Tom Clancy – Op Center 7 – Divide And Conquer

“Do the same callers usually use the same signals, the same patterns?” Orlov asked Korsov.

“Usually,” Korsov told him.

“Otherwise, there would be audio crossover. Callers would keep bumping into one another.”

“Do we keep records of the calls?” Orlov asked.

“The conversations?” Grosky asked.

“Yes. We keep working on them, trying to decode–”

“I mean the signals,” Orlov interrupted.

“Absolutely,” said Grosky.

“We send them up to the Laika so it can keep a lookout for those signals.” The Laika was the Russian Op-Center’s sentry satellite. Named for the pioneering Soviet space dog, the Laika was in a high geostationary orbit over Washington, D.C. It could intercept signals from the United States, all of Europe, and parts of Asia.

“So, if the Harpooner spoke with an intelligence unit in Washington, we might have picked up the signal if not the content,” Orlov said.

“That’s right,” said Kosov.

“Very good,” said Orlov.

“Go to the computer records for the past two weeks. Look up communiques between Azerbaijan and the National Security Agency in Washington Get me all the information you have.”

“Even if we haven’t decrypted them,” said Kosov.

“Yes,” Orlov replied.

“I want to know exactly where the Harpooner or his people might have been calling from.”

“When you know that, what will you do?” Grosky asked.

“I’ll call the American Op-Center and ask them to go through any satellite imaging they have for the region,” Orlov said.

“The Harpooner had to move explosives and personnel into position. If we can pinpoint his location, there may be a photographic record of it–”

“And clues to where he might be,” Grosky said. Orlov nodded.

“We’ll have that information for you as soon as possible,” Kosov said eagerly.

“It would be a coup if we could catch that monster.”

“It would be,” Orlov agreed. The men left. Orlov put in a call to Paul Hood to bring him up to date. Catching the Harpooner would be a highlight of his career. But more than that, he wondered if this close cooperation between Op-Centers could become increasingly routine. If the trust and sharing could lead to less suspicion and greater international security. That would be the real coup.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 12:30 a.m.

“Paul, I’m glad I found you,” Megan Lawrence said.

“I think you should come here. There’s something going on.” The First Lady’s voice was steady when she got on the line, but Hood knew her well enough to know that it was Megan’s “I have to be strong” voice. He had heard that voice during the campaign when there were hard questions from the press about an abortion she had had before she met the president. As she had years before, Megan was pulling this strength from deep inside.

She would crash only when it was safe to do so.

“Talk to me,” Hood said. He was drawing on his own emotional and psychological reserves to deal with the First Lady’s problem. The call from Sharon had shaken him.

“We were just getting into bed when Michael received a call from Jack Fenwick,” Megan said.

“Whatever Fenwick said rattled my husband very much. His voice was calm while they talked and then afterward, but I watched this look come over him.”

“What kind of look?” Hood asked.

“It’s difficult to describe,” she said.

“Was it guarded, startled, doubtful?” Hood asked.

“All of that,” Megan replied. Hood understood. That was what he saw in the Oval Office.

“Where is the president now?” he asked.

“He went down to meet with Fenwick, the vice president, and Red Gable,” Megan said.

“Did he say what the meeting was about?” Hood asked.

“No. But he told me not to wait up,” she said. It was probably about the Caspian situation. A small, non conspiratorial part of Hood said that this might not be anything to worry about. On the other hand, the president was meeting with people who had fed him misinformation before.

Perhaps that was what Megan had seen in her husband’s expression The fear that it might be happening again.

“Paul, whatever is going on, I think Michael needs to have friends around him,” Megan said.

“He should be with people he knows well and can trust. Not just policy advisers.” Hood’s aide Stef Van Cleef beeped. She said there was a call from General Orlov. Hood told her to apologize to the general for the delay. He would take it in just a moment.

“Megan, I don’t disagree,” Hood said.

“But I can’t just invite myself to a meeting in the Oval Office–”

“You have the security clearance,” she said.

“To get into the West Wing, not the Oval Office,” he reminded her. Hood stopped. His eyes were on the beeping light on the phone. Maybe he would not have to get himself invited.


“I’m here,” Hood said.

“Megan, listen to me. I’m going to take a call, and then I’m going to the White House. I’ll call your private line later and let you know how things are going.”

“All right,” Megan said.

“Thank you.” Hood hung up and took the call from Orlov. The Russian general briefed him on the plan to try to locate the Harpooner. Orlov also told him about the destruction of the boat in the harbor. He suspected that Azerbaijani officials would find bodies in the water, either the Harpooner’s hirelings or people who were abducted to impersonate hirelings. Hood thanked Orlov and informed the general that he would have Op-Center’s full cooperation. Hood indicated that he would be away from the office for a while and that he should contact Mike Rodgers with any new information. When Hood hung up, he conferenced Herbert and Rodgers on his cell phone. He updated them as he hurried to the parking lot.

“Do you want me to let the president know you’re coming?” Rodgers asked him.

“No,” Hood said.

“I don’t want to give Fenwick a reason to end the meeting early.”

“But you’re also giving Fenwick and his people more time to act,” Rodgers pointed out.

“We have to take that chance,” Hood said.

“If Fenwick and Gable are launching some kind of end game I want to give them time to expose it. Maybe we can catch them in the act.”

“I still think it’s risky,” Rodgers said.

“Fenwick will press the president to act before other advisers can be consulted.”

“That could be why this was timed the way it was,” Herbert pointed out.

“If there’s a plot of some kind, it was designed to happen when it was the middle of the night here.”

“If this is tied to the Caspian situation, the president will have to act quickly,” Rodgers went on.

“Mike, Bob, I don’t disagree with what you’re saying,” Hood told them.

“I also don’t want to give these bastards a chance to discredit anything I may have to say before I get there.”

“That’s a tough call,” Herbert said.

“Real tough. You don’t have a lot of information on the situation overseas.”

“I know,” Hood said.

“Hopefully, we’ll have more intel before too long.”

“I’ll be praying for you,” Herbert said.

“And if that doesn’t work, I’ll be checking other sources.”

“Thanks,” Hood said.

“I’ll be in touch.” Hood sped through the deserted streets toward the nation’s capital. There was a can of Coke in the glove compartment. Hood kept it there for emergencies. He grabbed the can and popped the tab.

He really needed the caffeine. Even warm, the cola felt good going down. Rodgers was correct. Hood was taking a chance. But Hood had warned the president about Fenwick. The rerouted phone call, the visit to the Iranian mission, failure to communicate with Senator Fox and the COIC. Hopefully, Lawrence would look very carefully at whatever data was being presented to him. The president might also take the time to run the information through Op Center just to make sure it was valid. But Hood’s hopes did not change the fact that the president was under an unusual amount of stress. There was only one way to be certain what Michael Lawrence would do. That was for Hood to get there with new intelligence. And while Hood was there, to help the president sift through whatever information Fenwick was presenting to him. And there was one more thing Hood had to do. Pray that Mike Rodgers was not right. That there was still time.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 9:01 a.m.

Maurice Charles settled into his small room at the Hyatt. The room had a queen-sized bed and a tall cabinet that held the TV and minibar. There was a desk to the left of them and a night table on either side of the bed. An armchair was tucked into a corner opposite the desk. There was very little room, which was fine with Charles. He did not like suites.

There was too much open space. Too many places for people to hide. The first thing Charles did was to tie a nylon rope to one of the legs of the desk. It was located near the window. The room was on the third floor of the ten-story hotel. If Charles were cornered there for any reason, the police would find it difficult to climb from the ground or rappel from the roof without making noise. That left only the door as a means of getting in. And he was prepared to deal with that. He carried cans of shaving cream that were actually filled with highly flammable liquid methanol. Spilled under the doorway and set aflame, it burned hot and fast and drove people back. That would give Charles time to shoot anyone who was waiting for him outside the window, then use the rope to climb out. Methanol was also a fatal poison. The liquid’s fumes were so potent that even brief exposure to the vapors could cause blindness. Charles turned on the light beside the bed and drew the heavy drapes. Next, he picked the locks between his room and the adjoining room. That was another route of escape in case he needed it. Then he pulled over the desk chair. He braced the back of the wooden chair under the knob of the door between his room and the next. He would be able to remove the chair quickly to escape. But if anyone on the other side tried the door, they would think it was locked. The security arrangements took under a half hour. When they were finished, Charles sat on the bed. He went to his luggage and took out his.45. He placed it on the floor beside the bed. He pulled a Swiss army knife from his pocket and lay it on the night table. He also brought over a bag of several stuffed animals he had bought when he first came to Baku. All of the animals had costumes. If Charles were ever questioned, the plush toys were for his daughter. There were photos of a young girl in his wallet. It was not his daughter, but that did not matter. Then he opened the Zed-4. There was one last call to make. The call was to the abandoned van. The microchip he had placed in the gas tank was a remote detonator. It had been nicknamed a Kamikaze Cell Phone by its Taiwanese inventor. The KCP had no function other than to pick up the signal, do its job, and then die. This particular KCP had been programmed to heat to 145 degrees Fahrenheit when triggered. Some chips could be programmed to emit high-pitched sounds to interfere with electronic signals or even confuse bloodhounds. Other chips could be used to create magnetic bursts that would cause radar or navigational tools to go haywire. This chip would melt and leave no trace of itself. It would also set the gas tank afire. The police and fire department would be forced to respond at once to calls about a burning van. They would arrive in time to save some of the vehicle along with what little evidence Charles had left for them to find. That included the traces of Charles’s blood. The heat of the fire would cause the water content of the blood to evaporate, leaving clear stains on the metal door handle, glove compartment knob, and other sections of the van that had not burned. The police would conclude that the wounded terrorist had tried to destroy the van and the evidence before leaving. They would assume that their quick response had enabled them to save what they were not supposed to see. Charles punched in the number of the KCP. He waited while his signal traveled twenty-five miles into space and bounced back to a street three blocks away. There were two short clicks and then the dial tone returned. That meant the call had been completed. The chip had been designed to disconnect from the Zed-4 as it began to heat up.

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