Former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen provides a Washington insider point of view in Collision, a gripping political thriller about the dangers of mining an asteroid.
Two gunmen open fire at an elite Washington law firm. One flees the scene with the laptop computer he and his partner have come to steal. The other plummets ten stories to his death, pushed by Sean Falcone, former National Security Advisor to the president of the United States.
When the firm’s managing partner learns of the laptop’s disappearance, he orders Falcone to quietly investigate. If word gets out that a computer containing confidential client information is missing, the firm could lose clients, staff, even partners. However, the future of the firm isn’t the only thing at stake. The stolen laptop contains vital information concerning an American billionaire, his secret Russian partner, and their attempt to mine an asteroid. This is a dangerous endeavor; even the slightest change in orbit might put the asteroid on a collision course with Earth. NASA and the White House are plunged into a race to prevent the destruction of all humankind.
The paperback edition of Collision will become available November 1st. Please enjoy this excerpt.
Cole Perenchio pulled the blue-and-white gym bag from under the seat and stood, tilting his head to avoid the overhead bin. He was six foot seven and as slim at age fifty-six as he had been when, for three years, he was top scorer for the MIT Engineers. He ducked again as he left the Delta aircraft and entered the walkway tube to Reagan National Airport. His only luggage was his gym bag carry-on, so he went directly to the taxi pickup line. When his turn came, he told the driver, “Roaches Run.”
The driver turned and spoke through a thick plastic shield: “You kiddin’ me, bro? You want Roaches Run? You can just damn well walk. And I’ll get me another fare that’s really goin’ somewhere.”
“How much would it cost me to go to Capitol Hill?” Perenchio asked in a weary voice.
“Twelve bucks plus tip,” the driver said.
Perenchio reached into a pocket of his blue windbreaker and took out a piece of paper torn from a small notebook, along with a roll of bills. He peeled off a ten and a five, which he handed to the driver through a compartment in the shield. “Now take me to Roaches Run,” he said.
The taxi pulled out of the airport exit and onto the northbound lane of the George Washington Parkway, went about half a mile, and then turned onto a causeway leading to a slice of land jutting along the shore of the Potomac River. Across the dark strip of water Perenchio could see the Washington Monument rising into the night sky.
“Okay, mister. Here’s Roaches Run,” the driver said. “You just want to get out here?”
“See that Lincoln over there?” Perenchio answered. “Go over there, and please put on the overhead light.” He held the piece of paper up to the light. “Turn there. I want to see the license plate.”
The taxi turned slowly toward the grid of a parking lot in which there were five scattered cars, all of them long, black town cars that shone brightly in the taxi’s lights. The driver stopped behind a Lincoln. Perenchio leaned forward to check the District of Columbia license plate.
“Thanks,” Perenchio said, getting out of the taxi. He leaned his head toward the driver’s half-opened window. “Now go over a couple of rows and wait for me. I’ll be back in, at most, fifteen minutes. Then I want you to take me to my hotel. I’ll give you the name when I come back.”
As he approached the Lincoln, he heard the door locks click. He opened the rear right door and the interior dimly lighted up. A man seated on the left awkwardly held out his right hand as Perenchio folded himself into the rear seat and the light went out. Seated, Perenchio reached across, his hand engulfing the other man’s.
“Sorry the flight was late,” he said.
“No problem. That’s the point of Roaches Run,” the other man said, his face emerging from the shadow. “I give Leo here”—he nodded toward the driver—“the flight number. He keeps track of the flight, and, when he figures that it’s twenty minutes away, he calls me, pulls up in front of my house in Alexandria, picks me up and drives here. It’s like a holding area for cars on call, town cars, under contract with firms like mine. You said you wanted privacy. So I suggested that we meet here instead of picking you up at the terminal.”
“I remember this place from when I was a kid and my father was stationed at the Pentagon,” Perenchio said, his tense face suddenly breaking into a smile. “He’d take my brother and me here, usually on Sunday, and we’d watch the planes zoom in and out of National—not called Reagan then. They were close! It was like you could stand on a picnic table and touch ’em. But, you know, Hal, I didn’t know the name of this place until I got your message. Roaches Run. Funny name.”
“It’s a fish, the roach. People fish for them here in the little bay,” Harold Davidson said.
“Thanks, Hal,” Perenchio said, smiling. “You have always known things like that.”
“Well, here we are,” Davidson said, ignoring the remark. He had a round, smooth face that merged into a bald head. His dark skin was slightly darker than that of Perenchio, who had a Creole father and African American mother.
“I thought we could drive to my house, have a drink, something to eat—I hope you’re still big on pulled pork. And we—”
“All I want, Hal, is a chance to talk with no one around. Right now,” Perenchio said. “We’re sealed off from the driver, right?”
Davidson pressed a button on the console near his door handle, and the light went on again. He pointed to another button, and a small red light flashed on and off next to the word DRIVER.
“Standard practice. He can’t hear me until I press that button. These cars all have them,” Davidson said in an instructional tone that Perenchio remembered from their college years. “Look, you’re my client. Everything is between you and me. We have a client-lawyer relationship. So, if you don’t want to talk somewhere else, just start talking here. Now, what’s on your mind? All you told me on the phone was that you had something you couldn’t tell me over the phone. Now you can’t tell me face-to-face.” Davidson grinned and leaned toward Perenchio.
Perenchio reached into the gym bag and took out a black carrying case. He opened the case to show Davidson a Dell laptop, then zipped the case closed. “Keep this,” he said. “It’s all in that. You’re in some kind of trouble at the law firm.”
“How do you know that?”
“It’s in here.”
Davidson reached down for his suitcase-size briefcase, opened its hinged maw, and tried to slip in the laptop case. But it stuck out, its black shoulder strap hanging down the side of the briefcase. “How come you didn’t use a thumb drive?” Davidson asked. “Lot easier to carry.”
“You always have better ideas, Hal,” Perenchio said, a touch of anger in his voice. “I need to give you the laptop, the whole laptop. That’s it, okay?”
“Okay, okay,” Davidson said, still fussing with the briefcase.
“All I can tell you is that what’s in the laptop is very, very important. I mean, White House important,” Perenchio said, lowering his voice. “I want a meeting with someone from the White House who can guarantee me immunity and get me into the federal witness program.”
“I need more information than that, Cole. What the hell is this all about?”
“I can’t tell you. All I can say is it’s about something that could kill us all.”
“Look, Cole. I trust you, trust your scientific mind. But tell me something.”
“I will call you at your office tomorrow. Have the laptop open in front of you. I’ll tell you how to activate and decrypt the information. Then you’ll see. It’s all there. Set up a meeting between now and Friday. At the White House.”
“Hold it, Cole,” Davidson said, his voice suddenly turning stern. “I will not be in my office tomorrow. I’ll be in New York all day. A meeting with a client that I cannot break.” He took his cell phone out of his pocket and looked at his calendar. “It’s got to be the next day, Wednesday. Ten thirty a.m.”
“Damn it, Hal. Don’t treat me like one of your clients. There’s no time to lose. And what am I supposed to do all day?”
“Walk around. It’s a great city. Maybe see Ben Taylor,” Davidson said.
“I don’t have time. Now I’ve got another day to kill. Yeah, kill. Funny saying that. I’m afraid to walk around. Really afraid, Hal.”
Davidson reached out to pat Perenchio’s shoulder. “Relax, Cole. Try to relax.”
“Relax?” Perenchio asked with a bitter laugh. “Yeah, maybe I’ll have time to write my will.” As he opened the door he added, “See you Wednesday. And don’t let that laptop out of your sight.”
Perenchio got out of the car, walked to the taxi, and got in. The taxi recrossed the causeway and returned to the parkway, heading toward Washington. Davidson’s black car followed.
So did another black car. Seated behind the driver were two men. One of them opened a cell phone, brought up a number, spoke briefly, and pocketed the phone.
Copyright © 2015 by William S. Cohen
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