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The White House. Washington, D.C.
January 23, 2007.
Admiral Arnold Morgan was alone in his office contemplating the two major issues in his life at this particular lunchtime. The first was his decision to stay on as the National Security Adviser to the President for one more year, against all of his better judgment.
The second was a Wagnerian-sized roast beef sandwich, fortified with heavy mayonnaise and mustard into a feast he would never have dared to order had his secretary and wife-to-be, the gorgeous Kathy O'Brien, been anywhere near the precincts of 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue. Happily she was out until 4 P.M.
The Admiral grinned cheerfully. He saw the sandwich as a richly deserved gastronomic reward for having succumbed to weeks of being badgered, harassed., coaxed and ultimately persuaded to remain in this office by some of the most powerful figures in American politics and the military.
His decision to hang in there had been wrung out of him, after nine weeks of soul-searching. The decision to hit a roast beef sandwich el grando, before Ms. O'Brien came sashaying back into the office, had been made with much less anguish. Nine weeks' less.
The Admiral, 61 years old now, was still, miraculously, in robust health, and not more than 8 pounds heavier than he had been as a nuclear submarine commander 27 years previously. Immaculately tailored, wearing a maroon-and-gold Herme's tie Kathy had given him for Christmas, he tucked a large white linen napkin into his shirt collar and bit luxuriously into his sandwich.
Through the window he could see it was snowing like hell. ThePresident was, shrewdly, visiting Southern California where the temperature was a sunlit 78 degrees, and right here in the West Wing of the White House there was absolutely nothing happening of any interest whatsoever to the most feared and respected military strategist on the planet Earth.
"I still have no idea what the hell I'm doing here," he muttered to himself. "The goddamned world's gone quiet, temporarily. And I'm sitting here like a goddamned lapdog waiting for our esteemed but flakey leader to drag himself out of some fucking Beverly Hills swimming pool."
Flakey. A complete flake. The words had been used about the President, over and over at that final meeting at the home of Admiral Scott Dunsmore, the wise and deceptively wealthy former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Arnold Morgan could not understand what the fuss was about. Plenty of other NSAs had resigned, but, apparently, he was not permitted that basic human right.
Christ, everyone had been there. And no one had even informed him. He'd walked, stone-cold, into a room containing not only General Scannell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but two former chairmen, plus the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the United States Marines. The Defense Secretary was there, two senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including the vastly experienced Senator Ted Kennedy, whose unwavering patriotism and endless concern for his country make him always a natural leader among such men. Altogether there were four current members of the National Security Council in attendance.
Their joint mission was simple: to persuade Admiral Morgan to withdraw his resignation, and to remain in office until the Republican President's second term was over. A few weeks previously, at the conclusion of a particularly dangerous and covert Naval operation in China, the President had demonstrated such shocking self-interest and lack of judgment that he could no longer be trusted to act in the strict interests of the USA.
The world was presently a volatile place, and no one needed to remind Admiral Morgan of that. But the man in the Oval Office was prone to appoint "yes-men" to influential positions, and now in the final two years of his presidency he tended to think only of himself and his image and popularity.
Without Admiral Morgan's granite wall of reality and judgment in the crucible of international military affairs, the men in Admiral Dunsmore's house that day were greatly concerned that a terrible and costly mistake might occur.
Looking back, Arnold Morgan could not remember precisely who had put into words the hitherto unspoken observation that the President was a "goddamned flake, and getting worse." But he remembered a lot of nodding and no laughter. And he remembered their host, Admiral Dunsmore, turning to his old friend, the Senator from Massachussetts, and saying, "The trouble is he's interested in military matters. And we cannot trust him. Talk to Arnold, Teddy. You'll say it better than anyone else."
He had, too. And at the conclusion of a short but moving few words from the silver-tongued sage of Hyannisport, Admiral Morgan had nodded, and said, curtly, "My resignation is withdrawn."
And now he was "back at the factory." And he was ruminating on the general calm that had existed in the world's known trouble spots for the past month. The Middle East was for the moment serene. Terrorists in general seemed still to be on their Christmas break. India and Pakistan had temporarily ceased to threaten each other. And China, the Big Tiger, had been very quiet since last fall. Indeed, according to the satellite photographs, they were not even conducting fleet exercises near Taiwan, which made for a change. As for their new Xia III, there was no sign of the submarine leaving its jetty in Shanghai.
The only halfway-interesting piece of intelligence to come Admiral Morgan's way since Christmas was a report put together by the CIA's Russian desk. According to one of their field operators in Moscow, the Rosvoorouzhenie factory on the outskirts of the city was suddenly making large quantities of moored mines. This was regarded as unusual since Rosvoorouzhenie's known expertise was in the production of seabed mines, the MDM series, particularly the lethal one-and-three-quarter-ton, ship-killing MDM-6, which can be laid through the torpedo tubes of a submarine.