Best-selling novelist Tom Clancy died yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore—here’s the Washington Post obit.
In 1997, The Washingtonian’s Dick Victory took a witty but serious look at Clancy, then Washington’s most successful fiction writer.
How Tom Clancy has turned the novel of revenge into earnings of $16 million a year.
By Dick Victory
This is the way the world ends.
“Mission briefing: Chinese hard-liners have staged a daring raid on one of the world’s last great untapped oil reserves, setting the stage for a rejuvenated Communist dictatorship. Representing the United States, you command an Improved Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine, the USS Cheyenne. Over 360 feet long and brimming with state-of-the-art electronic warfare systems, she is the finest fast-attack submarine in the world. In addition, you are backed by 133 of the best-trained submariners in any naval fleet.”
Novelist Tom Clancy’s nuclear-tipped CD-ROM war game, “SSN,” from which this call to arms is taken, has fallen into the hands of my nine-year-old son. As a consequence, the end of the world looms. The boy has always had an itchy trigger finger; now he has the means to employ it.
In the last minutes left to us, it may be fitting to meditate on how history could have come to this—and fitting also to retrace the steps that have led Tom Clancy, arguably the most famous resident of Maryland, to great wealth and astonishing popularity as a novelist. According to Forbes magazine, Clancy made $15 million in 1995 and $16 million in 1996.
A recent article in GQ by Peter Bart suggested that super-popular writers like Clancy and John Grisham have such powerful brand names that “no publisher can afford to pay them what they demand. Hence, some publishing veterans believe the authors will end up self-publishing and owning the copyrights.”
Let’s leave Grisham out of this and stick with Clancy. Why is he so popular?
• • •
From the beginning, Tom Clancy has been in love with bells and missiles, his plots brimming with state-of-the-art electronic-warfare systems. His first novel launched the techno-thriller genre.
This was The Hunt for Red October, published in 1984 to the applause of the American public, which made his tale of submarine cat-and-mouse games a remarkable bestseller.
Since then he has written more than a dozen other books, eight of them novels about as popular as the first one. The eight are Red Storm Rising(1986), Patriot Games (1987), The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988), Clear and Present Danger (1989), The Sum of All Fears (1991), Without Remorse (1993), Debt of Honor (1994), and Executive Orders (1996).
Clancy gives readers plenty of pages to chew on. The thinnest of his novels, The Hunt for Red October, runs to 469 paperback pages and the largest, Debt of Honor, to 990 pages.
It’s not just middlebrow readers who chew on them. Intellectuals do, too, although sometimes with reservations. Perhaps the most interestingly unapologetic case for reading Clancy’s novels was made by a literary critic, Marie Arana-Ward, assistant editor of the Washington Post’s Book World. In a 1993 review of Without Remorse, she wrote:
“Let’s get one thing straight right off. No one reads Tom Clancy for his style. Not for us the prosey pirouette, the earnest Bildungsroman, the mot juste, the finely limned character, the universal slice of life …. What Clancy manages to deliver to us armchair warriors more often than not—and Without Remorse is no exception—is a different kind of virtuosity: a meticulous chronicle of military hardware, a confident stride through corridors of power, an honest-to-God global war game, and a vertiginous plot that dutifully tracks dozens of seemingly disparate strands to a pyrotechnic finish .”
When a reviewer of Arana-Ward’s sophistication finds such satisfaction in work that strikes you as uninteresting, you may wonder if you’re missing something.
What some readers could be missing in Clancy’s novels, as Arana-Ward herself implies, is style—style defined here as a voice recognizably human. When an author’s voice is human, good things usually follow: plausible, compelling plot; characters with more than one dimension; dialogue that rings true; and an airing of ideas that, however passionate, transcends partisan politics. By this definition, style is the best gauge of a novelist’s value.
None of which is meant to suggest that thrillers can’t be worthwhile—think of those by Graham Greene, John Le Carre, and Charles McCarry, whose voices are so hypnotic that a single exposure can put a spell on the reader’s memory forever.
Lacking human voice, Clancy’s kind of thriller is just another reminder that you can write about serious subjects—nuclear war, international terrorism, drug cartels—without qualifying as a serious novelist.
To his credit, Clancy has shrugged off such criticism; he calls himself an entertainer. That’s fair.
• • •
What clues to his popularity does Clancy’s language yield? No reader who brings the cargo of skepticism that I do to the examination of Clancy’s novels would be likely to read all 6,480 pages of the ones mentioned. A narrowing was called for. I didn’t think it sporting to go looking for phrases or passages that would make Clancy look bad- a wickedly out-of-context selection can make any author look bad—so I settled on a nine-novel sampling keyed to a simple progression.
The first specimen quoted is the first sentence in the first chapter of the first novel, the second specimen is the second sentence in the second chapter of the second novel, and so on. Only full sentences are cited, none of the heading lines the author frequently uses. The sentences are out of context, of course, but not by wicked design. Here they are:
The Hunt for Red October: “Captain First Rank Marko Ramius of the Soviet Navy was dressed for the Arctic conditions normal to the Northern Fleet submarine base at Polyarnyy.”
Red Storm Rising: “The fire was detected by American ‘National Technical Means,’ a term that generally denotes reconnaissance satellites operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”
Patriot Games: “Six hundred miles away, a Sabena flight was landing outside of Cork.”
The Cardinal of the Kremlin: ” ‘What about specific technical information?’ ”
Clear and Present Danger: “He turned his head left and right, inspecting his environment in the orange twilight that came through the uncurtained windows.”
The Sum of All Fears: “It was slightly more complicated than that, of course.”
Without Remorse: “She still had her demons.”
Debt of Honor: “The truck in the background was largely intact, though its bumper was clearly distorted.”
Executive Orders: “That made Ryan both easy and impossible for the Russian to analyze.”
What can be said about the foregoing? Chiefly this: The language is undeniably English, uninspired but clear, and it sometimes veers toward technical-manual usage. For many American readers, this approach is a point in Clancy’s favor. Such readers tend to like facts, figures, and decisiveness. They are unhappy when presented with stones unturned. They are very unhappy when presented with ambiguity, except when it is confronted by Clancy characters, who can be counted on to deal with it unambiguously.
• • •
What clues to Clancy’s popularity can be found in his plots?
The Hunt for Red October: A Soviet nuclear submarine trying to defect to the United States must outmaneuver friend and foe in the depths of the Atlantic. The possibility of a world war is rarely out of mind. With the help of CIA analyst and former Marine officer Jack Ryan, the Soviet sub cruises to freedom.
Red Storm Rising: A world war has been triggered by Moslem extremists who cripple USSR oil supplies. Soviet troops invade Western Europe, and the battle is joined on land, at sea, and in the air. We win.
Patriot Games: Private citizen Jack Ryan, vacationing in London, foils an IRA assassination plot against the royals, is wounded in the process and knighted for bravery, and then returns to the States, where he is recruited back into the CIA and has to battle the long arm of the IRA on his turf. He wins.
The Cardinal of the Kremlin: The United States and USSR race to develop Star Wars technology against a global background. Jack Ryan is in there pitching for America, and so is the “cardinal” of the title, an American mole. A world war is averted. Everybody wins.
Clear and Present Danger: The White House, sick and tired of drug use here, launches an illegal shooting war on drug lords in Colombia, but our troops start catching hell down there. CIA ace Jack Ryan puts things right at home and abroad.
The Sum of All Fears: Now deputy director of the CIA, Jack Ryan organizes a Middle East peace conference, which Arab heavies want to unorganize with a nuclear surprise. There’s a lot of capital-hopping in this one. Ryan hops last and hops best.
Without Remorse: A grateful nation lets Ryan sit this one out. John Kelly, a former Navy SEAL, is waging a private war on drug traffickers at home when his government recruits him for a secret mission in Vietnam. Kelly kicks butt here and abroad.
Debt of Honor: Mushroom clouds threaten again, so Ryan is back—as White House national security adviser—and ready to rumble. So are the Japanese, who sabotage America financially and threaten to toast us with nuclear weapons. Ryan’s reaction is so brilliant that he is catapulted into the vice presidency. Even higher office is forthcoming after a Japanese hardliner, piloting a Boeing 747, uses his plane as a dart and the Capitol as a dartboard, killing the president, among many other government officials. Ryan thus completes the most remarkable 12-year grade ascent in history.
Executive Orders: As rookie President Jack Ryan tries to put the country back together, sinister forces abroad lick their chops. Among them are expansion-minded Iranians who want to force the Ebola virus down our throats. Fat chance.
• • •
Sure, some of the plots seem a little far-fetched, particularly when summarized with comic intent. Far-fetched plotting or no, even the most unsympathetic reader has to concede that Clancy grapples with subjects full of dark dread for Americans.
Probably the central reason Clancy succeeds so well with so many readers is that he offers resolutions to problems apparently intractable outside the pages of his books. His heroes have become nothing less than national instruments of retribution for Americans so frustrated by what bad people get away with in real life that they’re in a mood for rough justice in their reading matter. Clancy, the king of revenge, provides that and the bonus of an insider’s view of high-tech weaponry.
As Mickey Spillane, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood did before him, he puts a firm, reassuring hand on your shoulder, looks you in the eye, and says, “Got a problem? Let me take care of it.”
The next sound you hear is the lingering scream of some thug or drug lord or villainous foreigner hurled into the abyss. How’s the weather down there, you swine?
At least to this point Clancy has left the really spooky stuff—lawyers and supernatural terrors—to John Grisham and Stephen King, but he has gone right to the gut of most other national anxieties. Okay, he hasn’t done the space number yet, hasn’t given us 900 pages of asteroids being launched at Washington by a democracy-hating race on Pluto. But all he needs is the time to do the research and devise appropriately high-tech defensive measures.
Meanwhile, he’s dreaming up war games.
Maybe CD-ROM electronic war games have been Tom Clancy’s destiny all along, as this passage from a 1986 Christopher Lehmann-Haupt review in the New York Times suggests:
” . . . Red Storm Rising at its best is the verbal equivalent of a high-tech video game. If only it could be projected on a cathode-ray tube and read by scrolling its pages with a button or a joystick. Or maybe it could even be animated somehow.”
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, meet Tom Clancy’s “SSN.”
• • •
We’re about out of time now, folks.
The end the world is at hand.
“This is not a drill! The missions you encounter during the game lead you through realistic scenarios which could be taken from tomorrow’s headlines. Many of the threats you face are real; some threats are hypothetical. All of them are dangerous. To succeed at SSN, you must Jearn to think like a submarine commander.”
The periscope is up, son. It’s your show now.
Here’s the author’s note that accompanied Dick’s 1997 column: Senior editor Dick Victory writes frequently about books. His recent articles include travel books in June, humorous writing in August, and sports literature in October. Victory’s somewhat unpopular essay “Why Washington Women Can’t Cook” appeared last month. This month’s article was filed from his bunker in suburban Maryland.
Dick worked mostly behind-the-scenes as a Washingtonian senior editor and he wrote mostly about books. But his story the previous month, “Why Washington Women Can’t Cook,” made him infamous in Washington—the story was featured on the cover with a photo of a professional-looking woman talking on the phone, standing in front of a kitchen stove that had caught fire. The cover story caused several hundred women to cancel their subscriptions.
Dick now lives half the year in Washington and half in Florida, and some of his time is focused on writing song lyrics.
Tom Clancy, the best-selling author of military thrillers, died Tuesday at the age of 66. What better way to celebrate his life than to publish the CIA's very own tribute to him?
Bestselling Author Tom Clancy Dead at 66
Tom Clancy, bestselling author of more than a dozen military thrillers, died Tuesday night in a…
Sociologist Bridget Rose Nolan spent a year working as a full time analyst with the CIA, gathering observations to use in a just-published doctoral dissertation. (Among the revelations: CIA agents forward Gawker articles around. Hi, guys.)
One of the weirdest and most fascinating bits of the dissertation is Appendix E: "The Hunt for Red October: The Untold Story," a detailed retelling of Clancy's famous book written as a kind of in-joke satire of the CIA. Nolan explains:
Perhaps the most popular example of Agency lore is a well-known spoof of Tom Clancy’s novel The Hunt for Red October. Supposedly, during the Cold War, someone wrote a series of short episodes describing how the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence would have handled the events described in the book and the subsequent movie. It is a satire of the daily life of the analyst, and therefore articulates with a humorous tone many of the frustrations I have discussed in this dissertation. For me, “The Hunt for Red October: The Untold Story” also served as a sort of barometer for my own acculturation process. During my first week of work in May of 2007, at least five people eagerly sent me the file saying things like, “You have to read this—it is the funniest thing ever!” But I didn’t get it, of course; not right away. By the end of my time there in early 2011, however, I revisited the text and found myself laughing out loud. Even though this story echoes other themes of this chapter, I place the Red October discussion here because of its legendary status; everyone seemed to know this story, so it was a shared cultural and institutional memory among the initiated. In fact, I was specifically told that “you aren’t truly initiated into CIA until you think that ‘The Hunt for Red October: The Untold Story’ is funny.” This idea echoes Becker’s research on novice marijuana smokers and the ways in which they rely on “role interaction” with more experienced smokers for “cues” as to what the new smoker should feel and do (Becker, 1953). The Red October story is reproduced in its entirety from my field notes in Appendix E. It is rather long, though, so here I highlight some of the ways in which the humor of the Red October story echoes each of the themes of this research.
Here it is—the CIA's tribute to one of its biggest fans—in its entirety.
The Hunt for Red October: The Untold Story
A recent best-seller—made into a box-office hit—describes the adventures of a CIA analyst caught up in a whirlwind of danger and excitement as events of cataclysmic importance unfold before his eyes. While the novel has intrigued and entertained millions of readers, few have even suspected that there is a core of truth in this otherwise fantastic account. Only the loyal cadre of CIA analysts—locked in silence by a legally- binding contract—know the real story, a story more frightening than any work of fiction could ever convey. Now, the truth is revealed.
Warning: any resemblance to persons living and working in the CIA is no accident. Everyone should expect to find a little of themselves—and a lot of everyone else—in this story.
The year was 1984, a time of stagnation in the Soviet Union, and of comfortable routine in the CIA’s Office of Soviet Affairs (OSA). It began as the most ordinary of days. Jack Ryan, intrepid CIA analyst, strode into work after a brisk twenty minute walk in from the parking lot. In fact, Jack had been able to do without his evening jog since the parking situation had tightened and he found he was getting his aerobic exercise walking in from the Kamchatka zone of the Agency lot. Jack liked that: it was efficient.
Jack didn’t actually need to work at the CIA: he was independently wealthy, or had been until he got the Fairfax County personal property tax bill on his new Trans AM. Mostly, Jack liked the highly charged atmosphere of short deadlines and constant surprises. He found the frequent coordination battles a healthy outlet for his aggressions; otherwise, he might have found himself hollering at his wife and kids and kicking the family Lab. Instead, he hollered at other analysts and kicked the laser printer.
This morning—a very ordinary morning—Jack grabbed a cup of coffee and headed for his computer terminal to read his morning mail. That was another thing he liked about the CIA—tens of millions of dollars worth of top-of-the-line computer equipment to back up the analytical efforts of the Agency’s crack intelligence officers. Jack quietly paged through the traffic that had come in during the night. Suddenly he froze, his eyes fixed on the screen.
Yes, it was a very ordinary day at the CIA—the system was down, and Jack turned off his terminal and went off in hunt of a doughnut and the latest rumors on the pending reorganization. He returned, sated with pastry and gossip, to sort through the findings from his mail box. Suddenly a tidbit of intelligence caught his attention. According to an allied intelligence service, the prototype of the new “Oktyabr” class submarine had been launched a week early. The prototype, predictably enough, was called “Red October.” “For once I’d like to see them call a vessel the ‘Trotskiy,’” Jack snortled to himself, “or the Academician Sakharov!’ That’ll be the day.” He got an extra loud guffaw out of that one. Jack prided himself on his keen understanding of the Soviet bureaucratic soul.
Even more intriguing was the picture and analysis which accompanied the news of the launch. The new submarine, photographed while still in dry dock, appeared to have a strange pattern on the side formed of two large black circles—almost like the ears on a Mickey Mouse cap, to Jack’s mind. British intelligence speculated that these portals were part of a sophisticated new submarine propulsion system. The portals allowed water to flow into the sub to the propeller—an impeller in this case. It was located inside the sub, masking the sound of the bubbles, which provided the characteristic submarine signature. Such a sub would be almost impossible to detect with existing technology.
The implications were mind-boggling. A new generation of Soviet submarines, undetectable and loaded to the gills with ballistic missiles. This would undoubtedly upset the balance of forces between the superpowers and destabilize the existing world situation. Jack knew that the U.S. had nothing similar in the works for its own submarines—it would be years before the Navy could catch up with the Soviet technical lead. In the meantime, the Soviet submarine fleet could strike the U.S. mainland at will, undermining the guarantees provided by the MAD doctrine—that no superpower would launch a first strike against the other for fear of retaliation. Now, a massive and undetectable Soviet first-strike was well within the realm of the imagination. Clearly, this should be written up—the fate of the free world depended on it.
Perhaps more important, Jack’s career depended on it. His paper, The Evolution of Soviet Submarine Cadre Policy: Problems and Prospects, had been in review for quite a while and was unlikely to see the light of day any time soon. Originally, this had been a fast-track project meant to hit the streets quickly. Jack was given one month to research and one month to draft. That was three years ago, and now he was no longer sure what exactly the paper said, and he cared less. In the meantime, what with redrafting, adding, subtracting, recasting, refocusing, highlighting, and toning down, he hadn’t actually gotten anything else out. Anything. For three years. Jack needed this piece badly.
He burst into the office of Edgar Platonoff, his branch chief, afire with enthusiasm for the intelligence mission for the first time in three years. As he explained the significance of the launch of the “Red October” to Ed, visions of spin-offs danced through his head. Congressional briefings, surely a briefing at the NSC and the Joint Chiefs, perhaps the Coast Guard and even the President! Then there were the foreign travel possibilities—briefings in every NATO country, then on to the other allied intelligence services, from Mexico to Vanuatu. And maybe—a Stakhanovite award.
Ed burst his bubble. “Just how far along are you on that article? It’s due on Friday—you have three days left.”
The article. “The New Soviet Naval Uniform: Costing the Burden.” Jack hadn’t made much progress in costing the burden, but he had a pretty good idea that there wasn’t one. In fact, the only real reason for writing the piece was that Leo Hawkins, his group chief, had been intrigued by the color photos in Tyl I snabzhenie (a journal first) and requested the piece. He kept asking about its progress. Jack would mumble something about methodology and regressions, and that usually scared Leo away for the time being.
Ed wasn’t so easy to scare, though. He knew what a regression was and had begun to suspect that Jack didn’t. Jack decided to go for the direct approach: “Listen, Ed, this is a hot intelligence issue, a heck of a lot more important than the new naval uniform. We ought to get something out today. If we don’t, DIA will get a hold of this, and...” Jack gave Ed a moment to absorb the implication of that possibility.
Ed was momentarily stricken by the thought of what DIA might do with the information, but not long enough to save Jack. “I want to see that draft on Friday. Then we’ll talk about some kind of note on this.”
Jack left Ed’s office shaken. The fate of the free world was in his hands, and it looked like he’d end up dropping the ball.
Jack was halfheartedly attempting to cost brass buttons when Ed stuck his head in the door. “Listen, if you want, you can put together a one-liner on the ‘Red October’ business.” Without waiting for an answer, he headed off, probably to initiate a priority reorganization of the branch mailboxes.
The brass button calculations disappeared unnoticed under a three month stack of Krasnaya Zvezdas as Jack rushed to draft his piece. Fortunately, the Agency had invested considerable resources in designing an application that would expedite the drafting and formatting of production. He logged onto the system and entered the program.
Two hours later, it was ready. It had required the assistance of two branch secretaries and the division and group secretaries augmented by a series of calls to sundry ADP experts, but the piece was finally formatted in proper Agency style. It contained only twenty words, but each was heavy with meaning:
Early launch of Soviet “Red October” prototype submarine ... equipped with undetectable drive system... success could destabilize world balance of power.
After a quick branch edit in which the word “launch” was changed to “trial,” Jack got the change entered in only half an hour. He slipped the draft into his division chief’s priority in-box and waited for the response.
Jack was estimating how much braid went into a lieutenant’s dress uniform, multiplied by the number of lieutenants in the Soviet Navy, aggregated with other data using a Soviet wholesale price found in a 1955 issue of Turkmenskaya Iskra, and adjusted for the annual replacement cost based on an estimate of wear and tear at official functions. His office mate pointed out that a different braid design was used on the dress uniforms of submarine officers. Jack groaned and started over.
Suddenly Hal Judevine, his division chief, came in. In a grim voice, he ordered Jack to meet him in his office. Jack panicked. “He wants to know about the article,” he thought, mentally reviewing everything he knew about ribbon costs in the Black Sea fleet as he followed Hal. The door closed behind him.
“Jack, I read your piece.” Hal continued in a slow and parental tone: “You know, this is very important. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but the Soviet Navy is conducting naval exercises in the North Atlantic. We knew that they were planning something of the sort, but we weren’t expecting them in that particular location. We certainly weren’t expecting anything this extensive: it appears that several fleets are involved. It looks like they may be monitoring the ‘Red October’ launch. Gail Schmidt is doing a note on the exercises; I want you to do a joint piece on this.”
Jack was feeling mighty pleased. At last, someone grasped the importance of the “Red October.” He decided to press his luck. “What about the article? I’m supposed to have a draft on the uniform costs in on Friday.”
“Of course I expect you to finish that as well. Also, I want to focus this piece on the technical end of things. Details on the new drive system. Cut the part about threatening the balance of forces between the superpowers.” He leaned back in his chair and turned avuncular: “Jack, when you’ve been in this Directorate longer, you’ll learn that you can’t make these kinds of wild statements. Stick to the facts, the nuts and bolts of the issue.”
Jack should have expected this. Hal’s background was technical, and he was still weak on the larger concepts—and he knew it. What was worse, he suspected that others knew it, and had adopted an all-knowing air to mask his insecurity. He liked to focus pieces on technical issues because this allowed him to keep the upper hand. Still, Jack was surprised that a man of Hal’s uninhibited ambition would take the chance of allowing such a hot issue to slip away.
Hal’s voice interrupted Jack’s character analysis. “By the way, Jack, I want this to go as a Special Analysis. Talk to Gail. I’ve already given her some notes on what I want.”
“But doesn’t the office already have forty Special Analyses in queue with the production staff? Maybe if we did it as a Note, it might get in more quickly,” Jack pointed out, trying not to sound as if he were pleading.
“I know what I’m doing here!” snapped Hal. He picked up his scissors and began editing a paper, effectively closing the conversation.
Jack closed the door behind him, sick with disappointment and dread. By the time the piece ran, the Soviets would probably have a whole fleet of “Oktyabr” class subs—headed straight for the US coast.
Jack headed off to face Gail Schmidt. “Genghis” Schmidt. Of course, Jack never called her that to her face. No one did. Still, the name fit, and no one ever thought of her as anything else. Jack had run afoul of Genghis before, and he still winced at the memories. The last time, three days of work on his part had been quietly absorbed into an article of hers—unacknowledged. This time, Jack was determined that he would defend himself.
As it turned out, there was very little for either of them to do. Hal’s “notes” looked an awful lot like a rough draft. Jack’s one sentence on the “Red October” had turned into a paragraph forested with words like “impeller,” “hydraulic,” and “cavitation.” No one but an engineer would have guessed that the “October” represented an entirely new generation of Soviet sub. Jack quickly made one editorial change: he added his name as co-author. Genghis looked sullen, but let it stand.
Jack was emboldened. “I think we could strengthen the piece if we highlighted the fact that the new drive system makes the ‘Red October’ undetectable by U.S. ships. Maybe add some language about the Soviets gaining a technical edge.”
Genghis responded like a shark that’s smelled blood. “I believe Hal’s instincts about emphasizing the technical aspects are sound. As a senior GS-13, I consider myself the lead author on this. Jack, when you’ve been in this Directorate longer, you’ll learn that management is usually right about these things.” Genghis obviously wanted to get into management badly—she was already practicing. Jack—a very senior GS-9—gave up.
Hal was pleased with the draft. “This is an exceptionally fine piece. And do you know why it’s so good? Because you followed my guidelines.” Genghis beamed and smoldered—no mean feat, but then, she was a senior thirteen. Jack just played with his key chain.
Back at his desk, Jack waited for coordination comments. He didn’t expect that anyone would have much problem with the piece. In its present form it was probably unintelligible to 99% of the analysts in the CIA, and 100% of Washington’s policymakers. Suddenly a shadow fell across his desk. As Jack looked up, he was filled with a sense of doom.
It was the Experts. Actually only one expert, but after Sandra Scavelli’s visit to a poultry feather processing plant in Chita, a local paper had mistakenly referred to the visit of several US experts. The name seemed to fit. After all, she was the only analyst in the Office of Technical Research (OTR) who could do the monthly crossword puzzle in Tyl I snabzhenie: no one else knew the Russian equivalents for all the mechanical parts used on Soviet submarines. After twenty years with the Agency, Sandra knew in excruciating detail the strengths and weaknesses of every sub the Soviets had ever launched, and she used this knowledge like a weapon. Now she loomed over him like an iceberg. Jack felt like the Titanic.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand why OSA is writing this piece. This falls within OTR’s purview,” she announced in imperious tones.
Jack faced her manfully. “Management wanted me to write it.” True—sort of.
She drew herself up. “Your management wouldn’t realize that there are major problems with both the substance and the analysis in this piece.” It was a challenge. Jack decided to accept. “What exactly do you have problems with?” he asked, then winced as he realized that he had dangled a preposition. He was vulnerable. The Experts ignored the preposition and went straight for the jugular.
“Everything,” she stated, and contemptuously tossed the draft on the desk.
She continued slowly and surely as an icebreaker. “I don’t know what sources you used, but someone has made a serious error. The Soviets have not developed an impeller drive system.”
“Sandra, I’m afraid you’re wrong on that,” Jack thought he had the advantage at last. “According to this report from British intelligence—complete with pictures, I may add—the Soviets have an operable impeller system on the ‘Red October.’”
Her answer was as rapid and as categorical as machine gun fire. “The British are wrong. Don’t tell me you believe something just because it appeared in print somewhere? After all, one wouldn’t accept something as true simply because it appeared in a Reuter press release,” she added.
Actually, Jack would. It had never occurred to him before that something printed in black and white might not be true. Jack felt his intellectual world begin to crumble around him as he contemplated that possibility—so he ignored it, and concentrated on the matter at hand. “Listen, Sandra, if the Sovs don’t have an impeller drive system, what are those round black circles on the side of the ‘Red October’?”
“Mickey Mouse ears. Someone has painted a Disney logo on the side of that submarine. We have already subjected these photographs to careful analysis using advanced computer models that analyze the light reflections from the various surfaces of the vessel—I would explore the details but you wouldn’t understand.”
Jack was getting mad. That was the stupidest analysis he had ever heard, and he was almost tempted to say so—but didn’t. He was pretty sure, though, that Sandra was trying to snowball him with a lot of technical gibberish, and she apparently thought he was chump enough to fall for it. “We’ll see about that,” he thought to himself.
Out loud, he said, “Well, your comments are very thought-provoking, and we will certainly take them into account.”
“I expect you to do so. I also expect that you will cancel any plans to run this piece.” She turned to leave.
“Bitch!” Jack muttered softly, but not softly enough.
“Excuse me?” She turned back sharply.
“Rich, I said. Your comments are rich with substance.” Jack hoped he had made a quick save.
“I see,” she replied, and Jack was afraid she did.
Jack sank into despair. He was sitting on some of the hottest intelligence ever to come through the Agency, but it looked like one ego-mad engineer might be able to stop it from getting out—and changing the course of world history.
Jack was searching his files for a wholesale price for seam binding when Rhonda Hoopingardner, the group secretary, entered to tell him that Leo wanted to go over the piece. He alerted Gail and they headed for Leo’s office.
When they entered, they found Leo slumped over the note, a glazed look in his eyes. “Sit down,” he said, “I have a few suggestions.”
Jack sat down and made himself comfortable. He might as well—in his experience, a few suggestions usually took at least an hour.
“I’m a little disappointed in this draft,” Leo began. “I thought every analyst understood the need to write simply and clearly. I know Gail writes well: I’m familiar with her work and this section on the naval exercises is very much to the point. Now, Jack, you’ll develop a better feel for the Agency style in time. No policymaker is going to understand this technical terminology. I do, of course,” he was quick to add, “but they won’t.”
Jack would have been very much surprised if a man who found it a challenge to open the vault in the morning understood a description of an impeller drive system, but he kept that thought to himself. Leo was a musicologist by training, and his efforts to handle the substantive aspects of his job evoked an image of a rubber dinghy in an Atlantic gale. Jack would have pitied the man if he hadn’t been so dangerous.
“Now try to explain to me in layman’s terms, Jack, just what this all means,” Leo continued.
Jack quickly outlined the problems for sonar detection presented by the new propulsion system and the potential this innovation held for destabilizing the balance of forces between the superpowers. A look of relief spread over Leo’s face. Something he could understand.
“Jack, this has got to run tonight. I won’t permit any delays. Turn this into a note, and rewrite your section, and this time try to lean forward on the issue. Don’t be afraid to write what you think.”
Jack was afraid when he thought of Sandra Scavelli’s likely reaction. Maybe he could satisfy her with a well-placed “according to one source” and “could be.” The possibility was remote, but Jack had to try. He was now truly caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
It wasn’t difficult to clean up the piece—Jack just used the language he’d originally had in mind when he proposed the piece. He raced a copy down to the front office and went to grab a bite in the cafeteria. Jack didn’t particularly care for the cafeteria’s food—it was overpriced and the quality was as unpredictable as the Soviet grain harvest—but with an eye surgeon for a wife, he could afford to eat $4 baked potatoes. Besides, eye surgery, errands, housework, and child rearing left Cathy Ryan with little time to make bologna sandwiches.
Jack fully intended to call Sandra Scavelli and try to negotiate some compromise language—as soon as he had fortified himself with the potato—but when he got to his desk he found a message to see the director of OSA. He quickly presented himself in Chris Deter’s office. Deter motioned to him to take a seat. On the office director’s desk Jack saw a sheaf of papers, covered with blue arrows as tangled as a Soviet fishing net. He was transfixed. It could be one of only two things: Jack’s paper, or the plan for the office reorganization. He tried to get a closer look.
“Jack I want this to run exactly as it is. I’ve just made one small change,” Deter began. Jack looked at the draft. This time, “trial” had been changed to “launch.” This was too easy. He decided he’d better take his medicine like a man
“Chris, we’re having some problems with OTR. They don’t believe the ‘Red October’ has an impeller drive system, and they want us to kill the piece.”
“What’s their explanation for the black circles on the side of the sub?” Deter looked at him intently.
“Mickey Mouse ears. They think it’s a painted logo.”
Deter burst out with the same guffaw that Jack had had to suppress when he first heard Sandra’s analysis. “That’s why OSA has the reputation of being the best office in the Directorate, and OTR doesn’t. Listen, Jack, when you’ve been here longer, you’ll learn that you can’t allow coordination to reduce a strong, insightful piece to pabulum. Don’t worry about OTR—I’ll make sure they okay this upstairs.”
Chris Deter might not be worried about OTR, but then he didn’t have to face the Experts. Jack should have been prepared for this kind of reaction. Deter’s predecessor, Jeff Brown, had been under inexorable pressure to increase current production. Richard Letizia, the head of the Directorate, was convinced that a steady parade of noteworthy events was taking place in Brezhnev’s USSR, but that OSA apparently wasn’t bothering to bring them to policymakers’ attention. Brown’s efforts to accommodate Letizia were reminiscent of a man overboard in Arctic waters. His last numb attempt was to send up a note on the Central Committee’s changing attitude towards Rachmaninoff. Letizia’s choice for the new Director of OSA had the vision Brown lacked—unhandicapped by any sense of perspective. Scuttlebutt had it he had requested a typescript on UFOs, and no intelligence product was too far out in left field if it made the Soviets look menacing. Still, in this case the threat was real—and more frightening than Deter could have hoped.
Jack couldn’t believe how quickly he had been swept along by the current of events. Just this morning he had been begging to write one sentence—now he was doing a top-priority note, and feeling a little queasy in the stomach. He told himself that it must be the pepperoni and cheese sauce from lunch, and tried to force from his mind images of a wrathful Sandra Scavelli by contemplating the possibilities of high-level briefings and career advancement. The new Soviet naval uniform slipped willingly from his thoughts.
Suddenly the ring of the telephone interrupted his reverie. He reached for the open line. Nothing. He reached for the other phone, but too late. The call had been automatically transferred to the secretary’s desk. He looked out his office door. As usual, Roxanne Conners was out to lunch—and this time, she wasn’t at her desk, either. Jack assumed the call was from the editorial staff and alerted Gail. The two of them headed up to the seventh floor.
Joanne Snetzger was the editor for their piece. She was pleasant and professional. And a looker. “I wonder if she knows how to make bologna sandwiches?” he thought wistfully, but a pang of guilt prodded him back to scanning the piece. Pretty routine changes—“launch” had been changed to “trial.” Jack no longer remembered which word had been his original choice.
Suddenly Gail let out a bellow. “Calisthenics?!” she cried. “The word is ‘exercises.’”
“’Calisthenics’ and ‘exercises’ are synonyms,” Joanne answered coolly. Jack admired the way she stood up to Genghis. Genghis steamed ahead. “Surely even a layman with only a cursory knowledge of naval terminology would realize that ‘naval calisthenics in the North Atlantic’ is complete nonsense. Change it.”
“You’re taking a very narrow attitude towards language usage.”
“Who are you, anyway? A political analyst, I’ll bet.” Gail inflicted the worst insult she knew. Jack was sickened. Surely the lovely Joanne couldn’t be a political analyst. Genghis was going too far.
Joanne admitted that in her most recent incarnation she had followed the political affairs of West Africa. Jack was disenchanted. He knew more than he wanted to know about political analysts. They left dirty spoons by the coffee pot and were suspected of careless attitudes regarding vault security. Only rumors, but where there’s smoke... Still, it could have been worse. She could have been from the Office of Global Affairs.
Genghis demolished what was left of the lovely Joanne, and she and Jack headed back down to their vault. They found chaos. Deter had finally unveiled his scheme for reorganizing the office, and everyone had been taken by surprise. They had made the usual economist’s mistake—they had assumed rationality. Jack sought out Ed to learn his own fate. What he discovered chilled him to the bone.
Jack’s new branch chief was Sandra Scavelli: the Experts. And what’s more, all production was now on hold until the new management had an opportunity to review it. That meant Jack’s paper was held up again. He also found out that Sandra had already held his piece until tomorrow. Jack realized with a sick feeling that she had surely known about this when they had talked that morning. Jack was really regretting that “b- —“ word now.
The casualties were high. Ed Platonoff had spent too much time reorganizing the branch mailboxes and not enough kissing ass. Now he was headed for the Office of Training, rumor had it, to teach “Getting To Know Your Computer.” Hal Judevine’s technical expertise had scuttled one too many of Deter’s creative forays into analysis and he was being suitably rewarded. He now held a highly visible and powerless job in the front office masterminding the office’s ADP strategy. Leo Hawkins seemed to be the only winner. It was said that Deter and Hawkins were both opera aficionados and had season tickets for adjacent seats at the Kennedy Center. His musical background had stood him in good stead—he was now head of the political group, a more visible post, and one that would free him from any contact with regressions. Jack decided to pick up a Puccini tape on the way.
Home. It sure felt good after the day’s madness. Cathy was going to be late—the kids’ ballet lessons were today—so Jack headed for the fridge. He stared into its depths. He saw the bologna and the bread but didn’t make the connection. Instead, he went for the frozen pizza, and spent the evening, as usual, working on his latest screenplay. Jack had achieved some success in writing scripts for horror films. Sometimes his writing presented a pleasant diversion from his work life. Sometimes he had trouble telling the two apart. This was one of those nights.
He slept fitfully. In his dreams, Hal Judevine took away his Delta Data and replaced it with a typewriter. He tried to protest, but Hal insisted he knew what he was doing. Jack woke up to find his finger tapping at the bedside table, a dream-inspired effort to find the Print key on the typewriter.
At work again, he managed to avoid Sandra and head for his terminal. It was still there. As he paged through his mail, something caught his eye. Something so startling that Jack almost spilled his coffee in excitement. The “Red October” launch was even more important than he had thought.
Jack slowly scrolled through the conversation of submarine warrant officer Faizullah Rakhimov and Captain Marko Ramius, savoring each word. It was three months old, but still thrillingly relevant:
1. The following conversation between two officers in Qarshi, Uzbekistan and Murmank illustrates the declining morale and discipline in the soviet officer corps. These two are evidently planning to go on a major shopping spree (Operation Sausage) in the first western port in which their ship docks, and intend to party hearty on the rest of the voyage.
2. Qarshi: Captain Ramius? This is Mr. Rakhimov. (Govorit Michman Rakhimov.)
3. Murmansk: Yo Rakhimov! What’s happening? (Nu kak dela, Rakhimov?)
4. Qarshi: My orders have come through as you requested. I’ll be one of your officers on
the “Red October.” (Nfi)
5. Murmansk: Totally excellent! (Ochen’ khorosho!) The others have also received their
orders. Those fools (duraki) in Moscow actually trust me. Will they be in for a big surprise in a few months! Ha ha ha (kho kho kho)
6. Qarshi: I can taste the hot dogs and cotton candy (sosiki i sladkuju vatu) already! Usa, here we come! (my plivjem v ssha!)
7. Murmansk: Hush! No one but our fellow officers must know about “operation sausage.” (operatsija “kolbasa”)
8. Qarshi: Right, catch you later—on the “Red October.”
End of message
Perhaps no one else in the Intelligence Community understood the message’s true meaning, but Jack did. He was glad now he’d spend three long years of his life on submarine cadre policy. He might be the only person in the free world who understood what was in Captain Ramius’s mind—and its portent for the strategic balance of forces. He rushed to Sandra’s office to save his piece—and the Western world.
“Sandra,” he began, “I’ve got to rewrite my piece completely.”
“I’m glad you realize that. A wise decision—if a belated one,” she said as she prepared to accept his obeisance.
“Listen, there’s new information in.” He ignored her jibe and continued. “I’d show you the text but the printer’s down. It seems that the captain of the ‘Red October’ is Mark Ramius, their top submarine officer and a man expected to replace Gorshkov someday. I’ve discussed him thoroughly in my draft on submarine cadre policy.” Jack knew she had read it—he recognized scraps of it on her desk next to the tape dispenser. “It now looks like Ramius intends to defect—with the ‘October.’” Jack waited for the import of his words to sink in.
He waited in vain. “I read that report. It said that he was planning to go shopping.”
“The report said he was planning to go shopping. You don’t believe everything you see in print, do you?” He thought he was pretty clever.
The Experts thought he was simply insubordinate. “I suggest that you keep to the subject at hand and explain how a craving for cotton candy translates into a plan to defect.”
“It’s the only explanation that holds water. Ramius is the finest officer in the Soviet Navy, a man of impeccable integrity. Such a man would never abuse his position simply for a lark in a Western port. In fact, no Soviet submarine—and certainly not the ‘October’—is going to dock in a Western port. The clue is in the phrase ‘Operation Sausage.’ You see, Ramius’s wife died after eating a bad Soviet sausage. I believe that he and his crew are defecting as an act of protest against the Soviet Union and the disastrously low quality and variety of its consumer goods.”
“The quality of Soviet sausage is certainly low,” Sandra noted thoughtfully, her face a little pinched—she was undoubtedly remembering her own encounters with Soviet sausage in Chita. Then she snapped out of her reverie. “You’ll need more evidence than that to convince me. I think you’ll find that my standards for intelligence are a little higher than those to which you have been accustomed.” There had never been any love lost between Ed and Sandra.
“Now, let’s discuss the article you’re writing on the share of the new naval uniform in the Soviet defense burden...” Jack settled in a chair, his stomach churning as if a fleet of Soviet sausages was cruising the waves there. It looked as if there was no escape.
Suddenly Genghis Schmidt burst in. “Sandra, I’m going to rewrite my piece.” Jacked noticed that it was now her piece. He bided his time.
“I’m sorry, Gail, but I simply don’t believe that the ‘Red October’ is on a hunt for cotton candy. I’ve killed the piece.”
“Cotton candy? Forget the ‘Red October’—I think the Soviets may be preparing for WWIII! These are more than naval exercises—the Sovs now have everything that floats heading towards the North Atlantic. They’ve even mobilized the ‘Avrora’!” Gail was breathless.
“Gail, your analysis is unsubstantiated and logically flawed.” It looked like Genghis had met her match. “There must be a more reasonable explanation for this fleet mobilization.”
“There is!” Jack blurted out. “They must know that the ‘Red October’ is defecting and have ordered every seaworthy vessel they have to hunt it down and destroy it before it can enter U.S. waters.”
“Whatever the explanation, given fleet activity on such a large scale, we have no choice but to write a piece for tomorrow’s book.” At last—Sandra was on board.
“I’ve already started drafting it,” Genghis jumped in, eager to make up lost ground. Her nose for intelligence was both keen and brown. Jack felt marooned. It seemed the shit of current intelligence was sailing without him.
Then, like a typhoon, Tim Greer stormed into the room. “I’ve read Jack and Gail’s draft—this is incredible! We’ve got to get this out immediately! A high-priority note, follow it up with a typescript!” Jack was starting to feel better. Their new deputy division chief was the kind of guy who could see beyond the naval uniform costing effort.
Sandra filled Tim in on the new developments—with caveats. The new information was swept up in a tidal wave of enthusiasm, the caveats lost in the undertow. “Incredible! The biggest breakthrough in submarine technology in decades about to fall into US hands! Think of the repercussions—we’ll be briefing this for years!” Tim had been in middle management as long as Jack could remember, watching as an assortment of the ruthless, the obsequious, and the hopeless were promoted above him. Apparently he was hoping this would be his chance to join the parade. Jack wondered which tack Tim was going to choose.
It didn’t take long to draft a new version of the piece in accordance with Tim’s guidelines. He told them to highlight the technical innovation embodied in the new sub, and the chance that the prototype might end up in the possession of the US Navy. Gail did venture to ask whether they should clear the decision with Murray Lisook, the man who had replaced Hal Judevine as division chief. “Not necessary! Murray and I have streamlined division procedures—he handles papers, I supervise current production. The new review process is going to go like greased lightning—trust me!” Jack had heard that phrase before—this time he thought he’d wait and see.
Sandra still thought it was safer to give Murray a drop copy. Safer for her career, perhaps—but not for national security, as they soon learned to their horror.
Murray called them all into his office. He had some thoughts to impart on the subject of the “Red October.”
Tim was obviously hot under the collar, no doubt anticipating that his big opportunity to schmooze with the Front Office was going to drift away. “Yo, Murray! I thought we’d agreed I’d handle review for current pieces—avoid double jeopardy at the division level. We were going to streamline the review process...”
“Now Greer, one more review session never did a piece any harm.” Jack wondered if Murray had ever been an analyst.
Murray launched into his analysis of the developments in the North Atlantic. Jack remembered a description he had heard from a co-worker who had once been in Murray’s branch. The analyst had commented that Murray’s reviews could only be described using Russian indeterminate verbs: they were multi-directional, habitual, involved repeated motion, and often resulted in a round trip—Murray led the analyst all over the map, only to bring them both back where they started. This time was no exception.
“It seems to me,” Murray began, “that maybe we’re headed in the wrong direction here. Maybe the Soviets are planning to attack NATO.”
“It is unlikely that the Soviets would choose to attack NATO’s forces in the Atlantic where they are strongest. And surely they would begin an attack in a more subtle fashion.” The Experts had spoken.
“Well, maybe this ‘Red October’ is manned by kamikaze Cold War fanatics who want to fire on the US and try to start WWIII.” Dr. Strangelove had been on cable last night. It looked like Murray had been up past his bedtime.
“Given the range of the ‘October’s’ missiles, it could have launched a strike from the Barents Sea. We would not be here to discuss this subject if its officers had planned to launch a first strike against the US.” The Experts’s words had acquired an Arctic chill.
“Now I just read this other report. There’s a guy over there that says nuclear war is imminent.” It was worse than Jack had thought. Murray had gotten a hold of a piece of raw intelligence.
“’That guy’ is a blind Bulgarian soothsayer quoted by a babushka who’d met his mother while they were both standing in line for cabbage. I hardly need to say more.”
Apparently she did. Murray looked as lost as a ship in a pea-soup fog. The Experts boomed out like a fog horn. “I’m afraid that since the source had no access and no reliability, this intelligence is worthless.”
“Well, let me think about this. Hold on to this draft while I try to get a clear picture of what’s happening here.” That might take forever, Jack thought despairingly. In the meantime, the Soviet fleet was closing in on the “Red October.”
Jack had calculated without Tim Greer, who was not about to allow his big career opportunity to sink below the waves while Murray gummed the piece to death. Instead, he had again chosen to indulge his penchant for “the Great Game,” which he played as subtly as any nineteenth century British officer. Tim slipped an FYI copy into Tom Metger’s priority in-box.
Tim understood his quarry well. Their new group chief had risen up in the ranks through a rapid series of career moves that never left him time to be an expert in any one area. He had only one field of real expertise—spotting a career opportunity and grabbing it. He knew what to do with this one.
Within minutes, Tom was closeted with Murray and Tim. Jack didn’t know what had gone on, but he overheard scraps of their conversation as they concluded their meeting and exited Tom’s office.
“This may be the hottest piece of intelligence in a lifetime,” Tom was saying. “For a submarine captain to defect, and bring with him the prototype of a new generation of Soviet sub... dynamite!”
“My thoughts exactly,” piped in Murray.
“Jack!” Tom called out as he spotted him at the coffee pot. “In the future, when you find out about something this important, I’d like you to alert me immediately. You’ll learn in time that intelligence of this magnitude has to be moved along quickly.”
Jack was sure grateful for the advice, but thought to himself that like manure, it might be of more value if it were spread around—maybe at the office staff meeting.
“Oh, and Jack? I’d like a copy of your paper to read right away. I’m going to be briefing this information around town this afternoon, and I’d like to be filled in on everything.”
Jack was elated—at last, interest in his moribund draft—and from a man who obviously knew how to get things done. He scurried to get a copy of the paper. Easier said than done: the printer was down. He went to look for Sandra’s copy. He came back with a burn bag and a sheaf of cuttings. He, Roxanne, and a roll of scotch tape eventually produced a readable copy. Within an hour, Tom and Genghis were off to brief the President and an assortment of other policymaking luminaries. Jack was left to handle coordination—and to search for a wholesale price for shoelaces. Suddenly the phone rang.
Jack picked up the receiver to hear a voice on the other end command: “My office. Now!” A click. Jack didn’t need to ask who it was. It could only be Teddy Murphy, the Deputy Director of OSA. Chris Deter and Leo Hawkins had left that day for a three-week SIS-bonding mission in the Pacific—allegedly to check with all and sundry on the Soviet menace in the Pacific basin. Deter apparently believed that the Soviets presented the greatest threat in Fiji and Tahiti, since that was where they were scheduled to spend most of the trip. A stop in Australia was also planned—undoubtedly to check out Soviet penetration of the Sydney opera house.
Jack dutifully set off for Murphy’s office. As he entered, OSA’s deputy director was talking simultaneously on both phones while chewing out a hapless branch chief who’d wandered in at the wrong time. Eventually he disentangled himself from the phone lines, the branch chief found an opportune moment to escape, and Jack was left facing the office’s best known—and oldest—legend.
“Son, I liked this,” he began. “It looks like the food problem is worse than we’d thought—no wonder Brezhnev’s worried. A few more faulty sausages and he could go the way of Khrushchev. Did you know the ‘khrushch’ means ‘corn blight’? I’m sure that’s significant.”
Jack sat nervously. Perhaps he was supposed to comment on this.
Apparently not. Murphy continued. “Ryan, you don’t remember those days, but people used to wait with bated breath for our national accounting estimate. People wanted to know what Soviet GNP was. Now they can’t even spell it.”
Jack waited for the submarine tie-in. Was he missing something?
“Now, Ryan, I hope you use oblast’ handbooks. Robert Finkelstein won a cash award once for finding a 1962 production figure for zinc in the Irkutsky handbook. Changed the whole picture for non-ferrous metallurgy. Raised our GNP estimate by .01 percent. A real analyst, Finkelstein.”
Maybe Jack should say something about titanium at this juncture. Or was Murphy leading up to the naval uniform costing effort?
“There’s a fellow in another office who has a whole basement filled with oblast’ handbooks. Had to get rid of the pool table, but who wouldn’t?”
Jack gave up. He was completely lost. He practiced his silent but studious expression. He kept it on the ready for just such an occasion.
“I knew a case officer once who was sent to Burundi. He and his whole family had their appendixes out before they left. You should think about that, Ryan, in case you go to the Soviet Union.”
Good Heavens! He was being sent on rotation!
“So as I was saying, I want a box on the Food Program. Implications for the succession struggle and Kremlin politics. With food developing as a key issue, maybe this ag honcho Gorbachev could move to the forefront.”
This was getting silly. And time-consuming. Murphy began a rambling discourse on the value of high quality silage in improving livestock feeding efficiency. At this rate, Jack would never get his note up to the production staff on time. He was trapped!
Then the phone rang. Murphy picked it up, and Jack was out the door before the Deputy Director could stop him. He was off to vault the next hurdle—he had to get an agriculture analyst to do a box on the Food Program and its implications for the succession struggle.
He wended his way to the isolated enclave where agriculture analysts were kept. Thank goodness—someone was there. It turned out to be Bill Henry. Bill had been with the Agency for thirty-five years. Some people thought he ought to have retired years ago. Others thought he already had. It looked liked Jack was going to get the opportunity to form his own opinion on the subject.
Jack interrupted Bill’s work on the New York Times crossword puzzle to explain the situation to him. The man looked confused. “So why are you coming to me?” he asked. “This sounds important.”
Jack felt like he was trying to communicate with an extraterrestrial. “We need a box on the Food Program. ASAP. I was given the impression that you do agriculture.”
“So they tell me,” was Bill’s offhand reply.
“So you must be familiar with the Brezhnev Food Program.”
“Well, I’ve heard of it, of course. But it’s not really part of my account. Mike Kayusa follows that. He covers the important stuff.”
Jack had heard of Mike Kayusa. “Killer” Kayusa. Apparently Bill was one of his victims.
“So what exactly do you follow?” Jack was torn between pity and contempt for the man.
“All the stuff that isn’t important. So if this is important, you’d better talk to Mike.”
“So where can I find him?” Jack was somewhat relieved to be able to leave Bill to continue his retirement and to be able to turn to a more energetic analyst.
“He’s on leave today.” Jack prepared to start the siege again.
Suddenly the phones rang. Bill picked them both up and put one to each ear. He seemed to be an old hand at this. He hung them both up without having said a word and announced to Jack: “That was Murphy. I guess I’m writing a box on the Food Program.” He paused for a moment, then wondered out loud: “I wonder if this means they’ll put off the deadline for my project on costing the inputs for oilseed production?”
Suddenly Jack was struck by a sickening sense of recognition. Could this be Genghis and him twenty-five years from now? Surely twenty-five years of bureaucracy mismanagement and bare-knuckled coordination battles wouldn’t reduce intrepid Jack Ryan to this complaisant, hopeless lump of an analyst? Or would it? He decided not to try to answer that question. He’d remember the feeling, though, and word it into his next screenplay, Horror at Bikini Beach. Thank heavens he had a second career.
Jack set off for his desk, still shaken. The piece seemed more important than ever before. He rounded the corner, to find himself face to face with a new threat.
It was the food processing analyst, bearing coordination comments. For someone who followed food for a living, Ann Oka was awful scrawny. But then Jack could see how reading about Soviet sausage production all day could make a person lose her appetite. Besides, he had the impression that she spent a good deal of her time writing comic literature for office entertainment. A definite light-weight. He prepared himself for another barrage of silly comments.
To his relief, she allowed as how Soviet sausage quality was rather low, and how a lot of Soviets were pretty put out about that. Thank goodness there were some universal truths in Soviet analysis. Jack suspected that Ann had also had personal experience with Soviet sausage. She wandered off, perhaps to write a poem about the quarterly results. Jack returned to his desk to do man’s work.
The phone rang. He reached for the open line. Perhaps Cathy had finished surgery early and was home making a nice meal—Shrimp Creole, Chicken a la King? Jack had an active fantasy life. Nothing. He reached for the other phone, but too late. The call had been intercepted by another analyst. Once again, Jack assumed correctly that it was the editorial staff and headed up to read off on the piece.
This time he was alone with the lovely Joanne. He ogled her figure covertly and wondered what she looked like in an apron. Then he turned with a sign to the job at hand—protecting his piece. Lost in a haze of culinary day dreams, he almost missed the slight editorial change. It was only one word, but it changed the whole meaning of the piece. But how to tell the lovely Joanne that she had made a catastrophic error? He decided to take the direct approach.
“Joanne, I’m afraid there’s a world of difference between ‘the prototype of an advanced submarine design’ and ‘the prototype of an advanced hoagie design.’”
“We try to keep the language we use as simple and nontechnical as possible. And submarine and hoagie are synonyms.” She was confident and professional—but then so was Custer.
Jack plied her with details, drew sketches, tried every method of gentle persuasion he knew. Nothing. Finally he brought out the big guns.
“Joanne, if you don’t change this word back to submarine, my division chief will come up here and scream and throw things. And then he’ll get nasty.” She backed down—and a good thing. Jack wasn’t sure Murray knew the difference between a submarine vessel and a hoagie, either.
Jack felt he had won a Pyrrhic victory. He had lowered his standards as an analyst and a human being. And he’d lost all hopes of winning the respect and admiration of the lovely Joanne. He began to muse. What if she wasn’t as dense as she seemed? What if she had guessed at his dreams and her use of the word “hoagie” was actually a subtle invitation? Now he’d never know. He could reassure himself that he’d accomplished his mission: his piece had run and had been picked up by another publication. The President had been alerted, and the free world was safe for the time being. But Jack knew the bittersweet taste of success. He went home that night a wiser man.
Jack was feeling considerably perkier the next morning when he set off for work. It looked like he’d escaped the naval uniform costing effort—a good thing, too; it had been due today. Interest in his masterpiece—the long dormant paper on submarine cadre policy—had revived. And he’d gotten out a successful note.
When he arrived at his desk he found a copy of The Washington Post on his chair. On the front page he recognized a picture of Captain Marko Ramius posed by the “Red October.” Elated, he began reading the text. His elation soon faded. It seemed the “October” had arrived in a Florida port the night before. Ramius’s first words on emerging from the submarine’s hatch were: “I’m going to Disneyland!” When asked by the reporters what the significance of the black circles on the side of the submarine was, he explained that they were Mickey Mouse ears, painted by his crew as an act of defiance—and a guarantee that they would be unable to change their minds once they had undertaken their daring mission. According to the Post, captain and crew were now feasting on hot dogs and cotton candy.
Jack was in shock. The Experts had been right—there was no silent propulsion system on the “Red October.” He’d made an idiot of himself in the eyes of all the office’s management, weakened the Agency’s credibility, and embarrassed his ambitious and ruthless group chief in front of the top policy makers in the United States government. And all this before he’d read his SAFE mail.
Sandra called him into her office. He decided to throw himself on her mercy. “Sandra, you were right about the ‘October.’ I should have listened.”
“I generally am right,” she answered, but added begrudgingly, “You were right
about Ramius’s desire to defect—and the reasons behind it. A nice bit of analysis.”
Jack felt a little better. But not for long. She continued. “You still have a chance
to redeem yourself. If you turn in a well-written piece on the contribution of the new naval uniform to the Soviet defense burden, we’ll recommend you for a promotion. You do have a draft ready, don’t you? It’s due today.”
Jack inquired weakly, “What about my research paper? I should have a hard cover soon.”
“I guess I should have told you right off. It’s been killed. Tom felt that after all the high-level briefings he gave on the ‘October’ affair based primarily on your draft, it was no longer necessary to publish it. And it’s a little out-of-date at this point.”
Jack slunk back to his desk. It looked like his whole career would now depend on the naval uniform article. The phone rang. It was the production staff, calling to say the President had liked his piece on technical advances in Soviet sandwich design. Apparently they had run the wrong draft. Jack heard snickering on the other end of the line. Could it get any worse?
He began to search in his briefcase for an article he’d been reading on Soviet wholesale prices. He didn’t find it, but he did find something else. A bologna sandwich. And a Twinkie. Cathy still cared! He purged his mind of all images of the lovely Joanne. Perhaps he had been unfair to Cathy. After all, she was a wonderful wife, mother, and eye surgeon. He began to wonder if maybe he could learn to make his own bologna sandwiches. He’d give it a try.
He munched on his sandwich—a perfect balance of bread, bologna, and mustard, surpassing anything he’d ever tasted in the cafeteria—and analyzed his adventure. He began to feel hopeful. He had been right about the sausage; three years of research had paid off. And if he continued to acquire expertise, maybe someday he’d be like the Experts—always right. Maybe the good guys came out on top in the end by dint of hard work, brains, and skill. He sure hoped so; he had twenty-five more years of this. He picked up a Pravda Vostoka article on brass buttons and began reading.