“Why did the Harpooner have your direct number and the Hephaestus access code?” the president asked. There was a new confidence in his voice.
“I can’t answer that,” Fenwick said.
“Were you working with Iran to orchestrate a takeover of Azerbaijani oil deposits?” the president asked.
“I was not.”
“Were you working with anyone to organize a takeover of the Oval Office?” the president asked.
“No, sir,” Fenwick replied.
“I’m as puzzled as you are.”
“Do you still believe that Mr. Hood is a liar?”
“I believe that he’s misinformed. I have no explanation for what is going on,” Fenwick said. The president sat back down.
“None at all.”
“No, Mr. President.” The president looked across the table.
“General Burg, I’m going to get the secretary of state and our UN ambassador working on this right away. How would you feel about coordinating a midlevel alert for the region?” Burg looked at his colleagues in turn. No one voiced a protest. The general looked at the president.
“Given the confusion about just who we should be fighting, I’m very comfortable with yellow status.” The president nodded. He looked at his watch.
“We’ll reconvene in the Oval Office at six-thirty. That will give me time to work with the press secretary to get something on the morning news shows. I want to be able to put people at ease about our troops and about the status of our oil supply.” He regarded vice president Cotten and Gable.
“I’m going to ask the attorney general to look into the rest of this situation as quietly as possible. I want him to ascertain whether treasonable acts have been committed. Do any of you have any thoughts?” There was something challenging in the president’s voice. Hood had just finished up with Battat and turned back to the table. He remained in the corner, however. Everyone else was still. The vice president leaned forward and folded his hands on the table. He said nothing. Gable did not move. Fenwick’s deputy, Don Roedner, was staring at the conference table.
“No suggestions at all?” the president pressed. The heavy silence lasted a moment longer. Then the vice president said, “There will not be an investigation.”
“Why not?” asked the president.
“Because you will have three letters of resignation on your desk by the end of the morning,” Gotten replied.
“Mr. Fenwick’s, Mr. Gable’s, and Mr. Roedner’s. In exchange for those resignations, there will be no charges, no prosecution, and no explanation other than that members of the administration had a difference of policy opinion.” Fenwick’s forehead flushed.
“Three letters, Mr. Vice President?”
“That’s correct, Mr. Fenwick,” Cotten replied. The vice president did not look at the NSA chief.
“In exchange for complete amnesty.” Hood did not miss the subtext. Nor, he was sure, did the president. The vice president was in on this, too.
He was asking the others to take a fall for him–though not a big one.
Quitting an administration, high-ranking officials often tumbled upward in the private sector. The president shook his head.
“I have here a group of administration officials who apparently conspired with an international terrorist to steal oil from one nation, give it to another, reap foreign policy benefits, and in the process steal the office of president of the United States. And you sit there arrogantly declaring that these men will be given de facto amnesty. And that one of them, it appears, will remain in office, in line for the presidency.” Cotten regarded Lawrence.
“I do declare that, yes,” he said.
“The alternative is an international incident in which the United States will be seen as having betrayed Azerbaijan. A series of investigations and trials that will ghost this administration and become its sole legacy. Plus a president who was unaware of what was going on among his closest advisers. A president who his own wife thought might be suffering from a mental or emotional breakdown. That will not boost public confidence in his abilities.”
“Everyone gets off,” the president said angrily.
“I’m supposed to agree to that?”
“Everyone gets off,” the vice president repeated calmly.
“Mr. Vice President, sir?” General Burg said.
“I just want to say if I had my weapon here, I would shoot you in the ass.”
“General Burg,” the vice president replied, “given the pitiful state of our military, I’m confident you’d miss.” He regarded the president.
“There was never going to be a war. No one was going to shoot at anyone or be shot at. Peace would have been reached with Iran, relations would have been normalized, and Americans would have had a guaranteed fuel supply. Whatever one may think of the methods, this was all done for the good of the nation.”
“Any time laws are broken, it is not for the good of the nation,” the president said.
“You endangered a small, industrious country trying to get its footing in a post Soviet world. You sought to undo the will of the American electorate. And you betrayed my faith in you.” Cotten rose.
“I did none of those things, Mr. President,” he replied.
“Otherwise, I would be resigning. I’ll see you all at the six-thirty meeting.”
“You will not be needed there,” the president said.
“Ah,” said the vice president.
“You would prefer I go on the Today Show to discuss administration policy in the Caspian region.”
“No,” the president replied.
“I would prefer that you draft your letter of resignation to submit with the others.” The vice president shook his head.
“I won’t do that.”
“You will,” the president replied.
“And attribute your resignation to mental exhaustion. I won’t make you a martyr to an anti constitutional fringe. Find some other line of work, Mr. Cotten.”
“Mr. President, you are pushing the wrong man,” Cotten warned.
“I don’t think so,” the president replied. His eyes and voice grew steely.
“You’re correct, Mr. Cotten. I don’t want a national or international scandal. But I’ll suffer those before I leave a traitor in the line of succession to the office of president. Either you resign or, in exchange for that amnesty, I will urge Mr. Fenwick and his associates to tell the attorney general what they know about your involvement in this operation.” Cotten was silent. Red and silent. The president reached for the phone in front of him. He pushed a button.
“Yes, Mr. President?”
“Please have an unarmed detail report to the Situation Room at once,” Lawrence told him.
“There are some gentlemen who need to be escorted to their offices and then from the grounds.”
“Unarmed, sir?” Cain repeated.
“That’s right,” Lawrence said.
“There won’t be any trouble.”
“Right away, sir.”
“Wait outside the door when you’re finished,” the president added.
“The men will be joining you in just a moment.”
“Yes, sir.” The president hung up. He regarded the four men.
“One more thing. Information about your participation in these events must not leave this room. Amnesty will not be based on anything I intend to do for you. Pardoning you would be a sin. It will be based solely on the absence of news.” The men turned and walked toward the door. Megan Lawrence stepped aside. Hood’s eyes met hers. The First Lady was glowing with pride. They were obviously thinking the same thing. She was the only Lawrence who would be stepping aside this day.
Saint Petersburg, Russia Tuesday, 12:53 p.m.
In most intelligence agencies it’s often difficult to tell night from day. That’s because conspiracy and espionage never rest, so the counter terrorists and spy busters also work around the clock. Most are usually fully staffed. The distinction is even less noticeable in the Russian Op-Center because the facility is below ground. There are no windows anywhere. But General Orlov always knew when it was afternoon. He knew because that was when his devoted wife called. She always rang shortly after lunchtime to see how her Sergei’s sandwich was. She phoned even today, when she had not had time to prepare a bag lunch before he left.
Unfortunately, the call was brief. It often was. They usually had longer conversations when he was in space than they did at the Op-Center. Two minutes after Masha called, Orlov received a call from Odette. He told Masha he would have to call her back. She understood.
Masha always understood. Orlov switched lines.
“Odette, how are you?” the general asked eagerly.
“I’m very well,” the woman replied.
“We accomplished our mission.” Orlov was unable to speak for a moment.
He had been worried about Odette and concerned about the mission. The fact that she was safe and triumphant left him choked with pride.
“We terminated with complications,” Odette went on, “but we got away.
There were no other injuries.”
“Where are you now?” Orlov asked.
“At the U.S. embassy,” she said.
“Mr. Battat is getting medical care. Then I’ll be going to the police station. I had to show my badge to a hotel worker, but I think I’ll be able to work it out with my superior. The Harpooner set a fire. I can tell the captain that I went there to see if I could help.”