Sweepersby P. T. Deutermann, Dick Hill
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It begins with a routine police investigation. A beautiful woman is dead. A detective needs answers. And a newly appointed Pentagon admiral is scrambling for his career and for his life. Suddenly, the inner ring of the Pentagon is being rocked by a living nightmare: a Sweeper - a trained covert assassin, an ex-SEAL scarred by one horrific episode in Vietnam - has gone rogue. And his killing has just begun...
With a searing insider's view of Pentagon politics, retired Navy captain P.T. Deutermann writes military suspense worthy of Tom Clancy and Nelson DeMille. Now, in his electrifying new novel, a powerful ex-marine and a courageous woman face a kill zone: of deception, ambition, and sweeping revenge...
On the eve of her retirement, Commander Karen Lawrence, an attractive widow and attorney, is ordered by the Navy's Judge Advocate General to ride herd on the civilian cops investigating the mysterious demise of a young woman who was the former lover of newly promoted Admiral William Sherman. Assisted in her watching brief by Wolfgang Guderian von Rensel, an ex-Marine turned Office of Naval Intelligence operative, Karen quickly determines that her secretive, gun-shy superiors at the Pentagon are not telling all they know. When another person close to Sherman dies in suspicious circumstances, Karen and von Rensel (known as "Train" for his great size) learn that the admiral is being stalked by a dread figure from his past, a SEAL named Marcus Galantz, whom he left in the lurch on a riverine mission toward the end of the Vietnam War. Although his contacts in the intelligence community assure Train that the Galantz case has been turned over to sweepers (contract killers who clean up messes deemed too hot to handle in-house), the partners barely escape with their lives from a series of fiendishly plotted accidents and abductions. They nonetheless survive to make a moonlight rendezvous with their quarry (who's equipped himself with the ultimate after-dark weapon, a retinal disrupter). While the renegade assassin's fate is unclear in the wake of this violent confrontation, Karen and Train (by now her lover) are able to prove that certain of their brass-hat betters have been covering up grave derelictions of duty for over two decades.
A quality on-the-run yarn that, if less plausible than the author's previous efforts, features appealing lower-echelon military personnel for whom honor, obligation, and country are not just words but credos.
"Deutermann's inside knowledge of the Navy and Pentagon politics, coupled with his likable protagonists, make this a gripping new addition to his line of naval mysteries." Publishers Weekly
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THE PENTAGON, WASHINGTON, D.C.,
MONDAY, 10 APRIL 1995
Rear Adm. Thomas V. Carpenter, Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Navy, was perplexed as he stared up at his aide over his half-lens reading glasses.
"A cop? A Fairfax County homicide cop? Wants to see me?"
His aide nodded. "Yes, sir. He just showed up here, with an escort from the security office. Says he needs to talk to you. Won't say what about, Admiral."
Carpenter leaned back in his chair. "Well, hell's bells. Send him in. But first get Captain McCarty. I want--"
"The executive assistant is on his way, Admiral."
"Yeah. Okay. Good. Soon as he's here, bring 'em in." The aide left the office. Frowning, Carpenter swiveled around in his chair to look out the windows. His office was a large square room, paneled and carpeted, with shelves of legal books lining two walls, a conference table with leather-trimmed armchairs, an ancient leather couch, and three upholstered chairs arranged to face his desk. Behind his desk, a steel flag stand displayed the American flag and his personal two-star flag denoting a rear admiral of the staff corps. Carpenter was one star short of having an office out on the prestigious E-ring.
There was a knock on the heavy mahogany door, and Capt. Dan McCarty, his Pentagon executive assistant, came through the door. McCarty, with twenty-nine years of service, was tall and thin, and he wore square horn-rimmed. glasses that made him look bookish.
"A Fairfax County homicide detective, Admiral? You finally shoot one of those budgeteers?"
"That's a thought," Carpenter growled. "There's some who desperately need it. But to answer your question, I haven't the foggiest. Let's get him in here. I have to see the Secretary in thirty minutes."
The executive assistant opened the door and beckoned to the aide, who escorted the detective into the office. Carpenter was struck by how well dressed he was: expensive-looking three-piece suit, polished shoes, a flash of cuff links. Mid-thirties, and in good physical shape. His stereotype of the scruffy-looking, coffee-stained, potbellied, cigarette-smoking TV homicide detective took a serious hit. This guy looked like a real pro. The policeman introduced himself as Detective McNair of the Fairfax County Homicide Section, sat down on the couch, and took out his notebook.
"Admiral," McNair began. "You are the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, is that correct?"
"That's right. I'm the JAG. I work for the Secretary of the Navy. I run the Navy's legal corps, and provide military law counsel to the Navy."
"Yes, sir." McNair nodded. "I've come to see you at the recommendation of the Defense Investigative Service. We're working a situation, and frankly, we're not sure what to do with it. It involves a Navy admiral. Sort of, I mean."
Carpenter leaned forward. "`Sort of,' Detective?"
McNair closed his notebook. "I guess I'm not being very clear. Last Friday night, a woman had a fatal accident in a town house out in Reston. At least it looks like an accident at this stage of our investigation. She apparently fell down a flight of stairs--from the main floor going down to the basement. She broke her neck in the fall. A neighbor found her Saturday morning. Her name was Elizabeth Walsh."
"Sorry to hear it. But you said `apparently'?" Carpenter was still in the dark.
"Well, sir, she definitely broke her neck. What we're not too sure about is the genesis of the fall."
"So this is a possible homicide? Is that what you're saying?".
"Remote possibility, Admiral," McNair replied. "There's some, ah, disagreement in the Homicide Section as to what we really have here."
"Disagreement," Carpenter said, looking over at his executive assistant.
"And why, specifically, should the Navy care, Detective?" asked McCarty, getting fight to it.
"Yes, sir. I was coming to that," McNair replied. "As I said, we're not sure that this is anything but an accident. But on the possibility that it was not an accident, one of the things we checked for was a possible motive. If she was killed, say, pushed down the stairs, and I'll admit that we have no direct evidence of that, but if she was, then we have to ask why?"
"`Cui bono'?" McCarty said. "Who benefits from her death?"
"Yes, sir. Exactly. And someone does. Her lawyer told us there was an insurance policy--a big one. Two hundred fifty thousand, to be precise. The beneficiary was one--" He consulted his notebook." One Rear Admiral W. T. Sherman. The Defense Department phone book says he's assigned here at the Pentagon, on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations."
Carpenter drew a blank on the name. He looked over at his executive assistant again, his eyebrows raised in a silent question.
"He's fresh-caught, Admiral," McCarty explained. "Last year's selection list. He runs the Surface Warfare Requirements Division in OP-03. I think he's been on board for about a year as a flag officer. Before that, he was the executive assistant to the Chief of Naval Personnel."
"Oh, fight," Carpenter said. "Got it. I remember him. Now, this insurance-policy business. This makes Admiral Sherman a suspect of some sort?"
"No, sir. There's no crime, at least not so far. Like I said, there is no evidence of a homicide. There are some, um, forensic ambiguities. Which is why I'm here talking to you instead of going directly to interview Admiral Sherman: Basically, I'm here to ask a favor. Would you arrange a meeting between Admiral Sherman and us? An entirely informal meeting?"
Carpenter was starting to get the picture. "You mean as opposed to a formal police interview? Something we could call a conversation, say? So that we don't have it getting out that the Fairfax County Police Department is interviewing a Navy admiral in connection with a possible homicide, when all you have are--what was it--`forensic ambiguities'?"
"Yes, sir." McNair nodded.
Carpenter sat back in his chair. "Let me speculate further," he said. "You went to your commonwealth attorney, told him you had a feeling about this case, and said you wanted to talk to Admiral Sherman. The CA told you to be very damn careful about pulling in a flag officer when you didn't have any sort of case. Said he didn't want any federal heat about harassment, or to listen to legions of federal lawyers raising hell because something got loose in the press."
"His very words, sir," McNair said admiringly.
Carpenter nodded. "Detective, we appreciate your discretion, and of course we'll be happy to cooperate. I'll speak to Admiral Sherman fight away, and I'm sure we can work something out--as long as you can assure both of us when we meet that he is not suspected of any crimes. I will be present for this meeting, and I'll want the right to shut it off if I think it's going astray, all right?"
"Yes, sir," McNair said. "I have no problems with that."
"I'll have my aide get back to you this afternoon, Detective."
McCarty remained behind after the aide shut the door.
"I'm amazed," Carpenter said.
"That they would be so discreet?"
"Yes. I mean, admiral or no admiral, we're all citizens first. If there's been a homicide out there in civvy street, they'd have every right to go see him, or ask him to come down and see them."
"Well, he did say that they're not sure they even have a homicide."
"I guess I'm glad. Our friendly hometown newspaper would love a little morsel like this. Okay, Dan, call this guy Sherman and have him come up and see me this afternoon. And get me his bio."
"Would you like me to handle this one, Admiral? Or maybe the Deputy? Keep you at arm's length and all that?"
Carpenter thought about that for a moment. "We might do that eventually. But let me see his bio first, see if I know this guy Sherman."
At 5:30 that afternoon, Captain McCarty brought Carpenter a manila folder. "This is the bio on Admiral Sherman," he said. "The picture was taken when he was a captain, but he doesn't look much different."
"That'll change," Carpenter observed as he opened the file.
"He's waiting out front, Admiral. If you'll buzz me when you're ready..."
"Just give me a minute to look at this and then you can bring him in."
While McCarty waited, Carpenter looked at the photo for a minute before scanning the career biography. The photo was that of a very young-looking officer with the sharp eyes and the taut, skinned face of an athlete. The face was composed in an expression of watchful authority that bespoke command at sea. He wore five rows of awards and decorations, which indicated he had wartime service in Vietnam. The insignia worn over the ribbons indicated a surface-warfare specialist.
He scanned the bio page. Naval Academy, class of '66. First ship was a destroyer in San Diego. Then a year and a bit in the gunboat Navy, down in the Mekong Delta. Fun times, that must have been. Then department-head school in Newport, a second tour in another destroyer in San Diego. Then graduate school up at Monterey. Exec in yet another destroyer, then off to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington. "Ah," he said out loud. "The Bureau. He was a detailer," Both of them knew that being a personnel assignment officer was one of the surer routes to the flag-selection boardroom. After seeing the Bureau of Naval Personnel item, Carpenter barely scanned the rest of Sherman's record.
"Okay," he said. "Professionally good enough to get that first job as a detailer, and politically good enough to get another one. I wonder who his patron saint was."
"He was executive assistant to Admiral Galen Schmidt," McCarty said. "Just before Admiral Schmidt's ticker trouble forced him to retire."
Carpenter nodded. "Schmidt would have made a great CNO," he said. "And young Sherman would not be coming to see me if Schmidt were the CNO today. Okay, he's something of a pretty boy, and I distrust pretty boys. Jealousy, I suppose. Bring him in, please."
McCarty smiled and left the room, returning a few seconds later with the officer in the picture.
"Sorry about the delay, Admiral," Carpenter said in a formal tone. "The Deputy SecNav called precisely at seventeen-thirty." It was a small lie, but he expected Sherman to be adept enough to swallow it,
"No problem, Admiral," Sherman replied.
"Thank you, Dan," Carpenter said to his executive assistant, who nodded and left the room. "Admiral Sherman, it's a pleasure to see you again, especially as a flag officer. Congratulations." Carpenter smiled as he said it, but he watched to see if the younger officer understood that the JAG was reminding him who was the senior officer in the room.
"Thank you, sir," Sherman replied. "Even after a year, I'm still getting used to it."
"I'll bet you are. Please sit down."
When Sherman had taken one of the chairs in front of the desk, Carpenter walked him through the morning's from the police.
"I'm sure Dan told you that this concerns the Fairfax County Police. I had a visit today from a homicide defective. They are investigating an apparent accident that involved a woman having a fall in her town house in Reston."
"In Reston?" Sherman asked quickly. Carpenter saw a look of alarm cross Sherman's face. He leaned forward before Sherman could say anything.
"The woman died of her injuries. An Elizabeth Walsh." He Stopped when he saw the alarm in Sherman's face change to shock. "You didn't know about this? Was she someone close?"
The color was draining out of Sherman's face. He appeared to struggle for words.
"I--yes. I didn't know anything had happened," he stammered. "I--we--we used to date. I've known her for three years or so. When did this happen?"
Admiral Carpenter suddenly felt as if he had been caught off base. Automatically, he looked around for his executive assistant, then shook his head. "This apparently happened three days ago. Friday night. The homicide cop showed up here this morning. They're investigating her death. I guess because she died by misadventure--you know, as opposed to dying in a hospital with a doctor present. I think the cops are called anytime there's an unexplained death."
Carpenter felt genuinely embarrassed now. He should have thought of this--that no one had told this guy. McCarty should have checked. "He said that there was no direct evidence of foul play. But they pulled the usual strings, and they found out that she had a life-insurance policy, a pretty big one. And apparently you're the beneficiary."
"Me? Life insurance? Elizabeth?" Sherman was shaking his head. "So I'm a suspect of some kind? In a murder case?"
"No, no, no," Carpenter said, waving his hand. "That's why they came to see me first. There is no murder case. There's apparently no evidence of foul play. I think they just want to talk to you." Sherman was obviously in a state or emotional shock. "Look, you want a glass of water or something? Coffee? A drink maybe?"
Sherman was still shaking his head, his eyes unfocused. "No thank you, sir. I saw her--what, three weeks ago. I can't believe this."
"Yes. Damn. I am very sorry. I just assumed... well, I don't know what I was thinking. But back to the cops. You know how they are--they go with what they've got. They have to investigate. You're apparently the only human tied in some fashion, however indirect, to her death, so they want to talk to you."
Carpenter interrupted him again. "It's not what you're thinking. I think they're just running down their standard-procedure checklist. And the guy who came to see me said they disagreed among themselves if it even was a homicide."
Sherman got up, then sat down again, his hands flailing a little bit, as if he still couldn't grasp it. "Elizabeth and I dated for nearly three years," he said. "I'm divorced, you know. Well, hell, of course you don't know."
Carpenter nodded encouragingly. He felt like a clod for just dropping the bomb on this poor guy.
"But we saw each other in a pretty meaningful way until about six months ago. We--she--finally realized that our relationship wasn't going where she wanted it to go. She's a bright, attractive woman. She wanted to get married."
"Ah. And you did not, I take it."
"Right, sir. First time around cured me of that. And that's something I had told her from the very start. Anyway, we agreed to part company. Only fair thing to do, the way I saw it. But we missed each other. From time to time, we got together. We did well together. But the long-term relationship essentially was over. Now we're just good friends, as they say. And I knew nothing about any insurance policy."
"I mean, I guess we were just good friends. Hell, this is terrible." He put his hands up to his face and rubbed cheeks.
Carpenter got up and went over to the window, giving Sherman a minute to compose himself. Then he came back and sat down.
"What he wanted to do is to meet with you," he said. "Informally. I told him I would arrange it, but only if I could be present. I also told him I would shut the meeting off if it started to look like anything but a friendly chat. I recommend you agree to this, and that we do it soon, like tomorrow. You understand that they don't have to do it this way, right? They could just call you downtown or wherever the cops are headquartered in Fairfax County. But I think they're actually trying to be discreet. Since you're a flag officer, that is."
Sherman nodded, although it was obvious that his thoughts were spiraling elsewhere.
"So why don't I have my office coordinate with your office on the calendars, and then we'll get this over and done with, okay?"
"Yes, of course," Sherman said. "And I appreciate your intervention, Admiral."
Carpenter nodded and stood up. Sherman remained seated until he realized the meeting was over. He stood up as well.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Admiral," Carpenter said. "And I apologize for just dropping a bomb like that."
Sherman nodded but said nothing as he left.
Carpenter scanned Sherman's bio again while he waited for Sherman to get clear of his outer office. Something about the Vietnam assignment had ticked his memory, but he could not quite put his finger on it. He buzzed for McCarty, who came in with his ever-present notebook at the ready.
"Dan, get back to that cop and set up a meeting for tomorrow. Coordinate with Sherman's office. Plan for thirty minutes maximum. He and the woman were close, by the way. He didn't know anything about this. Took the wind right out of his sails."
"He knew her and didn't know the woman had died? Damn. I guess I should have checked."
Carpenter was silent just long enough to let his EA know that he agreed with that observation. "Yeah, well, those things happen," he said finally. "He agreed right away to talk to the cops. Didn't seem to care about them, or the insurance business. More upset at what had happened to the woman. Said he was divorced and that they'd been dating for a couple of years and then broke it off, friendly like." Carpenter stood and gathered up his cap and briefcase.
"Let me get my hat and I'll walk down the hall with you," McCarty said. "I assume you're going to handle this one personally?"
That mental twitch about the bio bothered Carpenter. "Yes, I think so. For now, anyway."
"Yes, sir. Have you briefed the CNO on this issue?"
They walked through the outer office and into the corridor before Carpenter, not wanting to talk about this in front of the staff yeomen, replied. "No. Not yet. I want to see how this meeting develops. If it's a firefly, the CNO doesn't need to be bothered. If there's something to it, we'll need more facts before I approach the throne. Which reminds me. I'd like to have one of our staff attorneys present. Just in case that cop wasn't telling the whole truth about the purpose of this little seance. Like if it turns out Sherman needs a lawyer. I'd like to have someone there who can be in on it from the git-go."
McCarty had his notebook out again. "Somebody who could defend him? Or someone who will hold his hand and keep us in the loop at the same time?"
Carpenter smiled the way he did when his aides read his thoughts with such facility. "The latter," he said. "And somebody who is perhaps underemployed at the moment."
McCarty smiled. "Oh-ho. A certain lady commander perhaps," he said as they went down the stairs to the second floor.
"As always, you're way ahead of me, Dan," Carpenter said, laughing now. Even the normally taciturn McCarty managed a brief smile before he remembered something else. "Oh, Admiral, one last scheduling matter for tomorrow. Warren Beasely's relief has reported--from NIS."
Carpenter stopped as they reached the second-floor landing leading into the A-ring. "This the guy we heard about? Von something?"
"Yes, sir. A civilian named von Rensel. Wait till you see this guy. He's huge."
"He's not a fat guy, is he?"
"No, sir. Just big. Not tall, either. But really big. He scared Chief O'Brien when he showed up this morning. Didn't say anything, just stood there at the chief's desk until she turned around. I thought O'Brien was gonna faint."
"Beasely was such a damn wimp," Carpenter said. "This guy look like a player?"
"Yes, sir, I'd definitely say so. And in all fairness, Beasely was not a well man."
"Yeah, I know, but the net result was that I couldn't use him the way I wanted to. Okay. Put this yon Rensel on my calendar. And get the word to the lady commander, as you call her."
"Yes, sir, I'll put a call into IR this evening. I'm assuming you just want her there to observe the meeting?" McCarty asked. "Karen Lawrence is an investigations specialist, not an investigator." Carpenter gave his EA a sideways look, inspiring McCarty to backpedal a bit.
"I mean, I know she's very good at what she does," he added hastily. "But her specialty is reviewing other people's work, not doing investigations herself. Unless--"
"Unless I can get her interested in something long enough for her to pull her damn request for retirement papers," Carpenter said.
McCarty shook his head at that prospect. Comdr. Karen Lawrence was an expert lawyer who reviewed Navy field investigation reports to see if they had been conducted thoroughly, properly, and effectively. She was very, very good at it, having that rare ability to sense from the field reports when an investigation had missed something crucial, either because the field investigator was less than competent or because local command authorities were trying to hide something. The problem was that her husband, a wealthy Washington lobbyist, had died very unexpectedly of a heart attack about a year ago. Thereafter, she had simply lost interest in what had been shaping up as a brilliant career in the JAG Corps. Four months ago, she had put her papers in to take retirement on twenty. Admiral Carpenter wanted very much to change her mind about getting out, but he had had no luck at all in persuading her.
"I mean, I understand what she's probably going through," Carpenter said. "But as the JAG, I have to take the Navy's point of view, not hers. With all these sexual harassment cases and the even bigger problem of female integration, I need to keep any lady lawyer who's as sharp as she is."
"Yes, sir, I understand. I'm just not too optimistic this will do it. If there is a homicide investigation, she'd be out of her competence."
"Well," Carpenter said as they reached the Mall entrance, "maybe put the new NIS guy into it. If it's out of his competence, then send him back and tell them to try again."
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Meet the Author
P. T. DEUTERMANN spent twenty-six years in military and government service before retiring to begin his writing career. He is the author of thirteen novels and lives with his wife in North Carolina.
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My wife bought this for me. I had never read this author before but gave it a shot. Really, really enjoyed it. Will definitely read others by P.T. Deutermann. I also like Robert Parker, Jack Higgins and David Morrell