Friday, July 14, 2017
Casing the Colors © Week 18
Casing the Colors © Week 18 • • • CHAPTER 33 • • In the tumultuous days after Stuart Wellford's inauguration, Bill Stevens and Kate Gordon were chauffeured through the countryside on a late English afternoon, on their way to the allied conference. Bill told Kate the African debacle had convinced Stu to order a halt to the Rio Grande border action against Miguel's army. His decision had led to a terrific row, with Bill and General Gordon on one side, and Stu, supported by George Morrison, on the other. Finally, Pete Lowell persuaded Stu that formally pulling back after so many lives had been disrupted and Americans and Europeans attacked in Africa would be far worse publicity for the new administration than letting events proceed as announced. Stu and George, as their price for the compromise, demanded that all migrating Mexicans be allowed to enter the United States. Everyone who managed to cross the Rio Grande was to be cared for and allowed to remain in America. In all other aspects, the agreed plan to rid the border area of Carlos Miguel's army and to eliminate Miguel's weapons depots in Mexico would continue. Mexican President Allezar reluctantly concurred in the strategy, although once again no official announcement would be made to reveal the complicity of the Mexican government in the attack on its own citizens. "Your father believes Raqqa masterminded the African attacks during the evacuation," Bill continued. "Military intelligence has found indications of preparations that began before the official announcement of the evacuation, probably aimed at forcing us to respond so powerfully that the world would be shocked into reactions against the United States. But, there doesn't seem to be an explanation for North Africa's welcome to the Americans and Europeans. Why, for example, didn't any North African military use its air force against us?" He glanced at Kate, who was inattentively staring out the car window. "Did you talk to Alexei about Scott?" he asked. "Did he understand?" "Understand?" she repeated, gazing blankly at the English motorway traffic speeding along with their limousine. "I'm not sure he understood at all. But he agreed." Bill sighed. "I'm sorry, Kate, to have to ask this of you and Alexei, but Scott is certainly more open with you than anyone else. Perhaps he knows something very important that seems to him to be of no consequence. Something, or someone, he knows so well that he would never make the connection with Raqqa." The limousine left the motorway and wound through quiet Oxfordshire villages as the daylight faded, turning eighteenth-century cottages and manor houses into rose-tinged golden brush strokes of color against the darkening sky and gray green hills. But, Kate missed the spectacle, deep in her search for a way to deal with Scott. • • The allied leaders assembled in secret in a country hotel northwest of Oxford, in an ancient stone-walled abbey village near Winston Churchill's ancestral home. In the Cotswold evening, secluded from the tormented world, the group met in the great hall of the abbey for drinks before dinner. British Prime Minister John Moore was pleased to be the host for the meeting. It was an opportunity for him to display Britain's inherent strength and stability to the members of the European Union, who were divided by the continuing controversy over an appropriate EU response to militant ethnic minorities clamoring for ever more discreet separation into small but ethnically pure and protected enclaves. The UK had avoided all that by leaving the EU and rolling back its forced immigration to re-initiate its old policy of careful selection of migrants. John Moore, who had emerged as a Conservative Party up-and-coming future leader during the later Thatcher years, had both led Tory governments and been cast aside in the years since Mrs. Thatcher's dispatch. He understood the European political battle for cultural and ethnic independence in the face of migrant demands as well as anyone, having been forced to respond to both Welsh and Scottish demands for independent parliaments. He stood firm against them at first, in the belief that such autonomy would irreparably damage Britain's world position, but finally Britain, like its European colleagues, conceded the ground gracefully to avoid being defeated by the multiplying forces agitating for social and fiscal emancipation. Moore always managed to put his Tory majority together again after each defeat. That he was able to consolidate his forces so often was a tribute to his political skills, although many political analysts believed his personal affability was such that most British voters were simply unable to blame him personally for the trials the country continued to suffer as the years dragged on, each year bringing with it another economic or political disaster sweeping into Britain on the winds blowing across the Channel from Europe. Other leaders at the private gathering were German Chancellor Thomas Gerhardt, retired French President Jacques LeNoir, US Secretary of State Bill Stevens, General Scott Bennett and Assistant Secretary of State Katharine Gordon. Their task was to work out a comprehensive plan to deal with the islamic terrorists threatening America and Europe. The Europeans as yet had no idea that the United States and Russia had agreed to divide the world once more into two superpower spheres of influence, based not on distrust and hostility but on shared economic prosperity and peace, in the hope they could, together, keep the world from destroying itself in ethnic and religious blood feuds. President LeNoir was waiting in the abbey's great hall for Kate to appear, a glass of French wine in his hand to welcome her. "Miss Gordon, I am delighted to see you again and so soon," he said, offering her the glass of Bordeaux and casually moving with her away from the others gathering to savor the wine loved by centuries of English gentry. As the pair strolled toward the French doors at the opposite end of the great hall, President LeNoir, who seemed to Kate much more at ease and open than he had been at their last meeting in Paris, talked about his many trips to Moscow and his happy memories of St. Petersburg's magnificent architecture. When he was certain they were beyond hearing range, he took several brisk steps toward the doors and turned to face Kate. "Alexei is an old and dear friend," he said. "Do you know very much about his remarkable record against the Soviets?" Kate was surprised as much by her need to say no as she was by the abrupt change of topic. She knew more than the public did about the person who seemed in many ways unrelated to the man she had fallen in love with and married so precipitately. She repeated the details of Alexei's long battle to keep Russia on its path to democracy after the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the personal threats he faced from the hard-liners who wanted to create a new absolutism. "Alexei is repelled by the idea of replacing one form of repression with another," she concluded, "and he will not let the West forget the dangerous alternative to helping Russia find her way." "You are right, Miss Gordon," the old statesman replied, "but Alexei worked underground for many years before the demise of the Soviet regime. That is how I first came to know and respect him. The Soviet hierarchy was never willing to make out a case against him, even though they knew Alexei was a leader in the struggle to free Russia. He had quietly won the trust of so many powerful European politicians that he had to be tolerated by the Soviets, so they attacked him through his wife. He never thought of remarrying after she died." "She was arrested when the Soviet politburo became convinced that Alexei was helping foment revolution in eastern Europe," Jacques LeNoir said. "They tortured her, hoping to get a confession that would implicate Alexei, but she died, alone and silent. The world was told that she had been killed in a plane crash. I'm sure the real story is buried somewhere in your CIA files. After Irina died, Alexei redoubled his efforts, alone but always too clever for the Soviets, using the help of his Western friends to insure his safety." Jacques LeNoir paused, looking at the stylish young American woman standing beside him. Could she begin to comprehend what Alexei Katerinov had suffered, he wondered. But he saw the devotion in her eyes. "My dear, that he loves you, that he would marry you, is a remarkable testimony. I am honored to know you." Kate listened, absorbing the dimension of the man she had been attracted to instantly, without knowing the cost of his commitment to his country or the courage of a wife who had died to protect his work. Suddenly she realized that President LeNoir knew of their marriage and started to speak. "Alexei told me. It is a secret safe with me. He asked me to tell you about Irina. It was too difficult for him. We also talked about tomorrow's meeting. If you will permit me to take the lead, and if you and Secretary Stevens will support me, I believe we can end this nightmare. We will talk to the Secretary, but do not tell anyone else." "I understand," Kate replied, knowing he meant General Bennett. "Can you tell me anything about the White House leak?" Kate asked, still trying to make sense of it. Jacques LeNoir smiled and she understood that whatever he knew, he would remain silent. Kate Gordon was left alone with her wits to try to discover whether there was a relationship between Scott and the White House source Raqqa depended on. The elegant Frenchman raised his glass. "You are the sunshine Alexei very much needs. I will always be here for you, as I have been for him. You need only to ask." After dinner, Kate and Bill Stevens talked alone in the lounge. Scott, bored with what he knew would be a long diplomatic discussion, volunteered to telephone General Gordon and President Wellford to give them the details of the evening's discussions and his routine daily military report. When Scott returned an hour later, Bill said, "I'm sorry but I need another hour with Kate. We're preparing for tomorrow morning's meeting." "Of course," Scott answered. "I need some sleep anyway. I've had a hectic two days. This diplomacy stuff is tiring." Scott had one last nightcap with them and left the lounge. "Wouldn't he be surprised to know how hectic your last two days have been," Bill chuckled, watching Scott stride confidently across the room toward the elevator. Kate closed her eyes, wondering if Scott would be disappointed or merely relieved to know about Alexei and her. Of course, he would be angry, a result of his formidable pride. But, would he care for long? While Kate and Bill were talking, President LeNoir returned to the lounge and joined them. "You need to speak to General Gordon and President Wellford tonight," he said. "Ukrainian and Belarus armies are forming on the Baltic borders. President Katerinov will make the announcement within the next several hours and ask for a Security Council meeting." "It's the delay he said he would need," Bill said. "Will France join the United States to help him?" "I've already told President Katerinov that France will support the Baltic action and the Russian-American Alliance. French troops will be deployed in Germany as a NATO contingent. Britain will agree, I feel sure, but we need a plausible reason that will permit Germany to agree to be, in a sense, re-occupied. The Baltic hostilities should provide the impetus we need. "The Russian plan is to drive Baltic refugees west to create fears in Germany of an unprecedented influx. Germany's struggle to cope with the flow of Syrian refugees 2000s is still an open wound and the refugees are largely unassimilated. So, Germany ought to agree rather quickly to our suggestion to let Russia settle the Baltic problem and stop the refugee flow into Germany." Jacques LeNoir paused and studied Bill Stevens before putting the case for France. "I will offer a proposal that mirrors the existing Russian-American Alliance, but I need your assurance that France will have a role in Germany, along with the other allies. Russia will insist on it as protection against German military action on the German-Polish border." Bill Stevens knew he was being muscled, but there was no way to prevent it. "Agreed," he responded, after seeming to deliberate. "And," he added, hoping for at least some semblance of a bargain well struck, "France and Russia will support the American military action in Mexico." "Of course," President LeNoir answered. "France will always recognize America's hegemony in the western hemisphere. Now, if everything is settled, I would like to talk with Miss Gordon about the White House leak." Bill Stevens sat bolt upright. "Do you know who it is?" he asked. "No, but Russian intelligence knows." "You mean Chelenko knows," Kate said. "Probably," Jacques LeNoir replied. Shifting topics, he added, "At the meeting tomorrow, I will offer a plan for dealing with Italy." Kate watched the invisible strings dangling from President LeNoir's graceful fingers. "Italy cannot help the allies," he continued with dispassionate logic. "It has a weak, unstable government that couldn't do anything meaningful. The allies will attack Sicily, aiming at its two problems, the Mafia and the islamic terrorist refugees being used by the Mafia to take over all of Italy." The three talked for another hour, putting the plan into place. Satisfied, Bill Stevens returned to his unanswered question. "Do we use Italy to find the White House leak?" "If you will forgive me, Mr. Secretary," Jacques LeNoir said with great courtesy, "I will give the details to Miss Gordon alone. President Katerinov trusts her absolutely. Everyone else, as you will appreciate, must remain suspect." "Certainly," Bill Stevens answered crisply, "I suppose I can't complain if President Katerinov wants to use Kate to smoke out our traitor. I'll speak to President Wellford and General Gordon. I assume that I can give them the full content of our conversation." "Naturally," President LeNoir said. Then he took Kate by the arm. "Will you walk with me for a little while. I have trouble sleeping and a walk and a little glass of wine help." They strolled across the lawns of the ancient abbey while President LeNoir explained Alexei's plan to trap the American mole. When they returned to the hotel lounge, it was completely deserted. Jacques found another bottle of good Bordeaux in the liquor trolley and opened it. He sat in a soft club chair, his straight and perfectly tailored presence the antithesis of the chair's comfortably rumpled outline. He tasted the wine and then poured two glasses of the clear, deep red elixir. "To your happiness, my dear," he said, offering a glass to Kate. "May your love live through a thousand generations." It reminded her of an Arab toast. She tasted the wine and responded to his toast. "May you be there to bless each child." The old statesman laughed softly. "I promise to do my very best." "Please call me Katharine," she said, finally feeling completely comfortable in the presence of the formidable Jacques LeNoir. "Alexei and I would be very pleased." "My dear Katharine," he said gently, "I hope you will remember our evening when you are alone during the coming years. I have promised Alexei that I will protect you. For as long as I am alive," he added. She nodded and smiled in recognition of his concern, wondering whether she would ever need help from anyone except her father and Alexei.