The President didn't blame them. His staff had worked grueling hours to support him in the upcoming election, and now, all of a sudden, it seemed the President was fumbling the ball.
Soon they will understand, Herney told himself. Soon I'll be the hero again.
He regretted having to keep his staff in the dark for so long, but secrecy was absolutely critical. And when it came to keeping secrets, the White House was known as the leakiest ship in Washington.
Herney arrived in the waiting room outside the Oval Office and gave his secretary a cheery wave. "You look nice this morning, Dolores."
"You too, sir," she said, eyeing his casual attire with unveiled disapproval.
Herney lowered his voice. "I'd like you to organize a meeting for me."
"With whom, sir?"
"The entire White House staff."
His secretary glanced up. "Your entire staff, sir? All 145 of them?"
She looked uneasy. "Okay. Shall I set it up in... the Briefing Room?"
Herney shook his head. "No. Let's set it up in my office."
Now she stared. "You want to see your entire staff inside the Oval Office?"
"All at once, sir?"
"Why not? Set it up for four P.M."
The secretary nodded as though humoring a mental patient. "Very well, sir. And the meeting is regarding...?"
"I have an important announcement to make to the American people tonight. I want my staff to hear it first."
A sudden dejected look swept across his secretary's face, almost as if she had secretly been dreading this moment. She lowered her voice. "Sir, are you pulling out of the race?"
Herney burst out laughing. "Hell no, Dolores! I'm gearing up to fight!"
She looked doubtful. The media reports had all been saying President Herney was throwing the election.
He gave her a reassuring wink. "Dolores, you've done a terrific job for me these past few years, and you'll do a terrific job for me for another four. We're keeping the White House. I swear it."
His secretary looked like she wanted to believe it. "Very well, sir. I'll alert the staff. Four P.M."
As Zach Herney entered the Oval Office, he couldn't help but smile at the image of his entire staff crammed into the deceptively small chamber.
Although this great office had enjoyed many nicknames over the years - the Loo, Dick's Den, the Clinton Bedroom-Herney's favorite was "the Lobster Trap." It seemed most fitting. Each time a newcomer entered the Oval Office, disorientation set in immediately. The symmetry of the room, the gently curving walls, the discreetly disguised doorways in and out, all gave visitors the dizzying sense they'd been blindfolded and spun around. Often, after a meeting in the Oval Office, a visiting dignitary would stand up, shake hands with the President, and march straight into a storage closet. Depending on how the meeting had gone, Herney would either stop the guest in time or watch in amusement as the visitor embarrassed himself.
Herney had always believed the most dominating aspect of the Oval Office was the colorful American eagle emblazoned on the room's oval carpet. The eagle's left talon clutched an olive branch and his right a bundle of arrows. Few outsiders knew that during times of peace, the eagle faced left-toward the olive branch. But in times of war, the eagle mysteriously faced right-toward the arrows. The mechanism behind this little parlor trick was the source of quiet speculation among White House staff because it was traditionally known only by the President and the head of housekeeping. The truth behind the enigmatic eagle, Herney had found to be disappointingly mundane. A storage room in the basement contained the second oval carpet, and housekeeping simply swapped the carpets in the dead of night.
Now, as Herney gazed down at the peaceful, left-gazing eagle, he smiled to think that perhaps he should swap carpets in honor of the little war he was about to launch against Senator Sedgewick Sexton.
The U.S. Delta Force is the sole fighting squad whose actions are granted complete presidential immunity from the law.
Presidential Decision Directive 25 (PDD 25) grants Delta Force soldiers "freedom from all legal accountability," including exception from the 1876 Posse Comitatus Act, a statute imposing criminal penalties for anyone using the military for personal gain, domestic law enforcement, or unsanctioned covert operations. Delta Force members are handpicked from the Combat Applications Group (CAG), a classified organization within the Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Delta Force soldiers are trained killers-experts in SWAT operations, rescuing hostages, surprise raids, and elimination of covert enemy forces.
Because Delta Force missions usually involve high levels of secrecy, the traditional multitiered chain of command is often circumvented in favor of "monocaput" management-a single controller who holds authority to control the unit as he or she sees fit. The controller tends to be a military or government powerbroker with sufficient rank or influence to run the mission. Regardless of the identity of their controller, Delta Force missions are classified at the highest level, and once a mission is completed, Delta Force soldiers never speak of it again-not to one another, and not to their commanding officers within Special Ops.
Fly. Fight. Forget.
The Delta team currently stationed above the Eighty-second Parallel was doing no flying or fighting. They were simply watching.
Delta-One had to admit that this had been a most unusual mission so far, but he had learned long ago never to be surprised by what he was asked to do. In the past five years he had been involved in Middle East hostage rescues, tracking and exterminating terrorist cells working inside the United States, and even the discreet elimination of several dangerous men and women around the globe.
Just last month his Delta team had used a flying microbot to induce a lethal heart attack in a particularly malicious South American drug lord. Using a microbot equipped with a hairline titanium needle containing a potent vasoconstrictor, Delta-Two had flown the device into the man's house through an open second-story window, found the man's bedroom, and then pricked him on the shoulder while he was sleeping. The microbot was back out the window and "feet dry" before the man woke up with chest pain. The Delta team was already flying home by the time its victim's wife was calling the paramedics.
No breaking and entering.
Death by natural causes.
It had been a thing of beauty.
More recently, another microbot stationed inside a prominent senator's office to monitor his personal meetings had captured images of a lurid sexual encounter. The Delta team jokingly referred to that mission as "insertion behind enemy lines."
Now, after being trapped on surveillance duty inside this tent for the last ten days, Delta-One was ready for this mission to be over.
Remain in hiding.
Monitor the structure-inside and out.
Report to your controller any unexpected developments.
Delta-One had been trained never to feel any emotion regarding his assignments. This mission, however, had certainly raised his heart rate when he and his team were first briefed. The briefing had been "faceless"-every phase explained via secure electronic channels. Delta-One had never met the controller responsible for this mission.
Delta-One was preparing a dehydrated protein meal when his watch beeped in unison with the others. Within seconds the CrypTalk communications device beside him blinked on alert. He stopped what he was doing and picked up the handheld communicator. The other two men watched in silence.