“Bill, are you sure about this?” President Mitchell asked as he pulled out a piece of White House stationary from the desk made from the planks of the H.M.S. Resolute.
“Sir, I am convinced we can have a better chance at interdicting the device with these men on the team.”
“They are already on the team. You mean your team.”
“They are benched right now, sir. I want to get them back in the field doing what they do best.”
“You know, even though they don’t know who it was, any Arab claims that it was the work of Americans will be enough to get some to scream bloody torture, start quoting Benjamin Franklin,” Ray wryly observed.
“Those who give up freedom for security deserve neither,” Bill said, repeating the quote. “Well, that’s just another reminder of why, despite what 42 percent of Americans think, Ben Franklin was never President. Flowery language withers in the face of real world responsibility and devil’s choices.”
“I thought it was because he was a Francophile,” Ray added.
The President was finishing a note to the Secretary of Defense, ordering him to assign Bridgestone and Ross to Hiccock, when he looked up. “Ray, help me here. Who, or what, am I asking the Secretary to hand these men over to?”
“Good question. Why don’t we have them assigned to the NSC here at the White House?”
The President nodded and finished the note. He handed it to Ray, “Get this over to Barney. What are you going to call this idea of yours, Bill?”
“If it weren’t so close to the bone, I was thinking Mission Impossible, sir.”
“Get a better name and good luck, to you and to all of us.”
Along with the President’s agreeing to the plan, came his directive making Bill’s Quarter Back group the LFA on the suitcase nuke investigation. With being designated lead Federal Agency came a 27-million-dollar operating budget. Bill could get more if he needed it, but that was what was lying around in a discretionary fund at the White House that day. This money had already passed through Congress and was held in reserve for the Presidential shopping list of emergency actions or commissions. It was, essentially, anonymous money and that lack of immediate Congressional oversight was the best way to keep Bill’s not-yet-named operation secret and unhindered.
When Bill returned to his office, he found Joey was on the phone with Janice. “I know; my wife was sick for nearly eight weeks with Joe Jr. … Eup, he just came in. Take care lady; see you soon.”
Joey handed the phone to Bill, got up, and let him sit behind his own desk.
“Hi babe, how are you feeling?”
“My stomach feels like I’m on a rollercoaster that never stops,” Janice said as she pushed a pile of papers to the edge of her desk and laid her head on her arm as she cradled the phone.
“Maybe you should have stayed home today.”
“I had these patient summaries that I already put off long enough. But I am just beat. How did your meeting go?”
“It went well. That’s all I can say right now. You understand.”
“Sure. Oh, Joey was just telling me how his wife used buttermilk to stop this Category 5 typhoon that’s going on inside me. Can you stop off…”
“No problem; I’ll pick it up on the way home.”
“Thanks, Billy. I think I need to go now.”
Bill hung up and looked at Joey. “Thanks for doing that.”
“Not letting Janice think she’s the only woman who’s ever been through this.”
“Hey, Phyllis had her sister around when Joe Jr. was born, otherwise she would have been even more frazzled.”
“Well, I hope Janice can manage without you for the next couple of days.”
“Why, where is she going?”
“Not her. You, Kimosabe. You are on the next flight out to Forward Operating Base Delta Tango 1, wherever the hell that is, to personally give B&R their orders with the President’s executive decree of immunity for
the ambassador affair.”
“So they went for this whole cockamamie idea of yours?”
“Ours. This cockamamie idea of ours, Joey boy. Oh, we need a operational name?”
“How about ‘Stork?’”
The Hiccocks started their Saturday twice. They awoke at 8:30, each thinking what the other was thinking, then acting upon it, so neither left the bed. At 9:10 they both collapsed into a deep sleep until 10:20, when Janice rolled over and opened her eyes.
“Bill, it’s 10:20.”
Bill spoke into the pillow. “Errrrmp.”
She patted him on his butt until he lifted his head. “Good morning, almost afternoon.”
They showered, dressed, and went to a local diner for breakfast.
“No matter what, we are just looking,” Bill said. “We are not buying anything.”
“Exactly. We’re going to see our options then sleep on it.”
“We have lots of time. We don’t have to rush into anything.”
It was a beautiful, sun-shiny, day. They drove for 45 minutes to a store out on the highway that Cheryl’s sister had recommended.
Forty minutes later, Bill was ruing the fact that they didn’t take the old wagon. Tied to the top of the Caddy was the big box holding the crib. Jutting out from the tied-down open trunk was the stroller box and the back seat was crammed with little blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. With over 300 I.Q. points between them, the one thing they did that was smart in ‘Babies R Us,’ was not commit to any gender specific color scheme or wallpaper.
“Didn’t we say we were just looking?” Bill said, as he drove no faster than 40 miles per hour, lest the wind shear lift the crib’s box into somebody’s front grill.
The nursery wasn’t ready yet. It wasn’t even a nursery, and it still had to be divested of the books, junk, and old exercise equipment that lived there. Bill put the crib, stroller, and other stuff in the garage. He then began tinkering with a lamp he started rewiring last winter.
“I made you a sandwich,” Janice called out from the kitchen.
“Just a minute.” Bill snaked the new cord through the body of the lamp and out the top. He left enough hanging out to be able to work with when he would wire the new socket to it, later, after lunch.
The TV was on in the kitchen and CNN was all over the ambassador story with graphics and serious music calling it “Summit with Death?” They had silhouetted the grainy image of Greeley from the terrorists tape and it now flew back over the graphics of a masked terrorist as thunderous theme music played. Being CNN, there was a panel of talking heads who didn’t beat the living shit out of the one “Intellectual” who espoused that the taking of the ambassador was “justifiable” due to America’s continuing suppression of the Arab sentiments in the world. Instead, they simply went to commercial. Bill just shook his head.
“Did you know him?” Janice asked.
“Greeley? No, never met him, although I hear he was… is, a good man.”
“The news is now saying his ambassadorial appointment was a political payoff for campaign contributions.”
“Well, ain’t that a scoop! They are only about a hundred years late on catching on to that dirty little secret.
But that’s the soft posts like Canada or Portugal, where some political appointee can’t screw it up too bad. Egypt is prime time, Class one. Those only get career Foreign Service Officers. The press is just looking for any way to slam Mitchell because he isn’t one of them.”
“Because he isn’t a newsman?”
“No, because he’s neither Fox news “Right,” or CNN “Left,” and they both hate that neutrality, like he was selling the secret formula of Coca Cola to the Russians.
“So what do you think is going to happen?” Janice asked as she poured Bill and herself more iced tea.
“Thanks. This is just a guess, but I’d say there’s a delta force or SEAL strike team warming up the coffee right about now waiting for someone to drop a dime on where the man is being held.”
“What about Egyptian sovereignty?”
“That’s covered under ‘Posse comi – fuck ‘em.’”
It took a second for Janice to realize that Bill had just bastardized ‘Posse Comitatus.’
Bill added, “If they get a 20 on this guy, our guys will go in first, snatch him back, then spin it as a joint U.S./Egyptian intelligence op or some kind of bullshit so that the Egyptians save face.”
“Okay, so now I feel better.”
Bill was in the middle of going through a box of stuff in order to throw most of it out and put what was left in a smaller box from which, if he continued the process, he could whittle down the contents of the ten boxes that were taking up valuable baby space in the garage down to one. He was going through old checks and photographs when he heard a familiar voice.
“You are human! You actually do normal stuff!”
“Joey, I don’t believe it. I just found this in the box.”
Bill handed Palumbo an old photograph: a picture of the two of them and some other guys standing in front of a pipe held up by two braced two-by-fours.
“Hey, the high bar, Muzzi, Johnny P., Soccio, Mush, B.O. Look at the mop of hair on your head!”
“Look how skinny we were.” Hiccock laughed as he tossed the picture back in the keeper box. “What brings you round this way on a Saturday?”
“Something is bugging me and I thought I’d run it by you.”
“Okay, then shoot.”
“You remember Brooke Burrell out of the New York Bureau office?”
“Sure do. She was point on the whole virus thing and the poison gas tank plot in New York. Solid agent.”
“One of the best. She and I had a talk, off the record. A lot of it was just agent-to-agent, you know? ‘How do I do this, how should I handle that?’ But she said one thing that…Have you heard the latest out of Egypt?”
“That they took Greely to set El Benham free? Yeah.”
“She had an inkling that Alzir knew he wasn’t going to be in custody long.”
“Have they ever done this before?” Bill asked as he decided to throw out a desk calendar from 1999.
“Not one for one like this, and if they have it’s usually a low-level or convenient grab. A local police chief or U.S. military captive. But it’s always reactive, almost improvised by them. This has pre-meditated all over it.”
“And you’re telling me this because?”
“Brooke had a sense about this guy knowing he was going to be sprung, and now she’s right.”
Bill looked at him in a way that said, “So?”
“This is a big play. They wouldn’t do this kinda thing if we caught Al Qaeda number 1. This Alzir guy is deeply connected to something else, something bigger.”
“Bigger than possibly killing a hundred thousand Americans? I don’t think I want to know what that could be.”
“I want you, as a deputy director of the FBI, to authorize a guy who I have been following for a while. He’s got some methods and practices that might give us an edge.”
“I am only dep director for stuff under my area.”
“This guy is under your area and, besides, the funding can’t go on any record, so I need you to bury it in your SCIAD budget.”
“Okay, now you’re scaring me. Is this one of your wild-assed ideas?”
“Who was it who taught me to think outside the box?”
Joey positioned it perfectly to create the maelstrom in Bill’s head. It raged there for a minute then he simply said, “You really think this is going to pay off?”
“It’s got a good shot.”
Bill responded in the affirmative by giving Joey the Boulevard Blades gesture of a fist with the thumb jutting out between the index and pointer fingers. Not that they knew it, but it was an actual gesture from the ancient Neapolitan society, meaning “to protect.”
At 4:00 p.m. in the Situation Room beneath the White House, President Mitchell was being pushed to make a decision between two diametrically opposed evils.
The Secretary of State was uncharacteristically lobbying hard to save the life of the man who worked for him. “Mister President, the ambassador is a prime asset of the United States. He is worth every effort to retrieve.”
“Chuck, we can’t negotiate with terrorists. You’ll be setting a precedent that will have every American
overseas being kidnapped round the clock,” the Chief of Staff needlessly reminded him. “The only option is military, if we get that lucky. Otherwise, the ambassador is now a combatant and prisoner of war.”
The Secretary of State turned to Mitchell. “Mr. President, how can you sacrifice his life like this?”
“Look, Charles, this ambassador makes over $200,000 dollars a year plus all expenses paid. There are dog faced G.I.s, who are just as valuable to me as he is, who die in shit-holes all over the world and their families barely live at poverty level. So they are both soldiers and, unfortunately, he is as expendable as they are. Chuck, what’s really going on with you? You know the damn policy as well as anyone, yet you continue to lobby for a trade that isn’t going to happen?” The President’s agitation was evident in the way he threw down his pencil.
“I pushed Greely into this post, sir. He wanted out and I personally strong-armed him to take another tour. He is a close personal friend of Saudi Prince Ramalli; they were roommates at Choate. I needed him in that post as part of my mid-east initiative.”
“God damn it, Charles, then get your head out of your ass. We send people to dangerous places and into jeopardy all the time. It may be a first for you, but, trust me, the bad news is you have to live with it.”
At 19:00 hours, the chopper’s radio squawked. “Target Alpha located. GPS downloading. Mission is a go. Repeat. Go.”
The twenty men scrambled into the helicopters as the big hoses that kept the turbines going from the support truck on the apron were disengaged. Within 30 seconds of the alert message, Foxtrot Alpha and Foxtrot Bravo, the mission code name identifiers for the teams of MH60s and AH64-D Apache Longbows, were wheels up and out.
“Delta force en route, sir,” the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs informed the President.
“Good. May God protect them and any innocents on the ground.”
“Very charitable of you, sir.”
Mitchell watched a map in the Situation Room as a triangle blip denoted the progress of the two foxtrot copters as they invaded the sovereignty of Egypt.
“Notify the Egyptian ambassador. Tell him we are invading his airspace. Note time and date and then sequester him till this op is over.” The President repeated those words the way his National Security Advisor had suggested 10 minutes earlier after the Egyptian ambassador was seated in the Roosevelt room supposedly awaiting an audience with the President.
“Yes, sir.” Charles Pickering said, picking up his phone to carry out the President’s orders. He didn’t like it; the Egyptian ambassador was an official guest of this country. Stopping him from contacting his homeland was a grievous act of non-diplomacy. Still, for the safety and security of the mission underway, there could not be a chance of leaks on the Egyptian side. In fact, at the end of the day, however it came out, the Egyptians would be glad they were not responsible for any mission compromises. They then could register formal complaints at the U.N. and save face with the Arab street.