“From where?” the president asked.
“I don’t know,” Hood admitted.
“Perhaps he was already in New York. Was Fenwick also liaising with the CIOC?”
“No,” the president said.
“Getting approvals from the Oversight Committee was the responsibility of Fenwick’s deputy, Don Roedner, and Red Gable on this end.” Hood didn’t know Roedner any better than he knew Gable. He didn’t even know Gable had a nickname.
“Sir,” Hood continued, “last night, when you thanked Senator Fox for budgeting Mr. Fenwick’s initiative, that was the first she’d heard about it.” President Lawrence froze, but only for a moment. His expression changed slowly. He looked very strange for a moment, both twenty years older and like a lost boy. He sat back.
“Gable wouldn’t go behind my back on something,” the president said faintly.
“He wouldn’t. And if he did, I’d read it in his face.”
“When was the last time you saw him?” Hood asked. The president thought.
“Friday, at the cabinet meeting.”
“There were a lot of people there, a lot of issues on the table,” Hood said.
“You might have missed it. Or maybe he was snookered by the NSA.”
“I can’t believe that, either,” the president said.
“I see,” Hood said.
“Well, if Fenwick and Gable aren’t rogue, there’s only one other option I can think of.”
“Which is?” Hood had to be careful how he said this. He was no longer floating ideas about the president’s staff but about the president himself.
“Maybe none of this happened,” Hood said.
“The UN initiative, the meetings with foreign governments–none of it.”
“You mean I imagined it all,” the president said. Hood didn’t answer.
“Do you believe that?” the president asked.
“I do not,” Hood replied truthfully. If nothing else, there was the rerouted phone call from the Hay-Adams, and the president didn’t imagine that.
“But I won’t lie to you, Mr. President,” Hood went on.
“You do seem tense, guarded, distracted. Definitely not yourself.” The president took a long breath. He started to say something and then stopped.
“All right, Paul. You’ve got my attention. What do we do next?”
“I suggest we proceed under the assumption that we’ve got a serious problem,” Hood said.
“I’ll continue the investigation from our end. We’ll see what we can find out about the Iranian connection. Check on what else Fenwick has been doing, who he’s been talking to.”
“Sounds good,” Lawrence said.
“Fenwick is due back late tonight. I won’t say anything to him or to Red until I hear from you. Let me know as soon as you learn anything else.”
“I will, sir.”
“Will you also bring Senator Fox up to speed?” Hood said he would and then stood. So did the president. He seemed a little stronger now, more in command. But the things Megan had told Hood still troubled him.
“Mr. President,” Hood said, “I do have one more question.” The president looked at Hood intently and nodded once.
“A few minutes ago, you said that this was’more bullshit,” “Hood said.
“What did you mean?” The president continued to regard Hood.
“Before I answer that, let me ask you a question.”
“Don’t you already know the answer to that?” the president asked. Hood said that he did not.
“You came to see me only because of what happened last night?” the president asked. Hood hesitated. The president knew that he and the First Lady were old friends. It was not Hood’s place to tell the president that his wife was worried about him. But Hood also did not want to be just one more person who was lying to the president.
“No,” Hood answered truthfully.
“That is not the only reason.” The president smiled faintly.
“Fair enough, Paul. I won’t press you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“But I will tell you one thing about the bullshit,” the president said.
“This is not the only mix-up we’ve had here over the past few weeks.
It’s been frustrating.” The president extended his hand across his desk.
“Thanks for coming, Paul. And thanks for pushing me.” Hood smiled and shook the president’s hand. Then he turned and left the Oval Office.
There was a group of eager-looking Boy Scouts waiting outside with a photographer. The young men were award-winners of some kind, judging by their sashes. Hood winked at them, taking a moment to savor their openmouthed awe and innocence. Then he thanked Mrs. Leigh as he passed her desk. She flashed a concerned look at Hood, and he indicated that he would call her. She mouthed a thank-you and then showed the Boy Scouts inside. Hood walked briskly to his car. He started the engine, then took out his cell phone and checked his messages. There was only one. It was from Bob Herbert. As Hood headed toward Fifteenth Street, he called Herbert back.
“Bob, it’s Paul,” said Hood.
“Plenty,” Herbert said.
“First of all. Matt traced the call that came from the Hay-Adams.”
“The call originated on Fenwick’s cell phone.”
“Bingo!” Hood said.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Herbert replied.
“Explain,” Hood said.
“I got a call a few minutes ago, one I didn’t expect to get,” Herbert said.
“Penwick,” Herbert replied.
“He was open and sounded surprised by what I had to say. He told me he didn’t speak to the president last night. He said his briefcase was stolen, which is why he didn’t get the calls I left on his cell phone.
He only got the one I left at his office.”
“I’m not ready to buy that,” Hood replied.
“The president did receive a call, and it was routed through the hotel.” True,” Herbert said.
“But do you remember Marta Streeb?”
“The woman who had the affair with Senator Lancaster?” Hood asked.
“What about her?”
“Her calls were run through a phone bank at Union Station so they couldn’t be traced,” Herbert said.
“I remember,” Hood said.
“But the president isn’t having an affair.”
“Are you sure?” Herbert asked.
“His wife said he was acting strange. That could be guilt–”
“It could be, but let’s rule out the national security issues first,” Hood snapped.
“Sure,” Herbert replied. Hood took a moment to calm down. His anger surprised him. Hood had never had an affair, but for some reason, Herbert’s comment made him feel guilty about Sharon.
“What else did Fenwick have to say?” Hood asked.
“That he doesn’t know a damn thing about any UN initiative,” Herbert said.
“He didn’t get any calls about it and didn’t read about it in the paper.
He told me he was sent to New York to help the Iranians with the situation involving the Harpooner and possible Azerbaijani terrorists in the Caspian. And there could be some truth to that,” Herbert pointed out.
“If the CIA was compromised over there, the Iranians might need to turn to someone else for help. Someone that could get them signal intelligence capacity ASAP.”
“Were the Iranians working with the CIA on this?”
“I’m trying to find that out,” Herbert said.
“You know those Company guys. They don’t like to share. But think about it. Op-Center’s worked with other governments, some of them hostile. We’d get in bed with Teheran if all we were going to do was snuggle a little.” That was true. Hood had to admit.
“And Fenwick was at the mission,” Herbert continued.
“That much is pretty clear.”
“It’s about the only thing that is,” Hood replied.
“Bob, you said that Fenwick was sent to New York. Did he say who sent him?”
“Yes,” Herbert replied, “and I don’t think you’re going to like this.
Fenwick says the president was the one who sent him.”
“Triple-0?” Hood asked. Triple-0 was oral orders only. They were given when an official didn’t want to leave a paper trail to or from a potentially explosive situation.
“Triple-0,” Herbert told him.
“Jesus,” Hood said.
“Look–someone else would have to have been in this Iranian loop.”
“Sure,” Herbert agreed.
“The veep, probably. The chief of staff–”
“Call Vice President Cotten’s office,” Hood said.
“Find out what he has to say. I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
“I’ll call out for pizza,” Herbert told him. Hood hung up and concentrated on getting himself through the maddening rush-hour traffic.
At the moment, it was a welcome diversion.
Gobustan, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 1:22 a.m.
The other men had gone to sleep on threadbare bedrolls they had bought secondhand in Baku. But Maurice Charles was still awake, still sitting at the wooden table in the shepherd’s shack. Though he never had trouble sleeping before a mission, he did have trouble waiting for other people to do things. Things on which the mission depended.
Until then, he would not–could not–rest. When the phone finally beeped, he felt a nearly electric shock. This was it. The last unfinished business before H-hour. Charles went to the equipment table.
Beside the Stellar Photo Judge 7 was a Zed-4 unit, which had been developed by the KGB in 1992. The secure phone system was the size and general shape of an ordinary hardcover book. The small, flat receiver fit neatly into the side. It was a remarkable improvement over the point to-point radios Charles had used when he was first starting out.