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Authors: Rick Campbell

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Military, #War & Military, #Technological, #Sea Stories

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BOOK: The Trident Deception
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The muscles in Hardison’s jaw twitched. “The president has the vision, and I do the heavy lifting. I’ve melded this White House staff into a formidable team, and you refuse to join that team, bucking my policies at every turn.”

Christine glared up at him. “You mean the
president’s
policies. Or do you?”

“Don’t mince words with me, Christine. Either get on board, or get out of the way.”

Christine pressed her lips together as several inflammatory responses flashed through her mind. Instead, she took a more personal approach. “What happened to you, Kevin? We used to be friends, working together to achieve the same goals.”

“That was twenty years ago, Christine. I’ve become a realist, while you cling to your idealistic dreams. I achieve results, while you do nothing more than make my job difficult.”

It was pointless to continue the discussion. She settled into her chair. “Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”

“I want your concurrence on the restructuring proposal.”

Christine smiled. “Don’t hold your breath.”

Hardison gritted his teeth, then turned and left.

*   *   *

Leaning back in her chair, Christine rubbed her temples again with both hands. Maybe Hardison was right. She felt like a salmon swimming upstream, making no headway against the current of well-intentioned, but ultimately damaging, policies being pushed forward. Then again, she had taken the job not because she thought she’d be able to implement policies she believed in, but because she believed in damage control. If she could derail just a few of the administration’s disastrous initiatives, her suffering would be worth it.

As Christine dwelt on her misery, her thoughts turned to Russell Evans. The young man’s mysterious death weighed heavily on her, and her heart went out to his parents. She couldn’t imagine their grief upon opening their front door to a police officer delivering the unwelcome news.

Pushing her thoughts about Evans aside, Christine checked her e-mail, picking up where she’d left off Friday evening. After she’d replied to a few e-mails, her hand froze as the mouse cursor passed over a message with no subject.

It was from Evans. Sent last night, just after midnight.

Christine clicked to open the e-mail and was greeted with a white screen containing a single phrase:
E DRIVE
.

e drive?

Checking the TO: and CC: fields, Christine noted the e-mail had been sent only to her. Turning her attention back to the solitary phrase, she contemplated why Evans would send her this cryptic e-mail. Perhaps the message was incomplete.

Or maybe it was everything she needed to know.

Opening the My Computer icon on her desktop, she searched through the drive directory. The C and D drives were folders on the computer’s hard drive. The E drive was her CD drive. Christine pressed Eject, waiting as the drive tray slid out.

There was nothing in it.

She tapped her index finger on her desk, wondering if Evans meant
his
E drive. Stepping outside her office, Christine scanned the desks in the adjacent West Wing alcove where several interns and office staff worked, her eyes coming to rest on the computer beside Evans’s desk. Her intuition gnawed at her, warning her to consider carefully to whom she revealed Evans’s e-mail, as well as the results of her search. After verifying no one else was within view, she stopped by Evans’s desk, pressing Eject on his computer.

A disk slid out.

Christine placed the CD into a plastic case resting on Evans’s desk, and a moment later she was back in her office. When she slid the disk into her computer, a windowpane opened on her monitor, displaying the contents of the CD. There were several dozen files, their names consisting of random letters and numbers. Christine double-clicked on the first file, but nothing happened. She tried to open it with various applications, each failing to respond or returning a pane of gibberish.

As she searched, a Recall notice from Evans appeared in her Outlook in-box, and a second later, the notice and Evans’s original e-mail were gone. Christine blinked at the screen in stunned silence, until two things became clear.

The first was that whoever had killed Evans had his BlackBerry.

The second was that there was something very important about his CD.

Christine picked up the phone and dialed the familiar number to the office in Langley. A few rings later, the call was answered.

“Director Ronan, this is Christine. I have a favor to ask of you.”

 

5

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

 

Greg Vandiver’s eyes cracked open against their will, fluttering shut again in response to the bright shaft of sunlight streaming through the second-story bedroom window overlooking Rabin Square. Rolling to his side, Vandiver forced his eyelids back open again, the color of his bloodshot eyes matching the numbers on the digital clock next to his bed. A painful pounding reverberated through his head, and it took a moment for him to realize someone was banging on the bedroom door—Joyce, no doubt. Vandiver sat up quickly, immediately regretting it as his head began throbbing in sync with the vigorous knocks.

Suddenly remembering he was not in bed alone, Vandiver turned and studied the young woman sleeping peacefully next to him, a thin sheet covering her naked body. Her straight, glossy black hair was spread across the white pillow as if it had been neatly arranged for a photo shoot. Almond-shaped eyes and caramel-colored skin rounded out her sensual beauty, a sharp contrast to the man admiring her. At five foot six and 180 pounds, U.S. Ambassador Greg Vandiver was not a particularly attractive man. Constantly on a diet that included too much wine and dessert, he had steadily added weight to his frame. Yet, at fifty-five, his smile retained its youthful exuberance and his thick black hair had yet to be invaded by the first strand of gray. His wealth and political influence compensated for his bland physical features—it never failed to amaze him how young women found money and power almost impossible to resist.

The pounding on the door resumed, this time accompanied by a rattling of its hinges. Vandiver stooped down, pulling on a white cotton robe he had deposited on the floor the previous evening. “Enter!” he shouted, immediately regretting his loud response as his head pulsed. The woman next to him stirred in her sleep, licking her full, luscious lips.

The door swung open, and Vandiver’s executive assistant entered the bedroom. It took only a second for Joyce Eddings’s eyes to take in the all-too-familiar scene. “You need to get moving, Ambassador. You have an unscheduled meeting with the prime minister in an hour and a half at his office in Jerusalem.”

Vandiver studied Joyce’s face; as usual, she expressed neither approval nor disapproval. Glancing at the clock again, he verified he had thirty minutes before departing for his meeting. But first, he had to make arrangements for a token of appreciation for his female guest. “Can you send—”

“Roses or carnations?” Joyce asked, pad and pen already in her hands.

Vandiver pondered for a moment, recalling his late-night escapade. “Roses. And get her phone number.”

“Her name?” Joyce asked, the corners of her mouth turning slightly upward as she prepared to wait patiently while the ambassador struggled to answer the simple, yet always difficult, question.

Vandiver’s eyes fell to the young woman still asleep in bed, trying to pull her name from last evening’s fog. While he never forgot a face or a body, names were another matter altogether. Finally, he located the first memory of last night’s encounter—her warm, firm handshake, the movement of her eyes as she quickly surveyed his body, her glistening lips parting as she introduced herself. Aah, yes.

“Alyssah.” A beautiful name for an even more beautiful girl.

Ambassador Vandiver lifted up the bedsheet, admiring Alyssah’s exquisite body one last time before beginning his day. Letting out a heavy sigh, he let the sheet fall.

*   *   *

An hour later, the harsh morning sun reflected off the flat desert landscape as a black Mercedes-Benz sped southeast along Highway 1, following the path of the ancient Roman highway connecting the coastal plains of the Mediterranean and the sandstone buildings of Jerusalem. Vandiver relaxed in the backseat of the armored S600 as Joyce, seated beside him, shuffled through several folders on her lap, searching for the answer to his last question. Vandiver knew it was unlikely the issue of foreign military financing would come up at this morning’s meeting. However, he preferred to be prepared. While showering and shaving, he had narrowed the list of potential topics, with this being the seventh and least probable on his list.

Joyce succeeded in locating the desired brief, pulling it from the folder with an exaggerated gesture. As she traced her finger down the sheet looking for the amount of economic and military aid provided by the United States to Israel and its neighbors each year, Vandiver reflected on how the U.S. government, not unlike himself, routinely used its wealth and influence to seduce or, to more accurately describe the process, procure reluctant friends.

The 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty was hailed by many as a historic turning point, bringing the long-awaited peace desired by both Arabs and Israelis. But most people didn’t know this international agreement had been, in part, procured by the United States. Each year the treaty remains in effect, Egypt receives two billion dollars in aid and Israel four billion, the bulk of which is foreign military financing—a grant that must be spent on U.S. military equipment. A clever way, Vandiver had to admit, to buy friends and influence their behavior while simultaneously feeding the American defense industry.

As Vandiver reflected on the tactics employed by the powerful United States against its weaker enemies and friends alike, he found it ironic they were passing the Route 38 interchange, taking travelers south to the Valley of Elah, the site of David’s epic biblical battle against Goliath. Only fourteen miles from Jerusalem and flanked by rolling Judean hills, the verdant valley slopes gently downward to a carpet of red anemones and multicolored lupines, through which wanders the seasonal brook where David gathered the stone used to slay Goliath.

Israel, despite its size, was no David, easily fielding the most capable military in the Middle East and the only country in the region with nuclear weapons. The outcome of a conflict with any of its neighbors, or even a multinational coalition, was not in doubt. However, Vandiver had learned from his lead Diplomatic Security Service agent that Israel’s National Security Council had met unexpectedly late last night. The prime minister’s request they meet so quickly after the Security Council meeting worried him. It was likely America’s assistance would be requested. What could possibly be beyond Israel’s capability?

*   *   *

Twenty minutes later, Vandiver’s car rolled to a halt outside a building that looked more like a run-down factory on the side of a highway than the headquarters of Israel’s executive government. Vandiver knew that aside from the luxurious Aquarium, the accommodations in the prime minister’s headquarters matched the building’s outward appearance. Climbing out of the sedan, Vandiver was greeted by Hirshel Mekel, the prime minister’s executive assistant, and another man, Mekel’s aide. After the requisite introductions, the young aide guided Joyce toward the Media Situation Room as Mekel escorted Vandiver into the Aquarium.

Entering Levi Rosenfeld’s office, Vandiver crossed the room, extending his hand. “Good morning, Prime Minister.”

Rosenfeld rose, stepping out from behind his desk to greet his American friend. “I’m glad you could meet this morning on such short notice.”

Vandiver shook Rosenfeld’s hand vigorously. “No problem at all.” Glancing to his left, Vandiver noticed a man sitting in a chair against the wall.

“Barak Kogen,” Rosenfeld said, “my intelligence minister.”

Vandiver eyed the head of Israel’s Mossad warily for a second before returning his attention to Rosenfeld. “What can I do for you today, Prime Minister?”

“We have a serious situation,” Rosenfeld said, “and we need the United States’ assistance.”

“How can we help?”

“Please, sit.” Rosenfeld returned to his seat and Vandiver sat in a chair across from Rosenfeld’s desk. A steward knocked, then entered with a tray of coffee and pastries, which he deposited on the end table next to Vandiver’s chair. After pouring the ambassador a cup of coffee, the steward retreated, and Rosenfeld waited patiently while Vandiver’s hand hovered over the pastries, finally selecting the most appealing one. Now that Ambassador Vandiver had a cup of coffee in one hand and a pastry in the other, he devoted his full attention to Israel’s prime minister as he spoke.

“We have been concerned, Ambassador, that Iran will develop nuclear weapons, fearful they will be used against Israel. We have discovered that Iran is less than ten days away from completing the assembly of its first nuclear bomb.”

Vandiver interrupted the prime minister, waving the pastry in his hand in the process. “Iran wouldn’t dare use nuclear weapons against you. They know the United States wouldn’t stand by—that we’d retaliate.” Vandiver paused, realizing how his last statement, meant to reassure their ally, might have sounded to the Israelis.
After Iran wipes out part, if not your entire country, we’ll teach them a lesson
.

Thinly veiled disgust spread across Rosenfeld’s face. “We cannot let Iran obtain nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the Iranian weapon complex is deep underground, protected by hardened bunkers. The conventional weapons in Israel’s arsenal aren’t powerful enough to destroy this facility, so we need your assistance. We need four of your newest bunker-busting bombs…” Rosenfeld glanced down at a sheet of paper on his desk, “the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, by the end of this week.”

Vandiver placed the half-eaten pastry back onto the tray, his friendly demeanor transitioning to a cool façade. “I’m afraid I already know the answer to your request, Prime Minister. I’ve discussed this topic extensively with Washington, and the answer is no. Our administration is committed to peaceful negotiations with Iran, and will not authorize the transfer of any weapons to Israel that could disrupt that process.”

BOOK: The Trident Deception
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