Tom Clancy – Op Center 7 – Divide And Conquer

Once the ayatollah assumed power, the shah’s files were raided, and the code was found to be in American hands.

The code remained in the CiA’s system and was used to interpret secret communiques. It wasn’t until the ayatollah’s death in 1989–when the secret communiques said he was recovering–that the CIA went back and took a close look at the code and the disinformation they’d received.

Ten years of data had to be reviewed and much of it purged.

Hood could just imagine what Teheran would say about joining this new antiterrorism network.

“Sure, sign us up. And don’t forget to use this new code to monitor the Sunni terrorists working out of Azerbaijan.” It could be a real code for real transmissions, or the Iranians could use false transmissions to create deeper mistrust of the Sunnis. The United States could not refuse to help them, because the president had offered; we could not trust the code; and yet what if it turned out to be real and we ignored it?

The whole thing was a potential for disaster. For his part. Hood intended to contact Burton Gable, the president’s chief of staff, to find out what he knew about the situation. Hood didn’t know Gable well, but he had been one of Lawrence’s think tank geniuses and was instrumental in getting the president reelected. Gable hadn’t been at the dinner, but there was no policy undertaking in which he was not involved.

Hood went back to the motel, napped, then was back at Op-Center at five-thirty. He wanted to be there when his staff arrived.

Hood had spoken to psychologist Liz Gordon about Harleigh, and to attorney Lowell Coffey about the divorce, so both of them knew he was coming back. Hood had also informed General Rodgers, who had let intelligence chief Bob Herbert know.

Herbert rolled in first. He had lost his wife and the use of his legs in the American embassy bombing in Beirut in 1983. But he had turned that setback into an advantage: Herbert’s customized wheelchair was a mini communications center with phone, fax, and even a satellite uplink that helped to make him one of the most effective intelligence collectors and analysts in the world.

Rodgers followed him in. Though the gray-haired officer had played a key role in ending the terrorist standoff at the United Nations, he was still recovering emotionally from the torture he’d suffered at the hands of Kurdish terrorists in the Middle East. Since his return, there hadn’t been quite the same fire in his eyes or bounce in his walk.

Though he hadn’t broken, some proud, vital part of him had died in that cave in the Bekaa Valley.

Rodgers and Herbert were happy to see him. The two men stayed long enough to welcome him back and for Hood to brief them on what had happened at the state dinner. Herbert was blown away by what the president had said.

“That’s like the Goodyear Blimp saying it’s going to watch the stands for rowdy fans instead of watching the Super Bowl,” Herbert said.

“No one would believe that.

No one.”

“I agree,” Hood said.

“Which is why we’ve got to find out why the president said it. If he has a plan that we don’t know about, we need to be brought into the loop. Talk to the other intel people and find out.”

“I’m on it,” Herbert said as he wheeled out.

Rodgers told Hood that he would get in touch with the heads of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine intelligence to find out what their knowledge of the situation was.

When Herbert and Rodgers left. Hood was visited by the only key members of the team who hadn’t known about Hood’s return, FBI and Interpol liaison Darrell McCaskey and press liaison Ann Farris. McCaskey was just back from a stay in Europe, working with his Interpol associates and nurturing a romance with Maria Comeja, an operative he had worked with in Spain.

Hood had a good sense about people, and his instincts told him that Darrell would be handing in his resignation before long to return to Maria. Since McCaskey was gone while Hood’s retirement was briefly in effect, he had not missed his boss.

Ann Farris was a different story. The five-foot, seven inch-tall divorcee had always been close to Hood and had hated to see him leave.

Hood knew that she cared for him, though no one could have told that just by looking at her. The thirty-four-year-old woman had developed the perfect poker face for reporters. No question, no revelation, no announcement made her jump. But to Hood, her large, dark-rust eyes were more articulate than any speech-maker or television moderator he had ever heard. And right now, her eyes were telling Hood that she was happy, sad, and surprised all at once.

Ann walked toward the desk. She was dressed in what she called her “uniform,” a black pantsuit and white blouse with a pearl necklace. Her brown hair was shoulder length and held back from her face with a pair of clips. Hood’s office was stripped of his personal touches.

He hadn’t had time to put the photographs and mementos back. Yet after the struggles with Sharon and the coldness of his hotel room, Ann’s arrival suddenly made this place seem like home.

“Mike just told me,” she said.

“Told you what?”

“About Sharon,” Ann replied.

“About your coming back. Paul, are you all right?”

“I’m a little banged up, but I’ll be okay.”

Ann stopped in front of the desk. Was it only just ten days ago that she had stood there while I packed? Hood thought. It seemed so much longer. Why did pain stretch time while happiness made it feel so short?

“What can I do, Paul?” Ann asked.

“How are Sharon and the kids?”

“We’re all reeling. Liz is helping Harleigh, Sharon and I are pretty civil, and Alexander is Alexander. He’s okay.” Hood dragged a hand through his wavy black hair.

“As for what you can do, I just realized we’re going to have to send out a press release about my return.”

“I know.” She smiled.

“A head’s-up would have been a big help.”

“I’m sorry,” Hood said.

“That’s all right,” Ann replied.

“You had other things on your mind. I’ll write something up and show it to you.”

Ann looked down at him, her shoulder-length brown hair framing her angular features. Hood had always felt the sexual tension between them.

Hell, he thought.

Everyone around them did. Bob Herbert and Lowell Coffey used to tease Hood about it. Hood’s unwillingness to give in to that tension had always kept Ann at a distance. But he could feel that distance closing.

“I know you have a lot to do,” Ann said, “but if you need anything, I’m here. If you want to talk or don’t want to be by yourself, don’t be shy. We go back quite a few years.”

“Thanks,” Hood said.

Ann’s eyes held him for a long moment.

“I’m sorry for what you and your family are going through, Paul.

But you’ve done an amazing job here, and I’m glad you’re back.”

“It’s good to be back,” Paul admitted.

“I think that frustrated me more than anything else.”

“What did?” she asked.

“Not being able to finish the work I started,” he said.

“It may sound corny, but the teamwork of exceptional men and women built this nation. Op-Center is a part of that tradition. We have a great team here doing important work, and I hated leaving that.”

Ann continued to look at him. She seemed to want to say something more but didn’t. She stepped back from the desk.

“Well, I’ve got to get to work on the press release,” she said.

“Do you want me to say anything about the situation with Sharon?”

“No,” Hood said.

“If anyone wants to know, tell them.

Otherwise, just say I had a change of heart.”

“That’s going to make you sound wishy-washy,” she said.

“What the Washington Post thinks isn’t going to affect my job performance,” he said.

“Maybe not now,” Ann said.

“But it might if you ever decide to run for public office again.”

Hood looked at her.

“Good point,” he said.

“Why don’t we tell them that the president asked you to return?” she said.

“Because he didn’t,” Hood said.

“You two had a private meeting when you came back from New York,” she said.

“He won’t deny asking you to return. It shows loyalty on his part.

Everyone benefits.”

“But it isn’t true,” Hood said.

“Then let’s just say this,” Ann said.

“After meeting with the president, you decided to reconsider your resignation.

That’s true.”

“You really want to get the president in there.”

“Whenever I can,” Ann said.

“It gives us weight.”

“Weight?” Hood said.

“You mean suction.”

“Excuse me?”

“Nick Grille said that the word-de-jour is suction.”

“Actually, that’s not quite right,” Ann informed him.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52

Categories: Clancy, Tom