1776 RIVER ROAD
SATURDAY, 11 SEPTEMBER 2032
0634 HOURS, LOCAL
When the call came in from the CSG Ops Center, Major General Peter Newman, USMC (Ret.), was nearing the end of his morning ritual—twenty minutes on a NordicTrack elliptical exercise machine, twenty minutes of calisthenics and weights, and twenty more minutes on the elliptical. For a few seconds he listened to Don Gabbard’s verbal report over his PID’s wireless earpiece—then coasted the machine to a halt, dismounted, and walked across the room to a wall-mounted plastic panel displaying a digital photo of the Newman family assembled in front of a Christmas tree. The general touched the picture with his right index finger. Instantly the family photo disappeared, replaced by the live image of his former ops chief.
In the CSG Ops Center, Gabbard could now see and hear his former commander, the high-def sound and image transmitted by tiny visual and acoustic sensors invisibly embedded in the flat plastic panel. Perspiration was running down the general’s face.
“Thank you for the heads-up, Don,” said the general in his sweat-soaked T-shirt when Gabbard finished. “I can access Dr. Cohen’s file here. Keep me posted on what’s happening in Houston.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Gabbard replied. He then asked, “Is there anyone else you want me to notify?”
“Not now,” Newman answered. “Keep an ear on the Gateway link and send me the feed right away if they find Dr. Cohen, ID the perpetrators, or if anything else happens somewhere else in the world on this awful anniversary. I will talk to James about this and one of us will get back to you once we see where this is going. Thank you, Don.” With that he pointed his PID at the screen and it instantly reverted to the family Christmas scene.
Newman walked to the door of the little gym, waved a hand at a wall-mounted sensor to shut off the lights, and tapped the miniature screen on his PID to lock the door as he strode toward the main house. The sun had already crested the Blue Ridge and the late summer day was becoming warm and humid. He stopped at the gate as the two Dobermans came trotting up to meet him. When they caught his scent—or recognized him by sight, he could never tell which—both dogs just turned and ambled back to the house.
As he reached the porch steps, he again used the PID to unlock the back door, then said to the device, “Call James.” In the invisible earpiece the general heard the ringtone twice and then a younger version of his own voice: “Good morning, Dad. Why aren’t you working out?”
“Good morning to you, James,” the general responded. “If it makes you feel any better, I just finished. What are you doing for breakfast?”
“Mmm, breakfast . . .” came the muffled response. In the background there were several thumps and then squeals. “If it makes any difference”—thump—“I just got back from a run”—thump—“and I am in the midst of a pillow fight with two boys who don’t want to get up and face the day”—thump. “They are saying something about it being Saturday and they need to sleep in.” Thump.
Despite the gravity of the news he had just received from Don Gabbard, the old general couldn’t help but smile as he listened to the mayhem occurring a mile up the mountain to the east. After a moment he said, “I don’t want to spoil the fun, but after you finish pummeling your pups and take a shower, come on down to the house and have a bowl of cereal with me. Something has come up.”
“I may have to bring some lounge hounds with me,” came the answer—and another thump. “Is seven fifteen soon enough?”
“Sure. Bring ’em along. We’ll put ’em on a punishment detail, cutting hay with dull scissors and mucking out every stall on the farm with dinner forks.”
* * * *
Peter Newman and his wife, Rachel, simply called it “the farm.” But their children, James and Elizabeth, began calling it “Narnia” when they were still young—after they read C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Every bedroom had a wardrobe. There was a lamppost—plenty of furry animals—even a stone lion. The Narnia name stuck.
Tucked into a fold of the Blue Ridge Mountains and bounded by the Shenandoah River to the west, the Appalachian Trail to the east, and hardwood forests north and south, the farm had been in Rachel’s family for generations. The original house, a log cabin, was built in the early 1790s by a veteran of the Revolutionary War.
When her mother died in the spring of 2002 and then her father later that same year, Rachel inherited all her parents’ property: Narnia, another farm near Charlottesville, and two “vacation” houses—one on Boot Key in Florida and another at Pawleys Island, South Carolina.
In 2008, after Peter was promoted to major general and assigned to the Marine Corps Combat Training Command at Quantico, Virginia, Rachel sold the places in Florida and Charlottesville. Her timing was impeccable. Just months after the sales closed, the real estate bubble burst and the American economy began a precipitous decline.
By the time the Great Recession hit hard, Rachel had renovated the old house at Narnia, turning it into a comfortable home for her family. She built a stable, where she kept four horses and boarded four more, started raising organic beef for sale in local markets, and planted a twelve-acre organic vegetable garden. Until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of “nonregistered food products,” she was well on her way to keeping her vow of “making this place pay for itself.”
At Pawleys, Rachel invested much of her remaining inheritance to convert the beachfront cottage where she spent so many childhood summers into a year-round home on the north end of the barrier island. The children named it “Cair Paravel,” another of C. S. Lewis’s mythical places. Rachel said at the time she hoped Peter would retire from the Marines and they could live out their years in quiet contentment between Narnia in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Cair Paravel on the Atlantic Ocean. She got half her wish.
In May 2011, the Marines tried to make Peter Newman the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans—and give him his third star. He was duly nominated for lieutenant general but the Senate Armed Services Committee refused to confirm the appointment. The Secretary of the Navy called him to give him the news. On 7 June 2011, at the age of fifty-five—exactly thirty-three years after he accepted his commission as a second lieutenant of Marines at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis—Major General Peter Newman, USMC, “entered the retired lists.”
For nearly two years he puttered about between Pawleys Island and the farm, pretending to write his memoirs, painting shutters, fishing in “the creek” behind Cair Paravel, bird hunting in the Carolina low country—and occasionally heading out into the Gulf Stream for some “deepwater” game fish. At Narnia he planted and harvested crops, pruned the fruit trees, took cows to livestock sales, cut miles of oak fence boards and locust posts on their sawmill, and built run-in sheds for the horses using poplar boards from trees harvested and milled on the farm. He hunted the west slopes of the Blue Ridge, fished the Shenandoah, drove James and Elizabeth to sporting events—and drove Rachel crazy inspecting for “dust bunnies” under the furniture.
Friends urged him to run for political office. He turned them down, saying, “No thanks. I remember what happened to Oliver North when he tried that.”
Then, on the morning of 2 April 2013, an unusually damp, cold Tuesday, just minutes after Rachel told him, “Peter, you are going to drive me crazy if you don’t get on with something other than hanging around here!” he received a call from Henry Hodson, a federal judge in Richmond, Virginia.
In the 1990s, the Newmans and the Hodsons were neighbors in Falls Church, Virginia. Then, Henry was an up-and-coming assistant U.S. attorney and Peter was a major in the Marines. In the years since, Hodson went on to head the U.S. Marshals Service, then to an appointment on the federal bench while Newman conducted “special operations” in the Corps. They had a lot in common, stayed in touch, and occasionally hunted together. Both men were members of the National Rifle Association, until the organization was banned as an “illegal extremist entity” for advocating that American citizens violate the United Nations Treaties on Small Arms and Arms Trade by refusing to register privately owned firearms.
“Peter,” the judge said when Newman answered the phone, “I have a deal for you.”
“Oh, what’s that, your honor? Is this a belated April Fool’s joke? Can I cop a plea for a lighter sentence?”
“This is no joke,” Hodson answered. “As you probably know,” the judge continued, “in order to comply with the UN Convention on Small Arms Control and the International Arms Trade Treaty, Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has made it illegal for U.S. corporations to do any business outside the U.S. that involves the use of firearms.”
“How is that a ‘deal’ for me?”
“I’m getting to that,” Hodson said affably. “And General, just in case no one has ever told you before, patience is not your strong suit. That’s why you’re such a lousy turkey hunter.”
Peter smiled and replied, “Okay, your honor, I’m listening.”
Hodson continued, “I’ve just been handed the Chapter Eleven bankruptcy cases for three of the private security companies put out of business by the new law—”
“I thought bankruptcies were handled by some administrative court. How come you have this kind of case? Did ‘Hang ’em High Henry’ get booted off the bench for cruelty to convicted felons?”
“Very funny, General,” said Hodson. “You are correct. Bankruptcies are normally handled by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court—right here in this same building. But there have been so many of them the last few years that all the judges in this circuit are taking them now. And besides, these three are special cases and I need to appoint someone as U.S. trustee who knows what he or she is doing.”
“And you want me to . . .”
Hodson finished the sentence: “Get off your big general’s butt, come down to Richmond, and get sworn in as the U.S. trustee for three of the biggest private armies on the planet. And do it before their heavily armed employees march on Washington.”
“I see,” replied Newman. “How long do I have to think about this?”
Suddenly completely serious, Hodson answered, “Peter, I’m imposing on our friendship—but I need your help with this one. Can you come to Richmond this afternoon?”
* * * *
Three hours after hanging up the phone, Major General Peter Newman, USMC (Ret.), was in the chambers of Senior Judge Henry Hodson on East Main Street in Richmond, Virginia. Two days later, the retired Marine was appointed as U.S. trustee for the three security companies.
On Wednesday, 1 May, after twenty-seven days and nights of furious work, and countless meetings with the security companies’ owners, creditors, clients, lawyers, employees, and accountants, Newman filed a consolidated disclosure of assets and liabilities and presented his reorganization plan. It called for merging the three companies into a single entity, incorporated as Centurion Solutions Group.
Judge Hodson approved the plan with one caveat: the owners, clients, and creditors had to agree to have the retired Marine oversee compliance with the reorganization for the next twelve months. Newman and the other parties all agreed, but the arrangement didn’t last that long.
At a regularly scheduled meeting of the court-appointed Creditors’ Committee on Monday, 2 December 2013, the owners and creditors of the former companies unanimously nominated Newman to take over full-time management of the new, consolidated corporation. He talked it over, first with Rachel and then with Judge Hodson. Both urged Peter to take the job. Two weeks later Peter Newman became the chairman and chief executive officer of Centurion Solutions Group, Inc.
By 2018, the year James Newman graduated from the Naval Academy, CSG had contracts to provide a menu of telecommunications, logistics, security, intelligence, and “quick response” support for seven U.S. government departments and agencies and fifteen American corporations operating in the United States and overseas. The company also operated Centurion Aviation, a highly profitable, worldwide “air taxi” service that quietly advertised “terror-free flights to where you want to go.” CSG even had its own medical staff, disaster relief operations, and a “counterpiracy service” for international shipping.
Though the global economy was still sputtering in the midst of the Great Recession, CSG was quietly flourishing. Despite new laws forbidding American citizens or the foreign employees/contractors of U.S.-owned companies from carrying or using firearms overseas, CSG’s “security and protective services” continued to grow and prosper.
How Peter Newman managed to pull this off was a constant source of frustration to the media. Press reports and left-leaning MESH bloggers repeatedly referred to him as a “mercenary” and called CSG employees and contractors “hired guns.” Centurion Aviation was routinely castigated for “profiling” their passengers instead of subjecting them to U.S.-government-approved, FAA-certified “biometric validation,” full-body scans, and pat-down searches.
During a rare interview in 2022, the general was asked, “How can your CSG company manage to defy the laws of economic gravity without breaking other laws?”
Newman attributed the company’s success to “being blessed with the ability to discern what needs to be done, then finding the right people to do it faster, better, and at lower cost than anyone else.”
What Newman didn’t say was that he personally ensured that all CSG employees—including those running Centurion Aviation—were former military, CIA, FBI, Secret Service, or DEA personnel with top secret clearances. By the time James left the Marines in 2026 and joined CSG as chief operations officer, the company had grown to nearly 2,500 full-time employees, along with nearly 6,000 contract personnel, and was billing more than $2.9 billion a year.
* * * *
James and two of his four boys arrived for breakfast at the stroke of seven fifteen. They raced down the hill from their house on mountain bikes and came charging up the back porch, past the two bewildered Dobermans.
“Halt! Who goes there?” shouted Peter Newman as they burst into the kitchen, out of breath.
The twelve-year-old replied first: “Lance Corporal Seth Newman, reporting as ordered, sir!”
Then, from the boy two and a half years younger and a foot shorter, “Private First Class Joshua Newman, reporting as ordered, sir!”
“Very well. Advance and be recognized,” replied the old general with a smile and a wink at James, standing behind them at the doorway. Then, after hugging them all, he said, “Who’s ready for chow?”
As they scrambled for their seats, Rachel came down the stairs and said, “Not so fast! Aren’t the troops going to wash their hands first?”
While the boys went to the kitchen sink to do their duty, Rachel poured fresh-squeezed orange juice into glasses and set five places at the old oak table she bought years before at a foreclosure auction. When they took their seats, they joined hands around the table and bowed their heads while Peter said a quick thanksgiving for the food, a habit from his days at “Canoe U”—when midshipmen were still allowed to pray on government property.
From a glass jar on the table, Rachel spooned into their bowls healthy portions of her homemade granola—produced from oats, wheat, corn, and honey from the farm—and covered the cereal with fresh Narnia strawberries. As the boys added cold milk from a stoneware pitcher, Peter poured cups of steaming hot coffee for the three adults.
During their meal, they chatted about the pains of “never-ending homeschool homework” and the pleasures of a lazy Saturday. When they finished, Peter said, “You know, I saw some really big bass in the pond below the barn. Why don’t you guys grab your fishing poles and see what you can do about catching us some dinner.”
Both boys were ready to go in an instant—but only after asking “Nan,” their name for their grandmother, “May we please be excused?”
Rachel looked at the clock on the wall, shook her head, and said, “Fifteen minutes, elapsed time; pretty quick breakfast.” But then she smiled and said, “Certainly, gentlemen.” And in a flash they were gone.
As the boys bounded off the porch, James turned to his father and said, “When you called, you said something had come up.”
Peter asked, “Have you seen the news this morning?”
“Only what has come over this, from our Ops Center,” James responded, holding up his PID. “It’s a lot more accurate than the media reports.” He continued, “I’ve already checked. All CSG sites and personnel have been alerted. We don’t have any active PSDs in Houston. Why did the Ops Center contact you about Dr. Cohen? He’s not one of our protectees.”
The old general sighed and said, looking at his son, “Marty Cohen was my roommate at the Academy. If it weren’t for him—”
“Yeah, I know, Dad,” interrupted James. “I grew up on the stories about how you and Mack Caperton, your other roommate, wouldn’t have passed physics or thermodynamics . . . might not have gotten through the Boat School . . . and how Marty Cohen was number one in your class and how he dragged you guys on his back all the way to graduation . . .”
“Well, he did,” Peter responded quietly.
The son grimaced at the father. “Dad, are you forgetting I went there, too? I know all about how Marty Cohen went on to four stars as a nuclear submariner. But you were in the top third of your class. So was Mack Caperton. You became a major general in the Marines. Caperton went on to become a SEAL and a U.S. senator. Cut yourself some slack . . .”
“James!” said Rachel, who had stopped picking up the breakfast detritus. “Your father and Marty Cohen are friends. Julia Cohen and I are friends. Marty is missing! I was on the phone with Julia just before coming down to breakfast. He was in Houston during the attack. He’s now missing. She is beside herself . . .”
Her eyes welled up with tears and she sat down beside her husband. Peter put his arm around her, turned to his son, and said, “James, I know we all had other plans for the rest of the weekend and next week, but I need your help with this.”
The son was silent for a long moment, looking at his parents. Then he leaned forward and said quietly, “Okay, Dad. I think I know a little bit about what a person will do for a friend. I’ll get on this right away. When Seth and Josh come back from fishing, tell them I’ve gone up to the office.”
James rose, patted his father on the shoulder, went outside, got on his bike, and pedaled the half mile up the hill to the CSG office. Eight hours later, he was on his way to Dulles Airport for a scheduled commercial flight to Chicago and on to Calgary. He couldn’t take a company plane. Centurion Aviation was barred from using Canadian airports because it profiled passengers in violation of Canadian human rights laws.
TREATY ROOM, WHITE HOUSE RESIDENCE
1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE
SATURDAY, 11 SEPTEMBER 2032
0800 HOURS, LOCAL
Ulysses S. Grant used this room on the east side of the White House second-story residence for cabinet meetings. President William McKinley employed the space for a ceremonial signing of the peace treaty ending the Spanish-American War. Since then it has been called simply the Treaty Room.
From the room’s full-length windows, the view across the Truman Balcony takes in the Ellipse and the Washington Monument. Most modern presidents have used the room as a study and for small, private, off-the-record meetings.
During the tenure of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, the Treaty Room was one of the few places inside the eighteen-acre White House complex where conversations were not monitored and recorded. The present occupant of the White House insisted on the same requirement. As the chief executive exploded in anger, General John Smith, the National Security Advisor, reflected on the wisdom of that decision.
“This is outrageous! A terror attack, fifty-one days before my reelection!” the president shouted, interrupting the briefing Smith and White House Chief of Staff Muneer Murad had come to deliver. “We had a deal! How the hell can he do this . . .”
“Madam President,” Murad interrupted. He was one of the few in her inner circle who dared do so. Before she could cut him off, the chief of staff pressed on: “As General Smith just said, we don’t know who did this. But what we do know is that it is too dangerous for you to go to Houston tomorrow and we need to cancel your attendance at the Pentagon 9-11 Memorial ceremony an hour and forty-five minutes from now. We also need time to take a careful look at your upcoming campaign appearances—”
“No!” she said emphatically. “I will not, I repeat not, be taken off the campaign trail by this. Now, you listen to me, both of you. I didn’t get to be the first woman president just to be driven out of office when I’m on the verge of being reelected. Use the Secret Service, the military, whatever you need, and make sure I can keep my campaign schedule.”
“But . . .” Murad tried to interrupt again.
“Shut up,” she snarled at her chief of staff. He complied.
Then, turning to her National Security Advisor, she continued, “John, you and M&M work out a statement I can insert into my remarks at the Pentagon. Since you just told me you don’t know who did this—blame it on ‘Anarks.’ This will give us a good reason to crack down on these crazies who breed like rabbits and won’t play by the new rules. Have the FBI go out and arrest a bunch of them. If the Attorney General squawks, tell him his job is on the line.” Both men nodded, sensing their jobs were as well.
“Now,” she continued, “is there anyone out there who is going to contradict us if we say the attack in Houston is the work of Anarks?”
“Well,” Smith began. “Even though no group has claimed credit yet, it is possible, I would say likely, that someone will. Though one or two of the perpetrators appear to be Hispanic, we won’t have any DNA tracking data from recovered remains for at least a few more hours. But you have to understand, the attacks in Houston have all the telltale fingerprints of an Islamic Jihad attack or one of its affiliates. There were at least three suicide bombers we know of, perhaps more—”
“Stop,” the president ordered. “First, for years I have been telling everyone my dear departed husband’s ‘Framework for Peace’ and my Mideast Peace Treaty solved the problem of radical Islamic terrorism. We’ve staked my reelection on the success of all the measures we have taken to make it a fact. I’ve told the voters that PERT technology has stopped illegal aliens and terrorists from getting into this country. They believe me. We’re not going to confuse people now with some new revelation. If some group makes such a claim, deny it.”
Smith nodded, but said nothing.
“Second,” she continued, “our ‘Revitalize America’ and ‘Better Deal for All’ economic plans are just about to pay off in getting unemployment below ten percent with good-paying government jobs. If people think we’re vulnerable again to Islamic terror attacks, or if the price of oil goes sky-high again, it will all go down the drain. Who would be able to contradict the idea that this is the work of a domestic, right-wing extremist, Anark fringe group?”
The general was silent for a beat and then said, “I would guess that most foreign governments and their intelligence services will follow our lead. Certainly, your cabinet officers will. Of course, we can’t control pirate broadcasts out of reach of the Communications Fairness Division of the FCC. And I suppose there is always the possibility of a leak from one of our contractors who do most of our domestic and foreign intelligence collection.”
“Okay,” the president said, “let’s stop talking about this. I have to get ready to leave for the Pentagon.” She paused for a moment and then addressed both men: “Put out the word that the attack in Houston appears to be an Anark operation, with ties to Mexican drug cartels and Jewish fanatics upset about our Mideast Peace Treaty. Anyone—contractor, broadcaster, MESH blogger, and whether it’s an individual or a group—who disputes that is subject to arrest under the Spreading Fear Statute and our anti-extremism hate-speech laws. This Supreme Court has upheld them both. That’s how we shut down the NRA. Now go.”
As the two men headed for the door, Murad’s stomach was churning. He despised the “M&M” nickname she inflicted upon him. And though he tried very hard to never let it show, his Arab heritage seethed at taking orders from a woman. As they exited, they both had PIDs in their hands, summoning deputies to meet them in their respective West Wing offices.
Just as they reached the top of the stairs to head down to the ground floor, the president stepped out of the Treaty Room into the Center Hall and said, “M&M, there’s one more thing.”
They both stopped and Murad replied, “Yes?”
“When I return from the Pentagon,” she said, looking directly at her chief of staff, “I want you to get your friend the Caliph on the secure line. If he has broken the pledge he made to me about no terror attacks until after the election, there is going to be hell to pay.”
Murad simply nodded and turned to go down the stairs.
That’s when Smith noticed the Secret Service agent posted beside the entry to the Treaty Room. She was wearing a dark blue two-piece pantsuit and standing immobile with her hands clasped “fig leaf” style. Their eyes met for an instant. There was no hint in her expression that she had even heard what the president just said.
That was, after all, her duty. That is why it’s called the “Secret Service.” But as Smith walked toward his office, the retired general made a note in his PID to find out her name.