained those people had done it right. Not much hope there. His only real hope, therefore, was to
impeach their credibility. It was a slim hope, but it was the best he had.
Supervisory Special Agent Mark Bright was also working late. The crew had been busy. For
starters there had been an office and a home to search, a lengthy procedure that was just the opening
move in a process to last months, probably, since all the documents found, all the phone numbers
scribbled in any of eleven places, all the photographs on desks and walls, and everything else found
would have to be investigated. Every business acquaintance of the deceased would be interviewed,
along with neighbors, people whose offices adjoined his, members of his country club, and even
parishioners at his church. For all that, the major break in the case had come in the second hour of the
fourth home search, fully a month after the case had begun. Something had told them all that there had
to be something else. In his den, the deceased had a floor safe - with no record of its purchase or
installation - neatly hidden by an untacked segment of the wall-to-wall carpeting. Discovering it had
required thirty-two days. Tickling it open took nearly ninety minutes, but an experienced agent had
done it by first experimenting with the birthdays of the deceased's whole family, then playing
variations on the theme. It turned out that the three-element combination came from taking the month
of the man's birth and adding one, taking the day of his birth and adding two, then taking the year of
his birth and adding three. The door of the expensive Mosler came open with a whisper as it rubbed
against the rug flap.
No money, no jewels, no letter to his attorney. Inside the safe had been five computer disks of a
type compatible with the businessman's IBM personal computer. That told the agents all they
wanted. Bright had at once taken the disks and the deceased's computer to his office, which was also
equipped with IBM-compatible machines. Mark Bright was a good investigator, which meant that he
was a patient one. His first move had been to call a local computer expert who assisted the FBI from
time to time. A freelance software consultant, he'd first protested that he was busy, but he'd only
needed to hear that there was a major criminal investigation underway to settle that. Like many such
people who informally assist the FBI, he found police work most exciting, though not quite exciting
enough to take a full-time job for the FBI Laboratory. Government service didn't come close to
paying what he earned on the outside. Bright had anticipated his first instruction: bring in the man's
own computer and hard-disk.
After first making exact copies of the five disks using a program called CHASTITY BELT, he had
Bright store the originals while he went to work on the copies. The disks were encrypted, of
course. There were many ways of accomplishing that, and the consultant knew them all. As he and
Bright had anticipated, the encrypting algorithm was permanently stored on the deceased's hard
disk. From that point it was merely a question of what option and what personal encrypting key had
been used to secure the data on the disks. That took nine nonstop hours, with Bright feeding coffee
and sandwiches to his friend and wondering why he did it all for free.
"Gotcha!" A scruffy hand punched the PRINT command, and the office laser printer started
humming and disgorging papers. All five disks were packed with data, totaling over seven hundred
single-spaced pages of text. By the time the third one was printed, the consultant had left. Bright read
it all, over a period of three days. Then he made six Xerox copies for the other senior agents in the
case. They were now flipping through the pages around the conference table.
"Christ, Mark, this stuff is fantastic!"
"That's what I said."
"Three hundred million dollars!" another exclaimed. "Christ, I shop there myself…"
"What's the total involved?" a third asked more soberly.
"I just skimmed through this stuff," Bright answered, "but I got close to seven hundred
million. Eight shopping malls spread from Fort Worth to Atlanta. The investments go through eleven
different corporations, twenty-three banks, and -"
"My life insurance is with this company! They do my IRA, and -"
"The way he set it up, he was the only one who knew. Talk about an artist, this guy was like
Leonardo…"
"Sucker got greedy, though. If I read this right, he skimmed off about thirty million… God
almighty…"
The plan, as with all great plans, was an elegantly simple one. There were eight real-estatedevelopment projects. In each case the deceased had set up himself as the general partner
representing foreign money - invariably described as Persian Gulf oil money or Japanese industrial
money, with the funds laundered through an incredible maze of non-American banks. The general
partner had used the "Oil Money" - the term was almost generic in the venture capital field - to
purchase land and set the project in motion, then solicited further development funds from limited
partners who had no say in the executive management of the individual projects, but whose profits
were almost guaranteed by the syndicate's previous performance. Even the one in Fort Worth had
made money, despite the recent slowdown in the local oil industry. By the time ground was broken
on every project, actual ownership was further disguised by majority investment from banks,
insurance companies, and wealthy private investors, with much of the original overseas investment
fully recovered and gone back to the Bank of Dubai and numerous others - but with a controlling
interest remaining in the project itself. In this way, the overseas investors speedily recouped their
initial investment with a tidy profit, and continued to get much of the profits from the project's actual
operations, further looking forward to the eventual sale of the project to local interests for more profit
still. For each hundred million dollars invested, Bright estimated, one hundred fifty million fully
laundered dollars were extracted. And that was the important part. The hundred million put in, and
the fifty million profit taken out were as clean as the marble on the Washington Monument,
Except for these computer disks.
"Every one of these projects, and every dime of investment and profits, went through IRS, SEC,
and enough lawyers to fill the Pentagon, and nobody ever caught a sniff. He kept these records in
case somebody ever burned him - but he must have expected to trade this information for a crack at
the Witness Protection Program -"
"And he'd be the richest guy in Cody, Wyoming," Mike Schratz observed. "But the wrong people
got a sniff. I wonder what tipped them off? What did our friends say?"
"They don't know. Just that they pulled the job of killing them all off and making it look like a
disappearance.
The bosses clearly anticipated losing them and compartmentalized the
information. How hard is it to get one of these mutts to take a contract? It's like filling out a girl's
dance card at the cotillion."
"Roger that. Headquarters know about this yet?"
"No, Mike, I wanted you guys to see it first," Bright said. "Opinions, gentlemen?"
"If we move fast… we could seize a whole shitload of money… unless they've moved the money
on us," Schratz thought aloud. "I wonder if they have? As clever as this stuff is… I got a buck says
they haven't. Takers?"
"Not from me," another agent announced. This one was a CPA and a lawyer. "Why should they
bother? This is the closest thing I've ever seen to - hell, it is a perfect plan. I suppose we ought to
show some appreciation, what with all the help they're giving our balance-of-payments problem. In
any case, folks, this money is exposed. We can bag it all."
"There's the Bureau's budget for the next two years -"
"And a squadron of fighters for the Air Force. This is big enough to sting them pretty
good. Mark, I think you ought to call the Director," Schratz concluded. There was general agreement.
"Where's Pete today?" Pete Mariano was the special-agent-in-charge of the Mobile Field Office.
"Probably Venice," an agent said. "He's going to be pissed he was away for this one."
Bright closed the ring binder. He was already booked on an early-morning flight to Dulles
International Airport.
The C-141 landed ten minutes early at Howard Field. After the clean, dry air of the Colorado
Rockies, and the cleaner, thinner, and drier air of the flight, the damp oven of the Isthmus of Panama
was like walking into a door. The soldiers assembled their gear and allowed themselves to be
herded off by the loadmaster. They were quiet and serious. The change in climate was a physical
sign that playtime was over. The mission had begun. They immediately boarded yet another green
bus which took them to some dilapidated barracks on the grounds of Fort Kobbe.
The MH-53J helicopter landed several hours later at the same field, and was rolled
unceremoniously into a hangar, which was surrounded with armed guards. Colonel Johns and the
flight crew were taken to nearby quarters and told to stay put.
Another helicopter, this one a Marine CH-53E Super Stallion, lifted off the deck of USS
Guadalcanal just before dawn. It flew west over the Bay of Panama to Corezal, a small military site
near the Gaillard Cut, the most difficult segment of the original Panama Canal construction
project. The helicopter - carrier's flight-deck crew attached a bulky item to a sling dangling from the
helicopter's underside, and the CH-53E headed awkwardly toward shore. After a twenty-minute
flight, the helicopter hovered over its predetermined destination. The pilot killed his forward speed
and gently eased toward the ground, coached by instructions from the crew chief, until the
communications van touched down on a concrete pad. The sling was detached and the helicopter
flew off at once to make room for a second aircraft, a smaller CH-46 troop carrier which deposited
four men before returning to its ship. The men went immediately to work setting up the van.
The van was quite ordinary, looking most of all like a cargo container with wheels, though it was
painted in the mottled green camouflage scheme of most military vehicles. That changed rapidly as
the communications technicians began erecting various radio antennas, including one four-foot
satellite dish. Power cables were run in from a generator vehicle already in place, and the van's airconditioning systems were turned on to protect the communications gear, rather than the
technicians. They wore military-style dress, though none of them were soldiers. All the pieces were
now in place.
Or almost all. At Cape Canaveral, a Titan-IIID rocket began its final countdown. Three senior
Air Force officers and half a dozen civilians watched the hundred or so technicians go through the
procedure. They were unhappy. Their cargo had been bumped at the last minute for this less
important one (they thought). The explanation for the change was not to their collective satisfaction,
and there weren't enough launch rockets to play this sort of game. But nobody had bothered telling
them what the game actually was.
"Tallyho, tallyho. I have eyeballs on target," Bronco reported. The Eagle bottomed out half a
mile astern and slightly below the target. It seemed to be a four-engined Douglas. A DC-4, -6, or -7,
a big one-the biggest he'd yet intercepted. Four piston engines and a single rudder made it a Douglas
product, certainly older than the man who was now chasing it. Winters saw the blue flames from the
exhaust ports on the big radial engines, along with the moonlight shimmering from the propellers. The
rest was mainly guesswork.
The flying became harder now. He was closing on the target and had to slough off his airspeed
lest he overtake it. Bronco throttled his Pratt & Whitney engines back and put on some flaps to
increase both lift and drag as he watched his airspeed drop to a scant two-hundred forty knots.
He matched speed when he was a hundred yards aft of the target. The heavy fighter rocked
slightly - only the pilot would have noticed - from the larger plane's wake turbulence. Time. He took
a deep breath and flexed his fingers once around the stick. Captain Winters switched on his powerful
landing lights. They were alert, he saw. The wingtips rocked a second after his lights transfixed the
former airliner in the sky.
"Aircraft in view, please identify, over," he called over the guard frequency.
It started turning - it was a DC-7B, he thought now, the last of the great piston-engine liners, so
quickly brushed aside by the advent of the jetliners in the late fifties. The exhaust flames grew
brighter as the pilot added power.
"Aircraft in view, you are in restricted airspace. Identify immediately, over," Bronco called
next. Immediately is a word that carries a special meaning for flyers.
The DC-7B was diving now, heading for the wave tops. The Eagle followed almost of its own
accord.
"Aircraft in view, I repeat - you are in restricted airspace. Identify at once!
Turning away now, heading east for the Florida peninsula. Captain Winters eased back on the
stick and armed his gun system. He checked the surface of the ocean to make sure that there were no
ships or boats about.
"Aircraft in view, if you do not identify I will open fire, over." No reaction.
The hard part now was that the Eagle's gun system, once armed, did everything possible to
facilitate the pilot's task of hitting the target. But they wanted him to bring one in alive, and Bronco
had to concentrate to make sure he'd miss, then squeezed the trigger for a fraction of a second.
Half the rounds in the magazine were tracers, and the six-barrel cannon spat them out at a rate of
almost a hundred per second. What resulted was a streak of green-yellow light that looked like one
of the laser beams in a science-fiction movie, and hung for a sizable portion of infinity a bare ten
yards from the DC-7B's cockpit window.
"Aircraft in view: level out and identify or you'll eat the next burst. Over."
"Who is this? What the hell are you doing?" The DC-7B leveled out.
"Identify!" Winters commanded tersely.
"Carib Cargo - we're a special flight, inbound from Honduras."
"You are in restricted airspace. Come left to new course three-four-seven."
"Look, we didn't know about the restriction. Tell us where to go and we're out of here,
okay? Over."
"Come left to three-four-seven. I will be following you in. You got some big-league explaining
to do, Carib. You picked a bad place to be flying without lights. I hope you got a good story, 'cause
the colonel is not pleased with you. Bring that fat-assed bird left - now!"
Nothing happened for a moment. Bronco was a little bit peeved that they were not taking him
seriously enough. He eased his fighter over to the right and triggered off another burst to encourage
the target.
And it came left to a heading of three-four-seven. And the anticollision lights came on.
"Okay, Carib, maintain course and altitude. Stay off your radio. I repeat, maintain radio silence
until instructed otherwise. Don't make it any worse than it already is. I'll be back here to keep an eye
on you. Out."
It took nearly an hour - each second like driving a Ferrari in Manhattan rush-hour traffic. Clouds
were rolling in from the north, he saw as they approached the coast, and there was lightning in
them. They'd land first, Winters thought. On cue, a set of runway lights came on.
"Carib, I want you to land on that strip right in front of you. You do exactly what they tell
you. Out." Bronco checked his fuel state. Enough for several more hours. He indulged himself by
throttling up and rocketing to twenty thousand as he watched the DC-7's strobe lights enter the blue
rectangle of the old airstrip.
"Okay, he's ours," the radio told the fighter pilot.
Bronco did not acknowledge. He brought the Eagle around for Eglin AFB, and figured that he'd
beat the weather in. Another night's work.
The DC-7B rolled to a stop at the end of the runway. As it halted, a number of lights came on. A
jeep rolled to within fifty yards of the aircraft's nose. On the back of the jeep was an M-2 .50-caliber
machine gun, on the left side of which hung a large box of ammunition. The gun was pointed right at
the cockpit.
"Out of the fuckin" airplane, amigo!" an angry voice commanded over some loudspeakers.
The forward door opened on the left side of the aircraft. The man who looked down was white
and in his forties. Blinded by the lights that were aimed at his face, he was still disoriented. Which
was part of the plan, of course.
"Down on the pavement, amigo," a voice said from behind a light.
"What's gives? I -"
"Down on the fuckin' pavement - right the fuck now!"
There were no stairs. The pilot was joined by another man, and one at a time they sat down on
the doorsill, and stretched down to hang from their hands, then dropped the four feet or so to the
cracked concrete. They were met by strong arms in rolled-up camouflage fatigues.
"Face on the cement, you fuckin' commie spy!" a young voice screamed at them.
"Hot diggity damn, we finally bagged one!" another voice called. "We got us a fuckin' Cuban spy
plane!"
"What the hell -" one of the men on the cement started to say. He stopped talking when the threepronged flash suppressor on an M-16 rifle came to rest on the back of his neck. Then he felt a hot
breath on the side of his face.
"I want any shit out of you, amigo, I'll fuckin' blow it outa ya!" said the other voice. It sounded
older than the first one. "Anybody else on the airplane, amigo?"
"No. Look, we're -"
"Check it out! And watch your ass!" the gunnery sergeant added.
"Aye aye, Gunny," answered the Marine corporal. "Give me some cover on the door."
"You got a name?" the gunnery sergeant asked. He punctuated the question by pressing his muzzle
into the pilot's neck.
"Bert Russo. I'm -"
"You picked a bad time to spy on the exercise, Roberto. We was ready for y'all this time, boy! I
wonder if Fidel'll want your ass back… ?"
"He don't look Cuban to me, Gunny," a young voice observed. "You s'pose he's a Russian?"
"Hey, I don't know what you're talking about," Russo objected.
"Sure, Roberto. I - over here, Cap'n!" Footsteps approached. And a new voice started talking.
"Sorry I'm late, Gunny Black."
"We got it under control, sir. Putting people into the plane now. Finally bagged that Cuban
snooper, we did. This here's Roberto. Ain't talked to the other one yet."
"Roll him over."
A rough hand flipped the pilot faceup like a rag doll, and he saw what the hot breath came
from. The biggest German Shepherd dog he'd ever seen in his life was staring at him from a distance
of three inches. When he looked at it, it started growling.
"Don't you go scarin' my dog, Roberto," Gunnery Sergeant Black warned him unnecessarily.
"You have a name?"
Bert Russo couldn't see any faces. Everyone was backlit by the perimeter lights. He could see
the guns, and the dogs, one of which stood next to his copilot. When he started to speak, the dog over
his face moved, and that froze the breath in his throat.
"You Cubans ought to know better. We warned you not to come snooping into our exercise last
time, but you had to come bother us again, didn't you?" the captain observed.
"I'm not a Cuban - I'm an American. And I don't know what you're talking about," the pilot finally
managed to say.
"You got some ID?" the captain asked.
Bert Russo started moving his hand toward his wallet, but then the dog really let loose a snarl.
"Don't scare the dog," the captain warned. "They're a little high-strung, y'know?"
"Fuckin' Cuban spies," Gunny Black observed. "We could just waste them, sir. I mean, who
really gives a damn?"
"Hey, Gunny!" a voice called from the airplane. "This ain't no spy-bird. It's full of drugs! We got
us a drug runner!"
"Son of a bitch!" The gunny sounded disappointed for a moment. "Fuckin' druggie is all? Shit!"
The captain just laughed. "Mister, you really picked the wrong place to drive that airplane
tonight. How much, Corp?"
"A whole goddamned pisspot full, sir. Grass and coke both. Plane's like full of it, sir."
"Fuckin' druggie," the gunny observed. He was quiet for a moment. "Cap'n?"
"Yeah?"
"Sir, all the time, sir, these planes land, and the crew just bugs the hell out, and nobody ever finds
'em, sir."
As though on cue, they all heard a guttural sound from the swamp that surrounded the old
airstrip. Albert Russo came from Florida and knew what the sound was.
"I mean, sir, who'd ever know the difference? Plane landed, and the crew ran off 'fore we could
catch up, and they got into the swamp over yonder, and like we heard some screams, y'know… ?" A
pause. "I mean, they're just druggies. Who's really gonna care, sir? Make the world a better place,
y'know? Hell, it even feeds them 'gators. They sound right hungry to me, sir."
"No evidence…" the captain mused.
"Ain't nobody gonna give a good goddamn, sir," the sergeant persisted. "Just us be out here, sir."
"No!" the copilot screamed, speaking for the first time and startling the dog at the back of his neck.
"Y'all be quiet now, we be talking business here," the gunny observed.
"Gentlemen, I find that the sergeant makes a pretty good case," the captain said after a moment's
contemplation. "And the 'gators do sound hungry. Kill 'em first, Sergeant. No sense being cruel about
it, and the 'gators don't care one way or the other. Be sure you take all their IDs, though."
"Aye aye, skipper," the gunnery sergeant replied. He and the remainder of the duty section - there
were only eight of them - came from the Special Operations Center at MacDill. They were Recon
Marines, for whom unusual activities were the rule rather than the exception. Their helicopter was
half a mile away.
"Okay, sport," Black said as he bent down. He hoisted Russo to his feet with one brutal jerk.
"You sure did pick the wrong time to run drugs, boy."
"Wait a minute!" the other one screamed. "We didn't - I mean, we can tell you -"
"You talk all you want, boy. I got my orders. Come on, now. Y'all want to pray or something,
now be the time."
"We came in from Colombia -"
"That's a real surprise, ain't it?" Black observed as he frogmarched the man toward the trees.
"You best be doing your talking to the Lord, boy. He might listen. Then again, He might not…"
"I can tell you everything," Russo said.
"I ain't int'rested!"
"But you can't -"
"Sure I can. What do you think I do for a livin', boy?" Black said with amusement. "Don't
worry. It'll be quick and clean. I don't make people suffer like your kind does with drugs. I just do
it."
"I have a family…" Russo was whimpering now.
"Most people do," Black agreed. "They'll get along. You got insurance, I 'spect. Lookie there!"
Another Marine pointed his flashlight into the bushes. It was as large an alligator as Russo had
ever seen, over twelve feet long. The large eyes blazed yellow in the darkness, while the rest of the
reptile's body looked like a green log. With a mouth.
"This is far enough," Black judged. "Keep them dogs back, goddammit!"
The alligator - they called him Nicodemus - opened his mouth and hissed. It was a thoroughly
evil sound.
"Please…" Russo said.
"I can tell you everything!" the copilot offered again.
"Like what?" the captain asked disgustedly. Why can't you just die like a man? he seemed to ask
instead.
"Where we came from. Who gave us the load. Where we're going. Radio codes. Who's
supposed to meet us. Everything!"
"Sure," the captain noted. "Get their IDs. Pocket change, car keys, everything. As a matter of
fact, just strip 'em naked before you shoot 'em. Let's try to be neat."
"I know everything!" Russo screamed.
"He knows everything," Gunny Black said. "Isn't that nice? Take off your clothes, boy."
"Hold it a minute, Gunny." The captain came forward and shined his light right in Russo's face.
"What do you know that would interest us?" It was a voice they hadn't heard before. Though
dressed in fatigues, he was not a Marine.
Ten minutes later it was all on tape. They already knew most of the names, of course. The
location of the airstrip was new information, however, as were the radio codes.
"Do you waive the right to counsel?" the civilian asked.
"Yes!"
"You willing to cooperate?"
"Yes!"
"Good." Russo and the copilot, whose name was Bennett, were blindfolded and led to a
helicopter. By noon the next day they'd be taken before a U.S. Magistrate, then a judge of the Federal
District Court; by sundown to a remote part of Eglin Air Force Base, a newly built structure with a
high fence. It was guarded by serious-looking men in uniform.
They didn't know that they were the lucky ones. Five downed planes qualified a pilot as an
ace. Bronco was well on his way there.
10. Dry Feet
MARK BRIGHT CHECKED in with Deputy Assistant Director Murray, just as a matter o
courtesy, before going in to see the Director.
"You must have caught the first bird out. How's the case coming?"
"The Pirates Case - that's how the papers are treating it - is just fine. I'm up here because of what
spun off of it. The victim was dirtier than we thought." Bright explained on for several minutes,
pulling one of the ring binders from his briefcase.
"How much?"
"We're not sure. This one's going to take some careful analysis by people with expertise in the
world of high finance, but… well, probably on the order of seven hundred million dollars."
Murray managed to set down his coffee without spilling any. "Say that again?"
"You heard right. I didn't know that until day before yesterday, and I didn't finish reading this
until about twenty-four hours ago. Christ, Dan, I just skimmed it. If I'm wrong, I'm off on the low
side. Anyway, I figured the Director needed to see this PDQ."
"Not to mention the AG and the President. What time you going in to see Emil?"
"Half an hour. Want to tag along? You know this international shuffle better than I do."
The Bureau had a lot of deputy assistant directors, and Murray's post had a vague definition that
he jokingly called "utility outfielder." The Bureau's leading authority on terrorism, Murray was also
the agency's in-house expert on how various international groups moved people, arms, and money
from point to point. That, added to his wide experience as a street agent, gave him the brief of
overseeing certain important cases for the Director or for Bill Shaw, the executive assistant director
(Investigations). Bright hadn't walked into this office entirely by accident.
"How solid is your information?"
"Like I said, it's not all collated yet, but I got a bunch of account numbers, transaction dates,
amounts, and a solid trail all the way back to the point of origin."
"And all of this because that Coast Guard -"
"No, sir." Bright hesitated. "Well, maybe. Knowing the victim was dirty made us search his
background a little more thoroughly. We probably would have gotten this stuff eventually
anyway. As it was, I kept going back to the house. You know how it is."
"Yeah." Murray nodded. One mark of a good agent was tenacity. Another was instinct. Bright
had returned to the home of the victims for as long as his mind kept telling him that something else had
to be there. "How'd you find the safe?"
"The guy had one of those Rubbermaid sheets for his swivel chair to ride on. You know how they
tend to drift away when you move your chair back and forth? I must have sat at that desk for an hour,
all told, and I noticed that it had moved. I rolled the chair away, so I could slide the mat back, and
then it hit me - what a perfect hiding place. I was right." Bright grinned. He had every right to do so.
"You should write that one up for The Investigator" - that was the Justice Department's in-house
newsletter - "so everybody'll know to look for it."
"We have a good safe-man in the office. After that, it was just a matter of cracking the code on
the disks. We have a guy in Mobile who helps us out on that - and, no, he doesn't know what's on the
disks. He knows not to pay close attention, and he's not all that interested anyway. I figure we'll
want to keep this one pretty tight until we move to seize the funds."
"You know, I don't think we've ever owned a shopping mall. I remember when we seized that
topless bar, though." Murray laughed as he lifted his phone and tapped in the number for the
Director's office. "Morning, Moira, this is Dan Murray. Tell the boss that we have something really
hot for him. Bill Shaw will want to come in for this, too. Be there in two minutes." Murray hung up.
"Come on, Agent Bright. It's not often that you hit a grand slam on your first major-league at-bat. You
ever meet the Director?"
"Just to say hi to him twice at receptions."
"He's good people," Murray assured him on the way out the door. It was a short walk down the
carpeted corridor. Bill Shaw met them on the way.
"Hi, Mark. How's your dad?"
"Catching a lot of fish."
"Living down in the Keys now, isn't he?"
"Yes, sir."
"You're going to love this one, Bill," Murray observed as he opened the door. He led them in and
stopped cold when he saw the Director's secretary. "My God, Moira, you're beautiful!"
"You watch that, Mr. Murray, or I'll tell your wife!" But there was no denying it. Her suit was
lovely, her makeup was perfect, and her face positively glowed with what could only be new love.
"I most humbly beg your pardon, ma'am," Murray said gallantly. "This handsome young man is
Mark Bright."
"You're five minutes early, Agent Bright," Mrs. Wolfe noted without checking the appointment
calendar. "Coffee?"
"No, thank you, ma'am."
"Very well." She checked to see that the Director wasn't on the phone. "You can go right in."
The Director's office was large enough for conferences. Emil Jacobs had come to the Bureau
after a distinguished career as a United States Attorney in Chicago, and to take this job he'd declined
a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals there. It went without saying that he could have held a
partner's chair in any criminal-law firm in America, but from the day he'd passed the bar exam, Emil
Jacobs had dedicated his life to putting criminals in jail. Part of that resulted from the fact that his
father had suffered during the beer wars of Prohibition. Jacobs never forgot the scars his father bore
for once having talked back to a South Side Gang enforcer. A small man, like his father, Emil Jacobs
viewed his mission in life as protecting the weak from the evil. He pursued that mission with a
religious fervor that hid behind a brilliant analytical mind. A rare Jew in a largely Irish-Catholic
agency, he'd been made an honorary member of seventeen Hibernian lodges. While J. Edgar Hoover
had been known in the field as "Director Hoover," to the current crop of agents, Director Jacobs was
"Emil."
"Your dad worked for me once," Jacobs said as he extended his hand to Agent Bright. "He's down
on Marathon Key, isn't he? Still fishing for tarpon?"
"Yes, sir. How'd you know?"
"Every year he sends me a Chanukah card." Jacobs laughed. "It's a long story. I'm surprised he
hasn't told you that one. So what's the story?"
Bright sat down and opened his briefcase, handing out the bound copies of his documents. He
started talking, awkwardly at first, but in ten minutes he was fully warmed to the subject. Jacobs was
flipping rapidly through the binder, but didn't miss a spoken word.
"We're talking over half a billion dollars," Bright concluded.
"More than that from what I see here, son."
"I haven't had time to give it a detailed analysis, sir. I figured you'd want to see this right quick."
"You figured right," Jacobs replied without looking up. "Bill, who's the best guy at Justice to get
in on this?"
"Remember the guy who headed the savings-and-loan thing? He's a whiz for following money
from place to place. Marty something," Shaw said. "Young guy. He has a real nose for it. I think
Dan ought to be involved also."
Jacobs looked up. "Well?"
"Fine with me. Shame we can't get a commission on what we seize. We're going to want to move
fast on this. The first inkling they have…"
"That might not matter," Jacobs mused. "But there's no reason to drag our feet. This sort of loss
will sting them pretty good. And with the other things we're… excuse me. Right, Dan, let's set this up
to move fast. Any complications on the piracy case?"
"No, sir. The physical evidence is enough for a conviction. The U.S. Attorney tossed the
confession entirely when the defense lawyer started grumbling about how it had been obtained. Says
he smiled when he did it. Told the other guy no deals of any kind, that he had enough evidence to fry
them, which is exactly what he plans to do. He's pressing for an early trial date, going to try the case
himself. The whole thing."
"Sounds like we have a budding political career on our hands," Jacobs observed. "How much
show and how much substance?"
"He's been pretty good to us down in Mobile, sir," Bright said.
"You can never have too many friends on The Hill," Jacobs agreed. "You're fully satisfied with
the case?"
"Yes, sir. It's solid. What's spun off of it can stand pretty much on its own."
"Why was there so much money on the boat if they just planned to kill him?" Murray asked.
"Bait," Agent Bright answered. "According to the confession that we trashed, they were actually
supposed to deliver it to a contact in the Bahamas. As you can see from this document, the victim
occasionally handled large cash transactions himself. That's probably the reason he bought the yacht
in the first place."
Jacobs nodded. "Fair enough. Dan, you did tell that captain -"
"Yes, sir. He learned his lesson."
"Fine. Back to the money. Dan, you coordinate with Justice and keep me informed through
Bill. I want a target date to start the seizures - give you three days for that. Agent Bright and the
Mobile Field Office are to get full credit for turning this one - but, this one is code-word until we're
ready to move." Codeword meant that the case would be classified right up with CIA operations. It
wasn't all that unusual for the Bureau, which ran most of America's counterintelligence operations.
"Mark, pick a code-word."
"Tarpon. Dad always has been crazy about chasing after them, and they're good fighters."
"I'm going to have to go down there and see. I've never caught anything bigger than a pike."
Jacobs was quiet for a moment. He was thinking about something, Murray thought, wondering what it
was. Whatever it was, it gave Emil a very crafty look. "The timing couldn't be better. Shame I can't
tell you why. Mark, say hi to your dad for me." The Director stood, ending the meeting.
Mrs. Wolfe noted that everyone was smiling when they came out of the room. Shaw even gave
her a wink. Ten minutes later she'd opened a new file in the secure cabinet, an empty folder with the
name TARPON typed on the paper label. It went in the drug section, and Jacobs told her that further
documentation would follow in a few days.
Murray and Shaw walked Agent Bright down to his car and saw him off.
"What's with Moira?" Dan asked as the car pulled out. "They think she's got a boyfriend." "About
time."
At 4:45, Moira Wolfe placed the plastic cover over her computer keyboard and another over her
typewriter. Before leaving the office, she checked her makeup one last time and then walked out with
a spring in her step. The oddest thing was that she didn't realize that everyone else in the office was
rooting for her. The other secretaries and executive assistants, even the Director's security detail, had
avoided comment for fear of making her self-conscious. But tonight had to be a date. The signs were
clear, even though Moira thought that she was concealing it all.
As a senior executive secretary, Mrs. Wolfe rated a reserved parking space, one of many things
that made her life easier. She drove out a few minutes later onto 10th Street, Northwest, then turned
right onto Constitution Avenue. Instead of her normal southward course toward Alexandria and
home, she headed west across the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge into Arlington. It seemed as though the
rush-hour traffic was parting before her, and twenty-five minutes later she pulled up to a small Italian
restaurant in Seven Corners. Before going in she checked her makeup again in the rearview
mirror. Her children would be getting dinner from McDonald's tonight, but they understood. She told
them that she'd be working very late, and she was sure that they believed her, though she ought to have
known that they saw through her lies as easily as she had once seen through theirs.
"Excuse me," she said to the hostess upon entering.
"You must be Mrs. Wolfe," the young lady replied at once. "Please come with me. Mr. Díaz is
waiting for you."
Félix Cortez - Juan Díaz - was sitting in a corner booth at the rear of the restaurant. Moira was
sure that he'd picked the dark place for privacy, and that he had his back to the wall so that he could
see her coming. She was partially correct on both counts. Cortez was wary of being in this
area. CIA headquarters was less than five miles away, thousands of FBI personnel lived in this area,
and who could say whether a senior counterintelligence officer might also like this restaurant? He
didn't think that anyone there knew what he looked like, but intelligence officers do not live to collect
their pensions by assuming anything. His nervousness was not entirely feigned. On the other hand, he
was unarmed. Cortez was in a business where firearms caused far more problems than they solved,
public perceptions to the contrary.
Félix rose as she approached. The hostess departed as soon as she realized the nature of this
"business dinner," leaving the two lovers - she thought it was kind of cute - to grab each other's hands
and exchange kisses that were oddly passionate despite their being restrained for so public a
place. Cortez seated his lady, pouring her a glass of white wine before resuming his place opposite
her. His first words were delivered with sheepish embarrassment.
"I was afraid you wouldn't come."
"How long have you been waiting?" Moira asked. There were a half-dozen stubbed-out
cigarettes in the ashtray.
"Almost an hour," he answered with a funny look. Clearly he was amused at himself, she thought.
"But I'm early."
"I know." This time he laughed. "You make me a fool, Moira. I do not act in such a way at home."
She misread what he was trying to say. "I'm sorry, Juan, I didn't mean-"
A perfect response, Cortez's mind reported. Exactly right. He took her hand across the table and
his eyes sparkled. "Do not trouble yourself. Sometimes it is good for a man to be a fool. Forgive me
for calling you so abruptly. A small business problem. I had to fly to Detroit on short notice, and
since I was in the neighborhood, as you say, I wanted to see you before I went home."
"Problem… ?"
"A change in the design for a carburetor. Something to do with fuel economy, and I must change
some tools in my factories." He waved his hand. "The problem is solved. These things are not
uncommon - and, it gave me an excuse to make an extra trip here. Perhaps I should thank your EPA,
or whatever government office complains about air pollution."
"I will write the letter myself, if you wish."
His voice changed. "It is so good to see you again, Moira."
"I was afraid that -"
The emotion on his face was manifest. "No, Moira, it was I who was afraid. I am a foreigner. I
come here so seldom, and surely there must be many men who -"
"Juan, where are you staying?" Mrs. Wolfe asked.
"At the Sheraton."
"Do they have room service?"
"Yes, but why -"
"I won't be hungry for about two hours," she told him, and finished off her wine. "Can we leave
now?"
Félix dropped a pair of twenties on the table and led her out. The hostess was reminded of a song
from The King and I. They were in the lobby of the Sheraton in less than six minutes. Both walked
quickly to the elevators, and both looked warily about, both hoping that they wouldn't be spotted, but
for different reasons. His tenth-floor room was actually an expensive suite. Moira scarcely noticed
on entering, and for the next hour knew of nothing but a man whose name she mistakenly thought was
Juan Díaz.
"So wonderful a thing," he said at last.
"What's that?"
"So wonderful a thing that there was a problem with the new carburetor."
"Juan!"
"I must now create quality-control problems so that they call me every week to Detroit," he
suggested lightly, stroking her arm as he did so.
"Why not build a factory here?"
"The labor costs are too high," he said seriously. "Of course, drugs would be less of a problem."
"There, too?"
"Yes. They call it basuco, filthy stuff, not good enough for export, and too many of my workers
indulge." He stopped talking for a moment. "Moira, I try to make a joke, and you force me to speak of
business. Have you lost interest in me?"
"What do you think?"
"I think I need to return to Venezuela while I can still walk."
Her fingers did some exploring. "I think you will recover soon."
"That is good to know." He turned his head to kiss her, and let his eyes linger, examining her body
in the rays of the setting sun that spilled through the windows. She noticed his stares and reached for
the sheet. He stopped her.
"I am no longer young," she said.
"Every child in all the world looks upon his mother and sees the most beautiful woman in the
world, even though many mothers are not beautiful. Do you know why this is so? The child looks
with love, and sees love returned. Love is what makes beauty, Moira. And, truly, you are beautiful
to me."
And there it was. The word was finally out in the open. He watched her eyes go somewhat
wider, her mouth move, and her breaths deepen for a moment. For the second time, Cortez felt
shame. He shrugged it off. Or tried to. He'd done this sort of thing before, of course. But always
with young women, young, single ones with an eye for adventure and a taste for excitement. This one
was different in so many ways. Different or not, he reminded himself, there was work to be done.
"Forgive me. Do I embarrass you?"
"No," she answered softly. "Not now."
He smiled down at her. "And now, are you ready for dinner?"
"Yes."
"That is good."
Cortez rose and got the bathrobes from the back of the bathroom door. Service was good. Half
an hour later, Moira stayed in the bedroom while the dinner cart was rolled into the sitting room. He
opened the connecting door as soon as the waiter left.
"You make of me a dishonest man. The look he gave me!"
She laughed. "Do you know how long it's been since. I had to hide in the other room?"
"And you didn't order enough. How can you live on this tiny salad?"
"If I grow fat, you will not come back to me."
"Where I come from, we do not count a woman's ribs," Cortez said. "When I see someone who
grows too thin, I think it is the basuco again. Where I live, they are the ones who forget even to eat."
"Is it that bad?"
"Do you know what basuco is?"
"Cocaine, according to the reports I see."
"Poor quality, not good enough for the criminals to send to the norteamericanos, and mixed with
chemicals that poison the brain. It is becoming the curse of my homeland."
"It's pretty bad here," Moira said. She could see that it was something that really worried her
lover. Just like it was with the Director, she thought.
"I have spoken to the police at home. How can my workers do their jobs if their minds are
poisoned by this thing? And what do the police do? They shrug and mumble excuses - and people
die. They die from the basuco. They die from the guns of the dealers. And no one does anything to
stop it." Cortez made a frustrated gesture. "You know, Moira, I am not merely a capitalist. My
factories, they give jobs, they bring money into my country, money for the people to build houses and
educate their children. I am rich, yes, but I help to build my country - with these hands, I do it. My
workers, they come to me and tell me that their children - ah! I can do nothing. Someday, the dealers,
they will come to me and try to take my factory," he went on. "I will go to the police, and the police
will do nothing. I will go to the army, and the army will do nothing. You work for your federales,
yes? Is there nothing anyone can do?" Cortez nearly held his breath, wondering what the answer
would be.
"You should see the reports I have to type for the Director."
"Reports," he snorted. "Anyone can write reports. At home, the police write many reports, and
the judges do their investigations - and nothing happens. If I ran my factory in this way, soon I would
be living in a hillside shack and begging for money in the street! Do your federales do anything?"
"More than you might think. There are things going on right now that I cannot speak about. What
they're saying around the office is that the rules are changing. But I don't know what that means. The
Director is flying down to Colombia soon to meet with the Attorney General, and - oh! I'm not
supposed to tell anybody that. It's supposed to be a secret."
"I will tell no one," Cortez assured her.
"I really don't know that much anyway," she went on carefully. "Something new is about to start. I
don't know what. The Director doesn't like it very much, whatever it is."
"If it hurts the criminals, why should he not like it?" Cortez asked in a puzzled voice. "You could
shoot them all dead in the street, and I would buy your federales dinner afterwards!"
Moira just smiled. "I'll pass that along. That's what all the letters say - we get letters from all
sorts of people."
"Your director should listen to them."
"So does the President."
"Perhaps he will listen," Cortez suggested. This is an election year…
"Maybe he already is. Whatever just changed, it started there."
"But your director doesn't like it?" He shook his head. "I do not understand the government in my
country. I should not try to understand yours."
"It is funny, though. This is the first time that I don't know - well, I couldn't tell you anyway."
Moira finished her salad. She looked at her empty wineglass. Félix/Juan filled it for her.
"Can you tell me one thing?"
"What?"
"Call me when your director leaves for Colombia," he said.
"Why?" She was too taken aback to say no.
"For state visits one spends several days, no?"
"Yes, I suppose. I don't really know."
"And if your director is away, and you are his secretary, you will have little work to do, no?"
"No, not much."
"Then I will fly to Washington, of course." Cortez rose from his chair and took three steps around
the table. Moira's bathrobe hung loosely around her. He took advantage of that. "I must fly home
early tomorrow morning. One day with you is no longer enough, my love. Hmm, you are ready, I
think."
"Are you?"
"We will see. There is one thing I will never understand," he said as he helped her from the
chair.
"What is that?"
"Why would any fool use powder for pleasure when he can have a woman?" It was, in fact,
something that Cortez never would understand. But it wasn't his job to understand it.
"Any woman?" she said, heading for the door.
Cortez pulled the robe from her. "No, not any woman."
"My God," Moira said, half an hour later. Her chest glistened with perspiration, hers and his.
"I was mistaken," he gasped facedown at her side.
"What?"
"When your director of federales flies to Colombia, do not call me!" He laughed to show that he
was kidding. "Moira, I do not know that I can do this for more than one day a month."
A giggle. "Perhaps you should not work so hard, Juan."
"How can I not?" He turned to look at her. "I have not felt like this since I was a boy. But I am no
longer a boy. How can women stay young when men cannot?" She smiled with amusement at the
obvious lie. He had pleased her greatly.
"I cannot call you."
"What?"
"I do not have your number." She laughed. Cortez leaped from the bed and pulled the wallet from
his coat pocket, then muttered something that sounded profane.
"I have no cards - ah!" He took the pad from the night table and wrote the number. "This is for my
office. Usually I am not there - I spend my days on the shop floor." A grunt. "I spend my nights in the
factory. I spend weekends in the factory. Sometimes I sleep in the factory. But Consuela will reach
me, wherever I might be."
"And I must leave," Moira said.
"Tell your director that he must make it a weekend trip. We will spend two days in the country. I
know of a small, quiet place in the mountains, just a few hours from here."
"Do you think you can survive it?" she asked with a hug.
"I will eat sensibly and exercise," he promised her. A final kiss, and she left.
Cortez closed the door and walked into the bathroom. He hadn't learned all that much, but what
he had found out might be crucial. "The rules are changing." Whatever they were changing to,
Director Jacobs didn't like it, but was evidently going along. He was going to Colombia to discuss it
with the Attorney General. Jacobs, he remembered, knew the Attorney General quite well. They had
been classmates together in college, over thirty years before. The Attorney General had flown to
America for the funeral of Mrs. Jacobs. Something with a presidential seal on it, also. Well. Two of
Cortez's associates were in New Orleans to meet with the attorney for the two fools who'd botched
the killing on the yacht. The FBI had certainly played a part in that, and whatever had happened there
would give him a clue.
Cortez looked up from washing his hands to see the man who had obtained those intelligence
tidbits and decided that he didn't like the man who had done it. He shrugged off the feeling. It wasn't
the first time. Certainly it wouldn't be the last.
The shot went off at 23:41 hours. The Titan-IIID's two massive solid-rocket boosters ignited at
the appointed time, over a million pounds of thrust was generated, and the entire assembly leapt off
the pad amid a glow that would be seen from Savannah to Miami. The solid boosters burned for 120
seconds before being discarded. At this point the liquid-fuel engines on the booster's center section
ignited, hurling the remaining package higher, faster, and farther downrange. All the while onboard
instruments relayed data from the booster to ground station at the Cape. In fact, they were also
radioing their data to a Soviet listening post located on the northern tip of Cuba, and to a "fishing
trawler" which kept station off Cape Canaveral, and also flew a red flag. The Titan-IIID was a bird
used exclusively for military launches, and Soviet interest in this launch resulted from an unconfirmed
GRU report that the satellite atop the launcher had been specially modified to intercept very weak
electronic signals - exactly what kind the report didn't specify.
Faster and higher. Half of the remaining rocket dropped off now, the second-stage fuel expended,
and the third stage lit off about a thousand miles downrange. In the control bunkers at the Cape, the
engineers and technicians noted that everything was still going as planned, as befitted a launch
vehicle whose ancestry dated back to the late 1950s. The third stage burned out on time and on
profile. The payload, along with the fourth, or transstage, now awaited the proper time to ignite,
kicking the payload to its intended geosynchronous height, from which it would hover over a specific
piece of the earth's equator. The hiatus allowed the control-room crew to top off their coffee, make
necessary pit stops, and review the data from the launch, which, they all agreed, had been about as
perfect as an engineer had any right to expect.
The trouble came half an hour later. The transstage ignited early, seemingly on its own, boosting
the payload to the required height, but not in the expected place; also, instead of being perfectly
placed in a stationary position, the payload was left in an eccentric path, meandering in a lopsided
figure-eight that straddled the equator. Even if it had been over the right longitude, the path would
negate its coverage of the higher latitudes for brief but annoying periods of time. Despite everything
that had gone right, all the thousands of parts that had functioned exactly as designed, the launch was a
failure. The engineering crew who managed the lower stages shook their heads in sympathy with
those whose responsibility had been the transstage, and who now surveyed launch control in evident
dejection. The launch was a failure.
The payload didn't know that. At the appointed time, it separated itself from the transstage and
began to perform as it had been programmed. Weighted arms ten meters in length extended
themselves. Gravity from an earth over twenty thousand miles away would act on them through tidal
forces, keeping the satellite forever pointed downward. Next the solar panels deployed to convert
sunlight into electricity, charging the onboard batteries. Finally, an enormous dish antenna began to
form. Made of a special metal-ceramic-plastic material, its frame "remembered" its proper
configuration, and on being heated by sunlight unfolded itself over a three-hour period until it formed
a nearly perfect parabolic dish fully thirty meters in diameter. Anyone close enough to view the event
would have noticed the builder's plate on the side of the satellite. Why this was done was itself an
anachronism, since there would never be anyone close enough to notice, but it was the custom. The
plate, made of gold foil, designated the prime contractor as TRW, and the name of the satellite as
Rhyolite-J. The last of an obsolete series of such satellites, it had been built in 1981 and sat in
storage - at the cost of over $100,000 per year - awaiting a launch that had never actually been
expected, since CIA and NSA had developed newer, less cumbersome electronic-reconnaissance
birds that used advanced signal-gathering equipment. In fact, some of the new equipment had been
attached to this obsolete bird, made even more effective by the massive receiving dish. Rhyolite had
been originally designed to eavesdrop on Soviet electronic emissions, telemetry from missile tests,
side-lobes from air-defense radars, scatterings from microwave towers, even for signals from spy
devices dropped off by CIA officers and agents at sensitive locations.
That didn't matter to the people at the Cape. An Air Force public affairs officer released a
statement to the general effect that the (classified) launch had not achieved proper orbit. This was
verified by the Soviets, who had fully expected the satellite to take a place over the Indian Ocean
when, in fact, it was now oscillating over the Brazilian-Peruvian border, from which it couldn't even
see the Soviet Union. Curious, they thought, that the Americans had even allowed it to switch itself
on, but from yet another "fishing trawler" off the California coast, they monitored intermittent
scatterings of encrypted transmissions from the satellite down to some earth station or
other. Whatever it was sending down, however, was of little concern to the Soviet Union.
Those signals were received at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where technicians in yet another
nondescript communications van, with a satellite dish set outside, began calibrating their
instruments. They didn't know that the launch was supposedly a failure. They just knew that
everything about it was secret.
The jungle, Chavez thought. It smelled, but he didn't mind the smell so much as the
snakes. Chavez had never told anyone about it, but he hated and feared snakes. All kinds of
snakes. He didn't know why - and it troubled him that fear of snakes was associated with women, not
men - but even the thought of the slithering, slimy things made his skin crawl, those legless lizards
with flicking tongues and lidless eyes. They hung from branches and hid under fallen trees, waiting
for him to pass so that they could strike at whatever part of his anatomy offered itself. He knew that
they would if they got the chance. He was sure that he would die if they did. So he kept alert. No
snake would get him, not so long as he stayed alert. At least he had a silenced weapon. That way he
could kill them without making noise. Fuckin' snakes.
He finally made the road, and he really ought to have stayed in the mud, but he wanted to lie down
on a dry, clear place, which he first scanned with his AN/PVS-7 night scope. No snakes. He took a
deep breath, then removed the plastic canteen from its holder. They'd been on the move for six hours,
covering nearly five miles - which was really pushing it - but they were supposed to get to this road
before dawn, and get there unseen by the OPFOR - the opposing force - who were warned of their
presence. Chavez had spotted them twice, each time, he thought, a pair of American MPs, who
weren't really soldiers, not to his way of thinking. Chavez had led his squad around them, moving
through the swamp as quietly as… as a snake, he told himself wryly. He could have double-tapped
all four of them easily enough, but that wasn't the mission.
"Nice job, Ding." Captain Ramirez came down beside him. They spoke in whispers.
"Hell, they were asleep."
The captain grinned in the darkness. "I hate the fuckin' jungle. All these bugs."
"Bugs ain't so bad, sir. It's the snakes I don't like."
Both men scanned the road in both directions. Nothing. Ramirez clapped the sergeant on the
shoulder and went to check on the rest of the squad. He'd scarcely left when a figure emerged from
the treeline three hundred yards away. He was moving directly toward Chavez. Uh-oh.
Ding moved backward under a bush and set down his submachine gun. It wasn't loaded anyway,
not even with the wax practice bullets. A second one came out, but he walked the other way. Bad
tactics, Chavez thought. Pairs are supposed to support each other. Well, that was too bad. The last
sliver of moon was dropping below the top level of the triple-canopy forest, and Chavez still had the
advantage of his night scope as the figure walked toward him. The man walked quietly - at least he
knew how to do that - and slowly, keeping his eyes on the edge of the road and listening as much as
looking. Chavez waited, switching off the scope and removing it from his head. Then he removed his
fighting knife from its sheath. Closer, only about fifty yards now, and the sergeant coiled up, drawing
his legs under his chest. At thirty feet, he stopped breathing. If he could have willed his heart to stop,
he'd have done that to reduce the noise. This was for fun. If this had been for-real, a 9mm bullet
would now reside in the man's head.
The sentry walked right past Ding's position, looking but not seeing the form under the bush. He
made it another step before he heard a swishing sound, but then it was too late. By that time, he was
facedown on the gravel, and he felt the hilt of a knife at the back of his neck.
"Ninja owns the night, boy! You're history."
"You got me, sure as hell," the man whispered in reply.
Chavez rolled him over. It was a major, and his headgear was a beret. Maybe the OPFOR wasn't
MPs after all.
"Who are you?" the victim asked.
"Staff Sergeant Domingo Chavez, sir."
"Well, you just killed a jungle-warfare instructor, Chavez. Good job. Mind if I get a drink? It's
been a long night." Chavez allowed the man to roll into the bushes, where he, too, took a pull off his
canteen. "What outfit you from - wait a minute, 3rd of the 17th, right?"
"We own the night, sir," Chavez agreed. "You been there?"
"Going there, for a battalion staffjob." The major wiped some blood from his face. He'd hit the
road a little hard.
"Sorry about that, sir."
"My fault, Sergeant, not yours. We have twenty guys out there. I never thought you'd make it this
far without being spotted."
The sound of a vehicle came down the road. A minute later the wide-set lights of a Hummer - the
new and larger incarnation of the venerable jeep-appeared, announcing that the exercise was
over. The "dead" major marched off to collect his men, while Captain Ramirez did the same.
"That was the final exam, people," he told the squad. "Get a good day's sleep. We go in tonight."
"I don't believe it," Cortez said. He'd hopped the first flight from Dulles to Atlanta. There he met
an associate in a rented car, and now they discussed their information in the total anonymity of an
automobile driving at the posted limit on the Atlanta beltway.
"Call it psychological warfare," the man answered. "No plea-bargain, no nothing. It's being
handled as a straight murder trial. Ramón and Jesús will not get any consideration."
Cortez looked at the passing traffic. He didn't give a damn about the two sicarios, who were as
expendable as any other terrorists and who didn't know the reason for the killings. What he was
considering now was a series of seemingly disjointed and unconnected bits of information on
American interdiction operations. An unusual number of courier aircraft were disappearing. The
Americans were treating this legal case in an unusual way. The Director of the FBI was doing
something that he didn't like, and that his personal secretary didn't know about yet. "The rules are
changing." That could mean anything at all.
Something fundamental. It had to be. But what?
There were a number of well-paid and highly reliable informants throughout the American
government, in Customs, DEA, the Coast Guard, none of whom had reported a single thing. The lawenforcement community was in the dark - except for the FBI Director, who didn't like it, but would
soon go to Colombia…
Some sort of intelligence operation was - no. Active Measures? The phrase came from KGB,
and could mean any of several things, from feeding disinformation to reporters to "wet" work. Would
the Americans do anything like that? They never had. He glowered at the passing scenery. He was
an experienced intelligence officer, and his profession was to determine what people were doing
from bits and pieces of random data. That he was working for someone he detested was beside the
point. This was a matter of pride and besides, he detested the Americans even more.
What were they doing now?
Cortez had to admit to himself that he didn't know, but in one hour he'd board a plane, and in six
hours he'd have to tell his employer that he didn't know. That did not appeal to him.
Something fundamental. The rules are changing. The FBI Director didn't like it. His secretary
didn't know. The trip to Colombia was clandestine.
Cortez relaxed. Whatever it was, it was not an immediate threat. The Cartel was too
secure. There would be time to analyze and respond. There were many people in the smuggling
chain who could be sacrificed, who would fight for the chance, in fact. And after a time, the Cartel
would adapt its operations to the changing conditions as it always had. All he had to do was
convince his employer of that simple fact. What did el jefe really care about Ramón and Jesús or any
of the underlings who ran the drugs and did the killings that became necessary? It was continuing the
supply of drugs to the consumers that mattered.
His mind came back to the vanishing airplanes. Historically, the Americans had managed to
intercept one or two per month, that small a number despite all their radars and aircraft. But recently
- four in the last two weeks, wasn't it? - had disappeared. What did that mean? Unknown to the
Americans, there had always been "operational" losses, a military term that meant nothing more
mysterious than flying accidents. One of the reasons that his boss had taken Carlos Larson on was to
mitigate that wastage of resources, and it had, initially, shown promise - until very recently. Why the
sudden jump in losses? If the Americans had somehow intercepted them, the air crews would have
shown up in courtrooms and jails, wouldn't they? Cortez had to dismiss that thought.
Sabotage, perhaps? What if someone were placing explosives in the aircraft, like the Arab
terrorists did… ? Unlikely… or was it? Did anyone check for that? It wouldn't take much. Even
minor damage to a low-flying aircraft could face the pilot with a problem whose solution required
more time than he had in altitude. Even a single blasting cap could do it, not even a cubic
centimeter… he'd have to check that out. But, then, who would be doing it? The Americans? But
what if it became known that the Americans were placing bombs on aircraft? Would they take that
political risk? Probably not. Who else, then? The Colombians might. Some senior Colombian
military officer, operating entirely on his own… or in the pay of the yanquis? That was possible. It
couldn't be a government operation, Cortez was sure. There were too many informants there, too.
Would it have to be a bomb? Why not contaminated gasoline? Why not minor tampering with an
engine, a frayed control cable… or a flight instrument. What was it that Larson had said about having
to watch instruments at low level? What if some mechanic had altered the setting on the artificial
horizon… ? Or merely arranged for it to stop working… something in the electrical system,
perhaps? How hard was it to make a small airplane stop flying? Whom to ask? Larson?
Cortez grumbled to himself. This was undirected speculation, decidedly unprofessional. There
were countless possibilities. He knew that something was probably happening, but not what it
was. And only probably, he admitted to himself. The unusually large number of missing aircraft
could merely be a statistical anomaly - he didn't believe that, but forced himself to consider the
possibility. A series of coincidences - there was not an intelligence academy in the world that
encouraged its students to believe in coincidences, and yet how many strange coincidences had he
encountered in his professional career?
"The rules are changing," he muttered to himself.
"What?" the driver asked.
"Back to the airport. My Caracas flight leaves in less than an hour."
"Sí, jefe."
Cortez lifted off on time. He had to travel to Venezuela first for the obvious reasons. Moira
might get curious, might want to see his ticket, might ask his flight number, and besides, American
agents would be less interested in people who flew there than those who flew directly to
Bogotá. Four hours later he made his Avianca connection to El Dorado International Airport, where
he met a private plane for the last hop over the mountains.
Equipment was issued as always, with a single exception. Chavez noted that nobody was signing
for anything. That was a real break from routine. The Army always had people sign for their gear. If
you broke it or lost it, well, though they might not make you pay for it, you had to account for it in one
way or another. But not now.
The load-cuts differed slightly from one man to the next. Chavez, the squad scout, got the lightest
load, while Julio Vega, one of the machine-gunners, got the heaviest. Ding got eleven magazines for
his MP-5 submachine gun, a total of 330 rounds. The M-203 grenade launchers that two squad
members had attached to their rifles were the only heavy firepower they'd be carrying in.
His uniform was not the usual stripe-and-splotch Army fatigue pattern, but rather rip-stop khaki
because they weren't supposed to look like Americans to the casual observer, if any. Khaki clothing
was not the least unusual in Colombia. Jungle fatigues were. A floppy green hat instead of a helmet,
and a scarf to tie over his hair. A small can of green spray paint and two sticks of facial camouflage
"makeup." A waterproof map case with several maps; Captain Ramirez got one also. Twelve feet of
rope and a snaplink, issued to everyone. A short-range FM radio of an expensive commercial type
that was nonetheless better and cheaper than the one the Army used. Seven-power compact
binoculars, Japanese. American-style web gear of the type used by every Army in the world, actually
made in Spain. Two one-quart canteens to hang on the web belt, and a third two-quart water bottle
for his rucksack, American, commercial. A large supply of water-purification tablets - they'd
resupply their own water, which wasn't a surprise.
Ding got a strobe light with an infrared cover lens because one of his jobs would be to select and
mark helicopter landing zones, plus a VS-17 panel for the same purpose. A signaling mirror for times
when a radio might not be appropriate (steel mirrors, moreover, do not break). A small flashlight;
and a butane cigarette lighter, which was far better than carrying matches. A large bottle of extrastrength Tylenol, also known as "light-fighter candy." A bottle of prescription cough medicine,
heavily laced with codeine. A small bottle of Vaseline petroleum jelly. A small squeeze bottle of
concentrated CS tear gas. A weapons-cleaning kit, which included a toothbrush. Spare batteries for
everything. A gas mask.
Chavez would travel light with but four hand grenades - Dutch NR-20 C1 type - and two smokes,
also of Dutch manufacture. The rest of the squad got the Dutch frags, and some CS tear-gas grenades,
also Dutch. In fact, all of the weapons carried by the squad and all of their ammunition had been
purchased at Colon, Panama, in what was fast becoming the hemisphere's most convenient arms
market. For anyone with cash there were weapons to be had.
Rations were the normal MREs. Water was the main hygienic concern, but they'd already been
fully briefed about using their water-purification tablets. Whoever forgot had a supply of antidiarrhea
pills that would follow a serious chewing from Captain Ramirez. Every man had gotten a new series
of booster shots while still in Colorado against the spectrum of tropical diseases endemic to the area,
and all carried an odorless insect repellent made for the military by the same company that produced
the commercial product called "Off." The squad medic carried a full medical kit, and each rifleman
had his own morphine Syrette and a plastic bottle of IV fluids for use as a blood-expander.
Chavez had a razor-sharp machete, a four-inch folding knife, and, of course, his three
nonregulation throwing stars that Captain Ramirez didn't know about. With other sundry items,
Chavez would be carrying a load of exactly fifty-eight pounds. That made his load the lightest in the
squad. Vega and the other SAW gunner had the heaviest, with seventy-one pounds. Ding jostled the
load around on his shoulders to get a feel for it, then adjusted the straps on his rucksack to make it as
comfortable as possible. It was a futile exercise. He was packing a third of his body weight, which
is about as much as a man can carry for any length of time without risking a physical breakdown. His
boots were well broken-in, and he had extra pairs of dry socks.
"Ding, could you give me a hand with this?" Vega asked.
"Sure, Julio." Chavez took some slack in on one of the machine gunner's shoulder straps. "How's
that?"
"Just right, 'mano. Jeez, carrying the biggest gun do have a price."
"Roger that, Oso." Julio, who'd demonstrated the ability to pack more than anyone in the squad,
had a new nickname, Oso: Bear.
Captain Ramirez came down the line, walking around each man to check the loads. He adjusted a
few straps, bounced a few rucksacks, and generally made sure that every man was properly loaded,
and that all weapons were clean. When he was finished, Ding checked the captain's load, and
Ramirez took his place in front of the squad.
"Okay - anybody got aches, pains, or blisters?"
"No, sir!" the squad replied.
"We ready to go do it?" Ramirez asked with a wide grin that belied the fact that he was as
nervous as everyone else in the squad bay.
"Yes, sir!"
One more thing left to do. Ramirez walked down the line and collected dog tags from each
man. Each set went into a clear plastic bag along with wallets and all other forms of
identification. Finished, he removed his own, counted the bags a last time, and left them on the table
in the squad bay. Outside, each squad boarded a separate five-ton truck. Few waves were
exchanged. Though friendships had sprouted up in training, they were mainly limited within the
structure of the squads. Each eleven-man unit was a self-contained community. Every member knew
every other, knew all there was to know, from stories of sexual performance to marksmanship
skills. Some solid friendships had blossomed, and some even more valuable rivalries. They were,
in fact, already closer than friends could ever be. Each man knew that his life would depend on the
skill of his fellows, and none of them wished to appear weak before his comrades. Argue as they
might among themselves, they were now a team; though they might trade barbed comments, over the
past weeks they had been forged into a single complex organism with Ramirez as their brain, Chavez
as their eyes, Julio Vega and the other machine-gunner as their fists, and all the others as equally vital
components. They were as ready for their mission as any soldiers had ever been.
The trucks arrived together behind the helicopter and the troops boarded by squads. The first
thing Chavez noticed was the 7.62mm minigun on the right side of the aircraft. There was an Air
Force sergeant standing next to it, his green coveralls topped by a camouflage-painted flight helmet,
and a massive feed line of shells leading to an even larger hopper. Ding had no particular love for
the Air Force - a bunch of pansy truck drivers, he'd thought until now - but the man on that gun looked
serious and competent as hell. Another such gun was unmanned on the opposite side of the aircraft,
and there was a spot for another at the rear. The flight engineer - his name tag said ZIMMER - moved
them all into their places and made sure that each soldier was properly strapped down to his
particular piece of floor. Chavez didn't trade words with him, but sensed that this man had been
around the block a few times. It was, he belatedly realized, the biggest goddamned helicopter he'd
ever seen.
The flight engineer made one final check before going forward and plugging his helmet into the
intercom system. A moment later came the whine from the helicopter's twin turbine engines.
"Looking good," PJ observed over the headset. The engines had been pre-warmed and the fuel
tanks topped off. Zimmer had repaired a minor hydraulic problem, and the Pave Low III was as
ready as his skilled men could make it. Colonel Johns keyed his radio.
"Tower, this is Night Hawk Two-Five requesting permission to taxi. Over."
"Two-Five, tower, permission granted. Winds are one-zero-niner at six knots."
"Roger. Two-Five is rolling. Out."
Johns twisted the throttle grip on his collective control and eased the cyclic stick forward. Due to
the size and engine power of the big Sikorsky, it was customary to taxi the aircraft toward the runway
apron before actually lifting off. Captain Willis swiveled his neck around, checking for other ground
traffic, but there was none this late at night. One ground crewman walked backward in front of them
as a further safety measure, waving for them to follow with lighted wands. Five minutes later they
were at the apron. The wands came together and pointed to the right. Johns gave the man a last look,
returning the ceremonial salute.
"Okay, let's get this show on the road." PJ brought the throttle to full power, making a last check
of his engine instruments as he did so. Everything looked fine. The helicopter lifted at the nose a few
feet, then dipped forward as it began to move forward. Next it started to climb, leaving behind a
small tornado of dust, visible only in the blue runway perimeter lights.
Captain Willis put the navigations systems on line, adjusting the electronic terrain display. There
was a moving map display not unlike that used by James Bond in Goldfinger. Pave Low could
navigate from a Doppler-radar system that interrogated the ground, from an inertial system using
laser-gyroscopes, or from navigational satellites. The helicopter initially flew straight down the
Canal's length, simulating the regular security patrol. They unknowingly flew within a mile of the
SHOWBOAT's communications nexus at Corezal.
"Lot of pick-and-shovel work down there," Willis observed.
"Ever been here before?"
"No, sir, first time. Quite a job for eighty-ninety years ago," he said as they flew over a large
container ship. They caught a little buffet from the hot stack-gas of the ship. PJ came to the right to
get out of it. It would be a two-hour flight, and there was no sense in jostling the passengers any more
than necessary. In an hour their MC-130E tanker would lift off to refuel them for the return leg.
"Lot of dirt to move," Colonel Johns agreed after a moment. He moved a little in his
seat. Twenty minutes later they went "feet wet," passing over the Caribbean Sea for the longest
portion of the flight on a course of zero-nine-zero, due east.
"Look at that," Willis said half an hour later. On their night-vision sets, they spotted a twinengine aircraft on a northerly heading, perhaps six miles away. They spotted it from the infrared
glow of the two piston engines.
"No lights," PJ agreed.
"I wonder what he's carrying?"
"Sure as hell isn't Federal Express." More to the point, he can't see us unless he's wearing the
same goggles we got.
"We could pull up alongside and take the miniguns -"
"Not tonight." Too bad. I wouldn't especially mind…
"What do you suppose our passengers -"
"If we were supposed to know, Captain, they would have told us," Johns replied. He was
wondering, too, of course. Christ, but they're loaded for bear, the colonel thought. Not wearing
standard-issue uniforms… obviously a covert insertion - hell, I've known that part of the mission for
weeks - but they were clearly planning to stay awhile. Johns hadn't heard that the government had
ever done that. He wondered if the Colombians were playing ball… probably not. And we're
staying down here for at least a month, so they're planning for us to support them, maybe extract
them if things get a little hot… Christ, it's Laos all over again, he concluded. Good thing I
brought Buck along. We're the only real vets left . Colonel Johns shook his head. Where had his
youth gone?
You spent it with a helicopter strapped to your back, doing all sorts of screwy things.
"I got a ship target on the horizon at about eleven o'clock," the captain said, and altered course a
few degrees to the right. The mission brief had been clear on that. Nobody was supposed to see or
hear them. That meant avoiding ships, fishing boats, and inquisitive dolphins, staying well off the
coast, no more than a thousand feet up, and keeping their anticollision lights off. The mission profile
was precisely what they'd fly in wartime, with some flight-safety rules set aside. Even in the specialoperations business, that last fact was somewhat out of the ordinary, Johns reminded himself. Hot
guns and all.
They made the Colombian coast without further incident. As soon as it was in view, Johns
alerted his crew. Sergeants Zimmer and Bean powered up their electrically driven miniguns and slid
open the doors next to them.
"Well, we just invaded a friendly foreign country," Willis noted as they went "feet dry" north of
Tolu. They used their low-light instruments to search for vehicular traffic, which they were also
supposed to avoid. Their course track was plotted to avoid areas of habitation. The six-bladed rotor
didn't make the fluttering whops associated with smaller helicopters. Its sound, at a distance, wasn't
terribly different from turbopowered aircraft; it was also directionally deceptive - even if you heard
the noise, it was hard to figure where it came from. Once past the Pan American Highway, they
curved north, passing east of Plato.
"Zimmer, LZ One in five minutes."
"Right, PJ," the flight engineer replied. It had been decided to leave Bean and Childs on the guns,
while Zimmer handled the dropoff.
It must be a combat mission. Johns smiled to himself. Buck only calls me that when he expects
to get shot at.
Aft, Sergeant Zimmer walked down the center of the aircraft, telling the first two squads to
unbuckle their safety belts and holding up his hand to show how many more minutes there were. Both
captains nodded.
"LZ One in sight," Willis said soon thereafter.
"I'll take her."
"Pilot's airplane."
Colonel Johns orbited the area, spiraling into the clearing selected from satellite photos. Willis
scanned the ground for the least sign of life, but there was none.
"Looks clear to me, Colonel."
"Going in now," Johns said into the intercom.
"Get ready!" Zimmer shouted as the helicopter's nose came up.
Chavez stood up with the rest of his squad, facing aft to the opening cargo door. His knees
buckled slightly as the Sikorsky touched down.
"Go!" Zimmer waved them out, patting each man on the shoulder to keep a proper count.
Chavez went out behind his captain, turning left to avoid the tail rotor as soon as his feet were on
the dirt. He went ten steps and dropped to his face. Above his head, the rotor was still turning at full
power, holding the lethal blades a safe fifteen feet off the ground.
"Clear, clear, clear!" Zimmer said when he'd seen them all off.
"Roger," Johns replied, twisting the throttle again to lift off.
Chavez turned his head as the whine of the engines increased. The blacked-out helicopter was
barely visible, but he saw the spectral outline lift off and felt the dirt stinging his face as the hundredknot downwash from the rotor subsided, and stopped. It was gone.
He ought to have expected it, but the feeling came to Chavez as a surprise. He was in enemy
territory. It was real, not an exercise. The only way he had out - had just flown away, already
invisible. Despite the fact that there were ten men around him, he was momentarily awash in a sense
of loneliness. But he was a trained man, a professional soldier. Chavez grasped his loaded weapon
and took strength from it. He wasn't quite alone.
"Move out," Captain Ramirez told him quietly.
Chavez moved toward the treeline in the knowledge that behind him the squad would follow.
11. In-Country
THREE HUNDRED MILES away from SSG Ding Chavez, Colonel Félix Cortez, formerly of t
Cuban DGI, sat dozing inel jefe's office. El jefe, he'd been told on his arrival several hours before,
was occupied at present - probably entertaining a mistress. Maybe even his wife, Cortez thought;
unlikely but possible. He'd drunk two cups of the fine local coffee - previously Colombia's most
valuable export crop - but it hadn't helped. He was tired from the previous night's exertions, from the
travel, and now from readjusting yet again to the high altitude of the region. Cortez was ready for
sleep, but had to stay awake to debrief his boss. Inconsiderate bastard. At least in the DGI he could
have submitted a hastily written report and taken a few hours to freshen up before normal office hours
began. But the DGI was composed of professionals, and he'd chosen to work for an amateur.
Just after 1:30 in the morning he heard feet coming down the corridor. Cortez stood and shook off
the sleep. The door opened, and there was el jefe, his visage placid and happy. One of his
mistresses.
"What have you learned?" Escobedo asked without preamble.
"Nothing specific as of yet," Cortez replied with a yawn. He proceeded to speak for about five
minutes, going over what things he had discovered.
"I pay you for results, Colonel," Escobedo pointed out.
"That is true, but at high levels such results require time. Under the methods for gathering
information which you had in place before I arrived, you would still know nothing other than the fact
that some aircraft are missing, and that two of your couriers have been apprehended by the yanquis."
"Their story about the interrogation aboard the ship?"
"Most unusual, perhaps all a fabrication on their part." Cortez settled into his chair, wishing for
another cup of coffee. "Or perhaps true, though I doubt it. I do not know either man and cannot
evaluate the reliability of their claims."
"Two men from Medellín. Ramón's older brother served me well. He was killed in the battles
with M-19. He died bravely. Ramón has also served me. I had to give him a chance," Escobedo
said. "It was a matter of honor. He is not very intelligent, but he is faithful."
"And his death is not overly troublesome?"
Escobedo shook his head without a moment's pause. "No. He knew what the chances were. He
did not know why it was necessary to kill the American. He can tell them nothing about that. As for
the American - he was a thief, and a foolish thief. He thought that we would not discover his
thievery. He was mistaken. So we eliminated him."
And his family, Cortez noted. Killing people was one thing. Raping children… that was
something else. But such things were not his concern.
"You are sure that they cannot tell the Americans -"
"They were told to get aboard the yacht, using the money as their bona fides and concealing their
cache of drugs. Once the killings were accomplished, they were instructed to go to the Bahamas, turn
the money over to one of my bankers, destroy the yacht discreetly, and then smuggle the drugs in
normally, into Philadelphia. They knew that the American had displeased me, but not how he had
done so."
"They must know that he was laundering money, and they must have told the Americans this,"
Cortez pointed out patiently.
"Sí. Fortunately, however, the American was very clever in how he did this. We were careful,
Colonel. Beforehand we made sure that no one could learn exactly what the thief had done."
Escobedo smiled, still in the afterglow of Pinta's services. "He was so very clever, that American."
"What if he left behind a record?"
"He did not. A police officer in that city searched his office and home for us - so carefully that
the American federales never noticed that he had been there - before I authorized the killings."
Cortez took a deep breath before speaking. "Jefe, do you not understand that you must tell me
about such things as this beforehand! Why do you employ me if you have no wish to make use of
my knowledge?"
"We have been doing things such as this for years. We can manage our affairs without -"
"The Russians would send you to Siberia for such idiocy!"
"You forget your place, Señor Cortez!" Escobedo snarled back. *
Félix bit off his own reply and managed to speak reasonably. "You think the norteamericanos are
fools because they are unable to stop your smuggling. Their weakness is a political failing, not one of
professional expertise. You do not understand that, and so I will explain it to you. Their borders are
easy to violate because the Americans have a tradition of open borders. You confuse that with
inefficiency. It is not. They have highly efficient police with the best scientific methods in the world
- do you know that the Russian KGB reads American police textbooks? And copies their
techniques? The American police are hamstrung because their political leadership does not allow
them to act as they wish to act - and as they could act, in a moment, if those restrictions were ever
eased. The American FBI - the federales - have resources beyond your comprehension. I know they hunted me in Puerto Rico and came within a hair of capturing me along with Ojgda - and I am a
trained intelligence officer."
"Yes, yes," Escobedo said patiently. "So what are you telling me?"
"Exactly what did this dead American do for you?"
"He laundered vast sums of money for us, and it continues to generate clean income for us. He set
up a laundering scheme that we continue to use and -"
"Get your money out at once. If this yanqui was as efficient as you say, it is very likely that he
left evidence behind. If he did so, then it is likely that those records were found."
"If so, then why have the federales not acted? They've had over a month now." Escobedo turned
around to grab a bottle of brandy. He rarely indulged, but this was a time for it. Pinta had been
especially fine tonight, and he enjoyed telling Cortez that his expertise, while useful, was not entirely
crucial.
"Jefe, perhaps it will not happen this time, but someday you will learn that chances such as you
took in this case are foolish."
Escobedo waved the snifter under his nose. "As you say, Colonel. Now, what about these new
rules you speak of?"
Chavez was already fully briefed, of course. They'd had a "walkthrough/talk-through" on a sand
table as part of their mission brief, and every man in the unit had the terrain and their way through it
committed to memory. The objective was an airfield designated RENO. He'd seen satellite and lowoblique photos of the site. He didn't know that it had been fingered by someone named Bert Russo,
confirming an earlier intelligence report. It was a gravel strip about five thousand feet long, easy
enough for a twin-engine aircraft, and marginally safe for a larger one, if it were lightly loaded-with
grass, for instance, which was bulky but not especially heavy. The sergeant navigated by the compass
strapped to his wrist. Every fifty yards he'd check the compass, sight on a tree or other object on the
proper line of bearing, and head for it, at which time the procedure would begin again. He moved
slowly and quietly, listening for any vaguely human noise and looking around with the night-vision
scope that he wore on his head. His weapon was loaded and locked, but the selector switch was on
"safe." Vega, the second or "slack" man in the line, was the buffer between Chavez's point position
and the main body of the unit, fifty meters behind Vega. His machine gun made for a formidable
buffer. If contact were made, their first thought would be evasion, but if evasion proved impossible,
then they were to eliminate whatever stood in their path as quickly and violently as possible.
After two hours and two kilometers, Ding picked a spot to rest, a preselected rally point. He
raised his hand and twirled it around in a lasso-motion to communicate what he was doing. They
could have pushed a little harder, but the flight, as all lengthy helicopter flights, had been tiring, and
the captain hadn't wanted to press too hard. They were not in fact expected to reach the objective
until the following night. Every other word in the mission brief had been "Caution!" He remembered
smirking every time he'd heard that. Now the amusement had left him. That guy Clark had been
right. It was different in Indian Country. The price of failure here would not be the embarrassment of
having your "MILES" beeper go off.
Chavez shook his head to clear away the thought. He had a job. It was a job for which he was
fully trained and equipped, and it was a job which he wanted to do.
His rest spot was a small, dry knoll, which he scanned for snakes before sitting down. He made
one last scan of the area before switching off his goggles to save battery time, and pulled out his
canteen for a drink. It was hot, but not terribly so. High eighties, he thought, and the humidity was
well up there also. If it was this hot at night, he didn't want to think about the daytime heat. At least
they'd be bellied up during daylight. And Chavez was accustomed to heat. At Hunter-Liggett he'd
marched over hills through temperatures over a hundred-ten degrees. He didn't much like it, but he
could do it easily enough.
"How we doin', Chavez?"
"Muy bien, Capitán," Chavez replied. "I figure we've made two miles, maybe two and a halfthree klicks. That's Checkpoint WRENCH right over there, sir."
"Seen anything?"
"Negative. Just birds and bugs. Not even a wild pig or anything… you suppose people hunt
here?"
"Good bet," Ramirez said after a moment's thought. "That's something we'll want to keep in mind,
Ding."
Chavez looked around. He could see one man, but the rest blended in with the ground. He'd
worried about the khaki clothing - not as effective camouflage as what he was accustomed to - but in
the field it seemed to disappear just fine. Ding took another drink, then shook his canteen to see how
noisy it was. That was a nice thing about the plastic canteens. Water sloshing around wasn't as noisy
as with the old aluminum ones. It was still something to worry about. Any kind of noise was, in the
bush. He popped a cough drop to keep his mouth moist and made ready to head out.
"Next stop, Checkpoint CHAINSAW. Captain, who thinks those dumbass names up?"
Ramirez chuckled quietly. "Why, I do, Sergeant. Don't feel bad. My ex didn't much like my taste
either, so she went and married a real-estate hustler."
"Ain't broads a bitch?"
"Mine sure was."
Even the captain, Chavez thought. Christ, nobody has a girl or a family behind… The thought
was distantly troubling, but the issue at hand was getting past WRENCH to CHAINSAW in less than
two hours.
The next hop involved crossing a road - what they called a road. It was a straight dirt-gravel
track that stretched off to infinity in both directions. Chavez took his time approaching and crossing
it. The rest of the squad halted fifty meters from the roadway, allowing the point man to move left and
right of the crossing point to make sure it was secure. That done, he made a brief radio transmission
to Captain Ramirez, in Spanish:
"The crossing is clear." His answer was a double click of static as the captain keyed the transmit
key on his radio, but without saying anything. Chavez answered in kind and waited for the squad to
cross.
The terrain here was agreeably flat, enough so that he was wondering why their training had been
in towering, airless mountains. Probably because it was well hidden, he decided. The forest, or
jungle, was thick, but not quite as bad as it had been in Panama. There was ample evidence that
people occasionally farmed here, probably slash-and-burn operations, judging from the numerous
small clearings. He'd seen half a dozen crumbling shacks where some poor bastard had tried to raise
a family, or farm for beans, or something that hadn't worked out. The poverty that such evidence
spoke of was depressing to Chavez. The people who lived in this region had names not unlike his,
spoke a language differing only in accent from that spoken in his childhood home. Had his greatgrandfather not decided to come to California and pick lettuce, might he have grown up in such a
place? If so, how might he have turned out? Might Ding Chavez have ended up running drugs or
being a shooter for the Cartel bigshots? That was a truly disturbing thought. His personal pride was
too great to consider the possibility seriously, but its basic truth hovered at the edges of his conscious
thoughts. There was poverty here, and poor people seized at whatever opportunity presented
itself. How could you face your children and say that you could not feed them without doing
something illegal? You could not, of course. What would a child understand other than an empty
belly? Poor people had poor options. Chavez had found the Army almost by accident, and had found
in it a true home of security and opportunity and fellowship and respect. But down here… ?
Poor bastards. But what about the people from his own barrio? Their lives poisoned, their
neighborhoods corrupted. Who was to blame for it all?
Less thinkin' and more workin', 'mano, he told himself. Chavez switched on his night scope for
the next part of the trek.
He moved standing straight up, not crouched as one would expect. His feet caressed the ground
carefully, making sure that there wasn't a twig to snap, and he avoided bushes that might have leaves
or thorns to grasp at his clothing and make their own rustling noise. Wherever possible he cut across
clearings, skirting the treelines to keep from being silhouetted against the cloudy sky. But the main
enemy at night was noise, not sight. It was amazing how acute your hearing got in the bush. He
thought he could hear every bug, every birdcall, each puff of breeze in the leaves far over his
head. But there were no human sounds. No coughs or mutters, none of the distinctive metallic noises
that only men make. While he didn't exactly relax, he moved with confidence, just like on fieldtraining exercises, he realized. Every fifty meters he'd stop and listen for those behind him. Not a
whisper, not even Oso with his machine gun and heavy load. In their quiet was safety.
How good was the opposition? he wondered. Well equipped, probably. With the sort of money
they had, you could buy any sort of weapons - in America or anyplace else. But trained soldiers? No
way.
So how good are they? Ding asked himself. Like the members of his old gang, perhaps. They'd
cultivate physical toughness, but not in a structured way. They'd be bullies, tough when they had the
edge in weapons or numbers. Because of that they wouldn't be skilled in weapons use or fieldcraft;
they'd rely on intimidation, and they'd be surprised when people failed to be intimidated. Some might
be good hunters, but they wouldn't know how to move as a team. They wouldn't know about overwatch, mutual support, and grazing fire. They might know ambushes, but the finer points of
reconnaissance would be lost on them. They would not have proper discipline. Chavez was sure that
when they got to their objective, he'd find men smoking on guard. The arts of soldiering took time to
acquire - time and discipline and desire. No, he was up against bullies. And bullies were
cowards. These were mercenaries who acted for money. Chavez, on the other hand, took great pride
that he performed his duties for love of country and, though he didn't quite think of it in those terms,
for love of his fellow soldiers. His earlier uneasiness at the departure of the helicopter faded
away. Though his mission was reconnaissance-intelligence-gathering - he found himself hoping that
he'd have his chance to use the MP-5 SD2.
He reached CHAINSAW right on schedule. There the squad rested again, and Chavez led off to
the final objective for the night's march, Checkpoint RASP. It was a small wooded knoll, five
kilometers from their objective. Ding took his time checking RASP out. He looked especially for
evidence of animals that might be hunted, and the tracks of men Who might be doing the hunting. He
found nothing. The squad arrived twenty minutes after he called them in by radio, having "hooked"
and reversed their path to make sure that there were no trailers. Captain Ramirez examined the site as
carefully as Chavez had done and came to the same positive conclusion. The squad members paired
off to find places to eat and sleep. Ding teamed with Sergeant Vega, taking a security position along
the most likely threat axis - northeast - to site one of the squad's two SAW machine guns. The squad
medic - Sergeant Olivero - took a man to a nearby stream to replenish canteens, taking special care
that everyone used his water-purification tablets. A latrine site was agreed upon, and men used that
as well to dump the trash left over from their daily rations. But cleaning weapons came first, even
though they hadn't been used. Each pair of soldiers cleaned their weapons one at a time, then worried
about food.
"That wasn't so bad," Vega said as the sun climbed over the trees.
"Nice and flat," Chavez agreed with a yawn. "Gonna be a hot fucker down here, though."
"Have one o' these, 'mano." Vega passed over an envelope of Gatorade concentrate.
"All right!" Chavez loved the stuff. He tore open the envelope and dumped the contents into his
canteen, swishing it around to get the powder mixed in properly. "Captain know about this?"
"Nah - why worry him?"
"Right." Chavez pocketed the empty envelope. "Shame they don't make instant beer, isn't it?" They
traded a chuckle. Neither man would do something so foolish, but both agreed that a cold beer wasn't
all that bad an idea in the abstract.
"Flip you for first sleep," Vega said next. It turned out that he had a single U.S. quarter for the
task. They'd each been issued five hundred dollars' equivalent in local currency, but all in paper,
since coins make noise. It came up heads. Chavez got to stand watch on the gun while Vega curled
up for sleep.
Ding settled down in the position. Julio had selected a good one. It was behind a spreading bush
of one kind or another, with a shallow berm of dirt in front of him that could stop bullets but didn't
obstruct his view, and the SAW had a good field of fire out to nearly three hundred meters. Ding
checked that the weapon had a round chambered, but that the selector switch was also on "safe." He
took out his binoculars to survey the area.
"How do things look, Sergeant?" Captain Ramirez asked quietly.
"Nothing moving at all, sir. Why don't you catch some Zs? We'll keep watch for ya'." Officers,
Ding knew, have to be looked after. And if sergeants didn't do it, who would?
Ramirez surveyed the position. It had been well selected. Both men had eaten and refreshed
themselves as good soldiers do, and would be well rested by sundown - over ten hours away. The
captain patted Chavez on the shoulder before returning to his own position.
"All ready, sir," the communications sergeant - Ingeles - reported. The satellite-radio antenna
was set up. It was only two bits of steel, about the size and shape of grade-school rulers, linked
together in a cross, with a bit of wire for a stand. Ramirez checked his watch. It was time to
transmit.
"VARIABLE, this is KNIFE, over." The signal went twenty-two thousand miles to a
geosynchronous communications satellite, which relayed it back down toward Panama. It took about
one-third of a second, and two more seconds passed before the reply came down. The circuit was
agreeably free of static.
"KNIFE, this is VARIABLE. Your signal is five by five. Over."
"We are in position, Checkpoint RASP. All is quiet, nothing to report, over."
"Roger, copy. Out."
In the hilltop communications van, Mr. Clark occupied a seat in the corner by the door. He wasn't
running the operation - far from it - but Ritter wanted his tactical expertise available in case it was
needed. On the wall opposite the racks of communications gear was a large tactical map which
showed the squads and their various checkpoints. All had made them on schedule. At least whoever
had set this operation up had known - or listened to people who did - what men in the bush could and
could not do. The expectations for time and distance were reasonable.
That's nice for a change, Clark thought. He looked around the van. Aside from the two
communicators, there were two senior people from the Directorate of Operations, neither of whom
had what Clark would call expertise in this particular sort of operation - though they were close to
Ritter and dependable. Well, he admitted, people with my sort of experience are mostly retired
now.
Clark's heart was out there in the field. He'd never operated in the Americas, at least not in the
jungles of the Americas, but for all that he'd "been there" - out in the boonies, alone as a man could
be, your only lifeline back to friendly forces a helicopter that might or might not show, tethered by an
invisible thread of radio energy. The radios were far more reliable now; that was one positive
change. For what it was worth. If something went wrong, these radios would not, however, bring in
a flight of "fast-movers" whose afterburning engines rattled the sky and whose bombloads shook the
ground fifteen minutes after you called for help. No, not this time.
Christ, do they know that? Do they really know what that fact means?
No, they don't. They can't. They're all too young. Kids. They're all little kids. That they were
older, bigger, and tougher than his own children was for the moment beside the point. Clark was a
man who'd operated in Cambodia and Vietnam - North and South. Always with small teams of men
with guns and radios, almost always trying to stay hidden, looking for information and trying to get the
hell away without being noticed. Mostly succeeding, but some of them had been very, very close.
"So far, so good," the senior Operations guy observed as he reached for a coffee mug. His
companion nodded agreement.
Clark merely raised an eyebrow. And what the hell do you two know about this?
The Director, Moira saw, was excited about TARPON. As well he might be, she thought as she
made her notes. It would take about a week, but already the seizure notices were being scratched
in. Four Justice Department specialists had spent more than a day going through the report Mark
Bright had delivered. Electronic banking, she realized, had made the job much easier. Somewhere in
the Department of Justice there was someone who could access the computerized records of every
bank in the world. Or maybe not in Justice. Maybe one of the intelligence agencies, or maybe a
private contractor, because the legality of the matter was slightly vague. In any case, comparing
records of the Securities and Exchange Commission with the numerous bank transactions, they had
already identified the drug money used to finance the projects in which the "victim" - at least his
family had been real victims, Moira told herself - had sought to launder it. She'd never known the
wheels of justice to turn so quickly.
What arrogant people they must be, thinking they can invest and launder their dirty money
right here! Juan was right about them and their arrogance, Moira thought. Well, this would wipe the
smiles off their faces. There was at least six hundred million dollars of equity that the government
could seize, and that didn't count the profits that they expected to make when the properties were
rolled over. Six hundred million dollars! The amount was astounding. Sure, she'd heard about how
"billions" in drug money poured out of the country, but the actual estimates were about as reliable as
weather reports. It was plain, the Director said in dictation, that the Cartel was unhappy with its
previous laundering arrangements and/or found that bringing the cash directly back to their own
country created as many problems as it solved. Therefore, it appeared that after laundering the
primary funds - plus making a significant profit on their money - they were setting up their accounts in
such a way as to establish an enormous investment trust fund which could legitimately begin to take
over all commercial businesses in their home country or any other country in which they wished to
establish a political or economic position. What made this interesting, Emil went on, was that it
might presage an attempt to launder themselves - the old American criminal phraseology: "to go legit"
- to a degree that would be fully acceptable in the local, Latin American political context.
"How soon do you need this, sir?" Mrs. Wolfe asked.
"I'm seeing the President tomorrow morning."
"Copies?"
"Five, all numbered. Moira, this is code-word material," he reminded her.
"Soon as I finish, I'll eat the computer disk," she promised. "You have Assistant Director Grady
coming in for lunch, and the AG canceled on dinner tomorrow night. He has to go out to San
Francisco."
"What does the Attorney General want in San Francisco?"
"His son decided to get married on short notice."
"That's short, all right," Jacobs agreed. "How far away are you from that?"
"Not very. Your trip to Colombia - do you know when yet, so I can rework your appointments?"
"Sorry, still don't know. It shouldn't hurt the schedule too much, though. It'll be a weekend
trip. I'll get out early Friday, and I ought to be back by lunch on the following Monday. So it
shouldn't hurt anything important."
"Oh, okay." Moira left the room with a smile.
"Good morning." The United States Attorney was a thirty-seven-year-old man named Edwin
Davidoff. He, planned to be the first Jewish United States senator from Alabama in living
memory. A tall, fit, two hundred pounds of former varsity wrestler, he'd parlayed a Presidential
appointment into a reputation as a tough, effective, and scrupulously honest champion of the
people. When handling civil-rights cases, his public statement always referred to the Law Of The
Land, and all the things that America Stands For. When handling a major criminal case, he talked
about Law And Order, and the Protection That The People Expect. He spoke a lot, as a matter of
fact. There was scarcely a Rotary or Optimists group in Alabama to which he had not spoken in the
past three years, and he hadn't missed any police departments at all. His post as the chief government
lawyer for this part of Alabama was mainly administrative, but he did take the odd case, which
always seemed to be a high-profile one. He'd been especially keen on political corruption, as three
state legislators had discovered to their sorrow. They were now raking the sand traps at the Officers'
Club Golf Course at Eglin Air Force Base.
Edward Stuart took his seat opposite the desk. Davidoff was a polite man, standing when Stuart
arrived. Polite prosecutors worried Stuart.
"We finally got confirmation on your clients' identity," Davidoff said in a voice that might have
feigned surprise, but instead was fully businesslike. "It turns out that they're both Colombian citizens
with nearly a dozen arrests between them. I thought you said that they came from Costa Rica."
Stuart temporized: "Why did identification take so long?"
"I don't know. That factor doesn't really matter anyway. I've asked for an early trial date."
"What about the consideration the Coast Guard offered my client?"
"That statement was made after his confession - and in any case, we are not using the confession
because we don't need it."
"Because it was obtained through flagrantly -"
"That's crap and you know it. Regardless, it will not play in this case. Far as I'm concerned, the
confession does not exist, okay? Ed, your clients committed mass murder and they're going to pay for
that. They're going to pay in full."
Stuart leaned forward. "I can give you information -"
"I don't care what information they have," Davidoff said. "This is a murder case."
"This isn't the way things are done," Stuart objected.
"Maybe that's part of the problem. We're sending a message with this case."
"You're going to try to execute my clients just to send a message." It was not a question.
"I know we disagree on the deterrent value of capital punishment."
"I'm willing to trade a confession to murder and all their information for life."
"No deal."
"Are you really that sure you'll win the case?"
"You know what our evidence is," Davidoff replied. Disclosure laws required the prosecution to
allow the defense team to examine everything they had. The same rule was not applied in reverse. It
was a structural means of ensuring a fair trial to the defendants, though it was not universally
approved of by police and prosecutors. It was, however, a rule, and Davidoff always played by the
rules. That, Stuart knew, was one of the things that made him so dangerous. He had never once lost a
case or an appeal on procedural grounds. Davidoff was a brilliant legal technician.
"If we kill these two people, we've sunk to the same level that we say they live at."
"Ed, we live in a democracy. The people ultimately decide what the laws should be, and the
people approve of capital punishment."
"I will do everything I can to prevent that."
"I would be disappointed in you if you didn't."
Christ, but you'll be a great senator. So evenhanded, so tolerant of those who disagree with
you on principle. No wonder the papers love you.
"So that's the story on Eastern Europe for this week," Judge Moore observed. "Sounds to me like
things are quieting down."
"Yes, sir," Ryan replied. "It does look that way for the present."
The Director of Central Intelligence nodded and changed subjects. "You were in to see James last
night?"
"Yes, sir. His spirits are still pretty good, but he knows." Ryan hated giving these progress
reports. It wasn't as though he were a physician.
"I'm going over tonight," Ritter said. "Anything he needs, anything I can take over?"
"Just work. He still wants to work."
"Anything he wants, he gets," Moore said. Ritter stirred slightly at that, Ryan saw. "Dr. Ryan, you
are doing quite well. If I were to suggest to the President that you might be ready to become the next
DDI - look, I know how you feel about James; remember that I've worked with him longer than you
have, all right? - and -"
"Sir, Admiral Greer isn't dead," Jack objected. He'd almost said yet, and cursed himself for even
having thought that word.
"He's not going to make it, Jack," Moore said gently. "I'm sorry about that. He's my friend,
too. But our business here is to serve our country. That is more important than personalities, even
James. What's more, James is a pro, and he would be disappointed in your attitude."
Ryan managed not to flinch at the rebuke. But it wounded him, all the more so because the Judge
was correct. Jack took a deep breath and nodded agreement.
"James told me last week that he wants you to succeed him. I think you might be ready. What do
you think?"
"Judge, I think I am fitted technically, but I lack the political sophistication needed for the office."
"There's only one way to learn that part of the job - and, hell, politics aren't supposed to have
much place in the Intelligence Directorate." Moore smiled to punctuate the irony of that statement.
"The President likes you, and The Hill likes you. As of now you're acting Deputy Director
(Intelligence). The slot won't be officially filled until after the election, but as of now the job is yours
on a provisional basis. If James recovers, well and good. The additional seasoning you get from
working under him won't hurt. But even if he recovers, it will soon be time for him to leave. We are
all replaceable, and James thinks you're ready. So do I."
Ryan didn't know what to say. Still short of forty, he now had one of the premiere intelligence
posts in the world. As a practical matter, he'd had it for several months - even for several years,
some might say - but now it was official, and somehow that made it different. People would now
come to him for opinions and judgments. That had been going on for a long time, but he'd always had
someone to fall back on. Now he would not. He'd present his information to Judge Moore and await
final judgment, but from this moment the responsibility for being right was his. Before, he'd presented
opinions and options to his superiors. Beginning now, he'd present policy decisions directly to the
ultimate decision-makers. The increase in responsibility, though subtle, was vast.
"Need-to-know still applies," Ritter pointed out.
"Of course," Ryan said.
"I'll tell Nancy and your department heads," Moore said. "James ginned up a letter I'll
read. Here's your copy."
Ryan stood to take it.
"I believe you have work to do, Dr. Ryan," Moore said.
"Yes, sir." Jack turned and left the room. He knew that he should have felt elated, but instead felt
trapped. He thought he knew why.
"Too soon, Arthur," Ritter said after Jack had left.
"I know what you're saying, Bob, but we can't have Intelligence go adrift just because you don't
want him in on SHOWBOAT. We'll keep him out of that, at least isolated from what Operations is
doing. He'll have to get in on the information that we're developing. For Christ's sake, his knowledge
of finance will be useful to us. He just doesn't have to know how the information gets to us. Besides,
if the President says 'go' on this, and he gets approval from The Hill, we're home free."
"So when do you go to The Hill?"
"I have four of them coming here tomorrow afternoon. We're invoking the special- and
hazardous-operations rule."
SAHO was an informal codicil of the oversight rules. While Congress had the right under law to
oversee all intelligence operations, in a case two years earlier, a leak from one of the select
committees had caused the death of a CIA station chief and a high-ranking defector. Instead of going
public, Judge Moore had approached the members of both committees and gotten written agreement
that in special cases the chairman and co-chairman of each committee would alone be given access to
the necessary information. It was then their responsibility to decide if it should be shared with the
committees as a whole. Since members of both political parties were present, it had been hoped that
political posturing could be avoided. In fact, Judge Moore had created a subtle trap for all of
them. Whoever tried to decide that information had to be disseminated ran the risk of being labeled
as having a political agenda. Moreover, the higher selectivity of the four SAHO-cleared members
had already created an atmosphere of privilege that mitigated directly against spreading the
information out. So long as the operation was not politically sensitive, it was a virtual guarantee that
Congress would not interfere. The remarkable thing was that Moore had managed to get the
committees to agree to this. But bringing the widow and children of the dead station chief to the
executive hearings hadn't hurt one bit. It was one thing to carp abstractly about the majesty of law,
quite another to have to face the results of a mistake - the more so if one of them was a ten-year-old
girl without a father. Political theater was not solely the domain of elected officials.
"And the Presidential Finding?" Ritter asked.
"Already done. 'It is determined that drug-smuggling operations are a clear and present danger to
U.S. national security. The President authorizes the judicious use of military force in accord with
established operational guidelines to protect our citizens,' et cetera."
"The political angle is the one I don't like."
Moore chuckled. "Neither will the people from The Hill. So we have to keep it all secret, don't
we? If the President goes public to show that he's 'really doing something,' the opposition will
scream that he's playing politics. If the opposition burns the operation, then the President can do the
same thing. So both sides have a political interest in keeping this one under wraps. The electionyear politics work in our favor. Clever fellow, that Admiral Cutter."
"Not as clever as he thinks," Ritter snorted. "But who is?"
"Yeah. Who is? You know, it's a shame that James never got in on this."
"Gonna miss him," Ritter agreed. "God, I wish there was something I could take him, something to
make it a little easier."
"I know what you mean," Judge Moore agreed. "Sooner or later, Ryan has to get in on this."
"I don't like it."
"What you don't like, Bob, is the fact that Ryan's been involved in two highly successful field
operations in addition to all the work he's done at his desk. Maybe he did poach on your territory, but
in both cases he had your support when he did so. Would you like him better if he'd failed? Robert, I
don't have Directorate chiefs so that they can get into pissing contests like Cutter and those folks on
The Hill."
Ritter blinked at the rebuke. "I've been saying for a long time that we brought him along too fast which we have. I'll grant you that he's been very effective. But it's also true that he doesn't have the
necessary political savvy for this sort of thing. He's yet to establish the capacity needed for executive
oversight. He has to fly over to Europe to represent us at the NATO intel conference. No sense
dropping SHOWBOAT on him before he leaves, is there?"
Moore almost replied that Admiral Greer was out of the loop because of his physical condition,
which was mainly, but only partly, true. The presidential directive mandated an extremely tight group
of people who really knew what the counter-drug operations were all about. It was an old story in
the intelligence game: sometimes security was so tight that people who might have had something
important to offer were left out of the picture. It was not unknown, in fact, for those left out to have
had knowledge crucial to the operation's successful conclusion. But it was equally true that history
was replete with examples of the disasters that resulted from making an operation so broadly based
as to paralyze the decision-making process and compromise its secrecy. Drawing the line between
operational security and operational efficiency was historically the most difficult task of an
intelligence executive. There were no rules, Judge Moore knew, merely the requirement that such
operations must succeed. One of the most persistent elements of spy fiction was the supposition that
intelligence chiefs had an uncanny, infallible sixth sense of how to run their ops. But if the world's
finest surgeons could make mistakes, if the world's best test pilots most often died in crashes - for that
matter, if a pro-bowl quarterback could throw interceptions - why should a spymaster be any
different? The only real difference between a wise man and a fool, Moore knew, was that the wise
man tended to make more serious mistakes - and only because no one trusted a fool with really
crucial decisions; only the wise had the opportunity to lose battles, or nations.
"You're right about the NATO conference. You win, Bob. For now." Judge Moore frowned at
his desk. "How are things going?"
"All four teams are within a few hours' march of their surveillance points. If everything goes
according to plan, they'll be in position by dawn tomorrow, and the following day they'll begin
feeding us information. The flight crew we bagged the other day coughed up all the preliminary
information we need. At least two of the airfields we staked out are 'hot.' Probably at least one of the
others is also."
"The President wants me over tomorrow. It seems that the Bureau has tumbled to something
important. Emil's really hot about it. Seems that they've identified a major money-laundering
operation."
"Something we can exploit?"
"It would seem so. Emil's treating it as code-word material."
"Sauce for the goose," Ritter observed with a smile. "Maybe we can put a real crimp in their
operations."
Chavez awoke from his second sleep period an hour before sundown. Sleep had come
hard. Daytime temperatures were well over a hundred, and the high humidity made the jungle seem
an oven despite being in shade. His first considered act was to drink over a pint of water - Gatorade
- from his canteen to replace what he'd sweated off while asleep. Next came a couple of
Tylenol. Light-fighters lived off the things to moderate the aches and pains that came with their
normal physical regimen of exertion. In this case, it was a heat-induced headache that felt like a lowgrade hangover.
"Why don't we let 'em keep this fucking place?" he muttered to Julio.
"Roger that, 'mano." Vega chuckled in return.
Sergeant Chavez wrenched himself to a sitting position, shaking off the cobwebs as he did so. He
rubbed a hand over his face. The heavy beard he'd had since puberty was growing with its
accustomed rapidity, but he wouldn't shave today. That merited a grunt. Normal Army routine was
heavy on personal hygiene, and light infantrymen, as elite soldiers, were supposed to be "pretty"
troops. Already he stank like a basketball team after double overtime, but he wouldn't wash,
either. Nor would he don a clean uniform. But he would, of course, clean his weapon again. After
making sure that Julio had already serviced his SAW, Chavez stripped his MP-5 down to six pieces
and inspected them all visually. The matte-black finish resisted rust quite well. Regardless, he
wiped everything down with oil, ran a toothbrush along all operation parts, checked to see that all
springs were taut and magazines were not fouled with dirt or grit. Satisfied, he reassembled the
weapon and worked the action quietly to make certain that it functioned smoothly. Finally, he
inserted the magazine, chambered a round, and set the safety. Next he checked that his knives were
clean and sharp. This included his throwing stars, of course.
"The captain's gonna be pissed if he sees them," Vega observed quietly.
"They're good luck," Chavez replied as he put them back in his pocket. " 'Sides, you never
know…" He checked the rest of his gear. Everything was as it should be. He was ready for the day's
work. Next the maps came out.
"That where we're goin'?"
"RENO." Chavez pointed to the spot on the tactical map. "Just under five klicks." He examined
the map carefully, making several mental notes and again committing the details to memory. The map
had no marks on it, of course. If lost or captured, such marks would tell the wrong people things that
they ought not to know.
"Here." Captain Ramirez joined the two, handing over a satellite photograph.
"These maps must be new, sir."
"They are. DMA" - he referred to the Defense Mapping Agency - "didn't have good maps of this
area until recently. They were drawn up from the satellite photos. See any problems?"
"No, sir." Chavez looked up with a smile. "Nice and flat, lots of thinned-out trees-looks easier
than last night, Cap'n."
"When we get in close, I want you to approach from this angle here into the objective rally point."
Ramirez traced his hand across the photo. "I'll make the final approach with you for the 'leader's
recon.'"
"You the boss, sir," Ding agreed.
"Plan the first break point right here, Checkpoint SPIKE."
"Right."
Ramirez stuck his head up, surveying the area. "Remember the briefing. These guys may have
very good security, and be especially careful for booby traps. You see something, let me know
immediately - as long as it's safe to do so. When in doubt, remember the mission is covert."
"I'll get us there, sir."
"Sorry, Ding," Ramirez apologized. "I must sound like a nervous woman."
"You ain't got the legs for it, sir," Chavez pointed out with a grin.
"You up to carrying that SAW another night, Oso?" Ramirez asked Vega.
"I carried heavier toothpicks, jefe."
Ramirez laughed and made off to check the next pair.
"I've known worse captains than that one," Vega observed when he was gone.
"Hard worker," Chavez allowed. Sergeant Olivero appeared next.
"How's your water?" the medic asked.
"Both a quart low," Vega replied.
"Both of you, drink a quart down right now."
"Come on, doc," Chavez protested.
"No dickin' around, people. Somebody gets heatstroke and it's my ass. If you ain't gotta piss, you
ain't been drinking enough. Pretend it's a Corona," he suggested as both men took out their canteens.
"Remember that: if you don't have to piss, you need a drink. Damn it, Ding, you oughta know that, you
spent time at Hunter-Liggett. This fucking climate'll dry your ass out in a heartbeat, and I ain't
carrying your ass, dried-out or not."
Olivero was right, of course. Chavez emptied a canteen in three long pulls. Vega followed the
medic off to the nearby stream to replenish the empty containers. He reappeared several minutes
later. Oso surprised his friend with a couple more envelopes of Gatorade concentrate. The medic,
he explained, had his own supply. About the only bad news was that the waterpurification pills did
not mix well with the Gatorade, but that was for electrolytes, not taste.
Ramirez assembled his men just at sundown, repeating the night's brief already delivered to the
individual guard posts. Repetition was the foundation of clarity - some manual said that, Chavez
knew. The squad members were all dirty. The generally heavy beards and scraggly hair would
enhance their camouflage, almost obviating the need for paint. There were a few aches and pains,
mainly from the rough sleeping conditions, but everyone was fit and rested. And eager. Garbage was
assembled and buried. Olivero sprinkled CS tear-gas powder before the dirt was smoothed over the
hole. That would keep animals from scratching it up for a few weeks. Captain Ramirez made a final
check of the area while there was still light. By the time Chavez moved out at point, there was no
evidence that they'd ever been here.
Ding crossed the clearing as quickly as safety allowed, scanning ahead with his low-light
goggles. Again using compass and landmarks, he was able to travel rapidly, now that he had a feel
for the country. As before, there was no sound other than what nature provided, and better still, the
forest wasn't quite as dense. He made better than a kilometer per hour. Best of all, he had yet to spot
a snake.
He made Checkpoint SPIKE in under two hours, feeling relaxed and confident. The walk through
the jungle had merely served to loosen up his muscles. He stopped twice along the way for water
breaks, more often to listen, and still heard nothing unexpected. Every thirty minutes he checked in by
radio with Captain Ramirez.
After Chavez picked a place to belly-up, it took ten minutes for the rest of the squad to catch
up. Ten more minutes and he was off again for the final checkpoint, MALLET. Chavez found himself
hoping that they'd run out of tool names.
He was more careful now. He had the map committed to memory, and the closer he got to the
objective, the more likely that he'd encounter somebody. He slowed down almost without thinking
about it. Half a klick out of SPIKE he heard something moving off to his right. Something quiet, but a
land creature. He waved the squad to halt while he checked it out - Vega did the same, aiming his
SAW in that direction - but whatever it was, it moved off heading southwest. Some animal or other,
he was sure, though Ding waited another few minutes before he felt totally safe moving off. He
checked the wind, which was blowing from his left rear, and wondered if his pungent odor was
detectable to men - probably not, he decided. The rank smells of the jungle were pretty
overpowering. On the other hand, maybe washing once in a while was worth the effort…
He arrived at MALLET without further incident. He was now one kilometer off the
objective. Again the squad assembled. There was a creek less than fifty meters from the checkpoint,
and water was again replenished. The next stop was the objective rally point, picked for its easy
identifiability. Ding got them there in just under an hour. The squad formed yet another defensive
perimeter while the point man and commander got together.
Ramirez took out his map again. Chavez and his captain turned on the infrared lights that were
part of the goggle-sets and traced ideas on the map and the accompanying photos. Also present was
the operations sergeant, appropriately named Guerra. The road to the airfield came in from the
opposite direction, looping around a stream that the squad had followed into the rally point. The only
building visible on the photo was also on the far side of the objective.
"I like this way in, sir," Chavez observed.
"I think you're right," Ramirez replied. "Sergeant Guerra?"
"Looks pretty good to me, sir."
"Okay, people, if there's going to be contact, it'll be in this here neighborhood. It is now post
time. Chavez, I'm going in with you. Guerra, you bring the rest of the squad in behind us if there's any
trouble."
"Yes, sir," both sergeants replied.
Out of habit, Ding pulled out his camouflage stick and applied some green and black to his
face. Next he put on his gloves. Though sweaty hands were a nuisance, the dark leather shells would
darken his hands. He moved out, with Captain Ramirez close behind. Both men had their goggles on,
and both moved very slowly now.
The stream they'd followed in for the last half a klick made for good drainage in the area, and that
made for dry, solid footing - the same reason that someone had decided to bulldoze a landing strip
here, of course. Chavez was especially wary for booby traps. With every step he checked the ground
for wires, then up at waist and eye level. He also checked for any disturbance of ground. Again he
wondered about game in the area. If there were some, it, too, would set off the booby traps, wouldn't
it? So how would the bad guys react if one got set off? Probably they'd send somebody out to look…
that would be bad news regardless of what he expected to find, wouldn't it?
Let's be cool, 'mano, Chavez told himself.
Finally: noise. It carried against the breeze. The low, far-off murmuring of talking men. Though
too sporadic and confused even to guess the language, it was human speech.
Contact.
Chavez turned to look at his captain, pointing to the direction from which it seemed to come and
tapping his ear with a finger. Ramirez nodded and motioned for the sergeant to press on.
Not real smart, people, Chavez thought at his quarry. Not real smart talking so's a guy can hear
you a couple hundred meters away. You are making my job easier . Not that the sergeant
minded. Just being here was hard enough.
Next, a trail.
Chavez knelt down and looked for human footprints. They were here, all right, coming out and
going back. He took a very long step to pass over the narrow dirt path, and stopped. Ramirez and
Chavez were now a tight two-man formation, far enough apart that the same burst wouldn't get both,
close enough that they could provide mutual support. Captain Ramirez was an experienced officer,
just off his eighteen-month tour in command of a light-infantry company, but even he was in awe of
Chavez's woodcraft skills. It was now post time, as he'd told them a few minutes earlier, and his
were the greatest worries of the unit. He was in command. That meant that the mission's success was
his sole responsibility. He was similarly responsible for the lives of his men. He'd brought ten men
in-country, and he was supposed to bring all ten men out. As the single officer, moreover, he was
supposed to be at least as good as any of his men - preferably better - in every specialty. Even though
that was not realistic, it was expected by everyone. Including Captain Ramirez, who was old enough
to know better. But watching Chavez, ten meters ahead, in the gray-green image of his night goggles,
moving like a ghost, as quietly as a puff of breeze, Ramirez had to shake off a feeling of
inadequacy. It was replaced a moment later with one of elation. This was better than command of a
company. Ten elite specialists, each one of them among the best the Army had, and they were his to
command… Ramirez distantly realized that he was experiencing the emotional roller-coaster
common to combat operations. A bright young man, he was now learning another lesson that history
talked about but never quite conveyed: it was one thing to talk and think and read about this sort of
thing, but there would never be a substitute for doing it. Training could attenuate the stress of combat
operations, but never remove it. It amazed the young captain that everything seemed so clear to
him. His senses were as fully alert as they had ever been, and his mind was working with speed and
clarity. He recognized the stress and danger, but he was ready for it. In that recognition came elation
as the roller coaster rolled on. A far-off part of his intellect watched and evaluated his performance,
noting that as in a contact sport, every member of the squad needed the shock of real contact before
settling down fully to work. The problem was simply that they were supposed to avoid that contact.
Chavez's hand went up, Ramirez saw, and then the scout crouched down behind a tree. The
captain passed around a thicket of bushes and saw why the sergeant had stopped.
There was the airfield.
Better yet, there was an aircraft, several hundred yards away, its engines off but glowing on the
infrared image generated by the goggles.
"Looks like we be in business, Cap'n," Ding noted in a whisper.
Ramirez and Chavez moved left and right, well inside the treeline, to search for security
forces. But there were none. The objective, RENO, was agreeably identical to what they'd been told
to expect. They took their time making sure, of course, then Ramirez went back to the rally point,
leaving Chavez to keep an eye on things. Twenty minutes later the squad was in place on a small hill
just northwest of the airfield, covering a front of two hundred yards. This had probably once been
some peasant's farm, with the burned-off fields merely extended into the strip. They all had a clear
view of the airstrip. Chavez was on the extreme right with Vega, Guerra on the far left with the other
SAW gunner, and Ramirez stayed in the center, with his radio operator, Sergeant Ingeles.
12. The Curtain on SHOWBOAT
"VARIABLE, THIS is KNIFE. Stand by to copy, over.'
The signal off the satellite channel was as clear as a commercial FM station. The
communications technician stubbed out his cigarette and keyed his headset.
"KNIFE, this is VARIABLE, your signal is five by five. We are ready to copy, over." Behind
him, Clark turned in his swivel chair to look at the map.
"We are at Objective RENO, and guess what - there's a twin-engine aircraft in view with some
people loading cardboard boxes into it. Over."
Clark turned to look in surprise at the radio rack. Was their operational intel that good?
"Can you read the tail number, over."
"Negative, the angle's wrong. But he's going to take off right past us. We are right in the planned
position. No security assets are evident at this time."
"Damn," observed one of the Operations people.
He lifted a handset. "This is
VARIABLE. RENO reports bird in the nest, time zero-three-one-six Zulu… Roger. Will
advise. Out." He turned to his companion. "The stateside assets are at plus-one hour."
"That'll do just fine," the other man thought.
As Ramirez and Chavez watched through their binoculars, two men finished loading their boxes
into the aircraft. It was a Piper Cheyenne, both men determined, a midsize corporate aircraft with
reasonably long range, depending on load weights and flight profile. Local shops could fit it with
ferry tanks, extending the range designed into the aircraft. The cargo flown into America by drug
smugglers had little to do with weight or - except in the case of marijuana - bulk. The limiting factor
was money. A single aircraft could carry enough refined cocaine, even at wholesale value, to wipe
out the cash holdings of most federal reserve banks.
The pilots boarded the aircraft after shaking hands with the ground crews - that part seemed to
their covert observers just as routine as any aircraft departure. The engines began turning, and their
roar swept across the open land toward the light-fighters.
"Jesus," Sergeant Vega noted with bemusement. "I could smoke the bird right here and
now. Damn." His gun was on "safe," of course.
"Might make our life a little too exciting," Chavez noted. "Yeah, that makes sense, Oso. The
security guys were all around the airplane. They're spreading out now." He grabbed his radio.
"Captain -"
"I see it. Heads up in case we have to move out."
The Piper taxied to the end of the runway, moving like a crippled bird, bouncing and bobbing on
the landing-gear shocks. The airstrip was illuminated by a mere handful of small flares, far fewer
lights than were normally used to outline a real runway. It struck all who looked as dangerous, and
suddenly Chavez realized that if the aircraft crashed on takeoff, some squad members would end up
eating the thing…
The aircraft's nose dropped as the pilot pushed the engines to full throttle preparatory to takeoff,
then reduced power to make sure the motors wouldn't quit when he did so. Satisfied, they ran up
again, and the aircraft slipped its brakes and started moving. Chavez set his binoculars down to
watch. Heavily loaded with fuel, it cleared the trees to his right by a mere twenty yards. Whoever
the pilot was, he was a daredevil. The term that sprang into the sergeant's mind seemed appropriate
enough.
"Just took off now. It's a Piper Cheyenne," Ramirez's voice read off the tail number. It had
American registration. "Course about three-three-zero." Which headed for the Yucatan Channel,
between Cuba and Mexico. The communicator took the proper notes. "What can you tell me about
RENO?"
"I count six people. Four carry rifles, can't tell about the rest. One pickup truck and a shack, like
on the satellite overheads. Truck's moving now, and I think - yeah, they're putting out the runway
lights. They're using flares, just putting dirt over on top of them. Stand by, we have a truck heading
this way."
Off to Ramirez's left, Vega had his machine gun up on its bipod, the sight tracking the pickup as it
moved down the east side of the runway. Every few hundred meters, it stopped, and the passenger
jumped out and shoveled dirt on one of the sputtering flares.
"Reach out, reach out and touch someone…" Julio murmured.
"Be cool, Oso," Ding cautioned.
"No problem." Vega's thumb was on the selector switch - still set on "safe" - and his finger was
on the trigger guard, not the trigger itself.
The flares went out one by one. The truck was briefly within one hundred fifty meters of the two
soldiers, but never approached them directly. They merely happened to be in a place the truck had to
pass by. Vega's gun stayed on the truck until well after it turned away. As he set the buttstock back
down on the dirt, he turned to his comrade.
"Aw, shit!" he whispered in feigned disappointment.
Chavez had to stifle a giggle. Wasn't this odd, he thought. Here they were in enemy territory,
loaded for fucking bear, and they were playing a game no different from what children did on
Christmas Eve, peeking around corners. The game was serious as hell, they all knew, but the form it
took was almost laughable. They also knew that could change in an instant. There wasn't anything
funny about training a machine gun on two men in a truck. Was there?
Chavez reactivated his night goggles. At the far end of the runway, people were lighting
cigarettes. The faint images on his display flared white with the heat energy. That would kill their
night vision, Ding knew. He could tell from the way they moved that they were just bullshitting
around now. Their day's - night's - work was complete. The truck drove off, leaving two men
behind. These, it would seem, were the security troops for this airstrip. Only two, and they smoked
at night. Armed or not - they seemed to be carrying AK-47s or a close copy thereof - they were not
serious opposition.
"What do you suppose they're smoking?" Vega asked.
"I didn't think about that," Chavez admitted with a grunt. "You don't suppose they're that dumb, do
you?"
"We ain't dealing with soldiers, man. We coulda moved in and snuffed those fuckers no
sweat. Maybe ten seconds' worth of firefight."
"Still gotta be careful," Chavez whispered in reply.
"Roge-o," Vega agreed. "That's where you get the edge."
"KNIFE, this is Six," Ramirez called on the radio net. "Fall back to the rally point."
"Move, I'll cover," Chavez told Vega.
Julio stood and shouldered his weapon. There was a slight but annoying tinkle from the metal
parts as he did so - the ammo belt, Ding thought. Have to keep that in mind. He waited in place for
several minutes before moving out.
The rally point was a particularly tall tree close to the stream. Again, people replenished their
canteens at Olivero's persistent urging. It turned out that one man had had his face slashed by a low
branch, requiring attention from the medic, but otherwise the squad was fully intact. They'd camp five
hundred meters from the airfield, leaving two men at an observation point - the one Chavez had staked
out for himself - around the clock. Ding took the first watch, again with Vega, and would be relieved
at dawn by Guerra and another man armed with a silenced MP-5. Either a SAW or a soldier armed
with a grenade launcher would always be at the OP in case the opposition got rambunctious. If there
was to be a firefight, the idea was to end it as quickly as possible. Light-fighters weren't especially
big on tanks and heavy guns, but American soldiers think in terms of firepower, which, after all, had
been largely an American invention in the first place.
It amazed Chavez how easily one could slip into a routine. An hour before dawn, he and Vega
surveyed the landing strip from their little knoll. Of the two men in the permanent security team, only
one was moving around. The other was sitting with his back against the shack, still smoking
something or other. The one up and moving didn't stray far.
"What's happening, Ding?" the captain asked.
"I heard you coming, sir," Chavez said.
"I tripped. Sorry."
Chavez ran down the situation briefly. Ramirez put his binoculars on the enemy to check things
for himself.
"Supposedly they aren't being bothered by the local police and army," the captain observed.
"Bought off?" Vega asked.
"No, just they got discouraged, mainly. So the druggies have settled down to a half-dozen or so
regular airfields. Like this one. We're gonna be here awhile." A pause. "Anything happens -"
"We'll call you right off, sir," Vega promised.
"See any snakes?" Ramirez asked.
"No, thank God." The captain's teeth flared in the darkness. He clapped Chavez on the shoulder
and disappeared back into the bushes.
"What's wrong with snakes?" Vega asked.
Captain Winters felt the pangs of disappointment as he watched the Piper touch down. It was two
in a row now. The big one from the other night was gone already. Exactly where they flew them off
to, he didn't know. Maybe the big boneyard in the desert. One more old piston bird would hardly be
noticed. On the other hand, you could sell one of these Pipers easily enough.
The .50-caliber machine gun looked even more impressive at eye level, though with dawn coming
up, the spotlights were less overpowering. They didn't use the spy-plane ploy this time. The Marines
treated the smugglers just as roughly as before, however, and their actions again had the desired
effect. The CIA officer running the operation had formerly been with DEA, and he enjoyed the
difference in interrogation methods. Both pilots were Colombians, the aircraft's registration to the
contrary. Despite their machismo, it took only one look at Nicodemus. To be brave in the face of a
bullet, or even an attack dog, was one thing. To be brave before a living carnosaur was something
else entirely. It took less than an hour for them to be processed, then taken off to the tame federal
district judge.
"How many planes don't make it here?" Gunnery Sergeant Black asked as they were driven away.
"What d'you mean, Gunny?"
"I seen the fighter, sir. It figures that he told the dude, 'Fly this way or else!' An' we been called
here more times 'n airplanes have showed up, right? What I'm saying, sir, is it stands to reason, like,
that some folks didn't take the hint, and the boy driving the fighter showed them the 'or else.' "
"You don't need to know that, Gunny Black," the CIA officer pointed out.
"Fair enough. Either way, it's cool with me, sir. My first tour in 'Nam, I seen a squad get wiped
because some of 'em were doped up. I caught a punk selling drugs in my squad, back in '74-75, and I
damned near beat the little fuck to death. Almost got in trouble over it, too."
The CIA officer nodded as though that statement surprised him. It didn't.
" 'Need-to-know,' Gunny," he repeated.
"Aye aye, sir." Gunnery Sergeant Black assembled his men and walked off toward the waiting
helicopter.
That was the problem with "black" operations, the CIA officer thought as he watched the Marines
leave. You want good people, reliable people, smart people, to be part of the op. But the good,
reliable, and smart people all had brains and imagination. And it really wasn't all that hard for them
to figure things out. After enough of that happened, "black" operations tended to become gray
ones. Like the dawn that had just risen. Except that light wasn't always a good thing, was it?
Admiral Cutter met Directors Moore and Jacobs in the lobby of the office wing, and took them
straight to the Oval Office. Agents Connor and D'Agostino were on duty in the secretarial office and
gave all three the usual once-over out of habit. Unusually, for the White House, they walked straight
in to see WRANGLER.
"Good afternoon, Mr. President," all three said in turn.
The President rose from his desk and took his place in an antique chair by the fireplace. This was
where he usually sat for "intimate" conversations. The President regretted this. The chair he sat in
was nowhere near as comfortable as the custom-designed one behind his desk, and his back was
acting up, but even presidents have to play by the rules of others' expectations.
"I take it that this is to be a progress report. You want to start off, Judge?"
"SHOWBOAT is fully underway. We've had a major stroke of luck, in fact. Just as we got a
surveillance team in place, they spotted an aircraft taking off." Moore favored everyone with a smile.
"Everything worked exactly as planned. The two smugglers are in federal custody. That was luck,
pure and simple, of course. We can't expect that to happen too often, but we intercepted ninety kilos
of cocaine, and that's a fair night's work. All four covert teams are on the ground and in place. None
have been spotted."
"How's the satellite working out?"
"Still getting parts of it calibrated. That's mainly a computer problem, of course. The thing we're
planning to use the Rhyolite for will take another week or so. As you know, that element of the plan
was set up rather late, and we're playing it by ear at the moment. The problem, if I can call it that, is
setting up the computer software, and they need another couple of days."
"What about The Hill?"
"This afternoon," Judge Moore answered. "I don't expect that to be a problem."
"You've said that before," Cutter pointed out.
Moore turned and examined him with a tired eye. "We've laid quite a bit of groundwork. I don't
invoke SAHO very often, and I've never had any problems from them when I did."
"I don't expect any active opposition there, Jim," the President agreed. "I've laid some
groundwork, too. Emil, you're quiet this morning."
"We've been over that aspect of the operation, Mr. President. I have no special legal qualms,
because there really is no law on this issue. The Constitution grants you plenipotentiary powers to
use military force to protect our national security once it is determined - by you, of course - that our
security is, in fact, threatened. The legal precedents go all the way back to the Jefferson
presidency. The political issues are something else, but that's not really my department. In any case,
the Bureau has broken what appears to be a major money-laundering operation, and we're just about
ready to move on it."
"How major?" Admiral Cutter asked, annoying the President, who wanted to ask the same
question.
"We can identify a total of five hundred eighty-eight million dollars of drug money, spread
through twenty-two different banks all the way from Liechtenstein to California, invested in a number
of real-estate ventures, all of which are here in the United States. We've had a team working 'round
the clock all week on this."
"How much?" the President asked, getting in first this time. He wasn't the only person in the room
who wanted that number repeated.
"Almost six hundred million," the FBI Director repeated. "It was just over that figure two days
ago, but a sizable block of funds was transferred on Wednesday - it looks like it was a routine
transfer, but we are keeping an eye on the accounts in question."
"And what will you be doing?"
"By this evening we'll have complete documentation on all the accounts. Starting tomorrow, the
legal attachés in all our embassies overseas, and the field divisions covering the domestic banks, will
move to freeze the accounts and -"
"Will the Swiss and the Europeans cooperate?" Cutter interrupted.
"Yes, they will. The mystique about numbered accounts is overrated, as President Marcos found
out a few years ago. If we can prove that the deposits result from criminal operations, the
governments in question will freeze the funds. In Switzerland, for example, the money goes to the
state - 'canton' - government for domestic applications. Aside from the moral issue, it's simple selfinterest, and we have treaties to cover this. It hardly hurts the Swiss economy, for example, to keep
that money in Switzerland, does it? If we're successful, as I have every right to expect, the total net
loss to the Cartel will be on the order of one billion dollars. That figure is just an estimate on our
part which includes loss of equity in the investments and the expected profits from rollover. The five
eighty-eight, on the other hand, is a hard number.
We're calling this Operation
TARPON. Domestically, the law is entirely on our side, and on close inspection, it's going to be very
hard for anyone to liberate the funds, ever. Overseas the legal issues are more muddied, but I think
we can expect fairly good cooperation. The European governments are starting to notice drug
problems of their own, and they have a way of handling the legal issues more… oh, I guess the word
is pragmatically," Jacobs concluded with a smile. "I presume you'll want the Attorney General to
make the announcement."
You could see the sparkle in the President's eyes. The press release would be made in the White
House Press Room. He'd let the Justice Department handle it, of course, but it would be done in the
White House so that journalists could get the right spin. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I
have just informed the President that we have made a major break in the continuing war against…
"How badly will this hurt them?" the President asked.
"Sir, exactly how much money they have has always been a matter of speculation on our
part. What's really interesting about this whole scheme is that the laundering operation may actually
be designed to legitimize the money once it gets into Colombia. That's hard to read, but it would
seem that the Cartel is trying to find a less overtly criminal way in which to infiltrate their own
national economy. Since that is not strictly necessary in economic terms, the presumptive goal of the
operation would seem to be political. To answer your question, the monetary loss will sting them
rather badly, but will not cripple them in any way. The political ramifications, however, may be an
extra bonus whose scope we cannot as yet evaluate."
"A billion dollars…" the President said. "That really gives you something to tell the Colombians
about, doesn't it?"
"I do not think they'll be displeased. The political rumblings they've been getting from the Cartel
are very troubling to them."
"Not troubling enough to take action," Cutter observed.
Jacobs didn't like that at all. "Admiral, their Attorney General is a friend of mine. He travels with
a security detail that's double the size of the President's, and he has to deal with a security threat that'd
make most people duck for cover every time a car backfired. Colombia is trying damned hard to run
a real democracy in a region where democracies are pretty rare - which historically happens to be
our fault, in case you've forgotten - and you expect them to do - what? Trash what institutions they do
have, do what Argentina did? For Christ's sake, the Bureau and DEA combined don't have the
manpower to go after the drug rings that we already know about, and we have a thousand times their
resources. So what the hell do you expect, that they'll go fascist again to hunt down the druggies just
because it suits us? We did expect that and we got that, for over a hundred years, and look where it's
gotten us!" This clown is supposed to be an expert on Latin America, Jacobs didn't say out
loud. Says who? I bet you couldn't even drive boats worth a damn!
The bottom line, Judge Moore noted, is that Emil doesn't like this whole operation, does
he? On the other hand, it did rock Cutter back in his chair. A small man, Jacobs had dignity and
moral authority measured in megaton quantities.
"You're trying to tell us something, Emil," the President said lightly. "Spit it out."
"Terminate this whole operation," the FBI Director said. "Stop it before it goes too far. Give me
the manpower I need, and I can accomplish more right here at home, entirely within the law, than
we'll ever accomplish with all this covert-operations nonsense. TARPON is the proof of
that. Straight police work, and it's the biggest success we've ever had."
"Which happened only because some Coast Guard skipper got a little off the reservation," Judge
Moore noted. "If that Coastie hadn't broken the rules himself, your case would have looked like
simple piracy and murder. You left that part out, Emil."
"Not the first time something like that has happened, and the difference, Arthur, is that that wasn't
planned by anyone in Washington."
"That captain isn't going to be hurt, is he?" the President asked.
"No, sir. That's already been taken care of," Jacobs assured him.
"Good. Keep it that way. Emil, I respect your point of view," the President said, "but we have to
try something different. I can't sell Congress on the funding to double the size of the FBI, or
DEA. You know that."
You haven't tried, Jacobs wanted to say. Instead he nodded submission.
"And I thought we had your agreement on this operation."
"You do, Mr. President." How did I ever rope myself into this? Jacobs asked himself. This
road, like so many others, was paved with good intentions. What they were doing wasn't quite
illegal; in the same sense that skydiving wasn't quite dangerous - so long as everything went
according to plan.
"And when are you heading down to Bogotá?"
"Next week, sir. I've messengered a letter to the legal attaché, and he'll deliver it by hand to the
AG. We'll have good security for the meeting."
"Good. I want you to be careful, Emil. I need you. I especially need your advice," the President
said kindly. "Even if I don't always take it."
The President has to be the world's champ at setting people down easy, Moore told
himself. But part of that was Emil Jacobs. He'd been a team player since he joined the U.S.
Attorney's office in Chicago, lo, those thirty years ago.
"Anything else?"
"I've made Jack Ryan the acting DDI," Moore said. "James recommended him, and I think he's
ready."
"Will he be cleared for SHOWBOAT?" Cutter asked immediately.
"He's not that ready, is he, Arthur?" the President opined.
"No, sir, your orders were to keep this one tight."
"Any change with Greer?"
"It does not look good, Mr. President," Moore replied.
"Damned shame. I have to go into Bethesda to have my blood pressure looked at next week. I'll
stop in to see him."
"That would be very kind of you, sir."
Everyone was supportive as hell, Ryan noted. He felt like a trespasser in this office, but Nancy
Cummings - secretary to the DDI from long before the time Greer arrived here - did not treat him as
an interloper, and the security detail that he now rated called him "sir" even though two of them were
older than Jack was. The really good news, he didn't realize until someone told him, was that he now
rated a driver also. The purpose of this was simply that the driver was a security officer with a
Beretta Model 92-F automatic pistol under his left armpit (there was something even more impressive
under the dash), but for Ryan it meant that he'd no longer have to make the fifty-eight-minute drive
himself. From now on he'd be one of those Important People who sat in the back of the speeding car
talking on a secure mobile phone, or reading over Important Documents, or, more likely, reading the
paper on the way into work. The official car would be parked in GIA's underground garage, in a
reserved space near the executive elevator, which would whisk him directly to the seventh floor
without having to pass through the customary security-gate routine, which was such a damned
nuisance. He'd eat in the executive dining room with its mahogany furniture and discreetly elegant
silverware.
The increase in salary was also impressive, or would have been if it had matched what his wife,
Cathy, was making from the surgical practice that supplemented her associate professorship at Johns
Hopkins. But there was not a single government salary - not even the President's - that matched what
a good surgeon made. Ryan also had the equivalent rank of a three-star general or admiral, even
though his capacity in the job was merely "acting."
His first task of the day, after closing the office door, had been to open the DDI safe. There was
nothing in it. Ryan memorized the combination, again noting that the DDO's combination was
scribbled on the same sheet of paper. His office had that most precious of government perks: a
private bathroom; a high-definition TV monitor on which he could watch satellite imagery come in
without going to the viewing room in the building's new north wing; a secure computer terminal over
which he could communicate to other offices if he so wished - there was dust on the keys; Greer had
almost never used it. Most of all, there was room. He could get up and pace if he wanted. His job
gave him unlimited access to the Director. When the Director was away - and even if he were not Ryan could call the White House for an immediate meeting with the President. He'd have to go
through the Chief of Staff - bypassing Cutter, if he felt the need - but if Ryan now said, "I have to see
the President, right now!" he'd get in, right now. Of course he'd have to have a very good reason for
doing so.
Jack sat in the high-backed chair, facing away from the plate-glass windows, and realized that he
had gotten there. This was as far as he had ever expected to rise in the Agency. Not even forty
yet. He'd made his money in the brokerage business - and the money was still growing; he needed his
CIA salary about as much as he needed a third shoe - gotten his doctor's degree, written his books,
taught some history, made himself a new and interesting career, and worked his way to the top. Not
even forty yet. He would have awarded himself a gentle, satisfied smile except for the fatherly
gentleman who was now at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, dying the lingering and painful death that
had put him in this chair, in this office, in this position.
It's not worth it. It sure as hell isn't worth that, Jack told himself. He'd lost his parents to an
airliner crash at Chicago, and remembered the sudden, wrenching loss, the impact that had come like
a thrown punch. For all that, it had come with merciful speed. He hadn't realized it at the time, but he
did now. Ryan made a point of seeing Admiral Greer three times a week, watching his body shrink,
draw in on itself like a drying plant, watching the pain lines deepen in his dignified face as the man
fought valiantly in a battle he knew to be hopeless. He'd been spared the ordeal of watching his
parents fade away, but Greer had become a new father to him, and Ryan was now observing his filial
duty for his surrogate parent. Now he understood why his wife had chosen eye surgery. It was tough,
technically demanding work in which a slip could cause blindness, but Cathy didn't have to watch
people die. What could be harder than this - but Ryan knew that answer. He'd seen his daughter
hover near death, saved by chance and some especially fine surgeons.
Where do they get the courage? Jack wondered. It was one thing to fight against people. Ryan
had done that. But to fight against Death itself, knowing that they must ultimately lose, but still
fighting. Such was the nature of the medical profession.
Jesus, you're a morbid son of a bitch this morning.
What would the Admiral say?
He'd say to get on with the goddamned job.
The point of life was to press on, to do the best you can, to make the world a better place. Of
course, Jack admitted, CIA might seem to some a most peculiar place in which to do that, but not to
Ryan, who had done some very odd but also very useful things here.
A smell got his attention. He turned to see that the coffee machine on the credenza was turned
on. Nancy must have done it, he realized. But Admiral Greer's mugs were gone, and some "generic"
CIA-logoed cups sat on the silver tray. Just then came a knock on the door. Nancy's head appeared.
"Your department-head meeting starts in two minutes, Dr. Ryan."
"Thanks, Mrs. Cummings. Who did the coffee?" Jack asked.
"The Admiral called in this morning. He said you would need some on your first day."
"Oh. I'll thank him when I go over tonight."
"He sounded a little better this morning," Nancy said hopefully.
"Hope you're right."
The department heads appeared right on schedule. He poured himself a cup of coffee, offering the
same to his visitors, and in a minute was down to work. The first morning report, as always,
concerned the Soviet Union, followed by the others as CIA's interests rotated around the globe. Jack
had attended these meetings as a matter of routine for years, but now he was the man behind the
desk. He knew how the meetings were supposed to be run, and he didn't break the pattern. Business
was still business. The Admiral wouldn't have had it any other way.
With presidential approval, things moved along smartly. Overseas communications were
handled, as always, by the National Security Agency, and only the time zones made things
inconvenient. An earlier heads-up signal had been dispatched to the legal attaches in several
European embassies, and at the appointed time, first in Bern, teletype machines operating off
encrypted satellite channels began punching out paper. In the communications rooms in all the
embassies, the commo-techs took note of the fact that the systems being used were the most secure
lines available. The first, or register, sheet prepped the technicians for the proper one-time-pad
sequence, which had to be retrieved from the safes which held the cipher keys.
For especially sensitive communications - the sort that might accompany notice that war was
about to start, for example - conventional cipher machines simply were not secure enough. The
Walker-Whitworth spy ring had seen to that. Those revelations had forced a rapid and radical change
in American code policy. Each embassy had a special safe - actually a safe within yet another, larger
safe - which contained a number of quite ordinary-looking tape cassettes. Each was encased in a
transparent but color-coded plastic shrink-wrap. Each bore two numbers. One number - in this case
342 - was the master registration number for the cassette. The other - in the Bern embassy; it was 68
- designated the individual cassette within the 342 series. In the event that the plastic wrap on any of
the cassettes, anywhere in the world, was determined to be split, scratched, or even distorted, all
cassettes on that number series were immediately burned on the assumption that the cassette might
have been compromised.
In this case, the communications technician removed the cassette from its storage case, examined
its number, and had his watch supervisor verify that it had the proper number: "I read the number as
three-four-two."
"Concur," the watch supervisor confirmed. "Three-four-two."
"I am opening the cassette," the technician said, shaking his head at the absurd solemnity of the
event.
The shrink-wrap was discarded in the low-tech rectangular plastic waste can next to his desk, and
the technician inserted the cassette in an ordinary-looking but expensive player that was linked
electronically to another teletype machine ten feet away.
The technician set the original printout on the clipboard over his own machine and started typing.
The message, already encrypted on the master 342 cassette at NSA headquarters, Fort Meade,
Maryland, had been further encrypted for satellite transmission on the current maximum-security State
Department cipher, called STRIPE, but even if someone had the proper keys to read STRIPE, all he
would have gotten was a message that read DEERAMO WERAC KEWJRT, and so on, due to the
super-encipherment imposed by the cassette system. That would at the least annoy anyone who
thought that he'd broken the American communications systems. It certainly annoyed the
communications technician, who had to concentrate as hard as he knew on how to type things like
DEERAMO WERAC KEWJRT instead of real words that made some sort of sense.
Each letter passed through the cassette player, which took note of the incoming letter and treated it
as a number from 1 (A) to 26 (Z), and then added the number on the tape cassette. Thus, if 1 (A) on
the original text corresponded to another 1 (A) on the cassette, 1 was added to 1, making 2 (B) on the
clear-text message. The transpositions on the cassette were completely random, having been
generated from atmospheric radio noise by a computer at Fort Meade. It was a completely
unbreakable code system, technically known as a One-Time Pad. There was, by definition, no way to
order or predict random behavior. So long as the tape cassettes were uncompromised, no one could
break this cipher system. The only reason that this system, called TAPDANCE, was not used for all
communications was the inconvenience of making, shipping, securing, and keeping track of the
thousands of cassettes that would be required, but that would soon be made easier when a laser-disc
format replaced the tape cassettes. The code-breaking profession had been around since Elizabethan
times, and this technical development threatened to render it as obsolete as the slide rule.
The technician pounded away on the keyboard, trying to concentrate as he grumbled to himself
about the late hours. He ought to have been off work at six, and was looking forward to dinner in a
nice little place a couple of blocks from the embassy. He could not, of course, see the clear-text
message coming up ten feet away, but the truth was that he didn't give a good goddamn. He'd been
doing this sort of thing for nine years, and the only reason he stuck with it was the travel
opportunity. Bern was his third posting overseas. It wasn't as much fun as Bangkok had been, but it
was far more interesting than his childhood home in Ithaca, New York.
The message had seventeen thousand characters, which probably corresponded to about twentyfive hundred words, the technician thought. He blazed through the message as quickly as he could.
"Okay?" he asked when he was finished. The last "word" had been ERYTPESM.
"Yep," the legal attaché replied.
"Great." The technician took the telex printout he'd just typed from and fed it into the code room's
own shredder. It came out as flat pasta. Next he removed the tape cassette from the player and,
getting a nod from the watch supervisor, walked to the corner of the room. Here, tied to a cable fixed
to the wall - actually it was just a spiraled telephone cord - was a large horseshoe magnet. He moved
this back and forth over the cassette to destroy the magnetic information encoded on the tape
inside. Then the cassette went into the burn-bag. At midnight, one of the Marine guards, supervised
by someone else, would carry the bag to the embassy's incinerator, where both would watch a day's
worth of paper and other important garbage burned to ashes by a natural-gas flame. Mr. Bernardi
finished scanning the message and looked up.
"I wish my secretary could type that fast, Charlie. I count two - only two! - mistakes. Sorry we
kept you late." The legal attaché handed over a ten-franc note. "Have a couple of beers on me."
"Thank you, Mr. Bernardi."
Chuck Bernardi was a senior FBI agent, whose civil-service rank was equivalent to that of
brigadier general in the United States Army, in which he had served as an infantry officer, long ago
and far away. He had two more months to serve here, after which he'd rotate home to FBI
Headquarters and maybe a job as special-agent-in-charge of a medium-sized field division. His
specialty was in the Bureau's OC-Organized Crime-Directorate, which explained his posting to
Switzerland. Chuck Bernardi was an expert on tracking mob money, and a lot of it worked its way
through the Swiss banking system. His job, half police officer and half diplomat, put him in touch
with all of the top Swiss police officials, with whom he had developed a close and friendly working
relationship. The local cops were smart, professional, and damned effective, he thought. A little old
lady could walk the streets of Bern with a shopping bag full of banknotes and feel perfectly
secure. And some of them, he chuckled to himself on the walk to his office, probably did.
Once in his office, Bernardi flipped on his reading light and reached for a cigar. He hadn't shaken
off the first ash when he leaned back in his chair to stare at the ceiling.
"Son of a bitch!" He reached for his telephone and called the most senior cop he knew.
"This is Chuck Bernardi. Could I speak to Dr. Lang, please? Thank you… Hi, Karl, Chuck
here. I need to see you… right away if possible… it's pretty important, Karl, honest… In your office
would be better… Not over the phone, Karl, if you don't mind… Okay, thanks, pal. It's worth it,
believe me. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
He hung up the phone. Next he walked out to the office Xerox machine and made a copy of the
document, signing off that it was he who had used the machine and how many copies had been run
off. Before leaving, he put the original in his personal safe and tucked the copy in his coat
pocket. Karl might be pissed about missing dinner, he thought, but it wasn't every day that somebody
enriched your national economy to the tune of two hundred million dollars. The Swiss would freeze
the accounts. That meant that six of their banks would, by law, keep all the accrued interest - and
maybe the principal also, as the identity of the government which was entitled to get the funds might
never be clear, "forcing" the Swiss to keep the funds, which would ultimately be turned over to the
canton governments. And people wondered why Switzerland was such a wealthy, peaceful, charming
little country. It wasn't just the skiing and the chocolate.
Within an hour, six embassies had the word, and as the sun marched across the earth, special
agents of the FBI also visited the executive suites of several American commercial - "full-service" banks. They handed over the identifying numbers or names of several accounts, all of whose
considerable funds would be immediately frozen by the simple expedient of putting a computer lock
on them. In all cases, it was done quietly. No one had to know, and the importance of secrecy was
conveyed in very positive terms - in America and elsewhere - by serious, senior government
employees, to bank presidents who were fully cooperative in every instance. (After all, it wasn't their
money, was it?) In nearly all cases, the police officials learned, the accounts were not terribly active,
averaging two or three transactions per month; always large ones, of course. Deposits would still be
accepted, and it was suggested by a Belgian official that if the FBI had the account information for
other such accounts, transfers from one monitored account to another would be allowed - only within
the same country, of course, the Belgian pointed out - to prevent tipping off the depositors. After all,
he said, drugs were the common enemy of all civilized men, and most certainly of all police
officers. That suggestion was immediately ratified by Director Jacobs, with the concurrence of the
AG. Even the Dutch went along, despite the fact that the Netherlands government itself sold drugs in
approved stores to its more jaded younger citizens. It was, all in all, a clear case of capitalism in
action. There was dirty money around, money that had not been rightly earned, and governments did
not approve of such money. Which was why they seized it for their own approved ends. In the case
of the banks, the secrecy to which they were sworn was every bit as sacred as that by which they
guarded the identity of their depositors.
By the close of business hours on Friday, all had been accomplished. The banks' computer
systems stayed up and running. The law-enforcement people now had two full additional days to give
the money trails further examination. If they found any more money related to the accounts already
seized, those funds would also be frozen, and, in the case of the European banks, confiscated. The
first hit here was in Luxembourg. Though Swiss banks are those known internationally for their
confidentiality laws, the only real difference in security between their operation and those of banks in
most other European countries was the fact that Belgium, for example, wasn't surrounded by the Alps,
and that Switzerland hadn't been overrun by foreign armies quite as recently as her European
neighbors. Otherwise, the integrity of the banks was identical, and accordingly the non-Swiss
bankers actually resented the Alps for giving their Swiss brethren such an additional and accidental
business advantage. But in this case, international cooperation was the rule. By Sunday evening, six
new "dirty" accounts had been identified, and one hundred thirty-five million additional dollars were
put under computer lock.
Back in Washington, Director Jacobs, Deputy Assistant Director Murray, the specialists from the
organized-crime office, and the Justice Department left their offices for a well-deserved dinner at the
Jockey Club Restaurant. While the Director's security detail watched, the ten men proceeded to have
themselves a superb meal at government expense. Perhaps a passing reporter or Common Cause
staffer might have objected, but this one had been well and truly earned. Operation TARPON was the
greatest single success in the War on Drugs. It would go public, they agreed, by the end of the week.
"Gentlemen," Dan Murray said, rising with his - he didn't remember how many glasses of Chablis
had accompanied this fish - of course - dinner. "I give you the United States Coast Guard!"
They all rose with a chorus of laughter that annoyed the other customers in the restaurant. "The
United States Coast Guard!" It was a pity, one of the Justice Department attorneys noted, that they
didn't know the words to "Semper Paratus."
The party broke up about ten o'clock. The Director's security men shared looks. Emil didn't hold
his liquor all that well, and he'd be a gruff, hungover little bear tomorrow morning - though he'd
apologize to them all before lunch.
"We'll be flying down to Bogotá Friday afternoon," he told them in the sanctity of his official car,
an Oldsmobile. "Make your plans but don't tell the Air Force until Wednesday. I don't want any leaks
on this."
"Yes, sir," the chief of the detail answered. He wasn't looking forward to this one
either. Especially now. The druggies were going to be pissed. But this visit would catch them
unawares. The news stories would say that Jacobs was remaining in D.C. to work on the case, and
they wouldn't expect him to show up in Colombia. Even so, the security for this one would be
tight. He and his fellow agents would be spending some extra time in the Hoover Building's own
weapons range, honing their skills with their automatic pistols and submachine guns. They couldn't
let anything happen to Emil.
Moira found out Tuesday morning. By this time she, too, knew all about TARPON, of
course. She knew that the trip was supposed to be secret, and she had no doubt that it would also be
dangerous. She wouldn't tell Juan until Thursday night. After all, she had to be careful. She spent the
rest of the week wondering what special place he had in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It no longer mattered that the uniform clothing was khaki instead of woodland pattern Battle Dress
Uniform. Between the sweat stains and the dirt, the squad members were now exactly the same color
as the ground on which they hid. They had all washed once in the stream from which they took their
water, but no one had used soap for fear that suds or smell or something might alert someone
downstream. Under the circumstances, washing without soap wasn't even as good as kissing your
sister. It had cooled them off, however, and that for Chavez was a most pleasant memory. For - what
was it? - ten glorious minutes he'd been comfortable. Ten minutes after which, he'd sweated
again. The climate was beastly, with temperatures reaching to one hundred twenty degrees on one
cloudless afternoon. If this was a goddamned jungle, Chavez asked himself, why the hell doesn't it
rain? The good news was that they didn't have to move around a great deal. The two jerks who
guarded this airstrip spent most of their time sleeping, smoking - probably grass, Chavez thought - and
generally jerking off. They had, once, startled him by firing their weapons at tin cans that they'd set
up on the runway. That might have been dangerous, but the direction of fire hadn't been toward the
observation post, and Chavez had used the opportunity to evaluate the weapons skills of the
opposition. Shitty, he'd told Vega at once. Now they were up to it again. They set up three bean cans
- big ones - perhaps a hundred meters from the shack, and just blazed away, shooting from the hip like
movie actors.
"Christ, what fuck-ups," he observed, watching through his binoculars.
"Lemme see." Vega got to watch just as one of them knocked a can down on his third try. "Hell, I
could hit the damned things from here…"
"Point, this is Six, what the fuck is going on!" the radio squawked a moment later. Vega answered
the call.
"Six, this is Point. Our friends are doing some plinkin' again. Their axis of fire is away from us,
sir. They're punchin' holes in some tin cans. They can't shoot for shit, Cap'n."
"I'm coming over."
"Roger." Ding set down the radio. "The Cap'n's coming. I think the noise made him nervous."
"He sure does worry a lot," Vega noted.
"That's what they pay officers for, ain't it?"
Ramirez appeared three minutes later. Chavez made to hand over his binoculars, but the captain
had brought his own pair this time. He fell to a prone position and got his glasses up just in time to
watch another can go down.
"Oh."
"Two cans, two full magazines," Chavez explained. "They like to go rock-and-roll. I guess
ammo's cheap down here."
Both of the guards were still smoking. The captain and the sergeant watched them laugh and joke
as they shot. Probably, Ramirez thought, they're as bored as we are. After the first aircraft, there had
been no activity at all here at RENO, and soldiers like boredom even less than ordinary citizens. One
of them - it was hard to tell them apart since they were roughly the same size and wore the same sort
of clothing - inserted another magazine into his AK-47 and blazed off a ten-round burst. The little
fountains of dirt walked up to the remaining can, but didn't quite hit it.
"I didn't know it would be this easy, sir," Vega observed from behind the sights of his machine
gun. "What a bunch of fuck-ups!"
"You think that way, Oso, you turn into one yourself," Ramirez said seriously.
"Roger that, Cap'n, but I can't help seein' what I'm seein'."
Ramirez softened his rebuke with a smile. "I suppose you're right."
The third can finally went down. They were averaging thirty rounds per target. Next the guards
used their weapons to push the cans around the runway.
"You know," Vega said after a moment, "I ain't seen 'em clean their weapons yet." For the squad
members, cleaning their weapons was as regular a routine as morning and evening prayers were for
clergymen.
"The AK'll take a lot of abuse. It's good for that," Ramirez pointed out.
"Yes, sir."
Finally the guards, too, grew bored. One of them retrieved the cans. As he was doing so, a truck
appeared. With little in the way of warning, Chavez was surprised to note. The wind was wrong, but
even so it hadn't occurred to him that he wouldn't have at least a minute or two worth of
warning. Something to remember. There were three people in the truck, one of whom was riding in
the back. The driver dismounted and walked out to the two guards. In a moment he was pointing at
the ground and yelling - they could hear it from five hundred yards away even though they hadn't heard
the truck, which really seemed strange.
"What's that all about?" Vega asked.
Captain Ramirez laughed quietly. "FOD. He's pissed off at the FOD."
"Huh?" Vega asked.
"Foreign Object Damage. You suck one of those cartridge cases into an aircraft engine, like a
turbine engine, and it'll beat the hell out of it. Yeah - look, they're picking up their brass."
Chavez turned his binoculars back to the truck. "I see some boxes there, sir. Maybe we got a
pickup tonight. How come no fuel cans - yeah! Captain, last time we were here, they didn't fuel the
airplane, did they?"
"The flight originates from a regular airstrip twenty miles off," Ramirez explained. "Maybe they
don't have to top off… Does seem odd, though."
"Maybe they got fuel drums in the shack… ?" Vega wondered.
Captain Ramirez grunted. He wanted to send a couple of men in close to check the area out, but
his orders didn't permit that. Their only patrolling was to check the airfield perimeter for additional
security troops. They never got closer than four hundred meters to the cleared area, and it was
always done with an eye on the two guards. His operational orders were not to take the slightest risk
of making contact with the opposition. So they weren't supposed to patrol the area even though it
would have told them more about the opposition than they knew - would tell them things that they
might need to know. That was just good basic soldiering, he thought, and the order not to do it was a
dumb order, since it ran as many - or more - risks than it was supposed to avoid. But orders were
still orders. Whoever had generated them didn't know much about soldiering. It was Ramirez's first
experience with that phenomenon, since he, too, was not old enough to remember Vietnam.
"They're gonna be out there all day," Chavez said. It appeared that the truck driver was making
them count their brass, and you never could find all of the damned things. Vega checked his watch.
"Sundown in two hours. Anybody wanna bet we'll have business tonight? I got a hundred pesos
says we get a plane before twenty-two hundred."
"No bet," Ramirez said. "The tall one by the truck just opened a box of flares." The captain
left. He had a radio call to make.
It had been a quiet couple of days at Corezal. Clark had just returned from a late lunch at the Fort
Amador Officers' Club - curiously, the head of the Panamanian Army had an office in the same
building; most curious, since he was not overly popular with the U.S. military at the moment followed by a brief siesta. Local customs, he decided, made sense. Especially sleeping through the
hottest part of the day. The cold air of the van - the air conditioning was to protect the electronics
gear, mainly from the oppressive humidity here - gave him the wakeup shock he needed.
Team KNIFE had scored on their first night with a single aircraft. Two of the other squads had
also had hits, but one of the aircraft had made it all the way to its destination when the F-15 had lost
its radar ten minutes after takeoff, much to everyone's chagrin. But that was the sort of problem you
had to expect with an operation this short of assets. Two for three wasn't bad at all, especially when
you considered what the odds had been like a bare month before, when the Customs people were
lucky to bag a single aircraft in a month. One of the squads, moreover, had drawn a complete
blank. Their airfield seemed totally inactive, contradicting intelligence data that had looked very
promising only a week before. That also was a hazard of real-world operations.
"VARIABLE, this is KNIFE, over," the speaker said without preamble.
"KNIFE, this is VARIABLE. We read you loud and clear. We are ready to copy, over."
"We have activity at RENO. Possible pickup this evening. We will keep you advised. Over."
"Roger, copy. We'll be here. Out."
One of the Operations people lifted the handset to another radio channel.
"EAGLE'S NEST, this is VARIABLE… Stand to… Roger. We'll keep you posted. Out." He se
the instrument down and turned. "They'll get everyone up. The fighter is back on line. Seems the
radar was overdue for some part replacement or other. It's up and running, and the Air Force offers
its apology."
"Damned well ought to," the other Operations man grumbled.
"You guys ever think that maybe an operation can go too right?" Clark asked from his seat in the
corner.
The senior one wanted to say something snotty, Clark saw, but knew better.
"They must know that something odd is happening. You don't want to make it too obvious," Clark
explained for the other one. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes. Might as well get another
piece of that siesta, he told himself. It might be a long night.
Chavez got his wish just after sundown. It started to rain lightly, and clouds moving in from the
west promised an even heavier downpour. The airfield crew set out their flares - quite a few more
than the last time, he saw - and the aircraft arrived soon after that.
Rain made visibility difficult. It seemed to Chavez that someone ran a fuel hose out from the
shack. Maybe there were some fuel drums in there, and maybe a hand-crank pump, but his ability to
see the five or six hundred yards came and went with the rain. Something else happened. The truck
drove down the center of the strip, and the driver tossed out at least ten additional flares to mark the
centerline. The aircraft took off twenty minutes after it arrived, and Ramirez was already on his
satellite radio.
"Did you get the tail number?" VARIABLE asked.
"Negative," the captain replied. "It's raining pretty heavy now. Visibility is dogshit. But he got
off at twenty-fifty-one Lima, heading north-northwest."
"Roger, copy. Out."
Ramirez didn't like the effect that the reduced visibility might have on his unit. He took another
pair of soldiers forward to the OP, but he just as well might not have bothered. The guards didn't
bother extinguishing the flares this time, letting the rain wet things down. The truck left soon after the
aircraft took off, and the two chastised runway guards retired to the shack to keep dry. All in all, he
thought, it couldn't be much easier.
Bronco was bored, too. It wasn't that he minded what he was doing, but there really wasn't much
challenge in it. And besides, he was stuck at four kills, and needed only one more to be an ace. The
fighter pilot was sure that the mission was better accomplished with live prisoners - but, damn it,
killing the sons of bitches was… satisfying, even though there wasn't much challenge to it. He was
flying an aircraft designed to mix it up with the best fighters the Russians could make. Taking out a
Twin-Beech was about as difficult as driving to the O-Club for a couple of brews. Maybe tonight
he'd do something different… but what?
That gave him something to think about as he orbited north of the Yucatan Channel, just behind the
E-2C, and of course out of normal airliner tracks. The contact call came in at about the right
time. He turned south to get on the target, which took just over ten minutes.
"Tallyho," he told the Hawkeye. "I have eyeballs on target."
Another two-engine, therefore another coke smuggler. Captain Winters was still angry about the
other night. Someone had forgotten to check the maintenance schedule on his Eagle, and sure enough,
that damned widget had failed right when the contractor said it would, at five hundred three
hours. Amazing that they could figure it that close. Amazing that an umpty-million-dollar fighter
plane went tits-up because of a five-dollar widget, or diode, or chip, or whatever the hell it was. It
cost five bucks. He knew that because the sergeant had told him.
Well, there he was. Twin engines, looked like a Beech King Air. No lights, cruising a lot lower
than his most efficient cruise altitude.
Okay, Bronco thought, slowing his fighter down, then lighting him up and making the first radio
call.
It was a druggie, all right. He did the same dumbass thing they all did, reducing power, lowering
flaps, and diving for the deck. Winters had never gotten past the fourth level of Donkey Kong, but
popping a real airplane under these circumstances was a hell of a lot easier than that, and you didn't
even have to put in a quarter… but he was bored.
Okay, let's try something different.
He let the aircraft go down, maintaining his own altitude and power setting to pass well ahead of
it. He checked to make sure that all of his flying lights were off, then threw the Eagle into a tight lefthand turn. This brought his fire-control radar in on the target, and that allowed him to spot the King
Air on his infrared scanner, which was wired in to a videotape recorder the same way his gun
systems were.
You think you've lost me, don't you…
Now for the fun part. It was a really dark one tonight. No stars, no moon, solid overcast at ten or
twelve thousand feet. The Eagle was painted in a blue-gray motif that was supposed to blend in with
the sky anyway, and at night it was even better than flat-matte black. He was invisible. The crew in
the Beech must be looking all over creation for him, he knew. Looking everywhere but directly
forward.
They were flying at fifty feet, and on his screen Captain Winters saw that their propwash was
throwing up spray from the waves-five- or six-footers, he thought - just over a mile away. He came
straight in at one hundred feet and five hundred knots. Exactly a mile from the target, he put on his
lights again.
It was so predictable. The Beech pilot saw the incoming, sun-bright lights, seemingly dead-on,
and instinctively did what any pilot would do. He banked hard right and dove - exactly fifty feet cartwheeling spectacularly into the sea. Probably didn't even have time to realize what he'd done
wrong, Bronco thought, then he laughed out loud as he yanked back on the stick and rolled to give it a
last look. Now that was a class kill, Captain Winters told himself as he turned for home. The
Agency people would really love that one. And best of all, he was now an ace. You didn't have to
shoot them down for it to count. You just had to get the kill.
13. The Bloody Weekend
IT REALLY WASN'T fair to make him wait, was it? Moira thought on her drive home
Wednesday afternoon. What if he couldn't come? What if he needed notice in advance? What if he
had something important scheduled in for the weekend? What if he couldn't make it?
She had to call him.
Mrs. Wolfe reached into the purse at her side and felt for the scrap of hotel stationery - it was still
there in the zipper pocket - and the numbers written on it seemed to burn into her skin. She had to call
him.
Traffic was confused today. Somebody had blown a tire on the 14th Street Bridge, and her hands
sweated on the plastic steering wheel. What if he couldn't make it?
What about the kids? They were old enough to look after themselves, that was the easy part - but
how to explain to them that their mother was going off for a weekend to - what was the phrase they
used? To "get laid." Their mother. How would they react? It hadn't occurred to her that her horrible
secret was nothing of the kind, not to her children, not to her co-workers, not to her boss, and she
would have been dumbfounded to know that all of them were rooting for her… to get laid. Moira
Wolfe had missed the sexual revolution by only a year or two. She'd taken her fearful-hopefulpassionate-frightened virginity to the marriage bed, and always thought that her husband had done the
same. He must have, she'd told herself then and later, because they'd both botched things so badly the
first time. But within three days they'd had the basics figured out - youthful vigor and love could
handle almost anything - and over the next twenty-two years the two newlyweds had truly become
one.
The void left in her life by the loss of her husband was like an open sore that would not heal. His
picture was at her bedside, taken only a year before his death, working on his sailboat. No longer a
young man when it had been taken, love handles at his waist, much of his hair gone, but the
smile. What was it Juan said? You look with love, and see love returned. Such a fine way of
putting it, Moira thought.
My God, What would Rich think? She'd asked herself that question more than once. Every time
she looked at the photograph before sleep. Every time she looked at her children on the way in or out
of the house, hoping that they didn't suspect, knowing in a way conscious thought did not touch that
they must know. But what choice did she have? Was she supposed to wear widow's weeds - that
was a custom best left in the distant past. She'd mourned for the appropriate time, hadn't she? She'd
wept alone in her bed when a phrase crossed her mind, on the anniversaries of all the special dates
that acquire meaning in the twenty-two years that two lives merge into one, and, often enough, just
from looking at that picture of Rich on the boat that they'd saved years for…
What do people expect of me? she asked herself in sudden anguish. I still have a life. I still have
needs.
What would Rich say?
He hadn't had time to say anything at all. He'd died on his way to work, two months after a
routine physical that had told him that he should lose a few pounds, that his blood pressure was a
touch high, but nothing to worry about really, that his cholesterol was pretty good for somebody in his
forties, and that he should come back for the same thing next year. Then, at 7:39 in the morning, his
car had just run off the road into a guardrail and stopped. A policeman only a block away had come
and been puzzled to see the driver still in the car, and wondered whether or not someone might be
driving drunk this early in the morning, then realized that there was no pulse. An ambulance had been
summoned, its crew finding the officer pounding on Rich's chest, making the assumption of a heart
attack that they'd made themselves, doing everything they'd been trained to do. But there had never
been a chance. Aneurysm in the brain. A weakening in the wall of a blood vessel, the doctor had
explained after the postmortem. Nothing that could have been done. Why did it happen… ? Maybe
hereditary, probably not. No, blood pressure had nothing to do with it. Almost impossible to
diagnose under the best of circumstances. Did he complain of headaches? Not even that much
warning? The doctor had walked away quietly, wishing he could have said more, not so much angry
as saddened by the fact that medicine didn't have all the answers, and that there never was much you
could say. (Just one of those things, was what doctors said among themselves, but you couldn't say
that to the family, could you?) There hadn't been much pain, the doctor had said - not knowing if it
were a lie or not - but that hardly mattered now, so he'd said confidently that, no, she could take
comfort in the fact that there would not have been much pain. Then the funeral. Emil Jacobs there,
already anticipating the death of his wife; she'd come from the hospital herself to attend the event with
the husband she'd soon leave. All the tears that were shed…
It wasn't fair. Not fair that he'd been forced to leave without saying goodbye. A kiss that tasted of
coffee on the way to the door, something about stopping at the Safeway on the way home, and she'd
turned away, hadn't even seen him enter the car that last time. She'd punished herself for months
merely because of that.
What would Rich say?
But Rich was dead, and two years was long enough.
The kids already had dinner going when she got home. Moira walked upstairs to change her
clothes, and found herself looking at the phone that sat on the night table. Right next to the picture of
Rich. She sat down on the bed, looking at it, trying to face it. It took a minute or so. Moira took the
paper from her purse, and with a deep breath began punching the number into the phone. There were
the normal chirps associated with an international call.
"Díaz y Díaz," a voice answered.
"Could I speak to Juan Díaz, please?" Moira asked the female voice.
"Who is calling, please?" the voice asked, switching over to English.
"This is Moira Wolfe."
"Ah, Señora Wolfe! I am Consuela. Please hold for a momento." There followed a minute of
static on the line. "Señora Wolfe, he is somewhere in the factory. I cannot locate him. Can I tell him
to call you?"
"Yes. I'm at home."
"Sí, I will tell him - Señora?"
"Yes?"
"Please excuse me, but there is something I must say. Since the death of his Maria - Señor Juan,
he is like my son. Since he has met you, Señora, he is happy again. I was afraid he would never please, you must not say I tell you this, but, thank you for what you have done. It is a good thing you
have done for Señor Juan. We in the office pray for both of you, that you will find happiness."
It was exactly what she needed to hear. "Consuela, Juan has said so many wonderful things about
you. Please call me Moira."
"I have already said too much. I will find Señor Juan, wherever he is."
"Thank you, Consuela. Goodbye."
Consuela, whose real name was Maria - from which Félix (Juan) had gotten the name for his dead
wife - was twenty-five and a graduate of a local secretarial school who wanted to make better money
than that, and who, as a consequence, had smuggled drugs into America, through Miami and Atlanta,
on half a dozen occasions before a close call had decided her on a career change. Now she handled
odd jobs for her former employers while she operated her own small business outside Caracas. For
this task, merely waiting for the phone to ring, she was being paid five thousand dollars per week. Of
course, that was only one half of the job. She proceeded to perform the other half, dialing another
number. There was an unusual series of chirps as, she suspected, the call was skipped over from the
number she'd dialed to another she didn't know about.
"Yes?"
"Señor Díaz? This is Consuela."
"Yes?"
"Moira called a moment ago. She wishes for you to call her at home."
"Thank you." And the connection broke.
Cortez looked at his desk clock. He'd let her wait … twenty-three minutes. His place was yet
another luxury condominium in Medellín, two buildings down from that of his boss. Was this the
call? he wondered. He remembered when patience had come hard to him, but it was a long time
since he'd been a fledgling intelligence officer, and he went back to his papers.
Twenty minutes later he checked the time again and lit a cigarette, watching the hands move
around the dial. He smiled, wondering what it was like for her to have to wait, two thousand miles
away. What was she thinking? Halfway through the cigarette, it was time to find out. He lifted the
phone and dialed in the number.
Dave got to the phone first. "Hello?" He frowned. "We have a bad connection. Could you repeat
that? Oh, okay, hold on." Dave looked over to see his mother's eyes on him. "For you, Mom."
"I'll take it upstairs," she said at once, and moved toward the stairs as slowly as she could
manage.
Dave put his hand over the receiver. "Guess who?" There were knowing looks around the dining
room.
"Yes," Dave heard her say on the other phone. He discreetly hung up. Good luck, Mom.
"Moira, this is Juan."
"Are you free this weekend?" she asked.
"This weekend? Are you sure?"
"I'm free from lunch Friday to Monday morning."
"So… let me think…" Two thousand miles away, Cortez stared out the window at the building
across the street. Might it be a trap? Might the FBI Intelligence Division… might the whole thing
be a… ? Of course not. "Moira, I must talk to someone here. Please hold for another minute. Can
you?"
"Yes!"
The enthusiasm in her voice was unmistakable as he punched the hold button. He let her wait two
minutes by his clock before going back on the line.
"I will be in Washington Friday afternoon."
"You'll be getting in about the time - about the right time."
"Where can we meet? At the airport. Can you meet me at the airport?"
"Yes."
"I don't know what flight I'll be on. I'll meet you at… at the Hertz counter at three o'clock. You
will be there, yes?"
"I will be there."
"As will I, Moira. Goodbye, my love."
Moira Wolfe looked again at the photograph. The smile was still there, but she decided it was
not an accusing smile.
Cortez got up from his desk and walked out of the room. The guard in the hall stood when he
came out of the door.
"I am going to see el jefe," he said simply. The guard lifted his cellular phone to make the call.
The technical problems were very difficult. The most basic one was power. While the base
stations cranked out about five hundred watts, the mobile stations were allowed less than seven, and
the battery-powered hand-held sets that everyone likes to use were three hundred milliwatts, and even
with a huge parabolic dish receiving antenna, the signals gathered were like whispers. But the
Rhyolite-J was a highly sophisticated instrument, the result of uncounted billions of research-anddevelopment dollars. Supercooled electronics solved part of the problem. Various computers
worked on the rest. The incoming signals were broken down into digital code - ones and zeroes - by
a relatively simple computer and downlinked to Fort Huachuca, where another computer of vastly
greater power examined the bits of raw information and tried to make sense of them. Random static
was eliminated by a mathematically simple but still massively repetitive procedure - an algorithm that compared neighboring bits to one another and through a process of averaging numerical values
filtered out over 90 percent of the noise. That enabled the computer to spit out a recognizable
conversation from what it had downloaded from the satellite. But that was only the beginning.
The reason the Cartel used cellular phones for its day-to-day communications was
security. There were roughly six hundred separate frequencies, all in the UHF band from 825 to 845
and 870 to 890 megahertz. A small computer at the base station would complete a call by selecting
an available frequency at random, and in the case of a call from a mobile phone, changing that
frequency to a better one when performance wavered. Finally, the same frequency could be used
simultaneously for different calls on neighboring "cells" (hence the name of the system) of the same
overall network. Because of this operating feature, there was not a police force in the world that
could monitor phone calls made on cellular-phone equipment. Even without scrambling, the calls
could be made in the clear, without even the need for code.
Or that's what everyone thought.
The United States government had been in the business of intercepting foreign radio
communications since the days of Yardley's famous Black Chamber. Technically known as comint or
sigint - for communications or signals intelligence - there was no better form of information possible
than your enemy's own words to his own people. It was a field in which America had excelled for
generations. Whole constellations of satellites were deployed to eavesdrop on foreign nations,
catching snippets of radio calls, side-lobe signals from microwave relay towers. Often encoded in
one way or another, the signals were most often processed at the headquarters of the National
Security Agency, on the grounds of Fort Meade, Maryland, between Washington and Baltimore,
whose acres of basement held most of the supercomputers in the world.
The task here was to keep constant track of the six hundred frequencies used by the cellular phone
net in Medellín. What was impossible for any police agency in the world was less than a light
workout for NSA, which monitored literally tens of thousands of radio and other electronic channels
on a continuous basis. The National Security Agency was far larger than CIA, far more secretive, and
much better funded. One of its stations was on the grounds of Fort Huachuca, Arizona. It even had its
own supercomputer, a brand-new Cray connected by fiberoptic cable to one of many communications
vans, each of which performed functions that those in the loop knew not to ask about.
The next problem was making the computer work. The names and identities of many Cartel
figures were fully known to the U.S. government, of course. Their voices had been recorded, and the
programmers had started there. Using voiceprints of the known voices, they established an algorithm
to recognize those voices, whichever cellular frequency they used. Next, those who called them had
their voices electronically identified. Soon the computer was automatically keying and recording
over thirty known voices, and the number of known voice-targets was expanding on a daily
basis. Source-power considerations made voice identification difficult on occasion, and some calls
were inevitably missed, but the chief technician estimated that they were catching over 60 percent,
and that as their identification database grew larger, that their performance would grow to 85 percent.
Those voices that did not have names attached were assigned numbers. Voice 23 had just called
Voice 17. Twenty-three was a security guard. He had been identified because he had called 17, who
was also known to be a security guard for Subject ECHO, as Escobedo was known to the comint
team. "He's coming over to see him," was all the recorded signal told them. Exactly who "he" was
they didn't know. It was a voice they had either not yet heard or, more likely, not yet identified. The
intelligence specialists were patient. This case had gone a lot quicker than normal. For all their
sophistication, the targets never dreamed that someone could tap in on them in this way and as a
consequence had taken no precautions against it. Within a month the comint team would have enough
experience with the targets to develop all sorts of usable tactical intelligence. It was just a matter of
time. The technicians wondered when actual operations would begin. After all, setting up the sigint
side was always the precursor to putting assets in the field.
"What is it?" Escobedo asked as Cortez entered the room.
"The American FBI Director will be flying to Bogotá tomorrow. He leaves Washington
sometime after noon. It is to be a covert visit. I would expect him to be using an official
aircraft. The Americans have a squadron of such aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base. There will be
a flight plan filed, probably covered as something else. Anything from four tomorrow afternoon to
eight in the evening could be the flight. I expect it to be a twin-engine executive jet, the G-Three,
although another type is possible. He will be meeting with the Attorney General, undoubtedly to
discuss something of great importance. I will fly to Washington immediately to find out what I
can. There is a flight to Mexico City in three hours. I'll be on it."
"Your source is a good one," Escobedo observed, impressed for once.
Cortez smiled. "Sí, jefe. Even if you are unable to determine what is being discussed here, I hope
to find out over the weekend. I make no promises, but I will do my best."
"A woman," Escobedo observed. "Young and beautiful, I am sure."
"As you say. I must be off."
"Enjoy your weekend, Colonel. I will enjoy mine."
Cortez had been gone only an hour when a telex came in, informing him that last night's courier
flight had failed to arrive at its destination in southwestern Georgia. The amusement that invariably
accompanies receipt of top-secret information changed at once to anger. El jefe thought to call Cortez
on his mobile phone, but remembered that his hireling refused to discuss substantive matters over
what he called a "nonsecure" line. Escobedo shook his head. This colonel of the DGI - he was an
old woman! El jefe's phone twittered its own signal.
"Bingo," a man said in a van, two thousand miles away, vox IDENT, his computer screen
announced: SUBJECT BRAVO
INIT CALL TO SUBJECT ECHO FRQ 848.970MHZ CALL INIT 2349Z INTERCEPT IDE
345.
"We may have our first big one here, Tony."
The senior technician, who'd been christened Antonio forty-seven years earlier, put on his
headphones. The conversation was being taken down on high-speed tape - it was actually a threequarter-inch videotape because of the nature of the system used to intercept the signal. Four separate
machines recorded the signal. They were Sony commercial recorders, only slightly modified by the
NSA technical staff.
"Ha! Señor Bravo is pissed!" Tony observed as he caught part of the conversation. "Tell Meade
that we finally caught a frozen rope down the left-field line." A "frozen rope" was the current NSA
nickname for a very important signal intercept. It was baseball season, and the Baltimore Orioles
were coming back.
"How's the signal?"
"Clear as a church bell. Christ, why don't I ever buy TRW stock?" Antonio paused, struggling not
to laugh. "God, is he pissed!"
The call ended a minute later. Tony switched his headphone input to one of the tape machines and
crab-walked his swivel chair to a teleprinter, where he started typing.
FLASH
TOP SECRET ***** CAPER
2358Z
SIGINT REPORT
INTERCEPT 345 INIT 2349Z FRQ 836.970 MHZ
INIT: SUBJECT BRAVO
RECIP: SUBJECT ECHO
B: WE'VE LOST ANOTHER DELIVERY. [AGITATION]
E: WHAT HAPPENED?
B: THE CURSED THING DIDN'T APPEAR. WHAT DO YOU THINK? [AGITATION].
E: THEY'RE DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT, I TOLD YOU THAT. WE'RE TRYING
FIND OUT WHAT IT is.
B: SO WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO KNOW?
E: WE'RE WORKING ON THAT. OUR MAN is TRAVELING TO WASHINGTON TO FI
OUT. THERE ARE SOME OTHER THINGS HAPPENING ALSO.
B: WHAT? [AGITATION]
E: I PROPOSE WE MEET TOMORROW TO DISCUSS IT.
B: THE REGULAR MEETING IS TUESDAY.
E: THIS IS IMPORTANT, EVERYONE MUST HEAR IT, PABLO.
B: CAN'T YOU TELL ME ANYTHING?
E: THEY ARE CHANGING THE RULES, THE NORTH AMERICANS. EXACTLY H
THEY ARE CHANGING THEM WE DO NOT YET KNOW.
B: WELL, WHAT ARE WE PAYING THAT CUBAN RENEGADE FOR? [AGITATION]
E: HE IS DOING VERY WELL. PERHAPS HE WILL LEARN MORE ON HIS TRIP
WASHINGTON. BUT WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED TO THIS POINT WILL BE THE SUBJE
OF OUR MEETING.
B: VERY WELL. I WILL SET UP THE MEETING.
E: THANK YOU, PABLO.
END CALL. DISCONNECT SIGNAL. END INTERCEPT.
"What's this 'agitation' business?"
"I can't put 'pissed' in an official TWX," Antonio pointed out. "This one's hot. We have some
operational intel here." He pressed the transmit key on his terminal. The signal was addressed to a
code-word destination - CAPER - which was all anyone who worked in the van knew.
Bob Ritter had just left for home, and was only a mile up on the George Washington Parkway
when his secure earphone made its distinctive and, to him, irritating noise.
"Yeah?"
"CAPER traffic," the voice said.
"Right," the Deputy Director (Operations) said with a suppressed sigh. To his driver: "Take me
back."
"Yes, sir."
Getting back, even for a top CIA executive, meant finding a place to reverse course, and then fight
the late D.C. rush-hour traffic which, in its majesty, allows rich, poor, and important to crawl at an
equal twenty miles per hour. The gate guard waved the car through, and he was in his seventh-floor
office five minutes after that. Judge Moore was already gone. There were only four watch officers
cleared for this operation. That was the minimum number required merely to wait for and evaluate
signal traffic on the operation. The current watch officer had just come on duty. He handed over the
signal.
"We have something hot," the officer said.
"You're not kidding. It's Cortez," Ritter observed after scanning the message form.
"Good bet, sir."
"Coming here… but we don't know what he looks like. If only the Bureau had gotten a picture of
the bastard when he was in Puerto Rico. You know the description we have of him." Ritter looked
up.
"Black and brown. Medium height, medium build, sometimes wears a mustache. No
distinguishing marks or characteristics," the officer recited from memory. It wasn't hard to memorize
nothing, and nothing was exactly what they had on Félix Cortez.
"Who's your contact at the Bureau?"
"Tom Burke, middle-level guy in the Intelligence Division. Pretty good man. He handled part of
the Henderson case."
"Okay, get this to him. Maybe the Bureau can figure a way to bag the bastard. Anything else?"
"No, sir."
Ritter nodded and resumed his trip home. The watch officer returned to his own office on the fifth
floor and made his call. He was in luck this night; Burke was still at his office. They couldn't discuss
the matter over the phone, of course. The CIA watch officer, Paul Hooker, drove over to the FBI
Building at 10th and Pennsylvania.
Though CIA and FBI are sometimes rivals in the intelligence business, and always rivals for
federal budget funds, at the operational level their employees get along well enough; the barbs they
trade are good-natured ones.
"There's a new tourist coming into D.C. in the next few days," Hooker announced once the door
was closed.
"Like who?" Burke inquired, gesturing to his coffee machine.
Hooker declined. "Félix Cortez." The CIA officer handed over a Xerox of the telex. Portions of it
had been blacked out, of course. Burke didn't take offense at this. As a member of the Intelligence
Division, charged with catching spies, he was accustomed to "need-to-know."
"You're assuming that it's Cortez," the FBI agent pointed out. Then he smiled. "But I wouldn't bet
against you. If we had a picture of this clown, we'd stand a fair chance of bagging him. As it is…" A
sigh. "I'll put people at Dulles, National, and BWI. We'll try, but you can guess what the odds are." If
the Agency had gotten a photo of this mutt while he was in the field - or while he was at the KGB
Academy - it would make our job a hell of a lot easier… "I'll assume that he's coming in over the
next four days. We'll check all flights directly in from down there, and all connecting flights."
The problem was more one of mathematics than anything. The number of direct flights from
Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and other nearby countries directly into the D.C. area was quite
modest and easy to cover. But if the subject made a connecting flight through Puerto Rico, the
Bahamas, Mexico, or any number of other cities, including American ones, the number of possible
connections increased by a factor of ten. If he made one more intermediary stop in the United States,
the number of possible flights for the FBI to monitor took a sudden jump into the hundreds. Cortez
was a KGB-trained pro, and he knew that fact as well as these two men did. The task wasn't a
hopeless one. Police play for breaks all the time, because even the most skilled adversaries get
careless or unlucky. But that was the game here. Their only real hope was a lucky break.
Which they would not get. Cortez caught an Avianca flight to Mexico City, then an American
Airlines flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, where he cleared customs and made yet another American
connection to New York City. He checked into the St. Moritz Hotel on Central Park South. By this
time it was three in the morning, and he needed some rest. He left a wakeup call for ten and asked the
concierge to have him a first-class ticket for the eleven o'clock Metroliner into Union Station,
Washington, D.C. The Metroliners, he knew, had their own phones. He'd be able to call ahead if
something went wrong. Or maybe… no, he decided, he didn't want to call her at work; surely the FBI
tapped its own phones. The last thing Cortez did before collapsing onto the bed was to shred his
plane-ticket receipts and the baggage tags on his luggage.
The phone awoke him at 9:56. Almost seven hours' sleep, he thought. It seemed like only a few
seconds, but there was no time to dawdle. Half an hour later he appeared at the desk, tossed in his
express check-out form, and collected his train ticket. The usual Manhattan midtown traffic nearly
caused him to miss the train, but he made it, taking a seat in the last row of the three-across club-car
smoking section. A smiling, red-vested attendant started him off with decaffeinated coffee and a copy
of USA Today, followed by a breakfast that was no different - though a little warmer - from what he'd
have gotten on an airliner. By the time the train stopped in Philadelphia, he was back asleep. Cortez
figured that he'd need his rest. The attendant noted the smile on his sleeping face as he collected the
breakfast tray and wondered what dreams passed through the passenger's head.
At one o'clock, while Metroliner 111 approached Baltimore, the TV lights were switched on in
the White House Press Room. The reporters had already been prepped with a "deep background, not
for attribution" briefing that there would be a major announcement from the Attorney General, and that
it would have something to do with drugs. The major networks did not interrupt their afternoon soap
operas - it was no small thing to cut away from "The Young and the Restless" - but CNN, as usual, put
up their "Special Report" graphic. This was noticed at once by the intelligence watch officers in the
Pentagon's National Military Command Center, each of whom had a TV on his desk tuned into
CNN. That was perhaps the most eloquent comment possible on the ability of America's intelligence
agencies to keep its government informed, but one on which the major networks, for obvious reasons,
had never commented.
The Attorney General strode haltingly toward the lectern. For all his experience as a lawyer, he
was not an effective public speaker. You didn't need to be if your practice was corporate law and
political campaigning. He was, however, photogenic and a sharp dresser, and always good for a leak
on a slow news day, which explained his popularity with the media.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, fumbling with his notes. "You will soon be getting handouts
concerning Operation TARPON. This represents the most effective operation to date against the
international drug cartel." He looked up, trying to see the reporters' faces past the glare of the lights.
"Investigation by the Department of Justice, led by the FBI, has identified a number of bank
accounts both in the United States and elsewhere which were being used for money-laundering on an
unprecedented scale. These accounts range over twenty-nine banks from Liechtenstein to California,
and their deposits exceed, at our current estimates, over six hundred fifty million dollars." He looked
up again as he heard a Goddamn! from the assembled multitude. That elicited a smile. It was never
easy to impress the White House press corps. The autowind cameras were really churning away
now.
"In cooperation with six foreign governments, we have initiated the necessary steps to seize all of
those funds, and also to seize eight real-estate joint-venture investments here in the United States
which were the primary agency in the actual laundering operation. This is being done under the RICO
- the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization - statute. I should emphasize on that point that
the real-estate ventures involve the holdings of many innocent investors; their holdings will not - I
repeat not - be affected in any way by the government's action. They were used as dupes by the
Cartel, and they will not be harmed by these seizures."
"Excuse me," Associated Press interrupted. "You did say six hundred fifty million dollars?"
"That is correct, more than half a billion dollars." The AG described generally how the
information had been found, but not the way in which the first lead had been obtained, nor the precise
mechanisms used to track the money. "As you know, we have treaties with several foreign
governments to cover cases such as this. Those funds identified as drug-related and deposited in
foreign banks will be confiscated by the governments in question. In Swiss accounts, for example,
are approximately…" He checked his notes again. "It looks like two hundred thirty-seven million
dollars, all of which now belongs to the Swiss government."
"What's our take?" The Washington Post asked.
"We don't know yet. It's difficult to describe the complexity of this operation - just the accounting
is going to keep us busy for weeks."
"What about cooperation from the foreign governments?" another reporter wanted to know.
You gotta be kidding, the journalist next to him thought.
"The cooperation we've received on this case is simply outstanding." The Attorney General
beamed. "Our friends overseas have moved with dispatch and professionalism."
Not every day you can steal this much money and call it something for the Public Good, the
quiet journalist told herself.
CNN is a worldwide service. The broadcast was monitored in Colombia by two men whose job
it was to keep track of the American news media. They were journalists themselves, in fact, who
worked for the Colombian TV network, Inravision. One of them excused himself from the control
room and made a telephone call before returning.
Tony and his partner had just come back on duty in the van, and there was a telex clipped to the
wall, telling them to expect some activity on the cellular-phone circuits at about 1800 Zulu
time. They weren't disappointed.
"Can we talk to Director Jacobs about this?" a reporter asked. "Director Jacobs is taking a
personal interest in the case, but is not available for comment," the AG answered. "You'll be able to
talk to him next week, but at the moment he and his team are all pretty busy." That didn't break any
rules. It gave the impression that Emil was in town, and the reporters, recognizing exactly what the
Attorney General had said and how he had said it, collectively decided to let it slide. It fact, Emil
had taken off from Andrews Air Force Base twenty-five minutes earlier.
"Madre de Dios!" Escobedo observed. The meeting had barely gotten past the usual social
pleasantries so necessary for a conference of cutthroats. All the members of the Cartel were in the
same room, which happened rarely enough. Even though the building was surrounded with a literal
wall of security people, they were nervous about their safety. The building had a satellite dish on the
roof, and this was immediately tuned in to CNN. What was supposed to have been a discussion of
unexpected happenings in their smuggling operations was suddenly sidetracked onto something far
more troubling. It was especially troubling for Escobedo, moreover, since he'd been one of the three
Cartel members who had urged this money-laundering scheme on his colleagues. Though all had
complimented him on the efficiency of the arrangement over the last two years, the looks he was
getting now were somewhat less supportive. "There is nothing we can do?" one asked.
"It is too early to tell," replied the Cartel's equivalent of a chief financial officer. "I remind you
that the money we have already taken completely through the arrangements nearly equals what our
normal returns would be. So you can say that we have lost very little other than the gain we expected
to reap from our investments." That sounded lame even to him.
"I think we have tolerated enough interference," Escobedo said forcefully. "The Director of the
American federales will be here in Bogotá later today."
"Oh? And how did you discover this?"
"Cortez. I told you that hiring him would be to our benefit. I called this meeting to give you the
information that he has gotten for us."
"This is too much to accept," another member agreed. "We should take action. It must be
forceful."
There was general agreement. The Cartel had not yet learned that important decisions ought never
to be taken in anger, but there was no one to counsel moderation. These men were not known for that
quality in any case.
Train 111, Metroliner Service from New York, arrived a minute early at 1:48 P.M. Cortez
walked off, carrying his two bags, and walked at once to the taxi stand at the front of the station. The
cabdriver was delighted to have a fare to Dulles. The trip took just over thirty minutes, earning the
cabbie what for Cortez was a decent tip: $2.00. He entered the upper level, walked to his left, took
the escalator down, where he found the Hertz counter. Here he rented another large Chevy and took
the spare time to load his bags. By the time he returned inside, it was nearly three. Moira was right
on time. They hugged. She wasn't one to kiss in so public a place.
"Where did you park?"
"In the long-term lot. I left my bags in the car."
"Then we will go and get them."
"Where are we going?"
"There is a place on Skyline Drive where General Motors occasionally holds important
conferences. There are no phones in the rooms, no televisions, no newspapers."
"I know it! How did you ever get a reservation at this late notice?"
"I've been reserving a suite for every weekend since we were last together," Cortez explained
truthfully. He stopped dead in his tracks. "That sounds… that sounds improper?" He had the halting
embarrassment down pat by this time.
Moira grabbed his arm. "Not to me."
"I can tell that this will be a long weekend." Within minutes they were on Interstate 66, heading
west toward the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Four embassy security officers dressed in airline coveralls gave the area a final look, then one of
them pulled out a sophisticated satellite-radio phone and gave the final clearance.
The VC-20A, the military version of the G-III executive jet, flew in with a commercial setting on
its radar transponder, landing at 5:39 in the afternoon at El Dorado International Airport, about eight
miles outside of Bogotá. Unlike most of the VC-20As belonging to the 89th Military Airlift Wing at
Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, this one was specially modified to fly into high-threat areas and
carried jamming gear originally invented by the Israelis to counter surface-to-air missiles in the hands
of terrorists… or businessmen. The aircraft flared out and made a perfect landing into gentle
westerly winds, then taxied to a distant corner of the cargo terminal, the one the cars and jeeps were
heading for. The aircraft's identity was no longer a secret to anyone who'd bothered to look, of
course. It had barely stopped when the first jeeps formed up on its left side. Armed soldiers
dismounted and spread out, their automatic weapons pointed at threats that might have been
imaginary, or might not. The aircraft's door dropped down. There were stairs built into it, but the
first man off the plane didn't bother with them. He jumped, with one hand hidden in the right side of a
topcoat. He was soon joined by another security guard. Each man was a special agent of the FBI,
and the job of each was the physical safety of their boss, Director Emil Jacobs. They stood within the
ring of Colombian soldiers, each of whom was a member of an elite counterinsurgency unit. Every
man there was nervous. There was nothing routine about security in this country. Too many had died
proving otherwise.
Jacobs came out next, accompanied by his own special assistant, and Harry Jefferson,
Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The last of the three stepped down just as the
ambassador's limousine pulled up. It didn't stop for long. The ambassador did step out to greet his
guests, but all of them were inside the car a minute later. Then the soldiers remounted their jeeps,
which moved off to escort the ambassador. The aircraft's crew chief closed the Gulfstream's door,
and the VC-20A, whose engines had never stopped turning, immediately taxied to take off again. Its
destination was the airfield at Grenada, thoughtfully built for the Americans by the Cubans only a few
years before. It would be easier to guard it there.
"How was the flight, Emil?" the ambassador asked.
"Just over five hours. Not bad," the Director allowed. He leaned back on the velvet seat of the
stretch limo, which was filled to capacity. In front were the ambassador's driver and
bodyguard. That made a total of four machine guns in the car, and he was sure Harry Jefferson
carried his service automatic. Jacobs had never carried a gun in his life, didn't wish to bother with
the things. And besides, if his two bodyguards and his assistant - another crack shot - didn't suffice to
protect him, what would? It wasn't that Jacobs was an especially courageous man, just that after
nearly forty years of dealing with criminals of all sorts - the Chicago mob had once threatened him
quite seriously - he was tired of it all. He'd grown as comfortable as any man can be with such a
thing: it was part of the scenery now, and like a pattern in the wallpaper or the color of a room's
paint, he no longer noticed it.
He did notice the altitude. The city of Bogotá sits at an elevation of nearly 8,700 feet, on a plain
among towering mountains. There was no air to breathe here and he wondered how the ambassador
tolerated it. Jacobs was more comfortable with the biting winter winds off Lake Michigan. Even the
humid pall that visited Washington every summer was better than this, he thought.
"Tomorrow at nine, right?" Jacobs asked.
"Yep." The ambassador nodded. "I think they'll go along with nearly anything we want." The
ambassador, of course, didn't know what the meeting was about, which did not please him. He'd
worked as chargé d'affaires at Moscow, and the security there wasn't as tight as it was here.
"That's not the problem," Jefferson observed. "I know they mean well - they've lost enough cops
and judges proving that. Question is, will they play ball?"
"Would we, under similar circumstances?" Jacobs mused, then steered the conversation in a safer
direction. "You know, we've never been especially good neighbors, have we?"
"How do you mean?" the ambassador asked.
"I mean, when it suited us to have these countries run by thugs, we let it happen. When democracy
finally started to take root, we often as not stood at the sidelines and bitched if their ideas didn't agree
fully with ours. And now that the druggies threaten their governments because of what our own
citizens want to buy - we blame them."
"Democracy comes hard down here," the ambassador pointed out. "The Spanish weren't real big
on -"
"If we'd done our job a hundred years ago - or even fifty years ago - we wouldn't have half the
problems we have now. Well, we didn't do it then. We sure as hell have to do it now."
"If you have any suggestions, Emil -"
Jacobs laughed. "Hell, Andy, I'm a cop - well, a lawyer - not a diplomat. That's your
problem. How's Kay?"
"Just fine." Ambassador Andy Westerfield didn't have to ask about Mrs. Jacobs. He knew Emil
had buried his wife nine months earlier after a courageous fight with cancer. He'd taken it hard, of
course, but there were so many good things to remember about Ruth. And he had a job to keep him
busy. Everyone needed that, and Jacobs more than most.
In the terminal, a man with a 35mm Nikon and a long lens had been snapping pictures for the past
two hours - When the limousine and its escorts started moving off the airport grounds, he removed the
lens from the body, set both in his camera case, and walked off to a bank of telephones.
The limousine moved quickly, with one jeep in front and another behind. Expensive cars with
armed escorts were not terribly unusual in Colombia, and they moved out from the airport at a brisk
clip. You had to spot the license plate to know that the car was American. The four men in each jeep
had not known of their escort job until five minutes before they left, and the route, though predictable,
wasn't a long one. There shouldn't have been time for anyone to set up an ambush - assuming that
anyone would be crazy enough to consider such a thing.
After all, killing an American ambassador was crazy; it had only happened recently in the Sudan,
Afghanistan, Pakistan… And no one had ever made a serious attempt on an FBI Director.
The car they drove in was a Cadillac Fleetwood chassis. Its special equipment included thick
Lexan windows that could stop a machine-gun bullet, and Kevlar armor all around the passenger
compartment. The tires were foam-filled against flattening, and the gas tank of a design similar to that
used on military aircraft as protection against explosion. Not surprisingly, the car was known in the
embassy motor pool as the Tank.
The driver knew how to handle it as skillfully as a NASCAR professional. He had engine power
to race at over a hundred miles per hour; he could throw the three-ton vehicle into a bootlegger turn
and reverse directions like a movie stunt driver. His eyes flickered between the road ahead and the
rearview mirror. There had been one car following them, for two or three miles, but it turned
off. Probably nothing, he judged. Somebody else coming home from the airport… The car also had
sophisticated radio gear to call for help. They were heading to the embassy. Though the ambassador
had a separate residence, a pretty two-story house set on six sculpted acres of garden and woodland,
it wasn't secure enough for his visitors. Like most contemporary American embassies, this one
looked to be a cross between a low-rise office block and part of the Siegfried Line.
VOX IDENT, his computer screen read, two thousand miles away:
VOICE 34 INIT CALL TO UNKNOWN RECIP FRQ 889.980MHZ CALL INIT 225
INTERCEPT IDENT 381.
Tony donned the headphones and listened in on the tape-delay system.
"Nothing," he said a moment later. "Somebody's taking a drive."
At the embassy, the legal attaché paced nervously in the lobby. Special Agent Pete Morales of the
FBI should have been at the airport. It was his director coming in, but the security pukes said only
one car because it was a surprise visit - and surprise, everyone knew, was better than a massive
show of force. The everybodies who knew did not include Morales, who believed in showing
force. It was bad enough having to live down here. Morales was from California; though his
surname was Hispanic, his family had been in the San Francisco area when Major Fremont had
arrived, and he'd had to brush up on his somewhat removed mother tongue to take his current job,
which job also meant leaving his wife and kids behind in the States. As his most recent report had
told headquarters, it was dangerous down here. Dangerous for the local citizens, dangerous for
Americans, and very dangerous indeed for American cops.
Morales checked his watch. About two more minutes. He started moving to the door.
"Right on time," a man noted three blocks from the embassy. He spoke into a hand-held radio.
Until recently, the RPG-7D had been the standard-issue Soviet light antitank weapon. It traces its
ancestry to the German Panzerfaust, and was only recently replaced by the RPG-18, a close copy of
the American M-72 LAW rocket. The adoption of the new weapon allowed millions of the old ones
to be disposed of, adding to the already abundant supply in arms bazaars all over the
world. Designed to punch holes in battle tanks, it is not an especially easy weapon to use. Which
was why there were four of them aimed at the ambassador's limousine.
The car proceeded south, down Carrera 13 in the district known as Palermo, slowing now
because of the traffic. Had the Director's bodyguards known the name of the district and designation
of the street, they might have objected merely on grounds of superstition. The slow speed of the
traffic here in the city itself made everyone nervous, especially the soldiers in the escort jeeps who
craned their necks looking up into the windows of various buildings. It is a fact so obvious as to be
misunderstood that one cannot ordinarily look into a window from outside. Even an open window is
merely a rectangle darker than the exterior wall, and the eye adjusts to ambient light, not to light in a
specific place. There was no warning.
What made the deaths of the Americans inevitable was something as prosaic as a traffic light. A
technician was working on a balky signal - people had been complaining about it for a week - and
while checking the timing mechanism, he flipped it to red. Everyone stopped on the street, almost
within sight of the embassy. From third-floor windows on both sides of the street, four separate
RPG-7D projectiles streaked straight down. Three hit the car, two of them on the roof.
The flash was enough. Morales was moving even before the noise reached the embassy gates,
and he ran with full knowledge of the futility of the gesture. His right hand wrenched his Smith &
Wesson automatic from the waist holster, and he carried it as training prescribed, pointed straight
up. It took just over two minutes.
The driver was still alive, thrown from the car and bleeding to death from holes that no doctor
could ever patch in time. The soldiers in the lead jeep were nowhere to be seen, though there was
blood on a rear seat. The trail jeep's driver was still at the wheel, his hands clutching at a face
shredded with broken glass, and the man next to him was dead, but again the other two were gone Then Morales knew why. Automatic weapons fire erupted in a building to his left. It started,
stopped, then began again. A scream came from a window, and that also stopped. Morales wanted to
race into the building, but he had no jurisdiction, and was too much a professional to risk his life so
foolishly. He moved up to the smashed limousine. He knew that this, too, was futile.
They'd all died instantly, or as quickly as any man might die. The Director's two bodyguards had
worn Kevlar armor. That would stop bullets, but not fragments from a high-explosive warhead, and
had proven no more effective than the armor in the Tank. Morales knew what had hit the car weapons designed to destroy tanks. Real ones. For those inside, the only remarkable thing was that
you could tell that they had once been human. There was nothing anyone could do, except a priest…
or rabbi. Morales turned away after a few seconds.
He stood alone in the street, still operating on his professional training, not letting his humanity
affect his judgment. The one living soldier in view was too injured to move - probably had no idea
where he was or what had happened to him. None of the people on the sidewalk had come to help…
but some of them, he saw, were hurt, too, and their injuries occupied the attention of the
others. Morales realized that the damage to the car told everyone else in view where they might best
spend their efforts. The agent turned to scan up and down the street. He didn't see the technician at
the light-control box. The man was already gone.
Two soldiers came out of a building, one carrying what looked like an RPG-7 launcher
unit. Morales recognized one of them, Captain Edmundo Garza. There was blood on his khaki shirt
and pants, and in his eyes the wild look that Morales hadn't seen since his time in the Marine
Corps. Behind him, two more men dragged yet another who'd been shot in the arms and the
groin. Morales bolstered his automatic before going over, slowly, his hands visible until he was sure
he'd been recognized.
"Capitán…" Morales said.
"One more dead upstairs, and one of mine. Four teams. Getaway cars in the alleys." Garza
looked at the blood on his upper arm with annoyance that was rapidly changing to appreciation of his
wounds. But there was something more than shock to postpone the pain. The captain looked at the
car for the first time in several minutes, hoping that his immediate impression might have been wrong
and knowing that it could not be. His handsome, bloody face looked at the American and received a
shake by way of reply. Garza was a proud man, a professional soldier dedicated to his country as
thoroughly as any man could be, and he'd been chosen for this assignment for his combination of skill
and integrity. A man who did not fear death, he had just suffered the thing all soldiers fear more. He
had failed in his mission. Not knowing why only made it worse.
Garza continued to ignore his wounds, turning to their one prisoner. "We will talk," the captain
promised him just before he collapsed into Morales' arms.
"Hi, Jack!" Dan and Liz Murray had just arrived at the Ryan house. Dan had to remove his
automatic and holster, which he set on the shelf in the closet with something of a sheepish look.
"I figured you for a revolver," Jack said with a grin. It was the first time that they'd had the
Murrays over.
"I miss my Python, but the Bureau's switching over to automatics. Besides, I don't chase bad guys
anymore. I chase memos, and position papers, and budget estimates." A rueful shake of the head.
"What fun."
"I know the feeling," Ryan agreed, leading Murray to the kitchen. "Beer?"
"Sounds good to me."
They'd first met in London, at St. Thomas's Hospital to be precise, some years earlier when
Murray had been legal attaché to the American Embassy, and Ryan had been a shooting victim. Still
tall and spare, his hair a little thinner but not yet gray, Murray was an affable, free-spirited man whom
one would never pick for a cop, much less one of the best around. A gifted investigator, he'd hunted
down every sort of criminal there was, and though he now chafed at his absence from hands-on police
work, he was handling his administrative job as skillfully as all his others.
"What's this sting I heard about?" Jack asked.
"TARPON? The Cartel murdered a guy who was laundering money for them on a very big scale and doing some major-league skimming, too. He left records behind. We found them. It's been a
busy couple of weeks running all the leads down."
"I heard six-hundred-plus-million bucks."
"It'll go higher. The Swiss cracked open a new account this afternoon."
"Ouch." Ryan popped open a couple of beers. "That's a real sting, isn't it?"
"I think they'll notice this one," Murray agreed. "What's this I hear about your new job?"
"You probably heard right. It's just that you don't want to get a promotion this way."
"Yeah. I've never met Admiral Greer, but the Director thinks a lot of him."
"Two of a kind. Old-fashioned honorable gentlemen," Jack observed. "Endangered species."
"Hello, Mr. Murray," Sally Ryan said from the door.
"Mister Murray?"
"Uncle Dan!" Sally raced up and delivered a ferocious hug. "Aunt Liz says that you and Daddy
better get out there," she said with a giggle.
"Why do we let them push us warriors around, Jack?"
" 'Cause they're tougher than we are?" Ryan wondered.
Dan laughed. "Yeah, that explains it. I -" Then his beeper went off. Murray pulled the small
plastic box from his belt. In a moment the LCD panel showed the number he was supposed to call.
"You know, I'd like to waste the bastard who invented these things."
"He's already dead," Jack replied deadpan. "He came into a hospital emergency room with chest
pains, and after the doc figured out who he was, they were a little slow getting around to treating
him. The doc explained later that he had had an important phone call come in, and… oh, well…"
Ryan's demeanor changed. "You need a secure line? I have one in the library."
"Color me important," Murray observed. "No. Can I use this one?"
"Sure, the bottom button's a D.C. line."
Murray punched in the number without referring to his beeper. It was Shaw's office. "Murray
here. You rang, Alice? Okay… Hi, Bill, what gives?"
It was as though the room took a sudden chill. Ryan felt it before he understood the change in
Murray's face.
"No chance that - oh, yeah, I know Pete." Murray checked his watch. "Be there in forty minutes."
He hung up.
"What happened?"
"Somebody killed the Director," Dan answered simply.
"What - where?"
"Bogotá. He was down for a quiet meeting, along with the head of DEA. Flew down this
afternoon. They kept it real quiet."
"No chance that -"
Murray shook his head. "The attaché down there's Pete Morales. Good agent, I worked OC with
him once. He said they were all killed instantly. Emil, Harry Jefferson, the ambassador, all the
security guys." He stopped and read the look on Jack's face. "Yeah, somebody had some pretty good
intel on this."
Ryan nodded. "This is where I came in…"
"I don't think there's a street agent in the Bureau who doesn't love that man." Murray set his beer
down on the counter.
"Sorry, pal."
"What was it you said? Endangered species?" Murray shook his head and went to collect his
wife. Ryan hadn't even closed the door behind them when his secure phone started ringing.
The Hideaway, located only a few miles from the Luray Caverns, was a modern building despite
its deliberate lack of some modern amenities. While there was no in-room cable television, no payfor-view satellite service, no complimentary paper outside the door every morning, there was air
conditioning, running water, and the room-service menu was six pages long, supplemented by ten full
pages of wine listings. The hotel catered to newlyweds who needed few distractions and to others
trying to save their marriages from distractions. Service was on the European model. The guest
wasn't expected to do anything but eat, drink, and rumple the linen, though there were saddle horses,
tennis courts, and a swimming pool for those few whose suite didn't include a bathtub large enough
for the purpose. Moira watched her lover tip the bellman ten dollars - far more than he ever tipped
anyone - before she thought to ask the most obvious question.
"How did you register?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Juan Díaz." Another embarrassed look. "Forgive me, but I didn't know what else to
say. I didn't think" - he lied haltingly. "And I didn't want - what could I say without embarrassing
myself?" he finally asked with a frustrated gesture.
"Well, I need a shower. Since we are husband and wife, you may join me. It looks big enough
for two." She walked from the room, dropping her silk blouse on the bed as she went.
Five minutes later, Cortez decided that the shower was easily big enough for four. But as things
turned out, that was just as well.
The President had flown to Camp David for the weekend, and had barely showered himself when
his junior military aide - a Marine lieutenant had the duty - brought him the cordless phone.
"Yes - what is it?"
The lieutenant's first reaction on seeing the President's expression was to wonder where his pistol
was.
"I want the Attorney General, Admiral Cutter, Judge Moore, and Bob Ritter flown here
immediately. Tell the press secretary to call me in fifteen minutes to work on the statement. I'll be
staying here for the time being. What about bringing them back home? Okay - we have a couple of
hours to think about that. For now, the usual protocol. That's right. No, nothing from State. I'll
handle it from here, then the secretary can have his say. Thank you." The President pushed the kill
button on the phone and handed it back to the Marine.
"Sir, is there anything that the guard detail needs -"
"No." The President explained briefly what had happened. "Carry on, Lieutenant."
"Aye aye, sir." The Marine left.
The President put on his bathrobe and walked over to the mirror to comb his hair. He had to use
the terrycloth of his sleeve to wipe the condensation off the glass. Had he noticed, he would have
wondered why the look in his eyes didn't shatter it.
"Okay," the President of the United States told the mirror. "So you bastards want to play…"
The flight from Andrews to Camp David was made in one of the new VH-60 Blackhawk
helicopters that the 89th Military Airlift Wing had just acquired. Plushly appointed to carry VIPs
from place to place, it was still too noisy for anything approximating a normal conversation. Each of
the four passengers stared out the windows on the sliding doors, watching the western Maryland hills
slide beneath the aircraft, each alone with his grief and his anger. The trip took twenty minutes. The
pilot had been told to hurry.
On touching down, the four men were loaded into a car for the short drive to the President's cabin
on the grounds. They found him hanging up the phone. It had taken half an hour to locate his press
secretary, further exacerbating the President's already stormy mood.
Admiral Cutter started to say something about how sorry everyone was, but the President's
expression cut him short.
The President sat down on a couch opposite the fireplace. In front of him was what most people
ordinarily took to be a coffee table, but now, with the top removed, it was a set of computer screens
and quiet thermal printers that tapped into the major news wire services and other government
information channels. Four television sets were in the next room, tuned into CNN and the major
networks. The four visitors stared down at him, watching the anger come off the President like steam
from a boiling pot.
"We will not let this one slip past with us standing by and deploring the event," the President said
quietly as he looked up. "They killed my friend. They killed my ambassador. They have directly
challenged the sovereign power of the United States of America. They want to play with the big
boys," the President went on in a voice that was grotesquely calm. "Well, they're going to have to
play by the big boys' rules. Peter," he said to the AG, "there is now an informal Presidential Finding
that the drug Cartel has initiated an undeclared war against the government of the United States. They
have chosen to act like a hostile nation-state. We will treat them as we would treat a hostile nationstate. As President, I am resolved to carry the fight to the enemy as we would carry it to any other
originator of state-sponsored terrorism."
The AG didn't like that, but nodded agreement anyway. The President turned to Moore and Ritter.
"The gloves come off. I just made the usual wimpy-ass statement for my press secretary to
deliver, but the fucking gloves come off. Come up with a plan. I want these bastards hurt. No more
of this 'sending a message' crap. I want them to get the message whether the phone rings or not. Mr.
Ritter, you have your hunting license, and there's no bag limit. Is that sufficiently clear?"
"Yes, sir," the DDO answered. Actually, it wasn't. The President hadn't said "kill" once, as the
tape recorders that were surely somewhere in this room would show. But there were some things that
you didn't do, and one of them was that you did not force the President to speak clearly when clarity
was something he wished to avoid.
"Find yourselves a cabin and come up with a plan. Peter, I want you to stay here with me for a
while." The next message: the Attorney General, once having acceded to the President's desire to Do
Something, didn't need to know exactly what was going to be done. Admiral Cutter, who was more
familiar with Camp David than the other two, led the way to one of the guest cabins. Since he was in
front, Moore and Ritter could not see the smile on his face.
Ryan was just getting to his office, having driven himself in, a habit which he had just
unlearned. The senior intelligence watch officer was waiting for him in the corridor as Jack got off
the elevator. The briefing took a whole four minutes, after which Ryan found himself sitting in the
office with nothing at all to do. It was strange. He was now privy to everything the U.S. government
knew about the assassination of its people - not much more than what he'd heard on the car radio
coming in, actually, though he now had names to put on the "unnamed sources." Sometimes that was
important, but not this time. The DCI and DDO, he learned at once, were up at Camp David with the
President.
Why not me? Jack asked himself in surprise.
It should have occurred to him immediately, of course, but he was not yet used to being a senior
executive. With nothing to do, his mind went along that tangent for several minutes. The conclusion
was an obvious one. He didn't need to know what was being talked about - but that had to mean that
something was already happening, didn't it… ? If so, what? And for how long?
By noon the next day, an Air Force C-141B Starlifter transport had landed at El Dorado
International, Security was like nothing anyone had seen since the funeral of Anwar Sadat. Armed
helicopters circled overhead. Armored vehicles sat with their gun tubes trained outward. A full
battalion of paratroops ringed the airport, which was shut down for three hours. That didn't count the
honor guard, of course, all of whom felt as though they had no honor at all, that it had been stripped
away from their army and their nation by… them.
Esteban Cardinal Valdez prayed over the coffins, accompanied by the chief rabbi of Bogotá's
small Jewish community. The Vice President attended on behalf of the American government, and
one by one the Colombian Army handed the caskets over to enlisted pallbearers from all of the
American uniformed services. The usual, predictable speeches were made, the most eloquent being a
brief address by Colombia's Attorney General, who shed unashamed tears for his friend and college
classmate. The Vice President boarded his aircraft and left, followed by the big Lockheed transport.
The President's statement, already delivered, spoke of reaffirming the rule of law to which Emil
Jacobs had dedicated his life. But that statement seemed as thin as the air at El Dorado International
even to those who didn't know better.
In the town of Eight Mile, Alabama, a suburb of Mobile, a police sergeant named Ernie Braden
was cutting his front lawn with a riding mower. A burglary investigator, he knew all the tricks of the
people whose crimes he handled, including how to bypass complex alarm systems, even the
sophisticated models used by wealthy investment bankers. That skill, plus the information he picked
up from office chatter - the narcs' bullpen was right next to the burglary section - enabled him to offer
his services to people who had money with which to pay for the orthodonture and education of his
children. It wasn't so much that Braden was a corrupt cop as that he'd simply been on the job for over
twenty years and no longer gave much of a damn. If people wanted to use drugs, then the hell with
them. If druggies wanted to kill one another off, then so much the better for the rest of society. And if
some arrogant prick of a banker turned out to be a crook among crooks, then that also was too bad; all
Braden had been asked to do was shake the man's house to make sure that he'd left no records
behind. It was a shame about the man's wife and kids, of course, but that was called playing with fire.
Braden rationalized the damage done to society simply by continuing to investigate his burglaries,
and even catching a real hood from time to time, though that was rare enough. Burglary was a pretty
safe crime to commit. It never got the attention it deserved. Neither did the people whose job it was
to track them down - probably the most unrewarded segment of the law-enforcement profession. He'd
been taking the lieutenant's exam for nine years, and never quite made it. Braden needed or at least
wanted the money that the promotion would bring, only to see the promotions go to the hotshots in
Narcotics and Homicide while he slaved away… and why not take the goddamned money? More
than anything else, Ernie Braden was tired of it all. Tired of the long hours. Tired of the crime
victims who took their frustration out on him when he was just trying to do his job. Tired of being
unappreciated within his own community of police officers. Tired of being sent out to local schools
for the pro forma anticrime lectures that nobody ever listened to. He was even tired of coaching
little-league baseball, though that had once been the single joy of his life. Tired of just about
everything. But he couldn't afford to retire, either. Not yet, anyway.
The noise from the Sears riding mower crackled through the hot, humid air of the quiet street on
which he and his family lived. He wiped a handkerchief across his sweaty brow and contemplated
the cold beer he'd have as soon as he was finished. It could have been worse. Until three years ago
he'd pushed a goddamned Lawn-Boy across the grass. At least now he could sit down as he did his
weekly chore, cutting the goddamned grass. His wife had a real thing about the lawn and garden. As
if it mattered, Braden grumbled.
He concentrated on the job at hand, making sure that the spinning blades had at least two sweeps
over every square inch of the green crap that, this early in the season, grew almost as fast as you cut
it. He didn't notice the Plymouth minivan coming down the street. Nor did he know that the people
who paid him his supplementary income were most unhappy with a recent clandestine effort he'd
made on their behalf.
Braden had several eccentricities, as do many men and most police officers. In his case, he never
went anywhere unarmed. Not even to cut the grass. Under the back of his greasy shirt was a Smith &
Wesson Chief's Special, a five-shot stainless steel revolver that was as close as he'd ever get to
something with "chief" written on it. When he finally noticed the minivan pull up behind his Chevy
Citation, he took little note of it, except that there were two men in it, and they seemed to be looking
at him.
His cop's instinct didn't entirely fail him, however. They were looking real hard at him. That
made him look back, mainly in curiosity. Who'd be interested in him on a Saturday afternoon? When
the passenger-side door opened and he saw the gun, that question faded away.
When Braden rolled off the mower, his foot came off the brake pedal, which had the opposite
effect as in a car. The mower stopped in two feet, its blades still churning away on the bluegrassand-fescue mix of the policeman's front yard. Braden came off just at the ejection port of the mower
assembly, and felt tiny bits of grit and sand peppering his knees, but that, too, was not a matter of
importance at the moment. His revolver was already out when the man from the van fired his first
round.
He was using an Ingram Mac-10, probably a 9-millimeter, and the man didn't know how to use it
well. His first round was roughly on target, but the next eight merely decorated the sky as the
notoriously unstable weapon jerked out of control, not even hitting the mower. Sergeant Braden fired
two rounds back, but the range was over ten yards, and the Chief's Special had only a two-inch
barrel, which gave it an effective combat range measured in feet, not yards. With the instant and
unexpected stress added to his poorly selected weapon, he managed to hit the van behind his target
with only one round.
But machine-gun fire is a highly distinctive sound - not the least mistakable for firecrackers or any
other normal noise - and the neighborhood immediately realized that something very unusual was
happening. At a house across the street a fifteen-year-old boy was cleaning his rifle. It was an old
Marlin .22 lever-action that had once belonged to his grandfather, and its proud owner had learned to
play third base from Sergeant Braden, whom he thought to be a really neat guy. The young man in
question, Erik Sanderson, set down his cleaning gear and walked to the window just in time to see his
former coach shooting from behind his mower at somebody. In the clarity that comes in such
moments, Erik Sanderson realized that people were trying to kill his coach, a police officer, that he
had a rifle and cartridges ten feet away, and that it Would Be All Right for him to use the rifle to
come to the aid of the policeman. The fact that he'd spent the morning plinking away at tin cans
merely meant that he was ready. Erik Sanderson's main ambition in life was to become a U.S.
Marine, and he seized the chance to get an early feel for what it was all about.
While the sound of gunfire continued to crackle around the wooded street, he grabbed the rifle and
a handful of the small copper-colored rimfire cartridges and ran out to the front porch. First he
twisted the spring-loaded rod that pushed rounds down the magazine tube which hung under the
barrel. He pulled it out too far, dropping it, but the young man had the good sense to ignore that for
the moment. He fed the.22 rounds into the loading slot one at a time, surprised that his hands were
already sweaty. When he had fourteen rounds in, he bent down to get the rod, and two rounds fell out
the front of the tube. He took the time to reload them, reinserted the rod, twisting it shut, then
slammed his hand down and up on the lever, loading the gun and cocking the exposed hammer.
He was surprised to see that he didn't have a shot, and ran down the sidewalk to the street, taking
a position across the hood of his father's pickup truck. From this point he could see two men, each
firing a submachine gun from the hip. He looked just in time to see Sergeant Braden fire off his last
round, which missed as badly as the first four had. The police officer turned to run for the safety of
his house, but tripped over his own feet and had trouble getting up. Both gunmen advanced on
Braden, loading new magazines into their weapons. Erik Sanderson's hands were trembling as he
shouldered his rifle. It had old-fashioned iron sights, and he had to stop and remind himself how to
line them up as he'd been taught in Boy Scouts, with the front-sight post centered in the notch of the
rear-sight leaf, the top of the post even with the top of the leaf as he maneuvered it on a target.
He was horrified to be too late. Both men blew his little-league coach to shreds with extended
bursts at point-blank range. Something snapped inside Erik's head at that moment. He sighted on the
head of the nearer gunman and jerked off his round.
Like most young and inexperienced shooters, he immediately looked up to see what had
happened. Nothing. He'd missed - with a rifle at a range of only thirty yards, he'd missed. Amazed,
he sighted again and squeezed the trigger, but nothing happened. The hammer was down. He'd
forgotten to cock the rifle. Swearing something his mother would have slapped him to hear, he
reloaded the Marlin .22 and took exquisitely careful aim, squeezing off his next shot.
The murderers hadn't heard his first shot, and with their ears still ringing from their own shots,
they didn't hear the second, but one man's head jerked to the side with the wasp's-sting impact of the
round. The man knew what had happened, turned to his left, and fired off a long burst despite the
crushing pain that seized his head in an instant. The other one saw Erik and fired as well.
But the young man was now jacking rounds into the breech of his rifle as fast as he could fire
them. He watched in rage as he kept missing, unconsciously flinching as bullets came his way, trying
to kill both men before they could get back into their car. He had the satisfaction of seeing them duck
behind cover, and wasted his last three rounds trying to shoot through the car body to get them. But a
.22 can't accomplish that, and the minivan pulled away.
Erik watched it pull away, wishing he'd loaded more rounds into his rifle, wishing that he could
try a shot through the back window before the car turned right and disappeared.
The young man didn't have the courage to go over and see what had happened to Sergeant
Braden. He just stayed there, leaning across the truck, cursing himself for letting them get away. He
didn't know, and would never believe, that he had, in fact, done better than many trained police
officers could have done.
In the minivan, one of the gunmen took more note of the bullet in his chest than the one in his
head. But it was the head shot that would kill him. As the man bent down, a lacerated artery let go
completely and showered the inside of the car with blood, much to the surprise of the dying man, who
had but a few seconds to realize what had happ Another Air Force flight, as luck had it, also a C-141B, took Mr. Clark out of Panama, heading for
Andrews, where rapid preparations were being made for the arrival ceremony. Before the funeral
flight arrived, Clark was in Langley talking to his boss, Bob Ritter. For the first time in a generation,
the Operations Directorate had been granted a presidential hunting license. John Clark, carried on the
personnel rolls as a case-officer instructor, was the CIA chief hunter. He hadn't been asked to
exercise that particular talent in a very long time, but he still knew how.
Ritter and Clark didn't watch the TV coverage of the arrival. All that was part of history now,
and while both men had an interest in history, it was mainly in the sort that is never written down.
"We're going to take another look at the idea you handed me at St. Kitts," the Deputy Director
(Operations) said.
"What's the objective?" Clark asked carefully. It wasn't hard to guess why this was happening, or
the originator of the directive. That was the reason for his caution.
"The short version is revenge," Ritter answered.
"Retribution is a more acceptable word," Clark pointed out. Lacking in formal education though
he was, he did read a good deal.
"The targets represent a clear and present danger to the security of the United States."
"The President said that?"
"His words," Ritter affirmed.
"Fine. That makes it all legal. Not any less dangerous, but legal."
"Can you do it?"
Clark smiled in a distant, smoky way. "I run my side of the op my way. Otherwise, forget it. I
don't want to die from oversight. No interference from this end. You give me the target list and the
assets I need. I do the rest, my way, my schedule."
"Agreed," Ritter nodded.
Clark was more than surprised by that. "Then I can do it. What about the kids we have running
around in the jungle?"
"We're pulling them out tonight."
"To be reinserted where?" Clark asked.
Ritter told him.
"That's really dangerous," the case officer observed, though he was not surprised by the
answer. It had probably been planned all along. But, if it had…
"We know that."
"I don't like it," Clark said after a moment's thought. "It complicates things."
"We don't pay you to like it."
Clark had to agree to that. He was honest enough with himself, though, to admit that part of it he
did like. A job such as this, after all, had gotten him into the protective embrace of the Central
Intelligence Agency in the first place, so many years before. But that job had been on a free-agent
basis. This one was legal, but arguably. Once that would not have mattered to Mr. Clark, but with a
wife and kids, it did now.
"Do I get to see the family for a couple of days?"
"Sure. It'll take awhile to get things in place. I'll have all the information you need messengered
down to The Farm."
"What do we call this one?"
"RECIPROCITY."
"I guess that about covers it." Clark's face broke into a grin. He walked out of the room toward
the elevator. The new DDI was there, Dr. Ryan, heading to Judge Moore's office. They'd never quite
met, Clark and Ryan, and this wasn't the time, though their lives had already touched on two
occasions.
14. Snatch and Grab
I MUST THANK your Director Jacobs," Juan said. "Perhaps we will meet someday." He'd taken
his time with this one. Soon, he judged, he'd be able to extract any information he wanted from her
with the same intimate confidence that might be expected of husband and wife - after all, true love did
not allow for secrets, did it?
"Perhaps," Moira replied after a moment. Already part of her was thinking that the Director
would come to her wedding. It wasn't too much to hope for, was it?
"What did he travel to Colombia for, anyway?" he asked while his fingertips did some more
exploring over what was now very familiar ground.
"Well, it's public information now. They called it Operation TARPON." Moira explained on for
several minutes during which Juan's caresses didn't miss a beat.
Which was only due to his experience as an intelligence officer. He actually found himself
smiling lazily at the ceiling. The fool. I warned him. I warned him more than once in his own
office, but no - he was too smart, too confident in his own cleverness to take my advice. Well,
maybe the stupid bastard will heed my advice now… It took another few moments before he found
himself asking how his employer would react. That was when the smiling and the caresses stopped.
"Something wrong, Juan?"
"Your director picked a dangerous time to visit Bogotá. They will be very angry. If they
discover that he is there -"
"The trip is a secret. Their attorney general is an old friend I think they went to school together, and they've known each other for forty years."
The trip was a secret. Cortez told himself that they couldn't be so foolish as to - but they
could. He was amazed that Moira didn't feel the chill that swept over his body. But what could he
do?
As was true of the families of military people and sales executives, Clark's family was
accustomed to having him away at short notice and for irregular intervals. They were also used to
having him reappear without much in the way of warning. It was almost a game, and one, strangely
enough, to which his wife didn't object. In this case he took a car from the CIA pool and made the
two-and-a-half-hour drive to Yorktown, Virginia, by himself to think over the operation he was about
to undertake. By the time he turned off Interstate 64, he'd answered most of the procedural questions,
though the exact details would wait until he'd had a chance to go over the intelligence package that
Ritter had promised to send down.
Clark's house was that of a middle-level executive, a four-bedroom split-foyer brick dwelling set
in an acre of the long-needled pines common to the American South. It was a ten-minute drive from
The Farm, the CIA's training establishment whose post-office address is Williamsburg, Virginia, but
which is actually closer to Yorktown, adjacent to an installation in which the Navy keeps both
submarine-launched ballistic missiles and their nuclear warheads. The development in which he
lived was mainly occupied by other CIA instructors, obviating the need for elaborate stories for the
neighbors' benefit. His family, of course, had a pretty good idea what he did for a living. His two
daughters, Maggie, seventeen, and Patricia, fourteen, occasionally called him "Secret Agent Man,"
which they'd picked up from the revival of the Patrick McGoohan TV series on one of the cable
channels, but they knew not to discuss it with their schoolmates - though they would occasionally
warn their boyfriends to behave as responsibly as possible around their father. It was an unnecessary
warning. On instinct, most men watched their behavior around Mr. Clark. John Clark did not have
horns and hooves, but it seldom took more than a single glance to know that he was not to be trifled
with, either. His wife, Sandy, knew even more, including what he had done before joining the
Agency. Sandy was a registered nurse who taught student nurses in the operating rooms of the local
teaching hospital. As such she was accustomed to dealing with issues of life and death, and she took
comfort from the fact that her husband was one of the few "laymen" who understood what that was all
about, albeit from a reversed perspective. To his wife and children, John Terence Clark was a
devoted husband and father, if somewhat overly protective at times. Maggie had once complained
that he'd scared off one prospective "steady" with nothing more than a look. That the boy in question
had later been arrested for drunken driving had only proved her father correct, rather to her
chagrin. He was also a far easier touch than their mother on issues like privileges and had a ready
shoulder to cry on, when he was home. At home, his counsel was invariably quiet and reasoned, his
language mild, and his demeanor relaxed, but his family knew that away from home he was something
else entirely. They didn't care about that.
He pulled into the driveway just before dinnertime, taking his soft two-suiter in through the
kitchen to find the smells of a decent dinner. Sandy had been surprised too many times to overreact
on the matter of how much food she'd prepared.
"Where have you been?" Sandy asked rhetorically, then went into her usual guessing game. "Not
much work done on the tan. Someplace cold or cloudy?"
"Spent most of my time indoors," Clark replied honestly. Stuck with a couple of clowns in a
damned comma van on a hilltop surrounded by jungle. Just like the bad old days. Almost. For all
her intelligence, she almost never guessed where he'd been. But then, she wasn't supposed to.
"How long… ?"
"Only a couple of days, then I have to go out again. It's important."
"Anything to do with -" Her head jerked toward the kitchen TV.
Clark just smiled and shook his head.
"What do you think happened?"
"From what I see, the druggies got real lucky," he said lightly.
Sandy knew what her husband thought of druggies, and why. Everyone had a pet hate. That was
his - and hers; she'd been a nurse too long, had too often seen the results of substance abuse, to think
otherwise. It was the one thing he'd lectured the girls on, and though they were as rebellious as any
pair of healthy adolescents, it was one line they didn't approach, much less cross.
"The President sounds angry."
"How would you feel? The FBI Director was his friend - as far as a politician has friends."
Clark felt the need to qualify the statement. He was wary of political figures, even the ones he'd
voted for.
"What is he going to do about it?"
"I don't know, Sandy." I haven't quite figured it out yet. "Where are the kids?"
"They went to Busch Gardens with their friends. There's a new coaster, and they're probably
screaming their brains out."
"Do I have time to shower? I've been traveling all day."
"Dinner in thirty minutes."
"Fine." He kissed her again and headed for the bedroom with his bag. Before entering the
bathroom, he emptied his dirty laundry into the hamper. Clark would give himself one restful day
with the family before starting on his mission planning. There wasn't that much of a hurry. For
missions of this sort, haste made death. He hoped the politicians would understand that.
Of course, they wouldn't, he told himself on the way to the shower. They never did.
"Don't feel bad," Moira told him. "You're tired. I'm sorry I've worn you out." She cradled his
face to her chest. A man was not a machine, after all, and five times in just over one day's time…
what could she fairly expect of her lover? He had to sleep, had to rest. As did she, Moira realized,
drifting off herself.
Within minutes, Cortez gently disengaged himself, watching her slow, steady breathing, a dreamy
smile on her placid face while he wondered what the hell he could do. If anything. Place a phone
call - risk everything for a brief conversation on a non-secure line? The Colombian police or the
Americans, or somebody had to have taps on all those phones. No, that was more dangerous than
doing nothing at all.
His professionalism told him that the safest course of action was to do nothing. Cortez looked
down at himself. Nothing was precisely what he had just accomplished. It was the first time that had
happened in a very long time.
Team KNIFE, of course, was completely - if not blissfully - unaware of what had transpired the
previous day. The jungle had no news service, and their radio was for official use only. That made
the new message all the more surprising. Chavez and Vega were again on duty at the observation
post, enduring the muggy heat that followed a violent thunderstorm. There had been two inches of
rain in the previous hour, and their observation point was now a shallow puddle, and there would be
more rain in the afternoon before things cleared off.
Captain Ramirez appeared, without much in the way of warning this time, even to Chavez, whose
woodcraft skills were a matter of considerable pride. He rationalized to himself that the captain had
learned from watching him.
"Hey, Cap'n," Vega greeted their officer.
"Anything going on?" Ramirez asked.
Chavez answered from behind his binoculars. "Well, our two friends are enjoying their morning
siesta." There would be another in the afternoon, of course. He was pulled away from the lenses by
the captain's next statement.
"I hope they like it. It's their last one."
"Say again, Cap'n?" Vega asked.
"The chopper's coming in to pick us up tonight. That's the LZ right there, troops." Ramirez
pointed to the airstrip. "We waste this place before we leave."
Chavez evaluated that statement briefly. He'd never liked druggies. Having to sit here and watch
the lazy bastards go about their business as matter-of-factly as a man on a golf course hadn't mitigated
his feelings a dot.
Ding nodded. "Okay, Cap'n. How we gonna do it, sir?"
"Soon as it's dark, you and me circle around the north side. Rest of the squad forms up in two fire
teams to provide fire support in case we need it. Vega, you and your SAW stay here. The other one
goes down about four hundred meters. After we do the two guards, we booby-trap the fuel drums in
the shack, just as a farewell present. The chopper'll pick us up at the far end at twenty-three
hundred. We bring the bodies out with us, probably dump 'em at sea."
Well, how about that, Chavez thought. "We'll need like thirty-forty minutes to get around to them,
just to play it safe and all, but the way those two fuckers been actin', no sweat, sir." The sergeant
knew that the killing would be his job. He had the silenced weapon.
"You're supposed to ask me if this is for-real," Captain Ramirez pointed out. He had done just
that over the satellite radio.
"Sir, you say do it, I figure it's for-real. It don't bother me none," Staff Sergeant Domingo Chavez
assured his commander.
"Okay - we'll move out as soon as it's dark."
"Yes, sir."
The captain patted both men on the shoulder and withdrew to the rally point. Chavez watched him
leave, then pulled out his canteen. He unscrewed the plastic top and took a long pull before looking
over at Vega.
"Fuck!" the machine-gunner observed quietly.
"Whoever's runnin' this party musta grown a pair o' balls," Ding agreed.
"Be nice to get back to a place with showers and air conditioning," Vega said next. That two
people would have to die to make that possible was, once it was decided, a matter of small
consequence. It bemused both men somewhat that after years of uniformed service they were finally
being told to do the very thing for which they'd trained endlessly. The moral issue never occurred to
them. They were soldiers of their country. Their country had decided that those two dozing men a
few hundred meters away were enemies worthy of death. That was that, though both men wondered
what it would actually be like to do it.
"Let's plan this one out," Chavez said, getting back to his binoculars. "I want you to be careful
with that SAW, Oso."
Vega considered the situation. "I won't fire to the left of the shack unless you call in."
"Yeah, okay. I'll come in from the direction of that big-ass tree. Shouldn't be no big deal," he
thought aloud.
"Nah, shouldn't be."
Except that this time it was all real. Chavez stayed on the glasses, examining the men whom he
would kill in a few hours.
Colonel Johns got his stand-to order at roughly the same time as all of the field teams, along with
a whole new set of tactical maps that were for further study. He and Captain Willis went over the
plan for this night in the privacy of their room. There was a snatch-and-grab tonight. The troops
they'd inserted were coming back out far earlier than scheduled. PJ suspected that he knew why. Part
of it, anyway.
"Right on the airfields?" the captain wondered.
"Yeah, well, either all four were dry holes, or our friends are going to have to secure them before
we land for the snatch-and-grab."
"Oh." Captain Willis understood after a moment's thought.
"Get ahold of Buck and have him check the miniguns out again. He'll get the message from that. I
want to take a look at the weather for tonight."
"Pickup order reverse from the drop-off?"
"Yeah - we'll tank fifty miles off the beach and then again after we make the pickup."
"Right." Willis walked out to find Sergeant Zimmer. PJ went in the opposite direction, heading
for the base meteorological office. The weather for tonight was disappointing: light winds, clear
skies, and a crescent moon. Perfect flying weather for everyone else, it was not what special-ops
people hoped for. Well, there wasn't much you could do about that.
They checked out of The Hideaway at noon. Cortez thanked whatever fortune smiled down on
him that it had been her idea to cut the weekend short, claiming that she had to get back to her
children, though he suspected that she had made a conscious decision to go easy on her weary
lover. No woman had ever felt the need to take pity on him before, and the insult of it was balanced
against his need to find out what the hell was going on. They drove up Interstate 81, in silence as
usual. He'd rented a car with an ordinary bench seat, and she sat in the center, leaning against him
with his right arm wrapped warmly around her shoulder. Like teenagers, almost, except for the
silence, and again he found himself appreciating her for it. But it wasn't for the quiet passion
now. His mind was racing far faster than the car, which he kept exactly at the posted limit. He could
have turned on the car radio, but that would have been out of character. He couldn't risk that, could
he? If his employer had only exercised intelligence - and he had plenty of that, Cortez compelled
himself to admit - then he still had his arm draped over a supremely valuable source of strategic
intelligence. Escobedo took an appropriately long view of his business operations. He understood but Cortez remembered the man's arrogance, too. How easily he took offense - it wasn't enough for
him to win, Escobedo also felt the need to humiliate, crush, utterly destroy those who offended him in
the slightest way. He had power, and the sort of money normally associated only with governments,
but he lacked perspective. For all his intelligence, he was a man ruled by childish emotions, and that
thought merely grew in Cortez's mind as he turned onto 1-66, heading east now, for Washington. It
was so strange, he mused with a thin, bitter smile, that in a world replete with information, he was
forced to speculate like a child when he could have all he needed merely from the twist of a radio
knob, but he commanded himself to do without.
They reached the airport parking lot right on time. He pulled up to Moira's car and got out to
unload her bags.
"Juan…"
"Yes?"
"Don't feel badly about last night. It was my fault," she said quietly.
He managed a grin. "I already told you that I am no longer a young man. I have proved it true. I
will rest for the next time so that I will do better."
"When -"
"I don't know. I will call you." He kissed her gently. She drove off a minute later, and he stood
there in the parking lot watching her leave, as she would have expected. Then he got into his car. It
was nearly four o'clock, and he flipped on the radio to get the hourly news broadcast. Two minutes
after that he'd driven the car to the return lot, taken out his bags, and walked into the terminal, looking
for the first plane anywhere. A United flight to Atlanta was the next available, and he knew that he
could make the necessary connections at that busy terminal. He barely squeezed aboard at the last
call.
Moira Wolfe drove home with a smile tinged with guilt. What had happened to Juan the previous
night was one of the most humiliating things a man could experience, and it was all her fault. She'd
demanded too much of him and he was, as he'd said himself, no longer young. She'd let her
enthusiasm take charge of her own judgment, and hurt a man whom she - loved. She was certain
now. Moira had thought she'd never know the emotion again, but there it was, with all the carefree
splendor of her youth, and if Juan lacked the vigor of those years, he more than compensated with his
patience and fantastic skill. She reached down and turned on her radio to an oldies FM channel, and
for the remainder of her drive basked in the glow of the most pleasant of emotions, her memories of
youthful happiness brought further to the fore by the sounds of the teenage ballads to which she'd
danced thirty years before.
She was surprised to see what looked like a Bureau car parked across the street from her house,
but it might just as easily have been a cheap rental or something else - except for the radio antenna,
she realized. It was a Bureau car. That was odd, she thought. She parked against the curb and got
out her bags, walking up the sidewalk, but when the door was opened, she saw Frank Weber, one of
the Director's security detail.
"Hi, Frank." Special Agent Weber helped her with the bags, but his expression was serious.
"Something wrong?"
There wasn't any easy way of telling her, though Weber felt guilty for spoiling what must have
been a very special weekend for her.
"Emil was killed Friday evening. We've been trying to reach you since then."
"What?"
"They got him on the way to the embassy. The whole detail - everybody. Emil's funeral's
tomorrow. The rest of em are Tuesday."
"Oh, my God." Moira sat on the nearest chair. "Eddie - Leo?" She thought of the young agents on
Emil's protection detail as her own kids.
"All of them," Weber repeated.
"I didn't know," she said. "I haven't seen a paper or turned on a TV in - since Friday night. Where
-?"
"Your kids went out to the movies. We need you to come down to help us out with a few
things. We'll have somebody here to look after them for you."
It was several minutes before she was able to go anywhere. The tears started as soon as the
reality of Weber's words got past her newly made storehouse of other feelings.
Captain Ramirez didn't like the idea of accompanying Chavez. It wasn't cowardice, of course, but
a question of what his part of the job actually was. His command responsibilities were muddled in
some ways. As a captain who had recently commanded a company, he had learned that
"commanding" isn't quite the same thing as "leading." A company commander is supposed to stay a
short distance back from the front line and manage - the Army doesn't like that word - the combat
action, maneuvering his units and keeping an overview of the battle underway so that he could control
matters while his platoon leaders handled the actual fighting. Having learned to "lead from the front"
as a lieutenant, he was supposed to apply his lessons at the next higher level, though there would be
times when the captain was expected to take the lead. In this case he was commanding only a squad,
and though the mission demanded circumspection and command judgment, the size of his unit
demanded personal leadership. Besides, he could not very well send two men out on their first
killing mission without being there himself, even though Chavez had far superior movement skills than
Captain Ramirez ever expected to attain. The contradiction between his command and leadership
responsibilities troubled the young officer, but he came down, as he had to, on the side of leading. He
could not exercise command, after all, if his men didn't have confidence in his ability to
lead. Somehow he knew that if this one went right, he'd never have the same problem again. Maybe
that's how it always worked, he told himself.
After setting up his two fire teams, he and Chavez moved out, heading around the northern side of
the airstrip with the sergeant in the lead. It went smoothly. The two targets were still lolling around,
smoking their joints - or whatever they were - and talking loudly enough to be heard through a
hundred meters of trees. Chavez had planned their approach carefully, drawing on previous nights'
perimeter patrolling which Captain Ramirez had ordered. There were no surprises, and after twenty
minutes they curved back in and again saw where the airstrip was. Now they moved more slowly.
Chavez kept the lead. The narrow trail that the trucks followed to get in here was a convenient
guide. They stayed on the north side of it, which would keep them out of the fire lanes established for
the squad's machine guns. Right on time, they sighted the shack. As planned, Chavez waited for his
officer to close up from his approach interval often meters. They communicated with hand
signals. Chavez would move straight in with the captain to his right front. The sergeant would do the
shooting, but if anything went wrong, Ramirez would be in position to support him at once. The
captain tapped out four dashes on the transmit key of his radio and got two signals back. The squad
was in place on the far side of the strip, aware of what was about to happen and ready to play its part
in the action if needed.
Ramirez waved Ding forward.
Chavez took a deep breath, surprised at how rapidly his heart was beating. After all, he'd done
this a hundred times before. He jerked his arms around just to get loose, then adjusted the fit of his
weapon's sling. His thumb went down on the selector switch, putting the MP-5 on the three-roundburst setting. The sights were painted with small amounts of tritium, and glowed just enough to be
visible in the near-total darkness of the equatorial forest. His night-vision goggles were stowed in a
pocket. They'd just get in the way if he tried to use them.
He moved very slowly now, moving around trees and bushes, finding firm, uncluttered places for
his feet or pushing the leaves out of his way with his toe before setting his boot down for the next
step. It was all business. The obvious tension in his body disappeared, though there was something
like a buzz in his ear that told him that this was not an exercise.
There.
They were standing in the open, perhaps two meters apart, twenty meters from the tree against
which Chavez leaned. They were still talking, and though he could understand their words easily
enough, for some reason it was as foreign to him as the barking of dogs. Ding could have gotten
closer, but didn't want to take the chance, and twenty meters was close enough - sixty-six feet. It was
a clear shot past another tree to both of them.
Okay.
He brought the gun up slowly, centering the ringed forward sight in the aperture rear sight, making
sure that he could see the white circle all around, and putting the center post right on the black,
circular mass that represented the back of a human head that was no longer part of a human being - it
was just a target, just a thing. His finger squeezed gently on the trigger.
The weapon jerked slightly in his grip, but the double-looped sling kept it firmly in place. The
target dropped. He moved the gun right even as it fell. The next target was spinning around in
surprise, giving him a dull white circle of reflected moonlight to aim at. Another burst. There had
hardly been any noise at all. Chavez waited, moving his weapon back and forth across the two
bodies, but there was no movement.
Chavez darted out of the trees. One of the bodies clutched an AK-47. He kicked it loose and
pulled a penlight from his breast pocket, shining it on the targets. One had taken all three rounds in
the back of the head. The other had only caught two, but both through the forehead. The second one's
face showed surprise. The first one no longer had a face. The sergeant knelt by the bodies and
looked around for further movement and activity. Chavez's only immediate emotion was one of
elation. Everything he'd learned and practiced - it all worked! Not exactly easy, but it wasn't a big
deal, really.
Ninja really does own the night.
Ramirez came over a moment later. There was only one thing he could say.
"Nice work, Sergeant. Check out the shack." He activated his radio. "This is Six. Targets down,
move in."
The squad was over to the shack in a couple of minutes. As was the usual practice with armies,
they clustered around the bodies of the dead guards, getting their first sample of what war was really
all about. The intelligence specialist went through their pockets while the captain got the squad
spread out in a defensive perimeter.
"Nothing much here," the intel sergeant told his boss.
"Let's go see the shack." Chavez had made sure that there was no additional guard whom they
might have overlooked. Ramirez found four gasoline drums and a hand-crank pump. A carton of
cigarettes was sitting on one of the gasoline drums, evoking a withering comment from the
captain. There was some canned food on a few rough-cut shelves, and a two-roll pack of toilet
paper. No books, documents, or maps. A well-thumbed deck of cards was the only other thing found.
"How you wanna booby-trap it?" the intelligence sergeant asked. He was also a former Green
Beret, and an expert on setting booby traps.
"Three-way."
" 'Kay." It was easily done. He dug a small depression in the dirt floor with his hands, taking
some wood scraps to firm up the sides. A one-pound block of C-4 plastic explosive - the whole
world used it - went snugly into the hole. He inserted two electrical detonators and a pressure switch
like the one used for a land mine. The control wires were run along the dirt floor to switches at the
door and window, and were set as to be invisible to outside inspection. The sergeant buried the
wires under an inch of dirt. Satisfied, he rocked the drum around, bringing it down gently on the
pressure switch. If someone opened the door or the window, the C-4 would go off directly
underneath a fifty-five-gallon drum of aviation gasoline, with predictable results. Better still, if
someone were very clever indeed and defeated the electrical detonators on the door and window, he
would then follow the wires to the oil drums in order to recover the explosives for his own later
use… and that very clever person would be removed from the other team. Anyone could kill a dumb
enemy. Killing the smart ones required artistry.
"All set up, sir. Let's make sure nobody goes near the shack from now on, sir," the intelligence
sergeant told his captain.
"Roger that." The word went out at once. Two men dragged the bodies into the center of the field,
and after that, they all settled down to wait for the helicopter. Ramirez redeployed his men to keep
the area secured, but the main object of concern now was to have every man inventory his gear to
make sure that nothing was left behind.
PJ handled the refueling. The good visibility helped, but would also help if there were anyone on
the surface looking for them. The drogue played out from the wing tank of the MC-130E Combat
Talon on the end of a reinforced rubber hose, and the Pave Low's refueling probe extended
telescopically, stabbing into the center of it. Though it was often observed that having a helicopter
refuel in this way seemed a madly unnatural act - the probe and drogue met twelve feet under the edge
of the rotor arc, and contact between blade tips and hose meant certain death for the helicopter crew the Pave Low crews always responded that it was a very natural act indeed, and one in which, of
course, they had ample practice. That didn't alter the fact that Colonel Johns and Captain Willis
concentrated to a remarkable degree for the whole procedure, and didn't utter a single unnecessary
syllable until it was over.
"Breakaway, breakaway," PJ said as he backed off the drogue and withdrew his probe. He
pulled up on the collective and eased back on the stick to pull his rotors up and away from the
hose. On command, the MC-130E climbed to a comfortable cruising altitude, where it would circle
until the helicopter returned for another fill-up. The Pave Low III turned for the beach, heading down
to cross at an unpopulated point.
"Uh-oh," Chavez whispered to himself when he heard the noise. It was the laboring sound of a V8 engine that needed service, and a new muffler. It was getting louder by the second.
"Six, this is Point, over," he called urgently.
"Six here. Go," Captain Ramirez replied.
"We got company coming in. Sounds like a truck, sir."
"KNIFE, this is Six," Ramirez reacted immediately. "Pull back to the west side. Take your
covering positions. Point, fall back now!"
"On the way." Chavez left his listening post on the dirt road and raced back past the shack - he
gave it a wide berth - and across the landing strip. There he found Ramirez and Guerra pulling the
dead guards toward the far treeline. He helped the captain carry his burden into cover, then came
back to assist the operations sergeant. They made the shelter of the trees with twenty seconds to
spare.
The pickup traveled with lights ablaze. The glow snaked left and right along the trail, glowing
through the underbrush before coming out just next to the shack. The truck stopped, and you could
almost see the puzzlement even before the engine was switched off and the men dismounted. As soon
as the lights were off, Chavez activated his night goggles. As before, there were four, two from the
cab and two from the back. The driver was evidently the boss. He looked around in obvious
anger. A moment later he shouted something, then pointed to one of the people who'd jumped out of
the back of the truck. One of them walked straight to the shack - "Oh, shit!" Ramirez keyed his radio switch. "Everybody get down!" he ordered unnecessarily - and wrenched open the door.
A gasoline drum rocketed upward like a space launch, leaving a cone of white flame behind as it
blasted through the top of the shack. Flames from the other drums spread laterally. The one who'd
opened the door was a silhouette of black, as though he'd just opened the front door of hell, but only
for an instant before he vanished in the spreading flames. Two of his companions vanished into the
same white-yellow mass. The third was on the edge of the initial blast, and started running away,
directly toward the soldiers, before the falling gasoline from the flying drum splashed on him and he
became a stick figure made of fire who lasted only ten steps. The circle of flames was forty yards
wide, its center composed of four men whose high-pitched screams were distinct above the lowfrequency roar of the blaze. Next the truck's fuel tank added its own punctuation to the
explosion. There were perhaps two hundred gallons of gasoline afire, sending up a mushroom cloud
illuminated by the flames below. In less than a minute the ammunition in various firearms cooked off,
sounding like firecrackers within the roaring flames.
Only the afternoon's heavy rain prevented the fire from spreading rapidly into the forest.
Chavez realized that he was lying next to the intelligence specialist.
"Nice work on the booby trap."
"Wish the fuckers coulda waited." The screaming was over by now.
"Yeah."
"Everybody check in," Ramirez ordered over the radio. They all did. Nobody was hurt.
The fire died down quickly. The aviation gasoline had been spread thinly over a wide area, and
burned rapidly. Within three minutes all that was left was a wide scorched area denned by a
perimeter of burning grass and bushes. The truck was a blackened skeleton, its loadbed still alight
from the box of flares. They'd continue to burn for quite a while.
"What the hell was that?" Captain Willis wondered in the left seat of the helicopter. They'd just
made their first pickup, and on climbing back to cruising altitude, the glow on the horizon looked like
a sunrise on their infrared vision systems.
"Plane crash, maybe - that's right on the bearing to the last pickup," Colonel Johns realized
belatedly.
"Super."
"Buck, be advised we have possible hostile activity at Pickup Four."
"Right, Colonel," Sergeant Zimmer replied curtly.
With that observation, Colonel Johns continued the mission. He'd find out what he needed to
know soon enough. One thing at a time.
Thirty minutes after the explosion, the fire was down enough that the intelligence sergeant donned
his gloves and moved in to try to recover his triggering devices. He found part of one, but the idea,
though good, was hopeless. The bodies were left in place, and no attempt was made to search
them. Though IDs might have been recovered - leather wallets resist fire reasonably well - their
absence would have been noticed. Again the airfield guards were dragged to the center of the
northern part of the runway, which was to have been the pickup point anyway. Ramirez redeployed
his men to guard against the possibility that someone might have noticed the fire and reported it to
someone else. The next concern was the courier flight that was probably heading in tonight. Their
experience told them that it was still over two hours away - but they'd seen only one full cycle, and
that was a thin basis for making any sort of prediction.
What if the airplane comes in? Ramirez asked himself. He'd already considered the possibility,
but now it was an immediate threat.
The crew of that aircraft could not be allowed to report to anyone that they'd seen a large
helicopter. On the other hand, leaving bullet holes in the airplane would be almost as clear a
message of what had happened.
For that matter, Ramirez asked himself, why the hell were we ordered to kill those two poor
bastards and leave from here instead of the preplanned exfiltration point?
So, what if an airplane comes in?
He didn't have an answer. Without the flares to mark the strip it wouldn't land. Moreover, one of
the new arrivals had brought a small VHP radio. The druggies were smart enough that they'd have
radio codes to assure the flight crew that the airfield was safe. So, what if the aircraft just
orbited? Which it probably would do. Might the helicopter shoot it down? What if it tried and
missed? What if? What if?
Before insertion, Ramirez had thought that the mission had been exquisitely planned, with every
contingency thought out - as it had, but halfway through their planned stay they were being yanked out,
and the plan had been trashed. What dickhead had decided to do that?
What the hell is going on? he demanded of himself. His men looked to him for information and
knowledge and leadership and assurance. He had to pretend that everything was all right, that he was
in control. It was all a lie, of course. His greater overall knowledge of the operation only increased
his ignorance of the real situation. He was used to being moved around like a chess piece. That was
the job of a junior officer - but this was real. There were six dead men to prove it.
"KNIFE, this is NIGHT HAWK, over," his high-frequency radio crackled.
"HAWK, this is KNIFE. LZ is the northern edge of RENO. Standing by for extraction, over."
"Bravo X-Ray, over."
Colonel Johns was interrogating for possible trouble. Juliet Zulu was the coded response
indicating that they were in enemy hands and that a pickup was impossible. Charlie Foxtrot meant
that there was active contact, but that they could still be gotten out. Lima Whiskey was the all-clear
signal.
"Lima Whiskey, over."
"Say again, KNIFE, over."
"Lima Whiskey, over."
"Roger, copy. We are three minutes out."
"Hot guns," PJ ordered his flight crew. Sergeant Zimmer left his instruments to take the right-side
gun position. He activated the power to his six-barreled minigun. The newest version of the Galling
gun of yore began spinning, ready to draw shells from the hopper to Zimmer's left.
"Ready right," he reported over the intercom.
"Ready left," Bean said on the other side.
Both men scanned the trees with their night-vision goggles, looking for anything that might be
hostile.
"I got a strobe light at ten o'clock," Willis told PJ.
"I see it. Christ - what happened here?"
As the Sikorsky slowed, the four bodies were clearly visible around what had once been a simple
wooden shack… and there was a truck, too. Team KNIFE was right where it was supposed to be,
however. And they had two bodies as well.
"Looks clear, Buck."
"Roger, PJ." Zimmer left his gun on and headed aft. Sergeant Bean could jump to the opposite gun
station if he had to, but it was Zimmer's job to get a count on the last pickup. He did his best to avoid
stepping on people as he moved, but the soldiers understood when his feet landed on several of
them. Soldiers are typically quite forgiving toward those who lift them out of hostile territory.
Chavez kept his strobe on until the helicopter touched down, then ran to join his squad. He found
Captain Ramirez standing by the ramp, counting them off as they raced aboard. Ding waited his turn,
then the captain's hand thumped down on his shoulder.
"Ten!" he heard as he leaped over several bodies on the ramp. He heard the number again from
the big Air Force sergeant, then: "Eleven! Go-go-go!" as the captain came aboard.
The helicopter lifted off immediately. Chavez fell hard onto the steel deck, where Vega grabbed
him. Ramirez came down next to him, then rose and followed Zimmer forward.
"What happened here?" PJ asked Ramirez a minute later. The infantry officer filled him in
quickly. Colonel Johns increased power somewhat and kept low, which he would have done
anyway. He ordered Zimmer to stay at the ramp for two minutes, watching for a possible aircraft, but
it never appeared. Buck came forward, killed power to his gun, and resumed his vigil with the flight
instruments. Within ten minutes they were "feet-wet," over the water, looking for their tanker to top
off for the flight back to Panama. In the back, the infantrymen buckled into place and promptly began
dropping off to sleep.
But not Chavez and Vega, who found themselves sitting next to six bodies, lying together on the
ramp. Even for professional soldiers - one of whom had done some of the killing - it was a grisly
sight. But not as bad as the explosions. Neither had ever seen pictures of people burning to death,
and even for druggies, they agreed, it was a bad way out.
The helicopter ride became rough as the Pave Low entered the propwash from the tanker, but it
was soon over. A few minutes after that, Sergeant Bean - the little one, as Chavez thought of him came aft, walking carefully over the soldiers. He clipped his safety belt to a fitting on the deck, then
spoke into his helmet microphone. Nodding, he went aft to the ramp. Bean motioned to Chavez for a
hand. Ding grabbed the man's belt at the waist and watched him kick the bodies off the edge of the
ramp. It seemed kind of cold, but then, the scout reflected, it no longer mattered to the druggies. He
didn't look aft to see them hit the water, but instead settled back down for a nap.
A hundred miles behind them, a twin-engined private plane circled over where the landing strip known to the flight crew simply as Number Six - was still marked by a vaguely circular array of
flames. They could see where the clearing was, but the airstrip itself wasn't marked with flares, and
without that visual reference a landing attempt would have been madness. Frustrated, yet also
relieved because they knew what had happened to a number of flights over the previous two weeks,
they turned back for their regular airfield. On landing they made a telephone call.
Cortez had risked a direct flight from Panama to Medellín, I though he did place the charge on an
as-yet unused credit card so that the name couldn't be tracked. He drove his personal car to his home
and immediately tried to contact Escobedo, only to discover that he was at his hilltop hacienda. Félix
didn't have the energy to drive that far this late on a long day, nor would he entrust a substantive
conversation to a cellular phone, despite all the assurances about how safe those channels
were. Tired, angry, and frustrated for a dozen reasons, he poured himself a stiff drink and went off to
bed. All that effort wasted, he swore at the darkness. He'd never be able to use Moira again. Would
never call her, never talk to her, never see her. And the fact that his last "performance" with her had
ended in failure, caused by his fears at what he'd thought - correctly! - his boss had done, merely put
more genuine emotion into his profanities.
Before dawn a half-dozen trucks visited a half-dozen different airfields. Two groups of men died
fiery deaths. A third entered the airfield shack and found exactly what they'd expected to find:
nothing. The other three found their airstrips entirely normal, the guards in place, content and bored
with the monotony of their duties. When two of the trucks failed to return, others were sent out after
them, and the necessary information quickly found its way to Medellín. Cortez was awakened by the
phone and given new travel orders.
In Panama, all of the infantrymen were still asleep. They'd be allowed to stand down for a full
day, and sleep in air-conditioned comfort - under heavy blankets - after hot showers and meals which,
if not especially tasty, were at least different from the MREs they'd had for the preceding week. The
four officers, however, were awakened early and taken elsewhere for a new briefing. Operation
SHOWBOAT, they learned, had taken a very serious turn. They also learned why, and the source of
their new orders was as exhilarating as it was troubling.
The new S-3, operations officer, for the 3rd Battalion of the 17th Infantry, which formed part of
the First Brigade, 7th Infantry Division (Light), checked out his office while his wife struggled with
the movers. Already sitting on his desk was a Mark-2 Kevlar helmet, called a Fritz for its
resemblance to the headgear of the old German Wehrmacht. For the 7th LID, the camouflage cloth
cover was further decorated with knotted shreds of the same material used for their battle-dress
uniform fatigues. Most of the wives referred to it as the Cabbage Patch Hat, and like a cabbage, it
broke up the regular outline of the helmet, making it harder to spot. The battalion commander was off
at a briefing, along with the XO, and the new S-3 decided to meet with the S-l, or personnel
officer. It turned out that they'd served together in Germany five years before, and they caught up on
personal histories over coffee.
"So how was Panama?"
"Hot, miserable, and I don't need to fill you in on the political side. Funny thing - just before I left
I ran into one of your Ninjas."
"Oh, yeah? Which one?"
"Chavez. Staff sergeant, I think. Bastard wasted me on an exercise."
"I remember him. He was a good one with, uh… Sergeant Bascomb?"
"Yes, Major?" A head appeared at the office door.
"Staff Sergeant Chavez - who was he with?"
"Bravo Company, sir. Lieutenant Jackson's platoon… second squad, I think. Yeah, Corporal
Ozkanian took it over. Chavez transferred out to Fort Benning, he's a basic-training instructor now,"
Sergeant Bascomb remembered.
"You sure about that?" the new S-3 asked.
"Yes, sir. The paperwork got a little ruffled. He's one of the guys who had to check out in a
hurry. Remember, Major?"
"Oh, yeah. That was a cluster-fuck, wasn't it?"
"Roge-o, Major," the NCO agreed.
"What the hell was he doing running an FTX in the Canal Zone?" the operations officer wondered.
"Lieutenant Jackson might know, sir," Bascomb offered.
"You'll meet him tomorrow," the S-l told the new S-3.
"Any good?"
"For a new kid fresh from the Hudson, yeah, he's doing just fine. Good family. Preacher's kid,
got a brother flies fighter planes for the Navy - squadron commander, I think. Bumped into him at
Monterey awhile back. Anyway, Tim's got a good platoon sergeant to teach him the ropes."
"Well, that was one pretty good sergeant, that Chavez kid. I'm not used to having people sneak up
on me!" The S-3 fingered the scab on his face. "Damn if he didn't, though."
"We got a bunch of good ones, Ed. You're gonna like it here. How 'bout lunch?"
"Sounds good to me. When do we start PT in the morning?"
"Zero-six-fifteen. The boss likes to run."
The new S-3 grunted on his way out the door. Welcome back to the real Army.
"Looks like our friends down there are a little pissed," Admiral Cutter observed. He held a telex
form that had emanated from the CAPER side of the overall operation. "Who was it came up with the
idea of tapping into their communications?"
"Mr. Clark," the DDO replied.
"The same one who -"
"The same."
"What can you tell me about him?"
"Ex-Navy SEAL, served nineteen months in Southeast Asia in one of those special operations
groups that never officially existed. Got shot up a few times," Ritter explained. "Left the service as a
chief bosun's mate, age twenty-eight. He was one of the best they ever had. He's the guy who went in
and saved Dutch Maxwell's boy."
Cutter's eyes went active at that. "I knew Dutch Maxwell, spent some time on his staff when I was
a j.g. So, he's the guy who saved Sonny's ass? I never did hear the whole story on that."
"Admiral Maxwell made him a chief on the spot. That's when he was COMAIRPAC. Anyway,
he left the service and got married, went into the commercial diving business - the demolitions side;
he's an expert with explosives, too. But his wife got killed in a car accident down in
Mississippi. That's when things started going bad for him. Met a new girl, but she was kidnapped
and murdered by a local drug ring - seems she was a mule for them before they met. Our former
SEAL decided to go big-game hunting on his own hook. Did pretty well, but the police got a line on
him. Anyway, Admiral Maxwell was OP-03 by then. He caught a rumble, too. He knew James
Greer from the old days, and one thing led to another. We decided that Mr. Clark had some talents
we needed. So the Agency helped stage his 'death' in a boating accident. We changed his name - new
identity, the whole thing, and now he works for us."
"How -"
"It's not hard. His service records are just gone. Same thing we did with the SHOWBOAT
people. His fingerprints in the FBI file were changed - that was back when Hoover still ran things
and, well, there were ways. He died and got himself reborn as John Clark."
"What's he done since?" Cutter asked, enjoying the conspiratorial aspects of this.
"Mainly he's an instructor down at The Farm. Every so often we have a special job that requires
his special talents," Ritter explained. "He's the guy who went on the beach to get Gerasimov's wife
and daughter, for example."
"Oh. And this all started because of a drug thing?"
"That's right. He has a special, dark place in his heart for druggies. Hates the bastards. It's about
the only thing he's not professional about."
"Not pro -"
"I don't mean it that way. He'll enjoy doing this job. It won't affect how he does it, but he will
enjoy it. I don't want you to misunderstand me. Clark is a very capable field officer. He's got great
instincts, and he's got brains. He knows how to plan it, and he knows how to run it."
"So what's his plan?"
"You'll love it." Ritter opened his portfolio and started taking papers out. Most of them, Cutter
saw, were "overhead imagery" - satellite photographs.
"Lieutenant Jackson?"
"Good morning, sir," Tim said to the new battalion operations officer after cracking off a bookperfect salute. The S-3 was walking the battalion area, getting himself introduced.
"I've heard some pretty good things about you." That was always something that a new second
lieutenant wanted to hear. "And I met one of your squad leaders."
"Which one, sir?"
"Chavez, I think."
"Oh, you just in from Fort Benning, Major?"
"No, I was an instructor at the Jungle Warfare School, down in Panama."
"What was Chavez doing down there?" Lieutenant Jackson wondered.
"Killing me," the major replied with a grin. "All your people that good?"
"He was my best squad leader. That's funny, they were supposed to send him off to be a drill
sergeant."
"That's the Army for you. I'm going out with Bravo Company tomorrow night for the exercise
down at Hunter-Liggett. Just thought I'd let you know."
"Glad to have you along, sir," Tim Jackson told the Major. It wasn't strictly true, of course. He
was still learning how to be a leader of men, and oversight made him uncomfortable, though he knew
that it was something he'd have to learn to live with. He was also puzzled by the news on Chavez,
and made a mental note to have Sergeant Mitchell check that out. After all, Ding was still one of
"his" men.
"Clark." That was how he answered the phone. And this one came in on his "business" line.
"It's a Go. Be here at ten tomorrow morning."
"Right." Clark replaced the phone.
"When?" Sandy asked.
"Tomorrow."
"How long?"
"A couple of weeks. Not as long as a month." Probably, he didn't add.
"Is it -"
"Dangerous?" John Clark smiled at his wife. "Honey, if I do my job right, no, it's not dangerous."
"Why is it," Sandra Burns Clark wondered, "that I'm the one with gray hair?"
"That's because I can't go into the hair parlor and have it fixed. You can."
"It's about the drug people, isn't it?"
"You know I can't talk about that. It would just get you worried anyway, and there's no real
reason to worry," he lied to his wife. Clark did a lot of that. She knew it, of course, and for the most
part she wanted to be lied to. But not this time.
Clark returned his attention to the television. Inwardly he smiled. He hadn't gone after druggies
for a long, long time, and he'd never tried to go this far up the ladder - back then he hadn't known how,
hadn't had the right information. Now he had everything he needed for the job. Including presidential
authorization. There were advantages to working for the Agency.
Cortez surveyed the airfield - what was left of it - with a mixture of satisfaction and
anger. Neither the police nor the army had come to visit yet, though eventually they would. Whoever
had been here, he saw, had done a thorough, professional job.
So what am I supposed to think? he asked himself. Did the Americans send some of their Green
Berets in? This was the last of five airstrips that he'd examined today, moved about by a
helicopter. Though not a forensic detective by training, he had been thoroughly schooled in booby
traps and knew exactly what to look for. Exactly what he would have done.
The two guards who'd been here, as at the other sites, were simply gone. That surely meant that
they were dead, of course, but the only real knowledge he had was that they were gone. Perhaps he
was supposed to think that they had set the explosives, but they were simple peasants in the pay of the
Cartel, untrained ruffians who probably hadn't even patrolled around the area to make certain that…
"Follow me." He left the helicopter with one of his assistants in trail. This one was a former
police officer who did have some rudimentary intelligence; at least he knew how to follow simple
orders.
If I wanted to keep watch of a place like this… I'd think about cover, and I'd think about the
wind, and I'd think about a quick escape…
One thing about military people was that they were predictable.
They'd want a place from which they could watch the length of the airstrip, and also keep an eye
on the refueling shack. That meant one of two corners, Cortez judged, and he walked off toward the
northwest one. He spent a half hour prowling the bushes in silence with a confused man behind him.
"Here is where they were," Félix said to himself. The dirt just behind the mound of dirt was
smoothed down. Men had lain there. There was also the imprint from the bipod of a machine gun.
He couldn't tell how long they'd watched the strip, but he suspected that here was the explanation
for the disappearing aircraft. Americans? If so, what agency did they work for? CIA? DEA? Some
special-operations group from the military, perhaps?
And why were they pulled out?
And why had they made their departure so obvious?
What if the guards were not dead? What if the Americans had bought them off?
Cortez stood and brushed the mud off his trousers. They were sending a message. Of
course. After the murder of their FBI Director - he hadn't had time to talk to el jefe about that act of
lunacy yet - they wanted to send a message so that such things were not to be repeated.
That the Americans had done anything at all was unusual, of course. After all, kidnapping and/or
killing American citizens was about the safest thing any international terrorist could do. The CIA had
allowed one of their station chiefs to be tortured to death in Lebanon - and done nothing. All those
Marines blown up - and the Americans had done nothing. Except for the occasional attempt at
sending a message. The Americans were fools. They'd tried to send messages to the North
Vietnamese for nearly ten years, and failed, and still they hadn't learned better. So this time, instead
of doing nothing at all, they'd done something that was less useful than nothing. To have so much
power and have so little appreciation of it, Cortez thought. Not like the Russians. When some of
their people had been kidnapped in Lebanon, the KGB's First Directorate men had snatched their own
hostages off the street and returned them - one version said headless, another with more intimate parts
removed - immediately after which the missing Russians had been returned with something akin to an
apology. For all their crudeness, the Russians understood how the game was played. They were
predictable, and played by all the classic rules of clandestine behavior so that their enemies knew
what would not be tolerated. They were serious. And they were taken seriously.
Unlike the Americans. As much as he warned his employer to be wary of them, Cortez was sure
that they wouldn't answer even something as outrageous as the murder of senior officials of their
government.
That was too bad, Cortez told himself. He could have made it work for him.
"Good evening, boss," Ryan said as he took his seat.
"Hi, Jack." Admiral Greer smiled as much as he could. "How do you like the new job?"
"Well, I'm keeping your chair warm."
"It's your chair now, son," the DDI pointed out. "Even if I do get out of here, I think it's time to
retire."
Jack didn't like the way he pronounced the word if.
"I don't think I'm ready yet, sir."
"Nobody's ever ready. Hell, when I was still a naval officer, about the time I actually learned
how to do the job, it was time to leave. That's the way life is, Jack."
Ryan thought that one over as he surveyed the room. Admiral Greer was getting his nourishment
through clear plastic tubes. A blue-green gadget that looked like a splint kept the needles in his arm,
but he could see where previous IV lines had "infiltrated" and left ugly bruises. That was always a
bad sign. Next to the IV bottle was a smaller one, piggybacked with the D5W. That was the
medication he was being given, the chemotherapy. It was a fancy name for poison, and poison was
exactly what it was, a biocide that was supposed to kill the cancer a little faster than it killed the
patient. He didn't know what this one was, some acronym or other that designated a compound
developed at the National Institutes of Health instead of the Army's Chemical Warfare Center. Or
maybe, Jack thought, they cooperated on such concoctions. Certainly Greer looked as though he were
the victim of some dreadful, vicious experiment.
But that wasn't true. The best people in the field were doing everything they knew to keep him
alive. And failing. Ryan had never seen his boss so thin. It seemed that every time he came - never
less than three times per week - he'd lost additional weight. His eyes burned with defiant energy, but
the light at the end of this painful tunnel was not recovery. He knew it. So did Jack. There was only
one thing he could do to ease the pain. And this he did. Jack opened his briefcase and took out some
documents.
"You want to look these over." Ryan handed them over.
They nearly tangled on the IV lines, and Greer grumbled his annoyance at the plastic spaghetti.
"You're leaving for Belgium tomorrow night, right?"
"Yes, sir."
"Give my regards to Rudi and Franz from the BND. And watch the local beer, son."
Ryan laughed. "Yes, sir."
Admiral Greer scanned through the first folder. "The Hungarians are still at it, I see."
"They got the word to cool it down, and they have, but the underlying problem isn't going to go
away. I think it's in the interests of everyone concerned that they should cool it. Our friend
Gerasimov has given us some tips on how to get word to a few people ourselves."
Greer nearly laughed at that. "It figures. How is the former KGB Director adapting to life in
America?"
"Not as well as his daughter is. Turns out that she always wanted a nose job. Well, she got her
wish." Jack grinned. "Last time I saw her she was working on a tan. She restarts college next
fall. The wife is still a little antsy, and Gerasimov is still cooperating. We haven't figured out what
to do with him when we're finished, though."
"Tell Arthur to show him my old place up in Maine. He'll like the climate, and it ought to be easy
to guard."
"I'll pass that along."
"How do you like being let in on all the Operations stuff?" James Greer asked.
"Well, what I've seen is interesting enough, but there's still 'need-to-know' to worry about."
"Says who?" the DDI asked in surprise.
"Says the Judge," Jack replied. "They have a couple of things poppin' that they don't want me in
on."
"Oh, really?" Greer was quiet for a moment. "Jack, in case nobody ever told you, the Director, the
Deputy Director - they still haven't refilled that slot, have they? - and the directorate chiefs are
cleared for everything. You are now a chief of directorate. There isn't anything you aren't supposed
to know. You have to know. You brief Congress."
Ryan waved it off. It wasn't important, really. "Well, maybe the Judge doesn't see things that way
and -"
The DDI tried to sit up in bed. "Listen up, son. What you just said is bullshit! Youhave to know,
and you tell Arthur I said so. That 'need-to-know' crap stops at the door to my office."
"Yes, sir. I'll take care of that." Ryan didn't want his boss to get upset. He was only an acting
chief of directorate, after all, and he was accustomed to being cut out of operational matters which,
for the past six years, he'd been quite content to leave to others. Jack wasn't ready to challenge the
DCI on something like this. His responsibility for the Intelligence Directorate's output to Congress, of
course, was something he would make noise over.
"I'm not kidding, Jack."
"Yes, sir." Ryan pointed to another folder. He'd fight that battle after he got back from Europe.
"Now, this development in South Africa is especially interesting and I want your opinion…"
15. Deliverymen
CLARK WALKED OFF the United flight in San Diego and rented a car for the drive to the nearby
naval base. It didn't take very long. He felt the usual pang of nostalgia when he saw the towering
gray-blue hulls. He'd once been a part of this team, and though he'd been young and foolish then, he
remembered it fondly as a time in which things were simpler.
USS Ranger was a busy place. Clark parked his car at the far end of the area used by the enlisted
crewmen and walked toward the quay, dodging around the trucks, cranes, and other items of mobile
hardware that cycled in and out from their numerous tasks. The carrier was preparing to sail in
another eight hours, and her thousands of sailors were on-loading all manner of supplies. Her flight
deck was empty save for a single old F-4 Phantom fighter which no longer had any engines and was
used for training new members of the flight-deck crew. The carrier's air wing was scattered among
three different naval air stations and would fly out after the carrier sailed. That fact spared the pilots
of the wing from the tumult normal to a carrier's departure. Except for one.
Clark walked up to the officer's brow, guarded by a Marine corporal who had his name written
down on his clipboard list of official visitors. The Marine checked off the line on his list and lifted
the dock phone to make the call that was mandated by his instructions. Clark just kept going up the
steps, entering the carrier at the hangar-deck level, then looking around for a way topside. Finding
one's way around a carrier is not easy for the uninitiated, but if you kept going up you generally found
the flight deck soon enough. This he did, heading for the forward starboard-side elevator. Standing
there was an officer whose khaki collar bore the silver leaf of a Commander, USN. There was also a
gold star over one shirt pocket that denoted command at sea. Clark was looking for the CO of a
squadron of Grumman A-6E Intruder medium attack bombers.
"Your name Jensen?" he asked. He'd flown down early to make this appointment.
"That's right, sir. Roy Jensen. And you are Mr. Carlson?"
Clark smiled. "Something like that." He motioned to the officer to follow him forward. The flight
deck here was idle. Most of the loading activity was aft. They walked toward the bow across the
black no-skid decking material, little different from the blacktop on any country road. Both men had
to talk loudly to be heard. There was plenty of noise from the dock, plus a fifteen-knot onshore
wind. Several people could see the two men talking, but with all the activity on the carrier's flight
deck, there was little likelihood that anyone would notice. And you couldn't bug a flight deck. Clark
handed over an envelope and let Jensen read its contents before taking it back. By this time they were
nearly at the bow, standing between the two catapult tracks.
"This for-real?"
"That's right. Can you handle it?"
Jensen thought for a moment, staring off into the naval base.
"Sure. Who's going to be on the ground?"
"Not supposed to tell you - but it's going to be me."
"The battle group's not supposed to be going down there, you know -"
"That's already been changed."
"What about the weapons?"
"They're being loaded aboard Shasta tomorrow. They'll be painted blue, and they're light for -"
"I know. I did one of the drops a few weeks ago over at China Lake."
"Your CAG will get the orders three days from now. But he won't know what's
happening. Neither will anybody else. We'll have a 'tech-rep' flown aboard with the weapons. He'll
baby-sit the mission from this side. Your BDA cassettes go to him. Nobody else sees them. He's
bringing his own set, and they're color-coded with orange-and-purple tape so they don't get mixed up
with anything else. You got a B/N you can trust to keep his mouth shut?"
"With these orders?" Commander Jensen asked. "No sweat."
"Fair enough. The 'tech-rep' will have the details when he gets aboard. He reports to the CAG
first, but he'll ask to see you. From there on it's eyes-only. The CAG'll know that it's a quiet
project. If he asks about it, just tell him it's a Drop-Ex to evaluate a new weapon." Clark raised an
eyebrow. "It really is a Drop-Ex, isn't it?"
"The people we're -"
"What people? You do not need to know. You do not want to know," Clark said. "If you have a
problem with that, I want you to tell me right now."
"Hey, I told you we could do it. I was just curious."
"You're old enough to know better." Clark delivered the line gently. He didn't want to insult the
man, though he did have to get the message across.
"Okay."
US S Ranger was about to deploy for an extended battle-group exercise whose objective was
work-ups: battle practice to prepare the group for a deployment to the Indian Ocean. They were
scheduled for three weeks of intensive operations that involved everything from carrier landing
practice to underway-replenishment drills, with a mock attack from another carrier battle group
returning from WestPac. The operations would be carried out, Commander Jensen had just learned,
about three hundred miles from Panama instead of farther west. The squadron commander wondered
who had the juice to reroute a total of thirty-one ships, some of them outrageous fuelhogs. That
confirmed the source of the orders he'd just been given. Jensen was a careful man; though he'd gotten
a very official telephone call, and the orders hand-delivered by Mr. Carlson said everything they
needed to say, it was nice to have outside confirmation.
"That's it. You'll get notice when you need it. Figure eight hours or so of warning time. That
enough?"
"No sweat. I'll make sure the ordies put the weapons in a convenient place. You be careful on
the ground, Mr. Carlson."
"I'll try." Clark shook hands with the pilot and walked aft to find his way off the ship. He'd be
catching another plane in two hours.
The Mobile cops were in a particularly foul mood. Bad enough that one of their own had been
murdered in such an obvious, brutal way, Mrs. Braden had made the mistake of coming to the door to
see what was wrong and caught two rounds herself. The surgeons had almost saved her, but after
thirty-six hours that too was over, and all the police had to show for it was a kid not yet old enough to
drive who claimed to have hit one of the killers with his granddad's Marlin '39, and some bloodstains
that might or might not have supported the story. The police preferred to believe that Braden had
scored for the points, of course, but the experienced homicide investigators knew that a two-inch
belly gun was the next thing to useless unless the shoot-out were held inside a crowded
elevator. Every cop in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana was looking for a blue
Plymouth Voyager minivan with two male Caucs, black hair, medium, medium, armed and dangerous,
suspected cop-killers.
The van was found Monday afternoon by a concerned citizen - there really were some in Alabama
- who called the local county sheriffs office, who in turned called the Mobile force.
"The kid was right," the lieutenant in charge of the case observed. The body on the back of the
van was about as distasteful to behold as any cadaver would be after two days locked inside a car, in
Alabama, in June, but for all that the hole near the base of the skull, just at the hairline, was definitely
a .22. It was also clear that the killer had died in the right-front seat, hemorrhaging explosively from
the head wound. There was one more thing.
"I've seen this guy. He's a druggie," another detective observed.
"So what was Ernie wrapped up with?"
"Christ knows. What about his kids?" the detective asked. "They lose their mom and dad - we
gonna tell the whole fucking world that their dad was a dirty cop? Do that to a couple of orphaned
kids?"
It merely required a single look for both men to agree that, no, you couldn't do something like
that. They'd find a way to make Ernie a hero, and damned sure somebody'd give the Sanderson kid a
pat on the head.
"Do you realize what you have done?" Cortez asked. He'd steeled himself going in to restrain his
temper. In an organization of Latins, his would be - had to be - the only voice of reason. They would
respect that in the same sense that the Romans valued chastity: a rare and admirable commodity best
found in others.
"I have taught the norteamericanos a lesson," Escobedo replied with arrogant patience that nearly
defeated Félix's self-discipline.
"And what did they do in reply?"
Escobedo made a grand gesture with his hand, a gesture of power and satisfaction. "The sting of
an insect."
"You also know, of course, that after all the effort I made to establish a valuable information
source, you have pissed it away like -"
"What source?"
"The secretary of the FBI Director," Cortez answered with his own self-satisfied smile.
"And you cannot use her again?" Escobedo was puzzled.
Fool! "Not unless you wish me to be arrested, jefe. Were that to happen, my services would
cease to be useful to you. We could have used information from this woman, carefully, over
years. We could have identified attempts to infiltrate the organization. We could have discovered
what new ideas the norteamericanos have, and countered them, again carefully and thoughtfully,
protecting our operations while allowing them enough successes to think that they were
accomplishing something." Cortez almost said that he'd just figured out why all those aircraft had
disappeared, but didn't. His anger wasn't under that much control. Félix was just beginning to realize
that he really could supplant the man who sat behind the desk. But first he would have to demonstrate
his value to the organization and gradually prove to all of the criminals that he was more useful than
this buffoon. Better to let them stew in their own juice for a while, the better to appreciate the
difference between a trained intelligence professional and a pack of self-taught and over-rich
smugglers.
Ryan gazed down at the ocean, forty-two thousand feet below him. The VIP treatment wasn't hard
to get used to. As a directorate chief he also rated a special flight from Andrews direct to a military
airfield outside of the NATO headquarters at Mons, Belgium. He was representing the Agency at a
semiannual conference with his intelligence counterparts from the European Alliance. It would be a
major performance. He had a speech to give, and favorable impressions to make. Though he knew
many of the people who'd be there, he'd always been an upscale gofer for James Greer. Now he had
to prove himself. But he'd succeed. Ryan was sure of that. He had three of his own department
heads along, and a comfortable seat on a VC-20A to remind him how important he was. He didn't
know that it was the same bird that had taken Emil Jacobs to Colombia. That was just as well. For
all his education, Ryan remained superstitious.
As Executive Assistant Director (Investigations), Bill Shaw was the Bureau's senior official, and
until a new Director was appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, he'd be acting
Director. That might last for a while. It was a presidential election year, and with the coming of
summer, people were thinking about conventions, not appointments. Perversely, Shaw didn't mind a
bit. That meant that he'd be running things, and for a case of this magnitude, the Bureau needed an
experienced cop at the helm. "Political realities" were not terribly important to William
Shaw. Crime cases were something that agents solved, and to him the case was everything. His first
act on learning of the death of Director Jacobs had been to recall his friend, Dan Murray. It would be
Dan's job to oversee the case from his deputy assistant director's office, since there were at least two
elements to it: the investigation in Colombia and the one in Washington. Murray's experience as legal
attaché in London gave him the necessary political sensitivity to understand that the overseas aspect
of the case might not be handled to the Bureau's satisfaction. Murray entered Shaw's office at seven
that morning. Neither had gotten much sleep in the previous two days, but they'd sleep on the
plane. Director Jacobs would be buried in Chicago today, and they'd be flying out on the plane with
the body to attend the funeral.
"Well?"
Dan flipped open his folder. "I just talked to Morales in Bogotá. The shooter they bagged is a
stringer for M-19, and he doesn't know shit. Name is Hector Buente, age twenty, college dropout
from the University of the Andes - bad marks. Evidently the locals leaned on him a little bit Morales says they're pretty torqued about this - but the kid doesn't know much. The shooters got a
heads-up for an important job several days ago, but they didn't know what or where until four hours
before it actually took place. They didn't know who was in the car aside from the ambassador. There
was another team of shooters, by the way, staked out on a different route. They have some names, and
the local cops're taking the town apart looking for them. I think that's a dead end. It was a contract
job, and the people who know anything are long gone."
"What about places they fired from?"
"Broke in both apartments. They undoubtedly had the places surveyed beforehand. When the time
came, they got in, tied up - actually cuffed - the owners, and sat it out. A real professional job from
beginning to end," Murray said.
"Four hours' warning?"
"Correct."
"That makes it after the time the plane lifted off Andrews," Shaw observed.
Murray nodded. "That makes it clear that the leak was on our side. The airplane's flight plan was
filed for Grenada - where the bird actually ended up. That was changed two hours out from the
destination. The Colombian Attorney General was the only guy who knew that Emil was going down,
and he didn't spread the word until three hours before the landing. Other senior government members
knew that something was up, and that could explain the alert order to our M-19 friends, but the timing
just isn't right. The leak was here unless their AG himself blew the cover off. Morales says that's
very unlikely. The man is supposed to be the local Oliver Cromwell, honest as God and the balls of a
lion. No mistress to blab to or anything like that. The leak was on our end, Bill."
Shaw rubbed his eyes and thought about some more coffee, but he had enough caffeine in his
system already to hyperactivate a statue. "Go on."
"We've interviewed everyone who knew about the trip. Needless to say, nobody claims to have
talked. I've ordered a subpoena to check phone records, but I don't expect anything there."
"What about -"
"The guys at Andrews?" Dan smiled. "They're on the list. Maybe forty people, tops, who could
have known that the Director was taking a flight. That includes people who found out up to an hour
after the bird lifted off."
"Physical evidence?"
"Well, we have one of the RPG launchers and assorted other weapons. The Colombian Army
troops reacted damned well - Christ, running into a building where you know there's heavy weapons,
that's real balls. The M-19ers were carrying Soviet-bloc light weapons also, probably from Cuba,
but that's incidental. I'd like to ask the Sovs to help us identify the RPG lot and shipment."
"You think we'll get any cooperation?"
"The worst thing they can say is no, Bill. We'll see if this glasnost crap is for-real or not."
"Okay, ask."
"The rest of the physical side is pretty straightforward. It'll confirm what we already know, but
that's about it. Maybe the Colombians will be able to work their way back through M-19, but I doubt
it. They've been working on that group for quite a while, and it's a tough nut."
"Okay."
"You look a little punked out, Bill," Murray observed. "We got young agents to burn both ends of
the candle. Us old farts are supposed to know about pacing ourselves."
"Yeah, well, I have all this other stuff to get current with." Shaw waved at his desk.
"When's the plane leave?"
"Ten-thirty."
"Well, I'm going to go back to my office and grab a piece of the couch. I suggest you do the
same."
Shaw realized that it wasn't such a bad idea. Ten minutes later, he'd done the same, asleep
despite all the coffee he'd drunk. An hour after that, Moira Wolfe came to his door minutes ahead of
the time his own executive secretary showed up. She knocked but got no answer. She didn't want to
open the door, didn't want to disturb Mr. Shaw, even though there was something important that she
wanted to tell him. It could wait until they were all on the airplane.
"Hi, Moira," Shaw's secretary said, catching her on the way out. "Anything wrong?"
"I wanted to see Mr. Shaw, but I think he's asleep. He's been working straight through since -"
"I know. You look like you could use some rest, too."
"Tonight, maybe."
"Want me to tell him -"
"No, I'll see him on the airplane."
There was a mixup on the subpoena. The agent who'd made the arrangements had gotten the name
of the wrong judge from the U.S. Attorney, and found himself sitting in the anteroom until 9:30
because the judge was also late coming in this Monday morning. Ten minutes after that, he had
everything he needed. The good news was that it was but a short drive to the phone company, and
that the local Bell office could access all the billing records it needed. The total list was nearly a
hundred names, with over two hundred phone numbers and sixty-one credit cards, some of which
were not AT&T. It took an hour to get a hard copy of all the records, and the agent rechecked the
numbers he had written down to make sure that there hadn't been any garbles or overlooks. He was a
new agent, only a few months out of the Academy, on his first assignment to the Washington Field
Division, essentially running an important errand for his supervisor as he learned the ropes, and he
hadn't paid all that much attention to the data he'd just received. He didn't know, for example, that a
58 prefix on a certain telephone number denoted an overseas call to Venezuela. But he was young,
and he'd know that before lunch.
The aircraft was a VC-135, the military version of the old 707. It was windowless, which the
passengers always enjoyed, but had a large cargo door that was necessary for loading Director
Jacobs aboard for his last trip to Chicago. The President was in another aircraft, scheduled to arrive
at O'Hare International a few minutes ahead of this one. He would speak both at the temple and the
graveside.
Shaw, Murray, and several other senior FBI officials rode in the second aircraft, which was often
used for similar missions, and had the appropriate hardware to keep the casket in place in the
forward section of the cabin. It gave them a chance to stare at the polished oak box for the entire
flight, without even a small window to distract them. Somehow that brought it home more than
anything else might have done. It was a very quiet flight, only the whine of the turbofan engines to
keep the living and the dead company.
But the aircraft was part of the President's own fleet, and had all of the communications gear
needed for that duty. An Air Force lieutenant came aft, asking for Murray, then led him forward to the
communications console.
Mrs. Wolfe was in an aisle seat thirty feet aft of the senior executives. There were tears
streaming down her face, and while she remembered that there was something she ought to tell Mr.
Shaw, this wasn't the time or place, was it? It didn't really matter anyway - just that she'd made a
mistake when the agent had interviewed her the previous afternoon. It was the shock of the event,
really. It was so hard. Her life had known too many losses in the past few years, and the mental
whiplash of the weekend had… what? Confused her? She didn't know. But this wasn't the right
time. Today was a time to remember the best boss she'd ever had, a man who was every bit as
thoughtful to her as he'd ever been to the agents who lionized him. She saw Mr. Murray walk forward
for something or other, past the coffin that her hand had brushed on the way in, her last goodbye to the
Director.
The call didn't take more than a minute. Murray emerged from the small radio compartment, his
face as much under control as it ever was. He didn't look again at the casket, just looked aft, Moira
saw, straight down the aisle before he took his place next to his wife.
"Oh, shit!" Dan muttered to himself after he was seated. His wife's head snapped around. It
wasn't the sort of thing you say at a funeral. She touched his arm, but Murray shook his head. When
he looked at his wife, the expression she saw was sadness, but not grief.
The flight lasted just over an hour. The honor guard came up from the rear of the aircraft to take
charge of the Director, all polished and scrubbed in their dress uniforms. After they were out, the
passengers exited to find the rest of the assembly waiting for them on the tarmac, watched by distant
TV news cameras. The honor guard marched their burden behind two flags, that of their nation and
the banner of the FBI, emblazoned with the "Fidelity-Bravery-Integrity" motto of the Bureau. Murray
watched as the wind played with the flag, watched the words curl and flap in the breeze, and realized
just how intangible such words really were. But he couldn't tell Bill just yet. It would be noticed.
"Well, now we know why we wasted the airfield." Chavez watched the ceremony in the squad
bay of the barracks. It was all very clear to him now.
"But why'd they yank us out?" Vega asked.
"We're going back, Oso. An' the air's gonna be thin where we're goin' back to."
Larson didn't need to watch the TV coverage. He hovered over a map, plotting known and
suspected processing sites southwest of Medellín. He knew the areas - who didn't? - but isolating
individual locations… that was harder, but, again, it was a technological question. The United States
had invented modern reconnaissance technology and spent almost thirty years perfecting it. He was in
Florida, having flown to the States ostensibly to take delivery of a new aircraft, which had
unaccountably developed engine problems.
"How long have we been doing this?"
"Only a couple of months," Ritter answered.
Even with so thin a data base, it wasn't all that hard. All of the towns and villages in the area
were plotted, of course, even individual houses. Since nearly all had electricity, they were easy to
spot, and once identified, the computer simply erased them electronically. That left energy sources
that were not towns, villages, and individual farmsteads. Of these, some were regular or fairly so. It
had been arbitrarily decided that anything that appeared more than twice in a week was too obvious
to be of real interest, and these, too, were erased. That left sixty or so locations that appeared and
disappeared in accordance with a chart next to the map and photographs. Each was a possible site
where raw coca leaves began the refining process. They were not encampments for the Colombian
Boy Scouts.
"You can't track in on them chemically," Ritter said. "I checked. The ether and acetone
concentrations released into the air aren't much more than you'd expect from the spillage of nailpolish remover, not to mention the usual biochemical processes in this sort of environment. It's a
jungle, right? Lots of stuff rots on the ground, and they give off all sorts of chemicals when they
do. So all we have off the satellite is the usual infrared. They still do all their processing at night? I
wonder why?"
Larson grunted agreement. "It's a carry-over from when the Army was actively hunting
them. They still do it mainly from habit, I suppose."
"Well, it gives us something, doesn't it?"
"What are we going to do with it?"
Murray had never been to a Jewish funeral. It wasn't very different from a Catholic one. The
prayers were in a language he couldn't understand, but the message wasn't very different. Lord, we're
sending a good man back to You. Thanks for letting us have him for a while. The President's
eulogy was particularly impressive, having been drafted by the best White House speechwriter,
quoting from the Torah, the Talmud, and the New Testament. Then he started talking about Justice,
the secular god that Emil had served for all of his adult life. When, toward the end, he talked about
how men should turn their hearts away from vengeance, however, Murray thought that… it wasn't the
words. The speech was as poetically written as any he'd ever heard. It was just that the President
started sounding like a politician at that point, Dan thought. Is that my own cynicism talking? the agent
thought. He was a cop, and justice to him meant that the bastards who committed crimes had to
pay. Evidently the President thought the same way, despite the statesmanlike stuff he was
saying. That was fine with Murray.
The soldiers watched the TV coverage in relative silence. A few men worked knives across
sharpening stones, but mainly they just sat there, listening to their President speak, knowing who had
killed the man whose name few had heard until after he was dead. Chavez had been the first to make
the correct observation, but it hadn't been all that great a leap of imagination, had it? They accepted
the as-yet-unspoken news phlegmatically. Here was merely additional proof that their enemy had
struck out directly against one of the most important symbols of their nation. There was their
country's flag, draped across the coffin. There was the banner of the man's own agency, but this
wasn't a job for cops, was it? So the soldiers traded looks in silence while their Commander-inChief had his say. When it was all over, the door to the squad bay opened, and there was their
commander.
"We're going back in tonight. The good news is, it's going to be cooler where we're going,"
Captain Ramirez told his men. Chavez cocked an eyebrow at Vega.
USS Ranger sailed on the tide, assisted away from the dock by a flotilla of tugs while her escorts
formed up, already out of the harbor and taking rolls from the broad Pacific swells. Within an hour
she was clear of the harbor, doing twenty knots. Another hour, and it was time to begin flight
operations. First to arrive were the helicopters, one of which refueled and took off again to take
plane-guard station off the carrier's starboard quarter. The first fixed-wing aircraft aboard were the
Intruder attack bombers, led, of course, by the skipper, Commander Jensen. On the way out he'd seen
the ammunition ship, USS Shasta, just beginning to get up steam. She'd join the underwayreplenishment group that was to sail two hours behind the battle group. Shasta had the weapons that
he'd be dropping. He already knew the sort of targets. Not the exact places yet, but he had the rough
idea, and that, he realized as he climbed down from his aircraft, was all the idea he wanted to
have. Worrying about "Collateral Damage" wasn't strictly his concern, as somebody had told him
earlier in the day. What an odd term, he thought. Collateral Damage. What an offhand way of
condemning people whom fate had already selected to be in the wrong place. He felt sorry for them,
but not all that sorry.
Clark arrived in Bogotá late that afternoon. No one met him, and he rented a car as he usually
did. One hour out of the airport he stopped to park on a secondary road. He waited several annoying
minutes for another car to pull up alongside. The driver, a CIA officer assigned to the local station,
handed him a package and drove off without a word. Not a large package, it weighed about twenty
pounds, half of which was a stout tripod. Clark set it gently on the floor of the passenger
compartment and drove off. He'd been asked to "deliver" quite a few messages in his time, but never
quite so emphatically as this. It was all his idea. Well, he thought, mostly his idea. That made it
somewhat more palatable.
The VC-135 lifted off two hours after the funeral. It was too bad they didn't have a wake in
Chicago. That was an Irish custom, not one for the children of Eastern European Jews, but Emil
would have approved, Dan Murray was sure. He would have understood that many a beer or
whiskey would be lifted to his memory tonight, and somewhere, in his quiet way he'd laugh in the
knowledge of it. But not now. Dan had gotten his wife to maneuver Mrs. Shaw onto the other side of
the airplane so that he could sit next to Bill. Shaw noticed that immediately, of course, but waited
until the aircraft leveled off to make the obvious question.
"What is it?"
Murray handed over the sheet he pulled off the aircraft's facsimile printer a few hours earlier.
"Oh, shit!" Shaw swore quietly. "Not Moira. Not her."
16. Target List
'I'M OPEN TO suggestions," Murray said. He regretted his tone at once.
"Christ's sake, Dan!" Shaw's face had gone gray for a moment, and his expression was now angry.
"Sorry, but - damn it, Bill, do we handle it straight or do we candy-ass our way around the
issue?"
"Straight."
"One of the kids from WFO asked her the usual battery of questions, and she said that she didn't
tell anybody… well, maybe so, but who the hell did she call in Venezuela? They re-checked going
back a year, no such calls ever before. The boy I left behind to run things did some further checking the number she called is an apartment, and the phone there rang someplace in Colombia within a few
minutes of Moira's call."
"Oh, God." Shaw shook his head. From anyone else he would merely have felt anger, but Moira
had worked with the Director since before he'd returned to D.C., from his command of the New York
Field Division.
"Maybe it's an innocent thing. Maybe even a coincidence," Murray allowed, but that didn't
improve Bill's demeanor very much.
"Care to do a probability assessment of that statement, Danny?"
"No."
"Well, we're all going back to the office after we land. I'll have her into my place an hour after
we get back. You be there, too."
"Right." It was time for Murray to shake his head. She'd shed as many tears at the graveside as
anyone else. He'd seen a lifetime's worth of duplicity in his law-enforcement career, but to think that
of Moira was more than he could stomach. It has to be a coincidence. Maybe one of her kids has a
pen pal down there. Or something like that, Dan told himself.
The detectives searching Sergeant Braden's home found what they were looking for. It wasn't
much, just a camera case. But the case had a Nikon F-3 body and enough lenses that the entire
package had to be worth eight or nine thousand dollars. More than a Mobile detective sergeant could
afford. While the rest of the officers continued the search, the senior detective called Nikon's home
office and checked the number on the camera to see if the owner had registered it for warranty
purposes. He had. And with the name that was read off to him, the officer knew that he had to call
the FBI office as well. It was part of a federal case, and he hoped that somehow they could protect
the name of a man who had certainly been a dirty cop. Dirty or not, he did leave kids
behind. Perhaps the FBI would understand that.
He was committing a federal crime to do this, but the attorney considered that he had a higher duty
to his clients. It was one of those gray areas which decorate not so much legal textbooks, but rather
the volumes of written court decisions. He was sure a crime had been committed, was sure that
nothing was being done to investigate it, and was sure that its disclosure was important to the defense
of his clients on a case of capital murder. He didn't expect to be caught, but if he were, he'd have
something to take to the professional ethics panel of the state bar association. Edward Stuart's
professional duty to his clients, added to his personal distaste for capital punishment, made the
decision an inevitable one.
They didn't call it Happy Hour at the base NCO club anymore, but nothing had really
changed. Stuart had served his time in the U.S. Navy as a legal officer aboard an aircraft carrier even in the Navy, a mobile city of six thousand people needed a lawyer or two - and knew about
sailors and suds. So he'd visited a uniform store and gotten the proper outfit of a Coast Guard chief
yeoman complete with the appropriate ribbons and just walked onto the base, heading for the NCO
club where, as long as he paid for his drinks in cash, nobody would take great note of his
presence. He'd been a yeoman himself while aboard USS Eisenhower, and knew the lingo well
enough to pass any casual test of authenticity. The next trick, of course, was finding a crewman from
the cutter Panache.
The cutter was finishing up the maintenance period that always followed a deployment,
preparatory to yet another cruise, and her crewmen would be hitting the club after working hours to
enjoy their afternoon beers while they could. It was just a matter of finding the right ones. He knew
the names, and had checked tape archives at the local TV stations to get a look at the faces. It was
nothing more than good luck that the one he found was Bob Riley. He knew more about that man's
career than the other chiefs.
The master chief boatswain's mate strolled in at 4:30 after ten hot hours supervising work on
various topside gear. He'd had a light lunch and sweated off all of that and more, and now figured
that a few mugs of beer would replace all the fluids and electrolytes that he'd lost under the hot
Alabama sun. The barmaid saw him coming and had a tall one of Samuel Adams all ready by the
time he selected a stool. Edward Stuart got there a minute and half a mug later.
"Ain't you Bob Riley?"
"That's right," the bosun said before turning. "Who're you?"
"Didn't think you'd remember me. Matt Stevens. You near tore my head off on the Mellon awhile
back - said I'd never get my shit together."
"Looks like I was wrong," Riley noted, searching his memory for the face.
"No, you were right. I was a real punk back then, but you - well, I owe you one, Master Chief. I
did get my shit together. Mainly 'causa what you said." Stuart stuck out his hand. "I figure I owe you a
beer at least."
It wasn't all that unusual a thing for Riley to hear. "Hell, we all need straigthenin' out. I got
bounced off a coupla bulkheads when I was a kid, too, y'know?"
"Done a little of it myself." Stuart grinned. "You make chief an' you gotta be respectable and
responsible, right? Otherwise who keeps the officers straightened out?"
Riley grunted agreement. "Who you workin' for?"
"Admiral Hally. He's at Buzzard's Point. Had to fly down with him to meet with the base
commander. I think he's off playing golf right now. Never did get the hang of that game. You're on
Panache, right?"
"You bet."
"Captain Wegener?"
"Yep." Riley finished off his beer and Stuart waved to the barmaid for refills.
"Is he as good as they say?"
"Red's a better seaman 'n I am," Riley replied honestly.
"Nobody's that good, Master Chief. Hey, I was there when you took the boat across - what was
the name of that container boat that snapped in half… ?"
"Arctic Star." Riley smiled, remembering. "Jesus, if we didn't earn our pay that afternoon."
"I remember watching. Thought you were crazy. Well, shit. All I do now is drive a word
processor for the Admiral, but I did a little stuff in a forty-one boat before I made chief, working outa
Norfolk. Nothing like Arctic Star, of course."
"Don't knock it, Matt. One of those jobs's enough for a couple years of sea stories. I'll take an
easy one any day. I'm gettin' a little old for that dramatic stuff."
"How's the food here?"
"Fair."
"Buy you dinner?"
"Matt, I don't even remember what I said to you."
"I remember," Stuart assured him. "God knows how I woulda turned out if you hadn't turned me
around. No shit, man. I owe you one. Come on." He waved Riley over to a booth against the
wall. They were quickly going through their third beer when Chief Quartermaster Oreza arrived.
"Hey, Portagee," Riley called to his fellow master chief.
"I see the beer's cold, Bob."
Riley waved to his companion. "This here's Matt Stevens. We were on the Mellon together. Did
I ever tell you about the Arctic Star job?"
"Only about thirty times," Oreza noted.
"You wanna tell the story, Matt?" Riley asked.
"Hey, I didn't even see it all, you know -"
"Yeah, half the crew was puking their guts out. I'm talking a real gale blowing. No way the helo
could take off, and this container boat - the after half of her, that is; the fo'ard part was already gone look like she was gonna roll right there an' then…"
Within an hour, two more rounds had been consumed, and the three men were chomping their way
through a disk of knockwurst and sauerkraut, which went well with beer. Stuart stuck with stories
about his new Admiral, the Chief Counsel of the Coast Guard, in which legal officers are also line
officers, expected to know how to drive ships and command men.
"Hey, what's with these stories I been hearing about you an' those two drug pukes?" the attorney
finally asked.
"What d'ya mean?" Oreza asked. Portagee still had some remaining shreds of sobriety.
"Hey, the FBI guys went in to see Hally, right? I had, to type up his reports on my Zenith,
y'know?"
"What did them FBI guys say?"
"I'm not supposed - oh, fuck it! Look, you're all in the clear. The Bureau isn't doing a fuckin'
thing. They told your skipper 'go forth and sin no more,' okay? The shit you got outa those pukes didn't you hear? Operation TARPON. That whole sting operation came from you guys. Didn't you
know that?"
"What?" Riley hadn't seen a paper or turned on a TV in days. Though he did know about the death
of the FBI Director, he had no idea of the connection with his Hang-Ex, as he had taken to calling it in
the goat locker.
Stuart explained what he knew, which was quite a lot.
"Half a billion dollars?" Oreza observed quietly. "That oughta build us a few new hulls."
"Christ knows we need 'em," Stuart agreed.
"You guys didn't really - I mean, you didn't really… hang one of the fuckers, did you?" Stuart
extracted a Radio Shack mini-tape recorder from his pocket and thumbed the volume switch to the
top.
"Actually it was Portagee's idea," Riley said.
"Couldn't have done it without you, Bob," Oreza said generously.
"Yeah, well, the trick was how to do the hangin'," Riley explained. "You see, we had to make it
look real if we was gonna scare the piss outa the little one. Wasn't really all that hard once I thought
it over. After we got him alone, the pharmacist mate gave him a shot of ether to knock him out for a
few minutes, and I rigged a rope harness on his back. When we took him topside, the noose had a
hook on the back, so when I looped the noose around his neck, all I hadda do was attach the hook to
an eye I put on the harness, so we was hoistin' him by the harness, not the neck. We didn't really
wanna kill the fucker - well, I did," Riley said. "But Red didn't think it was a real good idea." The
bosun grinned at the quartermaster.
"The other trick was baggin' him," Oreza said. "We put a black hood over his head. Well, there
was a gauze pad inside soaked in ether. The bastard screamed bloody murder when he smelled it, but
it had him knocked out as soon as we ran his ass up to the yardarm."
"The little one believed the whole thing. Fucker wet his pants, it was beautiful! Sang like a
canary when they got him back to the wardroom. Soon as he was outa sight, of course, we lowered
the other one and got him woke back up. They were both half in the bag from smokin' grass all day. I
don't think they ever figured out what we did to them."
No, they didn't. "Grass?"
"That was Red's idea. They had their own pot stash - looked like real cigarettes. We just gave
'em back to 'em, and they got themselves looped. Throw in the ether and everything, and I bet they
never figured out what really happened."
Almost right, Stuart thought, hoping that his tape recorder was getting this.
"I wish we really could have hung 'em," Riley said after a few seconds. "Matt, you ain't never
seen anything like what that yacht looked like. Four people, man - butchered 'em like cattle. Ever
smell blood? I didn't know you could. You can," the bosun assured him. "They raped the wife and
the little girl, then cut 'em up like they was - God! You know, I been having nightmares from
that? Nightmares - me! Jesus, that's one sea story I wish I could forget. I got a little girl that
age. Those fuckers raped her an' killed her, and cut her up an' fed her to the fuckin' sharks. Just a
little girl, not even big enough to drive a car or go out on a date.
"We're supposed to be professional cops, right? We're supposed to be cool about it, don't get
personally involved. All that shit?" Riley asked.
"That's what the book says," Stuart agreed.
"The book wasn't written for stuff like this," Portagee said. "People who do this sort of thing they ain't really people. I don't know what the hell they are, but people they ain't. You can't do that
kinda shit and be people, Matt."
"Hey, what d'you want me to say?" Stuart asked, suddenly defensive, and not acting a part this
time. "We got laws to deal with people like that."
"Laws ain't doin' much good, are they?" Riley asked.
The difference between the people he was obliged to defend and the people he had to impeach,
Stuart told himself through the fog of alcohol, was that the bad ones were his clients and the good
ones were not. And now, by impersonating a Coast Guard chief, he too had broken a law, just as
these men had done, and like them, he was doing it for some greater good, some higher moral
cause. So he asked himself who was right. Not that it mattered, of course. Whatever was "right"
was lost somewhere, not to be found in lawbooks or canons of ethics. Yet if you couldn't find it
there, then where the hell was it? But Stuart was a lawyer, and his business was law, not right. Right
was the province of judges and juries. Or something like that. Stuart told himself that he shouldn't
drink so much. Drink made confused things clear, and the clear things confused.
The ride in was far rougher this time. Westerly winds off the Pacific Ocean hit the slopes of the
Andes and boiled upward, looking for passes to go through. The resulting turbulence could be felt at
thirty thousand feet, and here, only three hundred feet AGL - above ground level - the ride was a hard
one, all the more so with the helicopter on its terrain-following autopilot. Johns and Willis were
strapped in tight to reduce the effects of the rough ride, and both knew that the people in back were
having a bad time indeed as the big Sikorsky jolted up and down in twenty-foot bounds at least ten
times per minute. PJ's hand was on the stick, following the motions of the autopilot but ready to take
instant command if the system showed the first sign of failure. This was real flying, as he liked to
say. That generally meant the dangerous kind.
Skimming through this pass - it was more of a saddle, really - didn't make it any easier. A ninetysix-hundred-foot peak was to the south, and one of seventy-eight hundred feet to the north, and a lot of
Pacific air was being funneled through as the Pave Low roared at two hundred knots. They were
heavy, having tanked only a few minutes earlier just off Colombia's Pacific Coast.
"There's Mistrato," Colonel Johns said. The computer navigation system had already veered them
north to pass well clear of the town and any roads. The two pilots were also alert for anything on the
ground that hinted at a man or a car or a house. The route had been selected off satellite photographs,
of course, both daylight and nighttime infrared shots, but there was always the chance of a surprise.
"Buck, LZ One in four minutes," PJ called over the intercom.
"Roger."
They were flying over Risaralda Province, part of the great valley that lay between two enormous
ridgelines of mountains flung into the sky by a subductal fault in the earth's crust. PJ's hobby was
geology. He knew how much effort it took to bring his aircraft to this altitude, and he boggled at the
forces that could push mountains to the same height.
"LZ One in sight," Captain Willis said.
"Got it." Colonel Johns took the stick. He keyed his microphone, "One minute. Hot guns."
"Right." Sergeant Zimmer left his position to head aft. Sergeant Bean activated his minigun in
case there was trouble. Zimmer slipped and nearly fell on a pool of vomit. That wasn't unusual. The
ride smoothed out now that they were in the lee of the mountains, but there were some very sick kids
in back who would be glad to get on firm, unmoving ground. Zimmer had trouble understanding
that. It was dangerous on the ground.
The first squad was up as the helicopter flared to make its first landing, and as before, the moment
it touched down, they ran out the back. Zimmer made his count, watched to be certain that everyone
got off safely, and notified the pilot to lift off as soon as they were clear.
Next time, Chavez told himself, next time I fucking walk in and out! He had had some rough
chopper rides in his time, but nothing like that one. He led off to the treeline and waited for the
remainder of the squad to catch up.
"Glad to be on the ground?" Vega asked as soon as he got there.
"I didn't know I ate that much," Ding groaned. Everything he'd eaten in the last few hours was still
aboard the helicopter. He opened a canteen and drank a pint of water just to wash away the vile
taste.
"I usta love roller coasters," Oso said. "No more, 'mano!"
"Fuckin' A!" Chavez remembered standing in line for the big ones at Knott's Berry Farm and other
California theme parks. Never again!
"You okay, Ding?" Captain Ramirez asked.
"Sorry, sir. That never happened to me - ever! I'll be okay in a minute," he promised his
commander.
"Take your time. We picked a nice, quiet spot to land." I hope.
Chavez shook his head to clear it. He didn't know that motion sickness started in the inner ear,
had never known what motion sickness was until half an hour earlier. But he did the right thing,
taking deep breaths and shaking his head to get his equilibrium back. The ground wasn't moving, he
told himself, but part of his brain wasn't sure.
"Where to, Cap'n?"
"You're already heading in the right direction." Ramirez clapped him on the shoulder. "Move out."
Chavez put on his low-light goggles and started moving off through the forest. God, but that was
embarrassing. He'd never do anything that dumb again, the sergeant promised himself. With his head
still telling him that he was probably moving in a way that his legs couldn't possibly cause, he
concentrated on his footing and the terrain, rapidly moving two hundred meters ahead of the main
body of the squad. The first mission into the swampy lowlands had just been practice, hadn't really
been serious, he thought now. But this was the real thing. With that thought foremost in his mind, he
batted away the last remnants of his nausea and got down to work.
Everyone worked late that night. There was the investigation to run, and routine office business
had to be kept current as well. By the time Moira came into Mr. Shaw's office, she'd managed to
organize everything he'd need to know, and it was also time to tell him what she'd forgotten. She
wasn't surprised to see Mr. Murray there, too. She was surprised when he spoke first.
"Moira, were you interviewed about Emil's trip?" Dan asked.
She nodded. "Yes. I forgot something. I wanted to tell you this morning, Mr. Shaw, but when I
came in early you were asleep. Connie saw me," she assured him.
"Go on," Bill said, wondering if he should feel a little better about that or not.
Mrs. Wolfe sat down, then turned to look at the open door. Murray walked over to close it. On
the way back he placed his hand on her shoulder.
"It's okay, Moira."
"I have a friend. He lives in Venezuela. We met… well, we met a month and a half ago, and we this is hard to explain."
She hesitated, staring at the rug for a moment before looking up. "We fell in love. He comes up to
the States on business every few weeks, and with the Director away, we wanted to spend a weekend at The Hideaway, in the mountains near Luray Caverns?"
"I know it," Shaw said. "Nice place to get away from it all."
"Well, when I knew that Mr. Jacobs was going to be away and we had a chance for a long
weekend, I called him. He has a factory. He makes auto parts - two factories, actually, one in
Venezuela and one in Costa Rica. Carburetors and things like that."
"Did you call him at his home?" Murray asked.
"No. He works such long hours that I called him at his factory. I have the number here." She
handed over the scrap of Sheraton note paper that he'd written it down on. "Anyway, I got his
secretary - her name's Consuela - because he was out on the shop floor, and he called me back, and I
told him that we could get together, so he came up - we met at the airport Friday afternoon. I left
early after Mr. Jacobs did."
"Which airport?"
"Dulles."
"What's his name?" Shaw asked.
"Díaz. Juan Díaz. You can call him there at the factory and -"
"That phone number goes to an apartment, not a factory, Moira," Murray said. And it was that
clear, that fast.
"But - but he -" She stopped. "No. No. He isn't -"
"Moira, we need a complete physical description."
"Oh, no." Her mouth fell open and wouldn't close. She looked from Shaw to Murray and back
again as the horror of it all closed in on her. She was dressed in black, of course, probably the same
outfit she'd worn to bury her own husband. For a few weeks she'd been a bright, beautiful, happy
woman again. No more. Both FBI executives felt her pain, hating themselves for having brought it to
her. She was a victim, too. But she was also a lead, and they needed a lead.
Moira Wolfe summoned what little dignity she had left and gave them as complete a description
as they had ever had of any man in a voice as brittle as crystal before she lost control entirely. Shaw
had his personal assistant drive her home.
"Cortez," Murray said as soon as the door closed behind her.
"That's a pretty solid bet," the Executive Assistant Director(Investigations) agreed. "The book on
him says that he's a real ace at compromising people. Jesus, did he ever prove that right." Shaw's
head went from side to side as he reached for some coffee. "But he couldn't have known what they
were doing, could he?"
"Doesn't make much sense to have come here if he did," Murray said. "But since when are
criminals logical? Well, we start checking immigration control points, hotels, airlines. See if we can
track this cocksucker. I'll get on it. What are we going to do about Moira?"
"She didn't break any laws, did she?" That was the really odd part. "Find a place where she
doesn't have to see classified material, maybe in another agency. Dan, we can't destroy her, too."
"No."
Moira Wolfe got home just before eleven. Her kids were all still up waiting for her. They
assumed that her tears were a delayed reaction from the funeral. They'd all met Emil Jacobs, too, and
mourned his passing as much as anyone else who worked for the Bureau. She didn't say very much,
heading upstairs for bed while they continued to sit before the television. Alone in the bathroom she
stared in the mirror at the woman who'd allowed herself to be seduced and used like… like a fool,
something worse than a fool, a stupid, vain, lonely old woman looking for her youth. So desperate to
be loved again that… That she had condemned - how many? Seven people? She couldn't remember,
staring at her empty face in the glass. The young agents on Emil's security detail had families. She'd
knitted a sweater for Leo's firstborn son. He was still too young - he'd never remember what a nice,
handsome young man his father had been.
It's all my fault.
I helped kill them.
She opened the mirrored door to the medicine cabinet. Like most people, the Wolfes never threw
out old medicine, and there it was, a plastic container of Placidyls. There were still - she counted six
of them. Surely that would be enough.
"What brings you out this time?" Timmy Jackson asked his big brother.
"I gotta go out on Ranger to observe a Fleet-Ex. We're trying out some new intercept tactics I
helped work up. And a friend of mine just got command of Enterprise, so I came out a day early to
watch the ceremony. I go down to D'ego tomorrow and catch the COD out to Ranger."
"COD?"
"The carrier's delivery truck," Robby explained. "Twin-engine prop bird. So how's life in the
light infantry?"
"We're still humpin' hills. Got our clock cleaned on the last exercise. My new squad leader
really fucked up. It isn't fair," Tim observed.
"What do you mean?"
Lieutenant Jackson tossed off the last of his drink. " 'A green lieutenant and a green squad leader
is too much burden for any platoon to bear' - that's what the new S-3 said. He was out with us. Of
course, the captain didn't exactly see it that way. Lost a little weight yesterday - he chewed off a
piece of my ass for me. God, I wish I had Chavez back."
"Huh?"
"Squad leader I lost. He - that's the odd part. He was supposed to go to a basic-training center as
an instructor, but seems he got lost. The S-3 says he was in Panama a few weeks ago. Had my
platoon sergeant try to track him down, see what the hell was going on - he's still my man, you
know?" Robby nodded. He understood. "Anyway, his paperwork is missing, and the clerks are
runnin' in circles trying to find it. Fort Banning called to ask where the hell he was, 'cause they were
still waiting for him. Nobody knows where the hell Ding got to. That sort of thing happen in the
Navy?"
"When a guy goes missing, it generally means that he wants to be missing."
Tim shook his head. "Nah, not Ding. He's a lifer, I don't even think he'll stop at twenty. He'll
retire as a command sergeant major. No, he's no bugout."
"Then maybe somebody dropped his file in the wrong drawer," Robby suggested.
"I suppose. I'm still new at this," Tim reminded himself. "Still, it is kind of funny, turning up
down there in the jungle. Enough of that. How's Sis?"
About the only good thing to say was that it wasn't hot. In fact, it was pretty cool. Maybe there
wasn't enough air to be hot, Ding told himself. The altitude was marginally less than they'd trained at
in Colorado, but that was weeks behind them, and it would be a few days before the soldiers were
reacclimated. That would slow them down some, but on the whole Chavez thought that heat was
more debilitating than thin air, and harder to get used to.
The mountains - nobody called these mothers hills - were about as rugged as anything he'd ever
seen, and though they were well forested, he was paying particularly close attention to his
footing. The thick trees made for limited visibility, which was good news. His night scope, hanging
on his head like a poorly designed cap, allowed him to see no more than a hundred meters, and
usually less than that, but he could see something, while the overhead cover eliminated the light
needed for the unaided eye to see. It was scary, and it was lonely, but it was home for Sergeant
Chavez.
He did not move in a straight line to the night's objective, following instead the Army's approved
procedure of constantly veering left and right of the direction in which he was actually
traveling. Every half hour he'd stop, double back, and wait until the rest of the squad was in
view. Then it was their turn to rest for a few minutes, checking their own back for people who might
take an interest in the new visitors to the jungle highlands.
The sling on his MP-5 was double-looped so that he could carry it slung over his head, always in
firing position. There was electrician's tape over the muzzle to keep it from being clogged, and more
tape was wrapped around the sling swivels to minimize noise. Noise was their enemy. Chavez
concentrated on that, and seeing, and a dozen other things. This one was for-real. The mission brief
had told them all about that. Their job wasn't reconnaissance anymore.
After six hours, the RON - remain overnight - site was in view. Chavez radioed back - five taps
on the transmit key answered by three - for the squad to remain in place while he checked it
out. They'd picked a real eyrie - he knew the word for an eagle's nest - from which, in daylight, they
could look down on miles of the main road that snaked its way from Manizales to Medellín, and off of
which the refining sites were located. Six of them, supposedly, were within a night's march of the
RON site. Chavez circled it carefully, looking for footprints, trash, anything that hinted at human
activity. It was too good a site for someone not to have used it for something or other, he
thought. Maybe a photographer for National Geographic who wanted to take shots of the valley. On
the other hand, getting here was a real bitch. They were a good three thousand feet above the road,
and this wasn't the sort of country that you could drive a tank across, much less a car. He spiraled in,
and still found nothing. Maybe it was too far out of the way. After half an hour he keyed his radio
again. The rest of the squad had had ample time to check its rear, and if anyone had been following
them, there would have been contact by now. The sun outlined the eastern wall of the valley in red by
the time Captain Ramirez appeared. It was just as well that the covert insertion had shortened the
night. With only half a night's march behind them they were tired, but not too tired, and would have a
day to get used to the altitude all over again. They'd come five linear miles from the LZ - more like
seven miles actually walked, and two thousand feet up.
As before, Ramirez spread his men out in pairs. There was a nearby stream, but nobody was
dehydrated this time. Chavez and Vega took position over one of the two most likely avenues of
approach to their perch, a fairly gentle slope with not too many trees and a good field of fire. Ding
hadn't come in this way, of course.
"How you feelin', Oso?"
"Why can't we ever go to a place with plenty of air and it's cool and flat?" Sergeant Vega slipped
out of his web gear, setting it in a place where it would make a comfortable pillow. Chavez did the
same.
"People don't fight wars there, man. That's where they build golf courses."
"Fuckin' A!" Vega set up his Squad Automatic Weapon next to a rocky outcropping. A
camouflage cloth was set across the muzzle. He could have torn up a shrub to hide the gun behind, but
they didn't want to disturb anything they didn't have to. Ding won the toss this time, and fell off to
sleep without a word.
"Mom?" It was after seven o'clock, and she was always up by now, fixing breakfast for her family
of early risers. Dave knocked at the door, but heard nothing. That was when he started being
afraid. He'd already lost a father, and knew that even parents were not the immortal, unchanging
beings that all children need at the center of their growing universe. It was the constant nightmare that
each of Moira's children had but never spoke about, even among themselves, lest their talk somehow
make it more likely to happen. What if something happens to Mom? Even before his hand felt for
the doorknob, Dave's eyes filled with tears at the anticipation of what he might find.
"Mom?" His voice quavered now, and he was ashamed of it, fearful also that his siblings would
hear. He turned the knob and opened the door slowly.
The shades were open, flooding the room with morning light. And there she was, lying on the
bed, still wearing her black mourning dress. Not moving.
Dave just stood there, the tears streaming down his cheeks as the reality of his personal nightmare
struck him with physical force.
"… Mom?"
Dave Wolfe was as courageous as any teenager, and he needed all of it this morning. He
summoned what strength he had and walked to the bedside, taking his mother's hand. It was still
warm. Next he felt for a pulse. It was there, weak and slow, but there. That galvanized him into
action. He lifted the bedside phone and punched 911.
"Police emergency," a voice answered immediately.
"I need an ambulance. My mom won't wake up."
"What is your address?" the voice asked. Dave gave it. "Okay, now describe your mother's
condition."
"She's asleep, and she won't wake up, and -"
"Is your mother a heavy drinker?"
"No!" he replied in outrage. "She works for the FBI. She went right to bed last night, right after
she got home from work. She -" And there it was, right on the night table. "Oh, God. There's a pill
bottle here…"
"Read the label to me!" the voice said.
"P-l-a-c-i-d-y-l. It's my dad's, and he -" That was all the operator needed to hear.
"Okay - we'll have an ambulance there in five minutes."
Actually, it was there in just over four minutes. The Wolfe house was only three blocks from a
firehouse. The paramedics were in the living room before the rest of the family knew anything was
wrong. They ran upstairs to find Dave still holding his mother's hand and shaking like a twig in a
heavy wind. The leading fireman pushed him aside, checked the airway first, then her eyes, then the
pulse.
"Forty and thready. Respiration is… eight and shallow. It's Placidyl," he reported.
"Not that shit!" The second one turned to Dave. "How many were in there?"
"I don't know. It was my dad's, and -"
"Let's go, Charlie." The first paramedic lifted her by the arms. "Move it, kid, we gotta roll." There
wasn't time to fool around with the Stokes litter. He was a big, burly man and carried Moira Wolfe
out of the room like a baby. "You can follow us to the hospital."
"How -"
"She's still breathin', kid. That's the best thing I can tell you right now," the second one said on
the way out the door.
What the hell is going on? Murray wondered. He'd come by to pick Moira up - her car was still
in the FBI garage - and maybe help ease the guilt she clearly felt. She'd violated security rules, she'd
done something very foolish, but she was also a victim of a man who'd searched and selected her for
her vulnerabilities, then exploited them as professionally as anyone could have done. Everybody had
vulnerabilities. That was another lesson he'd picked up over his years in the Bureau.
He'd never met Moira's kids, though he did know about them, and it wasn't all that hard to figure
out who would be there, following the paramedic out of the house. Murray double-parked his Bureau
car and hopped out.
"What gives?" he asked the second paramedic. Murray held up his ID so that he'd get an answer.
"Suicide attempt. Pills. Anything else you need?" the paramedic asked on his way to the driver's
seat.
"Get moving." Murray turned to make sure he wasn't in the ambulance's way.
When he turned back to look at the kids, it was plain that "suicide" hadn't yet been spoken aloud,
and the ugliness of that word made them wilt before his eyes.
That fucker Cortez! You 'd better hope that I never get my hands on you!
"Kids, I'm Dan Murray. I work with your mom. You want me to take you to the hospital?" The
case could wait. The dead were dead, and they could afford to be patient. Emil would understand.
He let them off in front of the emergency entrance and went off to find a parking place and use his
car phone. "Get me Shaw," he told the watch officer. It didn't take long.
"Dan, this is Bill. What gives?"
"Moira tried to kill herself last night. Pills."
"What are you going to do?"
"Somebody has to sit with the kids. Does she have any friends we can bring out?"
"I'll check."
"Until then I'm going to hang around, Bill. I mean -"
"I understand. Okay. Let me know what's happening."
"Right." Murray replaced the phone and walked over to the hospital. The kids were sitting
together in the waiting room. Dan knew about emergency-room waiting. He also knew that the gold
badge of an FBI agent could open nearly any door. It did this time, too.
"You just brought a woman in," he told the nearest doctor. "Moira Wolfe."
"Oh, she's the OD."
She's a person, not a goddamned OD! Murray didn't say. Instead he nodded. "Where?"
"You can't -"
Murray cut him off cold. "She's part of a major case. I want to see what's happening."
The doctor led him to a treatment cubicle. It wasn't pretty. Already there was a respirator tube
down her throat, and IV lines in each arm - on second inspection, one of the tubes seemed to be taking
her blood out and running it through something before returning it to the same arm. Her clothing was
off, and EKG sensors were taped to her chest. Murray hated himself for looking at her. Hospitals
robbed everyone of dignity, but life was more important than dignity, wasn't it?
Why didn't Moira know that?
Why didn't you catch the signal, Dan? Murray demanded of himself. You should have thought
to have somebody keep an eye on her. Hell, if you 'd put her in custody, she couldn't have done
this!
Maybe we should have yelled at her instead of going so easy. Maybe she took it the wrong
way. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
Cortez, you are fucking dead. I just haven't figured out when yet.
"Is she going to make it?" Murray asked.
"Who the hell are you?" a doctor asked without turning.
"FBI, and I need to know."
The doctor still didn't look around. "So do I, sport. She took Placidyl. That's a pretty potent
sleeping pill, not too many docs prescribe it anymore, 'cause it's too easy to OD on. LD-50 is
anywhere from five to ten caps. LD-50 means the dose that'll kill half the people that take it. I don't
know how much she took. At least she isn't completely gone, but her vitals are too goddamned low
for comfort. We're dialyzing her blood to keep any more from getting into her, hope it's not a waste of
time. We've put her on hundred-percent oxygen, then we'll zap her full of IV fluids and wait it
out. She'll be out for at least another day. Maybe two, maybe three. Can't tell yet. I can't tell you
what the odds are either. Now you know as much as I do. Get out of here, I got work to do."
"There are three kids in the waiting room, Doctor."
That turned his head around for about two seconds. "Tell 'em we got a pretty good chance, but it's
going to be tough for a while. Hey, I'm sorry, but I just don't know. The good news is, if she comes
back, she'll come all the way back. This stuff doesn't usually do permanent damage. Unless it kills
you," the doctor added.
"Thanks."
Murray left to tell the kids what he could. Within an hour, some neighbors showed up to take their
place with the Wolfe children. Dan left quietly after an agent arrived to keep his own vigil in the
waiting room. Moira was probably their only link with Cortez, and that meant that her life was
potentially in danger from hands other than her own. Murray got to the office just after nine, his mood
still quiet and angry when he arrived. There were three agents waiting for him, and he waved them to
follow.
"Okay, what have you found out?"
" 'Mr. 'Díaz' used an American Express card at The Hideaway. We've identified the number at
two airline ticket counters - thank God for those credit - checking computers. Right after he dropped
Mrs. Wolfe off, he caught a flight out of Dulles to Atlanta, and from there to Panama. That's where he
disappeared. He must have paid cash for the next ticket, 'cause there's no record of a Juan Díaz on
any flight that evening. The counter clerk at Dulles remembers him - he was in a hurry to catch the
Atlanta flight. The description matches the one we already have. However he got into the country
last week, it wasn't Dulles. We're running computer records now, ought to have an answer later this
morning - call it an even-money chance to figure his route in. I'm betting on one of the big hubs,
Dallas-Fort Worth, Kansas City, Chicago, one of them. But that's not the interesting thing we've
discovered.
"American Express just discovered that it has a bunch of cards for Juan Díaz. Several have been
generated recently, and they don't know how."
"Oh?" Murray poured some coffee. "How come they weren't noticed?"
"For one thing, the statements are paid on time and in full, so that dog didn't bark. The addresses
are all slightly different, and the name itself isn't terribly unusual, so a casual look at the records
won't tip anyone off. What it looks like is that somebody has a way to tap into their computer system
- all the way into the executive programming, and that might be another lead for us to run down. He's
probably been staying with the name in case Moira gets a look at the card. But what it has told us is
that he's made five trips to the D.C. area in the past four months. Somebody is playing with the AmEx
computer system, somebody good. Somebody," the agent went on, "good enough to tap into a lot of
computers. This guy can generate complete credit lines for Cortez or anyone else. There ought to be
a way to check that out, but I wouldn't be real hopeful about running him down fast."
There was a knock at the door, and another young agent came in. "Dallas-Fort Worth," he said
handing over a fax sheet. "The signatures match. He came in there and took a late flight to New York-
La Guardia, got in after midnight local time on Friday. Probably caught the Shuttle down to D.C. to
meet Moira. They're still checking."
"Beautiful," Murray said. "He's got all the moves. Where'd he come in from?"
"Still checking, sir. He got the New York ticket at the counter. We're talking with Immigration to
see when he passed through customs control."
"Okay, next?"
"We have prints on him now. We have what looks like a left forefinger on the note paper he left
Mrs. Wolfe, and we've matched that with the credit receipt from the airline counter at Dulles. It was
tough, but the lab guys used their lasers to bring 'em out. We sent a team to The Hideaway, but
nothing yet. The cleanup crew there is pretty good - too damned good for our purposes, but our guys
are still working on it."
"Everything but a picture on the bastard. Everything but a picture," Murray repeated. "What about
after Atlanta?"
"Oh, thought I said that. He caught a flight to Panama after a short layover."
"Where's the AmEx card addressed to?"
"It's in Caracas, probably just a letterdrop. They all are."
"How come Immigration doesn't - oh." Murray grimaced. "Of course his passport is under a
different name or he has a collection of them to go with his cards."
"We're dealing with a real pro. We're lucky to have gotten this much so fast."
"What's new in Colombia?" he asked the next agent.
"Not much. The lab work is going nicely, but we're not developing anything we didn't already
know. The Colombians now have names on about half of the subjects - the prisoner says he didn't
know all of them, and that's probably the truth. They've launched a major operation to try an' find 'em,
but Morales isn't real hopeful. They're all names of people the Colombian government's been after
for quite a while. All M-19 types. It was a contract job, just as we thought."
Murray checked his watch. Today was the funeral for the two agents on Emil's protection
detail. It would be held at the National Cathedral, and the President would be speaking there,
too. His phone rang.
"Murray."
"This is Mark Bright down at Mobile. We have some additional developments."
"Okay."
"A cop got himself blown away Saturday. It was a contract job, Ingrams at close range, but a
local kid popped a subject with his trusty .22, right in the back of the head. Killed him; they found the
body and the vehicle yesterday. The shooter was positively ID'd as a druggie. The local cops
searched the victim's - Detective Sergeant Braden - house and found a camera that belonged to the
victim in the Pirates Case. The new victim is a burglary sergeant. I am speculating that he was
working for the druggies and probably checked out the victim's place prior to the killings, looking for
the records that we ultimately found."
Murray nodded thoughtfully. That added something to their knowledge. So they'd wanted to make
sure that the victim hadn't left any records behind before they'd taken him and his family out, but their
guy wasn't good enough, and they killed him for it. It was also part of the murder of Director Jacobs,
additional fallout from Operation TARPON. Those bastards are really flexing their muscles, aren't
they? "Anything else?"
"The local cops are in a pretty nasty mood about this. First time somebody's put a hit on a cop
that way. It was a 'public' hit, and his wife got taken out by a stray round. Local cops are pretty
pissed. A drug dealer got taken all the way out last night. It'll come out as a righteous shoot, but I
don't think it was a coincidence. That's it for now."
"Thanks, Mark." Murray hung up. "The bastards have declared war on us, all right," he murmured.
"What's that, sir?"
"Nothing. Have you back-checked on the earlier trips Cortez made - hotels, car rentals?"
"We have twenty people out there on it. Ought to have some preliminary information in two
hours."
"Keep me posted."
Stuart was the first morning appointment for the U.S. Attorney, and he looked unusually chipper
this morning, the secretary thought. She couldn't see the hangover.
"Morning, Ed," Davidoff said without rising. His desk was a mass of papers. "What can I do for
you?"
"No death penalty," Stuart said as he sat down. "I'll trade a guilty plea for twenty years, and that's
the best deal you're going to get."
"See ya' in court, Ed," Davidoff replied, looking back down at his papers.
"You want to know what I've got?"
"If it's good, I'm sure you'll let me know at the proper time."
"May be enough to get my people off completely. You want 'em to walk on this?"
"Believe that when I see it," Davidoff said, but he was looking up now. Stuart was an overly
zealous defense lawyer, the United States Attorney thought, but an honest one. He didn't lie, at least
not in chambers.
Stuart habitually carried an old-fashioned briefcase, the wedge-shaped kind made of semi-stiff
leather instead of the newer and trimmer attaché case that most lawyers toted now. From it he
extracted a tape recorder. Davidoff watched in silence. Both men were trial lawyers and both were
experts at concealing their feelings, able to say what they had to say, regardless of what they felt. But
since both had this ability, like professional poker players they knew the more subtle signs that others
couldn't spot. Stuart knew that he had his adversary worried when he punched the play button. The
tape lasted several minutes. The sound quality was miserable, but it was audible, and with a little
cleaning up in a sound laboratory - the defendants could afford it - it would be as clear as it needed to
be.
Davidoff's ploy was the obvious one: "That has no relevance to the case we're trying. All of the
information in the confession is excluded from the proceedings. We agreed on that."
Stuart eased his tone now that he had the upper hand. It was time for magnanimity. "You
agreed. I didn't say anything. The government committed a gross violation of my clients'
constitutional rights. A simulated execution constitutes mental torture at the very least. It's sure as
hell illegal. You have to put these two guys on the stand to make your case, and I'll crucify those
Coast Guard sailors when you do. It might be enough to impeach everything they say. You never
know what a jury's going to think, do you?"
"They might just stand up and cheer, too," Davidoff answered warily.
"That's the chance, isn't it? One way to find out. We try the case." Stuart replaced the player in
his briefcase. "Still want an early trial date? With this as background information I can attack your
chain of evidence - after all, if they were crazy enough to pull this number, what if my clients claim
that they were forced to masturbate to give you the semen samples that you told the papers about, or
were forced to hold the murder weapons to make prints - I haven't yet discussed any of those details
with them, by the way - and I link all that in with what I know about the victim? I think I have a
fighting chance to send them home alive and free." Stuart leaned forward, resting his arms on
Davidoff's desk. "On the other hand, as you say, it's hard to predict how a jury'll react. So what I'm
offering you is, they plead guilty to twenty years' worth of whatever charge you want, with no
unseemly recommendation from the judge about how they have to serve all twenty - so they're out in,
say, eight years. You tell the press that there's problems with the evidence, and you're pretty mad
about that, but there's nothing you can do. My clients are out of circulation for a fairly long time. You
get your conviction but nobody else dies. Anyway, that's my deal. I'll give you a couple of days to
think it over." Stuart rose to his feet, picked up his briefcase, and left without another word. Once
outside, he looked for the men's room. He felt an urgent need to wash his hands, but he wasn't sure
why. He was certain that he'd done the right thing. The criminals - they really were criminals would be found guilty, but they wouldn't die in the electric chair - and who knows, he thought, maybe
they'll straighten out. That was the sort of lie that lawyers tell themselves. He wouldn't have to
destroy the careers of some Coast Guard types who had probably stepped over the line only once and
would never do so again. That was something he was prepared to do, but didn't relish. This way, he
thought, everybody won something, and for a lawyer that was as successful an exercise as you
generally got. But he still felt a need to wash his hands.
For Edwin Davidoff, it was harder. It wasn't just a criminal case, was it? The same electric
chair that would deliver those two pirates to hell would deliver him to a suite in the Dirksen Senate
Office Building. Since he had read Advise and Consent as a freshman in high school, Davidoff had
lusted for a place in the United States Senate. And he'd worked very hard to earn it: top of his class
at Duke Law School, long hours for which he was grossly underpaid by the Department of Justice,
speaking engagements all over the state that had nearly wrecked his family life. He had sacrificed his
own life on the altar of justice… and ambition, he admitted to himself. And now when it was all
within his grasp, when he could rightfully take the lives of two criminals who had forfeited their
rights to them… this could blow it all, couldn't it? If he wimped out on the prosecution, pleabargaining down to a trifling twenty years, all his work, all his speeches about Justice would be
forgotten. Just like that.
On the other hand, what if he disregarded what Stuart had just told him and took the case to trial and risked being remembered as the man who lost the case entirely. He might blame the Coast
Guardsmen for what they had done - but then he would be sacrificing their careers and possibly their
freedom on what altar? Justice? Ambition? How about revenge? he asked himself. Whether he won
or lost the Pirates Case, those men would suffer even though what they had done had also given the
government its strongest blow yet against the Cartel.
Drugs. It all came down to that. Their capacity to corrupt was like nothing he'd ever
known. Drugs corrupted people, clouded their thoughts at the individual level, and ultimately ended
their lives. Drugs generated the kinds of money to corrupt those who didn't partake. Drugs corrupted
institutions at every level and in every way imaginable. Drugs corrupted whole governments. So
what was the answer? Davidoff didn't have that answer, though he knew that if he ever ran for that
Senate seat he'd prance about in front of the TV cameras and announce that he did - or at least part of
it, if only the people of Alabama would trust him to represent them…
Christ, he thought. So now what do I do?
Those two pirates deserve to die for what they have done. What about my duty to the
victims? It wasn't all a lie - in fact none of it was. Davidoff did believe in Justice, did believe that
law was what men had built to protect themselves from the predators, did believe that his mission in
life was to be an instrument of that justice. Why else had he worked so hard for so little? It wasn't
entirely ambition, after all, was it?
No.
One of the victims had been dirty, but what of the other three? What did the military call that?
"Collateral damage." That was the term when an act against an individual target incidentally
destroyed the other things that happened to be close by. Collateral damage. It was one thing when the
State did it in time of war. In this case it was simply murder.
No, it wasn't simple murder, was it? Those bastards took their time. They enjoyed
themselves. Is eight years of time enough to pay for them?
But what if you lose the case entirely? Even if you win, can you sacrifice those Coasties to get
justice? Is that "collateral damage," too?
There had to be a way out. There usually was, anyway, and he had a couple of days to figure that
one out.
They'd slept well, and the thin mountain air didn't affect them as badly as they'd expected. By
sundown the squad was up and eager. Chavez drank his instant coffee as he went over the map,
wondering which of the marked targets they'd stake out tonight. Throughout the day, squad members
had kept a close eye on the road below, knowing more or less what they were looking for. A truck
with containers of acid. Some cheap local labor would offload the jars and head into the hills,
followed by people with backpacks of coca leaves and some other light equipment. Around sundown
a truck stopped. Light failed before they could see all of what happened, and their low-light goggles
had no telescopic features, but the truck moved off rather soon, and it was within three kilometers of
HOTEL, one of the locations on the target list, four miles away.
Show time. Each man sprayed a goodly bit of insect repellent onto his hands, then rubbed it on
face, neck, and ears. In addition to keeping the bugs off, it also softened the camouflage paint that
went on next like some ghastly form of lipstick. The members of each pair assisted one another in
putting it on. The darker shades went on forehead, nose, and cheekbones, while the lighter ones went
to the normal shadow areas under the eyes and in the hollow of cheeks. It wasn't war paint, as one
might think from watching movie representations of soldiers. The purpose was invisibility, not
intimidation. With the naturally bright spots dulled, and the normally dark ones brightened, their
faces no longer looked like faces at all.
It was time to earn their pay for real. Approach routes and rally points were preselected and
made known to every member of the squad. Questions were asked and answered, contingencies
examined, alternate plans made, and Ramirez had them up and moving while there was still light on
the eastern wall of the valley, heading downhill toward their objective.
17. Execution
THE STANDARD ARMY field order for a combat mission follows an acronym known as
SMESSCS: Situation; Mission; Execution; Service and Support; Command and Signal.
Situation is the background information for the mission, what is going on that the soldiers need to
know about.
Mission is a one-sentence description of the task at hand.
Execution is the methodology for how the mission is to be accomplished.
Service and Support covers the support functions that might aid the men in the performance of
their job.
Command defines who gives the orders through every step of the chain, theoretically all the way
back up to the Pentagon, and all the way down to the most junior member of the unit who in the final
exigency would be commanding himself alone.
Signal is the general term for communications procedures to be followed.
The soldiers had already been briefed on the overall situation, which had hardly been
necessary. Both that and their current mission had changed somewhat, but they already knew that,
too. Captain Ramirez had briefed them on the execution of their current mission, also giving his men
the other information they needed for this evening. There was no outside support; they were on their
own. Ramirez was in tactical command, with subordinate leaders identified in case of his
disablement, and he'd already issued radio codes. His last act before leading his men down from
their perch was to radio his intentions to VARIABLE, whose location he didn't know, but whose
approval he receipted.
As always Staff Sergeant Domingo Chavez had the point, now one hundred meters ahead of Julio
Vega, again "walking slack" fifty meters ahead of the main body, whose men were spread out at tenmeter intervals for the approach. Going downhill made it tougher on the legs, but the men hardly
noticed. They were too pumped up. Every few hundred meters Chavez angled for a clear spot from
which they could look down at the objective - the place they were going to hit - and through his
binoculars he could see the vague glow of gasoline lanterns. With the sun behind him he didn't have
to worry about a reflection off the glasses. The spot was right where the map said it was - he
wondered how that information had been developed - and they were following exactly the procedure
that he'd been briefed about. Somebody, he thought, had really done his homework on this job. They
expected ten to fifteen people at HOTEL. He hoped they had that right, too.
The going wasn't so bad. The cover was not as dense as it had been in the lowlands, and there
were fewer bugs. Maybe, he thought, the air was too thin for them, too. There were birds calling to
one another, the usual forest chatter to mask the sounds of his unit's approach - but there was damned
little of that. Chavez had heard one guy slip and fall a hundred meters back, but only a Ninja would
have noticed. He was able to cover half the distance in under an hour, stopping at a preplanned rally
point for the rest of the squad to catch up.
"So far, so good, jefe," he told Ramirez. "I ain't seen nothing, not even a llama," he added to show
that he was at ease. "Little over three thousand more meters to go."
"Okay. Stop at the next checkpoint. Remember there might be folks out taking a stroll."
"Roger that, Cap'n." Chavez took off at once. The rest started moving two minutes later.
Ding moved more slowly now. The probability of contact increased with every step he took
toward HOTEL. The druggies couldn't be all that dumb, he warned himself. They had to have a little
brains, and the people they used would be locals, people who'd grown up in this valley and knew its
ways. And lots of them would have weapons. He was surprised how different it felt from the last
time, but then he'd watched and evaluated his targets over a period of days. He didn't even have a
proper count on them, didn't know how they were armed, didn't know how good they were.
Christ, this is real combat. We don't know shit.
But that's what Ninja are for! he told himself, taking small comfort in his bravado.
Time started doing strange things. Each single step seemed to take forever, but when he got to the
final rally point, it hadn't been all that long at all, had it? He could see the glow of the objective now,
a vague green semicircle on the goggle display, but still there was no movement to be seen or heard in
the woods. When he got to the last checkpoint, Chavez picked a tree and stood beside it, keeping his
head up, swiveling left and right to gather as much information as possible. He thought he could hear
things now. It came and went, but occasionally there was an odd, not natural sound from the direction
of the objective. It worried him that he didn't really see anything as yet. Just that glow, but nothing
else.
"Anything?" Captain Ramirez asked in a whisper.
"Listen."
"Yeah," the captain said after a moment.
The squad members dropped off their rucksacks and divided according to plan. Chavez, Vega,
and Ingeles would advance directly toward HOTEL while the rest circled around to the left. Ingeles,
the communications sergeant, had an M-203 grenade launcher slung under his rifle, Vega had the
machine gun, and Chavez still had his silenced MP-5. Their job was overwatch. They would get in
as close as possible to provide fire support for the actual assault. If anyone was in the way, it was
Chavez's job to drop him quietly. Ding led his group off first, while Captain Ramirez moved off a
minute later. In the case of both groups, the interval between the men was tightened up to five
meters. Another real danger now was confusion. If any of the soldiers lost contact with his
comrades, or if an enemy sentry somehow got mixed up with their group, the results could be lethal to
the mission and the men.
The last five hundred meters took over half an hour. Ding's overwatch position was clear on the
map, but not so clear in the woods at night. Things always looked different at night, and even with the
low-light goggles, things were just… different. In a distant sort of way, Chavez knew that he was
having an attack of the jitters. It wasn't so much that he was afraid, just that he felt much less certain
now. He told himself every two or three minutes that he knew exactly what he was doing, and each
time it worked - but only for a few minutes before the uncertainty hit him again. Logic told him that
he was having what the manuals called a normal anxiety reaction. Chavez didn't like it, but found that
he could live with it. Just like the manuals said.
He saw movement and froze. His left hand swung around his back, palm perpendicular to warn
the two behind him to stop also. Again he kept his head up, trusting to his training. The human eye
sees only movement at night, the manuals and his experience told him. Unless the opposition had
goggles…
And this one didn't. The man-shape was almost a hundred meters away, moving slowly and
casually through the trees between Chavez and the place where Chavez wanted to be. So simple a
thing as that gave the man an early death sentence. Ding waved for Ingeles and Vega to stay put while
he moved right, opposite his target's current path to get behind him. Perversely, he moved quickly
now. He had to be in place in another fifteen minutes. Using his goggles to select clear places, he set
his feet as lightly as he could, moving almost at a normal walking speed. Pride surged past the
anxiety now that he could see what he had to do. He made no sound at all, moving alone, crouched
down, swiveling his head from his path to his target and back again. Within a minute he was in a
good place. There was a worn path there. This was a path for the guard. The idiot stuck to a path,
Chavez recognized. You didn't do things like that and expect to live.
He was coming back now, moving with slow, almost childish steps, his legs snapping out from
the knees - but he moved quietly enough by walking on the worn path, Ding noticed belatedly. Maybe
he wasn't a total fool. His head was looking uphill. But his rifle was slung over his
shoulder. Chavez let him approach, taking off his goggles when the man was looking away. The
sudden loss of the display made him lose his target for a few seconds, and the edges of panic
appeared in his consciousness, but Ding commanded them to be still. The man would reappear
presently as he walked back to the south.
He did, first as a spectral outline, then as a black mass walking down the worn corridor in the
jungle. Ding crouched at the base of a tree, his weapon aimed at the man's head, and let him come
closer. Better to wait and get a sure kill. His selector switch was on the single-shot position. The
man was ten meters away. Chavez wasn't even breathing now. He aimed for the center of the man's
head and squeezed off a single round.
The metallic sound of the H&K's action cycling back and forth seemed incredibly loud, but the
target dropped at once, just a muted clack from his own rifle as it hit the ground alongside the
body. Chavez leaped forward, his submachine gun fixed on the target, but the man - it had been a
man, after all - didn't move. With his goggles back on, he could see the single hole right in the center
of the nose, and the bullet had angled upward, ripping through the bottom of the brain for an instant,
noiseless kill.
Ninja! his mind exulted.
He stood beside the body and looked uphill, holding his weapon high. All clear. A moment later
the shapes of Vega and Ingeles appeared on the green image display, heading downhill. He turned,
found a spot from which to observe the objective, and waited for them.
There it was, seventy meters away. The glow from the gasoline lanterns blazed on his goggles,
and he realized that he could take them off once and for all. There were more voices now. He could
even catch the odd word. It was the bored, day-to-day talk of people doing a job. There was a
splashing sound, almost like… what? Ding didn't know, and it didn't matter for the present. Their
fire-support position was in view. There was just one little problem.
It was oriented the wrong way. The trees that should have provided cover to their right flank
instead prevented them from covering the objective. They'd planned the overwatch position in the
wrong place, he decided. Chavez grimaced and made other plans, knowing that the captain would do
the same. They found a spot almost as good fifteen meters away and oriented in the proper
direction. He checked his watch. Nearly time. It was time to make his final, vital inspection of the
objective.
He counted twelve men. The center of the site was… what looked like a portable bathtub. Two
men were walking in it, crushing or stirring up or doing something to the curious-looking soup of coca
leaves and… what was it they told us? he asked himself. Water and sulfuric acid? Something like
that. Christ, he thought. Walking in fucking acid! The men doing that distasteful task took turns. He
watched one change, and those who got out poured fresh water over their feet and calves. It must
have hurt or burned or something, Ding realized. But their banter was good-natured enough, thirty
meters away. One was talking about his girlfriend in rather crude terms, - boasting of what she did
for him and what he did to her.
There were six men with rifles, all AKs. Christ, the whole world carries those goddamned
things. They stood at the perimeter of the site, watching inward, however, rather than outward. One
was smoking. There was a backpack by the lantern. One of the walkers said something to one of the
gunmen and pulled a beer bottle out of it for himself, and another for the one who'd given him
permission.
Idiots! Ding told himself. The radio earpiece made three rasping dashes of static. Ramirez was
in place and asking if Ding was ready. He keyed his radio two times in reply, then looked left and
right. Vega had his SAW up on the bipod, and the canvas ammo pouch unzipped. Two hundred
rounds were all ready, and a second pouch lay next to the first.
Chavez again nestled himself as close to a thick tree as he could and selected the farthest
target. He figured the range to him at about eighty meters, a touch long for his weapon, too long for a
head shot, he decided. He thumbed the selector to the burst setting, tucked the weapon in tight, and
took careful aim through the diopter sight.
Three rounds were ejected from the side of his weapon. The man's face was surprised when two
of them struck his chest. His breath came out in a rasping scream that caused heads to turn in his
direction. Chavez shifted aim to another rifleman, whose gun was already coming off his
shoulder. This one also took two or three hits, but that didn't stop him from trying to get his weapon
around.
As soon as it appeared that fire might be returned, Vega opened up, transfixing that man with
tracers from his machine gun, then shifting fire to two more armed men. One of them got a couple of
rounds off, but they went high. The other, unarmed men reacted more slowly than the guards. Two
started to run but were cut down by Vega's stream of fire. The others fell to the ground and
crawled. Two more armed men appeared - or their weapons did. The flaming signatures of
automatic weapons appeared in the trees on the far side of the site, aimed up at the fire-support
team. Exactly as planned.
The assault element, led by Captain Ramirez, opened up from their right flank. The distinctive
chatter of M-16 fire tore through the trees as Chavez, Vega, and Ingeles continued to pour fire into the
objective and away from the incoming assault element. One of the people firing from the trees must
have been hit. The muzzle flash from his weapon changed direction, blazing straight up. But two
others turned and fired into the assault element before they went down. The soldiers were shooting at
anything that moved now. One of the men who'd been walking in the tub tried to pick up a discarded
rifle and didn't make it. One stood and might have been trying to surrender, but his hands never got
high enough before the squad's other SAW lanced a line of tracers through his chest.
Chavez and his team ceased fire to allow the assault element to enter the objective safely. Two of
them finished off people who were still moving despite their wounds. Then everything stopped for a
moment. The lantern still hissed and illuminated the area, but there was no other sound but the echoes
of the shooting and the calls of outraged birds.
Four soldiers checked out the dead. The rest of the assault element would now have formed a
perimeter around the objective. Chavez, Vega, and Ingeles safed their weapons, collected their
things, and moved in.
What Chavez saw was thoroughly horrible. Two of the enemy were still alive, but wouldn't be
for long. One had fallen victim to Vega's machine gun, and his abdomen was torn open. Both of the
other's legs had been nearly shot off and were bleeding rapidly onto the beaten dirt. The squad medic
looked on without pity. Both died within a minute. The squad's orders were a little vague on the
issue of prisoners. No one could lawfully order American soldiers not to take prisoners, and the
circumlocutions had been a problem for Captain Ramirez, but the message had gotten through. It was
too fucking bad. But these people were involved in killing American kids with drugs, and that wasn't
exactly under the Rules of Land Warfare either, was it? It was too fucking bad. Besides, there were
other things to worry about.
Chavez had barely gotten into the site when he heard something. Everyone did. Someone was
running away, straight downhill. Ramirez pointed to Ding, who immediately ran after him.
He reached for his goggles and tried to hold them in his hand as he ran, then realized that running
was probably a stupid thing to do. He stopped, held the goggles to his eyes, and spotted both a path
and the running man. There were times for caution, and times for boldness. Instinct told him that this
was one of the latter. Chavez raced down the path, trusting to his skills to keep his footing and
rapidly catching up with the sound that was trying to get away. Inside three minutes he could hear the
man's thrashing and falling through the cover. Ding stopped and used his goggles again. Only a
hundred meters ahead. He started running again, the blood hot in his veins. Fifty meters now. The
man fell again. Ding slowed his approach. More attention to noise now, he told himself. This guy
wasn't going to get away. He left the path, moving at a tangent to his left, his movements looking like
an elaborate dance step as he picked his way as quickly as he could. Every fifty yards he stopped and
used his night scope. Whoever the man was, he'd tired and was moving more slowly. Chavez got
ahead of him, curving back to his right and waiting on the path.
Ding had nearly miscalculated. He'd just gotten his weapon up when the shape appeared, and the
sergeant fired on instinct from a range often feet into his chest. The man fell against Chavez with a
despairing groan. Ding threw the body off and fired another burst into his chest. There was no other
sound.
"Jesus," the sergeant said. He knelt to catch his breath. Whom had he killed? He put the scope
back on his head and looked down.
The man was barefoot. He wore the simple cotton shirt and pants of… Chavez had just killed a
peasant, one of those poor dumb bastards who danced in the coca soup. Wasn't that something to be
proud of?
The exhilaration that often follows a successful combat operation left him like the air released
from a toy balloon. Some poor bastard - didn't even have shoes on. The druggies hired 'em to hump
their shit up the hills, paid 'em half of nothing to do the dirty, nasty work of pre-refining the leaves.
His belt was unbuckled. He'd been off in the bushes taking a dump when the shooting started, and
only wanted to get away, but his half-mast pants had made it a futile effort. He was about Ding's age,
smaller and more lightly built, but puffy around the face from the starchy diet of the local peasant
farmers. An ordinary face, it still bore the signs of the fear and panic and pain with which his death
had come. He hadn't been armed. He'd been part of the casual labor. He'd died because he'd been in
the wrong place, at the wrong time.
It was not something for Chavez to be proud of. He keyed his radio.
"Six, this is Point. I got him. Just one."
"Need help?"
"Negative. I can handle it." Chavez hoisted the body on his shoulder for the climb back to the
objective. It took ten exhausting minutes, but that was part of the job. Ding felt the man's blood
oozing from the six holes in his chest, staining the back of his khaki shirt. Maybe staining more than
that.
By the time he got back, the bodies had all been laid side by side and searched. There were many
sacks of coca leaves, several additional jars of acid, and a total of fourteen dead men when Chavez
dumped his at the end of the line.
"You look a little punked out," Vega observed.
"Ain't as big as you, Oso," Ding gasped out in reply.
There were two small radios, and various other personal things to catalog, but nothing of real
military value. A few men cast eyes on the pack full of beers, but no one made the expected "Miller
Time!" joke. If there had been radio codes, they were in the head of whoever had been the boss
here. There was no way of telling who he might have been; in death all men look alike. The bodies
were all dressed more or less the same, except for the webbed pistol belts of the armed men. All in
all, it was rather a sad thing to see. Some people who had been alive half an hour earlier were no
longer so. Beyond that, there wasn't much to be said about the mission.
Most importantly, there were no casualties to the squad, though Sergeant Guerra had gotten a
scare from a close burst. Ramirez completed his inspection of the site, then got his men ready to
leave. Chavez again took the lead.
It was a tough uphill climb, and it gave Captain Ramirez time to think. It was, he realized,
something that he ought to have thought about a hell of a lot sooner:
What is this mission all about? To Ramirez, mission now meant the purpose for their being here
in the Colombian highlands, not just the job of taking this place out.
He understood that watching the airfields had the direct effect of stopping flights of drugs into the
United States. They'd performed covert reconnaissance, and people were making tactical use of the
intelligence information which they'd developed. Not only was it simple - but it also made
sense. But what the hell were they doing now? His squad had just executed a picture-perfect smallunit raid. The men could not have done better - aided by the inept performance of the enemy, of
course.
That was going to change. The enemy was going to learn damned fast from this. Their security
would be better. They would learn that much even before they figured out what was going on. A
blown-away processing site was all the information they needed to learn that they had to improve
their physical security arrangements.
What had the attack actually accomplished? A few hundred pounds of coca leaves would not be
processed tonight. He didn't have instructions to cart the leaves away, and even if he had, there was
no ready means of destroying them except by fire, and he wasn't stupid enough to light a fire on a
mountainside at night, orders or not. What they had accomplished tonight was… nothing. Nothing at
all, really. There were tons of coca leaves, and scores - perhaps hundreds - of refining sites. They
hadn't made a dent in the trade tonight, not even a dimple.
So what the hell are we risking our lives for? he asked himself. He ought to have asked that
question in Panama, but like his three fellow officers, he'd been caught up in the institutional rage
accompanying the assassination of the FBI Director and the others. Besides, he was only a captain,
and he was more an order-follower than an order-giver. As a professional officer, he was used to
being given orders from battalion or brigade commanders, forty-or-so-year-old professional soldiers
who knew what the hell they were doing, most of the time. But his orders now were coming from
someplace elsewhere? Now he wasn't so sure - and he'd allowed himself to be lulled in the
complacency that assumed whoever generated the orders knew what the hell he was doing.
Why didn't you ask more questions!
Ramirez had seen success in his mission tonight. Prior to it his thought had been directed toward
a fixed goal. But he'd achieved that goal, and seen nothing beyond it. He ought to have realized that
earlier. Ramirez knew that now. But it was too late now.
The other part of the trap was even more troubling. He had to tell his men that everything was all
right. They'd done as well as any commander could have asked. But What the hell are we doing here? He didn't know, because no one had ever told him, that he was
not the first young captain to ask that question all too late, that it was almost a tradition of American
arms for bright young officers to wonder why the hell they were sent out to do things. But almost
always they asked the question too late.
He had no choice, of course. He had to assume, as his training and experience told him to
assume, that the mission really did make sense. Even though his reason - Ramirez was far from being
a stupid man - told him otherwise, he commanded himself to have faith in his command
leadership. His men had faith in him. He had to have the same faith in those above himself. An army
could work no other way.
Two hundred meters ahead, Chavez felt the stickiness on the back of his shirt and asked himself
other questions. It had never occurred to him that he'd have to carry the dead, bleeding body of an
enemy halfway up a mountain. He'd not anticipated how this physical reminder of what he had done
would wear on his conscience. He'd killed a peasant. Not an armed man, not a real enemy, but some
poor bastard who had just taken a job with the wrong side, probably just to feed his family, if he had
one. But what else could Chavez have done? Let him get away?
It was simpler for the sergeant. He had an officer who told him what to do. Captain Ramirez
knew what he was doing. He was an officer, and that was his job: to know what was going on and
give the orders. That made it a little easier as he climbed back up the mountain to the RON site, but
his bloodied shirt continued to cling to his back like the questions of a nagging conscience.
Tim Jackson arrived back at his office at 2230 hours after a short squad-training exercise right on
the grounds of Fort Ord. He'd just sat down in his cheap swivel chair when the phone rang. The
exercise hadn't gone well. Ozkanian was a little slow catching on in his leadership of second
squad. This was the second time in a row that he'd screwed up and made his lieutenant look
bad. That offended Sergeant Mitchell, who had hopes for the young officer. Both knew that you
didn't make a good squad sergeant in less than four years, and only then if you had a man as sharp as
Chavez had been. But it was Ozkanian's job to lead the squad, and Mitchell was now explaining a
few things to him. He was doing so in the way of platoon sergeants, with vigor, enthusiasm, and a
few speculative observations about Ozkanian's ancestry. If any.
"Lieutenant Jackson," Tim answered after the second ring.
"Lieutenant, this is Colonel O'Mara at Special Ops Command."
"Yes, sir!"
"I hear you've been making some noise about a staff sergeant named Chavez. Is that correct?"
Jackson looked up to see Mitchell walk in, his cabbage-patch helmet tucked under his sweaty arm and
a whimsical smile on his lips. Ozkanian had gotten the message this time.
"Yes, sir. He didn't show up where he's supposed to be. He's one of mine, and -"
"Wrong, Lieutenant! He's one of mine now. He's doing something that you do not need to know
about, and you will not, repeat not burn up any more phone lines fucking around into something that
does not concern you. IS THAT CLEAR, LIEUTENANT?"
"But, sir, excuse me, but I -"
"You got bad ears or something, son?" The voice was quieter now, and that was really frightening
to a lieutenant who'd already had a bad day.
"No, sir. It's just that I got a call from -"
"I know about that. I took care of that. Sergeant Chavez is doing something that you do not need
to know about. Period. End. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir."
The line clicked off.
"Shit," Lieutenant Jackson observed.
Sergeant Mitchell hadn't caught any words from the conversation, but the buzz from the phone line
had made it to the doorway he was standing in.
"Chavez?"
"Yeah. Some colonel at Special Ops - Fort MacDill, I guess - says that they have him and he's off
doing something. And I don't need to know about that. Says he took care of Fort Benning for us."
"Oh, horseshit," Mitchell observed, taking his place in the seat opposite the lieutenant's desk, after
which he asked: "Mind if I sit down, sir?"
"What do you suppose is going on?"
"Beats the hell outa me, sir. But I know a guy at MacDill. Think I'll make a phone call
tomorrow. I don't like one of my guys getting lost like that. It's not supposed to work like that. He
didn't have no place chewing your ass either, sir. You're just doin' your job, looking after your
people that way, and you don't come down on people for doing their job. In case nobody ever told
you, sir," Mitchell explained, "you don't chew some poor lieutenant's ass over something like
this. You make a quiet call to the battalion commander, or maybe the S-l, and have him settle things
nice 'n quiet. Lieutenants get picked on enough by their own colonels without needin' to get chewed
on by strange ones. That's why things go through channels, so you know who's chewing' ya'."
"Thank you, Sergeant," Jackson said with a smile. "I needed that."
"I told Ozkanian that he ought to concentrate a little more on leadin' his squad instead of trying to
be Sergeant Rock. I think this time he'll listen. He's a pretty good kid, really. Just needs a little
seasoning." Mitchell stood. "See you at PT tomorrow, sir. Good night."
"Right. 'Night, Sergeant." Tim Jackson decided that sleep made more sense than paperwork and
headed off to his car. On the drive to the BOQ, he was still pondering the call he'd gotten from
Colonel O'Mara, whoever the hell he was. Lieutenants didn't interact with bird-colonels very much he'd made his (required) New Year's Day appearance at the brigade commander's home, but that was
it. New lieutenants were supposed to maintain a low profile. On the other hand, one of the many
lessons remembered from West Point was that he was responsible for his men. The fact that Chavez
hadn't arrived at Fort Benning, that his departure from Ord had been so… irregular, and that his
natural and responsible inquiry into his man's situation had earned him nothing more than a chewing
only made the young officer all the more curious. He'd let Mitchell make his calls, but he'd stay out of
it for the moment, not wanting to draw additional attention to himself until he knew what the hell he
was doing. In this Tim Jackson was fortunate. He had a big brother on Pentagon duty who knew how
things were supposed to work and was pushing hard for O-6 - captain's or colonel's - rank, even if he
was a squid. Robby could give him some good advice, and advice was what he needed.
It was a nice, smooth flight in the COD. Even so, Robby Jackson didn't like it much. He didn't
like sitting in an aft-facing seat, but mainly he didn't like being in an airplane unless he had the
stick. A fighter pilot, test pilot, and most recently commander of one of the Navy's elite Tomcat
squadrons, he knew that he was about the best flyer in the world, and didn't like trusting his life to the
lesser skills of another aviator. Besides, on Navy aircraft the stewardesses weren't worth a damn. In
this case it was a pimply-faced kid from New York, judging by his accent, who'd managed to spill
coffee on the guy next to him.
"I hate these things," the man said.
"Yeah, well, it ain't Delta, is it?" Jackson noted as he tucked the folder back in his bag. He had
the new tactical scheme committed to memory. As well he might. It was mainly his idea.
The man wore khaki uniform clothing, with a "U.S." insignia on his collar. That made him a techrep, a civilian who was doing something or other for the Navy. There were always some aboard a
carrier-electronics specialists or various sorts of engineers who either provided special service to a
new piece of gear or helped train the Navy personnel who did. They were given the simulated rank
of warrant officer, but treated more or less as commissioned officers, eating in the officers' mess and
quartered in relative luxury - a very relative term on a U.S. Navy ship unless you were a captain or an
admiral, and tech-reps did not rate that sort of treatment.
"What are you going out for?" Robby asked.
"Checking out performance on a new piece of ordnance. I'm afraid I can't say any more than that."
"One of them, eh?"
" 'Fraid so," the man said, examining the coffee stain on his knee.
"Do this a lot?"
"First time," the man said. "You?"
"I fly off boats for a living, but I'm serving time in the Pentagon now. OP-05's office, fightertactics desk."
"Never made a carrier landing," the man added nervously.
"Not so bad," Robby assured him. "Except at night."
"Oh?" The man wasn't too scared to know that it was dark outside.
"Yeah, well, carrier landings aren't all that bad in daylight. Flying into a regular airfield, you
look ahead and pick the spot you're gonna touch on. Same thing on a carrier, just the runway's
smaller. But at night you can't really see where you're gonna touch. So that makes it a little
twitchy. Don't sweat it. The gal we got driving -"
"A girl?"
"Yeah, a lot of the COD drivers are girls. The one up front is pretty good, instructor pilot, they
tell me." It always made people safer to think that the pilot was an instructor, except: "She's breaking
in a new ensign tonight," Jackson added maliciously. He loved to needle people who didn't like
flying. It was always something he bothered his friend Jack Ryan about.
"New ensign?"
"You know, a kid out of P-cola. Guess he wasn't good enough for fighters or attack bombers, so
he flies the delivery truck. They gotta learn, right? Everybody makes a first night carrier landing. I
did. No big deal," Jackson said comfortably. Then he checked to make sure his safety belts were
nice and tight. Over the years he'd found that one sure way of alleviating fear was to hand it over to
someone else.
"Thanks."
"You part of the Shoot-Ex?"
"Huh?"
"The exercise we're running. We get to shoot some real missiles at target drones. 'Shoot-Ex.'
Missile-Firing Exercise."
"I don't think so."
"Oh, I was hoping you were a guy from Hughes. We want to see if the fix on the Phoenix guidance
package really works or not."
"Oh, sorry - no. I work with something else."
"Okay." Robby pulled a paperback from his pocket and started reading. Now that he was sure
there was somebody on the COD more uncomfortable than he was, he could concentrate on the
book. He wasn't really frightened, of course. He just hoped that the new nugget sitting in the copilot's
right seat wouldn't splatter the COD and its passengers all over the ramp. But there wasn't much that
he could do about that.
The squad was tired when they got back to the RON site. They took their positions while the
captain made his radio call. One of each pair immediately stripped his weapon down for cleaning,
even those few who hadn't gotten a shot off.
"Well, Oso and his SAW got on the scoreboard tonight," Vega observed as he pulled a patch
through the twenty-one-inch barrel. "Nice work, Ding," he added.
"They weren't very good."
"Hey, 'mano, we do our thing right, they don't have the chance to be very good."
"It's been awful easy so far, man. Might change."
Vega looked up for a moment. "Yeah. That's right."
At geosynchronous height over Brazil, a weather satellite of the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration had its low-resolution camera pointed forever downward at the planet it
had left eleven months before and to which it would never return. It seemed to hover almost in a
fixed position, twenty-two thousand six hundred miles over the emerald-green jungles of the Amazon
valley, but in fact it was moving at a Speed of about seven thousand miles per hour, its easterly
orbital path exactly matching the rotation speed of the earth below. The satellite had other
instruments, of course, but this particular color-TV camera had the simplest of jobs. It watched
clouds that floated in the air like distant balls of cotton. That so prosaic a function could be important
was so obvious as to be hard to recognize. This satellite and its antecedents had saved thousands of
lives and were arguably the most useful and efficient segment of America's space program. The lives
saved were those of sailors for the most part, sailors whose ships might otherwise stray into the path
of an undetected storm. From its perch, the satellite could see from the great Southern Ocean girdling
Antarctica to beyond the North Cape of Norway, and no storm escaped its notice.
Almost directly below the satellite, conditions still not fully understood gave birth to cyclonic
storms in the broad, warm Atlantic waters off the West Coast of Africa, from which they were carried
westward toward the New World, where they were known by the West Indian name, hurricane. Data
from the satellite was downlinked to NOAA's National Hurricane Center at Coral Gables, Florida,
where meteorologists and computer scientists were working as part of a multiyear project to
determine how the storms began and why they moved as they did. The busy season for these
scientists was just beginning. Fully a hundred people, some with their doctor's degrees years behind
them, others summer interns from a score of universities, examined the photographs for the first storm
of the season. Some hoped for many, that they might study and learn from them. The more
experienced scientists knew that feeling, but also knew that those massive oceanic storms were the
most destructive and deadly force of nature, and regularly killed thousands who lived too close to the
sea. They also knew that the storms would come in their own good time, for no one had a provable
model for explaining exactly why they formed. All man could do was see them, track them, measure
their intensity, and warn those in their path. The scientists also named them. The names were chosen
years in advance, always starting at the top of the alphabet and proceeding downward. The first name
on the list for the current year was Adele.
As the camera watched, clouds grew skyward five hundred miles from the Cape Verde islands,
cradle of hurricanes. Whether it would become an organized tropical cyclone or simply be just
another large rainstorm, no one could say. It was still early in the season. But it had all the makings
of a big season. The West African desert was unusually hot for the spring, and heat there had a
demonstrable connection with birth of hurricanes.
The truck driver appeared at the proper time to collect the men and the paste processed from the
coca leaves, but they weren't there as expected. He waited an hour, and still they weren't
there. There were two men with him, of course, and these he sent up to the processing site. The
driver was the "senior" man of the group and didn't want to be bothered climbing those cursed
mountains anymore. So while he smoked his cigarettes, they climbed. He waited another
hour. There was quite a bit of traffic on the highway, especially big diesel trucks whose mufflers and
pollution controls were less well attended to than was the case in other, more prosperous regions besides, their removal made for improved fuel economy in addition to the greater noise and
smoke. Many of the big tractor-trailer combinations roared past, vibrating the roadbed and rocking
his own truck in the rush of air. That was why he missed the sound. After waiting a total of ninety
minutes, it was clear that he'd have to go up himself. He locked the truck, lit yet another cigarette, and
began his way up the path.
The driver found it hard going. Though he'd grown up in these hills, and could remember a
boyhood in which a thousand-foot climb was just another footrace with his playmates, he'd been
driving the truck for some time, and his leg muscles were more accustomed to pushing down pedals
than this sort of thing. What would once have taken forty minutes now took over an hour, and with the
place almost in sight he was venomously angry, too angry and too tired to pay attention to things that
ought to have been obvious by now. He could still hear the traffic sounds on the road below, could
hear the birds twittering in the trees around him, but nothing else when he should have been hearing
something. He paused, bending over to catch his breath when he got his first warning. It was a dark
spot on the trail. Something had turned the brown earth to black, but that could have been anything,
and he was in a hurry to see what the problem was up the hill and didn't ponder it. After all, there
hadn't been any problem lately with the army or the police, and he wondered why the refining work
was done so far up the mountainside in any case. It was no longer necessary.
Five minutes more and he could see the little clearing, and only now he noticed that there were no
sounds coming from it, though there was an odd, acrid smell. Doubtless the acid used in the
prerefining process, he was sure. Then he made the last turn and saw.
The truck driver was not a man unaccustomed to violence. He'd been involved in the pre-Cartel
fighting and had also killed a few M-19 sympathizers in the wars because of which the Cartel had
actually been formed. He'd seen blood, therefore, and had spilled some himself.
But not like this. All fourteen of the men he'd driven in the previous night were lined up shoulder
to shoulder in a neat little row on the ground. The bodies were already bloated, and animals had
been picking at several of the open wounds. The two men he'd dispatched up the mountainside were
more freshly dead. Though the driver didn't fathom it, they'd been killed by a claymore mine
triggered when they'd examined the bodies, and their bodies were newly shredded, with major
sections missing where the ball-bearing-sized fragments had struck, and with the blood still trickling
out. One's face showed the surprise and shock. The other man was facedown, with a section about
the size of a shoe box messily removed from his back.
The driver stood still for a minute or so, afraid to move in any direction, his quivering hands
reaching for another cigarette, then dropping two which he was too terrified to reach for. Before he
could get a third, he turned and moved carefully down the path. A hundred meters after that, he was
running for his life as every bird call and every breeze through the trees sounded to him like an
approaching soldier. They had to be soldiers. He was sure of that. Only soldiers killed with that
sort of precision.
"That was a splendid paper you delivered this afternoon. We hadn't considered the Soviet
'nationalities' question as thoroughly as you have. Your analytical skills are as sharp as ever." Sir
Basil Charleston raised his glass in salute. "Your promotion was well earned. Congratulations, Sir
John."
"Thanks, Bas'. I just wish it could have happened another way," Ryan said.
"That bad?"
Jack nodded. "I'm afraid so."
"And Emil Jacobs, too. Bloody bad time for your chaps."
Ryan smiled rather grimly. "You might say that."
"So, what are you going to do about it?"
"I'm afraid there's not much I can say about that," Jack replied carefully. I don't know, but I can't
exactly say that, can I?
"Quite so." The head of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service nodded sagely. "Whatever your
response is, I'm sure it will be appropriate."
At that moment he knew that Greer had been right. He had to know such things or risk being taken
for a fool by his counterparts here and everywhere else in the world. He'd get home in a few more
days and talk things over with Judge Moore. Ryan was supposed to have some bureaucratic muscle
now. Might as well flex it a little to see if it worked.
Commander Jackson woke after six hours' sleep. He, too, enjoyed that greatest of luxuries aboard
a warship, privacy. His rank and former station as a squadron commander put him high on the list of
VIPs, and there happened to be a spare one-man stateroom in this floating city. His was just under the
flight deck forward. Close to the bow catapults by the sound of things, which explained why one of
Ranger's own squadron commanders didn't want it. On arrival, he'd made the necessary courtesy
calls, and he didn't have any official duties to attend to for another… three hours. After washing and
shaving and morning coffee, he decided to do a few things on his own. Robby headed below for the
carrier's magazine.
This was a large compartment with a relatively low ceiling where the bombs and missiles were
kept. Several rooms, really, with nearby shops so that the "smart" weapons could be tested and
repaired by ordnance technicians. Jackson's personal concern was with the AIM-54C Phoenix air-toair missiles. There had been problems with the guidance systems, and one purpose of the battlegroup exercise was to see if the contractor's fix really worked or not.
Entry into the space was restricted, for obvious reasons. Robby identified himself to a senior
chief petty officer, and it turned out that they'd both served on the Kennedy a few years
before. Together they entered a work space where some "ordies" were playing with the missiles,
with an odd-looking box hanging on the pointed nose of one.
"What d'ya think?" one asked.
"Reads out okay to me, Duke," the one on the oscilloscope replied. "Let me try some simulated
jamming."
"That's the bunch we're prepping for the Shoot-Ex, sir," the senior chief explained. "So far they
seem to be working all right, but…"
"But wasn't it you who found the problem in the first place?" Robby asked.
"Me and my old boss, Lieutenant Frederickson." The chief nodded. The discovery had resulted in
several million dollars in penalties to the contractor. And all the AIM-54C missiles in the fleet had
been decertified for several months, taking away what should have been the most capable air-to-air
missile in the Navy. He led Jackson to the rack of test equipment. "How many we supposed to
shoot?"
"Enough to tell whether the fix works or not," Robby replied. The chief grunted.
"That could be quite a Shoot-Ex, sir."
"Drones are cheap!" Robby pointed out in a most outrageous lie. But the chief knew what he
meant. It was cheaper than going to the Indian Ocean and maybe having a shoot-out with Iranian F14A Tomcats (they had them, too) and then finding out that the goddamned missiles didn't work
properly. That was a most efficient way of killing off pilots whose training went for a million dollars
a pop. The good news was that the fix was working, at least as far as the test equipment could
tell. To make sure, Robby told the chief, between ten and twenty of the Phoenix-Cs would be shot
off, plus a larger number of Sparrows and Sidewinders. Jackson started to leave. He'd seen what he
needed to see, and the ordies all had work to do.
"Looks like we're really going to be emptying this here locker out, sir. You know about the new
bombs we're checking out?"
"No. I met with a tech-rep on the COD flight in. He didn't talk a hell of a lot. So what the hell is
new? Just a bomb, right?"
The senior chief laughed. "Come on, I'll show you the Hush-A-Bomb."
"What?"
"Didn't you ever watch Rocky and Bullwinkle, sir?"
"Chief, you have really lost me."
"Well, when I was a kid I used to watch Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose,
and one of the stories was about how Boris and Natasha - they were the bad guys, Commander - were
trying to steal something called Hush-A-Boom. That was an explosive that blew stuff up without
making any noise. Looks like the guys at China Lake came up with the next-best thing!"
The chief opened a door to the bomb-storage area. The streamlined shapes - they didn't have any
fins or fuses attached until they were taken topside - sat on storage pallets securely chained down to
the steel deck. On a pallet close to the rectangular elevator that delivered them topside was a group
of blue-painted bombs. The blue color made them exercise units, but from the tag on the pallet it was
clear that they were also loaded with the customary explosive filler. Robby Jackson was a fighter
pilot, and hadn't dropped very many bombs, but that was just another side of his profession. The
weapons he looked at appeared to be standard two-thousand-pound low-drag cases, which translated
to nine hundred eighty-five pounds of high explosives, and just over a thousand pounds of steel
bombcase. The only difference between a "dumb" or "iron" bomb and a guided "smart" bomb was
the attachment of a couple of hardware items: a seeker head on the nose, and movable fins on the
tail. Both units attached to the normal fusing points, and in fact the fuses were part of the guidancepackage attachments. For obvious reasons these were kept in a different compartment. On the whole,
however, the blue bombcases appeared grossly ordinary.
"So?" he asked.
The chief tapped the nearest bombcase with his knuckle. There was an odd sound. Odd enough
that Robby did the same.
"That's not steel."
"Cellulose, sir. They made the friggin' things outa paper! How you like that?"
"Oh." Robby understood. "Stealth."
"These babies gotta be guided, though. They ain't gonna make fragments worth a damn." The
purpose of the steel bombcase, of course, is to transform itself into thousands of high-speed razors,
ripping into whatever lay within their ballistic range after detonation. It wasn't the explosion that
killed people - which was, after all, the reason to build bombs - but rather the fragments they
generated. "That's why we call it the Hush-A-Bomb. Fucker's gonna be right loud, sir, but after the
smoke clears you're gonna wonder what the hell it was."
"New wonders from China Lake," Robby observed. What the hell good was a bomb that - but
then, it was probably something for the new Stealth tactical bomber. He didn't know all that much
about Stealth yet. It wasn't part of his brief in the Pentagon. Fighter tactics were, and Robby went off
to go over his notes with the air-group commander. The first part of the battle-group exercise would
begin in just over twenty-four hours.
The word got to Medellín fairly quickly, of course. By noon it was known that two refining
operations had been eliminated and a total of thirty-one people killed. The loss of manpower was
incidental. In each case more than half had been local peasants who did the coolie work, and the rest
had been scarcely more important permanent employees whose guns kept the curious away, generally
by example rather than persuasion. What was troubling was the fact that if word of these events got
out, there might be some difficulties in recruiting new people to do the refining.
But most troubling of all was the simple fact that nobody knew what was going on. Was the
Colombian Army going back into the hills? Was it M-19, breaking its word, or PARC, doing the
same thing? Or something else? No one knew. That was most annoying, since they paid a good deal
of money to get information. But the Cartel was a group of people, and action was taken only after
consensus was reached. It was agreed that there must be a meeting. But then people began to worry
if that might be dangerous. After all, clearly there were armed people about, people with little regard
for human life, and that was also troubling for the senior Cartel officials. Most of all, these people
had heavy weapons and the skill to use them. It was decided, therefore, that the meeting should be
held at the most secure location possible.
FLASH
TOP SECRET ***** CAPER
1914Z
SIGINT REPORT
INTERCEPT 1993 INIT 1904Z FRQ 887.020MHZ
INIT: SUBJECT FOXTROT
RECIP: SUBJECT UNIFORM
F: IT IS AGREED. WE'LL MEET AT YOUR HOUSE TOMORROW NIGHT AT [2000L].
U: WHO WILL COME?
F: [SUBJECT ECHO] CANNOT ATTEND, BUT PRODUCTION IS NOT HIS CONCE
ANYWAY. [SUBJECT ALPHA], [SUBJECT GOLF], AND [SUBJECT WHISKEY] WILL CO
WITH ME. HOW IS YOUR SECURITY?
U: AT MY [EMPHASIS] CASTLE? [LAUGHTER.] FRIEND, WE COULD HOLD OF
REGIMENT THERE, AND MY HELICOPTER IS ALWAYS READY. HOW ARE YOU COMING?
F: HAVE YOU SEEN MY NEW TRUCK?
U: YOUR GREAT FEET [MEANING UNKNOWN]? NO I HAVE NOT SEEN YO
MARVELOUS NEW TOY.
F: I GOT IT BECAUSE OF YOU, PABLO. WHY DON'T YOU EVER REPAIR THE RO
TO YOUR CASTLE?
U: THE RAIN KEEPS DESTROYING IT. YES, I SHOULD PAVE IT, BUT I USE
HELICOPTER TO GET HERE.
F: AND YOU COMPLAIN ABOUT MY TOYS! [LAUGHTER.] SEE YOU TOMORRO
NIGHT, FRIEND.
U: GOODBYE.
END CALL. DISCONNECT SIGNAL. END INTERCEPT.
The intercept was delivered to Bob Ritter's office within minutes of its receipt. So here was the
chance, the whole purpose of the exercise. He got his own signals out at once, without checking with
Cutter or the President. After all, he was the one with the hunting license.
Aboard Ranger, the "tech-rep" got the encrypted message less than an hour later. He immediately
placed a telephone call to the office of Commander Jensen, then headed off to see him personally. It
wasn't all that hard. He was an experienced field officer and particularly good with maps. That was
very useful on a carrier where even experienced sailors got lost in the graypainted maze all the
time. Commander Jensen was surprised he got there so quickly, but already had his personal
bombardier-navigator in his office for the mission briefing.
Clark got his signal about the same time. He linked up with Larson and immediately arranged a
flight down the valley south of Medellín to make a final reconnaissance of the objective.
Whatever problems his conscience gave Ding Chavez washed out when he did his shirt. There
was a nice little creek a hundred meters from their patrol base, and one by one the squad members
washed their things out and cleaned themselves up as best they could without soap. After all, he
reasoned, poor, dumb peasant or not, he was doing something that he shouldn't have been doing. To
Chavez the main concern was that he'd used up a magazine and a half of ammo, and the squad was
short one claymore mine which, they'd heard a few hours earlier, went off exactly as planned. Their
intel specialist was a real whiz with booby traps. Finished with his abbreviated personal hygiene
routine, Ding returned to the unit perimeter. They'd lay up tonight, putting a listening post out a few
hundred meters and running a routine patrol to make sure that there was nobody hunting them, but this
would be a night of rest. Captain Ramirez had explained that they didn't want to be too active in this
area. It might spook the game sooner than they wanted.
18. Force Majeure
THE EASIEST THING for Sergeant Mitchell to do was to call his friend at Fort MacDill. He'
served with Ernie Davis in the 101st Air Assault Division, lived right next to him in a duplex, and
crumpled many an empty beer can after charcoaled franks and burgers in the backyard. They were
both E-7s, well schooled in the ways of the Army, which was really run by the sergeants, after
all. The officers got more money and all of the worries while the long-service NCOs kept things on
an even keel. He had an Army-wide phone directory at his desk and called the proper AUTOVON
number.
"Ernie? Mitch."
"Yo, how's life out in wine country?"
"Humpin' the hills, boy. How's the family?"
"Doing fine, Mitch. And yours?"
"Annie's turning into quite a little lady. Hey, the reason I called, I wanted to check up to make
sure one of our people got out to you. Staff Sergeant named Domingo Chavez. You'd like him, Ernie,
he's a real good kid. Anyway, the paperwork got fucked up on this end, and I just wanted to make
sure that he showed up in the right place."
"No problem," Ernie said. "Chavez, you said?"
"Right." Mitchell spelled it.
"Don't ring a bell. Wait a minute. I gotta switch phones." A moment later Ernie's voice came
back, accompanied by the clicking sound that denoted a computer keyboard. What was the world
coming to? Mitchell wondered. Even infantry sergeants had to know how to use the goddamned
things. "Run that name past me again?"
"Chavez, first name Domingo, E-6." Mitchell read off his service number, which was the same as
his Social Security number.
"He ain't here, Mitch."
"Huh? We got a call from this Colonel O'Mara of yours -"
"Who?"
"Some bird named O'Mara. My ell-tee took the call and got a little flustered. New kid, still got a
lot to learn," Mitchell explained.
"I never heard of no Colonel O'Mara. I think maybe you got the wrong post, Mitch."
"No shit?" Mitchell was genuinely puzzled. "My ell-tee must have really booted this one. Okay,
Ernie, I'll take it from here. You give my love to Hazel now."
"Roge-o, Mitch. You have a good one, son. 'Bye."
"Hmph." Mitchell stared at the phone for a moment. What the hell was going on? Ding wasn't at
Benning, and wasn't at MacDill. So where the fuck was he? The platoon sergeant flipped to the
number for the Military Personnel Center, located in Alexandria, Virginia. The sergeants' club is a
tight one, and the community of E-7s was especially so. His next call was to Sergeant First Class
Peter Stankowski. It took two tries to get him.
"Hey, Stan! Mitch here."
"You looking for a new job?" Stankowski was a detailer. His job was to assign his fellow
sergeants to new jobs. As such, he was a man with considerable power.
"Nah, I just love being a light-fighter. What's this I hear about you turning track-toad on us?"
Stankowski's next job, Mitchell had recently learned, was in the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood,
where he'd lead his squad from inside an M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
"Hey, Mitch, my knees are goin'. Ever think it might be nice to fight sittin' down once in a
while? Besides, that twenty-five-millimeter chain gun makes for a nice equalizer. What can I do for
you?"
"Trying to track somebody down. One of my E-6s checked out a couple of weeks back, and we
have to ship some shit to him, and he ain't where we thought he was."
"Oooo-kay. Wait while I punch up my magic machine and we'll find the lad for you. What's his
name?" Stankowski asked. Mitchell gave him the information.
"Eleven-Bravo, right?" 11-B was Chavez's Military Occupation Specialty, or MOS. That
designated Chavez as a light infantryman. Mechanized infantry was Eleven-Mike.
"Yep." Mitchell heard some more tapping.
"C-h-a-v-e-z, you said?"
"Right."
"Okay, he was supposed to go to Benning and wear the Smokey Bear hat -"
"That's the guy!" Mitchell said, somewhat relieved.
"- but they changed his orders an' sent him down to Mac-Dill."
But he ain't at MacDill! Mitchell managed not to say.
"That's a spooky bunch down there. You know Ernie Davis, don't you? He's there. Why don't
you give him a call?"
"Okay," Mitchell said, really surprised by that one. I just did! "When you going to Hood?"
"September."
"Okay, I'll, uh, call Ernie. You take it easy, Stan."
"Stay in touch, Mitch. Say hi to the family. 'Bye."
"Shit," Mitchell observed after he hung up. He'd just proved that Chavez didn't exist
anymore. That was decidedly strange. The Army wasn't supposed to lose people, at least not like
this. The sergeant didn't know what to do next, except maybe talk to his lieutenant about it.
"We had another hit last night," Ritter told Admiral Cutter. "Our luck's holding. One of our
people got scratched, but nothing serious, and that's three sites taken out, forty-four enemy KIAs -"
"And?"
"And tonight, four senior Cartel members are going to have a sit-down, right here." Ritter handed
over a satellite photograph, along with the text of the intercept. "All people on the production
end: Fernández, d'Alejandro, Wagner, and Untiveros. Their ass is ours."
"Fine. Do it," Cutter said.
Clark was examining the same photo at that moment, along with a few obliques that he'd shot
himself and a set of blueprints for the house.
"You figure this room, right here?"
"I've never been in this one, but that sure looks like a conference room to me," Larson said. "How
close you have to be?"
"I'd prefer under four thousand meters, but the GLD is good to six."
"How about this hilltop right here? We've got a clear line of sight into the compound."
"How long to get there?"
"Three hours. Two to drive, one to walk. You know, you could almost do this from an
airplane…"
"Yours?" Clark asked with a sly grin.
"Not on a bet!" They'd use a four-wheel-drive Subaru for the drive. Larson had several different
sets of plates, and the car didn't belong to him anyway. "I got the phone number and I got a cellular
phone."
Clark nodded. He was really looking forward to this. He'd done jobs against people like this
before, but never with official sanction, and never this high up the line. "Okay, I gotta get final
approval. Pick me up at three."
Murray hustled over from his office as soon as he got the news. Hospitals never made people
look glamorous, but Moira appeared to have aged ten years in the past sixty hours. Hospitals weren't
especially big on dignity, either. Her hands were in restraints. She was on suicide watch. Murray
knew that it was necessary - could scarcely be more so - but her personality had taken enough
battering already, and this didn't make things any better.
The room was already bedecked with flowers. Only a handful of FBI agents knew what had
transpired, and the natural assumption at the office was that she'd taken Emil's death too hard. Which
wasn't far off, after all.
"You gave us quite a scare, kiddo," he observed.
"It's all my fault." She couldn't bring her eyes to look at him for more than a few seconds at a time.
"You're a victim, Moira. You got taken in by one of the best in the business. It happens, even to
the smarties. Trust me, I know."
"I let him use me. I acted like a whore -"
"I don't want to hear that. You made a mistake. That happens. You didn't mean to hurt anybody,
and you didn't break any laws. It's not worth dying for. It's damned sure not worth dying over when
you got kids to worry about."
"What'll they think? What'll they think when they find out…"
"You've already given them all the scare they need. They love you, Moira. Can anything erase
that?" Murray shook his head. "I don't think so."
"They're ashamed of me."
"They're scared. They're ashamed of themselves. They think it's partly their fault." That struck a
nerve.
"But it's not! It's all my fault -"
"I just told you it isn't. Moira, you got in the way of a truck named Félix Cortez."
"Is that his real name?"
"He used to be a colonel in the DGI. Trained at the KGB Academy, and he's very, very good at
what he does. He picked you because you're a widow, a young, pretty one. He scouted you, figured
out that you're lonely, like most widows, and he turned on the charm. He probably has a lot of inborn
talent, and he was educated by experts. You never had a chance. You got hit by a truck you never
saw coming. We're going to have a shrink come down, Dr. Lodge from Temple University. And he's
going to tell you the same thing I am, but he's going to charge a lot more. Don't worry, though. It
comes under Workers Comp."
"I can't stay with the Bureau."
"That's true. You're going to have to give up your security clearance," Dan told her. "That's no
great loss, is it? You're going to get a job at the Department of Agriculture, right down the street,
same pay grade and everything," Murray said gently. "Bill set it all up for you."
"Mr. Shaw? But - why?"
" 'Cause you're a good guy, Moira, not a bad guy. Okay?"
"So what exactly are we going to do?" Larson asked.
"Wait and see," Clark replied, looking at the road map. There was a place called Don Diego not
too far from where they were going. He wondered if somebody named Zorro lived there. "What's
your cover story in case somebody sees us together?"
"You're a geologist, and I've been flying you around looking for new gold deposits."
"Fine." It was one of the stock cover-stories Clark used. Geology was one of his hobbies, and he
could discuss the subject well enough to fool a professor in the subject. In fact, that's exactly what
he'd done a few times. That cover would also explain some of the gear in the back of the four-wheeldrive station wagon, at least to the casual or unschooled observer. The GLD, they'd explain, was a
surveying instrument, which was pretty close.
The drive was not terribly unusual. The local roads lacked the quality of paving common in
America, and there weren't all that many guard rails, but the main hazard was the way the locals
drove, which was a little on the passionate side, Clark thought. He liked it. He liked South
America. For all the social problems, the people down here had a zest for life and an openness that
he found refreshing. Perhaps the United States had been this way a century before. The old West
probably had. There was much to admire. It was a pity that the economy hadn't developed along
proper lines, but Clark wasn't a social theorist. He, too, was a child of his country's working class,
and in the important things working people are the same everywhere. Certainly the ordinary folk
down here had no more love for the druggies than he did. Nobody likes criminals, especially the sort
that flaunt their power, and they were probably angry that their police and army couldn't do anything
about it. Angry and helpless. The only "popular" group that had tried to deal with them was M-19, a
Marxist guerrilla group - actually more an elitist collection of city-bred and university-educated
intellectuals. After kidnapping the sister of a major cocaine trafficker, the others in the business had
banded together to get her back, killing over two hundred M-19 members and actually forming the
Medellín Cartel in the process. That allowed Clark to admire the Cartel. Bad guys or not, they had
made a Marxist revolutionary group back off by playing the urban guerrilla game by M-19's own
rules. Their mistake - aside from being in a business which Clark abhorred - had been in assuming
that they had the ability to play against another, larger enemy by the same set of rules, and that their
new enemy wouldn't respond in kind. Turnabout was fair play, Clark thought. He settled back in his
seat to catch a nap. Surely they'd understand.
Three hundred miles off the Colombian coast, USSRanger turned into the wind to commence
flight operations. The battle group was composed of the carrier, the Aegis-class cruiser Thomas S.
Gates, another missile cruiser, four missile-armed destroyers and frigates, and two dedicated
antisubmarine destroyers. The underway replenishment group, with a fleet oiler, the ammunition ship
Shasta, and three escorts, was fifty miles closer to the South American coast. Five hundred miles to
seaward was another similar group returning from a lengthy deployment at "Camel Station" in the
Indian Ocean. The returning fleet simulated an oncoming enemy formation - pretending to be
Russians, though nobody said that anymore in the age of glasnost.
The first aircraft off, as Robby Jackson watched from Pri-Fly, the control position high up on the
carrier's island structure, were F-14 Tomcat interceptors, loaded out to maximum takeoff weight,
squatting at the catapults with cones of fire trailing from each engine. As always, it was exciting to
watch. Like a ballet of tanks, the massive, heavily loaded aircraft were choreographed about the four
acres of flight deck by teenaged kids in filthy, color-coded shirts who gave instructions in pantomime
while keeping out of the way of the jet intakes and exhausts. It was for them a game more dangerous
than racing across city streets at rush hour, and more stimulating. Crewmen in purple shirts fueled the
aircraft, and were called "grapes." Other kids, red-shirted ordnancemen called "ordies," were
loading blue-painted exercise weapons aboard aircraft. The actually shooting part of the Shoot-Ex
didn't start for another day. Tonight they'd practice interception tactics against fellow Navy
aviators. Tomorrow night, Air Force C-130s would lift out of Panama to rendezvous with the
returning battle group and launch a series of target drones which, everyone hoped, the Tomcats would
blast from the sky with their newly repaired AIM-54C Phoenix missiles. It was not to be a
contractor's test. The drones would be under the control of Air Force NCOs whose job it was to
evade fire as though their lives depended on it, for whom every successful evasion involved a stiff
penalty to be paid in beer or some other medium of exchange by the flight crew who missed.
Robby watched twelve aircraft launch before heading down to the flight deck. Already dressed in
his olive-green flight suit, he carried his personal flight helmet. He'd ride tonight in one of the E-2C
Hawkeye airborne-early-warning aircraft, the Navy's own diminutive version of the larger E-3A AW
ACS, from which he'd see if his new tactical arrangement worked any better than current fleet
procedures. It had in all the computer simulations, but computers weren't reality, a fact often lost
upon people who worked in the Pentagon.
The E-2C crew met him at the door to the flight deck. A moment later the Hawkeye's plane
captain, a First-Class Petty Officer who wore a brown shirt, arrived to take them to the aircraft. The
flight deck was too dangerous a place for pilots to walk unattended, hence the twenty-five-year-old
guide who knew these parts. On the way aft Robby noticed an A-6E Intruder being loaded with a
single blue bombcase to which guidance equipment had been attached, converting it into a GBU-15
laser-guided weapon. It was, he saw, the squadron-skipper's personal bird. That, he thought, must be
part of the system-validation test, called a Drop-Ex. It wasn't that often you got to drop a real bomb,
and squadron commanders like to have their fair share of fun. Robby wondered for a moment what
the target was - probably a raft, he decided - but he had other things to worry about. The plane
captain had them at their aircraft a minute later. He said a few things to the pilot, then saluted him
smartly and moved off to perform his next set of duties. Robby strapped into the jump seat in the
radar compartment, again disliking the fact that he was in an airplane as a passenger rather than a
driver.
After the normal preflight ritual, Commander Jackson felt vibration as the turboprop engines fired
up. Then the Hawkeye started moving slowly and jerkily toward one of the waist catapults. The
engines were run up to full power after the nosewheel attachment was fixed to the catapult shuttle and
the pilot spoke over the intercom to warn his crew that it was time. In three stunning seconds, the
Grumman-built aircraft went from a standing start to one hundred forty knots. The tail sank as it left
the ship, then the aircraft leveled out and tipped up again for its climb to twenty thousand
feet. Almost immediately, the radar controllers in back started their systems checks, and in twenty
minutes the E-2C was on station, eighty miles from the carrier, its rotodome turning, sending radar
beams through the sky to start the exercise. Jackson was seated so as to observe the entire "battle" on
the radar screens, his helmet plugged into the command circuit so that he could see how well the
Ranger's air wing executed his plan, while the Hawkeye flew a racetrack pattern in the sky.
From their position they could also see the battle group, of course. Half an hour after taking off,
Robby noted a double launch from the carrier. The radar-computer system tracked both new contacts
as a matter of course. They climbed to thirty thousand feet and rendezvoused. A tanker exercise, he
realized at once. One of the aircraft immediately returned to the carrier, while the other flew eastsoutheast. The intercept exercise began in earnest right about then, but every few seconds Robby
noted the course of the new contact, until it disappeared off the screen, still heading toward the South
American mainland.
"Yes, yes, I will go," Cortez said. "I am not ready yet, but I will go." He hung up his phone with a
curse and reached for his car keys. Félix hadn't even had the chance to visit one of the smashed
refining sites yet and they wanted him to address the - "The Production Committee," el jefe called
it. That was amusing. The fools were so bent on taking over the national government that they were
starting to use quasi-official terminology. He swore again on the way out the door. Drive all the way
down to that fat, pompous lunatic's castle on the hill. He checked his watch. It would take two
hours. And he would get there late. And he would not be able to tell them anything because he hadn't
had time to learn anything. And they would be angry. And he would have to be humble again. Cortez
was getting tired of abasing himself to these people. The money they paid him was incredible, but no
amount of money was worth his self-respect. That was something he should have thought about
before he signed up, Cortez reminded himself as he started his car. Then he swore again.
The newest CAPER intercept was number 2091 and was an intercept from a mobile phone to the
home of Subject ECHO. The text came up on Ritter's personal computer printer. Then came 2092,
not thirty seconds later. He handed both to his special assistant.
"Cortez… going right there? Christmas in June."
"How do we get the word to Clark?" Ritter wondered.
The man thought for a moment. "We can't."
"Why not?"
"We don't have a secure voice channel we can use. Unless - we can get a secure VOX circuit to
the carrier, and from there to the A-6, and from the A-6 to Clark."
It was Ritter's turn to swear. No, they couldn't do that. The weak link was the carrier. The case
officer they had aboard to oversee that end of the mission would have to approach the carrier's
commanding officer - it might not start there, but it would sure as hell end there - and ask for a
cleared radio compartment to handle the messages by himself on an ears-only basis. That would risk
too much, even assuming that the CO went along. Too many questions would be asked, too many new
people in the information loop. He swore again, then recovered his senses. Maybe Cortez would get
there in time. Lord, wouldn't it be nice to tell the Bureau that they'd nailed the bastard! Or, more
properly, that someone had, plausibly deniably. Or maybe not. He didn't know Bill Shaw very well,
and didn't know how he might react.
Larson had parked the Subaru a hundred yards off the main road in a preselected spot that made
detection unlikely. The climb to their perch was not a difficult one, and they arrived well before
sundown. The photos had identified a perfect place, right on the crest of a ridge, with a direct line of
sight toward a house that took their breath away. Twenty thousand square feet it was - a hundred-foot
square, two stories, no basement - set within a fenced six-acre perimeter four kilometers away,
perhaps three hundred feet lower than their position. Clark had a pair of seven-power binoculars and
took note of the guard force while light permitted. He counted twenty men, all armed with automatic
weapons. Two crew-served heavy machine guns were sited in built-for-the-purpose strongpoints on
the wall. Bob Ritter had called it right on St. Kitts, he thought: Frank Lloyd Wright meets Ludwig
the Mad. It was a beautiful house, if you went for the neoclassical-Spanish-modern style, fortified in
hi-tech fashion to keep the unruly peasants away. There was also the de rigueur helicopter pad with
a new Sikorsky S-76 sitting on it.
"Anything else I need to know about the house?" Clark asked.
"Pretty massive construction, as you can see. I'd worry about that. This is earthquake country,
you know. Personally, I'd prefer something lighter, wood-post and beam, but they like concrete
construction to stop bullets and mortar rounds, I suppose."
"Better and better," Clark observed. He reached into his backpack. First he removed the heavy
tripod, setting it up quickly and expertly on solid ground. Then came the GLD, which he attached and
sighted in. Finally, he removed a Varo Noctron-V night-sighting device. The GLD had the same
capability, of course, but once it was set up he didn't want to fool with it. The Noctron had only fivepower magnification - Clark preferred the binocular lens arrangement - but was small, light, and
handy. It also amplified ambient light about fifty thousand times. This technology had come a long
way since his time in Southeast Asia, but it still struck him as a black art. He remembered being out
in the boonies with nothing better than a Mark-1 eyeball. Larson would handle the radio traffic, and
had his unit all set up. Then there was nothing left to do but wait. Larson produced some junk food
and both men settled down.
"Well, now you know what 'Great Feet' means," Clark chuckled an hour later. The cryppies
should have known. He handed the Noctron over.
"Gawd! Only difference between a man and a boy…"
It was a Ford three-quarter-ton pickup with optional four-wheel drive. Or at least that was how it
had left the factory. Since then it had visited a custom-car shop where four-foot-diameter tires had
been attached. It wasn't quite grotesque enough to be called "Big Foot," after the monster trucks so
popular at auto shows, but it had the same effect. It was also quite practical, and that was the really
strange part. The road up to the casa did need some serious help, but this truck didn't notice - though
the chieftain's security pukes did, struggling to keep up with their boss's new and wonderful toy.
"I bet the mileage sucks," Larson observed as it came through the gate. He handed the night-sight
back.
"He can afford it." Clark watched it maneuver around the house. It was too much to hope for, but
it happened. The dick-head parked the truck right next to the house, right next to the windows to the
conference room. Perhaps he didn't want to take his eyes off his new toy.
Two men alighted from the vehicle. They were greeted at the veranda - Clark couldn't remember
the Spanish name for that - by their host with handshakes and hugs while armed men stood about as
nervously as the President's Secret Service detail. He could see them relax when their charges went
inside, spreading out, mixing with their counterparts - after all, the Cartel was one big, happy family,
wasn't it?
For now, anyway, Clark told himself. He shook his head in amazement at the placement of the
truck.
"Here comes the last one." Larson pointed to headlights struggling up the gravel road.
This car was a Mercedes, a stretch job, doubtless armored like a tank - Just like the
ambassador's car, Clark thought. How poetic. This VIP was also met with pomp and
circumstance. There were now at least fifty guards visible. The wall perimeter was fully manned,
with other teams constantly patrolling the grounds. The odd thing, he thought, was that there were no
guards outside the wall. There had to be a few, but he couldn't spot them. It didn't matter. Lights
went on in the room behind the truck. That did matter.
"Looks like you guessed right, boy."
"That's what they pay me for," Larson pointed out. "How close do you think that truck -"
Clark had already checked, keying the laser in on both the house and the truck. "Three meters from
the wall. Close enough."
Commander Jensen finished tanking his aircraft, disconnecting from the K.A-6 as soon as his fuel
gauges pegged. He recovered the refueling probe and maneuvered downward to allow the tanker to
clear the area. The mission profile could hardly have been easier. He eased the stick to the right,
taking a heading of one-one-five and leveling off at thirty thousand feet. His IFF transponder was
switched off at the moment, and he was able to relax and enjoy the ride, something he almost always
did. The pilot's seat in the Intruder is set rather high for good visibility during a bomb run - it did
make you feel a little exposed when you were being shot at, he remembered. Jensen had done a few
missions before the end of the Vietnam War, and he could vividly recall the 100mm flak over
Haiphong, like black cotton balls with evil red hearts. But not tonight. The seat placement now was
like a throne in the sky. The stars were bright. The waning moon would soon rise. And all was right
with the world. Added to that was his mission. It didn't get any better than this. With only starlight
to see by they could pick out the coast from over two hundred miles away. The Intruder was cruising
along at just under five hundred knots. Jensen brought the stick to the right as soon as he was beyond
the radar coverage from the E-2C, taking a more southerly heading toward Ecuador. On crossing the
coast he turned left to trace along the spine of the Andes. At this point he flipped on his IFF
transponder. Neither Ecuador nor Colombia had an air-defense radar network. It was an
extravagance that neither country needed. As a result, the only radars that were now showing up on
the Intruder's ESM monitors were the usual air-traffic-control type. They were quite modern. A
little-known paradox of radar technology was that these new, modern radars didn't really detect
aircraft at all. Instead they detected radar transponders. Every commercial aircraft in the world
carried a small "black box" - as aircraft electronic equipment is invariably known - that noted receipt
of a radar signal and replied with its own signal, giving aircraft identification and other relevant
information which was then "painted" on the control scopes at the radar station - most often an airport
down here - for the controllers to use. It was cheaper and more reliable than the older radars that did
"skin-paints," detecting the aircraft merely as nameless blips whose identity, course, and speed then
had to be established by the chronically overworked people on the ground. It was an odd footnote in
the history of technology that the new scheme was a step both forward and backward.
The Intruder soon entered the air-control zone belonging to El Dorado International Airport
outside Bogotá. A radar controller there called the Intruder as soon as its alphanumeric code
appeared on his scope.
"Roger, El Dorado," Commander Jensen replied at once. "This is Four-Three Kilo. We are InterAmerica Cargo Flight Six out of Quito, bound for LAX. Altitude three-zero-zero, course three-fivezero, speed four-nine-five. Over."
The controller verified, the track with his radar data and replied in English, which is the language
of international air travel. "Four-Three Kilo, roger, copy. Be advised no traffic in your
area. Weather CAVU. Maintain course and altitude. Over."
"Roger, thank you, and good night, sir." Jensen killed the radio and spoke over his intercom to his
bombardier-navigator. "That was easy enough, wasn't it? Let's get to work."
In the right seat, set slightly below and behind the pilot's, the naval flight officer got on his own
radio after he activated the TRAM pod that hung on the Intruder's center-line hardpoint.
At T minus fifteen minutes, Larson lifted his cellular phone and dialed the proper number. "Señor
Wagner, por favor."
"Momento," the voice replied. Larson wondered who it was.
"Wagner," another voice replied a moment later. "Who is this?"
Larson took the cellophane from off a pack of cigarettes and crumpled it over the receiver while
he spoke garbled fragments of words, then finally: "I can't hear you, Carlos. I will call back in a few
minutes." Larson pressed the kill button on the phone. This location was at the far edge of the cellular
system anyway.
"Nice touch," Clark said approvingly. "Wagner?"
"His dad was a sergeant in the Allgemeine-SS - worked at Sobibor - came over in forty-six,
married a local girl and went into the smuggling business, died before anyone caught up with
him. Breeding tells," Larson said. "Carlos is a real prick, likes his women with bruises on them. His
colleagues aren't all that wild about him, but he's good at what he does."
"Christmas," Mr. Clark observed. The radio made the next sound, five minutes later.
"Bravo Whiskey, this is Zulu X-Ray, over."
"Zulu X-Ray, this is Bravo Whiskey. I read you five-by-five. Over," Larson answered at
once. His radio was the sort used by forward air controllers, encrypted UHF.
"Status report, over."
"We are in place. Mission is go. Say again, mission is go."
"Roger, copy, we are go-mission. We are ten minutes out. Start the music."
Larson turned to Clark. "Light her up."
The GLD was already powered up. Mr. Clark flipped the switch from standby to active. The
GLD was more fully known as the Ground Laser Designator. Designed for use by soldiers on the
battlefield, it projected a focused infrared (hence invisible) laser beam through a complex but rugged
series of lenses. Bore-sighted with the laser system was a separate infrared sensor that told the
operator where he was aiming - essentially a telescopic sight. "Great Feet" had a fiberglass cargo
box over its load area, and Clark trained the crosshairs on one of its small windows, using the fineadjustment knobs on the tripod with some delicacy. The laser spot appeared as desired, but then he
rethought his aiming point and took advantage of the fact that they were slightly higher than their
target, respotting his aim on the center of the vehicle's roof. Finally he turned on the videotape
recorder that took its feed from the GLD. The big boys in D.C. wanted to count coup on this one.
"Okay," he said quietly. "The target is lit."
"The music is playing, and it sounds just fine," Larson said over the radio.
Cortez was driving up the hill, having already passed a security checkpoint manned by two
people drinking beer, he noted disgustedly. The road was about on a par with what he'd grown up
with in Cuba, and the going was slow. They'd still blame him for being late, of course.
It was too easy, Jensen thought as he heard the reply. Tooling along at thirty thousand feet, clear
night, no flak or missiles to evade. Even a contractor's validation test wasn't this easy.
"I got it," the B/N noted, staring down at his own scope. You can see a very, very long way at
thirty thousand feet on a clear night, especially with a multimillion-dollar system doing the
looking. Underneath the Intruder, the Target Recognition and Attack Multisensor pod noted the laser
dot that was still sixty miles away. It was a modulated beam, of course, and its carrier signal was
known to the TRAM. They now had positive identification of the target.
"Zulu X-Ray confirms music sounds just fine," Jensen said over the radio. Over intercom: "Next
step."
On the port inboard weapon station, the bomb's seeker head was powered up. It immediately
noted the laser dot as well. Inside the aircraft, a computer was keeping track of the aircraft's
position, altitude, course, and speed, and the bombardier-navigator programmed in the position of the
target to an accuracy of two hundred meters. He could have dialed it in even closer, of course, but
didn't need to. The bomb release would be completely automatic, and at this altitude the laser
"basket" into which the bomb had to be dropped was miles wide. The computer took note of all these
facts and decided to make an optimum drop, right in the most favorable portion of the basket.
Clark's eyes were now fixed to the GLD. He was perched on his elbows, and no part of his body
was touching the instrument except for his eyebrow on the rubber cup that protected the eyepiece.
"Any second now," the B/N said.
Jensen kept the Intruder straight and level, heading straight down the electronic path defined by
various computer systems aboard. The entire exercise was now out of human hands. On the ejector
rack, a signal was received from the computer. Several shotgun shells - that's precisely what was
used - fired, driving down the "ejector feet" onto small steel plates on the upper side of the
bombcase. The bomb separated cleanly from the aircraft.
The aircraft jerked upward a bit at the loss of just over eleven hundred pounds of weight.
"Breakaway, breakaway," Jensen reported.
There, finally. Cortez saw the wall. His car - he'd have to buy a jeep if he were going to come
here very often - was still losing its grip on the gravel, but he'd be through the gate in a moment, and if
he remembered right, the road inside the perimeter was paved decently - probably leftover materials
from the helipad, he thought.
"On the way," Larson told Clark.
The bomb was still traveling at five hundred knots. Once clear of the aircraft, gravity took over,
arcing it down toward the ground. It actually accelerated somewhat in the rarefied air as the seeker
head moved fractionally to correct for wind drift. The seeker head was made of fiberglass and
looked like a round-nose bullet with some small fins attached. When the laser dot on which it tracked
moved out of the center of its field of view, the entire seeker body moved itself and the plastic tail
fins in the appropriate direction to bring the dot back where it belonged. It had to fall exactly twentytwo thousand feet, and the microchip brain in the guidance package was trying to hit the target
exactly. It had plenty of time to correct for mistakes.
Clark didn't know what to expect, exactly. It had been too long a time since he'd called air strikes
in, and he'd forgotten some of the details - when you had to call in air support, you generally didn't
have time to notice the small stuff. He found himself wondering if there'd be the whistle - something
he never remembered from his war service. He kept his eye on the target, still careful not to touch the
GLD lest he screw things up. There were several men standing close to the truck. One lit a cigarette,
and it appeared that several were talking about something or other. On the whole, it seemed like this
was taking an awfully long time. When it happened, there was not the least warning. Not a whistle,
not anything at all.
Cortez felt his front wheels bump upward as they got on solid pavement.
The GBU-15 laser-guided bomb had a "guaranteed" accuracy of under three meters, but that was
under combat conditions, and this was a far easier test of the system. It landed within inches of its
target point, striking the top of the truck. Unlike the first test shot, this bomb was impact-fused. Two
detonators, one in the nose and one in the tail, were triggered by a computer chip within a
microsecond of the instant when the seeker head struck the fiberglass top of the truck. There were
mechanical backups to the electronic triggers. Neither proved necessary, but even explosives take
time, and the bomb fell an additional thirty inches while the detonation process got underway. The
bombcase had barely penetrated the cargo cover when the bomb filler was ignited by both
detonators. Things happened more quickly now. The explosive filler was Octol, a very expensive
chemical explosive also used to trigger nuclear weapons, with a detonation rate of over eight
thousand meters per second. The combustible bombcase vaporized in a few microseconds. Then
expanding gas from the explosion hurled fragments of the truck body in all directions - except up immediately behind which was the rock-hard shock wave. Both the fragments and the shock wave
struck the concrete-block walls of the house in well under a thousandth of a second. The effects were
predictable. The wall disintegrated, transformed into millions of tiny fragments traveling at bullet
speed, with the remainder of the shock wave still behind to attack other parts of the house. The
human nervous system simply doesn't work quickly enough for such events, and the people in the
conference room never had the first hint that their deaths were underway.
The low-light sensor on the GLD went white (with a touch of green). Clark cringed on instinct
and looked away from the eyepiece to see an even whiter flash in the target area. They were too far
away to hear the noise at once. It wasn't often that you could see sound, but large bombs make that
possible. The compressed air of the shock wave was a ghostly white wall that expanded radially
from where the truck had been, at a speed over a thousand feet per second. It took about twelve
seconds for the noise to reach Clark and Larson. Everyone who had been in the conference room was
dead by that time, of course, and the crump of the pressure wave sounded like the outraged cry of lost
souls.
"Christ," Larson said, awed by the event.
"Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?" Clark asked. It was all he could do not to
laugh. That was a first. He'd killed his share of enemies, and never taken joy from it. But the nature
of the target combined with the method of the attack made the whole thing seem like a glorious
prank. Son of a BITCH! The sober pause followed a moment later. His "prank" had just ended the
lives of over twenty people, only four of whom were listed targets, and that was no joke. The urge to
laugh died. He was a professional, not a psychopath.
Cortez had been less than two hundred meters from the explosion, but being downhill from it
saved his life since most of the fragments sailed well over his head. The blast wave was bad enough,
hurling his windshield backward into his face, where it fractured but didn't shatter, held together by
the polymer filler of the safety-glass sandwich. His car was flipped on its back, but he managed to
crawl free even before his mind had decided what his eyes had just witnessed. It was fully six
seconds before the word "explosion" occurred to him. At that his reactions were far more rapid than
that of the security guards, half of whom were dead or dying in any case. His first considered action
was to draw his pistol and advance toward the house.
Except that there wasn't a house there anymore. He was too deafened to hear the screams of the
injured. Several guards wandered aimlessly about with their guns held ready - for what, they didn't
know. The ones from the far corner of the perimeter wall were the least affected. The body of the
house had absorbed most of the blast, protecting them from everything but the projectiles, which had
been quite lethal enough.
"Bravo Whiskey, this is Zulu X-Ray requesting BDA, over." BDA was bomb-damage
assessment. Larson keyed his microphone one last time.
"I evaluate CEP as zero, I repeat, zero, with high-order detonation. Score this one-four-pointoh. Over."
"Roger that. Out." Jensen switched his radio off again. "You know," he said over the intercom, "I
can remember back when I was a lieutenant I made a Med cruise on Kennedy and us officers were
afraid to go into some spaces because the troops were fuckin' around with drugs."
"Yeah," the bombardier/navigator answered. "Fuckin' drugs. Don't worry, skipper. I ain't likely
to have a conscience attack. Hey, the White House says it's okay, that means that it's really okay."
"Yep." Jensen lapsed back into silence. He'd proceed on his current heading until he was out of
El Dorado's radar coverage, then turn southwest for the Ranger. It really was a pretty night. He
wondered how the air-defense exercise was going…
Cortez had little experience with explosions, and the vagaries of such events were new to
him. For example, the fountain in front of the house was still running. The electrical power cables to
the casa were buried and unharmed, and the breaker box inside hadn't been totally destroyed. He
lowered his face into the water to clear it. When he came back up, he felt almost normal except for
the ache in his head.
There had been a dozen or so vehicles inside the wall when the explosion happened. About half
of them were shredded, and their gas tanks had ruptured, illuminating the area with isolated
fires. Untiveros' new helicopter was a smashed wreck against the fractured wall. There were other
people rushing about. Cortez stood still and started thinking.
He remembered seeing a truck, one with huge wheels, parked right next to… He walked over that
way. Though the entire three-hectare area around the house was littered with rubble, here it was
clear, he saw as he approached. Then he saw the crater, fully two meters deep and six meters wide.
Car bomb.
A big one. Perhaps a thousand kilos, he thought, looking away from the hole while his brain
went to work.
"I think that's all we really need to see," Clark observed. He made a last look through the
eyepiece of the GLD and switched it off. Repacking took less than three minutes.
"Who do you suppose that is?" Larson asked while he put his backpack on. He handed the
Noctron over to Clark.
"Must be the guy who showed up late in the BMW. Suppose he's important or something?"
"Don't know. Maybe next time."
"Right." Clark led the way down the hill.
It was the Americans, of course. CIA, without doubt. They'd made some financial arrangements
and somehow managed to place a ton of explosives in the back of that monstrous truck. Cortez
admired the touch. It was Fernandez's truck - he'd heard about it but never seen it. Now I never will,
he thought. Fernandez had loved his new truck and had kept it parked right in front of… That had to
be it. The Americans had gotten lucky. Okay, he thought, how did they do it? They wouldn't have
gotten their own hands involved, of course. So they must have arranged for someone else…
who? Somebody - no, more than one, at least four or five from M-19 or PARC… ? Again, that made
sense. Might it have been indirect? Have the Cubans or KGB arrange it. With all the changes
between East and West, might CIA have managed to get such cooperation? Unlikely, Félix thought,
but possible. A direct attack on high government officials such as the Cartel had executed was the
sort of thing to generate the most unlikely of bedfellows.
Was the bomb placement here an accident? Might the Americans have learned of the meeting?
There were voices from inside the rubble pile that had once been a castle. Security people were
nosing around, and Cortez joined them. Untiveros' family had been here. His wife and two children,
and a staff of eight or more people. Probably treated them like serfs, Cortez thought. The Cartel
chieftains all did. Perhaps he'd offended one greatly - gone after a daughter, maybe. They all did
that. Droit du seigneur. A French term, but one which the chieftains understood. The fools, Cortez
told himself. Was there no perversion beneath them?
Security guards were already scrambling through the rubble. It was amazing that anyone could be
alive in there. His hearing was coming back now. He caught the shrill screams of some poor
bastard. He wondered what the body count would be. Perhaps. Yes. He turned and walked back to
his overturned BMW. It was leaking gasoline out the filler cap, but Cortez reached in and got his
cellular phone. He walked twenty meters from the car before switching it on.
"Jefe, this is Cortez. There has been an explosion here."
It was ironic, Ritter thought, that his first notification of the mission's success should come from
another CAPER intercept. The really good news, the NSA guys reported, was that they now had a
voiceprint on Cortez. That greatly improved their chances of locating him. It was better than nothing,
the DDO thought as his visitor arrived for the second time today.
"We missed Cortez," he told Admiral Cutter. "But we got d'Alejandro, Fernández, Wagner, and
Untiveros, plus the usual collateral damage."
"What do you mean?"
Ritter looked again at the satellite photo of the house. He'd have to get a new one to quantify the
damage. "I mean there were a bunch of security guards around, and we probably got a bunch of
them. Unfortunately there was also Untiveros's family - wife, a couple of kids, and various domestic
servants."
Cutter snapped erect in his chair. "You didn't tell me anything about that! This was supposed to
be a surgical strike."
Ritter looked up in considerable annoyance. "Well, for Christ's sake, Jimmy! What the hell do
you expect? You are still a naval officer, aren't you? Didn't anybody ever tell you that there are
always extraneous people standing around? We used a bomb, remember? You don't do surgery with
bombs, despite what all the 'experts' say. Grow up!" Ritter himself took no pleasure from the
extraneous deaths, but it was a cost of doing business - as the Cartel's own members well understood.
"But I told the President -"
"The President told me that I had a hunting license, and no bag limit. This is my op to run,
remember?"
"It wasn't supposed to be this way! What if the papers get hold of it? This is cold-blooded
murder!"
"As opposed to taking out the druggies and their shooters? That's murder, too, isn't it? Or it
would be, if the President hadn't said that the gloves were off. You said it's a war. The President
told us to treat it as a war. Okay, we are. I'm sorry there were extraneous people around, but, damn
it, there always are. If there were a way to bag these jokers without hurting innocent people, we'd use
it - but there isn't." To say that Ritter was amazed didn't begin to explain matters. This guy was
supposed to be a professional military officer. The taking of human life was part of his job
description. Of course, Ritter told himself, Cutter'd spent most of his career driving a desk in the
Pentagon - he probably hadn't seen much blood since he learned how to shave. A pussycat hiding in
tiger's stripes. No, Ritter corrected himself. Just a pussy. Thirty years in uniform and he'd allowed
himself to forget that real weapons killed people somewhat less precisely than in the movies. Some
professional officer. And he was advising the President on issues of national security. Great.
"Tell you what, Admiral. If you don't tell the newsies, neither will I. Here's the intercept. Cortez
says it was a car bomb. Clark must have rigged it just the way we hoped."
"But what if the local police do an investigation?"
"First of all, we don't know if the local cops will even be allowed there. Second, what makes
you think they have the resources to figure it out? I worked pretty hard setting this up to look like a
car-bombing, and it looks like Cortez got faked out. Third, what makes you think that the local cops'll
give a flying fuck one way or another?"
"But the media!"
"You've got media on the brain. You're the one who's been arguing for turning us loose on these
characters. So now you're changing your mind? It's a little late for that," Ritter said
disgustedly. This was the best op his Directorate had run in years, and the guy whose idea it had been
was now wetting his pants.
Admiral Cutter wasn't paying enough attention to Ritter's invective to be angry. He'd promised
the President a surgical removal of the people who had killed Jacobs and the rest. He hadn't
bargained for the deaths of "innocent" people. More importantly, neither had WRANGLER.
Chavez was too far south to have heard the explosion. The squad was staked out on another
processing site. Evidently the sites were set up in relays. As he watched, two men were erecting the
portable bathtub under the supervision of several armed men, and he could hear the grunts and gripes
of others who were climbing up the mountainside. Four peasants appeared, their backpacks
containing jars of acid. They were accompanied by two more riflemen.
Probably the word hadn't gotten out yet, Ding thought. He'd been certain that what the squad had
done the other night would discourage people from supplementing their income this way. The
sergeant didn't consider the possibility that they had to run such risks to feed their families.
Ten minutes later the third relay of six brought the coca leaves, and five more armed men. The
laborers all had collapsible canvas buckets. They went off to a nearby stream for water. The boss
guard ordered two of his people to walk into the woods to stand sentry, and that's where things went
wrong. One of them walked straight toward the assault element, fifty meters away.
"Uh-oh," Vega observed quietly.
Chavez tapped four dashes on his radio button, the danger signal.
I see it, the captain replied with two dashes. Then three dashes. Get ready.
Oso got his machine gun up and flipped off the safety.
Maybe they'll drop him quietly, Chavez hoped.
The guys with the buckets were just coming back when Chavez heard a scream over to his
left. The riflemen below him reacted at once. Vega started firing then.
The sudden shooting from another direction confused the guards, but they reacted as people with
automatic weapons invariably reacted to surprise - they started shooting in all directions.
"Shit!" Ingeles snarled, and fired his grenade into the objective. It landed among the jars and
exploded, showering everyone in the area with sulfuric acid. Tracers flew everywhere, and people
dropped, but it was too confused, too unplanned for the soldiers to keep track of what was
happening. The shooting stopped in a few seconds. Everyone in view was down. The assault group
appeared soon thereafter, and Chavez ran down to join them. He counted bodies and came up three
short.
"Guerra, Chavez, find 'em!" Captain Ramirez ordered. He didn't have to say Kill 'em!
But they didn't. Guerra stumbled across one and killed him on the spot. Chavez came up dry,
neither seeing nor hearing anything. He found the stream and one bucket, three hundred meters from
the objective. If they'd been right there when the shooting started, that meant they had four or five
minutes head start in the country they'd grown up in. Both soldiers spent half an hour rushing and
stopping, looking and listening, but two men were away clean.
When they got back to the objective they learned that this was the good news. One of their men
was dead. Rocha, one of their riflemen, had taken a burst full in the chest from one of the guards and
died instantly. The squad was very quiet.
Jackson was also in an angry mood. The aggressor force had beaten him. Ranger's fighters hadn't
gotten it right. His tactical scheme had come apart when one of the squadrons turned the wrong way,
and what should have been a masterful trap had turned into a clear avenue for the "Russians" to blaze
in and get close enough to the carrier to launch missiles. That was embarrassing, if not completely
unexpected. New ideas took time to work out, and maybe he had to rethink some of his
arrangements. Just because it had all worked on the computer simulation didn't mean that the plan
was perfect, Jackson reminded himself. He continued to stare at the radar screen, trying to remember
the patterns and how they had moved. While he watched, a single blip reappeared on the screen,
heading southwest toward the carrier. He wondered who that was as the Hawkeye prepared for
landing.
The E-2C made a perfect trap, catching the number-three wire and rolling forward to clear the
deck for the next aircraft. Robby dismounted in time to see the next one land. It was an Intruder, the
same one he'd noticed before boarding the Hawk-eye a few hours earlier. The squadron commander's
personal bird, he noticed. The one that had flown toward the beach. But that wasn't
important. Commander Jackson immediately headed for the CAG's office to start the debrief.
Commander Jensen also taxied clear of the landing area. The Intruder's wings folded up to
minimize its deck space as it took its parking place forward. By the time he and his B/N dismounted,
his plane captain was there waiting for them. He'd already pulled the videotape from its compartment
in the nose instrument bay. This he handed to the skipper - squadron commanders are given that title before leading them into the island and safety. The "tech-rep" was there to meet them, and Jensen
handed the tape over to him.
"Four-oh, the man said," the pilot reported. Jensen just kept walking.
The "tech-rep" carried the tape cassette to his cabin, where he put it in a metal container with a
lock. He sealed it further with multicolored tape and affixed a Top Secret label to both sides. It was
then placed in yet another shipping box, which the man carried to a compartment on the O-3
level. There was a COD flight scheduled out in thirty minutes. The box would go on it in a courier's
pocket and get flown to Panama, where an Agency field officer would take custody of it and fly to
Andrews Air Force Base for final delivery to Langley.
19. Fallout
INTELLIGENCE SERVICES PRIDE themselves on getting information from Point A to Points B
C, D, and so forth with great speed. In the case of highly sensitive information, or data that can be
gathered only by covert means, they are highly effective. But for data that is open for all the world to
see, they generally fall well short of the commercial news media, hence the fascination of the
American intelligence community - and probably many others - with Ted Turner's Cable News
Network.
As a result, Ryan was not overly surprised to see that his first notice of the explosion south of
Medellín was captioned as having been copied from CNN and other news services. It was breakfast
time in Mons. His quarters were in the American VIP section of the NATO complex and had access
to CNN's satellite service. He switched the set on halfway through his first cup of coffee to see a TV
shot obviously taken from a helicopter with a low-light rig. The caption underneath said,
MEDELLÍN, COLOMBIA.
"Lord," Jack breathed, setting his cup down. The chopper didn't get very close, probably worried
about being shot at by the people milling about on the ground, but it didn't need to be all that
clear. What had been a massive house was now a disordered array of rubble set next to a hole in the
ground. The ground signature was unmistakable. Ryan had said car bomb to himself even before the
voice-over of the reporter gave the same evaluation. That meant the Agency wasn't involved, Jack
was sure. Car bombs were not the American way. Americans believed in single aimed
bullets. Precision firepower was an American invention.
His feelings changed on reflection, however. First, the Agency had to have the Cartel leadership
under some sort of surveillance by now, and surveillance was something that CIA was exceedingly
good at. Second, if a surveillance operation was underway, he ought to have heard of the explosion
through Agency channels, not as a copy of a news report. Something did not compute.
What was it Sir Basil had said? Our response would surely be appropriate. And what does
that mean? The intelligence game had become rather civilized over the past decade. In the 1950s,
toppling governments had been a standard exercise in the furtherance of national
policy. Assassinations had been a rare but real alternative to more complex exercises of diplomatic
muscle. In the case of CIA, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and bad press over some operations in Vietnam which had been a war after all, and wars were violent enterprises at best - had largely terminated
such things for everyone. It was odd but true. Even the KGB rarely involved itself in "wet work" any
longer - a Russian phrase from the thirties, denoting the fact that blood made one's hands wet - instead
leaving it to surrogates like the Bulgarians, or more commonly to terrorist groups who performed
such irregular services as a quid pro quo for arms and training assistance. And remarkably enough,
that, too, was dying out. The funny part was that Ryan believed such vigorous action was
occasionally necessary - and likely to become all the more so now that the world was turning away
from open warfare and drifting to a twilight contest of state-sponsored terrorism and low-intensity
conflict. "Special-operations" forces offered a real and semicivilized alternative to the more
organized and destructive forms of violence associated with conventional armed forces. If war is
nothing more or less than sanctioned murder on an industrial scale, then was it not more humane
to apply violence in a much more focused and discrete way?
That was an ethical question that didn't need contemplation over breakfast.
But what was right and what was wrong at this level? Ryan asked himself. It was accepted in
law, ethics, and religion that a soldier who killed in war was not a criminal. That only begged the
question: What is war? A generation earlier that question had been an easy one. Nation-states
would assemble their armies and navies and send them off to do battle over some damned fool issue
or other - afterward it would usually appear that there had been a peaceful alternative - and that was
morally acceptable. But war itself was changing, wasn't it? And who decided what war
was? Nation-states. So, could a nation-state determine what its vital interests were and act
accordingly? How did terrorism enter into the equation? Years earlier, when he'd been a target
himself, Ryan had determined that terrorism could be seen as the modern manifestation of piracy,
whose practitioners had always been seen as the common enemies of mankind. So, historically, there
was a not-quite-war situation in which military forces could be used directly.
And where did that put international drug traffickers? Was it a civil crime, to be dealt with as
such? What if the traffickers could subvert a nation to their own commercial will? Did that nation
then become mankind's common enemy, like the Barbary Pirates of old?
"Damn," Ryan observed. He didn't know what the law said. An historian by training, his degrees
didn't help. The only previous experience with such trafficking had been at the hands of a powerful
nation-state, fighting a "real" war to enforce its "right" to sell opium to people whose government
objected - but who had lost the war and with it the right to protect its own citizens against illegal drug
use.
That was a troubling precedent, wasn't it?
Jack's education compelled him to look for justification. He was a man who believed that Right
and Wrong really existed as discrete and identifiable values, but since law books didn't always have
the answers, he sometimes had to find his answers elsewhere. As a parent, he regarded drug dealers
with loathing. Who could guarantee that his own children might not someday be tempted to use the
goddamned stuff? Did he not have a duty to protect his own children? As a representative of his
country's intelligence community, what about extending that protective duty to all his nation's
children? And what if the enemy started challenging his country directly? Did that change the
rules? In the case of terrorism, he had already reached that answer: Challenge a nation-state in that
way, and you run a major risk. Nation-states, like the United States, had capabilities that are almost
impossible to comprehend. They had people in uniform who did nothing but practice the fine art of
visiting death on their fellowman. They had the ability to deliver fearsome tools of that
art. Everything from drilling a bullet into one particular man's chest from a thousand yards away to
putting a two-thousand-pound smart-bomb right through somebody's bedroom window…
"Christ."
There was a knock at his door. Ryan found one of Sir Basil's aides standing there. He handed
over an envelope and left.
When you get home, do tell Bob that the job was nicely done. Bas.
Jack folded the note back into the envelope and slid it into his coat pocket. He was correct, of
course. Ryan was sure of it. Now he had to decide if it was right or not. He soon learned that it was
much easier to second-guess such decisions when they were made by others.
They had to move, of course. Ramirez had them all doing something. The more work to be done,
the fewer things had to be thought about. They had to erase any trace of their presence. They had to
bury Rocha. When the time came, if it did, his family, if any, would get a sealed metal casket with
one hundred fifty pounds of ballast inside to simulate the body that wasn't there. Chavez and Vega got
the job of digging the grave. They went down the customary six feet, not liking the fact that they were
going to leave one of their own behind like this. There was the hope that someone might come back
to recover their comrade, but somehow neither expected that the effort would ever be made. Even
coming from a peacetime army, neither was a stranger to death. Chavez remembered the two kids in
Korea, and others killed in training accidents, helicopter crashes and the like. The life of the soldier
is dangerous, even when there are no wars to fight. So they tried to rationalize it along the lines of an
accidental death. But Rocha had not died by accident. He'd lost his life doing his job, soldiering at
the behest of the country which he had volunteered to serve, whose uniform he'd worn with
pride. He'd known what the hazards were, taken his chances like a man, and now he was being
planted in the ground of a foreign land.
Chavez knew that he'd been irrational to assume that something like this would never happen. The
surprise came from the fact that Rocha, like the rest of the squad members, had been a real pro, smart,
tough, good with his weapons, quiet in the bush, an intense and very serious soldier who really liked
the idea of going after druggies - for reasons he'd never explained to anyone. Oddly, that
helped. Rocha had died doing his job. Ding figured that was a good enough epitaph for
anyone. When the hole was finished, they lowered the body as gently as they could. Captain Ramirez
said a few words, and the hole was filled in partway. As always, Olivero sprinkled his CS tear-gas
powder to keep animals from digging it up, and the sod was replaced to erase any trace of what had
been done. Ramirez made a point of recording the position, however, in case anyone ever did come
back for his man. Then it was time to move.
They kept moving past dawn, heading for an alternate patrol base five miles from the one that
Rocha now guarded alone. Ramirez planned to rest his men, then lead them on another mission as
soon as possible. Better to have them working than thinking too much. That's what the manuals said.
An aircraft carrier is as much a community as a warship, home for over six thousand men, with its
own hospital and shopping center, church and synagogue, police force and videoclub, even its own
newspaper and TV network. The men work long hours, and the services they enjoyed while off duty
were nothing more than they deserved - and more to the point, the Navy had found that the sailors
worked far better when they received them.
Robby Jackson rose and showered as he always did, then found his way to the wardroom for
coffee. He'd be having breakfast with the captain today, but wanted to be fully awake before he did
so. There was a television set mounted on brackets in the corner, and the officers watched it just as
they did at home, and for the same reason. Most Americans start off the day with TV news. In this
case the announcer wasn't paid half a million dollars per year, and didn't have to wear makeup. He
did have to write his own copy, however.
"At about nine o'clock last night - twenty-one hundred hours to us on the Ranger - an explosion
ripped through the home of one Esteban Untiveros. Señor Untiveros was a major figure in the
Medellín Cartel. Looks like one of his friends wasn't quite as friendly as he thought. News reports
indicate that a car bomb totally destroyed his expensive hilltop residence, along with everyone in it.
"At home, the first of the summer's political conventions kicks off in Chicago next
week. Governor J. Robert Fowler, the leading candidate for his party's nomination, is still a hundred
votes short of a majority and is meeting today with representatives from…"
Jackson turned to look around. Commander Jensen was thirty feet away, motioning to the TV and
chuckling with one of his people, who grinned into his cup and said nothing.
Something in Robby's mind simply went click.
A Drop-Ex.
A tech-rep who didn't want to talk very much.
An A-6E that headed to the beach on a heading of one-one-five toward Ecuador and returned to
Ranger on a heading of two-zero-five. The other side of that triangle must - might - have taken the
bird over… Colombia.
A report of a car bomb.
A bomb with a combustible case. A smart-bomb with a combustible case, Commander Jackson
corrected himself.
Well, son of a bitch…
It was amusing in more than one way. Taking out a drug dealer didn't trouble his conscience very
much. Hell, he wondered why they didn't just shoot those drug-courier flights down. All that loose
politician talk about threats to national security and people conducting chemical warfare against the
United States - well, shit, he thought, why not have a for-real Shoot-Ex? You wouldn't even have to
spend money for target drones. There was not a man in the service who wouldn't mind taking a few
druggies out. Enemies are where you find them - where National Command Authority said they were,
that is - and dealing with his country's enemies was what Commander Robert Jefferson Jackson, USN,
did for a living. Doing them with a smart-bomb, and making it look like something else, well, that
was just sheer artistry.
More amusing was the fact that Robby thought he knew what had happened. That was the trouble
with secrets. They were impossible to keep. One way or another, they always got out. He wouldn't
tell anyone, of course. And that really was too bad, wasn't it?
But why bother keeping it a secret? Robby wondered. The way the druggies killed the FBI
Director - that was a declaration of war. Why not just go public and say, We're coming for you! In a
political year, too. When had the American people ever failed to support their President when he
declared the necessity to go after people?
But Jackson's job was not political. It was time to see the skipper. Two minutes later he arrived
at the CO's stateroom. The Marine standing guard opened the door for him, and Robby found the
captain reading dispatches.
"You're out of uniform!" the man said sternly.
"What - excuse me, Cap'n?" Robby stopped cold, looking to see that his fly was zipped.
"Here." Ranger's CO rose and handed over the message flimsy. "You just got frocked, Robby excuse me, Captain Jackson. Congratulations, Rob. Sure beats coffee for startin' off the day, doesn't
it?"
"Thank you, sir."
"Now if we can just get those charlie-fox fighter tactics of yours to work…"
"Yes, sir."
"Ritchie."
"Okay, Ritchie."
"You can still call me 'sir' on the bridge and in public, though," the captain pointed out. Newly
promoted officers always got razzed. They also had to pay for the "wetting down" parties.
The TV news crews arrived in the early morning. They, too, had difficulty with the road up to the
Untiveros house. The police were already there, and it didn't occur to any of the crews to wonder if
these police officers might be of the "tame" variety. They wore uniforms and pistol belts and seemed
to be acting like real cops. Under Cortez's supervision, the real search for survivors had been
completed already, and the two people found taken off, along with most of the surviving security
guards and almost all of the firearms. Security guards per se were not terribly unusual in Colombia,
though fully automatic weapons and crew-served machine guns were. Of course, Cortez was also
gone before the news crews arrived, and by the time they started taping, the police search was fully
underway. Several of the crews had direct satellite feeds, though one of the heavy groundstation
trucks had failed to make the hill.
The easiest part of the search, lovingly recorded for posterity by the portacams, began in what had
been the conference room, now a three-foot pile of gravel. The largest piece of a Production
Committee member found (that title was also not revealed to the newsies) was a surprisingly intact
lower leg, from just below the knee to a shoe still laced on the right foot. It would later be
established that this "remain" belonged to Carlos Wagner. Untiveros's wife and two young children
had been in the opposite side of the house on the second floor, watching a taped movie. The VCR,
still plugged in and on play, was found right before the bodies. Yet another TV camera followed the
man - a security guard temporarily without his AK-47 - who carried the limp, bloody body of a dead
child to an ambulance.
"Oh, my God," the President said, watching one of the several televisions in the Oval Office. "If
anybody figures this out…"
"Mr. President, we've dealt with this sort of thing before," Cutter pointed out. "The Libyan
bombing under Reagan, the air strikes into Lebanon and -"
"And we caught hell for it every time! Nobody cares why we did it, all they care about is that we
killed the wrong people. Christ, Jim, that was a kid! What are we going to say? 'Oh, that's too bad,
but he was in the wrong place*?"
"It is alleged," the TV reporter was saying, "that the owner of this house was a member of the
Medellín Cartel, but local police sources tell us that he was never officially charged with any crime,
and, well…" The reporter paused in front of the camera. "You saw what this car bomb did to his wife
and children."
"Great," the President growled. He lifted the controller and punched off the TV set. "Those
bastards can do whatever the hell they want to our kids, but if we go after them on their turf, all of a
sudden they're the goddamned victims! Has Moore told Congress about this yet?"
"No, Mr. President. CIA doesn't have to tell them until forty-eight hours after such an operation
begins, and, for administrative purposes, the operation didn't actually begin until yesterday
afternoon."
"They don't find out," the President said. "If we tell 'em, then it'll leak sure as hell. You tell
Moore and Ritter that."
"Mr. President, I can't -"
"The hell you can't! I just gave you an order, mister." The President walked to the windows. "It
wasn't supposed to be this way," he muttered.
Cutter knew what the real issue was, of course. The opposition's political convention would
begin shortly. Their candidate, Governor Bob Fowler of Missouri, was leading the President in the
polls. That was normal, of course. The incumbent had run through the primaries without serious
opposition, resulting in a dull, predetermined result, while Fowler had fought a tooth-and-nail
campaign for his party's nomination and was still an eyelash short of certain nomination. Voters
always responded to the lively candidates, and while Fowler was personally about as lively as a
dishrag, his contest had been the interesting one. And like every candidate since Nixon and the first
war on drugs, he was saying that the President hadn't made good on his promise to restrict drug
traffic. That sounded familiar to the current occupant of the Oval Office. He'd said the same thing
four years earlier, and ridden that issue, and others, into the house on Pennsylvania Avenue. So now
he'd actually tried something radical. And this had happened. The government of the United States
had just used its most sophisticated military weapons to murder a couple of kids and their
mother. That's what Fowler would say. After all, it was an election year.
"Mr. President, it would be unsound to terminate the operations we have running at this point. If
you are serious about avenging the deaths of Director Jacobs and the rest, and serious about putting a
dent in drug trafficking, you cannot stop things now. We're just about to show results. Drug flights
into the country are down twenty percent," Cutter pointed out. "Add that to the money-laundering bust
and we can say that we've achieved a real victory."
"How do we explain the bombing?"
"I've been thinking about that, sir. What if we say that we don't know, but it could be one of two
things. First, it might be an attack by M-19. That group's political rhetoric lately has been critical of
the drug lords. Second, we could say that it results from an internecine dispute within the Cartel
itself."
"How so?" he asked without turning around. It was a bad sign when WRANGLER didn't look you
in the eye, Cutter knew. He was really worried about this. Politics were such a pain in the ass, the
Admiral thought, but they were also the most interesting game in town.
"Killing Jacobs and the rest was an irresponsible action on their part. Everyone knows that. We
can leak the argument that some parts of the Cartel are punishing their own peers for doing something
so radical as to endanger their whole operation." Cutter was rather proud of that argument. It had
come from Ritter, but the President didn't know that. "We know that the druggies aren't all that reticent
about killing off family members - it's practically their trademark. This way we can explain what
'they' are doing. We can have our cake and eat it, too," he concluded, smiling at the President's back.
The President turned away from the windows. His mien was skeptical, but… "You really think
you can bring that off?"
"Yes, sir, I do. It also allows us at least one more RECIPROCITY attack."
"I have to show that we're doing something," the President said quietly. "What about those
soldiers we have running around in the jungle?"
"They have eliminated a total of five processing sites. We've lost two people killed, and have
two more wounded, but not seriously. That's a cost of doing business, sir. These people are
professional soldiers. They knew what the risks were going in. They are proud of what they are
doing. You won't have any problems on that score, sir. Pretty soon the word's going to get out that
the local peasants ought not to work for the druggies. That will put a serious dent in the processing
operations. It'll be temporary - only a few months, but it'll be real. It'll be something you can point
to. The street price of cocaine is going to go up soon. You can point to that, too. That's how we
gauge success or failure in our interdiction operations. The papers will run that bit of news before
we have to announce it."
"So much the better," the President observed with his first smile of the day. "Okay - let's just be
more careful."
"Of course, Mr. President."
Morning PT for the 7th Division commenced at 0615 hours. It was one explanation for the
puritanical virtue of the unit. Though soldiers, especially young soldiers, like to drink as much as any
other segment of American society, doing physical training exercises with a hangover is one step
down from lingering death. It was already warm at Fort Ord, and by seven o'clock, at the finish of the
daily three-mile run, every member of the platoon had worked up a good sweat. Then it was time for
breakfast.
The officers ate together this morning and table talk was on the same subject being contemplated
all over the country.
"About fucking time," one captain noted.
"They said it was a car bomb," another pointed out.
"I'm sure the Agency knows how to arrange it. All the experience from Lebanon an' all," a
company XO offered.
"Not as easy as you think," the battalion S-2, intelligence officer, observed. A former company
commander in the Rangers, he knew a thing or two about bombs and booby traps. "But whoever did
it, it was a pretty slick job."
"Shame we can't go down there," a lieutenant said. The junior officers grunted agreement. The
senior ones were quiet. Plans for that contingency had been the subject of division and corps staff
discussion for some years. Deploying units for war - and that's exactly what it was - was not to be
discussed lightly, though the general consensus was that it could be done… if the local governments
approved. Which they would not, of course. That, the officers thought, was understandable but most
unfortunate. It was difficult to overstate the level of loathing in the Army for drugs. The senior
battalion officers, major and above, could remember the drug problems of the seventies, when the
Army had been every bit as hollow as critics had said it was, and it hadn't been unknown for officers
to travel in certain places only with armed guards. Conquering that particular enemy had required
years of effort. Even today every member of the American military was liable to random drug
testing. For senior NCOs and all officers, there was no forgiveness. One positive test and you were
gone. For E-5s and below, there was more leeway: one positive test resulted in an Article 15 and a
very stern talking to; a second positive, and out they went. The official slogan was a simple
one: NOT IN MY ARMY! Then there was the other dimension. Most of the men around this table
were married, with children whom some drug dealer might approach sooner or later as a potential
client. The general agreement was that if anyone sold drugs to the child of a professional soldier, that
dealer's life was in mortal danger. Such events rarely took place because soldiers are above all
disciplined people, but the desire was there. As was the ability.
And the odd dealer had disappeared from time to time, his death invariably ascribed to turf
wars. Many of those murders went forever unsolved.
And that's where Chavez is, Tim Jackson realized. There were just too many coincidences. He
and Muñoz and León. All Spanish-speakers. All checked out the same day. So they were doing a
covert operation, probably at CIA bequest. It was dangerous work in all likelihood, but they were
soldiers and that was their business. Lieutenant Jackson breathed easier now that he "knew" what he
didn't need to know. Whatever Chavez was doing, it was okay. He wouldn't have to follow that up
anymore. Tim Jackson hoped that he'd be all right. Chavez was damned good, he remembered. If
anyone could do it, he could.
The TV crews soon got bored, leaving to write their copy and do their voice-overs. Cortez
returned as soon as the last of their vehicles went up the road toward Medellín. This time he drove a
jeep up the hill. He was tired and irritable, but more than that he was curious. Something very odd
had happened and he wasn't sure what it was. He wouldn't be satisfied until he did. The two
survivors from the house had been taken to Medellín, where they would be treated privately by a
trusted physician. Cortez would be talking to them, but there was one more thing he had to do
here. The police contingent at the house was commanded by a captain who had long since come to
terms with the Cartel. Félix was certain that he'd shed no tears over the deaths of Untiveros and the
rest, but that was beside the point, wasn't it? The Cuban parked his jeep and walked over to where
the police commander was talking with two of his men.
"Good morning, Capitán. Have you determined what sort of bomb it was?"
"Definitely a car bomb," the man replied seriously.
"Yes, I suspected that myself," Cortez said patiently. "The explosive agent?"
The man shrugged. "I have no idea."
"Perhaps you might find out," Félix suggested. "As a routine part of your investigation."
"Fine. I can do that."
"Thank you." He walked back to his jeep for the ride north. A locally fabricated bomb might use
dynamite - there was plenty of that available from local mining operations - or a commercial plastic
explosive, or even something made from nitrated fertilizer. If made by M-19, however, Cortez would
expect Semtex, a Czech-made variant of RDX currently favored by Marxist terrorists all over the
world for its power and ready, cheap supply. Determining what had actually been used would tell
him something, and it amused Cortez to have the police run that information down. It was one thing to
smile about as he drove down the mountainside.
And there were others. The elimination of four senior Cartel chieftains did not sadden him any
more than it had the policeman. After all, they were just businessmen, not a class of individual for
which Cortez had great regard. He took their money, that was all. Whoever had done the bombing
had done a marvelous, professional job. That started him thinking that it could not have been
CIA. They didn't know very much about killing people. Cortez was less offended than one might
imagine that he'd come so close to being killed. Covert operations were his business, after all, and he
understood the risks. Besides, if he had been the primary target of so elegant a plan, clearly he'd not
be trying to analyze it now. In any case, the removal of Untiveros, Fernández, Wagner, and
d'Alejandro meant that there were four openings at the top of the Cartel, four fewer people with the
power and prestige to stand in his way if… If, he told himself. Well, why not? A seat at the table,
certainly. Perhaps more than that. But there was work to do, and a "crime" to solve.
By the time he reached Medellín, the two survivors from Untiveros' hilltop house had been treated
and were ready for questioning, along with a half-dozen servants from the dead lord's Medellín
condominium. They were in a top-floor room of a sturdy, fire-resistive high-rise building, which was
also quite soundproof. Cortez walked into the room to find the eight trusted servants all sitting,
handcuffed to straight-back chairs.
"Which of you knew about the meeting last night?" he asked pleasantly.
There were nods. They all did, of course. Untiveros was a talker, and servants were invariably
listeners.
"Very well. Which of you told, and whom did you tell?" he asked in a formal, literate way. "No
one will leave this room until I know the answer to that," he promised them.
The immediate response was a confused flood of denials. He'd expected that. Most of them were
true. Cortez was sure of that, too.
It was too bad.
Félix looked to the head guard and pointed to the one in the left-most chair.
"We'll start with her."
Governor Fowler emerged from the hotel suite in the knowledge that the goal to which he had
dedicated the last three years of his life was now in his grasp. Almost, he told himself, remembering
that in politics there are no certainties. But a congressman from Kentucky who'd run a surprisingly
strong campaign had just traded his pledged delegates for a cabinet post, and that put Fowler over the
top, with a safety margin of several hundred votes. He couldn't say that, of course. He had to let the
man from Kentucky make his own announcement, scheduled for the second day of the convention to
give him one last day in the sun - or more properly the klieg lights. It would be leaked by people in
both camps, but the congressman would smile in his aw-shucks way and tell people to speculate all
they wanted - but that he was the only one who knew. Politics, Fowler thought, could be so
goddamned phony. This was especially odd since above all things Fowler was a very sincere man,
which did not, however, allow him to violate the rules of the game.
And he played by those rules now, standing before the bright TV lights and saying nothing at all
for about six minutes of continuous talking. There had been "interesting discussions" of "the great
issues facing our country." The Governor and the congressman were "united in their desire to see new
leadership" for a country which, both were sure, though they couldn't say it, would prosper whichever
man won in November, because petty political differences of presidents and parties generally got lost
in the noise of the Capitol Building, and because American parties were so disorganized that every
presidential campaign was increasingly a beauty contest. Perhaps that was just as well, Fowler
thought, though it was frustrating to see that the power for which he lusted might really be an illusion,
after all. Then it was time for questions.
He was surprised by the first one. Fowler didn't see who asked it. He was dazzled by the lights
and the flashing strobes - after so many months of it, he wondered if his vision would ever recover but it was a male voice who asked, from one of the big papers, he thought.
"Governor, there is a report from Colombia that a car bomb destroyed the home of a major figure
in the Medellín Cartel, along with his family. Coming so soon after the assassination of the FBI
Director and our ambassador to Colombia, would you care to comment?"
"I'm afraid I didn't get a chance to catch the news this morning because of my breakfast with the
congressman. What are you suggesting?" Fowler asked. His demeanor had changed from optimistic
candidate to careful politician who hoped to become a statesman - whatever the hell that was, he
thought. It had seemed so clear once, too.
"There is speculation, sir, that America might have been involved," the reporter amplified.
"Oh? You know the President and I have many differences, and some of them are very serious
differences, but I can't remember when we've had a President who was willing to commit coldblooded murder, and I certainly will not accuse our President of that," Fowler said in his best
statesman's voice. He'd meant to say nothing at all - that's what statesmen's voices are for, after all,
either nothing or the obvious. He'd kept a fairly high road for most of his presidential
campaign. Even Fowler's bitterest enemies - he had several in his own party, not to mention the
opposition's - said that he was an honorable, thoughtful man who concentrated on issues and not
invective. His statement reflected that. He hadn't meant to change United States government policy,
hadn't meant to trap his prospective opponent. But he had, without knowing it, done both.
The President had scheduled the trip well in advance. It was a customary courtesy for the chief
executive to maintain a low profile during the opposition's convention. It was just as easy to work at
Camp David - easier in fact since it was far easier to shoo reporters away. But you had to run the
gauntlet to get there. With the Marine VH-3 helicopter sitting and waiting on the White House lawn,
the President emerged from the ground-level door with the First Lady and two other functionaries in
tow, and there they were again, a solid phalanx of reporters and cameras. He wondered if the
Russians with their glasnost knew what they were in for.
"Mister President!" called a senior TV reporter. "Governor Fowler says that he hopes we
weren't involved in the bombing in COLOMBIA! Do you have any comment?"
Even as he walked over to the roped enclosure of journalists, the President knew that it was a
mistake, but he was drawn to them and the question as a lemming is drawn to the sea. He couldn't not
do it. The way the question was shouted, everyone would know that he'd heard it, and no answer
would itself be seen as an answer of sorts. The President ducked the question of… And he couldn't
leave Washington for a week of low-profile existence, leaving the limelight to the other side - not
with that question lying unanswered behind him on the White House lawn, could he?
"The United States," the President said, "does not kill innocent women and children. The United
States fights against people who do that. We do not sink down to their bestial level. Is that a clear
enough answer?" It was delivered in a quiet, reasoned voice, but the look the President gave the
reporter made that experienced journalist wilt before his eyes. It was good, the President thought, to
see that his power occasionally reached the bastards.
It was the second major political lie of the day - a slow news day to be sure. Governor Fowler
well remembered that John and Robert Kennedy had plotted the deaths of Castro and others with a
kind of elitist glee born of Ian Fleming's novels, only to learn the hard way that assassination was a
messy business. Very messy indeed, for there were usually people about whom you didn't especially
want to kill. The current President knew all about "collateral damage," a term which he found
distasteful but indicative of something both necessary and impossible to explain to people who didn't
understand how the world really worked: terrorists, criminals, and all manner of cowards - brutal
people are most often cowards, after all - regularly hid behind or among the innocent, daring the
mighty to act, using the altruism of their enemies as a weapon against those enemies. You cannot
touch me. We are the "evil" ones. You are the "good" ones. You cannot attack us without casting
away your self-image. It was the most hateful attribute of those most hateful of people, and
sometimes - rarely, but sometimes - they had to be shown that it didn't work. And that was messy,
wasn't it? Like some sort of international auto accident.
But how the hell do I explain that to the American people? In an election year? Vote to re-elect
the President who just killed a wife, two kids, and various domestic servants to protect your
children from drugs … ? The President wondered if Governor Fowler understood just how illusory
presidential power was - and about the awful noise generated when one principle crashed hard up
against another. That was even worse than the noise of the reporters, the President thought. It was
something to shake his head about as he walked to his helicopter. The Marine sergeant saluted at the
steps. The President returned it - a tradition despite the fact that no sitting President had ever worn a
uniform. He strapped in and looked back at the assembled mob. The cameras were still on him,
taping the takeoff. The networks wouldn't run that particular shot, but just in case the chopper blew
up or crashed, they wanted the cameras rolling.
The word got to the Mobile police a little late. The clerk of the court handled the paperwork, and
when information leaks from a courthouse, that is usually the hole. In this case the clerk was
outraged. He saw the cases come and go. A man in his middle fifties, he'd gotten his children
educated and through college, managing to avoid the drug epidemic. But that had not been true of
every child in the clerk's neighborhood. Right next door to his house, the family's youngest had
bought a "rock" of crack cocaine and promptly driven his car into a bridge abutment at over a hundred
miles per hour. The clerk had watched the child grow up, had driven him to school once or twice,
and paid the child to mow his lawn. The coffin had been sealed for the funeral at Cypress Hill
Baptist Church, and he'd heard that the mother was still on medications after having had to identify
what was left of the body. The minister talked about the scourge of drugs like the scourging of
Christ's own passion. He was a fine minister, a gifted orator in the Southern Baptist tradition, and
while he led them in prayer for the dead boy's soul his personal and wholly genuine fury over the drug
problem merely amplified the outrage already felt by his congregation…
The clerk couldn't understand it. Davidoff was a superb prosecuting attorney. Jew or not, this
man was one of God's elect, a true hero in a profession of charlatans. How could this be? Those two
scum were going to get off! the clerk thought. It was wrong!
The clerk was unaccustomed to bars. A Baptist serious about his religious beliefs, he had never
tasted spirituous liquors, had tried beer only once as a boy on a dare, and was forever guilt-ridden for
that. That was one of only two narrow aspects to this otherwise decent and honorable citizen. The
other was justice. He believed in justice as he believed in God, a faith that had somehow survived
his thirty years of clerking in the federal courts. Justice, he thought, came from God, not from
man. Laws came from God, not from man. Were not all Western laws based on Holy Scripture in
one way or another? He revered his country's Constitution as a divinely inspired document, for
freedom was surely the way in which God intended man to live, that man could learn to know and
serve his God not as a slave, but as a positive choice for Right. That was the way things were
supposed to be. The problem was that the Right did not always prevail. Over the years he'd gotten
used to that idea. Frustrating though it was, he also knew that the Lord was the ultimate Judge, and
His Justice would always prevail. But there were times when the Lord's Justice needed help, and it
was well known that God chose His Instruments through Faith. And so it was this hot, sultry Alabama
afternoon. The clerk had his Faith, and God had His Instrument.
The clerk was in a cop bar, half a block from police headquarters, drinking club soda so that he
could fit in. The police knew who he was, of course. He appeared at all the cop funerals. He
headed a civic committee that looked after the families of cops and firemen who died in the line of
duty. Never asked for anything in return, either. Never even asked to fix a ticket - he'd never gotten
one in his life, but no one had ever thought to check.
"Hi, Bill," he said to a homicide cop.
"How's life with the feds?" the detective lieutenant asked. He thought the clerk slightly peculiar,
but far less so than most. All he really needed to know was that the clerk of the court took care of
cops. That was enough.
"I heard something that you ought to know about."
"Oh?" The lieutenant looked up from his beer. He, too, was a Baptist, but wasn't that
Baptist. Few cops were, even in Alabama, and like most he felt guilty about it.
"The 'pirates' are getting a plea-bargain," the clerk told him.
"What?" It wasn't his case, but it was a symbol of all that was going wrong. And the pirates were
in the same jail in which his prisoners were guests.
The clerk explained what he knew, which wasn't much. Something was wrong with the
case. Some technicality or other. The judge hadn't explained it very well. Davidoff was enraged by
it all, but there was nothing he could do. That was too bad, they both agreed. Davidoff was one of
the Good Guys. That's when the clerk told his lie. He didn't like to tell lies, but sometimes Justice
required it. He'd learned that much in the federal court system. It was just a practical application of
what his minister said: "God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform."
The funny part was that it wasn't entirely a lie: "The guys who killed Sergeant Braden were
connected with the pirates. The feds think that the pirates may have ordered his murder - and his
wife's."
"How sure are you of that?" the detective asked.
"Sure as I can be." The clerk emptied his glass and set it down.
"Okay," the cop said. "Thanks. We never heard it from you. Thanks for what you guys did for the
Braden kids, too."
The clerk was embarrassed by that. What he did for the families of cops and firemen wasn't done
for thanks. It was Duty, pure and simple. His Reward would come from Him who assigned that
Duty.
The clerk left, and the lieutenant walked to a corner booth to join a few of his colleagues. It was
soon agreed that the pirates would not - could not - be allowed to cop a plea on this one. Federal
case or not, they were guilty of multiple rape and murder - and, it would seem, guilty of another
double murder in which the Mobile police had direct interest. The word was already on the street:
the lives of druggies were at risk. It was another case of sending a message. The advantage that
police officers had over more senior government officials was that they spoke in a language that
criminals fully understood.
But who, another detective asked, would deliver the message?
"How about the Patterson boys?" the lieutenant answered.
"Ahh," the captain said. He considered the question for a moment, then: "Okay." It was, on the
whole, a decision far more easily arrived at than the great and weighty decisions reached by
governments. And far more easily implemented.
The two peasants arrived in Medellín around sundown. Cortez was thoroughly frustrated by this
time. Eight bodies to be disposed of - not all that difficult a thing to do in Medellín - for no good
reason. He was sure of that now. As sure as he'd been of the opposite thing six hours earlier. So
where was the information leak? Three women and five men had just died proving that they weren't
it. The last two had just been shot in the head, uselessly catatonic after watching the first six die
under less merciful circumstances. The room was a mess, and Cortez felt soiled by it. All that effort
wasted. Killing people for no good reason. He was too angry to be ashamed.
He met with the peasants in another room on another floor after washing his hands and changing
his clothes. They were frightened, but not of Cortez, which surprised Félix greatly. It took several
minutes to understand why. They told their stories in an overly rapid and disjointed manner, which he
allowed, memorizing the details - some of them conflicting, but that was not unexpected since there
were two of them - before he began asking his own, directed questions.
"The rifles were not AK-47s," one said positively. "I know the sound. It was not that one." The
other shrugged. He didn't know one weapon from another.
"Did you see anyone?"
"No, señor. We heard the noise and the shouting, and we ran."
Very sensible of you, Cortez noted. "Shouting, you say? In what language?"
"Why, in our language. We heard them chasing after us, but we ran. They didn't catch us. We
know the mountains," the weapons expert explained.
"You saw and heard nothing else?"
"The shooting, the explosions, lights - flashes from the guns, that is all."
"The place where it happened - how many times had you been there?"
"Many times, señor, it is where we make the paste."
"Many times," the other confirmed. "For over a year we have gone there."
"You will tell no one that you came here. You will tell no one anything that you know," Félix told
them.
"But the families of -"
"You will tell no one," Cortez repeated in a quiet, serious voice. Both men knew danger when
they saw it. "You will be well rewarded for what you have done, and the families of the others will
be compensated."
Cortez deemed himself a fair man. These two mountain folk had served his purposes well, and
they would be properly rewarded. He still didn't know where the leak was, but if he could get ahold
of one of those - what? M-19 bands? Somehow he didn't think so.
Then who?
Americans?
If anything, the death of Rocha had only increased their resolve, Chavez knew. Captain Ramirez
had taken it pretty hard, but that was to be expected from a good officer. Their new patrol base was
only two miles from one of the many coffee plantations in the area, and two miles in a different
direction from yet another processing site. The men were in their normal daytime routine. Half
asleep, half standing guard.
Ramirez sat alone. Chavez was correct. He had taken it hard. In an intellectual sense, the
captain knew that he should accept the death of one of his men as a simple cost of doing business. But
emotions are not the same as intellect. It was also true, though Ramirez didn't think along these
precise lines, that historically there is no way to predict which officers are suited for combat
operations and which are not. Ramirez had committed a typical mistake for combat leaders. He had
grown too close to his men. He was unable to think of them as expendable assets. His failure had
nothing to do with courage. The captain had enough of that; risking his own life was a part of the job
he readily accepted. Where he failed was in understanding that risking the lives of his men - which
he also knew to be part of the job - inevitably meant that some would die. Somehow he'd forgotten
that. As a company commander he'd led his men on countless field exercises, training them, showing
them how to do their jobs, chiding them when their laser-sensing Miles gear went off to denote a
simulated casualty. But Rocha hadn't been a simulation, had he? And it wasn't as though Rocha had
been a slick-sleeved new kid. He'd been a skilled pro. That meant that he'd somehow failed his men,
Ramirez told himself, knowing that it was wrong even as he thought it. If he'd deployed better, if he'd
paid more attention, if, if, if. The young captain tried to shake it off but couldn't. But he couldn't quit
either. So he'd be more careful next time.
The tape cassettes arrived together just after lunch. The COD flight fromRanger, unbeknownst to
anyone involved, had been coordinated with a courier flight from Bogotá. Larson had handled part of
it, flying the tape from the GLD to El Dorado where he handed it off to another CIA officer. Both
cassettes were tucked in the satchel of an Agency courier who rode in the front cabin of the Air Force
C-5A transport, catching a few hours' sleep in one of the cramped bunks on the right side of the
aircraft, a few feet behind the flight deck. The flight came directly into Andrews, and, after its
landing, the forty-foot ladder was let down into the cavernous cargo area and the courier walked out
the opened cargo door to a waiting Agency car which sped directly to Langley. Ritter had a pair of
television sets in his office, each with its own VCR. He watched them alone, cueing the tapes until
they were roughly synchronized. The one from the aircraft didn't show very much. You could see the
laser dot and the rough outline of the house, but little else until the flash of the detonation. Clark's
tape was far better. There was the house, its lighted windows flaring in the light-amplified picture,
and the guards wandering about - those with cigarettes looked like lightning bugs; each time they took
a drag their faces were lit brightly by the glow. Then the bomb. It was very much like watching a
Hitchcock movie, Ritter thought. He knew what was happening, but those on the screen did not. They
wandered around aimlessly, unaware of the part they played in a drama written in the office of the
Deputy Director (Operations) of the Central Intelligence Agency. But "That's funny…" Ritter said to himself. He used his remote control to back up the tape. Seconds
before the bomb went off, a new car appeared at the gate. "Who might you be?" he asked the
screen. Then he fast-forwarded the tape past the explosion. The car he'd seen driving up - a BMW had been flipped over by the shock wave, but seconds later the driver got out and pulled a pistol.
"Cortez…" He froze the frame. The picture didn't tell him much. It was a man of medium
dimensions. While everyone else around the wrecked house raced about without much in the way of
purpose, this man just stood there for a little while, then revived himself at the fountain - wasn't it odd
that it still worked! Ritter thought - and next went to where the bomb had gone off. He couldn't have
been a retainer of one of the Cartel members. They were all plowing through the rubble by this
time. No, this one was already trying to figure out what had happened. It was right before the tape
changed over to blank noise that he got the best picture. That had to be Félix Cortez. Looking around,
already thinking, already trying to figure things out. That was a real pro.
"Damn, that was close," Ritter breathed. "One more minute and you would have parked your car
over with the others. One more damned minute!" Ritter pulled both tapes and tucked them in his
office safe along with all of the EAGLE EYE, SHOWBOAT, and RECIPROCITY material.
Next
time, he promised the tape cassette. Then he started thinking. Was Cortez really involved in the
assassination?
"Gawd," Ritter said aloud in his office. He'd assumed that, but… Would he have set up the crime
and then come to America… ? Why do such a thing? According to the statement that secretary had
made, he'd not even pumped her very hard for information. Instead it had been a basic get-awaywith-your-lover weekend. The technique was a classic one. First, seduce the target. Second,
determine if you can get information from her (usually him the way Western intelligence services
handled sexual recruitments, but the other way around for the Eastern bloc). Third, firm up the
relationship - and then use it. If Ritter understood the evidence properly, Cortez hadn't yet gotten to
the point…
It wasn't Cortez at all, was it? He'd probably forwarded what information he had as a matter of
course, not knowing about the FBI operation against the Cartel's money operations. He hadn't been
there when the decision to whack the Director had been made. And he would have recommended
against it. Why lash out when you have just developed a good intel source? No, that wasn't
professional at all.
So, Félix, how do you feel about all this? Ritter would have traded much for the ability to ask
that question, though the answer was plain enough. Intelligence officers were regularly betrayed by
their political superiors. It wouldn't be the first time for him, but he'd be angry just the same. Just as
angry as Ritter was with Admiral Cutter.
For the first time, Ritter found himself wondering what Cortez was really doing. Probably he had
simply defected away from Cuba and made a mercenary of himself. The Cartel had hired him on for
his training and experience, thinking that they were buying just another mercenary - a very good one to
be sure, but a mercenary nonetheless. Just like they bought local cops - hell, American cops - and
politicians. But a police officer wasn't the same thing as a professional spook educated at Moscow
Center. He was giving them his advice, and he'd think they had betrayed him - well, acted very
stupidly, because killing Emil Jacobs had been an act of emotion, not of reason.
Why didn't I see that before! Ritter growled at himself. The answer: because not seeing had
given him an excuse to do something he'd always wanted to do. He hadn't thought because somehow
he'd known that thinking would have prevented him from taking action.
Cortez wasn't a terrorist, was he? He was an intelligence officer. He'd worked with the
Macheteros because he'd been assigned to the job. Before that his experience had been straight
espionage, and merely because he'd worked with that loony Puerto Rican group, they'd just
assumed… That was probably one reason why he'd defected.
It was clearer now. The Cartel had hired Cortez for his expertise and experience. But in doing
so they had adopted a pet wolf. And wolves made for dangerous pets, didn't they?
For the moment there was one thing he could do. Ritter summoned an aide and instructed him to
take the best frame they had of Cortez, run it through the photo-enhancing computer, and forward it to
the FBI. That was something worth doing, so long as they isolated the figure from the background, but
that was just another task for the imaging computer.
Admiral Cutter remained at his White House office while the President was away in the western
Maryland hills. He'd fly up every day for his usual morning briefing - delivered at a somewhat later
hour while the President was on his "vacation" regime - but for the most part he'd stay here. He had
his own duties, one of which was being "a senior administration official." ASAO, as he thought of the
title, was his name when he gave off-the-record press briefings. Such information was a vital part of
presidential policymaking, all part of an elaborate game played by the government and the
press: Official Leaking. Cutter would send up "trial balloons," what people in the consumerproducts business called test-marketing. When the President had a new idea that he was not too sure
about, Cutter - or the appropriate cabinet secretary, each of whom was also an ASAO - would speak
on background, and a story would be written in the major papers, allowing Congress and others to
react to the idea before it was given an official presidential imprimatur. It was a way for elected
officials and other players in the Washington scene to dance and posture without the need for anyone
to lose face - an Oriental concept that translated well inside the confines of the Capital Beltway.
Bob Holtzman, the senior White House correspondent for one of the Washington papers, settled
into his chair opposite Cutter for the deep-background revelations. The rules were fully understood
by both sides. Cutter could say anything he wished without fear that his name, title, or the location of
his office would be used. Holtzman would feel free to write the story any way he wished, within
reason, so long as he did not compromise his source to anyone except his editor. Neither man
especially liked the other. Cutter's distaste for journalists was about the only thing he still had in
common with his fellow military officers, though he was certain that he concealed it. He thought them
all, especially the one before him now, to be lazy, stupid people who couldn't write and didn't
think. Holtzman felt that Cutter was the wrong man in the wrong place - the reporter didn't like the
idea of having a military officer giving such intimate advice to the President; more importantly, he
thought Cutter was a shallow, self-serving apple-polisher with delusions of grandeur, not to mention
an arrogant son of a bitch who looked upon reporters as a semiuseful form of domesticated
vulture. As a result of such thoughts, they got along rather well.
"You going to be watching the convention next week?" Holtzman asked.
"I try not to concern myself with politics," Cutter replied. "Coffee?"
Right! the reporter told himself. "No, thanks. What the hell's going on down in coca land?"
"Your guess is as good as - well, that's not true. We've had the bastards under surveillance for
some time. My guess is that Emil was killed by one faction of the Cartel - no surprise - but without
their having made a really official decision. The bombing last night might be indicative of a faction
fight inside the organization."
"Well, somebody's pretty pissed," Holtzman observed, scribbling notes on his pad under his
personal heading for Cutter. "A Senior Administration Official" was transcribed as ASO'l. "The word
is that the Cartel contracted M-19 to do the assassination, and that the Colombians really worked over
the one they caught."
"Maybe they did."
"How'd they know that Director Jacobs was going down?"
"I don't know," Cutter replied.
"Really? You know that his secretary tried to commit suicide. The Bureau isn't talking at all, but
I find that a remarkable coincidence."
"Who's running the case over there? Believe it or not, I don't know."
"Dan Murray, a deputy assistant director. He's not actually doing the field work, but he's the guy
reporting to Shaw."
"Well, that's not my turf. I'm looking at the overseas aspects of the case, but the domestic stuff is
in another office," Cutter pointed out, erecting a stone wall that Holtzman couldn't breach.
"So the Cartel was pretty worked up about Operation TARPON, and some senior people acted
without the approval of the whole outfit to take Jacobs out. Other members, you say, think that their
action was precipitous and decided to eliminate those who put out the contract?"
"That's the way it looks now. You have to understand, our intel on this is pretty thin."
"Our intel is always pretty thin," Holtzman pointed out.
"You can talk to Bob Ritter about that." Cutter set his coffee mug down.
"Right." Holtzman smiled. If there were two people in Washington whom you could trust never to
leak anything, it was Bob Ritter and Arthur Moore. "What about Jack Ryan?"
"He's just settling in. He's been in Belgium all week anyway, at the NATO intel conference."
"There are rumbles on The Hill that somebody ought to do something about the Cartel, that the
attack on Jacobs was a direct attack on -"
"I watch C-SPAN, too, Bob. Talk is cheap."
"And what Governor Fowler said this morning… ?"
"I'll leave politics to the politicians."
"You know that the price of coke is up on the street?"
"Oh? I'm not in that market. Is it?" Cutter hadn't heard that yet. Already…
"Not much, but some. There's word on the street that incoming shipments are off a little."
"Glad to hear it."
"But no comment?" Holtzman asked. "You're the one who's en saying that this is a for-real war
and we ought to treat it such."
Cutter's smile froze on his face for a moment. "The President decides about things like war."
"What about Congress?"
"Well, that, too, but since I've been in government service there hasn't been a congressional
declaration along those lines."
"How would you feel personally if we were involved in that bombing?"
"I don't know. We weren't involved." The interview wasn't going as planned. What did Holtzman
know?
"That was a hypothetical," the reporter pointed out.
"Okay. We go off the record - completely - at this point. Hypothetically, we could kill all the
bastards and I wouldn't shed many tears. How about you?"
Holtzman snorted. "Off the record, I agree with you. I grew up here. I can remember when it was
safe to walk the streets. Now I look at the body count every morning and wonder if I'm in D.C. or
Beirut. So it wasn't us, then?"
"Nope. Looks more like the Cartel is shaking itself out. That's speculation, but it's the best we
have at the moment."
"Fair enough. I suppose I can make a story out of that."
20. Discoveries
IT WAS AMAZING. But it was also true. Cortez had been there for over an hour. There were
six armed men with him, and a dog that sniffed around for signs of the people who had assaulted this
processing site. The empty cartridge cases were mostly of the 5.56mm round now used by most of the
NATO countries and their surrogates all over the world, but which had begun as the .223 Remington
sporting cartridge. In America. There were also a number of 9mm cases, and a single empty hull
from a 40mm grenade launcher. One of the attackers had been wounded, perhaps severely. The
method of the attack was classic, a fire unit uphill and an assault group on the same level, to the
north. They'd left hastily, not booby-trapping the bodies as had happened in two other
cases. Probably because of the injured man, Cortez judged. Also because they knew suspected? No, they probably knew - that two men had gotten away to summon help.
Definitely more than one team was roaming the mountains. Maybe three or four, judging by the
number and location of sites had so far been attacked. That eliminated M-19. There weren't enough
trained men in that organization to do something like this - not without his hearing of it, he corrected
himself. The Cartel had done more than suborn the local guerrilla factions. It also had paid
informants in each unit, something the Colombian government had signally failed to do.
So, he told himself, now you have probable American covert-action teams working in the
hills. Who and what are they? Probably soldiers, or very high-quality mercenaries. More likely
the former. The international mercenary community wasn't what it had once been - and truthfully had
never been especially effective. Cortez had been to Angola and seen what African troops were
like. Mercenaries hadn't had to be all that effective to defeat them, though that was now changing
along with everything else in the world.
Whoever they were, they'd be far away - far enough that he didn't feel uncomfortable at the
moment, though he'd leave the hunting to others. Cortez was an intelligence officer, and had no
illusions about being a soldier. For now, he gathered his evidence almost like a policeman. The rifle
and machine-gun cartridges, he saw, came from a single manufacturer. He didn't have such
information committed to memory, but he noted that the 9mm cases had the same lot codes-stamped on
the case heads as those he'd gotten from one of the airfields on Colombia's northern coast. The odds
against that being a coincidence were pretty high, he thought. So whoever had been watching the
airfields had moved here… ? How would that have been done? The simple way would be by truck
or bus, but that was a little too simple; that's how M-19 would have done it. Too great a risk for
Americans, however. The yanquis would use helicopters. Staging from where? A ship, perhaps, or
more likely one of their bases in Panama. He knew of no American naval exercises within helicopter
range of the coast. Therefore a large aircraft capable of midair refueling. Only the Americans did
that. And it would have to be based in Panama. And he had assets in Panama. Cortez pocketed the
cartridges and started walking down the hill. Now he had a starting place, and that was all someone
with his training needed.
Ryan's VC-20A - thinking of it as his airplane still required a stretch of the imagination - lifted off
from the airfield outside Mons in the early afternoon. His first official foray into the big leagues of
the international intelligence business had gone well. His paper on the Soviets and their activities in
Eastern Europe had met with general approval and agreement, and he'd been gratified to learn that the
analysis chiefs of all the NATO intelligence agencies held exactly the same opinion of the changes in
their enemy's policies as he did: nobody knew what the hell was going on. There were theories
ranging all the way from the peace-is-breaking-out-and-now-what-do-we-do? view to the equally
unlikely it's-all-a-trick opinion, but when it came down to doing a formal intelligence estimate,
people who'd been in the business since before Jack was born just shook their heads and muttered
into their beer - exactly what Ryan did some of the time. The really good news for the year, of
course, was the signal success that the counterintelligence groups had had turning KGB operations
throughout Europe, and while CIA had not told anyone (except Sir Basil, who'd been there when the
plan had been hatched) exactly how that had come about, the Agency enjoyed considerable prestige
for its work in that area. The bottom line that Jack had often cited in the investment business was
fairly clear: militarily NATO was in its best-ever condition, its security services were riding higher
than anyone thought possible - it was just that the alliance's overall mission was now in doubt
politically. To Ryan that looked like success, so long as politicians didn't let things go to their heads,
which was enough of a caveat for anyone.
So there was a lot to smile about as the Belgian countryside fell farther and farther below him
until it looked like a particularly attractive quilt from Pennsylvania Dutch country. At least on the
actual NATO side.
Possibly the truest testimony to NATO's present happy condition, however, was that talk around
the banquet tables and over coffee in the break periods between the plenary sessions was not on
"business" as most of the conference attendees normally viewed it. Intelligence analysts from
Germany and Italy, Britain and Norway, Denmark and Portugal, all of them expressed their concern at
the growing problems of drugs in their countries. The Cartel's activities were expanding eastward,
no longer content with marketing their wares to America alone. The intelligence professionals had
noted the assassination of Emil Jacobs and the rest and wondered aloud if international
narcoterrorism had taken a wholly new and dangerous turn - and what had to be done about it. The
French, with their history of vigorous action to protect their land, were especially approving of the
bomb blast outside Medellín, and nonplussed by Ryan's puzzled and somewhat exasperating
response: No comment. I don't know anything. Their reaction to that was predictable, of
course. Had an equivalent French official been so publicly murdered, DGSE would have mounted an
immediate operation. It was something the French were especially good at. It was something that the
French media and, more to the point, the French people understood and approved. And so the DGSE
representatives had expected Ryan to respond with a knowing smile to accompany his lack of
comment, not blank embarrassment. That wasn't part of the game as it was played in Europe, and just
another odd thing about the Americans for their Old World allies to ponder. Must they be so
unpredictable? they would ask themselves. Being that way to the Russians had strategic value, but
not to one's allies.
And not to its own government officials, Ryan thought. What the hell is going on?
Being three thousand miles from home had given Jack a properly detached perspective to the
affair. In the absence of a viable legal mechanism to deal with such crimes, maybe direct action was
the right thing to do. Challenge directly the power of a nation-state and you risked a direct response
from that nation-state. If we could bomb a foreign country for sponsoring action against American
soldiers in a Berlin disco, then why not - kill people on the territory of a fellow American democracy?
What about that political dimension?
That was the rub, wasn't it? Colombia had its own laws. It wasn't Libya, ruled by a comic-opera
figure of dubious stability. It wasn't Iran, a vicious theocracy ruled by a bitter testimonial to the skill
of gerontologists. Colombia was a country with real democratic traditions, one that had put its own
institutions at risk, fighting to protect the citizens of another land from themselves.
What the hell are we doing?
Right and wrong assumed different values at this level of statecraft, didn't they? Or did
they? What were the rules? What was the law? Were there any of either? Before he could answer
those questions, Ryan knew that he'd have to learn the facts. That would be hard enough. Jack settled
back into his comfortable seat and looked down at the English Channel, widening out like a funnel as
the aircraft headed west toward Land's End. Beyond that lonely point of ship-killing rocks lay the
North Atlantic, and beyond that lay home. He had seven hours to decide what he should do once he
got there. Seven whole hours, Jack thought, wondering how many times he could ask himself the
same questions, and how many times he'd only come up with new questions instead of answers.
Law was a trap, Murray told himself. It was a goddess to worship, a lovely bronze lady who
held up her lantern in the darkness to show one the way. But what if the way led nowhere? They now
had a dead-bang case against the one "suspect" in the assassination of the Director. The Colombians
had gotten the confession and its thirty single-spaced pages of text were lying on his desk. There was
ample physical evidence, which had been duly processed through the Bureau's legendary forensic
laboratories. There was just one little problem. The extradition treaty the United States had with
Colombia was not operative at the moment. Colombia's Supreme Court - more precisely, those
justices who remained alive after twelve of their colleagues had been murdered by M-19 raiders not
so long ago; all of whom, coincidentally, had been supporters of the extradition treaty before their
violent deaths - had decided that the treaty was somehow in opposition to their country's
constitution. No treaty. No extradition. The assassin would be tried locally and doubtless sent away
for a lengthy prison term, but at the very least Murray and the Bureau wanted him caged in Marion,
Illinois - the maximum-security federal prison for really troublesome offenders; Alcatraz without the
ambience - and the Justice Department thought it could make a case for invoking the death statute that
related to drug-related murders. But - the confession the Colombians had gotten hadn't exactly
followed with American rules of evidence, and, the lawyers admitted, might be thrown out by an
American judge; which would eliminate the death penalty. And the guy who took out the Director of
the FBI might actually become something of a celebrity at Marion, Illinois, most of whose prisoners
did not regard the FBI with the same degree of affection accorded by most U.S. citizens. The same
thing, he'd learned the day before, was true of the Pirates Case. Some tricky bastard of a defense
lawyer had uncovered what the Coast Guard had pulled, blowing that death case away also. And the
only good news around was that Murray was sure his government had struck back in a way that was
highly satisfying, but fell under the general legal category of cold-blooded murder.
It worried Dan Murray that he did view that development as good news. It wasn't the sort of thing
that they'd lectured him - and he had later lectured others - about during his stint as a student and later
an instructor at the FBI Academy, was it? What happened when governments broke the law? The
textbook answer was anarchy - at least that's what happened when it became known that the
government was breaking its own laws. But that was the really operative definition of a criminal
wasn't it - one who got caught breaking the law.
"No," Murray told himself quietly. He'd spent his life following that light because on dark nights
that one beacon of sanity was all society had. His mission and the Bureau's was to enforce the laws
of his country faithfully and honestly. There was leeway - there had to be, because the written words
couldn't anticipate everything - but when the letter of the law was insufficient one was guided by the
principle upon which the law was based. Maybe the situation wasn't always a satisfying one, but it
beat the alternative, didn't it? But what did you do when the law didn't work? Was that just part of
the game, too? Was it, after all was said and done, just a game?
Clark held a somewhat different view. Law had never been his concern - at least not his
immediate concern. To him "legal" meant that something was "okay," not that some legislators had
drafted a set of rules, and that some President or other had signed it. To him it meant that the sitting
President had decided that the continued existence of someone or something was contrary to the best
interests of his country. His government service had begun in the United States Navy as part of the
SEALs, the Navy's elite, secretive commandos. In that tight, quiet community he'd made himself a
name that was still spoken with respect: Snake, they'd called him, because you couldn't hear his
footsteps. To the best of his knowledge, no enemy had ever seen him and lived to tell the tale. His
name had been different then, of course, but only because after leaving the Navy he'd made the
mistake - he truly thought of it as a mistake, but only in the technical sense - of applying his skills on a
free-agent basis. And done quite well, of course, until the police had discovered his identity. The
lesson from that adventure was that while people didn't really investigate happenings on the
battlefield, they did elsewhere, requiring far greater circumspection on his part. A foolish error in
retrospect, one result of his almost-discovery by a local police force was that he'd come to the
attention of CIA, which occasionally needed people with his unique skills. It was even something of
a joke: "When there's killing to be done, get someone who kills for a living." At least it had been
funny back then, almost twenty years earlier.
Others decided who needed to die. Those others were the properly selected representatives of
the American people, whom he'd served in one way or another for most of his adult life. The law, as
he'd once bothered to find out, was that there was no law. If the President said "kill," then Clark was
merely the instrument of properly defined government policy, all the more so now, since selected
members of Congress had to agree with the executive branch. The rules which from time to time
prohibited such acts were Executive Orders from the President's office, which orders the President
could freely violate - or more precisely, redefine to suit the situation. Of course, Clark did very little
of that. Mainly his jobs for the Agency involved his other skills - getting in and out of places without
being detected, for example, at which he was the best guy around. But killing was the reason he'd
been hired in the first place, and for Clark, who'd been baptized John Terrence Kelly at St. Ignatius
Parish in Indianapolis, Indiana, it was simply an act of war sanctioned both by his country and also by
his religion, about which he was moderately serious. Vietnam had never been granted the legal
sanction of a declared war, after all, and if killing his country's enemies back then had been all right,
why not now? Murder to the renamed John T. Clark was killing people without just cause. Law he
left to lawyers, in the knowledge that his definition of just cause was far more practical, and far more
effective.
His immediate concern was his next target. He had two more days of availability on the carrier
battle group, and he wanted to stage another stealth-bombing if he could.
Clark was domiciled in a frame house in the outskirts of Bogotá, a safe house the CIA had set up a
decade earlier, officially owned by a corporate front and generally rented out commercially to
visiting American businessmen. It had no obvious special features. The telephone