The Inner Sanctum

A Novel

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Takeover comes a terrifying thriller of corruption and greed at the highest levels of government. . . .

David Mitchell, fast-rising portfolio manager at the exclusive Sagamore Investment Managing Group, has just been handed his future on a golden platter. If all goes according to plan, a struggling plane-manufacturing company will win a coveted government defense contract . . . and David himself will become very, very rich. Gaining the trust of IRS agent Jesse Hayes is a crucial part of the scheme. But the unwitting recruit has troubles of her own. Her boss has been found dead, and incriminating tax files level suspicion at a high-profile senatorial candidate.

As the pieces of an explosive puzzle fall into place, David and Jesse realize they are pawns in a top-secret billion-dollar conspiracy stretching from the frenzy of Wall Street to the darkest corridors of Washington D.C., where a shocking military secret lies hidden.

With tensions mounting, the lines between money and politics, and life and death, become razor-thin. . . .

Under the Cover

An excerpt from The Inner Sanctum

Prologue 

April 1997

The man sat calmly in a large leather chair at the edge of the lamp’s faint arc of light. He inhaled deeply, held his breath for several moments, then slowly tilted his head back and blew thick, pungent smoke toward the ceiling. He was in no rush. He had negotiated many times before and was acutely aware of the value gained from projecting indifference in these situations.   

David Mitchell peered through the gloom at the figure in the leather chair, but could distinguish little except the indistinct outline of the man’s body and the glow of a cigar tip as it moved. David wanted to push the meeting forward but said nothing for fear he might give away his impatience—and in the process, the deal.   

“So what is my incentive?” the man finally asked, his gravelly voice filtering through the smoke-laden air.

“Two million dollars,” David answered. “A million when the contract is signed and another million when full production begins.”   

“Two million dollars.” The man chewed on the words for a moment, then spat them out. “You’ve asked a great deal of me. I don’t think two million is enough.” He tapped the cigar gently on the side of a crystal bowl and a perfectly symmetrical inch-long ash fell into it.   

“How much is enough?”   

“More than two million.”   

David drew in a long breath. He was annoyed at the lack of progress but tried not to make it obvious. “Can you really deliver?” It was a bold question, and despite the dim light he noticed the man’s relaxed posture suddenly stiffen.   

“Of course I can.” The voice was still steady but now conveyed a repressed anger at the younger man’s audacity.   

“How can I be certain?” David asked quickly, sensing that he had struck a nerve.   

“You can’t be certain. You just have to trust me.”   

“I’m giving you two million dollars. I need more than trust, I need guarantees.”   

“Impossible. There can be no guarantees.”   

A few moments of uncomfortable silence ensued.

“Perhaps I’ve made a mistake in coming here.” Instantly, David wished he could have taken back the words.   

The man reclined into the chair. “Fine,” he said confidently. “Then leave.”   

David felt a drop of perspiration trickle from the end of his eyebrow slowly down the right side of his face. He couldn’t enter into a transaction on such fragile terms. But he couldn’t walk away from it either.   

The man saw David’s indecision and made his move. “What you get for your money, Mr. Mitchell, is my ability to act alone. And don’t underestimate how important that is. It’s what makes this situation attractive to you. There will be no time wasted on fact-finding missions and no committees adding years to the process.” His tone intensified. “Don’t think for a minute I’m being greedy requiring more than two million dollars for my participation. If I decide to accept your proposal, what you pay me will be nothing more than a rounding error on your profit statement.”   

A rush of anticipation surged through David. That was true. The payoff would be immense. “Then how much do you require?” He asked the critical question once more.   

The man shook his head. “Come back to me with a revised proposal. Work through our mutual acquaintance.

“But time is of the essence. I want to know what you require now.” David felt the protective wall around his emotions crumbling, and his left eye blinked once—involuntarily.   

If the face hadn’t been cloaked in shadows, David would have noticed the trace of a smile turn the corners of the man’s mouth up. The blink of the eye—the crack in Mitchell’s countenance—had not gone unnoticed. “I won’t suggest a number. I never do.” He pointed the smoldering cigar tip at David. “But I’m becoming impatient. Make certain your next offer is your best offer.”   

David nodded, realizing there would be no end to the negotiation tonight. “All right, I will.”   

Mitchell had scored higher on the psychiatric exam than anyone in the firm’s history. Now the man saw why. Despite excruciating pressure, Mitchell was maintaining his demeanor admirably. There had only been that drop of perspiration and tic of his eye. Most of his predecessors had fallen apart by now. “You’re doing the right thing, Mr. Mitchell,” the man said gently. He didn’t give a damn about Mitchell, but spoke the words compassionately to manipulate the younger man’s emotions. It was business, that was all. They wanted Mitchell for the long term. They wanted him locked in now, not getting cold feet later and accidentally saving himself. “You’re definitely doing the right thing."

“I know,” David said, trying to exude confidence.   

“Without a big hit like this one they’d crucify you. They’d let you bleed up there on the cross until you expired, then they’d burn you. And believe me, you wouldn’t rise from the ashes. There would be no phoenix story here.”    “I know,” David said again, this time through clenched teeth. The man was absolutely right. The pressure was intense. Without a strong performance, much stronger than he had shown so far, he would be terminated, and there wouldn’t be another job—not like this one anyway.   

The man puffed on his cigar. Someday, if Mitchell proved worthy, they might allow him insight into the bigger picture. They might let him see why one had to win and the other lose. And they might let him understand how they could make that happen.   

David rose from his chair. It seemed obvious the meeting was over.   

“Mr. Mitchell.”   

David turned back as he reached the door. “Yes?”   

“I want you to understand two things before you leave.”   

“And they are?"

“First, I’ve never used my position this way before. I am entirely ethical. I am not corrupt.”   

David’s silence spoke volumes.   

The man’s eyes narrowed as he sensed skepticism. “Second, I’m considering your proposal because I believe it is in the country’s best interest. Money is not the driving force in this situation, not my primary motivation.”   

For an instant David thought he saw the face, but then it faded into darkness again. “What are you talking about?”   

“My paramount concern is national security. And I’m willing to use any means necessary to achieve that end. That is why I’m willing to consider your proposal. The money is secondary. Do you understand?”   

“Yes.” David stared at the dark figure, marveling at the man’s ability to rationalize. At his ability to avow with sincerity that $2 million—or whatever the number turned out to be—wasn’t the real issue. “I’ll be back to you tomorrow through our mutual acquaintance.”   

“Good.”   

David stepped into the deserted corridor and closed the door. Cool fresh air rushed to his face, and for a few moments he stood there cleansing his lungs of cigar smoke, allowing his heart rate to slow down. It had taken immense courage to proceed with this meeting. Christ, the whole thing could have been a setup.   

Finally he began walking away, the sound of his hard soles on marble echoing into the far recesses of the corridor. But it hadn’t been a setup, and now the final piece was almost in place. By tomorrow night all the hard work, planning, and payoffs would begin returning dividends.

- About the author -

Stephen Frey is Vice President of Corporate Finance at a major Manhattan bank and formerly worked in mergers and acquisitions at J.P. Morgan and Co. He lives in Princeton, NJ.

More from Stephen W. Frey

The Inner Sanctum

A Novel

Buy

The Inner Sanctum

— Published by Ballantine Books —