Circle William (4 Cassettes)

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Jim Schmidt is a master of spin. As White House press secretary, his job is to cajole, sweet-talk, and otherwise persuade the nation's most powerful journalists to play a story the way the White House wants it played. Jim's younger brother, Bill, is equally skillful, but in a different realm. He's the charismatic captain of the USS Winston Churchill, and he leads an able but rambunctious crew with a penchant for causing well-publicized "liberty incidents" around the Mediterranean. Both men instinctively ...
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Circle William

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Jim Schmidt is a master of spin. As White House press secretary, his job is to cajole, sweet-talk, and otherwise persuade the nation's most powerful journalists to play a story the way the White House wants it played. Jim's younger brother, Bill, is equally skillful, but in a different realm. He's the charismatic captain of the USS Winston Churchill, and he leads an able but rambunctious crew with a penchant for causing well-publicized "liberty incidents" around the Mediterranean. Both men instinctively understand their jobs, but more important, they understand power and how it works: He who controls the facts controls the response. So when the United States learns of a Libyan plot to drop a planeload of chemical weapons on the Israeli Knesset, the brothers - thousands of miles apart - unexpectedly find themselves working together to defuse the plan. Their first step is to set "Circle William," a Navy phrase meaning to prepare for chemical, germ, or nuclear attack. As Jim huddles with the country's top defense and intelligence officials to plot a viable strategy to prevent the strike, Bill, on the front lines of the crisis, prepares to implement the plan. Complicating their mission is the inconvenient presence of Sue O'Dell, a smart Washington Post Style reporter who wants to write a feature on the commander and his notorious ship.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A retired navy captain and former White House press secretary (and now the CIA's director of public affairs) crafts a thriller featuring two brothers--a naval commander and a White House press secretary--called upon to run a tricky operation.
C. A. Mobley
Two brothers, two paths to glory, both leading straight through the insane leader of Libya: General Mu'ammar Gadhafi. The result is a strikingly realistic look inside the military, with an emphasis on how the press can be used to start a war -- or finish one. Circle William is Captain Bill Harlow's first foray into fiction (other than writing officer fitness reports -- smile, Captain, that was a joke!), and I hope that his retirement brings many more. His background as an assistant press secretary at the White House helped him create this stunningly authentic look at the inside workings of politicians and the press, which poses the eternal public relations question: Who's using whom?

The story begins when an American nuclear submarine, the USS Hartford, overhears telephone conversations indicating that something big is brewing at Tarhouna, Libya, a heavily fortified testing facility. It appears that a missile containing an NBC warhead will be dispatched against Israel. Worse yet, there's another one targeted at the United States -- and it's already inside United States territory.

If the Israelis find out about the planned attack, they'll launch a preemptive strike, probably nuclear. Libya will then, of course, know that their secret is out and will detonate the warhead that is already inside the United States. Only one plan makes any sense: Prevent an attack on Israel and buy enough time to find the warhead inside America.

Enter the USS Winston Churchill, a destroyer in the Mediterranean commanded by Captain Bill Schmidt, whose crew has already been involved in several highly publicized liberty incidents while on its current deployment. Captain Schmidt's brother, civilian White House press secretary Jim Schmidt, works out a plan that puts the Churchill directly on the pointy end of the spear. A submarine and the NSA will feed intelligence to the ship, which will simulate a maneuver reminiscent of the USS Vincennes's shoot-down of an Airbus in the Persian Gulf. Until the threat inside the U.S. can be located and neutralized, Captain Schmidt and his crew will be pariahs. Toss an aggressive female reporter into the mix and you've got the makings of a dang fine story told from an insider's point of view. The journalist reports on the liberty antics of Churchill's crew and creates just the cover story that Jim needs to pull off his plan.

While a team of hackers work their way into the guts of the Libyan fortress, and the latest in advanced surveillance systems sounds the "go" signal for an attack, the growing relationship between Jim's military brother and the reporter provides the final piece of the puzzle. As the clock ticks down, Captain Schmidt unravels a clue in a recent Gadhafi interview with the reporter that reveals the location of the warhead inside the United States. But will it be in time to prevent the assassination of the American president and the deaths of millions?

With well drawn and fully developed characters, combined with a unique and refreshing take on military/third estate relationships, Circle William is a great and exciting read.

Kirkus Reviews
Libya plots a chemical weapons attack in this novice entry in the Tom Clancy Stakes. Target: the US. And possibly Qaddafi has Israel's Knesset in mind as a secondary target. So where has he hidden his bombs? And when does he plan to explode them? No one knows. Clearly, the Colonel thinks he's ahead of the game, but he hasn't reckoned on the Schmidt brothers, who turn out to be very bad medicine for him indeed. Bill Schmidt is captain of an American destroyer, Jim Schmidt press secretary to the President. There are those who look askance at the two, regarding them as loose cannons, and it's true they've been known to stray from standard operating procedure. Bill, for instance, is much more relaxed with his crew than strict, by-the-book Navy formalists find reassuring. Jim, meanwhile, is too quick with a quip, or so some think. And people remember that once in public he referred to a Cabinet member as a windbag and wasn't as dismayed by the gaffe as he should have been. But they do get things done, those Schmidts. When high-command counterplotting requires that a Libyan plane be shot down "accidentally," Jim suggests Bill for the job. Bull's-eye! One Libyan aircraft dead in the water. When Bill, brilliantly, deduces the whereabouts of the deployed weaponry, it's Jim he calls. Result: the President is spirited out of harm's way and the stash brought to light in the nick of time. Thwarted by Schmidt grit and resourcefulness, Libya pays a heavy price for vaulting ambition, while Bill gets the girl. Newcomer Harlow is a retired Navy captain, a former Assistant White House Press Secretary to George Bush, and currently the Director of Public Affairs for the CIA. But he isn't (yet) muchof a novelist. Though some of his characters are engaging and the Beltway stuff interesting, what should be gripping never is. .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671043964
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Publication date: 2/1/1999
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged, 4 cassettes, 4 hrs. 30 min.
  • Product dimensions: 4.06 (w) x 7.02 (h) x 1.18 (d)

First Chapter

Chapter 2

It all became clear when he saw the six-foot-tall rabbit walking along Constitution Avenue. Until that moment, Jim Schmidt hadn't understood why the early morning traffic near the White House was worse that usual. The man in the bunny suit reminded him that today was the annual Easter egg roll on the White House lawn.

Schmidt steered his aging Volvo past the barricades on E Street and wended his way toward the West Executive Avenue entrance just south of the presidential mansion. Traffic had been perpetually screwed up ever since Pennsylvania Avenue had been blocked off due to concerns about terrorists.

Across the nearby open space called the Ellipse and down every street in sight, parents led hundreds of sleepy children toward the White House gate that wouldn't open to them for several more hours. Some folks will do anything to get their kid a free wooden egg and a picture with Willard Scott, Schmidt thought. His car edged forward, stopping and starting, as he waited his turn to clear security and enter the heavily guarded eighteen-acre compound. What a zoo, he thought. That rabbit will feel right at home.

His car lurched forward to the position where the guards were inspecting security passes and using mirrors to check under cars for bombs. Officer Clarence Jackson of the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service recognized Schmidt. After all, the President's press secretary was on TV nearly every night. "Good morning, Mr. Schmidt. Pop your trunk for me, would ya?" Jackson took out his flashlight and quickly inspected the Volvo's trunk, looking for stowaways. "Have a good day, sir," Jackson said as he gave his partner a thumbs up, signaling the okaroadcast across America. An avid C-SPAN watcher had tipped off the Washington Post, and the newspaper gleefully reported this rare bit of capital candor in the "In the Loop" column of this morning's edition.

As Schmidt got out of his car, he dreaded the ordeal that awaited him. He knew that no White House staffer would be able to resist reminding him of his slip of the lip. He imagined that each one would make some lame joke at his expense, deepening his embarrassment. Worse, he would have to face the White House press corps. For the most part, the press liked Schmidt for his easy humor, his unflappability, and his record of honesty. They especially liked the fact that Schmidt was a true insider on the President's team. He knew the President's mind on any given issue. But personal feelings aside, Schmidt knew that the press wouldn't cut him any slack over the Harden jibe. Even though most probably agreed with him, it was just too juicy to pass up.

The worst part of the day, Schmidt knew, would be the obligatory phone call to the Secretary of State. He would have to grovel, beg forgiveness, and humbly ask understanding from the sort of man who gave out autographed pictures of himself as Christmas presents.

Schmidt walked under the canopied entrance to the West Wing basement. He passed through the outer lobby and through a wooden doorway that cleverly masked a sophisticated metal detector. The hallway was decorated with antique furniture. It doubled as a waiting room for people trying to see officials who occupied the tiny ground floor offices. The same officials could command large airy offices across the street at the Old Executive Office Building. There they might have windows, balconi es, and even working fireplaces. But those offices were eschewed for the opportunity to work in windowless, closet-size offices which had the cachet of a West Wing address.

Schmidt came upon another Uniformed Division officer sitting at a desk at the entrance to the West Wing. The desk hid sensitive monitors for unlikely threats, such as radiation and poison gas. The officer glanced at the pass that was hanging from a chain around Schmidt's neck and his stone face broke into a smile. It was only then that Schmidt looked down and noticed that the officer had a copy of the daily White House news summary, a compilation of newspaper clippings. Even upside down, it wasn't hard to read the headline of the lead story: "What a Windbag!"

Instead of immediately going up to his office, Schmidt turned right, went down a few steps, and entered the White House mess. There he thought he could grab a cup of coffee, a danish, and a moment to reflect on how he was going to get out of his predicament. Jim usually skipped breakfast, but he would fortify himself on days when he felt particularly overwhelmed by his challenges. This might be a three danish day, he mused.

On difficult days, Schmidt found the dark wood paneling of the mess somehow calming. He noticed, not for the first time, the nautical decorations about the place. At the entrance stood a model of the "Lone Sailor" statue, a miniature version of one displayed at the Navy Memorial a few blocks away down Pennsylvania Avenue. On one wall, behind glass, was the dinner gong from "Old Ironsides," USS Constitution. These items were reminders that the mess was operated by the U.S. Navy. And they reminded Schmidt of his little brother, Bill.

At times like this, he really envied Bill. Commanding Officer of his own boat. Make that "ship." Bill hated it when Jim called it a boat. At sea, Bill was in charge of all he surveyed. He didn't have to kowtow to thousands of reporters, 535 members of Congress, hundreds of contributors, scores of presidential advisors and staffers. That was the life. Jim wondered how Bill was doing and hoped that Bill would not learn of Jim's "windbag" comments at sea. Bill would never let him hear the end of that one, especially because the comment sounded like something Bill would say.

Jim looked up from his table to see the President's National Security Advisor, Wally Burnette, approaching his table. Here it comes, he thought. The first person of the day to bust my balls over the Harden screw up.

Burnette, a retired Army general, walked briskly up to Schmidt. He paused for a moment, leaned down, and put his arm around the younger man. "Jim, your words have given wings to the thoughts of many. You are a great American." With that, Burnette stood erect, saluted, did an about face, and headed off. Schmidt smiled and for the first time thought that the reaction to his comments would not be too bad. That thought wasn't to last long. Schmidt left the mess and walked the short distance to the stairs. The walls were adorned with massive candid color photographs of the President. How odd it must be for the boss, he thought, to walk down here and every two feet see another view of his own smiling face. On the other hand, if you don't like that sort of thing, you probably shouldn't get into elective politics.

Schmidt went up the steps near the Cabinet Room and made a hard left turn toward his own office. As he approached the door he came face-to-face with his worst nightmare: Alice Kenworthy, dean of the White House press corps, sitting on the credenza near his doorway. Like a troll near a bridge, no one would be able to get past without her permission. Alice had been covering the White House since the Nixon administration. Her thick southern drawl had been made raspy by decades of chain smoking. Dictates in recent years that banned smoking in the White House had done nothing to improve her already cranky nature. White House spokesmen over the past several administrations had learned to be wary of Alice on rainy days when her mood grew more foul with every cigarette she puffed in the White House driveway.

Alice spotted the spokesman approaching and whipped out her notebook and handheld tape recorder. "Do you plan to insult any more cabinet officers today?" she asked.

"No, but I am thinking about working on a few heads of state," Schmidt blurted, instantly regretting it.

Kenworthy didn't pause as she launched another round. "Is it true that the Secretary of State has called the President demanding that you be fired?"

She's fishing; it is too early for Harden to have gotten a call through, he thought. "Nah, I hear he wants to offer me a job. Say Alice, is Ambassador to Iran a good post?"

She gave a brief chuckle of admiration at Schmidt's bravado. The unwritten rules and her own sense of propriety would keep Kenworthy from reporting the spokesman's attempt at humor. Sensing that she wasn't going to get him to say anything of substance on the record, she stepped aside. Schmidt entered his office and quickly shut the door.

By White House standards it was a spacious office, with windows looking out on the north d riveway and a bank of four TVs. Since it was spring, Schmidt was unable to use his favorite perk, the fireplace. Jim did feel a little guilty every time he called for one of the men from the National Park Service, the only ones actually authorized to light the fires.

Jim hung his jacket on an antique wooden cigar-store Indian that he had purchased years ago and plopped down in the chair behind his desk. He felt tired and old. The press secretary's job was a tough one, and Jim's friends thought he had aged about ten years in the three years he had held it. His sandy brown hair was beginning to show signs of gray. Still in his early forties, Jim looked like a thicker version of his brother Bill. There was one other difference. There was something about Bill's face which always made him look happy, even when he wasn't. Jim's countenance took the opposite turn. People were constantly telling him to cheer up even when he was feeling just fine. Schmidt's secretary, Natalie, disrupted his daydreaming when she scurried in with a copy of the news summary, the day's second cup of coffee, and a typed list of fifteen news organizations. Each had already called seeking confirmation and comment on his review of yesterday's speech by the Secretary of State.

Might as well get it over with, Jim thought. He asked Natalie to place a call to Secretary Harden for him. What made this more galling was that Harden was known to be a major self-promoter and one of Washington's premier leakers. Jim knew that minutes after his call begging forgiveness, Harden would phone one of his friends in the press and "on deep background" describe the call in the most self-serving fashion.

"The secretary's assistant, Margaret, is on the line," Natalie said.

In the most cheerful voice he could muster, Jim said, "Good morning, Margaret."

"Morning, Mr. Schmidt," was the icy reply.

Uh, oh, this isn't good. She always calls me Jim. He was placed on hold for several minutes. Margaret was extraordinarily devoted to her boss. She bore an uncanny physical resemblance to the secretary's wife, "Miss Jane." Margaret wore the same type of clothes and styled her hair in the same fashion as Mrs. Harden. Long-time State Department employees often said there was nothing she wouldn't do for her boss.

"This is Secretary Harden," the old windbag finally intoned.

"Sir, there is little I can say other than to offer my most sincere and abject apology," Jim groveled.

"Young Man, Your Wanton Attempts to Ridicule My Statecraft Have Done Grievous Harm to the Cause of World Peace." Whenever Harden spoke it sounded as if his words were capitalized. Any doubt in Jim's mind about the accuracy of his assessment of Harden yesterday were immediately erased. The phone call went downhill from there.

Upon hanging up, Jim gazed out his window and saw scores of White House staffers streaming by with children in tow. One of the privileges of working on the compound was the ability to place your children, your relatives, or your neighbor's kids at the head of the line for the Easter Egg Roll. Those folks all look like they are having a great time, Jim thought. Sure wish I was.

There was one more challenge to surmount: the press briefing. If he could get through today's briefing without being brutalized too badly, perhaps the "windbag" storm would blow over. With luck, it might be a one-day story. Maybe I'll get lucky, Jim thought, and somebody else in government will screw up even more colorfully than I did.

Looking out at the kids streaming across the north lawn, an idea struck him. Due to the vagaries of the President's schedule, Jim's daily press briefing was usually held any time between 10:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M. What if he held his briefing at 9:00 A.M.? Many of the press corps would probably be with their kids and Peter Cottontail on the south lawn, too preoccupied to pester Schmidt about his self-inflicted wounds.

Schmidt's staff did a good job of quickly gathering the information he needed for the daily briefing. Answers to questions about the latest unemployment figures, the status of the Administration's crime bill, and reports of a coup in Burundi were assembled. There were about twenty people on Schmidt's staff. Most were young, just a few years out of college, and yet most had worked on political campaigns since they were teens. They were more experienced and more cynical than most Americans of their age. Jim knew that many of his staffers were sons or daughters of major donors to the President's party. There were more BMWs and Mercedes at the outer reaches of the White House parking area, the Ellipse, than could be found inside the gates where Jim's ancient Volvo rusted.

He was hoping to dodge a bullet at the briefing, but in the end, Jim knew, there was only one topic of intense interest on this day.

At precisely 9:00 A.M., Jim walked into the tiny White House press briefing room. Visitors were always amazed by how small it was compared to the way it looked on television. Less than fifty theater-style chairs were available in the room Nixon built above an old indoor swimming pool where FDR paddled and, it is said, JFK canoo dled. Prior to the construction of the press room, reporters were allowed to simply hang around the entrance of the West Wing lobby. There they could buttonhole officials en route to meetings. Nixon wanted his visitors to be able to come and go without running the gauntlet of reporters, and so the current facility was built.

The first row of the briefing room was reserved for AP, UPI, Reuters, and the three main broadcast networks. CNN and the Washington Post were among those blessed with seats in the second row. The luckiest news magazines, out-of-town newspapers, and organizations of lesser clout were assigned seats farther back.

Most of the 1500 credentialed members of the press did not show up on any given day, thank God. And most of those who did had no assigned seat. They had to stand along the side or back of the room, or jump into an empty seat left temporarily vacant by a late arrival.

But today, many of the seats were empty and others were filled with youngsters whose moms and dads were part of the press corps. Clearly the kids were anxious to get outside where there were free toys and food rather than sit in a small crowded room listening to Schmidt's lengthy opening statement about the Consumer Price Index. Children were running up and down the narrow aisles, tripping over TV cables and the jungle of ladders left about by the still photographers.

Jim decided to brief the press on the President's travel plans for the next several months. He read a half-dozen personnel announcements, including some critical appointments to the American Battle Monuments Commission. Finally, he ran out of filler and opened the floor to questions.

By tradition, Alice Kenworthy got the first q uestion. "Do you think you undermined U.S. diplomatic efforts yesterday when you called the Secretary of State a 'windbag'? What were you thinking of?"

Pausing for a moment, Jim saw his opportunity. "What was I thinking of? Well actually, my comments were misunderstood. I was thinking of my upcoming summer vacation. My wife wants to go to the beach but I want to take the kids camping. And I must have mumbled 'I want a Winnebago.'"

The press erupted in laughter at the attempt to construct some plausible deniability. Then Jim nodded to one of his assistants, who opened the double doors on the side of the briefing room leading to the Rose Garden and the noise outside. In marched Willard Scott and the six-foot-tall Easter bunny. "Hey boys and girls, who wants to help me and my rabbit friend find some Easter eggs!" Scott shouted. As the noise level in the room grew even louder, the press corps kids began to shriek. Under the cover of the confusion, Jim said he heard someone say "Thank you," the official signal that the press have had enough. He declared the briefing over and retreated to his office.

Copyright © 1999 by Bill Harlow

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2002

    Captain Bill Harlow's Circle William wins my 'best book' nomination.

    Circle William is a fast paced novel of political and military machinations....that just could happen! Having served aboard Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean and living in Binghamton, New York brought the story line to life. Hopefully Captain Harlow will find time to bring us a sequel in the near future.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2002

    circle william ; a thriller ! not !!!

    I just retired 20yrs of Naval Service . This tthing to drawn out take out all the dry stuff it would only be about 15 pages.I surely wouldn't call it a thriller sorry It put me to sleep too easy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2013


    Couldn't put the book down. One of the best stories I have read in some time.

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  • Posted December 13, 2012

    I agree with the comment below, this is a great effort and hopef

    I agree with the comment below, this is a great effort and hopefully there will be to follow. Really love the Brother angle, asit makes it more interesting reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2012

    ***** Highly recommended.

    Excellent read. Story stretches a little regarding the undisciplined attitude of the hero of the story. He does things that a CO of a warship would never get away with, but things there are some I've served with that would think about. Lots of action. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2001

    Military Technology - Politics & Humour a Novel reaction

    'Circle William is a wonderfully balanced written first novel by Captain Bill Harlow. His obvious inside knowledge of the US Navy and the US Political System just added to the realism. I agree with Bob Woodwards review in regards to -'all done with great seriousness while capturing the humour in the personalities'. It was well paced and not too much technical information overload, that Tom Clancy sometimes falls into.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2001

    Best book ever!!

    I really enjoyed reading Circle William. I really fell in love with the characters. I had a hard time putting the book down. I hated that it had to Circle William it is well worth it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2000

    Schmidt Happens !

    Smart, Fun, Fast and Furious. One of the best books I've read this year.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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