Cherkassov may have had nothing to do with the attack itself.”
“That makes sense,” Hood agreed.
“Paul, you said before that members of your own government, of the NSA, were in contact with the Iranian mission in New York. That it was a member of the NSA that was in communication with the Harpooner in Baku.
Could that agency be involved in this?”
“I don’t know,” Hood admitted.
“Perhaps the mission put them in contact with the Harpooner,” Orlov suggested. That was possible. Hood thought about it for a moment. Why would Fenwick help Iran to blow up its own rig and then encourage the president to attack Iran? Was this a plot to sucker Iran into a showdown? Was that why Fenwick had concealed his whereabouts from the president? But Fenwick would have known about Cherkassov, Hood thought.
He had to know that Russia would be drawn in as well. And that still did not explain why Fenwick had made a point of calling the president right before the United Nations dinner. That was a move designed to humiliate Lawrence. To erode confidence in the president’s-Mental state. Hood thought suddenly. Hood followed the thread. Wasn’t that what Megan Lawrence was concerned about? Mental instability, apparent or real, created by a careful pattern of deception and confusion? The president becomes deeply shaken. The United States finds itself on the precipice of war, led there by Fenwick. Lawrence tries to manage the crisis. What happens next? Does Fenwick undermine him somehow? Make him doubt his abilities-Or does he make the public doubt his abilities? Hood wondered.
Senator Fox was already concerned about the president. Mala Chatterjee had no love for him. The secretary-general would certainly give interviews stating that the president had been completely mistaken about the United Nations initiative. What if Gable or Fenwick were also to leak information about bad judgment the president had shown over the past few weeks? Reporters would swallow it whole. Hood knew. It would be easy to manipulate the press with a story like that. Especially if it came from a reliable source like Jack Fenwick. And it wasn’t just Fenwick and Gable who were involved in this. Hood now knew for certain.
The vice president had been on the same page as Fenwick and Gable back in the Oval Office. Who stood to benefit most if the president himself and possibly the electorate were convinced that he was unfit to lead the nation in a time of crisis? The man who would succeed him, of course.
“General Orlov, have we heard from our people tracking the Harpooner?” Hood asked.
“They’re both at the hotel where he is staying,” Orlov reported.
“They’re moving in on him now.”
“To terminate, not capture.”
“We don’t have the manpower to capture him,” Orlov stated.
“The truth is, we may not even have the manpower to complete the mission at hand. It’s a great risk, Paul.”
“I understand,” Hood said.
“General, are you solid about this information? That the men who attacked the Iranian rig are Iranian?”
“Until their body parts are collected and identified, an educated guess is the best I can do,” Orlov said.
“All right,” Hood said.
“I’m going to take that information to the president. His advisers are pushing him to a military response. Obviously, we have to get him to postpone that.”
“I agree,” Orlov said.
“We’re mobilizing as well.”
“Call me with any other news,” Hood said.
“And thank you, General. Thank you very much.” Hood hung up the phone.
He ran from the Cabinet Room and jogged down the carpeted hallway toward the Oval Office. Canvas portraits of Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Edith Boiling Wilson looked down from the wall. She had effectively run the country in 1919 when her husband suffered a stroke. But she was protecting his health while looking out for the country’s best interests. Not her own advancement. Had we become more corrupt since then? Or had the line between right and wrong become entirely erased?
Did presumably virtuous ends justify corrupt means? This was maddening.
Hood had information, and he had a strong, plausible scenario. He had Fenwick turning pale when he said that the Harpooner had been captured.
But Hood did not have proof. And without that, he did not see how he was going to convince the president to proceed slowly, carefully, regardless of what Iran did. Nor were the joint chiefs likely to be much help. The military had been itching for a legitimate reason to strike back at Teheran for over twenty years. He turned the corner and reached the Oval Office. The secret service officer stationed at the door stopped him.
“I have to see the president,” Hood told him.
“I’m sorry, sir, you’ll have to leave,” the young man insisted. Hood wagged the badge that hung around his neck.
“I have blue-level access,” he said.
“I can stand here. Please. Just knock on the door and tell the president I’m here.”
“Sir, my doing that won’t help you to see the president,” the secret service agent told him.
“They’ve moved the meeting downstairs.”
“Where?” Hood asked. But he already knew.
“To the Situation Room.” Hood turned and swore. Fenwick was correct. He was going to keep him from seeing the president. The only way to get down there was with the next-level access badge, which was red level.
Everyone who had that level would be down there. Being seduced and controlled by Jack Fenwick. Hood walked back toward the Cabinet Room. He was still holding his cell phone and tapping it against his open palm.
He felt like throwing the damn thing. He could not phone the president.
Calls to the Situation Room went through a different switchboard than the rest of the White House. He did not have clearance for direct dial, and Fenwick would certainly have arranged it so that any calls Hood made would be refused or delayed. Hood was accustomed to challenges, to delays. But he always had access to the people he needed to talk to and persuade. Even when terrorists had seized the United Nations Security Council, there had been ways to get in. All he needed was the resolve and manpower to do it. He was not accustomed to being utterly stonewalled like this. It was miserably frustrating. He stopped walking. He looked up at the portrait of Woodrow Wilson, then looked at the painting of Mrs. Wilson.
“Shit,” he said. He glanced down at the phone. Maybe he wasn’t as stonewalled as he thought. Jogging again. Hood returned to the Cabinet Room. He was willing to bet there was one avenue Jack Fenwick hadn’t closed down. He couldn’t have, even if he wanted to.
A queen always beat a Jack.
Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, 11:09 a.m.
As Odette walked down the hall, she had two concerns. One worry was that she might be making a mistake about the identity of the man in room 310.
That he was not, in fact, the Harpooner. Orlov had given Odette a general idea what the Harpooner looked like. But he had added that the Harpooner probably wore disguises. She had a mental picture of someone tall and aquiline with pale, hateful eyes and long fingers. Would she hesitate to shoot if someone not-so-tall and heavyset with blue, welcoming eyes and stubby fingers opened the door? Would that give him a chance to strike first? An innocent man would come over and say “Hello,” she told herself. The Harpooner might do that to throw off her guard.
She had to strike first, whoever was in there. Her other concern was a question of confidence. She had been thinking about the reluctance she heard in General Orlov’s voice. Odette wondered what concerned him most. That something would happen to her or that the Harpooner might escape? Probably both. Though she tried to rev up an “I’ll show him” mentality. General Oriov’s lack of confidence did not boost her own. It doesn’t matter, she told herself. Focus on the goal and on nothing else. The mission was all that mattered. The target was just a few doors down. Odette and David Battat had agreed that she would start their spat. She was the one who had to open the door and go in. She should control the timing. The couple passed room 314. Odette was holding the key in her left hand. She still had the gun in her right hand, under the jacket, which was draped over her forearm. Battat was holding the switchblade at his side. He seemed to be somewhat more focused than he had been when he arrived. Odette was not surprised. She was, too. They passed room 312. Odette turned to Battat.
“Why are you stopping?” she asked him. Odette made sure not to shout just so the Harpooner could hear. Her tone was normal, conversational.
“What do you mean, “Why am I stopping?”” he asked right back. Odette moved ahead several steps. She stopped in front of room 310. Her heart was speeding.