Top Hook Gordon Kent
To those who drive the ships
Table of Contents
The streets were a river of color in the dark, sequins and silks swirling around bare flesh. Masks and cloaks fought the assault of the rain and the splashes of the sea underfoot. Costumes flowed toward San Marco, just as the tide of the Adriatic ebbed away, leaving salt puddles to reflect the glare of carnival.
The pounding music from the palazzi and the manic orchestration of voices, Italian and foreign, stunned Anna’s senses as she ran. Her masculine costume had saved her in the seconds when the meeting had gone bad, and now it freed her to move, thrusting through the tangle of the crowd. The sword at her side caught at passersby until she took the sheath in her left hand and lifted the hilt off her hip.
She stopped with her back against a medieval shop at the base of a bridge. Music pulsed through the stone at her back, and her lungs burned as she peered around the corner at the arch of the footbridge. Two lovers embraced against the stone railing; a reveler in a black cloak and white Pantalone mask strode past her toward the bridge. At the top of the arch stood another of the Serbs who had tried to kill her, talking into a cellphone, his head moving like an owl’s. None of the Serbs had bothered to wear masks or costumes; all had leather jackets and mustaches. High on adrenaline, she drew the sword and shrugged off her cloak in one unconsciously dramatic motion. She gathered the cloak in her left hand and risked one glance back into the thick of the crowd. Then she drew herself up and flung herself around the corner at the bridge.
Because the Serb was talking, he was slow. She rushed past the Venetian in the white mask, his dignified walk and cloak screening her for an extra second. She threw her own cloak with both hands, and the Serb shot at it on instinct. His second shot buzzed in her ear as she took a last step and leaped, lunging forward, her whole weight driving the point of the smallsword through his neck. The blade grated against the vertebrae and she rolled her wrist and used the speed of her rush to tear the blade free. Momentum carried her past her victim, and she stumbled, caught herself on the railing, and leaped to the parapet of the bridge.
The reveler’s white mask turned to the movement, black eye sockets locked on her. One of the lovers had been hit by a shot, and the Serb’s open throat pumped red blood on the gray stones. A second’s balance on the parapet as her mind recorded the copper scent and the sheen of blood, and she dove into the canal. The unwounded lover screamed.
The shock of the water cut off the screams, and she swam, eyes and mouth shut tight. She stayed down, lungs bursting from the run and the adrenaline, until her hands found the opening and she thrust herself through and up into the tiny space of a partly submerged chapel, lightless, silent. For an entire minute, she could do nothing but breathe, supporting herself on a stone that had been the base of the altar.
She snapped on a tiny flashlight whose glow reflected off gold leaf and mosaic.
Anna rolled into her waiting canoe, half filling it with water, and sat up. Her right hand still clutched the sword, and she pushed it under the bag in the front of the boat and played the tiny beam of light around her. The chapel had been a military one, eight hundred years ago; she hadn’t noticed it when she had entered at low tide. Now, she watched the ceiling as the tide ebbed and her escape route cleared. A Byzantine Saint Michael held aloft a sword of light and threatened Satan; a figure in armor at the far end looked to her like Saint Maurice—or was it Saint George?
She shivered. She had never killed before. She didn’t like it.
She pulled a travel book from her pack and opened it to the last page. She had written four names there in Arabic script, in an old Persian language that was better than a code. She studied them in the flashlight’s inch-wide beam.
Her lips thinned and she shook her head at the first name—George Shreed.
Sitting in his house alone, George Shreed stared at a dead computer screen and listened to the absence of his wife. She was dying in a hospice, and the house was dying with her, devoid now of her voice, of the smells of her cooking, of her off-tune singing. Thirty years of marriage create a lot of sound, and now it had all drained away, and he was alone.
He booted up one of his computers. Three monitors sat on tables in the small “study.” He could communicate directly with his duty officer at the Central Intelligence Agency, or with several distant mainframes on which he kept coded and secret files, or with the vast world of electronic magic that a few years before had hardly existed.
“Janey,” he murmured. It was not as if he meant to call her back from the edge of death, but only that he had to say her name sometimes, as if, left unsaid, the name too would disappear and he would have nothing.
“Oh, God,” he muttered.
Shreed was frightened. Horrors never came alone: first, his wife’s cancer; now, the woman in Venice. He had just learned that his people hadn’t caught her, so she was still out there, still running around with evidence that could send him to prison for life.
Two weeks ago, she had made her first contact: an e-mail with a photograph that he had first sent two years before, encrypted, to an Internet address where it could be accessed by Beijing. Shreed had been stunned to get it back—a hand reaching out of the past to strangle him.
Ten days ago, the woman had e-mailed him a page of classified material about a project called Peacemaker—classified material that Shreed himself had covertly sent to his Chinese control in 1997. The Agency would have him for treason if they knew he had transferred it. With it had been a curt message: “Venice—Old Ghetto memorial—16 March—one million dollars.”
Then he had sent people to find her, and she had escaped.
And she had sent him a second message: “Now the price is two million.”
The computer screen was bright. He punched keys, and icons and prompts flew by. He moved out into cyberspace, entered a mainframe on a university campus two thousand miles away and called up a file that appeared as random symbols and letters on his screen. He keyed in a password, then another, then empowered an algorithm that ran in tandem with a checker within the file itself, and then he was in, and the symbols in the blink of an eye became words.
Janey didn’t know about this part of his life. Nobody knew, in fact. Not true—some people in China knew. But Janey and his colleagues at the CIA didn’t know. He didn’t give a shit about the colleagues, but he was deeply guilty that he had hidden part of his life from Janey, who was his life, for so many years. He would have to tell her, he knew. Tell her the way people tell a priest, there in the humming silence of her hospice room, tell her as she lay full of painkillers, needles in her arms, tell her as if she were the wall with the little wicket of the confessional. And say, Forgive me, Janey—forgive me before you go. Even though she wouldn’t have heard him, most probably.
Shreed went through the Peacemaker file. He needed a fall guy, or at least a diversion—somebody to take the heat of an investigation if this damned woman in Venice decided to go to the Agency.
He needed time.
Peacemaker had failed two years ago, a very promising project that hadn’t worked right, in the end. He had backed it as a weapon with real potential, and he had leaked data about it to Beijing, and the Chinese had made too much stink about it, and Peacemaker had been aborted by the White House as “destabilizing.” The Agency had been nosing around ever since about how the information had leaked, and if the finger ever pointed at him, there would be a disaster.
He needed a scapegoat.
He had to find somebody likely. He was not, himself, likely—that was the good part. He had been too visible in the project, one of its main sponsors. What he needed was somebody who had not been quite so visible, somebody about whom you could say after the fact, Oh, sure, now I see what that guy was doing—he was spying for the Chinese the whole time. Somebody who would have had to exert a little extra to find things out. Not quite a munchkin, but not quite a master of the universe, either. He began to go down lists of names. No, no, no—maybe—no. He smiled, a somewhat wolfish expression on his lean face. He had just come to the name of his own personal assistant, Ray Suter. Assistants were expendable, and Suter was a real bastard, but he was too closely associated with Shreed himself. Suspicion, like tar, sticks to everybody in the vicinity.
Name after name. Not quite right. Completely wrong. Impossible. Maybe. And then—
She’d been the Seaborne Launch Officer on the project. Walled off from the Eyes-Only stuff but very much in on all the computer magic, the trajectory and targeting data. If she’d actually been the spy, she could have, with some snooping and some late hours and a certain amount of risk, busted the security and reported the deep stuff to Beijing. She’d even had a computer geek, an EM named Valdez (a name he’d already dismissed) whom she was always quoting about the data stream and stuff she wasn’t being allowed to see. Perfect behavior for a spy.
Or at least the CIA investigators would see it that way.
And, she was Alan Craik’s wife. And he owed Craik one, the little shit. They’d hated each other for years. His grin widened as he thought about it: if the wife was accused of passing secrets about Peacemaker, the husband was sure to be suspected, too. Tar sticks.
Shreed glanced at his watch. He was due at the hospice to sit with Janey.
He hit a button and highlighted the name.
Newport, Rhode Island.
The Cessna 180 held steady at 5600 feet. At the controls, Rose Siciliano flew with the unconscious ease of a seasoned pilot—helicopters, now heading for astronaut training. Next to her, her husband glanced over the gauges and listened briefly to the Quonset tower. That was mostly the way it went—she flew and he kibitzed and ran the radio. Now, he put his hand on her knee, and her hand came down to cover his, and she flashed him a grin.
“It’s been a great couple of years,” he said.
She nodded, looked aside. Below, the Rhode Island coast was spread out for them on a sparkling day, Quonset Naval Air Station in her near foreground as they came around for their approach. They had been here two years and now they were leaving—both lieutenant-commanders, both at the Naval War College, both taking a quiet tour after some very hairy sea duty. And in two weeks it would be over.
“Gonna miss it,” he said.
“You bet.” Her normally husky voice was even a shade raspier. She had had their second child here. They had been happy. “Like real people,” she growled. Like civilians, she meant. Now, it was off to the CIA’s “Ranch” for him, astronaut training for her. Great moves for both of them, exactly what they wanted, but—She squeezed his hand. “We’ll look back on it,” she said.
“Hey!” He squeezed her leg, laughed. “Come on! Life is good. What can go wrong? We’re us.”
She grinned again, then leaned way over to kiss his cheek.
But what could go wrong? He was LCDR Alan Craik, off to the Ranch, the CIA’s arduous school for spies; she was LCDR Rose Siciliano, off to conquer the stars. What could possibly go wrong?
He got on the radio, and she banked the plane and descended, and then both of them were absorbed into the routine of headings and altitudes, and they went down and down and around and she brought it in on the center line of the runway, the wheels touching with a bump and squeal, and the ground raced along under her, and she was happy.
Rose learned how fast things could go wrong when they got home. He was already indoors; she had put the car away and gathered up their stuff, and she was standing in the front door of their rented house, looking down the long central corridor at his study. He stood there, back to her, telephone at his ear. She knew that stiff posture and long neck and what they meant: rage.
Mikey, their seven-year-old, knew it, too. And he knew the Navy. “His detailer,” he said, with the wisdom of a child who had grown up in the Navy. The baby-sitter, also a Navy child, nodded.
Rose started down the hall. Calls to your detailer were life-changing: your detailer helped plan your career, generated your orders.
Alan hadn’t said a word yet. She had almost reached him when she heard him say, “Understood,” and he slowly hung up and then gathered the cordless phone and its cradle in one hand and threw it across the study.
It smashed against the far wall; Rose flinched as bits of plastic flew.
“Those bastards!” he shouted. His face was contorted with anger. “Those bastards have changed my orders!”
Going to the Ranch had been a big deal. Their pal Harry O’Neill had urged it. It was a logical step for a hotshot whose squadron days were over, he said—move into the covert world and go where the action was.
“Why?” she said.
“How the fuck do I know why? They won’t tell me why!”
He came down a little, his anger never hot for long. “They’re sending me to some rinky-dink experimental project. Month at sea, then—the detailer doesn’t know.”
“Tell them you won’t accept the orders!”
He blew an angry sigh through puffed mouth. “The detailer doesn’t advise it.” He bent to pick up the telephone and tried to fit two broken pieces of plastic together. “Not going to the Ranch, Rose—It’s as if they don’t trust me all of a sudden.” He stood there, holding the pieces as if they were emblems of his helplessness. “All of a sudden, I’m a pariah.” He looked up at her in anguish. “Why?”
“Oh, shit.” He sat on the stair. “I’ve got to be in Trieste, Italy, in four days. I’m going to miss my own fucking graduation from the War College!”
Efremov was dead.
Anna had awakened to feel his body cooling in their bed, the bed she had shared with him for five years.
She had checked for a pulse, respiration, but they were last acts of friendship, quite separate from hope. He was dead. She had left Tehran the same day.
Now, his death would be known throughout his world. As he had prepared her for so many things, so he had prepared her for this, with suggestions and instructions, a locked box, passports—and computer disks. She had begun the contacts with his former agents even as she had fled Iran.
She had found safety and anonymity in a youth hostel in Istanbul. She was twenty-six and beautiful, but she looked a mature twenty, and she had bought a passport and a student card from Israel to have a twenty-year-old’s identity. In Istanbul, she had used the cyber-cafés around Hagia Sophia to contact a man who was only a name on a secret file, George Shreed. Shreed had hired the Serbs to kill her in Venice.
Now, one of them was standing under an arch outside her window. They had found her.
She was sharing a room, a very expensive room, with a stewardess from Lufthansa. Greta was on vacation and avoiding airlines, and they had met at the Hermés shop near the Doge’s Palace, not entirely by accident—Anna had been looking for cover. Greta wanted adventure, a little romance, a man to last a few days. Anna made herself the ideal companion, which included listening to Greta’s complaints about the man she had picked up.
“Australian, ma chérie. Rude and a little unwashed. Too rude, in the end.”
“Mine never made the assignation.”
“Cowards, all of them.”
Greta emerged from the shower wearing nothing but a towel on her head. Anna admired her candidly; Greta lacked Anna’s legs and hips, but she was striking, and her breasts were enviable. Greta seemed unaware of Anna’s gaze and collapsed theatrically on her bed.
“Shopping will cure it. And I want to go to the Rialto.”
“Is the Gap in Venice any different from the one in London?” Anna had never been to London, but her passport said she had.
Greta laughed, a silly girl’s laugh. “I know where to shop, here.”
“You’ll get me in trouble.”
“Probably.” They both laughed. Greta was very easy to like, Anna thought. She had confidence and enthusiasm that went deeper than the automatic smile of the airline employee. Anna pulled on a top, glanced out the window, half pulled the heavy green drape, and moved from her own bed to the room’s desk with her laptop. Greta began rifling her purse, throwing her passport and wallet on the bed. They caught Anna’s eye, like a signal. She glanced out the window again.
“Do you have a laptop? Mine keeps freezing on the keyboard.” Actually, it was working quite well. Anna just didn’t want to be tracked.
“Of course, ma chérie. It is there, by the television. But it is probably the phone lines. They are antique, like everything else in Venice.”
Anna found the case, slipped down behind the chair next to the television, and connected to the net. The machine was very different from the succession of IBM laptops Efremov had always acquired for them. It had a fashion edge to it. The case was an after-market replacement, a deep, velvet blue.
“The case is wonderful!”
“It is, isn’t it? A boy gave it to me.” Greta’s voice suggested a deep satisfaction with the case, or the boy. Perhaps both.
Online connection. All the directions in German, but her German was up to the task. Greta spoke a movie-star English, but Anna’s stilted German had started the hasty friendship and established her bona fides as the child of Austrian Jews.
Search Engine. The second name from her list. Alan Craik. Several hits. A Navy locator address. Anna flicked her eyes over the street outside; the watcher had a cellphone out. She read two short bios of the man Craik—service, medals, marriage. Naval War College.
She searched again on some ship names: Alan Craik was going next to an aviation detachment, that much was clear. She tried “Ombudsman” and “USS Thomas Jefferson.” Seven hits. The Americans continued to pretend that their naval movements were classified, even as their wives posted lists of ports of call on the Internet. She used the unfamiliar finger pad to scroll through the seven hits.
Exactly. Liberty ports.
Movement on the street outside. A second man, a lit cigarette. Anna scooped Greta’s documents off the end of the bed and put them in her bag without hesitation. Then she took her own expensive forgeries and dropped them on the telephone table, never taking her eyes off the street. Greta prattled on, and Anna made noises—yes, no, interesting—to suit Greta’s noises. Greta knew nothing of the men outside the window or of the sudden loss of her identity.
One last bit of information from the laptop: Alan Craik would be in Trieste, Italy, in two days.
Anna closed the laptop and returned it to its case, running her fingers over the blue. Anna loved the best things, and so did Greta. On that ground, they truly met. Greta was applying her makeup, and their eyes met in the mirror.
“I have to run out, Greta.” Anna waved her handbag. “I’ll be back in a few moments.”
Greta nodded in the mirror. Anna bit her lips in regret. Greta did not deserve what was to come, but no one did. Anna headed for the elevator.
The antique elevator was the only way she knew of getting to a lower floor. Even in Iran, there would have been fire stairs, but not in Venice. She thumbed the button. She had no gun and she feared what would emerge from that elevator.
Abruptly, while she was still trying to devise a plan to meet a rush of armed men, the door opened. One elderly woman emerged. Anna had the elevator to herself. She took two deep breaths before she thumbed the button for the first floor.
The Serbs would be in the main lobby by now.
The elevator crept down three floors, her heart hammering in time to the gentle sway of the old car within its track, and stopped with arthritic slowness. The door attempted to compensate with a harsh crash that could be heard throughout the building. They would hear that, know that someone had used the elevator to the first floor above the lobby. Anna fought down panic. They could not know it was she. Not yet. Not until they found Greta. If they could tell the difference between Greta and Anna, she was dead. She hoped they only had a description. In her experience, all desirable women looked alike to most men.
She walked to the room that corresponded to her own on the fifth floor. She had no reason for this choice, only a certain blind superstition. She breathed and knocked.
A middle-aged man in a dressing-gown opened the door. Anna smiled, her body swaying with relief. “May I come in?” she asked. The man, a North American, appeared flabbergasted. His mouth moved, but no words emerged. Anna heard the elevator going up—and up, past this floor. Up to her room on the fifth?
She slipped past him into his room. Same layout as her room above, two beds, even someone in the bath. She walked to the window, moved the blinds. Empty. She pushed the window open. The man was saying something, and the sharp retort of a gunshot came from above them. She ignored both, letting the surge of adrenaline carry her out the window. She hung from the sill and dropped. One of her stupid heels broke, but her ankle held and she stumbled away. She pulled her shoes off, threw them in the canal, ran to the corner, began planning her movements off the island of Venice and up the coast to Trieste.
Planning it in her head as she ran barefoot—Trieste…Alan Craik…
Alan joined his new command, an airborne detachment testing a new imaging system called MARI, while it was moving from Pax River via NAS Norfolk and Aviano, Italy, to join the USS Thomas Jefferson at Trieste. At first, it was like flying with strangers in a commercial jet; he was CO in name only, the movement already organized by the acting CO, a lieutenant-commander named Stevens. He was still in a rage over the change of orders, so his mood was not charitable, and he found himself making harsh judgments about the unit. Movement planning seemed to him substandard, the preparations made to work only because the junior enlisted worked their butts off and the senior enlisted were pros. The officers remained an unknown quantity—faces and handshakes at Pax River, and little else—and most of them had flown off with the det’s two aircraft and would be waiting on the Jefferson.
By the time they had reached Aviano, he had at least gotten control of the anger, and he knew many of the faces, if not the names. He had made common cause with the senior chief, and they had agreed on how to improve the last leg to the ship. Then he saw to it that he was the last man to leave Aviano; that way, he knew that everything was in train, and the senior chief would get everything to the Jefferson on schedule.
He showered for the first time in two days, changed into civilian clothes at the NATO bachelor officers’ quarters, and rented a car, which he drove a little too fast into Trieste before walking down to fleet landing. The Jefferson was anchored out beyond the main harbor entrance, washed by hazy sun and a faint Mediterranean mist that gave the port a friendly look and gilded the harshness of the modern waterfront.
Now almost resigned to the change of orders and buoyed by seeing a ship he knew and felt great affection for, his mood was raised further by seeing a familiar face: Chris Donitz, an F-14 jock who had been the senior LSO on his last tour.
He smiled because it was obvious that Donitz was glad to see him. In an instant, shipboard camaraderie embraced him, and he listened with a smile as Donitz told him that he was heading shoreward for two days of liberty and a meeting with his wife. Donitz was just beginning to rhapsodize about meeting her in Venice when Alan heard a voice at his shoulder.
“Sorry to interrupt, sir—are you Lieutenant-Commander Craik? Message at the SP shack, sir.”
He thought, Oh, shit, trouble with the det. He shook Donitz’s hand. “Better catch your train. Give my regards to Regina.”
“You bet. But Al, listen, uh—”
Alan waited, literally balanced on one foot to walk away.
“Uh, watch your step, okay?”
That got Alan’s attention, and he swung back. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Donitz flicked a glance at his watch and shuffled his feet. “Just some scuttlebutt about why you’re here.”
“An intel guy commanding a bunch of aviators? I can deal with it.”
“Uh—sure. Hey, take care of yourself.”
If Alan had been in less of a hurry, he would have known that Donitz had more to say. As it was, Donitz gave a quick hand gesture, part salute, part wave, and hurried through the shore-patrol sentries and down the pier toward the railway station.
Alan strolled over to the shore-patrol office. A well-turned-out jg stood inside, his creased whites gleaming. He was from the ship’s company and didn’t recognize Alan in his civilian clothes, but as soon as Alan introduced himself, the man snapped to attention.
“Sir, the previous DO left a message that your wife came by about an hour ago and said she’d wait for you in, uh, Lettieri.” He had trouble with it, and the name came out as Letty-air-yury.
“My wife?” Rose was supposed to be in Newport, getting ready to graduate.
“That’s what the message says, sir. ‘Mrs Craik waiting for her husband at the Letty-air-iery.’”
“Lettieri?” Alan asked. Rose had never mentioned coming out. Of course, she wasn’t above surprising him—maybe even skipping her own graduation because he had to miss his, and they’d spend it together? Pick up a quickie flight from some friend in Transport—The thought of seeing her made him grin.
“Lieutenant, can you call the boat?”
“Get CVIC on the line and tell them that LCDR Craik is going to miss the 1700 brief, okay? Ask my Det NCOIC to see that my stuff gets to my stateroom.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Now, where is the Lettieri?” He realized that he wanted to see his wife a lot more than he wanted to see his new command.
Alan’s eagerness to see Rose saved his life.
He followed the first part of the directions from fleet landing to the Riva Del Mandrachio, which ran along the waterfront, but the next turning eluded him. The landmark for this turn had been hotly debated by two sailors of the shore patrol, one arguing for a small church, the other for a bar, both making marks on the back of an advertising flier for a rock club. Alan saw several bars, but no church. He turned southeast, away from the waterfront, and headed into town, following the crude map and asking his way in his Neapolitan Italian, to the amusement of the Triestini.
The first local he asked pointed silently up the hill and waved Alan on. The second, as if to make up for the reticence of the first, offered to take him to a much better café, with a beautiful waitress, where the man himself was headed. Alan declined with courtesy, and the man shrugged. He gave directions rapidly, insisting that the Caffe Lettieri was on the Via San Giorgio. Alan followed the new directions as best he could.
Ten minutes later, he was deep in the old part of the city. He passed two of the city’s foremost Roman attractions and stopped, his temper flaring. The anger about his changed orders was just below the surface again, ready to flare at any provocation. He took a deep breath, looked at his map, and began to doubt that any members of the shore patrol had got this far from the fleet landing. Then, deliberately calming himself, he walked slowly until he found a cross street whose name appeared on his map and moved briskly south toward the Via San Giorgio. By then, the sunny day had turned gray, and thin Adriatic drizzle had begun to fall, and he was hurrying because he was afraid he would miss Rose.
He had to walk for more than five minutes to reach San Giorgio, and he realized by the time he reached it that he was directly above the fleet landing; indeed, the shore-patrol post was almost at his feet. The Caffe Lettieri was just ahead of him, a new, prosperous place with gold lettering on its façade. Rose’s choice of a rendezvous now made sense. He hurried to meet her, overtaking what he took to be a local man talking on a cellphone.
And then something struck him as out of place. A car had pulled up ahead of him, a big Audi 5000; the doors opened even before it had stopped, and as the doors popped feet and heads and hands appeared, fingers gripped around door frames, tension in eyes that darted back and forth at him and at the man with the cellphone. He knew those eyes, those tense hands: anticipating violence. That was his reaction, irrational, atavistic: memories of Africa and Bosnia, men going into action, high on it, super-alert.
And the man ahead of him was speaking Serbo-Croat, not Italian.
The man closed his cellphone with a snap and drew a pistol from his backpack, his eyes fixed now on the Caffe Lettieri. He looked just like the men coming out of the Audi. Almost dancing on the pavement in his anticipation.
They were going to hit the café.
The café in which his wife was waiting.
Alan lengthened his stride and stepped up behind cellphone man and took a last, careful look up the street at the car, his mind stretching the milliseconds as he tried to read what he was seeing. Weapons were appearing now from black leather jackets. One man was checking his fly, the second time he had done that: When did I see him do it? How did I notice? Another licked his lips. Looking here, there—predator’s eyes—
He took a deep, silent breath, gathered his anger and frustration and threw himself on the man with the pack, pinning his arms to his sides. His weight carried the man to the ground and the man’s head hit the pavement with a hollow thump, like a gourd meeting a cleaver. He heaved at the man, flipping him face up, gaining control of his limbs and taking the gun, a wrestling move that flowed from his past without conscious thought. He worked the slide on the pistol and rolled away, covering the head of the street, where one of the men from the Audi was opening fire into the front of the café.
Alan centered the sight picture on the man’s chest above the machine pistol he was using and fired twice, knocking the shooter back over the hood of the Audi. One of the other leather jackets fired back at him, walking the stream of bullets over the man he had tackled. Alan felt a blow to his leg and fired back without any attempt to aim. He raised his head and shot again on reflex, but the man who had fired at Alan had thrown himself into the car.
All Alan could think was that if it was a terrorist attack they still had time to throw a bomb, that Rose was still in danger. The car shrieked away from the curb, hitting the mirror of a parked van.
Two men were down.
Alan stumbled forward, his left leg striking oddly on the street. As he came to the corner, he saw that the whole front of the café had been shattered by bullets, and he threw himself forward into the café. He bellowed, “Rose!”
Two young men were bent over a body. Alan leaned past them, saw that the body was a man’s, and realized that he was still holding the gun. He shoved it in his waistband and went to the second body, clearly a corpse and with a pool of blue-black blood all around it. An older woman. Not Rose. Three other victims were on their feet, one staring at a bloody arm; a woman screamed and screamed; somebody slumped to the floor, his back tracing a red smear down the wall. He smelled gunpowder, blood, excrement.
Then his senses began to return from the overload of the shooting, and he heard the hooting of police sirens and more screaming.
“Alan Craik?” A woman’s voice behind him.
“Rose?” He turned and saw a woman who was definitely not Rose, a tall blond woman with a straight nose and Asiatic cheekbones.
“You are Alan Craik, I think.”
His leg was numb, and he looked down. The heel and sole of his left shoe had been shot away. He sat heavily on the floor, in a litter of broken glass. Reaction, fatigue. The sirens got closer. His foot had been cut by glass, otherwise was untouched, but his whole lower leg was numb. He focused on the woman in front of him. She looked like a wild animal caught between a need for food and a need to flee. His brain seemed to have been numbed, too: “Are you a friend of Rose’s?” he said, hearing the stupidity of it.
“I told them I was your wife so you would come.” Alan’s head snapped back to her, and his right hand moved toward the butt of the pistol in the small of his back. A trap? But the shooters are gone. What is she telling me?
“I must meet with you.”
Alan looked at her. She had neither blood nor glass on her and she looked like the cover of a glamour magazine, except for the fear in her eyes. She seemed to have no reaction to the screaming or the sirens or the blood, as affectless as a photograph, except for those eyes. He pulled himself up by grabbing a table that was puddled with coffee. His brain still seemed unable to make good sense. “Who are you?”
The sirens screamed outside. “Your next liberty port is Naples. Meet me there.”
She was already moving away into the crowd in front of the café. For the first time, she seemed at a loss. Once at the edge of the crowd, however, she stopped, now part of it, not part of the attack.
“Bonner,” she called. Then she was gone.
Bonner? He had to focus. Bonner was the name of the traitor who had got his father killed. Bonner was in a US prison. What did she mean, Bonner?
Police poured into the ruined café. He could make no sense of it, but his brain was clear enough now for him to know that what the woman had said had flung him back into a security investigation he had believed closed, and there was no way he could tell the Italian cops about it.
Newport and Utica.
For Rose, the new life started when she closed their rented house. She had loved living there, but now she was ready to go to the life she had dreamed of and worked toward for six years—Houston, the Space Center, astronaut training.
“Ready to go?” she said to Mikey, their seven-year-old.
“You ready?” she said to the dog. The big tail banged against a wall.
And without a backward glance she piled them into the 4Runner and started for her parents’ house in Utica, New York. The kids and the dog would be left there while she drove to Houston, then camped out in the house they had already bought there. Her children would adapt. They belonged to a happy family, except that every two or three years, one or both parents went to sea. Or into space.
“You feel abused?” she said to Mikey.
“I’m busy.” He was playing a computer game.
“That’s what I thought.”
The dog put his head over the seat from the back and licked her hair.
“You feel abused?” she said.
The dog wiggled all over.
“That’s what I thought.”
The trip was long, and Mikey got cranky, then slept; the baby howled; the dog threw himself on the floor and panted and gasped and whimpered. On and on, through Massachusetts and into New York, stopping to buy junk food and to piss and to walk the dog, then west along the Thruway and at last, as it was getting dark, to the little house in the Italian streets where she had grown up. Mikey, awake again, was eager.
“The first thing your grandmother will say is, ‘You’re later than you said.’”
“Grampa will tell her to shut up.”
Kids hear a lot.
“You’re late,” her mother said. “You said seven o’clock.” They kissed. “Dinner’s ruint,” her mother said.
“How’s my girl?” her father shouted, embracing her. He was a small man, wiry even in old age, a fair singer and a great ballroom dancer. “Shut up, Marie, she drove all this way, she done great.” He began to sing, Rosie, she is my posy—
“I’m starved, Ma,” she told her mother. “Just starved.” She wasn’t, but she knew her mother wanted to feed her. Singing, her father took her in his arms and began to dance her around the driveway. Rosie, she is my joy—
Rose winked at her father, and they went into the house with their arms around each other’s waist, Mikey holding his mother’s hand. It was only after another ten minutes of shouting and trading news that her mother said, “Oh, your father forgot, you got a phone call! It’s his business to tell you, I guess, but he forgot.” She drew herself up. “Not bad news, I hope.”
“Nah, nah, Jesus H. Christ, Marie! Give her a break, she just drove three hundred miles!” He turned to Rose.
“It’s some goddam military Mickey Mouse, I’d of told you tomorrow. Probably you didn’t dot the i on an exam paper.”
“She better call,” her mother said.
“Call tomorrow. Tonight’s for fun!”
“I’d of had her call the moment she got here.”
Rose was laughing at them, because nothing bad could happen and she knew her father was right; it was some Mickey-Mouse nothing. Still, she knew her mother wouldn’t let it go until she called, so she asked where the number was and her father said by the phone. As soon as she saw the number, she knew it was her detailer’s, and her confidence that nothing bad could happen gave a little hiccup. There was a second number, as well, with “home” written next to it in her father’s precise writing.
Her confidence stumbled. Why did he want her to call at home? Or was that simply something that her father, a thorough man who had been a machinist and always worried about details, had asked for?
There was no privacy in that house. Even her father believed that if you needed privacy, you’d done something bad. She walked out to her car and got her cellphone from a box of office stuff that she’d shoved in the back, and she dialed the detailer’s home number from there, leaning her buttocks against the back end of the car and looking up and down the twilit, familiar street.
“Anders,” the male voice said.
“Hi, uh,—this is Lieutenant-Commander Siciliano. You called me?” Letting her voice go up in that crappy, little-girl way that women affected now. Christ, what was wrong with her? “Something wrong?” she said, not able to keep from saying it, not even able now to keep the anxiety out of her voice.
“Oh, yeah.” He sounded as if she had ruined his evening. “Thanks for calling.” She could hear papers moving, an insect sound. He had her file next to the phone! “Your orders have been changed.”
It made no sense to her. Then it made only trivial sense—the reporting date had been changed, or the time. Or she should go to a different office. But a warning voice was murmuring, Just like Alan, just like Alan—
“Your orders have been changed from Houston,” he said. He was going slowly, but she said, her voice steely now, “Give it to me.”
“The Houston orders were changed, I don’t have the reason here—now don’t shoot the messenger, okay, Commander—”
“Cut the crap. What are you trying to tell me?”
She heard a sigh, then words spoken to somebody on his end, something like I’ll be there in a minute. Then he said, “The orders to the space program have been canceled. You have a new set of orders to a command in West Virginia. The, uh—Inter-Service Word Processing Training Center. As XO. Look, I had nothing to do with this; I just got a priority message—”
She stopped listening.
Her life stopped.
She wasn’t going to astronaut training.
They had loved her in Houston. Her fitreps were great. Her physicals were perfect—the doctor’s own word, “perfect,” “You’re a perfect type for space.” She was perfect for space from the Navy’s PR viewpoint, too—combat experience, a mother, attractive.
The detailer was asking her a question. Fax—did she have a fax?
“No. No, they don’t have a fax here.” Her voice surprised her with its steadiness.
“Well, get a fax number there someplace so I can send you the orders. The reporting date’s been put back, so you’ve got a couple of weeks to, you know, adjust things.”
Adjust things? That did it!
“Like my household goods, which are all on the way to Houston?” She was angry now—her one great failing. Was that it, they’d washed her out because she got angry? “I just bought a fucking house in Houston, and my household goods are going there, and I’ve got two kids and a dog and nowhere to live!”
“Look, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, this isn’t my doing—!”
“Well, who the fuck’s doing is it?”
“I don’t know. This came from CNO’s office.”
What the hell did the Chief of Naval Operations care about her astronaut training? Jesus Christ! Just like Alan, and they didn’t explain to him, either—
“This isn’t fair. I want to appeal. This isn’t the way the Navy does things! Goddamit, I’ve followed the rules; I believe in the system; they can’t just—just—They’ve ruined my fucking career!”
He spent a minute or two talking her down, and the anger ebbed, turned into that steely calm again. Her mind was racing on, however, leapfrogging over anger and fear and hatred of the Navy, already seeking explanations, because there had to be an explanation, and when she found what it was, blood was going to flow.
“Okay,” she said. “Don’t jerk me around. I want answers.”
“Absolutely.” He wasn’t a bad guy. He knew that something, somebody, had decided to destroy her.
She turned the phone off, then back on, and tried to call Alan at the BOQ at Aviano, but he wasn’t there. Already on his way to Trieste, she thought, kicking ass as he went. Just as well—he had enough problems already.
She put the phone away and slammed the tailgate and stood there. It was so dark now that she hardly noticed her father at the corner of the car. How long had he been there?
“Rosie—what’re they trying to do to you? I’ll kill ’em, no kidding.”
She laughed. “Oh, Dad—” Then she threw herself on him and wept.
The corridors of the hospice smelled of potpourri and soap, with the scents of the dying only vagrant hints, an occasional whiff of antiseptic or bleach. The bowels loosen before death, but the system that transported air through the building was brilliant and powerful, and the grosser reminders were sucked away. It was an expensive place.
Heartbreak Hotel, he thought. He was even humming it to himself, not the Elvis version but Willie Nelson’s: I get so lonely, baby/ I get so lonely I could die.
Heartbreak Hotel with a dedicated staff. George Shreed was a tough man, utterly unsentimental, but he knew when he had fallen among saints. If what they gave her was not love, it was such a counterfeit of love that it was, he thought, worth any price.
Shreed used two metal canes to walk. He heaved himself along on powerful shoulders and arms so ropy with muscles he might have been an iron-pumper. Thirty years before, he had crashed a jet in Vietnam, and he would have died there if his wingman hadn’t stayed overhead, calling in the medevacs and taking AA fire and keeping the Cong off him. Now, planting his canes and pushing himself up on them and dragging his legs along, he thought grimly of that day when he thought he was going to die, and of that wingman of long ago—Alan Craik’s father. Now Mick Craik was dead and he was still alive, and his wife, who was ten years younger than he and whom he loved to distraction, was almost dead.
“Oh, Janey,” he muttered with a sigh. There he went, saying it aloud again.
“Hi, Mister Shreed!” The night nurse smiled, truly smiled, not a plastic smile but a real one. The smile slowly cooled, and she said, “You may want to stay with her tonight.”
“Is it—? Is she—?”Is she going to die tonight? he meant. These people knew when death was waiting.
“You maybe just want to be there with her.”
Janey lay on sheets from her own house, wearing a nightgown she had bought at the old Woodie’s. The room had a real chair and a decent imitation of a Georgian chest of drawers, and one of her own paintings hung on a wall. Der Rosenkavalier was playing on her portable CD—the music she said she wanted to die to. It was on a lot.
No tubes and no heroics, she had said. She had a morphine drip in one arm and a Heparin lock in the other; she was dying of hunger now as much as of cancer.
She looked like a baby bird. Janey Gorman, who had been the prettiest girl at Radford College, had a beak for a nose and a scrawny neck and curled hands like claws. Shreed rested his canes against the chest of drawers and pushed the armchair over to the bedside, leaning on it for support, and he took one of her hands, and her eyelids fluttered and for a moment there was a sliver of reflection between the still-long lashes.
“Janey, it’s George.” He kissed her, feeling the waxy, faintly warm skin, then squeezed her tiny, bony hand. “Here again.” The unsentimental man felt constriction in his throat, heat in his eyes. “Janey?” Der Rosenkavalier swelled up, that incredible final duet. Once, she had played it as they had made love, whispering Wait and Wait, and then as it rose toward its final too-sweet fulfillment, she had laughed aloud as they all reached it together. He listened now, let the music die, let silence come.
“Janey, I have to tell you something.” He could see a pulse beating in the skinny neck, nothing more. “Before—you know.” He stroked her hand. “I want to tell you something about myself. You never knew all about me. You didn’t want to; we agreed on that right at the beginning. But it’s not—not what I did for a living.” The word living stuck a little in his throat, in that place. And, anyway, he hadn’t done it for a living; he’d done it for a passion. “Janey—listen. Janey, a couple of years ago, you came into my study and you saw that there was—” He sighed. “Some pornography on my computer screen. You turned around and walked out and we never talked about it.” Her cancer hadn’t been identified then, but aging had made sex difficult for her despite the hormones that helped to kill her, so sex was not an easy subject between them. “You see, the truth, Janey, was worse than what you thought. And—” He sat.
“I want you to forgive me, Janey. Not for the porn—that was nothing—but for what I was really doing. I was sending classified information to a Chinese case officer. We used pornographic photos to embed the data in so we could send it over the Internet.” He sighed. “I’m a Chinese agent.” He waited. There was only the hum of the air-conditioning.
“I had a reason, Janey—I have a reason, I’m not just some goddam two-bit traitor! I have—my own goal.”
He put her hand down on the flowered sheet and sat back.
“Remember the first tour in Jakarta? I was running agents against the Chinese mostly. I had a guy I called Bali, he was Straits Chinese, he was one of those footboxers. Tough. I found he was a double; he was being run from the Chinese interest office, so I played him for a year until I got a line on his control and I busted him. It was one of those macho things to do—guy who walks on two canes muscles a Chinese case officer, pretty stupid now that I think of it, but at the time I was a high flier, remember?
“I picked up his control in the apartment of one of Sukarno’s buddies. He had the place wired like a concert hall. So I scoped it out and had a techie blank the mikes and play dead sound, and I went in and told him he was going to work for Uncle or he was going to be one dead Chink when Sukarno’s buddy came home.”
He looked at her. Was there something like a smile? “Remember Jakarta? The first time? Fantastic fucking. We were young.” Her eyelids trembled.
Shreed sighed. “So—The guy’s name was Chen. Bao Chen—Zhen, we’d say now. I was going to recruit Chen, and he recruited me. Not the way you think, though. He made me a deal. We’d trade. I’d give him stuff, he’d give me stuff. We were on the same level in our agencies; we’d help each other up the ladder. We’d both know the stuff wasn’t first-class, not the stuff that would really hurt, so we wouldn’t be traitors. More like scratching each other’s back.”
Shreed made a face—mouth opened in a snarl, tongue pressed first against the inside of an upper molar, then against the teeth in front, like a chimpanzee. His head went back and he breathed in and out. “I knew when he made the offer that it was really why I’d busted him—so he’d recruit me. You see, I didn’t care about going up the ladder that much. What I cared about was becoming a Chinese agent! Because I knew that the Chinese were my real enemies—the fucking Soviets were on the ropes, I knew it even back then—and I knew that if they made me an agent and trusted me, I could fuck them good!” He closed his eyes, then popped them open. “It disgusted me then. It disgusts me now. But I had to do it. Do you see? Do you see, Janey?”
Rain was falling on the streets outside the hospice. The night was warm; few people were out, yet one man had walked by the building three times. He had a dog with him, perhaps the reason for his walking, but the dog, a long-haired mutt, was miserable and was being dragged on its leash now. Still, the man walked.
He was Ray Suter, George Shreed’s assistant. He was not there out of concern for his boss or his boss’s wife. He was there to listen to the monologue being radioed to him from a microphone hidden in Jane Shreed’s room. What he was hearing so excited him that he had forgotten the dog, and, hands plunged deep in raincoat pockets, he was striding along with the leash looped over a wrist and the dog trying to keep up on its short legs. The dog had given up sniffing bushes and posts and was simply trying to survive.
Suter was stunned by what he heard. All he had wanted was “something on his boss”—the words he had used in getting somebody to plant the bug. What he had expected was something ordinary, perhaps sordid but not monumental—a confession to his dying wife of a woman on the side, or maybe office gossip, inner resentments of people above him, or ways he had screwed other people in the Agency. Something you could turn to good account when you wanted more power for yourself, more money, a leg up.
And now this. Suter was in a kind of shock—oblivious to the dog, the rain. The man was talking about treason.
From time to time, Suter pressed his right ear. He had a hearing-aid-sized speaker there; the sound varied as he walked by the building and was sometimes so faint he lost it. At last, when there was no sound at all, he hurried away to the next street, where a closed van with a neighborhood parking permit stood among the bumper-to-bumper cars.
“I’ve lost him!” he snapped to the man who huddled in the back. A rich odor of pizza, doughnuts, coffee, and flatulence filled the van.
“It comes and goes.” The man was sitting in the dark with a cassette recorder and a couple of serious-looking electronic boxes. Suter could hardly see him in there, and he wanted to see him right then because he was thinking, He’s heard everything I’ve heard. The full impact of that made it hard for him to speak, and he had to draw a deep breath to say, “He just fades away sometimes.”
“What’d I just say?”
“Goddamit, this is important! Shreed’s spilling his guts! Move the van closer.”
“No way. I tole you, there’s no place over there the cops won’t notice me. Here, I’m golden.”
“I want you to move the van.” He didn’t really care about the van; what he cared about was that suddenly he feared and therefore hated this man, this on-the-cheap private detective.
“You want me to get the goods on your boss. Well, that’s what I’m doing. Djou feed that dog?”
Suter glanced at the cassette recorder. He had wanted a tape so that if there was something good, he could lay it on Shreed’s desk if he had to, even play it for him. Now, the tape was like a bomb. “You’re making only the one tape, right?”
“I promised my neighbor I’d feed the dog at eight. Gimme the can-opener.”
“I said, you’re making only one tape! Right?”
“What’d I just say? I promised to feed the fucking dog, now gimme the can-opener. It’s right under your ass.”
Suter had left the driver’s-side door open, and the dog was sitting on the pavement in the rain. When it heard the can-opener start to operate on the can, it wagged its tail and then vaulted into the back seat, using Suter as a platform. He took a swipe at it with a hand and disentangled his wrist from the leash.
“Keep the fucking dog! Nobody’s out there, anyway. We never should have brought it.”
“So whose idea was it? ‘Get me a dog for cover,’ you said. Looka her eat! She’s fucking starved.”
“Tony, I don’t want a word of this getting out of that mouth of yours. You understand me?”
“What’d I tell you when we joined up? ‘I hear, I don’t listen. Absolute confidentiality is my stock in trade.’ Looka that doggie eat.”
Suter looked into the darkness at the sound of the dog’s slurping. “If any of this gets out, you’re dead.” The word boomed in Suter’s mind like a low-pitched bell: dead, dead, dead—
“What’d I just say?” In the dark, the other man patted the dog. “What’d you do, try to drown her? She’s fucking soaked! My fucking neighbor’ll have a cow, I bring her back like this. You’re a cruel guy, you know that, Suter?”
Suter lit a cigarette, inhaled, sighed. “Yeah, I know that. Make sure you know it, too.”
The car was silent. The smell of wet dog and cigarette smoke joined the other smells. After several minutes, Tony said, “Your boss’s talking again.”
“Christ!” Suter was out in the rain within seconds, pushing at his right ear and splashing away through the puddles. The bell kept tolling: dead, dead, dead—
“As soon as he drew a gun, I tackled the man in front of me and brought him down. Then I began to fire at the ones shooting into the front of the café. They returned fire and killed the man I had tackled.”
“You had a gun, Commander?” The Italian cop smelled strongly of cologne and leaned forward across the desk every time he spoke. Alan couldn’t decide whether it was a very polite interrogation or a very thorough witness examination.
“No, signore, I did not have a gun. I took it from the man who was standing in front of me.”
“You are a commando? A specialist?”
Alan was now going over this ground for the third time. “I took him by surprise.”
“You overpowered one terrorist, took his gun, and shot a second.”
The cop watched Alan with a kindly look of disbelief. Another investigator entered the room, a razor-thin man in a very nice suit.
“Why were you there at all, Commander?”
“I wanted a cup of coffee.” The name, Bonner, and all its implications hung before him. He wasn’t ready to give them the woman yet. “Signori, may I remind you that I’m an officer in the US Navy, and that under international agreements I have the right to representation by my service, and to have them informed? Am I a suspect in this?” He wanted to say as well that his foot hurt like hell, but he didn’t think they’d be sympathetic.
“It would be easier for all of us if you would simply aid our investigation, Commander. Are you uncomfortable?”
“I have a detachment to command.”
“You shot two men in our city, Commander. That causes us huge concern. You understand that since the recent unfortunate incident with the US plane and the cable car, Italians are very touchy about Americans killing people in Italy.”
Alan spread his hands in an engaging, almost Italian way, as if to say, What can I do?
“I do understand that, but I also understand that you’re keeping me without a charge, and I would like my command to be notified. I have cooperated. And I didn’t kill both of them. I shot one. The other was shot by his own people. And they weren’t Italians, they were Serbs.”
“Italy is not at war with the Serbs, Commander.” He put an index finger, pointed upward, beside his temple, as if he was signaling an idea. “I wonder if you did not come to Italy to execute these men.” He raised his eyebrows: Good idea? Getting no response, he looked for the fifth or tenth time at Alan’s passport. “You landed in Aviano just seven hours ago.”
Alan was unsure whether to react with anger or to continue to respond politely. He’d tried both for two hours, and he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. He started again.
“I tackled the man I had noticed in front of me as soon as he drew a gun…”
Shreed had been to the toilet and had splashed cold water on his face. He hated that face, most of all now—a whipped look, hangdog, drained from the effort of telling her. “Janey.” She gave no response. Maybe it was his own forgiveness he wanted, as much as hers. “So, Janey, there was this guy Chen. In Jakarta.”
“Jakarta. So we worked out a comm plan, all that old Cold War junk. Then I came back here for a tour and I got into computers. Bad days here, you remember—the Agency was in the doghouse, everybody pulled in like a flock of turtles. You called me ‘Captain COBOL.’ Remember?” He smiled, used both hands to pull one leg over the knee of the other.
“In those days, you actually did your own programming. And I was good. Real good. They were making the first stabs at a net; they didn’t even call it the Internet then, just ‘a net,’ and I hacked my way into a big mainframe at Cal Tech and staked out some space for myself in the source code. Once I did that, I knew what was possible, and I waited for the Chinese to get good enough for me to use what I knew. I waited and then piggy-backed on a couple of Chinese ‘students’ who were sending computer stuff back on audio tapes, rode their data, and there I was—I had a way in, into China. The trouble was, computers were too new. So what I was, I was like a mold-spore that can exist for twenty years in the desert. I had to wait.
“Chen and I were exchanging stuff the old way, dead-drops and that crap, both moving up. It took ten years—then, finally, everybody had a PC. At last, it was my world. So I laid it out for the Ops guys—what we could do to the Chinks with computers, what now we’d call information warfare.
“Would you believe nobody in Ops cared, even then? The fact is they were scared shitless—a lot of fake Brit preppies who would do anything to protect the heritage of God and capitalism, and so let’s send in some poor lower-class, preferably foreign asset to do our dying for us, but please, no high technology! HUMINT forever!” He wiped his hand over his bristly hair. “Stupid shitheads,” he muttered. After a minute or two, he got up and dragged himself to the window. It was raining hard, and there was only a single figure out there, somebody walking slowly in the downpour. There was something terrible about the loneliness of that figure, he thought. He shook himself as if it had been he standing in the rain.
“So I’m a traitor for a purpose, Janey,” he said. There, he’d said it—traitor. “I’m a traitor with a cause.” He continued to stare into the rain. The walking figure was gone.
“I’d have given them what I had, if they’d listened. I’d have risked even prison, if they’d listened. But they made me go it alone. They made me be a traitor.”
He looked to her for affirmation then, but she was still.
“So I went it alone. I programmed a poison pill, a worm, to fetch something from Chinese military intel. A kind of virus, but one like—what the hell is it? shingles? the one that sits in your spine for twenty years and then pops out—one that would sit tight until I told it to act. Then every time the Chinks upgraded, they took me with the upgrade. I’d go in and tinker a little, snoop around, see how much better they were getting at firewalls and passwords and encryption, and it got to the point where I knew I was going to have to do something or they’d either catch me or they’d wall me out.
“And then Chen lowered the boom on me. Nineteen ninety-four. Turned out I’d been suckered. Now he was going to get serious, and if I didn’t play along, he’d turn me in to the Agency.” Shreed sighed, made a sound that was something like a laugh—short, barking gags of sound. “I thought I was playing him and he’d been playing me. We’d been doing a circle jerk for twenty years, and it was all a fake to land me. Now, the Chinks wanted good stuff—hard stuff.
“They had a website that flacked pornography. That was the comm link; we encrypted data and reduced it to one pixel and buried it in the middle of a porn image. That was what I was doing that night you caught me. I was sending them the data on a classified project called Peacemaker, and when you came in, I got rattled and I sent the last batch in clear. You scared me, baby. I felt like a kid caught jacking off.” Shreed massaged the bridge of his nose, sighed again. “Not your fault. Mine. But—” He gave the laughing sound again.
“Chen’s really been bleeding me. Chen’s an insatiable prick; I’m going to have to—I’ve got to end it. I’ve got to wind up my Chinese connection. You see? Janey?”
He put his hand on hers again, felt the skin cooler but not cold.
“Oh, baby, the things I’ve had to do! And the things I have to do yet!”
He got up, grabbed his canes, swung himself around the room; the movements were restless, angry, the prowlings of something in a cage. Still, his voice was tender when he said, “Maybe it’s better you won’t be here.”
He pulled himself to the window again, then away to her side, across to a corner, back.
“This is how it goes. The Chinks’ military intel is the banker for the Party and for the bigwigs who are skimming the cream and sending the money offshore for themselves. Intel also has most of its own secret money offshore; it’s what they use all over the world for spying, subversion—you know. It’s a lot of money. A lot of money. So what I’m going to do is, on a given day, and it has to be soon, I’m going to activate my virus, and it’s going to send little gobblers—like PacMans—and they’re going to gobble up all the offshore accounts and all the data about the accounts, every scrap, and put it somewhere else. And the Chinks won’t know where. And there they’ll be, sitting with their thumb up their ass, with no money for ops, and no Party money, and no money for the bigwigs who will want to know how and why, and who will be trying to take revenge on anybody who stands in the way of their cash, and it’s going to be a bloodbath!”
He grinned. “For about twelve hours, and that’s all I need. Because the Chinks are going to be between a rock and a hard place during those twelve hours, and they won’t know whether to shit or go blind. India is going to be hollering at them from one side, and we’re going to be hollering from another, and Pakistan is going to be begging them to send help, and they won’t be able to do a thing! They’ll be paralyzed.
“And then they’ll try to recover the only way they know, which is by strutting around the world, pretending to be a superpower instead of the world’s shoemaker. And they’ll push some military provocation to make somebody else—India, let’s say—back down, and it’ll all be bullshit! Because China is a paper tiger—a hundred goddam nukes, and so far not a missile that they could lob a wad of toilet paper three thousand miles with! An army of goddam peasants, and technology they’ve had to steal! You know who says the Chinese are a superpower? The same assholes who said that Russia was a superpower!
“Well, I’m going to show what they really are. Their money is going to go down a rathole, and they’re going to panic, and then they’re going to the brink—and they’re going to find that they’re eyeball-to-eyeball with us, and they’re going to back down, because they don’t have the muscle!
“So—I had a reason, do you see, Janey? I always had a reason. You’re the moralist in the family; you’re the one who used to argue the difference between ends and means, so you judge what I’ve done. Judge me. And then forgive me.”
He came to rest at the foot of the bed, his posture appealing to her, begging her. And for a moment, he thought what he saw in return was an illusion—a living woman, eyes open, the faintest of smiles—and then he knew it was not. It was quite real, even to the smears of pale color on her cheeks.
She might have said something; her lips parted. But it was her eyes that spoke, sliding aside to look at the CD player. Then back at him. The eyes of a girl, hip and wise.
He got it. Der Rosenkavalier. He pushed the Repeat button. A few notes, and Schwarzkopf’s voice climbed out of the box and filled the room. It was loud, too loud for him to talk. Seeing her eyes, he couldn’t turn the volume down. He could only sit with her, listening.
He sat beside her, and her eyes closed. The music, lush as cream, swirled.
He touched her hand. It was wax. The music spiraled up, the duet, the two sopranos, glory. Then silence.
“Janey?” Now he felt his own desire again, his own urgency. “Forgive me!”
But the bird had flown.
Outside the hospice, Suter leaned his back against a tree. Music he didn’t know played its tinny noise in his earphone, but he was oblivious to it. A lot of money. Suter tried to light a cigarette, but his hands were trembling and he had to give it up.
A lot of money. What was a lot of money? A billion? Even two billion?
A lot of money, and Tony knows about it. What would he do with Tony? The man could say that discretion was his stock-in-trade, but Suter knew that discretion, integrity, all that was bullshit when big money came around.
It frightened him and at the same time dazzled him. What could he do with a billion dollars? What could he not do?
He had come out here to get something on his boss. To get a little leverage. Now, Shreed hardly mattered. Now there was money. He tried again with the lighter, and it gave a flame and he was able to hold the cigarette in it just long enough to get it alight. He drew in a gulp of smoke, coughed, and, bent over, began to hyperventilate.
He knew that the only way he could deal with Tony was if Tony was dead.
By the time that the JAG officer from the boat appeared, it was close to three in the morning and he had been moved from the cell where he had been questioned to a comfortable office belonging to one of the detectives, and he was being given strong coffee and biscotti. One of the cops even made small talk.
The JAG was a lieutenant-commander, middle-aged and short, and he weighed as much as he was allowed, but he was professional.
“Commander? You all right? I’m John Maggiulli.”
“You okay? They don’t have you as a suspect any more. Wish I could say that was my doing, but it was over before I walked in.” He lowered his voice. “Admiral Kessler is kind of freaked. Word we had was that there had been a terrorist attack. Why didn’t you tell them to call the boat, Mister?”
“Not their story. They say that you wanted the boat kept out of it and cooperated willingly in their investigation. What were you doing there, anyway? Was it terrorists?”
Alan looked outside the office and saw the razor-thin man in the good suit watching him.
“Not here, John.”
“Al, I’d like an answer. This is serious.”
“I know it’s fucking serious, John! I just shot a guy, excuse me, it’s kind of wrecked my day! The Italians thought I might have been sent here to whack the terrorists, or some such crap. I started requesting legal counsel from the boat four hours ago, as soon as I discovered that we were moving beyond routine.”
John Maggiulli looked at him. Glared, in fact.
“Shore Patrol says you got a message from your wife. You withholding this message purporting to be from your wife from the Italian police?”
“Roger that. John, I’ll make it clear when I’m not sitting in a foreign police station, okay?”
Shaking his head, Maggiulli took his arm; there was a suggestion of taking him into custody. “I got a car, and we’re ducking reporters.” Alan limped beside him.
The thin man watched them leave.
Admiral Kessler was in pajamas and a flannel robe, a rather small man who was not at his best at four-thirty a.m. He sat a little slumped, one hand shielding his eyes as if the glare from Alan’s story was too much for him. Still, he let him tell the whole thing, leaving out only the woman’s saying “Bonner” and the fact that she had asked to meet him in Naples.
“I don’t like my officers getting into trouble, Mister Craik. Especially big trouble.” He looked at Maggiulli, whom he had commanded to stay. “What I really want to know is why you lied to the Italian cops. Well?”
“Sir, it’s, um, a matter of national security that touches on an existing counterintelligence investigation. I’m not in a position to say more until I can talk to NCIS.”
Kessler lowered his hand and turned a pair of very bright, very hard eyes on Alan. “Admirals don’t like to be kept in the dark by subordinates—you follow me?”
Alan, standing stiffly, bit back the angry sense of unfairness that came up like bile. “I’m eager to tell you, sir, as soon as I’ve cleared the matter with NCIS.”
Maggiulli cleared his throat and said, in the tone of a man trying to coax a bull into a chute, “Uh, Craik has a point, sir—if this is really a sensitive matter—”
“I know the goddam code, John!” He leaned still farther back. “What the hell do you have to do with ‘an existing CI investigation’? Your dad died years ago.”
Alan winced. Everybody in the Navy knew about his father’s death; many people held it against him, credited his promotions to it—son of a hero, the man who had caught his father’s killer. He would rather not have raised the subject at all. “It was that case, anyway.”
Kessler was unsympathetic. “All right. You get to NCIS pronto, and I want to talk to your contact when you’re done. Get it to me by 0800.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Alan headed straight down to CVIC and tried to call Mike Dukas, an NCIS special agent who was still in charge of the old case and who was a close friend, at his office in Bosnia, dialing the eighteen digits with great care. First, the line was busy; then, he got a native German speaker who had difficulty understanding him. Could he call back after eight? Alan slammed the telephone down, thinking that eight a.m. in Sarajevo was the time he was supposed to report on his progress to the admiral.
Balked of contact with Dukas, Alan filled out a foreign-national contact report with the NCIS officer on the boat and put himself in his rack, where he fumed and stewed and waited for the dawn.
Rose had sat up with her father, drinking too much wine and letting him try to soothe her. Then she lay awake for an hour, then another hour, hearing dogs, the bells of clocks, the freights rolling along the old New York Central tracks. A car went by, its boombox thumping hip-hop bass. Somebody laughed and shouted. Her talk with the detailer went around and around in her head, and she tracked it, around and around, looking for the explanation, the solution, a rat running around and around, looking for a way out—
Rose woke to see by the pale orange digitals of the bedside clock that it was a little after two. Her head really ached now, and the wine rose as a sour nausea in her throat. She would feel really lousy tomorrow. Today.
She went to the old bathroom along the hall, the only one in the house, drank two glasses of water, looked at her bloated face in the mirrored door of the medicine chest. Some looker you are! she thought. Well, her face matched her thoughts, anyway. She drank another glass of water and knew she had to do something, anything—go for a walk, go for a drive. Scream. Instead, she went and checked her children and then went downstairs, the dog padding beside her, and by the time she reached the bottom tread, she knew what she was going to do.
She was going to scream for help.
She took the dog out into the cool night and, again leaning against the rear of her car, got on her cellphone. She called a duty number of a war crimes unit in Sarajevo, where Mike Dukas, who loved her and was her husband’s friend and was an NCIS agent on loan to the International War Crimes Tribunal, was officer-in-charge. What she got was a gravel-voiced Frenchman named Pigoreau who wanted to flirt with her and who finally told her that Mike was in a grande luxe hotel in Holland, The Hague, “being kicked up the stairs.” He gave her a phone number.
His flirtatiousness made her numb. Some other time—She punched the numbers into the phone and pulled her robe tighter around her. The cool air felt good on the hangover, but parts of her were a little too cool.
Pigoreau had been right. The hotel was very grande luxe. It was so grand she thought she was never going to get past reception, but finally a somewhat too elegant female put her through, and she heard one ring and then Mike Dukas’s growl, and, before she could think, she cried, “Oh, Mike, thank God!”
“Hey! Rose? Rose?”
“Oh, Mike, goddamit, I’m so happy to talk to you! Mike—I need help.”
“What the hell. Help?”
So she told him. Two sentences, bam, bam.
“What, you got bounced from the program and sent to some nowheresville, and the orders came out of CNO?”
“You got it.”
“Somewhere between Aviano and the boat.” She told him about the change to Alan’s orders. “First him, now me.”
“Which I don’t think is a funny coincidence, babe. You with me? You know the Navy—they get on one of you, you both go down. You need somebody to find out what the hell’s going on. I don’t think it’s us—NCIS, I mean. Could be Navy intel, but they don’t work like that; they’d come to you and do stuff—investigation, interviews, maybe polygraph.”
“Because either you or Al is a security problem, is why. That’s all it can be.”
“My dad thinks I have an enemy.”
“Your dad may not be so far wrong. But maybe Al has an enemy and you’re getting the backlash. But this has a kind of stink. Like, it sounds very quick and very from the top down, not by the book. And not the Nav, you know? But I’ll check. Listen, give me an hour or two, shit, what time is it there—? I’ll check to see if the Navy’s involved, other than issuing the orders. But what you gotta have is information. What you do, call Abe Peretz and tell him to find out what’s up.”
“It’s two a.m.”
“What are friends for? He’s FBI, he’ll have an answer by the time you’re eating breakfast. Then call me back and we’ll talk about what happens next. Okay?”
“I hate to wake people up.”
“Oh, do you? Your life is shit, your career is ruined, and you hate to wake people up. Come on, babe, get with the program. This is war.”
“You’re the best, Mike.”
“No, I’m a mediocre Navy cop, but I’m crazy about you, so you bring out the best in me. Now go call Abe and let me get some breakfast.”
“You sound grumpy.”
“Wait until you hear Abe.”
Abe Peretz was a former naval officer who had joined the FBI. Like Dukas, he was an old friend, a kind of mentor to her husband and a counselor to her. He was only a little pissed at being waked up; once he understood the problem, he gave her some hard advice: come to Washington, where the action is.
Half an hour later, she was on the road.
USS Thomas Jefferson.
His first official act on the carrier was supposed to have been a brief to the admiral on the purpose of his detachment. The briefing was out the window, however, because of the Trieste mess, and when he showed up on the flag deck at 0800, he was met, not by Admiral Kessler, but by Maggiulli and the flag captain.
“Have you reached your NCIS guy yet?” Maggiulli said. He looked as wasted by lack of sleep as Alan, but he was certainly more nervous.
“I filed a contact report at the NCIS shack on the boat. I keep missing my guy when I call—I got the runaround in Bosnia, where he’s detached to a war crimes unit, and I just found out ten minutes ago that he’s in The Hague. I’ve got a call in to him there.” He turned to the flag captain. “Am I briefing on the MARI project this morning, sir?”
“The admiral would prefer that you straighten this other matter out first. Commander, it still appears that you’re withholding evidence from the Italian police. You haven’t offered us any reasonable explanation. People were killed, Commander.”
“This is a change from two hours ago.”
“It is not a change!” Maggiulli looked at the flag captain, thus proving that this was a change.
“John, I will continue to make contact with the special agent in charge of the investigation my first priority. He’s at a hotel in The Hague, and I expect to talk to him as soon as I leave this meeting.”
“Admiral Kessler wants somebody with some authority at NCIS to explain this matter to him, as you don’t seem prepared to do it yourself. It looks like you’re jerking us around, Craik.”
His anger almost exploded, and his face went white.
Clenching his fists, Alan said in a dead, rigidly controlled voice, “It looks like you’re jerking me around, John. Two hours ago, you seemed to accept my explanation and told me to call my guy; now you don’t accept my explanation! Listen to me—and you, too, sir—because I’m in the right on this and I know the code, too! I am doing my goddam level best to satisfy you and the Italian police and my responsibility to a classified investigation! If you want to take me to the mat on it, you do it! Call me on it!”
With a gesture, the flag captain silenced Maggiulli. To Alan’s surprise, he spoke quite gently, as if, all along, he had simply been hearing how it would play. “I’ll forget the tone of voice you just used, Mister Craik, but you gotta remember the seriousness of this from our point of view. We got a capital ship here in a foreign port where we’re not deeply loved to start with. So you just do nothing but work at getting on the blower to your man and make it right, okay?”
“Sir, I also have a detachment to run, and I haven’t even met all my officers yet.”
The flag captain nodded. “I think that can wait for twenty-four hours.”
The man seemed to be saying that his whole detachment could sit on their thumbs until he got hold of Mike Dukas. And then he got it, through the fog of fatigue and anger: if he didn’t get Mike Dukas and satisfy the admiral, there wouldn’t be any detachment—at least not for him. That’s why Maggiulli was the attack dog—to give legal cover if Kessler decided to kick his ass off the Jefferson. That really would end his naval career. And Kessler knew that, too.
“Sir, with all respect, I request permission to continue with my detachment while trying to locate Mister Dukas.” He rushed on almost boyishly. “There’s no point in me sitting on a phone if he’s at breakfast and doesn’t have a telephone handy.”
The flag captain thought about that and actually smiled. He picked up his hat, a signal that the meeting was about over. Again, his voice was almost soft. “I appreciate your position. You please try to appreciate ours.” He put his cover on and came close, as if he wanted to shut Maggiulli out. “You better satisfy the admiral today, or you’re toast.”
Fifteen minutes later, Alan was in his stateroom, looking at the black heel-mark on a bulkhead where he had just thrown a dress shoe. Mike Dukas had not been at the hotel in The Hague—he had just checked out.
He had tried Dukas’s office in Sarajevo again, and, although he had got an English speaker this time, she hadn’t known anything, either.
Mike Dukas was in transit.
Now, shaking with anger, Alan tried to talk himself down. He was about halfway there when a knock sounded on his door and he whirled, ready to explode on anybody suggesting that the admiral wanted him to hurry. Flinging open the door, he saw first the captain’s eagles on the collar, only belatedly the face above it.
“Hey, Al!” A big hand descended on his shoulder. “Hey, man, I like for my officers to check in with me when they come aboard, what gives?”
Alan’s anger deflated like a leaky balloon. It was “Rafe” Rafehausen, friend from his first squadron, onetime nemesis, now the CAG—commander of the Jefferson’s air wing.
“You going to ask me in, or do I have to push?”
“Oh, Jeez—Rafe, am I glad to see you—Christ, man, I haven’t had time to report; see, last night—”
Rafe waved a hand. “I know all about it. Everybody knows all about it—James Bond Meets Rambo. You don’t do things by halves, do you, Craik?” He pushed a duffel bag off the only chair and threw himself down. “Don’t let me interrupt, if you were doing something important. You look like shit, by the way, anybody told you that?”
“I shot a guy yesterday. How you think that makes me feel?”
“I don’t know how it makes you feel, but it makes you look like shit. Come on, what’s up—trouble?”
“Kessler.” Alan raced through a summary of his meeting with the admiral and then Maggiulli and the flag captain. To his surprise, Rafe laughed. “Hey, Kessler’s got a bug up his ass about good relations with foreigners and the media; you come in and shoot up a liberty port, what d’you think he’s going to do, kiss you? So call your friend at NCIS, for Christ’s sake!”
“I can’t get hold of him!” Alan started to rant, and Rafe cut him off.
“Get a grip. First things first—the reason I came here, besides wanting to welcome you aboard, was to get you to grab hold of this fucking detachment you’re supposed to command. Your detachment sucks—clear?”
“Rafe, I only met the guys two days ago; Jesus Christ, give me a break.”
“I can’t give you a break. And I wouldn’t if I could; I need your aircraft in the air and I need them today. Between you, me and the shitter, Kosovo’s going to go ballistic and holy hell is blowing up in the Indian Ocean, and the CAG doesn’t have time for one of his commanders to dance around the telephone. You get with your det, buddy, and you start to kick ass; they’re a mess.”
“Kessler’s captain gave me an ultimatum.”
Rafe blew out a breath in exasperation. “I’ll handle it. Kessler listens to me; he’s not an aviator, so he needs me. I’ll tell him you’re God’s gift to the US Navy; I trust you like a brother; if you say it’s national security, it’s national security. Give me the name of the guy you’re trying to reach on the fucking phone and I’ll have him found by the time you’ve done an honest day’s work with the det. Deal?”
“The flag captain’s word was ‘toast.’”
“Yeah, yeah, his bark is worse than his bite. Friel’s a pussycat. Come on, gimme the data and get your ass out of here and go to work. That’s an order, Craik!”
Alan stared at him and then began to laugh. He reached for his flight suit.
Rafe put a hand again on Alan’s shoulder.
“One more thing. There’s talk, so watch your step.”
“Talk? What—last night—?”
“That, and—you know the boat, everybody cooped up. There’s just talk about you taking over the det on such short notice. They say you got bounced from another assignment.”
Alan’s face went rigid. “I did. And no reason given.”
Rafe patted his shoulder. “Guys talk. Just let ’em.”
George Shreed was leaning on his metal canes by his office window, watching a hot wind blow fast-food wrappers through the CIA parking lot. He wasn’t seeing them; he was only turning his eyes on them, occupying his vision, while his mind, numb, could not shift his focus from his wife’s death. He thought of himself as a hardass, but he wasn’t hard all the way through; somewhere in there, he bled. He had prepared for the death, had used the word, had said it would happen, must happen, was unavoidable—and now he was as devastated as if it had come as a surprise.
His door thumped under somebody’s knuckles.
Ray Suter came in, first his head, then a shoulder, then half his body. “You want to be by yourself?”
“Come in, come in.”
“I wanted to say how bad I feel. All of us feel.”
Shreed hadn’t turned around. He could see Suter’s reflection in the window, beyond it, the trees bowing in the hot wind of a June day. Tonight there would be thunderstorms, a cold front, a change. Even in his grief, he found himself thinking that Suter looked different today.
“Can we do anything?”
It was the kind of question that Shreed usually pounced on: What did you have in mind, resurrection? Did you want to hold a seance in the canteen? But the acid had gone out of him for a little while. Instead, Shreed said, “Maybe somebody could plant a tree someplace. No flowers.”
“Right, right. I heard that. The Cancer Society, right. There’s a collection—the girls are taking it up—”
Shreed’s back moved, straightened. Was he going to make some comment about the futility of collections as an answer to death? He exhaled slowly. “Thank them for me.”
“Sure. Absolutely. Can I do anything for you? You sleeping?”
Shreed turned, made his way to his desk and leaned the bright canes against a spot he had used so long that the varnish was worn from the wood. “Pick up the slack on the five-year report, if you will; I’ve dragged my feet there. Yeah, I’m sleeping okay.” He never slept much, anyway. “There’s a memorial service Thursday. You might let people know.”
“Right. Right, absolutely.” Suter stood there, well into the room now but still somehow not of it—keeping himself separate. “I feel so helpless.” Yet he didn’t look helpless to Shreed; he looked—gleeful?
Shreed shot him a look. Suter’s eyes looked funny—was he perhaps hung over? They were too bright, too—excited. For an instant, a bizarre thought flashed across Shreed’s mind: He knows. Then it was gone, the idea that Suter could know about his spying too ridiculous to consider.
“I’ve got a task for you,” he said when he had sat down. “One that won’t make you feel helpless. Something you’ll enjoy, in fact—screwing an old friend.” He grinned. “Alan Craik.”
“No friend of mine!” Suter cried.
“Old enemy, then. What’s the difference? Craik’s wife is under investigation. Security violation on the Peacemaker project.”
Suter scowled. He had been on the Peacemaker project, too, and had in fact tried without success to get Rose Siciliano into bed.
“I want you to make sure the word gets out that they’re security risks. Both of them—where there’s smoke there’s fire, that sort of thing. If she’s in it, so is he. Get it?”
“This is official?”
Shreed started to answer him with acid, then stopped. Suter usually didn’t question his orders.
“She’s proven herself an enemy of the Agency,” Shreed said. “Is that official enough for you?
“And Suter became Uriah Heep, all but wringing his hands, saying, “Right, right—oh, right—”
And Shreed thought, Not right, but then he remembered Janey’s death, and Suter became unimportant.
“It’s you, Rose. Not Al. And it’s the CIA, not the Navy.”
Abe Peretz looked like a casting director’s idea of a Jewish professor, with a balding head, unfashionable glasses, and eyes that were mostly dreamy but now and then as hard as diamonds. He was deaf in one ear, the result of a mugging two years before, and so he normally talked now with his head slightly turned so that his good right ear was toward other people.
“What the hell’s the CIA got to do with me?”
“And not just the Agency—the Agency’s Internal Investigations Directorate.” The innocent eyes became hard. “They’re hard-nosed and they’re ugly—leftovers from Angleton and Kill-a-Commie-for-Christ—and they’d send their own mothers up if she was dicking the Agency. So how come they’re on your case? There can be only one reason—you’ve spun off from an internal investigation.”
“I’m not even in their chain of command!”
“Think of it as walking by when somebody pissed out the window. There’s a rumor floating around they’ve got another mole. You don’t understand the relief they’d feel if they got a positive on somebody who isn’t Agency. It means they can say to each other, ‘We dodged the bullet.’ And it means that they can go public, at least within the intelligence community, and say, ‘See, it isn’t us—it’s the Navy.’ And so they went back-channel, probably through the NSC, and sandbagged you.”
“Abe, what the hell do I do?”
“You fight.” He pushed a piece of paper across his desk. “You’ve got an appointment at three at Barnard, Kootz, Bingham.” She looked her question with a frown, and he said, “Law firm. Heavy hitters—sixty partners, big-bucks political donors to both parties, lots of media savvy. The woman I’m sending you to is the best they got.” He grinned. “She just beat us in court. That’s how I know how good she is. Unhh—this ain’t pro bono work they do over there, Rose. Justice is blind, but she ain’t cheap. Bea and I’ll help if we can.”
She had a quick temper, at best; now it gushed out, pushed by the fatigue and a hangover and the hurt, and she cursed; she said they could shove it; she said she didn’t want to be part of a Navy that could treat her like this. And she cursed some more.
He grinned again. “Stay mad. You’re going to need it.”
USS Thomas Jefferson.
USS Thomas Jefferson was an old friend, and Alan walked through the passageways with the familiarity of a man visiting a childhood home. The ship was preparing to get underway, and the noise was oddly calming to his own tension. Maybe, as Rafe seemed to believe, it really would all work out once they were at sea.
His detachment had its own ready room, the lack of an A-6 squadron in the air wing having left one vacant. Ready Room Nine, all the way aft and almost under the stern, was the noisiest one; landing aircraft hit the deck just a few feet overhead, and, during flight operations, conversation was all but impossible. Heavy iron cruise boxes filled the front of the room below the chalk-board, but at least, he thought, it was theirs.
He wanted to speak to his division chiefs and the officers acting as department heads, but the ready room was nearly empty. He also wanted to find Stevens, the former acting det commander, who probably believed he should have been given the command, even though it was so screwed up that the CAG had made a special point of it. Getting Stevens on his side was an important priority, if it could be done.
The det also had a long list of maintenance problems that Alan thought had been gundecked too long, but, stepping in late and starting behind, he had to trust the chiefs to get the planes in the air until he could find what was really wrong and fix it. As it was, his unit had one aircraft scheduled to launch in four hours, and he wanted to prove himself to Rafe by making sure it was airborne on time.
Alan put his own name on the flight sked for that first event, scratching a jg named Soleck, whom he hadn’t even met.
“Where’s Mister Soleck?” he said to a chief who was overseeing the unpacking of the maintenance gear.
“Who’s that, sir? He our missing officer?”
“Last I heard, there was one hadn’t reported aboard, sir.” The chief was very businesslike; if he had heard the talk that Rafe had referred to, or if he had ideas about the new CO who had got involved in a shooting onshore, he said nothing.
But an officer who hadn’t reported aboard? And where the hell was he? Alan reached for the only solid ground he could in the uncertainty of the det: a senior chief he knew and trusted. “Where’s Senior Chief Craw?”
“Senior’s gone down to VS-53 admin, sir.”
Alan ducked out of the ready room and swung down the steel ladder to the S-3 squadron’s admin section, his bad foot giving him a hippity-hop rhythm. Craw was sitting at a computer terminal with another officer hovering by him, but Alan pushed past.
“Commander! I thought I’d wait till we had some privacy, but, damn! it’s good to see you, Mister Craik.”
Alan tried to smile. “It’s great to see you, Martin.” The use of the senior chief’s first name caused them both to look at the other officer, by some ingrained reflex of training and custom that said that officers should not call enlisted, however senior and however close, by their first names. “Lieutenant-Commander Craik, this is LTjg Campbell. His part of the translant ran like a top.”
Campbell stammered a greeting and looked embarrassed. They shook hands; Alan had missed meeting him at Pax River. He turned back to Craw. “How bad was the move?”
“Nothing we couldn’t handle. The planes were flying off empty and we were leaving half of our spare parts on the beach, but I sort of fixed that first.” Martin Craw’s sentences implied volumes. Sort of fixed that first suggested an argument won.
“What else?” Alan and Craw exchanged a look that meant Tell it like it is.
“The inventory was crap and the acting CO released the fly-off officers at 1500. Plus a new guy from flight school wasn’t informed that we had an immediate movement and went on leave straight from Pensacola.”
“Is that LTjg Soleck, by any chance, who’s on the flight schedule in four hours?”
Craw sighed. “Roger that, skipper. I’m trying to reach him. See, nobody ever sent him an info packet or a schedule or anything, so he has no idea we’re looking for him, either.”
“Do we still have land lines tied in?”
Craw glanced at his watch. “About ten minutes longer.”
“Give me a phone. Then I’ve got to start meeting people.”
He called the listed number in Pennsylvania twice. It rang through, but no one answered and there was no machine. Then he called the duty desk at NAS Pensacola and asked for a contact number for LTjg Evan Soleck. The petty officer at the other end shuffled papers for a few minutes and asked to call back. Alan hung up, feeling defeated by telephones in his every attempt, and started helping check the maintenance inventory with Craw and Campbell.
“Why isn’t somebody from maintenance doing this?” Alan was looking at lists of parts and numbers that meant nothing to him.
“Not my place to say, sir.”
“The acting maintenance officer is in his rack getting his crew rest.” Alan winced. Rafe had been right: this detachment was a mess.
The phone rang. The petty officer in Pensacola said that he had Soleck’s leave papers in his hand and read off the Buffalo phone number listed for contact. Alan thanked him to a degree that clearly surprised him and called the new number, looking at his battered Casio. Past four a.m. in New York.
“Hello?” The voice was thick with sleep.
“May I speak to LTjg Evan Soleck?”
“Mister Soleck, this is Lieutenant-Commander Alan Craik, your detachment officer-in-charge. I need you to report for duty immediately.”
“Hey, Corky, fuck off, okay? You might have woken my parents.”
“Mister Soleck, I’m Alan Craik and this is not a prank.”
“Uh, sir? Is this for real?”
“Welcome aboard, Mister Soleck. We flew off from Norfolk thirty-six hours ago and right now we’re about to weigh anchor from port Trieste. Do you know how to get travel orders?”
“Get your ass down to Pax River today and tell the travel section to get you here ASAP.”
“Uh, sir? I have these tickets for a concert in Buffalo? And a date?”
Despite himself, Alan smiled. “Tell her to wait, Mister Soleck. You’ll be at sea.”
Then he walked down to the hangar deck, getting the feel for his men. No women in the det. Old habit made him start to think, Just as well, and then he remembered what Rose would have said. And that made him think of her, and he felt a pang of absence. All this telephoning, and he hadn’t even tried to reach her, but that had been their arrangement: she would be on the road to Houston, and they would talk when he got to Naples. He glanced at his watch again. Past four in Utica, too, where in another hour she would be waking, saying goodbye, getting the car and heading west. Without a care in the world.
Down on the hangar deck, he was surprised to find aircraft number 902, due to fly in the first event, with her port engine dismounted and a swarm of maintenance personnel covering her. Several men looked his way; they looked at each other, and then they got very busy. Alan smiled at one he knew.
“Hey, Mendez! What’re you doing, still in the Nav?”
Mendez, Gloucester-born, Portuguese sailors in his genes, smiled a little reservedly and climbed down from the wing. He wiped his hand several times on his coveralls before presenting it to be shaken. Alan had served with Mendez during the Gulf War; Mendez had introduced him to the methods of loading the chaff and flare cartridges in the S-3’s underbelly. Looking at Mendez, Alan felt younger. “You made first class,” he said.
“Up for chief this year, sir.” Alan nodded and pumped his hand. “Still married?”
“Yessir, with two kids.”
“Introduce me, will you?” Alan walked around the plane, and Mendez, always a popular sailor, introduced him to the men working there. Now they weren’t a swarm; now they looked at him with interest rather than—what had it been? Suspicion? Alan could feel their questions, the ones Rafe had warned him about—Why had he lost a posting and got this? What was this guy doing here? Even Mendez seemed wary, but Alan pressed on. “Remind me when your chief’s board is coming up, will you, Mendez?” He looked around. “Okay, help me out, guys—what’s the story here?”
In spurts, from various men, he was made to understand that 902 had a bad engine, that “everybody” knew that a new engine had been ordered so that this one could be sent in for rehab. Mendez dug out the sheets and showed him that this engine was two hundred hours overdue for rehab. Alan started to ask why and realized that he could only put Mendez on the spot with such a question, even if he knew the answer. Then he saw Stevens, a short, thick officer in a flight suit, come in with a chief, and he thanked Mendez and the others and moved toward the new pair.
Stevens turned his head, saw Alan, and went right back to his conversation. Alan smiled, an angry tic that never moved his lower lip. They had met for two minutes at Pax River; now, Stevens chose to be a horse’s ass.
Alan excused himself to the chief, who moved a few feet off. “You in charge of this?” he said to Stevens. Alan raised one hand. He did not say “this mess,” but the motion accused.
“If you’re the new boss man, I guess you’re in charge.”
“Well, the new boss man would like to see the launch plan. And a flight sked that doesn’t include officers who haven’t reported aboard yet.”
“I didn’t write either one of them.” Stevens hitched at an imaginary belt, as if he was pulling up his guns.
Alan sighed. “Mister Stevens, why don’t you call me ‘Alan’? Or you can call me ‘sir.’” He looked around. “Who’s running maintenance?”
Stevens jerked his head at the chief he had come in with, a short, intense man in khakis.
“Senior Chief Frazer runs maintenance, with Mister Cohen as department head,” the chief said. “He’s up topside. I’m Navarro, sir. Intel chief.”
“Linguist?” Alan looked for a handle to remember the man.
“Farsi and Hindi.” Alan let part of his mind chew over the implications of those two languages.
“You following the traffic on India and Pakistan?”
“Is this the same crap they do every time?”
“Sir, this is from the hip, but I’d say it looks fucking serious.”
“More serious than Kosovo?”
Stevens cut in.
“You done with me? I’m on the flight sked later today.”
“So am I.” Alan looked him in the eye, enjoying Stevens’s surprise. “Just walk with me a minute.” He shook hands with Navarro and said he’d see him later, then walked Stevens a dozen paces away and turned on him. “You’re the senior pilot in this outfit, right?”
“Got a problem?”
Stevens hitched up the imaginary belt again. He talked to the air just off Alan’s right shoulder. “This divided command shit. You don’t like my ops plan? Tough. It shouldn’t be two guys, one in the air, one on the ground. I’m just being straight with you.”
“There won’t be any divided command. I’m in charge. I expect the cooperation of my officers. I’m just being straight with you.”
Stevens kept his voice low, but the tone was bitter. “Your officers! Some of us have been working on this project for a year. You walk in like we’re all dicked up and you’re gonna save us. Or is it that maybe you didn’t want this job in the first place? Maybe you were going someplace better?”
Alan set his jaw, controlled his hands, his temper. Rafe had been right—there certainly had been talk. “Mister Stevens, I’m your commanding officer—”
“Craik, everybody’s heard of your father. He was a pilot. He might have belonged here. You don’t!”
Alan didn’t blink, and his eyes didn’t move. Stevens couldn’t hold that look for more than two seconds. Alan became very cold and very formal. “Mister Stevens, I don’t have time right now for you to have a tantrum. It looks to me as if we’re way behind and we have to get a plane off the deck in less than four hours. That’s my priority. I haven’t got time to dick around with you.” He leaned a fraction of an inch closer, his eyes still fixed. “If you can’t serve under me, get out. Stay or go, I don’t care; just say which!”
“You know they’ll cream me if I go!”
“You have three minutes to decide whether you’re my senior pilot or a man looking for a new job. If you want to leave, you leave today. I’ll square it with the detailer.”
Stevens, red-faced, tried again to stare him down and lost. “I’ll stay, goddamit—I’ve always wanted to work for a fucking ground-pounding spy!”
Heads turned throughout the hangar bay. Spy came out loaded with connotation, and Alan was briefly back in his first days at the squadron, dealing with the aviators as an outsider, an enemy, where intel guys, “spies,” were second-class citizens. He hadn’t been there in years.
Stevens started to move away under the wing of 902. He followed and grabbed Stevens’s arm.
“Start getting this unfucked. You and I are flying together in four hours.”
It all certainly took his mind off Mike Dukas and the admiral.
The lawyer’s name was Emma Pasternak, and she looked like an under-developed photograph of herself. The dress-for-success clothes did nothing to hide her essential anonymity; she wore no makeup, no jewelry, and her hair was cut so short and so awkwardly that Rose suspected the woman cut it herself.
“We’re expensive,” she said. “We’re worth it—but can you pay?”
Rose hesitated. “How much?”
“We’re naval officers, for Christ’s sake!”
“So mortgage the house.”
“It is mortgaged! And I’ve never lived in it; it’s in goddam Houston, and I’ve got to find a place in fucking West Virginia; my kids are with my parents; my husband’s at sea—!”
A long stare. Then: “Can you pay for it? Five years’ worth of legal bills?”
“If it’s even a year, my career is finished.”
“That’s what compensatory damages are for.” Her hand went to the telephone. “Can you pay?”
Rose thought of her salary, Alan’s; of the empty house in Houston; of the house Alan had inherited from his father in Jacksonville, a little dump, but in a good market. They had some savings, a few thousand they’d put into tech stocks for the thrill of it—And two kids, and her with no career if it failed. And some friends.
Emma Pasternak straightened and put the phone to her ear. “Let’s kick ass,” she said. She started to punch in a number.
“What are you going to do?”
“Scare the shit out of the CIA.” She inhaled and drew herself up even straighter. Rose still had the feeling that the woman was an imposter, perhaps a daughter sitting in her mother’s chair for the day. She was simply too improbably wispy—until she opened her mouth.
“Let me speak to Carl Menzes, please—Internal Investigations.” Pause. Rather icily: “This is Emma Pasternak at Barnard, Kootz, Bingham.” She wrote something on a notepad. Billing me for the call, Rose thought. Jesus, I’ll be timing everything that happens to me now.
Suddenly, she heard Emma’s voice in a new key, fingernails on a blackboard. “What meeting is he in, may I ask?” Pause. “If you don’t know, how do you know he’s in a meeting?” Pause. “Is he in the building?”
Pause. “Well, when you see him, you tell him that I am about to sue the Central Intelligence Agency and him personally in civil court for damages compensatory and punitive, and I think it only fair to chat with him before I file. Have you got that? Oh, and tell him that we met at the Liu trial, will you do that? Oh, thank you.” She covered the phone and said to Rose, “The Liu trial, I was on the defense team, we reamed the Agency’s ass.” She held up a finger, and her thin lips gave what might, on a nicer face, have been a sort of smile. She nodded at Rose, indicated another telephone, which Rose picked up to hear a male voice saying, “—remember the Liu trial, but not very pleasantly. What can I do for you?” It was a pretty nice voice, she thought—a lot nicer than Emma Pasternak’s.
“Did you get my message?”
“Yeah, and I don’t believe you’re going to sue me, okay? Now, what’s this about?”
“This is about a Lieutenant-Commander Rose Siciliano, who your office has railroaded, unjustly and illegally, and about who you’re withholding information.”
“Is that the party on the other phone?”
“What other phone?”
“For Christ’s sake, cut the games.”
Emma got a little paler. She leaned forward, seeming to talk to a shelf of books on the opposite wall. “No, you cut the games. We’re not having it, okay? Get real.”
“Or I go public, right now. I can have a column on the op-ed page of the Post, Wednesday’s edition, with a pickup in the Wall Street Journal. Okay? I can write the head for you, quote, ‘CIA Badgers Woman Officer in New Agency Scandal Colon Where the Power Is.’
Paragraph. ‘Going beyond its mandate and its congressionally authorized powers, the Central Intelligence Agency has destroyed the career of a woman officer with quote the finest record in and out of combat in the US military unquote. Reliable sources within the intelligence community say that the Agency’s Internal Investigations Directorate can have got this fine officer transferred out of the prestigious astronaut program and into a dead-end, career-finishing job in Dog’s Ass, West Virginia, only by working the levers of the National Security Council.’ Paragraph. ‘Agency spokespersons could not account for—’”
“Okay, okay, you do a swell improv. You’ve got nothing.”
“Wrong. I’ve got the balls of two columnists on the oped page. How do you want to see yourself—‘the last gasp of Cold-War hysteria,’ or ‘witch-hunter extraordinaire for the New World Order’?”
“I think we ought to meet to discuss this.”
“I think you ought to apologize and get the officer’s orders changed back the way they were.”
He laughed—nice laugh, but not convincing. “You really think you’re something, don’t you?” he said.
“Get stuffed, Menzes.”
“Goddamit, I’m being nice, but I’m not going to let some high-priced legal tart push me and the Agency around.”
“‘High-priced legal tart,’ I like that. Did you know that’s actionable? I may sue you myself, Mister Menzes.” She actually seemed to be enjoying herself. “Okay, let’s get serious here. I want everything you have on my client, and I want it tomorrow in your office, ten o’clock.”
“You get stuffed.”
“If I don’t have access, the piece will run in the Post and I’ll be talking to the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee personally before lunch.”
“This is a highly classified—”
“Now listen to me, Menzes! You’re not listening! I’m making you an offer, and it’s one you dare not refuse, you hear me? Get the fucking wax out of your ears! You give me access and you clear this officer’s record, or by Christ your agency is going to be in deep shit, and I know for a fact they don’t want to be in deep shit because recruitment is down and you stink because of your record in Bosnia and Kosovo, and you’re all running scared because the word around town is you’ve got a mole and you can’t find him! Get me?”
The silence on the other end, in Rose’s altered perceptions, seemed to go on for minutes.
“I’ll get back to you,” Menzes said.
“Ten tomorrow morning, your office—access!”
Another silence on his end, and then, almost meekly, “I may not be able to make that determination.”
The wind had gone out of him, Rose knew.
“I’ll have an answer for you by six.” He hung up.
Rose looked at Emma. “Wow,” she said.
Emma ran a hand through her hair, making it look even worse. “They haven’t got anything, that’s why he caved.”
“How do you know?”
“I’m guessing. I think we’re going to close out Phase One tomorrow, that’s the feeling I get, but, just in case, I’m going to hire an investigator.” She gave Rose that long, flat stare again. “They aren’t cheap, either.”
“I already had that figured out.” She didn’t want some hired investigator; she wanted her friend, Mike Dukas. But he was in Holland. “Whatever,” she said. The word seemed to sum up her feeling of helplessness.
USS Thomas Jefferson.
At the moment, it looked as if the maintenance was so screwed up that 902 wouldn’t make its launch, and he hadn’t heard one word from Rafe about finding Mike Dukas. Trying to distract himself with a different problem, he worked at analyzing the det’s officers, most of whom he had now met for the second time. Aside from Stevens, there were only five. LT Mark Cohen, a pilot, was a difficult, pale man whose resentment and suspicion had seemed palpable, not least because he was the maintenance officer. LT George Reilley, the second pilot, red-headed and always laughing, seemed popular with the men; Campbell, an NFO, was in his first tour, had no reputation of any kind, but had a graduate degree in aeronautical engineering and seemed to have Craw’s confidence because of it; LTjg Derek Lang, also a backseater, had hardly registered on him but for that reason seemed unfriendly. The fifth officer was—or would be when he got there—LTjg Soleck. Soleck looked like a disaster, except that he had finished first in his class at Pensacola.
But he needed Soleck. Because Alan had the liberty of putting senior enlisted men in one or both seats in the back end to fly the special equipment, he could theoretically make four crews, once Soleck was aboard. The Navy had intended that the det have only two crews for its two planes, but four would give them flexibility. If they ever got the planes to fly.
Chief Navarro came and sat next to him, his glance asking for attention but not demanding it. Alan finished a message, signed off two equipment requests, and
turned to face him.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Did you get the simulator CD from Lockheed?”
“Chief, as of now, you’re the MARI training officer. Find a laptop, or better yet, a desktop, and put it in the back of the ready room near the coffee-maker. Strip everything off it except the simulator, okay? So we don’t have Duke Nukem running in the ready room?”
“Got you in one, sir.”
“Good. Then talk to all the flight crews. Everybody uses the sim, even pilots. But concentrate on the NFOs and the AWs.”
A seaman he didn’t recognize handed him a message. Alan held him with a wave and read his nametag. Cooley.
“Where do you work, Seaman Cooley?”
“Cooley, please locate Mister Cohen and tell him I want to see him. He was on the hangar deck the last I saw.”
“Uh, no, sir, he just, uh, left.”
Alan knew he was condemning a brand-new man to a long hunt for staterooms. He consoled himself that Cooley would know the ship better when he was done.
The message was from NAS Norfolk. LTjg Soleck had been scheduled on a flight and did O-in-C Det have any other instructions? Alan sighed. Maybe to send me a guy who can get places on time?
By three o’clock, he was drinking his seventh cup of coffee, and his mood was as foul as the acrid, thin stuff in his cup. His first flight was an hour away, and he didn’t think 902 was going to make it. He grabbed Senior Chief Frazer, the maintenance chief, because Cohen hadn’t yet been found.
“Frazer, 902 is due to launch in one hour.”
“We’re on it, sir.”
“Is 901 in better shape?”
“Frazer, what the fuck, over?”
“901 is down for hydraulics.”
“Is this the wrong time to ask why 902 didn’t get a rehab for her port engine back at Pax River?”
Frazer looked trapped. Alan realized he was boxing the man into a position where he either had to inform on a shipmate—or his department head—or take blame for something he didn’t do. Alan shook his head at his own error. “Never mind. Senior, will I have a bird for the first event or won’t I?”
“I’m trying. Yes!”
Alan walked back to the ready room to find Stevens, Craw, and Reilley waiting to brief for the flight that so far had no aircraft. Reilley switched on the closed-circuit TV, and they watched the weather brief and then a quick description of the flight area. The other aircraft in the event were simple carrier quals.
Stevens briefed the emergency procedures in a singsong voice and looked at a map. “We’re going about forty miles south, taking a look at the Willett, and then flying home. Short event. Any questions?”
Reilley held up a kneeboard card with the NATO and UN communications data. “All this up-to-date?”
Alan reached for it and Reilley handed it over with a minute hesitation. Am I making this up, or did he not want to show me his kneeboard card? Alan looked at the card and noted that many of the callsigns were unchanged since his last tour here, almost two years ago.
He had imagined giving a little speech about their first operational flight, something to mark the occasion, but when he faced them he saw veiled hostility from Stevens and Reilley and concern from Craw. He searched for brilliant words that would make everything right, and he was about to open his mouth and say something about the det’s mission and the need for solidarity when Senior Chief Frazer came in.
“I’m sorry, sir. I need two more hours. I can get both them planes up for the third event.”
Stevens smiled without humor. He was relishing the failure, Alan realized, and for a moment he hated the man. He walked from the ready room almost blind, clearing the area before he could say something he would regret.
He wasn’t used to failure, and it stung. The feeling that he was personally responsible for a major problem compounded the feeling of alienation that had clung to him since his orders had been changed. He was used to stress, and to danger, but he had begun to feel in this situation as if he was an observer of events, not a participant.
He hadn’t got control.
Telling Rafe that he didn’t have a bird for the launch was one of the hardest things he had ever done. He had watched the maintenance crisis slide out of his control all day, first the downing of 902, then the problems with 902’s port engine that “everybody knew” except Alan, then scrambles to get work done, and condescension from the VS-53 maintenance shop and the slide to failure. And now it was certain, and he walked into Air Ops ahead of Stevens and canked his unit’s first operational flight.
Rafe met him going out.
“Problems?” he asked with a smile.
“Sir? Better walk with me, Alan.”
Rafe walked down the passageway, slapping the occasional back, looking coldly at a jg running for his brief. Then he pulled Alan into the flag briefing room, empty at this hour.
“I can count the number of times you’ve called me ‘sir’ on one hand, Spy. So how bad is it?”
“This is the wrong fucking time to call me spy, Rafe.” Alan realized that the storm was still there, and grabbed hold again. “Sorry, Rafe, let me start that again. I just had to cancel my first event. Both my birds are down and I don’t have all the parts to fix them because I apparently left some stuff on the beach. That’s the worst—the rest is just other crap.”
“How’d you end up here with two down birds?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Better find out. Kick some ass.”
“Hey—I know you ain’t the bad guy. But you are responsible.
” “I know!”
“Make it work for you. Sometimes it helps to get mad; you get the assholes’ attention that way. Oh, hey—I forgot. We found your NCIS guy.”
“Yeah, I forgot. I’m the CAG; I have other duties than carrying messages. In fact, I was just gonna give it to you in Air Ops when we got sidetracked with your other problem.” He pulled a piece of paper from a shirt pocket. “I’ve already run this past the flag captain. Here’s the deal: your guy is arriving at a hotel in DC about five their time—that’s, um, 2300 here—and we’ve left messages there that he’s to call the NCIS office on the ship ASAP. That’s direct from Admiral Kessler, so he knows we’re serious. We also left messages at NCIS HQ in case he goes there. When he calls, you get your ass to the NCIS office and get on their STU and you tell him whatever the big secret is; when you’re done, Maggiulli, the JAG guy, gets on the STU at once and hears from your guy that you’re a patriotic American who did it all to save the world for democracy. You with me?”
“What the hell is Dukas doing in Washington?”
Rafe rolled his eyes. “Jesus H. Christ, who gives a shit? Did you get all that or didn’t you?”
Alan grinned. “I got it. Can I kiss you now?”
Mike Dukas got the message to call the Jefferson in the office of his boss’s boss at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at the Navy yard. But, because his boss’s boss was flattering him and almost begging him to stay at NCIS and not transfer permanently to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, and because Dukas was trying to parlay that request into a temporary position where he could help Rose, he didn’t make the telephone call right away. In fact, it was another hour before he called the Jefferson, and only then, when he was talking to the NCIS agent on board the carrier, did he understand that he was really calling Alan Craik. It was damned confusing: three days before, he had been in Sarajevo, this morning in Holland, and why was he calling the husband of the woman he had come to Washington to help?
“Hey—” he started to say.
“Mike, Al Craik. Jesus, you’re hard to find! I’ve got to talk to you—”
“And I gotta talk to you! Have you heard—?”
“Mike, I had to file a—”
“—contact report—What about Rose?”
“What contact report?”
They shouted at each other for several seconds and then both shut up at the same time, and it was Dukas, wide awake now, who took charge and said, “Rose first,” and told Alan Craik about his wife’s loss of her astronaut’s place. Then he told him about the suspicions that were flooding through the Navy about both of them, and about Peretz’s discovery that CIA Internal Investigations was behind Rose’s fall.
“That doesn’t make any sense!” Alan shouted.
“Tell me about it. Don’t bother sputtering, Al; we’ve all said the same thing, and it’s a waste of breath. Get hold of yourself—Rose is in deep shit and so are you, by association.”
“Jesus, poor Rose! And I’ve been feeling sorry for myself—”
“This is serious shit, Al. Now what’s this contact report?”
Alan had to say “Poor Rose” again, and only then did he get to the contact report and the woman in Trieste who had said “Bonner.” He ran through it all quickly—the Serbo-Croat, the shootings, the police, the JAG officer—almost mumbling, as if it had suddenly become almost unimportant.
But it was not unimportant to Dukas. “And you’re sure she said ‘Bonner’?”
“Absolutely. Otherwise, I’d have—”
“Jesus, old investigations never die! Holy shit, Bonner. Bonner works for Efremov out of Iran; we bust him and send him to prison; now some babe has people shooting at her and she says, ‘Bonner,’ and you’re supposed to snap to, right?”
“She wants me to meet her in Naples—next liberty port.”
Dukas could think fast when he had to. He had heard a rumor two days before that Efremov, the Russian/Iranian mercenary, was dead. After only a moment’s silence, he said, “Do it.”
“Mike, I’m in trouble with my admiral and the JAG guy as it is!”
“I’ll give you NCIS cover and clear it with both of them; for now, you tell them it’s classified and all will be revealed in the Lord’s good time. Then you go to Naples as my agent; I’m your control. You capisce?”
“I’m not trained for that stuff.”
“Yeah, well, you weren’t trained for half the shit I know you’ve got yourself into, and you came out smelling like a rose. Look, Al, I want you to do it: if she’s got real dope on Bonner, I want it!”
“She didn’t say she had stuff on Bonner; she just said his name.”
“Oh, as a way of passing the time? Come on—she sets up a meeting with you by posing as your wife, then she says a notorious spy’s name, and we’re supposed to think she’s just, what? making a pass? selling Mary Kay cosmetics the European way? Get real—she’s got something to sell.”
Dukas heard Alan sigh. He sympathized. But, as he had told Rose, life wasn’t fair. “You gotta do it, Al.”
“Okay. But put it in writing, for God’s sake!”
Dukas explained to him that there would be a case number and a file and a classified memo naming Alan Craik as an agent of the NCIS.
“Can you talk to the JAG guy here as soon as I’m done? They think I’m a spy or something, Mike—the shooting stuff has really freaked them—”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll talk to the guy. Jesus, how do you get into these things? She really pretended to be Rose so she could say ‘Bonner’ to you? Weird, man. Yeah, we gotta go for it.”
“Mike, I’m up to my ass with this detachment thing. I don’t want to be your agent!”
“One meeting, Al. I promise you. Meet with her once, find out what she’s got, that’s it.”
Dukas heard the hissing silence of the STU as Al Craik thought it over. Finally, he said, “Where’s Rose now?”
“Somewhere here in DC. I’m supposed to hear from Abe Peretz in an hour or so.”
“Okay—you give me Rose’s phone number in an hour, I’ll be your agent once.”
Dukas smiled into the telephone. “That’s my boy. Put on your JAG guy. And stop worrying!”
Dukas stroked the JAG officer and, after he hung up, sat staring at an unfamiliar wall, concerned now that he had two cases, not one. Just when he had meant for his life to get simpler, it had got all twisted.
College Park, Maryland.
Rose came to rest in a motel in College Park, recommended by Peretz because it was cheap and it was handy to the District. The hangover still rumbled; the feeling of helplessness kept her in a rage.
The telephone rang. She had to search for it, knocked it off its cradle, fumbled, stammered, “Siciliano!”
“Hey, babe, you sober?” It was Mike Dukas, whom she had last talked to from Utica.
“Mike! How’d you find me?”
“Peretz. I’m in Washington.”
“Your guy in Sarajevo said you were in Holland.”
“Yeah, well—” He sounded embarrassed. “The deal is I’m coming back to NCIS for six months to a year, then I’ll see.”
He had been excited about taking over the War Crimes Tribunal’s investigative side, she knew. And now he was coming back to NCIS? “Mike, are you doing this for me?”
“Nobody else would get me back to this place, babe.”
“Oh, Mike—” She started to cry.
“I love to hear women cry. It really cheers me up. How about saying ‘thank you’ and we’ll get on with it. Look, babe, here’s the deal—come on, turn off the hydrant, I need you to listen up—I been here a couple hours, nobody here has a case file on you, but there are these goddam rumors going around!” He was talking too fast to get her out of her crying jag. “Anyway, I am now the official investigator for the matter, which is now a case, with a computer-generated case name and number—I saw to that—but it’s not a case about security, it’s a case about abuse of CIA powers and outside interference, which gives me a very nice bit of leverage. You following me, or you still raining on the carpet there?”
“I follow.” She grabbed a Kleenex.
“I talked to Al,” he said. “He’s got his own problems, which I can’t go into on an open phone. You just hang on there, and he’ll call when he can get a phone on the Jeff. Your turn: what’s happening? Peretz says you’re seeing a lawyer.”
She told him about Emma Pasternak and the calls to the CIA. “I think she’ll be okay, Mike, but she’s real strange. Maybe—you know, maybe a lesbian, shit, I don’t know—”
“That gross you out?”
“Oh, God, no, what d’you think? No, she just isn’t—sympathetic.”
Dukas grunted. He took a moment, then said, “I gotta make this meeting she set up at the CIA.”
“You’re not invited.”
“What’s the CIA Internals guy like?”
“He sounded nice. Nicer than her. I felt sorry for him.”
“Yeah, well, don’t feel too sorry. This is the asshole gave you the shaft. Okay, so I gotta check around, get a line on him. Then I need to talk to your lawyer and tell her I’m tagging along.”
“She won’t like it.”
“Jeez, I’m terrified. Give me her number.”
She read off the number from her book. “Do I go to this meeting, Mike?”
“God, no. You wait for Al to call, get a lot of sleep, call home, talk to your kids, then go to a movie. We’ll call you when it’s over.”
“Me and the Bride of Frankenstein. She’ll be eating out of my hand.”
Rose was going out to eat, but she couldn’t miss Alan’s call, and she lay down just for a minute, and then she was waking to hear the telephone and find her hand already on the instrument. Groping it to her, she mumbled something and heard her husband’s voice saying her name and then, “How are you? How are you?”
She felt a rush of joy.
Tony Moscowic was wearing a sport coat and a white shirt and an actual goddam tie, because he wanted to look legitimate, and he didn’t want anybody at the hospice to remember him from the last time, when he wore an orange jumpsuit. The last time, he had planted the bug that had allowed Suter to listen in on George Shreed’s confession to his wife; this time, he was going to remove it. He had his legit clothes and a visitor’s badge, and he went right to the room that had been Mrs Shreed’s and jingled his picks in his pocket, ready to pop the lock in four seconds, max, and was surprised and maybe disappointed that the door was unlocked.
Bad omen, he thought. Too easy is a bad omen. He closed the door behind him, turned on the light, and he was heading for the wall switch by the bed when a male voice said, “Who the hell are you?”
The fucking bug was behind the wall plate. He could have had the plate off and the bug in his pocket in one minute. Less. Now here was some guy, asking him who the hell he was. Good question, Homer!
“Who are you, if I might ask, sir? You’re in my aunt’s room!” That was his story—sort of. The story, if he got caught with the wall plate actually off and in plain sight, was he was checking out the structural integrity of the building before he moved his aunt there. Weak, but it would work for a practical nurse. Above that level, he got more inventive.
“You have the wrong room,” the guy said. He was sitting in an armchair where he’d fallen asleep, Tony guessed. No energy. He was thin, blond, wearing a cashmere sweater that was almost purple, and Tony thought he was a fag, meaning he was here to die of AIDS. Swell.
“Jeez, I guess I do. Seventeen?”
“Nineteen,” the guy said. He sounded okay, no longer surprised, maybe kind of amused. He was smiling at Tony. “I just moved in.” He smiled some more. “I won’t be moving out.”
Tony could see now that there were changes in the room. It even smelled different. He was losing his touch; jeez, he could have really put his foot in it here. “You have my greatest sympathy,” he said, moving toward the door.
“Yeah. Mine, too.” The guy smiled. “See you.”
That blew getting the bug. Now he’d have to wait until the guy actually checked out or at least went comatose, and holy shit, the room would probably be filled with grieving fairies holding candlelight vigils and he’d never get that fucking wall plate off. It was really, really unfair. What were they running here, a revolving door, the lady dies one night, the next they’ve got a new guy dying in her room? Fucking Heartbreak Hotel, for Christ’s sake.
He shucked off the sport coat as soon as he was outside the hospice and walked up the street, loosening the tie and tossing the coat over his shoulder. Suter’s car was waiting at the end of the block, and Tony took a moment to get his story straight and then walked right to it and got in.
“Did you get it?”
“Piece a cake. Drive.”
“Let me see it.”
“You nuts or something? It’s gone. Wipe it down, smash it good with your foot, throw it in the nearest dumpster. That’s my routine. Bugs are like guns—use them once, get rid of them. Drive.” So, he’d hung a story on Suter, so what? The important thing was he’d wiped the bug down when he put it in; nobody would ever find it; and if they did, couple years, ten years from now, so what? “You know that doggie is still sick?” he said. “I think it was the pizza. I didn’t feel too good next day, either. My neighbor’s pissed.” Suter said nothing, and Moscowic said, “Some story your boss told! Huh? Huh?” He tapped one palm on his knee. “Treason, you know—Jeez, that’s worse than child-molesting.”
“We have to get into Shreed’s house.” Moscowic missed the emotions that flashed across Suter’s face—fear, then hatred.
“You nuts? What for?”
“Computers. There’s a memorial service for the wife on Thursday. You can do it then.”
“Djou hear what I just said? You’re nuts! You think I’m breaking into some CIA guy’s house, you’re nuts. And another thing, he’ll have a security system, which is no big deal if you don’t care who finds out after, but bypass it and try to make it look like it never happens, trust me, you’re nuts.”
“I want you to go into that house.”
“Not Thursday, I’m not. Why?”
“I need a hacker. You know any hackers?”
“Do I look like Bill Gates or something? No, I don’t know any hackers.” Tony stared out the window at a strip mall. “Vietnamese, they’re all Vietnamese,” he said, meaning the strip mall and not the hackers. “But I can find you one.” Meaning a hacker, not a Vietnamese.
“He’s got to be good.”
“Oh, that should make it easy. What I think, some kid’s been busted and isn’t allowed near a computer for two years or something, somebody like that. Itchy, you know? And not a stranger to fucking with the law, because that’s what he’s already done. Am I right?”
“Then we have to get him into Shreed’s house. Only once.”
“So what’s this Thursday shit? You think I’m going to find the magical mystical hacker by Thursday?”
“Time is of the essence.”
“Oh, yeah? well, caution is of the essence, my friend, so I’m not going in anyplace till I’ve scoped it out but good, plus finding your perfect hacker is going to take more than five minutes. Let me out at the Iwo Jima Memorial; I’m meeting somebody.”
Suter drove without saying anything for several minutes. Then, as they approached Arlington, he said, “You keep your mouth shut about this.”
“What’d I say to you the first time we met? You don’t fucking listen to me. Leave me off on the other side of the circle.”
“If you talk about this, you’re dead.”
Tony laughed. And laughed. He got out of the car, looked around, leaned back in and said, “Don’t try it,” still laughing. He watched Suter’s car roll away and, because he wasn’t really meeting anybody, he walked.
Suter, in the car, was trying to digest what Moscowic had said about treason. It wasn’t treason that was proving indigestible; it was the man’s talking about it. Moscowic, Suter saw, would have to be dealt with.
USS Thomas Jefferson.
By 1000 next morning, the detachment was showing signs of life. The relief Alan felt at having the admiral off his back had spread to his men: Senior Chief Frazer had located an entire pallett of missing stuff stored forward in the hangar bay; Reilley, Campbell, and Lang were in the back of the ready room, getting a lesson in the MARI simulator from Chief Navarro; and Stevens and Cohen were briefing for a check flight on 902’s hydraulics.
Alan had twenty minutes before his flight with Stevens. He headed toward the dirty-shirt wardroom, cut into line, grabbed a burger, and wolfed it down while hustling back, getting there just in time to see the television change from a movie to the closed-circuit brief. He watched the young female jg intel officer with professional interest; her brief was neither brilliant nor boring. Alan scribbled frequencies as fast as he could.
“No backseaters?” he asked, eyeing the empty chairs behind him.
“We’ve been changed to a tanker.” Stevens still sounded belligerent, but perhaps he always sounded that way. “In S-3s, mostly we pass gas.” Ordinary S-3s do, you mean, Alan thought. He wondered why Rafe had put his det aircraft in the tanker pool. The det wasn’t supposed to handle air-wing crap.
“Is 902 going up for a check flight this event?” Alan tried to make professional small talk.
“Yeah. If the hydraulics check, we can take her out tomorrow.”
“Need parts from the beach?”
“On the way?” This was the closest to civilized discourse Alan had got with Stevens.
“Roger. I sent a message to Aviano to put the parts and the missing Mister Soleck on the same COD.”
“So we’ll get a new aircrew and our spare parts? I’d rather have the parts.” Stevens didn’t look at him. “Sure you aren’t too important to ride along on a tanker, Commander?” And there was that damned tone again, a stubborn refusal to come around.
“How about you lighten up, Stevens? It’s going to be a long cruise, and you’re stuck with me. And, yeah, I’ve done one or two tanker flights before. Let’s walk.” He planned to spend the flight talking to Stevens about the det.
He had planned a reorganization, starting with putting Campbell in Maintenance in place of Cohen, because he had an engineering degree and seemed to have his minor responsibilities organized. Cohen got the liaison slot, a dangerous move—Alan had already seen how prickly Cohen could be. In the long run, the success of the project depended on their ability to exchange information with the F-18 squadrons. Cohen was an LSO with a full qualification in F-18s; he had been to school with some of the nugget F-18 pilots. He hoped Stevens bought it. There was more to come, when he had a chance to breathe.
Alan picked up his father’s helmet and his thermos and headed for the flight deck, a different man from the one he had been yesterday.
Emma Pasternak railed at Mike Dukas over the telephone and said No goddamit he wasn’t horning in on her meeting, but he was already on Menzes’s agenda because he was investigating the Agency’s interference in Navy procedures, and Menzes must have known it was better to have him. So Dukas got to go to the meeting at the CIA, which actually happened late in the afternoon and not at ten a.m. By the time he shook Menzes’s hand and looked him in the eye, he was prepared for exactly what he got: an ethical hardnose. Well, it took one to recognize one. Menzes was thin, dark, fortyish, one of those people who worked out a lot; he must have been thought a hunk when he was younger, Dukas thought. Now, he looked tired.
Emma Pasternak was late. She was doing the Agency one better than it did other people: typically, it was the Agency who kept the rest waiting. Dukas jumped at the opportunity her lateness offered. “Let’s deal,” he said. Menzes looked surprised but led Dukas out of the conference room and down the corridor to the big third-floor lobby, where the gold-and-black memorial to the late William Casey dominated one wall. Some people called it The Shrine; cynics called it the SOB—Shrine of Bill. Menzes led him across the echoing marble floor to a spot below Casey’s left shoulder. Dukas looked at him, then at Casey (real gold), and then he rested his back against the wall and folded his arms. “Let’s deal,” he said again.
Menzes looked skeptical. “With what?”
“What have you guys got on Rose Siciliano?”
“I can’t tell you. What’s your interest, anyway?”
“Straight for straight, okay? She’s a friend. But she’s also Navy, and you guys have fucked the Navy. What’s up?”
“That wasn’t my doing.”
“Upstairs? Okay, I wouldn’t tell some outsider, either. The way I see it, the lawyer lady has you guys by the balls in the PR department, am I right? It’s the way her law firm works—lots of fireworks, lots of media. Unless you’ve got a great case, it’s better to give it up, am I right?”
“I’d buy that.”
“Have you got a great case?”
He waited until Menzes said, “We over-reacted. That’s off the record.”
“Understood. Okay, what I’m going to do is get together with your Inter-Agency people and work out what happened. That’s not your bailiwick, correct me if I’m wrong. Right? Sooner or later, though, you gotta share what you got with us. You see what I’m saying? Our position at NCIS is, will be, you should have come to us with it first.”
Menzes gave away nothing. Not a flicker. Dukas tried again. “Give me the outline. Give it to me in one sentence.”
“What do we get in return?”
Dukas shook his head. “It’s you guys did the wrong here. Am I right?”
Not a flicker.
“Give it to me in one sentence and get Siciliano’s orders changed back, and I’ll pull the lawyer lady off you.”
“Through the client. Never mind how. Come on, Menzes—one fucking sentence, you can’t compromise security in one sentence!”
Menzes chewed one side of his lower lip and leaned back against the wall, arms crossed. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a pastel tie, and his arms looked wiry and muscular and hairy. “We got an intercept. Siciliano was implicated. That’s two sentences.”
“Implicated in what?”
“That wasn’t the deal.”
“I’d like something to work on. You understand how the Navy works, how easy it is to destroy a career? This is one very, very dedicated officer, a real piledriver; she’s had two kids by planning them for her shore tours, flying a chopper on her sea tours—Let me tell you something. Africa. 1994. War in southern Sudan—you got the picture? She flies a chopper into a hot zone, puts down and lifts me and another guy out. Menzes, whatever else is involved, I owe this woman!”
The two men looked each other in the eye. Dukas knew how hard this was for the other man, who had to evaluate a stranger, measure his own trust, decide how much he had been used himself by the system and how much he owed to his own idea of right behavior and of decency.
“Something called Peacemaker,” Menzes said at last. “That’s my final word, and if you quote me, I’ll deny it.” He looked at Dukas’s face again. “That means something to you,” he said.
“It sure does.” Rose had worked on Project Peacemaker two years before. “Okay, we got a deal. Haven’t we—haven’t we got a deal? You’re gonna withdraw whatever you did and get the orders rescinded, send her back to astronaut training?”
“She’s on our books as a security risk. This is a very grave situation, Dukas.”
“I know that. But you know what the proper procedure is—you tell us and you tell Navy intel, and we do an evaluation and an investigation. It’s our call if we bring in the Bureau. Right?”
“Right, but if she’s a spy, now she knows we’re on to her and she’ll—”
“What the fuck, she didn’t know the moment she got the change of orders? What are you talking? It’s a goddam given of my profession, you’re investigating somebody, you don’t make waves until you’re ready to!”
Menzes shrugged. “That wasn’t my call.”
“Have we got a deal?”
“Only the change of orders, and what I told you. That’s it. We don’t budge on access or on anything else.”
“Deal.” They shook hands. Menzes had a real grip.
A woman’s heels sounded on the marble floor like gunshots, and both heads turned to watch her march diagonally across. She was pale, scowling, swinging an attaché case like a weapon she was just waiting to use.
“That’s Pasternak,” Menzes said.
“What do we do about her?”
“The twelve-hour rule.”
“We let her scream for an hour, then we say we’ll consider it, and twelve hours later I agree to what you and I have already agreed to. Only we don’t tell her that.” He made a face. “The hard part will be listening to her.”
They crossed the lobby and went into the conference room, which looked like a party that wasn’t working out: all the Agency people were down at one end, and Emma Pasternak was sitting alone at a long table. Dukas went right to her, stuck out his hand, and said, “I’m Mike Dukas.”
She ignored the hand and started shouting. She went on shouting for most of an hour—Menzes’s timing was pretty good—and she used every trash-mouth word in the book to batter Menzes, CIA Security, lack of access, injustice, bureaucratic stupidity, and perhaps even (Dukas had stopped listening) rabies. Then Menzes begged her to give them twelve hours.
And, eventually, Emma Pasternak accepted.
Because she knew this is the way it would be! Dukas thought. Holy shit, she knows about the twelve-hour rule, too!
“That’s—six-thirty tomorrow morning,” she was snarling. “You can leave a message on my voice mail. Full access, and my client gets her orders changed back to Houston. Yes?”
Menzes lifted his shoulders. “I’ll meet with my people and get back to you in twelve hours.”
“You’re goddam right you will.”
She stood and began to fling stuff into her attaché case. The Agency people withdrew from her as if she had a disease, leaving Dukas alone with her. “Nice job,” he said. She shot him a look, went back to stuffing papers. Dukas leaned in, thinking paradoxically that there was something sexually interesting about her despite her noisiness. Maybe because of the noisiness. All that energy.
“Menzes has gone out on a limb for you. Trust me.”
“Trust you! I don’t even know you! You come barging in here, my meeting—”
“Ms Pasternak, look—” Dukas found himself looking down her tailored dress, thinking that there were quite nice breasts down there; Jesus H. Christ, what was going on? And then saying, “This really is an important security matter. Menzes is a standup guy who’s trying to do his job and defend his agency and be fair.”
She was breathing hard and her pale face was flushed. He suspected that she wanted to hit him. Lawyers’ egos were very big. “You’ve won,” he whispered.
Well, there was an idea. But she annoyed him, too, because she really didn’t understand how hard it was for a man like Menzes to have come even this far. “And you get real,” he growled. “If he calls your bluff, you’ve got nothing but some bullshit in the Washington Post, and Rose will get creamed!”
Then he thought she was going to lose it, but she surprised him by looking at her watch and then at the CIA people at the far end of the room, who were looking at their watches because it was past the end of their workday, and she said, “I haven’t got time to dick around with a Navy cop.”
Then there was a lot of talking all at once, and several handshakes, and the Agency people scurried away, and only Dukas and Emma Pasternak were left. She was still trying to jam papers and a binder of vetted documents that Menzes had given her into her attaché. Dukas lingered by the door. Now that it was over, the optimism he had felt after meeting with Menzes left him; never an easy man with other people, he felt awkward. “Nice to have met you, Ms Pasternak,” he said.
“Nice to have met you,” she said. She didn’t mean that it had been nice to meet him, at all. She meant Get out of here. Then she swore because she couldn’t get the document binder into the attaché.
“Uh—yeah.” He took the binder from her, took the pages out of the cover, and handed the pages back. “You ever, uh, eat Italian food?”
“What the hell does that mean? Of course I’ve eaten Italian food.”
“I’m a, uh, pretty good Italian cook. I’m Greek, but I cook Italian a lot.”
She found that the unbound pages would now fit. They looked at each other. “What kind of Italian?”
“Gnocchi.” To his ears, it sounded like nooky, and he reddened. “Made with butternut squash. A very delicate flavor.” He cleared his throat. With Menzes, he had been on a roll, in charge, and now he was a stumbling jerk. The story of his life. “I, uh, thought you might, uh—like some.”
She stared at him. “You’re asking me to dinner?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess—if you put it like that—and we could call Lieutenant-Commander Siciliano and give her the news—”
“At your place?”
“Uh, no, belongs to a friend of mine—out of town—”
“It’s the same thing! Let me get this straight—are you asking me to dinner, when we’ve just met and haven’t exactly blended, and at your place?”
“Okay, okay, bad idea—I just thought—” He shrugged.
“You sort of—interest me.” He tried to smile, and the effort made him feel like a dog who’s trying to make up for eating somebody’s sandwich. He grabbed the door and held it for her. “Sorry. I didn’t mean anything.”
“Everything means something, Mister Dukas.” She swept past him into the corridor. “Well, okay.”
“Okay, I’ll come to dinner. I’d like to see somebody make gnocchi, because when I tried all I got was dough all over the fork.”
“You pushed too hard. On the fork.” He didn’t say, Probably you always push too hard. “You’re really gonna come to my place for dinner?”
“Why not? We can call Siciliano. But please don’t try to make any moves, okay? The best I ever hope for from other people is that we don’t sue each other.”
She turned away. He saw her buttocks move in the tailored skirt. Life is full of surprises.
E-mail, Rose to Alan.
Subject: ITS OVER!
I cant believe it but it’s over/mike called me just now, just hung up and it’s over!!!! they cut a deal with the agency and i’m to go back to astro soonest, waiting to cut orders, i want to go right back and see the kids and head for houston but mike says no, stay until orders/hes so cautious! i still have to fight whatever allegation was made but this will be a couple of years he thinks sorting it out but i’ll be in orbit by then and fuck em/ i love you, thinking of you kept me sane, a hell of an ordeal but i felt better thinking of you and the kids but helpless, helpless, my god how do people stand it being caught up in suspicion and all that? Kisses, love, moans/ Rose
Alan sat back and smiled, his whole face transformed. Safe. Rose was safe. Yeah, they’d have to listen to snide remarks for a while. Some semi-friends might drop off. Alan knew that a deal at the Agency wouldn’t help him here on the ship, but if it put Rose back on the space shuttle, they were a long way toward home. He laughed aloud, startling a chaplain’s clerk near him, leaped up, and headed toward his ready room with a new feeling of purpose.
Everything looked better to him. Even the tanker flight with Stevens, which had been a torment of bad performance by the MARI system—dropped links, bad plane-to-plane communication—and stubborn hostility from Stevens, faded.
In the ready room, he munched a second doughnut and drank his coffee while he fanned through the detachment’s bulging message board. There was a NATO Air Tasking Order for Bosnia that didn’t include them; that had to be addressed. There were messages for the technical representatives; he skimmed them. Intelligence messages about the frequencies of Serbian radars; Alan made a note that all flight personnel were required to read and initial. A message on decline in manpower retention that he was required to read and initial. He did so, finishing the doughnut in two bites and dusting the powdered sugar off the front of his flight suit.
Some change in the noise level at the back of the ready room alerted him, and he turned in his seat to see Senior Chief Craw coming up the center aisle with a figure in pressed shipboard khakis, a sea bag over his shoulder and his hands full of luggage. Craw had an anticipatory smile on his face.
“Look what I found on the flight deck, skipper.” He pushed the slim figure in khakis forward. A Tomcat went to full power overhead.
“How do you guys hear yourselves think?” asked the figure with what appeared to be genuine concern. A face came into focus—incredibly young, rather pink, eyes as blue and innocent as a newborn’s. Alan got to his feet.
“Is this by any chance the missing Mister Soleck?”
Alan looked past the new man to Craw. Craw merely shook his head a little, as if to disclaim any responsibility.
A hand appeared out of the pile of luggage.
“Sorry, sir. I’m LTjg Evan Soleck, reporting aboard.” He was a little bowed by his load, giving him a slightly gnome-like appearance below the wonderfully fresh face.
“Glad to see you brought a tennis racket, Mister Soleck.”
“Oh, that’s not a tennis racket, sir. That’s a squash racket.” Now Craw was laughing openly. Behind him in the back, a small crowd had gathered. Alan smiled inwardly and reminded himself that this young man had been first in his class at Pensacola.
“Did you get in any squash in the last few days?”
“Yes, sir! They had a court at the hotel. It was great! And they had really fast Internet connections, too. Europe isn’t as primitive as people say.” Soleck looked perfectly capable of babbling on (had he really just said that Europe wasn’t primitive?) but Alan cut him off with a gesture.
“Mister Soleck, you’re two days late meeting the boat.” They had traced him from Norfolk to Aviano, and found that he was waiting there in a first-class hotel for further orders because he hadn’t had the common sense to grab a COD to the boat.
“Care to enlighten me?”
“I missed my assigned flight, sir.” Soleck stood a little straighter and looked Alan in the eye. “No excuse.”
“And then I made a couple of mistakes flailing around. Then I got another message and got on the COD.”
He kept the eye contact. The wide-eyed wetness seemed to drop from him for a moment. He was just Alan’s height, thinner but with obvious neck muscle and he continued to hold his luggage without apparent effort. His demeanor seemed to say, I screwed up but I’m here. Let’s get on with the job. And Alan was thinking, Was I ever this young? Am I really this old?
“What were you doing on the Internet, Mister Soleck?”
“Working on a wargame.”
“You played a wargame all day?”
“No, sir. Writing one. And only after I had tried to reach the boat and failed.”
Alan sighed, careful not to meet Craw’s eye. “Okay, Mister Soleck. Get rid of all that stuff, stow your squash racket, and report in flight gear. You’re on the schedule in two hours.”
Alan shut his eyes. “Soleck, was ‘cool’ on the list of acceptable responses at Pensacola?”
“Wow, yeah. Sorry. Aye, aye, sir.”
Alan eyed the pile of luggage. “You seem to anticipate a long cruise, Mister Soleck.”
“Oh, well, sir, a lot of it’s books. Books. Use the time, you know—spare time—” He looked to Alan for help.
Alan pointed at the row of det pubs. Five of them covered the MARI system that was their primary reason for being. “Our library, Mister Soleck. Please have mastered the five MARI pubs by tomorrow.”
Soleck looked at the shelf of standalones. “Cool!” he cried. “Sir.”
Alan handed him the message board. “That’s after you read and initial these. Carry on, Mister Soleck.”
Thursday morning, George Shreed made breakfast at the butcher-block island in their big kitchen, her great love, and he ate his breakfast standing there. He didn’t have to move a lot that way, the coffee-maker to hand in front of him, fruit in the basket where she had always kept it to his left, breads in a drawer where his pelvis pressed against the wood. The bread was stale; how long since he’d replaced it? Could she have bought it? No; she’d been gone for a month before she died, now dead two days. He felt as if hands pushed down on his shoulders, the weight of her absence.
The cleaning woman would come in today. He wrote her a note. “Buy bread. Get good stuff, no white paste—you know.” He looked around the kitchen. What else did he need? He wrote, rice. He could live on rice. Chicken breasts. She had been a superb cook. He was not. Frozen dinners, a dozen or so. He put some money on the note, wrote the check for her, as Janey must have done, once a week, years and years. Had he ever seen the cleaning woman? Must have. An image of a too-thin white woman swam into his consciousness, swam away. Something about ADD or OCD or one of those goddam disorders everybody had now.
The telephone rang. He hobbled to the extension on the kitchen wall, expecting it to be the cleaning woman saying she couldn’t come that day—also part of her image, a certain unreliability that had plagued Janey,
something about her kids and her disorders.
“George, Stan.” Rat-a-tat machine-gun of a voice, instantly recognizable—a friend (of sorts) in Internal Investigations. “George, they’re calling off the Siciliano investigation. Just thought you’d like to know.”
Fear surged, and he could feel himself flush. He controlled his voice, however, and said, “How come?”
“She made a lot of noise, got a lawyer. More trouble than it’s worth, was the call.”
“Bad call. Okay, thanks.”
He thought about it as he flossed his teeth. He saw an angry man in his mirror, composed his face better, shrugged into his suit-jacket while watching himself and decided that he looked okay. Grieving, enraged, worried, but okay. The suit was for the memorial service, which he would endure because that was what you did, because memorial services were for the survivors, who needed to believe that when they died somebody would also remember and sing hymns and give eulogies. For his own part, no memorial was needed, and memory itself was enough, but grief was now turning one of its corners toward anger and the change was dangerous. He knew his own anger and knew to fear it.
Bad times a-comin’, he thought.
His people had missed the woman in Venice and Trieste. He thought he’d neutralized her by tossing Siciliano to Internals. Now the Siciliano thing was falling apart. Bad, bad.
Shreed was no fool about his situation. Talk of a mole had rumbled around the Agency for years; anybody who put scraps of evidence and suppositions together would have had a look at him, if only because he had a finger in a lot of pies and he had been there a long time. But they wouldn’t do anything, not actually do anything (polygraphs, bugs, taps, interviews), not until somebody like this woman who wanted money gave them cause. Having the Siciliano woman to entertain themselves with would have kept them occupied for a couple of years—all the time he needed—and now they were washing that out and he couldn’t afford it.
The Siciliano woman would have to stay a suspect.
It was still too early to go to the office, and he vented his anger by stumping through the house on his canes, trying to erase the signs of Janey. He didn’t need mementos—how could he ever forget her?—and the house itself, its smell, its decor, was all hers, anyway. But things of hers that were now useless, from her toothbrush in the bathroom to a pair of old slippers near the back door, had to go.
He stormed through the house. He jammed things into plastic trash bags. He threw things.
When he got to the bedroom where she had hoped to die but where death had come too slowly, he almost refused to open the door. This one can stay a few days, he thought, and then, hating his own cowardice, he flung the door open so that it banged back against the wall, and he leaned in the doorway, glowering on his canes, taking in the futility of all fights against death. Magazines she had tried to read, a television he had bought for her, an IV rack, a godawful bedpan thing. He began to throw things into the corridor.
It was when he got to the drawer in the bedside table that he found the things that caused him to decide that it was time for him to wind it all up.
A lot of junk lay in there, lipsticks and pencils and sickroom crap, but there were thirteen ampoules of morphine and two syringes, and they were what did it. He put out his hand to gather them up and throw them away, and he was aware of his hand there, hovering over the drawer, not gathering them up, as if the hand knew better than he did. And he looked at the morphine. It was as if a voice whispered to him: Morphine. You could walk like anybody else with morphine. It wasn’t the vanity of wanting to seem normal that affected him, however; no, it was the idea of looking normal.
As if the voice had whispered, If you could walk like other people, your most identifiable characteristic would be gone, and you’d be invisible. Which was a way of saying, You could vanish.
Then his hand moved and gathered the ampoules and the syringes and, more carefully than he had handled anything else, put them into a plastic sack that he carried downstairs and put into the freezer. By the time he was down there, he saw the implications, was already planning it, gauging the risks, the gains: without his canes, with an injection of morphine and a false passport, he could be out of the country before the wolves got the scent. He’d have to do something else to throw them off—fake a suicide, an accident, or—? He’d work that out.
But he’d have to set up the Chinese disaster first. Set it up and get it running and then vanish. Leaving nothing behind except this house. No lost love, no regrets. She was dead; why wait?
But an escape plan took time, and to gain him time, the Siciliano woman would have to remain a suspect.
Shreed leaned back against the refrigerator and began to think it all out. He looked down at his hands and saw that they were trembling, and for the first time he realized, to his astonishment, that he was scared.
At Langley, Sally Baranowski was waiting, like everybody else, for Shreed. They didn’t think of it just like that, for they all had other concerns, but the memorial service sat in the middle of the day like a pillar in a highway, it and Shreed unavoidable. Plus they were all waiting to see how he would take it.
For Sally Baranowski, waiting to see how Shreed would take something was an old routine. She had once been his assistant (that year’s Ray Suter, as she now said to friends, although Suter had lasted several years longer than she), then had briefly followed Shreed in his old job when he had been promoted. That she had failed in that job was partly his doing, she believed—retribution for having once (once) been disloyal to him. He had taken retribution in the best of all possible managerial ways: he had given her so much rope that she had hanged herself. Now she was in a liaison job that wasn’t going to go anywhere except toward an honorable retirement thirteen years down the pike.
Still, when she saw Shreed she was shocked. She saw him seldom now, usually thought he was his old, bitter, amusing self, but this morning he looked merely grim. Is it grief? she wondered. Hard to imagine Shreed feeling grief, although they said he had adored his wife. No, it was more than grief, something hard and ugly, she thought. Look out, people. She was representing her new boss on a committee where everybody else knew each other, and, as the new kid on the block, she found it best simply to listen and watch. And the one she watched was Shreed.
The memorial service was at eleven. She had debated not going but had decided that her own bitterness was better hidden, so she would go and be solemn. Now, the committee chair, Clyde Partlow, kept looking at his watch to make sure he wound things up in time to get there, too. They all had copies of the agenda, which he forced with the brutality of a cowhand pushing cattle through a chute. Shreed said almost nothing.
Then they got to “Security in the 21st Century,” and Shreed went through the ceiling. His face flushed a dark, ugly red, and his eyes got bigger and his lips pulled back to show his teeth.
“How dare we discuss security when our own Internal Investigations can’t stand the heat being turned up by one goddam accused spy!” he shouted. The meeting had been very low-key, and his voice made people jump.
It wasn’t like Shreed to shout. What the hell, she thought. Had grief deranged him?
“Afraid I don’t follow you, George,” Partlow said, checking his watch and making sure that the proper note of respect for the bereaved rang in his voice.
“Peacemaker! Two years ago! It tanked because somebody tipped the French and the Libyans, and now our goddam Internal Investigations doesn’t give enough of a shit to pursue it!”
Other people thought this was odd behavior, too. She could hear it in the silence, in the changed breathing.
“Uh, well, George, that’s certainly a serious matter. Maybe you ought to share your concerns with—”
“I’m sharing my goddam concerns with you, Clyde! You’ve got Security in the 21st Century on your agenda, or is that just a Partlow nod to trendiness? Goddamit, Peacemaker was my project and you know it, and I’ve never had the support I’m entitled to!”
He’s trading on his wife’s death, she thought, and then, For Christ’s sake, give him the benefit of the doubt; the man’s so upset he’s lost it. But if he wanted to behave badly and be forgiven, he had the perfect opportunity, she thought. Partlow was more or less Shreed’s superior, but, like everybody, he was afraid of Shreed, plus Partlow was a placator and a fence-mender. She knew Shreed’s tactics, and, damn it, what he was doing was using his bereavement to force Partlow to action.
Plus, she thought, Shreed really was angry. Enraged, in fact.
“What would you have us do?” Partlow said. He glanced around at the other members of the committee, who were trying to escape by not looking at him.
“I’d have us goddam well tell Internal Investigations they can’t dump a spy charge just because some smartass inside-the-Beltway lawyer holds a flame to their assholes! Look!” He began to tap the table with a long finger. “You approved Peacemaker! This committee approved Peacemaker! It failed! Why? Because word leaked out and the international community of peace-loving, no-balls, third-world nations bitched to the White House! Now we’re on the track of finding out who and why, and Internal says to their suspect, ‘Oh, we didn’t really mean it, sorry, we’ll just back off and you can go betray some other project!’ Eh? Well?”
Partlow checked his watch. “If you have a recommendation, George—”
“Yeah, I recommend we shove a poker up our ass so we have some backbone.”
“All right, I recommend we vigorously protest to Internal their canceling of this investigation, and we go on record with the Director that they continue or show cause why not, which won’t sit well because they’re already in the Director’s shit book because of past failures. Okay?”
“Is that a motion, George?”
A tall man from Ops seconded it with a louder voice than seemed called for. Sally wanted to say that she didn’t understand the motion because she didn’t know what or whom Internal was investigating, but either everybody else knew or they were so snowed by Shreed’s grief that they didn’t dare ask. The motion passed on a voice vote.
What the hell is he up to? she asked herself.
When the meeting was adjourned, she lingered. Shreed had gone right to Partlow and was hammering at him about the thing. Even though he’d won, he wanted more. “Now, Clyde, do it now! I don’t give a good goddam if you’re late for Janey’s memorial service, what d’you think I do, take attendance at the door? You want to show some sympathy, get on the line to the head of Internal, he’s a buddy of yours, tell him we’re not taking No for an answer, either he reinstates the Siciliano investigation or he’s dead. Dead, d-e-a-d, as in one too many failures! Do it!”
Siciliano, she thought. That’s the name of Alan Craik’s wife. What the hell? Sally had been there when the rift between Shreed and Craik had opened, something about an event in Africa years ago. Was Shreed still angry, was that what all this was about? Was he trying some petty revenge on Alan Craik through the man’s wife?
“Goddamit, just do it!” she heard Shreed shout.
The man’s ballistic. But why?
NCIS HQ, Washington.
Mike Dukas was sitting at a borrowed desk in an office already being used by somebody else. The desk wasn’t really a desk, only an old typing table from the days of IBM Selectrics, and the chair was a mismatched typing chair that already hurt his back.
“You Dukas?” a voice said. He looked across the room. A black male agent was holding up a telephone.
“Phone call.” He held out the telephone. “Make it quick, will you? I live on that thing.”
Dukas took the call standing by the guy’s desk. “Dukas.”
“Dukas, it’s Menzes. CIA Internal Investigations.”
“Yeah, yeah, I remember.”
“The deal’s off.”
“We had a go, then we had no-go. From the top: no deal, definitely pursue, by the book. Your lawyer lady wants to go public, that’s her prerogative; it won’t change a thing.”
Dukas was thinking hard. He couldn’t see what had changed the dynamics, but he was a realist; if Menzes said the deal was dead, it was dead. “You kicking it to us?” he said.
“Exactly. ‘By the book,’ that’s what I was told, and the book says it’s the Navy’s to pursue.”
“We oughta talk.”
“Nothing’ll change, man. This isn’t my doing. But, yeah, there may be things to talk about. This case—”
“I don’t want to talk on an open phone.”
“Jesus, Menzes, this is gonna hit the woman hard.”
“It hit me hard; I don’t like to be second-guessed.” Menzes was angry. He was a standup guy, a hardnose, and somebody above him had jerked his chain.
“We’re talking everything here? No change of orders? She goes to Big Turd, West Virginia? No Houston?”
“Back to square one. Only it’s NCIS’s baby now.”
“Yeah, but we wouldn’t—” Dukas gave up; there was no point in going over it again. But he wanted to talk to Menzes, so he arranged to meet him next day at someplace called the Old Commonwealth Tavern, aka “the Agency Annex.” When Dukas hung up, the black agent said, “Oh, thank you,” in a prissy voice. “I thought I was going to have to charge rent.”
Dukas wasn’t sure he could tell Rose. He walked along the corridor, looking into offices until he found an empty one, and he went in and used the phone there. First he called Peretz and told him the bad news, and Peretz said they had to have a council of war, the sooner the better. Dukas said he’d think about it, and he called Emma Pasternak, but she was out somewhere.
Then he called Rose.
She was happy. It was in her voice, that husky female sound that made his knees shaky. Before he could say anything, she burbled, “Guess who’s in town! He’s taking me to dinner!”
“No, asshole, Al’s on the boat! Harry!”
Harry. O’Neill. Another of the friends who circled the wagons for her when she was in trouble. Of course. Could he get O’Neill to tell her? No, of course not. “Hey, Rose—”
“Harry wants to see you, Mike. I told him my problem is over, that’s why he’s in DC, was to help me, but he wants to see all you guys, anyway.”
“It isn’t over.”
“I know, there’s the investigation part, but—”
“The deal’s off, babe. The Agency backed out.” He heard her breathing as she put it together. “We’re back where we were on Monday,” he said. “I’m sorry as hell.”
“You mean—everything?” Everything meant only one thing—the astronaut program.
“Everything,” he said. “I tried to call your lawyer, she’s out. I talked to Abe—”
“GODDAMIT TO HELL!” she shouted. “They fucking can’t!”
“Abe thinks we should have a skull session. It’s not a bad idea, especially with Harry here; he understands this stuff. What d’you say?”
“Oh, Mike. Oh, shit!”
“Yeah. But we can’t just sit still for it, babe. We gotta move.”
“Whatever.” The happiness had gone out of her voice.
“I’ll get Emma,” he said. I shouldn’t have said “Emma,” he thought. He hoped Rose wouldn’t notice.
Dukas went back to his borrowed typing table. Last night, he had thought he might really wind this up and be back in The Hague in a few days. Now, he knew, he was in for the long haul.
E-mail, Rose to Alan.
it isn’t over after all. Mike just told me. deal fell through. Oh shit, i love you so much and i miss you so much and i want to kill somebody for this. I keep saying why me why me but it doesn’t do any good. I’m so sorry i’ve dragged you down with me but dont despair we’ll come through we always have. I love you and that’s a lot. But goddamit i keep saying to myself who is doing this to us who who who?
Harry O’Neill was putting beer bottles into plastic tubs of ice. He was a big, handsome black man who came from money and behaved with the confidence of a Harvard education and a family of big-time lawyers. He had been a CIA case officer, now had his own security company, and he had flown in from Dubai to help her.
“We’re going to get you out of this,” he said, as if he had all the confidence in the world. He held out a bottle. “Have a beer.” They were in Rose’s motel room, waiting to have the skull session with Dukas and Peretz and Emma Pasternak.
She shook her head.
“Come on, Rose! It isn’t the end of the world!”
She started to snap at him but caught herself. Harry really knew about the end of the world: he had lost an eye to torture two years before in Africa. She gave him an apologetic grin, accepted a sweaty bottle.
He winked at her, as if to say: See? You can fall in the shit and come up holding a diamond. He was wearing a linen blazer and an electric-blue T-shirt that Rose suspected was real silk, and he was handsome and breezy and rich-looking.
“Sorry,” she said. Her smile was half-hearted.
Then Abe Peretz arrived, and Dukas and Emma Pasternak came in right behind him. After a lot of shouted introductions and greetings, people shoved chairs around and grabbed beer and sat down, all but Dukas, who took up the space between the beds and announced loudly, “I’m taking charge of this meeting.” Emma started to protest but he waved her down. “I’m the NCIS investigator and it’s a Navy case, so I’m in charge.” He pointed a finger, the thumb cocked like a hammer, at Emma. “You’re here by my permission.”
“She’s my client, and she remains my client wherever we are! She says nothing unless I okay it. She—”
Dukas put his hands on the arms of her chair and leaned his face down very close to hers and said in a tone like a dog’s growl, “Shut up or get out.”
Before either of them could do something terrible, Rose grabbed Emma’s arm and said, “Emma, please! Mike’s my friend!”
Emma glanced at her, then locked eyes with Dukas again. Something passed between them. At last, she mumbled, “But no taping. Nothing she says can be used in court. Okay?”
Dukas grinned, patted her arm. He straightened. “So here’s what I want to do tonight. I want to chew on it and come up with a way to attack. I mean, we’re all clear that Rose is being smeared and her husband’s getting screwed by association, are we all agreed on that? Okay, so what we want to find is how and why. Rose, I want everything you have on Peacemaker, because this whole thing seems to start there. The word is you gave Peacemaker secrets to—well, we don’t know who to. You got reports, printouts—disks—?”
Emma started to say, “What’s Peacemaker?” but Rose jumped in ahead of her. “Mike, Peacemaker was more than two years ago! I haven’t got anything!”
“Sure, you have. People always keep stuff. It’s in a box in a closet or the cellar—bullshit awards they gave you, photos from the Christmas party—”
“Oh, that sort of shit.”
“Yeah, and I want it. All.”
Angered again by her own lack of control, Rose growled, “It’s all on its way to Houston, remember? I don’t have a cellar or a closet!”
Harry O’Neill uncrossed his long legs and said, “Computer.” He looked at Dukas. “What d’you think?”
“I never used my home computer for Peacemaker,” Rose cried. “Everything was classified.”
Dukas bored in. “You never brought anything home and worked it on your computer? Tell me another, Alphonse!”
Emma half-rose from her chair. “I object—!”
“You stay out of it!”
“This is typical cop bullshit; you’re tricking her into making statements to incriminate her.”
Dukas stared at her. He stuck his lower jaw out, his tongue running over his upper teeth. “Do you want me to take her into an interrogation room with a tape recorder and a witness? Would that be better? Goddamit, we’re here to help her!”
Again, Rose put her hand on Emma’s arm. “I’ll answer, Emma.”
“I don’t want you to!”
“Well, deal with it.” Rose looked up at Mike. “What was the question? Did I put Peacemaker stuff on my home computer? No, I didn’t. I’m a good little naval officer, Mike; I follow the rules.”
“Rosie, we got a former Director of National Intelligence who put stuff on his home computer. Everybody does it! I want your computer.”
“It’s on the way to Houston! And it’s clean. Clean.”
“Okay.” He talked it as he wrote. “Find—truck—en route—Houston—”
The telephone rang.
“Oh, shit—” She sprang up, reaching for it, knocking over her beer. “Goddamit—!” O’Neill and Peretz were both there, mopping at the carpet, and she stepped over them. “Hello!” She sounded enraged, and she hoped, therefore, that it wasn’t Alan.
And it wasn’t. It was a woman.
“You don’t know me,” the female voice said. Rose’s first thought was that it was some sort of telemarketer, an idea that was gone as fast as it came; telemarketers didn’t do motel rooms. Did they?
“Who is this?”
“I want to help you.”
The voice was soft, as if she didn’t want somebody on her end to overhear. A little tense. Guarded. Around Rose, the room had fallen silent, and the men were watching her.
“Who is this, please?”
“George Shreed is behind what’s being done to you.”
Rose heard the click as the woman hung up. Even so, she spoke into the phone again. And got nothing.
When she turned back to the room, they were all looking at her.
“A woman I don’t know said that George Shreed is behind what’s happening.”
Abe Peretz exploded. “Sonofabitch—!”
Emma was saying, “Who’s George Shreed?” to Dukas, and O’Neill was frowning at Rose in a way that meant he knew exactly who Shreed was, and what was the connection? Suddenly the room was electric where before it had been sullen.
Rose sat down. “I don’t get it. Why would somebody—?”
“Agency,” Harry said. “She’d have to be Agency to know anything about Shreed. Or she’s an old girlfriend with a grudge. Which isn’t his style.”
“Yes, yes, but—” Peretz was so excited that he was waving one hand like a kid trying to be called on in class. “It’s exactly what I was going to say! Shreed was deep, deep in Peacemaker.”
“Wait!” Emma was on her feet. She had a real bellow when she needed it. “What the hell are you all talking about?”
So, while O’Neill and Peretz murmured together, Rose and Dukas sketched it in for Emma Pasternak: Peretz, who had started a routine, two-week Naval Reserve stint at Peacemaker two years before, had got suspicious of the sort of data he was seeing and had begun nosing around, tracking things back to Shreed and the Agency, a search that had been ended by the mugging that had cost him the hearing in one ear.
“Shreed got him beaten up?” Emma said.
“Oh, no,” Rose cried, “I never believed—” Then she looked at Dukas.
“They never followed up that idea,” he said. He made a note.
“Well, I would have!” Emma shouted.
“Yeah, you would have.” Dukas whacked O’Neill on the knee. “Harry, you think Telephone Girl’s Agency?”
“You got any way to find her?”
“Put a tap on Rose’s phone.”
Emma was screaming, “No way!” Dukas turned back to O’Neill. “Poke around, will you?”
“I have to be in Nairobi on Saturday, Mike.” He turned to Rose and started mumbling something about tape-recording telephone calls.
Dukas was making notes. “Abe, I want everything you got on Peacemaker.”
“Hey, how about polygraphing Shreed?” Peretz said.
“Not yet.” He made a note. “The Agency wouldn’t let me polygraph its people without a hell of a fight, and I’m not ready for a fight. Yet.” He looked at his notes. “Rosie, does it make sense that George Shreed would go after you because he has an old rhubarb with Al?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, does it?”
Peretz shook his head. “He’s a high-powered guy, but he’s very personal—he fought the Cold War that way, his personal enemies. A big thinker in terms of geopolitics, but he personalizes everything. Can be very petty.”
“Could he be petty enough to go after Rose to settle with Alan?”
“Why should he go after Alan?” Emma said.
Dukas sighed. “A very old story. Al and I were in Mombasa in ninety—or was it ninety-one? Al had a contact with a, well, call him a foreign asset, and he didn’t know what to do, so he calls Shreed, who’s an old family friend. Bang! Al and I get pulled out of the country so fast we think we’re being deported, and two CIA types come in, and next thing we know, the foreign contact is dead.”
“Shreed had him killed?”
“No, no!” Dukas shook his head as if the question was the dumbest one he’d ever heard. “Suicide. Alan had a fight with Shreed about it when we got back to the US, and they’ve been on the outs ever since. But is that reason enough to lay a serious frame-up on Rose now? I don’t buy it.” He turned back to Harry. “But just to be on the safe side, as long as you’re going to be in Nairobi, how about checking into that death while you’re there?”
“Nairobi isn’t Mombasa.”
“Well, same country, what the hell. Come on, Harry—for Rose, okay?”
Peretz shook his head. “A man like Shreed doesn’t wait eight or nine years and then do something like this out of spite. Although, maybe if somebody else fingered Rose, Shreed might take advantage of it.”
They all started offering theories about Shreed then, and the skull session quickly degenerated into chaos. Dukas pounded on the bedside table with a beer bottle until they all shut up. “Hey! Hey!” He hiked his pants up and glared at them, then grinned. “Look, folks, we’ve allowed ourselves to narrow our focus too soon, you all understand that, right? I think the Shreed thing is…” He rocked his free hand back and forth. “At this point it’s nothing but a line for us to follow, and all we got is Telephone Girl’s voice telling us to.” He sighed. “What I think is, George Shreed is a sonofabitch who has nothing to do with Rose’s case, but I’m going to follow up, because that’s my job. Let’s have some other ideas, could we?”
They sat for another hour, repeating some of it, trying to cheer Rose, offering new theories. Did Rose have enemies? Peretz mentioned Ray Suter, who had been at Peacemaker and was now at the CIA and who had tried and failed to get Rose in the sack. Did that make him an enemy? Other names were mentioned—squadron squabbles, professional rivalries. Dukas made notes. Then they began to drift away, first Peretz, then Emma and Dukas, O’Neill last.
It was only when they were gone and she had put the television on to keep her from thinking that Rose remembered that Dukas and Emma had arrived and left together and that something was going on.
Later, Dukas lay on his back in the dark. Emma was lying half on him, her head on his chest, and he could feel her hair on his bare skin. He thought she was asleep and he was sliding off into sleep himself when she said, “I was married once.”
“It only lasted two years.” He felt her raise her head and shake her hair back; her head was dimly silhouetted against a window. “Doomed to failure. Two lawyers.”
He thought about that. He thought about it so long he thought she might have fallen asleep, but he said, “What’s doomed if you loved each other?” and he heard her laugh, a kind of wheezing, ratchety sound that didn’t seem as if she made it often, and she said, “Love? Christ almighty, Mike. Grow up.”
She was different in the dark. Her voice was lower, quieter, and she wasn’t on the attack. She had that laugh, and of course sex. Great sex. He suspected that this separation of light and dark might have had a lot to do with the failure of a marriage, as if perhaps both of them had been like that, and if both weren’t in the dark at the same time, there it went. “I never been married,” he said.
“Lucky you.” She raised her head against the window again, then pulled herself up until she was looking down at where his eyes must have been for her, perhaps even seeing some glint of reflection from the window in them. “You’re in love with Siciliano, aren’t you?” she said.
He thought about it. There was no good answer, given the situation. “I guess so,” he said. “But it’s meaningless.”
Again, she laughed. “Love? I thought you believed in love. Now it’s meaningless?”
“She loves her husband. And he’s my friend. What I feel—nothing can come of it, you see?”
She lowered her head on his shoulder. “So, her husband dies somewhere, you wouldn’t go to her like a shot?”
In fact, he’d thought about that question. It came down to sex, he thought, and he didn’t see Rose and him like this. Once, he had. Now, something different had happened between them. Not that they had passed beyond sex, but he thought of her now seriously, as his friend’s wife, as the mother of two kids. Would he go like a shot to father her children? To take Al’s place in her life, in her bed? No, he wouldn’t, because he’d seen her as a woman who loved one man, and he knew he would never be the man.
He started to tell Emma that, but this time she was asleep.
In the morning, she was grouchy and he was quiet; neither of them morning people, they avoided crashing into each other in the small apartment, drank coffee in silence, listened to NPR as they dressed. As she was rushing for the door, he said, “One thing, Emma.”
“I’m in a hurry.”
“Forget what was said about George Shreed. You never heard of George Shreed. Okay?”
She sighed too loud and too long, the sigh a child makes when given housework.
Dukas put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s too early to go sniffing around Shreed. If you do, you could screw everything—okay? Leave it for a while.”
She gave him a crooked grin. “’Trust me’?”
“Yeah, trust me.”
She shrugged. “Okay.”
She swung toward the door. “Oh, puh-leeze!”
By eight, Emma Pasternak already looked frazzled, even seedy, but her day was only starting. She threw her suit jacket on a couch, ran her hand through her already messy hair, and collapsed into her desk chair. Bashing a laptop into submission, she began to make phone calls from the list in her scheduler. The first one was to the investigator she had hired for Rose’s case.
“Hey,” she said. She didn’t wait for a response. “This is Pasternak. I got something for you; I want it followed up priority. Yeah, yeah, I know you got other work; push it back in the queue. What I got is a name, I want everything on it, I mean everything—go back to birth records, schools, the whole nine yards. Okay? Name: George Shreed. He’s now at CIA, pretty high up. What we’re gonna do is get all the shit that’s fit to print and hit him with it—scare him to a near-death experience. If he caves, I think we’re golden. Okay? Go for it.”
USS Thomas Jefferson.
When Rafe sent the word that the brief for the admiral was finally a go, Alan threw his notes into a presentable briefing in a rush. He dragged the new officer, Soleck, into his preparations, because it was obvious that Soleck could find his way around a computer, and he was still so new that he didn’t have the sense to stay out of Alan’s way.
Most of the squadron commanders and a sizeable portion of the flag staff were at the brief. The admiral glanced at him several times while other officers delivered readiness reports, his face unreadable. When his time came, Alan went to the front, squared his shoulders, and went for it.
“Good evening, Admiral. I’m going to cover the capabilities of the MARI system and how it can act as a force multiplier for the BG.”
“Go ahead, Commander Craik.”
“Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar was fitted on all of the S-3bs in the late nineteen-eighties. That allowed us to do long-distance recognition of targets and greatly aided over-the-horizon targeting. MARI, or Multiple Axis Radar Imaging, uses the latest developments in computer-image modeling to allow several ISAR systems to link and provide a sharper, 3-D image. With multiple-axis imaging and a lot of new software, we can get a synthetic-aperture picture of a stable object, like a surface-to-air missile site, a hangar, or a tank.”
“How fine is the resolution?” the flag captain said. He didn’t sound hostile, at least.
“The contractors say one meter, but I don’t think it’s there yet, sir. Just before we left Pax River, we got an across-the-board software upgrade that ought to improve both processing time and resolution. I’ll be able to tell you more when we’ve implemented it.”
“Have you flown it?”
“What’s your reaction?”
“It still drops link too often to be considered reliable. I’m not a computer expert, but I think the volume of data exceeds the bandwidth available.” Alan glanced at Soleck, who nodded. Soleck had the confidence of a puppy—a newbie who hadn’t even flown with the system yet.
Admiral Kessler nodded at him but didn’t smile. “I appreciate the straight talk. However, I’m not ready to let your aircraft go over Bosnia. Seems like a high risk in terms of aircrew while you’re not sure of the technical side.” The admiral looked around at Rafe for his opinion.
“Sorry, Al, but I’ve got to concur.” Rafe looked apologetic. He knew as well as Alan that what the det needed was real-world action.
Alan tried to be persuasive. “Sir, when it works, it’s a powerful tool. We’d be able to detect SAM sites, even when they were in passive mode. With the ESM suite, we can catch a radar when it’s on and then track it even when it’s off.”
That got the attention of the F-18 skippers.
“And pass targeting?” one of them said.
“Down to the meter.”
But the admiral wouldn’t have it. “Then I suggest you get the link fully functional and find your bandwidth.”
“Give it your full attention, Craik. Do you understand me?”
It wasn’t said with hostility, but the tone carried some nuance. Behind the admiral, Maggiulli gave a slight nod. Meaning, Cut the NCIS crap and spike the rumors about you and your wife and get with the program!
“Any other business? Okay, folks, have a good evening.” The admiral rose and slipped away, and the rest of the officers stood at attention until he was gone and then moved around Alan and out into the passageway. Alan left the computer to Soleck and followed Rafe, who stopped in the p’way and gave him a slight smile.
“That the late Mister Soleck?”
“He knows computers.”
“But not calendars, apparently.”
“Rafe, I got a whole detachment of guys here to fly real-world. Everybody else will be racking up air medals while we drill holes in the water. We can help.”
“Get the link fixed, Al.” Rafe gave a small shrug. “Maybe we can have coffee after.”
“I’ve got a flight.”
Alan stepped through the bulkhead at frame 81 and turned toward the ready room, to find Soleck jabbering at the female intelligence officer from the EA-6B squadron. When he saw Alan, he waved at the woman, picked up the laptop that had held the brief, and followed.
“That Mary Rennig sure is cute,” he said, bright as a new dime.
“Soleck, do you always say every word that comes into your head? Ensign Rennig is an officer in the US Navy.”
“Oh—right, sir! Sorry. Anyway, she got me all these great recognition cards!” Soleck held out a complete set of ship and aircraft recognition cards as they ducked through the ready room door, Soleck still talking. “So I’m going to correlate all the recognition cards with the simulator. Chief Navarro says the recognition library on the simulator is ‘sparse’ and I’m going to input a bunch of new ships.”
“Mister Soleck, are you telling me that you are going to add data to a simulator?”
“Well, yes, sir. I mean, all the stuff on how to do it’s in the manual.”
“How do you know what the radar returns from a ship will look like?”
“Well—Jeez, sir, it’s—”
Alan remembered a phrase from high school geometry—intuitively obvious. Could Soleck possibly be so good that blue-skying radar images was intuitively obvious?
“Better show me before you put them up.” Alan felt like patting him on the head.
While Alan Craik was dealing with Soleck, and Emma Pasternak was talking to her investigator, Mike Dukas was having an outdoor meeting with Harry O’Neill at the Metro Center subway entrance. Without shaking hands, he said, “Sorry to interrupt your day, Harry.” He hadn’t explained anything on the telephone.
“Make it quick, m’man, I got a meeting with some rich Arabs.”
“This isn’t about Rose. Something else has come up. I want you to cover for Al Craik on a meeting with a contact.”
O’Neill smiled. “I only do that stuff for money now, Mike.”
Dukas dug out a crumpled dollar bill and held it out. “I need somebody to cover your best friend.”
“Mike, you’ve got an entire organization behind you!”
“And no budget, and, more to the point, no faith that I can keep it just between some stranger and me and not have it wander off to ONI or, God help us, the Agency.” He hunched his shoulders. “Why do you think we’re meeting out here like a couple of spooks, for Christ’s sake?” He sketched out what had happened to Alan in Trieste, then said that the woman wanted a second meeting in Naples. “Naples NCIS is strung out to begin with, and with his carrier in port, they’ll be running around like jumping beans. You know how to do it. You’re available.”
“Mike, I’m a CEO.”
“Nobody’s perfect. Come on, he saved your life!”
O’Neill looked at the dollar bill, still in Dukas’s hand. “The pay isn’t very good.”
“It isn’t pay; it’s an honorarium.”
O’Neill laughed. He curled Dukas’s fingers back around the bill. “My contribution to the NCIS coffee fund. What do you want me to do?”
Dukas laid it out—finding a route in Naples, arranging the meeting, looking for counter-surveillance and bad guys.
O’Neill glanced at his watch. “But make it clear I’m a contract employee, right? Fax me a contract in Nairobi; I want cover if it goes bad.” He held out his hand. “Only for Alan and Rose, man.” He strode away.
George Shreed was sitting in the office of Clyde Partlow. His grief was now taking the form of a kind of psychological sadism, turned against anybody he happened to be with—at the moment, Partlow. On some organizational charts, Partlow was his boss and on others his equal. Right now, Shreed was having sadistic fun making Partlow sweat.
The subject was China. They had just come from a briefing on the deteriorating situation along the Kashmir border and Shreed had murmured to Partlow that they needed to talk “because of the China thing.” References like that always scared Partlow—”the China thing” sounded like dragons, or maybe Doctor Fu Manchu’s exploding mushrooms.
“The Chinks won’t say boo!” Partlow was saying now. He waved an empty pipe. A tall man going a little to fat, he favored suspenders and bright shirts and a boyish haircut—what Shreed called his Stover at Yale look. “The buildup is just saber-rattling.”
Shreed didn’t at all care what Partlow believed; what he was trying to do was set up his own Chinese operation. The India-Pakistan confrontation was looking more and more like an opportunity for him, but he had to make sure that the Chinese were really into it and that they would go over the edge into a confrontation with the United States if they were pushed hard enough. And the way to push was to goose the White House into sweating about China while goosing the Chinese to sweat about the US. “I think we should be prepared for a Chinese insertion into the India-Pakistan thing, and I think—only a suggestion—that we should float an operation past the National Security Council to see where they stand.”
Partlow winced. “Where they stand is they don’t want to get sucked into anything!”
“I think the Agency could gain back a lot of ground by being right about China this time, Clyde. If we float an idea now, at least they’ll remember afterward that we said the Chinks would go all the way on this one.”
“They won’t go all the way!” Partlow had a nasal voice that often sounded like a whine, less often like a whinny. “Will they?”
“Well, we probably ought to point out that the Taiwanese will think it’s a fine time to do something really stupid. If the Chinese are involved in the west, maybe ready to use nukes—”
“Oh, my God—!”
“The least we can do is suggest that an American battle group off Taiwan would remind Taipei to withdraw their head from their ass.”
“George, an American battle group off Taiwan would provoke the Chinese!”
“Not if they’re involved with India and Pakistan.”
They went round and round, but, as he knew he would, Shreed succeeded in planting in Partlow’s head the idea that he had better cover his ass by floating some possibilities at the White House. The whole business so upset Partlow that he excused himself and went off to the men’s room.
During his absence, Shreed, who had a better bladder, stood up and looked over Partlow’s desk, searching for useful items. He found what he was looking for next to the photo of Partlow’s wife: a trophy memo pad from the Director of National Security. It wasn’t to use, but only to show off—special paper, embossed seal, eyes-only classification. Shreed had always refused one as slightly tacky, but now he had a use for exactly that thing.
He reached across the desk and tore off two sheets, surprised again to find that he was trembling. Losing my nerve, he thought. It was a kind of inward joke to hide from himself the fact that he was frightened all the time now.
When Partlow came back, Shreed was sitting again in the visitor’s chair. Partlow looked scrubbed and pink. “I don’t like this, George,” he said.
“It’s a golden opportunity. Should we or should we not cook up an ops plan to penetrate the highest echelons of the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Army to find out if they’ll shoot when a US ship is in their sights?”
“Oh, George!” Partlow said. This time he was whining.
Dukas, back from the meeting with O’Neill and trying to pull together the ideas that had been aired in Rose’s motel room, came down the corridor of NCIS headquarters from an office where he’d borrowed a telephone. He’d made a lot of calls and set a lot of things in motion, but he didn’t feel that he knew a thing. Now, rounding the doorway into the small office where his typing table stood, he went to the prissy black guy’s desk.
“Phone is not available,” the guy said. He put his hand on the telephone to show it was his.
“You Triffler?” Dukas said.
“You’re my new assistant.” Dukas smiled. “You’re sitting at my new desk. Please take your hand off my new telephone.” He jerked his head toward the typing table. “Move.”
“My effing A!”
“Yeah, life is hard.” Dukas dropped a folder in front of the man. “Your first job—a lieutenant-commander named Rose Siciliano. Do the paperwork—make a budget, read my report, do a tentative walk-the-cat-back for a September fifteen Overview Assessment. Get on it, because it needs to be done today.”
“I don’t take orders from you!”
“You do now. Go see your former boss, third office on the left. He’ll explain to you what the Director of NCIS just explained to him. Now, please—I need the telephone.” He grinned. The guy bolted from the room, and Dukas sat at his new desk. He took a folder from under his arm and threw it down on the desk, where it fell open to reveal a navy officer’s personnel folder. The cover said “Crystal Insight.” The personnel folder said “Rose Siciliano.”
USS Thomas Jefferson.
Trying to bring the MARI system up to speed, Alan had got Reilley to find them a dedicated frequency, and it made a difference. Stevens had flown the tech reps from the manufacturer twice, and they swore they could have a patch in a week, which was six days too long for Alan. Several of them were huddled around their own equipment in the back of the ready room at all hours, talking about code and parameters. They didn’t make much sense to Alan, but he noticed that both Campbell and Soleck understood them, and he got one or the other to give him plain-language reports on their progress.
Whenever Alan looked up, Soleck was there with a question. After one day, Soleck seemed to love everything about the boat, and his puppy-dog curiosity and enthusiasm would have been infectious if Alan had not had so much on his mind. Alan found himself snapping at Soleck because he made such a ready target, but another sleepless night in his stateroom chewing over the problems that surrounded him—his career, Rose, his detachment—suggested to him that Soleck was not the proper target. In fact, Soleck, despite his terrible youthfulness, was something like a genius. By his second flight, he had mastered the multi-function keys that older and wiser men avoided. He could get the constantly dropped link back in seconds. He even knew something about bandwidth and antennas, and the crews were jury-rigging bigger antennas on both planes to meet some new specs that Campbell, Soleck, and the reps had designed.
Prepping for a flight of his own, Alan was on his way to meteorology, Soleck padding behind, explaining the new idea. Alan bumped into somebody.
“Buddy, you lost?” Rafe was standing in front of him, holding a kneeboard.
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