ALSO BY DAVID BALDACCI
The Simple Truth
A Time Warner Company
This book is a work of fiction. All of the characters, incidents, and dialogue, except for incidental references to public figures, products, or services, are imaginary and are not intended to refer to any living persons or to disparage any company’s products or services.
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1999 by Columbus Rose, Ltd.
All right reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
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Originally published in hardcover by Warner Books.
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To Aaron Priest,
To my dear friend Jennifer Steinberg, for tracking down so much information for me. You’d make a great PI!
To my wife, Michelle, for always telling me the truth about the books.
To Neal Schiff at the FBI for his continued help and cooperation with my novels.
A very special thanks to FBI Special Agent Shawn Henry, who was very generous with his time, expertise, and enthusiasm, and who helped me avoid some serious gaffes in the story. Shawn, your comments made the book much better.
To Martha Pope for her valuable, insightful knowledge on Capitol Hill matters, and her patience with a political neophyte. Martha, you’d make a great teacher!
To Bobby Rosen, Diane Dewhirst, and Marty Paone for sharing their experiences and institutional memories with me.
To Tom DePont, Dawn Dale-Bartow, and Charles Nelson of NationsBank for assistance on financial and tax matters.
To Joe Duffy for enlightening me on foreign aid policy and procedures. And to his wife, Anne Wexler, for sharing her valuable time and insight with me.
A very, very special thanks to my friend Bob Schule for going above and beyond the call of duty in helping me on this book, for not only providing fascinating details about his long and distinguished career in Washington, but also for casting a wide net among his friends and colleagues in order to help me better understand politics, lobbying, and how Washington really works. Bob, you’re a wonderful friend and a true professional.
To Congressman Rod Blagojevich (D. Ill) for allowing me a glimpse into the life of a member of Congress.
To Congressman Tony Hall (D. Ohio) for helping me better understand the plight of the world’s poor, and how that issue plays out (or doesn’t) in Washington.
To my good friend and family member Congressman John Baldacci (D. Maine) for his support and assistance with this project. If everyone in Washington were like John, the plot of this book would seem totally implausible.
To Larry Benoit and Bob Beene for their help on everything from lobbying to the nuts and bolts of governing, to all the little nooks and crannies in the U.S. Capitol building. To them I owe one of my favorite scenes in the book.
To Mark Jordan of Baldino’s Lock and Key for educating me on the ways of security and phone systems and how to crack them. Mark, you’re the best.
To Steve Jennings for reading every word as usual and helping to make them better.
To my dear friends David and Catherine Broome for exposing me to the North Carolina settings and for their continued encouragement and support.
To all those other people who contributed to this novel but for various reasons wish to remain anonymous. I couldn’t have done it without all of you.
To my editor and my friend Frances Jalet-Miller. Her skill, encouragement, and gentle persuasion are all that any writer could ever want in an editor. To many more books together, Francie.
To Lisa Erbach-Vance at the Aaron Priest Agency for being so generous with her time and caring so much about all my books.
Last, but absolutely not least, to Larry, Maureen, Jamie, Tina, Emi, Jonathan, Karen Torres, Martha Otis, Jackie Joiner, and Jackie Meyer, Bruce Paonessa and Peter Mauceri, and all the rest of the Warner Books family. It takes
of us to make this happen.
All the people listed above gave me the knowledge and help I needed to write this novel. How I used that assistance to conjure up all sorts of shenanigans, misdeeds, outright crimes, and depictions of felonious and conspiratorial souls in
, however, is my responsibility alone.
The somber group of men sat in a large room that rested far belowground, accessed by only a single, high-speed elevator. The chamber had been secretly built during the early 1960s under the guise of renovating the private building that squatted over it. The original plan, of course, was to use this “super-bunker” as a refuge during a nuclear attack. This facility was not for the top leaders of American government; it was for those whose level of relative “unimportance” dictated that they probably wouldn’t be able to get out in time but who still rated protection afforded no ordinary citizen. Politically, even in the context of total destruction, there must be order.
The bunker was built at a time when people believed it possible to survive a direct nuclear hit by burrowing into the earth inside a steel cocoon. After the holocaust that would annihilate the rest of the country, leaders would emerge from the rubble with absolutely nothing left to lead, unless you counted vapor.
The original, aboveground building had been leveled long ago, but the subterranean room remained under what was now a small strip mall that had been vacant for years. Forgotten by virtually all, the chamber was now used as a meeting place for certain people in the country’s primary intelligence-gathering agency. There was some risk involved, since the meetings were not related to the men’s official duties. The matters discussed at these gatherings were illegal, and tonight even murderous. Thus additional precautions had been necessary.
The super-thick steel walls had been supplemented by a copper coating. That measure, along with tons of dirt overhead, protected against prying electronic ears lurking in space and elsewhere. These men didn’t particularly like coming to this underground room. It was inconvenient, and ironically, it seemed far too James Bondish even for their admittedly cloak-and-dagger tastes. However, the truth was the earth was now encircled with so much advanced surveillance technology that virtually no conversation taking place on its surface was safe from interception. One had to dig into the dirt to escape his enemies. And if there was a place where people could meet with reasonable confidence that their conversations would not be overheard even in their world of ultrasophisticated peekaboo, this was it.
The gray-headed people present at the meeting were all white males, and most were nearing their agency’s mandatory retirement age of sixty. Dressed quietly and professionally, they could have been doctors, lawyers or investment bankers. One would probably not remember any of the group a day after seeing them. This anonymity was their stock-in-trade. These sorts of people lived and died, sometimes violently, over such details.
Collectively, this cabal possessed thousands of secrets that could never be known by the general public because the public would certainly condemn the actions giving rise to these secrets. However, America often demanded results—economic, political, social and otherwise—that could be obtained only by smashing certain parts of the world to a bloody pulp. It was the job of these men to figure out how to do so in a clandestine manner that would not reflect poorly on the United States, yet would still keep the country safe from the pesky international terrorists and other foreigners unhappy with the stretch of America’s muscle.
The purpose of tonight’s gathering was to plot the killing of Faith Lockhart. Technically, the CIA was prohibited by presidential executive order from engaging in assassination. However, these men, though employed by the Agency, were not representing the CIA tonight. This was their private agenda, and there was little disagreement that the woman had to die, and soon; it was critical for the well-being of the country. These men knew this, even if American presidents did not. However, because of another life that was involved, the meeting had become acrimonious, the group resembling a cadre of posturing members fighting on Capitol Hill over billion-dollar slices of pork.
“What you’re saying, then,” one of the white-haired men said as he poked the smoke-filled air with a slender finger, “is that along with Lockhart we have to kill a federal agent.” The man shook his head incredulously. “Why kill one of our own? It can only lead to disaster.”
The gentleman at the head of the table nodded thoughtfully. Robert Thornhill was the CIA’s most distinguished Cold War soldier, a man whose status at the Agency was unique. His reputation was unassailable, his compilation of professional victories unmatched. As associate deputy director of Operations, he was the Agency’s ultimate free safety. The DDO, or deputy director of operations, was responsible for running the field operations that undertook the secret collection of foreign intelligence. The operations directorate of the CIA was also unofficially known as the “spy shop,” and the deputy director was still not even publicly identified. It was the perfect place to get meaningful work done.
Thornhill had organized this select group, who were as upset as he about the state of affairs at the CIA. It was he who had remembered that this bloated underground time capsule existed. And it was Thornhill who had found the money to secretly bring the chamber back to working condition and upgrade its facilities. There were thousands of little taxpayer-funded toys like that sprinkled around the country, many of them gone to complete waste. Thornhill suppressed a smile.
Well, if governments didn’t waste their citizens’ hard-earned money, then what would be left for governments to do?