Tom Clancy – Op Center 7 – Divide And Conquer

“I told him to look for you in the lobby. You’re to wait until he arrives before you try to take down your man. Do you understand, Odette?”

“Yes, sir,” she replied.

“Good,” Orlov said. The woman held on as Orlov’s staff checked the records. Her palms were damp. That was less from nervousness than from having been caught. She was an honest woman by nature, and Orlov’s trust was important to her. She hoped he understood why she had lied. It was not just to protect Battat. It was to allow herself to concentrate on the mission instead of on a sick man. According to the hotel’s records, two of the five men staying there had not made any calls from the room. One of them, Ivan Ganiev, was Russian. Orlov told her they were also checking the computer’s housekeeping records. According to the last report, filed the day before, Ganiev’s room, number 310, had not been cleaned in the three days he had been there. Meanwhile, Orlov went to his computer and asked for a background check on the name. It came up quickly.

“Ganiev is a telecommunications consultant who lives in Moscow. We’re checking the address now to make sure it’s valid. He doesn’t appear to work for any one company,” Orlov said.

“So there’s no personnel file we can check for his education or background,” she said.

“Exactly,” Orlov said.

“He’s registered with the Central Technology Licensing Bureau, but all it takes to get a license is a bribe. Ganiev does not have family in Moscow, does not appear to belong to any organizations, and receives his mail at a post office box.” That made sense, Odette thought. No mail collecting in the postbox, no newspapers piling up on the stoop. None of the neighbors would be certain whether he was there or not.

“Hold on, we have his address,” Orlov added. He was silent for a moment. Then he said, “It’s him. It has to be.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Ganiev’s residence is a block from the Kievskaya metro stop,” Orlov told her.

“Which means–?”

“That’s where we’ve lost the Harpooner on at least two other occasions,” Orlov said. Battat walked into the lobby just then. He looked like Viktor did after ten rounds of boxing in the military amateurs. Wobbly.

Battat saw Odette and walked toward her.

“So it looks as though he’s our man,” Odette said.

“Do we proceed as planned?” This was the most difficult part of intelligence work. Making a determination about life and death based on an educated guess. If General Orlov were wrong, then an innocent man would die. Not the first and certainly not the last. National security was never error-free. But if he were correct, hundreds of lives might be spared. Then there was the option of attempting to capture the Harpooner and turn him over to Azerbaijani authorities. Even if it could be done, there were two problems with that. First, the Azerbaijanis would find out who Odette really was. Worse, they might not want to try to extradite the Harpooner. It was an Iranian rig he had attacked. And Russian buildings. And American embassies. The Azerbaijanis might want to make some kind of arrangement with him. Release him in exchange for his cooperation, for help in covert actions of their own. That was something Moscow could not risk.

“You’re going to wait for the American to arrive?” Orlov asked.

“He’s here now,” Odette said.

“Do you want to speak with him?”

“That won’t be necessary,” Orlov said.

“The Harpooner will probably be traveling with high-tech equipment to go with his cover story. I want you to take some of it and any money he’s carrying. Pull out drawers and empty the luggage. Make it look like a robbery. And work out an escape route before you go in.”

“All right,” she said. There was nothing patronizing about Orlov’s tone.

He was giving instructions and also reviewing a checklist out loud. He was making sure that both he and Odette understood what must be done before she closed in. Orlov was quiet again. Odette imagined him reviewing the data on his computer. He would be looking for additional confirmation that this was their quarry. Or a reason to suspect it was not.

“I’m arranging for airline tickets out of the country in case you need them when you’re finished,” Orlov said. He waited another moment and then decided as Odette knew he must.

“Go and get him.” Odette acknowledged the order and hung up.

Washington, D.C. Tuesday, 2:32 a.m.

Hood shut the door of the Cabinet Room behind him. There was a coffee machine on a small table in the far corner. The first thing Paul did upon entering was brew a pot using bottled water. He felt guilty doing that in the midst of a crisis, but he needed the caffeine kick.

Desperately. Though his mind was speeding, his eyes and body from the shoulders down were crashing. Even the smell of the coffee helped as it began to brew. As he stood watching the steam, he thought back to the meeting he had just left. The shortest way of defusing the crisis on this end was to break Fenwick and whatever cabal he had put together. He hoped he could go back there with information, something to rattle Fenwick or Gable.

“I need time to think,” he muttered to himself. Time to figure out how best to attack them if he had nothing more than he did now. Hood turned from the coffeemaker. He sat on the edge of the large conference table and pulled over one of the telephones. He called Bob Herbert to see if his intelligence chief had any news or sources he could hit up for information about the Harpooner and possible contact with the NSA. He did not.

“Unless no news is news,” Herbert added. Herbert had already woken several acquaintances who either worked for or were familiar with the activities of the NSA. Calling them in the middle of the night had the advantage of catching them off guard. If they knew anything, they would probably blurt it out. Herbert asked if any of them had heard about U.S. intelligence overtures to Iran. None of them had.

“Which isn’t surprising,” Herbert said.

“Something of that magnitude and delicacy would only be conducted at the highest executive levels. But it’s also true that if more than one person knows about an operation over there, then everyone has heard at least a piece of the story. Not so here.”

“Maybe more than one person at the NSA doesn’t know about this,” Hood said.

“That could very well be,” Herbert agreed. Herbert said he was still waiting to hear from HUMINT sources in Teheran. They might know something about this.

“The only solid news we have is from Mike’s people at the Pentagon,” Herbert said.

“Military Intelligence has picked up signs of Russian mobilization in the Caspian region. Stephen Viens at the NRO has confirmed that. The Slava-class cruiser Admiral Lobov is apparently already heading south and the Udaloy II-class destroyer Admiral Chebanenko is joining it along with several corvettes and small missile craft. Mike expects air cover over the Russian oil installations to commence within a few hours.”

“All from something that started with the Harpooner-or whoever first hired him,” Hood said.

“Eisenhower was the first to use the metaphor in 1954,” Herbert said.

“He said, “You have a row of dominoes set up; you knock over the first one and what will happen to the last one is that it will go over very quickly.” He was talking about Vietnam, but it applies to this.” Herbert was right. You could count on the fact that dominoes not only fell, but they dropped quickly. And the only way to stop dominoes falling was to get far enough ahead of the chain and remove a few tiles.

After hanging up. Hood poured himself coffee, sat down in one of the leather seats, and called Sergei Orlov. The fresh, black coffee was a lifesaver. In the midst of chaos even a small respite seemed enormous.

The general brought Hood up to date on the situation with the Harpooner.

Hood could hear the tension in the Russian’s voice as he explained what the overall plan was. Hood related to Orlov’s concern completely. There was worry for his operative Odette and a desperate desire to end the career of a notorious terrorist. Hood had been in that place. And he had both won there and lost there. This was not like a film or novel where the hero necessarily won. Hood was still on the phone with General Orlov when the door opened. He glanced up. It was Jack Fenwick. The time to think was over. The NSA head entered the room and shut the door behind him. The Cabinet Room was a large room, but it suddenly seemed small and very close. Fenwick walked over to the coffee and helped himself. Hood was nearly finished with the call. He ended the conversation as quickly as possible without seeming to hurry. He did not want Fenwick to hear anything. But he also did not want to show the NSA chief a hint of desperation. Hood hung up. He took a swallow of coffee and glanced over at Fenwick. The man’s dark eyes were on Hood.

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