Ted Bell


The fifth book in the Alexander Hawke series, 2008

For Page Lee Hufty,

with undying love and eternal gratitude

“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

– Winston Churchill, 1939



The end of the world was in plain sight. Missiles sprouted in the cane fields of Cuba, American and Soviet battleships squared off in the South Atlantic. America’s young president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had had himself one hell of a week.

The Kremlin’s angry salvos continued night and day, as events spun rapidly out of control. Bellicose communiques volleyed and thundered between Moscow and Washington; frayed nerves snapped and sizzled like live wires at either end. Diplomacy was long past the tipping point, and the old, tried-and-true Cold War rules of engagement no longer applied.

There were no rules, none at all, not now. Not since Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev had started declaring “We will bury you!” to Western ambassadors and banging his shoe on the table at the UN. And certainly not since Castro’s imported Russian ICBMs had been discovered ninety miles from Miami.

The once rock-solid fortress of Camelot, the cherished, peaceful realm of the handsome young king and his beautiful queen, Jacqueline, had begun to crumble and crack. And through that ever-widening fissure, Jack Kennedy knew, lay a doorway straight to hell.

Between them, the two major combatants had more than fifteen thousand nuclear warheads aimed at each other’s throat. On the borders of Western Europe stood ninety Soviet divisions, ready to roll. America’s Army, Navy, and Strategic Air Command bomber squadrons had gone, for the first time in history, to DEFCON 2, a heartbeat away from all-out war. And that’s where things had stood all week.

Two helpless giants, afraid to breathe.

Until now.

On this rainy, late October afternoon in 1962, Jack Kennedy was well aware that global nuclear annihilation was no longer the stuff of nightmares; it was right around the corner.

It was closer than Christmas.

At the nightmare’s vortex stood the embattled White House. Everyone who worked at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was struggling to function for one more hour, one more day, in an atmosphere of impending doom. On people’s desks, the faces of cherished children, pets, and loved ones, many framed in crayon-colored Popsicle sticks, never let them forget for an instant what they might, at any moment, lose forever.

The U.S. response time to a Cuba-based incoming Soviet missile attack was only thirty-five minutes. That gave a few lucky White House staffers and high-ranking generals seven minutes to scramble into helicopters bound for the “Rock,” a top-secret underground bunker carved inside a Maryland mountain.

Those remaining behind would just have to grab their pictures, shut their eyes, and dive under their desks, like the schoolkids in those pitiful Civil Defense ads on TV. The Desk against the Bomb. It was a sick joke.

Jack Kennedy ducked into a darkened West Wing alcove and popped two Percodans. His Addison’s was acting up, his nerves were shot, and his back was killing him. But his brother Bobby was waiting for him in his last remaining sanctuary, the Oval Office, and he headed for the stairs.

Kennedy had just emerged from the Situation Room after yet another superheated briefing with his Joint Chiefs. The hawkish Pentagon brass wanted immediate preemptive nuclear strikes, deep within the heart of Russia. Kennedy wouldn’t budge. His Cuban naval blockade, he insisted, was America’s best hope of calling Khrushchev’s bluff and averting all-out war.

Behind the closed doors of the Oval Office, Jack Kennedy paced before the crackling fire, his public face gone, his private one a rictus of worry and pain.

“You heard about this goddamn Redstick business, Jack?” Bobby Kennedy asked his older brother.

“Hell, it’s all they want to talk about down there. Now that they’ve finally got the stick to beat me with, they are hell-bent on using it.”

“Tell me, Jack.”

“At the Russian convoy’s current speed, the Pentagon calculates Soviet ships will arrive at our outer defensive perimeter in less than seventy-two hours. But based on all this new information we’ve been getting from British Naval Intelligence, the scales may have tipped dangerously in favor of Russia’s submarine hunter-killers.”


“The Russkies have some new kind of undersea acoustic technology called SOFAR, an advanced sonar buoy code-named Redstick. Apparently, they can pick up our sub’s screw signatures from a thousand miles away. Jesus, Bobby, if it’s true, it means our blockade is full of holes. Worthless, just like the Chiefs have been telling me for days.”

Bobby, his hands shoved deep into his pockets, his shoulders slumping with fatigue and anxiety, stood staring through the window at the sodden Rose Garden. He wasn’t sure how much more bad news his brother could take. He put a smile on his face and turned toward Jack.

“Look. The Brits are on it. All we can do at the moment is being done.”

“Any word from them? Christ, we’ve been waiting to hear something from that sub of theirs since dawn. Timely information from these people is as rare as rocking-horse shit.”

“Naval Intelligence London called Defense ten minutes ago. Their sub Dreadnought is steaming at flank speed, en route to pick up one of their top field agents in Scotland. A man named Hawke. Sub’s ETA at Scarp Island in the Hebrides is oh-six-hundred GMT. Hawke will be inserted inside the Soviets’ Arctic Redstick base six hours later. If their man gets in and out alive, we’ll know something definitive about Redstick’s range parameters, acoustic sensitivity, communication capabilities, and-”

“Fuck the acoustic sensitivity! I want to know how many of these damn things they’ve got and where the hell they’re located! If they’re anywhere near our theater of operations, I want to know how fast we can take them out.”

“The Brits say we’ll have that intelligence in twelve hours.”

“Twelve? Bobby, goddamn it, I need this information now. If they’ve deployed these fucking Redsticks in the South Atlantic, it affects every single defensive operation Admiral Dennison’s submarine forces are conducting down there.”

“Apparently, Hawke is the best they’ve got, Jack. If anything can be done, he can do it.”

“Well, I hope to God they’re right,” Jack said, collapsing into his favorite wooden rocker, the one with the cane seat and yellow canvas covering the wooden back.

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