|Publisher:||St. Martins Press-3PL|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.99(h) x 1.07(d)|
About the Author
Thriller writer Stephen Coonts began his writing career with the 1986 Vietnam war bestseller Flight of the Intruder, which introduced the character Jake Grafton, and was inspired by his own experiences flying an A-6 Intruder plane in Vietnam. The book was later adapted to film. In the years since, Coonts has produced a number of bestselling series, including the Saucer series, the Jake Grafton series, the Deep Black series, and others.
Date of Birth:July 19, 1946
Place of Birth:Morgantown, West Virginia
Education:B.A., West Virginia University, 1968; J.D., University of Colorado, 1979
Read an Excerpt
Guantánamo Bay, on the southeast coast of the island of Cuba, is the prettiest spot on the planet, thought Rear Admiral Jake Grafton, USN.
He was leaning on the railing on top of the carrier United States's superstructure, her island, a place the sailors called Steel Beach. Here off-duty crew members gathered to soak up some rays and do a few calisthenics. Jake Grafton was not normally a sun worshiper; at sea he rarely visited Steel Beach, preferring to arrange his day so that he could spend at least a half hour running on the flight deck. Today he was dressed in gym shorts, T-shirt, and tennis shoes, but he had yet to make it to the flight deck.
Grafton was a trim, fit fifty-three years old, a trifle over six feet tall, with short hair turning gray, gray eyes, and a nose slightly too large for his face. On one temple was a scar, an old, faded white slash where a bullet had gouged him years ago.
People who knew him regarded him as the epitome of a competent naval officer. Grafton always put his brain in gear before he opened his mouth, never lost his cool, and he never lost sight of the goals he wanted to accomplish. In short, he was one fine naval officer and his superiors knew it, which was why he was in charge of this carrier group lying in Guantánamo Bay.
The carrier and her escorts had been running exercises in the Caribbean for the last week. Today the carrier was anchored in the mouth of the bay, with two of her larger consorts anchored nearby. To seaward three destroyers steamed back and forth, their radarsprobing the skies.
A set of top-secret orders had brought the carrier group here.
Jake Grafton thought about those orders as he studied the two cargo ships lying against the pier through a set of navy binoculars. The ships were small, less than eight thousand tons each; larger ships drew too much water to get against the pier in this harbor. They were Nuestra Señora de Colón and Astarte.
The order bringing those ships here had not come from some windowless Pentagon cubbyhole; it was no memo drafted by an anonymous civil servant or faceless staff weenie. Oh, no. The order that had brought those ships to this pier on the southern coast of Cuba had come from the White House, the top of the food chain.
Jake Grafton looked past the cargo ships at the warehouses and barracks and administration buildings baking in the warm Cuban sun.
A paradise, that was the word that described Cuba. A paradise inhabited by communists. And Guantánamo Bay was a lonely little American outpost adhering to the underside of this communist island, the asshole of Cuba some called it.
Rear Admiral Grafton could see the cranes moving, the white containers being swung down to the pier from Astarte, which had arrived several hours ago. Forklifts took the steel boxes to a hurricane-proof warehouse, where no doubt the harbormaster was stacking them three or four deep in neat, tidy military rows.
The containers were packages designed to hold chemical and biological weapons, artillery shells and bombs. A trained crew was here to load the weapons stored inside the hurricane-proof warehouse into the containers, which would then be loaded aboard the ship at the pier and transported to the United States, where the warheads would be destroyed.
Loading the weapons into the containers and getting the containers stowed aboard the second ship was going to take at least a week, probably longer. The first ship, Nuestra Señora de Colón, Our Lady of Colón, had been a week loading, and would be ready to sail this evening. Jake Grafton's job was to provide military cover for the loading operation with this carrier battle group.
His orders raised more questions than they answered. The weapons had been stored in that warehouse for yearswhy remove them now? Why did the removal operation require military cover? What was the threat?
Admiral Grafton put down his binoculars and did fifty push-ups on the steel deck while he thought about chemical and biological weapons. Cheaper and even more lethal than atomic weapons, they were the weapons of choice for Third World nations seeking to acquire a credible military presence. Chemical weapons were easier to control than biological weapons, yet more expensive to deliver. Hands down, the cheapest and deadliest weapon known to man was the biological one.
Almost any nation, indeed, almost anyone with a credit card and two thousand square feet of laboratory space, could construct a biological weapon in a matter of weeks from inexpensive, off-the-shelf technology. Years ago Saddam Hussein got into the biological warfare business with anthrax cultures purchased from an American mail-order supply house and delivered via overnight mail. Ten grams of anthrax properly dispersed can kill as many people as a ton of the nerve gas Sarin. What was that estimate Jake saw recently?one hundred kilograms of anthrax delivered by an efficient aerosol generator on a large urban target would kill from two to six times as many people as a one-megaton nuclear device.
Of course, Jake Grafton reflected, anthrax was merely one of over one hundred and sixty known biological warfare agents. There were others far deadlier but equally cheap to manufacture and disperse. Still, obtaining a culture was merely a first step; the journey from culture dishes to a reliable weapon that could be safely stored and accurately employedanything other than a spray tankwas long, expensive, and fraught with engineering challenges.
Jake Grafton had had a few classified briefings about CBWwhich stood for chemical and biological warfarebut he knew little more than was available in the public press. These weren't the kinds of secrets that rank-and-file naval officers had a need to know. Since the Kennedy administration insisted on developing other military response capabilities besides nuclear warfare, the United States had researched, developed, and manufactured large stores of nerve gas, mustard gas, incapacitants, and defoliants. Research on biological agents went forward in tandem at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and ultimately led to the manufacture of weapons at Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas. These highly classified programs were undertaken with little debate and almost no publicity. Of course the Soviets had their own classified programs. Only when accidents occurredlike the accidental slaughter of 6,000 sheep thirty miles from the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah during the late 1960s, or the deaths of sixty-six people at Sverdlovsk in 1979did the public get a glimpse into this secret world.
Nerve gases were loaded into missile and rocket warheads, bombs, land mines, and artillery shells. Biological agents were loaded into missile warheads, cluster bombs, and spray tanks and dispensers mounted on aircraft.
Historically nations used chemical or biological weapons against an enemy only when the enemy lacked the means to retaliate in kind. The threat of massive American retaliation had deterred Saddam Hussein from the use of chemical and biological weapons in the 1991 Gulf War, yet these days deterrence was politically incorrect.
In 1993 the United States signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, thereby agreeing to remove chemical and biological weapons from its stockpiles.
The U.S. military had been in no hurry to comply with the treaty, of course, because without the threat of retaliation there was no way to prevent these weapons being used against American troops and civilians. The waiting was over, apparently. The politicians in Washington were getting their way: the United States would not retaliate against an enemy with chemical or biological weapons even if similar weapons were used to slaughter Americans.
When Jake Grafton finished his push-ups and stood, the staff operations officer, Commander Toad Tarkington, was there with a towel. Toad was slightly above medium height, deeply tanned, and had a mouthful of perfect white teeth that were visible when he smiled or laughed, which he often did. The admiral wiped his face on the towel, then picked up the binoculars and once again focused them on the cargo ships.
"Glad the decision to destroy those things wasn't one I had to make," Toad Tarkington said.
"There are a lot of things in this world that I'm glad I'm not responsible for," Jake replied.
"Why now, Admiral? And why does the ordnance crowd need a battle group to guard them?"
"What I'd like to know," Jake Grafton mused, "is why those damned things were stored here in the first place. If we knew that, then maybe we would know why the brass sent us here to stand guard."
"Think Castro has chemical or biological weapons, sir?"
"I suspect he does, or someone with a lot of stars once thought he might. If so, our weapons were probably put here to discourage friend Castro from waving his about. But what is the threat to removing them?"
"Got to be terrorists, sir," Toad said. "Castro would be delighted to see them go. An attack from the Cuban Army is the last thing on earth I would expect. But terroristsmaybe they plan to do a raid into here, steal some of the darn things."
"Maybe," Jake said, sighing.
"I guess I don't understand why we are taking them home for destruction," Toad added. "The administration got the political credit for signing the Chemical Weapons Treaty. If we keep our weapons, we can still credibly threaten massive retaliation if someone threatens us."
"Pretty hard to agree to destroy the things, not do it, and then fulminate against other countries who don't destroy theirs."
"Hypocrisy never slowed down a politician," Toad said sourly. "I guess I just never liked the idea of getting naked when everyone else at the party is fully dressed."
"Who in Washington would ever authorize the use of CBW weapons?" Jake muttered. "Can you see a buttoned-down, blow-dried, politically correct American politician ever signing such an order?"
Both men stood with their elbows on the railing looking at the cargo ships. After a bit the admiral passed Toad the binoculars.
"Wonder if the National Security Agency is keeping this area under surveillance with satellites?" Toad mused.
"No one in Washington is going to tell us," the admiral said matter-of-factly. He pointed to one of the two Aegis cruisers anchored nearby. "Leave that cruiser anchored here for the next few days. She can cover the base perimeter with her guns if push comes to shove. Have the cruiser keep her gun crews on five-minute alert, ammo on the trays, no liberty. After three days she can pull the hook and join us, and another cruiser can come anchor here."
"There's a marine battalion landing team aboard Kearsarge, which is supposed to rendezvous with us tomorrow. I want Kearsarge to stay with United States. We'll put both ships in a race-track pattern about fifty miles south of here, outside Cuban territorial waters, and get on with our exercises. But we'll keep a weather eye peeled on this base."
"What about the base commander, sir? He may know more about this than we do."
"Get on the ship-to-shore net and invite him to have dinner with me tonight. Send a helo in to pick him up."
"Sir, your instructions specifically directed that you maintain a business-as-usual security posture."
"I remember," Jake said dryly.
"Of course, 'business as usual' is an ambiguous phrase," Toad mused. "If anything goes wrong you can be blamed for not doing enough or doing too much, whichever way the wind blows."
Jake Grafton snorted. "If a bunch of wild-eyed terrorists lay hands on those warheads, Tarkington, you and I will be fried, screwed, and tattooed regardless of what we did or didn't do. We'll have to will our bodies to science."
"What about the CO of the cruiser, Admiral? What do we tell him?"
"Draft a top-secret message directing him to keep his people ready to shoot."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Nuestra Señora de Colón is sailing this evening for Norfolk. Have a destroyer accompany her until she is well out of Cuban waters."
"Yo." Toad was making notes on a small memo pad he kept in his hip pocket.
"And have the weather people give me a cloud-cover prediction for the next five days, or as far out as they can. I want to try to figure out what, if anything, the satellites might be seeing."
"You mean, are they keeping an eye on the Cuban military?"
"Or terrorists. Whoever."
"I'll take care of it, sir."
"I'm going to run a couple laps around the deck," Jake Grafton added.
"May I suggest putting a company of marines ashore to do a security survey of the base perimeter? Strictly routine."
"That sounds feasible," Jake Grafton said. "Tonight let's ask the base commander what he thinks."
"Terrorists or the Cuban Armywanna bet ten bucks? Take your pick."
"I only bet on sure things, sir, like prizefights and Super Bowls, occasionally a cockroach race."
"You're wise beyond your years, Toad," the admiral tossed over his shoulder as he headed for the hatch.
"That's what I tell Rita," Toad shot back. Rita Moravia was his wife.
Jake Grafton didn't hear the rest of Toad's comment. "And wisdom is a heavy burden, let me tell you. Real heavy. Sorta like biological warheads." He put the binoculars to his eyes and carefully studied the naval base.