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 (8 page)

BOOK: Severe Clear
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“Good morning, Holly.”

“Good morning, Grace.” God, she was getting sick of saying good morning.

“Have a seat. The director will be free shortly.”

Holly sat down and picked up a three-month-old copy of
Proceedings
, the magazine of the U.S. Naval Institute, and flipped through it nervously. She heard a door close, and when she looked up Stewart Graves was standing in front of her. Graves was the assistant deputy director of intelligence, the Agency’s analysis division; it was the same job that Holly held in operations. “Good morning, Stewart,” she said.

“Did you have anything to do with this?” he asked. His tone was vaguely hostile.

“To do with what?” Holly asked. Everybody seemed to think she knew more than she did.

“I’ve been posted to London,” he said. “Deputy for Analysis to the station chief.”

“Congratulations,” Holly said. “That sounds great.” As great as it sounded, Holly knew, it wasn’t as great as his current job.

Graves turned and walked toward the elevators.

Holly looked at Grace. “What was that all about?” she asked.

“The director will see you now,” Grace said. She placed her hand on the button under her desk that unlocked the director’s office door and waited for Holly to move.

Holly walked to the door, heard the click, then opened the door and walked in. “Good morning, Director,” Holly said.

Katharine Rule Lee looked up from her desk. It had taken an act of Congress to make her director, because, although she was a career CIA officer, she was also married to the president of the United States. “Good morning, Holly, have a seat.” She pointed at a chair at a seating area by the window, then she got up and walked in that direction.

She isn’t smiling
, Holly thought.
She usually smiles a lot. What the hell is going on?
She walked over and sat in the chair indicated.

The director settled into a chair on the other side of the coffee table and opened a thick file in her lap.

Holly knew it was a personnel file, and she feared it was hers.

“You’ve been with us for a little over eight years, now,” the director said.

“Yes, ma’am.”

The director ran her finger down a page. “You’ve had an unusual career for the Agency—retired from the army as a major after twenty years’ service. You should have made colonel. Why didn’t you?”

Surely she knew all about this, Holly thought, but she told her story anyway. “I was serving under a colonel as his exec. He blocked my promotion.”

“For what reason?”

“He made repeated sexual advances toward me which I rebuffed, so he gave me a less favorable fitness report than I had every reason to expect. After that, he tried to rape me, and I fought him off and turned him in.”

The director looked at the file. “It says here you struck him.”

“I broke his nose rather badly,” Holly said. “He was court-martialed for the attack on me. It turned out he had actually raped another female officer, a lieutenant.”

“And he was acquitted,” the director said.

“He was, ma’am. He had friends on the court, and two of them were in a position to see that I was never promoted again. I had put in my twenty, so I took retirement.”

The director consulted the file again. “And you became the chief of police in Orchid Beach, Florida?”

“The deputy chief, Director. The chief who hired me was murdered the day before my arrival, and the city council shortly voted for me to succeed him.”

“And you had quite a career there,” the director said.

Holly didn’t know how to respond to that.

“And then you impressed someone here and we recruited you.”

Holly just nodded.

The director closed the personnel file. “And you have done nothing less than splendid work for us since the day you arrived.”

Holly blinked. “Thank you, Director.”

“Holly, as you know, my husband is in the last year of his second term.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The entire planet knew that.

“And when he leaves the White House, I will leave the Agency and retire with him.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“As you might imagine, there has been a great deal of speculation within the Agency about who my successor will be. What you may not know is that there has been a cabal at work here which has been plotting to see that a particular someone from the Agency succeeds me, rather than someone from the outside. Or someone from elsewhere in the Agency.”

“Really, ma’am?” Holly knew about this, because Lance had told her.

“From what I can determine, the cabal wishes to see Frank Hellman, the deputy director for intelligence, have this job.”

Holly nodded.

“You probably saw his assistant, Stewart Graves, leave my office before you came in.”

“Yes, ma’am. He said he was being posted to the London station.”

“That is correct. I thought I would toss a little grenade into the hierarchy here as a way of expressing my displeasure about all this. As a result, Mr. Graves is going to London, and since you hold the same job in operations, you are being moved out of there, as well.”

“Out of Langley, ma’am?” Holly knew that she was held in some measure of disdain by those higher-ups in the Agency who knew she had never held a foreign station post.

“No, Holly,” the director said. She pointed at an open door across the room. “You are being moved into that office. I’ve posted my assistant, Greg Barton, to Rome. I’d like you to replace him here.”

Holly stared blankly at her. All sorts of things had run through her mind on the way up there, but this was the one thing she had not anticipated.

“Holly,” the director said, “are you still with me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Holly replied, though she was not sure about that. Now she knew what was meant by the mind reeling.

“I chose you for two reasons,” the director said. “First, because of your outstanding record, and second, because you are the least political person I know at your level.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“I also chose you because of my high personal regard for you.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’m very grateful to you for the opportunity.”

“Then you accept?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am!” Holly said.

“Good,” the director said. “I wasn’t sure there for a minute.”

“I’m just a little bowled over.”

“All right, you go down to your office and spend the rest of the day getting ready to hand off to your successor, who will be appointed shortly. And you start here tomorrow morning.” She stood up and offered her hand.

Holly stood and took the hand.

“Grace will issue you new credentials before the day is out. Your new title will be—well, I’m a little torn about that. Greg was assistant to the director, but that might make you sound like a secretary, and that’s Grace’s job. I think assistant director is better. You’ll be the only person in the Agency with that title. Oh, and you’ll get a better parking space, too, right next to mine.” She made a shooing motion with her hand.


H
olly went back to her office in a daze. She stopped at Lance’s open door and looked in.

“I heard everything,” Lance said. “This is the best possible thing that could have happened. We’re in a new ball game now.”

Holly took that to mean that Lance felt his chances of succeeding Kate Lee had improved. “In that case, congratulations, Lance,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah. Now get out of here. I’m reviewing candidates for your job.”

Holly turned to go.

Lance called after her, “And, Holly?”

She looked back. “Yes?”

“Congratulations to you, too.” Lance actually smiled.

 14 

M
ike Freeman picked up his phone at the L.A. offices of Strategic Services. “Yes?”

“Mike, it’s Scott Hipp.”

“Hello, Scott, how’s life?”

“Interesting,” Hipp replied.

“Uh-oh.”

Hipp laughed. “You have a point: when it’s interesting here, it’s often hairy elsewhere.”

“That has been my experience,” Mike replied. “What is it this time? Any more mentions of The Arrington in your traffic?”

“No, but . . . You still have a scrambler on that phone?”

The scrambler was one manufactured by the electronics division of Strategic Services, and Hipp had been given one. Mike pressed a button. “Go,” he said.

“My people picked up an e-mail sent from a cell phone in California to a Middle Eastern website we keep a watch on. It read: ‘All is well. I am fine.’”

“Did you run it through decoding?”

“Yes, and it appears to have been sent in the clear.”

“Sounds like someone has completed a task,” Mike said.

“Right. It was signed ‘Nod.’”

“As in land of Nod?”

“Correct. We’re running references on that now.”

“So the only connection to The Arrington is that it came from California?”

“So far. That and the fact that it was transmitted via a cell tower at the top of Stone Canyon, in L.A.”

“I know the one—it would cover The Arrington’s location.”

“Yes, but because of the tower’s elevation, it would cover a big chunk of Beverly Hills and the San Fernando Valley, as well.”

“You have a point.”

“A rather blunt point, I’m afraid.”

“Right now, that’s the way I like it,” Mike said. “If it were any sharper, I’d be worried.”

“Are you worried enough for me to pass this on to the Secret Service?”

“If it were my call, no,” Mike said. “But that’s your call.”

“I think I’ll hold off until I have more, if we should actually get more, which I doubt.”

“I think that’s wise.”

There was a brief silence, then Hipp said, “You know Holly Barker, don’t you?”

“Sure,” Mike said. “I sold our air transport company to the Agency a few years back, and Holly ran it for a few months, until they could hire somebody who could get through the vetting.”

“Well, Holly got promoted to assistant director at the Agency.”

“Assistant director? I didn’t know they had those. I thought it was deputy director.”

“That’s the way it was, until Holly got the title. She’s replacing Greg Whatshisname, who was assistant to the Director. Greg got shipped off to Rome, and Stewart Graves, who was ADDI, was packed off to London.”

“Sounds like a shake-up,” Mike said.

“Sounds to me like Kate is paving the way for Lance Cabot to replace her when she goes.”

“That’s interesting, if she can pull it off,” Mike said. “But for that to happen, the Democrat would have to get elected to replace Will Lee, and it would have to be a Democrat whose ear Kate has.”

“I think our beloved veep, Stanton, has the inside track for the nomination, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, because he’s veep. There’ll be some competition, though.”

“Lance has done some major cultivation in the garden of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” Hipp said. “Lance might get it, even if a Republican is elected.”

“Well, if anybody could work both sides of the street, it’s Lance. I wouldn’t be upset if he got it.”

“Neither would I,” Hipp said. “I can’t say I’m fond of Lance, but I don’t hate him, and that’s something.”

“I’m fond of him on some days, and I hate him on others,” Mike said. “But I’m fond of Holly all the time.”

“I don’t know her all that well, but I hear good things.”

“She’s gotten some of the credit for the way Lance has smoothed out operations.”

“You think that if Lance gets the job, he might pick her to replace him at ops?”

“Nobody’s closer to Lance than Holly.”

“Well, we’ll see what we shall see, won’t we? Gotta run.”

“See you, Scott. Keep me in the loop, will you?”

“Sure.” Hipp hung up.

Mike switched off his scrambler and called Stone Barrington.

“Hey, Mike.”

“Just got some news, Stone: shake-up at the Agency. Stewart Graves and Greg Barton are out.”

“I know the names, but not the people,” Stone replied.

“The big news is that Holly is replacing Barton in Kate’s office, with the title of assistant director.”

Stone made a whistling sound. “Big jump!”

“I read the changes as Kate’s paving the way for Lance.”

“I’m sure Lance would like nothing better.”

“And if he gets it, Holly could be the next DDO.”

“You know,” Stone said, “if Holly ever leaves the Agency, you should pounce on her.”

“I’ve thought that ever since I saw the way she ran the air transport company. She made me wish we still owned it.”

“Well, if Lance doesn’t get Kate’s job, Holly will be at a dead end at the Agency. That’s when you should go after her.”

“That’s good advice.”

“She still has a New York apartment from when she did that thing for Lance here a few years back.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Nice place, on Park.”

“No relocation costs!” Mike laughed.

“Where are you?” Stone asked.

“In L.A. I had dinner last night with Rifkin, the Secret Service detail honcho.”

“Any news from him?”

“If he had any news, he wouldn’t share it. They’re like that.”

Mike told him about the cell call from L.A. to the watch-listed website. “That’s why I’m not telling him about that, or anything else. They’ve already doubled their efforts at The Arrington, and that’s all I want from them. At the moment.”

“Does this cell call from California worry you?”

“Not at the moment. Time will tell.”

“Thanks for the news about Holly. I’ll drop her a note—she’ll be impressed that I know.”

“You do that, and congratulate her for me.”

Stone hung up, called Dino, and told him the news.

 15 

H
olly Barker spent the morning unpacking her things, hanging a couple of pictures, and registering the Agency desktop to her identity. Her new office was more than three times the size of her previous one and contained a small conference table, a sofa, and a pair of comfortable chairs and more bookcases. She had indeed been given a prime parking spot, one that would cause envy among the Agency’s hierarchy, and she liked it.

BOOK: Severe Clear
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