In the writing of a novel, there are frequently favorite scenes and characters that don't make the final cut.
Below are two of them, both left out of Slatewiper as published partly because of the need to shorten a very large manuscript and partly to improve the book as a whole.
We authors really hate cutting things like this. In fact, we sometimes create a scene in out heads that we feel so compelled to keep in the book that we will bend and torture the plot and the action and construct entire sections around just in order to make them fit.
Fortunately, some of us have good editors (mine is Natalia Aponte) who see these misplaced gems and require that we excise them regardless of the pain that causes.
Ernest Hemingway called this process "killing your babies." Back when I was an investigative reporter in Washington D.C., fellow author, reporter and friend, Jim Grady (Six Days of the Condor) and I would spend some time talking about these scenes and giving each other permission to use them in each other's works. Such was our fondness of the scenes that we wanted them to have life in print even if it was in someone else's book.
The Prologue, below, was cut mostly for space because it slowed the reader's entry into the action, because it was too graphic for some and because I covered the same material farther along in the book.
Chapter One could have worked just fine, but for the decision that the character, Connor O'Kane, was cut from the final book. Partly this was to shorten the book, but mostly it was because we had a very strong female co-protagonist -- Lara Blackwood -- that my editor felt should have the entire stage.
I really liked O'Kane, a man in the federal government's witness protection program who finally wants his real life back no matter how great the danger. He's a former undercover government agent whose family was killed as revenge by those O'Kane had sent to jail.
He spends his life with his new identity as a sailboat charter skipper. His old agency occasionally feeds him intelligence about his family's killers which allows O'Kane to take his own revenge. In the original version of Slatewiper, O'Kane has killed all but the ringleader of the killings and he has finally had enough of killing and life as someone else.
In the original Slatewiper, O'Kane learns that his life has been a sham: his family was actually killed by enemies within his own agency who have used him over the past years as an assassin to murder innocent people not connected with the death of his family.
In reality, O'Kane's story could easily be a novel of its own, and I finally agreed that he needed to come out of the final manuscript.
Removing O'Kane offered an entirely new set of problems because there were a number of scenes that required Lara to credibly perform physical acts -- single-handing a large sailboat in terrible weather for one -- that were not possible for the average woman.
Then, again, Lara was not the average woman.
But to make her credible and not some cartoon superwoman, I needed to build her story from the very beginning.
Fortunately, the A3 America's Cup Team -- the first all-woman challenge in this high-profile sailing championship -- still had their website running and it contained profiles of every crew member. Most of these women were tall (many over 6 feet tall) strong, athletic and thus became the model for Lara.
There are also women who compete in the Vendee Globe, around-the-world solo race. Not coincidentally, a lot of these women had backgrounds in rowing as well, thus did Lara.
Camp Detrick, Maryland. November 30, 1946
"Hell got hungry, gentlemen. This is where it fed."
The speaker, a tall Army Air Force major with a chest covered in theater ribbons and a head of prematurely gray hair leaned on a polished mahogany cane and paused to let his words sink in.
Behind him, a hastily-erected projection screen flickered with black-and-white horrors, the room's crypt-like silence was broken only by the clacking of the 16-millimeter projector and the nervous coughs of men who mistakenly thought they had been hardened by the horrors of war. Nothing had prepared them for this.
Fog banks of cigarette smoke drifted through the projector's light. The screen showed a rutted dirt street lined with metal-sided buildings, palm trees in the distance where an automobile with flags on the front fenders trailed dust.
The major shifted his weight back onto his good leg and used his cane as a pointer.
"This is one of the -- " he cleared his throat with a short cough " -- facilities run by Unit 731 of the Japanese Army from whom most of this footage was captured. As your briefing papers indicate, Unit 731 had at least three other such...facilities..."
He swallowed hard against the dryness that comes from 90 minutes of non-stop talking and against the raging anger that choked him each time he forced himself to euphemize. Facilities? They were death camps, slaughter houses, torture pits, painful scraps torn from the fabric of hell.
But, he had learned painfully, you got nowhere by telling the truth to politicians. Although blinded by the projector's light, the major knew that Politician Number One, Harry S Truman, was out there in the darkness surrounded by the sycophantic little parasites that populated the world of politics.
The room was filled with civilians from the War Department, scientists from secret facilities the major had never heard of before and a scattering of the president's friends, mostly wealthy men who had made large campaign contributions.
"At least three other facilities that we know about."
On the screen, the automobile, now clearly identifiable as a Mitsubishi, filled the screen and drew to a halt in a fog of dust. The Rising Sun flags on the fenders fluttered forward for a moment and then settled slowly. The chauffeur sprang from the car.
"That's Dr. Shiro Ishii," the major said as the Mitsubishi's first passenger emerged from the rear seat. "He's the lieutenant general and Japanese Army surgeon selected by the Emperor to run Unit 731." The Major paused as the camera focused on the second passenger exiting the Mitsubishi. "That's Lt. Colonel Miyata, Ishii's top staff officer at Unit 731. He's also known as Prince Takeda. The Emperor's son."
The screen cut to a file of prisoners being marched by soldiers into a field. General Ishii was recognizable in the distance. The prisoners, some wrapped in blood-stained bandages, were dressed in tattered military uniforms. Their hands were tied in front of them.
"This is the area used for testing fragmentation and gas dispersal munitions," the major continued in what had become a raspy monotone. "Note in the close ups the unit patches that clearly identify these men as captured Allied pilots, mostly American but some Australians as well."
The major bit his lip against the pain as his own emaciated face filed across the screen. There was no reaction from his audience; no one connected the walking cadaver on the screen with the apparently healthy soldier facing them.
The camera closed in as the POWs were bent over sawhorse-like supports, their legs spread-eagled, each ankle tied to one of the sawhorse legs, their hands bound to a stake fixed in the ground in front of them.
In the distance, one Japanese soldier could be seen joking and using a board to swat the upturned buttocks of one of the prisoners. He laughed as he tossed the board aside, then jogged over to help his comrades as they placed upright panels resembling privacy screens against the buttocks of each prisoner.
"Those panels are armor plated. Each one has a hole about three inches in diameter, which is being positioned against the right buttock."
The major wrinkled his nose as the smell of alcohol drifted out of the darkness. That would be Keenan, the major thought. Joseph Keenan: "Joe the Key" as he was known in the White House inner circles. One of J. Edgar Hoover's original gangbusters, Joe the Key had been very close to FDR. It was said that the Brown and Harvard educated man earned his nickname because he was the key to obtaining high-ranking appointments in the Capital.
As hard as the Ivy Leaguer now tried to be one of the boys, however, his style grated on the new president. There had been friction. The word was that Truman had appointed Keenan as chief judge of the Tokyo War Crimes Trial simply to get him out of the White House. What else could explain the appointment to such a post of a man whose sum knowledge of Asian affairs was how to use chopsticks badly?
Then there was the drinking. The whole thing reeked of internal sabotage, the major thought. Somebody wanted to minimize the pressure on the Japanese.
"Note Ishii and his men gathering here." The major swatted the projection screen with the brass tip of his cane. "The protective gear they are getting into now are the world's best bacteriological warfare protection suits, far beyond anything we've developed. A new plastic-like material that seems to be heat-sealed. Captured documents indicate the suits were developed in cooperation with the Germans so we assume the suits are also protection against Sarin, Tabun and other nerve gases as well."
On screen, the cameraman had joined Ishii and the other protected soldiers in a bunker. In the distance, the spread-eagled men faced the bunker, struggling with their bonds. Beyond the bound POWs and the carefully perforated armor screens sat a tripod supporting a small cylinder.
Ishii gave the camera a broad smile from within his protective suit and nodded his head.
Instants later the tripod vanished in the smoke and fire of an explosion that left the trussed-up POWs writhing. The film had no sound, but the screams of agony were undisguised. Many of the POWs twitched uncontrollably. Blood pooled in the dust and splattered against their ankles.
"That was an updated version of the HA model 40-kilogram experimental fragmentation anthrax bomb. Captured records show that regular production of the first version of this bomb was begun in 1938. Total production of the bacteria alone at special bacteriological manufacturing plants in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was eight tons per month by 1941. Again, their production techniques far surpass our best designs. By August of last year, they had enough functional bacteriological weapons to wipe out several nations. And not just anthrax. They also developed weapons using hemorrhagic fever, cholera, plague, typhus and typhoid. The Imperial strategy, according to captured documents, was to attack with three or four different diseases with the aim of overwhelming medical treatment facilities and assuring 100-percent kill rates. They tested every aspect of their weapons and strategy thoroughly."
On the screen, the POWs were loaded face-down on stretchers and stacked on transport trucks. "The HA bomb and all its successors were designed by General Ishii himself." A schematic drawing of the bomb appeared on the screen. "This is a drawing which E Division here at Detrick has drawn based on a sketch from General Ishii who, as you know, is in our custody. You'll see the model HA is about two feet long and has a cylindrical core of about seven pounds of TNT surrounded by 1,500 steel pellets and some 700 ccs of anthrax bacterial fluid. Two type 12 Toka Shunpatsu fuses assure adequate dispersal of the contents. Again, the design is far advanced from anything we -- or the Russians -- have right now. Ishii says he has an advanced porcelain bomb that is far more effective." He paused, then added, sotto voce, "Not that it has to be."
On screen lay rank after rank of obviously dead POWs.
The major coughed softly to clear his throat. "These are the same men shown in the experiment," he moved the tip of his cane slowly along the screen, forcing eyes to look individually at every corpse. "The armor plating assured that the steel pellets would cause non-fatal wounds to the tough, meaty part of the buttocks, thus assuring that resulting deaths would be from the anthrax rather than from shrapnel wounds.
"The kill rate among the untreated was close to 100 percent," he continued as he lowered the cane and used it to move himself to the podium at one side of the room. "Realizing that the same warfare techniques could be used against them, Ishii's doctors developed a series of increasingly effective vaccines and treatments that were also tried out on the Allied POWs."
The film now showed living POWs, drinking tea from handleless cups and talking with doctors. "But being the recipient of a successful vaccine was a respite, not a reprieve, since Ishii's ever-curious researchers inevitably picked up their scalpels to take a look around inside the survivors to see why they had survived."
The film showed seemingly endless rows of laboratory jars filled with tissue samples.
"Of course, some of the dissections were carried out under somewhat non-scientific conditions to satisfy the..." Perversions. "Foibles of Ishii and his troops."
On screen, a row of posts were set into the ground. Tied to the posts were naked Caucasian men bound with webbed straps at the neck, waist and feet. All but the POW in the foreground were slightly out of focus, but obviously still and slumped against their bonds. Walking toward the camera were five men, laughing. They came into focus and stopped by the POW focused in the foreground.
"In the foreground is Dr. Ota Futaki; he's a professor at Kyoto University and Japan's leading researcher in open heart surgery. Three of the men are Japanese Army doctors who work with Ishii. They're here to get a lesson from the master."
On screen, tears streamed down the POW's face as he struggled with his bonds; his lips pleaded for mercy.
"The fourth man in the film," Barner continued, "is Yoshio Kodama, a leading boss in the Japanese Mafia -- the yakuza -- who had a big hand in greasing the wheels of government and industry. He controls the unions and a lot of the pols and has a hand in every black market racket going, including the supply of Dr. Ishii's unit. Kodama's gang was allied with the right wing, ultra-nationalists who pushed Japan into the war. His slice of the pie is his reward for throwing his private army behind the war effort. Kodama is a Class A war criminal, now in Sugamo Prison with Tojo and the rest. However, like Dr. Ishii, I understand he's to be released and not prosecuted now that G-2 has classified him as a strategic intelligence asset."
Someone retched softly in the dark as on the screen Futaki removed the POW's fingernails, then cut open his chest, removed his still beating heart and proceeded to give a practical demonstration.
"I think this is damned enough of this damned inflammatory presentation! Stop this instant!" Calmly, the major focused into the dark, but he didn't need to see the speaker. He knew the man's voice as one of Truman's buddies, a fat young man representing one of the country's largest pharmaceutical companies. Laurence Gilchrist II--not "Jr." but "II"--the brilliant, self-indulgent son of Laurence Gilchrist, chairman of North American Pharmco and the president's largest single campaign contributor. Laurence II had already been anointed by his father and Pharmco's board as the next chairman of the company, a power the young man wielded like a medieval mace.
"We've got real business to do here today and real decisions to make," Gilchrist continued. "All of this sentimental inflammatory horse manure is wasting time, distracting us from our real task here."
As Gilchrist's tinny voice carried on his tirade, the film continued to run. Chinese women being gang raped by top ranking Japanese Army officers; Allied POWs being given injections of horse blood, and having their livers destroyed by huge X ray doses; more vivisections, some live others not; men whose arms were frozen stiff to test the effects of freezing, later the rotting stumps of thawed limbs.
The major stood at attention through the verbal abuse, striving for grace under pressure as he struggled to remember why he believed in civilian control of the armed forces. The reason didn't come to him immediately.
Gilchrist finally looked at the screen, and what he saw silenced his tirade. For an instant the only sounds in the darkened room came from the clacking projector and from the muffled sounds of truck engines somewhere beyond the room. On screen, an American POW with dysentery was being forced by laughing Japanese guards to consume his own excrement.
"That's enough, damnit!" the president barked. "Just shut that fucking film the hell off! I've seen all I want to see."
Behind him, a young aide darted toward the projection room and tumbled over a folding metal chair. As aides in Army dress uniforms scurried to turn on the lights and pack away the hastily erected screen and projector, Army Air Corps Major A.L. "Buddy" Barner leaned against his cane and thought just how easy -- and how satisfying -- it would be to rearrange young Larry's cranial structure.
"Major Barner," Truman said. "I want to thank you for your thorough briefing today. I am familiar with your distinguished combat record and wish to thank you for your selfless service to your country. We are all in your debt. As you know, we will be discussing policy now for which you are not cleared, and we must ask you to leave so we can continue."
"Thank you, sir," Barner replied. "May I have permission to say one final thing to the group?"
"Mr. President -- " Gilchrist leaped to his feet, his piggy eyes glowing with anger. Truman cut him off with a wave of his hand.
"Of course, Major," Truman said coolly, letting Barner know he was about to overstep his welcome.
"Thank you, sir. I will be brief," Barner said. "I'd just like to say that as this distinguished group meets to decide what we should do with the Japanese scientists and their data, not to mention yakuza gangsters like Kodama, we need to remember that these men are war criminals. They committed atrocities just as heinous as those of the Nazis. They, too, slaughtered more than six million innocent civilians. Those six million murdered civilians and the thousands of Allied POWs who were killed and tortured deserve justice."
"We're not talking justice here," Gilchrist interrupted. "We're talking survival. The Commies are the threat now, and they'll stop at nothing less than world domination. Justice is an obsolete concept, Major. All of you straight arrows with your sense of fair play are dinosaurs! Your old rules of human conduct no longer apply. Darwin's is the only rule that makes sense. If America is to survive, we've got to subvert, sabotage and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, more effective methods than those used against us."
Barner shook his head as he made his way from the podium and painfully limped toward the exit. He had his hand on the door when Gilchrist paused for a breath. Barner turned toward the assembly and, with anger rising in his voice, said, "Please don't forget, sir, who won the war. We did, sir, fair play and all. I submit that if we apply ourselves, we can stay ahead of the Russians in whatever areas are important. We do not need to stain our own hands with the tainted research produced by the blood of innocent civilians and our own troops. Some of the men in that film you just saw were troops under my command. I'm one of the lucky ones; I came back and, except for some shrapnel in my hip, I've made a complete recovery."
He paused and then, after taking a deep breath, continued in a voice so low that those assembled had to strain to catch his words. "I'm healthy because I have a mission, gentlemen. Sometimes I feel very bad about being the survivor; I owe those men up on the screen. I will go to the ends of the earth to see that their suffering and deaths are not abased by the granting of asylum to their tormentors. Anyone who protects these war criminals from prosecution is guilty by association of the same crimes. I will take every legal and public action to see that they are held accountable for their actions."
Before Gilchrist could reply, Barner stepped over the threshold and slammed the door, leaving his threat of disclosure hanging darkly in the air behind him. In the stunned silence that gripped the room the tapping of Barner's cane receded and then vanished.
Truman cleared his throat and turned to an aide. "Take the rest of your group outside; tell the M.P.s outside the door to make sure no one enters until I say so. I want Barner watched, watched closely. I want to make damn sure this shit goes no further."
The aide nodded and, followed by a cadre of his equals, left the room. Six people remained: Truman, Gilchrist, Keenan, James J. Kelly, Jr., a civilian with the Office of Special Operations of the War Department, E. F. Lennon, Jr., a member of the Plans and Policy Sections of the Justice Department's War Crimes Branch and Army Brigadier General Charles A. Wilkinson, one of General MacArthur's top spies.
Truman looked at the remaining men for a moment, then around him at the puke green institutional walls and darker matching linoleum floor dimpled with the memories of countless chairs from countless bygone meetings. He looked outside at the bustling activity among Camp Detrick's new buildings, added when it became a facility so secret that more people knew about the Manhattan Project than this covert facility devoted to harnessing horrible diseases in the name of freedom. Not having known about Detrick and a thousand other secrets when he was vice president let Truman know now just how much FDR had cut him out of the action. The more Truman found out, the angrier he became.
A brief frown tugged across the president's face now as he took in the windowless end wall, the sun-faded picture of FDR staring down at him beneath the military issue 24-hour clock, which told him it was 15:41 hours. Beyond the plain metal-framed windows, the December sun slipped past rose-frosted cirrus clouds and nudged against the peak of Catoctin Mountain. Truman took off his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose for a moment.
He turned suddenly, dusting the frames of his spectacles. "Gentlemen, it's late, and I'm supposed to be back at the White House by six," Truman said as he made his way to a folding conference table surrounded by seven chairs.
"Okay, the way I see it," Truman began without preamble even before the others were all seated, "is that we've gotta decide what to do with the Jap scientists and their research. Is that it?"
Truman sat at the head of the table with Gilchrist and Kelly at his left and right. The general sat next to Gilchrist; Keenan slumped next to the drug company heir. Lennon sat next to Kelly.
"I've gotta agree a little bit with the major," Truman began. "What I'd like to do is nail their balls to a stump and push 'em over backwards, then turn 'em over to the prosecutors.
"Jap bastards," he spat and stared quietly at his hands. The silence sat heavy until Kelly cleared his throat to get the president's attention.
"Sir, " Kelly said, "we know the Russian forces in Manchuria captured some of the minor players in the Jap BW operation. The Russians want the big guys. If they can't get the big guys to grow bugs for them, they'll press for a show prosecution at the Tokyo trials."
"I think we can cut a deal with the Russkies to keep things quiet in Tokyo," Lennon said on behalf of the Justice Department.
"I think we're missing the main point of all this." General Wilkinson cast a sideways glance at the empty chair, then leaned forward, his elbows on the table. "The point is we will soon be in a life or death struggle with communism, and we'll need every weapon we can get. The rules have changed. Gentlemen do read others' mail, warfare is absolute, and we're going to have to use anything we can to save democracy.
"From what we've already seen of Ishii's work," the general continued, "the Japs are years ahead of us and the Russians now. What the Japs can do for us is keep us of ahead of the Commies for a long time, maybe for good."
When the general paused for a moment, Gilchrist leaned across the table. "I agree. Not only is the general correct in a military sense, but this is a financial bargain," Gilchrist pointed out. "It will save millions by acquiring invaluable information at a fraction of the cost and time necessary for new development." He paused. "Further, as we have seen clearly today, a large part of this information was obtained by methods that could not be used in our own laboratories because of our scruples regarding human experimentation.
"As you know," Gilchrist continued, "using lab animals gives us only an approximation of how a substance will react in the human body. I'll give you one example," he said enthusiastically. "Ishii's scientists tested hundreds of common and not-so-common chemical substances on tens of thousands of pregnant Chinese women to see which ones would cause birth defects. They carefully controlled the dosages; the data is very solid."
Truman looked at him, his face showing the disgust that came with the thought of a sea of deformed babies and fetuses.
"Don't you see?" Gilchrist pleaded with the president. "While we couldn't actually do the research, we can use it to develop treatments and prevention programs to prevent birth defects for millions more? This is just one example where the use of the Japanese research will allow us to save millions of lives by knowing precisely how physical processes, drugs and other things, affect the human body. While the data was conducted under evil circumstances, we can use it for good, to save lives, so those who suffered wonít have done so in vain."
"This issue has been raised with regard to Mengele and the Nazi medical experiments," Lennon said. "Just as a devil's advocate -- because I've been through this process before -- there are some who believe we cannot use this data without staining ourselves with the same evil, that using the data -- even for good -- legitimizes the experiments, legitimizes the people who conducted the experiments."
"Data doesn't have scruples," Gilchrist snapped. "If it did, we'd have to have some sort of morality test for every G'damned scientist and technician who ever plotted a point on a graph. Where do you draw the moral line for a scientistís behavior that makes his data untouchable? Mass murder? Regular murder? Jaywalking? How do you define the crime that taints data? Would you throw away a hundred dollar bill if you learned that that very bill had been used to purchase a child prostitute?"
Silence grew palpable in the gathering afternoon gloom, the silence of men of action who preferred to take action without reflecting too much.
"We all know that life has many double-edged swords," Keenan said, breaking the silence, his voice beginning to slur. "The same technology that allows airplanes to deliver vacationers allows us to lay waste to the cities they came from. I wonder if the two-edged sword doesn't also cut another way. If good technology can be made bad by immoral intent, why cannot bad technology be made good by moral intent?"
The others gathered about the table looked at Keenan with expressions usually reserved for idiot children.
"Well, isn't it possible?"
"Morality isn't the point here," Gilchrist said. "We're talking about survival and saving money. This isn't about morality." He shook his head. "We can philosophize forever, but will likely wind up in one of Stalin's gulags with nothing intact save our high and well-articulated morals if we do."
"I wonder," Truman said ignoring both Keenan and Gilchrist, "why we can't just take the research, the lab notebooks or whatever it is that's got the information." He made vague motions with his hands. "Just take the information and turn the bastards over for trial."
"Because they've hidden a lot of the best information," Kelly said. "They won't turn it over to us unless they can cut a deal."
Truman nodded. "They're bastards, but they're smart bastards." Something approaching admiration was revealed in his inflection.
"Besides, a lot of the best information -- the stuff that can keep us ahead of the Commies -- is between their ears," Gilchrist said. "We need to put them under guard in a lab -- in that great fucking lab where we captured them--and work their butts off, sweat it out of them."
Truman waved the conversation to a halt and, in the subsequent silence, took off his glasses and rubbed his free hand over his face, as if he were trying to wash away the whole scene. He sighed and put on his glasses.
"I'm going to cut off debate right now. I've been through it before," Truman said. "I've heard it all in great agonizing detail and I don't have time to hear it all again."
Five confused faces stared back at their commander-in-chief.
"Back in August, I got a copy of a plan, a policy from Secretary of State Dean Acheson for a thing he cooked up for the Nazis called Operation Paperclip. That policy calls for bringing up to a thousand Nazi scientists -- mostly jet and rocket types -- over here and setting them up in labs and giving them citizenship so we can have better missiles and jet bombers than the Russians. Somehow Acheson believes that our future depends on having a better bunch of Nazi war criminals than Stalin." He paused. "The Nazi bastards'll be brought here secretly because Congress bars entry to Nazis or other war criminals.
"Bill Donovan asked FDR for the same sort of policy almost exactly two years ago but he wouldn't sign it." Truman shot a frown at Keenan. "I signed off on Operation Paperclip back in September. Other men sitting around another table said the same things then, used the same words as you have today.
"My decision is that we will amend the Paperclip policy to include two hundred fifty Japs. The code name for this operation will be Caduceus."
"Pardon me, Mr.President."
Truman raised his eyebrows and looked over at the man from the Justice Department.
"I was under the impression that code names were to be chosen so that they did not actually reflect the operation to which they applied. Paper Clip, for example, seems to have nothing to do with Nazis or Rockets."
"So what's the problem here," Truman snapped. "I don't know what a caduceus is, and I'll bet most people don't either."
Lennon suppressed a sigh. This president worked so hard at being non-pretentious he had put ignorance on a pedestal. "Sir, with all due respect, a caduceus is the symbol of the physician, the two snakes twined about a staff."
"I told you and everybody else at this table I was in a hurry," Truman interrupted. "So shut up about fucking snakes and let me finish."
The president cleared his throat. "You five gentlemen will be the coordinating committee charged with administering this program and keeping the whole thing secret." Truman's face looked like that of a man with an intestinal gas problem as he turned to Gilchrist. "North American Pharmco will be in charge of exploiting all of this research for medical uses. If you need any assistance, Wilkinson will arrange things."
Gilchrist smiled broadly; Truman shook his head slightly, looked away from the young man and stood up.
"I can't emphasize strongly enough that all this -- even the smallest details must be kept secret. If any of it leaks out, there will be a public outcry that will cost you your careers and perhaps put some of you behind bars. Secrecy is your only shield. Protect it at all costs." He paused. "We've made a deal with the devil, gentlemen. Let's get on with our end of the bargain."
* * * * *
December 21, 1946
Major "Buddy" Barner chased his own breath, visible and steady in the sharp, cold night, as he walked east along Constitution Avenue toward the Willard Hotel as briskly as his cane and the steel balls embedded in his right hip bone would allow. Behind him was his office in the shabby War Department buildings hastily thrown up to house the machinery of a world war, buildings that would undoubtedly fall now that the Pentagon had been completed across the river. It was a cinch he wouldn't have an office over there. Not now, not after the last three weeks.
First there had been the simpering assholes at the Inspector General's office who had reluctantly accepted his affidavit and copies of films and photos and the hundreds of documents he had so painstakingly photographed, then informed him they could not confirm or deny that they would or would not look into things.
"Bastards," he muttered under his breath as he limped along, feeling his hip grind like broken glass. After all he had given to his country, they treated him like stuff that gets scraped off the bottom of shoes.
Barner shivered as a stabbing wind slashed out of the darkness from the direction of the Potomac and tugged at the seams of his trench coat. The tops of his ears were numbing with the cold and for a moment he regretted his choice to walk instead of taking one of the staff cars to which his rank, not to mention his hip wound, entitled him.
As the wind continued to rage, Barner stopped to fasten the very top button of his coat, turn the collar up to shield the back of his neck and re-tie the belt a bit tighter. He leaned against his cane for a moment to give his hip a rest, looked about him, taking in the lights of Washington and wondering which of the shadows concealed people with a professional interest in him. He saw nothing but the Christmas lights that did nothing for the seething anger that had burned in his chest since the meeting at Detrick.
They had started following him just days after he visited the Inspector General's flunky. That was when he knew they weren't going to do anything about Ishii and his cronies.
Barner shook his head and pressed on. His military career was over. That much was certain. If the visit to the Inspector General hadn't ended things, the session with Hoover's man at the FBI most certainly had. An earnest young man with close-cropped hair and a well-pressed suit had listened attentively, meticulously tagged and labeled the materials and politely assured him that "the matter would be investigated fully."
Barner almost laughed now at his own naivetť. Nothing that went as high as the president was ever investigated fully. No one ever investigated presidents. That left it up to history -- and the third packet -- to set the record straight.
Turning north at the Ellipse Barner pondered the phone call, the only good fortune that had come his way in the three years since a swarm of Mitsubishi Zeros had shot down his P-38 over the Sea of Japan. The phone call had come just that morning. He had just returned from the post office where he had paid a small fortune in foreign postage to mail the third parcel to Holland. At the other end of the long-distance connection, a light colonel Barner had known in flight school said he had retired to a job managing a huge West Coast aircraft manufacturing plant and needed a good second in command. If Barner was interested, there was some good Scotch waiting for him at the Willard, say 6:30? It was a raft for a shipwrecked man. Barner had never known a career outside the military, had never looked forward to any other life. The uncertainty of what lay outside of uniform had bothered him almost as much as the treachery and betrayal of others who wore the same khaki.
Ahead of him now, beyond the arcade of elm trees that lined the sidewalk, the floodlit White House seemed like a vision from some magic kingdom. The sight maddened him. Evil was done inside those walls, and morality was dismissed as naivete. Victory at the cost of morality, of principles, was hardly worth the bloodshed, and certainly not the hell, he had survived.
Deep in thought, Barner failed to see the man step from the shadows of an old elm tree.
"Silence is golden," the man said softly.
Barner started to turn when he felt the cold hard steel work its way between his shoulder blades. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out; for an instant his eyes searched for his assailant, and then they closed. He never felt his face slam into the pavement.
The man looked down on the dark crumpled form and smiled. Whistling to himself, he turned and walked toward the Willard Hotel, leaving the blade embedded to its government issue hilt.
Connor O'Kane sat in a battered gray metal chair looking across a battered gray metal desk at a battered gray man who was doing his bureaucratic best to explain why Connor had to remain dead.
The cramped little office where the U.S. Marshall's service met infrequently with people in its witness protection program came with a view of Union Station's rusting rail yard, windblown trash and the run-down rolling stock of Amtrak, the world's only national rail line that was more inefficient than the nationís postal service. The dimly lit room smelled of flatulence and fear. The residue of abandoned lives yellowed the walls.
As the soft gray federal marshal droned on about why it was important to remain dead, O'Kane thought of the name they had given him five years before, a name that never rolled easily off his tongue. He still stumbled at the details of his fictional biography; the credit cards still seemed to belong to a stranger. He still had to refer to the number on the new Social Security card they had issued him. The name on the birth certificate they had given him was Lance Minor. His mind rejected it all like a transplanted kidney mismatched from the outset.
They had carefully taken away everything with his true name, even snapshots and family photos.
"It must all disappear," they had told him, "You have to die completely before you can live your new life safely and successfully."
There had been days when his old life had seemed like a bad dream, when he doubted he was really Connor O'Kane rather than this fictional Lance Minor they had created . On days like that, he took out the scrapbook of newspaper clippings -- mostly stories of the killings -- to try and hang on to who he really was, but more and more he had craved official confirmation that verified that he was who he was.
"Look here," O'Kane interrupted. It sounded like "look he-ah" in the broad vowels of the Mississippi Delta accent they had tried to coach out of him, "to better cover your tracks." His larynx had rejected that training immediately, despite the fact that it could, on command, faithfully reproduce half a dozen regional accents in French, Arabic and Hebrew.
O'Kane leaned over the desk. The gray little bureaucrat flinched and moved his chair back, as if he expected to be assaulted. O'Kane didn't strike him, opting instead to use one of three remaining fingers on his left hand to tap the single manila file on the dented desktop. "You can talk until you're blue in the face about your damn rules and all the damn reasons all your damn support geniuses can create, but you can't get around the fact that I am sick an' tired of being a dead man and I'm not going to take this much longer."
The marshal gave O'Kane a gray, noncommittal look, folded his arms across his chest and leaned back. The derelict chair's rusty springs made a long fingernail-on-the-chalkboard sound.
From outside the grimy windows came the controlled crashing sounds of switch engines shuttling cars, coupling them, making up trains. O'Kane took a deep breath and closed his eyes, trying to decide whether he was angry or just depressed again.
"I've got material that could blow the Customs Service right out of the water," O'Kane said angrily. "I can send some really big people to jail, bring this administration right down to street level. I've got hundreds of megabytes -- text, document image files, codes -- all encrypted and ready for a holocaust that'll burn anybody remotely close to this."
"Yes, I've heard. About that and your other ... extracurricular activities," the gray bureaucrat said with a calm note of distaste that indicated he knew a great deal and didn't approve one little bit. His gaze left O'Kane's for a moment and flickered briefly to his briefcase on the floor where the familiar double-sealed, tamper-proof envelope waited. "But you're going to have to deal with Customs on that." He smiled a small thin insincere smile. "After all, I'm Justice, not Customs, and remember, I'm civil service, not an appointee."
"Not your table, you mean?"
"Exactly," said the bureaucrat, ignoring the sarcasm, or not getting it in the first place.
"Fucking bureaucrats," O'Kane muttered under his breath as he stood up and walked over to a gray metal bookshelf decorated in yellowing copies of Federal Registers left from the Nixon Administration.
The gray man noticed O'Kane's peculiar step, not quite a limp, but definitely odd. The results, according to the file, of nerve damage from one of the slugs. The skillful microsurgery followed by intense physical therapy assured that there was no weakness, no disability, just a unique way of moving.
Shaking his head, the battered gray man from the Witness Protection Program slowly unfolded his arms, clasped his hands and leaned forward. "I don't understand," he said quietly, trying to remember the tone of voice they had practiced at training sessions on how to deal with reluctant participants. Stay calm; be pastoral; count their blessings for them. "Just look at what you've got: you've got your sailboat -- just about the biggest one on the Potomac -- and a flourishing charter business."
The bureaucrat smiled as O'Kane turned, his movement stiff at the shoulders, as if O'Kane had a stiff neck. He did -- literally. The files indicated that two of the vertebrae in his neck had been fused during surgery to repair damage and relieve the pressure from the bullet-shattered bone that had threatened to turn him into a quadriplegic.
"You've got the fortune you made before you started working for Customs, and you've got the handsome consulting fees Customs pays you. Hold on!" He held up his hand as O'Kane started to interrupt.
"Just hold on a minute," He paused and lowered his hand as O'Kane closed his mouth and audibly loosed another deep breath. He stood by the book case with its chipped and peeling paint and glared at the marshal.
"Good," the gray man said. He paused, for just a beat. "You've got to remember you've also got your life. You stick with the program, and you can live it until you get sick and die of old age without having to look over your shoulder waiting for some fanatic to slice your belly wide open in the name of Allah and leave you with your guts hanging out on the sidewalk like they did with that writer."
"You just--" O'Kane started to speak but stopped as he caught the gray man from Justice sneaking a glance at the battered Timex on his wrist.
It was no use. How could he explain to this anxious bureaucrat that life might not be worth living, no matter how much money was in the bank? How could he explain to a man like this that memories are all that make us who we are. If you kill the memories, haven't you killed the person?
"Look," O'Kane began again, calmly. "People're more than just the sum of the pieces of paper and plastic that describe them." The gray man of paper frowned at this. "I can't live this stranger you've poured me into. I can't date women more than a couple of times before they want to know who I am and I have to lie to them. I'm not this guy whose name is on the credit cards. This legend you're trying to make me live has no memories, no past. Without a past, what kind of future can a guy have? I can't make friends living a lie. With no past and no future, all I've got is some kind of eternal present like those pleasantly senile people who canít remember you from minute to minute."
The gray marshal peeked into the manila folder. "I see that you've refused to take our referral."
"I don't need a shrink," O'Kane said without turning to face the bureaucrat. "I need my life back."
"Professional help would go a long way toward easing your manic depressive problems."
"I don't need to float through life like some smiling potato head on Prozac," O'Kane snapped as he paced the small room. "Just resurrect me. Remove the death certificate from the archives; restore my credit files; convert things back the way they used to be."
Let me visit the graves of my wife and son and walk the streets of my life again. His thoughts returned to the place where it was always night, a darkness filled with painful memories of his wife and infant son, how they would still be alive if he had been just a few seconds faster.
The gray man looked at his Timex again. "You wouldn't live another year," he said as he pulled the double-sealed envelope from his briefcase and placed it on the desk.
"Let me worry about that. " O'Kane brightened when he saw the envelope.
"Well, I just don't know," the bureaucrat said doubtfully. He bent his head to the desk and began arranging the fictions of Connor O'Kane's life neatly back into the manila folder where they belonged.
"I don't care what you don't fuckin' know." O'Kane stood up so abruptly the straight-backed metal chair crashed backwards to the floor. He leaned over and snatched the familiar envelope from the desk, turned his back to the desk and ripped the envelope open. Inside he found a name and a cruise ship reservation.
O'Kane was smiling when he turned back to face the marshal. His voice was cool, so quiet the bureaucrat had to lean forward to hear. "If I want to come out, I'll damn well do it -- with or without your help."
The man from Justice watched speechlessly as O'Kane gave him a broad smile, calmly picked up the chair and positioned it neatly in front of the desk for the next ghost. O'Kane turned and walked from the room.
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