The Raptor Force Trilogy, Book 3
A Novel by Bill Yenne
Copyright © 2013 by Bill Yenne
When there was nowhere else to turn, President Tom Livingstone called his old friend General Buck Peighton, and from the shadows, Peighton called on the Raptor Force. . .
For more than a week, Suzanne Harris had been living in a corkscrew tunnel into the depths of a rabbit hole worthy of Lewis Carroll’s most insane fantasies. The young journalist had promised to protect her sources – including the man who’d saved her life twice – but the main reason that she could not write her unbelievable story was, simply put, nobody would believe it!
At last, unimpeachable documentary proof of an even more astonishing intrigue was within her grasp. All she had to do was reach out and take it.
9:19 p.m. Eastern Time
"That’s a problem," Buck Peighton told President Thomas Livingstone. "The first lady wouldn’t be safe here. The Secret Service is involved in the plot."
"The Secret Service? The whole Secret Service?"
"We don’t know how far it goes," General Peighton replied.
"What can we do?" Livingstone asked. "If not the Secret Service, can we get the FBI involved? What about Delta Force, or the SEALs?"
"The military cannot operate within United States borders," Llewellan said. "And using the FBI against elements of the Secret Service might be problematic for obvious reasons. That would really look like a coup d’état to all concerned. There’s no telling what might happen. And then there would be issues of diplomatic immunity if United Nations personnel are involved. It could be extremely messy."
"Messy will be just half of it when this hits the media and later as these Secret Service people end up going on trial," Faralaco said, shaking his head. "There could be a disastrous crisis of confidence. There is no precedent for this kind of thing, either legally or historically."
"It could take the Justice Department lawyers months just to sort out what to do," Livingstone said. "We’ve got to act fast and decisively. What would Theodore Roosevelt have done, Buck?"
"Permission to speak freely, sir?" Peighton asked. He recalled previous discussions that he’d had with Livingstone about the twenty-sixth president.
"Well, Tom, as you know, Roosevelt also lost his wife. . . Not when he was president, but back in 1884, and he experienced some of what you’ve been going through these past days. Unlike you, though, he never got a chance to get Alice Hathaway Lee back from beyond the dark curtain. If he’d had that chance, he would’ve done everything within his power to avail himself of it. If he had seen people doing to Alice Hathaway Lee what I saw people doing to Joyce Livingstone on that street in Brussels. . . If Charles Fairbanks, his vice president, had the audacity to try to overthrow the United States government. . . If there was a question that federal lawyers might gum the works. . . I think that Roosevelt would have gone to that bunch of incorrigible cowboys that he called `Rough Riders’ and he would have turned them loose. . . That’s what I think."
During the years that he had spent living on his ranch in North Dakota, Roosevelt had become fascinated with the capabilities of the rugged westerners whose skills with horses and firearms had been honed to unrivalled excellence, and whose ability to adapt to harsh climates was second nature. During the Spanish-American War, he helped form and lead a volunteer regiment of such Rough Riders, a unit that did not disappoint those who had expected it to excel.
"We do have assets at out disposal," Peighton said.
"Can they. . . ?" the president asked, knowing exactly who Peighton meant. Thanks to the general, Livingstone, like Roosevelt, had a cadre of Rough Riders who did not disappoint those who had expected it to excel.
"If anyone can."
"They’re ready," Peighton told him.
"Can you authorize the use of lethal force against American citizens on American soil by `Rough Riders?’" Steve Faralaco, Livingstone’s chief of staff, asked cautiously.
"When I took the oath of office, I promised to defend the Constitution of the United States against both foreign and domestic threats. I think that heading off a goddamn coup d’état comes under the heading of defending our country. . . besides which, those bastards roughed up my wife!"
7:41 a.m. Eastern Time
Rod Llewellan realized he was probably being watched as he drove his car up the narrow, rutted dirt road through rural Prince William County. He was barely 30 miles from the White House, but it seemed like a thousand. He was less than a half dozen miles from the Manassas Battlefield and the ghosts of 1861 and 1862 still walked these woods.
Water dripping from the trees made a hollow popping sound as it drizzled into the fallen leaves that lay ankle deep on the walkway. The Raptor Team was using several small dwellings in a long-mothballed cabin camp as safe houses, and Llewellan made his way to the one in the front where he had been told that Colonel Brannan had his command post.
"Hi," Professor Anne McCaine smiled as she answered the door with a slice of toast in her hand. "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
She was wearing a gray tank top and a pair of faded jeans. She had bare feet, but she was wearing a loosely draped black nylon shoulder holster with a Heckler & Koch Mk23 in it. Hers was among the most flawless of female bodies Rod had ever seen up close. It was tanned and ideally proportioned from her narrow waist to her perfect breasts. Her arms were slender and feminine, but beneath their smooth surface, they had the rock-hard appearance of solid muscle. She was nearly a decade older than Rod was, but he could easily have fallen for her at the drop of a hat. She had the face and body that women half her age would die for. Except for the distinctive gray streak in her long dark hair, she was the closest thing to timeless beauty that he had ever met in a living, breathing woman.
"No, thanks, professor," Llewellan assured her. "I’m fully caffeinated."
Colonel Dave Brannan was across the room talking on his cellphone. The big guy with the auburn mustache and the towering presence was obviously the perfect mate for this woman. Llewellan thought of him as a modern-day Robin Hood, with Professor McCaine as his Maid Marian. Just as the swashbuckling hero of medieval legend inhabited the shadows, an outlaw who was loyal to King Richard, fighting for his righteous rule even as Prince John and other royal rascals schemed to steal his throne, Brannan was fighting usurpers to save the presidency of Tom Livingstone.
"Good to see you again, Rod," Brannan smiled as he ended his call and shook Llewellan’s hand. His grip was firm, but not bone crushing. The colonel knew his own strength.
As they shook hands, the other men entered the room, the "Merrie Men" to Brannan’s Robin Hood, or the Rough Riders in the metaphor which Buck Peighton had used in his conversation at the White House that morning.
Now, as he had been several times before, Llewellan was surrounded by Buck Peighton’s Rough Riders, an uncouth-appearing collection of characters who looked like the last men standing after a horrendous brawl. Indeed, this had been the case on many occasions, and that was precisely why they were here. Once the cream of the United States Special Operations Command, they had become the modern analog of the cowboys who had become Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, men who now enjoyed smoky old pool rooms and clear mountain mornings in places from New Mexico to Montana – until they were called upon for missions exactly like that of today.
Llewellan had met them all before. He knew that Brad Townsend and Ray Couper really did work as cowboys and hunting guides, somewhere down around the Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico. The jolly man with the huge black beard was Jason Houn, the Lebanese-American tech wizard – and then there were Will Casey, arguably the best marksman in the world, and chopper pilot Greg Boyinson.
Taking it from his pocket, Llewellan handed the president’s memo to Brannan, who scanned it quickly and read it out loud.
"Shoot to kill and kill ‘em all," Couper observed, having heard the memo. "I guess we won’t be reading any of these clowns their rights."
"I suppose you could say that the legal theory holds that they all know their rights well enough to know that they’ve waived them by taking a paycheck from a foreign power and becoming traitors," Llewellan said. All of the men in the room were soldiers. Each one had signed on to fight wars, not to arrest people, and they all seemed satisfied that they would be going into action with neither hand tied behind his back. Llewellan glanced at Anne McCaine, the lone female in the room and the only non-soldier.
"What?" Anne said, catching his glance. "Are you wondering whether the `girl’ in the bunch might have a different point of view? Listen, I’m just as pissed off at these people as the guys are. I’m no fan of showing ambivalence instead of decisiveness when dealing with a threat to the institutions of this country. I’ve immersed myself in the intimate details of civilizations that span four millennia and encompass geographical locations from the Gobi Desert to the Andes. . . and I’ve seen over and over that giving in to indecision and hesitation has never served anybody well. Besides that, I saw what they did to Joyce Livingstone and how she looked when we got her out of that rabbit hole over there. That really got my feminist fury boiling. Why is it that these punks think it’s okay to push women around?"