/ Language: English / Genre:thriller / Series: Presidential agent

The outlaws

W Griffin

W E B Griffin

The outlaws


El Obeid Airport North Kurdufan, Sudan 2130 31 January 2007 The small convoy-two battered Toyota pickups, a Ford F-150 pickup, and a Land Rover-had attracted little attention as it passed through Al-Ubayyid (estimated population around 310,000).

Al-Ubayyid was the nearest (seven kilometers) town to the El Obeid Airport, which was sometimes known as the Al-Ubayyid Airport. The town of Al-Ubayyid was sometimes known as El Obeid. In this remote corner of the world, what a village or an airport-or just about anything else-was called depended on who was talking.

The men were all armed with Kalashnikov rifles, and all bearded, and all were dressed in the long pastel-colored robes known as jalabiya, and wearing both tagia skullcaps and a length of cloth, called an imma, covering their heads.

The beds of the trucks each held one or two armed men. It was impossible to tell-even guess-what the cargo might be, as it was covered with a tarpaulin.

The convoy looked, in other words, very much like any other convoy passing through-or originating in-Al-Ubayyid on any given day. By whatever name, the town had been a transportation hub for nearly two centuries. First, there had been camel caravans. Then a rail line. Then roads-it's a nine-hour, five-hundred-kilometer trip from Khartoum-and finally, six kilometers south of town, the airport with a runway nearly a thousand meters long.

As it approached the airport, the convoy slowed and the headlights were turned off. It moved near to the end of the chainlink fence surrounding the airport and stopped, remaining on the road.

A dozen men-everyone but the drivers-quickly got out of the vehicles.

The man who had been in the front seat of the Land Rover went to the floodlight-not much of a floodlight, just a single fluorescent tube-on a pole at the end of the fencing and quickly shot it out with a burst from a.22 caliber submachine gun. The weapon was "suppressed," which meant that perhaps eighty percent of the noise a.22-long rifle cartridge would normally make was silenced.

He then quickly joined the others, who were in the process of quickly removing the immas and skullcaps from their heads and finally their long jalabiya robes. The discarded garments were then tossed into the Land Rover.

Under the jalabiya robes they had been wearing black form-fitting garments, something like underwear except these had attached hoods which, when they had been pulled in place, covered the head and most of the face.

Night-vision goggles and radio headsets were quickly put in place.

Next, they took from the Land Rover and the pickups black nylon versions of what was known in the U.S. and many other armies as "web equipment" and strapped it in place on their bodies.

The man with the.22 caliber submachine gun-the team leader-was joined by two other men equipped with special weapons. One was armed with a high-powered, suppressed sniper's rifle that was equipped with both night vision and laser sights. The other had a suppressed Uzi 9mm submachine gun.

The laws of physics are such that no high-powered weapon can ever be really suppressed, much less silenced. The best that could be said for the suppressed sniper's rifle was that when fired, it didn't make very much noise. The best that could be said for the Uzi was that when fired, it sounded like a suppressed Uzi submachine gun, which meant that it wasn't quite as noisy as an unsuppressed Uzi.

The sights on the sniper's rifle, which was a highly modified version of the Russian Dragunov SVD-S caliber 7.62 x 54R sniper's rifle, were state-of-the-art. When looking through the night-vision scope-which had replaced the standard glass optical scope-the marksman was able to see on the darkest of nights just about anything he needed to.

And by sliding a switch near the trigger, a small computer was turned on. A laser beam was activated. The computer determined how distant was the object on which sat the little red spot, and sent that message to the crosshairs on the sight. The result was that the shooter could be about ninety percent sure that-presuming he did everything else required of a marksman since the rifle was invented, such as having a good sight picture, firing from a stable position, taking a breath and letting half of it out before ever so carefully squeezing the trigger-the 147-grain bullet would strike his target within an inch or so of where the little red dot pinpointed.

The team leader made a somewhat imperious gesture, which caused another man-who had been standing by awaiting the order-to apply an enormous set of bolt cutters to the chainlink fence.

Within a minute, he had cut a gate in the fencing through which everyone could-and quickly did-easily pass.

The runway was about fifty meters wide. An inspection, which the team leader considered the most dangerous activity of this part of the operation, was required. A good leader, he had assumed this responsibility himself; he walked quickly in a crouch down the dotted line marking the center of the runway toward the small terminal building.

The man with the suppressed Uzi walked down the runway halfway between the dotted line and the left side, and the man with the sniper's rifle did the same thing on the right.

All the others made their way toward the terminal off the runway, about half on one side and half on the other. Most of them were now armed with the Mini Uzi, which is smaller than the Uzi and much larger than the Micro Uzi. The Kalashnikovs, as much a part of their try-to-pass-as-the-locals disguises as anything else, had joined the jalabiya robes and skullcaps in the Land Rover.

They had gone about halfway down the runway when a dog-a large dog, from the sound of him-began to bark. Or maybe it was the sound of two large dogs.

Everyone dropped flat.

The man with the Dragunov assumed the firing position, turned on the night sights, and peered down the runway.

He took his hand off the fore end and raised it with two fingers extended.

The team leader nodded.

The two shots didn't make very much noise, and there was no more barking.

The team leader considered his options.

It was possible that the shots had been heard, and equally possible that someone had come out of the terminal to see why the dogs were barking on the runway, or that they had come out-or were about to-to see why the barking dogs had stopped barking.

That meant the sooner they got to the terminal, the better.

But the problem of having to inspect the runway remained-that was the priority.

The team leader activated his microphone.

He spoke in Hungarian: "Trucks, lights out-repeat, lights out-to one hundred meters of the terminal. Hold for orders."

There was no need to give orders to the others; they would follow his example.

He got to his feet and resumed his inspection, this time at a fast trot, still crouched over.

The sniper and the man with the suppressed Uzi followed his example. The men off the runway, after a moment, followed their example.

They came to the dogs, lying in pools of blood where the animals had fallen, about a hundred meters from the terminal building.

The team leader could now see the flicker of fluorescent lights in the terminal building itself, and in the building beside it, which he knew housed the men-four to six-and their families-probably twice that many people-who both worked and lived at the airport.

And he could hear the exhaust of a small generator.

That was powerful enough to power the lights he saw now, and the two dozen or so fluorescent "floodlights" around the perimeter fence, but it wasn't powerful enough to power the runway lights.

He looked up at the control tower. There was no sign of lights, flickering fluorescent or otherwise.

Runway lighting would logically be on the same power as the control tower.

That meant he was going to have to find the much larger generator, see if he could start it, and see if there was enough diesel fuel to run it.

If he couldn't get the runway lights on, the whole operation would fail.

He spoke Hungarian into his microphone again: "Change of plans. Cleanup will have to wait until we get some of these people to show us the runway lights generator and get it started for us. Commence operations in sixty seconds from…" He waited until the sweep second hand on his wristwatch touched the luminescent spot at the top "… time." The next stage of the operation went well. Not perfectly. No operation ever goes perfectly, and that is even more true, as the case was here, when the intelligence is dated or inadequate, and there has been no time for thorough rehearsals.

There had been several rehearsals, but there had been no time to build a replica of the airport and its buildings. And if there had been time, they had had only satellite photography, old satellite photography and thus not to be trusted, to provide the needed information.

They had improvised, using sticks and tape to represent the fence and the buildings, and guessing where the doors on the buildings would be.

But despite this, the team leader thought the operation had gone off-so far, at least-very well.

The man with the bolt cutters had opened the gates to the terminal area and to the tarmac. Then one two-man team had entered the terminal to make sure there were to be no surprises from there, and two teams of three men each had stormed and secured the building where the workers and their families lived.

The operator with the suppressed Uzi-who was the number two-had climbed up into the control tower.

The sniper-who was the number three-had gone first into the terminal building to make sure that team had missed nothing, and then into the living quarters, where he checked to see that everyone had been rounded up and securely manacled.

The operations scenario had used that term, but the "manacles" actually used to restrain the locals was a plastic version of the garrote.

The locals were frightened, of course, but none of them seemed on the edge of hysteria, which was often a problem with women and children.

Another potential problem, language, didn't arise. The team leader had been told to expect the locals might speak only the local languages, and the team had been issued hastily printed phrase books in Daza, Maba, Gulay, and Sara.

The trouble with phrase books was that while they permitted you to ask questions, they were not much help in translating the answers.

All four of the men the sniper had "manacled" in the living quarters spoke French. And so did most of the thirteen women and children, to judge by their faces and whispered conversations.

One of the men was a tower operator, and another was in charge of the generator. The former reported that the radios in the tower seemed to be operable, and that the runway lights could be turned on and off from the tower. The latter reported that if he had his hands free, he could have the generator started in three minutes.

The team leader signaled one of the operators to cut the plastic handcuffs from both. The sniper took the generator man to wherever the generator was, and the team leader took the tower operator to the tower.

He had just about reached the top of the ladder to the control tower when he heard the rumble of a diesel engine starting, and as he put his shoulders through the hole in the tower floor, the incandescent lightbulbs began to glow and then came on full.

There was a screeching sound from the roof as the rotating radar antenna began to turn.

All the avionic equipment in the tower was of American manufacture, and both the team leader and his number two were familiar with it. Nevertheless, the team leader ordered the control tower operator to get it running.

Dual radar monitors showed a target twenty miles distant at twelve thousand feet altitude. Just the target. No identification from a transponder.

"Light the runway," the team leader ordered.

The tower operator threw a number of switches on a panel under the desk which circled the room. As the sound of the diesel engine showed the addition of a load, the lights on the runway and two taxi strips leading from it glowed and then were fully illuminated.

Number two dialed in a frequency on one of the radios.

"Activate transponder," he said in Russian.

Thirty seconds later, a triangle appeared next to the target on the radar screen.

"I have you at twelve thousand, twenty miles. The field is lit. The runway is clear. Land to the south."

The target blip on the radar screen began moving toward the center of the screen. The numbers in a little box next to the transponder blip began to move downward quickly from 12000.

The team leader pointed to something under the desk.

The tower operator looked confused.

Impatiently, the team leader pointed again.

The tower operator dropped to his knees to get a better look at what was under the table that he was supposed to see.

The team leader put the muzzle of the.22 caliber submachine gun against the tower operator's neck at the base of his skull and pulled the trigger.

The short burst of fire made a thump, thump sound, and the tower operator fell slowly forward on his face. Then his legs went limp and his body completely collapsed.

There was no blood. As often happened, the soft lead.22 bullets did not have enough remaining velocity after penetrating the skull to pass through the other side. They simply ricocheted around the skull cavity, moving through soft brain tissue until they had lost all velocity. There might be some blood leakage around the eyes, the ears, and the nose, but there seldom was much and often not any.

A team member entered through the tower floor hole. The leader ordered: "Stay until the plane's on the ground. Then set these to twenty minutes."

"These" were four thermite grenades. Each had a radio-activated fuse, and, for redundancy, in case the radio detonation failed, a simple clock firing mechanism.

The team leader set the thermite grenades in place, two on the communications equipment, one on the radar, and the last on the spine of the tower operator near the entrance wounds made by the.22 rounds.

He took a last look around, and then spoke to his microphone.

"Commence cleanup," he ordered. "Acknowledge." Before the team leader had carefully climbed completely down the ladder, there was about thirty seconds of intense Uzi fire as the site was cleaned of the remaining three men and their women and children.

The firing made more noise than the team leader would have preferred, but the options would have been to either garrote the locals or cut their throats, and that was time-consuming, often a little more risky, and this way there was less chance of messy arterial blood to worry about. As he watched one of his men carry a box of thermite grenades into the living quarters, the team leader heard a rushing noise, and a split second later, when he looked up, he could see two brilliant landing lights come on as the aircraft approached the field.

A moment later, he could see the aircraft itself.

It was an unusual-looking airplane, painted a nonreflective gray, ostensibly making it invisible to radar. That was a joke. As soon as they had turned on the radar just now, they had seen it twenty miles distant.

There were two jet engines mounted close together on top of the fuselage, where the wings joined the fuselage just behind and above the cockpit. This had made it necessary for the vertical fin and the horizontal stabilizers to be raised out of the way of the jet thrust. The tail of the aircraft was extraordinarily thin and tall, with the control surfaces mounted on the top.

The aircraft, a Tupolev Tu-934A, was not going to win any prizes for aesthetic beauty. But like the USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II-universally known as the Warthog-it did what it was designed to do and did so splendidly.

The Warthog's heavy armament busted up tanks and provided other close ground support. The Tupolev Tu-934A was designed to fly great distances at near the speed of sound carrying just about anything that could be loaded inside its rather ugly fuselage, and land and take off in amazingly short distances on very rough airfields-or no airfields at all.

It was also an amazingly quiet aircraft. The first the team leader had heard its powerful engines was the moment before touchdown when the pilot activated the thrust reversal system.

And even that died quickly as the aircraft reached braking speed on the landing roll and then stopped and turned around on the runway.

Number three, now holding illuminated wands, directed it as it taxied up the runway, and then signaled for it to turn.

Before it had completed that maneuver, a ramp began to lower from the rear of the fuselage.

"Bring up number one truck," the team leader ordered.

The Ford F-150 came across the tarmac and backed up to the opening ramp at the rear of the now-stopped aircraft.

A small, rubber-tracked front-loader rolled down the ramp. The driver and the four men riding on it were dressed in black coveralls.

The team leader saluted one of the newcomers, who returned it.

"Problems?" the operation commander asked in Russian.

"None so far, sir."


"Completed, sir."

"Cargo inspected?"

"Yes, sir," the team leader lied. He had forgotten that detail.

"Well, then, let's get it aboard."

"Yes, sir."

Instead of a bucket, the front-loader had modified pallet arms. To the bottom of each arm had been welded two steel loops. From each loop hung a length of sturdy nylon strapping.

The other two men who had ridden off the aircraft on the rubber-tracked vehicle climbed into the bed of the F-150, removed the tarpaulin which had concealed its contents-two barrel-like objects of heavy plastic, dark blue in color, and looking not unlike beer kegs. They then removed the chocks and strapping which had been holding the rearmost barrel in place.

That done, they carefully directed the pallet arms over the bed of the truck until they were in position for the nylon strapping to be passed under the barrel and the fastener at the free end to be inserted into the loop on the bottom of the arm.

The strapping had lever-activated devices to tighten the strapping-and thus the barrel-against the underside of the pallet arm.

"Tight!" one of the men called out in Russian when that had been accomplished.

The front-loader backed away from the F-150, pivoted in its length, and then drove up the ramp into the aircraft.

The two men in the F-150's bed now removed the chocks and the strapping from the other barrel, and very carefully rolled it to the end of the bed.

By then the front-loader had backed off the ramp, turned again in its length, and was prepared to take the second barrel.

"Bring up truck two," the team leader ordered.

Truck two arrived as truck one started to drive off. The procedure of taking the barrels from the trucks was repeated, exactly, for the two Toyota pickups. Truck four-the Land Rover-did not hold any of the barrels, but it held the discarded Kalashnikovs. These were carried aboard the aircraft.

"Set mechanical timers at ten minutes and board the aircraft," the team leader ordered.

"Check your memory to see that you have forgotten nothing," the operation commander ordered.

Thirty seconds later, the team leader replied, "I can think of nothing, sir."

The operation commander gestured for the team leader to get on the airplane. When he had trotted up the ramp, the operation commander almost casually strolled up the ramp, picked up a handset mounted on the bulkhead just inside, and ordered, "Get us out of here."

The ramp door immediately began to close.

When it was nearly closed, the aircraft began to move.

Thirty seconds later it was airborne.

The operation commander pulled off his masklike hood and looked at the team leader.

"Don't smile," he said. "Something always is forgotten, or goes wrong at the last minute, or both."

The team leader held up the radio transmitter which would detonate the thermite grenades.

The operation commander nodded. The team leader flicked the protective cover off the toggle switch and threw it. [TWO] The Oval Office The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 0930 2 February 2007 The door opened and a Secret Service agent announced, "Ambassador Montvale, Mr. President."

Joshua Ezekiel Clendennen, who had acceded to the presidency of the United States on the sudden death-rupture of an undetected aneurism of the aorta-of the incumbent twelve days before, motioned for Montvale to be admitted.

President Clendennen was a short, pudgy, pale-skinned fifty-two-year-old Alabaman who kept his tiny ears hidden under a full head of silver hair.

Charles M. Montvale came through the door. He was a tall, elegantly tailored sixty-two-year-old whose silver mane was every bit as luxurious as the President's, but did not do much to conceal his ears.

Montvale's ears were the delight of the nation's political cartoonists. They seemed to be so very appropriate for a man who-after a long career of government service in which he had served as a deputy secretary of State, the secretary of the Treasury, and ambassador to the European Union-was now the United States director of National Intelligence.

The DNI was caricatured at least once a week-and sometimes more often-with his oversize ears pointed in the direction of Moscow or Teheran or Capitol Hill.

"Good morning, Mr. President," Montvale said.

"Can I offer you something, Charles?" the President asked, his Alabama drawl pronounced. "Have you had your breakfast?"

"Yes, thank you, sir, I have. Hours ago."

"Coffee, then?"


The President's foot pressed a button under the desk.

"Would you bring us some coffee, please?"

He motioned for Montvale to take a seat on a couch facing a coffee table, and when Montvale had done so, Clendennen rose from behind his desk and walked to an armchair on the other side of the coffee table and sat down.

The coffee was delivered immediately by a steward under the watchful eye of the President's secretary.

"Thank you," the President said. "We can pour ourselves. And now, please, no calls, no messages, no interruptions."

"Yes, Mr. President."

"From anyone," the President added.

Montvale picked up the silver coffeepot, and said, "You take your coffee…?"

"Black, thank you, Charles," the President said.

Montvale poured coffee for both.

The President sipped his, and then said, "You know what I have been thinking lately? When I've had time to think of anything?"

"No, sir."

"Harry Truman didn't know of the atomic bomb-Roosevelt never told him-until the day after Roosevelt died. General Groves walked in here-into this office-ran everybody out, and then told Truman that we had the atomic bomb. That we had two of them."

"I've heard that story, Mr. President," Montvale said.

"We had a somewhat similar circumstance here. The first I heard of the strike in the Congo was after it happened. When we already were at DefConOne."

Montvale didn't reply.

Clendennen went on: "And he never told me about this secret organization he had running. I heard about that only after he'd died. Secretary of State Natalie Cohen came in here, and said, 'Mr. President, there's something I think you should know.' That was the first I'd ever heard of the Analysis Operations Organization. They almost got us into a war, and I was never even told it existed."

Montvale sipped his coffee, then said, "It was called the 'Office of Organizational Analysis,' Mr. President. And it no longer exists."

"I wonder if I can believe that," the President said. "I wonder how soon someone else is going to come through that door and say, 'Mr. President, there's something you should know…'"

"I think that's highly unlikely, Mr. President, and I can assure you that the Office of Organizational Analysis is gone. I was there when the President killed it."

"Maybe he should have sent a couple of squadrons of fighter-bombers, the way he did to the Congo, to destroy everything in a twenty-square-mile area, and to hell with collateral damage," the President said.

"Mr. President, I understand how you feel, even if I would have been inside the area of collateral damage."

"Tell me about Operations Analysis, Charles, and about you being there when our late President killed it."

"He set up the Office of Organizational Analysis in a Presidential Finding, Mr. President, when the deputy chief of mission in our embassy in Argentina was murdered."

"And put a lowly lieutenant colonel in charge?"

"At the time, Carlos Castillo was a major, Mr. President."

"And you and Natalie Cohen went along with this?"

"The Presidential Finding was issued over our objections, sir. And at the time, Natalie was the national security advisor, not secretary of State."

"Where did he find this Major Castillo? What is he, an Italian, a Mexican? Cuban? What?"

"A Texican, sir. His family has been in Texas since before the Alamo. He's a West Pointer-"

"I seem to recall that Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who almost got us into a war in Nicaragua, was an Annapolis graduate," the President interrupted. "What do they do at those service academies, Charles, have a required course, How to Start a War One-Oh-One?"

Montvale didn't respond directly. Instead, he said, "Castillo came to the President's attention over that stolen airliner. You remember that, Mr. President?"


"Well. An airliner, a Boeing 727, that had been sitting for a year in an airport in Luanda, Angola, suddenly disappeared. We-the intelligence community-were having a hard time finding it. Those things take time, something the President didn't always understand. And as you know, sir, the President was very close to the then-secretary of Homeland Security, Matt Hall. He talked to him about this, and either he or the secretary thought it would be a good idea to send someone to see which intelligence agency had learned what, and when they had learned it.

"Hall told the President that he had just the man for the assignment, Major Castillo, who was just back from Afghanistan, and working for him as an interpreter /aide."


"To cut a long story short, Mr. President, Major Castillo not only located the missing aircraft but managed to steal it back from those who had stolen it, and flew it to MacDill Air Force Base-Central Command-in Tampa."

"I heard a little, very little, about that," the President said.

"The President decided, and I think he was right, that the less that came out about that incident, the better."

"And make sure to keep Clendennen out of the loop, right?" the President said, more than a little bitterly.

Montvale didn't respond directly. Instead, he said, "The people who stole the airplane planned to crash it into the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. We would not have let that happen, but if the story had gotten out, the President believed there would have been panic."

President Clendennen considered that a moment, and then asked, "So where does the Finding fit in all this?"

"The wife of one of our diplomats in Argentina. The deputy chief of mission, J. Winslow Masterson-'Jack the Stack'?"

"I know who he was, Charles. Not only was he the basketball player who got himself run over by a beer truck, for which he collected a very large bundle, but he was the son of Winslow Masterson, who is arguably the richest black guy-scratch black-the richest guy in Mississippi. And they even-surprise, surprise-told me that Winslow's son had been killed."

"Yes, sir. First they kidnapped his wife. The minute the President heard about that, he sent Major Castillo down there. What Castillo was supposed to do was keep an eye on the investigation, and report directly to the President.

"By the time Castillo got to Buenos Aires, Masterson had eluded the State Department security people who had been guarding him, and gone to meet the kidnappers. They killed him in front of his wife, then doped her up and left her with the body."

"What was that all about?"

"We didn't know it at the time, but it was connected with the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal. Mrs. Masterson's brother was not only involved, but had stolen money from the thieves. They thought she would know where he was-she didn't; there was enormous friction between her husband and her brother-and they told her unless she told them where he was, they would kill her children."

"You didn't know this at the time?"

"No, sir. But when the President learned that Masterson had gotten away from his State Department guards, and had been assassinated, he went ballistic-"

"He had a slight tendency to do that, didn't he?" the President said sarcastically.

"-and got on the phone to the ambassador and told him that Castillo was now in charge of getting Mrs. Masterson and the children safely out of Argentina."


"Which he did. The President send a Globemaster down there to bring Masterson's body and his family home. And when the plane got to the air base in Biloxi, Air Force One was sitting there waiting for it. And so was the Presidential Finding. The President had found that the national interest required the establishment of a clandestine unit to be known as the Office of Organizational Analysis, which was charged with locating and terminating those responsible for the assassination of J. Winslow Masterson. Major Carlos Castillo was named chief." He paused. "That's how it started, Mr. President."

"'Terminating' is that nice little euphemism for murder, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, that explains, wouldn't you agree, Charles, why the President didn't feel I had to know about this? He knew I wouldn't stand for it. There's nothing in the Constitution that gives the President the authority to order the killing of anybody."

Montvale thought: Well, he knew you wouldn't like it. But there is nothing you could have done about it if you had known, short of giving yourself the floor in the Senate and committing political suicide by betraying the man who had chosen you to be his Vice President.

Being morally outraged is one thing.

Doing something about it at great cost to yourself is something else.

And if the story had come out, there's a hell of a lot of people who would have been delighted that the President had ordered the execution of the people who had murdered Jack the Stack in front of his wife. And even more who would have agreed that the murder of any American diplomat called for action, not complaints to the United Nations.

The only reason Clendennen said that is to cover his ass in case the story of OOA gets out.

"I never knew a thing about it. When DNI Montvale told me the story, after I had become President-he had been forbidden to tell me before-I was outraged! Ask Montvale just how outraged I was!"

"The security was very tight, Mr. President," Montvale said. "The access list, the people authorized to know about OOA, was not only very short, but extraordinarily tightly controlled."

"What does that mean?"

"There were only two people who could clear others for access to OOA information, Mr. President. Major Castillo and the President himself. I was made privy to it, of course, but I was forbidden to share what knowledge I had with anyone else-not even my deputy or my secretary-no matter how many Top Secret security clearances they had."

"That isn't surprising when you think about it, is it, Charles? When you are ordering murder, the fewer people who know about it, the better."

Montvale didn't reply.

"Just how many bodies did this Major Castillo leave scattered all over the world, Charles?" the President asked.

"I really don't know, Mr. President," Montvale said. "He reported only to the President."

"And now that there's a new President, don't you think it's time somebody asked him? Where is he?"

"I don't know, Mr. President."

"You're the DNI," the President snapped. "Shouldn't you know a little detail like that?"

"Mr. President, will you indulge me for a moment? I think it would be useful for you to know what happened vis-a-vis the Congo."

"I think a lot of people would find it useful to know what happened vis-a-vis the Congo."

"On Christmas Eve, Mr. President, there were several assassinations and attempted assassinations all over the world-"

"By Major Castillo? On Christmas Eve? Unbelievable!"

"No, sir. Directed against people with a connection to Lieutenant Colonel-by then he had been promoted-Castillo. A newspaper reporter in Germany, for one. An Argentine gendarmeria officer, for another. A Secret Service agent on the vice presidential detail-"

"Which one?" the President again interrupted.

"His name is John M. Britton, if memory serves, Mr. President."

"Black guy," the former Vice President recalled. "Smart as hell. Funny, too. I liked him. I wondered what happened to him."

"Well, sir, immediately after the attempt on his life, he was of course taken off your protection detail."


"Sir, if someone was trying to kill Special Agent Britton and he was guarding you, standing beside you…"

The President stopped him with a gesture. He had the picture.

"What was Jack Britton's connection to Castillo?"

"Britton was a Philadelphia Police Department detective, working undercover in the Counterterrorism Bureau, when Castillo was running down the Philadelphia connection to the stolen airliner. Castillo recruited him for OOA."

"Then how did he wind up in the Secret Service on my protection detail?"

"I believe you know Supervisory Special Agent Tom McGuire, Mr. President?"

"He used to run the President's protection detail? Yeah, sure I know Tom. Don't tell me he has a connection with Castillo."

"The President assigned McGuire to OOA to act as liaison between the Secret Service and Castillo. He was impressed with Britton, and when Britton was no longer needed by Castillo and couldn't return to Philadelphia-his identity was now known to the terrorist community-McGuire recruited him for your protection detail."


"Apparently, Special Agent Britton could not understand why an attempt on his life justified his being relieved from your protection detail and being assigned to a desk in Saint Louis. He said some inappropriate things to his supervisors. McGuire decided the best thing to do under the circumstances was send him back to OOA, and he did."

"Why did they-and who is 'they'?-try to kill Britton?"

"Castillo believed the assassinations and assassination attempts on all the people I mentioned were retaliatory actions ordered by Putin himself."

"I find it hard to accept that Vladimir Putin would order assassinations any more than I would," the President said. "But on the other hand, once we start murdering people, I think we would have to be very naive or very stupid-how about 'stupidly naive'?-to think the other side would not retaliate."

"Yes, sir. Well, Castillo was apparently delighted to have Britton back. He put him on an airplane and sent him and Mrs. Britton to Argentina to get them out of sight and then loaded some-most-of the others on his Gulfstream and flew to Europe."

"On his Gulfstream? He had access to an Air Force Gulfstream? Jesus Christ!"

"Yes, sir. He had access to an Air Force Gulfstream-and he had a document signed by the President that ordered any government agency to give him whatever assets he asked for."

The President shook his head in disbelief.

"But the Gulfstream on which he flew to Europe was a civilian aircraft, leased by OOA," Montvale said. "He kept it at Baltimore/Washington."

"Where did the money for that come from?"

"Mr. President, I wasn't in the loop. I just know he had the airplane."

The President exhaled audibly.

"And?" he asked.

"Well, according to Castillo, shortly after he arrived in Germany he was approached by two very senior SVR officers-"

"What's that?" the President interrupted.

"Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service," Montvale explained. "The two officers were Colonel Dmitri Berezovsky, the SVR rezident in Berlin, and Lieutenant Colonel Svetlana Alekseeva, the SVR rezident in Copenhagen. They said they wanted to defect."

Montvale paused, and then went on. "I have to go off at a tangent here, Mr. President. At this time, our CIA station chief in Vienna, Miss Eleanor Dillworth, a highly respected longtime Clandestine Service officer, and her staff had for some time, and at considerable effort and expense, been working on the defection of Lieutenant Colonel Alekseeva and Colonel Berezovsky. These arrangements had gone so far as the preparation of a safe house in Maryland to house them while they were being debriefed."

"So why did they contact Castillo?"

"According to Castillo, they didn't trust Miss Dillworth. Castillo said when they came to him, they offered to defect to him in exchange for two million dollars and immediate transportation to Argentina on his plane. This whole transaction apparently took place on a train headed for Vienna. So he made the deal."

"Shouldn't he have gone to the nearest CIA officer, either this Miss Dillworth or some other CIA officer? Was he authorized to make a deal like that?"

"No, sir, he wasn't, and yes, sir, he should have immediately contacted either me or someone in the CIA."


"Yes, sir, it is," Montvale agreed. "When this came to my attention-Miss Dillworth reported to CIA Director Powell that the defection of Colonel Berezovsky and Lieutenant Colonel Alekseeva had blown up in her face and that she suspected the presence in Vienna of Castillo had something to do with it-"

"She knew about Castillo? Who he was?"

"By then, Mr. President, the existence of the OOA and the identity of its chief was not much of a secret within the intelligence community."

President Clendennen nodded and motioned for Montvale to go on.

"DCI Powell reported the situation to me. I immediately realized that something had to be done."

"So you went to the President?"

"At that stage, Mr. President, Colonel Castillo was the President's fair-haired boy. I decided the best thing to do was go to General Naylor."

"Naylor is a very good man," the President said. "Please don't tell me Naylor was involved with the OOA."

"Only in the sense that Castillo was a serving Army officer, and that General Naylor had recommended Castillo to the secretary of Homeland Security. There was a legality involved, too, Mr. President. So far as the Army was concerned, Castillo was on temporary duty with the OOA from his regular assignment to the Special Operations Command. The Special Operations Command is under General Naylor's Central Command."

The President's face showed that he could easily have done without the clarification.

"And?" he said impatiently.

"Well, General Naylor, on being apprised of the situation, agreed with me that the situation had to be brought under control."

"By 'the situation,' you mean Castillo?"

"Yes, sir. And General Naylor and I were agreed that our first priority was to spare the President any embarrassment that Castillo's actions might cause. And the second priority was to get the two Russians into the hands of the CIA.

"After some thought, it was decided that the best thing to do with Castillo-and incidentally, the best thing for Castillo personally-was to have him retired honorably from the service. A board of officers was quickly convened at Walter Reed. After an examination of his record, it was decided that he was suffering as a result of his extensive combat service-his chest is covered with medals for valor in action-with post-traumatic stress disorder that has rendered him permanently psychologically unfit for continued active service and therefore he should be medically retired. The board awarded him a disability pension of twenty-five percent of his base pay.

"General Naylor appointed an officer, a full colonel, to present Lieutenant Colonel Castillo with the findings of the board. Taking him with me, I went to Argentina in a Gulfstream with the intention of bringing Castillo home and to place the defected Russians into the hands of the CIA. I took with me two members of my protection detail to guard the Russians, and, frankly, in case Castillo proved obstreperous."

"And did he prove to be 'obstreperous'?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. President. 'Obstreperous' doesn't half cover it. Our ambassador, Juan Manuel Silvio, told me that he hadn't heard Castillo was in Argentina, and that he had heard nothing about Colonel Berezovsky or Lieutenant Colonel Alekseeva.

"The words were no sooner out of his mouth-we were having lunch in a restaurant around the corner from the embassy-when Castillo walked in.

"I asked him where the Russians were. He said at the moment he didn't know, but if he did, he wouldn't tell me, because they had changed their minds about defecting.

"Letting that ride for the moment, I explained his position to him, and the colonel handed him the document he was to sign which would see him retired."

Montvale drained his coffee cup, put it beside the silver pot, then went on: "Castillo said, 'I will sign that when the President tells me to. And only then.'

"I told him that that was not an option, and pointed to the Secret Service agents, who were sitting at a nearby table. I informed him that I was prepared to arrest him, and hoped that wouldn't be necessary.

"He pointed to some men sitting at a table across the restaurant and said they were officers of the Gendarmeria Nacional. He added that, at his signal, they would approach anyone coming near him, and demand their identification. They would not permit his arrest, he announced, and if the people approaching him happened to be armed, Ambassador Silvio would have to start thinking about how to get them out of jail, since the Secret Service has no authority in Argentina and is not permitted to go about armed.

"Castillo then said a restaurant was no place to discuss highly classified matters, and suggested we move to the embassy-presuming Ambassador Silvio would give his word that he would not be detained in the embassy."

"And what did the ambassador do?"

"He offered us the use of his office, and gave Castillo his word that he would not be detained if he entered the embassy. So we went to the embassy, where Castillo almost immediately told us what the Russians had told him about a chemical warfare laboratory-slash-factory in the Congo. And that he and everybody in OOA believed the Russians.

"I told him that the CIA had investigated those rumors and found them baseless. He then said, 'Well, the CIA is wrong again.'

"We then called DCI Powell at Langley, and raised the question to him about a germ warfare laboratory-slash-factory in the Congo. DCI Powell repeated what I had told Castillo. The rumors were baseless-what was there was a fish farm.

"To which Castillo replied that the CIA was wrong again, and that there was obviously no point in continuing the conversation.

"I gave him one more chance to turn the Russians over to me and to get on the Gulfstream. When he laughed at me, I turned to the ambassador and said that it was obvious Colonel Castillo was mentally unstable, and therefore, the ambassador could not be held to his word that Castillo could leave the embassy.

"The ambassador replied that the last orders he had had from the President vis-a-vis Colonel Castillo were that he was to provide whatever assistance Colonel Castillo asked for, and he didn't think that meant taking Castillo into custody.

"The ambassador then pushed the secure telephone to me, and said words to the effect that I was welcome to call the President to see if he could be persuaded to change his orders, but that if I made the call he would insist on telling the President that he could detect no sign of mental instability in Castillo-quite the opposite-and that in his personal opinion, I and the CIA were trying to throw Castillo under the bus because they had somehow botched the defection of the Russians and were trying to make Castillo the fall guy for their own incompetence."

"My God!" the President said.

"As I could think of nothing else to say," Montvale said, "I then returned to Washington."

"Let's call a spade a spade, Charles," the President said. "'As I could think of nothing else to say, and I didn't want the President to know I had gone behind his back, at least until I had time to come up with a credible reason, I then returned to Washington.'"

Montvale flushed, and realizing he had flushed, was furious, which made him flush even more deeply.

"The CIA does have a certain reputation for throwing people under the bus, doesn't it, Charles? Especially those people who have embarrassed it?"

Montvale decided to wait until he was sure he had his emotions under control before going on.

"Silvio was right, Charles, and you were wrong," the President said. "The President gave him an order, and he was obeying it. Disobeying it, getting around it, would have been damned near treason. And you were wrong to ask him."

"Mr. President, I was trying to protect the President," Montvale said.

"What you should have done was go to the President," Clendennen said. "It's as simple as that. You're the director of National Intelligence, Charles, not Benjamin Disraeli!"

"I realize now that I was wrong, Mr. President," Montvale said.

The President made another impatient gesture for Montvale to continue.

"The next time I saw Castillo was in Philadelphia. The President was giving a speech. I didn't know Castillo was coming. The last word I'd had on him was that he was in Las Vegas."

"In Las Vegas? Doing what?"

"I have no idea, Mr. President. I'm not even sure he was in Las Vegas. Anyway, Castillo showed up at the Four Seasons Hotel. The President gave him the opportunity to explain his incredible chemical warfare factory scenario. The President obviously didn't believe it any more than anyone else did, but Castillo still had enough remaining clout with him for the President to turn to DCI Powell and direct him to send somebody to the Congo.

"Castillo said, 'I've already got some people in the Congo, Mr. President.'

"The President said, 'Jesus Christ! Who?'

"And Castillo told him Colonel J. Porter Hamilton, and the President asked 'Who the hell is Colonel Hamilton?' and Powell, who was really surprised, blurted that Colonel Hamilton of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute at Fort Detrick was the CIA's-for that matter, the nation's-preeminent expert on biological and chemical warfare."

"Are you telling me that Castillo, on his own authority-or no authority-actually sent an expert on biological warfare into the Congo?"

"Yes, sir, and not only that, he put him on the phone-actually a secure radio-telephone link-with the President right there in the Four Seasons."

"How the hell did he manage to do that?"

Montvale said: "I really have no idea, sir."

Montvale thought: But I'll bet my last dime that Lieutenant General Bruce J. McNab of the Special Operations Command was in that operation up to that ridiculous mustache of his.

Still, I'm not positive, and certainly can't prove it, so I'm not going to tell you.

I have been painfully cut off at the knees already today by you, Clendennen, and once a day is more than enough.

"And what did this expert say?"

"The phrase he used to describe what he found in the Congo, Mr. President, was 'an abomination before God.' He said that if it got out of control, it would be perhaps a thousand times more of a disaster than was Chernobyl, and urged the President to destroy the entire complex as soon as he could."

President Clendennen didn't reply.

"The mission was launched almost immediately, Mr. President, as you know."

"And we were at the brink of a nuclear exchange," President Clendennen said pointedly.

"That didn't happen, sir."

"I noticed," the President said, thickly sarcastic. "So, what happened to Castillo for rubbing the nose of the CIA in chemical-biological waste?"

"Right after the President ordered the secretary of Defense to immediately have an operation laid on to take out the Fish Farm, he told Castillo that OOA was dead, had never existed, and that what Castillo was to do was make himself scarce until his retirement parade, and after that to disappear from the face of the earth."


"Castillo and the military personnel who had been assigned to OOA were retired at Fort Rucker, Alabama, with appropriate panoply on January thirty-first. There was a parade. Everyone was decorated. Castillo and a Delta Force warrant officer named Leverette, who took Colonel Hamilton into the Congo and then got him out, got their third Distinguished Service Medals.

"And then, in compliance with their orders, they got into the Gulfstream and disappeared from the face of the earth."

"You mean you don't know where any of these people are? You don't even know where Castillo is?"

"I know they went from Fort Rucker to Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, and from there to Cancun."

"And from Cancun?"

"I simply do not know, Mr. President."

"Find out. The next time I ask, be prepared to answer."

"Yes, Mr. President."

"And where are the Russians?"

"I don't know, Mr. President. I do know that the President told the DCI that the attempt to cause them to defect was to be called off, and that he was not even to look for them."

"Why the hell did he do that?"

"I would suggest, Mr. President, that it was because the information they provided about the Congo was true."

The President considered that, snorted, and then said, "Well, Charles, that seems to be it, doesn't it?"

"Yes, sir, it would seem so."

"Thank you for coming to see me. We'll be in touch."


Old Ebbitt Grill 675 15th Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 1530 2 February 2007 No one is ever really surprised when a first- or second-tier member of the Washington press corps walks into the Old Ebbitt looking for someone.

For one thing, the Old Ebbitt is just about equidistant between the White House-a block away at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue-and the National Press Club-a block away at 529 14th Street, N.W. It's right down the street from the Hotel Washington, and maybe a three-minute walk from the Willard Hotel, whose lobby added the term "lobbyist" to the political/journalistic lexicon.

Furthermore, the Old Ebbitt's service, menu, ambiance, and stock of intoxicants was superb. The one thing on which all observers of the press corps agreed was that nothing appeals more to the gentlemen and ladies of the Fourth Estate than, say, a shrimp cocktail and a nice New York strip steak, plus a stiff drink, served promptly onto a table covered with crisp linen in a charming environment.

This is especially true if the journalist can reasonably expect that someone else-one of those trolling for a favorable relationship with the press lobbyists from the Willard, for example-would happily reach for the check.

Roscoe J. Danton-a tall, starting to get a little plump, thirty-eight-year-old who was employed by The Washington Times-Post-was, depending on to whom one might talk, either near the bottom of the list of first-tier journalists, or at the very top of the second tier.

Roscoe walked into the Old Ebbitt, nodded at the ever affable Tony the Maitre d' at his stand, and walked on to the bar along the wall behind Tony. He continued slowly down it-toward the rear-and had gone perhaps halfway when he spotted the people he had agreed to meet.

They were two women, and they were sitting at a banquette. The one he had talked to said that he would have no trouble spotting them: "Look for two thirtyish blondes at one of the banquettes at the end of the bar."

The description, Roscoe decided, was not entirely accurate. While both were bleached blonde, one of them was far closer to fiftyish than thirtyish, and the younger one was on the cusp of fortyish.

But there being no other banquette holding two blondes, Roscoe walked to their table.

Roscoe began, "Excuse me-"

"Sit down, Mr. Danton," the older of the two immediately said.

The younger one patted the red leather next to her.

Roscoe Danton sat down.

"Whatever this is, I don't have much time," he announced. "There's a press conference at four-fifteen."

"This won't take long," the older one said. "And I really think it will be worth your time."

A waiter appeared.

The older woman signaled the waiter to bring what she and her companion were drinking, and then asked, "Mr. Danton?"

"What is that you're having?"

"A Bombay martini, no vegetables," she said.

"That should give me courage to face the mob," he said, smiled at the waiter, and told him, "The same for me, please."

The older woman waited until the waiter had left and then reached to the fluffy lace collar at her neck. She unbuttoned two buttons, put her hand inside, and withdrew a plastic card. It was attached with an alligator clip to what looked like a dog-tag chain. She pressed the clip, removed the card, more or less concealed it in her hand, and laid it flat on the tablecloth.

"Make sure the waiter doesn't see that, please," she said as she withdrew her hand.

Danton held his hand to at least partially conceal the card and took a good look at it.

The card bore the woman's photograph, the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency, a number, some stripes of various colors, and her name, Eleanor Dillworth.

It clearly was an employee identification card. Danton had enough experience at the CIA complex just across the Potomac River in Langley, Virginia, to know that while it was not one of the very coveted Any Area/Any Time cards worn by very senior CIA officers with as much elan as a four-star general wears his stars in the Pentagon, this one identified someone fairly high up in the hierarchy.

He met Miss Dillworth's eyes, and slid the card back across the table.

The younger blonde took a nearly identical card from her purse and laid it before Danton. It said her name was Patricia Davies Wilson.

"I told them I had lost that when I was fired," Mrs. Wilson said. "And kept it as a souvenir."

Danton met her eyes, too, but said nothing.

She took the card back, and put it in her purse.

"What's this all about?" he finally asked when his silence didn't elicit the response it was supposed to.

Miss Dillworth held up her finger as a signal to wait.

The waiter delivered three Bombay Sapphire gin martinis, no vegetables.

"That was quick, wasn't it?" Eleanor Dillworth asked.

"That's why I like to come here," Patricia Davies Wilson said.

The three took an appreciative sip of their cocktails.

"I was asking, 'What's this all about?'" Danton said.

"Disgruntled employees, Mr. Danton," Patricia Davies Wilson said.

"Who, as you know, sometimes become whistleblowers," Eleanor Dillworth said, and then asked, "Interested?"

"That would depend on what, or on whom, you're thinking of blowing the whistle," Danton replied.

"I was about to say the agency," Patricia Davies Wilson said. "But it goes beyond the agency."

"Where does it go beyond the agency?" Danton asked.

"Among other places, to the Oval Office."

"In that case, I'm fascinated," Danton said. "What have you got?"

"Have you ever heard of an intelligence officer-slash-special operator by the name of Carlos Castillo?" Eleanor Dillworth asked.

Danton shook his head.

"How about the Office of Organizational Analysis?"

He shook his head, and then asked, "In the CIA?"

Dillworth shook her head. "In the office of our late and not especially grieved-for President," she said.

"And apparently to be kept alive in the administration of our new and not-too-bright chief executive. But that's presuming Montvale has told him."

"What does this organization do? What has it done in the past?"

"If we told you, Mr. Danton, I don't think you would believe us," Eleanor Dillworth said.

Danton sipped his martini, and thought: Probably not.

Disgruntled employee whistleblowers almost invariably tell wild tales with little or no basis in fact.

He said: "I don't think I understand."

"You're going to have to learn this yourself," Patricia Wilson said. "We'll point you in the right direction, but you'll have to do the digging. That way you'll believe it."

"How do I know you know what you're talking about?" Danton challenged.

"Before I was recalled, I was the CIA's station chief in Vienna," Dillworth said. "I've been in-was in-the Clandestine Service for twenty-three years."

"Before that bastard got me fired," Patricia Wilson added, "I was the agency's regional director for Southwest Africa, everything from Nigeria to South Africa, including the Congo. You will recall the Congo is where World War Three was nearly started last month."

"'That bastard' is presumably this Mr. Costillo?"

"'Castillo,' with an 'a,'" she said. "And lieutenant colonel, not mister. He's in the Army."

"Okay," Danton said, "point me."

"You said you were going to the four-fifteen White House press conference," Dillworth said. "Ask Porky. Don't take no for an answer."

John David "Jack" Parker, the White House spokesman, was sometimes unkindly referred to-the forty-two-year-old Vermont native was a little on the far side of pleasingly plump-as Porky Parker. And sometimes, when his responses to questions tested the limits of credulity, some members of the Fourth Estate had been known to make oink-oink sounds from the back of the White House press room.

"Okay, I'll do it. How do I get in touch with you if I decide this goes any further?"

Eleanor Dillworth slid a small sheet of notebook paper across the table.

"If there's no answer, say you're Joe Smith and leave a number." [FOUR] The Press Room The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 1715 2 February 2007 "Well, that's it, fellows," Jack Parker said. "We agreed that these would last one hour, and that's what the clock says."

Ignoring muted oink-oink sounds from the back of the room, he left the podium and headed for the door, where he was intercepted by Roscoe J. Danton of The Washington Times-Post.

"Aw, come on, Roscoe, this one-hour business was as much your idea as anybody else's."

"Well, screw you," Danton said, loud enough for other members of the Fourth Estate also bent on intercepting Porky to hear, and at the same time asking with a pointed finger and a raised eyebrow if he could go to Parker's office as soon as the area emptied.

Parker nodded, just barely perceptibly.

Danton went out onto the driveway and smoked a cigarette. Smoking was prohibited in the White House, the rule strictly enforced when anyone was watching. And then he went back into the White House. "What do you need, Roscoe?" Parker asked.

"Tell me about the Office of Organizational Analysis and Colonel Carlos Costello. Castillo."

Parker thought, shrugged, and said, "I draw a blank."

"Can you check?"

"Sure. In connection with what?"

"I have some almost certainly unreliable information that he and the Office of Organizational Analysis were involved in almost starting World War Three."

"One hears a lot of rumors like that about all kinds of people, doesn't one?" Parker said mockingly. "There was one going around that the Lambda Legal Foundation were the ones behind it; somebody told them they stone gays in the Congo."

"Shame on you!" Danton said. "Check it for me, will you?"

Parker nodded.

"Thanks." [FIVE] The City Room The Washington Times-Post 1365 15th Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 2225 2 February 2007 Roscoe Danton's office was a small and cluttered glass-walled cubicle off the large room housing the "city desk." Two small exterior windows offered a clear view of a solid brick wall. He had wondered for years what was behind it.

His e-mail had just offered him Viagra at a discount and a guaranteed penis enlargement concoction. He was wondering whether he could get away with sending either or both offers to the executive editor without getting caught, when another e-mail arrived. FROM: White House Press Office ‹parker@whpo.gov› TO: Roscoe J. Danton ‹rjdanton@washtimespost.org› SENT: 2 Feb 19:34:13 2007 SUBJECT: Costello/Castillo Roscoe

After you left, I had a memory tinkle about Costello/Castillo and the Office of Organizational Analysis, so I really tried-with almost no success-to check it out.

I found a phone number for an OOA in the Department of Homeland Security with an office in the DHS Compound in the Nebraska Avenue complex. When I called it, I got a recorded message saying that it had been closed. So I called DHS and they told me OOA had been closed, they didn't know when. When I asked what it had done, they helpfully told me my guess was as good as theirs, but it probably had something to do with analyzing operations.

At this point, I suspected that you had been down this route yourself before you dumped it on me.

So I called the Pentagon. You would be astonished at the number of lieutenant colonels named Castillo and Costello there are/were in the Army. There is a retired Lt Col Carlos Castillo, and he's interesting, but I don't think he's the man you're looking for. This one is a West Pointer to which institution he gained entrance because his father, a nineteen-year-old warrant officer helicopter pilot, posthumously received the Medal of Honor in Vietnam.

The son followed in his father's footsteps, and before he had been out of WP a year had won the Distinguished Flying Cross flying an Apache in the First Desert War. He went from that to flying in the Special Operations Aviation Regiment, most recently in Afghanistan. He returned from there under interesting circumstances. First, he had acquired more medals for valor than Rambo, but was also a little over the edge. Specifically, it was alleged that he either had taken against orders, or stolen, a Black Hawk to undertake a nearly suicidal mission to rescue a pal of his who had been shot down. Nearly suicidal, because he got away with it.

Faced with the choice of giving him another medal or court-martialing him, the Army instead sent him home for psychiatric evaluation. The shrinks at Walter Reed determined that as a result of all his combat service, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder to the point where he would never be psychologically stable enough to return to active service. They medically retired him. His retirement checks are sent to Double-Bar-C Ranch, Midland, Texas.

I suggest this guy was unlikely to have tried to start World War III from the psychiatric ward at Walter Reed.

Sorry, Roscoe, this was the best I could do. If you get to the bottom of this, please let me know. My curiosity is now aroused. Best, Jack The message gave Danton a number of things to think about. He would not have been surprised to receive a one-liner-"Sorry. Nothing. Jack."-and this one meant that Porky had spent a lot of time, of which he understandably had little, coming up with this answer.

Possibility One: His curiosity had been piqued and there had been time to do what he said he had done.

Possible but unlikely.

Possibility Two: This was a carefully thought-out ploy to get Danton off the track of a story which might, if it came out, embarrass the President, the White House, the department of State, or the Pentagon. Or all of the above.

Possible but unlikely. There was a hell of a risk, as Porky damned well knew, in intentionally misleading (a) The Washington Times-Post and/or (b) Roscoe Danton personally.

A short "Sorry. Nothing. Jack." e-mail maybe. But not a long message like this one. Including all the details of this Castillo character's military service.

So what do I do?

Forget it?

No. I smell something here.

The thing to do is find this Castillo character and talk to him; see if he has any idea why Meryl Streep and the other disgruntled whistleblower, whose thigh "accidentally" pressed against mine twice in the Old Ebbitt, are saying all these terrible things about him.

But only after I talk to Good Ol' Meryl and her pal, to see what else I can get out of them.

He tapped keys on his laptop, opened a new folder, named it "Castillo," and downloaded Porky's e-mail into it. Then he found the piece of paper on which Good Ol' Meryl had given him her phone number. He put this into the "Castillo" folder and entered it into his BlackBerry.

Then he pushed the CALL key. [ONE] La Casa en el Bosque San Carlos de Bariloche Patagonia Rio Negro Province, Argentina 1300 3 February 2007 "I believe in a democratic approach when having a meeting like this," Lieutenant Colonel Carlos G. Castillo, USA (Retired), announced. "And the way that will work is that I will tell you what's going to happen, and then everybody says 'Yes, sir.'"

It was summer in Argentina, and Castillo, a well-muscled, six-foot-two, one-hundred-ninety-pound, blue-eyed thirty-six-year-old with a full head of thick light brown hair, was wearing tennis whites.

There were groans from some of those gathered around an enormous circular table in the center of a huge hall. It could have been a movie set for a motion picture about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. When this thought had occurred to Sandra Britton, Ph.D., Dr. Britton had thought Castillo could play Sir Lancelot.

Two people, one of each gender, gave Castillo the finger.

"We told quote unquote those people in Las Vegas that we would give them an answer in three weeks," Castillo said. "Three weeks is tomorrow."

"Go ahead, Ace. Let's get it over with," Edgar Delchamps said. He was a nondescript man in his late fifties. The oldest man in the room, he was wearing slacks with the cuffs rolled up and a dress shirt with the collar open.

"I would like to suggest that we appoint a chairman for this, and a secretary, and I recommend Mr. Yung for that," Castillo said.

"Cut the crap, Ace," Delchamps said. "Everyone knows you're calling the shots, but if you're going to make Two-Gun something, I more or less respectfully suggest you make him secretary-treasurer."

Men who have spent more than three decades in the Clandestine Service of the Central Intelligence Agency tend not to be impressed with Army officers who had yet to make it even to West Point while they themselves were matching wits with the KGB in Berlin and Vienna.

"Two-Gun, you're the secretary-treasurer," Castillo said to David William Yung, Jr.

Yung was a round-faced, five-foot-eight, thirty-six-year-old, hundred-fifty-pound Chinese-American whose family had immigrated to the United States in the 1840s. In addition to a law degree, he held a master's degree in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania, and was fluent in four languages, none of them Asian.

Before he had become a member of the OOA, he had been an FBI agent with a nearly legendary reputation for being able to trace the path of money around the world no matter how often it had been laundered.

Before his association with OOA, Yung had never-except at the Quantico FBI base pistol range-taken his service pistol from its holster. Within days of being drafted into the OOA, he had been in a gun battle and killed his first man.

But the "Two-Gun" appellation had nothing to do with that. That had come after Delchamps, who was not authorized at the time to be in possession of a firearm in Argentina, had Yung, whose diplomatic status at the time made him immune to Argentine law, smuggle his pistol across the border. Yung thus had two guns and was thereafter Two-Gun.

Two-Gun Yung signified his acceptance of his appointment by raising his balled fist thumbs up, and then opening up his laptop computer.

"First things first, Mr. Secretary-Treasurer," Castillo said. "Give us a thumb-nail picture of the assets of the Lorimer Charitable and Benevolent Fund."

Two-Gun looked at his computer screen.

"This is all ballpark, you understand," he said. "You want the history?"

"Please," Castillo said.

"We started out with those sixteen million in bearer bonds from Shangri-La," Yung said.

Shangri-La was not the mythical kingdom but rather Estancia Shangri-La, in Tacuarembo Province, Republica Oriental del Uruguay. When Castillo had led an ad hoc team of special operators there to entice Dr. Jean-Paul Lorimer to allow himself to be repatriated, Lorimer was shot to death by mercenaries seeking to recover from him money he had stolen from the Iraqi oil-for-food scam, for which he had been the "bagman" in charge of paying off whomever had to be paid off.

His safe had contained sixteen million dollars' worth of what were in effect bearer bonds, which Castillo had taken with him to the U.S. When this was reported to the then-President of the United States, the chief executive managed to convey the impression-without coming right out in so many words-that justice would be well served if the bearer bonds were used to fund the OOA.

The following day, the Lorimer Charitable amp; Benevolent Fund came into being.

"Into which Charley dipped to the tune of seven and a half million to buy the Gulfstream," Yung went on. "Call that eight million by the time we fixed everything, and rented the hangar at Baltimore/Washington. Et cetera.

"That left eight, into which Charley dipped for another two point five million to buy the safe house in Alexandria. That left five point five million."

The house in Alexandria was used to house members of the Office of Organizational Analysis while they were in the Washington area, and also to conduct business of a nature that might have raised eyebrows had it been conducted in the OOA's official offices in the Department of Homeland Security compound in the Nebraska Avenue complex in the District of Columbia.

"To which," Two-Gun went on, "Mr. Philip J. Kenyon the Third of Midland, Texas, contributed forty-six point two million in exchange for his Stay Out of Jail card."

Mr. Kenyon had mistakenly believed his $46,255,000 in illicit profits from his participation in the Iraqi oil-for-food scam were safe from prying eyes in a bank in the Cayman Islands. He erred.

The deal he struck to keep himself out of federal prison for the rest of his natural life was to cooperate fully with the investigation, and to transfer the money from his bank account in the Cayman Islands to the account of the Lorimer Charitable amp; Benevolent Fund in the Riggs National Bank in Washington, D.C.

"There have been some other expenses, roughly totaling two million," Yung continued. "What we have left is about fifty point five million, give or take a couple of hundred thousand."

"That don't add up, Two-Gun," Edgar Delchamps challenged. "There shouldn't be that much; according to your figures, we've got two point something million more than we should have."

"There has been some income from our investments," Two-Gun said. "You didn't think I was going to leave all that money in our bank-our banks plural; there are seven-just drawing interest, did you?"

"Do we want to start counting nickels and dimes?" Colonel Castillo asked. "Or can we get to that later?"

"'Nickels and dimes'?" Sandra Britton, a slim, tall, sharp-featured black-skinned woman, parroted incredulously. "We really are the other side of Alice's Looking Glass, aren't we?"

Possibly proving that opposites attract, Dr. Britton, who had been a philologist on the faculty of Philadelphia's Temple University, was married to John M. Britton, formerly of the United States Secret Service and before that a detective working undercover in the Counterterrorism Bureau of the Philadelphia Police Department.

"I was going to suggest, Sandra," Charley Castillo said, "that we now turn to the question before us. Questions before us. One, do we just split all that money between us and go home-"

"How the hell can Jack and I go home?" Sandra interrupted. "Not only can I not face my peers at Temple after they learned that I was hauled off by the Secret Service-with sirens screaming-but the AALs turned our little house by the side of the road into the O.K. Corral."

Dr. Britton was making reference to an assassination attempt made on her and her husband during which their home and nearly new Mazda convertible were riddled by fire from Kalashnikov automatic assault weapons in the hands of native-born African-Americans who considered themselves converts to Islam and to whom Dr. Britton referred, perhaps politically incorrectly, as AALs, which stood for African-American Lunatics.

"If I may continue, Doctor?" Colonel Castillo asked.

Dr. Britton made a gesture with her left hand, raising it balled with the center finger extended vertically.

"I rephrase," Castillo said. "Do we just split that money between us and go our separate ways? Or do we stay together within what used to be the OOA and would now need a new name?"

"Call the question," Anthony "Tony" J. Santini said formally.

Santini, a somewhat swarthy, balding, short, heavyset man in his forties, until recently had been listed in the telephone book of the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires as an assistant financial attache. He had been, in fact, a Secret Service agent dispatched to Buenos Aires to, as he put it, "look for funny money." Before that, he had been a member of the vice presidential protection detail. He had been relieved of that assignment when he fell off the ice-covered running board of the vice-presidential limousine. He had been recruited for the OOA shortly after it had been established, to "locate and eliminate" the parties responsible for the murder of J. Winslow Masterson.

"Second the motion," Susanna Sieno said.

She was a trim, pale-freckled-skin redhead in a white blouse and blue jeans. She looked like she and the man sitting beside her-her husband, Paul-should be in a television commercial, where the handsome young husband comes home from the office and chastely kisses his charming young bride after she shows how easy it had been for her to polish their kitchen floor with Miracle Glow.

Actually, between the Sienos, they had more than four decades in the Clandestine Service of the CIA-Paul having served twenty-two years and Susanna just over twenty-which had been more than enough for the both of them to have elected to retire, which they had done ten days before.

"The motion having been made and seconded," Castillo said mock-formally, "the chair calls the question: 'Do we disband and split the money?' All in favor raise your hand and hold it up until Two-Gun counts."

"Okay," Castillo said a moment later, "now those opposed, raise your hands."

Yung again looked around the table.

"I make it unanimously opposed," Yung said. "OOA lives!"

"OOA's dead," Castillo said. "The question now is, what do we do with the corpse?"

Delchamps said, "Sweaty, Dmitri-excuse me, Tom-and Alfredo didn't vote."

"I didn't think I had the right," Alfredo Munz, a stocky blond man in his forties, said.

Munz, at the time of Masterson's kidnapping, had been an Argentine Army colonel in command of SIDE, an organization combining the Argentine versions of the FBI and CIA. Embarrassed by the incident and needing a scapegoat, the interior ministry had, as a disgusted Charley Castillo had put it, "thrown Munz under the bus." Munz had been relieved of his command of SIDE and forced to retire. Castillo had immediately put him on the OOA payroll.

"Don't be silly," Castillo said. "You took a bullet for us. You're as much a part of us as anyone else."

Munz had been wounded during the Estancia Shangri-La operation.

"Hear, hear," Yung said.

"I didn't say the Argentine Kraut didn't have every right to vote," Delchamps said. "I simply stated that he, Sweaty, and Tom didn't vote."

"If I have a vote," Sweaty said, "I will vote however my Carlos votes."

"Sweaty," also in tennis whites, sat next to Castillo. She was a tall, dark-red-haired, stunningly beautiful woman, who had been christened Svetlana. Once associated with this group of Americans, "Svetlana" had quickly morphed to "Svet" then to "Sweaty."

Susanna's eyebrows rose in contempt, or perhaps contemptuous disbelief. In her long professional career, she had known many intelligence officers, and just about the best one she had ever encountered was Castillo.

The most incredibly stupid thing any spook had ever done was become genuinely emotionally involved with an enemy intelligence officer. Within twenty-four hours of Lieutenant Colonel C. G. Castillo having laid eyes on Lieutenant Colonel Svetlana Alekseeva of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki-the SVR, the Russian Service for the Protection of the Constitutional System, renamed from "KGB"-on a Vienna-bound railroad train in Germany, she had walked out of his bedroom in a safe house outside Buenos Aires wearing his bathrobe and a smug smile, and calling him "my Carlos."

Dr. Britton smiled fondly at Sweaty when she referred to Castillo now as "my Carlos." She thought it was sweet. Sandra Britton knew there really was such a thing as Love at First Sight. She had married her husband two weeks after she had met him and now could not imagine life without him.

Their meeting had occurred shortly after midnight eight years before on North Broad Street in Philly when Jack had appeared out of nowhere to foil a miscreant bent on relieving her of her purse, watch, jewelry-and very possibly her virtue. In the process, the miscreant had suffered a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder, testicular trauma, and three lost teeth.

Britton had then firmly attached the miscreant to a fire hydrant with plastic handcuffs, loaded the nearly hysterical Dr. Britton in her car, and set off to find a pay telephone.

There were not many working pay telephones in that section of Philadelphia at that hour, and to call the police it had been necessary to go to Dr. Britton's apartment.

After Britton had called Police Emergency to report that the victim of an assault by unknown parties could be found at North Broad and Cecil B. Moore Avenue hugging a fire hydrant, one thing had led to another. Sandra made Jack breakfast the next morning, and they were married two weeks later.

"I don't think I have a vote," Tom Barlow said. "But if I do, I'll go along with however Sweaty's Carlos votes."

Barlow, a trim man of about Castillo's age and build, whose hair was nearly blond, and who bore a familial resemblance to Sweaty-he was in fact her brother-until very recently had been Colonel Dmitri Berezovsky, the SVR rezident in Berlin.

Castillo and Sweaty gave Barlow the finger.

"I would say the motion has been defeated," Yung said. "I didn't see any hands. And I have the proxies of Jake, Peg-Leg, the Gunnery Sergeant, Sparky, and Miller. They all like the idea of keeping OOA going."

Jake and Sparky were, respectively, Colonel Jacob S. Torine, USAF (Retired), and former Captain Richard Sparkman, USAF. Torine had been in on OOA since the beginning, when he had flown a Globemaster to Argentina to bring home the body of Jack the Stack Masterson, and his family. Torine had been quietly retired with all the other military members of OOA who had more than twenty years' service when OOA had shut down.

Sparkman, who on active duty had served under Torine on a number of black missions of the Air Force Special Operations Command, had been flying Washington political VIPs around in a Gulfstream and hating it when he heard (a) of OOA and (b) that Colonel Torine was involved. He made his way through the maze designed to keep OOA hidden in the bushes, found Torine, and volunteered to do whatever was asked, in whatever Torine was involved.

He had been accepted as much for having gotten through the maze as for being able to fill the near-desperate need OOA had for another pilot who (a) knew how to keep his mouth shut and (b) had a lot of Gulfstream time as pilot in command.

When OOA was shut down, Sparky didn't have the option of retiring, because he didn't have enough time in the service. He also realized that he really couldn't go back to the Air Force after having been tainted by his association with OOA. He knew the rest of his career in the Air Force would have been something along the lines of Assistant Procurement Officer, Hand-Held Fire-Extinguishing Devices.

He had resigned. There was an unspoken agreement that Sparky would go on the payroll as a Gulfstream pilot, details to be worked out later, presuming everybody was still out of jail.

Gunnery Sergeant Lester Bradley was in a similar situation. Another gunny, one in charge of the Marine guard detachment at the American embassy in Buenos Aires, had sent then-corporal Lester Bradley-a slight, five-foot-three, twenty-year-old Marine who could be spared most easily from more important duties-to drive an embassy GMC Yukon XL carrying two barrels of aviation fuel across the border to Uruguay.

Thirty-six hours later, the Yukon had been torched with a thermite grenade. Bradley, who had been left to "watch" the Yukon, had taken out-with head-shots firing offhand from a hundred meters-two mercenaries who had just killed Jean-Paul Lorimer, Ph.D., and then started shooting their Kalashnikovs at Castillo.

Inasmuch as Castillo thought it would be unwise to return Corporal Bradley to his embassy duties-where his gunnery sergeant would naturally be curious to learn under what circumstances the Yukon had been torched-he was impressed into the OOA on the spot.

The day that OOA ceased to exist, the President of the United States had asked Castillo, "Is there anything else I can do for you before you and your people start vanishing from the face of the earth?"

Castillo told him there were three things. First was that Corporal Bradley be promoted to gunnery sergeant before being honorably discharged "for the good of the service."

The second thing Castillo had asked of the President was that Colonel Berezovsky and Lieutenant Colonel Alekseeva be taken off the Interpol warrants outstanding for them. When they had disappeared from their posts in Berlin and Copenhagen with the obvious intention of defecting, the Russian government had said their motive had been to escape arrest and punishment for embezzlement.

The third thing Castillo asked was that he and everybody connected with him and OOA be taken off the FBI's "locate but do not detain" list.

The President had granted all three requests: "You have my word."

The first thing Castillo thought when he heard that the President had dropped dead was that his word had died with him. The chances that President Clendennen-especially with Director of National Intelligence Montvale whispering in his ear-would honor his predecessor's promises ranged from zero to zilch.

The retirements of Major H. Richard Miller, Jr., Avn, USA, who had been the OOA's chief of staff, and First Lieutenant Edmund "Peg-Leg" Lorimer, MI, USA, had posed no problem, although neither had twenty years of service.

Miller, a United States Military Academy classmate of Castillo's, had suffered grievous damage to his leg when his helicopter had been shot down in Afghanistan. Lorimer had lost a leg to an improvised explosive device in the same country. They would receive pensions for the rest of their lives.

As Castillo amp; Co. had begun to fulfill their part of the agreement with POTUS-disappearing from the face of the earth-they had made their way to Las Vegas, where they were the guests of Aloysius Francis Casey-president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of the AFC Corporation.

Castillo had first met Casey when Castillo had been a second lieutenant, freshly returned from the First Desert War working as aide-de-camp to just-promoted Brigadier General Bruce J. McNab at Fort Bragg when Casey showed up there. Casey announced that he had been the communications sergeant on a Special Forces A-Team in the Vietnam War and, further, told McNab and his aide-de-camp that he had done well after being discharged. Not only had Casey earned a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but he had started up-and still owned more than ninety percent of-the AFC Corporation, which had become the world's leading developer and manufacturer of data transmission and encryption systems.

Aloysius Casey, Second Lieutenant Castillo had immediately seen, was not troubled with excessive modesty.

Casey said that he attributed his great success to Special Forces-specifically what he had learned about self-reliance and that there was no such thing as impossible.

And he said he had decided it was payback time. He was prepared to furnish Delta Force, free of charge, with his state-of-the-art communications and encryption equipment.

"It's three, four years ahead of anything anybody else has," Casey had announced. McNab had sent Castillo with Casey to Las Vegas-on AFC's Learjet-that same day to select what AFC equipment Delta Force could use immediately, and to brainstorm with Casey and his senior engineers on what advanced commo equipment Delta could use if somebody waved a magic wand and created it for them.

The latter devices had begun to arrive at Delta Force's stockade at Fort Bragg about two months later.

When OOA had been set up, Castillo had naturally turned to Casey-who now called him "Charley" rather than, as he had at first, "The Boy Wonder"-for communications and cryptographic equipment, and Casey had happily produced it.

When Charley had bought the Gulfstream, Casey had seemed a little annoyed that Charley had asked if Casey would equip it with the same equipment. Charley at the time had thought that maybe he had squeezed the golden goose a little too hard and vowed he would not be so greedy the next time.

When they got the Gulfstream back from the AFC hangar at Las Vegas's McCarran International Airport, it had not only the latest communications and encryption equipment installed, but an entirely new avionics configuration.

"I figured you needed it more than Boeing," Casey said.

His annoyance with Charley was because Castillo had been reluctant to ask for his support.

"For Christ's sake, Charley, you should have known better," Casey said.

The Gulfstream was again in Las Vegas, not for the installation of equipment, but to get it out of sight until a decision could be made about what to do with it.

Charley had flown the Gulfstream to Las Vegas the same day he had received his last order from the President: "You will go someplace where no one can find you, and you will not surface until your retirement parade. And after your retirement, I hope that you will fall off the face of the earth and no one will ever see you or hear from you again. Understood?"

Charley had said, "Yes, sir," and walked out of the room. After a quick stop at Baltimore/Washington International to pick up Major Dick Miller, he had flown to Las Vegas with newly promoted (verbal order, POTUS) and about to be discharged Gunnery Sergeant Lester Bradley and Mr. and Mrs. Jack Britton.

Immediately on arrival, Castillo had learned that providing equipment to Special Operations people free of charge had not been Aloysius Casey's only contribution to the national security of the nation.

Limousines met them at McCarran, and drove them to the Venetian Hotel and Casino, where they were shown to a private elevator which carried them to a duplex penthouse.

At the foot of a curving glass-stepped staircase which led to the lower floor, Castillo saw Dmitri Berezovsky-now equipped with a bona fide Uruguayan passport in the name of Tom Barlow-Sergeant Major Jack Davidson, Aloysius Francis Casey, and about a half-dozen men Castillo could not remember having seen before sitting on a circular couch that appeared to be upholstered with gold lame.

Casey waved him down. Max, Castillo's hundred-plus-pound Bouvier des Flandres, immediately accepted the invitation, flew down the stairs four at a time, barked hello at the people he knew, and then began to help himself from one of the trays of hors d'oeuvres.

Not understanding what was going on, Castillo had gone down the stairs slowly. As he did, he realized that he did in fact recognize a few of the men. One of them was a legendary character who owned four-Maybe five?-of the more glitzy Las Vegas hotels.

But not this one, came a flash from Castillo's memory bank.

Another was a well-known, perhaps even famous, investment banker. And another had made an enormous fortune in data processing. Castillo had remembered him because he was a Naval Academy graduate.

"Everybody pay attention," Casey had said, laughing. "You don't often get a chance to see Charley with a baffled look on his face."

"Okay, Aloysius, you have pulled my chain. What the hell is going on around here?"

"Colonel," the Naval Academy graduate said with a distinctive Southern accent, "what we are is a group of people who realize there are a number of things that the intelligence community doesn't do well, doesn't want to do, or for one reason or another can't do. We try to help, and we've got the assets-not only cash-to do so. We've been doing this for some time. And we're all agreed that now that you and your OOA associates are-how do I put this?-no longer gainfully employed-"

"How did you hear about that?" Castillo interrupted.

The Naval Academy graduate ignored the question.

"-you might want to come work for us."

"You've got the wrong guy," Castillo said simply. "The intel community hates me, and that's a nice way of describing it."

"Well, telling the DCI that his agency 'is a few very good people trying to stay afloat in a sea of left-wing bureaucrats' may not have been the best way to charm the director, even if I happen to know he agrees with you."

"Colonel," the man who owned the glitzy hotels said, "this is our proposal, in a few words: You keep your people together, keep them doing what they do so well, and on our side we'll decide how to get the information to where it will do the most good, and in a manner that will not rub the nose of the intelligence community in their own incompetence." He paused. "And the pay's pretty good."

"Right off the top of my head, no," Castillo said. "My orders from the President are-"

"To go someplace where no one can find you," the investment banker interrupted him, "until your retirement parade. And after that fall off the face of the earth. Something like that?"

How could he-they-possibly know about that?

Nobody had been in that room except the secretaries of State and Defense and the director of the CIA-the President had told Montvale to take a walk until he got his temper under control.

Does that mean these people have an in with any of them?

Or with all of them?

Of course it does.

Jesus H. Christ!

"I think we would have all been disappointed, Colonel," the Naval Academy graduate said, "if, right off the top of your head, you had jumped at the proposition. So how about this? Think it over. Talk to the others. In the meantime, stay here-no one can find you here, I can personally guarantee that-until your retirement parade. And then, after you fall off the face of the earth, call Aloysius from wherever that finds you, and tell him what you've all decided." In compliance with his orders, Castillo had stayed out of sight at the Venetian-it could not be called a hardship; Sweaty had been with him, and there is no finer room service in the world than that offered by the Venetian-until very early in the morning of his retirement parade.

Then he and Dick Miller had flown Sergeant Major Jack Davidson and CWO5 Colin Leverette in the Gulfstream to Fort Rucker. After some initial difficulty, they had been given permission to land. They had changed into Class A uniforms in the plane.

There was some discussion among them about the wisdom under the circumstances of removing from their uniforms those items of insignia and qualification which suggested they had some connection with Special Operations. But that had been resolved by Mr. Leverette.

"Fuck 'em," Uncle Remus said. "This is the last time we're going to wear the suit. Let's wear it all!" There was a sea of red general officers' personal flags on the reviewing stand. The four-star flag of General Allan Naylor, the Central Command commander, stood in the center of them, beside the three-star flag of Lieutenant General Bruce J. McNab, who commanded the Special Operations Command. There were too many two- and one-star flags to be counted.

Among the two-star flags were those of Dick's father, Major General Richard H. Miller, Sr. (Retired), and Major General Harold F. Wilson (Retired). General Wilson, as a young officer during the Vietnam War, had been the co-pilot of WOJG Jorge Alejandro Castillo-right up until Castillo, Charley's father, had booted Wilson out of the Huey that would be shot down by enemy fire, ending Castillo's life and finding him posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

The band played as it marched onto the parade ground before post headquarters, and those persons to be decorated marched front and center and were decorated and the retirement orders were read and the band played again and the troops passed in review.

And that was it.

They had been retired from the Army.

The four of them got into a waiting Dodge Caravan and were driven back to Cairns Field.

Then, as Castillo was doing the walk-around and as Miller was returning from filing their flight plan, two Army Chevrolet sedans and two Army Dodge Caravans drove onto the tarmac in front of Base Operations.

General Allan Naylor got out of one of the sedans and Lieutenant General McNab got out of the other. Major General (Retired) Miller got out of one of the Caravans, and Major General (Retired) Wilson, and his grandson, Randolph Richardson III, got out of the other.

It was an awkward moment all around.

"I wanted to say goodbye and good luck," General Naylor said.

There was a chorus of "Thank you, sir."

"Well, I suppose if you castrate too many bulls," General McNab said, "you're going to get gored, sooner or later. Don't let the doorknob hit you in the ass on your way out."

General Naylor looked askance at General McNab.

General Miller took his son to one side for a private word.

General Wilson took his grandson and Castillo to one side for a private word. General Wilson had known all along that Castillo was the natural father of his grandson. The boy and Castillo had learned of their real relationship only recently.

"Sir," Randolph Richardson III asked, "where are you going?"

"Randy, I just don't know."

"Am I ever going to see you again?"

It took Castillo a moment to get rid of the lump in his throat.

"Absolutely, positively, and soon," he managed to say.

Randy put out his hand.

Castillo shook it.

Fuck it!

He embraced his son, felt his son hug him back, and then let him go.

He wanted to say something else but this time the lump in his throat wouldn't go away.

"Your mother's waiting lunch for us, Randy," General Wilson said, and led the boy back toward the Caravan. Gulfstream 379 broke ground about four minutes later. It flew to Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, where it took on fuel and went through Customs and Immigration procedures, and then flew to the seaside resort city of Cancun on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Colonel Jake Torine and Captain Dick Sparkman, who had been retired that day from the USAF with considerably less panoply-each had received a FedEx package containing their retirement orders and their Distinguished Service Medals-were already there. Gunnery Sergeant Lester Bradley, USMC, had received a similar package from the Department of the Navy.

The Gulfstream refueled, Torine and Sparkman took off for Las Vegas, where the plane came to be parked in one of the AFC hangars until a decision about its future could be reached.

At the moment, Gulfstream 379 was leased "dry" from Gossinger Consultants, a wholly owned subsidiary of Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H., of Fulda, Germany, which had bought the aircraft from Lopez Fruit and Vegetables Mexico, a wholly owned subsidiary of Castillo Agriculture, Inc., of San Antonio, Texas, whose president and chief executive officer was Fernando Lopez, and whose corporate officers included one Carlos Castillo.

That status would have to be changed, Two-Gun Yung had announced, no matter what decision was reached about the offer of "those people" in Las Vegas.

At Cancun Airport International several hours later, CWO5 Leverette (Retired) and Sergeant Major Davidson (Retired) boarded a Mexicana flight to Mexico City. There, Leverette, now traveling on a Honduran passport under another name, would board a Varig flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Davidson, traveling under his own name on an Israeli passport, would board a Mexicana flight bound for Lima, Peru.

Castillo had watched the takeoff of the Mexicana flight to Mexico City from the tarmac on the cargo side of the Cancun airfield. Then he had climbed into a Peruaire 767 cargo plane.

The 767 had flown up that morning from Santiago, Chile, with a mixed cargo of Chilean seafood and Argentine beef, citrus fruits and vegetables. The food was destined for Cancun Provisions, Ltda., and would ultimately end in the kitchen of The Grand Cozumel Beach and Golf Resort, and in the galleys of cruise ships which called at Cancun.

PeruaireCargo, Cancun Provisions, Ltda., The Grand Cozumel Beach and Golf Resort, and at least four of the cruise ships were owned-through a maze of dummy corporations, genuine corporations, and other entities at least twice as obfuscatory as the ownership of Gulfstream 379-by a man named Aleksandr Pevsner.

In the late Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Pevsner had been simultaneously a colonel in the Soviet Air Force and a colonel in the KGB, responsible for the security of Aeroflot worldwide.

When the KGB was faced with the problem of concealing its wealth- hundreds of billions of dollars-from the people now running Russia, who were likely to put it in the state treasury, they decided that the wealth-much of it in gold and platinum-had to be hidden outside Russia.

And who better to do this than Colonel Aleksandr Pevsner? He knew people-many of them bankers-all over the world.

Pevsner resigned from the Air Force, bought several ex-Soviet Air Force cargo aircraft at distress prices, and soon began a profitable business flying Mercedes automobiles and other luxury goods into Moscow. The KGB's gold, platinum, precious stones, and sometimes cash-often contained in fuel barrels-left Moscow on the flights out.

For the latter service, Pevsner had been paid a commission of usually ten percent of the value. His relationship with the KGB-its First Chief Directorate now the SVR-had soured over time as the SVR had regained power under Vladimir Putin. The new SVR had decided that if Pevsner were eliminated, he could not tell anyone where their money had gone, and they might even get back some of the commissions they had paid him.

There had been a number of deaths, almost entirely of SVR agents, and Pevsner was now living with his wife and daughter in an enormous mansion on a several-thousand-hectare estate in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, protected by a security force Castillo called Pevsner's Private Army.

The mansion-which had been built during World War II-bore a remarkable similarity to Carinhall, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring's estate in Germany. Not really joking, Pevsner and Castillo said it had probably been built by either admirers of the Number Two Nazi-or even for Goring-when the Nazi leadership was planning to keep Nazism alive under the Operation Phoenix program by fleeing to Argentina.

Castillo had met Pevsner-more accurately, Pevsner had arranged to meet Castillo-when Castillo thought Pevsner was a likely suspect in the disappearance of the 727 from Aeroporto Internacional Quatro de Fevereiro in Luanda, Angola.

Pevsner had learned of Castillo's suspicions from his chief of security, a former FBI agent. Castillo had been snatched from the men's room of the Hotel Sacher in Vienna and taken to the Vienna Woods at gunpoint.

On meeting Castillo, Pevsner decided the wisest path for him to follow was to help Castillo find the missing aircraft. He really didn't like to kill people unless it was absolutely necessary-incredibly, he was a devout Christian-and killing Castillo would certainly draw more American attention to him and his business enterprises.

The missing airplane was found with his help, and there was no sudden burst of activity by the Americans looking into Pevsner and his affairs.

But the real reason Pevsner was able to feel he had really made the right decision not to kill Castillo came when Pevsner was betrayed by the former FBI agent, who set up an assassination ambush in the basement garage of the Sheraton Pilar Hotel outside Buenos Aires.

The team of SVR assassins found themselves facing not only Janos, Pevsner's massive Hungarian bodyguard, but a number of members of the OOA, who had learned what was about to happen.

In the brief, if ferocious, firefight which ensued, Janos was seriously wounded and all four of the SVR would-be assassins had been killed. One of the Russians had been put down by Corporal Lester Bradley, USMC, with a headshot at thirty meters' distance from Lester's Model 1911A1.45 ACP pistol.

That had, of course, made Aleksandr Pevsner think of Charley Castillo as a friend, but there had been another unexpected development. Shortly after they had been struck with Cupid's arrow, Sweaty had told her Carlos that the reason they had wanted to come to Argentina was because she and her brother had a relative living there. They were cousins. His mother and the mother of Sweaty and Tom were sisters. They didn't know where he was, and she hoped her Carlos would help her find him.

His name, Sweaty had said, was Aleksandr Pevsner. Behind the flight deck of the PeruaireCargo 767 there was a small passenger area equipped with a table, a galley, and six seats which could be converted to beds at the press of a switch.

Castillo sat down beside Sweaty, and a stewardess showed him a bottle of Argentine champagne, her eyes asking if it met his pleasure. He nodded and she poured champagne for him and Sweaty and for Tom Barlow and Two-Gun.

"Randy came to my retirement parade," Castillo told Sweaty. "He asked if he was ever going to see me again."

"Oh, my poor Carlos," Sweaty said, and took his hand and kissed it.

Max, who seemed to understand his master was unhappy, put his paws on Castillo's shoulders and licked his face. The PeruaireCargo 767 flew nonstop from Cancun to Santiago, Chile.

For some reason, the Chilean immigration and customs officials, who had a reputation for meeting all incoming aircraft before the doors were open, were not on the tarmac.

Castillo, Sweaty, Tom, Two-Gun, and Max were thus able to walk directly, and without attracting any attention, from the 767 to a Learjet 45 which was conveniently parked next to where the 767 had stopped. The Learjet began to taxi the instant the door had closed.

A short time later, it landed at the San Carlos de Bariloche airport in Argentina, just the other side of the Andes Mountains. Coincidentally, the Argentine immigration and customs authorities, like their brothers in Santiago, seemed not to have noticed the arrival of the Learjet. No one saw its passengers load into a Mercedes sedan and, led and trailed by Mercedes SUVs, drive off.

Forty-five minutes later, Charley was standing on the dock on the edge of the Casa en el Bosque property and looking out across Lake Nahuel Huapi.

"What are you thinking, my darling?" Sweaty asked, touching his cheek.

"That I just have, in compliance with orders, dropped off the face of the earth." "Okay," Castillo said, "the motion to split the money and run having failed, we're still in business. But as what?"

"We're going to have to form a corporation," Two-Gun said.

"What are we going to call the corporation?" Castillo pursued.

"Do what Aloysius did. Use the initials," Sergeant Major (Retired) Davidson suggested. "The Lorimer Charitable and Benevolent Fund becomes the LCBF Corporation."

"Second the motion," CWO5 Colin Leverette (Retired) said. "And then when everybody agrees, I can go fishing."

He and Davidson had made their way to Bariloche the day before. Their passports had not attracted any unwelcome attention.

"Any objections?" Castillo asked, and then a moment later said, "Hearing none, the motion carries. It's now the LCBF Corporation. Or will be, when Two-Gun sets it up. Which brings us to Two-Gun."

"Uh-oh," Two-Gun said.

"I suggest we appoint Two-Gun, by any title he chooses to assume, and at a suitable wage, as our money and legal guy. I think we should hire Agnes to keep running administration and keep Dianne and Harold on at the house in Alexandria."

Mrs. Agnes Forbison, a very senior civil servant (GS-15, the highest pay grade) had been one of the first members of OOA, as its chief of administration.

Dianne and Harold Sanders were both retired special operators. They had been thinking of opening a bed-and-breakfast when Uncle Remus Leverette told them Castillo needed someone to run a safe house just outside Washington. They had jumped at the opportunity, and Castillo had jumped at the opportunity to have them. He'd been around the block with Harold on several occasions, and Dianne, in addition to being an absolutely marvelous cook, was also an absolutely marvelous cryptographer.

"Okay," Leverette then said, "after we approve that, can I go fishing?"

Castillo said, "Then there's the final question: What do we do about the offer from those people in Las Vegas?"

"I was afraid you'd bring that up, Ace," Delchamps said. "I have mixed feelings about that."

"We told them we'd let them know today," Castillo said.

"No, they told us to let them know by today," Delchamps said. "I'm not happy with them telling us anything."

"Call them up, Charley," Jack Britton said, "and tell them we're still thinking about it."

"Second the motion," Davidson said.

"Why not?" Castillo said. "The one thing we all have now is time on our hands. All the time in the world. Any objections?"

There were none and the motion carried.

"I'm going fishing," Leverette said, and grabbed his fly rod from where he'd left it on a table, then headed for the door. [TWO] Office of the Managing Editor The Washington Times-Post 1365 15th Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 1605 3 February 2007 The managing editor's office was across the newsroom from Roscoe Danton's office, substantially larger and even more crowded. The exterior windows opened on 15th Street, and the interior windows overlooked the newsroom. The latter were equipped with venetian blinds, which were never opened.

Managing Editor Christopher J. Waldron had begun smoking cigars as a teenager and now, at age sixty-two, continued to smoke them in his office in defiance of the wishes of the management of The Washington Times-Post and the laws of the District of Columbia. His only capitulation to political correctness and the law had been the installation of an exhaust fan and a sign on his door in large red letters that said: KNOCK BEFORE ENTERING!!!!

This served, usually, to give him time to exhale and to place his cigar in a desk drawer before any visitor could enter and catch him in flagrante delicto, which, as he often pointed out, meant "while the crime is blazing."

There had been complaints made about his filthy habit, most of them from the female staff but also from those of the opposite and indeterminate genders, but to no avail. Chris Waldron was about the best managing editor around, and management knew it.

Roscoe Danton knocked on Waldron's door, waited for permission to enter, and, when that came, went in, closing the door behind him.

Chris Waldron reclaimed his cigar from the ashtray in his desk drawer and put it back in his mouth.

He raised his eyebrows to ask the question, Well?

Danton said, "I am fully aware that I am neither Woodward nor Bernstein, but-"

"Thank you for sharing that with me," Waldron interrupted.

"-but I have a gut feeling I'm onto a big story, maybe as big as Watergate, and I want to follow it wherever it goes."

"And I had such high hopes that you'd really stopped drinking," Waldron said, and then made two gestures which meant, Sit down and tell me about it. "So what do we know about these two disgruntled employee whistleblowers?" Waldron asked.

"The younger one, Wilson, was an agricultural analyst at Langley before she got married to Wilson, who's a career bureaucrat over there. The gossip, which I haven't had time to check out, is that he's light on his feet. He needed to be married, and she needed somebody to push her career. Anyway, she managed to get herself sent through The Farm and into the Clandestine Service. They sent her to Angola, and then she got herself sent back to Langley. A combination of her husband's influence and her vast experience-eleven months in Angola-got her a job as regional director for Southwest Africa, everything from Nigeria to the South African border. She was where she wanted to be, back in Washington, with her foot on the ladder to greater things. She was not very popular with her peers."

"What got her fired?"

"According to her, this Colonel Castillo said terrible things about her behind her back about her handling of that 727 that was stolen. Remember that?"

Waldron nodded. "What sort of things?"

"She didn't tell me, not that she would have told me the truth. But anyway, that got her relieved from the Southwest Africa desk, and assigned to the Southern Cone desk-"

"The what?"

"Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile-otherwise known as the Southern Cone."

"From which she got fired?" Waldron asked, and when Danton nodded, asked, "Why?"

"I got this from a friend of mine who's close to the DCI and doesn't like her. Somebody sent the DCI a tape on which our pal C. Harry Whelan, Jr., proudly referred to her as his 'personal mole' in Langley."

C. Harry Whelan, Jr., was a prominent and powerful Washington-based columnist.

"That would do it, I guess. You check with Harry?"

Danton nodded.

"And did he admit knowing this lady?"

"More or less. When I called him, I said, 'Harry, I've been talking with Patricia Davies Wilson about you.' To which he replied, 'Don't believe a thing that lying bitch says.' Then I asked, 'Is it true somebody told the DCI she was your personal mole over there?' And Harry replied, 'Go fuck yourself, Roscoe,' and hung up."

"I can see where losing one's personal mole in the CIA might be a trifle annoying," Waldron said. "But-judging from what you've told me about this lady-might one suspect she is what our brothers in the legal profession call 'an unreliable witness'?"

"Oh, yeah," Roscoe agreed. "But the other one, Dillworth, is different."

"How different?"

"Well, for one thing, everybody I talked to liked her, said she was really good at what she did, and was sorry she got screwed."

"How did she, figuratively speaking of course, 'get screwed'?"

"She was the CIA station chief in Vienna. She had been working on getting a couple of heavy-hitter Russians to defect. Really heavy hitters, the SVR rezident in Berlin and the SVR rezident in Copenhagen, who happen to be brother and sister. Dillworth was so close to this coming off that she had had Langley send an airplane to Vienna, and had them prepare a safe house for them in Maryland."

"And it didn't come off?"

"Colonel Castillo showed up in Vienna, loaded them on his plane, and flew them to South America."

"She told you this?"

"No. What actually happened was that Dillworth said she wasn't going to tell me what had happened, because I wouldn't believe it. She said she would point me in the right direction, and let me find out myself; that way I would believe it."

"Is this Russian defectors story true?"

"There's an Interpol warrant out for"-Roscoe stopped and consulted his organizer, and then went on-"Dmitri Berezovsky and Svetlana Alekseeva, who the Russians say stole several million euros from their embassies in Germany and Denmark."

"And you know that Castillo took these Russians to South America? How do you know?"

"My friend who is close to the DCI and doesn't like Ambassador Montvale told me that Montvale told the DCI that he was going to South America to get the Russians. And that when he got down there, Castillo told him the Russians had changed their minds about defecting."

"And you believe this?"

"I believe my friend."

"So what happened is that when Castillo stole the Russians from Dillworth, blew her operation, the agency canned her?"

"That got Dillworth in a little hot water, I mean when the Russians didn't come in after she said they were, but what got her recalled was really interesting. Right after this, they found the SVR rezident in Vienna sitting in the backseat of a taxi outside our embassy. He had been strangled to death-they'd used a garrote-and on his chest was the calling card of Miss Eleanor Dillworth, counselor for consular affairs of the U.S. embassy."

"Curiouser and curiouser," Waldron said. "The agency thought she did it?"

"No. They don't know who did it. But that was enough to get her recalled from Vienna. She thinks Castillo did it. Or, really, had it done."

"Why? And for that matter, why did he take the Russians? To Argentina, you said? He was turned? We have another Aldrich Ames? This one a killer?"

Aldrich Hazen Ames was the Central Intelligence Agency counterintelligence officer convicted of selling out to the Soviet Union and later Russia.

"I just don't know, Chris. From what I've been able to find out about him, Castillo doesn't seem to be the traitor type, but I suppose the same thing was said about Ames until the FBI put him in handcuffs."

"And what have you been able to find out about him?"

"That he was retired at Fort Rucker, Alabama-and given a Distinguished Service Medal, his second, for unspecified distinguished service of a classified nature-on January thirty-first. He was medically retired, with a twenty-five percent disability as the result of a medical board at Walter Reed Army Hospital. That's what I got from the Pentagon. When I went to Walter Reed to get an address, phone number, and next of kin from the post locator, he wasn't in it.

"A diligent search by another friend of mine revealed that he had never been a patient at Walter Reed. Never ever. Not once. Not even for a physical examination or to have his teeth cleaned."

"And being the suspicious paranoid person you are, you have decided that something's not kosher?"

"I suppose you could say that, yes."

"What do these women want?"


"Is Dillworth willing to be quoted?"

"She assures me that she will speak freely from the witness box, if and when Castillo is hauled before Congress or some other body to be grilled, and until that happens, speak to no other member of the press but me. Ditto for Mrs. Patricia Davies Wilson."

"She has visions, in other words, of Senator Johns in some committee hearing room, with the TV cameras rolling, glaring at this Castillo character, and demanding to know, 'Colonel, did you strangle a Russian intelligence officer and leave him in a taxicab outside the U.S. embassy in Vienna in order to embarrass this fine civil servant, Miss Eleanor Dillworth? Answer yes or no.'"

Senator Homer Johns, Jr. (Democrat, New Hampshire), was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and loved to be on TV.

Roscoe laughed, and added, "'Would you repeat the question, Senator?'"

Waldron laughed, then offered his own answer: "'Senator, I don't have much of a memory. I've been retired from the Army because I am psychologically unfit for service. I just don't recall.'"

"'Well, then, Colonel, did you or did you not steal two Russians from under Miss Dillworth's nose and fly them to Argentina?'"

Roscoe picked it up: "'Two Russians? Senator, I don't have much of a memory,' et cetera."

Waldron, still laughing, reached into another drawer of his desk and came out with two somewhat grimy glasses and a bottle of The Macallan twelve-year-old single malt Scotch whisky.

He poured.

"Nectar of the gods," he said. "Only for good little boys and naughty little girls."

They tapped glasses and took a sip.

"That's not going to happen, Roscoe," Waldron said, "unless we make it happen. And I'm not sure if we could, or even if we should."

"In other words, let it drop? I wondered why you brought out the good whisky."

"I didn't say that," Waldron said. "You open for some advice?"

Roscoe nodded.

"Don't tell anybody what you're doing, anybody. If there's anything to this, and I have a gut feeling there is, there are going to be ten people-ten powerful people-trying to keep it from coming out for every one who'd give you anything useful."

Roscoe nodded again.

"I can see egg on a lot of faces," Waldron said. "Including on the face of the new inhabitant of the Oval Office. He's in a lose-lose situation. If something like this was going on under his predecessor, and he didn't know about it, it'll look like he wasn't trusted. And if he indeed did know there was this James Bond outfit operating out of the Oval Office, stealing Russian defectors from the CIA, not to mention strangling Russians in Vienna, and doing all sorts of other interesting, if grossly illegal, things, why didn't he stop it?"

"So what do you want me to do?"

"One thought would be for you to go to beautiful Argentina and do a piece for the Sunday magazine. You could call it, 'Tacos and Tangos in the Southern Cone.'"

Roscoe nodded thoughtfully, then said, "Thank you."

"Watch your back, Roscoe. The kind of people who play these games kill nosy people." [THREE] U.S. Army Medical Research Institute Fort Detrick, Maryland 0815 4 February 2007 There were three packages marked BIOLOGICAL HAZARD in the morning FedEx delivery. It was a rare morning when there wasn't at least one, and sometimes there were eight, ten, even a dozen.

This didn't mean that they were so routine that not much attention was paid to them.

Each package was taken separately into a small room in the rear of the guard post. There, the package-more accurately, the container, an oblong insulated metal box which easily could have contained cold beer were it not for the decalcomania plastered all over it-was laid on an examination table.

On the top was a black-edged yellow triangle, inside of which was the biological hazard indicator, three half-moons-not unlike those to be found on the tops of minarets of Muslim houses of worship-joined together at their closed ends over a circle. Below this, black letters on a yellow background spelled out DANGER! BIOLOGICAL HAZARD!

Beside this-in a red circle, not unlike a No Parking symbol-the silhouette of a walking man was bisected by a crossing red line. The message below this in white letters on a red background was AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY!

This was apparently intended to keep curious people from opening the container to have a look at the biological hazard. This would have been difficult, as the container was closed with four lengths of four-inch-wide plastic tape, two around the long end and two around the short. The tape application device had closed the tapes by melting the ends together. The only way to get into the container was by cutting the tape with a large knife. It would thus be just about impossible for anyone to have a look inside without anyone noticing.

Once the biological hazard package was laid on the table, it was examined by two score or more specially trained technicians. It was X-rayed, sniffed for leakage and the presence of chemicals which might explode, and tested for several other things, some of them classified.

Only after it had passed this inspection was the FedEx receipt signed. The package was then turned over to two armed security officers. Most of these at Fort Detrick were retired Army sergeants. One of them got behind the wheel of a battery-powered golf cart, and the other, after putting the container on the floor of the golf cart, got in and-there being no other place to put them-put his feet on the container.

At this point the driver checked the documentation to the final destination.

"Oh, shit," he said. "It's for Hamilton personally."

J. Porter Hamilton was the senior scientific officer of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute. It was said that he spoke only to God and the commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute, but only rarely deigned to do so to the latter.

Although he was triply entitled to be addressed as "Doctor"-he was a medical doctor, and also held a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Oxford and a Ph.D. in molecular physics from MIT-he preferred to be addressed as "Colonel." He had graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with the class of 1984 and thought of himself primarily as a soldier.

Colonel Hamilton had the reputation among the security force of being one really hard-nosed sonofabitch. This reputation was not pejorative, just a statement of the facts. Colonel Hamilton-a very slim, very tall, ascetic-looking officer whose skin was deep flat black in color-showed the security guards where he wanted the biological hazard container placed on a table in his private laboratory.

After they'd left, he eyed the container curiously. It had been sent from the Daryl Laboratory in Miami, Florida. Just who they were didn't come to mind. They had paid a small fortune for overnight shipment, which also was unusual.

He went to a closet, took off his uniform tunic, and replaced it with a white laboratory coat. He then pulled on a pair of very expensive gloves which looked like normal latex gloves, but were not.

"Sergeant Dennis!" he called. Dennis was a U.S. Army master sergeant, a burly red-faced Irishman from Baltimore who functioned as sort of a secretary to Colonel Hamilton. Hamilton had recruited him from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Hamilton, doing what he thought of as his soldier's duty, often served on medical boards at Walter Reed dealing with wounded soldiers who wanted-or who did not want-medical retirement. Dennis had been one of the latter. He did not wish to be retired although he had lost his left leg below the knee and his right arm at the shoulder.

There was no way, Hamilton had decided, that Dennis could return to the infantry. On the other hand, there was no reason he could not make himself useful around Building 103 at Fort Detrick, if that was the option to being retired. He made the offer and when Dennis accepted, he'd asked, "Can you arrange that, Colonel?"

"I can arrange it, Sergeant Dennis. The chief of staff has directed the Army to provide whatever I think I need for my laboratory. Just think of yourself as a human Erlenmeyer flask." Dennis appeared. "Sir?"

"What do we know of the Daryl Laboratory in Miami, Florida?"

"Never heard of it, sir."

"Good. I was afraid that I was suffering another senior moment. Right after we see what this is, find out who they are and why they sent me whatever this is."

"You want me to open it, Colonel?"

"I want you to cut the tape, thank you. I'll open it."

Dennis took a tactical folding knife from his pocket, fluidly flipped open the stainless-steel serrated blade, and expertly cut the plastic tape from the container.

Hamilton raised the lid.

Inside he found a second container. There was a large manila envelope taped to it, and addressed simply "Colonel Hamilton."

Hamilton picked up the envelope and took from it two eight-by-ten-inch color photographs of six barrel-like objects. They were of a heavy plastic, dark blue in color, and also looked somewhat like beer kegs. On the kegs was a copy of The Miami Herald. The date could not be read in the first shot, but in the second photograph, a close-up, it was clearly visible: February 3, 2007.

"My God!" Colonel Hamilton said softly.

"Jesus Christ, Colonel," Sergeant Dennis said, pointing. "Did you see that?"

Hamilton looked.

The envelope had covered a simple sign, and now it was visible: DANGER!!! BIOHAZARD LEVEL 4!!!

Of the four levels of biological hazards, one through four, the latter posed the greatest threat to human life from viruses and bacteria and had no vaccines or other treatments available.

Hamilton closed the lid on the container.

"Go to the closet and get two Level A hazmat suits."

"What the hell's going on?" Dennis asked.

"After we're in our suits," Hamilton said calmly.

Two minutes later, they had helped each other into the Level A hazmat suits. These offered the highest degree of protection against both direct and airborne chemical contact by providing the wearer with total encapsulation, including a self-contained breathing apparatus.

The suits donned by Colonel Hamilton and Master Sergeant Dennis also contained communications equipment that connected them "hands off" with each other, as well as to the post telephone system and to Hamilton's cellular telephone.

"Call the duty officer and tell him that I am declaring a potential Level Four Disaster," Hamilton said. "Have them prepare Level Four BioLab Two for immediate use. Have them send a Level Four truck here to move this container, personnel to wear Level A hazmat gear."

A Level Four BioLab-there were three at Fort Detrick-was, in a manner of speaking, a larger version of the Level A hazmat protective suit. It was completely self-contained, protected by multiple airlocks. It had a system of highpressure showers to decontaminate personnel entering or leaving, a vacuum room, and an ultraviolet-light room. All air and water entering or leaving was decontaminated.

And of course "within the bubble" there was a laboratory designed to do everything and anything anyone could think of to any kind of a biologically hazardous material.

Colonel Hamilton then pressed a key that caused his cellular telephone to speed-dial a number.

The number was answered on the second ring, and Hamilton formally announced, "This is Colonel J. Porter Hamilton."

"Encryption Level One active," a metallic voice said three seconds later.

Hamilton then went on: "There was delivered to my laboratory about five minutes ago a container containing material described as BioHazard Level Four. There was also a photograph of some six plastic containers identical to those I brought out of the Congo. On them was lying a photo of yesterday's Miami newspaper. All of which leads me to strongly suspect that the attack on the laboratory-slash-factory did not-repeat not-destroy everything.

"I am having this container moved to a laboratory where I will be able to compare whatever is in the container with what I brought out of the Congo. This process will take me at least several hours.

"In the meantime, I suggest we proceed on the assumption that there are six containers of the most dangerous Congo material in the hands of only God knows whom.

"When I have completed my tests, I will inform the director of the CIA of my findings."

He broke the connection and then walked to the door and unlocked it for the hazmat transport people. He could hear the siren of the Level Four van coming toward Building 103. [ONE] Laboratory Four The AFC Corporation-McCarran Facility Las Vegas, Nevada 0835 4 February 2007 Laboratory Four was not visible to anyone looking across McCarran International Airport toward what had become the center of AFC's worldwide production and research-and-development activity.

This was because Laboratory Four was deep underground, beneath Hangar III, one of a row of enormous hangars each bearing the AFC logotype. It was also below Laboratories One, Two, and Three, which were closer to ground level as their numbers suggested, One being immediately beneath the hangar.

When Aloysius Francis Casey, AFC's chairman, had been a student at MIT, he had become friendly with a Korean-American student of architecture, who was something of an outcast because of his odd notion that with some exceptions-aircraft hangars being one-all industrial buildings, which would include laboratories, should be underground.

This had gotten J. Charles Who in as much trouble with the architectural faculty as had Casey's odd notions of data transmission and encryption had done the opposite of endearing him to the electrical engineering and mathematics faculties.

Years later, when Casey decided that he had had quite enough, thank you, of the politicians and weather of his native Massachusetts to last a lifetime, and wanted to move at least the laboratories and some of the manufacturing facilities elsewhere, he got in touch with his old school chum and sought his expertise.

Site selection was Problem One. Las Vegas had quickly risen to the head of the list of possibilities for a number of reasons including location, tax concessions to be granted by the state and local governments for bringing a laboratory/ production facility with several thousand extremely well-paid and well-educated workers to Sin City, and the attractions of Sin City itself.

At Who's suggestion, just about everything would go to Vegas.

Charley Who, Ph.D. (MIT), AIA, had pointed out to Aloysius Casey, Ph.D. (MIT), that all work and no play would tend to make his extremely well-paid workers dull. It was hard to become bored in Las Vegas, whether one's interests lay in the cultural or the carnal, or a combination of both.

Construction had begun immediately and in earnest, starting with the laboratories that would be under Hangar III. They were something like the BioLabs at Fort Detrick in that they were as "pure" as they could be made. The air and water was filtered as it entered and was discharged. The humidity and temperature in the labs was whatever the particular labs required, and being below ground cut the cost of doing this to a tiny fraction of what it would have cost in a surface building. They were essentially soundproof. And, finally, the deeper underground that they were, the less they were affected by vibration, say a heavy truck driving by or the landing of a heavy airplane. Almost all of Aloysius's gadgets in development were very tiny and quite delicate. Much of the work on them was done using microscopes or their electronic equivalent. Vibration was the enemy.

What Casey was working on now in Laboratory Four, his personal lab-"My latest gadget," as he put it-was yet another improvement on a system he had developed for the gambling cops, or as they liked to portray themselves, "The security element of the gaming industry."

Many people try to cheat the casinos. Most are incredibly stupid. But a small number are the exact opposite: incredibly smart, imaginative, and resourceful. Both stupid and near-genius would-be thieves alike have to deal with the same problem: One has to be physically in a casino if one is to steal anything.

Surveillance cameras scan every inch of a casino floor, often from several angles, and the angles can be changed. The people watching these monitors know what to look for. If some dummy is seen stealing quarters from Grandma's bucket on a slot machine row, or some near-genius is engaged with three or more equally intelligent co-conspirators in a complex scheme to cheat the casino at a twenty-one table, they are seen. Security officers are sent to the slot machine or the twenty-one table. The would-be thieves and cheats are taken to an area where they are photographed, fingerprinted, counseled regarding the punishments involved for cheating a casino, and then shown the door.

The problem then becomes that stupid and near-genius alike tend to believe that if at first you don't succeed, one should try, try again. They come back, now disguised with a phony mustache or a wig and a change of clothing.

Specially trained security officers, who regularly review the photographs of caught crooks, stand at casino doors and roam the floors looking for familiar, if unwelcome, faces.

When Casey had first moved to Las Vegas, he had been very discreetly approached-the day he was welcomed into the Las Vegas Chamber of Gaming, Hospitality and Other Commerce-by a man who then owned three-and now owned five-of the more glitzy hotel/casinos in Sin City.

The man approached Casey at the urinal in the men's room of the Via Veneto Restaurant in Caligula's Palace Resort and Casino and said he wanted to thank him for what he was doing for the "boys in the stockade in Bragg."

"I don't know who or what the hell you're talking about," Casey had replied immediately.

But Casey of course knew full well who the boys in the stockade in Fort Bragg were-Delta Force; their base had once been the post stockade-and what he was doing for them-providing them with whatever they asked for, absolutely free of charge, or didn't ask for but got anyway because Casey thought it might be useful.

"Sure you do," the man had said. "The commo gear. It was very useful last week in Tunisia."

"How the hell did you find out about that?" Casey had blurted.

"We have sources all over."

"Who's 'we'?"

"Like you, people who happen to be in positions where we can help the good guys, and try quietly-very quietly-to do so. I'd like to talk to you about our group some time."

"These people have names?"

They were furnished.

"Give me a day or two to check these people out," Casey said, "then come to see me."

The first person Casey had tried to call was then-Major General Bruce J. McNab, who at the time commanded the Special Forces Center at Fort Bragg. He got instead then-Major Charley Castillo on the phone. Castillo did odd jobs for McNab-both had told Casey that-and he'd become one of Casey's favorite people since they'd first met.

And when Casey had asked, Castillo had flatly-almost indignantly-denied telling anyone about the Tunisian radios mentioned in the casino pisser and of ever even hearing of the man who claimed to own the glitzy Las Vegas hotels.

General McNab, however, when he came on the line, was so obfuscatory about both questions-even aware that the line was encrypted-that Casey promptly decided (a) McNab knew the guy who owned the three glitzy casinos; (b) had told the guy where the radios used in Tunisia had come from; (c) had more than likely suggested he could probably wheedle some out of Casey, which meant he knew and approved of what the guy was up to; and, thus, (d) didn't want Castillo to know about (a) through (c).

That had been surprising. For years, from the time during the First Desert War, when then-Second Lieutenant Castillo had gone to work for then-Colonel McNab, Casey had thought-In fact I was told-that Castillo was always privy to all of McNab's secrets.

Casey prided himself on his few friends, and on having no secrets from them. He had quickly solved the problem here by concluding that having no secrets did not mean you had to tell your friends everything you knew, but rather, if asked, to be wholly forthcoming.

If Castillo asked about these people in Las Vegas, he would tell him. If he didn't ask, he would not.

And, as quickly, he had decided if these people were okay in General McNab's book, they were okay-period.

Unless of course something happened that changed that.

Casey had called the man who owned the three glitzy hotels-and was in business discussions leading to the construction of the largest hotel in the world (7,550 rooms)-and told him he was in.

"What do these people need?" Casey asked.

He was told: secure telephones to connect them all.

While AFC had such devices sitting in his warehouse, these were not what he delivered to the people in Las Vegas. The secure telephones they used thereafter had encryption circuitry that could not be decrypted by even the legendary National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland. Casey knew this because the NSA's equipment had come from AFC Corporation.

And after that, and after writing several very substantial checks to pay his share of what it had cost those people to do something that had to be done-but for one reason or another couldn't be done by the various intelligence agencies-Casey realized that he had become one of the group.

No one said anything to him. He didn't get a membership card.

He just knew.

He became friendly with the man who owned the glitzy hotels, and not only because one of his hotels had a restaurant to which lobsters and clams were flown in daily from Maine. The man who owned the hotels was from New Jersey. Politicians and high taxes, not the cuisine, had driven him from the Garden State. They took to taking together what they thought of as One of God's Better Meals-a dozen steamed clams and a pair of three-pound lobsters washed down with a couple of pitchers of beer-once or twice a week.

One day, en route to the restaurant, Casey had witnessed one of the gambling cops intently studying the face of the man who happened to be walking ahead of Casey.

"What's that all about?" Casey had asked his new friend the casino owner between their first pitcher of beer and the clams, and their lobsters and the second pitcher.

The problem of controlling undesirable incoming gamblers was explained.

"There has to be a better way to do that than having your gambling cops in everybody's face," Casey said. "Let me think about it."

The AFC prototype was delivered in three weeks, and operational a week after that. All the photographs of miscreants in the files were digitalized. Additional digital cameras were discreetly installed at the entrances in such positions that the only way to avoid having one's face captured by the system would be to arrive by parachute on the roof.

The computer software quickly and constantly attempted to cross-match images of casino patrons with the database of miscreants on the security servers. When a "hit" was made, the gambling cops could immediately take corrective action to protect the casino.

The owner was delighted, and ordered installation of the system in all his properties as quickly as this could be accomplished.

But Casey was just getting started. The first major improvement was to provide the gambling cops with a small communications device that looked like a telephone. When a "hit" was made, every security officer in the establishment was immediately furnished with both the digital image of Mr. Unwelcome-or Grandma Unwelcome; there were a surprising number of the latter-and the last known location of said miscreant.

It hadn't been hard for Casey to improve on that. Soon the miscreant's name, aliases, and other personal data, including why he or she was unwelcome, was flashed to the gambling cops as soon as there was a hit.

The next large-and expensive-step had required the replacement of the system computers with ones of much greater capacity and speed. The owner complained not a word when he got the bill. He thought of himself, after all, as a leader in the hospitality and gaming industry, and there was a price that had to be paid for that.

The system now made a hit when a good customer returned to the premises, presumably bringing more funds to pass into the casino's coffers through the croupier's slots. He was greeted as quickly and as warmly as possible, and depending on how bad his luck had been the last time, provided with complimentary accommodations, victuals, and spirits. Often, the gambling cops assigned to keep them happy were attractive members of the opposite gender.

Good Grandmother customers, interestingly enough, seemed to appreciate this courtesy more than most of the men.

The new system soon covered all of the hotels owned by the proprietor. And the database grew as guests' pertinent details-bank balances, credit reports, domestic problems, known associates, carnal preferences, that sort of thing-were added.

For a while, as he had been working on the system, Casey had thought it would have a sure market in other areas where management wanted to keep a close eye on people within its walls. Prisons, for example.

AFC's legal counsel had quickly disabused him of this pleasant notion. The ACLU would go ballistic, his lawyers warned, at what they would perceive as an outrageous violation of a felon's right to privacy while incarcerated. He would be the accused in a class action lawsuit that would probably cost him millions. What Casey was doing when his cellular buzzed in the lab deep beneath Hangar III was conducting a sort of graduation ceremony for a pair of students who had just completed How This Works 101. He had just presented the graduates with what looked like fairly ordinary BlackBerrys or similar so-called smart-phones.

Actually, by comparison, the capabilities of the CaseyBerry devices that Casey had given the two students made the BlackBerry look as state-of-the-art as the wood fire from which an Apache brave informs his squaw that he'll be a little late for supper by allowing puffs of smoke to rise.

The students were First Lieutenant Edmund "Peg-Leg" Lorimer, MI, USA (Retired), and former Gunnery Sergeant Lester Bradley, USMC.

When the Office of Organizational Analysis had been disbanded and its men and women ordered to vanish from the face of the earth, Casey had had a private word with Castillo about them.

Neither Bradley nor Lorimer had a family-perhaps more accurately: a family into whose arms they would be welcomed with joy-and neither had skills readily convertible to earning a decent living as a civilian. There was not much of a market for a one-legged Spanish/English/Portuguese interpreter, or for a five-foot-two, hundred-thirty-pound twenty-year-old who could give marksmanship instruction to Annie Oakley. Further, there was the problem that they, too, were expected to fall off the face of the earth and never be seen again.

Both men, Casey had told Castillo, had become skilled in the use of the state-of-the-art communications equipment that OOA had been using. Casey intended to keep providing similar equipment to Delta Force, and with some additional training, Bradley and Lorimer could assume responsibility for training Delta troopers to operate and maintain it.

So far as their falling off the face of the earth, Casey said, they would be hard to find in Las Vegas and next to impossible to find if they moved in with him at the home Charley Who had built for the Caseys on a very expensive piece of mountainside real estate that overlooked Las Vegas. Now that Mrs. Casey had finally succumbed to an especially nasty and painful carcinoma, there was nobody in the place but the Mexican couple who took care of Casey.

And to keep them busy when they weren't dealing with the equipment for Delta Force, or keeping an eye on the communications network used by those people, they would be welcomed-and well paid-by the gaming industry as experts in the digital photo recognition and data system.

Not thirty seconds after Casey had handed Lorimer and Bradley their new cell phones, vibration announced an incoming message on the peoples' circuit, and Casey thought he had inadvertently pressed the CHECK FUNCTIONING key.

But he checked the screen and saw that there was indeed an incoming message.

It's from Colonel Hamilton.

I wonder what the hell he wants.

When, inside his Level A hazmat gear, Colonel J. Porter Hamilton had pressed the TRANSMIT button for his cellular phone, and given his name, the following had happened:

An integral voice recognition circuit had determined that he was indeed Colonel J. Porter Hamilton and, at about the time a satellite link had been established between Hamilton and Las Vegas, had announced that Encryption Level One was now active.

By the time Hamilton spoke again to report the delivery of biohazardous material to his laboratory and what he planned to do about it, the cell phones in the hands of those people had vibrated to announce the arrival of an incoming call. Their cell phones automatically recorded the message, and then sent a message to Hamilton's phone that the message had been received and recorded.

He had then broken the connection.

When those called "answered" their telephones, either when the call was first made, or whenever they got around to it, they would hear the recorded message. A small green LED on the telephone would indicate that the caller was at that moment on the line. A red LED would indicate the caller was not.

Casey saw that the red LED was illuminated.

Hamilton's off-line.

I wonder what he wanted.

As he touched the ANSWER key, he saw that both Lester and Peg-Leg were doing the same thing.

Hamilton's message was played to them all.

"I wonder what the hell that's all about," Casey wondered out loud.

"He said, 'identical to what I brought out of the Congo,'" Peg-Leg said. "What did he bring out of the Congo?"

Both Peg-Leg and Aloysius looked at Lester, whose face was troubled.

"You know what Hamilton's talking about, Lester?" Casey asked.

Bradley looked even more uncomfortable.

Casey waited patiently, and was rewarded for his patience.

"Colonel Torine would, sir," Bradley said finally.

"How many times do I have to tell you to call me 'Aloysius'?" Casey said.

He pushed a button on his CaseyBerry.

"Jake? Aloysius," he said a moment later. "Got a minute? Can you come to my lab?"

"Captain Sparkman would know, too," Bradley said.

"Sparkman with you?" Casey said to his telephone, and a moment later, "Bring him, too."

Casey pushed another button and said, "Pass Torine and Sparkman," and then looked at Peg-Leg and Lester. "They're in the hangar."

He pointed upward.

Colonel Jacob Torine, USAF (Retired), and Mr. Richard Sparkman (formerly Captain USAF) got off the elevator ninety seconds later.

They were dressed almost identically in khaki trousers, polo shirts, and zipper jackets, and had large multibutton watches on their wrists. Their belts held cases for Ray-Ban sunglasses. They both had clear blue eyes. No one would ever guess that they were pilots.

"What's up?

"Listen to this," Casey said, and handed him his Caseyberry, and motioned for Lester to hand his to Sparkman.

Both listened to Colonel J. Porter Hamilton's message.

Sparkman's eyebrows rose in surprise.

Torine said, "Oh, shit!" and then asked, "When did you get this?"

"Just now."

"Not good news," Torine said. "What is the exact opposite of 'good news'?"

Casey said, "What's he talking about? What did he bring out of the Congo?"

Torine exhaled.

He looked around the laboratory.

"I don't suppose this place is bugged?"

Casey shook his head.

"We went over there in Delta's 727," Torine said. "It was painted in the color scheme of Sub-Saharan Airways-" He stopped. "Why am I telling you this? You know."

"Go on, Jake," Casey said.

"We landed at Kilimanjaro International in Tanzania. Uncle Remus and his crew went by truck to Bujumbura in Burundi. There's an airport at Bujumbura but Castillo decided we'd attract too much attention if we used it, particularly if we sat on the runway for a couple of days, maybe longer.

"Uncle Remus infiltrated Hamilton back into the Congo from Bujumbura. And then when Hamilton found what he found, and the shit hit the fan, we got a message from Uncle Remus to move the airplane to Bujumbura, yesterday, and have it prepared for immediate takeoff.

"We were there about three hours when Uncle Remus, his crew, and Hamilton showed up. They had with them a half-dozen of what looked like rubber beer kegs. Blue."

He demonstrated with his hands the size of the kegs.

"Uncle Remus asked me if we could fly to the States with the HALO compartment depressurized and open."

"I don't understand that," Lester said. "'HALO compartment'?"

"For 'High Altitude, Low Opening' parachute infiltration from up to forty thousand feet," Peg-Leg explained. "The rear half-the HALO compartment-of the fuselage can be sealed off from the rest of the fuselage, and then, where that rear stairway was, opened to the atmosphere."

"Got it," Lester said.

"I told him yes," Torine went on, "and Hamilton said, 'Thank God,' as if he meant it.

"I asked him what was going on, and he told me the beer barrels contained more dangerous material than I could imagine, and extraordinary precautions were in order; he would explain later. He asked me how cold the HALO compartment would get in flight, and I told him probably at least sixty degrees below zero, and he said, 'Thank God,' again and sounded like he meant it this time, too.

"Then he and Uncle Remus and his team loaded the barrels in the HALO compartment. When they came out, everybody stripped to the skin. They took a shower on the tarmac using the fire engine and some special soap and chemicals Hamilton had with him. Then they put on whatever clothing we had aboard, flight suits, some other clothing, and got in the front, and we took off.

"Before we had climbed out to cruising altitude, we got some company, a flight of F/A-18E Super Hornets from a carrier in the Indian Ocean. They stayed with us until we were over the Atlantic, where they handed us over to some Super Hornets flying off a carrier in the Atlantic.

"We headed for North Carolina-Pope Air Force at Fort Bragg. We were refueled in flight halfway across the Atlantic and when the refueling was over, we were handed over to a flight of Air Force F-16s who stayed with us until we got to Pope.

"When we got to Pope, we were directed to the Delta hangar, and immediately towed inside and the doors closed. Then maybe two dozen guys in science-fiction movie space suits swarmed all over the airplane. Some of them went into the HALO compartment and removed the barrels. I later learned they were sealed and then loaded aboard a Citation Three and flown to Washington.

"They took everybody off the airplane and gave us a bath. Unbelievable. Soap, chemicals, some kind of powder. It took half an hour. And then they held us-everybody but Hamilton and Uncle Remus; they went on the Citation with the barrels-for twenty-four hours for observation, gave us another bath, and finally let us go.

"General McNab was waiting for us-did I mention they held us in the hangar?-when they finally turned us loose. He gave us the standard speech about keeping this secret for the rest of our natural lives or suffer castration with a dull knife."

"What was in the barrels, Jake?" Casey asked softly. "Did Hamilton tell you?"

Torine nodded.

"He said two of them contained 'laboratory material' and the other four had 'tissue samples.' When I pressed him on that, he said that two of the barrels contained body parts from bodies he and Uncle Remus dug up near this place, and the other two held the bodies of two people, one black and one white, that Uncle Remus took down when they had to get into the laboratory. He said he needed them for autopsies."

"Jesus!" Casey said.

"And now we learn that not everything was destroyed," Sparkman said. "The word I got was there was nothing left standing or unburned in a twenty-square-mile area. What the hell is this all about?"

"I don't know," Casey admitted. "But I just had this thought: It doesn't matter to you guys. OOA is dead. You've fallen off the face of the earth. You're out of the loop. This has nothing to do with you."

"Why don't I believe that, Aloysius?" Torine asked softly.

"Probably because you're an old fart like me, and have learned that when things are as black as they can possibly get, they invariably get worse." [TWO] U.S. Army Medical Research Institute Fort Detrick, Maryland 0905 4 February 2007 The declaration of a Potential Level Four Disaster at Fort Detrick by Colonel J. Porter Hamilton, MC, caused a series of standing operating procedures to kick in-something akin to a row of dominoes tumbling, one domino knocking over the one adjacent, but in this instance damned faster.

When Master Sergeant Dennis called the post duty officer, he actually called the garrison duty officer. On coming to work for Colonel Hamilton, Dennis had quickly learned that the colonel often had trouble with Army bureaucracy and that it was his job to provide the colonel with what he wanted, which often was not what he asked for.

The garrison duty officer immediately expressed doubt that Master Sergeant Dennis was actually asking for what he said he was.

"A Potential Level Four Disaster? You sure about that, Sergeant?"

"Yes, sir. Colonel Hamilton said he was declaring a Potential Level Four Disaster."

The garrison duty officer consulted his SOP dealing with disasters, and checked who was authorized to declare one.

There were three people who could on their own authority declare a Potential Level Four Disaster: the garrison commander, Colonel J. Porter Hamilton, and the garrison duty officer.

"Let me speak to Colonel Hamilton, Sergeant," the garrison duty officer said.

"He's on his phone, Major. Now, do you want to send a Level Four van over here, personnel in Level One hazmat suits, or should I call for it?"

"You have that authority?"

"Yes, sir. I do. And I have authority to have Level Four BioLab Two opened and on standby. You want me to do that, too, sir?"

"Why don't you do that, Sergeant, while I bring the garrison commander up to speed on this. And, Sergeant, see if you can have Colonel Hamilton call her."

"Yes, sir," Master Sergeant Dennis said.

The duty officer called the garrison commander.

"Major Lott, ma'am. Ma'am, we seem to have a problem."

"What kind of a problem?"

"Ma'am, Colonel Hamilton's sergeant just called and said the colonel wanted to declare a Potential Level Four Disaster."

There was a pause. Then the garrison commander said, "Let me make sure I understand the situation. You say Colonel Hamilton's sergeant called and told you Colonel Hamilton wants to declare a Potential Level Four Disaster? Is that it?"

"Yes, ma'am. That's it. I thought I'd better bring you up to speed on this, ma'am."

The garrison commander thought: What you were supposed to do, you stupid sonofabitch, was sound the goddamned alarm sirens, get a Level Four van over to Hamilton, get a Level Four BioLab on emergency standby and then-and only then-call me.

And you're a goddamn major?

Jesus H. Christ.

She said calmly: "Listen carefully. What I want you to do, Major, is first sound the alarm sirens. Then send a Level Four van to Colonel Hamilton's laboratory, and when you've done that, get a Level Four BioLab on emergency standby. Got all that?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then do it," the garrison commander said, and broke the connection.

Major Lott raised the cover of the alarm activation switch and then pressed on the switch. Sirens all over began to howl.

He then consulted the standing operating procedure to see what else was required of him to do-thus knocking over the first of the dominoes.

The provost marshal was notified. The first thing listed on his SOP was to lock down the fort. Nobody in. Nobody out. He did so. The second thing on his list was to notify the garrison medical facility to prepare for casualties. The third thing listed was to notify the Secret Service detachment on the base. He did so, and then continued to work down his list.

The first thing on the Secret Service Detachment SOP was to notify local law enforcement agencies. With Fort Detrick equidistant between Washington, D.C. (forty-five miles), and Baltimore, Maryland (forty-six miles), there was a large number of law enforcement agencies in that area, each of which was entitled to know of the problem at Fort Detrick.

The Secret Service agent instead first called his special agent in charge at the Department of Homeland Security at the Nebraska Avenue complex in the District of Columbia. He told him about the Potential Level Four Disaster, but had to confess that was all he knew.

"I'll handle it," the SAC said.

The Secret Service agent began calling the numbers on his list of law enforcement agencies to be notified.

The SAC at Homeland Security attempted to contact the secretary of Homeland Security but was told he was in Chicago with Mayor Daley. He then got the assistant secretary for enforcement on the telephone and told him about the Potential Level Four Disaster at Fort Detrick.

"I'll be damned," he said. "I'll handle it."

He contacted the garrison commander on a hotline.

"Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Andrews, Colonel," he said. "I understand you've got a little problem over there."

The garrison commander had by then spoken with Master Sergeant Dennis, who had told her about the container that had arrived with the morning FedEx shipment.

When she had told Andrews this, he said, "I'll take immediate action."

Andrews then called the SAC back, told him to get on the horn to his people at Detrick, and have them grab the container and not let anybody else near it.

"How's the quickest way for me to get there?" the assistant secretary asked.

"It would probably be quicker in one of our Yukons than trying to get a chopper, Mr. Secretary. I can have one at your door in ninety seconds."

"Do it."

Five and a half minutes later, a black Secret Service Yukon-red and blue lights flashing from behind its grille and with another magnet-based blue light flashing on the roof-skidded to a stop in front of the main building and picked up Assistant Secretary Andrews. The SAC was in the front seat, where the assistant secretary preferred to ride.

Andrews thought: Ninety seconds, my ass.

That took five minutes plus, and we need to roll.

"Get in the back," he said.

Only then did the assistant secretary remember he had had another option. He could have told the SAC to get out.

But it was too late. He took a seat in the second row and, siren screaming and lights flashing, they were on their way to the Potential Level Four Disaster at Fort Detrick. [THREE] Office of the Presidential Press Secretary The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 1020 4 February 2007 There were a half-dozen television monitors mounted on the wall of John David "Porky" Parker's office, one for each of the major television networks, and the other three for the "major" cable news programs.

The sound of only one was on, the volume low but on.

Porky Parker was more or less addicted to watching/listening to Wolf News. Not because he liked it, but the opposite. He hated it. Wolf News gave him the most trouble. It seemed to be dedicated to the proposition that all politicians, from POTUS down, were scoundrels, mountebanks, and fools, and that it was Wolf News's noble duty to bring every proof-or suggestion-of this to the attention of the American people.

The problem was compounded for Porky by the fact that the people of Wolf News were very good at what they did, and with great skill went after the scoundrels, mountebanks, and fools regardless of political affiliation.

Wolf News used the fourth and final part of Gioacchino Antonio Rossini's (1792-1868) "William Tell Overture" to catch people's attention whenever there was "breaking news." Most people recognized the music as the theme for the Lone Ranger motion picture and television series.

That was happening now, and when Porky faintly heard the stirring music, he reached for the remote control as a Pavlovian reaction and raised his eyes to the screen. He had the sound turned up in time to see and hear the Wolf News anchor-on-duty proclaim, "There is breaking news! Wolf News is on top of it! Back in sixty seconds…"

There then followed a sixty-second commercial offering The Wall Street Journal delivered to one's home for only pennies a day.

Then the screen showed what looked like the scene of a major traffic accident. There were at least thirty police cars, all with their red and blue lights flashing. It had been taken from a helicopter. At the upper right corner of the screen, a message unnecessarily flashed, LIVE! LIVE! FROM A WOLF NEWS CHOPPER!

Porky was a second from muting the sound when the voice of the on-duty Wolf News anchor announced, "What we're looking at, from a Wolf News chopper, is the main gate of Fort Detrick, Maryland. We don't know, yet, what exactly is going on here. But we do know that the post has been closed down, nobody gets in or out, and that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency just choppered in and a 'senior official' of the Department of Homeland Security not yet identified just arrived in a vehicle with a screaming siren…"

In another Pavlovian reflex, Porky reached for his White House telephone and told the operator to get him the commanding general of Fort Detrick on a secure line. "Colonel Russell."

"This is the White House switchboard. This line is secure. Mr. Parker wishes to speak with the commanding general."

"This is the garrison commander."

"Mr. Parker wishes to speak with the commanding general."

"We don't have a commanding general. I'm the senior officer, the garrison commander."

"One moment please."

"Colonel, this is John Parker, the President's press secretary."

"This is Colonel Florence Russell. What can I do for you, Mr. Parker?"

"What's going on down there?"

The garrison commander for a moment considered correcting the pompous political lackey with "What's going on up here, Porky. Fort Detrick is damn near due north of D.C…" but instead said, "We have a Potential Level Four biological hazard disaster, Mr. Parker."

"What does that mean, exactly?

"The operative word is 'potential.' We may have, repeat may have, a biological hazard disaster, Level Four. The most serious kind."

"What happened?"

"All I can tell you, Mr. Parker, is that our chief scientific officer, Colonel J. Porter Hamilton, has declared a Potential Level Four biological hazard disaster, and we have taken the necessary actions to deal with that."

"Colonel Russell, I repeat: What does that mean?"

"Per SOP, we have shut down the post, alerted the hospital, and notified the proper authorities. Until we hear from Colonel Hamilton, that's all we can do."

"May I speak with Colonel Hamilton, please?"

"I'm afraid that's not possible at the moment, Mr. Parker."

"Why not?"

"Colonel Hamilton is in Level Four BioLab Two."

"And there's no telephone in there?"

"There's a telephone. He's not answering it."

"Perhaps if you told him the White House is calling, he might change his mind."

"To do that, Mr. Parker, I would have to get him on the line. And he's not picking up."

"Can you tell me what he's doing?"

"I can tell you what I think he's doing. A package was delivered to him shortly before he declared the potential disaster. I think it's reasonable to presume he's examining the contents of that package."

"To what end, Colonel?"

"To see if what it contains justifies changing the current status from 'potential' to 'actual.' Or from 'Potential Level Four' to a lesser threat designation. We won't know until he tells us."

"The President, Colonel, is going to want to know."

"Colonel Hamilton is not answering the telephone in the laboratory, Mr. Parker."

"I understand DCI Powell is there."

"Yes, he is. Would you like to speak with him, Mr. Parker?"

"Not right now. Colonel, you understand that I'm going to have to tell the President that the only person who seems to know what's going on won't answer his telephone?"

"I suppose that's true," Colonel Russell said.

"I'll get back to you, Colonel," Parker said, and then feverishly tapped the switchhook in the telephone handset cradle to get the switchboard operator back on the line.

"Yes, Mr. Parker?"

"Get me DCI Powell." "Powell."

"Mr. Parker is calling, Mr. Powell. The line is secure."

"Mr. Powell, John Parker. What the hell is going on over there?"

"John…" the director of Central Intelligence began, and then stopped. After a long moment, he resumed: "John, I was just about to call the President. I think it would be best if he decided what to tell you about this."

Parker heard the click that told him Powell had just broken the connection. Porky Parker normally had unquestioned access to the President, anywhere, at any time. But now when he approached the door to the Oval Office, one of the two Secret Service men on duty put on an insincere smile and held up his hand to bar him.

The second Secret Service agent then opened the door, and called in, "Mr. President, Mr. Parker?"

Parker heard President Clendennen's impatient reply: "Not now."

Then he heard another male voice: "Mr. President, may I respectfully suggest that we're going to need Parker."

After a moment, Parker recognized the voice as that of Ambassador Charles M. Montvale, the director of National Intelligence.

There was a brief pause, and then Clendennen, even more impatiently, drawled, "All right. Let him in."

The Secret Service agent at the door waved Parker into the Oval Office.

The President was at his desk, slumped back in his high-backed blue leather-upholstered judge's chair. Ambassador Montvale was sitting in an armchair looking up at the wall-mounted television monitor. Secretary of State Natalie Cohen was sitting sideward on the couch facing Montvale, also looking at the television.

The President looked at Parker and pointed to the television. Parker moved to the opposite wall, leaned on it, and looked up at the television.

Surprising Parker not at all, the President was watching Wolf News.

There was a flashing banner across the bottom on the screen: BREAKING NEWS! BREAKING NEWS!

The Wolf News anchor-on-duty was sitting at his desk, facing C. Harry Whelan, Jr. A banner read: C. HARRY WHELAN, JR., WOLF NEWS DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTOR.

Whelan was answering a question, and although he hadn't heard it, Parker knew what the question was: "What's going on at Fort Detrick?"

"Well, of course I don't know, Steven," C. Harry Whelan, Jr., said, somewhat pontifically, "but it seems to me, with the director of Central Intelligence there-plus that unnamed senior official from Homeland Security-that the situation there, whatever it is, is under control. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say we have a case of high-level arf-arf."

"'Arf-arf,' Harry?"

"You don't know the term?" Whelan asked, surprised.

The anchor-on-duty shook his head.

"Well, far be it from me to suggest anything at all that would cast any aspersion whatever on my good friend, Central Intelligence Agency Director Jack Powell-or for that matter on the unidentified senior Homeland Security official-but, hypothetically speaking, if President Clendennen had two dogs-say, a Labrador and a cocker spaniel-and they started chasing their tails, the sound they would be making would be arf-arf."

The camera paused for a moment on Mr. Whelan's face-he looked very pleased with himself-and then a picture of the front page of The Wall Street Journal replaced it and a voice-over deeply intoned, "For only pennies a day…"

The screen went black.

"I hate that sonofabitch," President Clendennen said.

A full thirty seconds later, Porky Parker broke the silence: "May I ask what's going on at Fort Detrick?"

President Clendennen glared at him.

Secretary of State Natalie Cohen came to his rescue.

"Mr. President, you're either going to have to make a statement, or have Jack make one in your name."

"That might prove to be difficult, Madam Secretary," President Clendennen said sarcastically, "as we don't seem to have the first goddamn clue about what's going on at Fort Detrick."

He let that sink in, and then went on: "And if what the DCI has just told me is true, I don't think we should broadcast that little gem from the White House."

"Mr. President, what exactly did DCI Powell say?" Ambassador Montvale asked.

"He said this colonel had gotten word to him that he 'strongly suspects' that the attack we made on the quote unquote Fish Farm in the Congo-the attack that brought us this close"-he held his thumb and index fingers perhaps a quarter of an inch apart-"to a nuclear exchange-did not kill all the fishes."

"You're talking about Colonel Hamilton, Mr. President?" Montvale asked.

The President nodded.

"How could he know that?"

"That's what Powell said; that he got a message to that effect from Hamilton."

"What does Hamilton say?"

"He's not answering his telephone," the President said bitterly, then picked up his telephone.

"Get me Powell," he ordered, and then, not twenty seconds later, said, "Is he still not answering his phone?"

There was a short reply.

"The minute he comes out of that laboratory, put him in your helicopter and bring him here."

He put the telephone handset into its cradle.

"And now we wait," Clendennen said. "The President of the United States, the secretary of State, and the director of National Intelligence wait for some lousy colonel to find time for us…" [FOUR] U.S. Army Medical Research Institute Fort Detrick, Maryland 1035 4 February 2007 Colonel J. Porter Hamilton, Medical Corps, U.S. Army, came through the outer portal of Level Four BioLab Two wearing only a bathrobe. The crest of the United States Military Academy was on the breast, and the legend WEST POINT was on the back.

He found in the room the garrison commander, the director of Central Intelligence, the assistant secretary of Homeland Security, the special agent in charge at the Department of Homeland Security, the Fort Detrick provost marshal, two Secret Service agents, and Master Sergeant Dennis.

"You'll have to pardon my appearance, Colonel Russell," Colonel Hamilton said.

"Not a problem, Colonel," Colonel Florence Russell replied.

Hamilton turned to DCI Powell, and said, "I can only surmise that those people relayed my message to you."

Powell nodded.

"Colonel, my name is Mason Andrews. I'm the assistant secretary of Homeland Security. I would be grateful-"

"First things first," Hamilton interrupted. "Sergeant Dennis, could I impose upon you to take your car and get me a uniform from my quarters? I'm afraid the keys to my car are in there, in my uniform."

"Way ahead of you, Colonel," Dennis said. "Fresh uniform's in the lobby. I'll go get it."

"Good man," Hamilton said. "Mr. Powell and I will be in the locker room."

He looked at Colonel Russell. "Colonel, would it offend you if I suggested that you come with us? You could turn your back while I dress."

"Not at all," she said.

"The President's really curious about what's going on here, Colonel," DCI Powell said. "He wants to see you at the White House. There's a helicopter-"

"Would you prefer to wait until we're at the White House?" Hamilton said. "I have to bring Colonel Russell up to speed on this before I go anywhere."

"I'll go with you and Colonel Russell," Powell said.

"So will I," Assistant Secretary Andrews said.

"I think not," Hamilton said.

"Excuse me?" Andrews bristled.

"I can tell you what you need to know right here: There is no immediate threat." He turned to the provost marshal, and added, "As soon as you can, you're to establish a guard around, one, where the package was originally examined; two, my office; and three, this building, to which no one is to enter without the specific approval of myself, Master Sergeant Dennis, or of course Colonel Russell. And you may lift the shut-down. Colonel Russell will have more details after we have spoken."

"Yes, sir," the provost marshal said.

"You had better impound the golf cart on which the package was moved-bring it and the two security people who drove it here. Dennis will see to their bath. Just a precaution. Better safe than sorry, I always say."

Master Sergeant Dennis came back into the room carrying a plastic bag in his prosthetic hand. He handed it to Hamilton.

"Good man," Hamilton said as he took it. Then he said, "Dennis, they are going to bring the golf cart and the security drivers here. See that they get a complete bath. Then do the same to the golf cart."

"Yes, sir."

"Colonel Russell, Mr. Powell, if you'll be good enough to come with me?"

"Am I correctly inferring, Colonel, that I was not included in that invitation?" Mason Andrews asked icily. He didn't wait for Hamilton to reply, and-obviously on the edge of losing his temper-went on: "Perhaps you didn't hear me, Colonel, when I told you that I am the assistant secretary of Homeland Security."

If he had intended to cow Hamilton, he failed.

"Mr. Secretary… or is it Mr. Assistant Secretary?" Hamilton replied. "I know that Mr. Powell is cleared for this sort of information. I don't know how much the President wants you to know. I am not about to risk the ire of the President by telling you any more than I already have."

Andrews flared: "Now, goddamn it, you listen to me, Colonel-"

"Mr. Andrews," DCI Powell interrupted, "why don't you let the President settle this? You're welcome to ride with us to the White House."

The assistant secretary of Homeland Security took a moment to get his temper under control.

"Perhaps that would be best," he said finally. "Thank you." [FIVE] The Oval Office The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 1205 4 February 2007 "Thank you for coming so quickly, Colonel," President Clendennen said.

The sarcasm was lost on Hamilton.

"I came as quickly as I could, Mr. President," Hamilton said.

"I know. You were on Wolf. We all saw you both taking off from Fort Detrick and landing here. And we all saw C. Harry Whelan, Jr., tell his several million viewers he believes you were coming here to deliver the bad news. Please tell me he's wrong."

"Actually, Mr. President, it's a mixed bag. The news could be much, much worse."

"Well," Clendennen drawled, pronouncing the word whale, "tell me the good news."

"There is no cause for immediate alarm. I told Colonel Russell what was necessary for her to do, and that once she had done that, she could lift the shut-down. I have changed the Potential Level Four Biological Hazard Disaster to Level Two Biological Hazard Incident."

"What does that mean, exactly?"

"That, in my judgment, there is reason to believe that all Congo-X under my control is contained in a safe environment, and there is no immediate risk to the general public."

"'Congo-X'? What is that?"

"It is what I call this virus. Or organism. Or whatever it is. What I brought from the Congo just before the Fish Farm was attacked."

"Which is it, an organism or a virus?"

"I'm afraid I don't really know, sir. More than like a combination of both. An 'organismus,' perhaps. Or a 'virusism.' Those are terms I made up in the last week or ten days. There is no scientific terminology that I know of to describe Congo-X."

"Colonel," Press Secretary John D. Parker said, "did I understand you to say there is no immediate danger to the public?"

"I was speaking with the colonel, Parker," the President said unpleasantly.

"Mr. President, if the colonel can assure us that there is no immediate danger to the public, I think-to counter that comment of C. Harry Whelan, Jr., on Wolf News-you should make a statement to that effect. And as soon as possible. Immediately. We really have to control this before it gets out of hand."

The President glared at Parker.

"Mr. President," Ambassador Montvale put in, "I think Porky's right."

Parker glared at Montvale, which wasn't lost on the President.

"What do you think I should say, Porky?" Clendennen asked.

"Mr. President, if you make any statement, it carries great importance. I mean to suggest that it will give the impression that this situation is more serious than the colonel suggests it is."

"In other words, you want to make the statement?"

"That would be my recommendation, Mr. President."

"I agree with Porky," Ambassador Montvale said.

"That makes it twice, doesn't it?" the President asked, and then went on: "And what would you say, Parker?"

"Sir, something along the lines of this: 'There was an incident early this morning at Fort Detrick that has attracted a good deal of media attention. The President has just spoken with the chief scientific officer at Fort Detrick, who has assured him there is no cause for concern. What it was was the routine triggering of a safety system, erring on the side of caution. To repeat, there is no cause for concern.' Something like that, Mr. President."

The President was thoughtful for a long moment. Then he asked, "Read that back, please."

A female voice came over a loudspeaker and recited Parker's suggested statement.

"At the end of the first sentence, where it says 'has attracted a good deal of media attention,' strike that and change it to 'has apparently caused much of the media to start chasing its tail once again. Arf-arf.' The rest of it is fine. Type that up for Mr. Parker."

"Are you sure you want to do that, Mr. President?" Secretary of State Natalie Cohen asked.

The President ignored her, and gestured for Parker to leave the office. Then he turned to Hamilton.

"Okay, Colonel. Now let's have the bad news."

Hamilton inhaled audibly before he began to speak.

"I think we have to presume, Mr. President, that the attack on the establishment-the laboratory-slash-manufacturing facility-in the Congo was not successful. There is a quantity-I have no idea how much-of Congo-X in unknown hands."

"How do you know that?" the President asked, softly.

"Because a quantity of it-several kilograms, plus another several kilograms of infected tissue-was delivered to me at Fort Detrick this morning. It is identical to the Congo-X and the infected tissue I brought out of the Congo."

"Where did it come from?" the President asked, then interrupted himself: "No. Tell me what this stuff-Congo-X-is and what it does."

"I don't know what it is. I'm working on that. As to what it does, it causes disseminated intravascular coagulation, acronym DIC."

"And can you tell me what that means? In layman's terms?"

"DIC is a thrombohemorrhagic disorder characterized by primary thrombotic and secondary hemorrhagic diathesis, usually fatal."

"Try it again, Colonel," the President ordered, not unpleasantly, "and this time in layman's terms."

"Yes, sir. DIC is sometimes called consumptive coagulopathy, since excessive intravascular coagulation leads to consumption of platelets and nonenzymatic coagulation factors-"

The President interrupted Hamilton by holding up his hand and shaking his head.

"You might as well be speaking Greek, Colonel. Try it again, please, keeping in mind that you're dealing with a simple country boy from Alabama."

"Yes, sir," Hamilton said, paused in thought, and then announced, almost happily: "Sir, DIC causes coagulation to run amok."

"Coagulation, as in blood?"

Hamilton nodded.

"Go down that road, Colonel, and see where it takes us," the President said.

"Coagulation is the process, in this connection, which causes liquid human blood to turn into a soft, semisolid mass."

He looked at the President to see if the President was still with him.

The President responded by smiling encouragingly, and making a gesture with both hands for him to continue.

"If you think of the vascular system of the body, Mr. President, as a series of interconnected garden hoses, and of the heart as a pump that pushes blood through that system."

He paused to see if his student was still with him, and when the President nodded, went on: "Imagine, if you will, sir, that the blood is transformed into a very thick mud. The pump cannot push the mass through the vascular system. It is overwhelmed; it stops."

"And death occurs? By what a layman might call a heart attack?"

"That, too, Mr. President," Hamilton said.

"'That, too'?" the President parroted.

"The mud, the now-coagulated blood, then begins to attack the garden hose. As sort of a parasite. It feeds on it, so to speak."

"Eats it, you mean?"

Hamilton nodded. "And when it's finished, so to speak, with the vascular system, it begins to feed on the other tissues of the body. In some sort of unusual enzymatic manner, which I have so far been unable to pin down."

"You'd better run that past me again, Colonel," the President said. "'Enzymatic manner'?"

Hamilton considered for a moment the level of knowledge the President might have.

"Think of meat tenderizer, Mr. President. Do you know how that works?"

"I can't say that I do," Clendennen confessed.

"Meat-and that would of course include human flesh-is held together by a complex protein called collagen. This makes it quite tough to chew in the raw state."

"I've noticed," the President drawled dryly.

"Cooking destroys these proteins, making the meat chewable. But so does contact with certain enzymes, most commonly ones extracted from the papaya. These proteolytic enzymes break the peptide bonds between the amino acids found in complex proteins. Such as flesh."

"What you're saying is that Congo-X is some sort of meat tenderizer?" the President asked. "Why is that so dangerous?"

"Unlike the enzymatic tenderizers one finds in the supermarket, which lose their strength after attacking the peptide bonding between the amino acids of meat, the Congo-X enzymes-if they are indeed enzymes, and I am not yet prepared to make that call-seem to gather strength from the collagens they attack. In a manner of speaking, they are nurtured by it."

"What happens when they run out of meat?" the President asked, and then corrected himself: "Out of something to eat?"

Hamilton didn't answer directly.

"Grocery store tenderizer doesn't work on bones," he said. "Congo-X does. Whenever it finishes turning the meat into sort of a mush-perhaps strengthened by taking nutrition from that process-it attacks bones. They are turned into mush. When the entire process is completed, what is left is a semisolid residue, which then enters sort of a coma. Forgive the crudeness, Mr. President, but what remains bears a strong physical resemblance to what one might pass when suffering from diarrhea: a semisolid brown, or brownish black, mass."

"And what happens to that?"

"It apparently receives enough nutrients from the atmosphere to maintain life-I hesitate to use that term but I cannot think of another-for an indefinite period. If it is touched by flesh, the process begins again."

"The only way it is contagious, so to speak, is if there's physical contact with it? Is that what you're saying?"

"When it is in the dormant, coma stage, yes, sir. But when it is feeding, so to speak, on flesh, it gives off microscopic particles which, if inhaled, also start the degenerative process."

"How can it be killed?"

"My initial tests suggest the only way it can be killed is by thorough incineration at temperatures over a thousand degrees Centigrade. The residue, I am coming to believe, may then be encased in a nonporous container. Glass or some type of ceramic would work, I think, but there one would have the risk of the glass or ceramic breaking. Aluminum seems to form a satisfactory barrier. As a matter of fact, I used simple aluminum foil to isolate the material I brought out of the Congo; I had nothing else. And the Congo-X material that was sent to my laboratory today was wrapped in aluminum foil."

"Like a Christmas turkey?" President Clendennen asked.

"More like, I would say, Mr. President, cold cuts from a delicatessen. Very carefully, so there was little or no risk that the foil could be torn. The people who sent me the Congo-X obviously seem to know what they are doing."

"And who, would you guess, Colonel, were the people who sent you the Congo-X? More importantly, why do you think they did?"

"I've given that some thought, Mr. President," Hamilton said.


The tone of impatience in the President's voice was clearly evident.

"They wanted us to know that the attack on the Fish Farm was unsuccessful," Hamilton said. "That they have Congo-X. We have to presume they know a great deal more about it than I have been able to learn in the few days I've had to work with it. They are making the point that the threat which existed before we learned of the Fish Farm and attempted to destroy it exists now."

"Why wouldn't they try to keep that secret, so they would have the element of surprise if they decide to use Congo-X on us?"

"That's the question to which I have given the most thought," Hamilton said. "It was self-evident that they wanted us to know we failed, and that they have Congo-X. The question is, why?"

"That's the question I asked, Colonel," the President said.

"I think they want something from us," Hamilton said, very seriously.

"And what, Colonel, do you think that might be?"

"I have no idea," Hamilton said. "Absolutely no idea."

President Clendennen looked around the Oval Office.

The Honorable Natalie Cohen, secretary of State; Ambassador Charles M. Montvale, director of National Intelligence; the Honorable John J. Powell, director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and the Honorable Mason Andrews, assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, were sitting on the chairs and couches around a glass-topped coffee table. Not one had said a word during the "bad news" exchange between the President and Colonel Hamilton.

"Odd," Clendennen said to them. "I would have bet two bits to a doughnut that y'all would be falling all over yourselves to offer sage political advice and profound philosophical opinions concerning our little dilemma."

No one responded.

The President grunted, then announced: "One, I believe everything Colonel Hamilton has told us about this terrible substance. Two, we are not about to react to this threat the way my predecessor did. We bombed everything in a twenty-square-mile area of the Congo into small pieces and then incinerated the pieces. Since somebody still has enough of a supply of this stuff to share it with us, I think we have to concede that the only thing that bombing did was bring us within a cat's whisker of a nuclear exchange and give those people who don't like us much anyway good reason to like us even less.

"So what we're going to do now is proceed very carefully and only when we're absolutely sure of what we're doing. I will now entertain suggestions as to how we can do this." He paused, and then went on: "You first, Andrews."

There was no immediate reply.

"Well?" the President pursued, not very pleasantly.

"Mr. President," Mason Andrews said. "In addition to the obvious, I think we have-"

"What's the obvious?" the President interrupted.

"Well, we have to decide whether we are going to raise the threat level to orange, or perhaps red. I tend to think the latter."

"Not 'we have to decide,'" the President said. "I have to decide. Somebody tell me why raising the threat level from yellow wouldn't cause more problems than it would solve."

He looked around the Oval Office. "Comments? Anyone?"

There were none.

"What else is obvious?" the President demanded.

"Well, sir, we have to find out who sent this stuff to the colonel," Andrews said.

"First of all, it wasn't sent to Colonel Hamilton," the President said. "It was sent to us. The government. Me, as President. Not to Colonel Hamilton. It was sent through him because these bastards somehow knew he was the only man around who would know what it was. And they knew he would tell me. Secondly, at this moment-and I realize this could change in the blink of an eye-there is no immediate threat. If these people wanted to start killing Americans, they would have already done so."

"Mr. President," Ambassador Montvale offered, "their intention might be to cause panic."

Clendennen nodded.

"That's what I'm thinking. And I'm not going to give them that. That's why the threat level stays at yellow."

The President was then silent, visibly in thought, for a long moment. Then he cocked his head to one side. A smile crossed his lips, as if to signify he was pleased with himself.

He said, "Fully aware that this is politically incorrect, I have just profiled the bastards who sent Colonel Hamilton the Congo-X. I have decided that the Congo-X was sent to the colonel by a foreign power, or at the direction of a foreign power or powers. And not, for example, by the Rotary Club of Enterprise, Alabama, or any sister or brother organization to which the Rotarians may be connected, however remotely."

Ambassador Montvale's eyes widened, and for a moment he seemed to be on the edge of saying something. In the end, he remained silent.

"The ramifications of this decision," the President went on, "are that finding out who these bastards are-and, it is to be hoped, what the hell this is all about-falls into what I think of as the CIA's area of responsibility, rather than that of the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security."

He looked at DCI Powell.

"Those are your marching orders, Jack. Get onto it. I will have the attorney general direct the FBI to assist you in any area in which you need help."

"Mr. President, with all respect," Mason Andrews said, "this crime, this threat to American security, took place on American soil! This situation is clearly within the purview of Homeland Sec-"

"What situation, Andrews?" the President interrupted him. "What threat to American security? No one has been hurt. What's happened is that a securely wrapped package of what the colonel has determined to be what he calls Congo-X was sent to Colonel Hamilton in a container clearly marked as a biological hazard.

"That's all. There has been no damage to anyone. Not even a threat of causing damage. If we had these people in handcuffs, there's nothing we could do to them because they haven't broken any laws that I can think of.

"What we are not, repeat not, going to do is go off half-cocked. For example, we are not going to resurrect my predecessor's private James Bond-what's his name? Costello?-and his band of assassins and give them carte blanche to roam the world to kill people. Or anything like that.

"What we are going to do is have Montvale-he is the director of National Intelligence-very quietly try to find out who the hell these bastards are and what they want. I think Colonel Hamilton is right about that. They want something. That means they will probably-almost certainly-contact Colonel Hamilton again.

"What that means, since we can't afford to have anything happen to him, is that Homeland Security is going to wrap the colonel in a Secret Service security blanket at least as thick as the one around me. That's your role in this, Andrews. That's your only role.

"And then we're going to wait for their next move. No action of any kind will be taken without my express approval."

The President met the eyes of everyone in the Oval Office, and then quietly asked, "Is there anyone who doesn't understand what I have just said?"

There were no replies.

"That will be all, thank you," the President said. [ONE] The Hotel Gellert Szent Gellert ter 1 Budapest, Hungary 2315 4 February 2007 The silver, two-month-old, top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz S550 drove regally across the Szabadsag hid, and on the other side of the Danube River turned left toward the Hotel Gellert, which was at the foot of the Gellert Hill.

Budapest, which began as two villages, Buda and Pest, on opposite sides of the Danube River, had a long and bloody history. Gellert Hill, for example, got its name from Saint Gerard Gellert, an Italian bishop from Venice whom the pagans ceremoniously murdered there in 1046 A.D. for trying to bring the natives to Jesus.

Buda and Pest were both destroyed by the Mongols, who invaded the area in 1241. The villages were rebuilt, only to suffer rape and ethnic cleansing when the Ottoman Turks came, conquering Pest in 1526 and Buda fifteen years later.

By the time the Szabadsag hid was built in 1894-96, the villages had been combined into Budapest, and Hungary had become part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Emperor Franz Josef personally inserted the last rivet-a silver rivet-into the new bridge and then with imperial immodesty named the structure after himself.

The bridge itself was dropped-like all the other bridges across the Danube-into the river when the Russians and the Germans fought over Hungary during the Second World War. It was the first bridge rebuilt after the war by the Soviet-controlled government and named the Liberty Bridge. When the Russians were finally evicted, it became the Freedom Bridge.

The silver Mercedes-Benz turned off the road running alongside the Danube and onto the access road to the Hotel Gellert, then stopped.

Gustav, a barrel-chested man in his fifties who appeared to be a chauffeur but served as a bodyguard and more, got quickly out from behind the wheel and opened the rear passenger door.

A tall man, who looked to be in his midsixties, got out. He adjusted a broad-brimmed jet-black hat-one side of the brim down, the other rakishly up-and then turned back to the car, bending over, leaning into the car. When he came out, he had two Bouvier des Flandres dogs.

The larger, a bitch, was several times the size of a very large boxer. The other was her son, a puppy, on a leash. The puppy was about the size of a small boxer.

As the man had taken them from the car, another burly man in his sixties had gotten out the other side of the car, carrying an ermine-collared black leather overcoat. The burly man's name was Sandor Tor. In his youth, Tor had done a hitch-rising to sergeant-in the French Foreign Legion. On his return to Budapest, he had become a policeman. He had been recruited into the AVH, the Allamvedelmi Hatosag, Hungary's hated secret police, and again had risen to sergeant.

When the Russians had been driven from Budapest, and known members of the Allamvedelmi Hatosag were being spat on and hung, Mussolini-style, en masse from any convenient streetlight, Tor had found sanctuary in the American embassy.

And only then had the CIA revealed to the new leaders of Hungary the identity of the man who had not only saved the lives of so many anti-Communists and resistance leaders-by warning them, via the CIA, that the AVH was onto them-but also had been one of the rare-and certainly the most reliable-sources of information about the inner workings of the AVH, which he'd gained at great risk to his life from his trusted position within the secret police.

Thus, the best that Sandor Tor could have hoped for had he been exposed was a quick death from AVH torture rather than a slow one.

Tor was decorated by the Hungarian government and appointed as inspector of police.

But that, despite having triumphed over the forces of evil, didn't turn out to be a movie scenario in which he lived happily ever after.

There were several facets of this. For one, his peers in the police, reasoning that if he had been keeping a record of the unsavory activities of the AVH, it was entirely likely that he would keep a record of theirs, both feared and shunned him.

And Tor didn't like being a cop without an agenda. He had done what he had done not only because he hated the Communists generally, but specifically because his mother and father and two brothers had been slowly strangled to death in the basement of the AVH headquarters at Andrassy ut 60.

Getting back at the Communists was one thing; spending long hours trying to arrest burglars-for that matter, even murderers-was something else.

And his wife, Margo, had cancer. They had had no children.

He applied for early retirement and it was quickly granted.

Sitting around the apartment with nothing to do but watch cancer work its cruelty on Margo was difficult.

Then Tor heard of the return to Budapest of the German firm Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H. The company's intention was to reclaim the properties-farms, a brewery, several vineyards, a newspaper business, and other assets-seized from them by the Communists.

He also heard they were looking for someone to head their security.

After he filled out an application form at Gossinger G.m.b.H's newly reopened downtown offices, he heard nothing for three weeks, and had decided that they weren't interested in his services.

Then there was a telephone call saying that if he was still interested, a car would pick him up in an hour, and take him for an interview. He almost didn't go; Margo had insisted and he went.

The car-a new, top-of-the-line Mercedes with Vienna plates-took him to the legendary Hotel Gellert, at Szent Gellert ter 1, overlooking the Danube River from the Gellert Hill.

Tor thought he would be interviewed, probably in the restaurant or the bar, by a personnel officer of the Gossinger organization. Instead, he was led to the elevator which carried him to a top floor apartment, overlooking the Danube, which apparently occupied that entire corner of the building.

An interior door opened and an enormous dog came out, walked to him, sniffed him, then sat down. Normally, Tor was not afraid of dogs. But this one frightened him. He thought it had to weigh well over fifty kilos. Even when the dog offered his paw, he thought carefully before squatting to take it.

"You come well recommended," said a voice in Hungarian with a Budapester accent. "Max usually shows his teeth to people he doesn't like. Often they wet their pants."

Tor had looked up to see a tall silver-haired man who seemed to be in his sixties standing in the doorway.

"My name is Eric Kocian," the man said. "Come in. We'll talk and have a drink."

He opened the door wide and waved Tor inside a spacious and well-furnished apartment.

Kocian walked to a sideboard and turned, holding a bottle in his hand.

"Wild Turkey Rare Breed all right with you?" he asked.

"I don't know what it is," Tor confessed.

"One of the very few things the Americans do superbly is make bourbon whisky. This is one of the better bourbon whiskys. My godson gave me a case for my seventy-seventh birthday."

Seventy-seventh birthday? Tor had thought. My God, he's that old?

"Sir, I don't know. I'm supposed to be interviewed for a job."

"And so you are. Don't you drink?"

"Yes, sir. I drink."

"Good. My experience has been you can't trust people who don't."

Kocian poured him a large, squarish glass half-full of the bourbon whisky.

"This is what they call 'sipping whisky.' But if you want water and ice…"

Kocian pointed to the sideboard.

"This is fine, thank you," Tor said.

"May I ask about your wife? How is she?"

How does he know about my Margo?

"Not very well, I'm afraid."

Kocian waved him into a leather-upholstered armchair and seated himself in an identical chair facing it.

"If you decide to take this position," Kocian announced, "she will be covered under our medical care program. Most German physicians are insufferably arrogant, and tend to regard their patients as laboratory specimens, but they seem to know what they're doing. Maybe they'll have answers you haven't been able to find here."

"Am I being offered the position?" Tor asked, on the cusp of incredulity.

"I have one or two other quick questions first," Kocian said.

"Quick questions? But you don't know anything about me."

"I know just about everything about you that interests me," Kocian said. "Are you still on the CIA's payroll?"

"I was never on their payroll," Tor said.

"That's not what I have been led to understand."

"I never took a cent. If I had been exposed, they promised to try to get Margo out of Hungary and give her some sort of pension, but…"

"You thought before the AVH arrested you, they would have arrested her for her value in your interrogation, so you didn't give it much thought?"

Tor nodded.

"I would have to have your word that you would no longer cooperate with the CIA in any way."

"I haven't talked to anyone in the CIA for over a year."

"That wasn't my question."

"I can promise you that," Tor said. "No cooperation with the CIA."

"Welcome to the executive ranks of Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H."

"Just like that?" Tor asked, and then blurted, "We haven't even talked about what I'm going to do. Or how much-"

"What you are going to do is relieve me of keeping Hungarian fingers out of my cash box, prying eyes out of any part of our business, provide such other security as I deem necessary, and keep Otto Gorner off my back. So far as compensation is concerned, I suggest that twice what you were being paid as an inspector would be a reasonable starting salary. There are of course some 'perks,' as my godson would say. Including an expense account and a car."

Tor knew that Otto Gorner was the managing director of the Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H., empire.

But who is this godson?

"You've mentioned your godson twice. Where does he fit in here?"

"His name is Karl Wilhelm von und zu Gossinger. You're a policeman. Is that enough of a clue for you?"

Tor chuckled.

"You know who Otto Gorner is?"

Tor nodded.

"Otto has the odd notion that I have to be protected from myself and others, in particular the Russians. He has managed to convince my godson of this nonsense. It will be your job to convince both of them that you are doing so while at the same time making sure that whomever you charge with protecting me from the Russians and myself are invisible to me."

"Yes, sir."

"Let me top that off," Kocian said.

Tor looked at his glass and was surprised to see that it was nearly empty. He didn't remember taking one sip. Sandor Tor had been director of security for Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H. (Hungary), for six months when Margo died.

The doctors in Germany, with great regret, had been unable to do anything for her. When it was apparent the end was near, Margo asked to be returned from Berlin to Budapest so that she could die in her own bed.

Eric Kocian and a medical team from Telki Private Hospital-Budapest's best-were waiting with an ambulance at the Keleti Palyaudvar railway station. Staff from the kitchen of the Hotel Gellert was waiting at the Tor apartment.

Margo died at four in the morning the next day. At the time, her husband was asleep in a chair at one side of her bed and Eric Kocian was asleep in another chair on the other side of the bed.

Margo was buried the next day, beside Sandor's mother and father in the Farkasreti Cemetery in Buda (the western part of Budapest). Tor had found-not without great effort-where their Communist murderers had disposed of their bodies, and had them exhumed and reinterred in the Farkasreti Cemetery. He never learned what had happened to the bodies of his murdered brothers.

When Margo's crypt had been cemented closed, Eric Kocian had said, "You don't want to go back to your apartment. Come with me and we'll have a drink."

They had gone to the Hotel Gellert and stayed drunk together for four days.

Sometime during that period, Sandor had realized that while he might now be alone in the world except for his employer/friend Eric Kocian, Eric Kocian was similarly alone in the world, except for his godson, whom he apparently rarely saw, and his friend/employee Sandor Tor.

Early in the morning of their fifth day together, Sandor Tor led Eric Kocian to the thermal baths-built by the Romans-below the hotel where they soaked, had a massage, and soaked again. And then they had a haircut and shave.

At noon, they were at work.

Sandor returned only once to the apartment he had shared with Margo. He selected the furniture he wanted to keep, and had it moved to the Gellert, where Kocian had arranged an apartment for him on the floor below his own. Sandor Tor draped the ermine-collared black leather overcoat over Eric Kocian's shoulders.

The bitch, who answered to the name Madchen, headed for a row of shrubbery to meet the call of nature. Kocian led the puppy, named Max, to the shrubbery.

"You and Gustav go to bed," Kocian ordered. "I'll see you in the morning."

Tor got back in the Mercedes, which then carried him to the hotel entrance. When Gustav had parked the car-a spot near the door was reserved for it-he followed Tor into the hotel lobby. Gustav got on the elevator to check the apartment out before Kocian got there, and Tor walked to a column and stood behind it in a position from which he could watch Kocian enter the lobby and get on the elevator.

Kocian came through the door four minutes later and walked toward the elevator bank.

A tall, well-dressed man who had been sitting in an armchair reading the Budapester Tages Zeitung suddenly dropped the newspaper to the floor and walked quickly to where Kocian was waiting for the elevator.

Where in the name of the goddamn Virgin Mary and all the fucking saints did that sonofabitch come from?

Tor had almost made it to the bank of elevators when the door opened. Gustav saw him coming and stopped, then stepped back against the elevator's rear wall.

Kocian, Madchen, and Max got on the elevator.

Tor followed.

"I thought I told you to go to bed," Kocian said.

Tor took a Micro Uzi from his under-the-arm holster, held it at his side, and then pushed the button which would send the elevator to the top floor.

"I mean Herr Kocian no harm," the tall, well-dressed man said in German, and then repeated it in Hungarian.

The elevator door closed, and the elevator began to rise.

"Pat him," Tor ordered, now raising the muzzle of the Micro Uzi.

Gustav quickly, but unhurriedly, thoroughly frisked the tall, well-dressed man.

"Nothing," Gustav said, referring to weapons. But he now held a Russian diplomatic passport, a Hungarian foreign ministry-issued diplomat's carnet (a plastic-sealed card about the size of a driver's license), and a business-size envelope.

He examined the carnet, saw that it read, COMMERCIAL COUNSELOR, RUSSIAN EMBASSY, and then handed the carnet to Tor.

"Actually, I'm Colonel Vladlen Solomatin of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki," the tall, well-dressed man then said in Hungarian, and for the third time said, "I mean Herr Kocian no harm."

"You're from the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki?" Kocian asked in Russian.

"It's the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation," Colonel Solomatin said. "Yes, I am."

"I know what the SVR is, Colonel," Kocian said.

The elevator door opened.

Kocian looked over his shoulder to make sure there was no one in the landing foyer, and then backed out of the elevator, motioning for Solomatin to follow him.

"Put the elevator out of service," Kocian ordered.

"I mean you no harm, Herr Kocian," Solomatin said again.

"You keep saying that," Kocian replied. "What is it you do want from me, Colonel Vladlen Solomatin of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki?"

"A service, sir. Your help in righting a great wrong."


Solomatin turned to the chauffeur, who was still holding Solomatin's diplomatic passport and the envelope. He reached for the envelope.

"May I?" he asked.

Gustav looked to Kocian for guidance. Kocian nodded, and Gustav allowed Solomatin to take the envelope.

Solomatin removed a letter from the envelope and extended them to Kocian.

"I am asking that you get this to Colonel Berezovsky. Or Lieutenant Colonel Alekseeva."

Kocian read the letter: Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki 1 February 2007 Yasenevo 11, Kolpachny Moscow 0101000 Tel: Moscow 923 6213 Second Directorate Colonel V. N. Solomatin My Dear Cousin Dmitri:

God's blessings and the warmest greetings to you, Lora, Sof'ya and Svetlana!!

I am very happy to be able to tell you that the committee has finally reached the only conclusions that they could in the circumstances: 1. That the charges of embezzlement of state funds laid against you and Svetlana were without any basis in fact. 2. That the late Colonel Evgeny Evgenyvich Alekseev, who laid the charges against you both, was at the time bereft of his senses, more than likely suffering from paranoia and had been so suffering for a considerable period of time, possibly as much as a year or even longer. 3. That while it was clearly the responsibility of the both of you to bring your suspicions regarding Colonel Alekseev's instability to the attention of General Yakov Sirinov, your failure to do so in the circumstances, and your vacating your posts without authority, was understandable.

Other points made during the committee hearing by General Sirinov put to rest once and for all the allegation that you defected. "If they intended to defect," the general said, "they would not have left with only the clothing on their backs and what cash they had in their pockets. And if they had wound up in the hands of MI6 or the CIA, even involuntarily, you know our people would have told us."

At the conclusion of the committee hearing, General Sirinov was ordered to do whatever was necessary to locate you, make you aware of what has happened, and to bring you home.

He has delegated that responsibility to me, telling the committee that if he were you or Svetlana, the only person he would trust would be me. I have been given the authority to take any steps I consider necessary.

Embassies of the Russian Federation worldwide have been directed to provide you with whatever you need, including funds, and to facilitate your return to the Motherland.

In this connection, when I suggested to General Sirinov that, considering what injustices had occurred, you and Svetlana might question even my motives, he said he would have no objection to your leaving Lora and Sof'ya wherever they may be for the time being, and directed me to provide funds for their support.

They can join you here when you are satisfied that you have been welcomed home as loyal Russians.

I really hope to see all of you here together soon.

May God protect you both on your return journey! Your loving cousin, Vladlen

As Kocian handed the letter to Sandor Tor, he said, "I have no idea who either of these people are, Colonel."

"Please, Herr Kocian," Solomatin said. "I am really trying to help them; to right an injustice."

"Well," Kocian said dryly, "the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki does have a certain reputation for causing injustices. But this is the first I've ever heard of them trying to right any." He shook his head. "Sorry, Colonel, I can't help you."

"Herr Kocian, the last confirmed sighting of Colonel Berezovsky, his wife and daughter, and Lieutenant Colonel Svetlana Alekseeva was when they got on Lieutenant Colonel Castillo's airplane at Schwechat airfield in Vienna."

Kocian looked him in the eyes, and said, "Colonel Castillo? Someone else I never heard of."

"The colonel is sometimes still known by the name he was given at his christening, Karl Wilhelm von und zu Gossinger. Inasmuch as you stood as one of his godfathers, Herr Kocian, I find it hard to believe you've forgotten."

Kocian didn't respond.

"Herr Kocian, I swear before God and by all that's sacred to me that I am telling you the truth. And I am begging you to help me."

Kocian said nothing.

"Will you at least get the letter to Colonel Castillo?" Solomatin asked, plaintively.

After a long moment, Kocian said, "Gustav, please be good enough to escort Colonel Solomatin to his car. Give him back his passport and carnet."

"And the letter?" Gustav asked.

Kocian looked at the letter for a long moment, and then folded it and put it in his jacket pocket.

He walked toward the door to his apartment.

"Thank you, Herr Kocian. May God shower you with his blessings," Solomatin said.

Gustav motioned for him to get back on the elevator. When Gustav walked into Kocian's apartment a half hour later, the old man was sitting in a Charles Eames chair with his feet on its footstool, holding a glass of whisky. Madchen lay beside him. Max was sitting beside Tor, his head cocked as if to ask, "What the hell are you doing?"

Tor was sitting on a Louis XVI chair that looked to be of questionable strength to support his bulk. A section of a bookcase that lined that wall of Kocian's sitting room had been swung open, revealing a hidden compartment with a communications device on a custom-built shelf.

Tor had fed the communications device the letter Solomatin had given Kocian, and now took it from the device and walked to Kocian and handed it to him.

"There was no car outside," Gustav said. "I offered him a ride to wherever he wanted to go. He accepted, and said the Russian embassy. A Volkswagen with diplomatic plates got on my tail as we got off the Szabadsag hid and followed us to Baiza. What I think is there were two cars, that one and another-or at least some Russian sonofabitch with a cell phone-here. They were waiting for us at the bridge."

"And what happened at Baiza?" Kocian asked, referencing the embassy of the Russian Federation at Baiza 35, Budapest.

"He got out of the car, and walked to the gate. The gate opened for him before he got there. They expected him. When I looked in the mirror, the Volkswagen that had been on my tail was gone."

Kocian waved the letter Solomatin had given him.

"Did you get a good look at this, Gustav?"

When Gustav shook his head, Kocian handed it to him, and Gustav read it.

"Well?" Kocian said.

Gustav shook his head again.

"I don't have a clue," he said. "Except, if I have to say this, it smells."

"You don't think the SVR forgives defectors?" Tor said sarcastically.

Gustav gestured toward the communications device. "What does Herr Gossinger think?"

"There is one flaw in that miraculous device," Kocian said. "It doesn't work unless the party you're calling answers, which my godson has not yet done." He paused, pointed to the telephone on the table near him, and said, "See if you can get him on the horn, Sandor. Try the house in Pilar."

Tor rose from his fragile-looking chair, walked to the couch by the phone, sat heavily down, then from memory punched in a long number on the keypad. He held the receiver to his ear.

"What time is it in Buenos Aires?" Kocian asked.

"It's after midnight here, so a little after eight," Tor said, then added, "It's ringing," and handed the receiver to Kocian.

Kocian reached over to the table and pushed the phone base's SPEAKERPHONE button.

"?Hola?" a male voice answered.

"With whom am I speaking?" Kocian asked in passable Spanish.

"Who are you calling?"

"I'm trying to get Carlos Castillo. He doesn't seem to be answering his other telephone…"

"You have the wrong number, Senor," the man said and broke the connection.

"Sonofabitch hung up on me!" Kocian said, handing the receiver back to Tor. Tor, turning away so that Kocian would not see his smile, punched in the number again, waited for the ring, and then hit the SPEAKERPHONE button.


"My name is Eric Kocian, I need to speak to Carlos Castillo, and don't tell me I have the wrong damn number!"

"How are you, Herr Kocian?" the male voice said politely. "Sorry I didn't recognize your voice."

"I should have given you my name," Kocian said. "Paul Sieno, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"I thought I recognized your voice when you told me I had the wrong number," Kocian said. "Is Carlos handy?"

"Actually, sir, he's not."

"Where is he? Can you give me a better number?"

"I don't have one, sir."

"That's unusual, isn't it?"

"Charley's fly-fishing with his girlfriend in Patagonia, Herr Kocian."

"What did you say?"

"Charley went fishing with his girlfriend, Herr Kocian. In Patagonia. He left word not to bother him unless the sun went out."

"What if I told you this is very important, Paul? And what girlfriend would that be?"

"I can get word to him, Herr Kocian. Maybe tonight, and certainly by morning."

"And the girlfriend?"

There was a long pause, then Paul said, "Herr Kocian, if you don't know about Sweaty, I'm sorry, but you're not going to hear it from me."

"Are you telling me he's drunk and off in the woods with some floozy? Some floozy named Sweaty? That's what you said her name is, right? Sweaty?"

"Well, I can tell you he's probably not drunk, because Sweaty doesn't like him to drink too much. And that I can get word to him to call you, probably tonight, and certainly by morning. Your AFC's working, right?"

"As a matter of fact, Paul, my miraculous AFC communications device is not working at all. The reason I called on the telephone is because nobody we tried to call on it to find Carlos answered."

"Sir, we're not on twenty-four/seven anymore. Just once in the morning-oh-four-twenty-hundred Zulu time-and again in the afternoon at sixteen-twenty Zulu. I'm surprised no one told you."

"By Zulu, you mean Greenwich?"

"Yes, sir."

"Your AFC is working?"

"Yes, sir. I can have it up in a minute."

"There's a document I want Carlos to see. I want to send it in the highest encryption possible."

"Yes, sir, give me a minute to turn on my AFC."

"You can get it to him?"

"In the morning, maybe even tonight."

"I want you and Mrs. Sieno to have a look at it, to see if you can make more sense from it than I can. And tell Carlos what you think."

"Yes, sir."

"It's not addressed to Carlos, Paul. It's addressed to someone else. I don't want that party to see it until after Carlos does."

"This sounds important, Herr Kocian."

"I don't know. It may well be. Is Herr Delchamps available?"

"He's here, but he went out for dinner."

"Show this document to him, too, please, with the same caveat that I don't want the addressee to see it until Carlos has."

"Got it," Sieno said. And then, "There goes the AFC, Mr. Kocian. It shows you as online. I'm ready to receive. Send the message." "It came through fine, Herr Kocian," Paul Sieno said over the encrypted AFC not quite two minutes later. "What the hell is it all about?"

"I don't know, Paul."

"Where did you get it?"

"A Russian who said he was Colonel Solomatin was waiting for me in the lobby of the Gellert when I came in about an hour ago."

"I will be damned! I'll have this in Charley's hands just as quick as I can."

"Thank you, Paul."

"Herr Kocian, I'm sorry I hung up on you before."

"No apology necessary. My best regards to Mrs. Sieno."

"Will do," Sieno said, then gave the AFC the order: "Break it down."

The green LED indicating the AFC was connected to another AFC device at Encryption Level One went out. [TWO] Club America Miami International Airport, Concourse F Miami, Florida 2205 4 February 2007 Roscoe J. Danton of The Washington Times-Post was not in a very good mood. Eagle-eyed officials of the Transportation Security Administration had detected a Colibri butane cigar lighter and a nearly new bottle of Boss cologne in his carry-on luggage and triumphantly seized both.

The discovery had then triggered a detailed examination of the rest of the contents of his carry-on luggage. This had uncovered a Bic butane cigarette lighter in his laptop case and three boxes of wooden matches from the Old Ebbitt Grill in his briefcase/overnight bag. Two small boxes of matches, he was told he should have known, was the limit.

With the proof before them that they had in their hands if not an Al Qaeda terrorist cleverly disguised as a thirty-eight-year-old Presbyterian from Chevy Chase, Maryland, then at the very least what they categorized as an "uncooperative traveler," the TSA officers had then thoroughly examined his person to make sure that he wasn't trying to conceal anything else-a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, for example-in his ear canal or another body orifice.

With no RPG or other potential weapon found, he was finally freed.

Danton-convinced that his near crimes and misdemeanors had probably caused him to miss Aerolineas Argentinas Flight 1007, nonstop service to Buenos Aires-had then run all the way down Concourse F to Gate 17 hoping to be proven wrong. There he learned that "technical difficulties" of an unspecified nature were going to delay the departure of Flight 1007 for at least two hours.

As he walked the long way back down the concourse to the Club America, he recalled that C. Harry Whelan had called Miami International Airport "America's Token Third World Airport."

Say what you want about Harry-and there's a lot, all bad, to be said about Harry-but the sonofabitch does have a way with words.

Which is probably why he's always on Wolf News.

I wonder what they pay him for that?

Roscoe found a seat from which he could have a good view of one of the television sets hanging from the ceiling. Then he made three trips to the bar, ultimately returning to his seat with two glasses of Scotch whisky, a glass of water, a glass of ice cubes, a bowl of mixed nuts, and a bowl of potato chips. Then he settled in for the long wait.

When he looked up at the television, he saw C. Harry Whelan in conversation with Andy McClarren, the anything-but-amiable star of Wolf News's most popular program, The Straight Scoop.

The screen was split. On the right, McClarren and Whelan were shown sitting at a desk looking at a television monitor. On the left was what they were watching: at least two dozen police cars and ambulances, almost all with their emergency lights flashing, looking as if they were trying to get past some sort of gate.

A curved sign mounted over the gate read WELCOME TO FORT DETRICK.

Their passage was blocked by three U.S. Army HMMWVs, each mounting a.50 caliber machine gun. HMMWV stood for "high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle." With the acronym a little hard to pronounce, the trucks were therefore commonly referred to as "Humvees."

"That was the scene earlier today at Fort Detrick, Harry," Andy McClarren said. "Can you give us the straight scoop on what the hell was going on?"

You're not supposed to say naughty words on television, Roscoe thought as he sipped his Scotch, but I guess if you're Andy McClarren, host of the most-watched television news show, you can get away with a "hell" every once in a while.

"A lot of arf-arf," Whelan said.

"What the hell does that mean?"

Careful, Andy. That's two "hell's," probably the most you can get away with. Three "hell's," like three small boxes of wooden matches, will see the federal government landing on you in righteous indignation.

"That's the sound-you've heard it-dogs make when chasing their tails."

"You said that earlier today, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did. To describe various senior bureaucrats rushing around, chasing their tails."

"And so did President Clendennen. Or his spokesman, What's-his-name."

"John David Parker," Whelan offered, "more or less fondly known as 'Porky.'"

"Okay. So, Porky said the press was playing arf-arf, too. Which meant they were chasing their tails, right?"

"And so they were. Andy, do you really want to know what I think went on over there?"

"I want the straight scoop," McClarren said. "That's what we call the show."

"Okay. Take notes. There will be a quiz," Whelan said. "You know, Andy, right, that the United States has vowed never to use biological weapons against our enemies?"


"This was largely because Senator Homer Johns, the junior senator from New Hampshire, thinks that while it is perfectly all right to shoot our enemies, or drop a bomb on them, it is unspeakably evil to use poison gas or some kind of biological weapon on them."

"You think poison gas is okay, Harry?"

"I think poison gas and biological weapons are terrible," Whelan said. "But let's talk about poison gas. In World War One, the Germans used poison gas on us, and we used it on them. It was terrible. In World War Two, the Germans didn't use poison gas, and neither did we. You ever wonder why?"

"You're going to tell me, right?"

"Because between the two wars, the Army developed some really effective poison gas. When we got in the war, and American troops were sent to Europe, so were maybe a half-dozen ships loaded with the new poison gas. We got word to the Germans that we wouldn't use our poison gas first, but if they did, we were prepared to gas every last one of them. They got the message. Poison gas was never used."


"Then science came up with biological weapons. Our Army, in my judgment wisely, began to experiment with biological weapons. This happened at an obscure little Army base called Fort Detrick. The idea was that if our enemies-we're talking about Russia here-knew we really had first-class biological weapons, they would be reluctant to use their biological weapons on us."

"Like the atom bomb?"

Harry Whelan nodded. "Like atomic bombs, Andy. We weren't nuked by the Russians because they knew that if they did, then Moscow would go up in a mushroom cloud. They called that 'mutual assured destruction.' The same theory was then applied to biological and chemical weapons.

"Then we had a President running for reelection. Senator Johns and his pals thought painting him as a dangerous warmonger would see their guy in the White House. When the incumbent President saw in the polls that this was working, he quickly announced that he was unilaterally taking the United States out of the chemical-biological warfare mutual destruction game. He announced we wouldn't use them, period, and ordered the destruction of all such weapons sitting around in ordnance warehouses.

"This saw him reelected. But Johns wouldn't let him forget his campaign promise. So the Army's biological warfare laboratories at Fort Detrick were closed and the fort became the home of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. What could be more opposite to biological warfare than medical research?

"Even Senator Johns was satisfied that the forces of virtue had triumphed, and we would never use evil biological warfare against our enemies.

"But Army medical research should, it seemed logical to assume, concern itself with what would happen to our soldiers-even our civilian population-should our enemies use biological warfare against us.

"With that in mind, the medical corps began to study the biological weapons in the Russian inventory. If they knew what the Russians were going to use against us, we could come up with antidotes, et cetera.

"How would we know what biological weapons the Russians had? Enter the CIA."


Harry Whelan nodded again. "They bribed the appropriate Russian scientists, and soon samples of the Russian biological inventory began to arrive at Fort Detrick for evaluation by the medical corps.

"Since it was the CIA's duty to evaluate the efficacy of enemy weapons, and since the best place to determine that was Fort Detrick, and since the medical corps was a little short of funds, the CIA thought it only fair that they pay for the investigation.

"This had the additional benefit-since CIA expenditures are classified-of keeping Senator Johns and his pals from learning what was going on. Getting the picture, Andy?"

"That's a hell of an accusation, Harry."

Whelan did not reply directly.

"And inasmuch as the CIA was interested in knowing how soon the United States could respond in kind to a biological attack, they asked the medical personnel at Fort Detrick to determine how the Russian biological weapons were manufactured, and to estimate how long it would take-should the unthinkable happen-for us to get our manufacture of such up and running. Or even to compare the Russian biological weapons against our own from the bad old days-samples of our own had been retained for laboratory purposes-and see how long it would take to start to manufacture whichever seemed to be the most lethal."

"What you're suggesting, Harry," Andy McClarren said solemnly, "is that the CIA once again was engaged in doing things they're not supposed to. Once again doing things that the Congress had forbidden them to do."

"You sound like Senator Johns, Andy. And once again, you're both wrong. The CIA has the responsibility-given them by Congress-to find out as much as they can about our enemies' capabilities and intentions. That's what they were-are-doing at Fort Detrick. And thank God that they are."

"Give me a for-example, Harry," McClarren said, thickly sarcastic.

"How about a hypothetical, Andy?"


"Let's suppose that the CIA, which really is not nearly as incompetent as you and people like Senator Johns think it is-or for that matter as incompetent as the CIA wants people like you and Johns and our enemies to think it is-"

"Run that past me again, Harry," McClarren said.

"They call that 'disinformation,' Andy. The less competent our enemies think the CIA is, the less they worry about it. Can I get back to my hypothetical?"

"Why not?" McClarren said, visibly miffed.

"Let's say the CIA heard that the bad guys, say the Russians, were operating a secret biological weapons factory in some remote corner of the world-"

"You're talking about that alleged biological weapons factory in the Congo," McClarren challenged.

Whelan ignored the interruption.

He went on: "-and they looked into it and found that there was indeed a secret factory in that remote corner of the world."

"Making what?" McClarren challenged, more than a little nastily.

"They didn't know. So what they did was go to this remote corner of the world-"

"Why don't you just say the Congo, Harry?"

"If that makes you happy, Andy. Let's say, hypothetically speaking of course, that the incompetent CIA went to the Congo and, violating the laws of the sovereign state of the Republic of the Congo, broke into this factory and came out with samples of what the factory was producing-"

"Ha!" McClarren snorted.

"-and took it to Fort Detrick, where it was examined by the medical corps scientists. And that these scientists concluded that what the CIA had brought to them was really bad stuff. And let's say that the CIA took this intelligence to the President. Not this one, his predecessor.

"And let's say the President believed what the CIA was telling him. What he should have done was call in the secretary of State and tell her to go to the UN and demand an emergency meeting of the Security Council to deal with the problem.

"Now, let's say, for the purpose of this hypothetical for-example, that the President realized he-the country-was facing what they call a 'real and present danger.' And also that the minute he brought to the attention of the United Nations what the CIA had learned, the bad guys would learn we knew what they were up to.

"By the time the blue-helmet Keystone Kops of the UN went to the Congo to investigate these outrageous allegations-and this is presuming the Russians and/or the Chinese didn't use their veto against using the blue helmets-the factory would either have disappeared, or been converted to a fish farm."

"So he acted unilaterally?"

"And thank God he had the cojones to do so."

"And it doesn't bother you, Harry, that he had no right to do anything like that? We could have found ourselves in a war, a nuclear war! That takes an act of Congress!"

"You're dead wrong about that, too, Andy," Whelan said patronizingly, rather than argumentatively. Whether he did so without thinking about it, or with the intention of annoying-even angering-McClarren, it caused the latter reaction.

The one thing Andy McClarren could not stand, would not tolerate, was being patronized.

His face whitened and his lips grew thin.

"How so?" he asked very softly.

"Under the War Powers Act-I'm really surprised you don't know this, Andy; I thought everybody did-the President, as commander in chief, has the authority to use military force for up to thirty days whenever he feels it's necessary. He has to tell Congress he's done so and if they don't vote to support him within those thirty days, the President has to recall the troops. But for thirty days he can do whatever he wants…"

Damn it! Andy McClarren thought as his face turned red. The President does have that authority under the War Powers Act.

Either this condescending smart-ass just set me up to make an ass of myself, or-worse-without any assistance from him, I just revealed my ignorance before three point five million viewers.

The only thing that can make this worse is for me to lose my temper.

Whelan went on: "So you see, Andy, in this hypothetical for-example we're talking about, the President did have the authority to do what he did."

McClarren knocked over one of the two microphones on the desk. They were props, rather than working microphones. But McClarren's three point five million viewers didn't know this.

McClarren thought: Jesus! What can I do for an encore? Spill coffee in my lap?

Whalen smiled at him sympathetically, and went on: "He didn't have to ask Congress for anything. The whole event was over in three days. What they call a fait accompli, Andy."

McClarren straightened the microphone, and then flashed Whelan a brilliant smile.

"I don't believe a word of that, Harry," he said.

"You weren't expected to," Whalen responded, every bit as condescendingly as before. "It was all hypothetical, Andy. All you were supposed to do was think about it."

"What I'm wondering is what all your hypothetical stuff has to do with all those police cars at the gate of Fort Detrick. Have you got the straight scoop on that, or just more hypothesis?"

He made "hypothesis" sound like a dirty word.

"Well, Andy, my gut feeling-my hypothesis, if you prefer-is that when Porky Parker made his statement, he was doing something he doesn't often do."

"Which was?"

"Porky was telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There was some kind of accident in one of the laboratories. Somebody dropped an Erlenmeyer flask on the floor. Six white mice or a couple of monkeys escaped their cages. I have no idea what. Something happened. The material in those labs is really dangerous. They did what they were supposed to do: They declared a potential-operative word 'potential'-disaster. The post was closed down until the problem could be dealt with. When it was dealt with, they called off the emergency procedures.

"While all this was going on, the CIA and Homeland Security and every police force between here and Baltimore started chasing their tails-arf-arf-and when the ever-vigilant press got wind of this, they got in their helicopters and flew to Fort Detrick, where they chased their tails in the sky-arf-arf-until they were run off. If there was any danger to anyone at Fort Detrick today, it was from the clowns in the helicopters nearly running into each other. The Army scientists there know what they're doing."

"That could be, I suppose," Andy McClarren said very dubiously. "But what I would like to know is-"

Roscoe J. Danton saw the image of McClarren on the Club America TV replaced with an image of the logotype of Aerolineas Argentinas and a notice announcing the immediate departure of Aerolineas Argentinas Flight 1007, nonstop service to Buenos Aires from Gate 17.

"Christ," Danton complained out loud. "They told me it was delayed for at least two hours."

He stood up, and a firm believer in the adage that if one wastes not, one wants not, drained his drinks.

The Aerolineas Argentinas announcement then was replaced first with the whirling globes of Wolf News, and then by the image of an aged former star of television advising people of at least sixty-two years of age of the many benefits of reverse mortgages.

Roscoe, who had been hoping to get another glimpse of the royally pissed-off Andy McClarren, said, "Shit!"

Then he hurriedly walked out of Club America. [ONE] United States-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas 0730 5 February 2007 "What the fuck is that?" United States Border Patrol agent Guillermo Amarilla inquired in Spanish of Senior Patrol Agent Hector Hernandez as the latter stepped hard on the brakes of their green Jeep station wagon.

The station wagon skidded on the rutted dirt road, coming to a stop at nearly a right angle. On one side of the road was a sugarcane field. On the other was waist-high brush. The brush extended for about one hundred fifty yards, ending at the bank of the Rio Grande. The demarcation line between the United States and the Estados Unidos Mexicanos was at the center of the river, which at that point was just over one hundred yards wide.

The dirt road, ten yards from where the Jeep had stopped, was blocked.

An oblong insulated metal box was sitting on a plank suspended between two plastic five-gallon jerrycans.

Nailed to the plank was a large sign hand-lettered??PELIGROSO!! and??DANGER!!

Amarilla and Hernandez, without speaking, were out of the vehicle in seconds. Both held Remington Model 870 12-gauge pump shotguns. Crouching beside the station wagon, Hernandez carefully examined the brush, and Amarilla the sugarcane field.

"Undocumented immigrants" sometimes vented their displeasure with Border Patrol agents' efficiency by ambushing Border Patrol vehicles.

Amarilla straightened up and continued looking.

After perhaps sixty seconds, he asked, "You hear anything?"

Hernandez shook his head, and stood erect.

"You think that's a wetback IED?" Amarilla asked.

Both men had done tours with their National Guard units in Iraq, and had experience with improvised explosive devices.

"It could be a fucking bomb, Guillermo."

"I don't see any wires," Amarilla said.

"You don't think a cell phone would work out here?"

Hernandez sought the answer to his own question by taking his cell phone out of his shirt pocket.

"Cell phones work out here," he announced.

"Maybe they left," Guillermo offered.

"And maybe they're waiting for us to get closer."

"Should I put a couple of loads in it and see what happens?"

"No. It could be full of cold beer. These fuckers would love to be able to tell the story of the dumb fucks from La Migra who shot up a cooler full of cerveza."

Guillermo took a closer look at the container.

"It's got signs on it," he said.

He reached into the station wagon and came out with a battered pair of binoculars.

After a moment, he said, "It says, 'Danger: Biological Hazard.' What the fuck?"

He handed the binoculars to Hernandez, who took a close look.

He exhaled audibly, then reached for his cell phone and hit a speed-dial number.

"Hernandez here," he said into it. "I need a supervisor out here, right now, at mile thirty-three."

There was a response, to which Hernandez responded, "I'll tell him when he gets here. Just get a supervisor out here, now." Ten minutes later, a Bell Ranger helicopter settled to the ground at mile thirty-three.

Two men got out. Both had wings pinned to their uniforms. One was a handsome man with a full head of gray hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. He had a gold oak leaf pinned to his uniform collar points. In the Army, it would be a major's insignia. Field Operations Supervisor Paul Peterson was known, more or less fondly, behind his back as "Our Gringo."

The second man, who had what would be an Army captain's "railroad tracks" pinned to his collar points, was Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Domingo Garcia. He was known behind his back as "Hard Ass."

Both men walked to Hernandez and Amarilla, who were leaning against their Jeep station wagon.

"What have you got?" Hard Ass inquired not very pleasantly.

Hernandez pointed to the obstruction in the road, then handed the binoculars to Peterson.

Peterson peered through them and studied the obstruction. After a long moment, he said, "What in the fuck is that?" [TWO] Ministro Pistarini International Airport Ezeiza Buenos Aires Province, Argentina 1135 5 February 2007 At the same moment that Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Domingo "Hard Ass" Garcia had put the binocs to his eyes-when it was 0835 in McAllen, Texas, it was 1135 in Buenos Aires-Roscoe J. Danton of The Washington Times-Post stepped off the ramp leading from Aerolineas Argentinas Flight 1007. As he entered the Ezeiza terminal proper, he thought for a moment that he had accidentally gone through the wrong door. He found himself in a large duty-free store, complete with three quite lovely young women handing out product-touting brochures.

"Clever," he said, admiringly and out loud.

Someone down here has figured out a good way to get the traveling public into the duty-free store: place the store as the only passage between the arriving passenger ramp and the terminal.

But screw them. I won't buy a thing.

He started walking through the store.

Fifty feet into it, though, he had a change of heart. He had come to a display of Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch whisky, and remembered what he had learned as a Boy Scout: "Be Prepared."

Three boxes of his favorite intoxicant were cellophane-wrapped together and offered at a price he quickly computed to be about half of what he paid in Washington, D.C.

He picked up one of the packages and went through the exit cash register, charging his purchase to his-actually, The Washington Times-Post's-American Express corporate credit card. He examined his receipt carefully and was pleased. It read that he had charged $87.40 for unspecified merchandise in the store.

If it had said "three bottles Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch," there would have been a note from Accounting reminding him that intoxicants could be charged to The Washington Times-Post only when connected to business entertaining, and as he had not identified on his expense report whom he had entertained, it was presumed that the whisky was for his personal consumption and therefore the $87.40 would be deducted from his next paycheck, and in the future, please do not charge personal items to the corporate credit card.

Accounting, he theorized, would probably give him the benefit of the doubt in this instance because it didn't say "whisky" and assume he had purchased, for example, items of personal hygiene, which were considered legitimate expenses when he was traveling.

Or maybe a battery for his-The Washington Times-Post's-laptop computer.

He would not lie on his expense account. But he would take full advantage of the provisions regarding business travel in his employment contract.

He was entitled, for example, to first-class accommodations on airliners when traveling outside the continental United States on a flight lasting six hours or longer. On flights under six hours in length-say, Washington-London-his contract provided for business class.

It was for that reason that he had traveled on Aerolineas Argentinas. When The Washington Times-Post Corporate Travel department had told him that only business class was available on Delta and American, he made them, per his contract, book him first-class seating on the Argentine carrier. His experience had taught him that once he accepted less than that to which he was entitled, the bastards in Corporate Travel henceforth would try to make it the rule.

Danton also was entitled by his contract, when on travel lasting more than twenty-four hours, to a hotel rated at four stars or better and, therein, a two-room suite rather than a simple room.

In the case of this trip, Corporate Travel had suggested they make a reservation for a two-room suite for him at the four-star-rated Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires. The Plaza wasn't a five-star hotel but boasted that it contained the oldest restaurant in Buenos Aires, a world-famous bar, and was directly across Plaza San Martin from the Argentine foreign ministry. To Danton, that suggested that it wasn't going to be the Argentine version of a Marriott, and he had accepted Corporate Travel's recommendation.

Carrying the Johnnie Walker, he went through the immigration checkpoint without any trouble. His luggage, however, took so long to appear on the carousel that he became genuinely worried that it had been sent to Havana or Moscow. But it did finally show up, and he changed his suspicions toward the officers of the Transportation Security Administration back in Miami, who were, he thought, entirely capable of putting some clever chalk mark on his luggage signaling everyone in the know that it belonged to an "uncooperative traveler" and, if it couldn't be redirected to Moscow or Havana, then to the absolute end of whatever line it was in.

When the customs officials sifted through his suitcase and laptop briefcase with great care-and especially when they asked him if he was sure he was not trying to carry into the Republica Argentina more than ten thousand U.S. dollars in cash or negotiable securities or any amount of controlled substances-he was sure he saw the stealthy hand of the TSA at work.

Corporate Travel had told him that he should take a remise rather than a taxi from the airport to his hotel, explaining that Buenos Aires taxis were small and uncomfortable, and their drivers well-known for their skilled chicanery when dealing with foreigners. Remises, Travel had told him, which cost a little more, were private cars pressed into part-time service by their owners, who were more often than not the drivers. They could be hired only through an agent, who had kiosks in the terminal lobby.

The remise in which Roscoe was driven from Ezeiza international airport to Plaza San Martin and the Plaza Hotel was old, but clean and well cared for. And the driver delivered a lecture on Buenos Aires en route.

When the remise door was opened by a doorman wearing a gray frock coat and a silk top hat, and two bellmen stood ready to handle the baggage, Roscoe was in such a good mood that he handed the remise driver his American Express card and he told him to add a twenty-percent tip to the bill. Ten percent was Roscoe's norm, even on The Washington Times-Post 's dime.

The driver asked if Roscoe could possibly pay in cash, preferably dollars, explaining that not only did American Express charge ten percent but also took two weeks or a month to pay up. He then showed Roscoe the English language Buenos Aires Herald, on the front page of which was the current exchange rate: one U.S. dollar was worth 3.8 pesos.

"If you give me a one-hundred-dollar bill, I'll give you three hundred and ninety pesos," the remise driver offered.

Roscoe handed him the bill, and the driver counted out three hundred and ninety pesos into his hand, mostly in small bills.

Roscoe then got rid of most of the small bills by counting out two hundred pesos-the agreed-upon price-into the driver's hand. The driver thanked him, shook his hand, and said he hoped el senor would have a good time in Argentina.

Roscoe liked what he saw of the lobby of the Plaza-lots of polished marble and shiny brass-and when he got to reception, a smiling desk clerk told him they had his reservation, and slid a registration card across the marble to him.

On the top of it was printed, WELCOME TO THE MARRIOTT PLAZA HOTEL.

Shit, a Marriott!

Corporate Travel's done it to me again!

Roscoe had hated the Marriott hotel chain since the night he had been asked to leave the bar in the Marriott Hotel next to the Washington Press Club after he complained that it was absurd for the bartender to have shut him off after only four drinks.

At the Plaza, though, he felt a lot better when the bellman took him to his suite. It was very nice, large, and well furnished. And he could see Plaza San Martin from its windows.

He took out the thick wad of pesos the remise driver had given him and decided that generosity now would result in good service later. He did some quick mental math and determined the peso equivalent of ten dollars, which came to thirty-eight pesos, rounded this figure upward, and handed the bellman forty pesos.

The bellman's face did not show much appreciation for his munificence.

Well, fuck you, Pedro! he thought as the bellman went out the door.

Ten bucks is a lot of money for carrying one small suitcase!

Roscoe then shaved, took a shower, and got dressed.

The clock radio beside the bed showed that it was just shy of two o'clock. As he set his wristwatch to the local time, he thought it was entirely likely that the U.S. embassy ran on an eight-to-four schedule, with an hour or so lunch break starting at noon, and with any luck he could see commercial attache Alexander B. Darby as soon as he could get to the embassy.

Miss Eleanor Dillworth had told him that Darby was another CIA Clandestine Service officer, a good guy, and if anybody could point him toward the shadowy and evil Colonel Castillo and his wicked companions, it was Darby.

Roscoe took out his laptop and opened it, intending to search the Internet for the address and telephone number of the U.S. embassy, Buenos Aires.

No sooner had he found the plug to connect with the Internet and had turned on the laptop than its screen flashed LOW BATTERY. He found the power cord and the electrical socket. His male plug did not match the two round holes in the electrical socket.

The concierge said he would send someone right up with an adapter plug.

Roscoe then tipped that bellman twenty pesos, thinking that the equivalent of five bucks was a more than generous reward for bringing an adapter worth no more than a buck.

This bellman, like the last one, did not seem at all overwhelmed by Roscoe's generosity.

Roscoe shook his head as he plugged in the adapter. Ninety seconds later, he had the embassy's address-Avenida Colombia 4300-and its telephone number, both of which he entered into his pocket organizer. "Embassy of the United States."

"Mr. Alexander B. Darby, please."

"There is no one here by that name, sir."

"He's the commercial counselor."

"There's no one here by that name, sir."

"Have you a press officer?"

"Yes, sir."

"May I speak with him, please?"

"It's a her, sir. Ms. Sylvia Grunblatt."

"Connect me with her, please."

"Ms. Grunblatt's line."

"Ms. Grunblatt, please. Roscoe-"

"Ms. Grunblatt's not available at the moment."

"When will she be available?"

"I'm afraid I don't know."

"May I leave a message?"

"Yes, of course."

"Please tell her Mr. Roscoe J. Danton of The Washington Times-Post is on his way to the embassy, and needs a few minutes of her valuable time. Got that?"

"Will you give it to me again, please? Slower?" [THREE] The Embassy of the United States of America Avenida Colombia 4300 Buenos Aires, Argentina 1410 5 February 2007 It was a ten-minute drive from the Plaza Hotel to the American embassy.

The taxicab meter showed that the ride had cost fifteen pesos. Roscoe dug out his wad of pesos, handed the driver a twenty-peso note, and waited for his change.

Five pesos is too much of a tip.

Two pesos ought to be more than enough.

The driver looked at the twenty and then up at Roscoe. When Roscoe didn't respond, the driver waved his fingers in a "give me more" gesture.

Roscoe pointed to the meter.

The cab driver said, "Argentine pesos."

He then pointed to the note Roscoe had given him, and said, "Uruguay pesos."

He then held up his index finger, and went on: "One Argentine peso is"-he held up all his fingers-"five Uruguay pesos. You pay with Uruguay pesos, is one hundred Uruguay pesos."

Roscoe looked at his stack of pesos. They were indeed Uruguayan pesos.

That miserable sonofabitch remise driver screwed me!

He counted the Uruguayan pesos he had left. He didn't have enough to make up the additional eighty pesos the cab driver was demanding.

He took a one-hundred-dollar bill from his wallet.

The cab driver examined it very, very carefully, and then first handed Roscoe his twenty-peso Uruguayan note, and then three one-hundred-peso Argentine notes. He stuck the American hundred in his pocket.

Roscoe was still examining the Argentine currency, trying to remember what that sonofabitch remise driver had told him was the exchange rate, when the cab driver took one of the Argentine hundred-peso bills back. He then pointed to the meter, and counted out eighty-five Argentine pesos and laid them in Roscoe's hand.

Roscoe then remembered the exchange rate. It was supposed to be 3.8 Argentine pesos to the dollar, not 3.0.

"Muchas gracias," the cab driver said, and drove off.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Roscoe said as he began walking toward the small building guarding access to the embassy grounds. "My name is Roscoe Danton," he said to the rent-a-cop behind a thick glass window. "I'd like to see Mr. Alexander B. Darby, the commercial counselor."

"You got passport? American passport?" the rent-a-cop asked in a thick accent suggesting that he was not a fellow American.

Roscoe slid his passport through a slot below the window.

The rent-a-cop examined it carefully and then announced, "No Mr. Darby here."

"Then I'd like to see Miss-" What the fuck was her name? "-Miss Rosenblum. The press officer."

"No Miss Rosenblum. We got Miss Grunblatt, public affairs officer."

"Then her, please?"

"What your business with Miss Grunblatt?"

"I'm a journalist, a senior writer of The Washington Times-Post."

"You got papers?"

Have I got papers?

You can bet your fat Argentine ass, Pedro, that I have papers.

One at a time, Roscoe took them from his wallet. First he slid through the opening below the window his Pentagon press pass, then his State Department press pass, and finally-the ne plus ultra of all press credentials-his White House press pass.

They failed to dazzle the rent-a-cop, even after he had studied each intently. But finally he picked up a telephone receiver, spoke briefly into it-Roscoe could not hear what he was saying-and then hung up.

He signaled for Roscoe to go through a sturdy translucent glass door.

Roscoe signaled for the return of his passport and press passes.

The rent-a-cop shook his head and announced, "When you come out, you get back."

Roscoe considered offering the observation that at the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House they just looked at press passes and gave them back, but in the end decided it would probably be counterproductive.

He went through the translucent door, on the other side of which were two more rent-a-cops behind a counter, and another sturdy glass door, this one transparent, and through which he could see neatly trimmed grass around a pathway leading to the embassy building itself.

It's just as unbelievably ugly as the embassy in London, Roscoe decided.

Obviously designed by the same dropout from the University of Southern Arkansas School of Bunker and Warehouse Architecture.

The door would not open.

Roscoe looked back at the rent-a-cops.

One of them was pointing to the counter. The other was pointing to a sign on the wall:


Incendiary devices? Are they talking about cigar lighters?

"What in there?" one of the rent-a-cops demanded, pointing at Roscoe's laptop case.

"My laptop. I'm a journalist. I need it to take notes."

"Not past this point. You got cellular phone, organizer, butane lighter?"

"Guilty on all points."

"You got or not got?"

"I got," Roscoe said, and then put them on the counter.

"Keys set off wand," one of the rent-a-cops said. "You got keys, better you leave them, too."

Roscoe added his key chain to everything else.

One of the rent-a-cops came from behind the counter, waved the wand around Roscoe's body, and then gestured toward the glass door.

This time it opened. A U.S. Marine in dress trousers and a stiffly starched open-collared khaki shirt was waiting for him outside the main entrance to the embassy building. He had a large revolver in a holster suspended from what looked like a patent-leather Sam Browne harness.

"Mr. Danton?"

"Thank God, an American!"

"Mr. Danton?"

"Roscoe Danton, an alumnus of the Parris Island School for Boys, at your service, Sergeant."

"If you will come with me, Mr. Danton?" The sergeant led him into the building, through a magnetic detector, and down a corridor to the right.

He pointed to a wooden bench.

"If you will sit there, Mr. Danton, someone will attend to you shortly. Please do not leave this area."

Roscoe dutifully sat down. The Marine sergeant marched away.

There was a cork bulletin board on the opposing wall.

After perhaps thirty seconds, Roscoe, more from a desire to assert his journalist status than curiosity-he had been thinking, Fuck you, Sergeant. I ain't in the Crotch no more; you can't order me around-stood up and had a look at it.

Among the other items on display was the embassy Daily Bulletin. It contained the usual bullshit Roscoe expected to see, and at the end of it was: UNOFFICIAL: ITEMS FOR SALE.

His eyes flickered over it.

"Bingo!" he said aloud.

Immediately after an offer to sell a baby carriage "in like-new condition"- Like-new condition? What did they do, turn the baby back in?-was an absolutely fascinating offer of something for sale: 2005 BMW. Royal Blue. Excellent Shape. 54K miles. All papers in order for sale to US Diplomatic Personnel or Argentine Nationals. Priced for quick sale. Can be seen at 2330 O'Higgins. Ask doorman. Alex Darby. Phone 531-678-666.

Five seconds after Roscoe had read the offer, the paper on which it had been printed was off the wall and in his pocket.

He sat back down on the bench and trimmed his fingernails.

Maybe they have surveillance cameras.

Maybe they saw me tear that off.

If they did, so what? "Mr. Danton, Ms. Grunblatt will see you now."

Sylvia Grunblatt was sitting behind a large, cluttered desk. She was not svelte, but neither was she unpleasingly plump. She had very intelligent eyes.

"What can the embassy of the United States do for Roscoe J. Danton of The Washington Times-Post?" she greeted him. "How about a cup of coffee for openers?"

"I would be in your debt," Roscoe said.

She poured coffee into a mug and handed it to him.

"Sugar? Canned cow?"

He shook his head.

"What brings you to the Paris of South America?" Grunblatt asked.

"I'm writing a feature with the working title, 'Tacos and Tango.'"

"Sure you are," she said. "What did you do, get demoted? I'm one of your fans, Mr. Danton, and you don't write features for the Sunday magazine."

"How about one with the lead, 'U.S. diplomats living really high on the taxpayer's dollar in the Paris of South America'?"

"If you were going to do that, you wouldn't tell me."

"I came down here to see Alex Darby," Roscoe said.

"Nobody here by that name," she said.

"You mean 'Nobody here by that name now,' right?"

"We had a commercial counselor by that name, but he's gone. Retired."

"When was that?"

"I don't seem to recall. I could find out for you, but then we would get into privacy issues, wouldn't we?"

"Or security issues. You know who cut his checks, Miss Grunblatt."

"One, it's Ms. Grunblatt-but you can call me Sylvia if 'Mizz' sticks in your craw."

"And you may call me Roscoe, Sylvia."

"And two, I have no idea what you're talking about. Mr. Darby was our commercial counselor. Who fed you that other wild notion?"

"Eleanor Dillworth, another longtime toiler in the Clandestine Service of the agency whose name we dare not speak."

"You know Eleanor, do you?"

"Eleanor came to me. Actually, she and her friend Patricia Davies Wilson came to me. Do you know Patricia?"

"I've heard the name somewhere. Eleanor came to you?"

"Both of them did. Whistles to their lips."

"And who-at whom-did they wish to blow their whistles?"

"They seem to feel the villain is an Army officer named Castillo. Major Charley Castillo."

"His Christian name is Carlos."

"You know him?"

She nodded, and said, "If he's the same man. He was sent down here when our consul general, J. Winslow Masterson, was kidnapped."

"Sent by who-whom?"

"Our late President. Who then, after Jack Masterson was killed, put him in charge of getting Masterson's family safely home."

"Tell me about Major Castillo," Danton said.

"Tell you what, Roscoe. You tell me what you think you know about Castillo and if I can, I'll tell you if you're right."

"Nice try, Sylvia."

"Excuse me?"

"If I tell you what I know about this guy, then you will know how close I am to learning what you don't want to tell me about him."

"Roscoe, I am a public affairs officer. It is my duty to answer any questions you might pose to the best of my ability. Providing of course that my answers would not include anything that is classified."

"You ever hear what C. Harry Whelan has to say about public affairs officers such as yourself?"

She shook her head.

"Quote: Their function is not the dissemination of information but rather the containment thereof. They really should be called 'misinformation officers.' End quote."

"Oh, God! He's onto us! There is nothing left for me to do but to go home and slit my wrists."

He chuckled.

Sylvia made the time out signal with her hands.

"Can we go off the record, Roscoe?"


"What exactly did Eleanor tell you?"

"I presume that 'off the record' means that you're not going to send an urgent message to Foggy Bottom telling Natalie Cohen what Eleanor told me."

"Girl Scout's honor."

"Okay. Actually, she didn't tell me much. She said I wouldn't believe what an evil man this guy Castillo is unless I found out myself. What she did was suggest that Castillo had stolen two Russian defectors from her when she was in Vienna. And then pointed me at Alexander Darby."

Sylvia looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, and then said, "Eleanor and I go back a long time-"

"Meaning you have taken Darby's place as the resident spook?"

She shook her head and raised her right arm as if swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help her God.

"Meaning we go back a long time," she said. "Eleanor is very good at what she's done for all those years. If she says Charley Castillo stole two heavy Russian spooks from under her nose, that means there were two Russian spooks, and she believes Charley Castillo stole them."

"She said that it cost her her job."

"Stories like that are circulating, and I've heard them," Sylvia said. "What I can't figure is why Charley would do something like that unless someone-maybe even our late President-told him to. And I can't imagine why he brought them here."

"He brought Russian spooks here?"

"Ambassador Montvale thinks he did."

"How do you know that?"

"A friend of mine-you don't need to know who-was in the Rio Alba-that's a restaurant around the corner, magnificent steaks; you ought to make an effort to eat there-at a table near my ambassador's. He was having lunch with Montvale. Castillo walked in. Montvale told him all would be forgiven if he gave him the Russians. Castillo told him to attempt a physiologically impossible act of self-reproduction. Montvale threatened to have him arrested; he had a couple of Secret Service guys with him. Castillo said if the Secret Service made a move, they would be arrested by a couple of Gendarmeria Nacional-they're the local heavy cops-he had with him.

"The meeting adjourned to the embassy. I guess they were afraid someone might hear them talking. When the meeting was over, Montvale went to the airport without any Russians, got on his Citation Four, and flew back to Washington. Castillo walked out of the embassy and I haven't seen him since. Reminding you that we're off the record, my ambassador, who is a really good guy, thinks Castillo is a really good guy."


"One more interesting thing: Right after we bombed whatever the hell it was we bombed in the Congo, a lot of people around here, including Alex Darby, suddenly decided to retire."

"What people?"

"No names. But a Secret Service guy, and a 'legal attache,' which is diplomat-speak for FBI agent, and even a couple of people in our embassies in Asuncion, Paraguay, and across the River Plate in Uruguay."

"Are you going to tell me where I can find Alexander Darby?"

"I don't know, and don't want to know, where he is. The last time I saw him was at Ezeiza."

"The airport?"

She nodded. "Alex is somebody else I've known for a long time. A really good guy. I drove him to the airport."

"He went home?"

She paused before replying: "Alex applied for, and was issued, a regular passport. I drove him to the airport. He left the country-went through immigration-on his diplomatic passport. Then he went back through the line and entered the country as a tourist on his regular passport. When he came out, he handed me-as an officer of the embassy-his dip's passport. Then I drove him to his apartment. I haven't seen him since."

"You going to tell me where that apartment is?"

"We're back on the record, Mr. Danton. I cannot of course violate Mr. Darby's privacy by giving you that information. I'm sure you understand."

"Of course. And thank you very much, Mizz Grunblatt."

"Anytime, Mr. Danton. We try to be of service."

"That's comforting."

"Did you ever hear what Winston Churchill said about journalists, Mr. Danton?"

"Can't say that I have."

"Churchill said, 'Journalists are the semiliterate cretins hired to fill the spaces between the advertisements.'"

"Oh, God! He's onto us! Now I suppose there's nothing left for me but to slash my wrists."

"That's a thought. Good morning, Mr. Danton." [FOUR] Apartment 32-B O'Higgins 2330 Belgrano Buenos Aires, Argentina 1505 5 February 2007 "I will miss the view," Alexander B. Darby-a small, plump man with a pencil-line mustache-said as he stood with Liam Duffy, Edgar Delchamps, and his wife, and gestured out the windows of the Darbys' apartment on the thirty-second floor. It occupied half of the top floor of the four-year-old building, high enough to overlook almost all of the other apartment buildings between O'Higgins and the River Plate.

"What you're supposed to be going to miss, you sonofabitch, is your loving wife and adorable children," Julia Darby-a trim woman who wore her black hair in a pageboy-said.

And was immediately sorry.

"Strike that, Alex," she added. "I was just lashing out at the fickle finger of fate."

"It's okay, honey. And I really don't think it will be for long."

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast," Julia said solemnly.

"And the movers never show up when they're supposed to," Edgar Delchamps said as solemnly.

The apartment showed signs that the movers were expected any moment. Cardboard boxes were stacked all over, and suitcases were arranged by the door.

"And it is always the cocktail hour somewhere in the world, so why not here and now?" Alex said.

Julia smiled at Edgar and Liam, and said, "Every once in a great while, he has a good idea. The embassy's glasses are in the cupboard, so all we have to do is find something to put in them."

"The booze is in the suitcase with the 'seven' stuck on it," Alex said, and looked at the suitcases by the door. "Which, of course, is the one on the bottom." He switched to Spanish. "Give me a hand, will you, Liam?"

Liam Duffy-a well-dressed, muscular, ruddy-faced blond man in his forties-looked to be what his name suggested, a true son of Erin. But he was in fact an Argentine whose family had migrated to Argentina more than a century before.

They went to the stack of suitcases, moved them around, and in about a minute Alex Darby was able to triumphantly raise a bottle of twelve-year-old Famous Grouse Malt Scotch whisky.

The house telephone rang.

Julia answered it.

"It's the concierge," she announced. "Somebody's here to look at the car."

"Tell him to show it to him," Alex said.

He walked into the kitchen carrying the whisky. Liam followed him.

Ninety seconds later, the telephone rang again, and again Julia answered it.

When Alex and Liam returned from the kitchen, Julia announced, "It's the movers."

"Which one?"

"His," Julia said, nodding at Duffy.

"Have them sent up," Alex said.

"I'm way ahead of you, my darling," Julia said as she reached for her glass.

Seconds later, the doorbell chimed, signaling there was someone in the elevator foyer.

Duffy went to the door and opened it, then waved three men into the apartment. They were all wearing business suits but there was something about them that suggested the military.

"The suitcases to the left of the doorway," Duffy said in Spanish. "Be very careful of the blue one with the number seven on it."

"Si, mi comandante," one of them said.

"Did they find a pilot for the Aero Commander?" Duffy asked.

"Si, mi general. All is ready at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery."

"Whoopee!" Julia Darby said.

"And the people to stay with Familia Darby?" Duffy asked.

"In place, mi comandante."

"Whoopee again," Julia said.

Duffy nodded at the men.

The doorbell rang again.

Duffy pulled it open.

A thirty-eight-year-old Presbyterian from Chevy Chase, Maryland, stood there.

"Mr. Darby?" Roscoe Danton asked.

"I'm Alex Darby. Come in."

Roscoe entered the apartment and offered his hand to him.

"Roscoe Danton," he said.

"That was a quick look at the BMW, wasn't it?" Darby asked.

"Actually, Mr. Darby, I'm not here about the car. I came to see you," Danton said. "I'm a journalist at The Washington Times-Post. Eleanor Dillworth sent me."

Darby's reaction was Pavlovian. One spook does not admit knowing another spook unless he knows whoever is asking the question has the right to know.

Spooks also believe that journalists should be told only that which is in the best interests of the spook to tell them.

"I'm afraid there's been a mistake," Darby said, politely. "I'm afraid I don't know a Miss Duckworth."

"Dillworth." Roscoe made the correction even as he intuited things were about to go wrong. "Eleanor Dillworth."

Comandante General Liam Duffy also experienced a Pavlovian reaction when he saw the look in Darby's eyes. He made a barely perceptible gesture with the index finger of his left hand.

The two men about to carry luggage from the apartment quickly set it down and moved quickly to each side of Roscoe Danton. The third man, who was already on the elevator landing, turned and came back into the apartment, looking to Duffy for guidance.

Duffy made another small gesture with his left hand, rubbing his thumb against his index finger. This gesture had two meanings, money and papers.

In this case, the third man intuited it meant papers. He walked to Danton and said, reasonably pleasantly, in English, "Papers, please, Senor."

"Excuse me?" Roscoe said.

Julia Darby looked annoyed rather than concerned.

"Gendarmeria Nacional," the man said. "Documents, please, passport and other identity."

Roscoe wordlessly handed over his passport.

The third man made a give me the rest gesture.

Roscoe took out his wallet and started to look for his White House press pass.

The third man snatched the wallet from his fingers and handed it and the passport to Liam Duffy.

"My press passes are in there," Roscoe said. "Including my White House-"

Duffy silenced him with a raised hand, examined the passport and the contents of the wallet, and then handed all of it to Darby.

Then he made another gesture, patting his chest with both hands.

The two men standing beside him instantly started to pat down Roscoe, finally signaling that he was clean except for a wad of currency, a sheaf of papers, several ballpoint pens, a box of wooden matches, and two cigars. They handed everything to Duffy.

"How did you happen to come to this address, Mr. Danton?" Darby asked, courteously.

Roscoe decided to tell the truth.

"I saw the for-sale ad, for the BMW, in the daily bulletin at the embassy," he said. He pointed to the sheaf of papers.

"What were you doing at the embassy?"

"I went there to see if they could point me at you."

"Why would you want to be pointed at me?"

"I told you, Eleanor Dillworth said you would be helpful."

"In what way?"

"That you could point me toward Colonel Carlos Castillo."

"I know no one by that name. An Argentine Army officer?"

"An American officer, Mr. Darby," Roscoe replied, stopping himself at the last second from saying, As you fucking well know.

"I don't know what's going on here, Mr. Danton," Darby said. "But apparently someone has given you incorrect information. I'm sorry you've been inconvenienced. How did you get here?"

"In a taxi."

"Where are you staying?"

"The Plaza Hotel."

"Well, the least we can for you is give you a ride back there," Darby said. "We can do that, can't we, Liam?"

"Absolutely," Liam said.

"Nice to have met you, Mr. Danton," Darby said, and gestured toward the door.

"Likewise," Roscoe Danton snapped sarcastically. "And I'll pass on the free ride, thank you just the same."

Comandante General Liam Duffy locked eyes with Danton, and evenly said, "Let me explain something to you, Senor. There are some irregularities with your documents-"

"What kind of irregularities?" Danton interrupted angrily.

Duffy ignored him. He went on: "I'm sure they can be quickly cleared up. Possibly even today and certainly by the morning. Our usual procedure is taking people with irregular documents to our headquarters. Then we would notify the U.S. embassy and ask them to verify your documents. Sometimes, they can do that immediately. In the case of someone like yourself, a distinguished journalist, I'm sure they would go out of their way to hasten this procedure-"

"Call the public affairs officer," Danton interrupted again. "Sylvia Grunblatt. She knows who I am."

Duffy ignored him again. "-and by late today, or certainly by tomorrow morning, a consular officer would come by our headquarters, verify the legitimacy of your documents, which would then be returned to you and you could go about your business.

"But, in the meantime, you would be held. We can't, as I'm sure you understand, have people running around Buenos Aires with questionable documents. Now, partly because I am anxious to do everything I can for a prominent North American journalist such as you purport to be, and partly because Senor Darby feels sorry for you, what I'm willing to do is take you to your hotel and let you wait there. With the understanding, of course, that you would not leave the Plaza until your documents are checked and we return them to you. Believe me, Senor, the Plaza is far more comfortable a place to wait than the detention facilities at our headquarters."

Danton held up both hands at shoulder height.

"I surrender," he said. "The Plaza it is."

"Comandante, will you take this gentleman to the Plaza?"

"Si, mi comandante." "What the hell was that all about?" Julia Darby asked.

"If I were still an officer of the Clandestine Service," Alex Darby replied, "I would hazard a guess that it has something to do with this."

He held up a copy of the letter Colonel Vladlen Solomatin had given to Eric Kocian in Budapest.

"If I were still an officer of the Clandestine Service," Edgar Delchamps said, "I would know not only what Roscoe Danton is up to, but also what Comrade Colonel Solomatin is up to."

"You think I'm wrong?" Liam Duffy asked.

"No. Vladimir Putin may very well have dispatched one of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki hit squads-or several of them-to whack us all," Delchamps said. "But I don't think Roscoe Danton is a deep-cover SVR asset who came out of his closet to do the deed. He's a pretty good journalist, actually."

"What was that about Eleanor pointing him at Alex? At Charley?" Julia asked. "Did he make that up?"

"I don't think so. Eleanor got fired when Charley stole her defectors. She's pissed. Understandably," Alex Darby said. "I think she'd like to watch as Charley was castrated with a dull knife."

"I don't think she likes me much either," Delchamps said.

"And you know why," Alex said.

"I don't," Julia said.

"Quickly changing the subject," Delchamps said, "I suggest we get the hell out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Just as soon as the movers come."

"I can leave somebody here to deal with the movers," Liam said.

"And Sylvia has the car keys-and the power of attorney-to sell the car," Darby said. "Moving Julia and the boys to the safe house in Pilar until it's time to go to Ezeiza seems to be the thing to do. Honey, will you go get the boys?"

"No," Julia said. "I'm a mommy. Mommies don't like it much when their sons look at them with loathing, disgust, and ice-cold hate. You go get them."

"It's not that bad, honey," Alex argued. "People who-hell, people who sell air conditioners get transferred, with little or no notice, all the time. Their children get jerked out of school. It's not the end of the world."

"You tell them that," she said.

"They'll like Saint Albans, once they get used to it," Alex said somewhat lamely.

"Why? Because you went there?" Julia challenged.

"No. Because Al Gore and Jesse Jackson, Jr., did," Alex said, and after a moment added, "I'll be right back. With my pitiful abused namesake and his pathetic little brother." When the door to the elevator foyer had closed behind her husband, Julia asked, "What are you going to do, Edgar? Eventually, I mean."

Delchamps considered the question a long moment before replying.

"I don't know, Julia," he said. "Like Alex, this business of… of selling air conditioners… is all I know. What I won't be doing is hanging around the gate at Langley with the other dinosaurs telling spy stories."

"I didn't know what Alex did for a living until the night he proposed," Julia said. "And then he told me he was in research for the agency."

"They call that obfuscation," Delchamps said.

"You never got married, did you?"

He shook his head.

The telephone rang.

This time it was the embassy movers. [FIVE] The President's Study The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 0935 5 February 2007 "What am I looking at, Charles?" President Joshua Ezekiel Clendennen inquired of Ambassador Charles M. Montvale, the director of National Intelligence.

Before Montvale could reply, the President thought he knew the answer to his question, and went on: "This is the-what should I call it?-the package that caused all the uproar at Fort Detrick yesterday, right? And why am I looking at this now, instead of yesterday?"

"These photographs were taken less than an hour ago, Mr. President," Montvale said. "On a dirt road one hundred fifty yards inside our border near McAllen, Texas."

The President looked at him, waiting for him to continue.

"A routine patrol by the Border Patrol found that sitting on the road at about half past seven, Texas time. The intel took some time to work its way up the chain of command. The Border Patrol agents who found it reported it to their superiors, who reported it-"

"I know how a chain of command works, Charles," the President interrupted.

"Homeland Security finally got it to me just minutes ago," Montvale said.

"Cut to the chase, for Christ's sake," the President snapped. "Is that another load of Congo-X or not?"

"We are proceeding on the assumption that it is, Mr. President, and working to confirm that, one way or the other-"

"What the hell does that mean?" the President interrupted again.

"As soon as this was brought to my attention, Mr. President, I contacted Colonel Hamilton at Fort Detrick. I was prepared to fly him out there."

"And is that what's happening?"

"No, sir. Colonel Hamilton felt that opening the beer cooler on-site would be ill-advised."

"'Beer cooler'?"

"Yes, sir. The outer container is an insulated box commonly used to keep beer or, for that matter, anything else cold. They're commonly available all over. The FBI has determined the one sent to Colonel Hamilton was purchased at a Sam's Club in Miami."

"I don't know why I'm allowing myself to go off on a tangent like this, but why don't you just call it an 'insulated box'?"

"Perhaps we should, sir. But the Congo-X at Fort Detrick was in a blue rubber barrel, resembling a beer barrel, in the insulated-"

"Okay, okay. I get it. So what's with Colonel Hamilton?"

"Colonel Hamilton said further that in addition to the risk posed by opening the insulated box on-site, to determine whether whatever it holds was Congo-X or not, he would have to take all sorts of various laboratory equipment-"

"So you're moving it to Detrick, right? Is that safe?"

"We believe it is the safest step we can take, sir."

"And that's under way?"

"Yes, sir. The insulated box will be-by now has been-taken to the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in a Border Patrol helicopter. From there it will be-by now, is being-transported to Andrews Air Force Base here in a Navy C-20H. That's a Gulfstream Four, Mr. President."

"Thank you for the clarification, Charles," the President said sarcastically. "One can never know too many details like that. And when the beer cooler-slash-insulated box gets to Andrews? Is everything set up there to cause another public relations disaster, like the one we had yesterday?"

"An Army helicopter will be standing by at Andrews, sir, to fly the insulated container to Fort Detrick. It should not attract undue attention, sir."

"It better not."

"Mr. President, what caused the, the-"

"'Disaster' is probably the word you're looking for, Charles," the President said.

"-excitement at Fort Detrick yesterday was Colonel Hamilton declaring a Potential Level Four Biological Hazard Disaster. That probably won't happen today."

The President snorted, and then asked, "So what's going to happen when the insulated container from Texas is delivered to Hamilton?"

"He will determine whether the container contains more Congo-X."

"And if it does?"

"Excuse me?"

"If it does contain more of this noxious substance-now, that's an understatement, isn't it? 'Noxious substance'?-what is he going to do about that?"

"The colonel has been experimenting with high-temperature incineration as a means of destroying Congo-X. He has had some success, but he is not prepared to declare that the solution."

"So we then have several questions that need answering, don't we? One, what is this stuff? Two, how do we deal with it? More important, three, who's sending it to us? And, four, why are they sending it to us?"

"Yes, sir, that's true."

"And you have no answers?"

"I think we can safely presume, sir, that it was sent to us by the same people who were operating the 'fish farm' that we destroyed in the Congo."

"I think we can 'safely presume' that we didn't destroy everything that needed destroying in the Congo, can't we?"

"I'm afraid we have to proceed on that assumption, Mr. President."

"And you have no recommendations?"


"It seems to me our options range from sending Natalie Cohen to Moscow and Teheran to get on her knees and beg for mercy all the way up to nuking both the Kremlin and wherever that unshaven little Iranian bastard hangs his hat in Teheran."

"There are more options than those extremes, Mr. President."

"Such as?"

"Sir, it seems to me that if whoever sent these two packages of Congo-X wanted to cause us harm, they would have already done so."

"That thought has also run through my mind," Clendennen said sarcastically.

"It would therefore follow they want something. What we have to do is learn what they want."

"Would you be surprised, Charles, if I told you that thought has also run through my mind?"

Montvale didn't reply.

"I want you to set up a meeting here at, say, five," the President said. "We'll brainstorm it. You, Natalie, the DCI, the FBI director, the secretary of Defense, the heads of Homeland Security and the DIA. And Colonel Hamilton, too. By then he'll probably know if this new stuff is more Congo-X or not. In any event, he can bring everybody up to speed on what he does know."

"Yes, sir. That's probably a good idea."

"I thought you might think so," President Clendennen said. [SIX] The Office of the Director of National Intelligence Eisenhower Executive Office Building 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 1010 5 February 2007 Truman C. Ellsworth, whose title was "executive assistant to the director of National Intelligence," learned only after having served in that position for three months that the title was most commonly used by members of the secretarial sorority to denote those women who were more than just secretaries. Those females who had, in other words, their own secretaries to do the typing, filing, and fetching of coffee.

By the time he found out, it was too late to do anything about it.

Ellsworth, a tall, silver-haired, rather elegant man in his fifties, had chosen the title himself when Charles M. Montvale had asked him to again leave his successful, even distinguished law practice in New York to work for him, as his deputy, in the newly created Directorate of National Intelligence.

He wouldn't have the title of deputy, Montvale explained, because there was already a deputy director of National Intelligence, whom Montvale privately described as "a connected cretin" who had been appointed by the President in the discharge of some political debt.

Montvale said he would make-and he quickly had made-it clear that Truman C. Ellsworth was number two in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and that any title would do. Ellsworth chose "executive assistant" because an executive is someone who executes and he was inarguably going to be Montvale's assistant.

In this role, while Charles M. Montvale sat on his office couch, Truman C. Ellsworth sat behind Montvale's desk and called first the secretary of State, Natalie Cohen, whom he knew socially well enough to address by her first name, and told her that the President had asked "the boss" to set up a five o'clock meeting at the White House to discuss "a new development in the Congo business."

She said she would of course be there.

Then Truman called, in turn, Wyatt Vanderpool, the secretary of Defense; John "Jack" Powell, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Mark Schmidt, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Lieutenant General William W. Withers, U.S. Army, the commanding general of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He told them, somewhat more curtly, that "the ambassador" had told him to call them to summon them to a five P.M. brainstorming session at the White House vis-a-vis the new development in the Congo affair. He wasn't able to reach the secretary of Homeland Security, but he did get through to Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Mason Andrews.

Ellsworth returned the telephone receiver to its cradle and reported as much to Ambassador Montvale: "I got through to everybody but DHS, Charles. I had to settle for Mason Andrews."

"I wish I had thought of this when you had Jack Powell on the line," Montvale said.

"Thought of what, Charles?"

"Castillo may be involved in this-probably is, in some way-and I have no idea where he is."

Ellsworth's eyebrows rose.

"I daresay that the colonel, retired, in compliance with his orders, has dropped off the face of the earth."

"I want to know where he is," Montvale said. "I forgot that the President told me the next time he asked, he expected me to be able to tell him where Castillo is."

"Well, you can tell Jack Powell to start looking for him when you see him at the White House."

"That's seven hours from now," Montvale said. "Get him on a secure line, please, Truman. I will speak with him."

Ellsworth reached for a red telephone on the desk, and said into it, "White House, will you please get DCI Powell on a secure line for Ambassador Montvale?" [ONE] Estancia San Joaquin Near San Martin de los Andes Patagonia Neuquen Province, Argentina 1645 5 February 2007 From the air, the landing strip at Estancia San Joaquin looked like a dirt road running along the Chimehuin River, which arguably was the best trout-fishing river in the world.

It was only when the manager of the estancia heard the Aero Commander-which he expected-overhead and threw a switch that the aeronautical function of the dirt road became obvious. The switch (a) caused lights marking both ends of the runway to rise from the ground and begin to flash, and (b) another hydraulic piston to rise, this one with a flashing arrow indicating the direction of the wind.

The sleek, twin-engined, high-wing airplane touched down and taxied to a large, thatched-roof farm building near the road. There, part of what looked like the wall of the farm building swung open and, as soon as the pilot shut down the engines, a half-dozen men pushed the aircraft into what was actually a hangar. There was a Bell Ranger helicopter parked inside.

The door/wall closed, the marking lights sank back into the ground, and the airfield again became a dirt road running along the tranquil Chimehuin River.

Edgar Delchamps was the first to emerge from the airplane.

Max ran to greet him, which he did by resting his paws on Delchamps's shoulder as he kissed him.

It was a long moment before the dog had enough and Delchamps could straighten up.

"Funny, I would never have taken you for a trout fisherman," Charley Castillo greeted him.

Castillo was wearing a yellow polo shirt, khaki trousers, a battered Stetson hat, and even more battered Western boots.

"Ha-ha," Delchamps responded.

Delchamps pointed to the helicopter and raised his eyebrows.

"Our host's," Castillo said. "Alek loans it to me from time to time, when I have something important to do, like going fishing."

Alex Darby came out of the airplane next, followed by Liam Duffy, and finally a man wearing a Gendarmeria Nacional uniform and pilot's wings.

Darby and Castillo shook hands. Liam Duffy wrapped his arm around Castillo's shoulders and hugged him.

"Ace, your pal Alek wouldn't happen to be here, would he?" Delchamps asked.

"As a matter of fact, he is."

"Why do I think Alek is not here to fish?" Delchamps said.

"Because in a previous life, you were trained to be suspicious," Castillo replied. "You're going to have to adjust to our changed circumstances." When he saw the look on Delchamps's face, he went on: "But since you ask, at a few minutes after seven this morning, Alek and I were out on the beautiful Rio Chimehuin catching our breakfast."

"Then Pevsner doesn't know about the letter?"

"Charley," Liam Duffy interrupted, nodding at the pilot. "We're going to have to get Primer Alferez Sanchez to the airport."

Primer Alferez, Alferez Sanchez, who had piloted the Aero Commander, was the equivalent of first lieutenant in the gendarmeria. And Castillo saw his unhappy look.

He's thinking, "I'm being gotten rid of so I won't learn what's going on here."

And he's right to be pissed. Liam could have handled that better; the last thing we want is a pilot who knows more than he should harboring a grudge.

Duffy's sometimes the sort of commander whose officers loathe him.

"Sanchez, what did you think of the new avionics in that old bird?" Castillo asked, switching to Spanish, and smiling at the pilot.

"Fantastic!" the pilot replied. "All I had to do was take it off and land it. The navigation was entirely automatic, and when I dropped out of the cloud cover, I was lined up with the runway."

"We're working on that," Castillo said. "The idea is to eliminate pilots like you and me."

"I'm not sure I'd like that, senor."

"As I was just telling my friend here, one has to adjust to changed circumstances. I'm sorry there's no time to offer you a drink, but Aerolineas Argentinas waits for no man, and if you don't get to the San Martin de los Andes airport in the next forty-five minutes…"

"I understand, senor," the pilot said, and then came to attention. "With your permission, mi comandante?"

Duffy nodded. The pilot saluted and Duffy returned it.

"Sanchez," Castillo said, "don't tell anyone about the avionics."

"El comandante made that clear on the way here, senor."

Delchamps waited until the pilot had left the hangar, and then said, "Tell me about the changed circumstances, Ace."

"I hardly know where to start," Castillo said.

"Try starting with telling me whether or not Pevsner has seen Solomatin's letter."

"Gladly," Castillo said. "Okay, starting at the beginning: Alek's man went on the net as scheduled at oh-four-twenty hundred Zulu."

"'Alek's man went on the net'? Our net?"

"I thought you knew that all of us are retired and have fallen off the face of the earth. We now have people to do things like going on the net at one-twenty in the morning."

Delchamps and Darby both shook their heads. This was unexpected.

"So Alek's guy," Castillo went on, "went on the net at oh-one-twenty local time. At oh-one-twenty-two, Colonel V. N. Solomatin's letter came through, five by five. At oh-one-twenty-five, Alek telephoned me here, waking me from the sleep of the innocent, to tell me he had a letter from Cousin Vladlen and that he wanted me to see it as soon as possible."

"Paul Sieno told me Kocian wanted to get the letter to you without anyone else seeing it."

"Don't anyone let Alek know you're surprised that he has seen it. We now have no secrets from Alek."

"Jesus Christ!" Delchamps said.

"So I told him that I'd fire up"-Castillo pointed to the Bell Ranger-"at first light, go pick him up, and he could show me Cousin Vladlen's letter. Or, better yet, bring him back here and he could have breakfast with Sweaty and me, we'd all read Cousin Vladlen's letter, and then go fishing to kill the time until you, Darby, and Duffy got here. Since that was the best idea he'd heard so far this week, Alek said that was fine, and he'd bring Tom Barlow along, since the letter was addressed to him in the first place."

"So Colonel Berezovsky is here, too?" Darby asked. "I wondered where he was."

"Aside from my belief that Colonel Dmitri Berezovsky has also fallen off the face of the earth," Castillo said, "I have no idea where he might be. Tom Barlow, however, is at the San Joaquin Lodge."

"And Sweaty has seen the letter, no doubt?"

"Certainly, Sweaty has seen it. How could I possibly not show it to her? Alek would have anyway."

Delchamps shook his head in resignation.

"Okay. Can we go now?"

"You don't want to know what else has happened?" Castillo asked.

"I'm afraid to ask."

"Well, we had another offer of employment from those people in Las Vegas," Castillo said.

"To do what?"

"It seems that someone sent Colonel Hamilton a rubber beer barrel full of whatever it was Hamilton brought out of the Congo…"

"Jesus H. Christ!" Darby exclaimed.

"… and they wanted us to find out who did it and why."

"And?" Delchamps asked.

"I told them, sorry, we have all fallen off the face of the earth."

"What the hell is that all about?" Darby asked.

"It's none of our business," Castillo said.

"They were supposed to have destroyed everything in a twenty-mile area around that place in the Congo," Darby said.

"So they said," Castillo said.

"You think there's some sort of connection between that and Solomatin's letter?" Darby asked.

"I don't know, but you can count on Alek asking you that question."

He gestured toward an open rear door of the hangar. Two shiny olive-drab Land Rovers sat there.

"I think we can all get in one of those, can't we?" Castillo asked. [TWO] The Lodge at Estancia San Joaquin was a single-story stone masonry building on a small rise perhaps fifty feet above and one hundred yards from the Chimehuin River.

It had been designed to comfortably house, feed, and entertain trout fishermen from all over the world, never more than eight at a time, usually four or five, who were charged three thousand dollars a day. The furniture was simple and massive. The chairs and armchairs were generously padded with foam-filled leather cushions.

The wide windows of the great room offered a view of the Chimehuin River and the snow-capped Andes mountains. There was a well-stocked bar, a deer head with an enormous rack above the fireplace, a billiards table, a full bookcase, and two fifty-six-inch flat-screen televisions mounted so one of them was visible from anywhere in the room.

There were four people in the great room-plus a bartender and a maid-when Castillo and the others walked in: Tom Barlow, his sister Susan, and Aleksandr Pevsner, a tall, dark-haired man-like Castillo and Barlow in his late thirties-whose eyes were large, blue, and extraordinarily bright. The fourth man was Janos, Pevsner's hulking bodyguard, of whom it was said that he was never farther away from Pevsner than was Max from Castillo.

There were fourteen Interpol warrants out for the arrest of Pevsner under his own name and the seven other identities he was known to use.

Barlow was dressed like Castillo, in khaki trousers and a polo shirt. Pevsner was similarly clothed, except that his polo shirt was silk and his trousers were fine linen. The men were at the billiards table.

Susan, who was leaning over a coffee table, fork poised to spear an oyster, was dressed like Castillo and her brother, except her polo shirt was linen and her khakis were shorts. Short shorts. Her clothing and posture left virtually nothing to the imagination about her bosom, legs, and the contours of her derriere.

"Funny," Edgar Delchamps said, "I would never have taken Sweaty for a fisherman."

Susan/Sweaty looked up from the platter of oysters, popped one in her mouth, smiled at Delchamps, and gave him the finger.

It was a gesture she had learned from Castillo and subsequently had used, with relish, frequently.

Pevsner carefully laid his cue on the billiards table, then walked to Delchamps, Darby, and Duffy, and wordlessly shook their hands. Tom Barlow waved at them.

"I'm sure you're hungry," Pevsner said. "I can have them prepare supper for you now. Or, if you'd rather, there's oysters and cold lobster to-what is it Charley says?-munch on to hold you until dinner."

"How the hell do you get oysters and lobster in the middle of Patagonia?" Darby said as he walked to the coffee table to examine what was on display.

"I have a small seafood business in Chile," Pevsner said.

That triggered a tidal wave of doubt and concern in Castillo, surprising him both by its intensity and the speed with which it hit him and then grew.

It started with his reaction to Pevsner's saying he had a "small seafood business in Chile."

A small seafood business, my ass, Castillo had thought sarcastically. It's called Cancun Provisions, Limited, and it flies a Boeing 777-200LR full of seafood to Cancun every other day. The 777 is owned by Peruaire. And you own that, too.

Was that natural modesty, Alek, or was the modesty a Pavlovian reflex of a former KGB colonel?

"Say as little as possible; deflect attention."

How much can I really trust Comrade Polkovnik Pevsner?

Right now he tells me I'm family. In love-intending to marry-his cousin Susan, formerly Podpolkovnik Svetlana Alekseeva of the SVR.

But how long will that last if whatever the hell is going on here threatens his wife and children or his way of life?

Most of the charges laid against him are bullshit.

But, on the other hand, I know he supervised the beating to death with an angle iron a man who betrayed him. Or used the angle iron himself. Probably the latter.

My friend Alek is not a nice man.

Edgar Delchamps neither likes nor trusts Alek, and has told me so bluntly. And I know I can trust Delchamps. He's been dealing with Russian spooks-successfully dealing with them-for nearly as long as I am old.

Castillo was as suddenly brought out of his unpleasant reverie as quickly as he had entered it.

There were soft fingers on his cheeks, the scent of perfume in his nostrils, and light blue eyes intently searching his.

"My darling," Sweaty asked. "What's the matter?"


"You look like you'd seen a ghost!"

He shook his head, said, "I'm fine, baby." He put his hand on her back and felt her warmth though the linen shirt.

Sweaty rose on her toes and kissed him on the lips with great tenderness.

Edgar Delchamps's face showed signs of amused scorn.

Castillo gave him the finger with the hand that had been against Sweaty's back, and announced, "I need a drink."

He mimed to the bartender what he wanted. The bartender, a shaven-headed, barrel-chested man in his thirties, nodded and reached for a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon. Castillo knew that the crisp white bartender's jacket concealed a Micro Uzi submachine gun.

The bartender was one of the nearly one hundred ex-members of the KGB or the SVR whom Pevsner had brought out of Russia to work for him. And from the looks of him, the bartender was probably ex-Spetsnaz.

There was the snap of fingers.

The bartender looked at Pevsner, who held up two fingers, and then pointed to two armchairs by the coffee table. The bartender nodded.

Pevsner waved Castillo toward the armchairs. Sweaty steered Castillo away from the armchair and to the couch and then sat beside him. Pevsner's face showed much the same amused scorn as Delchamps's face had. Castillo reacted by leaning over to Sweaty and kissing her.

Max walked to the coffee table, sniffed, decided he would pass on the seafood, and went and lay at Castillo's feet.

The bartender served the bourbon to Pevsner and Castillo, then looked to the others for orders. Sweaty shook her head. Delchamps ordered, in Russian, Scotch whisky on the rocks, two chunks only, and a glass of water on the side.

How did he know he's Russian?

Was that a way to find out?

The bartender looked at Darby and Duffy, and in English said, "What may I get for you, gentlemen?"

Pevsner looked genuinely amused, and he even made a little joke when everyone had their drinks and had taken seats around the plates of cold lobster chunks and oysters laid out on the coffee table.

"Well," Pevsner said. "Now that we're all here, whatever shall we chat about?"

Tom Barlow took the chair Pevsner had wanted Castillo to sit in, bringing with him an ice-covered bottle of vodka and a frozen glass.

"My call?" Delchamps asked.

Pevsner gestured for him to go on.

"Is that letter genuine?" Delchamps asked. "Is it really from Cousin Vladlen, or did Solomatin just sign what somebody put in front of him?"

"That's two questions, Edgar," Tom Barlow said. "Yes, I think the letter is genuine. And I think Cousin Vladlen wrote it. But he would have signed anything put in front of him by General Sirinov. Cousin Vladlen has built his career by doing whatever he is told to do."

"I know people like that in the agency," Delchamps said, smiling. "Is he really your cousin?"

"His father is our mother's brother," Barlow said, pointing at Sweaty.

"How come Cousin Vladlen didn't get burned when you and Sweaty took off?"

"General Sirinov may have believed him when he said he had no hint what Svetlana and I were planning. Vladlen's a respected oprichnik."

"A what?" Darby asked.

"That's right," Castillo said. "You weren't here for this history lesson, were you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Darby said.

"An 'oprichnik' is a member of the Oprichnina, the secret police state-within-the-state that goes back to Ivan the Terrible," Castillo said, and looked at Sweaty. "Did I get that right, sweetheart? Do I get a gold star to take home to Mommy?"

She smiled and shook her head resignedly.

"I'll explain it to you later, Alex," Castillo said.

"Tell me about General Sirinov," Delchamps said.

"General Yakov Sirinov runs the FSB and the SVR for Putin," Pevsner said.

"Putin as in Prime Minister Putin?"

"As in Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, formerly president of the Russian Federation, and before that, polkovnik of the KGB, and before that…"

"Oh, that Putin," Delchamps said.

Castillo and Barlow chuckled.

"You think Putin's personally involved in this?" Castillo asked.

"Up to the nipples of his underdeveloped chest," Pevsner said.

"I'm getting the feeling you don't like him much," Delchamps said.

Pevsner chuckled.

"Is anyone interested in the possible scenario I've come up with?" Pevsner then said.

"Does a bear shit in the forest?" Delchamps asked in Russian.

"There's a lady present, Edgar," Castillo said.

"She's not a lady, she's an SVR podpolkovnik," Delchamps said.

Sweaty gave him the finger.

"A former lieutenant colonel of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki," she corrected him. "Which has nothing to do with whether or not I'm a lady."

"I hate to tell you this, Sweaty, but it's a stretch to think of anyone-how do I put this delicately?-consorting with Ace here as being a lady."

Sweaty and Castillo both gave him the finger.

"Anyway," Delchamps said, "according to that letter, 'all is forgiven, come home.' That sounds as if someone still thinks of you as an SVR podpolkovnik in good standing."

"Alek, do they really think anyone is going to believe that letter?" Castillo asked. "That Tom and Sweaty are going to be 'welcomed home as loyal Russians'?"

"I am a loyal Russian," Svetlana said. "But loyal to Russia, not to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin."

"That-loyalty, loyalty to Russia, or even loyalty to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin personally-may be at the bottom of this," Pevsner said.

"What do you mean?"

"Putin wants Dmitri and Svetlana to come home."

"Is he stupid enough to think they'd be stupid enough to go back?" Castillo asked.

"No one who knows him-and I know Vladimir Vladimirovich very well-has ever suggested he's stupid," Pevsner replied. "And Dmitri… Tom… knows him even better than I do."

"I hate to use the word 'genius,'" Tom Barlow said, "but…"

"How about 'evil genius'?" Svetlana suggested.

"Why not?" Barlow said chuckling.

"So what is the evil genius up to?" Castillo asked.

"I wonder if you understand, Charley-at least as well as Edgar and Alek do-how important it is for the FSB and the SVR to appear both to the people and, more important, to its own members as all-powerful and without fault."

Castillo's temper flared.

But when he spoke, his voice was low and soft. Those who knew him knew that meant he was really angry.

"I don't even know what the Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti and the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki are," he said, speaking Russian with a Saint Petersburg accent. "Perhaps before we go any further, someone will be kind enough to tell me."

"I hate to tell you this, Alek," Delchamps said in Russian, "but I think you just pissed Ace off."

After a moment, during which Pevsner looked carefully at Castillo, he said, "More important, Edgar, I once again underestimated my friend Charley. I tend to do that. It probably has something to do with his sophomoric sense of humor. No offense was intended, Charley."

"Offense taken, Polkovnik Pevsner," Castillo said. "In other words, screw you, friend Alek."

Pevsner shook his head, and smiled.

"Let me continue," Pevsner said. "Not long ago, all was right in the world of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. He had both finally taken over the KGB and its successor organizations and was president of the Russian Federation.

"He could start to restore the Russian Empire. With a good deal of help from me, he had managed to keep most of the KGB's money out of the hands of those misguided souls who thought it belonged to the people of Russia.

"He would have to deal with me, eventually, of course. I knew too much, and I had too much of what he considered the KGB's money. But that could wait-what does Charley say?-could 'sit on the back burner' until the right time came.

"He was so happy with the way things were going that when General Sirinov came to him with an idea to tweak the American lion's tail at little cost and with minimum risk-using a group of converts to Islam; there would be minimal Russian involvement-he told him to go ahead.

"What he was going to do was have the Muslims crash an airliner into the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. There was an old American airplane sitting deserted on a runway in Angola. This plane would be stolen, equipped with additional fuel tanks, flown to Philadelphia, and…"

He made a diving gesture with his hand.

"I always thought he came up with that idea himself," Tom Barlow said.

"He could have," Pevsner said. "But Sirinov has the better imagination. It doesn't matter. I think of the both of them as one, as Putin-slash-Sirinov."

"Point taken," Barlow said.

"Enter friend Charley," Pevsner said, waving a hand in Castillo's direction. "A lowly U.S. Army major who, not having a clue about what was going on, jumped to the conclusion that the evil arms dealer Vasily Respin or the smuggler Alex Dondiemo or even the more mysterious and wicked Aleksandr Pevsner had stolen the 727 from the field at Luanda, Angola, for their criminal purposes and set out to reclaim it."

Everyone was aware that "Dondiemo" and "Respin" were two of the identities Pevsner used when he thought it was necessary.

"When this came to my attention through a man I had working for me and at that point trusted-Howard Kennedy-"

"That's the ex-FBI agent who was beaten to death by parties unknown in the Conrad Casino in Punta del Este?" Darby asked.

"That's the fellow. Kennedy looked into Major Castillo and reported what he had learned to me. Some of this-for example, that Major Charley Castillo was also Karl Wilhelm von und zu Gossinger, majority shareholder of the Gossinger Beteiligungsgesellschaft, G.m.b.H., empire and that he was working directly for the American President-made me rethink my original solution to the problem."

"Which was?" Delchamps asked.

"An Indian beauty mark," Pevsner replied matter-of-factly, tapping the center of his forehead with his index finger.

"That sometimes takes care of problems like that," Delchamps said.

"God wouldn't let you kill my Charley," Sweaty said seriously.

"Possibly. I never underestimate the power of divine intervention," Pevsner said. "But at the time, I thought it was just common sense. My primary motive was to avoid drawing attention to myself. But, now that I think about it, at the time, I was asking God's help to avoid taking anyone's life unnecessarily, so perhaps, Svetlana, you're right, and God was involved."

Charley smiled when he saw Alex Darby's face. It showed that he was having difficulty with Sweaty's and Pevsner's matter-of-fact references to the Almighty.

They don't sound much like godless Communists, do they, Alex? Maybe more like members of the Flaming Bush Church of Christ in Porter's Crossroads, Georgia?

"So," Pevsner went on, "I arranged to meet Charley in Vienna, to see if I could reason with him, come to some kind of understanding-"

"What you did, Alek," Castillo interrupted, "was have that sonofabitch Kennedy blindside me while I was taking a leak in the men's room of the Sacher Hotel bar. Then he dragged me, at gunpoint, up to the Cobenzl."

"Lovely spot," Delchamps said. "I know it well. Just hearing 'Cobenzl' makes me think of fair-haired madchen and hear the romantic tinkle of the zither."

This earned him a look of mingled disbelief and annoyance from Pevsner.

After a moment, Pevsner said, "The moment I first saw Charley, I realized that it would be painful for me to have to give him a beauty spot. And, Svet, now that I think about, I did ask God to help me spare his life."

Darby was now really confused. He kept looking at Delchamps and Duffy to get their reaction to Pevsner's continued references to the Deity. But knowing of the genuine-if more than a little unusual-deep faith of Pevsner and the other Russians, their faces showed neither surprise or confusion.

"And that's the way it worked out," Pevsner went on. "Charley and I had a cigar and a little cognac watching night fall in Vienna, and then we went to dinner."

"At the Drei Hussars," Charley furnished. "Around the corner from the Opera House. By the time it was over, Alek and I were buddies."

Pevsner gave him an annoyed look.

"Charley," Pevsner continued, "said that he would do what he could with the President to call off the CIA and the FBI-they were then trying very hard to find me-if I would help him find the missing aircraft. I took a chance and trusted him.

"I admit that finding the missing 727 wasn't difficult for me. I operate a number of airplanes in sub-Saharan Africa, and all of my crews always keep their eyes open for things in which they think I might be interested.

"Cutting a long story short, Charley was able to take the 727 back from the Muslims before they could do any damage with it. And, as he said he would, he got the President to call off the FBI and the CIA.

"I did not know of General Sirinov's plan to tweak the American lion's tail, and Sirinov had no reason to suspect that I even knew Charley, much less that I was the one who had been instrumental in upsetting it.

"He did learn, of course, that Charley had flown the aircraft into MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Charley was thus added to Sirinov's list of people to be dealt with when the opportunity presented itself.

"Next, friend Charley messed up another SVR operation. Sirinov sent a team-under Cuban Direccion General de Inteligencia Major Alejandro Vincenzo-to Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Komogorov, his FSB man in charge of operations in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, to eliminate a man who knew too much and had also made off with sixteen million dollars of the SVR's money. When that escapade was over, Vincenzo and his men were dead, and Charley had the sixteen million dollars.

"Since Komogorov needed somebody to blame for that disaster, he decided to blame it on me, reasoning that if I were dead, I couldn't protest my innocence. So he paid a large sum of money to my trusted assistant, the late Mr. Howard Kennedy, to arrange for me to be assassinated in the garage of the Sheraton Hotel in Pilar, outside Buenos Aires.

"When that was over, I was alive and Komogorov wasn't. Corporal Lester Bradley had put an Indian beauty spot on his right eye. The others on his team were taken out by others working for friend Charley. And Mr. Kennedy went to meet his maker shortly thereafter.

"All of this tended to reduce the all-powerful, faultless image of both the FSB and the SVR, which meant that the power of Sirinov and Vladimir Vladimirovich was becoming questionable.

"Sirinov decided to settle the matter once and for all. With a great deal of effort, Sirinov ordered the simultaneous assassinations of a man in Vienna known to be a longtime deep cover asset of the CIA; a reporter for one of Charley's newspapers who was asking the wrong questions about Russian involvement in the oil-for-food program; Liam Duffy, who had interrupted a previously successful SVR drug operation in Argentina and Paraguay; and-"

"So they're all connected," Alex Darby said.

"Oh, yes. Please let me finish," Pevsner said. "And the assassination of another of Charley's men, a policeman in Philadelphia, who knew the Muslims who planned to crash an airplane into the Liberty Bell were not smart enough to conceive of, much less try to execute, an operation like that by themselves and suspected the SVR was involved.

"When only the assassinations of the CIA asset in Vienna and of the journalist were successful, Sirinov had to report this failure to Putin. So far as Vladimir Vladimirovich is concerned, there is no such thing as a partial success. And Sirinov knew that the only thing worse than reporting a failure to Vladimir Vladimirovich was not having a credible plan to make things right.

"And he had one: Dmitri and Svetlana had been ordered to Vienna to participate in a conference of senior SVR officers. The cover was the presence in Vienna of Bartolomeo Rastrelli's wax statue of Peter the First, which the Hermitage had generously loaned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

"The Tages Zeitung journalist whom he had managed to eliminate was going to be buried with much ceremony in Marburg an der Lahn, Germany. There was no question that Eric Kocian and Otto Gorner, managing director of Gossinger G.m.b.H. would be there. With a little bit of luck, so would Karl von und zu Gossinger, who was not only the owner of the Gossinger empire but Lieutenant Colonel Castillo, who had been causing the SVR so much trouble. All three-plus at least some of Charley's people who would be with him-could be eliminated at the same time.

"Tom's train would pass through Marburg on its way to Vienna. So Sirinov dispatched a team of Hungarians-ex-Allamvedelmi Hatosag-to Marburg, with orders to report to Polkovnik Berezovsky. Sirinov knew Dmitri-Tom-could be counted upon to supervise their assassination assignment with his well-known skill for that sort of thing. And then catch the next train to Vienna.

"Well, that turned out to be an even greater disaster for General Sirinov, as we all know."

"Through God's infinite mercy," Svetlana said very seriously.

She crossed herself.

"Svet," Pevsner said seriously, "you may very possibly be right, but there's also the possibility that it was the incompetence of the CIA station chief in Vienna that saved Charley and Kocian from the ministrations of the Allamvedelmi Hatosag."

"It was the hand of God," Svetlana said firmly.

"Possibly, Sweaty, it was the hand of God that contributed to Miss Eleanor Dillworth's incompetence," Delchamps said. "Same result, right?"

Svetlana looked at him coldly, not sure-but deeply suspecting-that he was being sarcastic.

"Eleanor is not incompetent," Alex Darby said loyally.

"Come on," Delchamps said. "She was incompetent in Vienna. The rezident there… what was his name?"

"Podpolkovnik Kiril Demidov," Barlow furnished. "He used to work for me."

"Demidov was onto Dillworth," Delchamps said firmly. "Maybe he didn't know it was Tom and Sweaty, but he knew that-Jesus Christ!-Dillworth had a plane sitting at Schwechat airfield ready to haul some defector, or defectors, away from the Kunsthistorisches Museum."

"You don't know that," Darby protested.

"I know that your pal Eleanor should have known that Demidov was going to take out the Kuhls. And once that happened, she didn't have a clue what to do next. I asked her. She said she was 'waiting for instructions from Langley.'"

"If I may continue, gentlemen?" Pevsner said a little impatiently.

"I didn't trust her, Edgar," Tom Barlow said, ignoring Pevsner. "I don't know if it was that I thought she wasn't professional or what."

"It was the hand of God," Svetlana insisted.

"But once I saw the picture in the Frankfurter Rundschau of Charley getting off his private jet," Barlow went on, "I decided that Svetlana and I were going to leave Europe on that aircraft if I had to give him Sirinov and all the ex-Allamvedelmi Hatosag people."

"And from that moment, until we walked into Alek's house here, everything went smoothly," Svetlana said. "Does no one see the hand of God in that?"

"I do," Castillo said.

When Sweaty looked at him, he sang, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

"Don't mock God, Charley!" she snapped furiously and moved away from him on the couch.

"Well," Pevsner said, "Dmitri and Svetlana were not intercepted in Vienna, and that was the end of that. Except of course that Liam applied the Old Testament eye-for-an-eye principle to Lavrenti Tarasov and Evgeny Alekseev, who had come to Argentina in search of Tom and Svetlana."

"Not quite," Delchamps said. "Alex's good buddy, Miss Dillworth, sicced a reporter-a good one: Roscoe J. Danton of The Washington Times-Post-on Charley. He came to Alex's apartment just before we got out of there."

"A reporter? What did he want?" Castillo asked.

"He wanted you, Ace. He probably wants to know why you stole Sweaty and Tom out from under Miss Dillworth's nose. And if Dillworth told him about that, I wouldn't be at all surprised if she told him you left the Vienna rezident-what was his name? Demidov?-sitting in a taxi outside our embassy with an Allamvedelmi Hatosag garrote around his neck, and her calling card on his chest."

"I had nothing to do with that, as you goddamn well know. The story going around is that some old company dinosaur did that."

"You sound like you think I had something to do with it," Delchamps said.

"Do I?" Castillo said sarcastically.

"Funny thing about those old company dinosaurs, Charley. You're too young of course to know much about them. But they really believe in what it says in the Old Testament about an eye for an eye, and if they do something like what happened to Demidov, they never, ever, 'fess up to it."

"Changing the subject just a little," Tom Barlow said. "I think we should throw this into the facts bearing on the problem: Just as soon as Sirinov and/ or Vladimir Vladimirovich heard that the Americans had taken out the Fish Farm, they realized that information had to have come from me."

"You don't know that," Castillo argued.

"In our profession, Charley," Tom said, "we never know anything. All we ever have is a hypothesis-or many hypotheses-based on what we think we know."

"Touche," Castillo said.

"We all forget that at one time or another," Barlow said.

Castillo met his eyes, and thought, That was kind of you, Tom.

But all it did was remind everyone in this room that I am the least experienced spook in it.

Which, truth be told, I am.

"One of the things I was tasked to do in Berlin was make sure that the Fish Farm got whatever it needed," Barlow went on. "It's not hard to come up with a hypothesis that Sirinov and Vladimir Vladimirovich reasoned that since Polkovnik Berezovsky knew about the Fish Farm and it was destroyed shortly after Polkovnik Berezovsky defected to the Americans, whose CIA had looked into the matter and decided the factory was indeed a fish farm, Polkovnik Berezovsky told the Americans what it really was."

"You knew what the CIA thought?" Charley asked.

"Of course," Barlow said.

"You had… have… a mole?"

"Of course, but you don't need a mole to learn things like that," Barlow said. "Actually you can often learn more from a disgruntled worker who wouldn't think of betraying her country than from an asset on the payroll."

"Your pal Dillworth, for example, Alex," Delchamps said. "What is it they say, 'Hell hath no fury like a pissed-off female'?"

"Eleanor is a pro," Darby said, again showing his loyalty.

"She pointed Roscoe Danton at Charley," Delchamps argued. "What hypothesis does that suggest?"

Darby looked at Delchamps angrily, looked for a moment as if he were going to reply, but in the end said nothing.

Castillo said, "What's your hypothesis, Tom, about the stuff from the Congo suddenly showing up at Fort Detrick?"

"Well, it's clear it's got something to do with this," Barlow replied. "What, I don't know."

"It could have something to do with Vladimir Vladimirovich's ego," Pevsner said.

"He couldn't resist the temptation to let us know that we didn't wipe the Fish Farm off the face of the earth?" Delchamps offered.

Pevsner nodded.

"If he's got that stuff, he could have used it, and he didn't," Castillo said thoughtfully.

"So, what's next?" Delchamps said. "I buy that stick-it-up-your-ass motive, Alek, but I don't think that's all there is to it."

Pevsner nodded his agreement.

"So Charley has to tell those people in Las Vegas that he's changed his mind about working for them," Barlow said.

"Why would I want to do that?" Castillo replied. "The Office of Organizational Analysis no longer exists. I am in compliance with my orders to fall off the face of the earth and never be seen again. Sweaty and I are going to build a vine-covered cottage by the side of the road and live happily therein forever afterward."

"There goes that sophomoric sense of humor of yours again," Pevsner snapped.

"How so?" Castillo replied.

"Vladimir Vladimirovich is going to come after you. And Svetlana," Pevsner said. "You ought to read a little Mao Zedong. He wrote that 'the only real defense is active defense.'"

"Did he really?" Castillo said. "I wonder where he got that?"

"Probably from Sun-tzu," Svetlana said seriously. "That's where most people think Machiavelli got it."

"Sun-tzu?" Castillo asked. "That's the Chinaman who turned two hundred of the emperor's concubines into soldiers and won the war with them? I've always been an admirer of his."

"It was one hundred eighty concubines," Svetlana said. "He got their attention by beheading the first of them who thought it was funny and giggled, and then he beheaded the second one who giggled, and then so on down the line until he came to one who understood that what was going on was no laughing matter."

"Does anybody else think Sweaty's trying to make a point?" Delchamps asked innocently.

"Let me make a point, several points," Castillo said seriously. "One, as far as the intelligence community is concerned, I'm a pariah. So is everybody ever connected with the OOA. They hated us when we had the blessing of the President, and now hating us is politically correct. I'll bet right now both the company and the FBI-hell, all the alphabet agencies-have a 'locate but do not detain' bulletin out on us. They're not going to help us at all. Quite the opposite: If we start playing James Bond again, we'll find ourselves counting paint flecks on the wall at the Florence maximum security prison in Colorado.

"And, if I have to say this, we'll have less than zero help from anybody."

"I think you're wrong about that, Charley," Barlow said. "We know that-"

"Let me finish, Tom," Castillo said sharply. "Point two-probably the most important thing-is that any operation we might try to run would have to have a leader. And C. Castillo, Retired, cannot be that leader. What did President Johnson say? 'I shall not seek, nor will I accept…'"

"You're wrong about that, too, Ace," Delchamps said. "I for one won't go-and I don't think any of the others will-unless you're running the show. And we have to go, since the option to that is sitting around waiting for some SVR hit squad to whack us. And, Romeo, what about the fair Juliet? You're going to just sit around holding Sweaty's hand waiting for the hit squad to whack her? Worse, drag her back to Mother Russia?"

"You don't know how the others will feel," Castillo said, more than a little lamely.

"Hypothesis: They'll all go. Any questions?" Delchamps said.

"Count me in, Charley," Alex Darby said.

"I wouldn't know where to start," Castillo said.

"I'm not sure if you've ever heard this before," Barlow said. "But some people in our line of work think collecting as much intelligence as possible as quickly as possible is a good way to start."

"And how would I go about doing that?"

"That's what I started to say a moment ago," Barlow said. "You were there, Charley, in that suite in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas when those people as much as told us that the director of Central Intelligence is either one of them, or damn close to them."

"I don't remember that," Castillo said.

"The man who was a Naval Academy graduate quoted verbatim to you the unkind things you said to the DCI, something about the agency being 'a few very good people trying to stay afloat in a sea of left-wing bureaucrats.' Who do you think told him about that?"

"I remember now," Castillo said. "But I really had forgotten. That's not much of a recommendation, is it?"

"Charley, I said I'd take your orders," Delchamps said. "But… You saw The Godfather?"

"Yes, of course."

"Both Brando and the son-Pacino? De Niro? I never can keep them straight-had a consigliere. Think of me as Robert Duvall."

"Think of us both as Robert Duvall," Barlow said. "It was Al Pacino."

"I don't think so," Delchamps said.

"Can either of my consiglieri suggest how I can get in touch with those people?"

"Well, if you hadn't been gulping down all that Wild Turkey, I'd suggest you fly everybody to Carinhall in Alek's chopper. But since you have been soaking up the booze, I guess we'll have to drive over there and get on Casey's radio."

"No," Castillo said. "There's a Casey radio in the Aero Commander."

"It fits?" Delchamps asked, surprised.

"Aloysius's stuff is so miniaturized it's unbelievable," Castillo said. "But call your house, Alek, and tell your man to stand by. There's no printer in the airplane. And you'd better call down to the airstrip and have them push the plane from the hangar."

"Yes, sir, Podpolkovnik Castillo, sir," Svetlana said, and saluted him. Then she saw the look on his face. "My darling, I love it when you're in charge of things; it makes me feel comfortable and protected."

"It makes me think Ace's had too much to drink," Delchamps said. "Aloysius, you think the offer from those people is still open?" Castillo asked.

Castillo was sitting in the pilot's seat of the Aero Commander. Delchamps was in the co-pilot's seat. Svetlana was kneeling in the aisle and her brother was leaning over her. Pevsner, Duffy, and Darby were sitting in the cabin. Max and Janos were standing watchfully outside by the nose of the airplane.

"I told them you'd change your mind," Casey said. "This thing sort of scares me, Charley. There was another beer keg of that stuff sitting on a road near the Mexican border in Texas this morning."

"Another one?" Castillo asked.

"Another one. They left it where the Border Patrol couldn't miss it. It's been taken to Colonel Hamilton at Fort Detrick. We're waiting to hear from him to tell us if it's exactly the same thing."

"Well, send me whatever intel you have, everything you can get your hands on. Everything, Aloysius."


"What shape is the Gulfstream in?"

"Ready to go."

"Tell Jake to take it to Cancun. They'll expect him."

"You don't want him to pick you up down there?"

"No. I'll come commercial."

Svetlana was tugging at his sleeve.

She rubbed her thumb and forefinger together, mouthed Money, and then held up two fingers.

"Aloysius, I'm going to need some cash," Castillo said.

"No problem. How much?"

"Will those people stand still for two hundred thousand?"

"Where do you want it?"

Castillo was now aware Svetlana was shaking her head in what looked like incredulity but could have been disgust.

"Send it to Otto Gorner and tell him to put it in my personal account."

"Otto will have it within the hour. Anything else?"

"That's all I can think of."

"Let me know," Aloysius Casey said. "And thanks, Charley. Break it down."

Castillo looked over his shoulder at Svetlana.

"You're going to tell me what I did wrong, aren't you, my love?"

"I meant two million dollars. Now those people are going to think they can hire you for an unimportant sum. The more people pay you, the more important they think you are."

"Well, my love, you'll have to excuse my naivete. This is the first time I've signed on as a mercenary."

"Well, my darling, you'd better get used to it."

"What you'd better get used to, Ace," Delchamps said, "is thinking of Sweaty as Robert Duvall." [THREE] The Oval Office The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 1715 5 February 2007 It had proven impossible to gather together all the people the President had wanted for the meeting. The secretary of Defense was in Europe at a NATO meeting, and the commanding general of the Defense Intelligence Agency had gone with him. The secretary of Homeland Security was in Chicago.

When Charles M. Montvale, the director of National Intelligence, and Colonel J. Porter Hamilton, MC, USA, walked into the Oval Office, the secretary of State, Natalie Cohen; John Powell, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and Mark Schmidt, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were sitting in chairs forming a rough semicircle facing the President's desk.

So were Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Mason Andrews, standing in for the secretary, and General Allan B. Naylor, USA, commanding general of United States Central Command, who was representing both the secretary of Defense and the commanding general of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Presidential spokesman Jack "Porky" Parker sat at a small table-just large enough to hold his laptop computer-to one side of the President.

"I'm sorry to be late, Mr. President," Montvale said.

"It's my fault, Mr. President," Hamilton said. "I was engaged in some laboratory processes I couldn't interrupt."

"Not even for the commander in chief?" Clendennen asked unpleasantly.

"If I had stopped doing what I was doing when Mr. Montvale asked me to, it would have caused a two- or three-hour loss of time," Hamilton said. "I considered a fifteen- or twenty-minute delay in coming here the lesser of two evils."

"Until just now, Colonel, I wasn't aware that colonels were permitted to make decisions like that," Clendennen said sarcastically.

Hamilton didn't reply.

"What were you doing that you considered important enough to keep us all waiting for you to finish?" Clendennen asked.

"Actually, I had several processes working, Mr. President," Hamilton, un-cowed, said. "The most important of them being the determination that Congo-X and Congo-Y were chemically-perhaps I should say 'biologically'-identical-"

"What's Congo-Y?" the President interrupted.

"I have so labeled the material from the Mexican border."

"And are they? Identical?"

"That is my preliminary determination, Mr. President."

"Colonel, two questions," General Naylor announced.


Clendennen didn't like having his questioning of Hamilton interrupted by anyone, and had his mouth open to announce Excuse me, General, but I'm asking the questions when he changed his mind.

Clendennen liked General Naylor, and had been pleased when he had shown up to stand in for the secretary of the Defense and Defense Intelligence Agency general. He knew he could always believe what Naylor told him. This was not true of the people he was standing in for: The secretary of Defense had assured President Clendennen that the infernal laboratory in the Congo had first been completely reduced to pebbles and then incinerated. Clendennen had never heard the DIA general mouth an unqualified statement.

"They're related, obviously," Naylor began. "First, do you know with reasonable certainty who developed this terrible substance? And, second, how would you say they intend to use it against us?"

"Sir, I have nothing to support this legally or scientifically, but something tells me the origins of this substance go back at least to World War Two and perhaps earlier than that."

"Go down that road," Clendennen ordered.

"During the Second World War, sir, both the Germans and the Japanese experimented with materials somewhat similar to Congo-X. That is to say, biological material that could be used as a weapon. The Japanese tested it in China on the civilian population and the Germans on concentration camp inmates."

"And did it work?" the President asked.

"All we have is anecdotal, Mr. President," Hamilton said. "There is a great deal of that, and all of it suggests that it was effective. There is strong reason to believe material similar to this was tested on American prisoners of war by the Japanese…"

"Do we know that, or don't we?" the President asked impatiently.

"A number of POWs were executed by the Japanese immediately after Hiroshima. Their bodies were cremated and the ashes disposed of at sea," Naylor said.

"Nice people," the President said.

"And there is further evidence, Mr. President, that the Chinese sent several hundred American POWs captured in the early days of the Korean war to Czechoslovakia, where they were subjected to biological material apparently similar to something like this. Again, no proof. We know the prisoners were sent to Czechoslovakia. But no bodies, not one, were ever recovered. We still have Graves Registration people looking."

"Why don't we know more about the chemicals, about whatever was used on the prisoners?"

"At the time, Mr. President," Naylor said, "the greatest threat was perceived to be the possibility the Russians would get their hands on German science vis-a-vis a nuclear weapon and rocketry. We were quite successful in doing so, but the effort necessary was at the expense of looking more deeply into what the Germans had been doing with biological weapons.

"In the Pacific, actually, we acquired what anecdotal information we have about the executed and cremated POWs primarily because MacArthur was passionately determined to locate, try, and hang as quickly as possible those Japanese officers responsible for the atrocities committed against our prisoners. They were, so to speak, just one more atrocity."

The President considered that for a moment.

"So, then what is your theory about this, Colonel Hamilton?" he asked.

Hamilton began: "It's pure conjecture, Mr. President-"

"I thought it might be," the President interrupted sarcastically, and gestured for Hamilton to continue.

Hamilton ignored the interruption and went on: "It is possible that, at the end of World War Two, the Russians came into possession of a substance much like Congo-X. They might even have acquired it from the Japanese; there was an interchange of technical information.

"They very likely acquired at the same time the German scientists working with this material, much as we took over Wernher von Braun, his rocket scientists, and the rockets themselves.

"If this is true-and even if it is not, and Russian scientists alone worked with it-it had to have become immediately apparent to them how incredibly dangerous it is."

"Why is it so 'incredibly dangerous'?" the President interrupted yet again.

Hamilton looked at Clendennen a long moment, then carefully said: "With respect, Mr. President, I believe I'm repeating myself, but: The Congo-X in my laboratory, when placed under certain conditions of temperature and humidity, gives off microscopic particles-airborne-which when inhaled into the lung of a warm-blooded mammal will, in a matter of days, begin to consume the flesh of the lung. Meanwhile, the infected body will also be giving off-breathing back into the air-these contaminated, infectious particles before the host has any indication that he's been infected.

"When I was in the Congo and saw the cadavers of animals and humans who had died of this infestation, I told the President-our late President-that the Fish Farm, should there be an accident, had the potential of becoming a greater risk to mankind than the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl had posed."

"That's pretty strong, isn't it, Colonel?" the President asked.

"Now that I have some idea of the danger, Mr. President," Hamilton said, "that was a massive understatement."

"Is there a way to kill this material?" Naylor asked.

"I've had some success with incineration at temperatures over one thousand degrees centigrade," Hamilton said, looked at the President, and added: "That's about two thousand degrees Fahrenheit, Mr. President."

"I seem to recall the secretary of Defense telling me that the attack produced that kind of heat," the President said.

"Then where did the two separate packages of Congo-X come from?" Secretary of State Natalie Cohen asked.

"There're only two possibilities," Ambassador Montvale said. "The attack was not successful; everything was not incinerated and someone-I suspect the Russians-went in there and picked up what was missed. Or, the Russians all along had a stock of this stuff in Russia and that's what they're sending us."

"Why? What do they want?" Cohen asked.

"We're not even sure it's the Russians, are we?" Mark Schmidt, the director of the FBI, asked.

"Are we, Mr. Director of National Intelligence?" the President asked. "Are we sure who's been sending us the Congo-X?"

"Not at this time, Mr. President," Montvale replied.

"Have we the capability of sending someone into the Congo?" Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Mason Andrew asked. "To do, in the greatest secrecy-what do they call it?-'damage assessment'?"

"Not anymore," Natalie Cohen said.

There was a long silence.

"Madam Secretary," the President asked finally, icily, "would I be wrong to think that you had a certain Colonel Costello in mind when you said that?"

She met his eyes.

"I had Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Castillo in mind, yes, sir," she said. "I was thinking that since he managed to successfully infiltrate Colonel Hamilton into the Congo and, more importantly, exfiltrate him-"

"Weren't you listening, Madam Secretary, when I said that in this administration there will be no private bands of special operators? I thought I had made that perfectly clear. Castillo and his men have been dispersed. He was ordered by my predecessor to-the phrase he used was 'fall off the face of the earth, never to be seen again.' I never want to hear his name mentioned again, much less to see him. Is everybody clear on that, absolutely clear?"

"Yes, Mr. President," Secretary Cohen said.

There was a murmur as everyone responded at once: "Yes, sir." "Yes, Mr. President." "Absolutely clear, Mr. President."

"Mr. President, there may be a problem in that area," Porky Parker said.

The President looked at him in surprise, perhaps even shock. The President thought he had made it absolutely clear to Parker that the spokesman's role in meetings like this was to listen, period.

"What did you say, Jack?" the President asked softly.

"Mr. President, Roscoe Danton of The Washington Times-Post is looking for Colonel Castillo."

"How do you know that?"

"He came to me, sir."

"And what did you tell him?"

"I told him I had no idea where he was," Parker said.


"Sir?" Montvale replied.

"Where is Castillo?"

"I don't know, Mr. President."

"I told you the next time I asked that question, I would expect an answer."

"I'm working on it, Mr. President, but so far without any results."

"Wonderful! It's so nice to know that whenever I want to know something, all I have to do is ask my director of National Intelligence!"

There was another thirty-second silence, and then the President went on: "Far be it from me to try to tell the director of National Intelligence how to do his job, but I have just had this probably useless thought: If Roscoe Danton is looking for Colonel Castillo, perhaps he has an idea where he is. Has anyone thought of that? Where's Danton?"

There was no reply.

"Find out for me, Charles, will you, please?"

"I'll get right on it, Mr. President," Montvale said. [FOUR] The Office of the Director of National Intelligence Eisenhower Executive Office Building 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 1805 5 February 2007 "I can't think of anything else to do, can you?" Ambassador Montvale asked Truman C. Ellsworth, his executive assistant.

When Ellsworth had called The Washington Times-Post for Roscoe J. Danton, they refused to tell him where he was. They said they would contact Danton and tell him Ambassador Montvale wanted to speak with him. Ellsworth finally called the publisher, Bradley Benjamin III, and told him what had happened, and asked for his help. Mr. Benjamin told him that what he had already been offered was all he was going to get, and please give Ambassador Montvale his best regards.

Since both Truman C. Ellsworth and Charles M. Montvale would swear-because they believed it-that they were incapable of letting anger, or a bruised ego, interfere in the slightest with their judgment, or the execution of their offices, what happened next was attributed to the fervor with which they chose to meet the President's request to locate Mr. Roscoe J. Danton.

The National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, was directed as the highest priority to acquire and relay to the ambassador's office any traffic by telephone, or over the Internet, containing Mr. Danton's name.

The Department of Homeland Security was directed to search the flight manifests of every passenger airliner taking off from either Reagan International Airport or Dulles International Airport during the past forty-eight hours for the name of Roscoe J. Danton, and if found to immediately report his destination and time of arrival thereat.

The Secret Service was ordered to obtain the residential address of Mr. Roscoe J. Danton and to place such premises under around-the-clock surveillance and to immediately report any sighting of Mr. Danton. They were further ordered to send agents to the National Press Club to see if any clue to his whereabouts could be obtained.

The cooperation of the FBI was sought and obtained to put out an immediate "locate but do not detain" bulletin on Mr. Danton.

"I just had an idea," Mr. Ellsworth said when asked if he could think of anything else that could be done.

He told the White House operator get The Washington Times-Post for him again, this time the Corporate Travel department.

Montvale's eyebrows rose, but he didn't comment.

"Hello, Corporate Travel?" Ellsworth then said. "Yes, hi. Brad Benjamin just told me you would know where I can find Roscoe Danton."

Not sixty seconds after that, he said, "Got it. Thank you," hung up the phone, and turned to Ambassador Montvale and reported, "Danton went to Buenos Aires. They made a reservation for him at the Marriott Plaza."

"The Marriott Plaza?" Montvale replied, obviously surprised.

"That's what they told me. You want me to put in a call to our ambassador?"

"I wouldn't believe that sonofabitch if he told me what day it is."

"The CIA station chief, then?"

"Get me John Powell. I'll have the DCI call the station chief and tell him I'll be calling."

Ellsworth told the White House operator to connect the director of National Intelligence with the director of Central Intelligence on a secure line and then pushed the LOUDSPEAKER button and handed the receiver to Montvale. "Jack, Charles M. Montvale. I want you to give me the name of the station chief in Buenos Aires, and something about him, and then call him and tell him I'll be calling on an errand for the President."

"Hang on a second, Charles," Powell replied.

He came back on the line ninety seconds later.

"Got a little problem, Charles. We had a really good man there, Alex Darby, but he went out the door with Castillo. A kid just out of The Farm has been filling in for Darby, until Bob Lowe, another good man, can clear his desk in Mexico City. I don't know if Lowe made it down there yet."

"Well, please call the kid, and tell him I'll be calling." "Clendennen."

"Charles M. Montvale, Mr. President. I've located Mr. Danton. He's in the Marriott Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires."

"That would suggest he knows where Colonel Castillo is, wouldn't you say?"

"That's a strong possibility, Mr. President."

"I presume your next call will be to the ambassador down there."

"I was thinking of calling the CIA station chief, Mr. President."

"Okay, your call. That might be best, now that I think of it."

"There's a small problem there, Mr. President. The acting station chief is a young man just out of agency training. John Powell just told me that the man he's sending down there to replace the former station chief, who, sir, fell off the face of the earth with Castillo, has not reported for duty."

"So what are you planning to do?"

"I thought I would send Truman Ellsworth down there, sir. Just as soon as he can get to Andrews."

"I dislike micromanagement, Charles, as you know. But if I were in your shoes, I would go down there myself. Take What's-his-name with you if you like."

"Yes, sir. That's probably the right thing to do."

"It would be better if someone of your stature were the person to suggest to Costello that he would be ill-advised to get anywhere near our little problem. You understand me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Keep me advised," President Clendennen said, and Montvale heard the click that signaled the commander in chief had terminated the call.

"I'll call Andrews and have the plane ready," Truman Ellsworth said. Their presidential mission began in a two-GMC-Yukon convoy from the Executive Office Building. The first Secret-Service-agent-driven, black-tinted-window Yukon held the driver; the two Secret Service agents assigned to protect Montvale; and the two assigned to protect Ellsworth. The second Yukon carried Montvale and Ellsworth and everyone's luggage.

On the way to Andrews Air Force Base, Montvale and Ellsworth consoled themselves for having to travel all the way down to Argentina by agreeing that it wouldn't be that bad a trip. The C-37A-the Air Force designation for the Gulfstream V-on which they would fly was just about as nice an airplane as airplanes came.

It had a range greater than the 5,100-odd miles between Washington and Buenos Aires, and could cruise nonstop at Mach 0.80, or a little faster than five hundred miles per hour. There was room for eight passengers, which meant that Montvale and Ellsworth-rank hath its privileges-could make the most of the journey spread out on bed-size couches. Or they could sit up on the couches and have a drink or two from the portable bar in one of the Secret Service agent's luggage.

And they were sure to get one of the two Gulfstream Vs at Andrews: Ellsworth had made a point of telling the commanding officer of the presidential flight detachment that he and Montvale were traveling at the direct personal order of President Clendennen.

That, however, did not come to pass.

At Andrews, they learned that one of the two Gulfstream V jets had carried Mrs. Sue-Ellen Clendennen to Montgomery, Alabama, where the First Lady's mother was sick in hospital.

Both Montvale and Ellsworth habitually took a look at the reports of the presidential security detail. They therefore knew the President's mother-in-law was not in a hospital per se but rather an "assisted-living facility" and that her being sick therein was a sort of code which meant the old lady had once again eluded her caretakers and acquired a stock of intoxicants.

That was moot. They knew they were outranked by the First Lady. And the second Gulfstream V at Andrews was not available to them either, as it was being held for possible use by someone else who outranked them, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who could be counted upon to throw a female fit of monumental proportions if a Gulfstream V was not immediately available to take her to her home in Palm Beach if she suddenly felt the urge to go there.

That left only a C-20A-what the Air Force called the Gulfstream III-from the half-dozen kept by the Air Force for VIP transport at Andrews for their flight to Buenos Aires. While just about as fast as a C-37A, the C-20A is a somewhat smaller aircraft with a maximum range of about thirty-seven hundred miles. That meant that not only was a fuel stop necessary en route to Buenos Aires, but that the couches on which Montvale and Ellsworth would attempt to sleep were neither as wide nor as comfortable as those on the Gulfstream V would have been.

They had finally gotten off the ground at Andrews just before midnight. Flight time was a few minutes under twelve hours. The fuel stop added another hour and forty-five minutes. There was a one-hour difference between time in Washington and in Buenos Aires. They would arrive, if there were no problems, at Jorge Newbery Airport in Buenos Aires at about one in the afternoon. [ONE] Estancia San Joaquin Near San Martin de los Andes Patagonia Neuquen Province, Argentina 2130 5 February 2007 Aleksandr Pevsner took a sip of his after-dinner brandy, then took a puff on his after-dinner cigar, and then pointed the cigar at Castillo.

Castillo also had a cigar, but no brandy. In the morning he was going to have to fly the Bell Ranger to the airport at San Carlos de Bariloche, where, Pevsner had decided earlier, his Learjet would be waiting to fly them over the Andes to El Tepual International Airport in Puerto Montt, Chile. They would travel to Cozumel on a Peruaire cargo plane carrying foodstuffs for the cruise ship trade and Pevsner's Grand Cozumel Beach amp; Golf Resort. Castillo would have to do that twice; there wasn't room in the helicopter to fly everybody at once.

"I have been thinking, friend Charley…" Pevsner announced.

"Uh-oh," Castillo replied.

Pevsner shook his head in resignation, and then went on: "Two things: First, I think it would be useful if I went to Cozumel with you. I have contacts in Mexico that might be useful, and if you're going to use the Beach and Golf as a base, certain arrangements will have to be made. Comments?"

"Makes sense," Tom Barlow said.

"I agree," Svetlana said.

"Pay attention, Marlon Brando," Delchamps said. "Your consiglieri have been heard from."

"This meets with your approval, Charley?"

"Who am I to argue with my consiglieri?"

But I wonder what you would have said if I had said, "That's a lousy idea."

"Second, I've been thinking that it would be best if you flew the Aero Commander to Puerto Montt. That would both save us time in the morning, and we would be less conspicuous. The latter depends, of course, on whether you can fly that airplane over the Andes. Can you?"

"Quick answer, no," Castillo replied. "The Commander's cabin is not pressurized, and the service ceiling is about thirteen thousand feet. There are lots of rock-filled clouds in the Andes much higher than that."

"Actually, the average height is about thirteen thousand feet," Pevsner said. "Could you fly around the peaks?"

"Probably," Castillo said. "I'd have to look at the charts, and I don't have any charts."

"Janos, call down to the hangar and have them bring the necessary aerial charts," Pevsner ordered. "And when you've finished that, call the house and have our luggage prepared."

"If, after I look at the charts and decide I can fly around the peaks, I'd still have to make two flights," Castillo said. "We can't get everybody in the Commander at once. Have you considered that?"

"You'd have to make two flights in the Lear, too. Taking the little airplane still makes more sense," Svetlana said.

"Concur," Tom Barlow said.

"There they go again!" Delchamps said. "What would you do without them whispering sage advice in your ear, Don Carlos?"

Tom Barlow chuckled. Svetlana gave him the finger. [TWO] El Tepual International Airport Puerto Montt, Chile 0830 6 February 2007 The first flight in the Aero Commander from Estancia San Joaquin through the Andes mountains had carried Alek Pevsner-who had said he wanted to make sure things went smoothly in Puerto Montt-plus Janos, Tom Barlow, Sweaty, and of course Max.

The Casey avionics worked perfectly, and everyone but the pilot seemed to enjoy the flight. In the early light of day, the snow-capped Andes were incredibly beautiful. The pilot spent much time during the flight-whenever the altimeter showed that he was at or just over thirteen thousand feet-remembering that the U.S. Army had taught him that at any altitude over twelve thousand feet, the pilot's brain is denied the oxygen it needs.

Despite its grandiose title, El Tepual International was just about completely deserted when they landed. There was no Peruaire cargo jet in sight; just three Chevrolet Suburbans whose drivers looked more Slavic than one would expect of Chileans.

Svetlana immediately exercised her female right to change her mind and announced she would return to Estancia San Joaquin with Castillo to pick up Alex Darby and Edgar Delchamps.

That could be because my lover can't bear to be even briefly separated from me.

But on the other hand it could be because former Podpolkovnik Svetlana Alekseeva of the SVR thinks she had better keep an eye on the crazy American to make sure that he doesn't do something stupid. The second flight went smoothly, and this time the pilot elected to fly more closely to the terrain, rather than trying to attain as much altitude as he could.

And when he turned on final approach, he saw that there was another aircraft on the tarmac: a Peruaire Boeing 777-200LR.

Jesus, that's one great big beautiful sonofabitch!

When he taxied up close to it, feeling like one of the little people Gulliver had encountered in his travels, he saw that a swarm of workers had just about finished loading it with refrigerated containers.

What was the Triple-Seven freighter's revenue payload?

I think Alek said just over a hundred tons-one hundred twelve tons, was what he said.

Jesus, that's a lot of seafood and beef!

Ten minutes after he landed at El Tepual, he was strapped into one of the ten seats in the passenger compartment just behind the 777's cockpit.

The plane began to taxi and when it turned onto the main runway, the pilot simply advanced the throttles and it began the takeoff roll.

One of Marlon Brando's consiglieri caught his hand with one of hers and crossed herself with the other. [THREE] Jorge Newbery International Airport Buenos Aires, Argentina 1305 6 February 2007 As the Gulfstream III carrying Ambassador Montvale and his party had made its approach to the airport, Montvale had remembered that the last time he had met with the sonofabitch in Argentina, Lieutenant Colonel C. G. Castillo had pointed out to him that inasmuch as they were in a foreign and sovereign nation, his Secret Service security detail did not enjoy diplomatic immunity and therefore had no right to bear arms, and were thus liable to be arrested for doing so.

He elected not to mention this to anyone. If there was a problem, Ambassador Juan Manuel Silvio would have to deal with it. And deal with it, he would have to: I'm here at the direct order of the President of the United States. I look forward to making that point to that slick bastard and pal of Castillo's.

Before the Gulfstream III had reached the end of its landing roll, Jorge Newbery ground control directed it to the commercial side of the airfield on the bank of the River Plate.

There they were met by Argentine immigration and customs officers and two members of the staff of the United States embassy. They were passed through both bureaucratic procedures quickly and without incident. Importantly, no Argentine official searched the persons of anyone, which neutralized the problem of his armed security detail, at least for the moment.

There were two diplomats from the American embassy on hand to meet the Gulfstream. One introduced himself as Colonel C. C. "Call me CC" Downs, the military attache. He said he was there to take care of the crew. There were three crew members: the male pilot, a major; the male co-pilot, a captain; and a stout woman wearing the chevrons of a senior master sergeant. She had delivered a stewardess-type speech about the safety features of the C-20A, ordered everybody to fasten their seat belts, and then taken a seat, from which she had arisen only once to announce that intoxicants were prohibited aboard Air Force C-20A aircraft and if the Secret Service agent in the process of pouring Scotch into glasses for the Montvale party continued to do so, she would have to make an official report to her superiors.

"CC" said he would take care of the crew, and that Mr. Spears would know how to contact them when their services were required. He then loaded the crew into an embassy's Yukon and drove off.

Mr. I. Ronald Spears was carried on the books as an assistant consular officer but was in fact the acting CIA station chief for Buenos Aires. He had assumed that duty following the unexpected retirement of Alexander W. Darby.

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency had first planned to replace Darby with Paul Sieno, the CIA station chief in Paraguay, only to learn that Sieno, too, had suddenly retired, presumably to join Lieutenant Colonel Castillo in his disappearance from the face of the earth, and was therefore not available. Next, the CIA station chief in Mexico City, Robert T. Lowe, had been ordered to Buenos Aires to replace Darby, but he was still in the process of clearing his desk in Mexico City.

I. Ronald Spears was twenty-four years old, looked to be about nineteen, and had graduated from CIA training four months before.

Apparently unaware that the director of National Intelligence and his deputy each had Secret Service protection details, Spears had brought to the airport a single embassy Yukon, into which the four Secret Service agents, Montvale, Ellsworth, and their luggage could be loaded only with great difficulty.

Spears lost no time somewhat smugly telling Ambassador Montvale that he had "taken the liberty" of changing the reservations Ambassador Montvale had requested. The ambassador and his party would now be housed in the Alvear Palace Hotel, rather than the Marriott Plaza, as Spears had learned that the former was "much classier" than the latter.

With great effort, Montvale did not say what he wanted to say. Instead, he asked, "Do you happen to know, Spears, if Mr. Danton is in the Marriott Plaza?"

"Mr. who, Ambassador Montvale?"

At that point, Montvale remembered that he had asked Jack Powell, the DCI, only to tell the acting station chief that he was going to Buenos Aires, and had not asked him to tell the acting station chief to start looking for either Roscoe J. Danton or Lieutenant Colonel Castillo.

"My first order of business is to see the ambassador," Montvale then announced. "So we'll go to the embassy first."

The pleasure of envisioning that confrontation-"Mr. Ambassador, I am here at the personal order of the President"-was quickly shattered when Spears told him that the ambassador and most of his staff would be out of town until the next day.

I shouldn't be surprised by that. The moment that sonofabitch heard I was coming down here, Silvio got on his horse, and galloped his miserable ass out of town.

"Certainly someone's minding the store, right, Spears?"

"Yes, sir. Mizz Sylvia Grunblatt has the duty."

"And she is?"

"The embassy press officer, Mr. Ambassador."

Roscoe J. Danton is either still in the Marriott Plaza, or he isn't. And even if the press officer can't tell me where to find Castillo, she might know where that station chief-Darby-is, and Darby can lead me to Castillo.

At the very least, this female has the authority to order up another vehicle and driver. Riding around Buenos Aires in a stuffed-to-the-gills Yukon is simply not acceptable.

"Take me to see Miss Grun… whatever you said her name is," Montvale ordered.

"Grunblatt, Mr. Ambassador. Mizz Sylvia Grunblatt." "Miss Grunblatt, the President has sent Mr. Ellsworth and me down here to have a word with Lieutenant Colonel C. G. Castillo. Do you know who I mean?"

"Yes, I do, Mr. Montvale."

"Do you happen to know where I can find him?"

"I'm afraid not," Grunblatt said. "There's been a journalist-a good one, Roscoe J. Danton, of The Washington Times-Post-down here looking for him, too. What's that all about?"

"You said has been? May I infer that Mr. Danton is no longer here?"

"The last I heard, he was in the Marriott Plaza."

"What about Alexander Darby, Miss Grunblatt?"

"If you don't mind, Mr. Montvale, I prefer 'Ms.'"

After a perceptible pause, the director of National Intelligence said, "Excuse me, Mizz Grunblatt."

"What did you mean, Mr. Montvale, when you asked, 'What about Alexander Darby?' I assume you know he resigned."

"I don't suppose it would surprise an experienced foreign service officer such as yourself, Mizz Grunblatt, if I told you Mr. Darby had duties beyond those of commercial attache?"

"If you're asking did I know that Alex was a spook, yes, I did. I've known that he was in the agency's Clandestine Service since we served in Rome, and that's… oh, twenty years ago."

"And do you know where he is now, by any chance, Mizz Grunblatt?"

"Haven't a clue. The last time I saw him was at Ezeiza. The airport."

"He was going where, do you know?"

"What he did, Mr. Montvale, was go through the departing Argentina immigration procedure on his diplomatic passport, and then he turned right around and came back, so to speak, into Argentina on his regular passport. He then gave me-as an embassy officer-his diplomatic passport and carnet. Then I drove him here to the embassy, where he got out of my car, and got in a taxi."

"Then he's still in Argentina. Would you know where?"

"I didn't say that he's still here. I don't know if he is or not. I know his wife and children aren't here any longer; I put them on a plane to the States."

"But not Mr. Darby?"

"No. Not Mr. Darby. I don't know where Alex is."

"Do you happen to know where Mrs. Darby was going?"

"I do. And I'll give you the address once you tell me you're acting in an official capacity."

"I've already done that."

"That's right, you have," Grunblatt said.

She picked up a pen and wrote an address on a piece of notepaper and handed it to him.

Montvale glanced at it, saw that it meant nothing to him, then handed it to one of his Secret Service men.

"Hang on to that."

"Yes, sir."

The Secret Service agent looked at it, and then said, "Mr. Ambassador, I know what this is, this 7200 West Boulevard Drive. It's the Alexandria house Colonel Castillo and the others had. I drew the duty there a couple of times when it was under Secret Service protection."

"Mizz Grunblatt, I'm going to have to get on a secure line to the Secret Service in Washington."

Grunblatt considered that a moment, then said, "Yes, I can arrange that for you. I presume you'd prefer to talk from a secure location?"

You're damned right I would.

There's absolutely no reason for you to hear what I'm going to say.

"Could that be arranged?"

"It'll take me a minute or two to set it up," she said. "You'll have to go to the commo room."

"I understand. Thank you very much."

"Not a problem," Grunblatt said as she pushed herself out of her chair.

"And while I'm on the phone, Mizz Grunblatt, do you suppose you could rustle up another car for me? All we have is a Yukon, and we're stuffed into it like sardines."

"The call I can do. The car I can't. All of our vehicles are out of town with the ambassador. Tomorrow afternoon, if he returns as scheduled, it should be no problem at all."

Is that Cuban sonofabitch capable of that? Taking all the cars with him, so that I have to ride around town like a fish in a can? "Secret Service, Claudeen."

"This is the State Department switchboard. I have Ambassador Montvale on a secure line for the senior agent on duty."

"Hold one, please, for Supervisory Special Agent McGuire."

"It will be a moment, Ambassador Montvale."

"Not a problem."

Montvale knew Supervisory Special Agent Thomas McGuire. He had once been in charge of the presidential protection detail.

A good man.

More important, he knows who I am.


"Tom, this is Charles M. Montvale."

"Good afternoon, Mr. Ambassador. How are you, sir?"

"Much better now that I've got you on the phone, Tom. I need someone with a grasp of the situation."

"What situation is that, sir?"

"There are two facets of it, Tom. I'm sure you know what happened to the Office of Organizational Analysis?"

"That's not much of a secret, sir."

"And you've heard, I'm sure, about what's been going on in the last few days at Fort Detrick?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, I'm in Buenos Aires. The President sent Mr. Ellsworth and me down here to locate Colonel Castillo to make sure he understands that he is not to go anywhere near that problem. I am to personally relay that presidential order to Castillo, once I find him."

"Castillo's in Argentina, sir?"

"I don't know where he is. But I've come across a lead. One of the members of the now-disbanded OOA was an agency officer named Alexander W. Darby. He retired when Castillo got the boot. Now, I can't find him. But I have reason to believe his wife… Got a pencil…?"

"Yes, sir."

"… is in a house at seventy-two hundred West Boulevard Drive in Alexandria."

"Isn't that the place we used to protect?"

"Yes, it is. That's what I meant by your having a grasp of the situation. Now, what I want you to do is send a couple of your best men out there-better yet, go yourself-and see if Darby is there, and if he's not, ask his wife if she knows where he is. I'm sure Darby knows where Castillo is."

"Have you got a first name on the wife, sir?"

Call her "Mrs. Darby," you Irish moron!

"No, I'm afraid not."

"Well, then I'll just call her Mrs. Darby."

"That'll work. Now, Tom, there is a possibility that she might deny he is there, and another possibility, slight but real, that Castillo himself might be there, and even a remote possibility that two Russians we're looking for-former SVR Colonel Dmitri Berezovsky and former SVR Lieutenant Colonel Svetlana Alekseeva-may also be in that house. Castillo is just arrogant enough, wouldn't you agree, to try to hide himself, and the Russians, in plain sight, so to speak."

"Would you spell those Russian names for me, please?"

Montvale did so. Then added: "So, do a really thorough job of searching the place."

"Yes, sir. And what do I do if I find these people?"

"If you find Darby"-you Irish moron-"you find out from him where Castillo and the Russians are. If you find Castillo or the Russians, you detain them, and immediately notify the President, or his chief of staff."

"Yes, sir. And whom do I see at Justice for the warrants, sir?"

"What warrants?"

"The search warrant for the premises, and the arrest warrants for Castillo and these Russians."

"You don't need a warrant"-you cretin-"you're acting on the authority of the President."

"Yes, sir. I understand. And from whom do I get that, sir?"

"Get what?"

"The presidential authority."

"I just gave it to you."

"Sir, it has to be in writing. I would suppose if I'm to act on the authority of the President, President Clendennen would have to sign it himself."

Well, what did I expect? McGuire is part of the Washington bureaucratic establishment.

You don't rise in that-for that matter, stay in that-unless you have mastered the fine art of covering your ass.

"Tom, I'm not sure if President Clendennen would be available to do that at this time. So here's what I want you to do. Just go out there with enough of your people to place the premises under around-the-clock surveillance-discreet surveillance. This situation requires, as I'm sure you understand, the greatest discretion."

"Yes, sir. I understand."

"Do you happen to know either Darby or his wife, Tom?"

"I've met them, sir."

"Then could you just knock at the door, unofficially, and tell Mrs. Darby you were in the neighborhood and took a chance to see if Darby was at home?"

"That would work, sir. And if he is?"

"Then you tell him that you're looking for Colonel Castillo; that you have a message for Castillo from me that has to be personally delivered."

"Yes, sir. And if he directs me to Colonel Castillo-I mean, if I find him-then what do I do?"

"You don't actually have to talk to him, Tom. Just locate him. Put him under really tight surveillance. Then call my office and tell them to get word to me that you've found Colonel Castillo. I'll take it from there."

"Yes, sir. I'll get right on it."

"Good man! I can't tell you how pleased I am that you were on duty, Tom. I know I can rely on you."

"Thank you, sir. I'll do my best."

There may be just about a dime's worth of silver in this black cloud. Darby might be at the house in Alexandria. He might know where Castillo is. And he might tell McGuire.

Montvale found I. Ronald Spears waiting for him outside the communications room.

"Get in touch with that Air Force colonel, Spears. Tell him to keep the pilots off the booze. Something has come up that might require my immediate return to Washington."

"Yes, sir."

"Do that immediately after you drop me off at the hotel."

"Yes, sir." [FOUR] 7200 West Boulevard Drive Alexandria, Virginia 1525 6 February 2007 Dianne Sanders, a grandmotherly type in her early fifties, was wearing an apron over her dress when she answered the chimes.

"Well, hello, Mr. McGuire. What brings you to our door?"

"I'm hoping Mrs. Darby is here," Tom McGuire said.

"Can I wonder why you might hope that? Or would that be impolite?"

"Come on, Dianne," McGuire said.

"I'll see if Mrs. Darby is at home. If you'll please wait?"

"Lock up the liquor," Mrs. Julia Darby said thirty seconds later. "The Secret Service is here."

She walked up to McGuire, and said, "I'm not sure if I'm glad to see you or not. But I'll give you a kiss anyway."

She stood on her toes and kissed his cheek.

"Are you here socially or otherwise, Tom?" she asked.

"Otherwise, I'm afraid."


"Why did I suspect that?" Dianne Sanders asked.

"I have been ordered here by Ambassador Montvale to see if Alex is here, and if not, to ask you to tell me where he is."

"Did he say why he was curious?"

"He hopes Alex will point him to Charley Castillo. He says he has a message for him."

"Why didn't he come himself?"

"He called me from Buenos Aires."

"Ah-ha! The plot deepens," Julia Darby said.

"Is Alex here?"

She shook her head.

"Can you point me either to him or Charley?"

"The question is not whether I can, but whether I will. If I pointed at somebody, you would feel duty-bound to tell Montvale, right?"

"Yes, I would."

"I cannot tell a lie, especially to a senior officer of the United States Secret Service," she said. She then took a moment to orient herself and pointed in the general direction of South America. "To the best of my knowledge and belief, both of them are somewhere down there."

"Your cooperation is deeply appreciated. You were pointing at South America, right?"

"In that general direction, yes."

"Can you… will you be more specific?"

She shook her head.

"Not even if I told you that Ambassador Montvale told me he's acting for President Clendennen?"

"Especially if you told me that."

"One final question, Julia. You're not concealing two ex-SVR officers on the premises, are you?"

"I will answer that question. No, I am not."

"And you wouldn't know where such people would be, either, right?"

Julia Darby again pointed toward South America.

"They could be down that way," she said. "But on the other hand, maybe not. Those SVR people are slippery, you know."

He chuckled.

"Is my interrogation over, or is there anything else you'd like to know?" Julia Darby asked.

"This interview is concluded, Mrs. Darby. Thank you for your cooperation."

"I'm always willing to cooperate with the Secret Service, Mr. McGuire. It's my duty as a patriotic citizen." Julia smiled warmly, then said: "Dianne and I were about to have a Bloody Mary. Would you like one?"

He hesitated.

"Come on, Tom. The interrogation is over. I swear Montvale will never know."

He smiled. "Why not?"

"Let's go in the kitchen," Julia said. "Dianne is baking brownies for the boys. I was never much in the kitchen department, but I do make great Bloody Marys." In the kitchen, McGuire asked Dianne Sanders, "Where's Harold?"

"My husband is shopping. He shops. I cook. Should be back anytime now."

Dianne Sanders had spent most of her working career as a cryptographer and later as a highly respected cryptographic analyst. Harold, her husband, had been a Delta Force special operator until he developed heart disease and had been medically retired.

For a while he had been what he described as a "camp follower," taking care of their house while Dianne stayed on active duty. That hadn't worked, and eventually-Hell, with both our retirements we can live pretty damned well-Dianne had retired, too.

That hadn't worked either.

They both had been climbing the walls of their garden apartment in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when CWO5 Colin Leverette, aka Uncle Remus, who had been around the block many times with Harold, asked them if they would be interested in running a safe house for Charley Castillo outside Washington. Harold had been around just as many blocks with Castillo as he had with Uncle Remus, and the Sanderses had jumped at the chance to get out of the garden apartment.

Julia Darby made Bloody Marys and handed them to Tom and Dianne.

"Take a sip of that, and then go back on duty," she said.

He did so, and said, "Okay."

"Ask me how Alex is," Julia said.

"Okay. How's Alex?"

"I hope that miserable sonofabitch and his hot-pants, large-breasted, twenty-year-old Argentine girlfriend freeze together in Ushuaia," she said.

"Where or what is Ushuaia?"

"It's the southernmost city in Argentina, way at the end. Coldest place I've ever been, including the personnel office at Langley."

"You don't expect me to believe that about Alex, do you?"

"I don't care if you believe it or not, but I hope Charles M. Montvale does. I'd love to hear that he's running around down there freezing his ass looking for Alex."

Tom McGuire grinned.

"You have always been an evil woman, Julia," he said admiringly, and tapped his Bloody Mary against hers. "How do you spell 'Ushuaia'?" [FIVE] Penthouse B The Grand Cozumel Beach amp; Golf Resort Cozumel Quintana Roo, Mexico 1805 6 February 2007 En route to Cozumel-somewhere over Peru-a dozing Castillo woke to find Sweaty's head resting on his neck. Upon smelling her perfume, he realized with more than a little pleasure that there was going to be enough time between their arrival in Cozumel and dinner for what the French-who sometimes do things with a certain style-called a cinq a sept.

He dozed off again considering this pleasant possibility, to be wakened perhaps an hour after that by one of the pilots of the Boeing 777 offering him a very nice luncheon plate fresh from the microwave.

Sweaty already had hers.

Castillo waited until the pilot had moved away, then asked her in French: "Ma chere, what does 'a five-to-seven' mean to you?"

"Five to seven means what it sounds like," she replied in Russian. "I have no idea what a five-to-seven means."

"Just as soon as we get to our room in the hotel, I'll show you a"-he pronounced the term phonetically-"sank-ah-set."

She kissed his cheek. "But I have other plans for you just as soon as we get to our room in the hotel, my darling."

Svetlana then removed any doubt he might have had that there was a certain sexual overtone to her remark by quickly groping him. It was not to be.

When they got to Penthouse B, they were not alone. Everybody who had been on the plane was with them.

"We had to move some guests," Alek Pevsner explained. "That shouldn't take long. I always like to know who's in the room next to mine."

"How long is 'long'?" Castillo asked. "As in 'shouldn't take long'?"

Pevsner ignored him and went to the bar and reached for a bottle of bourbon.

Alex Darby opened a sliding glass door and inhaled appreciatively.

"The final death blow to my marriage will come when my wife hears I'm in a penthouse in Cozumel by the Sea," he announced, "while she is in the snow and slush of Washington, trying to find some roof over her and our abused children."

"Is that good or bad?" Delchamps asked.

Max pushed Darby out of his way, having seen Penthouse B's swimming pool, which had obviously been put there for his use. He immediately decided that a quick dip after the long flight was just what he needed.

A Bouvier des Flandres is a large animal and can cause a substantial splash when diving into a pool.

The splash reached Darby.

Everyone laughed.

Pevsner went to a bathroom and returned with a towel for Darby.

By then Max, having enough aquatic activity, had climbed out of the pool and was now standing on the edge of the pool shaking the water from his body. The fur of a Bouvier des Flandres can hold an astonishing amount of water. Pevsner's shirt and trousers had received a good deal of flying water, and there were drops all over his face, which was now pale with anger and tight-lipped.

Everyone waited for Pevsner's explosion. When it didn't come, Castillo poured gasoline on the smoldering embers.

"Well, it was high time you had a bath," Castillo offered. "And Max was just being helpful."

Pevsner looked at him and then said, "I have just had a horrible thought."

"I can't wait to hear what that is," Castillo replied.

"Those adorable puppies you gave my Elena and Dmitri's Sof'ya are going to turn into uncontrollable beasts like that."

Pevsner took another look at his drenched trousers, and announced, "Believe it or not, this place makes it clear on all the advertising that it is not a pet-friendly hotel."

"I hear that they make exceptions for friends of the owner," Castillo said.

"Sometimes the owner is sorry he has certain friends," Pevsner said as he patted his clothing with a towel.

"Sweaty, I think he means me," Castillo said. "Say something rude to him."

"Why doesn't everybody get out of here so that I can have a shower?" Sweaty said.

"Methinks the lady has carnal desires on our leader's body," Delchamps said.

Throwing water on that topic, Pevsner said, "Colonel Torine and the others are on their way from the airport."

"They just got here?" Castillo asked.

"The manager just told me. I told him to send them here when they arrive," Pevsner said, and glanced at Svetlana. "While we're waiting for rooms."

"Further delaying Svet's bath and the satisfaction of her other desires," Tom Barlow said. "Now she will say something rude."

"Very probably," Pevsner said, and smiled warmly at her and Castillo.

Castillo thought: My God! Aleksandr Pevsner, you're good!

I've known you long and well enough to know when you're really pissed off, and the last time I saw you this pissed was when you learned that Howard Kennedy had betrayed you.

If you could, you'd happily throw Max off the balcony, a la Ivan the Terrible, who Svetlana told me threw dogs off the Kremlin walls so he could watch them try to walk on broken legs.

But right now, you need all the help you can get to protect you and your family from Putin and the SVR-which means you think that's a real threat, which is nice to know-and you can't afford to piss me off-which means you think I have what you don't have and can't do without, which is also nice to know-so you smile warmly at the uncontrollable beast's owner and his girlfriend as if you agree that he's an adorable puppy and you didn't mind getting soaked at all.

They call that professional control, and it's one facet of character I don't have and really wish I did. Ten minutes later, the doorbell chimed, and when Alex Darby answered it, seven former members of the now-defunct Office of Organizational Analysis-two more than Castillo expected-walked in.

They were Colonel Jake Torine, USAF (Retired); former USAF Captain Richard Sparkman; former USMC Gunnery Sergeant Lester Bradley; Major H. Richard Miller, Jr., USA (Retired); First Lieutenant Edmund Lorimer, MI (Retired); Chief Warrant Officer (Five) Colin Leverette (Retired); and former FBI Special Agent David William Yung, Jr.

"I knew in my bones that there would be no rest for the weary," Leverette greeted him. "How they hanging, Charley?"

Colin Leverette was an enormous black man, a legendary Special Operations man, known to his close friends-and only his close friends-as Uncle Remus.

"You and Two-Gun got yourselves kicked out of Uruguay, did you?" Castillo said, and turned to Torine. "You actually went to Uruguay to pick them up? Wasn't that a little out of your way?"

"It was a supply run, Charley," Torine said, and then, seeing the confusion on Castillo's face, added, "about which, I gather, you didn't know?"

"I'm always the last to know anything, Jake. You know that."

"We went down there with a planeload of the newest Casey radios," Torine said. "That's not precise. We went down there with a bunch of the newest Casey radios. You won't believe how small the new ones are. And they don't need the DirecTV dish antenna."

Leverette said, "Colonel Torine was kind enough to take pity on us when we met him in Montevideo and told him that unless he took us with him, we couldn't get here in less than seventy-two hours."

"He was weeping piteously," Torine said. "He said you needed him."

"To do what, Uncle Remus?" Castillo asked.

"To get you out of whatever trouble you're in," Leverette said.

"And your excuse, Two-Gun?" Castillo asked.

"I came to deliver this," Yung said, and handed Castillo a small package.

"What's this?"

"Two hundred thousand in used-therefore nonsequentially numbered-hundreds, fresh from the cashier's cage at the Venetian," Yung said. "When Casey told me you'd asked for the money, I told him to give it in cash to Jake. It would have been too easy to trace if it went into and out of your personal German account."

"I don't recall asking for volunteers," Castillo said.

"Oh, come on, Charley," Leverette said. "Come and let Uncle Remus give you a great big kiss."

"Screw you," Castillo said.

Moving with astonishing speed for his bulk, Leverette walked quickly to Castillo, wrapped his massive arms around him, which pinned Castillo's arms to his sides, and then proceeded to wetly kiss both of Castillo's cheeks and then his forehead.

Castillo saw that Pevsner was smiling.

That's a genuine smile.

Because Uncle Remus is kissing me?

Or because he's really happy to see the reinforcements?

Leverette finally turned Castillo free.

"Now," Leverette announced, "just as soon as I have a little something to cut the dust of the trail, we will see what Charley's problem is, and set about solving it. I already have the essential ingredient." He dug in his pocket and came out triumphantly with a small bottle. "Peychaud's bitters. I never leave home without it. I shall also require rye whisky-good rye whisky-some simple syrup, absinthe, lemons, ice, and a suitable vessel in which to assemble the above."

"I feel better already," Castillo said.

"What is he talking about?" Pevsner asked.

"A Sazerac," Castillo said.

"And what is a Sazerac?" Tom Barlow asked.

"Nectar of the gods," Leverette said. "God's reward to the worthy."

He examined the stock of intoxicants in the bar, finally coming up triumphantly with a bottle of Van Winkle Family Reserve rye in his left hand and a bottle of Wild Turkey rye in his right.

"These will do nicely, but I can't find any syrup, absinthe, or lemons. Presumably, there is room service?"

"Lester," Castillo ordered, "get on the horn and tell room service that Mr. Pevsner requires immediately what Uncle Remus just said."

"Yes, sir," Bradley said, and started for the telephone.

"You're all going to sit around and get drunk, is that the idea?" Pevsner asked unpleasantly. "We have a serious problem and-"

Leverette interrupted him. "Charley, I hate to tell you this, but I'm starting to dislike your Russian buddy. Again."

"Me, too," Edgar Delchamps said.

"Who do you think you're talking to?" Pevsner demanded angrily.

"Somebody who thinks he's Ivan the Terrible, Jr.?" Leverette asked innocently.

Castillo laughed, but even as he did, he realized that was not the wise thing to do.

"Not one more word from anybody!" Svetlana snapped. "Not one!"

Everyone looked at her in surprise.

Castillo and Leverette had much the same thought at the same moment, but Leverette was the first to say it out loud: "Be careful," he said in Russian. "Sweaty just put on her podpolkovnik's hat."

"You'd better be careful," Castillo said. "That's way over your word limit. What Podpolkovnik Alekseeva said was 'Not one more word.'"

"I said from anybody and that includes you," Svetlana snapped. "For God's sake, Charley, you're in command. Act like a commander!"

Everyone looked at Castillo to see what his reaction to that would be.

His first reaction was a sudden realization: This is getting out of control.

And the commander is in large measure responsible.

Sweaty's right about that.

His next reaction was: On the other hand, Sweaty should not have snapped at the commander like that, telling him to act like a commander.

One of the problems of having women subordinates is that one cannot jump all over their asses when they deserve it.

Especially when said female subordinate is sharing one's bed.

This sort of situation was not dealt with in Problems of Leadership 101 at West Point, nor anywhere else since I've been in the Army.

Correction: During the time I was in the Army.

So, what are you going to do now, General MacArthur, so that everyone can see you are in fact acting like you're in command?

Confidently in command.

There's a hell of a difference between being in command, and being confidently in command.

And those being commanded damned well know it.

You better think of something, and quick!

Colin Leverette came to his rescue.

"I know what," Leverette said. "Let's start all over."

"What?" Svetlana asked.

"No, Mr. Pevsner," Leverette went on, "we are not all going to sit around and get drunk. We're going to have one-possibly two-Sazerac cocktails, and then we're going to get down to business."

Pevsner didn't respond.

Castillo looked between them, and thought: I believe Uncle Remus just saved my ass.

What is that, for the two hundred and eleventh time?

"That was your cue, Mr. Pevsner," Delchamps said, "to say, 'I should not have said what I did. Please forgive me.'"

Pevsner looked at him incredulously.

"It's a question of command, Aleksandr," Tom Barlow said, his tone making it clear that now he was wearing his polkovnik's hat. "If Charley, the commander, doesn't object to something, you have no right to. Now, ask Uncle Remus to forgive your runaway mouth."

"You have just earned my permission, Podpolkovnik Berezovsky," Leverette said, "to call me Uncle Remus."

Now, everyone looked at Pevsner.

"Uncle Remus is waiting, Mr. Pevsner," Delchamps said after a long moment.

After another long moment, Pevsner smiled, and said, "If an apology for saying something I should not have said is the price for one of Mr. Leverette's cocktails, I happily pay it."

Castillo had another unpleasant series of rapid thoughts:

Well, Pevsner caved, and quicker than I thought he would.

Problem solved.

Wait a minute! Aleksandr Pevsner-unlike me-never says anything until he thinks it through.

He knew the apology meant he understood he can't question me.

But what about the first crack he made?

Was that an attempt to put himself in charge?

If we'd caved, that would have put him in a position to question-question hell, disapprove-of anything.

Alek, you sonofabitch!

His chain of thought was interrupted by the arrival of the butler-not a bellman; penthouses A and B shared the full-time services of an around-the-clock butler-bearing simple syrup, absinthe, a bowl of ice, a bowl of lemon twists, and a tray of old-fashioned glasses.

"The first thing we will do-actually, Lester will do," Leverette announced, "is fill the glasses with ice. This will chill them while I go through the rest of the process. Now, how many are we going to need?"

Everyone expressed the desire to have a Sazerac.

Leverette arranged all the old-fashioned glasses in two rows.

"You understand, Sweaty," he said, "that one of my Sazeracs has been known to turn a nun into a nymphomaniac?"

"I'll take my chances. Stop talking and make the damned drink."

"First, we muddle the syrup and the Peychaud bitters together," Leverette announced. "When I've done that, we will carefully measure three ounces of rye per drink and a carefully measured amount of ice into the mixing vessel."

He picked up a champagne cooler, and quickly rinsed it in the sink of the wet bar.

"This will serve nicely as a mixing vessel," he said, and then demonstrated that his notion of a carefully measured three ounces of rye and ice per drink was to upend the bottle of Wild Turkey over the champagne cooler and empty it. He shook it to get the last drop, then repeated the process with the bottle of Van Winkle Family Reserve. He then added four handfuls of ice cubes.

He stirred the mixture around with one of the empty bottles.

"You'll notice that I did not shake, but rather stirred. I learned that from Double-Oh-Seven," he said, then looked at Bradley. "Lester, dump the ice."

Lester emptied into the sink the melting ice from all the glasses.

"I will now pour the absinthe, and Lester will swirl. I know he will do a good job of swirling because I taught him myself."

Leverette then picked up the bottle of absinthe, and ran it very quickly over the lines of glasses in one motion. This put perhaps a teaspoon of the absinthe in each glass.

Lester then picked up each glass, swirled the absinthe around, and then dumped the absinthe into the sink.

Leverette picked up the champagne cooler. Lester picked up a silver strainer and held it to the lip of the champagne cooler to hold back the ice cubes as Leverette poured the chilled liquid content of the cooler into the glasses.

"There is a slight excess," Leverette announced as he looked into the cooler. "Stick this in the fridge, Lester. 'Waste not, want not,' as my saintly mother was always saying."

Leverette then picked up handfuls of the lemon twists and squeezed them in his massive hands, which added not more than two drops of the essence into each glass.

"Finished!" he announced triumphantly.

He handed one to Castillo and another to Pevsner. He handed a third to Sweaty, and took a fourth with him as he walked to the couch.

He raised his glass to Pevsner, took an appreciative sip, and then asked, "And what do you think, Mr. Pevsner?"

Pevsner sipped his cocktail.

"Unusual," Pevsner said. "But very good."

"I will pretend that I don't know the only reason you said that is because you knew I would tear off both of your arms and one leg if you hadn't, and will accept that as a compliment."

"You're insane," Pevsner said with a smile.

"Genius is often mistakenly identified as insanity," Leverette said. "I'm surprised you didn't know that. Now, shall we deal with our problem?"

He came to attention, gestured at Castillo, and gave the Nazi salute.

"Mein Fuhrer, you have the floor."

Pevsner's eyes rolled in disbelief.

Castillo rose from his chair, walked to the bar, and leaned his back against it.

"Two-Gun," he began, "I think you'd better take notes."

Yung gave him a thumbs-up, then reached for his laptop computer.

"To bring everybody up to speed," Castillo began, "let's start with what we do know. First, somebody sent Colonel Hamilton a barrel of Congo-X. Then, in Budapest, Colonel Vladlen Solomatin of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki handed Eric Kocian a letter asking him to get it to Tom Barlow. The letter said, in essence, 'Come home. All is forgiven.' I think it's likely the two actions are related."

"About as likely as the sun will come up tomorrow," Svetlana said.

She waited for a chuckle. When she didn't get one, she looked at Castillo.

"We won't know," Castillo said, "about the sun rising until tomorrow morning, will we, Svet? Until then, it's just likely that it will. And the way this works, Svet, is that no one offers an opinion, clever or otherwise, until I ask for it. Got it?"

Her face colored and her eyes flared angrily, but she didn't reply.

Well, Commander Casanova, guess who's not going to get laid tonight?

Castillo took a sip of his drink, then went on: "Let's start with the Congo-X. Where did it come from? That raises the question, 'Did we destroy it all in the attacks on the Fish Farm or not?' Colin?"

"Sir, I respectfully suggest Colonel Torine can answer that better than I can," Leverette said.

"Jake?" Castillo asked.

Torine nodded. "Charley, you know as well as I do, except for nukes, there is no such thing as total destruction of anything by high explosive or incendiary saturation bombing. The question then becomes: 'How much was not destroyed? ' And I suggest Colin can answer that better than I can. He (a) was there, and (b) he's done a lot of damage assessment."

Castillo motioned with his hand toward Leverette.

"The Fish Farm was a collection of concrete block buildings, none of them over three stories, most of them just one," Leverette said. "The few I got into had basements, and I saw a half-dozen buried and half-buried steel-door revetments-like ammo bunkers. Let's say the bombs and the incendiaries took out ninety-five percent of everything."

"Jake?" Castillo said.

Torine nodded his agreement. "Leaving five percent," he said.

"Until we run into a stone wall, let's try this scenario," Castillo said. "Five percent of the Congo-X in barrels survived the bombing. Let's say that's six barrels. Two of them got to the States. How and by what means? Tom?"

"I'm sure one of the first things Sirinov did after the bombing-"

Alex Darby interrupted: "General Yakov Sirinov, who runs the SVR for Putin?"

Barlow nodded, and went on: "What he did was send in a Vympel Spetsnaz team for damage assessment and to see if anyone was still alive."

Castillo said, "Can we presume (a) the Spetsnaz made it into the Fish Farm, and (b) while they were there found-more important, took control of-the six barrels of Congo-X?"

"If Tom is talking about Spetsgruppa V," Leverette said, and looked at Barlow.

Barlow nodded. He said, "Also known as the Vega Group of KGB Directorate B."

"The Russian Delta Force, Charley," Leverette said. "They're damned good."

"It is because they are so good that they were selected to provide security for the Congo operation," Barlow said. "I was surprised that you didn't encounter at least one or two of them, Uncle Remus, when you were there."

Leverette met his eyes for a moment.

"Quickly changing the subject," Leverette said, making it clear there had been a confrontation with at least one or two Spetsnaz special operators and that they had lost. "So they found the six barrels of Congo-X. What did they do with it?"

"This is conjecture," Barlow said, "based on my knowledge of how Sirinov's mind works. The Spetsnaz were parachuted onto the site from a great height, probably from a specially adapted Ilyushin Il-96 passenger transport on a flight path duly reported to aviation authorities. The parachutists would not have opened their canopies until they were quite close to the ground, so they would appear only momentarily, if at all, on radar screens."

"That's what we call HALO," Castillo said. "High-altitude, low opening."

"Copyright, Billy Waugh," Leverette said.

Castillo, Torine, and Peg-Leg Lorimer chuckled or smiled or both.

"Excuse me?" Barlow said.

"The first guy to do that was Billy Waugh, a friend of ours," Leverette explained.

Castillo said, "Okay, back to the question of now that Spetsnaz has six beer barrels full of Congo-X, what do they do with it?"

"They would have to truck it out," Barlow said. "But since-using Uncle Remus's ninety-five percent destruction factor-there would be no trucks, at least not as many as would be needed, left at the Fish Farm, I don't know how they could have done that."

"They leave the Fish Farm area and steal some trucks," Castillo said. "And then truck it out. But where to?"

"Any field where a Tupolev Tu-934A can get in," Jake Torine said. "And that wouldn't have to be much of a field."

"You know about the Tu-934, Jake?" Tom asked.

"I've never seen one but, oh yeah, I know about it," Torine said.

"I don't," Castillo said.

"Ugly bird," Torine said. "Can carry about as much as a Caribou. Cruises at about Mach point nine. Helluva range, midair refuelable, and it's state-of-the-Russian-art stealth. And it can land and take off from a polo field. The story I get is that the agency will pay a hundred twenty-five million for one of them."

"You do know about it," Barlow said, raising his drink in a toast, demonstrating he was clearly impressed.

Torine returned the gesture, and they both sipped their Sazeracs.

"Okay, picking up the scenario," Castillo said. "The Spetsnaz load their six barrels of Congo-X onto their stolen trucks and drive it to some dirt runway in the middle of Africa, and then load it and themselves onto this… what was it?"

"Tupolev Tu-934A," Torine furnished.

"… which then takes off and flies at Mach point nine to where? To Russia?" Castillo pursued.

"No. They don't want Congo-X in Russia. They know how dangerous it is," Svetlana said. "They remember Chernobyl. That's why the Fish Farm was in the Congo."

"Could this airplane make it across the Atlantic?"

"Sure. With an en-route refueling, it could fly anywhere," Torine said.

"Where's anywhere? Cuba? Mexico?"

"Distance-wise, sure," Barlow said. "But politically…"

"They'd spot it on radar, right?" Castillo said.

"Charley, it has stealth technology," Torine said. "And even if it didn't, it could fly under the radar."

"So why not Cuba, Tom?" Castillo asked.

"The Castro brothers would be too expensive," Barlow said. "Both in terms of cash and letting them in on the secret. More the latter. Sirinov doesn't like to be obligated to anybody."

"Then right into Mexico," Edgar Delchamps said. "Getting it across the border into the States would be easy."

"I think we could say getting it across the border was easy," Castillo said. "But I have a gut feeling Mexico is not-was not-the final stop."

Alex Darby then said, "Drop off the Congo-X and enough people to get two barrels of this stuff into the States via Mexico, then fly the rest of it on to… where?"

"Venezuela," Delchamps suggested. "Hugo Chavez is in love with Communism, and has yet to be burned by the Russians, as the Castros were burned. And, God knows, Fat Little Hugo is no rocket scientist. Sirinov could easily have put him in his pocket."

Barlow pointed at Delchamps, and said, "You're on it, Edgar."

"Okay, then. Now what?" Leverette said. "We've located the Congo-X in Venezuela. What do we do about it?"

"We start to prove-or disprove-the scenario," Castillo said. "First step in that will be when we get from Aloysius the intel he's going to get from the DCI."

"You don't know that's who's giving him the intel he's promised to send, my darling," Svet said.

Castillo, at the last split second, kept himself from saying something loving and kind-for example, What part of "Don't offer a goddamn opinion unless I ask for it" didn't you understand, my precious?

Instead, he said: "Who else could it be?"

Svetlana replied, "The value of the intel we get from Casey is only as reliable as the source, and we don't know it's coming from the CIA, do we? So I suggest we take what Casey sends us with a grain of salt."

"She got you, Ace," Delchamps said. "Listen to your consigliere."

"Yeah, she did," Castillo admitted. "Okay, Sweaty: Give us your take on the 'Come home, all is forgiven' letter from Cousin Vladlen."

"You haven't figured that out? It is meant to let your government off the hook, my darling. It'll come out that we've returned to Russia-"

Castillo interrupted, "What do you mean, 'we've returned to Russia'?"

"You asked me a question: Let me finish answering it," Svetlana said. "Maybe I should have said if we return to Russia and it comes out-and it would-then your government couldn't be accused of cruelly and heartlessly sending us home to the prison on Lubyanka Square. Your press will get that letter. It says 'All is forgiven.' Your government can then say all they did when they loaded us aboard an Aeroflot airplane was help us go home to our loving family."

"Score another one for Sweaty," Delchamps said.

"The U.S. government is not going to put you on an Aeroflot plane," Castillo said.

"You better hope, Ace," Delchamps said.

"Over my dead body," Castillo said.

"Thank you, my darling," Svetlana said. "I will pray that it doesn't come to that."

"Me, too," Tom Barlow said. "May I offer a suggestion, Charley?"


"Before we get whatever Casey is going to send us, why don't we all, independently, try to find fault with our scenario?"

Castillo nodded. "Sure. Good idea."

"And while we're all doing that, independently come up with a scenario on how to deal with this?"

"Another good idea," Castillo said.

"Are we going to try to grab this stuff in Venezuela?" Lorimer asked.

"What I would like to do is grab that Tupolev Tu-934A in Venezuela," Torine said.

Everyone was quiet for a long moment.

Then Pevsner said: "I'll check, but I think everybody's rooms should be ready by now. Shall we meet here in, say, an hour and have another of Leverette's cocktails and then dinner?" [ONE] Claudio's Shell Super Service Station State Highways 203 and 304 Centreville, Maryland 0730 7 February 2007 There was nothing unusual about the GMC Yukon XL that turned off State Highway 304 into the gas station. Indeed, there were two near twins-three, if one wished to count a Chevrolet Suburban-already at the pump islands.

The driver of the arriving Yukon pulled up beside one of the pumps, got out, and fed the pump a credit card. Other doors opened and three men-all dressed in plaid woolen jackets-got out and walked quickly toward the men's room, suggesting to a casual witness that it had been a long time between pit stops.

A Chrysler Grand Caravan turned off State Highway 203 and drove right up to the men's room door. The van's sliding door opened and three men-also in plaid woolen jackets and also apparently feeling the urgent call of nature-hurried into the restroom.

A minute or so later, the first of the men came out of the restroom, and got into either the Yukon or the Grand Caravan. In two minutes everybody was out of the men's room. The Caravan backed up and stopped at a pump. The Yukon driver walked quickly to the men's room.

By the time he came out, the driver of the Caravan had topped off his tank and returned to the wheel. By the time the Yukon driver got behind his wheel, the Caravan was out of the station. Ninety seconds later, so was the Yukon.

If anyone had been watching it was unlikely that they would have noticed that one of the men who had gone to the restroom from the Yukon had gotten into the Grand Caravan when he came out and that one of the Caravan passengers had gone to the Yukon when he came out of the men's room. The man in the front passenger seat of the Grand Caravan turned and offered the man who had just gotten in a silver flask.

"What is it they say about 'beware of Russians passing the bottle'?" A. Franklin Lammelle, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, asked. "And it's a little early for vodka, even for me."

"It's not vodka, Frank. It's Remy Martin," Cultural Counselor Sergei Murov of the Washington embassy of the Russian Federation replied.

"In that case, Sergei, I will have a little taste," Lammelle said, and reached for the flask. He held it up in a toast, and said, "Here's to Winston Churchill, who always began his day with a taste of fine cognac."

Both men were stocky, in their midforties, fair-skinned, and wore small, rimless spectacles. Murov had a little more remaining hair than Lammelle. They could have been cousins.

Murov was the SVR's Washington rezident. Lammelle knew this, and Murov knew that Lammelle had known that since the Russians had proposed Murov to be their embassy's cultural counselor. Ten minutes later, the convoy turned onto Piney Point Farm Lane. A quarter of a mile down the lane, ten-foot-high chainlink fences became visible behind the vegetation on both sides of the road. On the fencing, at fifty-foot intervals, there were signs: PRIVATE PROPERTY! TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED!

Finally, the Caravan came to the first of two chainlink fence gates across the road. Outside the outer gate there was a black Ford sedan with MARYLAND STATE POLICE lettered on the body. Two state troopers in two-tone brown uniforms sat in the front seats. When the Caravan came a stop, one got out of the passenger door and carefully examined the minivan, but made no attempt to do anything else. The three SUV's parked on either side of the lane.

The outer gate swung open, and a man in a police-type private security guard uniform inside the second gate motioned for the Caravan to advance. When the van had done so, the outer gate closed behind it. The security guard came from behind the second gate, walked to the Caravan, and opened the sliding door.

When he was satisfied that there was no one in the vehicle determined to trespass on what-like the Russian embassy itself-was legally as much the territory of the Russian Federation as was the Lubyanka Square headquarters of the KGB in downtown Moscow, he signaled for the interior gate to be opened. Frank Lammelle knew a great deal about what was known as the "Russian dacha on the Eastern Shore." Some of what he knew, he had known for as long as he had been in the CIA. Back in the bad old days when Russia had been the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, young Frank Lammelle of the Clandestine Service had thought it was ironic that the ambassador of the USSR spent his weekends in a house built by John J. Raskob, almost a caricature of a capitalist. Raskob had been simultaneously vice president of General Motors and E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company-which owned forty-three percent of GM-and had ordered the construction of the Empire State Building in New York City with the mandate to the architect that it be taller than the Chrysler Building.

Raskob's three-floor brick mansion had not been quite large enough to house him and his thirteen children, so he had built another one just about as large for them and his guests, who included such people as Walter Chrysler, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison.

The Soviet government had bought both houses from Raskob's heirs in 1972 and later enlarged the estate by swapping land the Americans wanted in Moscow for land adjacent to the Maryland property.

The Russians then further improved the property by importing from Finland fourteen small "rental" houses for the use of embassy employees.

Some of what Lammelle knew about the Russian dacha on the Eastern Shore he had learned more recently. At five-thirty that morning, he had met with J. Stanley Waters, the CIA's deputy director for operations, and several of his deputies in The Bubble at CIA headquarters in Langley. Only the people in The Bubble-plus of course DCI Jack Powell-knew that Lammelle had accepted Sergei Murov's invitation to go boating in Maryland.

The meeting had been called both to guess the reason Murov wanted to talk to Lammelle-probably it had something to do with Congo-X, but no one was sure-and to prepare Lammelle for it.

To that end, the latest-just taken-satellite photos of the compound were shown. "Photos" was probably a misnomer, as these were satellite motion pictures. The infrared and other sensors showed life in only four of the rental cottages, including the two known to house the Russians' communications center. The analysts agreed there was no significant change from the data taken over the past week.

The NSA at Fort Meade reported they had been unable to pull anything of interest from the ether-that is, any reference to Lammelle, Murov, or a meeting between the two-and that the level of traffic between Moscow, the dacha, the embassy in Washington, and the Russian Mission to the United Nations in New York City was normal. Nothing had been sent either in a code, or by any technical means the Russians erroneously believed had not been detected or cracked at Fort Meade.

The FBI liaison officer reported that the FBI agents tracking Murov had seen nothing out of the ordinary in his behavior, and that the FBI agents on-site-one of the two state troopers stationed around the clock at the gate was always an FBI special agent-had similarly seen nothing of special interest.

Lammelle had closed the meeting with a reminder that the visit had to be kept a secret. Secrecy was important because Senator Homer Johns (Democrat, New Hampshire), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who loved to be on TV and despised the CIA, would-should he learn of the meeting-love nothing better than to call DCI Powell to ask about the meeting, then quickly leak the secret to CNN and/or C. Harry Whelan, Jr., the syndicated columnist, who didn't like the CIA either. There were three Mercedes-Benz automobiles lined up in the circular drive before the three-story brick mansion: a CLS 550 sedan-the pilot car-then an elegant twin-turbo V12 CL600-obviously the ambassador's vehicle-and then another CLS 550-the chase car.

The precautions are necessary, Lammelle thought, not to protect the ambassador from the Americans, but from his fellow Russians.

Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov would be delighted to sacrifice a half-dozen of his associates if that was the price for taking out the ambassador.

"It looks as if the boss is about to go to work," Murov said. "Why don't we say hello?"

This is not a coincidence, Lammelle decided. The ambassador probably waited until the gate reported their arrival before he came out of the house.

Obviously, he wants me to know that he knows I'm here, and, as important, to know that he knows Murov invited me. "What a pleasure to see you, Mr. Lammelle," the ambassador said, offering his hand.

He was a ruddy-faced, somewhat chubby fifty-five-year-old.

"It's always a pleasure to see you, Mr. Ambassador," Lammelle said.

"Sergei tells me you're going boating," the ambassador said.

"That's not exactly true, Mr. Ambassador. Going out on the river in February may be sport for a Siberian, but for an American it's insanity."

The ambassador laughed.

"What I thought I would do, Mr. Ambassador, is look through a window in the hunting lodge and watch Sergei turn to ice."

"I'm not a Siberian, Frank. I was born and raised in Saint Petersburg," Murov said.

Which at the time was called Leningrad, wasn't it, Sergei?

"In that case, I suggest we both look out the windows of the hunting lodge at the frigid waters."

The ambassador laughed again, and laid his hand on Lammelle's arm.

"If I have to say this, the door here is always open to you."

"That's very gracious of you, Mr. Ambassador."

"Perhaps if you're still here when I get back, we can have a drink," the ambassador said, and then gestured for his chauffeur to open the door of the Mercedes.

"I don't think that's likely, but thank you, Mr. Ambassador."

"Give my best regards to the President and Mr. Powell when you see them, please."

"I'll be happy to do so, Mr. Ambassador."

And say "Hi!" to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin for me, please, Mr. Ambassador, when you get the chance. "I thought we'd have breakfast in the hunting lodge, rather than in the house, if that's all right with you, Frank," Murov said as they watched the ambassadorial convoy of three luxury cars roll away.

"Fine with me, Sergei," Lammelle said.

Murov waved him back into the Caravan for the short ride to the hunting lodge, which was a small outbuilding that had been converted into a party room. There was a table that could seat a dozen people. A small kitchen was hidden behind a half-wall on which was a mural of two old-time sailors-one Russian and the other American-smiling warmly at each other as they tapped foam-topped beer mugs with one another.

Lammelle thought: In the professional judgment of our best counterintelligence people, somewhere on that mural and on that oh-so-charmingly-rustic chandelier with the beer mugs overhead and God only knows where else are skillfully concealed motion picture camera lenses and state-of-the-Russian-art microphones. All recording for later analysis every syllable I utter and every movement and facial expression I make.

And as much as I would love to roll my eyes and grimace for the cameras before giving them the international signal for "Up yours, Ivan," I can't do that.

Doing so would violate the rules of proper spook deportment, and we can't have that!

Unless we play by the rules, we would never learn anything from one another. Murov waved Lammelle into one of the two places set at the table, and a cook-a burly Russian man-immediately produced coffee mugs and set a bottle of Remy Martin and two snifters on the table.

That's really a little insulting, Sergei, if you thought I was going to oblige you by getting sauced and then run my mouth.

Or it could simply be standard procedure: "Put the booze out. The worse that can happen is that the American won't touch it."

"I asked Cyril to make eggs Benedict," Murov said. "That all right with you, Frank?"

"Sounds fine," Lammelle said, "but looking the gift horse in the teeth, can we get on with this? I really have to get back to the office."

"Just as soon as he lays the eggs Benedict before us, I'll ask Cyril to leave us." "I hardly know where to begin," Murov said as he finished his breakfast.

The hell you don't.

Item two on your thoughtfully prepared agenda-item one being put out the Remy Martin-was to suggest you don't know what you're talking about and simply are going to have to wing it and thus be at my mercy.

"How about this?" Murov went on. "I think there are certain areas where cooperation between us would be mutually advantageous."

"Does that mean, Sergei, that I have something you want, and you hope that what you're going to offer me will be enough to convince me I should give it to you?"

Murov considered that a moment, then shrugged, smiled, and nodded.

"You can always see right through me, Frank, can't you?"

"Only when you want me to, Sergei. If you don't want me to…"

"I know how to neutralize Congo-X," Murov said.

Now, that's interesting!

Starting with: How does he know that we're calling it Congo-X?

"I didn't know you had assets in Fort Detrick. Now I'll have to tell the counterintelligence guy there to slit his wrists."

"I have people all over. Almost as many as you do, Frank."

"Did your assets tell you that we've already just about figured out how to neutralize Congo-X?"

"They told me Colonel Hamilton has had some preliminary success," Murov said.

I don't think there's an SVR agent inside Detrick.

What I think we have is some misguided noble soul, a tree-hugger-or a half-dozen of them-who is making his-or their-contribution to world peace and brotherhood among men by feeding anything they think is another proof of our innate evilness to the Russians, who are no longer godless Communists, and thus no longer a threat.

The proof of how good they are now is that when they reburied the tsar and his family in Moscow, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was there on his knees. Somehow that photograph of that born-again Christian made front-page news all over the world.

"Just for the sake of conversation, Sergei, what have I got that you want?"

"Colonel Dmitri Berezovsky and Lieutenant Colonel Svetlana Alekseeva."

"Since you have assets all over, Sergei, I'm really surprised you don't know that we don't have either of them, and never have had."

"But in a manner of speaking, Frank, if you have someone who has anything-a bottle of Remy Martin, for example-wouldn't it be fair to say you also have that bottle of cognac?"

"If you're suggesting I have someone who has your two defectors, I don't. And I think you know that, Sergei."

"What about Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Castillo? Doesn't he have Berezovsky and Alekseeva? And since that name has come up, he wants Colonel Castillo, too."

"Who 'he,' Sergei? Who 'wants Colonel Castillo, too'?"

Murov smiled, but now his eyes were cold.

"Frank, we never lie to one another," Murov said.

True. But we obfuscate as well as we know how-and we're both good at it-all the time.

"So far, that's been the case, Sergei," Lammelle said.

"That being the case, you're not going to deny that Berezovsky and Alekseeva left Vienna on Castillo's airplane, are you?"

"Several people I know have told me that, so I'm prepared to believe it. But I don't know it for a fact."

"Or that Castillo works for you?"

"It's my turn to ask a question. You didn't answer my last question: Who 'he' that wants Castillo?"

Murov took a moment to organize his thoughts, and then asked, "How much of the history of the SVR do you know, Frank?"

"Not nearly as much as I should," Lammelle said. "I know that the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki used to be the First Directorate of the KGB, and there's a story going around that the reason it's so powerful is because, in addition to his other duties to the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin runs it."

"You do know how to go for the jugular, don't you, Frank?"

"Excuse me?"

"My question was: How much of the history of the SVR do you know?"

"Putin doesn't run it? For a moment there, I was beginning to think that Putin was he who wants Castillo, too."

"Once more, Frank: How much of the history of the SVR do you know?"

"Why don't you tell me, Sergei, what you think I should know about it?"

Murov looked at him carefully and pursed his lips as he framed his reply.

Finally, he asked, "Would you be surprised to learn that its history goes back beyond the Special Section of the Cheka? Back beyond the Revolution?"

"I don't know. I never gave that much thought."

"Where do you think the Cheka came from?"

"I know it really became important in 1917-1918?-when Felix Dzerzhinsky took it over."

"Did you ever hear that Dzerzhinsky was an oprichnik?"

"I don't know what that is. But I have heard that Dzerzhinsky had been locked up and nearly starved to death by the Bolsheviks until just before he was given the Cheka."

"That's what you and I would now call 'disinformation,' Frank. I think it unlikely that he ever spent a day behind bars. Dzerzhinsky was in fact an oprichnik."

"And I told you I don't know what that means."

"I'm about to tell you. In 1565, Ivan the Terrible moved out of Moscow, taking with him a thousand households he'd selected from the nobility, senior military officers, merchants, and even some serfs. Then he announced he was abdicating.

"The people left behind were terrified. Ivan the Terrible was really a terrible man, but those who would replace him were as bad, and before one of them rose to the top, there would be chaos."

Where the hell is he going with this history lesson?

"So they begged Ivan to reconsider, to remain the tsar. He told them what that would take: the establishment of something, a 'separate state' called the 'Oprichnina,' within Russia. The Oprichnina would be made up of certain districts and cities, and the revenue from these places would be used to support Ivan and his oprichniki.

"To make the point that it would be unwise to challenge this new idea, Ivan first had Philip, the Metropolitan of Moscow-who had said the Oprichnina was un-Christian-strangled to death. Then Ivan moved to Great Novgorod, Russia's second-largest city, where the people had complained about having to support the new state-within-the-state.

"There he killed all the men and male children, raped all the women, seized all the crops and livestock, and leveled every building. No one ever questioned the Oprichnina again."

"Not once, in the next-what?-four hundred fifty give-or-take years?"

Murov ignored the sarcasm, and went on: "In 1825, after Tsar Nicholas the First put down the Decembrist Revolution, he realized the revolution would have succeeded had it not been for the assistance-more important, the intelligence-provided by trusted elements of the Oprichnina, so he made them into a separate state within the separate state. He called this the Third Section, or sometimes the Special Section.

"When the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and, finally, the Communists took over, Lenin, on December 20, 1917, formed from the tsar's Special Section what was officially The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage, but commonly known by its acronym as the Cheka. He placed an aristocrat named Felix Dzerzhinsky in charge."

"The tsar's secret police became the Cheka under an aristocrat named Dzerzhinsky?" Lammelle asked incredulously.

Murov nodded.

"Dzerzhinsky's father had been one of the more important grand dukes under the tsar. One of the oprichniki. There were no more grand dukes, of course-or any 'nobility.' But there was the Oprichnina, and Dzerzhinsky was one of them.

"He apparently decided he could best serve Russia by serving Lenin. The family still lives on the estates they had under the tsar. That's the point of this history lesson, Frank. To make sure you understand how important the Oprichnina remains even today."

"I guess you wouldn't know all these fascinating details if you weren't one of them, huh, Sergei?" Lammelle said, more than a little sarcastically.

Murov either missed the sarcasm or chose to ignore it.

"My family has been intelligence officers serving the Motherland for more than three hundred years," Murov said with quiet pride. "We have served in the Special Section, the Cheka, the OGPU, the NKVD, the KGB, and now the SVR."

"And Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is one of you, too, I suppose?"

"I've answered your question truthfully. Now answer mine: You're not going to deny that Colonel Castillo works for you, are you?"

"Lieutenant Colonel Castillo does not now, nor has he ever, worked for the agency. That's the truth, Sergei."

"But you're-how do I put this?-in touch?"

Lammelle shook his head. "No."

"Do you know where he is?"

Lammelle shook his head again. "No, but if I can find out, I'm going to warn him that Putin's after him."

"I didn't say that."

"You didn't have to," Lammelle said. "Are you going to tell me what that's all about? Why does Putin want his head?"

"I didn't say President Putin is in any way involved in this, Frank."

Of course you didn't.

Those cameras and microphones also are recording everything you say, aren't they?

"Okay. Let me rephrase. Why does He Who Wants Castillo want him? And please don't tell me 'wants' isn't shorthand for 'wants eliminated.'"

"There are several reasons, most of which-probably all of which-have occurred to you. For one thing, Colonel Castillo has left a great many bodies behind him in his travels around the world. Do I make my point?"

"That accusation would be a good deal more credible, Sergei, if you put names to the bodies," Lammelle said.

"If you insist," Murov said. "I suppose the first was Major Alejandro Vincenzo of the Cuban Direccion General de Inteligencia. You're not going to deny Castillo was involved in that, are you?"

"As I understand that story, that was self-defense," Lammelle said.

"Whatever the circumstances, Vincenzo and half a dozen others were shot to death in Uruguay by a commando team under Colonel Castillo."

"There was a confrontation and Vincenzo lost. Sometimes that happens in our line of work, Sergei. The good guys don't always win."

Murov smiled.

"That comment can be interpreted in two ways, Frank, depending on who one thinks are the good guys."

"I suppose it could."

"In any event, Vincenzo's death was an embarrassment to General Sirinov, who had to explain it to the Cubans."

"General who?"

"Contrary to your beliefs, General Yakov Sirinov is the man in charge of the FSB and the SVR."

"You mean he runs them for Mr. Putin?"

"President Putin has nothing to do with either the FSB or the SVR."

"You keep telling me that."

Not because you believe it, or expect me to believe it, but because the cameras are rolling.

Murov met Lammelle's eyes for a moment, but did not reply directly, instead saying, "Podpolkovnik Kiril Demidov."

"Is Podpolkovnik Demidov somebody else Podpolkovnik Castillo is supposed to have killed?"

Murov smiled and shook his head.

"All right, Frank, Lieutenant Colonel Demidov was a lifelong friend of mine."

"Another member of the oprichniki?"

Murov nodded. "More important, his family and that of General Sirinov were close-more than close, distant cousins, that sort of thing-and even more important than that, close to other powerful people."

"Like he whose name we're not mentioning, who wants Castillo eliminated?"

Murov nodded.

"Vienna is not nearly as important a post as it once was, but when Kiril was named rezident there, there were those who said he was too young and did not have the experience he should have."

"But they didn't complain, right, because that might annoy he whose name we are not mentioning who arranged his appointment?"

Murov shrugged in admission.

"Well, I hate to tell you this, Sergei, but I happen to know that Lieutenant Colonel Castillo was nowhere near Vienna when someone strangled your friend and left him in a taxi in front of our embassy."

"We're back to my analogy about who controls the brandy bottle," Murov said. "And the other bodies had names, too: Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeny Komogorov, for one."

Lammelle said, "There was a story going around that he was the FSB man for Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. The story I heard about what happened to him was that he made the mistake of trying to assassinate Aleksandr Pevsner."

"And then there was Lavrenti Tarasov and Evgeny Alekseev, whose bodies were found near the airport in Buenos Aires. Evgeny was another old friend of mine. I'm sure you know that he was Podpolkovnik Svetlana Alekseeva's husband."

"Why would you think I would know that?"

"Because you're the deputy director of the CIA," Murov said coldly.

"Do I detect a subtle tone of disapproval in your voice, Sergei?" Lammelle said.

"How about disappointment? I really hoped we could have a serious discussion and resolve our problem. As professionals."

"As a professional, Sergei, I find it hard to believe that you thought we could have a serious discussion when what I'm hearing from you strikes me as nonsense."


"Right now I don't have a clear picture of the long-term implications of Congo-X turning up at Fort Detrick and on the U.S.-Mexico border. If you wanted to hurt someone with it, you would have. If you had hurt someone, that could have led anywhere, right up to a nuclear exchange. If you do hurt something that hurts us badly, for example, killing as many people as the rag-heads taking down the World Trade Center towers killed, then the missiles will fly. We didn't know whom to nuke after 9/11. But if something happens involving Congo-X, we know just where to go: Lubyanka Square, Moscow, and you damned well know it.

"And what you're suggesting here is that you're willing to risk a nuclear exchange unless we turn over to you three people, a colonel and two lieutenant colonels! You're right, Sergei, that's not nonsense. It's not even a clumsy attempt at blackmail. What it is, is pure bullshit!"

Murov looked at him for a moment, then reached for the bottle of Remy Martin cognac. He poured two inches of it into one of the snifters, and then looked at Lammelle.

"Why not?" Lammelle said. "Not only are the gloves off, but I'm about to walk out of here."

Murov poured cognac into another snifter, then handed it to Lammelle.

They touched glasses.

"Mud in your eye," Murov said.

"Up yours, Sergei," Lammelle said unpleasantly.

"I used the word 'disappointed' a moment ago, Frank. And I am. I'm disappointed that you don't really understand power."

"And what don't I understand about it?"

"In your government, your leader, your President, doesn't really have absolute power. There are things he simply cannot do because he wants to. In other governments-Cuba, for example, North Korea, Venezuela, and one or two others-the leader can do anything that pleases him. Anything."

Lammelle felt a chill at the base of his neck.

"Russia wouldn't be one of those other countries, would it?"

"Of course not. We are a democracy now. Our president and other officials must-and always do-follow the law and the will of the people."

Lammelle took a healthy swallow-half of the cognac in the glass-and felt the warmth move through his body.

"That's utter bullshit, too," he said.

"I'll tell you what's going to happen now, Frank," Murov said. "You're going to go back to Langley and report this conversation to Jack Powell. And he will be as unbelieving as you were. This will evolve into anger. And then you'll go to the President. And he will be as unbelieving as you were and Jack Powell will be. And then he will become angry. Fortunately-for all of us-President Clendennen is not nearly as impulsive as his predecessor. He will think things over carefully, and in the end he will tell you to call me back and say that you will do whatever you can to resolve this problem. As you yourself pointed out, in the balance, the lives of a colonel and two lieutenant colonels aren't really worth all that much."

"Fuck you, Sergei."

"I'll have the car brought around," Murov said, and reached for a telephone.

"Let me call first," Lammelle said, and Murov slid the telephone to him.

Lammelle punched in a number from memory.

"It's time to pick up the dry cleaning," he said a moment later, and then hung up.

He slid the telephone back to Murov.

"Don't bother to make note of the number," he said. "In ten minutes, it will be out of service."

"You didn't have to tell me that, Frank," Murov said, and then punched in a number and said, in Russian, "My guest will be leaving." Murov walked him to the Caravan.

When Lammelle was in the front passenger seat, Murov motioned for him to roll down the window. Lammelle found the switch, but the window remained up.

"Unlock his fucking window," Murov called nastily in Russian.

Lammelle tried the switch again, and this time the window went down.

"Well?" Lammelle asked.

"Frank, the problem people like you and me have is that sometimes we have to do things we don't like at all. I took no pleasure in what happened between us today. There was no feeling of 'Score one for our side.'"

Lammelle met his eyes, but said nothing. He found the switch, put the window up, and then in English said, "Okay, let's go." [TWO] The President's Study The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 1225 7 February 2007 "Fascinating," President Joshua Ezekiel Clendennen said when Deputy DCI Frank Lammelle had delivered his report on what had happened that morning in the Russian dacha. "How much are we supposed to believe?"

He turned in his high-backed blue leather judge's chair and pointed at Secretary of State Natalie Cohen.

"I think Frank can answer that better than I can, Mr. President," Cohen said. "He was there."

"I'll rephrase, Madam Secretary," Clendennen said, a long way from pleasantly. "Presuming Mr. Lammelle told us the truth and nothing but, how much of what this Russian told him can we believe? Make that two questions: How much of what the Russian told Lammelle are we expected to believe, and, two, how much can we believe?"

If she felt insulted, it didn't show on her face or in her tone of voice.

"Mr. President, I always like to start with what we do know. In this case, we know the Russians were involved with the bio-chem laboratory in the Congo. And since they know we call this substance Congo-X, and that some of it was delivered to Fort Detrick and some left for us to find on the Mexican border, I suggest that it is safe to presume they have more of it. The threat, therefore, is real."

"Natalie, we don't know that," DCI Jack Powell said. "For all we know, the stuff they sent us may be all they have. This whole thing may be a bluff."

"I asked her, Jack," the President said. "You'll get your chance."

"I think, Mr. President," Cohen said, "to respond to your questions directly, that they expect us to believe everything they told Frank, and I think we should."

Clendennen grunted, then looked at Powell.

"Okay, Jack, your chance," the President said. "Do these bastards have more of this stuff, or not?"

"Off the top of my head, Mr. President, I would say they have at least a little more, enough of it so they can leave us a couple more samples."

"And that's all they have?"

"Mr. President, we leveled and then burned everything in a twenty-mile radius of the Fish Farm. Either we somehow missed this, or they had some of it in a laboratory in Russia. Or someplace else. My gut tells me there's not much of Congo-X anywhere."

"But we don't know that, do we?" Clendennen asked.

"No, sir, we don't."

"Why would Putin do something like this?" Clendennen wondered aloud.

"Was that a question, Mr. President?" Mark Schmidt, the director of the FBI, asked.

"Does that mean you have an answer?"

"No, sir. Just that I've been thinking about motive."

"Well, out with it."

"For one thing, we humiliated the Russians when we took out the Fish Farm," Schmidt said. "For another, Castillo and his people-"

"My predecessors' loose cannon and his merry band of outlaws humiliated the Russians?" the President interrupted, sarcastically incredulous.

"Yes, sir. Castillo and his people have not only humiliated the Russians-which is to say Putin-all over Europe and South America but-according to what the Russian told Frank-has killed a lot of them. I think it's credible that Putin did know some of them personally, and wants revenge."

"Madam Secretary?" the President asked.

Natalie Cohen nodded her agreement with Schmidt's theory.

"And he could well be reasoning that we really don't want a confrontation when that could be avoided by returning their two defectors. We can't give him Castillo, of course-"

"Why can't we?" the President asked.

"Jesus Christ!" Lammelle exclaimed.

"Let's go down that road," Clendennen said. "No. Of course we can't give him Colonel Castillo or any of his people. As much as I might want to. But we can go along with that notion…"

"Let me go on the record here," Natalie Cohen said. "I will not be part of any agreement which will turn over the two defectors, much less Colonel Castillo or any of his people, to the Russians."

"Duly noted," President Clendennen said. "Let me finish, please. I said we can let the Russians think we're willing to give them all three of them. So far as the Russians are concerned, we weren't responsible for their defection."

"Castillo flew them out of Vienna on his plane, Mr. President," Powell said. "And if he hadn't, we had a plane waiting at Schwechat to do the same thing."

"If they had gotten on a plane sent by the CIA, Mr. Powell," the President said coldly, "we would have some sort of moral obligation to protect them. They didn't. Castillo was not acting on behalf of the U.S. government when he flew them to South America. Therefore, we have no such moral obligation."

"I don't agree with that at all, Mr. President," Powell said.

"I don't care, Mr. Powell, if you agree with it or not. I'm telling you that's the way it is."

He let that sink in for a moment, and then went on: "Madam Secretary, I want you to call in the Argentine ambassador and tell him that it has come to our attention that there are two people in his country illegally… what are their names?"

"Presumably, Mr. President, you are referring to Dmitri Berezovsky and Svetlana Alekseeva," she said.

"… for whom Interpol has issued warrants alleging the embezzlement of several millions of dollars."

"Excuse me, Mr. President," Mark Schmidt said. "Interpol has canceled those warrants at the request of the Russian Federation. Three days ago. Berezovsky and Alekseeva are no longer fugitives."

"You're sure?" the President said.

"Yes, sir. I'm sure."

"Well, so much for that idea," the President said. "That would have been easier. We'll have to come up with something else. So here's what we're going to do: Lammelle, get in touch with your Russian and tell him he has a deal."

"Am I to tell him the deal includes Colonel Castillo?"

"Yes. I told you I was not about to turn over an American to those Russian bastards, but if they think I am, so much the better for us."

"Yes, sir."

That sonofabitch is lying through his teeth. He'd happily turn Castillo over to the Russians, or anyone else, if it would get him out of this mess.

"The next step is to locate the Russians. You think they're in Argentina?"

"I have no idea where they are, Mr. President," DCI Powell said.

"Well, I want them found and I want them found quickly. Do whatever has to be done. Send as many people down there-or to anywhere else you think they might be-and find them. Run down the people who used to work for Castillo. See if they know where the Russians are. And Castillo is."

"Yes, sir."

"This is a no-brainer, Mr. Powell. If we can get these Russian bastards to keep that stuff out of the country, and all it costs us is giving them back two traitors, that's a price I can live with. I've always thought that people who change sides are despicable."

"Even if the side they change from is despicable, Mr. President?" Natalie Cohen asked.

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear you say that, Madam Secretary," the President of the United States said. [THREE] Penthouse B The Grand Cozumel Beach amp; Golf Resort Cozumel Quintana Roo, Mexico 1310 7 February 2007 A good deal of conversation and thought had not shot many holes in the scenario of what was probably going on, but on the other hand it also hadn't done much to confirm it.

Neither had "all the agency intel" that Casey had furnished. The CIA's analysts also seemed to feel the Congo-X sent to Fort Detrick and left for the Border Patrol to find on the Mexican border had most probably come from the Fish Farm in the Congo. But they had no idea how it had been moved from Africa to the United States, and apparently had not considered that the Tupolev Tu-934A might have been involved.

Castillo had called Casey and asked him to see if his source could find anything about Tupolevs moving anywhere, and again asked him to send any intel, no matter how unimportant or unrelated it might seem.

The only thing to do was wait for something to happen. Everybody was frustrated, but everybody also knew that sitting around with your finger in your ear-or other body orifice-waiting for something to happen was what intelligence gathering was really all about.

So everybody but Castillo, Svetlana, Pevsner, and Tom Barlow had gone deep-sea fishing on a forty-two-foot Bertram owned by the Grand Cozumel Beach amp; Golf Resort.

Castillo had seen everybody's departure as an opportunity. But Tom Barlow had come to the penthouse and asked if he wanted to play chess before he could take advantage of the opportunity. Castillo no more wanted to play chess than he wanted to lunch on raw iguana, but the alternative was saying, "No, thanks, as I'm planning to spend the morning increasing my carnal knowledge of your sister."

When the door chime went off, they were playing chess, and Svetlana-in a bikini-was taking in the sun on a chaise longue by the pool, with Max lying beside her.

The latter went to answer the door.

Aleksandr Pevsner, Janos, and another man were standing there.

Before Pevsner knew what was happening, Max put his paws on Pevsner's shoulders and licked his face.

"Look at that!" Tom Barlow called happily. "Max loves you, Alek."

And then he recognized the man with Pevsner and exclaimed, "I'll be damned!"

The man with Pevsner was plump, ruddy-faced, and in his early fifties. His short-sleeved blue shirt had wings and epaulets with the four stripes of a captain on it.

"Well, my God, look who's all grown up and wearing lipstick! And not much else," the man said, and spread his arms.

"Uncle Nicolai!" Svetlana cried happily and ran into his arms.

Castillo watched, then thought: Well, that explains that. Another relative.

But what is Uncle Nicolai doing here?

Tom Barlow was now waiting patiently for his chance to exchange hugs with Uncle Nicolai. When it came, the two embraced and enthusiastically pounded each other's back.

"Aleksandr said you were in Johannesburg," Svetlana said.

"I spend a good deal of time there," Uncle Nicolai said. He looked at Charley and offered his hand. In fluent, just slightly accented English, he said, "I'm Nicolai Tarasov."

"Charley Castillo."

"Who has captured Svetlana's heart. Alek told me."

"So what brings you to Cozumel by the Sea, Uncle Nicolai?" Castillo asked.

Tarasov avoided the question.

"Alek and I go back to our days with Aeroflot," Tarasov said. "When I tried without much success to teach him to fly Ilyushin Il-96s."

Castillo felt his temper turn on.

"Why don't you want to tell me what brings you to Cozumel by the Sea, Uncle Nicolai?" he repeated, then added: "Somehow I don't think this is a happy coincidence and that you're all going to sit around eating fried chicken and telling stories about Grandma."

"Why are you going out of your way to be unpleasant, Charley?" Svetlana asked.

Castillo switched to Russian: "Because Cousin Alek"-he pointed at Pevsner-"can't seem to get it through his thick Russian skull that since I'm running this operation, it's not nice to spring surprises on me. Like Uncle Nicolai just happening to drop in from Johannesburg to say hi."

"You speak Russian very well; you sound like you're from Saint Petersburg," Tarasov said. "Aleksandr told me you did. Just after he told me to be very, very careful not to underestimate you."

"I still don't have an answer," Castillo said.

"Just for the record, Charley," Tom Barlow said, "I'm as surprised to see Nicolai as you are."

"Goodbye, Uncle Nicolai," Castillo said, motioning toward the door. "The next time you're in town, make sure you call."

"Now, wait just a minute, Charley!" Pevsner flared.

"Why do I have to spend all my time making peace between you two?" Svetlana asked.

"Maybe because Alek the Terrible has trouble understanding I don't recognize him as the tsar," Charley said.

Both Barlow and Tarasov chuckled.

Pevsner gave them both an icy glare.

"'Alek the Terrible'?" Tarasov quoted. "I like that."

"I got in touch with Nicolai to see what he could contribute to our scenario," Pevsner said after a moment.

"And can he?" Castillo challenged, and then looked at Tarasov. "Can you?"

"I'm trying to run down something I heard, about an incident that took place at the El Obeid Airport in Sudan," Tarasov said. "That may take a little time. And I think there's at least a good chance that if a Tupolev Tu-934A was used in this operation, I know where they landed in Mexico."

"What took place in Sudan?"

"They found a lot of dead people at the burned-down airport," Tarasov said. "From what little I know so far, it sounds like something that one of Yakov Sirinov's Vega Groups would do. No witnesses."

"And the airport in Mexico?"

"Laguna el Guaje," Tarasov said. "In Coahuila State."

"Laguna el Guaje mean anything to you, Charley?" Pevsner asked.

Castillo shook his head.

"It's sort of the Mexican version of Groom Dry Lake Test Facility," Nicolai explained. "Far fewer aircraft, and different secrets."

Castillo knew that Groom Lake, on the vast Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, was rumored to be where-in Area 51 thereon-the CIA was holding little green men from Mars, or elsewhere in the universe. He hadn't seen any of them when he had been to Area 51, but he had seen some very interesting experimental aircraft.

"I have never heard of either what you just said or Area 51," Castillo said. "But if I had, and talked to you about it, I'd have to kill you."

Nicolai laughed out loud and punched Castillo's shoulder.

"I like him, Alek," he said.

"Don't speak too soon," Pevsner said.

"Why do you think that might be the place?" Castillo said.

"Because we use it from time to time," Tarasov said.

And what do you use it for, from time to time?

Moving cocaine around?

"How do we find out?"

"A man who you should know is going to meet us there," Pevsner said.

"And how do we get there?"

"Fly," Tarasov said. "It should take us about an hour."

"Two of the three pilots who can fly our Gulfstream are deep-sea fishing. It may take some time to get them back here. And when they get here, they'll probably be half in the bag. They didn't expect to go flying. And I really don't like flying that airplane by myself."

"But you could if you had to, right? I hear you're quite a pilot." He paused, then added: "Schwechat-Ezeiza via Africa is a long way to go in a G-Three unless you really know how to fly a Gulfstream."

"Flattery will get you nowhere, Uncle Nicolai. Goodbye, Uncle Nicolai," Castillo said.

Tarasov seemed unaffected by Castillo's belligerence.

"Actually, Colonel Castillo," he said, "I have an airplane. I just picked up a Cessna Citation Mustang at the factory in Wichita. That's what I was doing when Aleksandr called, getting checked out in it."

"And now you're going to fly it to Johannesburg, right?" Castillo said sarcastically. "I hope you know how to swim. The specs I saw on the Mustang gave it a range of about eleven hundred nautical miles, and the last time I looked, the Atlantic Ocean was a lot wider than that."

"He's not going to fly it to South Africa," Pevsner said. "The casino here bought the Mustang to replace the Lear it uses to pick up good casino customers and bring them to Cozumel."

The last I heard, Cessna was happy not only to deliver a plane like that to the customer, but also to have whoever delivered it teach the new owner or his pilot how to fly it.

And since you own the casino, please forgive me for wondering what almost certainly illegal services this new Mustang will render to you when it's not hauling high-rollers around.

What's behind all this bullshit?

You know, but you don't like to think about it.

Fuck it. Get it out in the open.

"Alek, listen to me carefully," Castillo said. "Whatever we do to solve our current problem, we are not going to get involved with the drug trade or anybody in it."

"Friend Charley, you listen carefully to me," Pevsner said, icily furious. "I am not, and never have been, involved with the drug trade."

Castillo considered that a moment, and then realized: I'll be a sonofabitch if I don't believe him!

Why? Because I want to?

"Why do I keep waiting for you to say 'but'?" Castillo asked.

"Aleksandr, I think you should answer Charley's question, and fully," Svetlana said.

Pevsner glared at her.

"Svet took the words from my mouth, Alek," Tom Barlow said. "Not only is he entitled to an answer, but the last thing we need right now is Charley questioning your motives."

"I'm not used to sharing the details of my business operations with anybody," Pevsner said. "I told you I am not, and never have been, involved with the drug trade. That should be enough."

"I keep waiting for the rest of the sentence beginning with 'but,'" Castillo said.

"Colonel Castillo," Tarasov said, "let me try to explain: Once a month-sometimes three weeks, sometimes five-certain businessmen-most often Mexican, Venezuelan, and Colombian, but sometimes from other places-want to visit Switzerland, or Liechtenstein, or Moscow, without this coming to anyone's attention.

"We pick them up at Laguna el Guaje. It's always two of them. Each has two suitcases, one of them full of currency, usually American dollars, but sometimes euros or other hard currency. But only cash, no drugs."

"How do you know that?"

"Because we open them to count the cash, which determines the fare, which is five percent of the cash. We bring them here, where they travel to El Tepual International Airport at Puerto Montt, Chile, aboard a Peruaire aircraft returning from a foodstuff delivery here. At El Tepual, they transfer to an aircraft- depending on their final destination-of either Cape Town Air Cargo or Air Bulgaria-"

"Both of which the tsar here owns?" Castillo asked.

"The tsar or one of the more charming of the tsar's grand dukes," Tarasov said. "To finish, the aircraft is carrying a cargo of that magnificent Chilean seafood and often Argentinean beef to feed the affluent hungry of Europe. Getting the picture? Any questions?"

"Oh, yeah," Castillo said. "And the first one that comes to mind is: Are all you Russian expatriate businessmen really related? Aren't you worried that you'll corrupt the gene pool?"

Tarasov laughed. "I'm starting to understand you, Colonel Castillo. You say things designed to startle or outrage. People who are startled or outraged tend to say things they hadn't planned to say. Alek was right to warn me not to go with my first impression of you, which-by your design, of course-is intended to make people prone to underestimate you.

"Got me all figured out, have you, Uncle Nicolai? Tell me about the gene pool."

"We're not really related, except very distantly. Our families have been close, however, for many years."

"Do I see the Oprichnina raising its ugly head?" Castillo asked.

"Why ugly?" Tarasov said. "Did what you may have heard of the Oprichnina make you think that?" He turned to Pevsner. "How much did you tell the colonel about the separate state, Alek?"

"What I didn't tell him, Svetlana did," Pevsner said.

"And what Svet didn't tell him, Nicolai, I did," Tom Barlow said, and then turned to Castillo. "Charley, when Alek first left Russia and bought the first Antonov An-22 and went into business, the man who flew it out of Russia was an ex-Aeroflot pilot and Air Force polkovnik named Nicolai Tarasov."

"And we have been in business together since then," Tarasov said. "Does this satisfy your curiosity, Colonel Castillo, or have you other questions?"

This could all be bullshit, which I am, in my naivete, swallowing whole.

On the other hand, my gut tells me it's not.

"Just one," Castillo said. "Are you going to check me out in the Mustang on our way back and forth to Area 51?"

"It would be my pleasure," Tarasov said.

"Can I go like this?" Sweaty asked, twirling in her bikini.

Castillo saw in Pevsner's eyes that he was considering discouraging her notion, and wondered why, and then that Pevsner had decided she could-or even should-go, and wondered about that, too.

"You can go as naked as a jaybird, as far as I'm concerned," Pevsner said, "but you probably would be more comfortable in a dress."

"Your dog thinks he's going," Tarasov said, pointing at Max, who was sitting on his haunches by the door.

And again Castillo saw something in Pevsner's eyes, this time that Max going was a good idea. He wondered about that, too.

"Max goes just about everywhere with Charley, Nicolai," Pevsner said. There were two Yukons with darkened windows waiting for them in the basement garage of the luxury hotel, and two men standing by, each not making much of an effort to conceal the Mini Uzis under their loose, flowered shirts.

Castillo wondered if all the security was routine, and then considered for the first time that if the Russians were successful in getting Svetlana and Tom back to Russia, they would probably-almost certainly; indeed Pevsner had said so-be coming after Pevsner.

And if that's true, they will also be coming after Tarasov.

I'll have to keep that in mind.

And continue to wonder when Alek will decide that if throwing me-and possibly even Tom and Sweaty-under the bus is the price of protecting his family and his businesses, then so be it.

Am I paranoid to consider the possibility that that's what may be happening right now? When we get to this mysterious airfield, is there going to be a team of General Yakov Sirinov's Spetsnaz special operators waiting for us, to load us on the Tupolev Tu-934A and fly us off to Mother Russia?

That would solve everyone's problems.

No. That's your imagination running away with you.

Scenario two: The crew of the Bertram terminates all the fishermen and tosses their suitably weighted bodies overboard to feed the fishes.

That would get rid of everybody else who knows too much about the affairs of Aleksandr Pevsner.

And nobody knows-except Pevsner and his private army of ex-Spetsnaz special operators-that any of us have ever been near Sunny Cozumel by the Sea.

Come to think of it, there was no real reason we couldn't have passed through customs under our own names, or the names on the new passports we got in Argentina.

You are being paranoid, and you know it.

On the other hand, you have had paranoid theories before, and on more than several occasions, acting on them has saved your ass. The Yukon convoy drove directly to the airport, and then through a gate which opened for them as they approached, then onto the tarmac and up beside a Cessna Citation Mustang.

There were two pickup trucks parked close to the airplane. An air-conditioning unit was mounted in the back of one, with a foot-wide flexible tube feeding cold air through the door. The other held a ground power generator.

As soon as the doors of the Yukons opened, the air-conditioning hose was pulled out of the door.

Max knew his role in the departure procedure: He trotted up to the nose gear, sniffed, then raised his right rear leg.

"Does he do that often?" Tarasov asked.

"Religiously," Castillo said.

"You want to do the walk-around with me?" Tarasov said.

Castillo would have done the walk-around without an invitation-no pilot trusts any other pilot to do properly what has to be done-but he intuited Tarasov's invitation was more than courtesy, and even more that it wasn't something a pilot about to give instruction would do.

"Max, go with Sweaty," Castillo ordered in Hungarian, and the dog went to the stair door and politely waited for Svetlana to board, then leapt aboard himself, pushing Pevsner aside as he did.

Castillo's suspicion deepened when Tarasov said, "Why don't you come with us, Dmitri?" and was confirmed when they came to the rear end of the port engine, which could not be seen from inside the airplane.

"Colonel," Tarasov asked, "are you armed?"

"No," Castillo admitted. "Should I be?"


Tom Barlow shook his head.

Tarasov squatted beside his Jeppesen case, opened it and came out with two pistols. Castillo was surprised to see that both were the officer's model-a cut-down version-of the Colt 1911A1.45 ACP semiautomatic pistol.

They held five cartridges-rather than seven rounds-in the magazines in their shortened grips. The slides and barrels had been similarly shortened. They had once been made from standard pistols by gunsmiths at the Frankford Arsenal for issue only to general officers but later became commercially available.

That's my weapon of choice, Castillo thought.

I wonder where Uncle Nicolai got them. And if by coincidence, or because he's aware that they're about the best people shooter around.

"I'm sure you know how to use one of these," Tarasov said to Charley, and handed him one of the pistols. Then he turned to Barlow. "Dmitri?"

Barlow took the extended pistol, said, "They work like the regular ones, right?" and proceeded to quickly check the pistol to see if there was a round in the chamber. There was. He ejected the magazine, then worked the action, which ejected the round in the chamber. He caught it in the air, said, "Lester showed me how to do that," put it back in the magazine, shoved the magazine back in the pistol, and worked the action. It was now ready to fire.

"Am I going to need this, Nicolai?" he asked.

"I hope not. But Alek said to give them to you, and he always has his reasons. Try not to let Svetlana know you have them."

"Why not?" Castillo challenged.

"I think Alek wants the people we're going to talk to think she's somebody's girlfriend."

"Why?" Castillo pursued.

"If somebody brings his girlfriend to a meeting with people like these, it means either that he's not afraid of them, or stupid, and these people know that whatever he is, Alek is not stupid."

"Neither is Sweaty. If she's going to play a role, she should know what's expected of her."

"You want to tell Alek that?" Tarasov asked.

"My immediate reaction to that is an angry 'Hell, yes, I'll tell him.' But since I tend to get in trouble when I react angrily, let me think about it."

"In the meantime, why don't we get aboard?" Tarasov asked. The small cabin of the jet was crowded. Castillo and Tarasov had to step carefully around Max, who was sprawled in the aisle, to get to the cockpit.

"Would you like to follow me through?" Tarasov asked when Castillo slipped into the co-pilot's seat.

"You fly, I'll watch," Castillo said.

"Good. You're cautious. Follow me through start-up, and have a look at the panel. It's a very nice little airplane. The latest Garmin, the G1000," he said, pointing at the panel. "When we're ready to go, you can have it. It handles beautifully, and will not try to get away from you, which cannot be said of the G-Three."

"And we're going GPS?" Castillo asked, nodding at the Garmin's screen.

"Very few navigation aids where we're going," the pilot said, smiling, "and we'll be flying, I hope, under the radar."

Tarasov threw the master buss switch, and then reached for the engine start control.

"Starting number one," he announced, and then turned to Charley: "Get on the radio and tell Cancun Area Control that we're going on a four-hour VFR low-level sightseeing ride, with a fuel stop at Santa Elena." [ONE] Aboard Cessna Mustang N0099S North Latitude 27.742, West Longitude 103.285 1425 7 February 2007 "You're not going to find an approach chart in there," Nicolai Tarasov said to Castillo, who had just gone into Tarasov's Jeppesen case searching for exactly that.

"I don't even see a runway on these," Castillo replied. "How do we know where to land? And how do we know there won't be boulders on it?"

"Presuming there's no water in the lake-and it usually is dry-you can land practically anywhere. Your Instructor Pilot will show you physical features used to locate the best place to land."

"And if an IP's not handy?"

"That's the idea, Colonel. If you don't know where to land, you shouldn't try. There won't be any boulders, but you're liable to find large tree trunks in your way. Your IP will show where there are no tree trunks."

"Meaning there are people here who remove them?"

Tarasov nodded, then said, "May I call you 'Charley'? Or 'Carlos'?"

"I wish you would-'Carlos'-as I ain't a colonel no more."

"Once a colonel, Carlos, always a colonel," Tarasov said. "Put it into a shallow descent on this course. Go into a low-level pass to make sure there really are no dead trees on the runway, and then you can land."

"What about the wind?"

"When they hear us coming, a wind sock will miraculously appear next to the runway."

"I gather there is no Laguna el Guaje tower?"

"That's the idea, Carlos. Since there is no tower, curious ears cannot overhear it clearing aircraft in and out of here." The "physical feature" Tarasov pointed out was a sprawling ranch house and some outlying buildings on the high terrain next to the lake.

"Immediately down the hill you should see-there it is-the wind sock," Tarasov said. "Usually there are negligible crosswinds. Just land into the wind, remembering, of course, to lower the wheels first."

"I have a tendency to forget that," Castillo said as he began a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn.

"Wheels coming down," Tarasov said a moment later, "and down and locked."

And a moment after that, Castillo greased the Cessna Mustang onto the lake bed.

"Not too bad a landing for a beginner," Tarasov said. "After another, say, twenty hours of my masterful instruction, I might be prepared to sign you off to fly this aircraft."

Castillo gave him the finger. Tarasov smiled at him.

"What now?" Castillo asked.

"Taxi back toward the house. You'll see sort of a hangar."

What Castillo saw just over a minute later was "sort of a hangar" dug into the side of the hill lining the dry lake bottom. It was invisible from the air, and to him as he landed, but now an enormous dirt-colored tarpaulin had been raised out of the way, revealing a cavelike area in which Castillo could see a Learjet.

A burly man in khakis walked out of the opening, holding wands and motioning him to taxi inside. An Uzi hung around his shoulder and when Castillo turned the nose, he could see three other men similarly dressed and armed.

"They don't look very friendly," Castillo said.

"They're not," Tarasov said.

Castillo turned the Mustang nose out and shut down the engines.

"Now what?" he asked.

"Now it gets interesting," Tarasov said as he unfastened his harness. Charley followed suit, and when he stood up, saw that Max and Pevsner were standing by the door.

"Maybe you better tell Max to stay onboard," Pevsner said. "Those people are liable to shoot first and ask questions later."

The best defense is usually a good offense.

"Maybe I should get off first," Castillo said, and reached for the opening mechanism.

When the stair door dropped in place, he jumped to the ground.

The men with the Uzis moved toward the airplane.

"Good afternoon," Castillo said in Spanish. "My dog is about to get off the airplane. If anyone looks like he's even thinking about pointing a weapon at him, I'll stick it up his ass, before I kill him."

The men stopped moving toward him.

He snapped his fingers and Max jumped easily to the ground. Castillo pointed to the nose gear. Max headed for it. He would have anyway, but the men with the Uzis didn't know that, and they were as much impressed with the obedient, well-trained dog as they were with his size.

"Okay, Alek," Castillo called. "You're next. This is your show."

Janos came down the doorstairs, followed by Pevsner, then Tom Barlow, and finally Svetlana.

The men's faces made it clear that she surprised them even more than the dog.

"El Senor Garcia-Romero is presumably here?" Pevsner asked, more than a little arrogantly.

There was a faint flash from Castillo's memory bank: I know that name.

Hector Garcia-Romero headed a law firm which maintained offices in Mexico City, San Antonio, and New York.

Among its clients was Lopez Fruit and Vegetables Mexico, a wholly owned subsidiary of Castillo Agriculture, Inc., of San Antonio, Texas, whose honorary chairman of the board was Dona Alicia Castillo, whose president and chief executive officer was Fernando Lopez, Charley's cousin, and whose officers included Carlos Castillo.

This can't be my Tio Hector. What the hell would he be doing here at a thug-guarded secret airfield that might as well have a sign reading WELCOME TO DRUG CARTEL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT?

And there are probably two hundred ninety-seven thousand and six Mexicans named Garcia-Romero.

"Si, senor. In the house."