SEA OF CRETE
2:53 A.M. Local Time; 7:53 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
With relentless determination, the ship taunted the storm sweeping
across the Sea of Crete. Two large nuclear reactors struggled to push
the twenty three thousand tons of metal through the angry waters. With
every towering wave, the bow of the Russian rocket cruiser Kirov scooped
up a wall of water, flung it into the air, and allowed it to crash down
on the empty deck. Every loose object had long ago vanished into the
sea. The crew was at general quarters stations.
A vertical launch system hatch clanged open, unheard beneath the roar of
the wind and sea. A SA-6b surface to-air missile leapt into the rain in
an explosion of fire and smoke. A second missile followed quickly. The
two missiles accelerated into the sky and slowly angled toward the
Inside his quarters, a weary Admiral hung up the phone from the Combat
Information Center, closed his eyes and wished he was on another ship,
in another ocean.
THE WHITE HOUSE
9:26 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
Announcement by the White House Press Secretary
“It is my unfortunate duty to inform everyone we have reliable
information that Air Force One has crashed into the Mediterranean Sea
near the Greek island of Crete. President Kevin Douglas was on board, as
was the Director of National Intelligence, many media personnel and at
least fifty Secret Service agents and White House support staff. The
site is being examined by the two fighter escorts of Air Force One. U.S.
Naval vessels are on their way.
"Initial reports from the fighter pilots indicate a foreign naval vessel
fired at least two missiles. There is no evidence of survivors.
"Vice-president Theodore Anderson is now on his way to the White House
where he will be sworn in as President. He will address the nation as
soon as possible."
THREE WEEKS LATER
The moonless sky blanketed the harbor of Haifa. The darkness was
complete. The gentle slapping of the waves against the hull of the
Israeli missile boat Gilat lulled the lone security watch. The sailor's
concentration was wavering. For the last hour and twenty two minutes it
had been his birthday. He was feeling sorry for himself as he patrolled
Why was he the only one of a crew of nine not asleep in his bunk?
He thought he heard a soft thump against the hull. Sure he was imagining
things, he nevertheless walked to the port side to investigate.
Still depressed, he felt a searing pain in his right side, followed by
something falling on his foot. His mind numb and detached, he looked
down and observed an arm lying on the deck. The machete swung again.
The initial encounter lasted just two swings of a blade, but three
sailors managed to awaken in time to force the fifteen terrorists into a
brief skirmish. The odds were against the Israelis. Half naked, half
awake men stumbling around in the dark searching for their weapons are
always at a disadvantage against an organized enemy. The only officer on
board made it as far as the weapon's locker before he was skewered.
Ultimately, the entire crew was piled on the deck, their blood mingling
and forming a large pool encircling the corpses. One sailor was still
breathing, his breaths coming in short, ragged gasps.
After their conquest, the terrorists were quietly efficient. Four men
went to cast off the mooring lines. Three went down to the engine room.
Four carried the wet suits and tanks to the main cabin below deck and
stored them. The leader of the raid, called The Scorpion, strode to the
bow to inspect the six American made Prometheus cruise missiles. His
inspection was as limited as his knowledge of their capabilities. It was
enough to know the missiles were on the ship. He would learn how to use
them later. Still, he noticed one of the missiles was a little
different. Maybe the living Israeli pig would talk.
Walking up to the small bridge, he joined two of his companions. The
remainder of the assault force gathered on deck to watch over the
victims, preparing to dump them overboard as soon as the Gilat was far
enough out at sea.
The departure from Haifa was uneventful. The sixty-ton craft rushed
through the water at forty knots, her recently refurbished engines
whining at full power. During the Gilat's refitting three weeks ago
nothing had been spared that might compromise her ability to protect the
cruise missiles or deliver them to their desired targets in the event of
war. A new weapons' computer had been linked to the satellite guidance
system, so the dumbest officer in the Israeli Navy could quickly
activate a missile and correctly launch it.
An hour later, more than forty miles out from the harbor, the terrorists
threw the bodies of the dead Israeli sailors into the sea, leaving the
unconscious man on the deck, his breathing now somewhat calmer. Thirty
minutes later, his quivering eyelids opened to reveal confused brown
eyes, darting in all directions until finally focusing on the sharp face
of the terrorist leader.
"The missiles are ready to launch?" The Scorpion hissed.
The Israeli's only response was to narrow his eyes, an action that
resulted in a swift kick to his ribs. He writhed on the deck, moaning; a
response resulting in a second, harder kick. Tears of pain running down
his cheeks, he stared up at his questioner. "I don't…know," he
muttered, trying to spare himself a third kick. It didn't work. He felt
a salty taste in his mouth, and glanced down at the wooden deck to see
bloody phlegm accumulating in a small puddle. It took him a few seconds
to realize it was his drool and that no matter what answer he gave he
was going to die. He wasn't by nature a hero, but deep within him a
stubborn resolve began to swell.
"Go rot in…hell."
The Scorpion stared at him, pulled a gun and shot him through both
kneecaps. Wasted bullets. The Israeli sailor was already dead, his head
rolling in rhythm with the waves, his eyes open to the heavens.
Consumed with anger, The Scorpion, seeking satisfaction, kicked the
sailor in the ribs, the side, the hips and the head until his ankles and
toes ached from the contact. There was no satisfaction to be found. When
his men finally tossed the body of the sailor overboard, The Scorpion
glimpsed a slight smile on his enemy's lips.
Alexander Gray stared at the Hope Diamond, the world's most famous
harbinger of bad luck, but didn't really see it. He was waiting for
Kobold again. He looked at his watch. Four-forty. Time to go. Kobold was
already close by or wouldn't be coming.
He left the Smithsonian and walked across the mall toward the National
Air and Space Museum, glancing behind him as he went. Kobold wanted him
to go to the diamond first, but as usual when Gray arrived, Kobold
wasn't visible. From somewhere near the diamond, Kobold was able to
survey Gray and everyone around him. Then he tracked Gray to a spot he
thought was safe to talk.
A group of pigeons was scrounging around an empty bench across Jefferson
Drive from the Hirshhorn Museum. They scattered when Gray took a seat.
Someone had left the sports section of the Washington Post. He picked it
up, but only had time to read the baseball results before Kobold sat
down on the bench beside him.
Kobold—Gnome—Goblin. The names were appropriate. He was short, not
quite five feet, and hunched over. Large darting eyes and a withered
left arm gave him the appearance of a fairytale villain. But nature had
given some compensation. A dark aura of intrigue surrounded him. He had
an almost magical ability to disappear. No one could follow him, though
he could follow another entirely undetected. Even Gray, who knew his own
abilities in those areas to be superior to everyone else had to concede
he couldn't tail the man for more than a block. Nor could he detect
Kobold when the man was following him.
"My young friend Sockdolager," Kobold crackled. "How are you today?"
"I'll know better after you deliver your message." Gray bristled
inwardly at the mention of his code name. Only two people in the world
knew he was Sockdolager: Theodore Anderson and Kobold.
"You sound as though you have reservations. Do you? You've been
available to Theodore Anderson even before he became President a few
weeks ago when Air Force One went down. Perhaps you should quit. I can
deliver a message back to Anderson saying you no longer wish to help
"I'm sure you would enjoy that."
"I'm only a messenger—what I enjoy or hate doesn't matter. Kobold
shrugged, his withered shoulder moving mere inches. "But forget that. It
is insignificant advice."
"You told me once you never give advice."
Kobold laughed, harsh but not loud. "Occasionally I may give advice to
those I wish to see survive."
Gray took notice. Kobold never spoke frivolously, nor had he ever spoken
like this. Kobold evidently noticed the change in Gray's attention.
"It's dangerous to sit here very long. Though few know you, many know
"Go ahead," Gray said.
His head bobbing on his rounded shoulders like a ball on a short rubber
band, Kobold nodded. "You are to go to Sigonella, a U.S. Naval Station
on Sicily, near the city of Catania. I have your orders, your
identification papers and complete details of your mission in this
packet. Your uniforms will be waiting for you in Catania." He handed
Gray a large brown envelope. "Destroy all but your identification papers
and orders after reading the packet. At Sigonella, you will pose as an
operating room nurse. You will assist Dr. Emmanuel Perez, Chief of
Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University, as he operates on the world
leader identified in your packet."
"Never worked as a nurse," Gray objected.
"Technically, you're a doctor."
"I never practiced after I finished medical school."
"You started a surgery residency at Duke."
"I dropped out."
"And eventually became a Team Six Seal. I know your history well."
Was Kobold right? Did he know about that last spring in high school,
when it was clear that the records of every great pitcher were going to
be swept aside by Gray's blazing fastball and crisp slider. Pro scouts
attended every game his senior year. With a 12-1 record, two strikeouts
an inning, it was only a matter of where to go, pro ball or college.
Then the regional championship game. The sudden pain in his shoulder
after he threw the slider. Several surgeries later, it was better, but
fifteen miles per hour had disappeared from his fast ball, and he became
just another mediocre middle relief college pitcher. He quit playing
baseball after his junior year to pursue other goals—except none
mattered. College, medical school, residency—just ways to pass the
time—his parents' dreams, not his own.
Eventually, even his goals of becoming a doctor were replaced by a
desire to lead a more active life. And he had, eventually rescuing then
Senator Theodore Anderson from where he had been captured in Iraq by
terrorists. Since then, he had helped Anderson accomplish things around
the world, acting as a personal agent. And now, in an odd culmination of
events, Theodore Anderson was President. What would happen to Gray's
"You won't be head nurse," Kobold said. "Plenty of people will be
available to tell you what to do. Your real goal is to prevent the
patient's death from forces who don't want the operation to succeed."
When he started to open the packet, Kobold stopped him. "Not until
you're in private."
"You are to reveal your identity to no one. You have President
Anderson's authority to use any method necessary to make the operation a
success. As I said, there are people who would prefer this mission to
fail. Right now, there are dark forces at work in our government,
seemingly working together to defeat Anderson. Never assume the obvious.
These forces control many agents, and they're not afraid to kill. I know
they wish to defeat Anderson. The President has something they want."
"I have the President's permission to kill if I think it's necessary?"
Kobold didn't reply. A sign of agreement.
The stakes were obviously high, and so were the dangers.
"Before leaving for Sigonella," Kobold continued, "the President wants
you to go to Dr. Perez's house in Baltimore and keep an eye on him until
he leaves the States. The address is in the envelope."
"Dr. Perez is in danger?"
"I only deliver messages, I don't interpret them."
"What do they want?" Gray asked.
"They want what everyone in Washington wants. The White House, of
course." Kobold suddenly stood up. "Someone is watching us!" he
whispered harshly. Looking down the mall, Gray could see no one
watching. How did Kobold know? He turned back to ask, but Kobold had
Excerpted from "The Far Side of Silence" by Robert B. Marcus Jr.. Copyright © 2013 by Robert B. Marcus Jr.. 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.