SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
5:15 A.M., ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA
IT was still dark. Yet not so long before sunrise that Dan couldn't make out the trees through the window by the breakfast table. The back of the house overlooked the creek that ran through the ravine above which the home had been built.
They lived across the river from Washington, in the suburbs that had grown up along the Metro. A brick colonial with flagstone walks and three bedrooms and a family room in the basement, though they didn't really have a family, aside from his daughter. Nan was grown up now, in grad school. Maples and elms and yellow poplars shaded the lawn. Blair had furnished it, mostly from the antique shops she made him stop at whenever they drove east to visit her parents. Other pieces were from her family's estate, things her mom and dad had let go when they'd redecorated.
A far nicer home than he'd grown up in, and it felt strange having so much room, so many things he didn't need. But when he felt this, he reminded himself of those who'd sacrificed so much so he could have this excess, this luxury, this safety. He still kept a pistol in the house, but didn't need it in arm's reach anymore.
"They really want you there this early?" he asked his wife.
Blair sipped coffee and looked at her watch. She was in a severe suit and black pumps. A light coat hung over the back of her chair. "They want me at National at six sharp. But I won't be flying commercial."
Dan grinned. She always called it National, never Ronald Reagan. "Charter?"
"Their own jet. A limo'll meet me at JFK."
"Sweet. And—when'll you be back?"
"Day after tomorrow. Maybe I'll see a show, if I can get tickets."
They drank coffee and gazed out the bay window at the backyard. The hollyhocks and peonies were long gone, the four-o'clocks wouldn't open till afternoon, but the white blooms of nicotiana seemed to glow even in the half dark.
"What are you doing today?"
"Headed in to the Building. See a classmate. Then I'm supposed to look in on Barry Niles."
She wrinkled her nose. "The one who shot you down for your promotion?"
Dan shoved eggs around on his plate. No one was guaranteed promotion, especially at the O-6 level. But he'd hoped. "He didn't shoot me down."
"Oh, he stacked the deck. With the other admirals on the board. He's always spoken against you, right? Kept you from getting another command, after Horn?"
"The proceedings are sealed."
"Dan, you're the most decorated officer in the Navy. Navy Cross. Silver Star. And the Congressional, for God's sake. You've pulled their chestnuts out of the fire time and again. And they pass you over for captain." She raised a finger. "Wouldn't have happened if I was still at OSD."
"That would not have helped. The Navy keeps outsiders out of promotion. SecNav, just maybe. SecDef, no." But he kept his tone nonargumentative.
Blair had taken the November election hard. It meant she was out in the cold; a new administration, a new party in charge. That was why she was going to New York.
"What precisely do these Cohn, Kennedy guys do, again?"
"I told you. Global financial services. Specialized equity and capital markets for institutional clients. Real estate private equity." She eyed him humorlessly. "None of which means squat to you, right?"
"It sounds like … it should pay."
"Oh, it will, Dan. I could cubbyhole at SAIC until the next election, but this'll build our net worth. We may not see much of each other, unless you decide to come to New York with me. But we'll come out of it with significantly enhanced personal value."
"You're sure they're hiring?"
"Good people are always hard to get," she said without a trace of modesty, false or otherwise. "How much longer do you have? Now you've been passed over?"
"June fifteenth is my punch-out date."
"Have you thought about my suggestion?"
She'd told him to call his old teacher Dr. Edward Ferenczi, the new president's national security adviser. Which would make it interesting, Dan working for one party while she was biding her time waiting to come back with the other. "I don't know. I'm still thinking about it."
"Don't wait, if you want a responsible position." Her tone was tentative, as if she didn't want to jab a tender place. "Good God, is that the time?" She grabbed her coat, kissed his cheek, gave his chest a quick raking scratch through the open bathrobe. "See you Thursday."
He was about to let her go with that, but something made him get up. A faint unease out of nowhere. "I'll go to the door with you."
The garage door groaned as it rolled up. He eyed the chains, thinking, grease. He caught her smile, a lifted hand as she backed down the drive, then craned around, checking her six before rolling out into the street. A pale rose glow fanned slowly out beyond the trees, like a peacock's tail.
When she was gone he stripped the plastic wrapper off the Post, looking at the weather first. Clear skies; she should have a nice flight. The headlines. The new SecDef had declared war on bloat at the Pentagon. He was trimming the staff fifteen percent to start with and twenty percent more in a year. Page two, more criticism of the new missile defense program. He read this article to the end.
Judges and prosecutors were being murdered in Colombia. NATO was pulling out of Macedonia amid predictions of sectarian massacres. He shuddered, remembering a concrete shed filled with corpses, the buzz of fat flies nestling into mutilated eye sockets. When the Balkans went, they went all the way, tumbling straight through war into the abyss of savagery. More deaths in Iraq too.
He lifted his gaze, thoughts freezing behind gray eyes. Whatever he read, faces floated up. Images, smells, tastes of numb terror and desperate hope and, sometimes, incredible heroism.
He'd worn a uniform since he'd been seventeen. The Navy had been home, career, profession … everything. But it ate its young. Destroyed marriages. Relationships. The years had shot past one after the other at sea, or busy ashore. He'd done everything he'd set out to do. Even commanded a destroyer, though not for long enough.
You could stay in for a few years, after being passed over. But what was the point? Might as well do desk work somewhere they'd actually pay. Maybe not as well as they were going to pay Blair, but better than the Navy.
The trouble was, he'd never wanted to do anything else.
Copyright © 2011 by David Poyer