Any of those scenarios could be correct, or they could all be dead wrong. But Hood had always believed that it was better to consider every option, even the least likely, rather than be surprised.
Especially when the result of being right could be cataclysmic. He would have to proceed carefully. If he could get to see the president, he would have an opportunity to lay his few cards on the table and also observe Lawrence, see whether Megan’s concerns had merit. The worst that could happen was the president would ask for his resignation.
Fortunately, he still had his last one on file.
“What are you thinking?” Herbert asked.
Hood reached for the telephone.
“I’ve got to see the president.”
“Excellent,” Herbert said.
“Straight ahead has always been my favorite way, too.”
Hood punched in the president’s direct line. The phone beeped at the desk of his executive secretary, Jamie Leigh, instead of going through the switchboard.
Hood asked Mrs. Leigh if she could please squeeze him in for a few minutes somewhere. She asked him for a log line for the calendar to let the president know what this was about. Hood said that it had to do with Op Center having a role in the United Nations intelligence program.
Mrs. Leigh liked Hood, and she arranged for him to see the president for five minutes, from four-ten to four fifteen
Hood thanked her then looked at Herbert.
“I’ve got to get going,” Hood said.
“My appointment’s in forty minutes.”
“You don’t look happy,” Herbert said.
“I’m not,” Hood said.
“Can we get someone to nail down who Fenwick is meeting in New York?”
“Mike was able to connect with someone at the State Department when you two were up there,” Herbert said.
“Lisa Baroni,” Herbert told him.
“She was a liaison with the parents during the crisis.”
“I didn’t meet her,” Hood said.
“How did Mike find her?”
“He did what any good spymaster does,” Herbert said.
“When he’s someplace new, he looks for the unhappy employee and promises them something better if they deliver. Let’s see if she can deliver.”
“Good,” Hood said as he rose.
“God. I feel like I do whenever I go to Christmas Eve Mass.”
“And how is that?” Herbert asked.
“Guilty that you don’t go to church more often?”
“No,” Hood replied.
“I feel like there’s something going on that’s much bigger than me. And I’m afraid that when I figure out what that is, it’s going to scare the hell out of me.”
“Isn’t that what church is supposed to be about?” Herbert asked.
Hood thought about that for a moment. Then he grinned as he left the office, “louche,” he said.
“Good luck,” Herbert replied as he wheeled out after him.
Gobustan, Azerbaijan Monday, 11:56 p.m.
Gobustan is a small, rustic village located forty-three miles south of Baku. The region was settled as far back as 8000 b.c. and is riddled by caves and towering outcroppings of rock. The caves boast prehistoric art as well as more recent forms of expression–graffiti left two thousand years ago by Roman legionnaires.
Situated low in the foothills, just beneath the caves, are several shepherds’ shacks. Spread out over hundreds of acres of graze able land, they were built early in the century and most of them remain in use, though not always by men tending their flocks. One large shack is hidden behind a rock that commands a view of the entire village. The only way up is along a rutted dirt road cut through the foothills by millennia of foot traffic and erosion.
Inside, five men sat around a rickety wooden table in the center of the small room. Another man sat on a chair by a window overlooking the road. There was an Uzi in his lap. A seventh man was still in Baku, watching the hospital. They weren’t sure when the patient would arrive, but when he did, Maurice Charles wanted his man to be ready.
The window was open, and a cool breeze was blowing in. Except for the occasional hooting of an owl or rocks dislodged by prowling foxes in search of field mice, there was silence outside the shack–the kind of silence that the Harpooner rarely heard in his travels around the world.
Except for Charles, the men were stripped to their shorts. They were studying photographs that had been received through a satellite uplink.
The portable six-inch dish had been mounted on the top of the shack, which had an unobstructed view of the southeastern sky and the GorizonT3. Located 35,736 kilometers above twenty-one degrees twenty-five minutes north, sixty degrees twenty-seven minutes east, that was the satellite the United States National Reconnaissance Office used to keep watch on the Caspian Sea. Charles’s American contact had given him the restricted web site and access code, and he had downloaded images from the past twenty-four hours.
The decoder they used, a Stellar Photo Judge 7, had also been provided by Charles’s contact through one of the embassies. It was a compact unit roughly the size and configuration of a fax machine. The SPJ 7 printed photographs on thick sublimation paper, a slick, oil based sheet that could not be faxed or electronically transmitted. Any attempt to do so would be like pressing on a liquid crystal display. All the receiver would see was a smudge. The unit provided magnification with a resolution of ten meters. Combined with infrared lenses on the satellite, he was able to read the numbers on the wing of the plane.
Charles smiled. His plane was on the image. Or rather, the Azerbaijani plane that they had bought.
“Are you certain the Americans will find that when they go looking for clues?” asked one of the men. He was a short, husky, swarthy man with a shaved head and dark, deep-set eyes. A hand-rolled cigarette hung from his downturned lips. There was a tattoo of a coiled snake on his left forearm.
“Our friend will make sure of it,” Charles said.
And they would. That was the reason for staging this attack on the Iranian oil rig. Once the incident occurred, the United States National Reconnaissance Office would search the satellite database of images from the Guneshli oil region of the Caspian. Surveillance experts would look back over the past few days to see who might have been reconnoitering near the rig. They would find the images of Charles’s plane. Then they would find something else.
Shortly after the attack, a body would be dropped into the sea–the body of a Russian terrorist, Sergei Cherkassov. Cherkassov had been captured by Azerbaijan in the NK, freed from prison by Charles’s men, and was presently being held on the Rachel. Cherkassov would be killed shortly before the attack, shot with a shell from an Iranian-made Gewehr 3 rifle. That was the same kind of bullet that would have been fired by security personnel on the rig. When the Russian’s body was found-thanks to intelligence that would be leaked to the CIA–the Americans would find photographs in the terrorist’s pockets: the photographs Charles had taken from the airplane. One of those photographs would show portions of the airplane’s wing and the same numbers seen in the satellite view.
Another of the photographs would have markings in grease pencil showing the spot that particular terrorist was supposed to have attacked.
With the satellite photographs and the body of the terrorist, Charles had no doubt that the United States and the rest of the world would draw the conclusion that he and his sponsors wanted them to draw.
The wrong one.
That Russia and Azerbaijan had united to try to force Iran from its lucrative rigs in Guneshli.
New York, New York Monday, 4:01 p.m.
The State Department maintains two offices in the vicinity of the United Nations Building on New York’s East Side. One is the Office of Foreign Missions and the other is the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
Forty-three-year-old attorney Lisa Baroni was the assistant director of diplomatic claims for the Diplomatic Liaison Office. That meant whenever a diplomat had a problem with the United States’ legal system, she became involved. A legal problem could mean anything from an allegedly unlawful search of a diplomat’s luggage at one of the local airports, or a hit-and-run accident involving a diplomat, to the recent seizure of the Security Council by terrorists.
Ten days before, Baroni had been on hand to provide counsel for diplomats but found herself giving comfort to parents of children who were held hostage during the attack. That was when she’d met General Mike Rodgers.
The general talked with her briefly when the siege was over. He said he was impressed by the way she had remained calm, communicative, and responsible in the midst of the crisis. He explained that he was the new head of Op-Center in Washington and was looking for good people to work with. He asked if he could call her and arrange an interview.