A Taste From My New Book
A lot of people have been writing me, wanting to know more about Christine Taylor - the dead super-genius in my new novel, Poison Well.
So I have decided to release the opening chapters, one at a time.
To remind readers, the year is 1971...
During the height of the Cold War, America was painfully divided over the attrition in Vietnam, as well as relations with the Soviet Union. The newly elected president – Richard Nixon – asked for the very best, up-to-date intelligence his agencies could possibly give him.
In an amazing demonstration of the latest technology, the CIA, NRO and NASA joined forces to put the first real-time image recon satellite into space - Corona Keyhole…the brainchild of Dr. Christine Taylor.
Christine Taylor was designing rudimentary encryption machines and scratch-built vacuum-tube radios while still a toddler. She caught the eye of the CIA after building an optical camera capable of filming the dimples on a golf ball from 120,000 feet - at age ten.
Christine, young and cognoscente, earned a doctorate at MIT by age fourteen - and the Agency cultivated her for a full decade, using her special mind to forge all manner of new state-of-the-art weapons.
In the process, however, the CIA made a huge mistake, forgetting that Christine was also human. So, alas, all good things must come to an end.
Because in eight days, Christine was getting married.
Central Intelligence Agency
“Ma’am? Dr. Taylor! Wait up!”
Christine Taylor shifted the bulging files from one hand to another and turned at her name. A heavyset army corporal jogged toward her, out of breath.
“Crap.” Christine said to herself.
“You goin’ to the Monday staff meeting, ma’am?”
Every Monday over the past few years Christine faced a horde of low-level Pentagon officers that wanted the latest tech updates on the various projects she was working on. She was the lead scientist in charge of Applied Theoretical Science. The staff meetings were a part of her job, but it was still a chore she dreaded.
Christine smiled thinly at the young man. “Your powers of observation continue to astound me, Phil. Incredible…the same level of perception as a 700-year-old monk.”
“Uhhh.” The overweight corporal scratched his ear, clearly confused.
“And your stunned silence is very reassuring as to our state of military readiness.”
Christine was actually just pulling Corporal Phil Bellows’ chain, and he knew it. She had relied on his diligence for a long time, and tended to regard him as a younger brother….the kind of younger brother that needed to be tortured on a regular basis.
“Uh-huh.” Bellows paused to catch his breath. “Lotta big words there, ma’am. Please don’t tease me today….couple of muckety-mucks want to see you - right now.”
Christine was puzzled. “Muckety-mucks?”
Bellows nodded. “General Pembroke and Admiral Spencer, ma’am…from the Joint Chiefs. As in the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
She was very familiar with General Delco Pembroke. Her wedding was being held at his house in a week, but she’d never heard of the admiral.
“Where are they?”
Bellows grimaced. “The War Room.”
Christine sighed. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t going to be good.
The War Room was a non-descript conference area closed off from prying eyes. People could fantasize about James Bond types and secret spies all they wanted, but the reality was somewhat different.
High level meetings held in the War Room determined how certain CIA assets could assist the American military, this was true. In Christine’s experience another factor was true, as well.
Those meetings were always, without exception, as interesting as a picture book about crown moldings.
She opened the door to the War Room and grinned at the man waiting for her. General Delco Pembroke, Christine’s future father-in-law, greeted her warmly.
“Christine, so good to see you.” General Pembroke said. “This is Admiral John Spencer, MACV of Saigon Headquarters and aide to Alexander Haig.”
She shook hands with the admiral, smiling slightly. Spencer’s pasty complexion did not give off the vibe of a man who’d spent his life at sea, but rather behind a desk – even if he was chief aide to the National Security Advisor.
“I…err…” The admiral seemed hard-pressed for something to say. Christine and General Pembroke exchanged a knowing glance. Most men thought pretty blonde girls were dumb, and Christine was certainly prettier than most….but the dumb part?
Not so much.
Pembroke chuckled. “Admiral, please don’t let Dr. Taylor’s looks fool you. She has an IQ that registers around 215, about fifty points past Einstein…although we aren’t quite sure because she’s kind of off the scale…so to speak.”
“Yes, yes…sorry. Took me by surprise.” Admiral Spencer shook her hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Dr. Taylor.”
“Call me Christine, sir.”
“Of course, Christine.”
Christine was used to the drawn-out routine, but had grown tired of being judged by her looks alone. Her morning brightened considerably, however, when Special Agent Joshua Pembroke entered the room. Josh should have entered military service to please his father…and certainly would have - but his eyesight was atrocious. He’d been accepted into federal service instead.
“Glad to see you’re already here, sweetie.”
Josh Pembroke was tall, wolfishly handsome, and possessed deep-set eyes that lent him reassuring intelligence - even behind the round spectacles. He also had a unique boyish charm that she found dangerously endearing. Christine melted a little bit every time she saw him.
He was also her official liaison to the Pentagon…and her fiancé.
Josh bucked convention as usual in a cream-colored sweater vest, school tie and cashmere sports jacket. Christine was slightly embarrassed by her unflattering blue pencil skirt and conservative white blouse.
She wasn’t completely uncomfortable, though.
Josh and his impressive dad had always gone out of their way to make her feel welcome, even back in the early days of her CIA recruitment. She’d been an exceedingly quiet British science geek with a flat-chest in need of a place to live, and the Pembroke family had taken her into their home without question.
Her chest had expanded rather well over the years, thankfully. The girls were nothing to sneeze at now…at least according to Josh. Christine remembered the past fondly. At the time, Josh had been fifteen, one year older than her, and they had basically grown up together. With all that implied.
General Pembroke gestured to the chairs at the conference table. “Let’s have a seat and get down to it. We don’t have much time.”
“What’s going on?” Christine asked as she sat down.
“The White House called about a theft involving your work.” Josh said to Christine. “But I’m afraid that I am playing catch-up here as well.”
“Yes,” General Pembroke opened a file and passed it to her, another copy to his son. “Very strange things are going on - something that I can’t explain. Nearly every Long Tom camera you built for us, Christine, has been stolen.”
“You’re joking, right?” Christine scanned the file in amazement. “Bloody Nora, the EB-65 weighs a ton, literally, and has no value except to take pictures straight down from 25 miles up. Who the hell would steal my cameras?”
“We don’t know…but there is a situation that supersedes that problem. There are four Long Toms cameras left, all mounted in the bellies of surveillance aircraft that are grounded in Da Nang.”
Spencer cut off the general, spreading a large satellite surveillance photo on the table. “As you know, the Ho Chi Minh trail has become a major resupply artery for the PAVN and the Viet Cong.”
Christine noted the ‘719 Offensive’ stamped onto the photo. “Sir, I don’t put my satellites up or analyze the data. NASA shoots them into orbit down in Florida, and the NRO collects the data out in California. I’m afraid I can’t really help you with this.”
“Dr. Taylor,” Spencer said. “Sorry - Christine - satellite shots aren’t what we need help with. It’s your older tech…those stolen EB-65 Long Tom cameras – that’s what I need.”
Christine sat back. “Oh?”
“Yes….the only aircraft still equipped with your cameras are early model BAE Canberra’s based in Thailand. I need those cameras looking down and shooting recon photos right now to show at the White House.”
“The White House?”
Spencer nodded. “By law, we can’t go in and stop the Viet Cong from bringing weapons and ammunition into Vietnam using air interdiction – at least, not yet. The PAVN are taking serious advantage of our recent political decisions to resupply their troops from Laos and Cambodia. We need the Canberra aircraft that still have your cameras to overfly the Sihanouk and Ho Chi Minh routes and document the weapons being moved on them.”
Christine raised her eyebrows. “So…why don’t you?”
“The Canberra recently had new wings - ”
Christine held up a hand, cutting the admiral off. The BAE Canberra, a spy plane much like the U-2, had experienced an almost fatal wing spar fatigue problem, but fortunately the flaw had been caught and repaired. She could see where this was going.
“Lockheed load-tested the aircraft without removing my cameras - my ultra-sensitive cameras - and now they’ve been knocked off their axis and won’t take accurate photos. Am I getting warm?”
General Pembroke nodded. “Sweetheart, we’ve got to have those planes up and running. It’s a matter of national security.”
Christine glanced at Josh and shrugged. Soon she would be gone…married and teaching advanced mathematics at MIT.
“I can give you a few days.” Christine said. “I’ll be happy to help in any way I can.”
Admiral Spencer smiled. “That’s all we ask. I have a KC transport waiting for you at Andrews. We can have you on the ground in Thailand with technicians and tools in eighteen hours.”
Tomorrow: Chapter 2