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The Last Phoenix

The Last Phoenix by Richard Herman
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America is caught in the lethal center of an unwinnable two-front war -- in this gripping and explosive thriller from the master of geopolitical intrigue . . .

The war on terrorism has borne bitter fruit, as the radical Islamic states forge an unholy alliance with a surging China, aiming for total control of the Middle East's vast oil reserves and the strategic Strait of Malacca. As a new axis of world power simultaneously launches a devastating double-pronged conflict -- one a depleted American military cannot possibly win -- President Maddy Turner, the first woman ever to occupy the Oval Office, must react swiftly to a global crisis of world-altering proportions. And so she turns to the only man she can trust in the brutal snake pit of Beltway politics: Brigadier General Matt Pontowski. A brilliant flyer and military tactician, and the intimate confidant of the most powerful woman on Earth, he must now undertake a mission at once bold and extraordinary -- and potentially suicidal -- as a desperate nation confronts Armageddon, and its leader approaches what will be either her finest hour . . . or her most tragic mistake.

HarperCollins; June 2009
496 pages; ISBN 9780061951435
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: The Last Phoenix
Author: Richard Herman

Chapter One

Oakland, California
Saturday, July 24

The formal dedication ceremony of the Matthew PontowskiPresidential Library was over, but Madeline O'Keith Turnerdid not leave. Instead the president of the United Statesstrolled down the hillside garden chatting with two formerpresidents and savoring the unusually clear and mild Augustday. From time to time they would stop and take in the magnificent vista overlooking San Francisco Bay with its view of the Oakland Bay Bridge and the city on the hill. A breeze washed over them, gently ruffling the president's hair, creating a charming effect not lost on the TV cameras that were held at a distance on the veranda of the small library building.

The presidential entourage hovered in the background,nervously checking their watches. Only her personal assistant, Nancy Bender, was unconcerned with what the delay would do to the president's carefully crafted campaign schedule. She alone knew what was on the president's mind.

The deputy chief of staff rushed up to Nancy. "How muchlonger will the president be?" the young man asked. "I'vegot a campaign to run ... can't delay much longer."

Nancy stifled a sigh. Like so many who worked in theWhite House, he had an overblown opinion of his importance because of the position he occupied. "Yes you can," she replied. But she immediately relented. He's got a point,Maddy. Madeline "Maddy" Turner had just emerged from ahard-fought primary campaign and turbulent convention towin her party's nomination for president. It had been a near thing, which was unusual for an incumbent. Now her oldrival and nemesis, Senator John Leland, was determined todeny her the election and get his boy elected, the formercongressman and now governor David Grau. Leland and Grau's opening salvo was an attack on her legitimacy. They claimed she was a political lightweight and incompetent, not capable of leading the United States, and had come to thepresidency only through the vice presidency and the death of President Quentin Roberts. It was turning into a savage personal fight, and the fall campaign and run-up to the November election promised to be a brutal, take-no-prisoners battle.

A woman reporter floating behind Nancy said, "She maybe the most beautiful widow in the United States." Nancyagreed, for Maddy was at her best on this particular day. The president's brown eyes sparkled with life, and her makeup was perfect for the sunlight, accentuating her high cheekbones and smooth complexion. "That white linen suit is very elegant," the reporter continued. "She has a fabulous figure."

Indeed she does, Nancy thought. She waited for the inevitable question.

"Off the record," the reporter ventured, "is there anything to the rumor about Matt Pontowski?"

Nancy knew better than to deny it. "Only what the president has said," she answered. "They're good friends and have the same mutual interests as any parents." She didn't have to explain what the "mutual interests" were. The reporter knew that the president's and Pontowski's fifteen-year-old sons were best friends attending New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. Nancy saw the cause of the delay move down the veranda and walk across the lawntoward the presidential party. She glanced at her watch andwent in search of the deputy chief of staff. She found him still fretting over the delay. "Thirty minutes" was all shesaid. The young man scurried away to set the wheels of thecampaign back in motion. "Oh, Maddy," Nancy breathed. "He does light your fire, doesn't he?"

The "he" was Matthew Zachary Pontowski III, the president of the library and grandson of the late PresidentMatthew Zachary Pontowski. Every person, not to mentionthe TV reporters, at the dedication ceremony of PresidentPontowski's library was talking endlessly about the physical resemblance of Matt Pontowski to his famous ancestor. Pontowski was exactly six feet tall, lanky, and with the same piercing blue eyes and hawklike nose. His shock of graying brown hair with its barely controlled cowlick was an exact replica of the late president's, and he even walked with the same limp. Like his grandfather and father, he had flown fighter aircraft in combat, but no reporter really understood the significance of that. Still, it was the stuff that made news good entertainment, and they played it to the hilt.

Secretly each reporter hoped there was some truth to therumor of an affair between Madeline Turner and Pontowski.But a strong sense of self-preservation held them in check -- for always lurking in the background was Patrick Flannery Shaw. No one knew exactly what Shaw did as the special assistant to the president; however, he had direct access to Turner at any time and any place. That, plus a well-deserved reputation as the president's pit bull, made it mandatory to stay on his good side. The one White House reporter who had gotten crosswise with Shaw had suddenly found himself reporting local events in Pocatello, Idaho. It was an object lesson that didn't need repeating.

The TV cameras on the veranda zoomed in on Pontowski."Matt," Maddy called, "what a wonderful ceremony." Sheextended her hand. "I was quite moved by your words. Hewas a wonderful man."

"Thank you for coming, Mrs. President," Pontowski said,gently taking her hand. The TV cameras recorded that theytouched for a few seconds longer than required by protocol. But that was all. Pontowski shook hands with the two formerpresidents, and both were eager to recall the last time they had met. The reporters scribbled in their notebooks that the friendly reception was proof that Pontowski had a future beyond that of running the presidential library.

"What a magnificent view," Maddy said, leading the small group to the one secure observation point. Because of two attempted assassinations, the Secret Service made sure that no one was within earshot or, for that matter, any otherkind of shot ...

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