Peterson glanced at the dashboard clock. It was 12:56. The rendezvous was planned for 1 o’clock. He’d already recon-noitered the perimeter of the complex. Everything appeared to be in order; no unusual activity. He drove to the end of the road, which terminated in a pair of battleship-gray gates. He stopped the van, leaned out the window and, as he’d been instructed, punched a code number into a security device.

“Yes?” asked a brisk, efficient, British-accented female voice.

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.

Actually, none of that is true. Peterson is merely a wildly idealized version of the author of this story. Which is Clancy’s favorite literary device: He is forever populating his novels with superhuman characters whose names vaguely resemble his own. Jack Ryan, for instance, or John Kelly. Ryan -- hero of The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games and The Cardinal of the Kremlin and Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears -- served in the Marine Corps, then made a fortune in the stock market, then began teaching at the Naval Academy, at least when he wasn’t off doing special jobs for the CIA, jobs like coordinating intelligence for arms treaty negotiations, or saving a reformist Soviet government or saving a band of American commandos fighting Colombian drug lords or saving the world from terrorists.

Kelly, hero of Clancy’s new novel, Without Remorse -- set in 1970 and due out in August -- is a highly decorated former Navy SEAL living, apparently without having to work much, on his own island in the Chesapeake, except when he’s out shooting street punks or doing special jobs for the CIA. (Doesn’t the CIA have employees who can do this stuff?) Veteran Clancy readers know Kelly by his CIA nom de guerre: Mr. Clark.

“Mr. Clark was in Patriot Games, but nobody knew it but me,” Clancy said. “He was in Cardinal of the Kremlin, he was in Clear and Present Danger, he was in Sum of All Fears. And it was time to explain to the world how he got into the CIA.”

Clancy, 46, was sitting in his office, with his feet up on his desk. They were encased in spotless white sneakers. A few feet away was a pool table, piled with books. The walls, 16 feet high, were lined with books, including his own works in various languages and such reference volumes as Jane’s Fighting Ships, Gun Digest, Space Technology and Principles of Surgery.

“You put a lot of yourself in all your characters, and Jack Ryan is really a new, improved version of me,” he said. “Mr. Clark is a little bit different. He’s Ryan’s dark side. He’s more inclined to take physical action than Jack is.”

He picked up a silver cigarette lighter, flipped back the cover, flicked its little wheel, which scraped a flint, which pro-duced a spark, which ignited the lighter fluid, which produced a flame. He stuck the end of his Merit cigarette into the flame and inhaled deeply. Then he went on talking about Mr. Clark.

“There really are a few people like that,” he said. “I got a call from one earlier.”

“One of what?” Peterson asked.

“A guy like Mr. Clark.”

“What do you mean?”

“A guy like Mr. Clark,” Clancy repeated.

“How’s that?”

“I mean he’s a guy like Mr. Clark.”

Peterson gave up. “Okay. Enough of that line of questioning.”

“Let’s put it this way,” Clancy said. “He’s a hell of a nice guy but I wouldn’t mess with his wife or kids. ‘Cause God’ll show mercy to you but he wouldn’t. And he knows how not to show mercy.”

JOHN KELLY -- HE WAS NOT YET KNOWN as Mr. Clark -- pulled his Scout over to the side of the road and picked up the hitchhiker. She was a “willowy” young woman with a “pretty face” and “dancer’s legs” and “fetchingly gray-green” eyes.

“Where you goin’?” she asked.

“Back to my boat,” he answered.

It was a 41-foot-long, custom-built yacht with two “big Detroit Diesel engines” and “a high-quality marine radar,” and “every sort of communications gear that he could legally use” and “navigation aids normally reserved for off-shore fishermen” and “two sizable cabins.” They headed out toward the island Kelly had leased from the federal government, an island that housed an old fort that he’d converted into a home. While Kelly steered, the girl -- her name was Pam -- went below and changed into short-shorts and a halter that displayed her breasts.

“You like them?” she asked.

Kelly was too embarrassed to answer. Pam clutched at his biceps, fondled his SEAL tattoo. Suddenly a thunderstorm blew up. Kelly found a safe spot and dropped anchor. Pam pulled off her halter.

“They look just fine to me,” Kelly told her.

In a minute, they were out of their clothes and sprawled across the rain-swept deck.

“Are you always this good?” she asked him when it was over.


It was incredible. Usually, Clancy novels are nearly as chaste as cookbooks. Usually, his heroes fondle pistols and ca-ress rifles and get all excited about high-tech weapons systems, not mere women. What’s going on here? Peterson won-dered.

“I’ve had that in my books before, but you had to look real fast because, you know, I’m a married Catholic and I don’t do that,” he said. “I’ve always said I’d put sex in a book if it served a dramatic purpose, and in this book and also in Sum of All Fears, it served a dramatic purpose. I don’t just do it for the hell of it. That’s just wasting ink.”

He started Without Remorse back in 1971, he said, 13 years before Red October was published, making him rich and famous and freeing him from life in his grandmother-in-law’s insurance agency. Then, last year, he picked up his old abandoned idea and finished the book. Working about four hours a day, he took 4 1/2 months. His advance, according to the Wall Street Journal, was the largest in history, somewhere “between $ 13 million and $ 14 million.”

But the man whose books have sold more than 30 million copies declined to talk about such crass commercial matters. “I’m not allowed to discuss the contract,” he said.

He much preferred to speak of art and craft. “I’m pleased with the way it turned out. I think it’s my best writing in terms of wordsmithing -- plugging the words together . . . I think I’ve always had the storytelling ability -- although that’s im-proved somewhat too -- but my storytelling ability has always been ahead of my prose. It still is, but I think the prose is catching up a bit.”

Peterson asked Clancy how he went about researching the weaponry in the novels.

“I don’t have to go out and research the weapons,” he said. “Shooting’s one of my hobbies.”

He pointed to an object across the room, a cylinder nearly two feet high. “I fired that,” he said. “It’s a 105 from an M1 tank, the little gun on an M1. That’s what’s left after you shoot it. It makes a nice ashtray.”

He fired it two years ago, at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where he’d gone to give a speech. “I make a lot of money for that,” he explained, “and instead of charging them for the speech, I said, ‘I’d like to play with some of your vehicles.’ The government got quite a bargain out of that. It’s fun. It’s real fun.” He was smiling broadly. “You don’t know what a feeling of power is until you drive a tank.” KELLY TOSSED PAM’S BACKPACK OFF the boat and a bottle of pills fell out. Quaaludes. Pam was an addict. Kelly hated drugs but he couldn’t just abandon Pam, because he was in love with her, even though they’d met less than 24 hours earlier. So, with the help of a couple of friendly doctors, he got her off drugs. Which turned out to be easy as pie. The cure took only about a week and involved a lot of fishing.

Then Pam told him her life story. She’d left home in Texas after her daddy beat her one night and she became an addict and streetwalker in various cities before winding up in Baltimore, where she became a drug runner and sex slave to a bunch of lowlifes who killed one of her friends right in front of her eyes.

Kelly listened to her story and then he excused himself and got his .45 and started shooting soda cans. He promised to protect her and take care of her because, as he’d said earlier, “your heart is just fine.” She was, in fact, a whore with a heart of gold. Not to mention a damsel in distress.

He persuaded her to report the murder she had witnessed to a Baltimore cop. But on their way to meet with the cop, Pam was recognized by the lowlifes who had abused her and they shotgunned Kelly and gang-raped Pam and then strangled her and left her naked body in a park fountain, where crows fed on it.

Kelly saw pictures of her defiled corpse while he recuperated in the hospital, and he vowed to get his revenge. He went into training for his mission. One day, though, his five-mile swimming regimen was interrupted by the arrival of a heli-copter containing his old friend, Adm. Dutch Maxwell, who had come to ask Kelly to help rescue some POWs held in a secret camp in North Vietnam.

Of course, Kelly agreed. It was a CIA job, so he got a code name: Mr. Clark.

Now he had two names and two missions. It was “Death Wish” meets “Rambo,” and there was still two-thirds of the book to go.

“YOU GOTTA TELL A GOOD STORY IF people are going to read it,” Clancy explained. “It’s gotta be a good story. I think you have an ethical obligation -- if you’re talking about real-life situations, and I do -- I think you have an ethical obligation to deal with those issues as truthfully as possible. So, there’s an educational aspect to what I do.”

Clancy was still sitting with his feet on his desk, smoking and talking about his craft. He dismissed “literary” fiction as “stuff that’s written for critics.” Then he started talking about how he had to read Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield when he was an English major at Loyola College in Baltimore back in the ‘60s, and how mad he got when Goldsmith started mocking Shakespeare.

“I remember kinda leaning back in my chair and lighting up a cigarette and thinking, ‘Who the hell is Oliver Goldsmith?’ I mean, I wouldn’t even know this guy existed except I gotta read it as part of my 18th-century lit course -- or whatever century he wrote in -- and he’s trashing the number one guy in the whole English language? What the hell? Well, Shakespeare wrote for the masses and he wrote to make money. He didn’t know he was turning himself into the greatest man in the English language. All he did was, he was trying to tell good stories that ordinary people could un-derstand and give himself a decent living out of it. Well, I’m in the same tradition. I don’t put myself alongside the Bard for a lot of reasons -- like I’m not that good, for one -- but it’s an honorable tradition.”

KELLY DIDN’T HAVE MUCH TIME. HE had a lot of bad guys to kill before he reported for his secret CIA duty in Vietnam, so he had to work fast. He dressed up like a wino and started stalking the streets of Baltimore, looking for the guys who’d abused Pam. He cornered two dope dealers in an alley, made them lie down, and blasted each one twice in the forehead. Bodies twitched, blood flew.

And he wasn’t through yet. He shotgunned a dealer at point-blank range, causing “the total vaporization of his heart.” Then he plugged two street dealers with his .22 pistol, one of the bullets “caroming off the thicker portions of the skull and racing around inside like a hamster in a cage.” Then he ripped a mugger’s arm out of its socket, took his knife and “shoved it hard into the base of his skull, leaving it there.”

And he wasn’t through yet. He sneaked up on one dope pusher and plunged his double-edged Ka-Bar knife into the punk’s heart, then “twisted the blade, leaving it in as the body shuddered.” That felt good: “Kelly had to allow himself a bit of satisfaction this time.”

And he wasn’t through yet. He caught a bad guy named Billy and forced him into a recompression chamber designed to simulate the water pressure of deep-sea diving. He turned up the pressure and watched Billy suffer: “. . . The choking coughs merely amplified the pain that now filled every cubic inch of his wracked body . . .”

And he wasn’t through yet . . .

WHAT WITHOUT REMORSE IS, CLANCY explained, is a meditation on justice and the social contract, a philosoph-ical work on the rights and responsibilities of the citizen in a democratic society.

“The central question in this book is: What is justice? And how is justice applied?” he said. “What if you’re in the situa-tion where a great wrong has been done and the law does not respond to it? Now, is your duty as a citizen just to forget about it and permit society as a whole to make that mistake? Or is your duty as a citizen to become the instrument of justice, if you can do so in a controlled and structured and just way? Do you have the moral right -- obviously you don’t have the legal right -- do you have the moral right to become the instrument of justice yourself?”

“Do you?” asked Peterson.

“I don’t know,” Clancy said.

He told the story of a little Louisiana girl who was abducted and abused by a guy who then fled to Texas. He was caught and flown back to New Orleans, Clancy said, where the girl’s father shot him dead, right there in the airport, and then surrendered to the police.

“Was that a moral or immoral act?” Clancy asked. “That’s a question you’ve got to ask God, because He’s the only one that’s got the answer. The jury said, ‘Go forth and sin no more.’ If I’d have been on the jury, I think I would have said the same thing, because I’ve got three daughters. But is it objectively right or wrong in a moral sense? That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t say I have the answer. I’m just writing a book about it.”

JOHN KELLY, A K A MR. CLARK, CODE name “Snake,” lay on a “modified torpedo” -- a sort of “mini-submarine” -- that carried his muscular, wet-suit-encased body up the river and deep into North Vietnam.

He’d temporarily abandoned his crusade to wipe out Baltimore’s bad guys so he could help the CIA rescue American pilots from a secret prison camp where they were being tortured by sadistic Vietnamese and interrogated by a crafty Russian.

When he got to the camp, Kelly/Clark/Snake climbed ashore and applied his makeup. Camouflage makeup, of course. He carried his CAR-15 rifle up the hill and staked out a position where he could see into the prison camp.

“Two hours to freedom, guys,” Kelly said silently to the prisoners in the camp below him.

But then he heard a rumble coming from down the road. It wasn’t the good guys. It had to be . . .

IT HAD TO BE TIME TO MAKE A QUICK cut in the narrative to allow the tension to build up and up and up. It’s a time-honored Clancy technique. In Without Remorse, he cuts from scenes of Kelly in the jungle to scenes of the grue-some murder of Pam’s friend Doris by hitmen hired by drug dealers who were tipped off by a corrupt cop to scenes of other cops piecing together the evidence and figuring out that Kelly is the guy killing the street punks.

And here -- in true Clancy style -- we’ll cut from Kelly in the jungle to Clancy sitting in his airy office explaining why killing people isn’t so hard if you know what you’re doing. Which he does.

“Killing a guy is real simple,” he said. “I could show you a score card downstairs from the day I went shooting with the Secret Service. I was four for four at 1,000 yards with a rifle. It’s a lot easier than you think.”

This was a digression from the topic of Desert Storm, a war that Clancy found very satisfying because, to him, it showed that the high-tech weapons he’d described so lyrically in his books actually worked.

“During Desert Storm, I had a half-million reporters call me to say, ‘Gee, you were right all along, this stuff really works.’ What do you think, I lied? I’ve used all this stuff. Of course it works.”

Peterson was skeptical. He recalled numerous newspaper articles on how the high-tech weapons of Desert Storm had not worked quite as well as originally advertised. The Patriot Missile, for instance, had not intercepted 41 out of 42 Iraqi Scuds as President Bush claimed during the war; it had nailed, according to the U.S. Army, somewhere between 10 and 24 out of 80 targeted Scuds.

Clancy dismissed that objection with a wave. The problem with newspaper accounts, he said, is that reporters read only the executive summary of military reports, not the full report. “I was right,” he said. “This is all stuff I’ve used, and it works.”

This was a sore point with Clancy, primarily because of a 1989 Washington Monthly article by Scott Shuger, a former naval intelligence officer. Shuger compared Clancy’s descriptions of various weapons with the actual history of how those weapons had performed on the battlefield. He concluded that the weapons worked a lot better in Clancy books than they did in real life.

“Scott Shuger, he’s a mean-spirited little bastard,” Clancy said when Peterson mentioned the article. “After the war, I sent him a letter -- he’s out in Sacramento now -- and said, ‘Okay, here’s a list of things you trashed, and they all worked, and if you were really a professional re- porter, you’d write an article saying I was right.’ “

Clancy was getting pretty steamed up. He continued paraphrasing his letter to Shuger: “ ‘I don’t want an apology from you because I can take care of myself. I make more money in a day than you make in a year. But the kids -- the 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids, the soldiers and airmen and Marines you trashed -- do not have my ability to defend themselves, and you owe an apology to them.’ “

“But he didn’t insult them,” said Peterson, “he insulted you.”

“Well, the other stuff in there was like, the U.S. military can’t unzip its own zipper -- the usual left-wing bullcrap.”

“I’ve never lived in Sacramento, which shows how good he is in details,” said Shuger, reached at his home near Los Angeles. “I wasn’t trashing the fighting man. I’m a veteran.”

Which, Shuger pointed out, Clancy is not, having failed his draft physical because of severe myopia. “Learning how war works from Tom Clancy books is like learning how the law works by watching ‘L.A. Law.’ He wrote a pretty good book in Red October and he got rich, and now he sits back and talks like he’s an expert.”

In Desert Storm, some of the high-tech weapons worked well and some didn’t, Shuger said. The point is that weapons don’t win wars, people do. “Tom Clancy doesn’t understand that war is not just a bunch of toys,” he said. “There are a lot of nonmechanical things that go into war. He’s missed that side of the equation, and because 50 million people have read his books, he brings people into his fallacy. There have been countries with wonderful weapons who have lost wars. We’re one of them. We had better weapons [than the enemy] in Vietnam.”

BACK IN VIETNAM, THE RESCUE mission had been blown at the last possible moment.

Kelly didn’t know it yet but the North Vietnamese had been tipped off about the raid by the KGB, which had been tipped off by a naive young peacenik -- a prep school-trained, Ivy League-educated, pot-puffing peacenik who dodged the draft and used his rich daddy’s connections to get a job in the Nixon White House. You know, one of those liberal peacenik Nixon aides.

Kelly scrambled away to meet the helicopter sent to rescue him.

But he wasn’t through yet . . .

“I’VE BEEN COURTED TO RUN FOR THE House three times now, I think, and for the Senate twice,” Clancy said.

“Who’s courting you?” Peterson asked.

“Well, obviously not the Democrats,” Clancy said. “Various people on the Republican side.”

“Are you tempted?”

“Oh, it’s very tempting, but my family comes first,” said Clancy, who is a devoted husband and father of four. “Maybe some day, but not now.”

“Why is it tempting?”

“I might really accomplish something. Maybe I can make a difference. Maybe I can accomplish just one thing. That would put me up on about 50 percent of the senators.”

He fired up another cigarette. “What if the only thing I accomplished is to get up there and say the emperor’s naked?”

“What would you like to accomplish?” Peterson asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Get somebody in there with feet firmly grounded in reality.”

Peterson was beginning to wonder if Clancy’s feet, which were still propped atop his custom-made writing desk, had been anywhere near reality in the recent past. If this guy was going to run for office, Peterson knew, he’d have to take off the dark glasses, he’d have to smile once in a while, he’d have to learn to answer questions about what he hoped to accomplish in office.

“Let’s assume I get struck by lightning and I end up in the U.S. Senate,” Clancy said. “I’m there for six years. What’s the worst thing that could happen to me? I serve out my six years and I come back to this house and I write a book about it. And the book will sell! The worst thing that could happen to me is I go back to being a millionaire.”

And what Congress needs is, of course, more millionaires. “One of the problems with Congress, very simply, is those people today have the best jobs they’re ever going to have. They’re failures. Well, that’s a little strong. But if $ 120,000 a year is the best job you’ve ever had, you haven’t really done very much.”

DRIVING SOUTH ON THE BALTIMORE-Washington Parkway, Kelly was thinking about his high school English class. The class where he learned about Aristotle’s rules of tragedy, about how the hero had to have a tragic flaw. What was his tragic flaw? he asked himself. He loved too much, he answered himself. He cared too much. Which was why he was driving to Washington with his trusty double-edged Ka-Bar knife.

He knocked on the door of the peacenik who’d informed the KGB about the raid on the POW camp.

“Come on in,” the peacenik said. He was sitting around smoking pot and thinking about how great it was to have blown the whistle on the raid and how much power he’d have in the White House if Nixon got reelected.

Kelly introduced himself as Clark, the man who’d led the raid on the camp.

“I’m here to kill you,” Kelly told him.

IN TOM CLANCY BOOKS, THE HEROES tend to be wealthy civilians called to perform a specific task for their gov-ernment. In Tom Clancy’s life, that actually happened in 1989. Vice President Dan Quayle, a fan of Clancy’s novels, summoned the author to serve on a presidential blue-ribbon commission on the weighty question of the future of the American space program.

As Mark Albrecht, who was then head of Quayle’s National Space Council, remembers it, the vice president felt Clancy could use his talent for explaining complex weapons systems to generate “public enthusiasm” for NASA.

Alas, it didn’t quite work out that way.

“There’s no more NASA. It’s HUD-goes-to-space,” Clancy said when Peterson brought up the issue. “The technical term for that is something you can’t print. It’s called a . . .” very nasty word that The Post can’t print. “That’s what NASA is now.”

Obviously, Clancy’s brief government service did not go well. And he’s not too shy to talk about it.

“Quayle had me in there,” he said. “They had a blue-ribbon panel and I was in there. I was sitting next to Edward Teller -- kind of like sitting next to God. And Carl Sagan was there and a bunch of guys.”

They were in the Old Executive Office Building -- “the ugliest building this side of Moscow” -- going over briefing documents on NASA’s plans for trips to the moon and Mars.

“We were all saying, literally, ‘This is unacceptable as a policy document.’ Up to five minutes before Quayle and Mark Albrecht come in to hear our conclusion, people are saying this. Quayle comes in the door and the spokesman for the group says, ‘We think there’s a little room for improvement in this NASA proposal.’ And I’m sitting in my chair going . . .” -- he mimed the act of struggling to fight off the urge to stand up and scream. “ ‘Wait a minute, that’s not what you said five minutes ago, chump!’ Because of the way he [Quayle] went around the room, I was the last guy he got to. I’ve known him since he was a senator. And he said, ‘What do you think?’ and I said, ‘Sir, you don’t want to know what I think of all this.’ And his eyes lit up: ‘Yes, I do.’ And I said, ‘Are you really sure you want to know what I think of this charade?’ He goes, ‘Yeah.’ ‘You want me to give you a write-up?’ He said, ‘Definitely.’ All the way home, I’m driving home in my Benz and I’m thinking, ‘Jesus, does he really want to know in writing what I think of this farce?’ “

So Clancy got home and wrote a memo to Quayle, and now, talking to Peterson, he tapped some buttons on his com-puter to call it up. But it didn’t work. “Oops,” he said. “What did I do?” He tapped a few more buttons.

“It’s an Apple Macintosh Quadra 950,” he said as the machine did its work. “It’s the most powerful personal computer around. And no, I don’t need anything this powerful, but I wanted it.”

The memo appeared on the screen of the most powerful personal computer around. “You can read this letter,” Clancy said, “but you can’t quote from it.” It suggested that Quayle should fire Richard Truly, the head of NASA.

“Two years later, Dick Truly was fired,” he said proudly. “I got a call from the National Space Council saying, ‘You were right all along.’ “

John Logsdon, a George Washington University professor who served on the commission, doesn’t remember it quite the way Clancy does. “The reality was much less dramatic than his telling,” he said. “A few other things intervened that caused Dick Truly to be fired -- not a two-year-old Tom Clancy memo.”

Clancy was far from the only panel member willing to criticize NASA in Quayle’s presence, Logsdon said: “Lots of people said lots of negative things.” Nor does he recall any dramatic Clancy-Quayle dialogue: “I certainly don’t remem-ber that kind of Sturm und Drang.” But, he admitted, he probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to it anyway. “In my mind, I had categorized him as such an arrogant [bleep] that I’d have said, ‘It’s just Clancy being Clancy.’ “

Mark Albrecht laughed when he heard that remark. “I don’t think I’d dissociate myself from that,” he said. But he phrased his views of Clancy a little less bluntly: “He’s very opinionated and he has very definite ideas about things and he has very little patience with things that don’t comport to his ideas.”

KELLY WAS BACK IN HIS WINO DISGUISE, prowling the streets of Baltimore, looking for slimeballs. He found a couple of them in a slum building and shot one with his .45 -- “two rounds entered his chest and another his head” -- and then he forced the other one to admit that he’d killed Pam’s friend Doris.

“It was a job, man, ever do a job?” the sleazeball explained.

“Kelly gave him the only possible answer” -- which was, of course, an answer from the barrel of his .45.

And he wasn’t finished yet . . .

“WHAT IS AN ACTOR?” CLANCY ASKED. IT was a rhetorical question. He already knew the answer. “An actor is some- body who doesn’t know what to do unless somebody writes it down for him and a director tells him how to repeat it.”

Actors aren’t the only Hollywood folks Clancy detests. He doesn’t much like directors or producers or screenwriters either. When “The Hunt for Red October” was being filmed a few years ago, he complained about the choice of John McTiernan as director. When “Patriot Games” was being filmed, he complained that Harrison Ford was too old to play Jack Ryan, that director Phillip Noyce was a “B-movie director at best” and that the script didn’t follow his book closely enough.

But he can’t talk about that now. “I have a contractual understanding with Paramount that I can’t speak publicly about ‘Patriot Games.’ “

He can, however, talk about “Clear and Present Danger,” e next Clancy novel headed for the silver screen. “They have a script,” he said. “The script is really awful.”

“You don’t write the scripts?” Peterson asked.

Clancy laughed. “They don’t pay me enough to make me write anything,” he said. “So they’ll pay somebody a million dollars to turn out an absolute piece of crap.”

Soon, Clancy had worked up a pretty good head of steam on the subject of Hollywood. “I don’t like seeing my work prostituted,” he said. “Giving your book to Hollywood is kinda like turning your daughter over to a pimp. I make it clear I’m not talking about ‘Patriot Games’ here. I don’t know that any other writers have ever stood up to Hollywood. I did. Why run away from a fight?”

“Does it work to stand up to them?” Peterson asked.

“Look, I’m not free to discuss that,” he said.

But he was free to discuss, in general terms, the kind of weasels who populate Hollywood. “Dealing with those people is like dealing with aliens. They’re not really part of planet Earth. I mean, Hollywood makes Capitol Hill look like a hotbed of ethics. You have these people they call ‘creative executives,’ who’ve never created anything in their lives ex-cept difficulty for others. They’re highly paid, small, dumb people. They really ought to be running government agen-cies . . . They’re shallow, venal, insecure. They’re just not the sort of people you want to invite into your home.”

“So,” Peterson asked, “why don’t you either not sell the books to them or do the movies yourself?”

“I’m making other arrangements now,” he said. But he couldn’t talk about those arrangements. The negotiations were still going on, negotiations with people in Hollywood, of course, but presumably not with the small, dumb, shallow, venal, insecure ones.

“I will have so much power,” he said, “that it actually scares me.”

KELLY TRACKED THE BAD GUYS TO their lair in an abandoned building in Baltimore. These were the real bad guys, the biggies. He’d killed 15 guys already, and now there were just four more to go.

Bang! Bang! The bullets started flying, the blood started flowing. It was gory! It was gruesome! It was Clancy!

And it wasn’t over yet . . . “I CAN’T TALK ABOUT THAT,” CLANCY said. “Not on the record.”

Peterson had just asked him about newspaper reports that he and various partners were trying to buy the Baltimore Orioles or to bring an NFL team back to Baltimore.

But Clancy couldn’t talk about that. First of all, there was no deal on either front yet and, besides, he’d promised to give that scoop to an old friend who writes for the Baltimore Sun. “He’s in- telligent, honest and literate, which is getting kind of rare in your business.” So Clancy couldn’t talk about his future as a sports baron.

Which didn’t bother Peterson in the least. Peterson was getting weary. He’d been talking to Clancy for three hours and it seemed even longer. Clancy had discoursed on everything from the sanctity of marriage (”I can’t admire anyone who plays around on his wife”) to Bosnia (”It’s Vietnam with snow”) to the hypocrisy of picking on Sen. Bob Packwood (”Packwood is being investigated for stuff that happened at the time that Ted Kennedy drove some poor girl off a bridge and left her to drown”) to his good friends Richard Dreyfuss and Colin Powell (”I introduced Richard to Colin”). He’d praised Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Dan Quayle, Oliver North, William Shakespeare, doctors and nurses, and he’d denounced President Clinton, Joe Biden, Oliver Goldsmith, the Kennedys, reporters, government agencies, liberals, NASA, anti-war activists, actors, directors, producers, the Israelis, people who make less than $120,000 a year, and the vultures that flew past the window of his office.

By now, Peterson felt as if he’d been chained to a bar stool in some VFW hall somewhere, and forced to listen to the world’s biggest barroom blowhard. No, he thought, he felt even worse than that. At least in the barroom, he’d have the solace of strong liquids.

He decided to bring up one last subject and then call it a day. How, he asked Clancy, has your success affected you?

“Less than you’d think,” Clancy said. “It’s a gradual process and you adapt to it. And the fact of the matter is, any wife can adjust to spending more money. And I don’t want to be sexist about it. I like driving a Mercedes. I like having a really nice computer system. But the fact of the matter is, if you take all that away, if you take the big house away, we’re not really all that different.”

But there was one thing that had changed: his opinions. “If anything I’m more moderate now,” he said. “It’s probably mellowed me out a little bit.”

More moderate? Mellowed out? Good God, Peterson thought.

“What makes us who we are is not the things we own, it’s the values that we have in here,” Clancy said, pointing to his heart. “A rich jerk is still a jerk.”

KELLY GOT TO HIS BOAT AND HOPPED on, ready to make his getaway.

But there was a cop aboard. “I have to take you in, you know,” he said.

“What for?”

“For murder, Mr. Kelly.”

“No,” Kelly said. “It’s only murder when innocent people die.”

They debated this philosophical point for a while and then Kelly said, “Can you just give me an hour?”

“You’ve got your hour,” said the sympathetic cop.

Kelly steamed out into the Chesapeake.

And then, suddenly. . .

But we can’t tell you what happened next. That would spoil the whole book.

OUTSIDE, ON CLANCY’S FRONT STEPS, Peterson looked over at the M1A1 tank and asked its owner if he ever took it for a spin.

No, it’s too dangerous, Clancy said. “It’s essentially a lawn ornament.”

Peterson drove slowly down the long driveway, past the tank, past the vast lawns, past the tennis and basketball courts, past the football field, to the big gray gates, which were closed.

He’d come to the outer boundary of Clancyland, a world that reflected its owner’s personality as perfectly as the old Playboy Mansion reflected Hugh Hefner’s. The difference was that Hefner’s mansion, with its big beds and its bunnies, fulfilled the fantasies of a post-pubescent male. Clancyland, with its games and gadgets and guns, fulfilled the fantasies of a pre-pubescent male.

But this wasn’t the only Clancyland, Peterson thought. That world also lives in Clancy’s books. It’s a place where Amer-ican soldiers are always noble, where high-tech weapons always work (at least if they’re made in the U.S.A.), where longterm addicts can be cured almost instantaneously, where a man can stalk and kill 19 human beings and not make a beast of himself, where war and justice and life are so very simple.

Slowly, obeying some mysterious electronic command from somewhere, the gates swung open.

Peterson stepped on the gas pedal, which caused gasoline to flow into the engine, where it was burned, forcing pistons and crankshaft and wheels to move, and he drove through the gates and out into the real world. It was a place less tidy than Clancyland, less cut and dried, less black and white, but Peterson liked it anyway. If nothing else, at least it was real.