A shrewd, efficient and popular politician, Madeline O'Keith Turner was eminently qualified to fulfill he duties as America's first woman Vice President. But Fate elevated her to Commander-in-Chief. . .on the eve of her nation's most devastating modern crisis.
From her first day in the Oval Office, Maddie Turner has had to deal with bitter challenges from Congress and duplicity from within the ranks of the Cabinet she inherited from her late predecessor. Now catastrophe is brewing in the East China Sea. Chinese and Japanese fleets are set to collide in the biggest naval engagement since World War Two. And a single false step could result in Turner's impeachment. . .or, worse still, in nuclear war. An untried leader with enemies on all sides must now reach out to her one true ally: National Security Advisor General Robert Bender, a loyal soldier determined to teach his president in record time everything he knows about swift, decisive action and bare-knuckling battling. . .even if it costs his career, and his life, to do so.
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About the Author
A former weapons system operator, Richard Herman was a member of the United States Air Force for twenty-one years, until he retired in 1983 with the rank of major. He is the author of ten previous novels, including The Warbirds, Power Curve, Against All Enemies, Edge of Honor, and The Trojan Sea, all published by Avon Books. Herman currently lives and works in Gold River, a suburb of Sacramento, California.
Read an Excerpt
St. Louis, Missouri
"General, please stand back."
Robert Bender gave the Secret Service agent a cold look. After seven months, the institutional paranoia of the Secret Service was wearing thin, and he was tired of being moved around like a piece of unwanted furniture. But all very necessary, he rationalized. He stepped farther back into the wings where he could still see the vice president standing at the podium. He split his attention, watching the agents and listening to the speech."
. . this administration is one hundred percent dedicated to the advancement of equal rights." A loud round of sustained applause echoed over the stage. Turner's telling the delegates what they want to hear, Bender thought, like any good politician. Most of the audience had bought into the vice president's carefully constructed image as "the most intelligent and engaging personality in American politics." The "engaging" he agreed with.
Another agent hurried by, speaking into the whisper mike hidden under his sleeve cuff. He shot a worried glance at Bender and skidded to a stop. "Sir, it might be better if you left the stage."
"The vice president gets upset when I'm not around," Bender replied. Hanging around like a trained lap dog, he thought.
The agent jerked his head in agreement. The agents standing post for Turner felt sorry for the three-star generalwhen they weren't laughing about his predicament. The vice president liked having an Air Force lieutenant general dance attendance as a personal aide, and the agents chalked it up as another ego stroke for Turner. "Please display your badge, sir."
Bender fished out his White House areabadge and let it dangle from his neck on the outside of his class A blues. Why am I here? he wondered for perhaps the thousandth time. Bender's wife claimed it was because the vice president liked the way he looked: tall and lanky with gray hair and steel-blue eyes. Nancy Bender was determined to get her husband through this assignment with his sanity intact and teased him. "It keeps you humble. Besides, you make a cute little go-for, although you are a bit overpaid."
Chuck Sanford, the agent-in-charge of the vice presidential detail, came up the steps from the lower dressing rooms where the Secret Service had set up a temporary command post. "General, have you seen Mr. Shaw?" he asked. A trace of agitation gave his voice a rushed sound.
Bender frowned at the mention of Turner's chief of staff. "Not recently," he answered, his words clipped and abrupt. Why is Sanford upset? he thought. He's the cool one and never flaps, not even when that crazy preacher had taken two potshots at the president's limousine.
"We need to get a message to Magic"Magic was the code name a Defense Department computer had generated for Turner the day after the inauguration"and can't find Mr. Shaw."
The general relented. Now it was his turn to feel sorry for the Secret Service. It angered him the way Patrick Shaw controlled access to the vice president. It wasn't worth an agent's career to bypass Shaw, and even Bender was very correct in dealing with the prickly chief of staff. Shaw had a well-earned reputation for destroying anyone he saw as a threat to his authority. "I saw Shaw about thirty minutes ago, leaving with the brunette in the short black dress."
"Damn," Sanford groaned. "We'll find him, but he's going to be pissed if we catch him with his pants downagain." He hurried away, speaking into his whisper mike. Bender's frown deepened. He had never before heard San ford use profanity, and the agent had to be under enormous pressure to be so talkative. Normally, the Secret Service was good for only the time of day, if that. He focused on the activity around him and decided something unusual had to be going down.
The general allowed himself a rare excursion into profanity. That bastard, he thought. Why can't Shaw keep his pecker in his pants? How many guests in the hotel would be rousted, bullied, or disturbed just because Shaw's gonads did his thinking whenever a pretty and eager girl on the make came around?
Sanford hurried up the steps with two more agents and moved them into place to scan the audience. Some fool has probably threatened the vice president, Bender reasoned. An Air Force master sergeant, one of the communication specialists assigned to Air Force Two, the vice president's airplane, rushed up the steps carrying a secure cellular telephone and gestured at Sanford, trying to catch his attention. But before Sanford saw him, two agents grabbed the sergeant and frog-walked him back down the steps.
Fitzgerald is a good man and doesn't deserve to be manhandled for doing his job, Bender told himself. Besides, those agents should know him from Air Force Two. Bender moved down the stairs in time to see the agents slam the sergeant against a wall and frisk him down. The general clamped an iron control over his anger. "What's the problem?'' he demanded. The agents ignored him and spun the sergeant around, still searching him.
''Agent Adams;" Bender said, his voice heavy with command, "I asked you a question.
Wayne Adams looked at Bender. The general's voice carried a punch that demanded his undivided attention. "Ah, sorry, sir." He paused, breathing rapidly and deciding how much he should say. "You haven't heardthe president is dead."
Bender blinked once, the news pounding at him with an intensity he couldn't understand. Then he was back in control, rigid and unbending. "Sergeant Fitzgerald, is that why you were bringing the phone?"
"Yes, sir," Fitzgerald answered. "The National Military Command Center needs to authenticate the change of command."
Bender took charge, overriding the Secret Service. "Do it."
"We can't allow that," Adams said.
"Why not?" "Because the vice president hasn't been told yet," Adams answered.
"Why not?" Bender repeated.
''Mr. Shaw," came the answer.
Bender shook his head. "Ale you that afraid of him?"
''Tell her now," Bender ordered. ''Don't wait until you find Shaw."
Adams shook his head.
Bender looked at Fitzgerald. ''Tell me the details," he demanded. The sergeant repeated what he knew. Bender jerked his head once. "Give me your message pad," he said to Fitzgerald. He quickly wrote a note and ripped off the page before returning the pad. He trotted up the stairs and past Sanford and the other agents posted in the wings.
"General!" Sanford barked.
"You know me," Bender shot back, flashing his White House badge and not slowing as he walked on stage.
Madeline Turner heard the commotion and turned to look. Bender handed her the note and walked back into the wings.
"Goddamn you," Sanford rasped.
"Without a doubt," Bender replied, his voice sharp and unyielding. He looked back toward the podium. Turner was unfolding the note, still looking at him. He watched as she read. So this is how history is made, he thought, recalling the exact words he had jotted down moments before:
Madam President, President Roberts died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at 2:18 this afternoon in the White House. Your presence is needed immediately on board Air Force One.
Madeline O'Keith Turner looked up at him, her mouth slightly open. Tears filled her eyes and streaked down her face.
"For God's sake, woman," Sanford groaned. "Not here. Not now." He never took his eyes off Turner. "You should have waited until we found Shaw."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I rated it 8/10. China plot was surprising and very good.