Authors: Doug Norton
CODE WORD: PATERNITY
A Presidential Thriller
By Doug Norton
Although many of the people and events
described are real, this is a work of fiction. Characters, corporations,
institutions, organizations, and governments in this novel are the product of
the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.
For this is your duty, to act well the part that is given to
you . . .
President of the United
Graciela (Ella) Dominguez
, First Lady
The National Security Council (NSC)
Members and Advisers
(in addition to
, Vice President of the United States
, Secretary of Defense (SECDEF)
, Secretary of State (SECSTATE)
General Jay (“Mac”)
, U.S. Air Force, Chairman, Joint
Chiefs of Staff (CJCS)
, Director of National
, National Security Advisor
, White House Chief of Staff
, CIA Director
, Attorney General
, Secretary of Homeland Security
Congressman from Texas
and General USMC, Retired. Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS)
, Ambassador and United States Permanent Representative to
the United Nations
, White House Press Secretary
Shaoshi, Minister of National Defense,
People’s Republic of China
, al-Qaeda’s master bomb engineer
Chung-Hee, President of South Korea (Republic of Korea
Bo, Ambassador and Chinese Permanent Representative
to the United Nations
Jinping, Minister of Foreign Affairs,
People’s Republic of China
, Premier of Japan
Jong-il, dictator of North Korea (The Democratic People’s Republic of
(DPRK). Kim is addressed as “Dear Leader” by all North Koreans.
Liu, President of the People’s Republic
Chang-su, Secretary-General of the
United Nations, a South Korean
Ho, Field Marshal and leader of the
North Korean military
A GLOSSARY MAY BE FOUND AT PAGE 378.
The President of the United States
was sitting in a puddle. The southeast wind gusted and President Rick Martin
happily steered up into the puff, his tiny sailboat heeling and accelerating
immediately as the wind hit its green-striped sail. He straightened his legs,
hooked his feet under the leeward gunwale, and hung his dripping butt over the
side, counterbalancing the sail’s pull so the boat wouldn’t capsize. Rick
shifted the tiller extension and the sheet into his left hand and reached out
his right, fingers trailing in the bay.
He lost himself in the rippling sound and
the slick, smooth sensations of the warm water streaming past the small Sunfish
he was sailing at the mouth of the Gunpowder
River where it meets the Chesapeake Bay. The sky was an inverted blue bowl, just
darker than robin’s egg at its zenith and milky around its rim. To the west a
fringe of low white clouds curled around the horizon like the remains of a
balding man’s hair.
A bit over six feet tall and wiry—the
build of a swimmer or runner—Rick Martin looked streamlined. His
salt-and-pepper hair was graying at the temples, but his face was quite
unlined, except when he smiled. After six months in office Rick still projected
the optimism, lively intelligence, and likeability that had fueled his rise
congressman to president. He appreciated Camp David but favored another retreat
from the pressures of office: the Chesapeake Bay.
The VIP guest house at the military’s Aberdeen Proving Ground made a perfect
base for the sailing he loved.
He guided the boat, reflecting that
sailing was one of the few things in his life that had purity and integrity
. It’s not that I expect politics to have
I take the
hidden agendas and exaggerations and outright lies as they come and, let’s be
honest, do my share. But it’s such a pleasure to enter a world, even a very
limited world, where things are as they seem. The wind blows from where it
blows—no man can control it or influence it. This little boat gives immediate
and honest feedback.
Honesty . . . I should be grateful to Glenna
Rogers. Had I beaten her back then for the Democratic nomination, I probably
would’ve made the same mistakes she did as president. Those mistakes left her
vulnerable as few first-term presidents have been, as Jimmy Carter was, and for
the same reason: Most Americans don’t like feeling that the country has been
humiliated, and when that happens they hold the president responsible.
Vegas receded at
a mile a minute, Fahim fretted, the I-15 ahead of his car as crisp and
stark as fresh black paint on the yellowish, desolate soil. There was nothing
he could do now, so he should put it out of his mind. But he could no more
ignore it than his tongue could ignore a bit of food between his teeth. He knew
he was taking a chance, but he had backup. The young man driving the truck
would get his wish for martyrdom in any case, although he didn’t know about the
timer or the bomb’s secret. Fahim, who didn’t want to be a martyr, had directed
the man who did to press his button at 10:35 a.m.
Interrupting his drive to California at 10:25,
Fahim pulled to the shoulder and sat in the air conditioner’s blast, sweating
anyway. The sweat overflowed the barriers of his eyebrows and stung his eyes,
which matched the black color of his hair. He compared his worries to the
opening night jitters of an actor playing the West End
the first time. Thinking of London
theater brought to mind his father, a university professor of history who
disapproved of his violent embrace of the cause but was nonetheless willing to
admit he was cultured—for an engineer. He smiled at the memory of their fond
arguments, his wiry body relaxing slightly.
Waiting for the event that would
henceforth define him, he muted his humanity, burying it beneath hatred. He
remembered the tens of thousands of Muslims America had killed. He remembered
the suffering of his own Palestinian brothers at the hands of the Israelis, who
owed their existence to Americans. He remembered the humiliation of Muslims at
Abu Ghraib prison. He remembered Guantánamo.
Suppose he failed? Some stupid oversight?
The Sheikh’s memory would be mocked instead of glorified. Heart pounding, he
gripped the wheel as if crushing it would ensure success.
At 10:30 a flash brighter than Fahim had
imagined stabbed his rear-view mirror, which he had set for night to protect
his eyes. He cried out, mouth a rictus that was part astonishment, part orgasm,
then slumped in release as triumph embraced him.
I have just struck the mightiest blow ever against America!
And I am going to do it again.
The harsh sounds of jet skis and
helicopter rotors were startling. Rick looked around and saw his secret service
detail closing fast from their escort positions fifty yards away, followed by a
small Coast Guard patrol boat. A familiar Marine helicopter was landing at the
Agents surrounded his little sailboat.
All but the one who spoke looked away, scanning for danger, hands on the
waterproof bags he knew held weapons.
“Mr. President, there’s a national security
emergency and we need to get you to the helo! Get aboard behind me, please.”
Feeling a stab in his stomach, but also a
thrill, Martin clambered aboard, mind racing.
Another Russian incursion into the Ukraine? Something involving Israel? Maybe Korea?
Whatever it was, it might be his first crisis and he was secretly eager to
tackle it, more than ready to be tested.
The crew chief jumped out of the helo—its
rotors continuing to turn—trotted in a crouch to the president, and led him
toward it. As if by magic
head of Martin’s
secret service detail, Wilson,
appeared with a submachine gun and trailed him, followed by an officer carrying
a briefcase. Rick moved to his familiar place, saw National Security Advisor
John Dorn belted in nearby. The moment the president’s soaking shorts squelched
into his seat, the helo leaped skyward.
Martin, buckling his lap belt, looked at
Dorn, saw his pale face, and said, “What!” in a sharp, flat voice that made it
not a question, but a command.
“Sir, a nuclear bomb has exploded in Nevada, in or near Las
Vegas! Because we haven’t detected any missiles or
unidentified military aircraft, we think it was a terrorist act. We have no
Dorn’s lips kept forming words, but
Martin’s mind had stopped, like a sprinting soldier halted in mid-stride by a
e sat back in his seat, folded his
arms across his chest, and stared at the forward bulkhead. His gaze rested on
the Great Seal of the President of the United States.
He recalled, in a flash, his thoughts
from many years past, thoughts that came immediately after he had once tumbled
into a ravine, breaking an ankle while winter hiking alone in the wilderness
Later this is really going
to hurt, but right now you’ve got to put that away and figure out how to stay
Holding a satcom handset tightly to his
ear against the chopper’s noise, Martin asked General “Mac” MacAdoo, chairman
of the JCS, “Do you have any doubt this was nuclear?”
MacAdoo responded from the Pentagon, “No
sir! Two DSP satellites picked up a flash with the unique characteristics of a
nuclear explosion. Besides, we have satellite imaging showing such destruction
that it had to be a nuke, plus what they saw from Creech Air Force Base, about
thirty-five miles away.”
“Okay, Mac, but what’s the chance that this
was a ballistic missile attack and NORAD just missed it, somehow didn’t detect
a lone missile coming from an unexpected direction?”
“No chance, Mr. President. The old BMEWS
radars might have missed one, the way you said, but now we have interlocking,
multi-sensor coverage from six satellites. It’s possible the warhead was put
into Vegas using a short-range missile, or an artillery tube, but if so the
firing point had to be within the U.S., probably within the state.
It’s also possible it was aboard a commercial aircraft.”
“I understand . . . thanks.”
Martin hung up and looked numbly out the
now it begins. Nuclear terrorism was a nightmare and now it’s real and mine to
deal with. How vulnerable is my administration: did we fail to connect the
do you deal with tens of thousands of bodies on a radioactive rubble pile?
Rick’s tongue explored his dry mouth. He
wanted desperately to be anyone but who he was: the commander-in-chief. He felt
drowsy, his lassitude driven by fear of acknowledging the terrifying
expectations that now weighed on him
can’t do this . . . I’m not ready . . . I can’t handle what’s coming.
“Mr. President .
Dorn, face grim
and energetic, held out a sheet of paper. “Here’s a draft agenda for the NSC
Martin came back from his despairing
reverie, took it, and read. Soon he felt a lessening of the sharp pain in his
I don’t have to do this all
myself. There’s an entire government, steered by smart, determined people who
know what to do about some of this horror. I need to be worthy of leading them,
but I don’t have to have all the answers.
let’s go with that.”
Dorn swallowed hard, eyes shifting around
the cabin, shoulders slumped. “Sir, at this point we don’t have enough
get anywhere in this meeting. Maybe
few nuggets of useful output, but . . . mostly it will be . . .
He squared his shoulders and
looked at the president. “I think you should say a few words and leave the
meeting to me while you go off to do what is, actually, the most important
thing right now: figure out what to say to the country.”
“You’re right. There’s going to be a lot of
chest-pounding and butt-covering in that meeting, and right now I’ve got no
need to listen. I’ll take your suggestion. Thanks!”
Dorn, satcom to
ear, said, “Sir, SECDEF has joined the call.”
picked up again
“Mr. President, we need military support
for rescue and security in Las Vegas
right from the get-go. I’ve alerted the Eighty-second Airborne, and if you
approve, the ready brigade will be on their way in eight hours.”
“Sounds right, Eric.
“John, unless someone in the NSC spots a
problem, let’s do that!”
Marine One banked and began a swift,
jinking descent to Andrews Air Force Base, where three identical helicopters
waited to begin his second journey.
what if . . . ?
sweeping motion, Martin grabbed the handset. “Mac, we’ve got to figure out
whose bomb it was and we can’t rule out one of ours. When you’ve completed a
hands-on inventory, let me know right away!”
The chairman was startled because he
hadn’t thought of that, despite a head start on the president in absorbing the
news. “Yes, sir!”
I’ll be a son-of-a-bitch! This guy doesn’t rattle.
Right at the moment that thought made
General MacAdoo feel pretty good. An instant later he didn’t.
If one of ours is missing—not only missing
but unreported—by the time those dominoes stop falling, the U.S. military
will be shaken to its foundations!
When the rotors had stopped, Rick Martin
rose and strode from the helo, leaving wet footprints.
He felt on top of his game.
attacked the rubble like a machine.
The day the vulnerability of the United States was laid bare was a day off for
Nguyen, a casino employee who lived in Las
Vegas with his wife and two children. Now Steve dug
frantically, with the maniacal strength of one who believes all he is or ever
will be depends on it.
He found his younger daughter, her face
angelic but her chest crushed. He began vomiting, not caring that he was
bringing up blood. When he had extricated her small body and laid it to one side,
he resumed digging. He knew her older sister would be nearby.
have to get her out of there! I can’t leave her!
He laid the body of his older child
tenderly beside her sister. Squatting beside his daughters, Nguyen rocked on
his heels, threw back his head, and howled. It was a cry of grief, rage, and
helplessness. Had she heard it, First Lady Graciella Dominguez Martin would
have known that cry well.