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Camp David, Maryland
The first President of the United States Joseph Geary had met was Harry Truman. Geary had no
trouble recalling the date: the sixth of June, 1945, and the place, a reception at the State Department
headquarters. Geary recalled how nervous he’d been at twenty-five years of age, just a few years
out of Yale and into his career at the Office of Strategic Services. On that night, the first anniversary
of D-Day, Geary accompanied his department director to the reception, where everyone was surprised
by Truman’s arrival. Less than four months on the job after the tragic death of FDR, the former
Missouri haberdasher impressed the young OSS operative with his folksy demeanor, behind which the
perceptive agent sensed a stiff resolve. Geary had heard all the talk around Washington that Truman
wasn’t up to the job, was a political appointee by Roosevelt who had barely been on speaking terms
with his vice president all the way back to the campaign the previous fall.
Like many others, Joe Geary wondered whether Truman had the right stuff, but after meeting him
that night, he had no doubt. Over the course of the next several years, their paths would cross again.
Geary also met Truman’s successor, Dwight Eisenhower, and every president since then. Some he had
respected professionally but not liked personally—Kennedy, for instance, a charismatic man whose
philandering was something Geary simply could not approve of, and Nixon, who had a strong grasp of
international affairs but simply was not a man you could warm up to. With others, it was the other
But he had worked for all of them, first in OSS and then in its successor organization, the Central Intelligence Agency. His forty-plus years in the espionage business had led him to this last stop. As Deputy Director of Operations, he had been summoned to Camp David by no less than the current resident of the Oval Office, and not through intermediaries. The personal call earlier that day came to Geary’s own secure phone, with the White House operator putting the call through. Once the requisite pops and clicks had sounded to give the electronic equivalent of an All Clear, Geary heard the famous voice, chatting for a few seconds, then asking him to come up to Camp David that evening for a talk. It was not a request that Geary or anyone else would have refused.
“The president will see you now,” a man said. Geary knew him as the assistant chief of staff. The chief, Donald Regan, didn’t normally accompany his boss to the official presidential retreat, named by Eisenhower in honor of his grandson. That was fine with Geary, who found Regan to be abrasive and overbearing. Ironically, both Regan and the president had served as lifeguards in their younger days. The word around CIA was that while the future president had spent his time saving people from drowning, his future chief of staff had spent his time watching out for kids pissing in the pool. Geary nodded at the man and went through the opened door.
There was only one person in the room, a man sitting on a leather couch near the crackling fireplace. He put down the book he’d been leafing through and rose, coming forward to greet his visitor. Once again, Geary was impressed by the president’s physical size and ruddy complexion, belying his, what was it now, soon to be seventy-six years? “Joe, come in, nice to see you again,” Ronald Reagan said, shaking hands with a strong grip. “How was the weather on the way up?” He motioned Geary to a chair near the couch.
“Not bad, sir, thank you.” Geary had met Reagan shortly after his inauguration six years ago, had briefed him on several occasions, but always in the company of the Director of Central Intelligence. William Casey, though, was on medical leave now, fighting for his life from a hospital bed. His deputy, a political appointee who hadn’t taken long to rub Geary the wrong way, was now running the agency. Why that man was not here now was puzzling. Casey had allowed his DDO a lot of room, and it hadn’t taken the acting director long to signal that those days were ending.
“Get you anything?” the president asked. “It’s after hours, so the bar’s open.”
“Thank you, sir. Scotch, neat.”
“Good, good.” The president motioned to the assistant chief, still standing in the open doorway. “Bill, tell Ed, Scotch neat for our guest, please. I’ll keep him company.”
While the president made small talk, Geary’s ever-observant eyes took the measure of the man. Wearing a denim shirt, open at the neck, with khaki pants and loafers, Reagan looked more like a successful retired executive than a man still very much active in the world’s toughest job. Geary knew of his exercise habits, his regular visits to the White House gym and his horseback riding and wood-chopping on the ranch out in California. That demanded Geary’s respect. It was only recently, at his daughter’s prodding, that Geary had started a regular exercise regimen again. Still, he looked like he was the older man, and not just because he was bald.
Geary was well aware of the stories about Reagan, how he was detached and incurious when it came to the details of shaping policy and managing his staff. There were plenty of people in the government, including some in the White House, who spoke of the president in disparaging terms. Geary had heard the occasional comments at cocktail parties, at meetings, even in foreign capitals from people who should’ve known better, or those who hadn’t gotten over the fact that Reagan had demolished their candidates in two elections.
Geary heard a lot of stories in his job, but you couldn’t discount the value of personal observation. He’d met with Reagan several times, and while he’d known presidents who had a better understanding of the details of one thing or another, none were better than Reagan at seeing the big picture. Geary remembered his meetings with Reagan’s predecessor; although Geary liked him personally and greatly respected his Navy experience and strong religious faith, Jimmy Carter was truly one of those who not only couldn’t see the forest for the trees, he couldn’t see the trees for the leaves. In the end, Geary was sure, those contrasting perspectives were one reason Reagan had been sent to the White House and Carter had been sent back to his peanut farm in Georgia.
A steward came in with the drinks and served each of the men. “Thank you, Ed,” the president said with a grin. The steward closed the door behind him on the way out. “Well, Joe, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about, as you may have guessed.”
Geary nodded. CIA had several things going on right now that Reagan might’ve been interested in discussing, but the DDO had tried not to anticipate the president’s thoughts. That turned out to be a good thing.
“You did some good work helping me get ready for Reykjavik last fall,” Reagan said, his mood instantly more serious. “I was ready for everything they threw at me over there.”
“Thank you, sir,” Geary said. His office had worked hard to assist Casey in putting together a full briefing for the president in advance of his meeting with the new General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. The result had been an agreement to reduce the two countries’ nuclear arsenals. “It looks good for INF,” he added. The Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty would hopefully be signed later this year. It was a significant breakthrough in Soviet-American relations.
“It looks good for a lot more than that,” the president said. He took a sip of his drink, then gazed into the fire. His eyes turned back to Geary. “If we play our cards right, Joe, the Cold War could be over in a few years. Gorbachev wants that and so do I. He understands that the only way his country can survive is to move forward economically and politically.”
“He’s got a long way to go, sir,” Geary said.
“That he does,” Reagan said, nodding. “I have to tell you, Joe, I was impressed with the man when we met in Iceland. He has some good ideas but he’s got a tough row to hoe over there. I wished him luck.”
“He’ll need it.”
“I intend to keep the pressure on him, Joe, and I told him that. I’m going to Berlin this summer, and when I’m there I’m going right to that damn wall and I’ll challenge him to tear it down. What do you think of that?”
Geary took a breath, turning it over. “That will take some guts, Mr. President,” he said finally. “It’s a little bit stronger than ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’”
“Yes, well, Kennedy was there in the middle of this whole thing. We were still playing catch-up in many ways. Now, we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We can afford to be a little more aggressive, I think.”
“It’s not so much Gorbachev, it’s the people who are running the Party,” Geary said. “They’re the ones who have the most to lose if democracy ever comes to Russia.”
“Exactly. Gorbachev knows that. He’s walking a real tightrope and we’ve got to keep him on it as long as we can.” Reagan looked at Geary with a penetrating eye. “If he falls and the reactionaries take control, we’ve got some real trouble ahead. If they still had Andropov…”
“Fortunately for us, they don’t,” Geary said, remembering the former KGB chief who had briefly headed the Soviet government upon Brezhnev’s death a few years ago, before his own untimely demise. Did he detect a little twinkle in Reagan’s eye?
“Yes, isn’t it?” the president said. Reagan, of course, was one of the handful of people in the world who knew what had really happened to Yuri Andropov. Geary was another. But the less said about that, the better.
“How can I help, Mr. President?”
Reagan reached for a file on a side table, leafed through it briefly, and dropped it on the coffee table in front of Geary. The file had been sealed with red tape, was bordered in red and labeled TOP SECRET. “When I came back from Iceland, I had Bill Casey look into this situation for me. He found out a couple things and brought them to my attention. I got this report the other day and Bill recommended I talk to you about it. Even though he’s in the hospital, we stay in touch. He thinks you’re the man for this job.”
“What job is that, sir?”
“Gorbachev is worried that some hard-liners over there are planning to move against him. He’s not sure who they are, but he thinks they want to play it safe so it won’t look like a full-scale coup. That would be dangerous. Who knows what would happen? He’s worried that some of their satellites might react to unrest in Moscow by starting trouble of their own. Poland, especially.”
Geary nodded. “The Poles might see it as their big chance. Others might follow suit—East Germany, Czechoslovakia…”
“If Gorbachev is taken out of the picture and their empire starts breaking up, the hard-liners won’t be able to hold it together without a real risk of bloodshed. If the Poles, the East Germans and the Czechs rise up, Moscow will have to send in the tanks, and if there’s real resistance they risk NATO coming over the hill like the Seventh Cavalry.”
Geary had his doubts about that. He was all too familiar with America’s NATO allies. His concern must’ve shown on his face, because Reagan said, “I sense you’re not really comfortable with that idea, Joe. If you’re not, let’s hear it.”
“Very well, sir. With respect, Mr. President, would you order American troops into Eastern Europe? With or without NATO support?”
Reagan looked at him with a bit of a smile, but his eyes were narrow. “Well, now, Joe, I might not. Or I just might. We didn’t do anything to help the Czechs in ’68, or the Hungarians in ’56. This time, we just might decide to help them. The American people didn’t hire me to sit around. I think by now everybody understands that.”
Geary saw the point. “Moscow wouldn’t know for sure. This isn’t ’68 or ’56.”
Reagan raised an eyebrow and nodded. “That’s right. Gorbachev knows how the game is played. He knows that whoever they are, they can’t take that chance, so he thinks their idea will be to use one man, a very dangerous man it seems, to take him out.”
Geary was only mildly surprised. “An assassination plot,” he said. “A hard-liner steps in to save the country when its leader is killed.”
“That’s pretty much the gist of it,” Reagan said. He pointed at the file on the coffee table. “Gorbachev told me he asked some of his key people who they might recommend to use in a mission to eliminate a European head of state. He said they all had one man at the top of the list. Highly-trained, operating independently of any control. They call him the Wolf.” Reagan took a sip of his drink. “This Wolf fellow sounds like a pretty tough customer. Spetsnaz officer, two tours in Afghanistan. The mujahedeen were terrified of him. A crack shot, and he’s an expert in hand-to-hand combat, some sort of martial art I’ve never heard of. Very tough customer indeed.”
“The obvious question, Mr. President, is why doesn’t Gorbachev just arrest this guy right now?”
“That’s exactly what I asked him, and he said that he doesn’t want to let these hard-liners, whoever they are, know he might be on to them. This particular agent has served the Soviet Union with distinction. Now, in Stalin’s day there would have been no problem, Stalin would’ve given the word and the man would be gone. But times have changed over there. Gorbachev’s not sure how deeply the KGB is involved in this, if they are at all. There are very few people he can trust right now, but evidently he feels he can trust me.” Reagan leaned forward and set his drink down on the coffee table. “Joe, I want you to find this Wolf fellow and eliminate him before he gets to Gorbachev.”
Geary looked down at the file. The enormity of the mission started to well up inside him. “Russia’s a damn big country. To find one man, to stay a step ahead of the KGB, that’s a pretty tall order.”
“I know it is, Joe. But Gorbachev thinks it won’t happen in Russia itself. His information is that the Wolf will try for him when he goes on a state visit to Budapest in June. Take a look at the file and tell me what you think. I told him that we’ll do everything we can.”
“Very well, sir. Am I to report to the Acting Director on this?”
“No, I want you to report directly to me on this one. Casey doesn’t trust Roger Preston. Took him on as a favor to a senator, thought better of it and was going to ease him out, but then Bill had his seizures and went to the hospital. And you don’t report to Don Regan, either, just me. We need to keep this loop very closed. Bill trusts you, and so do I. You’ve done great work for your country. I know you’ve been thinking about retirement. I’m asking you for one last mission. I know there’s a lot riding on this one, but I need a top man to oversee this operation and that’s you.”
“Thank you, Mr. President. I’ll do the best I can.”
Reagan smiled, nodding his approval. “I know you will. Now, I don’t expect you to go after this fellow yourself. I thought this might be something you could have that new outfit take care of.”
“We haven’t formed it yet, sir, don’t even have a name for it.”
Reagan chuckled. “I’ll leave that all up to you folks. Cap Weinberger tells me the whole thing is your idea anyway, is that right?”
Geary smiled. “It’s been something we’ve been kicking around for a while, sir, in our shop and in the Pentagon as well. The new Special Operations Command is forming up soon, so a lot of ideas are floating around.”
“You’re too modest. I heard you’re the main guy at Langley on this project. I have to tell you, the more I hear about it, the more I like it. Having an outfit like that will give me some flexibility, and that’s something every president needs. The threats we face today are certainly serious enough, and who knows what we’ll be facing tomorrow?” The president stood, and Geary followed suit.
“Well, Joe, I’m glad we had this little chat,” the president said. “Are you heading back tonight? You’re certainly welcome to bunk here. I’ve got plenty of room.”
“Thank you, sir, but I really should be getting home. I have to be at my desk early in the morning. I want to get started on this right away.”
“All right, good enough.” Reagan walked him toward the door. “This new unit, I heard you’re starting to put its leadership together. Would a certain Air Force officer of our mutual acquaintance be on the short list, by any chance?”
Geary returned his president’s grin. “I’ve mentioned her name to a few people,” he said. “She led the team that came out ahead in Operation COSMO a couple years back. I think she might have a shot.”
Reagan’s eyes widened, and he smiled even more broadly. “That’s right, I remember hearing about that. I don’t mind telling you, Joe, some of the boys over at the Pentagon are still pretty steamed about it. I’ll have a word with Cap, make sure that her file doesn’t somehow get lost before it gets to his desk.”
“Thank you, Mr. President. I appreciate it. I just want her to have a fair shot. If there’s someone better than her for the unit, so be it.”
“Good, good. By the way, Maggie Thatcher asked me about her just the other day. They still think highly of her for helping them out in the Falklands.” The president placed a brotherly hand on Joe’s shoulder. “I know what it’s like to be proud of a daughter, I’ve got two of ‘em. From what I know about yours, she’ll do well. Give her my best, will you?”
The Red Wolf - Chapter One
Copyright 2019. David Tindell, Author. All rights reserved.
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