Tom Clancy – Op Center 7 – Divide And Conquer

“I hope you don’t mind,” Fenwick said. He indicated the coffee.

“Why should I?” Hood asked.

“I don’t know, Paul,” Fenwick shrugged.

“People can get protective about things. Good coffee, by the way.”

“Thanks.” Fenwick perched himself on the edge of the table. He was just a few feet from Hood.

“We’ve taken a little break,” Fenwick told him.

“The president is waiting for the joint chiefs and secretary of state before making any decisions about the Caspian situation.”

“Thanks for the update.”

“You’re welcome,” Fenwick said.

“I can give you more than an update,” he went on.

“I can give you a prediction.”

“Oh?” Fenwick nodded confidently.

“The president is going to respond militarily. Emphatically. He has to.” Both Op-Center and the NSA had access to photographic reconnaissance from the NRO. No doubt Fenwick knew about the Russians as well. Hood got up to freshen his coffee. As he did, he remembered what he had been thinking just a few minutes before. The only way to stop the dominoes falling was to get far enough ahead of the chain and remove a few tiles.

“The question is not what the president will do, what the nation will do. The question is what are you going to do?” Fenwick said.

“Is that why you came here? To pick my brains?”

“I came here to stretch my legs,” Fenwick said.

“But now that we’ve gone there, I am curious. What are you going to do?”

“About what?” Hood asked as he poured more coffee. The dance was on.

They were each watching their words.

“About the current crisis,” Fenwick replied.

“What part are you going to play?”

“I’m going to do my job,” Hood said. He was either being interviewed or threatened. He had not yet decided which. Nor did he care.

“And how do you see that?” Fenwick asked.

“The job description says’crisis management,”” Hood said. He looked back at Fenwick.

“But at the moment, I see it as more than that. I see it as learning the truth behind this crisis and presenting the facts to the president.”

“What truth is that?” Fenwick asked. Though his expression did not change, there was condescension in his voice.

“You obviously don’t agree with what Mr. Gable, the vice president, and I were telling him.”

“No, I don’t,” Hood said. He had to be cautious. Part of what he was about to say was real, part of it was bluff. If he were wrong it would be the equivalent of crying wolf. Fenwick would not be concerned about anything Hood had to say. And Fenwick could use this to undermine Hood’s credibility with the president. But that was only if he were wrong.

“I’ve just been informed that we captured the Harpooner at the Hyatt Hotel in Baku,” Hood said. He had to present it as a fait accompli. He did not want Fenwick calling the hotel and warning the terrorist.

“Then it’s definitely the Harpooner?” Fenwick said. Fenwick took a sip of coffee and held it in his mouth. Hood let the silence hang there.

After a long moment, Fenwick swallowed.

“I’m glad,” Fenwick said without much enthusiasm.

“That’s one less terrorist Americans have to worry about. How did you get him? Interpol, the CIA, the FBI–they’ve all been trying for over twenty years.”

“We’ve been following him for several days,” Hood went on.

“We were observing him and listening to his phone calls.”

“Who are we?”

“A group comprised of Op-Center, CIA, and foreign resources,” Hood replied.

“We pulled it together when we heard the Harpooner was in the region. We managed to lure him out using a CIA agent as bait.” Hood felt safe revealing the Cia’s role since it was probably Fenwick who had given the information about Battat to the Harpooner. Fenwick continued to regard Hood.

“So you’ve got the Harpooner,” Fenwick said.

“What does all this have to do with the truth about what’s going on? Do you know something that I don’t?”

“The Harpooner apparently had a hand in what happened in the Caspian,” Hood said.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Fenwick said.

“The Harpooner will work for anyone.”

“Even us,” Hood said. Fenwick started when he heard that. Just a little, but enough so that Hood noticed.

“I’m dred, and I don’t have time for guessing games,” Fenwick complained.

“What do you mean?”

“We’re talking to him now,” Hood went on.

“He seems willing to tell us who hired him in exchange for limited amnesty.”

“Of course he does,” Fenwick said dismissively.

“That bastard would probably say anything to save his hide.”

“He might,” Hood agreed.

“But why lie when only the truth can save his life?”

“Because he’s a twisted bastard,” Fenwick said angrily. The NSA chief threw his cup into the wastebasket beneath the coffeemaker and got up from the table.

“I’m not going to let you advise the president based on the testimony of a terrorist. I suggest you go home. Your work here is finished.” Before Hood could say anything else, Fenwick left the Cabinet Room. He pulled the door shut behind him. The room seemed to return to its former size. Hood did not believe that Fenwick was concerned about the president getting misinformation. Nor did he believe that Fenwick was overworked and simply venting. Hood believed that he had come very close to exposing a relationship that Fenwick had worked hard to conceal.

A relationship between a high-ranking adviser to the president and the terrorist who had helped him to engineer a war.

Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 10:47 a.m.

When David Battat was six years old, he came down with the mumps and was extremely sick. He could barely swallow and his belly and thighs ached whenever he moved. Which was not so much of a problem because David had been too weak to move. Battat felt too weak to move now. And it hurt when he did move. Not just in his throat and abdomen but in his legs, arms, shoulders, and chest. Whatever that bastard Harpooner had injected him with was debilitating. But it was also helpful, in a way.

The pain kept him awake and alert. It was like a dull toothache all over his body. Whatever energy Battat had now was coming from anger. Anger at having been ambushed and debilitated by the Harpooner. And now anger at having been indirectly responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Moore. Battat’s hearing was muffled and he had to blink to see clearly.

Yet he was extremely aware of his surroundings. The elevator was polished brass with green carpet. There were rows of small bright lightbulbs in the ceiling. There was a trapdoor in the back, and a fish-eye video lens beside it. The elevator was empty except for Battat and Odette. When they reached the third floor, they stepped out. Odette took Battat’s hand, like they were a young couple looking for their room. They checked the room numbers posted on the wall in front of them: 300 to 320 were to the right. That put 310 in the center of a long, brightly lit corridor. They started toward it.

“What are we doing?” Battat asked.

“Checking the stairwell first,” Odette said.

“I want to make sure the other killer isn’t watching the room from there.”

“And after that?” Battat asked.

“How would you feel about being married?” she asked.

“I tried it once and didn’t like it,” Battat said.

“Then you’ll probably like this less,” she replied.

“I’ll tell you what I’m thinking when we reach the stairwell.” They headed toward the stairwell, which was located at the opposite end of the corridor. As they neared 310, Battat felt his heart speed up. The “Do Not Disturb” sign was hanging from the door handle. There was something dangerous about the place. Battat felt it as they passed. It was not a physical sensation but a spiritual one. Battat was not prepared to go so far as to say it was palpable evil, but the room definitely had the feel of an animal’s lair. Odette released his hand when they reached the stairwell. She removed the gun from her holster and screwed on the silencer. Then she stepped ahead of Battat and cautiously peered through the window at the top of the door. No one was there. Odette turned the knob and stepped inside. Battat followed. He backed toward the concrete steps and leaned on the iron banister with one arm. It felt good not to have to move. Odette kept a heel in the door so it would not close and lock them out. She faced Battat.

“I’m sure the Harpooner has his room heavily protected from the inside,” she said.

“Since we probably won’t be able to break in, we’re going to have to try and draw him out.”

“Agreed,” Battat said. He was tired and dizzy and had to force himself to focus.

“What do you propose?”

“You and I are going to have a lovers’ quarrel,” she said. That got his attention.

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