Secret Sanction

Secret Sanction

4.1 42
by Brian Haig
     
 

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Word of Honor meets A Few Good Men in a stunning thriller that pits the Green Berets, C.I.A., and White House against a top Army lawyer in an Investigation that could put the U.S. military on trial.

A battalion of Serbs has been senselessly murdered in Kosovo and the Green Berets stand accused. Now, Major Sean Drummond, a top Army lawyer, is assigned to… See more details below

Overview

Word of Honor meets A Few Good Men in a stunning thriller that pits the Green Berets, C.I.A., and White House against a top Army lawyer in an Investigation that could put the U.S. military on trial.

A battalion of Serbs has been senselessly murdered in Kosovo and the Green Berets stand accused. Now, Major Sean Drummond, a top Army lawyer, is assigned to investigate this unspeakable atrocity. But of course, no one saw anything. Drummond gets consistently suspicious depositions from all of the Green Berets: Supposedly pursued by Serb soldiers, they left the engagement with wounded Serbs firing at them, and no one can explain the number of deaths. Teamed with a straight-laced prosecutor and a sexy defense attorney, Drummond probes further but forces continue to hide the truth. Soon a reporter is found dead, Drummond suspects there's a traitor on his team, and everyone from the CIA to the president may be involved in a cover-up that could threaten the stability of the most powerful nation in theworld.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Just when you thought it was safe to regard the legal thriller as moribund, along comes this stunning debut to re-breathe life into it. Major Sean Drummond, a former combat infantryman turned Army lawyer, gets assigned a case he doesn't much care for. Who could? It has career-breaker draped over it like a pup tent. The Judge Advocate General's Corp (read: JAG), which he's attached to, has posted him to Bosnia where a US Special Forces team is waiting for him to decide whether it's guilty of mass murder. Thirty-five Serbs have been found dead, bullets fired into their brains from close range, a carbon copy St. Valentine's Day massacre transferred to the Balkans. At least that's what the Serbs have begun to claim, fingering the Green Berets in a series of increasingly uncomfortable press conferences. Is all that part of a propaganda shuffle, or has the Geneva Conference indeed been flouted? It doesn't take long for Drummond to realize that there are agendas within agendas, that gimlet eyes are trained on him as unrelentingly as his own attention is focused on evidence sifting, and that he might well have become someone's idea of a custom-made sacrificial lamb. Why, for instance, are so many highly placed people suddenly hostile to him? Why does he get the unsettling sense that of the two hotshot legal guns reporting to him, one is a definite mole? And why, whenever the nine Green Berets profess their innocence, do they seem so thoroughly . . . coached? But Drummond, a combination hard-nose and closet romantic, doggedly pursues his investigation. His tone is sardonic, his expectations far from great—a stance predictable in a man who values honor while having to cope with a societythat merely pays it lip service. Well written and briskly paced, while in addition raising, evocatively, the ever-interesting question about whether loyalty is allowed to be blind.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780759527669
Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
07/15/2001
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
43,073
File size:
0 MB

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Chapter 1

Fort Bragg in August is so hellish, you can smell the sulfur in the air. Actually, though, it's not sulfur, it's 98 percent humidity, mixed with North Carolina dust, mixed with the raunchy bouquet of about thirty thousand men and women who spend half their lives scurrying about in the woods. Without showers. The moment I stepped off the plane, I had this fierce urge to call my bosses back in the Pentagon and beg them to reconsider. Wouldn't work though. "Sympathy," the Army likes to say, is found in the dictionary between "shit" and "syphilis," and regarded accordingly.

So I hefted up my duffel bag and oversize legal briefcase and headed for the taxi stand. Of course, this was Pope Air Force Base, which adjoins Fort Bragg, which makes it all one big, happy military installation. No taxi stand, and shame on me for not knowing that. I therefore marched straight to a payphone and called the duty sergeant at the headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division. These are the same men and women who make their living flinging themselves out of airplanes and praying their government-issued parachutes open before their fragile bodies go splat. Mostly their prayers work. Sometimes not.

"Headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division, Sergeant Mercor," a stern voice answered.

"Major Sean Drummond, here," I barked, doing my finest impersonation of a bitchy, obnoxious bully, which, by the by, I always do pretty well.

"How can I help you, sir?"

"How can you help me?" I demanded.

"Sorry, sir, I don't get it."

"That's pretty damned obvious, isn't it? Why wasn't the duty jeep waiting for me at the airport? Why am I standing here with my thumb up my ass?"

"We don't send jeeps out to the airport to pick up personnel. Not even officers, sir."

"Hey, Sergeant, think I'm stupid?"

I let that question linger a moment, and you could almost hear him grinding his teeth to keep from answering. Then, much friendlier, I said, "Look, I don't know if you weren't properly instructed, or just plain forgot. All I know is, the general who works upstairs in that building of yours promised a jeep would be waiting when I arrived. Now if it were to get here inside twenty minutes, then we'll just write this off as an inconvenience. Otherwise . . ."

There was this fairly long pause on the other end. The thing with Army sergeants is that they have incredible survival instincts. They have to. They spend their careers working under officers, some of whom happen to be pretty good, but plenty of whom aren't, and a man must be pretty damned artful to treat both with perfect equanimity.

"Sir, I ...well, uh, this is really irregular. No one told me to have a jeep there to meet you. I swear." Of course nobody told him. I knew that. And he knew that. But there was a world of daylight between those two facts.

"Listen, Sergeant.... Sergeant Mercor, right? It's ten-thirty at night and my patience wanes with each passing minute. What will it be?"

"All right, Major. The duty driver will be there in about twenty minutes. Don't be screwing me around, though. I'm gonna put this in the duty log. The colonel will see it in the morning," he said, making that last statement sound profoundly ominous.

"Twenty minutes," I said before hanging up. I sat on my duffel bag and waited. I should've felt bad about fibbing, but my conscience just wasn't up to it. I was tired, for one thing, and royally pissed off for another. Besides, I had a set of orders in my pocket that assigned me to perform a special investigation. In my book, at least, that entitled me to a special privilege or two.

Private Rodriguez and the duty jeep showed up exactly twenty minutes later. I was pretty damned sure Sergeant Mercor had instructed Rodriguez to get lost, or drive around in circles, or do about any damned thing except arrive one second earlier than twenty minutes. That's another thing about Army sergeants. They're woefully vengeful little creatures. I threw my duffel into the back of the humvee and climbed in the front.

"Where to?" Private Rodriguez asked, staring straight ahead.

"Visiting Officers' Quarters. Know where they are?"

"Sure."

"Good. Drive."

A moment passed before Rodriguez sort of coughed, then said, "You assigned here, sir?"

"Nope."

"Reporting in?"

"Nope."

"Passing through?"

"You're getting warmer."

"You're a lawyer, right?" he asked, glancing at the brass on my uniform that identified me as a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, or JAG for short.

"Rodriguez, it's late and I'm tired. I appreciate your need to make conversation, but I'm not in the mood. Just drive."

"Hey, no problem, sir."

Rodriguez whistled for two minutes, then,"Ever been to Bragg before, sir?"

"Yes, I've been to Bragg before. I've been to every Army post you can name. I'm still not in the mood to talk."

"Hey, sure. No problem, really." Then, only a few moments later, "Y'know, personally, I really like it here." Poor Private Rodriguez either had short-term amnesia or he'd been ordered by Sergeant Mercor to find out everything he could about me and report back. That's another thing about Army sergeants. When they're curious, they get fiendishly clever.

"So why do you like it here?" I wearily asked, not wanting his ass to get gnawed into little pieces on my account.

"My family comes from Mexico, right? And we settled in Texas, so I like the warm weather. Only they got trees up here, and it rains more. And I love jumpin' outta airplanes. You know that feeling, right? I see you got wings."

"Wrong. I went to jump school and did the five mandatory jumps required to graduate. But I'm not Airborne. I hated it. I was scared as hell and couldn't wait for it to be over. I'll never jump again. Never."

"You're a Ranger. Not many lawyers are Rangers."

"I'm the most reluctant Ranger you ever saw. I cried and whimpered the whole way through the course. They gave me the tab only because they feared that if they failed me, I might have come back and tried again. They hated me."

"You got a Combat Infantryman's Badge," he said. Private Rodriguez, annoyingly clever fellow that he was, kept adjusting the rearview mirror to study the various items on my uniform. In civilian life, nobody wears nametags or badges or patches, or any other kind of silly accoutrement that advertises anything about you. In the Army, the longer you're in, the more your uniform resembles a diary. It's a wonder the old-timers can even walk under all that weight.

"I used to be infantry," I admitted.

"And you went to combat."

"Only because they shipped me off before I could figure out how to go AWOL. I spent the whole time huddled in deep fox-holes, praying nobody noticed me."

"No offense, sir, but why would a guy wanta stop being an infantry officer just to become a lawyer?" That's another thing with the Army. What's important on the inside can be quite a bit different from what's important on the outside.

"Someone gave me a test and, wouldn't you know it, turned out my IQ was over twenty. Bastards said I was too smart to be an infantry officer anymore."

"No shit?" he asked, quite sincerely, too, which tells you miles about infantry officers.

"Yeah. Not a lot above twenty, just a little. You know the Army, though. Rules are rules."

"You go to law school and all that?"

"Yeah, I went to law school and all that. You done asking questions?"

"No, sir, only a few more. Why you here?"

"Passing through, Private. I thought we already covered that."

"Passing through to where?"

"To Europe."

"Would that be... uh, Bosnia?"

"That's where it would be."

"Then what you doing here?"

"I'm supposed to catch a C-130 that leaves Pope Field at seven o'clock in the morning, and military air bases don't exactly run like civilian airports, with connecting flights and all that stuff. As a result, I have to sleep here."

A more truthful reply would have included the fact that I had an appointment in the morning with a general named Partridge, and only after he was through with me was I allowed to head for Bosnia. But Private Rodriguez, and thereby Sergeant Mercor, did not need to know all that. In fact, nobody but the general, myself, and a few very select people back in Washington needed to know all that.

"VOQ just ahead," Private Rodriguez announced, pointing out the windshield at a bunch of long blockhouses.

"Thanks," I said as we pulled into the parking lot, and I retrieved my duffel from the rear.

"No problem. Hey, one thing, sir. That Sergeant Mercor you spoke with, well, he really is a prick. If I were you, and I didn't really have permission from the general, I'd get my butt on that airplane as early as I could."

"Thanks for the ride," I muttered.

That's how business is done in the Army. I scratched his ass, so he scratched mine. Sounds simple, but it can be very protean in practice. I left him there and walked into the VOQ, checked in, and found my room. In less than a minute I was undressed, in bed, and asleep.

It didn't seem like a full five hours later when the phone beside my bed rang and the desk clerk informed me that General Partridge's military sedan was waiting in the parking lot. I showered and shaved with dazzling speed, then rummaged through my duffel for my battle dress and combat boots. This was the only appropriate attire when meeting with Clive Partridge, who truly was one of the meanest sons of bitches in an institution not known for producing shrinking violets. The drive out to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, which is, among other things, the headquarters for the United States Army Special Forces Command, took slightly shy of thirty minutes. General Partridge's driver, unlike Private Rodriguez the night before, said not a word. I chalked that up to his being grumped up about having to chauffeur a lowly major, instead of the four-star general he worked for. Headquarters guys get real fussy airs that way.

A sour-faced major named Jackson met me outside Partridge's office and coldly told me to sit and wait. I reminded him that I had to be on a seven o'clock flight to Bosnia, and he reminded me that four-star generals outrank majors. I gave him a fishy-eyed look and instantly decided that maybe General Partridge deliberately surrounded himself with nasty people. Twenty minutes later, Major Jackson stood up and led me to the hand-carved door that served as the final line of defense into General Partridge's office. The door opened, I passed through, and marched briskly to the general's desk. I stopped, saluted crisply, and introduced myself in that strange way Army guys do.

"Major Drummond reporting as ordered, sir."

The general looked up from some papers, nodded slightly, popped a cigarette between his lips, and calmly lit it. My right hand was still foolishly stuck to my forehead.

"Put down that hand," he grunted, and I did. He sucked in a roomful of smoke, then leaned back into his chair. "You happy about this assignment?"

"No, sir."

"You studied the case already?"

"A bit, sir."

"Any preliminary thoughts?"

"None I would care to expose at this point."

He sucked hard on the cigarette again, so hard that nearly half of it turned into ash. He had thin lips, a thin face, and a thin body, all of which looked nicely weathered, very taut, and almost impossibly devoid of both body fat and compassion.

"Drummond, every now and again there's a military court case that captures the attention of the great American public. Back when I was a lieutenant, the big one was the My Lai court-martial, named after that village in Vietnam where Lieutenant Calley and his guys butchered a few hundred defenseless civilians.

Then came Tailhook, which the Navy botched past the point of redemption. Then the Air Force had that Kelly Flynn thing they dicked up in spades."

The general surely knew that all military lawyers had these cases tattooed on their brains. He obviously was taking no small delight in bringing them up.

"It's your turn, Drummond.You screw this one up, and generations of future JAG officers are gonna be sitting around in classrooms, scratching their heads and wondering just how this guy Drummond managed to mangle things so bad. You thought of that?"

"It has crossed my mind, General."

"I imagine it has," he said with a nasty grin. "You decide there's not enough grounds for a court-martial and you'll be accused of shoving the Army's dirt under a rug. You decide there is sufficient grounds, then we'll have us a nice little brawl in a courtroom with the whole world watching."

He stopped and studied my face, and I was not the least bit sure which of those two options he wanted. I had a pretty good idea, I just wasn't sure. He had that kind of face.

"You got any idea why we picked you?"

"Only a few vague suspicions," I cautiously admitted.

This, actually, was my sly way of saying that I wanted to hear his opinion, since his was based on the fact that he helped select me. Mine, on the other hand, was the bitter rumination of a guy who thought he was being tossed into an alligator pond. He lifted three fingers and began ticking off points. "First, we figured that since you used to be an infantry officer and you actually saw a few shots fired, you might have a little better understanding of what these men went through than your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, snot-nosed attorney in uniform. Second, your boss assured me that you come equipped with a brilliant legal mind and are independent by nature. Finally, because I knew your father, served under him, hated his guts, but he just happened to be the best I ever saw. If you got even a fraction of his gene pool, then there's an outside chance of your being pretty damned good, too."

"That's very kind, sir. Thank you very much, and the next time I see my father, I'll be sure to pass on the general's regards."

"Don't blow smoke up my ass, Drummond. It's not a good idea."

"No, sir," I said, watching him suck another mighty drag through those thin, bloodless lips.

"I'm treading on quicksand here. I'm the commander of the Special Operations Command, and am therefore responsible for those men, and for what they did."

"That's right, sir."

"And when you're done with your investigation, your recommendation on whether to proceed with a court-martial will come to me. Then I'll have to decide which way to go."

"That is the correct protocol, sir."

"And you and I both know that if I say anything to you, even a whisper, that indicates anything but a neutral predisposition on my part, I can be accused of exerting command influence into a legal proceeding. That, we both know, would get all our butts in a wringer."

"That is a proper reading of military law, sir."

"I know that, Drummond. And I'd be damned appreciative if you'd withhold the commentary," he barked.

"Of course, sir."

"So the reason I had you fly down here," he said, pointing toward a tiny tape recorder on the corner of his desk,"is to ask you two questions."

"Fire away, sir."

"Do you believe that I, or anyone in your chain of command, has a predisposition, or have any of us, in any way, tried to influence you, prior to the start of your investigation?"

"No and no, sir."

"Do you believe you are being given adequate resources to perform your duties?"

"I have ample resources, sir."

"Then this interview is hereby terminated," he said, reaching down and turning off the tape recorder.

My right hand was just coming back up to my forehead when those thin lips bristled with another nasty little smile.

"Now, Drummond, since we have all that recorded for posterity, it's time for some real guidance."

"I am all ears, sir."

"This case is an embarrassment for the Army, and it will only get worse. But there are several types of embarrassment. There's the kind where some soldiers did a bad thing and the public wonders just what this barbaric Army did to these fine young boys to transform them into such awful monsters. Then there's the kind where the Army gets accused of covering up, and that is the worst kind, since it brings in lots of hungry politicians who are eager to help us sort fact from fiction. Finally, there's the kind where everyone believes that the Army is just too damned ignorant and heavy-handed to handle such delicate situations."

"Sounds accurate to me, sir. From my limited experience, of course."

His eyes fixed my eyes with an uncompromising stare."This time it's gonna be up to you to decide which of those embarrassments we have on our hands. Don't be naive and think there's any way you can win. Got my drift?"

I certainly did get his drift, although I was just naive and arrogant enough to believe I could pull this out and walk off into the sunset looking good. That wasn't something I was going to admit to him, but that's what was on my mind. Shows how stupid some guys can be. Him, that is, not me.

"I believe I have a firm grasp of the situation, General."

"Well, you're wrong, Drummond. You think you do, but you really don't."

"Begging the general's pardon, but is there a point to this?"

The general's eyes blinked a few times, and I was instantly reminded of a lizard contemplating a fly and considering whether to lash out with his long tongue and have himself a happy meal with wings. Then he smiled, and I'd be lying if I said it was a friendly smile.

"All right, Drummond, you're on your own."

Now, the general might've thought he was making some kind of theatrical point here, but the truth is, he was the fifth high-ranking official in three days to use one of those damned tape recorders as he offered me a little on-and off-the-record guidance.

I was actually getting pretty used to watching these guys cover their asses and prod me along my way.

In the old Army, a man who was about to be executed was marched down a line of his peers and a slow drumroll was sounded to accompany him to the gallows. The modern version of this death march, I was learning, was to stand in front of a bunch of powerful desks listening to lots of windy lectures, all timed to the beat of tape recorders being flicked on and off.

Copyright (c) 2001 by Brian Haig

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