[ ONE ]
80 Kilometers North of Acapulco de Juárez
Guerrero State, Mexico
1110 11 April 2007
“Oh, shit! The fucking Federales!” the driver of the off-white Suburban said when he saw the roadblock ahead.
“Our esteemed associates in the unceasing war against drugs,” the man sitting beside him said. “Try to remember you’re a diplomat.”
The driver of the car was Chief Warrant Officer (3) Daniel Salazar, Special Forces, U.S. Army. The man sitting beside him was Lieutenant Colonel James D. Ferris, also U.S. Army Special Forces. The two men in the back of the white Suburban were Antonio Martinez and Eduardo Torres, both of whom were Special Agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Lieutenant Colonel Ferris was an assistant military attaché of the United States Embassy and Mr. Salazar was an administrative officer of the Office of the Military Attaché of the embassy. Both held diplomatic passports, and had been issued by the Mexican government a carnet—a plastic card the size of a driver’s license—further verifying this status. Martinez and Torres did not have diplomatic status, but had been issued a carnet identifying them as DEA agents working in Mexico with the blessing of the Mexican government.
Everyone was in civilian clothing. Ferris and Salazar were armed. Both carried Colt Model 1911A1 .45 ACP semi-automatic pistols in high-rise holsters concealed by their loose cotton shirts. They were also armed with fully automatic 5.56 mm AR15 A3 Tactical Carbines, now resting on the Suburban’s third row of seats.
The Mexican government didn’t like at all the fact that Americans were running around Mexico armed with pistols and what were actually submachine guns. But the laws of diplomacy are immutable. Diplomats are not subject to the laws of the country to which they are accredited.
Martinez and Torres were not armed. The theory was that because the DEA agents were working closely with Mexican law enforcement authorities, including and usually the Policía Federal, these agencies would provide them with all the protection they needed.
The subject of weapons had been a bone of contention between Colonel Ferris and the Honorable J. Howard McCann, whom President Joshua Ezekiel Clendennen had six weeks before appointed as his Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the Mexican Republic.
Sympathetic to the feelings of the Mexicans, Ambassador McCann had told the military attaché—Colonel Foster B. Lewis, MI—to make sure that Lieutenant Colonel Ferris was made aware that he agreed with the Mexican position that American diplomats should not go about armed absent a clear situation in which they might be in genuine danger.
When Colonel Lewis had a chat with Lieutenant Colonel Ferris about this, Ferris replied in a somewhat blunt manner perhaps to be expected of a Special Forces officer.
“Fuck him. I have no intention of getting blown away by some drug lord’s banditos without a fight.”
“Colonel, you have been informed of the ambassador’s desires.”
“Colonel, if you order me not to be armed, I will of course obey. I will also get on the horn to General McNab and request immediate relief.”
Colonel Lewis’s military superior was Major General Amos Watts, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s commander. Lieutenant Colonel Ferris’s immediate military superior was Lieutenant General Bruce J. McNab, the Special Operations Command (SPECOPSCOM) commander.
When Lewis reported the substance of his conversation with Ferris to Ambassador McCann, the ambassador had considered the political ramifications of the impasse, the most important of these being that General McNab and Secretary of State Natalie Cohen were, if not friends, then mutual admirers.
It had been the secretary’s idea—rather than a proposal from one of her subordinates—to have Army Special Forces personnel sent to Mexico to train the Mexican military and police forces so they could better wage their war against the drug cartels.
Ambassador McCann’s predecessor had protested the idea as best he could and had been overruled. The secretary was in love with her own idea.
Ambassador McCann’s predecessor had reported the substance of that conversation to McCann during the turnover.
“She told me that she had learned from General McNab that the primary role of Special Operations—despite all the publicity that Delta Force and Gray Fox get—is training of indigent forces to fight their own battles, and their success in doing so is judged by the amount of fighting the trainers have to do themselves, with no fighting at all being a perfect score. She said that seemed to her exactly what the situation in Mexico required.
“She also told me that she had prevailed upon General McNab to send her the best trainers he could, and that he had—‘reluctantly, we’re friends’—agreed to do so. So that’s what Ferris and his people are doing here—they’re on loan to the State Department for ten months. Ferris has been down here three.”
Ambassador McCann had told Colonel Lewis, “I’ll give this matter due consideration and make a decision about it later.”
Although Colonel Lewis considered himself a loyal subordinate of Ambassador McCann, he could not help himself from thinking that was the sort of response one could expect from a career diplomat: “Never decide today that which can be put off until tomorrow—or even later.”
Whenever Lieutenant Colonel Ferris knew that he and Danny Salazar would be traveling through what he privately thought of as “Indian Territory” accompanied by members of the DEA, or sometimes the FBI—the latter known as “legal attachés” and with the legal attaché afraid to defy Ambassador McCann, they also went unarmed—Ferris elected to arm himself and Danny with AR15 A3s in addition to their .45s. He had done so today when he headed for Acapulco.
He reasoned that if they were bushwhacked by drug scum, and the DIA or FBI guys happened to pick up the .45s that he and Danny happened to drop while grabbing their A3s, and that extra firepower kept everybody alive, he would hear nothing from Ambassador McCann.
The roadblock on the highway ahead consisted of six black uniformed Federales operating out of a Ford F-250 6.4L diesel crew cab truck, which Colonel Ferris suspected had been paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
One of the Federales, an AR15 A3 slung from his shoulder, stepped into the road and held up his hand, ordering the Suburban to stop.
“There’s a CD plate on this,” Danny said. “Jesus H. Christ!”
A Corps Diplomatique license plate on a vehicle was usually enough to see the passengers therein waved through roadblocks.
“Make nice, Danny,” Ferris said, “remembering that we are guests here in sunny Meh-hi-co.”
Danny slowed the Suburban to a stop, simultaneously taking from his shirt pocket his diplomatic carnet and holding it up.
Ferris, doing the same, ordered: “Carnet time, guys. Smile at the nice Federales.”
The Federale who had blocked the road approached the Suburban.
“Good morning, Sergeant,” Ferris said in Spanish and holding up his carnet. “What seems to be the problem?”
“Out of the truck, please,” the sergeant said.
“Sergeant, I am Lieutenant Colonel James D. Ferris, an assistant military attaché of the U.S. embassy.”
“Get out of the truck, Colonel.”
“I demand to see the person in charge,” Ferris said as he opened the door and stepped to the ground.
He saw a Federale lieutenant standing with the others.
“Over there,” the Federale said, nodding toward him.
“Thank you,” Ferris said.
“Everybody out,” the Federale said.
Ferris walked toward the teniente.
“Good afternoon, Comandante,” Ferris began.
Ferris knew that a comandante actually was a captain. But he had learned over the years that people are seldom offended by a promotion, even one given in error.
“Comandante, I am Colonel James D. Ferris, an assistant military attaché of the U.S. embassy.”
The teniente did not reply, but three of his men, two second sergeants and a corporal, walked toward the Suburban.
“This is my carnet,” Ferris said.
There was a burst of 5.56 mm fire.
Ferris spun around.
Salazar and Torres were on the ground. Martinez, a surprised look on his face, was on his knees, holding his hands to his bleeding abdomen. Then he fell to one side.
“You murdering sonsofbitches!” Ferris shouted.
Another second sergeant struck Ferris in the back of his head with a pistol.
When Ferris fell to the ground, the second sergeant who had pistol-whipped him quickly pulled Ferris’s wrists behind him, fastened them securely with “plastic handcuffs,” and did the same to his ankles.
Then the teniente pulled a black plastic garbage bag over Ferris’s head and closed it loosely. Four of the Federales picked up Ferris and loaded him into the rear of the Suburban.
The teniente and one of the second sergeants then got into the Suburban, and with the second sergeant driving, made a U-turn and headed in the direction of Mexico City. The others got into the Ford F-250 and followed the Suburban.
[ THREE ]
Office of the Commanding General
U.S. Special Operations Command
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
1625 11 April 2007
There were two telephones—one black, the other red—and an open leather attaché case on the desk of Lieutenant General Bruce J. McNab, the small, muscular, ruddy-faced officer who, sporting a flowing red mustache, commanded SPECOPSCOM.
The red telephone had both a buzzer and several light emitting diodes. The red one began to flash as its buzzer went off. When McNab grabbed it, a green light emitting diode (LED) illuminated, indicating that the encryption system was functioning. Protocol required that persons privileged to have a Command Net telephone—one notch down from the White House switchboard network—answer the telephone within thirty seconds. A timer on the telephone base informed General McNab that he had done so in seven seconds.
“General McNab,” he said.
“This is the White House switchboard. Please confirm functioning encryption.”
“Confirm,” McNab said.
“Go ahead, Madame Secretary,” the White House operator said.
“Bruce, this is Natalie Cohen,” the secretary of State said, then chuckled, and said, “who has just decided to call you later.”
“Yes, ma’am,” McNab said.
The LEDs had gone out by the time he replaced the handset.
He turned his attention to the attaché case, which held what looked like a normal Hewlett-Packard laptop computer and a device that looked like a BlackBerry cellular telephone. They were cushioned in rubber foam with a small row of buttons and LEDs. Neither the laptop nor the BlackBerry were what they seemed to be.
The attaché case was known as “The Brick,” a term going back to the first cellular telephones issued to senior officers that had been about the size and weight of a large brick.
He picked up that device that looked like a BlackBerry. It was known to those who both were privileged to have one and knew the story as a “CaseyBerry.” He knew that when Secretary Cohen said she would call him later, she would do so immediately using the CaseyBerry in her Brick.
As McNab looked at his CaseyBerry, a green LED, indicating an incoming call, lit up as did a blue LED indicating the encryption function was operating.
Those who believed the White House switchboard and its ancillary encryption capabilities were state of the art were wrong. State of the art was really what Aloysius Francis Casey, PhD, termed “Prototype Systems, Undergoing Testing.”
When, for example, the encryption system in the “Prototype, Undergoing Testing” Brick that General McNab held had all the bugs worked out, it would be made available to the White House and to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland.
In the meantime, even if NSA intercepted the signals transmitted—via satellites 27,000 miles over the earth—between the AFC Corporation’s test facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Bricks in the hands of a few more than a dozen people around the world, they would not be able to break the encryption. Dr. Casey was sure of this because AFC, Inc. had designed, installed, and maintained the decryption computers at Fort Meade.
Before he would turn over to the government McNab’s “Prototype, Undergoing Testing” Brick with all the bugs worked out, Casey would insure that McNab and others on the CaseyBerry network had a newer “Prototype, Undergoing Testing” Brick whose encrypted signals NSA could not crack.
General McNab pressed the talk button.
“McNab,” he said.
“Bruce, I just sent you a radio I just got from Mexico City. Do you have it?”
“Just came in,” he said.
The monitor of the laptop had illuminated and was now showing the message the secretary of State had received from Ambassador McCann.
McNab pushed three buttons on his desk, simultaneously informing his secretary, his senior aide-de-camp, and his junior aide-de-camp that he required their services.
He still had his fingers on the buttons when the door burst open and Captain Albert H. Walsh, his junior aide-de-camp, who was six feet two inches tall and weighed one hundred ninety-five pounds, walked quickly in.
“Just you, Al,” McNab said. Then he made a push-back gesture to his secretary and his senior aide, who were now standing behind Walsh. They turned and went away.
“Just got it,” McNab said.
McNab pointed to a chair and pushed the loudspeaker button on his CaseyBerry. Captain Walsh sat down and took a notebook and ballpoint pen from the pocket of his desert pattern battle dress uniform.
General McNab finished reading Ambassador McCann’s message that had been sent to the secretary of State.
“Shit!” he exclaimed, immediately adding, “Sorry.”
“That was my reaction, Bruce,” the secretary of State said.
McNab pushed one of the buttons in the attaché case. A printer on the sideboard behind his desk began to whir. McNab pointed to it, and Captain Walsh went quickly to the printer.
“Something about this smells,” McNab said. “Danny Salazar is no novice. For that matter, nor is Ferris.”
“You know everything I do,” she said.
“Has the press got this yet?”
“They will half an hour after it gets to the White House.”
“Can I call Roscoe Danton before that happens, give him a heads-up? “
Roscoe J. Danton was a member of The Washington Times-Post Writers Syndicate.
“Gut feeling we should. He’s almost one of us. We owe him. And we may need him.”
“Does Danton have a Brick?”
“No Brick,” McNab replied. “A CaseyBerry. Aloysius likes him. Number 14.”
“I’ll call him and tell him to call Porky. But all he’ll have, Bruce, is ten or fifteen minutes.”
John David “Porky” Parker was President Joshua Ezekiel Clendennen’s spokesman.
“That’s a long time, sometimes.”
“Bruce, I’m really sorry about this.”
“I know,” McNab said.
The LEDs went out.
McNab put down the CaseyBerry, picked up the black telephone, and pushed one of the buttons on its base.
“Terry,” he announced a moment later, “I need you.”
“On my way, sir,” Major General Terry O’Toole, deputy commander of SPECOPSCOM, replied.
He was in McNab’s office forty-five seconds later. He was trim and ruddy-faced.
McNab pointed to the printout. O’Toole picked it up and read it.
“Shit,” he said. “And I gave Jim Ferris to you.”
“What you did, General,” McNab said, “was comply with my request for the name of your best field grade trainer. What I did was send him to DIA so they could send him to Mexico. And I sent Danny Salazar with him to cover his back.”
O’Toole looked at him.
McNab went on: “And what you’re going to say now is, ‘Yes, sir, General, that’s the way it went down.’”
O’Toole met McNab’s eyes, nodded, and repeated, “Yes, sir, General, that’s the way it went down.”
O’Toole said: “What happens now?”
“Do you know Colonel Ferris’s religious persuasion?”
“Al,” General McNab ordered, “get on the horn to the XVIII Airborne Corps Chaplain. Tell him I want the senior Episcopal chaplain and the senior Roman Catholic chaplain here in fifteen minutes.”
“Yes, sir,” Captain Walsh said, and went to a telephone on a side table.
“And call my wife,” McNab said. “Same message; here in fifteen.”
“What about your wife, Terry? Does she know Mrs. Ferris?”
“May I use your telephone, General?” O’Toole replied.
“Don’t tell her who,” McNab said.
“I understand, sir.”
Neither Mrs. McNab nor Mrs. O’Toole would be surprised by the summons. Both had gone more times than they liked to remember to accompany their husbands when they went to inform wives that their husbands were either dead or missing.
McNab picked up the CaseyBerry and punched in a number.
It was answered ten seconds later in what was known as “The Stockade.” Delta Force and Gray Fox were quartered in what had once been the Fort Bragg Stockade. The joke was that all the money spent to make sure no one got out of the stockade had not been wasted. All of the fences and razor wire and motion sensors were perfectly suited to keep people out of the Stockade.
The CaseyBerry was answered by a civilian employee of the Department of the Army, who were known by the acronym “DAC.” His name was Victor D’Alessandro, a very short, totally bald man in his late forties who held Civil Service pay grade GS-15. Army regulations provided that a GS-15 held the assimilated rank of colonel. Before Mr. D’Alessandro had retired, he had been a chief warrant officer (5) drawing pay and allowances very nearly those of a lieutenant colonel. And before he put on the bars of a warrant officer junior grade, D’Alessandro had been a sergeant major.
“Go,” Mr. D’Alessandro said by way of answering his CaseyBerry.
“Bad news, Vic,” General McNab said. “Danny Salazar and two DEA guys with him were whacked about noon fifty miles from Acapulco. They were in an embassy SUV with Colonel Ferris. The SUV and Ferris are missing.”
“Shit! What happened?”
“I want you to go down there—black—and find out,” McNab said. “You and no more than two of your people. By the time you get to Pope, the C-38 will be waiting to fly you to Atlanta. By the time you get there, you should have reservations on Aero Mexico to either Acapulco or Mexico City. I’ll try to confirm while you’re en route.”
In a closely guarded hangar at Pope Air Force Base, which abutted Fort Bragg, were several aircraft, including a highly modified Boeing 727 and a C-38, the latter the military nomenclature of the Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd./Galaxy Aerospace Corporation Astra SPX business jet. The C-38 had civilian markings.
“I’ll take Nunez and Vargas.”
“Who’s paying for this?”
McNab, who hadn’t considered that detail, gave it some quick thought.
There were two options, neither of which would cost the U.S. taxpayer a dime. In D’Alessandro’s safe, together with an assortment of passports in different names, were two manila envelopes, one marked “TP” and one “Charley.” Each envelope held two inch-thick stacks of credit cards, American Express Platinum and CitiBank Gold Visa cards, the names embossed on them matching the names on the passports, and two business-size envelopes, each holding $10,000 in used hundred-, fifty-, and twenty-dollar bills.
There had been a “TP” envelope in the safe for several years. TP stood for Those People. Those People were an anonymous group of very wealthy business men who saw it as their patriotic duty to fund black Special Operations missions when getting official funds to do so would be difficult or impossible.
The “Charley” envelope was a recent addition to D’Alessandro’s safe. Charley stood for Lieutenant Colonel Carlos G. Castillo, Special Forces, USA, Retired. The Amex Platinum and CitiBank Gold Visa cards in the Charley envelope identified their holders as officers of the LCBF Corporation.
During a recent covert operation—which went so far beyond black that McNab had dubbed it Operation March Hare, as in “Mad as a March Hare“—Castillo and McNab had learned that Those People had concluded that since they were making a financial contribution to an operation, they had the right to throw the special operators under the bus when this seemed to be the logical thing to do when considering the big picture.
One of the results of that was the LCBF Corporation’s decision to provide General McNab with the same sort of stand-by funding as Those People provided. It had not posed any financial problems for the LCBF Corporation to do so. The LCBF Corporation already had negotiable assets of more than fifty million dollars when the director of the Central Intelligence Agency handed Mr. David W. Yung—LCBF’s vice-president, finance—a Treasury Check for $125 million in settlement of the CIA’s promise to pay that sum, free of any tax liabilities, to whoever delivered to them an intact Russian Tupelov Tu-934A transport aircraft.
Mr. D’Alessandro had written “Charley” on the LCBF envelope without thinking about it. D’Alessandro had still been a sergeant major when Second Lieutenant Castillo had first been passed behind the fences of the Stockade. And as good sergeants major do, he had taken the young officer under his wing. D’Alessandro and General McNab both devoutly believed they had raised Castillo from a pup.
General McNab would have dearly liked to stick Those People with the costs of D’Alessandro’s reconnaissance mission, but decided in the end it would not be the thing to do now. He would think of something else—a bayonet, maybe—to stick them with at a later time.
“Let Charley pay for it, Vic,” he said.
“I’ll be in touch,” D’Alessandro said and broke the CaseyBerry connection.
The Machiavelli Penthouse Suite
3355 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, Nevada
1710 11 April 2007
Aloysius F. Casey, PhD, chairman of the board of the AFC Corporation, stepped off the elevator onto the upper-level reception foyer of the Machiavelli Suite, and then stepped to one side, graciously waving out the two females from the elevator.
The first woman was Mrs. Agnes Forbison, who was fifty-one, gray-haired, and getting just a little chubby. Mrs. Forbison was vice-president, administration, of the LCBF Corporation. Previously she had been—as a GS-15—administrative assistant to the Honorable Thomas Hall, secretary of the then-newly formed Department of Homeland Security, and after that, deputy chief for administration of the now defunct Office of Organizational Analysis.
Second to get off the elevator was a stunningly beautiful woman with luxuriant dark red hair. Her passport identified her as a Uruguayan citizen by the name of Susanna Barlow.
Following Señorita Barlow off the elevator was Lieutenant Colonel Carlos G. Castillo, Retired—a good-looking six-foot one-hundred-ninety-pound thirty-seven-year-old—who was the president of the LCBF Corporation. Castillo was followed by an enormous black dog, a Bouvier des Flandres, who answered to Max.
As Castillo stood beside Miss Barlow, she said—hissed would perhaps be more accurate—“You remember I told you this was a mistake.”
On Castillo’s heels came Mr. Edgar Delchamps, a non-descript man in his early sixties, who was vice-president, planning and operations, of the LCBF Corporation. He was retired from the Central Intelligence Agency, where he had served for more than thirty years as an officer of the Clandestine Service.
Delchamps was followed by thirty-three-year-old David W. Yung, Jr., who stood five-feet-eight and weighed one hundred fifty pounds. Despite his obvious Oriental heritage Mr. Yung could not speak any of the languages of the Orient. He was fluent, however, in four other languages. The vice-president, financial, of the LCBF Corporation was an attorney and previously had been a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The final passenger stepped off the elevator. His Argentine passport identified him as Tomas Barlow. He was about the same age as Castillo and was built like him. He was Señorita Barlow’s brother. In a previous life, they had been Colonel Dmitri Berezovsky, the SVR rezident in Berlin, and, Lieutenant Colonel Svetlana Alekseeva, the SVR rezident in Copenhagen.
Castillo walked to the edge of the upper level entrance foyer, rested his hands on the bronze rail atop the glass wall and looked to the lower level. Max went with him, put his front paws on the rail and barked.
Four men—three of them well, even elegantly, dressed—were standing there, looking up at the upper level. One of them was a legendary hotelier who owned four of the more glitzy Las Vegas hotels, and three more in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Biloxi, Mississippi.
Another was a well-known, perhaps even famous, investment banker. Another had made an enormous fortune in data processing. Castillo knew him to be a U.S. Naval Academy graduate. The fourth man was a sort of mousy looking character in a suit that looked like it had come from the Final Clearance Rack at Goodwill. All that Castillo knew about him was that no one knew exactly how many radio and television stations he owned.
Those People and the executive board of the LCBF were about to meet.
Castillo turned and walked back to the people by the elevator door.
“This is your show, Aloysius,” he said, loudly enough for Those People to hear. “You get to choose who gets thrown off the balcony first.”
Delchamps and Tom Barlow chuckled. Yung smiled.
Casey shook his head, and walked toward the head of the curving staircase leading to the lower level. Max trotted after him, then turned to look at Castillo as if expecting an order to “stay.” When that did not come, he went down the stairs ahead of Casey, headed directly for a coffee table laden with hors d’ouvres and with great delicacy helped himself to a caviar-topped cracker.
“Careful, Max,” Castillo called. “They’re probably poisoned.”
“Enough, Carlito!” Señorita Barlow ordered.
She then started down the stairs. Everyone followed, Casey last, after Castillo, as if to insure Castillo didn’t get away.
“Annapolis,” as Castillo thought of him, waited at the foot of the stairs and put out his right hand.
“Thank you for coming,” he said. “We have to get this straightened out between us.”
Castillo took the hand with visible reluctance.
“For the good of the country,” Annapolis added.
“We don’t seem to agree on what’s good for the country, do we?” Castillo replied.
“I thought champagne would be in order,” “Hotelier” said, “to toast the success of the latest operation. What was it called?”
He snapped his fingers and two waiters moved to coolers and began to open bottles of champagne.
“I understand some people called it March Hare,” Edgar Delchamps offered.
“Well, whatever it was called, it was one hell of a success,” “Radio & TV Stations” said.
The waiters quickly poured the champagne, and then walked around offering it on trays to everyone.
“I give you . . .” Hotelier said, raising his glass.
“Whoa!” Castillo said. “Two things before we do that, if you please. One, why are we talking about such things with these fellows in here passing the champagne?”
“They work for me,” “Investment Banker” said. “They are trustworthy.”
“Somewhat reluctantly—I’m paranoid on the subject of who gets to hear what—I’ll give you a pass on that.”
“Thank you,” Investment Banker said. “Anything else, Colonel?”
“One more thing,” Castillo said. “Two-Gun, give the nice man the envelope.”
David W. Yung had earned the moniker “Two-Gun” when he and Edgar Delchamps were about to pass through customs into Argentina. Yung was then a legal attaché—the euphemism for FBI agent—accredited to both Argentina and Uruguay, and thus immune to laws regarding the carrying of firearms. Delchamps enjoyed no such immunity; if found in possession of a weapon, he would have been arrested. The problem had been solved by his giving Yung his Officer’s Model Colt .45 ACP pistol to carry though Customs—thus resulting in Yung to immediately being dubbed “Two-Gun.”
Yung walked to Investment Banker and handed him a large manila envelope. It was fully stuffed and held together with think rubber bands.
“And this is?” Investment Banker said.
“I’ve been told it contains two hundred thousand dollars in circulated currency,” Castillo said. “I never opened it.”
“The funds we sent to you?”
“Correct. I wanted you to have them in case you were thinking your money had anything to do with the success of Operation March Hare.”
“Did you really think you could put my Carlos in your pocket for a miserable two hundred thousand dollars?” Señorita Barlow demanded.
“Señorita Barlow,” Annapolis said reasonably, “that was all that Colonel Castillo asked for.”
“Score one for the Navy, Sweaty,” Castillo said.
During her association with The Merry Outlaws, “Svetlana” had quickly morphed first to “Svet” and then even more quickly to “Sweaty.”
Annapolis pressed his advantage.
“We stood willing to provide whatever was asked for,” he said.
“Yeah,” Aloysius Casey said, “but you thought you were buying something that wasn’t for sale.”
“It seems to me,” Investment Banker said, “if I may say so, that our problem has been one of communication . . . .”
“I just told you what our problem was,” Casey interrupted. “You thought you were buying something that wasn’t for sale.”
“It seems to me, if I may say so,” Delchamps said sarcastically, “that the Irishman has just put both thumbs on the problem. You thought you owned us for two hundred thousand.”
There was silence for a moment, then Investment Banker said, “If I may continue, gentlemen?”
He interpreted the silence that followed to mean there was no objection, and he went on: “If either of us had, when suspicions arose, contacted the other . . . .”
“You were suspicious of us?” Yung challenged sarcastically.
“Yes, indeed, Counselor,” Investment Banker said. “Perhaps I was being paranoid, but when the Locator suddenly showed Colonel Castillo to be halfway between Budapest and Vienna—on a Danube River boat that has the reputation of being a floating brothel—when last we’d heard he was on the Lopez Citrus Farms property in Mexico, I began to question Dr. Casey’s data, and thought we might be having a problem.”
“I thought putting Charley on the Love Boat was a nice touch,” Delchamps said smugly.
Casey explained: “We were just a little worried that one of you might tell Montvale, or maybe even Clendennen, that Charley was in Mexico—and where.”
President Clendennen recently had appointed Charles W. Montvale to be his vice-president. He had previously been director of National Intelligence.
“To be completely honest,” Annapolis said, “that path of action was discussed. The phrase I used at time was ‘over my dead body.’ And obviously I prevailed.” He looked at Castillo. “I give you my word of honor, Colonel.”
We have just knocked rings, Castillo thought.
A former member of the Brigade of Midshipmen of the Naval Academy has just given his word of honor to a former member of the Corps of Cadets at West Point, fully expecting him to take it.
And the funny thing is, I’m going to do just that.
“I’ll take your word,” Castillo said. “Operative word, your. To be completely honest, you’re the only one of your crew I trust.”
“Some small progress is better than none at all,” Hotelier said. “For your information, Colonel, we take no actions of that sort unless there is unanimity among us.”
Castillo didn’t reply.
“Without objection, I will continue with the toast,” Hotelier said. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the magnificent success of Operation March Hare.”
Champagne was sipped. Max took the opportunity to help himself to a bacon wrapped oyster.
“There’s liable to be a toothpick in that,” Sweaty said with concern.
“Max knows who we’re dealing with,” Castillo said. “He looked carefully before he grabbed it. He also sniffed for cyanide.”
There were a few chuckles at this.
“Very droll,” Investment Banker said. “But if we are to continue working together . . .”
“And whatever gave you the idea that is even a remote possibility?” Castillo asked.
“Because we share the same objective,” Hotelier said. “Of defending the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
“I heard somewhere that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” Castillo said. “Would you be interested in my take on You People?”
“I suspect we’re going to get it even if all of us chorused, ‘Hell, no,’” Annapolis said. “But I’d like to hear it.”
“You started out with good intentions,” Castillo said. “And I’ll admit that the money you’ve provided to SPECOPSCOM—and I presume to the agency and others—helped them to do things that they wouldn’t have been able to do because they couldn’t get the funds from Congress.
“But then—how did that Englishman put it? ‘Power corrupts . . .’”
“If you’re talking about John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, First Baron Acton,” Annapolis said, “what he said was ‘All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’”
“Thank you,” Castillo said. “Sweaty, Annapolis men always like to demonstrate their erudition.”
“I tend to agree with the first part of that quotation,” Annapolis went on. “Is that what you’re suggesting happened here?”
“Bull’s-eye, Admiral,” Castillo said.
“Actually, I was a commander,” Annapolis said. “All right, Colonel, we’re guilty as charged. What would you have us do? Commit seppuku?”
“That’d work for you,” Castillo said. “But I don’t see any VFW buttons on your pals.”
“What are you talking about?” Sweaty demanded.
“Seppuku, my love, also known as harakari, is what defeated samurai—warriors—do to atone for their sins. It involves stabbing yourself in the belly with a sword and then giving it a twist. But only warriors are allowed to do that.”
“I don’t have a VFW pin, Colonel,” Radio & TV Stations said. “But I do have a baseball cap with the legend ‘Palm Beach Chapter, Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association’ embroidered in gold on it. Would you say that gives me the right to disembowel myself?”
“Only if you didn’t buy the cap at a yard sale,” Castillo said.
Radio & TV Stations did not look anything like what comes to mind when the term “warrior” was used.
“I got mine after I showed them my DD214 and gave them fifty bucks,” Radio & TV Stations said.
DD214 was the Defense Department’s form that listed one’s military service, qualifications, and any decorations.
“You were a helicopter pilot in Vietnam?” Castillo asked, but even as the words came out of his mouth he knew that was the case.
Radio & TV Stations met Castillo’s eyes and nodded.
“I’ll be a sonofabitch,” Castillo said.
“It gets better than that, Castillo,” Annapolis said. “Tell him, Chopper Jockey.”
“I’d planned to tell you this at some time, but not under these circumstances,” Radio & TV Stations said. “But what the hell. I would guess you’ve heard of Operation Lam Son 719?”
“I was shot down—and wounded—during it,” Radio & TV Stations went on. “My co-pilot and I were hiding in a rice paddy, wondering if we were going to die right there—or after the VC found us and put us in a bamboo cage—when a pretty well shot up Huey flew through some really nasty anti-aircraft fire and landed next to us. The pilot and his co-pilot jumped out, threw us onto the Huey, and got us out of there.
“I later learned the pilot was a young Mexican-American from San Antonio who had flown fifty-odd such missions before his luck ran out. He became a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor.”
“He wasn’t a Mexican-American,” Castillo said. “He was a Texican, a Texan of Mexican heritage.”
“You knew this man, Karl?” Berezovsky asked.
“Unfortunately, no,” Castillo said.
“Don’t stop there,” Annapolis said. “Tell him the rest.”
Radio & TV Stations considered the order, nodded, and went on: “Fast forward—what? Twelve, thirteen years? Maybe a little longer. I was in San Antone on business. I own one of the TV stations there, an English FM station, and one each Spanish language AM and FM station.
“I found myself with a little time to kill, and finally remembering the man who saved my life just before he got blown away was from there, thought they might have buried him there in the Fort Sam National Cemetery. I called them, they said he was, so I stopped by a florist, and went to the cemetery and laid a dozen roses on the grave of Warrant Officer Junior Grade Jorge Alejandro Castillo, MOH.”
“Your father, Carlito?” Sweaty asked softly.
“Who according to his tombstone had left this vale of tears when he was nineteen years old,” Radio & TV Stations went on, “which caused me to think, what am I doing walking around with more money than I know what to do with, and this Mexican—excuse me, Texican—kid who saved my life is pushing up daisies?
“Inspiration struck. What I could do to assuage my guilt was throw money at his family. I even thought that might be the reason God or fate or whatever had let me make all the money, so I could do something good with it.
“So I called the guy who does security for my stations—he’s an ex-cop—and told him to get me an address for Mr. Castillo’s family. In ten minutes I had it, so I told the limo driver to take me there.
“Great big house behind a twelve-foot-tall cast iron fence. The Castillos were obviously not living on food stamps. On the lawn, a blonde teenage boy and a great big fat Mexican teenage boy were beating hell out of each other. I later realized that was probably you, Colonel.”
“And my cousin Fernando, also a Texican,” Castillo said.
“So I called the security guy back and got the skinny on the Castillo family. They could buy and sell me. So I told the driver to take me to the airport.”
“You didn’t go in the house?” Sweaty asked.
“Sweaty . . . is it all right if I call you that?”
Svetlana considered that for a full ten seconds, then nodded.
“Sweaty, I’m a coward with an active imagination. I could see myself introducing myself to Mr. Castillo’s father and mother and maybe his kid, telling them their dead son had saved my life in Vietnam, and then them asking, ‘So where the hell have you been for the past thirteen, fourteen years? You had more important things to do?’”
“They wouldn’t have done that,” Castillo said. “My father’s co-pilot—my father kicked him out of his Huey just before he took off and got blown away—is practically a member of the family. He’s a retired two-star.”
“Like I said, Colonel, I’m a coward,” Radio & TV Stations said. “What I’m hoping is that this trip down memory lane will convince you there were two of us who said ‘over my dead body’ when it was suggested that turning you over to Ambassador Montvale so that he could turn you over to the Russians was the best solution to the Congo-X problem.”
Castillo looked first at Sweaty, who shrugged, which he interpreted to mean “Maybe, why not?” and then at Delchamps, who did the same thing, and finally at Annapolis, who nodded.
“Okay,” Castillo said. “Two good guys out of four. Or are there more of you?”
“There’s more,” Annapolis said. “The proponents of letting Montvale turn you and Sweaty and Colonel Berezovsky over to the Russians felt their presence here today might be a little awkward.”
Castillo snorted, and then asked, “How many more?”
“Well, counting Aloysius and Colonel Hamilton . . .”
“Don’t count either one of us,” Casey said. “Hamilton’s as pissed with you people as I am. More. He was the one who let me see how you regarded us as employees.”
“Does that mean you are permanently shutting down our communications?” Annapolis asked.
“It means I’m with Charley, whatever Charley decides.”
“How many others?” Castillo pursued.
“In all, there are nine of us,” Annapolis said.
“Which means that five of you wanted to throw Charley to the lions?” Mrs. Agnes Forbison asked. It was the first time she’d opened her mouth.
“Unfortunately,” Investment Banker said, “five of us were considering that option.”
“But were dissuaded from doing so,” Agnes said. “The question then becomes how can we be sure they can be dissuaded the next time a situation like that comes up?”
“The question, Mother Forbison,” Delchamps said, “is ‘whether or not, having indulged the Irishman by coming here in the first place, do we decide we’ve heard enough, give these people the finger, and walk out of here?’”
“Is that what you want to do, Edgar?” Castillo asked.
“It was when I walked in here,” Delchamps replied. “Now I’m not so sure. And either, to judge by Mother Forbison’s question, is she.”
“You want to discuss this privately?” Castillo asked.
“That was the first thing that popped into my mind,” Delchamps said. “But I’ve sort of changed my mind about that, too. Let’s lay everything on the table.”
“Go ahead,” Castillo said.
“Giving the benefit of the doubt to the five of These People who were smart enough not to show up here today, I understand where they were coming from. They have been passing both money and information to people in the community for some time. The money was really needed and the information was more often than not useful, and the people who got it were grateful. Maybe pathetically grateful because it allowed them to do what they’re supposed to do. And then the Irishman got in the act and supplied These People with better communication than anybody else has. It wasn’t hard for the Evil Quintet to go from that to thinking they were really important, and thus knew what was best for the community . . . and from that to thinking they knew what was best for the country. And there’s a little of ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ in that.”
Castillo was surprised at Delchamps little speech. He often thought that the veteran CIA agent was as colloquial as a clam.
And Delchamps wasn’t through.
“A good idea went wrong. That happens. What you do when that happens is make the necessary adjustments.”
“Such as?” Castillo asked.
“Remove temptation,” Delchamps said. “The information stream becomes one way. They tell us . . . only us . . . what they know, and we decide who, if anybody, also gets to know. And they don’t tell anybody what we’re doing unless we tell them they can. I don’t think the Admiral here, or the chopper pilot, would have any problem with that.”
He paused and looked at first Radio & TV Stations and then at Annapolis, and then asked, “Would you?”
“No,” Radio & TV Stations said.
“None at all,” Annapolis said.
“You’re not going to ask me?” Investment Banker asked.
“What you two, and especially the Evil Quintet, would have to fully understand is that whoever breaks the rules has to go.”
“What do you mean, ‘has to go’?” Investment Banker asked.
Delchamps shrugged. “I think you take my meaning,” he said.
“My God!” Hotelier said. “Was that a threat?”
“I have never threatened anybody in my life,” Delchamps said. “I’m just outlining the conditions under which we could have a continuing relationship.”
Dmitri Berezovsky smiled.
They all know, Castillo thought, that the CIA establishment refers to Delchamps and perhaps a dozen other old Clandestine Service Officers like him as “Dinosaurs.”
They were thought to be as out of place in the modern intelligence community as dinosaurs because to a man their operational philosophy had been a paraphrase of what General Philip Sheridan said in January 1869 vis-à-vis Native Americans.
The Dinosaurs believed that the only good communist was a dead communist.
They all also know that Delchamps is alleged to have recently applied this philosophy to the SVR rezident in Vienna and to a member of the CIA’s Clandestine Service who had sold out. The latter was found dead in his car in the CIA parking garage in Langley with an ice-pick in his ear, and the former had been found strangled to death with a Hungarian garrote in a taxi outside the U.S. embassy in Vienna.
Neither the FBI and the Austrian Bundeskriminalamtgesetz were able to solve either murder.
And maybe proving that I’m a young dinosaur, the truth is I wasn’t at all upset that they had been unsuccessful.
The question then becomes how are These People going to react to Delchamps “outlining the conditions under which we can have a continuing relationship?”
“Would you like a moment alone to discuss this?” Delchamps asked.
“So far as I’m concerned, that won’t be necessary,” Annapolis said. “I can accept those conditions.”
“And if anyone else doesn’t like it,” Radio & TV Stations said, “they’re out.”
He looked at Investment Banker and Hotelier.
“In or out?” he asked.
“I can’t remember ever having been in a negotiation before, even with the Mafia,” Hotelier said, “where the options were to go along or ‘go away.’”
“Is that a yes or a no?” Radio & TV Stations asked.
“I think what Mr. Delchamps has proposed is reasonable under the circumstances. I’m in.”
“I always look for the bottom line,” Investment Banker said. “And the bottom line here is that both parties need each other to do what we know has to be done, and that no one else can do. I accept the conditions.”
“I’ll deal with . . . what did you call them, Mr. Delchamps? ‘the Evil Quintet’?” Radio & TV Stations said.
“That’s what I call them when there are ladies present,” Delchamps said. “When you ‘deal with’ them, you might mention that.”
He looked at Castillo.
“Your call, Ace,” he said. “You’ve heard the proposal. Okay by you?”
Castillo stopped himself just in time from saying, “I’m going to have to consult with my consigliere.”
But he did just that, by looking first at Sweaty and then at her brother. Both nodded just perceptibly.
“Okay,” he finally said, simply.
Annapolis walked to him and offered his hand. Castillo shook it. Annapolis then offered his hand to Sweaty, as Radio & TV Stations walked to Castillo with his hand extended. Wordlessly, all of Those People solemnly shook the hands of all of the Merry Outlaws.
“I think another toast is in order,” Hotelier said when that was over. “More champagne, or something stronger?”
“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me a taste of that twenty-four-year-old Macallan,” Delchamps said, pointing to a long row of whisky bottles on a bar.
“I’ll go along with Patrick Henry,” Agnes Forbison said.
The two waiters quickly took orders for drinks, and quickly and efficiently distributed them.
Castillo wondered how much he could trust Investment Banker’s waiters to forget what they had just heard.
Well, I think we can safely presume if they already don’t know of Edgar’s reputation, he’ll tell them. That should insure their silence.
“If I may,” Hotelier said, raising his glass. “To the successful conclusion of difficult negotiations and our success in future operations.”
“And if I may,” Castillo then said. “To full understanding of the conditions of our new relationship, and to the long, long time it’s going to be between now and our having to put that understanding to the test.”
Everybody took another swallow.
“I hate to rain on our happy little parade,” Annapolis said, “but that time may be a good deal shorter than we all hoped.”
When no one replied, he went on: “Just before you came in, we were watching Wolf News. We recorded it. I think you should have a look at it.”
He waved at the long couch, and the arm chairs around it.
There was a muted whirring and a screen dropped from under the upper level foyer, and then another whirring as drapes slid over the windows looking down at the Miracle Strip.
When everybody had found a seat, the lights dimmed, the stirring sounds of the fourth and final part of Gioacchino Antonio Rossini’s William Tell Overture—sometimes known as the Lone Ranger Theme—filled the room.
A blonde, crew-cutted head filled the screen.
“I’m J. Pastor Jones,” the head announced. “It’s five P.M. in Los Angeles, and eight in Montpelier and time for the news!”
It wasn’t quite time. There followed a ninety second commercial for undetectable undergarments for those suffering from bladder leakage problems, and then came another ninety-second commercial for those who suffered heartburn from eating spicy pizza and “other problem causing goodies.”
This gave Castillo plenty of time to consider that he disliked TV anchors in general and J. Pastor Jones in particular. Jones reminded Castillo of the Teacher’s Pets of his early childhood and the male cheerleaders of his high school years. J. Pastor Jones was not only from Vermont—which Castillo thought of as The People’s Democratic Republic of Vermont—but had appointed himself as a booster thereof, hence the reference to Montpelier, which few people could find on a map, rather than to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., or Miami, which were also in the Eastern Time Zone.
J. Pastor Jones reappeared on the screen, this time sharing it with C. Harry Whelan, Jr., who was a prominent and powerful Washington-based columnist and a Wolf News contributor.
“There is bad news in the war against drugs,” J. Pastor Jones announced. “Very bad news, indeed. Wolf News contributor, the distinguished journalist C. Harry Whelan has the details. What happened, Harry?”
C. Harry Whelan, Jr., now had the entire screen to himself. It showed him sitting in what looked like a living room whose walls were lined with books.
“We don’t know much,” Whelan announced pontifically, “but what we do know is this: Wolf News has learned exclusively that tomorrow’s Washington Times-Post will carry a story by the distinguished journalist Roscoe J. Danton that three American officers, in Mexico to fight the drug cartels, were shot to death near Acapulco at noon today. They were, according to Danton, Antonio Martinez and Eduardo Torres, both of whom were Special Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Salazar, who was attached to the U.S. embassy in Mexico City.”
“Shit,” Castillo said.
“According to Danton, the three murdered men were known to be traveling to Acapulco with Lieutenant Colonel James D. Ferris, an assistant military attaché of the U.S. embassy, for a conference with Mexican officials. Colonel Ferris, and the embassy vehicle, a Suburban bearing diplomatic license plates, are missing, according to Danton.”
“Oh, Jesus H. Christ!” Castillo said.
“Danton has declined to reveal his sources, even to me, and Roscoe and I have been friends and fellow journalists for years. He has put his distinguished reputation on the line with this story, and I believe him. Calls to the State Department, the Pentagon and the U.S. embassy by Wolf News reporters have elicited only this response, which I quote: ‘The alleged incident is under investigation.’
“Wolf News will stay on top of this story, and when we know more, you will. This is C. Harry Whelan.”
The screen now filled with the head of J. Pastor Jones.
Just as Castillo was about to order that Mr. Jones be cut off, someone pushed the pause button.
Castillo punched a speed-dial button on his CaseyBerry, and then the loudspeaker button.
“I thought you might be calling, Charley,” Roscoe J. Danton said.
“That’s odd,” Annapolis said. “When I tried that, I got a message, ‘Not Authorized.’”
He looked at Aloysius Casey.
“That was before you and Charley kissed and made up,” Casey said.
“Where’d you get the Mexican story, Roscoe?” Castillo asked.
“From a lady friend in Foggy Bottom,” Danton replied.
Castillo had a quick thought.
Nobody really believes the CaseyBerrys are as good as they are; we talk on them as if someone might be listening.
“You have anything more than we got from your buddy Whelan on Wolf News?” he asked.
“I talked to your old boss; he said Vic is on his way down there,” Danton replied, “and about twenty minutes ago, there was an e-mail from Porky saying Clendennen will have an announcement to make tomorrow at eleven.”
“Keep me in the loop, Roscoe,” Castillo said.
“What about Those People?”
“Annapolis and Radio Stations are good to go,” Castillo said. “I’m still making up my mind about the banker and the hotelier.”
He thought: And I’m glad Investment Banker and Hotelier heard me say that. Let that sink in a while, and then I will let them back in the tent.
“You met with them?”
“Yeah. Just now.”
“Casey told me that was going to happen. I thought maybe there’d be an AP Flash: ‘Mass Murder in Sin City.’”
“I was thinking of feeding them to the sharks in the aquarium in the Mandalay Bay. But my merciful nature took over. Thanks, Roscoe.”
“We’ll be in touch,” Danton said.
Castillo put his CaseyBerry away.
“Well, if McNab has sent Vic D’Alessandro down there,” he said, “then until we hear from him, I can’t think of anything else that can be done to get Ferris back from the goddamn drug cartels.”
“Carlos,” Berezovsky said, “what makes you think the drug people have your friend?”
“Jesus, I never even thought about that,” Castillo asked.
“Am I permitted to ask, ‘thought about what’?” Investment Banker said. “Or are you still making up your mind if my word is any good?”
“Why don’t you and Hotelier think of yourselves in being in a halfway house?” Castillo said. “Where one slip from the straight and narrow will turn you into shark food?”
“What Ace didn’t think about is that Dmitri’s pal Vladimir doesn’t like being humiliated,” Delchamps said.
“And that Vladimir Vladimirovich might think a good way to get his hands on Carlos,” Berezovsky picked up, “would be to grab him when he gets on his white horse and gallops into Mexico to rescue his friend from the drug people.”
“Who’s Vladimir?” Hotelier asked.
“His last name is Putin,” Annapolis furnished.
“Carlito would have thought about Vladimir,” Sweaty said loyally.
Sure I would, Castillo thought, probably by a week from next Thursday. Jesus!
“And now that this has come up,” Sweaty went on, “we have time to think about it. Carlito is right; until we hear from Vic D’Alessandro there’s nothing we can do.”
“Except remember what you and Dmitri are always telling me,” Castillo said. “Putin always has a Plan ‘B.’”
“I don’t follow you, Ace,” Delchamps said.
“Dmitri,” Castillo asked, “One, how many ex-Spetsnaz does Aleksandr have raking the sun-swept beaches at The Grand Cozumel Beach & Golf Resort? Two, how many of same would he be willing to loan me right now?”
“To do what, Ace?” Delchamps asked.
“To provide a little extra security for the people at the Lopez Fruit and Vegetables Mexico. I think Putin knows about that, too, and I don’t want them getting into the crossfire.”
“At least twenty,” Berezovsky said. “I think Aleksandr would give you say ten—all that could fit into the Gulfstream—right now. More men, as soon as they could be flown up from Argentina.”
“You sound pretty sure,” Castillo said.
“Carlito,” Sweaty said, “not only does Cousin Aleksandr love you, but he knows the best way to deal with Vladimir Vladimirovich is to—what is it Edgar says?—cut him off at the balls.”
“For the record, Sweaty,” Delchamps corrected her, “what I said is, ‘Cut him off at the knees.’”
Berezovsky took out his CaseyBerry and punched a key.
“Aleksandr, I’m with Charley in Las Vegas,” he said in Russian. “Vladimir Vladimirovich has raised his ugly head again, and we need some help to cut him off at the knees. This is the problem . . .”
Yadkin and Reilly Road
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
0845 12 April 2007
The Federal Express truck pulled to the curb before a two-story brick house, and the driver, after first taking a FedEx Overnight Envelope from where he had stuck it on the dashboard, got out.
He took a quick look at the envelope as he walked around the front of the truck.
The Overnight Envelope, sent by the Mexican-America News Service of San Antonio, Texas, was addressed to: LTC BRUCE J. McNAB, YADKIN AND REILLY ROAD, FORT BRAGG, NC 28307.
The FedEx driver had served in the Army, and knew that LTC meant lieutenant colonel. And he had served long enough to know that lieutenant colonels do not live in large brick homes on what was known locally as “General’s Row.”
After a moment, he decided it was a simple typo; LTC was supposed to be LTG, the abbreviation for lieutenant general. A small wooden sign on the lawn of the confirmed this analysis. It showed three silver stars, the rank insignia of a lieutenant general, and below that was neatly painted B.J. McNAB.
The driver, now convinced he was in the right place, continued up a walkway through the immaculately manicured lawn toward the house.
He was almost at the door when a black Chevrolet Suburban came—considerably over the posted 25 M.P.H. speed limit—down Reilly Road, stopped and quickly backed up the driveway of the house. Doors opened. The driver, a young Green Beret sergeant in camouflage pattern battle dress uniform, and a young Green Beret captain in dress uniform got out of the front seat. The sergeant quickly removed a cover from a red plate bearing three stars mounted on the bumper and then rushed to open the passenger door. He was too late. The door was opened by a Green Beret colonel in a dress uniform who marched purposefully toward the house with the captain trailing him.
The driver stood beside the passenger door.
The front door of the house opened and General McNab came through it. He was in dress uniform and wearing a green beret. Both breasts of his tunic carried more ribbons and qualification badges than the driver had ever seen on one man during his military service.
Colonel Max Caruthers, who was six feet three and weighed two hundred twenty-five pounds, and Captain Albert H. Walsh, who was almost as large, saluted crisply and more or less simultaneously barked, “Good morning, General.”
General McNab returned the salute and then turned his attention to the FedEx deliveryman.
“Far be it from me to stay a FedEx courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds, but curiosity overwhelms me,” he announced. “Dare I hope that envelope you are clutching to your breast is intended for me?”
“It is, if you’re Bruce J. McNab,” the courier said.
“Guilty,” General McNab said.
The courier extended the clipboard for the addressee’s signature.
Captain Walsh snatched the Overnight Envelope from the driver, handed it to the general, and then signed the receipt on the clipboard.
General McNab ripped open the strip at the top of the envelope and took from it an eight-by-ten inch photograph.
“Oh, my!” he said, in a tone similar to what a grandmother would use when her cake batter slipped from her hands and splattered over her kitchen floor. “Oh, my!”
He handed the Overnight Envelope to Captain Walsh.
“Hold that by its edges, Al,” he ordered. “Gloves would be better. It will probably be futile, but we will have tried.”
“Something wrong, General?” the FedEx courier asked.
“Nothing for which you could possibly be held responsible,” General McNab said. “And now, although I would rather face a thousand deaths, I must go treat with General Naylor.”
The courier looked confused.
Colonel Caruthers, who recognized the remark as a paraphrase of what Confederate General Robert Lee said immediately before leaving his headquarters to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, failed to keep a smile off his face.
The courier started back to his delivery truck as General McNab walked toward Staff Sergeant Robert Nellis, who was standing by the open front passenger door.
“Bobby,” he said, “can you find Pope Air Force Base by yourself, or would you rather that I drive?”
“I’ll drive, General,” Sergeant Nellis said smiling.
“It’s easy to recognize,” General McNab said as he slid onto the seat. “Just look for lots of airplanes and fat people in blue uniforms.”
Colonel Caruthers and Captain Walsh got quickly into the Suburban, and it drove down the driveway and turned right onto Reilly Road.
As the Suburban carrying General McNab pulled into one of the RESERVED FOR GENERAL OFFICERS parking spaces beside the Pope Air Force Base Operations building, the glass doors fronting on the tarmac opened and a half dozen Air Force officers, the senior among them a major general, came out and formed a three line formation.
The major general stood in front. A major, wearing the silver cords of an aide-de-camp, took up a position two steps behind and one step to the left of him. The other four officers formed a line behind the aide-de-camp, according to rank, with a brigadier general to the left, then three full colonels. All stood with their hands folded in the small of their backs, in the position of Parade Rest.
“Seeing all that martial precision,” Lieutenant General McNab announced, “I am sorely tempted to go out there and give them a little close order drill.”
His sergeant driver smiled. His aides-de-camp did not. They knew he was entirely capable of doing just that. Both were visibly relieved when McNab got out of the Suburban, walked to the corner of the building, and called, “Good morning, gentlemen. Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
The major general turned toward him and saluted.
“Good morning, General,” he said, and then broke ranks to go to McNab and offer his hand.
“Would you care to bet if El Supremo will be on schedule?” McNab asked.
For an answer, the major general pointed down the runway, where a C-37A—the military version of the Gulfstream V—was about to touch down.
As the sleek twin-engine jet completed its landing roll, the Air Force major general trotted back to resume his position in front of his officers.
General McNab folded his arms on his chest.
The Gulfstream V was painted in gleaming white on top, and pale blue beneath. There was no reference to the U.S. Air Force 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.
The plane stopped on the tarmac, the whine of its engines died, and the stair door behind the cockpit windows unfolded. A tall, erect officer with four stars gleaming on the epaulets of his dress uniform came nimbly down them.
He was General Allan B. Naylor, whom—to his embarrassment—C. Harry Whelan had accurately described to Andy McClarren of Wolf News as the “most important general in the world.”
Whelan’s argument was that since the Chief of Staff of the Army no longer actually commands the Army—but rather administers it—and that since Naylor, as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Central Command directly commanded more Army and Marine troops, more Air Force airplanes, more Navy ships and aircraft, and more military assets in more places all around the world than any other officer, that made him not only the most important general in the Army, but the most important officer in uniform.
Even Andy McClarren, who had been the most watched news personality on television for ten years and counting—in large part because of his skill in being able to argue the opposite position of whatever position his guests took—couldn’t disagree with that.
General Naylor exchanged salutes with the Air Force major general, and then shook hands with him and all of officers, and finally turned to General McNab, who saluted.
“Good morning, Bruce,” General Naylor said.
“Good morning, General,” McNab said. “And how are things on beautiful Tampa Bay?”
The United States Central Command headquarters was on MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida.
Generals Naylor and McNab had been classmates at the United States Military Academy at West Point. They hadn’t liked each other as cadets, and a number of encounters between them as they had risen in rank in their subsequent service had exacerbated that relationship.
General Naylor didn’t reply. Instead, with a smile, he motioned for McNab to board the Gulfstream. McNab, in turn, motioned for his aides-de-camp to get aboard. When they had done so, he followed them, and when he had done so, General Naylor followed him.
The stairdoor started to close as the engines started.
When the Gulfstream started to move, the Air Force general called his formation to attention and saluted. When the Gulfstream was on the taxiway, he turned to the brigadier general and softly commented, “That should be an interesting flight.”
The friction between Generals McNab and Naylor was well known to senior officers of all the armed forces, and it went beyond “isn’t that interesting?” or “what a shame.”
The United States Special Operations Command was subordinate to the United States Central Command and when, at about the same time, Naylor was about to be named commander-in-chief CENTCOM and McNab to be commanding general of SPECOPSCOM, it was almost universally recognized as one of those rare situations which would see the best possible man assigned to both jobs.
It was also just about unanimously agreed that making “Scotty” McNab subordinate to Allan Naylor was going to be like throwing lighted matches into a barrel of gasoline.
General McNab took an aisle seat in the luxuriously furnished cabin. As General Naylor walked past him en route to the VIP section—two extra large seats and a table behind the door to the cockpit, which could be curtained off from the rest of the passenger compartment—McNab held up his hand.
Naylor looked down at him.
McNab said: “General, before they start the in-flight movie, there’s something I’d like to show you.”
“You don’t need an invitation to ride in front, Bruce, and you know it,” Naylor said.
He gestured for McNab to follow him.
McNab rose, and gestured for Captain Walsh to follow him.
Reaching his seat, Naylor took it and then, when McNab had taken the opposing chair, asked, “What have you got?”
Captain Walsh extended a pair of rubber gloves to General Naylor.
Naylor looked questioningly at McNab.
“I don’t think they’ll be able to get fingerprints off that, General,” McNab said, indicating the FedEx Overnight Envelope. “But they may.”
Naylor took the gloves and pulled them on.
Walsh handed him the envelope, and Naylor took from it a sheet of paper and an eight-by-ten inch color photograph.
The photograph showed a man dressed in a T-shirt and khaki trousers. He was sitting in a folding chair, holding up a copy of Mexico City’s El Heraldo de Mexico. On each side of him stood a man wearing a black Balaclava mask over his head and holding the muzzle of a Kalashnikov six inches from the victim’s head.
“That’s yesterday’s newspaper,” McNab said.
The sheet of paper, obviously printed on a cheap ink jet printer, carried a simple message:
SO FAR HE'S ALIVE.
THERE WILL BE FURTHER COMMUNICATION.