Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany
It was nearly four in the morning and Helen Gray found herself pacing again — striding back and forth across the thin brown carpet.
The small, Spartan Bachelor Officer’s Quarters room Colonel Stroud had booked for them would never have been mistaken for a luxury hotel suite at the best of times. For two highly active, urgently motivated people unable to risk setting foot outside, it was starting to turn into a tiger cage.
Being forced into hiding also left her far too much time to think about the bleak professional and personal future she and Peter faced — despite his brave words and bold declaration of love back in Andrew Griffin’s Berlin flat. The truth was that they were confronting grave danger and almost certain disgrace.
Even if they somehow managed to come out of this mess with their careers intact, they’d only be separated again — sent off to new assignments in different parts of the country or the world.
Helen sighed. The past year or so away from Peter had been hard enough. She wasn’t sure she could stand another period of enforced loneliness. It might be better to make a clean break and say goodbye forever rather than go through that again.
No. She couldn’t do that, she realized suddenly. Even the thought of losing him sent a wave of anguish through her heart.
But what alternative was there? Could he leave the Army to stay by her side? Could she leave the FBI to follow him? She shook her head.
Neither option seemed acceptable. She wanted a lifetime of joy together. Not a life filled with hidden regrets and lingering doubts.
Helen spun on her heel again, nearly barking her shins on the cheap, government-issue desk that came with the room.
The light knock on the door came as an enormous relief.
It was Mike Stroud. He was alone.
Once in the room, the Special Forces officer dumped a pair of camouflage fatigue uniforms, two pairs of boots, and a couple of camouflage field caps out of the duffel bag he’d brought to hold their civilian clothes.
Peter looked down at them. “We’re on?”
“You’re on,” Stroud confirmed. He tossed a set of B.D.U’s to Helen.
“Hope these fit, Mrs. Carlson. I had to guess at sizes.”
She went into the bathroom to put them on. When she came out, Peter was already dressed. Although neither uniform carried any rank insignia or unit patches, they now looked like just two more of the thousands of American personnel stationed at Ramstein.
“How’d I do?” Stroud asked.
“Not bad,” Helen admitted. Her fatigues were tight in a couple of places, but otherwise they felt fine. “You have a keen eye, Mike.”
The Green Beret colonel shrugged immodestly. “It’s a gift.”
Peter grinned — almost against his will. Helen felt her heart lift momentarily as the smile crinkled the tiny crow’s-feet around his serious green eyes.
Stroud hustled them out the BOQ door and into the waiting car ? this time an official vehicle, a dark blue Air Force van. As he drove, he explained. “We’re going straight to the flight line.”
He checked his watch. “I’m deliberately cutting this right to the bone. That way nobody has time to take a long look at you or to ask any inconvenient questions.”
Helen heard the worry in his voice. “There’s more trouble, Mike?”
Stroud nodded, still keeping his eyes on the road. “The word came in from D.C. this afternoon. All U.S. military bases in Europe are being asked to keep an eye out for two wanted fugitives, to wit, one Thorn, Peter, Colonel, U.S. Army; and one Gray, Helen, Special Agent, FBI.”
“Shit,” Peter muttered under his breath. “This come down from the Germans?”
“I wish,” Stroud said quietly. “The order’s signed by the Director of the FBI personally.”
Helen felt her insides knot up. Their worst nightmare had come true.
Their own people were under orders to arrest them.
She clenched her fists tight, forcing herself to think. “Then how do we board that plane?” she asked.
“I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve,” Stroud said. He took one hand off the wheel, reached into his tunic pocket, and handed Peter an envelope. “That contains a letter for the plane commander and another for the base operations officer at Dover — just in case you run into any problems. With a little luck, though, you won’t need to use them. Sam Farrell’s supposed to have somebody standing by to meet the plane.”
“Luck’s not exactly been on our side so far,” Helen commented.
“Well, there’s a first time for everything, Mrs. Carlson,” Stroud said. He glanced at Peter. “Remember, Pete, you run into some officious bastard, you ask to see the ops officer. If he’s still on your case after reading the letter, tell him your trip involves CORNICE.
That should clear the way. And if anybody wants to know what you’re doing, just tell ‘em you ‘work for the government.”” This time she and Peter both grinned openly. That was the standard reply given by members of the CIA and other intelligence agencies when they were asked about their jobs.
They crossed the airfield perimeter, passed through the sentries, and drove out onto the hangar-lined tarmac.
Huge Air Force cargo jets — C-5s and C-17s painted a dark, dull gray — were parked along the flight line. People and vehicles moved among them, minnows next to whales. They passed several of the transport aircraft before Stroud found the right tail number.
“Wait here,” the Special Forces officer instructed as he killed the engine and hopped out of the van. He was back in less than a minute, this time accompanied by a senior Air Force enlisted man. He waved them out.
“Chris and Katy Carlson, this is Master Sergeant Blue. He’s the loadmaster for this aircraft — and your personal attendant for this flight,” Stroud said.
Blue, a short, cheerful-looking man with a round face and a crooked nose, looked them over, then said, “Okay, Colonel, I guess you’re right. These two don’t look much like illegal aliens, after all.” He shook hands, first with Peter and then with Helen.
“Who you folks with?”
Helen smiled. “We work for the government, Master Sergeant.”
“Right. And I’m the Queen of Sheba,” Blue said, grinning back. He turned to Stroud and shrugged. “No harm in asking, right?”
The Air Force noncom waved them toward the C-17’s open rear cargo ramp as he headed across the tarmac. “C’mon, folks, let’s shake a leg!
Engine starts in five minutes.”
Helen looked at Stroud. “Colonel, I …” She faltered, unsure of exactly how to express her appreciation.
“You don’t need to thank me,” the Special Forces officer said.
He turned toward Peter. “You take care of yourself. and Mrs. Carlson here, too.”
Peter nodded somberly. “You can count on it, Mike.”
“I will. Now get your ass aboard that plane, Colonel,” Stroud said gruffly. He shook hands with Peter, hugged Helen, and then headed to the van without looking back.
By the time they caught up with the C-17’s loadmaster, the short Air Force noncom was already halfway up the ramp. “This is a cargo-only flight,” he explained. “There’re no spare seats in the plane, but I know a spot where you can both bed down. It’s comfortable and out of the way. Right now, only the pilot and I know you’re riding with us today, and I’d kinda like to keep it that way.”
“Understood, Master Sergeant,” Peter said. “We’ll stay low.”
“Don’t sweat it too much, Mr. Carlson.” Blue grinned again. “Hell, I’ve got room to hide a Brownie troop on board this flying milk wagon.”
The C-17’s cavernous fuselage held row upon row of cases and crates strapped to cargo pallets. The cargo pallets themselves were strapped to the deck. Moving carefully, the three of them picked their way along an aisle on one side, until the loadmaster paused. He plugged in the headset he was wearing, took one last look aft, and reported, “Ramp is clear.”
With a low whine, the rear door lifted off the tarmac and sealed — shutting off their view of the floodlit airfield and the rapidly brightening sky. Almost immediately, the jet’s four engines spooled up, the sound deepening to a full-throated roar that rattled through the cargo compartment.
Blue showed them to a corner of the deck where some mats had been piled and then left, urging them to get some sleep. “By the time you wake up, we’ll be landing at Dover,” he predicted cheerfully, shouting to make himself heard over the engine noise.
Helen settled herself on one of the mats, oddly grateful for the deafening roar of the C-17”S jet engines.
Although the din might make sleep hard to come by, it would also make it difficult to talk. That was a plus. She still couldn’t believe that the Bureau itself had a warrant out for their arrest.
Dover Air Force Base, Delaware
Colonel Peter Thorn woke up fast, immediately aware of a change in the pitch of the C-17’s jet engines and the aircraft’s altitude. They were descending. He looked across the pile of cargo mats they’d used as a makeshift camp bed. Helen was already awake. She blinked the sleep out of her eyes and tried a tentative smile.
Master Sergeant Blue appeared from the front of the plane. “Glad you folks got some sack time.
We’re almost there. We should be on the ground in maybe fifteen minutes or so.”
“What’s the drill once we touch down?” Thorn asked.
“Well, you can’t take the crew bus, so you just wait for a clear spot and then get off this crate,” Blue said.
“Don’t wait too long, though: The crews usually start unloading within fifteen to thirty minutes.”
“Will do, Sergeant.” Thorn nodded. He held out his hand again.
“Listen, I really appreciate this. I just hope it won’t get you in any trouble.”
Blue shrugged. “Colonel Stroud’s an okay guy — for a grunt. If he says what you’re doing is important, that’s good enough for me.” Then the Air Force noncom grinned. “Besides, I got my twenty in already. What’re they gonna do? Retire me so I can loaf around the house or go to work for United Airlines — and pull down twice the money?”
After wishing them good luck, Blue headed forward to strap in for the landing.
Thorn summoned up what he knew about Dover. He’d flown into and out of the base several times. It was a major transshipment point for military cargo going to Europe or being sent back from there. It contained the hangars, workshops, warehouse space, cargo-handling equipment, and personnel housing needed to maintain more than seventy transport aircraft. Over seven thousand people worked on the base full-time, and even in the age of a downsized U.S. military, Dover Air Force Base was huge.
He was counting on that. Once they were off the flight line, security should be much looser. Like all good plans, the essence of his was simplicity. Get away from the plane fast, get off the base faster, and then get back into civilian clothes. And if Sam Farrell’s contact was there to meet them, leaving Dover should be a piece of cake.
The C-17 touched down, bumping heavily on the runway as it slowed and then swung off onto one of the taxiways to the apron. Thorn turned as Helen touched his shoulder.
“Suppose they don’t open the ramp right away?” she asked.
“I can open it if I have to,” he assured her. “Or we slip forward to the cockpit and get out from there.”
Thorn knew the layout of all U.S. military cargo aircraft intimately.
Not only had he ridden them hundreds of times, but, as a Delta Force commander, he’d intensively studied their systems and blueprints — just in case he and his troops had needed to recapture a plane held by terrorists. Of course, he thought wryly, he’d never counted on using that knowledge to smuggle himself back into the United States as a fugitive.
The C-17 shuddered to a complete stop. Its engines spooled down — the sound fading from a dull roar to a high-pitched whine to silence.
Almost immediately, the rear ramp began opening — flooding the cargo compartment with sunlight, fresh air, and a lot of outside noise.
After so many hours spent in the plane’s dimly lit interior, the sunshine was almost blinding.
With his eyes narrowed against the glare, Thorn led Helen further back — away from the open ramp. He could hear diesel engines outside, and voices. If the Dover ground crews were moving faster than scheduled to unload this plane, he and Helen were likely to find themselves in real hot water real fast. They pressed back between two cargo crates.
After five long minutes counted out on his watch, the voices died away.
Helen nodded toward the opening. “We go?”
“We go,” Thorn agreed.
He led the way back toward the ramp, staying close to the fuselage and in the shadows. The vast stretch of concrete apron behind the transport was empty.
Helen frowned. “No sign of Sam Farrell’s contact?”
Thorn shook his head, still scanning the opening. He could see fuel trucks and other vehicles moving across the taxiway, but they were still hundreds of meters off. If he and Helen were going, this was as good a chance as they were going to get. He shouldered the duffel bag Mike Stroud had given them at Ramstein.
Helen touched his sleeve. “Shouldn’t we wait?”
“Too dicey,” he said. “Maybe Sam couldn’t get through to anybody.
Maybe whoever he did find got cold feet after seeing that “Wanted’ order with our names plastered all over it.”
Thorn led the way down the ramp and out onto the apron, trying to act as though stepping off a cargo-only C-17 were the most normal thing in all the world. Act natural, he thought. Most people zeroed in on strangers who seemed shifty or uneasy. But if you strolled right on by as though you had every right to be there, many people, including security guards, mistook that confidence for a legitimate purpose.
He moved around the side of the massive aircraft, squinted into the morning sun, and then nodded toward a long row of hangars already shimmering in the June heat. “There’s a gate just beyond them. It’s not the normal exit for arrivals, but we should be able to go through—”
“Morning, folks. You mind telling me where you’re headed?” a voice asked from behind them.
Damn it. Thorn turned slowly.
A man in a light blue uniform shirt, darker blue pants, and a matching beret had come around the other side of the C-17. His black boots were polished to the nines, mirrored sunglasses reflected the sun, and he wore a holstered pistol at his side. His name tag read “Thomas” and he wore sergeant’s stripes on his sleeve.
Thorn nodded toward the distant line of hangars. “We’re headed for the base, Sergeant.”
“Well, sir, I’m sure you know that everyone’s supposed to go through arrivals processing,” the Air Force security policeman said flatly. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the opposite direction. “Which is that way.”
He looked them up and down, and Thorn suddenly felt naked without any rank insignia or unit badge on his uniform.
It was second nature for anyone in the military to scan a uniform for the rank of the wearer, and Sergeant Thomas was coming up dry.
“May I see some identification, please?” The noncom’s tone was pleasant enough, but he wasn’t smiling.
Thorn handed over his forged identification card, mentally crossing his fingers. White-faced, Helen did the same.
Sergeant Thomas studied them for a moment, then looked up.
“Could I see your travel orders, too, Mr. Carlson?”
Double damn. Thorn knew there wasn’t any point in lying.
“We don’t have any travel orders, Sergeant.” Time to pull out Mike Stroud’s promised get-out-of-jail-free card, he thought. He reached into his pocket. “I’ve got a letter here for the base operations officer that explains our presence.”
He offered the folded piece of paper to the other man.
“You sure weren’t headed for the operations office when I found you,” Sergeant Thomas said dryly. He shook his head.
“Nope. I think you two folks better come with me to the security office.”
Thorn eyed the Air Force noncom closely. Thomas had one hand resting on his sidearm, more to accent his authority than because he expected to use it. Still, he’d quietly taken two steps back, out of easy reach, and he’d positioned himself to face both of them.
Thorn tried again. “I suggest you read this letter.”
“I’ll let my boss read your paperwork,” the Air Force policeman said. “My orders are clear, and I’m not getting my butt fried for letting you two walk off a plane and straight out a gate.”
After a quick glance at Helen, Thorn shrugged, acting far more casual than he felt. “Fine, Sergeant. You want to go by the book, we’ll go by the book.”
The duty security officer was busy. He kept them waiting for thirty excruciating minutes before Sergeant Thomas even made his report. More minutes passed before Master Sergeant Blue and an irritated major wearing a flight suit with pilot’s wings showed up.
Thorn saw Blue shoot him a sidewise glance— a glance he carefully ignored.
The C-17’s pilot and loadmaster were ushered into the security office ahead of them. When they emerged ten minutes later, they didn’t leave.
Instead they plopped themselves down on chairs at the opposite end of the waiting room. The pilot’s irritated expression had now matured into one of near hatred. Blue looked resigned, like a man awaiting execution.
Sergeant Thomas came back out of the security officer’s inner sanctum.
“Mr. and Mrs. Carlson?” He held the door open for them. “You’re up next.”
Captain Forbes, the duty security officer, was a thin, strongjawed man with thick glasses and a sour look. He didn’t waste time with any courtesies. Instead, he crooked a finger. “Okay, pal. Let’s see this mysterious letter.”
Thorn handed it over without comment.
Forbes skimmed the letter fast, then took a more careful look.
The corners of his mouth turned down. “Have you read this?”
The Air Force captain ignored him. “It’s supposedly signed by a Lieutenant Colonel Gibbs, the operations officer for the 352nd Special Operations Group at R.A.F Mildenhall, in the U.K. He says I’m to cooperate with your efforts to return to the U.S.”
Now, I don’t like this kind of vague, covert shit. Not at all. Not on my post and my watch. You mind telling me what the hell this is all about? Or whether or not Carlson is even your real name?”
Thorn shook his head. “I’m sorry, Captain. I can’t discuss any of that.”
“Naturally.” Forbes tapped the letter for emphasis. “Look, anyone could have typed this damned thing up — even if it is on 352nd SOG stationery.”
Thorn kept his face immobile with an effort. For all he knew, that was exactly what Stroud had done.
“So I’m going to hold you two while I check this thing out. And I want some fingerprints, to verify those ID cards of yours. This whole thing smells.”
Whoa, boy, Thorn thought desperately. Our goose is almost inside that 350 degree oven. He saw Helen’s shoulders slump.
Well, Mike Stroud had given him one last card to play — and it was time to find out whether it was an ace, or just another joker.
He leaned closer to the security officer. “That would be a serious mistake, Captain Forbes. The whole point of this exercise is to avoid leaving a paper trail of our entry into the United States. And we can’t be fingerprinted.”
“Can’t,” the other man challenged.
“Shouldn’t,” Thorn corrected. He stood up and closed the door, then turned back to Forbes. “This is a CORNICE matter.”
The security officer shook his head, scowling. “That code word doesn’t mean a damned thing to me.”
“It does to your operations officer,” Thorn said. “Ask him what it means. But I strongly suggest you avoid using it over an open phone line.”
Forbes pondered that for a moment, then grunted. “Okay, goddamnit. I’ll just do that.” He swept the letter and their ID cards to one side of his desk and nodded toward the door. “Wait outside.”
Once they were seated again, Helen leaned close enough to whisper in his ear. “Good grief, Peter! I never knew you were such a smooth-talking, thoroughgoing liar.”
“Years of playing poker,” he whispered back. “It’s sure nice to know I didn’t lose all that money for nothing.”
Helen chuckled, “That’s right. Build up my confidence and then tear it right back down…”
She fell silent.
More minutes passed, dragging by while Thorn worked hard to avoid staring back at the two C-17 crewmen. Getting caught was bad enough for the two of them. But this was snowballing fast into a fiasco that might drag a lot of other good people down with them. The only small mercy so far was the fact that the FBI arrest order must have been sent only to bases in Europe. If Forbes had been given a copy with their pictures on it, he and Helen would already be staring through the bars of the nearest cell.
The outside door banged open and a silver-haired Air Force colonel holding a walkie-talkie strode in. He swept the outer office with his eyes for an instant until his gaze landed on Thorn and Helen. Then he headed straight into Forbes’ office.
Sergeant Thomas came out a couple of minutes later, still shaking his head in disbelief. He motioned them back inside.
Captain Forbes was now standing beside his desk, while the colonel sat perched casually on a corner. “My name’s Callaghan, Mr. and Mrs. Carlson. I’m the operations officer here at Dover.”
He handed their ID cards and the letter back to Thorn. “I’ve explained the situation to Captain Forbes. I’m sure he now sees the error of his ways.”
The duty security officer tried his best to look indignant without crossing the line into insubordination.
“One of my people was supposed to meet your plane — but you landed early,” Callaghan explained. “Sorry about the mixup.”
“That’s okay, Colonel,” Thorn said with enormous relief, grateful they hadn’t wound up in jail within minutes of arriving home.
Callaghan glanced sideways at Forbes and then turned back to them.
“I’ve explained to the captain and Sergeant Thomas here that there will be no official record of this event. You weren’t on that C-17. You’ve never been inside this office. This meeting never happened.” He smiled thinly. “In fact, you don’t even exist. Will that be satisfactory?”
“Perfectly, Colonel,” Thorn said. He silently blessed Sam Farrell, Mike Stroud, and CORNICE whatever deep-black covert operation that code word represented.
“Great.” Callaghan swept his walkie-talkie off the security officer’s desk and motioned them toward the door. “My car’s just outside. I’ll tag along to make sure you get off base without hitting any more snags. And then I’ll have my duty driver take you into town. From there, you’re on your own.”
Once they were at the main gate, the colonel clambered out of the staff car and then leaned back inside. He handed Thorn a sealed envelope.
“A mutual friend sent me this fax last night.”
“Thanks, Colonel. Thanks very much.”
“Don’t mention it,” Callaghan said flatly. “And I mean, really don’t mention it. I never met either of you, remember?”
Thorn nodded his understanding. If he and Helen were caught later, the Air Force colonel had one possible line of defense — that he’d simply helped government employees claiming they were involved in some secret operation code-named CORNICE. But if they were caught, it would be far, far better for Callaghan if they just “forgot” to tell the FBI how they’d returned to the U.S. “Corporal Milliken here will take you where you want to go,” the colonel said. He shut the door and slapped the car roof to signal his driver to move on.
The sentries waved them through the gate and outside onto Highway 113.
Thorn sat back in the seat and tore open the envelope. He scanned the single sheet inside with intense interest. It was a list of economy-priced hotels and motels — all in the Washington, D.C area, and all on a Metro line. Each had been assigned a different code name.
He smiled broadly. Trust Sam Farrell to do his homework.
They pulled up to a major intersection.
“Where to, sir?” the driver asked.
Thorn handed the sheet to Helen. “What’s the best way to get to Wilmington, Corporal?”
“You can hop a DART bus for about four bucks a head, sir. Should get you there in an hour and a half or so.”
“That’ll be fine,” Thorn said. “Just drop us at the nearest bus stop, please.”
Helen leaned closer. “Wilmington? We’re taking Amtrak south then?” she asked quietly.
He nodded. The main New York-Washington rail line ran straight through the northern Delaware city. “Yep. We’re going cash-only from now on.
No point in sending up flares.”
“Good point,” Helen said.
Although the FBI seemed to be focusing its search for them on Europe, it was a safe bet that the Bureau had the warrants necessary to trace all their credit card expenditures. If they rented a car, the odds were the agents looking for them would have the make, model, and license tag within an hour or so. The train would be slower and less comfortable, but it offered one priceless advantage — anonymity.
Sam Farrell snapped the afternoon news off and spun around to grab the phone on his desk. “Farrell.”
“Sam, it’s Chris Carlson. My wife and I are in town for a conference, so I thought I’d look you up. Hope you don’t mind.”
Farrell breathed an inward sigh of relief. He’d been waiting for hours to hear from Peter Thorn — always aware that any one of the half-dozen links he’d so carefully forged could easily have come undone. His worries had intensified after Colonel Stroud had let him know about the FBI warrants out for Thorn and Helen.
“Damn, Chris,” he said honestly. “It’s sure good to hear your voice.
Who’ve you two staying with?”
Farrell pulled the coded list of hotels he prepared closer and ran his finger down it until he came to MCINTYRE. Peter and Helen had checked into the Madison Inn, a small bed-and-breakfast near the D.C. zoo. He nodded to himself: They’d made a good choice. That section of the city — Woodley Park — was quiet and almost entirely residential. Anyone conducting a search for them or trying to set up a surveillance net would stand out like a sore thumb.
“The Mcintyres are nice people,” Farrell said. He eyed the clock on his wall. It was a little after three in the afternoon. “You two free for dinner tonight?”
“Our social calendar is completely open, Sam,” Thorn said dryly. “Come by at your convenience. Will Louisa be with you?”
“Not this time,” Farrell said. “I’m an acting bachelor just now.”
He’d put his wife, Louisa, on a plane to visit their son and daughter-in-law as soon as he’d realized how many rules and regulations he was going to have to break to get Peter and Helen home safely and not in handcuffs. While he doubted the military or the administration would be too eager to try a highly decorated retired general for obstruction of justice and aiding fugitives, he didn’t see any point in making his wife an accessory to the crimes he’d committed.
“You take it easy now,” Farrell warned. “It’s real hot out there right now. Real hot. Sunstroke weather, if you ask me.”
There was a pause while Thorn digested the renewed warning.
“Understood, Sam,” he said finally. “We’ll lie up here in the shade until the heat dies down.”
“Smart move.” Farrell stood up. “I’m heading out the door now.”
After hanging up, he went into the master bedroom and pulled open the nightstand drawer closest to his side of the bed.
Inside lay a 9mm Beretta, a spare magazine, and a Milt Sparks holster that fit inside the waistband of his pants. As a former commander of all the U.S. military’s counterterrorist units, he’d found it remarkably easy to obtain a special federal concealed weapons permit.
Sam Farrell strongly doubted he’d need the pistol, but he’d listened too closely to Peter Thorn’s accounts of the nightmare ambushes at Pechenga and Wilhelmshaven to take anything for granted. And more than three decades of active Army service had taught him the wisdom of the old Boy Scout motto—“Be Prepared.” Hand-to-hand combat might work out okay for Peter and Helen in a pinch, but he preferred to be ready to meet trouble with three or four steeljacketed slugs.
Planning Cell, Caraco Complex, Chantilly, Virginia (D MINUS 4)
Rolf Ulrich Reichardt listened intently, trying to ferret out the hidden subtext from the welter of moronic American banalities and idioms. He turned to Jopp. “Rewind the tape.”
The wiry sound specialist nodded and flipped another series of switches on his equipment.
Reichardt heard the conversation begin. Halfway through he saw Ibrahim appear at the door. The Saudi prince spent two or three hours each day at the complex now — monitoring each phase as the Operation came ever closer to fruition.
The German said nothing and kept listening, letting the voices play their childish dance of secret codes all over again.
When the tape ended he pulled off the headphones.
“Well, Herr Reichardt, what is your report?” Ibrahim asked sharply.
“Hashemi said you had news of our friend, General Farrell.”
“Yes, Highness,” Reichardt said. He offered the other man the headphones and signaled Jopp to recue the phone intercept. “We picked up this telephone call on the American’s private line an hour or so ago.”
Ibrahim heard it through himself in growing impatience. He looked up.
“What of it? Farrell arranges dinner with this man Carlson and his wife? Of what possible significance is that?”
“That is what we are meant to think, Highness,” Reichardt said calmly.
He nodded at Jopp. “But then our clever friend here ran the conversation through his little black boxes — as a precaution.”
“Both men are lying,” Reichardt answered.
“To each other?” Ibrahim sounded surprised.
The ex-Stasi officer shook his head. “To any potential eavesdroppers.”
He smiled, a hunter’s grim smile. “General Farrell knows that the FBI wishes to arrest his two friends. Given that, he must suspect his telephones have been tapped by the authorities.
These cheerful idiocies are obviously a rough, shorthand code to arrange a rendezvous.”
“You believe this Carlson is actually Colonel Thorn? And that he and the woman Gray are now quartered in a safe house somewhere in this area?”
“Yes, Highness, that is what I believe,” Reichardt said. Nothing else made sense. Somehow Farrell had smuggled his proteges back into the United States — evading the arrest order issued by the FBI.
“And their intentions?”
“I cannot predict precisely what they will do next,” Reichardt admitted. “We can hope that your assurances to General Farrell will delay any further effort on their part. But prudence demands we assume they will again try to contact those with power in their own government — undoubtedly using Farrell as a go-between.”
Ibrahim shook his head. “I find that possibility unacceptable, Herr Reichardt. There is an old proverb, “News shouted loudly enough from the rooftops will not always fall on deaf ears.”
The ex-Stasi officer nodded grimly. “True, Highness. And General Farrell’s evident ability to smuggle these two back into the United States, right under the nose of the FBI, testifies both to his persistence and his residual power. Such a man is very dangerous.”’
He turned as Johann Brandt approached. “Well?”
“The American is definitely on his way to a covert rendezvous, sir,” the tall, powerfully built man replied. “He left his house forty-five minutes ago and drove to the closest Metro station.”
Reichardt read the faint hesitation in his subordinate’s voice.
“Harzer lost him there, didn’t he?”
Brandt nodded reluctantly. “Yes, sir. Parking was difficult. By the time Max got to the platform, Farrell had already boarded a train. The American apparently timed it perfectly.”
Unfortunate. The Metro system sprawled over two states and the entire District of Columbia. There were dozens of stations along its five interconnecting lines. Essentially, Farrell had now vanished into one of the world’s largest haystacks. Reichardt risked a quick glance at Ibrahim.
The Saudi prince stared back at him dispassionately — an expression the German found somehow more worrying than even an open display of anger.
“What now, Herr Reichardt? Do we simply admit defeat and pray to Allah that our enemies sit idly by until it is too late?”
“No, Highness,” Reichardt said, thinking rapidly. The outline of a basic plan flowed into his consciousness with lightning speed.
“Farrell will reemerge. He must — if he is to function as a go-between. More to the point, the general is still a lawabiding man — despite his recent defiance of the FBI. Given that basic fact, PEREGRINE should prove of great use in persuading Farrell to bring Colonel Thorn and his female associate within our reach.”
The German smiled coldly. “After all, why not kill four birds with one stone — instead of just two?”
Ibrahim nodded in both understanding and approval. “Let it be so. And do it today. These people have already diverted too much of our time, energy, and resources.”
The Madison Inn, Washington, D.C.
The Madison Inn had rooms spread across three adjoining Victorian town houses — all located on the same treelined culdesac within blocks of the Woodley Park Zoo. The bed-and-breakfast was quiet, discreet, and reasonably priced. Peter Thorn and Helen Gray had managed to secure a third-story corner room with a good view of the whole street.
Sam Farrell took the staircase two steps at a time — pleased to notice that he wasn’t winded when he reached the top landing.
All those years of calisthenics were paying off — even in retirement.
Thorn opened the door at his first knock and ushered him inside with a strained smile and a quick, firm handshake. Helen turned from the window where she’d obviously been keeping watch. She hurried over and hugged him tightly with a whispered “Thank you” in his ear.
Farrell took the chair they offered him and waited until they were both sitting down. He studied them carefully, noting the signs of surface fatigue and deep-seated worry. “You two look a little wrung-out. Something go wrong on the way from Ramstein?”
“Almost,” Thorn said quietly. “I nearly walked us right into the Dover brig …”
Farrell listened while they filled him in on their narrow escape and the comparatively uneventful train trip down to Union Station.
When they finished, he shook his head. “That was a little more nip-and-tuck than I’d planned. You were lucky, Pete.”
“But you’re here and that’s what counts.”
“Does it?” Helen asked in a soft voice. “We’re still wanted by our own people. And we’re not any closer to nailing the bad guys we’re chasing — not unless you’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the last couple of days, Sam.”
“No magic, I’m afraid,” Farrell admitted. “But I haven’t been sitting on my hands, either.”
He briefed them on his trip to Fort Bragg and the EMPTY QUIVER alert he’d managed to trigger. Both Helen and Thorn smiled at that. But their faces fell when he broke the news that the FBI’s first raid hadn’t netted any hard evidence. And they grew longer still when he told them how Caraco’s senior executives had used their political influence to shut the FBI probe down cold. He finished up with by recounting the meeting he’d had with Prince Ibrahim al Saud and Heinrich Wolf, his European security chief.
“What did you think of this Ibrahim character?” Thorn asked.
Farrell thought about that for a moment, looking for the best way to summarize his impressions of Caraco’s chief executive.
“He’s formidable,” he said at last. “I wouldn’t want to bet against him in a fight.”.
“And this guy Wolf?”
Farrell frowned. “A nasty piece of work.” He thought back to the meeting. “He was holding back — trying to make me think he was just Ibrahim’s lapdog. But I’d lay odds that there’s a lot more to Herr Wolf than appears on the surface.”
“Have you heard anything from either of them since?” Helen asked.
“No.” Farrell shrugged. “But that was less than twenty-four hours ago.”
“True.” She got up and walked over to the window, standing with her arms crossed while staring down at the street.
The silence dragged uncomfortably. Farrell felt the tension building in the room, and suddenly realized that both he and Thorn had turned to watch Helen.
At last she looked back at him. “Do you trust those two men, Sam? And I mean really trust them — the way you’d trust Peter or me?”
That was an easy question. “No. Not really.” Farrell shrugged. “I don’t like people who have so much political pull and use it to play God so easily.”
“Careful, Sam,” Thorn muttered. He grinned. “Some people might say you’ve been playing God a little bit these past few days yourself!”
Farrell chuckled. “Watch it, Colonel. You forget that I was a two-star general just last year. Divine powers are part of my retirement package.”
For just an instant Helen looked as though she wanted to bang their two heads together. “When you boys are finished playing word games, I’d like to get back to the real world,” she said.
“Sorry, Helen,” Farrell heard Thorn say meekly.
He sneaked a glance at the younger man. Oh, brother, Farrell thought.
A leader of men, a rough, tough combat soldier, and now Colonel Peter Thorn is outnumbered ten to one — by one woman. He smiled inwardly — knowing exactly how the other man felt. He’d fallen for Louisa the same way.
Farrell snapped out of his reverie in a hurry. “Sorry, ma’am.”
“That’s better,” Helen said, with the faint trace of a smile.
Then her smile faded. “What I’m trying to get us to focus on is our next move.”
Some of the happiness Farrell had felt for his two friends disappeared.
He’d known this question was coming, but he’d been dreading it. Well, it was better to get everything out in the open.
He sighed. “I’m not sure there is a next move. Not beyond finding a good lawyer for you and Pete, that is.”
“What the hell do you mean by that, Sam?” Thorn asked, staring back at him.
“He means we’ve hit a dead-end, Peter,” Helen said quietly.
“When the Bureau came up dry in Galveston, the last little shred of credibility we had went up in smoke.”
“Is that right, sir?” Thorn asked.
“Is what right, Colonel?” Farrell said. He felt himself bristling a bit at the younger man’s tone of voice.
“That you think we sold you a bill of goods when we claimed somebody was trying to smuggle a nuclear weapon into this country?”
Farrell shook his head wearily. “I don’t think you sold me a bill of goods, Pete. Look, you and Helen walked into something damned nasty aboard that Russian freighter in Pechenga — whether it was a heroin ring or a stolen atomic bomb. The problem is: You’ve really got no proof. Zero. Zip. And I’m fresh out of Pentagon contacts we can prod into action on my unsupported word. Hell, I hear the White House is so mad at me that George Mayer may lose the J.S.O.C post!”
Helen interceded. “So, what do you think we should do, Sam?”
“Let Ibrahim and this Wolf guy sort this mess out,” Farrell argued.
“I may not like them, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re incompetent. Caraco has a lot to lose if some of its employees get caught running a smuggling ring using company assets.”
Thorn grimaced. “Jesus, Sam! I hate sitting on my ass doing nothing. And I really hate doing nothing while hoping that some corporate security boss does the work our own people should be doing!”
“So do I, Pete,” Farrell said firmly. “You show me something else we can do — anything — and I’ll be right in there with you. But until you can do that, I suggest you and Helen just lie low — real low — and wait.”