The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
1315 5 June 2007
“I will take one last question,” President Joshua Ezekiel Clendennen announced from behind the podium. He pointed. “Mr. Danton, there in the back.”
President Clendennen, a pudgy, pale-skinned fifty-two-year-old Alabaman who kept his tiny ears hidden under a full head of silver hair, was, kindly, not very tall. If he had not been standing on a small platform behind the podium it would have hidden him from the White House Press Corps.
As Roscoe J. Danton—a tall, starting-to-get-a-little-plump thirty-eight-year-old—rose to his feet he thought, The sonofabitch got me!
Roscoe J. Danton, of the Washington Times-Post Writers Syndicate, as his byline read, was, depending on to whom one might talk, either near the bottom of the list of first-tier Washington journalists, or at the very top of the second tier.
Roscoe was surprised—even startled—that the President had honored him by selecting him to pose the last question of the press conference. For one thing, his hand had not been one of those raised in the sea of hands begging, like so many third-graders having urgent need of permission to visit the restroom, for the President’s attention.
Moreover, Danton had good reason to believe that the President could not be counted among his legion of fans. He had often heard the President refer to him as “that pissant,” which Roscoe had learned from The Oxford Un-Abridged Dictionary of the English Language was Alabama-speak for, one who is irritating or contemptible out of proportion to his or her significance.
The first thing Roscoe thought when called upon was that he had fallen asleep, and the President, seeing this, had seen it as an opportunity to embarrass him. Clendennen liked to embarrass people, and did so often.
Roscoe thought it was entirely possible that he had dozed off. He was not in the briefing room to make notes on what the President would say but rather because it was one of the very few places in Washington where Miss Eleanor Dillworth could not follow him.
Miss Dillworth, who brought to her stalking techniques her twenty-seven years’ experience in the Clandestine Service of the Central Intelligence Agency, had been lurking in a dark corner of the bar in the Old Ebbitt Grill on Fifteenth Street, N.W.—around the corner from the White House—at noon when Roscoe had entered for his breakfast Bloody Mary.
He managed to make it to the White House press conference safely, thus sparing himself from being presented with yet another cornucopia of unpleasant revelations vis-à-vis the CIA Miss Dillworth wanted to bring to the attention of the American people via Roscoe’s columns, which were published in more than three hundred newspapers in the United States and around the world.
Miss Dillworth, Roscoe had learned some months ago when he first met her, was a disgruntled former employee who had been relieved of her position as CIA station chief in Vienna, Austria—and later fired—for bungling the defection of two very senior officers of the SVR—the Russian Service for the Protection of the Constitutional System, renamed from KGB.
Since meeting Miss Dillworth, and becoming close—he often thought “much too uncomfortably close”—to others involved in the incident, Roscoe had come to the conclusion that the facts were not quite as she presented them and that she royally deserved getting the boot from the CIA.
But, surprising Roscoe not at all—there was a former Mrs. Roscoe Danton who was also highly intelligent, strong-willed, and found it impossible to accept that she could ever do anything wrong even if the facts clearly proved otherwise—Miss Dillworth was determined to wreak havoc on the CIA and had selected Roscoe as her instrument to do so.
“Well, Mr. Danton?” the President asked, flashing his famous benign smile.
Danton’s brain went on autopilot. He heard his words as they came out of his mouth.
“I was wondering, Mr. President, how goes your unrelenting war on drugs and piracy?”
That ought to fix you, you bastard!
You know as well as I do that you’re losing it.
“Unmitigated disaster” is a gross understatement.
The President’s benign smile widened as he replied.
“I’m glad you asked that, Roscoe,” the President replied. “I didn’t have a chance to get into that earlier in the press conference.”
I recognize that “gotcha” smile!
And I wouldn’t be getting it unless he somehow got me again. But how?
I’ll be goddamned!
That had to be the one question he didn’t want to “get into earlier.”
“Just as soon as this press conference is over,” the President went on, “I’m going to meet with members of my Cabinet, and other senior officials, to deal with those wars. I’ll be the first to admit they haven’t been going well, and frankly, I think it’s time for everyone to start thinking out of the box.”
That’s my cue to ask for a follow-up question.
And whatever the question is—such as “How high is the moon?”—the answer will be whatever he already plans to say.
He’s playing me like a violin.
“Follow-up, Mr. President?” Roscoe asked.
“Roscoe,” the President said in a gently chiding tone, “we’ve known one another more than long enough for you to know that I always say what I mean and always mean what I say. I said ‘one last question’ and that’s what I meant.”
“Thank you, Mr. President,” Robin Hoboken, the presidential press secretary, said. President Clendennen disappeared for a moment as he stepped off the stool behind the podium and then reappeared a moment later marching purposefully out of the room.
Mr. Hoboken was new on the job. His predecessor, Press Secretary Clemens McCarthy, had died in a spectacular explosion. The White House Yukon sport utility vehicle in which he was riding had collided as it approached Andrews Air Force Base with a huge tank of butane mounted on a sixteen-wheeler tractor trailer. The resultant fireball had incinerated McCarthy and Secret Service Agent Mark Douglas, and closed down the Beltway for two days.
Roscoe had heard a story that it was no tragic accident, that both men had been agents of the SVR and disposed of by a CIA dinosaur. The story would have been incredible on its face except that Roscoe had very good reason to believe the same CIA dinosaur had disposed of a treasonous CIA agent by sticking an ice pick in his ear in the CIA parking lot in Langley, Virginia, and also that Miss Eleanor Dillworth believed deep in her soul that the same dinosaur had expressed his displeasure with her and the Russian SVR rezident in Vienna by leaving the garroted corpse of the latter sitting in a taxi outside the U.S. embassy in Vienna with her official calling card on his chest.
Robin Hoboken was a pleasant, Ivy League–type young man who didn’t look like he could be an SVR agent, but neither had Clemens McCarthy or Mark Douglas. For that matter, the dinosaur in question didn’t look like someone who had more notches on his gun, figuratively speaking, for disposing of SVR agents than Clint Eastwood ever had in the bloodiest of his spaghetti western motion pictures.
Roscoe believed, however, that Mr. Hoboken couldn’t help but be carrying the weight of an odd family. What kind of people would name an innocent baby boy Robin? That was even worse than Mr. Cash trying to hang “Sue” on his son Johnny.
Roscoe went to the front of the room and patiently waited for his turn at the ear of Mr. Hoboken. Finally, it came:
“Is that all you’ve got for me on this ‘out of the box’ thinking the President mentioned?”
“I’m not sure I understand the question, Mr. Danton.”
“Did the leader of the free world give you anything else about his out-of-the-box thinking about his unrelenting wars against the drug trade and piracy, to be slipped to me when no one else was looking?”
“Of course not!” Robin Hoboken said. “Anything else, Mr. Danton?”
“Does the term ‘dinosaur’ have any meaning for you?”
Robin thought it over, then shook his head and said, “No. It doesn’t. Should it?”
“I heard a story that some dinosaurs are still alive,” Roscoe said.
“I don’t think that’s possible.”
“Check into it for me, will you, and send me an e-mail?”
You and I both know, Robin, that you’re going to “forget to do that” the moment you leave this room.
Pity. If you asked around you might have learned that within the intelligence community, dinosaurs are those politically incorrect clandestine service old-timers who believe that the only good Communist is a dead Communist.
That would have given you something to worry about: “Why did that pissant Danton ask me about dinosaurs?”
Then they went their separate ways, which in the case of Mr. Danton meant that he walked back to the Old Ebbitt Grill, checked to make sure Miss Dillworth was no longer there, and then went in for his breakfast Bloody Mary.
The Cabinet Room
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
1330 5 June 2007
The Cabinet Room, which is off the Oval Office, looked practically deserted when the President, following Supervisory Secret Service Agent Robert J. Mulligan, walked in. Everyone in it could have easily been seated comfortably in the Oval Office.
President Clendennen preferred to hold meetings of the type he was about to convene in the Cabinet Room, even if there were just a few—say, four or five—people involved.
This afternoon, there were nine senior officers sitting at the long mahogany table—a gift of former President Richard Nixon, although this was rarely mentioned—waiting for the President. They were Secretary of State Natalie Cohen, who was in a chair to the right of the President’s chair. The chair on the right of that was empty. Vice President Charles W. Montvale sat next to the empty chair, which most of the people at the table thought of as “Belinda-Sue’s throne.”
Sitting across the table from them were Frederick P. Palmer, United States attorney general, Director of National Intelligence Truman C. Ellsworth, CIA Director A. Franklin Lammelle, Secretary of Defense Frederick K. Beiderman, FBI Director Mark Schmidt, and General Allan B. Naylor, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command.
They were a diverse group of very intelligent—one might even say brilliant—and powerful people who really agreed on only one thing vis-à-vis President Joshua Ezekiel Clendennen.
Secretary Cohen—she was of course a diplomat—had admitted in a very private conversation with the CIA director that she had been forced to the conclusion that the President had “some mental problems.” CIA Director Lammelle, who was not a diplomat, had replied that he had concluded, based on the same criteria, that the Commander in Chief was “absolutely bonkers, as mad as the legendary March hare.”
The opinions of the others were somewhere between these two extremes, but all were agreed the President’s mental health was a serious problem.
There is, of course, provision in the law for the removal from office of a President who is physically incapable of performing his duties, and this is understood to include mental illness, although those words do not appear. No one likes to admit that a President might become, to use Mr. Lammelle’s phraseology, absolutely bonkers.
Each of the people in the Cabinet Room was familiar with previous problems of Presidents who left, or should have left, office before their successor was sworn in on Inauguration Day. Obviously, these included Richard M. Nixon, who ultimately resigned, and William Jefferson Clinton, who had to face an impeachment trial in the Senate but managed to hold on to his job.
And there were other cases of Presidents whose physical condition raised serious questions about their ability to properly discharge their duties.
Woodrow Wilson, for example, was one of these. Many people believed that after suffering a massive debilitating stroke in 1919 he should have resigned and allowed the Vice President to assume his duties. Instead, he stayed on in the White House and allowed his wife, the former Edith Bolling Galt, to determine which visitors he saw, and which he did not, and which papers were presented to him for his approval, and which were not, leading his detractors to refer to his wife as the “first unelected President.”
Whenever anyone at the Cabinet table thought of biting the bullet and getting rid of Joshua Ezekiel Clendennen by making his psychological problems public, the face of First Lady Mrs. Belinda-Sue Clendennen popped into their minds.
From the moment—and perhaps even before—her husband had acceded to the presidency following the sudden demise of his predecessor from a ruptured aortal aneurysm, Belinda-Sue had had her eyes on the vice presidency and perhaps—even probably—the presidency itself.
The first clue to this came when Belinda-Sue sat down on her throne at her husband’s very first Cabinet meeting as President. As soon as she could get the secretary of State alone, she opened a conversation dealing with the political history of the Argentine Republic, especially that of its president, Juan Domingo Perón.
“Do you know that President Perón appointed his wife,” Belinda-Sue began, “not the blonde, Evita, the other one, the redheaded one, Isabel, to be vice president?”
“Circumstances in Argentina are somewhat different than they are here, Mrs. Clendennen.”
“You can call me Belinda-Sue, honey,” Mrs. Clendennen said. “And I’ll call you Natalie.”
The secretary had smiled wanly but had not replied.
Mrs. Clendennen’s ambitions regarding the vice presidency had had to be put on hold when her husband was forced to appoint Charles W. Montvale to that office. His only other option was to face impeachment charges in the Congress for a number of offenses. One of these, for example, was described by the attorney general as so egregious that its “illegality boggled the mind.”
But she had by no means abandoned them, which everyone in the Cabinet Room had to consider very carefully when they thought about getting President Clendennen out of the White House.
So long as her husband was President, there was the possibility that Vice President Montvale would suffer a rupture of his aorta, or get run over by a truck, thus making the office of vice president vacant once again. If something like that happened, God forbid, Belinda-Sue wanted to be available.
The people in the Cabinet Room today had decided—not in a formal meeting, but in an interlocking series of private conversations between no more than three of them at a time—that the best, and probably only, way to deal with the situation was to do nothing and hope for the best.
The President’s aorta was reported to be in absolutely no danger of rupturing, and it was highly unlikely that he would get run over by a bus, but hope, someone said, springs eternal in the human breast.
Eventually the President’s term of office would expire. In the meantime, they would just have to live with him and with Belinda-Sue attempting—with only slight success—to decide who got to see her husband, and who did not, and what documents of state were—and were not—presented to him for his signature.
In the meantime, they would pretend the President was sane, and that the First Lady was indeed the twenty-first-century embodiment of Martha Washington, which was, she had confided to her friend Natalie, how she often thought of herself.
Everyone stood as the President walked from the door to the Oval Office to his chair.
“Good afternoon,” he said, flashing his benign smile. “Please be seated.”
Everyone sat down and looked at him expectantly.
“Inasmuch as the First Lady had to go to Mississippi to deal with a family medical problem and won’t be with us, we might as well get started,” the President said.
“I hope it’s nothing serious, Mr. President,” Secretary of Defense Frederick K. Beiderman said solicitously.
Freddy, CIA Director A. Franklin Lammelle thought, you know as well as I do that means that Belinda-Sue’s mother has once again escaped from the Ocean Springs Baptist Assisted Living facility and is now holed up somewhere they can’t find her with three Mason jars full of Mississippi’s finest 140-proof white lightning.
“Nothing serious,” the President said. “A recurring problem.”
Usually recurring about once a month, Lammelle thought.
Well, at least Belinda-Sue won’t be here to offer her solutions to the nation’s problems.
“I have been thinking . . .” President Clendennen began.
Oh, shit! We’re in trouble!
“. . . about our war on the drug trade and piracy.”
Double shit! In spades!
“And I have concluded we should start thinking out of the box,” he went on. “And, doing that, I have come up with an idea that I want your wholehearted cooperation in implementing.”
How bad can this get?
“Specifically, I think we should involve Lieutenant Colonel Castillo.”
What did he say?
Lammelle looked at Secretary of State Cohen, whose eyes were rolling.
That’s involuntary. Natalie plays the game of life with a poker face Las Vegas gamblers would kill for.
“Now, that may surprise some of you, but surprise is what you get when you start thinking out of the box,” the President went on. “And this will surprise you even more, but after thinking about it at length, I’ve concluded that my predecessor had a pretty good idea when he first involved Colonel Castillo in affairs of state.
“When that diplomat was kidnapped in Argentina, my predecessor wanted a knowledgeable, objective observer to see how the situation was being handled, and to report his observations and recommendations directly to him.
“He bungled the carrying out of the idea, as we all know, but the idea was sound. If he had given Colonel Castillo the proper supervision, everything would have worked out fine. I won’t repeat that mistake. I’m very good at supervising people. Hands-on is how I think of it.
“How soon can we get him in here?”
No one replied.
“Mr. President, Colonel Castillo is retired.”
“What’s that got to do with anything? He can be recalled to active duty.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. President, in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ Colonel Castillo could be recalled to hazardous active duty.”
“General, would you call Mexican drug cartels shooting up the streets of Laredo and El Paso—my God, the next thing you know they’ll be doing that in Biloxi—ordinary circumstances? Not to mention Somali pirates holding three of our tankers for ransom? Call Colonel Castillo to active duty and get him in here. Where is he?”
“I don’t really know, Mr. President,” General Naylor confessed.
“What about you, Mr. Ellsworth?” the President asked. “Does my director of National Intelligence know where Colonel Castillo is?”
“I have some unconfirmed reports that he’s either in Budapest or Argentina, Mr. President,” Truman C. Ellsworth replied. “I’ll look into it further for you, Mr. President.”
“Huh,” the President snorted. “You’ll do better than that. You will personally go to Budapest to see if he’s there and, if so, order him to report to me immediately. And while you’re doing that, General Naylor will go to Argentina for the same purpose. And while they’re doing that, if my CIA director acquires unconfirmed intelligence that Colonel Castillo is in Timbuktu, Mr. Lammelle will go there for the same purpose. And while all that is going on, you, Secretary Beiderman, will handle the administrative details of recalling Colonel Castillo from retirement.”
Ellsworth, Naylor, and Beiderman all said, “Yes, sir,” on top of one another.
“And the rest of you will take whatever action in this regard that pops into your fertile imaginations,” the President went on. “I’m sure you all heard what I said about wanting your wholehearted cooperation in that matter.”
He let that sink in for a moment, and then dismissed them by saying, “That will be all. Thank you for coming.”
Then he stood and walked to the door to the Oval Office, which Supervisory Secret Service Agent Robert J. Mulligan opened for him as he approached, and went through it.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
1405 5 June 2007
The vehicles that had brought everybody to the White House were lined up on the drive waiting for them when they came out.
With the exception of the silver Jaguar Vanden Plas in which Truman C. Ellsworth, at his own expense, moved around Washington, they were all black—or very dark blue, almost black—GMC Yukons. But their drivers and assistant drivers—read bodyguards—reflected the agency whose chief they were moving around.
Ellsworth’s driver and bodyguard were from the CIA’s Internal Security Staff, as were those of CIA Director Lammelle. The CIA was forbidden by law from operating within the United States, which seemed to imply they couldn’t go about armed. If anyone noticed that Ellsworth’s and Lammelle’s drivers and their assistants had previously been officers of the CIA Clandestine Service, no one said anything.
Vice President Montvale’s driver and assistant were special agents of the Secret Service. In addition, wherever Montvale went, so did Supervisory Secret Service Special Agent Thomas McGuire.
Secretary Cohen’s driver was a member of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. In lieu of an assistant, Charlene Stevens, a blonde, Rubenesque former Secret Service agent who headed Secretary Cohen’s security detail, always rode with her in her Yukon.
Defense Secretary Beiderman’s driver and his assistant were agents of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Beiderman was a former naval officer.
General Naylor was traveling in a Yukon assigned to the fleet of the chief of staff, U.S. Army. Its driver and his assistant were special agents of the Counterintelligence Corps and no one mentioned that before they had been assigned to protect the chief of staff and a very few other very senior officers, they had been members of the Ultra Secret Black Fox section of the Special Operations Command.
“Give me a call sometime, Frank, please,” Secretary Cohen said, as she prepared to get into the backseat of her Yukon.
“Absolutely,” Lammelle replied, and then directed his attention to General Naylor. “It looks a little crowded in there, General,” he said, nodding toward Naylor’s waiting Yukon. “Why don’t you let me take you out to Andrews? It’s on my way.”
There were already five people in the Yukon Naylor had been provided by Brigadier General Homer S. Dutton, junior deputy assistant chief of staff to the chief of staff, when the task of transporting the Central Command commander in chief from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House and back again had been laid on him.
While General Dutton’s precise role in the Pentagon hierarchy might pose problems for the layman, it was actually quite clear to Pentagon cognoscenti and even to some officials—such as Mr. Lammelle—who dealt often with the Pentagon.
At the top of the pyramid was the chief of staff himself, a four-star general. To assist him in the discharge of his duties, the chief of staff had a chief of staff, also a four-star general, who was chief of staff to the chief of staff. This luminary also had an assistant, known as the assistant chief of staff to the chief of staff. He was a lieutenant general, a three-star general. To assist him in carrying out his many duties, he had two deputies. These were a major general (two stars) who was the senior deputy assistant chief of staff to the chief of staff, and a brigadier general (one star) who was the junior deputy assistant chief of staff to the chief of staff. This was General Dutton.
It had been General Dutton who had sent an urgent radio message earlier in the day to General Naylor, who had then been aboard his airplane bound for Fort Lewis, Washington, informing him that the Commander in Chief wished to see him at 1330 in the Cabinet Room at the White House.
Lammelle recognized three of the people in Naylor’s Yukon. One was Naylor’s senior aide-de-camp, Colonel J. D. Brewer, who was always with Naylor. A second was one of his junior aides-de-camp, Captain Charles D. Seward III, who performed the traditional duties of an aide-de-camp, in other words anything that spared the general’s time for more important matters. Taking care of the luggage, for example. He was also usually very close to the general.
The third officer Lammelle recognized was the commanding officer of Headquarters & Headquarters Company, United States Central Command & Combined Base MacDill. Combined Base MacDill was formerly designated MacDill Air Force Base. The name had been changed to reflect its role vis-à-vis Central Command, which included naval, Marine Corps, and Army elements.
This officer was responsible for feeding and housing the military personnel and their dependents assigned to any of these, and for the base fire department and the schools. In civilian parlance, he would have been the mayor.
Most officers would regard the assignment as desirable. It would give them a chance to shine before the many senior officers of Central Command. It was jokingly but accurately said there were enough Army, Air Force, and Marine generals and Navy admirals in Central Command to form a reinforced platoon of infantry.
The incumbent, Lieutenant Colonel Allan B. Naylor, Junior, had confided in Frank Lammelle that he hated it. His father, who had had no role in his son’s selection for the assignment and shared his opinion that it was not a particularly desirable assignment for a newly promoted lieutenant colonel of cavalry, nevertheless saw a silver lining in his son’s black cloud.
Because all he had to do was keep the schools running and the fire department ready to do its job, et cetera, and didn’t need permission from anyone to leave his office, he would be free to accompany his father on many of his travels, which would expose him to command at the very highest levels, which would prove of great value to him when general’s stars gleamed from his own epaulets.
There was no question in General Naylor’s mind that his son would become a general officer. That was what Naylors did. They went to West Point, served in the cavalry, became general officers, and then retired to the family farm in Virginia.
The problem with this scenario, Allan, Junior, had confided in Lammelle, was that the fire department and the schools and the garbage collection services did not run themselves, the result of which was he had two full-time jobs, “as the goddamn mayor and the goddamn unofficial aide-de-camp.”
“Thank you,” General Naylor said simply in response to Mr. Lammelle’s offer of a ride to Andrews Air Force Base. He then went to “his” Yukon, told them what was going on, and then got in the backseat of Lammelle’s Yukon.
As the vehicle turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr. Lammelle took what looked very much like a BlackBerry from his pocket, punched one of its buttons, and put the device to his ear.
“Well,” he said, “what thinks the Queen of Foggy Bottom?”
General Naylor’s face showed that he thought it inappropriate for the CIA director to refer to the secretary of State in such disrespectful terms.
“I don’t know,” Lammelle went on. “I’ll ask him.” He looked at Naylor and said, “Natalie wants to know what you think of what just happened.”
General Naylor’s face showed that he thought it inappropriate for the CIA director to refer to the secretary of State by her first name. He threw up both hands in a gesture that was both an expression of this and signified he had nothing to say.
“The most important general in the world,” Lammelle said, “has taken the question under consideration, but has nothing to say at this time.”
Andy McClarren, of Wolf News, who had been the most watched news personality on television for ten years and counting, had so described Naylor. He argued that while the chief of staff administered the Army, he had few troops actually under his command. Naylor’s Central Command, on the other hand, was made up not only of the Army elements thereof, but also of Air Force and Navy components, placing him in direct command of more soldiers, sailors, and airmen, plus more artillery, tanks, aircraft, and warships, than any other officer anywhere in the world.
The description was accurate, but General Naylor was uncomfortable with it.
“One more question, Natalie,” Lammelle said, “and then I’ll let you go. Do we tell Truman Ellsworth that Charley is not in Budapest and save him that tiring trip?”
“How do you know that Charley’s not in Budapest?” Naylor asked.
“Charley’s in Argentina,” Lammelle said.
“How do you know that?” Naylor asked, and then before Lammelle could reply, said, accusingly, “The President asked you if you knew where he was.”
“No, he asked you and Ellsworth,” Lammelle said. “If he had asked Natalie or me, we probably would have told him.”
“‘Probably’?” Naylor parroted indignantly. “That’s outrageous! He’s the President of the United States!”
The exchange illustrated the cultural differences between the worlds of General Naylor and DCI Lammelle. Naylor was a product of West Point—as five previous generations of his ancestors had been—and tried very hard to live his life according to the West Point Code of Honor, which holds that one must not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who did.
Lammelle had been in the intelligence business all his life. He had learned as a young Army Counterintelligence Corps sergeant—and later as a CIC officer—that lying, stealing, and cheating was often the only way one could get things done. And when he’d joined the CIA’s Clandestine Service and had risen to the top of that organization, he had learned that the higher one rose the more one had to lie, steal, cheat, and closely associate oneself with world-class lowlifes who were fantastically skilled liars, cheats, and thieves to get things done.
“So what are you going to do, Allan?”
“Comply with my orders, of course.”
“You mean you’re going to go to Argentina, try to find Charley, and if you can, tell him to report to the President?”
“Those are my orders.”
“Not getting into the subject at all of all the questions that are going to be asked—by, among others, the vibrant voice of Wolf News, Andy McClarren, who seems fascinated with anything you do—about why the C in C Central Command is flying off to Argentina, and presuming you can find Charley—and I’m not going to tell you where in Argentina he is—have you considered what Charley’s reaction to this is going to be?”
Naylor glared at him.
“The possibility, for example, that Charley will say, ‘With all possible respect, sir, tell our nutcake President to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut’?”
Naylor didn’t reply.
“I think that’s a credible scenario, Allan. I don’t think that Charley has forgotten that the last time the Commander in Chief sent someone looking for him, the idea was to load him and his lady love on an Aeroflot airplane and ship them to Russia.”
After a long moment, Naylor asked, “What would you do, Frank?”
“I don’t have a clue how I’m going to handle this latest idiocy,” Lammelle said. “So I’m in no position to suggest what you should do. Except, maybe . . . Why don’t you see what McNab thinks?”
“What makes you think I’d ask him about anything?” Naylor said. “We can’t even make him privy to the Cabinet meeting. Everything that happens at a Cabinet meeting is Top Secret, Presidential.”
“No fooling?” Lammelle asked sarcastically. “I guess I should have known that.”
Naylor’s face whitened, but he didn’t say anything.
He didn’t say anything at all during the rest of the way to Andrews Air Force Base, except, “Thank you for the ride,” when he got out of Lammelle’s Yukon.
Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina
1510 5 June 2007
As the C-37A—the military designation of the Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation’s Gulfstream V—made its approach to the airfield, which abuts Fort Bragg, an olive drab Dodge SUV drove onto the tarmac beside Base Operations and stopped under a sign reading Absolutely No Parking At Any Time.
Two men got out of the vehicle. One of them was a barrel-chested, very short, totally bald civilian wearing a T-shirt on which was painted in red the legend “Chief Snake Eater.” The second was a small, muscular, ruddy-faced man sporting a flowing red mustache. He wore aviator sunglasses and a camouflage-patterned Battle Dress Uniform.
An Air Force senior master sergeant came quickly out of Base Operations, his mouth open as if to say something—for example, “Can’t you see the sign, stupid?”—and as quickly he closed his mouth and went back in the building.
There was a red plate above the bumper of the SUV with three silver stars on it, indicating that it carried a lieutenant general. Lieutenant generals, like diplomats in any country but their own, can park just about wherever they want to, and this is especially true on an air force base where the commanding general has but one star to dazzle his underlings.
Moreover, the senior master sergeant recognized the man wearing the camo BDUs as Lieutenant General Bruce J. McNab, commanding general, United States Special Operations Command. He recognized the civilian, he had seen him many times before, often in the company of General McNab, but he couldn’t put a name on him. Very few people outside the upper echelons of the Special Operations community could.
The civilian’s name was Victor D’Alessandro. He was a civilian employee of the Department of the Army, a GS-15, which regulations stated entitled him to be considered an “assimilated colonel” when it came to providing quarters and so forth. He had retired from thirty years and three days of Army service as a chief warrant officer, grade V (CWO-5), which had paid him essentially the same pay and allowances as a lieutenant colonel. And before becoming a warrant officer, junior grade (WOJG, pronounced Woe-Jug), Mr. D’Alessandro had been a sergeant major.
The C-37A/Gulfstream V taxied up to the visiting aircraft tarmac a minute or so later. The upper portion of its fuselage was painted in a gleaming white, and the lower portion pale blue. There was no reference to either the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. Army in its markings, although it carried the star-and-bar insignia of a military aircraft on its engine nacelles. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was lettered on the fuselage above the six windows. There was an American flag painted on the vertical stabilizer.
When the aircraft had stopped, the stair door behind the cockpit windows unfolded even before the whine of its engines died. A tall, erect lieutenant colonel of Cavalry who was in his thirties came nimbly down them, marched up to General McNab, saluted crisply, and announced, “General Naylor’s compliments, General. The general asks that you attend him aboard the aircraft.”
General McNab returned the salute.
“I hear and obey, Colonel Naylor,” McNab said, and walked toward the Gulfstream.
“Hey, Vic,” Lieutenant Colonel Naylor said, and extended his hand.
“How they hanging, Junior?” Vic D’Alessandro replied, and then wrapped his arms around him affectionately.
“One beside the other,” Naylor said, and waved D’Alessandro toward the airplane.
When he entered the Gulfstream, General McNab saw that General Naylor was sitting in what he thought of as “first class,” the foremost section of the passenger compartment, which held two chairs and a table.
He marched down the aisle, came to attention, saluted, and barked, “Lieutenant General McNab, Bruce J., accepting General Naylor’s kind invitation.”
Naylor was aware that McNab was being a wiseass again—what custom dictated that he should have said was “General McNab reporting as ordered”—and that saying what he had was to remind Naylor that he did not have the authority to order McNab to do anything.
He decided to let it ride.
He returned the salute, waved McNab into the other chair at the table, and said, “Thank you for meeting me, General.”
And then when he saw Vic D’Alessandro coming down the aisle toward them, Naylor added, “I was hoping for a private word with you.”
“Well, if you insist, I’ll send Vic away,” McNab said. “But if you’ll let him stay, that’ll save me the trouble of having to tell him later everything that happened here. I tell my executive secretary everything. Otherwise, you’ll understand, he couldn’t do his job.”
Naylor thought: McNab is entirely capable of having D’Alessandro on his organization chart as his executive secretary. He would find that amusing.
Naylor extended his hand.
“How are you, Mr. D’Alessandro?”
“I’m fine, thank you, sir.”
“Getting right to the point,” Naylor said. “I’ve just come from the White House.”
“I know,” McNab interrupted. “Frank Lammelle told me what happened there and said you’d be stopping by. Would it save time if we cut to the chase?”
“Lammelle told you?” Naylor asked coldly.
“He called me on my trusty CaseyBerry,” McNab said. “No. Correction. He called Vic on Vic’s trusty CaseyBerry, and told Vic when he found me to tell me you’d just broken ground at Andrews and were headed here. When I got the message, I called Frank and he told me why you were coming to see me. So can we cut to the chase?”
The “CaseyBerry” to which McNab referred was a cellular telephone resembling the BlackBerry. Officially, its name was Casey XP-13, which stood for Experimental Prototype, Version 13. It had a number of characteristics the BlackBerry did not have.
BlackBerrys communicate with “cell tower” antennae scattered widely across the United States and other places on earth. The CaseyBerrys communicated with satellites scattered twenty-seven thousand miles above the earth. CaseyBerrys automatically encrypted and decrypted whatever they transmitted (voice or images) in a code that even the vast National Security Agency batteries of computers at Fort Meade could not break.
This was because the designer and builder of the NSA code-breaking systems, Aloysius F. Casey, Ph.D., also designed the CaseyBerry XP-series communication devices.
Shortly after the First Desert War, Dr. Casey, the chairman of the board of the AFC Corporation, flew to Fort Bragg, N.C., in one of the firm’s Learjets. He had an appointment arranged by his U.S. Senator with the then newly appointed deputy commander of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, Brigadier General Bruce J. McNab. McNab had returned from the war with his third Distinguished Service Cross, a Brigadier General’s Star, and the young second lieutenant who had been his personal pilot and whom he had named to be his first aide-de-camp.
McNab, suspecting that Dr. Casey was trying to sell the Army something, ordered his young aide-de-camp, whose name was C. G. Castillo, to get rid of Casey.
“I don’t care how, Charley, just keep that politically well-connected salesman away from me.”
Thirty minutes after meeting Dr. Casey, and after taking him on a helicopter tour of Smoke Bomb Hill, Blood Alley, and other Fort Bragg–area tourist attractions in which he thought Casey might be interested, Lieutenant Castillo telephoned General McNab and told him he thought the general really ought to talk to Dr. Casey.
“You better be right about this, Charley,” McNab replied. “Okay, bring him to lunch.”
Castillo was right about Dr. Casey. At lunch, Casey told them that during the Vietnam War he had been the commo sergeant on a Special Forces “A” Team. He told them that when he came home to Boston, instead of going to work for the post office or getting a job as a bus driver, as “somebody like me” was expected to do, he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and applied for admittance.
“I told them I didn’t have a high school diploma, but I’d been in the American Amateur Relay League since I was ten, and that I hadn’t met anybody in the Army who knew as much about the propagation of radio waves as I did, and I wanted to learn more. So they asked me a couple of questions . . . Correction, they questioned me for a couple of hours, and decided to give me a chance.
“I wouldn’t have had the balls to ask MIT to take a chance on a poor Irish kid from South Boston if I hadn’t been a Green Beanie, so now it’s payback time.”
“I gather you made it at MIT?” General McNab asked, much more cordially now that he recognized Dr. Casey as a fellow Green Beanie.
“I got my bachelor’s and my high school diploma the first year, my master’s the next, and my Ph.D. in my third. I spent another year there teaching—that was payback I figured I owed—and while I was doing that, I started the company.”
“What do you mean, Dr. Casey, that it’s ‘payback time’?” Lieutenant Castillo asked.
“I told you once, Hotshot, to call me Aloysius,” Dr. Casey replied. “Don’t piss me off by making me tell you again.”
At this point, Dr. Casey, as was his wont, went off on a tangent.
“General, Hotshot here, who doesn’t look like he’s old enough to vote, is sporting wings and a Combat Infantry Badge. He’s got both?”
“And a Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, and a Distinguished Flying Cross,” General McNab replied.
“I’ll be goddamned,” Casey said, and then came back on course.
“What I mean is that I’m going to pay back what I got from Special Forces by giving you the best commo going.”
“That’s very kind of you,” McNab said. “But I’m sure you remember Special Forces gets its commo gear from the Signal Corps. Even if we had any money, and we don’t, we couldn’t buy—”
“You’re not listening. I didn’t say I wanted to sell you commo gear. I said I was going to give you commo gear. Payback is what I said.”
“That kind of equipment would entail a great deal of money,” McNab said.
“Yeah, well, my tax people tell me I can write it off as research and development. I’ll call what I give you prototypes or something.”
“And how soon were you planning to start doing something like this, Dr. Casey?”
“You can call me Aloysius, too,” Casey replied. “What I’d like to do is take Hotshot here out to Vegas this afternoon. I’ll show him what I have that I think Special Forces could use, and he could tell me what Special Forces needs and I’ll start working on that.”
“Why don’t you call me Bruce, Aloysius?” General McNab said.
“I couldn’t do that, for Christ’s sake, you’re a fucking general.”
“You have a point there, Aloysius,” General McNab said, and then turned to Lieutenant Castillo. “Go pack your bag, Charley, you’re going to Las Vegas.”
“And what did the director of Central Intelligence tell you, General, on your trusty CaseyBerry?” General Naylor asked.
General Naylor had seen CaseyBerrys function often enough to be familiar with their capabilities. He knew, too, that while Mr. Lammelle and General McNab, and McNab’s executive secretary, and Secretary Cohen—and others—had one, he didn’t.
This annoyed him greatly, and his annoyance spilled over into lost temper, as it often did when he was dealing with General McNab.
“Perhaps why I don’t have a CaseyBerry?”
“Yes, sir. He touched on that subject.”
“And what did he say?”
“If memory serves, sir, and mine usually does, he said something like, quote, Thank God, Naylor doesn’t have a CaseyBerry. If he did, he would have known where Charley is, and would have told our Loony Tune Commander in Chief, and we would really be up the creek on this. End quote. That is just about verbatim, sir.”
“He actually referred to the President in those terms?”
“Well, he knew that no one who would hear him would disagree with his characterization of President Clendennen.”
“And what do you think Mr. Lammelle meant when he said if the President knew where Castillo is, we would be . . .”
“‘Really up the creek on this’?”
“DCI Lammelle feels, sir, and I agree with him, that disabusing the President of his notion to re-involve Castillo in the drug wars and involving him in the piracy problem is not going to be possible. So what he suggests, and Secretary Cohen concurs, is that we give the appearance of going along with it, until the President tires of it, whereupon he will come up with another nutty idea and forget this one.”
“DCI Lammelle suggested that if you, he, Natalie Cohen, and I gave Colonel Castillo our word that he would not be loaded on an Aeroflot airplane and shipped to Siberia, he might be induced to appear to have answered the President’s call to hazardous duty.
“He would go to Mexico and, after reconnoitering the situation there, offer a solution to the drug problem that the President would feel was unsatisfactory.”
“Which would be?”
“I’m sure the general is aware of the scurrilous rumor circulating that the unofficial motto of Special Forces is ‘Kill everybody and let God sort it out.’”
“I’ve heard that,” Naylor said.
He thought that over for a long moment and then said, “That just might work.”
“We have a problem there, I’m afraid,” McNab said.
“Why? As long as the President thinks his orders are being obeyed, he’ll be less prone to order any additional action. If he can be stalled, so to speak, for sufficient time—”
“The problem is once again, sir, Lieutenant Colonel Castillo, Retired.”
“I spoke to him about an hour ago—”
“Amazing device, that CaseyBerry, isn’t it?” General Naylor interrupted.
“Yes, sir, it is. I outlined the parameters of the situation to Colonel Castillo, sir, and asked him how he would react to the suggestion that he accept a recall to active hazardous duty for a period not to exceed ninety days.”
“And what did he say?”
“He broke the connection without saying anything, sir.”
“He hung up on you?”
McNab nodded and then said, “I gave him ninety seconds in the belief that would be sufficient time for him to recover from his fit of hysterical laughter, and called back. Sweaty took the call—”
“‘Sweaty’?” Naylor parroted. “Oh, the Russian woman.”
“Yes, sir. Former Lieutenant Colonel Svetlana Alekseeva of the SVR. Now known as Susanna Barlow. Colonel Castillo’s fiancée.”
“His what? He’s going to marry her?” Naylor asked incredulously.
“Yes, sir. Just as soon as they can somehow get the government of the Russian Federation to declare her former husband, SVR Polkovnik Evgeny Alekseev to be deceased. Colonel Castillo is a gentleman, and gentlemen feel an obligation to marry women carrying their unborn children.”
“Yes, sir, I understand that to be the case.”
“McNab, I have the feeling you’re mocking me,” Naylor said furiously.
“As you well know, since our plebe year at Hudson High, just being in the same room with you has induced an uncontrollable urge in me to mock you, even when you’re not in your Self-Righteous Mode, as you are now. But if you can bring yourself to call me Bruce, I will stop doing so now and we can see about solving the problem at hand as two old soldiers and classmates should do.”
Naylor glared at him for a long moment, and finally said, “Please do.” And then, after another pause, added, “Bruce.”
“Allan, I would not have violated Charley’s privacy by telling you that Sweaty’s in the family way, except that it’s obviously a fact bearing on our problem.”
“Understood. Thank you,” Naylor replied, and again added “Bruce” after a pause.
“When Sweaty came on the line, I gathered that she was less than enthusiastic about Charley doing what the President wants him to do. She said if I ever brought the subject up again, she would castrate me with a rusty otxokee mecto nanara.”
“With a what?”
“Have you any suggestions on how we can solve our problem?” Naylor asked.
“As a matter of fact . . . Natalie says the last thing we can afford to happen is for C. Harry Whelan, Junior, or Andy McClarren to wonder what the hell you’re doing in Argentina and start asking questions—”
“I’ve been ordered to go down there,” Naylor interrupted.
“. . . so you can’t go down there.”
“What’s the alternative?”
“You want it step by step, or all at once?”
“All at once.”
“We’re all agreed on this, Allan. Frank, Natalie, and me.”
“Understood. Let’s hear it.”
“Frank’s Gulfstream comes here and picks up Vic D’Alessandro—”
“I think I see where you’re headed,” Naylor said.
“Stop interrupting me, for Christ’s sake, Allan!”
“And picks up Vic D’Alessandro, who is Charley’s oldest friend in Special Operations except for me. When Charley was flying me around in Desert One, Master Sergeant D’Alessandro was on the Gatling gun in the back.”
“I wasn’t aware of that.”
“I guess if you’re the most important general in the world, nobody can tell you to shut up.”
“Sorry,” Naylor said, and then, “I mean it. I’m sorry, Bruce, please go on.”
“And Charley’s oldest friend,” McNab went on.
Naylor opened his mouth to ask what was meant by that, but with a massive effort didn’t speak.
McNab pointed at Lieutenant Colonel Allan B. Naylor.
“They’ve been buddies since they were in short pants in that school in Fulda . . .”
“Saint Johan’s,” Lieutenant Colonel Naylor furnished.
“Unfortunately, Colonel, you’re apparently a chip off the old blockhead,” McNab said. “Shut up. When I want input from you, I’ll tell you.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“That was when Charley was only Karl Wilhelm von und zu Gossinger. Later, when he had also become that famous Texican—one Carlos Guillermo Castillo—Junior here followed him to West Point. Most recently, he was involved—on the fringes, to be sure, but involved—in Charley’s brief but successful incursion in the People’s Democratic Republic of Venezuela.
“Vic and Junior are, Natalie, Frank, and I feel, the ideal people to tell Charley all sides of the story. The three of us also feel that it is only fair to offer Charley the advice of fellow Outlaws we feel he might wish to bring with him, should he decide to go on active duty. People he trusts almost as much as he trusts Sweaty, who therefore may be able to overcome Sweaty’s rather firm position.
“To accomplish that, Frank’s Gulfstream will fly Vic and Junior to scenic Tocumen International Airport in the Republic of Panama, where they will board—on the CIA’s dime, by the way—yet another Gulfstream, this one owned by Panamanian Executive Aircraft, a wholly owned subsidiary of the LCBF Corporation.
“It will then fly to Argentina piloted by Colonel Jacob Torine, USAF, Retired, who was Castillo’s de facto chief of staff in the glory days of the Office of Organizational Analysis and later in the era of the often-maligned-by-the-President Merry Outlaws.
“His co-pilot will be Major Richard Miller, USA, Retired. On one hand, Major Miller is much like Colonel Naylor. He, too, marches in the Long Gray Line, and his father, too, is a general officer. On the other, before he got himself shot down and pretty badly banged up in Afghanistan, Miller was one hell of a Special Operations pilot and not only with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
“All of these people will confer with Castillo and his charming fiancée, and then we will hear whatever it is he has to say.
“That’s our best shot at this problem. The final decision, of course, is up to you, Allan. If you want to go to Argentina and deal with Charley yourself, no one can—or should—try to stop you.”
Tapping the fingertips of both hands together, General Naylor considered the question for a full thirty seconds, and then said, “Bruce, please call Mr. Lammelle and ask him to send his airplane.”
McNab nodded and then looked at Vic D’Alessandro, who gestured with his CaseyBerry.
“ETA here is fifteen minutes, General,” D’Alessandro reported.
The House on the Hill
Las Vegas, Nevada
1605 5 June 2007
The eavesdropping on the communications of the world by the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, is a rather simple procedure: They record everything said over the telephone, over the radio—and sometimes heard by cleverly placed “bugs”—by those in whom the several intelligence agencies of the United States are interested and then run it through a computer that filters out the garbage and after cracking any cryptography involved transfers the good stuff to another tape that is then distributed to the appropriate intelligence agency for analysis.
The idea is simple, the technology required is not.
Before the AFC Corporation took over the supplying of the technology—hardware and software—the NSA was relatively as deaf and useful as a stone pole. Afterward, of course, it was not.
Before the AFC Corporation took the NSA contract, Dr. Aloysius Casey— by far the majority stockholder in AFC, and both its chief engineer and chairman of its board of directors—could not be honestly said to have been putting victuals on his table with food stamps.
After the contracts went into force, though, he really prospered.
To the point where he had confided to his friend Charley Castillo—to whom he no longer referred to as “Hotshot”—that he had more money than he knew what to do with. He confided this to Castillo not only as a friend, but also because he knew that Castillo, too, had more money than he knew what to do with.
One of the things Casey had done with his wealth was of course to provide prototype equipment free of charge to the Special Forces community, but this—especially after Casey’s platoon of tax lawyers taught him how to charge this off as “research and development”—didn’t make much of a dent in the bottom line.
He had spent a hell of a lot of money building the House on the Hill for Mary-Catherine, whom he had married immediately after returning from the war in Vietnam. Their first home had been a basement room in her parents’ row house in South Boston. She had supported him emotionally—his and her parents thought he was either nuts or smoking funny cigarettes—when he went to MIT. And supported them financially by stuffing bags for long hours in a Stop & Shop Supermarket.
They had four years together in the House on the Hill, and then cancer got Mary-Catherine. Got her very quickly, which was the only good thing that could be said about that.
A year after Mary-Catherine left him alone—they’d never been able to have kids—in the House on the Hill, the demise of both the Office of Organizational Analysis and the Merry Outlaws, which was a brief reincarnation of the former, caused two of its members to be without work.
Casey had come to know both of them, and felt a kinship with both.
One of these was First Lieutenant Edmund “Peg-Leg” Lorimer, MI, USA, Retired, who had worn the Green Beret as an “A” Team commo sergeant—which logically really resonated with Casey—before getting a battlefield commission. He had been an officer just long enough to make first lieutenant when he was wounded in—and ultimately lost—his left leg just above the knee.
The other was Gunnery Sergeant Lester Bradley, USMC, Retired, who was twenty-one but looked much younger. He had been part of Castillo’s operation from the very beginning, even before they had been first formalized as the Office of Organizational Analysis.
Then a corporal in the Marine Guard detachment at the American embassy in Buenos Aires, Bradley had been sent—as the man who could best be spared—to drive an embassy truck carrying two fifty-five-gallon barrels of helicopter fuel to Uruguay. He was pressed into service in support of a hastily organized raid Castillo had undertaken to snatch Dr. John Paul Lorimer, a renegade American, for forcible repatriation to the United States.
Dr. Lorimer and Lieutenant Lorimer, it should be pointed out, were in no way related.
Castillo had handed Bradley an M-14 rifle and ordered him to do what he could to protect the fuel while he and other Special Operations operators—plus an FBI agent also pressed into service from his duties in the Uruguayan embassy looking for dirty money—conducted the raid.
The raid had promptly started to go sour, and might have failed—probably would have failed—had not Bradley taken out two of the bad guys with head shots, fired offhand from one hundred yards from his M-14 rifle and the FBI agent, taking his pistol out of its holster for the first time ever except on the FBI Academy’s pistol range at Quantico, used it to take out two more of them.
When he returned to the United States, then-Major Castillo had reported to the President—President Clendennen’s predecessor—that, since they obviously couldn’t be returned to their embassy duties, he had brought Corporal Bradley and FBI Special Agent David W. Yung home with him. He also reported that Dr. Lorimer had been killed by what they had learned were agents of the SVR as he was opening his safe. The safe had a little over sixteen million dollars’ worth of bearer bonds in it the SVR thought was theirs, Castillo told the President, and he had brought that home, too.
The President had a solution that dealt with what should be done with Castillo, others on the raid (including Bradley and Yung), and the money. He issued a Top Secret Presidential Finding establishing the Office of Organizational Analysis, named Castillo its chief, assigned Bradley, Yung, and everybody involved in the raid to it, and funded it with $500,000 from his Confidential Fund.
“In the meantime, Charley,” the President went on, “understanding I’m not telling you to do this, if you should happen to find sixteen million in bearer bonds somewhere on the sidewalk, you might consider using that for the expenses of OOA until I can come up with some more money for you.”
Special Agent Yung, who was an expert in the laundering of funds, established an account for the Lorimer Charitable & Benevolent Fund in the Riggs National Bank in Washington, and deposited sixteen million dollars in bearer bonds into it.
That was the beginning of what would become the LCBF Corporation, which was formed after, shortly before his untimely death, the President found it necessary to disband the OOA and order its members to disappear from the face of the earth.
When that happened, neither Lieutenant Lorimer nor Sergeant Bradley had anywhere to go. Neither had any family to speak of, and they had been retired from the service. Neither could Bradley continue to be Castillo’s shadow. Among other reasons for that was a redheaded Russian called Sweaty, who while she really liked Lester, did not want to have him around for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week.
Excerpted from Hazardous Duty by W. E. B. Griffin
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.