Sean Falcone, national security advisor, is tasked with identifying and tracking down the attackers. Powerful forces within the Capital point the finger at Iran. But appearances are always deceiving, and never more so than when millions of innocent people may die for a crime they did not commit. With the potential to incite the entire Muslim world against America and bring the world to the brink of Armageddon, Falcone discovers an astonishing secret hidden deep within the upper echelons of Washington's elite...but why should the Presidentor the American peoplebelieve him?
Pulling from years of international affairs and defense planning experience, the former Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton creates a sweeping, all-too-real political thriller.
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NED WINSLOW, Google News Network’s best-known correspondent, stood at the edge of a dusty parade ground in his familiar pose—white shirt, sleeves rolled up, hair mussed, one hand clutching a microphone, the other one pointing. Viewers were used to seeing him grimly pointing toward the wreckage produced by another suicide bombing. But today he was smiling and pointing to arrays of soldiers, Americans in ranks on one side, Iraqis lined up on the other side. Between them was a tall pole with an American flag snapping in the breeze.
The camera swung away from Winslow to the flagpole. The American flag came briskly down to the waiting hands of two American soldiers. Two Iraqi soldiers stepped forward to raise their flag as GNN SPECIAL REPORT: GOODBYE, IRAQ ran across the bottom of the screen.
“Yes, the last of the troops are going. As you know, the combat troops left little more than a year ago, leaving behind fifty thousand soldiers who were designated as noncombat and given “advisory and assistance” missions. These are those soldiers, hauling down the flag, handing Iraq over to the Iraqis.”
* * *
AMONG the millions of screens showing GNN’s “Goodbye, Iraq” coverage was a large screen on a wall in the library of a mansion on a hill that rose from the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound. The owner of the mansion watched from the depth of a gray leather chair. He was alone in the room.
“Yes, goodbye,” he whispered. “Goodbye to America.” He walked to a long mahogany table that served as his desk, opened the drawer, and reached for a cell phone. He hesitated for a moment, put down the phone, and resumed looking at the screen.
* * *
LIVE appeared on the upper right of the screen. The view changed to a seascape of docks, small boats, and landing craft.
Winslow now stood in one of the landing craft. “Within minutes of the flag-raising ceremony earlier today,” he said, “American troops here in Basra began boarding landing craft like this one. Now all the ceremonies are over and we are bringing you the final act. They have handed over responsibility to the Iraqi Army and we are on our way out.”
The camera panned to the grinning soldiers surrounding Winslow. They wore their usual camouflage combat uniforms and caps instead of helmets. They did not carry weapons or backpacks. Piled around the craft were duffel bags bearing soldiers’ stenciled names.
“We’re leaving via the port of Basra and heading for the USS Elkton, an amphibious transport,” Winslow said as the camera aimed toward the gray silhouette of a ship, about half a mile offshore.
Winslow’s British accent sometimes strayed toward donnish. But he always leavened it with a sardonic air that reached out to his audience, as if urging them to connive with him in telling the story. He had the confident look of a correspondent who knows he is trusted.
“In her enormous hold, the Elkton can accommodate a fleet of amphibious vessels like this one, along with about four hundred troops—a small percentage of the thousands of U.S. combat troops leaving Iraq. Others have been flying out of Kuwait in transport planes or leaving by sea, as we are—in the last wave. The boats around us are U.S. landing craft like this one and local port lighters, slim little boats carrying supplies to the Elkton.
“Welcome to Goodbye Day,” Winslow continued. “Yes, it’s Goodbye Day for U.S. forces in Iraq. A personal note. I was here—here in Basra—for the start, in March 2003, when it all began.” A few moments of taped battle scenes appeared behind Winslow, fading as he said, “And now, on this momentous day, I am here again.”
The landing craft was close to the Elkton when the camera suddenly shifted from Winslow, drawn to the image of a boat that was pulling away from the others, its frothy wake spreading into a broad V.
Winslow kept speaking: “In this ship, and in many more, the last American soldiers are leaving this war-torn land that the United States invaded in March 2003. And today—” Noticing the speeding boat, Winslow turned his head and interrupted himself. “That boat … What’s happening?”
The camera focused on the speeding boat, now within one hundred yards of the Elkton. The camera switched to a telescopic lens that zoomed down on the boat. A new image filled the screen: a green-hulled boat, a bearded man, black-hooded, crouched over the steering wheel in the bow; another man at the stern, clutching a weapon.
“Jesus!” Winslow, off-camera, exclaimed. “He’s got an RPG! Looks like he’s aiming it to us!” A billow of smoke erupted from the rocket launcher.
In a blurring whirl, the image of the boat vanished from the screen. The horizon tilted, as the helmsman sharply swung the landing craft away from the speeding boat. “Get it!” Winslow yelled at the cameraman. “Get the boat!”
The camera turned back to the boat, which was alongside the Elkton. In the image, the ship’s gray hull loomed large. The boat veered, striking the hull, near the Elkton’s bow.
On camera, the roar of an explosion. A cloud of smoke. A jagged hole in the hull. The sea rushing in. Bodies in blue shirts and dungarees bobbing in the sea.
* * *
IN the Connecticut mansion, the man stood and picked up the phone again, his eyes never leaving the screen.
“They will pay for this,” he said aloud. He punched a number, waited a moment, and spoke rapidly, his voice gruff and angry.
He lived amid one of the great private art collections in America. The paintings in the library, his favorite room, reflected his eclectic taste: On one wall, a Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, his colors merging sea and sunset and hinting at the impressionists to come. On another wall, a tranquil seated nude by Henri Matisse, known not so much for its soft beauty as for its price at a Sotheby’s auction: $41 million, topping the bid of the Museum of Modern Art.
The library’s south wall was a window on the Sound, framing an ever-changing view of sea and sky—“the greatest art in this room,” he inevitably said to his rare visitor. At the moment, the clouds were darkening.
* * *
ON screen, the camera was focused on the Elkton. Sailors jumped into the sea to recover the dead and wounded. Helmeted, shouting men appeared along the deck, waving weapons.
Winslow’s landing craft swung around, as did all the other boats and landing craft. “We’re heading back to shore,” Winslow said “The RPG missed us. We’re all okay.” The camera swept around the craft, showing the soldiers’ faces as they tried to take in what they had just seen.
Winslow hated disseminating to the world the sight of America’s soldiers at their most vulnerable and desperate moments, but he had no choice. He was a professional journalist, one of the very best in the business, and for him, there were no holidays from tragedy or history. As he and his crew headed back toward shore, he continued to describe the attack and the desperate effort being made by those aboard the Elkton to save their comrades and their ship.
Suddenly, the on-screen image changed. The unfamiliar face of a young, frazzled-looking woman appeared at a newsroom desk. GNN REPORT: TERROR AT SEA scrolled across the bottom of the screen, as it would for many days to come. “GNN has just learned that the suicide boat that struck the Elkton is of Iranian origin,” the woman said, her voice quivering. “It’s a kind of boat called a Bladerunner. The original, British-built Bladerunner has a top speed of sixty-five knots per hour and can carry one or two Russian-made supertorpedoes.” She looked down at the sheet of paper in her hand. “The source of this information is said to be highly reliable.”
Copyright © 2011 by William S. Cohen