Chapter 1 Summary
The novel opens with Mary, a fighter pilot, attempting to evacuate her F16, which is plummeting toward the earth.
Stanley, the lowly night editor for the Washington Spectator, gets the first wires about the crash. At first, there are conflicting reports—a bus crash, a plane with the president on board—and Stanley is unsure of the nature of the incident.
Mary parachutes from the plane and is severely roughed up in the process; one of her legs gets twisted out of joint. She lands in the trees and awaits the Coast Guard rescue team. She knows she has always been the kind of woman who does what scares her most.
Married journalists Mabel Cannon and Don Grady are hosting a dinner party of Washington’s elite. The guests converse about politics, either playing up or down their knowledge of current events in an effort to impress.
Conflicting reports continue to rush in, so Stanley calls his supervisor, Adam Sanger. Stanley, Adam, and Don had started out together, but Stanley’s journalism career stalled while those of his classmates soared. Adam’s wife answers the phone and tells Stanley her husband will be right over.
At the dinner party, the conversation turns to war, with comparisons of past wars to the current one in the Middle East. When Mabel brings up a top-secret Senate report, her husband, Don, admits that he knows something about it. There is tension in the room as everyone realizes Mabel has been scrambling for a story her husband already has.
Hanging from the tree, Mary considers how she has always been different. In her youth, she’d never had much luck with boys, who weren’t always polite about expressing their disinterest in her. Swinging from her parachute, she tries to grab onto the tree to steady herself.
At the party, the guests (many of whom are writers) are anxious to get details from Don about the report, but he gives few answers.
Mary watches the Lincoln Memorial as she swings in the tree. In shock, Mary sobs openly and secretly hopes the rescue will not happen for a little while longer.
As wine and the later hour make the party sag, Mabel considers her relationship with Don. She is always trailing behind him professionally, and he knows it.
Will Holmes, a government operative, knows about the plane that crashed into the Potomac. It is part of a project from an agency called...
(The entire section is 457 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
The staff meeting of the Washington Spectator begins at two o’clock. Stanley, at the lower echelons, sits at the periphery as each department presents its stories to Adam. Stanley thinks about the pilot in the crash and remembers the transcripts of black boxes recovered from crashes. When the subject heads toward last night’s crash, Adam says he was not contacted by Donovan, the White House chief of staff; Stanley isn’t sure he’s telling the truth.
Will stops by Mary’s room at Walter Reed Memorial Hospital. He notices that the sign above her bed reads “Mary Mirabilis” even though her last name is Goodwin. He thinks about his responsibility in Mary’s crash, and slips away before she wakes up.
Don Grady comes to see Adam in his glass office, which overlooks the Room (how the journalists refer to the main newsroom). Adam is aware that the Room is always observing him in his office when he has visitors. Don suggests a rewrite on an upcoming story and then gets to the real reason of his visit: his wife, Mabel, is going to apply for the managing editor job. Normally, a columnist of her relatively low stature wouldn’t merit consideration, but her connection to Don changes things.
Mabel, sweating at home while she works, receives a call. One of her three sons shouts down to her that the call is for her.
Stanley walks home to his very modest house, thinking about a new reporter named Vera Hastings along the way; he has high hopes for her. He notes that the coverage of the crash had been limited, and that eyewitnesses are typically unreliable—their testimonies often contradict each other.
In the middle of the night, Mary thinks she hears a sound. She imagines it to be a young soldier, an amputee, with whom she recently had a chance encounter in the hallway. On crutches and with her IV in tow, she heads off to his room. She tries to talk to him, but when she puts her hand on his arm, he flips out and grabs her. She suddenly realizes he is blind.
At one of her parties, Mabel spies Jonathan Strasser browsing the bookshelves; he is reading a book by a woman with the same last name as his. As Mabel flirts with him, she finds out the author is actually his daughter and not his wife. Don soon appears, interrupting Mabel’s attempts.
Mary’s wingman was Frank, who had always looked out for her, both on the ground and in the air. He got to the...
(The entire section is 702 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Will is monitoring stories of the crash related to his operation, known internally as Potomac Pilot. There are few stories and even fewer details, which pleases Will.
Adam and Stanley are having their regular meeting in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It allows them the privacy needed for Adam to sound out ideas and ask Stanley’s advice; currently, he is trying to decide what to do about Mabel’s application and then apparent withdrawal. The church also has significance: Stanley’s father had been a reverend there. Adam is one of the few people who know that Stanley is of African American heritage, born to a woman married to a gay lawyer and who had an affair with Reverend Henry Payne, Stanley’s father. Payne never knew of his son, and the gay lawyer raised Stanley as if he were his own. Stanley mentions to Adam that he thinks there’s more to the crash. Adam reveals that Donovan, the chief of staff, had called him that night to try to get him to delay the reporting of the story. Donovan hinted at the technology, but explained nothing. Stanley wonders why the government would need the technology when Iraq and Afghanistan don’t have fighter jets.
Will is monitoring the disappearance of the crash story. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI, or "Sissy") has a report detailing all intelligence activity. Will knows it had been leaked but isn’t sure whether the media have it or not. Will also knows he can’t keep Potomac Pilot from Sissy for very long. Will arranged for Mary and Frank to be transferred to Bagram. He wants to isolate them, especially Frank, who is asking too many questions about the crash. Mary is a loner whose only permanent connections are Frank and his family. If they were out of the States, he could keep them away from the media. Will thinks of Hoseyn, a foreign double agent he recruited before Will became Chair, or the head of his independent operation; he misses Hoseyn.
Vera Hastings, an African American reporter relatively new to the Spectator, is working late. Vera is very religious, and she used to be a professional dancer before giving it up. She became a journalist after witnessing a cover-up by the police, who shot an elderly African American by mistake and made it look like self-defense. She also knows that Stanley is black; the two are some of the few remaining smokers and share confidences during cigarette breaks. Stanley stops by the desk, asks...
(The entire section is 446 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
In Iran, Hoseyn, Will’s contact, is on his way to work. He has two skin-colored pills tucked into the folds of his ears. Earlier in the morning, he had taken two other pills; he needs to take the ones tucked in his ears within half an hour to stage his own death. Hoseyn makes it through the check-in gate and sees smoke over part of the nuclear facility where he works. He phones someone to ask what it is and is told it is a minor problem with the wind tunnel.
Finally, Hoseyn pulls into the parking lot and leaves his trunk open, with his well-traveled suitcase inside. With him, Hoseyn carries a briefcase that ticks. As he goes through security and walks into the building, Hoseyn finds himself thinking about his wife and his in-laws. Hoseyn loves his wife and thinks Westerners have distorted ideas about love and sex. He stops in at the coffee shop and orders his usual, flirting with a small-framed, veiled girl behind the counter. Theirs is a mutual attraction, but Hoseyn always ends the flirtation at just the right moment, ensuring his searching glances are completely innocent.
Hoseyn sits with his coffee and is soon joined by a man he does not recognize. The man seems to be trying to engage Hoseyn in some kind of conversation, but Hoseyn cannot follow his train of thought. As he gets up, the man points to a line in Hoseyn’s paper that reads, “Wait until I leave.” Hoseyn begins to wonder if he is hallucinating or having side effects from the first dose of the drugs. He thinks about his brother and sister, both of whom live in the United States. Hoseyn feels they are disappointed in him; he does not receive direct contact from them, but hears about them indirectly from an uncle.
Hoseyn begins to feel even stranger; he notices a bunch of managers standing in the open and chatting self-importantly. He suddenly feels enraged and wants to go over and yell at them. He is stopped by the little woman from the coffee shop. She licks his ears and then kisses him deeply, passing the pills to him. Increasingly disoriented, Hoseyn sees his mother and wife in the cafeteria as well. Hoseyn raises the briefcase overhead to attack but soon realizes he is slamming it against an empty chair. He has imagined all of these people.
(The entire section is 404 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Hoseyn is recuperating from his faked death in a posh hotel suite in Dubai. He looks over photographs from his funeral that his wife sent to him. The body used in his burial was put to rest standing up, per tradition. Hoseyn belongs to several covert organizations, including the National Council of Resistance in Iran and the Sacred Sons of Persia, the latter of which arranged his false demise. Hoseyn hopes that they know nothing of his work with Will in Washington; similarly, he hopes Will knows nothing of his work with the Sacred Sons.
Hoseyn met Will a decade earlier, when the United States (as well as many European countries) was attempting to recruit as many nuclear scientists as possible to find out information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Sometimes Hoseyn told Will truths about Iran, and other times he made up lies. In any case, Hoseyn knew that Will was attached to him. After 9/11 and the rise of Ahmadinejad (“the midget,” as Hoseyn calls him), the environment began to change. Hoseyn had put all of his money in accounts in his mother’s name in the United States; they had a falling out over her wanting some of the money. Meanwhile, a man in the MOIS (Ministry of Intelligence and Security) developed an attraction to Hoseyn’s wife. She was finding it increasingly challenging to dodge his advances without offending him (or making him aware that she was dodging them). When Will proved to be unhelpful, Hoseyn turned to the Sacred Sons, who concocted the plan to stage his death.
In the suite, Hoseyn notices that his nurse and orderly are monitoring him carefully. The drugs he took to fake his death have a number of side effects (including personality shifts), but the two seem to have decided Hoseyn isn’t developing any of them. Hoseyn starts to get more latitude to wander around the suite unmonitored. He sneaks into the closet with his beloved, weathered suitcase and finds his credit cards. He slips out the front door, orders a taxi, and drives off. He stops to purchase a satellite phone, but does so under the driver’s name. Hoseyn calls his wife several times, but says nothing and hangs up. A short while later, she calls him back on the satellite phone and they talk briefly; he misses her desperately. As they sign off, Hoseyn notices that the driver is talking, but does not have phone or CB. Quickly, Hoseyn kills the driver and locates a transistor under his tongue, which he takes. He dumps the body and...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Hoseyn chooses Ahwaz as the city of his destination once he crosses back into Iran. His purpose in coming is to find out who is following him. If it is the Iranians, the follow-up would be swift; if it is the Americans, bureaucratic red tape would prevent them from getting to him for at least a month. Hoseyn has the transistor in his suit jacket pocket; he knows that if someone is following him, they would be using the transistor signal. As he waits in his motel room, he makes sure all of the windows are closed and covered by curtains. He munches on airport snack food as he awaits the next development.
Another possibility about the driver and the transistor occurs to Hoseyn. If the driver had been involved in some other kind of operation, then the transistor would not be for following Hoseyn. If that was the case, no one would show up. As he considers this, someone knocks at the door; it is the maid coming to service the room. As he lets her in, he notices the girl’s supervisor out in the hall. Hoseyn asks the maid for several favors, and places money in the hem of the curtains for her as payment. He then asks her for the use of two other rooms, without telling her supervisor. First, he tells her to take the jacket (in which he placed the transistor) to the room next to his. Then, he has her take some of his things to a third room.
When her supervisor is on break, the maid turns off the hallway security cameras and comes to Hoseyn’s door. Quickly, she moves him to a different room, warning him to remain quiet so the supervisor would not know. She asks whether she can do more, but Hoseyn warns her it is too dangerous. He recognizes her intelligence, and feels affection for her; she obviously wants to help him. She leaves to turn the cameras back on and get back to her job before the supervisor leaves the bathroom. By evening, Hoseyn wonders whether his theory about the driver being unconnected to him was true. When Hoseyn walks into the bathroom, the hotel suddenly thunders with gunfire. He can also hear furniture moving and other sounds coming from the room in which his jacket is hanging. The people following him had found the room with the transistor. This means one thing: it isn’t the Americans.
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Adam cannot decide between Gordon Bray, the foreign editor, and Martina Welk, the national editor. Martina is the ideal candidate for the managing editor job (that had briefly interested Mabel), but Adam’s first pick is Gordon; the problem is that Gordon had not applied. Adam tries to corner Gordon at his office, but is intercepted by Martina. Gordon is asking to leave early to be with his twin infants, while Martina is bringing bad news—they’ve been scooped. The story on the Sissy report is all over the news and it didn’t come from their paper.
Mabel works from home, and with her sons off at boarding school, she is particularly lonesome and restless. Her column is due and she knows it will be another piece she is not proud of, full of fabrications of her ideal home life. In reality, she has difficult relationships with her sons, and regularly has affairs in the hopes of finding someone she actually loves. Too depressed to work on her material, she takes a nap.
Vera shares a desk with Mitch, who is under the gun to come up with a lead for the two o’clock meeting. Vera feels Mitch’s stress vicariously as phone call after phone call fails and Martina continues to ride him about his progress.
Mabel is abruptly awoken by a phone call from Jonathan Strasser, with whom she’d attempted to flirt at one of her and Don’s chichi dinner parties. Her hopes that he is calling out of romantic interest are dashed when he says he wants her to write about the Sissy report. Don had a copy of the report for months and Jonathan was responsible for leaking it. Jonathan’s concern is that the initial media coverage is focusing on the wrong part of the report; they are making it seem like surveillance of the president is the real story. She sets up a meeting with Jonathan at an out-of-the-way dive.
Will Holmes works in the Media Exploitation Component Services (MECS) as the director of information technology. He is amused that both his title and department should be so vague and so genuine at the same time. They are legitimate and yet also serve as a cover for all of his operations. He had practically fallen into this job after an inauspicious military career that improved through intelligence assignments and what might have been called “spy work” in popular media. Now he is the Chair—overseeing massive surveillance and covert operations. He has just learned that Hoseyn is dead, and it adds to his...
(The entire section is 577 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Since Stanley had assigned Vera the task of digging further into the crash story, she found she liked the investigating. Most of the government agencies she’d talked to had given her the runaround. She was trying to locate the rescue workers who had shown up to deal with the crash and recover the pilot, but each claimed it was out of his or her jurisdiction. So far, Vera’s best lead is a prostitute named Baby who had witnessed the plane crash near the Watergate building. The gas station that is Baby’s regular post does not have a clear view of the crash site, so Vera wonders how she’d seen it. Vera takes Baby into the woods to see whether they can find the tree where the pilot had been caught up.
Will is still thinking about Hoseyn, so he looks for distractions in his work. One of the key features of Will’s job is reviewing data of all kinds recovered by soldiers and other operatives during raids, recoveries, and other missions. Amid the huge stack of unreviewed materials, Will finds a disc and decides to review it. He had seen many assassination videos in the materials he searched. Part of their value is that his team can analyze the light sources and use electrical information to figure out approximately where they were filmed. For hostages who are still alive, this means a chance at possibly being rescued. This particular video features a gang of masked men harassing a hostage. After what feels like an interminable period, the men finally pin the hostage down and saw off his head slowly with an inadequate knife. Will feels sickened by the content of the video.
At two in the morning, Vera takes Baby to Roosevelt Island, where the crash took place. They find scorched earth waiting to be resod. Finally, Baby locates the tree where the pilot had hung the night of the crash.
Don discovers Mabel in the garden at three in the morning; he can’t tell what has happened to her, so he takes her to the hospital. Once the hospital staff discover who Don is, they expedite Mabel’s examination. All of her tests look normal, but they are worried she might have had a small stroke that indicates a future one might be coming. Mabel feels sure she had passed out and thinks she understands the reason. After her meeting, she had tried to get into the paper’s building. Don had brushed her off, and Adam refused to come down to security to let her in. She thought she had something important in Jonathan’s copy of the...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Stanley and Adam sit in the church for their usual meeting. Stanley notices the sounds of the church creaking in the background. Adam agonizes about the managing editor decision. He knows he should pick Martina but he wants Gordon. Stanley reiterates concerns about Gordon’s moral character, but Adam does not want to hear them.
Since Mitch’s abrupt dismissal, Vera’s new desk mate has been Marcus, who takes little notice of her. Vera rehashes Baby’s version of the events surrounding the crash—including the idea that men had set up electronic equipment and deliberately burned part of Roosevelt Island; these same men later found the female pilot on another part of the island. Vera picks up a few pictures she’d taken during her night venture with Baby. One of the signs had something small written on it that she couldn’t read. She takes it over to the photo editor, who provides her with a magnifying glass. She can make out a letter or two, but no words. The photo editor calls over Stanley, who has excellent vision, and he says that the sign has the initials MECS. Stanley orders the photo to be blown up to a larger size.
Adam stands in shock in his office, hoping that no one in the Room saw what happened. Martina had come into his office and began talking about her feelings. Without any sense of where the conversation was headed, Will was surprised to find out that Martina is in love with him and has been for some time. He was too dumbfounded to respond, and she left abruptly. Now he wonders where she has gone.
In her apartment, Baby takes out Uncle Asis, a stuffed animal, from its hiding place inside of a milk carton. Her pimp is in jail, which gives her a certain amount of freedom, but she keeps listening for some of the other prostitutes who live in the house and like to gossip and cause trouble. After locking her door, Baby carefully removes a needle and thread from her vagina that she had stolen earlier in the day. She uses the needle and thread to repair Uncle Asis. At one point, two of the more obnoxious girls threaten to bust in, but they get distracted by a siren. After fixing Uncle Asis, Baby snuggles him and tries to go to sleep. When she can’t, she decides to pack up all of her secret things; her pimp is prone to spontaneous, thorough searches of his girls’ rooms. She opens the newspaper and sees a picture of a man who was on the island the night she saw the pilot in the tree.
(The entire section is 449 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Mary and Frank have been in Afghanistan for about a month. It’s January, and the weather is snowy and cold. With Frank following, Mary flies over a debris site and bombs it; she and Frank have been working similar missions since their arrival—to clear all debris.
Back at her sleeping quarters, Mary tries to rest, but the uppers she took before her early morning flight are working against her. She has three roommates, one of whom writes press releases and is currently writing about her. Mary is less than excited about a press release; they are usually sent home to families and this is just one more reminder that Mary has none. Her hut doesn’t come equipped with a bathroom (usually just a hole in the ground), which means her hut doesn’t stink, but she has to go out into the snow to get to a bathroom. As her hut gets blasted by snow, she and another roommate, Seri, decide to shovel off the roof before it collapses. As they finish, Frank shows up with two police deputies, Rex and Jeff, and invites Mary to go snowboarding (they have made makeshift snowboards from pieces of fiberglass). Anxious to get away—Mary likes Seri but thinks she is overly needy of friendship—she joins the guys. On the ride out, Rex and Jeff mention that Mary’s bomb killed some civilians, including children. Even though Mary knows it is a common tactic to put civilians in harm’s way to make the U.S. military look bad, she is still upset.
They drive out to an open area and begin sledding down the hills. The snow is strong, visibility is limited, and Mary has a nagging feeling that she can’t shake. After several trips down, she is headed back up; Jeff and Rex are far ahead and Frank is running to them. When the weather suddenly shifts, Mary finds herself alone and can’t see or hear any of the three men. She turns the wrong way and twists her ankle; she knows something is wrong. She discovers a cliff and realizes the problem: Rex, then Jeff, and then Frank have fallen off the small cliff that they hadn’t been able to see because of the weather. Mary scrambles back to the vehicle and calls for help. She ties a rope to the back of the vehicle and climbs down the small cliff. Frank’s eyes are open; he is alive but catatonic. Rex stirs and attempts to move. Jeff isn’t breathing, so Mary begins performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and doesn’t stop until the medic helicopters arrive to take them away.
(The entire section is 447 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Despite Mary’s efforts, Jeff died from injuries he’d sustained during the fall. Rex has a number of broken bones and bruising, but would be okay. Frank’s condition remains uncertain; he’d been rushed in for surgery, but no one knew how serious his brain injuries were. Late at night, Mary heads back to her hut to attempt to get some rest. Purdue, Mary’s roommate who writes the press releases, nags Mary with questions about the accident. She has written a press release about Mary’s bombing; it leaves out the civilian deaths and changes the type of aircraft Mary was flying to make it more palatable to the public. Seri dismisses Purdue, while Eve, a medic who is the fourth roommate, remains quiet in her room. Uncharacteristically, Mary asks to see pictures of Seri’s kids; Seri complies, and eventually they fall fast asleep.
In the morning, Eve brings coffee to Seri and Mary as they awaken. Mary is grateful that Eve doesn’t pry about the accident and understands nothing can be done about it. Mary finds out she has messages summoning her and dashes out to the hospital tent. When she arrives, she is surprised that the commanding officer does not reprimand her for the accident since they were not supposed to be there in the first place. A tough nurse takes Mary to see Frank, who is still unconscious, with his head wrapped from last night’s surgery. The nurse tells Mary that Frank left detailed instructions that he wanted Mary to be in charge of his personal effects; he also insisted that Mary be the first person to contact his wife, Clara. Rex has already been transported to Germany for further rehab, and Frank will be sent out soon as well.
Given a special phone, Mary calls Clara, who is initially terrified. Mary informs Clara that he wasn’t hurt in battle and Clara seems to think that the injuries are less serious than they are. Mary struggles with the decision of telling Clara the truth or waiting and risking that some anonymous medic will tell her later. She finally admits that Frank’s condition could be anywhere from concussion to vegetative state, most likely somewhere in between. As they talk, Mary realizes that Clara had chosen Mary as the point of contact when Frank made his arrangements. The buttoned-up Mary is touched that Clara thinks of her as a friend and tries her best to reassure her. Furthermore, Clara is worried about Mary, since she has experienced other loss and trauma with her parents. She...
(The entire section is 450 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Mary goes to Frank’s living quarters and is greeted succinctly but politely by Frank’s roommates. An officer meets Mary at Frank’s room and explains the process. Mary will help him itemize and box up all of Frank’s material belongings. All of his paperwork would be counted, but not read; it would be for Mary’s eyes only. During the inventory, the officer criticizes Mary for the recklessness that led to the accident. Mary says nothing in her own defense. She is given more than a dozen folders and more than one hundred letters.
Later, Mary meets with a commanding officer who informs her that she is in consideration for a special project. The officer does not know the details, nor does he know the location or length of the special mission; he tells her that it specifically requires a female pilot and she is one of only three who meet the qualifications. Mary has two days to decide whether to participate and is under strict orders not to speak to anyone.
Mary goes to the hangar and finds an empty plane to sit in. She has always been friendly with the crew, and they understand why she might want to spend some time alone in a plane thinking about Frank. After daydreaming about flying, she reads the first of Frank’s letters, from December of 2001. He admits that he wasn’t thrilled about being partnered with a woman, but believes it happened for a reason, teaching him to change his thinking about women. He acknowledges that Mary is hard to talk to, so he’d be writing these letters—a kind of handwritten blog—to go over some of the stuff they couldn’t talk about. Mary then looks at a more recent envelope; in it she finds information about her recent bombing, including pictures of girls wounded and killed in the explosion. She is feeling highly emotional when Drew, an officer who had flirted with her the morning of the snow accident, appears at the window of the cockpit and asks whether she’s okay. He helps her down and begins kissing her. She does not really like him, but feels like she wants something that isn’t good for her. One of the crew members breaks it up and Drew disappears quickly.
The day after, Mary is driven to the embassy for Jeff’s memorial service. In the bathroom, she runs into Holly, an embassy official who insists she sit at the front. Along the way, Holly runs into Will Holmes and introduces them. Later, Mary wonders why Holly felt it was so important that she meet him.
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Vera works assiduously to find out more about MECS, but finds only a few fleeting references to it on the Internet. The few agencies she speaks with pretend not to know of its existence. She locates a few vendors she suspects may have done business with the mysterious organization.
Early in the year, Gordon Bray had been named the managing editor, and shortly thereafter, Martina quit. Stanley likes Martina and finds her attractive, unlike many of the rest of the staff. Stanley had not been able to change Adam’s mind, and the two of them had stopped having their secret conferences in the church. Vera, like Stanley, thinks that Gordon is a slime. One day in the parking garage, Gordon corners Vera while she is praying and name-drops Baby, the underage prostitute; Vera quickly escapes his leering small talk.
After months of putting it off, Stanley finally calls Mabel. He is incredibly nervous and has even written out notes to himself; he is concerned that she forgot her offer to have him call her since it was so long ago and probably not fully intended. After some initial awkwardness, Stanley is delighted when Mabel invites him over to her house for a visit the next weekend. When he shows up, she is surprisingly candid about her brief candidacy for the managing editor job. They mutually acknowledge some competition between her husband, Don, and Adam. Then Mabel tells Stanley about her attempts to get into the office to show Adam the report. She feels embarrassed and is sure that everyone thinks of her as a joke. When the talk turns to Martina’s getting passed over, Mabel opines that attractive, smart women cannot get anywhere because men don’t know how to handle them. She also makes a passing reference to Stanley’s closeted African American heritage, amused that he is surprised she knows.
Vera is on her way to the location of MECS; she found its address on an invoice from one of its vendors. On her way, she gets a call from the paper asking her to cover a homicide for the early edition. She calls back to relay the story and by then has several other crimes to report. Even though she is frustrated about being diverted from her MECS story, she accepts one more assignment from Stanley. She investigates a particularly seedy building where a shootout had transpired earlier in the evening. By the time she calls in the last report, it’s too late for the early edition.
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Vera finally makes her trip to the address on the vendor’s invoice, hoping to find the MECS office. In the lobby, she stops a young man in a suit to ask whether he knows the whereabouts of the office or works there. The man is a regular visitor, not an employee, but points her in the direction of the elevators, which are accompanied by a directory. There is no MECS listed under M, but Vera decides to continue investigating the location. As she stops other passersby in the lobby, the responses become increasingly rude and hostile. No one seems to have heard of the department, nor are they inclined to help her. When an African American man passes through, Vera hopes that their common heritage will make him friendlier. Instead, the man reprimands her for trespassing and accuses her of harassing clientele and employees in the building.
She finally leaves as the man continues to cause a stir. Vera is prone to losing her car in the parking lot, which in this situation renders her even more frustrated and embarrassed. When she finally locates her car, she is on the verge of tears. She tries to hide this since the man who berated her is now observing her with a few of the other denizens of the building. As she pulls out of the parking lot, the disgruntled workers take down her license plate number.
From his office, which can be accessed only via a key in the elevator, Will observes Vera’s frantic exit. One of Will’s subordinates witnessed the initial conflict with Vera. He recommended sending security officers to escort her out, but Will did not do so. Will thought that security would confirm Vera’s suspicions that the office was there; instead, he let the other unfriendly tenants provide the resistance.
After Vera’s departure, Will receives a phone call from an undersecretary named Rood Joseph. Rood Joseph was a government official firmly tied to the vice president, nicknamed the Mean Man by nearly everyone at MECS; Will was not fond of him. Rood is upset over the flack from Hoseyn’s demise since Will brought him in. It’s all the more surprising when Rood tells Will that Hoseyn is still alive. Intelligence from Tehran uncovered recordings in which Hoseyn is discussed; although his voice is not on the tapes, it seems certain that he is still alive. Knowing that there will be problems because of Hoseyn’s faked death, the vice president has decided to send Will back to Iran.
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
In the heat of summer, Winnow, a teen prostitute (and Will’s neighbor) is headed to work. Child prostitutes, called "tykes," are common in her area, but she is more successful than many of them—perhaps because her mother is in the same business. She has befriended another tyke named Heidi, an Asian girl whose thumbs had been chopped off and was prone to wearing gloves as a cover. Winnow gets picked up a by a group of men and they drive off.
Mary had been in training for months; the three candidates were now two. One had dropped out, leaving Mary pitted against an aggressive woman who seemed to best her at every turn. The mission is to accompany an official to Iran (posing as husband and wife) to try to locate an operant and get him out of there. Mary is flown across the country on a red-eye flight and has an early morning meeting with the official, who turns out to be Will. She remembers meeting him at Rex’s memorial service. Will intrigues Mary; he sends her with another official for debriefing about the assignment.
Later, Mary makes her first visit to Frank at the hospital. After Clara and the kids leave her for a moment alone, the hospital experiences a power outage. Since Frank is not on a ventilator, it poses no serious threat; however, Mary is still shocked by how drawn and sick Frank looks. During the emergency blackout, Frank moves in his bed and makes eye contact with Mary; for a moment, before he subsides to his former state, she is sure he recognized her.
Mabel sneaks out of her house and drops off the discs with the Sissy report at Stanley’s house.
Vera’s car battery dies at the remote gas station where she’s supposed to meet Baby. When the store worker proves unhelpful, she walks down to the boathouse to look for Baby. Soon Baby arrives with Winnow and Heidi. They reveal that Gordon Bray, the new managing editor, is a frequent customer of the tykes.
Meanwhile, Gordon has informed Adam that Don had the Sissy report when their rival's news story broke. Don apparently did not tell them because he was saving material for his next book. Adam arranges a secret meeting with Mabel in a cemetery to confirm that Don had hidden the report. Mabel mistakes his inquiries for romantic overtures and kisses him.
Stanley and Adam meet in the church after a long hiatus. Stanley is about to tell Adam that he got the report from Mabel, but Adam is still recoiling from...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Adam, Stanley, Gordon, and all of the other editors gather together for a meeting. Vera is there as well, and the group is reviewing an article that Vera wrote based on her review of the Sissy report. Adam is anxious to start the meeting, but they are all waiting for Don, who is late returning from the Pentagon. The editors try to grill Vera about where she got her copy of the report, and Stanley runs interference for her. He knows Vera will not lie because of her religious convictions, so he attempts to divert the conversation.
When Don enters, with a sweep of grandiosity, the meeting proper begins; however, Adam has trouble controlling the energy in the room, and competing agendas bubble to the surface quickly. Stanley is trying to expose Gordon’s involvement with the child prostitutes. Adam, meanwhile, is grilling Don about his withholding the Sissy report. When bluntly confronted, Vera admits that Mabel gave the report to Stanley, who handed it off to her.
Mabel lies in bed next to Don that night watching him sleep with the aid of a sleep apnea machine. Since his diagnosis, Mabel has endured much abuse from Don as he thrashes in his sleep, snoring loudly. Mabel has eventually become accustomed to the sounds and lights of the apnea machine, but tonight she cannot sleep. She wanders her house, even more disillusioned and depressed than usual. Finally, she wearies herself enough that she returns to her room, to Don, and to his machine.
After much deliberation, the paper decides not to run the story that Vera wrote about MECS and the pilot’s crash. In addition, Vera is reassigned to several stories deemed to be more important than the crash story. One night in the parking garage, Gordon again stops to chat with Vera. He offers her some brief praise about the story as well as regret at its not being published.
Will has fired many members of his team; they had helped create the diversion at the paper. The goal was to draw focus to the tyke story to take focus away from the crash story. Ironically, if MECS had been uncovered and Will named as its Chair, it would have put a stop to his upcoming mission to Iran. In addition, Mary would know Will was to blame for her accident and would probably withdraw from the project as well.
(The entire section is 402 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Will and Mary enter Iran on foot, following the highly detailed plan they’ve mapped out in their training. Per Will’s insistence, they do not speak; this way, they can keep their ears tuned to their surroundings and be ready for anything. During a break, Mary steals away to look over one of Frank’s letters; she has brought a few with her on the mission. This particular letter describes in great detail how she earned her nickname, Xtra. When her company had voted on it, they ruled out a number of possibilities that were too cute or suggestive. When someone pointed out that Mary wasn’t X-rated, the name morphed into X and Xtra. Will finds her and she quickly puts away the letter. Throughout training and during the mission, she tries to hide as much as possible from Will because he already knows so much more about her than she does about him.
Further in their journey, they meet with Kurdish reactionaries who are going to help them on their mission; the Kurds are still fighting for their own country and are the group most sympathetic to America and its interests. When Will and Mary agree to stay for the night, Will does not trust his surroundings; he and Mary sleep on opposite sides of a tent door with a rope tied to their wrists. If someone tries to enter the tent, the person will trip and they’ll wake up. In the morning, they head out with Baz, a thirteen-year-old Kurdish boy who will pose as their son (theoretically from Will’s first marriage).
They head out, this time in a vehicle, but still in Will’s relatively stony silence. Mary has taken a shine to Baz, but Will remains distant and wrapped up in his own thoughts. Along the way, Baz announces that he has a gift for Mary; he makes it clear the gift is for her and not Will. When Mary opens the bag, she finds warm roasted pistachios and thanks Baz for the gift.
Along the way, Will quizzes Mary on key Farsi phrases they might need to use during their mission. When necessary, Baz helps correct her or applauds when she gets the answer right. The phrases are all designed to defer questioning of their identity and purpose. They also include warnings and requests for help. At the end of the session, Will tosses a small piece of plastic at her: a hearing aid. The last phrase he teaches her is to say that she is deaf and her hearing aid doesn’t work.
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
During one of their stops to camp out, Will, Mary, and Baz see a group of jeeps and motorcycles approaching in the distance. They quickly take down their tent and hide their vehicle. They run to a hidden observation point and wait for the caravan to approach. The men in the vehicles fan out into a formation and begin a structured search. Will prepares their weapons, a rifle with a scope and grenades. Mary, meanwhile, opens up a computer and boots up Prophet, a program Will designed. While the men are approaching, Mary is able to get the program to work; it sends a signal to the commander’s walkie-talkie that tells the men to retreat. The commander believes the message is from his supervisor, and he and his men load up and drive away. Will compliments Mary on executing something she had learned from training in a pressured situation.
Will again finds Mary reading Frank's letters. At first, Mary thinks that Will wants to read them, too, but he respects her privacy. She tries to ask him about her crash, but he avoids the question.
Later, they arrive in Ahwaz to meet with an intermediary who is supposed to put them in contact with the maid who has been helping Hoseyn. When the maid is late, Will insists they leave, as any deviation in arrangements is cause for suspicion. They run into the maid in the hallway, and she informs them that Hoseyn is alive and anxious to see them.
At an airplane hangar, Will, Baz, and Mary await Hoseyn’s arrival. Mary readies the airplane—it is a commercial airliner that will carry them back to Iraq. The idea is that by the time the Iranians notice their brief flight, the plane will already be back on the ground before they can send any other planes after it. Hoseyn arrives and Will is obviously glad to see him but trying to keep it under wraps. He points his gun at Hoseyn and forces him to the ground. He indicates to Mary that even though he is unarmed, he is still not safe. In the plane, as they prepare to take off, Hoseyn grabs Mary’s gun and shoots Baz. He grabs Mary around the throat and points the gun at her head. Will refuses to give in to Hoseyn’s demands; Hoseyn apologizes for his actions but states that the government has his wife. Will turns the gun to his own head and shoots himself. In the mess that splatters everywhere, Mary is able to wriggle out of Hoseyn’s grasp and strike him. Still blinded by Will’s suicide, she feels the arms of someone else grabbing...
(The entire section is 473 words.)