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By Peter Sasgen
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Virginia Beach, Virginia
Jake Scott lay in the dark, his mind racing, refusing to shut off, remembering, until a pale dawn crept into the room and brought him back to the present.
Why torture himself? His breakup with Tracy hadn't been one of his finer moments. It was over and there was nothing he could do about it, but God, he wanted to see her again. He pictured her standing in the bedroom of their apartment with her head thrown back, striking a vampish pose. She had on a black thong, black high-heeled slides, jewelry, and nothing else. Her black hair, cut short, hugged her head like a shiny helmet.
Scott's eyes had gone to the ugly greenish-yellow bruises on her wrists, which she had tried to hide under a riot of jangling bracelets. But she couldn't hide the angry red bite mark on her left breast below the nipple.
Who gave you that? he had asked. Rick? No, you did, she'd snapped. Bullshit. It was Rick, wasn't it? He's a toy, that's all, she had said. He understands me, knows what I like. Yeah and getting knocked around isn't it. What did he do, tie you to the bed? Is that why your wrists are bruised? She'd cursed him and slammed the bedroom door in his face. Driven by the agony of sexual jealousy, Scott succumbed to the darkest fringes of hisimagination and saw the toy plunging between Tracy's slim, white thighs.
He saw himself with Tracy. Her body arched against his as he'd sucked her swollen left nipple. He remembered that she had grabbed a fistful of his hair and yanked his mouth from her breast. "I said, stop! It can't take any more. Look what you've done to it."
She had bared her teeth. "No, you're not."
A moment later he'd been in her, deep, then convulsing, breath exploding into her scented hair, whispering in her ear the things she'd liked to hear him say when he'd come.
It was a scene that had been repeated countless times. After their violent lovemaking, she'd hurled accusations at him. Then taunts. It was Tracy who'd broken the fragile bond between them on the eve of his departure. With it broken, she could do whatever she pleased while he was away and not feel guilty.
He swung out of bed and went to the window. A motorcycle ripping at speed up Shore Drive made the glazing rattle. He shivered. Too many days at sea had forced him and Tracy apart. Too many days spent driving submarines into dangerous waters where one mistake could spell disaster for him and his crew: In the Yellow Sea the North Koreans and a botched SEAL insertion; in the Baltic a battle with Chechen terrorists who had stolen a Russian sub and planned to blow up its nuclear reactor in St. Petersburg.
The phone rang. He saw the time -- not yet 6:00 A.M. -- and hesitated. Then he snatched the phone off the nightstand. "Scott."
It was a familiar voice, that of the chief of staff to Vice Admiral Carter Ellsworth, who was the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet submarine boss -- ComSubLant -- in Norfolk, Virginia. "Commander Scott, hold for Admiral Ellsworth."
Scott braced for trouble.
Ellsworth came on the line. "Got your TV on, Scott?"
"No, Admiral, I don't usually have it on while I'm sleeping."
"Well, turn it on to CNN, then get back to me."
"What's going on?..."
"You ready to travel, Scott?"
"Travel, sir? Where to?"
"I think General Radford will want to see you."
Scott groaned inwardly. "I'm on leave, Admiral; the Tampa's on stand-down."
"CNN. Get back to me." Ellsworth rang off.
Scott looked at the dead receiver in his hand as if it smelled bad.
Major General Karl Radford, USAF (ret.), head of the Strategic Reconnaissance Office -- the SRO. Scott knew that a summons from Radford always spelled trouble.
He aimed a wand at the Sony, and a CNN anchorman in Atlanta appeared over a crawler at the bottom of the screen announcing a special report.
The anchorman said, "To repeat, the North Korean Central News Agency, in response to yesterday morning's bombings in Midtown Manhattan, which killed at least three hundred and twenty-seven people, including the North and South Korean special envoys, has issued a statement.
"A spokesman for the DPRK reported that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, has been arrested for treason and for having ordered the bombings in New York City. Marshal Kim Gwan Jin, head of the DPRK's armed forces, has taken control of the country. Jin has issued a pointed warning to the United States and its allies in East Asia that any attempt to interfere in North Korean affairs, or to take any military action against the Jin government, will be, quote '...countered by the full force of the North Korean People's Army and its arsenal of conventional and unconventional weapons,' unquote.
"In Washington, the White House issued a statement...."
Scott turned off the TV and started packing.
From eighty stories aloft, evening rush-hour traffic flowing down the Ginza looked like a river of light. Iseda Tokugawa, dressed in a silk sea-green kimono, watched the river flow across Tokyo from his office at Meji Holdings. As he watched, he heard the female news reader on NHK TV say, "To restate our main news story, the North Korean Central News Agency, in its first response to yesterday morning's bombings in Midtown Manhattan..."
So, the first phase had started. Exactly as described. And precisely on time.
Tokugawa entered the tokonoma -- an alcove kept hidden behind a folding floral screen -- and admired the scrolls and seasonal flower arrangements on display. He fussed with a favorite bonsai, snipping and pruning here and there. Satisfied with his handiwork, he turned his attention to the kamidana -- the god-shelf that hung on one wall of the alcove.
A miniature Shinto shrine made of cypress sat on the shelf. Ostensibly the shrine housed the spirits of Tokugawa's ancestors. He removed a small ceramic bottle of saki from a cupboard, filled a cup to the brim, then placed the cup on the shelf in front of the shrine as an offering. He stepped back, bowed his head, and clapped his hands twice. Tokugawa did this every day, morning and evening. Old habits were hard to shake.
Earlier that day he had concluded a two-hundred-billion-yen deal to supply computerized electrical switching equipment manufactured by one of Meji's companies for use in Iran's nuclear electric power grid. Now he communed with spirits. How to reconcile two such contradictory worlds, one ruled by hard-nosed pragmatism and a fat bottom line, the other by folk spirits and mythological beings represented by a simple wooden box on a shelf. Tokugawa had no satisfactory explanation for this dichotomy.
Shortly he would exchange his kimono for a Savile Row suit, then play host to the Iranian officials and their lawyers at a sex club in Kabukicho, Tokyo's so-called pink entertainment zone. But a vague feeling of discontent flooded over him, and his jubilant mood gave way to unease: Once embarked upon the path to which he was committed, there would be no turning back. The consequences of what he was soon to set in motion would be like nothing the world had ever experienced. Yet he had lived too long and traveled too far to doubt that his actions were justified. After all, his family's loss of face had been too great. And he believed with all his being that in the pursuit of vengeance ends always justified means.
Tokugawa's unease suddenly lifted, and he felt a surge of delightful anticipation. The girls being provided for the pleasure of his Iranian clients were young and exceptionally beautiful. Perhaps he'd partake of one himself.
Tokugawa nodded "Domo arigato," to the god-shelf.
Scott stood at the foot of King Street in Alexandria, Virginia, by the Waterfront Marina shopping mall, his back to a raw wind whipping off the Potomac River. Old Town was busy. Expensive cars clogged the streets while a dating crowd of well-heeled professionals waited for tables at chic restaurants. Dressed in jeans, turtleneck, and a worn leather bomber jacket, Scott felt conspicuous and out of place.
He had felt the heat as soon as he'd gotten off his plane from Norfolk. A political firestorm had broken over the capital. Congress, reacting to the bombings in New York City, had threatened to declare war on North Korea. Members of both houses had demanded that the president fire the heads of Homeland Security, the CIA, and the FBI. Karl Radford had escaped their fury only because he'd kept a low profile and had powerful friends on The Hill and in the White House. Even the declaration by North Korea's Marshal Jin, that Kim Jong-il was insane and under arrest, facing trial and possible execution for his crime committed in New York, had not placated Congress or the American press. The president was still fighting to get control of the situation before it spun completely out of his grasp. How hot it would get, Scott had no idea. All he knew was that the heat was rising fast and the clock was ticking.
He noticed a gray Buick Regal circle the block twice. Each time, its occupants, a man and woman, glanced at him. After a third circuit the Buick jockeyed into a tight parking space up the block. Scott watched the couple get out and stroll toward a restaurant. Was he being watched? By them? Or someone else? He was a sub skipper, not a spy. Yet the two occupations were so often synonymous that there was little difference between them. He'd worked for Radford before and could only guess what was in store this time. For sure, something to do with the North Koreans. His experience with them had been limited solely to torpedoing an NK frigate, playing hide-and-seek with one of their subs, and snatching a SEAL team out from under their noses. There were plenty of other ways to put pressure on the NKs that didn't require a sub recon -- which could turn into a suicide mission -- if that's what Radford was contemplating.
The man was tilting against the wind, tan trench coat plastered to his legs. Though Scott had a commanding view of the area around him, he hadn't seen the man approach. Now he was standing there and Scott felt like an idiot.
"The general's waiting. Would you please come with me?"
Scott looked the man over. "Who are you?"
"Tom Kennedy. I work for the general." He didn't offer to shake hands or show ID.
Scott fell in behind Kennedy, loping north on Union Street, until they approached an idling black Mercury Marquis. Kennedy opened the rear passenger door for Scott, then slid into the front passenger's seat.
Scott smelled aftershave. The general, his grizzled mien raked by light from sodium vapor lamps, sat deep in the far corner of the rear seat, a black cashmere topcoat open over a dark double-breasted suit. Scott felt not only underdressed but also out of place.
"Good to see you, Scott," said Radford.
They shook hands across a bolstered armrest, then Radford rapped the glass partition between the driver's and passenger's compartment. The Marquis pulled away from the curb, turned left, and hurtled toward Washington Street.
Scott started to speak, but Radford held up a silencing hand. His Air Force Academy ring glittered like a diamond in shadow. "All your questions will be answered. Suffice to say we have a new crisis on the Korean peninsula. Marshal Jin says he wants peace, but the president doesn't believe him. We think Jin and his cronies, not Kim, are behind the bombings, that they blamed them on Kim as a pretext to seize power. Hell, Jin opposed the disarmament agreement from the start. That NK defector we have, Jao, warned us that this might happen. Too bad we didn't listen."
Radford peered out at heavy traffic and said, "No one would shed a tear if Kim was stood up before a firing squad, but that's not the point. We had an agreement with him, and it took years of hard negotiating to get it. We averted a bloodbath on the peninsula only because Kim had no other choice but to buckle to U.S., Japanese, and Chinese demands for disarmament. The damn South Koreans were ready to appease him and refused to believe that the whole goddamn regime was rotten, a house of cards waiting to collapse. And now we're back where we started. Jin and his generals are hard-liners and liars to boot. He's also a dedicated Communist. What's worse, he's out of touch with reality. Maybe even a little nuts. They all are. So it's no surprise that Jin may be hatching a new plan to engage in nuclear blackmail."
"What kind of plan?" Scott asked.
"Ah." Radford turned his gaze full on Scott. "That's what the president wants to know." He lit a cigarette and replaced the lighter in the bolster's socket before continuing. "Does this bother you?" He cracked the side window. "We've picked up, among other things, some signals intercepts that seem to indicate the NKs are up to something and that Jin is directly involved. We don't know with what, but we'll go into that when we arrive."
"Not far, just down the road a ways."
Copyrighy © 2006 by Peter Sasgen
Excerpted from Red Shark by Peter Sasgen Copyright © 2006 by Peter Sasgen. Excerpted by permission.
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