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Tom Clancy

Executive Orders

 

 

 

PROLOGUE: STARTING HERE

 

 

 

IT HAD TO BE THE SHOCK of the moment, Ryan thought. He seemed to be two people at the same time. One part of him looked out the window of the lunchroom of CNN's Washington bureau and saw the fires that grew from the remains of the Capitol building--yellow points springing up from an orange glow like some sort of ghastly floral arrangement, representing over a thousand lives that had been snuffed out not an hour earlier. Numbness suppressed grief for the moment, though he knew that would come, too, as pain always followed a hard blow to the face, but not right away. Once more, Death in all its horrid majesty had reached out for him. He'd seen it come, and stop, and withdraw, and the best thing to be said about it was that his children didn't know how close their young lives had come to an early conclusion. To them, it had simply been an accident they didn't understand. They were with their mother now, and they'd feel safe in her company while their father was away somewhere. It was a situation to which both they and he long since had unhappily become accustomed. And so John Patrick Ryan looked at the residue of Death, and one part of him as yet felt nothing.

 

The other part of him looked at the same sight and knew that he had to do something, and though he struggled to be logical, logic wasn't winning, because logic didn't know what to do or where to start.

 

"Mr. President." It was the voice of Special Agent An-drea Price.

 

"Yes?" Ryan said without turning away from the window. Behind him--he could see the reflections in the window glass--six other Secret Service agents stood with weapons out to keep the others away. There had to be a score of CNN employees outside the door, gathered together partly from professional interest--they were news-people, after all--but mostly from simple human curiosity

 

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at being face-to-face with a moment in history. They were wondering what it looked like to be there, and didn't quite get the fact that such events were the same for everyone. Whether presented with an auto accident or a sudden grave illness, the unprepared human mind just stopped and tried to make sense of the senseless--and the graver the test, the harder the recovery period. But at least people trained in crisis had procedures to fall back upon.

 

"Sir, we have to get you to--"

 

"Where? A place of safety? Where's that?" Jack asked, then quietly reproached himself for the cruelty of the question. At least twenty agents were part of the pyre a mile away, all of them friends of the men and women standing in the lunchroom with their new President. He had no right to transfer his discomfort to them. "My family?" he asked after a moment.

 

"The Marine Barracks, Eighth and I streets, as you ordered, sir."

 

Yes, it was good for them to be able to report that they'd carried out orders, Ryan thought with a slow nod. It was also good for him to know that his orders had been carried out. He had done one thing right, anyway. Was that something to build on?

 

"Sir, if this was part of an organized--" . "It wasn't. They never are, Andrea, are they?" President Ryan asked. He was surprised how tired his voice sounded, and reminded himself that shock and stress were more tiring than the most strenuous exercise. He didn't even seem to have the energy to shake his head and clear it.

 

"They can be," Special Agent Price pointed out.

 

Yes, I suppose she's right. "So what's the drill for this?"

 

"Kneecap," Price replied, meaning the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, a converted 747 kept at Andrews Air Force Base. Jack thought about the suggestion for a moment, then frowned.

 

"No, I can't run away. I think I have to go back there." President Ryan pointed to the glow. Yes, that is where I belong, isn't it?

 

"No, sir, that's too dangerous."

 

"That's my place, Andrea."

 

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He's already thinking like a politician, Price thought, disappointed.

 

Ryan saw the look on her face and knew he'd have to explain. He'd learned something once, perhaps the only thing that applied at this moment, and the thought had appeared in his mind'like a flashing highway sign. "It's a leadership function. They taught me that at Quantico. The troops have to see you doing the job. They have to know you're there for them." And I have to be sure that it's all real, that I actually am the President.

 

Was he?

 

The Secret Service thought so. He'd sworn the oath, spoken the words, invoked the name of God to bless his effort, but it had all been too soon and too fast. Hardly for the first time in his life, John Patrick Ryan closed his eyes and willed himself to awaken from this dream that was just too improbable to be real, and yet when he opened his eyes again the orange glow was still there, and the leaping yellow flames. He knew he'd spoken the words--he'd even given a little speech, hadn't he? But he could not remember a single word of it now.

 

Let's get to work, he'd said a minute earlier. He did remember that. An automatic thing to say. Did it mean anything?

 

Jack Ryan shook his head--it seemed a major accomplishment to do even that--then turned away from the window to look directly at the agents in the room.

 

"Okay. What's left?"

 

"Secretaries of Commerce and Interior," Special Agent Price responded, having been updated by her personal radio. "Commerce is in San Francisco. Interior is in New Mexico. They've already been summoned; the Air Force will bring them in. We've lost all the other Cabinet secretaries: Director Shaw, all nine Supreme Court justices, the Joint Chiefs. We're not sure how many members of Congress were absent when it happened."

 

"Mrs. Durling?"

 

Price shook her head. "She didn't get out, sir. The kids are at the White House."

 

Jack nodded bleakly at the additional tragedy, compressed his lips, and closed his eyes at the thought of one

 

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more thing he had to do personally. For the children of Roger and Anne Durling, it wasn't a public event. For them it was immediately and tragically simple: Mom and Dad had died, and they were now orphans. Jack had seen them, spoken with them--really nothing more than the smile and the "Hi" that one gave to another man's kids, but they were real children with faces and names--except their surnames were all that was left, and the faces would be contorted with shock and disbelief. They'd be like Jack, trying to blink away a nightmare that would not depart, but for them it'd be all the harder because of their age and vulnerability. "Do they know?"

 

"Yes, Mr. President," Andrea said. "They were watching TV, and the agents had to tell them. They have grandparents still alive, other family members. We're bringing them in, too." She didn't add that there was a drill for this, that at the Secret Service's operations center a few blocks west of the White House was a security file cabinet with sealed envelopes in which were contingency plans for all manner of obscene possibilities; this was merely one of them.

 

However, there were hundreds--no, thousands--of children without parents now, not just two. Jack had to set the Durling children aside for the moment. Hard as it was, it was also a relief to close the door on that task for the moment. He looked down at Agent Price again.

 

"You're telling me I'm the whole government right now?"

 

"It would seem that way, Mr. President. That's why we--"

 

"That's why /have to do the things I have to do." Jack headed to the door, startling the Secret Service agents into action by his impulse. There were cameras in the corridor. Ryan walked right past them, the leading wave of two agents clearing the rows of newspeople too shocked themselves to do much more than operate their cameras. Not a single question. That, Jack thought without a smile, was a singular event. It didn't occur to him to wonder what his face looked like. An elevator was waiting, and thirty seconds later, he emerged into the capacious lobby. It had been cleared of people, except for agents, more than half

 

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of whom had submachine guns out, and pointed up at the ceiling. They must have come from elsewhere--there were more than he remembered from twenty minutes earlier. Then he saw that Marines stood outside, most of them improperly uniformed, some shivering in their red T-shirts over camouflaged "utility" trousers.

 

"We wanted the additional security," Price explained. "I asked for the assistance from the barracks."

 

"Yeah." Ryan nodded. Nobody would think it unseemly for the President of the United States to be surrounded by U.S. Marines at a time like this. They were kids, most of them, their smooth young faces showing no emotion at all--a dangerous state for people carrying weapons--their eyes surveying the parking lot like watchdogs, while tight hands gripped their rifles. A captain stood just outside the door, talking to an agent. When Ryan walked out, the Marine officer braced stiffly and saluted. So, he thinks it's real, too. Ryan nodded his acknowledgment and gestured to the nearest HMMWV.

 

"The Hill," President John Patrick Ryan ordered curtly.

 

The ride was quicker than he'd expected. Police had cordoned off all the main streets, arid the fire trucks were already there, probably a general alarm, for whatever good it might do. The Secret Service Suburban--a cross between a stationwagon and a light truck--led off, its lights flashing and siren screaming, while the protective detail sweated and probably swore under its collective breath at the foolishness of their new "Boss," the in-house term for the President.

 

The tail of the 747 was remarkably intact--at least the rudder fin was, recognizable, like the fletching of an arrow buried in the side of a dead animal. The surprising part for Ryan was that the fire still burned. The Capitol had been a building of stone, after all, but inside were wooden desks and vast quantities of paper, and God only knew what else that surrendered its substance to heat and oxygen. Aloft were military helicopters, circling like moths, their rotors reflecting the orange light back down at the ground. The red-and-white fire trucks were everywhere, their lights flashing red and white as well, giving additional color to

 

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the rising smoke and steam. Firefighters were racing about, and the ground was covered in hoses snaking to every hydrant in sight, bringing water to the pumpers. Many of the couplings leaked, producing little sprays of water that quickly froze in the cold night air.

 

The south end of the Capitol building was devastated. One could recognize the steps, but the columns and roof were gone, and the House chamber itself was a crater hidden by the rectangular lip of stones, their white color scorched and blackened with soot. To the north, the dome was down, sections of it recognizable, for it had been built of wrought iron during the Civil War, and several of the pie-slice sections had somehow retained their shape. A majority of the firefighting activity was there, where the center of the building had been. Countless hoses, some on the ground, some directed from the tips of aerial ladders and cherry-picker water towers, sprayed water in the hope of stopping the fire from spreading further, though from Ryan's vantage point there was no telling how successful the effort might be.

 

But the real story of the scene was the collection of ambulances, several knots of them, their paramedic crews standing with bitter idleness, folding stretchers before them, empty, the skilled crews with nothing to do but look at the white rudder fin with the red crane painted on it, also blackened from the fire, but still hatefully recognizable. Japan Airlines. The war with Japan had ended, everyone thought. But had it? Was this one lone, last act of defiance or revenge? Or just some hideously ironic accident? It hit Jack that the scene was very much like an auto accident, at least in kind if vastly different in scale, and for the trained men and women who'd responded, it was the same story as with so many other calls--too late. Too late to stop the fire in time. Too late to save the lives they were sworn to rescue. Too late to make much of a difference at all.

 

The HMMWV pulled in close to the southeast corner of the building, just outside the gaggle of fire trucks, and before Ryan could step out, a full squad of Marines had him surrounded again. One of them, the captain, opened the door for the new President.

 

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"So, who's in charge?" Jack asked Agent Price. For the first time he noticed how bitterly cold the night was.

 

"I guess one of the firemen."

 

"Let's find him." Jack started walking toward a collection of pumpers. He was already starting to shiver in his light wool suit. The chiefs would be the ones with the white hats, right? And the regular cars, he remembered from his youth in Baltimore. Chiefs didn't ride in trucks. He spotted three red-painted sedans and angled that way.

 

"Damn it, Mr. President!" Andrea Price fairly screamed at him. Other agents ran to get in front, and the Marines couldn't decide whether to lead the group or to follow. There wasn't an entry in anyone's manual for this, and what rules the Secret Service had, their Boss had just invalidated. Then one of them had a thought and sprinted off to the nearest ladder truck. He returned with a rubberized turnout coat.

 

"This'll keep you warm, sir," Special Agent Raman promised, helping Ryan into it, and disguising him as one of the several hundred firefighters roaming around. Special Agent Price gave him an approving wink and nod, the first moment of almost-levity since the 747 had arrived at Capitol Hill. All the better that President Ryan didn't grasp the real reason for the heavy coat, she thought. This moment would be remembered by the protective Detail as the beginning of the management race, the Secret Service vs. the President of the United States, generally a contest of ego against cajolery.

 

The first chief that Ryan found was talking into a handheld radio and trying to direct his firefighters closer into the flames. A person in civilian clothes was close by, holding a large paper roll flat on the car's hood. Probably plans of the building, Jack thought. Ryan waited a few feet away, while the two men moved hands left and right over the plans and the chief spoke staccato instructions into his radio.

 

"And, for Christ's sake, be careful with all those loose stones," Chief Paul Magill finished his last command. Then he turned around and rubbed his eyes. "Who the hell are you?"     

 

"This is the President," Price informed him.

 

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Magill's eyes blinked. He took a quick look at the people with guns, then back at Ryan. "This is pretty damned bad," the chief said first.

 

"Anyone get out?"

 

Magill shook his head. "Not from this side. Three people on the other side, all beat up. We think they were in the Speaker's cloak room, someplace around there, probably the explosion just shot them through the windows. Two pages and a Secret Service guy, all burned and busted up. We're conducting a search -- well, we're trying to, but so far even the people who weren't roasted -- they had the oxygen sucked right out of them, asphyxia, you're just as dead." Paul Magill was Ryan's height, but a barrel-chested black man. His hands were mottled with large pale areas that gave testament to a very intimate battle with fire sometime in his professional past. His rugged face showed only sadness now, for fire wasn't a human enemy, just a mindless thing that scarred the fortunate and killed the rest. "We might get lucky. Some people in small rooms, doors closed, like that, sir. There's a million damned rooms in this place, 'cording to these here plans. We might get a couple people out alive. I seen it happen before. But most of 'em . . ." Magill just shook his head for a moment. "The line's holding, ought not to spread much more."

 

"Nobody from the chamber?" Agent Raman asked. He really wanted to know the name of the agent who'd been blown clear, but it would not have been professional to ask. Magill just shook his head in any case.

 

"No." He stared off at the diminishing glow, and added, "It would have been real quick." Magill shook his head again.

 

"I want to see," Jack said impulsively.

 

"No," Magill replied at once. "Too dangerous. Sir, it's my fire, and my rules, okay?"

 

"I have to see," Ryan said, more quietly. The two pairs of eyes met and communicated. Magill still didn't like it. He saw the people with guns again, and decided, wrongly, that they would support this new President, if that's what he was. Magill hadn't been watching TV when the call had come.

 

"Ain't gonna be pretty, sir."

 

     

 

IT WAS )UST after sundown in Hawaii. Rear Admiral Robert Jackson was landing at Barbers Point Naval Air Station. His peripheral vision took note of the well-lit hotels on Oahu's south shore, and a passing thought wondered what it cost to stay in one of them now. He hadn't done it since his early twenties, when two or three naval aviators would share accommodations in order to save money for hitting the bars and impressing the local women with their worldly panache. His Tomcat touched down gently, despite the lengthy ride and three aerial refuelings, because Robby still thought of himself as a fighter pilot, and therefore an artist of sorts. The fighter slowed down properly during its run-out, then turned right onto the taxiway.

 

"Tomcat Five-Zero-Zero, continue down to the end--"

 

"I've been here before, miss," Jackson replied with a smile, breaking the rules. But he was an admiral, wasn't he? Fighter pilot and admiral. Who cared about rules?

 

"Five-Zero-Zero, there's a car waiting."

 

"Thank you." Robby could see it, there by the farthest hangar, along with a sailor waving the usual lighted wands.

 

"Not bad for an old guy," the backseater noted as he folded up his maps and other unnecessary but gravely important papers.

 

"Your vote of approval is noted." / was never this stiff before, Jackson admitted to himself. He shifted himself in the seat. His butt felt like painful lead. How could all feeling be gone, yet there still be pain? he asked himself with a rueful smile. Too old, was how his mind answered the question. Then his leg made its presence known. Arthritis, damn it. He'd had to make it an order to get Sanchez to release the fighter to him. It was too far for a COD to take him from USS John C. Stennis back to Pearl, and the orders had been specific enough: Expedite return. On that basis he'd borrowed a Tom whose fire-control system was down, and therefore was non-mission-capable anyway. The Air Force had supplied the tankers. So after seven

 

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hours of blessed silence, he'd flown half the Pacific in a fighter--doubtless for the last time. Jackson moved again as he turned the fighter toward the parking spot, and was rewarded with a back spasm.

 

"Is that CiNCPAC?" Jackson asked, spotting the white-clad figure by the blue Navy car.

 

Admiral David Seaton it was, and not standing erect, but leaning against the car and flipping through messages as Robby cut the engines and opened the canopy. A sailor rolled up a stepladder, the sort used by mechanics, to make Robby's descent easier. Another enlisted man-- woman, actually--extracted the arriving admiral's bag from the storage compartment underneath. Somebody was in a hurry.

 

"Trouble," Seaton said the moment Robby had both boots on the ground.

 

"I thought we won," Jackson replied, stopping dead still on the hot concrete of the ramp. His brain was tired, too. It would be a few minutes before his thinking ran at the customary speed, though his instincts were telling him that something unusual was afoot.

 

"The President's dead--and we got a new one." Seaton handed over the clipboard. "Friend of yours. We're back to DEFCON Three for the time being."

 

"What the hell..." Admiral Jackson said, reading the first page of dispatches. Then he looked up. "Jack's the new . ..?"

 

"Didn't you know about him becoming VP?"

 

Jackson shook his head. "I was tied up with other things before I got off the boat this morning. Holy God," Robby concluded with another shake of the head.

 

Seaton nodded. Ed Kealty resigned because of that sex scandal, the President persuaded Ryan to take the vice presidency until the elections next year, the Congress confirmed him, but before he could enter the chamber well, you can see what happened. Plane hit down center. "The JCSs are all gone. The deputies are stepping in. Mickey Moore"--Army General Michael Moore, the Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs--"has put in a call for all the CINCs to come into D.C., ASAP. We have a KC-10 waiting for us at Hickam."

 

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"Threat board?" Jackson asked. His permanent job, insofar as any uniformed posting was permanent, was Deputy J-3, the number-two planning officer for the Joint Chiefs.

 

Seaton shrugged. "Theoretically, it's blank. The lO's calmed down. The Japanese are out of the war business--"

 

Jackson finished the statement: "But America's never been hit like this before."

 

"The plane's waiting. You can change aboard. Neatness doesn't count at the moment, Robby."

 

AS ALWAYS, TH E world was divided by time and space, especially time, she would have thought had she a moment to think, but she rarely did. She was over sixty, her small frame bowed down by years of selfless work, made all the worse because there were so few young ones to give her rest. That wasn't fair, really. She'd spelled others in her time, and those of generations past had done the same in their time, but not now, not for her. She did her best to put that thought aside. It was unworthy of her, unworthy of her place in the world, and certainly unworthy of her promises, made to God more than forty years before. She now had doubts about those promises, but she'd admitted them to no one, not even her confessor. Her failure to discuss them was more troubling to her conscience even than the doubts were, though she vaguely knew that her priest would speak gently to her about her sin, if that's what it was--was it? she wondered. Even if it were, yes, he'd speak gently about it. He always did, probably because he had such doubts himself, and both of them were of the age when one looks back and wonders what might have been, despite all the accomplishments of a productive and useful life.

 

Her sister, every bit as religious as she, had chosen the most common of the vocations and was now a grandmother, and Sister M. Jean Baptiste wondered what that was like. She'd made her choice a long time ago, in a youth she could still remember, and like all such decisions it had been made with poor reflection, however correct the

 

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choice itself had been. It had seemed simple enough at the time. They were respected, the ladies in black. In her distant youth she could recall seeing the German occupation troops nod politely to their passing, for even though it was widely suspected that the nuns aided Allied airmen, and maybe even Jews trying to escape, it was also known that the nursing order treated everyone equally and fairly, because God required it. Besides even the Germans wanted their hospital when they were wounded, because you had a better chance there than anywhere else. It was a proud tradition, and even though Pride was a sin, it was one the dark ladies had committed after a fashion, telling themselves that perhaps God didn't mind, because the tradition was in His Holy Name. And so when the time had been right, she'd made the decision, and that was that. Some had left, but the critical time for her to make such a choice had been difficult, what with the condition of the country after the war, and the need for her skills, and a world that had not yet changed enough for her to see her options for what they were. So she had thought about leaving, briefly, and put the idea aside, and stayed with her work.

 

Sister Jean Baptiste was a skilled and experienced nurse. She'd come to this place when it had still belonged to her parent country, and stayed after its status had changed. In that time she'd done her job the same way, with the same skill, despite the tornadic political changes that had gone on around her, no matter that her patients were African or European. But forty years, more than thirty of that in this same place, had taken their toll.

 

It wasn't that she didn't care anymore. Certainly it wasn't that. It was just that she was almost sixty-five, and that was just too old to be a nurse with too few aides, often as not working fourteen-hour days, with a few hours for prayer tossed in, good for her soul but tiring for everything else. In younger years her body had been robust--not to say rugged--and healthy, and more than one of the physicians had called her Sister Rock, but the physicians had gone their way, and she had stayed and stayed and stayed, and even rocks can be worn down. And with fatigue came mistakes.

 

She knew what to be wary of. You could not be a

 

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health-care professional in Africa and not be careful if you wanted to live. Christianity had been trying to establish itself here for centuries, but while it had made some inroads, it might never make others. One of those problems was sexual promiscuity, a local proclivity that had horrified her on her arrival nearly two generations earlier, but was now just... normal. But all too often lethally so. Fully a third of the patients in the hospital had what was known locally as "the thin disease" and elsewhere as AIDS. The precautions for that ailment were set in stone, and Sister Jean Baptiste had taught them in courses. The sad truth was that, as with the plagues of old, all that the medical professionals could really do with this modern curse was to protect themselves.

 

Fortunately with this patient, that was not a concern. The boy was only eight, too young to be sexually active. A handsome boy, well formed and bright, he'd been an honor student at the nearby Catholic school, and an acolyte. Perhaps he'd hear the call someday and become a priest--that was easier for the Africans than the Europeans, since the Church, in quiet deference to African customs, allowed priests down here to marry, a secret that was not widely known through the rest of the world. But the boy was ill. He'd come in only a few hours earlier, at midnight, driven in by his father, a fine man who was a senior official in the local government and had a car of his own. The doctor on call had diagnosed the boy with cerebral malaria, but the entry on the chart wasn't confirmed by the usual laboratory test. Perhaps the blood sample had gotten lost. Violent headaches, vomiting, shaking of the limbs, disorientation, spiking fever. Cerebral malaria. She hoped that wasn't going to break out again. It was treatable, but the problem was getting people to treatment.

 

The rest of the ward was quiet this late at--no, early in the morning, actually--a pleasant time in this part of the world. The air was as cool as it would get in any twenty-four-hour period, and still, and quiet--and so were the patients. The boy's biggest problem at the moment was the fever, and so she pulled back the sheet and sponged him down. It seemed to calm his restless young body, and she took the time to examine him for other symptoms. The

 

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doctors were doctors, and she but a nurse--even so, she'd been here for a very long time, and knew what to look for. There wasn't much really, except for an old bandage on his left hand. How had the doctor overlooked that? Sister Jean Baptiste walked back to the nurses' station, where her two aides were dozing. What she was about to do was properly their job, but there was no sense in waking them. She returned to the patient with fresh dressings and disinfectant. You had to be careful with infections down here. Carefully, slowly, she peeled off the bandage, herself blinking with fatigue. A bite, she saw, like one from a small dog ... or a monkey. That made her blink hard. Those could be dangerous. She ought to have walked back to the station and gotten rubber gloves, but it was forty meters away, and her legs were tired, and the patient was resting, the hand unmoving. She uncapped the disinfectant, then rotated the hand slowly and gently to fully expose the injury. When she shook the bottle with her other hand, a little escaped from around her thumb and it sprinkled on the patient's face. The head came up, and he sneezed in his sleep, the usual cloud of droplets ejected into the air. Sister Jean Baptiste was startled, but didn't stop; she poured the disinfectant on a cotton ball, and carefully swabbed the wound. Next she capped the bottle and set it down, applied the new bandage, and only then did she wipe her face with the back of her hand, without realizing that when her patient had sneezed, his wounded hand in hers had jerked, depositing blood there, and that it had been on her hand as it had swept across her eyes. The gloves, therefore, might not have mattered at all, a fact that would have been of scant comfort even if she had remembered it, three days hence.

 

SHOULD HAVE STAYED put, Jack told himself. Two paramedics had guided him up a clear corridor on the east steps, along with the gaggle of Marines and agents, all moving upward with guns still out in a scene of grimly obscene humor, no one knowing quite what to do. They then had encountered a nearly solid line of firefighters and hoses, spraying their water, much of which blew back

 

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in everyone's faces in the sort of chill that ran straight into the bones. Here the fire had been smothered by the water fog, and though the hoses continued to wet things down, it was safe for rescue personnel from the ladder companies to creep into the remains of the chamber. One didn't have to be an expert to understand what they found. No lifted heads, no urgent gestures, no shouts. The men--and women, though one couldn't tell at this distance--picked their way carefully, more mindful of their own safety than anything else, because there was plainly no reason to risk one's life on behalf of the dead.

 

Dear God, he thought. People he knew were here. Not just Americans. Jack could see where a whole section of gallery had fallen down to the well of the chamber. The diplomatic gallery, if he remembered correctly. Various dignitaries and their families, many of whom he'd known, who had come to the Hill for the purpose of seeing him sworn. Did that make their deaths his fault?

 

He'd left the CNN building because of the need to do something, or that was what he'd told himself. Ryan wasn't so sure now. Just a change of scenery, perhaps? Or was he merely drawn to the scene the same way the people at the perimeter of the Capitol grounds were, standing silently as he was, just looking, as he was, and not doing anything, as he was. The numbness hadn't gone away. He'd come here expecting to find something to see and feel and then to do, but only discovered something else for his soul to shrink from.

 

"It's cold here, Mr. President. At least get out of this damned spray," Price urged.

 

"Okay." Ryan nodded and headed back down the steps. The coat, he found, wasn't all that warm. Ryan was shivering again, and he hoped it was merely from the cold.

 

The cameras had been slow setting up, but they were there now, Ryan saw. The little portable ones--Japanese made, all of them, he noted with a grunt--with their small, powerful lights. Somehow they'd managed to get past the police lines and the fire chiefs. Before each of them stood a reporter--the three he could see were all men--holding a microphone and trying to sound as though he knew more than anyone else did. Several lights were trained his

 

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own way, Jack noted. People all over the country and the world were watching him, expecting him to know what to do. How did such people ever adopt the illusion that senior government officials were any brighter than their family physician, or lawyer, or accountant? His mind trekked back to his first week as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, when the institution which he'd served then had similarly assumed that he knew how to command and lead a platoon--and when a sergeant ten years his senior had come to him with a family problem, expecting the "ell-tee," who lacked both a wife and children, to know what to say to a man who had trouble with both. Today, Jack reminded himself, such a situation was called a "leadership challenge," meaning that you didn't have a clue about what to do next. But there were the cameras, and he had to do something.

 

Except he still didn't have a clue. He'd come here hoping to find a catalyst for action, only to find increased feelings of helplessness. And maybe a question.

 

"Arnie van Damm?" He'd need Arnie, sure as hell.

 

"At the House, sir," Price replied, meaning the White House.

 

"Okay, let's head over there," Ryan ordered.

 

"Sir," Price said, after a moment's hesitation, "that's probably not safe. If there was--"

 

"I can't run away, damn it. I can't fly away on Kneecap. I can't sneak off to Camp David. I can't crawl into some damned hole. Can't you see that?" He was frustrated rather than angry. His right arm pointed to the remains of the Capitol building. "Those people are dead, and I am the government for now, God help me, and the government doesn't run away."

 

"THAT LOOKS LIKE President Ryan there," an anchorman said in his warm, dry studio. "Probably trying to get a handle on rescue operations. Ryan is a man not unaccustomed to crisis, as we all know."

 

"I've known Ryan for six years," a more senior network analyst opined, studiously not looking at the camera, so as to give the appearance of instructing the .more

 

            17

 

highly paid anchorman who was trying to report on the event. Both had been in the studio to provide commentary for President Durling's speech, and had read all the briefing material on Ryan, whom the analyst didn't really know, though they'd bumped into each other at various dinners during the past few years. "He's a remarkably low-key gentleman, but without question one of the brightest people in government service." Such a statement could not go unchallenged. Tom the anchor leaned forward, half-looking at his colleague, and half at the cameras.

 

"But, John, he's not a politician. He has no political background or experience. He's a national-security specialist in an age when national security is not the issue it once was," he pontificated.

 

John the analyst managed to stifle the reply that the statement so richly deserved. Someone else did not.

 

"Yeah," Chavez grumbled. "And that airplane that took the building out was really a Delta flight that got lost. Jesus!" he concluded.

 

"It's a great country we serve, Ding, my boy. Where else do people get paid five mill' a year to be stupid?" John Clark decided to finish his beer. There was no sense in driving back to Washington until Mary Pat called. He was a worker bee, after all, and only the top-floor CIA types would be racing around now. And racing around they would be. They wouldn't be accomplishing much, but at times like this you didn't really accomplish much of anything, except to look harried and important... and to the worker bees, ineffective.

 

WITH LITTLE TO show the public, the network reran tape of President Durling's speech. The C-SPAN cameras in the chamber had been remotely controlled, and control-room technicians froze various frames to show the front row of senior government officials, and, again, the roll of the dead was cataloged: All but two of the Cabinet secretaries, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, senior agency directors, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Director Bill Shaw of the FBI, the Director of the Office of Manage-

 

18

 

     

 

ment and Budget, the Administrator of NASA, all nine Justices of the Supreme Court. The anchorman's voice listed the names and the positions they'd held, and the tape advanced frame by frame until the moment when the Secret Service agents were shown racing into the chamber, startling President Durling and causing some brief confusion. Heads turned, looking for danger, and perhaps the quicker-minded among them had wondered about the presence of a gunman in the galleries, but then came three frames from a wide-shot camera that showed the blurred displacement of the back wall, followed by blackness. Anchor and commentator were then back on-screen, staring down at their desktop monitors, then back up at each other, and perhaps only now the full enormity of the event finally began to hit them, as it was hitting the new President.

 

"President Ryan's principal task will be to rebuild the government, if he can," John the analyst said, after a long moment's pause. "My God, so many good men and women . . . dead. . . ." It had also occurred to him that a few years earlier, before becoming the senior network commentator, he would have been in that chamber, along with so many of his professional friends; and for him, also, the event finally broke past the shock, and his hands started quivering below the top of the desk. An experienced pro who did not allow his voice to shake, he nonetheless could not totally control the look on his face, which sagged with sudden, awful grief, and on the screen his face went ashen under the makeup.

 

"God's judgment," Mahmoud Haji Daryaei muttered over six thousand miles away, lifting the controller and muting the sound to eliminate extraneous twaddle.

 

God's judgment. That made sense, didn't it? America. The colossus that had thwarted so many, a godless land of godless people, at the pinnacle of her power, winner of yet another contest--now, grievously harmed. How else but by God's will could such a thing happen? And what else could it mean but God's own judgment, and God's own blessing? Blessing on what? he wondered. Well, perhaps that would be clear with reflection.

 

He'd met Ryan once before, found him spiteful and ar-

 

            19

 

rogant--typically American--but not now. The cameras momentarily zoomed in to show a man clutching at his coat, his head turning left and right, mouth slightly open. No, not arrogant now. Stunned, not even aware enough to be frightened. It was a look he'd seen on men's faces before. How interesting.

 

TH E SAM E WORDS and the same images were flooding the world now, delivered by satellites to over a billion pairs of eyes that'd been watching the news coverage, or been alerted to the event and had changed channels from morning shows in some countries, lunch and evening shows in others. History had been made, and there was an imperative to watch.

 

This was particularly true of the powerful, for whom information was the raw material of power. Another man in another place looked at the electronic clock that sat next to the television on his desk and did some simple arithmetic. A horrid day was ending in America, while a morning was well begun where he sat. The window behind his desk showed a wide expanse of paving stones, a huge square, in fact, crisscrossed by people mainly traveling by bicycle, though the number of cars he saw was now substantial, having grown by a factor often over the past few years. But still bicycles were the main mode of transportation, and that wasn't fair, was it?

 

He'd planned to change that, quickly and decisively in historical terms--and he was a serious student of history--only to have his carefully laid plan killed aborning by the Americans. He didn't believe in God, never had and never would, but he did believe in Fate, and Fate was what he saw before his eyes on the phosphor screen of a television set manufactured in Japan. A fickle woman, Fate was, he told himself as he reached for" a handleless cup of green tea. Only days before she had favored the Americans with luck, and now, this.... So what was the intention of the Lady Fate? His own intentions and needs and will mattered more, the man decided. He reached for his phone, then thought better of it. It would ring soon enough, and others would ask his opinion, and he would

 

20

 

     

 

have to answer with something, and so it was time to think. He sipped his tea. The heated water stung his mouth, and that was good. He would have to be alert, and the pain focused his mind inward, where important thoughts always began.

 

Undone or not, his plan hadn't been a bad one. Poorly executed by his unwitting agents, largely because of the Lady Fate and her momentary largesse to America--but it had been a fine plan, he told himself yet again. He'd have another chance to prove that. Because of the Lady Fate. The thought occasioned a thin smile, and a distant look, as his mind probed the future and liked what it saw. He hoped the phone would not ring for a while, because he had to look further still, and that was best done without interference. It came to him after a moment's further thought that the real objective of his plan had been accomplished, hadn't it? He'd wished America to be crippled, and crippled America now was. Not in the manner he'd chosen, but crippled even so. Even better? he asked himself.

 

Yes.

 

And so, the game could go on, couldn't it?

 

It was the Lady Fate, toying as she did with the ebb and flow of history. She wasn't a friend or enemy of any man, really--or was she? The man snorted. Maybe she just had a sense of humor.

 

FOR ANOTHER PERSON, the emotion was anger. Days before had come the humiliation, the bitter humiliation of being told by a foreigner--nothing more than a former provincial governor!--what her sovereign nation must do. She'd been very careful, of course. Everything had been done with great skill. The government itself had not been implicated in anything more than extensive naval exercises on the open sea, which was, of course, free for the passage of all. No threatening notes had been dispatched, no official demarche issued, no position taken, and for their part the Americans hadn't done anything more than--what was their arrogant phrase, "rattle their cage"?--and call

 

            21

 

for a meeting of the Security Council, at which there was nothing to be said, really, since nothing official had taken place, and her country had made no announcement. What they had done was nothing more than exercises, weren't they? Peaceful exercises. Of course, those exercises had helped split the American capability against Japan--but she couldn't have known ahead of time, could she? Of course not.

 

She had the document on her desk at this very moment: the time required to restore the fleet to full capability. But, no, she shook her head, it wouldn't be enough. Neither she nor her country could act alone now. It would take time and friends, and plans, but her country had needs, and it was her job to see to those needs. It was not her job to accept commands from others, was it?

 

No.

 

She also drank tea, from a fine china cup, with sugar and a little milk in the English way, a product of her birth and station and education, all of which, along with patience, had brought her to this office. Of all the people around the world watching the same picture from the same satellite network, she probably understood the best what the opportunity was, how vast and appealing it had to be, all the sweeter that it had come so soon after she'd been dictated to in this very office. By a man who was now dead. It was too good to pass up, wasn't it?

 

Yes.

 

"THIS IS SCARY, Mr. C." Domingo Chavez rubbed his eyes--he'd been awake for more hours than his jet-lagged brain could compute--and tried to organize his thoughts. He was sprawled back on the living-room couch, shoeless feet up on the coffee table. The womenfolk in the house were off to bed, one in anticipation of work the next day, and the other with a college exam to face. The latter hadn't figured that there might not be any school tomorrow.

 

"Tell me why, Ding," John Clark commanded. The time for worrying himself about the relative skills of var-

 

22

 

     

 

ious TV personalities had passed, and his young partner was, after all, pursuing his master's degree in international relations.

 

Chavez spoke without opening his eyes. "I don't think anything like this has ever happened in peacetime before. The world ain't all that different from what it was last week, John. Last week, it was real complicated. We kinda won that little war we were in, but the world ain't changed much, and we're not any stronger than we were then, are we?"

 

"Nature abhors a vacuum?" John asked quietly.

 

"Sum'tim like that." Chavez yawned. "Damned if we ain't got one here and now."

 

"NOT ACCOMPLISHING VERY much, am I?" Jack asked, in a voice both quiet and bleak. It was hitting him full force now. There was still a glow, though most of what rose into the sky now was steam rather than smoke. What went into the building was the most depressing sight. Body bags. Rubberized fabric with loop handles at the ends, and some sort of zipper in the middle. Lots of them, and some were coming out now, carried by pairs of firelighters, snaking down the wide steps around the fragments of broken masonry. It had just started, and would not end soon. He hadn't actually seen a body during his few minutes up top. Somehow, seeing the first few bags was worse.

 

"No, sir," Agent Price said, her face looking the same as his. "This isn't good for you."

 

"I know." Ryan nodded and looked away.

 

I don't know what to do, he told himself. Where s the manual, the training course for this job? Whom do I ask? Where do I go?

 

I don't want this job! his mind screamed at itself. Ryan reproached himself for the venality of the thought, but he'd come to this newly dreadful place as some sort of leadership demonstration, parading himself before the TV cameras as though he knew what he was about--and that was a lie. Perhaps not a malicious one. Just stupid. Walk up to the fire chief and ask how it's going, as though anyone

 

     

 

23

 

with eyes and a second-grade education couldn 't figure that one out!

 

"I'm open to ideas," Ryan said at last.

 

Special Agent Andrea Price took a deep breath and fulfilled the fantasy of every special agent of the United States Secret Service all the way back to Pinkerton: "Mr. President, you really need to get your, er, stuff--she couldn't go that far--"together. Some things you can do and some things you can't. You have people working for you. For starters, sir, figure out who they are and let them do their jobs. Then, maybe, you can start doing yours."

 

"Back to the House?"

 

"That's where the phones are, Mr. President."

 

"Who's head of the Detail?"

 

"It was Andy Walker." Price didn't have to say where he was now. Ryan looked down at her and made his first presidential decision.

 

"You just got promoted."

 

Price nodded. "Follow me, sir." It pleased the agent to see that this President, like all the others, could learn to follow orders. Some of the time, anyway. They'd made it all of ten feet before Ryan slipped on a patch of ice and went down, to be picked back up by two agents. It only made him look all the more vulnerable. A still photographer captured the moment, giving Newsweek its cover photo for the following week.

 

"AS YOU SEE, President Ryan is now leaving the Hill in what looks like a military vehicle instead of a Secret Service car. What do you suppose he's up to?" the anchor asked.

 

"In all fairness to the man," John the commentator said, "it's unlikely that he knows at the moment."

 

That opinion rang across the globe a third of a second later, to the general agreement of all manner of persons, friends and enemies alike.

 

SOME THINGS HAVE to be done fast. He didn't know if they were the right things--well, he did, and they

 

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weren't--but at a certain level of importance the rules got a little muddled, didn't they? The scion of a political family whose public service went back a couple of generations, he'd been in public life practically since leaving law school, which was another way of saying that he hadn't held a real job in his entire life. Perhaps he had little practical experience in the economy except as its beneficiary-his family's financial managers ran the various trusts and portfolios with sufficient skill that he almost never bothered meeting with them except at tax time. Perhaps he had never practiced law--though he'd had a hand in passing literally thousands of them. Perhaps he had never served his country in uniform--though he deemed himself an expert in national security. Perhaps a lot of things militated against doing anything. But he knew government, for that had been his profession for all of his active--not to say "working"--life, and at a time like this, the country needed someone who really knew government. The country needed healing, Ed Kealty thought, and he knew about that.

 

So, he lifted his phone and made a call. "Cliff, this is Ed ..."

 

1

 

STARTING NOW

 

 

 

THE FBI'S EMERGENCY command center on the fifth floor of the Hoover building is an odd-shaped room, roughly triangular and surprisingly small, with room for only fifteen or so people to bump shoulders. Number sixteen to arrive, tieless and wearing casual clothes, was Deputy Assistant Director Daniel E. Murray. The senior watch officer was his old friend, Inspector Pat O'Day. A large-framed, rugged man who raised beef cattle as a hobby at his northern Virginia home--this "cowboy" had been born and educated in New Hampshire, but his boots were custom-made-- O'Day had a phone to his ear, and the room was surprisingly quiet for a crisis room during a real crisis. A curt nod and raised hand acknowledged Murray's entry. The senior agent waited for O'Day to conclude the call.

 

"What's going on, Pat?"

 

"I was just on the phone with Andrews. They have tapes of the radar and stuff. I have agents from the Washington Field Office heading there to interview the tower people. National Transportation Safety Board will have people there, too, to assist. Initial word, looks like a Japan Airlines 747 kamikaze'd in. The Andrews people say the pilot declared an emergency as an unscheduled KLM flight and drove straight over their runways, hung a little left, and . . . well ..." O'Day shrugged. "WFO has people on the Hill now to commence the investigation. I'm assuming this one goes on the books as a terrorist incident, and that gives us jurisdiction."

 

"Where's the ADIC?" Murray asked, meaning the Assistant Director in Charge of the Bureau's Washington office, quartered at Buzzard's Point on the Potomac River.

 

"St. Lucia with Angie, taking a vacation. Tough luck for Tony." The inspector grunted. Tony Caruso had gotten away only three days earlier. "Tough day for a lot of people. The body count's going to be huge, Dan, lots

 

26

 

     

 

worse'n Oklahoma. I've sent out a general alert for foren-sics experts. Mess like this, we'll have to identify a lot of bodies from DNA. Oh, the TV guys are asking how it's possible for the Air Force to let this happen." A shake of the head accompanied the conclusion. O'Day needed somebody to dump on, and the TV commentators were the most attractive target of opportunity. There would be others in due course; both hoped the FBI would not be one of them.

 

"Anything else we know?"

 

Pat shook his head. "Nope. It's going to take time, Dan."

 

"Ryan?"

 

"Was on the Hill, should be on his way to the White House. They caught him on TV. He looks kinda rocky. Our brothers and sisters at USSS are having a really bad night, too. The guy I talked to ten minutes ago almost lost it. We might end up having a jurisdictional conflict over who runs the investigation."

 

"Great." Murray snorted. "We'll let the AG sort that one--" But there wasn't an Attorney General, and there wasn't a Secretary of the Treasury for him to call.

 

Inspector O'Day didn't have to run through it. A federal statute empowered the United States Secret Service as lead agency to investigate any attack on the President. But another federal statute gave FBI jurisdiction over terrorism. A local statute for murder also brought the Washington Metropolitan Police in, of course. Toss in the National Transportation Safety Board--until proven otherwise, it could merely be a horrible aircraft accident--and that was just the beginning. Every agency had authority and expertise. The Secret Service, smaller than the FBI, and with fewer resources, did have some superb investigators, and some of the finest technical experts around. NTSB knew more about airplane crashes than anyone in the world. But the Bureau had to be the lead agency for this investigation, didn't it? Murray thought. Except that Director Shaw was dead, and without him to swing the clout club . . .

 

Jesus, Murray thought. He and Bill went back to the Academy together. They'd worked in the same squad as

 

     

 

27

 

rookie street agents in riverside Philadelphia, chasing bank robbers . . .

 

Pat read his face and nodded. "Yeah, Dan, takes time to catch up, doesn't it? We've been gutted like a fish, man." He handed over a sheet from a legal pad with a handwritten list of known dead.

 

A nuclear strike wouldn't have hurt us this badly, Murray realized as he scanned the names. A developing crisis would have given ample strategic warning, and slowly, quietly, senior people would have left Washington for various places of safety, many of them would have survived-- or so the planners went--and after the strike there would have been some sort of functioning government to pick up the pieces. But not now.

 

RYAN HAD COME to the White House a thousand times, to visit, to deliver briefings, for meetings important and otherwise, and most recently to work in his own office as National Security Advisor. This was the first time he hadn't had to show ID and walk through the metal detectors--more properly, he did walk straight through one from force of habit, but this time, when the buzzer went off, he just kept walking without even reaching for his keys. The difference in demeanor of the Secret Service agents was striking. Like anyone else, they were comforted by familiar surroundings, and though the entire country had just had another lesson in how illusory "safety" was, the illusion was real enough for trained professionals to feel more at ease within the substance of a lie. Guns were bolstered, coats buttoned, and long breaths taken as the entourage came in through the East Entrance.

 

An inner voice told Jack that this was now his house, but he had no wish to believe it. Presidents liked to call it the People's House, to use the political voice of false modesty to describe a place for which some of them would have willingly run over the bodies of their own children, then say that it wasn't really all that big a thing. If lies could stain the walls, Jack reflected, then this building would have a very different name. But there was greatness here, too, and that was more intimidating than the pettiness of

 

28

 

     

 

politics. Here James Monroe had promulgated the Mon-roe Doctrine and propelled his country into the strategic world for the first time. Here Lincoln had held his country together through the sheer force of his own will. Here Teddy Roosevelt had made America a real global player, and sent his Great White Fleet around the world to announce America. Here Teddy's distant cousin had saved his country from internal chaos and despair, with little more than a nasal voice and an up-angled cigarette holder. Here Eisenhower had exercised power so skillfully that hardly anyone had noticed his doing anything at all. Here Kennedy had faced down Khrushchev, and nobody had cared that doing so had covered a multitude of blunders. Here Reagan had plotted the destruction of America's most dangerous enemy, only to be accused of sleeping most of the time. What ultimately counted more--the achievements or the dirty little secrets committed by imperfect men who only briefly stepped beyond their weaknesses? But those brief and halting steps made up the sort of history that lived, while the rest was, mainly, forgotten--except by revisionist historians who just didn't get the fact that people weren't supposed to be perfect.

 

But it still wasn't his house.

 

The entrance was a tunnel of sorts, which headed under the East Wing, where the First Lady--until ninety minutes earlier Anne Durling--had her offices. By law the First Lady was a private citizen--an odd fiction for someone with a paid staff--but in reality her functions were often hugely important, however unofficial they might be. The walls here were those of a museum, not a home, as they walked past the small White House theater, where the President could watch movies with a hundred or so close personal friends. There were several sculptures, many by Frederic Remington, and the general motif was supposed to be "pure" American. The paintings were of past presidents, and Ryan's eyes caught them--their lifeless eyes seemed to look down at him with suspicion and doubt. All the men who had gone before, good and bad, whether judged well or poorly by historians, they looked at him--

 

I'm an historian, Ryan told himself. I've written a few books. I've judged the actions of others from a safe distance

 

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of both time and space. Why didn't he see this? Why didn't he do that? Now, too late, he knew better. He was here now, and from the inside it looked very different. From the outside you could see in, looking around first to catch all the information and analyze it as it passed by, stopping it when you had to, even making it go backward, the better to understand it all, taking your time to get things exactly right.

 

But from the inside it wasn't that way at all. Here everything came directly at you like a series of onrushing trains, from all directions at once, moving by their own time schedules, leaving you little room to maneuver or reflect. Ryan could sense that already. And the people in the paintings had mainly come to this place with the luxury of time to think about their ascension, with the luxury of trusted advisers, and of good will. Those were benefits he didn't have. To historians, however, they wouldn't matter for much more than a cursory paragraph, or maybe even a whole page, before the writer moved on with pitiless analysis.

 

Everything he said or did, Jack knew, would be subjected to the 20/20 vision of hindsight--and not just from this moment forward. People would now look into his past for information on his character, his beliefs, his actions good and bad. From the moment the aircraft had struck the Capitol building, he was President, and every breath he'd drawn since would be examined in a new and unforgiving light for generations to come. His daily life would have no privacy, and even in death he would not be safe from scrutiny by people who had no idea what it was like merely to walk into this oversized dwelling-office-museum and know that it was your prison into all eternity. The bars were invisible, perhaps, but even more real because of it.

 

So many men had lusted for this job, only to find how horrid and frustrating it was. Jack knew that from his own historical readings, and from seeing three men at close quarters who'd occupied the Oval Office. At least they had come here with eyes supposedly open, and perhaps they could be blamed for having minds smaller than their egos. How much the worse for someone who'd never wished for

 

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it? And would history judge Ryan more kindly for it? That was worth an ironic snort. No, he'd come to this House at a time when his country needed, and if he didn't meet that need, then he'd be cursed for all future time as a failure, even though he'd come to the job only by accident-- condemned by a man now dead to do the job which the other man had craved.

 

For the Secret Service, this was a time to relax a little. Lucky them, Ryan thought, allowing bitterness to creep into his mind, unfair or not. It was their job to protect him and his family. It was his job now to protect them and theirs, and those of millions of others.

 

"This way, Mr. President." Price turned left into the ground-floor corridor. Here Ryan first saw the White House staff people, standing there to see their new charge, the man whom they would serve to the best of their abilities. Like everyone else, they just stood and looked, without knowing what to say, their eyes evaluating the man and without revealing what they thought, though they would surely exchange views in the privacy of their locker or lunchrooms at the first possible moment. Jack's tie was still crooked in his collar, and he still wore the turnout coat. The water spray that had frozen in his hair and given him an undeserved gray look was melting now. One of the staff members raced out of sight as the entourage continued west. He reappeared a minute later, darting through the security detail and handing Ryan a towel.

 

"Thank you," Jack said in surprise. He stood still for a moment and started drying his hair. There he saw a photographer running backward and aiming his camera, snapping merrily away. The Secret Service didn't impede him in any way. That, Ryan thought, made him a member of the staff, the official White House photographer whose job it was to memorialize everything. Great, my own people spy on me! But it wasn't time to interfere with anything, was it?

 

"Where are we going, Andrea?" Jack asked as they passed yet more portraits of Presidents and First Ladies, all staring at him ...

 

"The Oval Office. I thought. . ."

 

     

 

31

 

"Situation Room." Ryan stopped dead, still toweling off. "I'm not ready for that room yet, okay?"

 

"Of course, Mr. President." At the end of the wide corridor they turned left into a small foyer walled with cheap-looking wood latticework, and then right to go outside again, because there wasn't a corridor from the White House into the West Wing. That's why no one had taken his coat, Jack realized.

 

"Coffee," Jack ordered. At least the food service would be good here. The White House Mess was run by Navy stewards, and his first presidential cup of coffee was poured into an exquisite cup from a silver pot, by a sailor whose smile was both professional and genuine, and who, like everyone else, was curious about the new Boss. It occurred to Ryan that he was like a creature in the zoo. Interesting, even fascinating--and how would he adapt to the new cage?

 

Same room, different seat. The President sat in the middle of the table so that aides could assemble on both sides. Ryan picked his place and sat in it naturally enough. It was only a chair, after all. The so-called trappings of power were merely things, and the power itself was an illusion, because such power was always accompanied by obligations that were greater still. You could see and exercise the former. The latter could only be felt. Those obligations came with the air, which suddenly seemed heavy in this windowless room. Jack sipped at his coffee briefly, looking around. The wall clock said 11:14 P.M. He'd been President for ... what? Ninety minutes? About the time for the drive from his home to ... his new home ... depending on traffic.

 

"Where's Arnie?"

 

"Right here, Mr. President," Arnold van Damm said as he came through the door. Chief of staff to two Presidents, he would now set an all-time record as chief of staff to a third. His first President had resigned in disgrace. His second was dead. Would the third one be the charm--or did bad things always come in threes? Two adages, equally quoted, and mutually exclusive. Ryan's eyes just bored in on him, asking the question that he couldn't voice: What do I do now?

 

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"Good statement on TV, just about right." The chief of staff sat down on the other side of the table. He appeared quiet and competent, as always, and Ryan didn't reflect on the effort such an appearance required of a man who'd lost more friends than Ryan had.

 

"I'm not even sure what the hell I said," Jack replied, searching his mind for memories that had vanished.

 

"That's about normal for an ad-lib," van Damm allowed. "It was still pretty good. I always thought your instincts were okay. You're going to need 'em."

 

"First thing?" Jack asked.

 

"Banks, stock markets, all federal offices are closed, call it 'til the end of the week--maybe beyond that. We have a state funeral to plan for Roger and Anne. National week of mourning, probably a month for the flags to be at half-staff. We had a bunch of ambassadors in the chamber, too. That means a ton of diplomatic activity on top of everything else. We'll call that housekeeping stuff--I know," van Damm said with a raised hand. "Sorry. You have to call it something."

 

"Who--"

 

"We have a Protocol Office here, Jack," van Damm pointed out. "They're already in their cubbyholes and working on this for you. We have a team of speech writers; they'll prepare your official statements. The media people will want to see you--what I mean by that is, you have to appear in public. You have to reassure people. You have to instill confidence--"

 

"When?"

 

"In time for the morning TV shows at the latest, CNN, all the networks. I'd prefer that we go on camera within the hour, but we don't have to. We can cover that by saying you're busy. You will be," Arnie promised. "You'll have to be briefed on what you can say and what you can't before you go on TV. We'll lay the law down to the newsies on what they may and may not ask, and in a case like this they'll cooperate. Figure you have a week of kind treatment to lean on. That's your press honeymoon, and that's as long as it'll last." "And then?" Jack asked. "And then you're the by-God President and you'll have

 

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to act like it, Jack," van Damm said bluntly. "You didn't have to take the oath, remember?"

 

That statement made Ryan's head jerk back as his peripheral vision caught the stony looks on the others in the room--all of them Secret Service at the moment. He was the new Boss, and their eyes weren't so very different now from those in the portraits on the walk in from the East Wing. They expected him to do the right thing. They'd support him, protect him from others and from himself, but he had to do the job. They wouldn't let him run away, either. The Secret Service was empowered to protect him from physical danger. Arnie van Damm would try to protect him from political danger. Other staffers would serve and protect, too. The housekeeping staff would feed him, iron his shirts, and fetch coffee. But none of them would allow Ryan to run away, either from his place or his duties.

 

It was a prison.

 

But what Arnie had just said was true. He could have refused to take the oath, couldn't--no, Ryan thought, looking down at the polished oak tabletop. Then he would have been damned for all eternity as a coward--worse, he would have been damned in his own mind as the same thing, for he had a conscience that was more harmful an enemy than any outsider. It was his nature to look in the mirror and see not enough there. As good a man as he knew himself to be, he was never good enough, driven by--what? The values he'd learned from his parents, his educators, the Marine Corps, the many people he'd met, the dangers he'd faced? All those abstract values, did he use them, or did they use him? What had brought him to this point? What had made him what he was--and what, really, was John Patrick Ryan? He looked up, around the room, wondering what they thought he was, but they didn't know, either. He was the President now, the giver of orders, which they would carry out; the man who made speeches which others would analyze for nuance and correctness; the man who decided what the United States of America would do, then to be judged and criticized by others who never really knew how to do the thing to which they objected. But that wasn't a person; that was a job de-

 

34

 

     

 

scription. Inside of that had to be a man--or someday soon, a woman--who thought it through and tried to do the right thing. And for Ryan, less than an hour and a half before, the right thing had been to take the oath. And to try to do his best. The judgment of history was ultimately less important than what he'd judge of himself, looking in the mirror every morning at not enough. The real prison was, and would always be, himself. Damn.

 

THE FIRE WAS out now, Chief Magill saw. His people would have to be careful. There were always hot spots, places where the fire had died, not from the cooling water but rather from lack of oxygen, and waited for the chance to flare back up, to surprise and kill the unwary. But his people were wary, and those little flares of malevolent life would not be important in the greater scheme of things for this fire site. Hoses were already being rolled, and some of his people were taking their trucks back to their houses. He'd stripped the entire city of apparatus for this fire, and he had to send much of it back, lest a new fire go unanswered, and more people die unnecessarily.

 

He was surrounded by others now, all wearing one-layer vinyl jackets with large yellow letters to proclaim who they were. There was an FBI contingent, another from Secret Service, the D.C. Metropolitan Police, NTSB, the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and his own fire investigators, all looking for someone to be in charge so that they could claim command themselves. Instead of holding an informal meeting and establishing their own chain of command, they stood mostly in homogeneous little knots, probably waiting for someone else to tell them who was running things. Magill shook his head. He'd seen it before.

 

The bodies were coming out faster now. For the moment they were being taken to the D.C. Armory, about a mile north of the Hill just off the railroad tracks. Magill didn't envy the identification teams, though he hadn't yet troubled himself to descend into the crater--that's how he

 

            35

 

thought of it at the moment--to see how badly destroyed things were.

 

"Chief?" a voice asked behind him. Magill turned.

 

"Yeah?"

 

"NTSB. Can we start looking for the flight recorder?" The man pointed to the rudder fin. Though the tail assembly of the aircraft was anything but intact, you could tell what it had once been, and the so-called black box-- actually painted Day-Glo orange--would be somewhere in there. The area was actually fairly clean. The rubble had been catapulted westward for the most part, and they might actually have a chance of recovering it quickly.

 

"Okay." Magill nodded and pointed to a pair of fire-fighters to accompany the crash team.

 

"Could you also tell your people as much as possible not to move the aircraft parts around? We need to reconstruct the event, and it helps to leave things pretty much in place."

 

"The people--the bodies come first," Magill pointed out. The federal official nodded with a grimace. This wasn't fun for anyone.

 

"I understand." He paused. "If you find the flight crew, please don't move them at all. Call us, and we'll handle it. Okay?"

 

"How will we know?"

 

"White shirts, shoulder boards with stripes on them, and they'll be Japanese, probably."

 

It should have sounded crazy, but it didn't. Magill knew that bodies often did survive airplane crashes in the most incredible outward condition, so intact that only a trained eye could see the signs of fatal injury on first inspection. It often unnerved the civilians who were usually the first to arrive at a scene. It was so strange that the human body seemed more robust than the life it contained. There was a mercy to it, for the survivors were spared the hellish ordeal of identifying a piece of burned, torn meat, but that mercy was balanced by the cruelty of recognizing someone that could not talk back. Magill shook his head and had one of his senior people relay the special order.

 

36

 

     

 

The firefighters down below had enough of them already. The first special order, of course, had been to locate and remove the body of President Roger Durling. Everything was secondary to that, and a special ambulance was standing by for his body alone. Even the First Lady, Anne Durling, would have to wait a little for her husband, one last time. A contractor's mobile crane was maneuvering into the far side of the building to lift out the stone cubes that covered the podium area like a battered pile of children's hardwood blocks; in the harsh light it seemed that only the letters and numbers painted on their sides were lacking to make the illusion complete.

 

PEOPLE WERE STREAMING in to all the government departments, especially the senior officials. It was hardly the usual thing for the VIP parking slots to fill up at midnight, but this night they did, and the Department of State was no exception. Security personnel were called in as well, for an attack on one government agency was an attack on all, and even though the nature of the attack on the government devalued the advantage of calling in people armed with handguns, it didn't really matter. When A happened, B resulted, because it was written down somewhere that B was what you did. The people with the handguns looked at one another and shook their heads, knowing that they'd be getting overtime pay, which put them one up on the big shots who'd storm in from their places in Chevy Chase and suburban Virginia, race upstairs, and then just chat with one another.

 

One such person found his parking place in the basement and used his key-card to activate the VIP elevator to the seventh floor. What made him different was that he had a real mission for the evening, albeit one he'd wondered about all the way in from his Great Falls home. It was what he thought of as a gut check, though that term hardly applied here. Yet what else could he do? He owed Ed Kealty everything, his place in Washington society, his career at State, so many other things. The country needed someone like Ed right now. So Ed had told him, making

 

            37

 

a strong case for the proposition, and what he himself was doing was ... what? A small voice in the car had called it treason, but, no, that wasn't so, because "treason" was the only crime defined in the Constitution, cited there as giving "aid and comfort" to the enemies of his country, and whatever Ed Kealty was doing, he wasn't doing that, was he?

 

It came down to loyalty. He was Ed Realty's man, as were many others. The relationship had started at Harvard, with beers and double dates and weekends at his family's house on the water, the good times of a lively youth. He'd been the working-class guest of one of America's great families--why? Because he'd caught Ed's youthful eye. But why that? He didn't know, had never asked, and probably would never find out. That was the way of friendship. It just happened, and only in America could a working-class kid who'd scratched into Harvard on a scholarship get befriended by the great son of a great family. He would have done well on his own, probably. No one but God had given him his native intelligence. No one but his parents had encouraged his development of that gift and taught him manners and . . . values. The thought caused his eyes to close as the elevator doors opened. Values. Well, loyalty was one of those values, wasn't it? Without Ed's patronage he would have topped out, maybe, as a DAS, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. The first word had long since been expunged from the title painted in gold letters on his office door. In a just world, he would have been in the running for the removal of the next word from the title as well, for wasn't he as good with foreign policy as anyone else on the seventh floor? Yes, he surely was, and that would not have come to be without his having been Ed Realty's man. Without the parties where he'd met the other mover-shakers, and talked his way to the top. And the money. He'd never taken a bribe of any sort, but his friend had advised him wisely (the advice having come from his own advisers, but that didn't matter) on investments, allowing him to build up his own financial independence and, by the way, buy a five-thousand-square-foot home in Great Falls, and to

 

38

 

     

 

put his own son into Harvard, not on a scholarship, for Clifton Rutledge III was the son of somebody now, not merely the issue of a worker's loins. All the work he might have done entirely on his own would not have brought him to this place, and loyalty was owed, wasn't it?

 

That made it a little easier for Clifton Rutledge II (actually his birth certificate said Clifton Rutledge, Junior, but "Jr." wasn't quite the suffix for a man of his station), Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

 

The rest was mere timing. The seventh floor was always guarded, all the more so now. But the guards all knew him, and it was merely a matter of looking like he knew what he was doing. Hell, Rutledge told himself, he might just fail, and that could well be the best possible outcome-- "Sorry, Ed, it wasn't there...." He wondered if that was an unworthy thought as he stood there by his office door, listening for footsteps that would match in speed the beating of his heart. There would be two guards on the floor now, walking about separately. Security didn't have to be all that tight at a place like this. Nobody got into State without a reason. Even in daytime, when visitors came in, they needed escorts to wherever they were going. At this time of night, things were tighter still. The number of elevators in service was reduced. Key-card access was needed to get all the way to the top floor, and a third guard was always at the elevator banks. So it was just timing. Rutledge checked his watch for several cycles of footsteps, and found that the intervals were regular to within ten seconds. Good. He just had to wait for the next one.

 

"Hi, Wally."

 

"Good evening, sir," the guard replied. "Bad night."

 

"Do us a favor?"

 

"What's that, sir?"

 

"Coffee. No secretaries to get the machines going. Could you skip down to the cafeteria and have one of their people bring an urn up here? Have them set it up in the conference room up the hall. We'll be having a meeting in a few minutes."

 

"Fair enough. Right away?"

 

"If you could, Wally."

 

"Be back in five, Mr. Rutledge." The guard strode off

 

            39

 

with purpose, turned right twenty yards away and disappeared from view.

 

Rutledge counted to ten and headed the other way. The double doors to the Secretary of State's office were not locked. Rutledge walked right in through the first set, then through the second, turning on the lights as he did so. He had three minutes. Half of him hoped that the document would be locked away in Brett Hanson's office vault. In that case he would surely fail, since only Brett, two of his assistants, and the chief of security had the combination, and that did have an anti-tamper alarm on it. But Brett had been a gentleman, and a careless one at that, always so trusting on the one hand and forgetful on the other, the sort who never locked his car or even his house, unless his wife made him. If it were in the open, it would be in one of two places. Rutledge pulled open the center drawer of the desk and found the usual array of pencils and cheap pens (he was always losing them) and paper clips. One minute gone, as Rutledge carefully shuffled through the desk. Nothing. It was almost a relief, until he examined the desktop, and then he nearly laughed. Right there on the blotter, tucked into the leather edging, a plain white envelope addressed to the Secretary of State, but without a stamp. Rutledge took it from its place, holding the envelope by the edges. Unsealed. He moved the flap and extracted the contents. A single sheet of paper, two typed paragraphs. It was at this point that Cliff Rut-ledge got a chill. The exercise had been theoretical to this point. He could just replace it, forget he'd been here, forget about the phone call, forget about everything. Two minutes.

 

Would Brett have receipted it? Probably not. Again, he'd been a gentleman about everything. He would not have humiliated Ed that way. Ed had done the honorable thing by resigning, and Brett would have responded honorably, undoubtedly shaken his hand with a sorrowful look, and that would have been that. Two minutes fifteen.

 

Decision. Rutledge tucked the letter in his jacket pocket, headed for the door, switched off the lights, and returned to the corridor, stopping short of his own office door. There he waited half a minute.

 

40

 

     

 

"Hi, George."

 

"Hello, Mr. Rutledge."

 

"I just sent Wally down to get coffee for the floor."

 

"Good idea, sir. Bad night. Is it true that--"

 

"Yeah, afraid so. Brett was probably killed with all the rest."

 

"Damn."

 

"Might be a good idea to lock his office up. I just checked the door and--"

 

"Yes, sir." George Armitage pulled out his key ring and found the proper one. "He's always so--"

 

"I know." Rutledge nodded.

 

"You know, two weeks ago I found his vault unlocked. Like, he turned the handle but forgot to spin the dial." A shake of the head. "I guess he never got hisself robbed, eh?"

 

"That's the problem with security," the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs sympathized. "The big boys never seem to pay attention, right?"

 

HOW BEAUTIFUL IT was. Who had done it? The question had a cursory answer. The TV reporters, with little else to do, kept telling their cameras to look at the tail fin. He remembered the logo well enough, having long ago participated in an operation that had blown up an aircraft with the red crane on its rudder fin. He almost regretted it now, but envy prevented that. It was a matter of propriety. As one of the world's foremost terrorists--he used the word within his own mind, and in that private place relished the term, though he couldn't use it elsewhere--such an event ought to have been his doing, not the work of some amateur. For that's who it had been. An amateur whose name he would learn in due course, along with everyone else on earth--from television coverage. The irony was striking enough. Since puberty he'd devoted himself to the study and practice of political violence, learning, thinking, planning--and executing such acts, first as a participant, then as a leader/commander. And now what? Some amateur had outstripped him, had outstripped the entire clandes-

 

EXECUTIVt         41

 

tine world to which he belonged. It would have been embarrassing except for the beauty of the event.

 

His trained mind ran over the possibilities, and the analysis came rapidly. A single man. Perhaps two. More likely one. As always, he thought with a tight-lipped nod, one man willing to die, to sacrifice himself for the Cause-- whatever Cause he might have served--could be more formidable than an army: In the case at hand, the man in question had possessed special skills and access to special means, both of which had served his purpose well.

 

That was luck, as was the single-actor aspect to the feat. It was easy for a single man to keep a secret. He grunted. That was the problem he'd always faced. The really hard part was finding the right people, people whom he could trust, who wouldn't boast to or confide in others, who shared his own sense of mission, who had his own discipline, and who were truly willing to risk their lives. That last criterion was the price of entry, once easy enough to establish, but now it was becoming so much harder in a changing world. The well into which he dipped was running dry, and it did no good to deny it. He was running out of the truly devoted.

 

Always smarter and farther-seeing than his contemporaries, he himself had faced the necessity of participating in three real operations, and though he'd had the steel in his soul to do what had to be done, he didn't crave to repeat it. It was too dangerous, after all. It wasn't that he feared the consequences of his action--it was that a dead terrorist was as dead as his victims, and dead men carried out no more missions. Martyrdom was something he'd been prepared to risk, but nothing he'd ever really sought. He wanted to win, after all, to reap the benefits of his action, to be recognized as a winner, liberator, conqueror, to be in the books which future generations would read as something other than a footnote. The successful mission on the TV in his bedroom would be remembered as an awful thing by most. Not the act of a man, but something akin to a natural disaster, because, elegant as it was, it served no political purpose. And that was the problem with the mad act of one dedicated martyr. Luck wasn't

 

42

 

     

 

enough. There had to be a reason, a result. Such a successful act was only so if it led to something else. This manifestly had not. And that was too bad. It wasn't often that--

 

No, the man reached for his orange juice and sipped it before he allowed his mind to proceed. Wasn't often? This had never happened, had it? That was a largely philosophical question. He could say, harkening back to history, that the Assassins had been able to topple or at least decapitate governments, but back then such a task had meant the elimination of a single man, and for all the bravura shown by emissaries of that hilltop fortress, the modern world was far too complex. Kill a president or prime minister--even one of the lingering kings some nations clung to--and there was another to step into the vacant place. As had evidently happened in this case. But this one was different. There was no Cabinet to stand behind the new man, to show solidarity and determination and continuity on their angry faces. If only something else, something larger and more important had been ready when the aircraft had made its fall, then this thing of beauty would have been more beautiful still. That it hadn't could not be changed, but as with all such events, there was much to learn from both its success and failure, and its aftermath, planned or not, was very, very real.

 

In that sense it was tragic. An opportunity had been wasted. If only he'd known. If only the man who'd flown that airplane to its final destination had let someone know what was planned. But that wasn't the way of martyrs, was it? The fools had to think alone, act alone, and die alone; and in their personal success lay ultimate failure. Or perhaps not. The aftermath was still there. . . .

 

"MR, PRESIDENT?" A Secret Service agent had picked up the phone. Ordinarily it would have been a Navy yeoman, but the Detail was still a little too shell-shocked to allow just anyone into the Sit Room. "FBI, sir."

 

Ryan pulled the phone from its holder under the desktop. "Yes?"

 

            43

 

"Dan Murray here." Jack nearly smiled to hear a familiar voice, and a friendly one at that. He and Murray went back a very long way indeed. At the other end, Murray must have wanted to say Hi, Jack, but he wouldn't-- couldn't be so familiar without being so bidden--and even if Jack had encouraged him, the man would have felt uncomfortable to do so, and would have run the further risk of being thought an ass-kisser within his own organization. One more obstacle to being normal, Jack reflected. Even his friends were now distancing themselves.

 

"What is it, Dan?"

 

"Sorry to bother you, but we need guidance on who's running the investigation. There's a bunch of people running around on the Hill right now, and--"

 

"Unity of command," Jack observed sourly. He didn't have to ask why Murray was calling him. All those who could have decided this issue at a lower level were dead. "What's the law say for this?"

 

"It doesn't, really," Murray replied. The discomfort in his voice was clear. He didn't wish to bother the man who had once been his friend, and might still be, in less official circumstances. But this was business, and business had to be carried out.

 

"Multiple jurisdictions?"

 

"To a fare-thee-well," Murray confirmed with an unseen nod.

 

"I guess we call it a terrorist incident. We have a tradition of that, you and I, don't we?" Jack asked.

 

"That we do, sir."

 

Sir, Ryan thought. Damn it. But he had another decision to make. Jack scanned the room before replying.

 

"The Bureau is the lead agency on this. Everybody reports to you. Pick a good man to run things."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"Dan?"

 

"Yes, Mr. President?"

 

"Who's senior over at FBI?"

 

"The Associate Director is Chuck Floyd. He's down at Atlanta to give a speech and--" Then there would be the Assistant Directors, all senior to Murray ...

 

44

 

     

 

"I don't know him. I do know you. You're acting Director until I say otherwise." That shook the other side of the connection, Ryan immediately sensed.

 

"Uh, Jack, I--"

 

"I liked Shaw, too, Dan. You've got the job."

 

"Yes, Mr. President."

 

Ryan replaced the phone and explained what he'd just done.

 

Price objected first: "Sir, any attack on the President is under the jurisdiction of--" Ryan cut her off.

 

"They have more resources, and somebody has to be in command. I want this one settled as quickly as possible."

 

"We need a special commission." This was Arnie van Damm.

 

"Headed by whom?" President Ryan asked. "A member of the Supreme Court? Couple of senators and congressmen? Murray's a pro from way back. Pick a good--whoever's the senior career member of the Department of Justice's Criminal Division will oversee the investigation. Andrea, find me the best investigator in the Service to be Murray's chief assistant. We don't have outsiders to use, do we? We run this from the inside. Let's pick the best people and let them run with it. Like, we act as though we trust the agencies who're supposed to do the work." He paused. "I want this investigation to run fast, okay?"

 

"Yes, Mr. President." Agent Price bobbed her head, and Ryan caught an approving nod from Arnie van Damm. Maybe he was doing something right, Jack allowed himself to think. The satisfaction was short-lived enough. Against the wall in the far corner was a bank of television sets. All showed essentially the same picture now, and the flash of a photographer's strobe on all four sets caught the President's eyes. He turned to see four iterations of a body bag being carried down the steps of the Capitol building's west wing. It was one more cadaver to identify--large or small, male or female, important or not, one couldn't tell from the rubberized fabric of the bag. There were only the strained, cold, sad faces of the fire-

 

     

 

45

 

fighters carrying the damned thing, and that had attracted the attention of a nameless newspaper photographer and his camera and his flash, and so brought their President back to a reality he now, again, shrank from. The TV cameras followed the trio, two living, one dead, down the steps to an ambulance whose open doors revealed a pile of such bags. The one they were carrying was passed across gently, the professionals showing mercy and solicitude to the body which the living world had forsaken. Then they headed back up the steps to get the next one. The Situation Room fell silent as all eyes took in the same picture. A few deep breaths were taken, and eyes were too steely or too shocked as yet for tears as, two by two, they turned away to stare down at the polished oak of the table. A coffee cup scraped and rattled its way from a saucer. The slight noise only made the silence worse, for no one had the words to fill the void.

 

"What else has to be done now?" Jack asked. It hit him so hard, the fatigue of the moment. The earlier racing of his heart in the face of death and in fear for his family and in agony at the loss was taking its toll on him now. His chest seemed empty, his arms weighed down, as though the sleeves of his coat were made of lead, and suddenly it was an effort just to hold up his head. It was 11:35, after a day that had begun at 4:10 in the morning, filled with interviews about a job he'd held for all of eight minutes before his abrupt promotion. The adrenaline rush which had sustained him was gone, its two-hour duration making him all the more exhausted for its length. He looked around with what seemed an important question:

 

"Where do I sleep tonight?" Not here, Ryan decided instantly. Not in a dead man's bed on dead man's sheets a few feet from a dead man's kids. He needed to be with his own family. He needed to look at his own children, probably asleep by now, because children slept through anything; then to feel his wife's arms around him, because that was the one constant in Ryan's world, the single thing that he would never allow to change despite the cyclonic events that had assailed a life he had neither courted nor expected.

 

46

 

     

 

The Secret Service agents shared a look of mutual puzzlement, before Andrea Price spoke, taking command as was her nature and now her job.

 

"Marine Barracks? Eighth and I?"

 

Ryan nodded. "That'll do for now."

 

Price spoke into her radio microphone, which was pinned to the collar of her suit jacket. "SWORDSMAN is moving. Bring the cars to the West Entrance."

 

The agents of the Detail rose. As one person they unbuttoned their coats, and as they passed out the door, hands reached for their pistols.

 

"We'll shake you loose at five," van Damm promised, adding, "Make sure you get the sleep you need." His answer was a brief, empty stare, as Ryan left the room. There a White House usher put a coat on him--whose it was or where it might have come from, Jack didn't think to ask. He climbed into the Chevy Suburban backseat, and it moved off at once, with an identical vehicle in front, and three more behind. Jack could have avoided the sights, but not the sounds, for sirens were still wailing beyond the armored glass, and it would have been cowardice to look away in any case. The fire glow was gone, replaced by the sparkling of lights from scores of emergency vehicles, some moving, most not, on or around the Hill. The police were keeping downtown streets clear, and the presidential motorcade headed rapidly east, ten minutes later arriving at the Marine Barracks. Here everyone was awake now, properly uniformed, and every Marine in sight had a rifle or pistol in evidence. The salutes were crisp.

 

The home of the commandant of the Marine Corps dated back to the early nineteenth century, one of the few official buildings that hadn't been burned by the British during their visit in 1814. But the commandant was dead. A widower with grown children, he'd lived here alone until this last night. Now a full colonel stood on the porch in pressed utilities with a pistol belt around his waist and a full platoon spread around the house.

 

"Mr. President, your family is topside and all secure," Colonel Mark Porter reported immediately. "We have a full rifle company deployed on perimeter security, and another one is on the way."

 

            47

 

"Media?" Price asked.

 

"I didn't have any orders about that. My orders were to protect our guests. The only people within two hundred meters are the ones who belong here."

 

"Thank you, Colonel," Ryan said, not caring about the media, and heading for the door. A sergeant held it open, saluting as a Marine ought, and without thinking, Ryan returned it. Inside, a more senior NCO pointed him up the stairs--this one also saluted, as he was under arms. It was clear to Ryan now that he couldn't go anywhere alone. Price, another agent, and two Marines followed him up the stairs. The second-floor corridor had two Secret Service agents and five more Marines. Finally, at 11:54, he walked into a bedroom to find his wife sitting.

 

"Hi."

 

"Jack." Her head turned. "It's all true?"

 

He nodded, then he hesitated before coming to sit next to Cathy. "The kids?"

 

"Asleep." A pause. "They don't really know what's going on. I guess that makes four of us," she added.

 

"Five."

 

"The President's dead?" Cathy turned to see her husband nod. "I hardly got to know him."

 

"Good guy. Their kids are at the House. Asleep. I didn't know if I was supposed to do anything. So I came here." Ryan reached for his collar and pulled the tie loose. It seemed to take a considerable effort to do so. Better not to disturb the kids, he decided. It would have been hard to walk that far anyway. . "And now?"

 

"I have to sleep. They get me up at five."

 

"What are we going to do?"

 

"I don't know." Jack managed to get out of his clothes, hoping that the new day would contain some of the answers that the night merely concealed.

 

PRE-DAWN

 

 

 

IT WAS TO BE EXPECTED that they'd be as exactly punctual as their electronic watches could make them. It seemed to Ryan that he'd hardly closed his eyes when the gentlest of taps at the door startled him off the pillow. There came the brief moment of confusion normal to the moment of awakening in any place other than one's own bed: Where am I? The first organized thought told him that he'd dreamed a lot of things, and maybe-- But hard on the heels of that thought was the internal announcement that the worst of the dream was still real. He was in a strange place, and there was no other explanation for it. The tornado had swept him up into a whirling mass of terror and confusion, and then deposited him here, and here was neither Kansas nor Oz. About the best thing he could say, after five or ten seconds of orientation, was that he didn't have the expected headache from sleep-deprivation, and that he wasn't quite so tired. He slid out from under the covers. His feet found the floor, and he made his way to the door.

 

"Okay, I'm up," he told the wooden door. Then he realized that his room didn't have an attached bathroom, and he'd have to open the door. That he did.

 

"Good morning, Mr. President." A young and rather earnest-looking agent handed him a bathrobe. Again, it was the job of an orderly, but the only Marine he saw in the corridor was wearing a pistol belt. Jack wondered if there had been another turf fight the night before between the Marine Corps and the Secret Service to see who had primacy of place in the protection of their new Commander-in-Chief. Then he realized with a start that the bathrobe was his own.

 

"We got some things for you last night," the agent explained in a whisper. A second agent handed over Cathy's rather tattered maroon housecoat. So, someone had broken into their home last night--must have, Jack realized,

 

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as he hadn't handed over his keys to anyone; and defeated the burglar alarm he'd installed a few years earlier. He padded back to the bed and deposited the housecoat there before heading back out. Yet a third agent pointed him down the hall to an unoccupied bedroom. Four suits were hanging on a poster bed, along with four shirts, all newly pressed by the look of them, along with half a score of ties and everything else. It wasn't so much pathos as desperation, Jack realized. The staff knew, or at least had an idea of what he was going through, and every single thing they could do to make things easier for him was being done with frantic perfection. Someone had even spit-shined his three pair of black shoes to Marine specifications. They'd never looked so good before, Ryan thought, heading for the bathroom--where, of course, he found all of his things, even his usual bar of Zest soap. Next to that was the skin-friendly stuff Cathy used. Nobody thought that being President was easy, but he was now surrounded by people who were grimly determined to eliminate every small worry he might have.

 

A warm shower helped loosen his muscles, and clouded the mirror with mist, which made things even better when he shaved. The usual morning mechanics were finished by 5:20, and Ryan made his way down the stairs. Outside, he saw through a window, a phalanx of camouflage-clad Marines stood guard on the quad, their breathing marked by little white puffs. Those inside braced to attention as he passed. Perhaps he and his family had gotten a few hours of sleep, but no one else had. That was something he needed to remember, Jack told himself as the smells drew him to the kitchen.

 

"Attention on deck!" The voice of the sergeant-major of the Marine Corps was muted in deference to the sleeping children upstairs, and for the first time since dinner the previous night, Ryan managed a smile.

 

"Settle down, Marines." President Ryan headed toward the coffeepot, but a corporal beat him there. The correct proportions of cream and sugar were added to the mug--again, someone had done some homework--before she handed it across.

 

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"The staff is in the dining room, sir," the sergeant-major told him.

 

"Thank you." President Ryan headed that way.

 

They looked the worse for wear, making Jack feel briefly guilty for his shower-fresh face. Then he saw the pile of documents they'd prepared.

 

"Good morning, Mr. President," Andrea Price said. People started to rise from their chairs. Ryan waved them back down and pointed to Murray.

 

"Dan," the President began. "What do we know?"

 

"We found the body of the pilot about two hours ago. Good ID. His name was Sato, as expected. Very experienced airplane driver. We're still looking for the co-pilot." Murray paused. "The pilot's body is being checked for drugs, but finding that would be a surprise. NTSB has the flight recorder--they got that around four, and it's being checked out right now. We've recovered just over two hundred bodies--"

 

"President Durling?"

 

Price handled that one with a shake of the head. "Not yet. That part of the building--well, it's a mess, and they decided to wait for daylight to do the hard stuff."

 

"Survivors?"

 

"Just the three people who we know to have been inside that part of the building at the time of the crash."

 

"Okay." Ryan shook his head as well. That information was important, but irrelevant. "Anything important that we know?"

 

Murray consulted his notes. "The aircraft flew out of Vancouver International, B.C. They filed a false flight-plan for London Heathrow, headed east, departed Canadian airspace at 7:51 local time. All very routine stuff. We assume that he headed out a little while, reversed course, and headed southeast toward D.C. After that he bluffed his way through air-traffic control."

 

"How?"

 

Murray nodded to someone Ryan didn't know. "Mr. President, I'm Ed Hutchins, NTSB. It's not hard. He claimed to be a KLM charter inbound to Orlando. Then he declared an emergency. When there's an in-flight emergency, our people are trained to get the airplane on the

 

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ground ASAP. We were up against a guy who knew all the right buttons to push. There's no way anyone could have prevented this," he concluded defensively.

 

"Only one voice on the tapes," Murray noted.

 

"Anyway," Hutchins continued, "we have tapes of the radar tracks. He simulated an aircraft with control difficulties, asked for an emergency vector to Andrews, and got what he wanted. From Andrews to the Hill is barely a minute's flying time."

 

"One of our people got a Stinger off," Price said, with somewhat forlorn pride.

 

Hutchins just shook his head. It was the gesture for this morning in Washington. "Against something that big, might as well have been a spitball."

 

"Anything from Japan?"

 

"They're in a national state of shock." This came from Scott Adler, the senior career official in the State Department, and one of Ryan's friends. "Right after you turned in, we got a call from the Prime Minister. It's not as though he hasn't had a bad week himself, though he sounds happy to be back in charge. He wants to come over to apologize personally to us. I told him we'd get back--"

 

"Tell him yes."

 

"You sure, Jack?" Arnie van Damm asked.

 

"Does anybody think this was a deliberate act?" Ryan countered.

 

"We don't know," Price responded first.

 

"No explosives aboard the aircraft," Dan Murray pointed out. "If there had been--"

 

"I wouldn't be here." Ryan finished his coffee. The corporal refilled it at once. "This is going to come down to one or two nuts, just like they all do."

 

Hutchins nodded tentative agreement. "Explosives are fairly light. Even a few tons, given the carrying capacity of the 747-400, would not have compromised the mission at all, and the payoff would have been enormous. What we have here is a fairly straightforward crash. The residual damage was done by about half a load of jet fuel--upwards of eighty tons. That was plenty," he concluded. Hutchins had been investigating airplane accidents for almost thirty years.

 

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"It's much too early to draw conclusions," Price warned.

 

"Scott?"

 

"If this was--hell," Adler shook his head. "This was not an act by their government. They're frantic over there. The newspapers are calling for the heads of the people who suborned the government in the first place, and Prime Minister Koga was nearly in tears over the phone. Put it this way, if somebody over there planned this, they'll find out for us."

 

"Their idea of due process isn't quite as stringent as ours," Murray added. "Andrea is right. It is too early to draw conclusions, but all of the indications so far point to a random act, not a planned one." Murray paused for a moment. "For that matter, we know the other side developed nuclear weapons, remember?" Even the coffee turned cold with that remark.

 

THISONE HE found under a bush while moving a ladder from one part of the west face to another. The firefighter had been on duty for seven straight hours. He was numb by now. You can take only so much horror before the mind starts regarding the bodies and pieces as mere things. The remains of a child might have shaken him, or even a particularly pretty female, since this fireman was still young and single, but the body he'd accidentally stepped on wasn't one of those. The torso was headless, and parts of both legs were missing, but it was clearly the body of a man, wearing the shredded remains of a white shirt, with epaulets at the shoulders. Three stripes on each of them, he saw. He wondered what that meant, too tired to do much in the way of thinking. The fireman turned and waved to his lieutenant, who in turn tapped the arm of a woman wearing a vinyl FBI windbreaker.

 

This agent walked over, sipping at a plastic cup and wishing she could light a cigarette--still too many lingering fumes for that, she grumbled.

 

"Just found this one. Funny place, but--" "Yeah, funny." The agent lifted her camera and snapped a couple of pictures which would have the exact

 

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time electronically preserved on the frame. Next she took a pad from her pocket and noted the placement for body number four on her personal list. She hadn't seen many for her particular area of responsibility. Some plastic stakes and yellow tape would further mark the site; she started writing the tag for it. "You can turn him over."

 

Under the body, they saw, was an irregularly shaped piece of flat glass--or glass-like plastic. The agent snapped another photo, and through the viewfinder things somehow looked more interesting than with the naked eye. A glance up showed a gap in the marble balustrade. Another look around revealed a lot of small metallic objects, which an hour earlier she'd decided were aircraft parts, and which had attracted the attention of an NTSB investigator, who was now conferring with the same fire-department officer with whom she'd been conferring a minute earlier. The agent had to wave three times to get his attention.

 

"What is it?" The NTSB investigator was cleaning his glasses with a handkerchief.

 

The agent pointed. "Check the shirt out."

 

"Crew," the man said, after putting them back on. "Maybe a driver. What's this?" It was his turn to point.

 

There was a strange delicacy to it. The white uniform shirt had a hole in it just to the right of the pocket. The hole was surrounded by a red-rust stain. The FBI agent held her flashlight close, and that showed that the stain was dried. The current temperature was just under twenty degrees. The body had been thrown into this harsh environment virtually at the moment of impact, and the blood about the severed neck was frozen, the purple-red color of some horrid plum sherbet. The blood on the shirt, she saw, had dried before having the chance to freeze.

 

"Don't move the body anymore," she told the fireman. Like most FBI agents, she'd been a local police officer before applying to the federal agency. It was the cold that made her face pale.

 

"First crash investigation?" the NTSB man asked, seeing her face, and mistaking her pallor.

 

She nodded. "Yes, it is, but it's not my first murder." With that she switched on her portable radio to call her

 

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supervisor. For this body she wanted a crime-scene team and full forensics.

 

THE TELEGRAMS CAME from every government in the world. Most were long, and all had to be read--well, at least the ones from important countries. Togo could wait.

 

"Interior and Commerce are in town and standing by for a Cabinet meeting along with all the deputies," van Damm said while Ryan flipped through the messages, trying to read and listen at the same time. "The Joint Chiefs, all the vices, are assembled, along with all the command CINCs to go over national security--"

 

"Threat Board?" Jack asked without looking up. Until the previous day he'd been President Durling's National Security Advisor, and it didn't seem likely that the world had changed too much in twenty-four hours.

 

Scott Adler handled the answer: "Clear."

 

"Washington is pretty much shut down," Murray said. "Radio and TV announcements for people to stay home, except for essential services. The D.C. National Guard is out. We need the warm bodies for the Hill, and the D.C. Guard is a military-police brigade. They might actually be useful. Besides, the firemen must be about worn out by now."

 

"How long before the investigation gives us hard information?" the President asked.

 

"There's no telling that, Ja--Mister--"

 

Ryan looked up from the official Belgian telegram. "How long since we've known each other, Dan? I'm not God, okay? If you use my name once in a while, nobody's going to shoot you for it."

 

It was Murray's turn to smile. "Okay. You can't predict with any major investigation. The breaks just come, sooner or later, but they do come," Dan promised. "We have a good team of investigators out there."

 

"What do I tell the media?" Jack rubbed his eyes, already tired from reading. Maybe Cathy was right. Maybe he did need glasses, finally. Before him was a printed sheet for his morning TV appearances, which had been selected

 

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by lot. CNN at 7:08, CBS at 7:20, NEC at 7:37, ABC at 7:50, Fox at 8:08, all from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, where the cameras were already set up. Someone had decided that a formal speech was too much for him, and not really appropriate to the situation until he had something substantive to deliver. Just a quiet, dignified, and above all, intimate introduction of himself to people reading their papers and drinking their morning coffee.

 

"Softball questions. That's already taken care of," van Damm assured him. "Answer them. Speak slowly, clearly. Look as relaxed as you can. Nothing dramatic. The people don't expect that. They want to know that somebody's in charge, answering the phones, whatever. They know it's too soon for you to say or do anything decisive."

 

"Roger's kids?"

 

"Still asleep, I expect. We have the family members in town. They're at the White House now."

 

President Ryan nodded without looking up. It was hard to meet the eyes of the people sitting around the breakfast table, especially on things like that. There was a plan for this, too. Movers were already on the way, probably. The Durling family--what was left of it--would be removed from the White House kindly but quickly, because it wasn't their house anymore. The country needed someone else in there, and that someone needed to be as comfortable as possible, and that meant eliminating all visible reminders of the previous occupant. It wasn't brutal, Jack realized. It was business. They doubtless had a psychologist standing by to assist the family members with their grief, to "process" them through it as best as medical science allowed. But the country came first. In the unforgiving calculus of life, even so sentimental a nation as the United States of America had to move on. When it came time for Ryan to leave the White House, one way or another, the same thing would happen. There had been a time when an ex-President had walked down the hill to Union Station from his successor's inauguration to get a train ticket home. Now they used movers, and doubtless the family would fly out on Air Force transport, but go the children would, leaving behind schools and such friends as they had made, returning to California and

 

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whatever life their family members could reconstruct for them. Business or not, it was cold, Ryan thought while staring mindlessly at the Belgian telegram. How much the better for everyone if the aircraft had not fallen on the Capitol building . . .

 

On top of all that, Jack had rarely been called upon to console the children of a man he knew, and damned sure hadn't ever taken their home away. He shook his head. It wasn't his fault, but it was his job.

 

The telegram, he saw on returning to it, noted that America had twice helped to save that small country within a space of less than thirty years, then protected it through the NATO alliance, that there was a bond of blood and friendship between America and a nation which most American citizens would have been taxed to locate on a globe. And that was true. Whatever the faults of his country, whatever her imperfections, however unfeeling some of her actions might seem to be, the United States of America had done the right thing more often than not. The world was far the better for it, and that was why business had to be carried out.

 

INSPECTOR PATRICK O'DAY was grateful for the cold. His investigative career had stretched over almost thirty years, and this was not his first time in the presence of multiple bodies and their separated parts. His first had been in Mississippi one May, a Sunday school bombed by the Ku Klux Klan, with eleven victims. At least here the cold eliminated the ghastly odor of dead human bodies. He'd never really wanted a high rank in the Bureau--"inspector" was a title with variable importance in the sense of seniority. In his case, much like Dan Murray, O'Day worked as a troubleshooter, often dispatched from Washington to assist on touchy ones. Widely recognized as a superb street agent, he'd been able to stick to real cases, large and small, instead of high-level supervision, which he found boring.

 

Assistant Director Tony Caruso had gone along another track. He'd been special agent-in-charge of two field offices, risen to head the Bureau's Training Division, then

 

     

 

57

 

taken over the Washington Field Office, which was sufficiently large to merit "AD" rank for its commander, along with one of the worst office locations in North America. Caruso enjoyed the power, prestige, higher pay, and reserved parking place which his status accorded him, but part of him envied his old friend, Pat, for his often dirty hands.

 

"What do you figure?" Caruso asked, staring down at the body. They still needed artificial light. The sun was rising, but on the far side of the building.

 

"You can't take it to court yet, but this guy was dead hours before the bird came down."

 

Both men watched a gray-haired expert from Headquarters Laboratory Division hover over the body. There were all manner of tests to be carried out. Internal body temperature was one--a computer model allowed for environmental conditions, and while the data would be far less reliable than either senior official would want, anything prior to 9:46 P.M. the previous evening would tell them what they needed to know.

 

"Knifed in the heart," Caruso said, shivering at the thought. You never really got over the brutality of murder. Whether a single person or a thousand, wrongful death was wrongful death, and the number just told you how many individual records had been tied. "We got the pilot."

 

O'Day nodded. "I heard. Three stripes, makes him the co-pilot, and he was murdered. So maybe it was just one

 

guy."

 

"What's the crew on one of these?" Caruso asked the NTSB supervisor.

 

"Two. The earlier ones had a flight engineer, but the new ones don't bother with it. For really long flights they might have a backup pilot, but these birds are pretty automated now, and the engines hardly ever break."

 

The lab tech stood and waved in the people with the body bag before joining the others. "You want the early version?"

 

"You bet," Caruso replied.

 

"Definitely dead before the crash took place. No bruising from the crash trauma. The chest wound is relatively

 

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old. There should be contusions from the seat belts, but there aren't, just scrapes and gouges, with damn little blood there. Not enough blood from the severed head. In fact, not enough blood anywhere in the remains right here. Let's say he was murdered in his seat in the aircraft. The belts hold him in a sitting position. Postmortem lividity drains all the blood down to the lower extremities, and the legs are torn off when the bird hits the building--that's why there's so little blood. I got a lot of homework to do, but quick-and-dirty, he was dead three hours at least before the plane got here." Will Gettys handed over the wallet. "Here's the guy's ID. Poor bastard. I guess he wasn't a part of this at all."

 

"What chance you could be wrong on any of that?" O'Day had to ask.

 

"I'd be real surprised, Pat. An hour or two on time of death--earlier rather than later--yeah, that's possible. But there's nowhere near enough blood for this guy to have been alive at time of impact. He was dead before the crash. You can take that to the bank," Gettys told the other agents, knowing that his career rode on that one, and comfortable with the wager.

 

"Thank God for that," Caruso breathed. It did more than make things easier for the investigation. There would be conspiracy theories for the next twenty years, and the Bureau would proceed on its business, checking out every possibility, aided, they were sure, by the Japanese police, but one guy alone had driven this aircraft into the ground, and that made it extremely likely that this grand mal assassination, like most of the others, was the work of a single man, demented or not, skilled or not, but in any case alone. Not that everyone would ever believe that.

 

"Get the information to Murray," Caruso ordered. "He's with the President."

 

"Yes, sir." O'Day walked over toward where his diesel pickup was parked. He probably had the only one in town, the inspector thought, with a police light plugged into the cigarette lighter. You didn't put something like this over a radio, encrypted or not.

 

     

 

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REAR ADMIRAL JACKSON changed into his blue mess jacket about ninety minutes out from Andrews, having managed about six hours of needed sleep after being briefed on things that didn't really matter very much. The uniform was the worse for having been packed in his travel bag, not that it would matter all that much, and the navy blue wool hid wrinkles fairly well anyway. His five rows of ribbons and wings of gold attracted the eye, anyway. There must have been an easterly wind this morning, for the KC-10 flew in from Virginia, and a muttered, "Jesus, look at that!" from a few rows aft commanded all in the forward part of the aircraft to crowd at the windows like the tourists they were not. Between the beginnings of dawn and the huge collection of lights on the ground it was plain that the Capitol building, the centerpiece of their country's first city, wasn't the same as it had been. Somehow this was more immediate and real than the pictures many of them had seen on TV before boarding the plane in Hawaii. Five minutes later, the aircraft touched down at Andrews Air Force Base. The senior officers found an aircraft of the Air Force's First Heli Squadron waiting to take them to the Pentagon's pad. This flight, lower and slower, gave them a better look still at the damage to the building.

 

"Jesus," Dave Seaton said over the intercom. "Did anybody get out of there alive?"

 

Robby took his time before responding. "I wonder where Jack was when it happened. . . ." He remembered a British Army toast--"Here's to bloody wars and sickly seasons!"--which referred to a couple of sure ways for officers to be promoted into vacant slots. Surely quite a few people would fleet up from this incident, but none really wanted advancement this way, least of all his closest friend, somewhere down there in the wounded city.

 

THE MARINES LOOKED very twitchy, Inspector O'Day saw. He parked his truck on Eighth Street, S.E. The Marine Barracks were thoroughly barricaded. The curbs were fully blocked with parked cars, the gaps in the buildings doubly so. He dismounted his truck and walked toward

 

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an NCO; he was wearing his FBI windbreaker, and carrying his ID in his right hand.

 

"I have business inside, Sergeant."

 

"Who with, sir?" the Marine asked, checking the photo against the face.

 

"Mr. Murray."

 

"You mind leaving your side arm here with us, sir? Orders," the sergeant explained.

 

"Sure." O'Day handed over his fanny pack, inside of which was his Smith & Wesson 1076 and two spare magazines. He didn't bother with a backup piece on headquarters duty. "How many people you have around now?"

 

"Two companies, near enough. There's another one setting up at the White House."

 

There was no better time to lock the barn door than after the horse got out, Pat knew. It was all the more grim since he was delivering the news that it was all unnecessary, but nobody would really care about that. The sergeant waved to a lieutenant who had nothing better to do--the NCOs ran things like this--than to conduct visitors across the quad. The lieutenant saluted for no more reason than being a Marine.

 

"Here to see Daniel Murray. He's expecting me."

 

"Please follow me, sir."

 

The inner corners of the buildings on the quad had yet another line of Marines, with a third on the quad itself, complete with a heavy machine gun. Two companies amounted to upwards of three hundred rifles. Yeah, President Ryan was fairly safe here, Inspector O'Day thought, unless some other maniac driving an airplane was around. Along the way, a captain wanted to compare the photo on his ID with the face again. It was being overdone. Somebody had to point that out before they started parking tanks on the street.

 

Murray came out to meet him on the porch. "How good is it?"

 

"Pretty good," the inspector replied.

 

"Come on." Murray waved him in, and led his friend into the breakfast room. "This is Inspector O'Day. Pat, I think you know who these people are."

 

"Good morning. I've been on the Hill, and we found

 

     

 

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something a little while ago that you need to know," he began, going on for another couple of minutes.

 

"How solid is it?" Andrea Price asked.

 

"You know how this works," O'Day responded. "It's preliminary, but it looks pretty solid to me, and we'll have good test data after lunch. The ID's already being run. That may be a little shaky, because we don't have a head to work with, and the hands are all ripped up. We're not saying that we've closed the case. We're saying that we have a preliminary indication that supports other data."

 

"Can I mention this on TV?" Ryan asked everyone around the table.

 

"Definitely not," van Damm said. "First, it's not confirmed. Second, it's too soon for anyone to believe it."

 

Murray and O'Day traded a look. Neither of them was a politician. Arnie van Damm was. For them, information control was about protecting evidence so that a jury saw it clean. For Arnie, information control was about protecting people from things he didn't think they could understand until it was spin-controlled and spoon-fed, one little gulp at a time. Both wondered if Arnie had ever been a father, and if his infant had starved to death waiting for his strained carrots. Both noted next that Ryan gave his chief of staff a long look.

 

The well known black box really wasn't much more than a tape recorder whose leads trailed off to the cockpit. There they collected data from engine and other flight controls, plus, in this case, the microphones for the flight crew. Japan Airlines was a government-run carrier, and its aircraft had the latest of everything. The flight-data recorder was fully digitized. That made for rapid and clear transcription of the data. First of all, a senior technician made a clean, high-speed copy of the original metallic tape, which was then removed to a vault while he worked on the copy. Someone had thought to have a Japanese speaker standing by.

 

"This flight data looks like pure vanilla on first inspection. Nothing was broken on the aircraft," an analyst reported, scanning the data on a computer screen. "Nice easy turns, steady on the engines. Textbook flight profile .. . until here"--he tapped the screen-- "here he made a

 

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radical turn from zero-six-seven to one-niner-six . . . and settles right back down again until his penetration."

 

"No chatter in the cockpit at all." Another tech ran the voice segment of the tape back and forth, finding only routine traffic between the aircraft and various ground-control stations. "I'm going to back it up to the beginning." The tape didn't really have a beginning. Rather it ran on a continuous loop, on this machine, because the 747 routinely engaged in long, over-water flights, forty hours long. It took several minutes for him to locate the end of the immediately preceding flight, and here he found the normal exchange of information and commands between two crewmen, and also between the aircraft and the ground, the former in Japanese and the latter in English, the language of international aviation.

 

That stopped soon after the aircraft had halted at its assigned jetway. There was a full two minutes of blank tape, and then the recording cycle began again when the flight-deck instruments were powered up during the preflight procedures. The Japanese speaker--an Army officer in civilian clothes--was from the National Security Agency.

 

The sound pickup was excellent. They could hear the clicks of switches being thrown, and the background whirs of various instruments, but the loudest sound was the breathing of the co-pilot, whose identity was specified by the track on the recording tape.

 

"Stop," the Army officer said. "Back it up a little. There's another voice, can't quite... Oh, okay. 'All ready, question mark.' Must be the pilot. Yeah, that was a door closing, pilot just came in. 'Preflight checklist complete ... standing by for before-start checklist. . . .' Oh ... oh, God. He killed him. Back it up again." The officer, a major, didn't see the FBI agent don a second pair of headphones.

 

It was a first for both of them. The FBI agent had seen a murder on a bank video system, but neither he nor the intelligence officer had ever heard one, a grunt from an impact, a gasp of breath that conveyed surprise and pain, a gurgle, maybe an attempt at speech, followed by another voice.

 

"What's that?" the agent asked.

 

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"Run it again." The officer's face stared at the wall. " 'I am very sorry to do this.' " That was followed by a few more labored breaths, then a long sigh. "Jesus." The second voice came on a different vox channel less than a minute later, to notify the tower that the 747 was starting its engines.

 

"That's the pilot, Sato," the NTSB analyst said. "The other voice must be the co-pilot."

 

"Not anymore." The only remaining noise over the copilot's channel was spill-over and background sounds.

 

"Killed him," the FBI agent agreed. They'd have to run the tape a hundred more times, for themselves and for others, but the conclusion would be the same. Even though the formal investigation would last for several months, the case was effectively closed less than nine hours after it had begun.

 

THE STREETS OF Washington were eerily empty. Normally at this time of day, Ryan knew all too well from his own experience, the nation's capital was gridlocked with the automobiles of federal employees, lobbyists, members of Congress and their staffers, fifty thousand lawyers and their secretaries, and all the private-industry service workers who supported them all. Not today. With every intersection manned by a radio car of the Metropolitan Police or a camouflage-painted National Guard vehicle, it was more like a holiday weekend, and there was actually more traffic heading away from the Hill than toward it, the curious turned away from their place of interest ten blocks from their intended destination.

 

The presidential procession headed up Pennsylvania. Jack was back in the Chevy Suburban, and there were still Marines leading and following the collection of Secret Service vehicles. The sun was up now. The sky was mainly clear, and it took a moment to realize that the skyline was wrong.

 

The 747 hadn't even harmed the trees, Ryan saw. It hadn't wasted its energy on anything but the target. Half a dozen cranes were working now, lifting stone blocks from the crater that had been the House chamber, de-

 

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positing them onto trucks that were taking them off somewhere. Only a few fire trucks remained. The dramatic part was over for now. The grim part remained.

 

The rest of the city seemed intact enough at 6:40 A.M. Ryan gave the Hill a final sideways look through the darkened windows as his vehicle headed downhill on Constitution Avenue. If cars were being turned away, the usual morning collection of joggers was not. Perhaps they'd run to the Mall as part of the normal morning ritual, but there they stopped. Ryan watched their faces, some of which turned to see his vehicle pass before returning their gaze eastward, talking in little knots, pointing and shaking their heads. Jack noticed that the Secret Service agents in the Suburban with him turned to watch them, perhaps expecting one to pull a bazooka from under his sweats.

 

It was novel to drive so fast in Washington. Partly it was because a rapidly moving target was harder to hit, and partly because Ryan's time was far more valuable now, and not to be wasted. More than anything else it meant that he was speeding toward something he would just as soon have avoided. Only a few days before, he'd accepted Roger Curling's invitation for the vice-presidency, but he'd done so mainly as a means of relieving himself from government service once and for all. That thought evoked a pained look behind closed eyes. Why was it that he'd never been able to run away from anything? Certainly it didn't seem like courage. It actually seemed the reverse. He'd so often been afraid, afraid to say no and have people think him a coward. Afraid to do anything but what his conscience told him, and so often what it had told him had been something he hated to do or was afraid to do, but there wasn't ever an honorable alternative that he could exercise.

 

"It'll be okay," van Damm told him, seeing the look, and knowing what the new President had to be thinking.

 

No, it won't, Jack could not reply.

 

SCRUTINY

 

 

 

THE ROOSEVELT ROOM IS named for Teddy, and on the east wall was his Nobel Peace Prize for his "successful" mediation of the Russo-Japanese War. Historians could now say that the effort had only encouraged Japan's imperial ambitions, and so wounded the Russian soul that Stalin--hardly a friend of the Romanov dynasty!--had felt the need to avenge his country's humiliation, but that particular bequest of Alfred Nobel had always been more political than real. The room was used for medium-sized lunches and meetings, and was conveniently close to the Oval Office. Getting there proved to be harder than Jack had expected. The corridors of the White House are narrow for such an important building, and the Secret Service was out in force, though here their firearms were not in evidence. That was a welcome relief. Ryan walked past ten new agents over and above those who had formed his mobile guard force, which evoked a sigh of exasperation from SWORDSMAN. Everything was new and different now, and the protective Detail that in former times had seemed businesslike, sometimes even amusing, was just one more reminder that his life had been traumatically changed.

 

"Now what?" Jack asked.

 

"This way." An agent opened a door, and Ryan found the presidential makeup artist. It was an informal arrangement, and the artist, a woman in her fifties, had everything in a large fake-leather case. As often as he'd done TV-- rather a lot in his former capacity as National Security Advisor--it was something Jack had never come to love, and it required all of his self-control not to fidget as the liquid base was applied with a foam sponge, followed by powder and hair spray and fussing, all of which was done without a word by a woman who looked as though she might burst into tears at any moment.

 

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"I liked him, too," Jack told her. Her hands stopped, and their eyes met.

 

"'He was always so nice. He hated this, just like you do, but he never complained, and he usually had a joke to tell. Sometimes I'd do the children just for fun. They liked it, even the boy. They'd play in front of the TV, and the crews would give them tapes and . . ."

 

"It's okay." Ryan took her hand. Finally he'd met someone on the staff who wasn't all business, and who didn't make him feel like an animal in the zoo. "What's your name?"

 

"Mary Abbot." Her eyes were running, and she wanted to apologize.

 

"How long have you been here?"

 

"Since right before Mr. Carter left." Mrs. Abbot wiped her eyes and steadied down.

 

"Well, maybe I should ask you for advice," he said gently.

 

"Oh, no, I don't know anything about that." She managed an embarrassed smile.

 

"Neither do 1.1 guess I'll just have to find out." Ryan looked in the mirror. "Finished?"

 

"Yes, Mr. President."

 

"Thank you, Mrs. Abbot."

 

They sat him in an armed wooden chair. The lights were already set up, which brought the room temperature into the low eighties, or so it felt. A technician clipped a two-headed microphone to his tie with movements as delicate as Mrs. Abbot's, all because there was a Secret Service agent hovering over every member of the crew, with Andrea Price hovering over them all from the doorway. Her eyes were narrow and suspicious, despite the fact that every single piece of gear in the room had been inspected, every visitor scanned continuously by eyes as casually intense and thorough as a surgeon's. One really could make a pistol out of non-metallic composites--the movie was right about that--but pistols were still bulky. The palpable tension of the Detail carried over to the TV crew, who kept their hands in the open, and only moved them s\ovjty. The sctuUtvy of the Secret Service could rattle almost anyone.

 

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"Two minutes," the producer said, cued by his earpiece. "Just went into commercial."

 

"Get any sleep last night?" CNN's chief White House correspondent asked. Like everyone else, he wanted a quick and clear read on the new President.

 

"Not enough," Jack replied, suddenly tense. There were two cameras. He crossed his legs and clasped his hands in his lap in order to avoid nervous movements. How, exactly, was he supposed to appear? Grave? Grief-stricken? Quietly confident? Overwhelmed? It was a little late for that now. Why hadn't he asked Arnie before?

 

"Thirty seconds," the producer said.      *-

 

Jack tried to compose himself. His physical posture would keep his body still. Just answer the questions. You've been doing that long enough.

 

"Eight minutes after the hour," the correspondent said directly into the camera behind Jack. "We're here in the White House with President John Ryan.

 

"Mr. President, it's been a long night, hasn't it?"

 

"I'm afraid it has," Ryan agreed.

 

"What can you tell us?"

 

"Recovery operations are under way, as you know. President Curling's body has not yet been found. The investigation is going on under the coordination of the FBI."

 

"Have they discovered anything?"

 

"We'll probably have a few things to say later today, but it's too early right now." Despite the fact that the correspondent had been fully briefed on that issue, Ryan saw the disappointment in his eyes.

 

"Why the FBI? Isn't the Secret Service empowered to--"

 

"This is no time for a turf fight. An investigation like this has to go on at once. Therefore, I decided that the FBI would be the lead agency--under the Department of Justice, and with the assistance of other federal agencies. We want answers, we want them fast, and this seems the best way to make that happen."

 

"It's been reported that you've appointed a new FBI Director."

 

Jack nodded. "Yes, Barry, I have. For the moment I've asked Daniel E. Murray to step in as acting Director. Dan

 

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is a career FBI agent whose last job was special assistant to Director Shaw. We've known each other for many years, Mr. Murray is one of the best cops in government service."

 

"MURRAY?"

 

"A policeman, supposed to be an expert on terrorism and espionage," the intelligence officer replied.

 

"Hmm." He went back to sipping his bittersweet coffee.

 

"WHAT CAN YOU tell us about preparation for--I mean, for the next several days?" the correspondent asked next.

 

"Barry, those plans are still being made. First and foremost, we have to let the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies do their job. There will be more information coming out later today, but it's been a long and difficult night for a lot of people." The correspondent nodded at that, and decided it was time for a human-interest question.

 

"Where did you and your family sleep? I know it wasn't here."

 

"The Marine Barracks, at Eighth and I," Ryan answered.

 

"Oh, shit, Boss," Andrea Price muttered, just outside the room. Some media people had found out, but the Service hadn't confirmed it to anyone, and most news organizations had reported that the Ryan family was at "an undisclosed location." Well, they'd be sleeping somewhere else tonight. And the location would not be disclosed this time. Damn.

 

"Why there?"

 

"Well, it had to be somewhere, and that seemed convenient. I was a Marine myself once, Barry," Jack said quietly.

 

"REMEMBER WHEN WE blew them up?"

 

"A fine night." The intelligence officer remembered

 

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watching through binoculars from the top of the Beirut Holiday Inn. He'd helped set that mission up. The only hard part, really, had been selecting the driver. There was an odd cachet about the American Marines, something seemingly mystical about them that this Ryan's nation clung to. But they died just like any other infidel. He wondered with amusement if there might be a large truck in Washington that one of his people might buy or lease.... He set the amusing thought aside. There was work to be done. It wasn't practical, anyway. He'd been to Washington more than once, and the Marine Barracks was one of the places he'd examined. It was too easily defended. Too bad, really. The political significance of the target made it highly attractive.

 

"NOT SMART," DING observed over his morning coffee.

 

"Expect him to hide?" Clark asked.

 

"You know him, Daddy?" Patricia asked.

 

"Yes, as a matter of fact. Ding and I used to look after him back when we were SPOs. I knew his father, once...," John added without thinking, which was very unusual for him.

 

"What's he like, Ding?" Patsy asked her fiance, the ring still fresh on her finger.

 

"Pretty smart," Chavez allowed. "Kinda quiet. Nice guy, always has a kind word. Well, usually."

 

"He's been tough when he had to be," John observed with an eye to his partner and soon-to-be son-in-law, which thought almost occasioned a chill. Then he saw the look in his daughter's eyes, and the chill became quite real. Damn.

 

"That's a fact," the junior man agreed.

 

THE LIGHTS MADE HIM sweat under his makeup, and Ryan fought the urge to scratch the itches on his face. He managed to keep his hands still, but his facial muscles began a series of minor twitches that he hoped the camera didn't catch.

 

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"I'm afraid I can't say, Barry," he went on, holding his hands tightly together. "It's just too soon to respond sub-stantively to a lot of questions right now. When we're able to give hard answers, we will. Until then, we won't."

 

"You have a big day ahead," the CNN reporter said sympathetically.

 

"Barry, we all do."

 

"Thank you, Mr. President." He waited until the light went off and he heard a voice-over from the Atlanta headquarters before speaking again. "Good one. Thank you."

 

Van Damm came in then, pushing Andrea Price aside as he did so. Few could touch a Secret Service agent without seriously adverse consequences, much less bustle one, but Arnie was one who could.

 

"Pretty good. Don't do anything different. Answer the questions. Keep your answers short."

 

Mrs. Abbot came in next to check Ryan's makeup. A gentle hand touched his forehead while the other adjusted his hair with a small brush. Even for his high-school prom--what was her name? Ryan asked himself irrelevantly--neither he nor anyone else had been so fussy about his coarse black hair. Under other circumstances it would have been something to laugh about.

 

The CBS anchor was a woman in her middle thirties, and proof positive that brains and looks were not mutually exclusive.

 

"Mr. President, what is left of the government?" she asked after a couple of conventional get-acquainted questions.

 

"Maria"-- Ryan had been instructed to address each reporter by the given name; he didn't know why, but it seemed reasonable enough--"as horrid as the last twelve hours have been for all of us, I want to remind you of a speech President Durling gave a few weeks ago: America is still America. All of the federal executive agencies will be operating today under the leadership of the sitting deputy secretaries, and--"

 

"But Washington--"

 

"For reasons of public safety, Washington is pretty well shut down, that is true--" She cut him off again, less

 

     

 

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from ill manners than from the fact that she only had four minutes to use, and she wanted to use them.

 

"The troops in the street. . . ?"

 

"Maria, the D.C. police and fire departments had the roughest night of all. It's been a long, cold night for those people. The Washington, D.C., National Guard has been called out to assist the civilian agencies. That also happens after hurricanes and tornadoes. In fact, that's really a municipal function. The FBI is working with the mayor to get the job done." It was Ryan's longest statement of the morning, and almost left him breathless, he was wound so tightly. That was when he realized that he was squeezing his hands to the point that his fingers were turning white, and Jack had to make a conscious effort to relax them.

 

"LOOKAT HIS arms," the Prime Minister observed. "What do we know of this Ryan?"

 

The chief of her country's intelligence service had a file folder in his lap which he had already memorized, having had the luxury of a working day to familiarize himself with the new chief of state.

 

"He's a career intelligence officer. You know about the incident in London, and later in the States some years ago--"

 

"Oh, yes," she noted, sipping her tea and dismissing that bit of history. "So, a spy ..."

 

"A well-regarded one. Our Russian friends think very highly of him indeed. So does Century House," said the army general, whose training went back to the British tradition. Like his Prime Minister, he'd been educated at Oxford, and, in his case, Sandhurst. "He is highly intelligent. We have reason to believe that in his capacity as Durling's National Security Advisor he was instrumental in controlling American operations against Japan--"

 

"And us?" she asked, her eyes locked on the screen. How convenient it was to have communications satellites--and the American networks were all global now. Now you didn't have to spend a whole day in an aircraft to go and see a rival chief of state--and then under con-

 

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trolled circumstances. Now she could see the man under pressure and gauge how he responded to it. Career intelligence officer or not, he didn't look terribly comfortable. Every man had his limitations.

 

"Undoubtedly, Prime Minister."

 

"He is less formidable than your information would suggest," she told her adviser. Tentative, uncomfortable, rattled. . . out of his depth.

 

"WHEN DO YOU expect to be able to tell us more about what happened?" Maria asked.

 

"I really can't say right now. It's just too soon. Some things can't be rushed, I'm afraid," Ryan said. He vaguely grasped that he'd lost control of this interview, short as it was, and wasn't sure why. It never occurred to him that the TV reporters were lined up outside the Roosevelt Room like shoppers in a checkout line, that each one wanted to ask something new and different--after the first question or two--and that each wanted to make an impression, not on the new President, but on the viewers, the unseen people behind the cameras who watched each morning show out of loyalty which the reporters had to strengthen whenever possible. As gravely wounded as the country was, reporting the news was the business which put food on their family tables, and Ryan was just one more subject of that business. That was why Arnie's earlier advice on how they'd been instructed on what questions to ask had been overly optimistic, even coming from an experienced political pro. The only really good news was that the interviews were all time-limited--in this case by local news delivered by the various network affiliates at twenty-five minutes after the hour. Whatever tragedy had struck Washington, people needed to know about local weather and traffic in the pursuit of their daily lives, a fact perhaps lost on those inside the D.C. Beltway, though not lost on the local stations across the country. Maria was more gracious than she felt when the director cut her off. She smiled at the camera--

 

"We'll be back."

 

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--and Ryan had twelve minutes until NBC had at him. The coffee he'd had at breakfast was working on him now, and he needed to find a bathroom, but when he stood, the microphone wire nearly tripped him.

 

"This way, Mr. President," Price pointed to the left, down the corridor, then right toward the Oval Office, Jack realized too late. He stopped cold on entering the room. It was still someone else's in his mind, but a bathroom was a bathroom, and in this case, it was actually part of a sitting room off the office itself. Here, at least, there was privacy, even from the Praetorian Guard, which followed him like a pack of collies protecting a particularly valuable sheep. Jack didn't know that when there was someone in this particular head, a light on the upper door frame lit up, and that a peephole in the office door allowed the Secret Service to know even that aspect of their President's daily life.

 

Washing his hands, Ryan looked in the mirror, always a mistake at times like this. The makeup made him appear more youthful than he was, which wasn't so bad, but also phony, the false ruddiness which his skin had never had. He had to fight off the urge to wipe it all off before coming back out to face NBC. This anchor was a black male, and on shaking hands with him, back in the Roosevelt Room, it was of some consolation that his makeup was even more grotesque than his own. Jack was oblivious to the fact that the TV lights so affected the human complexion that to appear normal on a television screen, one had to appear the clown to non-electronic eyes.

 

"What will you be doing today, Mr. President?" Nathan asked as his fourth question.

 

"I have another meeting with acting FBI Director Murray--actually we'll be meeting twice a day for a while. I also have a scheduled session with the national security staff, then with some of the surviving members of Congress. This afternoon, we have a Cabinet meeting."

 

"Funeral arrangements?" The reporter checked off another question from the list in his lap.

 

Ryan shook his head. "Too soon. I know it's frustrating for all of us, but these things do take time." He didn't

 

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say that the White House Protocol Office had fifteen minutes of his afternoon to brief him on what was being planned.

 

"It was a Japanese airliner, and in fact a government-owned carrier. Do we have any reason to suspect--"

 

Ryan leaned forward at that one: "No, Nathan, we don't. We've had communications with the Japanese government. Prime Minister Koga has promised full cooperation, and we are taking him at his word. I want to emphasize that hostilities with Japan are completely over. What happened was a horrible mistake. That country is working to bring to justice the people who caused that conflict to take place. We don't yet know how everything happened--last night, I mean--but 'don't know' means don't know. Until we do, I want to discourage speculation. That can't help anything, but it can hurt, and there's been enough hurt for a while. We have to think about healing now."

 

"DOMOARIGATO," MUTTERED the Japanese Prime Minister. It was the first time he'd seen Ryan's face or heard his voice. Both were younger than he'd expected, though he'd been informed of Ryan's particulars earlier in the day. Koga noted the man's tension and unease, but when he had something to say other than an obvious answer to an inane question--why did the Americans tolerate the insolence of their media?--the voice changed somewhat, as did the eyes. The difference was subtle, but Koga was a man accustomed to noting the smallest of nuance. It was one advantage of growing up in Japan, and all the more so for having spent his adult life in politics.

 

"He was a formidable enemy," a Foreign Ministry official noted quietly. "And in the past he showed himself to be a man of courage."

 

Koga thought about the papers he'd read two hours earlier. This Ryan had used violence, which the Japanese Prime Minister abhorred. But he had learned from two shadowy Americans who had probably saved his life from his own countrymen that violence had a place, just as

 

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surgery did, and Ryan had taken violent action to protect others, suffered in the process, then done so again before returning to peaceful pursuits. Yet again he'd displayed the same dichotomy, against Koga's country, fighting with skill and ruthlessness, then showing mercy and consideration. A man of courage . . .

 

"And honor, I think." Koga paused for a moment. So strange that there should already be friendship between two men who had never met, and who had only a week before been at war. "He is samurai."

 

THE ABC CORRESPONDENT, female and blond, had the name of Joy, which for some reason struck Ryan as utterly inappropriate to the day, but it was probably the name her parents had given her, and that was that. If Maria from CBS had been pretty, Joy was stunning, and perhaps a reason ABC had the top-rated morning show. Her hello handshake was warm and friendly--and something else that almost made Jack's heart stop.

 

"Good morning, Mr. President," she said softly, in a voice better suited to a dinner party than a morning TV news show.

 

"Please." Ryan waved her to the chair opposite his.

 

"Ten minutes before the hour. We're here in the Roosevelt Room of the White House to speak with President John Patrick Ryan," her voice cooed to the camera. "Mr. President, it's been a long and difficult night for our country. What can you tell us?"

 

Ryan had it down sufficiently pat that the answer came out devoid of conscious thought. His voice was calm and slightly mechanical, and his eyes locked on hers, as he'd been told to do. In this case it wasn't hard to concentrate on her liquid brown eyes, though looking so deeply into them this early in the morning was disconcerting. He hoped it didn't show too much.

 

"Mr. President, the last few months have been very traumatic for all of us, and last night was only more so. You will be meeting with your national security staff in a few minutes. What are your greatest concerns?"

 

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"Joy, a long time ago an American President said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Our country is as strong today as yesterday--"

 

"YES, THAT IS true." Daryaei had met Ryan once before. He'd been arrogant and defiant then, in the way of a dog standing before his master, snarling and brave--or seemingly so. But now the master was gone, and here was the dog, eyes fixed on a beautiful but sluttish woman, and it surprised Daryaei that his tongue wasn't out and drooling. Fatigue had something to do with it. Ryan was tired; that was plain to see. What else was he? He was like his country, the Ayatollah decided. Outwardly strong, perhaps. Ryan was a young man still, broad of shoulder, erect of posture. His eyes were clear, and his voice firm, but when asked of his country's strength, he spoke of fear and the fear of fear. Interesting.

 

Daryaei knew well enough that strength and power were things of the mind more than the body, a fact as true of nations as of men. America was a mystery to him, as were America's leaders. But how much did he have to know? America was a godless country. That was why this Ryan boy talked of fear. Without God, both the country and the man lacked direction. Some had said that the same was true of Daryaei's country, but if that were true at all, it was for a different reason, he told himself.

 

Like people all over the world, Daryaei concentrated on Ryan's face and voice. The answer to the first question was obviously mechanical. Whatever America knew about this glorious incident, they weren't telling. Probably they didn't know very much, but that was to be understood. His had been a long day, and Daryaei had used it profitably. He'd called his Foreign Ministry and had the chief of the America desk (actually a whole department in the official building in Tehran) order a paper on the working of the American government. The situation was even better than Daryaei had hoped. They could make no new laws, could levy no new taxes, could spend no new money until such time as their Congress was reconstituted, and that would require time. Almost all of their ministries were

 

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headless. This Ryan boy--Daryaei was seventy-two--was the American government, and he was not impressed with what he saw.

 

The United States of America had thwarted him for years. So much power. Even after reducing its might following the downfall of the Soviet Union--the "lesser Satan"--America could do things possible for no other nation. All it needed was political resolve, and though that was rare enough, the threat of it was ever daunting. Every so often the country would rally behind a single purpose, as had happened not so long before against Iraq, with consequences so startlingly decisive as compared with what little his own country had managed in a shooting war that had lasted nearly a full decade. That was the danger of America. But America was a thinner reed now--or rather, America was, if not quite headless, then nearly so. The strongest body was rendered crippled and useless by an injury to its neck, the more so from one to its head....

 

Just one man, Daryaei thought, not hearing the words from the television now. The words didn't matter now. Ryan wasn't saying anything of substance, but telling the man half a world away much with his demeanor. The new head of that country had a neck that became the focus of Daryaei's gaze. Its symbolism was clear. The technical issue, after all, was to complete the separation of head from body, and all that stood between the two was the neck.

 

"TEN MINUTES TO the next one," Arnie said after Joy left to catch her car to the airport. The Fox reporter was in makeup.

 

"How am I doing?" Jack disconnected the mike wire before standing this time. He needed to stretch his legs.

 

"Not bad," van Damm judged, charitably. He might have said something else to a career politician, but a real politico would have had to field really tough questions. It was as though a golfer were playing against his handicap instead of a tour-pro partner, and that was fair, as far as it went. Most important, Ryan needed to have his confidence built up if he were to function at all. The presidency

 

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was hard enough at the best of times, and while every holder of that office had wished more than once to be rid of Congress and other agencies and departments as well, it was Ryan who would have to learn how indispensable the whole system of government was--and he'd learn the

 

hard way.

 

"I have to get used to a lot, don't I?" Jack leaned against the wall outside the Roosevelt Room, looking up and down the corridor.

 

"You'll learn," the chief of staff promised him.

 

"Maybe so." Jack smiled, not realizing that the activity of the morning--the recent activity--had given his mind something to shunt aside the other circumstances of the day. Then a Secret Service agent handed him a slip of paper.

 

HOWEVER. UNFAIR IT was to the other families, it was to be understood that the first priority had to be the body of President Durling. No fewer than four mobile cranes had been set up on the west side of the building, operating under the direction of hard-hatted construction foremen standing with a team of skilled workers on the floor of the chamber, much too close for safety, but OSHA wasn't around this morning. The only government inspectors who mattered were Secret Service--the FBI might have had overall jurisdiction, but no one would have stood between them and their own mournful quest. There was a doctor and a team of paramedics standing by as well, on the unlikely chance that someone might have survived despite everything to the contrary. The real trick was coordinating the actions of the cranes, which dipped into the crater--that's how it looked--like a quartet of giraffes drinking from the same water hole, never quite banging together due to the skill of the operators.

 

"Look here!" The construction supervisor pointed. In the blackened claw of a dead hand was an automatic pistol. It had to be Andy Walker, principal agent of Roger Durling's Detail. The last frame of TV had shown him within feet of his President, racing to spirit him off the

 

     

 

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podium, but too late to accomplish anything more than his own death in the line of duty.

 

The next dip of the next crane. A cable was affixed around a block of sandstone, which rose slowly, twirling somewhat with the torsion of the steel cable. The remainder of Walker's body was now visible, along with the trousered legs of someone else. All around both were the splintered and discolored remains of the oak podium, even a few sheets of charred paper. The fire hadn't really reached through the pile of stones in this part of the ruined building. It had burned too rapidly for that.

 

"Hold it!" The construction man grabbed the arm of the Secret Service agent and wouldn't let him move. "They're not going anywhere. It's not worth getting killed for. Couple of more minutes." He waited for one crane to clear the path for the next, and waved his arms, telling the operator how to come in, where to dip, and when to stop. Two workers slipped a pair of cables around the next stone block, and the foreman twirled his hand in the air. The stone lifted.

 

"We have JUMPER," the agent said into his microphone. The medical team moved in at once, over the warning shouts of several construction men, but it was plain from twenty feet away that their time was wasted. His left hand held the binder containing his last speech. The falling stones had probably killed him before the fire had reached in far enough to singe his hair. Much of the body was misshapen from crushing, but the suit and the presidential tie-clasp and the gold watch on his wrist positively identified President Roger Durling. Everything stopped. The cranes stood still, their diesel engines idling while their operators sipped their coffee or lit up smokes. A team of forensic photographers came in to snap their rolls of film from every possible angle.

 

They took their time. Elsewhere on the floor of the chamber, National Guardsmen were bagging bodies and carrying them off--they'd taken over this task from the firelighters two hours before--but for a fifty-foot circle, there were only Secret Service, performing their, last official duty to JUMPER, as they had called the President in

 

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honor of his service as a lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne. It had gone on too long for tears, though for all of the assembled agents those would come again, more than once. When the medics withdrew, when the photographers were satisfied, four agents in SECRET SERVICE windbreakers made their way down over the remaining stone blocks. First they lifted the body of Andy Walker, whose last conscious act had been to protect his "principal," and lowered it gently into the rubberized bag. The agents held it up so that another pair of their fellows could lift it clear and take it on its way. The next task was President Durling. This proved difficult. The body was askew in death, and the cold had frozen it. One arm was at a right angle to the rest of the body and would not fit into the bag. The agents looked at one another, not knowing what to do about it. The body was evidence and could not be tampered with. Perhaps more important was their horror at hurting a body already dead, and so President Durling went into the bag with the arm outstretched like Captain Ahab's. The four agents carried it out, making their way out of the chamber, around all of the fallen blocks, and then down toward an ambulance waiting for this single purpose. That tipped off the press photographers near and far, who snapped away, or zoomed in their TV cameras to capture

 

the moment.

 

The moment cut into Ryan's Fox interview, and he watched the scene on the monitor that sat on the table. Somehow in his mind that made it official. Durling really was dead, and now he really was the President, and that was that. The camera in the room caught Ryan's face as it changed, as he remembered how Durling had brought him in, trusted him, leaned on him, guided him. . . .

 

That was it, Jack realized. He'd always had someone to lean on before. Sure, others had leaned on him, asked his opinion, given him his head in a crisis, but there was always someone to come back to, to tell him he'd done the right thing. He could do that now, but what he'd receive in return would be just opinions, not judgments. The judgments were his now. He'd hear all manner of things. His advisers would be like lawyers, some arguing one way, some arguing another, to tell him how he was both right

 

and wrong at the same time, but when it was all over, the decision was his alone.

 

President Ryan's hand rubbed his face, heedless of the makeup, which he smeared. He didn't know that what Fox and the other networks were sending out was split-screened now, since all had access to the pool feed from the Roosevelt Room. His head shook slightly from side to side in the way of a man who had to accept something he didn't like, his face too blank now for sadness. Behind the Capitol steps, the cranes started dipping again.

 

"Where do we go from here?" the Fox reporter asked. That question wasn't on his list. It was just a human reaction to a human scene. The cut to the Hill had bitten deep into the allotted time for the interview, and for another subject they would have carried over into the next segment, but the rules in the White House were adamantine.

 

"Quite a lot of work to be done," Ryan answered.

 

"Thank you, Mr. President. Fourteen minutes after the hour."

 

Jack watched the light on the TV camera blink off. The originating producer waited a few seconds before waving his hand, and the President detached his microphone and cable. His first press marathon was over. Before leaving the room, he looked more carefully at the cameras. Earlier in his life he'd taught classes in history, and more recently he'd delivered briefings, but all of those had gone to a live audience whose eyes he could see and read, and from their reaction he would adjust his delivery somewhat, speeding up or slowing down, maybe tossing in a little humor if circumstances allowed, or repeating something to make his point clearer. Now his intimate chats would be directed to a thing. Something else not to like. Ryan left the room, while all over the world, people evaluated what they'd seen of the new American President. Television commentators would discuss him in fifty or more countries while he found the bathroom again.

 

I "THIS IS THE best thing that's happened to our country ' since Jefferson." The older man rated himself a serious stu-

 

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dent of history. He liked Thomas Jefferson for his statement about how a country governed least was governed best, which was about all he knew of the adages from the Sage of Monticello.

 

"And it took a Jap to do it, looks like." The statement was trailed by an ironic snort. Such an event could even invalidate his closely held racism. Couldn't have that, could he?

 

They'd been up all night--it was 5:20 local time-- watching the TV news coverage, which hadn't stopped. The newsies, they noted, looked even more wasted than this Ryan guy. Time zones did have an advantage. Both had stopped drinking beer around midnight, and had switched to coffee two hours later when they'd both started dozing. Couldn't have that. What they saw, switching through channels downloaded on a large satellite dish outside the cabin, was like some sort of fantastic telethon, except this one wasn't about raising money for crippled children or AIDS victims or nigger schools. This one was fun. All those Washington bastards, must have been burned to a crisp, most of them.

 

"Bureaucrat barbecue," Peter Holbrook said for the seventeenth time since 11:30, when he'd come up with his summation of the event. He'd always been the creative one in the movement.

 

"Aw, shit, Pete!" gasped Ernest Brown, spilling some of his coffee into his lap. It was still funny, enough so that he didn't leap immediately to his feet from the uncomfortable feeling that resulted from his slip.

 

"Has been a long night," Holbrook allowed, laughing himself. They'd watched President Durling's speech for a couple of reasons. For one, all of the networks had preempted normal programs, as was usually the case for an important event; but the truth of the matter was that their satellite downlink gave them access to a total of 117 channels, and they didn't even have to switch the set off to avoid input from the government they and their friends despised. The deeper reason was that they cultivated their anger at their government, and usually watched such speeches--both men caught at least an hour a day of

 

     

 

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C-SPAN-1 and -2--to fuel those feelings, trading barbed comments back and forth every minute of a presidential speech.

 

"So, who is this Ryan guy, really?" Brown asked, yawning.

 

"Another 'crat, looks like. A bureaucrat talking bu-reaucrap."

 

"Yeah," judged Brown. "With nothing to back him up, Pete."

 

Holbrook turned and looked at his friend. "It's really som'thin', isn't it?" With that observation he got up and walked to the bookshelves that walled the south side of his den. His copy of the Constitution was a well-thumbed pamphlet edition which he read as often as he could, so as to improve his understanding of the intent of the drafters. "You know, Pete, there's nothing in here to cover a situation like this."

 

"Really?"

 

Holbrook nodded. "Really."

 

"No shit." That required some thought, didn't it?

 

"MURDERED?" PRESIDENT RYAN asked, still wiping the makeup off his face with wet towelettes of the same sort he'd used to clean off baby bottoms. At least it made his face feel clean when he'd finished.

 

"That's the preliminary indication, both from a cursory examination of the body and from a quick-and-dirty examination of the cockpit tapes." Murray flipped through the notes faxed to him only twenty minutes before.

 

Ryan leaned back in his chair. Like much else in the Oval Office, it was new. On the credenza behind him, all of Durling's family and personal photos had been removed. The papers on the desk had been taken away for examination by the presidential secretarial staff. What remained or what had been substituted were accoutrements from White House stores. The chair at least was a good one, expensively designed to protect the back of its occupant, and it would soon be substituted for a custom-designed chair fitted to his own back by a manufacturer

 

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who performed the service for free and--remarkably-- without public fanfare. Sooner or later he'd have to work in this place, Jack had decided a few minutes earlier. The secretaries were here, and it wasn't fair to make them trek across the building, up and down stairs. Sleeping in this place was another issue entirely--for the moment; that, too, had to change, didn't it? So, he thought, staring across the desk at Murray, murder.

 

"Shot?"

 

Dan shook his head. "Knife right in the heart, only one penetration. The wound looked to our agent to be from a thin blade, like a steak knife. From the cockpit tapes, it appears that it was done prior to takeoff. Looks like we can time-stamp that pretty exactly. From just prior to engine start-up to the moment of impact, the only voice on the tapes is the pilot. His name was Sato, a very experienced command pilot. The Japanese police have gotten a pile of data to us. It would seem that he lost a brother and a son in the war. The brother commanded a destroyer that got sunk with all hands. The son was a fighter pilot who cracked up on landing after a mission. Both on the same day or near enough. So, it was personal. Motive and opportunity, Jack," Murray allowed himself to say, for they were almost alone in the office. Andrea Price was there, too. She didn't quite approve; she had not yet been told exactly how far back the two men went.

 

"That's pretty fast on the ID," Price observed.

 

"It has to be firmed up," Murray agreed. "We'll do that with DNA testing just to be sure. The cockpit tape is good enough for voice-print analysis, or so they told our agent. The Canadians have radar tapes tracking the aircraft out of their airspace, so confirming the timing of the event is simple. We have the aircraft firmly ID'd from Guam to Japan to Vancouver, and into the Capitol building. Like they say, it's all over but the shouting. There will be a lot of shouting. Mr. President"--Andrea Price felt better this time--"it will be at least two months before we have every lead and tidbit of information nailed down, and I suppose it's possible that we could be wrong, but for all practical purposes, in my opinion and that of our senior agents at the scene, this case is well on its way to being closed."

 

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"What could make you wrong?" Ryan asked.

 

"Potentially quite a few things, but there are practical considerations. For this to be anything other than the act of a single fanatic--no, that's not fair, is it? One very angry man. Anyway, for this to be a conspiracy, we have to assume detailed planning, and that's hard to support. How would they know the war was going to be lost, how did they know about the joint session--and if it were planned as a war operation, like the NTSB guy said, hell, ten tons of high explosives would have been simple to load aboard."

 

"Or a nuke," Jack interjected.

 

"Or a nuke." Murray nodded. "That reminds me: the Air Force attache is going to see their nuclear-weapons-fabrication facility today. It took the Japanese a couple of days to figure out where it was. We're having a guy who knows the things flying over there right now." Murray checked his notes. "Dr. Woodrow Lowell--oh, I know him. He runs the shop at Lawrence Livermore. Prime Minister Koga told our ambassador that he wants to hand over the damned things PDQ and get them the hell out of his country."

 

Ryan turned his chair around. The windows behind him faced the Washington Monument. That obelisk was surrounded by a circle of flagpoles, all of whose flags were at half-staff. But he could see that people were lined up for the elevator ride to the top. Tourists who'd come to D.C. to see the sights. Well, they were getting a bargain of sorts, weren't they? The Oval Office windows, he saw, were incredibly thick, just in case one of those tourists had a sniper rifle tucked under his coat. . . .

 

"How much of this can we release?" President Ryan asked.

 

"I'm comfortable with releasing a few things," Murray responded.

 

"You sure?" Price asked.

 

"It's not as though we have to protect evidence for a criminal trial. The subject in the case is dead. We'll chase down all the possibilities of co-conspirators, but the evidence we let go today will not compromise that in any way. I'm not exactly a fan of publicizing criminal evidence, but

 

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the people out there want to know something, and in a case like this one, you let them have it."

 

Besides, Price thought, it makes the Bureau look good. With that silent observation, at least one government agency started returning to normal.

 

"Who's running this one at Justice?" she asked instead.

 

"Pat Martin."

 

"Oh? Who picked him?" she asked. Ryan turned to see the discourse on this one.

 

Murray almost blushed. "I guess I did. The President said to pick the best career prosecutor, and that's Pat. He's been head of the Criminal Division for nine months. Before that he ran Espionage. Ex-Bureau. He's a particularly good lawyer, been there almost thirty years. Bill Shaw wanted him to become a judge. He was talking to the AG about it only last week."

 

"You sure he's good enough?" Jack asked. Price decided to answer.

 

"We've worked with him, too. He's a real pro, and Dan's right, he's real judge material, tough as hell, but also extremely fair. He handled a mob counterfeiting case my old partner ramrodded in New Orleans."

 

"Okay, let him decide what to let out. He can start talking to the press right after lunch." Ryan checked his watch. He'd been President for exactly twelve hours.

 

COLONEL PIERRE ALEXANDRE, U.S. Army, retired, still looked like a soldier, tall and thin and fit, and that didn't bother the dean at all. Dave James immediately liked what he saw as his visitor took his seat, liked him even more for what he'd read in the man's c.v., and more still for what he'd learned over the phone. Colonel Alexandre--"Alex" to his friends, of which he had many--was an expert in infectious disease who'd spent twenty productive years in the employ of his government, divided mainly between Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington and Fort Detrick in Maryland, with numerous field trips sprinkled in. Graduate of West Point and the University of Chicago Medical School, Dr. James saw. Good, his eyes again sweeping

 

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over the residency and other professional-experience entries. The list of published articles ran to eight single-spaced pages. Nominated for a couple of important prizes, but not lucky yet. Well, maybe Hopkins could change that. His dark eyes were not especially intense at the moment. By no means an arrogant man, Alexandre knew who and what he was--better yet, knew that Dean James knew.

 

"I know Gus Lorenz," Dean James said with a smile. "We interned together at Peter Brent Brigham." Which Harvard had since consolidated into Brigham and Women's.

 

"Brilliant guy," Alexandre agreed in his best Creole drawl. It was generally thought that Gus's work on Lassa and Q fever put him in the running for a Nobel Prize. "And a great doc."

 

"So, why don't you want to work with him in Atlanta? Gus tells me he wants you pretty bad."

 

"Dean James--"

 

"Dave," the Dean said.

 

"Alex," the colonel responded. There was something to be said for civilian life, after all. Alexandre thought of the dean as a three-star equivalent. Maybe four stars. Johns Hopkins carried a lot of prestige. "Dave, I've worked in a lab damned near all my life. I want to treat patients again. CDC would just be more of the same. Much as I like Gus--we did a lot of work together in Brazil back in 1987; we get along just fine," he assured the dean. "I am tired of looking at slides and printouts all the time." And for the same reason he'd turned down one hell of an offer from Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, to head up one of their new labs. Infectious diseases were a coming thing in medicine, and both men hoped that it wasn't too late. Why the hell, James wondered, hadn't this guy made general-officer rank? Maybe politics, the dean thought. The Army had that problem, too, just as Hopkins did. But their loss . . .

 

"I talked about you with Gus last night."

 

"Oh?" Not that it was surprising. At this level of medicine everyone knew everyone else.

 

"He says just hire you on the spot--"

 

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"Good of him," Alexandre chuckled.

 

" -- before Harry Tuttle at Yale gets you for his lab."

 

"You know Harry?" Yep, and everybody knew what everybody else was doing, too.

 

"Classmates here," the dean explained. "We both dated Wendy. He won. You know, Alex, there isn't much for me to ask you."

 

"I hope that's good."

 

"It is. We can start you off as an associate professor working under Ralph Forster. You'll have a lot of lab work -- good team to work with. Ralph has put a good shop together in the last ten years. But we're starting to get a lot of clinical referrals. Ralph's getting a little old to travel so much, so you can expect to get around the world some. You'll also be in charge of the clinical side in, oh, six months to get your feet good and wet . . . ?"

 

The retired colonel nodded thoughtfully. "That's just about right. I need to relearn a few things. Hell, when does learning ever stop?"

 

"When you become an administrator, if you're not careful."

 

"Yeah, well, now you know why I hung up the green suit. They wanted me to command up a hospital, you know, punch the ticket. Damn it, I know I'm good in a lab, okay? I'm very good in a lab. But I signed on to treat people once in a while -- and to teach some, naturally, but I like to see sick people and send them home healthy. Once upon a time somebody in Chicago told me that's what the job was."

 

If this was a selling job, Dean James thought, then he'd taken lessons from Olivier. Yale could offer him about the same post, but this one would keep Alexandre close to Fort Detrick, and ninety minutes' flying time to Atlanta, and close to the Chesapeake Bay -- in the resume, it said Alexandre liked to fish. Well, that figured, growing up in the Louisiana bayous. In sum total, that was Yale's bad luck. Professor Harold Tuttle was as good as they came, maybe a shade better than Ralph Forster, but in five years or so Ralph would retire, and Alexandre here had the look of a star. More than anything else, Dean James was in the business of recruiting future stars. In another real-

 

     

 

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ity, he would have been the G.M. for a winning baseball team. So, that was settled. James closed the folder on his desk.

 

"Doctor, welcome to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine."

 

"Thank you, sir."

 

4

 

OJT

 

 

 

THE REST OF THE DAY WAS a blur. Even while living through it, Ryan knew that he'd never really remember more than snippets. His first experience with computers had been as a student at Boston College. Before the age of personal computing, he'd used the dumbest of dumb terminals--a teletype--to communicate with a mainframe somewhere, along with other BC students, and more still from other local schools. That had been called "time-sharing," just one more term from a bygone age when computers had cost a million or so dollars for performance that now could be duplicated in the average man's watch. But the term still applied to the American presidency, Jack learned, where the ability to pursue a single thought through from beginning to end was the rarest of luxuries, and work consisted of following various intellectual threads from one separate meeting to the next, like keeping track of a whole group of continuing TV series from episode to episode, trying not to confuse one with another, and knowing that avoiding that error was totally impossible.

 

After dismissing Murray and Price, it had begun in earnest.

 

Ryan's introduction began with a national-security briefing delivered by one of the national intelligence officers assigned to the White House staff. Here, over a period of twenty-six minutes, he learned what he already knew because of the job he'd held until the previous day. But he had to sit through it anyway, if for no other reason than to get a feel for the man who would be one of his daily briefing team. They were all different. Each one had an individual perspective, and Ryan had to understand the nuances peculiar to the separate voices he'd be hearing.

 

"So, nothing on the horizon for now?" Jack asked.

 

"Nothing we see at the National Security Council, Mr. President. You know the potential trouble spots as well as

 

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I do, of course, and those change on a day-to-day basis." The man hedged with the grace of someone who'd been dancing to this particular brand of music for years. Ryan's face didn't change, only because he'd seen it before. A real intelligence officer didn't fear death, didn't fear finding his wife in bed with his best friend, didn't fear any of the normal vicissitudes of life. A national intelligence officer did fear being found wrong on anything he said in his official capacity. To avoid that was simple, however: you never took a real stand on any single thing. It was a disease not limited to elected officials, after all. Only the President had to take a stand, and it was his good fortune to have such trained experts to supply him with the information he needed, wasn't it?

 

"Let me tell you something," Ryan said after a few seconds of reflection.

 

"What is that, sir?" the NIO asked cautiously.

 

"I don't just want to hear what you know. I also want to hear what you and your people think. You are responsible for what you know, but I'll take the heat for acting on what you think. I've been there and done that, okay?"

 

"Of course, Mr. President." The man allowed himself a smile that masked his terror at the prospect. "I'll pass that along to my people."

 

"Thank you." Ryan dismissed the man, knowing then and there that he needed a National Security Advisor he could trust, and wondering where he'd get one.

 

The door opened as though by magic to let the NIO out--a Secret Service agent had done that, having watched through the spy hole for most of the briefing. The next in was a DOD briefing team.

 

The senior man was a two-star who handed over a plastic card.

 

"Mr. President, you need to put this in your wallet."

 

Jack nodded, knowing what it was before his hands touched the orange plastic. It looked like a credit card, but on it was a series of number groups. . . .

 

"Which one?" Ryan asked.

 

"You decide, sir."

 

Ryan did so, reading off the third such group twice. There were two commissioned officers with the general, a

 

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colonel and a major, both of whom wrote down the number group he'd selected and read it back to him twice. President Ryan now had the ability to order the release of strategic nuclear weapons.

 

"Why is this necessary?" he asked. "We trashed the last ballistic weapons last year."

 

"Mr. President, we still have cruise missiles which can be armed with W-80 warheads, plus B-61 gravity bombs assigned to our bomber fleet. We need your authorization to enable the Permissible Action Links--the PALs--and the idea is that we enable them as early as possible, just in case--"

 

Ryan completed the sentence: "I get taken out early."

 

You're really important now, Jack, a nasty little voice told him. Now you can initiate a nuclear attack. "I hate those goddamned things. Always have."

 

"You aren't supposed to like them, sir," the general sympathized. "Now, as you know, the Marines have the VMH-1 helicopter squadron that's always ready to get you out of here and to a place of safety at a moment's notice, and ..."

 

Ryan listened to the rest while his mind wondered if he should do what Jimmy Carter had done at this point: Okay, let's see, then. Tell them I want them to pick me up NOW. Which presidential command had turned into a major embarrassment for a lot of Marines. But he couldn't do that now, could he? It would get out that Ryan was a paranoid fool, not someone who wanted to see if the system really worked the way people said it would. Besides, today VMH-1 would definitely be spun up, wouldn't it?

 

The fourth member of the briefing team was an Army warrant officer in civilian clothes who carried a quite ordinary-looking briefcase known as "the football," inside of which -was a binder, inside of which was the attack plan--actually a whole set of them . . .

 

"Let me see it." Ryan pointed. The warrant hesitated, then unlocked the case and handed over the navy blue binder, which Ryan flipped open.

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