The Lion's Game
The second book in the John Corey series, 2000
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
In loving memory of Mom – A member of the Greatest Generation
The fictional Anti-Terrorist Task Force (ATTF) represented in this novel is based on the actual Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF), though I have taken some dramatic liberties and literary license where necessary.
The Joint Terrorist Task Force is a group of hard-working, dedicated, and knowledgeable men and women who are in the front line in the war against terrorism in America.
The characters in this story are entirely fictitious, though some of the workings of the law enforcement agencies portrayed are based on fact, as is the American air raid on Libya in 1986.
Death is afraid of him because he
has the heart of a lion.
America, April 15 The Present
You'd think that anyone who'd been shot three times and almost become an organ donor would try to avoid dangerous situations in the future. But, no, I must have this unconscious wish to take myself out of the gene pool or something.
Anyway, I'm John Corey, formerly of the NYPD, Homicide, now working as a Special Contract Agent for the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. I was sitting in the back of a yellow cab on my way from 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport with a Pakistani suicide driver behind the wheel.
It was a nice spring day, a Saturday, moderate traffic on the Shore Parkway, sometimes known as the Belt Parkway, and recently renamed POW/MIA Parkway to avoid confusion. It was late afternoon, and seagulls from a nearby landfill-formerly known as a garbage dump-were crapping on the taxi's windshield. I love spring.
I wasn't headed off on vacation or anything like that-I was reporting for work with the aforementioned Anti-Terrorist Task Force. This is an organization that not too many people know about, which is just as well. The ATTF is divided into sections which focus on specific bunches of troublemakers and bomb chuckers, like the Irish Republican Army, Puerto Rican Independence Movement, black radicals, and other groups that will go unnamed. I'm in the Mideastern section, which is the biggest group and maybe the most important, though to be honest, I don't know much about Mideastern terrorists. But I was supposed to be learning on the job.
So, to practise my skills, I started up a conversation with the Pakistani guy whose name was Fasid, and who for all I know is a terrorist, though he looked and talked like an okay guy. I asked him, "What was that place you came from?"
" Islamabad. The capital."
"Really? How long have you been here?"
"You like it here?"
"Sure. Who doesn't?"
"Well, my ex-brother-in-law, Gary, for one. He's always bad-mouthing America. Wants to move to New Zealand."
"I have an uncle in New Zealand."
"No kidding? Anybody left in Islamabad?"
He laughed, then asked me, "You meeting somebody at the airport?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Hey, you're good."
"So, you're meeting somebody? I could hang around and take you back to the city.u back to the city."
Fasid's English was pretty good-slang, idioms, and all that. I replied, "I have a ride back."
"You sure? I could hang around."
Actually, I was meeting an alleged terrorist who'd surrendered himself to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, but I didn't think that was information I needed to share with Fasid. I said, "You a Yankee fan?"
"Not anymore." Whereupon he launched into a tirade against Steinbrenner, Yankee Stadium, the price of tickets, the salaries of the players, and so forth. These terroristr are clever, sounding just like loyal citizens.
Anyway, I tuned the guy out and thought about how I'd wound up here. As I indicated, I was a homicide detective, one of New York 's Finest, if I do say so. A year ago this month, I was playing dodge-the-bullets with two Hispanic gentlemen up on West 102nd Street in what was probably a case of mistaken identity, or sport shooting, since there seemed to be no reason for the attempted whack. Life is funny sometimes. Anyway, the perps were still at large, though I had my eye out for them, as you might imagine.
After my near-death experience and upon release from the hospital, I accepted my Uncle Harry's offer to stay at his summer house on Long Island to convalesce. The house is located about a hundred road miles from West 102nd Street, which was fine. Anyway, while I was out there, I got involved with this double murder of a husband and wife, fell in love twice, almost got killed. Also, one of the women I fell in love with, Beth Penrose by name, is still sort of in my life.
While all this was going on out on eastern Long Island, my divorce became final. And as if I wasn't already having a bad R R at the beach, I wound up making the professional acquaintance of a schmuck on the double homicide case named Ted Nash of the Central Intelligence Agency who I took a big dislike to, and who hated my guts in return, and who, lo and behold, was now part of my ATTF team. It's a small world, but not that small, and I don't believe in coincidence.
There was also another guy involved with that case, George Foster, an FBI agent, who was okay, but not my cup of tea either.
In any case, it turns out that this double homicide was not a Federal case, and Nash and Foster disappeared, only to reappear in my life about four weeks ago when I got assigned to this ATTF Mideastern team. But no sweat, I've put in for a transfer to the ATTF's Irish Republican Army section, which I will probably get. I don't have any real feelings about the IRA either way, but at least the IRArabes are easy to look at, the guys are more fun than your average Arab terrorist, and the Irish pubs are primo. I could do some real good in the anti-IRA section. Really.
Anyway, after all this mess out on Long Island, I get offered this great choice of being hauled in front of the NYPD disciplinary board for moonlighting or whatever, or taking a three-quarter medical disability and going away. So I took the medical, but also negotiated a job at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan where I live. Before I got shot, I'd taught a class at John Jay as an Adjunct Professor, so I wasn't asking for much and I got it.
Starting in January, I was teaching two night classes at JJ and one day class, and I was getting bored out of my mind, so my ex-partner, Dom Fanelli, knows about this Special Contract Agent program with the Feds where they hire former law enforcement types to work with ATTF. I apply, I'm accepted, probably for all the wrong reasons, and here I am. The pay's good, the perks are okay, and the Federal types are mostly schmucks. I have this problem with Feds, like most cops do, and not even sensitivity training would help.
But the work seems interesting. The ATTF is a unique and, I may say, elite group (despite the schmucks) that only exists in New York City and environs. It's made up mostly of NYPD detectives who are great guys, FBI, and some quasi-civilian guys like me hired to round out the team, so to speak. Also, on some teams, when needed, are CIA prima donnas, and also some DEA-Drug Enforcement Agency-people who know their business, and know about connections between the drug trade and the terrorist world.
Other team players include people from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms of Waco, Texas, fame, plus cops from surrounding suburban counties, and New York State Police. There are other Federal types from agencies I can't mention, and last but not least, we have a few Port Authority detectives assigned to some teams. These PA guys are helpful at airports, bus terminals, train stations, docks, some bridges and tunnels under their control, and other places, like the World Trade Center, where their little empire extends. We have it all pretty much covered, but even if we didn't, it sounds really impressive.
The ATTF was one of the main investigating groups in the World Trade Center bombing and the TWA 800 explosion off Long Island. But sometimes we take the show on the road. For instance, we also sent a team to help out with the African embassy bombings, though the name ATTF was hardly mentioned in the news, which is how they like it. All of this was before my time, and things have been quiet since I've been here, which is how I like it.
The reason the almighty Feds decided to team up with the NYPD and form the ATTF, by the way, is that most FBI people are not from New York and don't know a pastrami sandwich from the Lexington Avenue subway. The CIA guys are a little slicker and talk about cafes in Prague and the night train to Istanbul and all that crap, but New York is not their favorite place to be. The NYPD has street smarts, and that's what you need to keep track of Abdul Salami-Salami and Paddy O'Bad and Pedro Viva Puerto Rico and so on.
Your average Fed is Wendell Wasp from West Wheatfield, Iowa, whereas the NYPD has mucho Hispanics, lots of blacks, a million Irish, and even a few Muslims now, so you get this cultural diversity on the force that is not only politically cool and correct, but actually useful and effective. And when the ATTF can't steal active-duty NYPD people, they hire ex-NYPD like me. Despite my so-called disability, I'm armed, dangerous, and nasty. So there it is.
We were approaching JFK, and I said to Fasid, "So, what did you do for Easter?"
"Easter? I don't celebrate Easter. I'm Muslim."
See how clever I am? The Feds would have sweated this guy for an hour to make him admit he was a Muslim. I got it out of him in two seconds. Just kidding. But, you know, I really have to get out of the Mideast section and into the IRA bunch. I'm part Irish and part English, and I could work both sides of that street.
Fasid exited the Shore-Belt-POW/MIA Parkway and got on the Van Wyck Expressway heading south into JFK. These huge planes were sort of floating overhead making whining noises, and Fasid called out to me, "Where you going?"
"There's more than one?"
"Yeah. There's twenty, thirty, forty-"
"No kidding? Just drive."
Fasid shrugged, just like an Israeli cabbie. I was starting to think that maybe he was a Mossad agent posing as a Pakistani. Or maybe this job was getting to me.
There's all these colored and numbered signs along the expressway, and I let the guy go to the International Arrivals, a huge structure with all the airline logos, one after the other out front, and he asked again, "Which airline?"
"I don't like any of these. Keep going."
Again, he shrugged.
I directed him onto another road, and we were now going to the other side of the big airport. This is good trade craft, to see if anybody's following you. I learned this in some spy novel or maybe a James Bond movie. I was trying to get into this anti-terrorist thing.
I got Fasid pointed in the right direction and told him to stop in front of a big office-type building on the west side of JFK that was used for this and that. This whole area is full of nondescript airport services buildings and warehouses, and no one notices anybody's comings and goings, plus the parking is easy. I paid the guy, tipped him, and asked for a receipt in the exact amount. Honesty is one of my few faults.
Fasid gave me a bunch of blank receipts and asked again, "You want me to hang around?"
"I wouldn't if I were you."
I went into the lobby of the building, a 1960s sort of crap modern architecture, and instead of an armed guard with an Uzi like they have all over the world, there's just a sign that says RESTRICTED AREA-AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. So, assuming you read English, you know if you're welcome or not.
I went up a staircase and down a long corridor of gray steel doors, some marked, some numbered, some neither. At the end of the corridor was a door with a nice blue-and-white sign that said CONQUISTADOR CLUB-PRIVATE-MEMBERS ONLY.
There was this electronic keycard scanner alongside the door, but like everything else about the Conquistador Club, it was a phony. What I had to do was to press my right thumb on the translucent face of the scanner, which I did. About two seconds later, the metrobiotic genie said to itself, "Hey, that's John Corey's thumb-let's open the door for John."
And did the door swing open? No, it slid into the wall as far as its dummy doorknob. Do I need this nonsense?
Also there's a video scanner overhead, in case your thumbprint got screwed up with a chocolate bar or something, and if they recognize your face, they also open the door, though in my case they might make an exception.
So I went in, and the door slid closed automatically behind me. I was now in what appeared to be the reception area of an airline travelers' club. Why there'd be such a club in a building that's not near a passenger terminal is, you can be sure, a question I'd asked, and I'm still waiting for an answer. But I know the answer, which is that when the CIA culture is present, you get this kind of smoke-and-mirrors silliness. These clowns waste time and money on stagecraft, just like in the old days when they were trying to impress the KGB. What the door needed was a simple sign that said KEEP OUT.
Anyway, behind the counter was Nancy Tate, the receptionist, a sort of Miss Moneypenny, the model of efficiency and repressed sexuality, and all that. She liked me for some reason and greeted me cheerily, "Good afternoon, Mr. Corey."
"Good afternoon, Ms. Tate."
"Everyone has arrived."
"I was delayed by traffic."
"Actually, you're ten minutes early."
"I like your tie."
"I took it off a dead Bulgarian on the night train to Istanbul."
Anyway, the reception area was all leather and burled wood, plush blue carpet, and so forth, and on the wall directly behind Nancy was another logo of the fictitious Conquistador Club. And for all I knew, Ms. Tate was a hologram.
To the left of Ms. Tate was an entranceway marked CONFERENCE AND BUSINESS AREA that actually led to the interrogation rooms and holding cells, which I guess could be called the Conference and Business Area. To the right, a sign announced LOUNGE AND BAR. I should be so lucky. That was in fact the way to the communications and operations center.
Ms. Tate said to me, " Ops Center. There are five people including yourself."
"Thanks." I walked through the doorway, down a short hallway, and into a dim, cavernous, and windowless room that held desks, computer consoles, cubicles, and such. On the big rear wall was a huge, computer-generated color map of the world that could be programmed to a detailed map of whatever you needed, like downtown Islamabad. Typical of most Federal facilities, this place had all the bells and whistles. Money is no problem in Fedland.
In any case, this facility wasn't my actual workplace, which is in the aforementioned 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. But this was where I had to be on this Saturday afternoon to meet and greet some Arab guy who was switching sides and needed to be taken safely downtown for a few years of debriefing.
I kind of ignored my teammates and made for the coffee bar, which, unlike the one in my old detective squad room, is neat, clean, and well stocked, compliments of the Federal taxpayers.
I fooled around with the coffee awhile, which was my way of avoiding my colleagues for a few more minutes.
I got the coffee the right color and noticed a tray of donuts that said NYPD and a tray of croissants and brioche that said CIA and a tray of oatmeal cookies that said FBI. Someone had a sense of humor.
Anyway, the coffee bar was on the operations side of the big room and the commo side was sort of elevated on a low platform. A lady duty agent was up there monitoring all the gidgets and gadgets.
My team, on the operations side, was sitting around somebody's empty desk, engaged in conversation. The team consisted of the aforementioned Ted Nash of the CIA and George Foster of the FBI, plus Nick Monti of the NYPD, and Kate Mayfield of the FBI. WASP, WASP, Wop, WASP.
Kate Mayfield came to the coffee bar and began making herself tea. She is supposed to be my mentor, whatever that means. As long as it doesn't mean partner.
She said to me, "I like that tie."
"I once strangled a Ninja warrior to death with it. It's my favorite."
"Really? Hey, how are you getting along here?"
"You tell me."
"Well, it's too soon for me to tell you. You tell me why you put in for the IRA section."
"Well, the Muslims don't drink, I can't spell their f-ing names on my reports, and the women can't be seduced."
"That's the most racist, sexist remark I've heard in years."
"You don't get around much."
"This is not the NYPD, Mr. Corey."
"No, but I'm NYPD. Get used to it."
"Are we through attempting to shock and appal?"
"Yeah. Look, Kate, I thank you for your meddling-I mean mentoring-but in about a week, I'll be in the IRA section or off the job."
She didn't reply.
I looked at her as she messed around with a lemon. She was about thirty, I guess, blond, blue eyes, fair skin, athletic kind of build, perfect pearly whites, no jewelry, light makeup, and so on. Wendy Wasp from Wichita. She had not one flaw that I could see, not even a zit on her face or a fleck of dandruff on her dark blue blazer. In fact, she looked like she'd been airbrushed. She probably played three sports in high school, took cold showers, belonged to 4-H, and organized pep rallies in college. I hated her. Well, not really, but about the only thing we had in common was some internal organs, and not even all of those.
Also, her accent was hard to identify, and I remembered that Nick Monti said her father was an FBI guy, and they'd lived in different places around the country.
She turned and looked at me, and I looked at her. She had these piercing eyes, the color of blue dye No. 2, like they use in ice pops.
She said to me, "You came to us highly recommended."
"By who? Whom?"
"Whom. By some of your old colleagues in homicide."
I didn't reply.
"Also," she said, "by Ted and George." She nodded toward Schmuck and Putz.
I almost choked on my coffee. Why these two guys would say anything nice about me was a total mystery.
"They aren't fond of you, but you impressed them on that Plum Island case."
"Yeah, I even impressed myself on that one."
"Why don't you give the Mideast section a try?" She added, "If Ted and George are the problem, we can switch you to another team within the section."
"I love Ted and George, but I really have my heart set on the anti-IRA section."
"Too bad. This is where the real action is. This is a career builder." She added, "The IRA are pretty quiet and well behaved in this country."
"Good. I don't need a new career anyway."
"The Palestinians and the Islamic groups, on the other hand, are potentially dangerous to national security." r
"No 'potentially' about it," I replied. " World Trade Center."
She didn't reply.
I'd come to discover that these three words in the ATTF were like, "Remember Pearl Harbor." The intelligence community got caught with their pants down on that one, but came back and solved the case, so it was a draw.
She continued, "The whole country is paranoid about a Mideast terrorist biological attack or a nuclear or chemical attack. You saw that on the Plum Island case. Right?"
"So? Everything else in the ATTF is a backwater. The real action is in the Mideast section, and you look like a man of action." She smiled.
I smiled in return. I asked her, "What's it to you?"
"I like you."
I raised my eyebrows.
"I like New York Neanderthals."
"Think about it."
"Will do." I glanced at a TV monitor close by and saw that the flight we were waiting for, Trans-Continental 175 from Paris, was inbound and on time. I asked Ms. Mayfield, "How long do you think this will take?"
"Maybe two or three hours. An hour of paperwork here, then back to Federal Plaza, with our alleged defector, then we'll see."
"Are you in a rush to get somewhere?"
"I feel badly that national security is interfering with your social life."
I didn't have a good reply to that, so I said, "I'm a big fan of national security. I'm yours until six P.M."
"You can leave whenever you want." She took her tea and rejoined our colleagues.
So, I stood there with my coffee, and considered the offer to take a hike. In retrospect, I was like the guy standing in quicksand, watching it cover my shoes, curious to see how long it would take to reach my socks, knowing I could leave anytime soon. Unfortunately, the next time I glanced down, it was up to my knees.
Sam Walters leaned forward in his chair, adjusted his headset-microphone, and stared at the green three-foot radar screen in front of him. It was a nice April afternoon outside, but you'd never know that here in the dimly lit, windowless room of the New York Air Traffic Control Center in Islip, Long Island, fifty miles east of Kennedy Airport.
Bob Esching, Walters' shift supervisor, stood beside him and asked, "Problem?"
Walters replied, "We've got a NO-RAD here, Bob. Trans-Continental Flight One-Seven-Five from Paris."
Bob Esching nodded. "How long has he been NO-RAD?"
."No one's been able to raise him since he came off the North Atlantic track near Gander." Walters glanced at his clock. "About two hours."
Esching asked, "Any other indication of a problem?"
"Nope. In fact…" He regarded the radar screen and said, "He turned southwest at the Sardi intersection, then down Jet Thirty-Seven, as per flight plan."
Esching replied, "He'll call in a few minutes, wondering why we haven't been talking to him."
Walters nodded. A No-Radio status was not that unusual-it often happened between air traffic control and the aircraft they worked with. Walters had had days when it happened two or three times. Invariably, after a couple of minutes of repeated transmissions, some pilot would respond, "Oops, sorry…" then explain that they had the volume down or the wrong frequency dialed in-or something less innocuous, like the whole flight crew was asleep, though they wouldn't tell you that.
Esching said, "Maybe the pilot and co-pilot have stewardesses on their laps."
Walters smiled. He said, "The best explanation I ever got in a NO-RAD situation was from a pilot who admitted that when he laid his lunch tray down on the pedestal between the pilots' seats, the tray had pressed into a selector switch and taken them off-frequency."
Esching laughed. "Low-tech explanation for a high-tech problem."
"Right." Walters looked at the screen again. "Tracking fine."
It was when the blip disappeared, Walters thought, that you had a major problem. He was on duty the night in March 1998 when Air Force One, carrying the President, disappeared from the radar screen for twenty-four long seconds, and the entire room full of controllers sat frozen. The aircraft reappeared from computer-glitch limbo and everyone started to breathe again. But then there was the night of July 17, 1996, when TWA Flight 800 disappeared from the screen forever… Walters would never forget that night as long as he lived. But here, he thought, we have a simple NO-RAD… and yet something bothered him. For one thing, this was a very long time to be in a NO-RAD status.
Sam Walters punched a few buttons, then spoke into his headset microphone on the intercom channel. "Sector Nineteen, this is Twenty-three. That NO-RAD, TC One-Seven-Five, is coming your way, and you'll get the handoff from me in about four minutes. I just wanted to give you a heads-up on this in case you need to do some adjusting."
Walters listened to the reply on his headset, then said, "Yeah… the guy's a real screwup. Everyone up and down the Atlantic Coast has been calling him for over two hours on VHP, HF, and for all I know, CB and smoke signals." Walters chuckled and added, "When this flight is over, this guy's going to be doing so much writing, he'll think he's Shakespeare. Right. Talk to you later." He turned his head and made eye contact with Esching. "Okay?"
"Yeah… tell you what… call everyone down the line and tell them that the first sector that makes contact will inform the captain that when he lands, he's to call me on the telephone at the Center. I want to talk to this clown myself so I can tell him how much aggro he's caused along the coast."
" Canada, too."
"Right." Esching listened to Walters pass on the message to the next controllers who would be getting jurisdiction of Trans-Continental Flight 175.
A few other controllers and journeymen on break had wandered over to the Section 23 console. Walters knew that everyone wanted to see why Supervisor Bob Esching was so far from his desk and out on the floor. Esching was-in the unkind words of his subordinates-standing dangerously close to an actual work situation.
Sam Walters didn't like all these people around him, but if Esching didn't shoo them off, he couldn't say anything. And he didn't think Esching was going to tell everyone to clear out. The Trans-Continental No-Radio situation was now the focus event in the control center, and this mini-drama was, after all, good training for these young controllers who had pulled Saturday duty.
No one said much, but Walters sensed a mixture of curiosity, puzzlement, and maybe a bit of anxiety.
Walters got on the radio and tried again. "Trans-Continental Flight One-Seven-Five, this is New York Center. Do you read me?"
Walters broadcast again.
The room was silent except for the hum of electronics. No one standing around had any comment. It was unwise to say anything in these kinds of situations that could come back to haunt you.
Finally, one of the controllers said to Esching, "Paper this guy big-time on this one, boss. I got off to a late coffee break because of him."
A few controllers laughed, but the laughter died away quickly.
Esching cleared his throat and said, "Okay, everybody go find something useful to do. Scram."
The controllers all wandered off, leaving Walters and Esching alone. Esching said softly, "I don't like this."
Esching grabbed a rolling chair and wheeled it beside Walters. Esching studied the big screen and focused on the problem aircraft. The identity tag on the screen showed that it was a Boeing 747, and it was the new 700 Series aircraft, the largest and most modern of Boeing's 747s. The aircraft was continuing precisely along its flight plan, routing toward JFK International Airport. Esching said, "How the hell could all the radios be non-functioning?"
Sam Walters considered for a minute, then replied, "They can't be, so-I think it has to be either that the volume control is down, the frequency selectors are broken, or the antennas have fallen off."
"But… if it was the volume control or the frequency selectors, the crew would have realized that a long time ago."
Walters nodded and replied, "Yeah… so, maybe it's total antenna failure… or, you know, this is a new model so maybe there's some kind of electronic bug in this thing and it caused total radio failure. Possible."
Esching nodded, "Possible." But not probable. Flight 175 had been totally without voice contact since leaving the Oceanic Tracks and reaching North America. The Abnormal Procedures Handbook addressed this remote possibility, but he recalled that the handbook wasn't very clear about what to do. Basically, there was nothing that could be done.
Walters said, "If his radios are okay, then when he has to start down, he'll realize he's on the wrong frequency or that his volume control is down."
"Right. Hey… do you think they're all asleep?"
Walters hesitated, then replied, "Well… it happens, but, you know, a flight attendant would have come into the cockpit by now."
"Yeah. This is too long for a NO-RAD, isn't it?"
"It's getting to be a little long… but like I said, when he has to start down… you know, even if he had total radio failure, he could use the data link to type a message to his company operations, and they'd have called us by now."
Esching had thought about that and replied, "That's why I'm starting to think it's antenna failure, like you said." He thought a moment and asked Walters, "How many antennas does this plane have?"
"I'm not sure. Lots."
"Could they all fail?"
Esching considered, then said, "Okay, say he's aware of a total radio failure… he could actually use one of the air-to-land phones in the dome cabin and call someone who would have called us by now. I mean, it's been done in the past-you could use an airphone."
Both men watched the white radar blip with its white alpha-numeric identification tag trailing beneath it as the blip continued to crawl slowly from right to left.
Finally, Bob Esching said what he didn't want to say. "It could be a hijacking."
Sam Walters didn't reply.
"Well… look, the airliner is following the flight plan, the course and altitude are right, and they're still using the transponder code for the transatlantic crossing. If they were being hijacked, he's supposed to send a hijacking transponder code to tip us off."
"Yeah…" Esching realized that this situation didn't fit any of the profiles for a hijacking. All they had was an eerie silence from an aircraft that otherwise behaved normally. Yet, it was possible that a sophisticated hijacker would know about the transponder code and tell the pilots not to touch the transponder selector.
Esching knew he was the man on the spot. He cursed himself for volunteering for this Saturday shift. His wife was in Florida visiting her parents, his kids were in college, and he'd thought that going to work would be better than sitting around the house alone. Wrong. He needed a hobby.
Walters said, "What else can we do?"
"You just keep doing what you're doing. I'm going to call the Kennedy Tower supervisor, then I'll call the Trans-Continental Operations Center."
Esching stood and said, for the record, "Sam, I don't believe we have a serious problem here, but we would be lax if we didn't make some notifications."
"Right," Walters replied as he mentally translated Esching's words to, We don't want to sound inexperienced, panicky, or too incompetent to handle the situation, but we do want to cover our asses.
Esching said, "Go ahead and call Sector Nineteen for the handoff."
"And call me if anything changes."
Esching turned and walked toward his glassed-in cubicle at the rear of the big room.
He sat at his desk and let a few minutes pass, hoping that Sam Walters would call him to announce they'd established contact. He thought about the problem, then thought about what he was going to say to the Kennedy Tower supervisor. His call to Kennedy, he decided, would be strictly FYI, with no hint of annoyance or concern, no opinions, no speculation-nothing but the facts. His call to Trans-Continental Operations, he knew, had to be just the right balance of annoyance and concern.
He picked up the phone and speed-dialed Kennedy Tower first. As the phone rang, he wondered if he shouldn't just tell them what he really felt in the deepest part of his guts-something is very wrong here.
I was sitting now with my colleagues: Ted Nash, CIA Super Spook; George Foster, FBI Boy Scout; Nick Monti, NYPD good guy; and Kate Mayfield, Golden Girl of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We'd all found swivel chairs from unoccupied desks, and everyone had a ceramic coffee mug in his or her hand. I really wanted a donut-a sugar donut-but there's this thing with cops and donuts that people find funny for some reason, and I wasn't going to have a donut.
We all had our jackets off, so we could see one another's holsters. Even after twenty years in law enforcement, I find that this makes everyone's voice a couple of octaves lower, even the women.
Anyway, we were all leafing through our folders on this alleged defector, whose name was Asad Khalil. What cops call the folder, by the way, my new friends call the dossier. Cops sit on their asses and flip through their folders. Feds sit on their derrieres and peruse their dossiers.
The information in the folder is called the book on the guy, the information in the dossier is called, I think, the information. Same thing, but I have to learn the language.
Anyway, there wasn't much in my folder, or their dossier, except a color photo transmitted by the Paris Embassy, plus a real short bio, and a brief sort of This-is-what-we-think-the-prick-is-up-to kind of report compiled by the CIA, Interpol, British MI-6, the French Surete, and a bunch of other cop and spook outfits around Europe. The bio said that the alleged defector was a Libyan, age about thirty, no known family, no other vitals, except that he spoke English, French, a little Italian, less German, and, of course, Arabic.
I glanced at my watch, stretched, yawned, and looked around. The Conquistador Club, in addition to being an ATTF facility, doubled as an FBI field office and CIA hangout and who knew what else, but on this Saturday afternoon, the only people there were us five of the ATTF team, the duty officer whose name was Meg, and Nancy Tate out front. The walls, incidentally, are lead-lined so that nobody outside can eavesdrop with microwaves, and even Superman can't see us.
Ted Nash said to me, "I understand you might be leaving us."
I didn't reply, but I looked at Nash. He was a sharp dresser, and you knew that everything was custom-made, including his shoes and holster. He wasn't bad-looking, nice tan, salt-and-pepper hair, and I recalled quite distinctly that Beth Penrose got a little sweaty over him. I had convinced myself that this was not why I didn't like him, of course, but it certainly added fat to the fires of my smoldering resentment, or something like that.
George Foster said to me, "If you give this assignment ninety days, then whatever decision you make will be given serious consideration."
Foster, as the senior FBI guy, was sort of like the team leader, which was okay with Nash, who was not actually on the team, but drifted in and out if the situation called for CIA, like it did today.
Foster, dressed in his awful blue-serge-I'm-a-Fed suit, added, rather bluntly, "Ted's leaving on overseas assignment in a few weeks, then it will only be us four."
"Why can't he leave now?" I suggested subtly.
By the way, Mr. Ted Nash, aside from hitting on Beth Penrose, had actually added to his list of sins by threatening me during the Plum Island thing-and I'm not the forgiving type.
George Foster said to me, "We have an interesting and important case that we're working on that involves the murder of a moderate Palestinian by an extremist group here in New York. We need you for that."
"Really?" My street instincts were telling me that I was getting smoke blown up my ass. Ergo, Foster and Nash needed a guy to take the fall for something, and whatever it was, I was getting set up to go down. I felt like hanging around just to see what they were up to, but to be honest, I was out of my element here, and even bozos could bring you down if you weren't careful.
I mean, what a coincidence that I wound up on this team. The ATTF is not huge, but it's big enough so that this arrangement looked just a little suspicious. Clue Number Two was that Schmuck and Putz requested me on this team for my homicide expertise. I was meaning to ask Dom Fanelli how he'd heard about this Special Contract Agent thing. I'd trust Dom with my life and I have, so he was okay on this, and I had to assume that Nick Monti was clean. Cops don't screw other cops, not even for the Federal government-especially not for the Federal government.
I looked at Kate Mayfield. It would really break my cold, hard heart if she was hooked up with Foster and Nash to do me.
She smiled at me.
I smiled back. If I was Foster or Nash and I was fishing for John Corey, I would use Kate Mayfield as bait.
Nick Monti said to me, "This stuff takes some getting used to. And you know, about half the cops and ex-cops who sign on here leave. It's like we're all one big happy family, but the cops are like the kids who didn't go to college, live at home, do odd jobs, and always want to borrow the car."
Kate said, "That's not true, Nick."
Monti laughed. "Yeah, right." He looked at me and said, "We can talk about it over some brews."
I said to all assembled, "I'll keep an open mind," which means, Fuck you. But you don't want to say that because you want them to keep dangling the bait. It's kind of interesting. Another reason for my bad manners was that I was missing the NYPD-The Job, as we called it-and I guess I was feeling a little sorry for myself and a little nostalgic for the old days.
I looked at Nick Monti and caught his eye. I didn't know him from The Job, but I knew he had been a detective in the Intelligence Unit, which was perfect for this kind of work. They supposedly needed me for this Palestinian homicide case and I guess other terrorist-related homicide cases, which was why I was given a contract. Actually, I think they have a contract out on me. I said to Nick, "Do you know why Italians don't like Jehovah's Witnesses?"
"Italians don't like any witnesses."
This got a big laugh out of Nick, but the other three looked like I'd just had a brain fart. The Feds, you have to understand, are so very politically correct and anal retentive, so very fucking frightened of the Washington Thought Police. They're totally cowed by the stupid directives that come out of Washington like a steady stream of diarrhea. I mean, we've all gotten a little more sensitive and aware of our words over the years, and that's good, but the Federal types are positively paranoid about offending anybody or any group, so you get stuff like, "Hello, Mr. Terrorist, my name is George Foster, and I'll be your arresting officer today."
Anyway, Nick Monti said to me, "Three demerits, Detective Corey. Ethnic slur."
Clearly Nash, Foster, and Mayfield were somewhere between annoyed and embarrassed that they were indirectly being made fun of. It occurred to me, in a sensitive moment, that the Feds had their own issues with the NYPD, but you'd never hear a word of it from them.
Regarding Nick Monti, he was about mid-fifties, married with kids, balding, a bit of a paunch, and sort of fatherly and innocuous-looking, the kind of guy who looked like anything but an Intell man. He must have been good or the Feds wouldn't have stolen him from his NYPD job.
I perused the dossier on Mr. Asad Khalil. It appeared that the Arab gentleman moved around Western Europe a lot, and wherever he had been, some American or British person or thing had met with a misadventure-a bomb in the British Embassy in Rome, bomb in the American Cathedral in Paris, bomb in the American Lutheran Church in Frankfurt, the ax murder of an American Air Force officer outside of Lakenheath Airbase in England, and the shooting dead in Brussels of three American schoolkids whose fathers were NATO officers. This last thing struck me as particularly nasty, and I wondered what this guy's problem was.
In any case, none of the aforementioned stuff could be directly linked to this Khalil guy, so he had been put under the eye to see who he associated with, or to see if he could be caught in the act. But the alleged asshole seemed to have no known accomplices, no ties to or affiliations with anybody or anything, and no known terrorist connections, except Kiwanis and Rotary. Just kidding.
I scanned a paragraph in the dossier, written by a code-named agent in an unnamed intelligence agency. The paragraph said, "Asad Khalil enters a country openly and legally, using his Libyan passport and posing as a tourist. The authorities are alerted, and he is watched to see who he makes contact with. Invariably, he manages to disappear and apparently leave the country undetected, as there is never any record of his departure. I highly recommend detention and interrogation the next time he arrives at a point of entry."
I nodded. Good idea, Sherlock. That's exactly what we were going to do.
The thing that bothered me about this was that Asad Khalil didn't sound like the kind of perp who would show up at the American Embassy in Paris and give himself up when he was way ahead on points.
I read the last page of the dossier. Basically what we had here was a loner with a bad attitude toward Western Civilization, such as it is. Well, okay, we'll see what the guy is up to real soon.
I studied the color photostat from Paris. Mr. Khalil looked mean, but not ugly mean. He was the swarthily handsome type, hooked nose, slicked-back hair, and deep, dark eyes. He'd had his share of girls or boys or whatever floated his boat.
My colleagues chatted about the case at hand for a moment, and it seemed like all we were supposed to do today was take Mr. Khalil into protective custody and bring him here for a quick preliminary interrogation, a few photos, fingerprints, and all that. An asylum officer from the Immigration and Naturalization Service would do some questioning and paperwork, too. There are a lot of redundancies built into the Federal system so that if something goes wrong, there are no fewer than five hundred people passing the buck around.
After an hour or two here, we'd escort him to Federal Plaza, where, I suppose, he would be met by the appropriate people, who, along with my team, would determine the sincerity of his defection to Christendom and so forth. At some point, a day, a week, or months from now, Mr. Khalil would wind up in some CIA place outside of Washington where he'd spill his guts for a year and then get some bucks and a new identity, which, knowing the CIA, would make the poor guy look like Pat Boone. Anyway, I said to my colleagues, "Who has blond hair, blue eyes, big tits, and lives in the South of France?"
No one seemed to know, so I told them, "Salman Rushdie."
Nick got a good laugh out of that and slapped his knee. "Two more demerits."
The other two guys smiled tightly. Kate rolled her eyes. Yeah, I was being a little over the top, but I didn't ask for this gig. Anyway, I only had one more bad joke and two more obnoxious comments left.
Kate Mayfield said, "As you may have read in our assignment memo from Zach Weber, Asad Khalil is being escorted by Phil Hundry of the FBI, and Peter Gorman of the CIA. They took charge of Khalil in Paris, and they are flying Business Class in the dome section of the 747. Mr. Khalil may or may not be a government witness and until that's established, he's in handcuffs."
I inquired, "Who gets the frequent flyer miles?" Ms. Mayfield ignored me and continued, "The two agents and Mr. Khalil will deplane first, and we will be in the jetway, at the door of the aircraft, to meet them." She glanced at her watch, then stood and looked at the TV monitor and said, "Still inbound, still on time. In about ten minutes we should get moving toward the gate."
Ted Nash said, "We certainly don't expect any trouble, but we should be alert. If anyone wanted to kill this guy, they have only a few opportunities-in the jetway, on the way back here in the van, or in transit to Manhattan. After that, Khalil disappears into the bowels of the system, and no one will see or hear from him again."
Nick said, "I've arranged for some Port Authority police officers and NYPD uniformed guys on the tarmac near the van, and we have a police escort to Fed Plaza." He added, "So if anyone tries to whack this guy, it'll be a kamikaze mission."
"Which," said Mr. Foster, "is not out of the question."
Kate said, "We slapped a bulletproof vest on him in Paris. We've taken every precaution. Shouldn't be a problem."
Shouldn't be. Not right here on American soil. In fact, I couldn't recall either the Feds or the NYPD ever losing a prisoner or a witness in transit, so it looked like a walk in the park. Yet, all my kidding aside, you had to handle each one of these routine assignments as though it could blow up in your face. I mean, we're talking terrorists, people with a cause, who have shown they don't give a rat's ass about getting a day older.
We verbally rehearsed the walk through the terminal, to the gate, down the jetway service stairs, to the aircraft parking ramp. We'd put Khalil, Gorman, and Hundry into an unmarked van with Kevlar armor inside, then, with one Port Authority police car in the lead, and one as a trail vehicle, we would head back to our private club here. The Port Authority police cars had ground control radios, which, according to the rules, we needed in the ramp area and in all aeronautical areas.
Back at the Conquistador Club, we'd call an Immigration guy to get Khalil processed. The only organization that seemed to be missing today was the Parking Violations Bureau. But rules are rules, and everyone has their turf to protect.
At some point, we'd get back in the van, and with our escorts, we'd take a circuitous route to Manhattan, cleverly avoiding Muslim neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, a paddy wagon with a marked car would act as decoy. With luck, I'd be done for the day by six and in my car, heading out to Long Island for a rendezvous with Beth Penrose.
Meanwhile, back at the Conquistador Club, Nancy stuck her head in the room and said, "The van is here."
Foster stood and announced, "Time to roll."
At the last minute, Foster said to Nick and me, "Why don't one of you stay here, in case we get an official call?"
Nick said, "I'll stay."
Foster jotted down his cell phone number and gave it to Nick. "We'll keep in touch. Call me if anyone calls here."
I glanced at the TV monitor on my way out. Twenty minutes until scheduled landing.
I've often wondered what the outcome would have been if I'd stayed behind instead of Nick.
Ed Stavros, the Kennedy International Airport Control Tower Supervisor, held the phone to his ear and listened to Bob Esching, the New York Center Air Traffic Control Shift Supervisor. Stavros wasn't sure if Esching was concerned or not concerned, but just the fact that Esching was calling was a little out of the ordinary.
Stavros' eyes unconsciously moved toward the huge tinted windows of the control tower, and he watched a big Lufthansa A-340 coming in. He realized that Esching's voice had stopped. Stavros tried to think of something to say that would sound right when and if the tape was ever played back to a roomful of grim-looking Monday morning quarterbacks. Stavros cleared his throat and asked, "Have you called Trans-Continental?"
Esching replied, "That's my next call."
"Okay… good… I'll alert the Port Authority Police Emergency Service unit… was that a 700 series?"
"Right," said Esching.
Stavros nodded to himself. The Emergency Service guys theoretically had every known type of aircraft committed to memory in regard to doorways, escape hatches, general seating plans, and so forth. "Good… okay…"
Esching added, "I'm not declaring an emergency. I'm just-"
"Yeah, I understand. But we'll go by the book here, and I'll call it in as a three-two condition. You know? That's potential trouble. Okay?"
"Yeah… I mean, it could be…"
"Well, I'm not going to speculate, Mr. Stavros."
"I'm not asking you to speculate, Mr. Esching. Should I make it a three-three?"
"That's your call. Not mine." He added, "We have a NO-RAD for over two hours and no other indication of a problem. You should have this guy on your screen in a minute or two. Watch him closely."
"Okay. Anything else?"
"That's it," said Bob Esching.
"Thanks," said Ed Stavros and hung up.
Stavros picked up his black direct-line phone to Port Authority Communications Center, and after three rings, a voice said, "Guns and Hoses at your service."
Stavros did not appreciate the humor of the Port Authority police officers who doubled as firemen and Emergency Service personnel. Stavros said, "I have an incoming NO-RAD. Trans-Continental Flight One-Seven-Five, Boeing 747, 700 series."
"Roger, Tower. Which runway?"
"We're still using Four-Right, but how do I know what he'll use if we can't talk to him?"
"Good point. What's his ETA?"
"Scheduled arrival time is sixteen-twenty-three."
"Roger. Do you want a three-two or a three-three?"
"Well… let's start with a standard three-two, and we can upgrade or downgrade as the situation develops."
"Or we can stay the same."
Stavros definitely did not like the cocky attitude of these guys-and they were mostly all guys, even the women. Whoever had the bright idea of taking three macho occupations-Emergency Service, firemen, and cops-and rolling them all into one, must have been crazy. Stavros said, "Who is this? Bruce Willis?"
"Sergeant Tintle, at your service. To whom am I speaking?"
"Well, Mr. Stavros, come on down to the firehouse, and we'll put you in a nice fireproof suit and give you a crash ax, and if the plane blows, you can be among the first to get on board."
Stavros replied, "The subject aircraft is a NO-RAD, not a mechanical, Sergeant. Don't get overly excited."
"I love it when you get angry."
Stavros said to Tintle, "Okay, let's get this on the record. I'm going to the Red Phone." Stavros hung up and picked up the Red Phone and hit a button, which again connected him to Sergeant Tintle, who this time answered, "Port Authority-Emergency Service." This call was official and every word was recorded, so Stavros stuck to procedure and said, "This is Tower Control. I'm calling in a three-two on a Trans-Continental 747-700, landing Runway Four-Right, ETA approximately twenty minutes. Winds are zero-three-zero at ten knots. Three hundred ten souls on board." Stavros always wondered why the passengers and crew were called souls. It sounded as though they were dead.
Sergeant Tintle repeated the call and added, "I'll dispatch the units."
"Thank you, Sergeant."
"Thank you for calling, sir. We appreciate the business."
Stavros hung up and rubbed his temples. "Idiots."
He stood and looked around the huge Tower Control room. A few intense men and women sat staring at their screens, or talking into their headsets, or now and then glancing out the windows. Tower Control was not as stressful a job as that of the actual air traffic controllers sitting in a win-dowless radar room below him, but this was a close second. He remembered the time two of his men had caused the collision of two airliners on the runway. It had been his day off, which was why he was still employed.
Stavros walked toward the big window. From his height of over three hundred feet-the equivalent of a thirty-story building-the panoramic view of the entire airport, bay, and Atlantic Ocean was spectacular, especially with clear skies and the late afternoon sun behind him. He looked at his watch and saw it was almost 4:00 P.M. He would have been out of here in a few minutes, but that was not to be.
He was supposed to be home for dinner with his wife at seven, with another couple. He felt fairly confident that he could make it, or at least be no more than fashionably late. Even later would be okay when he arrived armed with a good story about what had delayed him. People thought he had a glamorous job, and he played it up when he'd had a few cocktails.
He made a mental note to call home after the Trans-Continental landed. Then he'd have to speak to the aircraft's captain on the phone, then write a preliminary report of the incident. Assuming this was nothing more than a communications failure, he should be on the road by six, with two hours of overtime pay. Right.
He replayed the conversation with Esching in his mind. He wished he had a way to access the tape that recorded his every word, but the FAA wasn't stupid enough to allow that.
Again, he thought about Esching's phone call-not the words, but the tone. Esching was clearly concerned and he couldn't hide it. Yet, a two-hour NO-RAD was not inherently dangerous, just unusual. Stavros speculated for a moment that Trans-Continental Flight 175 could have experienced a fire on board. That was more than enough reason to change the alert from a standard 3-2 status to a 3-3. A 3-4 was an imminent or actual crash, and that was an easy call. This unknown situation was a tough call.
And, of course, there was the remote chance that a hijacking was in progress. But Esching had said that there was no hijacking transponder code being sent.
Stavros played with his two options-3-2 or 3-3? A 3-3 would definitely call for more creative writing in his report if it turned out to be nothing. He decided to leave it a 3-2 and headed toward the coffee bar.
Stavros looked over at one of his tower controllers, Roberto Hernandez. "What?"
Hernandez put down his headset and said to his boss, "Chief, I just got a call from the radar controller about a Trans-Continental NO-RAD."
Stavros put down his coffee. "And?"
"Well, the NO-RAD began his descent earlier than he was supposed to, and he nearly ran into a US Airways flight bound for Philly."
"Jeez…" Stavros' eyes went to the window again. He couldn't understand how the Trans-Continental pilot could have missed seeing another aircraft on a bright, cloudless day. If nothing else, the collision warning equipment would have sounded even before visual contact was made. This was the first indication that something could be really wrong. What the hell is going on here?
Hernandez looked at his radar screen and said, "I've got him, Chief."
Stavros made his way to Hernandez's console. He stared at the radar blip. The problem aircraft was tracking unmistakably down the instrument landing course for one of Kennedy's northeast runways.
Stavros remembered the days when being inside an airport Control Tower meant you'd usually be looking out the window; now, the Control Tower people mostly looked at the same electronic displays that the air traffic controllers saw in the dark radar room below them. But at least up here they had the option of glancing outside if they wanted to.
Stavros took Hernandez's high-powered binoculars and moved to the south-facing plate glass window. There were four stand-up communications consoles mounted ninety degrees apart in front of the wraparound glass so that tower personnel could have multiple communications available while standing and visually seeing what was happening on the runways, taxiways, gates, and flight approaches. This was not usually necessary, but Stavros felt a need to be at the helm, so to speak, when the airliner came into view. He called out to Hernandez, "Speed?"
"Two hundred knots," Hernandez answered. "Descending through fifty-eight hundred feet."
Stavros picked up the Red Phone again. He also hit the Control Tower emergency speaker, then transmitted, "Emergency Service, this is Tower, over."
A voice came over the speaker into the silent Tower Control room, "Tower, Emergency Service."
Stavros recognized Tintle's voice.
Tintle asked, "What's up?"
"What's up is the status. It's now a three-three."
There was a silence, then Tintle asked, "Based on what?"
Stavros thought that Tintle sounded less cocky. Stavros replied, "Based on a near-miss with another aircraft."
"Damn." Silence, then, "What do you think the problem is?"
"A hijacking doesn't make the pilot fly with his head up his ass."
"We have no time to speculate. The subject aircraft is on a fifteen-mile final for Runway Four-Right. Copy?"
"Fifteen-mile final for Runway Four-Right."
"Affirmed," Stavros said.
"I'll call out the rest of the unit for a three-three."
"Confirm aircraft type," Tintle said.
"Still a 747, 700 series, as far as I know. I'll call you when we have visual."
Stavros signed off and raised his binoculars. He began to scan from the end of the runway and methodically out from there, but his thoughts were on the radio exchange he just had. He recalled meeting Tintle a few times at the Emergency Committee liaison meetings. He didn't particularly like Tintle's style, but he had the feeling that the guy was competent. As for the cowboys who called themselves Guns and Hoses, they mostly sat around the firehouse playing cards, watching TV, or talking about women. They also cleaned their trucks a lot-they loved shiny trucks.
But Stavros had seen them in action a few times, and he was fairly sure they could handle anything from a crash to an onboard fire and even a hijacking. In any case, he wasn't responsible for them or the situation after the aircraft came to a halt. He took a little pleasure out of the knowledge that this 3-3 scramble would come out of the Port Authority budget and not the FM budget.
Stavros lowered the binoculars, rubbed his eyes, then raised the binoculars and focused on Runway Four-Right.
Both rescue units had rolled, and Stavros saw an impressive assortment of Emergency Service vehicles along the perimeter of the runway, their red beacons rotating and flashing. They were spaced far apart, a procedure designed to avoid having a monster aircraft like a 747 wiping them all out in a crash landing.
Stavros counted two RIVs-Rapid Intercept Vehicles-and four big T2900 fire trucks. There was also one Heavy Rescue ESU truck, two ambulances, and six Port Authority police cars, plus the Mobile Command Post, which had every radio frequency of every affiliated agency in New York as well as a complete phone center. He also spotted the Hazmat-the Hazardous Material Truck-whose crew had been trained by the United States Army. Parked in the far distance was the mobile staircase truck, and the mobile hospital. The only thing missing was the mobile morgue. That wouldn't roll unless it was needed, and there was no rush if it was.
Ed Stavros contemplated the scene-a scene he had created simply by picking up his red telephone. One part of him didn't want there to be a problem with the approaching aircraft. Another part of him… he hadn't called a 3-3 in two years, and he became concerned that he'd overreacted. But overreacting was better than underreacting.
"Seven miles," Hernandez called out.
"Okay." Stavros began another patterned search of the horizon where the Atlantic Ocean met the New York haze.
"I got him." Even with the powerful binoculars, the 747 was hardly more than a glint against the blue sky. But with every passing second, the airliner was growing in size.
Stavros continued to stare at the incoming aircraft. He'd watched, thousands of jumbo jets make this approach, and there was absolutely nothing about this particular approach that troubled him, except for the fact that even now the aircraft's radios were eerily silent.
Stavros decided to talk directly to the person in charge of the rescue teams. He picked up a radiophone that was preset to the Ground Control frequency and transmitted, "Rescue One, this is Tower."
A voice came back on the speaker. "Tower, this is Rescue One. How may I help you today?"
Oh, God, Stavros said to himself, another wise-ass. It must be the qualification for the job. Stavros said, "This is Mr. Stavros, Tower Supervisor. Who is this?"
"This is Sergeant Andy McGill, first guitar, Guns and Hoses. What can I play for you?"
Stavros decided that what he didn't want to play was this idiot's game. Stavros said, "I want to establish direct contact with you."
"Okay… subject aircraft is in sight, McGill."
"Right. We see him, too."
Stavros added, "He's on track."
"Good. I hate it when they land on top of us."
"But be prepared."
"Two miles," said Hernandez and added, "Still on track. Altitude eight hundred feet.
Stavros relayed this to McGill, who acknowledged.
"One mile," said Hernandez, "on track, five hundred feet."
Stavros could clearly make out the huge jetliner now. He transmitted to McGill, "Confirm a 747-700. Gear down, flaps seem normal."
"Roger that. I got a fix on him," McGill replied.
"Good. You're on your own." Stavros ended his transmission and put the radiophone down.
Hernandez left his console and stood beside Stavros. A few other men and women with no immediate duties also lined up at the windows.
Stavros watched the 747, mesmerized by the huge aircraft that had just passed over the threshold of the runway and was floating down toward the concrete. There was nothing about this aircraft that looked or acted any differently from any other 747 touching down. But suddenly, Ed Stavros was certain that he wouldn't be home in time for dinner.
The van dropped us off at the International Arrivals terminal in front of the Air India logo, and we walked to the Trans-Continental area.
Ted Nash and George Foster walked together, and Kate Mayfield and I walked behind them. The idea was to not look like four Feds on a mission, in case someone was watching. I mean, you have to practice good trade craft, even if you're not real impressed with your opponents.
I checked out the big Arrival Board, and it said that Trans-Continental Flight 175 was on time, which meant it was supposed to land in about ten minutes, arriving at Gate 23.
As we walked toward the arrival area, we scoped out the folks around us. You don't normally see bad guys loading their pistols or anything like that, but it's surprising how, after twenty years in law enforcement, you can spot trouble.
Anyway, the terminal was not crowded on this Saturday afternoon in April, and everyone looked more or less normal, except the native New Yorkers who always look on the verge of going postal.
Kate said to me, "I want you to be civil to Ted."
"I mean it."
She said, with some insight, "The more you bug him, the more he enjoys it."
Actually, she was right. But there's something about Ted Nash that I don't like. Partly, it's his smugness and his superiority complex. But mostly, I don't trust him.
Anyone waiting for an international flight is outside the Customs area on the ground floor, so we walked over there and worked the crowd a little, looking for anyone who was acting in a suspicious manner, whatever that means.
I assume that the average terrorist hit man knows that if his target is protected, then the target is not going to come out through Customs. But the quality of terrorists we get in this country is generally low, for some reason, and the stupid things that they've done are legendary. According to Nick Monti, the ATTF guys tell dumb terrorist stories in the bars-then bullshit the press with a different story about how dangerous these bad guys are. They are dangerous, but mostly to themselves. But then again, remember the World Trade Center. Not to mention the two embassy bombings in Africa.
Kate said to me, "We'll spend about two minutes here, then go to the gate."
"Should I hold up my 'Welcome Asad Khalil' sign yet?"
"Later. At the gate." She added, "This seems to be the season for defections."
"What do you mean?"
"We had another one in February."
"Same kind of thing. Libyan guy, looking for asylum."
"Where did he turn himself in?"
"Same. Paris," she said.
"What happened to him?"
"We held him here for a few days, then we took him down to D.C."
"Where is he now?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Why? Because it smells."
"It does, doesn't it? What do you think?"
"Sounds like a dry run to see what happens when you go to the American Embassy in Paris and turn yourself in."
"You're smarter than you look. Did you ever have anti-terrorist training?"
"Sort of. I was married." I added, "I used to read a lot of Cold War novels."
"I knew we made the right move in hiring you."
"Right. Is this other defector under wraps or is he able to call his pals in Libya?"
"He was under loose custody. He bolted."
"Why loose custody?"
"Well, he was a friendly witness," she replied.
"Not anymore," I pointed out.
She didn't reply and I didn't ask any further questions. In my opinion, the Feds treat so-called defecting spies and defecting terrorists a lot nicer than cops treat cooperating criminals. But that's only my opinion.
We went to a pre-arranged spot near the Customs door and met the Port Authority detective there, whose name was Frank.
Frank said, "Do you know the way, or do you want company?"
Foster replied, "I know the way."
"Okay," Frank said. I’ll get you started." We walked through the Customs door, and Frank announced to a few Customs types, "Federal agents here. Passing through."
No one seemed to care, and Frank wished us good luck, happy we didn't want him to make the long walk with us to Gate 23.
Kate, Foster, Nash, and I walked through the big Customs and baggage carousel area and down a corridor to the Passport Control booths where no one even asked us our business.
I mean, you could show some of these idiots a Roy Rogers badge and walk through with a rocket launcher over your shoulder.
In short, JFK is a security nightmare, a teeming cauldron of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the stupid, where thirty million travelers pass in and out every year.
We were all walking together now, down one of those long surreal corridors that connect the Passport and Immigration area to the arrival gates. In effect, we were doing the reverse of what arriving passengers do, and I suggested we walk backwards so as not to attract attention, but nobody thought that was necessary or even funny.
Kate Mayfield and I were ahead of Nash and Foster, and she asked me, "Did you study Asad Khalil's psychological profile?"
I didn't recall seeing any psychological profile in the dossier and I said so.
She replied, "Well, there was one in there. It indicates that a man like Asad Khalil-Asad means 'lion' in Arabic, by the way-that a man like that suffers from low self-esteem and has unresolved issues of childhood inadequacy that he needs to work through."
"This is the type of man who needs an affirmation of his self-worth."
"You mean I can't break his nose?"
"No, you may not. You have to validate his sense of personhood."
I glanced at her and saw she was smiling. Quick-witted fellow that I am, I realized she was jerking me around. I laughed, and she punched my arm playfully, which I sort of liked.
There was a woman at the gate in a sky-blue uniform holding a clipboard and a two-way radio. I guess we looked dangerous or something because she started jabbering into the radio as she watched us approaching.
Kate went on ahead and held up her FBI creds and spoke to the woman, who calmed down. You know, everybody's paranoid these days, especially at international airports. When I was a kid, we used to go right to the gate to meet people, a metal detector was what you took to the beach to find loose change, and a hijacking was what happened to trucks. But international terrorism has changed all that. Unfortunately, paranoia doesn't necessarily translate to good security.
Anyway, Nash, Foster, and I went up and schmoozed with the lady, who it turned out was a gate agent who worked for Trans-Continental. Her name was Debra Del Vecchio, which had a nice ring to it. She told us that as far as she knew, the flight was on time, and that's why she was standing there. So far, so good.
There is a standard procedure for the boarding, transporting, and deplaning of prisoners and their escorts; prisoners and escorts board last and deplane first. Even VIPs, such as politicians, have to wait for prisoners to deplane, but many politicians eventually wind up in cuffs and then they can deplane first.
Kate said to Ms. Del Vecchio, "When you move the jetway to the aircraft, we will walk to the aircraft door and wait there. The people we're meeting will deplane first, and we'll escort them down the service stairs of the jetway onto the tarmac where a vehicle is waiting for us. You won't see us again. There will be no inconvenience to your passengers."
Ms. Del Vecchio asked, "Who are you meeting?"
I replied, "Elvis Presley."
Kate clarified, "A VIP."
Foster asked her, "Has anyone else asked you about this flight?"
She shook her head.
Nash studied the photo ID pinned to her blouse.
I thought I should do or say something clever to justify the fifty-dollar cab ride from Manhattan, but short of asking her if she had an Arab boyfriend, I couldn't think of anything.
So, the five of us stood around, trying to look like we were having fun, checking our watches and staring at the stupid tourist posters on the wall of the corridor.
Foster seemed suddenly to remember that he had a cell phone, and he whipped it out, delighted that he had something to do. He speed-dialed, waited, then said, "Nick, this is George. We're at the gate. Anything new there?"
Foster listened to Nick Monti, then said, "Okay… yes… right… okay… good…"
Unable to entertain himself any further with this routine phone call, he signed off and announced, "The van is in place on the tarmac near this gate. The Port Authority and NYPD have also arrived-five cars, ten guys, plus the paddy wagon decoy."
I asked, "Did Nick say how the Yankees are doing?"
"They're playing Detroit at the Stadium. Should be fifth inning by now."
Debra Del Vecchio volunteered, "They were behind, three to one, in the bottom of the fourth."
"This is going to be a tough season," I said.
Anyway, we made dumb talk for a while, and I asked Kate, "Got your income tax done yet?"
"Sure. I'm an accountant."
"I figured as much." I asked Foster, "You an accountant, too?"
"No, I'm a lawyer."
I said, "Why am I not surprised?"
Debra said, "I thought you were FBI."
Kate explained, "Most agents are accountants or lawyers."
Ms. Del Vecchio said, "Weird."
Ted Nash just stood there against the wall, his hands jammed into his jacket pockets, staring off into space, his mind probably returning to the good old days of the CIA-KGB World Series. He never imagined that his winning team would be reduced to playing farm teams. I said to Kate, "I thought you were a lawyer."
"I'm impressed. Can you cook?"
"Sure can. And I have a black belt in karate."
"Can you type?"
"Seventy words a minute. And I'm qualified as a marksman on five different pistols and three kinds of rifles."
"Nine millimeter Browning?"
"No problem," she said.
"Five bucks a point."
"Ten and you're on."
We shook hands.
I wasn't falling in love or anything, but I had to admit I was intrigued.
The minutes ticked by. I said, "So, this guy walks into the bar and says to the bartender, 'You know, all lawyers are assholes.' And a guy at the end of the bar says, 'Hey, I heard that. I resent that.' And the first guy says, 'Why? Are you a lawyer?' And the other guy says, 'No, I'm an asshole.'"
Ms. Del Vecchio laughed. Then she looked at her watch, then glanced at her radio.
Sometimes you get a feeling that something is not right. I had that feeling.
Crew Chief Sergeant Andy McGill of the Emergency Service unit, aka Guns and Hoses, stood on the running board of his RIV emergency fire and rescue truck. He had pulled on his silver-colored bunker suit, and he was starting to sweat inside the fireproof material. He adjusted his binoculars and watched the Boeing 747 make its approach. As far as he could determine, the aircraft looked fine and was on a normal approach path.
He poked his head into the open window and said to his firefighter Tony Sorentino, "No visual indication of a problem. Broadcast."
Sorentino, also in his fire suit, picked up the microphone that connected to the other Emergency Service vehicles and repeated McGill's status report to all the other ESV trucks. Each responded with a Roger, followed by their call signs.
McGill said to Sorentino, "Tell them to follow a standard deployment pattern and follow the subject aircraft until it clears the runway."
Sorentino broadcasted McGill's orders, and everyone again acknowledged.
The other crew chief, Ron Ramos, transmitted to McGill, "You need us, Andy?"
McGill replied, "No, but stay suited up. This is still a three-three."
"It looks like a three-nothing."
"Yeah, but we can't talk to the pilot, so stand by."
McGill focused his binoculars on the FAA Control Tower in the far distance. Even with the reflection on the glass, he could tell that a number of people were lined up at the big window. Obviously the Control Tower people had gotten themselves worked up about this.
McGill opened the right side door and slid in beside Sorentino, who sat in the center of the big cab behind the steering wheel. "What do you think?"
Sorentino replied, "I think I'm not paid to think."
"But what if you had to think?"
"I want to think there's no problem, except for the radios. I don't want to fight an aircraft fire today, or have a shoot-out with hijackers."
McGill didn't reply.
They sat in silence a few seconds. It was hot in their fire suits, and McGill clicked up the cab's ventilating fan.
Sorentino studied the lights and gauges on his display panel. The RIV held nine hundred pounds of purple K powder, used to put out electrical fires, seven hundred fifty gallons of water, and one hundred gallons of lite water. Sorentino said to McGill, "All systems are go."
McGill reflected that this was the sixth run he'd made this week and only one had been necessary-a brake fire on a Delta 737. In fact, it had been five years since he'd fought a real fire on an aircraft-an Airbus 300 with an engine ablaze that almost got out of control. McGill himself had never had a hijack situation, and there was only one man still working Guns and Hoses who had, and he wasn't on duty today.
McGill said to Sorentino, "After the subject aircraft clears the runway, we'll follow him to the gate."
"Right. You want anyone to tag with us?"
"Yeah… we'll take two of the patrol cars… just in case they have a situation on board."
McGill knew that he had a good team. Everyone on the Guns and Hoses unit loved the duty, and they'd all come up the hard way, from crap places like the Port Authority bus terminal, bridge and tunnel duty, or airport patrol duty. They'd put in their time busting prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, and drug users, rousting bums from various places in the far-flung Port Authority empire, chasing toll beaters and drunks on the bridges and tunnels, taking runaway kids from the Midwest into custody at the bus station, and so forth.
Being a Port Authority cop was a strange mix of this and that, but Guns and Hoses was the plum assignment. Everyone in the unit was a highly trained volunteer, and theoretically they were ready to fight a blazing jet fuel fire, trade lead with crazed terrorists, or administer CPR to a heart attack victim. They were all potential heroes, but the last decade or so had been pretty quiet, and McGill wondered if the guys hadn't gotten a little soft.
Sorentino was studying a floor plan of the 747-700 on his lap. He said, "This is one big mother."
"Yup." McGill hoped that if it was a mechanical problem, the pilot was bright enough to have jettisoned the remaining fuel. It was McGill's belief that jetliners were little more than flying bombs-sloshing fuel, superheated engines, and electrical wires, and who-knew-what in the cargo holds, sailing through space with the potential to take out a few city blocks. Andy McGill never mentioned to anyone the fact that he was afraid of flying and in fact never flew and never would. Meeting the beast on the ground was one thing-being up there in its belly was another.
Andy McGill and Tony Sorentino stared out the windshield into the beautiful April sky. The 747 had grown larger and now had depth and color. Every few seconds it seemed to get twice as big.
Sorentino said, "Looks okay."
"Yeah." McGill picked up his field glasses and focused on the approaching aircraft. The big bird had sprouted four separate bogies-gangs of wheels-two from beneath its wings and two from mid-fuselage, plus the nose gear. Twenty-four tires in all. He said, "The tires seem intact."
McGill continued to stare at the aircraft that now seemed to hover a few hundred feet above and beyond the far end of Kennedy's two-mile-long northeast runway. McGill, despite his fear of flying, was mesmerized by these magnificent monsters. It seemed to him that the act of taking off and landing was something near to magic. He had, a few times in his career, come up to one of these mystical beasts when their magic had disappeared in smoke and fire. At those times, the aircraft had become just another conflagration, no different than a truck or building that was intent on consuming itself. Then, it was McGill's job to prevent that from happening. But until then, it seemed that these flying behemoths had arrived from another dimension, making unearthly noises and defying all the laws of earth's gravity.
Sorentino said, "Almost down…"
McGill barely heard him and continued to stare through his field glasses. The landing gear hung down with a defiant gesture that seemed to be ordering the runway to come up to them. The aircraft held its nose up high, with the two nose-mounted tires centered above the level of the main landing gear. The flaps were down, the speed, altitude, and angle were all fine. Shimmering heat waves trailed behind the four giant engines. The aircraft seemed alive and well, McGill thought, possessing both intent and intensity.
Sorentino asked, "See anything wrong?"
The 747 crossed the threshold of the runway and dropped toward its customary touchdown point of several hundred yards beyond the threshold. The nose pitched up slightly just before the first of the main tires touched and leveled themselves from their angled-down initial position. A puff of silver-gray smoke popped up from behind each group of tires as they hit the concrete and went from zero to two hundred miles an hour in one second. From the touch of the first main tires until the pair of tires on the nose strut dropped to make contact with the runway had taken four or five seconds, but the grace of the act made it seem longer, like a perfectly executed football pass into the end zone. Touchdown.
A voice came over the emergency vehicle's speaker and announced, "Rescue Four is moving."
Another voice said, "Rescue Three, I'm at your left."
All fourteen vehicles were moving and transmitting now. One by one, they drove onto the runway as the huge airliner passed them.
The 747 was now abreast of McGill's vehicle, and he had the impression that the rollout speed was too fast.
Sorentino hit the gas pedal, and the RIV V8 diesel roared as the vehicle sped onto the runway in pursuit of the decelerating jet.
Sorentino said, "Hey, Andy-no reverse thrust."
As the RIV gained on the aircraft, McGill could now see that the cascading scoops behind each of the four engines were still streamlined in their cruise position. These hinged metal panels-the size of barn doors-were not deployed in the position to divert the jet blast to a more forward angle during rollout, which was why the aircraft was going too fast.
Sorentino checked his speedometer and announced, "One hundred ten."
"Too fast. He's going too fast." McGill knew that the Boeing 747 was designed and certified to stop with just its wheel brakes and this runway was long enough, so it wasn't a huge problem, but it was his first visual indication that something was wrong.
The 747 continued its rollout, decelerating more slowly than usual, but definitely slowing. McGill was in the lead pursuit vehicle, followed by the five other trucks, who were followed by the six patrol cars, who were followed by the two ambulances.
McGill picked up his microphone and gave each of the vehicles an order. They closed on the big, lumbering aircraft and took up their positions, one RIV to the rear, two T2900 trucks on each side, the patrol cars and ambulances fanned out to the rear. Sorentino and McGill passed under the mammoth wing of the aircraft and held a position near the nose as the jet continued to slow. McGill stared at the huge airliner out the side window. He called out to Sorentino over the roar of the jet engines, "I don't see any problem."
Sorentino concentrated on his speed and spacing, but said, "Why doesn't he use his reverse thrust?"
"I don't know. Ask him."
The Boeing 747 slowed and finally came to a stop, a quarter mile short of the end of the runway, its nose bobbing up and down twice from the last of its momentum.
Each of the four T2900 vehicles had positioned themselves forty yards from the aircraft, two on each side, with the RIVs at front and rear. The ambulances stopped behind the aircraft, while the six patrol cars paired up with an Emergency Service vehicle, though each patrol car was further from the aircraft than the fire trucks. The six men in the patrol cars got out of their vehicles, as per standard operating procedures, and were taking precautionary cover on the sides of their cars away from the aircraft. Each man was armed with a shotgun or an AR-15 automatic rifle.
The men in the trucks stayed in their vehicles. McGill picked up his microphone and broadcast to the other five trucks, "Anyone see anything?"
No one responded, which was good, since procedurally the other rescue vehicles would maintain radio silence unless they had something pertinent to say.
McGill considered his next move. The pilot hadn't used reverse thrust, so he'd had to apply a lot of wheel brakes. McGill said to Sorentino, "Move toward the tires."
Sorentino edged their vehicle closer to the main tires on the aircraft's starboard side. Putting out brake fires was the meat and potatoes of what they did for a living. It wasn't hero stuff, but if you didn't get some water on super-heated brakes pretty soon, it wasn't unusual to see the entire landing gear suddenly erupt into flames. Not only was this not good for the tires, but with the fuel tanks right above the brakes, it also wasn't good for anyone or anything within a hundred-yard radius of the aircraft.
Sorentino stopped the vehicle forty feet from the tires.
McGill raised his field glasses and stared hard at the exposed brake disks. If they were glowing red, it was time to start spraying, but they looked dull black like they were supposed to.
He picked up the microphone and ordered the T2900 vehicles to check the remaining three gangs of wheels.
The other vehicles reported negative on the hot brakes.
McGill transmitted, "Okay… move back."
The four T2900 vehicles moved away from the 747. McGill knew that the flight had come in NO-RAD, which was why they were all there, but he thought he should try to call the pilot. He transmitted on the ground frequency, "Trans-Continental One-Seven-Five, this is Rescue One. Do you read me? Over."
McGill waited, then transmitted again. He looked at Sorentino, who shrugged.
The emergency vehicles, the police cars, the ambulances, and the 747 all sat motionless. The Boeing's four engines continued to run, but the aircraft remained still. McGill said to Sorentino, "Drive around where the pilot can see us."
Sorentino put the RIV in gear and drove around to the front right side of the towering aircraft. McGill got out and waved up at the windshield, then, using ground controller hand and arm signals, he motioned for the pilot to continue toward the taxiway.
The 747 didn't move.
McGill tried to see into the cockpit, but there was too much glare on the windshield, and the cockpit was high off the ground. Two things occurred to him almost simultaneously. The first thing was that he didn't know what to do next. The next thing was that something was wrong. Not obviously wrong, but quietly wrong. This was the worst kind of wrong.
So we waited there at the International Arrivals gate-me, Kate Mayfield, George Foster, Ted Nash, and Debra Del Vecchio, the Trans-Continental gate agent. Being a man of action, I don't like waiting, but cops learn to wait. I once spent three days on a stakeout posing as a hot dog vendor, and I ate so many hot dogs that I needed a pound of Metamucil to get me regular again.
Anyway, I said to Ms. Del Vecchio, "Is there a problem?"
She looked at her little walkie-talkie, which also has this readout screen, and she held it up to me again. It still read
ON THE GROUND.
Kate said to her, "Please call someone."
She shrugged and spoke into the hand radio. "This is Debbie, Gate Twenty-three. Status of Flight One-Seven-Five, please."
She listened, signed off, and said to us, "They're checking."
"Why don't they know?" I asked.
She replied patiently, "The aircraft is under Tower Control-the FAA-the Feds-not Trans-Continental. The company is called only if there's a problem. No call, no problem."
"The aircraft is late getting to the gate," I pointed out.
"That's not a problem," she informed me. "It's on time. We have a very good on-time record."
"What if it sat on the runway for a week? Is it still on time?"
I glanced at Ted Nash, who was still standing against the wall, looking inscrutable. As with most CIA types, he liked to give the impression that he knew more than he was saying. In most cases, what appeared to be quiet assurance and wisdom was actually clueless stupidity. Why do I hate this man?
But to give the devil his due, Nash whipped out his cell phone and punched in a bunch of numbers, announcing to us, "I have the direct dial to the Control Tower."
It occurred to me that Mr. Nash actually did know more than he was saying, and that he knew, long before the flight landed, that there might be a problem.
Supervisor Ed Stavros in the FAA Control Tower continued to watch the scene being played out on Runway Four-Right through his binoculars. He said to the controllers around him, "They're not foaming. They're moving away from the aircraft… one of the Emergency Service guys is hand-signalling to the pilot…"
Controller Roberto Hernandez was talking on a telephone and said to Stavros, "Boss, the radar room wants to know how long before they can use Four-Left and when we can have Four-Right available to them again." Hernandez added, "They have some inbounds that don't have much holding fuel."
Stavros felt his stomach knotting. He took a deep breath and replied, "I don't know. Tell radar… I'll get back to them."
Hernandez didn't reply, nor did he pass on his supervisor's non-answer.
Stavros finally grabbed the phone from Hernandez and said, "This is Stavros. We have… a NO-RAD-yeah, I know you know that, but that's all I know-look, if it was a fire, you'd have to divert anyway and you wouldn't be bugging me-" He listened, then replied tersely, "So tell them the President's getting a haircut on Four-Right and they have to divert to Philly." He hung up and was immediately sorry he'd said that, though he was aware that the guys around him were laughing approvingly. He felt better for half a second, then his stomach knotted again. He said to Hernandez, "Give the flight another call. Use the Tower and Ground Control frequencies. If they don't answer, we can assume they haven't had any luck with their radio problems."
Hernandez picked up a console microphone and tried to raise the aircraft on both frequencies.
Stavros focused the binoculars and scanned the scene again. Nothing had changed. The giant Boeing sat stoically, and he could see the exhaust heat and fumes behind each of the power plants. The various Emergency Service vehicles and the police cars held their positions. In the far distance, a similarly composed team sat well away from the runway, burning fuel and doing what everyone else was doing-nothing. Whoever it was that had been trying to get the pilot's attention-probably McGill-had given up and was standing there with his hands on his hips looking very stupid, Stavros thought, as though he were pissed off at the 747.
What didn't make sense to Stavros was the pilot's inaction. No matter what the problem was, a pilot's first inclination would be to clear an active runway at the earliest opportunity. Yet, the Boeing 747 just sat there.
Hernandez gave up on the radio and said to Stavros, "Should I call someone?"
"There's no one left to call, Roberto. Who are we supposed to call? The people who are supposed to get the fucking aircraft out of there are standing around with their fingers up their nose. Who should I call next? My mother? She wanted me to be a lawyer-" Stavros realized he was losing it and calmed himself down. He took another long breath and said to Hernandez, "Call those clowns down there." He pointed toward the situation at the end of Four-Right. "Call Guns and Hoses. McGill."
Hernandez got on the radiophone and called Unit One, the lead Emergency Service vehicle. Sorentino answered and Hernandez asked, "Situation report." He hit the speaker phone button, and Sorentino's voice came up into the silent room. Sorentino said, "I don't know what's happening."
Stavros grabbed the radiophone and, trying to control his anxiety and annoyance, said, "If you don't know, how am I supposed to know? You're there. I'm here. What is going on? Talk to me."
There was a few seconds of silence, then Sorentino said, "There's no sign of a mechanical problem… except-"
"The pilot came in without reverse thrust. You understand?"
"Yes, I fucking well understand what reverse thrust is."
"Yeah, so… McGill is trying to get the flight crew's attention-"
"The flight crew has everyone else's attention. Why can't we get their attention?"
"I don't know." Sorentino asked, "Should we board the aircraft?"
Stavros considered this question and wondered if he was the person to answer it. Normally, Emergency Service made that determination, but in the absence of a visible problem, the hotshots down there didn't know if they should board. Stavros knew that boarding an aircraft on the runway with its engines running was potentially dangerous to the aircraft and to the Emergency Service people, especially if no one knew the intentions of the pilot. What if the aircraft suddenly moved? On the other hand, there could be a problem on board. Stavros had no intention of answering the question and said to Sorentino, "That's your call."
Sorentino replied, "Okay, thanks for the tip."
Stavros didn't care for this guy's sarcasm and said, "Look, it's not my job to-Hold on." Stavros was aware of Hernandez holding a telephone out to him. "Who is it?"
"A guy who asked for you by name. He says he's with the Justice Department. Says there's a fugitive on board Flight One-Seven-Five who's in custody, and he" wants to know what's happening."
"Shit…" Stavros took the phone and said, "This is Mr. Stavros." He listened and his eyes widened. Finally, Stavros said, "I understand. Yes, sir. The aircraft came in without radio contact and is still sitting at the end of Runway Four-Right. It's surrounded by Port Authority police and Emergency Service personnel. The situation is static."
He listened, then replied, "No, there's no indication of a real problem. There was no hijacking transponder call sent out, but the aircraft did experience a near miss-" He listened again, wondering if he should even mention the reverse thrust thing to someone who might overreact to a relatively minor mechanical problem, or maybe an oversight on the pilot's part. Stavros wasn't sure exactly who this guy was, but he sounded like he had power. Stavros waited until the man finished, then said, "Okay, I understand. I'll get on it-" He looked at the dead phone, then handed it back to Hernandez. The decision had just been made for him and he felt better.
Stavros put the radiophone to his mouth and transmitted to Sorentino, "Okay, Sorentino, you are to enter the aircraft. There's a fugitive on board. Business Class in the dome. He's cuffed and escorted so don't be pulling guns and scaring the passengers. But take the guy and his two escorts off the aircraft and have one of the patrol cars take them to Gate Twenty-three where they'll be met. Okay?"
"Roger. But I have to call my Tour Commander-"
"I don't give a shit who you call-just do what I asked. And when you get on board, find out what the problem is, and if there is no problem, tell that pilot to get off the damned runway and proceed to Gate Twenty-three. Lead him in."
"Call me after you board."
Stavros turned to Hernandez and said, "To make matters worse, this Justice Department guy tells me not to reassign Gate Twenty-three to any other aircraft until he gives me the go-ahead. I don't assign gates. The Port Authority assigns gates. Roberto, call the Port Authority and tell them not to reassign Gate Twenty-three. Now we're short a gate.
Hernandez pointed out, "With Four-Right and -Left closed, we don't need many gates."
Stavros uttered an obscenity and stormed off to his office for an aspirin.
Ted Nash slipped his cell phone in his pocket and said to us, "The aircraft came in without radio contact and is sitting at the end of the runway. There was no distress signal sent out, but the Control Tower doesn't know what the problem is. The Emergency Service people are there. As you heard, I told the Tower to have them enter the aircraft, bring our guys here, and keep the gate free."
I said to my colleagues, "Let's get out to the aircraft."
George Foster, our fearless team leader, replied, "The aircraft is surrounded by Emergency Service. Plus, we have two people on board. They don't need us there. The less that changes, the better."
Ted Nash, as usual, stayed aloof, resisting the temptation to disagree with me.
Kate concurred with George, so I was the odd man out, as usual. I mean, if a situation is going down at Point A, why stand around at Point B?
Foster took out his cell phone and dialed one of the FBI guys on the tarmac. He said, "Jim, this is George. Small change in plans. The aircraft has a problem on the runway, so a Port Authority car will bring Phil, Peter, and the subject to this gate. Call me when they get there, and we'll come down. Okay. Right."
I said to George, "Call Nancy and see if she's heard from Phil or Peter."
"I was just going to do that, John. Thank you." Foster dialed the Conquistador Club and got Nancy Tate on the phone. "Have you heard from Phil or Peter?" He listened and said, "No, the aircraft is still on the runway. Give me Phil's and Peter's phone numbers." He listened and signed off, then dialed. He held the phone out to us, and we could hear the recorded message telling us our party was unavailable or out of the calling area. George then dialed the other number and again got the same message. He said to us, "They probably have their phones off."
That didn't get any salutes, so George added, "You have to shut off the cell phones in flight. Even on the ground. But maybe one of them will break the rules and call the Conquistador Club. Nancy will call us."
I thought about this. If I got worried every time I couldn't complete a cell phone call, I'd have ulcers by now. Cell phones and beepers suck anyway.
I considered the situation as an academic problem thrown at me by an instructor. At the Police Academy, they teach you to stick to your post or stick to the plan until ordered to do otherwise by a superior. But they also tell you to use good judgment and personal initiative if the situation changes. The trick is to know when to stick and when to move. By all objective standards, this was a time to stay put. But my instincts said to move. I used to trust my instincts more, but I was out of my element here, new to the job, and I had to assume these people knew what they were doing, which was nothing. Sometimes, nothing is the right thing.
Debra Del Vecchio's walkie-talkie squawked, and she held it to her ear, then said, "Okay, thanks." She said to us, "Now they tell me that Air Traffic Control called Trans-Continental operations a while ago and reported that Flight One-Seven-Five was NO-RAD."
"NO-RAD. No radio."
"We already know that," I said. "Does this happen often? NO-RAD?"
"I don't know…"
"Why is the plane sitting on the end of the runway?"
She shrugged. "Maybe the pilot needs someone to give him instructions. You know-what taxiways to use." She added, "I thought you said it was a VIP on board. Not a fugitive."
"It's a fugitive VIP."
So, we stood there, waiting for the Port Authority cops to collect Hundry, Gorman, and Khalil and bring them to the NYPD and Port Authority escort vehicles outside this gate, whereupon Agent Jim Somebody would call us, and we'd go down to the tarmac, get in the vehicles, and drive to the Conquistador Club. I looked at my watch. I was going to give this fifteen minutes. Maybe ten.
Andy McGill heard the blast of his truck's horn and moved quickly back to his vehicle and jumped on the running board. Sorentino said to him, "Stavros called. He said to enter the aircraft. Some Federal types called him, and there's a fugitive on board, in the dome. The perp is cuffed and escorted. Take him and his two escorts out and turn him over to one of the patrol cars. They all have to go to Gate Twenty-three where some NYPD and PA vehicles will be waiting." Sorentino asked, 'Are we taking orders from this guy?"
For a brief second, McGill considered a connection between the fugitive and the problem, but there seemed to be no connection, not even a coincidence, really. There were a lot of flights that came in with escorted bad guys, VIPs, witnesses, and whatever-a lot more than people knew. In any case, there was something else in the back of his mind that kept nagging at him and he couldn't recall what it was, but it had something to do with this situation. He made a mental shrug and said to Sorentino, "No, we're not taking orders from Stavros or the Feds… but maybe it's time to board. Notify the Tour Commander."
"Will do." Sorentino got on the radio.
McGill considered calling the mobile staircase vehicle, but it was some distance away, and he really didn't need it to get into the aircraft. He said to Sorentino, "Okay, right front door. Move it."
Sorentino maneuvered the big truck toward the right front door of the towering aircraft. The radio crackled and a voice came over the speaker saying, "Hey, Andy. I just remembered the Saudi Scenario. Be careful."
Sorentino said, "Holy shit…"
Andy McGill stood frozen on the running board. It all came back to him now. A training film. About twenty years ago, a Saudi Arabian Lockheed LI Oil Tristar had taken off from Riyadh Airport, reported smoke in the cabin and cockpit, then returned to the airport and landed safely. There was apparently a fire in the cabin. The aircraft was surrounded by fire trucks, and the Saudi Emergency Service people just sat around and waited for the doors to pop open and the chutes to deploy. But as luck and stupidity would have it, the pilots had not depressurized the aircraft, and the doors were held closed by the inside air pressure. The flight attendants couldn't get them open, and no one thought to use a fire ax to smash a window. The end of the story was that all three hundred people on board died on the runway from smoke and fumes.
The infamous Saudi Scenario. They'd been trained to recognize it, this looked like it, and they'd blown it big-time. "Oh, shit…"
Sorentino steered with one hand and handed McGill his Scott pack, which consisted of a portable compressed air bottle and full face mask, then his crash ax.
As the RIV got under the door of the aircraft, McGill scrambled up the hand and foot rungs of his fire truck to the flat roof where the foaming cannon was mounted.
Rescue Four had joined his truck and one of the men stood on the second truck's roof behind that truck's foaming cannon. McGill also noticed that one of the men from a patrol car had suited up and was deploying a charged high-pressure water hose. The other four fire trucks and the ambulances had moved farther away in case of an explosion. McGill noted with some satisfaction that as soon as someone said Saudi Scenario, everyone knew what to do. Unfortunately, they'd all sat around too long, like the Saudi firefighters they had laughed at in the training film.
Mounted on the roof was a small collapsible ladder, and McGill extended it out to its six-foot length and swiveled it toward the door. It was just long enough to reach the door handle of the 747. McGill put on his mask, took a deep breath, and climbed the ladder.
Ed Stavros watched through his binoculars. He wondered why the Emergency Service team had gone into a fire-fighting mode. He had never heard of the Saudi Scenario, but he knew a fire-fighting scenario when he saw one. He picked up his radiophone and called McGill's vehicle. "This is Stavros. What's going on?"
Sorentino didn't respond.
Stavros called again.
Sorentino had no intention of broadcasting the fact that they'd belatedly figured out what the problem might be. There was still a 50-50 chance that it wasn't the Saudi Scenario, and they'd know in a few seconds.
Stavros called again, more insistent this time.
Sorentino knew he had to reply. He transmitted, "We're just taking necessary precautions."
Stavros considered this reply, then said, "No indication of a fire on board?"
"No… no smoke."
Stavros took a deep breath and said, "Okay… keep me posted. Answer my calls."
Sorentino snapped back, "We're in a possible rescue situation. Stay off the frequency. Out!"
Stavros looked at Hernandez to see if his subordinate had heard the Guns and Hoses idiot get nasty with him. Hernandez pretended he had not, and Stavros made a mental note to give Roberto a high efficiency report.
Stavros next considered if he should call anyone concerning this fire-fighting deployment. He said to Hernandez, "Tell Air Traffic Control that Runways Four-Left and -Right will be down for at least fifteen more minutes."
Stavros focused his binoculars and stared at the scene at the end of the runway. He couldn't actually see the right front door, which was facing away from him, but he could see the deployment of the vehicles. If the aircraft blew and there was still a lot of fuel on board, the vehicles that had moved off a hundred yards would need new paint jobs. The two fire trucks near the aircraft would be scrap metal.
He had to admit that there were times when the Emergency Service people earned their pay. But still, his job was stressful every minute of his seven-hour shift. Those guys got stressed maybe once a month.
Stavros remembered what the nasty Emergency Service guy had said-We're in a possible rescue situation. This in turn reminded him that his part in this drama had officially ended as soon as the 747 had come to a halt. All he had to do was keep advising Air Traffic Control of the status of the runways. Later, he'd have to write a report consistent with his taped radio transmissions, and consistent with the fate of the aircraft. He knew that his telephone conversation with the Justice Department guy was also taped, and this, too, made him feel a little better.
Stavros turned away from the big window and went to the coffee bar. If the aircraft blew, he knew he'd hear it and feel it, even up here in his tower. But he didn't want to see it.
Andy McGill shouldered his fire ax in his left hand and put the back of his gloved right hand against the aircraft's door. The back of the fire glove was thin and theoretically you could feel heat through it. He waited a few seconds, but felt nothing.
He moved his hand to the emergency external door handle and yanked on it. The handle moved out away from its recess, and McGill pushed up on the handle to disarm the automatic escape chute.
He glanced behind and below and saw the fire-suited guy from the patrol car on the ground to his right. He had the charged hand-line aimed directly at the airliner's closed door. The other fire truck, Rescue Four, was fifty feet behind his own, and the guy on the roof was aiming the foaming cannon at him. Everyone had full bunker gear and Scott packs on and he couldn't tell who was who, but he trusted all of them, so it didn't matter. The guy at the foaming cannon gave him a thumbs-up. McGill acknowledged the gesture.
Andy McGill held the handle tight and pushed. If the aircraft was still pressurized, the door wouldn't budge, and he'd have to smash through the small door window with his crash ax to depressurize the aircraft and vent any fumes that might be inside.
He kept pushing and all of a sudden the door began to open inward. He let go of the handle and the door automatically continued to pull itself in, then retracted up into the ceiling.
McGill ducked below the threshold of the door to escape any outpouring of smoke, heat, or fumes. But there was nothing.
Without losing another second, McGill pulled himself up into the airliner. He looked around quickly and saw he was in the forward galley area, which was where he belonged according to the floor plans on file. He checked his face mask and air flow, checked his gauge to make sure his tank was full, then propped his fire ax against the bulkhead.
He stood there in the galley and peered across the wide-bodied fuselage to the other exit door. There was definitely no smoke, but he couldn't be sure about fumes. He turned back to the open door and signaled to the men with the fire hose and cannon that he was okay.
McGill turned back into the aircraft and proceeded out of the galley into an open area. To his right was the First Class cabin in the nose, to his left was the huge Coach section. In front of him was the spiral staircase that led into the dome where the cockpit and Business Class section were.
He stood there a moment and felt the vibrations of the engines through the airframe. Everything seemed normal except for two things: it was too quiet, and the curtains across the Coach and First Class areas were drawn closed. FAA regulations called for them to be open during takeoff and landing. And if he thought further about this situation, he would have wondered why none of the flight attendants had appeared. But that was the least of his problems, and he put it out of his mind.
His instinct was to check out one or both of the curtained compartments, but his training said to proceed to the cockpit. He retrieved his crash ax and moved toward the spiral stairs. He could hear his breathing through the oxygen mask.
He took the steps slowly, but two at a time. He stopped when he was chest-level to the upper deck and peered into the big dome of the 747. There were sets of seats paired along both sides of the dome, eight rows in all, for a total of thirty-two seats. He couldn't see any heads above the big, plush seats, but he could see arms draped over the rests of the aisle seats. Motionless arms. "What the hell…?"
He continued up the staircase and stood at the rear bulkhead of the dome. In the center of the dome was a console on which lay magazines, newspapers, and baskets of snacks. Late afternoon sunlight filled the dome through the portholes, and dust motes floated in the sunbeams. It was a pleasant scene, he thought, but instinctively he knew he was in the presence of death.
He moved up the center aisle and glanced left and right at the passengers in their seats. Only about half the seats were occupied, and they were mostly middle-aged men and women, the type you'd find in Business Class. Some were reclined backwards with reading material on their laps, some had their service trays open and drinks sat on the trays, although McGill noticed that a few glasses had tipped and spilled during the landing.
A few passengers had headphones on and appeared to be watching the small individual television screens that came out of the armrests. The TVs were still on, and the one closest to him showed a promo film of happy people in Manhattan.
McGill moved forward and turned to face the passengers. There was no doubt in his mind that all of them were dead. He took a deep breath and tried to clear his mind, tried to be professional. He pulled the fire glove off his right hand and reached out to touch the face of a woman in the closest aisle seat. Her skin was not stone cold, but neither was it body temperature. He guessed she had been dead for a few hours, and the state of the cabin confirmed that whatever had happened, had happened long before preparations to land.
McGill bent over and examined the face of a man in the next row. The face was peaceful-no saliva, no mucus, no vomit, no tears, no tortured expressions… McGill had never seen anything quite like this. Toxic fumes and smoke caused panic, horrible suffocation, a very unpleasant death that could be seen on the faces and in the body contortions of the victims. What he was seeing here, he concluded, was a peaceful, sleep-like unconsciousness, followed by death.
He looked for the cuffed fugitive and the two escorts and found the handcuffed man in the second from last row of the starboard side seats, sitting in the window seat. The man was dressed in a dark gray suit and though his face was partly hidden by a sleeping mask, he looked to McGill to be Hispanic or maybe Mideastern or Indian. McGill never could tell ethnic types apart. But the guy sitting next to the cuffed man was most probably a cop. McGill could usually pick out one of his own. He patted down the man and felt his holster on his left hip. He then looked at the man sitting by himself in the last row behind these two and concluded that this was the other escort. In any case, it didn't matter any longer, except that he didn't have to lead them off the aircraft and put them in a car; they were not going to Gate 23. In fact, no one was going anywhere except to the mobile morgue.
McGill considered the situation. Everyone up here in the dome was dead, and since the entire aircraft shared the same internal atmosphere and air pressure, then he knew that everyone in First Class and Coach was also dead. This explained what he'd seen and not seen below. It explained the silence. He considered using his radio to call for medical assistance, but he was fairly certain no one needed assistance. Still, he took the radio off its hook and was going to transmit, but he realized he didn't know quite what to say, and he didn't know how he would sound yelling through his oxygen mask. Instead, he keyed the radio button in a series of long and short squelch breaks to signal that he was okay.
Sorentino's voice came over the radio and said, "Roger, Andy."
McGill walked to the rear lavatory behind the spiral staircase. The door sign said VACANT, and McGill opened the door, assuring himself that no one was in there.
Across from the lavatory was the galley, and as he turned away from the lavatory, he saw someone lying on the floor in the galley. He moved toward the body and knelt. It was a female flight attendant, lying on her side as though she were taking a nap. He felt her ankle for a pulse, but there was none.
Now that he was certain that no passengers needed aid, McGill went quickly to the cockpit door and pulled on it, but it was locked, as per regulations. He banged on the door with his hand, and shouted through his oxygen mask, "Open up! Emergency Service! Open up!" There was no response. Nor did he expect any.
McGill took his crash ax and swung at the cockpit door where the lock was. The door sprang in and hung half open on its hinges. McGill hesitated, then stepped into the cockpit.
The pilot and co-pilot sat in their seats, and he could see their heads tilted forward as if they'd nodded off.
McGill stood there a few seconds, not wanting to touch the pilots. Then he said, "Hey. Hey, Can you hear me?" He felt slightly stupid talking to dead men.
Andy McGill was sweating now, and he felt his knees trembling. He was not a queasy man, and over the years he had carried his share of burned and dead bodies out of various places, but he had never been alone in the presence of so much silent death.
He touched the pilot's face with his bare hand. Dead a few hours. So, who had landed the aircraft?
His eyes went to the instrument panels. He'd sat through a one-hour class on Boeing cockpits, and he focused on a small display window that read AUTOLANDS. He had been told that a computer-programmed autopilot could land these new-generation jets without the input of a human hand and brain. He didn't believe it when he'd heard it, but he believed it now.
There was no other explanation for how this airship of death had gotten here. An autopilot landing would also explain the near-miss with the US Airways jet, and would probably explain the lack of reverse thrust. For sure, McGill thought, it explained the hours of NO-RAD, not to mention the fact that this aircraft was sitting at the end of the runway, engines still running, with two long-dead pilots. Mary, mother of God… He felt sick and wanted to scream or vomit or run, but he stood his ground and took another deep breath. Calm down, McGill.
He reached above his head for the escape hatch, activated the lever, and the hatch popped open, exposing a square of blue sky.
He stood a moment, listening to the now louder sound of the jet engines. He knew he should shut them down, but there seemed to be no risk of explosion, so he let them run so that the air exchange system on board could completely purge itself of whatever invisible toxin had caused this nightmare. The only thing he felt good about was the knowledge that even if he'd acted sooner, it wouldn't have changed anything. This was sort of like the Saudi Scenario, but it had happened while the aircraft was still aloft, far from here. There had been no fire, so the 747 hadn't crashed like the Swissair jet near the coast of Nova Scotia. In fact, whatever the problem was had affected only human life, not mechanical systems or electronics. The autopilot did what it was programmed to do, though McGill found himself wishing it hadn't.
McGill looked out the windshields into the sunlight. He wanted to be out there with the living, not in here. But he waited for the air conditioning systems to do their job and tried to remember how long it took to completely vent a 747. He was supposed to know these things, but he had trouble keeping his mind focused.
After what seemed like a long time, but was probably less than two minutes, McGill reached down to the pedestal between the flight seats and shut off the four fuel switches. Nearly all the lights on the console went off, except those powered by the aircraft's batteries, and the whine of the jet engines stopped immediately, replaced by an eerie silence.
McGill knew that outside the aircraft, everyone was breathing easier now that the engines had shut down. They also knew that Andy McGill was okay, but they didn't know that it was he, not the pilots, who had shut down the engines.
McGill heard a noise in the dome cabin, and he turned toward the cockpit door and listened again. He called out through his oxygen mask, "Anybody there?" Silence. Spooky silence. Dead silence. But he had heard something. Maybe the ticking of the cooling engines. Or a piece of hand luggage had shifted in the overhead compartment.
He took a deep breath and steadied his nerves. He recalled what a medical examiner once told him in a morgue. "The dead can't hurt you. No one's ever been killed by a dead man."
He looked into the dome cabin and saw the dead staring back at him. The coroner was wrong. The dead can hurt you and kill your soul. Andy McGill said a Hail Mary and crossed himself.
I was getting antsy, but George Foster had established a commo link through Agent Jim Lindley down on the tarmac, who in turn was talking directly to one of the Port Authority cops nearby, and the PA cop had radio contact with his Command Center, who in turn had contact with the Tower, and with their Emergency Service units down on the runway.
I asked George, "What did Lindley say?"
"He said that an Emergency Service person has boarded the aircraft and the engines are shut down."
"Did the Emergency Service guy radio a situation report?"
"Not yet, but he broke squelch to signal that everything was okay."
"He broke squelch and they could hear that outside the plane? What did that guy have for lunch?"
Ted and Debbie laughed. Kate did not.
George drew an exasperated breath and informed me, "Radio squelch. The guy has an oxygen mask on, and it's easier to signal with squelch breaks than to try to talk-"
"I know," I interrupted. "Just kidding." You don't often get a great straight man like George Foster. Certainly not on the NYPD where everyone was a comedian, and every comedian wanted to be top banana.
Anyway, my act was wearing thin here at the steel door of Gate 23. I suggested to George, "Let me go outside and establish personal liaison with Lindley."
George was torn between having me in his sight and getting me out of his sight, out of his face, and out of his life. I have that effect on superiors.
He said to everyone, "As soon as the Emergency Service guy gets our people off the aircraft and into a Port Authority car, Lindley will call me, and then we'll go down the stairs and onto the tarmac. It's about a thirty-second walk, so hold your horses. Okay?"
I wasn't going to argue with this guy. For the record, I said, "You're in charge."
Debra Del Vecchio's radio crackled. She listened, and informed us, "The Yankees tied it in the fifth."
So, we waited at the gate while circumstances beyond our control caused a minor delay in our plans. On the wall was a tourist poster showing a night view of the illuminated Statue of Liberty. Beneath the photo in about a dozen languages were Emma Lazarus' words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
I learned that by heart in grade school. It still gave me goose bumps.
I looked at Kate, and we made eye contact. She smiled, and I smiled back. All things considered, this was better than lying in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on life support systems. One of the docs told me later that if it weren't for a great ambulance driver and a great paramedic, I'd be wearing a toe tag instead of an ID bracelet. It was that close.
It does change your life. Not outwardly, but deep inside. Like friends of mine who saw combat in Vietnam, I sometimes feel like my lease ran out, and I'm on a month-to-month contract with God.
I realized that this was about the time of day I'd taken three bullets on West 102nd Street, and the first-year anniversary was three days ago. The day would have passed unmarked by me, but my ex-partner, Dom Fanelli, insisted on taking me out for drinks. To get into the spirit of the occasion, he'd taken me to a bar on West 102nd Street, a block from the happy incident. There were a dozen of my old buds there, and they had this big pistol range target of an outlined man labeled JOHN COREY, with three bullet holes in it. Cops are weird.
Andy McGill knew that everything he did or failed to do would come under microscopic scrutiny in the weeks and months ahead. He'd probably spend the next month or two testifying in front of a dozen state and Federal agencies, not to mention his own bosses. This disaster would become firehouse legend, and he wanted to be certain that he was the hero of that legend.
His mind went from the unknown future to the problematic present. What next?
He knew that with the engines shut down, they could be started again only by using the onboard auxiliary power unit, which was beyond his training, or by using an external auxiliary power unit that would have to be trucked out to the aircraft. But with no pilots to start the engines and taxi the airliner, what they actually needed was a Trans-Continental tug vehicle to get this aircraft off the runway and into the security area, out of sight of the public and the media. McGill put his radio to his face mask and called Sorentino. "Rescue One, this is Rescue Eight-One."
McGill could barely hear Sorentino's "Roger" through his head gear. McGill said, "Get a company tug here, ASAP. Copy?"
"Copy Trans-Continental tug. What's up?"
"Do it. Out."
McGill exited the cockpit, walked quickly through the dome and down the spiral staircase to the lower deck, then opened the second exit door across the fuselage from the one he'd entered.
He then pulled back the curtain to the Coach section and stared down the long, wide body of the 747. Facing him were hundreds of people, sitting up or reclining, perfectly still, as though it were a photograph. He kept staring, waiting for someone to move or to make a sound. But there was no movement, no response to his presence, no reaction to this alien in a silver space suit and mask.
He turned away, crossed the open area, and tore open the curtain to the First Class compartment and walked quickly through, touching a few faces, even slapping a few people to see if he could get a response. There were absolutely no signs of life among these people, and a totally irrelevant thought popped into his head, which was that First Class round-trip tickets, Paris to New York, cost about ten thousand dollars. What difference did it make? They all breathed the same air, and now they were just as dead as the people in Economy Class.
McGill walked quickly out of the First Class compartment and back into the open space, which held the galley, the spiral staircase, and the two open doors. He went to the starboard side door and pulled his mask and headgear off.
Sorentino was standing on the running board of their RIV, and he called out to McGill, "What's up?"
McGill took a deep breath and called down, "Bad. Real bad."
Sorentino never saw his boss look like that, and he assumed that real bad meant the worst.
McGill said, "Call the Command Center… tell them everyone on board Flight One-Seven-Five is dead. Suspect toxic fumes-"
"Yeah. Have a Tour Commander respond to your call. Also, get a company rep over to the security area." He added, "In fact, get everyone over to the security area. Customs, Baggage, the whole nine yards."
"Will do." Sorentino disappeared inside the cab of the RIV.
McGill turned toward the Coach section. He was fairly certain he didn't need his Scott pack, but he carried it with him, though he left his crash ax against a bulkhead. He didn't smell anything that seemed caustic or dangerous, but he did smell a faint odor-it smelled familiar, then he placed it-almonds.
He parted the curtain, and trying not to look at the people facing him, he moved down the right aisle and popped open the two exit doors, then crossed the aircraft and opened the two left doors. He could feel a cross-breeze on his sweat-dampened face.
His radio crackled, and he heard a voice say, "Unit One, this is Lieutenant Pierce. Situation report."
McGill unhooked his handheld radio and responded to his Tour Commander, "Unit One. I'm aboard the subject aircraft. All souls aboard are dead."
There was a long silence, then Pierce replied, "Are you sure?"
Again, a long silence, then, "Fumes? Smoke? What?"
"Negative smoke. Toxic fumes. I don't know the source. Aircraft is vented, and I'm not using oxygen."
Again, a long silence.
McGill felt queasy, but he thought it was more the result of shock than of any lingering fumes. He had no intention of volunteering anything and he waited. He could picture a bunch of people in the Command Center all speaking at once in hushed tones.
Finally, Lieutenant Pierce came on and said, "Okay… you've called for a company tug."
"Do we need… the mobile hospital?"
"Negative. And the mobile morgue won't handle this."
"Roger. Okay… let's move this whole operation to the security area. Let's clear that runway and get that aircraft out of sight."
"Roger. I'm waiting for the tug."
"Yeah… okay… uh… stay on board."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Do you want anyone else on board? Medical?"
McGill let out an exasperated breath. These idiots in the Command Center couldn't seem to comprehend that everyone was dead. McGill said, "Negative."
"Okay… so I… I guess the autopilot landed it."
"I guess. The autopilot or God. It wasn't me, and it wasn't the pilot or the copilot."
"Roger. I guess… I mean, the autopilot was probably programmed-"
"No 'probably' about it, Lieutenant. The pilots are cold."
"Roger… no evidence of fire?"
"Negative, no oxygen masks hanging. Fumes. Toxic fucking fumes."
"Okay, take it easy."
"I'll meet you at the security area."
"Roger." McGill put his radio back on his hook.
With nothing left to do, he examined a few of the passengers, and again assured himself that there were no signs of life aboard. "Nightmare."
He felt claustrophobic in the crowded Coach compartment, creepy with all the dead. He realized he'd rather be in the relatively light and open space in the dome where he could better see what was happening around the aircraft.
He made his way out of Coach, up the spiral staircase, and into the dome. Through the port windows he saw a tug vehicle approaching. Through the starboard windows, he saw a line of Emergency Service vehicles heading back to the firehouse, and some heading toward the security area.
He tried to ignore the bodies around him. At least there were fewer of them up here, and none of them were children or babies. But no matter where he was on this aircraft, he thought, he was the only living, breathing soul aboard.
This wasn't precisely true, but Andy McGill didn't know he had company.
Tony Sorentino watched the Trans-Continental tug vehicle drive up to the nose wheels. The vehicle was a sort of big platform with a driver's cab at each end so that the driver could pull up to the nose wheel and not have to back up and chance causing damage. When the hookup was made, the driver would change cabs and drive off.
Sorentino thought this was clever, and he was fascinated by the vehicle. He wondered why Guns and Hoses didn't have one of these, then remembered that someone told him it had to do with insurance. Each airline had its own tugs and if they snapped off the nose wheel of a hundred-fifty-million-dollar aircraft, it was their problem. Made sense. Still, Guns and Hoses should have at least one tug. The more toys the better.
He watched as the Trans-Continental driver hooked a fork-like towbar to each side of the nose wheel assembly. Sorentino walked over to him and said, "Need a hand?"
"Nope. Don't touch nothing."
"Hey, I'm insured."
"Not for this you're not."
The hitch was complete, and the driver said, "Where we headed?"
"The hijack area," Sorentino said, using the more dramatic but still correct name for the security area.
The driver's eyes darted to Sorentino, as Sorentino knew they would. The driver glanced up at the huge aircraft towering above them, then back to Sorentino. "What's up?"
"Well, what's up is your insurance rates, pal."
"Whadda ya mean?"
"You got a big, expensive hearse here, buddy. They're all dead. Toxic fumes."
"Jesus Christ Almighty."
"Right. Let's get rolling. As fast as you can. I lead, you follow. I have a vehicle in trail. Don't stop until you're in the security pen."
The driver moved to the front cab as if he were in a daze. He climbed in, engaged the huge diesel, and began moving off.
Sorentino got into the cab of his RIV and moved off ahead of the tug vehicle, leading it to a taxiway that in turn led to the security area, not far from Runway Four-Right.
Sorentino could hear all kinds of chatter on his radio frequencies. No one sounded very happy. He broadcast, "Unit One moving, tug and aircraft in tow, Unit Four in trail."
Sorentino maintained a fifteen-mile-per-hour speed, which was all that the tug could do pulling a 750,000-pound aircraft behind it. He checked his sideview mirrors to make sure he wasn't too close or too far from the aircraft. The view in his mirrors was very strange, he thought. He was being followed by a weird vehicle that didn't know its ass from its dick, and behind the vehicle was this monster silver aircraft, being pulled along like a string toy. Jesus, what a day this turned out to be.
Inaction is not John Corey's middle name, and I said to George Foster, "I'm again requesting permission to go out to the tarmac."
Foster seemed indecisive as usual, so Kate said to me, "Okay, John, you have permission to go down to the tarmac. No further."
"I promise," I said.
Ms. Del Vecchio turned and punched in a code on the door's keypad. The door opened, and I walked through it, down the long jetway, and descended the service stairs of the jetway to the tarmac.
The convoy that was to take us to Federal Plaza was grouped close to the terminal building. I moved quickly to one of the Port Authority police cars, flashed my tin, and said to the uniformed officer, "The subject aircraft is stalled at the end of the runway. I need to get to it now." I got into the passenger side, deeply regretting my lie to Kate.
The young PA cop said, "I thought the Emergency Service guys were bringing your passenger here."
"Change of plans."
"Okay…" He started driving slowly, and at the same time called Tower Control to get permission to cross the runways.
I was aware of someone running alongside the car and by the looks of him, he had to be FBI agent Jim Lindley. He called out, "Stop."
The Port Authority cop stopped the car.
Lindley identified himself and said to me, "Who are you?"
"Oh… where you going?"
"Out to the aircraft."
All of a sudden, Kate came up to the car and said, "It's okay, Jim. We're just going to check it out." She jumped in the back seat.
I said to the driver, "Let's go."
The driver said, "I'm waiting for permission to cross-"
A guy's voice came over the speaker and said, "Who's asking for permission to cross the runways and why?"
I grabbed the microphone and said, "This is…" Who was I? "This is the FBI. We need to get out to the aircraft. Who is this?"
"This is Mr. Stavros, Tower Control Supervisor. Look, you can't cross-"
"It's an emergency."
"I know there's an emergency. But why do you have to cross-"
I said, "Thank you." I told the Port Authority cop, "Cleared for take-off."
The PA cop protested, "He didn't-"
"Lights and siren. I really need you to do this for me."
The cop shrugged, and the car moved off the tarmac toward the taxiway, its flashers and siren going.
The Tower Control guy, Stavros, came on the speaker again, and I turned down the volume.
Kate spoke for the first time and said to me, "You lied to me."
The PA cop cocked his thumb over his shoulder and asked me, "Who's that?"
"That's Kate. I'm John. Who are you?"
"Al. Al Simpson." He turned onto the grass and followed the taxiway east. The car bumped badly. He said, "Best to stay off the taxiways and runways."
"You're the boss," I informed him.
"What kind of emergency?"
"Sorry, I can't say." Actually, I had no idea.
Within a minute, we could see a big 747 silhouetted on the horizon.
Simpson turned and crossed over a taxiway, then headed across more grass, avoiding all kinds of signs and lights, and headed toward a big runway. He said to me, "I really need to call Tower Control."
"No, you don't."
"FAA regulations. You can't cross-"
"Don't worry about it. I'll keep an eye out for airplanes."
Simpson crossed the wide runway.
Kate said to me again, "If you're trying to get fired, you're doing a good job."
The 747 didn't look as though it were too far away, but it was an optical illusion and the silhouette didn't get much bigger as we traveled cross-country toward it. "Step on it," I said.
The patrol car bounced badly over a patch of rough terrain.
Kate asked me, "Do you have a theory you'd like to share with me?"
"No, you don't have a theory, or no, you don't want to share?"
"Why are we doing this?"
"I got tired of Foster and Nash."
"I think you're showing off."
"We'll see when we get to the plane."
"You like to throw the dice, don't you?"
"No, I don't like to throw the dice. I have to throw the dice."
Officer Simpson was listening to Kate and me, but offered no insights and took no sides.
We drove on in silence, and the 747 still seemed out of reach, like a desert mirage.
Finally, Kate said, "Maybe I'll try to back you up."
"Thanks, partner." This, I guess, is what passes as unconditional loyalty amongst the Feds.
I looked at the 747 again, and this time it definitely hadn't gotten any bigger. I said, "I think it's moving."
Simpson peered out the window. "Yeah… but… I think they're towing it."
"Why would they tow it?"
"Well… I know they shut down the engines, so sometimes it's easier to get a tow instead of restarting them."
"You mean you don't just turn a key?"
We were making better time than the 747 and the distance started to close. I said to Simpson, "Why aren't they towing it this way? Toward the terminal?"
"Well… it would seem to me that they're heading toward the hijack area."
"I mean, the security area. Same difference."
I glanced back at Kate, and I could see she was concerned.
Simpson turned his radio volume up, and we listened to the radio traffic. What we heard was mostly orders, reports on the movement of vehicles, a lot of Port Authority mumbo jumbo that I couldn't make out, but no situation report. I guess everyone else knew the situation but us. I asked Simpson, "Can you tell what's going on?"
"Not really… but I can tell it's not a hijacking. Don't think it's mechanical either. I hear a lot of Emergency Service trucks going back to the house."
"How about medical?"
"Don't think so-I can tell by the call signs that they're not calling for backup medical-" He stopped short and said, "Uh-oh."
Kate leaned forward between us.
"Simpson? Uh-oh, what?"
"They're calling for the MM and the ME."
Which means Mobile Morgue and Medical Examiner, which means corpses.
I said to Simpson, "Step on it."
Andy McGill peeled off his hot bunker suit and threw it on an empty seat beside a dead woman. He wiped the sweat from his neck and pulled the fabric of his dark blue police shirt away from his wet body.
His radio crackled, and he heard his call sign. He spoke into the mouthpiece, "Unit Eight-One. Go ahead."
It was Lieutenant Pierce again, and McGill winced. Pierce said in a patronizing voice, "Andy, we don't want to bug you, but we have to be sure, for the record, that we're not missing an opportunity to deliver medical aid to the passengers."
McGill glanced through the open cockpit door and out the windshield. He could see the opening of the enclosed security pen only about a hundred feet ahead. In fact, Sorentino was nearly at the gates now.
"Look, I personally checked out about a hundred passengers in each of the three cabins-sort of like a survey. They are all cool and getting colder. In fact, I'm in the dome now, and it's starting to stink."
"Okay… just checking." Lieutenant Pierce continued, "I'm in the security area now, and I see you're almost here."
"Roger. Anything further?"
McGill put the radio on his belt hook.
His eyes went to the three men he was supposed to escort out of the aircraft. He walked over to the two sitting together-the Federal agent and his cuffed prisoner.
McGill, because he was a cop first and a fireman second, thought he should retrieve the pistols so there would be no problem later if they disappeared. He opened the suit jacket of the agent and found the belt holster, but there was no piece in it. "What the hell…?"
He moved to the agent in the row behind and checked for a pistol, again finding the holster but no gun. Strange. Something else to worry about.
McGill realized he was very thirsty and moved to the rear galley. He knew he shouldn't be taking anything, but he was parched. He tried to ignore the stewardess on the floor as he looked around. He found a small can of club soda in the bar cabinet, fought with his conscience for half a second, then popped open the can and took a long swig. He decided he needed something stronger and unscrewed the top of a miniature bottle of Scotch. He downed the Scotch in one gulp, chased it with club soda, and threw the can and bottle into the trash bin. He let out a little burp, and it felt good.
The aircraft was slowing, and he knew that when it stopped, the cabins would be swarming with people. Before that happened and before he had to talk to the bosses, he had to pee.
He stepped out of the galley, went to the door of the lavatory and pulled on it, but it was locked. The little red sign said OCCUPIED.
He stood there a second, confused. He'd checked the lav when he came into the dome. This made no sense. He tugged on the door again, and this time it opened.
Standing in the lavatory facing him was a tall, dark man wearing a blue jumpsuit with a Trans-Continental logo on the breast pocket.
McGill was speechless for a second, then managed to say, "How did you…"
He looked at the man's face and saw two deep black eyes boring into him.
The man raised his right hand, and McGill saw that the man had a lap blanket wrapped around his hand and arm, which seemed odd. "Who the hell are you?"
"I am Asad Khalil."
McGill barely heard the muffled sound of the shot and never felt the.40 caliber bullet piercing his forehead.
"And you are dead," said Asad Khalil.
Tony Sorentino passed through the opening of the security pen, aka the hijack area.
He looked around. This was a huge horseshoe-shaped enclosure with sodium vapor lights mounted on tall stanchions, and he was reminded of a baseball stadium, except that the whole area was paved with concrete.
He hadn't been in the security pen for a few years, and he looked around. The blast fence rose about twelve feet high, and every thirty feet or so was a shooter's platform behind the fence. Every platform had an armored shield with a gun slit, though no one was manning any of the positions as far as he could tell.
He looked in his sideview mirrors to be certain the tug guy hadn't panicked at the opening and stopped his vehicle. The fence on each side of the opening was low enough so that the wings of just about any commercial jetliner would clear, but the tug guys didn't always get it.
The tug was still behind Sorentino and the wings of the 747 sailed over the fence. "Keep moving, bozo. Follow Tony."
He glanced around at the scene spread out over the concrete. Nearly everyone had gotten here before him. He spotted the Mobile Incident Command Center, a huge van inside of which were radios, telephones, and bosses. They had direct communication with half the world, and by now they'd called the NYPD, the FBI, the FAA, maybe even the Coast Guard, who sometimes helped out with helicopters. For sure they'd called the Customs people and the Passport Control people. Even if the passengers were all dead, Sorentino thought, no one got into the USA without going through Customs and Passport Control. There were only two differences in today's procedures-one, everything would be done here and not at the terminal, and two, the passengers didn't have to answer any questions.
Sorentino slowed his RIV and checked his position and the position of the 747. A few more feet and they'd be centered.
Sorentino also spotted the mobile morgue and a bigger refrigerator truck near it, surrounded by a lot of people in white-the crew who would tag and bag the passengers.
On each side of the enclosure were mobile staircase trucks, six in all. Standing near each mobile staircase were his own guys, Port Authority cops and EMS people, positioned to get on board and begin the shitty job of unloading the corpses.
He also saw a lot of Trans-Continental vehicles-trucks, conveyor belts, rollers, baggage carts, and a scissor truck to unload the baggage containers in the hold. There were about twenty Trans-Continental baggage handlers standing around in their blue jumpsuits, holding their leather gloves. These guys usually had to hustle or a supervisor was up their ass. But the unloading of Flight 175 was not going to be timed.
Sorentino also spotted a Port Authority mobile X-ray truck to check out the baggage. He also noticed four catering trucks, which weren't there to put food on board, he knew. The catering trucks, which could raise their cabins hydraulically to the level of the 747 doors, were actually the best way to unload bodies.
Everybody was here, he thought, everybody and everything that normally took place at the terminal was here. Everybody except the people waiting for Flight 175 to get to the gate. Those poor bastards, Sorentino thought, they'd be in a private room soon with Trans-Continental officials.
Sorentino tried to imagine Trans-Continental making all those notifications, keeping track of what morgue the bodies were in, getting the baggage and personal effects back to the families. Jesus.
And then, in a few days or weeks, when this 747 was all checked out and the problem was fixed, it would be back on the line, earning money for the company. Sorentino wondered if the passengers' families would get rebates on the tickets.
A Port Authority cop was standing in front of Sorentino's RIV now and motioning him forward a little, then the guy held up his hands and Sorentino stopped. He checked his sideview mirrors to make sure the idiot in the tug stopped, too, which he did. Sorentino reached up and turned off his rotating beam. He took a deep breath, then put his face into his hands and felt tears running down his cheeks, which surprised him because he didn't know he was crying.
Kate, Officer Simpson, and I didn't say much, we just listened to the patrol car radio. Simpson switched frequencies and made a call directly to one of the Emergency Service vehicles. He identified himself and said, "What's the problem with Trans-Continental One-Seven-Five?"
A voice came over the speaker and said, "Seems to be toxic fumes. No fire. All souls lost."
There was complete silence in the patrol car.
The speaker said, "Copy?"
Simpson cleared his throat and replied, "Copy, all souls lost. Out."
Kate said, "My God… can that be?"
Well, what more was there to say? Nothing. And that's what I said. Nothing.
Officer Simpson found the taxi way that led to the security area. There was no urgency any longer, and, in fact, Simpson slowed down to the fifteen-miles-per-hour speed limit, and I didn't say anything.
The sight in front of us was almost surreal-this huge aircraft lumbering along the taxiway toward this strange-looking wall of steel that had a wide opening in it.
The 747 passed through the opening in the wall, and the wings passed over the top of the wall.
Within a minute, we were up to the opening, but there were other trucks and cars ahead of us who'd waited until the 747 cleared. The other vehicles-an assortment of everything I'd ever seen on wheels-started to follow the 747, causing a small traffic jam.
I said to Simpson, "Meet us inside." I jumped out of the patrol car and started running. I heard a door slam behind me and heard Kate's footsteps gaining on me.
I didn't know why I was running, but something in my head said, "Run!" So I ran, feeling that little pencil-shaped scar area in my lung giving me a problem.
Kate and I did some broken-field running around the vehicles and within a minute we were inside this huge enclosure, filled with vehicles, people, and one 747. It looked like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Maybe the X-Files.
People who run attract attention, and we were stopped by a uniformed Port Authority cop, who was joined quickly by his sergeant. The sergeant said, "Where's the fire, folks?"
I tried to catch my breath and say, "FBI," but only managed a sort of whistle that came out of my bad lung.
Kate held up her Fed creds and said, without any huffing or puffing, "FBI. We have a fugitive and escorts aboard that aircraft."
I got my creds out and stuck the case in my outside breast pocket, still trying to catch my breath.
The Port Authority sergeant said, "Well, there's no rush." He added, "All dead."
Kate said, "We have to board the aircraft to take charge of… the bodies."
"We have people to do that, miss."
"Sergeant, our escorts are carrying guns as well as sensitive documents. This is a matter of national security."
"Hold on." He put his hand out, and the police officer beside him laid a radio in his palm. The sergeant transmitted and waited. He said to us, "Lots of radio traffic."
I was tempted to get uppity, but I waited.
The sergeant said, while we waited, "This bird came in total NO-RAD-"
"We know that," I said, happy that I'd picked up this jargon recently.
I looked at the 747, which had stopped in the center of the enclosure. Mobile staircases were being driven up to the doors, and soon there would be people on board.
The sergeant wasn't getting a reply to his call, so he said to us, "You see that Mobile Incident Command vehicle over there? Go talk to somebody in there. They're in direct contact with the FBI and my bosses."
Before he changed his mind, we hurried off toward the Mobile Command vehicle.
I was still breathing hard, and Kate asked me, "Are you okay?"
We both glanced over our shoulders and saw that the Port Authority sergeant was busy with something else. We changed course and headed toward the aircraft.
One mobile staircase was now in place at the rear of the aircraft, and a few Emergency Service guys were heading up the stairs followed by men and women in white, plus some guys in blue jumpsuits, and a guy in a business suit.
A gentleman never climbs a staircase behind a lady with a short skirt, but I gave it a try and motioned for Kate to go first. She said, "After you."
So we got on the stairs and went through the door of the aircraft and into the huge cabin. The only lights were emergency floor lights, probably powered by batteries. There was some illumination from the late afternoon sunlight through the port side windows. But you didn't need a lot of light to see that the cabin was about three-quarters full and that no one in the seats was moving.
The people who had entered with us stood motionless and quiet, and the only sounds came through the open doors.
The guy with the suit looked at Kate and me, and I saw he had a photo ID on his breast pocket. It was actually a Trans-Continental ID, and the guy looked awful. In fact, he said to us, "This is awful… oh, my God…"
I thought he was going to cry, but he got himself under control and said, "I'm Joe Hurley… Trans-Continental baggage supervisor…"
I said to him, "FBI. Look, Joe, keep your people out of the aircraft. This may be a crime scene."
His eyes opened wide.
I really didn't think at that point that this was a crime scene, but I wasn't totally buying the toxic fumes accident thing either. The best way to get control of a situation is to say, "Crime Scene," then everyone has to do what you say.
One of the Port Authority Emergency Service guys came over and said, "Crime scene?"
"Yeah. Why don't you all go to a door and hold up the traffic awhile until we look around. Okay? There's no rush collecting the carry-on baggage or the bodies."
The EMS guy nodded, and Kate and I moved quickly up the left aisle.
People were starting to come on board through the other open doors, and Kate and I held up our creds and called out, "FBI. Please stop where you are. Do not enter the aircraft. Please move back onto the staircases." And so forth.
This got the traffic slowed down, and people started to congregate at the doors. A Port Authority cop was on board, and he helped stop traffic as we made our way to the front of the aircraft.
Every now and then, I glanced over my shoulder and saw these faces staring into nowhere. Some had their eyes shut, some had their eyes open. Toxic fumes. But what kind of toxic fumes?
We got to this open area where there were two exit doors, a galley, two lavatories, and a spiral staircase. A bunch of people were jamming into the area, and we did our routine again, but it's hard to stop a tide of people at a disaster site, especially if they think they have business there. I said, "Folks, this is a possible crime scene. Get off the aircraft. You can wait on the stairs outside."
A guy in a blue jumpsuit was on the spiral staircase, and I called up to him, "Hey, pal. Get down from there."
People were moving back toward the exit doors, and the guy on the spiral staircase was able to get down to the last step. Kate and I squeezed our way past him, and we went up the staircase, me first.
I took the spiral stairs two at a time, and stopped as soon as I was able to see into the dome cabin. I didn't think I needed a gun, but when in doubt, pull it out. I drew my Clock and stuck it in my belt.
I stood in the dome cabin, which was brighter than downstairs. I wondered if the Emergency Service guy who had gone on board and discovered this was still on board. I called out, "Hey! Anybody home?"
I moved to the side to let Kate up. She came up and moved a few feet away from me, and I saw she hadn't drawn her piece. In fact, there seemed to be no reason to suspect that there was any danger on board. The Port Authority Emergency Service guy had reported that everyone was dead. But where was the guy?
We stood there and scoped the scene out. First things first, and the first thing was to make sure there wasn't any danger to us, and you have to check out closed doors first. A lot of bright detectives have had their clever deductions blown out of their brains while they were poking around a crime scene with their heads in a cloud.
In the rear of the dome was the lavatory to the left, and the galley to the right. I motioned to Kate, and she drew her piece from under her blazer as I moved toward the lav. The little sign said VACANT, and I pushed on the folding door and stood aside.
She said, "Clear."
In the galley, a stewardess lay on the floor on her side, and out of habit, I knelt down and felt her ankle for a pulse. Not only was there no pulse, she was cold.
Between the galley and the lav was a closet, so I covered while Kate opened the door. Inside were passengers' coats, jackets, hanging garment bags, and odds and ends on the floor. It's nice to travel Business Class. Kate poked around a few seconds, and we almost missed it but there it was. On the floor, under a trench coat, were two green oxygen bottles strapped to a wheeled cart. I checked both valves, and they were open. It took about three seconds for me to suspect that one bottle had held oxygen, and the other had held something not so good for you. Things were starting to come together.
Kate said, "These are medical oxygen bottles."
"Right." I could see she was also putting things together, but neither of us said anything.
Kate and I moved quickly up the aisle and stood at the cockpit door, which I could see had its lock smashed. I pulled on the door and it swung open. I stepped inside and saw that both pilots were slumped forward in their seats. I felt for a pulse in both their necks, but all I got was cold, clammy skin.
I noticed that the overhead hatch was open, and I guessed that the EMS guy who'd come on board had opened it to vent the cockpit. I stepped back into the dome cabin.
Kate was standing near the seats in the back of the cabin. I walked over to her and she said, "This is Phil Hundry…"
I looked at the guy sitting next to Hundry. He was wearing a black suit, his hands were cuffed, and he had a black sleeping mask over his face. I reached over and pulled the mask up. Kate and I both looked at the man, then finally she said, "Is that…? That doesn't look like Khalil."
I didn't think so either, but I didn't have a clear image of Khalil in my mind. Also, people's faces really transform in some weird way when they're dead. I said, "Well… he looks Arab… I'm not sure."
Kate reached out and ripped the man's shirt open. "No vest."
"No vest," I agreed. Something was very strange here, to say the least.
Kate was now leaning over the guy in the seat behind Phil Hundry, and she said to me, "This is Peter Gorman."
That at least was reassuring, two out of three wasn't bad. But where was Asad Khalil? And who was the stiff posing as Khalil?
Kate was now staring at the Arab guy and said to me, "This guy is… who? An accomplice? A victim?"
My mind was trying to sort all this out, but all I knew for sure was that everyone was dead, except maybe one guy who was playing dead. I looked around the cabin and said to Kate, "Keep an eye on these people. One of them may not be as dead as he looks."
She nodded and raised her pistol in a ready position.
"Let me have your phone," I said.
She took her flip phone from her blazer and handed it to me. "What's George's number?"
She gave it to me and I dialed. Foster answered and I said, "George, this is Corey-just listen, please. We're in the aircraft. The dome. Everyone is dead. Hundry and Gorman are dead-okay, I'm glad Lindley is keeping you informed. Yeah, we're in the dome, and the dome is on the plane, and the plane is in the security area. Listen up-the guy with Phil and Peter does not look like Khalil-that's what I said. The guy is cuffed, but he has no vest. No, I'm not certain it isn't Khalil. I don't have a photo with me. Kate isn't sure, either, and the photo we saw sucks. Listen…" My mind tried to come up with a plan of action, but I wasn't even sure what the problem was. I said, "If this guy next to Phil isn't Khalil, then Khalil may still be on board. Yeah. But he may have slipped off the plane already. Tell Lindley to tell the Port Authority guys to call their bosses ASAP and have the security area sealed off. Don't let anybody out of this enclosure."
Foster wasn't interrupting, but I could hear him mumbling things like, "Good Lord… my God… how did this happen… awful, awful…" and other genteel mush.
I said, "Khalil has apparently killed two of our people, George, and the score is Lion, a few hundred, Feds, zero. Put out an alert around the airport. Do what you can with that. What can I tell you? An Arab guy. See if you can get this whole airport sealed up, too. If this guy gets out of here, we've got a problem. Yeah. Call Federal Plaza. We'll set up a command post at the Conquistador Club. Get all of this rolling as soon as possible. And tell Ms. Del Vecchio the aircraft will not be proceeding to the gate." I hung up and said to Kate, "Go down and tell the PA cops we need the enclosure sealed tight. People can come in, but nobody gets out. Roach motel."
She hurried down the staircase, and I stood where I was, looking at the faces around me. If that wasn't Khalil next to Hundry-and I was about ninety percent certain it wasn't-then Khalil could still be on board. But if he'd acted quickly, he was already out in the security enclosure with about two hundred other people-people who had on every kind of clothing imaginable, including business suits like the Trans-Continental supervisor. And if Khalil acted very quickly, and very decisively, he was already on some kind of vehicle headed out of here. The airport barrier fence was close by, and the terminals weren't more than two miles from here. "Damn it!"
Kate came back up the stairs and said, "Done. They understand."
"Good." I said to her, "Let's check these people out."
We both moved up the aisle and examined the dozen or so male bodies in the dome cabin. One of the passengers had a Stephen King novel on his lap, which turned out to be appropriate. I got to a guy whose body was completely covered with two lap blankets. He had a black sleeping mask on his forehead, and I pulled it off and saw that the guy had sprouted a third eye in the middle of his forehead. "Over here."
Kate came over to me as I pulled the lap blankets off the body. The guy was wearing a navy blue police shirt and BDU pants. On the shirt was a Port Authority police emblem. I let the blankets fall to the floor and said to Kate, "That's got to be the EMS guy who boarded the aircraft."
She nodded and said, "What has happened here?"
You're not supposed to touch things at a crime scene unless you're trying to save a life, or if you think the perp is around, and you're supposed to use latex gloves, but I didn't even have a condom on me-nevertheless, we checked out the other bodies, but they were all dead, and they were all not Asad Khalil. We looked for, but didn't find a shell casing. We also popped open all the overhead compartments, and in one of them, Kate found a silver fire suit, fire ax, and an oxygen pack with a fire mask, all of which obviously belonged to the dead EMS guy.
Kate went back to Phil Hundry. She pulled Hundry's jacket open to reveal his belt holster, which was empty. There was an FBI badge case pinned inside Hundry's jacket, and she pulled it off, then took his breast pocket wallet and passport.
I went over to Peter Gorman, opened his jacket, and said to Kate, "Gorman's gun is also missing." I recovered Gorman's CIA credentials, passport, wallet, and also the keys to the handcuffs, which were obviously returned to Gorman's pocket after they'd been used to uncuff Khalil. What I didn't find was any extra Clock magazines.
I checked the overhead rack, and there was an attache case there. It was unlocked, and I opened it and saw it belonged to Peter Gorman.
Kate retrieved Hundry's attache case and also opened it.
We rummaged around the attache cases, which held their cell phones, papers, and some personal items, such as toothbrushes, combs, tissues, and such, but again, no extra magazines. There were no overnight bags because agents are supposed to travel hands-free, except for the attache case. As for the real Khalil, the only thing they'd let him have was the clothes on his back and, therefore, his dead double was clean, too.
Kate said to me, "Khalil didn't take any personal items from Phil or Peter. Not their passports, not the creds, not even their wallets."
I opened Gorman's wallet and saw about two hundred dollars in cash and some French francs. I said, "He didn't take Gorman's money either. He's telling us he has lots of resources in America, and we can keep the money." I added,
"He's got all the ID and cash he needs, plus his hair is blond by now, and he's a woman."
"But you'd think he'd take all this as a screw-you gesture. They usually do. They show it to their buddies. Or bosses."
"The guy's a pro, Kate. He doesn't want to get caught with hard evidence."
"He took the guns," she pointed out.
"He needed the guns," I said.
Kate nodded and put all the items in the attaché cases and said, "These were good guys."
I could see she was upset, and her upper lip was trembling.
I got on the phone again and called Foster. I said, "Phil's and Peter's guns and magazines are missing-yeah. But their creds are intact. Also, the EMS guy on board is dead-shot through the head. That's right. The murder weapon was probably one of the missing Clocks." I gave him a quick update and said, "Consider the perp armed and real dangerous." I signed off.
The cabin was getting warm now, and a faint, unpleasant odor was starting to fill the air. I could hear gases escaping from some of the bodies.
Kate had moved back to the cuffed man and was feeling his face and neck. She said, "He's definitely warmer. He died only about an hour ago, if that."
I was trying to piece this together, and I had a few pieces in my hands, but some pieces were scattered around the aircraft, and some were back in Libya.
Kate said, "If he didn't die with everyone else, how did he die?" She pulled open his jacket, but there were no signs of blood. She pushed his head and shoulders forward to check for wounds. The head, which had been resting comfortably against the back of the seat, rolled to the side in a very unnatural way. She rotated the man's head and said, "His neck is broken."
Two Port Authority Emergency Service cops came up the spiral stairs into the dome. They looked around, then they looked at Kate and me. One of them asked, "Who are you?"
"FBI," Kate replied.
I motioned the guy toward me and said, "This man here and that guy behind him are Federal agents, and the guy in cuffs is their… was their prisoner. Okay?"
I continued, "The FBI crime lab people will want photos and the whole nine yards, so let's leave this whole section as it is."
One of the guys was looking over my shoulder. "Where's McGill?" He looked at me. "We lost radio contact. You see an Emergency Service guy up here?"
"No," I lied. "Only dead people. Maybe he went downstairs. All right, let's get out of here."
Kate and I took both attaché cases, and we all moved toward the staircase. I asked one of the Emergency Service cops, "Can this aircraft land itself? Like on autopilot?"
"Yeah… the autopilot would bring it in… but… jeez, you think they were all dead?… yeah… the NO-RAD."
The two Emergency Service cops started talking a mile a minute. I heard the words NO-RAD, reverse thrusters, toxic fumes, something called the Saudi Scenario, and the name Andy, who I guessed was McGill.
We were all in the open area below, and I said to one of the PA cops, "Please stand on these stairs and don't let anyone up to the dome until the FBI crime lab comes."
"I know the drill."
The curtains to the Coach and First Class section had been tied back, and I could see that the cabin was clear, but people still congregated at the doors on the mobile staircase.
I could feel and hear thumping below my feet, and I knew that the baggage handlers were clearing out the hold. I said to one of the Port Authority police officers, "Stop the unloading of the baggage, and please get everyone away from the aircraft."
We entered the First Class compartment, which held only twenty seats, half of which were empty. We did a quick search of the area. Although I wanted to get moving and off this aircraft, we were the only two Feds on the scene-the only two live Feds-and we needed to gather what information we could. As we poked around, Kate said, "I think Khalil gassed this whole aircraft."
"It would appear so."
"He must have had an accomplice who had those two oxygen bottles that we found in the closet."
"One oxygen, one not."
"Yes, I understand that." She looked at me and said, "I can't believe Phil and Peter are dead… and Khalil… we lost our prisoner."
"Defector," I corrected.
She gave me an annoyed look, but said nothing.
It occurred to me that there were a hundred easier ways for a bad guy to slip into the country. But this guy-Asad Khalil-had picked about the most in-your-face-fuck-you way I could imagine. This was one bad dude. And he was loose in America. A lion in the streets. I didn't even want to think what he was going to do next to top this act.
Kate was thinking along similar lines and said, "Right under our noses. He killed over three hundred people before he even landed."
We moved out of the First Class compartment into the open area near the spiral staircase. I said to the Port Authority cop I had asked to guard the staircase, "By the way, what's the Saudi Scenario?"
The guy explained it to Kate and me, and added, "This is something different. This is a new one."
Kate and I moved away from the PA cop, and I said to her, "How about the Dracula Scenario?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know-Count Dracula is in a coffin on a ship from Transylvania to England. His accomplice opens the coffin, and Dracula gets out and sucks the blood of every man on board. The ship comes in by itself, like magic, with all the crew and passengers dead, and Dracula slips off into the peaceful country of England to commit more unholy horrors." If I were a good Catholic, I would have crossed myself right there and then.
Kate stared at me, wondering, I guess, if I was nuts or in shock. I'm definitely nuts, and I admit to being a little in shock. I mean, I thought I'd seen it all by now, but there are few people on earth who'd seen anything like this, except maybe in war. Actually, this was war.
I looked into the big Coach cabin and saw that the paramedics had talked themselves on board. They were going through the aisles, making pronouncements of death, and neatly tagging each body with a seat and aisle number. Later, each body would be bagged. Tag and bag. What a mess.
I stood near the starboard side door and breathed some fresh air. I had the feeling we were missing something-something of great importance. I asked Kate, "Should we look through the dome again?"
She contemplated the question and replied, "I think we gave it a good once-over. Galley, lav, cockpit, closet, cabin, overheads… Forensics will be happy we didn't pollute the scene too much."
"Yeah…" There was still something I'd forgotten, or maybe overlooked… I thought about the Fed creds and wallets and passports that Khalil didn't take, and although I'd explained that to Kate and to myself, I was beginning to wonder why Khalil didn't take that stuff. Assuming everything he did had a purpose, what was the purpose of doing the opposite of what we'd expect?
I racked my brains, but nothing was clicking.
Kate was looking through one of the attaché cases and said to me, "There doesn't seem to be anything missing here either, not even Khalil's dossier or the crypto sheets, or even our instruction memo from Zach Weber-"
"Wait a minute."
"What's the matter?"
It was starting to come together. "He's trying to make us think he's done with us. Mission complete. He wants us to think he's headed into the International Departures building, and he's clean going in there. He wants us to think he's headed out on a flight somewhere, and he doesn't want this stuff on him in case he's spot-checked."
"I'm not following. He is or he isn't trying to catch an outbound flight?"
"He wants us to think he is, but he isn't."
"Okay… so he's staying here. He's probably out of the airport by now."
I was still trying to put this together. I said, "If he didn't take the creds because he wanted to be clean, why did he take the guns? He wouldn't take the guns into the terminal, and if he escaped from the airport, there would be an accomplice with a gun for him. So… why does he need two guns inside the airport…?"
"He's prepared to shoot his way out," Kate said. "He kept the bulletproof vest on him. What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking…" All of a sudden, I thought of the February defector, and this totally unbelievable thought popped into my head. "Oh, shit…!" I ran to the spiral staircase and barreled past the guy I'd posted there, took the steps three at a time, and charged into the dome, moving quickly to Phil Hundry. I grabbed his right arm, which I now noticed had been sort of tucked close to his body with his hand wedged between his thigh and the center armrest. I pulled his arm up and took a look at his hand. The thumb was missing, cleanly severed by a sharp instrument. "Damn!"
I grabbed Peter Gorman's right arm, pulled it away from his body, and saw the same mutilation.
Kate was beside me now, and I held up Gorman's lifeless arm and hand.
She seemed shocked and confused for about one half second, then said, "Oh, no!"
We both charged down the spiral stairs, out the door, and tore down the mobile stairs, knocking a few people aside. We found the Port Authority police car we'd come in, and I jumped in the front while Kate jumped in the back. I said to Simpson, "Lights and siren. Let's get moving."
I pulled Kate's cell phone out of my pocket and called the Conquistador Club. I waited for Nancy Tate to answer, but there was no answer. I said to Kate, "Conquistador is not answering."
Simpson headed toward the opening in the security enclosure, weaving through a dozen parked vehicles, but when we got to the opening in the wall, we were stopped by Port Authority cops, who informed us that the area was sealed. "I know," I said, "I'm the guy who had it sealed." The cops didn't give a shit.
Kate handled it properly, holding up her FBI credentials, using a little logic, a little pleading, a little threatening, and some common sense. Officer Simpson helped, too. I kept my mouth shut. Finally, the PA cops waved us through.
I said quickly to Simpson, "Okay, listen. We have to get to the west end of the airport where all those service buildings are. The most direct and fastest route."
"Well, the perimeter road-"
"No. Direct and fast. Runways and taxiways. Move."
Officer Simpson hesitated and said, "I can't go on the runway unless I call the Tower. Stavros is pissed-"
"This is a ten-thirteen," I informed him, which means Cop in Trouble.
Simpson hit the gas, as any cop would do with a 10-13!
Kate asked me, "What's a ten-thirteen?"
After we'd cleared a bunch of vehicles, I said to Simpson, "Now pretend you're an airplane and get up to take-off speed. Hit it."
He put the pedal to the metal and the big Chevy Caprice accelerated down the smooth concrete runway like it had afterburners. Simpson got on his radio and told the Tower what he was doing. The Tower guy sounded like he was going to have a coronary.
Meanwhile, I whipped out the cell phone and dialed the Conquistador Club again, but there was no answer. "Shit!" I dialed Foster's cell phone and he answered. I said, "George, I'm trying to call Nick-Yeah… Okay, I'm on my way there. Whoever gets there first, use caution. I think Khalil is headed that way. That's what I said. Khalil took Phil's and Peter's thumbs-Yeah. You heard me right."
I put the phone in my pocket and said to Kate, "George couldn't get through either."
She said, softly, "God, I hope we're not too late."
The car was doing a hundred now, eating up the runway.
In the distance I saw the old building in which the Conquistador Club was housed. I wanted to tell Simpson there was no need to hurry any longer, but I couldn't bring myself to do that, and we were up to a hundred and ten. The car began to shimmy, but Simpson didn't seem to notice or care. He glanced at me, and I said, "Eyes on the road."
"Whatever. See that long glass building? At some point, start to decelerate, find a service road or taxiway, and go toward that building."
As we got closer, I saw an upside-down SIR painted on the runway, and further on I could see that the runway ended, and I realized there was a high chain-link fence separating us from the building. We shot past a service road that looked like it headed toward a gate in the fence, but the gate was a hundred yards to the right of where I needed to be. Simpson suddenly veered off the runway, and the car two-wheeled for a few seconds, then came down with a big thump and bounce.
Simpson took his foot off the gas but didn't brake. We literally sailed and skimmed across the grass, pointed directly at the building beyond the fence. The Caprice hit the chain link and went through it like it wasn't there.
The car settled down onto the blacktop, Simpson hit the brakes, and I could feel the anti-lock mechanism pumping and pulsating as Simpson fought the wheel for control. The car skidded and fishtailed, then came to a screeching halt about ten feet from the building's entrance. I was half out of the car and said to Simpson, "Stop anyone coming out of the building. The perp is armed."
I drew my piece and as I ran toward the entrance, I noticed our escort vehicles from Gate 23 approaching across the far side of the parking lot. I also noticed a Trans-Continental baggage cart vehicle near the building. This did not belong there, but I thought I knew how it got there.
Kate passed me and ran into the building, gun drawn. I followed and said, "Cover the elevators." I ran up the staircase.
I stopped short of the hallway, stuck my head out and looked both ways, then ran down the corridor and stopped beside the door of the Conquistador Club, my back to the wall, out of sight of the scanning video camera whose monitors were all over the offices inside.
I reached out and pressed my right thumb to the translucent scanner, and the door slid open. I knew it would close again in three seconds, and as a security feature, it would not open again for three long minutes, unless someone inside opened it. So, I spun into the doorway just as it began closing, then crouched with my automatic extended, sweeping the reception area.
Nancy Tate was not at her desk, but her chair was against the back wall, and her phone was ringing insistently. Keeping my back to the wall, I came around the long, counter-type desk and saw Nancy Tate on the floor, a bullet hole in her forehead and a puddle of blood on the plastic mat, wet and gleaming around her face and hair. This did not surprise me, but it made me angry. I prayed that Asad Khalil was still here.
I knew I had to stay put to cover both doors that led from the reception room, and it was only a few seconds before I saw Kate on the monitor mounted on Nancy 's desk. Behind her were George Foster and Ted Nash. I reached out and hit the door button, shouting, "Clear!"
The three of them barreled into the reception room, guns drawn. I spoke quickly. " Nancy is on the floor here. Gunshot wound to the head. Kate and I will go into the Ops Center, you two check out the other side."
They did what I said and disappeared through the doorway leading to the cells and interrogation rooms.
Kate and I moved quickly into the big operations and control center, taking minimum precautions. I think we both knew that Asad Khalil was long gone.
I walked over to the desk where we'd all sat not so long ago. All the chairs were empty, all the coffee mugs were empty, and Nick Monti lay on the floor, facing up at the high ceiling, his eyes wide open, and a big pool of blood around his body. His white shirt showed at least two entry wounds in the chest, and he hadn't had time to go for his gun, which was still in his holster. I bent over him and checked for a pulse, but there wasn't any.
Kate walked quickly up the three steps to the communications platform, and I followed. The duty officer had obviously had a few seconds to react because she was out of her chair and crumpled against the far wall beneath the huge electronic maps of the world. There was blood splattered on the wall and all over her white blouse. Her holster hung over the back of a chair along with her blue blazer and her pocketbook. Again, I checked for signs of life, but she was dead.
The room murmured and crackled with electronics and a few voices came faintly through the speakers. A teletype was clattering, and a fax machine went off. On the console was a tray of sushi and two chopsticks. I looked again at the dead duty officer against the wall. The last thing she expected today was trouble in the very heart of one of the most secure and secret facilities in the country.
Foster and Nash were in the room now, looking at Nick Monti. Two Port Authority uniformed cops were also in the room, also looking at Monti and sort of gawking at the facility. I yelled out, "Get an ambulance!" We didn't really need one, but this is what you have to say.
Kate and I came down from the commo platform, and all four of us moved off to a corner. George Foster looked white, as if he'd seen his efficiency report. Ted Nash looked, as always, inscrutable, but I saw a look of worry cross his face.
No one spoke. What was there to say? We'd all been made to look like the fools we probably were. Beyond our little career problems, hundreds of people were dead, and the guy who caused this massacre was about to disappear into a metropolitan area of sixteen million people, which might be half that number this time tomorrow if the guy had access to something nuclear, chemical, or biological.
Clearly, we had a major problem. Clearly, too, neither Ted Nash, George Foster, Kate Mayfield, or John Corey needed to trouble themselves about it. If the ATTF operated the way the NYPD did, we'd all be transferred to school crossing guard duty.
But at least Nick Monti would be given an Inspector's Funeral, and a posthumous medal of honor. As I said, I wondered what the outcome of this would have been if I'd stayed behind instead of Nick. Probably I'd be lying where he was, about to get my body outlined in chalk.
I stared at the desk where we all had sat, and I tried to imagine Khalil running into the room, looking left and right, seeing Monti, Monti seeing him… The offensive guy always has the edge. And Nick didn't even know he was in the game. He thought he was on the sidelines.
Everyone saw me looking at the desk and at Nick, and they were not as stupid or insensitive as they seemed, so they figured what was going through my head, and George took me by the shoulder and turned me away. Kate said, "Let's get out of here."
No one argued with that. Nash gathered the dossiers from the desk, and where there had been five-one for each of us-there were now four. Obviously, Mr. Khalil had helped himself to one of them, and now he knew what we knew about him. Incredible.
We walked back to the reception area that was becoming filled with NYPD and Port Authority cops. Someone had found the security disarming switch, and the door was in the open position.
I took Khalil's photo out of one of the dossiers and went over to a uniformed Port Authority lieutenant and gave him the photo. I said, "This is the suspect. Get this out to every cop on duty. Tell them to stop and search every vehicle leaving this airport. Check the parking lots, taxis, trucks, even official vehicles."
"That's already in the works. Also, I've put out a city-wide alert."
Kate added, "Also, check the departure terminals for this guy"
I said to the lieutenant, "There's a Trans-Continental vehicle outside. One of those baggage cart trucks. I think that's what the perp arrived in, so have it towed into a processing area. Let us know if you find a Trans-Continental uniform or jumpsuit anyplace."
The PA lieutenant got on his radio and called his command center.
The wheels were starting to move, but Asad Khalil had moved faster, and the chances of bottling him up inside this airport had passed about ten or fifteen minutes ago.
Foster was getting upset with all these NYPD and Port Authority people milling around, so he said, "Okay, everyone please clear out. This is a crime scene, and we want to preserve it for the lab. Keep someone at the door. Thank you."
Everyone left except for a Port Authority sergeant, who motioned us over to Nancy 's desk. He pointed to an empty teacup and we looked at it. Sitting in the cup, in about a half inch of tea, were two thumbs.
The sergeant asked, "What the hell is that?" George Foster replied, "I have no idea," although he knew where the thumbs came from, and why they were no longer attached to their owners' hands. But it's best to get into the cover-up mode very quickly and to stay in that mode right up until the moment you're under oath. And even then, a few memory lapses are okay. National security and all that.
So, what started out as a routine assignment ended up as the crime of the century. Shit happens, even on a nice spring day.
We all walked out of the Conquistador Club into the sunlight and saw more vehicles pulling up. Our team leader, Mr. George Foster, said to us, "I'll call headquarters and have all our stakeouts alerted and increased."
The ATTF, by the way, stakes out houses of known and suspected terrorists, bomb chuckers, their friends, families, and sympathizers. The NYPD guys who work for the ATTF supply the shoe leather for this. The Feds give the city of New York more money than the job is worth, and everyone is happy.
Foster went on, "We'll increase phone taps, pull in some informants, and put Khalil's photo out to every law enforcement agency in the country."
George Foster went on a bit, making sure we knew he was on top of things, and building up everyone's confidence and morale, not to mention creating some credibility for himself for the moment when he had to kiss major ass.
And speaking of that, eventually someone who we couldn't totally bullshit was going to show up here, so I suggested, "Maybe we should go back to Federal Plaza and on our way there get our facts straight."
Everyone thought that was a fine idea. Troubled minds think alike.
We needed a scapegoat to stay behind, however, and Foster knew that he was it. He said, "You three go ahead. I have to stay here and… brief whoever shows up. Also, I have to put out the alert, and get the crime lab here." He added, to convince himself, I think, "I can't leave. This is a secure FBI facility, and…"
I added helpfully, "And there's no one left to secure it."
He looked annoyed for the first time since I'd met him. He said to me, "It's a restricted area with classified data and…" He wiped some sweat off his lip and looked at the ground.
George Foster was realizing, of course, that Mr. Asad Khalil had known about this sanctum sanctorum, had penetrated into the heart of it, and taken a crap on the floor. Foster also knew how this had happened vis-à-vis February's bogus defector. There were six tons of shit about to fall on George Foster, and he knew it. To his credit, he said, "This is my responsibility and my… my…" He turned and walked away.
Mr. Ted Nash, of course, belonged to an organization that specialized in sidestepping tons of falling shit, and I knew that nothing was going to splatter his bespoken suit. He turned and walked toward Simpson's patrol car.
As for me, having been recently assigned to this sterling team, I was pretty clean and would probably stay that way, unless Nash figured out a way to push me under the shit storm. Maybe that's why he wanted me around. Kate Mayfield, like George Foster, had no umbrella, but she'd covered herself a little by joining me in my ride to the aircraft. I said to her, "I've got nothing to lose here, and I will try to cover for you."
She forced a smile and replied, "Thanks, but we'll just tell it like it happened and let Washington decide if any of us is at fault."
I rolled my eyes, but she pretended not to notice. She added, "I intend to stay on this case."
"You'll be lucky if they don't put you back into Accounting."
She informed me coolly, "We don't operate like that. It is policy to keep an agent on a case that he or she has bungled, as long as you're straight with them and don't lie to them."
"Really? I think the Boy Scouts have a similar policy."
She didn't reply.
A horn was honking, and it was Ted Nash waiting impatiently in the passenger seat of Officer Simpson's car. We walked over to the car and got in the back where the two attaché cases sat. Nash said to us, "Officer Simpson has gotten permission to take us to lower Manhattan."
Simpson informed us, "I'm so deep in shit because of you guys, it doesn't matter what I do anymore."
Kate said, "I'll take care of it. You did a fine job."
"Whoopie," said Officer Simpson.
We rode in silence a few minutes, out toward one of the exits near the warehouses.
Finally, Nash said to me, "You did a good job, Detective."
This sort of caught me by surprise, including the use of my former exalted title. I was speechless, and I began thinking that maybe I'd gotten old Ted all wrong. Maybe we could bond, maybe I should reach out and tousle his hair and say, "You big galoot-I love you!"
Anyway, we got to an exit gate, and a Port Authority cop waved us on with barely a look. Obviously, the word hadn't gotten out to everyone. I told Simpson to stop.
I got out of the car and flashed my Fed creds and said to the guy, "Officer, have you gotten the word to stop and search all vehicles?"
"Yeah… but not police cars."
This was frustrating, and it pissed me off. I reached into the car and retrieved a dossier. I took out the photo and showed it to him. "Have you seen this guy?"
"No… I think I'd remember that face."
"How many vehicles have come through here since you got the alert?"
"Not many. It's Saturday. Maybe a dozen."
"Did you stop and search them?"
"Yeah… but they were all big trucks filled with crates and boxes. I can't open every box, unless it looks like the Customs seal has been tampered with. All the drivers had their Customs stuff in order."
"So you didn't open any crates?"
The guy was getting a little pissed at me and said, "I need some backup for that. That could take all day."
"How many vehicles passed through here right before you got the alert?"
"Maybe… two or three."
"What kind of vehicles?"
"Couple of trucks. A taxi."
"Passenger in the taxi?"
"I didn't notice." He added, "It was before the alert."
"Okay…" I gave him the photo and said, "This guy is armed and dangerous, and he's already killed too many cops today."
I got back in the car and we proceeded. I noted that the PA cop didn't start with us and make us open the trunk, which is what I would have done if some wise-ass just busted my balls. But America wasn't ready for any of this. Not at all ready.
We got on the parkway and headed back toward Manhattan.
We drove in silence awhile. The Belt Parkway traffic was what the helicopter traffic idiot would call moderate to heavy. Actually, it was heavy to horrible, but I didn't care. I watched Brooklyn pass by out the right window, and I said to my Federal friends, "There are sixteen million people in the metropolitan area, eight million in New York City. Among them are about two hundred thousand newly arrived immigrants from Islamic countries, about half of them here in Brooklyn."
Neither Kate nor Nash commented.
Regarding Khalil, if he had indeed disappeared into these teeming millions, could the ATTF root him out? Maybe. The Mideastern community was pretty closed, but there were informants, not to mention loyal Americans amongst them. The underground terrorist network was badly compromised, and to give the Feds credit, they had a good handle on who was who.
So, for that reason, Asad Khalil was not going to make contact with the usual suspects. No one who was bright enough to pull off what he'd just pulled off was going to be stupid enough to join up with anyone less intelligent than he was.
I considered Mr. Khalil's audacity, which his sympathizers would call bravery. This man was going to be a challenge, to say the least.
Finally, Nash said to no one in particular, "About a million people slip into this country illegally every year. It's not that difficult. So, what I think is that our guy's mission was not to get into the country to commit an act of terrorism. His mission was to do what he did on the aircraft and at the Conquistador Club, then get out. He never left the airport and unless the Port Authority police have caught him, he's on an outbound plane right now. Mission accomplished."
I said to Ted Nash, "I've already discarded that theory. Catch up."
He replied tersely, "I've discarded the other possibilities. I say he's airborne."
I recalled the Plum Island case, and Mr. Nash's illogical reasoning and far-out conspiracy theories. Obviously the man had been trained beyond his intelligence and had forgotten how to even spell common sense. I said to him, "Ten bucks says we hear from our boy very soon and very close by."
Nash replied, "You're on." He turned in his seat and said to me, "You have no experience in these things, Corey. A trained terrorist is not like a stupid criminal. They hit and run, then hit and run again, sometimes years later. They don't revisit the scene of their crimes, and they don't go hide out at their girlfriend's house with a hot gun and a bag of loot, and they don't go to a bar and brag about their crimes. He's airborne."
"Thank you, Mr. Nash." I wondered if I should strangle him or smash his skull in with my gun butt.
Kate said, "That's an interesting theory, Ted. But until we know for sure, we're alerting the entire ATTF Mideast section to stake out all houses of known terrorist sympathizers and suspects."
Nash replied, "I have no problem with standard operating procedure. But I'll tell you this-if this guy is still in the country, the last place you're going to find him is where you think he'll show up. The February guy never showed up after he bolted, and he never will. If these two guys are connected, they represent something new and unknown. Some group we know nothing about."
I'd already figured that out. Also, on one level, I hoped he was right about Khalil being airborne. I wouldn't mind losing the ten bucks, even to this schmuck, and much as I'd like to get my hands on Asad Khalil and lump him up until his mother couldn't recognize him, I really wanted him someplace else, where he couldn't do any further damage to the good old US of A. I mean, a guy who would kill a planeload of innocent people undoubtedly had an atomic bomb up his sleeve, or anthrax in his hat, or poison gas up his ass.
Simpson asked, "Are we talking, like, Arab terrorist?"
I replied bluntly, "We're talking the mother of all terrorists."
Nash said to Simpson, "Forget everything you heard."
"I heard nothing," replied Simpson.
As we approached the Brooklyn Bridge, Kate said to me, "I think you may be late for your date on Long Island."
"About a month."
I didn't reply.
She added, "We'll probably fly to Washington first thing tomorrow."
This was the Fed equivalent, I guess, of going to One Police Plaza to face the music and dance. I wondered if there was an escape clause in my hiring contract. I had it in my desk at Federal Plaza. I'd have to give it a quick read.
We went over the bridge and exited into the canyons of lower Manhattan. No one said much, but you could smell the brain cells burning.
Police cars don't have regular AM/FM radios, but Officer Simpson had a portable radio, and he tuned to 1010 WINS News. A reporter was saying, "The aircraft is still in the fenced-off security area out by one of the runways, and we can't see what's going on, though we've seen vehicles arriving and leaving the area. What appeared to be a large refrigerated truck left the area a few minutes ago, and there is speculation that this truck was transporting bodies."
The reporter paused for effect, then continued, "Authorities haven't released an official statement, but a spokesperson from the National Transportation Safety Board told reporters that toxic fumes had overcome the passengers and crew, and there are some fatalities. The aircraft, though, has landed safely, and all we can do is hope and pray that there are few fatalities."
The anchorwoman asked, "Larry, we're hearing rumors that the aircraft was out of radio contact for several hours before it landed. Have you heard anything about that?"
Larry, the on-the-scene guy, said, "The FAA has not confirmed that, but an FAA spokesperson did say that the pilot radioed in that he was experiencing some fumes and smoke on board, and he thought it was something chemical, or maybe an electrical fire."
This was news to me, but not to Ted Nash, who commented cryptically, "I'm glad they're getting their facts straight."
Facts? It seemed to me that lacking any smoke in the aircraft, someone was manufacturing it and blowing it up everyone's ass.
The radio reporter and the anchorlady were going on about the Swissair tragedy, and someone recalled the Saudi air tragedy. Nash turned off the radio.
I realized Kate was looking at me. She said softly, "We don't know what happened, John, so we won't speculate. We'll avoid talking to the news media."
"Right. Just what I was thinking." I realized I had to watch what I said.
What I was also thinking was that the Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies were sort of like a cross between the Gestapo and the Boy Scouts-the iron fist in the velvet glove and all that. We won't speculate meant, Shut up. Not wanting to wind up in protective custody for a year, or maybe worse, I said, with real sincerity, "I'll do whatever I have to do to bring this guy to justice. Just keep me on the case."
Neither of my teammates replied, though they could have reminded me that I wanted out not too long ago.
Ted Nash, Super-Spy, gave Officer Simpson an address a block away from Federal Plaza. I mean, jeez, the guy's a cop, and even if he was stupid, he could figure out that we were going either to 26 Federal Plaza, or 290 Broadway, the new Fed building across the street from Fed Plaza. In fact, Simpson said, "You want to walk to Federal Plaza?"
Nash said, "Just pull over here."
Officer Simpson pulled over on Chambers Street near the infamous Tweed Courthouse, and we all got out. I thanked him for driving us, and he reminded me, "I have damage to the front of the patrol car."
"Charge it to the Feds," I said. "They're collecting a trillion dollars today."
We began walking up lower Broadway. It was dusk now, but it's always dusk down here in the skyscraper caverns of lower Manhattan. This was not a residential or shopping district, it was a government district, so there weren't many people around on a Saturday, and the streets were relatively quiet.
As we walked, I said to Mr. Nash, "I have this sort of impression that maybe you guys knew we'd have a problem today."
He didn't reply right away, then said, "Today is April fifteen."
"Right. I got my tax return in yesterday. I'm clean."
"Muslim extremists attach a lot of significance to anniversary dates. We have a lot of watch dates on our calendar."
"Yeah? What's today?"
"Today," said Ted Nash, "is the anniversary date of when we bombed Libya in nineteen eighty-six."
"No kidding?" I asked Kate, "Did you know that?"
"Yes, but I attached little significance to it, to be honest with you."
Nash added, "We've never had an incident on this date before, but Moammar Gadhafi makes an anti-American speech every year on this date. In fact, he made one earlier today." mulled this over awhile, trying to decide if I'd have acted any differently if I'd known this. I mean, this kind of stuff was not in my clue bag, but if it was, I might have at least put it into my paranoia pocket. I love being a mushroom, as you can imagine-kept in the dark and fed a lot of shit-and I asked my teammates, "Did you forget to tell me?"
Nash replied, "It didn't seem terribly important. I mean, important that you know."
"I see," which means, "Fuck you," of course. But I was learning to talk the talk. I asked, "How did Khalil know he'd be transported today?"
Nash replied, "Well, he didn't know for sure. But our Paris Embassy can't or won't hold a man like this for more than twenty-four hours. That much he probably knew. And if we had held him in Paris longer, nothing would have been much different, except for the missed symbolic date."
"Okay, but you played his game and transported him on the fifteenth of April."
"That's right," answered Mr. Nash. "We played his game, wanting to arrest him here on the fifteenth."
"I think you're going to miss the date."
He didn't reply to this, but informed me, "We took extraordinary security precautions in Paris, at the airport, and on the aircraft. In fact, there were also two Federal Air Marshals on board, undercover."
"Good. Then nothing could go wrong."
He ignored my sarcasm, and said, "There is a Hebrew expression, shared by the Arabs, that says, 'Man plans, God laughs.'"
We reached the twenty-eight-story skyscraper, called 26 Federal Plaza, and Nash said to me, "Kate and I will do the talking. Speak only if spoken to."
"Can I contradict you?"
"You'll have no reason to," he said. "This is the one place where only the truth is spoken."
So, with that bit of Orwellian information in my head, we entered the great Ministry of Truth and Justice.
April 15, I reflected, now sucked for two reasons.
Libya, April 15,
The air strike will not only diminish Colonel Gadhafi's capacity to export terror,
it will provide him with incentives and reasons to alter his criminal behavior.
President Ronald Reagan
It is a time for confrontation-for war.
Colonel Moammar Gadhafi
Lieutenant Chip Wiggins, Weapons Systems Officer, United States Air Force, sat silent and motionless in the right seat of the F-111F attack jet, code named Karma 57. The aircraft was cruising along at a fuel-saving 350 knots. Wiggins glanced at his pilot, Lieutenant Bill Satherwaite, to his left.
Ever since they'd taken off from the Royal Air Force Station Lakenheath in Suffolk, England, some two hours before, neither man had said much. Satherwaite was the silent type anyway, Wiggins thought, and not given to useless chatter. But Wiggins wanted to hear a human voice, any voice, so he said, "We're coming abeam of Portugal."
Satherwaite replied, "I know that."
"Right." Their voices had a slight metallic ring to them as the words filtered through the open cockpit interphone that was the actual verbal connection between the two men. Wiggins took a deep breath, sort of a yawn, beneath his flight helmet, and the increased flow of oxygen caused the open interphone connection to reverberate for a second. Wiggins did it again.
Satherwaite said, "Would you mind not breathing?"
"Whatever makes you happy, Skipper."
Wiggins squirmed a little in his seat. He was getting cramped after so many hours of sitting restrained in the F-lll's notoriously uncomfortable seat. The black sky was becoming oppressive, but he could see lights on the distant shore of Portugal and that made him feel better for some reason.
They were on their way to Libya, Wiggins reflected-on their way to rain death and destruction down on Moammar Gadhafi's pissant country in retaliation for a Libyan terrorist attack a couple weeks ago on a West Berlin disco frequented by American military. Wiggins recalled that the briefing officer made sure they knew why they were risking their lives in this difficult mission. Without too much spin, the briefing officer told them that the Libyan bomb attack on La Belle disco, which killed one American serviceman and injured dozens of others, was just the latest in a series of acts of open aggression that had to be answered with a display of resolve and force. "Therefore," said the briefing officer, "you're going to blow the shit out of the Libyans."
Sounded good in the briefing room, but not all of America 's allies thought this was a good idea. The attack aircraft from England had been compelled to take the long way to Libya because the French and the Spanish had refused them permission to cross over their airspace. This had angered Wiggins, but Satherwaite didn't seem to care. Wiggins knew that Satherwaite's knowledge of geopolitics was minus zero: Bill Satherwaite's life was flying and flying was his life. Wiggins thought that if Satherwaite had been told to bomb and strafe Paris, Satherwaite would do it without a single thought about why he was attacking a NATO ally. The scary thing, Wiggins thought, was that Satherwaite would do the same thing to Washington, D.C., or Walla Walla, Washington, with no questions asked.
Wiggins pursued this thought by asking Satherwaite, "Bill, did you hear that rumor that one of our aircraft is going to drop a fuck-you bomb in the backyard of the French Embassy in Tripoli?"
Satherwaite did not reply.
Wiggins pressed on. "I also heard that one of us is going to drop a load on Gadhafi's Al Azziziyah residence. He's supposed to be there tonight."
Again, Satherwaite did not answer.
Finally, Wiggins, annoyed and frustrated, said, "Hey, Bill, are you awake?"
Satherwaite replied, "Chip, the less you know and the less I know, the happier we will be."
Chip Wiggins retreated into a moody silence. He liked Bill Satherwaite and liked the fact that his pilot was of the same rank as he, and couldn't order him to shut up. But Satherwaite could be a cold, taciturn son-of-a-bitch in the air. He was better on the ground. In fact, when Bill had a few drinks in him, he seemed almost human.
Wiggins considered that maybe Satherwaite was nervous, which was understandable. This was, after all, according to the Ops briefing, the longest jet attack mission ever attempted. Operation El Dorado Canyon was about to make some kind of history, though Wiggins didn't know what kind yet. There were sixty other aircraft somewhere around them, and their unit, the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, had contributed twenty-four F-111F swing-wing jets to the mission. The tanker fleet that was flying down and back with them was a mix of the huge KG-10s and the smaller KC-135s-the 10s to refuel the fighters, and the 135s to refuel the KC-lOs. There would be three midair refuelings on the three-thousand-mile route to Libya. Flying time from England to the Libyan coast was six hours, flying time toward Tripoli in the pre-attack phase was half an hour, and time over target would be a long, long ten minutes. And then they'd fly home. Not all of them, but most of them. "History," Wiggins said. "We are flying into history."
Satherwaite did not reply.
Chip Wiggins informed Bill Satherwaite, "Today is Income Tax Day. Did you file on time?"
"Nope. Filed for an extension."
"The IRS focuses on late filers."
Satherwaite grunted a reply.
Wiggins said, "If you get audited, drop napalm on the IRS headquarters. They'll think twice before they audit Bill Satherwaite again." Wiggins chuckled.
Satherwaite stared at his instruments.
Unable to draw his pilot into conversation, Wiggins went back to his thoughts. He contemplated the fact that this was a test of endurance for crew and equipment, and they'd never trained for a mission like this. But so far, so good. The F-lll was performing admirably. He glanced out the side of his canopy. The variable wing was extended at thirty-five degrees so as to give the airplane its best cruise characteristics for the long formation flight. Later, they'd hydraulically sweep the wings back to a streamlined aft position for the attack, and that would mark the moment of the actual combat phase of the mission. Combat. Wiggins really couldn't believe he was going into actual Jesus H. Christ combat.
This was the culmination of all they'd been trained for. Both he and Satherwaite had missed Vietnam, and now they were flying into unknown and hostile territory against an enemy whose anti-aircraft capabilities were not well known. The briefing officer had told them that the Libyan air defenses routinely shut down after midnight, but Wiggins couldn't believe that the Libyans were quite that stupid. He was convinced that their aircraft would be picked up on Libyan radar, that the Libyan Air Force would scramble to intercept them, that surface-to-air missiles would rise to blow them out of the sky, and that they would be greeted by Triple-A, which did not mean the American Automobile Association. "Marcus Aurelius."
"The only Roman monument still standing in Tripoli. The Arch of Marcus Aurelius. Second century A.D."
Satherwaite stifled a yawn.
"If anybody hits it by mistake, they're in big trouble. It's a UN designated world heritage site. Were you paying attention at the briefing?"
"Chip, why don't you chew gum or something?"
"We begin our attack just west of the Arch. I hope I get a glimpse of it. That kind of stuff interests me."
Satherwaite closed his eyes and exhaled in an exaggerated expression of impatience.
Chip Wiggins returned to his combat thoughts. He knew that there were a few Vietnam vets on this mission, but most of the guys were untested in combat. Also, everyone from the President on down was watching, waiting, and holding their breath. After Vietnam, and after the Pueblo fiasco, and Carter's screwed-up rescue mission in Iran, and a whole decade of military failures since Vietnam, the home team needed a big win.
The lights were on in the Pentagon and the White House. They were pacing and praying. Win this one for the Gipper, boys. Chip Wiggins wasn't going to let them down. He hoped they wouldn't let him down. He'd been told that the mission could be aborted at any time, and he feared the crackle of the radio with the code words for abort-Green Grass. As in the green, green grass of home:
But a little piece of his mind would have welcomed those words. He wondered what they'd do to him in Libya if he had to bail out. Where did that thought come from? He was starting to think bad things again. He glanced at Satherwaite, who was making an entry in his log. Satherwaite yawned again.
Wiggins asked, "Tired?"
"Chip, shut up."
Satherwaite said, "Why don't you go back to sleep? Or better yet, I'll sleep and you fly."
Wiggins knew this was Satherwaite's not-too-subtle way of reminding him that the Weapons Systems Officer was not a pilot.
They sat again in silence. Wiggins actually considered catching a nap, but he didn't want to give Satherwaite the opportunity to tell everyone back at Lakenheath that Wiggins slept the whole way to Libya. After about half an hour, Chip Wiggins looked at his navigation chart and instruments. In addition to his job as Weapons Systems Officer, he was also the navigator. He said to Satherwaite, "At nine o'clock is Cabo de Sao Vicente- Cape Saint Vincent."
"Good. That's where it belongs."
"That's where Prince Henry the Navigator set up the world's first school for sea navigation. That's how he got his name."
"The Portuguese were incredible mariners."
"Is this something I need to know?"
"Sure. You play Trivial Pursuit?"
"No. Just tell me when we're going to change heading."
"In seven minutes we'll turn to zero-nine-four."
"Okay. Keep the clock."
They flew on in silence.
Their F-lll was in an assigned position in their cruise flight formation, but because of radio silence, each aircraft maintained position by use of their air-to-air radar. They couldn't always visually see the other three aircraft in their flight formation-code named Elton 38, Remit 22, and Remit 61-but they could see them on radar and could key off the flight leader, Terry Waycliff in Remit 22. Still, Wiggins had to anticipate the flight plan to some extent and know when to stare at the radar screen to see what the lead aircraft was doing. "I enjoy the challenge of a difficult mission, Bill, and I hope you do, too."
"You're making it more difficult, Chip."
The flight of four F-111s all began their turn to port in unison. They rounded Cabo de Sao Vicente and headed southeast, aiming right for the Strait of Gibraltar.
An hour later they were approaching the Rock of Gibraltar on the port side and Mount Hacho on the African Coast to starboard. Wiggins informed his pilot, "Gibraltar was one of the ancient Pillars of Hercules. Mount Hacho is the other. These landmarks defined the western limits of navigation for the Mediterranean civilizations. Did you know that?"
"Give me a fuel state."
"Right." Wiggins read the numbers off the fuel gauges, commenting, "Remaining flight time about two hours."
Satherwaite looked at his instrument clock and said, "The KG-10 should be rendezvousing in about forty-five minutes."
"I hope," Wiggins replied, thinking, If we somehow miss the refueling, we'll have just enough fuel to get us to Sicily and we'll be out of the action. They had never been out of range of land and if they'd had to, they could jettison their bombs in the drink and put down at some airport in France or Spain and casually explain that they'd been on a little training mission and had run short of fuel. As the briefing officer had said, "Do not use the word ' Libya ' in your conversation," which had gotten a big laugh.
Thirty minutes later, there was still no sign of the tankers. Wiggins asked, "Where the hell is our flying gas station?"
Satherwaite was reading from the mission orders and didn't reply.
Wiggins kept listening for the code signal over the radio that would announce the approach of the tankers. After all this time in the air and all this preparation, he didn't want to wind up in Sicily.
They flew on without speaking. The cockpit hummed with electronics, and the airframe pulsed with the power of the twin Pratt and Whitney turbofans that propelled the F-111 F into the black night.
Finally, a series of clicks on the radio told them that the KG-10 was approaching. After another ten minutes, Wiggins saw the contact on his radar screen and announced the approach to Satherwaite, who acknowledged.
Satherwaite pulled off power and began to slide out of the formation. This, Wiggins thought, was where Satherwaite earned his pay.
In a few minutes, the giant KG-10 tanker filled the sky above them. Satherwaite was able to speak to the tanker on the KY-28 secured and scrambled voice channel, which could be used for short-range transmissions. "Kilo Ten, this is Karma Five-Seven. You're in sight."
"Roger, Karma Five-Seven. Here comes Dickey."
The KG-10 boom operator carefully guided the refueling nozzle into the F-1l1's receptacle, just aft of the fighter's cockpit. Within a few minutes the hookup was completed, and the fuel began to flow from the tanker to the fighter.
Wiggins watched as Satherwaite finessed the control stick in his right hand and the engine throttles in his left to maintain the jet fighter in exact position so that the refueling boom would stay connected. Wiggins knew this was an occasion for him to stay silent.
After what seemed like a long time, the green light near the top of the tanker's boom flicked off and an adjacent amber light came on, indicating an auto disconnect. Satherwaite transmitted to the tanker, "Karma Five-Seven clearing," and eased his aircraft away from the KC-10 and back toward his assigned spot in the formation.
The tanker pilot, in acknowledgment that this was the last refueling before the attack, transmitted, "Hey, good luck. Kick ass. God bless. See you later."
Satherwaite responded, "Roger," then said to Wiggins, "Luck and God have nothing to do with it."
Wiggins was a little annoyed at Satherwaite's too cool jet-jockey crap and said to him, "Don't you believe in God?"
"I sure do, Chip. You pray. I'll fly."
Satherwaite tucked them back into the formation as another jet peeled off for its refueling.
Wiggins had to admit that Bill Satherwaite was a hell of a pilot, but he wasn't a hell of a guy.
Satherwaite, aware that he'd ticked off Wiggins, said, "Hey, wizo," using the affectionate slang term for a weapons officer, "I'm going to buy you the best dinner in London."
Wiggins smiled. "I pick."
"No, I pick. We'll keep it under ten pounds."
Satherwaite let a few minutes go by, then said to Wiggins, "It's going to be okay. You're going to drop them right on target, and if you do a good job, I'll fly right over that Arch of Augustus for you.";
Wiggins settled back and closed his eyes. He knew he'd gotten more than Satherwaite's quota of non-mission words, and he considered that a small triumph.
He thought ahead a bit. Despite the small knot in his empty stomach, he was really looking forward to flying his first combat mission. If he had any qualms about dropping his bombs, he reminded himself that all their mission targets, his own included, were strictly military. In fact, the briefing officer at Lakenheath had called the Al Azziziyah compound " Jihad University," meaning, it was a training camp for terrorists. The briefing officer had added, however, "There is a possibility of some civilians within the military compound of Al Azziziyah."
Wiggins thought about that, then put it out of his mind.
Asad Khalil struggled with two primitive instincts-sex and self-preservation.
Khalil paced impatiently across the flat roof. His father had named him Asad-the lion-and it seemed that he had consciously or unconsciously taken on the traits of the great beast, including this habit of pacing in circles. He suddenly stopped and looked out into the night.
The Ghabli-the hot, strong southerly wind from the vast Sahara-was blowing across northern Libya toward the Mediterranean Sea. The night sky appeared misty, but in fact the distortion of the moon and stars was caused by airborne grains of sand.
Khalil looked at the luminous face of his watch and noted that it was 1:46 A.M. Bahira, the daughter of Captain Habib Nadir, was to arrive at precisely 2:00 A.M. He wondered if she would come. He wondered if she had been caught. And if she'd been caught, would she confess to where she was going and with whom she was going to meet? This last possibility troubled Asad Khalil greatly. At sixteen years old, he was perhaps thirty minutes away from his first sexual experience-or he was several hours away from being beheaded. He saw an uninvited mental image of himself on his knees, head bowed as the massively built official executioner, known only as Sulaman, swung the giant scimitar toward the back of Khalil's neck. Khalil felt his body tense, and a line of sweat formed on his forehead and cooled in the night air.
Khalil walked to the small tin shed on the flat rooftop. There was no door on the shed, and he peered down the staircase, expecting to see either Bahira, or her father with armed guards coming for him. This was lunacy, he thought, pure madness.
Khalil moved to the north edge of the roof. The concrete rooftop was surrounded by a shoulder-high, crenellated parapet of block and stucco. The building itself was a two-story-high structure built by the Italians when they controlled Libya. The building was then, as it was now, a storage facility for munitions, which was why it was safely removed from the center of the military compound known as Al Azziziyah. The former Italian compound was now the military headquarters and sometimes residence of the Great Leader, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, who this very night had arrived at Al Azziziyah. Khalil and everyone else in Libya knew that the Great Leader made a habit of changing locations often, and that Gadhafi's erratic movements were a safeguard from either assassination or an American military action. But it was not a good idea to comment on either possibility.
In any case, Gadhafi's unexpected presence had caused his elite guards to be unusually alert this night, and Khalil was worried because it seemed that Allah himself was making this assignation difficult and dangerous.
Khalil knew beyond a doubt that it was Satan who had filled him with this sinful lust for Bahira, that Satan had made him dream of her walking naked across moonlit desert sands. Asad Khalil had never seen a naked woman before, but he had seen a magazine from Germany, and he knew what Bahira would look like unveiled and undressed. He pictured each curve of her body as he imagined it would be, he saw her long hair touching her bare shoulders, he recalled her nose and mouth as he'd seen them when he and she had been children, before she was veiled. He knew she looked different now, but strangely the child's face still sat on a wonderfully imagined woman's body. He pictured her curving hips, her mound of pubic hair, her naked thighs and legs… He felt his heart beating heavily in his chest and felt his mouth become dry.
Khalil stared out to the north. The lights of Tripoli, twenty kilometers distant, were bright enough to be visible through the blowing Ghabli. Beyond Tripoli lay the blackness of the Mediterranean. Around Al Azziziyah was rolling arid land, some olive groves, date trees, a few goatherd shelters, an occasional watering hole.
Asad Khalil peered over the parapet down into the compound. All was quiet below-there were no guards visible nor any vehicles at this hour. The only activity would be around Colonel Gadhafi's residence and around the headquarters area that housed the command, control, and communication buildings. There was no special alert tonight, but Khalil had a premonition that something was not right.
Asad Khalil looked again at his watch. It was exactly 2:00 A.M. and Bahira had not arrived. Khalil knelt down in the corner of the parapet, below the line of sight of anyone on the ground. In the corner he had unrolled his sajjdda, his prayer mat, and placed on it a copy of the Koran. If they came for him, they would find him praying and reading the Koran. That might save him. But more likely, they would guess correctly that the Koran was a ruse and his sajjada was for the naked body of Bahira. If they suspected that, then his blasphemy would be dealt with in a way that would make him wish for beheading. And Bahira… They would most likely stone her to death.
And still, he did not run back to his mother's house. He was determined to meet whatever fate came up those stairs.
He thought of how he'd first noticed Bahira at her father's house. Captain Habib Nadir, like Khalil's own father, was a favorite of Colonel Gadhafi. The three families were close. Khalil's father, like Bahira's father, had been active in the resistance to the Italian occupation; Khalil's father had worked for the British during the Second World War, while Bahira's father had worked for the Germans. But what did that matter? Italians, Germans, British-they were all infidels and they were owed no loyalty. His father and Bahira's father had joked about how they had both helped the Christians kill one another.
Khalil thought a moment about his father, Captain Karim Khalil. He had been dead five years now, murdered on the street in Paris by agents of the Israeli Mossad. The Western radio broadcasts had reported that the murder was probably committed by a rival Islamic faction, or perhaps even by fellow Libyans in some sort of political power play. No arrest had been made. But Colonel Gadhafi, who was far wiser than any of his enemies, had explained to his people that Captain Karim Khalil had been murdered by the Israelis and everything else was a lie.
Asad Khalil believed this. He had to believe. He missed his father, but took comfort from the fact that his father had died a martyr's death at the hands of the Zionists. Of course, doubts did creep into his head, but the Great Man himself had spoken and that was the end of it.
Khalil nodded to himself as he knelt in the corner of the roof. He looked at his watch, then at the doorway of the tin shed ten meters away. She was late, or she had not been able to slip out of her house, or she'd overslept, or she had decided not to risk her life to be with him. Or, worst of all, she'd been caught and even now was betraying him to the military police.
Khalil considered his special relationship with the Great Leader. He had no doubt that Colonel Gadhafi was fond of him and his brothers and sisters. The Colonel had let them stay on in their house in the privileged compound of Al Azziziyah, he had seen to it that his mother had a pension, and that he and his siblings were educated.
And only six months ago, the Colonel had said to him, "You are marked to avenge your father's death."
Asad Khalil had been filled with pride and joy and replied to his surrogate father, "I am ready to serve you and to serve Allah." j
The Colonel had smiled and said, "We are not ready for you, Asad. Another year or two, and we will begin training you to be a freedom fighter."
And now Asad was risking everything-his life, his honor, his family-all for what? For a woman. It made no sense, but… There was the other thing… The thing he knew but could not bring himself to think… The thing with his mother and with Moammar Gadhafi… Yes, there was something there, and he knew what it was, and it was the same thing that had put him here on the roof waiting for Bahira.
He reasoned that if the relationship between his mother and the Great Leader was not a sin, then not all sex outside of marriage was sinful. Moammar Gadhafi would not do anything sinful, anything outside the Sharia, the accepted way. Therefore, Asad Khalil, if caught, would take his case directly to the Great Leader and explain his confusion concerning these matters. He would explain that it was Bahira's father who had brought home the magazine from Germany that showed photos of naked men and women, and it was this filth from the West that had corrupted him.
Bahira had found the magazine hidden beneath bags of rice in their house and had stolen it and showed it to Khalil. They had looked at the photographs together-a sin that would have gotten them both whipped if they'd been caught. But instead of the photographs filling them with disgust and shame, it was these pictures that had been the cause of their speaking of the unspeakable. She had said to him, "I want to show myself to you like these women. I want to show you all that I have. I want to see you, Asad, and feel your flesh."
And so, Satan had entered her and through her had entered him. He had read the story of Adam and Eve in the Hebrew book of Genesis, and had been told by his mousyed, his spiritual teacher, that women were weak and lustful and had committed the original sin and would lure men to sin if men did not remain strong.
And yet… he thought, even great men like the Colonel could be corrupted by women. He would explain that to the Colonel if he were caught. Perhaps they would not stone Bahira to death and would let them off with a whipping.
The night was cool and Khalil shivered. He remained kneeling on his prayer mat, Koran in his hands. At ten minutes after two, there was a noise on the stairs, and he looked up to see a dark outline standing at the opening of the tin shed. He said softly, "Allah, be merciful."
Lieutenant Chip Wiggins said to Lieutenant Bill Satherwaite, "We're getting a strong crosswind. There's that south wind that blows out of the desert. What's it called?"
"It's called the south wind that blows out of the desert."
"Right. Anyway, that'll be a good tailwind for getting the hell out of there-plus, we'll be four bombs lighter."
Satherwaite mumbled a reply.
Wiggins stared out the windscreen into the dark night. He had no idea if he'd see the sun rise on this day. But he knew that if they accomplished their mission, they'd be heros-but nameless heros. For this was no ordinary war-this was a war against international terrorists whose reach went beyond the Middle East, and thus the names of the pilots on this mission would never be released to the press or the public, and would be classified top secret for all time. Something about that rubbed Wiggins the wrong way; it was an admission that the bad guys could reach out, right into the heartland of America, and exact a revenge against the pilots and crew or their families. On the other hand, even though there would be no parades or public awards ceremonies, this anonymity made him a little more comfortable. Better to be an unnamed hero than a named terrorist target.
They continued east over the Mediterranean. Wiggins thought about how many wars had been fought around this ancient sea and especially on the shores of North Africa-the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Arabs, on and on for thousands of years right up until the Second World War-the Italians, the German Afrika Korps, the British, the Americans… The sea and the sand of North Africa was a mass grave of soldiers, sailors, and airmen. To the shores of Tripoli, he said to himself, aware that he was not the only flier that night to think those words. We will fight our country's battles…
Satherwaite asked, "Time till turn?"
Wiggins came out of his reverie and checked his position. "Twelve minutes."
"Keep the clock."
Twelve minutes later, the formation began a ninety-degree turn to the south. The entire air armada, minus tankers, was on a course toward the Libyan coast. Satherwaite pushed his throttles forward and the F-lll gathered speed.
Bill Satherwaite scanned the clock and the flight instruments. They were approaching the aerial gate where the attack preparations and profiles would begin. He noted his indicated air speed at true four hundred eighty knots and his altitude at twenty-five thousand feet. They were less than two hundred miles from the coast and headed dead-on for Tripoli. He heard a series of radio clicks, which he acknowledged in kind, and with the rest of his squadron began his descent.
Satherwaite was inclined to start the final checklists right then, but he knew that it was a little early, that it was possible to get yourself peaked too soon, and that was not a smart way to go into combat. He waited.
Wiggins cleared his throat, and over the interphone it sounded like a roar and gave them both a start. Wiggins said, "One hundred miles to feet dry," using the aviator's term for land.
They both looked at the radar screen, but there was nothing coming out of Libya to greet and meet them. They leveled off at a mere three hundred feet above sea level.
"Okay, let's get started on the attack review."
Satherwaite and Wiggins began the litanies of the checklist and reviews. Just as they were finished, Wiggins looked up and saw the lights of Tripoli straight ahead. "Tally-ho." Satherwaite looked up, too, and nodded. He moved the hydraulic wing position lever, and the outstretched wings of the F-lll began to sweep further aft, like the wings of a hawk who's spotted his meal on the ground.
Wiggins noticed that his heart had speeded up a little, and he realized he was very thirsty.
Satherwaite increased power again as the F-111s approached the coast in formation. Their run-in altitude remained at three hundred feet, and they'd been told there were no radio towers or skyscrapers that high to worry about. Their run-in speed was now five hundred knots. It was zero-one-fifty hours. In a few minutes, they'd break formation and head toward their individual targets in and around Tripoli.
Wiggins listened closely to the silence in his headset, then heard a warbling tone that indicated a radar lock-on. Oh, shit. He looked quickly at his radar homing and warning screen and said, with as cool a tone as he was able to fake, "SAM alert at one o'clock."
Satherwaite nodded. "I guess they're awake."
"I'd like to kick that briefing officer in the nuts."
"He's not the problem and neither are those missiles."
"Right…" The F-III was flying too low and fast for the missiles to score a hit, but now at three hundred feet, they were squarely in the killing zone of the anti-aircraft guns.
Wiggins watched two missiles rise up on his radar screen, and he hoped these Soviet-made pieces of junk really couldn't track them at their speed and altitude. A few seconds later, Wiggins visually spotted the two missiles off their starboard side streaking upward into the night sky with their fiery tails burning red and orange.
Satherwaite commented dryly, "A waste of expensive rocket fuel."
It was Wiggins' turn not to reply. He was, in fact, finally speechless. In total contrast, Satherwaite was now chatty and was going on about the shape of the coastline and the city of Tripoli and other inconsequential matters. Wiggins wanted to tell him to shut up and fly.
They crossed over the coast and below them lay Tripoli. Satherwaite noted that despite the air raid in progress, the streetlights were still on. "Idiots." He caught a glimpse of the Arch of Marcus Aurelius and said to Wiggins, "There's your arch. Nine o'clock."
But Wiggins had lost interest in history and concentrated on the moment. "Turn."
Satherwaite peeled out of the formation and began his run-in toward Al Azziziyah. "How do you say that word?"
"Where we're going."
Wiggins felt sweat forming around his neck as he divided his attention between the instruments, the radar, and the visuals outside his windscreen. "Holy shit! Triple-A!"
"Are you sure? I thought it was Al-something."
Wiggins didn't like or appreciate Satherwaite's sudden cockpit humor. He snapped back, "Al Azziziyah. What fucking difference does it make?"
"Right," Satherwaite replied. "Tomorrow they'll call it rubble." He laughed.
Wiggins laughed, too, despite the fact that he was scared out of his mind. Arcs of anti-aircraft tracers cut through the black night much too close to their aircraft. He couldn't believe he was actually being shot at. This really sucked. But it was also a rush.
Satherwaite said, "Al Azziziyah, dead-on. Ready."
"Rubble," replied Wiggins. "Rubble, rubble, toil and trouble. Ready to release. Fuck you, Moammar."
Asad Khalil's heart almost stopped. "Yes… yes, over here." He asked quietly, "Are you alone?"
"Of course." Bahira walked toward his voice, then saw him kneeling on the prayer rug.
"Stay low," he whispered hoarsely.
She crouched below the parapet as she moved toward him, then knelt on the prayer rug in front of him. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes. But you are late."
"I had to avoid the guards. The Great Leader-"
"Yes, I know." Asad Khalil looked at Bahira in the moonlight. She was wearing the flowing white robe that was a young woman's customary garment in the evenings, and she also wore her veil and scarf. She was three years older than he and had reached an age when most women in Libya were married or betrothed. But her father had turned down many suitors, and the most ardent of them had been exiled from Tripoli. Asad Khalil knew that if his own father were alive, the families would certainly have agreed to a marriage between Asad and Bahira. But though his father was a hero and a martyr, the fact was that he was dead and the Khalil family had little status except as favored pensioners of the Great Leader. Of course, there was a connection between the Great Leader and Asad's mother, but that was a hidden sin and of no help.
They knelt facing each other and neither spoke. Bahira's eyes went to the Koran lying at the corner of the rug, then she seemed to notice the rug itself. She stared at Asad, whose look seemed to say, "If we are to commit the sin of fornication, what difference does it make if we also commit a blasphemy?"
Bahira nodded in agreement to the silent understanding.
Bahira Nadir took the initiative and pulled aside the veil that covered her face. She smiled, but Khalil thought it was more a smile of embarrassment at being without her veil, less than a meter away from a man.
She slid the scarf off her head and unfastened her hair, which fell in long curly strands over her shoulders.
Asad Khalil took a deep breath and stared into Bahira's eyes. She was beautiful, he thought, though he had little with which to compare. He cleared his throat and said to her, "You are very beautiful."
She smiled, reached out and took his hands in hers.
Khalil had never held the hands of a woman and was surprised at how small and soft Bahira's hands were. Her skin was warm, warmer than his, probably the result of her exertions in traveling the three hundred meters between her home and this place. He also noticed that her hands were dry, while his were moist. He moved closer to her on his knees and smelled now a flowered scent coming from her. He discovered as he moved that he was fully aroused.
Neither of them seemed to know what to do next. Finally, Bahira let go of his hands and began caressing his face. He did the same to her face. She moved closer to him and their bodies touched, then they embraced and he could feel her breasts beneath her robe. Asad Khalil was wild with desire, but a part of his brain was elsewhere-a primitive instinct was telling him to be alert.
Before he knew what was happening, Bahira had moved back and was unfastening her robe.
Khalil watched her and listened for signs of danger. If they were discovered now, they were dead. He heard her saying, "Asad. What are you waiting for?"
He looked at her kneeling before him. She was completely naked now and he stared at her breasts, then her pubic hair, then her thighs, and finally back at her face.
He pulled his short tunic over his head, then slipped his pants and undershorts down to his ankles and kicked them off.
She stared at his face, her eyes avoiding his erect penis, but then her eyes glanced downward at him.
Asad didn't know what to do next. He thought he would know-he understood the position they would assume, but he was not sure how to arrive at it.
Bahira again took the initiative and lay down on her back on the prayer mat, her garments beneath her head.
Asad nearly lunged forward and found himself on top of her and felt her firm breasts and warm skin beneath his own. He felt her legs parting and sensed the tip of his penis touching warm, wet flesh. In an instant, he was half inside her. She cried out softly in pain. He thrust further, past the resistance, and entered her fully. Before he could move, he felt her hips rise and fall, rise and fall, and between two heartbeats he released himself inside of her.
He lay motionless, catching his breath, but she continued the rising and falling of her hips, though Asad didn't know why she continued after he was satisfied. She started to moan and breathe heavily, then began saying his name, "Asad, Asad, Asad…"
He rolled off her and lay on his back looking at the night sky. The half-moon was setting in the west, the stars seemed dull over the lighted compound, a poor, pale imitation of the brilliant stars over the open desert.
He did not answer. His mind could not yet comprehend what he had just done.
She moved closer to him so that their shoulders and legs were touching, but the desire was gone in him.
She said, "Are you angry?"
"No." He sat up. "We should get dressed."
She sat up also and put her head on his shoulder.
He wanted to move away from her, but he didn't. Unhappy thoughts began to creep into his mind. What if she became pregnant? What if she wanted to do this again? The next time they would be caught for sure, or she would become pregnant. In either case, one or both of them might die. The law was not clear on some things, and it was usually the families that decided how the disgrace was to be dealt with. Knowing her father, he could imagine no mercy for either of them. For some reason that he couldn't comprehend, he blurted out, "My mother has been with the Great Leader."
Bahira did not reply.
Khalil was angry at himself for revealing this secret. He didn't know why he had and didn't know what he felt for this woman. He was dimly aware that the desire for her would return again and for that reason he knew he should be polite. Still, he wished he were anywhere else but here. He eyed his clothing at the far end of the prayer mat. He noticed, too, a dark stain on the prayer mat where she had lain.
Bahira put her arm around him and with her other hand stroked his thigh. She said, "Do you think we would be allowed to marry?"
"Perhaps." But he didn't think so. He glanced at her hand on his thigh, then noticed the blood on his penis. He realized he should have brought water for washing.
She said, "Will you speak to my father?"
"Yes," he replied, but he didn't know if he would. A marriage to Bahira Nadir, daughter of Captain Habib Nadir, would be a good thing, but it might be dangerous to ask. He wondered if the old women would examine her and find that she had lost her virginity. He wondered if she were pregnant. He wondered a lot of things, not least of all if he would go unpunished for this sin. He said, "We should go."
But she made no move to leave his side.
So they remained sitting together. Khalil was getting restless.
She began to speak, but he said, "Be still." He had the disquieting feeling that something was happening that he needed to be aware of.
His mother had once told him that like his namesake, the lion, he had been blessed with a sixth sense, or second sight, as it was also called by the old women. He had assumed that everyone could sense danger or know that an enemy was nearby without seeing or hearing anything. But he had come to understand that this feeling was a special gift, and he realized now that what he had sensed all night had nothing to do with Bahira, or the military police, or being caught in fornication; it had to do with something else, but he didn't know what it was yet. All he knew for certain was that something was wrong out there.
Chip Wiggins tried to ignore the streaks of tracer rounds sailing past his canopy. He had no point of reference in his life or in his training for what was happening. The whole scene around him was so surreal that he couldn't process it as mortal danger. He concentrated on the display screens that made up the flight console in front of him. He cleared his throat and said to Satherwaite, "We're on the money."
Satherwaite acknowledged, with no inflection in his voice.
Wiggins said, "Less than two minutes to target."
Satherwaite knew he was supposed to kick in the afterburners now for a power boost, but to do so would cause a very long and very visible trail of bright exhaust behind his aircraft, which would draw every gun muzzle in his direction. There wasn't supposed to be this much ground fire, but there was and he had to make a decision.
Wiggins said, "Afterburners, Bill."
Satherwaite hesitated. The attack plan called for the extra speed of the afterburners, or he stood a good chance that his squadron mate-Remit 22-who was only thirty seconds behind him, would be climbing up his ass.
"Right." Satherwaite kicked in the afterburners, and the F-111F shot forward. He pulled back on his stick and the nose rose. Satherwaite glanced above his flight panel for a brief second and saw an elaborate display of lethal trajectories pass off to their port side. "Those assholes can't shoot straight."
Wiggins wasn't so sure about that. He said, "On track, thirty seconds to release."
Bahira held her lover's arm. "What is wrong, Asad?"
"Be quiet." He listened intently and thought he heard someone shout in the far distance. A vehicle started its engine close by. He scrambled toward his clothes and pulled his tunic on, then stood, peeking over the parapet. His eyes scanned the compound below, then something on the horizon caught his attention, and he looked north and east toward Tripoli.
Bahira was beside him now, clutching her clothes to her breasts. "What is it?" she asked insistently.
"I don't know. Be still." Something was terribly wrong, but whatever it was could not be seen or heard yet, though he felt it now, very strongly. He stared into the night and listened.
Bahira, too, peeked over the parapet. "Guards?"
"No. Something… out there…" Then he saw it-incandescent trails of bright fire curving up from the glow of the city of Tripoli into the dark sky above the Mediterranean.
Bahira saw them, too, and asked, "What is that?"
"Missiles." In the name of Allah, the merciful… "Missiles, and anti-aircraft fire."
Bahira grabbed his arm. "Asad… what is happening?"
"No! No! Oh, please…" She dropped to the floor and began pulling on her clothes. "We must get to the shelters."
"Yes." He pulled on his pants and shoes, forgetting his undershorts.
Suddenly, the ear-splitting shriek of an air raid siren filled the night air. Men began to shout and run out of the surrounding buildings, engines started, the streets filled with noise.
Bahira began running barefoot toward the stair shed, but Khalil caught up with her and pulled her down. "Wait! You can't be seen running from this building. Let the others get to the shelters first."
She looked at him. She trusted his judgment and she nodded.
Satisfied that she would stay where she was, Khalil ran back to the parapet and looked toward the city. "In the name of Allah…" Flames were erupting in Tripoli, and he could now hear and feel the distant explosions like rolling desert thunder.
Then something else caught his eye, and he saw a shadowy blur hurtling toward him, backlighted by the lights and fires of Tripoli. From the blur trailed an enormous plume of red and white, and Khalil knew he was looking at the hot exhaust gases of a jet aircraft coming right at him. He stood frozen in terror and not even a scream could rise from his throat.
Bill Satherwaite again took his eyes off the electronic displays and grabbed another quick glimpse through his windscreen. Out of the darkness in front of them he could recognize the aerial view of Al Azziziyah that he'd seen a hundred times in satellite photos.
Wiggins said, "Stand by."
Satherwaite shifted his attention back to the screens and concentrated on his flying and on the bomb-toss pattern that he would execute in a few seconds.
Wiggins said, "Three, two, one, drop."
Satherwaite felt the aircraft lighten immediately and fought for control as he began the high-speed evasive maneuvers that would get them the hell out of there.
Wiggins was now working the controls that guided the two-thousand-pound laser-smart bombs on their paths to their pre-assigned targets. Wiggins said, "Tracking… good picture… got it… steering… steering… impact! One, two, three, four. Beautiful."
They could not hear the four bombs detonating inside the Al Azziziyah compound, but both of them could imagine the sound and the flash of the explosions. Satherwaite said, "We're outta here."
Wiggins added, "Bye-bye, Mr. Arabian guy."
Asad could do nothing but stare at the incredible thing streaking toward him with fire belching out of its tail.
Suddenly, the attacking jet pulled straight up into the night sky, and its roar drowned out everything except Bahira Nadir's scream.
The jet disappeared, and the sound subsided, but Bahira continued to scream and scream.
Khalil shouted to her, "Be quiet!" He glanced down into the street and saw two soldiers looking up toward him. He ducked below the parapet. Bahira was sobbing now.
As Khalil contemplated his next move, the roof beneath his feet jumped and threw him face down. The next thing he was aware of was the sound of an enormous explosion close by. Then there was another explosion, then another, then another. He covered his ears with his hands. The earth shook, he could feel the air pressure change, and his ears popped and his mouth opened in a silent scream. A rush of heat swept over him, the sky turned blood red, and pieces of rock, rubble, and earth began to fall from the heavens. Allah, be merciful. Spare me… The world was being destroyed around him. He had no air in his lungs, and he fought to get his breath. Everything was strangely quiet, and he realized he was deaf. He also realized that he had wet himself.
Little by little, his hearing returned, and he could hear Bahira screaming again, an outpouring of pure, unmitigated terror. She scrambled to her feet and staggered over to the far parapet and began screaming down into the courtyard below.
"Shut up!" He ran to her and grabbed for her arm, but she got away from him and began running around the rubble-strewn perimeter of the roof, shrieking at the top of her lungs.
Four more explosions erupted at the far east end of the compound.
Khalil spotted men on the adjoining roof setting up an anti-aircraft machine gun. Bahira saw them, too, and threw up her arms to them, shouting, "Help! Help!"
They saw her, but continued setting up the machine gun.
"Help me! Help!"
Khalil grabbed her from behind and pulled her down to the concrete roof. "Shut up!"
She fought with him, and he was amazed at her strength. She continued to scream, broke free of his arms and clawed at his face, opening gashes along his cheeks and neck.
Suddenly, the machine gun on the next building opened fire, and the staccato sound mixed with the wailing siren and the thuds of explosions in the distance. Red tracer rounds streaked up from the machine gun and this caused Bahira to scream again.
Khalil put his hand over her mouth, but she bit his finger, then brought her knee up into his groin and he rocked backwards.
She was completely hysterical, and he could see no way to calm her down.
But there was a way.
He put his hands around her neck and throat and squeezed.
The F-lll streaked southward over the desert, then Satherwaite banked hard to starboard and executed a hundred-and-fifty-degree turn that would bring them back over the coast a hundred kilometers west of Tripoli.
Wiggins said, "Nice flying, Skipper."
Satherwaite didn't acknowledge, but said, "Keep an eye out for the Libyan Air Force, Chip."
Wiggins adjusted the knobs on his radar screen. "Clear skies. Gadhafi's pilots are washing their underwear about now."
"We hope." The Fill had no air-to-air missiles, and the idiots who designed it hadn't even put a Gatling gun on board, so their only defense against another jet was speed and maneuver. "We hope," he repeated. Satherwaite sent out a radio signal indicating that Karma 57 was among the living.
They sat in silence waiting for the other signals. Finally, the radio signals began coming in: Remit 22, with Terry Waycliff piloting and Bill Hambrecht as wizo; Remit 61, with Bob Callum piloting, Steve Cox, wizo; Elton 38, with Paul Grey piloting, Jim McCoy, wizo.
Their whole flight had made it.
Wiggins said, "I hope the other guys did okay."
Satherwaite nodded. So far, this was a perfect mission and that made him feel good. He liked it when everything went as planned. Aside from the missiles and the Triple-A, which in any case had not done him or his flight mates any harm, this could have been a live-bomb training mission over the Mojave Desert. Satherwaite jotted an entry in his log. "Piece of cake."
"Milk run," Wiggins agreed.
Asad Khalil kept squeezing, and this had the intended effect of making her stop screaming. She looked at him with wide bulging eyes. He squeezed harder, and she began to thrash around beneath him. He squeezed even harder and the thrashing turned to muscle spasms, then even those stopped. He kept the pressure on her throat and looked into Bahira's eyes, which were wide open and unblinking.
He counted to sixty and released his hands from her neck. He had solved the problem of the present and all the problems of the future with one relatively simple act.
He stood, put his Koran on the prayer mat, rolled it and tied it, put it over his shoulder and went down the stairs and out the building into the street.
All the lights in the compound were out, and he made his way through the darkness toward his home. With every step he took away from the building where Bahira lay dead on the roof, he was that much more removed, physically and mentally, from any involvement with the dead girl.
A building in front of him was in ruins and by the light of the burning structure, he saw dead soldiers lying all around him. A man's face stared up at him, the white skin reddened by the reflected flames. The man's eyes had popped out of his skull and blood ran from his eye sockets, his nose, his ears, and his mouth. Khalil fought down the nausea in his churning stomach, but he caught a whiff of burning flesh and vomited.
He rested a moment, then pushed on, still carrying his prayer mat.
He wanted to pray, but the Koran specifically prohibited a man from praying after he had intercourse with a woman, unless he first washed himself, including his face and hands.
He saw a ruptured cistern pouring water down the side of a building, and he stopped to wash his face and hands, then washed the blood and urine from his genitals.
He moved on, reciting long passages from the Koran, praying for the safety of his mother, sisters, and brothers.
He saw fires raging from the direction he was headed, and he began running.
This night, he reflected, had begun in sin and ended in hell. Lust led to sin, sin led to death. Hellfires raged all around him. The Great Satan himself had delivered punishment to him and to Bahira. But Allah the merciful had spared his life, and as he ran he prayed that Allah had also spared his family.
As an afterthought, he also prayed for Bahira's family and for the Great Leader.
As Asad Khalil, age sixteen, ran through the ruins of Al Azziziyah, he understood that he had been tested by Satan and by Allah, and that from this night of sin, death, and fire he would emerge a man.
Asad Khalil continued running toward his home. There were more people in this quarter of the compound-soldiers, women, a few children, and they were running, or walking slowly as if stunned; some he realized were on their knees praying.
Khalil turned a corner and stopped dead in his tracks. The row of attached stucco houses where he lived looked strangely different. Then he realized there were no shutters on the windows, and he noticed debris strewn in the open square in front of the houses. But even more strange was the fact that moonlight came through the open windows and doors. He suddenly realized that the roofs had collapsed into the buildings and blown out the doors, windows, and shutters. Allah, I beg of you, please, no…
He felt as if he were going to faint, then he took a deep breath and ran toward his house, stumbling over pieces of concrete, dropping his prayer mat, finally reaching the doorway opening. He hesitated, then rushed inside to what had been the front room.
The entire flat roof had collapsed into the room, covering the tile floor, the rugs, and the furniture with broken slabs of concrete, wooden beams, and stucco. Khalil looked upward at the open sky. In the name of the most merciful…
He took another deep breath and tried to get himself under control. On the far wall was the wood and tile cabinet that his father had built. Khalil made his way across the rubble to the cabinet, whose doors had been flung open. He found the flashlight inside and switched it on.
He swept the powerful, narrow beam around the room, seeing now the full extent of the damage. A framed photograph of the Great Leader still hung on the wall and this somehow reassured Khalil.
He knew he had to go into the bedrooms, but he couldn't bring himself to face what might be there.
Finally, he told himself, You must be a man. You must see if they are dead or alive.
He moved toward an arched opening that led further back into the house. The cooking and eating room had suffered the same damage as the front room. Khalil noticed that his mother's dishes and ceramic bowls had all fallen off their shelves.
He passed through the destruction into a small inner courtyard where three doors led to the three bedrooms. Khalil pushed on the door to the room that he shared with his two brothers, Esam, age five, and Qadir, age fourteen. Esam was the posthumous son of his father, always sickly, and was indulged by his sisters and mother. The Great Leader himself had sent for a European doctor once to examine him during one of his illnesses. Qadir, only two years younger than Asad, was big for his age and sometimes mistaken as his twin. Asad Khalil had hopes and dreams that Qadir and he would join the Army together, become great warriors, and eventually become Army commanders and aides to the Great Leader.
Asad Khalil held on to this image as he pushed on the door, which encountered some obstruction on the other side and held fast. He pushed harder and managed to squeeze himself through the narrow opening into his room.
There were three single beds in the small room-his own, which was flattened under a slab of concrete, Qadir's bed, which was also buried in concrete rubble, and Esam's bed, across which Khalil could see a huge rafter.
Khalil scrambled over the rubble to Esam's bed and knelt beside it. The heavy timber had landed lengthwise on the bed, and beneath the timber, under the blanket, was Esam's crushed and lifeless body. Khalil put his hands over his face and wept.
He got himself under control and turned toward Qadir's bed. The entire bed was buried under a section of concrete and stucco roof. Khalil's flashlight played over the mound of debris, and he saw a hand and arm protruding from the concrete pieces. He reached out and grasped the hand, then quickly let go of the dead flesh.
He let out a long, plaintive wail and threw himself across the mound of debris covering Qadir's bed. He cried for a minute or two, but then realized he had to find the others. He stumbled to his feet.
Before he left the room, he turned and again shone the flashlight on his bed and stared transfixed by the single slab of concrete that had flattened the bed where he had lain only hours before.
Khalil crossed the small courtyard and pushed on the splintered door of his sisters' room. The door had come unfastened from its hinges and fell inward.
His sisters, Adara, age nine, and Lina, age eleven, shared a double bed. Adara was a happy child and Khalil favored her, acting as more her father than her older brother. Lina was serious and studious, a joy to her teachers.
Khalil could not bring himself to shine his light on the bed or even to look at it. He stood with his eyes closed, prayed, then opened his eyes and put the beam of light on the double bed. He let out a gasp. The bed was overturned, and the entire room looked like it had been shaken by a giant. Khalil saw now that the rear outside wall had been blown in, and he could smell the powerful acrid stench of explosives. The bomb had detonated not far from here, he knew, and some of the explosion had blown down the wall and filled the room with fire and smoke. Everything was charred, tossed about, and reduced to unrecognizable pieces.
He stepped over the rubble near the door, took a few paces, then stopped, frozen, one leg in front of the other. At the end of the flashlight's beam was a severed head, the face blackened and charred, the hair nearly all singed off. Khalil couldn't tell if it was Lina or Adara.
He turned and ran toward the door, tripped, fell, scrambled across the rubble on all fours, and felt his hand coming into contact with bone and flesh.
He found himself lying in the small courtyard, curled into a ball, unwilling and unable to move.
In the distance, he could hear sirens, vehicles, people shouting, and, closer by, women wailing. Khalil knew there would be many funerals in the next few days, many graves to be dug, prayers to be said, and survivors to be comforted.
He lay there, numb with grief at the loss of his two brothers and two sisters. Finally, he tried to stand, but succeeded only in crawling toward the door of his mother's room. The door, he realized, was gone, blown away without a trace.
Khalil got to his feet and entered the room. The floor was relatively free of debris, and he saw that the roof had held, though everything in the room looked as if it had been moved toward the far wall, including the bed. Khalil saw that the curtains and shutters had been blown out of the two narrow-slit windows, and he realized that the force of the explosion outside had entered these windows and filled the room with a violent blast.
He hurried to his mother's bed, which had been pushed against the wall. He saw her lying there, her blanket and pillow gone and her night dress and sheets covered with gray dust.
At first he thought she was sleeping or just knocked senseless by the force of the collision with the wall. But then he noticed the blood around her mouth and the blood that had run from her ears. He remembered how his own ears and lungs had almost burst from the concussion of the bombs, and he knew what had happened to his mother.
He shook her. "Mother! Mother!" He continued to shake her. "Mother!"
Faridah Khalil opened her eyes and tried to focus on her oldest son. She began to speak, but coughed up foamy blood.
"Mother! It is Asad!"
She gave a slight nod.
"Mother, I am going to get help-"
She grabbed his arm with surprising strength and shook her head. She pulled on his arm, and he understood she wanted him closer.
Asad Khalil bent over so that his face was only inches from that of his mother.
She tried to speak again, but coughed up more blood, which Khalil could now smell. She kept her grip on him and he said, "Mother, you will be all right. I will go for a doctor."
He was surprised to hear her voice, which sounded nothing like his mother's voice. He worried that there was damage done inside of her and that she was bleeding internally. He thought he might be able to save her if he could get her to the compound hospital. But she would not let him go. She knew she was dying and she wanted him close when she took her last breath.
She whispered in his ear, "Qadir… Esam… Lina… Adara…?"
"Yes… They are all right. They are… They… will be…" He found himself weeping so hard he couldn't continue.
Faridah whispered, "My poor children… my poor family…"
Khalil let out a long wailing sound, then screamed out, "Allah, why have you deserted us?" Khalil wept on his mother's breast, felt her heartbeat beneath his cheek, and heard her whisper, "My poor family…" Then her heart stopped, and Asad Khalil remained very still, listening for it, waiting for her chest to rise and fall again. He waited.
He lay on her breasts a long time, then he stood and walked out of her room. He wandered in a trance through the rubble of his home, and found himself outside in front of the house. He stood looking at the scene of chaos around him. Someone yelled nearby, "The whole Atiyeh family is dead!"
Men cursed, women wept, children screamed, ambulances came, stretchers took people away, a truck passed by, loaded with white-shrouded bodies.
He heard a man say that the Great Leader's house nearby had been hit by a bomb. The Great Leader had escaped, but members of his family had been killed.
Asad Khalil stood and listened to all that was said around him and noticed some of what was happening, but everything seemed very far away.
He began walking aimlessly and was almost hit by a speeding fire truck. He kept walking and found himself back near the munitions building where Bahira lay dead on the roof. He wondered if her family had survived. In any case, whoever was looking for her would be looking through the rubble in the area of the living quarters. It would be days or weeks before she was found on the roof, and by then the body would be… It would be assumed she died of concussion.
Asad Khalil found to his astonishment that he was still thinking clearly about certain things despite his grief.
He moved quickly away from the munitions building, not wanting any further association with that place.
He walked, alone with his thoughts, alone in the world. He said to himself, "My whole family are martyrs for Islam. I have succumbed to a temptation outside the Sharia and because of that I was not in my bed, and I have been spared the fate of my family. But Bahira succumbed to the same temptation and has suffered a different fate." He tried to make sense of all this and asked Allah to help him understand the meaning of this night.
The Ghabli whistled through the camp, blowing up dust and sand. The night was colder now and the moon had set, leaving the blacked out camp in total darkness. He had never felt so alone, so frightened, so helpless. "Allah, please, make me understand…" He lay face down on the black road facing toward Mecca. He prayed, he asked for an omen, he asked for guidance, he tried to think clearly.
He had no doubt who it was that had brought such destruction on them. There had been rumors for months that the madman, Reagan, would attack them, and now it had happened. He had an image of his mother speaking to him. My poor family must be avenged. Yes, that's what she had said, or was about to say.
Suddenly, in a flash of understanding, it became clear to him that he had been chosen to avenge not only his family, but his nation, his religion, and the Great Leader. He would be Allah's instrument for revenge. He, Asad Khalil, had nothing left to lose and nothing left to live for, unless he took up the Jihad and carried the Holy War to the shores of the enemy.
Asad Khalil's sixteen-year-old mind was now set and focused on simple revenge and retribution. He would go to America and slice the throats of everyone who had taken part in this cowardly attack. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. This was the Arab death feud, the blood feud, more ancient even than the Koran or Jihad, as ancient as the Ghabli. He said aloud, "I swear to Allah that I will avenge this night."
Lieutenant Bill Satherwaite asked his weapons officer, "All bull's-eyes?"
"Yeah," Chip Wiggins replied. "Well, one of them may have overshot…" Wiggins added, "Hit something though. A line of, like, smaller buildings."
"Good. As long as you didn't hit the Arch of Mario."
"Whatever. You owe me dinner, Chip."
"No, you owe me dinner."
"You missed a bull's-eye. You buy."
"Okay, I'll buy if you fly back over the Arch of Marcus Aurelius."
"I flew in over the Arch. You missed it." Satherwaite added, "See it when you come back as a tourist."
Chip Wiggins had no intention of ever coming back to Libya, except in a fighter plane.
They flew on over the desert, and suddenly the coast streaked by below, and they were over the Mediterranean. They didn't need radio silence any longer, and Satherwaite transmitted, "Feet wet." They headed for the rendezvous point with the rest of their squadron.
Wiggins remarked, "We won't hear from Moammar for a while." He added, "Maybe not ever again."
Satherwaite shrugged. He was not unaware that these surgical strikes had a purpose beyond testing his flying ability. He understood that there would be political and diplomatic problems after this. But he was more interested in the locker room chatter back at Lakenheath. He looked forward to the debriefings. He thought fleetingly about the four 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs they had let loose, and he hoped everyone down there had enough warning to get into their shelters. He really didn't want to hurt anyone.
Wiggins broke into his thoughts and said, "By dawn, Radio Libya will report that we hit six hospitals, seven orphanages, and ten mosques."
Satherwaite didn't respond.
"Two thousand civilians dead-all women and children."
"How's the fuel?"
"About two hours."
"Good. Did you have fun?"
"Yeah, until the Triple-A."
Satherwaite replied, "You didn't want to bomb a defenseless target, did you?"
Wiggins laughed, then said, "Hey, we're combat veterans."
"That we are."
Wiggins stayed silent awhile, then asked, "I wonder if they're going to retaliate." He added, "I mean, they screw us, we screw them, they screw us, we screw them… where does it end?"
America, April 15 The Present
Terrible he rode alone
With his Yemen sword for aid;
Ornament, it carried none
But the notches on the blade.
"The Death Feud" An Arab war song
Asad Khalil, recently arrived by air from Paris, and the only survivor of Trans-Continental Flight 175, sat comfortably in the back of a New York City taxi cab. He stared out the right side window, noticing the tall buildings set back from the highway. He noticed, too, that many of the cars here in America were bigger than in Europe, or in Libya. The weather was pleasant, but as in Europe, there was too much humidity for a man used to the arid climate of North Africa. Also, as in Europe, there was much green vegetation. The Koran promised a Paradise of greenery, flowing streams, eternal shade, fruits, wine, and women. It was curious, he thought, that the lands of the infidels seemed to resemble Paradise. But the resemblance, he knew, was only superficial. Or perhaps, Europe and America was the Paradise promised in the Koran, awaiting only the coming of Islam.
Asad Khalil turned his attention to the taxi driver, Gamal Jabbar, his compatriot, whose photo and name were prominently displayed on a license mounted on the dashboard.
Libyan Intelligence in Tripoli had told Khalil that his driver would be one of five men. There were many Muslim taxi drivers in New York City, and many of them could be persuaded to do a small favor, even though they were not chosen freedom fighters. Khalil's case officer in Tripoli, who he knew as Malik-the King, or the Master-had said with a smile, "Many drivers have relatives in Libya."
Khalil asked Gamal Jabbar, "What is this road?"
Jabbar replied in Libyan-accented Arabic, "This is called the Belt Parkway. You see, the Atlantic Ocean is over there. This part of the city is known as Brooklyn. Many of our coreligionists live here."
"I know that. Why are you here?"
Jabbar did not like the tone or the implication of the question, but he had a prepared answer and replied, "Just to make money in this accursed land. I will return to Libya and my family in six months."
Khalil knew this wasn't true-not because he thought Jabbar was lying, but because Jabbar would be dead within the hour.
Khalil looked out the window at the ocean on his left, then at the tall apartment buildings on his right, and then toward the distant skyline of Manhattan to his front. He had spent enough time in Europe not to be overly impressed with what he saw here. The lands of the infidels were populous and prosperous, but the people had turned away from their God and were weak. People who believed in nothing but filling their bellies and their wallets were no match for the Islamic fighters.
Khalil said to Jabbar, "Do you adhere to your faith here, Jabbar?"
"Yes, of course. There is a mosque near my home. I have maintained my faith."
"Good. And for what you are doing today, you are assured a place in Paradise."
Jabbar did not reply.
Khalil sat back in his seat and reflected on the last hour of this important day.
Getting out of the airport's service area and into this taxi and onto this highway had been very simple, but Khalil knew that it might not have been so easy ten or fifteen minutes later. He had been surprised on board the aircraft when he heard the tall man in the suit say, "Crime Scene," and then the man looked at him and ordered him off the spiral staircase. Khalil wondered how the police knew so soon that a crime had been committed. Perhaps, he thought, the fireman on board had said something on his radio. But Khalil and Yusef Haddad, his accomplice, had been careful not to leave any obvious evidence of a crime. In fact, Khalil thought, he had gone through the difficulty of breaking Haddad's neck so as not to leave evidence of a gunshot or knife wound.
There were other possibilities, Khalil thought. Perhaps the fireman had noticed the missing thumbs of the Federal agents. Or perhaps because the fireman was out of radio contact for a short time, the police became suspicious.
Khalil had not planned to kill the fireman, but he had no choice when the man tried to open the lavatory door. His only regret in killing the fireman was that another piece of evidence had been created at a critical moment in his plans.
In any case, the situation had changed quickly when that man in the suit came aboard, and Khalil then had to move more quickly. He smiled at the thought of that man telling him to get down from the staircase, which was exactly what he had been doing anyway. Getting off the aircraft had been not only simple-he'd actually been ordered to leave.
Getting into the baggage truck, whose engine was running, and driving off in the confusion had been even less of a problem. In fact, he'd had dozens of unoccupied vehicles to choose from, which is what he'd been told by Libyan Intelligence, who had a friend working as a baggage handler for Trans-Continental airlines.
Khalil's map of the airport had come from a Web-site source, and the location of the place called the Conquistador Club had been accurately identified by Boutros, the man who had preceded him in February. Libyan Intelligence had made Khalil rehearse the route from the security area to the Conquistador Club, and Khalil could have made the drive blindfolded after a hundred rehearsals on mock roads laid out near Tripoli.
He thought about Boutros, whom he had met only once-not about the man himself, but about how easily Boutros had deceived the Americans in Paris, in New York, and then in Washington. The American Intelligence people were not stupid, but they were arrogant, and arrogance led to overconfidence, and thus carelessness.
Khalil said to Jabbar, "You are aware of the significance of this day."
"Of course. I am from Tripoli. I was a boy when the American bombers came. A curse be unto them."
"Did you suffer personally in the attack?"
"I lost an uncle at Benghazi. My father's brother. His death saddens me even now."
Khalil was amazed at how many Libyans had lost friends and relatives in the bombing that had killed fewer than a hundred people. Khalil had long ago assumed they were all lying. Now he was probably in the presence of another liar.
Khalil did not often speak of his own suffering from that air attack, and he would never reveal such a thing outside Libya. But since Jabbar would soon pose no security risk, Khalil said to him, "My entire family was killed at Al Azziziyah."
Jabbar sat in silence a moment, then said, "My friend, I weep for you."
"My mother, my two sisters, my two brothers."
Again silence, then Jabbar said, "Yes, yes. I recall. The family of…"
"Yes, yes. They were all martyred at Al Azziziyah."
Jabbar turned his head to look at his non-paying passenger, "Sir, may Allah avenge your suffering. May God give you peace and strength until you see your family again in Paradise."
Jabbar went on, heaping praise, blessings, and sympathy on Asad Khalil.
Khalil's mind returned to earlier in the day, and again he thought of the tall man in the suit, and the woman in the blue jacket who seemed to be his accomplice. The Americans, like the Europeans, made women into men and the men became more like women. This was an insult to God and to God's creation. Woman was made of the rib of Adam, to be his helpmate, not to be his equal.
In any case, when that man and woman came on board, the situation had changed quickly. In fact, he had considered avoiding the place called the Conquistador Club-the secret headquarters of the Federal agents-but it was a target that he could not resist, a treat he had savored in his mind since February when Boutros had reported its existence to Malik. Malik had said to Khalil, "This is a tempting dish offered to you on your arrival. But it will not be as filling to you as those dishes served cold. Make your decision carefully and wisely. Kill only what you can eat, or what you can hide for later."
Khalil remembered those words, but had decided to take the risk and kill those who believed they were his jailers.
Khalil considered that what had happened on the aircraft was of little consequence. Poison gas was an almost cowardly way to kill, but it had been part of the plan. The bombs that Khalil had detonated in Europe gave him little satisfaction, though he appreciated the symbolism of killing those people in a manner similar to the way his family had been killed by the cowardly American pilots.
The killing of the American Air Force officer in England with the ax had given him the greatest satisfaction. He still recalled the man walking to his car in the dark parking lot, aware that someone was behind him. He remembered the officer turning to him and saying, "Can I help you?"
Khalil smiled. Yes, you can help me, Colonel Hambrecht. Then Khalil had said to the man, "Al Azziziyah," and he would never forget the expression on the man's face before Khalil swung the ax from under his trench coat and hit the man with the blade, almost severing his arm. And then Khalil took his time, chopping at the man's limbs, ribs, genitals, holding off the fatal blow to his heart until he was sure the man had suffered enough pain to be in extreme agony, but not so much pain as to become unconscious. Then he delivered the ax blow to the sternum, which split it open as the blade cut into his heart. The American colonel still had enough blood in him to produce a small geyser, which Khalil hoped the man could see and feel before he died.
Khalil had been sure to remove Colonel Hambrecht's wallet and watch to make it look like a robbery, though the ax murder clearly did not look like part of a simple robbery. Still, it put questions in the minds of the police, who had to label the murder as a possible robbery, but possibly political.
Khalil's next thought was of the three American schoolchildren in Brussels, waiting for a bus. There were supposed to be four-one for each of his sisters and brothers-but there were only three that morning. A female adult was with them, probably the mother of one or two. Khalil had stopped his car, got out, and shot each child in the chest and head, smiled at the woman, got back in the car, and drove off.
Malik had been angry with him for leaving a witness alive who saw his face, but Khalil had no doubt that the woman would remember nothing for the rest of her life, except the three children dying in her arms. This was how he had avenged the death of his mother.
Khalil thought a moment about Malik, his mentor, his master, almost his father. Malik's own father, Numair-the Panther-was a hero in the war of independence against the Italians. Numair had been captured by the Italian Army and hanged when Malik was just a boy. Malik and Khalil shared, and were bonded by, the loss of their fathers to the infidels, and both had sworn revenge.
Malik-whose real name was unknown-had, after his father had been hanged, offered to spy for the British against the Italians and the Germans as the armies of the three countries killed one another across the length of Libya. Malik had also spied for the Germans against the British, and his combined spying on the armies of both sides had ensured greater slaughter. When the Americans arrived, Malik found yet another employer who trusted him. Khalil recalled that Malik once told him of the time he led an American patrol into a German ambush, then returned to the American lines and revealed to them the location of the German ambush party.
Khalil had been in awe of Malik's duplicity and of his death toll without firing a shot himself.
Asad Khalil had been trained in the killing arts by many good men, but it had been Malik who taught him how to think, to act, to deceive, to understand the mind of the Westerner, and to use that knowledge to avenge all those who believed in Allah and who had been killed over the centuries by the Christian infidels.
Malik had told Asad Khalil, "You have the strength and courage of a lion. You have been taught to kill with the speed and ferocity of a lion. I will teach you to be as cunning as a lion. For without cunning, Asad, you will be an early martyr."
Malik was old now, nearly seventy years on this earth, but he had lived long enough to see many triumphs of Islam over the West. He had told Khalil, on the day before Khalil went to Paris, "God willing, you will reach America, and the enemies of Islam and of our Great Leader will fall before you. God has ordained your mission, and God will keep you safe until you return. But you must help God, a bit, by remembering all you have been taught and all you have learned. God himself has put in your hand the names of our enemies, and he has done so that you may slay them all. Be driven by revenge, but do not be blinded by hate. The lion does not hate. The lion kills all who threaten him or have tormented him. The lion also kills when he is hungry. Your soul has been hungry since that night when your family was taken from you. Your mother's blood calls to you, Asad. The innocent blood of Esam, Qadir, Adara, and Lina calls out to you. And your father, Karim, who was my friend, will be watching you from heaven. Go, my son, and return in glory. I will be waiting for you."
Khalil almost felt tears forming in his eyes as he thought of Malik's words. He sat quietly for a while, as the taxi moved through traffic, thinking, praying, thanking God for his good fortune so far. He had no doubt that he was at the beginning of the end of his long journey that had begun on the rooftop of Al Azziziyah so long ago on this very date.
The thought of the rooftop brought back an unpleasant memory-the memory of Bahira-and he tried to put this out of his mind, but her face kept returning to him. They had found her body two weeks later, so badly decomposed that no one knew how she died, and no one could guess why she had been on that roof so far from her house in Al Azziziyah.
Asad Khalil, in his naiveté, imagined that the authorities would connect him to Bahira's death, and he lived in mortal fear of being accused of fornication, blasphemy, and murder. But those around him mistook his agitated state for grief over the loss of his family. He was grief-stricken, but he was perhaps slightly more frightened of having his head severed from his body. He did not fear death itself, he told himself over and over again-what he feared was a shameful death, an early death that would keep him from his mission of revenge.
They did not come for him to kill him, they came to him with pity and respect. The Great Leader himself had attended the funeral of the Khalil family, and Asad had attended the funeral of Hana, the Gadhafis' eighteen-month-old adopted daughter, who had been killed in the air raid. Khalil had also visited the hospital to see the Great Leader's wife, Safia, who had been wounded in the attack, as well as two of the Gadhafi sons, all of whom recovered. Praise be to Allah.
And two weeks later, Asad had attended the funeral of Bahira, but after so many funerals, he felt numb, without grief or guilt.
A doctor had explained that Bahira Nadir could have been killed by concussion or simply by fright, and she was thus joined with the other martyrs in Paradise. Asad Khalil saw no reason to confess to anything that would shame her memory or her family.
Regarding the Nadirs, the fact that the rest of the family had survived the bombing had caused Khalil to feel something like anger toward them. Envy, perhaps. But at least with Bahira's death, they could feel part of what he felt from losing everyone he loved. In fact, the Nadir family had been very good to him after the shared tragedy, and he'd lived with them for a while. It was during this time with the Nadirs-as he shared their home and their food-that he'd learned how to overpower his guilt at having killed and shamed their daughter. What happened on the roof was Bahira's fault alone. She had been fortunate to be honored as a martyr after her shameless and immodest behavior.
Khalil looked out the window and saw a huge gray bridge in front of him. He asked Jabbar, "What is that?"
Jabbar replied, "That is called the Verrazano Bridge. It will take us to Staten Island, then we cross another bridge to New Jersey." Jabbar added, "There is much water here and many bridges." He had driven a few of his countrymen over the years-some immigrants, some businessmen, some tourists-some on other business like this man, Asad Khalil, in the rear of his taxi. Nearly all of the Libyans he'd driven were amazed at the tall buildings, the bridges, the highways, and the green expanses. But this man didn't seem amazed or impressed, just curious. He said to Khalil, "Is this your first time in America?"
"Yes, and my last."
They drove over the long bridge and at the crown of the bridge, Jabbar said, "If you look that way, sir, to your right, you will see lower Manhattan, what they call the Financial District. You will notice the two very tall and identical towers."
Khalil looked at the massive buildings of lower Manhattan, which seemed to rise out of the water. He saw the two towers of the World Trade Center and appreciated Jabbar pointing them out. Khalil said, "Maybe next time."
Jabbar smiled and replied, "God willing."
In truth, Gamal Jabbar thought the bombing of the one tower was a horrible thing, but he knew what to say and who to say it to. In truth, too, the man in the back made him uneasy, though he couldn't say why. Maybe it was the man's eyes. They moved around too much. And the man spoke only occasionally, then lapsed into silence. With almost any Arabic speaker, the conversation in the taxi would have been ceaseless and good-hearted. With this man, conversation was difficult. Christians and Jews spoke more to him than this compatriot.
Jabbar slowed his vehicle as he approached the toll booths on the Staten Island side of the bridge. Jabbar said quickly to Khalil, "This is not a police or customs checkpoint. I have to pay here for the use of the bridge."
Khalil laughed and replied, "I know that. I have spent time in Europe. Do you think I'm an illiterate desert tribesman?"
"No, sir. But sometimes our countrymen get nervous."
"Your bad driving is the only thing that makes me nervous."
They both laughed.
Jabbar said to his passenger, "I have an electronic pass that will permit me to go through the toll booth without having to stop and pay an attendant. But if you wish to have no record of this crossing, then I must stop and pay cash."
Khalil wanted neither a record of the crossing nor did he want to approach a booth with a person in it. The record, he knew, would be permanent, and might be used to trace his route to New Jersey, because when they found Jabbar-dead in his taxi, they might connect him to Asad Khalil. Khalil said to Jabbar, "Pay in cash."
Khalil put an English language newspaper in front of his face as Jabbar slowed down and approached the toll booth at the shortest line.
Jabbar pulled up to the booth, paid the toll in cash without exchanging a word with the toll attendant, then accelerated onto a wide highway.
Khalil lowered the newspaper. They were not yet looking for him, or if they were, they had not yet put out an alert this far from the airport. He wondered if they had concluded that the dead body of Yusef Haddad was not the dead body of Asad Khalil. Haddad had been chosen as an accomplice because he bore a slight resemblance to Khalil, and Khalil also wondered if Haddad had guessed his fate.
The sun was low on the horizon now and within two hours it would be dark. Khalil preferred the darkness for the next part of his journey.
He had been told that the American police were numerous and well equipped, and that they would have his photo and description within half an hour of his leaving the airport. But he had also been told that the automobile was his best means of escape. There were too many of them to stop and search, which was not the case in Libya. Khalil would avoid what were called choke points-airports, bus stations, train stations, hotels, houses of his compatriots, and certain roads, bridges, and tunnels where the toll takers or police might have his photo. This bridge was one such place, but he was certain that the speed of his escape had gotten him through the net that was not yet fully in place. And if they made the net tighter around New York City, it didn't matter because he was nearly out of the area, and would never return to this place. And if they made the net larger, which they would, then the net would be looser, and he could easily slip through it at any point in his journey. Many police, yes. But many people, too.
Malik had told him, "Twenty years ago, an Arab might have been noticed in an American city, but today, you might not even be noticed in a small town. The only thing an American man notices is a beautiful woman." They had both laughed at that. Malik had added, 'And the only things an American woman notices are how other women dress and the clothes in shop windows."
They exited the highway onto another highway, heading south. The taxi maintained a safe speed and soon Khalil saw another bridge rising to his front.
Jabbar said, "There is no toll from this direction on this bridge. On the other side of the bridge is the state of New Jersey."
Khalil didn't reply. His thoughts went back to his escape. "Speed," they had told him at his intelligence briefing in Tripoli. "Speed. Fugitives tend to move slowly and carefully, and that's how they get caught. Speed, simplicity, and boldness. Get in the taxi and keep going. No one will stop you as long as the taxi driver does not go too fast or too slow. Make the driver assure you that there are no problems with his brake lights or signal lights. The American police will stop you for that. Sit in the rear of the taxi. There will be an English language newspaper there. All our drivers are familiar with American driving and laws. They are all licensed taxi drivers."
Malik had further instructed him, "If you are stopped by the police for any reason, assume it has nothing to do with you. Sit in the taxi, let the driver talk. Most American policemen travel alone. If the policeman speaks to you, answer in English with respect, but not fear. The policeman may not search you or the driver or the vehicle without a legal reason. This is the law in America. Even if he searches the taxi, he will not search you, unless he is certain you are someone he is seeking. If he asks you to get out of the taxi, he intends to search you. Leave the taxi, draw your pistol, and shoot him. He will not have his gun drawn, unless he is already certain you are Asad Khalil. If that is the case, may Allah protect you. And be certain to have your bulletproof vest on. They will give this to you in Paris to protect you from assassins. Use it against them. Use the Federal agents' guns against them."
Khalil nodded to himself. They were very thorough in Libya. The Great Leader's intelligence organization was small, but well financed and well trained by the old KGB. The godless Russians had been knowledgeable, but they had faith in nothing, which was why their state had collapsed so suddenly and so totally. The Great Leader still made use of the former KGB men, hiring them like whores to service the Islamic fighters. Khalil himself had been trained partly by Russians, some Bulgarians, and even some Afghani, who the American CIA had trained to fight the Russians. It was like the war which Malik had fought between the Germans and Italians on one side and the British and the Americans on the other. The infidels fought and killed one another and trained Islamic fighters to help them-not understanding that they were sowing the seeds of their further destruction.
Jabbar crossed the bridge and turned the taxi off the highway onto a street of houses that looked, even to Khalil, like poor homes. "What is this place?"
"It is called Perth Amboy."
"How much longer?"
"Ten minutes, sir."
"And there is no problem with this automobile being noticed in this other state?"
"No. One may drive freely from state to state. Only if I go too far from New York might someone notice a taxi so far from the city. To journey a long distance by taxi can be expensive." Jabbar added, "But of course you should pay no attention to this taxi meter. I leave it on because it is the law."
"There are many small laws here."
"Yes, you must obey the small laws so you can more easily break the big ones."
They both laughed.
Khalil pulled out the wallet in the breast pocket of the dark gray suit jacket that Gamal Jabbar had given him. He checked his passport, which had his photo showing him wearing glasses and a short mustache. It was a clever photo, but he was concerned about the mustache. In Tripoli, where they had taken the photo, they told him, "Yusef Haddad will give you a false mustache and eyeglasses. It is necessary as a disguise, but if the police search you, they will test your mustache, and when they see that the mustache is false, they will know that everything else is false."
Khalil put his fingers to the mustache, then tugged on it. It was firmly fixed, but, yes, it could be discovered to be false. In any event, he had no intention of letting a policeman get close enough to pull on his mustache.,
He had the glasses, given to him by Haddad, in his breast pocket. He didn't need glasses, but these were bifocals so that he could see with them on, and they would also pass as legitimate reading glasses.
He looked at the passport again. His name was Hefni Badr and he was an Egyptian, which was good, because if he were questioned by an Arab-American who worked for the police, a Libyan could pass for an Egyptian. Khalil had spent many months in Egypt and felt confident that he could convince even an Egyptian-American that they were countrymen.
The passport also gave his religion as Muslim, his occupation as schoolteacher, which he could easily impersonate, and his residence in El Minya, a city on the Nile that few Westerners or even Egyptians were familiar with, but this was a place where he'd spent a month for the explicit purpose of reinforcing what was called his legend-his false life.
Khalil checked through the wallet and found five hundred dollars in American money-not too much to draw attention, but enough to meet his needs. He also found some Egyptian money, an Egyptian internal identification card, an Egyptian bank card in his assumed name, and an American Express card, also in his assumed name, that Libyan Intelligence told him would work in any American scanner.
Also in his breast pocket was an international driver's license in the name of Hefni Badr, with a photo similar to the one on his passport.
Jabbar was glancing in his rearview mirror and said to him, "Is everything in order, sir?"
Khalil replied, "I hope I never have to discover if it is."
Again, they both laughed.
Khalil put everything back in his breast pocket. If he were stopped at this time, he could probably deceive an ordinary policeman. But why should he bother to be an actor just because he wore a disguise? Despite what they'd told him in Libya, his first reaction-not his last-would be to pull both his pistols and kill anyone who posed a threat to him.
Khalil opened the black overnight bag that Jabbar had placed for him in the back seat. He rummaged through the big bag, finding toilet articles, underwear, a few ties, a sports shirt, a pen and a blank notebook, American coins, a cheap camera of the type a tourist might have, two plastic bottles of mineral water, and a small copy of the Koran, printed in Cairo.
There was nothing in the bag that could compromise him-no invisible writing, no microdots, not even a new pistol. Everything he needed to know was in his head. Everything he needed to use would be provided or acquired along the way. The only thing that could connect him, Hefni Badr, to Asad Khalil were the two Federal agents' Clock pistols. In Tripoli, they had told him to dispose of the pistols as soon as possible, and his taxi driver would give him a new pistol. But he had replied, "If I'm stopped, what difference does it make what pistol I have with me? I wish to use the enemy's weapons until I complete my mission or until I die." They did not argue with him, and there was no pistol in the black bag.
There were two items in the bag that could possibly compromise him: the first was a tube of toothpaste that was actually gum for his false mustache. The second was a can of foot powder, an Egyptian brand that was in fact colored with a gray tint. Khalil twisted the cap and sprinkled the powder in his hair, then combed it through as he looked at himself in a small hand mirror. The results were amazing-turning his jet-black hair to a salt-and-pepper gray. He restyled his swept-back hair into a part on the left side, put on his glasses, then said to Jabbar, "Well, what do you think?"
Jabbar glanced in his rearview mirror and said, "What has become of the passenger I picked up at the airport? What have you done with him, Mr. Badr?"
They both laughed, but then Jabbar realized he should not have drawn attention to the fact that he knew the fictitious name of his passenger, and he fell silent. Jabbar looked in his rearview mirror and saw this man's dark eyes staring at him.
Khalil turned to look out the window. They were still in an area that seemed less prosperous than any he had seen in Europe, but there were many good cars parked on the streets, which surprised him.
Jabbar said, "Look there, sir. That is the highway you will need to drive on-it is called the New Jersey Turnpike. That is the entrance to the highway, there. You will take a ticket from a machine and pay a toll when you get off. The highway goes north and south, so you must get into the proper lane."
Khalil noted that Jabbar did not ask him which way he was going to travel. Jabbar understood that the less he knew, the better for everyone. But Jabbar already knew too much.
Khalil asked Jabbar, "Do you know what happened at the airport today?"
"Which airport, sir?"
"The one we came from."
"No, I do not."
"Well, you will hear about it on the radio."
Jabbar did not reply.
Khalil opened one of the bottles of mineral water, drank half of it, then tipped the bottle and poured the remainder on the floor.
They pulled into a huge parking lot with a sign that said PARK AND RIDE. Jabbar explained, "People drive their cars here and take a bus into Manhattan -into the city. But today is Saturday, so there are not many cars."
Khalil looked around at the expanses of crumbling blacktop surrounded by a chain-link fence. There were about fifty cars parked within white lines, but the parking lot could hold hundreds more. He noted, too, that there were no people in view.
Jabbar put his taxi in a parking space and said, "There, sir, do you see that black car straight ahead?"
Khalil followed Jabbar's gaze to a large black automobile parked a few rows ahead of them. "Yes."
"Here are the keys." Without looking at Khalil, Jabbar passed the keys over the seat. Jabbar said, "All of your rental papers are in the glove box. The car is rented in the name on your passport for one week, so after that time, the car agency may become concerned. The car was rented at Newark Airport, in New Jersey, but the license plates are from New York. This is of no concern. That is all I have been instructed to tell you, sir. But if you would like, I can lead you back to the highway."
"That won't be necessary."
"May Allah bless your visit, sir. May you return safely to our homeland."
Khalil already had the.40 caliber Glock in his hand. He put the muzzle of the Glock into the opening of the empty plastic bottle and pushed the bottom of the bottle against the rear of the driver's seat. He fired a shot through the back of the seat into Gamal Jabbar's upper spine, so that if it missed the spinal column, it would penetrate the heart from the rear. The plastic bottle muffled the blast of the gun.
Jabbar's body lurched forward, but his harness belt held him upright.
Smoke poured from the bottle's neck and from the bullet hole in the bottom. Khalil loved the smell of burnt cordite and inhaled it through his nostrils. He said, "Thank you for the water."
Khalil considered a second shot, but then he saw Jabbar's body start to twitch in a way that a man could not fake. Khalil waited half a minute, listening to Jabbar's gurgling.
As he waited for Jabbar to die, he found the empty.40 caliber shell casing and put it in his pocket, then put the plastic bottle in his overnight bag.
Gamal Jabbar finally stopped twitching, gurgling, and breathing, and sat motionless.
Khalil looked around to be certain they were alone in the lot, then he reached over the seat and quickly took Jabbar's wallet from his pocket, then unfastened the man's seat belt and pushed him down below the dashboard. He turned off the ignition and took the keys out.
Asad Khalil removed his black overnight bag, got out of the taxi, closed and locked the doors, then walked to the black car, which was called a Mercury Marquis. The key fitted, he entered the car, and started it, remembering his seat belt. He moved out of the quiet parking lot onto the street. He recalled a line from the Hebrew scripture. A lion is in the streets. He smiled.
An FBI guy named Hal Roberts met Kate, Ted, and me in the lobby of 26 Federal Plaza.
When someone meets you in the lobby of your workplace, it's either an honor, or you're in trouble. Mr. Roberts was not smiling, and this was my first clue that we were not going to receive letters of commendation.
We got on the elevator, and Roberts used his key for the twenty-eighth floor. We rode up in silence.
Twenty-six Federal Plaza is home to various government agencies, most of them no more than innocuous tax eaters. But floors twenty-two through twenty-eight are not innocuous and are accessible only by key. I was given a key when I started this job, and the guy who gave it to me said, "I'd like to get the thumbprint pad here. You can forget your key, or lose it, but you can't forget or lose your thumb." Actually, you can lose your thumb.
My work floor was twenty-six where I had a piece of a cube farm, along with other ex-NYPD and active-duty NYPD. Also on the twenty-sixth floor were a few suits, as cops referred to the FBI. This is a bit of a misnomer, since many of the NYPD types wear suits, and about a third of the FBI types are female and don't wear suits. But I learned long ago never to question the jargon of an organization; somewhere in the jargon is a clue to the mind-sets of the people who work there.
Anyway, we got to the top floor where the celestial beings dwelt, and we were ushered into a corner office facing southeast. The name on the door said JACK KOENIG, known by his translated and transposed name as King Jack. Mr. Koenig's actual title was Special Agent in Charge, SAC for short, and he was in charge of the entire Anti-Terrorist Task Force. His dominion extended throughout the five boroughs of New York City, the surrounding counties of New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as nearby upstate New York and the two counties of Long Island-Nassau and Suffolk. It was in this latter county, on the east end of Long Island, where I had first run into Sir Ted and Sir George, to continue the metaphor, knights-errant, who turned out to be fools. In any case, I had no doubt that King Jack did not like things going wrong in his kingdom.
His Highness had a big office with a big desk. There was also a couch and three club chairs around a coffee table. There were built-in bookshelves and an Arthurian round table and chairs, but no throne.
His Majesty was not in, and Mr. Roberts said, "Make yourselves at home, put your feet up on the coffee table, and lay on the couch if you like." Actually, Mr. Roberts did not say this-Mr. Roberts said, "Wait here," and left.
I wondered if I had time to get to my desk and check my hiring contract.
I should mention that since this is a Joint Anti-Terrorist Task Force, there is a New York City police captain who shares this command with Jack Koenig. The captain is named David Stein, a Jewish gent with a law degree, and in the eyes of the Police Commissioner, a man with enough brains to hold his own against the overeducated Feds. Captain Stein has a tough job, but he's slick, sharp, and just diplomatic enough to keep the Feds happy while still protecting the interests of the NYPD men and women under him. People like me who are ex-NYPD Contract Agents are in a sort of gray area, and no one looks out for our interests, but neither do I have the problems of career officers, so it's a wash.
Anyway, regarding Captain Stein, he's a former Intelligence Unit guy who worked on a lot of cases involving Islamic extremists, including the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane, and he's a natural for this job. Not to read too much into the Jewish thing, but he clearly has a personal problem with Islamic extremists. The Anti-Terrorist Task Force, of course, covers all terrorist organizations, but you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out where most of the focus was.
In any case, I wondered if I'd be seeing Captain Stein tonight. I hoped so-we needed another cop in the room.
Kate and Ted put Phil's and Peter's briefcases on the round table without comment. I recalled occasions when I had to remove the shield, gun, and credentials of men I knew and return them to the precinct. It's not unlike when ancient warriors would take the swords and shields of their fallen comrades and bring them home. In this case, however, the weapons were missing. I opened the briefcases to be sure the cell phones were off. It's disturbing when a dead person's phone rings.
Regarding Jack Koenig, I'd met him only once when I was hired, and I found him to be fairly intelligent, quiet, and thoughtful. He was known as a hard-ass and had a sarcastic side to him, which I admired greatly. I recalled that he'd said to me, apropos of my professorship at John Jay, "Those who can, do-those who can't, teach." To which I'd replied, "Those who have taken three bullets on the job don't have to explain their second careers." After a moment of frosty silence, he smiled and said, "Welcome to the ATTF."
Despite the smile and welcome, I had the impression he was a wee bit pissed at me. Maybe he'd forgotten the incident.
We stood in the office with the plush blue carpet, and I glanced at Kate, who seemed a little anxious. I looked at Ted Nash, who, of course, did not call Jack his Special Agent in Charge. Mr. CIA had his own bosses, housed across the street at 290 Broadway, and I'd have given a month's pay to see him on the carpet at 290. But that would never happen.
Some of the ATTF, by the way, is located at 290 Broadway, a newer and nicer building than Federal Plaza, and rumor has it that the separation of forces is not the result of an administrative space problem, but a planned strategy in the event someone decided to test out their advanced chemistry class on one of the Federal buildings. Personally, I think it's just a planning screwup and bureaucratic jockeying, but this kind of organization lends itself to top security explanations for common stupidity.
If you're wondering why Ted, Kate, and John were not conversing, it's because we figured that the office was bugged. When two or more people are left alone in someone else's office, just assume you're on the air. Testing, one, two, three. I did say, however, for the record, "Nice office. Mr. Koenig has really good taste."
Ted and Kate ignored me.
I glanced at my watch. It was nearly 7:00 P.M., and I suspected that Mr. Koenig was not happy about having to return to the office on a Saturday evening. I wasn't too thrilled with the idea either, but anti-terrorism is a full-time job. As we used to say in the Homicide Squad, "When a murderer's day ends, our day begins."
Anyway, I went to the window and looked out to the east. This part of lower Manhattan is jam-packed with courthouses, and further to the east was One Police Plaza, my former headquarters where I'd had good visits and bad visits. Beyond Police Plaza was the Brooklyn Bridge from whence we'd come, and which crossed over the East River itself, which separated Manhattan Island from Long Island.
I could not actually see Kennedy Airport from here, but I could see the glow of its lights, and I noticed in the sky above the Atlantic Ocean what appeared to be a string of bright stars, like a new constellation, but which were actually approaching aircraft. Apparently the runways were open again.
Out in the harbor, to the south, was Ellis Island, through which millions of immigrants had passed, including my Irish ancestors. And to the south of Ellis Island in the middle of the bay stood the Statue of Liberty, all lit up, holding her torch high, welcoming the world. She was on just about every terrorist's hit list, but so far, so good. She was still standing.
All in all, it was a spectacular evening view from up here-the city, the lighted bridges, the river, the clear April sky, and a big half-moon rising in the east above the flat-lands of Brooklyn.
I turned and looked southwest through the big window of the corner office. The most dominant features out there were the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, soaring a quarter mile into the sky, a hundred and ten stories of glass, concrete, and steel.
The towers were about half a mile away, but they were so massive that they looked as if they were across the street. The towers were designated the North Tower and the South Tower, but on Friday, February 26,1993, at 12:17 and 36 seconds P.M., the South Tower almost became known as the Missing Tower.
Mr. Koenig's desk was arranged so that every time he looked out the window, he could see these towers, and he could contemplate what some Arab gentlemen had prayed for when they had driven an explosive-filled van into the basement parking garage-namely, the collapse of the South Tower and the death of over fifty thousand people in the tower and on the ground.
And if the South Tower had collapsed just right and hit the North Tower, there would have been another forty or fifty thousand dead.
As it turned out, the structure held, and the death toll was six, with over a thousand injured. The subterranean explosion took out the police station located in the basement and left a cavern where the multi-layered underground parking garage had been. What could have been the biggest loss of American life since World War II turned out to be a loud and clear wake-up call. America had become the front lines.
It occurred to me that Mr. Koenig could have rearranged his furniture or put blinds on the windows, but it said something about the man that he chose to look at these buildings every workday. I don't know if he cursed the security lapses that had led to the tragedy, or if he thanked God every morning that a hundred thousand lives had been spared. Probably he did both, and probably, too, these towers, plus the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street and everything else that Jack Koenig surveyed from up here, haunted his sleep every night.
King Jack had not actually been in charge of the ATTF when the bomb blew in 1993, but he was in charge now, and he might think about rearranging his desk Monday morning to look toward Kennedy Airport. Indeed, it was lonely at the top, but the view was supposed to be good. For Jack Koenig, however, there were no good views from here.
The subject of my thoughts entered his office at that moment and caught me staring out at the World Trade Center. He asked me, 'Are they still standing, Professor?"
Apparently he had a good memory for snotty subordinates. I replied, "Yes, sir."
"Well, that's good news." He looked at Kate and Nash and motioned us all to the seating area. Nash and Kate sat on the couch, I sat in one of the three club chairs, while Mr. Koenig remained standing.
Jack Koenig was a tall man of about fifty years old. He had short, steely-gray hair, steely-gray eyes, a steely-gray Saturday stubble, a steely jaw, and stood like he had a steel rod up his ass that he was about to transfer to someone else's ass. All in all, he was not an avuncular type, and his mood looked understandably dark.
Mr. Koenig was dressed in casual slacks, a blue sports shirt, and loafers, but on him nothing looked casual, sporty, or loafish.
Hal Roberts entered the office and sat in the second club chair, across from me. Jack Koenig didn't seem inclined to sit and relax.
Mr. Roberts had a long yellow legal pad and a pencil. I thought perhaps he was going to take drink orders, but I was being too optimistic.
Mr. Koenig began without preamble and asked us, "Can one of you explain to me how a cuffed and guarded suspected terrorist managed to kill three hundred men, women, and children aboard an American airliner, including his two armed escorts, and two Federal Air Marshals on board, a Port Authority Emergency Service man, and then proceed to a secret and secure Federal facility where he murdered an ATTF secretary, the FBI duty officer, and an NYPD member of your team?" He looked at each of us. "Would anyone care to take a shot at an explanation?"
If I were at Police Plaza instead of Federal Plaza, I would have answered a sarcastic question like that by saying, "Can you imagine how much worse it could have been if the perp wasn't cuffed?" But this was not the time, place, or occasion for flippancy. A lot of innocent people were dead, and it was the job of the living to explain why. Nevertheless, King Jack was not getting off to a good start with his subjects.
Needless to say, no one answered the question, which seemed.to be rhetorical. It's a good idea to let the boss vent awhile. To his credit, he vented only for another minute or so, then sat down and stared off out the window. His view was toward the financial district, so there were no unhappy associations attached to that scene, unless he happened to own Trans-Continental stock.
Jack Koenig, by the way, was FBI, and I'm sure that Ted Nash did not like being spoken to in such a manner by an FBI guy. I, as a quasi-civilian, didn't like it either, but Koenig was the boss, and we were all part of the Task Force. The Team. Kate, being FBI, was in a career-threatening position, and so was George Foster, but George had chosen the easy job and stayed behind with the bodies.
King Jack seemed to be trying to get himself under control. Finally, he looked at Ted Nash and said, "I'm sorry about Peter Gorman. Did you know him?"
Koenig looked at Kate and said, "You were a friend of Phil Hundry."
Koenig looked at me and said, "I'm sure you've lost friends on the job. You know how hard that is."
"I do. Nick Monti had become my friend."
Jack Koenig stared off into space again, contemplating many things, I'm sure. It was a time for respectful silence, and we gave it about a minute, but everyone knew that we had to get back to business quickly.
I asked, perhaps undiplomatically, "Will Captain Stein be joining us?"
Koenig looked at me a moment and finally said, "He's taken direct charge of the stakeout and surveillance teams and has no time for meetings."
You never know what the bosses are actually up to, or what kind of palace struggle is going on, and it's best not to give a shit. I yawned to indicate that I just lost interest in both my question and Koenig's answer.
Koenig turned to Kate and said, "Okay, tell me what happened. From the top."
Kate seemed prepared for the question and went through the events of the day, chronologically, objectively, and quickly, but without rushing.
Koenig listened without interrupting. Roberts took notes. Somewhere an audiotape was spinning.
Kate mentioned my insistence on going out to the aircraft, and the fact that neither she nor Foster thought it was necessary.
Koenig's face remained impassive, neither approving nor disapproving throughout the narrative. He didn't raise an eyebrow, didn't frown, didn't wince, didn't nod or shake his head, and for sure never smiled. He was an expert listener and nothing in his manner or demeanor encouraged or discouraged his witness.
Kate got to the part where I went back into the dome of the 747 and discovered that Hundry's and Gorman's thumbs were missing. She stopped there and collected herself. Koenig glanced at me, and though he didn't give me any sign of approval, I knew that I was going to stay on the case.
Kate moved on with the sequence of events, giving only the facts, leaving the speculation and theories for later, if and when Koenig asked for them. Kate Mayfield had an amazing memory for detail, and an astonishing ability to refrain from coloring and slanting facts. I mean, in similar situations when I was on the carpet in front of the bosses, I would try not to color or slant, unless I was protecting a bud, but I have been known to have memory lapses.
Kate concluded with, "George decided to stay and take charge of the scene. We all concurred, and we asked Officer Simpson to drive us here."
I glanced at my watch. Kate's narrative had taken forty minutes. It was now nearly 8:00 P.M., the time when my brain usually needs alcohol.
Jack Koenig sat back in his chair, and I could see he was processing the facts. He said, "It seems as though Khalil was just a step or two ahead of us."
I decided to reply and said, "That's all it takes in a race. Second place is just the first loser."
Mr. Koenig regarded me a moment and repeated, "Second place is the first loser. Where did you get that?"
"I think the Bible."
Koenig said to Roberts, "Take a break," and Mr. Roberts put down his pencil.
Koenig said to me, "I understand you've put in a transfer request for the IRA section."
I cleared my throat and replied, "Well, I did, but-"
"Do you have some personal grudge against the Irish Republican Army?"
"No, actually, I-"
Kate spoke up and said, "John and I discussed this earlier, and he has withdrawn the request."
That's not exactly what I said to her, but it sounded better than my racist and sexist remarks regarding Muslims. I glanced at Kate and our eyes met.
Koenig informed me, "I reviewed the Plum Island case last fall."
I didn't reply.
"I read the case report prepared by Ted Nash and George Foster, and the report that was written by a Detective Beth Penrose of the Suffolk County Homicide Division." He added, "There seemed to be some differences of opinion and fact between the ATTF report and the Suffolk County Police report. Most of the differences had to do with your role in the case."
"I had no official role in the case."
"Nevertheless, you solved the case."
"I had a lot of time on my hands. Maybe I need a hobby."
He didn't smile. He said, "Detective Penrose's report was perhaps colored by your relationship with her."
"I had no relationship with her at the time."
"But you did when she wrote her final report."
"Excuse me, Mr. Koenig, I've been through this with the NYPD Internal Affairs-"
"Oh, they have people who investigate affairs?"
This, I realized, was a joke and I chuckled, a second or two late.
"Also," he continued, "Ted and George's report may have been colored by the fact that you pissed them off."
I glanced at Nash, who seemed totally aloof, as usual, as though Koenig was talking about another Ted Nash.
Koenig said, "I was fascinated by your ability to get to the heart of a very complex case that had eluded everyone else."
"It was standard detective work," I said modestly, hoping that Mr. Koenig would say, "No, my boy, you're brilliant."
But he didn't say that. He said, "That's why we hire NYPD detectives. They bring something different to the table."
"Like donuts," I suggested.
Mr. Koenig was neither amused nor annoyed. He said, "They bring to the table a degree of common sense, street smarts, and an insight into the criminal mind that is slightly different from that of an FBI or CIA agent. Do you agree?"
"It is an article of faith in the ATTF that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Synergy. Right?"
"This is only possible through mutual respect and cooperation."
"I was just about to say that."
He regarded me a moment and asked, "Do you want to stay on this case?"
"Yes. I do."
He leaned toward me and looked in my eyes. He said, "I don't want to see any grandstanding, I don't want to hear about any shitty attitudes, and I want complete loyalty from you, Mr. Corey, or so help me God, I'll have your head stuffed and mounted on my desk. Agreed?"
My goodness. The guy sounded like my ex-bosses. There must be something about me that brings out the nasties in people. Anyway, I mulled over the contract amendment. Could I be a loyal and cooperative team player? No, but I wanted the job. I realized that Mr. Koenig hadn't demanded that I cease my sarcasm or dull my rapier wit, and I took this as either approval or an oversight on his part. I crossed my fingers and said, "Agreed."
"Good." He put out his hand and we shook. He said, "You're on."
I was going to say, "You won't regret it, sir," but I thought maybe he would, so I just said, "I'll do my best."
Koenig took a folder from Roberts and began leafing through it. I regarded Jack Koenig a moment and decided I should not underestimate him. He didn't get to this corner office because Uncle Sam was his mother's brother. He got here for all the usual reasons of hard work, long hours, intelligence, training, belief in his mission, good leadership skills, and probably patriotism. But a lot of people in the FBI had the same skills and qualifications.
What distinguished Jack Koenig from other talented men and women was his willingness to accept responsibility for catastrophes that he'd been hired to prevent. What happened this afternoon was bad enough, but somewhere out there was a bad guy-Asad Khalil, and others like him-who wanted to nuke midtown Manhattan, or poison the water supply, or wipe out the population with microorganisms. Jack Koenig knew this, we all knew this. But Koenig was ready to carry this burden and take the final rap if and when it happened. Like today.
Koenig looked at Ted, Kate, and me, then nodded to Roberts, who picked up his pencil. The John Corey job interview and attitude adjustment period was over, and Part Two of the JFK disaster was about to begin.
Koenig said to Kate, "I find it hard to believe that Flight One-Seven-Five was without radio contact for over two hours, and none of you knew about it."
Kate replied, "Our only contact with the airline was through the gate agent, who knew very little. We'll have to re-evaluate that procedure."
"That's a good idea." He added, "You should also be in direct contact with Air Traffic Control and Tower Control, and the Port Authority police command center."
"If that flight had been hijacked in the air, it could have been in Cuba or Libya before you knew about it."
"Yes, sir." She added, "Ted had the foresight to have the name and phone number of the Tower Supervisor."
Koenig glanced at Nash and said, 'Yes. Good thinking. But you should have called him sooner."
Nash didn't reply. I had the impression that Nash would say nothing that Mr. Roberts could jot down on his legal pad.
Koenig continued, "It would appear that our February defector was on a dry run to see what our procedures are. I think we all suspected that after he bolted, hence the extra precautions this time." Koenig added, "If the February defector had been blindfolded, he wouldn't have seen the Conquistador Club, its location, or… how to unlock the door. So, maybe we should start blindfolding all non-authorized personnel, including so-called defectors and informants." He added, "Also, you'll recall that the February defector was brought in on a Saturday and saw how few people were at the Conquistador Club on a weekend."
Part Two, it seemed, was a review of policies and procedures, also called Closing the Cage After the Lion Escapes. Mr. Koenig went on in this vein for some time, speaking mostly to Kate, who was filling in for our fearless leader, George Foster.
"All right," said Mr. Koenig, "the first indication you had that everything was not going as planned was when Ted called the Tower Control supervisor, a Mr. Stavros."
Kate nodded. "That's when John wanted to go out to the aircraft, but Ted, George, and I-"
"I've already noted that," said Mr. Koenig. I sort of wanted to hear it again, but Koenig pushed on and asked Ted Nash a direct and interesting question. He looked at Nash and said, "Did you anticipate a problem with this assignment?"
Nash replied, "No."
I thought otherwise, despite old Ted's crap about only the truth is spoken here. CIA types are so into deceit, deception, double and triple crosses, paranoia, and bullshit, that you never knew what they knew, when they knew it, and what they were making up. This doesn't make them bad guys, and in fact you have to admire their world-class bullshit. I mean, a CIA guy would lie to a priest in a confessional. But admiration aside, it's not easy to work with them if you're not one of them.
In any case, Jack Koenig had asked the question and thereby raised the issue, but he let it go and said to me, "By the way, while I admire your initiative, when you got in that Port Authority car and crossed the runways, you lied to your superiors and broke every rule in the book. I'll let this pass, but don't let it happen again."
I was a little pissed off now and I said, "If we'd acted about ten minutes sooner, maybe Khalil would be in custody right now, charged with murder. If you'd instructed Hundry and Gorman to call and report on their cell phones or the airphone, we'd have known there was a problem when we didn't hear from them. If we'd been in direct contact with Air Traffic Control, we'd have been told the aircraft was out of radio contact for hours. If you hadn't welcomed this February bozo with open arms, what happened today wouldn't have happened." I stood and announced, "Unless you need me for something important, I'm going home."
When I used to pull this stunt with my bosses, someone would say, "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out." But Mr. Koenig said softly, "We need you for something important. Please sit down."
Okay, so I sat. If I was back at Homicide North, this is when one of the bosses opens his desk and passes around the seltzer bottle of vodka to cool everyone down. But I didn't expect any rule-bending here in a place where they hung warning posters in the corridors about drinking, smoking, sexual harassment, and thought crimes.
Anyway, we all sat there a moment, engaged, I guess, in Zen meditation, calming our nerves without nasty alcohol.
Mr. Koenig went on with his agenda and asked me, "You called George Foster on Kate's mobile phone and instructed him to put out a citywide."
He went through the sequence and content of my cell phone calls to George Foster, then said, "So you went back to the dome, and saw that Phil's and Peter's thumbs had been severed. You understood what that meant."
"What else could it mean?"
"Right. I congratulate you on an incredible piece of deductive reasoning… I mean… to go back and look for… their thumbs." He looked at me and asked, "How did you come to that thought, Mr. Corey?"
"I really don't know. Sometimes things pop into my head."
"Really? Do you usually act on things that pop into your head?"
"Well, if they're weird enough. You know, like severed thumbs. You have to go with that."
"I see. And you called the Conquistador Club, and Nancy Tate didn't answer."
I said, "I think we've been through this."
Koenig ignored this and said, "She was, in fact, dead by that time."
"Yes. That's why she didn't answer."
"And Nick Monti was also dead by that time."
"He was probably in the process of dying at that time. It takes a while with chest wounds."
Out of nowhere, Koenig asked me, "Where did you get wounded?"
"On West One Hundred and Second Street."
"I mean, where!"
I knew what he meant, but I don't like to discuss anatomy in mixed company. I replied, "There wasn't much brain damage."
He looked doubtful, but dropped that subject and looked at Ted. "Do you have anything to add?"
"No, I don't."
"Do you think that John and Kate missed any opportunities?"
Ted Nash considered this loaded question and replied, "I think we all underestimated Asad Khalil."
Koenig nodded. "I think we did. But we won't do that again."
Nash added, "We all have to stop thinking of these people as idiots. That will get us into a lot of trouble."
Koenig didn't reply.
Nash continued, "If I may say so, there is an attitudinal problem in the FBI and the NYPD Intelligence Unit regarding Islamic extremists. Part of this problem stems from racial attitudes. The Arabs and other ethnic groups in the Islamic world are not stupid or cowardly. Their armies or air forces may not impress us, but Mideastern terrorist organizations have scored some major hits around the world, in Israel and America. I've worked with Mossad, and they have a healthier respect for Islamic terrorists than we do. These extremists may not all be top-notch, but even bunglers can score once in a while. And sometimes you get an Asad Khalil."
Needless to say, King Jack did not enjoy the lecture, but he appreciated its message. And that made Jack Koenig brighter than the average boss. I, too, was hearing what Nash was saying, and so did Kate. The CIA, despite my bad attitude toward its representative, had many strengths. One of its strengths was supposed to be in the area of enemy capability assessment, but they tended to overestimate the enemy, which was good for the CIA budget. I mean, the first inkling they had of the collapse of the Soviet Union was from the newspapers.
On the other hand, there was some truth in what Ted Nash was saying. It's never a good idea to think of people who look, talk, and act differently from you as clowns. Especially when they want to kill you.
Jack Koenig said to Nash, "I think everyone's attitudes are changing, but I agree with you that we still have some problems in that area. After today, we'll see some improvement in how we perceive our opponents."
Now that Mr. Nash had made his philosophical point, he returned to the specific subject and said, "It's my belief, as Kate told you earlier, that Khalil has left the country. Khalil is headed now to a Mideastern country on a Mideastern carrier. He will eventually wind up in Libya again where he'll be debriefed and honored. We may never see him again, or we may see his handiwork a year from now. In the meantime, this is a matter best handled through international diplomacy and by international intelligence agencies."
Koenig looked at Nash awhile. I had the distinct impression they were not fond of each other. Koenig said, "But you don't mind, Ted, if we continue to pursue leads here?"
"Of course not."
My, my. The fangs were bared for a brief moment. I thought we were a team.
Mr. Koenig suggested to Mr. Nash, "Since you have firsthand knowledge of this case, why don't you request a reassignment back to your agency? You would be invaluable to them on this case. Perhaps an overseas assignment."
Nash got the drift and replied, "If you feel you can spare me here, I'd like to go to Langley tonight or tomorrow and discuss that idea with them. I think it's a good idea."
"So do I," said Jack Koenig.
It looked to me as though Ted Nash was about to disappear from my life, which made me very happy. On the other hand, I might miss old Ted. Then again, maybe I wouldn't. People like Nash who disappear have a habit of reappearing when you least expect or want them to.
The polite but pissy exchange between Ted Nash and Jack Koenig seemed to be finished.
I mentally lit a cigar, drank some Scotch, and told a dirty joke to myself while Kate and Jack chatted. How do these people function without alcohol? How can they talk without swearing? But Koenig did let a few profanities slip out now and then. There was hope for him. In fact, Jack Koenig might have made a good cop, which is about the highest praise I can offer.
There was a knock on the door and it opened. A young man stood in the doorway and said, "Mr. Koenig. There's a call for you that you may want to take out here."
Koenig stood, excused himself, and walked to the door. I noticed that the outer area, which had been empty and dark when we arrived, was now all lit up, and I saw men and women at their desks or walking around. A police station is never dark, quiet, or empty, but the Feds try to keep normal work hours, trusting in a few duty officers and beepers to turn out the troops when the poopy hits the paddles.
Anyway, Jack disappeared, and I turned to Hal Roberts and suggested, "Why don't you find us some coffee?"
Mr. Roberts did not like being sent for coffee, but Kate and Ted seconded my suggestion, and Roberts got up and left.
I regarded Kate a moment. Despite the day's events, she looked as fresh and alert as if it were 9:00 A.M. instead of 9:00 P.M. I myself felt my ass dragging. I'm about ten years older than Ms. Mayfield, and I haven't fully recovered from my near-death experience, so that might explain the difference in our energy levels. But it didn't explain why her clothes and hair were so neat and why she smelled good. I felt, and probably looked, crumpled, and I needed a shower about now.
Nash looked dapper and awake, but that's the way mannequins always looked. Also, he hadn't done anything physical today. Certainly he hadn't had a wild ride around the airport or climbed through an aircraft full of corpses.
But back to Kate. She had her legs crossed, and I noticed for the first time what good legs they were. Actually, I may have noticed this about a month ago in the first nanosecond after meeting her, but I'm trying to modify my NYPD piggishness. I have not hit on one single-or married-female in the ATTF. I was actually getting a reputation as a man who was either devoted to duty, or was devoted to some off-scene girlfriend, or was gay, or who had a low libido, or who perhaps had been hit below the belt by one of those bullets.
In any case, a whole new world was opening up to me now. Women in the office talked to me about their boyfriends and husbands, asked me if I liked their new hairstyles, and generally treated me in a gender-neutral manner. The girls haven't yet asked me to go shopping with them or shared recipes with me, but maybe I'll be invited to a baby shower. The old John Corey is dead, buried under a ton of politically correct memos from Washington. John Corey, NYPD Homicide, is history. Special Contract Agent John Corey, ATTF, has emerged. I feel clean, baptized in Potomac holy water, reborn and accepted into the ranks of the pure angelic hosts with whom I work.
But back to Kate. Her skirt had ridden above her knees, and I was treated to this incredible left thigh. I realized she was looking at me, and I tore my eyes away from her legs and looked at her face. Her lips were fuller than I'd thought, pouty and expressive. Those ice-blue eyes were looking deep into my soul.
Kate said to me, "You do look like you need coffee."
I cleared my throat and my mind and replied, "I actually need a drink."
She said, "I'll buy you one later."
I glanced at my watch and said, "I'm usually in bed by ten."
She smiled, but didn't reply. My heart was pounding.
Meanwhile, Nash was being Nash, totally unconnected, as inscrutable as a Tibetan monk on quaaludes. It occurred to me again that maybe the guy was not aloof. Maybe he was stupid. Maybe he had the IQ of a toaster oven, but he was bright enough not to let on.
Mr. Roberts returned with a tray on which was a carafe and four coffee mugs. He set this down on the table without comment and didn't even offer to pour. I took the carafe and poured three mugs of hot coffee. Kate, Ted, and I each took a mug and sipped.
We all stood and went to the windows, each of us lost in our own thoughts as we stared out into the city.
I looked east, out toward Long Island. There was a nice cottage out there, about ninety miles and a world away from here, and in the cottage was Beth Penrose, sitting in front of a fire, sipping tea or maybe brandy. It wasn't a good idea to dwell on those kinds of things, but I remembered what my ex-wife once said to me, "A man like you, John, does only what he wants to do. You want to be a cop, so don't complain about the job. When you're ready, you'll give it up. But you're not ready."
Indeed not. But at times like this, the idiot students at John Jay were looking good.
I glanced at Kate and saw she was looking at me. I smiled. She smiled. We both turned back to our views.
For most of my professional life, I had done work that was considered important. Everyone in this room knew that special feeling. But it took its toll on the mind and on the spirit, and sometimes, as in my case, on the body.
Yet, something kept pushing me on. My ex had concluded, "You'll never die of boredom, John, but you will die on this job. Half of you is dead already."
Not true. Simply not true. What was true was that I was addicted to the adrenaline rush.
Also, I actually felt good about protecting society. That's not something you'd say in the squad room, but it was a fact and a factor.
Maybe after this case was over, I'd think about all this. Maybe it was time to put down the gun and the shield and get out of harm's way, time to make my exit.
Asad Khalil continued on through a residential neighborhood. The Mercury Marquis was big, bigger than anything he'd ever driven, but it handled well enough.
Khalil did not go to the toll highway called the New Jersey Turnpike. He had no intention of going through any toll booths. As he had requested in Tripoli, the rented automobile had a global positioning system, which he'd used in Europe. This one was called a Satellite Navigator, and it was slightly different from the ones he was used to, but it had the entire U.S. roadway system in its database, and as he drove slowly through the streets, he accessed the directions to Highway 1.
Within a few minutes he was on the highway heading south. This was a busy road, he noticed, with many commercial establishments on either side.
He noticed that some automobiles coming toward him had their headlights on, so he put on his headlights.
After a mile or so, he dropped Jabbar's keys out the window, then removed Jabbar's cash from his wallet, counting eighty-seven dollars. He went through Jabbar's wallet as he drove, ripping up what could be ripped and dropping small pieces out the window. The credit cards and plasticized driving license presented a problem, but Khalil managed to bend and break them all, and let them fall out the window. The wallet now contained nothing except a color photograph of the Jabbar family-Gamal Jabbar, a wife, two sons, a daughter, and an elderly woman. Khalil regarded the photograph as he drove. He had been able to retrieve a few photographs from the ruins of his home in Al Azziziyah, including a few photographs of his father in uniform. These images were precious to him, and there would be no further photographs of the family of Khalil.
Asad Khalil tore the Jabbar family photograph in four pieces and let it fly out the window, followed by the wallet, then the plastic bottle, and finally the shell casing. All the evidence was now strewn over many miles of the highway and would attract no attention.
Khalil reached over, opened the glove box, and pulled out a stack of papers-rental forms, maps, some advertisements and other papers that had little purpose. The Americans, he saw, like the Europeans, loved useless papers.
He glanced through the rental agreement and confirmed that the name on the agreement matched his passport.
He turned his attention back to the road. There were many bad drivers on the road here. He saw very young people driving, and very old people driving, and many women were driving. No one seemed to drive well. They drove better in Europe, except for Italy. The drivers in Tripoli were like Italian drivers. Khalil realized he could drive badly here and not be noticed.
He looked at his gas gauge and saw that it read FULL.
A police car came into view in his side mirror and stayed behind him for a while. Khalil maintained his speed and did not change lanes. He resisted glancing too often in the side-view or rearview mirrors. That would make the policeman suspicious. Khalil put on his bifocal glasses.
After a full five minutes, the police car pulled into the outside lane and came alongside of him. Khalil noticed that the policeman didn't even give him a glance. Soon, the police car was ahead of him.
Khalil settled back and paid attention to the traffic. They had told him in Tripoli that there would be much traffic on a Saturday night, many people visited or went to restaurants or movie theaters or shopping malls. This was not too different from Europe, except for the shopping malls.
In Tripoli they also told him that in the more rural areas, the police were looking at cars that might be driven by dealers of drugs. This could be a problem, they warned him, as the police sometimes looked for drivers who were of the black or Spanish race, and they might stop an Arab man by mistake or even on purpose. But at night, it was difficult to see who was driving, and now the sun was setting.
Asad Khalil thought for a minute about Gamal Jabbar. He took no pleasure in killing a fellow Muslim, but each believer in Islam was expected to fight, or to sacrifice, or to be martyred in the Jihad against the West. Too many Muslims, such as Gamal Jabbar, did nothing except send money back to their homelands. Jabbar did not actually deserve death, Khalil thought, but death became the only possibility. Asad Khalil was on a holy mission, and others had to sacrifice so that he could do what they couldn't do-kill the infidel. His only other thought about Gamal Jabbar was a passing concern that the man could have survived the single bullet. But Khalil had seen that twitching before, and heard that gurgling. The man was dead. "May Allah take him into Paradise this very night."
The sun was setting, but it was not practical to stop to perform the Salat. He had been given dispensation from the mullah for the time he was engaged in the Jihad. But he would not fail to say his prayers. In his mind, he prostrated himself on his prayer rug and faced Mecca. He recited, "God is most great! I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. Hasten to Salat! Hasten to success! God is most great. There is no God but Allah!"
He recited random passages from the Koran, "Kill the aggressors wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you… Fight them until Allah's religion is supreme… Fight for the cause of Allah with the devotion due to him… Permission to take up arms is hereby given to those who are attacked… Allah has the power to grant them victory… Believers, fear Allah as you rightly should, and when death comes, die true Muslims… If you have suffered a defeat, so did the enemy. We alternate these victories among mankind so that Allah may know true believers and choose martyrs from among you, and that he may test the faithful and annihilate the infidels. Allah is the supreme Plotter."
Satisfied that he had fulfilled his obligations, he felt at peace as he drove through the strange land, surrounded by enemies and infidels.
Then, he recalled the ancient Arab war song, and he sang the song called "The Death Feud." "Terrible he rode alone with his Yemen sword for aid; ornament, it carried none but the notches on the blade."
Jack Koenig returned with some papers in his hand that looked like faxes. We all sat and he said to us, "I spoke to the crime lab supervisor at JFK. They have a preliminary report-" he tapped the papers on the coffee table "-of the scenes of the aircraft and the Conquistador Club." He added, "I also spoke to George, who has offered to transfer out of the ATTF and out of New York."
He let that hang there for a few seconds, then asked Kate, "Yes? No?"
Koenig addressed Kate and me and said, "Can you two speculate or guess as to what happened on the aircraft before it landed?"
Kate said, "John is the detective." Koenig said to me, "You're on, Detective." I should point out here that the FBI uses the term "investigator" to describe what amounts to a detective-so I didn't know if I was being honored or patronized. In any case, this is partly what I was hired for, of course, and I'm good at this stuff. But Koenig made no secret of the fact that he just got some answers to the questions he was asking. So, rather than make an idiot of myself, I asked Koenig, "I assume they found those two oxygen bottles in the dome coat closet."
"Yes, they did. But as you discovered, both had their valves open, so we don't know what was in them. But we can assume that one was oxygen and the other wasn't." He said to me, "Proceed."
"Okay… about two hours outside of New York, Air Traffic Control lost contact with Trans-Continental One-Seven-Five. So, it was then that the guy with the medical oxygen bottles, probably sitting in Business Class in the dome-"
"Correct," said Mr. Koenig. "His name was Yusef Haddad. Seat Two A."
"Okay, this guy-what's his name?"
"Yusef Haddad. Means Joe Smith. He's on the manifest with a Jordanian passport and medical oxygen required for emphysema. The passport's probably a fake, so was the emphysema, and so was one of the oxygen bottles."
"Right. Okay, Joe Smith, Business Class Jordanian in Seat Two A. This guy is breathing the real oxygen, then he reaches down and opens the valve of the second bottle. A gas escapes and gets into the closed air-conditioning system of the aircraft."
"Correct. What kind of gas?"
"Well, it was something nasty like cyanide."
"Very good. It was most probably a hemotoxin, maybe a military form of cyanide. The victims basically suffocated. The lab will analyze blood and tissue tonight and see if they can identify it. Not that it matters. But that's the way they work. Anyway, within ten minutes, all the air on board is recirculated. So everyone got a dose of this gas except Yusef Haddad, who was still breathing pure oxygen." He looked at me and said, "Tell me how Khalil escaped death."
"Well, I'm not sure of the sequence of events, but… I'm thinking that Khalil was in the lav when the gas escaped. The lavatory might be less toxic than the cabin air."
"In fact," Koenig said, "it is not. But the exhaust flow of air from the lav is vented directly out of the aircraft, which is why everyone in the cabins can't smell it when someone sits on the potty."
Interesting. I mean, I once took an AeroMexico flight to Cancun where they served a lunch consisting of twenty-two different bean dishes, and I was surprised the plane didn't explode in midair. I said, "So the lav is toxic, and Khalil is breathing as little as possible and maybe has a wet paper towel over his face. Haddad has to make his move very quickly and get to Khalil, either with his own oxygen or one of those small oxygen bottles that are carried on board for medical emergencies."
Koenig nodded, but said nothing.
Kate said, "What I don't understand is how Haddad and Asad Khalil knew that the aircraft was pre-programmed to land itself."
Koenig replied, "I'm not sure either. We're checking that out." He looked at me and said, "Continue."
"Okay, so within ten minutes, there are only two people alive on board the aircraft-Asad Khalil and his accomplice, Yusef Haddad. Haddad finds the handcuff keys on Peter Gorman and uncuffs Khalil in the lav. The poison gas is eventually vented, and after they're certain that the air is safe to breathe, maybe fifteen minutes, they get off the oxygen. Kate and I didn't see the aircraft's emergency oxygen bottle lying around, so I assume that Haddad or Khalil put it back where it's usually stored. Then they put Haddad's medical oxygen in the dome coat closet where we found it."
"Yes," Koenig replied, "they wanted everything to look fairly normal when the aircraft was first boarded at JFK. Assuming Peter or Phil had died near the lav, they also put that person's body back in his seat. Continue, Mr. Corey."
I continued, "Okay, Khalil must not have killed Haddad immediately because Haddad's body was warmer than everyone else's. So these two guys tidy up things, maybe go through Phil's and Peter's belongings, take their guns, then probably go down to First and Coach and make sure everyone is dead. At some point, Khalil doesn't need any more company, and he breaks Haddad's neck, as Kate discovered. He puts Haddad next to Phil, cuffs him, and puts the sleeping mask on him." I added, "Somewhere along the line, Khalil took the thumbs."
"Correct," Koenig said. "The lab found a knife in the dome galley with traces of wiped blood, and they found the napkin used to wipe the knife hidden in the galley trash. Had anyone who first boarded seen a bloody knife, that would have gotten some attention. Had you or Kate seen it, you'd have come to the conclusion you came to even sooner."
"Right." What you first see when you arrive at a crime scene is often what the perpetrator wants you to see. Further investigation, however, turns up the ropes and pulleys behind the scenery.
Koenig looked at us and said, "At some point, while the aircraft was being towed, Sergeant Andy McGill of the Port Authority Emergency Service unit made a final transmission to his people."
We all nodded. I said, "McGill and Khalil may have stumbled on each other by accident."
Koenig regarded his faxes and said, "Preliminary evidence-blood, brain, and bone tissue-suggests that McGill was killed between the galley and the lav-facing the lav. Some tissue was sprayed into the galley, some of it landing on the dead flight attendant, although someone made an attempt to wipe it up, which is why you may not have noticed it," Koenig said pointedly. He added, "So maybe McGill opened the lav door and discovered Asad Khalil. Also, forensic found a lap blanket with a hole and burn marks, indicating that the blanket was used to muffle the sound of the gunshot."
I nodded. It's always amazing what the forensic people can tell you very quickly, and how quickly a detective can make deductions and re-create the crime. It didn't matter that this was a terrorist incident-a crime scene is a crime scene. Murder was murder. The only thing missing was the murderer.
Koenig continued, "Regarding Khalil's escape from the aircraft, we can assume he knew what the procedure would be at JFK. With the pilots dead, any Emergency Service personnel entering the aircraft would shut down the engines. At that point, a tow truck would be summoned and the aircraft would be taken to the security area. You know the rest." v
Indeed we did.
Koenig added, "Also, we found what we assume was Yusef Haddad's hang-up garment bag. Under a suit was a blue Trans-Continental baggage handler's jumpsuit that was meant for Mr. Haddad. There was, in that garment bag, undoubtedly a second jumpsuit for Asad Khalil, and he had it on at some point, knowing that baggage handlers would come aboard to collect carry-on luggage."
He looked at Kate, then at me and asked, "Did either of you notice anyone who looked suspicious? You knew something was wrong, yet Khalil got away."
I replied, "I think he was gone when we got there."
"He may have been. Then again, maybe he wasn't. Maybe you bumped into him."
Kate said, "I think we would have recognized him."
"Do you? Not if he was wearing a baggage handler's jumpsuit, combed his hair differently, was wearing glasses and a phony mustache. But maybe he saw you. Maybe at some point he realized there were Federal agents or detectives on board. Think about that. Try to recall what happened and who you saw on the aircraft and in that security area."
Okay, Jack, I'll think about it. Thanks for mentioning it.
Koenig continued, "In any case, Khalil got into an empty baggage truck and drove off. At this point, most men who'd just pulled off one of the most ballsy moves-excuse my language-one of the most audacious moves in terrorist history, would get to the international terminal, get out of that jumpsuit under which was street clothing, and get on an outbound flight for Sandland-forgive my characterization of the Middle East. But no, Asad Khalil is not going home. Not yet. He has to make a stop at the Conquistador Club first. The rest, as they say, is history."
No one spoke for a full minute, then Koenig observed, "This is a very resourceful, clever, and bold individual. He exploits situations quickly and without hesitation or fear of getting caught. He relies on other people being either preoccupied or unaware that there is a psychopathic killer in their midsts. Speed, savagery, and shock. Decisiveness, daring, and deception. Understand?"
We all understood. If I had the inclination, I could tell Jack Koenig about ten or fifteen such killers I'd come across over the years. The really good psychotic killers were just as Koenig described. You couldn't believe the stuff they got away with. You couldn't believe how stupid and trusting their victims were.
Mr. Koenig continued his thoughts and said, "There are other scenarios regarding how Khalil's plan might work out. The worst scenario for him was that the aircraft simply crashed and killed everyone on board, including Khalil. He would have accepted that, I think, and called it a win.
We all sort of nodded. The boss was on.
"Another possibility," Koenig continued, "is that he'd get caught on the ground and be identified as the killer. That would also be okay with him. He'd still be a hero in Tripoli."
Again, we nodded, starting to appreciate not only Koenig, but also Khalil.
Koenig said, "Yet another possibility is that he escapes from the aircraft, but is not able to carry out his mission at the Conquistador Club. In any case, Asad Khalil couldn't lose once Yusef Haddad was on board with his medical oxygen and poison gas. In fact, even if Yusef Haddad had been stopped before he boarded the aircraft in Paris, Asad Khalil would still have wound up in the Conquistador Club, though he'd be guarded and cuffed. But who knows how that would have played out later?"
Everyone thought about Asad Khalil back at the Conquistador Club as planned. At what point would this guy go psychotic?
Mr. Koenig concluded with, "Other scenarios aside, Asad Khalil hit a grand-slam home run. He cleared the bases, and he's on the way to home plate-whether that means a safe house in America, or back to Libya, we don't know yet." He added, "But we'll play it as though he's close by and waiting to hit again."
Since we were out of facts and into speculation, I speculated, "I think this guy is a loner, and he won't be turning up at the usual watched houses or hanging around the local mosque with the usual suspects."
Kate concurred and added, "He may have one contact here, maybe the February guy, or someone else. Assuming he needs no help after the initial contact, we can expect to find another accomplice's body somewhere, soon. I'm also assuming he had a man at JFK to help get him out of there and that could be the guy who turns up dead. We should give the NYPD a heads-up on that."
Koenig nodded. He looked at Nash. "Why do you think he's gone?"
Nash didn't reply for a second or two, giving the impression that he was tired of casting pearls before swine. Finally, he leaned forward and looked at each of us. He said, "We've described Khalil's entrance into this country as grand and dramatic. And Mr. Koenig is correct that no matter how any of those scenarios played out, Khalil was a winner. He was ready to sacrifice his life in the service of Allah and join his brethren in Paradise. This was one hell of a risky way to sneak into a hostile country."
"We know that," Koenig said.
"Hear me out, Mr. Koenig. This is important, and actually some good news. All right, back this thing up and postulate that Asad Khalil was coming to America to blow up this building, or the one across the street, or all of New York City, or Washington. Postulate a nuclear device hidden somewhere, or more likely a ton of toxic gas or a thousand liters of anthrax. If Asad Khalil was the man who was supposed to deliver any of these weapons of mass death and destruction, then he would have come into Canada or Mexico on a false passport and slipped easily over the border to accomplish this important mission. He would not have arrived as he did with the high risk of getting caught or killed. What we saw today was a classical Seagull Mission…" He looked around at us and explained, "You know, a person flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps all over everything, then flies out. Mr. Khalil was on a Seagull Mission. Mission accomplished. He's gone."
So, we all thought about Seagull Missions. Old Ted had spoken and revealed that he had the IQ of at least a VCR. This was irrefutable logic. The silence in the room told me that everyone had finally seen the incandescent brilliance of Nash's mind at work.
Koenig nodded and said, "Makes sense to me."
Kate nodded, too, and said, "I think Ted is right. What Khalil was sent here to do, he did. There's no second act to come. His mission ended at JFK, and he was perfectly positioned to take any one of dozens of late afternoon flights out."
Koenig looked at me. "Mr. Corey?"
I, too, nodded. "Makes sense to me. Ted makes a strong case for his theory."
Koenig thought a moment and said, "Still, we have to proceed as if Khalil may still be in this country. We've notified every law enforcement agency in the U.S. and in Canada. We've also called up every ATTF agent we could find tonight, and we're staking out every place where a Mideast terrorist might turn up. We've also alerted the Port Authority police, NYPD, New Jersey, Connecticut, suburban counties, and so forth. The more time that goes by, the bigger the search area gets. If he's hiding out, perhaps waiting to get out of the country, we may still nab him close by. Containment is the first priority."
Nash informed us, "I called Langley from JFK, and they put out a high-priority watch-and-detain at all international airports where we have assets." He looked at me. "That means people who work for us, with us, or are us."
"Thank you. I read spy novels."
So, that was it. Asad Khalil was either already out of the country, or was in hiding, waiting to get out. This really did make the most sense, considering what happened today and how it happened.
There were, however, a few things that bothered me, a detail or two that didn't fit. The first and most obvious was the question of why Asad Khalil had turned himself in to the CIA liaison guy at the Paris Embassy. A much simpler plan would have been for Khalil to just get on board Trans-Continental Flight 175 with a false passport, the way Joe Smith, his accomplice, did. The same poison gas plan would have worked better if Khalil was not in cuffs, and not guarded by two armed Federal agents.
The thing Nash was missing was the human element, which is what you'd expect Nash to miss. You had to understand Asad Khalil to understand what he was up to. He didn't want to be another anonymous terrorist. He wanted to walk into the Paris Embassy, get himself cuffed and guarded, then escape like Houdini. This was still an in-your-fucking-face act on his part-not a Seagull Mission. He wanted to read what we knew about him, he wanted to cut off thumbs and go to the Conquistador Club and murder anyone who was there. It was definitely a high-risk operation, but what was unique about it was the personal nature of it. It was, in fact, an insult, a humiliation, like an ancient warrior riding alone into an enemy camp and raping the chief's wife.
The only question in my mind was whether or not Asad Khalil was finished fucking the Americans. I didn't think he was-the guy was on a roll-but I agreed with Nash now, that Khalil didn't have a nuke that needed to be detonated, or poison gas or germs that needed to be spread. I was going with a gut feeling that Asad Khalil-the Lion-was in America to push more shit in our faces, up close and personal. I would not have been completely surprised if he showed up on the twenty-eighth floor and cut some throats and broke some necks.
So, it was time to share this feeling with my teammates, time to reveal my ace to King Jack, if you'll pardon the metaphor or whatever the hell that is.
But my colleagues were chatting about something else, and while I waited for an opportunity to talk, I had second thoughts about these things that bothered me and this feeling that Asad Khalil was trying keys to the elevator about now. So I let it go for the time being and tuned back in.
Kate was saying to Jack Koenig, "Obviously Khalil read everything in Phil's and Peter's briefcases."
Koenig replied, too matter-of-factly I thought, "They didn't have much with them."
Kate pointed out, "Asad Khalil now has our dossier on Asad Khalil."
"There wasn't that much in it," Koenig said. "Not much he didn't already know about himself."
Kate pressed the point. "But now he knows how little we know."
"All right. I get it. Anything else?"
"Yes… in the dossier was a memo from Zach Weber. It was just an operations memo, but it was addressed to George Foster, Kate Mayfield, Ted Nash, Nick Monti, and John Corey."
Holy shit! I never thought of that.
Jack Koenig, in his understated way, said, "Well, then, be careful."
He added, "But I doubt if Khalil…" He thought about it, then advised us, "We know what this man is capable of. But we don't know what he plans to do. I don't think you're in his plans."
Kate had another thought about that and said, "We agreed that we shouldn't underestimate this man."
"Neither should we overestimate him," Koenig replied curtly.
There's a switch-the FBI, like the CIA, usually overestimates everything. It's good for their budget and their image. But I kept that thought to myself.
Kate continued, "We have rarely seen a terrorist act like this. Most acts of terrorism are either random or remote, such as bombings. This man is suspected of personally murdering people in Europe, and I don't have to tell you what he just did here. There's something about this guy that bothers me, aside from the obvious."
"And what do you think that is?" Mr. Koenig asked.
"I don't know," she replied. "But unlike most terrorists, Khalil has shown a lot of intelligence and courage."
Koenig commented, "Like a lion."
"Yes, like a lion. But we shouldn't get too metaphorical. He's a man, and he's a killer, and that makes him more dangerous than any lion."
Kate Mayfield was coming close to the heart of the matter, closer to an understanding of Asad Khalil. But she didn't say anything else, and no one ran with her thoughts.
We discussed the personality types of killers for a minute or two, and the FBI is really good at this kind of psychological profiling. A lot of it sounded psychobabbly to me, but some of it was on the mark. I offered my assessment and said, "I get the feeling that Khalil has a hard-on for Americans."
"Excuse me?" said Mr. Koenig. "A what?"
I regretted my lapse into station house jargon and I clarified my noun. "He has more than a philosophical or political agenda. He has a burning hatred for Americans as people." I added, "I think in light of today's events, we can assume that some or all of the suspicions and allegations contained in Khalil's dossier are, in fact, true. If so, then he murdered an American Air Force officer with an ax. He shot down three innocent American schoolkids in Brussels. If we can figure out why, then maybe we can figure out what's bothering this guy, and maybe what's next and who's next."
Nash piped in and said, "He's also targeted the Brits.
We think he exploded a bomb in the British Embassy in Rome. So, your theory about him having a-an obsession with killing only Americans doesn't hold up."
I replied, "If he did bomb that British Embassy, then there's a connection. He doesn't like Brits or Americans. Connections are always clues."
Nash sort of laughed at me. I really don't like it when people do that.
Koenig looked at Nash. "You disagree with Mr. Corey?"
Nash replied, "Mr. Corey is mixing police work and intelligence work. The model for one doesn't necessarily apply as the model for the other."
"Not necessarily," Koenig said. "But sometimes."
Nash shrugged, then said, "Even if Asad Khalil was targeting only Americans, that doesn't make him unique. In fact, quite the opposite. Most terrorists target America and Americans. That's our reward for being Number One, for being pro-Israel, for the Gulf War, and for our worldwide anti-terrorist operations."
Koenig nodded, but said, "Still, there's the matter of Khalil's unique style-his up-close, personal, insulting, and humiliating modus operandi."
Nash again shrugged. "So what? That's his style, and even if it were a clue to his future plans, we couldn't head him off. We're not going to catch him on a mission. He has a million targets, and he chooses the target, the time, and the place. Seagull Missions."
No one replied.
Ted Nash concluded, "In any event, you know that I'm convinced that what happened today was the mission, and that Khalil is gone. He may strike next in Europe, where he's apparently struck before and where he knows the terrain, and where security is not always consistent. And yes, he may come back here someday. But for now, the lion is full, to continue the metaphor. He's on his way back to his lair in Libya, and he won't come out again until he's hungry."
I thought about offering my Dracula metaphor-the ship arriving like magic with a dead crew and passengers, and Drac slipping into a totally clueless country full of porky people with good veins and all that. But Mr. Koenig seemed to think I was a logical guy with good instincts and no metaphorical thoughts. So I bagged the Dracula thing and said, "Not to be contrary, but based on what we saw today, I still think that Khalil is within fifty miles of where we're sitting. I have a ten-dollar bet with Ted that we hear from him soon."
Mr. Koenig managed a smile. "Do you? You'd better let me hold the money. Ted's leaving for overseas."
Koenig wasn't kidding and held out his hand. Nash and I each put ten bucks in his hand, which he pocketed.
Kate sort of rolled her eyes. Boys will be boys.
Jack Koenig looked at me and said, "So, Khalil is out there somewhere, and he has your name, Mr. Corey. Do you think you're now on his menu?"
I guess we were back to lion metaphors and I got the meaning, which I didn't like.
Koenig informed me, "Sometimes the hunters become the hunted." He looked at Nash. "For instance, a Mideast terrorist murdered two men in the parking lot of CIA headquarters."
Ted Nash looked as if he'd rather forget that. He replied, "The victims were both CIA employees, but they were random targets. The killer didn't know them. The institution was the target."
Jack Koenig didn't reply. He said to Kate, Ted, and me, "If Asad Khalil is still in this country, you were not the reason he came here originally, but you may now be on his list of targets. Actually, I see this as an opportunity."
I leaned forward. "Excuse me? What opportunity?"
"Well, I hate to use the word bait, but-"
"Bad idea. Let's drop that."
He didn't want to drop it and got back to the lion metaphor. "You have this rogue lion who's eating villagers. And you have these hunters, who almost caught the lion. The lion is angry at the hunters, and he makes the fatal mistake of going after the hunters. Right?"
Nash seemed amused. Kate seemed to be considering it.
Koenig said, "We'll put out a news story about John and Kate, and maybe even use your pictures, although we'd never do that normally. Khalil will think it's standard to use names and photos of agents in America, and he won't suspect a trap. Right?"
I said, "I don't think that's in my contract."
Koenig continued, "We won't and can't use Ted's name and photo because his agency would never allow that. George is married and has children, and we won't take that risk. But you, John, and you, Kate, are single and you live alone-correct?
I said, "Why don't we shelve this idea for a while?"
"Because if you're correct, Mr. Corey, and Khalil is still in this country and close to where we sit, he may be tempted to go for a target of opportunity before he moves on to his next target, which could be far bigger than what he's already done. That's why. I'm trying to head off another mass murder. Sometimes an individual has to put himself or herself in harm's way for the greater safety and security of the nation. Don't you agree?"
Kate said, "I agree. It's worth a try."
I'd gotten myself into a lose-lose situation. I said, "Great idea. Why didn't I think of that?"
Nash observed, "And if John is wrong, and Khalil is out of the country, John only loses ten dollars. If Khalil is in the country, John wins ten dollars, but… well, let's not think about that."
Ted Nash was really enjoying himself for the first time that I can remember. I mean, old stoic Ted was grinning at the prospect of John Corey getting his throat slashed by some psychotic camel jockey. Even Mr. Roberts was trying to suppress a grin. Funny what turns people on.
The meeting went on for a while longer. We were now into the public relations problems, which could be sticky with three hundred people dead on board the aircraft, people murdered on the ground, and the perp at large.
Jack Koenig concluded with, "The next few days are going to be very difficult. The news media are generally friendly toward us, as we saw in the World Trade Center case and the TWA case. But we have to control the news a little. Also, we have to go to Washington tomorrow and assure those people that we are on top of things. I want everyone to go home and get some sleep. Meet me at the US Airways shuttle at La Guardia for the first flight at seven A.M. George will stay at the Conquistador Club and supervise the crime scene." He stood and we all stood with him. He said, "Despite the outcome of today's assignment, you all did a fine job." He surprised me by saying, "Pray for the dead." We all shook hands, even Mr. Roberts. Kate, Ted, and I left.
As we walked through the twenty-eighth floor, I felt a lot of eyes on us.
Asad Khalil knew he had to cross the Delaware River at a bridge with no toll, and he had been instructed to continue on Highway 1 to the city of Trenton where there were two such bridges. He programmed the Satellite Navigator as he drove. It would have been easier if the man who had rented the car had programmed the Satellite Navigator, or asked the car rental agency to do it, but that was a dangerous convenience. Khalil's last and only need for assistance, and last point where he could be traced, was Gamal Jabbar in the parking lot.
Khalil exited Highway 1 onto Interstate 95. This was a good road, much like the German Autobahn, he thought, except the vehicles moved more slowly here. The Interstate took him around the city of Trenton. He saw, near an exit, a brown sign saying WASHINGTON CROSSING STATE PARK. He recalled that his Russian training officer, Boris, a former KGB man who had lived in America, had said to him, "You will be crossing the Delaware River near where George Washington crossed two hundred years ago by boat. He didn't want to pay a toll either."
Khalil did not always understand Boris' humor, but Boris was the one man in Tripoli who could be counted on to give good advice about America and Americans.
Khalil crossed the toll-free bridge into the state of Pennsylvania. He continued on 1-95 heading south, as the Satellite Navigator instructed.
The sun was fully set now, and it was dark. Soon, he found that 1-95 went through the city of Philadelphia. There was much traffic, and he had to slow down. He could see tall lighted buildings and at one point he drove parallel to the Delaware River, then he passed the airport.
This was not the fastest or most direct route to his destination, but it was a heavily traveled route, without tolls, and therefore the safest route for him.
Soon, the city was behind him, and the vehicles began moving more quickly.
He let his thoughts turn to other matters. His first thought was that this day of April 15 had begun well, and by now in Tripoli, the Great Leader knew that Asad Khalil had arrived in America and that hundreds had been slain to avenge this day, and that more would die in the coming days.
The Great Leader would be pleased, and soon all of Tripoli and all of Libya would know that a blow had been struck to redeem the nation's honor. Malik would be awake, even at this early morning hour in Tripoli, and he would also know by now, and he would bless Asad Khalil and pray for him.
Khalil wondered if the Americans would retaliate against his country. It was difficult to guess what this American President would do. The Great Satan, Reagan, had at least been predictable. This President was sometimes weak, sometimes strong.
In any case, even retaliation would be good. It would awaken all of Libya and all of Islam.
Khalil turned on the radio and heard people talking about their sexual problems. He set the frequency to a news station and listened for ten minutes before the story of the aircraft came on. He listened carefully to the man speaking, then to other people speaking about what they called the tragedy. It was clear to Khalil that the authorities either did not know what had happened, or they knew and they were hiding it. In either case, even if the police were in a high state of alert, the general population was not. This made things much easier for him;
Asad Khalil continued south on Route 1-95. The dashboard clock told him it was 8:10 P.M. There was still traffic on the road, enough so that his car would not attract attention. He passed several exits that led to rest stops, brightly lit places in which he could see cars, people, and gasoline pumps. But his fuel gauge read over half full and he wasn't hungry. He took the second liter bottle of water from the overnight bag, finished the water, then urinated in the bottle, screwed the cap back on and put the bottle under the passenger seat. He was, he realized, tired, but not so tired as to fall asleep. He'd slept well on the aircraft.
They had told him in Tripoli to try to drive through the night-that the more distance he put between himself and what he had left behind, the better his chances would be to escape detection. Soon, he would be in yet another jurisdiction-Delaware-and the more jurisdictions he was from New York and New Jersey, they'd told him, the less likely it would be that the local police would be alerted.
In any case, the police had no idea what they were looking for. Certainly they didn't know to look for a black Mercury Marquis heading south on any one of many roads. Only a random stop by a patrol car would be a problem, and even then, Khalil knew that his papers were in order. He'd been stopped twice in Europe, where they always demanded to see a passport and at times a visa as well as all the papers for the rental car. Both times he had been sent on his way. Here, according to his people in Tripoli, they wanted to see only a driver's license and a registration for the car, and they wanted to know if you had been drinking alcohol. His religion forbade alcohol, but he was not supposed to say this-say only, "No." But again, he could not conceive of a situation with the police that would last too long before one of them was dead.
Also, as they had told him, the police usually drove alone, which he found somewhat incredible. Boris, who had spent five years in America, had given him instructions for when he was out of the taxi and driving on his own. Boris had said, "Stay in your car. The policeman will come to you and lean into your window or order you out of the car. One bullet to his head, and you are on your way. But he has radioed your license plate number to his headquarters before he stopped you, and he may have a video camera on his dashboard recording the event. So, you must abandon your automobile as soon as possible and find other transportation. You will have no contacts to help you, Asad. You are on your own until you reach the West Coast of America."
Khalil had recalled replying, "I have been on my own since the fifteenth of April, nineteen eighty-six."
At twenty minutes after 9.00 P.M., Khalil crossed into the state of Delaware. Within fifteen minutes, 1-95 turned into the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, which was a toll road, so Khalil exited onto Route 40, which paralleled the Interstate south and west toward Baltimore. Within half an hour, he crossed into the state of Maryland.
Less than an hour later, he was on an Interstate that took him in a circle around the city of Baltimore, then back to I-95, which had no toll at this point. He continued south.
He had no idea why some roads and bridges were free while others had tolls. In Tripoli, they had no idea either. But his instructions had been clear-avoid toll booths.
Boris said, "They will, at some point, have a photograph of you at each place where you must pay."
Khalil saw a large green and white sign that gave distances to various cities, and he saw the one he wanted: WASHINGTON, D.C., 35 MILES. He smiled. He was close to his destination.
It was nearly midnight, but there was still some traffic on this road that connected the two large cities. In fact, he thought, there was an amazing number of vehicles on the roads, even after dark. It was no wonder why the Americans needed so much oil. He had once read that the Americans burned more oil in one day than Libya did in one year. Soon they would suck the earth dry of all petroleum, then they could walk or ride camels. He laughed.
At 12:30 A.M., he intersected the road called the Capital Beltway and entered it going south. He looked at his odometer and saw he'd traveled nearly three hundred miles in six hours.
He exited the Beltway at an exit called Suitland Parkway, near Andrews Air Force Base, and drove along a road that passed through shopping malls and large stores. His Satellite Navigator actually gave him the names of some lodging places, but he had no intention of stopping at well-known places. As he cruised slowly, he took the plastic bottle of urine and threw it out the side window.
He drove by a few motels, then saw one that looked sufficiently unpleasing. A lighted sign said VACANCIES.
Khalil pulled into the parking lot, which was almost empty. He took off his tie, put on his glasses, and exited the Mercury, locking the door. He stretched for a second, then strode into the small motel office.
A young man behind the counter was sitting and watching television. The young man stood and said, "Yes?"
"I need a room for two days."
"Eighty dollars, plus tax."
Khalil put two fifty-dollar bills on the counter.
The clerk was used to cash guests and said, "I need a hundred dollars for a security deposit. You get it back when you check out."
Khalil put two more fifties on the counter.
The young man gave him a registration card, and Khalil filled it out, using the name Ramon Vasquez. He put down the correct make and model of the automobile as he was told to do because it might be checked later when he was in his room. Khalil also put down the correct license plate number and pushed the card to the clerk.
The clerk gave him a key on a plastic tag, his change, and a receipt for his hundred dollars. He said, "Unit Fifteen. To your right when you walk out. Toward the end. Checkout is at eleven."
Khalil turned and left the small office. He went to his car and drove to the unit marked 15 on the door.
He took his overnight bag, locked the car, and entered the room, turning on the light switch, which illuminated a lamp.
Khalil locked the door and bolted it. The room was furnished very simply, he noted, but there was a television, which he turned on.
He undressed and went into the bathroom, carrying his overnight bag, his bulletproof vest, and the two.40 caliber Glocks.
He relieved himself, then opened his overnight bag and took out the toiletries. He peeled his mustache off, then brushed his teeth and shaved. He showered quickly, his pistols on the sink nearby.
Khalil dried himself, took the overnight bag, pistols, and bulletproof vest and re-entered the bedroom. He dressed again, putting on clean undershorts, undershirt, a different tie, and socks from the overnight bag. He also put on the bulletproof vest. He got out the tube of toothpaste with gum for his mustache, and he stood in front of the bedroom mirror and reaffixed the mustache.
Khalil found the television remote control, sat on the bed, and changed channels until he found a news station. This was a taped replay of an earlier news broadcast, he understood, but it might be useful.
He watched for fifteen minutes, then the newsman said, "More on the tragedy at Kennedy Airport this afternoon."
A scene of the airport came on the screen. He recognized a view of the security area off in the distance. He could see the tall tail and the dome of the 747 rising above the steel wall.
The man's voice was saying, "The death toll is mounting as airport and airline officials confirm that toxic fumes, apparently from unauthorized cargo in the cargo hold, have killed at least two hundred people aboard Trans-Continental Flight One-Seven-Five."
The newsman went on awhile, but there was nothing to be learned from this report.
The scene then went to the arrivals terminal where friends and relatives of the victims were weeping. There were many reporters with microphones, Khalil noted, all trying to get interviews with the weeping people. Khalil found this odd. If they thought it was an accident, what difference did it make what these weeping people said? What did they know? Nothing. If the Americans were admitting to a terrorist attack, then certainly these hysterical people should be filmed for propaganda purposes. But as far as he could tell, the reporters only wanted to know about friends and family on the flight. Many of those interviewed, Khalil realized, were still hoping that those they were waiting for had survived. Khalil could tell them with absolute certainty that they had not.
Khalil kept watching, fascinated by the idiocy of these people, especially the reporters.
He wanted to see if anyone spoke of the fireman on board whom he had murdered, but it was not mentioned. Neither did anyone say anything about the Conquistador Club, but Khalil knew there would be no mention of that.
He waited for his picture to come on the screen, but it did not. Instead, the scene shifted again to the newsroom where the newsman was saying, "There is still speculation that this aircraft landed itself. We have with us a former American Airlines 747 pilot, Captain Fred Eames. Welcome."
Captain Eames nodded, and the reporter asked him, "Captain, is it possible that this aircraft landed itself-with no human hand at the control?"
Captain Eames replied, "Yes, it is possible. Matter of fact, it is thoroughly routine." The pilot added, "Almost all aircraft can fly a pre-programmed route, but the newest generation of airliners can also automatically control the landing gear, flaps, and brakes, making a totally automatic landing a routine operation. It's done every day. The computers, however, do not control the reverse thrusters, so that an aircraft landing on autopilot needs more runway than it normally would-but at JFK, this isn't a problem."
The man went on awhile. Asad Khalil listened, though he wasn't that interested. What interested him was that no Federal agents were on the television, and there was no mention of him and no photo. He guessed that the government had decided not to tell what they knew. Not yet. By the time they did, Khalil would be well on his way toward completing his mission. The first twenty-four hours were the most critical, he knew. After that, his chances of being caught decreased with each passing day.
The story of the deaths on board the aircraft ended, and another story came on. He watched to see if there was any news of the death of Gamal Jabbar, but there was not.
Asad Khalil shut off the television. When he had driven to Room 15, he had looked at the Mercury's compass and determined which way was east.
He got off the bed, prostrated himself, facing Mecca, and said his evening prayers.
He then lay in his bed, fully clothed, and fell into a light sleep.
Kate Mayfield, Ted Nash, and I exited 26 Federal Plaza and stood on Broadway.
There weren't many people around, and the evening had cooled off.
No one said anything, which didn't mean there was nothing to say. It meant, I think, that we were completely alone for the first time, the three of us who had blown it big-time despite Koenig's kind parting words, and we didn't want to talk about it.
There's never a taxi or a cop around when you need one, and we stood there, getting cold. Finally, Kate said, "You guys want a drink?"
Nash replied, "No, thanks. I have to be on the phone half the night with Langley."
She looked at me. "John?"
I needed a drink, but I wanted to be alone. I said, "No, thanks. I'm going to get some sleep." I didn't see any taxis, so I said, "I'm taking the subway. Anyone need subway directions?"
Nash, who probably didn't even know there was a subway in New York City, replied, "I'll wait for a taxi."
Kate said to me, "I'll share a taxi with Ted."
"Okay. See you at La Guardia."
I walked to the corner and glanced up at the Twin Towers before I turned east on Duane Street.
To my front rose the fourteen-story building called One Police Plaza, and a wave of nostalgia passed over me, followed by a sort of montage of my old life-the Police Academy, rookie cop, street cop, plainclothes cop, then the gold detective shield. Before I'd abruptly left the job, I'd passed the sergeant's exam, and I was about to be promoted from the list. But circumstances beyond my control cut it short. Act Two was teaching at John Jay. This, the ATTF, was the third and final act of a sometimes brilliant, sometimes not so brilliant career.
I turned north up Centre Street and continued on, past the courthouses, through Chinatown and past my subway entrance.
Maybe one of the unspoken thoughts that Nash, Kate, and I had out on the sidewalk was the thought that Asad Khalil was gunning for us. In reality, with few exceptions, no one, not organized crime, not subversive groups, not even the drug kings ever went after a Federal agent in America. But we were starting to see something different here with the extremist Islamic groups. There had been incidents, like the CIA parking lot killing, which were unsettling peeks into the future. And that future had arrived today on Flight 175.
I was in Little Italy now, and my feet found their way to Giulio's Restaurant on Mott Street. I entered the restaurant and went to the bar.
The restaurant was full on this Saturday night, mostly parties of six and bigger. There were Manhattan trendies, some bridge and tunnel types from the burbs, a few actual Little Italy families, and some tourists from places where people have blond hair. I didn't see any goombahs, who mostly avoided Little Italy on weekends when people came to see goombahs.
I recalled, however, that a Mafia don was whacked here on a Friday night about ten years ago. Actually, he was whacked out on the sidewalk, but re-entered the restaurant through the plate glass window, having been lifted off his feet by a shotgun blast fired by some other goombah's designated hitter. As I recall, the don didn't actually die because he was wearing a Little Italy T-shirt-a bulletproof vest-but he was murdered later by some married lady that he was porking.
Anyway, I didn't recognize the bartender, or anyone at the bar or at the tables. During the week, I might have run into some of my old buds, but not tonight, which was fine.
I ordered a double Dewar's, straight up with a Bud chaser. No use wasting time.
I banged back the Dewar's and sipped on the beer.
Above the bar was a TV with its sound off. At the bottom of the screen, where stock prices usually run continuously during the week, there was a running line of sports scores. On the screen itself was a Mafia sitcom called The Sopranos, which everyone at the bar was watching. The Mafia guys I know love this show.
After a few rounds, when I was feeling better, I left and caught a taxi, which are plentiful in Little Italy, and went back to my condominium on East 72nd Street.
I live in a clean, modern high rise with a terrific view of the East River, and my apartment shows none of the funkiness associated with unmarried New York City detectives. My life is messy, but my digs are clean. This is partly the result of my starter marriage, which lasted about two years. Her name was Robin, and she had been an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan DA's office, which is how I'd met her. Most female ADAs marry other attorneys. Robin married a cop. We were married by a judge, but I should have asked for a jury.
Anyway, as often happens with sharp ADAs, Robin was offered and took a job with a law firm that specialized in defending the scumbags she and I were trying to put away. The money got good, but the marriage got bad. Philosophical differences of the irreconcilable sort. I got the condo. The vig is very high.
Alfred, my night doorman, greeted me and held the door open.
I checked my mailbox, which was full of junk mail. I was half expecting a letter bomb from Ted Nash, but so far he was showing admirable restraint.
I took the elevator up and entered my apartment, taking minimal precautions. Even I had trouble getting past Alfred for the first month or two of my marriage. He didn't like the idea that I was sleeping with my wife, who he'd taken a liking to. Anyway, Robin and I had both briefed Alfred and the other doormen that we were associated with law enforcement, and that we had enemies. All the doormen understood, and their Christmas and Easter bonuses reflected our appreciation of their loyalty, discretion, and vigilance. On the other hand, since my divorce, I think Alfred would give my keys to Jack the Ripper for a twenty-buck tip.
Anyway, I went through the living room with the big terrace and into the den where I turned on the TV to CNN. The TV wasn't working right and needed some percussive maintenance, which I performed by smacking it three times with my hand. A snowy picture appeared, but CNN was doing a financial report.
I went to the phone and hit the message button on my answering machine. Beth Penrose, at 7:16, said, "Hi, John. I have a feeling you were at JFK today. I remember you said something about that. That was terrible-tragic. My God… anyway, if you're on that, good luck. Sorry we couldn't get together tonight. Call when you can."
That's one advantage of a cop going out with a cop. Both parties understand. I don't think there are any other advantages.
The second message was from my former partner, Dom Fanelli. He said, "Holy shit. Did I hear right that you caught the squeal at JFK? I told you not to take that job. Call me."
"You got me the job, you stupid greaseball."
There were a few other messages from friends and family, all inquiring about the JFK thing and my connection to it. All of a sudden I was back on everyone's radar screen. Not bad for a guy who everyone thought had crashed and burned a year ago.
The last message, just ten minutes before I'd gotten home, was from Kate Mayfield. She said, "This is Kate. I thought you'd be home by now. Okay… well, call if you want to talk… I'm home… I don't think I can get to sleep. So call anytime… talk to you."
Well, I wasn't going to have any problem getting to sleep. But I wanted to catch the news first, so I took off my jacket and shoes, loosened my tie, and fell into my favorite chair. The financial guy was still on. I was drifting, half aware of the phone ringing, but I ignored it.
Next thing I knew, I was sitting in a big jet aircraft, trying to get out of my seat, but something was holding me down. I noticed that everyone around me was fast asleep, except for a guy standing in the aisle. The guy had a big bloody knife in his hand, and he was coming right toward me. I went for my gun, but it wasn't in my holster. The guy raised the knife, and I sprang out of my chair.
The VCR clock said 5:17. I had barely enough time to shower, change, and get to La Guardia.
As I undressed, I turned on the radio in my bedroom, which was tuned to 1010 WINS, all news.
The guy on the radio was talking about the Trans-Continental tragedy. I turned up the volume and jumped in the shower.
As I soaped up, I could hear pieces of the story above the sound of the water. The guy was saying something about Gadhafi and about the American air raid on Libya in 1986.
It seemed to me that people were starting to put things together.
I sort of remembered the air raid in '86, and I recalled that the NYPD and Port Authority cops had been put on alert in case some shit splattered back here. But other than some overtime, I couldn't remember anything special happening.
But I guess it happened yesterday. These people had long memories. My partner, Dom Fanelli, once told me a joke-Italian Alzheimer's is where you forget everything except who you have to kill.
No doubt this also applied to the Arabs. But it didn't seem as funny when you put it that way.
America, The Present
… foe stirred among the Christians enmity and hatred, which shall endure until the Day of Resurrection… Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for friends.
The Koran, Sura V, "The Table"
April 15 sucked, and April 16 wasn't going to be much better.
"Good morning, Mr. Corey," said Alfred, my doorman, who had a taxi waiting for me.
"Good morning, Alfred."
He said, "The weather report is good. La Guardia, correct?" He opened the rear door for me and said to the driver, "La Guardia."
I got into the taxi, which pulled away, and said to the driver, 'You have a newspaper?"
He took one off the front seat and handed it back to me. It was in Russian or Greek. He laughed.
The day was going downhill already.
I said to the guy, "I'm late. Step on it. Capisce? Pedal to the metal."
He showed no signs of breaking the law, so I took out my Fed creds and pushed them in front of his face. "Move it."
The taxi accelerated. If I'd had my piece with me, I'd have put the muzzle in his ear, but he seemed to be with the program. I'm not a morning person, by the way.
Traffic was light at this hour on a Sunday morning, and we made good time up the FDR Drive and over the Triborough Bridge. When we got to La Guardia, I said, "US Airways terminal."
He pulled up to the terminal, I paid him, and gave him his newspaper back, saying, "Here's your tip."
I got out and checked my watch. I had about ten minutes before flight time. This was cutting it close, but I had no luggage, and no gun to declare.
Outside the terminal, I noticed two Port Authority uniformed cops eyeing everyone as though they'd arrived in a car bomb. Obviously, the word was out, and I hoped everyone had a photo of Asad Khalil.
Inside the terminal at the ticket counter, the guy asked if I had a ticket or a reservation. Actually, I had lots of reservations about this flight, but this was not the place for flippancy. I said, "Corey, John."
He found me on the computer, then printed my ticket. The guy asked for a photo ID, and I gave him my New York State driver's license instead of my Fed creds, which always brings up the question of a gun. One reason I had chosen not to carry this morning was because I was running late and didn't have time to mess around with filling out paperwork. Also, I was traveling with armed people who would protect me. I think. On the other hand, whenever you think you don't need your gun, you do. But there was another, important reason I'd chosen not to carry. More on that later.
Anyway, the ticket guy asked me if I'd packed my own luggage, and I told him I had no luggage, and he gave me my ticket and said, "Have a good flight," as though I had some input into the thing.
If I'd had more time, I would have replied, "May Allah give us a good tailwind."
There was also a Port Authority cop at the metal detector and the line was slow. I walked through and my brass balls didn't set the bell off.
As I moved with haste toward my gate, I ruminated over this increased security. On the one hand, a lot of cops were going to earn a lot of overtime in the next month or so, and the Mayor would have a fit and try to shake down Washington for Federal bucks, explaining that this was their fault.
On the other hand, these domestic transportation terminal operations rarely turned up who you were looking for, but you had to do it anyway. It made life difficult for fugitives trying to get around the country. But if Asad Khalil had half a brain, he'd be doing what most perps do who are on the run-hole up somewhere until the heat is off, or get a clean car and disappear on the highways. Or, of course, he may have already caught a Camel Air flight to Sandland yesterday.
I gave the gate agent my ticket, went down the jetway, and boarded the shuttle to Cuckooland.
The stewardess said, "You just made it."
"My lucky day."
"Light flight. Take any seat."
"How about that guy's seat over there?"
"Any empty seat, sir. Please be seated."
I moved down the aisle and saw that the plane was half empty, and I took a seat by myself, away from Kate Mayfield and Ted Nash, who were sitting together, and Jack Koenig, who was across the aisle from them. I did, however, mumble, "Morning" as I made my way to the back of the aircraft. I envied George Foster for not having to make this flight.
I hadn't thought to grab a free magazine at the gate, and someone had swiped the magazines in the pockets in front of me, so I sat there and read the emergency evacuation card until the plane took off.
Halfway through the flight, while I was dozing, Koenig walked by on his way to the lav and threw the front section of the Sunday Times on my lap.
I cleared my mind and read the headline, which said, Three Hundred Dead on JFK Flight. That was an eye-opener on a Sunday morning.
I read the Times story, which was sketchy and a little inaccurate, a result, no doubt, of the spinmeisters at work. The bottom line was that the Federal Aviation Agency and the National Transportation Safety Board were not releasing many details, except to say that unidentified toxic fumes had overcome the passengers and crew. There was no mention that the autopilot had actually landed the aircraft, no mention of any murders or terrorists, and for sure no mention of the Conquistador Club. And, thank God, no mention of anyone named John Corey.
Tomorrow's news, however, would be more specific. The details would be spooned out in manageable doses, like cod liver oil with a little honey, a day at a time, until the public got used to it and then had its attention distracted by something else.
Anyway, the one-hour flight was uneventful, except for a bad cup of coffee. As we came into Ronald Reagan National Airport, we followed the Potomac River, and I had a spectacular view of the Jefferson Memorial with all the cherry blossoms in bloom, the Mall, the Capitol, and all those other white stone buildings that project power, power, power. It occurred to me for the first time that I worked for some of those people down there.
Anyway, we landed and deplaned on schedule. I noticed that Koenig was wearing a Federal blue suit and carried a briefcase. Nash had on yet another continental-cut suit and also carried a briefcase, no doubt handcrafted of yak hide by Tibetan freedom fighters in the Himalayas. Kate was also wearing a blue suit, but it looked better on her than on Jack. She also carried a briefcase, and I had the thought that I was supposed to carry a briefcase. My attire for the day was a dove-gray suit that my ex bought me from Barney's. With tax and tip, it probably ran close to two thousand bucks. She has that kind of money. It comes from defending drug dealers, hit men, white-collar criminals, and other high-income felons. So why do I wear this suit? I wear it, I think, as a cynical statement. Also, it fits very well and looks expensive.
But back to the airport. A car and driver met us and took us on a ride to FBI Headquarters, aka the J. Edgar Hoover Building.
There wasn't a lot of chatter in the car, but finally Jack Koenig, sitting up front with the driver, turned to us and said, "I apologize if this meeting interferes with your worship services."
The FBI, of course, pays lip service to church attendance, and maybe it wasn't just lip service. I couldn't imagine my old bosses saying anything like that, and I was at a loss for a reply.
Kate replied, "That's all right," whatever that means.
Nash mumbled something that sounded like he was giving us all a dispensation.
I'm not a habitual churchgoer, but I said, "J. Edgar is up there watching over us."
Koenig shot me an unpleasant look and turned back to the front.
Long day. Long, long day.
At 5.30 A.M., Asad Khalil rose, took a wet towel from the bathroom and wiped all the surfaces where he might have left fingerprints. He prostrated himself on the floor, said his morning prayers, then dressed, and left the motel room. He put his overnight bag in the Mercury, and walked back to the motel office, carrying the wet towel.
The young desk clerk was sleeping in his chair and the television was still on.
Khalil came around the counter with his towel-wrapped Clock in his hand. He put the pistol to the man's head and pulled the trigger. The young clerk and the wheeled chair flew into the counter. Khalil pushed the young man's body beneath the counter and took his wallet from his hip pocket, then took the money out of the cash drawer. He found the stack of registration slips and receipt copies, and put them all in his pocket, then wiped his key tag with the wet towel and returned his key to the keyboard.
He looked up at the security camera, which he'd noticed earlier and which had recorded not only his arrival but also the entire murder and robbery. He followed the wire to a small back room where he found the video recorder. He pulled the tape out and put it in his pocket, then went back to the counter where he found an electrical switch marked MOTEL SIGN. He shut it off, then shut off the lights in the office, walked out the door, and went back to his car.
There was a damp fog hanging in the air, which obscured everything beyond a few meters. Khalil pulled out of the parking lot without headlights and didn't turn them on until he was fifty meters down the road.
He re-traced his route and approached the Capital Beltway. Before he entered, he pulled into the big parking lot of a strip mall, found a storm sewer drain, and pushed the registration cards, receipts, and video cassette through the metal grate. He took the cash out of the clerk's wallet and threw the wallet into the drain.
He got back into his car and entered the Capital Beltway.
It was six in the morning and a faint dusk came out of the east, illuminating the fog. There was little traffic on the road on this Sunday morning, and neither did Khalil see any police cars.
He followed the Beltway south, then it curved west and crossed the Potomac River, then continued west until it went north and crossed the Potomac again. He was circling the city of Washington, like a lion, he thought, stalking his prey.
Khalil programmed the Satellite Navigator with the address he needed in Washington and exited the Beltway at Pennsylvania Avenue.
He continued on Pennsylvania Avenue, heading directly into the heart of the enemy capital.
At 7:00 A.M. he drove up to Capitol Hill. The fog had lifted, and the huge white-domed Capitol Building sat in the morning sunshine. Khalil drove around the Capitol, then stopped and parked near the southeast side. He removed his camera from the overnight bag and took photos of the sunlit building. He noticed a young couple about fifty meters away doing the same. This photography was not necessary, he knew, and he could have passed the time elsewhere, but he thought these photographs would amuse his compatriots in Tripoli.
He could see police cars within the gated area around the Capitol Building, but none on the street around him.
At 7:25 A.M., he got back in his car and drove the few blocks to Constitution Avenue. He drove slowly down the tree-lined street of town houses and located number 415. A car was parked in the narrow driveway, and he saw a light on in the third-floor window. He kept going, circled around the block, and parked his car a half block from the house.
Khalil put both Glocks in his jacket pockets, and waited, watching the house.
At 7:45 A.M., a middle-aged man and woman came out the front door. The lady was well dressed and the man wore the blue uniform of an Air Force general. Khalil smiled.
They had told him in Tripoli that General Terrance Waycliff was a man of habit, and his habit was to attend religious services at the National Cathedral every Sunday morning. The General would almost always attend the 8:15 service, but had been known to attend the 9:30 service. This morning it was the 8:15 service, and Khalil was pleased that he didn't have to waste another hour somewhere.
Khalil watched the General escort his wife to their car. The man was tall and slender, and though his hair was gray, he walked like a younger man. In 1986, Khalil knew, General Waycliff had been Captain Waycliff, and the radio call sign on his F-lll had been Remit 22. Captain Waycliff's fighter-bomber had been one of the four in the attack squadron that had bombed Al Azziziyah. Captain Waycliff's weapons officer had been Colonel-then Captain-William Hambrecht, who had met his fate in London in January. Now General Waycliff would meet a similar fate in Washington.
Khalil watched as the General opened the door for his wife, then went around, got into the driver's side, and backed out of the driveway.
Khalil could have killed both of them right there and then on this quiet Sunday morning, but he chose to do it another way.
Khalil straightened his tie, then exited and locked his car.
He walked to the front door of the General's house and pushed the doorbell. He heard chimes ringing inside the house.
He heard footsteps and kept back from the door so his face could be seen through the peephole. Khalil heard the metallic scrape of what he thought was a chain being put on the door, then the door opened a crack, and he could see the hanging chain and a young woman's face. She started to say something, but Khalil slammed his shoulder into the door. The chain snapped and the door swung in, knocking the woman to the floor. Khalil was inside in a second and closed the door behind him as he pulled his pistol. "Silence."
The young woman lay on the marble floor, a look of terror in her eyes.
He motioned her to her feet and she stood. He regarded her a moment. She was a small woman, dressed in a robe, barefoot, and her complexion was dark. This was the housekeeper, according to his information, and no one else lived in the house. To be certain, he asked, "Who is home?"
She replied in accented English, "General home."
Khalil smiled. "No. General is not home. Is General's children home?"
She shook her head, and he could see she was trembling.
Khalil smelled coffee coming from somewhere and said to her, "Kitchen."
She turned hesitatingly and walked through the long foyer of the town house to the kitchen in the rear, Khalil behind her.
Khalil looked around the big kitchen and saw two plates and two coffee cups on the round table near a big, curved window in the rear.
Khalil said to her, "Basement. Downstairs." He motioned down.
She pointed to a wooden door in the wall. He said, "You go down."
She went to the door, opened it, turned on a light switch, and went down the basement stairs. Khalil followed.
The basement was filled with boxes and cartons, and Khalil looked around. He found a door and opened it, revealing a small room that held the heating unit. He motioned the young woman inside, and as she passed him and took a step into the boiler room, Khalil fired a single shot into the back of her head where the skull met the spinal column. She fell forward and was dead before she hit the floor.
Khalil closed the door and went upstairs into the kitchen. He found a carton of milk in the refrigerator and drank the entire contents from the carton, then threw it in a trash bin. He also found containers of yogurt and he removed two from the refrigerator, took a coffee spoon from the table, and ate both yogurts quickly. He didn't realize how hungry he was until he smelled food.
Khalil went back through the foyer to the front door. He unhooked the metal slide from the hanging chain and pressed the slide and its screws back into the wooden frame from which it had been torn. He left the door locked, but unchained, so that the General and his wife could let themselves in.
He looked around the ground floor, finding only a large dining room off the kitchen, a sitting room across the foyer, and a small lavatory.
He went up the stairs to the second floor where a large living room took up the entire floor of the town house, and he could see that no one was there. He continued up the stairs to the third floor where the bedrooms were. He checked each of them. Two of the bedrooms were obviously for the General's children, a girl and a boy, and Khalil found himself wishing they were home and sleeping. But the rooms were empty. The third room seemed to be for guests, and the fourth bedroom was the master bedroom.
Khalil proceeded up to the fourth floor, which held a large den and a very small bedroom, which he guessed was that of the housekeeper.
Khalil looked around the wood-paneled den, noting all the military memorabilia on the walls, on the desk, and on a side table.
A model of an F-lll hung on nylon strings from the ceiling, its nose pointed down, its swing wings swept back as though it were diving in for an attack. Khalil noticed four silver bombs under its wings. He pulled the model from its strings and with his hands crushed and ripped it apart, letting the plastic pieces fall to the floor where he ground them into the carpet with his foot. "May God damn you all to hell."
He got himself under control and continued his examinations of the den. On the wall was a black-and-white photo of eight men, standing in front of an F-lll fighter-bomber. The photo had a printed caption which read LAKENHEATH, APRIL 13, 1987. Khalil read it again. This was not the correct year of the bombing attack, but then he realized that the names of these men as well as their mission were secret, and thus the General misdated the photograph, even here in his private office. Clearly, Khalil thought, these cowardly men gained no honor from what they had done.
Khalil moved to the large mahogany desk and examined the odds and ends on the desktop. He found the General's daybook and opened it to Sunday, April 16. The General had noted, "Church, 8:15, National."
There were no further entries for Sunday, Khalil noted, so perhaps no one would notice that the General was missing until he failed to report to work.
Khalil looked at Monday and saw that the General had a meeting at 10:00 A.M, By that time, another of the General's squadron mates would be dead.
Khalil looked at the entry for April 15, the anniversary of the attack, and read, "Nine A.M., conference call, squadron."
Khalil nodded. So, they stayed in communication. This could be a problem, especially as they began to die, one after the other. But Khalil had expected that some of them might still be in communication. If he acted quickly enough, by the time they realized they were all dying, they would all be dead.
He found the General's personal telephone book beside his phone and opened it. He quickly scanned the book and saw the names of the other men in the photograph. Khalil noted with satisfaction that Colonel Hambrecht's entry was marked DECEASED. He also noted that the address of the man called Chip Wiggins was crossed out with a red question mark beside his name.
Khalil considered taking the telephone book, but its absence would be noted by the police, and this would call into question the motive for the murder that was about to take place.
He put the telephone book back on the desk, then wiped it and the leather daybook with a handkerchief.
He opened the desk drawers. In the middle drawer he discovered a silver-plated.45 caliber automatic pistol. He checked to see that the magazine was fully loaded, then slid back the mechanism, and chambered a round. He moved the safety to the off position and put the pistol in his waistband.
Khalil walked to the door, then stopped, turned around, and carefully picked up the pieces of the F-lll model, putting them into a wastebasket.
He then went back down to the third floor and ransacked each of the bedrooms, taking money, jewelry, watches, and even a few of the General's military decorations. He put everything into a pillowcase, then went down to the kitchen on the first floor, carrying the pillowcase. He found a carton of orange juice in the refrigerator, and sat at the General's kitchen table.
The wall clock said five minutes to nine. The General and his wife would be home by nine-thirty if, indeed, they were people of habit and punctuality. By nine-forty-five, they would both be dead.
We crossed the Potomac River by way of some bridge and got into the city. There wasn't much traffic at 8:30 A.M. on a Sunday, but we saw a few joggers and bicyclists as well as some tourist families on spring break, the kids looking stunned at being rousted out of bed at this hour.
As we drove, the Capitol Building loomed up to our front, and I wondered if the full Congress had been briefed yet. When the shit hits the fan, the Executive Branch likes to present the Congress with a done deal, then ask for their blessings. For all I knew, there were already warplanes heading for Libya. But that wasn't my problem.
We got onto Pennsylvania Avenue where the J. Edgar Hoover Building is located, not far from its parent company, the Justice Department.
We stopped in front of the Hoover Building, a uniquely ugly concrete slab structure whose size and shape defy description.
I'd actually been here once for a seminar, and I'd gotten a tour. You have to take the tour, especially through their cherished museum, or you don't get lunch.
Anyway, the front of the building is seven stories high, to conform to height restrictions on Pennsylvania Avenue, but the rear is eleven stories high. The building contains about two and a half million square feet, bigger than the old KGB Headquarters in Moscow, and probably the biggest law enforcement building in the world. About eight thousand people work in the building, mostly support types and lab people. About a thousand actual agents also work in the building, and I don't envy them, any more than I envied the cops who work at One Police Plaza. Job happiness is directly proportional to the distance you are from the home office.
We pulled up in front of the building and entered a small lobby that looked out onto a courtyard.
As we waited for our host, I wandered over toward the courtyard which had a fountain and park benches and which I remembered from last time. There was a bronze inscription carved into the wall above the benches, a quote from J. Edgar Hoover, and it said, "The most effective weapon against crime is cooperation… the efforts of all law enforcement agencies with the support and understanding of the American people." Good quote. Better than the unofficial FBI motto which was, "We can do no wrong."
There I go again. I tried to adjust my attitude. But it's a male ego thing. Too many alpha males in law enforcement.
Anyway, there were the usual photos on one wall-the President, the Attorney General, the Director of the FBI, and so forth. The photos were friendly-looking and hung in a chain-of-command grouping so that, hopefully, no one would mistake them for America 's Most Wanted Criminals.
In fact, there was another entrance, a visitor's entrance where guided tours began, and in that entrance were the Ten Most Wanted mug shots on display. Incredibly, three fugitives had been arrested as a result of visitors recognizing the photos. I had no doubt that by now, Asad Khalil's photo was in the number one spot. Maybe someone taking a tour would say, "Hey, I rent a room to that guy." Maybe not.
Anyway, the reason I'd been here about five years ago was for a seminar on serial killers. There were homicide dicks invited from around the country, and they were all a little nuts, like me. We put on a skit for the FBI called Cereal Killers, and brought in boxes of Wheaties, Cheerios, Grape Nuts, and so on that had been knifed, shot, strangled, and drowned. We thought it was pretty funny, but the FBI psychologists thought we needed help.
Back to the unhappy present at FBI Headquarters. It wasn't a normal workday, of course, and the building seemed mostly empty, but I had no doubt that the Counterterrorist section was around and about today. I hoped they didn't blame us for screwing up their Sunday.
Jack, Kate, and Ted declared their weapons at the security desk, and I had to admit I wasn't carrying, which is sort of a no-no. But I informed the security guy, "My hands are registered as lethal weapons." The guy looked at Jack, who tried to make believe I wasn't with him.
Anyway, before 9:00 A.M. we were escorted to a nice conference room on the third floor where we were offered coffee and introduced to six guys and two women. The guys were all named Bob, Bill, and Jim, or maybe that's what it sounded like. The two women were named Jane and Jean. Everyone wore blue.
What could have been a long, tense day turned out to be worse. Not that anyone was hostile or reproachful-they were polite and sympathetic-but I had the distinct feeling that I was back in grade school and I was in the principal's office. Johnny, do you think the next time a terrorist comes to America, you can remember what we taught you?
I'm glad I didn't bring my gun-I would have capped the whole bunch of them.
We didn't stay in the same conference room the whole time, but moved around a lot to different offices, a traveling dog and pony show, going through the same act for different audiences.
The interior of the building, by the way, was as stark as the outside. The walls are painted linen white and the doors are charcoal gray. Someone once told me that J. Edgar had banned pictures on the walls, and there still weren't any pictures. Anyone who hangs a picture dies a mysterious death.
As I said, the building has a weird shape, and it's not easy to figure out where you are half the time. Now and then, we passed a glass wall where we could look into a lab, or some other place where people worked. Although it was Sunday, a few people were bent over microscopes or computer terminals, or fooling around with glass beakers. A lot of what looked like windows here are two-way mirrors where the people you're seeing can't see you. And a lot of what looks like mirrors are also two-way where people on the other side can see you checking your teeth for poppy seeds.
The whole morning was basically a series of debriefings where we did most of the talking, and people nodded and listened. Half the time, I didn't know who we were talking to; a few times I thought we were directed to the wrong room because the people we were talking to seemed surprised or confused, like they'd come into the office to catch up on something and four people from New York burst in and started talking about poison gas and a guy called the Lion. Well, maybe I exaggerate, but after three hours of us telling different people the same thing, it all started to get blurry.
Now and then someone asked us a specific question of fact, and once in a while we were asked to express opinions or theories. But not once did anyone tell us anything that they knew. That was for after lunch, we were told, and only if we ate all our vegetables.
A sad Khalil heard the front door open, then heard a man and woman talking. The woman's voice called out, " Rosa, we're home."
Khalil finished the coffee he was drinking and listened to the closet door open and close. Then, the voices got louder as they approached through the hallway.
Khalil stood and moved to the side of the doorway. He drew the General's Colt.45 automatic and listened closely. He heard two sets of footsteps on the marble floor coming toward him.
The General and his wife walked into the big kitchen. The General headed to the refrigerator, the woman to the electric coffeepot on the counter. They both had their backs to him, and he waited for them to notice him against the wall. He tucked the pistol in his jacket pocket and held it there.
The woman took two cups from the cupboard and poured coffee for both of them. The General was still looking in the refrigerator. He said, "Where's the milk?"
"It's in there," said Mrs. Waycliff.
She turned to walk to the kitchen table, saw Khalil, let out a startled cry, and dropped both cups to the floor.
The General spun around, looked at his wife, then followed her stare and found himself looking at a tall man in a suit. He took a breath and said, "Who are you?"
"I am a messenger."
"Who let you in?"
"Where is she?"
"She went out to buy milk."
"Okay," General Waycliff snapped, "get the hell out of here, or I'll call the police."
"Did you enjoy your church service?"
Gail Waycliff said, "Please leave. If you leave now, we won't call the police."
Khalil ignored her and said, "I, too, am a religious man. I have studied the Hebrew testament as well as the Christian testament and, of course, the Koran."
At this last word, General Waycliff suddenly began to understand who this intruder might be.
Khalil continued, "Are you familiar with the Koran? No? But you read the Hebrew testament. So, why don't Christians read the word of God, which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad? Praise be unto him."
"Look… I don't know who you are-"
"Of course you do."
"All right… I know who you are-"
"Yes, I am your worst nightmare. And you were once my worst nightmare."
"What are you talking about-?"
"You are General Terrance Waycliff, and I believe you work at the Pentagon. Correct?"
"That's none of your business. I'm telling you to leave. Now."
Khalil didn't reply. He just looked at the General standing before him in his blue uniform. Finally, Khalil said, "I see that you are highly decorated, General."
General Waycliff said to his wife, "Gail, call the police."
The woman stood frozen a moment, then moved toward the kitchen table where a phone hung on the wall.
Khalil said, "Don't touch the telephone."
She looked back at her husband, who said, "Call the police." General Waycliff took a step toward the intruder.
Khalil drew the automatic pistol from his jacket.
Gail Waycliff gasped.
General Waycliff let out a sound of surprise and stopped in his tracks.
Khalil said, "This is actually your gun, General." He held it up as though examining it and said, "It's very beautiful. It has, I believe, a nickel or silver plating, ivory handles, and your name inscribed on it."
General Waycliff did not reply.
Khalil looked back at the General and said, "It is my understanding that there were no medals issued for the Libyan raid. Is that true?" He looked at Waycliff, and for the first time saw fear in the man's eyes.
Khalil continued, "I'm speaking of the April fifteen, nineteen eighty-six, raid. Or was it nineteen eighty-seven?"
The General glanced at his wife, who was staring at him. They both knew where this was headed now. Gail Waycliff moved across the kitchen and stood beside her husband.
Khalil appreciated her bravery in the face of death.
No one spoke for a full minute. Khalil relished the moment and took pleasure at the sight of the Americans waiting for their death.
But Asad Khalil wasn't quite finished. He said to the General, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you were Remit Twenty-two. Yes?"
The General didn't reply.
Khalil said, "Your flight of four F-llls attacked Al Azziziyah. Correct?"
Again, the General said nothing.
"And you're wondering how I discovered this secret."
General Waycliff cleared his throat and said, "Yes. I am."
Khalil smiled and said, "If I tell you, then I have to kill you." He laughed.
The General managed to say, "That's what you're going to do anyway."
"Perhaps. Perhaps not."
Gail Waycliff asked Khalil, "Where is Rosa?"
"What a good mistress you are to worry about your servant."
Mrs. Waycliff snapped, "Where is she?"
"She is where you know she is."
Asad Khalil was not used to being spoken to that way by anyone, least of all a woman. He would have shot her right then, but he controlled himself and said, "In fact, I am not a bastard. I had a mother and father who were married to each other. My father was murdered by your allies, the Israelis. My mother was killed in your bombing raid on Al Azziziyah. And so were my two brothers and my two sisters." He looked at Gail Waycliff and said, "And it's quite possible that it was one of your husband's bombs, Mrs. Waycliff, that killed them. So, what have you to say to that?"
Gail Waycliff took a deep breath and replied, "Then all I can say is that I'm sorry. We're both sorry for you."
"Yes? Well, thank you for your sympathy."
General Waycliff looked directly at Khalil and said in an angry tone, "I'm not at all sorry. Your leader, Gadhafi, is an international terrorist. He's murdered dozens of innocent men, women, and children. The base at Al Azziziyah was a command center for international terrorism, and it was Gadhafi who put the civilians in harm's way by housing them in a military target. And if you know so much, you also know that only military targets were bombed all over Libya, and the few civilian casualties were accidental. You know that, so don't pretend that murdering anyone in cold blood is justified."
Khalil stared at General Waycliff and actually seemed to be considering his words. Finally, he said, "And the bomb that was dropped on Colonel Gadhafi's house in Al Azziziyah? You know, General-the one that killed his daughter and wounded his wife and injured his two sons. Was that an accident? Did your smart bombs go astray? Answer me."
"I have nothing more to say to you."
Khalil shook his head and said, "No, you do not." He raised his pistol and pointed it at General Waycliff. "You have no idea how long I've waited for this moment."
The General stepped in front of his wife and said, "Let her go."
"Ridiculous. My only regret is that your children are not home."
"Bastard!" The General sprang forward and lunged at Khalil.
Khalil fired a single shot into the General's service ribbons on his left breast.
The force of the low-velocity blunt-nosed.45 bullet stopped the General's forward motion and lifted him off his feet. He fell backwards onto the tile floor with a thud.
Gail Waycliff screamed and ran toward her husband.
Khalil held his fire and let her kneel beside her dying husband. She was stroking his forehead and sobbing. Blood foamed out of the bullet hole, and Khalil saw that he had missed the man's heart and hit the lung, which was good. The General would drown slowly in his own blood.
Gail Waycliff pushed the palm of her hand over the wound, and Khalil had the impression she was trained to recognize and treat a sucking chest wound. But perhaps, he thought, it was just instinct.
He watched for a half minute, interested, but disinterested.
The General was very much alive and was trying to speak, though he was choking on his blood.
Khalil stepped closer and looked at the General's face. Their eyes met.
Khalil said, "I could have killed you with an ax, the way I killed Colonel Hambrecht. But you were very brave and I respect that. So, you will not suffer much longer. I can't promise the same for your other squadron mates."
General Waycliff tried to speak, but pink, foamy blood erupted from his mouth. Finally, he managed to say to his weeping wife, "Gail…"
Khalil put the muzzle of the automatic to the side of Gail Waycliff's head, above her ear, and fired a shot through the skull and brain.
She toppled over beside her husband.
General Waycliff's hand reached out to touch his wife, then he picked his head up to look at her.
Khalil watched for a few seconds, then said to General Waycliff, "She died in far less pain than my mother."
General Waycliff turned his head and looked at Asad Khalil. Terrance Waycliff's eyes were wide open and blood frothed at his lips. He said, "Enough…" He coughed. "… enough killing… go back…"
"I'm not finished here. I'll go home when your friends are all dead."
The General lay on the floor, but said nothing further. His hand found his wife's hand, and he squeezed it.
Khalil waited, but the man was taking his time dying. Finally, Khalil crouched beside the couple and removed the General's watch and his Air Force Academy ring, then found the General's wallet in his hip pocket. He also took Mrs. Waycliff's watch and rings, then ripped her pearl necklace off.
He remained crouched beside them, then put his fingers over the General's chest wound where the blood covered his service ribbons. Khalil took his hand away and put his fingers to his lips, licking the blood off, savoring the blood and the moment.
General Waycliff's eyes moved, and he watched in horror as the man licked the blood from his fingers. He tried to speak, but began coughing again, spitting up more blood.
Khalil kept his eyes fixed on the General's eyes, and they stared at each other. Finally, the General began breathing in short, wheezing spasms. Then, the breathing stopped. Khalil felt the man's heart, then his wrist, then the artery in his neck. Satisfied that General Terrance Waycliff was finally dead, Khalil stood and looked down at both bodies. He said, "May you burn in hell."
By noon, even Kate, Ted, and Jack looked thoroughly debriefed. In fact, if we'd been any more debriefed, all we'd have left in our heads were empty sinus cavities. I mean, jeez, these people knew how to get the last piece of information out of you without resorting to electric shock.
Anyway, it was now lunchtime in Hooverland, and they left us alone for lunch, thank God, but advised us to dine in the company cafeteria. They didn't give us lunch vouchers, so we actually had to pay for the privilege, though as I recall the chow was government-subsidized.
The cafeteria-style lunchroom was pleasant enough, but there was a reduced Sunday menu. What was offered tended toward healthy and wholesome-a salad bar, yogurt, vegetables, fruit juices, and herbal teas. I had a tuna salad and a cup of coffee that tasted like embalming fluid.
The people around us appeared to be the cast of a J. Edgar Hoover training film called Good Grooming Leads to More Arrests.
There were only a few black guys in the lunchroom, looking like chocolate chips in a bowl of oatmeal. Washington may be the capital of cultural diversity, but change comes slowly in some organizations. I wondered what the bosses here actually thought of the ATTF in New York, in particular the NYPD guys, who when assembled look like the alien bar scene in Star Wars.
Anyway, maybe I was being uncharitable toward my hosts. The FBI was actually a pretty good law enforcement agency whose main problem was image. The politically correct crowd didn't like them, the media could swing either way, but the public for the most part still adored them. Other law enforcement agencies were impressed by their work, envious of their power and money, and pissed off at their arrogance. It's not easy being great.
Jack Koenig, eating a salad, said, "I can't tell if the ATTF is going to stay on the case, or if the Counterterrorism section here is going to take it away from us."
Kate commented, "This is precisely the kind of case we were created for."
I guess it was. But parent organizations don't always like their weird offspring. The Army, for instance, never liked its own Special Forces with its fruity green berets. The NYPD never liked its anti-crime unit made up of guys who looked and dressed like derelicts and muggers. The spit-and-polish establishment neither trusts nor understands its own down-and-dirty special units, and they don't give a rat's ass how effective the irregular troops are. Weird people, especially when they're effective, are a threat to the status quo.
Kate added, "We have a good track record in New York."
Koenig thought a moment, then replied, "I suppose it depends on where Khalil is, or where they think he is. Probably they'll let us work the New York metro area without interference. Overseas will go to the CIA, and the rest of the country and Canada will go to Washington."
Ted Nash said nothing, and neither did I. Nash was holding so many cards so close to his chest that he didn't need a bib for his yogurt. I was holding no cards, and I was totally clueless about how these people carved up the turf.
But I did know that ATTF people, based in the New York metro area, often were sent to different parts of the country or even the world when a case began in New York. In fact, one of the things that Dom Fanelli told me when he was pushing this job on me was that ATTF people went to Paris a lot to wine, dine, and seduce French women and recruit them to spy on suspicious Arabs. I didn't actually believe this, but I knew there was a possibility of hitting the Federal expense account hard for a trip to Europe. But enough about patriotism. The question was, If it happens on your turf, do you follow it to the ends of the earth? Or do you stop at the border?
The most frustrating homicide case I could remember was three years ago, when a rapist-murderer was loose on the East Side, and we couldn't get a fix on the guy. Then he goes down to Georgia for a week to see a friend, and some local yokel cop stops him for DWI, and the local yokels have a brand-new computer bought with Federal bucks and for no reason other than boredom, they run the guy's prints through to the FBI, and lo and behold, they match the prints we found at a crime scene. So we get an extradition order, and yours truly has to go down to Hominy Grits, Georgia, to extradite the perp, and I have to put up with twenty-four hours of Police Chief Corn Pone ribbing me about all kinds of crap, mostly about New York City, plus I got lessons in criminal investigation and how to spot a killer and if I ever needed any help again, just give him a call. That sucked big-time.
But back to the lunchroom at FBI Headquarters. I could tell by Koenig's musings that he wasn't sure the ATTF was in a strong position to pursue or resolve this case. He said, "If Khalil is caught in Europe, two or three countries will want a crack at him before we get him, unless the U.S. government can persuade a friendly country that he should be extradited here for what amounts to a crime of mass murder."
Though some of this legal stuff seemed to be for my benefit, I already knew most of this. I was a cop for almost twenty years, I taught at John Jay for five years, and I lived with a lawyer for almost two years. In fact, that was the only time in my life that I got to fuck a lawyer, rather than vice versa.
Anyway, Koenig's major concern was that we had dropped the ball at the goal line, and we were about to be sent to the showers. Actually, this was my concern, too.
To make matters worse, one of our team, Ted Nash by name, was about to get traded back to the team he started with. And this team had a better shot at winning this kind of game. An image of Police Chief Corn Pone flashed through my mind, but now he had Ted Nash's face, and he was pointing to Asad Khalil behind bars and saying to me, "See, Corey, I got him. Let me tell you how I did it. I was in this cafe on Rue St. Germaine-that's Paris, Corey-and I was talking to an asset." And then I pulled my gun and capped him.
In fact, Ted was babbling, and I tuned in. Ted was saying, "I'm going to Paris tomorrow to talk to our embassy people. It's a good idea to begin where it began, then work backwards from there." He went on.
I wondered if I could sever his windpipe with my salad fork.
Kate and Jack chatted a bit about jurisdiction, extradition, Federal and state indictments, and so forth. Lawyer crap. Kate said to me, "I'm sure it's the same with the police. The officers who start the case work it through to the end, which keeps the chain of evidence unbroken and makes the testimony of the case officers less open to attack by the defense."
And so on. I mean, jeez, we haven't even caught this scumbag yet and they're perfecting a case. This is what happens when lawyers become cops. This is the crap I had to put up with when I dealt with ADAs and District Attorney investigators. This country is sinking in legalities, which I guess is okay when you're dealing with your average all-American criminal. I mean, you need to keep an eye on the Constitution and make sure no one gets railroaded. But somebody should invent a different kind of court with different rules for somebody like Asad Khalil. The guy doesn't even pay taxes, except maybe sales tax.
Anyway, as the lunch hour ended, Mr. Koenig said to us, "You all did a fine job this morning. I know this is not pleasant, but we're here to help and to be useful. I'm very proud of the three of you."
I felt the tuna turn in my tummy. But Kate seemed pleased. Ted didn't give a rat's ass, which meant we finally had something in common.
A sad Khalil retraced his route to the Beltway, and by 10:15 A.M. he was traveling south on Interstate 95, away from the city of Washington. There were, he knew, no further tolls on the roads or the bridges between here and his destination.
As he drove, he rummaged through the pillowcase and extracted the loose cash he'd found in the General's bedroom, the cash from the General's wallet, and the cash from the handbag of the General's wife, which he had taken from the foyer. All together, there was close to $200. The money from the motel office had been $440, but some of that had been his. Gamal Jabbar's wallet had contained less than $100. He made a quick calculation in his mind and added up a total of about $1,100. Certainly, he thought, this would be enough for the next few days.
He approached a bridge that crossed a small river and pulled his car over into the narrow emergency shoulder, putting his flasher lights on. Khalil got out of the car quickly, carrying the tied pillowcase, which contained the General's pistol and the valuables from his house. Khalil moved to the rail of the bridge, looked both ways, then looked down into the river to be sure there was no boat below, and let the bag fall over the railing.
He got back into his car and continued. He would have liked to keep some souvenirs of his visit, especially the General's ring and the photos of his children. But he knew from past experience in Europe that he needed to be able to survive a random and cursory search. He had no intention of allowing such a search, but it could happen, and he had to be prepared for such a possibility.
He took the first exit he saw and drove off the ramp where three service stations appeared before him. He pulled into the one called Exxon and drove to the line of gasoline pumps marked SELF-SERVICE. This was no different from Europe, they told him, and he could use the bank credit card he had with him, but he didn't want to leave a paper trail this early in his mission, so he decided to pay in cash.
He completed the refueling procedure, then went to a glass booth where he put two twenty-dollar bills through the small opening. The man glanced at him, and Khalil thought the quick look was not friendly. The man put his change on the ledge and announced the amount, then turned away from him. Asad took the change and went back to his car and got in.
He drove back to the Interstate and continued south.
This was the state of Virginia, he knew, and he noticed that the trees were more fully leafed here than in New York or New Jersey. His digital outside thermometer told him it was 76 degrees Fahrenheit. He pushed a button on the console and the temperature was displayed as 25 degrees Celsius. This was a pleasant temperature, he thought, but there was too much humidity here.
He continued on, keeping up with traffic that moved at over 75 miles per hour, much faster than north of Washington, and ten miles an hour faster than the posted speed limit. One of his briefing officers in Tripoli, Boris, the Russian KGB man who had lived five years in America, had told him, "The police in the South are known to stop vehicles that have license plates from the North. Especially from New York."
Khalil had asked why, and Boris told him, "There was a great civil war between the North and the South in which the South was defeated. They harbor much animosity because of this."
He'd inquired, "When was this civil war?"
"Over a hundred years ago." Boris explained the war to him briefly, then added, "The Americans forgive their foreign enemies in ten years, but they don't forgive each other so quickly." Boris added, "But if you stay on the Interstate highway, it will be better. This is a route heavily traveled by people from the North, who take their vacation in Florida. Your automobile will not attract undue attention."
The Russian further informed him, "Many people from New York are Jews, and the police in the South may stop a car from New York for that reason." The Russian had laughed and told him, "If they stop you, tell them you don't like Jews either."
Khalil thought about all of this. They had tried to make light of his driving in the South, but clearly they knew less about this place than they knew of the territory between New York and Washington. Clearly, too, this was a place that could cause him problems. He thought of the gasoline attendant, thought of his New York license plates, and also thought of his appearance. Boris had also told him, "There are not many races of people in the South-mostly they are black Africans or Europeans. To them, you look like neither. But when you get to Florida, it will be better. There are many races in Florida, and many skin colors. They may think you are South American, but many people in Florida speak Spanish and you do not. So, if you need to explain yourself, say you are Brazilian. In Brazil, they speak Portuguese and very few Americans speak that language.
But if it is the police you are talking to, then you are Egyptian, just as it says on all your identification."
Khalil reflected on Boris' advice. In Europe, there were many visitors, businessmen, and residents from Arabic countries, but in America, outside of the area of New York, his appearance might be noticed, despite what Malik had said to the contrary.
Khalil had discussed this with Malik, who told him, "Don't let that idiot Russian worry you. In America you only have to smile, don't look suspicious, keep your hands out of your pockets, carry an American newspaper or magazine, tip fifteen percent, don't stand too close when you speak, bathe often, and tell everyone to have a good day."
Khalil smiled at the image of Malik telling him about Americans. Malik had concluded his assessment of Americans by saying, "They are like Europeans, but their thinking is more simple. Be direct, but not abrupt. Be friendly, but not familiar. They have a limited knowledge of geography and other cultures, less so than the Europeans. So if you want to be a Greek, be a Greek. Your Italian is good, so be from Sardinia. They've never heard of the place anyway."
Khalil directed his attention back to the road. The Sunday afternoon traffic was sometimes heavy, sometimes light. There were few trucks on the road because it was the Christian Sabbath. The scenes on either side of the road were mostly of fields and forest with many pine trees. Occasionally, he would see what appeared to be a factory or a warehouse, but like the Autobahn, this road did not come close to cities or areas of population. It was difficult to imagine here that America held over 250 million people. His own country held not even five million, yet Libya had given the Americans much to worry about since the Great Leader had deposed the stupid King Idris many years ago.
Khalil finally let his thoughts go back to the house of General Waycliff. He had been saving these thoughts, like a sweet dessert, to be enjoyed at his leisure.
He re-created the entire scene in his mind, and tried to imagine how he might have gotten more pleasure from it. Perhaps, he thought, he should have made the General beg for his life, or made the wife get on her knees and kiss his feet. But he had the impression that they wouldn't beg. In fact, he had extracted all he could from them, and any further attempts to make them plead for mercy would have been unsatisfying. They knew they were going to die as soon as he revealed his purpose in being there.
He thought, however, that he could have made their deaths more painful, but he was restricted by the necessity of making the murders look as though they were part of a theft. He needed time to complete his mission before the American Intelligence organizations began to comprehend what was happening.
Asad Khalil knew that at any point in his visits to the men of the Al Azziziyah squadron, the police could be waiting for him. He accepted this possibility and took comfort in what he had already accomplished in Europe, at the New York airport, and now at the house of General Waycliff.
It would be good if he could complete his list, but if he could not, then someone else would. He would like to return to Libya, but it was not important that he do so. To die in the land of the infidel on his Jihad was a triumph and an honor. His place in Paradise was already secure.
Asad Khalil felt as good at this moment as he'd ever felt since that terrible night.
Bahira. I am doing this for you as well.
He approached the city of Richmond, and the traffic became heavier. He had to follow the signs that took him in a circle around the city, on a highway called 1-295, then finally back to 1-95, heading south again.
At 1:15 P.M., he saw a sign that said WELCOME TO NORTH CAROLINA.
He looked around, but noticed little difference from the state of Virginia. The Russian had warned him that the police in North Carolina were slightly more suspicious than the police in Virginia. The police in the next state, South Carolina, would be even more likely to stop him for no reason, and so would the police in Georgia.
The Russian had also said the police in the South sometimes traveled in pairs, and sometimes drew their weapons when they stopped a vehicle. Therefore, shooting them would be more difficult.
Boris had also warned him not to offer a policeman a bribe if he were stopped for a driving violation. They would most likely arrest him, according to the Russian. This, Khalil reflected, was the same as in Europe, but not in Libya where a few dinars would satisfy a policeman.
He continued on the wide, nearly straight Interstate highway. The vehicle was quiet and powerful and had a large fuel tank. But he could tell by the computer that he would have to refuel two more times before his destination.
He thought about the man he would visit next. Lieutenant Paul Grey, pilot of the F-lll known as Elton 38.
It had taken over a decade and many millions of dollars before Libyan Intelligence gained access to this list of eight men. It had taken years longer to locate each of these murderers. One of them, Lieutenant Steven Cox, the weapons officer on the aircraft known as Remit 61, was beyond his reach, having been killed on a mission in the Gulf War. Khalil did not feel cheated, but was happy in the knowledge that Lieutenant Cox had died at the hands of Islamic fighters.
Asad Khalil's first victim, Colonel Hambrecht, had been sent home to America in small pieces in January. The body of his second victim, General Waycliff, was still warm, and the man's blood was inside Khalil's body.
That left five.
By this evening, Lieutenant Paul Grey would join his three squadron mates in hell.
Then there would be four.
Khalil knew that Libyan Intelligence had learned some of the names of the other pilots from other squadrons who had bombed Benghazi and Tripoli, but those men would be dealt with at another time. Asad Khalil had been given the honor of striking the first blow, of personally avenging the death of his own family, the death of the Great Leader's daughter, and the injuries suffered by the Great Leader's wife and sons.
Khalil had no doubt that the Americans had long forgotten April 15, 1986. They had bombed so many places since then that this incident was considered of little importance. In the Gulf War, tens of thousands of Iraqis had perished at the hands of the Americans and their allies, and the Iraqi leader, Hussein, had done little to avenge the death of his martyrs. But the Libyans were not like the Iraqis. The Great Leader, Gadhafi, never forgot an insult, a betrayal, or the death of a martyr.
He wondered what Lieutenant Paul Grey was doing at this moment. He wondered, too, if this man was one of the ones that General Waycliff had telephoned yesterday. Khalil had no idea if the surviving men all kept in contact, but according to the General's date book, there had been a conference call on April 15. And as for the frequency of their contact, having spoken only two days ago, it was unlikely they would speak again unless someone notified them of General Waycliff's death. Certainly Mrs. Waycliff was not going to notify them. In fact, it might be twenty-four hours before the bodies were even discovered.
Khalil also wondered if the death of the Waycliffs and their servant would be regarded as a robbery and murder. He thought that the police, like police everywhere, would look on the scene as a common crime. But if the intelligence organization became involved, they might see things differently.
In any case, even if they did, they had no reason to think first of Libya. The General's career had been long and varied, and his assignment to the Pentagon raised many other possibilities in the event that anyone was suspicious of a political murder.
The most important circumstance that Khalil knew he had on his side was the fact that almost no one knew that these fliers had participated in the April 15 raid. There were no references to the raid even in their personnel files, as Libyan and Soviet Intelligence had discovered. There was, in fact, only a list, and the list was classified top secret. The secrecy had protected these men for over a decade. But now that same secrecy would make it very difficult for the authorities to make a connection between what happened at Lakenheath, England, Washington, D.C., and soon, Daytona Beach, Florida.
But the men themselves knew what they had in common, and that had always been a problem. Khalil could only pray that God would keep his enemies in ignorance. That, plus speed and deception, would ensure that he would be able to kill all of them, or at least most of them.
Malik had said to him, 'Asad-they tell me you have a sixth sense, that you can feel danger before you can see it, smell it, or hear it. Is that true?"
Khalil had replied, "I think I have this gift." He then told Malik of the night of the raid-leaving out the part about Bahira. He'd said to Malik, "I was on a roof praying, and before the first aircraft even arrived, I felt the presence of danger. I had a vision of monstrous and terrible birds of prey descending through the Ghabli toward our country. I ran home to tell my family… but it was too late."
Malik had nodded and said, "The Great Leader, as you know, goes into the desert to pray, and visions come to him as well."
Khalil knew this. He knew that Moammar Gadhafi had been born in the desert into a nomadic family. Those born in the desert to nomads were twice blessed, and many of them had powers that those who had been born in the cities and towns on the coast did not have. Khalil was vaguely aware that the mysticism of the desert people preceded the coming of Islam, and that some considered these beliefs to be blasphemy. For that reason, Asad Khalil, who had been born in the Kufra oasis-neither coast nor desert-did not often speak of his sixth sense.
But Malik knew of it and said to him, "When you feel danger, it is not cowardly to run. Even the lion runs at danger. That is why God gave him more speed than he needs to run down his prey. You must listen to your instincts. If you do not, this sixth sense of yours will leave you. If you ever feel that you have lost this power, then you must make up for it with more cunning and more caution."
Khalil thought he understood what Malik was saying.
But then Malik said, bluntly, "You may die in America, or you may escape from America. But you cannot be captured in America."
Khalil had not responded.
Malik continued, "I know you are brave and would never betray our country or our God, or our Great Leader, even under torture. But if they get their hands on you, alive, that is all the proof they will need to retaliate against our country.
The Great Leader himself has asked me to tell you that you must take your own life if capture becomes imminent."
Khalil recalled being surprised at this. He had no intention of being captured, and would gladly take his own life if he thought it was necessary.
But he had envisioned a situation where he might be captured alive. He thought this would be acceptable, even beneficial to the cause. He could then tell the world who he was, how he had suffered, and what he had done to avenge that night of hell. This would excite all of Islam, redeem the honor of his country, and humiliate the Americans.
But Malik had rejected that possibility, and the Great Leader himself had prohibited such an ending to his Jihad.
Khalil thought about this. He understood why the Great Leader would not want to invite another American air strike. But that was, after all, the nature of the blood feud. It was like a circle-a circle of blood and death without end. The more blood, the better. The more martyrs, the more God would be pleased, and the more united would Islam become.
Khalil put these thoughts out of his mind, knowing that the Great Leader had a strategy that could only be comprehended by those chosen few around him. Khalil thought that someday he might be taken into the inner circle, but for now, he would serve as one of many Mujahadeen-the Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Khalil drew his thoughts from the past and projected them into the future. He went into a trance-like state, which was not difficult on this straight, uninteresting highway. He projected his mind hours and miles ahead, to this place called Daytona Beach. He visualized the house he had seen in the photographs, and the face of the man called Paul Grey. He tried to envision or sense any danger ahead, but he felt no peril lurking, no trap ready to spring closed on him.
In fact, he had a vision of Paul Grey running naked through the desert, the Ghabli blinding him as a huge and hungry desert lion ran behind him, closing the distance with every stride.
A sad Khalil smiled and praised God.
After lunch, we made our way to a small, windowless briefing room on the fourth floor where we heard a short lecture about terrorism in general, and Mideast terrorism in particular. There was a slide show with maps, photos, and diagrams of terrorist organizations, and a handout listing suggested readings.
I thought this was a joke, but it wasn't. Nevertheless, I asked our instructor, a guy named Bill, I think, who wore a blue suit, "Are we killing time before something important happens?"
Bill seemed a little put off and replied, "This presentation was designed to reinforce your commitment and to give you an overview of the global terrorist network." And so on.
He explained to us the challenges we faced in the post-Cold War world, and informed us that international terrorism was here to stay. This was not exactly news to me, but I made an entry in my notebook, in case there was a test later.
The FBI, by the way, is broken up into seven sections-Civil Rights, Drugs, Investigative Support, Organized Crime, Violent Crime, White-Collar Crime, and Counterterrorism, which is a growth industry that didn't even exist twenty-five years ago when I was a rookie cop.
Bill was not explaining all of this to us-I already knew this, and I also knew that the White House was not a happy house this morning, though the rest of the country had no clue yet that the U.S. had suffered the worst terrorist attack since Oklahoma City. More importantly, this attack hadn't come from some homegrown yahoo, but from the deserts of North Africa.
Bill was flapping his gums about the history of Mideast terrorism, and I made notes in my book to call Beth Penrose, call my parents in Florida, call Dom Fanelli, buy club soda, pick up my suits at the cleaner, call the TV repair guy, and so forth.
Bill kept talking. Kate was listening; Ted was drifting.
Jack Koenig, who was King Jack in New York metro, was not king here, I saw. In fact, he was just another loyal princeling in the Imperial Capital. I noticed that the D.C. types referred to New York as a field office, which didn't go down well with this particular New Yorker.
Anyway, Bill left and a man and woman came in. The lady's name was Jane, and the guy's name was Jim. They wore blue.
Jane said, "Thank you for coming."
I'd finally had enough and said, "Did we have a choice?"
"No," she smiled, "you didn't."
Jim said, "You must be Detective Corey."
I must be.
Anyway, Jane and Jim did a little duet, and the name of the song was Libya. This was a little more interesting than the last show, and we paid attention. They spoke about Moammar Gadhafi, about his relationship with the U.S., about his state-sponsored terrorism, and about the U.S. raid on Libya on April 15, 1986.
Jane said, "The suspected perpetrator of yesterday's incident, Asad Khalil, is believed to be a Libyan, though he sometimes travels under passports of other Mideast countries." Suddenly, a photo of Asad Khalil came on the screen. Jane continued, "This is the picture that was transmitted to you from Paris. I have a better quality shot for you, which I'll hand out later. We also took more photos in Paris."
A series of photos came on the screen, showing Khalil in various candid poses sitting in an office. Obviously, he didn't know he was on Candid Camera.
Jane said, "The embassy intelligence people took these in Paris while Khalil was being debriefed. They treated him as a legitimate defector because that's how he presented himself to the embassy."
"Was he searched?" I asked.
"Only superficially. He was patted down and went through a metal detector." "He wasn't strip-searched?"
"No," Jane replied. "We don't want to turn an informant or defector into a hostile prisoner."
"Some people enjoy having someone look up their ass. You don't know until you ask." Even old Ted chuckled at that one. Jane replied, coolly, "The Arab people are quite modest when it comes to nudity, displays of flesh, and such. They would be outraged and humiliated if subjected to a body search."
"But the guy could have cyanide pills up his butt and could have offed himself or slipped an embassy guy a lethal dose."
Jane fixed me with a frosty stare and said, "The intelligence community is not as stupid as you may think."
And with that, a series of photos came on the screen. The photos showed Khalil in a bathroom. He was undressing, taking a shower, going to the potty, and so forth. Jane said, "This was a hidden camera, of course. We also have videotapes of the same scenes, Mr. Corey, if you're interested."
"I'll pass on that."
I looked at the photo on the screen now. It was a full frontal nude of Asad Khalil stepping out of the shower. He was a powerfully built man, about six feet tall, very hairy, no visible scars or tattoos, and hung like a donkey. I said to Kate, "I'll get that one framed for you."
This didn't go over well with this bunch. The room became noticeably cooler, and I thought I was going to be asked to stand in the hall. But Jane went on, "While Mr. Khalil was in a deep sleep-caused by a naturally occurring sedative in his milk-" she smiled, conspiratorially, "-some embassy personnel searched and vacuumed fibers from his clothing. They also took fingerprints and footprints, swabbed epithelial cells from his mouth for DNA printing, took hair samples, and even got dental imprints." Jane looked at me and said, "Did we miss anything, Mr. Corey?"
"I guess not. I didn't know milk could put you out like that."
Jane continued, "All of this forensic product will be made available to you. A preliminary report on the clothing, which was a gray suit, shirt, tie, black shoes, and underwear, indicates that everything was made in America, which is interesting, since American clothing is not common in Europe or in the Middle East. We suspect, therefore, that Khalil wanted to blend in with an urban American population very soon after his arrival."
That's what I thought.
Jane continued, "There is an alternate theory, which is simply that Khalil, carrying a false passport from Haddad, went to the International Arrivals and Departures terminal where a ticket was waiting for him under his false passport name at the ticket counter of a Mideast airline, or perhaps any airline. Or, Yusef Haddad gave Khalil his ticket on board Flight One-Seven-Five."
Jane looked at us and said, "I understand you've considered both theories-Khalil stayed, Khalil is gone. Both are plausible. What we know for sure is that Yusef Haddad stayed. We're trying to establish his true identity, and determine what his connections are." She added, "Consider a man so ruthless-I mean Khalil-that he would murder his accomplice, murder a man who risked his own life to get Khalil into the country. Think about Asad Khalil breaking Haddad's neck, then sitting alone in a planeload of corpses, hoping that the aircraft's autopilot would land him at the airport. Then, instead of fleeing, he goes to the Conquistador Club and murders three of our people. To say that Khalil is ruthless and heartless is to define only a part of his personality. Khalil is also unbelievably fearless and brazen. Something very potent is driving him."
No doubt about it. I consider myself fearless and brazen, but it was time for me to admit to myself that I could not have done what Asad Khalil did. Only once in my career had I met an adversary who I thought had more balls than I did. When I finally killed him, I felt I wasn't worthy of having killed him; like a hunter with a high-powered rifle who kills a lion knows that the lion was the more worthy and braver of the two.,
Jane hit the video projector button. A blown-up color photo appeared on the screen showing a man's face in profile. Jane said, "You'll see here, in this enhanced photo of Khalil's left cheek, three faint, parallel scars. He has three similar ones on his right cheek. Our pathologist says they are not burns or wounds made by shrapnel or a knife. They are, in fact, typical of wounds made by human fingernails or animal claws-parallel and slightly jagged lacerations. These are the only identifying scars on his body."
I asked, "Can we assume that these scars were caused by a lady's fingernails?"
"You can assume whatever you please, Mr. Corey. I point these out as identifying features in the event he's changed his outward appearance."
"And along those lines, the people in Paris tattooed three small dots on Asad Khalil's body. One is located on his inner right earlobe…" She treated us to a close-up photo. "… one between the big toe and the second toe of his right foot…" Again, a weird photo. "… and the last is close to his anus. Right side."
She continued, "In the event you have a suspect, or if you find a body, this might be quick identification to be followed up by fingerprints, or a dental impressions check if necessary."
It was Jim's turn, and he said, "The setup for this operation is actually simple when you examine it. Going from one relatively open country to another is not that difficult. Yusef Haddad was flying Business Class and that always makes things easier, including bringing your garment bag and dealing with medical oxygen. Haddad is well dressed, he probably speaks enough French to understand what they're saying at De Gaulle, and he probably speaks enough English not to be a nuisance to the flight attendants on Trans – Continental.''
I raised my hand. "May I ask a question?"
"How did Yusef Haddad know what flight Asad Khalil would be on?"
"Well, Mr. Corey, that is the question, isn't it."
"Yeah, it's been on my mind."
"Well, the answer is unfortunately simple. We almost always use Trans-Continental, our flag carrier airline, with whom we have a reduced Business Class fare arrangement, but more importantly, we have a security liaison person who works with Trans-Continental. We get people on and off aircraft quickly and with minimum fuss. Apparently, someone knew about this arrangement, which is not exactly top secret."
"But how did Haddad know that Khalil would be on that flight?"
"An obvious security breach within the Trans-Continental operation at De Gaulle. In other words, an employee at Trans-Continental in Paris, perhaps an Arab employee, of which there are many in Paris, tipped off Yusef Haddad. In fact, if you back it up further, Khalil defected in Paris and not in some other city because there was a security breach there. In fact," he added, "for security reasons, American air carriers have a policy that prohibits bringing your own medical oxygen on board. You have to put in a reservation for oxygen, and for a small fee it's delivered to you before you board. Obviously, someone thought about this potential security problem years ago. In this case, however, one of the airline employees swapped a canister of poison gas for one of the oxygen canisters."
I commented, "Both canisters looked the same to me. I guess one of them was marked."
"In fact, the oxygen had a small zigzag scratch in the paint. The poison gas didn't."
I pictured Yusef Haddad saying to himself, "Let me see now… oxygen is scratched, poison gas is not… or was it the other way around…?"
Jim said to me, "Something funny, Mr. Corey?"
I explained my silly thought, but only Nash laughed.
Jim referred to some notes, then said, "Regarding the gas, we have a preliminary report on that. I'm not an expert, but they tell me that there are four major types of toxic gas-choking, blister, blood, and nerve. The gas used on Flight One-Seven-Five was undoubtedly a blood agent-probably an advanced or modified cyanide chloride compound. This type of gas is very volatile and dissipates quickly in the ambient air. According to our chemical experts, the passengers may have noticed something that smelled like bitter almonds or even peach pits, but unless they were familiar with cyanide, they would not be alarmed."
Jim looked at us and saw he had everyone's attention, for a change. I've had the same experience in my class at John Jay. As soon as the students start to drift, I come up with something that has to do with murder or sex. Gets everyone's attention.
Jim was into the gas and continued, "Here's what we think happened. Asad Khalil asked to use the lavatory. He was, of course, accompanied by Phil Hundry or Peter Gorman. Whoever accompanied him checked out the lavatory as they would do each time Khalil asked to use it. They wanted to be sure that no one was trying to pull a Michael Corleone-" He looked at us and said, unnecessarily, "You know, where someone slips a gun into the rest room. So Phil or Peter check the trash… and perhaps they also checked behind the maintenance panel under the sink. In that space, someone could hide something. In fact, someone did. But what was hidden looked innocuous and would not seem to Phil or Peter as something that shouldn't be there. What was there was a small oxygen bottle and mask of the type that is in each galley on every aircraft in the world. This is therapeutic oxygen for passengers in distress. But it's never put under the sink in a lav. Yet, if you don't know airline procedures, you wouldn't be aware of that. So even if Phil or Peter saw the oxygen bottle, they wouldn't have thought anything of it."
Again, Jim paused for effect and continued his narrative. He informed us, "Someone, most probably a cleaning person or maintenance person at De Gaulle, put that oxygen canister under the sink in the dome lav before takeoff. When Phil or Peter let Khalil into the lav, they left him cuffed and told him not to lock the door. Standard procedure. When Khalil was in the lav, this was the signal for Haddad to release the gas in his second canister. At some point, people began to show signs of distress. But by the time anyone realized they were in trouble, it was too late. The autopilot is always engaged during the flight, so the aircraft flew on."
Jim concluded, "Khalil, who was breathing the oxygen from the airline canister under the sink, came out of the lav after he was certain everyone was unconscious or dead. At this point Khalil and Haddad had over two hours to tidy things up, including uncuffing Khalil, putting the Federal escort back in his seat, putting Haddad's medical oxygen in the coat closet, and so forth. Khalil knew that he needed a few critical minutes on the ground to effect his escape by donning a Trans-Continental luggage handlers' jumpsuit and mingling with the people who boarded the aircraft in the security area. That's why he wanted everything to appear as normal as possible for the Emergency Service personnel who would board the aircraft at the end of the runway. Khalil needed to be sure that the aircraft did not look like a crime scene, and that the aircraft was towed to the security enclosure where personnel other than Emergency Service would be allowed to board."
Jim finished, then Jane took over again, then Jim, then Jane, and so on. It was pushing four o'clock, and I needed a break.
We were doing Q A now and Kate asked, "How did Khalil and Haddad know that the 747 was pre-programmed to land at JFK?"
Jim answered, "Trans-Continental has a company policy requiring pilots to program the computer for the entire flight before take-off, and that includes landing information. This is no secret. This has been reported in detail in any number of aviation magazines. Plus, there's the security breach at Trans-Continental at De Gaulle."
He added, "One thing that no one trusts a computer to do is engage the reverse thrusters because if the computer screws up and engages the reverse thrusters during flight, the engines or some other major parts of the airplane will rip off. Reverse thrusters have to be engaged manually, after landing, with as little automatic interface as possible. It's a safety feature, and it's maybe the only thing a human pilot still has to do, except say 'Welcome to New York,' or whatever, and taxi to the gate." He added, jocularly, "I guess the computers could do that, too. In any case, when that 747 landed at JFK without reverse thrusters, it was an indication that there was a problem."
Koenig said, "I didn't think runways were assigned until the flight was close to the airport."
Jim replied, "Correct, but the pilots generally know what runways are being used. The pre-programming is not meant to take the place of a pilot landing by hand and by radio instructions. It's just a procedural backup. The pilot I talked to tells me that it makes their onboard computer calculations more accurate en route." He added, "And as it turned out, Runway Four-Right-the pre-programmed runway-was still being used yesterday at Flight One-Seven-Five's arrival time."
Amazing, I thought. Absolutely amazing. I need a computer like that for my car so I can sleep behind the wheel.
Jim continued, "I'll tell you what else the perpetrators knew about. They knew the Emergency Service procedure at JFK. It's pretty much the same at all American airports. The procedures at JFK are more sophisticated than at a lot of airports, but this is not top secret stuff. Articles have been written about Guns and Hoses, and manuals are available. None of this is hard to come by. Only the hijack security area is not well known, but it's not top secret either."
I think Jim and Jane needed a break from me, and when Jim finished, Jane said, "Take a fifteen-minute break. Rest rooms and coffee bar at the end of the corridor."
We all got up and left quickly, before they changed their minds.
Ted, Kate, Jack, and I chatted awhile, and I discovered that Jim and Jane were actually named Scott and Lisa. But to me, they would always be Jim and Jane. Everyone here was Jane and Jim, except Bob, Bill, and Jean. And they all wore blue, and they played squash in the basement, and jogged along the Potomac, and had houses in suburban Virginia, and went to church on Sundays, except when the turds hit the turbines, like today. The married ones had kids, and the kids were terrific, and they sold candy bars to raise money for soccer equipment, and so forth.
On one level, you had to like these people. I mean, they did represent the ideal, or at least the American ideal as they saw it. The agents were good at their jobs, they had a worldwide reputation for honesty, sobriety, loyalty, and intelligence. So what if most of them were lawyers? Jack Koenig, for instance, was a good guy who just happened to have the misfortune of being a lawyer. Kate, too, was all right for a lawyer. I liked her lipstick today. Sort of a pale, frosty pink.
Anyway, so maybe I was a little envious of family- and church-oriented people. Somewhere in the back of my mind was a house with a white picket fence, a loving wife, two kids and a dog, and a nine-to-five job where no one wanted to kill me.
I thought again of Beth Penrose out on Long Island. I thought of the weekend house she'd bought on the North Fork, near the sea and the vineyards. I wasn't feeling particularly well today, and the reasons why were too scary to contemplate.
Asad Khalil looked at his fuel gauge, which read one-quarter full. His dashboard clock said 2:13 P.M. He had traveled nearly 300 miles since Washington, and he noted that this powerful automobile used more fuel than any vehicle he had driven in Europe or Libya.
He was neither hungry nor thirsty, or perhaps he was, but he knew how to suppress these feelings. His training had conditioned him to go for long periods without food, sleep, or water. Thirst was the most difficult need to ignore, but he had once gone six days in the desert without water and without becoming delirious, so he knew what his mind and body were capable of.
A white convertible automobile came abreast of him in the left lane, and he saw in the automobile four young women. They were laughing and talking, and Khalil noted that they were all light-haired though their skin was brown from the sun. Three of them wore T-shirts, but the fourth, in the rear closest to him, wore only the top of a pink bathing suit. He had once seen a beach in the south of France where the women wore no tops at all, and their bare breasts were exposed for the world to see.
In Libya, this would have gotten them a whipping and perhaps several years in jail. He couldn't say precisely what the punishment would be because such a thing had never happened.
The girl with the pink top looked at him, smiled and waved. The other girls looked, too, waved and laughed.
They accelerated with him and kept abreast of him. He noted that he was traveling at 76 miles per hour. He eased off the accelerator and his speed dropped back to 65. They did the same and kept waving at him. One of them shouted something to him, but he could not hear her.
Khalil didn't know what to do. He felt, for the first time since he'd landed, that he was not in control of the situation. He let off on the accelerator again, and they did the same.
He considered getting off at the next exit, but they might follow. He accelerated, and they kept up with him, still laughing and waving.
He knew he was or would soon be attracting attention, and he felt sweat forming on his brow.
Suddenly, a police car with two men in it appeared in his sideview mirror, and Khalil realized he was traveling at 80 miles per hour and the car with the women was still right beside him. "Filthy whores!"
The police car veered into the outside lane behind the convertible and the convertible sped up. Khalil let off the accelerator and the police car drew up beside him. He put his right hand in his jacket pocket and wrapped his fingers around the butt of the Glock, keeping his head and eyes straight ahead on the road.
The police car passed him, then moved into his lane without signaling, and accelerated up to the convertible. Khalil eased off more on the accelerator and watched. The driver of the police car seemed to be speaking to the young women in the convertible. They all waved and the police car sped off.
The convertible was a hundred meters in front of him now, and its occupants seemed to have lost interest in him. He maintained a speed of 65 miles per hour, and the distance between the two cars widened. The police car, he noticed, had disappeared over a rise in the road.
Khalil took a deep breath. He thought about the incident, but only vaguely comprehended it.
He recalled something Boris had told him. "My friend, many American women will find you handsome. American women will not be as openly and honestly sexual as European women, but they may try to strike up an acquaintance. They think they can be friendly to a man without being provocative and without calling attention to the obvious differences between the sexes. In Russia, as in Europe, we find this idiotic. Why would you want to speak to a woman if not for sex? But in America, especially with the younger women, they will talk to you, even make sexual talk, drink with you, dance with you, even invite you to their homes, but will then tell you that they will not have sex with you."
Khalil found this difficult to believe. In any case, he'd told Boris, "I will have nothing to do with women while I'm on my mission."
Boris had laughed at him and said, "My good Muslim friend, sex is part of the mission. You may as well have some fun while you're risking your life. Surely, you have seen James Bond movies."
Khalil had not, and told the Russian, "Perhaps if the KGB had paid more attention to the mission and less attention to women, there would still be a KGB."
The Russian had not liked this reply, but told Khalil, "In any event, women can be a distraction. And even if you do not look for them, they may find you. You must learn to handle such situations."
"I have no intention of getting into such situations. My time in America is limited, and so are my occasions to speak to Americans."
"Still, things happen." Khalil nodded to himself. Such a situation just occurred, and he had not handled it well.
He thought about the four young women, scantily dressed, in the convertible car. Aside from his confusion about what to do, he recognized and admitted to a strange desire, a longing to sleep naked with a woman.
In Tripoli, this was almost impossible without danger. In Germany, there were Turkish prostitutes everywhere, but he could not bring himself to buy the body of a fellow Muslim. He had contented himself in France with African prostitutes but only when they assured him that they were not Muslim. In Italy, there were the refugees from the former Yugoslavia and Albania, but many of these women were also Muslim. He recalled, once, being with an Albanian woman who he discovered was Muslim. He had beaten her so badly he wondered if she'd survived.
Malik had said to him, "When you return, it will be time for you to marry. You will have your pick of the daughters from the best families in Libya." In fact, Malik had mentioned one by name-Alima Nadir, the youngest sister of Bahira, who was now nineteen years old, and still without a husband.
He thought of Alima; even though veiled, he sensed she was not as beautiful as Bahira, but he also sensed in her the same brashness he had liked and also disliked in Bahira. Yes, he would and could marry her. Captain Nadir, who would have disapproved of his attentions to Bahira, would now welcome Asad Khalil as a hero of Islam, the pride of the fatherland, and a prized son-in-law.
A light blinked on his dashboard, and a small chime sounded. His eyes scanned the instruments, and he saw he was low on fuel.
At the next exit, he drove off the ramp onto a local road and into a Shell Oil station.
Again, he chose not to use his credit card and went to a pump marked SELF-SERVICE, CASH. He put on his eyeglasses and got out of the Mercury. He chose high-octane gasoline and filled the tank, which took 22 gallons. He tried to convert this into liters and estimated the liters at about a hundred. He marveled at the arrogance, or perhaps the stupidity, of the Americans for being the last nation on earth not to use the metric system.
Khalil replaced the pump nozzle and noticed that there was no glass booth where he could pay. He realized he had to go into the small office, and he cursed himself for not noticing this.
He walked to the office of the gasoline station and went inside.
A man sat on a stool behind a small counter, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt, watching television and smoking a cigarette.
The man looked at him, then looked at a digital display board and said, "That'll be twenty-eight eighty-five."
Khalil put two twenty-dollar bills on the counter.
As the man made change, he said, "Need anything else?"
"Ah got cold drinks right there in the frigerator."
Khalil had difficulty understanding this man's accent. He replied, "No, thank you."
The man counted his change out and looked at Khalil. "Where you from, bud?"
"From… New York."
"Yeah? Long drive. Where you headin'?"
"You don't want to miss 1-20 this side of Florence."
Khalil took his change. "Yes, thank you." He noticed that the television was showing a baseball game.
The man saw him glance at the television and said, "Braves are leadin' New York, two-zip, bottom of the second." He added, "Gonna kick some Yankee ass today."
Asad Khalil nodded, though he had no idea what the man was talking about. He felt sweat forming on his brow again and realized it was very humid here. He said, "Have a good day." He turned and walked out of the office to his car.
He got in and glanced back at the big window of the office to see if the man was watching him, but the man was looking again at the television.
Khalil drove quickly, but not too quickly, out of the gasoline station.
Asad Khalil got back on 1-95 and continued south.
He realized that his greatest danger was the television. If they began to broadcast his photo-and they could be doing that even now-then he was not entirely safe anywhere in America. He was certain that the police all over the country had his photograph by now, but he had no intention of having any contact with the police. He did, however, need to have contact with a small number of Americans. He flipped his sun visor down and studied his face in the visor mirror, still wearing his eyeglasses. With his hair parted and the gray added, the false mustache, and the glasses, he was fairly certain that he didn't look like any photo that existed of him. But they had shown him in Tripoli what the Americans could do with a computer, adding a mustache or beard, adding eyeglasses, making his hair shorter, lighter, or combing it differently. He did not think that the average person was so observant as to see through even the thinnest of disguises. The man in the gasoline station had obviously not recognized him because if he had, Khalil would have seen it in the man's eyes immediately, and the man would now be dead.
But what if the gas station had been filled with people?
Khalil glanced at his image one more time, and it suddenly came to him that there was no photograph of him smiling. He had to smile. They had told him that several times in Tripoli. Smile. He smiled into the mirror and was astonished at how different he looked, even to himself. He smiled again, then flipped the visor back.
He continued driving and continued to think about his photograph on television. Perhaps that would not be a problem.
They had also told him in Tripoli that, for some reason, the Americans placed the photographs of fugitive criminals in all post offices. He didn't know why the Americans chose post offices to display the photographs of fugitives, but he had no business in post offices, so it was of no concern.
He thought, too, that if he and his intelligence officers had reasoned and planned correctly, then the Americans believed that Asad Khalil had flown out of the country, directly from the airport in New York. There had been much debate about this. The Russian, Boris, had said, "It doesn't matter what they think. The FBI and local police will be looking for you in America, and the CIA and their foreign colleagues will be looking for you in the rest of the world. So, we must create the illusion that you are back in Europe."
Khalil nodded to himself. Boris understood the game of intrigue very well. He had played this game with the Americans for over twenty years. But Boris once had unlimited resources for his game, and Libya did not. Still, they agreed with him and had created another Asad Khalil, who would commit some act of terrorism somewhere in Europe, probably in the next day or two. This might or might not fool the Americans.
Malik had said, "The American Intelligence people of my generation were incredibly naive and unsophisticated. But they have been engaged in the world long enough to have developed the cynicism of an Arab and the sophistication of a European and the duplicity of an Oriental. Also, they have developed very advanced technology of their own. We should not underestimate them, but neither should we overestimate them. They can be fooled, but they can also pretend they are being fooled. So, yes, we can create another Asad Khalil in Europe for a week or so, and they will pretend to be looking for him there, while all the time they know he's still in America. The real Asad Khalil should not count on anything except himself. We will do what we can to cause a distraction, but you, Asad, should live every moment in America as though they are five minutes behind you."
Asad Khalil thought of both Boris and Malik, two very different men. Malik did what he did out of his love for God, for Islam, for his country, and for the Great Leader, not to mention a hate for the West. Boris worked for money and did not especially hate the Americans or the West. Also, Boris had no God, no leader, and, in reality, no country. Malik had once described Boris as pitiable, but Asad thought of him as pitiful. Yet, Boris himself seemed happy enough, neither bitter nor defeated. He once said, " Russia will rise again. It is inevitable."
In any case, these two very different men worked well together, and each had taught him something that the other barely comprehended. Asad preferred Malik, of course, but Boris could be counted on to tell the entire truth. In fact, Boris had told him privately, "Your Great Leader doesn't want another American bomb falling on his tent, so don't expect much help if you're caught. If you make it back here, you'll be treated well. But if it appears that you're trapped in America and can't get out, the next Libyan you see will be your executioner."
Khalil reflected on that, but dismissed it as old-line Soviet thinking. The Islamic fighters neither betrayed nor abandoned one another. God would not be pleased with that.
Khalil turned his attention back to the road. This was a big country, and because it was so big and diverse, it was easy to hide or to blend in, whichever one needed to do at the moment. But its size was also a problem, and unlike Europe, there were not many borders one could cross to escape. Libya was a long way from here. Also, Khalil hadn't fully realized that the English he understood was not the English spoken here in the South. But he recalled that Boris had mentioned this and told him that Florida English was closer to what Khalil could understand.
He again thought about Lieutenant Paul Grey, and recalled the photograph of the man's house, a very nice villa with palm trees. He thought, too, of General Waycliff's house. These two murderers had gone home and lived good lives with wives and children, after destroying the life of Asad Khalil without a passing thought. If, indeed, there was a hell, then Asad Khalil knew the names of three of its inhabitants-Lieutenant Steven Cox, killed in the Gulf, and Colonel William Hambrecht and General Terrance Waycliff, killed by Asad Khalil. If they were speaking to one another now, the last two could discuss with the first how they died, and they could all wonder who would be the next of their squadron mates that Asad Khalil would choose to join them.
Khalil said aloud, "Be patient, gentlemen, you will know soon enough. And soon after, you will all be reunited again."
The break was over, and we returned to our briefing room. Jim and Jane were gone, and in their place was an Arab-looking gentleman. I thought at first that this guy had gotten lost on his way to a mosque or something, or maybe he'd kidnapped Jim and Jane and was holding them hostage. Before I could put a choke hold on the intruder, he smiled and introduced himself as Abbah Ibin Abdellah, which he was nice enough to write on the chalkboard. At least his name wasn't Bob, Bill, or Jim. He did say, however, "Call me Ben," which fit in with the diminutive-naming system here.
Mr. Abdellah-Ben-wore a too-heavy tweed suit, not blue, and one of those checkered racing flags on his head. This was my first clue that he might not be from around here.
Ben sat with us and smiled again. He was about fifty, a little tubby, wore a beard, eyeglasses, thinning hair, good choppers, and smelled okay. Three demerits for that one, Detective Corey.
There was and there wasn't a little awkwardness in the room. I mean, Jack, Kate, Ted, and I were sophisticated, worldly, and all that. We'd all worked and socialized with Mideast types, but for some reason this afternoon there was a little tension in the air.
Ben began by saying, "What a terrible tragedy."
No one replied, and he continued, "I am a Special Contract Agent for the Bureau."
This meant that, like me, he was hired for some specialty, and I guessed it wasn't fashion consultant. At least he wasn't a lawyer.
He said, "The Deputy Director thought it might be a good idea if I made myself available to you."
Koenig asked, "Available for what?"
Mr. Abdellah looked at Koenig and replied, "I am a professor of Mideast political studies at George Washington University. My specialized area is the study of various groups who have an extremist agenda."
"Terrorist groups," Koenig prompted.
"Yes. For want of a better word."
I said helpfully, "How about psychotics and murderers? Those are better words."
Professor Abdellah looked cool, like he'd been through this before. He was well spoken, looked intelligent, and had a quiet manner about him. Nothing that happened yesterday was his fault, of course. But Ibin Abdellah had a tough job this afternoon.
He continued, "I myself am an Egyptian, but I have a good understanding of the Libyans. They're an interesting people, descended in part from the ancient Carthaginians. Afterward came the Romans, who added their bloodlines, and there have always been Egyptians in Libya. Following the Romans came the Vandals from Spain, who in turn were conquered by the Byzantines, who were conquered by the Arab people from the Arabian Peninsula, who brought the Islamic religion with them. The Libyans consider themselves Arab, but Libya has always had such a small population that every invading group has left their genes behind."
I misunderstood at first and thought he said "jeans," but then I got it.
Professor Abdellah got us up and running on Libyans, gave us some insights into Libyan culture, customs, and so forth. He had a whole bunch of handouts, including a glossary of words that were uniquely Libyan in case we cared, plus a glossary of Libyan cooking, which I didn't think I'd stick up in my kitchen. He said, "The Libyans love pasta. That's the result of the Italian occupation."
I loved pasta, too, so maybe I'd bump into Asad Khalil in Giulio's. Maybe not.
We received from the professor a short biography of Moammar Gadhafi and an online printout of a few Encyclopedia Britannica pages on Libya. He also presented us with a lot of pamphlets on Islamic culture and religion.
Professor Abdellah said to us, "Muslims, Christians, and Jews all trace their origins to the prophet and patriarch Abraham. The Prophet Muhammad is descended from Abraham's oldest son, Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus are descended from Isaac," he informed us, and added, "Peace be upon them all."
I mean, I didn't know whether to make the sign of the cross, face Mecca, or call my friend Jack Weinstein.
Ben went on about Jesus, Moses, Mary, the Archangel Gabriel, Muhammad, Allah, and so on. These guys all knew and liked each other. Incredible. This was interesting, but it wasn't getting me an inch closer to Asad Khalil.
Mr. Abdellah addressed Kate and said, "Contrary to popular myth, Islam actually elevates the status of women. Muslims do not blame women for violating the Forbidden Tree, as Christians and Jews do. Nor is their suffering in pregnancy and childbirth a punishment for that act."
Kate replied, coolly, "That's certainly an enlightened concept."
Undeterred by the Ice Queen, Ben continued, "Women who marry under Islamic law may keep their own family name. They may own property and dispose of property."
Sounds like my ex. Maybe she was a Muslim.
Ben said, "Regarding the veiling of women, this is a cultural practice in some countries, but does not reflect the teaching of Islam."
Kate inquired, "What about the stoning to death of women caught in adultery?"
"Also a cultural practice in some Muslim countries, but not in most."
I looked at my pamphlets to see if those countries were listed. I mean, what if Kate and I got sent to Jordan or someplace, and we got caught doing the dirty deed in our hotel? Would I be traveling home alone? But I couldn't find a list, and I thought it best not to ask Professor Abdellah for one.
Anyway, Ben prattled on a bit, and he was a very nice man, very polite, very knowledgeable, and really sincere. Nevertheless, I had the feeling I'd stepped through one of those two-way mirrors. And this was all being recorded and maybe videotaped by the boys in blue. This place was totally nuts.
I mean, I guess there was a reason for this lesson in Islam 101, but maybe we could accomplish the mission without being so sensitive to the other side. I tried to picture a scene before the D-Day invasion, and some paratrooper general is saying to his troops, "Okay, men, tomorrow's reading will be Goethe and Schiller. And don't forget tomorrow night will be a Wagner concert at Hangar Twelve. This is mandatory. The mess hall is serving sauerbraten tonight. Guten appetit."
Professor Abdellah said to us, "To catch this man, Asad Khalil, it would be helpful to understand him. Start first with his name-Asad. The Lion. An Islamic given name is not only a convention, it is also a defmiens of the person-it defines the bearer of the name, though it may do so only partially. Many men and women from Islamic countries try to emulate their namesakes."
"So," I suggested, "we should start by looking around zoos."
Ben thought this was funny and chuckled. He went along with the joke and said, "Look for a man who likes to kill zebras." He looked into my eyes and said, "A man who likes to kill."
No one said anything, and Ben continued. "The Libyans are an isolated people, a nation isolated even from other Islamic countries. Their leader, Moammar Gadhafi, has assumed almost mystical powers in the minds of many Libyans. If Asad Khalil is working directly for Libyan Intelligence, then he is working directly for Moammar Gadhafi. He has been given a sacred mission, and he will pursue that mission with religious zeal."
Ben let that sink in, then continued, "The Palestinians, by contrast, are more sophisticated, more worldly. They are clever, they have a political agenda, and their main enemy is Israel. The Iraqis as well as the Iranians have become distrustful of their leaders. The Libyans, on the other hand, idolize Gadhafi, and they do what he says, though Gadhafi has changed courses and changed enemies often. In fact, if this is a Libyan operation, there seems to be no specific reason for it. Aside from making anti-American statements, Gadhafi has not been very active in the extremist movement since the American bombing of Libya, and Libya's retaliation, which was the bombing of Pan Am Flight One-Oh-Three over Lockerbie, Scotland, in nineteen eighty-eight." Ben added, "In other words, Gadhafi considers his blood feud with the U.S. as finished. His honor has been satisfied, the bombing of Libya, which caused the death of his adopted daughter, is avenged. I can't conceive of why he would want to renew this feud."
No one offered any reasons, and Ben said, "However, the Libyans have an expression, much like the French expression, which says, 'Revenge tastes better served on a cold plate.' You understand?"
I guess we did, and Ben went on, "So, perhaps Gadhafi does not consider some old feud fully settled. Look for Gadhafi's reason to send Khalil to America, and you might discover why Khalil did what he did, and whether or not the feud is over."
Kate said, "The feud has just begun."
Professor Abdellah shook his head. "It began long ago. A blood feud is only over when the last man is standing."
I guess this meant I had job security until I got whacked. I said to Ben, "Maybe it's Khalil's feud, and not Gadhafi's."
He shrugged. "Who knows? Find the man, and he will be happy to tell you. Even if you don't find him, he will eventually tell you why he did what he did. It's important to Khalil that you know."
Professor Abdellah stood and gave each of us his card. He said, "If I may be of any further assistance, please don't hesitate to call me. I can fly to New York if you wish."
Jack Koenig stood also and said, "We have people in New York -such as yourself-whom we rely on for background and cultural information. But we thank you for your time and your expertise."
Professor Abdellah collected his odds and ends and moved toward the door. He informed us, "I hold a high-security clearance. You should not hesitate to confer with me." He left.
None of us spoke for a minute or so. This was partly because the room was bugged, but partly because the session with Ibin-call me Ben-Abdellah was bizarre…
Indeed, the world was changing, the country was changing. America was not and had never been a country of one race, one religion, one culture. The glue that held us together was to some extent language, but even that was a little shaky. Also, we shared a central belief in law and justice, political freedom and religious tolerance. Someone like Abbah Ibin Abdellah was either a loyal and patriotic American and valuable special agent, or he was a security risk. He was almost undoubtedly the former. But that one percent doubt, like in a marriage, gets bigger in your imagination. You should not hesitate to confer with me.
Jim and Jane returned, and I was happy to see they hadn't been kidnapped by Ben. They were now joined by another boy and girl whose names were Bob and Jean, or something close to that.
This session was called "What's next?"
This was more of a brainstorming session, which is better than a blamestorm, and we were all invited to share and contribute. We discussed Khalil's next move, and I was pleased to discover that my theory was getting some play.
Bob summed it up with, "We think that Asad Khalil's alleged terrorist acts in Europe were a prelude to his coming to America. Notice that only American and British targets were involved in Europe. Notice, too, that there were never any demands issued, no notes left, no calls to the news media before or after an attack, and no credit taken by Khalil or by any organization. All we have is a string of attacks on people and places that are American or, in one case, British. This would seem to fit the profile of a man who has a private and personal grudge, as opposed to a political or religious mission or agenda, which he wants to publicize."
Bob did a whole profile thing on Khalil, comparing and contrasting him to a few American mad-bomber types in the past who had a grudge against their old employer or against technology or people who screwed up the environment, and so forth. Bob said, "In the perpetrator's mind, he is not evil, he is an instrument for justice. What he's doing, he thinks, is morally correct and justified."
Bob went on, "As for Asad Khalil, we didn't show you all the photos of him in the guest room at the embassy, but there are photos of him on the floor, praying toward Mecca. So, we have a man here who is religious, but conveniently forgets the parts of his religion that prohibit the killing of innocent people. In fact, Asad Khalil most probably has convinced himself that he is on a Jihad, a holy war, and that the ends justify the means."
Bob made the April 15 anniversary connection to the American air raid on Libya, and said, "For this reason, if for no other reason, we believe that Asad Khalil is Libyan, working for or with the Libyans. But be advised that the World Trade Center bombing happened on the second anniversary date of when U.S. forces ousted Iraqi forces from Kuwait City. And the perpetrators of this bombing were almost all non-Iraqi. In fact, most of them were Palestinians. So, you have to consider Pan-Arabism in these cases. The Arab nations have a lot of differences among themselves, but what keeps the extremists in each country united is their hatred for America, and for Israel. The date of April fifteen is a clue to who was behind yesterday's attack, but it is not proof."
True enough. But if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then odds are it's a duck, not a seagull. But you had to keep an open mind.
I asked, "Excuse me, sir. Do any of Khalil's victims have anything in common?"
"No, they really don't. Not yet, anyway. Certainly no one on board that flight had much in common, except their destination. But a very clever person might create red herrings by targeting a few people who are not in any way connected to his real targets. We've seen this with domestic bombers who try to throw us off by exploding a device where we least expected it."
I wasn't so sure about that.
Bob continued, "We have contacted every overseas law enforcement and intelligence agency for anything they may have on this Asad Khalil. We've sent his fingerprints out as well as photographs. But so far-and this is early innings-no one seems to have anything on him, other than what you've read in the dossier. This man seems to have no contacts among known extremist organizations here or anywhere in the world. He is a lone wolf, but we know he couldn't pull off this stuff by himself. Therefore, we think he is being run directly by Libyan Intelligence, who are heavily influenced by the old KGB. The Libyans trained him, financed him, sent him on a few European missions to see what he was made of, then concocted this plan where Khalil would turn himself in to the American Embassy in Paris. As you know, there was a similar defection in February, which we believe was a dry run."
Jack Koenig reminded Bob, "The ATTF in New York delivered this February defector to the FBI and the CIA here in Washington, and someone let him walk away."
Bob replied, "I have no firsthand knowledge of that, but that's correct."
Jack pressed on, "If the February guy hadn't gotten away, the April guy-Khalil-would never have arrived the way he did."
"That's true," Bob said. "But I assure you, he would have arrived one way or another."
Koenig asked, "Do you have any leads on the February defector? If we could find him-"
"He's dead," Bob informed us. "The Maryland State Police reported a burned and decomposed body found in the woods outside of Silver Spring. No ID, no clothes, fingerprints burned, face burned. They called the FBI Missing Persons, who in turn knew that the Counter-terrorist section had a missing defector. Our tattoos did not survive, but we were able to match the dental imprints to the imprints we took of this guy while he was our guest in Paris. So, that's that."
No one spoke for a few seconds, then Jack said, "No one told me about that."
Bob replied, "You should take that up with the Deputy Director in charge of Counterterrorist operations."
Bob concluded with, "Meanwhile, we have legitimate Libyan defectors here and in Europe, and we're questioning them about any knowledge they may have of Asad Khalil. Libya is a country of only five million people, so we may turn up something about Khalil, if that's his real family name. So far, we haven't learned anything about Asad Khalil from emigres or defectors. However, we do know that a man named Karim Khalil, a Libyan who held the rank of Army captain, was murdered in Paris in nineteen eighty-one. The Surete tells us that Karim Khalil was probably murdered by his own people, and the Libyan government tried to pin it on Mossad." Bob continued, "The French believe that Moammar Gadhafi was the lover of Captain Khalil's wife, Faridah, and that's why Gadhafi got rid of him." Bob smiled and said, "But I emphasize that is a French explanation. Cherchez la femme."
We all chuckled. Those crazy Frenchmen. Everything had to do with boom, boom, boom.
Bob continued, "We're trying to determine if Asad Khalil is related to Captain Karim Khalil. Asad is old enough to be Karim's son or maybe nephew. But even if we establish a relationship, that may not be significant to this case."
I suggested, "Why don't we ask the news media to put out that story about Mr. Gadhafi and Mrs. Khalil, and Gadhafi getting rid of Karim Khalil to make his love life easier. Then, if Asad is Karim's son, he'll read this or hear it on the news, and he'll go home and kill Gadhafi-his father's killer. That's what a good Arab would do. The blood feud. Right? Wouldn't that be great?"
Bob thought a moment, cleared his throat and said, "I'll pass that along."
Ted Nash picked up the ball, as I knew he would. He said, "That's actually not a bad idea."
Bob was clearly out of his depth with this kind of thinking. He said, "Let's find out first if a family relationship exists. This kind of… psychological operation could well backfire. But we'll put it on the agenda for the next Counterterrorism meeting."
Jean spoke and introduced herself by another name. She said, "My responsibility in this case is to review all of the cases in Europe that we believe Asad Khalil was connected to. We don't want to duplicate the work of the CIA-" she nodded to Super-Agent Nash "-but now that Asad Khalil is here, or was here, the FBI needs to familiarize themselves with Khalil's overseas activities."
Jean went on, talking about interservice cooperation, international cooperation, and so forth.
Clearly, Asad Khalil, who had been no more than a suspected terrorist, was now the most wanted terrorist in the world since Carlos the Jackal. The Lion had arrived. The Lion, I was certain, was absolutely thrilled and flattered by all the attention. What he had done in Europe, bad as it was, did not make him a major player in today's world of headline-grabbing terrorism. Certainly he had not come to the attention of the American public in a big way. His name had never been mentioned in the news; only his deeds had been reported, and the only one that caused a stir, as far as I could recall, was the murder of the three American kids in Belgium. Soon, when the true story broke of what happened yesterday, Asad Khalil's photo would be everywhere. This would make life outside Libya difficult for him, which was why a lot of people thought he'd run home. But I thought he would like nothing better than beating us at his game on our home field.
Jean concluded her talk with, "We'll stay closely in touch with the ATTF in New York. All information will be shared by us with you, and by you with us. Information is like gold in our business-everyone wants it, and no one wants to share it. So let's say that we're not sharing-we're borrowing from one another, and all accounts will be settled at the end."
I really couldn't resist a zinger, and I said, "Ma'am, you have my assurance that if Asad Khalil turns up dead in the woods in Central Park, we'll let you know."
Ted Nash laughed. I was beginning to like this guy. In this milieu, we had more in common with each other than we had in common with the nice and neat people in this building. There's a depressing thought.
Bob asked us, "Any questions?"
I asked, "Where do the X-Files people hang out?"
Koenig said, "Stow it, Corey."
Anyway, it was nearly 6:00 P.M., and I figured we were through since we weren't told to bring toothbrushes. But no, we all moved to a big conference room with a table the length of a football field.
About thirty people drifted in, most of whom we'd already met today at various stations of the cross.
The Deputy Director of Counterterrorism made an appearance, gave a five-minute sermon, then ascended to heaven or somewhere.
We spent almost two hours in conference, mostly rehashing the ten-hour day, exchanging gold nuggets, and coming up with a plan of attack, and so forth.
Each of us got a thick dossier containing photos, contact names and numbers, and even recaps of what was said today, which must have been tape-recorded, transcribed, edited, and typed as the day progressed. Truly, this was a world-class organization.
Kate was kind enough to put all my papers in her attaché case, which now bulged. She advised me, "Always bring an attaché case. There are always handouts." She added, "An attaché case is a tax-deductible item."
The big conference ended, and everyone filed out into the corridor. We did a little chitchat here and there, but basically it was over. I could almost smell the air on Pennsylvania Avenue. Car, airport, 9:00 P.M. shuttle, 10:00 P.M. at La Guardia, home before the 11 o'clock news. I remembered some leftover Chinese food in the fridge and tried to determine how old it was.
Just then, a guy in a blue suit named Bob or Bill came up to us and asked if we'd like to follow him and go to see the Deputy Director.
This was the proverbial straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, and I replied, "No."
But "no" wasn't an option.
The good news was that Ted Nash was not invited into the inner sanctum, but he didn't seem put off, He said, "I have to get to Langley tonight."
We all hugged, promised to write and stay in touch, and blew kisses as we parted. With any luck, I'd never see Ted Nash again.
So, Jack, Kate, and I with our escort got on the elevator and went up to the seventh floor and were shown into a dark, paneled office with a big desk, behind which was the Deputy Director of Counterterrorist operations.
The sun was gone from the heavens, and the room was lit by a single green-shaded lamp on the Deputy Director's desk. The effect of the dim lighting at waist level was that no one could see anyone's face clearly. This was really dramatic, like a scene in a Mafia flick where don Goombah decides who gets whacked.
Anyway, we shook hands all around-hands were easy to find near the lamp-then we sat.
The Deputy Director went through a little spiel about yesterday and today, then got to tomorrow. He was brief. He said, "The ATTF in New York metro is in a unique position to work this case. We won't interfere, and we won't send you anyone you don't ask for. At least for now. This department will, of course, take on the responsibility for everything outside of your operational area. We'll keep you well informed on anything that turns up. We'll try to work closely with the CIA, and we'll brief you on that as well. I suggest you proceed as though Khalil is still in New York. Turn the place upside down and inside out. Lean heavily on your sources and offer money when you need to. I'll authorize a budget of one hundred thousand dollars for buying information. The Justice Department will offer a one-million-dollar reward for the arrest of Asad Khalil. That should put some heat on him vis-a-vis his compatriots in the U.S. Questions?"
Jack said, "No, sir."
"Good. Oh, and one more thing." He looked at me, then at Kate. He said, "Think about how you might lure Asad Khalil into a trap."
I replied, "You mean think about me using myself as bait."
"I didn't say that. I just said think of the best way to lure Asad Khalil into a trap. Whatever the best way is, you'll think of it."
Kate said, "John and I will talk it over."
"Good." He stood. "Thank you for giving up your Sunday." He added, "Jack, I'd like to speak to you a moment."
We pressed the flesh again, and Kate and I were out. We were escorted to the elevator by the guy in the blue suit, and he wished us good luck and good hunting.
In the lobby, we were met by a security guy, who invited us to sit. Kate and I sat, but said nothing.
I didn't know or care what Jack and the Deputy Director were talking about, as long as it wasn't me-and I was certain they had more important things to discuss than me or my behavior. Actually, I wasn't that bad today, and I had a few gold stars for almost saving the game yesterday. But that only goes so far.
I looked at Kate, and she looked at me. Here, in the Ministry of Love, even face crimes were noted, so we didn't reveal anything except steadfast optimism. I didn't even look at her crossed legs.
Ten minutes later Jack appeared and informed us, "I'm staying the night. You two go on, and I'll see you tomorrow." He added, "Brief George in the morning. I'll assemble all the teams tomorrow at some point, and we'll get everyone up-to-date, and see if they've turned up any leads, then we'll decide how to proceed."
Kate said, "John and I will stop at Federal Plaza tonight and see what's happening."
"Good," Jack said. "But don't burn out. This will be a long race, and as Mr. Corey says, 'Second place is the first loser.'" He looked at us and pronounced, "You both did very well today." He said to me, "I hope you have a better appreciation of the FBI."
"Absolutely. Great bunch of guys and girls. Women. I'm not sure about Ben, though."
"Ben is fine," Jack said. "It's Ted you should keep an eye on."
So, we all shook hands and off we went, Kate and I with the security guy down into the basement garage, where a car whisked us to the airport.
In the car, I asked, "How did I do?"
"I thought I did fine."
"You're very trying."
Asad Khalil saw a sign that said WELCOME TO SOUTH CAROLINA-THE PALMETTO STATE.
He didn't understand what that last line meant, but he understood the next sign that said DRIVE CAREFULLY-STATE LAWS STRICTLY ENFORCED.
He looked at his dashboard and saw that it was 4:10 P.M. The temperature remained at 2 5 degrees Celsius.
Forty minutes later, he saw the exits for Florence and for I-20 to Columbia and Atlanta. He had memorized parts of a road map of the South, so that he could give false but plausible destinations for anyone who asked. Now that he was passing the Interstate highway for Columbia and Atlanta, his next false destination would be Charleston or Savannah.
In any case, he had a good road map in the glove box, and he had the Satellite Navigator, if he needed to refresh his memory.
Khalil noticed that the traffic was heavier around this city of Florence, and he welcomed the other vehicles after so many miles of feeling exposed.
Strangely, he'd seen no police vehicles except the one that appeared at the worst possible moment when the four whores had come up beside him.
He knew, however, that there were unmarked police cars on the road, though he never noticed such a vehicle with police in it.
His driving had become more assured since leaving New Jersey, and he was able to mimic the driving habits of those around him. There were an amazing number of old people driving, he'd noticed-something one rarely saw in Europe or Libya. The elderly drove very badly.
There were also many young people with cars-again, something he rarely saw in Europe or Libya. The young, too, drove badly, but in a different way than the elderly.
Also, many women drove in America. There were women drivers in Europe, but not as many as here. Incredibly, he'd seen women driving men here, a thing he rarely saw in Europe, and never saw in Libya where almost no women drove at all. The women drivers, he decided, were competent but sometimes erratic, and often aggressive-like the whores who had been driving in North Carolina.
Asad Khalil believed that American men had lost control of their women. He recalled the words of the Koran, "Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other, and because men spend their wealth to maintain women. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for those women from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart, and beat them. Then, if they obey you, do nothing further against them."
Khalil couldn't comprehend how Western women had gained so much power and influence, reversing the natural order of God and nature, but he suspected that it had to do with democracy, where each vote was counted equally.
For some reason, his mind returned to the aircraft, to the time when it had been moved to the security area. He thought again of the man and the woman he had seen, both wearing badges, both giving orders as though they were equal. His mind could not grasp the idea of two people of the opposite sex working in concert, speaking to one another, touching, perhaps even sharing meals. And more amazing was the fact that the female was a police officer and was undoubtedly armed. He wondered how the parents of these women had allowed their daughters to be so brazen and masculine.
He recalled his first trip to Europe- Paris -and thought back at how shocked and offended he had been at the looseness and boldness of the women. Over the years, he had become almost accustomed to European women, but every time he went back to Europe-and now in America -he was newly offended and incredulous.
Western women walked alone, spoke to strange men, worked in shops and offices, exposed their flesh, and even argued with men. Khalil recalled the scripture stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, and of Babylon, before the coming of Islam. He knew that these cities had fallen because of the iniquities and sexual looseness of the women. Surely all of Europe and America would someday suffer the same fate. How could their civilization survive if the women behaved like whores, or like slaves who had overturned their masters?
Whatever God these people believed in, or did not believe in, had abandoned them, and would one day destroy them. But for now, for some reason he could not fathom, these immoral nations were powerful. Therefore, it fell to him, Asad Khalil, and others like him to deliver the punishment of his God, until their own God, the one God of Abraham and Isaac, delivered salvation or death.
Khalil continued on, ignoring the feeling of thirst that was growing in him.
He turned on the radio and scanned the frequencies. Some frequencies had a strange music, which a man on the radio called country-western. Some frequencies had music such as he'd heard on the radio north of Washington. A large number of frequencies were broadcasting what Khalil identified as Christian services or religious music. One man was reading from the Christian testament and the Hebrew testament. The man's accent and tonation was so odd that Khalil would not have understood a word he was saying if not for the fact that he recognized many of the passages. He listened for a while, but the man would often stop reading the scripture, then begin talking about the scripture, and Khalil could understand only half of what he was saying. This was interesting, but confusing. He changed the frequencies until he found a news station.
The newsman spoke understandable English, and Khalil listened to twenty minutes of the man speaking about rapes, robberies, and murders, then about politics, then about the news of the world.
Finally, the man said, "The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA have issued a joint statement regarding the tragic incident at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. According to the statement, there were no survivors of the tragedy. Federal officials say that the pilots may have been able to land the aircraft before they succumbed to toxic fumes, or they may have programmed the aircraft's flight computer to make an unassisted landing when they realized they were being overcome by fumes. FAA officials are not saying if there are any recorded radio transmissions from the pilots, but one unidentified official is calling the pilots heros for getting the aircraft on the ground without endangering the safety of anyone at or near the airport. The FAA and the Safety Board are calling the tragedy an accident, but the investigation of the cause is continuing. Again, it is now official-there were no survivors on Trans-Continental Flight One-Seven-Five from Paris, and the death toll is estimated at three hundred and fourteen, crew and passengers. More on this story as it develops."
Khalil turned off the radio. Certainly, by this time, he thought, the technologically advanced Americans knew all there was to know about what happened on board Flight 175. He wondered why they were delaying telling the full truth, and he suspected that it was because of national pride as well as the natural tendency of intelligence agencies to hide their own mistakes.
In any case, if the radio news was not reporting a terrorist attack, then his photograph was not yet being broadcast on the television.
Khalil wished there had been a faster way to get to Washington, and to Florida. But this was the safest way.
In Tripoli, they had discussed alternative means of travel. But to go to Washington by air would have meant going to the other New York airport called La Guardia, and the police there would have been alerted by the time he got there. The same was true if Libyan Intelligence had chosen the high-speed train. It would have been necessary to go into the heart of the city to the place called Pennsylvania Station, and the police there would have been alerted by the time he got there. And in any case, the train schedule was not convenient.
Regarding his trip from Washington to Florida, air travel was possible, but it would have to be a private aircraft. Boris had considered this, but decided that it was dangerous. He had explained, "They are very attentive to security in Washington, and the citizens there consume too much news. If your photograph is broadcast on television or placed in the newspapers, you could be recognized by an alert citizen or even the private pilot. We will save the private flight for later, Asad. So, you must drive. It is the safest way, the best way to get you accustomed to the country, and it will give you time to assess the situation. Speed is good-but you don't want to fly into a trap. Trust my judgment on this. I lived among these people for five years. Their attention span is short. They confuse reality with drama. If you are recognized from a television photograph, they'll confuse you with a TV star, or perhaps Omar Sharif and ask for your autograph."
Everyone laughed when Boris had finished. Clearly, Boris had a degree of contempt for the American people, but Boris made certain that Asad Khalil understood that he had a high regard for the American Intelligence services, and even the local police, in some cases.
In any event, Boris, Malik, and the others had planned his itinerary with a mixture of speed and deliberation, boldness and caution, shrewdness and simplicity. Boris had warned him, however, "There are no alternative plans along the way, except at Kennedy Airport, where more than one driver has been assigned in the event that one meets with misfortune. The unlucky one will drive you to your rental car." Boris thought this was amusing, though no one else did. In fact, Boris had ignored the unsmiling faces around him at the last meeting and said, "Considering what will happen to your first two traveling companions, Haddad and the taxi driver, please don't ask me to take a trip with you."
Again, no one smiled. But Boris didn't seem to care and laughed. Boris would not be laughing much longer, however. Boris would soon be dead.
Khalil crossed a long bridge on a large lake called Lake Marion. Khalil knew that only about fifty miles to the south lived William Satherwaite, former United States Air Force lieutenant, and murderer. Asad Khalil had an appointment with this man on the following day, but for now, William Satherwaite was unaware of how close death was.
Khalil continued on and at 7:05 P.M., he saw a sign that said WELCOME TO GEORGIA-THE PEACH STATE.
Khalil knew what peaches were, but why a state would want to identify with this fruit was a mystery.
He regarded his fuel gauge and saw that it was below a quarter full. He debated with himself about stopping now, or waiting until it got darker.
As he thought about this, he realized he was approaching Savannah, and the traffic got heavier, which meant the gasoline stations would have many customers, so he wai