Spyder Web

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Spyder Web

   

TOM GRACE Spyder Web

   

AVON

   In loving memory of Marcia Grace April 9, 1938-April 1, 1988 My mother and my friend

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HONG KONG, PRC

   ‘Thank you,’ Lin Mei said absently as the owner of the restaurant brought her tea and a bowl of noodles with fish.

   She had arrived early at the tiny dockside restaurant, the anticipation of word from her brother in Beijing being almost more than she could contain. Since the handover last summer, each new day brought with it the reality of Hong Kong’s transformation from British Crown Colony into a Red Chinese city. Despite Beijing’s assurances that little would change, residents of capitalism’s strongest beachhead on the Chinese mainland still carried a nagging sense of uncertainty about the future.

   Like Hong Kong, Lin was as much a part of China as she was of the West, and the delicate balance between those conflicting forces was difficult for both.An attractive young woman in her mid-twenties, she had been fortunate to study in the United States and was soon to marry a young man from San Francisco. On a personal level, Lin Mei’s future was full of promise.

   She picked at her food, but the anxiety she felt made eating difficult. Instead, she resigned herself to quietly sipping tea while she waited for her brother’s emissary.

   She spoke with Zhenyi as often as she could, but getting a phone connection to Beijing was still no simple task.Most of her communication with him was through letters carried by private couriers across the slowly dissolving border.

   Lin Zhenyi had surprised her when he joined the Party and took a position with the PRC government rather than going West, as she had. He believed that China could change but that the change would have to come from within the government.

   Despite his Party membership, Zhenyi maintained discreet contact with democratic reformers. His belief that change was coming deepened with the expansion of China’s economy and the return of Hong Kong and, soon,Macao. He felt that strong international ties would draw China out of her self-imposed isolation.When Lin Mei received his call three nights before, she sensed that her brother’s optimism had been crushed.

   ‘Mei, I can’t talk now,’ Zhenyi had apologized at the end of that brief conversation, ‘but my next letter will explain everything. You can pick it up at the usual place on Tuesday, at eight o’clock. Read it carefully and you’ll understand. I’ve also enclosed some important research for a friend of mine. He will make arrangements to meet with you. It is crucial that you give him what I found.’

   Tonight, she waited, just as he had asked.

   Kang Fa circled the restaurant for twenty minutes, looking for watchers before entering. Hong Kong was still Hong Kong, and he knew that there were many eyes in the city that still worked for foreign intelligence services. Through the window, he saw twelve cramped seats, half-filled with evening diners. Near the window sat Lin Mei.

   She is beautiful,Kang thought as he approached,more so than any photograph could render.

   Her long black hair was drawn back in a French braid that descended to the small of her back like a silken cord against the red satin of her dress. Life in Hong Kong had been very kind to this exquisite young woman.

   As Kang entered the restaurant, he saw her look cautiously in his direction.

   She’s expecting me, he thought, and he smiled back to acknowledge her attention.

   ‘Lin Mei?’ he asked politely as he approached her table.

   ‘Yes,’ she replied. The man was older than she, well over forty, with graying black hair and a kind face.

   ‘My name is Kang Fa. I am an acquaintance of your brother. I apologize if I have kept you waiting.’

   Lin only nodded, almost afraid to speak. Kang sat in the lacquer chair beside hers and ordered tea from the owner of the tiny restaurant.

   ‘Zhenyi asked me to bring you this letter. I know he wished that he could have delivered it himself.’

   Lin Mei accepted a sealed envelope that bore the characters of her name; the handwriting was Zhenyi’s. She opened it and began to read, devouring each of her brother’s quickly drawn characters. He spoke of his disillusion with China, of his lost hope for the future. As she read, she realized that the rambling letter was her brother’s final confession; he wrote as a man facing certain death. She began to weep as the depth of her brother’s despair unfolded before her. Zhenyi ended the letter by imploring her to deliver the attached pages to a friend, who, he said, would know what to do with them.

   She turned to the next page of the letter. It was a grainy photocopy of an official document that authorized the relocation of the listed individuals into Mainland China for an undetermined period of time. All those named were members of Hong Kong’s most prominent Chinese families. The pages were excerpts from Beijing’s ten-year plan for the pacification of Hong Kong.

   China is going to take hostages to keep Hong Kong in line, Lin Mei realized. The Communists are no different from the warlord emperors who held key families at court to prevent rebellion.

   She placed the letter and the list in her purse while struggling to maintain her composure. ‘Thank you for delivering this letter.’

   Kang saw that she was visibly shaken by what she’d read. ‘You must share an uncommonly strong bond with Zhenyi. He has expressed his deepest fears to you, and his news is quite disturbing.’

   She looked at Kang’s bowed head and sensed that he, too, was concerned for her brother. ‘Do you know him well?’

   ‘I’ve only known Lin for a short time, but it has been long enough to know that he cares a great deal for you.’

   ‘Mr Kang, I really don’t feel much like eating right now, and I have another appointment not far from here. If you have the time, I’d like you to walk with me there. I haven’t seen Zhenyi in months, and I want to hear more about him from a friend.’

   ‘I would be honored.’

   Kang accompanied her on a meandering walk through the narrow streets of Hong Kong. They talked about Lin Zhenyi, and she was grateful for his presence; Kang was a sympathetic audience. The list had given her a glimpse of something terrible, and she felt as if she held the lives of those people in her hands. Lin hoped that the man she was to meet would know what to do with the list.

   An hour slipped by quickly, and Lin ended their walk at the dock where she was to wait. Vessels of all kinds were tied up along the pier, aging junks, fishing boats, and small barges. As evening slipped into darkness, odd circles and squares of light from the boats illuminated the dock in an irregular rhythm of light and shadow.

   Lin turned to Kang as they approached the site of her expected rendezvous. ‘I would like to thank you for the kindness you have shown me tonight.’

   ‘The pleasure was all mine. Your brother was a decent man.’

   Lin nodded and prepared to part company, when a sudden icy fear swept over her. She looked carefully at Kang. He smiled back pleasantly, but his eyes spoke of something deeper and darker beyond the innocent facade. He read her fear and his smile widened.

   ‘Why do you say my brother was a decent man? What has happened to him?’

   ‘Your brother was arrested for espionage.’

   Lin swallowed back her fears. ‘Is he dead?’

   ‘Yes,’ Kang replied.

   She looked into his eyes and saw the truth, and beyond the truth, she saw something else; Kang Fa seemed to be taking pleasure in her anguish, as only a truly evil person could.

   A single tear fell from her eye as she stood there, paralyzed with fear of this man. Kang gently brushed her cheek with his hand to collect the droplet, his touch nearly causing her to faint.

   ‘A tear for the fallen, how poetic. Zhenyi shed many tears before he died, especially when I told him that I would be visiting you.’

   The certainty with which he confirmed her brother’s death caused Lin’s worst fears to explode in her mind. She was in the presence of a sadistic monster.

   ‘I broke your brother’s pitiful group of subversives. I infiltrated it with my own agents and destroyed each cell of resistance.With your brother’s help, I intercepted the courier who was to meet you tonight. Everyone involved has been captured or killed, and you,my beautiful flower, are all that remains of Lin Zhenyi’s ring of spies.’

   This man is a killer! her mind screamed out. Run!

   Lin bolted to one side, trying to escape, but Kang just laughed and grabbed her as she tried to pass, locking his left arm tightly around her torso. His forearm clamped over her breasts, holding her back firmly against his chest. Her warmth aroused him as she trembled in his crushing embrace.

   ‘You are a very beautiful woman, more beautiful than your brother described. When I told him that I would visit you, he pleaded with me not to harm you. He said that you were not involved in his crimes.’ Kang pulled at her dress and ran his hand slowly, intimately across her thigh. ‘This was the image that I placed in your brother’s mind, the single thought that forced him to tell me everything.’

   ‘You bastard!’ She choked, sobbing.

   Kang’s free hand moved away from beneath her dress, and with it went the fear of a brutal rape. He’d brought her on a journey from trust to fear, enjoying each subtle turn and its effect upon her, but time grew short and Lin’s contact would soon arrive. His grip tightened and her sobbing abruptly halted with the violent snap of her neck.

   Neville Axton walked confidently down the darkened pier. Every place in this city held its own special dangers for the inattentive, and a man had to know how to carry himself if he expected to walk about unaccosted.His thirty years as an agent in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, most of which had been spent in Hong Kong, allowed him to project an outward demeanor that, while not overtly hostile, left the impression that he was not someone to be trifled with.

   He had been worried about tonight’s exchange from the moment he learned that Lin Mei would be involved. Axton had warned his Chinese agent about the dangers of using his sister as a mule, but Zhenyi’s situation had become desperate and there was simply no alternative.

   He strolled along the pier, ignoring the private lives going on inside the floating homes to either side of him. Near the end of the long dock, he saw the silhouette of a woman in the reflected lights ofHong Kong.The woman made no move, no glance toward him as he approached.

   At ten feet, he knew that it was Lin Mei seated on the crates near the end of the jetty. Axton sensed something amiss and approached cautiously.

   Crouching down in front of her, he stared into the quiet of her eyes. In place of the animation that usually shone out of someone her age, there was emptiness. Her lips were slightly parted, as if to speak, but no words or warning came.

   In Lin Mei’s hands, Axton found Zhenyi’s letter held out like an offering. The list was gone. Axton placed his hand upon her shoulder. His gentle touch caused her to topple forward, crumpling in his arms like a rag doll.

   ‘Lin Mei,’Axton vowed, his mind filling with rage and sorrow, ‘I swear to you that I will find your murderer.’

LANGLEY, VIRGINIA

   Jackson Barnett wiped the offending smudge from the right lens of his wire-framed bifocals and, satisfied that his vision would be hampered by nothing more than his aging eyes, perched them back on his face. His face was long and thin, favoring his mother’s side of the family, and framed with a full head of neatly trimmed silver hair. Barnett possessed the look and demeanor of a lifelong scholar: physically unimposing yet possessing the confidence of a well-trained mind.

   Barnett read the intelligence report a second time to clarify his grasp of the details. The report identified the means used to divert the shipment of an American-made supercomputer to a North Korean military testing facility. The machine’s sale was restricted to only the closest allies of the United States, and its theft was considered a serious breech of national security. Unfortunately, this was just one of the many problems facing the Director of Central Intelligence this afternoon, problems well beyond those he had faced as a prosecutor in South Carolina a quarter of a century ago.

   As Barnett studied the mechanics of the computer theft, his speaker phone buzzed.

   ‘Yes, Sally?’ he answered.

   ‘Phillip Moy is here to see you.’

   Barnett glanced at his wristwatch and quickly noticed two things. First, the hours between 1:00 and 4:30 P.M. had passed very quickly today, and, second, Phillip Moy was as punctual as ever. ‘Show him right in.’

   Sally Kirsch escorted an Asian man of average height and build into Barnett’s office. The man wore the corporate uniform of highly paid executives around the world—a well-tailored conservative gray suit with a starched white shirt, a floral-print silk tie, and a pair of black Italian loafers whose sheen cast no doubt about the suppleness of the leather. Phillip Moy’s face was nearly round and had, as its most dominating feature, a pair of dark brown eyes that burned with a fiery intelligence.

   Moy was the founder and CEO of the computer corporation that bore his name. He looked remarkably sharp and unperturbed following a day of briefings and testimony on Capitol Hill.Today’s session had, no doubt, added a few more gray hairs to his otherwise blue-black mane.

   Kirsch placed several pink message slips on Barnett’s desk and collected a small stack of classified files from his out-basket for a return trip to the file room.

   Barnett rose to greet his guest. Both men, who had started from humble beginnings,were in their early fifties and nearing the pinnacle of their careers.

   ‘Can I get you a drink, Phillip?’ Barnett asked as he poured himself a scotch and soda.

   ‘Sure, just splash a little scotch over some ice. Keep the water.’

   Barnett brought the drinks over and sat in a brown leather chair opposite Moy. He sipped on his drink, then loosened his tie, signaling an end to any formality for this meeting. ‘How are things going with the Gatekeeper Project?’

   ‘We’re still on schedule, so far. Our initial tests show the device is capable of monitoring all the signal traffic moving over a major computer network without degrading that network’s performance. The defensive aspects of the Gatekeeper appear to be equally impressive.’

   ‘I’m glad to hear that. Lord knows that we need to get those units in place ASAP. Just last week, some kid broke through an Internet server into one of the Pentagon’s low-level computers.’ Barnett took a hard swallow of scotch and smacked his lips, sighing.

   ‘She spoofed the router, a real nice hack. It was dumb luck she got caught.’Moy noticed Barnett’s eyebrow arch slightly. ‘Professional admiration, Jackson—the young lady has talent.’

   ‘Maybe you should hire her.’

   ‘She’d fit right in. Some of my best and brightest programmers have a similar wild, inventive streak. I just give them a constructive way to express their creativity. It’s a good thing she wasn’t working for someone else, like Ames.’

   Barnett nodded in agreement, recalling as if it were yesterday the arrest of the CIA counterintelligence officer on charges of spying for the Soviets. By exploiting the weak internal security on Langley’s computer network, Ames used his office PC to steal dozens of files classified beyond his clearance. It was in the aftermath of the Aldrich Ames affair that Moy’s security projects with the government began.

   ‘We’ve come a long way since the early nineties, but the memory of Ames won’t soon be forgotten.’

   ‘I understand and share your concerns, Jackson. The Gatekeepers will provide our government’s computers with the security they need.’

   Moy was a firm believer in the Gatekeeper vision, a strategy for protecting the government’s vast computer networks by providing those machines with the tools necessary to thwart a computer-based attack and pursue the attacker.The Gatekeeper vision was born from a fortunate accident in the Moy Electronics research labs. Almost a year earlier, a group of engineers working on a method to increase the flow of information inside a new type of parallel-processing computer hit an impasse. Unlike traditional computer designs, which relied upon a single chip to perform each instruction one after another, the new design linked hundreds of individual chips together like the oarsmen of a Roman galley. Each chip in the new design would tackle just a piece of a larger problem, allowing the team of small processors to outperform the massive single processor of a supercomputer.

   The problem the engineers encountered was a simple matter of communication. The faster they tried to run the team of parallel processors, the more tangled the flow of information among individual chips became. They were ready to start over, when the project leader of the parallel-processing team had a discussion about their problems with the young woman who led Moy Electronics’ most esoteric group of researchers—the neural and cognitive sciences team.

   Over a two-hour lunch, the two project leaders brainstormed an idea that later evolved into the Gatekeeper, an artificially intelligent device capable of learning and adapting itself to its host computer’s environment.

   It was a giant step in programming, giving the Gatekeeper the ability to determine from where a user was calling and if the user was legitimate. In its current form, the device could discover a hacker trying to break into its host computer and trace the connection back to its source. Like taking a picture of a burglar in your house, Moy’s Gatekeeper could follow the electronic trail to the hacker’s computer and even strip evidence from the intruder’s machine. The hacker wouldn’t know he had been traced until the police showed up at the front door.

   ‘Phillip, I’ve been thinking about something since you first explained these neural-network systems to me. Given that a Gatekeeper is capable of learning everything about the computer environment that it’s attached to—and I believe you said that includes every machine that it comes into contact with—can it be taught to look for other things while it’s out there?’

   Moy arched an eyebrow at his friend as he thought about the question. ‘You want to turn my Gatekeeper into a hacker?’

   Barnett nodded and took another sip of his drink as Moy settled back a little farther into the soft leather chair to consider the idea. He didn’t disturb his colleague, knowing that Moy’s outward calm belied the furious pace of thought within. True geniuses, he mused, seemed to possess a remarkable ability to block out distractions and focus their minds completely. While different thoughts floated in and out of his consciousness, Barnett knew that Moy’s mind was racing through the possibilities posed by his question. After a few quiet moments, Moy looked up from his swirling glass with a mischievous smile.

   Barnett broke the silence. ‘Judging from that look on your face, I assume you’ve found an answer. Can you program your Gatekeeper to break into another computer?’

   ‘Of course, the tools are already there.’ To Moy, the technical issues seemed trivial. ‘The Gatekeeper is driven to learn about its computer environment in order to protect that environment. This includes the host computer and every system within its network. Each time another computer comes into contact with the Gatekeeper, it becomes a learned part of the Gatekeeper’s experience. This mutant Gatekeeper would share a similar thirst to learn, but the intentions behind its actions would be markedly different.’

   ‘Give me an example, Phillip.’

   ‘Okay,’ Moy replied, relishing his role as computer villain. ‘Say I wanted to break into the network here at Langley.Your high-security computers aren’t on the Net, so I can’t hack my way in.And breaking into this building is obviously a little more difficult than getting into the English Department at Podunk State University.’

   ‘Obviously,’ Barnett agreed, playing along.

   ‘If I wanted to get into your information, and I had one of these devices, I would find out where the CIA buys their personal computers and laptops. Then I would get a job at that company, say testing the computers before they get delivered. As soon as an order for the CIA came through, I’d plant my device in one of your computers and ship it. With any luck, that computer would be connected to the information that I’m interested in. The odds are also very high that the CIA’s well-protected intranet has at least one dedicated phone line to the outside world. My device would find that line and stealthily contact me for further instructions.’

   Barnett was intrigued by the hacker-Gatekeeper scenario Moy proposed. ‘Could such a device be easily detected?’

   Moy shook his head. ‘I envision this device as something very similar physically to our Gatekeeper, just one of a hundred anonymous black chips on a circuit board. Operationally, it would be completely invisible, and it would have total control over its host. In all likelihood, no one would ever know the device was there. Even if its activities could be detected, they would be dismissed as the work of a person. After all, who in their right mind would suspect a computer of espionage?’

   Barnett sipped his drink, then smiled. ‘I think you’ve reached the conclusion that I was hoping for. Recent international events are forcing the White House to reevaluate our diplomatic and trade relations with several countries, including Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the People’s Republic of China.’

   ‘The Red Chinese will rot in hell before I sell them any ofmy computers, regardless of what the White House thinks of them.’

   Barnett showed no surprise at Moy’s reaction. The defection of Moy’s father, a Chinese Oppenheimer, had resulted in the imprisonment of several relatives. Little word ever came out of China about the people they left behind.

   ‘I would never ask you to deal with the PRC. I know your family history well enough not to make such a request.’With that assurance made, Barnett returned to his original point. ‘What I wanted you to consider is what might happen if a computer equipped with one of these devices was to disappear in shipment and find itself someplace that we don’t officially want it. Further suppose that once our electronic spy had learned its way around this hostile nation’s computer network, it found a way to call home.’

   ‘Interesting.’Moy’s eyes narrowed as he studied the DCI’s face. ‘Is China to be a target for this type of operation?’

   Barnett just shrugged his shoulders. ‘This is purely speculation on my part, nothing more than an exercise in wishful thinking. I will admit that our current shortage of intelligence assets in the PRC, coupled with their desire for high-end computers, make them an ideal target.’

   Moy took the hint. ‘The modifications you propose would require significant funding and man-hours—at least a year of software development and testing. I expect that you’ll want the accounting for this little venture kept separate from the Gatekeeper Project.’

   ‘That’s correct. We’ll assign some of our technical people to work with yours on developing the…’Barnett paused as he found himself at a momentary loss for words. ‘What shall we call this new device?’

   ‘I’m not sure. What’s the word you used to describe someone like Aldrich Ames, a hidden spy working for your enemies?’

   ‘Ames was a mole. Like its namesake, intelligence moles burrow deep and are difficult to root out.’

   ‘Mole,’ Moy mused. ‘I’m sure my marketing people could dream up something from that, but it just doesn’t sound right. It’s too cute. The device we’re talking about is coldly logical, calculating and precise. It’s a finely tuned machine.’

   ‘Sounds like one of your sports cars.’

   ‘Exactly.’ A glint then appeared in Moy’s eyes, a flash of inspiration that could only have been more obvious had a cartoonist drawn a lightbulb over his head. He flipped to a blank page on his legal pad and sketched something very quickly. ‘I recently acquired an old Porsche, one identical to the car that James Dean drove into oblivion. This particular model had a very unique name. If the goal of this project is to create an electronic spy, one that operates exclusively in a World Wide Web of networked computers, then the resulting device would be a…’

   Moy paused dramatically as he handed the legal pad to Barnett. Barnett saw on it a menacing arachnid leering at him, and one word in large block letters.

   ‘Spyder,’ Barnett said, finishing the sentence. He thought about the name for a minute as Moy sat back, pleased with his quick wit. ‘I give up, Phillip; Spyder it is. I’ll get everything arranged on this end to get you started. I’ll fund the project through my discretionary budget. That should keep it hidden long enough for us to complete development.’

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN November 17

   The masonry walls of the Canham Natatorium reverberated with the rhythmic sound of swimmers pounding the shimmering surface of the fifty-meter pool into a froth. All the lanes were occupied by members of the defending champion Michigan women’s swim team. At the far end of the pool, Kelsey Newton carefully studied the strokes of the young women who swam the eighthundred—meter freestyle relay.

   The sophomore who normally swam the third leg of the four-part event was lagging slightly behind the others, hampered no doubt by a badly bruised thigh that she had injured while traying. Traying was the collegiate version of sledding, in which trays borrowed from dormitory cafeterias were used instead of toboggans. The injured swimmer had lost control of her tray and tumbled harshly near the bottom of the hill.Kelsey barely suppressed a smile as she thought about her own pathetic attempts to steer those unwieldy slabs of fiberglass down the bumpy hills of the Nichols Arboretum.

   These morning workouts were for conditioning and building endurance; the girls essentially swam on autopilot. Kelsey made a few notes on her clipboard and returned to the poolside office. She remembered these early-morning sessions from her four years as an undergraduate at Michigan and from the thousands of miles she had swum before and since. A wall in the basement of her parents’ home bore the trophies, medals, and ribbons from her days as a competitive swimmer. As a senior, she had been the captain of this team and had led it to a collegiate conference championship and earned for herself honours as an all-American athlete.

   All the years of swimming had molded Kelsey Newton, sculpting every muscle of her five-nine body into curvaceous perfection. Her shoulders were broad, which only served to accentuate the curves of her chest, waist, and hips. A waterfall of straight blond hair, which she normally wore in a French braid, fell just below the level of her shoulder blades, and her eyes glittered with a shade of blue that she described scientifically as ‘lapis lazuli.’

   The door of the men’s locker room opened and out came a man dressed in a dark gray swimsuit. A pair of swim goggles dangled loosely around his neck and a towel was draped like a rope across his shoulders. He looked over the cavernous space, as if it was the first time he’d been here, and then began walking toward the office where Kelsey Newton sat.

   Like Newton, the man’s physique was the product of years spent in the water.His fair, freckled skin was tightly stretched over a lean base of chiseled muscles that were well defined, but not to the point of a bodybuilder’s exaggeration. There was a harshness to his form that suggested that the waters he was drawn from were far more turbulent than those of a fifty-meter pool. The scars that marked various points of impact on his body clearly indicated that this man was a product of the forge of violence.

   He was six feet tall and his clean-shaven face was accented by a thick crop of flaming red hair that he wore short. The final evidence of his Irish heritage were the green eyes that sparkled with recognition when he reached the office.

   ‘Morning, Kelsey,’ he said, leaning against the door frame.

   ‘I see you found the place.How are you feeling,Nolan?’

   ‘A little rough around the edges, but not too bad.How about you?’

   ‘I’m fine, thanks to your grandmother. After the first toast, she and I switched from whiskey to ginger ale. There is no way I can keep up with a bunch of Irish mourners.’

   ‘’Tis true, lass, and there are quite a few casualties at the Kilkenny home this morning.’ Nolan then glanced down, suddenly struck by the real truth in his reply. ‘I still can’t believe my mother is gone. Every time I turn a corner, or walk into a room in that house, I expect to see her. It’s so strange not to find her there.’

   ‘I know, Nolan,’ Kelsey said as she clasped his hand. ‘I know.’

   Kelsey had spent most of the previous day with Nolan and his family, grieving with them and paying her last respects to Nolan’s mother, Meghan Kilkenny, who was laid to rest. Kelsey’s parents had been close friends with Nolan’s since college, and the bond between the families was, in many ways, stronger than blood. Kelsey and Nolan had been close friends during childhood. Both were highly intelligent and, to the chagrin of their mothers, equally uninterested in romantic social encounters throughout their adolescence. Together, they went to proms and other gatherings that seemed to require a couple, but theirs was a friendship more of the mind than the heart, and both seemed reluctant to risk what they had for the elusive promise of the unknown.

   Since graduating from high school, both had taken different paths. Kelsey had attended the University of Michigan, where she swam and majored in what she called ‘John Galt studies,’ physics and philosophy. Her keen mind and aggressive determination had brought her to the point where, at the age of thirty, she had earned a Ph.D., a position as associate professor of physics at the university, and a sizable grant for her research into the young field of optical electronics. Her position as assistant coach of the women’s swim team, which brought her to the pool in the wee hours of the morning, was something she did out of her love for the sport.

   Nolan had stripped his life to the bare essentials and left the comfortable upper-middle-class world of his parents to enter the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. His success as a swimmer paralleled Kelsey’s, and a wall in his old bedroom was similarly adorned with the symbols of his athletic accomplishments.Nolan’s brilliance in the field of computer science had led the navy to defer his enlistment for two years while he pursued a graduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After that, Nolan’s life took what many considered to be an unexpected turn—the quiet scholarathlete joined the navy’s elite Special Warfare Command and became a SEAL. Assignment to the SEAL teams was considered the most demanding mental and physical challenge the navy offered—it was precisely the kind of challenge that Nolan Kilkenny found irresistible.

   From Kelsey’s point of view, Nolan’s assignment caused him to go from distant to secretive, but their friendship endured and their short, infrequent reunions were something they both enjoyed.

   ‘Are you ready to swim some laps?’ Kelsey asked.

   ‘I can wait until practice is done.’

   ‘It’s not a problem, I can clear a lane for you.’

   Kelsey walked over to the pool’s edge and waited in front of the far lane. As the first swimmer from the relay team approached, she blew the whistle that dangled from a yellow cord around her neck.

   Startled, the girl’s head popped out of the water. ‘What’s up, coach?’

   ‘You guys are done for the day. Hit the showers.’ One by one, the swimmers stopped at the end of the pool.

   ‘Lisa,’ Kelsey called out as the bruised swimmer emerged from the water, ‘have the trainer take a look at your leg. Maybe he can loosen it up a little.’

   ‘Sure, Kelsey,’ the swimmer replied as she gingerly climbed the ladder. ‘Is this your new boyfriend?’

   ‘No,’ Kelsey replied, in a tone that said the matter was none of the girl’s business. The girl joined her teammates and a few giggles were heard as they entered the locker room.

   ‘What happened to your last boyfriend—what’s his name?’

   ‘Scott,’ Kelsey answered. ‘Scott and I broke up over a month ago.’

   ‘I thought you said he had real potential, that he might even be the one.’

   ‘There were glimmers of hope there. In the end, though, he was intimidated by me. For some reason, he felt that my accomplishments made him less of a man.’

   ‘Doesn’t sound like much of a man to start with.’

   ‘How about you? Any luck?’

   ‘Nope, my social life is just as barren as always. I’ve dated a lot of women, but there was no depth to them. I guess I’m looking for someone who is more than the sum of her fashion accessories.’

   ‘Well, quit moping and hit the water. I’ll join you in a few minutes.’

   Nolan tossed his towel against the wall, where the floor was dry, adjusted his goggles, loosened up his arms, and dove in. The water was brisk, deliberately cool to keep the swimmers moving. His heart rate quickened as he pulled himself through the water, accelerating to match his muscles’ increased demand for oxygen.

   He swam four miles every day, an effort more a mental exercise than a physical one. Then again, so much of Kilkenny’s life over the past six years had been that way. As a Navy SEAL, his life was designed to be that way.

   This was Kilkenny’s eighth day home, his eighth day as a civilian. ‘Technically a civilian,’ his captain had cautioned. Kilkenny had returned to Ann Arbor on a compassionate leave to help care for his ailing mother. ‘Technically a civilian’ meant that he could still be called back to duty should a crisis arise. Thankfully, the world looked calm on this November day in Ann Arbor.

   He counted off the distance in his mind, tuning out the world beyond. The rhythm of his stroke and the surging of the water around his body had an almost hypnotic effect, allowing him to enter a calm, meditative state. Kilkenny found that he did his best thinking while swimming long distances, and today he had a lot on his mind.

   Death had always been an abstraction for him—something he had understood intellectually but not emotionally. Prior to his mother’s death from cancer, he’d never lost anyone so close as to feel the hurt of death, to understand its meaning. Until he became a SEAL, he’d never known how it felt to be the cause of death.

   Kilkenny’s entire tour of duty with the navy had been spent training and working with the SEALs. In their company, he had mastered the skills necessary to achieve military objectives, skills that would keep himself and his squad alive behind enemy lines, skills that included killing.

   The medals and ribbons on Kilkenny’s dress uniform bespoke his leadership on missions recorded only in the classified files of the Pentagon, but they also served as reminders of those he had killed. Each of those deaths was a necessity required by either the mission’s objectives or the safety of his squad. Killing was a part of his job, but he took no pleasure from it. He had never boasted of his kills, never bragged about how many of the enemy he’d ‘taken out’ on a mission, but he also felt no emotion, no connection to those who died.

   In reaching out to take his mother, death had taken on a new meaning for Nolan Kilkenny, one that numbed his heart with cruel grief and denied his mind a sensible reason.And for the first time in his life, death was personal. Kilkenny wanted to strike out against his mother’s killer, but the disease was as efficient and unemotional about death as he had been. In another part of his mind,Kilkenny now questioned whether or not he could again take another life.

   Nearing the end of the pool, he reached out for the side and prepared to flip-turn into another lap. Instead of touching the smooth tile wall, his hand grazed a warm, firm leg. Startled, he abruptly stopped and lifted his goggled face out of the water. On the pool’s edge sat Kelsey Newton, smiling back at him.

   ‘I’ve been trying to get your attention for the last two laps. If this didn’t work, I was going to jump in after you. You’ve got a phone call,’ she said, her voice both sympathetic and concerned. ‘It’s Captain Dawson.’

   Kilkenny nodded and stripped off his goggles as Newton pulled her supple legs from the water and walked back to the pool office.

   He pulled himself from the cool water and quickly ran a towel over his dripping body before entering the office and picking up the phone. ‘Kilkenny here, sir.’

   ‘Nolan, I know you’re on leave, but a situation has developed that requires our immediate attention. Tickets have already been cut and are waiting for you at the airport.’

   Part of his mind cursed at the thought of being pulled back, but he knew Dawson wouldn’t have called unless he’d had to. I hope it’s a quick one, Nolan thought as he copied down the flight information, knowing he couldn’t refuse the summons.Next month, I’m a full-time civilian.

   ‘I’m under way, sir.’

LITTLE CREEK NAVAL AMPHIBIOUS BASE, VIRGINIA

   Kilkenny followed the yeoman into Capt. Jack Dawson’s office. Kilkenny stood two inches taller than his commanding officer, but the difference in their physiques exaggerated the distance. Dawson’s sturdy, well-muscled ebony frame and severely cropped hair often caused complete strangers to mistake him for one of the Washington Redskins. In contrast, Kilkenny’s taut, lean carriage and freckled Irish skin reminded people of nothing more than a marathon runner in need of a strong sun-block.

   An unexpected wave of nostalgia swept over Dawson as Kilkenny reported for duty. They’d first met six years earlier, when Ens. Nolan Kilkenny reported to Coronado for BUD/S, Basic Underwater Demolition/ SEALs training. Dawson had taken one look at this wiry redhaired college kid and saw nothing more than a future Pentagon technoweenie who’d wash out before the gruelling middle-stretch of the nine-week program known as Hell Week. Dawson had been wrong.

   ‘Take a seat, Lieutenant,’ Dawson ordered as he returned Kilkenny’s salute. ‘Nolan, do you remember why you became a SEAL?’

   Kilkenny knew this wasn’t small talk, and he wondered about the motivation behind Dawson’s question. ‘Yes, sir, it was the challenge. I knew that command of the SEAL squad would test my limits, both physically and mentally.’

   ‘And do you remember who encouraged you to undertake this challenge?’

   ‘Yes, sir. Rear Adm. Roger Hopwood.’

   Like Kilkenny, Rear Admiral Hopwood was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. Hopwood had also swum for the Academy, and Kilkenny’s performance with the team during his senior year caught the admiral’s attention. The admiral was also a decorated SEAL, and he now served as NavSpecWarGruCom, commander of the navy’s Special Warfare Group.

   Upon learning that Kilkenny was both an accomplished scuba diver and a black belt in the Isshinryu style of karate, Hopwood took the future ensign under his wing and encouraged him to join the SEALs. It was Hopwood who also made sure that Dawson, who then oversaw SEAL training in Coronado, received a carefully edited file regarding Kilkenny’s background. It wasn’t until Kilkenny flattened the hand-to-hand combat instructor that Dawson became suspicious. Roger Hopwood loved surprises, and the quiet Ensign Kilkenny was a ringer. Kilkenny not only survived SEAL training, but excelled and eventually became one of Dawson’s most valued squad leaders.

   ‘That’s right, Admiral Hopwood is one of your sea daddies. Now here’s the situation.’

   ‘Situation’ was Dawson’s polite way of saying that the Pentagon had an ugly job that needed to be done quickly and quietly.

   ‘How well do you remember Haiti?’

   ‘Well enough to get around if I had to, sir, but why Haiti now? I thought things were pretty quiet down there.’

   ‘Take a look at this tape and I think you’ll understand.’

   Dawson punched the play button on the VCR and the image of a Haitian fishing village filled the screen. Center frame was the recognizable face of Jean Arno, the junior Republican congressman from Florida.Arno was smiling and talking in fluent Haitian French, which was no surprise, since the lawmaker was the youngest son of Haitian immigrants.

   Accompanying the congressman were his aides, relief workers, and a few military officers. An officer near the rear of the group caught Kilkenny’s attention; it was Admiral Hopwood. The whole scene looked like a wellchoreographed photo opportunity designed to show the viewing audience at home how well American aid was working in Haiti. A loud popping sound from the jungle preceded a dizzying spin by the camera before it struck the ground. Though now skewed at a bizarre upward angle, the camera kept rolling, recording the screams of people and rapid blasts of approaching gunfire. Legs rushed past the lens, captured in their panicked flight. Then a group of men in black emerged from the jungle, spraying bullets wildly into the crowd as they entered the camera’s view. Soon, the only sounds to be heard were those of gunfire and the cries of the dying.

   One of the figures in black stood alone in the center of the village, dispassionately watching the carnage unfold. What struck Kilkenny most about the man was his eyes; they displayed nothing save a ruthless efficiency.

   Are those my eyes in battle? Kilkenny wondered.

   Three minutes into the massacre, several of the blackgarbed men dragged Arno and the surviving Americans before their leader. This man looked over the prisoners, stopping at the congressman, whom he viewed with disgust.

   ‘Fool!’ he spat in Arno’s face. ‘Will you never learn that your kind are not welcome in Haiti!’

   Arno and the others remained silent, denying the man any satisfaction he might find in their pleas for mercy. The leader studied his prisoners carefully as he finished a cigarette, weighing their fate in his mind. A flick of his fingers sent the smoldering butt arcing to the ground. He stared down for a moment, then pulled the machete from his belt and swung furiously into Arno’s neck. The others joined their leader, quickly hacking the Americans to death in an orgy of blood and violence.

   Once the Americans were dead, the leader raised his bloodstained machete and ordered his men back into the jungle. The raiding party left with their plunder and several female captives. Soon, the only sound that remained was the buzzing of flies under the hot Caribbean sun.

   Kilkenny swallowed back the bile in his throat as Dawson stopped the tape.

   ‘What you just saw happened yesterday. The central figure in this massacre is Etienne Masson, the leader of a tribe, for lack of a better word, that controls a large piece of rain forest surrounding Jacmel. He was a twenty-year veteran of the Haitian military and even attended the Green Beret program at Bragg before going native.’

   ‘So he’s not one of those cardboard generals we usually find in Third World hellholes.’

   ‘Just the opposite. Masson doesn’t seem to be after anything. While our troops were there, he laid low. He doesn’t care who is ruling Port-au-Prince as long as they stay out of his way. His cabal doesn’t even have a name, but the people living in their shadow call them la Mort Noir, the Black Death. What you just saw was the first bit of carelessness on Masson’s part.’

   ‘The camera,’Kilkenny answered, the gruesome images still playing in his mind.

   ‘Right. His men took out the cameraman first, but nobody bothered to get the tape. This is the first time that anyone outside of Haiti has seen Masson in nine years. The Haitians have tried to deal quietly with him on their own, without much luck. After yesterday, the Haitian government not only approves of the United States taking action; they expect it.We’ve got carte blanche, as long as we’re quiet about it. Everyone over there is scared shitless of this guy.’

   ‘Understandably so; it looks like he actually enjoys killing people.’

   Dawson sensed something beneath the surface of Kilkenny’s comment. He knew that Nolan was taking his mother’s death hard. He’d experienced similar feelings of self-doubt following his own parents’ deaths several years ago.

   ‘Masson does enjoy killing, and he’s good at it, but he’s not like you and me. We’re trained to kill, but we do it only when we have to. Masson is something else altogether.’ Dawson slid a folder bearing the CIA logo across his desk to Kilkenny. ‘Here’s the intelligence briefing on Masson.What’s known of his activities reads like a voodoo version of Apocalypse Now, with Masson playing the role of Colonel Kurtz.’

   Kilkenny began thumbing through the intelligence report. ‘Fine, what’s the op?’

   Dawson slipped a thick binder of materials across the desk to Kilkenny, then leaned back in his chair. ‘Quiet in, quiet out.You and your squad will launch in minisubs from the Columbia, six miles off Haiti’s southern coast. You’ll land on a remote beach and go hunting incountry. Your orders are to seek out and destroy the enemy.’

   Kilkenny looked over the preliminary mission time line. ‘A three-week op in December is cutting it a little close, sir. My tour is up at the end of next month.’

   ‘I’m well aware of your status, Lieutenant, and I know that you’re ready to get on with your life. I want you to know that I wouldn’t have called you back without a damn good reason.’

   ‘I know,’ Kilkenny replied, staring at the picture of a pair of young SEALs in Vietnam that Dawson proudly displayed on his wall. ‘Adm. Roger Hopwood.’

   Dawson looked over at the picture. ‘Jolly Roger and I go way back; we toured Nam together. I owe that man my life. He’s the reason JSOC chose us to carry out this mission. This is war, Nolan, and we need some meateaters on this op.’

   Dawson stood up and Kilkenny snapped to attention. ‘Lieutenant Kilkenny, you are to assemble your squad and brief them on this assignment. Go over the plan and be ready to brief me on your deployment preparations at eighteen hundred hours. Whatever you need, you’ll get. This one’s for Hopwood.’

   ‘Aye, aye, sir.’

NEW YORK November 25

   Alex Roe slipped out of bed and into the oversized Georgia Bulldog sweatshirt that she’d left on the floor the night before. The shirt draped from her softly curved shoulders to a point on her thigh that was an inch below immodest. She pushed the sleeves up past her elbows, ran her fingers through her disheveled shoulder-length brunette hair, and set about finding something to eat. Roe firmly believed that her daily regimen of diet and exercise had kept her lithe body free of the fatty deposits that accumulate on so many people over the age of forty.

   Inside the master bathroom, Randall Johnson was in the midst of his morning ablutions. She marveled at the beauty of the renovated turn-of-the-century factory that now housed Johnson’s multilevel condominium. Many of the building’s original architectural features remained exposed, lending an historic flavor to the contemporary elements of modern living.

   The sun, barely over the horizon, poured light through the tall arched windows of the condo’s great room. Long shadows cast by the morning light exaggerated the depth of the brickwork’s relief; the terracotta details formed a study in contrast.

   In the kitchen, she ground some fresh gourmet beans and started the coffeemaker. The morning was cold, but pleasant for November in New York, and, after digging out from an early snow, the city was preparing for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving parade. Roe took an apple from the refrigerator, sat down at the sunlit kitchen table, and spread out the morning paper.

   Twenty minutes later, she finished her morning reverie, poured another cup of coffee, and walked into the den, where her laptop computer sat waiting for her. With the machine switched on and herself recharged, she set about the task of completing her article by deadline.

   Her story on Pangen Research was nearly complete, requiring only a few finishing touches. She was engrossed in a fine point of grammar when Randall Johnson entered quietly behind her, wearing only a robe cinched about his waist. He peered over her shoulder and read some of the text.

   ‘You better not misquote me, Alex. I want to come across as an intelligent and decisive financial officer who just happens to be a great guy.’

   ‘Hmm, a CFO who is intelligent and decisive, yet still a great guy. Aren’t those conflicting traits for someone in your position? I’m not sure the readers of NetWorth magazine would believe that.’

   ‘From what you’ve told me, neither would your editors.’ ‘That, my dear Randy,’ Roe replied while nuzzling his freshly shaven neck,’goes without saying. Editors, by their very nature, are a cynical lot, prone to doubt any journalist’s objectivity.’

   ‘I would doubt your objectivity, too, if I knew you’d spent the night with a key player in your story.’

   Roe pulled away from Johnson’s neck, feigning betrayed surprise. ‘Et tu, Randy? Though the occasional editor may criticize minor points of my work, none have ever questioned the quality of my research or the depth of my interviews.’

   Roe stood and pressed her hand into the matted hairs on his chest, pushed him back into a leather wing-back chair, and straddled his lap. Johnson was six inches taller than she, but the position of their bodies allowed her to gaze down at his salt-and-pepper hair. His body had softened slightly over the past twenty years, but neither of them were college students, and both found that the matured version of their old flame was still quite attractive.

   Cradling him against her breasts, she began to kiss his forehead, slowly working her way down to his mouth. Johnson’s arms caressed her back beneath the sweatshirt, gently massaging the muscles along her spine.Her mouth pressed deeply into his; their tongues engaged with a feverish intensity. Gradually, the kisses softened and the embrace grew gentle and close.

   ‘I don’t have a problem with the depth of your interviews, either.’ He pulled back enough so they were eye-to-eye. ‘Now remember, Pangen Research is the hottest biotech company you have ever seen and their CFO is both brilliant and a great guy.’

   ‘Yes, sir,’ she answered dutifully. ‘You know, this insecurity over my article is really unbecoming. I don’t recall you ever being this nervous back in college.’

   Johnson slumped back in the chair. ‘Back in college, I didn’t have twenty-five million dollars of venture capital and an IPO riding on some term paper. It’s not your article that’s got me on edge; it’s everything with this little company. My little company.’

   Johnson stared through the window without really looking at anything. His mind instead focused on the events that had led to his present role as the financial shepherd of a hot young biotech research company.

   ‘When those scientists came to me with a proposal to bring gene-therapy technologies out of the lab and into medical practice, I believed in them. They had these Nobel Prize-caliber ideas and no clue how to get a company going. I did a little investigation on their work and found what may be the next high-growth industry. It was like discovering Apple back when it was in the garage. I worked damn hard to design a workable business plan, and my board bought into it. In less than two years, I’ve built a company that’s ready to go public, a company that owns a patented stable of purebred retroviruses that could start the biggest medical revolution since antibiotics.’

   ‘You have a serious case of mother-hen syndrome. Pangen is a textbook example of venture capitalism at its best. You’ve got a group of idealistic research scientists with a vision and no money, matched with a savvy young financier who makes the dream come true against incredible odds. When you’re finished launching this company into the golden land of NASDAQ,we’re writing a book about your adventures.’

   ‘Maybe,’ he replied coyly, ‘but only if I grant you the rights to the story. I, of course, will retain the movie rights. I wonder whom we can get to play me.’

   Roe gave him a reassuring hug. In public, he was the Rock of Gibraltar—exuding confidence and focused leadership. Pangen Research owed its very existence to the forty-two-year-old man in her arms.He was preparing to let his fledgling company go out into the world on its own. Like any parent when a child finally leaves home, he felt the same pride in his work and the same worries about the future.

   ‘Thanks, Alex, for everything. The past few weeks have been unbelievably tough for me. Your timing couldn’t have been any better.’

   ‘Actually, it’s an accident I came at all. I just happened to be available when NetWorth needed a piece on Pangen for a special issue. Freelancer’s motto: Have Computer, Will Travel. Discovering a long-lost love was an unexpected bonus. I am glad that I found you again.’

   They held each other close in the morning light.’How did I ever let you get away?’

   ‘As I recall, you felt it would be best if we started seeing other people.’

   ‘That, Little Miss Smart-Ass, was a rhetorical question. You don’t answer those kinds of questions. You just nod your head politely.’ His expression softened as his thoughts retraced their shared history.

   ‘I know, Randy. Harvard and UCLA were half a world apart then.’ Her mouth curled into a light smirk as she peered into his eyes. ‘You didn’t have to take that scholarship.’

   ‘That’s right,’ Johnson replied as he slipped her off his lap and leapt onto a long coffee table in front of the couch, balancing himself as if he were riding the California surf. ‘I could’ve tossed my Harvard MBA and gone surfin’with you. “If everybody had an ocean, across the USA.”’

   Roe laughed as Johnson butchered the Beach Boys classic and rode an imaginary curl of water across the den. Suddenly, she tackled him, and they both fell onto the couch.

   ‘What the hell was that?’ Johnson shouted as Roe smothered him with a pair of soft throw pillows.

   ‘Wipeout.’ She laughed in her best Valley girl imitation. ‘If you’re gonna surf, dude, you gotta, like, learn how to scope the waves and watch the curl or you’ll end up fish food.’

   They held each other for several minutes, nibbling and kissing as the early-morning light streamed through the windows. Eventually, he gave her one last kiss and got up to ready himself for the day.

   At the door, he turned and pointed toward her computer, whose colorful screen saver was randomly painting the active-matrix display. ‘Back to work, Hemingway. There’s an editor just waiting for your wonderful story, and I’ll be lucky to make the office by eight.’

   ‘Slave driver,’ Roe mumbled under her breath as she got up. ‘All right, I’ll be good and finish my story, but I’d rather blow it off and have fun with you today. At least we have this weekend.’ Roe planted a quick kiss on his cheek and swatted his behind. ‘Now off to work with you. All those lawyers and stockbrokers are waiting to pour tons of new money into Pangen, and you don’t want to disappoint them, do you?’

   Johnson’s quiet demeanor barely covered the enthusiasm he felt. ‘That will be exciting. Do you think you can make it? I’d love to have you there.’

   Alex tapped the keyboard, looked at the unfinished story, and shrugged her shoulders. ‘I don’t think I’ll be done with this in time, but I promise to watch your debut on CNN and write the appropriate closer for my piece. Editors just love it when my stories are timely.’

   Johnson departed by cab, leaving Roe to refine her prose. At the appointed hour, the CNN commentator switched to live coverage on the trading floor, where a member of the exchange’s board formally welcomed Pangen Research to the roster of publicly traded companies.

   In a brief announcement, Johnson confirmed rumors that the FDA had approved Pangen’s latest generation of retroviruses for clinical trials in human-gene-therapy research. Pangen Research gained seven points in the first thirty minutes of trading.

   Roe completed her article with a brief description of the company’s frenzied debut on the New York Stock Exchange. She left a space for the final share price to be filled in later by the fact checkers. She then clicked on the appropriate icons to save the file and brought up the window for communications.

   After a few keystrokes, she connected with the magazine’s editorial computer and delivered her story. The combined effect of the stock’s strong activity and the government’s regulatory blessing gave her Pangen story an excellent shot at the cover. She imagined Johnson’s surprise at receiving the ‘Biotech Special Issue’ with his handsome face smiling back at him.

   With her article completed, Roe set to work on her next task. She hadn’t been completely truthful with Johnson about her reason for visiting Pangen, and this lack of honesty with an old friend bothered her. However, the piece for NetWorth provided an excellent cover for a more detailed search into Pangen’s corporate secrets.

   Using a SCSI cable, she wired her laptop directly to Johnson’s home computer and activated a linkup program. Immediately, her machine began to sift through the data encoded on his hard drive, searching for the keys to the Pangen mainframe. Twenty minutes later, she cracked through the system security, posing as Pangen’s CFO.

   The researchers at Pangen had provided her with as much access as she desired, access that allowed her to develop an excellent understanding of their operational strengths and weaknesses.After several months of working overtime, Pangen’s computer group had taken a welldeserved holiday to watch the day’s excitement.

   The stock offering also coincided with a major medical conference on human genetics in Washington, a meeting that had drawn most of the company’s research staff away from their lab-office complex, leaving only a skeleton crew behind to keep things running.Roe knew that there would never be a better opportunity to steal Pangen’s secrets than today.

   She located the scientific-research libraries and issued a backup command to the host computer. The dedicated data line from Johnson’s home into Pangen’s computer network allowed Roe to take information as fast as her computer could handle it.

   In seconds, the magneto-optic disk drive attached to her laptop began to spin, absorbing megabytes of information. In less than an hour, the sum of Pangen’s intellectual wealth lay on three blue-green disks.

   Since Roe’s connection to Pangen’s computer flowed over a dedicated data line, one that logged total time usage rather than individual calls, there was no need for her to access the phone company’s billing computer to erase any record of the call. The host computer, on the other hand, did record the time she logged in and how long she remained connected. That record held the only evidence that Pangen’s computer system had been accessed.

   Roe released two programs into Pangen’s network. The first modified the network’s system security, giving her access to the internal record-keeping files. After editing those files to remove all traces of her presence, she triggered the second. In less than a minute, the program logged Roe off the system, returned Pangen’s network to its original configuration, and erased itself from memory.

   Confident that she’d left no evidence of her intrusion, Roe disconnected the two machines and prepared to transfer the stolen information. Unlike the old days of le Carré-style espionage, there was no need for her to skulk around town in a trench coat to leave her stolen secrets in a hollowed-out tree trunk. No, in the modern world of espionage, a spy need only encrypt her data well and transmit it electronically.

   Roe’s transfer program incorporated a series of datacompression and encryption algorithms that left the stolen files looking more like random noise than any kind of coherent information. Once retrieved, an inverse series of the same algorithms returned the files to their original state. For images and digitized photographs, this process would cause a minor loss of clarity; for text and purely alphanumeric data, the retrieved files were identical to the originals.

   Roe dialed into a local Internet server to keep Johnson’s phone bill clear of a suspicious long-distance call. From there, she meandered through several other computer networks, carefully covering her electronic trail, before accessing a computer in the London office of business consultant Ian Parnell.

   Once the data transfer was in process, Roe flipped on her cellular phone and dialed Parnell’s office.

   ‘Parnell Associates.How may I direct your call?’Parnell’s assistant answered with cool British formality.

   ‘Hi, Paulette. It’s Alex. Is Ian in?’

   ‘No. He’s taking advantage of this lovely day on his boat. Hold on for a moment and I’ll see if I can reach him.’

   Roe waited, listening to the antiseptic Muzak that filled the receiver beside her ear. Parnell certainly enjoyed his toys, the most prized of which was a deep metallic blue, offshore racing boat christened Merlin. She’d accompanied Parnell on several outings on the Thames and knew that he took his boat out on any fair day that London offered. Her brief visit to musical purgatory ended with Parnell’s voice shouting over the roar of Merlin’s engines.

   ‘What’s the good word, Alex?’

   ‘The information is en route as we speak. It’s everything your clients asked for.’

   ‘Absolutely smashing. I’ll post your final payment by the end of business today.’ Parnell’s voice returned to normal as the sound of the engines faded. ‘How’s your schedule looking for the next couple of weeks?’

   ‘Other than a long ski weekend in Vermont with an old friend, nothing special.’A smiling picture of Johnson gazed back at her from the desktop.

   ‘I’ve got another research project, one that I think you would be perfect for, if you’re interested. It’s worth fifty percent of a six-figure fee.’

   ‘You’ve got my attention, Ian.’

   ‘Good. An old client of mine, an electronics manufacturer in Hong Kong, has requested a little research into his main competitor’s new product line. I’ll E-mail you the background materials—usual encryption. Give me a call after you’ve had a chance to look them over, and we’ll discuss specifics.’

   The file transfer ended and Roe logged off the various systems she had used to cover her tracks. It still amazed her how much easier, and safer, computers made espionage. Even though circumstances occasionally required that she physically break into the places that she was ‘researching,’ Roe found that she could complete most of her assignments by posing as a journalist or by using a computer and modem. The free flow of information in open, high-tech countries allowed them to outpace the more restrictive nations in nearly every measure of progress. This openness also made her job as an industrial spy much easier.

   She felt a small twinge of guilt at the thought of stealing the information from her old flame’s fledgling company, but she suppressed that reaction. She had harmed no one, and in a few years’ time, most of Pangen’s secrets would be well documented in scientific journals. Her consulting relationship with Ian Parnell simply allowed her to cash in on the impatience of Pangen’s wealthiest rival.

ROOSEVELT ROADS NAVAL STATION, PUERTO RICO

   The surf rolled in against the beach, four-foot waves cresting and crashing with a dull roar and the hiss of briny foam. The sky was partly overcast as the remnants of a late-season tropical storm drifted over the Caribbean island.

   The long stretch of beach along Puerto Rico’s eastern coastline was deserted, not because of the weather but because this area was off-limits. Traditional naval operations controlled a majority of the base real estate. The untamed jungle, just north of the docks and support facilities, was home to Navy Special Warfare Unit Three. It was here that Nolan Kilkenny’s squad of SEALs had been sent to prepare for their mission.

   It was late in the afternoon, with dusk only an hour away, when the first black shape emerged from the surf. A head peered out from beneath the waves, scanning the beach. As quickly as it appeared, it vanished. A moment later, seven black-suited figures emerged from the sea, riding an ebbing wave onto the sand. Black neoprene wet suits covered each of the men from head to toe, protecting them from the strength-sapping chill resulting from their long exposures to cool salt water. Their swim fins had been removed in the water and hooked to their dive belts in preparation for the transition from sea to land. All were armed and each focused his attention on a specific section of the beach. They thought and acted as one.

   ‘Master Chief,’ Nolan Kilkenny called out, ‘did everybody make it home?’

   ‘Hoo-yah, sir!’ Master Chief Max Gates replied. ‘Just a walk in the park.’

   ‘Very well, then. This beach is secure and the exercise is over!’ Kilkenny announced. ‘Stow your gear and clean your weapons.’

   Kilkenny slipped his mask down around his neck and stood to survey the beach. ‘Rodriguez.’

   ‘Yes, sir,’ replied a short fireplug of a man who had been born in a small town near the base.

   ‘Nice job on point.’

   ‘No sweat, sir. I just followed the smell of my mama’s cooking.’

   A pang of regret hit Kilkenny—that was a smell he would never follow home again.

   Kilkenny’s squad walked the short distance from the beach to the huts that served as their base of operation. Loose gear was removed first, dive belts, masks, and fins, and dunked in a large barrel of freshwater to rinse off the brine. Next off came the closed-circuit rebreathing units the SEALs used in place of the more common open-circuit scuba tanks. The rebreathing units, which recycled the diver’s exhaled air for reuse, allowed the SEALs to approach a target from beneath the water without leaving a telltale stream of bubbles along the surface.

   The men stripped their weapons down and carefully inspected and cleaned each component. This work was done quietly and with the utmost seriousness. Each member of the squad relied on the others, and none wanted a mission to fail or a buddy to be hurt because of something as preventable as a dirty weapon.

   After reassembling and stowing his Heckler-Koch submachine gun and his 9-mm pistol, Kilkenny checked the in-basket in his hut. Inside, he found a manila envelope containing the latest satellite photos of the Haitian jungles. After a week of hard preparation, his team was beginning to gel. He had them eat, sleep, and breathe the mission twenty-four hours a day. Each piece of the equipment that they would use was becoming like a part of their bodies, each inch of Haitian rain forest as familiar as their own backyards.

   This wasn’t how Kilkenny had expected to spend his Thanksgiving, training in isolation with the six other men who made up his squad, but it was this kind of preparation that made the SEALs successful. Each mission was treated like a moon launch, with no detail so unimportant that it could be overlooked.

   Gates approached and knocked on the door frame.

   ‘Yo, Chief, come on in. I got the latest pictures.’

   Master Chief Max Gates entered the small hut and sat in the folding chair next to Kilkenny. Though junior in rank, Gates was Kilkenny’s superior in age and combat experience. Like most SEALs, Gates was shorter than Kilkenny by half a head, but he made up for it with a barrel chest and a pair of forearms that would make Popeye proud. He was nearly bald, ruddy-faced, with a pair of dark brown eyes that peered out from beneath a pair of bushy brown eyebrows.

   ‘The boys are looking good, Nolan.’ Twenty years in the navy hadn’t softened Gates’s Oklahoma drawl a bit. ‘They want this one.’

   ‘As they should,’ Kilkenny replied. ‘Hopwood was a SEAL legend, and the cocksucker who cut him down deserves to die.’

   ‘Actually, Nolan, they want this one for you.’

   ‘Why?’

   ‘Because you’ve led these guys to hell and back and you never let them down. They just want you to go out the right way.’

   Before he could respond, a truck pulled up to their base. Kilkenny and Gates left the hut and walked over to the truck’s tailgate.

   ‘Listen up!’ Kilkenny shouted. ‘D day is in ten days, which means ten more days of fun in the sun. Ten more glorious days of sweating, and marching and running launch drills off the submarine.Ten more days’—Kilkenny paused, looking over his men—‘starting tomorrow. Today, we quit early.’

   Cheers and excited profanities filled the air around him.

   ‘I knew you’d like that. Since it’s Thanksgiving, I cut a deal with the base commander to supplement our meager rations. Tonight, we dine on swordfish, steak, and beer.’

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS November 30

   Alex Roe arrived for her interview with Phillip Moy at five minutes to ten. The silk suit she had chosen for this interview was stylish, sophisticated, and sexy. A few moments later, Moy’s executive assistant ushered her into his office.

   Roe had interviewed the legendary computer genius five years ago, in a cramped, windowless office filled with used furniture. Today, his office was a little larger, the furniture was all new, and he finally had a window. Phillip Moy stood at his desk and waved to Roe as he finished a phone call.

   ‘I apologize for the delay, Ms Roe, but I had a minor problem to clear up. It’s a pleasure to see you again.’Moy’s smile and handshake were genuine. ‘I greatly enjoyed the last article you wrote about my company.’

   ‘Please call me Alex, and the pleasure is all mine. For the record,we are starting the interview one minute early. I like what you’ve done with your new office. Quite an improvement over the old one.’

   ‘A few more creature comforts, but functional nonetheless. In the old building, there weren’t enough spaces with windows, so I decided long ago that I wouldn’t have windows until my staff did. I made good on that promise in this building.’

   As they took their seats, Moy’s assistant entered and placed a silver tea service on the table and poured a cup for each before leaving.With the initial flattery over, the real interview began.

   ‘I run my company by simple common sense,’ Moy announced proudly, setting the tone. ‘If you treat your people well, they will be loyal and work well for you. To illustrate that point, our employees control the largest block of shares in this company and, unlike the stock held by outside investors, these shares almost never trade. My people believe in their work and invest their own money into this company. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that someone will work harder, and smarter, for something they care about.’

   ‘Well, that’s what I’m here to look at,’ Roe explained. Moy’s remarks were part of his corporate gospel and Roe’s strategy was to make him feel that her article would be another public-relations coup. ‘At a time when other high-technology manufactures’ earnings are flat or even down, your company’s soaring performance is nothing short of astonishing. Moy Electronics is one of only a few American firms that seems to have made the transition to true global competitiveness.’

   Moy smiled. Alex Roe had written a very positive piece about his company five years ago, one that, combined with their annual report, had caused Moy Electronics stock to rise several points. The publication of another glowing article about his company, followed by the announcement of the new product line, might work similar magic on Wall Street.

   ‘Your praise is appreciated, but if you really want to find out about the reason for our success, you’ll have to talk to the people who make it happen. I may carry the vision for where I think we should go, but it is all the other owners of this company who get us there.’ Moy picked up an itinerary from his desk and handed it to Roe. ‘You asked for permission to interview some of our employees. I have arranged for you to observe a few project teams in action during the next two weeks.My assistant will furnish you with the necessary information and security passes for your visit. In this way, I think you’ll discover the real secret behind our success.’

   The interview continued for another thirty minutes, with Moy elaborating on world markets and events that defined the business climate in which the electronics giant competed. Roe thanked Moy for his time and collected the schedule and security materials from his assistant. The interview was a resounding success; Roe had achieved her primary goal of access to Moy’s employees and most of the facility.

   Roe spent the rest of the morning with the heads of the Personnel and Security departments, who ran her through a brief guest orientation. She signed the usual nondisclosure forms relating to proprietary materials she might come into contact with during her visit. Security finished processing her just before noon, allowing Roe to start her research in the employee cafeteria.

   To her surprise, the food both looked and smelled fantastic, and, looking around the dining area, she noticed very few people brought lunches from home. She selected a chef ‘s salad and a cup of clam chowder and, at the register, discovered that the meal was heavily subsidized.

   She found a seat near the window and began to browse through the new employee packet she’d been given. She knew Moy paid competitive wages, but she finally realized why their employee turnover was so low.Employees ofMoy Electronics received fully paid health benefits, a retirement plan with generous employer contributions, favorable stock options, excellent vacation and medical time, an on-site fitness center, and an on-site child-care facility—all that and an inexpensive lunch.No wonder these people worked so hard to keep this place in business; working anywhere else might be considered a punishment.

   When she was halfway through a folder on the current generation of Moy products, a small group of people approached her table.

   ‘Mind if we join you?’ an attractive, well-dressed woman with dark ebony skin asked politely. ‘It’s too beautiful a day not to enjoy the view.’

   ‘Not at all, Miss Kearney,’ Roe replied, reading the woman’s name off her picture ID. ‘I’m Alex Roe.’

   ‘Are you new?’ Kearney inquired, glancing at Roe’s orientation materials.

   ‘No, I’m a freelance writer doing an article on the people who built Moy Electronics.’

   ‘Then you’ve come to the right place, but please call me Maria. I’m an industrial designer.’

   ‘She designs the pretty boxes that hide my beautiful chips,’ a heavyset blond-haired man commented as he cut into his burrito.

   ‘That’s Tim Otto,’ Kearney said, pointing at the man who’d just spoken, ‘a chip designer who simply hates to see his electronics covered up.’

   Otto nodded at Roe and continued eating his lunch.

   ‘Next to him,’ Kearney continued, ‘is Josh Radwick, who also designs hardware, and Bill Iverson.’

   ‘Software god,’ Iverson added, offering his hand to Roe.

   If there was a model of what corporate America looked like, the gangly Bill Iverson was the antithesis. Iverson’s jeans were frayed and his athletic shoes were now stained a mottled shade of brown. He wore an unbuttoned red-checked flannel shirt over a black T-shirt promoting a heavy-metal band that had broken up over three years ago. Two days of stubble marred his otherwise smooth-featured face and a tangled eruption of frazzled brown hair crowned his head like a halo.

   ‘Bill’s a modest man who can program circles around most of the people here. The other two people on our team are coming.’ Kearney waited until a petite redhead and a tall man with a slight paunch and stringy blond hair arrived.’Natalie Geiss,Michael Cole, I’d like to introduce you to Alex Roe.’

   ‘Pleased to meet you, Alex,’ Geiss said with a smile. ‘Are you joining our project team?’

   ‘Afraid not.’

   ‘Too bad, I could use another hand in working out the production sequence, but I’ll get by.’

   ‘How about you, Michael?’ Roe asked. ‘How do you fit into this merry bunch?’

   Cole’s sullen disposition was in contrast to the others. ‘Actually, I work for the government.’

   ‘Rumor has it that Michael’s with the IRS,’ Iverson said with a laugh.

   Cole glowered at Iverson as he bit into his club sandwich. Less than a minute after he’d sat down, his pager went off.

   ‘Damn, I hate these things,’ Cole said, and he turned the alarm off and read the number. ‘Don’t they know Chicago is an hour behind Washington? Well, I guess I’ll see you all back in the lab.’

   Cole left with his tray, hoping to finish his lunch after he returned the call. The mood improved almost immediately after he left, though Roe found it hard to believe anyone could get this group down. It must be difficult for a wet-blanket bureaucrat like Cole to work with such enthusiastic people, she thought.

   ‘So, you’re working on some mysterious government project with Mr Cole. Perhaps,’ Roe asked in a sinister mock-Russian accent, ‘you vould like to tell me your secrets, da?’

   Everyone laughed as Roe arched an eyebrow and studied each of them suspiciously.

   ‘Seriously,’ Maria said, ‘we shouldn’t be talking about our project outside the lab. That’s one offense this company does not forgive easily.’

   ‘I understand,’ Roe replied sympathetically. ‘If I went public with your secret projects, your competitors might catch up.’

   ‘Even if you did write about what we’re doing, I doubt anyone could catch up with us,’ Iverson bragged, obviously proud of his work. ‘Only a handful of universities and specialty firms are even looking at neural-network processors.’

   ‘Bill’—Otto’s voice was low and direct—‘I think you’re speaking out of class.’

   ‘It’s okay,’ Geiss replied, coming to Iverson’s defense. ‘He’s just talking in generalities.’

   Roe dismissed thier minor dispute over Iverson’s off-hand remark, focusing instead on the revelation that they had made some kind of technological advance. ‘Since you’ve whetted my appetite, could you tell me generally what you’re doing with neural-network systems? Most of the work I’ve seen is years away from any kind of marketable product. I assume, since you have industrial designers and product engineers on this team, that you are fairly close to something useful.’

   Everyone grew silent, unsure of what to say or not to say. Roe’s speculation had struck too close to the mark about how far they’d come with their project.

   The group’s apparent leader, Maria Kearney, found her voice and spoke up. ‘Alex, you are correct on several points. Our project is based upon several major advances in neural-network computing that these three gentlemen made a year and a half ago.’

   Otto, Radwick, and Iverson beamed with pride at Kearney’s praise.

   ‘Now,’ Kearney continued, ‘without being rude, that is all that I am willing to say and more than I should.’

   Roe didn’t press the issue any further. ‘I respect your candor, Maria, and don’t worry about what you’ve said. I can’t substantiate anything I’ve heard other than your names and job titles. For all I know, you may be pulling my leg and you’re really working on a new mouse. Heck, Cole might just be a cranky government-standards hack here to verify that your new mouse is OSHA compliant.’

   ‘Cole’s cranky all right, but don’t be too hard on the guy. He recently went through a nasty divorce, and his ex-wife’s lawyer wiped the floor with him.’ Iverson didn’t particularly like Cole, but he did respect him.’On another note, you raised an interesting point. What would an OSHA-approved mouse look like?’

   The remainder of the lunchtime conversation revolved around a series of napkin sketches that Kearney rapidly produced as the team designed their OSHA-compliant mouse. The humorous exercise taught Roe a lot about how Moy engineers used brainstorming as a creative tool. The final result was a hideous desk beast, covered with safety straps and carpal-tunnel guards, that bore little resemblance to the familiar computer device.

DECEMBER 3

   ‘Hello, Ian,’ Roe said over the phone. ‘Did you get a chance to review the materials I sent you?’

   ‘Yes,’ Parnell replied, ‘I’ve got them right here in front of me, and now I understand your dilemma.’

   ‘I don’t know if we’re ever going to find someone with the kind of access we need who’ll work with us.’

   ‘There wouldn’t be another Randall Johnson on Moy’s payroll, would there?’

   ‘Ian, I don’t have that many old boyfriends out there.’ ‘Well, what do you suggest?’

   ‘On the surface, I think Moy’s senior-level employees are a dead end. They’ve got too much invested in stocks and the pension plan to risk working with us. I think Cole is our best bet.’

   ‘The government fellow?’

   ‘Yes. He doesn’t have the financial incentives to make him loyal to Moy, and I understand that he recently went through a rough divorce.He’s precisely the kind of person we normally look for to help out with jobs like this. What do you think?’

   Parnell sighed audibly over the phone. ‘I don’t see that we have much choice. Check Cole out very thoroughly before you approach him. I’d hate to have this explode in our faces.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. December 4

   Roe’s investigation of Michael Cole began at his current address, an apartment in a deteriorating building on the fringe of D.C.’s drug-infested war zone.

   Cole’s divorce must have really pushed him into a hole, she thought.

   The building manager glanced up briefly as Roe entered the lobby, then turned away, reminding herself that it was best not to notice unusual comings and goings in this neighborhood.

   ‘It don’t work,’ the woman’s voice called out as Roe reached the elevator. ‘It’s been broke for three days. You gotta take the stairs.’

   After climbing up to the third floor, Roe walked down the dimly lit hallway to apartment 315. After selecting the appropriate tool from a set of lock picks that she kept in her purse, Roe easily defeated the flimsy lock and entered Cole’s apartment. The furnishings were sparse and inexpensive, all of the discount-store variety. The living room contained a battered leather recliner next to a reading lamp; a coffee table covered with a few paperback books and magazines; and a small color television propped up on a pair of plastic milk crates.

   A thick layer of dust covered every horizontal surface in the apartment and an unusually repulsive odor filled the stale air. Roe found nothing in the kitchen that had been left out to decompose during Cole’s absence. A quick search quickly identified the dried-out trap of the toilet bowl, which allowed rancid sewer gasses to vent through the fixture, as the source of the stench. Cole obviously hadn’t been home in some time. Roe flushed the toilet to refill the trap and cracked a window in the bedroom to let in some fresh air. After a few minutes, the apartment seemed tolerable.

   On the dresser, she noticed a low, flat bowl filled with change. Next to the bowl was a picture ID badge. Roe picked up the badge and studied it. The photo showed a man with a head of fine blond hair that was receding, thick, smooth cheeks, and just a hint of a double chin. ‘Cole,Michael H.,’ the badge read. Its color coding probably indicated areas to which Cole was permitted access. The job title read ‘Senior Systems Analyst.’ Roe let out a gasp when she tilted the badge to study the hologram in the corner.

   ‘My God,’ she whispered to herself, recognizing the three-dimensional emblem in the hologram: the CIA logo.

   She set the badge down and calmed herself. Cole is a programmer, she thought, not a spy or an analyst. With the right motivation, this can still work.

   Focused back on her objective, Roe continued her search. In the smaller bedroom, she found Cole’s home office. A corner workstation with personal computer and assorted electronic components occupied one end of the room. Roe opened the closet doors and discovered a pair of four-drawer gray metal file cabinets. Hanging beside the file cabinets were a wet suit, an air tank, and a plunge bag containing fins, a mask, and other scuba-diving paraphernalia. Roe would have never guessed that Cole was a sport diver, but, judging from the quality of the equipment, this was obviously one of his passions. She made a mental note of the scuba gear and moved on to the file cabinets.

   The files were meticulously organized, making her search fairly simple. The credit-card statements showed him carrying a modest balance, but not wildly in debt. His bank balances told another story. The bank accounts he’d shared with his ex-wife had held respectable sums of money until a year ago, when they had dropped to zero. Their joint checking, certificates of deposit, IRAs—every shared asset had suddenly evaporated. All the old accounts had been closed, and the new ones bore only his name, and very little money.

   Cole had suddenly lost everything, which struck Roe as odd. Both he and his ex-wife were working professionals; her deposits had been just as large as his. There were no children, no risky investments, and, as near she could figure, neither had joined a religious cult and given the money away.D.C.’s divorce laws weren’t that draconian toward husbands, especially when the wife also has a solid career.No, something else must have forced Cole to accept this outrageous settlement.

   Roe skimmed further into the files and discovered one with a handwritten label: Divorce. Among the papers, she found the suit for divorce and the settlement papers. She sat down at the desk and began to study the paper trail that marked the end of Cole’s marriage.

   The settlement confirmed what she’d begun to suspect; this divorce suit had never reached the courts. Cole and his wife had come to terms privately, leaving nothing for the court to do but grant the petition for divorce. She read through the terms, noting that Cole had initialed every item listed. He’d granted his ex-wife all but a few things that were of no interest to her.

   In the final paragraph, Roe found what she was looking for. The settlement required that Barbara Cole remain silent about her reasons for the divorce; the official reason listed was ‘irreconcilable differences.’ The settlement also required that she deliver all materials, both originals and copies, of evidence related to Michael Cole’s extramarital activities to her ex-husband.

   He bought her off. She caught him with his hands in the cookie jar, and he bought her off. But why would Cole cave in over an affair, Roe thought, unless it was more than just an affair?

   Michael Cole had a secret hidden somewhere in his divorce—something he wanted buried badly enough to pay for his wife’s silence. As part of the settlement, a private investigator named Lou Gerty was to turn over all materials relating to the report he’d prepared for Cole’s ex-wife. Barbara Cole had blackmailed her exhusband, and whatever she had on him was precisely the kind of leverage Roe needed.

   Roe had returned to her hotel and changed into a smart, conservative blue business suit. She pulled her hair back and applied her makeup in an austere fashion. The effect she was looking for was cool, professional, and intimidating.

   She had little trouble negotiating the major streets of the capital. She located Gerty’s address at one of the recently restored office buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue. She parked her rental car in a nearby structure and walked up the street to the building.

   ‘Excuse me,’ Roe said as she approached the portly security guard seated behind the reception desk, ‘where can I find the Gerty Agency?’

   The guard smiled and pointed to a bank of elevators. ‘Lou Gerty’s office is up on eight.’

   ‘Thank you.’

   The corridor was empty as Roe walked along the eighth floor toward Gerty’s office. She found it tucked away near the end of the hallway. The matronly receptionist looked up from her computer as Roe entered.

   ‘May I help you?’ the woman asked politely.

   ‘Yes. My name is Linda Ford and I’m with the FBI.’ Roe offered her credentials for the woman’s inspection. The forged identity card was flawless and had been expensive, but worth the price. ‘I’m here to see Mr Gerty.’

   ‘I’ll see if he can be disturbed,’ the woman said with a hint of nervousness.

   Lou Gerty ran a small one-man operation and appeared to make a decent living at his work. Several matted and framed photographs of D.C. monuments and historic sites graced the walls of the reception area. The lower-right-hand corner of each carried the signature L. Gerty; the man did more than take compromising pictures of adulterous spouses. If Gerty’s eye for composition was as good with the dirty pictures as it was with these, he had a good shot at a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

   ‘Agent Ford,’ a baritone voice called out pleasantly, ‘I’m Lou Gerty. How can I help you?’

   Gerty was middle-aged, somewhere around fifty. He was a few inches taller than Roe, but he carried almost twice her weight on a once-muscled body that had long ago declined. All that remained of his Afro was a fringe of gray that ran from ear to ear; the top of his head was bare and leathery.

   ‘I need to discuss a case of yours in private.’

   ‘By all means. Please step into my office.’

   Gerty closed the door after she’d entered, then seated himself behind his desk.

   ‘Which case are we talking about?’

   ‘It’s a divorce case from about a year ago. You were hired by Barbara Cole to investigate her husband. In the course of your work, you uncovered something about Michael Cole that was so damaging that he gave his wife everything. I need to know what you discovered about Michael Cole.’

   ‘Frankly, Agent Ford, I’d like to help you, but I’m afraid I can’t.My work for Mrs Cole was a delicate family matter. The Coles have settled their differences and the issue is behind them both.’

   ‘Under normal circumstances, I’d be inclined to agree with you. Unfortunately, the situation I am dealing with is not in the realm of normal circumstances.’ Roe feigned a touch of irritation, then composed herself. ‘Are you aware of who employs Michael Cole?’

   A sour look crossed Gerty’s face, his lips pursing tightly beneath his mustache. ‘Yeah, I know who he works for. The CIA.’

   ‘That’s where my concern lies, Mr Gerty. I investigate cases of espionage committed within the United States.’

   ‘Is Cole spying for someone?’

   ‘He’s one of several suspects in an ongoing investigation.’

   ‘Damn, I hate traitors.’ Gerty’s disgust was genuine. ‘I thought they cleaned the last of those rotten bastards out a couple years ago.’

   ‘Unfortunately, no,which brings us back to my request. I need to know what you know about Michael Cole.’

   Gerty considered her request carefully, and Roe could almost hear the debate raging in his head.

   ‘I am sorry,Agent Ford, but I can’t help you. The court ordered that everything I found out about Cole be turned over to him as part of the settlement.’

   ‘I appreciate your position, but let me try to explain mine to you.’ Roe took a slow deep breath and steeled herself. ‘I am investigating a matter of national security. You are in possession of information that I believe is vital to that investigation. If you do not provide this information to me, you will be guilty of obstruction of justice. In connection with an espionage investigation, such a charge would require jail time in a federal penitentiary. I will have your cooperation in this matter; it’s your choice whether your cooperation is granted voluntarily or under the threat of legal action.With one phone call, I can have a search warrant delivered here in twenty minutes. So, are you sure that you turned over everything from your investigation?’

   Gerty swallowed hard, his poker face cracking. ‘But what if Cole’s not the one you’re after? The things I found out about him weren’t criminal, just something that neither of the Coles wants aired in public.’

   ‘I assure you that ifMichael Cole is cleared as a suspect, whatever I learn about his private life will never see the light of day.’

   ‘This goes against what I feel to be right, but I don’t see that I have much choice.’

   Gerty unlocked a high five-drawer file cabinet and pulled out a thick file.

   ‘Mrs Cole’s attorney asked me to stash this away for her, as an insurance policy should her client ever need it.’

   Roe opened the file and skimmed over the investigation report. Gerty’s prose was clear, precise, and unemotional; it read almost like a legal document, except for the clinical descriptions of the sexual acts Gerty had witnessed. Cole’s secret finally sank in when she reached the exhibits marked A through H. The photographs depicted Michael Cole engaged in a variety of homosexual acts.

   ‘So that’s what she had on him,’ she mumbled to herself, ignoring Gerty’s presence.

   ‘Yes, she nailed him to the wall. The bastard didn’t even use a condom. Good Lord, with AIDS and who knows what else running around out there, I figure this guy just took double portions of dumb when they passed out brains.’

   Roe closed the file and softened her stern, authoritative stance with Gerty. ‘Thank you. This is an immense help to our investigation.’

   Roe slipped the file into her briefcase.

   ‘Say, aren’t you supposed to leave a receipt for that?’

   Whatever consideration Roe had shown Gerty a moment earlier was now replaced with a withering stare. ‘Only if I was officially here, which I am not. This conversation never took place, Mr Gerty.’

   Gerty understood the implied threat in Roe’s tone and nodded in agreement.

   ‘You said it yourself, Mr Gerty: According to the terms of the Coles’ divorce settlement, all materials from your investigation were to be turned over to Michael Cole. Officially, this file doesn’t exist, so there’s nothing for me to sign for. Good day, Mr Gerty.’

   Roe’s visit left the grizzled private investigator seated behind his desk, speechless.

NEAR THE SOUTHERN COAST OF HAITI December 6

   Kilkenny checked his dive watch and punched a button on the global positioning satellite receiver mounted into the curved console of the swimmer delivery vehicle. He matched up the longitude/latitude figure from the GPS with the nautical map that he’d memorized over the last few weeks, then verified that they were on target, on schedule.

   After launching from the submarine USS Columbia, Kilkenny led the SEALs on a six-mile submerged approach to Haiti’s southern coast. When they reached the ditch point, the squad shut down the swimmer delivery vehicles and set them on the seafloor half a mile from shore and under enough water that only a major storm could disturb them.

   The squad NCO, Chief Max Gates, unhooked the roll of camouflage netting from his SDV and began unfolding it. The other SEALs each grabbed an edge and pulled the fabric over the two SDVs and staked the corners into the seafloor. After a quick check on equipment and air, Kilkenny led the squad on a half-mile swim to the beach.

   Once ashore, the SEALs stripped off their scuba gear, wrapped the equipment in weatherproof bags, and buried it. Kilkenny recorded the location of the buried gear from the GPS.

   Each man then checked his equipment and provisions for this leg of the mission. The satchel charges and food were stowed in backpacks, while the weapons and ammunition were placed on each man, close at hand.

   Black and green camouflage paint was applied to their faces, making them virtually invisible in the dense jungle foliage. The devils with green faces had arrived in Haiti.

   Kilkenny then took the headset from his communications specialist and flipped the switch on the satellite transmitter.’Trident is feet-dry,’ he announced, informing the mission planners in Washington that they had arrived.

   ‘Message received, Trident,’ a distant voice responded. ‘Good hunting.’

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS December 11

   In light of Gerty’s report,Cole’s one-sided divorce settlement made complete sense. Roe had found his deepest secret and, after five days of trailing Cole in Chicago, she was now prepared to use it in exactly the way the government feared—as a means of manipulating an employee of the CIA. While Gerty’s report implied a certain level of promiscuity, Cole currently displayed no interest in any kind of social life. The divorce had left him emotionally, as well as financially, castrated. Cole lived a quiet, solitary existence that included few entertaining diversions.

   The CIA rented an apartment for Cole a few blocks from Moy’s headquarters. While he was at work, Roe entered the unit and found it to be a great improvement over his Washington home. The apartment was bright, open, and equipped with tasteful rented furniture. On the kitchen counter were several travel brochures for the Caribbean islands. The brochures all described the warm climate, friendly natives, sunny beaches, and excellent scuba diving.

   Cole’s been living like a monk since his divorce, Roe thought as she tried to get a sense of the man. Perhaps he’s planning a long vacation once his project is finished.

   That evening, Roe followed Cole as he emerged from Moy Electronics onto the cold Chicago street. Since his apartment was within walking distance, Cole didn’t bother keeping a car. He didn’t cook much at home, either, as Roe discovered when she looked into a nearly empty refrigerator. The CIA probably had a meal per diem, which Cole would use in local restaurants. Tonight, he picked up a late edition of the Chicago Tribune and stopped in for a bite at McGregor’s Pub.

   Roe waited about fifteen minutes before entering the bar. McGregor’s was a throwback to a different era—a dark old neighborhood public house, like those found in every little town in Ireland. Established in 1905, McGregor’s had weathered Prohibition, the Great Depression, and innumerable changes of time and fashion, yet it remained nearly untouched well into its third generation of ownership.The influx of young urban professionals had brought new economic vitality to the bar’s bottom line, but the owner obviously had no intention of upscaling his working-class bar by adding ferns or trendy beers.

   She sat on a stool beside the massive oak and brass bar that ran the length of the room. Steam rose from a pass-through window between the bar and the kitchen beyond; the scent of the grilled food filled the air. Roe ordered a draft beer and the fish and chips special. After looking over the bar, she located Cole tucked in a corner booth near the back.

   Her food arrived quickly, the fish still sizzling from the deep fryer. Roe gathered up her dinner and utensils in one hand and her beer in the other and walked over to the booth. Cole was halfway through a Reuben sandwich, his face buried in the paper’s ‘Commentary’ section.

   Roe summoned her most disarming smile. ‘I thought I saw a familiar face in here. Mind if I join you?’

   ‘I guess not,’ Cole replied, motioning to the bench opposite him as he folded his evening paper.The puzzled, blank look on Cole’s face told Roe that he didn’t quite remember her. ‘You’re doing that story on Moy, right?’

   ‘Yes, I’m Alex Roe, and don’t worry about forgetting my name. You can’t expect to remember everyone you meet.’

   Cole looked visibly relieved at being let off the hook. ‘I admit, I’m awful with names. It takes me weeks before I get them straight.’

   ‘Now, Michael, if I’m going to join you for dinner, I do have one ground rule: no shoptalk. I deal with computers and technology and business all day long, so I don’t want to hear about anything along those lines. Is that all right?’

   ‘Fine. I can’t talk about work anyway. So what do you want to talk about?’

   ‘I don’t know,’ Roe mused. ‘Have you seen the new exhibit at the art museum, the Muromachi paintings from Japan?’

   ‘No, I’m not really big on art,’ Cole replied, ‘just movies, books, and sports. I did finally go out to Oak Park to see the Frank Lloyd Wright houses. I never understood why so many people raved about him until I saw his houses next to all those Victorians.’

   ‘So what do you think of him now?’

   ‘I guess I have to buy into the tour guide’s party line: Wright was an architectural genius. All the houses in that neighborhood were built about the same time, but only his still look innovative.’

   ‘From what I know about Wright, that was true throughout most of his career. You mentioned books,’ Roe said, changing the subject. ‘What are you reading these days?’

   ‘Would you believe a book about medieval France?’

   Roe kept the conversation moving as they ate, bringing up light, unchallenging topics.Cole warmed up and actually seemed to appreciate the company. The waitress cleared away the plates and brought another round of drinks for them both—Roe’s treat.

   Cole was in a receptive mood and it was time for Roe to make her pitch. ‘So, I hear that your project is winding down. Are you back to Washington after that?’

   ‘Eventually, but first I’m taking a much-needed vacation.’ Cole’s persona outside the office was much more relaxed, and a few beers did wonders at easing the tension. ‘My wife and I busted up right when this job with Moy started going hot and heavy, which was good, because it didn’t leave me much free time to wallow in self-pity. Now it’s time for me to get my head back together, so I’m taking all the vacation days I’ve built up and heading for the islands.’

   ‘Where about?’ Roe was playing the good listener, feeding Cole lines that would keep him talking.

   ‘All over, Grand Cayman, the Bahamas.’ Cole was very enthusiastic about his upcoming vacation. ‘I’m even going to the Dominican Republic. I’ve never been there before, but I hear the diving is fantastic.’

   ‘You’re a scuba diver, huh? I’ve done a little diving, but not as much as I’d like.’

   ‘There’s nothing like it.’Cole gushed with enthusiasm. ‘Shipwrecks are my personal favorite. I’ve been on some over four hundred years old. The sea life and scenery are unbelievable, too. There is nothing comparable to it on land. The only negative thing I can think about diving is that you have to come back up.’

   ‘That and the cost,’ Roe added.

   ‘Yeah, that and the cost,’ Cole agreed, ‘but you gotta have some fun in life. I have most of it saved up, but I’ll have to hit on my credit cards a little to get me over the top. It’s a bit of a financial stretch for me right now, but I have to take some time off.’

   ‘I hear you,’ Roe said with a sympathetic voice, ‘and I’d like to help you out.’

   ‘What do you mean?’Cole’s face suddenly looked tense and a little apprehensive as his mental defenses went up.

   ‘I’ll lay it all on the table.’ Roe was presenting her most honest, sincere self. ‘My presence here tonight is not an accident. I sought you out deliberately because I need your help, and I’m willing to pay you for your time and effort.’

   ‘Does this have something to do with that Moy article you’re writing?’ Cole asked suspiciously.

   ‘Yes and no. The article is finished. What I’m referring to is a project for a private client, one whose information needs are very specific. This client has asked for a look at his major competitor’s new product line before it hits the market.’

   ‘That competitor being Moy.’Cole was following Roe’s line of thought very carefully.

   ‘Yes. My client produces computer and electronics components that are compatible with Moy equipment, at a lower cost. Their problem is that the reverse engineering time increases with each product generation, leaving Moy with longer and longer monopolies over the market while my client plays catch-up.’

   Cole shrugged his shoulders. ‘I don’t work for Moy. How could I possibly help you?’

   Roe leaned close across the table. ‘You can get me into Moy’s computer network. Once inside, I’ll find what I’m looking for. I’m offering you fifty grand for a onetime use of your password.’

   Cole blinked. He felt the adrenaline surge through his body while trying to remain outwardly calm. ‘That’s a lot of money for a password. Why don’t you just hack your way in?’

   ‘I could, but that takes time.’

   ‘This sounds too easy. I get a bunch of money to let you use my password. The upside is great, but the downside’s a bitch.’

   ‘Those are the inherent risks of the game. You don’t win big by hedging your bets.’

   ‘Up to now, all I’ve done is sit here and listen to your pitch. You approached me; I did nothing to initiate this conversation.What you’ve proposed amounts to a bribe, and my acceptance of that bribe would be unethical and illegal. As a government employee, it’s my duty to report this incident.’

   ‘But you won’t.’ Roe spoke with a bold certainty, as if she already knew the outcome.

   ‘What makes you say that?’ Cole replied, shocked by her confidence.

   ‘The money.’ Roe then pulled out a brown envelope from her soft-sided briefcase and placed it on the table in front of him. ‘My offer is very generous, and you need it.’

   ‘What? How would you know if I needed money?’

   ‘I checked you out very thoroughly, Michael. I’d be a fool not to know as much as I could about you before making an offer like this. I know all sorts of interesting things, including the real reason behind your divorce.’

   Cole’s eyes lit up and a look of anger flashed across his face.He held his cool, but just barely, as Roe continued.

   ‘Approaching you, as you astutely pointed out, is a significant risk for me. I have a report from a certain private detective that minimizes that risk greatly.’

   ‘Let me see that,’ Cole growled as he pulled the envelope from under Roe’s hand.

   Inside, he found a copy of the report that his ex-wife’s lawyer had used against him; the photographs, times, and dates were all there. Cole found he could no longer control his anger.

   ‘How the hell did you get this?’ he shouted angrily as he slammed the document onto the table. A few other patrons of the bar looked over at the disturbance.

   ‘Settle down and I’ll tell you.’

   Cole eased back into his seat, still enraged by her revelation. Roe knew that she’d rattled him with the report. Cole was feeling backed into a corner and now she would help him make the correct decision.

   ‘Your ex-wife’s lawyer had her detective retain it as an insurance policy. If I recall correctly, that’s a direct violation of your divorce agreement.’

   The news infuriated Cole, who was now livid. ‘That bitch! I should have known I couldn’t trust her.’

   ‘Well, now you don’t have to worry about her.’ Roe spoke calmly and clearly. ‘I am the only person who can expose your secret. I don’t really care what you do in your private life, or with whom; that’s none of my concern. What I do care about are my clients.My offer still stands: You get me into Moy’s computer, and I’ll pay you fifty grand. Do we have a deal?’

   ‘What about this?’ Cole asked, pointing at the report.

   ‘I keep the originals until I feel that I can trust you. This report has no value to me other than to buy your silence; I have no interest in seeing your career destroyed.’

   Cole’s anger eased a little, but he was still visibly upset.

   ‘Look, if I was a real bitch, I’d just blackmail you and save my money. No, I’m a businesswoman, and what I’m offering you is a win-win deal. I get the information I want and you get some badly needed cash. I saw your divorce settlement—you got burned.

   ‘Got that right,’ Cole agreed bitterly.

   ‘Fine,’ Roe replied, attempting to channel Cole’s anger toward her goal. ‘Here’s a chance for you to get financially back on your feet. At fifty grand, I’m paying you more per word than Schwarzenegger gets in the movies.’

   Cole’s focus slowly shifted toward Roe’s offer and the booth grew quiet as he weighed his decision.

   ‘All right, I’m in.’

   Roe smiled at him warmly. ‘Do you have a dedicated data line into Moy?’

   ‘Yeah. The project I’m on has a tight schedule, so I log a lot of system time in the off-hours.’

   ‘Then it won’t be unusual for you to log in on a Friday night. Is tonight a problem for you?’

   ‘No, I don’t have any plans. What about the money?’

   ‘I have it with me,’ Roe assured him. ‘Once I’m in and out, the cash is yours to do with as you see fit. I’ll bet you can do a lot of scuba diving on fifty grand.’

   ‘I think I can put it to good use.’

   ‘Great.’ Roe stood and collected her coat from the hook while Cole remained seated in the booth. She fished a wallet out of her purse and paid the bill.

   ‘Business meal,’ she said jokingly while collecting the receipt. ‘Let’s go.’

   To Roe’s delight, Cole’s project had provided him with a Silicon Graphics workstation equipped with a highspeed modem. Over a clean, dedicated line, this transfer would go about twice as fast as her last job at Pangen Research. The nature of Cole’s project also granted him unusually high system access for an outside contractor, high enough that Roe was easily able to create a temporary superuser on the Moy network with unlimited access. In ten minutes, Roe was effectively in total control of the Moy Electronics computer network.

   Once Roe began copying the information she wanted onto her optical disk drive, there wasn’t much left to do but wait.

   ‘Here,’ Cole said as he held out a cold can of Coors, ‘it’s on the house.’

   ‘Thanks.’ Roe popped the top and took a swallow of the frosty liquid.

   ‘As terribly exciting as copying files is, I think I’ll go watch the Blackhawks-Red Wings game.’

   ‘Go ahead. I’ll just sit here and baby-sit the machine.’

   The sounds of rabid Blackhawks fans filled Cole’s living room as the television came to life with the game. It was still early in the first period, both teams scoreless, but the checks were flying hard and fast between the longtime NHL rivals. Roe wasn’t much of a hockey fan, preferring college football since her days at Georgia, so she kept her attention on the file transfer.A small window on the monitor’s graphical display indicated that data was pouring out of Moy Electronics at an incredible rate.

   Bored,Roe moved the mouse and clicked open another window. She decided to indulge herself by cruising through Moy’s project library, looking at anything that piqued her interest. The depth of the project library was a tribute to the productivity of the company’s engineering and software staff.

   Littered among the report icons were a few multimedia demonstrations of upcoming Moy products. She slipped on the headphones that were plugged into Cole’s computer and began running the demos. The presentations were slick and professionally done, several of the minimovies incorporating special effects that the gurus at Industrial Light and Magic would love to add to their repertoire.

   Scrolling further into the library,Roe discovered a directory icon labeled U.S. Government Projects. She clicked the directory open and found three more multimedia icons labeled Gatekeeper, Crypto, and Spyder.

   ‘No!’ Cole shouted with the groaning fans on the television as Detroit scored.

   Roe ran the Gatekeeper demo and learned of the government’s effort to eliminate unauthorized computer access with neural-network devices that could actually learn and adapt to changing conditions. Such a device could fend off a hacker attack, going so far as to track the intruder back to his own computer. An anxious moment, in which Roe wondered if she was being tracked by a Gatekeeper, passed when the narrator announced that the first devices were to be installed on the government’s computers early next year.

   ‘Good thing there are no plans for commercial sale of those things’—she sighed—‘or I’d be out of business.’

   The Crypto demo briefly described a new method of encryption for voice and data transmission that the government had recently put into place.

   Very impressive, Mr Moy, Roe thought as the second demo ended. You’ve pushed both the hardware and software envelopes with these two secret projects. I wonder what you’ve dreamed up for Spyder.

   Roe’s request was answered as the jazz sound track for the Spyder demo filled her ears. The device, a small black cube, appeared identical to the Gatekeeper, and the first moments of narration confirmed the two devices’ common lineage. The narrator, a sultry-voiced woman, then began describing the Spyder’s unique talents for covert intelligence gathering.

   ‘My God,’ Roe gasped as the demo ran through a simulated Spyder operation.

   Once in place, the device quickly took over the host computer network. Users who logged into the infested network unknowingly lost their passwords, thus their electronic identities, to the Spyder. The simulation ended with the Spyder activating an outside line from the host network and transmitting the stolen information to its controller. The demo credits listed Bill Iverson and Michael Cole as coauthors of the Spyder’s operating program.

   Roe slipped the headphones off and turned toward Cole, who was engrossed in a Blackhawk power play. That man has created an intelligence-gathering gold mine.

   She walked into the living room and sat in an overstuffed chair facing Cole. ‘Michael, I think I’ve found an opportunity for us to develop a long-term, highly profitable business relationship.’

   Cole muted the sound on the hockey game. ‘I’m listening.’

   ‘Good. First, I want you to tell me everything you know about the Spyder Project. Then you and I are going to have a chat with my partner. If this Spyder of yours is real, it could be worth millions.’

HAITI

   The jungle march was just what they’d expected: slow. Keeping clear of villages to avoid any undesired contact with the natives meant moving through thick jungle growth.What might normally be a two-day hike became a five-day exercise in silent motion. The heaviness of the flora seemed to envelop them as tightly as the sea, cutting off all but a few rays of sunlight.

   The six men probing the jungle with Kilkenny moved as one, silently advancing, with their senses reaching out in every direction. The SEALs operated under the assumption that Masson and his men were as well trained and disciplined as they were. Their opponents also had the defender’s advantage of familiarity with the jungle, and booby traps were to be expected as they approached the enemy camp.

   Gates was on point with Darvas, leading the squad during the night march, when he raised his hand and brought their approach to a stop. In the dark growth ahead, Gates saw the unmistakable silhouette of a person in a clearing of jungle growth. He motioned for Darvas to provide cover while he approached the darkened figure.

   Crawling slowly across the moist ground on his stomach, Gates closed the distance to his target. Each motion he made, each breath he took was carefully controlled and measured. Like a jungle predator, Gates was calm and patient in stalking his prey.

   On Kilkenny’s order, the remaining SEALs took up defensive positions around the clearing. Should Gates and Darvas find themselves outgunned, they would have a place to fall back. Kilkenny waited quietly with the rest of his squad as Gates neared the clearing.

   From the jungle’s edge, Gates studied the figure but detected no sound, no motion coming from the man. Not even the sound of breathing. The figure was upright, but unnaturally so, with arms extended outward to each side. Crucified.

   Gates moved up close and discovered that, whoever it was, he had been there awhile. The remains were in an advanced state of decay, with the clothing rotted and little flesh remaining on the bones. A garland of feathers and beads was hung around the corpse’s neck, along with several other items that Gates couldn’t readily identify.

   ‘I’m coming up behind you, Max,’ a muffled voice crackled in Gates’s ear. After years of working together, he knew Kilkenny’s voice even through the distortion of a throat mike.

   ‘What do you think?’ Gates asked, his gaze still fixed on the grisly figure.

   ‘Voodoo. Practically everyone on this island believes in the voodoo religion, and Masson is considered a powerful high priest. This is a warning.’ Kilkenny looked at the tattered remnants of the man’s uniform and noticed the shoulder boards hanging loosely. ‘Looks like he was Haitian military. We must be getting close to Masson’s camp.’

   Kilkenny raised his hand, then pointed the way. Slowly, they re-formed and melted back into the jungle, leaving the grisly sentry to his silent watch.

LANGLEY, VIRGINIAL December 13

   Cole’s flight arrived in Washington on schedule and the bleary-eyed systems analyst entered Frank Villano’s office casually dressed and slightly rumpled. He dropped his suitcase and coat by the door and poured a cup of coffee from the pot that his boss brewed for his personal use. Villano liked his coffee strong, which is just what Cole needed this morning.

   Villano took one look at Cole’s faded jeans and dayold stubble and groaned. ‘A little casual for the office, aren’t we?’

   Cole just glowered at the thin, bespectacled man behind the desk. ‘If you haven’t checked your calendar, it’s Sunday, the sacred day of football as the play-offs draw near. Anyway, I answered your summons and caught the first flight in. I even came directly here from the airport without stopping off at home.’

   ‘Ah, Saint Michael.’ Villano raised his hands in benediction. ‘You are a dedicated man, and, for that, I will forgive your transgression against the office dress code.’

   ‘Thanks.’ Cole sat down and took a sip of the steaming brew from his mug. ‘Now tell me, what’s so important that you have to call me in from Chicago to deal with it?’

   ‘We’ve been given an interesting challenge, one that requires a person of your unique technical skills and high security clearance.’

   Cole was all too familiar with the look on Villano’s face. Someone on the seventh floor wanted another miracle from the computer department. ‘Something hot that they want yesterday, I assume?’

   ‘You are correct.What do you know about the former KGB’s First Chief Directorate?’

   Cole thought for a second, but he recalled only a few generic facts about the KGB from his CIA indoctrination classes. ‘Didn’t they handle Soviet foreign intelligence operations?’

   ‘Right.We recently acquired some files that are alleged to be the property of Andrei Yakushev, one of the top men in the FCD. Yakushev ran their Special Operations group for twenty years, right up to the failed coup in 1991.’ Villano could see that the name meant little to Cole, and he needed him to understand just how important any information on Yakushev was. ‘Did you ever hear about the CIA’s witch-hunts for moles during the sixties?’

   ‘Yeah, I heard some stories from the old-timers.

   Villano bristled for a second, but let the ‘old-timers’ crack slide. Cole knew that Villano was part of that longtenured group of CIA staff.

   ‘Well, if there were any moles in the CIA, Yakushev was running them. He was their best. Yakushev was also a political rival of KGB chairman Nikitenko, the guy who tried to oust Gorbachev. Now that you know the basics, I’ll explain our situation.’

   With his arms behind his head, Villano tilted back in his chair, his feet propped up on top of his desk. ‘We have a new defector, a junior KGB officer who went AWOL back in ‘91 and has been hiding in Latvia ever since. He claims that Chairman Nikitenko personally ordered him to secure Yakushev’s dacha, which had accidentally burned, and to retrieve the late comrade’s files. Our boy followed his orders and went to the dacha, only the fire didn’t look so accidental once he got there. All the bullet holes in the bodies kind of looked suspicious to him. He found the fire safe that Nikitenko wanted and headed back for Moscow. On the way back to Lubyanka, he had a revelation.’

   ‘He found God?’ Cole asked lightly.

   ‘No, but he decided that if he went back to Moscow, he had a very good chance of meeting him. Yakushev’s place was a long way out in the country, so this guy was listening to the radio on the way back. That’s when he heard about Gorby catching the Kremlin flu—you know the bug that all the general secretaries get before they croak. Our defector used his head and decided that there was a good chance the accidental house fire might be connected with Nikitenko’s attempted takeover of the government.’

   ‘The bullet holes ruled out the possibility of a coincidence for him, I take it?’

   ‘They have a tendency to do that, especially over there,’ Villano said with a nod.’Our defector saw the storm clouds rising and ran for cover. He was born up in the Baltics, so he hightailed it back home until the whole mess blew over, taking Yakushev’s safe with him.’

   ‘Why is this guy defecting now? The Soviet Union broke up years ago, and the Baltics are independent. I don’t see the value.’

   ‘He’d been living quietly and never intended to defect, until last week, when his cover was blown. The locals in that part of the world are touchy about Russian nationals and KGB collaborators. Somehow, word got out that he worked for the KGB, and things went bad real quick. For his own safety, the local police spirited him to Riga,where he appeared at the front door of our consulate with a dusty old fire safe and a wild story about the coup.’

   ‘Okay, so what did we find inside the fire safe?’

   ‘That’s for you to find out, Michael.We got it open—no big trick there—but all we found was a stack of computer diskettes. We don’t know yet what’s on them, but we have a theory. Like us, the FCD didn’t keep operational information inside their agents’personnel records. For deep-cover agents, like the ones Yakushev ran, the personnel files at Lubyanka might even be falsified to protect agents in the field. The true operational histories and aliases of deep-cover agents might be known only to a handful of high-ranking officers, and our sources tell us that Yakushev was very protective of his operational files. Now, you know that the KGB didn’t just disappear when the Soviet Union collapsed; the Committee for State Security just changed their letterhead. The Security Ministry, or MB, is still run by the same people and still doing the same old thing. If these disks contain Yakushev’s operations files, a good number of agents identified in there may still be active.’

   ‘And the disks that might hold these valuable operational files were in a safe in the middle of a burning building.’ The thought of trying to salvage anything from disks exposed to the heat of a fire made Cole wish he’d stayed in Chicago. ‘Ouch! Now I know why you called me.’

   ‘You got it,’ Villano replied with an enthusiastic grin. ‘We need your magic. See if there’s anything that you can pull off those disks. If our defector is telling the truth—and his story has checked out so far—these may be the operations files of one of the most dangerous men in the KGB.’

   Cole felt as if he were being asked to perform the miracle of the loaves and fishes with a parched stalk of wheat and a fish bone. ‘Where are the disks now?’

   ‘In the lab waiting for you. Like you said, the boss wants an answer on this one yesterday. Good luck. You need anything, just ask.’

   Cole finished the last of his coffee and stared for a moment into the empty cup. He resigned himself to the inevitable, stood up, and moved toward the door.’Thanks for the coffee. I’ll be in the lab.’

   Cole slipped on his white lab coat and entered the climate-controlled environment of the electronics laboratory. He ran his ID card through the magnetic strip reader and waited for it to unlock the door to the storage vault where all recovered pieces of electronics equipment were kept during analysis. During the Reagan years, this room had been packed with gear from a Soviet missile sub that officially sank in the Atlantic. Nothing quite that large had come through since.

   He found a small box on one of the gray metal shelves that lined the vault; the number matched the file Villano had given him. Cole walked back into the lab, set the box down on a workbench and extracted thirteen small plastic cases. One by one, he opened the cases and found each filled with ten three-and-a-half-inch diskettes.

   ‘At least Yakushev used world-standard media,’ Cole muttered to himself.’Now I don’t have to cobble anything together to read these.’

   The disks all appeared to be in relatively good condition, despite their presumed exposure to fire. Cole knew the old agency motto about trusting walk-in intelligence: It’s Not Gold Unless You Can Prove It’s Gold. Just because this defector told a credible story doesn’t mean it should be taken at face value, he thought. This could be a disinformation operation, or an attempt to start up another mole hunt. This could also be everything this guy says it is. If there was enough heat inside the fire safe to damage the delicate Mylar inside the floppy disks, they would never know one way or the other.

   Cole then donned an environmental suit and took the disks into the lab’s clean room, where he spent the next few hours studying the disks under a microscope, checking the surface structure for damage from heat, dust, or smoke. He wasn’t about to put a contaminated disk into a disk drive and try to read it. A particle of smoke is large enough to crash a disk head and gouge the disk’s surface, making data recovery all but impossible. The painstaking process of cleaning the disks took the rest of the day, all while Villano kept checking in on him like an expectant father.

   The next day, Cole was ready to attempt a disk read. Starting with the most common personal computer format, he slipped the disk into an IBM-style PC and crossed his fingers. The program he was running would scan the disk at many different levels in an attempt to identify the data-encoding format, if it could be read at all. The screen quickly filled with a pattern of ones and zeros; the first disk appeared readable. Now he had to determine whether the information was intelligible.After scanning 130 disks, he found only four with physical defects that would prevent them from being read.

   Cole had kept the disks arranged in the same order he’d found them, and the Agency translators helped decipher the disk labels as he looked for clues about what he was dealing with. Most of the label names meant nothing to him, just names of birds and fish. They could possibly be code names, but they didn’t tell Cole a thing about what information the disks held. Then he found it, buried deep in the list, the one labled Disk Operating System, #1. The next ten disks were all system-and program-related. They were the core of Yakushev’s personal computer.

   It was eleven o’clock at night, late into his second day, but Cole now saw light at the end of the tunnel. He grabbed one of the lab PCs and formatted a new hard disk. If the translated titles were correct, within the next hour he might be able to reactivate Yakushev’s computer files.

   Cole loaded the first operating-system diskette into the disk drive and restarted the machine. As with all personal computers, the machine ran through its diagnostic tests, followed by a search for its configuration files. The screen then filled with a Cyrillic version of the MS-DOS setup screen.

   Cole knew that the translators were home for the night, so he scrounged up another PC and began to install an old U.S. version of the DOS beside the Russian one. Step by step, the programs were identical in execution. In the end, he had two machines sitting there, with a C:> prompt on their screens, waiting for him to do something.

   Using an ethernet jack in the lab, he connected the English-language PC to the building’s local-area network and tied into the Linguistic Section’s on-line translation library. He loaded the Russian technical dictionary and queried for a translation of the Directory command. Plodding along, he was able to list out the operating-system commands and identify their English counterparts.

   Cole was a man possessed by the thrill of solving a difficult puzzle. As everything began to fall into place, his adrenaline surged. At two o’clock in the morning, rather than fatigue, he felt a burning desire to unlock the secrets on Yakushev’s disks.

   He took the first of Yakushev’s program disks and loaded it into the machine that he now called the ‘KGBPC’ and requested a listing of its file directory. The screen began to scroll, filling with the names of programs stored on the disk. On the normal PC, he requested the Russian translation for the Install command and scanned the file list for a program bearing that name.

   He found a small file with the appropriate name and typed the command for the KGB-PC to execute the installation program. Cole hadn’t seen many examples of Soviet computer programming, though he’d heard their skills were excellent.

   It took over an hour to load all of Yakushev’s software onto the KGB-PC. Cole laughed when he discovered several of the programs were simply Cyrillic versions of popular business software from the early nineties. Who would have thought a good Communist would keep track of his material wealth?

   He looked over the list of translations for the disks and eliminated those with generic names, such as Account Data and Correspondence. Instead, Cole decided to concentrate on those with the bird names; either Yakushev was a naturalist or these disks carried something more interesting than personal correspondence and account balances.

   Cole loaded the first program, whose Russian name loosely translated into the English word Records. The KGB-PC’s screen cleared and a single title line of text appeared across the top, followed by three numbered lines of text in the center of the screen. The cursor flashed above an Underscore character at the bottom of the screen. Not the prettiest program he’d ever seen, but it was obviously offering one of three choices.

   Cole typed the screen text into his translator and discovered that the program was unable to find any data files on the hard disk. He was now offered the choice of loading files onto the hard disk, reading files from the disk, or exiting the program.He grabbed one of the birdnamed disks from the stack and sent the computer off to read it.

   KGB-PC’s disk-drive lights began to flash as the central processing unit, hard disk, and floppy disk began to converse with one another in response to Cole’s command. The screen again went blank before filling with information from the disk. In the upper-right corner of the screen, a photograph of a man appeared; in the upperleft corner, the shield emblem of the KGB became evident. The middle of the screen then filled with an options menu.

   He translated the information on the screen and discovered that this was a personnel file for a KGB deepcover agent. The agent, code-named ‘Seagull,’ was a man named Vitali Farkas. The program now offered Cole a look at Farkas’s personal information, career record, medical record, cover history, current assignment, historical assignments, and commendations. It was the complete life of a KGB mole tied up in a neat package.

   Cole could barely contain his excitement. Using the information encoded on these diskettes, the CIA might be able to cripple an entire section of the MB’s intelligencegathering operations. In a few hours, Frank Villano was going to be one happy man.

   Since it was already 3:30 in the morning, Cole decided to work straight through until 7:00 A.M., when Villano would arrive, and give him the good news personally. In the meantime, he would just continue loading diskettes and browsing through what might be the Who’s Who of Soviet deep-cover agents.

   Two hours later, Cole still hadn’t come down from the initial rush of success. He’d previewed and printed out the complete files on ten agents whose assignments, up until 1991, had placed them in sensitive positions around the world.

   The next disk Cole slid into the KGB-PC’s disk drive was for an agent code-named ‘Cormorant.’ For the first time, an error message appeared on the screen, interrupting the program. Cole translated the message: ‘File not found.’

   The message puzzled Cole; after reading the disks on several agents, why would one suddenly be blank? It was tagged just like the others. Since he had nothing to lose by trying, he pulled the disk out of the KGB-PC and loaded it into the other computer.He then loaded a diskscanning utility to give the Cormorant disk a once-over. Yakushev’s disks had been formatted in a standard DOS environment,Cole reasoned,which meant that there was a good chance that a DOS file utility program might be able to identify and correct the problem.

   Sector by sector, the utility program found that the disk was undamaged. Cole then asked the program to look for any unallocated program fragments still present on the disk. The program went back to work and quickly returned after locating eight deleted files on the disk. Someone had erased the disk, but they hadn’t wiped it clean of information. Cormorant’s files were still there; only the directory names had been deleted. Cole immediately set out to recover the lost information.Re-creating the disk directory and file-allocation table took no more than ten minutes.

   After completing the file recovery,Cole placed the disk back into the KGB-PC and restarted Yakushev’s program. He sat back in his chair, sipping on a can of soda, waiting for the next Soviet agent to be unveiled. Cole choked in midgulp when the digitized photo appeared in the corner of the screen. The picture, though taken several years ago, bore an uncanny resemblance to Alex Roe.

   Cole selected the cover-history option from the menu and, word by word, fed the information into the translation program. What came back confirmed his initial reaction.According to the text, the photograph belonged to a KGB deep-cover agent named Anna Mironova. The agent Cormorant was assigned to the acquisition of scientific and technological information under the cover of a Western journalist, freelance writer Alexandra Roe. The disk left no doubt. Cole had aided a foreign agent in acquiring restricted technology. An overwhelming sense of nausea swept over him.

   He sat for several minutes, stunned by the truth about Roe. Gradually, his brain began to thaw from its initial panic and he started sifting through the rest of the Cormorant file. The list of commendations was extensive and, even though Cole didn’t bother to translate all of them, he quickly realized that Roe was a valuable agent.

   The last entry in the file was dated August 1991, just a few weeks before the coup attempt. Unlike the other commendation entries, this one had no bold capitalized entry naming the decoration. Instead, it was just a single sentence. Cole typed the entry into the computer and waited for the translation. The entry read: ‘10 August, 1991 Capt. Anna Mironova was killed in an automobile accident while on assignment.’

   Cole reread the translation several times. He even retyped it into the computer to double-check it, and the computer returned with the obituary for Mironova.

   Cole’s thoughts raced. If Villano was right about KGB record keeping, then the files in Lubyanka might list Mironova’s many honors, but they would say nothing about how she had earned them. Yakushev’s operational files would hold the only detailed account of Mironova’s activities under the alias of Alex Roe, and the only known copy of those files was on this disk. As far as Moscow is concerned,Cole thought,Mironova died over seven years ago. Case closed.

   In the midst of his disbelief, Cole made an intuitive leap: If Roe had faked her death in order to escape Moscow’s control, how would her former masters deal with her if they discovered this deception?

   A wicked smile curled on his face; the tables had turned. He now possessed information as dangerous to Roe as the Gerty report was to him—information that vastly improved his bargaining position with Roe and her partner. Cole copied Yakushev’s program diskettes and the Cormorant disk onto four blank diskettes of the type that the CIA bought in bulk, then placed the copies inside his briefcase. He then scratched the Mylar surface of the original Cormorant diskette with a paper clip, rendering it unreadable.

HAITI December 20

   ‘Shift change,’ Gates’s raspy voice whispered through Kilkenny’s earpiece. Changing of the guards at Masson’s base camp.

   Kilkenny repositioned himself and looked through a pair of night-vision binoculars at the camp below. Since passing Masson’s gory marker just over a week ago, the SEALs had tracked and studied the activities in the guerrilla camp.The satellite photos they had used in preparing for this mission showed elements of the compound but gave little feel for how the place worked. That kind of information could only be gathered firsthand. Several days of on-site observation gave the squad the familiarity they needed in order to succeed.

   What they discovered about their opposition’s security astounded them. No mines, no trip wires, no booby traps of any kind. The most formidable aspect ofMasson’s defenses was the fear he’d spread over the surrounding villages, a fear that the SEALs did not share. The only protective efforts they detected at the encampment amounted to a few bored men casually patrolling the perimeter. The safety of this remote jungle haven had made Masson’s men lax on their home turf.

   Kilkenny set the binoculars down and closed his eyes in a silent prayer. The plan was set and his squad had taken up their positions around the camp. Tonight, they would attack. Kilkenny prayed for the safety of his men.

LITTLE CREEK NAVAL AMPHIBIOUS BASE, VIRGINIA

   Dawson walked into the Operations Center and signed into one of the mission observation rooms. The rooms mirrored their larger counterparts in the Pentagon,where senior officers and mission planners watched missions unfold. During World War II, it took days before film footage and reports from the battlefield reached the Pentagon. Now, through the use of satellite imagery and the combat electronics worn by his men, Dawson could witness the drama played out live. The downside of all this advanced technology was the very real possibility of seeing some of his men die in action.

   He snapped his headset into place and punched in his access code. The five-by-ten high-definition wall display changed color as the computer confirmed his code and tied him into the mission feed from the Pentagon.An image of southern Haiti, as seen by a reconnaissance satellite passing over two hundred miles above and enhanced by a bank of supercomputers at the National Reconnaissance Office near Dulles, filled the display.

   With a few keystrokes, Dawson superimposed mission elements onto the screen. Offshore, the Columbia remained on-station, waiting for her rendezvous with his men. A cluster of man-shaped icons were lumped together, deep in the jungle northeast of Jacmel.

   He zoomed in on the cluster and switched from realtime imaging to infrared. Now he could see what his SEALs were up against. Over the past week, he, too, had been studying Masson’s camp from this room, taking a head count of the opposition. His men were outnumbered four to one, and Dawson hoped that this was Masson’s only advantage tonight.

   Just minutes from now, at zero hundred hours local time,Kilkenny and his men would attack.A brief message from the SEALs indicated that everything was ready and the mission was still on. The guerrilla camp looked quiet, with only a token force on patrol, as the SEALs started to move. The assault had begun.

   Gates and Rodriguez stalked the young soldier patrolling the perimeter of the camp. His rifle was slung carelessly over his shoulder and a cigarette dangled from his lips, each drag illuminating his face and robbing him of his night vision.

   That mistake will cost you dearly tonight, Gates thought.

   The sentry kept looking back at the hut on the edge of the camp—the whorehouse.His mind was obviously on the women who languished there as sex slaves. A terrified scream from the hut, followed by a loud stream of violent cursing, brought a smile to the sentry’s face as he leaned against a tree and smoked his cigarette.

   Конец ознакомительного фрагмента.


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