FIFTY-SEVEN

VIENNA

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10:30 PM

THORVALDSEN SAT IN THE CHaTEAU'S GRAND HALL, WATCHING the Order of the Golden Fleece's winter Assembly unfold. He, like the other members, filled a gilded antique chair. They were aligned in rows of eight, the Circle facing them, Alfred Hermann's center chair draped in a blue silk. Everyone seemed anxious to talk, and the discussion had quickly gravitated to the Middle East and what the Political Committee had proposed the previous spring. At that time the plans had been merely tentative. Things were now different. And not everyone agreed.

In fact, there was more dissent than Alfred Hermann had apparently expected. The Blue Chair had already twice interjected himself into the debate, which was a rarity. Usually, Thorvaldsen knew, Hermann remained silent.

"Displacing the Jews is impossible and ridiculous," one of the members said from the floor. Thorvaldsen knew the man, a Norwegian heavy into North Atlantic fishing. "Chronicles makes clear that God chose Jerusalem and sanctified the Temple there. I know my Bible. First Kings says God gave Solomon one tribe, so David would have a lamp before Him in Jerusalem. The city He chose for Himself. The reestablishment of modern Israel was not an accident. Many believe it came by heavenly inspiration."

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Several other members echoed the observation with Bible passages of their own from Chronicles and Psalms.

"And what if all that you quote is false?"

The inquiry came from the front of the hall. The Blue Chair stood. "Do you recall when the modern state of Israel was created?"

No one answered his question.

"May 14, 1948. Four thirty-two PM. David Ben-Gurion stood in the Tel Aviv Museum and said that by virtue of the natural and historic right of the Jewish people the state of Israel was established."

"The prophet Isaiah made clear that a nation shall be born in a day," one of the members said. "God kept his promise. The Abrahamic covenant. The land of the Jews was returned."

"And how do we know of this covenant?" Hermann asked. "Only one source. The Old Testament. Many of you have today called on its text. Ben-Gurion spoke of the natural and historic right of the Jewish people. He, too, was referring to the Old Testament. It's the only existing evidence that mentions these divine revelations-but its authenticity is seriously in doubt."

Thorvaldsen's gaze swept the room.

"If I were to have a deed to each one of your estates, documents that were decades old, translated from your respective languages by people long dead who could not even speak your language, would not each one of you question its authenticity? Would you not want more proof than an unverified and unauthenticated translation?" Hermann paused. "Yet we have accepted the Old Testament, without question, as the absolute Word of God. Its text eventually molded the New Testament. Its words still have geopolitical consequences."

The gathering seemed to be waiting for Hermann to make his point.

"Seven years ago a man named George Haddad, a Palestinian biblical scholar, penned a paper published by Beirut University. In it he postulated that the Old Testament, as translated, was wrong."

"Quite a premise," a member said. The heavyset woman stood. "I take the Word of God more seriously than you."

Hermann seemed amused. "Really? What do you know of this Word of God? You know its history? Its author? Its translator? Those words were written thousands of years ago by unknown scribes in Old Hebrew, a language dead now for more than two thousand years. What do you know of Old Hebrew?"

The woman said nothing.

Hermann nodded. "Your lack of knowledge is understandable. It was a highly inflected language in which the import of words was conveyed by their context rather than their spelling. The same word could, and did, have several distinct meanings, depending on how it was used. Not until centuries after the Old Testament was first written did Jewish scholars translate those words into the Hebrew of the time, and yet those scholars could not even speak Old Hebrew. They simply guessed at the meaning or, even worse, changed the meaning. Then centuries passed, and more scholars, this time Christian, translated the words again. They, too, could not speak Old Hebrew, so they, too, guessed. With all due respect to your beliefs, we have no idea as to the Word of God."

"You have no faith," the woman declared.

"On this I do not, since it does not involve God. This is the work of man."

"What did Haddad argue?" another man asked, his tone suggesting that he was interested.

"Correctly, he postulated that when the stories of the covenant made by God to Abraham were first told, Jews already inhabited their Promised Land-what is now Palestine. Of course, this was many, many centuries after the actual promise was supposedly made. According to the biblical premise, the Promised Land was said to extend from the river of Egypt to the great River Euphrates. Many place-names are given. But when Haddad matched the biblical place-names, translated back into Old Hebrew, with actual locations, he discovered something extraordinary." Hermann paused, seemingly pleased with himself. "The Promised Land of Moses and the land of Abraham were both located in western Saudi Arabia, in the region of Asir."

"Where Mecca sits?" came a question from the floor.

Hermann nodded. Thorvaldsen saw that many of the members immediately grasped the significance.

"That's impossible," one member said.

"Actually," Hermann said, "I can show you."

He motioned, and a viewing screen unwound from a ceiling-mounted holder. A projector came to life. A map of western Saudi Arabia, the Red Sea snaking a jagged shoreline from north to south, appeared. A scale meter showed that the area was roughly four hundred kilometers long and three hundred wide. Mountainous regions spread east over a hundred kilometers from the shore, then flattened to the fringes of the central Arabian desert.

"I knew there'd be skeptics among you." Hermann smiled as nervous laughter rippled through the Assembly. "This is modern-day Asir."

He signaled and the screen changed.

"Projecting the boundaries of the biblical Promised Land onto the map, utilizing locations George Haddad precisely identified, the dotted line delineates the land of Abraham, the solid line the land of Moses. The biblical locations, translated back into Old Hebrew, match rivers, towns, and mountains of this region perfectly. Many even still retain their Old Hebrew designations-adapted, of course, to Arabic. Ask yourself, why has no paleographic or archaeological evidence ever been found to substantiate biblical locations in Palestine? The answer is simple. Those locations are not there. They lie hundreds of miles to the south, in Saudi Arabia."

"And why has no one ever noticed this before?"

Thorvaldsen appreciated the question, as he'd been thinking the same thing.

"There are only half a dozen or so scholars alive who can effectively understand Old Hebrew. None of them, besides Haddad, apparently was curious enough to investigate. But to be certain, I hired one of those experts three years ago to confirm Haddad's findings. And he did. Down to the last detail."

"Can we speak with your expert?" a member quickly asked.

"Unfortunately, he was elderly and passed away last year."

More likely the man was helped into the grave, Thorvaldsen thought. The last thing Hermann needed was a second scholar claiming a spectacular biblical coup.

"But I have a detailed written report that can be studied. It's quite compelling."

Another image appeared on the screen. A second illustration of the Asir region.

"Here's one example to demonstrate Haddad's point. In Judges 18, the Israelite tribe of Dan established a settlement in a town called Laish, in a region of the same name. The Bible says that this town was close to another called Zidon. Near Zidon lay the fortified city of Zor. Christian historians in the fourth century CE supposedly identified Dan with a village at the headwaters of the Jordan River. In 1838 a team searched and found a mound, which they announced as the remnants of the biblical Dan. That site is now the accepted location of Dan. There's even a modern Israeli settlement, actually called Dan, that flourishes there today."

Thorvaldsen noticed that Hermann seemed to be enjoying himself, as if he'd prepared for this moment a long time. But he wondered if perhaps his unanticipated move on Margarete may have accelerated his host's timetable.

"Archaeologists have explored the mound for the past forty years. Not one piece of evidence has been found to confirm the biblical identity of that site as Dan." Hermann motioned, and the screen changed again. Names appeared on the second map of Asir.

"This is what Haddad discovered. The biblical Dan can easily be identified with a west Arabian village called al-Danadinah, which is located in a coastal region called al-Lith, the principal town of which is also called al-Lith. Translated, that name is identical with the biblical word Laish. Also, to this day, a village called Zidon lies nearby. Even closer to al-Danadinah stands al-Sur, which, translated, is Zor."

Thorvaldsen had to admit that the geographic coincidences were intriguing. He removed his rimless glasses and fingered the bridge of his nose, massaging the pinched groove, trying to think.

"And there are more topographical correlations. In 2 Samuel 24:6, the town of Dan was close to a land called Tahtim. No place known as Tahtim survives anywhere in Palestine. But in west Arabia, the village of al-Danadinah stands near a coastal ridge called Jabal Tahyatayn, which is an Arabic form of Tahtim. That cannot be an accident. Haddad wrote that if archaeologists dug in this area, there would be evidence to support the presence of an ancient Jewish settlement. But that has never occurred. The Saudis absolutely forbid digging. In fact, five years ago, when faced with a possible threat from Haddad's academic conclusions, the Saudis destroyed villages in this area, contaminating the sites, making it nearly impossible for any definitive archaeological evidence ever to be found."

Thorvaldsen noticed that as the Assembly grew more attentive, Hermann became more confident.

"There's more. Throughout the Old Testament, Jordan is noted by the Hebrew yarden. But nowhere is that term ever described as a river. The word actually means "to descend, a fall in the land." Yet translation after translation describes the Jordan as a river, its crossing a momentous event. The Palestinian Jordan River is no great waterway. The inhabitants of both banks have waded across it for centuries. But here"-he pointed to mountains that cut across the map-"is the great West Arabian Escarpment. Impossible to cross except where the ranges fold, and even there it's difficult. Every instance where the Old Testament speaks of Jordan, the geography and the story match what's on the ground here, in Arabia."

"The Jordan is a mountain range?"

"No other translation from the Old Hebrew makes any sense."

He studied the faces staring back at him and said, "Place-names are handed down as sacred tradition. Old names survive in folk memory and usually reassert themselves. Haddad found that particularly true in Asir."

"Have there not been discoveries that link Palestine with the Bible?"

"There have been discoveries. But none of the inscriptions unearthed so far proves anything. The Moabite Stele found in 1868 speaks of wars fought between Moab and Israel, as mentioned in Kings. Another artifact found in the Jordan Valley in 1993 says the same. But neither say that Israel was located in Palestine. Assyrian and Babylonian records tell of conquests in Israel, but none says where that Israel was located. Kings says the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom marched seven days in waterless desert. But the rift valley of Palestine, which is commonly regarded as that desert, is no more than one day long and contains plenty of water."

Now Hermann's words came freely, as if he'd held the truths inside far too long.

"Not one remnant of the first Solomon's Temple remains. Nothing has ever been found, though Kings says he used great stones, costly stones, hewed stones. Would not a block have survived?"

He came to the point.

"What's happened is that scholars have allowed their preconceptions to color their interpretations. They wanted Palestine to be the land of the ancient Jews from the Old Testament, so the end governed the means. Reality is far different. Archaeology has indeed proven one thing-that the Palestine of the Old Testament consisted of a people living in hamlets or small towns, mainly scrub farmers, with only fragments of high culture. A rustic society, not the highly astute Israelites of the post-Solomon era. That is a scientific fact."

"What does the Psalm say?" a member asked. "Truth shall spring out of the earth."

"What do you want to do?" someone asked.

Hermann clearly appreciated the inquiry. "Regardless of the Saudis' refusal to allow any archaeological research, Haddad believed there is proof of his theory that still exists. We are presently trying to locate that proof. If his theory can be substantiated-at least enough to call into question the validity of the Old Testament promises-think of the consequences. Not only Israel, but Saudi Arabia, too, would be destabilized. And we've all been frustrated by that government's corruption. Imagine what the radical Muslims there would do. Their most sacred spot is actually the biblical Jewish homeland? This would be similar to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where all three major religions claim a home. That site has bred chaos for thousands of years. The chaos in west Arabia would be equally incalculable."

Thorvaldsen had sat silent long enough. He stood. "You can't believe that these revelations, even if proven, would have such far-reaching effects. What else is there that so interested the Political Committee?"

Hermann stared at him with a contempt that only the two of them understood. The Circle had acted on Cotton Malone, taking his son. Now he'd acted on Hermann. Of course the Blue Chair would never reveal that weakness. Thorvaldsen had wisely played his trump card here, at the Assembly, where Hermann must be careful. But something told him that the Austrian still held one card.

And the smile that curled on the old man's thin lips caused Thorvaldsen to pause.

"That's right, Henrik. There is another aspect. One that will bring the Christians into the fight, as well."

FIFTY-EIGHT

VIENNA

10:50 PM

ALFRED HERMANN CLOSED THE DOOR TO HIS PRIVATE APARTMENT and removed his robe and neck chain. Their combined weight taxed his tired limbs. He laid the garments across his bed, pleased with the Assembly. After three hours, the members had finally begun to understand. The Order's plan was both grandiose and ingenious. Now he needed to back up his explanation that the proof would be forthcoming.

But he was beginning to grow concerned.

He hadn't heard from Sabre in far too long.

Anxiety twisted his stomach. An unfamiliar feeling. To regain momentum, he'd accelerated his timetable. This might well be his last grand endeavor as Blue Chair-his tenure was drawing to a close. The Order of the Golden Fleece was about opportunity and success. Many a government had been altered, a few even toppled, so that the collective could thrive. What he'd concocted might well bring a few more to their knees, perhaps even the Americans themselves if he played his hand with skill.

He'd known Thorvaldsen might be a problem, which was why he'd ordered Sabre to prepare a financial dossier. Sitting in the schmetterling haus the day before, watching Sabre dutifully agree to the task, he'd never believed Thorvaldsen would be so aggressive. They'd been long-standing acquaintances. Not necessarily close friends, but certainly compatriots. Somehow, though, the Dane had quickly linked what happened in Copenhagen to him and the Order.

He hadn't expected that a trail existed.

Which made him wonder about Sabre.

How careless had the man been?

Or was it intentional?

Margarete's warnings about Sabre rang through his mind. Too much freedom. Too much trust. Why hadn't his acolyte called? The last he knew, Sabre was on his way to London, by way of Rothenburg, to find George Haddad. He'd tried calling several times, but had been unsuccessful. He needed Sabre. Here. Now.

A light rap on the door.

He stepped across and turned the knob.

"Time we talk more," Thorvaldsen said to him.

He agreed.

Thorvaldsen stepped inside and closed the door. "You can't be serious with all this, Alfred. Do you have any idea what your planning could spawn?"

"You're speaking like a Jew, Henrik. That's your flaw. Blinded by God's supposed promises. Your so-called entitlement."

"I'm speaking as a human being. Who knows if the Old Testament is correct? I certainly have no idea. But the Islamic world will not tolerate any suggestion that its holiest earth was soiled by Judaism. They will react violently."

"The Saudis," he said, "will be given a chance to bargain before any information is released. That's our way. You know that. The violence will be their fault, not ours. Our aim is purely profit. The Political Committee believes a great many economic concessions can be obtained that will benefit our members. And I agree."

"This is insanity," Thorvaldsen declared.

"And what do you plan to do?"

"Whatever I have to."

"You don't have the backbone for this fight, Henrik."

"I might surprise you."

Hermann wondered, so he decided to lay down a challenge. "Perhaps you ought to be more concerned about your own situation. I've checked your financial status. I never realized how tenuous the glassworks business can be. Your Adelgade Glasvaerker is dependent on a variety of volatile factors for success."

"And you think you can affect those?"

"I'm fairly confident I can cause trouble."

"My net worth easily matches yours."

He smiled. "But you value reputation. Unthinkable that one of your companies be perceived as a failure."

"You're welcome to try, Alfred."

He realized that they each possessed billions of euros, most accumulated by ancestors, each of them now a faithful steward. And neither a fool.

"Remember," Thorvaldsen said. "I have your daughter."

He shrugged. "And I have you and the boy."

"Really? You willing to risk her life?"

Hermann had not, as yet, decided on the answer to that question, so he asked, "Is this about Israel? I know you fancy yourself a patriot."

"And I know you're a bigot."

A bolt of anger rocked him. "You've never spoken to me like this before."

"I've always known how you felt, Alfred. Your anti-Semitism is obvious. You try to shield it-after all, there are several Jews in the Order-but it's clear."

Time to end all pretense. "Your religion is a problem. Always has been."

Thorvaldsen shrugged. "No more so than Christianity. We just gave up our warring ways and watched while Christians killed more than enough in the name of the risen Lord."

"I'm not a religious man. You know that, Henrik. This is about politics and profit. And those Jews in the Order? That's what they care about, too. Not one voiced any opposition in the Assembly. Israel is an impediment to progress. Zionists are terrified of the truth."

"What did you mean about the Christians also being involved?"

"If the Library of Alexandria is found, there are texts that could well expose the entire Bible for the fraud that it is."

Thorvaldsen did not seem convinced. "You might find that result a bit difficult to obtain."

"I assure you, Henrik. I've thought this through completely."

"Where is the Talons of the Eagle?"

He threw the Dane a look of approval. "Well done. But he's outside your control."

"But not yours."

He decided to make his point. "You cannot win this. You have my daughter, but that won't stop me."

"Perhaps I need to make myself clear. My family endured the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Many of them were killed and we killed many Germans. I've faced challenge after challenge. I personally care nothing for Margarete. She's an arrogant, spoiled, unintelligent woman. My friend Cotton Malone, his son, and my adopted homeland are my concern. If I need to kill her, then I shall."

Hermann had worried about threats from outside, but the most immediate concern had now arisen from within. This man needed placating. At least for a short while.

"I can show you something."

"You need to stop this."

"There's more at stake here than simply furthering our business interests."

"Then show me."

"I'll have it arranged."

FIFTY-NINE

MARYLAND

4:50 PM

STEPHANIE SAT IN THE REAR SEAT OF A SUBURBAN, CASSIOPEIA beside her. They motored through the main gate without stopping, the SUV whizzing past armed guards. They'd driven north from Washington into the rugged Maryland countryside. She'd immediately known their destination.

Camp David. The presidential weekend retreat.

Past more guards and another checkpoint, the vehicle stopped before an elegant log cabin engulfed by trees and wrapped in a covered porch. They climbed out into a cool afternoon. The Secret Service agent from the museum waved, and the front door opened.

President Robert Edward Daniels Jr. stepped from the cabin.

She knew the president never used his birth name. Long ago he'd adopted the tag Danny. A gregarious soul with a booming baritone voice, Danny Daniels was blessed with a God-given ability to win elections. He'd served as a three-term governor and a one-term senator before claiming the presidency. His reelection last year to a second term had come easily.

"Stephanie, great of you to come," Daniels said as he hopped down the porch steps. The president was dressed in jeans, a twill shirt, and boots.

She gathered her courage and stepped forward. "Did I have a choice?"

"Not really. But it's still good you came. Been having some trouble, I'm told."

Daniels added a cool chuckle, but she was not in the mood-not even from the leader of the free world. "Thanks to your people."

He held up his hands in mock surrender. "Now, that remains to be seen. You haven't even heard what I have to say. And the new look? The hair and clothes? I like it."

Without giving her a chance to reply, he turned to Cassiopeia.

"You must be Ms. Vitt. I've heard a lot about you. Fascinating life you have. And that castle you're reconstructing in France? I'd love to see it."

"You should come. I'll show you."

"I'm told you're building it just like they did six hundred years ago. Amazing."

Stephanie realized Daniels was sending her a message. They were here, and he was informed, so lighten up.

Okay. Time to see where this was headed.

"Contrary to what you think, Stephanie," Daniels said, "I'm not an idiot."

They were sitting on the front porch of the cabin, each in a high-backed wooden rocker. Daniels worked his with vigor, the floorboards straining from his thick six-foot-three-inch frame.

"I don't think I ever called you an idiot," she said.

"My daddy used to tell my mama that he never called her a bitch to her face." He threw her a glare. "Which was true, too."

She said nothing.

"I went to a lot of trouble to have you flushed from that museum. That's one of my favorite places. I love airplanes and space. Studied everything about them when I was younger. Great thing about being president. You can go watch a launch whenever you want." The president crossed his legs and leaned back in the rocker. "I have a problem, Stephanie. A serious one."

"That makes two of us. I'm unemployed and, according to your deputy national security adviser, under arrest. And didn't you fire me?"

"I did. Larry asked me to, and I agreed. But it needed to be done, so you could be here now."

Cassiopeia sat forward. "I wondered. But now I know. You're working with the Israelis, aren't you? I've been trying to piece it together. Now it makes sense. They came to you."

"I'm told your father was one of the smartest men in Spain. Built a financial empire from nothing. One you now run."

"Not my strong point."

"But I hear you're an excellent shot, brave as hell, with a genius IQ."

"And at the moment I find myself in the middle of a political mess."

Daniels's eyes crinkled with amusement. "A mess. That's exactly what we have. And you're right, Israel did contact me. They're irritated with Cotton Malone."

Stephanie knew Daniels was partial to Malone. Two years before, Malone had been involved with a murder trial in Mexico City-the victim a DEA supervisor, Daniels's college roommate, murdered execution-style. She'd sent Malone to ensure a conviction, but during a lunch break he'd found himself in a crossfire that resulted in the death of the Mexican prosecutor and Henrik Thorvaldsen's son. Malone shot the assailants and came home with a bullet in his shoulder, but got the conviction. When he'd wanted to resign early in return for what he'd done, Daniels had personally allowed him out of his navy commission.

"What about you, sir?" she asked. "Irritated with Malone, too?"

"Sir? Now that's a first. I've noticed the few times we've been together, you never use that word."

"Didn't realize you were paying such close attention."

"Stephanie, I pay real close attention to a great many things. For example, just a short while ago Cotton Malone called the Magellan Billet. Of course, you've been busy, so the call was routed to Brent Green, on the attorney general's personal order."

"Thought Daley was in charge?"

"I did, too. Why'd Green do that?"

"How do you know he did?" Cassiopeia asked.

"His phones are tapped."

Had Stephanie heard right? "You have his phones bugged?"

"Damn right. Him and a few others. And, yes, one of those is Larry Daley."

Ripples of uncertainty spread through her and she forced her mind to concentrate. This puzzle apparently came with a lot of pieces.

"Stephanie, I've worked my whole life to get here. It's a position where one person can really do something. And I've done all right. Unemployment is at its lowest in thirty years. Inflation is nonexistent. Interest rates are modest. I even pushed through a tax cut two years ago."

"With Larry Daley yanking Congress's chain. Hard to lose." She could not resist. This man may be president, but at the moment her bullshit-tolerance level was well below zero.

Daniels rocked in silence, staring out into the dense woods. "You remember Rocky III."

She did not answer.

"I loved those movies. Rocky was always pounded to the breaking point, then that great music played, trumpets and all. He'd see everything clearly, grab a second wind, and beat the crap out of the other guy."

She listened with amusement.

"In Rocky III he finds out that Mickey, his trainer, was arranging easy fights. Sure wins. Just so Rocky could keep his title and wouldn't get hurt. Stallone played that great. He wants to fight Mr. T, but Mickey says no, he'll kill you. Rocky gets furious when he realizes he may not be as good as he thought he was. Of course, Mickey dies and Rocky finally KOs Mr. T."

The president's words carried a tone of respect.

"Daley is my Mickey," he said in a near whisper. "He fixed my fights. I'm like Rocky. I don't like it."

"And you didn't know?" she asked.

He shook his head with an odd mixture of annoyance and curiosity. "I was working on nailing him myself when I discovered that you were investigating. Using a call girl? Imaginative. My people weren't as creative. I have to say, when I was told, my opinion of you changed that day."

She needed to know, "How did you know I was doing it?"

"My guys love wiretaps and video. So they listened and watched. We knew about the flash drives. And we also knew his hiding place. So we were just waiting."

"That investigation was months ago. Why didn't you move on him?"

"Why didn't you?"

The answer was obvious. "I can't fire him. You can."

Daniels planted both feet on the deck and balanced on the rocker's edge. "Scandal is a tough thing, Stephanie. There's nobody in this country who's going to believe that I didn't know what Daley was doing. I had to take him out, but with no fingerprints."

"So Daley needed to do it to himself," Cassiopeia said.

Daniels faced her. "That was the preferable way. But Larry specializes in survival. And I have to say, he's good at it."

"What's he got on you?" Stephanie asked.

Her audacity seemed to please rather than anger him. "Other than those compromising pictures of me with a goat, not all that much."

She grinned. "It had to be asked."

"Yes, it did. I see what they say about you, Stephanie. Aggravating you can be. How about we return to my question, which neither of you seems to think is important. Why did Brent Green want to talk directly with Cotton?"

She recalled what Daley said in the museum. "Daley told me Brent is bucking to be the next vice president."

"Which brings us to the purpose of this gathering." Daniels leaned back and started rocking again. "I like to play the good ol' boy. Part of my Tennessee hill country upbringing. It's one reason I love Camp David so much. Reminds me of home. But now it's time to be president. Somebody accessed our secured files and managed a look at the Alexandria Link. Then they leaked that information to two foreign governments, both of which are now in an uproar. The Israelis are really pissed. Yes, publicly it sounds like we're at each other's throats. But privately, I like those folks. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to screw with Israel on my watch. Unfortunately, I have some in this administration who think otherwise."

She wanted to ask who, but decided to let him talk.

"Something has been placed in motion, which all started when Cotton Malone's boy was taken. Luckily, with Malone, these folks have no idea who they're dealing with. He'll give ' em fits. Which gives us an opportunity to flesh things out. One of my uncles used to say, Want to kill snakes? Simple. Set fire to the underbrush and wait for them to slither out. Then you can whack their heads off. That's what we're going to do here."

Cassiopeia shook her head. "Like I said, what you have, Mr. President, is a mess. I've only been involved for a day or two, but I have no idea who's telling the truth."

"Including me?"

Cassiopeia's emerald eyes tightened. "Including you."

"That's good. You should be suspicious." His voice rang of sincerity. "But I need your help. That's why I fired you, Stephanie. You needed freedom of movement. Now you have it."

"To do what?"

"Find my traitor."

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