Twilight's Last Gleaming

Twilight's Last Gleaming

by Walter Wager
Twilight's Last Gleaming

Twilight's Last Gleaming

by Walter Wager

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Overview

A terrifying novel of political conspiracy and basis for the movie starring Joseph Cotten, from the bestselling author of Time of Reckoning and Telefon.
 
A retired general takes over a missile silo in the Badlands. His threat is to provoke a world war, launching deadly ordnance, unless the president is willing to reveal everything about a secret meeting he had during the Vietnam War.
 
The situation is explosive, and so is the truth. Before the day is done, one man has his only shot at redemption—and countless lives hang in the balance.
 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626816459
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 09/01/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 256
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Walter Wager was best known as an author of mystery and spy fiction; his works included 58 Minutes (1987), whose story was used as the basis of the action film Die Hard 2 in 1990. Two of his other novels became major motion pictures in 1977: Viper Three (1972), which was released as Twilight's Last Gleaming, and Telefon (1975). Wager wrote a number of original novels in the 1960s under the pseudonym "John Tiger" that were based on the TV series I Spy and Mission: Impossible.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Martin McKenzie was precisely on time, precisely as usual.

A number of people said that you could set your watch by McKenzie's morning appearances, but they never said it to his face.

They thought that he wouldn't have like it, and they had no wish to offend a man of such immense power — the new power that isn't measured in votes or fame or money but in megatons and fire storms and other modern forms of apocalyptic annihilation. They were, of course, wrong. Martin McKenzie felt that his line of work made it his duty to be on time — precisely and invariably — and he wouldn't have been the least bit offended by such comments. He certainly wasn't pompous or stuffy — business-like and impatient with small talk but far from either pompous or stuffy. As a matter of fact, his still pretty fifty-one-year-old wife or any of his seven children — six now that Eddie had been killed in Vietnam — could truthfully tell you that Martin McKenzie was a decent, considerate fellow with a better than average sense of humor and no false pride.

They could tell you that quite easily if you got past the armed men who guarded Martin McKenzie's pleasant medium-priced house, a four-bedroom split-level residence that McKenzie's employer rented to him rather reasonably. McKenzie — a vigorous, fit person with a square face and only a few gray hairs to hint that he was fifty-six — saw nothing unusual about the armed men who guarded his home. They were exactly like the armed men who guarded his office.

As mentioned earlier, this morning — this cool, clear Sunday morning — he arrived on time. At 7:25 A.M. Central Standard Time, the blue staff car pulled up to the front entrance of a three-story building approximately twenty miles from the swinging center of Omaha, Nebraska. The exact distance is of very little consequence, although there are at least 168 officers attached to the GRU — the Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie, or Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Red Army General Staff — who could tell it to you quite accurately. On the other hand, they probably don't know that Nebraska's state flower is the goldenrod and its state bird the Western meadowlark — a sad commentary on the Soviet educational system and the failure of the Moscow Birdwatchers Society.

Of course, the structure itself is hardly a cultural landmark. It is a large rectangular office building decorated with numerous radio antennae, a functional building in the architectural style that is sometimes summarized as Federal Frugal. No frills, no beauty and no particular taste — but not quite tasteless either. Atop a low grassy knoll at Offutt Air Force Base, this ecumenical edifice is the global headquarters of the Strategic Air Command. You remember the Strategic Air Command, the U.S. Air Force's Sunday punch? Peace Is Our Profession? Long-range bombers and intercontinental missiles? Right, that Strategic Air Command.

When the staff car stopped at the main entrance and a crewcut, whippet-like major bounded out of the vehicle to open its rear door, the armed men flanking the portico prepared to salute Martin McKenzie. As soon as he stepped out of the car, four of these sentries — keen-looking young chaps in Air Force uniforms, berets, boots, and toting pearl-handled pistols — hurled their Number One salutes with a synchronized dash that would have delighted any Radio City Music Hall Rockette. Martin McKenzie always got everybody's Number One salute, for he was entitled — being the CINCSAC. As commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC), he got salutes, respect, a corner office with a rug, a good deal on the rented house and a salary just a bit higher than a union plumber. Higher than a union plumber's salary, for no one is suggesting that union plumbers tipple — not with double overtime being what it is. General Martin P. McKenzie — he didn't get those four stars on each shoulder from crackerjack boxes — snapped back his Number One salute with a sharpshooter's accuracy, drilling it exactly between the two pair of sentries. As he did so, he automatically scanned the four guards from head to foot to make sure that every inch of each man and his attire was exactly as crisp and clean as it should be. He did this without breaking his stride, reaching the door just as Major Winters jerked it open with the efficient deference one might expect of the CINCSAC's aide.

The lobby area was large, with a barrier across it and a desk near the center of that barrier. McKenzie headed directly for the narrow entrance beside the desk, walking briskly as if he meant to go through without any unnecessary delay.

"Sir?" said the sergeant seated at the desk.

The general almost smiled, pleased that the security NCO was alert and competent.

"Your badge, sir?"

The CINCSAC stopped to permit the sergeant to check his face against the photo on the badge McKenzie wore clipped to the left breast of his beribboned tunic. Some thirteen months earlier, another security NCO at this desk had recognized the senior SAC general and waved him through respectfully — with disastrous results. That stupid ass-kissing bastard was now at a remote Arctic outpost, a living, suffering example of the CINCSAC's total passion for total security. This sergeant studied the badge, nodded.

"Thank you, sir," he acknowledged briskly.

The guards flanking the entry snapped to attention as General McKenzie strode through, and for one moment Major Douglas Winters wondered which it would be — the office or the bunker? The SAC command post was buried in a large blast proof bunker some forty feet beneath this building, and the morning intelligence briefing always took place in this subterranean redoubt, but senior generals could watch it in their own offices over closed-circuit color television — one of the perquisites of rank. The office on the second floor was nearer and more comfortable, and since this was a Sunday — a day of rest to almost everyone except SAC officers, professional football players and Christian clergymen — it seemed likely that McKenzie would head for his office. For just that reason, the aide silently guessed that the CINCSAC would choose the bunker.

"The Hole," announced the general curtly.

That was what most people at Offutt called the bunker. Its code name was Touchdown, but almost everyone at SAC headquarters referred to it as either the CP or the Hole. Pleased that he'd guessed right for a change, Winters followed McKenzie through the swinging doors, down the stairs, and along the low-ceilinged zigzag corridors leading into the earth. The zigzag design was to cut off blast effect, the TV cameras on the walls were to scan who was coming down, and the armed men checking badges and identification were there in the tunnels for the same reasons that the other armed men were stationed upstairs — to keep out the wrong people. When McKenzie and Winters passed the first checkpoint, the guard on duty punched a button on his wall phone and passed the alarm.

"He's on his way down," he warned the Command Post.

"Fine. The coffee's ready."

It was. It always was at 7:28 A.M. when the CINCSAC wasn't away — hot, black with one sugar. At 7:28:30, McKenzie and Winters walked into the large subterranean room — 140 feet long, 39 feet wide and 31 feet high — and they headed directly for the second level, where Battle Staff desks, chairs and phones overlooked the Situation Display System. This SDS — much more factual than the tempestuous teen version that grabbed all those 1968-1969 headlines — consisted of twenty-foot-high and eight-feet-wide panels mounted on trolley rails. Normally pulled aside to expose a large world map, the panels were covered with global weather maps, "force deployment charts" and displays showing the operational status of U.S. missile and bomber units. Above were electric clocks exhibiting the local time in Peking, Moscow, London, Washington — and Omaha, Nebraska. Thick rubber-clad cables snaked from two TV cameras on dollies that squatted near the center of the floor, while behind them and to the left the Duty Controller — always a cool sensible colonel with plenty of experience and practically no nerves — sat at a console dominated by several telephones and many switches. There was a black telephone and a red telephone and a gold telephone — each for a different purpose — and there was a carton of coffee and an oval ashtray inscribed with Chinese calligraphy that some humorist had picked up in Hong Kong.

It was the only light touch in the Command Post. The atmosphere wasn't grim but it was earnest, and the thirty-odd Air Force personnel on the main floor — a diverse group that ranged from a blonde female communications sergeant to a bald lieutenant colonel who knew a great deal about radar jamming — were relaxed but purposeful. At 7:29 — just as McKenzie sat down and his mug of coffee was simultaneously placed on his desk — a thin young Air Intelligence captain walked up to the front of the big map and glanced at the sheaf of papers on his clipboard. Thirty seconds later, the red lights on the TV cameras glowed and a black airman handed the captain the special flashlight that would project an arrow image. Thirty seconds after that — exactly as the sweep second hand hit 7:30 — the A-2 officer spoke.

"Good morning, gentlemen," he said to no one in particular, because he knew that it might be bad manners to acknowledge the presence of the CINCSAC. "Let's begin the briefing. To start with, it's DEFCON Five."

Defense Condition Five — the lowest alert status and the normal one for the U.S. armed forces when there was no significant threat or crisis. During the Cuban missile confrontation, the Joint Chiefs had gradually escalated the "readiness" to DEFCON Two — one level short of war — but now it was only DEFCON Five. McKenzie sipped at his second cup of coffee of the morning, waited.

"Battle readiness," continued the captain, "is ninety-four percent for manned bomber squadrons."

"The Old Man will be pleased," Winters told himself, for that was a two-percentage-point rise over Saturday's figure.

"Shit," General Martin McKenzie brooded. It was probably those slobs down at Homestead, soaking up the Florida sun instead of making love to their B-52s. A number of vulgar expressions and obscene thoughts passed swiftly through the general's transistor-quick and computer-cruel mind, words that he rarely used aloud because they were unbecoming to the dignity of the CINCSAC. Some of his hard-boiled predecessors — gutsy, colorful cigar chewers such as able Curt LeMay — talked like that quite freely, but it wasn't Martin McKenzie's style. As a matter of fact, McKenzie was not only smoother and cooler than previous CINCSACS but he was also giving up smoking — as an example to his men.

"Shit," the CINCSAC thought as he considered that 94 percent figure and wished he had a cigar. He'd be checking that 94 percent as soon as the briefing ended.

"Snakepit status report," the briefing officer continued. "Snakepit" was the code word for the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles buried in underground silos in the middle and northwestern states. Each strategic missile wing had as its own code name that of some species of poisonous snake such as cobra or rattler, and the condition of all the ICBMs was collectively summarized each morning in the status report. "Ready to fly, ninety-three percent," said the captain in his flat Ohio voice.

Now that wasn't too bad. Idiots — a catch-all term that included journalists, congressmen and at least one Assistant Secretary of Defense — always expected that every single plane and rocket would be ready at a moment's notice, but that was because they didn't know anything about maintenance and didn't care either.

"TAC operational readiness, eighty-nine point nine percent."

That made McKenzie smile. It always pleased him to hear that he was doing better than the fighter-bomber boys of the Tactical Air Command, a difference that was a product of superior maintenance — of course. Top maintenance was the key, and a ruthless intolerant CINCSAC didn't hurt either.

Then the briefing proceeded to flying weather over various parts of the globe, the numbers and most recent movements of Soviet trawler squadrons in the Atlantic and Pacific, the location of Russian submarines in the Sea of Japan, the Mediterranean, Caribbean and North Sea, the start of Warsaw Pact nations' autumn military maneuvers in southern Poland, the locations of top political and defense leaders in China and Russia and a CIA report on the next Chinese H-bomb test, scheduled for the coming week.

No major troop movements toward any frontier.

No significant air movements or signs of prestrike dispersal.

No unusual naval activity.

No signs that Soviet or Chinese leaders were leaving their capitals, which would be obvious targets for U.S. retaliation if either Red nation attacked. As a matter of fact, the Russian Prime Minister was due in New York on Friday to address the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Not bad, McKenzie reflected.

Aside from that goddam 94 percent, not bad at all.

The briefing ended at 8:02, and at 8:03 Martin McKenzie was on the scrambled telephone to the head of the heavy-bomber forces at Homestead Air Force Base south of Miami. Then he spoke to the generals who commanded other SAC B-52 forces in the ZI — the Zone of the Interior, the United States — and overseas, bluntly but without losing his temper. It was understood that the CINCSAC — no CINCSAC — would ever be satisfied, but it was also unseemly for him to blow up except in cases of serious dereliction or crisis.

At half past eight, McKenzie stood and headed for the ramp up to the surface. On the way up, he passed two guards flanking a metal door marked STB — NO ADMITTANCE but he kept walking. The Strategic Targets Board was an ultra-hush-hush interservice intelligence outfit that was a world of its own, a subtenant in the SAC bunker and one that dealt directly with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. A tight-mouthed and tight-assed group, the CINCSAC reflected as he walked steadily up the zigzag tunnel that finally brought him up into the lobby again.

The sun was breaking through when McKenzie and Winters left the building, and a fresh breeze was blowing in across the Nebraska plains. The general paused — and the aide paused — to sniff and experience, but almost immediately the CINCSAC's restless mind moved on to the test exercise designated True Blue that was scheduled for that night and the budget meeting planned for lunch the next day. McKenzie was to go before the Senate committee on Friday, and he meant to be fully prepared to justify the two wings of the new bomber he needed so badly.

"You'll have those figures on the Ninety-One," he told Winters.

"They'll be ready this afternoon," the aide promised.

The four-star general nodded. With no way of guessing that there would be no budget meeting the next day, McKenzie stepped into his car and glanced at his wrist watch. It was 8:42. His wife and children were to meet him at the church at 8:58 for the regular Sunday services, and Martin McKenzie didn't want to be late.

CHAPTER 2

The dark-blue station wagon rolled inexorably through the chill October drizzle, drilling its private tunnel into the clotted morning mists that all but obliterated the highway. There was never much traffic on the few roads across these bare Montana plains, and at 7:58 A.M. — it was 8:58 in Omaha — on such a wet, dreary Sunday there was almost none. The endless, curve-less ribbon of concrete and the rhythmic nagging of the vehicle's windshield wipers combined in a soothing hypnotic quality that was somehow greater than the sum of its parts, but despite this the three men in the front seat of the station wagon were totally alert.

They were also completely focussed, wholly committed.

The road and the weather didn't affect them at all.

Like the vehicle itself, the driver was dressed in blue and wore the insignia of the United States Air Force. He was a powerfully built young black in a sergeant's uniform, cool-eyed and obviously competent in the way he handled the wheel. Beside him sat a beefy, balding captain who seemed at least ten pounds too fat for his crisp white coveralls, the costume that identified him as one of America's new breed of rocket technicians. On the far right — staring out the window for familiar landmarks — was a lean thoughtful first lieutenant of such rugged good looks that he resembled some idealized figure from a recruiting poster. His sunken gray eyes were oddly old for a junior officer, but this minor flaw did little to detract from his almost theatrical handsomeness. There was also a hardness in that impassive, arresting Warner Brothers face, a toughness that was both mental and physical.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Twilight's Last Gleaming"
by .
Copyright © 1971 Walter Wager.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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