Authors: James Patterson,Bill Clinton
take Augie by the arm and pull him into the cabin. Alex and Jacobson, behind us, step in and close the cabin door.
I move Augie into the living room and put him on the couch. “Get him some water,” I tell Alex.
Augie sits on the couch, still looking dazed and distraught. “This is not…what she wanted,” he whispers. “She would not…want this.”
Alex returns with a cup of water. I put out my hand. “Give it to me,” I say.
I walk over to Augie and throw the water in his face, dousing his hair and shirt. He gasps in surprise, shakes his head, sits up straight.
I lean down over him. “Are you being straight with me, kid? There’s a lot riding on you.”
“I…I…” He looks up at me, different from before, scared not just of the circumstances but also of me.
“Alex,” I say. “Show me the footage from the war room.”
“Yes, sir.” From his pocket, Alex removes his phone and clicks on it before handing it to me. It’s the real-time feed from the security camera inside the war room, showing Casey on the phone, Devin on a computer, the other tech geniuses working on laptops and drawing on the whiteboard.
“Look at that, Augie. Are any of those people giving up? No. They’re terrified, every one of them, but they’re not giving up. Hell, you’re the one who located the virus. You just did what my best people couldn’t do for two weeks.”
He closes his eyes and nods. “I’m sorry.”
I kick his shoes, jarring him. “Look at me, Augie. Look at me!”
“Tell me about Nina. You said this isn’t what she wanted. What do you mean? She didn’t want to destroy America?”
Augie, eyes down, shakes his head. “Nina was tired of running. She said she’d been running for so long.”
“From the Georgian government?”
“Yes. Georgian intelligence had been chasing her. They almost killed her once in Uzbekistan.”
“Okay, well—so she was tired of running. What did she want? To live in America?”
My phone buzzes in my pocket. I pull it out. It’s Liz Greenfield. I decline the call and stuff it back in my pocket.
“She wanted to go home,” says Augie.
“To the Georgian republic? Where she’s wanted for war crimes?”
“She was hoping you would…assist in that regard.”
“She wanted me to intervene. She wanted me to ask Georgia to grant her amnesty. As a favor to the United States.”
Augie nods. “And would you not expect Georgia to do such a thing under the circumstances? If America was in peril, and one of its allies—especially one that could use America as a friend, with the Russians on its border—do you not think Georgia would have granted you that favor?”
They probably would have. If I pressed hard enough, if I explained the situation thoroughly enough—yes, we would have figured something out.
“So I want to be sure I have this straight,” I say. “Nina helped Suliman Cindoruk build this virus.”
“But she never wanted to destroy America with it?”
He pauses. “You must understand Suli,” he says. “The way he operates. Nina built a magnificent virus. A devastating stealth wiper virus. I worked, as you might say, on the other side of the business.”
“You were the hacker.”
“Yes. My job was to infiltrate American systems and spread the virus as far and wide as possible. But our positions were…segregated, you would say.”
I think I’m getting it now. “She built a brilliant virus but didn’t know, exactly, to what use it would be put. And you spread the virus through American servers but didn’t know, exactly, what it was you were spreading.”
“What you are saying, yes.” He nods. He seems to be calming down now. “I do not mean to portray either of us as innocents. Nina knew the destructive nature of her virus, obviously. But she had no idea how far and wide it was going to be distributed. She did not know it was going to be spread throughout the United States to destroy the lives of hundreds of millions of people. And I…” He looks away. “Suli told me it was an advanced form of spyware I was disseminating. That he would sell it to the highest bidder to finance our other jobs.” He shrugs. “When we realized what we had done, we could not sit idly by.”
“So Nina came here to stop the virus,” I say. “In exchange for my help getting her amnesty.”
He nods again. “We hoped you would agree. But we couldn’t predict your response. The Sons of Jihad has been responsible for the deaths of Americans in the past. And the United States is hardly what we would consider an ally. So she insisted on meeting you first, alone.”
“To see how I would respond.”
“To see if you would let her leave the White House. As opposed to arresting her, torturing her, whatever else you might do.”
That sounds right. It felt like a test at the time.
“I objected to her going to the White House alone,” he says. “But she would not be deterred. By the time we met in the States, she clearly had a plan in mind.”
“Wait.” I touch his arm. “By the time you met in the States? What does that mean? You weren’t together all along?”
“Oh, no,” he says. “No, no. The day we sent the peekaboo to your Pentagon server?”
Saturday, April 28. I’ll never forget when I first heard about it. I was in Brussels, on the first leg of my European trip. I got the call in the presidential suite. I’d never heard my defense secretary so rattled.
“That was the day Nina and I left Suliman in Algeria. We split up, though. We thought it was safer that way. She came to the United States through Canada. I came through Mexico. Our plan was to meet on Wednesday in Baltimore, Maryland.”
“Wednesday—this past Wednesday? Three days ago?”
“Yes. Wednesday, at noon, by the statue of Edgar Allan Poe at the University of Baltimore. Close enough to Washington but not too close, a logical place for people of our age to fit in and a fixed point we both could find.”
“And that’s when Nina told you the plan.”
“Yes. By then she was certain she had a plan in place. She would visit the White House on Friday night, alone, to test your reaction. Then you would meet me at the baseball stadium—another test, to see if you would even appear. And if you did, I would make my own judgment as to whether we could trust you. When you appeared at the stadium, I knew you had passed Nina’s test.”
“And then I passed yours.”
“Yes,” he says. “If nothing else, the fact that I pulled a gun on the president of the United States and nobody immediately shot me or arrested me—I knew you believed us and would work with us.”
I shake my head. “And then you contacted Nina?”
“I texted her. She was waiting for my signal to pull up to the stadium in her van.”
How close we came, right there.
Augie lets out a noise that sounds like laughter. “That was supposed to be the moment,” he says, looking ruefully off in the distance. “We would have all been together.
would have located the virus,
would have contacted the Georgian government, and
would have stopped the virus.”
Instead someone stopped Nina.
“I will get back to work, Mr. President.” He pushes himself off the couch. “I am sorry for my momentary—”
I push him back down. “We’re not done, Augie,” I say. “I want to know about Nina’s source. I want to know about the traitor in the White House.”
remain hovering over Augie, all but shining a bright light in his face. “You said by the time you met Nina in Baltimore three days ago, she was committed to a plan.”
“Why? What happened between the time you split up in Algeria and the time you met in Baltimore? What did she do? Where did she go?”
“This I do not know.”
“That doesn’t wash, Augie.”
“I’m sorry? Wash?”
I lean in farther still, nearly nose to nose with him. “That doesn’t ring true to me. You two loved each other. You trusted each other. You needed each other.”
was to keep our information separate,” he insists. “For our own protection. She could not know how to locate the virus, and I could not know how to disarm it. This way we both remained of value to you.”
“What did she tell you about her source?”
“I have answered this question more than once—”
“Answer it again.” I grab his shoulder. “And remember that the lives of hundreds of millions of people—”
“She did not tell me!” he spits, full of emotion, a high pitch to his voice. “She told me I would need to know the code word ‘Dark Ages,’ and I asked her how she could possibly know this, and she said it did not matter how, that it was better I did not know, that we were both safer that way.”
I stare at him, saying nothing, searching his face.
“Did I suspect she was in communication with someone of importance in Washington? Of course I did. I am not an imbecile. But that gave me
not discomfort. It meant we had a credible chance of success. I trusted her. She was the smartest person I’d ever—”
He chokes up, unable to finish the sentence.
My phone buzzes.
again. I can’t keep ignoring it.
I put my hand on his shoulder. “You want to honor her memory, Augie? Then do everything you can to stop that virus. Go. Now.”
He takes a deep breath and pushes himself off the couch. “I will,” he says.
Once Augie is out of earshot, I bring the phone to my ear. “Yes, Liz.”
“The cell phones in Nina’s van.”
“Yes. Two of them, you said?”
“Yes, sir, one on her person, one found under the floorboard in the rear compartment.”
“Sir, the one we found hidden in the rear of the van—we haven’t cracked it yet. But the phone that was in her pocket—we finally broke the code. There is an overseas text message that is particularly interesting. It took us a long time to track it, because it was scrambled over three continents—”
“Liz, Liz,” I say. “Cut to the chase.”
“We think we’ve found him, sir,”
“We think we’ve located Suliman Cindoruk.”
I suck in my breath.
A second chance, after Algeria.
“I want him alive,” I say.
ice President Katherine Brandt sits quietly, her eyes downcast, taking it all in. Even over the computer screen, with its occasional fuzz, its sporadic image-jumping, she looks TV-ready, heavily made up from her appearance on
Meet the Press,
dressed in a smart red suit and a white blouse.
She looks up at me.
“Incomprehensible,” I say. “Yes. It’s far worse than we imagined. We have been able to secure our military, but other areas of federal government, and the private sector—the damage is going to be incalculable.”
“And Los Angeles…is a decoy.”
I shake my head. “That’s my best guess. It’s a smart plan. They want our tech superstars on the other side of the country, trying to solve the problem at the water-filtration plant. Then, when the virus detonates, we are cut off from them in every way—no Internet connectivity, no phones, no airplanes or trains. Our best people, stranded on the West Coast, thousands of miles away from us.”
“And I’m just learning all this that’s happening to our country, and everything you’re doing, even though I’m vice president of the United States. Because you don’t trust me. I’m one of the six you don’t trust.”
Her image is not sufficiently clear to gauge her reaction to all this. It wouldn’t be a good thing to learn that your boss, the commander in chief, thinks you might be a traitor.
“Mr. President, do you really think I would do such a thing?”
“Kathy, I wouldn’t have imagined, in a million years, that any of you would. Not you, not Sam, not Brendan, not Rod, not Dominick, not Erica. But one of you did.”
That’s it. Sam Haber of DHS. Brendan Mohan, national security adviser. Rodrigo Sanchez, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Defense secretary Dominick Dayton. And CIA director Erica Beatty. Plus the vice president. My circle of six, all under suspicion.
Katherine Brandt remains silent, still at attention but lost in concentration.
Alex walks in and slips me a note from Devin. It’s not a good note.
When I turn back to Kathy, she looks ready to tell me something. I have a good idea what it will be.
“if I don’t have your trust, the only thing I can do is offer you my resignation.”
n the tech war room, Devin looks up when he sees me. He taps Casey on the shoulder, and they leave the others—all wearing headsets or banging on computers—to speak with me. Dead laptop computers are piled up against the wall. On the whiteboard, various words and names and codes are scribbled:
The room itself smells like coffee and tobacco and body odor. I’d offer to open a window if I were in a joking mood.
Casey gestures to a corner where a stack of laptop computers lines the wall, the boxes stacked so high that they almost reach the security camera peering down at us from the ceiling.
“All dead,” she says. “We’re trying everything. Nothing can kill this virus.”
“Seventy computers so far?”
“More or less,” she says. “And for every one we’re using here, the rest of our team at the Pentagon is using three or four. We’ve racked up close to three hundred computers.”
“The computers are…wiped clean?”
“Everything wiped,” says Devin. “As soon as we try to disarm it, the wiper virus goes off. Those laptops are no better than a pile of bricks now.” He sighs. “Can you get the other five hundred laptops?”
I turn to Alex and make the request. The Marines will get them over to us in no time. “Is five hundred enough?” I ask.
Casey smirks. “We don’t have five hundred ways to stop this thing. We’ve thought of just about everything we know already.”
“Augie’s not a help?”
“Oh, he’s brilliant,” says Devin. “The way he buried this thing inside the computer? I’ve never seen anything like it. But when it comes to actually disabling it? It’s not his specialty.”
I look at my watch. “It’s four o’clock, people. Start getting creative.”
“Anything else you need from me?”
Casey says, “Any chance you can capture Suliman and bring him here?”
I pat her on the arm but don’t answer.
We’re working on it,
I do not say.