A terrorist scheme. A nuclear threat. An assassination attempt. This time, the stakes are higher than ever for Commander Dan Lenson in the latest thriller from USA Today bestselling author David Poyer.
"THE THREAT Leaves the reader dazzled."Steve Berry
Medal of Honor recipient Dan Lenson has just been assigned to the White House military staffa dubious honor, serving a president the Joint Chiefs hate more than any other in modern history. His new concern is counternarcotics, and soon Lenson uncovers a troubling plot that involves a ruthless drug cartel, an assault on a nuclear power plant in Mexico, Islamic terrorists, and a devastating weapon aimed at the heart of America.
"Poyer [is] a master."Kirkus ReviewsIf saving the fate of a nation isn't enough, Lenson also suspects his wife is having an affair…with the Commander in Chief. As his marriage deteriorates and his frustration with Washington builds, Lenson becomes an unwitting accomplice in a dangerous and subversive conspiracyto assassinate the president. Now Lenson must operate at the highest levels of command to serve and protect the man he despises the most…and fight for the country, and woman, he loves.
"TERRIFIC SUSPENSE. POYER IS OUR FINEST MILITARY NOVELIST AND THE THREAT IS SIMPLY SUPERB."RALPH PETERS
About the Author
DAVID POYER's sea career included service in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Arctic, Caribbean, and Pacific. He's the author of over thirty novels including Korea Strait and The Cruiser. Poyer's work has been required reading in the Literature of the Sea course at the U.S. Naval Academy, along with that of Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville. He lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
The ThreatA Novel
By Poyer, David
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Poyer, David
All right reserved.
The corner of Seventeenth and Pennsylvania, early, but the Starbucks across the street was already walled in by secretaries, interns, lobbyists, and Hill rats. The air smelled of exhaust, perfume, latte, and fresh croissants. It was the end of summer, and the morning heat promised a scorching afternoon.
Dan Lenson glanced at his watch as he paced along the black wrought-iron fence. On the other side, camera crews were setting up satellite feeds on the putting-green smoothness of the North Lawn. His gray two-button suit felt loose, baggy, after so many years of wearing a uniform.
He straightened his back to ease what felt like high-voltage shocks shooting up his arms. The year before, he’d intercepted a nondescript trawler in the eastern Mediterranean. The nuclear weapon in its hold, intended for Israel, had instead detonated a mile away from his ship.
He’d hoped for another command after USS Horn. Instead, an office in the Pentagon had called with an offer he’d thought hard about before accepting.
He checked his Seiko again. Early, as he was for everything. A habit that didn’t drive his wife as nuts as it might, since she was the same way. A woman holding a camera in one hand and aDoberman’s leash in the other asked him to take her picture in front of the White House.
Finally it was time. He straightened his tie and went up to the gate house. Tapped his ID on the little shelf. “Yeah?” grunted the guard.
“National Security Council staff,” Dan said. “Reporting in for duty.”
“I’ll take him from here,” Jonah Freed said. “Commander. Come on in.”
Freed, a CIA detailee, was the Defense Directorate security officer. He’d walked Dan through the nomination interviews, and taken care of the special clearance for White House duty, Yankee White, which was even more demanding than the top secret/compartmented clearance Dan already had from the Navy.
They checked in again at a second post in the lobby of the Old Executive Office Building. The gigantic pile of pillared granite was enclosed by the same wrought-iron fence as the White House. Part of the “Eighteen Acres”—the White House complex—it held the agencies that made up the executive office of the president: the National Security Council staff, the office of the vice president, Management and Budget, and so forth. The lobby smelled faintly of fresh manure. He wondered why, but decided not to ask.
He followed his guide through cavernous corridors that receded to infinity. The building was much larger than it appeared from Pennsylvania Avenue. Grandly conceived nineteenth-century moldings arched overhead. The floor was a checkerboard of white marble and black limestone, all well worn. Here and there fossils lay frozen, remnants of an age long past. Over them scurried hundreds of men and women, each intent on his or her fragment of the national security policy of the sole remaining superpower.
Someone called from behind them, “Okay, hold it right there. Who’s tracking the damn dog shit all over the floor?”
He turned to see a disgusted janitor pointing at the tiles. At footprints, traced in brown, that ended . . . at his feet. He lifted his shoe to examine the sole. “Sorry,” he told the man. “Lady had a Doberman out front. Guess I wasn’t looking. If you’ve got a mop, I’ll take care of it.”
“Never mind, mister. Just pay attention where you steps next time, okay?”
“Sorry,” Dan told Freed. “I wasn’t looking where I was stepping, I guess.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Freed said. “There’s paper towels in the restroom.”
With his shoes cleaned, they climbed a bronze-railed staircase to a cubbyhole admin office. Dan got a check-in list. He signed in-briefing sheets. Signed for a safe combination, again for usernames and passwords for both “high-side” classified and “low-side” unclassified e-mail networks, and yet again for a pager.
Back to the first floor, and a photo booth in the Secret Service office. “That’s a blue-gold pass,” Freed told him as Dan adjusted it. The stainless-steel chain felt heavier than it ought to around his neck. “In a couple weeks we’ll get you one with two gold stars on it. That’ll get you full access. Not to say you just stroll into the Oval Office. But if you’re told to go, you’re cleared in.” Freed looked at his watch. “Remember where your director’s office is? Third floor?”
Dan said he thought so. Freed gave him the room number, just to be sure, then vanished down one of those labyrinthine corridors.
The first name on the check-in was General Garner Sebold.
The senior director didn’t have as large an office as Dan had expected. He supposed the 1600 Pennsylvania address made up for it. Sebold removed half-moon reading glasses as Dan came in. His eyes were pouchy. He had white bristly hair. He wore a regimental-style tie and polished cordovan wingtips with a gray suit. The only military note around was a print of an Abrams tank charging through a sand berm as shells burst around it. Dan got a quick handshake and an invitation to sit. Sebold said to the admin assistant, “Ask Bry Meilhamer to come up.” To Dan, “You said you were buying here, right?”
“We found a place in Arlington. Closed last week.” The price had taken his breath away. But with Blair’s salary added to his—and she made more than he did—they’d manage the payments.
“You’re coming off sea duty, right? Remind me.”
“Commanded a Spru-can.” Seeing the general’s blank response, he went generic. “A destroyer, sir. Interdiction operations in the Middle East.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember now.” Sebold looked at Dan’s lapel. “Don’t wear your congressional?”
Dan had pondered that question before the mirror that morning. The Medal of Honor came with a small blue bar with white stars that you could wear with a civilian suit. He’d held it at his breast. Then left it on the dresser.
“It attracts too much attention. Plus, I don’t feel right wearing it.”
“Or the Silver Star? The Navy Cross?” Sebold had a file folder out now, was turning pages.
Dan didn’t answer. As far as he was concerned, the ones who deserved the decorations were the guys, and girls, he’d served with. Some of whom had never come home from Iraq, and the Gulf, and the Med.
The general cleared his throat. “What’s your medical status?”
“Recovering from injuries, sir. I’m approved for light duty.”
“I’ve got you headed for the counterdrug office, director of interdiction.”
Dan blinked. “Something wrong?” Sebold said.
“I understood the billet was director for threat reduction.”
“Director, yes, but counternarcotics. Not threat reduction.”
Dan sat forward. They’d told him he’d be working to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the states of the former Soviet Union, and secure them against the kind of theft and misuse that had killed so many of Horn’s crew. That was why he’d decided to take the job. He fought anger. Since Iraq, since being captured and tortured by Saddam’s Mukhabarat, he’d had to second-guess his emotional reactions. “I don’t understand. Does Ms. Clayton know about the change?”
“The national security adviser signed off on it,” Sebold said. He smiled, glancing at a wall clock.
Dan got the message, but decided to push the button once more. “I was under the impression she wanted me in the threat reduction billet. My missile-development background. And the . . . operational experience with loose nukes. I’ve got some ideas. To get ahead of the curve instead of behind it.”
“Let’s get one thing straight, Commander. You’re hired to the NSC staff. What you do when you get here’s up to us,” Sebold said. “If it’s that important to you, maybe I can get you some of the action on threat reduction. And maybe a seat on the Iraq working group. But we need to make things happen in counterdrug. Tony Holt wants this initiative pushed hard this fall.” Holt was the White House chief of staff. Dan had heard him called the president’s personal nut-cutter. “It’s a joint mission, and a huge effort, force-wise.”
Dan rubbed his mouth. Cutting down the number of nukes in the world ranked high on his list. But fighting the flood of illegal drugs was important too.
“Orders change, Commander.”
“Yes sir, I know that,” he said at last. “I’ll do my best.”
Sebold slapped the desk with eight fingers and rose. “Mrs. C will be back in town tonight. Morning conference in the Sit Room at 1000 tomorrow. Take one of the wall seats. Introduce yourself when it’s your turn, but keep it short.”
“Yes sir.” Dan stood too as another man came in without knocking.
“Bryan Meilhamer. Bry’s been here a long time, knows his way around the halls of power. Bry, your new boss, Dan Lenson,” Sebold said. To Dan he added, “We go pretty much on a first-name basis around here.”
Meilhamer was in a sport coat and a sloppily knotted tie. He looked to be at least ten years older than Dan and thirty pounds heavier. His shirt was pulled out from his slacks on one side. Sebold said Meilhamer was civilian permanent staff, and would be his assistant director in counterdrug. Dan took a chubby soft hand, looked down on graying strands combed over coral pink.
“Give him the talk yet, General?”
“I was about to.” Sebold clasped his hands behind him, stood front and center before his desk. Like Patton, in the movie, Dan thought.
“We say around here, the Hill’s where they talk about things; the Eighteen Acres is where they get done. This won’t be like any assignment you’ve had before. For one thing, the hours are going to be longer. And every minute you’re not physically here, you’ll be on call.
“You’ll be asked to take on heavy responsibilities, in different areas, at very short notice, depending on the demands of the moment. The legal limits are spelled out in the read-ins I sent you. Conflict of interest. Financial disclosure. But the requirements go beyond that.
“We exercise the power of the presidency. Because of that, and the trust it implies, even the appearance of impropriety here is impropriety. Not only do you not favor anyone’s interest, you can’t appear to do so, even in the most innocent way. Did you vote for Robert De Bari?”
The question was so unexpected Dan almost answered it. “I’m not sure that’s really—”
“No, you’re right; it doesn’t make any difference. We’re here to further his objectives. Not ours, or our individual service’s. If you’ve got any agenda of your own, put it aside.
“As a National Security Council staff member, you’ll be working with full generals, agency heads, the most powerful people in government. But as far as the Constitution goes, we don’t exist. If you want your name in the papers, you’re in the wrong place. If you have any criticism of the president, or anyone around him, keep it to yourself. Or bring it to me, if you absolutely have to.”
“I know what loyalty means, sir.”
“I hope so,” Sebold said. “A lot of what goes on inside that iron fence never goes public. The people who matter know how to keep their mouths shut.”
“I keep classified information to myself,” Dan said. “If that’s what you’re talking about.”
“Good. Because you’re going to be working with some who it will sometimes seem aren’t playing on the same team as we are. Before you assume they’re being mendacious, or willfully ignorant, pick up the phone and talk it through. Nine times out of ten it’s just someone protecting his turf. If that doesn’t fix the problem, call me. I’ll take it to a level that’ll settle it.”
Sebold reflected. “Don’t be surprised when people you expected more of turn out to have feet of clay. And when things get chaotic around here, remember, you get to see only one little piece of an issue. There’s a bigger picture, but you most likely won’t see it till a lot later . . . if you ever do. And don’t get the idea you’re at the center of things. We may work here, but we’re not the banana. We’re actually more like that white pulp on the inside of the peel.”
Dan was ready for more words of wisdom, but that seemed to be all. The senior director slid past them. “I’m due in the West Wing. If you want to come along, I’ll drop you at the DNSA’s office.”
Meilhamer murmured that it had been nice to meet him.
Outside, a small lot was parked solid with freshly waxed black Lincolns. Sebold said this was West Executive Drive. The white awning ahead, flanked by small evergreens and flower plantings in heavy cast-concrete pots, was the staff entrance to the West Wing. A blue-carpeted lobby was hung with framed art. Dan recognized a World War II battle scene by Tom Freeman. A vase of roses stood on a side table, their perfume mingling with the odors of frying pork and coffee. Keyboards rattled in the offices they passed.
At the corridor intersection of the Roosevelt Room, the Cabinet Room, and the steps Sebold said led up to the Oval Office, the general grabbed his arm. “Just a minute. Someone’s coming.”
Dan saw them, young guys in suits, walking purposefully abreast. A hefty black man with round, babyish cheeks examined him as they neared. His look was impersonal, yet observant. His eyes flicked to Sebold, but they didn’t exchange any greeting. Dan looked after them as they went away down a corridor which had, he noticed, suddenly gone empty.
His mind formulated a sentence along the lines of “What’s going on.” But when he glanced back, mouth open, he was looking into the president’s eyes.
Robert De Bari looked much as he did on television. Only the screen didn’t convey how tall he was, nor how blue his eyes were. He wore a beautifully tailored suit, gleaming, wedge-toed cowboy boots, and a sky-blue silk tie. Two more agents flanked him; another, a compact and expressionless young woman in a gray skirt and blazer, trailed the swiftly moving party.
Beside him Sebold said, “Good morning, Mr. President.”
“Hello, G-man. Who’ve we got here?”
“New staffer, sir. Dan Lenson. Going to counterdrug.”
The president stopped, braking his entourage, and put out his hand. Dan flinched as a static spark zapped between their meeting palms. “Good to have you with us, Dan. I need somebody to shake things up in that job.”
Dan couldn’t seem to think very well. But looking into De Bari’s eyes, feeling the strength in his grip, he suddenly felt both totally known and completely accepted by someone he could trust. It was the feeling you got sometimes with a brother, or a best friend.
He felt he should say something back, but couldn’t get the words out. Having the Secret Service basilisking him didn’t help. Despite himself, his eyes dropped to the president’s right hand. The famously missing fingers. De Bari had lost them years before, as a firefighter, carrying a black child through the broken window of a burning apartment building in Carson City. The president nodded in a friendly way, as if he understood how Dan felt. He slapped his arm and bounded up the carpeted steps, taking them two at a time.
He got a breath at last. He said to Sebold, “Sorry—should I have said something?”
“You could have, but don’t worry about it.” The director waved him off. “Don’t forget. Sit Room. Ten tomorrow.”
Copyright © 2006 by David Poyer. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from The Threat by Poyer, David Copyright © 2006 by Poyer, David. Excerpted by permission.
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