The somber group of men sat in a large room that rested far
belowground, accessed by only a single, high-speed elevator. The
chamber had been secretly built during the early 1960s under the
guise of renovating the private building that squatted over it. The
original plan, of course, was to use this "super-bunker" as a refuge
during a nuclear attack. This facility was not for the top leaders
of American government; it was for those whose level of relative
"unimportance" dictated that they probably wouldn't be able to get
out in time but who still rated protection afforded no ordinary
citizen. Politically, even in the context of total destruction,
there must be order.
The bunker was built at a time when people believed it possible to
survive a direct nuclear hit by burrowing into the earth inside a
steel cocoon. After the holocaust that would annihilate the rest of
the country, leaders would emerge from the rubble with absolutely
nothing left to lead, unless you counted vapor.
The original, aboveground building had been leveled long ago, but
the subterranean room remained under what was now a small strip mall
that had been vacant for years. Forgotten by virtually all, the
chamber was now used as a meeting place for certain people in the
country's primary intelligence-gathering agency. There was some risk
involved, since the meetings were not related to the men's official
duties. The matters discussed at these gatherings were illegal, and
tonight even murderous. Thus additional precautions had been
The super-thick steel walls had been supplemented by a copper
coating. That measure, along with tons of dirt overhead, protected
against prying electronic ears lurking in space and elsewhere. These
men didn't particularly like coming to this underground room. It was
inconvenient, and ironically, it seemed far too James Bondish even
for their admittedly cloak-and-dagger tastes. However, the truth was
the earth was now encircled with so much advanced surveillance
technology that virtually no conversation taking place on its
surface was safe from interception. One had to dig into the dirt to
escape his enemies. And if there was a place where people could meet
with reasonable confidence that their conversations would not be
overheard even in their world of ultrasophisticated peekaboo, this
The gray-headed people present at the meeting were all white males,
and most were nearing their agency's mandatory retirement age of
sixty. Dressed quietly and professionally, they could have been
doctors, lawyers or investment bankers. One would probably not
remember any of the group a day after seeing them. This anonymity
was their stock-in-trade. These sorts of people lived and died,
sometimes violently, over such details.
Collectively, this cabal possessed thousands of secrets that could
never be known by the general public because the public would
certainly condemn the actions giving rise to these secrets. However,
America often demanded results-economic, political, social and
otherwise-that could be obtained only by smashing certain parts of
the world to a bloody pulp. It was the job of these men to figure
out how to do so in a clandestine manner that would not reflect
poorly on the United States, yet would still keep the country safe
from the pesky international terrorists and other foreigners unhappy
with the stretch of America's muscle.
The purpose of tonight's gathering was to plot the killing of Faith
Lockhart. Technically, the CIA was prohibited by presidential
executive order from engaging in assassination. However, these men,
though employed by the Agency, were not representing the CIA
tonight. This was their private agenda, and there was little
disagreement that the woman had to die, and soon; it was critical
for the well being of the country. These men knew this, even if
American presidents did not. However, because of another life that
was involved, the meeting had become acrimonious, the group
resembling a cadre of posturing members fighting on Capitol Hill
over billion-dollar slices of pork.
"What you're saying, then," one of the white-haired men said as he
poked the smoke-filled air with a slender finger, "is that along
with Lockhart we have to kill a federal agent." The man shook his
head incredulously. "Why kill one of our own? It can only lead to
The gentleman at the head of the table nodded thoughtfully. Robert
Thornhill was the CIA's most distinguished Cold War soldier, a man
whose status at the Agency was unique. His reputation was
unassailable, his compilation of professional victories unmatched.
As associate deputy director of Operations, he was the Agency's
ultimate free safety. The DDO, or deputy director of operations, was
responsible for running the field operations that undertook the
secret collection of foreign intelligence. The operations
directorate of the CIA was also unofficially known as the "spy
shop," and the deputy director was still not even publicly
identified. It was the perfect place to get meaningful work done.
Thornhill had organized this select group, who were as upset as he
about the state of affairs at the CIA. It was he who had remembered
that this bloated underground time capsule existed. And it was
Thornhill who had found the money to secretly bring the chamber back
to working condition and upgrade its facilities. There were
thousands of little taxpayer-funded toys like that sprinkled around
the country, many of them gone to complete waste. Thornhill
suppressed a smile. Well, if governments didn't waste their
citizens' hard-earned money, then what would be left for governments
Even now, as he ran his hand over the stainless steel console with
its quaint built-in ashtrays, sniffed the filtered air and felt the
protective coolness of the earth all around, Thornhill's mind
wandered back for a moment to the Cold War period. At least there
was a measure of certainty with the hammer and sickle. In truth,
Thornhill would take the lumbering Russian bull over the agile sand
snake that you never knew was out there until it flung its venom
into you. There were many who wanted nothing more in life than to
topple the United States. It was his job to ensure that never
Gazing around the table, Thornhill gauged each man's devotion to his
country and was satisfied it matched his own. He had wanted to serve
America for as long as he could remember. His father had been with
the OSS, the World War II-era predecessor to the CIA. He had known
little of what his father did at the time, but the man had instilled
in his son the philosophy that there was no greater thing to do with
one's life than to serve one's country. Thornhill had joined the
Agency right out of Yale. Right up until the day he died, his father
had been proud of his son. But no prouder than the son had been of
the old man.
Thornhill's hair was a shining silver, which lent him a
distinguished air. His eyes were gray and active, the angle of his
chin blunt. His voice was deep, cultured; technical jargon and the
poetry of Longfellow flowed from his mouth with equal ease. The man
still wore three-piece suits and favored pipe smoking over
cigarettes. The fifty-eight-year-old Thornhill could have quietly
finished out his time at the CIA and led the pleasant life of a
former public servant, well traveled, erudite. He had no thought of
going out quietly, and the reason was very clear.
For the last ten years, the CIA's responsibilities and budgets had
been decimated. It was a disastrous development, for the firestorms
that were popping up across the world now often involved fanatical
minds accountable to no political body and possessing the capability
to obtain weapons of mass destruction. And while just about everyone
thought high-tech was the answer for all the ills of the world, the
best satellites in the world couldn't stroll down alleys in Baghdad,
Seoul or Belgrade and take the emotional temperature of the people
there. Computers in space could never capture what people were
thinking, what devilish urges were lurking in their hearts.
Thornhill would always choose a smart field operative willing to
risk his or her life over the best hardware money could buy.
Thornhill had just such a small group of skilled operatives within
the CIA, completely loyal to him and his private agenda. They had
all worked hard to regain for the Agency its former prominence. Now
Thornhill finally had the vehicle to do that. He would very soon
have under his thumb powerful congressmen, senators, even the vice
president himself, and enough high-ranking bureaucrats to choke an
independent counsel. Thornhill would see his budgets revive, his
manpower skyrocket, his agency's scope of responsibility in the
world return to its rightful place.
The strategy had worked for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. It was no
coincidence, Thornhill believed, that the Bureau's budget and
influence had flourished under the late director and his allegedly
"secret" files on powerful politicians. If there was one
organization in the world that Robert Thornhill hated with all his
soul, it was the FBI. But he would use whatever tactics he could to
bring his agency back to the forefront, even if it meant stealing a
page from his most bitter foe. Well, watch me do you one better, Ed.
Thornhill focused again on the men clustered around him. "Not having
to kill one of our own would, of course, be ideal," he said.
"However, the fact is, the FBI have her under 'round-the-clock
stealth security. The only time she's truly vulnerable is when she
goes to the cottage. They may place her in Witness Protection
without warning, so we have to hit them at the cottage."
Another man spoke up. "Okay, we kill Lockhart, but let the FBI agent
live, for God's sake, Bob."
Thornhill shook his head. "The risk is too great. I know that
killing a fellow agent is deplorable. But to shirk our duty now
would be a catastrophic mistake. You know what we've invested in
this operation. We cannot fail."
"Dammit, Bob," the first man to protest said, "do you know what will
happen if the FBI learns we took out one of their people?"
"If we can't keep a secret like that, we have no business doing what
we do," Thornhill snapped. "This is not the first time lives have
Another member of the group leaned forward in his chair. He was the
youngest of them. He had, however, earned the respect of the group
with his intelligence and his ability to exercise extreme, focused
"We've only really looked at the scenario of killing Lockhart to
forestall the FBI's investigation into Buchanan. Why not appeal to
the FBI director and have him order his team to give up the
investigation? Then no one has to die."
Thornhill gave his younger colleague a disappointed look. "And how
would you propose going about explaining to the FBI director why we
wish him to do so?"
"How about some semblance of the truth?" the younger man said. "Even
in the intelligence business there's sometimes room for that, isn't
Thornhill smiled warmly. "So I should say to the FBI director-who,
by the way, would love to see us all permanently interred in a
museum-that we wish him to call off his potentially blockbuster
investigation so that the CIA can use illegal means to trump his
agency. Brilliant. Why didn't I think of that? And where would you
like to serve your prison term?"
"For chrissakes, Bob, we work with the FBI now. This isn't 1960
anymore. Don't forget about CTC."
CTC stood for the Counter Terrorism Center, a cooperative effort
between the CIA and the FBI to fight terrorism by sharing
intelligence and resources. It had been generally deemed a success
by those involved. To Thornhill, it was simply another way for the
FBI to stick its greedy fingers into his business.
"I happen to be involved in CTC in a modest way," Thornhill said. "I
find it an ideal perch on which to keep tabs on the Bureau and what
they're up to, which is usually no good, as far as we're concerned."
"Come on, we're all on the same team, Bob."
Thornhill's eyes focused on the younger man in such a way that
everyone in the room froze. "I request that you never say those
words in my presence again," Thornhill said.
The man paled and sat back in his chair.
Thornhill clenched his pipe between his teeth. "Would you like me to
give you concrete examples of the FBI taking the credit, the glory
for work done by our agency? For the blood spilled by our field
agents? For the countless times we've saved the world from
annihilation? How they manipulate investigations in order to crush
everyone else, to beef up their already bloated budget? Would you
like me to give you instances in my thirty-six-year career where the
FBI did all it could to discredit our mission, our people? Would
you?" The man slowly shook his head as Thornhill's gaze bored into
him. "I don't give a damn if the FBI director himself came down here
and kissed my shoes and swore his undying allegiance to me-I will
not be swayed. Ever! Have I made my position clear?"
"I understand." As he said this, the younger man managed not to
shake his head in bewilderment. Everyone in this room other than
Robert Thornhill knew that the FBI and CIA actually got along well.
Though they could be ham-handed at times in joint investigations
because they had more resources than anyone else, the FBI was not on
a witch hunt to bring down the Agency.
But the men in this room also understood quite clearly that Robert
Thornhill believed the FBI was their worst enemy. And they also knew
that Thornhill had, decades ago, orchestrated a number of
Agency-authorized assassinations with cunning and zeal. Why cross
such a man?
Another colleague said, "But if we kill the agent, don't you think
the FBI will go on a crusade to find out the truth? They have the
resources to scorch the earth. No matter how good we are, we can't
match their strength. Then where are we?"
Some grumbling rose from the others. Thornhill looked around warily.
The collection of men here represented an uneasy alliance. They were
paranoid, inscrutable fellows long used to keeping their own
counsel. It had truly been a miracle to forge them together in the
"The FBI will do everything they can to solve the murder of one of
their agents and the chief witness to one of their most ambitious
investigations ever. So what I would propose doing is to give them
the solution we desire them to have." They looked curiously at him.
Thornhill sipped water from his glass and then took a minute to
prime his pipe.
"After years of helping Buchanan run his operation, Faith Lockhart's
conscience or good sense or paranoia got the better of her. She went
to the FBI and has now begun telling them everything she knows.
Through a little foresight on my part, we were able to discover this
development. Buchanan, however, is completely unaware that his
partner has turned against him. He also doesn't know that we intend
to kill her. Only we know."
Excerpted from "Saving Faith" by David Baldacci. Copyright © 1999 by David Baldacci. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.