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The George was a trendy newly rebuilt art deco hotel one block from Washingtons Union Station, its restaurant busy this Wednesday noon with a few congressmen, a number of television and print journalists, and well-heeled tourists who liked to be in the middle of things.
The noise level was surprisingly low, as if what everyone was discussing was confidential. The service was as crisp as the April weather, which, after a long damp winter, was energizing. The elections were over, a new president sat in the White House, and an optimistic mood had begun to replace the pessimism since 9/11.
Seated at an upper-level table that looked down on the first floor and entryway, Todd Van Buren sat nursing a Michelob Ultra, waiting for Joshua Givens, a buddy from the University of Mary land, where theyd both majored in political science. Todd had minored in international law and languages—French, Chinese, and Russian—and had been immediately hired by the CIA, while Givens, whod minored in journalism, had started work for the Minneapolis Star, and over the past six years had worked his way up to a well-respected, if junior, investigative journalist with the Washington Post.
When he had called this morning and left a message on Todds voice mail, he sounded frantic, almost frightened.
At twenty-nine, Todd was the youngest person ever to run the CIAs training facility, known unofficially as the Farm, with his wife, Elizabeth, at Camp Peary near Williamsburg, 140 miles south of Washington on the York River. His father-in-law was Kirk McGarvey, former director of the agency. He and Liz both had a fair amount of field experience, much of it alongside Lizs father, whod arguably been the Companys finest field agent, bar none. Theyd practically gone to school on his tradecraft, and once their covers had been blown theyd been recruited to run the training facility. Something theyd been doing with a great deal of success for the past three years. And after the first three months no one ever questioned their ages.
Givens knew that Todd worked for the CIA, just as he knew who Todds father-in-law was, which made his message this morning all the more cryptic.
“Trust me on this one, Todd,” Givens had said. “Dont tell anyone were meeting. No one. Not your wife, and especially not her father.”
Noon at the George, it was ten after that now, and Todd was beginning to regret driving all the way up from the Farm, and lying to his wife in the bargain, though that had been easy because she was spending the day on an exfiltration exercise with the new class. Tomorrow would be his turn, pushing the twelve field officer trainees as close to the breaking point as he could. He and Liz were hands-on administrators.
He would explain to her where hed been when he got back. Theyd been spies, but they had never lied to each other. Shed made him promise before they got married. She loved her father, but hed been gone for almost all of her childhood because he had not been able to tell the truth to his wife, and shed kicked him out of the house. Todds relationship with Liz was the most important thing in his life, not just because he loved her but because of their two-year-old daughter, Audrey. He owed both of them at least that much.
Givens appeared in the doorway from the hotels lobby, spotted Todd sitting upstairs, and came up. He looked out of breath and flushed, as if he had run all the way in from the Post. Unlike Todd, who was tall, solidly built with a broad, pleasant face, Givens was short and whip thin, his movements quick, almost birdlike. In college Todd had lettered two years as a running back on the football team, while Givens had lettered all four years in cross-country. Hed been incredibly fast with the endurance of an iron man, and it didnt look as if hed changed much.
“Thanks for coming,” Givens said, sitting down across from Todd. He laid a computer disk in a jewel case on the table and slid it across. “Dont hold it up, dont look at it, just put it in your pocket.”
“Okay,” Todd said. He slipped it into his jacket pocket as their waitress came over.
“Iced tea, with lemon,” Givens said. “Im not staying for lunch.”
“So, here I am,” Todd said. “And Im curious as hell.”
Givens glanced down at the entryway, and then at the other diners on the lower level, before he turned back. “Listen, for the past five months Ive been investigating a power broker group called the Friday Club. And what Im finding out is scaring the crap out of me. Everything Ive come up with so far is on the disk.”
“Robert Foster,” Todd replied. Everyone in Washington knew of the so-called club whose ultra-conservative members called themselves American Firsters. Lobbyists, a number of high-ranking aides and advisers to some key senators and congressmen as well as at least one White House insider, and others. All men, all of them with power.
“Hes the top dog,” Givens said. “And when I started looking it didnt take me long to find out that some of his lobbyist pals represented people like the Saudi royal family, the Venezuelan oil minister, the deputy director of Mexicos intelligence service.”
“What were you looking for?”
Givens hesitated. “This is going to sound far-fetched. But one of the guys on the list was your deputy director of operations, Howard McCann, who got my attention when he turned up dead in the line of duty.”
Todd kept any hint of emotion from his face, but alarm bells were jangling all over the place. McCann had been a traitor whod financed the hit on a Chinese general in Pyongyang, and before that was the money-man behind a scheme to smuggle forty kilos of polonium-210 across the border with Mexico. When Todds father-in-law confronted the man in a safe house just outside Washington, the DDO had pulled out a pistol and it had been Todd whod opened fire, killing him. Thered been a lot more to it than that, of course, but to this point theyd not been able to figure out where McCann had gotten the money. It was a puzzle.
“You have my attention, Josh,” he said carefully.
“Im in the middle of something really big. Maybe even a shadow government. These guys have influenced elections, got federal judges removed from the bench, made sure some top banks and big financial companies got federal backing—bailouts just like what happened to Chrysler and just about everyone else a couple of years ago.”
“Planning a coup?”
Givens shook his head. “Nothing so messy or dramatic as that. I think theyve already accomplished what they set out to do. Theyre running things right now. Or at least the important stuff. Guys from the Federal Reserve are in the club, along with a couple of four stars from the Pentagon. This cuts right across the board.”
Givens looked away for a moment, apparently overwhelmed by what he was saying. When he turned back hed come to some decision.
“What?” Todd prompted.
“Could be the bastards engineered nine/eleven.”
This was getting over the top for Todd. “Do you know how crazy that sounds? Just another conspiracy theory. Our guys deal with that kind of shit twenty-four/seven. Doesnt get us anywhere.”
“Look what theyve accomplished,” Givens said.
“A direct reduction of our civil liberties, for one. For Christs sake, libraries and bookstores are supposed to inform the FBI what fucking books were reading. Now you tell me whos crazy?”
“What do your editors over at the Post have to say about it?”
Givens dismissed the question with a gesture. “These arent the Woodward and Bernstein days. We dont run partial stories hoping the exposure will make other people come forward. Everyones gotten too smart.”
“Who have you shared this with?” Todd was having a lot of doubts. He and Givens hadnt been close, but the guy had never seemed nutsy. And his investigative pieces in the Post had seemed first rate. But this now made no sense.
“No one. Not even my wife, Karson. Not until I have everything nailed down.”
“Okay, Ill look at your disk,” Todd said. “Then what?”
“How did McCann die? What was he working on?”
Todd spread his hands. “Even if I knew something like that, which I dont, I wouldnt be able to talk about it.”
“Especially not with a reporter.”
“Something like that.”
“Give it to your father-in-law then. From what I hear he still carries some weight.” Givens looked down at the entryway again, as if he was expecting someone. “Hell, I dont have anything solid yet. All I have are a lot of disconnected facts. Sudden changes in government policies, resignations of some key people here and there, upset elections in two dozen key states over the past couple of years. Its all on the disk.”
“Ill see what I can do,” Todd said. “But I cant promise anything. Youve gotta understand that, Josh.”
“Do what you can,” Givens said. “What you think is right.”
His iced tea came, and he drank some of it then got up. “I trust you, man. I think youre the only person in the world I can trust.”
“Ill call you if I come up with something,” Todd said.
“Not at the paper,” Givens said. He handed Todd a business card. “Call me at home.” He gave Todd a long, hard look then turned, went downstairs, and left the restaurant.
Excerpted from The Cabal by David Hagberg.
Copyright © 2010 by David Hagberg.
Published in 2010 by A Tom Doherty Associates Book.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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