Read Severe Clear Online

Authors: Stuart Woods

Tags: #Terrorism, #Suspense, #Prevention, #Mystery & Detective, #Thriller, #Fiction, #Private Investigators, #Stone (Fictitious Character), #General, #Mystery, #Barrington

Severe Clear (7 page)

BOOK: Severe Clear
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A
t the end of the day, Hans called Webber and gave him the good news.

“I’m delighted,” Webber said, “but I’d still like to see you tomorrow. We’ll put you on salary from then.”

Hans hung up and left for the day. In the employee parking lot, he sent an e-mail from his anonymous cell phone. “All is well. I am fine.” He signed it “Blynken.”

 11 

A
t seven
P.M.
sharp, the doorbell rang, and Mike Freeman went to the door. A Secret Service agent in his early forties, athletically built, with salt-and-pepper hair, stood there.

“I’m Steve Rifkin,” the man said, offering his hand.

Mike shook it and pulled the man through the door, closing it behind him. “I’m Mike Freeman, Steve. It’s good to meet you at last. I’ve heard about you. Would you like a drink?”

“Well, since I’m not protecting anyone early tomorrow, I’d love a scotch on the rocks. How could you have heard of me?”

Mike mixed two drinks and handed his guest one. “We draw a lot of our people from various federal agencies, including the Secret Service. It’s part of my job to know who many of them are. I’ll tell you, I was very impressed that you were given this assignment. You’ve been in the protection end only a couple of years, haven’t you?”

“That’s correct,” Rifkin said. “I was doing investigative work before, but when I was assigned to the White House detail I took to it right away.”

“And the right people noticed,” Mike said, “including the president.”

“That’s the best reference I could have,” Rifkin said, “since it’s his life he’s putting in my hands.”

“Come outside and let’s enjoy the California evening,” Mike said, leading the way to a walled patio off the living room.

“I smell orange blossoms,” Rifkin said.

“Were you based in Florida for a time?”

“Oh, yes, Miami, working on counterfeiting cases. Funny how scents can be so evocative of times and places.”

“I hope you don’t mind, I’ve ordered onion soup and steaks for us. I’m told you like yours rare.”

“You’ve done your homework,” Rifkin replied. “That’s fine with me.”

The two men chatted idly for a few minutes, then Mike got down to business. “I hope my people have kept you sufficiently briefed on our end of this.”

“They’ve done a very good job of that,” Rifkin said.

“I’m afraid your people haven’t done all that good a job of briefing mine.”

“You’ll have to forgive us, Mike, we’re unaccustomed to sharing with outsiders, even those from other federal agencies. The more people who know our methods, the more leaks there could be.”

“I assume you’ve run your own checks on our people.”

“On your people and on every person who will be employed by this hotel or who will be a guest while the two presidents are here. By the way, I’m impressed with the backgrounds of your people, Mike.”

“But not sufficiently to be open with them.”

“The way I see it is you and I are running parallel but separate operations here. Your concern is for the safety of The Arrington’s guests and property, and ours is for the safety of the president of the United States and his guest, the president of Mexico. Where those operations overlap, we’ll be as helpful as we can, but it’s part of our standard operating procedure to see that our duties overlap with others’ as little as possible. It’s true of local police departments when the president travels, and it’s true of your people in this particular situation.”

“I understand that, believe me, and I’ll do my best to respect that view, as long as my people can do their jobs efficiently.”

“Of course. Two people have been hired in the past couple of days that I’d like to ask you about. One of them belongs to you.”

“Let me guess: Rick Indrisie.”

“Good guess. Can you guess why I’m concerned about him?” Jeff Rifkin asked.

“Because he’s to be right at the nerve center of our surveillance security, and because he’s so young.”

“Correct on both counts,” Rifkin conceded.

“You’ll have to take our word for it that Rick is qualified for his job,” Mike said. “We screen our people just as carefully as you do yours, and he has met or exceeded every qualification we’ve assigned to that task. As for his youth, I think that someone who has risen through a government bureaucracy sometimes has difficulty perceiving how a privately owned company can bring someone up through the ranks so quickly.”

“I take your point,” Rifkin said.

“From our point of view, Rick’s education and work experience make him a seasoned professional at twenty-eight, while in your operation, someone of that age might be thought of as green.”

“There’s truth in what you say, Mike. I myself managed to move up more quickly than is common in the Service.”

“I’m sure you’ve seen our file on Rick.”

“I have.”

“Then you’ll have to take our word that he’s the right man for the job—at least until your investigation of him turns up something to contradict that.”

“Fair enough,” Rifkin said.

“And I think the other man you’re worried about would be the German national, Hans Hoffman.”

“Once again, you’re ahead of me. Even though he’s not your employee, I’m sure that you’ve verified his educational and employment history,” Rifkin said, “but I wonder: have you investigated his political history?”

“One of the items on his employment application questioned that history, and Hoffman denied ever having been a member of any organization, not even a political party. In interviewing the people he’s worked for over the years, none of them has said anything to indicate that he’s not telling the truth. But the Secret Service should have access to various databases that we don’t, including the German intelligence services.”

“We do to some extent,” Rifkin agreed, “but we don’t always get the answers to our questions as quickly as we would like.”

“Then you should have a chat with somebody at Langley, to see if there’s anything about him in their databases.”

Rifkin smiled ruefully. “Of course, though we don’t always get from Langley even as much cooperation as we get from some foreign services.”

“Ah, yes: interagency rivalry rears its ugly head. Is there anything in particular that troubles you?”

“If anything, it’s because he is so outstandingly clean. There’s very little meat on that bone.”

“Well, I think you have to accept that there are outstandingly clean people in the world, Steve. Tell you what, I’ll see what our Berlin office can discover about Herr Hoffman.”

“That would be very helpful, Mike.”

The doorbell rang. “That will be our dinner, I think,” Mike said. “Shall we dine outside?”

“A little chilly for me.”

“Then let’s do it inside.” Mike led the way.


W
hen they had finished dinner and Rifkin had left, Mike looked at his wristwatch. It was nine hours later in Germany, so, using his cell phone, he dialed the direct line for the head of his Berlin office.

“Peter von Enzberg,” a voice said.

“Peter, it’s Mike Freeman.”

“Good morning, Mike.”

“I have something I’d like for you to do, and as quickly as possible.”

 12 

S
cott Hipp returned to his office at the National Security Agency after a lunch in Washington and found one of his code section supervisors waiting for him. Hipp hung his jacket in a cupboard and sat down at his desk. “Good afternoon, Fritz. You look puzzled. What can I do for you?”

“I’m not even sure why I’m here,” Fritz replied, “and I don’t know what you can do for me.”

“Then get out of my office,” Hipp said jovially. “You’re wasting our time.” Fritz always needed a touch of the cattle prod to get him moving.

“We picked up an e-mail transmission from a cell phone in California to a website we have a continuous watch on.”

“What was the text?”

“It was in English: ‘All is well. I am fine.’ We ran a decode on the phrase and got nothing.”

“Sounds like a prearranged signal,” Hipp pointed out.

“That’s what we think, but there is a further wrinkle.”

“What’s that?”

“It was signed ‘Nod.’” He spelled the word.

Hipp leaned back in his chair and recited: “‘And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.’ Genesis four, verse sixteen.”

“I figured you’d come up with something a little off the wall,” Fritz said.

“Such flattery,” Hipp replied.

“What do you make of it?”

“Read all of chapter four—hell, read all of Genesis. Run Abel against it, run Enoch.”

“Who is Enoch?”

“The son of Cain.”

“I wasn’t raised religious,” Fritz said.

“Then you are at a disadvantage in the world,” Hipp said. “Reading assignment for you: the King James Bible.”

“The whole thing?”

“Be good for you. It’s the basis of so much of the Christian world, and the translation is very beautiful.”

“I know about Cain and Abel,” Fritz said. “I read Steinbeck’s novel
East of Eden
.”

“Maybe that’s the reference, instead of Genesis. Run names from that, too, Cal’s brother, father, and mother. Cast a wide net.”

“Okay,” Fritz said, rising to go.

“Wait a minute,” Hipp said.

Fritz sat down again.

“Give me a minute,” Hipp said. He stared dreamily out the window, then he began to recite:

 

“Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night

Sailed off in a wooden shoe—

Sailed on a river of crystal light,

Into a sea of dew.

‘Where are you going, and what do you wish,’

The old moon asked the three.

‘We have come to fish for the herring fish

That live in this beautiful sea;

Nets of silver and gold have we!’

Said Wynken,

Blynken,

And Nod
.

 

Hipp raised his eyebrows and looked at Fritz questioningly.

“I haven’t read that, either,” Fritz said.

“Then read it. It’s by Eugene Field, who wrote children’s poetry in the late nineteenth century. There are four stanzas. I don’t have time to recite the whole thing for you, so Google it, print it, and go through it carefully. Give some thought to the wooden shoe and the nets of silver and gold. There could be other meanings, who knows? Now beat it.”


F
ritz left Hipp’s office, went back to his cubicle, found the poem, and printed it, while two of his colleagues looked over his shoulder. “What is it?”

“A poem that Hipp said to take a look at,” Fritz replied. He printed two more copies and handed them to the two young men, who read it.

“Check out the last stanza,” one of them said.


F
ritz read aloud:

 

“Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,

And Nod is a little head.

And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies

Is a wee one’s trundle bed
.

 

The three looked at each other. Fritz was the first to speak. “So what the fuck does that mean?”

 13 

H
olly Barker was working at her desk at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, when her boss, Lance Cabot, the Agency’s deputy director for operations, walked into her office and sat down across the desk from her.

“Good morning,” he said.

This was odd, Holly thought; she had met with him two hours before, at eight
A.M.
, as was their daily custom. “Good morning again,” she replied.

Lance looked at her thoughtfully but said nothing.

“What?” Holly asked.

“It appears that you will no longer be working for me,” he said finally.

Holly sat back in her chair. “Are you firing me, Lance?”

“There are signs you might be moving from under my wing.”

“Come on, Lance, spit it out.”

“Are you saying you don’t know what I’m talking about?”

“Finally, you understand me. First of all, there’s nowhere to promote me. I’ve gone as far as I can in operations, so unless you are resigning or being promoted, where would I go?”

“Only the director knows,” he said.

Holly shook her head. “I’m baffled.” Her phone rang.

“Answer it,” Lance said.

Holly picked up the phone. “Holly Barker.”

“This is Grace, in the director’s office,” a voice said. Grace was the director’s secretary.

“Good morning, Grace.”

“Good morning, Holly. The director would like to see you.”

“Certainly. What time?”

“Now.”

“I’ll be right up,” Holly said, then hung up.

“Are things a little clearer for you now?” Lance asked.

“Not in the least,” Holly replied. “Now please tell me what this is all about.”

“Do you swear you don’t know?”

“Bring me a Bible and I’ll take an oath on it.”

“Holly, if this is some sort of power play . . .”

“Lance, something is eating your brain,” she said. “I don’t have any power, except through carrying out your instructions. I’m a worker bee around here.”

“You know nearly everything I know,” Lance said.

Holly thought about that. “I know only what you have chosen to tell me, and, Lance, you
never
tell anybody
everything.

“Well, I’ve told you very nearly everything.”

Holly stood up. “I’ve been asked to come to the director’s office right now. Please tell me whatever you can before I go up there and get my head handed to me.”

“You know nearly everything I know,” Lance said, then he got up and went back into his office.

Holly took a compact from her desk drawer, ran her hand through her hair and made sure nothing was stuck to her teeth, then she took the elevator upstairs and presented herself to Grace.

BOOK: Severe Clear
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