Peterson identified himself and explained his mission, which was to interrogate and debrief the proprietor of this estate in Calvert County, Md. -- Tom Clancy, best-selling techno-novelist, multimillionaire, gun fancier, friend of Republican presidents, hobnobber with FBI and military honchos, would-be professional sports team owner, quasi-would-be politi-cian, disillusioned presidential blue-ribbon panel member, battler with Hollywood moguls and self-proclaimed expert on national defense, international politics and just about everything else.
Slowly, obeying an electronic command from inside the complex, the gates opened.
Peterson put his 1991 Plymouth Voyager into gear and stepped on the gas pedal, which caused a mixture of air and fuel to flow into the the 3.0 liter engine’s six cylinders, where the mixture was burned, forcing six pistons to move up and down, which turned a crankshaft, which transferred power to the drive shafts, which turned the front wheels, which propelled the car forward. All of which is the kind of irrelevant mechanical information that Clancy insists on putting into his novels, swelling them to a size that can cause severe damage to any foot they fall upon, and causing discerning readers to suspect that machines, not humans, are the real heroes of the books.
Peterson drove slowly into the 80-acre Clancy estate, which was once a summer camp. He rolled past azaleas in full bloom, past a football field complete with goalposts, past a yellow traffic sign picturing a tank crossing a road, past vast expanses of well-tended grass, past basketball courts and tennis courts, and past, yes, an actual Army tank sitting on the lawn. At the end of the half-mile-long driveway stood a huge, fortresslike, $ 2 million stone mansion with 24 rooms and an indoor pool and an underground gun range. On its steps stood the owner, who was swinging an imaginary golf club, the way Johnny Carson used to do after his monologues. He wore dark glasses, casual slacks and a short-sleeve shirt with a white undershirt peeking out at the neck.
Peterson inquired about the tank on the lawn. “It’s an M1A1, from World War II,” Clancy said, gazing over at it. “My wife gave it to me for Christmas.”
“Geez,” Peterson said, “how much does a tank cost?”
“I don’t know,” Clancy replied with a slight smile. “Do you ask your wife what your Christmas presents cost?”
Then he led Peterson upstairs to his office for the debriefing.
CARL PETERSON WAS A TALL, handsome former Marine colonel who had won the Medal of Honor in Vietnam before earning a fortune on Wall Street and then retiring to a country home to write volumes of history, for which he had been awarded the Nobel Prize. Only a few days earlier, his old friend, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, had helicoptered out to Peterson’s palatial home to ask that he investigate Clancy, who was suspected of plotting to destroy the world by writing books so huge that forests were defoliated to print them, thus threatening Earth’s supply of oxygen.